Odin Sphere Leifthrasir
Vita Gameplay
Posted by Ben at 15:37

Not really a review as such as Duane's already reviewed the PS4 version, more some gameplay footage from the Vita version of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir with me rambling over the top

To give coherence to the narration of the video; Odin Sphere Leifthrasir works great on Vita. Apart from one boss fight I can't say I've noticed the framerate drop of and bugs, glitches, hitches, nothing negative at all really. It looks great on the Vita, a little blurry on the Playstation TV that I captured the footage on, but that's a limitation of the hardware rather than a fault of the game. I can't compare the Vita version to the PS4 version, maybe the Vita version has fewer enemies on screen at any one time, certainly that it 'poofs' in enemies when you've cleared a wave certainly seems like a move designed to work around limitations, be that a hangover from the PS2, an engine limitation, or something to get the game running well on the Vita

I won't spoil the score Odin Sphere Leifthrasir received from Duane on the PS4, but I will say if I were to give the game a score it wouldn't be too far from that. I've a few issues with the controls. They're sharp enough, to the extent the Vita's analogue stick will allow at least. My issue really is the placement, I guess, I'm not entirely sure what it is that sits wrong with me. It just feels unnatural that block is the same button as attack, whereas dodge is the same button as as absorbing photons. Too often I'll accidentally launch a spell, and I pretty much always launch the wrong one when I intend to launch a spell. For whatever reason the controls, and many of the games systems (alchemy, recipes etc) don't embed themselves in my brain.

Anyway, aside from that I've been really enjoying Odin Sphere Leifthrasir. I'm fairly near the end now, for one character at least, but the video below is from an earlier save, so there shouldn't be anything too spoilery, and you do get to see how the Vita version runs

Show/hide video

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God of Destruction
Posted by James at 11:16

One of the defining features of a Roguelike RPG is the ability to constantly surprise you with its randomly generated dungeons, too soon after you think you’ve nailed its trappings. And despite failure after failure, you keep coming back for another go, knowing that you’re still taking a huge risk on your next attempt to get that little bit further than you did before.

Trillion: God of Destruction is an interesting game, partly because of its unconventional approach to the genre. It’s a fresh start for a new team at Compile Heart, a team that’s partly comprised of people who worked on Disgaea at Nippon Ichi Software.

While the end product isn’t quite as compelling or pure as a traditional, tried and tested dungeon RPG, it does come close at times to capturing that Roguelike magic, though often due to reasons you might not expect.

Despite a lengthy introduction, the game’s premise is simple: Trillion, the god of destruction, has awakened to gobble up the overworld, and she has a whopping trillion health points. Following a failed attempt to defeat her, you’re left crippled, dependent on a plan that’ll have you train your fellow overlords to take your place.

The Trillion battles form the basis of the game’s roguelike elements, but the majority of your time is actually spent managing your overlord and training them to gather experience in different areas. This is then ploughed back into upgrading stats, or leaning new active or passive skills, all of which will help you make some sort of leeway in your next attempt against Trillion.

The trick is to try and figure out which ones work best and experiment – every seven days constitutes a cycle, and at the end of each cycle you test your progress on Makujin, a wooden Trillion that starts off with a fraction of the HP and abilities, but slowly grows stronger each time you beat it. So you do get some sort of feedback as to how you’re improving, though to begin with it’s so far removed from the main event of, well, fighting Trillion.

You see, every five or so cycles you fight the real thing, and you’ll lose hopelessly at first. The first few hours see you make trivial amounts of progress (or damage) against Trillion, which in turns translates into an experience that feels rather arbitrary given the sheer number of stats you can alter and random events that can affect said stats between training.

You’ll question whether you’re playing on just to level up stats rather than because you’re able to actually accomplish anything.

Lose to Trillion and your overlord passes on the torch to the next. Interestingly, unlike similar games like Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines, not much gets carried forward between rounds. Instead the passage of time and flow of the story moves things forwards, as well as your own intuition.

It’s a slow burner at first, then, but if you stick with it you eventually feel like any progress you do eventually make was down to you. Every overlord that you train up is like a new roll of the dice to try and replicate what you did before, only better. It’s also easy to appreciate the set-up outside of dungeons, as the game sets you up to rather cruelly send a particular overlord that you’ve spent a good deal of time getting to know to their doom.

These elements in particular, along with the dungeon design, are the most obvious tell-tale signs that this is a game that bears the fingerprints of a few ex-Disgaea staffers.

Of course, with Trillion battles being a good half hour to an hour apart, this does mean that this is a game which lacks the instantaneous satisfaction you might get from other roguelikes, where a new roll of the dice can sometimes only be seconds away.

Trillion takes a more passive approach to the genre that isolates your odds of success to the micromanagement side of things, so it’s easy to see why it’s not as instantly gratifying as a traditional Roguelike where a much larger portion of the game revolves around dungeon crawling.

So while it's a game that loses some of that Roguelike immediacy, Trillion rewards longer-form strategy and thinking. It’s worth a go if you’re looking for a fairly unconventional dungeon crawler that also has recognisable talent behind it.
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EDF2: Invaders
from Planet Space
Posted by Duane at 12:01

We've already covered one EDF game this week, which happens to be the most recent one. Ben was less than enamoured with it, he tried in vain to grasp what it is that has resulted in the series having a rather vocal fan base, but ultimately it just wasn't for him. So its now up to me to give Earth Defence Force 2: Invaders from Planet Space a try, a remake of a remake from what I understand, being based upon Global Defence Force from the PlayStation 2 which was then re-released on the PSP as Earth Defence Force 2 Portable and now carries the aforementioned suffix “Invaders from Planet Space” for its Vita release.

Off the bat, it ticks a lot of boxes that are immediately attractive to me. I really rather like cheap B-Movies about alien invasions, I find their campiness to be rather endearing and the fact that this has a bit of a sprinkling of HG Wells' War of the Worlds plus a coating of Kaiju and I should be in heaven really, but despite all of this the whole concept feels completely and utterly wasted.

The gist is that you are given a mission, this mission is usually to see off a wave of ridiculously sized insects or alien craft, all of which is set within the confines of a city with some recognisable monuments. London is quite clearly London, you can't really miss Westminster and the Houses of Parliament whilst shooting down hordes of gigantic ants. Even so, the cities themselves are rather sparse and unpopulated, there's no real agency to drive you on and prevent the invasion. You'll occasionally get a handful of civilians trying to flee, but overall, it doesn't feel like the emergency situation that's playing out over the radio waves as you unleash lead into a bunch of jumping spiders.

That last point there sounds fun enough, but that's literally all there is to it. Keep firing until your clip is empty, reload and carry on, keep doing so until you've cleared every red mark off of your radar, make sure you pick up as many dropped items as you can as you do so, then carry on to the next mission. There's very little in the way of interactivity and it just makes the game feel like its in its very early stages of development (this isn't helped by the visuals, but apparently one shouldn't criticise EDF's visuals...). It really does feel like the player should be given more to do, hell something like Burning Rangers on the archaic SEGA Saturn provides the player with more agency and that games older than my children's ages combined! When you look at how the action genre has evolved it feels like there's just too much missing from the core gameplay and EDF2 becomes a procession of doing the same thing again and again. None of the enemies require much in the way of a change of tactics, after the first wave of missions were done (in which you're gradually introduced to a few different types of creature to kill) I was introduced to my first Kaiju. I was hoping that this would require me to focus on a weak spot or that I would have to think about the fact it was rampaging through what looked like a suburb and try and contain the damage, but it was yet another exercise of pumping as much ammunition as I could into the beast until it eventually fell and died. There's not even an element of point scoring or leaderboards, and whilst there is a choice of difficulties on offer the only difference to them is just how much damage each creature takes before it eventually falls, which itself is nullified by the vast amount of near identical weapons that you can pick up for later missions as you play.

I'm actually kind of thankful I played this on the Vita, reading through Ben's review its hard to not be appalled that he records issues of slow down when there's a bunch of explosions on screen, the same thing happens in this release but is kind of more excusable because of the platform its on. It doesn't become unplayable but it is noticeable, as is the fogging and pop-up which happens closer to the player than I think is acceptable. If Sandlot had have fixed that then the other stuff may have been a bit more excusable, because on this platform I can see its 5 minutes of game per mission being perfect, there's no real need to be invested in long protracted cut-scenes and it'd almost work as a pick up and play whilst waiting for the kettle to boil (insert other short wait here). Its for this reason alone that I've scored this particular version of EDF a little higher than Ben's PS4 review, because quite frankly, I wasn't particularly impressed with the game itself.
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Travellers 2
Posted by Duane at 05:51

It's becoming a bit of a habit to discuss the visual appearance of many of the games that we cover on Vita, in fact it often feels like that despite its portable nature the Vita isn't a system you'd want to be seen in public with. Which is a huge shame, its a disappointment that developers fill their games with fan service in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator (both in their home nation and here) just so they can share a few units. It's led to many enjoyable titles looking rather homogenised with every game featuring the same cookie cutter characters, and unfortunately Dungeon Travellers 2: The Royal Library and the Monster Seal is no different. Its full of female characters that fit all of the stereotypes that have become apparent in Japanese RPG's and anime over the past decade or so, and with you playing the only male character it soon becomes apparent where the games focus will go as its attempts to build relationships between the characters.

With all of that out of the way, and that is indeed this games, and many others available on this system, weakest point, lets head on to the game itself. Again, its hard to ignore that we have another first person dungeon crawler on our hands here, which whilst an enjoyable genre in its own right, has also become over-saturated on the handheld systems.

Where Dungeon Travellers 2 differs from other games of its ilk is that it doesn't appear to want to punish you with a solid wall that comes completely out of the blue, it eases the player in with dungeons that gradually become larger with slightly more difficult enemies and whilst it still challenges you and you may feel like stepping back to grind a lower dungeon for a while, it never really makes you feel completely out of your depth. Although it does take an absolute age to explain any and all of its different options and setups. The most interesting of which kind of encourages you to grind. Whenever you battle your party will effectively absorb the creatures you have defeated, once you have absorbed enough of one type of monster you will then be able to create a Seal Book for one member of your party to equip, these Seal Books will either offer a stats boost or some buffing element. They can also have a negative effect on party members too which you can use to your advantage if you understand how.

The battle system takes place over two rows, encouraging you to place weaker characters at the back and change formation depending upon the need for ranged characters, it all feels a little more inclusiv e and on the fly than other titles in the genre. Magic attacks often have to be charged, thus balancing out just how strong they are, they can also be interupted if the charging character is attacked before they can cast their spell, encouraging you to close ranks and defend that party member. Its for this reason that Dungeon Travelers 2 feels really well balanced as enemies dont tend to be extremely difficult just on a stats level if you build and use your party effectively, something thats been sorely missing from a lot of RPG's for some time now.

In conslusion then, Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library and the Monster Seal suffers from many of the tropes that have really heavily infected the genre over the past few years, its unfair to punish this one title because of that, but by the same token it manages to re-introduce an enjoyable battle system and further entries into the genre ought to take heed of what it does do right. Its just a huge shame that its rather heavily weighed down in over-explanation, lengthy (and unamusing) dialogue and fan service.
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Persona 4
Dancing All Night
Posted by Duane at 11:30

We've waited a while for this. Okay, so since its original PlayStation 2 release back in 2009 (for Europe) we've received a re-release (P4 Golden on Vita), 2 fighting games and the Persona 3/Persona 4 dungeon crawler crossover Persona Q, but this one, Persona 4: Dancing All Night, has always felt like its a little further away from release than we'd like. Well, not any more as its out now, but does it live up to that wait?

Well, um, kinda. Persona 4 fans will get a kick out of seeing their favourite characters again, but unfortunately it still feels like a bit of a let down and this is down to a handful of reasons. But first we'll start off with how the game plays. If you didn't already know, Dancing All Night has removed almost all signs of its JRPG roots, instead the focus here is placed squarely on Shoji Meguro's excellent soundtrack, its probably the praise the soundtrack received that led to the games development and after nigh on 90 hours with Persona 4 Golden I can hardly blame them. The jist here is that another shadow realm has opened up, and something within is once again playing upon peoples insecurities, however fighting doesn't doesn't do any harm in this realm, dubbed the Midnight Stage by the cast, instead we take a jump into Rise's world and the cast have to dance their way to uncover the mystery put before the reformed Investigation Team.

This is all played out in a similar manner to the Story mode that accompanied both Arena games, and it can feel a little text heavy, with characters often repeating what's been happening a number of times before the action moves on and you're thrown into the actual gameplay. Said gameplay revolves hitting the directional and face buttons in time with the music, matching the required input at exactly the right time to get a variety of ratings dependent upon accuracy. There are also icons that require you to flick one of the Vita's analogue sticks, these aren't essential but do increase your combo and allow you to launch Fever mode, which all adds up to increasing your score at the end of the round. None of the tracks are particularly difficult on the games Normal difficulty setting, even for someone with very little rhythm such as myself, although they cam get punishingly difficult when played in the games solo mode when you increase that difficulty.

Unfortunately, the game doesn't really do Meguro's excellent soundtrack justice, a lot of them are remixes of the tracks you know and love from Persona 4 but they just don't really seem to translate well to this kind of game. The lack of visual input does little to help matters either, the performances of Yosuke, Teddy, Rise and co aren't affected by how well you're doing, so aside from a small UI element at the top of the screen, theres very little to indicate when your performance is going down the toilet other than seeing the “Miss” text pop up whenever you miss an input.

It's nice and all seeing the gang back together, as a fan of the series that was enough for me to get something from the game, its one of those casts of characters that are just enjoyable to spend time with, and the writing for their relationships is almost as good as it ever was (although the overall level of writing, much like with the Arena games, isn't at as high a standard as it has been with the RPG releases, in fact Teddy, once again, suffers most here), its just unfortunate that Persona 4: Dancing All Night feels exactly like the fan service product that I hoped it wouldn't be.
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Corpse Party:
Blood Drive
Posted by Duane at 16:17

I think I should start by stating that I haven't played the previous two titles in the Corpse Party series and in actual fact I didn't even know of the series until I started covering Blood Drive, with this in mind I don't inte4nd to be particular judgemental of the overall story, but I am also kind of aware in the changes of gameplay from the previous instalment to this one.

Getting that particular part of the review out of the way first is key, Blood Drive plays in a similar manner to top down dungeon crawling RPG's due to the developers decision to take this particular instalment down a 3D route rather than the previous titles more interactive novel approach. This is where my comparisons using my lack of any real knowledge beyond Wikipedia end. I will say though that despite being pushed as a horror title, the games 3D appearance and use of chibi-esque character designs detracts from the scares somewhat. It's hard to find a large headed, small bodied ghost squealing like a baby as it floats towards you as something that is scary, and its only the immediate threat of harm that makes you concerned for their appearance.

It's also at odds with the descriptions presented to you during the games long story and conversation dialogue moments. Things will be described that just don't measure up when performed by the 3D characters and there are a few moments where events that are played out are contracted by the lack of change in those character models, this is exacerbated by the use of manga character art that appears during all of the story driven moments.

Corpse Party: Blood Drive is littered with numerous aspects that aren't what one would consider to be good videogame design. For starters dialogue goes on for far, far too long, this isn't something I'm normally bothered about, after all I'm a huge fan of Atlus' rather dialogue heavy Persona series, but more often than not it feels like Corpse Party is either over explaining itself or the writers just don't understand when to stop and let the game be played. Once it does allow the player free reign theres quite a bit of enjoyment to be had from the games hide and seek kind of gameplay. As you explore the alternate dimension school that the games plot takes you to (and which the characters are returning to from the series second instalment) you will find that you have to avoid various traps whilst also avoiding ghosts (even hiding in closets from them in a rather Metal Gear Solid-esque fashion), this is where the game is at its strongest. The school itself is rather crudely designed and takes some getting used to whilst you find your bearings due the lack of map which kind of adds to the tension of discovering a ghost. You can also rid yourself of such pests by using talismans to dispel them, butt he core mechanic revolves around running away and hiding until the threat has passed.

The lighting model doesn't always help you avoid traps, there is very little light within the school and you will find yourself reliant on your torch, especially in new areas whilst you figure out where the various traps are. However the batteries on the torch do drain and you will only find a few replacements littered around during each chapter, I never actually ran out but I was really frugal with the amount I used my torch, mostly because I could never tell when it was likely to run out due to the games like of HUD. There are no on screen bars to tell you when your health, battery or stamina is low and its usually through character driven cues that you notice that you need to address a particular situation (i.e. not sprinting as much, instead relying on walking, as your character begins to stumble a bit).

The thing is, Corpse Party: Blood Drive, isn't a good game, the lack of HUD, odd decisions over its presentation, weird mechanics and overly tedious interactions between characters that aren't particularly interesting, plus the lack of being scary in any particular way, should all mark it out as one to avoid. And yet I found myself wanting to return to it time and time again just to edge a little further on each play, I genuinely found it intriguing and oddly morbidly amusing. I'm certain thats not the developers intentions though.
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Dengeki Bunko:
Fighting Climax
Posted by Duane at 10:00

Handhelds and fighters are generally a bit of a mixed affair, that's not to say they don't work, but its only natural that when you have a slight cramped input device, then you're not going to necessarily be able to deliver as full an experience as you would in an Arcade or console environment. There's also the difficulty in generating that all important competitive nature that's so integral to the success of games within this genre, by limiting yourself to a handheld you almost limit the player to playing against the AI. Now admittedly we do have online modes these days, but it can be tough putting together accurate online code that doesn't throw up additional problems of its own, and its in these area's that the Vita version of Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax suffers.

Released over all three of Sony's current platforms, the Vita version is, fairly obviously, the one that is likely to gain any following. Thats not because its a bad game, its pretty much mostly down to the suitability of the system. The d-pad and face buttons are far too compact for the games reliance on quarter-circle combinations to work making it even less useful as a training tool, nor is it really viable as a good place to start with the genre. It's unfair to criticise this particular title for this, but all too often games within the genre are far too reliant on the player being an old hand and able to handle themselves, knowing each games variation on commands and being able to spot the seperate skills and techniques that differentiate something like an SNK Playmore fighter from a Capcom one (as an example). Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is no different, there's no tutorial and the practice mode doesn't even let you display combinations required to pull off each characters moves outside of its designated menu area let alone record your inputs so you know you're doing things correctly.

So why would anyone purchase this over, say, Blazblue? It'd be purely down to fan loyalty and aesthetics, ignoring the platform for the time being, the elements that'd attract anyone to this particular release would be down to them being a fan of manga publisher Dengeki Bunko (whom are responsible for manga and anime such as Sword Art Online and Durarara!!) from which characters appear within Fighting Climax to battle it out. SEGA fans may be mildly interested in the locations and music being taken from a handful of the developer/publishers titles plus an appearance from two famous faces from the Virtua Fighter series (Akira appears as an unlockable characxter, as an Assist Character, whilst Alicia from Valkyria Chronicles also appears as an Assist Character) but its not a huge amount of content that would make this an essential purchase for anyone other than die-hard fans of either company.

It''s a shame that Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax feels so hampered by its content, theres an additional story mode that sits alongside the main arcade mode, your standard versus mode just incase you know someone else with a Vita and an online mode, which holds up surprisingly well, I had no problem actually finding games here and had far more success at keeping a connection than I have done with previous fighters on the system, but unfortunately, it all just feels so thin.
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Operation Abyss
New Tokyo Legacy
Posted by Duane at 17:09

Despite criticism of a lack of software, not to mention that Sony themselves seem to have abandoned the device, the PlayStation Vita has really carved a niche market for itself with its catalogue of Japanese oddities, dungeon crawlers and an impressive roster of indie titles. Operation Abyss: Neo Tokyo Legacy fits into that middle category and, having been developed by Experience inc, who were responsible for last years Demon Gaze, which we here at bitparade rather enjoyed, it comes with some pedigree.

Operation Abyss' setting is fairly typical, if you can overlook Japanese culture's obsession with having high-school students saving the country or the world then you'll get by just fine. The plot involves said students investigating a rather nasty infected zombie type uprising, called Variants, that are abducting, dismembering and killing the local populace. This all takes place in the titular Neo Tokyo, a near future version of Japan's most famous city.

Your squads investigation and search for said variants mostly takes place in a variety of abandoned locations, such as apartment buildings and warehouses. Which are a bit of a contrast to Demon Gaze's forests and cave like locations. Exploring each location gradually builds up a map and you'll soon discover one way door systems and areas that only accessible teleportation plates all of which is given viability by the games scientific occult like feeling.

Battles, the core of any JRPG regardless of subgenre, mostly happen at random. Obviously boss battles are pre-scripted but occasionally whilst exploring an icon will appear in a room or corridor you have entered advertising that there are Variants on that particular tile. Allowing you to void that particular confrontation if you wish to do so.

If you’re an old hat to the genre, then Operation Abyss is an enjoyable potential addition to your collection, if you’re seeking an entry point then I wouldn’t say that this one is for you. The games biggest problem is that whilst it likes to waffle, as do many titles within the genre, it’s just far too vague with some of its more simple concepts, not only that its really kind of forgettable and the studio’s previous Vita outing, Demon Gaze, is a far better, albeit crueller, example of what makes people flock to these types of games on handhelds.
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Lost Dimension

Posted by Ben at 16:35

Hundreds of thousands of people have just been wiped out by a madman sat atop a tower. He gives the world a chance to stop him and they send in you, with 10 other psychically gifted soldiers, who you've never met, and who will betray you. To progress up the tower you have to execute your teammates, influencing the vote so that they vote off the traitor. Worse still the madman seems to know you, and boy does he hate you.

As setups go, Lost Dimension's isn't bad.

Gameplay isn't entirely dissimilar to something like Valkyria Chronicles or Codename STEAM. You take a squad in to battle and each of them get a turn during your phase. Everyone has a movement range, and when they take their action a certain chance of success. It's more free flowing than a grid based system, even if it ultimately amounts to the same thing. Attack an enemy with teammates within range and they'll chip in with assists, take care with placement and this can be devastating. Enemies are weak from the back, as are you, and they have an attack range, if you can attack them from outside their reach, while your chance of success will be lower, it will also mean they can't counter you. There's some real depth to Lost Dimension's combat.

The problem Lost Dimension has is that it doesn't really use the potential depth, or at least not often enough, and this is almost entirely because the fights are too short to make the most of it. Alongside each character’s health meter is a GP meter, points spent each time you want to perform a special attack or buff, magic points essentially. During my playthrough I never once ran out of them, I only came close with one character once. More important is the ‘Sanity’ meter. Each time a character takes damage or uses one of their gifts it takes a toll on their sanity. If they they come under too much stress they’ll go berserk, attacking wildly and powerfully, and then become dazed. When you, or an enemy are dazed you’re defenceless, and wide open to critical attacks. Truth is though, if you’ve taken so much damage you tap out your sanity, you’re probably already dead, it’s just not something you’ll encounter often. And, while some moves and setups can use huge chunks of sanity, chances are the fight will be over before it becomes a real issue.

As an example of what’s possible; there’s a character whose skill is that he can link with other characters. I gave him a healing skill, which opened up a new move for him, and began pairing that with his higher level ability to link with everyone for one turn. I’d link with everyone, use ‘Defer’ (you pass one character’s turn to another so they can go again), then heal everyone who was linked with me. It used a good chunk of my sanity, but it was an effective, if long winded way to heal everyone, and brought in other skills that meant everyone became stronger for that turn, and deferring had a much reduced cost.

Working out who the traitor is may not seem hugely important at first, but getting it right will only benefit you later on. After every fight you’ll see the thoughts of your teammates, annoyingly the text on the screen doesn’t necessarily match up to the profile picture paired with it. Instead you’ll find that there can only be a maximum of 3 suspects per floor, you need to repeat fights until you work out which 3 it is, and then spend a point on a ‘deep dive’ which will reveal if that person is the traitor or not. These are limited though so it’s important to do the leg work before hand

A nice touch, but a bit of a double edge-sword from my experience, is that who will be the traitor is random. A second play through will lead to you executing different characters to your first. It’s a good idea, it means you have to play the game rather than rely on a guide. The problem is that it can mean you lose characters way before you ideally should. When a character dies their skills can be equipped to someone else, however, if, as in the case of my healing character, they aren’t around to learn or improve skills needed for the end of the game, then tough, you’re done. I also wonder what would have happened if I’d lost Zenji, my reserve healer, early, I’m not sure how I would have managed to heal anyone sufficiently other than wasting expensive items.

Ultimately Lost Dimension’s biggest problems lie in its narrative. While the setup might be intriguing, it’s only when you get the secret ending (at least 2 playthroughs) that you’ll have any of it explained. Why are people betraying you, why does The End hate you, it’s hinted at right at the end of the game, but by that point you’ve spent tens of hours being left with no explanation. It’s also never explained why a character who wasn’t a traitor on any floor previously suddenly decides to betray you. Even the character’s explanations are merely an apology and a shrug. While I’m reticent to draw comparisons with other games, it’s hard not to think back to Danganronpa and what a good job that did finding motivations with each chapter.

Don’t let that put you off though. The combat may be a little underdeveloped, the narrative a little throwaway, but it’s still a very good game. In fact Lost Dimension is comfortably one of the better games I’ve played this year, if it was a little more developed it would be a classic, as it is, I still have no qualms recommending it to rpg fans
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Danganronpa Another Episode
Ultra Despair Girls
Posted by James at 08:10

What comes to mind when you think of Danganronpa? Some would point to the visual novel, others would simply answer with “Monokuma”, a sadistic bear that loves to spread despair. The series offers a lot to love and with good reason – it’s a distinctive take on the murder mystery, sporting distinctive characters, witty and entertaining dialogue and a tense, foreboding atmosphere. Simply put, it’s an experience that’ll stick with you for years to come.

Still, one thing you won’t see celebrated much are the series’ judicial minigames, which range from activities like snowboarding (yes, really) and shooting floating letters. The idea is that you delve into your brain to conjure up an argument to present. Not only are they terrible metaphors for the task at hand, but they are tedious and over-complex to play through – the opposite of thinking up a clear and concise argument. In the end, they only served to obstruct your ability to get your point across in the courtroom.

Luckily, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls takes on action-oriented interactivity in a far more successful manner. In fact, the game revolves around it – as a spinoff of the main series, developers Spike Chunsoft aren’t held back by a need to conform to series conventions or player expectations.

While the series’ signature sharp writing and long-form narrative still play a big part in Ultra Despair Girls, at its core is a fully formed third-person survival horror game.

It’s a big shift from those visual novel-adventure game roots, but the survival horror genre is a surprisingly good fit for the series’ main setup, where individuals face off against all the odds in increasingly tense situations.

You play as Komaru, Makoto's (the protagonist of the first game) sister, and the primary threat, at least at first, is an army of Monokuma robots. If you’ve played Danganronpa before it quickly becomes obvious that this setup is such a good fit that you begin to wonder whether a spin-off game of this ilk was planned all along.

Ultra Despair Girls plays an interesting game of survival horror. The core fundamentals will be familiar to anyone who has played Resident Evil 4 and the games it inspired; there’s an over-the-shoulder viewpoint and your weapon has a laser-sight to encourage precision aiming. Your aiming reticule moves ever-so-slowly, preventing you from playing like it a straight third person shooter and encouraging you to take down enemies in a single shot. Ammo is a scarce resource.

Despite being armed with only one weapon (a megaphone-shaped ‘hacker’ gun), you gradually gain access to a variety of bullet types as you progress through the game. These add an appreciable amount of flavour to the combat, as you move from heated encounters with the odd Monokuma in closed spaces (an early chapter takes place inside the cramped confines of a hospital building) to larger, open spaces outdoors where you can be assaulted by a dozen or more at the same time.

One bullet knocks back groups of enemies, another activates all manner of electrical appliances which can do anything from distracting the enemy to ploughing them down. There’s a bullet which shoots out electricity, and another lets you hack into and control the robot Monokuma. Add several enemy types into the mix and playing Ultra Despair Girls can be a methodological experience at times.

The scarcity of ammo forces you to approach situations creatively. Only one type of ammo is really effective at dealing reliable damage – assuming you hit their glowing red eye in the first place – so learning when and how to utilise all the different types of ammo and enemies becomes a game in itself.

This is best demonstrated by the game’s isolated challenge rooms, which task you with completing a specific objective under certain constraints, like the type of bullet you’re allowed to use. This encourages you to come up with creative ways at approaching certain situations, and some smart level design ensures these segments of the game are always tremendously entertaining. It’s here where the flexibility of the game’s combat system shines through.

While you primarily play as Komaru, you can switch to her partner “Genocide Jack” for a limited amount of time. Playing as Genocide Jack feels like a cop-out though, given the game’s survival horror roots, as the action devolves into a mindless hack-and-slash affair where you hammer a few buttons to dispatch foes.

Ultra Despair Girls has an unpolished, stiff feel about it; this makes for a compelling survival horror game but a limp action one. It’s nice to fall back on using Genocide Jack when you’re in serious danger, but as a safety net it significantly reduces the tension that mounts up when you’re low on ammo or health.

In a somewhat ironic role reversal from the main games, what drags things down is Ultra Despair Girls’ approach to advancing its story.

While the overarching story pieces itself together well by the time its appropriately shocking conclusion rolls around, the need to move the narrative forward on a regular basis can get in the way of the game’s pacing all too often. At a handful of moments the action gets interrupted by lengthy dialogue sequences too often for its own good, breaking up the flow and tension of more heated moments.

Things really pick up by the game’s third chapter, though, where you’re invested enough in the story – a bloody revolution against adults staged by a group of talented children –that being interrupted to find out the next plot development becomes more welcome and less of a hindrance.

It’s a story that’ll grip you the longer you spend with it, too. As expected from the series, Ultra Despair Girls has a knack for setting up timely plot twists that not only keep you second guessing until the very end, but shock, chill and surprise when you realise the scope of any revelations is far larger than you may have anticipated.

One of the more interesting aspects of the game’s narrative is how it’s self-aware that it’s a game, and not just for throwaway laughs either – its traditional concepts of “bosses” and “levelling” are woven into the narrative in tangible ways. It’s synergies like this which further validate not only the switch to the third person survival horror genre, but the decision to make a spinoff in the first place.

Taking any series into uncharted waters is always a big risk, but with Ultra Despair Girls the effort has paid off in spades. It’s a success as a spinoff, keeping the series’ soul intact while also tackling previous attempts to add interactivity into the mix with aplomb. Indeed, it’s also a success as a third person survival horror. It may be a little rough around the edges, but Ultra Despair Girls makes for a great ‘B’ game: perfectly playable but filled to the brim with whacky, clever ideas – many of which simply wouldn’t be able to exist in the bigger budget ‘AAA’ space. Refreshing.

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