Sunday, November 24, 2013

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers

GENRE: Role-Playing
PLATFORM: Nintendo 3DS (2013 release)
CREDITS: 1997-2013 Atlus
Artist: Kazuma Kaneko
Composers: Shōji Meguro, Toshiko Tasaki, Tsukasa Masuko

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Back Cover Description:
Amami City, held up as a beacon of humanity's triumph of technology, harbors an infernal secret. In this would be utopia, a group of hackers takes on a centuries-old mystic society to battle for control over the fate of humanity.

  • The missing entry in the classic Shin Megami Tensei RPG series finally arrives in North America.
  • Take control of almost 300 demons, with over 30 of them unique to Soul Hackers!
  • Evolve and enhance your Nemechi familiar with StreetPass to create new and unique demons.
  • Box Set Bonus! Inside is a collectible CD filled with new arrangements of the game's beautiful musical themes!

Oh gawd, I missed demon negotiations! >>> by skysenshi
My starting disclaimer: Don't get me wrong. I loved the last two Persona games but I missed the maturity of their earlier incarnations. For those who have only played Persona 3 or Persona 4, I may have to warn you that this is AN OLD GAME. It is 16 years old and was originally released for the Sega Saturn and ported to the 3DS with some add-ons. If you're not ready to deal with old school difficulty, I should warn you to stay very far away from this game. Or any core Shin Megami Tensei game, for that matter.

The Good
Demon negotiations. Having been introduced to the Shin Megami Tensei series through Persona 2: Eternal Punishment for the first generation PlayStation, demon negotiations have been something that I had looked for in both Persona 3 and 4. They disappeared completely, much to my dismay and replaced by some bishoujo game wannabe system. This is why I'm very happy that Atlus decided to fish this game from the depths of the 1990s and delivered it to a mobile medium. Demon conversations, I am so very happy to see you:

Demon fusions have never been more fun. The downside is that, unlike newer Persona games where you can get penalized with wild cards for failed fusions, Soul Hackers will penalize you with NO DEMONS FUSED for failed fusions. So remember to save before you fuse.

No social links. Again, don't get me wrong. I love Persona 3 or 4, but the social links have been one of my major complaints about Persona's recent direction. Like I previously said, the new Persona games can be an introvert's nightmare. Sure, it's great to discover some of your favorite characters' personalities, but hell, I don't want to be forced to make friends with the annoying ones (Ayane Matsunaga, Yumi Ozawa and Ai Ebihara come to mind). None of that namby pamby stuff here (quoting my friend Jay Anyong when we discussed how the newer Persona games make you coddle some lame character's self esteem issues even though you should be rescuing people). Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is just pure old school kickass RPGaming, where you recruit demons for party members. It's like Pokémon for older players.

It's fairly difficult. At least, by today's standards. After being bombarded with mind-numbingly easy games that are more like movies with very little interaction -- I'm looking at you new Final Fantasy titles -- it sure is refreshing to have to experience being challenged all over again. Let me just say that switching to "Easy Mode" is like the equivalent of Persona 3's "Default" or "Difficult" settings. Even with full HP, on default difficulty, you can easily end up dead in one turn. Take note, getting to the next save point might take forever and there's the issue of being able to carry only 10 pieces of each item.

It's all about strategy. Summoning demons to use them in your party has a cost. And I'm not even talking about summoning them from your Compendium (demon library). Also, walking with demons will cost you with every step. That's why I spent most of my dungeon exploration only with the two humans in my party and just call upon my demons when I'm about to go into boss battles. There's also such a thing called demon loyalty here, which means that you cannot simply command them unless you have leveled up their loyalty. They have to like what you're asking them to do. For example, your demon may have powerful offensive attack skills, but if that demon has a "Kind" personality, it will not appreciate being asked to attack anything. It will only like to heal or guard, except when you've maxed out its loyalty.

Bonuses! I love how Shin Megami Tensei releases now come with bonus soundtracks and all. The OST that comes with the package features new arrangements. Lookee!

Took a photo of the package contents.

It's a short game with lots of new features. To be honest, I no longer have the patience to lug through dungeon mazes while waiting to discover the next save point. This is no longer 1997 and I no longer am a student with lots of time to kill. This is why I'm happy that you can now save anytime in portable console games. Well, at least in Soul Hackers, you'd still need to progress to about 1/4th or 1/3d of the game to unlock this feature so there's a bit of a challenge in there still.

The Bad
It's a short game with lots of new features. Hehe. This isn't really much of a complaint but I haven't really explored the StreetPass features. I'm too lazy that way.

Characters don't leave much of an impression. For me, the real protagonist of this game is the demon Nemissa but she's just about the only interesting character in here. I hate being a silent protagonist and I wish next time they'd at least allow me to be female (like what Atlus did with Persona 3 for the PSP, where the female path actually was more interesting than the canon path) if I'm going to be "customizable" anyway. This is also the challenge with having a silent protagonist: he must be surrounded by memorable characters. So far the only memorable characters in here aside from Nemissa are two gay men who are so badly stereotyped it ain't even funny.

The Ugly
Those dungeons. Seriously, I have half a mind to ask if the architect for those in-game buildings had been fired. Hideous trap-filled mazes are understandable in caves or in dimensional pockets like P3's Tartarus or P4's TV world, but not for buildings that represent real-life structures, like a mall. Don't get me started on the Amami Monolith where you're supposed to explore 2 buildings and the puzzles would make you go up and down and across both buildings. My only consolation is that the 3DS version has a "save anywhere" feature or I'd have thrown a hissy fit. Oh and don't forget your notebook when solving puzzles because you could easily lose track of what you're supposed to do when you're encountering battles every 3-5 steps. Unlike newer RPGs that automatically log your activity, this doesn't. Soul Hackers only logs your cut scenes.

A map full of annoying warpers. Credits:

Nightmare navigation. If you were old enough to have played Doom or Wolfenstein 3D, you'd know what I'm talking about. In Soul Hackers, you travel in first person mode where the "up" button means "go forward" and the "left" and "right" controls mean you either face left or right. I seriously didn't pay attention to the nifty new 3D graphics because I was too busy watching the mini-map. If I had played this game in 1997, I doubt I'd have problems with the controls. But having been spoiled by Final Fantasy in recent years, I had a difficult time adapting, especially since many of the dungeons are mazes filled with traps.

Overall, though, this is one solid RPG that made me miss what it was like being an RPGamer in the 90s. If you can find it in yourself to not mind the clunky old controls, I'm sure you'd appreciate it the way I did. Besides, the new "hacks" that the developers added specifically for the 3DS should make things easier for anyone who is starting out with the Shin Megami Tensei series. Highly recommended.

DIFFICULTY: Moderate to Difficult
COMPLETION TIME: 37 hours and 16 minutes
HIGHEST LEVEL ACHIEVED: Level 61 for both protagonist and Nemissa
RATINGS: Gameplay 7; Battle 9; Story 7; Visuals 9; Characters 6; Sounds 8; Replay Value 7

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gundam Breaker

Hack and slash, action, assembly
PS3 / PSVita
Bandai Namco 2013

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Skysenshi's Description:
Gundam Breaker is a game that allows you to build/customize your own mobile suits, pilot them and use them in battle.'s Description:
In this new gundam action title, destroy opposing gigantic gundam plastic models, collect their parts and customize freely and exceed the limit of mobile suits to create "My Cool & Strong Gundam". This game allows co-op play with up to 4 allies to challenge missions together!

What I like about Gundam Breaker. >>> by John Santillana (written 11.05.2013 at 10:08AM)
I have played so many Gundam games in the past starting from Gundam Battle Masters on PSOne to Zeta Gundam, Char's Counterattack, MS Saga: A New Dawn, Gundam SEED Rengou VS ZAFT (PS2 and PSP) and Gundam SEED Rengou VS ZAFT II Plus on PS2 to a couple of the VS games on PSP and then Extreme VS on the PS3. The VS series were my favorite of all the titles because of the fast action. All those battles you see in the anime series just felt like they came to life in the game and it was really fun! Since then, I've always been on the lookout for a new Gundam game. Then Gundam Breaker was announced. The idea of the game this time is that you control model kits or Gunpla as its called. You battle other Gunpla and receive parts as rewards for taking them down. The parts can then be used to customize your very own personal Gunpla. Here's what I love about the game.

Parts break off:
In the anime, in more than one occasion, you will see mobile suit parts being chopped or shot off by their opponent (looks at Freedom Gundam). Though not being able to target the specific part like you could in the older games that were released on the PSOne(Zeta Gundam and Char's Counterattack) is just a bit of a downer. But given how the action is, it's understandable. The thing about this though is that you still have a chance to recover the part unlike in the anime where it would just blow up. It's actually funny to see a Gunpla standing still and "magnetizing" their part back to them. xD

You can mix and match different parts to come up with your own FrankenGunpla. Ever wanted to recreate the Zeta Gundam with a Zaku II head from the ZZ Gundam series? It's possible! Create God Master Gundam mix? Sure! This feature is almost similar to Armored Core where each part has different stats and capacity requirement.

The control scheme takes getting used to but it's not hard to figure out. Though I wish they adapted the boosting/dashing system of the Gundam VS series for better movement. The action is fast paced and fun. You won't get bored grinding! For me, it's like grinding for parts in Monster Hunter. There's also a multiplayer mode via adhoc or online and the game supposedly has a cross play feature that would allow PS Vita players to play with PS3 players and vice versa. I have yet to experience it though. :P

Basically, if you like Gundam and like building Gunpla, you definitely should not miss out on this game.

Available for PS3 and PS Vita.

On a side note, there's an anime this season that's almost sort of related to this game. It's called Gundam Build Fighters. It focuses on Gunpla builders using their model kits to battle each other. Check it out when you can.

UPDATE 11.27.2013:
Online Play:
I managed to start playing online for sometime now and I must say its addicting. Everyone working together to finish missions and farm for rare parts. There's even voice chat if you need to vocally coordinate. It's way better than playing the single player missions where the AI team you're given act like lost children who always need to hold their mommy's hand. You definitely should play this game online when you can.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies

GENRE: Digital Novel, Mystery, Strategy, Role-Playing
PLATFORM: Nintendo 3DS
CREDITS: 2013 Capcom Co., Ltd.

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Description (from the Ace Attorney Official Website):
sees the return of courtroom hero Phoenix Wright. The much loved gameplay and features from previous titles in the Ace Attorney™ series are back but for the first time in stunning 3D graphics, bringing the courtroom and characters to life and putting players directly in the heart of the action.

  • More courtroom drama as Apollo Justice and new Associate Attorney and psychoanalysis expert Athena Cykes join Phoenix at the Wright Anything Agency
  • Psychoanalyse witnesses to reveal the truth with the brand new Mood Matrix feature
  • Hold it! Present your evidence, challenge the witnesses and experience life as a real Attorney
  • Stunning dynamic 3D graphics: bring the characters and courtroom to life and investigate crime scenes from various angles to uncover hidden clues
  • Brand new interface and game progression system for fans and newcomers alike

After the long wait... >>> by skysenshi
I was very excited with this release and despite the number of games bought in the past few weeks, this one took precedence because of how much I loved the Ace Attorney series. Is there anything new the game offers? Well, let's see.

The Good
Favorite characters are back. Well, at least Phoenix and some other surprise appearances that I will not mention lest I give out some spoilers. I really didn't like the characters of Apollo Justice, so I was happy to see less of Trucy and more of Phoenix. I also must say, now that Phoenix is 34 years old, he has become one of my crushes -- right up there with Miles Edgeworth, who had been exuding the "dashing older man" vibe even when he was in his 20s.

New characters have engaging back stories. A new lawyer joins the "Wright Anything Agency", Athena Cykes, who also practices analytical psychology in order to become better in her cases. Though this is kind of funny to me, being a practicing research scientist myself. At first I thought she'd be annoying as Trucy, but when I got to the fifth case, it was all I could do not to get teary-eyed.

Bluffing. I can still feel Phoenix Wright's bluffing in my gameplay, the same way that I felt Edgeworth's confidence in Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. There are times when I just did a lot of guesswork but I'd still manage to breeze through the trials, which led me to exclaim "WTH! I was right???" many times over. There are instances when I can't follow the game's logic (when you could actually present evidence in a more efficient manner) but it's not a Phoenix Wright game if you're always sure of your answers anyway.

In-jokes. I don't know if it's part of the localization process but many of the game's in-jokes reminded me of my childhood. Like this scene I took a photo of:

(Makes me wish the 3DS had a built-in screen capturing mechanism so I wouldn't have to take photos using my Android phone. xD)

Great animation. If there's one thing that's noticeable in this installment, it's that despite being cell-shaded 3D (the previous installations were in 2D), the animation was actually very fluid. My head kept happily screaming, "Bones!!" There are also considerable amount of nice cut scenes that are rendered in 2D.

The Bad
Athena's Mood Matrix. It's ironic that as much as I loved Athena as a game character, I hated what she contributed to the gameplay. The psychological analysis can get confusing and when you get to the later chapters, the "emotional noise" you need to wade through get literally noisy. If I didn't like the background music so much, I'd have turned the sounds off.

Apollo Justice had better gameplay. Another irony for me. Much as I hated the characters of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, I believe it had the best gameplay in the series. I barely used the stylus for Dual Destinies, and when I did, I found some minor annoyances. I think the gameplay regressed a bit, because I remember that whenever I had to examine a scene in the previous Ace Attorney games, the scene would duplicate itself on the lower screen of the DS. Now it doesn't. Your lower screen on the 3DS acted like some sort of a mouse pad while you fumble your way around the area indicated on the upper screen.

The Ugly
None. I spent a weekend finishing this game, which means it's still a good game. I'm still looking forward to what happens next in the Ace Attorney series. Hopefully, I get to see another Miles Edgeworth game.

COMPLETION TIME: 24 hours and 22 minutes
RATINGS: Gameplay 8; Battle N.A.; Story 9; Visuals 10; Characters 10; Sounds 7; Replay Value 7

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