Review – A Rose in the Twilight

ROCT

Nippon Ichi Software, or NIS, is not done creating dark and bloody universes. After an outstanding Yomawari, the niche publisher seeks the same success with A Rose in the Twilight. Can this one avoid the drawbacks of the very frustrating Firefly Diary?

You play as Rose, a young girl whose past is unknown, in a 2D puzzle game much like The Firefly Diary. She awakes alone in an abandoned castle and finds herself victim or the Thorn Curse, which in return gives her special powers. Several notes you can pick up on your way tells the history of this curse as the previous cursed person lived it. The story is thoughtfully dark and pessimistic, which prepares the player for the horrific atmosphere.

A Rose in the Twilight blood

Rose can thus do two things : stop time for one object by sucking blood, or make time flow again by granting it. In actual terms, that means stopping a falling rock, make a key fall, etc. Also, she can stop an enemy’s movements and have it move again when useful. She can bear only one «stock» in the rose on her back, so you need to think well about where to release it. In case you’re stuck (which inevitably happens), Rose can simply commit suicide so as to respawn at the last checkpoint. Yes, that’s the kind of atmosphere…

A Rose in the Twilight giant b

While wandering in the castle, Rose will meet a Titan. But this one won’t attack and even offers to help the child to get out of the place. That’s where you get to see the true gameplay of Rose and the Castle of Twilight, because Rose and the giant are essential to each other. It will be able to carry Rose to help her go through traps unscathed, or throw (!) her towards higher ground. It can also carry heavy objects in order to take them out of the path, or place them to create it. Unlike Rose who’ll die at the first contact with an enemy or a hazard, the giant is invincible and can go far deep in the level to bring back stuff or push switches. To make it more complicated, Rose and her big pal must be together to exit a zone.

A Rose in the Twilight books

A Rose in the Twilight features a large array of puzzles, varied and of increasing complexity. There’s nothing obvious and you’ll often have to consider the problem from different angles. In short, think out of the box. The game never feels repetitive because it constantly adds new elements to think about : the watering can make plants grow and stimulates insects, the canon clears the path, barrels can be either a weapon or a hiding place… You’ll also be challenged in filling paintings according to various rules, or placing books in order following some far fetched narrative.

A Rose in the Twilight giant

Fortunately, the gameplay is lot more precise than The Firefly Diary : the unbearable inertia is gone, and the fact that you control both characters independently (you switch simply by pressing R) prevents any frustration. Yet it’s not perfect since the controls have some issues. Square is used for almost everything, which brings confusion. For example, the giant pick up Rose with square, but the same button is used to throw her whereas it is circle to just put her on the ground. In those conditions, the player is likely to throw her when not wanted, and sometimes a bit too far… This problem applies to objects : I’ve already sent a bench in her face by accident! Another small problem lies in the “moving” sequences (while sliding or on moving platforms) because the jump command is not always very comfortable to use. Still, the general gameplay is definitely a huge improvement compared to the previous game.

A Rose in the Twilight hanging

This game is sinister. It is even darker than Yomawari. A Rose in the Twilight revolves around themes like death, suffering, exclusion… It’s actually an experience of constant death, Rose being trapped by the curse in the life & death cycle. This focus on dark themes makes NIS’s new game an truly unique but wicked experience, without being negative. The progression also has the suspense and the fear of the unknown which was so terrific in Yomawari. The discreet music lets hear the sound of your steps in a quite eerie manner. The design, as usual with NIS, is astonishing by the contrast between bright red and grey. The interface is one more very well designed, the environments have something hooking into them, the rendering on OLED is perfect (quite superior to the previous games) and the animation is lively.

Rose flashback

As much as it’s dark, A Rose in the Twilight keeps an emotional touch just like Yomawari. There are those flashbacks that tell you the background of the story, some being very sad or disturbing. For that you’ll have to find pools of blood hidden in the stages, sort of long sidequest throughout the game. The ending part was truly remarkable, as it as two possible conclusions, one of which being downright cruel. Consequently, the road to the good ending was absolutely thrilling.

After Yomawari, Nippon Ichi Software is still at its best in A Rose in the Twilight. The design still unique, the atmosphere still great, the emotions still lively… It’s again outstanding art, but also an excellent (although short) puzzle game.

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My games of the year 2016 (GOTY 2016)

Best Action game

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God Eater 2 Rage Burst (PSVita/PS4)

Without a natural leader like Bloodborne last year, hard to choose between the three great ones today. But God Eater 2 Rage Burst somewhat stands out, because of its memorables momenta and heated battles. Full of adorable characters and playable in coop, it goes well beyond the hunting genre to become a great saga.

Runner-up : Fate Extella (PSVita) & The Division (PS4)

Best Shooter

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Battlefield 1 (PS4)

In Spring, I would have bet anything on Overwatch for this title. But that was underestimating DICE’s efforts to make Battlefield not only innovating by its theme, World War I, but also a thrilling sniper experience thanks to the best TDM maps since I know the series. The remarkable atmosphere and the gorgeous graphics are just the cherry on the cake.

Runner-up : Overwatch (PS4)

Best Strategy game

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Kan Colle kai (PSVita)

Kan Colle kai is the new Advance Wars. The addictive management of units and the desperate defense of positions brought me tears of joy when the final trophy popped. Gifted with rich and unique design and having a game system as enjoyable as Pokemon plus outstanding challenge, Kadokawa’s game is one to remember.

Runner-up : Pokemon Sun&Moon (3DS)

Best RPG

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Persona 5 (PS4)

Persona 5 being my first «true» Persona game (after Persona 4 Dancing All Night last year), I hadn’t how massive this series was. And here it is, the hype is 170% deserved, because Persona 5 is an RPG like you seldom see. Great narrative & characters, fantastic combat, dream-like design, deep game system, overflowing content… the new King of JRPG is here!

Runner-up : Tokyo Xanadu (PSVita)

Best puzzle game

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Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight (PSVita)

After a superb Yomawari, Nippon Ichi Software is at it again with Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight. Not adventure this time but pure a 2D platformer featuring lots of puzzles for hours of intense brainstorming, with far better controls than The Firefly Diary.

Runner-up : Ace Attorney 6 (3DS)

Best Sountrack

初音ミク Project DIVA Future Tone

Hatsune Miku Project DIVA Future Tone (PS4)

The tracklist in Hatsune Miku Project Diva Future Tone speaks for itself : in the 228 tracks, you’ll surely find dozens of your liking. Every J-pop style is widely represented, with a lot of novelties compared to portable Project Diva games (Hôkai Utahime, Gothic and Loneliness). Yet this PS4 game also features classics like Remocon or Envy Cat Walk.

Runner-up : Hatsune Miku Project Diva X (PSVita/PS4)

Best graphics

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The Division (PS4)

Open world of impressive scale, The Division is visually the most striking game I’ve seen this year. Ubisoft re-created New York with great realism and the post apocalyptic touch makes it an immersive experience.

Runner-up : Battlefield 1 (PS4) & Hatsune Mike Project Diva X (PSVita)

Best innovation

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Overwatch (PS4)

When Blizzard does something, it rarely fails. Overwatch is a competitive FPS like you’ve never seen before. Close to an RPG by its characters and skill mechanics, it allows for a great variety of gameplay blowing everything else in the genre. You’ve got an innovative set of roles like defenders (D.Va) or support characters of which the recently added grandma Ana is a stunning example.

Runner-up : Mary Skelter Nightmares (PSVita)

Best narrative

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Persona 5 (PS4)

Persona 5 is the master of suspense and intrigue. The passion in those personal destinies, the will of the characters, the bond uniting them, all this conjugated with the onimous plot set by wicked elites is a delicious cocktail that you keep pouring during dozens of hours.

Runner-up : Tokyo Xanadu (PSVita)

Best atmosphere

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Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight (PSVita)

Nippon Ichi Software is at its best when creating dark and crooked universes. Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight is no expection and delivers gloomy art that chills the bone : blood, death and despair are the key elements here. The developments, the very logic of the game and the touching conclusion make it emotionally beautiful.

Runner-up : Battlefield 1 (PS4)

Best design

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Kan Colle kai (PSVita)

While Persona 5 sure blows things out in terms of design, I might stick to Kan Colle kai for this one. Really unique concept with risqué fan service included, Kantai Collection does a great job drawing friends and foes, and decorating your HQ is a lot of fun too.

Runner up : Persona 5 (PS4), Mary Skelter Nightmares (PSVita) & Pokemon Sun/Moon (3DS)

Best game you might never play

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Kan Colle kai (PSVita)

I’m actually pretty sure you won’t play Kan Colle kai, unfortunately. Kadokawa has already announced that the game would be pulled back from shelves, further evidence that relations with the IP owner DMM.com aren’t exactly easy. You still have a few weeks to order an import version and a fat kanji dictionary with it.

Runner-up : none

Most disappointing

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Sword Art Online Hollow Realization (PSVita/PS4)

You’d need to be really incompetent or seriously cynical to keep this unwanted «title». Mr. Futami Producer of Sword Art Online games, must be this kind of guy. Incapable of keeping the progresses made in Sword Art Online Lost Song, he’s badly rehashed Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment with Sword Art Online Hollow Realization : romoved playable characters, boring linearity, thin storyline, outdated engine… everything indicates he wanted to maximize profits by minimizing efforts. This logic seems actually be going on with Sword Art Online vs Accel World, the first screens of which are horrendous. This time, my money will go the more capable and ambitious developers.

Runner-up : Summon Night 6

mini Platinum-trophy Game of the Year

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Persona 5 (PS4)

mini gold trophy Kan Colle kai (PSVita)

mini Silver_Trophy Rose and the Old Castle of Twillight (PSVita)

mini-bronze_trophy Tokyo Xanadu (PSVita)

Review – Yomawari Night Alone

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Fear. Negative feeling, and yet people seem to desire it. Nippon Ichi Software is fully aware of that the public is eager for dark and sick universes. So after The Firefly Diary, the dark side of the Japanese developer is at work again to provide us more anguish on Sony’s handheld.

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You won’t have to wait to enter the dark atmosphere of Yomawari Night Alone : the violent tutorial will chill you in less than a second. The little girl you play as loses her dog, and then her older sister, and decides to go look for them in the middle of the night.

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At first look, the town in Yomawari Night Alone is like every Japanese town at night, except that this one is full of yôkai, not nice, those ones… Unlike Level-5’s friendly creatures, a single contact with those yôkai and the little girl will drop dead in a sea of blood. Horrific and frightening, the 40 or so different monsters seen throughout the game strike you with fear by their eerie behavior. Some will take you by surprise, making you jump of fear. Some are slower and easy to spot, but the little girl cannot sprint for a long time. She’s quickly tired, especially if she’s frightened : her heartbeats accelerate as yôkai get closer, driving the player to panic. Bushes will be useful in such cases, as the girl can hide into them like Solid Snake would enter his famous box. A lot of chases are a close call, you can see death coming near and you inevitably wince when losing.

While most yôkai are lethal, some aren’t dangerous. You’ll meet pacific creatures, but their behavior being as weird as the other, you can’t know for sure. So those ones, although harmless, do take part in the anguishing atmosphere built by Nippon Ichi Software. But it remains that the little girl will still be caught or slaughtered in some horrible way countless times. A totally dark world inherited from The Firefly Diary and that will be re-used in Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight.

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As you can have guessed, atmosphere is everything in Yomawari Night Alone. Everything happens in pitch black, with only a torch to guide you and reveal the invisible specters. Music is very scarce and features oppressing, cold themes, but Nippon Ichi Software will favor one particular track : silence. Like a normal Japanese midsummer’s night, you walk with only the sound of crickets. That is how the developer intends to reach its objective : to remind you your childhood’s fears. Indeed, like the real fear of dark, the lack of music sharpen the ear and makes the atmosphere more tense.

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To that, Yomawari Night Alone adds a number of graphical and sound elements to stress you even more, like a phone ringing from nowhere or eerie writings. Fear is also provoked by unexpected events happening here and there, generally during boss “fights”. I won’t describe those here of course but… don’t answer the phone. Reaching its full potential in the fear of the unknown, Yomawari Night Alone must be played at night, with headphones, lights off and curtain closed.

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Very unlike its tendency to horror, the general design is a bit child-like. The characters seem to be taken from a picture book and the town looks like to have been drawn by a primary schooler. And in the Japanese version, all text is written in hiragana : there’s not a single kanji, as if they were written by a child who doesn’t master ideograms. You could believe that the developer intends to soften the game with a kawaii touch, but it’s actually wrong. The opposition between styles reinforces the hatred against the yôkai, the stress of defeat and the satisfaction when you clear the game. Yomawari Night Alone surely wouldn’t have been the same if the main character were a 100kg-weightlifter! Despite its simple isometric 3D (for which it sometimes ends up in the indies columns of Japanese magazines), Yomawari Night Alone communicates pure and strong feelings with just a few short cut-scenes in the whole adventure. Nippon Ichi Software plays with your feelings and your nerves until the last minute of the game in an impressive way for such a modest title.

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That might come as a surprise, but Yomawari Night Alone is an open world. Of course, not a realistic one like Watchdogs, but on principle, the player is free to wander within the town from the start. Hints are scarce and you do have to explore every corner to find key items or open the way to remote areas. The map is drawn as you progress, the there’s a lot of (high-risk) exploring to comprehend the urban geography. This lack of dirigisme makes it really hardcore and will please fans of older adventure games.

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Fortunately, you’ll be able to save in front of Buddhist statues here and there, which are also used to fast travel to the various parts of the town. Be careful though, each save cost 10 yens so they are potentially limited! The game also stimulates thinking, for there are puzzles in some chapters, and lots of observing to escape the various fiends. Survival requires to analyze the behavior of each yôkai and use the torch or other objects in an original way. You might be annoyed by the somewhat irritating gameplay, symptom of an old-fashioned die and retry, but it’s a lot more enjoyable than The Firefly Diary in its time. Its only real drawback is its length, 10 to 15 hours if you explore slowly.

More frightening than 15 Resident Evil movies in a row, Yomawari Night Alone marks the return of Nippon Ichi Software on an original and artistic line. Short but intense, this survival-horror like no other manages to afraid and delight, all this with convincing freedom of gameplay.

Review – Grand Kingdom

GK

While 3DS has Fire Emblem as a major heroic-fantasy tactical RPG, PSVita is still looking for a title to succeed to the great Final Fantasy Tactics The Lion War of the PSP. NIS America thus offers to fill the void by localising Spike Chunsoft’s Grand Kingdom in the West.

Grand Kingdom obstacle x

Grand Kindgom has a somewhat classic game structure, divided between story, online and free raoming, the latter being used to collect resources without time limit. The play interface, common to all those modes, will be shown as following : your party is represented by a pawn which advances on lines laid down on the map, a bit like a board game. Each move costs one turn, so you have to plan your itinerary ahead to clear the map before the turn limit. Moreover, every combat turn also costs a turn on the map and natural obstacles will often bloc your path. Those ones can be avoided by using items or field skills, but most of the time they will cost you 3 turns or 30% of your HP (not the right thing to choose, believe me).

Spike Chunsoft’s title has no more than five types of missions, which will come back periodically : going from A to B, beat a set of designated opponents, collect a certain number of resources, defend one or several points of the map or “infiltration” tasks in which you mustn’t touch an enemy piece. The first three are pretty self-explanatory, but defense and infiltration is a whole different matter. Timing is extra tight and even one misused turn generally leads to the enemy reaching the objective, which means game over. Those missions ask you to use, very wisely, some items that freeze the movements of enemy pieces for 3 turns : every single of them must be used with the right timing. Those two complicated missions rules won’t be much present in the main story, which makes you even more think you’re doing the same stuff over and over.

Grand Kingdom battle x

With such a limited game system, Grand Kingdom needed a solid battle system. Mission accomplished, because it’s rich, well-designed and gorgeously rendered in 2D on OLED. The sprites are very detailed and the characters’ animations are remarkable. Allies and enemies fight each others on 3 distinct lines, where you can place gimmicks (objects you can place to support your team or prevent the enemy from advancing). Up to you to make the best use of the classes’ capabilities in order to hit the enemy fast and strong. Your four characters and the opponents (who often outnumber you) are acting on a turn-based flow of time. The turn order is absolutely crucial since most of the magic spells need time to charge and you don’t want to be interrupted while doing so. The point of Grand Kingdom’s fighting will then be to analyze and anticipate the enemy’s movements so that you can hit and KO as many opponents as you can in one turn. Your positioning is vastly important too, because you have little leeway in the use of your magic and skills : most of them are limited to 3 or 5 uses in one whole chapter. Be extra careful though, because friendly fire is activated! Make sure you don’t hit your buddies when calculating your trajectory, even though it’s bound to happen given the short distances. In short, maneuvering in Grand Kingdom requires wits, dexterousness and adaptability.

Grand Kingdom witch

The other great quality of Grand Kingdom is its numerous and varied classes. You’ll periodically have to go to the recruitment menu in order to strengthen your team until you find a fitting balance. Every hired character (for whom who have to shed a certain amount of gold) has customizable look (hair, face, colors, voice) and base stats can be chosen too. Every specialization has its strengths and weaknesses, none is less efficient than others, so it’s quite easy to pick four that fit your tastes. The Rogue (thief class basically) can hide himself and set traps, the Medic is quite recommended for her healing skills, the Witch can master extra-powerful black magic, the Arcanist can use both support and offense magic, the Hunter (archer cass) can shoot arrows in a curved trajectory, etc.

Grand Kingdom Dragon mage x

Loaded with HP and gifted with insane strength, the Dragon Mage stands out. The beast has also appreciable range thanks to its fire breath, devastating enough to wipe out the units in front of him. This unit is so overpowered that the story mode refrains from putting it against you! But where’s the catch, then? To make up for its immense advantages, this class takes to spots instead of one : a party in which a Dragon Mage is present will be limited to 3 characters! Other drawback, the allies cannot go past it on the same line, which can hinder your positioning strategy. The job is still ultra-fun to use, and is even more effective when supported by the Medic who can further increase its attack power with Attack Mist.

Grand Kingdom Valkyrie

Spike Chunsoft enhanced the content with 4 additional DLC classes : Valkyrie, Archer, Dark Knight and Paladin. Lucky you, because you won’t have to pay extra cash for those since they’re included in the base game in the West (you’ll thank me later for having smashed my piggy bank to fund your game). While Archer is basically the female version of the Hunter (their skills are different but the effects remain the same), the Valkyrie is damn fine close combat unit. Like every short range job, she learns some attacks that can be later organize as a combo, in the order you see fit. And it happens that some sets of attacks, in the right order, allows the Valkyrie to KO virtually every type of unit of same level in one turn. Definitely a very, very precious ally.

While you can only thank the developers for offering such a rich array of classes, Grand Kingdom does fail in the management of those. True, you can create several teams, but those ones won’t level up all at once. I suppose you could use one or two alternately, but at high risk to be quickly underleveled. Fights don’t give many experience points, so it’s pretty tiring to “catch up”.

Grand Kingdom dragon mage team

More tiresome still, the menus of this game are a pain. Nothing is explained correctly, even in the digital manual, being a lot too short for such a complex tactical. The preparation menus are far from being intuitive and team management is cloudy at best. There are something called “orientation points” that I was earning regularly without having the first idea of what they are for! Unbalanced and unexplained, the growth in stats when leveling up can even be misleading… Seriously, the game system didn’t get even remotely close to be user-friendly.

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Grand Kingdom is a rather hard game. Chapters feel long and testing, healing is scarce. For much that you have various ways to heal your characters, every single one of those is quite limited. For example, the game won’t allow you more than 4 healing potions per mission. The Medic does help, but here again she can heal only a couple of times in one entire chapter. The medical bag, a gimmick to be set near your characters can also be a lifesaver at times. Other than that, your party will recover a bit after each fight (up to 20% of HP) depending on your number of combo hits.

Grand Kingdom Holly

At a certain spot of the map you’ll encounter one of the 4 cleric sisters : Milly, grinning at the thought of the money she’ll take from you, Holly, always ready to help, Elly, sleepy and unfocused, and Melly, who will ask you alms of any amount. Despite all that, it is strongly advised to start a mission when above the recommended level. The fights can quickly turn for the worse, especially since you’ll be outnumbered quite often. It will be the case in boss fights, in which your skills will seriously be tested : there is no room for mistake. Last trump card, field skills give you bonuses like damaging enemy pieces before entering the fight, or increasing the experience gained.

Grand Kingdom Empire

Grand Kingdom’s campaign felt underwhelming. The story starts as Vlad, a common mercenary, seeks a new employer after the last one left him behind. The player is Vlad’s strategist, similarly to the first Fire Emblem on GBA. You are advised to head for the local guild, which immediately affect a lovely aide, Lilyas, to your group. From there you’ll be experiencing an extremely classic narrative in which the guild will be facing the heirs of and old and evil Empire craving to re-seize power over the continent, by any means. Nothing unforgettable in the 12 chapters, except maybe the very last one, a lot more intense, better directed and full of decisive fights.

Grand Kingdom Midia

After the 20 hours or so of the main story, NISA’s title is far from over since 4 additional campaigns were given as free DLC in Japan. This represents a lot more hours to be put in the game. In fact, the postgame is thus… 4 times longer than the main story! You’ll come to be more familiar with the Royals of the countries featured in the multiplayer, because each scenario describe one country at war. Beware though, difficulty rises fast.

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Online now. Frugaly called “War”, it is probably the most disappointing part of Grand Kingdom. The gameplay feels like your average free-to-play mobile game, with endless fights and nothing entertaining around them. The multiplayer is a world in perpetual war, each player siding with one kingdom. You have to enter a territory and take as many forts as you can while fighting what appears to be ghosts of other players (the enemy units’ behavior clearly let us think of an AI). The only good thing of this part is that you can play a party of 6 characters instead of 4.

Grand Kingdom Feel war

The principle is that you make an alliance with one of the 4 countries of Grand Kingdom’s continent, and then defend it or attack other territories. The alliance lasts for a set numbers of battles, after which you’re free to change your master.

Landearth

You can then pay a visit to the Queen or the King (Queens being still far more popular than the Kings) and use the capital’s facilities. The smith’s is here to create or upgrade weapons, and various shops sell a large array of materials.

Grand Kingdom Noble

Although it has nothing to do with the Western version which will have everything on disc (including former DLCs), let me stress that Grand Kingdom was the most horrible kit game I’ve ever seen. I first bought the standalone campaign, only to realize trophies were still locked. So I re-bought the whole, which triggered a double purchase because it didn’t take the previous one into account. Worse still, Spike never made the Noble class available for purchase on the PSN (it was a pre-order bonus), despite the unit being in the recruitment center, and playable in War. This is just-irritating-bullshit.

Not entirely convinced by Grand Kingdom which, true, has great combat, a wonderful 2D and an amazing art direction that found the perfect balance between retro and modern, but a certain number of silly drawbacks give it a bitter taste. Not a huge hit, but a nice little tactical-RPG to quench your thirst for more strategy.

Preview – Hero Must Die

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Nippon Ichi Software wants to make some buzz. Not only does the publisher prepare for Vita an RPG that takes place after its own end (!), but it also offers on the Japanese Playstation Store a demo… with the whole game in it!

Yulia

You probably guessed, but yeah, nothing is free and there’s a catch. Hero Must Die is a reversed RPG : it starts from the moment which the hero slays the Evil Spirit and brings peace to the land. Badly wounded, he passes away shortly. Game over? No, it hasn’t even started yet. Generous angel Yulia offers to bring the hero back to life for 5 days, so he can fix the small unrest left. As soon as he wakes up, old Thomas, a former ally, comes back to guide him.

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Once in the capital Grandom, and it’s uncommon enough these days, there is no objective or any indication of what to do. It’s the player facing the world map, like 25 years ago! Time flows very quickly and the 5 days don’t make more than 2 or 3 hours of play for one playthrough : up to you to achieve as may things as you can in this time-frame. Several towns and dungeons are accessible and can be explored immediately, the choice is yours. Be careful though, because journeys on the map consume quite a few hours each time, making your hero’s stay among the living shorter. Like in the Atelier series (well, up to Escha&Logy at least), you have optimize the use of time by avoiding unnecessary trips or staying too much at the inn.

Flora

With no indications in sight, the player has no choice but to progress by trials and errors, having a quick look in this village, that cave, etc. to see if something big comes up. To help you, important discoveries are written in a diary. Every time you enter a new place, old Thomas will fill you in on what happened during the war against demons, and the whereabouts of your friends. In fact, the story in Hero Must Die also is told in reverse. Still, we can find the heroines of the game pretty easily, and each of them will entrust you with a task. This is where it gets really complicated : I completed 2 playthrough but couldn’t achieve a single one… Sarah the priest asks you a gem and 264’000 gold. Knowing that the gem is hidden in some place you don’t have a clue about and that you start with «only» 99’999 gold, I’ll let you imagine the tremendous effort that it takes, searching every treasure chest and reselling priceless items. Ryû wants the Wind Orb, which of course is lost somewhere in the dungeon of the last boss (who, of course, will wake up as soon as you turn up) full of doors and keys of certain colors… The brain just cannot keep up. The dungeons in general are pretty far-fetched and demand a great deal of patience, despite having full access to the map. In the current state, Hero Must Die is an hardcore die and retry experience that will necessitate that you remember precisely how its whole world is composed.

Much to your despair, your hero will suffer from his half-life. As death approaches, he will weaken and his stats will increasingly diminish. Worse, he will also happen to forget some of his magic spells! Hero Must Die hence sticks to its logic to the very end in busting all the prerequisites of RPGs : it’s a role playing in which you don’t get pogressively stronger, but weaker! To add to the difficulty, the hero may suddenly enter a sate of exhaustion which will accelerate his loss of capacities if you don’t rest.

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Combat in Hero Must Die has therefore a very different flavor compared to other RPGs, because… you need to tackle the most difficult fights as soon as possible! Battles are turn-based in a very classic fashion, with physical attacks, offensive spells and support magic. The emphasis is put on natural elements, because many spells can influence weakness and resistance. Thomas has a water stick and the hero can use a powerful fire attack (as long as he remembers it). You really need to play carefully, especially from half-game when battle start to be tough. The big drawback is that the girls won’t join you unless you complete their quest. So you actually have to play with a party of only two characters for most part. Bibi the merchant is the easier to hire, but that’s a bit up to your luck since she appears randomly in some precise locations. She’s still a precious asset as her short blades can cause immediate death. Such is the limit of the demo, since new game+ is no possible. Everything is down to how it will be managed in the final product.

Ryu

Being a former smartphone game, Hero Must Die won’t achieve graphical wonders. The character modeling is modest at best, but at least we’ve avoided super deformed characters like you always see on 3DS in hideous games like Legend of Legacy or Stella Glow. Here the look of the characters’ bodies is normal and that’s a good point. No objection though on the deliciously classical design which takes inspiration in the dawn of JRPGs : kingdoms, crypts, villages, characters… everything comes to celebrates the 90’s. The music is no exception and despite the limited number of tracks, the melodies are as delightful as in old Final Fantasy games. Unlike the smartphone version, the PSVita game has been dubbed entirely with talented voice actors as Ai Kakuma (Yulis’s voice in Asterisk War) who voices Ryû.

Sarah

Whatever he can achieve, the hero cannot escape his fate and will fall when the bell tolls. His funeral will be organized and the various people your encountered will come one after another to pay their last respects, in a more or less friendly way depending whether you solved their problems or not. The «score» of your playthrough is counted by the number of attendees, and the number of people in grief.

Impossible not to perceive the potential of Hero Must Die in its unique game system, its non-linear progression and its classical vibes. That said, the volume of content doesn’t seem to be overwhelming and it’s graphically correct but modest. More than this, it’s the new game+ mechanics that will make or break NIS’s new project.

Review – Lost Dimension

LS

Sad victim of the biggest flop of 2014 in Japan, Lost Dimension is given a second chance to shine thanks to Atlus and NIS America who took up the localisation for the West. A chance you shouldn’t miss…

In this turn-based tactical RPG, you play as Shô, a young man sent in an elite unit called the SEALED. This team has been formed in a hurry to counter a dangerous individual who calls himself The End, and seeking no less than to blow up the entire world.

Himeno b

The battle system is very much like Valkyria Chronicles : each unit of one team act one after another, having a limited movement area. You also do have the possibility of having one or several comrades assisting your current character with an extra shot when the enemy is within range. This aspect is crucial to your progression for a very simple reason : your opponents will do exactly the same! Consequently, you’ll have to be careful to keep your characters together so they can cover each other, all the more necessary that even the most common foes cannot be eliminated without the cooperation of several of your characters.

power xa

Adding to this, every member of the SEALED possesses a supernatural power : Himeno can cast fire spells, Nagi can levitate, Yoko can boost her teammates’ status, etc. something like the Fantastic Four, save that they are twelve. Each character can also allow a buddy whose turn is over to act again, which has a lot of practical uses.Every unit, friend of foe, has a stamina bar that gets depleted as damage is taken. If the enemy’s stamina reaches zero, its defense will drop dramatically, making it extremely vulnerable to attacks. When a character’s stamina gauge is empty, he goes berserk and attacks the nearest unit, even if it’s an ally. A quite perilous situation which clever strategists will know how to use to their advantage. The architecture of the maps is well thought and encourages you to make the best use of the field around you. Technically speaking, Lost Dimension stands out by a decent modeling on PSVita which kinda makes up for the bland environments.

Himeno f

The particularity in Lost Dimension is that you have in your party several traitors, and you have to find them. Shô is gitfed with psychic powers and will know if there are suspects in the team he has been leading durng one battle. Of course, the suspects are not precisely designated : you just know you had 0,1, 2 or 3 potential traitors in your group. Up to you to switch members regularly and operate by elimination process so as to pin the culprit by entering his mind. This very unusual setting gives Lost Dimension a tremendous appeal : the atmosphere is dark and oppressing. The SEALED members don’t know each other at all and no one can be trusted. The music, very efficient to make you dive further in suspense, features slow and equally oppressive.

frienship nagi

Shô, with his natural empathy, will be able to gain the trust of his comrades in arms. They will thus share their own story and show their hidden personality, and some of them are far from shallow. Kojirô’s true self for example gave me the shivers.

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Whatever your friendship might be, you have no room for hesitation : at each floor of The End’s giant tower, you will be asked to give a name. The problem is that… it is not your decision alone! Every character votes to get rid of another. From time to time, they will come to ask Shô’s opinion, and you will be able to influence them in voting for the traitor, provided you have found him/her already. If you still haven’t got a clue when the time comes, you will be at risk to lose an honest buddy, who will be disintegrated, leaving nothing but a small object you can equip to inherit his abilities. The search for the traitors has a big influence on how the story goes and has also a huge impact on the final battle. If you’re not rigorous and impartial in your choices, you might be completely unable to clear the game! That is actually Lost Dimension’s biggest flaw : the progression system isn’t flexible one bit and you can’t set the team you’d want. Not that long (between 10 and 20 hours to reach the summit), you can through it a second time quickly despite a new game+ that is far from generous.

Lost Dimension is an extremely innovative RPG, its atmosphere is unique and the gameplay is rock-solid. For all those reasons, it really deserves your attention and it would be a shame to see it bomb a second time. It’s very rich and complex tactically speaking and S-RPG fans should enjoy it despite a somewhat unsatisfying progression system.