Akiba's Beat

May 16
Posted by Mark at 13:45

Following on from the provocatively-titled Akiba's Trip, Akiba's Beat brings us back to Japan's nerd-Vegas Akihabara, where, on a random Sunday, some massive speakers have appeared on the side of the train station. Nobody, mind you, seems to have noticed, save for Asahi Tachinaba- protagonist and inevitable NEET- and one other person who seems far too happy about the matter.

It's in front of the speakers where he meets Saki Hoshino, another one who is able to see the speakers, and her familiar Pinkun, the most annoying thing in the world. She explains that the speakers are the manifestation of the delusion of someone nearby- specifically, the overexcited man from earlier, who is pining for the earlier days of Akihabara, when it was a hub for audiophiles to pick up equipment, rather than the videogames and anime place it is now.


When the source of a Delusion is found, a door to their Delusionscape appears- a dungeon, if you like, to the overworld of Akihabara- and at the end of the Delusionscape is a boss which must be defeated in order to snap the individual (or "Deluser") out of their Delusion, and return Akihabara to its proper state.

With that Delusion cleared up, the day comes to an end, and everybody goes back home. The next day, however, is Sunday again, and there's another Delusion on the other side of town. Asahi and Saki team up again to get to the bottom of the appearances of the Delusions, and see if that's got anything to do with the days repeating.

The design of the Delusionscapes are closer to those found in dungeon crawlers- boxes full of enemies connected by corridors- and don't really offer a great deal to explore or even experience, something which is made all the more obvious by them being simply platforms floating in space, making the limited scope of the dungeons very clear.

Combat is action-focused, with the players' party transporting to a closed arena to fight an arbitrary number of monsters. Standard attacks clock up Skill Points which are spent on more powerful Skills, unlocked by levelling up and triggered by a flick of an analogue stick and tapping the Skill button. A limited number of Action Points also limit you to four actions before having to step out of the way for a short period. While it's hardly going to give Souls or any 'proper' fighting games any sleepless nights, it does make it a little bit more involved than just bash-bash-bash.

Blows that land fill the Imagine Meter, which can be deployed when complete for a short period of hightened attack power- a song can be selected to replace the background music, and hits made in time with the music during the verse increase the damage done when the chorus comes around.

There's also missed potential in the game not supporting multiplayer, as the Action Points could lead to some fun couch co-op teamwork situations, especially as more Skills unlock.

The questlines which take you from Delusionscape to Delusionscape are less interesting, however. These tend to involve little more than running from one end of Akihabara to the other to hear a small amount of dialogue, before running back to hear a bit more, then somewhere else for a tiny bit more, before the game relents and lets you access the next Delusionscape- this is exacerbated by the time loop narrative meaning that often the same thing has to be cycled through a few times in order to unlock the associated Delusionscape.

Sidequests which pop up in between milestones in the main quests don't fare any better, being the same but without the relief of a Delusionscape, or at least no new ones of their own.


The Akihabara of Akiba's Beat is an incredibly small number of anonymous, built up streets, lacking in any meaningful landmarks beyond two large empty spaces, one of which makes up nearly half the overworld. The area is too small to be Grand Theft Auto's Liberty City, and each area- seperated by loading screens- isn't differentiated enough to be The World Ends With You's Shibuya. It might be faithful to the real location, but in practice it just means you spend all your time getting very lost and abusing fast travel to get from place to place- this makes it even more like an exercise in admin than an adventure.

(Acquire also weren't able to licence the shops and adverts in the town, which you probably won't notice unless you're really invested, with only one name really relating to a company you'd have heard of in the West)

The plot, which takes you from Delusionscape to Delusionscape, also takes in the many subcultures Akihabara has played host to from its current love for idol singers, to less recent maid cafes and gothic lolita fashion trends, spending some time with each individual Deluser and showcasing what gives each of the subcultures its appeal- while still being able to take a friendly pop at them, even if it does tend to think it's a lot funnier than it is.

As such, each different Delusionscape brings its own thing to the table- not only does each one have a new setting, the change in art style reflecting the current Delusion, but also adds a new mechanic, even if these are things as simple as 'dead ends' and 'doors'. The wider game is also good at adding new things as you go along, introducing sidequests and later a trading card system to boost your stats. Even if those things aren't as original as they could be, there's always something new around the corner.

Ultimately a lot of Akiba's Beat is going to pass straight by a lot of people- what you're going to get out of this really relates to how into your otakudom you are, and even then how much you want to go around an off-brand version of Akihabara. If you do, it's certainly a perfectly enjoyable game, and you'll get a lot out of the setting, but it's a tougher sell to anybody who's not into the virtual tourism.

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What Remains of
Edith Finch
May 02
Posted by Ben at 14:18

What Remains of Edith Finch is by Giant Sparrow, the people behind The Unfinished Swan, which was inventive and clever. What Remains of Edith finch is shorter, denser, and feels less like a collection of chapters bundled together, and more like a cohesive narrative

It's a narrative game, not a huge amount in the way of gameplay other than finding which objects you can interact with. You've returned to the family house, which is almost like a Tim Burton bit of architecture, all your family has died off, often in tragic or strange circumstances, and so your mother took Edith and abandoned the house hoping to leave whatever "curse" has beset your family. You wander through the house, discovering the stories of your ancestor's lives, and sometimes deaths

All your ancestorís rooms are locked, so you have to find a way in, itís usually fairly simple and one room generally leads to another, and each room has its own vignette or story. The vignettes are brilliant. Some are shorter than others, but some really are fantastic, or fantastical, inventive, joyous, and every so often, heartbreaking. You can see the legacy of Unfinished Swan in there, but I was also reminded of That Dragon Cancer, and while it's a horrible thing to say about a game that's as raw and honest as That Dragon Cancer, but Edith Finch does it better, even if it doesn't have the same weight behind it

Thereís a brightness and charm to What Remains of Edith Finch, one I wasnít expecting given the tone. Itís a love letter rather than a suicide note. It really does feel as though the characterís lives are being remembered rather than their deaths, itís whimsical at points. It looks great too, at points I was genuinely surprised by how good it looked. There's some moments where it's just that the fidelity is amazing, maybe it's running at a higher resolution on the Pro, but there's other moments, an underwater section in particular, that just have superb art design. There are a few rough edges, repeated objects, the game loading in on the periphery of your vision, and some pop in when zooming in to distances, but on the whole itís a very well put together game.

As always with this sort of game, itís incredibly subjective. Whether you like What Remains of Edith Finch will depend on if the story grabs you, if youíre fine with minimal gameplay, and, of course, if you think the price tag is worth the brief experience. What I can say though is that I thoroughly enjoyed What remains of Edith Finch, more than I expected to after the first vignette, and while itís not a sure thing for everyone, itís a game that will stay with me
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Hue

Apr 08
Posted by Ben at 14:50

We could have reviewed Hue a while back, back on its PC release we were offered it, but we didnít have the time unfortunately. Itís nice then that going back to it, buying it with my own money, and playing it because I wanted to, has revealed Hue to be a fantastic little game.

Hue is a puzzle platformer, a 2d indie puzzle platformer if you can imagine such a thing. It tells the story of a young boy named Hue, his mum is a brilliant scientist who has discovered a colour beyond the visible spectrum, and has unfortunately lost herself within it. The story is told through letters that sheís left for Hue, and act pretty much as the beginning of chapters. The story is centred on her struggles as a scientist, her regrets, and her realisations. Itís a strange one, thanks to the superb soundtrack (itís really is a standout), the first half of the game feels morose, and I spent that period waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the tragedy to reveal itself. It never really happens, Hue is actually a charming game, relatively philosophical, but itís not as heavy as it initially appeared.

The gameplay is whatís important in Hue, and fortunately it more than stands up. As you progress through the world you systematically pick up colours. Hue can use these colours to change the world around him, meaning things hidden in a blue background will show up in another colour, obstacles or traps or one colour can be made to vanish if you match their colour. In simple terms, expect moments where you have to make a jump and while in midair switch the colour to provide you with a platform to land on. As you progress youíll encounter elements that alter the colour of objects, meaning you have to start thinking on multiple levels rather than just simple timing or block moving puzzles

And thatís Hueís strength, it keeps providing you with something new to think about. ITís very easy initially, instead forcing you to get to grips with switching colours on the move, but it doesnít dwell on a puzzle set for too long, nor does it repeat ideas all that often. The difficulty is pitched almost perfectly too. Thereís definitely a slightly turbulent feel to your progress, youíll be stuck on a taxing puzzle for a while, then race through the next few. Generally though very little of it seems unsolvable. Thereís no hint system, but, and maybe I got lucky, I never really needed it, playing about with the mechanics, trying and failing, would invariably reveal the next step.

It is a criticism I would level at Hue, up until fairly close to the end itís almost immaculately balanced, then it throws a couple of puzzles at you that involve mechanics that havenít been the focus up until then. Iím sure some people will race through the levels that had me stumped without a problem, then get stuck on the ones I tore through, everyoneís different after all, but it was a moment where I could have done with a hint within the game. Thereís a slight feeling that Hue outstays its welcome, actually maybe thatís unfair, more that the structured pacing of the game is discarded towards the end. Up until then youíve picked up a colour, then done a chunk of levels, before picking up another. It feels like the game should end 1 set of levels after picking up the final colour, but it continues well beyond that.

Not that Hue is a long game, maybe 4 hours or so, plus thereís some hidden items to find if thatís the sort of thing that motivates you. For the most part though I loved Hue, I wish the emotional connection I felt I should be having and the gameís narrative had managed to connect somewhere along the way, but aside from that Hue is a masterfully put together game, a real standout amongst itís indie-puzzle-platformer peers.
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The Inner World

Apr 03
Posted by Mark at 15:23

Ahead of the imminent sequel- subtitled The Last Wind Monk- Headup Games have brought Studio Fizbin's The Inner World to console.

There has been a disaster in Asposia, a physics-defying world existing on the inside of a sphere, as the Wind Fountains, Asposia's sole form of ventilation, have stopped blowing, and creatures known as the Basylians have emerged from them, turning the Asposians to stone.

The remaining Asposians have all looked to Conroy- the Wind Monk in charge of one of the fountains- for guidance, which happens to be puritanical and austere. When his endearingly naive apprentice Robert manages to lose the pendant which reminds Conroy of what he cryptically claims is the happiest day of his life, he goes looking for it- meeting local criminal Laura, who helps him discover that Conroy's rule is not as benevolent as it seems.

Taking control of both Robert and Laura at different points in the story, their hand-drawn adventure sees them collecting arbitrary items and hoping that they'll be useful later, in that way that point-and-click adventures are. As they go along, they visit a range of exotic locations and meet plenty of interesting individuals.

The writing that drives the characters carries all the water it needs to, although many of them fall into the trap of being character traits waiting to be fleshed out and on occasion lines will often jar with one another- a character would say something, then immediately say something else that implies they didn't know the thing they said last. There are, however, smiles to be raised if few or no laughs.


The point-and-click game contains its entire control system in its name- you point at a thing and you click it. Historically, this was achieved with a mouse- something that isn't present on PlayStation 4. Instead, you control your character directly with the left thumbstick, cycle through hotspots with L1 and R1 until you find the one that you want, then a menu gives you the options you have for interacting.

There is an easy criticism of the genre in that eventually it boils down to systematically applying every item in your inventory to every part of the scenery or every character until the game relents and lets you progress, and The Inner World's control system serves only to formalise this process, and as such it's all too easy to allow autopilot to set in.

Revealing all the hotspots in a scene may be a necessary evil, maybe as a last resort for a player who just can't work out the solution to the puzzle, but this system takes away not only the immediacy of interacting by forcing you to cycle through all the options you don't want to get to the one you do, but also the joy of working out solutions- or finding interesting 'wrong' answers yourself- by having to go through a better answer before you get to the one you wanted.

It also makes the direct character control almost entirely redundant- some hotspots only make themselves known if you're near them, but this is implemented inconsistently and the cycle will rarely start anywhere near the hotspot you want.

Worse, the touch panel on the DualShock 4, which you'd think would be perfect for this sort of game, isn't used at all.

The Inner World is pleasing enough in that way that modern point-and-clicks can be, but the console port can be very easily skipped in favour of the PC version.

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Danganronpa 1 2 Reload
Video Review
Mar 18
Posted by Ben at 19:02

Ok, before we start, the below video contains scenes from the first case of Danganronpa 2. It does include spoilers, including the first victim, plus a couple of solutions to some of the arguments during the trial. So, just a heads up if you're going in to Danganronpa 1 2 Reload blind and don't want anything spoiler

Which is fair enough, it's the investigations and trials that make the Danganronpa games, so you really should try to avoid spoilers where possible. I will say that the video doesn't reveal too much else, it certainly doesn't reveal the killer. But it serves to highlight the problem with doing video coverage of a game like Danganronpa 1 2 Reload, there's a lot to cover, and an awful lot of it is key to the story

The video takes a look at how the investigations work, then a couple of the mini-games from the trials, aside from milling about and killing time with the other students, that's kind of what Danganronpa is. It's very good though, it's hard not to get hooked in to the story once it gets going

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Danganronpa
1 2 Reload
Mar 16
Posted by Ben at 18:09

For the uninitiated, Danganronpa 1 2 Reload is the PS4 port of the two mainline Vita Danganronpa games. In terms of how they play, youíre kind of looking at a visual novel, with some friendship building a la Persona, then some Phoenix Wright style investigation and trying to prove who the culprit is. If it seems like Iím rushing through the explanation itís because weíve got a bit to get through, and Iíd wager if youíre searching the internet for reviews of Danganronpa 1 2 Reload, youíve probably encountered the series before.

Danganronpa is dripping with character. Even just in terms of looks, itís colourful, vibrant, the characters all have something about them, some caricature element to them. I was going to use the word Ďstylisedí but I thought that might sound like a negative, itís not, all the characters stand out, theyíre all unique, across both games, and they all look great. The setup too, youíre one of a number of extremely talented school kids, so talented that they attend a school that only the Ďultimatesí, the very, very best, can attend. Unfortunately the school has been taken over by a malevolent robot bear, and heís declared that the only way anyone is getting out of there is for them to kill one of their classmates and get away with it

Itís the narrative, or narratives, that make the Danganronpa games, the whole premise is buried in mystery, with hints and teases dangled long before the reveal. Each case is unique, and genuinely quite gripping once they get going. The prelude can be a little arduous, it takes hours before the game feels like itís begun, Danganronpa 2 in particular. I found myself wincing when a case would end, not at regret for what had gone on before, more that I knew the preamble before the next case begins in earnest was going to drag.

Yísee, while Danganronpaís characters and narrative are probably its strongest points, they might also be its weakest. I think it might be a case of things being lost in translation, but often the jokes not only fall flat, they just donít really make sense. I get why the games have so much down time, you have to spend time with the other characters to form attachments to them, not in gameplay terms, just that if youíre supposed to feel sad or betrayed by what happens throughout the story, thatís not going to happen if you havenít lived in the world. And truth is I liked most of the characters in both games, Ďmostí being the key word as thereís a few I started to loathe. Not because theyíre bad people, more that the bombastic, over-the-top nature of the characters often translates in to their personality quirks being laboured to the point of tedium. That character whoís really clumsy, theyíre going to fall over every scene, that guy whoís obsessed with hope and despair, you better believe heís going to mention it every time heís on screen. Itís a shame, but for Danganronpa, sometimes, less would be more.

The mini-games that make up the trials are a bit of a mixed bag too. Iím not sure Iíd say I liked any of them as such, certainly not loved, but some of them do serve a purpose. Countering arguments by shooting words or phrases with a bullet made from a contradicting statement, itís not without its problems but it works to bring some pace and panic to Danganronpa. Itís presented in a way that makes you feel bamboozled and shellshocked, not unlike your character. The problem with it, and I think this is more of an issue with the PS4 version than it was on the Vita (from memory), is that, thanks to the size of the screen youíre playing on, it can be a little hard to take in whatís on the screen. Aside from that though the games work perfectly fine on the larger screen, even with the loss of the touch controls

The games upscale well enough to the higher resolution. Itís rare you see anything that looks especially rough or blurry, but there are instances, particularly when the camera zooms in on objects. There were also instances where I managed to walk through environment, nothing broke, but itís the sort of thing you mention in a review. Likewise I saw a few instances of untranslated text, both times it was during explanations of the trial mini games, although I suspect it was duplicate text, certainly it wasnít anything I needed to know. I did find some of the mini-games confusing at first, and, in the arguments at least, it sometimes feels like you donít know where to begin, but they all

work despite the loss of the touch screen. If youíve never played a Danganronpa game before then let me assure you, theyíre kind of great. Theyíre exhilarating, gripping, especially the trials, thereís always something you didnít see coming and itís rare it feels like a cheap shot. They never really settle in to a rut, when when you know the pattern of throwaway story, free time, murder investigation, trial, theyíll still mix things up by throwing in something about the overarching plot. Thereís an awful lot of game here too, while I suspect playing both games back to back (neither are short games), youíre certainly getting your moneyís worth. I suspect most will be picking them up because they never got around to finishing both games on the Vita, certainly that was the case for myself and the rest of Bitparadeís writers, so let me assure you that both games still hold up despite their relative age. Danganronpa 1 2 Reload may get lost in this unusually busy Q1, but if you do pick it up you wonít be disappointed with it.
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Torment: Tides of Numenera
Video Review
Feb 28
Posted by Ben at 03:01

Our review has just gone live for Torment: Tides of Numenera, and it's a good game. It's very much a story driven game though, so a video of it might not be that exciting

So it's with that dirtying of the water that I present our hour long gameplay review of the PS4 version of Torment: Tides of Numenera. This is recorded on the PS4 Pro, not that that really has any bearings on performance. As good as the game is there's a fair few technical problems, lot's of hitching, and the animation seems to run at a lower framerate from the camera.

Anyway, the footage is captured from a fair bit in the game, and I complete at least one side quest, so there are some slight spoilers, nothing too story heavy though. Still, bear that in mind before watching

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Torment:
Tides of Numenera
Feb 28
Posted by Ben at 02:47

The old-school Western RPG has had something of a resurgence over the last few years. Not that weíre falling over them now, but with the Shadowrun games, Wasteland 2, and Pillars of Eternity, weíre seeing about one a year. As much as Wasteland 2 had a weight on its shoulders so too does Torment: Tides of Numenera, acting as spiritual successor to Planetscape: Torment

I donít really have the space in this review to detail the plot of Torment: Tides of Numenera, but the brief outline is that someone figured out how to live forever, creating bodies to inhabit before jumping to the next one and abandoning the Ďcastoffí body to live on. These castoffs are often revered or loathed for their creators actions, you are one of these castoffs. Your ability to manipulate the ĎTidesí has drawn the attention of a creature called The Sorrow, it hunts you and you Ďfatherí through the physical and psychic worlds.

Torment: Tides of Numenera is dense with mechanics, but it starts to make sense as you progress. Initially the levelling up system, the cyphers (powerful items), and the stat pools are all a bit bewildering, but it does start to make sense. Torment: Tides of Numenera uses stat points for its various mechanics, in combat youíll use your pool of physical to increase the strength and chance of success for your attacks. If youíre trying to persuade someone in conversation youíll lose the indigo intelligence pool, the more points you spend the greater the chance of success. You need to be careful though, once these pools are spent theyíre gone until you refill them with items or rest

When I was planning the video review for Torment: Tides of Numenera I was struggling to pick a bit of gameplay that included combat. I was hours and hours in when I started to think about it and Iíd only had 1 fight, an easy one right at the start of the game. Iíd had opportunities for more, but Iíd managed to talk my way out of it, but itís not like I was tripping over offers. Truth is combat is often more trouble than itís worth, youíre not falling over health items, youíre often charged a small fortune to rest, and as well as eating all your health, chances are youíre going to burn all your stat points too.

Itís not that the combat is horrendously bad, but itís definitely the weakest part of the game, and itís difficult to spec for. This isnít Fallout, handing out a beating isnít often a solution, but even if it was the moveset isnít there to make it especially fun or interesting, you find yourself using the same moves, spending the same skill points because you donít really have a lot of options. Anyway, it took me a while to get it drilled in to my head, but itís really not what Torment: Tides of Numenera is about. While to claim that you never need to fight is maybe bending the truth, itís certainly not where the focus is. You can usually talk your way out of it, intimidate someone in to backing down, convincing them itís not in their best interest, or simply, just not taking on that side quest.

Youíll spend huge chunks of time in Torment: Tides of Numenera talking to people, reading their stories, learning about the world, its culture and its inhabitants. Thatís what the game is about, not endless combat. While some of the lore is, to me at least (sorry fans of Numenera), a bit nonsensical, some of the stories contained within are fantastic. The writing is uniformly superb, and itís hard to think of many games that can boast missions, and side missions, as interesting. A big part of it is that stories go beyond where youíd expect. In another game youíd be given a task, youíd go and find the thing, return, complete the quest. In Torment youíre given a task, have to speak to someone, do a task for them, they tell you to speak to someone else, at which point the narrative takes a turn, then you have to make a decision about how to act. Side quests and main missions are lengthy, you can spend hours making very little concrete progress, this is more of a plus than it sounds, so dense are they



The characters too are fantastically written, your character, the Last Castoff, is probably one of the weaker and least interesting youíll encounter. Your potential teammates all have distinct personalities, and while some of them are very typical, thereís some who reveal themselves to be more than they appear. They each have their own stories that play out as you progress through the game, again, some of them are great. I really like them as characters too, Erritis is definitely worth adding to your party, the heroic bastard. The NPCs and quest givers are generally fairly good too, thereís one or two where their characterisation means their message gets lost a bit, but given what weíre used to having a few misses is easily forgivable. Itís not all good news though, while the combat is a black mark against the game, itís worth mentioning the technical problems.

Without seeing the PC version for myself I canít say for sure that this isnít an engine issue. The game judders on PS4, thereís a framiness to the animations, itís not a fps issue as such, the game world seems to run at a higher framerate, it just isnít smooth. Thereís also a hitching that occurs sporadically. More than sporadically, itís not constant, and given the nature of the game itís not game-breaking, but it is regular. Itís probably most noticeable in the Sagus Cliffs area, itís not caused by having the view too zoomed out, itís not caused by too much going on on-screen, as it occurs in much smaller, quieter areas, and it occurs on both the Standard PS4 and the Playstation Pro. It may not be a huge problem, but itís enough to say that if you want Torment: Tides of Numenera and have access to a decent PC, thatís probably where you should play it.

Iíve had a few other bugs too, generally itís been small things like the health bars flickering, the sound disappearing for a bit, small things that donít really have any bearing on the game. I have though had items fail to appear in my inventory, itís only happened once, but given that you never really have an abundance of items it doesnít inspire confidence. Iíd have written it off as me imagining it, but I also had an issue where an item that should have allowed 5 uses vanished after one. It was a useful item too. Again, none of this really affected my enjoyment as such, but had I not noticed the missing items and saved, I may not have been able to finish a quest.

Iím not sure fixing those issues would all of a sudden turn Torment: Tides of Numenera into a classic, as good as the narratives can be there is something heavy going about the whole thing, or maybe thatís just personal taste. Still though, for the right person Torment: Tides of Numenera is going to be ideal, were the combat a little better Iíd say itíd be pretty much essential for fans of the genre, but either way I donít think it will disappoint too many people

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Hatsune Miku:
Project DIVA Future Tone
Jan 21
Posted by James at 11:15

Rhythm action games, as a genre, have been through some tough times. Just over a decade ago a market still existed for original, mid-budget affairs, with wholly unique soundtracks to boot. Yet today these games are almost nowhere to be seen, and the mainstays of the past Ė Guitaroo Man, Popín Music, Dance Dance Revolution, Ouendan, Rhythm Tengoku Ė either died a slow death or retreated back to the arcade.

But mercifully games based on licensed music and characters have found their way to the home, and itís allowed Sega to sustainably produce and iterate on a new modern rhythm action series for almost a decade. The end result - Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone - is the culmination of all the Vocaloid rhythm games Segaís esteemed AM2 team has worked on over the years.

The Project Diva series feels like a love letter to all things Hatsune Miku, the synthesised idol from Crypton Future Media. A song list comprised of music from fan favourite vocaloid composers? Check. Plenty of unassumingly delightful nods to vocaloid culture? Itís all there. Gorgeously modelled music videos that bring the music to life? Yup.

Since the lyrics are all composed in Japanese, that last point is rather important Ė the scenarios of the story-focused music videos do a lot to bring out the meaning of the lyrics while playing to the compositionsí strengths. Itís not hard to feel the mood while playing a song like From Y to Y, for instance.

Being an arcade conversion, Sega has included over 200 songs, spanning every genre you can imagine, and not only every previous game in the Project Diva series, but the cuter, more bouncy Project Mirai series on 3DS. Those willing to give Vocaloid music a fair shake are unlikely to be disappointed with the selection on offer, and based on my own personal experiences, itís likely youíll still find something to love in the songs that you donít find catchy, thanks to the storyboards in the music video, or some rather brilliant choreography on display.

Tracklist natter aside, Future Toneís roots at the arcade means Sega have brought over some of those arcade sensibilities with it. Basically: It not only looks and sounds the part, but it plays the part. Hereís the gist of it: button prompts fly in from the sides of the screen. You clear them by pressing the appropriate button when the prompts land in their designated zones, which are placed ahead of time to the vocaloid music.

Whatís always made the series stand out is the depth to these mechanics. Not only do the flying button prompts and fixed zone markers keep things unpredictable yet fair, those that learn to ďdual wieldĒ the controller Ė interchanging the face buttons for the D-Pad and vice versa Ė will discover hidden depths to playing each song.

Dual wielding means that you can clear a button prompt for pressing Cross by tapping down on the D-Pad instead. Left on the D-Pad thus becomes the same as Square, Triangle can be substituted for Up, and so on. Which mercifully allows you to tackle more complex note charts that the developers cook up on the harder difficulties.

For instance, pressing Square, Triangle, Square in time and in quick succession to a three-syllable word would be difficult using just the face buttons, but with practice it soon clicks in your brain that you could dual wield, and either bash out Square, Up, then Square with your two thumbs, or Left, Triangle, left to the music.



This has been a staple to the series since the second entry on PSP, but Future Tone raises the bar in a way that provides a lot more depth to mastering and interacting with each song in the game. There are three main additions: Button prompts that beg to be held down instead of tapped, multi-button presses, and Left/Right markers that require either a trigger tap or a slide. At the arcades, an inviting multi-coloured touch-bar handled the slides, but on PS4 you can either hold down the left trigger, or more characteristically, tilt the controller or slide your thumb over the touchpad.

Having to now hold down some buttons, or press several at once, adds more nuance to the gameís scoring systems. For instance, holding down a button continually adds to your score, but itís no easy feat to do this *and* continue playing the song as normal using the other, unoccupied buttons. Likewise score tracking is a lot more detailed, letting you know the exact boundaries for getting a Great, or an Excellent. Itís a no-nonsense approach to rhythm action that also feels great to play Ė feedback is crisp and the sound effects are inviting, as they should be.

Itís also a return to form after the two PS Vita games introduced some odd new mechanics which had the effect of creating the illusion of more complexity; the first introduced ďscratch notesĒ that forced players onto an imprecise analogue input in response to a precise note Ė tilting the sticks or swiping at the screen. The second game replaced some prompts with on-rails markers, preventing the player from being able to read the music ahead of time.

Future Tone provides a firm but fair challenge that feels familiar and fresh to longtime fans, while keeping the hardest elements out of harder difficulties so not to alienate newer players. Some of the note charts on Extreme difficulty tended to reward memorisation rather than skill, however, but overall thereís little to fault here. Itís one of the best mid-budget home rhythm games in years Ė even if youíre not accustomed to synthesised Vocaloid music this is the perfect introduction.
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Yakuza 0

Jan 19
Posted by Ben at 11:59

One of the problems Sega seems to have had recreating the success the Yakuza series boasts in its native Japan, is that itís a continuing series. With a lot of fan noise Yakuza 3 and 4 both managed to get Western releases when many had given up hope, shining the spotlight on the series, Yakuza 5 even got a PS+ tie in, but for many the thought of joining the series midway through was enough to stop them from following through their interest in the series. Well, itís something Yakuza 0 puts right, and makes for a superb introduction to the Yakuza games

Yakuza 0, as the name might imply, is a prequel. Set while series stalwart Kazuma Kiryu is still learning the yakuza ropes, it opens with him beating a man senseless for a debt he owes a loan shark. Later that night the man is found dead, Kazuma is blamed for the killing and what follows is story of power struggles and land-grabs that involves Kazuma having to fight for his life and leave the yakuza behind. Itís a genuinely quality story, hammy at points for sure, but brilliantly well told, and a joy to watch unfold.


br> Kazumaís story is mirrored to some extent by Goro Majima, the gameís 2nd protagonist. Also cast out of the yakuza, Majima is doing everything he can to force his way back in. Thereís some great moments in Majimaís story, and the times where the two characterís stories intertwine are great, but all in all I found it less engaging. It think part of it is his character, more restrained than his usual larger than life self. Itís something that will bother newcomers less, and I suspect heís been toned down so that a narrative can be hung off him. I canít imagine the usual lunatic Majima bowing and taking the abuse he does. I suspect his environment doesnít help either, some of his side quests are fantastic, but the 2nd city is just less interesting, with less character, than Kazumaís Tokyo district.

One of the other smart things Yakuza 0 does to introduce both new and returning players is in how it staggers the content. Itís a little jarring, perhaps, having the serious crime story interrupted for some karaoke, to talk to pretty girls, to meet a foreigner whoís going to teach you new fighting moves, but it introduces mechanics to quickly dabble with, and then leaves you to decide whether you want to spend your time with them. Yakuza 0 holds back mechanics too, in the past it has felt like the Yakuza games will throw everything they have at you, occasionally (re)introducing them in a side-story or as part of the main story, but here theyíre doled out in a way that ensures youíre not overawed or swamped, every couple of chapters youíll get something new to think about, and that runs right in to the back half of the game.

There are a few areas of Yakuza 0 that have been freshened up over previous installments, the chief one is the combat. Both Kazuma and Majima have 3 different types of fighting styles at their disposal, each designed to cater to certain types of enemy. Generally speaking both characters have a standard jack-of-all-trades style as their default, theyíll pack a decent punch, have access to plenty of heat moves, and still be relatively quick. Theyíll have a more powerful moveset, weapon focused, slower, but able to attack through hits and deal large amounts of damage back. Then thereís a quicker style, flashier, littered with combos, but causing less damage per attack. Given the sheer amount of fighting youíll do in Yakuza 0, being able to easily mix things up and explore the combat system is a smart move.



Levelling up has also changed. Rather than grinding for experience, you spend money on yourself, buying your way around the skill tree. Fortunately enemies now spurt money when you slap them about, and the more flourish in your fighting the more youíll earn. It means you can fairly quickly turn both Kazuma and Majima in to solid fighters. The problem is the cost to unlock skills rises dramatically, and spending 30 million to unlock a skill you donít really want but is blocking the one you do want is a bitter pill to swallow. Itís where some of the side missions come in, Kazuma can earn a fortune through real estate if youíre willing to put the time in. Itís not a complicated system, although itís initially daunting, buy some properties when youíre out and about, pick a manager whoís going to have a positive effect on the economy, a security guard whoís less likely to attract trouble, then collect your share. Itís maybe a bit of a grind trying to amass a fortune all at once, perhaps an argument for the mechanic being introduced earlier than it is, but itís certainly quicker than fighting your way to the amounts needed.

One of the great charms of the Yakuza games are the side quests, and Yakuza 0 is no different. They can be a little run of the mill, and a lot of them will involve you just solving your problems by fighting more people, but some of them are smart, and brilliantly funny. Spending time doing the side quests doesnít net you experience anymore, but the characters can reward you in other ways, like working for you or joining you in battle. The downside to the side missions is that it can feel sometimes like youíre tripping over them. Thereís a few too many times where youíll be in the middle of a story mission and get stopped for a side mission to be introduced, even if you donít then follow it up. The same can be true of street fights that occur as youíre making your way around the city, they can get a little much.

Truth is though, Yakuza 0 is the best Yakuza game Iíve played. Itís hard to think how they could have made it more accessible to newcomers, yet thereís enough depth and familiarity for fans of the series to get hooked in to too. On a technical level the engine is showing its age, with shadows popping in, the game slowing you down (in terms of movement speed) during busy moments, and some angular geometry, but itís still a decent looking, and running, game. Yakuza 0 will be missed by many, and thatís their loss, because itís a superb, charming, well told, and joyfully violent game

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