Articles tagged with review


 
 
Pathfinder
Adventures
Nov 17
Posted by Mark at 16:28

Asmodee Games has been making its name porting board games to the digital format, and one of their more recent is an adaptation of the RPG card game Pathfinder.

You start by selecting a handful of characters and building decks for them given certain restrictions. Then, after a short visual novel-style cutscene, you drop each of them into one of a choice of locations. Each of these locations has their own deck of cards, featuring a mix of monsters to defeat, weapons to collect and allies to recruit- and one location's will contain the Big Bad for this scenario.

Each turn you pick the top card from the location's deck, and then you react to it by rolling dice and picking cards from your Hand to make your dice rolls more likely to succeed.

Hands tend to be in the region of five or six cards and represent both your toolset and your health. Weapons, by example, allow you to add an extra die to your combat roll- if you roll a number higher than that on the card you drew from the Location deck, you defeat the monster, and if it's lower, you take damage to the value of the difference between the dice roll and the card. Or, in other words, discard that number of cards from your hand.

At the end of each turn you draw cards from your Deck to fill your hand and if you cannot hold a full hand you die, this means you die with cards left which can feel unfair, especially if one of your characters has a larger hand, which can make up about a third of the deck.

Play cycles through each of the characters in turn until the location they're in can be 'closed', either by working all the way through the location deck or fulfilling some other criteria specific to that place.

If you encounter the Big Bad, it is fought in the same way as all the other monsters- although when defeated, it will attempt to run away. If it is encountered prematurely, locations can also be temporarily closed if a character is already there at the time- this means it they can only escape to open locations, giving you an idea of where it's hiding.

This, coupled with the 'Blessings' deck, which acts as a de facto time limit, adds elements of strategy to your character and location choices- fewer characters mean that you can focus and use time more efficiently, but more means you're better able to corner the Big Bad sooner.

There is a lot you can do with your deck to improve your chances, with more powerful cards having more powerful effects and more tweaks that help to mitigate the fiddlier effects of the enemies you will face, although it's this stage where the game starts to fall apart.

The PC version of Pathfinder Adventures is, if you like, an adaptation of an adaptation- the game swapped cardboard for pixels once already, being released on mobile before being ported to Windows. The mobile version is Free-To-Play, while the PC version is a paid game, with paid DLC expansions.

While the microtransactions are happily left behind, there has been no meaningful change to the gameplay in transit- outside of the campaign scenarios, Pathfinder Adventures is very much a currency-based affair, which means grinding and loot boxes.

Playing through a normal scenario will see your deck both gain and lose cards, and the end of each scenario will see you having to rebalance your deck, removing cards of a type which you have too many of, and replacing cards lost of types that you have too few of. You draw these from a 'stash' of cards, shared between your characters- although this itself comes with limitations. The stash can only hold twenty cards, and all the rest must be thrown away and exchanged for currency- as such it's difficult to build a decent selection of cards, limiting the scope for experimentation.

The game is decidedly stingy when it comes to handing out currency, and even though cards which fall out of the loot box go into a seperate stash which doesn't need to be regularly emptied, once they're in your deck they're up to be lost, something that can really start to grate when the dice decide that they're not on your side.

There are also other problems that have arisen from the conversion from one platform to the other, notably that we had trouble getting the game to run at a decent frame rate on a few PCs unless the resolution and a lot of the graphical effects were turned down, and some aspects of the touch-based UI translate badly to mouse control- something that is pleasingly tactile on mobile becomes admin with a mouse.

There's a solid game at the base of this, but it's perhaps not entirely compatible with videogame business models, at least not without serious rebalancing. The paper version might well be a better choice.
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Fate/EXTELLA
The Umbral Star
Jul 21
Posted by James at 04:19

We donít usually review ports, but the Switch is so energising for even the most familiar of games, and what could be more familiar than a Warriors-style action game? Indeed, Marvelous has served up a Switch port of Fate/Extella, throwing in all previously released DLC to boot. Itís also landing on PC via Steam within the same week.

First things first: Mark has already reviewed the original PS4 release, so head over here for a detailed rundown regarding the gameís narrative and how it fits in following on from PSP game Fate/Extra.

Done? Okay, well, the gist of how Fate/Extella plays is simple: Think of it like a Fate-flavoured take on Omega Forceís own Warriors games, where it uses its disassociation with that series to do enough to take it beyond its setting within the Fate universe.

Beyond the expectedly rhythmic but button mashing combat, Extella is a Warriors game that focuses more on territorial control. Each battlefield is divided into sectors: Claim enough land before your enemy does and you get a stab at battling their Servant commander.

Itís within these higher-level proceedings that the real battles are waged, as you constantly need to ensure that youíre not putting all your eggs in one basket and attacking one sector for too long.

Reclaiming a sector takes time Ė to claim back land you must wipe out a few Aggressors first, who are basically big baddies that happen to also be damage sponges. Meanwhile in faraway sectors youíll often notice that ďPlantsĒ Ė enemies with the capability of spawning more Aggressors Ė constantly try and undo your progress, sending the foes to sectors youíve reclaimed, and those where your own fighters are struggling.



Do you spend a few more minutes reclaiming this one sector or should you drop everything to rush to a sector where a Plant is sending more enemies elsewhere?

Itís in moments like these, when Extella constantly ups the anxiety and throws you into situations where you never feel quite so comfortable taking on cannon fodder, where the game is at its best. Youíll often need to adapt and find an optimal route to travel around the map too, as later stages pile on the pressure by introducing enemy ambushes in some sectors, leaving you with no choice but to waste a few minutes cleaning up before youíre allowed to advance.

Despite placing a large emphasis on territorial control and continuous travel, itís hard not to feel disappointed by Extellaís rather safe and uninspired level designs that reside within each battleground. While thereís a pleasing amount of variety and scale to the backdrops, each sector feels disconnected from surrounding ones.

As a result you almost have to depend on the minimap just to get simple bearings, as scenery and structures are repeated so often that everything quickly looks the same. While the game is still playable like this itís evident that something has been lost. Youíre almost too disconnected from the action that youíre orchestrating, and the battles themselves would certainly come off as more engaging and memorable if each map was designed to feel like an actual place, rather than a series of small, identikit areas.

Still, the way Fate/Extellaís fights flow from a higher level provides enough fun in spite of the gameís shallow combat, and it does a lot to compensate for its shallow combat. Each playable Servant has an ever-expanding combo tree, but new attacks rarely feel like substantial game-changers compared with their level and equipped skills. Specials, while satisfying to use, reveal all their tricks far too quickly. It bears to be repeated: The lower-level proceedings lack depth.



The technical chops behind the Switch port lie somewhere between what Marvelous originally delivered for Vita and what was upgraded for PS4. When the Switch is docked, instead of opting for a significantly higher rendering resolution over the handheld's display, the differences are more subtle: Characters gain cel-shaded outlines and thereís noticeably better edge smoothing (antialiasing). There is, however, a drop in framerate from the game's PS4 cousin to a locked 30 frames per second. While the Switch has no trouble hitting this target consistently, making everything more than playable, it's hard to shake the feeling that the gameís fast-paced combat isnít as deliciously fluid as it could have been.

Meanwhile, Marvelousí inclusion of all DLC (plus one exclusive item) grants access to a few dozen character costumes, each with their own accompanying character portraits. As with the lore-heavy narrative and story, Fate fans will probably find a lot more to appreciate there. The PC version does not include any DLC but itís worth noting itís slightly cheaper to compensate.

Fate/Extella is a game of two halves. On one side it plays a rather satisfying game of territorial control Ė if this is what you like about Warriors-style games youíll probably get a lot out of it, even if youíre not well versed in all things Fate. On the other hand, the combat is shallow, and the gameís ties with the Fate universe are more entrenched than they were with the PSPís Fate/Extra. While Fate/Extella can easily seen as a love letter to Fate fans, itís also more inviting to the uninitiated than you might expect.

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Toby
The Secret Mine
Jul 05
Posted by Mark at 17:15

A situation involving monsters, it seems, when combined with small, out-of-the-way villages, only really ever go one way. Towards the former kidnapping and hiding the residents of the latter- and that's exactly what's happened in Toby: The Secret Mine.

Toby, of course, decides he's not going to stand for this, and sets off to rescue his friends- following the paths of previous would-be rescuers, he heads into the nearby forest, where he discovers many of his neighbours are a long way from home.

We're in puzzle-platformer territory here, much the same as Limbo or Braid, but with slightly fewer pretentions of telling some ground-breaking, medium-redefining story- just getting straight into the platforming and the puzzling.

The platforming is quite simple, and early on, so are many of the puzzles, mostly equating to rubbing up against something that prevents your progession, then tracking back to find the hidden crate you'd walked past and then pushing it forwards, but it's not long before that changes, with later levels not only pushing your platforming skill but also creating increasingly complex puzzles.

In fact, Toby isn't shy about changing up its gameplay as you progress- discarding one type of puzzle for another well before you get bored of it.

The decision to stick to an art style where almost everything is flat black- as if the entire scene is being lit from behind, casting the foreground into shadow- allows the backgrounds to shine. Although, it can make it difficult to see different types of terrain or other traps before you're on top of them and on occasion it can be difficult to tell the difference between a usable platform and an object in the extreme foreground, which can lead to a lot of cheap deaths.

(Tellingly, there's a trophy for dying 100 times, but none for completing the game with a minimal number of deaths)

It also means that the game can over-rely on hiding objects and routes in blacked-out areas that only become visible when you enter them, which works for the hidden Friends you rescue as you go along (Just the 26 of them, which is a pleasing number of collectables for a game of this length), but can annoy when an important area is hidden this way.

These are minor issues, though- Toby keeps its gameplay varied, and doesn't outstay its welcome.
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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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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
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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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
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

Show/hide video

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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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