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Found 76 results

  1. I’ll be more upfront than usual; Dragon Age: Inquisition is a fantastic game. The staggeringly large scope, excellent score, eye-popping visuals, and engaging gameplay, BioWare executed everything almost flawlessly. I’d recommend it to almost anyone, even people who aren’t typically drawn toward RPGs. Inquisition has issues, certainly, but none that would prevent me from endorsing it. If you are just looking for my recommendation, there you have it. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in a deeper dive into Inquisition, taking a look at the seemingly minor issues that keep Inquisition from rising into the stuff of video game legend, read on. I think it fitting to begin a discussion of Inquisition by addressing the glitches that plagued my opening hour of gameplay. I spent around three hours attempting to satisfactorily begin the game. Character creation proved to be particularly difficult. No joke, all of the facial hair floated a good six inches off of my protagonist’s face, dissuading me from touching any of the glorious beards on display. Perhaps more importantly, the lighting in character creation looks nothing close to the lighting elsewhere in the game. Meaning that my first character, who I intended to look Middle Eastern, ended up looking like he had a fake spray tan that would never, ever come off. Though I initially thought I’d try to live with the abysmal results, I quickly ditched him because Dragon Age decided that he was going to be regarded as a lady by all other characters in the game, a rather significant glitch for which there was no fix. My second time through the creation process went much better, though depending on camera angles and lighting my protagonist could either look really awesome or like the world’s biggest simpleton. I thought I was in the clear. However, Dragon Age kept switching him from a mage to a rogue midway through the tutorial. It took over a dozen reloads before I was able to successfully make it through the introduction and progress into the game proper. With those initial glitchy hurdles cleared, my experience was nearly error free, excepting the occasional giant falling out of the sky. I only encountered one major glitch after the opening ordeal. About halfway through Inquisition, the game introduces a new character who can be customized. If players choose to customize that particular character, there seems to be a 50% chance that their main protagonist’s voice could change to the default option if they had opted for the non-default voice during character creation. This happened to me with no way to reverse it. There are few things as grating as spending 40 hours with a character sounding one way only for them to suddenly begin sounding completely, irritatingly different. Glitches aside, people interested in the PC version should know that Inquisition’s mouse and keyboard controls handle terribly. I could only handle about two or three minutes of gameplay before I decided to plug in a wired 360 controller, which proved to be a far superior experience. A tactical RPG originally made for the PC, Dragon Age: Origins required strategic thinking and micromanaging that lent itself very well to a mouse and keyboard. To a lesser extent, that was also true of Dragon Age 2. However, I found Dragon Age: Inquisition to be more of an action game with RPG elements, which lends itself better to a controller than a keyboard. A tactical camera and customizable companion tactics allow players to fine tune strategies, but I literally never used either of those functions, never even touched them. Granted, I played through on Normal difficulty, so perhaps higher difficulty levels require a more tactical approach to combat. The fact remains that I approached combat almost like I would a button masher and had a great time. The change isn’t a bad thing for the Dragon Age franchise, but prospective players should be aware that Inquisition’s gameplay differs significantly from that of its ancestors. The strength of BioWare’s writing team remains unchanged. To summarize the initial plot: The Chantry, the leading religious power in Thedas, convenes a special council to begin peace talks between rebellious mages and their former Templar handlers, an attempt to halt a disastrous war. Something goes horribly wrong and the entire council is obliterated in a magical cataclysm that creates The Breach, a massive portal to the Fade, a realm of spirits and demons. In all the commotion, a single individual emerges from The Breach, the bearer of a strange magical mark on their right hand. As that person, players make choices that shape the world of Thedas for better or worse. It is a great set up raising numerous questions for players to explore. What is the role of faith in times of peril? Is the protagonist divine? Can the current events all be rationally explained? Is there a god looking out for the people of Thedas? Unfortunately, none of these questions are really explored to much meaningful depth. It was a bit of a disappointment, especially given where the series might be going in the future. If anything makes up for my minor grumbles with how adequately Inquisition explores its own themes it is how well BioWare succeeds in characterization. Far and away, I found the dialogue to be the strongest part of Inquisition. BioWare really isn’t afraid to explore waters that most other video games still aren’t ready to touch quite yet. One of the most compelling companion characters, Dorian, is a mage that prefers the company of other men. He’s not treated as a stereotype or a token character. He’s a fully formed individual, which is rare to see in most Western games. A more succinct way of putting it is that Dorian’s sexual orientation isn’t something that defines him as a character, rather he’s written as a person who happens to be gay. He’s also bold, brimming with clever quips, and can occasionally put aside his façade of bravado to try and be a good friend. BioWare isn’t content to rest on its laurels after crafting a character that most studios wouldn’t have bother with either. Krem, the second in command of the Bull’s Chargers mercenary company, breaks new ground as the first transgender character in the Western AAA game space. Despite not being one of the core companion characters, Krem stands out in the land of big budget games as a minority character written in a humane way. Much like Dorian, Krem’s gender identity isn’t the thing that defines him, he’s a person before anything else. I only mentioned two out of a cast of dozens. Who could forget Cassandra, the hard case Seeker with a hidden love for trashy romance novels? Or Sera, the kooky-yet-practical city elf that seems more than a little unhinged? Or what about… I could keep listing names for paragraphs, but I think you’ve probably understood my meaning. Lesser writers would stop short. Cassandra would just be a stuffy warrior, Sera would just be crazy, Dorian would just be another gay stereotype. Heck, Krem would be a one line anomaly in a typical game. But BioWare adds just enough to make each one seem fleshed out and real. Each have their own motivations, goals, and desires. They have needs and wants that are directly communicated to the player and others that are only hinted at and suggest greater depth. Despite the fantasy setting and the supernatural threats that close in on every side, Dragon Age: Inquisition manages to paint more realistic people than many games that strive to be more grounded in reality. As I played Inquisition, I slowly began to feel an absence. I tried to shake it off, but it continued to grow as I progressed. Then, somewhere in the midst of court intrigue, large scale warfare, and demons raining from the sky, it suddenly stuck me how disconnected I felt from it all. It wasn’t that the characters are written badly, several of them are easily the most brilliantly written video game characters I’ve had the pleasure to come across. It also wasn’t that Dragon Age: Inquisition is boring; there are plenty of things to do and the game aims to be visually stunning at all times. It didn’t even seem like the problem was on a narrative level, an issue usually found in even the biggest AAA games. I really struggled to pin down exactly why Inquisition felt so impersonal, and it wasn’t until after the credits rolled and I had an opportunity to reflect on the game and BioWare’s previous accomplishments that the answer hit me. One of the most positively received video games to come out of BioWare is Mass Effect 2. The wild, incredible narrative ride ratchets up over time to climax in a suicide mission made all the more satisfying by the time devoted to interacting with and learning about the team that risk their lives alongside the player. In other words, Mass Effect 2’s effectiveness stems from how the narrative and game design choices all revolve around each other, intertwined and inseparable. Practically every mission either links with a certain character, advancing the player’s relationship with them, or propels the plot forward. Almost no missions in Mass Effect 2 consist of dead air (except, of course, the planet scanning), every moment crackles with purpose to one end or another. To invest players and keep up the narrative momentum, BioWare kept every mission carefully directed and allowed for little in the way of exploration. BioWare seems to have taken a different approach that centers on the vastness of the areas they’ve created. It is easy to see why; clearly a lot of time went into the awe-inspiring environments. However, the mission structures applied to these huge spaces feel very similar to what you’d find in an MMO. For many people that might not be a problem, but it leads to a relatively inert game both in terms of player engagement and game narrative. That’s why I had trouble pinpointing the problem at first; the disconnect isn’t on a traditional narrative level. Instead it is the result of a uniquely game-related design choice. Unlike Mass Effect 2, many of the missions, even some that involve companions, require backtracking through previously explored areas to kill bad guys/collect items/destroy things A, B, and C. They aren’t engaging tasks. You’ve probably done them thousands of times in other games. None of those things are as memorable or meaningful as the time Garrus tried to assassinate his ex-squad member, Sidonis, and was either talked into or out of it through conversation. I spent almost 100 hours in Thedas, and there were still areas I hadn’t fully explored. I completed the game at level 24, even though the game recommends the final mission for character levels 15-19. The world BioWare created was so big that the side stuff overtakes the main narrative, despite it being the least interesting part of the experience. It seems telling to me that “Leave the Hinterlands” has become a piece of advice repeated again and again. Players are getting wrapped up in checking all the boxes, going into every nook and cranny, and engaging less with the characters and narrative. That’s a shame, because the main quest missions are easily the most interesting parts of Dragon Age: Inquisition. I just wish that there were more of them and less uninspired open world quest design. Herb gathering exemplifies the issue perfectly. The game begins and it is exciting to stumble across herbs and harvest them, so you tap buttons to go through the gathering animations again and again. They’re all over the place. Then you discover that it takes herbs to replenish your supply of health potions. Gathering herbs stops being a cool diversion and becomes a necessity. Later you learn that it takes herbs to upgrade your potions, too. At this point, you will be willing to commit murder to not gather any more herbs. What started as a fun diversion becomes a mind-numbingly boring task. Sure, you can send soldiers to do it, but they’ll only bring six or seven plants back at a time, but you could collect double that in the time it takes them to bring more back. Even by the end of the game, I was scrabbling for more herbs, more crafting materials. It took me out of the world and diverted my attention from narratively important tasks. With the writing talent at their disposal, BioWare’s decision to focus away from the dialogues is perplexing. I don’t mean that Inquisition lacks in the dialogue department at all, but rather there was a slight design choice that clearly emphasizes the open world gameplay over the conversations. One of the things that I loved about both the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series was that practically all conversations with significant NPCs that had more than one sentence to say were done from multiple fixed camera angles that created more engaging visuals than the player controlled camera was capable of providing. It made conversations feel more immediate and exciting. While that is certainly still present in Dragon Age: Inquisition, more often than not players will be kept in the broad player controlled camera during conversations. The design choice encourages players to leave the conversation with the NPC whenever they’d like. On paper, that seems like something a lot of players would want, but in practice I think it creates a lot of distance between the player and the sidequests or extra dialogue players might want to have with their companions. I understand that it is a large game and players have a lot to do, but are we really too busy to want personal conversations with important characters? I don’t think so, and I can’t help but feel we lost something rather important. Ultimately, the estrangement from Dragon Age: Inquisition hurt my perception of its narrative. Perhaps I spent too much time pursuing side content and not enough on finishing the core missions, but by the end of the game everything felt stacked in my protagonist’s favor and the climactic finale seemed like little more than a formality. This could be an indication that the narrative itself is a bit flawed on how it approaches the overarching conflict in Dragon Age: Inquisition, but that’s probably a spoiler-filled topic for another day. Conclusion: Despite the glitches, the feeling of disconnection, and the wall of text that might indicate otherwise, I very much enjoyed my time in Thedas. The criticisms I had were small, but they’ll be the reason Dragon Age: Inquisition isn’t remembered quite as fondly as Origins or the Mass Effect series. Dragon Age: Inquisition left me wanting more, curious as to where the franchise might be headed next. Color me doubly curious since many loose ends from both Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 are resolved by the time the credits roll in Inquisition. I opened this review with a recommendation and I’m ending it with another. Do yourself a favor and play Dragon Age: Inquisition. Any missteps it makes pale in comparison to the enjoyable experience it can offer. Dragon Age: Inquisition was reviewed PC and is now available for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360
  2. A strangely off-beat throwback to the Final Fantasy of yesteryear? A sunny journey into the heart of existential crisis? A relic outdone by its shinier successor? Final Fantasy IX is many things to many people. Only recently has the general gaming population begun to look back and notice the entry in Square Enix's long-running series that came only a year before X moved the series into a new console generation. Dan Olson from Folding Ideas joins the podcast for a two-part episode discussing Final Fantasy IX's fascinating development history and subtly powerful narrative. Does a PlayStation 1 title from the turn of the millennium earn a place in video game canon? Is Final Fantasy IX one of the best games period? You can find Dan Olson on Twitter, @FoldableIdeas, or on his YouTube channel Folding Ideas. Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Part one focuses on our special guest, the development history of Final Fantasy IX, and our individual experiences with the title. Outro music: Final Fantasy IX 'Melodies of Life (Arranged)' by MkViff (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR00152) Part two delves into an attempt at summarizing the intricate plot and some narrative dissection in an effort to get at the heart of why IX has always felt different from the rest of the franchise. Outro music: Final Fantasy IX ''You Don't Know Me" by katethegreat19 (http://ff9.ocremix.org/) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, follow the show on Twitter and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  3. A strangely off-beat throwback to the Final Fantasy of yesteryear? A sunny journey into the heart of existential crisis? A relic outdone by its shinier successor? Final Fantasy IX is many things to many people. Only recently has the general gaming population begun to look back and notice the entry in Square Enix's long-running series that came only a year before X moved the series into a new console generation. Dan Olson from Folding Ideas joins the podcast for a two-part episode discussing Final Fantasy IX's fascinating development history and subtly powerful narrative. Does a PlayStation 1 title from the turn of the millennium earn a place in video game canon? Is Final Fantasy IX one of the best games period? You can find Dan Olson on Twitter, @FoldableIdeas, or on his YouTube channel Folding Ideas. Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Part one focuses on our special guest, the development history of Final Fantasy IX, and our individual experiences with the title. Outro music: Final Fantasy IX 'Melodies of Life (Arranged)' by MkViff (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR00152) Part two delves into an attempt at summarizing the intricate plot and some narrative dissection in an effort to get at the heart of why IX has always felt different from the rest of the franchise. Outro music: Final Fantasy IX ''You Don't Know Me" by katethegreat19 (http://ff9.ocremix.org/) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, follow the show on Twitter and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  4. The rocky road to Team Ninja’s release of Nioh meant that a lot of factors were working against the action RPG when it hit store shelves in February. It had originally been announced back in 2004 by Koei as a straight RPG adaptation of Oni, an unfinished script by famed Japanese film legend Akira Kurosawa. Over the years, it was ripped apart and stitched back together by various development teams trying desperately to make it work. Nioh became a Dynasty Warriors-esque large-scale war game after the merger of Tecmo and Koei. The multiple development teams slowly scrapped almost all of the Akira Kurosawa’s story beats from the title. It wasn’t until Team Ninja fully took control of the project in 2012 that Nioh became recognizably similar to the game that released in 2017. Team Ninja had a very simple elevator pitch for their vision of Nioh: What if you combined a fanciful retelling of Japan’s Sengoku jidai with Dark Souls? Nioh weaves the heavily altered story of William Adams, a sailor for the Dutch East India Company who became the first Western samurai, a top advisor to Japan’s Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and became known as Miura Anjin. Those three facts are about all that remain in Nioh of the real William’s life story. Nioh takes the framework of William’s journey to Japan in the 1600s at the end of one hundred years of civil war and brings it into a more fanciful setting full of spirits and monsters. William begins his tale in England, where a mysterious figure named Edward Kelley imprisons his guardian spirit. The pursuit of this creepy sorcerer takes William to the shores of Japan where evil spirits and demons have run amok, feeding off the death caused by the war. William’s becomes embroiled in the war himself after finding that the sorcerer has allied himself with the enemies of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Soon the conflict threatens to spin out of control as the sorcerer wields ever more powerful magic granted by his consumption of guardian spirits and crystalized spirit stones called Amrita. William, however, has his own array of abilities to combat threats both magical and mundane. One of Nioh’s draws is the ability to play with a wide selection of fighting styles. Players can choose from katana, axe, dual wielding swords, spears, and kusarigama (a sickle with a weighted chain). Each weapon has its own unique style and move set that becomes even deeper with the addition of stances. Any given weapon has three separate stances, high, mid, and low. High stance has slower, more powerful attacks, middle has a good mix between power and agility, and low stance tends to have the fastest attack and dodge speeds. Each of these stances alters the move sets and combos of their given weapon in addition to their differing benefits. On top of that, Nioh allows players to put points into ninjutsu and onmyo to gain ninja and spellcasting abilities. The robust combat system presents a definite learning curve. Those just beginning Nioh will doubtlessly struggle with when to switch stances and the make use of the various abilities at their disposal. However, the true mechanic that every Nioh player will absolutely need to master comes down to one thing: Ki. In Dark Souls, players must manage a stamina gauge that depletes as various attacks are used. Nioh has a Ki meter that serves the same purpose. However, the key difference between the two systems is that timing a follow-up button press after a string of attacks restores some of the player’s lost Ki. This means that those with a good sense of timing and battle rhythm can make more attacks or dodges without becoming exhausted and vulnerable. Some abilities even give attack bonuses for players who can pull off this move. This technique becomes even more necessary when battling the demonic yokai spirits who can create areas that slow Ki regeneration unless the player can purify them with that well-timed button press. Nioh does a number of small, yet significant things when it comes to combat that make it feel like a fresh experience. Adding the active Ki system goes a long way toward creating more engaging combat, but so does extending the effectiveness of status impairments. Typically, status effects in games are more for the rank and file enemies. Nioh allows even the bosses to be affected by the likes of poison, fire, and paralysis. These can help give the winning edge in a particularly challenging boss fight or make an otherwise difficult enemy encounter manageable. Projectile weapons also go a long way toward breathing life into Nioh. Players can equip bows, matchlock rifles, or personal cannons to deal with enemies from afar. These weapons prove to be very effective and benefit from leveling stats that benefit your hand-to-hand combat abilities, so they continue to be effective into the late game. In fact, I was able to take down the final boss of Nioh with a shred of health from cover by making quick use of my fully loaded cannon to land critical headshots. Nioh slips up most when it comes to the level design. One of the things that worked in the favor of the Dark Souls series was the interconnected world that truly felt like a giant puzzle to be solved through exploration. Nioh has a much more linear structure governed by missions. Each mission is its own contained world that leads players toward a boss fight. The quality of these areas varies greatly. Some are perfectly serviceable, a few inch up into “good” territory, but many of them are only interesting on a visual level and only present straight-forward slogs from one combat encounter to another. The worst levels include areas where the player can easily slip off a ledge and fall to what feels like an incredibly cheap death. One boss fight in particular happens to encapsulate both the frustrating level and boss design. A decent slice into the game, the player is tasked with clearing out a flooded temple. Upon reaching the boss, the player becomes locked inside an arena floating on the water to do battle with a giant ooze monster. Except you can’t swim in Nioh, so a trip off the edge of the arena is an instant death. Just don’t fall off, right? Well, the boss is such a large creature, that targeting it means you can’t see anything behind you, so it becomes difficult to tell when you’re in danger of running off the edge. Okay, so don’t target the creature? Well, if you let your attention wander, you might miss the short wind up it does for a move that blasts half the arena with an insta-death energy beam. If you happen to be doing fine against this yokai hell-beast, it actually has two versions of its insta-death move. The first has a warning animation of about a second or two. The second has a split-second jiggle that’s easily missed in the heat of combat. Speaking of those bosses, they represent some of the most irritating encounters I’ve had in video games. Some are relatively easy to overcome while others will leave you dazed with how quickly they destroyed you. Many of the bosses present long, painful bouts of learning when to dodge, what moves will instantly kill you, and what you can or can’t block. On the other hand, a fair number of these encounters feel like truly climactic battles where the odds are stacked against you. Conclusion: When everything goes right in Nioh, it feels wonderfully fluid, responsive, and challenging. The combat shines brightly as something from which future games in the action RPG genre should draw inspiration. While Dark Souls mastered slow, methodical combat and Bloodborne rewarded fast, brutal aggression, Nioh requires players to be fast and precise in order to keep abreast of the chaotic action. However, that’s a delicate balance to maintain and sometimes bosses and level design don’t quite support that balancing act. The visual designs of monsters are routinely interesting to take in and discovering new creatures adds to the fun of progression. The loot system feels unnecessary and clutters up Nioh with useless items. There’s a very solid core to Nioh that deserves expansion. A little more inspiration from similar games (some kind of healing reward for aggression similar to Bloodborne might have been nice), while cutting any needless complications or unfair designs could go a long way toward taking any Nioh successor to even greater acclaim in the future. Nioh is now available for PlayStation 4
  5. The rocky road to Team Ninja’s release of Nioh meant that a lot of factors were working against the action RPG when it hit store shelves in February. It had originally been announced back in 2004 by Koei as a straight RPG adaptation of Oni, an unfinished script by famed Japanese film legend Akira Kurosawa. Over the years, it was ripped apart and stitched back together by various development teams trying desperately to make it work. Nioh became a Dynasty Warriors-esque large-scale war game after the merger of Tecmo and Koei. The multiple development teams slowly scrapped almost all of the Akira Kurosawa’s story beats from the title. It wasn’t until Team Ninja fully took control of the project in 2012 that Nioh became recognizably similar to the game that released in 2017. Team Ninja had a very simple elevator pitch for their vision of Nioh: What if you combined a fanciful retelling of Japan’s Sengoku jidai with Dark Souls? Nioh weaves the heavily altered story of William Adams, a sailor for the Dutch East India Company who became the first Western samurai, a top advisor to Japan’s Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and became known as Miura Anjin. Those three facts are about all that remain in Nioh of the real William’s life story. Nioh takes the framework of William’s journey to Japan in the 1600s at the end of one hundred years of civil war and brings it into a more fanciful setting full of spirits and monsters. William begins his tale in England, where a mysterious figure named Edward Kelley imprisons his guardian spirit. The pursuit of this creepy sorcerer takes William to the shores of Japan where evil spirits and demons have run amok, feeding off the death caused by the war. William’s becomes embroiled in the war himself after finding that the sorcerer has allied himself with the enemies of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Soon the conflict threatens to spin out of control as the sorcerer wields ever more powerful magic granted by his consumption of guardian spirits and crystalized spirit stones called Amrita. William, however, has his own array of abilities to combat threats both magical and mundane. One of Nioh’s draws is the ability to play with a wide selection of fighting styles. Players can choose from katana, axe, dual wielding swords, spears, and kusarigama (a sickle with a weighted chain). Each weapon has its own unique style and move set that becomes even deeper with the addition of stances. Any given weapon has three separate stances, high, mid, and low. High stance has slower, more powerful attacks, middle has a good mix between power and agility, and low stance tends to have the fastest attack and dodge speeds. Each of these stances alters the move sets and combos of their given weapon in addition to their differing benefits. On top of that, Nioh allows players to put points into ninjutsu and onmyo to gain ninja and spellcasting abilities. The robust combat system presents a definite learning curve. Those just beginning Nioh will doubtlessly struggle with when to switch stances and the make use of the various abilities at their disposal. However, the true mechanic that every Nioh player will absolutely need to master comes down to one thing: Ki. In Dark Souls, players must manage a stamina gauge that depletes as various attacks are used. Nioh has a Ki meter that serves the same purpose. However, the key difference between the two systems is that timing a follow-up button press after a string of attacks restores some of the player’s lost Ki. This means that those with a good sense of timing and battle rhythm can make more attacks or dodges without becoming exhausted and vulnerable. Some abilities even give attack bonuses for players who can pull off this move. This technique becomes even more necessary when battling the demonic yokai spirits who can create areas that slow Ki regeneration unless the player can purify them with that well-timed button press. Nioh does a number of small, yet significant things when it comes to combat that make it feel like a fresh experience. Adding the active Ki system goes a long way toward creating more engaging combat, but so does extending the effectiveness of status impairments. Typically, status effects in games are more for the rank and file enemies. Nioh allows even the bosses to be affected by the likes of poison, fire, and paralysis. These can help give the winning edge in a particularly challenging boss fight or make an otherwise difficult enemy encounter manageable. Projectile weapons also go a long way toward breathing life into Nioh. Players can equip bows, matchlock rifles, or personal cannons to deal with enemies from afar. These weapons prove to be very effective and benefit from leveling stats that benefit your hand-to-hand combat abilities, so they continue to be effective into the late game. In fact, I was able to take down the final boss of Nioh with a shred of health from cover by making quick use of my fully loaded cannon to land critical headshots. Nioh slips up most when it comes to the level design. One of the things that worked in the favor of the Dark Souls series was the interconnected world that truly felt like a giant puzzle to be solved through exploration. Nioh has a much more linear structure governed by missions. Each mission is its own contained world that leads players toward a boss fight. The quality of these areas varies greatly. Some are perfectly serviceable, a few inch up into “good” territory, but many of them are only interesting on a visual level and only present straight-forward slogs from one combat encounter to another. The worst levels include areas where the player can easily slip off a ledge and fall to what feels like an incredibly cheap death. One boss fight in particular happens to encapsulate both the frustrating level and boss design. A decent slice into the game, the player is tasked with clearing out a flooded temple. Upon reaching the boss, the player becomes locked inside an arena floating on the water to do battle with a giant ooze monster. Except you can’t swim in Nioh, so a trip off the edge of the arena is an instant death. Just don’t fall off, right? Well, the boss is such a large creature, that targeting it means you can’t see anything behind you, so it becomes difficult to tell when you’re in danger of running off the edge. Okay, so don’t target the creature? Well, if you let your attention wander, you might miss the short wind up it does for a move that blasts half the arena with an insta-death energy beam. If you happen to be doing fine against this yokai hell-beast, it actually has two versions of its insta-death move. The first has a warning animation of about a second or two. The second has a split-second jiggle that’s easily missed in the heat of combat. Speaking of those bosses, they represent some of the most irritating encounters I’ve had in video games. Some are relatively easy to overcome while others will leave you dazed with how quickly they destroyed you. Many of the bosses present long, painful bouts of learning when to dodge, what moves will instantly kill you, and what you can or can’t block. On the other hand, a fair number of these encounters feel like truly climactic battles where the odds are stacked against you. Conclusion: When everything goes right in Nioh, it feels wonderfully fluid, responsive, and challenging. The combat shines brightly as something from which future games in the action RPG genre should draw inspiration. While Dark Souls mastered slow, methodical combat and Bloodborne rewarded fast, brutal aggression, Nioh requires players to be fast and precise in order to keep abreast of the chaotic action. However, that’s a delicate balance to maintain and sometimes bosses and level design don’t quite support that balancing act. The visual designs of monsters are routinely interesting to take in and discovering new creatures adds to the fun of progression. The loot system feels unnecessary and clutters up Nioh with useless items. There’s a very solid core to Nioh that deserves expansion. A little more inspiration from similar games (some kind of healing reward for aggression similar to Bloodborne might have been nice), while cutting any needless complications or unfair designs could go a long way toward taking any Nioh successor to even greater acclaim in the future. Nioh is now available for PlayStation 4 View full article
  6. It is easy to forget that BioWare took a bold risk when they launched their untested, original IP as an Xbox 360 exclusive back in 2007. The RPG genre had never truly veered into uncharted territory with a mainstream release as with a third-person shooter hybrid. On top of that, it was set in an unknown universe that the marketing team could easily have over-inflated to generate hype only to fall victim to the backlash (remember the cautionary tale of Advent Rising?). However, what made Mass Effect special was that it actually managed to live up to the hype. It worked. It had choices that engaged players. It was full of unique and interesting piece of universe-building and memorable characters. It delivered the sci-fi adventure some people had been waiting their entire lives to see in a video game for the first time. Almost a decade later with a new entry in the franchise releasing this week, does the original Mass Effect stand as not merely a good game, but one of the best games period? Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Mass Effect 'Uncharted Depths' by Hy Bound (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02157) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, follow the show on Twitter and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  7. It is easy to forget that BioWare took a bold risk when they launched their untested, original IP as an Xbox 360 exclusive back in 2007. The RPG genre had never truly veered into uncharted territory with a mainstream release as with a third-person shooter hybrid. On top of that, it was set in an unknown universe that the marketing team could easily have over-inflated to generate hype only to fall victim to the backlash (remember the cautionary tale of Advent Rising?). However, what made Mass Effect special was that it actually managed to live up to the hype. It worked. It had choices that engaged players. It was full of unique and interesting piece of universe-building and memorable characters. It delivered the sci-fi adventure some people had been waiting their entire lives to see in a video game for the first time. Almost a decade later with a new entry in the franchise releasing this week, does the original Mass Effect stand as not merely a good game, but one of the best games period? Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Mass Effect 'Uncharted Depths' by Hy Bound (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02157) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, follow the show on Twitter and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  8. Released in 2000 for Dreamcast and 2003 for GameCube, Skies of Arcadia has proven itself to be one of those RPGs that really stuck with me over the years. When I was growing up, I didn’t see many RPGs in my house. Through sheer bad luck I somehow missed most of the great SNES RPGs, Super Mario RPG notwithstanding. For as much as I appreciate my N64, there was definitely a dearth of RPGs in its library compared to its 16-bit predecessors. The PlayStation and Dreamcast were unheard of in my home at the time, barely existing on the periphery of my young consciousness. Imagine my surprise when I picked up Skies of Arcadia: Legends for the GameCube over a decade ago and found myself wrapped up in a fantastical adventure full of heroes, villains, monsters, and sky pirates. To date, I think I spent more hours inside of Skies of Arcadia than any other traditional RPG with the exceptions of Dragon Age: Origins and the Mass Effect series. Skies of Arcadia built an appreciation for RPGs in my heart, supplanting platformers as the genre that held the most sway over my gaming tastes. The dreamlike quality of its setting helps to set Skies of Arcadia apart from anything else out there. Arcadia's world consists of large islands and continents statically suspended in the sky. There are six major empires, both thriving and long gone, one for each moon that orbits their planet. The only way travel, commerce, and warfare between the different land masses can be achieved is through the use of air ships. Throw pirates, weapons of mass destruction, evil empires, and long lost magic into this setting and you have the makings of a great game. What I am trying to say is that Skies of Arcadia is a game about flying pirates being awesome and for that reason alone you should consider unearthing a copy. I haven’t made any secret that I heartily recommend Skies of Arcadia, but I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t have any imperfections. It falls victim to a number of RPG clichés in its storyline: amnesia, collect several magic maguffins, an escalating hierarchy of evil henchmen, etc. However, it is a testament to the quality of Skies of Arcadia that despite those clichés much of it feels fresh and exciting. I will be the first to admit that I could certainly be looking at this game through rose-colored glasses, but I think it is one of those rare titles that makes proper use of clichéd story elements. The clichés don’t feel out of place or misused. The narrative flows naturally from one point to another, and part of that flow includes a few well-worn video game tropes. There are enough twists and turns in the plot to make it feel fresh. Though many of the characters end up fitting into archetypical molds, they’re written well enough that players actually begin to develop empathy for their predicaments. One of my favorite examples of this is the captain of a small fishing vessel named Drachma. Captain Drachma is encountered early in the adventure and he initially serves as a gruff father figure. Over the course of the game Drachma is revealed to be motivated by a desire to avenge the death of his son (and the loss of his arm and eye) at the hands of a great skywhale named Rhaknam. He is so committed to this that he eventually buys a giant prow harpoon for his ship, with which he hopes to kill the beast. It is a pretty blatant reference to Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab, but it isn’t used as a joke. Instead, the backstory does what a backstory should do; it gives the player a new perspective on the previous words and actions of that character. Graphically, Skies of Arcadia has not aged well. It sometimes looks like a polygonal mess. What polygons it does have are very colorful and inviting which still do it credit and keep the game feeling light hearted and fun despite some of the darker content that crops up throughout the adventure. Despite the dated graphics the mechanics are solid and serviceable, while the narrative remains as compelling as ever. One of the biggest problems that plagued the original Dreamcast release was the absurdly high rate of random encounters. While that was fixed somewhat in the Legends port, battles are still a frequent occurrence. The general gist of the combat is that characters can attack, cast spells, use items, or guard. As these things are done, more SP points build up that can be used for special moves. Later in the game players unlock different super attacks that change depending on the party composition, each with its own cool cinematic. There is also the option to simply unleash the entire crew of your ship which has a variety of effects depending on who players have recruited. It is a simple system overall, but one that is definitely enjoyable. To traverse Arcadia, you need to fly your air ship through the overworld. Throughout the game, players will pilot a variety of different vessels, each with their own abilities and equipment that can be upgraded. Exploration is limited by the type of vessel that is being flown. Early on, there are certain areas that the ships available lack the ability to travel through, like wind currents and high pressure areas. This is not to say that searching out nooks and crannies is discouraged. Exploration can really pay off for persistent and observant players. You can discover rare locations or treasures granting a sizable reward. Thoroughly exploring areas can lead to optional boss battles or even new crew members to recruit. Perhaps the best feature of Skies of Arcadia is the ability to engage in ship-to-ship battles. In these cinematic battles, attacks and evasions can be ordered at opportune times to optimize damage output and escape enemy fire. The system allows players to plan out an entire round of maneuvers weighed against the likelihood of the enemy taking offensive or defensive actions. If the fight continues for a long enough period, a meter will fill and you gain the opportunity to unleash a brutal super attack that deals enormous amounts of damage. These skirmishes are few and far between, typically only occurring against large monsters or other ships. Players can outfit their ship with different decks, armor, cannons, torpedoes, etc. Each change will greatly affect how the ship performs in combat. More powerful cannons can typically only fire once, while smaller, less powerful cannons can fire multiple times in one turn, and torpedoes fire once with a delayed damage burst. Who is crewing the vessel also affects the ships performance, granting different bonuses to the ship’s offensive, defensive, or healing abilities. I’ve honestly never seen a combat system like it before or since, which is a shame because I’d be happy to see it as a central system for an entire game. Skies of Arcadia is not a perfect game, but there are a lot of aspects that deserve more recognition. Often when player mention RPGs from around the turn of the century, I hear names like Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, Paper Mario, but almost never Skies of Arcadia. It holds a special place in my heart for being a fantastic introduction to the world of RPGs. Not only that, but there are no other games with ship combat like Skies of Arcadia. If you are in the market for an older RPG you couldn’t go terribly wrong seeking out Skies of Arcadia: Legends. The story is the stuff of solid adventure.
  9. RPGs like Wasteland 2 are difficult to pull off without a misstep. They typically have very large ambitions and the larger that they become, the more options that they offer players, the more likely they are to fall short. Trying to account for every way a player might want to interact with a given scenario is a shotgun approach to game design and it is tricky to master. They also tend to be very structurally spread out. The core narrative seems to have importance than the numerous vignettes that players may or may not encounter. Key decisions have the potential to significantly alter events that players come across and lead to different gameplay experiences, meaning that reviews of this type have to be taken with a few more grains of salt than usual. It isn’t impossible to break these types of games down, just a bit harder and a bit more dependent on how the game was played. With that said, let’s roll up our sleeves and get started. The original 1988 Wasteland almost single-handedly made video games about wandering an irradiated, post-apocalyptic world cool. Wasteland predated the beginning of the Fallout series by almost a decade, but became lost in the mists of time. Then in 2012, InXile Entertainment launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $900,000 to develop a true sequel to the 1988 title. Within two days that goal had been reached and by the time the campaign drew to a close a total of around $3,000,000 had been secured to fund development. After two years the result is a staggeringly large RPG with astonishing amounts of detail. In a livestream interview with Joystiq, creative director Brian Fargo stated that if you took all the text written for the game, all of the dialogues and descriptions, the word count would surpass all of that of the entire Harry Potter series. Think about that for a minute: The developers wrote over seven novels worth of text in addition to making a game. Some of you might be a bit skeptical of Fargo’s claim, but having poured 75 hours of my life into Wasteland 2, I believe it. Out of those tens of thousands of words arose the tale of the Desert Rangers, post-apocalyptic cowboys who strive to establish law and order for the residents of the habitable portions of Arizona; an Arizona that has been cut off from the outside world by deadly radiation clouds. Strange animals roam the wastes like mutated honey badgers or giant rabbits posing an ever present threat to those new to wandering the parched lands of Arizona. However, as is the case in an un-irradiated world, the most dangerous creatures in the wasteland are your fellow human beings. Player begin with a team of Desert Ranger recruits that have been tasked with looking into the death of Ace, a fellow Ranger who was gunned down while tracking down the source of a mysterious radio signal. And… well, that’s about as much as I can say before what players experience could conceivably be different from the choices I made. There is no set course in Wasteland 2. Instead, there are numerous vignettes that can be explored at will with only a small number of essential scenarios that need to be dealt with before the main narrative is allowed to progress. After leaving the starting area to tackle the initial task of investigating Ace’s death, players receive calls for help from two different settlements that have found themselves in imminent danger. Choosing to help one over the other leads to sweeping consequences for a large portion of Wasteland 2. Players who are more inclined to explore can encounter smaller side missions, too. The diffuse structure of the narrative leads to a very erratic core narrative. Some of the episode are truly engaging and ask players to make difficult choices, while others feel more like a slog of going through the motions rather than an enjoyable experience. The meat of Wasteland 2 is the turn-based tactical combat. Each character under the player’s command has a certain number of action points that are determined based on their attributes. The more action points they have, the more stuff they can do on their turn. It is a relatively simple system that is pleasantly complicated by alternate firing modes for guns, crouching, and headshots, all of which have different action point costs associated with their execution. The result is a mostly satisfying strategic title that can concoct some difficult scenarios to keep players on their toes. What really bogs down the experience are good ideas that have been executed poorly. A great example of this is any time an NPC follower is picked up that acts independently when in combat. The AI governing their behavior makes mind-bogglingly awful decisions, which can be really frustrating when you are trying to complete an objective that requires them to be alive. They’ll shun cover and brazenly stand in front of several enemies armed with miniguns and grenades without a second thought. It is frustrating to do everything as tactically correct as possible only to have an NPC derp its way into oblivion. Two more great ideas that don’t quite live up to their potential are inventory management and melee combat. Managing inventory becomes problematic because you will often find weird items that may or may not have a purpose later in the game. This reinforces the compulsion to hold onto a variety of random crap that might randomly be useful. Ammo has weight, but you probably want to keep that in your inventory if you feel like living through enemy encounters. Do you like being healed? Yes? Well, that takes up inventory space, too. The amount of stuff a character can carry in their inventory is related to their strength attribute, which is very unfortunate since strength means almost nothing in a game full of ranged weaponry. There are skill categories for blunt weapons, bladed weapons, and unarmed fighting, but none of those routes feel like they pay off in the slightest. Why leave cover to get in close to an enemy when he has five or six ranged friends for backup and you can do two or three times as much damage with one sniper from a mile away? Strength improves melee attacks, but not enough to make them feel like a viable option when compared to all of the cool shotguns, heavy weapons, energy cannons, sniper rifles, and assault weapons. This is all the more unfortunate because you will need a character with high strength just to carry your junk around and they’ll end up feeling like dead weight. By the time I reached the end game I had to stop for five to ten minutes to get my characters’ inventories sorted out every time I acquired something that weighed more than five pounds. Wasteland 2 also features permadeath. If a character loses all of their health, they’ll fall unconscious. If they continue to take hits, they’ll die and exit the party permanently. For a player like me, that just means that losing a party member means reloading an earlier save. I imagine that most players will react similarly since losing a character can be effectively crippling, especially if they were relied on for their non-combat skills like lock picking or demolitions. It is a tangible loss that isn’t easy to replace and is punishing for the rest of the game. My golden standard for permadeath in strategy games was set by XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Losing a soldier was certainly a blow to the missions that followed, but unless it was on the highest difficulties, it wasn’t something that left a campaign crippled. The permadeath served to make XCOM harder, yes, but it also strengthened the emotional attachments players developed for their soldiers. They took on the role of their commander and felt responsible for their soldiers’ fates. Unlike XCOM, a disconnect exists between the player and the characters in Wasteland 2. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; many games are fantastic without inviting the player into the fiction as a character. The tradeoff seems to be that if you are going to have that sort of distance between the player and the characters, then you need to have engaging characters in which the player can feel emotionally invested. Wasteland 2 only partially succeeds at this. The four Desert Ranger recruits that begin the game can be customized by the player or picked from premade backgrounds. They then all proceed to be silent protagonists, a decision that renders them inert and emotionless. Luckily, the supporting cast of recruitable NPCs does some serious heavy lifting. Characters like Scotchmo, the shotgun wielding hobo with a heart of gold, or Rose, the scientist with a prosthetic arm who dreamed of becoming a Ranger, go a long way toward giving the journey through the wastelands a dash of characterization; saving it from becoming just another generic romp. However, level design is the biggest quagmire that painfully slows the experience of Wasteland 2. There is an awful lot of backtracking through large levels. I kid you not, I eventually picked up a book so that I could have something to do while my characters ran through the same area, repeatedly going back and forth between to NPCs that I needed to talk with. Perhaps more than any other thing that I’ve talked about so far is what dampened my enthusiasm for Wasteland 2. It is not awesome to spend two or three minutes wandering through a level that you’ve already thoroughly explored to get from point A to point B. Fast travel within locations or quick exits from thoroughly explored areas would have been a fantastic addition. Related to the level design is how the camera interacts with the environment. Many tactical games have a fixed camera, but creating a fixed perspective can lead to obstructed vision for players. Wasteland 2 tries to avoid that problem by including multiple camera angles that players can switch between. While a good idea on paper, it quickly becomes disorienting. It can even get you turned around in areas that have been explored. To top it off, even the rotating camera can’t save all of the battles from the challenges of objects obstructing commands. A number of times I noticed characters who were caught at awkward angles in a bit of object that was supposed to provide cover. These incidents were few, but they still popped up from time to time and provided some frustration. With everything that I’ve gone over, you might think that I found Wasteland 2 to be a negative experience. On the contrary, I enjoyed the majority of the time I spent with the Desert Rangers. There are so many things to discover and so many ways to solve the situations that are happened upon. The sense of freedom is enjoyable and it’s nice that entire enemy encounters can be skipped at times if a character possesses the appropriate skills or items. The elements of exploration and discovery are in full force. On top of that, Wasteland 2 has a great sense of humor. At one point my party ran across a solitary man in the wastes who began following us while spouting a lengthy, ridiculous one-sided conversation about all the places he had been and seen. There is a faction of people who live in the wasteland who base their society off of a book of etiquette while also being more than happy to resort to violence. At one point, I found the treasure of the Sierra Madre. There is a world of references that prove to be good humored nods to famous movies, books, and video games and jokes that poke fun at the same. And there is just so much game. I put 75 hours into the game before I saw the credits roll, but I skipped many sidequests that I knew about and I’m sure I skipped other bits of the game that I never even discovered. I enjoyed the game despite its numerous imperfections. At the heart of Wasteland 2 is an earnest effort of staggering proportions and it isn’t hard to appreciate that in the final product. Note: I'm about to go into a topic that might be a bit uncomfortable for some of you out there. If that is the case, feel free to skip down to the conclusion. That being said, there was an issue that I found deeply disconcerting in Wasteland 2’s narrative: The treatment of sexual violence. This is something that video games are notoriously terrible at depicting in a way that is tactful. While I don’t doubt for a minute that Wasteland 2 has nothing but good intentions toward its players, this was something that stood out to me as needing to be called out. There are a number of parts in the game that deal with people who have been enslaved and abused sexually. From a writing standpoint, that would be fine if there was a reason for it, if there was a purpose to including that content. However, from what I saw, this sexual assault is never the focus of the scenarios in which it appears. It might help if I give an example to illustrate what I mean. At one point, Wasteland 2 takes players into a prison that has been converted into a headquarters for a gang that wants to start being what passes for a government. As players make their way through the town that’s just outside the prison, it becomes clear that the people who live there have become indentured as unwilling workers on a nearby farm. Many of the other residents are living in poverty and starving to death. Later, it is possible to return to negotiate with the leader of the gang and help him see the error of his ways and how they’d been going about trying to help people in the worst possible way. That all makes sense, right? It establishes the gang as bad guys, but later it turns out they just had no idea how to go helping people without innocents getting hurt by their efforts. What doesn’t make sense is also including a section of the gang’s camp where slaves are kept like animals and raped repeatedly. What possible purpose does that serve? None. There is no justification for it. The worst part is that it is never mentioned in any of the dialogue that I saw when speaking with any of the gang members or their leader. The focus was meant to be on the farm that the indentured workers were forced to cultivate. The area of the gang’s camp dedicated to rape was rendered as something that was barely worth consideration. This isn’t an isolated incident either. There are several instances of sexual violence invoked casually. InExile was trying to make a gritty game, a mature game, and of course that led to including lots of f-bombs, a number of prostitutes, and segments of sexual violence. People will try to mitigate it by saying that the occurrences of that brand of violence aren’t as explicit as they could be, the camera is distant, the violence isn’t directly shown, but the ugly truth of it is that it is still lurking there in the shadowy underbelly of the game as an implication. The lack of importance tells me that the writers of Wasteland 2 didn’t think when it came to this topic. It is as if the game threw up its hands and said, “Well, OF COURSE, this happens after the end of the world, especially when you are trying to portray the apocalypse in a mature way!” That might sound like a defense, but there is no reason to include scenes of sexual violence in the name of “maturity” or a “grittier experience” when the game in question cannot or will not maturely address the important topics it casually brings up. Nor is grit of such terrible importance to your game when you include a large number of mutated honey badgers as enemies. If you are a developer and are considering including sexual assault in your game, I believe you have a human obligation to try and treat it with the gravity it deserves. Like everything else in your game, there should be a reason that sexual violence is included and that reason shouldn’t be to titillate your players or serve as a momentary distraction. Conclusion: At the end of the day, I am attempting to critique an experience that took up more than three days of solid effort on my part and contained more text than seven books. How does someone even begin to try to do that justice? While Wasteland 2 certainly has a number of issues that relate to its core mechanics, design, and narrative, I enjoyed a lot of my time in its world, especially when it allowed itself to be a bit more lighthearted. The combat is satisfying, though sometimes frustrating. The narrative oscillates from being very good to being really not great from scenario to scenario, but generally errs on the side of quality. Wasteland 2 succeeds at being the game that its backers desired, while also paving the way for a renaissance of games made in this style. However, for as much as I enjoyed its strategic gameplay and unexpected turns, there were many flaws that detracted from my enjoyment on an intellectual level. Wasteland 2 is a solid RPG with enough detail to satisfy even the most rabid of lore-hounds, but I hope that InExile learns to address sensitive topics with a bit more humanity in their future endeavors.
  10. A small, independent game released on Windows PC back in 2012. It was the indiest of indies, a title developed largely by one person using RPG Maker software. Many people outside the RPG Maker development community would never hear of Star Stealing Prince, but the community itself showered it with praise and awards. Years later, Ronove's independent game stands tall among larger turn-based RPGs with gorgeous art, an engaging combat system, and a captivating, unique story. Buckle in and listen to why you should check out a largely unknown, free, indie RPG. You can download Star Stealing Prince for free from its Wordpress site. With schedules being what they are, sometimes coordinating a full episode of The Best Games Period can be difficult. When we can't have a proper discussion, we will be breaking off to do these shorter mini-casts, Honorable Mentions, to talk about fringe games that we might not otherwise be able to talk about on a full episode. Outro music: Wild Arms 'Godspeed' by audio fidelity and Theophany (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02351) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes (consider leaving a review!). A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  11. A small, independent game released on Windows PC back in 2012. It was the indiest of indies, a title developed largely by one person using RPG Maker software. Many people outside the RPG Maker development community would never hear of Star Stealing Prince, but the community itself showered it with praise and awards. Years later, Ronove's independent game stands tall among larger turn-based RPGs with gorgeous art, an engaging combat system, and a captivating, unique story. Buckle in and listen to why you should check out a largely unknown, free, indie RPG. You can download Star Stealing Prince for free from its Wordpress site. With schedules being what they are, sometimes coordinating a full episode of The Best Games Period can be difficult. When we can't have a proper discussion, we will be breaking off to do these shorter mini-casts, Honorable Mentions, to talk about fringe games that we might not otherwise be able to talk about on a full episode. Outro music: Wild Arms 'Godspeed' by audio fidelity and Theophany (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02351) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes (consider leaving a review!). A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  12. Dragon Age: Inquisition comes out next month on November 18, but EA is already prepping by giving out the first Dragon Age RPG for less the staggering price of nothing. People looking to snag a copy of the fantastic Dragon Age: Origins will need an Origin account to download their free copy. While I know that not a ton of people are a fan of Origin, it is pretty hard to turn your nose up at a free copy of one of BioWare's best RPGs. The promotion will only be available for the next six days, so hop to it.
  13. Pier Solar and the Great Architects, the HD remake of 2010 original that was exclusive to the Sega Mega Drive, is due on September 30th for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Ouya, and PC. Pier Solar HD is a direct result of a successful Kickstarter campaign that ran back in 2012. In addition to a release on PS4, PS3, and PC, WaterMelon will also be releasing the RPG on Xbox One, Wii U, and Sega Dreamcast, though the release dates of those versions will be announced next month after they've received certification. I'm gonna be honest, I've been looking forward to playing Pier Solar HD for a long time. Never having had a Sega Mega Drive, I wasn't able to play the original retro release of Pier Solar which made me sad as a big fan of classic RPGs. This news really makes me happy!
  14. From the forges of Kickstarter rises an RPG that embraces player choice. Undoubtedly Larian Studios finest work to date, Divinity: Original Sin is a throwback to the PC RPGs of old, albeit with a modern coat of paint. Larian’s latest title can stand proudly alongside the likes of Baldur’s Gate or the original Fallout. For my review of Divinity: Original Sin, I’m just going to relay the events that occurred within the first five hours of booting it up. One of the neat aspects of Original Sin is that you can play with strangers or friends in a two player co-op mode which you can switch into at any time. I grabbed a colleague of mine and we hopped into the world of Rivellon. We both created our own Source Hunters, intrepid individuals tasked with tracking down and destroying the corrupting power known as Source. After character creation, we were sent by the order of Source Hunters to the coastal town of Cyseal to investigate a high-profile murder suspected of involving Source. Unfortunately the coastal town happened to be under attack by orcs, so after a beautiful animated cutscene we were dropped off on the shoreline a short distance from Cyseal. On our way to conduct our investigation, we learn that Divinity: Original Sin has some of the most entertaining sneaking animations ever devised. As we neared the coastal city, we encountered two drunk guards who mistook us for orcs. Luckily we convinced them that we were too human to be orcs and that was that… or it would have if one of us had thought to ask them if we could cross their bridge. For our transgression onto the sacred planks of their bridge, we were thrust into unwilling combat which ended with two dead guards on the beach. Later we would backtrack to that location and discover that one of the guards that came to relieve them of duty was freaking out over their murder. Whoops! We, being cool and collected Source Hunters, proceeded into Cyseal as nonchalantly as possible. While there, we died repeatedly trying to steal supplies from the town guard. It turns out that while it is entirely possible to steal everything in sight or kill everyone in the game, it really isn’t advisable to do so. After learning our lesson the hard way, I discovered that my character could talk with animals, a skill which I proceeded to use to get my fortune told by a prescient cow. While I was chatting up the local fauna, my companion ran off to explore the city proper. From what he told me a few minutes later, he had discovered a talking skull that he then proceeded to irritate until it called the town guard and had him arrested. Luckily, there was a demon in the prison to whom he traded a point of constitution to teleport him out of jail. It was around this time that we discovered a gravestone that dared us to dig up the remains that were buried below. We happily obliged and in repayment we were incinerated in a blast of fire. Reloading, we continued our exploration, vaguely remembering that we had come to solve a murder. We ran about town, eagerly exploring any nooks and crannies we encountered. While my friend was on the other side of Cyseal chatting up a wizard who enjoyed being a cat, my Source Hunter barged into the local physician’s clinic where he helped the young assistant try to heal one of two sick men. Upon resolving the moral conundrum posed by limited healing supplies, my companion and I were whisked away to THE FREAKING END OF TIME. While we were there, I kid you not, we met a time traveling imp historian named Zixzax. This was such a bizarre and unexpected turn of events that the two of us laughed for a good three or four minutes. Is this starting to sound insane yet? Clearly, Original Sin’s greatest strength lies in the freedom it affords to players. Every mission and scenario can be solved multiple ways or bypassed entirely. During one quest where I was supposed to infiltrate an evil cult and had to solve their initiation puzzles, I got frustrated and just killed all of the evil cultists and took the amulet I needed to progress in the story from their leader’s corpse. On one sidequest to break a character out of prison, rather than go to the trouble of finding the key to the cell, I simply teleported said character out with magic. Original Sin rewards a player’s creativity. Pretty much any solution you can think of has the potential to work and it rarely feels unfair when a plan fails (i.e. failing to pickpocket a McGuffin off of a goblin shaman because your skill was too low and starting a nearly hopeless fight in the middle of a goblin war camp). While the aforementioned freedom is definitely the main draw of Divinity, it is a double-edged sword. The unwillingness to restrict or funnel players leads to multiple instances of directionless wandering. There were several times when I felt lost because I either missed a line of dialogue or the game was being coy about where to go. You won’t always feel the burden of a lack of direction, but when you do you’ll feel completely stumped. Luckily, the narrative of Divinity: Original Sin isn’t anything over which you should get excited. The murder the Source Hunters come to investigate ends up being a more complex mystery than they could have guessed and that larger affair escalates until the stakes really can’t get any higher. This isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. It is a competently executed tale of swords and sorcery (or as Original Sin puts it “sourcery”). Basically, the entire undertaking feels like it would be right at home as a pre-made Dungeons and Dragons adventure. The character creator allows for a number of different backgrounds, beginning powers, and visual tweaks. The abilities you take in character creation only matter for the first few hours, until you begin to find new abilities and level your appropriate skills. One of my Source Hunters began as a lady raised by wolves and was only proficient with earth magic; she ended the game as a crossbow sharpshooter who could also summon earth elementals. The flexibility of leveling is important, because it is almost a guarantee that you’ll have to branch into skill sets outside of your beginning pool of abilities. I started the game with a character who knew Geomancy and another that was well versed in Pyrokinetics. Later we recruited an expert Hydrosophist (water mage) who dabbled in some Aerotheurgy (air magic) along with a lady who could wield a nasty battleaxe via her Man-at-Arms proficiency. That left Scoundrel, Witchcraft, and Expert Marksman skills untaken. Then there are all of the skills that affect things outside of what abilities you can use in combat. There are skills for each weapon type, four different defensive skills, as well as social, crafting, and thievery skills. Beyond the general freedom of Divinity, the turn-based combat system is what will keep your interest throughout your adventures in Rivellon. Most of the moves are what you would expect: lighting, fireballs, freezing pillars, poisoned darts, etc. However, the way these abilities interact with the environment is what makes combat feel truly unique. Sure, you can summon a pool of oil to slow a group of enemies, but you can also hit the oil with a fire spell and engulf your enemies in flames and blinding smoke. If you create a poisoned cloud around a group of enemies, fire will cause it to explode. Ice spells can create slippery ice slicks that trip up opponents. Clouds of mist, pools of water, or even copious amounts of blood can be electrified to stun careless foes. While a lot of fun to play around with, using these secondary effects to your advantage can mean the difference between victory and defeat. The terrain effects reveal one of the major weaknesses of Divinity: Original Sin. Unlike other recent tactical, turn-based games *cough* XCOM *cough*, the camera is fixed to a few certain angles. This wouldn’t be a problem, except it can sometimes make it hard to see where the terrain effects are located behind smoke or gas clouds. This can lead you to make fatal error like sending one of your Source Hunters or their allies over an ice slick, rendering them prone for two or three rounds of battle. While this wasn’t a constant issue, it was still a big enough problem that I had to reload several times throughout my playthrough. There is also another reason why players should be wary of the camera: Hidden objects. Imagine that you are trying to finish a quest and have reached a dead end. You were pretty sure you went in the right direction, but you end up backtracking and trying to find where you went wrong. You do this for over an hour. Eventually, you discover that you had missed a tiny button that was concealed on a portion of wall that was barely visible from the best angle afforded to you by the camera. This happened to me multiple times. You can chalk it up to the design attempting to be more retro, but I just found it incredibly irritating. As for the co-op, it is very much serviceable and it is really fun to experience an adventure like this with a friend by your side. I wouldn’t recommend playing with random strangers, simply because of the absurd level of trolling that unknown players are capable of within your world. For example, important conversations periodically take place between the two Source Hunters, conversations that alter the course of Divinity’s events. The Source Hunters must decide on a course of action, either by naturally agreeing or by arguing. Arguments are settled by a digital game of rock, paper, scissors. Some of the decisions result in the killing off of important characters or how you’ll tackle the next segment of a quest. It is fine to disagree with a friend, but a stranger mucking around in your game world just isn’t as much fun. One final note is that while most of the technical bugs have been fixed with patches by now, there are still a few lingering issues. The one I encountered that all but crippled my game was during the final boss fight. Overall, Original Sin looks great. It is bright and colorful or drab and moody when it needs to be. My computer had no problems running it at max settings until the final boss. For some reason, there are tons of particle effects that are being blown around by some sort of world-shattering wind and it caused the fight to slow to a crawl. I was barely able to successfully give orders. Even dropping the settings to their lowest point didn’t help. I eventually got through the fight, but it was quite a slog. Just beware that there are a few issues that could cause crashes or severe slowdown. Conclusion: Overall, Divinity: Original Sin is a fantastic, wonderful, silly, funny, ridiculous adventure that goes on for a very, very, very long time. Just keep in mind that the camera is a fickle creature and that you should save after you succeed in doing pretty much anything. Other than that, don’t expect the story to reinvent the wheel. Grab a buddy who will stay by your side for the long haul and save the world in whatever way seems best. Divinity: Original Sin was reviewed on PC and is now available.
  15. Publisher Perfect World Entertainment and developer Cryptic Studios have announced that their MMO set within the Forgotten Realms Dungeons and Dragons universe will be appearing on consoles early next year. Not many details are readily available about the console version of Neverwinter at this time. However, it should include all of the content that appears on PC, including the upcoming fourth expansion that releases on August 14 called Tyranny of Dragons. "Neverwinter is our premier title to bring to console players,” said Perfect World Entertainment CEO, Alan Chen. “Consoles are a perfect fit for action-oriented MMORPGs like Neverwinter, and we are thrilled to be one of the first publishers to bring premium free-to-play titles to leading next-gen platforms. Being able to bring Neverwinter to the Xbox One is a critical achievement for Perfect World. It is our first step taking our games beyond the PC market.” It is important to note that while Neverwinter will be free, it does require an Xbox Live Gold subscription. Neverwinter will release on Xbox One sometime during the first half of 2015.
  16. Picture yourself at ten years old. Imagine snuggling into bed at night and asking your parents to tell you that one story. They’d ask you which story you meant and you’d say as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “You know, the one with the clowns, the talking mountain, and the dragons. The one with Aurora!” Your parents would laugh and begin, “Once upon a time…” Through some feat of technical and artistic wizardry, Ubisoft Montreal has managed to breathe the imagination of a young child hearing their favorite fairytale bedtime story into every aspect of Child of Light. Child of Light tells the story of Aurora, a young princess who is whisked away into the magical land of Lemuria. She struggles to find a way to return home to her ailing father and free the various creatures and people of Lemuria from the oppression of the evil Queen of the Night. It isn’t a tale that’s pushing many boundaries or a story many will be unfamiliar with, but that’s part of the brilliance of Child of Light. It takes a familiar premise and executes it so well that it doesn’t matter that we’ve heard similar stories before. Part of what makes the entire package of Child of Light work so well are the characters. While on her journey, Aurora befriends a number of interesting companions like Finn, the fainthearted magician; Robert, the swashbuckling mouse; and Rubella, a talented vocalist/clown skilled in the ways of combat. The cast is diverse and Child of Light uses that diversity to its advantage, giving each character a memorable personality and at least one opportunity to prove their worth. For the most part, the story is constructed very well, but the moments leading up to the climactic ending feel a bit rushed and left me scratching my head regarding a few questions that were never addressed. Some people might also be put off by the fact that all the dialogue in the game is conveyed in verse rather than straight prose. Personally, I really enjoyed it, especially the jokes that make use of the format. At the very least it is trying something new and different. Of course, Child of Light entirely hinges upon its protagonist, Aurora. Beginning the game as a 10-year-old girl, Aurora’s character arc throughout her journey tackles issues like growing up, love, grief, and what it means to be brave. From the opening minutes, I was struck by how refreshing it was to see that the adventure throughout the mysterious Lemuria was undertaken by a courageous, kind, and intelligent female protagonist. Maybe that says something about the video game industry at large needing more awesome heroines or perhaps that is just where I am at in my personal life or possibly both. Regardless about what that says, I couldn’t help but think that when my niece is old enough to play video games we’ll be able to sit down together and play Child of Light. When we do, she’ll be able to point to Aurora as a role model both in video games and in larger world; and that’s something that is really important to me. I also think it is equally important that our young men have awesome female protagonists in their games. I had two of my nephews over for an evening recently and I showed them the classic Miyazaki film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Their response when Nausicaä was revealed as a princess? “She’s supposed to be a boy.” That’s not their fault, but so many of the stories both in our games and other media have implanted this idea that women aren’t capable of the same heroism as men and that’s malarkey. We need more games like Child of Light so that the messages we are sending to our children aren’t so slanted and exclusive. Incidentally, I sat those kids (3 and 5 years old, respectively) down and had a chat with them on that topic, hopefully that straightened things out. The previous paragraph may have given the impression that Child of Light is for children, which would be misleading because it’s really a game for all ages. There is a very wide spectrum of behaviors and strategies that will serve to progress through the world of Lemuria. Players can opt to simply go from point A to point B if they wish, but Child of Light rewards almost all deviations from the path for those willing to explore. Rewards come in the form of chests that contain HP, MP, and Revive potions, stat upgrades, or oculi, which can be used to augment a character’s attacks, defenses, or to have some other effect in combat. While I never ran out of any single item in my playthrough, there aren’t any ways to obtain more potions or revives other than by finding them in the environment. This could potentially be a problem for players less experienced in RPGs, but it isn’t a likely scenario considering how many of each item I had in my inventory by the end. Speaking of the combat, it is an amazingly fun system from which I hope Final Fantasy takes notes. All combatants are placed on an action bar and progress toward the end at different rates according to their speed stat. After passing into the “casting” portion of the action bar, any attack that hits either the player’s characters or the enemies will cancel their attack and knock them back along the action bar. You can use this to a tactical advantage to get enemies trapped in loops unable to make a move. Each new character recruited to Aurora’s side introduces new potential strategies on how to deal with the assorted baddies that plague Lemuria. However, don’t let the apparent depth of Child of Light’s combat dissuade you. While thinking tactically feels rewarding and certainly make progress easier, even brute force, unthinking attack commands will get you through most fights. In my time with Child of Light, I only saw the Game Over screen once and that was because I ran into spiked walls a few too many times while exploring. Overall, I think Child of Light would be an excellent game to introduce someone to RPGs or video games in general. Child of Light is a largely single-player experience, but it can be played co-op to a certain extent. The first character Aurora meets in Lemuria is a firefly named Igniculus. Igniculus can be controlled via a separate controller to pick up collectibles, open doors and chests, heal characters in battle, and slow an enemy’s progress on the action bar. Granted, whoever is controlling Igniculus is getting the short end of the stick, but it is still a way to experience Child of Light with someone else who might not otherwise be able to play. Visually, this game is so charming it hurts. Everything has a dreamy, watercolor painting look to it from the characters to the environments. It lends a beautiful ethereal quality to the entire production that makes Lemuria feel both foreign and familiar at the same time. I cannot stress this enough: Child of Light is a pleasure to look at. Half of the time I wanted to see what was next in the story and the other half of the time I wanted to see what new creatures and environments were around the next plot point. One tiny nitpick I have about the visual design is that the character model of Aurora is rendered in 3D rather than 2D like all the other assets. This is an intentional design decision, but for what purpose I’m not entirely sure. It could be to make it clear that Aurora is from a different world than that of the Lemurians, but I wish they had gone a different route because the 3D model sometimes stands out in a less than pleasing manner. <a data-cke-saved-href="http://musique.coeurdepirate.com/album/child-of-light" href="http://musique.coeurdepirate.com/album/child-of-light">Child of Light by Cœur de pirate</a> The soundtrack was put together by Quebec singer-songwriter Cœur de pirate and it perfectly complements the visuals and story. This is the kind of soundtrack that is absolutely essential for an RPG. Songs that players have to listen to repeatedly are made interesting and complex so that each subsequent listening players can discover something new about the music. There are certain elements that repeat throughout each song that give the soundtrack a certain cohesion. For an example of a game that does this very poorly, watch the opening minutes of The Last Remnant and pay attention to the music when it switches over into its battle mode. In Child of Light, the battle music that you hear hundreds of times is always thrilling; each time it would begin playing I took it as a call to action inspiring to do my best in combat. In fact, many of the songs in Child of Light are calls to action, albeit in different ways. Some musical pieces demand heroism or beckon the player onward, while others call forth compassion and empathy. Each track contains elements of innocence and excitement tempered with a strain of melancholy and mystery. And that mystery is part of what pulled me into the world of Lemuria and why I am so enamored with what Ubisoft Montreal has created. Conclusion: I have no doubt that in time Child of Light will be remembered as a classic. Everything about it is so well executed and enchanting that I really can’t recommend this game enough. At $15, it is certainly a must play for anyone who likes RPGs or has ever been interested in seeing what RPGs are all about. Visually and musically elegant, Child of Light should be used as a textbook example of how to tell a simple, but effective story within a video game. Certainly it has some minor blemishes, but none of them are large enough to get hung up on. I hope to see more games like this in the future. Excellent job, everyone at Ubisoft Montreal! Child of Light was reviewed on PlayStation 4. It is currently available on PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Wii U.
  17. With Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, and now Dark Souls II, From Software has made providing gamers with challenging entertainment their overriding game design philosophy. The difficulty of Dark Souls II is both its greatest strength and also its greatest weakness. For the uninitiated, Dark Souls II is an open-world action RPG. Players step into the shoes of some poor man or woman who has become afflicted with “The Curse” and has ended up in the kingdom of Drangleic. This is about as specific as the story seems willing to be, with the rest is a blur about a king, something about fire keepers, and giants. About three-fourths of the way through the game, the storyline inexplicably changes gears from trying to cure your character from The Curse to becoming the new king or queen of Drangleic. I was pretty confused when this happened, but being confused in Dark Souls II is the normal state of affairs. Also, I’d be lying if I said this game was about its story. The vague plot serves as an excuse to insert strange monsters and visuals. To its credit, Dark Souls II looks incredible. It retains the aura of faded glory, despair, and hopelessness of the first Dark Souls, but it isn’t afraid to access a brighter color palate. Sunsets on endless oceans, soaring mountain peaks, misty forest vales, these locations all have distinct color schemes and feel unique. By extension, Dark Souls II stands out visually more than its predecessor, whose graphical styles ranged from dim to dark. I can believe that people, insane though they may be, live in the kingdom of Drangleic, whereas the denizens of Lordran seemed entirely out of place. The creature designs range from traditional fantasy fare like giant spiders and dragons to monsters that would be right at home in a remake of John Carpenter’s The Thing. For example, one of the bosses is literally a giant pile of corpses fused together to form a disgusting mass of grasping arms and legs. It’s gross. The Souls series has constructed its identity around the idea that games should be hard, but fair; a game design concept that many console games in the 8-bit era of gaming strove to embody. Gameplay largely revolves around knowing when to block, dodge, heal, and attack. Most monster encounters consist of learning their timings and weaknesses. In the average Dark Souls II fight or boss battle, if you die, it is largely your own fault for being too slow to block or dodge. Dark Souls II mostly succeeds in walking the knife-thin line that separates a difficult game from a frustrating game, but it does have its fair share of insta-death moments. Random explosions, powerful monsters masquerading as treasure chests, one-hit-kill boss attacks, Dark Souls II has a number of cheap ways to die. At times, this game made me so mad I had to put it down for a couple hours so as not to pull my hair out in rage. What mitigates the feelings of frustration and will keep you coming back for more punishment is the sense of accomplishment after conquering a particularly hard section or boss. It also helps that Dark Souls II is fully aware of how difficult it is and is designed to lessen the impact of its own betrayals. Sure, there will be numerous times when you die unfairly, but the penalty for death is simply dropping your souls, the in-game currency used to level up and buy items. These souls can be reclaimed by going to where you died and recovering them. Once you know something will instantly kill you, it is usually easy to avoid. After killing enemies a certain number of times, they will disappear forever. This is probably to prevent people from farming up souls, which you obtain by slaying enemies, and to help players make it through overly frustrating portions of Drangleic. Another method of alleviating difficult sections of gameplay is by summoning other players to assist in combat. A player having trouble with a boss or a long stretch of enemies can use an item called a human effigy to restore their zombie-like form to its human state, allowing them to summon allies. Offline players are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to summoning, since they may only call upon the various denizens of Drangleic. These stalwart heroes are controlled by the AI and are not very smart. They’ll throw themselves at bosses with as much relish as Kobayashi at a hot dog eating contest and they won’t stop until they are dead. There is another problem with summoning, though, and that is finding the item that allows you to summon and be summoned. You see, the majority of the problems that I had with Dark Souls II stemmed from just how oblique and purposefully confusing the game can be at times. The player is never told that one of the most essential skills in the game is just talking to the NPCs repeatedly until they have nothing new to say. At one point in my playthrough, I had explored all available sections of Drangleic and was stuck. After several hours of aimless backtracking I found that I needed to talk with a specific shop keeper multiple times, a shop keeper I had no reason to talk to and whose merchandise I couldn’t use. Talking with that specific character opened up an entire half of the game. Talking with other seemingly unimportant characters multiple times is also what nets players access to certain items, like the items required to summon help for boss fights. On numerous occasions I picked up an item, read the description, and was still completely in the dark as to its purpose. Perhaps the greatest example of just how frustratingly obtuse Dark Souls II can be is found in the information it conveys to players regarding covenants. Covenants are essentially groups you can join that give you special powers or advantages. One of the earliest covenants players can encounter is The Way of the Blue which summons other players to your aid whenever your world is invaded by enemy players. This is by far the most useful covenant early on in the game. However, there is another covenant called the Company of Champions, which was the first covenant I happened to discover. Not really knowing anything about it, I joined. Dark Souls II game never explains what the Company of Champions does, so I played the game, remarking how incredibly difficult all the starting areas seemed to be. It wasn’t until I reached a boss fight half-way through that I began to suspect the purpose of the Company of Champions. It turns out that joining the Company of Champions amounts to ratcheting up the difficulty to eye-gougingly hard levels. I’m all for allowing players to discover things for themselves; that can be a beautiful and awesome thing if implemented correctly. However, a little more explanation would go a long way toward making Dark Souls II a more accessible and less frustrating experience. Conclusion: On the one hand, I admire Dark Souls II. It is a game that is what it is and doesn’t bother trying to explain itself except in the broadest possible sense. Players must rise to meet its challenge; it doesn’t stoop to accommodate anyone. On the other hand, there are many occasions when Dark Souls II intentionally obscures itself in order to give the illusion that it is more meaningful and complex that it is. Difficulty should stem from gameplay, not from intentionally confusing the player. I enjoyed Dark Souls II very much at first, but it eventually wore out its welcome. If you enjoyed the first game or if you love difficult games, you’ll probably also enjoy Dark Souls II. If you don’t have a lot of patience or persistence, you should probably steer clear, or at least until the price drops significantly during a Steam sale or something. Reviewed on Xbox 360
  18. RPG enthusiasts across North America have been clamoring for the next official installment in the Persona series. Now Atlus has revealed the future of the franchise, but they didn't just show one game; they showed several. Persona 4 was released in 2008 for the PlayStation 2. Since then, the series has had numerous spin-offs and remakes limited for the most part to handheld systems like the PSP or the Vita, with the notable exception of Persona 4 Arena on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2012. Now, it would appear that Atlus is gearing up for an all-out blitz across numerous platforms. Of course, the biggest announcement is that there will indeed be a Persona 5. The trailer doesn't give away much in terms of information, but it gives off a bit of a Matrix-y vibe with the tagline of "You are a slave. Want emancipation?" Knowing the Persona series, though, the game will hardly be that straight forward with it's teaser. Right now, all that is known for certain is that the game is currently slated for a winter 2014 release date in Japan. No word on when to expect a North American release quite yet. Persona 4 Dancing All Night shines the spotlight on Rise Kujikawa, who will be the protagonist of Dancing All Night. Supposedly the game will fall into the music action category. Japan can expect to see this title appear on PS Vita sometime in fall 2014. A third announcement heralded a sequel to Persona 4 Arena, titled Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold. The fighting game will hit Japan sometime next year on PlayStation 3. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth will appear on 3DS and, according to this Gematsu translation, will feature a branching storyline that will have vastly different content depending on the player's decision to join the Persona 3 SEES team or the investigation team from Persona 4. Japan can expect to see Persona Q hitting shelves on June 5, 2014. Personally, I think it is a bit odd that none of these games will be appearing on PlayStation 4 (at least, not that I know of at this time) and that the follow-up to Persona 4 Arena won't be coming to 360 like its predecessor, but it is still pretty amazing to see Atlus putting so many games out around the same time. The only thing that would make this news better is if Atlus had also released tentative localization dates for these games to be released in North America and Europe. Well, what do you think?
  19. Square Enix is gearing up to re-release the definitive RPGs of the PlayStation 2 era in glorious high-definition and they have a trailer to prove it. Both titles in the HD Remaster will be updated version of the international Final Fantasy X and X-2, which contain content that was never seen in the North American releases. Square Enix has set the release to be March 18, 2014. As of this time, it is unknown when the Vita versions of both titles will release, as the given North American date only applies to the PS3 releases. Anybody else gearing up to replay this or play it for the first time?
  20. “Legend has it there is a treasure on the 26th floor,” and so begins the Legend of Dungeon, a beautiful, dungeon-crawling, action RPG that features permadeath by the small team at Robot Loves Kitty. Armed with only a sword and whatever you can gather from your local tavern, you control a brave adventurer (of whatever gender you may prefer) through the perils of Dungeon. Making your way to the 26th floor and back again, however, is easier said than done. The halls of this Rogue-like adventure are deadly affairs, with each new room holding unknown enemies, traps, and treasures. At first glance, the most arresting aspect of Legend of Dungeon is the striking 8-bit graphics mixed with dynamic lighting effects. Fire casts flickering shadows and sends up 8-bit gouts of flame, leveling up gives off a small semi-circle of radiance, and lanterns illuminate limited parts of pitch black rooms. Creatures as well as the player’s avatar will cast shadows near powerful light sources that grow or shrink depending on the proximity to said light source. This aesthetic choice lends Dungeon a look and feel entirely unique to itself that is quite pleasing to the eyes. The audio goes hand-in-hand with the visuals. Featuring music that responds and adapts to the player’s situation within the various rooms. Composer David Dirig created eighteen original songs which were shifted around and reassembled into 244 different tracks that serve as the audioscape for Legend of Dungeon. Dirig’s soundtrack works to hammer home the mystery and danger of the place in which players have chosen to delve for treasure and glory. The combat, much like other aspects of Legend of Dungeon, functions in a simple, yet elegant manner. You can play with either a mouse and keyboard or a PC compatible controller, and it is a painless task to map out new control schemes in the options menu. My set up used WASD for movement, the space bar to jump, my mouse to attack/use item, and the scroll wheel to switch between items. That’s the entirety of Legend of Dungeon’s control scheme. However, don’t let the simplicity of the controls fool you: Legend of Dungeon is a hard game. In my time with it, I never made it farther than the tenth floor (curse you, zombie-raising skeleton wizard!). Every time a player starts a new game, the dungeon’s layout is changed, meaning you never know what you will encounter. Maybe the first room you walk into is a shop or maybe it has a switch that releases a powerful Evil Warlock that can kill you in two or three hits. Luckily, the early levels of Dungeon are rarely life threatening. You have ample time and energy to explore and search for useful items and magic. If you are lucky you might find a powerful weapon, hat (hats function as armor), or spell. New weapons and magic drastically affect how players can approach enemies. Did you find a gun? Pepper your foes from a distance. Stumble across a shield? Automatically protect yourself from damage AND use it as a weapon. Manage to scrounge up a magic book? Raise an army of cannon fodder skeleton zombies to act as a distraction. The possibilities only get more ridiculous the more time you spend exploring Dungeon. It is worth mentioning here that players can tackle Legend of Dungeon solo or with up to three friends locally. No online co-op was available in the version I played and currently there does not appear to be plans for it to be added for the retail release. To have a better chance of emerging from the dark depths of Dungeon alive, I would recommend playing with allies. As players progress, they will accumulate a small arsenal of weapons and having different people fulfilling different roles to combat any and all potential challenges the dungeon might see fit to throw out can never be a bad thing. I had two issues that occurred throughout my time with Legend of Dungeon. The first one deals with hit detection. The action of the game takes place in a brawler-like manner, meaning you can move up, down, left, and right, but you are usually moving either left or right to proceed. This can make hitting enemies on a different vertical plane a bit spotty and results in players taking additional hits, which can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. The second issue which caused me a small amount of frustration was the lack of a strafing. There were times where being able to face one direction constantly would have been quite a boon. Instead, when fighting off waves of enemies I had to fight, turn away to run back a bit, then turn to fight again. Invariably this resulted in accruing two or three extra hits of damage, which begins to add up the deeper you find yourself within the ever shifting halls of Dungeon. All-in-all, Legend of Dungeon is shaping up to be an excellent game. The full retail version will be available September 13 for Windows, Mac, and Linux. If you can’t wait that long to get your hands on it, you can pre-order from Steam or from Robot Loves Kitty’s website and have access to the beta version leading up to the official release. If you are one of the people who has already bought the beta version and are feeling in need of some guidance on tackling the dangers that lurk below, here is a handy guide on some of the basics of Legend of Dungeon written up by the developers.
  21. The fine folks at CD Projekt RED were kind enough to show us a nearly hour long gameplay demo of the upcoming high-fantasy RPG blockbuster, as well as answer some of our nagging questions. Here is what we took away from what we saw. The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt is set several years after the events of The Witcher 2, meaning that there are few direct connections to previous games in the series. The decision was made to distance the third title from the previous two so that the team could step away from the political intrigue of the previous titles and focus on Geralt’s personal journey. In The Witcher 3, Geralt is in pursuit of a terrifying and deadly group of spectral warriors known as the Wild Hunt. In the game world, witchers were originally monster hunters and that aspect of the game world will become the central focus of the story. There are several new features being added into The Witcher 3: Trading and Bartering: the new system will make it profitable to travel around the world buying and selling items to locations that might have them in short supply to earn a profit. For example, fish will be cheap in coastal towns, while towns farther inland or far from bodies of water will pay well for fish. Transportation: With the dramatically increased scope of the world, the team at CD Projekt RED wanted to make it easy to traverse the world. To this end, they included abilities and vehicles like swimming climbing, sailing, riding, and fast travel. These means of transportation are not without their hazards however. We were cautioned that sailing into a storm, could result in a ship wreck and having to swim to shore and that swimming comes with its own dangers, like freezing from ice water. A Day/Night Cycle: You will be able to rest and change the time of day. This will have various effects on the monsters you hunt and how you hunt them. The example we were given was that if you were to fight werewolves, you would be better off fighting them in daylight, rather than under the light of a full-moon. Witcher Senses: the visualization of Geralt’s years of training. You’ll be able to see the important investigative markers that will help you track monsters. These clues will lead you to monsters or give you clues regarding how to best defeat them. The scale of The Witcher 3 has increased dramatically. For the purposes of the demo, we were only shown one island, but we were told that island was bigger than all of The Witcher 2. In fact, the entire world is 35x larger than the previous Witcher games and it is entirely open world. The team at CD Projekt RED designed the world to be large, but also dense, so there will always be something new to explore and see just over the next hill or behind the next tree. We were shown a portion of the main quest, which revolves around Geralt’s mission to destroy the Wild Hunt, a ghastly, deadly, and evil collection of spectral warriors. In the gameplay segment, Geralt was searching for Bjorn, the sole survivor of a raid by the Hunt. Traveling to the small village in which Bjorn has gone to stay with relatives, the demonstrator steered us toward some intriguing ruins on the top of a hill. He explained to us that the team has worked very hard to make such areas appealing so that players will want to diverge from the beaten path and explore. In the ruins, we discovered a hulking creature known as a fiend. Looking like a cross between a stag and a rhinoceros, the fiend charged Geralt and we were given the chance to see the titular witcher in combat. More dodge moves have been added since The Witcher 2, increasing maneuverability within combat scenarios. Geralt can also do minor magic, like shooting sparks and flames from his hands. These spells will have different effects on monsters, like lighting them on fire which can then spread elsewhere. As the fight with the fiend progressed, it demonstrated how important it is to know your adversary in The Witcher 3. When you discover what kind of a beast you are going to be facing, it is best to consult the Bestiary, a compendium of Geralt’s lifetime of monster hunting and adventuring. This will give players insight into how best to tackle the creature. With the fiend, he can cast a spell of darkness and shroud itself in shadow, the only visible thing remaining is a singular red eye on its forehead. It can use this opportunity to either attack or escape, making an unprepared attack on the fiend a very poor idea. For prospective players who are just hearing about this series now or who are intrigued, we were assured that players won’t have had to play the The Witcher and The Witcher 2 in order to understand what is happening. The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt will release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC in early 2014.
  22. There are two things in this life that I love: Great games and free things. Usually the two don’t coincide with each other. Most great games come with a price tag and those that don’t eventually sucker you into microtransactions or a subscription. It is incredibly rare to find worthwhile games that are completely free that provide a full gaming experience that you can sink hours into and feel satisfied. As a service to those of you who are strapped for cash or just looking for a great game to play, I scoured the corners of the internet for fantastic free games. I sorted through all kinds of shovelware and viruses, but emerged with a precious handful of gems. Here are the unsung wonders that I found, enjoyed, and whole-heartedly recommend. Exit Fate The first of two games on this list that spawned as a result of tinkering with RPG Maker software, Exit Fate, created by Dutch indie game developer SCF, is a gigantic love letter to old-school RPGs like Suikoden II. Random encounters with enemies make up the bulk of this title’s gameplay. Combat takes place in a traditional, turn-based style with the player’s party consisting of up to six characters arranged tactically over a 3x3 grid. To spice up the combat, SCF included a relationship system where characters have certain attitudes toward one another that affect their stats in combat if they are both in the party at the same time. There are 75 recruitable party members each with their own sidequests, personalities, relationships, and abilities. There is more to Exit Fate than grinding through enemies for experience. Occasionally the game will allow players to flex their strategic muscles by presenting them with large-scale battles. These play out over sweeping grids as armies take turns maneuvering troops. The player’s army can be customized depending on which characters have been recruited. There are several different kinds of troop units to master including: infantry, cavalry, scouts, and sorcery. These sequences serve as a welcome interlude between missions and offer a nice challenge for even veteran strategy gamers. However, no RPG can stand on its own without a compelling storyline to keep players interested. On this front, Exit Fate delivers one of the more original RPG stories I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Players are put in the role of Daniel Vinyard, a Colonel in the Kirkgard Army. Kirkgard and the nearby Zelmony Union, though technically at peace, have been at odds with each other for years over the ownership of Helman Island, a point neatly between the two nations. Kirkgard has assembled an army in secret and plans to take Helman Island and use it to stage an invasion of Zelmony. As the fighting begins, something goes horribly wrong and a twist of fate places Daniel on a course to meet his destiny. The fact that this incredibly solid game was crafted by one person should intrigue anyone interested in game development or indie games. The amount of time and detail that went into creating Exit Fate is staggering. The average runtime of a full playthrough of Exit Fate clocks in at around 40 hours. You are never left without something to do, there is always one more party member to recruit or secret boss to defeat, and the story keeps throwing out enough political intrigue, memorable characters, and plot twists to keep the average player engrossed for its entirety. Exit Fate is truly excellent and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to play a refreshing old-style RPG. You can download Exit Fate for free over on SCF’s personal website. For more information and strategy guides, here is a handy fan-made website dedicated to the game. Note: This is an RPG from a bygone age. Bosses are difficult and there can be long stretches without a save point. If you find that you have gone a significant period of time between saves, go out of your way to save your game and always have a backup save so you don’t get stuck in an impossible area. Wing Commander Saga For people unfamiliar with the Wing Commander series, this will be a bit of a gaming history lesson. The original Wing Commander released in 1990 for the PC and focused on a conflict in the 27th century between the human race and a cat-like alien species known as the Kilrathi. Players took on the role of a starship pilot using a variety of space fighters to engage the Kilrathi in large-scale space wars. It turns out that this kind of thing appealed to gamers (who would have guessed?) and the game was a huge success, eventually getting ports to several other systems. Wing Commander proved incredibly popular from 1990 until 1996 when the series went dormant. The core Wing Commander entries are famous for their extensive use of FMV cutscenes to convey their stories with well-known actors such as Mark Hamill, Christopher Walken, and John Rhys-Davies. Though Wing Commander has been gone for nearly seventeen years, fans of the series have by no means forgotten it. A group of enterprising and talented people who had enjoyed it during its heyday got together in 2001 to begin working on a tribute to the games they loved. After developing Wing Commander Saga for more than a decade, the team finally released their labor of love in 2012. Wing Commander Saga stands as fully-fledged campaign called Darkest Dawn which takes place during the events of Wing Commander III. This amazing product of dedication contains fully voiced dialogue, beautifully rendered cutscenes, and engaging in-game squad chatter. Players take on the role of a fighter pilot, call sign Sandman, stationed on the carrier-class starship Hermes. Gamers will be treated to lengthy missions involving eliminating Kilrathi fighters, bombers, capital ships, enemy carriers, defending human vessels, and general awesome space-shooting-explosions kind of stuff. A word of warning for new Wing Commander Saga players: plug in a controller or joystick and tailor the controls to be a bit more playable. The keyboard control scheme is convoluted at best and extremely unintuitive for newcomers. Mapping the controls to a controller feels much more familiar. You can download Wing Commander Saga from the official website. Doom Roguelike Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a space marine fighting the forces of evil from a top-down perspective with randomly generated levels and turn-based movement? If you answered yes, you’re in luck! Doom Roguelike is a remake of the original Doom, but placing it within the wildly different roguelike genre. Players select one of three initial classes: marine, technician, or scout. Each class has different starting stats and abilities that affect the way players can best approach the challenges that await them. Movement through levels occurs one tile at a time, slowly revealing darkened areas that are out of the character’s line of sight. Monsters that appear within character’s visual range begin attacking, either by closing in for melee attacks or by firing lethal projectiles. With each enemy neutralized, characters receive experience points which go toward unlocking new skills that will help players progress further. Numerous secret arenas are scattered throughout the 25 levels of the game world that push player abilities to the limit, but provide new weapons, upgrades, and healthy chunks of experience. The main hook of Doom Roguelike is the implementation of permadeath; if the player’s character dies, the game restarts at the beginning. Permadeath and the randomized elements in each of the levels result in a unique experience every play session. As a nice treat for fans of the classic Doom, enemies retain their original artwork and sound effects. Overall, Doom Roguelike isn’t a terribly nuanced game. However, it succeeds in providing an original twist on a classic gaming formula. Doom Roguelike feels like a well-designed breath of fresh air. As a free game that can run on practically anything, Doom Roguelike is definitely worth your time. You can download the full game on chaosforge.org. Star Stealing Prince Using RPG Maker VX, a person under the name Ronove created a surprisingly refreshing RPG experience. Clocking in at about ten hours in length, the mechanics, puzzles, beautiful hand-drawn artwork, and most of all the story never once left me bored or unsatisfied. In terms of gameplay, there is more depth than you would expect. Combat occurs in a traditional turn-based fashion, with characters gaining experience and leveling up to increase their stats. New skills are learned by finding magic tomes and determined by the weapons and armor characters have equipped. While magic skills use MP, skills that come from your equipped gear can be accessed when a character has built up enough TP by attacking or being hit by enemies. Outside of combat, exploration is almost always rewarded with a new piece of armor, weapon, or useful item. The crafty and entertaining puzzles that crop up from time to time were an unexpected pleasure. One riddle in particular takes place during a tense boss battle and requires you to brush up a bit on your astrology knowledge. The best way to describe the story of Star Stealing Prince is to equate it with a fairy tale. Like a fairy tale, Star Stealing Prince isn’t overly complex and there isn’t an overabundance of characters, but it doesn’t need those things to tell the story it wants to convey. To sum up the basic premise of this indie gem: On a remote island there is a kingdom shrouded in perpetual winter ruled by a prince named Snowe. The prince’s parents died when he was small, but they left behind a great many pieces of magic. One of their most powerful spells binds all of the citizens of the kingdom to the prince, making them feel what he feels. If he is happy, they are happy. The spell also shields the people from the cold, keeping them warm and dry in a land of harsh winter. After being wracked by a strange nightmare, Snowe discovers his parents trapped a girl within a tower for an unknown purpose… And so begins the gripping adventure of Star Stealing Prince. If I could only recommend one game out of these four, it would be Star Stealing Prince. It is a short, rewarding and game that has a lot to offer if you take the time to download and play it. It feels intensely personal and real. When you play Star Stealing Prince you just know that someone was putting a part of themselves into it, which isn’t a feeling you get from many AAA experiences. Since this game is free, you have no excuse not to play it. Do yourself a favor and download Star Stealing Prince over on the official site. I suggest that you download it with RTP if you want it to function properly on your computer. Honorable Mention: Candy Box I can’t really explain Candy Box without ruining what makes it so great. Just follow this link, leave it open in a tab for a few minutes, forget about it, and come back. Then your descent into obsession epic quest for glory can truly begin.
  23. GOG.com, the bastion of all things indie and retro, is offering a 10 D&D flavored RPGs for 80% off their normal price for the next three days. In this fantastic bundle you get: Baldur’s gate: The Original Saga, Baldur’s Gate 2 Complete, Icewind Dale 1 & 2 Complete, Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone, The Temple of Elemental Evil, Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonshard, Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2, and Planescape: Torment. The total price of all these games without GOG’s ridiculous sale is around $105. If you have fond memories of old-school RPGs or have always been curious about them, now is a perfect time to dive into this rich part of gaming history. Here is a handy link to the deal, which goes from now through Sunday.
  24. The Game Awards showcased a large selection of upcoming titles that captured the imagination of those in attendance and watching via livestream. While all the games shown were indeed hotly anticipated, few titles have as rabid a following as the Mass Effect fanbase who were treated to almost five minutes of gameplay from the upcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda. The 4K gameplay on display in the gameplay trailer demonstrated many scenarios of frantic, fast-paced action that maintains the series' third-person perspective adapted to the fluidity of Dragon Age Inquisition's Frostbite Engine. It doesn't quite seem to be as tactical as past entries, with less of a reliance on cover-based shooting. Most of the actions seemed to be mapped to buttons rather than a mid-action pause screen (though on one occasion the feature does reappear when the player character switches ammo types). The series' trademark dialogue wheel and action prompts remain, clearly shown in an exchange between a provincial thug and the Pathfinder. Players will also still be able to combine abilities to perform combos of some sort. Interestingly, it seems like perhaps stealth will be a more viable way of playing Andromeda than in previous entries - one segment of gameplay shows the player can have the ability to turn invisible in order to line up headshots on unsuspecting sentries. Crafting will be a bigger part of the series than it has since the first Mass Effect title. Players will begin with what they have aboard their ship, but anything else will have to be scavenged and crafted from the materials found on the worlds they find during their exploration. That exploration doesn't come without danger, either. Ravenous beasts prowl the unknown and some are willing to attack on sight. Some planets play host to pirates armed with everything from laser cannons to mechs, others might hold unencountered alien races who might view an intrusion by Council races as an act of war. Once again, Mass Effect offers the thrill of the unknown and it is hard not to get excited at the prospect of revisiting that rich universe to see what BioWare has cooked up in the years since the conclusion of Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect: Andromeda releases Spring 2017 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
  25. The Game Awards showcased a large selection of upcoming titles that captured the imagination of those in attendance and watching via livestream. While all the games shown were indeed hotly anticipated, few titles have as rabid a following as the Mass Effect fanbase who were treated to almost five minutes of gameplay from the upcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda. The 4K gameplay on display in the gameplay trailer demonstrated many scenarios of frantic, fast-paced action that maintains the series' third-person perspective adapted to the fluidity of Dragon Age Inquisition's Frostbite Engine. It doesn't quite seem to be as tactical as past entries, with less of a reliance on cover-based shooting. Most of the actions seemed to be mapped to buttons rather than a mid-action pause screen (though on one occasion the feature does reappear when the player character switches ammo types). The series' trademark dialogue wheel and action prompts remain, clearly shown in an exchange between a provincial thug and the Pathfinder. Players will also still be able to combine abilities to perform combos of some sort. Interestingly, it seems like perhaps stealth will be a more viable way of playing Andromeda than in previous entries - one segment of gameplay shows the player can have the ability to turn invisible in order to line up headshots on unsuspecting sentries. Crafting will be a bigger part of the series than it has since the first Mass Effect title. Players will begin with what they have aboard their ship, but anything else will have to be scavenged and crafted from the materials found on the worlds they find during their exploration. That exploration doesn't come without danger, either. Ravenous beasts prowl the unknown and some are willing to attack on sight. Some planets play host to pirates armed with everything from laser cannons to mechs, others might hold unencountered alien races who might view an intrusion by Council races as an act of war. Once again, Mass Effect offers the thrill of the unknown and it is hard not to get excited at the prospect of revisiting that rich universe to see what BioWare has cooked up in the years since the conclusion of Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect: Andromeda releases Spring 2017 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. View full article