Review – Valkyria Chronicles

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War. We see that all the time in games. But seldom we see war from a different perspective. Valkyrie Chronicles is one of those games which gives some sense : rather than shooting souless avatars or giving orders to micro units, Sega’s game does its best describing the hardhisps of war, the dramatic consequences of ideology, the importance of strategy. A PC version and a remaster later, it has become legendary.

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Valkyria Chronicles is a turn based tactical-RPG absolutely unique, partly because it swaps the traditional heroic-fantasy for a military conflict like World War II. It’s a bit like Fire Emblem transposed in 1935. A powerful Empire decides to invade the peaceful principality of Gallia so as to get its abundant resources. The general mobilization is stated and the player takes command of a battalion of 30 characters (the number of soldiers to be deployed varies), everyone having a true personality and a small background. Your men are divided between five classes : Recon, Assault, Mechanic, Anti-tank and Sniper. To that you have to add your own tank which is a unique unit, commanded by Welkin Gunther, the hero of the game. As you might guess, each type of unit has different statistics (HP, evasion, defense, speed, etc.) and its own gameplay. The various roles are varied and it’s up to you to make the best use of their particularities while keeping strategic positions, because any blunder can quickly mean death.

Catherine

That is a very important aspect of Valkyria Chronicles compared to its PSP sequels : the characters die definitely after 4 turns if their HP is zero, or if an enemy reach them in that state. Like in Fire Emblem, the player feels close to the characters. They have a personality, they have a reason to fight, they have dreams, they have values, they’re not “units” like in a RTS game. The player is sent to war in its true meaning, taking heavy decision in a context of high pressure. But you can save your game anytime, which reduces the challenge.

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The missions are nevertheless difficult, and extremely varied. There’s urban warfare, plain warfare, desert warfare, a landing, a large trench battle, sniper confrontation, infiltration and rescue! The Empire, overwhelmingly superior in both men and equipment, leaves no moment for rest. You’ll face artillery fire, mine fields, tank squads, powerful (or even invincible) generals or crazy prototypes. War fog is present and makes the strategy even more immersive. The gap in forces and the feeling of total and merciless war brings tension, but is also very rewarding when you see the victory screen after 1 hour of intense struggle. The war atmosphere is reinforced by the regular transmissions from your buddies or the ones you intercept from the enemy.

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The gameplay is actually more complex than in Fire Emblem. Adding to the complexity if coordinating the various specializations, you can call back your characters and mobilize others to fit with your strategy. This can be done from or base camp or intermediate bases to take from the enemy. Be careful, because the Empire will also call reinforcements at every occasion! You also have to bear in mind that the game is in full 3D, and thus has depth of field : you need to consider the reach of the weapons, height, obstacles when setting the frontline. Snipers and armored vehicles will have you progress while staying in cover, ideally behind your own tank.

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Every character has “potentials” that make them more or less efficient in certain environments/situations. Some of your soldiers don’t appreciate each other and their stats will diminish if they come together on the field. Marina, for example, likes to be left alone and becomes more precise when she’s far behind your lines. Some are better in natural environments, some others perform better in urban warfare. Others are used to darkness and will be very useful during operations at night. Those are some of the many parameters you must take into account on the briefing screen.

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In case you need it, you can trigger a boost of stats on one your several units, or force other actions. When you are in a defensive position, it is useful to issue the “everybody defends” order to beef up the resistance of your men. The “retreat” order is also very important as it can save a KO’ed ally who would be too far to be rescued. Those orders consume Command Points, which depend on the mission and the number of officers you have deployed. Here again, Imperial generals will also issue their own orders.

In Tactical-RPG, there’s RPG. Sega’s work is partly one because each class gains experience points and can level up at the training camp. As the campaign is rather unforgiving, leveling sessions will be possible in skirmishes, non-mandatory maps which replay the main missions in slightly harder. You’ll also want to pass by the R&D center to improve your weapons. Being a peaceful country, Gallia possess unreliable equipment at the start : sniper rifles and rocket launchers lack precision, machine guns lack power so headshots will be key to victory. The Edelweiss (your tank) will need upgrades as you progress in the story to keep up with the Empire’s machines. You can also take some weapons from enemy aces, elite soldiers hidden here and there.

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Even tough it’s 8 years old and despite the level of details being far of today’s standards, Valkyria Chronicles still impresses me like it did years ago on PS3. The 3D engine, called Canevas, gives a watercolor effect that is still unique today. Your characters’ animation still feel rich and detailed, although we can’t say the same for the (very stiff) enemies. Contrary to an RTS game, colors literally blow out, notably in the magnificent real time cutscenes still unmatched one generation later. Beyond, it’s the incredible anime-like design that makes it so fabulous, and so rare in the strategy genre. It has exceptional characters, Alicia and Selvaria being some all-time favorites as far as I’m concerned. True, it’s not your daily western war game digest, but Japanese gaming fans will love it at first sight. Valkyria Chronicles is full of small visual details and this whole thing builds a universe of its own, desite the obvious historical inspiration.

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Let’s stress the following point : the story of Valkyria Chronicles is one of the greatest I’ve lived in my gaming life, and by far the greatest one when it comes to describe war. Solemnity and emotion are far heavier than the rare comical intervals in some chapters. As I write those lines, the remembrance of the strongest moments of this game are bringing tears to my eyes. The oppression of the conflict is perfectly rendered by the direction and musical themes like Valkyria’s Omen or War in the Empire. Parallel to that, some heroic themes like Final Decisive Battle beautifully illustrate the theme of reconquest. It’s one of the rare soundtracks that I have always with me.

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Last but not least, the great quality of Valkyria Chronicles is that it’s looking back at war in a wise manner. Sega’s game is a true and relevant allegory to the large European conflicts are their causes/consequences. Arms race, abuse of power, reckless ambitions, false diplomacy, ideology, war crimes… it is like the greatest war movies put into one game. The relation between Rosie and Isara warns very cleverly about the nonsense of xenophobia. Valkyria Chronicles refuses to be Manichean : your own country won’t hesitate to commit war crimes or send militiamen in suicide missions. Foes show honor and values, sadness is on both sides. This is war as it is never shown in video games, but should. As in Metal Gear Solid, it makes you think about war, not just live it.

Valkyria Chronicles is not a fine title or a hit game : it is an absolute masterpiece that I place alongside the greatest Final Fantasy titles. Beautiful in every aspect, fascinating by its design, exhilarating by its gameplay, deep in its meaning, it is fabulous like no other in its generation, and maybe also in the current one. Tells us how much in 2008, Valkyria Chronicles was ahead of its time… No, it is beyond time and space, it is eternal.

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Review – Tales of Zestiria

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Not so easy to come after super great RPGs like Tales of Xillia 1&2. Even more difficult to come after having made the headlines of scandal sheets. It will be therefore necessary to be through-fully objective to appreciate Tales of Zestiria in its true self.

Zestiria’s storyline is not that complex. With this episode, the series is back to an old-fashioned narrative like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest back in the day. Fire/Water/Earth/Wind temples are also back to the party, a truly sensitive tribute to the RPGs of the 90’s/2000’s. The world of Zestiria is divided, as always, between to separate location and tribes. The human world is dying, plagued by illness, conspiration and war. The Tenzoku, eternal spirits, have long given up on humans and live hidden on the top of the world. Sorey, only human to live among the Tenzoku, will eventually go back to his native land following his random encounter with princess Alicia. He will become the “Sheperd”, legendary warrior who appear once a generation to drive off evil and bring peace.

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Despite relying on a worn-out opposition between Good and Evil, Tales of Zestiria achieves a great narrative thanks to a genius direction, contrary to competing RPGs that sacrifice that aspect to artificially expand their surface and length. Tales of Zestiria also renews its interest by a flurry of mini-stories often dark and pretty hard because purposely avoiding happy end. The game is in this way quite mature and shows the dark side of human society without unnecessary optimism. On the other hand, this latest installment entertains as much as ever by its comical cut-scenes, Edna probably being the mood maker of the year. This gothic lolita Tenzoku keeps teasing her comrades in an always hilarious fashion.

Nevertheless, Tales of Zestiria kinda lacks clarity in its story in general : too conceptual, it might lose the player in its late stages. But this is not the biggest issue because early in the game, the story ousts an important character to be replaced by another. This is a big blunder of porducer Hideo Baba, because the transition is extremely awkward. You feel like a second game is put onto the first one. A malaise hardly fixed by the (free) DLC chapter which is everything but fascinating story-wise.

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In terms of gameplay, it’s once again a success. Your team is composed of Sorey, Rose and 4 Tenzoku. You can play each of them alone in a system close to Tales of Graces F : combos of 3 or 4 successive skills at the end of which you can add a magic spell. The big thing is that the longer the combo, the quicker you can launch the magic. This drives the player into taking risks in shifting all the time between magic and physical attacks. It’s actually the same system as Tales of Graces F, but 20 times faster! More than ever, battles relies on dexterity and dodging. All the pleasure involves seeking the small opening in the massive enemy attacks. 2 tenths of second before, it’s too early, 2 tenths of second after, you’re dead. It’s even more intense than before, because the player is required to be 120% focused to cope with the high speed and the short decision time. Big drawback though, the camera goes totally wild indoors and very often makes you blind. It doesn’t ruin the game in a whole, but it’s definitely frustrating.

Sorey and Rose can merge with one of the Tenzoku and take an angel-like form gifted with the powers of the Tenzoku‘s element. Combining forces with Laila provides a giant fire blade while Mikurio gives its partner a water bow, etc. This form, called Kamui, is a lot more powerful than an individual character and can be used by consuming BG (blast gauge points, which gradually regenerate). On the other hand, it reduces the number of characters on the field and thus your possibilities of support. Furthermore, the defeat of a Kamui leaves both characters KO, so you have to be extra-careful. Better designed than others, Tales of Zestiria features a truly efficient healing system aimed at ensuring a rapid flow of battle. The Kamui has a personal healing spell (but it costs one BG) but more importantly, Sorey and Rose can be resurrected as long as there’s at least one Tenzoku with BG. Eternal spirits, the Tenzoku revive themselves naturally after sometimes in the back. You can therefore stay in battle in seamless fashion if you’re nimble enough to avoid the enemy’s formidable offensive, life bottles and other healing items having nearly become… obsolete!

A Kamui must use its BG wisely. Adding the above mentioned healing spell, it has two offensive capabilities after the base combo. The first one is an additional blow far more powerful than average (1BG), the second one being no other than the famous 秘奥義, supreme attack that can do tens of thousands HP damage! Each individual character has its own, but a a far lesser scale. The Kamui are extremely enjoyable : any of its attacks is impressive to play and to watch. Let’s also stress that Tales of Zestiria benefits from an amazing sound environment. In a Kamui for example, both characters speak at theme same time and it gives a tremendous to the action. Japanese budding is no less good and the soundtrack is beautiful. Town music is very entertaining and dungeon themes are even better. The battle theme Zavida the Exile is one of the best I’ve heard this year.

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I keep seeing the word “open-world” associated to Tales of Zestiria… No, the series does NOT jump in the open world trend with this episode. We have to stop thinking there’s an open world every time we see a hectare of grass! It’s no more open world than Xillia, Vesperia, Symphonia or any other for that matters. The progression is pretty classic with areas unlocked one after another. It is even fairly linear at the beginning, nearly upsetting because the mini-map showing every little objective can’t be deactivated. Fortunately, later the game stops pointing the way and gives only hints to complete the sidequests, which are not side content since you have to clear all of them. Dungeons are quite large and complex : two of them nearly toasted my brain. The inventory system is deep and hooking : every weapon, armor or accessory have passive skills attached to them, and combination of skills provide more skills. You can also merge equipments at the smith’s, it’s endless if you go through it with precision. Another good point for Zestiria’s gameplay which has both variety and quality.

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Only the PS3 version is available in Japan and I wonder why : this old-gen version lacks polish and textures aren’t good. You can even see pixelation on the characters if you’re close to the screen! Xillia’s 3D engine is clearly derelict at this point. Even though the design of some towns are plains are cool, it’s rare to impressed by Zestiria’s graphics. The game actually focuses on the main characters, whose animation is flawless and lively, which guarantees attractive battle action and nice cut-scenes. I’ve had a hard time playing without my PS4share, all the more difficult that the screencap option via the XMB of the PS3 has vanished without any reason.

Tales of Zestiria’s case show that people and observers need some hindsight before jumping to conclusions. Because beyond the dramatic headlines and the senseless contempt, you find rich JRPG, well-designed and bearer of amazing battle system.

Review – Atelier Shallie

Harry

Even the greatest series eventually fall. Atelier, which has brought some of the best RPGs of the PS3 generation, ends it without glory. Shallie’s lost focus and missed opportunities draw a hollow twilight for the Atelier series.

Atelier Shallie is the 3rd (and last?) episode of the Dusk trilogy started with Atlier Ayesha and Atelier Escha&Logy. That’s the first problem of this game, because it ends it in a rather awkward manner. None of the questions raised in the past two games finds a definitive answer : Linca’s story is barely hinted at, the truth behind the drought that plagues the world is hardly explainded, we are still waiting for an clear illustration of Alchemy’s past mistakes, and Ayesha and Logy are MIA.

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Story-telling is faulty too. This sequel looks more like a spin-off that borrows some characters from before. It’s composed of two separate stories : Shalistella’s and Shalotte’s (both called Shallie). Shalistella is your average Atelier heroine whereas Shalotte, more dynamic and lively, introduces a more moe approach. Unfortunately, neither side has been well executed, and the slim differences between the two adventures doesn’t make replay value very valuable. Shalotte got on my nerves after merely two chapters : she’s not half as good as Meruru for example. The Shalistella part ended up boring fairly quickly (she wants to save her village, nothing more). Generally speaking, the story never takes off and stays as a series of events half-serious, half-humoristic. The tone seems mainly light in the end, because any attempt of the game to get more serious sounds really off.

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Because of low stakes and an astonishing lack of intensity, but also surprisingly shallow characters. Of all the newcomers, Miruca is the only one that shows a bit of work : only her has a solid backstory and thus the only one you sympathize with. The others feel almost invisible given the low interest of the events they’re in. Wilbell, Escha and Keithgriff are back but their role is quite secondary and they add nothing but their combat capabilities in the end. Reyfer appears like once or twice, it was really unecessary to bring him back for 5 minutes.

In its gameplay, Atelier Shallie changes radically. First thing, it drops the limited time frame to go for a classic progression system in chapters in which you have all the time you want. There are two schools of thoughts on this «issue» : some (like me) reckon that time limit is Atelier’s trademark and that it’s part of the overall pleasure, but you could also think that those new to the series can enjoy it more. Choose your side! To make it further accessible, Gust opted for the Xillia method and now difficulty settings can be changed any time. Wise decision, because even though most of the game felt easy, difficulty surges at the very end. This episode adds a morale gauge, but after 70h and 2 playthrough, I’m still wondering what it is for and how it works…

A bit like Lighting Returns, you no longer get experience points in battles (or very few). XP should be gained by doing Lifetasks, objectives comparable to Atelier Ayesha’s. Some of those challenges are immediate (make a specific object, do a specific action, get some alchemy trait, beat X monsters, explore maps, etc.), but others are to be achieved on the long term. Even without the time parameter, management is still there because you’ll often have 10, 20, 30… tasks available at the same time, an varied enough. The ones you complete constantly trigger others, so it’s a never-ending managerial frenzy, let alone the fact that you still have to manufacture your gear from scratch. That said, there’s no denying that gameplay has grown poorer. Just one example that thunderstruck me : the characters decide to hold a cake contest at some point. So I do expect to spend some hours in my atelier making the ultimate sweet. Far from that, the event launches right away and a get the free trophy without doing any action… there I realise that clearly the Atelier I knew was no more. The exploration of the world map is also made boring by the infinite time, the rigidity of the progression system and the bland level-design. Exploring doesn’t have the thrill it used to.

Combat has also been revamped although there was no need to (see the above video). Atelier Shallie introduces a system called Burst : every time you hit an enemy, a burst jauge is getting filled. When this one reaches 100%, you can deal a lot more damage. You got it : it’s a Break system like there are everywhere since FFXIII. It brings nothing but wasted time between Burst sequences. Worse still, the enemy can slower your Bust jauge if you are hit too often, which in some cases (fortunately rare) is horribly irritating. Despite that little blunder, let’s stress that if you meet certain conditions, you can trigger the Field Burst, kind of magical circle that boost your stats for the time of the Burst : a nice idea to further vitalize combat. The rest of the fighting is directly inherited from Dusk, that is to say equally tactic and nervous to keep interest until the end. Be warned though, the game is fairly easy until the very end, even in hard. This being due to the multiplication of super-powerful healing spell that makes the manufacturing of healing items almost useless. It could however be corrected if KT makes the No Hope difficulty available at release, Despair being only for NG+.

Julie

The good news is that the game has been further polished visually, as it has been the case for 4 years. Although backgrounds are still mostly bland, the battles show artistic and technical mastery : modeling is refined to the extreme, the level of detail is more than satisfying and the animation wonderful! The various moves of the 8 characters are varied, and spectacular. On design, Hidari’s illustrations are as good as ever and the OST quality stays high, especially on battle themes.

Let’s finish on the only subject that was left untouched from Escha&Logy (wise choice) : Alchemy. It still has the skills divided into the 4 elements, save that they are even clearer and intuitive, which makes the system extremely precise and enjoyable without any loss in complexity.

Atelier Shallie bears all the signs of a game that was developed and released too fast : lack of overall content, lack of ambition but also launch hiccups that still make it crash 9 months after. Not a bad game, but it has lost the essence of what Atelier means and there can be no greater disappointment. We do have to wonder how an old and illustrious series like that could have been ruined and rent like a parking lot to a loan shark for subsidies.

Impressions – Life is Strange

Life is Strange marks the comeback of DONTNOD, the prodigious French studio behind Remember Me. The latter not having sold as expected, the developer went through tough times and was searching for a publisher for their next project. After having been turned down several times because many companies didn’t want a heroine, SquareEnix stepped in to market this narrative game, which reminds us of Beyond.

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If I had to describe Life is Strange, I would say that it is a westernized visual novel mixed with a puzzle game. It’s gonna be a game in five episodes, so what we’ll be examining today on PS4 is only the introduction of that. You play as a young girl called Max (I guess it must have become a girl’s name at some point) who’s back in her native town in Oregon to study photography. Unfortunately, fishy events are taking place in the Empire town of Arcadia and Max also starts to have strange visions.

What seduced me in Life is Strange is the eerie and mysterious atmosphere that contrasts with the somewhat classic school life featured. The campus is like haunted after that some girl called Rachel Amber went missing. Everywhere but nowhere at the same time, she is a key-person you want to know more about. Even without a confirmed crime, every person around you seems suspect : it’s like Criminal Minds, except that you’re in charge. Max, shy and lacking self-confidence, has an interesting personality that echoes a certain number of issues of today’s world. Like Remember Me, which offered a unique and complex universe, Life is Strange deserves kudos for having very original settings and features (photography being the first of them) unlike many of the generic AAA those past few months.

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In Life is Strange, you’ll have to make choices, an the game direction knows how to make them particularly serious. At numerous occasions, the actions you take will affect your future, near or distant. Some are more important than others of course, but the game will put pressure on you regardless, because Max never stops wondering if she took the right decision. That said, the consequences within this episode weren’t as important as I expected : when doing a 2nd walkthrough making the opposite choices, the main events stayed more or less the same (for example, I expected the event at the parking lot to change completely). I’d say there’s some potential yet to be confirmed in that department, which we’ll know quickly since your actions today have an impact on future episodes.

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In terms of puzzles also, Life is Strange starts slowly : there are few of them and they’re not so elaborated. In fact, this first episode is more a matter of observation and searching, which fits RPG addicts like me. In particular, trophies are all about snapping rare shots in the different environments. That was very addictive as it involved small choices, but it’s kinda disappointing not to have trophies linked to important choices.

Similar to Remember Me, puzzles and challenges in Life is Strange involve going back in time, and Max gets that supernatural power at the very start of the game. But it’s only valid on a few minutes, impossible to go back in 2012 to prevent the exclusivity of Bayonetta 2 for example. Max is not affected by those travels in time and can thus go back and use information earned in the present. The system allows you to perform numerous small thing, but nothing big yet, save that it adds some sense of grandeur to the story.

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Graphically speaking, DONTNOD’s game clearly lacks polish as models would make it appear as an early PS3 game. It clearly looks far less good than Remember Me, and I do reckon the developers didn’t have the freedom to go as far as they wanted to in that department. That said, Life is Strange has a lot of other decisive qualities, notably atmosphere and originality that make it stand out compared to today’s bland western offer.

Review – Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax

With no known equivalent in the West, Japanese light novels are quite a thing in Japan. Worshiped by otaku circles, those bizarre stories mixing action, love, science-fiction, fan-service and humor sell large volumes at each new issue and become animes in a blink of an eye. Reading is good, watching’s fine too, but playing is even better and Sega knows it. The fans’ aspiration for direct action now comes true with Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax (FC).

While the game design of this 2D fighting game is fairly classic, its playable characters aren’t. You’ll have the great pleasure to play as the most famous heroes/heroines from a dozen of series. Characters well-known in the West as Asuna and Kirito from Sword Art Online come alongside less renowned ones like the basket-ball star schoolgirl Tomoka from Ro-Kyu-Bu, plus some guests like Akira and Pai from Virtua Fighter (who have a tendancy to gatecrash every fighting game since they don’t have their own anymore).

In terms of game modes, you have the usual suspects : Arcade, Story, Training, Survival, Time-attack and Versus await you. Arcade feels a bit repetitive, but the point of an arcade mode has never been to tell a story. In fact, the little narrative behind it, however simplistic, proved intriguing enough and features surprising metaphors. For example, the girl designed by Kei representing Sega’s last console asks you to save the dreams. In other terms, in FC, you must save the Dreamcast! On the other hand, the story mode exclusive to the console version turned out to be no more than a series of mini dialogs. I did expect a lot more substantial content.

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The whole game is nevertheless extremely well dubbed and transcribes the atmosphere of the Dengeki series in an astonishingly wonderful way. Should it be Taiga’s extravagant behavior, Miyuki’s Magic or Tomoka’s shoots, FC spares no effort and goes as wild as needed to delight the fans. Kirito is especially cool : everything in its lines, attitude, moves and of course its amazing Double Edge Sword remind us of what’s amazing in Sword Art Online. Selveria being an unlockable playable character also is a huge plus, and she’s an extremely effective character and fun to play on the top of that. Graphically speaking, the 2D sprites on PSVita have a lovely feel in them, but animations look a bit jerky. The 2D models during talk parts are the ones from the novels and not from the anime. It kinda gives a fresh look to the characters and the animation are rather cute/fun despite no lip sync. Music is way above your average fighting game, with a beautiful theme song and quite great and entertaining composition.

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Each character’s movelist being ten lines or so, you could believe that FC lacks depth. Far from that, it’s actually a vastly technical game. You just have to spend some time online to ascertain that : skilled players build impressive combos, proof of a vast amount of time spend in training combining moves with one another. The annoying thing is that it makes it difficult for people not used to 2D fighters to enter the fray online : FC’s gameplay tuning is made for experts. It’s really a shame because the controls are quite fine even on PSVita, on which the stick allows you to perform half/quarter circles with ease.

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Adding to traditional combos and moves, FC has 3 original elements : a support character, a kirifuda and a Climax gauge. The support character attack or defends depending on whether you press X ou X+direction. Effects and range being quite different from one another, there’s already some training to do in order to find the one that fits your way of playing and calculate timing in battle. Kirifuda is a special move a bit more powerful than the others or a boost that gives you some advantages. They’re pretty uneven : Selveria fires a whole magazine of her personal rifle, while Shana’s is an all-cancel that refills a bit of her Climax gauge.

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The above mentioned gauge is used either to give an additional blow to the square button combo (consumes one bar), or unleash extra powerful techniques known as Climax Arts (two bars). Here’s the problem : the latter are next to impossible to execute successfully in a serious match. The range is short most of the time and normal guard blocks them. The only way to have them hit is to imbricate them in a longer combo. Good luck with that… Consequently, it is often more beneficial to use the extra square hit which is a lot more practical. Further in this logic, this almost unbreakable guard discourages risk-taking and tends to turn online battles in defensive/long range confrontations which is hardly fun. Let’s stress that unlike the 3D fighters I know, here you can’t perform combos unless you actually hit your opponent, so no approaching while being covered. You’ll have to cautiously monitor your distances if you don’t want to become full of openings.

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Last point, FC is rich of bonus content. There’s whole range of customization items such as colors/plates/icons and even the authors’ & voice actors’ autograph, plus some well-chosen illustrations and a chapter to read!

Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax is a very enjoyable fighting game, so well-thought for its targeted audience that it’s impossible to get bored if you like Dengeki series. It is just sad that gameplay arbitrations make online less fun than it should have been.

Review – Project Diva F 2nd

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Project Diva F on Vita has been for me a great discovery. Fun and arenaline rush like I hadn’t known for a while in a video game. The excitment was therefore high when booting this direct sequel. Excitment that stayed at maximum level until the end.

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In terms of content, Project Diva F 2nd (PDF2) inherits the principle of Project Diva Extend (PSP), that is to say half new songs, the other half being songs taken from previous episodes. In the case of PDF2, those ones come from the PSP games Project Diva 2nd and Project Diva Extend. Before complaining about rehashing, bear this in mind : while Project Diva Extend was merely transferring songs from Project Diva 2nd, PDF2 remakes them from scratch. Two-faced Lovers, Romio & Cinderella or Luka Luka Night Fever to mention a few, have been completely remades and not just remastered : choreographies have been changed in several aspects, especially by adding a finale like it was introduced in Diva F. No only this, but the incredible 3D engine of the «F» series transforms the hits of the previous generation and the astonishing graphics further enhanced from Diva F (PDF2 looks quite sharper) make it a whole new experience.

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As for the new songs, I found the list pretty uneven compared to Diva F which was a true concentration of musical masterpieces. Many have slow rythm or not enough intensity for my tastes. But whatever, that’s just me and I did find a few exhilarating compositions like Yubikiri, Ni Soku Hôko, Envy Cat Walk, Meteo 2nd Dimension Fever and Akatsuki Arrival, let alone the fantastic design and direction that mix elegance and cuteness in wonderful fashion.

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You’ll of course also get a new range of nice modules (=costumes) with the possibility to import the ones you already have in Diva F. In pure aesthetics, you have now an option to put a skin on your progression bar. While I think it takes too much room on the screen, some may please you. Note that if you want more, Sega has planned a looong DLC season to destroy your savings with seriously exciting stuff : the Japanese version already got Change Me, Kochi Muite Baby, Yellow and Sekiranun Graffiti, among others. Remember that if you have the extra character DLC for Diva F, you can get it free for PDF2 as it’s cross-buy.

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The most striking thing about gameplay is that the game became A LOT harder. If like me you’d come to master progressively the Hard mode without making wonders in Extreme, drop by the chemist’s to get some anxiolytics because you will suffer like hell. Narisumashi Ganga and 2nd Dimension Fever are inhumane, Envy Cat Walk drove me mad. It’s my concern with PDF2 : the Normal mode is still a bit too easy for returning fans, but Hard mode is discouraging sometimes.

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Generally speaking, the challenge has been beefed up in several ways. Remember the yellow stars for which you just had to scratch the screen continuously? That’s over, Jim! From now on, you’ll have to follow the pace. Technical zones have become a lot more technical, those bonus points are no longer offered like they used to be (Huh, God Tier Tune?). This episode comes out with new types of stars. There’s the «big» star which is cleared by scratching the screen in two different locations, and the «linked» stars, that are actually normal ones with more bonus points.

DR Luka b

All the side content is still there and has improved. The Diva Room, the now famous dating sim is more lively than in the previous game : the number of events have doubled, they’re triggered more often, yo have new mini-games and characters show a lot more actions/reactions. Camera angles have been nerfed a lot though, especially in close-up, which is definitely unwelcomed. All the friend level parameters have been tweaked to allow a more precise progression. The much sharper graphics add greatly to the enjoyment of this Diva Room 2.0, which more than ever is a game in itself.

ARL

The game comes with a dozen of new AR lives, save that now you no longer need the AR markers to organize your private performances!

AR Miku e

And of course, the fun of the AR camera mode is still intact ^o^

Despite the small hiccups in gameplay and balance, the immense delight is still the same. Project Diva F 2nd is pure and immediate joy until the end. That is, if you can see an end to a game you never really stop playing.