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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Switch
or die trying
Mar 12
Posted by Mark at 19:15

Getting a timely name change seemingly to avoid confusion with a certain newly-released console, Switch - or die trying is another in a long line of precision platformers.

In Switch, you play as the letter I, whose friends- the rest of the alphabet- have all stopped talking to him because he's a bit too self-absorbed, so he sets out to perform acrobatic feats in the hope that it will make them all love him again.

The game's core structure doesn't deviate too much from the templates left behind by the likes of Super Meat Boy and its imitators- the player must reach the goal in a number of self-contained levels by making seemingly improbable jumps and navigating assorted obstacles.

The main weapon in I's arsenal is that old platform favourite, his double-jump. Double-jumping allows him to switch (a-ha!) between his lower- and upper-case forms. Oddly, however, the developers have chosen to put this second jump onto a different button to the normal one.

The game opens with the phrase 'Gamepad strongly recommended', and it's not wrong. On keyboard, the dobule-button-double-jump is a feat of finger gymnastics that isn't entirely comfortable, and distracts from the environment-traversal aspects of the game. Using an XBox pad, the default setting of A to jump and RT to switch helps to give fast double-jumping a nice, natural-feeling rhythm.

It's a motion not entirely dissimilar to clicking your fingers, which is another comparison to that Nintendo console I'm sure the developers would be really happy to hear about.

This isn't the only quirk the game brings to the genre- I is also able to shoot at objects to open doors and even transform platforms, although a reliance on hiding moving targets behind a wall you have to keep sliding down and jumping back up means that on occasion this aspect can feel a lot more like luck than skill.

In later levels elements of the environment such as platforms, barriers around targets and even streams of lava are toggled based on I's current case, similar to forgotten XBox Live Indie title Nyan-Tech, bringing the game slightly into puzzle platformer territory.

As well as simply reaching the exit, each level has two extra objectives in a target time and a collectable ink drop. At the end of the level you are awarded the standard one to three stars for doing so, but progression is kept primarily to how many levels have been finished, relieving the frustration of being unable to get that speed star by a few milliseconds.

The precision platformer is an increasingly oversubscribed field, and a very easy thing to get wrong- and while Switch - or die trying is hardly going to go down as a classic in its field, its gets enough right to stand above some of the genre's less accomplished efforts.
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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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Pixel Heroes:
Byte & Magic
Feb 06
Posted by Mark at 14:35

There's every chance that this game's title alone will tell you everything you need to know. It's going to make a song and dance about its low-res art style, and it's not going to take itself that seriously.

A roguelike, you start your adventure by assembling your rag-tag bunch of adventurers as they head off on their quests to help the citizens of Pixton, a city very aware of its retro appearance, by exploring dungeons and lopping the heads off the various beasties within.

Those dungeons, as befitting the genre, are procedurally generated and unforgiving- and if your characters cark it on their way through, then unless one of them makes it to the end and can pay for a resurrection, they're gone for good.

Those expecting a dungeon-crawler in the vein of Diablo or even Etrian Oddysey will be coming away disappointed, however. Rather than being left to navigate a maze, taking down monsters and collecting loot as you go, the game simply plonks you in a room which will contain either some monsters or a chest, and once that's dealt with, you get a quick shuffle of your inventory and it's onto the next room.

For a genre where inventory management matters so much, it's surprising to see that Pixel Heroes makes such a mess of it- the inventory shares its screen with the character stats, and to equip an item involves choosing it from the inventory menu, pressing and holding 'A', moving over to the character's equipment slot and then releasing the button.

This screen, which contains two grids of items, space for a short description and a graph of the character's stats, winds up being cramped and messy to fit into a screen with the effective resolution of the 3DS' bottom screen, a canvas which has seen many, far better similar screens.

The interface isn't a lot better in the main game, with unnecessarily huge icons for your party's attacks pushing the action into the top third of the screen. Each character can equip two weapons and has two innate skills, and the two groups can be toggled between. The two teams- your team of three, usually facing off against three enemies- trade blows until one team expires.

Only one member of each team can act in each turn, and the one who acts has to rest during the next turn- this reduces battles to alternately attacking and healing, and removes much of the strategic advantages to attacking one member of the enemy team over the other.

The game has its genesis in a mobile game released about six months ago, which goes some way to explaining many of its design decisions- the huge icons being designed to be poked by fat fingers on undulating trains, and the holding of buttons being a holdover from being able to drag across the screen.

In its natural habitat of mobile, this is a nice distraction- bite-size gameplay chunks which are easily operated on autopilot, superfically reminiscent of the games people played in their youth, all mercifcully free of the trappings of microtransaction-driven free-to-play. At home it's just a bit of a waste of time- not involved enough to warrant full attention and made less enjoyable by a lazy port.
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Double
Dragon IV
Feb 05
Posted by Ben at 10:42

There is something to be said for absolutely nailing you inspiration, capturing everything about the original source. Done right you evoke all the fond memories and nostalgia for the original, but there is every chance youíll take things too far. There was that Psycho remake a decade or so back that was essentially a scene for scene remake. It was fine, well acted, well shot, but it was the same as the original, no one needed it. Double Dragon IV kind of shares the same problem, it feels every inch a lost NES Double Dragon game, but thatís not entirely a good thing

Itís difficult to know where to start critiquing Double Dragon IV, so much of it overlaps, you need certain bits to make the good things good, but they also make the bad things bad. So Iíll start with a word about the PC version in the hope that before we publish this these issues are resolved. In game the PC port runs fine, certainly I canít say I noticed any glaring problems, but getting to the point where you can actually play the game is where Double Dragon IV stumbles. Despite Steam recognising the Playstation 4ís DualShock 4 controller natively, the game throws a fit when you try to use it. Itís an easy enough fix on the consumerís end, if you run a controller emulator to mimic a 360 controller youíll be able to use something with a d-pad worth the name, but you shouldnít have to.

Screen size is another problem. Double Dragon IV boots to a windowed mode, you can press F2 to increase the size of the screen, and you can press Ďalt enterí to force full screen mode, but again you shouldnít have to, and itís an issue that still occurs when playing in steamís big picture mode. Finally, closing the game. Thereís no way to do this with a controller, thereís no option on the game menu, you need to force the shut down yourself. Hopefully all this is an easy fix, but it should have been sorted for launch.

There is some things to like about Double Dragon IV, particularly if you have an affection for the originals. Thereís a plot that might as well not exist for most of us, but it does fit with games from that time, bouncing around all over the place, trying to explain the level designers locations. The backgrounds and characters look suitably 8bit, crisper and a higher resolution certainly, but they definitely look the part. The music too is, to my memory at least, spot on, it feels like it belongs in an old brawler

The problem is that the same can be said for the gameplay. Even compared to the 16-bit era of Streets of Rage 2 and Final Fight Double Dragon IV feels limited. There are a number of moves at your disposal, beyond the basic punches and kicks thereís a headbut, a roundhouse kick and a barwards punch, but theyíre so inneffective that itís hard to see why youíd choose to use them over standard attacks that have more reach and allow you to combo. Thereís no art to it, youíll soon learn to use the more powerful rising attacks when youíve been knocked down, but largely because youíll spend a lot of the game being knocked down. Enemies will break your combo for no reason, and youíll find that the progressive rise in difficulty is really more a case of enemies doing more damage and becoming cheaper, attacking you as you stand up. Which to be fair will have been your tactic throughout the game, so I guess itís only fair. Then thereís the platforming, thereís not loads of it, but none of it is good, itís probably the right thing to break up the gameplay in some way, but not with something worse.

Itís again a callback to those old NES games, back then games were unfair, they were cheap, and you did have to cheese your way through them. I did have some fun with Double Dragon IV, nostalgic fun sure, but that doesnít necessarily invalidate it. You can never shake the feeling though that Arc System Works should have used those old games as a springboard, that sticking so close to them actually hurts this game. Itís not awful, but nowadays it really doesnít hold up
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Double Dragon IV
Video Review
Feb 02
Posted by Ben at 16:47

Our full review of Double Dragon IV will follow tomorrow. It's half way written, and I know more or less what I think of the game, I'm just a little torn as to where Double Dragon IV s on a scale

It's certainly not a bad game, and it is a faithful sequel. It feels like an old game in a way most retro games don, I'm just not so sure that's a good thing.

As things stand, some of my criticisms of the PC port of Double Dragon IV are accurate, things like controller problems and not being able to close the game from inside the game, but there's every chance that by the time you watch it these things have been patched and fixed. I'll try to remember to annotate the video if it ever happens

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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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