Review – Summon Night 6 Lost Borders

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Starting with Summon Night 5 released in 2015 in Europe and the Americas, BandaiNamco’s series debuted only recently in the West on… PSP! Sony’s unwavering first handheld thus was the first home of this series of strategy RPGs, which had previously been on home consoles too. Therefore, it lead the way to Summon Night 6, now coming to PS4 and PSVita.

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PSVita

Summon Night 6’s story opens on Rage’s (yes, that’s his official name) bucolic life. He lives in an closed and barren world called Filuja… of which he’s the only inhabitant! Filuja’s particularity is that stuff continuously rains from the sky, so Rage can make a living with food cans and other resources fallen from nowhere. This monotonous life will end when he finds actual people coming down. Amu, young and quiet girl bearing a large hunting rifle, experiences the same life and events. Before them, a huge white wall, like the surface of a cocoon. With the help of their new partners, they’ll look for a way to find out the truth about the wall, and solve the mysteries of Filuja.

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PSVita

Amu, Rage and the strange “manager” Yst turn out to be the only new characters of Summon Night 6, because their comrades fallen from the skies all belong to previous episodes of the series. The cast is fairly large tough since the entire Summon Night series turns up for this sixth game. For example, you’ll find Alka from Summon Night 5, Rachel from Summon Night 4 or Natsumi from the very first one among the 30 characters or so. That re-use is hardly an issue for us, because westerners will likely discover all those characters for the first time. The choice offered is more than satisfying and like Fire Emblem, the designs and personalities are varied. Note that in Japan, free DLCs added several secondary characters as playable ones.

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PS4

Ragu/Amu will be able to deepen their relationship with other characters via night talk. This has on impact on the end of the story because very character has its own ending provided the friend level with the main character is maxed. This gives Summon Night 6 lots of different endings.

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PSVita

On the other hand, Summon Night 6 has countless references to the scenario of past episodes, which implies a good knowledge of the series in a whole. Otherwise, conversations are pretty hard to follow. From the point of view of Summon Night 6, all the previous characters come from worlds that are parallel to Filuja, which can even welcome the same person twice, but of different look and destiny. Misunderstandings are frequent and will lead to many comical situations in the dialogs between the characters.

Summon Night 6 features kilometers of chat, most of the time disconnected from the story and, frankly, not stellar even with the best tolerance you can have. The biggest issue is that very little talk is actually dubbed : most of the (never-ending) dialogs are text only and it can be tiring fairly quickly. So Summon Night 6 kinda looks like a Summon Night All Stars, not very immersive because to main story gets drowned in a flood of idle gossip.

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PS4

The progression is divided into chapters, each one including a battle, very much like Fire Emblem. That’s not the only resemblance with the king of the genre because the battle screen looks exactly the same as the legendary Path of Radiance of the no less great GameCube : characters are represented in 3D on a squared map also involving the height factor. Distance is also a key-element as weapons have various reach (sword, spears, bows, etc.) and magic can be used too. For example, katanas allow you to attack diagonally and prevent the enemy’s counterattack. The game is full of small parameters like this, creating a wide range of possibilities. As in Super Heroine Chronicle for example, the height difference is to be taken into account because it impacts accuracy.

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PSVita

But the long list of gameplay elements in Summon Night 6 doesn’t end here. In Summon Night, there is Summon and that’s not coincidence. Each character can summon certain creatures to assist him/her. Only way to use elements and cure, those little friends will be increasingly important as difficulty goes up : tough monsters must be attacked with magic and with the right element which supposes analysis and knowledge. Because like weapons, summon stones can be upgraded at the shop for more power.

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PSVita

In battle, the summoner can ask nearby characters to assist him and improve the effects of the blow : that’s called Summon Assist. Even better yet, two characters can unite their summons to call a massive and powerful beast : this Summon Burst strikes on a wide zone, which makes it the strongest move in Summon Night 6. Be careful not to hit your other characters though, because friendly fire is activated.

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PS4

After the victory screen, there are still tactical choices to be made. Every time a character destroys an enemy unit (and even more for the last one), he/she earns some SP that allows him/her to learn new active or passive skills. There are lots of skills like that and they have extremely precise and varied roles/effects. By analyzing those effects, you can easily build your own playstyle. For example, Enishia can gradually replenish MP to adjacent allies (something you definitely want to have if you rely on powerful summons). “Connect” allows characters to assist each other for physical attacks, “item throw” allow you to heal distant characters, “counter” saves turns, etc. The choice is even larger because when characters change class, they can use a different weapon which multiply the potential skills he/she can use. With all this, Summon Night 6 is great for those who like micro management.

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PSVita

The game system being that rich, Summon Night 6 would have been among the best S-RPGs if only it hadn’t made some stupid blunders. Difficulty setting is one of them : the challenge is badly distributed in the game, more than half of the chapters being super easy. It’s not uncommon to see your best trained characters taking 1HP damage every turn… in hard mode! The last missions are tougher and thus more interesting, but in a whole it’s not very compelling. Besides, there’s no permadeath and you can swap characters from reserve anytime. The only hardcore element is this : a KO character cannot earn experience. A questionable choice because it affects party balance.

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PSVita

The Felistella/Media Vision-developed game suffers from other aspects. The first thing a player does in a S-RPG is to overview the map to assess the situation. That’s where it gets annoying : the camera “blocks” around 90° when you try to turn it. There’s just no way to see the map from the desired angle! That might be seen as a detail, but it’s really bothering in actual gameplay. Combat interface could be better, moving and choosing various actions not being very intuitive. Moving distance is also too low, creating bottlenecks within the group.

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PS4

Summon Night 6 features some mini-games and secondary activities. Fishing is available and fairly complete with various baits to use. Cooking can keep you busy also, provided you can get ingredients (since they’re pretty rare). Side missions will have you form groups of 3 characters thrown into some sort of survival mode in which they face waves of enemies. It’s a convenient way to get experience, except that here you don’t control the party members : the IA fights on its own, the important thing being to choose allies whose element will have the advantage.

Summon Night 6

PSVita

Of a design very much like old Fire Emblem, Summon Night 6 is visually stunning on PSVita : frame-rate and animation never waver, graphically it’s clean and detailed, characters look absolutely wonderful for a portable game. The game is strictly the same on PS4, so this version isn’t very interesting comparatively unless you want to record your gameplay. The sound environment is uneven : sound effects are way to discreet to liven up the atmosphere, but some musics are very cool, like the victory themes or the 3 village melodies.

Benefiting from a rich battle system and a great casting, Summon Night 6 could have been a reference in its genre had the story and challenge been more compelling. Beautiful, but not always passionate, it can still be attractive for fans of the genre for its design and its unit management.

Review – A Rose in the Twilight

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Review – Fate Extella

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Extremely large media mix IP, Fate has gone into anime, visual novels & mangas. But it of course doesn’t fail to visit the gaming business to meet the demand for more interactivity. So after Fate Extra and Fate Extra CCC on PSP, it’s the turn of Fate Extella on PSVita.

Fate GO, Fate Zero, Fate Extra, Fate Stay Night, Fate Apocrypha, Fate Kaleid Liner Prisma Ilya… Not always easy to get facts right in the sprawling Fate universe. The aim of Fate Extella is thus very simple : to offer an action game picking charismatic characters in all those sub-IPs so that fans can play as their favorite characters. Altella and Elizabeth come from the smartphone game Fate Grand Order, No Name Archer is well-known for being Rin Tôsaka’s servant in Ufotable’s anime adaptation of Fate Stay Night, and Nero & Tamamo come from the previous PSP games. In Fate’s lore, some humans called magi or masters can summon the spirits of past heroes, reincarnated into powerful servants. You are to expect the evil Roman emperor Nero as a extrovert Blond girl, Attila as a tsundere girl and, more in line with history, Alexander the Great as an old and bold king. That’s a total of 16 playable characters in Fate Extella, with both handsome men and sexy girls. So no one gets left behind here.

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Fate Extella’s story happens after Fate Extra and Fate Extra CCC : the Holy Grail War is over and your main character is already crowned king of SE.RA.PH, virtual domain set by the Moon Cell, itself a central system measuring and controlling activity on Earth. The main character first appears with his/her servant Nero Claudius, who de facto become regent of SE.RA.PH. Their reign however won’t be peaceful as Tamamo No Mae, another servant from the Holy Grail War, starts invading their territory.

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Altella, another spirit, will barge in this struggle to power not to conquer, but to destroy all. This particular event foretells greater trials for the servants, which go beyond the Holy Grail War. Each of the three has a team involving other heroes, so Fate Extella shares out good and evil a bit like Dissidia does for Final Fantasy. The player is invited to experience the story from the three different points of view, three alternate futures that shall lead to an ideal fate in the lovable true end.

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Likable on its principles, the story of Fate Extella is a little less exciting in the way it’s told : its structure is basically repetitive and vary only in the very last chapter, which is more interesting to follow. But before it, you can’t help thinking you’re doing the same game 3 times with 3 different characters. Note that purely narrative part are quite long (you often spend more time between chapters than playing) with lots of raw text in the middle of dialogs. In doing so, Fate Extella gets back to its roots of visual novel, even at risk of annoying players eager to enter the fray. It remains that those sequences have a strong poetic tone and excellent writing. A good read, but here again they could have made it more concise.

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Besides that, dialogs still a have a strong sense of humor : driven by their unstoppable love for the main character and their own rivalry, Nero and Tamamo will keep making a fool of each other or come up with hilarious strange words. Their behavior is clearly over-the-top and lives up to the craziest JRPGs. Strangely, this wacky talk balanced by very sophisticated language, with complex use of Japanese kanjis and rare vocabulary. Once more, the redundancy of situations can be boring.

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The combat area in Fate Extella is divided in several little sectors. The rules are pretty simple : you have to take a set number of sectors to make the boss appear. Once you’ve defeated him, the level is cleared. To make a sector your own, you first have to sweep dozens of basic (but sometimes threatening) enemies to make “aggressors” come down. Those much tougher entities are the guardians of the sector : you have to destroy three or more to secure the sector.

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But that is easier said than done, because the opposing side isn’t going to stay idle while you march on its soil. Foes counterattack at every occasion, harass your sectors relentlessly and can even invade them from afar by devices called “plants”. Those strange UFOs can indeed send enemy troops from and to any part of map. You therefore have to eliminate them in priority, even it that means going all the way to the other side of the map. Thanks to those powerful means, opponents progress very quickly and your sectors are in a constant state of hemorrhage. Besides, enemy heroes will regularly stand on your way, slowing you down. Fate Extella is an action game with permanent pressure, because you always play on the brink of defeat! The game won’t even hesitate to throw you on map controlled 90% by the enemy, where surrender is a question of minutes! Up to the player to rush towards key-sectors and unleash his fighting spirit. Sensation are guaranteed.

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Your arsenal of combos rely on variations of square and triangle buttons, a bit like Senran Kagura Estival Versus in fact. The good thing is that it ensure a good variety in gameplay while keeping the game very accessible. The same pattern being applied to every character, you can switch between stories without having to learn everything again. However, the three main heroines do have a fighting style of their own : Nero prefers shield/sword combos, Tamamo casts fire/ice/wind spells, while Altella boasts the most impressive combos with her polymorphic rainbow blade. To allow faster progression, each character has 3 trump cards.

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Extella maneuver is a series of blows targeting every foe in the vicinity : it’s useful to take out several aggressors at the same time. Moondrive is a transformation that makes you temporarily invincible and the hôgu, the most powerful capacity and the one that makes the most impressive cut-scenes, blows everything in a sector. Even if you master the use of those abilities, victory is far from certain but you do keep the experience gained after losing. This way, missions become gradually less difficult, so that no one gets stuck. The boss characters, of seriously dumb AI, are still extremely disappointing. On the minus side, changing characters in the story is very limited, since you can switch to the current lieutenant and no one else. A bit of variety would have been welcomed here.

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So we’re definitely happy to have side-stories for every character. «Story» might be a little exaggerated since the actual scenario is thin. Elizabeth’s stands out though, because her story is really fun and draws the best of her yandere personality : she will finally fulfill her evil ambitions and crush her rivals. This mode is a good occasion to fully enjoy the cast, not to mention that secondary characters’ movesets are as good as the main ones.

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Combos and skills are original and varied. Jeanne d’Arc for example fight with a spear with a large flag on the top of it, also drawing on her knight sword from time to time. The holy maiden however heavily relies on her hôgu, considerably more powerful than any other and which, reference to History, costs her one life. Seriously challenging, those side-stories are a clever way to enhance to general value of the game.

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If Marvelous’s technical mastery on PSVita needed further proof, Fate Extella is more evidence that the publisher take handheld fans seriously. Despite numerous elements and lot of movement on screen, the framerate knows no problem on PSVita. In fact, the game pixelates slightly to keep framerate stable at any time. A drawback for greater good, easily forgivable since character modeling is quite above average.

Fate Extella is a fun and intense action game making clever use of the series. With a rich array of characters and lots of storytelling, it adds a lot to the Fate universe and offers fans a thrilling way to experience the passion despite redundancies here and there.

Most anticipated games for 2017

Valkyria Azure Revolution (PSVita)

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I’ve been waiting for it a lot more politely” since the horrendous Autumn demo. The Action-RPG focus that has been reconfirmed doesn’t fit with Valkyria’s universe, and the battle system itself is fishy at best. Yet the prologue on PSVita was a little more satisfying, so maybe we can end up with a decent RPG of cool design.

Cyberdimension Neptune (PS4)

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The moment of truth for the Neptunia IP. Compile Heart took more than 1 year to think, work and offer us a game powered by Unreal Engine 4, which is a visual revolution. Still, little is known is this Action-RPG taking place in a MMORPG itself. We don’t know how the developers have calibrated fan-service and innovation, two key-elements to drive the series forward. The producers made very clear promises not to disappoint fans, so they better stick to it and avoid bland compromises this time.

NieR Automata (PS4)

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The demo was exactly what I expect from this game : precise and rich gameplay, Platinum touch in the camera work, an attractive main character, a intriguing world… March can’t come soon enough.

Nights of Azure 2 (PS4)

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Not especially a high priority until a few weeks ago, Gust’s next game suddenly made itself indispensable by its latest video. The least you could say is that there’s quite some “movement” here… Gameplay also looks like to benefit from dramatic improvements as the tag battle system seems quite lively with lots of charming allies. The developer was undoubtely right to postpone it.

Musô Stars (PSVita/PS4)

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How not to be excited when the spiritual successor to the excellent Orochi Warriors 3 Ultimate is almost within reach? For the first time, KoeiTecmo picks characters in all their IPs for a single action game. We’re therefore gonna be able to ease our stress on dozens of ennemies with unexpected dream teams involving Plachta, Oka, Kasumi or Marie-Rose to cite a few.

Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash (PS4)

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Already called Splatoon PEGI18 by some, the sequel to Senran Kagura Estival Versus trades ninja weapons for water guns, in which you have fancy models like snipers. Takaki-san likes it wet (well, wet cute girls at least) and promise to deliver aquatic entertainment with a few surprises here and there.

Gun Gun Pixies (PSVita)

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While the general feeling of Cyberdimension Neptune remains shrouded in mystery, Compile Heart’s new PSVita exclusive is very clear from the start. Part of all the nice projects lately, Kochiwa producer presents a game close to action Netpunia U, with some novelty in the plot. You play as two very tiny alien girls whose mission is to infiltrate a girls’ domitory, which means a lot of private life scenes.

Blue Reflection (PS4)

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Boasting Gust’s most advanced 3D engine to date, Blue Reflection comes at us as a turn-based RPG featuring magical girls fighting dark demons. Like Persona 5, there will be lot of emphasis on spending time with classmates (including a clone of Hifumi, in a somewhat younger self).

Dungeon Travelers 2-2 (PSVita)

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Only game that ever had me shut down a handheld system in a hurry while I was commuting, Dungeon Travelers 2 had to reconfirm its direct sequel. It’s now official and the base scenario should keep providing juicy situations : the main character of the first game, Freid, has lot to the final boss and was turned into a insolent young boy. All the girls of the previous game have turned into demonic women. Let your imagination do the rest.

Wipeout Omega Collection (PS4)

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Quite nostalgic of the legendary futuristic racing game, the reveal of this ultimate collection at Playstation Experience was pure delight. I can’t wait to compete again on board those distinguished little ships for more speed, violent weapons and cool techno music.

Legend of Heroes Sen no Kiseki III (PS4)

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Falcom will need to be particularly clever if they want to justify Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III as a PS4 exclusive. Graphics are barely sharper so no one will believe that a Vita version wasn’t possible at this point. Despite Altina’s already confirmed return, believe me that I’ll be extra harsh on this.

Final Fantasy XV (PS4)

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Yes, I’m still waiting for Final Fantasy XV. The game released end of November isn’t FFXV, because it fails to comply with basic rules of FF. No choice but to wait until Hajime Tabata fixes his mess by eventually offering a more compelling experience, with an enhanced narrative and more playable characters.

Dragon Quest XI (PS4)

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While FFXV has seen rampant westernization, Dragon Quest XI is so faithful to its roots that I’d want to hug it. Here’s what I call a JRPG cast with varied styles of characters, and the first trailer clearly shows it will remain true to its genre.

I’m also eager for Ni no Kuni Revenant Kingdom (PS4), Gran Turismo Sport (PS4), Itadaki Street (PSVita), Tekken 7 (PS4), Gravity Daze 2 (PS4), Happy Manager (PS4), Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4).

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

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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 – Kan Colle kai

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Representing naval ships by cute girls sure was a bold idea. Yet for 3 years now, the Kan Colle craze has taken Japan without any sign of slowing down. In 3 years, 3 millions of people have played DMM.com’s free to play strategy game. Feeling an opportunity, Kadokawa games lays down plans for a PSVita port. The handheld had a hard time seeing the light of the day (the numerous delays and Kadokawa’s decision to pull it from shelves show the negociations with DMM.com have been tough), but now it’s here, in the palm of your hand.

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In this naval strategy game, you’re a proud admiral of the Japanese Navy entrusted with the defense of the mainland against a mysterious Fleet of the Abyss. At first sight, no difference with your regular PC strategy game, except that here your fleet is exclusively composed with… girls! The game didn’t choose at random, since it borrows the name of famous WWII ships. You won’t be surprised then (or maybe a little) to see the aircraft carrier Akagi become a Kyûdô ace, or submarines turning into young girls in swimsuits! Kan Colle kai also welcomes foreign vessels like America’s Iowa or Germany’s Bismarck, who are featured as hot blonde girls. There are dozens of shipgirls (as the unofficial translation says), so everybody should find his favorites within the characters available. Yet the design is clearly uneven : the initial characters are not so well drawn compared to more recent additions. Nevertheless, the player throws himself in an unstoppable collection frenzy.

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Asia-Pacific in Kan Colle kai is divided into hexes that are areas you have to take back. Each turn on the map, you can either move your fleets or attack, after what it will be the enemy’s turn. Each hexe includes 4 zones and you must conquer the four of them to take control of the entire territory. At the beginning of the game, you only have Tokyo’s naval base. Be careful, because if foes seize it, it’s game over. Up to you to deploy your units efficiently enough to take back the coasts of Japan, enter Singapore, conquer Australia and finally destroy the Abyss HQ. Your job will be no less than winning WWII for Japan!

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Attacks are conducted by a group of 6 shipgirls or less, each zone having several battles before reaching to boss… if you manage to find it! The big challenge in Kan Colle kai is that most areas will ask you to form your group under precise conditions. For example, no more than 2 destroyers, no heavy carrier, minimum of reckon planes… The instructions are varied, but the immense difficulty lies in the fact that the game won’t always tell you what the conditions are! You have to try different combinations before getting the one that will lead you to the boss. Even by looking up Japanese and English wikis, it’s extremely long and harsh. The walkthroughs aren’t always complete nor do they even agree with each other. An unforgivable progression system that demands strong determination.

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Battles are turn based and the order of action depends on the stats of the units facing each other. If your reckon stat is high enough (if you’re stacked with planes, basically), your units will strike pre-emptively. If not, the enemy will fire in the middle of your turn. The result of battles depend on the level of your fleet : Kan Colle kai has an RPG aspect since each unit gains experience points at the end of the fight. When everyone’s done firing, the game will ask you if you want to keep fighting during the night. In this phase, accuracy is lower but you have a higher chance of dealing critical damage. Be careful, because it’s also true for the opposing units! Note that victory doesn’t require you to destory everything in front of you : the winning side is the one who has lost the least number of HP proportionally to its total HP.

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When attacking, the interface will ask you which formation you want to use. This is a strategic choice on your part that must be guided by your immediate goal. For example, the line formation is the best to deal damage but accuracy can get poor, while Echelon protects you better against submarines. Those basic rules already makes Kan Colle kai fairly complex, but that’s not the end of it.

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As you may have noticed, Kan Colle kai features several types of vessels, represented by cute icons on the strategic map : destroyer, light cruiser, heavy cruiser, battleship, aircraft carrier and submarines to cite thte main ones. There are uniques classes with very special abilities, but they’re very hard to obtain. Akashi, the girl of the supply menu, can for example repair units outside docks. Every class has a strategic role : you’re not leaving your simple destroyers rusting in the base because you’ll need them throughout the game. These are quite important to fight the infamous Abyss submarines, and they’ll be a key-conditions in many areas. Cruisers can damage carriers pretty badly, and submarines have the interesting advantage to be invisible to heavy units. Very expensive to produce, aircraft carriers are the best class in Kantai Collection. Well armored, useful for reckon and capable of lauching devastating pre-emptive air strikes, these girls marked by the small landing strip they hold are the units you’d want to include in your best fleets.

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Once you’ve mastered the strengths and weaknesses of everyone, you’ll need to focus on weaponry so as to have the best equipment for sortie. You can equip anti-air canons of various sizes, but all sizes don’t fit to every class type (lower accuracy is to expect if the canon is too big). War planes are divided into 3 categories : fighters, bombers and torpedo bombers which influence air superiority and air strike. You’ll also need to consider reckon planes which are key to your progression as we’ve seen. Other equipment like sonar and mines can damage submarines, and the precious repair unit can save the day in dire straights. All this comes with some huge hurdle in terms of understanding : partially written in Japanese of before 1945, Kan Colle kai is full of complex military vocabulary which only the most maniac can take on.

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That leaves a big question : how to develop your army? Like in any navy, actually : in shipyards. So you’re going to… build girls! This being a strategy game, you’ll need resources. Each hexe brings steel, gas, bauxite and ammo. Once those waters are under your control, resources will be added at the end of the turn. Bauxite is fairly rare but allows you to build the powerful carriers, so you should take such territories at all costs. You need transport vessels (not personalized, those one) in order to collect resources. Transports being incapable of defending themselves, you’ll have to appoint escort groups to prevent them from being sunk. Gas and ammunition are used every turn for resupplying your fleets, so securing resources is of critical importance. Note that you can also drop by Akashi’s shop if you’re short at some point. But the big thing to do there is purchasing tokens to extend repair or the upper limit of your army.

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Shipbuilding happening like a captcha of Japanese free to play games, the units are obtained at random. True, there are standard recipes which have been found by hardcore players, but getting duplicates is unavoidable. Nothing lost, because you can strengthen one character by consuming another character’s card. After reaching a certain level, shipgirls can even evolve into more efficient classes. Chiyoda and Chitose sisters for example evolve from seaplane to light aircraft carrier. Logical choice, because the Japanese Navy did improve the Chiyoda and the Chitose in 1943! Team of 6, random find, evolution… Yes, you got it : Kan Colle kai takes the exact same formula as Pokemon, with much success and efficiency.

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The more you progress in the game, the more aggressive the Army of the Abyss will be in its attempts to take back the lost grounds. And here, believe me, it’s not some pleasure trip. Hexes will turn turn yellow, ten orange and then to the maximum alert level, red. If no fleet is present to defend it, you lose all the 4 zones in it, plus the the one that comes just before! The conquest of one single hexe can take hours, days in some cases, so this Is absolutely huge in terms of presssure. In the late stages of the campaign, the Abyss forces launch attacks everywhere and everytime. You can’t take a break, even though you still have the hardest territories to take on. It will therefore be critical to station solid fleets at key points of the map and anticipate the enemy’s moves. Fortunately, several secondary missions will have allowed you to raise the number of available fleets to 8. Strategy in Kan Colle kai grows increasingly complex and demanding, but is proportionnally rewarding given the challenge. In short, exactly like a good Advance Wars.

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There are 3 levels of damage in Kadokawa’s game : light, medium and critical. If your flagship suffers critical damage, the current mission cannot continue and you’ll be forced to return to base. Heavily armored vessels are strongly recommended for this task. To increase the pressure, death in Kan Colle kai is definitive. A sunk character will not return (unless you rebuild her). And contrary to recent Fire Emblem games, here you can’t deactivate permadeath. A shipgirl with critical damage can die at any moment, making fights very tense like an old-school Fire Emblem : you pray for that the boss miss his shot, you triumph when your heavily damaged group wins tactical victory.

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Unfortunately, the game doesn’t really go beyond the original 2D, only little animation being added. Kantai Collection bring with itself an original and popular design which the reason for the wide merchandising. Even the Fleet of the Abyss, in featuring both grotesque figures and sexy “princesses”, makes very attractive artwork.

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The sound environment in the other hand is very good : with very loud firing sound, light military march and symphonies with grandeur, it’s varied and relevant. Themes like MI Sakusen and Hatsurei! Daiichigô Sakusen are definite masterpiece and make battles that you won’t forget. You also get the possibility to re-arrange the interior of your HQ with new furniture and such.

Japanese strategy games have become rare, especially those like Kan Colle kai which feature both addictive game and enjoyable challenge. Its interest and success lies in both its fine gameplay and weird design, which only got richer over the years. An impressive concept which takes the best from other Japanese strategy to build a unique and fascinating experience.