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Psychotic Reviews: Steambot Chronicles

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Steambot Chronicles; or Ponkotsu Roman Daikatsugeki: Bumpy Trot as it was originally named in Japan is a Playstation 2 game developed by Irem and published by themselves in Japan, Atlus in North America, and 505 Gamestreet in a few countries in Europe. There is also a spin off on PSP named Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament. An odd tie in a puzzle game on PS2 and PSP named Blokus Portable: Steambot Championship, and being one of only four games published by Majesco on the PSP in the USA. A quick look at the back of the case shows the game being marketed as an open world RPG, and that is correct in a way. The game starts off as linear as any other RPG that’s been made and then opens up. Its similar to the opening dungeon in the Elder Scrolls, only dragged on much longer. In this long opening sequence you’ll visit all three of the main towns, many of the back areas, and explore most of the world anyway, by the time its completely opened up. Once an area is open then it may be visited at any time afterwards, and money can be hoarded this way.

There are times where the story in the game essentially halts and time will not pass no matter how many times you run in and out of any city (this is how time passes in this world). You can dig up all the big fossils on this very day if you desire to make a massive amount of money. I did, then I lost it all on the stock market. No, I lied there. But, there is a stock market in this game. Your very actions in sidequests can even open more companies on the stock exchange! Other pieces of optional content can help and boost the price of other companies, so you can commit the most sinister crime of insider trading thanks to these options.

Let’s rewind back to the beginning. You wake up as an amnesiac survivor of a shipwreck, a girl named Coriander runs over to basically save your life. The main character can only barely remember his name when he wakes up, and shows signs of obvious brain trauma. Coriander goes by the nickname of Connie for the game, and Vanilla’s full name is Vanilla R. Beans. The rest of the main cast occupies many other necessary spices for any aspiring chef’s spice rack. Vanilla takes a tossed out, junky Trotmobile, basically an early mech shaped like a classic car. Connie is the lead singer of the biggest band in all the land, the Garland Globetrotters, and you can join! There are many options of musical instruments in the game, and each one is its own rhythm game, with some being offshoots of others.

These instruments range in difficulty, and I found mastering the harmonica you start with to be one of the more difficult ones myself. You can run around and play some pianos that are around the cities, and perform solo or with somebody on the street to make some pocket change. Being in the city does not advance time, so other than the story concerts you can play outside for an hour of real time and save up some stock options, or more instruments, or clothes, maybe some furniture to jazz up your fancy urban suite. Maybe that crazy painter Pablo has some nice paintings to decorate your walls. Don’t forget to add food to your shopping list either, or else you’ll starve to death! Or, more likely, you’ll at least lose the ability to run before you remember to feed Vanilla!

Back to the music I can’t help but feel that the audio was woefully underfunded for a task this grand. I went through the game thinking and feeling that the instruments were all synthed, when it turns out they were all done in a studio! There is a wealth of music for this game, but its spread out just like its world is. There are areas that are dead silent in the game, and the cities all have repetitive and looped music. It does change depending on what time of day of it, but that left the countryside feeling empty. But, the lack of music made those lone treks across the desert feel that much more lonely. Why didn’t the trotmobiles have a built in radio? There’s a suggestion for Steambot 2!

This game has a lot of options for what basically amounted to a lower budget RPG from a company that was a far cry from its glory days in the arcade. Steambot suffers from intense slowdown in various parts of the world, which were technical issues that likely needed more time to be ironed out. Despite the world being open most of the paths between the cities are funnels, so any slowdown on these screens is experienced every time you run through these areas. It can be annoying, especially when you’re locked in combat with a more dangerous Trotmobile.

Technical issues aside this is a fulfilling game that had a lush and vibrant world for its time. The setting is one that feels like a politically fractured area in the early 20th century. Steambot’s enemy design around human piloted Trotmobiles makes this game feel almost nothing like a traditional RPG, and more like a fun experiment courtesy of Irem’s creative team. Irem themselves bowed out of video game development after the Fukushima disaster since their only major title at that point was Disaster Report. Today they focus on their amusement machine market, they’re a big name in the powerful Japanese gambling market. There was early teasing of a sequel to this game in the year following its release, but Steambot 2 was officially cancelled in 2011.

Some of the developers from Irem formed a company called Granzella in the aftermath of the closure of Irem’s video game team. Granzella bought most of the rights, and is known to be continuing work on the Disaster Report series, and a Steambot 2 has been teased as well.

They made a real trotmobile!

They made a real Trotmobile!

Psychotic Reviews: Hyperdimension Neptunia

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Hyperdimension Neptunia is a turn based RPG developed by Idea Factory, Compile Heart to be specific. It was published by all kinds of different companies depending on where you live, Compile Heart in Japan, NIS America in North America, and Tecmo Koei for the Europeans. It has spawned sequels and a plethora of extra media in Japan. It was remade for the Vita with the epithet Re;Birth 1. Once again the Japanese start messing around with our punctuation and grammar.

The idea behind the game sounds like heaven for long time fans of video games. Imagine the major manufacturers personified as goddesses, and you get to play as one! You play as Neptune, the personification of Sega, with the name pulled from the Sega Neptune prototype of the combined Genesis and 32X. Neptune love sleeping and food, almost too much. The major supporting characters include personifications of the developers and publishers involved in the game. Compa for Compile Heart, IF for Idea Factory, Nisa for Nippon Ichi, and Gust for GUST! The Goddesses can also transform, with Neptune growing well over a foot in height and a couple letters in cup size. She’s affectionately referred to as “Magical Boob Girl” by IF.

In this world the Console Wars are real battles between the Goddesses as they vie for domination of the world of Gamindustri and their own realm of Celestia. Some events transpire in Celestia that lead to the Goddesses descending to their respective planes, except Neptune who ends up lost. She lands face first and suffers from amnesia after that. There is a lot of hidden comparisons and criticisms of Sega and the other hardware manufacturers scattered throughout the story, this being the first major one. There are events scattered throughout the planes, with Planeptune including one where a game obsessed kid criticizes a game company’s history, including releasing a console the same day they announce it. That sounds familiar. The same kid also screams at an executive for the company, telling him the company sucks, then justifying it as a sort of encouragement for the company to improve. For such a light hearted game there are many quips and jokes that feel like they’re roughly scratching at sensitive scar tissue.

In the end, this is not Segagaga. There is no atmosphere of despair and failure surrounding a group of executives and creators. It is upbeat in no small part thanks to Neptune’s natural energy, eagerness, and brash personality. The main characters are unique in their own way, and the supporting characters are quite helpful, Gust’s discount ability saves a lot of credits! Compa is a rather airheaded nursing student who ends up being pulled along with Neptune into a grand, epic adventure after her school is closed due to monsters. Her grandfather is also hilarious! IF is the more rational and level headed group member, helping to balance out Neptune and Compa’s tendency to run head first into dangerous dungeons without preparing themselves.

While the story and characterization is quite strong the rest of the game is lackluster. The battle system is quite weak, devolving into monotonous combos that you’ll end up skipping to get S ranks in the dungeons. Repeatable dungeons are all about finishing them quickly to get higher ranks, then you get more reward money at the end. Skipping the attack animations makes this actually attainable. So you’ll spend most of combat mashing a few face buttons with L2 mashing in between them. This gets old quickly and wears the fingers down. There is usually a grinding dungeon thrown in somewhere, where some dungeons are harder, take longer, and offer worse rewards this grinding dungeon is relatively easy with some great rewards and fast experience. One of the last dungeons I found of this kind got me from level 48-65 in about an hour. I was entirely overpowered after that dungeon.

Items are also awkward. Instead of buying the items you want to use and navigating a menu the party gathers up four ingredients, then mixes them based on whatever item skills you equip them with. Its not a simple equip either, but how many percentage points you allot to that specific ability. I pretty much kept the cheap, low level healing abilities up at the maximum percentage since the healing skills are also percentage based. The one skill I found myself micromanaging was Neptune’s Protein skill. This lets Neptune start the battle with Lunatic, an attack power buff. Bosses die fast with that on, but its expensive to use for every battle.

I do not believe that Japanese developers have properly grasped the concept of DLC yet, moreso when this game’s DLC was releasing. Neptunia has some DLC, including free dungeons. Some of these dungeons are extemely high level, and you’ll have to buy multiple level cap increasing DLCs to make use of most of these free dungeons, which serve to grind out a hundred or so levels. As monotonous as the main game is I know I would never have the patience for that kind of post game grinding. Some extra characters are also unlocked in combat through purchasable DLC, like Nisa and Gust. There are also the obligatory costume and gear packs to buy as well. Given the price of a used copy of the game now you’ll spend over twice as much extra scratch for DLC that will likely never be touched, so I would not even bother supporting this awkward and contradictory style of content addition.

This first game in the series really should only be played to see the story, and as such you might as well play it on the easiest difficulty. You won’t be missing much for this, and will probably save a couple fingers some fatigue and soreness in the process. This game took me the longest to play out of anything I’ve reviewed so far. I started the game I just beat almost three years ago, but found myself bored and moving onto other things only to pick it up for a day or two months later. I finally powered through the rest of the game to see the rest of the story. The monotony may drive you insane and if you’re looking for an RPG with deeper and more engaging mechanics then it is best to look elsewhere in the PS3 and Vita’s library.

Psychotic Reviews: Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed

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Every so often there comes a game with such an absurd premise that you just can’t help but try it out. Akiba’s Trip is one such game. It was developed by Acquire and published by XSEED in North America, releasing in August 2014 for PS3 and Vita, and November 25 for PS4. This game’s setting is the otaku and gaming Mecca of Akihabara. It also involves sun fearing vampires with combat that revolves around stripping said basement dwelling otaku vampires down to their skivvies. Otaku in general burn to a crisp from slight sun exposure after all! The main character is actually turned into one of these vampires in the introduction, and is saved by a pretty young girl with a kiss.

As the main character you are a hardcore otaku, and are apparently the leading authority on figurines in your circle of friends. The game has plenty of items to collect, and keeps any you’ve ever found in a database. There are also titles, character profiles, and fliers for the businesses of Akiba to collect. Later in the game you can start fusing items to make them stronger, and since you can restart the game with cleared data over and over again these items can get extremely powerful. Getting stripped clothes off of your enemies levels up your stripping abilities, which keeps the clothes from getting ripped so you can collect them and put them on your main character (or the lasses).


Read the fine print.

The combat system is in real time. Clothing is armor for all the characters in the game. As you beat up on each other the clothes take damage, once they’ve taken enough damage they can be ripped off or you can go through a button mashing event to weaken them enough to rip them off. Most of the time people will just be wearing a shirt and pants, maybe a skirt on the girls. An item like a hat or headdress can be equipped on the head to give some added durability. There’s nothing like establishing dominance by ripping another man’s jeans off and leaving him in his underwear, with nothing but an anime poster or CRT monitor to retaliate with.

That’s right, the weapons range from completely ridiculous to actual weapons. You can equip glowsticks that are wielded in the same way that Wolverine uses his adamantium claws, you can swing around laptops, keyboards, monitors, posters, bus stop signs, handbags, batons, night sticks, microwave ovens, almost any random object you can imagine can be used as a weapon. The weapon you have equipped changes your normal attack animations. You’ll be fighting many large groups of enemies, but they seem to have a hard time maneuvering quickly around obstacles. Use the terrain to your advantage to fix your clothes when its needed. Or use those obstacles to funnel in enemies one at a time until the rest can catch up, then move again.


Being wrong never felt oh so right.

As the player you can chain together your stripping if there are multiple items on opponents weak enough to rip off their bodies. This really streamlines battles overall, but the animations are always the same, so you’ll end up seeing these stripping animations dozens of times. There are some accessories that can change the animations, but you’ll end up seeing those for dozens of times as well. At least there is some variation. There are special attacks that can be used with the partner you are traveling with. Each girl has her own animation, but the accessories do not change this animation, so its always static. This attack does give the added bonus of stunning nearby enemies, so it is best used against groups and to get cheap damage on bosses.

Akiba’s Trip does have its share of problems though. The combat system can get jerky. Even outside of combat your character can jerk around while running in a straight line. Loading times are relatively quick, but they just load the area for you to explore at first. The people in the area load in after you’re able to run around. This is not the biggest problem normally, but when you’re looking for an NPC for a side mission, or group of enemies for said mission this style of loading can get annoying. They can be right next to where you spawn in, but you won’t be able to immediately see them and might run around the rest of the screen looking for them. I would not have minded an extra few seconds of loading if it meant that NPCs would be already loaded into the area.


Collect all the panties!

There are also issues with the combat system. Each attack button serves as a high, mid, and low attack. If you want to attack somebody’s shirt you hit O for a mid attack for example. The problem is that tapping it once can lead to about three different possibilities. When you need short, quick attacks you’ll get the long winded attack animation that almost never hits. Then you’ll get smacked upside the head by an enemy to the side of you before you’ll get a chance to set up your defense for a counter. When you need that long winded attack as a finisher you’ll get a flubbed quick attack. Holding the attack button down will lead to the stripping animation, or button mashing QTE depending on damage to the targeted cloth. If there is little damage then you’ll be denied the QTE! I feel like the shoulder buttons could have been used to better effect in combat, letting you get easier control over exactly what attack you perform. This opinion may be my recent experience with Tales of Xillia, which has amazingly smooth combat and tight controls in comparison.

Akiba’s Trip is a good game overall, even if it is rough around the edges. The setting is cool and filled with random, wandering vampires to take down, the trick is finding them. The characters are well written and there are branching story paths to travel down. The path you take depends on which girl you wish to romance. This game would be much better if it gave you the option of romancing the best girl in the game, Finnish exchange student cosplayer maid Kati Raikkonen! I actually did enjoy the English voice acting. None of the characters were overbearing or grating over the course of the game, and each voice felt like it fit the character well. English dubs are easier to follow when you’re hammered, so you can refrain from the superior Japanese dub comments. I have not played the PS4 release but it does have some extra features and content not in the first wave of releases.

Psychotic Reviews: Tales of Xillia 2

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I have been excited about the release of Tales of Xillia 2 since I played and reviewed the first one a few months ago here: http://www.rfgeneration.com/blogs/sirpsycho/Psychotic-Reviews-Tales-of-Xillia-2755.php. I greatly enjoyed the main characters and writing of the game, the plot also took plenty of nice turns that were not as predictable as an RPG veteran would expect.

Unlike the first game, you get taken off to a fast start. Quite a bit happens in a short amount of time and its not too long before you’ve reunited the cast of the first game. In comparison it just feels rushed, and there’s no real connection or build up with Ludger Kresnik (pronounced Loo-grr) as our new protagonist. They just kind of all join in, probably because Jude’s there from an early point and they all fondly remember their time together.

Ludger is much different as a protagonist than either Milla or Jude from the first game. He’s almost a silent protagonist in fact. He rarely speaks, and because of that when he does its only a couple words at most and just feels out of place. Instead of pre-recorded written lines and a well defined personality the developers decided to give the player a choice between two different lines at various points in conversation. These can have an impact on the affinity of your party members so they will like you more. Simple decision based systems like this make it easy for the player to make the character contradict him or herself, and the feeling of a character arc suffers as a result.

If you do not like backtracking, and you’ve played the first Xillia, then you will hate this game. Most of the game area is ripped straight from the first game, so for a long time you’re just revisiting areas you’ve already been. There are a few new areas, with a new town that serves as a bridge and trading post between Rieze Maxia and Elympios, and there’s a few more areas in Elympios, but it doesn’t feel like enough was added to make the world stand out any more than it already has from the first game’s adventure. There’s some more backstory with Elympios, and most of the new major players in the story are Elympions as well.

The battle system is much of the same, but Ludger has some unique abilities. He gets to wield multiple weapons, a pair of swords, a giant hammer, and twin handguns. You can switch these on the fly to attack enemies with different weaknesses. Ludger can also transform, and that leads to him fighting the enemies by himself during this transformation sequence. The other characters play the same way as the first game, with the exception of Gaius and Muzet being new additions to the party. Because of this there are plenty of new options to keep you occupied while you play through the game, backtrack to most of the same places you’ve been before, and fight the palate swapped enemies again.

The quest system is streamlined from the first game. Before you had to find whoever needed something done, talk to them, and then go off and do the task. Now there’s a quest board, and you rank up while doing plenty of quests, most of which are just random ones that involve killing a certain number of specific monsters or turning in items. Elite monsters are unlocked by progressing the story, and there are other story based quests that unlock from progression as well. On top of this there are quest points you earn by completing quests, and there is a series of levels to work through as well. Some of these story quests require a certain quest level to complete. Sometimes this makes little sense as the quest you can’t do yet will send you to kill some monsters you were slaughtering 20 levels prior, or they’ll need 1 item of something you already have at least a dozen of. But, you can’t take the quest yet because you need a higher level. This type of inconsistency is the most annoying aspect of these jobs.

Part of what helps you get items for quests is the Kitty Dispatch system. One of the overarching quests of the game is to find all kinds of hidden cats for some crazy cat lady that lives in the same building as Ludger. Each area you visit also has an item table that the cats can find when you send them out hunting for items. Some items you can only find through the cats, and there are plenty of quests which require these kitty items. Always expect to have a cat out running around finding you stuff, its the best way to stay on top of it.

You’re also expected to grind quite heavily while exploring the world. You have to find a cat in a certain area before you can send your kitties there to hunt items. Killing certain numbers of enemies will also give bonus skill points to use to equip the various skills you learn from the Allium Orb. There are plenty of skills here from simple stat increases to complete changes of combat mechanics. It can be quite enjoyable to customize your character’s skills to create certain builds. Eventually you’ll have so many skills that keeping up with them becomes more of a chore than anything.

The cats will also find you plenty of materials for the game’s crafting system, which is rather simple. You don’t have to guess and try to build items and gear with no guidance. Tiers unlock through story progression, then you can visit any shop and see what you can make, and check material requirements on what you want to make. Fairly early in the game these custom pieces of gear start to get stronger than gear you can buy, but most recipes will require a lower tier of weapon to make them.

So you have quests to make money, and a crafting system to pump money into. What other way can they find to take all of your hard earned Gald from you and make you scrounge for healing items and gear? Cripple the main character with a ridiculous amount of debt is one reason! Ludger does not start the game with any debt, but his life is saved quite early in the story, and he is then given a 20 million Gald debt to repay for some surgery and reconstruction.

I did enjoy this game despite the flaws I outlined above, but if there is a Tales of Xillia 3 there will need to be a lot of stretching, or Elympios recovering and leading to so many new areas to explore. It would just be a massive chore to slog through the same places for a third time. Like the first game the story took plenty of twists and turns, but these picked up towards the end while the first game was more evenly paced.


This isn’t even my final form!

Spooky Plays: Fatal Frame

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Before I get started I just want to say that Fatal Frame is absolutely NOT based on a true story. The producer of the series has gone on record to say that the story is based on two Japanese urban legends and ghost stories, so it is certainly not true at all. This was a marketing slogan that was slapped on the cover for Western Markets. In Japan it was released as Zero, with Project Zero being the European title. The game was developed and published by Tecmo in Japan and the USA, with Europe being quite a mess with system exclusive publishers.

You start the game controlling Mafuyu Hinasaki, who is investigating the disappearance of his mentor, author Junsei Takamine. Junsei went to the Himuro Mansion to do research for his latest project with a couple of assistants. Not all is as it seems in the Himuro Mansion, and it soon becomes clear that the dark rituals performed here are more than mere rumors. Its not long before Mafuyu ends up getting entangled in the strange happenings around this ancient mansion that seems to pay heed to much darker Shinto rituals than most would want the outside world to know.

Mafuyu’s sister Miku then enters the game as the main character. She’s out to find her brother, but soon discovers the story and fate of the author’s team, and even a family that moved in after the Himuro clan suddenly died out. Mafuyu discovers that an antique camera, called the Camera Obscura, given to him by his mother has the power to exorcise ghosts, and Miku soon takes it up to use as her only weapon against the ghosts inhabiting Himuro Mansion.

This opens up a unique style of combat that is thrilling and pretty much shoves the chilling and in some cases nightmarish ghost design. Some of these images will stick with you for quite some time, don’t be surprised if they pop up in your dreams after a long night at work. Miku looks through the camera, and the game shifts from the normal fixed and panning camera angles straight into first person mode. Miku must then focus the camera on the ghost and take pictures to damage it. There is a bar that charges up with energy the longer you look at the ghost, attacking when this is fully charged deals more damage. Attacking while the ghost is charging you and with full energy deals even more damage and gives a huge bonus!

The Camera Obscura can be upgraded from the Spirit Points you gain by fighting ghosts. The ghosts get harder and harder to fight as you move through the game, so these upgrades and extra skills you can unlock can become wonderfully helpful. You can upgrade the damage radius, speed of energy charging, and damage output. The Camera also runs on film that is its ammunition. There are four levels of film, with each stronger one having a more limited supply, and there’s no shop in this game. Determining when to use what type of film is a good idea, blowing through all your powerful film early can kill you when you need it the most.

The ghosts never seem to be too overwhelming. Many of them are fought at specific points in the game, and are impossible or extremely difficult to escape normally. Random ghosts pop up in some locations if you spend too long wandering aimlessly trying to find your next goal. Unlike some other horror games like Clock Tower and Haunting Ground, these random ghosts are useful to hoard some points for upgrading, and most of them are rather harmless once you figure out their patterns.

The game is separated into four different chapters. Each chapter is one night. These nights all have their own self contained stories, but these work to build up the overarching story about the rituals and people involved in the old ways. Each night also introduces new enemies and unlocks more of the mansion to explore. Some old areas will have new items and events in them as well, so there is some backtracking, but you are rewarded for it so it never feels like wasted time.

In my experience its rare for a horror game to really grab you by its story. Most seem to run on atmosphere, tension, quick scares, puzzles, or just good mechanics, but the story is usually lackluster. Fatal Frame has everything that a great horror title needs. There is a reason for the main characters Mafuyu and Miku to be in Himuro Mansion, they have a purpose! They’re not just dropped into this environment against their will and forced to deal with it. The story unfolds slowly but keeps you eager to move forward, and each night has a defined ending, with the next night starting Miku in a new or old room with more to discover and explore, and new ghosts to exorcise!

Spooky Plays: D

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Welcome back to a world of horror and fright. You may remember last year when I did a review of a game that not many would think of when pondering the options to step into a good atmosphere that sends chills down spines and squeals up throats. Thief: The Dark Project was that game, and the horror came from the masterpiece’s years spent in development hell when its focus was changed about a half dozen times. Well, if you want to read more about that game check it out right here: https://whydidiplaythis.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/unexpectedly-spooky-thief-the-dark-project/ . In contrast to a jumbled mess of juxtaposed design and experimentation that somehow worked brilliantly, this year I bring you D. Just D. The letter D. No more. No less. D.

D is a horror puzzle game developed by WARP and published by Acclaim. It was originally created and released on the 3DO, but given the system’s less than stellar sales records, the game was ported over to Sega’s Saturn and Sony’s Playstation, as well as DOS in the Western markets. In Japan, the Saturn release was a smash hit, debuting at the top of the sales chart. Acclaim insisted on porting it over to the other consoles themselves, and localizing it for the international market. The Saturn port was also successful on the sales charts in the West despite that console’s lukewarm reception. Sadly, Sony did not manufacture enough copies to even dream of satisfing pre-order demands for the Playstation release, and few more were ever produced. This leads to the oddity of the Saturn version being the easiest to find in the US. There’s not too much difference in price between the two though, Saturn averages out to be cheaper. The 3DO version stands up as the hardest to find and most expensive release. I blame this on the fact that searching for just “D” leads to so many other results that its annoying to find this specific game for any of its systems.

The game’s development is a wonderful tale in and of itself, with Kenji Eno going to extreme lengths to keep the real story of the game hidden, even from his coworkers, in an attempt to sort of cheat his way into a publishing deal. He made the game appear more like it was a clean cut adventure game with high quality graphics, not unlike Myst before it. Since Kenji Eno personally visited manufacturers in the USA to switch out his clean version from the real version he also bypassed any possibility of censorship.

Even today the horror imagery and well detailed (for the time) art design and environments stand out among its peers in the genre. Where Resident Evil would release after this game and rely on bad voice acting and jump scares, D does an excellent job of instilling a creepy atmosphere around the player and the young woman you control, WARP’s digital actress Laura Harris.

One interesting way that this atmosphere was achieved is a design choice that forces the player to sit and play the game. There is no saving or pausing. You have two hours of real time to finish the game from start to ending. That may seem like a short time, but I ended up being about ten minutes shy of beating it when I first played it. The second time was the charm for me.

One of the reasons you might get stopped and take a bit longer to finish the game is the puzzle design. Its quite reminiscent of point and click adventure games, but given its short length, most of these puzzles lack the depth or insane difficulty of some PC adventure games that are similar to D’s presentation. The exploration and movement works well for being limited to a controller. The odd part about the game’s movement design is that some rooms have paths that go all over the place. One example of this is in one of the bedrooms. You’ll step inside and be looking at a painting, and you can only walk towards this painting at first. Later you’ll need to get into a table to the right of the painting, but to get to the table from the painting you have to turn left, walk to the other door, then turn and step to the bed, turn to the left again, and then step forward to the table. You can’t just turn right when you’re already standing next to the table.

The game certainly feels aged though. Compared to other horror games its quite tame. As you play you’ll find the atmosphere is where the real tension is, and there are some creepy images and unexplained phenomena throughout this mansion Laura finds herself in. The occasional dessicated corpse catches her by surprise, and a wall of spikes early in the game might be only real jump scares in the game, but none of them are harmful. This game did influence later titles when it comes to presentation though. D’s unexpected success in all markets is simultaneously a beginning and an ending, as slower FMV puzzle games were nearing their twilight. D’s future influence lies in its tight artistic designs, well produced visuals, and its use of sound to create a setting and experience that will stick to the player. Its length actually helps it in this case. Since the game is so short everything that happens gets stuck in your mind, and you’ll rarely find yourself scratching your chin trying to remember something like you might with a long winded RPG or even other horror games!

If you have about $20-40 burning up your pocket or paypal balance, and you want a good, creepy experience that doesn’t require a long term commitment, then D is a fantastic purchase.

Psychotic Reviews: Crash Bandicoot: Warped

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After the criticisms of the second game Naughty Dog regrouped and started working on a new followup. This third in the series would be the most ambitious yet. After two extremely successful games Naughty Dog had a large budget to work with, but less than a year to build and finish the game. Like its predecessors the game saw immense success in Japan, and dethroned Crash 2 as the most successful Western developed game in the country. It was the first non-Japanese game to earn the Platinum Prize for selling over 1 million copies in Japan alone.

Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped would move away from the tropical islands somewhere off the coast of Australia and have our heroes trek through time. Dr. Neo Cortex is one again Crash’s adversary, but he is shown as little more than a subordinate under the powerful mask Uka Uka. Since Crash has had his own mask since the beginning this only serves to increase the rivalry between the two as well as deepen the story of the series. Each world’s boss also contacts Crash a couple times as you beat levels, so even they get more character development than most video game bosses. I’m not sure how many people really care about the story of platformers, but its there if you do.

In my review of the second Crash game I had some issues with the level design, and that level design showed unpolished physics which hurt the controls. The level design has been changed more to focus on the 3D elements of the Crash formula. Side scrolling is used fairly sparingly. The ice problems are gone as a result of the time trekking levels, there’s just not an Ice Age level in sight! Much more variety has been added to the overall level design. There are racing, jet ski, and flying levels on top of the usual platformers, so this game has wonderful shifts of pace that keep you on your toes.

There are also more playable characters. Crash’s sister Coco is available as the playable character in certain levels only, and like Crash she gets to ride a cute little animal (a tiger in her case), ride a jet ski, and fly through the skies. Crash does all the racing though, which only shows that the team was already building Crash Team Racing when they were developing this game. As you defeat bosses you get extra abilities to help you explore future levels and complete the bonus areas. These also help to access previously blocked off areas in previous levels.

The difficulty has been toned down quite a bit. I did not run into any problems getting through levels until the last few, and even those were not hard to overcome. Boss fights are mostly a joke, and a formality. Because of the lowered difficulty this feels the most kid friendly of the trilogy. This game could seem easier to me though since I did own this growing up, and I might still have some muscle memory buried deep down in the back recesses of my mind. Overall I do consider this the best game in the trilogy, despite the low difficulty. There’s just so much variety and fun to be had in this game. If you’re looking for legitimate challenge the first Crash is what you want. In my opinion the second game is the worst in the trilogy, but its by no means a bad game, just annoying.

Psychotic Reviews: Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back

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The international success of the first Crash Bandicoot allowed Naughty Dog to get started on a sequel, and most of the team made the transition intact. This let them build on the ideas from the first game and polish its problems up, while adding new ideas. Sadly this created quite a few new problems. Despite all these new issues Crash 2 was more successful than the first game, replacing it in Japan as the best selling Western developed game when it released. Its international sales ended up with the game falling a bit short of its predecessor though.

If you recall my previous review of the first Crash, my main issue with it were the quirky controls. These have been improved slightly, but are still not where I would like them to be. Ice levels can be quite infuriating until you figure out how the game calculates momentum. That is to say, it doesn’t stop calculating momentum even after you smash into a wall. So these ice levels can involve you moving in place until this momentum will eventually stop, then you go flying in the opposite direction. Also beware of small boxes with gaps across from them, you might think that hitting the box would stop you, but if you try and immediately jump onto the box you will assuredly overshoot it and fall to your death. All of this is just trial and error and has absolutely no regard to player skill, you’re just meant to figure this out on your own and probably die doing so.

Progression and exploration have been changed as well, with a hub based world instead of a linear map system like the first game. Each hub has five levels, and you must find the crystal in each level before you can go on to challenge the boss and move onto the next world. Each world has a similar layout of levels though, and there’s not much variety. When you move from one world to the next you can expect to play a combination of a polar bear level, a rock level, an ice level, sewer level, a temple level, a jet ski level, or an outdoor island level in every single world. The only thing that changes is the actual layout of the level, gone are the unique backgrounds and settings that permeated the worlds of the first game.

Each level does contain a bonus area that you can use to gain extra lives, but you also need to break every box in these bonus areas if you wish to collect the gems. There are also secret areas in many levels that require a colored gem to access. These colored gems are extremely difficult to find, mainly because the way you get them is so cryptic. You will almost never guess or find how to get a single one of these colored gems without a guide. In the first game the colored gems were collected by just getting to a certain number of gems, so there was nothing special you needed to do other than find out which levels you can get a gem in without a colored one. For most of the game your success is limited to trial and error. Deathtraps litter the levels, so you’ll probably have to farm the early levels for lives so you can learn how to avoid cheap deaths. That really sums up how this game is designed.

There are some new additions to the control sceme, a slide and jump added onto the spin, a face plant to break certain boxes and kill some enemies. This adds in more variety than just a simple jump attack and the spin, but it fails to add enough to save the game’s poorly designed levels and bad physics as a result of said design. This may be the weakest of the original trilogy but I still have one game to play through and examine first.

Psychotic Reviews: Crash Bandicoot

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Many remember Crash Bandicoot being an unofficial Playstation mascot after his release until the launch of the Playstation 2. The first trilogy of his games are fondly remembered as early 3D platformers done right. The series was created by Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin of Naughty Dog, who went on to develop it for Universal Interactive Studios. Sony Computer Entertainment joined for publishing and marketing after the game’s E3 showing in 1996, making these early games exclusive to the Playstation. One of the reasons why Crash was chosen as an international mascot by Sony was due to its success. At the time it released Crash Bandicoot became the most successful Western developed game in Japan, mix that with the overwhelming sales in the Western markets and Sony had a killer app on its hands.

What about the game helped it become such a success though? Crash was instilled with tight art and design philosophies. While it can be said to be a 3D platformer it is not a full roaming 3D platformer like its peers at the time Super Mario 64 and Croc. Those games and many other games using the 3D perspective up to this day would suffer from camera issues. Crash avoided this by having linear paths to follow, while also mixing up the gameplay with areas based on 2D platformers, with side scrolling action. This helped keep the game from having a crippling camera that could quite literally be your lifeline. How many of us remember making leaps of faith because the camera sucked? Crash avoids this by keeping the path straight and keeping the camera in front of, behind, or beside our bandicoot hero.

The controls in this game feel a bit stiff. The game controls quite well overall, but there is a bit of a pause in starting the running, as well as jumping control. Just holding the button down while you’re jumping feels fine, but having to make precise, short jumps can be rather annoying at times. There are a few levels which are almost sadistically designed to exploit this issue with the controls. Most of the levels are quite tight, and there is variety between the themes and worlds on top of the perspective. The game is anything but boring and predictible for your first playthrough. Boss battles are easy. They are spread throughout the worlds though, so the big boss fight is not always at the end of a land.

The music fits the game quite well. Crash is set in a chain of Pacific islands, so the Tiki styled theme is quite strong with it. The music and the levels fit in with this design quite well. The final world is mostly machine based though, and that has to do with Dr. Neo Cortex and him being a mad scientist and all that jazz.

Its quite easy to see why Crash would be the sensation it was, and why the once wombat, now bandicoot became the face of a system. Naughty Dog would develop two more Crash platformers, and a racing game, before moving onto another series for the Playstation 2, Jak. These three early Crash games are still considered the best in the series, and after playing the first one now and with nostalgic memories of Crash Bandicoot: Warped, I do remember why this is believed. These games are not too expensive, and are quite common. This first game can sell in the $20-30 range, but 2 and Warped can be bought in the $10-15 range and have that extra polish. I found all three of them at a thrift store run for $4 each, so deals can still be had for them with local hunting.


Bane of my existence.

Psychotic Reviews: Tales of Xillia

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Tales of Xillia is a role playing game developed and published by Bandai Namco. It did not take me long to start enjoying Tales of Xillia. The characters are quite memorable, which in today’s world of RPGs seems to be less common. Or they focus so heavy on characters that they make a bland, boring, and repetitive world (looking at you Bioware). Xillia manages to avoid both of these shortcomings to create a memorable cast of characters, and a wondrous, magical filled world to explore. Artes, Rieze Maxia’s form of spirit channeled magic, help fuel everything from a healthy ecosystem to the architecture of cities, even an area’s local climate, and passing of the seasons.

The game starts with the ability to choose which side of the story you want to view. You’re able to pick between Jude Mathis or Milla Maxwell. They’re pretty much the same for over 90% of the game, but there are a few moments when the party splits up and bad things happen. Number 1 rule of RPGs, be they video game or tabletop, never split up. That’s how people get hurt, or die.

Anyway, I started with Jude’s story. He lives in the city of Fennmont, blessed under a cover of eternal night, and the capital of a country called Rashugal. Jude is studying at the Talim Medical School to be a doctor, following in his father’s footsteps. He wanders out to find the teacher he’s doing slave labor, I mean graduate study work for. He makes his way to the Laforte Research Center, where outside he sees a strange woman who can walk on water with ease. He grows curious and follows her, and she claims to be the Lord of Spirits Maxwell in a human form. Milla has control of the Four Great Spirits, and begrudgingly decides to let Jude travel through the Research Center with her since he insists on finding his professor.

For those of you familiar with the Tales series you’ll know that the combat system is where the real meat of the game is, having a nice story and interesting world are wonderful add ons. The combat system for Tales of Xillia is a real time system. Enemies appear on the screen, and the player has the option of how they approach the enemy. Do you run and strike them from behind for some damage? Do you give them the run around until they stop chasing and hit them from behind for even more damage and a stun? Or do you gather up enemies to fight a big group all at once for added EXP and money? I usually chose the latter option as it coupled well with EXP and money boosting food buffs.

You can customize your combo system, using the left stick + circle button, just the right stick, or pressing down L1 for a second set of combos. Each character also controls completely differently. Jude is a very fast fisticuffs brawler, smacking enemies around the screen with his gauntlets. Milla uses a shortsword to dispatch enemies, and is great to use as an aerial combatant. Alvin is the heavy physical damage dealer, swinging a greatsword around like its nothing, as well as using a gun for added distance. Elize is primarily an artes user, being a great healer as well as an area of effect threat. Rowen is a great arte user for single target spells, the Fireball spam is strong with him. Leia shares many combos with Jude, but uses a staff for extended reach and different attacks.

And you can create pretty princesses with various fashion items!

Whoever you’re playing as can link up with another character, and as you build a battle gauge on the side of the screen you can unleash combos by pressing R2 and certain combos while linked with a specific character. The skills you must use are predetermined, and some links are more fruitful than others. When you’ve climbed this ladder enough you have the ability to unleash as many of these Link Attacks as possible in a given timeframe, even if you switch who you’re linked with in the middle of the timeframe. This game’s combat is incredibly satisfying, and I found myself turning the difficulty up to hard so I could enjoy longer fights.

This combat system is deep and rewarding for those that explore it. You feel like you’re in complete control as the player, and you can even customize your ally’s AI to help support you by healing, or go all out with their strongest attacks, or anything in between.

One of my favorite parts about this game are the villains. In a game of war, politics, intrigue, and quickly advancing military technology each antagonist has his own goals and a defined personality. Each one is much more complex than a stereotypical mustache twirling, world conquering, or slaughtering menace. Nachtigal, King of Rashugal rules through a military junta and is investing heavily in powerful technology that could be Rieze Maxia’s Weapon of Mass Destruction. Gaius, another king who has united the country of Auj Oule, united warring clans by force and has consolidated his rule by winning the hearts and minds of his most common subjects. These two powerful kings and some other unforeseen players are all ready to strike in the name of glory, power, and survival.

In the end the goal is not conquest, or destruction, but merely an ideal for how the world should be. The game’s story and narrative are centered more around philosophical quandaries amongst Rieze Maxia’s most ambitious people, be they king or a medical student on the lam. As such I feel this story is a true sign of the evolution of video gaming as a whole, growing from nonexistent stories to one of an ultimate, nonsensical evil being hell bent on world destruction or domination, with no real follow up plan. If you’re a fan of RPGs you owe it to yourself to play this game and discover some well rounded characters and a world of mixed fantasy and science fiction. I am anxiously waiting for the sequel to be localized!

NO! THAT’S NOT WHY I’M SO EXCITED! MY EYES ARE BURNING!

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