Review – Iwai Hime Matsuri

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CERO Z. The ultimate edge of the Japanese video games rating system, the one that separates what can be sold and what cannot. Usually used for realistic violence as in Call of Duty or other western shooters, it is rarely applied to domestic software. Stricter than our French PEGI18, it is impossible to buy such a game without proving your age. For example, you cannot purchase Iwai Hime Matsuri from the Japanese Playstation Store with a prepaid card, you must register a Japanese credit card! Then the question is more pressing than ever : what the hell is in this game ?

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Within the first minutes, Nippon Ichi Software’s game makes the subject very clear : it starts by mentioning a suicide. From the very strart, the game features some hypnotic writing capable of immersing the player in the story and a make him share the psychological condition of the characters. Struck by this first scene, you’re later introduced to the courageous protagonist Suzumu and his classmates. Toe, a silent girl always holding a Japanese doll, is one of them. It is said that the doll is cursed, and Toe with it. The truth behind that is the point of this adventure.

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Iwai Hime Matsuri is strictly a visual novel : the only thing you do is reading, there is no choice, branch of scenario or interactivity. The trophies (all gold, thanks for the jackpot!) also happen to all have “… chapter read“ in the description. Reviewing such a title is therefore in-between literature and cinema review, but the game gathers qualities from both.

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Iwai Hime Matsuri is a game constantly wandering between dream and reality. Most of the time, the narrative happens in some hallucination seen by the the five girls close to Suzumu. It is so confusing that in the first half of the game, it is nearly impossible to find out what really happened and what is fictitious. But that’s actually what is great about NIS’s game, because the atmosphere is darker than dark and the suspense thrilling. The great soundtrack, full of harrowing or mysterious themes, is a perfect fit to throw yourself in the story, try to distinguish the truth in the character stories. There is something really hooking about the psychological evolution of the characters that can only deeply strike the reader.

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The last point to be developed (to answer the question left in the introduction) is that Iwai Hime Matsuri is gruesome, in both what it tells or shows. For example, chapter 2 features a rape scene very slightly disguised in order to make it less obvious that it’s a sex scene (I remind you that this title originally comes from DMM.com). That wasn’t the only hard scene : horrible bullying, agony, mutilation… the game is rife with unbearable story parts. There’s also that reccuring misshapen character, not precisely identified to keep the mystery deep, which reminds Kafka’s Metamorphosis with the exact same icy feeling. The last chapter reaches a level of cruelty very close to hentaï and goes far beyond what you’d expect to find in a console game. For consenting (and interested) users ONLY.

With Iwai Hime Matsuri, the brilliant novelist Ryukishi07 invites us to wander between dream and harsh reality in a fascinating visual novel, despite its uneven pace. It’s not very easy to judge a game made of only text and images, but Nippon Ichi Software’s game mixes suspense, gruesome pictures and breathtaking scenes so well that I do think it’s a great pick in the genre.

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Most anticipated games of 2018

Fate Extella Link (PS4/PSVita)

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How great to see Marvelous keeping Vita version for Fate Extella Link ! PS4 version obviously getting a huge graphical overhaul, it was far from guaranteed. But yes, we’ll be able to fight for the holy Grail in cross-play, with new fun or classy characters like cute Astolfo or sexy Sacthach. There’s even a full Mah-Jong game in the limited edition !!

Girls und Panzers Dream Tank Match (PS4)

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Girls und Panzers on PSVita already being a good adaptation, I’m looking forward to experiencing the same sensations in a prettier, smoother and richer PS4 entry. Girls und Panzers Dream Tank Match features all the characters, all the tanks and all the battles from the movie, all this also in multiplayer.

Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet (PS4)

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At long last ! Three years… I’ve been waiting 3 years for an SAO game taking place in the fantastic universe of Gun Gale Online, featured in the Phantom Bullet arc. I’m gonna be able to SNIPE at will as Shinon or the original avatar. Because Bamco finally understood that the player wants maximum choice : you’ll have Kirito and his friends plus an original character to create yourself, who’s gonna have its own story. Artworks looks extremely promising and multiplayer should be implemented again. It’s time for SAO to be back on top.

Senran Kagura Burst Renewal (PS4)

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Thanks to Senran Kagura Burst Renewal, we’ll almost be able to wipe the series history clean of Nintendo systems. The founding game telling the story of the first two ninja schools is being remade for PS4 in splendid 3D and 60 fps, with redesigned menus.

Shining Resonance Refrain (PS4)

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Clearly no one expected Shining Resonance to show up again. And when you think it’s coming back with a whole new scenario in which you have Jenuis and Excella from the start, the hype goes high ! The story would need to be re-written entirely, and I’m curious to see how.

Death End Request (PS4)

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Compile Heart is in dire straits. Sales keep dwindling, new ideas and skillfullness lack clearly. Their last hope is Nanameda Kei, Compile’s new star illustrator, and the Galapagos RPG team. Taking place in an MMORPG from where the heroine Shiina cannot escape, Death End Request seems to be the innovative and deep title the company needs, not to mention it respects Compile’s spirit.

Caligula Overdose (PS4)

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Yet another remaster with additional content, but this one is interesting : adding to new friends and foes, Caligula Overdose includes an “if story” in which you’re gonna side with the opposing gakushi, and explore their personalities as you did for your allies.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 (PS4)

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Was it all a bad dream ? I kind remember playing a failed Action-RPG called Valkyria one year ago… Yeah, that was surely a dream. Valkyria Chronicles, the real one, is coming back like it has ever been, in an episode featuring the missions of the Atlantic Federation (you know, the diplomats trying to lure you in the first game) against the Empire in snowy lands. Game system, battle system… everything is inherited from the original Valkyria Chronicles (they understood that it was better not to change anything) and characters seem charismatic. This means a big 14’000¥ collector’s edition for me.

Soul Calibur VI (PS4)

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SoulCalibur’s return was sure desired, but less expected. But still we’re gonna be able to cross swords a 6th time. Namco has mention some ideas about reboot and “simplicity”. Quite not what I want to hear but they did a good job with Tekken, so that should go well…

Catherine Full Body (PS4/PSVita)

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This wasn’t expected either, even less on PSVita. Thanks to that handheld version, I’ll be able to experience that strange dating/puzzle game. Vincent, a unresolved young man, spends his days in a bar where a girl called Catherine tries to seduce him. During the night, Vincent is trapped in his dreams, in which he must escape by climbing a sort of Jenga tower ! A clear UFO that will be perfect for commuting.

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim (PS4/PSVita)

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Let’s say it again, 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim has the potential to become the next 2D adventure masterpiece thanks to its incomparable atmosphere. A handful of high-schoolers must act before and after the end of the world, helped by strange mechas. With time and choice parameters, it looks absolutely outstanding.

Final Fantasy XV (PS4)

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Final Fantasy XV development is going smoothly according to SquareEnix, who publishes Active Time Reports on a regular basis.There will be an early access version on PC in a few weeks, with only 4 playable characters (not the best ones). Probably SquareEnix will polish the game at this occasion, before hopefully giving all the information on the final version.

Zanki Zero (PS4/PSVita)

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Quite austere Survival-RPG, Zanki Zero was back at TGS with new interesting hints. As developers had already shown, the characters should age, and there seem to be some strange resurrection mechanic… Well, the fate of those 8 survivalists is still shrouded in mystery.

The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel IV (PS4)

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Trails of Cold Steel IV is a nightmare for Western fans of The Legend of Heroes (you, actually). The first pictures are potential huge spoilers about Trails of Cold Steel III and they’re being shared everywhere in the world as we speak. But of course, for me and Japanese fans, those informations are highly valuable for knowing what to expect.

Granblue Fantasy Re-link (PS4)

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The gameplay video of Granblue Fantasy Relink surprised pretty much everyone. No one expected such high end graphics and exciting action. We should have though, because the people behind this are the geniuses of Platinum Games. Although the talented developer seem to stay on Nintendo’s side, we’ll gladly take such epic heroic-fantasy, especially since it will be in VR too.

I’m also waiting for Persona 5 Dancing Star Night (PS4/PSVita), Persona 3 Dancing Moon Night (PS4/PSVita), Project Lux (PSVR), Ace Combat 7 (PS4), Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4), Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4), Ni no Kuni II Revenant Kingdom (PS4), Code Vein (PS4), Senran Kagura 7EVEN (PS4), World End Syndrome (PSVita) and Bullet Girls Phantasia (PS4/PSVita).

My games of the year 2017 (GoTY 2017)

Best Action game

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Fire Emblem Warriors (Switch)

For a first Switch game, Fire Emblem Warriors has been an awesome pick. Omega Force delivers here one of the best Warriors game ever : the ferocity of the fights blows everything that has been done before, and general direction was quite good. Loaded with the best characters and clever maps, it was an amazing experience all the way.

Runner-up : Nier Automata (PS4) & Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash (PS4)

Best Shooter

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Call of Duty Modern Warfare Remastered (PS4)

Generally I don’t agree with the « it was better before » whole narrative. But when it comes to FPS, well, that works. The multiplayer in Infinite Warfare is garbage, so you ought to come back to what’s good. And here we must admit that « before », Call of Duty mutliplayer was remarkably well-designed and provided a lot of fun. What else then than embracing this excellent remaster?

Runner-up : none

Best Fighting game

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Tekken 7 (PS4)

While having an underwhelming solo, Tekken 7 does things right on the important part : online. Matchmaking is effective, music options very nice, costumization as good as ever, moves are over the top and gameplay still is an absolute reference for the genre. Clearly a must-have to enjoy figting once a while.

Runner-up : none

Best Racing game

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Gran Turismo Sport (PS4)

Gran Turismo Sport scared me at release : without any solo championship, I wondered if the IP wanted to commit suicide or something… Fortunately, solo leagues came via update about a week ago, a necessary addition to the driving challenges, which are a cool part but insufficient alone. With trickier driving than before, GT Sport has of course a dream-like concentration of models and an awesome photo mode for car lovers.

Runner-up : Wipeout Omega Collection (PS4)

Best RPG

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Atelier Firis, the Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey (PS4)

I spent January 2017 on Atelier Firis and that was absolute delight. The series had recovered everything that had made it great (limited time, alchemy challenges, hidden bosses…) while adding a massive innovation : an astonishing open world that transformed management. 70 hours of exploration, wonders and surprises. Atelier Firis is probably going to be unique.

Runner-up : Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

Best Puzzle game

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Shin Yomawari (PSVita)

Unable to trigger another revolution (because basically copy/pasted from the original), Shin Yomawari still gets its deal of searching and puzzles. Gameplay is a bit more irritating than the in first one, but the game is loaded with intense secquences than will put you on edge.

Runner-up : none

Best music

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Great Ace Attorney 2 (3DS)

No hesitation in this category this year : I’ve been listening to Great Ace Attorney 2’s OST for 4 months now! Capcom’s game is never ending greatness for your ears, the entire soundtrack going from good to magnificient. Joyful melodies, dark themes, epic orchestrations, there is nothing that Great Ace Attorney 2 doesn’t do well.

Runner-up : Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana (PSVita)

Best narrative

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Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

I’m still shaking. My heart almost couldn’t take it at the end of Trails of Cold Steel III. Falcom obviously wanted to make it spectacular, so that the slightest information on Trails of Cold Steel IV is pure gold. Of course, even before that, writers placed several key reveals and intense secquences. A clear intensification of Trails of Cold Steel story-telling.

Runner-up : Death Mark (PSVita)

Best atmosphere

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Death Mark (PSVita)

I cleared Death Mark over a long week-end. That was fortunate, because I couldn’t imagine myself dropping the game to go to work. I was completely hooked by Death Mark’s hypnotic atmosphere. Experience’s game is the darkest I’ve ever played, it was even difficult to breathe given the fear of what could come out. Music and sounds reached perfection.

Runner-up : Shin Yomawari (PSVita) & Iwai Hime Matsuri (PSVita)

Best design

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Death Mark (PSVita)

Death Mark is memorable for a reason : its design perfectly fit the horror genre. The look of the environements alone scares you to the bone. Terrifying details are rife, atrociously mutilated bodies too. And I don’t even mention the Ghosts : after chapter 3, I couldn’t even turn off the lights at night…

Runner-up : Nier Automata (PS4)

Best game you might never play

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Great Ace Attorney 2 (3DS)

Notice that I won’t mention Death Mark here. I’m confident that NIS America or some other company will bring it to the West. Regarding Great Attorney 2 though, that seems toasted… A shame, because that second part of the Victorian spin-off had super great story and humor.

Runner-up : Iwai Hime Matsuri (PSVita)

Most disappointing

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Cyberdimension Neptune 4 Goddess Online (PS4)

Compile Heart needed to fix years of IP mismanagement with Cyberdimension Neptune 4 Goddess Online, and they failed miserably. This Action-RPG is poor in every departement and doesn’t inherit the Neptunia spirit. The Neptunia IP is weak now, the lack of ideas eventually ended up being lethal. Tsunako is being out-fashioned by Nanameda Kei, and producer Mizuno is ridiculous compared to other teams at Compile.

Runner-up : Nights of Azure 2 (PS4/PSVita)

mini Platinum-trophy Game of the year

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Atelier Firis, the Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey (PS4)

The king of RPG-Management was back this year. I could feel once more the delight of adeventure, the heat of battle and greatness of never ending frontiers. The alchemy challenges in an open world is something that had never been done before, like a wave which you need all all your might and wits to resist to. The Golden Age of Atelier was back.

mini gold trophy Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

mini Silver_Trophy Death Mark (PSVita)

mini-bronze_trophy Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana (PSVita)

Review – Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana

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Following the outstanding success of Tokyo Xanadu, which is largely regarded as a new IP, Falcom gets back to one of its established franchises with Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana. This newest episode has a particular taste since it’s likely to be Falcom’s last Vita game.

Ys VIII Adol

Already active is past Ys games, the red-headed adventurer Adol Christin is again a the center of this action-RPG. He’s travelling on board of the ship Lombardia when the latter gets attacked by a giant sea monster that sinks it without mercy. Adol wakes up in a desert island he recognizes at once : the cursed island of Seiren, well-known for causing shipwrecks. The fearless explorer has nothing more than a rusted blade to defend himself. He will thus seek help and form a small group with Laxia, an aristocratic girl good at fencing, and fisherman Sahad. Joined by the captain of the Lombardia and Adol’s old pal Dogi, they start building a small village to shelter themselves and the remaining refugees.

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In his sleep, Adol will have visions of a priestress called Dana. Despite living in distant eras, Dana feels she’s linked to Adol somehow and will seek to help him by interacting from the past. Thrown into each other’s mind at night, Adol and Dana will complement each other to solve the mysteries of Seiren, a bit as if Falcom had written Your Name before Makoto Shinkai. The player follows both stories in parallel until those two scenarios connect in a beautiful way, and give a new and strong momentum by reaching superior stakes like in any good JRPG. Dana’s part was absolutely remarkable on the emotion side, with relevant narrative steps and perfect emphasis on important scenes.

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Like a virtual Indiana Jones, you’re going to explore the numerous parts of the island one after another. Let’s stress right away that the mini-map is (finally) removable and that you can choose to experience a more old-school progression if you like, finding your way only by the general map. And you’ll need it, because Ys VIII features one of the biggest worlds ever created on PSVita. Dense forests, lots of ancient ruins, muddy field, dark caves, mountain peaks and even underwater parts! The progression constantly renews itself and is an adventure like you’ve never seen.

Ys VIII Ricotta

Despite being a bit linear (the regions of the map unlock very progressively), the game features interesting level design, it being complex terrain where you can get lost easily. Verticality is very impressive, has the game has you cross tortuous mountain paths or a large tower. It also leads to diversions given the hostile environment : the nature of Seiren will make you bite the dust, but the thrill of exploration is totally there. Sure enough, Ys VIII has some Xenoblade vibes in it. Even better, you’ll everything on a yet again splendid soundtrack. Seldom music will have enchanted the player as he runs in the wilderness. Lost in Green or You’ll See the End of the Tales come to mind, but there are many more like that.

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The wonders of Seiren will enchant you too as Falcom borrows Zestiria’s discovery system. The exploration continues even outside the main scenario since you may come back to previously visited locations equipped with new exploration items (for example the feather allows the double jump) or new recruits in the drifting village, and thus uncover new secrets such as underground temples, etc.

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Ys VIII doesn’t forget about leisure either because the fishing mini-game will be available all game long, including dozens of species to fish.

Ys VIII Tina

To progress in the story or in subquests, you’ll need to move the rocks blocking your path here and there. You can achieve this only if the number of inhabitants in the drifting village is high enough. You therefore must search every corner of the island in order to locate the survivors. Every newcomers trigger new quests or offer new services : Alison can sew new clothes, Catherine will be your smith and Tina will establish the barter counter. Indeed, you’re in a desert island and there’s of course no currency! The inventory is managed by exchanging more or less rare natural resources, so as to gather the necessary materials for new weapons and armor.

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As always with Falcom, those secondary characters are fairly varied and deep : numerous sub-events explore the personality of each character out there, important rule in JRPGs. You also find quite some mini-stories that illustrates subquests, which makes them more enjoyable than usual. In particular, direct allies have a quite detailed personal story (a lot more than discreet Adol) and arouse empathy. Ys VIII has this particular humor of JRPGs, in which you hear the most unexpected lines in every situation. Hummel is top in that, given his seriousness in his strange “job” in the middle of the wilderness. After many hits in the field, Falcom is now at the forefront of modern JRPG, keeping that classic spirit when other threw it away for more money.

Ys VIII Laxia battle

Combat has the same action-RPG feeling as Dragon Quest Heroes : a base 3-hit combo plus a special skills to choose between four. The L/R skills are varied and pack a punch, depending on the weapon used by the six playable characters. Dana for example owns two immense chakras that she can throw or make dance in long combos. Hummel can perform numerous types of shooting with its rifle, etc. Good news for those who like their gameplay habits : all buttons can be changed at your liking.

Ys VIII dodge

If we talk battle, we need to underline the guard and dodging systems. Performing a just guard or dodging at the very last moment respectively slow down the enemy’s movements and raise your critical rate to the maximum. Both grant you a few seconds of invincibility : you’re free to beat down the opponent. You need to master that in order to win in higher difficulty modes, but the skillfulness demanded makes for delightful fights. In normal mode, like in Tokyo Xanadu, there is moderate challenge but hard more in Ys VIII is significantly more interesting : damage taken is no joke, potions very limited and status ailments unforgiving. In order to ease the pain, the game allows you to recover HP by resting on the map, this however not being possible in dungeons.

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The bestiary of Ys VIII is impressive : ferocious beasts, sea monsters, ancient golems and wild dinosaurs, combat is renewed in every place you go. Rare enough to be mentioned, you almost never see the same type of enemy twice! Further evidence of Falcom’s outstanding effort to make a rich world. Boss fights are awesome as opponents boast complex movesets and strategies. Strong and sturdy, dinosaurs will make you sweat, especially in defense missions. It so happens that fiends will regularly gather around the village and it’s up to you to repel them. Defense missions occur like a survival mode : monsters come in waves and you have to stop them from destroying the fence. Them coming from all directions, all you can do is to hit everything in sight as violently as you can. Exhilarating. You’ll also be able to build defenses, traps, barricades to withstand increasingly heated assaults.

When other choose to ditch classic JRPG, Falcom keeps the magic of the genre. With charming characters, a fantastic battle system, splendid music, multiple quests and an incredibly rich world, Ys VIII is a must-have for those who have been faithful to the genre for 15 or 20 years. Immersive and glorious in many aspects and despite very minor drawbacks, it is an amazing potion of youth.

Review – Blue Reflection

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What would happen if you gave more power to illustrators than to game’s directors? Blue Reflection gives a glimpse of the answer to that ludicrous interrogation, because the keyman of Gust’s JRPG is no other than Mel Kishida, the brilliant designer of the Arland part of Atelier games. Can the man lead Gust to success once more?

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Hinako is discouraged : her dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer gets shattered when she suffers an incurable ankle injury. Wandering like a ghost in her new school, she’s bewildered when she realizes she has the power to enter her classmates’ mind to relieve their anguish. She’s a magical girl : she transforms and wears a frou-frou dress, gaining some magical abilities in the process.

Blue Reflection Yuzu Raimu

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Brought along by her magical girls comrades Yuzu and Raimu, Hinako will pursue this “career” for a reason : her dearest wish will come true when she achieves final victory against the genshu, demonic creatures at war with humanity since ancient times. Her dialy activities will always be to walk around within the school and help anxious pupils. Each time, the three heroines will be sent in the Comon, spiritual world built by the collective unconscious, a bit like the Mementhos in Persona 5. There, the game will simply ask you to defeat 1, 2, 3 or 4 enemies of the same type, or collect fragments here and there in super tiny maps. Sadly, it never gets more elaborated than that.

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PS4

Blue Reflection is a turn-based JRPG, with a timeline on which the order of action of all characters and enemies is displayed in real time, like in Child of Light. Combat has 3 parameters : HP, MP and Ether. While the first two are well-known, Ether is the big particularity of Blue Reflection and does a lot of things. For example, Overdrive allows one of the girls to use several skills during the same turn, dream-like capacity because you can attack and heal in the same time.

Blue Reflection mission

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By clearing secondary quests, you’ll be able to obtain fragments. The magical girls can equip those fragments and affect them to one particular skill in order to maximize their effect : better healing, absorb HP/MP or boosting attack power when Ether reaches a certain level (50, 40 or 30%). Those fragments work like passive abilities in Atelier, and thus allow you to build a general strategy, although less precise.

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PS4

But the biggest innovation in Blue Reflection is undoubtly the Active Command. Between turns, you’ll have 1 or 2 seconds to hit one of the direction buttons, each of the 4 having a different effect. By keeping it pushed, you’ll boost defence, speed or heal the girls, but your Ether gauge will be depleted fast! Ether management is thus the cornerstone of the game, and you need to keep some characters in defence so that your Ether never dries up. Given how fast-paced it is, it’s dynamic enough to liven up boss fights.

Blue Reflection Ako

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Like Persona, Blue Reflection includes many secondary characters who can be invited by Hinako for a chat or a stroll in town. The game laso features a friend level for each girl which greatly depends on the answers you give, so there is a little yuri sim aspect in it. The problem is that unlike Persona, the girls in Hinako’s high school aren’t very charismatic in general, nor do they have a solid background or a strong personality.

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The only exception to that was Yuri : gifted with off-chart IQ but suffering from a rare syndrome, she was by far the funniest characters and had the most touching story. I barely remember the others (maybe Shio and her bizarre humor) since their personality traits were thin. Voice acting was almost non-existent, which is a big mistake in this type of game. Reading all that leads to boredom and fatigue. Blue Reflection really would have needed that investment so that school life feel more lively and the characters more convincing.

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PS4

On the plus side compared to Persona, the allies are with you during the boss fights. You can call them quite often and they show up in a funny little animation, granting immensely useful effect to your party. Those girls can attack, heal, resurrect, boost your stats and refill your Ether gauge! They also react to the evolution of the fight : they run away when they’re afraid that the boss might win, and they come back when you take the upper hand. It’s pretty enjoyable to have a real integration of secondary characters in gameplay.

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PS4

Boss fights are the strongest aspect of Blue Reflection because they’re super well directed. At each key moment of the story, gigantic genshu will advance on the school to wipe it out, like Evangelion’s shito. The giant creature actually progress during the fight, and if it reaches our line of defense, it’s game over. As it gets closer, music changes, the facial expression of the characters also.That is extraodinary direction, in particular in the cutscenes that come just after, in which Hinako deals the final blow in pure magical girl style, living up to the best animes in the field. Very cool moments visually speaking but unfortunately the story fails to renew itself and find a new stage.

Blue Reflection Hinako

PSVita

Those fights are rather long and complex because bosses have numerous parts that regenerate all the time : you need to manage your offensive to keep to parts in check, because they attack you too! Despite all that, battles are a bit simple, as the game is in a whole. Even difficult mode won’t resist very long to veteran JRPG players who’ll master the use of fragments and Active Command. Blue Reflection is in fact a light experience in terms of gameplay : no game over (except in boss fights), experience comes from completed quests and not from battles, and fighting in the Comon becomes soon tedious.

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Blue Reflection is thus better felt by your eyes than by your hands, the 3D engine having been tailor-made for that. It’s astonishingly beautiful, so much that Blue Reflection feels like being that game passing the baton between PS3 and PS4. Not only for Gust who clearly here went to the next step, but also for the all the developers of similar scale who now have to keep up. The world in it may not be very large, but 3D modeling totally lives up to Mel Kishida’s wonderful designs, and battles are just breathtaking. Lightning, shading, reflects, textures… Blue Reflection sets a new technical record in everything. And that’s not all, because interface, monsters and bosses are classy. The illustrator certainly did a great job in supervising all this.

Blue Reflection Hinako 3

PSVita

The PSVita has been somehow correct and I played via cross-save to the very end. Graphics were perfectly good in handhelds terms, except some really ugly decors here and there. The only issue was frame-rate during fights because there were significant drops when using flashy skills. It doesn’t replace the PS4 version of course since the interest lies in graphics, but it was cool in order to progress a bit on the go. Nothing at stake here however, since KoeiTecmo Europe abandonned the Vita overnight after years of boasting their support to the system. Sad but business is business…

Blue Reflection is a fetish-centric game. This had been suggested during the initial teasing so that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The extra care given to the graphics serve a purpose, which is staring at gorgeous bodies and sexy costumes from every angle. Funny enough, choosing the option “streching exercises” leads to a pool event with 100% probability! There are plenty in the same fashion, including showers, dressing room, drenched clothes, etc. The swimsuit (additional costume to wander in the school) was even offered as preorder bonus for every character! Clearly Blue Reflection sells its fan service and does it well.

Frankly, Blue Reflection is average as an RPG. This is what happens when the designer grows more important than the producer : the game is a great visual experience, but isn’t great in its writing or in its gameplay in a whole. You can feel that KoeitTecmo didn’t fully invest in it and that doesn’t help. It’s like a art gallery, some parts are good, some aren’t. Personally I was rather satisfied with it despite the drawbacks, given the art/graphic qualities, and Yuri’s part which was definitely memorable.

Review – Death Mark

Shiin ca1

The market of fear is flourishing on PSVita. Death Mark has indeed actually released between Yomawari Night Alone, its sequel Yomawari Midnight Shadows and the visual novel Iwai Hime Matsuri. All those titles aim at delivering a terrifying experience to the player. And at this game, Death Mark might be the best.

Death Mark prologue

As you can fathom from the title, Death Mark revolves around the “mark”. Those who come to bear that eerie symbol soon die in some atrocious way. The story opens when the main character, who has the mark on its arm, wanders in the city with nothing more than a business card saying just “Kujô manor”.

Death Mark Mary a

There he hears only bad news : the mark will kill him soon, and is erasing his memory to prevent all resistance. But dying without putting up a fight is not an option : the desperate struggle against the mark and the dark forces behind it begins.

Death Mark phonebox

The protagonist will have to seek rumors about urban legends here and there to find something connected with the mark. As in a good old point’n click game, Death Mark’s environments are composed of still screens on wich you use Vita’s stick to look into certain parts and retrieve key items. Exploration mechanics aren’t especially revolutionary : find a key to open a door, drive off creatures with chemicals, combine objects, etc. So far, Experience deliver the usual stuff, in a plainly linear adventure by the way.

Death Mark phone live or die

But where Death Mark is a little more original is in sudden secquences called Live or Die : like the naming says, your character is threatened of immediate death and you need to choose the best fitted action or line among the three displayed. The right choices are to be deduced from little hints given in the narrative or in the chapter files. Searching, logic and awereness will be necessary to get through it like a pro. There is also a limit which is no less than the protagonist’s Soul points. Any wrong answer costs a great deal of soul, or even leads to immediate death. Although those secquences have a strong psychological effect, their actual value in terms of gameplay is limited since you can restart without limitation in case of game over.

Death Mark doc

You are not alone. Other bearers of the mark, the shirushibito (shirushi = mark, hito = person) will knock at Kujô’s door every chapter. You’ll have to choose carefully with whom you’ll be be doing your night trips, because you can take only one at a time. And it’s quite important given that some of them will be necessary to progress at some points, to cross a particular path of defeat a particular boss. Rather modest title, Death Mark includes very few animations so you’ll have to do with the character design. Art is pretty far for manga standarts but it fits this particular atmsophere, and the sidekicks are varied enough to please everyone.

Death Mark bride

Each chapter ends with an epic encounter against the ghost that haunts the perimeter. It involves several turns in which you have to resist the monster’s offensive and then try to annihilate it when it’s close enough. You have on you all the items gathered during the chapter and the challenge will be to find out which ones to use or to combine. But that doesn’t stop here because simply destroying the ghost will only get you the bad end of the chapter. To secure the good end, bring everyone back home alive and witness the true ending of the game, you must save the soul of the ghost by another logic. Thus there are two levels of challenge in Death Mark, because you need to analyse more deeply all the clues to experience the ultimate satisfaction of seeing your favorite mates come back alive.

Death Mark Hihiko

But the greatest aspect of Death Mark is its astonishingly perfect atmosphere. Even more than Yomawari Night Alone, Death Mark creates a terrifying atmosphere that lasts from the first second to the last second of the game. You almost have to prepare yourself psychologically before opening every door. Such is Experience’s mastery in arousing suspense and handling the fear of the unknown. The constant but yet uncertain menace of the ghost puts you on edge during all the exploration, and the sound environment doubles that effect. The silence is widely used of course, but the game also features striking orchestral compositions in critical moments. Finally, Death Mark is full of creepy sounds that will make you jolt of sweat : a military song coming from nowhere, howls in the forest, the ticktock of the clock, the very same that periodically tells you that you have only a few hours, or seconds, to live… Death Mark has almost no voice acting unfortunately, but the ghosts’ icy muttering will drive you to anguish.

Death Mark tree

Inevitably full of corpses, Death Mark shows atrocious deaths and misshapen ghosts who only show their true self in the last turn of the last encounter. Fear quickly turns to trauma to the point you might hesitate when turning off the lights at night (I did). Last but not least, Death Mark is game that plays with your emotions at all times, making you unsure of the outcome even in the last seconds of the good end. Well told, the Experience-developed game benefits from an intriguing story that unfolds progressively alongside the side narratives (in which chapter 3 is truly excellent), maintaining a great deal of suspense until the very end. Its only drawback is being short (10 to 15 hours long), but here again Death Mark compensates by a friendly price : 4000 ¥, that is to say 30-40% cheaper than your average PSVita game in Japan.

Gifted with an unforgettable atmosphere, Death Mark gathers all the qualities to be a champion of fear on Vita. Absolutely striking how a modest Point’n Click reaches such a high level of mastery in direction, storytelling, sound that easily competes with AAA survival-horror titles. My most intense experience of the year, and one the greatest games ever on the system.