Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review

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I am proud to report that I completed Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night on Saturday. That’s quite the achievement, as I rarely finish Medtroidvania games. Just like when I play first person dungeon crawlers, I tend to have fun for a while until my terrible sense of direction strikes. Sooner or later I get lost in said title’s digital labyrinth – forcing me to eventually give up in frustration.

For those of you who aren’t aware, Bloodstained is the latest game from long-time Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi. The Japanese video game maker parted ways with Konami, years ago, as the company had no plans to make any new Dracula slaying titles for the foreseeable future. Apparently the management at Konami don’t think that 2D action RPGs are profitable. Koji proved them wrong with a successful Kickstarter campaign and positive sales figures, once Bloodstained was released.

In this horror themed adventure, which feels a lot like the excellent Castlevanias I played on the Nintendo DS, players control a cute waifu named Miriam. In my opinion she is a very attractive lady. Should you disagree fear not, as it’s possible to change her default appearance once you locate the cursed barber shop that lies hidden in the castle Miriam is exploring. Said castle is teeming with monsters. Thankfully for the protagonist she is a skilled fighter who grows stronger with each foe she vanquishes.

One way that Miriam increases her might is by upgrading her gear. Better weapons/accessories can be picked up from slain enemies, purchased at the shop or crafted using the materials Miriam finds on her travels. The arsenal Miriam can wield include various types of blades, whips, firearms and footwear. If physical combat isn’t your thing worry not, as Miriam can command magic too. The creatures she kills sometimes drop shards, which allow Miriam to mimic the deceased’s powers. My favourite ability transforms Miriam into a bunny girl, who is capable of delivering devastating Chun-Li kicks and Super Mario style head stomps.

It took me around twelve hours to complete Bloodstained’s story. My time with the game is far from over however. At the time of writing I still have loads of optional quests to complete, secret bosses to beat and stat boosting meals to cook. On the horizon there is also a bunch of free DLC to look forward to – including new playable characters. The first character that has been announced is a badass samurai who is voiced by David Hayter (of Metal Gear Solid fame). A co-op mode has also been promised, although I don’t care about that as I have no friends.

My rating for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is five stars. It’s by far the best game I have played this year. Be aware though that my score is based solely on how much fun I had with the game. If I factored other things into the equation I would have to downgrade that assessment slightly. Gameplay wise Bloodstained has few flaws, but on the technical side of things it suffers from the occasional overly long load time. It’s something I can live with on the PS4 version of the game, but I hear the performance is even worse on the Switch port. With that in mind, it’s probably for the best that the Vita edition got scrapped. I can only imagine how much it would have chugged, had it ever seen the light of day.

Review of World End Syndrome

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I have been playing a bunch of visual novels lately. Reading a VN is relaxing and almost feels like watching an anime, if you set the text to scroll automatically. With that feature enabled one can simply sit back and watch the cute cartoon girls rattle off their lines in Japanese. The latest visual novel that I recently completed is World End Syndrome on the PS4. Buyers can also purchase this game on Switch, but sadly the Vita version never made it across to the west.

World End Syndrome sees players take control of a transfer student who has relocated to a small rural town situated next to the sea. He hopes the new setting will help him get over the death of his sister, who sadly passed away in a traffic accident. When the story begins the protagonist moves into a mansion, owned by his uncle, which he shares with his distant cousin Maimi Kusimose. Cohabitating with an athletic teenager, who excels at tennis, sounds sweet – until you realise that Maimi is a messy slob who expects the main character to do all of the house-work.

On his first day at school the main character is befriended by class pervert Kensuke Asagi, who convinces the lead to join the after school Mystery Club. Given Kensuke’s personality it should come as no surprise that said club is filled with hotties, including club advisor Kaori Yamashiro. The aforementioned teacher is also a famous novelist who penned a book that revolves around the town’s Yomibito folklore. Said legend states that every one-hundred years a deceased resident will arise from the grave, with no knowledge of their past demise. When summer concludes the revived party loses their mind and goes on a murderous killing spree.

Although the game’s trailer pitches World End Syndrome as being a horror tale, it plays mostly like a dating sim. Over the course of August the player attempts to unlock the game’s various endings by boosting their relationship with the Mystery Club’s assortment of members. For example players could set their sights on ice queen Miu Amana, who works part-time at her brother’s cafe (where she serves patrons dressed as a maid). Alternatively, it is possible to swoon bashful pop-idol Rei Nikaidou who is in town filming scenes for a movie. Loli-cons may prefer instead to date wealthy heiress Saya Kamishiro. Those looking to court someone more mature can set their sights on reporter Yukino Otonashi, who is on a quest to uncover the town’s dark secrets.

Unlike some other visual novels, which follow a linear storytelling structure, World End Syndrome is broken up into days. Every morning, afternoon and night the player selects a place in town to visit. Once they arrive at their destination the protagonist will bump into one of his acquaintances, triggering a short cut scene. These segments advance the story or increase your affection with a particular character, which ultimately determines which ending you’ll get. Thankfully a playthrough doesn’t take long to finish, by visual novel standards, and it’s possible to fast forward past scenes you have previously witnessed – so replaying the game to 100% doesn’t feel like a chore.

My rating for World End Syndrome is a four out of five. In terms of narrative there are stronger examples of the visual novel genre out there, but I still had fun with the game. The cast are a likable bunch making each of the available routes, where you grow closer to a particular girl, an enjoyable experience. Players who are more interested in the horror themes hinted at in the trailer will get more satisfaction out of the later chapters. The true ending ditches the mushy stuff in favour of exploring Mihate Town’s supernatural mystery and the prologue caps things off with an emotional twist. Apart from the writing I was also impressed by World End’s character designs, which come courtesy of BLAZBLUE artist Yuki Kato. Once all the stories have been cleared their is still extra content to be enjoyed, in the form of optional missions and collectible items to find.

 

Top Five Games I Played In 2018

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This blog may be dead, but the tradition of me listing my five favourite games of the past year lives on. See below for the titles I enjoyed playing the most in 2018.

5. Batman – The Enemy Within: This sequel to Telltale’s 2016 release kicks off with the Caped Crusader battling a version of the Riddler, who wouldn’t look out of place in a Saw movie. The later episodes however focus on Bruce Wayne’s love/hate relationship with the Joker. Harley Quinn, Bane and Mr Freeze also make an appearance in what has to be one of Telltale’s better interactive stories. I love their take on this DC Comics property, so it’s a real shame that the developer has since gone bust. Their storytelling and easy platinum trophies shall be missed.

4. Super Mario Odyssey: Unlike most people, the Switch has yet to win me over. Believe it or not, I still play the Vita more than Nintendo’s console/handheld hybrid. Many of the games I bought for the system (Xenoblade 2, Breath of the Wild and Octopath Traveller) have disappointed me. On the flip side Super Mario Odyssey exceeded my expectations. Once again Princess Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser, so it falls upon a mustached plumber to rescue her. Aiding our hero in this adventure is a sentient cap who is capable of possessing Koopa’s minions.

3. Doki Doki Literature Club: I seldom play PC games, but I am glad that readers convinced me to give Doki Doki Literature Club a try. At first glance this looks like another of those generic visual novels that clogs up Steam’s marketplace. Get past the first two hours however and you will soon discover that there is more to this VN than simply deciding who, out of the club’s four waifus, the player will end up with. It’s hard to believe that a release of this quality is available to download for free. I highly recommend giving Doki Doki a go… or at the very watch a Let’s Player tackle it. Their reactions to the twist are certain to amuse.

2. Tales of Berseria: This is only the second Tales game I have ever managed to finish. On paper I should love this franchise, but the combat system has always put me off. Berseria is no different in that regard. In order to complete the game I set the difficulty to easy and automated all of the battles. Despite disabling a good chunk of the gameplay I still had a blast with Berseria. I enjoyed exploring the world, engaging with the characters and most of all the story. Unlike other Tales titles, where a group of plucky youngsters save the world from evil, the protagonist of Berseria is out for revenge. She will stop at nothing to secure vengeance, even if it means murdering the kingdom’s saviour.

1. Valkyria Chronicles 4: It’s great to once again play a Valkyria Chronicles game, after the west was denied a localization of the third installment. Part of me fears that this may end up being the series finale, as poor financial results are forcing Sega to scale back on their games output. From what I hear they may be pulling a Konami to cut costs. If you ask me they should just stop butchering Sonic’s legacy and focus more on creative titles like VC4 instead. The blend of anime cell shaded visuals and military strategy is right up my alley. Still, who am I to criticise Sega? They have technically won my Top Five contests two years running. Valkyria Chronicles 4 follows in the footsteps of 2017 champion Persona 5. Perhaps, if I can clear my PS4 backlog and play Yakuza 6, Sega will complete a hat trick in 2019. Time will tell.

Review of Death Mark

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Screenshots can be deceptive. Based on Death Mark’s promotional images, I expected this horror title from Aksys Games to be a first person dungeon crawler. In actuality it is a visual novel with point and click adventure segments. Over the course of five chapters, which took me around six hours to finish, players take control of an amnesiac whose wrist has been branded with the titular Death Mark. At first glance said marking looks like a cool tattoo. Early on in the story however it is revealed that the Death Mark is a curse placed on the protagonist by a vengeful spirit. Unless he is able to rid himself of it, our hero is fated to die within the next few days. Regrettably for him, erasing the Death Mark will prove to be more painful than enduring a session of laser tattoo removal.

OVERVIEW

Death Mark’s hub world is a mansion that once belonged to a paranormal expert. The player controlled character is based there, as he is searching the estate for clues on how to cure his condition. His investigation hasn’t uncovered much, but on the plus side he does find a cute talking doll that resembles a character right out of Rozen Maiden. At the start of each chapter more victims, who have been cursed, show up at the mansion’s doorstep. They seek help with escaping the fate that has befallen them. Unlike the main character, who has no memory of his past, the visitors have some idea of where they got marked. They take the protagonist to said location, hoping that he can defeat the spectre that roams there. In theory, exorcising the ghost should purge the hex it cast on them.

By using the d-pad players can navigate each area. The levels available to explore include a sewer, an abandoned school and a forest frequented by suicidal folk. Crikey, this game is starting to sound like a Logan Paul simulator! Via the use of the analogue stick players can aim a flashlight, which is used to examine objects and pick up items. The inventory procured is in turn used to solve puzzles. Pretty standard stuff. Open a locked door with a key, use bug spray to kill bees that block your path and um, repair an elevator with condoms. Wow, I don’t recall MacGyver ever doing anything like that. Items are also required to defeat the phantoms you encounter. Every now and then the player is placed in perilous Life or Death situations. These come in the form of timed events, were an action needs to be selected from a multiple choice list of options. Picking the wrong response will result in damage and potential death.

VERDICT

My rating for Death Mark is a four out of five. If you enjoyed Corpse Party: Book of Shadows I imagine you will like Death Mark, as they both have similar gameplay. Don’t expect much in the way of animation, as this is one of those titles that relies on text and still pictures to tell its story. The main campaign has two endings to unlock. How each chapter concludes is determined by the choices made during the end of level boss fight. Overall I liked the cast of characters you partner up with, over the course of the adventure, and the game’s plot. Aside from the main mystery, of who cursed the protagonist, each chapter serves as a stand alone ghost tale. It’s interesting to discover the tragic origins responsible for birthing the creatures you are pitted against.

Anyone who is left wanting more, after the end credits roll, can purchase the two-hour DLC for a bonus chapter. This applies to the Vita version only. For some reason the other console releases come complete with the extra chapter. That may seem harsh, for long suffering Vita fans, but it all evens out, as the edition on Sony’s handheld is the cheapest to buy. In terms of scares Death Mark isn’t too terrifying. The developers try to make things creepy with sound effects and the odd jump scare, but none of it phased me. I only had to change my underwear two times. All that said, I would only recommend Death Mark to gamers who are in their late teens or older. Apart from the occasional gruesome death the game includes a few kinky images. These include a bondage scene involving plant vines, a picture of a naked woman who is covered in serpents and a spirit possession that causes one of your female partners to strip. Maybe that’s what Ray Parker meant when he said (ghost) busting makes me feel good.

Review of Pokémon Let’s Go

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I wasn’t always a big fan of Pokemon. Back when the original game came out in Europe I was close to twenty years of age. Based off clips I had seen, of the wholesome cartoon series, I dismissed Pokemon as being something that was just for kids. Twelve months later Final Fantasy IX awakened my passion for RPGs. Eager to try other titles in the genre, I decided to be less close-minded and give Pokemon Blue a chance. Turns out that the series, developed by Game Freak, can be enjoyed by youngsters and adults alike. At the time of writing I am fast approaching forty and have just beaten the twenty three hour story mode of Pokemon Let’s Go.

OVERVIEW

One of the reasons I was looking forward to this release is because it is set in the Kanto region – the same setting as the above mentioned Pokemon Blue. When it comes to Pokemon, just like Transformers, I am most familiar with generation one. It was a simpler time, when completing a Pokedex only required that you catch 151 critters. These days I hear that the species list of Pokemon surpasses over eight hundred! Some of the new Pokemon look cool, but others suffer from uninspired designs. When a developer starts to create Pokemon that resemble ice cream cones and key chains you know they are running low on ideas.

Technically speaking Let’s Go is a remake of Pokemon Yellow. Were the two differ is the manner in which you catch Pokemon. Yellow had players capturing Pokemon by weakening them first in combat. Let’s Go adopts a simpler approach, inspired by the mobile game it is named after. Catching a Pokemon is just like nabbing a woman. You throw your balls at them and hope they don’t run away. I personally liked the new system, as it spared me from suffering the frustration of accidentally killing Pokemon I was trying to recruit. My opinion would be different though, were I not someone who plays handheld mode exclusively. Switch owners who play docked on the TV will have to catch Pokemon with fiddly motion controls, rather than buttons. Nintendo thinks it is cute to simulate the action of hurling a Pokeball. If you prefer a traditional controller or are disabled tough luck.

GOT TO CATCH EM ALL

What makes capturing Pokemon in Let’s Go a blast is that you can see the buggers roaming through the bushes (like a creepy stalker). Gone are the days of random encounters. Yay! I no longer have the patience to battle Zubats every time I take a step forward. Should you spot a Pokemon that you want to add to your collection just walk up to them. If you have no desire to tangle with yet another Rattata, give them a wide berth. The option of targeting Pokemon by sight allows trainers to build up combos. Catching several Pokemon, of the same type, in a row rewards you with increased odds of finding rare Pokemon and Shinies (mutant Pokemon who have been born with a different pigmentation). Some Twitch channels make an income by streaming hunts for Shinies, which amounts to trapping the same Pokemon, over and over, for hours at a time. Man, I think I am in the wrong line of work.

For those of you worrying that Pokemon Let’s Go only involves throwing spheres at woodland creatures fear not. Turn based battles still exist in this game. In order to finish the story players need to defeat eight gym leaders, the Elite Four and any other trainers/children/fishermen who get in your way. Winning a Pokemon duel rewards you with cash and experience. When a Pokemon accumulates enough experience they level up, which may cause them to unlock new abilities or evolve into a new form. Another way of powering up your team is to exchange duplicate Pokemon for stat boosting candy. Yes, that is right. Candy makes you stronger. Those doctors who warned you that sweets will rot your teeth are liars. Devour confectionery and one day you too shall bulk up like The Rock.

VERDICT

My rating for Pokemon Let’s Go is a four out of five. Some hardcore fans won’t approve of how Let’s Go dumbs things down, by removing features found in other modern Pokemon titles. For a casual player, such as myself, the game is however fun. Many people have commented that Let’s Go is a tad easy, which I would have to agree. That said, I did lose a few matches during the course of my adventure. My losses were mostly due to my terrible sense of direction, rather than the opponents being tough. Somehow I ended up facing the Sixth Gym Leader, before beating the fourth and fifth one, as I took a detour leading to the wrong town. Oops! Perhaps I can also blame the losses on buying the Pikachu edition? I hear that the Eevee version is a bit easier, as the adorable pup has a better move set. As a superhero fan I couldn’t resist going on a journey with Pikachu though. He sounds a lot like Deadpool after all.

Angels of Death Review

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A more organized blogger would have posted this Switch review a week ago and called it a Halloween special. I am however not known for planning out site content in advance. Opportunity missed! Instead of reviewing a horror game, on the 31st of October, I ended up writing about a horror-ible Fantastic Four movie instead. Angels of Death has a handicap, when it comes to instilling terror, as it was developed on RPG Maker. Scaring people is far easier with realistic graphics, rather than sixteen-bit pixels. With the right atmosphere it is still possible though, as Corpse Party has proven in the past. To be honest I am a coward at heart, so a horror game that is low on frights is fine with me. Heck, the only reason I braved this six-hour adventure was because some folks, who I follow, have praised the anime adaptation that recently aired.

OVERVIEW

Rachel Gardner is an emotionless thirteen-year old who has been sent to counselling after the death of her parents. When the game begins she awakens in a mysterious building with no knowledge of how she got there. Ray explores her surroundings and soon encounters a bandaged man who wields a scythe. Said mummy look-alike is a serial killer who answers to the name Zack Foster. He chases after Rachel, with the intentions of adding her to his murder tally. The pursuit doesn’t go as planned however. Rather than culminating in homicide, the pair’s meeting ends with them forming a temporary truce. With the aims of escaping the skyscraper that holds them prisoner, Rachel and Zack elect to team up. Can the partnership’s mix of brains and brawn overcome the dangers that await them? Probably. The game isn’t very hard.

Over the course of four episodes Rachel and Zack descend down the edifice. Each floor is littered with traps and is guarded by bloodthirsty lunatics. Despite being coded in a role-playing-game engine, Angels of Death features no turn based combat. Players cannot fight off their assailants and must instead flee from attackers. Getting caught will result in an instant game over, which can be frustrating. Thankfully the game auto saves whenever Rachel is in immediate peril. No significant progress is therefore lost should the heroine perish. Bypassing traps on the other hand requires some basic puzzle solving. Like adventure games of yore, the brainteasers involve using an item in the right location. The inventory Rachel carries is never large so sussing out what object needs to be picked is usually pretty obvious.

VERDICT

My rating for Angels of Death is three stars. The game doesn’t make a good first impression. I was underwhelmed by the rough looking artwork and the early gameplay. Episode one started with me dying multiple times, during a sequence were you are given seconds to evade a fast moving enemy. I suck when put under pressure and fare even worse when a game hasn’t explained that it’s possible to dash by pressing B. Thankfully things improved after that. As the story progressed I got more invested in the game. I dug the colourful cast of characters that Rachel meets and the mystery, of the building she’s trapped in, piqued my interest. Binding it all together is her relationship with Zack. Prior to buying the game who would have known that I would end up shipping a thirteen-year old girl with a guy who slices up people with bladed weapons?

Those seeking horror may leave Angels of Death feeling a tad disappointed. It lacks the creepiness of Corpse Party and is devoid of jump scares. Players, like myself, who appreciate dark humour should however enjoy their time with the game. The cartoon visuals and silly dialogue counterbalance the plot’s more disturbing moments. Episode four’s reveal, in particular, is not for the faint of heart. Speaking of dialogue, keep an “eye” out for a character named Danny should you decide to purchase the game. I challenge anyone to take a sip of their favourite alcoholic beverage whenever he utters the word “peepers.” I guarantee you won’t reach the end credits before your liver gives out. Maybe I’ll give said drinking game a “shot” whenever I get round to watching the anime.

Review of Valkyria Chronicles 4

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It’s been ages since the west was able to enjoy a proper Valkyria Chronicles game. The third instalment was never localized and the recently released Valkyria Revolution was an unpopular spin-off, which abandoned the franchise’s trademark tactical elements. Valkyria Chronicles 4 thankfully returns to its roots. Both the combat system and setting are identical to the first game. For those unacquainted with the series, Valkyria Chronicles takes place on a continent that suspiciously resembles World War II Europe. Players lead a squad of Federation soldiers who are battling against Empire invaders. The Empire started the conflict to secure stockpiles of Ragnite – a magical mineral that can power machinery, heal the sick and turn well-endowed babes into super humans.

CHARCTERS

Valkyria Chronicles 4 recounts the adventures of Squad E, throughout a 35-hour campaign that sees the battalion venture deep into Empire territory. The plot is both straightforward and well written. Players experience first hand the brutal tragedies of war. Balancing out the drama are moments of romance and comedy that wouldn’t look out of place in an anime. There’s even a hot springs episode and DLC that takes place at the beach. Claude Wallace is the game’s protagonist. He begins the story with a reputation of being a coward, but as events unfold he develops into a courageous commander. His subordinates include childhood sweetheart Riley, a reckless trooper named Raz and Deadeye Kai. The latter is a sniper who possesses an irresistible heinie. Did you know that German soldiers, who the Empire’s conscripts are modelled after, were once nicknamed heinie? Perhaps Kai’s ass is a reference to that. Nah, it’s just eye candy.

Apart from the main cast there are over fifty unique characters to command. Picking whom to take on a mission is akin to assembling an army in Fire Emblem. There’s even a private named Odin who acts like his Fire Emblem namesake! When selecting a team I suspect most players will choose soldiers based on looks/personalities they find appealing. The supporting cast don’t play a major part in story cut scenes, but they do at least feature in optional chapters that flesh out their origins

COMBAT

Gameplay wise Valkyria Chronicles is a hybrid of strategy and action. Each level has an objective to complete. The missions range from capturing a base, to defeating all the enemies or protecting a zone for a specified number of rounds. Levels are laid out on a map, where players spend command points to issue orders and move their troops. If this was a fantasy game orders would be magic. By issuing an order it’s possible to heal allies, apply buffs and replenish ammo. Hey rookie I command you to stop being poisoned and um… cease being dead. What distinguishes Valkyria Chronicles from other strategy games is that when repositioning a soldier the action switches to a third person view. From this vantage point players assume direct control of the soldier in real time. To keep things tactical, characters can only attack once during their movement phase.

A character’s stamina limits how much terrain they can cover during a turn. Different classes have varying amounts of stamina. A nimble scout can therefore take more steps than a heavily armoured Lancer. I love Valkyria Chronicles’ battles, as they are more interactive than simply moving pieces on a chessboard. Possessing a soldier means you have to dodge bullets yourself and watch where they go, due to the ever-present danger of landmines. Mercifully, the enemies will seize fire whenever you line up a shot. Great news for me, as I have terrible aim when under pressure. Maybe instead of the Federation I should be fighting for the Empire. I do after all hit targets less often than a Storm Trooper.

CONCLUSION

My rating for Valkyria Chronicles 4 is five stars. Easily one of the best games I have played in 2018. Valkyria Chronicles 4 might be too similar to the original, for some folks, but I personally didn’t mind. It’s been almost a decade since the west got a mainline VC title, so the combat system still feels fresh to me. One new addition to Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the introduction of grenadiers. These soldiers can blast foes from afar with a mortar. I thought the grenadiers were overpowered during the early missions, but used them less in the later chapters. Sega might have added the class to benefit the enemy AI forces, more than the player. Their inclusion, on certain maps, does somewhat discourage players from making a beeline for the objective. You have to plan out movements or else Squad E will get an unwelcome explosive surprise when navigating choke points. Stop pelting me with grenades – that’s “bang” out of order.

I highly recommend Valkyria Chronicles 4. The game is fun and very pretty to look at. I like how the cell shaded graphics have a watercolour tinge to them. Anyone who was frustrated by the original’s difficulty spikes will be pleased to learn that Valkyria Chronicles 4 is much less challenging. The only level that took me a while to clear was the final showdown. It wasn’t hard per say, but a bit ponderous due to the amount of damage the last boss could soak up. Then again that was due to my bad planning rather than poor level design. After besting Valkyria Chronicles 4 I looked online and found clips of people beating that mission quickly, via the creative use of orders. Man, I really suck at making orders. Perhaps that is why it takes me so long to pick a main course.