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.

Summon Night 6 summon

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 – 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.