Enough of E3! Let’s talk about other games #2017

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Zanki Zero (PS4/PSVita)

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Survival-RPG produced by the DanganRonpa team, Zanki Zero has the most interesting concept this year. Zanki is an idiom known in shoot’em up which represents the number of starships remaining before game over. In the same logic, the 8 boys and girls of Spike Chunsoft’s devastated world will have to progress and survive until no one remains. Rather advanced in its management, Zanki Zero will ask the player to quell the stress of the characters and even take care of their natural needs.

Shin Yomawari (PS4/PSVita)

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Remarkable game of 2016 in the fear department, Yomawari obviously sold well enough to warrant a sequel because Nippon Ichi Software plans to release Shin Yomawari in very territory this year. You will this time control two girls on after another, the world will be larger, including indoor environments among new frightening spots.

Tokyo Clanpool (PSVita)

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Compile Heart is on the move on Vita with a brand-new DRPG, the heroine which is… a loli prime minister ! Along with her cabinet, Natsume tackles the exploration of a mysterious black tower that crashed on the Japanese Diet building. Openly political, Tokyo Clanpool features a support rating as central criteria.

Dragon Quest XI (PS4)

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After the moral collapse of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest XI is one of the references JRPG fans must consider. Casino, horse racing, dragon mounting, smith… SquareEnix’s next hit underlines its rich content and classicism to better attract summer players.

The Great Ace Attorney 2 (3DS)

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Cool but significantly incomplete, Great Ace Attorney had sequel” written all over it. That’s now on rails and we’ll again have the pleasure to experience the Victorian and Meiji era with Ryunôsuke, but also from the eyes of his distant cousin Ryutarô.

Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

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Falcom likes to play with fans’ feelings with its first PS4 exclusive. Trails of Cold Steel III reshuffles the roles and calls back popular characters from older episodes. Unexpectedly, Aurelia becomes headmistress of Thors Academy, Tio makes a noticeable entrance and eccentric Dubally will once more stand on your way along with the threatening secret society she belongs to. Meanwhile, no word on your former comrades from Trails of Cold Steel II… Falcom or the master of suspense.

Nights of Azure 2 (PS4/PSVita/Switch)

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Obsequious to Nintendo’s orders in exchange for a juicy part of profits in the Fire Emblem Warriors project, KoeiTecmo had left Nights of Azure in the dark the time the were preparing the Switch version. Having recently reappeared in the press, Gust’s action-RPG showed its final casting of Ashule’s partners and detailed the swimsuits offered as an apology for the long delay.

Moero Castle Panzers (PS4)

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Compile Heart had a clear purpose when choosing PS4 as the only platform for Moero Castle Panzers. The company intends to offer the usual Moero experience (touching the girls’ body) in the best 3D they can deliver. In terms of battle, we’re now looking to tactical-RPG featuring various jobs depending on the equipped underwear (!).

Review – Atelier Firis, the Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey

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Yearly series are not seen very well those days. The annual cycle is said to hinder innovation, making experiences generic. Still, many developers like Gust refuse to rethink their calendar. Then, is the Assassin’s Creed-like “pause” necessary ? With Atelier Firis, Nagano’s developer proves that wrong.

Firis is a young girl working at the mine. Nothing illegal, the girl simply has a gift to discover the best ore. Living in Etorna, underground town 100% focused on mining, Firis accomplishes zealous work. Still she comes to feel a growing need for adventure, and soon asks to go outside. Reluctant to see his best employee leaving, the elder throws an insane challenge : she has to become a certified alchemist within one year. But there Sophie suddenly barges in the town and teaches the basics to Firis. The latter now has knowledge to start her long journey. From this point, the player is as amazed as Firis herself at discovering the outside world, for Atelier Firis is now big large open world game.

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Atelier Firis is subtitled “The Mysterious Journey” and this is for a reason. Like I said, it’s a full-fledged open world in which you can wander as you wish, with very limited indications and a really rough world map in hand. Before she can apply for the national alchemy exam, Firis must receive 3 recommendation letters from other certified alchemists. Those ones have their atelier in towns, which are sometimes lost very deep in the game areas. Better still, there are more than 3 of them : depending on their choices when exploring, two different players are likely to do very different walkthroughs! Each time you meet one of those alchemists, they’ll ask you to create more or less complex alchemical objects from the material available in the nature around you.

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When you first come to a new area, the map is blank and you have to discover the local geography as you go. You don’t know where the villages are, where the exits are and you do find sidequests at every corner! Most of the playable characters don’t even join your party automatically : you have to find them by exploring the whole world and meet certain conditions to have them join you. Caves have no map at all and you need to remember the path you’ve taken when going back. It is pure, intended and great exploring that drives the player to search, think and… choose. Should I head towards that big city to the East, go South to explore the forest and find more quests, or turn back a bit to avoid missing things? It’s a permanent dilemma you feel in how you should proceed and how you should organize your time.

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Time. This is the big thing that will shape your experience in Atelier Firis : adventure in limited time is back. You’ve got 360 days to get the letters and show up at the exam center. Hours go by as you walk or every time you perform an action such as collecting resources, destroying a rock, fishing or create stuff in your atelier. Now try to answer the question of the previous paragraph : clock is ticking, the pressure is already there… After 2 years trying to open the series to newcomers, Atelier is back to its fundamentals, to the hardcore item/time management that brings that unique pleasure.

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An additional parameter to take into account is your LP, the moving points. LP diminish as you walk (and dive if you run away from fights). Watching this indicator is important in order to rest when needed, for low a LP figure make you collect less resources. LP at zero means Firis faints and you lose an important amount of time until she recovers. In the same way, if your party loses in combat, most of the collected material is lost. Then you regularly need to improve your gear, which will have you spend entire days in the atelier since those recipes are quite demanding. Stock management changes dramatically in this episode since some ingredients are found only in certain parts of certain areas.

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That makes it even more crucial to think and rationalize every trip because useless moves are a danger in limited time. You must bear in mind (or note down) where you can find the key items because the encyclopedia (fairly well-made for that matters) won’t tell you the specifics. To ease the player’s burden, the devs did implement checkpoints where you can teleport yourself instantly : this way, you can go through the areas quickly when visiting a 2nd time and beyond. The day/night cycle, as well as changing weather, is implemented and will impact the sidequests : some NPCs will only be present between 10 am and 6 pm for example. Similarly, some quests only happen during snowstorms, etc.

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There you’ll ask me : where is the bloody atelier? Pretty much everywhere, in fact. Firis owns a portable atelier that she sets up like a tent next to campfires. In alchemy itself, once again numerous parameters are to be taken into account, which should please brainstorming fans. In the Atelier series, the value and power of an alchemy object is determined by its quality (figure and letter on the top) and the traits on it. There are two types of traits : inner traits and inherited traits. Inner traits becomes better as you choose ingredients with the right color code and the best coefficient for that color (which is called 成分 in Japanese).

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Inherited properties comes from the base items you use, with a maximum of 3. But there’s a snag here in Atelier Firis : you can’t get the three at the beginning. Every alchemical object has some sort of charge level you must gradually improve to get 3 free slots to put traits. That means you have to remake every weapon, every armor, every bomb, every potion countless times to get the best of them. A very questionable choice that slows the player down considerably.

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Luckily enough, catalysts will ease the pain. Catalysts are substances that add positives effects when mixing your ingredients : save a few hours, improve the coefficient of a certain color, make an extra item, and free 1, 3 or 3 slots for traits. When mixing, ingredients take Tetris-like forms and all you have to do is to cover the lines on the grid. You can run out of good catalysts pretty quickly so there’s still a lot of tedious work remaining (good luck to make a good bow, for example).

The recipe system is kinda annoying too. Despite the (partial) return of alchemy books, Firis will still have to seek enlightenment in order to get the know-how. Like in the previous one, they unlock once you’ve completed a set of actions like using an particular object, producing another, beating some type of monster, etc. The issue here is that the learning come be really long in some cases, with few hints to guide you. As a consequence, you can lack necessary items at some point of the adventure. Armors are incredibly difficult to develop, not to mention the reviving Chalice which you virtually can’t get in the first 30 hours!

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On the more positive side, Atelier Firis introduces super-alchemy : complex recipes that take a lot of time and not 4 or 5 ingredients, but a hundred of them! The thing also has a target quality so you have to proceed while calculating an average quality. Collecting the right amount of resources here takes quite some time and organization.

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Once you’ve come to the last city with the 3 letters in your pocket, you can head to the exam center. That was a fairly amazing sequence, very unique and surprisingly detailed. There are three types of tests and a surprise challenge that will remind people of Arland. In short, you must show your knowledge of alchemy, of the world around you and your understanding of quality and power mechanics. That was not easy at all and definitely makes a good innovating that should please old-timers.

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After the degree, the game is cleared but not over. It enters a new phase in which time isn’t limited any more. Gust finally finds the right balance between old and new : no need to choose between limited and unlimited time, let’s have both! Without a time limit, the player can freely focus on doing its best to complete current side stories, dig new quests, fine tune his gear and deepen the bonds with other characters. There are a few challenges that leads to various characters endings, a dozen of them to be precise.

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Here again, Atelier Firis is impressive by the volume it features. There’s as many things left to to after the story as before, maybe actually more. Dozens of hours after dozens of hours, the game looks infinite as new challenges keep popping one after another. Final proof that Gust has perfectly grasped what an open world should provide to the player. The number of quests nears a whopping 400! True, most quests are divided into tiny sub-quests (which inflates the number), but what you should keep in mind is that you’ll be real busy in Atelier Firis for at least 80 hours. Many of those quests feature advanced alchemy challenges and drive the player to explore even more, to the edge of world. Distant and sometimes very well hidden areas have a few bosses of formidable strength, and seriously more impressive than in Atelier Sophie. Of progressive difficulty, the challenge here is way more compelling than in the last game, the fights far more awesome, and even reminded me of the Arland trilogy. One of the bosses is called The One form the Deep Waters, obvious reference to the dragon in Atelier Meruru.

Yet fighting isn’t the focus in Atelier Firis since there is no boss in the main story. All the bosses previously mentioned are optional and left there as a trial for completionists. Gust therefore chose to lay a base of gameplay centered on management and exploring. But battles of course occur time to time, and the system used is back to very simple actions : attack, skills and objects. The Chain gauge actually borrows Atelier Shallie’s system, as assists are triggered when it reaches a certain percentage. At 130%, you get a first special blow from the last character that has played, and at 150% the character you choose unleashes its ultimate attack. Worryingly, the drawbacks of Atelier Shallie are imported as well, that is to say that the percentage will decrease every time you receive damage, which often leads to missed opportunities and less exciting combat.

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The best is yet again to rely on high statistics and high end gear, and Atelier Firis brings good stuff for alchemy fans here. Let’s remember that the principle in Atelier games is that the player creates himself everything he needs to attack and defend (bombs, potions, weapons & armors, etc.), while optimizing the quality of the equipment to extremes. Like in Atelier Sophie, you can find powerful passive skills on material early enough in the game, like “saving skill” which increase the skill power while reducing its cost. But in Atelier Firis, extra rare properties of bombastic naming are within reach too. For example, 溢れる力 (HP+35), not to mention 生命の力 (HP+50), are collectable in the last areas right at the start. The increased chances to get overpowered traits re-balances the game, as well as the fact that each character can now equip 2 weapons at the same time, and gives the player room for improvement in order to tackle the last opponents.

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Alas, Gust didn’t go as far as revolutionizing the graphics : the game looks barely better than Atelier Sophie, worse in some aspects. We’re still quite not at Atelier Escha&Logy level for example, which was looking fairly good on the PS3. The outside nature is somewhat prettier, journeying being the whole point, but some characters are still poorly made. It’s even worse for NPCs, who look like the same over and over. Animations aren’t as great as before either and for some reason, frame-rate has a real hard time in forests (!?). In pure technical aspects, it’s definitely under average and expectations. We’ll have to wait for Nights of Azure 2 and Blue Reflection to see Gust embracing modern engines. There’s one big red cart to draw : in 1.07, the Japanese version still suffers from critical bugs, like Firis not moving and disappearing quests… Let’s hope that KoeiTecmo Europe has that covered. Music makes a great come-back : the OST is great, lots of field tracks make exploring even more enjoyable with low tempo and then orchestral elan like we’ve always had and loved in the series.

With a massive amount of quests, surprises, bosses, hidden challenges in its brand new open world, Atelier Firis marks the biggest revolution in the series in years. In today’s gaming world overrun by linearity, the freedom and purity of the exploring in Atelier Firis are a real treasure. You can lament the old engine, the drawbacks of combat, the bugs, but Atelier’s golden age is back with Firis and nothing can be more delighting.

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).

Enough of E3! Let’s talk about other games #2016

Atelier Firis (PSVita/PS4)

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After a rather average Atelier Sophie, Gust had to react and strengthen the series. Looks like they’re doing so, by the looks of the enhanced graphics, evolving and more convincing character design and the innovating game system. The adventure is no longer centered around one town and Firis’s base camp will be mobile. Moreover, choices you make on the world map will cause slight changes on the flow of events. NOCO and Yûgen seem to have sharpened their skills on those first characters, NOCO in particular taking a more mature/sexy orientation. Yûgen has this curious character called Ilmeria, who makes me think she can be a Meruru successor in some way. I must admit that the improvements are stunning so far.

Kangokutô Mary Skelter (PSVita)

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A Compile’s Dungeon-RPG that I am eager to play, partly because the devilish art direction is conducted by Kai Nanameda, already behind Trillion, God of Destruction. This DRPG takes a survival approach by its ghostly Nightmares who will hunt you down so fiercly you’ll have to run away. Several jobs have been unveiled, as well as a Genocide mode in which the girls gain immense power when in contact with ennemies’ blood. On the contrary, licking the blood will heal them, but remove the Genocide state. A gameplay balance in which risk-assessment will be key.

Sengoku Otome (PSVita)

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Weird background for this game since taking its origin from a anime itself coming from a pachinko! Sengoku Otome is kind of the Oda Nabuna game we never got : this fighting game which seems to play like Senran Kagura features girls representing general from feudal Japan. The ambitious Tokugawa Ieyasu becomes a shy pink-haired girl while Toyotomi Hideyoshi turns into a blonde loli. As much as I feel sorry for those great men, the paradox looks rather fun.

Root Letter (PS4/PSVita)

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A visual novel of fascinating concept. The player has had a pen friend called Aya, with whom he has exchanged 10 letters. In the very last one that he finds and reads years later, she admits committing murder. From there the game start as an investigation thriller, in which you have to find Aya’s former classmates to uncover the truth.

Black Rose Valkyrie (PS4)

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Compile Heart is going into something a bit different for this game, because one of the girls of Black Rose Valkyrie is a traitor. So while fighting against a fierce virus and monsters called Chimeras, the main character will also have to regularly question his allies, very much like in Lost Dimension. Reminding Galapagos’s works in a lot of ways, it also features costume break as it was in Omega Quintet.

Idolmaster Platinum Stars (PS4)

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Stunning by its sharp anime style, Idolmaster Platinum Stars will be my first step in that famous IP. Sure had to go into it one day. The player once more takes the role of a star manager and will have to lead his girls to the top of the entertainment business. You really start from scratch this time, because you pick the girls at the very beginning of their career.

Tokiden 2 (PS4/PS3/PSVita)

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Not much to say more about Tokiden 2 since I wrote a lot about the demo last time. It’s just matter to check how large the world really is and the improvements made to combat.

Caligula (PSVita)

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An RPG to have on your radar for its original base story : the students in Caligula are trapped in a fictitious ideal world created by a vocaloid called μ. Although the digital singer actually protects them from the wicked real world, those young men and women decide to stop living a lie ad will seek to destroy μ. Centered on the subject of digital worlds, Caligula benefits from genuine vocaloid songs.

Review – Atelier Sophie, the Alchemist of the Mysterious Book

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After the numerous complaints voiced against Atelier Shallie and the monstruous flop of the 3DS port of Atelier Rorona (11’000 units sold, 7 times less than Atelier Shallie which was already widely seen as a failure), Gust’s series had people worried. It turned out to be fine, since the developer was calmly preparing Atelier Sophie.

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I’m done saving the world”, such is Atelier Sophie’s motto. The game wants to put some distance with the Dusk trilogy and go back to a more innocent narrative like in the Arland trilogy. Indeed, you don’t feel any great ambitions when starting Atelier Sophie, which has next to no story focus for most part. Sophie is a young alchemist, and a bit awkward one, who’s gonna progress with the help of a mysterious book gifted with a consciousness. Sophie’s goal, so the player’s too, will be to recover the book’s memories by writing alchemy recipes in it. You progress from a recipe to another, while completing requests from other characters to whom you’ll get increasingly closer.

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The side characters will all have their own storyline, in average more developed than in Atelier Shallie (which was very poor in that department) but of disparate importance : Monica has a feeble background, like Oskar and Leon (who is a girl, despite her name). On the contrary, Harol, Cornelia, Fritz and Julio benefit from a consistent narrative, including some really fun or even moving sequences. Harol’s was particularly remarkable : young watchmaker too fond of revolvers to get to his work seriously, he progressively becomes obsessed with his past and the necessity to surpass his father. So better than the previous one in that field, even though the game sometimes gives to impression no to show or tell enough : Cornelia’s story for example, should have continued and lead to discover new lands.

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Last but not least of your characters, your book Plachta (pronounce “Plafta”) will take human form via the Doll Make system. Plachta’s soul is transferred in a life-size doll, that can be modified anytime. It simply consists of adding alchemy components to the doll’s limbs, the rarest ones giving higher boost in stats. When those stats reach a certain threshold, Platcha’s costume will change and she’ll be able to access a new class (wizard, valkyrie, etc.). But this option bears relatively low importance as the gain in stats represent only a small margin compared to the one provided by your equipement. It remains that Platcha’s arrival in your party radically changes the story’s direction because, ironically, you will go and save the world eventually.

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The alchemy workshop is more than ever the place to be, because not only will the game ask you to synthesize alchemy objects, but also to come up with the recipes! Indeed and contrary to previous episodes, there are no alchemy books in stores. Time to time, Shopie will have a genius stroke and note down a recipe. The player will have to trigger that by achieving some varied objectives, like inspecting the furniture, talking to a particular NPC, slay a particular beast or, far more complicated, creating an object with a given trait.

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Let’s put the head in the cauldron. There are several ones available, each represented by a checkerboard with some colored stars in it. Ingredients, which are represented by Tetris-like forms, are to be inserted in a way that the color stars can multiply and grow. The more and the bigger the stars are, better the bonus multiplier will become for the dominant color. With a multiplier important enough, the quality of the object rises and it can gain better traits. It is quite complicated in theory, but easier to learn empirically. Note that there are various sizes of cauldrons, and that some double your multiplier, sometimes asking you to synthesize in limited time! In short, a clever system but a bit less precise than Atelier Shallie’s.

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Alchemical creation is a bit more accessible than in the past, because powerful properties allowing considerable rise of stats are rife in Sophie’s world. Finding ingredients to have them attached isn’t hard at all. Up to you to combine them via intermediary objects like the gold string (formidable catalyst since it’s used to create itself, I call that the Gold String Loop) to give birth to even better traits like 全能の力 which raise all stats by 25 points! Once your weapons, armor and accessories possess such traits, your team is well-prepared for battle. As for interface, the touch pad of the PS4 allows you to quickly switch between menus and the encyclopedia (which has a very clear recap of all items, properties and their composition), so it’s extremely user-friendly.

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But all those ingredients, you’ll have to go outside and pick them. The wild nature of Atelier Sophie consist of numerous areas to explore, full of plants, ore and the likes. Atelier Sophie is the first episode to have a day/night cycle : monsters, items, present characters, weather are going to change periodically. Times goes by, but isn’t limited. This newest Atelier takes the same principle as its predecessor : the player can take its time to clear the game and the various challenges. But the various places are quite tiny and level design extremely poor. Thus no occasion to be impressed : you battle, you pick the goods, you come back to town. Nothing more.

Now we’re talking about it, battles. These have been rather simplified, and even made more or less automatic. Each start of turn has choose a stance for each character : attack or defense. Regardless of that choice, all characters can use regular action such as attack, skills, object, run away or defend. The stance only governs bonus actions : a character I defense can cover an ally, while characters in attack stance can perform powerful link attacks. The more characters you have in the same stance, better the effect will be. This also depending on your chain gauge : higher the figure, more daring the actions become. When the gauge hits 300% and all the four characters are in attack stance, it triggers the ultimate attack of one of them. It’s roughly Final Fantasy XIII’s role system, ultra-simplified version and in which the player actually doesn’t decide much. I really miss Atelier Escha&Logy’s battle system…

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Pretty much nerfed in the main story, the difficulty will rise at breakneck pace at the very end and after. You can still tweak the difficulty level anytime, from easy to despair (added by a later update), to have it match your playstyle. Veterans won’t break a sweat in hard or even despair during most of the story though, but optional bosses are another story : they are excessively powerful and can play 4 times in a row! While a can crush most of the bosses in despair with just the attack command (see above, it’s taken in despair but being only the 2nd dragon, it’s not much a of challenge), the two last enemies wipe my party out in 1.5 turn even in easy mode… in short, it’s fucking broken. That said, another growth menu that appear after the characters have reached maximum level allows you to add even more statistic points, vastly advantageous capabilities, upgrade your attack skills. But the progression curb being rather slow, you must play a lot after the main story to keep up. A disappointing postgame so, far form the replay value of the previous episodes.

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PS4

As for aesthetics, we can’t help but notice the economic troubles of the series : the technical downgrade is brutal. Graphics are less detailed than Atelier Shallie’s, which runs on the PREVIOUS generation! The town and the dungeons are a pity… Even design issues are to be reported : monsters look blatantly the same and there are few (almost none in fact) unique and charismatic opponents, those who make great JRPG fights. Here again, even the disappointing Atelier Shallie had them. In battle, the game remains a lot prettier than the rest, so it’s not like it’s a complete disaster either. The music also seems a bit on the wane : outside Fritz’s theme, a ballad that fits perfectly with the medieval setting, and senka no ichigeki, which continues the great lineage of boss battle themes. Whatever, you ears will be able to feast with a music DLC, packed with dozens of Gust’s past tracks, which was free in Japan. You can thus instantly create yourself dream-like playlists.

Atelier Sophie Cornelia

PSVita

Yes, you could object that the project is for the first time multi-platform from the start : the PSVita version is available alongside the home console version, no need to purchase the “Plus” version anymore. Unfortunately, the technical efforts are insufficient for both. With a modeling close the the one of the PS4 version, the portable Atelier Sophie is impressive at first sight, the rendering of the characters is excellent. On the other hand, framerate suffers horribly… The Vita has a hard time displaying the battle animations, which is true have their lot of special effects, especially in joint assaults. True, it’s less serious than the abysmally terrible portable version of Nights of Azure, but it’s not the technical prowess of the “Plus” version either. Unless you absolutely need it to play on the go, it’s preferable to play it at home with a seamless experience.

Changing the approach alone is not enough, and Atelier Sophie is proof of that. The game system is still solid and allows you to achieve great things, but in a terrible technical environment. Ideas and humor certainly are there, but not in full force. We can sense the pleasure of battle, but only from time to time. A serviceable episode, but Gust needs to re-enhance the experience by investing time and money. For Atelier Sophie, the developer probably had neither of them.

Preview – Tokiden 2

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It’s raining demos! Publishers are eager to stimulate the market and convince undecided customers. KoeiTecmo is one of them and has two demos scheduled for this Spring. Contrary to the demo of Ni-Ô which will be released worldwide, the trial version of Tôkiden 2 is exclusively available for Japanese Playstation Plus members for now.

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Like always in the “hunting” games, you’re invited to create your own character before entering the fray. We once more appreciate Omega Force’s talent on that subject, because like in Samurai Warriors 4, you can modulate everything form the eye size to the position of the nose, with also a large array of haircuts and a fully customizable anatomy. Such precision in the character making allows the player to reach to idea he has of his character. Bigger recent open world games should learn from it.

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No real story transition from Tokiden Kiwami here, the demo focusing on the game system. The player is dropped in the base camp, to check the smith’s services and saying hi to the his new buddies, like the local priestess Kuon. New in the Mononofu village, you need to make proof of your value as a warrior. Hence you are given a simple mission, designed to help you discover the brand new open world.

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The world of Tokiden 2 is seriously large when you think it’s just a demo. It feels like you can run forever. The game refrains from giving unnecessary guidance, letting you explore as you wish, going into the mines or searching for some shirube, glimmering lights that are proof of your exploring skills. That said, there weren’t many ennemies. The Oni weren’t numerous, nor were they any strong or really aggressive : it was kinda hitting a punching-ball… We’re pretty far from the violence of God Eater’s combat for example.

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The quest system is interesting : some villagers are spread within the world map and they have requests for you. It’s been a lot about fetching unique items, but interesting because they are well hidden (I found them by chance). More interesting, a man will ask you to find his brothers : Morikage, Yamakage and Mizukage, each associated to a natural element. There’s a clear focus on searching and exploration, it’s pleasant and feel the will to deliver something original.

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The demo also features an area called ikai, sort of cursed land. The air is poisoned so your group can hold only for a limited time. If you take too much time exploring, it’s game over. There’s still the possibility to purify a stele and establish a rest area. A good idea that adds interest to the exploration. The game still has standard missions that send you into small closed areas to face monsters, some being a lot tougher.

The demo includes four weapons : a katana, a shield and sword, a bow and a strange chain weapon. Sword combat is as dull as before : it’s slow, there is no intensity in this fighting style. When I deal one blow with those, I can deal 5 in God Eater. Simple as that. The bow brought some good sensations though. It has various attack options and cool animations in its wielding. You can shoot arrows successively, against several target at once or charge your arrow while still moving. A fine weapon illustrated in the above video I’ve taken (I’m probably paying poorly but it’s the first time I’ve been really getting into the series).

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But the exciting thing of the demo is this weapon. It’s actually not whip-sword (because it can’t take the form of a sword) nor is it a kusarigama (which was in Tokiden Kiwami). I’d suppose it’s an variant of the kusari fundo, heavy chained weapon of ancient Japan. It is fan-tas-tic. It’s fast, it can hit front of you or all around you, or you can also zoom to focus the damage on one enemy. In short, the weapon this game needed to be fully dynamic.

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In terms of general gameplay, that is to say common to all weapons, a skill palette is available on R1. The skills on it will vary depending on which Mitama you’ve associated to your weapon, armor and Oni no te (see below)., but there’s always a cure spell. A Mitama is a card containing the spirit of heroes of the past, divided in specializations (cure, attack, defense, speed, etc.) and giving status advantages or stat bonuses. The interface is very clear so it’s quick and easy to elaborate your own battle strategy. Apart from that, the lock seemed to perform poorly for its low responsiveness and stability.

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Big novelty of this sequel, Oni no te is a giant ghostly demonic hand you can activate with R2. It several uses : you can for example grasp a camp fire and just throw it, or access hidden areas. Your character can also cling to an enemy and throw himself upwards to perform an aerial combo, clever maneuver to strike while staying out of reach. Last but not least, the Oni no te can pluck off an demon’s limb when the cooperation gauge is filled.

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In its graphics an animation, Tokiden 2 is uneven. Sceneries are definitely good to look at but aren’t really baffling. The level of details is not what you’d expect on PS4, and the geography doesn’t stand out, the land being too flat. In brief, it lacks this wow effect you feel when playing AAA open worlds. The game looks designed with the Vita in mind, the character modeling being barely average. Animation also is clearly faulty here, especially the strange way in which your avatar runs. The frame-rate had serious hiccups but surprisingly, this problem disappears when you leave the village… Despite those critics made in absolute terms, Tokiden 2 certainly becomes the more impressive hunting game to date : its open world surpasses God Eater 2 Rage Burst and sends Monster Hunter directly in a horror museum.

Definitely an excellent demo. The series has made dramatic progress since Tokiden Kiwami in both intensity and game system. Its open world should revolutionize hunting games, provided it is enriched and enhanced to give more challenge. The exploration seems to be given a big focus, the gameplay is rich, so this Tokiden 2 might be the one that will topple God Eater out of the throne.