Grandia 3 Review

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So after years of waiting, we finally got Grandia 3 in the UK via Playstation Store. It was a hassle to access the US Playstation store but regardless, I have finally finished it and quite frankly I’m quite glad I got to experience this game, even if it is a bit rough around the edges. What do I mean by this? Well it is pretty much the opposite of everything that made Grandia 2 so great in the first place.

Allow me to elaborate. When this game was first released, people were in uproar about it, some consider it the death of the Grandia series, others just consider it to be a mediocre title which was nothing more than a disappointment. Hey, that sounds like the perfect game for me to review. So I picked the game up and gave it a go. How bad could it possibly be?

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First of all, I would like to talk about the visuals of this game since they are a considerable improvement from Grandia 2. The world of Grandia 3 is certainly a looker, not the best looking game I’ve seen but it has certainly been given a makeover that stands out if you’ve played any of the previous Grandia games. It feels great to actually play a Grandia game with such great visuals. Sure Grandia 2 Anniversary Edition improved on the visuals somewhat and made them a lot easier on the eyes and actually made them quite likable but Grandia 3 really has a fresh new style that is unlike any of the previous Grandia games.

One thing I would like to note is that Grandia 3 feels like a much more open-ended game than Grandia 2 but don’t let this fool you, the game is every bit as linear as its predecessor though to be fair, you are able to backtrack this time around thanks to the game’s flight system which allows you to freely roam the world map in a similar way to Lost Odyssey in the sense that it is very restrictive and in a lot of ways kinda pointless considering the linear nature of this game.

Grandia 3 Flying around is kinda pointless

For a theme centered around freedom to roam the skies, you’d expect the game to deliver that feeling of freedom in its structure but sadly this is not the case, instead when you approach certain areas, you merely get a text box telling you about it, kinda like in Mass Effect. It’s such a shame since there is a huge world out there to fly around in yet you only get to explore a small portion of it. It’s such a shame really.

While we are on the topic of the game’s theme, let’s get straight to business and talk about the games laughable story. Where do I even begin? For starters after having played the legendary Grandia 2, it is easy to see how this game has come to receive such a negative reception. You would think that after playing a game like Grandia 2, the story would be exciting and fresh, sadly this is not the case this time around, the story of Grandia 3 is about as exciting as a baked potato.

Grandia 3 Trying really hard not to make a dick joke

Trying really hard not to make a dick joke

While Grandia 2 went off the beaten track with its protagonist, in Grandia 3, you are presented with Yuki who follows just about every single cliché in the book as a JRPG protagonist. His only standout feature is his love for planes… not that I consider that a good thing, rather It comes across as obnoxious more than anything else. Typically the game starts off with the protagonist, Yuki getting scolded by his mother Miranda for being too obsessive over his hobby.

But believe me, Yuki doesn’t get any sympathy from me. After crashing his plane like an idiot, he is left stranded in the middle of a forest a couple of miles from his hometown and encounters a young girl named Alfina… you know what this means don’t you? That’s right, get ready for some boy meets girl action in the form of yet another bland, uninspired romance that contributes absolutely nothing to the plot… hurray!

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Little did I know that the entire build up of Yuki’s character was about to capsize from here on out. Now Yuki must escort Miss Bigears to a place called Arcriff, a place of worship dedicated to communicating with the guardians. Sound familiar? Anyways the story starts getting duller and duller from there.

Put simply if you’ve played any JRPG, you’ve seen Grandia 3’s storyline already. It pretty much deflates into a quest for macguffins once you reach the halfway mark and by that point, the story never really evolves past that until you face the big bad evil thing at the end.

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To make things even more insulting, the only two redeeming characters leave the party early on in the story. This cripples the story as they are replaced by two dull characters who barely have anything to offer in terms of personality and they are mostly cardboard cut outs. In fact, these characters are so bad that you could remove them from the game and it wouldn’t change a thing.

Now in a game like Grandia, this is particularly worrying since the Grandia series has always revolved around its interaction between characters and with a cast of characters as dry as oatmeal, its efforts to focus on character interaction are pretty much wasted.

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The nature of the Grandia series remains unchanged however. Grandia 3 follows the same formula as the previous games. Its focus on NPC interaction is still an all you can eat buffet of narrative and the dinner scenes return to add more flavor.

You can tell that Game Arts were trying to focus on building a strong narrative as they continue to use the same tools that made Grandia 2’s story so engaging, it’s just a shame that the characters and the plot of Grandia 3 are so sterile otherwise it could have made for yet another memorable and engaging storyline.

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Where the game truly shines however is in its battle system. Like the previous Grandia titles, Grandia 3 uses an active time based (ATB) battle system with a heavy emphasis on changing the flow of battles through cancelling enemy attacks and manipulating the IP gauge to intercept enemy turns.

Grandia 3 enhances the system by rebalancing the game’s difficulty to make for a more challenging experience. In addition, the game adds new aerial combos in an attempt to mix things up. Sadly while aerial combos have their uses early on in the game, their effectiveness diminishes later on as enemies are given insane amounts of health and this tends to make many of the boss fights a slog.

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Fortunately many of the boss fights are varied, some of which can be quite difficult to figure out at first. The game keeps things fresh by offering plenty of devastating abilities to be used by both the player and the enemy. It is important to stay on your toes in all battles as you are usually outnumbered by multiple enemies and if your characters are widely spread out on the IP gauge, you may find yourself in a compromising situation if you make the wrong move.

Thankfully the game offers a wide assortment of abilities in the form of moves/magic to bolster your arsenal. Every ability is useful, you just need to find the right one for the job. That’s JRPG combat 101 right there and while many JRPG’s forget the significance of this, Grandia 3’s combat focuses heavily on making the player’s choices feel important. Add to that the need to manage SP more carefully (due to the lack of SP restoration items available) and you have a surprisingly deep combat system which offers plenty of variety to keep things fresh for the entire duration of the game.

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Character Management is different this time around. New moves are learned via leveling up rather than with special coins. Moves are enhanced at random. I personally dislike this as it can sometimes screw you over in battles since attacks will be pulled off instantly when a new secret method is learned (the process of leveling up moves) which can ruin a potentially well-timed cancel. I also dislike the randomness of move leveling. Grandia 2 gave the player total freedom with learning moves which led to several balancing issues, however this method is still preferable to the method used in Grandia 3, at least in my opinion.

Magic is pretty interesting this time around. While the spells in your arsenal are more-or-less the same, the method of learning magic has drastically changed from that of Grandia 2. On one hand it complicates the progression system, on the other hand it is a more balanced system that prevents players from acquiring high level spells too early. Magic eggs can be dropped by most enemies and are surprisingly very common, they can be used to enhance the effects of spells or they can be consumed to learn new spells. Abilities work the same way allowing you to equip skill books to increase the potency of specific skills or consume them to learn new skills. These can be equipped at any save point.

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In addition, there are higher level eggs available which can easily be acquired through mana egg fusion. This allows you to access powerful magic when you wouldn’t normally be able to. It is important to note however that characters have a set magic level depending on how high of a level they are. As such the system is balanced and you can never learn spells that are too powerful. To some, this could be seen as a bad thing, however mana eggs can still be equipped to increase the potency of spells to make up for this allowing you to grow stronger should you wish to.

Ultimately when comparing the gameplay of Grandia 2 and Grandia 3, Grandia 3 comes on top just by a small margin, this isn’t to say that Grandia 2’s gameplay was bad, many of the fundamentals that make Grandia 3’s gameplay so great were lifted straight out of Grandia 2, they have just been improved this time round which is expected of a successor. Sadly it is difficult to call Grandia 3 a true successor to Grandia 2 as it falls short in the department Grandia games are known for, story.

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Personally, I do not often prioritize story in videogames. Grandia 2 was an exception for me and I honestly didn’t expect Grandia 3 to be anything quite like Grandia 2 but the combat is ultimately what won over my interest in this game. While I disagree with some of the systems used in Grandia 3’s character management, the combat itself is actually quite engaging to say the least. As such I cannot say that my experience with Grandia 3 was as bad as many people make it out to be. To be honest I quite enjoyed it.

The music is what sealed the deal for me, despite this games shortcomings, it still has a solid soundtrack, not as good as Grandia 2’s but a solid soundtrack nonetheless. Add to that the eye-catching visuals and you have yourself an enjoyable game. That being said, I can understand the negative reception this game has received, as a Grandia game it is pretty weak and its linear story focused structure limits its potential. Add to that a couple of irritating songs and a few lackluster dungeons leaving you with just another run-of-the-mill JRPG which just falls short of being yet another classic PS2 RPG.

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Truly a work of art! Oh wait, that’s a mirror, never mind…

So all in all, Grandia 3 is not as bad as people make it out to be, while it is far from being a true successor to Grandia 2, it is still worth the experience. If you can find the game for cheap, give it a try. It’s not a bad game, just don’t expect too much out of it. Put simply if you’re starving for some JRPG action and you’ve played all the best, you aren’t doing yourself a disservice by playing this game, you should be able to find some enjoyment out of it. While this may come as a surprise to you all, I actually had a hard time tearing this game to shreds as much as I’d have liked to.

I really didn’t expect to like this game. Though the story may have been laughably bad and cringeworthy at times, I’ve definitely experienced worse (*cough*White Knight Chronicles*cough*). It gave me some good laughs at least… seriously what is with the blatant similarities between the story of Grandia 2/3 and Devil May Cry 4? Even the voices for Yuki and Alfina return to play the same roles in Devil May Cry 4 as Nero and Kyrie… plus why does the villain look so much like Ganondorf and why does he wear black patches on his face? Seriously dude, grow a beard or something. Plus what is with that wannabe Arngrim guy named Kornell? Why is he such a doofus? What is his purpose in the plot besides being comic relief? We may never find an answer to these questions. All I can do is give the game its final score.

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Seriously who the fuck is this guy!? What is his purpose in this game besides just being there?


Story/plot: Pretty Bad

Visuals: Good

Gameplay: Great

Music: Good

Lifespan: Decent Length

Would You Replay? No


 

Overall: Satisfactory

 


 

Value: £15.00

For a more in-depth look at the story, watch this video:

Postal 2 Review (Steam version)

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Postal 2 is an oddity among the FPS genre. While most FPS games released prior to the seventh generation were often constrained and linear in terms of progression, Postal 2 takes an alternate approach being one of the first sandbox shooters alongside Grand Theft Auto. Unlike Grand Theft Auto however, Postal 2 decided to do away with its top down origins and transitioned into a first person shooter. This makes Postal 2 pretty unique for its time since sandbox FPS games were very few and far between back in 2003.

In addition, the Postal series maintains a reputation of being one of the most obscene gaming franchises of all time. While the first game chose a darker, more grittier feel, Postal 2 opted for a more comical feel that takes great pleasure in mocking pop culture as well as the gaming industry as a whole. Usually I wouldn’t care for such humor but Postal 2 executes it so well that I can’t help but love it. This is due to the fact that the game doesn’t try to shove the joke down your throat, rather it throws you in to a world of extremities and your job is to navigate your way through it.

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Naturally as a rational individual or a crazed psychopath (usually the latter), you will often come into conflict with many of the angry stereotypes that populate this game’s world and they are all out to cause trouble. You will quickly wonder if there is any sanity left in the town of Paradise… or perhaps there never was. Nevertheless, you are given a list of errands to complete and how you get from A to B is up to you, this might sound like a chore at first but there are more to these errands than meets the eye… or not. You’ll just have to wait and see for yourself.

Like all good first person shooters, you’re going to need a large arsenal of weapons and Postal 2 doesn’t disappoint. There are many different types of weaponry available to you from the standard assault rifle to a can of inflammable Lynx Stynx which is used conjointly with a lighter to create a devastating flamethrower. There is also a wide assortment of melee weapons on offer for those who want to take a more up close and personal approach.

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It definitely has a strong aroma…

Some melee weapons even have multiple functions such as the machete which can be thrown at enemies like a boomarang allowing you to cut down enemies from afar, there’s also a powerful scythe which can cut down several enemies at once and be tossed at a herd of enemies waiting to be culled. Most are fairly standard swinging weapons though, some are more useful than others but there’s certainly no shortage of them around and they all pack a punch.

The game itself is pretty bog standard in its execution and doesn’t try too many ideas with its gameplay. Weapons are easy to use and have perfect accuracy. This may make the gunplay feel sterile to some but ultimately I see it as a good thing. Enemies are pretty brain-dead for the most part, they will usually respond to gunfire by standing in a stationary position and shooting you. This could have been detrimental to the gameplay had the game not had such a ridiculous premise to begin with. In a way, the AI fits in with what this game is trying to portray. Postal 2 is nothing more than dumb fun, there is literally nothing stupider than Postal 2 and that’s why it is so much fun to play.

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With all that being said however, it is easy to be overwhelmed with enemies and it is recommended to try out different weapons based on the situation. Most enemies will use the standard pistol weapon. Later on however you will find enemies who opt for a deadlier arsenal with weapons such as the assault rifle and explosive weapons such as grenades. How you approach enemies varies based on their weapon types as their strategy is always the same, stand in one spot and shoot or throw grenades. If you’re looking for realistic AI and gunplay, you’re not going to find it here.

On the other hand, those who just want to have a fun time mindlessly spraying lead into people’s faces will have a blast with this game. The satisfaction that comes with playing Postal 2 is the slaughter. You are given a huge sandbox with dozens of satisfying weapons to use at your leisure. They are all well-balanced for the most part (though the pistol’s usefulness doesn’t last) and they all pack a punch, particularly the explosive weapons. It is best not to think of Postal 2 as strictly being a first person shooter as you will have just as much fun utilizing the melee weapons and explosives.

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The freedom to cause as much chaos as possible is arguably the strongest point of Postal 2. Freedom to roam also helps with this. Postal 2 is a semi-open world game which separates each location with loading boundaries. You are free to explore a huge chunk of the map early on and gain access to more locations as you progress through the game. There are tonnes of places to go and you are encouraged to go off the beaten track to find cool new weapons, munitions and cash to buy more munitions, armor and health pipes to keep you safe. Exploration in Postal 2 is certainly a very rewarding experience and finding new weapons is always refreshing.

Over the course of the game, you will be given numerous tasks you must complete in order to progress through the game. You can approach these tasks in many different ways. Do you want a blood bath? Do you want to abide by the law? Or do you want to take what you want and flee the opposition? Naturally this game encourages you to shoot as often as possible and you are given the tools for the job so you are encouraged to slaughter as many people as possible. However this is not the only way to play the game, it is possible to play through the first 5 days without even firing a single bullet.

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In addition, the game manages to break up a lot of the open-ended progression with some linear sections. I personally like this as it keeps the gameplay fresh rather than feeling like just another GTA clone as it kinda maintains the traditional feel of the FPS genre if just for a brief moment. One thing that can be annoying though is that they often strip you of all of your weapons and you have to find them littered around these levels and you will have to find them. Aside from that, these sections tend to offer more of a challenge as they often put you in a situation where you are handicapped due to lacking your equipment as well as encountering an overwhelming force of hostility.

Where the game falls short however is in the visual department. While the visuals are understandable for such an open-ended game released in 2003, they aren’t all that great to look at. Many of the NPC character’s heads are ridiculously huge and terrain has little to no detail for the most part. I’d say that the visuals are on par with the original Half Life (released in 1998) and there is a lot of similarity between the two but Postal 2 doesn’t really go anywhere with it. While this likely isn’t going to be a big deal for most people, I can’t exactly praise the game for its visuals.

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The same can be said for the music which is practically nonexistent save for a few jingles every now and again which can get annoying at times. In a way, this is probably one of Postal 2’s weakest points, the lack of music definitely limits the potential of this game, it would have been much more satisfying to listen to some metal music as you mow down hundreds of people with a scythe but it doesn’t even go there which is a shame. All in all, don’t expect a strong ambiance with Postal 2.

Another thing that bothered me was the incessant crashing issue that I constantly ran into, even after I upgraded my PC a few days back, I still experienced these crash issues in a 2003 game, this is absolutely unacceptable and arguably the biggest problem I had playing Postal 2. I can’t see them fixing this in the near future but it still affects the game in a negative way and it would be wrong of me not to mention it. Nevertheless I do not think that it is enough to completely boycott this game even if it is a major issue.

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The steam version of Postal 2 includes Apocalypse Weekend, this adds two extra days onto the main game of Postal 2 and is a very linear focused expansion with very little open-ended content. For those who enjoy the more linear sections, Apocalypse now is definitely worth a play but considering the fact that it is free on the Steam version, there is little point in going over it in greater detail in this review as it is completely optional. At the beginning of the game you can choose to play through the first 5 days or the whole week. Bear in mind that the retail version does not include this expansion, however the steam version is the cheaper option so for this review I will be covering the entire package found ion the steam version.

So ultimately, I get that Postal 2 is made by a small development team and while my review might be a little harsh on it, I do really love this game. I cannot however mislead people into thinking that it is a huge AAA title that people hype it up to be and as such I believe people should keep in mind that this is not a game that is going to blow you away with stunning visuals and revolutionary gameplay but rather it will give you a fun sandbox to ventilate your rage on countless innocent people with a few good laughs here and there. You can often find this game priced at 69p which is about equivalent to $1.00. This is an absolute bargain for this game and cannot be passed up. Of course I’d encourage you to support the devs by paying full price should you feel the need to but if you do see it on offer, you should absolutely give it a try.

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Story/Plot: Good (I base my score on the humor)

Visuals: Mediocre

Gameplay: Good

Music: Forgettable

Lifespan: (varies, main story is decent length but it is a sandbox game so it might take you a little longer)

Would you replay? Maybe


Overall: Good


Value: £25.00

Meanwhile at Activision HQ…

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SAG-AFTRA’s attempt to strike a deal with Activision’s CEO goes horribly wrong.

Painkiller Review

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Have you ever had those moments where you are just fed up with the ever-growing complexity and heavily story driven titles of the modern era and you want something which goes back to the roots of gaming and revitalizes the simplified formula of the FPS genre? Luckily for you, the gaming gods have brought fortune upon you this day. Big guns, big bosses and big levels filled to the brim with cannon fodder, just waiting for you to bring them pain. This is Painkiller, Painkiller is nothing else. Painkiller is a game where you walk the path to hell and leave no survivors in your wake.

The story of Painkiller is simple, you are a bad motherfucker who has been ordered by god himself to slaughter the demonic generals, luckily for you he gives you a licence to kill so of course you pick the easier option. Total genocide, yes you heard me. You are going to deliver the entire demonic race their last requiem in the form of lead… lots and lots of lead. Now you know the story of Painkiller, you are free to press the “ESC” key with every wonderfully voice acted cut scene to save yourself the needless exposition you so tire of and don’t worry, the story doesn’t even make much sense anyways so you’re not missing much, they just decided to incorporate a free B movie in with the whole package, feel free to watch it if you like but it has nothing to do with Painkiller.

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Eat my shotgun you whore!!!

So with all that aside, with everything Painkiller has to offer does it manage to deliver a solid ass kicking experience worthy of being a timeless first person shooting experience? Hell fucking yes! The core elements which make Painkiller so great are not so simply defined in one word. After all, a game such as Painkiller cannot possibly have a straightforward explanation as to why it is one of the greatest shooters of all time and quite frankly there is a lot for me to cover in just the gameplay elements alone.

For starters, one of the first things you will notice almost immediately in Painkiller is the movement… that is if you have played an old school first person shooter before. If you haven’t, don’t worry you’ll master the technique in no time. It’s called bunnyhopping. Bunnyhopping is the ability to essentially increase movement speed by jumping allowing you to dodge bullets and weave through your enemies as you gun them down. Now bunnyhopping is very easy to learn but difficult to master. This is what separates the men from the boys in Painkiller. You see in Painkiller, bunnyhopping is a big deal.

 

“Painkiller is a game where you walk the path to hell and leave no survivors in your wake”

 

Unlike most first person shooters, Painkiller takes bunnyhopping to the next level as it pretty much doubles your movement speed. This means that as long as you are moving, you are nigh untouchable. Of course you will still have a lot of enemies to contend with and you will still get hurt… a lot but bunnyhopping effectively will minimize the pain you receive allowing you to deal more pain in return. This leads to some crazy looking gameplay which is a feast to the eyes and is without a doubt the most satisfying experience you will ever have in a first person shooter.

The game starts off quite simple as you are pitted against only melee enemies who are harmless from a safe distance, however they will pose a threat to you if they get close. The levels will slowly become less open and more closed in forcing you to manage your movement more diligently. This means lots and lots of bunnyhopping, using your increased level of agility to avoid their lethal attacks, get behind them and introduce them to your makeshift barrel blaster.

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However things begin to get tougher fast. Eventually enemies will begin to fire projectiles at you. This is where things begin to get tricky. Enemy projectiles can be avoided however it is not at simple as just weaving through dozens of melee enemies gunning them down one by one. This time you will need to fight fire with fire and bring out the trusty stakegun taking them out from afar before they get another chance to gun you down. Best of all, after you’ve stuck their corpse to the wall, you can pull out your trusty painkiller and launch it at them repeatedly in order to mug them of their demonic riches in the form of jewels which come flying out of their ass each time you pull the trigger.

As you can see, the arsenal of weaponry available to you is far from the conventional military apparatus. You are granted weapons worthy to only the most fearless of genocidal psychopaths, each with their own unique function which allows you to take those pesky demons by surprise. The Painkiller is a weapon which you can always rely on. At first glance it is almost identical to Link’s iconic Clawshot from the Zelda series but then… wait, hang on a minute, Painkiller came out in 2004, Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess came out in 2006 so technically the Painkiller came first so suck it Nintendo and suck it hard.

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Anyone up for some laser tag?

Of course there’s more to the Painkiller than meets the eye, sure you can launch it just like the Clawshot in Twilight Princess but it also doubles as a portable blender which you can use to slice and dice your enemies and make delicious demon smoothies. OK, I lied, they’re not delicious, they’re disgusting and that’s why they all need to die.

Naturally like any first person shooter, you’re going to need a real gun and boy do you have some serious firepower in your arsenal. The first being your weapon of choice for a huge portion of the game, the shotgun or as I like to call it a double-barreled massacre device designed with the sole purpose of deporting demons straight to hell. As an added bonus, this double barreled recipe for disaster comes with a buckshot duplication device allowing you to shoot a single shell out of two barrels. Better yet your destructive double barrel slinger of doom is fitted with liquid nitrogen so that you can shatter them in a single shot.

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Later on you will acquire the legendary stakegun, a weapon originally used to kill vampires. Well guess what? It kills demons just as effectively if not more. You can use the stakegun from any range and impale their worthless bodies with a pointed stick burning as it approaches them at an insane velocity which will cause so much shock and pain towards the enemy that their limbs will come flying off the moment the hit connects. If you’re lucky, you can also impale them to the nearest wall and keep them as trophy’s. In addition, your makeshift stick launcher is fitted directly onto a grenade launcher so that you can bring fireworks to the party, just fling it in the direction of the nearest group of demons and watch their body parts soar.

Of course there are other weapons available to you but I will not spoil the fun for you, have fun discovering them for yourself. All you need to know is that you’ll be well equipped for your journey along the borders of heaven and hell which spans across 24 levels filled with dozens of enemies, destructibles and secrets for you to discover. Though these secrets serve as a distraction from all the intense action you will be facing, they only go towards helping you increase your body count within the realm of purgatory. Put simply if your finger isn’t constantly tapping the lmb and the space bar, you aren’t playing it properly.

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With all that said however, purgatory is home to some iconic landmarks that you will pass through on your journey. Purgatory is home to many historic locations which have found themselves sealed within due to their connection with implications that were caused there in the realm of the living. You will pay a visit to many forsaken lands and bear witness to the remains of the terrifying tragedies which partook there. Other locations will have you gaze in awe as you embark across forbidden and unholy lands of grandeur. Every place has its own story to tell, a story left unwritten, a story that guides you along a linear path and to your destiny. You cannot control the path destiny has weaved for you, you can only control the field of battle. That is the fate of all who pass on to the realm of Purgatory. It is up to you to piece this story together… that is when you aren’t fighting for your life.

You will find yourself isolated in these desolate lands as very few are fated to walk the path to heaven or hell and many of those who are misfortunate enough to do so often fall into damnation. With only you and your destructive arsenal at your disposal, you are left with no other choice but to keep on killing because everything is your enemy in this game and everything must die no matter what. How you go about doing these deeds is up to you. Though the demons are greater in number, the odds are in your favor. The path will open up with every foe you slay and it will guide you to your next destination, you will never lose your way in Purgatory… but there is no escape.

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Uh oh… looks like we angered the locals…

Every demon you slay makes you stronger. Every soul you consume gives you life. You will kill your enemies and devour their souls to become stronger and when the time comes, they will become the prey. If you just happen to acquire 66 souls you will receive the ultimate power known as demon morph. A power which will grant you with a powerful scream, an echo which tears apart all the unfortunate victims who dare to oppose you. To add insult to injury, you are also granted temporary immortality so the more that oppose you, the more devastating your powers will become.

Did I forget to mention that Painkiller is accompanied with a badass heavy metal soundtrack? Of course it is, what else are you going to listen to as you gun down masses of demonic fodder? The music is quite possibly the lifeblood of Painkiller, together with the endless, chaotic and downright sadistic gameplay it makes for an exhilarating experience. There are countless metal tracks to listen to with many different styles to choose from. I am no expert but I’m pretty sure any metal-heads out there will be able to appreciate the level of diversity in the music of Painkiller.

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The music is so good it makes me wanna do this.

As you can see, there is a lot to like about Painkiller, most would say that is perfect in every way. Unfortunately, as good as it is, Painkiller does have one notable flaw. The boss fights in Painkiller are huge and very powerful… too powerful. While some bosses are great, others are too great. Certain bosses are immune to bullets and require you to find their weakness.

Some bosses can also deal a lot of damage to you which can sometimes be difficult to avoid. This can often be troublesome when you are low on health and as it is impossible to acquire souls in boss fights it can result in a lot of cheap deaths. Nobody said Painkiller would be easy… this is purgatory after all. Luckily for you, tarot cards give you superhuman strength enabling you to kill most bosses is under 2 minutes.

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I think I’ve found your weakness buddy

To walk the path of Purgatory is to walk the path of judgement, your only hope is to kill everything that moves but no hope will ever be enough, you will never find the true path to heaven, the only known thing that lies in wake is your demise but how long will you survive the endless gauntlet of purgatory? Will you ever find a way out of here? Or have you been subjected to eternal damnation? Though you may never find an answer to these questions there is one thing for certain, many demons will be harmed in the process and you will keep on fighting till every last one of them is dead. This is Painkiller, this is your destiny, our destiny, we must all walk this path in life, the only question is, when will you walk the path of damnation?

Quite frankly there isn’t a better time to start, pick up your copy of Painkiller right now, whether it be a physical retail copy, a digital Steam copy or a DRM free digital copy. It matters not how you approach it, all routes lead to the same path and you will follow that path until the very end. Will you survive? Or will you be damned forever? One thing’s for sure, if you don’t start now, it may be too late for you, you must play this game and you should play it as soon as possible for everything is at stake, this game is the definitive fast paced, adrenaline inducing first person shooter and if that sounds even remotely interesting to you, it should be illegal for you not to play this game.


Plot/Story: Wait, Painkiller had a story? Sorry I completely forgot, what is this story?

Visuals: Exceptional

Gameplay: Exceptional

Music: Excellent

Lifespan: Decent Length

Would you replay? Hell yes (I put emphasis on the word “hell” for a reason)


Overall: Exceptional

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For a more serious, in-depth analysis of the game, watch this video.

Value: £40.00+

Purchase Painkiller (PC DVD)

Need For Speed 2015 Review

Oh boy… where do I even begin with this game? First I’m just going to say that Need For Speed 2015 is the best NFS game in the past decade but I shall cease my praises there. Why? Because Need For Speed 2015 is a train-wreck… or should I say “car-wreck”.

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Now before we get to the meat of the problem, I want to talk about my history with the NFS games. Now I started with Underground 2, not the best game in the series I must say but it does hold a lot of merit. For one it had some very deep tuning and some of the race events such as URL’s were pretty fun… whilst others such as street X and drags… not so much, not to mention the annoying rubber band AI in every race. However the car customization and the free roam more than made up for its shortcomings, plus aside from the scummy AI, the races were mostly enjoyable.

Then we got Need For Speed Most Wanted, arguably a step back from Underground, especially in the customization department. The AI was better but the handling of the vehicles was far worse. Every single car in that game handled like a truck going at high speeds and they might as well be trucks seeing as half the time is spent smashing up cops getting milestones. Speaking of the cops, they were everywhere, you couldn’t free roam without triggering  a pursuit, it’s near impossible. Where the game ultimately flopped for me was the lack of tuning and customization. However I will not doubt that Most Wanted had some crazy pursuits and was damn fun the whole way because of them and the races were still not all that bad.

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Then we had Need For Speed Carbon, the follow-up game to Most Wanted and my favorite game in the series. This game seemingly did everything right. The cars handle great and the handbrake lets you drift around like a god. Races are fun and the enemy racers do not have rubber band AI, this is proven by the fact that your crew member ally does have rubber band AI, presumably to keep up. Sure it can be annoying but it does help you most of the time and it is funny to see them crash at random and somehow catch up to you in seconds.

The pinnacle of what made Carbon so great wasn’t just the racing, it was also the customization. Carbon let you place unlimited vinyls on your ride and gave you autosculpt which let you adjust the body parts on your car to make it truly unique. Now while they didn’t have stuff like wing mirrors, spinners, neons, lights, hydraulics and trunk decor like they had in Underground 2, they still had a great assortment of options and the fact that you could actually apply and fully adjust limitless vinyls more than made up for it in my opinion though I do not discredit what Underground 2 did in terms of customization and it still holds up today… but so does Carbon… in a different way.

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Now Need For Speed 2015 strives to take the series back to its roots and it does just that which I will give credit for. However, the execution is absolutely downright atrocious. Before I want to bring up the design atrocities however, I wish to talk about the biggest atrocity of them all, the always online DRM, courtesy of Electronic Arts of course.

Now what makes always online DRM a big problem… other than the fact that it makes the game impossible to play without internet? Simple, what happened to Need For Speed World? Can you still play it? No you can’t, why? Because it had always online DRM that’s why… but that is the very nature of all MMO’s so it is somewhat expected to have it. However Need For Speed 2015 is not only a multiplayer game, it is also a single player game and as someone who bought this game second hand for PS4 and doesn’t have PlayStation plus, naturally I’m going to be playing by my lonesome.

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Thankfully there aren’t any microtransactions this time round. I guess EA couldn’t profit from them enough and got complaints. Still, the always online DRM is not a good trade-off

However Ghost games reassured us that you do not require a PlayStation plus subscription to play alone so it’s fine… no it’s not! The fact that the game doesn’t require PlayStation plus to play it alone is not “acceptable” it’s to be expected because if they did make you pay for PlayStation plus then they’d lose money since people like me without a PlayStation plus subscription couldn’t play it anyways and considering how crap this game has been, perhaps it would have been for the best. Then again If they did charge for PlayStation plus to play this game solo then I would have been even more pissed off simply due to the fact that it actually happened in the first place and it would encourage Sony to encourage other third parties to do the same with their games to force their shitty service down our throats.

However we are getting side-tracked here, the core of the problem is the always online DRM and the fact that it gives Electronic Arts the power to shut the game down after 30 days notice which we would have absolutely no control of which is the most unethical thing Electronic Arts could possibly do. Seriously I would take microtransactions any day over always online DRM for this very reason, I don’t want to be left with a disk that serves as nothing more than a coffee coaster later down the line. I want a game which I can play time and time again, like Need For Speed Carbon (which I still play by the way).

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The worst part of all this is the simple fact that the car customization, while somewhat limited is actually pretty damn good. It took the limitless vinyl options from Carbon alongside the cool body options from Underground 2 and melds them together. Sure the system isn’t perfect as there is no real symmetry as to speak of rather you can simply copy one side of your car to the other side but when designing cool hoods you really have to be accurate because there is no symmetry option like in Carbon. Also autosculpt is nowhere to be seen which is a shame. Add to that the fact that many of the best cars have next to no customization and you have some reasonable car customization which can be a lot of fun.

However, all this is single-handedly crushed by the always online DRM. Why? Well lets look at it like this. You spend hours of hard work trying to make the coolest looking car and suddenly, EA announces that they’re shutting the servers down. Thirty days later, all your hard work goes down the drain and your game disk is a coffee coaster, anyone up for a game of frisbee? Bonus points for those who manage to hurl it into the balls of the person who decided that always online DRM was such a good idea.

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Now that all of that has been said, let’s talk about the gameplay which is complete and utter trash. Here’s why. Remember Burnout 3? It was a fun game that let you smash into cars and send them into walls where they go flying in the air. That was fun and all… until you crashed. Now to make things less gloomy, Burnout 3 let you control your car as it flew up into the air allowing you to land it directly in front of an enemy car which would give you an aftertouch takedown and refill your boost bar for a second wind.

Sadly the same annoying crash cam is in Need For Speed 2015 (and has been used in other games in the series which are far worse) and all it does is bugger up the races to the point where the player simply gets frustrated. Now before you start blaming the Burnout series for starting it all, remember that this is Need For Speed, not Burnout. Burnout’s mechanics were designed around the crash cam and made things fair for those who crashed a lot and the fact that you could control your crashes and move your car and get takedowns mid-crash made them less annoying since you could bounce back easily.

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You’ll spend a long time in first place… until you crashed then you’ll be pushed all the way to the back of the pack.

In addition, the boost system allows you to easily catch up to enemies fast so you can take them down and have them crash instead. It’s more of a Mario Kart style experience in the sense that it’s all random nonsense but that’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s random but fair and very rewarding to those who enjoy smashing up other racers.

In this game however, you can’t even take other racers down and the crash cam has no interactive options whatsoever and all it serves to do is to put you 4 places behind instantly, usually straight to last place unless you are very lucky. This is because of the horrifically infuriating rubber band AI, I cannot stress how annoying the AI in this game is, it’s super easy to pass but if you make a mistake, you are way behind them. In other words, just keep driving fast and they’ll never catch up to you… unless you crash in which case they will all catch up to you. Certain events on the other hand do have pretty frustrating AI in the sense that they are nigh impossible to pass. Fortunately with the right vehicle and tuning you can speed past them with minimal effort.

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Once again, like in Carbon, the Dodge Viper is the king in this game, it’s fast, accelerates well and its handling, being fully customizable and all handles pretty well. However it doesn’t matter how fast your car is. One traffic car or bollard will send you straight to last place. You may also be sent to last place if your car hits a railing on its side at high speeds. The silly thing is in Need For Speed Carbon, not only does none of this happen but if it does you could easily maneuver out of it and stay in top position.

“You spend hours of hard work trying to make the coolest looking car and suddenly, EA announces that they’re shutting the servers down”

Ghost decides that instead of having a panic button or letting the player maneuver out of there themselves, they instead have to watch a short clip of their car spinning out or rolling over… even when it’s physically impossible to do so. If your car touches a railing at high speeds it will crash even if it just slightly clips the wall a little, it’s not like you can just stabilize your car, the game makes sure you lose control of it in favor of its epic crash scene that no one cares about.

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The crash cam is so blurry it simply isn’t worth showing it

I mean it doesn’t surprise me considering the fact that Ghost is made up of former Criterion devs but can they really be this stupid as to put it into Need For Speed 2015 after the poor reception Need For Speed Most Wanted 2012 got for doing the same exact thing? Yes they can be and they are.

Now I’m not going to discredit the effort the devs went into to truly making this a Need For Speed game worthy of anyone’s attention and sure it does bring back the good ol’ Need For Speed style but not in the way we had hoped and this is simply due to the fact that Ghost weren’t paying enough attention to the fan base and insisted on carrying on with what they did with Most Wanted 2012 and bringing back the horrendous crash system and also by their lack of effort on designing good AI that isn’t cheap.

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The world map is still large and there is a little bit of exploration value to be had. There are also plenty of race events, too bad they all suck.

However I can’t put the full blame on Ghost games, sure they are a little bit stupid but that’s only because they decided to work under Electronic Arts, a company that is far from stupid. Seriously if you’re stupid enough to work under such a shitty publisher, it is no surprise that you would make so many stupid design decisions with your games. Ghost games aren’t the biggest culprit here though.

The biggest culprit and the very reason why I bought this game second hand is Electronic Arts themselves which suffice to say, just happen to be one of the worst things that have happened to gaming period and one of the scummiest publishers too. Fuck Electronic Arts and if you bought into their EA access bullshit then you are a severely deluded individual and you really have no right to complain about how terrible this game is.

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Fortunately for me, I couldn’t give a damn when I reviewed this game because people deluded enough to buy the game day 1 aren’t even worth my time. However my apologies to those who have been waiting patiently for this review. Please understand that I didn’t want to waste too much of my personal funds on this game and don’t think I’m going to suck on EA’s dick for a review copy, sorry it’s not my style. So hopefully those who have held off on the game for this long are reading this and can be reassured that their patience shall be rewarded because it is highly likely that you won’t be buying this piece of shit game and if you don’t I don’t blame you. If you’re curious I cannot stop you but I do believe that your enjoyment won’t be much better than mine.

Now I’m not going to lie, the game does do things right, it does. However the issues the game has are just downright unforgivable and being an Electronic Arts game, it doesn’t deserve your time or money. Whether you want to buy the game or not is up to you, I’m just telling you what you’ll be in for when you do and that goes for all of my reviews. However for the love of god, I beg that you do not buy this game digitally or on PC because that means more money goes to this scummy publisher.

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Oh don’t think I’m finished yet people, I’m only just starting to rip this game apart. The storyline of this game is an absolute joke and not in a funny way. You will cringe as you watch all of these terrible cut-scenes and it’s not in the same cheesy yet charming way that Need For Speed Most Wanted and Carbon did, instead it throws a bunch of unlikable characters at you who you don’t grow invested in and they do nothing but throw “bro” culture down your throats and make all kinds of cheesy gestures and fist bumps when you really don’t give a fuck.

You see, Need For Speed Most Wanted’s story worked because people didn’t play nice. The characters, save for a few were a bunch of ghetto punks who want you out of town and want you out of their territory this threatens the player into wanting to be the best racer they can and prove that they are better than those punks. Many of the best Need For Speed games followed this and while it is an overused concept, it works and it works really well, it motivates the player and motivation is the goal of every videogame storyline, at least based on my philosophical viewpoint.

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The story of Need For Speed 2015 doesn’t seem to have any purpose, it’s just there for the sake of being… there. Sure having real race car drivers is cool and all (even though I’ve never seen or heard of any of them being not into cars and all that) but is it really even needed? What is my motivation in the story? To race with my cool “bro” friends and being told how sick I am when I win a race after retrying it countless times to actually get the win due to the shitty crash cam? Hell no. Now that’s not to say that this is all there is to the story because it’s not. There is a separate side-story called “Eddies challenges” where they bring the main villain from Need For Speed Underground back to challenge all the racers in Ventura Bay (the fictional city of the game) to several races where they all race against him in the finale.

Now in theory this is just what the game needed… except it isn’t. In fact it’s the complete opposite. Eddie is about as threatening as a stick insect, while he does make some derogatory statements towards you and the other racers, he does so in a way that is so cliché and boring that you really don’t give a shit, he was a rushed baddie who didn’t really end up being that much of a bad guy by the end. In fact in his losing speech when you beat him, he is actually a good sport… unlike Razor who threatened to hunt you down and refused to give you the keys to your BMW M3 GTR which he took from you at the beginning of the game. It really makes for a lame villain who is completely forgettable. Even Darrius, as lame as he was compared to that of Razor was more interesting and memorable. Even Caleb was more memorable. Even the original Eddie from Underground was more memorable.

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This is made so much worse by the lack of boss races in the game. Sure there are 1 on 1 races but you can hardly call them bosses. There are too many of them littered everywhere to be called a boss race and even the final race with Eddie, you are pitted with several other racers and Eddie just happened to be in last place the whole race. So much for him I guess. On the plus side you do get his Skyline for beating him. Too bad it’s useless since you can’t customize it like you could with the boss cars of Most Wanted and Carbon. Plus by that point you’ll have already got yourself a Dodge Viper or a Ferrari so you really don’t need his car, same goes for all the icons cars which are all shit except from Moroshi’s Lamborghini which I will admit is pretty cool looking, too bad he can’t drive it for shit, I saw his car crash into a wall more than any other car.

Cop chases have returned and quite frankly they shouldn’t have bothered putting them in. The cops in this game are nothing more than a nuisance, if you’re driving a reasonably fast car, you can outrun them in seconds. If not then don’t worry because the cops are not very aggressive and are very easy to trick. In fact the cops are so bad that I had a lot of trouble doing the outlaw missions simply because I couldn’t keep the cops on me for long enough. I had to sit there and wait for the cops to come for me just so they could catch up.

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This is literally the highest level of aggression you will ever see from the cops in this game

On higher heat levels, the cops deploy roadblocks and spike strips. Roadblocks are pretty lame this time round, many of them consist of nothing but weak barricades you can break through like paper, others are unbreakable and will cause you to smash your car. At the highest heat levels there are spike strips around and while they aren’t that annoying in pursuits, they can be very annoying in races since they slow you down to a crawl and it’s very difficult to notice them because the roadblocks aren’t easy to see this time round since there is basically nothing there.

I miss the ability to smash cop cars and smash into pursuit breakers to shut them down. Now cop cars cannot be immobilized and if you hit one you are better off colliding into a wall because it doesn’t do anything to them. All you can do is run away, what’s the fun in that? To make things worse, each time you encounter a cop, the screen flashes red very fast, this is an epilepsy waiting to happen. The annoying thing is that it happens all the time and it doesn’t feel good on the eyes. Couldn’t they have found a better way of alerting the player that cops are nearby?

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And finally the visuals and the music. What is there to say really? The cars look good I suppose but this was to be expected from a AAA racing game in 2015. The music is forgettable though they did bring back a few oldies from other NFS games in Eddies challenges including tracks from Carbon (not the licensed tracks). The environments just feel all blurry with all the rain. It just isn’t tasteful to me and it doesn’t make any of the locations stand out. I miss all of the cool neon lights from Underground 2 and Carbon it made the cities more memorable. I can’t say that Ventura Bay is anything close to the word memorable. I will say though that it is still better than shitty Fairhaven from Most Wanted 2012.

So overall what should I say? Should I say that I’m disappointed or should I say that I saw this coming? Because the answer is both. I knew this game would be a train wreck but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a train wreck. It just goes to show that you can’t trust EA’s game’s anymore, they have been milked to death and I just hope that some Indie dev will one day get the funds to be able to get the licences for some real-life cars and bring us a street racing game in the same vein as this one. Otherwise we can only rely on Rockstar (because Juiced and all the other street racing games don’t have free roaming), the sole competitor of Need For Speed and believe me, with GTA Online in the state it’s in, they haven’t been in my good books recently and to me it just seems that they’ve given up on the Midnight Club series.

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Just as long as there are no microtransactions or DRM I’ll be happy, just give us another Midnight Club game Rockstar, I’m all for giving people second chances and I will give you another chance if you would stop milking GTA to death and start to make some more Midnight Club. Otherwise I’m going to miss the street racing genre. It is one of the most fun sub genres of the racing genre and it’s sad to see it fall beneath EA’s greed.

I would give this game a more lenient score if it wasn’t for the always online DRM because it does do some things right but the always online DRM single handedly destroyed all the respect I could have had for this game. Rest in peace Need For Speed, you were fun while you lasted… but your body has rotted in the morgue for long enough, it’s time to put you in your grave… for good this time.


Story/plot: Awful

Visuals: Decent

Customization: Good (this score is rendered worthless when you consider the DRM)

Gameplay: Bad

Music: Forgettable

Lifespan: Decent length

Would You Replay? No and if I did I’d have to do it on a separate account because of the DRM.

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Overall: Pretty Bad

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Value: £0.00 (when the servers shut down, your disk is a coffee coaster)

Duke Nukem Forever Review

It’s been 20 years since Duke Nukem 3D and as such Gearbox have decided to re-release it. However the Duke Nukem series hit an all time low as far as ratings were concerned with it’s latest installment Duke Nukem Forever. As such I thought I’d dive straight into it, yet another Humble Bundle game that came with The Darkness II.

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Now I haven’t played much of the Duke Nukem series. I remember only playing a demo of Duke Nukem 3D which was a pretty sizable demo. Should I have picked it up? Maybe… however I ended up getting this instead. Regardless I had fun playing it back then. It had some cleaver secrets and some pretty well designed levels for its time with lots of iconic venues. Of course I didn’t get to play all of it but I just loved using weapons like the Ripper to mow down enemies, those were my best moments playing Duke Nukem, shooting things and exploring the levels. The same could be said about all FPS games really.

So when I picked up Duke Nukem Forever I wondered to myself “How bad could it possibly be?”. I dove straight in and was almost immediately introduced to a boss fight who couldn’t even hit me because I was constantly circling him as he repeated the same attacks over and over again. This is when I realized that Tryptych didn’t really give a fuck about the game’s AI, they added very little variation with the boss fights so much so that they felt stale and uninspired.

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That was the first thing that stuck out like a sore thumb to me, that and the simple fact that each time the bosses health bar reaches zero, you had to perform a quick time event execution sequence to finish them off. Needless to say, I didn’t know this at the time and as such I kept fighting it and fighting it till I finally realized what I had to do.

Then the game immediately dropped all of the action in favor of some walking simulation nonsense which exists solely to show just how much of an egomaniac, narcissist Duke is and how everyone and their mother knows and worships him as if he is some kind of god. Funnily enough, I actually enjoyed these sections more than I did the actual game. Why? Because of the level of interactivity in each of those sections. I swear I spent hours just drinking soda out of a vending machine just to see how much of a mess I could make on the floor. That and I love vending machines. Why couldn’t they make the ones in DOOM do something?

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Honestly I felt like I was playing two different games at some point. Watching Duke fanny around with pretty much everything is ironically far more satisfying than anything the combat had to offer, so much so that it appeared that the developers knew this and as a result they reduced the level of combat to a minimal. This time instead of fighting tonnes and tonnes of enemies, you are instead thrown into long-ass physics puzzle sections only to encounter brief combat sections every now and again and then returned to the puzzle solving and the occasional walking around and interacting with nonsense stuff. Then you’re thrown into a turret section where you are severely punished for fucking up and finally vehicle sections which were also pretty satisfying IMO.

However the meat of the game, I.E the combat is where Duke Nukem Forever falls flat on its ass. Now the two weapon limit is annoying in itself but I would have been able to cope with it if the weapons you were given didn’t have such limited ammo capacity. Honestly this wasn’t an issue back in Duke Nukem 3D due to the weapon carry limit which is arguably the biggest complaint this game received simply because each weapon has such limited ammo that you are forced to swap between new weapons every so often. This wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t make so many of the weapons situational. The railgun for one is near useless in a game like Duke Nukem Forever as it is a single shot sniper in a game where you supposed to be up close and personal with the enemy. Even Painkiller’s sniper rifle managed to adapt to this style of gameplay but the railgun feels misplaced.

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Other weapons such as the Freeze Ray and the Shrink Ray feel needless, those weapons were originally designed for experimentation purposes to go alongside the huge roster of weapons at your disposal in Duke Nukem 3D but would I seriously swap one of them with the Ripper/Shotgun? Hell no. To add insult to injury, most bosses are immune to bullets and any other non-explosive weapon so it’s important to keep an explosive weapon with you at all times.

In addition you also have access to Pipe Bombs and Trip Mines. Trip Mines are basically useless in most encounters because the enemies just appear and you often end up blocking your own routes. there are even times where the enemy has walked directly into the laser and still lived and in the end I have to shoot the mine to trigger it manually. Pipe Bombs are still useful thankfully and can pack quite a punch against regular enemies. They can also bounce off of jump pads which look like a combination of a flytrap and a rotten cucumber.

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Movement in Duke Nukem Forever is pretty standard, you can dodge most bullets and avoid most melee attacks with ease. Explosives however are near impossible to avoid completely. I find that explosive attacks often end up being in a Leningrad esque scenario in the sense that it’s kill or be killed. Now this would have probably been more acceptable if it wasn’t for the horrible regenerating health mechanic that this game shoehorns in. I mean seriously did you need to cover at all in Duke Nukem 3D? No you just shot your way through everything and dodged everything. In this game however you are hit with high AOE blast radius attacks which deal a fuck ton of damage.

Octobrains are the worst for this because they have way too much health and deal way too much unavoidable damage with their explosive breath attack (or whatever it is) which deals insane damage. There really isn’t much balance in terms of the enemy strengths and weaknesses from what I have seen. Octobrains are pretty resistant to the Ripper, the Shotgun is useless because they like to stay as far away from you as possible, rockets and grenades are useless because they fire them back at you and the Shrink Ray is useless since you can’t squash them and makes an already small, fast moving target even harder to hit. Plus the Freeze Ray lacks the range to even reach them.

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Most enemies on the other hand will die to pretty much anything except bosses which to me feel all the same. Shoot them get into cover, shoot their minions, leave cover, shoot them again, rinse and repeat. Sure they try to mix them up with certain fights but the lack of cover makes these fights really annoying and the way you are forced to play against these bosses is just nonsense, especially in a Duke Nukem game. The new alien weapons on offer feel rather gimped in comparison to returning weapons and many of them have limited ammo capacity.  Some of them are pretty strong but  you’ll never rely on them because it’s difficult to find ammo for them and other weapons do the job better in general.

It seems what they were trying to do is make it so that certain weapons are better against certain enemies but the two weapon limit ruins this completely. It they didn’t have this two weapon limit I believe the enemy encounters wouldn’t be so uninteresting because there would be so many ways to experiment with lots of different weapons at your disposal and you’d be encouraged to try them all.

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I made a point of trying to stick with the Ripper and the Devastator for as long as I could because there would occasionally be ammo crates littered around which gave you access to infinite ammo, you would keep these two weapons around for this reason. However I found myself trying to conserve as much ammo as possible in most sections which was a pain, even trying to melee certain enemies to try and kill them. Yes that includes meleeing an Octobrain.

It just doesn’t feel right, I want to put my finger on the LMB and mow enemies down fast but instead I fire the ripper in short bursts which was not as it was intended to be used for. I didn’t get any satisfaction from any of the weapons for that reason which is a huge problem in a first person shooter like Duke Nukem Forever.

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The Level Design is decent for the most part… if a bit linear. A lot of the locations felt uninspired as opposed to that of Duke Nukem 3D. You find yourself in the same bland offices with the same bland tunnels and wreckage for most of the game, it likes to throw the same at you a lot and there isn’t as much variety as I would have liked. Granted Duke Nukem 3D has a lot of levels that look very samey the levels are only that way because of their thematic style and it is consistant. However when you are on the Duke Dome mission in Duke Nukem Forever, most of that mission is spend wandering around wastelands of wreckage and construction sites and it gets old seeing these areas when in reality you want to see what’s going on inside the Duke Dome that the level is supposed to revolve around. Funnily enough once you finally reach the Duke Dome, the level ends.

The biggest annoyance for me was the puzzles. I could cope with the rest of it but the puzzles were just boring. Some of them were straightforward and simple but just took time to do such as filling up a crane with barrels to re-balance the weight. I find that the game threw way too many puzzles at you and it’s just needless. They weren’t even that hard and quite frankly I’m pretty thankful for that. Nevertheless it’s more busywork the player has to do to reach the next shooting section and even that wasn’t much to look forward to.

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Quite frankly I had the most fun playing through the walking sim sections and funnily enough I was looking forward to see more of them but eventually there comes to a point in the game where you no longer have any of these interactive moments kinda like in Bioshock Infinite, heck It’s as if most 2K games just love to have these walking sim sections in them. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the actual gameplay wasn’t so monotonous. The sad thing is that the best level in the game turned out to be nothing more than a dream which is hilarious as it just goes to show that even Duke himself is getting bored with this game and it shows.

I spent hours playing the snooker minigame trying to get that ego boost and I ended up getting more engaged in that and all the other minigames on offer than I did with any of the shooting sections. I had a lot of fun playing air hockey and the pinball game was intense and pretty cool. There was also the whack-a-mole game in which I used far more reflexes than I did in any of the shootouts. The dream section only lasted so long though and you couldn’t revisit it or any other area like it for the rest of the game.

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Occasionally there were a few other distractions littered around levels and the odd restrooms where you could piss about in (literally) but aside from that is was just walking through repetitive levels, solving puzzles and shooting baddies, trying to keep your ammo stocked up. I swear that I spent the vast majority of the game searching for Ammo for my guns simply because I wanted to keep my Ripper in my inventory and didn’t want to swap it for anything else.

Visually speaking, the bright lighting kinda felt a mid misplaced, unlike in Duke Nukem 3D where it was always night time which added this cool lit up city vibe, Duke Nukem Forever is brightly lit outdoors 95% of the time  and it made the visuals feel lacking in the variety department. A lot of the visual appeal shown to us in Duke Nukem Forever’s original trailer showed this dark urban environment that I felt was lacking in Duke Nukem Forever.

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Bright lighting and a dark cloudy sky… not the best combination.

Only inside buildings did you ever see any dark lighting which was a shame. Regardless the visuals aren’t as bad as people make them out to be, there are some nice locations and some dull locations. I find that later on in the games the levels become really dull and samey though.

Additionally the game also seems to have a few minor characters and I mean minor characters. It’s a shame you didn’t really get to see much out of them though as Duke was the central character of the game and even though I understand that they were trying to get that one man army vibe that Painkiller gives, these minor characters just feel as if they were shoved in there in order to take the piss out of modern shooters when it only serves to make them the same… if not worse.

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It wouldn’t have been so bad if there was some banter between Duke and Dylan but a lot of the time, Duke just stands there and listens, he doesn’t ever communicate with his team when he is battling alongside them. If anything it’s a missed opportunity on Gearbox’s part.

It would have been cool to have given Duke a cool side-kick who would have given Duke someone to natter to during some of his missions rather than just nattering to himself which is quite amusing to be honest. I guess deep down, Duke isn’t much of a sociable person, if fact despite being an alpha male stereotype he appears to be socially awkward in most situations… unless he’s talking to one of his “babes”.

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Dylan seemed like a cool guy to me. Shame he was completely shadowed by the Duke.

The music in the game is pretty forgettable minus the theme song of course which never gets old. There are a lot of tense tracks that appear at random in certain sections but for the most part there is nothing but silence. There are also remixes of the Duke Nukem theme song in the ambiance as well as some classic jingles which play in the elevator which anyone who played Duke Nukem 3D will remember.

All in all as a shooter, Duke Nukem Forever works… it just doesn’t work very well. It feels like a very watered down shooter with minimal satisfaction. To be fair I can see the appeal die hard Duke fans can get from this game as Duke is still for the most part the same Duke, you’re still facing the same enemies and you still get the same legendary quotes. They just threw it all into a very bland modern FPS which tries to function more like an old school FPS at times. However it fails due to the use of modern mechanics which leads to the game being a clusterfuck at times. Still if you want more Duke Nukem, there really is no harm in playing this. It’s not the worst FPS out there and is definitely far better than the horrendous Red Faction was IMO.

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Tough choice…

I recommend trying it only if you’re a die hard Duke Nukem fan as you will get something out of it so long as you keep your expectations low but even then I really mean it, the game still feels very sterile even to the most die hard fans however I do honestly believe that die hard Duke fans will be able to appreciate this game and will definitely enjoy the many throwbacks this game has especially the walking sections since a lot of it is pretty much a tribute to Duke himself and the game still works as a shooter. For everybody else, just wait for the 20th anniversary remaster for Duke Nukem 3D.


Story/Plot: Decent

Visuals: Decent

Gameplay: Mediocre

Music: Decent

Lifespan: Quite Short

Would you replay? No


Overall: 20160920201056_2


Value: £5.00

Purchase Duke Nukem Forever (PS3)

The Darkness II Review

Well I didn’t expect to be playing this game. The Darkness II was a random punt of mine, I got it from Humble 2k Bundle so it was dirt cheap and the game looked interesting enough to get me to pick it up.

Anyways, The Darkness II is a First Person Shooter based on a comic book series which I don’t know anything about, despite all this, I didn’t have too much trouble following the story, even if it was a little crazy. The story sets you as a guy named Jackie who suffered a traumatic experience and became possessed by a powerful force known as the darkness. Naturally this makes him a badass anti-hero and like all good badasses, he is practically the Godfather of the local Mafia.

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Unfortunately for him, the darkness inside him attracts trouble and as such he has to deal with an enemy faction known as the Brotherhood who seek to harness the powers of The Darkness for themselves.

Now the only issue I have with the game’s storyline is that they don’t really build on the whole “mafia” family thing, perhaps they did in the original game but if you jumped into this game without playing the original the pacing of the game is very concise and this is very much to its detriment for newcomers trying to experience the complete story but those who played the original game might appreciate this since they don’t need all the extra exposition.

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Despite this the plot itself is very straightforward and easy to follow but for newcomers such as myself it may lack a certain level of depth that you come to expect from most games. Still, I don’t think story is particularly important in these types of games however, it’s easy to tell that The Darkness II tries to deliver a solid narrative experience and while the narrative does its job, it feels kinda rushed. Even those who are fans of the original may realize this pretty quickly as the game doesn’t last that long to begin with.

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You will frequently encounter these monologue sections where Jackie talks about himself and The Darkness. It doesn’t really connect to the story in any way though.

Visually, the game is pretty good, there are lots of vibrant colors in this game similar to that of the Bioshock series, if you have played any of the Bioshock games then you will know what to expect here. Needless to say, the game still has that dark tone in order to reflect on the whole “darkness” theme this game is going for. You can tell that the developers wanted to make you feel like the darkness and not just some random dude with a pair of handguns.

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In a way you could say that The Darkness II opts for a similar visual style to Shadows Of the Damned in a lot of ways and you wouldn’t be far from wrong. You could also say that it feels similar to Painkiller in a lot of ways however because of the focus on the narrative, the visuals don’t give the game the same feeling as Painkiller as they were opting for a completely different approach. Still I do like this visual style and it really befits the comic book world that they’re trying to replicate.

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There really isn’t much to say about the music, it was just… forgettable I guess. It’s mostly just ambient sound which doesn’t really work with a narrative driven game like The Darkness II even though I saw the reasoning behind it, it just doesn’t do anything for me, nor does it stand out. Then again, that’s just my opinion so make of that what you will.

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The game does have a few ambient quirks in the game’s hub area, the mansion and while exploring this hub is somewhat enjoyable, I wish a lot of the events that occur there don’t have any relevance to the game’s story which is a shame, I was hoping everything would tie in. It is nice that there is a cool looking hub area though as it was fun to explore.

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Gameplay wise the game is rather innovative though this is sometimes to the game’s detriment which I will get to later. Regardless there are lots of different ways to mow down your enemies. Not only do you have guns which can shoot enemies but you also have powerful demonic tentacles coming out of your body. These can be used in all kinds of different ways and it adds a lot of variety to the game and allows you to play in all kinds of different ways.

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Like with most modern FPS, there is a leveling system in the form of skill trees which you can use to put points into each of your skills. I do think the skill trees work quite well in this game as the darkness allows you to experiment with different playstyles and as such the skill trees allow you to enhance these playstyles based on personal preferences, that being said, while the skill trees do let you focus on a specific set of powers, it doesn’t take away from the experimentation the game has to offer.

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Of course the game likes to throw different types of enemies at you and each one responds to each playstyle differently, certain playstyles work better than others in certain situations. Some encounters can be dealt with quickly when the right tools are available, some can be quite tricky if you don’t know how to approach them. There is a lot of thinking on your feet in this game and this would have been great if the game wasn’t so incredibly clunky.

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First of all I’d like to talk about the controls. If you are playing the PC version, by all means play with a gamepad, the keyboard controls are poorly optimized and it shows. This game is almost as complicated to play on a Keyboard as Freespace, there are so many keys you will need to press spread out all over and this can make things chaotic in the heat of things.

This game loves to overwhelm you a lot but unlike the story, the pacing of the gameplay is actually quite slow. Jackie himself moves at a snail’s pace and though there is a sprint button, the controls are so bad that you’ll never use it effectively.

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Additionally there are a few annoying features that this game brings to the table. The first one being the heart consumption system. While this is a wonderful idea in concept, it doesn’t work very well simply due to the fact that you have to constantly press E to consume souls *cough* hearts (sorry, I’ve played too much Painkiller) and doing this in the heat of battle is essential if you want to stay alive. This means you are constantly mashing keys aimlessly to keep up with the overwhelming gameplay.

The second and quite possibly the biggest annoyance is the light system. Basically if you approach any light, your screen will blur out and you will lose literally all of your abilities (including the ability to eat hearts) for as long as you are in it. This gets even more frustrating when they throw in enemies which have torches to completely disable you. The worst part of this is that to kill them effectively you have to shoot out the tiny little torch in their hands, this can be rather irritating when you’re in the middle of a huge gunfight as you need pin point accuracy to do it.

The light! the liiight!!!

The light… the liiight!!!

The biggest problem with it though is that it breaks up the gameplay. It makes it so that nearly every 2 steps there is a light illuminating the path and it’s very difficult to tell what is light and what isn’t. Some lights can only be destroyed by destroying generators, some lights can’t even be destroyed at all. The worst part is trying to locate all of the lights as they can sometimes be in very hard to find places and of course not all of them can be destroyed anyways which is extremely frustrating since you are constantly searching for them, even in the middle of battle.

I mean sure, I do get the gist of the whole “light” idea, it fits the concept perfectly but it isn’t executed all that well in the gameplay. A lot of the times you will find the game to be a bit too overwhelming for these reasons. Jackie’s slow movement speed makes dodging bullets a pain and it usually comes down to an “act before you think” scenario, similar to Leningrad in Painkiller, the only difference being that whereas Painkiller’s gameplay is very fast paced and fluid, The Darkness II’s gameplay feels very sluggish. and this can often make the game very frustrating.

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However these flaws are still outweighed by the game’s strengths and I do think The Darkness II was an enjoyable romp for the most part. The darkling sections were a nice change of pace as they favored a more stealthy approach which I personally think that this game befit better to be honest and the game’s variety makes it really fun. if you consider yourself to be a fan of games Like Shadows Of The Damned, I’d give this a try as it has a very similar style going for it. Though the game may be sluggish and frustrating at times it manages to keep the player engaged through its variety, if you can get past its annoyances, you will probably enjoy The Darkness II’s gameplay a lot.

All in all, The Darkness II is an enjoyable romp that will last you for about 4-5 hours, its short length may be off-putting but if you can pick it up for under £5.00 it’s definitely worth a punt. I personally wouldn’t spend any more than £20.00 on this though due to its short length bit I do think you will find some enjoyment out of this.


Story/Plot: Satisfactory

Visuals: Good

Music: Forgettable

Gameplay: Satisfactory

Lifespan: Too Short

Would You Replay? No


 

Overall: Satisfactory

 


 

Value: £10.00

 
Purchase The Darkness II (PS3)

Star Ocean: Integrity And Faithlessness Review

Ah finally I get to reveal the truth about this game. After all the negativity and all the incessant whining from Japanese fans over a pair of underwear, we can finally get down to business. Star Ocean 5 is indeed the return of tri-Ace and Square-Enix’s relationship and I can say with confidence that it doesn’t disappoint. As a fan of tri-Ace, I commend this game for its efforts to bring the JRPG genre back to life.

Now with all that considered, let’s get straight to it. Star Ocean 5 is basically a giant floating blob of fanservice to all Star Ocean fans, this can be interpreted both positively and negatively but I see it in a positive light, there are tonnes of throwbacks here and there and you can see that the devs are trying hard to bring that Star Ocean magic back into the series.

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Welch returns to cause some more mischief…

However things could seem a little too familiar, many of the enemy designs resemble past Star Ocean games and also many of the music is re-used from previous Star Ocean games. Personally this didn’t bother me so much as I like to listen to old Star Ocean music. The enemy designs didn’t bother me much either, it merely helped maintain that Star Ocean feeling.

Another thing you will notice very quickly is that many of the moves from previous Star Ocean games return. Pretty much every attack in the game is re-used from older Star Ocean titles. This isn’t exactly a bad thing since the Tales series does exactly the same. And several attacks look slightly different from they used to.

 

“Star Ocean 5 is basically a giant floating blob of fanservice to all Star Ocean fans”

 

That aside, let’s get into the bulk of the game. The story is in Japanese so I didn’t understand a word of it, the cast of characters are quite different this time round. Many of them are highly experienced combat veterans which is a nice change from the usual teenage kid saves the world having had zero combat experience (I’m looking at you Fayt Leingod) and it really gives the cast a strong feeling of importance as if they belong in the story as opposed to being put there due to circumstances in the plot.

The story revolves around planet Faykreed, a single planet. I can see why they went with this though and I believe the plot is the main reason why. The game starts off almost immediately in a conflict which expands over the course of the game, the game revolves around this conflict and as such it’s befitting that the story revolves around a single planet for that reason. As a result, the scale of the game’s storyline is a lot smaller than Star Ocean Till The End Of Time but the execution is done rather well.

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“Who ate the last piece of my pie? Was it you!?”

This brings me to the seamless cutscenes. This is where a double-edged sword comes into play. On the plus side, the cutscenes blend in really well with the gameplay rather than taking you out of the gameplay experience in a way many traditional cutscenes do. On the negative side, due to the third person perspective of Fidel it can be difficult to position the camera in a way that lets you focus in on the cutscene. In other words it’s trying to create a Half-Life effect by essentially putting the player into Fidel’s shoes and watching the story from his perspective rather than watching a traditional cinematic cutscene where the player feels detached.

As such, the seamless cutscenes are somewhat of an acquired taste. As you go through the game you grow to appreciate their significance more once they start playing around with new ideas. The game likes to throw them at you quite often and during these scenes you can walk around so long as you stay in the designated area. However there is a new emotes feature you can make use of which is a nifty novelty. The devs obviously intended for the players to make their own fun with the cutscenes and offered tools to do it with. The question is, is it enough to keep the player’s interest?

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The answer is simply… it depends. Whilst many of us appreciate the flashy CGI cutscenes, those that don’t can usually skip them. The biggest problem with the seamless cutscenes is the inability to skip them. This can be troublesome at certain points but for the most part they aren’t long drawn out and if for some reason you’re getting bored watching them, you can force Fidel to do all sorts of nonsense to keep you amused. Personally I had a lot of fun with the emote system but considering the fact that Star Ocean 5 isn’t an MMORPG it could be considered to be somewhat out of place. Then again we are talking about Star Ocean *wink* *wink*.

Another thing that sort of feels very MMO esque is the questing system. Like the seamless cutscenes, these side quests have both positive and negative implications. The obvious negative implication being the fact that questing can be kinda bland. On the other hand the bulletin board keeps everything together in its respective area which cuts out all the monotonous running around town in search of quest givers or trying to find that particular NPC you need to give that item to.

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There’s so much content in this game that you’ll never be board.

One thing that may bother people is that many of the content acquired throughout the game is locked behind sidequests. This includes skill books which are used to learn new battle skills and item creation professions. As a result you will have to spend a lot of time backtracking to different areas fighting mini-boss encounters and finding certain items to obtain new skills and abilities. So to get the most out of Star Ocean 5, you will have to spend a considerable amount of time doing side quests and backtracking. Then again, Star Ocean has always features a lot of backtracking through its private action system.

Speaking of which, private actions return but this time they are a lot easier to access. To access private actions, you merely need to approach a whistle icon in town where your party splits up and by approaching that party member, you trigger that private action. You no longer need to leave town or use a guide to find private actions though you may still want to use a guide to get certain character endings. I personally tried everything in my power to get any ending besides Miki’s, needless to say, I failed and ended up paired up with my least favorite character, looks like the Japanese language barrier trumped me that time.

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Miki appears to get very excited when you trigger her PA’s, shame I don’t feel the same way…

In addition to traditional private actions, certain private actions trigger on the road, kinda like skits in the Tales series only this time you don’t have to trigger them and watch a bunch of character portraits chatting amongst themselves. Instead the private action plays out as you are moving, kinda like seamless cutscenes but you are free to move and even battle during them. Obviously battle will cancel them out. As such you can enjoy these PA’s at your own pace and if you so wish you can take a break from exploring to see their expressions.

Item creation is back and is better than ever. Star Ocean 5 has in my opinion the best item creation in the series. Whilst it mostly sticks to Star Ocean 4’s item creation at first, over the course of the game you will unlock the classic Star Ocean 1 and 2’s item creation… with a twist. As such you get the best of both worlds here. The regular item creation is just like Star Ocean 4’s only this time you no longer have to visit Welch every time and can perform item creation straight from the menu which is handy. Also you don’t have to spend SP on invention or find recipes any more, rather you learn new items by simply making them.

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At first all the items are hidden behind question marks so you don’t know what you’re getting but once you unlock it will reveal what it is and you can make more of it should you wish at any time. Like Star Ocean 4, item creation requires you to gather certain components and use them to create a single item. Over the course of the game however you are able to unlock a new item creation system called the lottery.

The lottery is basically Star Ocean 1 and 2’s item creation where you put items into a pot and get a new one out. This time however you can use just about any item you please and you use up to a combination of 6 items from your inventory. You can have them randomly picked for you or you can choose them manually. Once you’ve selected your items, you can throw them into a pot (or in this case a bunny) to obtain a new item. However be careful not to throw important items in as they may be lost forever and you never know what you’re gonna get, it’s completely random depending on the items you use. The lottery system is fun to experiment with and you may end up getting an item that you can use in regular item creation to create the item you wanted. If you’re lucky, you may also get a new piece of equipment that is better than the one you had before. Of course you will get duds a lot of the time but that’s why they call it a lottery.

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Up to six items can be placed in the pot. Choose wisely!

Item synthesis is back also but is split up between multiple skills, one for weapons and armor, another for accessories. Like Star Ocean 4 you can apply factors to your equipment using any item in your inventory or combine certain items together to create a new and improved one. The system is very much the same as previous titles and whilst it may be nothing we haven’t seen before, it’s still refreshing that they brought it back in all it’s glory. As such there are many customization options for equipment available to you.

Visually, the game is fantastic. Whilst the overall aesthetic style is inherited from Star Ocean 4, there have been some huge improvements made. For starters, the first thing I noticed in the game was how impressive the game’s draw distance was. Whereas Star Ocean 4 tries to cover up a lot of its empty backdrops with white fog and clouds, Star Ocean 5 adds more detail to the game’s environments making them more vast and as such is contributes towards improving the game world’s sense of scale.

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Considering the fact that the majority of the game takes place on one planet though and there aren’t too many areas on that planet, the game’s world isn’t as large as the visuals would lead us to believe. However each location is very detailed.  I found it quite odd that the desert area had constant rain though. Isn’t a desert supposed to be piping hot and dry?

The character designs have been outsourced and are designed by freelance artist Akira Yasuda, who is recognized for his work on the Street Fighter games and they look great. The main character, Fidel is probably the best designed protagonist I’ve seen in a while in terms of visual appeal. Victor looks pretty rad too. The character models are a mixed bag though, Some of them are great, others are a bit off. Emmerson’s head looks a tad too small outside of the CGI’s and Miki… well she looks odd in general. Fidel still looks fine though as does Fiore.

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Overall I’d say the visuals are pretty impressive, at least compared with most other JRPG’s these days. I think they made a good decision to keep the choice of art style colorful and vibrant rather than trying to make it look realistic. It really gives it that Star Ocean flair. In addition, unlike Star Ocean 4, the characters don’t look like weird dolls anymore (aside from perhaps Miki).

Visuals aside, lets talk about the combat. Tri-Ace made the huge mistake of returning to Star Ocean Till The End Of Time’s horribly archaic battle system. Thankfully that’s the only word I could possibly use to describe the battle system of Star Ocean 5. It’s not all doom and gloom though, there has been some improvements. Now in case you don’t know, Star Ocean Till The End Of Time’s combat was abysmal. With the horrible CP cap, difficulty spikes aplenty and of course the dreaded MP death along with the HP cost for special attacks, Star Ocean Till The End Of Time gave me an experience best forgotten, gameplay wise at least.

Star Ocean 5 attempts to fix the system and it uses many simple yet effective methods in an attempt to do so. One method is to simply allow normal attacks to cancel into normal attacks. This way you aren’t stuck with only special cancels. This adds a little more depth to the gameplay as certain specials are long drawn out and you may wish to use a faster normal attack instead, especially if you think the enemy is about to attack you.

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Another improvement is the balancing of the characters. No more useless characters like Adray or Mirage, every character is useful this time round. In fact I found myself switching between characters a lot and thankfully due to the game’s guard system, this worked like a charm. What is the guard system you ask? Remember the fury gauge in Star Ocean 3 which let you guard attacks when it was at its max? Well that awful feature was scrapped and replaced by simply adding a manual guard function. This allows you to block weak attacks and almost all magic attacks which is pretty nifty if you ask me.

Once you have guarded and attack you can unleash a guard counter by letting go of the guard button right after being hit. There is a reasonable time frame but you have to let go of the guard button almost immediately. It does take a while to get used to but once you do it becomes a really fun mechanic and adds a fun new approach to battles. Rather than playing 100% aggressively like in previous Star Ocean games, you can now experience a more defensive style of play. Whilst Star Ocean 4’s blindsides were cool and rewarding, they were rather easy to pull off as you could pull off a blindside before an enemy could get a chance to hit you. In Star Ocean 5 however, guarding requires a lot more precision.

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You see by holding down the guard button, you can maintain a guard for as long as you want. However the enemy will usually read this as an opportunity to hit you with a strong attack. If you are hit with a strong attack whilst guarding your guard breaks and you lose a portion of your reserve gauge. So it’s important to read your opponent carefully and guard their attacks only when necessary. Enemies with blue auras around them are often preparing to attack you with a strong attack so be sure to move out of the way if you see one coming your way.

The reserve gauge is essentially the replacement of the bonus board. However, like in Star Ocean 3 it is a bar this time round. The reserve gauge is accumulated simply by attacking enemies. However it is depleted if you get guard countered or ko’ed. It may also be depleted if you are attacked during an attack animation. Accumulating additional reserve rewards you with bonus experience, sp and fol.

Once the reserve gauge fills up one of its bars you are able to unleash a special reserve rush attack. These attacks are basically the Star Ocean equivalent of Valkyrie Profile’s soul crushes and deal devastating damage to enemies (aside from Miki’s which heals the entire party). It’s cool that they implemented this feature as I always loved the soul crushes in Valkyrie Profile and it’s nice to see a similar concept used in Star Ocean.

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Like in most JRPG’s, it’s important to give the character an extravagant pose before using their ultimate attack. Just so you know that shit is about to get real.

Unlike Valkyrie Profile however, reserve rush attacks don’t show up on a separate screen. Instead they blend into the rest of the battle allowing you to keep the fight going as the reserve rush piles damage into the enemy. As such you could say that reserve rushes are the polar opposite of rush combo’s from Star Ocean 4 as instead of simply showcasing regular attacks on a separate screen, you are able to use unique attacks on the same screen.

The biggest change however is the fact that you control 6 party members in battle and as such you can swap between all of them to make unique combo’s. I personally didn’t have a main character this time round. Instead I cycled between characters and used each one periodically. I mostly stuck with the three dudes: Fidel, Victor and Emmerson though I occasionally swapped to the ladies for some support when needed.

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This brings me to another issue that was fixed from Star Ocean 3. Usually when you switched characters, the character would run up to the enemy in order to perform an attack. This could not be canceled out. In Star Ocean 5 however it is possible to cancel this run up through guarding which cancels out the attack completely. This is extremely handy and can be a life saver at some points.

Another improvement is the removal of boss staggering. Though this could be considered a negative. Bosses will no longer be interrupted by attacks. However with proper usage of the guard mechanic, it’s not likely that they will be able to hit you with a quick attack unless you let them but this is where the strategy comes in. You have to be able to read what the enemy is about to do. As for weak attacks, they aren’t used to interrupt bosses, rather they are used to exploit short counter windows. Strong attacks are used for the same purpose as always, to break down shields. As such, dodging and positioning yourself is very important and you can use it in conjunction with weak attacks for some quick hits.

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This means that you can no longer stagger lock bosses which was an issue that plagued the rest of the series. Now you have to think a bit more and use counter windows to your advantage. On the plus side, this feature only serves to make cancel bonuses all the more rewarding. If you can get a 200% cancel bonus on a boss without getting hit, good job but it’s not that easy. In Star Ocean 3, you could get cancel bonuses easy, all you needed to do was button mash and spam. In Star Ocean 5 however you have to be more calculated as enemies can hit you mid combo which causes your reserve gauge to decrease so you have to be careful with how often you stack attacks and wait for a counter window.

As a result there is a lot more thought process behind Star Ocean 5 compared with the rest of the series, even with the game’s rush mode, Star Ocean 4 still had the ever exploitable staggering but only for a certain period of time. However when an enemy entered rush mode you would simply run away from it until it’s rush gauge depleted then you would wail on it again which was kind of an exploit since the rush gauge was somewhat flawed even if it was a better concept than Star Ocean 3’s fury system.

So Star Ocean 5 manages to do a lot of things right with its battle system despite it’s limitations, so much so that many of its shortcomings are outweighed by the good parts. Needless to say however, the combat system remains somewhat archaic to a degree considering the fact that we’re still using MP for specials (well at least it’s not HP like in Star Ocean 3) rather than AC like in the Tales series. In other words, the Star Ocean series has a bit of catching up to do to keep up with this generation’s standards.

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All that aside however, the combat is still just as fun as the rest of the series, you could even consider it to be the best in the series. I would personally mark it on par with Star Ocean 4’s battle system. I think any Star Ocean fan will find enjoyment out of this system. If you can have fun by simply replaying old Star Ocean games, you will have so much fun with this game, especially if you enjoyed Star Ocean Till The End Of Time.

Now I want to touch on seamless battles a little bit. When you get into a battle, there are no transitions. Instead you are given the option to either attack or block to initiate a battle. If an enemy hits you, you will get surprised and the battle starts so you must be careful as you approach enemies and make sure you get the first move. Once the battle starts, a red ring appears around the field, running into that ring allows you to escape battles but there’s a timer. One thing that could be considered a minor annoyance is that when playing characters other than Fidel, they may end up outside the ring at the start of the fight, setting off the escape counter. It’s only a minor gripe though and if you do run away you merely have to wait some time to re-initiate the battle so it’s all good.

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When the battle ends a results screen appears in the top right of the screen and you are immediately free to move. There is no fade out or loading screen’s in between battles, they start almost immediately. Certain battles may even take you off guard at some points as they are blended in with the seamless cutscenes. Certain battles will give you specific objectives where you have to protect someone as well and as such, battles can get quite difficult later on in the game.

In addition you may occasionally be accompanied by guest characters who will help you in battle. This brings me to what is quite possibly my favorite feature in the game, war battles. War battles are a somewhat frequent occurrence where large scale battles take place in a designated location.

During war battles you can freely move around the map as the battles are waged and can engage into battle simply by getting in range of the enemies and instigating them by using either the guard or attack button. In other words there are several battles going on at once and you are accompanied with NPC soldiers to assist you, very much like the siege of Castle Prevant in Infinite Undiscovery only on a much broader scale. These battles are quite the spectacle and really show off what the game’s seamlessness is capable of as it makes the battles feel more exciting.

Another new feature is the roles system, this allows players to not only provide certain bonuses but it also allows players to alter the character’s AI behavior in battle. As such the AI is vastly improved from Star Ocean Till The End Of Time and no longer will you have to put all characters on manual control due to the fact that the AI likes to recklessly charge towards an enemy. One of thing things that annoyed me the most with Star Ocean Till The End Of Time was the simple fact that Sophia’s AI had to be one of the worst healer AI i have ever had the displeasure of witnessing in a JRPG.

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There are 5 categories for roles. One for offensive, one for defensive, one for healing and one for support. The final category is just for stat boosts among other things that do not affect your character’s AI.

Roles can be used for more than simply changing the AI behavior, certain roles have specific abilities that apply certain effects to the characters in battle. These effects can be pretty dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. I ended up accidentally playing through the majority of the game without obtaining any experience from monsters and I had to do sidequests and farm gathering points just to level up. However my lack of Japanese caused me to be completely oblivious to this fact and as such my characters were only around level 60 by the end of the game. It’s like sealstones in Valkyrie Profile 2 taken to a whole new level of dangerous.

Now as I mentioned before, the music of this game includes tracks from Star Ocean 3 and 4, if you haven’t played those games I urge you to give them a try (even though Star Ocean 3’s gameplay is godawful, it’s worth it for the story). The music from those games are as good as ever and with the exception of a few tracks, the majority of the tracks tie in well with the game

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As for the new tracks, Motoi Sakuraba has put a lot of work into developing new ideas for his future projects as shown in Exist Archive. The soundtrack of Star Ocean 5 is a little bit more familiar though and really gives off that Star Ocean feeling. You’ll realize very quickly that the music maintains the series the standard of quality the series is known for and while there isn’t as much of it as we expected (Sakuraba is a pretty busy guy these days, seriously they should get Noriyuki Iwadare to work with him as he did the music for Radiata Stories and the legendary Grandia 2) the music we got is top notch.

You can feel the effort that was put into the music and you can also feel the struggle that Sakuraba has gone through to make the soundtrack as good as it can be. I think by now, music composition has become more of a challenge than ever for Sakuraba as he has a lot of reputation behind him that he needs to maintain and this means experimenting with new ideas and new approaches.

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It’s amazing how the soundtrack manages to remain so familiar but feel so different at the same time. The mixture of Violin, brass and alluring techno is the style Motoi Sakuraba went with for this game. The brass often stands out as being somewhat overpowering whereas the violin is very technical. The techno really brings out the sci-fi effect, especially when accompanied with the brass.

As will all tri-Ace games, there’s a bonus dungeon at the end and like the other games in the series there are two more unlockable difficulty levels for completing the game. The game itself is rather short but doesn’t outlive its welcome. There are several diversions available throughout the story such as the cathedral (the replacement for the series’ more conventional arena) which pits you against a gauntlet of enemies and finally a boss to obtain a reward at the end. There also of course plenty of side quests to do via the bulletin board and private actions. As a result you’ll generally spend around 40 hours or so which isn’t bad by any means.

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Those intent on rushing through the main story may be disappointed by the game’s length. I’d say the main story is on par with that of Infinite Undiscovery’s main story in terms of play time so if you don’t mind a short JRPG, you should be satisfied with what this game has to offer. I for one am glad the game was short as it meant that I could get to this review a lot quicker. Still I took my time and played through around 37 hours worth doing sidequests and stuff and had a lot of fun doing so, so much so that I was getting a bit lax on my analysis hahahaha. It is a long time since I’ve enjoyed a proper Star Ocean game, I wanted to make the most of it and I got what I came for.

So if you’re wondering whether or not Star Ocean Integrity And Faithlessness is for you, it all depends on what you’re looking for in a JRPG. Are you looking for a long adventure with lots of filler? You won’t find it here. If you’re looking for a game that’s short but sweet and intend to play through some of the game’s side content, I’d definitely recommend this game to you. In other words, Star Ocean Integrity And Faithlessness is the opposite of Exist Archive in the sense that rather than trying to shove as much filler into the game as possible, it aims to bring top quality content in small quantities to keep the budget costs down.

As such I believe they made the right decision with this game and though many will disagree with me, I think that Star Ocean 5 is a top quality game that didn’t get enough time to blossom but it’s definitely on the right track and I can see a potential for a Star Ocean 6 in the making. So just ignore all the irrational hate, give this game a go and I promise so long as you don’t set your expectations too high, you will enjoy this game a lot.

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Plot/story: Satisfactory

Visuals: Exceptional

Music: Great

Game play: Great

Lifespan: Quite Short

Worth replaying? Yes

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Overall score: Great

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For more about Star Ocean 5’s story click here warning: may be small gameplay related spoilers!!!

Value: £40.00+

Purchase Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness (PS4)

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria Review


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There comes a time where the excitement and wonder of playing videogames begins to waver. As we experience more and more games, our tastes become more refined as do our expectations. It is very rare that a game manages to truly live up to the expectations of a seasoned gamer and when it does, you know you have picked up a true gem of a game. That’s where Valkyrie Profile 2 comes in.

Nostalgia is often the driving force when it comes to deciding on a player’s best experiences. We all look back at the good times… and the bad but it all translates to good in the end because they were an experience. My childhood was spent playing games such as Pokemon, Final Fantasy and Super Smash Bros Melee, looking back my childhood was pretty shallow compared to what I experienced in my later years. Even though I am merely at the age of 23, Valkyrie Profile 2 wasn’t a childhood game, I played it in my late teens. I had already played countless other games beforehand and I was beginning to grow tired of modern gaming.

So I made the decision to go back to the good old days and play some of the games I missed out on in my youth. In doing so I realized that there was more to my distaste of modern gaming than nostalgia, there is something missing in gaming today. I realized that I missed out on so many gems that went under the radar, some were better than others but I soon realized that I had missed out on so many amazing games that I wish I had experienced as a child. Then I found it, A game that went above and beyond my expectations. A game so breathtaking that it put all of my childhood games to shame. Little did I know that it would forever be engraved on my very soul. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria currently stands as my favourite game of all time and it’s my job to explain to you why I find it to be the greatest game ever made and man this is going to be one hell of a challenge to review.

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So lets start with the logical observation. Unlike the first Valkyrie Profile which was a cult hit, Valkyrie Profile 2 was shadowed by its predecessor in every single possible way and was considered a “massive disappointment” by many fans of the first game. I’ve never seen a game that has been nitpicked as much as this game. It’s a game that literally did no wrong (at least to me). Seriously just picking out flaws in this game alone is like finding a needle in a haystack and yes there are flaws there but personally I find that they do not hinder the game’s experience in any way.

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So what did the game do to make people dislike it? Well for starters, Valkyrie Profile was a very good game… I say that loosely considering the fact that it was a hugely flawed game, an acquired taste you could say but the flaws in that game stuck out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, Valkyrie Profile managed to gain a cult following who appreciated the games design choices for its originality and also appreciating the emotional impacts and deep undertones that made the game feel unlike any other.

Valkyrie Profile was unique and to see it become a traditional JRPG was ludicrous. People refused to accept that an 18-year-old midget princess with social disorders replaced the almost stereotypical stoic goddess that was Lenneth but if you look back at Lenneth, as cool as she was, her stoic disposition really took a toll on her character as a whole and her development arc was blatantly forced. I just think the game was rushed by the end… but then again even Valkyrie Profile 2 suffered a similar fate by the end though looking back, I found that Valkyrie Profile 2’s story as a whole was better structured and was better executed than its predecessor.

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At first sight, it’s understandable how someone can detest the idea of Alicia being the main character. She appears to be a stereotypical bimbo at the start of the game which is ironic considering the fact that I found that her alter ego, Silmeria fit that category far better in the long run. Over time however, things began to make sense and I did start appreciating Alicia as the main lead and became to understand the developers reasoning behind this choice, it was all about perspective and that’s what led to the biggest change Valkyrie Profile 2 made, the fact that it followed a more generic narrative structure but despite popular belief, this change was completely vital.

Lets face it, Valkyrie Profile was an unpolished masterpiece. Horribly unpolished might I add. Had the developers put more TLC into the game’s execution, it could have become the masterpiece that was Valkyrie Profile 2 but it didn’t and remained nothing more than a cult hit. Valkyrie Profile 2 barely got together a cult following but nowhere near the same level as Valkyrie Profile. People who hated Valkyrie Profile avoided it and people who loved it… also avoided it… it was an inevitable flop that went down with a huge bang that no one ever saw. Basically Valkyrie Profile 2 is the most under-appreciated video game ever made.

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Now as someone who disliked the direction the first Valkyrie Profile took, I played a few more tri-Ace games and realized that they were by the same people who did Valkyrie Profile. So surely I should give the series another chance and I picked up Valkyrie Profile 2 on a whim. It could have been another horrible experience but I had a small glimmer of hope that they changed it and thank god they did.

 

“Valkyrie Profile 2 is the most under-appreciated video game ever made”

 

Gone was the open-ended story line concept which sucked just as much ass as Big Rigs Over The Road Racing, Gone was the ever punishing period system which punished player choice and exploration and in with the old school narrative structure we all know and love. Vanilla storytelling has never been so bliss and to be honest, it was quite refreshing seeing the Valkyrie Profile series’ story line told in this new direction. You got to actually experience the story line directly as opposed to just watching some random scene which holds no relevance to the plot whatsoever only to be thrown into the next dungeon, rinse and repeat. It was a horrible… seemingly repetitive formula which bogged the first game down.

Valkyrie Profile 2’s traditional approach may not have been perfect though. Early on in the game, you are presented with quite possibly the worst macguffin trope ever conceived to man and I honestly don’t mind macguffin tropes so long as they don’t take up too much time and aren’t too predictable. It’s easy to just sit there and say “this game is boring, give me a better plot” but as bad as it was, it didn’t seem to hinder the game’s pacing half as much as Valkyrie Profile’s entire story line and strangely enough, it really didn’t impede on the overall experience. In fact I believe the slow pacing was actually needed. Why? Because it allowed you to take everything in.

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That’s right, Valkyrie Profile 2 is the best looking game on the PS2, still holding up today as one of the most aesthetically appealing games ever created. The visuals are crisp and are loaded with glittering particle effects to add that extra sparkle. It’s easy to tell that a considerable amount of effort was put into the game and there are a lot of minute details that are easily missed the first time round.

So to put it simply, the visuals are a step beyond sublimity but the game’s incredible soundtrack just happens to be even better. The two go hand in hand to provide the player with one of the greatest gaming experiences you could possibly imagine.

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As I have said before in my original review of this game back on Destructoid, Valkyrie Profile 2 is a work of art in motion and not just visually but musically as well. If you can appreciate music and visuals, then this might possibly be your dream game and I damn well love some good music and visuals.

Seriously if I listen to the game’s soundtrack on Youtube (which I do way too much) I start to get addicted to listening to it and think to myself “fuck it, I’m going to listen to it all over again from beginning to end” and after listening to it all over again, I realize that I’ve just spent hours simply listening to the same songs over and over again.

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Listening to the music in Valkyrie Profile 2 is just like eating a full bag of Doritos, I just can’t get enough of it, it’s like a drug. Captivating is probably the most fitting word to describe Valkyrie Profile 2’s soundtrack. Heck I’ve spent more time listening to the game’s soundtrack than I have actually playing the game. I sometimes even listen to them whilst playing other games, particularly open world RPG’s where they are surprisingly fitting.

 

 “Valkyrie Profile 2 is a work of art in motion”

 

I find that the music of Valkyrie Profile 2 has a much greater purpose beyond simply being enjoyable. The music of Valkyrie Profile 2 has a purpose beyond merely engaging the player, it also helps build up the game’s abstraction. In fact the music in this game somehow tells a better story than its dialogue. I don’t know whether or not Motoi Sakuraba was aware of this, perhaps I’m looking into it too much. However many of the dungeon music in this game not only the perfect ambiance but also manages to illustrate the significance of the area you are in.

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It is implied that many of the locations you visit in Valkyrie Profile 2 have historic connections with a lot of the game’s lore and whilst I cannot discredit the visual department for doing its bit, the music certainly does it part in building up the abstract background of the game’s story line just as well. I swear I could analyze many of the game’s songs and decipher their hidden meanings but I’d rather let you, the player experience that for yourselves.

A recurring theme surrounding Valkyrie Profile 2’s abstraction and story is history. The game takes place many years before the events of Valkyrie Profile and puts you in the perspective of a Valkyrie who can read the psychic energy of objects allowing her to read into the past. Hence the reason why this game’s story focuses a lot on abstraction rather than what’s actually going on in the plot. This is likely one of two main reasons why most JRPG fans are turned off from the game’s story for they fail to recognize this abstraction.

Silmeria's object reading opens up a whole new dimension within the game's storytelling.

Silmeria’s object reading opens up a whole new dimension within the game’s storytelling.

Somebody mentioned in an article that Valkyrie Profile 2 tells a better story in its world and setting than it does in its narrative. This is 100% the truth. The narrative in Valkyrie Profile 2 isn’t bad by any means but as I have mentioned before, the narrative doesn’t even compare to the likes of games such as Grandia 2 as it is somewhat flawed at certain points. That is because narrative is not the focus of Valkyrie Profile 2 whereas the first Valkyrie Profile had quite a lot of narrative, some more trivial than others but there was plenty of it nonetheless.

Valkyrie Profile 2 decides that rather than telling you the story it wants the player to explore its world and uncover the story for themselves. Sadly, most players aren’t patient enough to do this and as such, I find that the story of Valkyrie Profile 2 was horribly misunderstood. Nevertheless, the music of Valkyrie Profile 2 creates a solid ambiance that will pull you into its world.

Rather than simply plundering people's hoses for Loot, Valkyrie Profile 2 often has readable books where you can learn some of the lore.

Rather than simply plundering people’s houses for Loot, Valkyrie Profile 2 often has readable books where you can learn some of the lore.

As such, I’ve come to the conclusion that Valkyrie Profile 2’s soundtrack works with everything and just makes everything better. Seriously you should listen to some of the songs whilst playing Skyrim or something, it will make the experience so much better. The fact that it manages to capture such a perfect ambiance to the world makes it so ideal to listen to whilst playing open world RPGs as it enhances the experience of exploration. I listened to the soundtrack of Valkyrie Profile 2 whilst playing Two Worlds 2 and whilst the game was good (at least to me), I doubt the experience would have been the same without the music of Valkyrie Profile 2 playing in the background.

As for the game play. It doesn’t disappoint, like the first game, it is a side scrolling RPG, probably one of the biggest reasons why it got overlooked but it’s part of the series’ charm and couldn’t be ignored. In any case, the visuals more than make up for it.

As with most side scrolling games, Valkyrie Profile 2 experiments with platforming with the use of photons. For the most part, the game’s platforming sections are pretty simplistic and the game tends to focus on thinking rather than reflexes.

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Photons can be used to crystallize enemies to immobilize them, however if you shoot a photon at a crystallized enemy, you will swap places with it. This mechanic is the most common element of the game’s platforming as it revolves around swapping places with enemies to reach certain areas.

If anything, the side scrolling sections are less about platforming and more about puzzle solving. I often joke about how Valkyrie Profile 2 experimented with the portal gun idea before Valve did with their release of Portal as it is essentially the same idea with photons except it uses enemies instead of walls. Overall, the platforming sections are a cool distraction, but the real meat of the game play is in the battles.

Valkyrie Profile 2 keeps the same style of combat as the first game but expands on it greatly. In battle, you are actually able to roam around a 3D battlefield… oh the irony. This opens up a completely new approach to battles and applies more flexibility and depth to them as a whole.

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Like the first game, characters are set to face buttons, they are your choice of attacks. Rather than just giving you a set of special attacks for each character, picking one and letting the computer play the rest, Valkyrie Profile 1 and 2 have you playing as all the characters at the same time and each character represents a certain move set which can be customized at will in Valkyrie Profile 2 (which was limited in the first game). This is where Valkyrie Profile 2 succeeds where other ARPGs fail, the ability to be in control of everything on-screen at all times. So if you make a mistake it’s your fault.

Valkyrie Profile 2’s battle system is unlike any other JRPG and can take a while to get used to. It can also feel quite repetitive at the start but once the training wheels are off and you obtain more characters, the real action starts. Honestly when I replayed the game and just had Alicia and Rufus I felt like the game removed so much. That’s because the combat improves over time but eases you into the basics and you better appreciate that as the game is very deep. Sadly it can put a lot of newcomers off, particularly impatient ones who judge the game at first sight.

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A lot of people say that this game is really hard. I honestly had no trouble playing through this game. It’s a very deep game and you really need to pay attention to the tutorials, get the right skills and understand seal stones as this game requires a lot of preparation. Valkyrie Profile 2’s game play is all about thinking outside the box. Whilst there is some strategy involved during game play, it matters little if your characters are under equipped, you’re going to get a spanking if you’re not prepared.

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Then again, if you do come prepared, you might find the game to be way too easy. This is because Valkyrie Profile 2 is so easily broken, it’s ridiculous. It’s all about knowing how the game works and if you want to play the game the normal way, the difficulty might be tough. However if you’re into power leveling and gearing then this game can seem be a bit too rewarding.

 

“This is where Valkyrie Profile 2 succeeds where other ARPG’s fail, the ability to be in control of everything on-screen at all times. So if you make a mistake it’s your fault”

 

There are a lot of ways to play this game and it can seem a little daunting at first but experimentation is key. Valkyrie Profile 2 is all about finding the best play style for you and maximizing it to its full potential, though it is encouraged to switch on the fly. For this reason, gaining experience matters little in comparison with equipment and skills.

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Each character has their own set of attacks and they learn more of them as they level up. Considering the fact that Valkyrie Profile is not a Tales/Star Ocean game, the move selection in battle is limited (and linear) for each character simply due to the fact that you are controlling everyone in the party (though you can learn the scramble attack skill to mix things up). You’re not picking out moves, you’re picking out characters and developing moves from the characters you like in order to enhance them, you can then change-up their moves later after you’ve developed them, either that or swap them out for a new character and equip that character with the armaments from the other character to make them just as powerful.

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Characters learn skills through battling, the amount of battles required depend on the character’s level. So it’s important to learn new skills as early as possible.

Utilizing all of your character’s skills and abilities is the name of the game here. Most battles revolve around timing your attacks in order to acquire bonus experience via magic crystals as well as increasing your AP reserves via gems which lets you use more attacks. Whereas some characters are best at dealing direct damage, others are better at generating extra hits which can not only help gain more gems and experience crystals but it can also generate more heat allowing you to perform soul crushes which are a signature move each character has which can be chained with other soul crushes to deal a tremendous amount of damage towards the enemy. In addition, the higher your hit count, the higher the damage you deal.

That’s not all, enemies can also lose body parts when they attack in a Monster Hunter esque fashion in the sense that breaking off enemy body parts often rewards you with loot such as accessories which you can use to learn skills and improve stats. Additionally, breaking off certain body parts changes the behavior of the enemy, if you break off their weapon for example, their range will be limited.

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Shopping in Valkyrie Profile 2 is like Monster hunter. Basic armaments can be bought with cash, more powerful items need additional materials to be created. You do however get a return on your materials simply by trading them for OTH.

The biggest reward for breaking however is break mode. Break Mode allows the player to attack freely without expending AP so you can button mash to your heart’s content. The strategy guide mentions that break mode occurs randomly and the rate that is occurs accumulates by 5% per break for each character and the occurrence rate starts at 70%. Pretty deep stuff huh?

Allow Lezard Valeth to demonstrate the many benefits of breaking

It is often important to experiment with different attacks in order to hit a certain body part and acquire certain items early on in the game which can be used to learn skills quickly. This is important if you want to have an easier time with this game.

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Magic is visually spectacular, however many of the enemies have high resistances making mages fall short of other characters in the damage department. Possibly an oversight by the developers.

Visually, the combat is spectacular. The animations are very detailed and encourage a steady flow of combat. Like I mentioned previously, timing your attacks is important and can be very rewarding. However if you miss an attack, it could prove detrimental so it’s important to stay focused on the action, however it never becomes too hectic and can even be somewhat relaxing due to it’s pacing. The soul crushes are also a treat for the eyes and can be extremely satisfying to pull off. All in all, Valkyrie Profile 2’s combat is not only intricate in its mechanics but also in spectacle.

However, Valkyrie Profile 2 offers a variety of features which enhance the possibilities in combat. Sealstones are powerful tools you can use whilst traversing through dungeons to empower or weaken the holder.

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Sealstones can be purchased with Magic Crystals which are rewarded for hitting enemies in a mid air combo in battle. Allowing you to keep them permanently.

By holding a sealstone, the effects of said sealstone are bestowed upon the entire party. As such you may find some sealstones to be detrimental in battle. However if you place it on a dais within the dungeon, all the enemies in the area will be under the effects of the sealstone. Sealstones have multiple uses, you can use them to assist you and you can even use them to deliberately handicap yourself for challenge runs, if that’s what you’re into.

Furthermore, the game has up to 50 difficulty levels which can only unlocked with each play through (complete the game on 1 difficulty, unlock the next difficulty etc). Each difficulty multiplies the enemies stats depending on the difficulty making this game quite possibly one of the most challenging rpg’s out there. If you are a perfectionist you will spend a long time on this game.

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Valkyrie profile 2 also has a bonus dungeon that not only deliberately butchers the game’s storyline (typical tri-Ace trend) but also provides a real challenge for the dedicated players. The bonus dungeon has 5 floors each packed full of mini-bosses and tough super-bosses and lots of loot. Much of the side content takes place here and the developers worked hard despite having limited resources to make it a somewhat interesting bonus dungeon compared to the conventional bonus dungeons many rpg’s implement which tend to be rushed, dry and tedious.

Valkyrie profile 2 carries on the trademark super-bosses of the tri-Ace games as well as adding its own, allowing players to recruit otherwise inaccessible characters in the main story. Sadly most of these characters have already been playable beforehand so you won’t find many surprises here except maybe for one but you’ll have to wait and see.

There is a lot of depth provided by this game’s lore. You can collect einherjar by interacting with weapons littered around dungeons and they will fight for you, essentially giving you another character to control in battle. Each character comes with a bio which can only be read in the status screen, some characters relate to one another, it’s funny when you learn that one of the first einherjar you get is one of Alicia’s ancestors. Now this is one of the game’s biggest controversies and what gives the game so much hate. The first game practically revolved around einherjar which are basically warriors risen from the dead to fight for Odin.

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In Valkyrie Profile, you can view the death scenes of each character during intervals. This is where the game’s abstraction is rooted, a series of short stories involving character deaths who will eventually become a member of your party and from that point on, you never see or hear from them again, except in battle or the sacred phase (which shows brief conversations between characters that aren’t really all that big of a deal and to view them, those characters have to be removed from your party). So essentially Valkyrie Profile had absolutely no character interaction outside the sacred phase and at a certain point you are expected to believe that they have grown attached to her which is total bullshit if you ask me.

Now the second game replaced them with a brief bio and people hated this despite the fact that the einherjar in Valkyrie Profile 2 took a backseat role which to be honest is quite relieving as it allows you to experience a more direct storytelling approach with a bit of character interaction and even though it’s not as deep as other games of the genre, there is some character development to be found here. I do believe the cutscenes do a good enough job, at least enough to motivate the player. People who expect strong character arcs may not find it in Valkyrie Profile 2 (or any JRPG for that matter, go play Warcraft 3 if you want serious storytelling) but it doesn’t make the game any less enjoyable. If you prioritize gameplay and just about everything else over story, then you will adore Valkyrie Profile 2.

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Then again, there is a lot of attention to detail when it comes to the einherjar backstories in Valkyrie Profile 2, it’s just a different kind of approach which requires more reading than watching. If you take the time to read all of the character bio’s in the game, you will find out about a lot of events which occurred many years before Valkyrie Profile 2 and it’s quite interesting to say the least. In fact some of the einherjar are connected and will occasionally share a battle quote with each other relating to their backstory which symbolizes that the einherjar, though backseat characters are actually part of the game’s lore. I personally believe that the attention to detail makes up for the lack of einherjar stories as just like the music, it contributes to the game’s abstraction. it’s obvious that the developers didn’t rush this design choice, it was just changed to reflect on the game’s storyline.

One word that defines the experience of Valkyrie Profile 2 overall is sophistication. Though I have mentioned the visuals previously, I find that sophistication is the core of all aspects of Valkyrie Profile 2. Not only does its focus on history carry a lot of sophistication within itself but just about everything from the subtle yet somewhat simplistic story, the unbelievably sublime soundtrack, the crisp yet somewhat achromatic visual style and even the pacing of battles feels sophisticated as the game encourages times button presses rather than reckless button mashing.

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In fact this game is so sophisticated, it is difficult to believe that it is a tri-Ace game at times considering the fact that many of their games often try to follow a more generic anime style route. I find that Valkyrie Profile as a series stands as tri-Ace’s true claim to fame personally because as enjoyable as the Star Ocean games are, they don’t manage to capture half the depth the Valkyrie Profile games do and each installment seems to follow the same formula… just with a different method of conveying that formula.

Part of what makes the Valkyrie Profile series in general so iconic is the simple fact that it stands out as being sophisticated but the first Valkyrie Profile, despite it’s plot and setting didn’t manage to capture as much sophistication as the sequel simply because of it’s ridiculously flamboyant voice direction, the enjoyably dynamic, yet unsophisticated soundtrack and it’s focus on delivery through exposition, which despite being presented and performed very well, fell flat on its face in the end simply due to the fact that it was not only rushed by the end but it also felt as if they shoved way too much forced exposition down the players throat leaving them confused as to what relevance each and every moment of the game’s story had.

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Valkyrie Profile 2 didn’t have this problem. Whilst Valkyrie Profile was undoubtedly sophisticated to a degree, Valkyrie Profile 2 seemed to have perfected the sophisticated feeling that they were trying to convey in the first game but with a completely different approach. Rather than hurling tonnes and tonnes of exposition down our throats it instead focuses on building up its world and lore through abstraction rather than narrative. In my personal opinion, they did a better job conveying the game’s lore through abstraction rather than exposition.

 

“One word that defines the experience of Valkyrie Profile 2 overall is sophistication”

 

The beauty of Valkyrie Profile 2 being a sequel is that the first Valkyrie Profile already explains so much that they had a lot of room to focus on abstraction. Personally I think they simply took an opportunity and ran with that expecting players to appreciate it. They were sadly wrong for the most part. However I for one can see the beauty in the game’s direction and as a result it made me love the game more than any other.

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“I know you are there… come out and play”

Ultimately though, the storyline can be enjoyable but it doesn’t satisfy all tastes and it’s narrative, though it is enjoyable to a degree feels rather simplistic, though the delivery of the narrative is done in a fashion which befits the sophisticated style of the game. The voice direction is very direct in its approach and the pauses in cutscenes helps tell the story in a clearer fashion rather than coming across as convoluted like the first game. There are a few lip sync issues here and there along with a few other oddities in the cutscenes but they are barely noticeable most of the time and when it is, the voice performances more than make up for it. Those who can appreciate the direction of the narrative and aren’t concerned by the very minor flaws in the game’s story will have a good time whereas those who are dissatisfied with the simplicity and are unable to appreciate the game’s focus on abstraction may find the story quite boring which is understandable.

As such, if we speak from a broad perspective, Valkyrie Profile 2 is the opposite of Warcraft 3, the story is serviceable but the rest is absolutely brilliant. It brings together everything that makes a JRPG experience so enjoyable. I encourage anyone with an ounce of taste in JRPG’s to give it a try, just be sure not to rush through it and take time to appreciate what this game has to offer. Oh and Valkyrie Profile 3 needs to happen, get on that shit tri-Ace, I know you’re busy with Star Ocean 5 but please do not forget this legendary series. Honestly all of the Valkyrie Profile games are legendary though Valkyrie Profile 2 holds that special place in my heart that no other game has. If you’re going to play Valkyrie Profile 2, you may as well play them all, yes that includes Covenant Of The Plume.

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Subtle and sophisticated, Valkyrie Profile 2 is not just your run-of-the-mill JRPG experience, it’s Michelin star quality gaming at its finest and as a result, it deserves a star of its own, a symbol that this game is phenomenal, something which I can easily recommend to all fans of JRPG’s because if you don’t enjoy this game, you’re not a true JRPG fan. As such This game gets my gold star of awesome and I do not give them out lightly. Reviewing a game like this is quite daunting, after all, a game as classy as this deserves a review of equal standards and though that feat is a tough one to meet, It won’t stop me from trying.

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Plot/story: Great

Visuals: Masterful

Music: Masterful

Game play: Exceptional

Lifespan: Decent Length

Worth replaying? Maybe

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Overall score: Masterpiece 

Gold Star Of Awesome

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Value: £40.00+

Purchase Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria (PS2)

Exist Archive: The Other Side Of The Sky Review

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In case you’re wondering what I’ve been busy doing in the past few weeks, I’ve been playing Exist Archive The Other Side Of The Sky, a game developed by tri-Ace. This game is a Japanese import I have been eager to pick up since it was announced last year. Exist Archive presents itself as the spiritual successor to the Valkyrie Profile series, a series which spawned the legendary Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, my favorite game of all time and naturally I have waited for a sequel (or in this case a pseudo sequel) to this wonderful game for years. So does Exist Archive manage to deliver the same amount of quality that Valkyrie Profile 2 managed to capture?

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Well I’m going to get straight to the point and put it bluntly. The answer is unsurprisingly no, it doesn’t. So how much quality does this game deliver to us, the player? Well that’s what we’re going to look into right now aren’t we.

Now before I start I want to make all of you aware that comparing Exist Archive to Valkyrie Profile 2 is just plain unfair. How could I possibly compare such games? I mean, Valkyrie Profile 2 is a masterpiece, how could that game be topped? Oh and I’m not saying that as a close minded idiot who is blinded by nostalgia, I’m saying it as a rational individual who is well aware as to how quality is measured up and I will tell you one thing. Exist Archive doesn’t seem to realize that sometimes, less is more but believe me, if I told you I didn’t get my money’s worth out of it, I’d be lying. Exist Archive is an excellent attempt at not only reviving what seemed to be a dead franchise but also refining it to a degree. It’s one of those games that tries it’s damn hardest to squeeze all the juice it can from what little it has.

Mmm... juicy goodness

Mmm… juicy goodness

However we have to remember that tri-Ace are not independent developer’s like they used to be, they are a subsidiary now. Not only that but all of their games with the exception of maybe Judas Code has been published under other companies, like most game development teams so forgive me for having very little sympathy when I say that Exist Archive could have done a lot better.

Or could it? This is a tough question isn’t it. We now find ourselves in a whole new territory as Japanese publisher Spike Chunsoft has taken the reigns. Now I don’t know very much about Spike Chunsoft (which is probably for the best since most publishers I know are just plain savages towards consumers) aside from the fact that they’ve published handheld games such as Pokemon Mystery Dungeon.

 

“It’s one of those games that tries it’s damn hardest to squeeze all the juice it can from what little it has”

 

However with this new, lesser known publisher at the helm, it is very difficult to set our expectations high for lesser known publishers tend to be financially unstable. As a result, to expect a localization for this game is absolute fucking bonkers so I bought it off of Play Asia anyways so that I could take a gander for myself and write this review in hopes that I could re-live the experiences of the Valkyrie Profile series once more.

So before I get on with the more intricate points in the review, I want to briefly cover the story. Now first of all, I don’t understand a single word of Japanese and although some of the cutscenes manages to make me chuckle somehow, I still don’t really get what’s going on. However this is not to the game’s detriment rather it is my own detriment. As such I can’t really recommend this game as a whole to those who cannot speak the language.

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The premise (from what I can tell) seems to be the JRPG equivalent of a fantasy world reality TV show which throws a bunch of school kids (and a few older folks) into a fantasy world where they must survive the harsh wilderness infested with monsters designed to look like cutesy chibi plushies (well… some of them). Take this for what you will but I cannot deny that it’s quite an original story concept for a JRPG, somewhat ambitious one could say.

Nevertheless, I find the execution of the early game plot to be somewhat repetitive as it revolves around a recurring plot device known as existence crystals and you will have to collect them in order to move on with the plot. Even though the plot is pretty bog standard and repetitive early on, there are plenty of scenes involving character interaction throughout the game to keep things fresh. Much like in the original Valkyrie Profile, Exist Archive doesn’t focus too much on its over-arching plot but unlike Valkyrie Profile there is plenty of character interaction to be had and you can learn more about the characters over the course of the game.

Now there is a bit of abstract in the game’s story. It seems they took a page from Valkyrie Profile 2’s book which is admirable. There are optional existence crystals you can interact with in dungeons for some extra dialogue revolving around what appears to be flashbacks of the other characters. A rather innovative and ambitious attempt at developing the characters for sure though as to how well it does, I cannot say. It is nice that they’re there though and they appear on your collections screen.

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Existence Crystals are essentially the JRPG equivalent of audio logs though to be honest I think it’s mostly used as a replacement for Valkyrie Profile 2’s einherjar. They are also fully voiced through the PS4’s controller. An interesting idea for sure though I kinda feel sorry for those who want to record footage of the game. Nevertheless you have gotta give it to the developers for making the effort as these scenes don’t seem to be half-baked.

So overall, regardless of my feelings of the game’s story as a whole, I’m going to abstain from making any judgments on it due to my complete and utter lack of understanding of the Japanese language. I do apologize if this bothers you but at least you know whether or not it’s worth importing or not if you don’t understand Japanese.

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Visually the game is quite stunning, once again they have taken a page from Valkyrie Profile 2’s book with this one. The level of detail in many of the locations is staggering. The backdrops are also incredible to look at. The enemy designs are quite unusual. One of the enemies looks like Solo from the new Strider, another enemy looks like Ardjet from Zone Of The Enders. There are quite a few enemy designs despite many people’s complaints. Some are better looking than others.

Exist Archive suffers from what I like to call Final Fantasy II syndrome, no I’m not talking about the repeated usage of spells to make them stronger and level up, I’m talking about the shameless re-usage of enemies. Like one minute you’re in a boss fight against an enemy, the next minute that boss fight becomes a regular enemy in future encounters, usually re-skinned.

In fact I was shaking in fear once I saw the enemy that looked like Solo in a regular battle as that guy kicked my sorry ass when I fought him the first time. Then I kicked his ass and I wondered how he had gotten so weak. Needless to say, he was just a re-used asset. Well Tales Of Phantasia did it too and I didn’t complain so I don’t think it’s too much of an issue.

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The biggest problem with Exist Archive’s visuals are the character models. Though to be honest we are digging knee-deep into the realm of controversy when we talk about this. A lot of people shunned this game at launch for its Xbox Live Avatar compatibility. I don’t know why people showed such disdain at this somewhat innovative feature which allowed me to bring my now short-white haired Xbox live Ava- oh wait… this is PS4 isn’t it? How!? Sony, you have a lot to answer for, you stole Microsoft’s idea didn’t you! On second thoughts… why am I rooting for Moneysoft when I despise them so much?

In all seriousness, let us take time to celebrate the long-awaited return of big head mode! Remember those times where you could enter a cheat into the game and when you activated it your character’s head was puffed up like a balloon? Well tri-Ace saved us the trouble and gave us this feature right off the bat. Thanks tri-Ace, you know what we gamer’s want. I’m not going to touch on the character models any further because… well I don’t mind them. Do you know why? Because I don’t nitpick every single little tiny thing about a videogame and base my judgement solely on it! You got that? Good, let’s move on.

It's morphin' time!

It’s morphin’ time!

The music in Exist Archive feels somewhat unusual compared with Motoi Sakuraba’s usual work and this is definitely not a bad thing. There are some nice tracks in there, some even reminiscent of Valkyrie Profile 2’s style. The music that plays in the main hub area at the top of the tower is very relaxing. The dungeon music seems to follow the first Valkyrie Profile’s style in the sense that is dynamic and somewhat catchy.

The only issue I have with the game’s soundtrack is… well, there’s just not enough of it. The bonus soundtrack that came with the game has 11 tracks in it, that’s almost half the number of tracks found in the game itself. This is quite worrying. However quality over quantity comes to mind here and I will say for what it’s worth, the soundtrack is very enjoyable nonetheless.

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Speaking of quality over quantity, this game doesn’t seem to realize when enough is enough when it comes to filler content. I swear you will go through so many dungeons in this game and since the dungeons themselves are mostly re-skins of other dungeons, this can quickly become quite dull at times.

Now to add to this, it is also impossible to save inside a dungeon, rather the game expects you to get through it in one sitting. This can be a bit of a pain for those who have OCD when it comes to fighting every single enemy in the dungeon without a break and after doing it for a significant amount of time, it does get quite tiring after a while. Heck I still haven’t finished this game yet whilst writing this.

You can leave the dungeon at any time but if you do...

You can leave the dungeon at any time but if you do…

However I decided to make a start on this review and finish it off when I have finished the game. By the time this review is up, I will have already finished it, so bear in mind that I never review unfinished games… OK, I lied, I did it once with Warhammer 40K Space Marine but I got to the last boss in that game and could never beat him. I promise not to do so again if I can help it. In any case, this game has a lot of content available and it can be daunting to try and get through it all.

Now to end this review on a high note, the gameplay of Exist Archive is where I really start singing praises. Exist Archive’s battle system is reminiscent of the original Valkyrie Profile but with a few ideas from Valkyrie Profile 2 thrown in there too (thank god they brought back the AP gauge, praise be to tri-Ace).

Like Valkyrie Profile, the battle system is turned based and the characters attack using the face buttons. You control every character on the field and can press the menu button (options) to use certain spells and items. Sound similar to Valkyrie Profile doesn’t it? Well the similarities end there.

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Rather than focusing on comboing enemies, Exist Archive’s battle system is more strategic and forces you to think more. Though it may lack the flashiness of Valkyrie Profile 2’s combat system, it makes up for with it’s simple, yet somewhat intricate combat system which manages to keep players on their toes. There is so much to like about Exist Archive’s battle system and so much to cover, so let’s get straight to business.

First I’d like to touch on the differences between Valkyrie Profile and Exist Archive’s battle system and this lies in the enemy placement and the weapon range. Enemies are all bunched up together. Some are more further apart from others, some are stronger than others. The gauge on the bottom left hand side of the screen (the one shaped like red diamonds) is the demon’s greed gauge. To fill it up you have to attack enemies, just like the heat gauge in Valkyrie Profile.

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Unlike Valkyrie Profile however, the demon’s greed gauge isn’t drained when you’re not attacking so rather than focusing on chaining your combo’s your focus is to target either specific enemies or groups of enemies and deal the most hits and damage.

Attacking multiple enemies simultaneously can help build up your demon’s greed faster however it may be important to target specific enemies first, particularly if they are spiked enemies who deal damage to melee. As such, each battle requires a different approach in order to bring in the best results.

Your tactical choice can depend on your setup. Exist Archive is probably the first game of its kind to offer a class system. Yes, much like Final Fantasy V your characters can change classes with other characters by gaining affection with said characters. Gaining affection works similar to private actions in the Star Ocean series… but without the private actions.

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The more you battle with people, the higher your affection grows. Eventually once your affection is high enough you will be able to share skills between your party. This is extremely handy as unlike Valkyrie Profile 2 where you had to grind for skills. In this game you pick a skill for each character and once their affection is high enough, everyone will learn each other’s skill. Pretty neat if you ask me.

Each class has its ups and downs and it’s up to the player to find the right synergy, much like Valkyrie Profile 2. Swords are well-balanced weapons, they’re pretty fast and cover a wide area though their damage is pretty average. Katana’s deal heavy damage to enemies but cover a shorter range than swords, their attacks vary in speed and their attacks require precision to get the most out of them. Whips however cover a very wide area and can also deal multiple hits to enemies, they’re great for gaining heat but they’re not very powerful.

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In addition to melee weapons, there are ranged weapons. These are mostly gun-based classes and are used to attack enemies from afar. This can be useful for breaking an enemy’s guard with a barrage of hits allowing you to avoid getting intercepted. They can also be useful at hitting spiked enemies as they won’t take damage when attacking unlike melee.

Mage classes are based on multiple elements. These are fire, ice, wind and lightning. Fire magic deals the most damage to single targets, wind magic is often best for dealing with multiple enemies. Lightning mages deal decent damage but also have de-buffs which can be handy. Ice mages have buffs and are mostly single target casters like fire mages.

Your current setup not working out for you? Time for a class change.

Your current setup not working out for you? Time for a class change!

You can’t rely on a single class type throughout the entire game, you will need to experiment with multiple class combinations and find what works for you. The class change system allows you to bring your favorite characters into the party and change their class on the fly, keeping their levels and demons greed. The class system could be seen as detrimental to those who want the characters to have more individuality but if that doesn’t bother you, it’s a pretty cool addition.

Once you reach a certain point in the game you are able to access a new feature called greed mode. I love greed mode, more games should have greed mode. Heck I think games should also provide the same level of empowerment and challenge that greed mode offers. Rather than forcing players to grind for power leveling, greed mode gives a higher rate of chain encounters. This means you have one long battle of up to 5 encounters stacked on top of one another.

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You can make this faster than simply fighting multiple battles by conserving your AP and demon’s greed for the next battle which allows you to end it quicker. At the end of the battle gauntlet, you are given bonus experience for your efforts, the higher the chain encounter, the more xp you acquire.

This can make you very powerful very quickly without the need to grind. Sadly this doesn’t manage to completely counteract my OCD when it comes to fighting every single enemy in my path. Nevertheless it is a wonderful addition to the game which more games should employ. Consider it a revamped version of Star Ocean 4’s bonus board but better in every way.

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However greed mode isn’t all fun and games. Once you are in greed mode, you are unable to heal up your party with spells/items. So you will have to survive a gauntlet of monsters without healing making it kinda like a risk/reward gimmick. It can make battles a lot more exhilarating though when you know there are more battles to come and you have to survive them all by taking minimal damage. One way to reduce damage is by guarding.

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Guarding in Exist Archive is extremely important, unlike Baten Kaitos and Eternal Sonata however, you do not have to time it perfectly. Instead Guards last for a certain period of time and continue until you are guard braked. When you are guard braked you may re-instigate the guard but only at the cost of AP. So you have to guard sparingly as it otherwise will cost you precious AP which you can use to get demon’s greed.

However Guarding proves especially useful for farming drops as there is yet another feature in the game’s battle system. The risk gauge. Your risk gauge is depicted as a number in a similar fashion to the d-ratio in Breath Of Fire Dragon Quarter. When you accumulate red gems, instead of replenishing charge time or replenishing AP, red orbs increase the drop rate of items through the risk gauge. The better you time your attacks and combo your enemies well, the higher the risk you obtain as well as the chance to gain drops.

This replaces Valkyrie Profile 2’s breaking feature which was awesome but sadly it’s no longer present in this game. Regardless, the risk gauge will carry over between battles. As such it feels even closer to the bonus board from Star Ocean 4 in the sense that if you get hit by an attack you didn’t block or get intercepted by a guarding enemy, you have a chance to get a bonus break which reduces your risk gauge and also any magic crystal XP gains to zero which you don’t want to happen.

With proper timing, you are able to intercept enemy attacks by guarding.

With proper timing, you are able to intercept enemy attacks by guarding.

As such you are encouraged to block quite often in Exist Archive, however not all attacks can be blocked through normal means. Magic attacks and breath attacks can pierce your blocks. I’m not sure but I think I heard there was a skill that allowed you to block magic attacks but I’m not all that sure as I couldn’t read the Japanese text properly. Just something to keep in mind.

 

 

“The better you time your attacks and combo your enemies well, the higher the risk you obtain as well as the chance to gain drops”

 

So all in all, the risk gauge and greed mode manages to keep players on their toes in battle and makes battles all the more intense and rewarding. In addition to drop rate increase, by increasing your risk gauge to a high enough percentage, you are also eligible for title drops. These drops are enhanced versions of regular drops which have additional factors and bonuses.

There are two tiers of these drops, title and title rank. Title rank is simply a better version of a title drop as it enhances stats or applies extra factors to your equipment to make it more powerful. As such, it’s rather satisfying and quite rewarding to get new drops. Better yet, unlike Valkyrie Profile, the weapons actually have cosmetic alterations too which is cool.

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The skill system of Exist Archive is reminiscent of the first Valkyrie Profile as it allows you to put points into skills rather than learning from equipment runes like in Valkyrie Profile 2. The skills themselves however are rather interesting. Rather than simply boosting stats, skills can be used to alter certain actions in battle. Each skill is split into categories and you can equip 1 skill in each category. For example, defensive skills alter your guarding ability and offensive skills add modifiers to certain attacks to give them extra hits etc.

Shopping in Exist Archive works like Valkyrie Profile. This would be rather sad if it wasn’t for the premise of the game. As such, it makes sense that they wouldn’t include conventional shops like other RPGs. Instead you shop in the main hub where you can buy items from Amatsume using a currency you gain from selling items you acquire from enemies (AMP). The items you can buy are mostly potions and usually outdated equipment. I kinda find shopping to be pointless in this game aside from replenishing your potion supply but at least it gives you a place to dump all your unneeded loot which is nice considering the fact that there is an inventory cap.

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Seriously of all the games to do this, why does a game like Exist Archive have an inventory limit? It’s just annoying to have to constantly be removing items from my inventory after every battle just to fit new ones in. Can’t we just have a bottomless inventory like most RPGs? I mean why does this game of all things try to be realistic when it comes to inventory storage when it has you fighting dancing plushies which explode on contact and pull out giant pots which shoot bullets at you right out of their mouths? It’s nothing more than a painful ordeal that I tire of having to constantly deal with.

Anyways back to the battle system. Like I mentioned before, you can stack up to 4 demon’s greed attacks (one for each character) and they can be activated by pressing the L2 button at any moment during an attack. Your demon’s greed is reset after every battle. However like I mentioned before, your demon’s greed gauge doesn’t reset after a combo so you can save it for when you need it, should you choose to do so. As such, unlike in Valkyrie Profile, you cannot chain your special attacks if you only have 1 crystal lit up as you can only use 1 character’s special attack. However if you rise it to 4 crystals (which is maximum) you can use all 4 of your characters attacks in any order you choose.

This can be really handy in chain encounters as it doesn’t reset after each wave. Oh and in case you didn’t already realize, yes your demon’s greed attacks are essentially the replacement of soul crushes/purify weird soul attacks from the Valkyrie Profile series and whilst they aren’t as flashy as Valkyrie Profile 2’s soul crushes, they’re still pretty cool to look at. I love how all the special attacks summon part of the god’s power stored inside each character.

Button mashing is fun... but Namero takes it a bit too far...

Button mashing is fun… but Namero takes it a bit too far…

Combat aside, the game’s platforming sections are handled quite well in this game. As you progress through the story, you will unlock more actions you can use to reach certain areas in the map (as well as other features found throughout the game).

The platforming seems to follow Valkyrie Profile 2’s style but rather than using photons to solve puzzles, Exist Archive allows you to transform enemies into come kind of boost mechanism, kinda like the cannon barrels in Donkey Kong which shoot you in the direction you choose.

Wheeee!

Wheeee!

Ultimately, the gameplay for me was the most stand-out feature in Exist Archive and that is never a bad thing. It’s a shame I was unable to truly experience the game to its fullest especially considering the story-driven nature of this game. I can only hope that this game was successful enough to warrant localizing it later down the line. There are so many scenes that looked interesting but because I couldn’t understand what was going on in them, I feel like I only played through half of a game which probably damaged my review in the process.

One thing to be aware of though is that this game is very prone to crashing/freezing. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the game had save points in dungeons. However this can cause you to lose a lot of progress which can be very frustrating especially since many of the dungeons in later portions of the game can be very long and time-consuming. Not the best combination and it is the one thing holding this game back from getting an Excellent rating from me.

Nevertheless, this game has given me a lot to write about and although the budget constraints have caused to fall short in some areas, I still think it stands up as an enjoyable RPG and a great homage to the Valkyrie Profile series. If anything, this game is a message to Square-Enix telling them that Valkyrie Profile is far from dead and that they should continue it.

Say YES to Valkyrie Profile 3!

Say YES to Valkyrie Profile 3! Wait… hold on, did he just speak…

I strongly recommend this game if you can understand Japanese and enjoyed Valkyrie Profile. If you cannot understand Japanese and are intrigued by the gameplay, I’d say it’s worth a try too as I got my money’s worth out of it. If you’re not a fan of Valkyrie Profile and can’t speak Japanese, I doubt you’ll care to pick up this game and no matter how much I try to convince you to, If you can’t understand Japanese, there’s no point.

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Story/plot: Satisfactory

Visuals: Great

Music: Great

Gameplay: Excellent

Lifespan: Decent Length (but most of it is filler)

Would You Replay? Maybe

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Overall: Great

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Value: £40.00+

Purchase Exist Archive: Other Side of Sky

Tales Of Phantasia Review

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Well this is a long time coming, I finished the game ages ago but I was too bummed out to do a review afterwards. In case you’re curious, I played the Dejap SFC version and believe me, its the best translation.

Playing Tales Of Phantasia has been an experience without a doubt, an experience that has taught me many things about RPGs and tri-Ace alike. I would consider this game a must play for any
Tales or tri-Ace fan but with that said, the experience you get from this game may be mixed. I will enlighten some of these points in my review.

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For starters, lets look at the premise of Tales Of Phantasia or should I say, the story. Tales Of Phantasia is a very ambitious storyline which suffers from archaic plot devices with lackluster execution but offers a somewhat interesting twist to the usual JRPG romp by establishing a somewhat interesting universe which could have been more than it turned out to be.

Though this just happens to be a continuation from Tales Of Symphonia Dawn Of The New World timeline wise, it feels kinda more like a prelude to what could have been an epic series. In fact it hit me the moment when I reached the city on the eastern continent and viewed that scene. I knew what I saw in that scene and what I saw was tri-Ace as they are now. It would seem that the Wolf Team were planning something big with Tales Of Phantasia, a whole series continuing the timeline and unfolding an epic universe with potentially an epic storyline… but instead we got a prequel which felt a bit too similar to Tales Of Phantasia, moreso a massive nod to the series, similar to what Star Ocean 4 did to Star Ocean 1.

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There are so many things you hear about in Tales Of Phantasia and it makes you want to learn more but the game’s plot felt half-baked. I honestly feel like we were playing only half a game… or maybe they were trying to build up a sequel… wait they did make a sequel, well sorta. It’s my favourite game of all time (well the second one at least). It all made sense now. tri-Ace pulled an Exist Archive on Tales Of Phantasia but they split it into two games. Those games being Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile, these were tri-Aces legacy but Tales Of Phantasia is where it all began.

Though technically a Namco game by right, this was a tri-Ace game by heart. You could tell this was a tri-Ace game with the whole long/short-range attacks and the fact that the entire interface and style mimics Star Ocean. This game was the foundation for all the tri-Ace games we have grown to love but not only that, it was the foundation to pretty much all JARPG’s (unless you count Secret Of Mana which was similar but very different and ultimately felt more like a Final Fantasy game than anything). Pretty much every action JRPG is built on this game’s foundation as such it’s the pioneer of the Japanese ARPG genre.

So Tales Of Phantasia has a lot of acclaim under its belt but what does it do to earn this praise? Well I can’t speak as a gamer of today but if we transport ourselves back to the early 90’s where the only ARPG’s around were Secret Of Mana and the Soul Blazer series (which were more like action puzzlers if you ask me), Tales Of Phantasia really stood out for its style. It was the first ARPG which didn’t feel like a Squaresoft game or a Zelda game. It instead opted to be different from the competitors in order to attract attention. If we look at gaming today, we can see that Tales Of Phantasia has outlived them in terms of its legacy.

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I don’t want to go in too deep with the story but I will say that it’s one of those stories you’ve likely seen before in some form but you probably won’t see it quite like this. Think Grandia 2 when I say this, only a lot more primitive. This game has a charm to it that separates itself from the other games of its time, something only tri-Ace could do. In fact, this game doesn’t really feel much like a Tales game at all, there aren’t any skits or anything you would consider to be “Tales”, if anything it felt more like Chrono Trigger/Secret Of Mana combined into one. This game has everything you would expect from a JRPG released in the early 90’s.

One of the things that took my interest immediately was the opening music. Whilst it wasn’t dubbed in english (unlike the strange intro of Star Ocean) it was pretty incredible to hear vocalized music coming out of a SFC game, something many games have adopted these days. While I’m not much of a fan of JPOP, I have to credit them for making this possible on such a dated system, there’s just something mysteriously alluring about hearing the primitive voice recordings on an SFC. It felt less of a Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest clone and more of a unique anime-like style RPG whilst not forgetting the preceding RPG games as it is quite clearly inspired by such games.

This looks awfully familiar... Well I suppose every mana tree has it's secrets.

This looks awfully familiar… Well I suppose every mana tree has it’s secrets.

To be honest, to call this game the core of every JRPG I love wouldn’t be too far off, though there would be a few exceptions, Tales Of Phantasia is the game that established many of the games I love today and as such, it earns my respect regardless.

As for playing the game yourself, if you go into this game with a more modern mindset, you’ll probably find yourself getting bored with all the currently archaic elements this game has and whilst this is true for pretty much all games released in the 90’s, this game sticks out like a saw thumb in the archaic department.

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Being the pioneer of the many games I love, it’s unsurprising that this game is so primitive. The characters line up in battle which causes movement issues, since your movement is restricted constantly. Tales Of Phantasia, like many early Japanese ARPG’s feels like a stunlock fest but it’s definitely a good one. However with this said, it can also prove to be bothersome as the movement issues tend to give you some trouble in boss fights. However the main thing to be concerned here is not the comboing, blocking or dodging like in most ARPG’s these days but with picking the best attacks for the job.

Comparing it to Star Ocean on the SFC, the combat is very different as it focuses more of elemental attacks and conventional JRPG strategy whereas Star Ocean is more about positioning yourself and picking the right attack string for the situation as you can manually move anywhere (though not directly with the d-pad, rather you control a cursor which position’s you). However the premise is very similar. You have special attacks and regular attacks at both long/short-range and whilst regular attacks have a bit more focus in this game, they don’t really amount too much.

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I was a bit peeved that the only character worth controlling was Cless and as much as you basically have to control pretty much everyone manually (due to some AI issues), you don’t really feel like you can play with different styles unlike Star Ocean which was a shame. Cless is pretty versatile though and has a lot of cool moves and different weapons but Chester… he’s kinda useless and boring, the rest of the cast are all… you guessed it, casters. This was fixed in later versions where they added a new character to balance things out.

There are quite a few side quests about, I didn’t bother with many of them though but some of them are pretty interesting and just enhance the game’s story more as well as the game’s world. If I could devote more time to this game, I might have done so but I tend to rush through most game’s these days.

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The visuals, whilst not as lush as Star Ocean’s are still rather nice, typical SNES stuff mostly, if you’ve played Seiken Densetsu 3 you’ll probably be in familiar territory here though I personally find Seiken Densetsu 3 to look better from what I’ve played (in fact that game looks more like Star Ocean to me). Still the good ol’ fashioned 16 bit top down world map never gets old.

The music was obviously composed by Motoi Sakuraba, who else would it be? Mickey Mouse? I mean, this is the game that pioneered practically 80% of games he composed for (basically everything except Golden Sun and Dark Souls). His soundtrack in this, whilst not completely as memorable as Star Ocean’s has some quirky ones to say the least. To say that this was the first soundtrack he ever did for a Japanese ARPG, it’s pretty unique and somewhat captivatingly magical… but not on the same level of Valkyrie Profile 2 of course.

However one song that really stuck out to me was the piano solo which was played at the adventurers guild which was played by none other than Motoi Sakuraba himself. He is actually a character in the game. That pretty much sums up just how important this game is to not only me, not only the fans but also the creators themselves. This is the game where Motoi Sakuraba made his mark and he is immortalized in this game for a reason.

Now that's my kinda music right there...

Now that’s my kinda music right there…

This game was developed out of passion and though it may be a series that has moved on since, it’s hard to consider Tales Of Phantasia to be a Tales game, it doesn’t belong to Namco, it belongs to no one because if tri-Ace can’t have it, no one can and whilst Namco themselves might disagree, they’ve yet to prove that they are worthy of owning the rights to this game because as it stands, this game is not only the centerpiece for the Tales series, it is the centerpiece for tri-Ace and practically every single game Motoi Sakuraba has ever composed for.

So whilst this may not be much of a review, let it be understood that whether you like this game or not, I urge you to play it just to experience it yourself if you consider yourself to be a fan of Tales, tri-Ace, tri-Crescendo and pretty much any Japanese ARPG in general. As for whether you enjoy it or not depends on your standards, if you really dislike archaic games, you probably won’t enjoy this, however if you’re open to these kind of games or are new to the genre, you might appreciate it more.

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Ultimately though, it is what it is and nothing can change that. At least I can safely say that this game has a lot of unique charm that is a nice change from most 16 bit JRPGs but to compare it with Star Ocean, I’m afraid I’ll have to give it to Star Ocean to be honest as that game tried a lot of cool new concepts whereas Tales Of Destiny focused on expanding current concepts.

Then again that basically sums up the difference between tri-Ace and Namco’s Tales team as developers, tri-Ace aim to innovate and tinker with new ideas, Namco aim to expand on current ideas to refine them to the best they can be. Regardless this game is the centerpiece of it all and it’s wonderful to see just how much it managed to accomplish in the long run, despite it’s shortcomings.

Who is the mysterious man of mystery? Which mysterious man of mystery is the real mysterious man of mystery? Or is that just another mystery?

Who is the mysterious man of mystery? Which mysterious man of mystery is the real mysterious man of mystery? Or is that just another mystery?

In general, Tales Of Phantasia is a good game but it hasn’t aged well. The archaic combat system of this game is unacceptable to today’s standards but if you’re just looking to re-live some of the series’ history or are wanting to see where many of the best ARPG’s began, you might want to give this a go, it’s definitely a worthwhile experience.
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Story/Plot: Decent
Presentation: Good
Gameplay: So-So
Music: Great
Lifespan: Decent length
Would you replay? No
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Overall: Satisfactory

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Value: £25.00