Monday, December 31, 2018

Rageys 2018: The Rage Quitter Year End Wrap Up

So much like last year I played an awful lot more than I wrote, but for the most part I will be trying to stick to games that I actually gave reviews unless it otherwise made a serious impression on me. So without further ado please enjoy.....

The 2018 Rageys
Sponsored by the Hayward family. Kinda. They keep giving me twitch bits when I tell them not to.
But after 7 years, I can sorta say I have a sponsor!

12: The "Yakuza Ishin is Never Getting Localized" award for "Game I wish I got to play" goes to....

Octopath Traveler

For the second year in a row, A game from the Nintendo Switch appears on my list under "game I wish I got to play". Nintendo is starting to sell me, but its not there just yet. I have a 7 game line before I buy a console and until I hit it, I don't buy one. But when I do, this one is going to be one of the first ports to call.

A JRPG featuring the artist from the Bravely Default series, A spiritual successor the Saga Frontier series with multiple characters, storylines, done in HD pixel art? Sign me the fuck up. This is pretty much everything I ask for in a game. And I am sure the "on the go" feature would be nice if I ever went anywhere. Put this on my list if I ever get a switch.


11: The "Friends and Family "Ironically" Posting Racist Memes" garbage award for "Biggest Disappointment" goes to.....

Bravely Second: End Layer

I could go easy here and name Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon here, but I expected that one to be bad. But this was a game that I was legitimately excited to get to. After pretty much buying a console specifically to play the first one, I thought I was going to devour the sequel. But while I will say that this game, its soundtrack, and characters were all still great? I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed.

This game came out in 2016, I started playing it and got a chunk into it. But then I kinda put it down. I had no real desire to go back to it. Something was missing. It despite liking it, it didn't have the same magic as before. I had to actually force myself to finish it when I was between games. Had to force myself to play something I was excited to play. That wins it Biggest Disappointment. 


10. The "LOVE actually stood for Level of Violence" award for "Biggest Surprise" goes to.....

DeltaRune: Chapter 1

OH MY GOD. MORE UNDERTALE. Toby Fox, you mad genius. For those who don't know what I'm talking about: The Undertale twitter started tweeting in character about the DeltaRune and if you followed the link, you got a "survey" that forces you to essentially make a character, and then it pulls a switcheroo and trashes all of it and then dumps you in to fully fleshed out but more so PLAYABLE chapter of what seems to be something connected to Undertale.

It's a separate world, but all the characters are familiar. The mechanics I knew were in place, but it played differently. Has a whole new soundtrack, but so many callbacks to what I've heard before. This is only chapter one, and I couldn't be more amped for what is to come.  It can't come fast enough. This literally appeared out of nowhere in a matter of days. This is how you sell your upcoming project. This did more for me than any trailer could. Sorry Evil Within 2, this is my biggest surprise of the year.


9. The "SonicFox vs GO1 Grand Finals" award for "Most hyped game" this year goes to.....

Dragon Ball FighterZ

Again, another year where I can't use this award's original "Overhyped" moniker, because when it's the first year for a brand new fighting game, and you not only make it into the EVO Championship top 9 but get more people in your tournament than STREET FIGHTER by a significant margin? Holy crap can you say you are backing the hype.

I was pretty much amped to get my hands on Dragon Ball FighterZ since the first showing of it at E3 and it fuckin' delivered on all fronts. Produced by Arc Systems Works as probably the only good true 2D Dragon Ball Fighting game, designed similarly to Guilty Gear Xrd but blending mechanics from Marvel Vs Capcom with easy to learn auto combos and fast paces frenetic combat with over the top super moves, its pretty hard to not to feel bad ass when playing this game. I stopped watching Dragon Ball Z almost 20 years ago and I literally couldn't wait to get my hands on this. Apparently. a lot of people couldn't. Easily one of the most hyped games of this year.


8. The "Fortnite Dancing" award for "Flash in the Pan" game of the year.

The Evil Within 2

This award may be my "flash in the pan", but in reality this year it is more of a "most improved" award. If you remember my review of the first The Evil Within game, you will remember that I was very excited and incredibly let down with the product I was given. I had no intention to play this one. But it went on sale, I had nothing else to play, and heard it was better than the first. Sure. Whatever. I'll bite. 

And inside of a few plays? I was enjoying the combat that was once a massive headache, I was experiencing what felt like my first open world horror game that seemed to work very well, and after a few missions I actually found myself completely riveted by the story. So many of my complaints in the first game were addressed, fixed, or removed outright. Everything about The Evil Within 2 was just better than the first. I outright said its a great game. Not ok, not good, great. Honestly if I get a lull in my releases I might play it again I liked it that much. That deserves at least a little recognition. 


7. The "Surprised its not EA, Ubisoft or Bioware" award for "Worst Value" goes to....

Persona 3/5 Dancing Star/Moon Night

No question here. I bitched about this when Persona 4: Dancing All Night came out, and apparently the fans caved and paid more, because Atlus has learned fucking nothing. Two new games, 25 tracks of remixes, some of them appear up to 3 times, and FIVE FUCKING season passes totalling over 85 dollars? But on top of this all of it, ALL OF IT was ready day one. Atlus, I love these games and want to see some HD remakes now, but seriously? Go fuck yourselves, you money grubbing pricks.

This is completely fucking unacceptable. Just sell the games for 100 a piece so I can buy the actual full version. But don't give me this fucking horseshit that I can choose to buy it or not. Game devs are, and have been deliberately witholding content to wring out more money. I bitched about this 10 years ago, I bitch about it now. Gamers have given up too much ground ground on this battle so now its just an accepted norm. DLC has to fucking stop.


6. The "Twitch Prime giving me 100 free games" award for "Best Value" goes to....

Darkest Dungeon: The Crimson Court / Color of Madness DLC.

If you read my review, I was unkind to this game. If you read my Ragey for that year, I was also unkind to this game... But sometime from then? Something clicked. I got in a zone where I understood everything about this game, the complaints I had about it fell away, and suddenly game that was hard and no fun to play became a challenging obsession that I had to continue.

But then I gave the DLCs I had been ignoring a chance. And let me tell you, I have now plunked down a ludicrous 400+ hours to this game thanks to the two DLC updates. It's slowly become one of my favorites to play. I burn whole days starting new quests, trying new comps, trying to beat Stygian mode, and the new Endless Harvest mode. And so help, me now I am fuckin' around with mods which will make me play it all over again from the start.

Considering in total I paid maybe less than 30 bucks for all of it with steam discounts? Without a doubt this game has to win Best Value. I haven't stretched a dollar for a game like I have with Darkest Dungeon in a long, long time


5. The "I don't listen to actual bands anymore" Award for best Original Soundtrack goes to....

A Hat In Time

This game is so fucking cute I can't stand it. It was one I had on my radar for a while so when it went on sale I jumped at the chance for it. This game has some fantastic sound design to it and an OST from Pascal Michael Stiefel. All of the characters are cartoony in their personalities but are well translated in their spoken lines. All of them are unique to each other and hilarious.

The music in the levels starts with a base theme that you get from the first level, but as you keep replaying them to get more collectibles to proceed, the music makes subtle changes to suit the scenario. For example, when you explore "Deadbird Studio" you have a theme, but when you sneak in after hours, the theme gets stealthy and quieter without losing its initial melody.

But then it also throws a curve ball from out of nowhere by having some particularly great boss fight themes ranging from rock, to metal, to techno/electronica, and sometimes all in the same song. There were some games that had very good soundtracks this year, but A Hat in Time's is the one I listened to the most. 


4. The "Disaronno  Sour" Good Consistency Award goes to....

Atelier Lydie & Suelle:
The Alchemists and the Mysterious Painting

It would be easy to just slap Yakuza 6 or Valkyria Chronicles 4 here and just call it a day, but the rub here is that on pretty much a yearly basis, Gust continue to pump out games in the Atelier series, its newest installment being Atelier Lydie & Suelle. I for the most part stopped writing about them because while I love these games, they do get a bit samey and constantly writing essentially the same review with a few minor changes each time isn't really going to get clicks. I only reneged on Atelier Sophie and the Mysterious Book because it was the first new Atelier game on the PS4.

But the fact is, I really like this franchise (another one I didn't at first). But they have some pretty good folksy soundtracks, they scratch my JRPG itch, they let me sink into that mind numbing catharsis of item creation mini games, but probably most to its credit is that it has consistent storytelling. What I love is they release them in sets of 3 so when a new one comes out the characters from the previous game may not be the main role, but you get to see them a bit older, wiser, and stronger than they were before.

In this one's case, it allowed me to see a conclusion to a story arc that basically started in Atelier Sophie (two whole games ago) as a sidequest to the main story. I appreciate storytelling like that, and it made me happy to see it. Games like this will never be massively successful, but for the niche audience like me? They are doing just fine.


3. The "7-8-1 Season" Honorable mention goes to....

God of War

I knew this would be the critics game of the year. Anyone who talked to me during the summer knew this was going to be my prediction. Because Legend of Zelda: Link naps on the couch or Super Mario Files His Tax Returns didn't release this year, most critics queue'd the prize to the next linage game in the remake/sequel God of War 2018. Because god forbid some new and original property get some limelight. It always comes back to lineage games.

Now let me say that this by no means a bad game. Kratos actually showed development as a character for once, it had a well executed story, the change in setting was much needed and excellent, and it was pretty damn fun to play. The problem is it went to the trouble to try to re-invent its combat system, then halfway through the game goes right back to the old one. The other issue I had was once I had finished it, that's it. I was done with it. I've not once thought about tossing it back in, and while many game critics have started rating games like movies? This one has not, and replayablity is an important factor to me. God of War was a great game, but it wasn't my favorite this year.


2. The "Any Cream or Jelly filled Donut" award for "Worst of the Year" goes to.....


Nights of Azure 2 dodges a bullet here. You know what I'm getting fucking sick of? Walking simulators. Now game devs just have the throw in a jump scare here and there in there tech demo and they can release it as a game. I started this trend recently of saving October to play more horror games on my stream. This was a freebie and I heard good things about it so I gave it a shot.

One? The game is objectively not scary. Two? The games pace couldn't be any slower than it already is. If it was, I wouldn't be playing a game at all. Three? As with most walking simulators, there is no fucking threat. Oh sure, they may be monsters or a big bad. But you get a jump scare or in this case some scrambly screen (The equivalent of a soft but firm slap on the ass), and then dropped back at your last checkpoint. Snore.

But worst of all? Bad, unintuitive fucking level design. For 40 plus minutes I walked around an empty ocean floor. No threats to avoid, no fish to see, no collectibles to pick up, no secrets to find. Just empty, desolate, quiet oceanscape. It made a slow paced and not scary game even more insufferable because it arbitrarily made me put down my key (and forget about it) before I could pick it back up, stalling my progress. I thought Soma was trash and I have no intention of picking it back up. At least Dreadout was scary and fun for a little before the bad design ruined it. Soma didn't even have that.


1. The "Biagio's Plain Fry-Cake Donut {Because it's the God-Tier}" Award for "Best game of the year" goes to...

A Hat in Time

You are reading that right, for the first time in this blog's history we have a game that is the first Double-winner.  It was really hard to pick a GOTY this time around because I played a lot of games, and a lot of them were very, very good. So I had to simplify things. If I take out any game that was just DLC pack or any game that I've already played before, Then what games really stood out in my mind? More so than that, what game did have the most genuine fun playing?

With no offense to Yakuza 6: Song of Life or God of War which were both great in their own right, there really was one game that really had me grinning ear to ear. A Hat in Time let me know that I'm not as over the classic 3D Mario genre as I thought it was. A love letter to games like Super Mario 64, A Hat in Time featured a cute as hell heroine, fun characters that are hilariously voice acted, A soundtrack that was fitting, charming, exciting, and rock as fuck all at once. Lots of replayablity to it. They just gave away a DLC update for free for the first days of it release. They added a multiplayer option to the game. Even flipped a story trope I hate and made me love it.

 A Hat in Time just basically did everything right. I played this game in its entirety on stream and it was pretty much impossible to jump to a point in the stream and not see me smiling while I played this. It was fantastic. I need to smash a timepiece to go back and play it again from the start. Absolutely my game of the year for 2018.


Might be starting to fizzle out on the writing, but we'll keep plugging away on this for as long as I have the energy for it. Thanks for reading. -- CannonMan ┌∩┐(◣_◢)┌∩┐

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Battle Chef Brigade (PC): Part of a balanced meal

So every so often, in between streaming planned games on my rinky dink little channel, I will toss out a poll or ask for random suggestions for stuff to play.  Sometimes I get good ideas, other times I get random stuff out of the blue. This one was suggested to me by a friend and while the title rung a bell, I knew it was a game I had never played before.

But I knew that Amazon Prime had been giving away a bunch of games to Twitch Prime users, so after getting the suggestion I took a look and lo-and-behold I actually had a copy of the game. Never downloaded once and never played. So I figured why the hell not?


Taking place in a fantasy setting, the story of Battle Chef Brigade takes place in the nation of Victusia. A world where the fantasy races were once overrun by monsters, a group of people discovered that not only could monster meat be edible, but can also be deliciously prepared.  This group eventually became an elite brigade of individuals who would be known as Battle Chefs.

For the past 100 years, people from all over the land would meet in the capital city to compete for their right to join their ranks. This is done so in a tournament when aspiring chefs are given a time limit to hunt for and prepare a specific monster type, while also catering to the individual tastes of their judges. Those who progress would earn their right to join the Battle Chef Brigade.

In the Windy City off the main continent, A young girl named Mina lives a happy but unfulfilling life working at her family's restaurant. She is a very good cook, but she longs to be more creative and experimental with her cooking. She dreams of one day leaving home and joining the Brigade, and practises her cooking and magic daily to do so. And when the tournament finally comes around, she swindles the money she needs to take her chance at entering the tournament.

If that sounded to you like I was describing a fantasy version of Top Chef on Bravo, then you would be absolutely correct. That is almost exactly what this game is. It's a bit of a mish-mash of gameplay elements but when put together it certainly comes out interesting. I would say that it breaks down into 3 major elements to its palate: Story, Cooking, and Hunting. 

Typically, between the chapters and during the town segments of the game is where much of the characters and plot get fleshed out. Everything operates on the 2D plane if you compared it to the town segments of Dragons Crown you would be in the correct ballpark. I don't want to say it does the visual novel approach because It doesn't use that specific style. It would say that it's a more comic book style of delivery the way it's presented, but with the anime inspired characters I would say that visual novel isn't a stretch either. 

When in town, you can talk to and challenge other chefs and people to cooking battles, work side jobs to earn some extra money, and use the shop to buy new recipe books a cooking equipment. There are three major tasks you can do, two of them for cooking and one for hunting.

The cooking mechanic in this game is done via a puzzle mechanic, although the rules of this change depending on what cooking task you are doing between battling, research, and making money. Typically you add you ingredients which have a set of colored circles representing elements of wind, fire, and water. To make a quality dish, by spinning them in squares of 4 you line up 3 of the same element together, causing them to merge into one LV2 core of that element. Those LV2s can then be done again to become a LV3. You want to squeeze in as many as you can while using the ingredient given in the battle rules, while having more of the judge's preferred element.

As you play through the game, it throws in other pieces that can affect your dish like poisoned pieces that explode if jostled too much, cracked pieces that can break after three moves, bones that can be turned into wild card pieces, and so on. Some of these can be maneuvered or changed on their own, but sometimes you might need to use an additional cooking tool to remove them. Some tools have very specific uses, others will provide better bonuses while you cook.

But the ingredients are not just provided to you, oh no, you have to go and hunt for you ingredients. So if you leave your Kitchen just to the left, suddenly you are in a 2D hack n' slash game in the vein of Muramasa: The Demon Blade or probably more appropriately Dust: an Elysian Tail.  You run and jump along multi tiered levels hacking, slashing, and casting spells at monsters and why they die they drop a series of ingredients to bring back. You can only hold so much but you can make multiple trips at the start to have a cache ready to go.

Because of the radical and jarring switch, it can lead to a hilarious moment for someone who might not be paying attention. I had a friend watching me stream, she looked away for a second and I had gone from cooking with a pan, to jumping around throwing whirlwinds at a dragon. It's both sweet and savory as it was ridiculous and fucking awesome.

Combat is kept relatively simple with one button for physical attacks and one for magical that have different effects depending on what direction you are pressing, which allows for just enough nuance for you to really sink your teeth into combos to find something you like to do. In my case I love to combo followed by a sweep that causes knock up, then jumping after them for a air combo. I am all over combat like this like butter on a baked potato.

Now if these were the only two elements in the game this would probably be enough to carry the game, but I mentioned before that they spice up the cooking mechanic with the different jobs you can do. Basically it changes the rules. When doing cooking research, you are given a set score and set ingredient and you need to figure out how to match that score using only what you are provided with. You can do it as many times as you like, but you need to strategically move things to get the best possible outcome without wasting any of your pieces.

The other is basically working as a short order cook, and here the woman who runs the restaurant is not looking for haute cuisine. These are people who know what they want and know what they like. So you are given puzzle, and they just want you to match the pieces as the customer asked for it. Some of them are pretty easy to do, some get more involved, and you want to get them all out as fast as you can so you can earn more tips over the course of your shift.

There is also a hunting task to do, but it ultimately doesn't change the core combat mechanic. You usually are just provided a goal of how many to hunt, or what specifically to hunt. But it does push the story further with a specific character, so it's a nice little side dish on top of making some money with it. 

As I write this review, I learned that there is apparently a whole number of game modes I didn't even notice when I started playing. The game also features a split screen multiplayer mode, online leader boards, a free play mode, survival mode, restaurant rush, and "break the dishes" mode. That is actually a pretty meaty amount of content outside of the main story. 

I seriously had no idea these existed till I started writing this. 

I really don't have very much to complain about on this one, really. Just a handful of minor complaints. To the game's credit it does have a very unique and well designed set of characters. Everyone who has any kind of major speaking line is very much distinguishable in their appearance so there is little room to confuse characters. That being said? There is a sore lack of actual animation of this. 

Picture a series of hand drawn anime cels, and then give those characters a series of different poses and facial reactions. It really does go back to the visual novel appearance without the tight zoom in over the text box. Characters just jump from pose to pose, which again fits with the comic aesthetic it appear to be going for.  But when you jump into the combat portions of the game you will notice that while there are definitely more frames for animation for some of the actions, it definitely does have a 8 or 16 bit RPG animation style. The run action might be just 3 or 4 frame cycled through. The plus is they move fast enough and fluidly enough with the controls that while it's noticeable, it's not jarring of off putting. 

The music really isn't anything to write home about. This is really a big kneecapping of the fantasy genre as a whole. Unless you have a truly unique melody that catches the ear and keeps in fresh in your head, the all fantasy themed game music is really just going to sound bland. Everything feels fitting about it, but none of it is remarkable. 

The voice acting a strange mixed bag. I don't know how to explain it. The voice acting is well done. It's competently delivered with out feeling to cheesy or hokey. But there is a roughness to it that makes it feel unpolished. I don't know if I can describe it, it feels like the audio is not mixed properly. Lines are delivered with the gusto, but perhaps without an understanding of what it is they are actually reading the lines for.  Sometimes dialog feels too abruptly cut, sometimes it feels like voice lines are too loud for the scene.  There's just an...... off-ness about it. You'd have to hear it to get what I mean. 

I would very much like a clearer understanding of what catering to a judges taste actually means during the actual cooking battle portions. One person will tell me to cook with wind, so I will prepare a dish that is filled with LV3 wind pieces, and then in my judging she'll fucking complain about it. Bitch, have you tried to instill dragon's flavor in the air? It hasn't really affected my ability to progress in the game, but I don't know if I actually understand what I am being scored on. 

Now, from where we stand you are probably thinking sounds pretty stupid. And I'm not going to lie to you I was right there with you. As I was streaming through the first few chapters of the game, I certainly was having fun with it, but it was always prefaced with a laugh about how dumb this game was. But at the end of chapter 2, I got slapped with a story line twist I did not see coming. I closed my stream short after that, but after maybe about 30 minutes I couldn't help but want to see what was going to happen next.

The game pretty much had me at that point. I had to go back for seconds because after that first taste I was hungry for more. I gave up the premise of making it the next weekly stream because I couldn't wait to get back to it. It was genuinely fun to play by not taking itself too seriously, yet earnestly delivering its tale it was impossible to not fall in love with it or its characters. 

At the time of writing I haven't finished this one because I have so many other games on my plate, but I absolutely intend to finish this one. Like I have alluded to at the start of this review it borrows a some tried and true game elements and doesn't really reinvent the wheel, but the obscure combination hack n' slash and puzzle with a fantasy cooking theme that they put together some how managed to fit together beautifully. 

It's campy, has fun characters, fluid combat, an engaging puzzle mechanic, and a surprisingly deep and interesting storyline. It's because of all these that I'm willing to give Battle Chef Brigade a recommendation. Is this a world beater that will be showered with accolades? Of course not, but it currently sells for 19.99 on Steam, PS4, and Nintendo Switch and you will definitely get more than 20 bucks worth of entertainment out of this one.

I give this game 5 star review on Whelp!.... Get it? Cuz it's fantasy? And Whelps are baby dragons? Ehh? EH??.... Ok... I'll stop now.

"You need to prepare a dish with fire, wyvern blood, pixie wing and your mystery ingredient..... CHICKEN!"
"FAAAACK. What the fuck is chicken?! How am I supposed to work with that?!"

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Lucah: Born of a Dream (Steam): A jagged line between Dream and Nightmare.

As I have established in some of my other reviews, I am a pretty frequent reader of sites like Kotaku. Occasionally they will post snippets of a review of demos or obscure titles they might have found. I have to say from the visual styling of this one it did grab me pretty much immediately.  Then they started throwing around the Dark Souls comparison. Yes, almost every game that is hard gets the Dark Souls comparison these days. But still, given the review it was worth a look.

It was only a demo then, and I do have to say that I came away from it pretty impressed. Certainly enough to look forward to purchasing the full version of the game to see what it was all about. Well it got released about or month or two ago so as soon as I had the window to fit it in between games I took the time to sit down with....


The story of Lucah: Born of a Dream is uh.... Honestly I don't even know if I can actually explain what the story of Lucah is. This is about as indie as games get. As I understand it from my play throughs, you play Lucah (or whatever name you prefer) is essentially a child who is cursed with a mark. People afflicted by this curse have their nightmares and trauma manifest as a physical reality.

To counter act this, some turn to faith in hope of a salvation. Some make a pilgrimage to something called the Null Sun to try to be free of it. Lucah isn't the only one afflicted by this. But it's usually around here where the story gets very muddied and interpretive.  It is possible that this is taking place in reality, it is possible that Lucah is trapped in some dream state. All you as the player need to know is that your nightmares are dangerous, and you need to fight to survive.

Lucah is a strange title, but at its core I would say it's a hack n' slash adventure game in the vein of the top down Legend of Zelda's of old (you know, the good ones). It's also a title where I feel the Dark Souls comparison is apt because it does strongly use its combat system in this environment almost entirely to the letter. There is also a sprinkling of some RPG elements to the game so there is some customization to play around with as well.

First and foremost let's follow up on the combat. As you could guess from the souls comparison, you have a light and heavy attack system that drains from a stamina bar and dodge move that also draws from your stamina and has a number of invincibility frames. In lieu of magic you have a little support buddy that changes its function depending on what type you have set ranging in uses from rapid fire, spread shot, laser beam, healing, etc. This uses what we'll call our magic bar, and it restores by doing physical attacks. This basically forces you to balance using both.

Your attacks are based off things called Mantras. There are a pretty wide number of these and they all have different types of effects to cater to lots of play styles. Some of them are quick attacks that don't deal a lot of damage or break guards, but can land several before you need to dodge. Some of them slow heavy swings that take a moment to hit but can break a guard more quickly. Some of them provide ranged options and so forth. In addition to being able to mix and match what you want for your light and heavy (or both) you also have two slots to setup so you can flip between them on the fly for more situational usage.  They also change up the charge attacks you can do for each attack button to mix up the variety even more.

The guard breaking mechanic is exceptionally important because it can absolutely make or break a fight for you. In a general sense many of the enemies can be very hard to bring down. You can alternate between shooting from your support and using your melee attacks, but the key is to keep the pace up. If you don't the guard rarely breaks and it becomes a test of attrition to survive the fights. With heavier attacks as mentioned before, you can break the guard. In addition to the attacks, a well timed dodge into an enemy actually parries an attack and breaks guard as well.

When it breaks you get a small window of time where the enemy is stunned in place and free to attack. It's in this window where their defense significantly drops so you want to be able to score hits.  So now on top of trying to maintain aggression, you also have to balance your stamina usage so you have the available strikes when the guard does break, because you don't want to get caught without an attack when their defense is down.

The tension is also increased by a ticking percentage in the upper corner of your screen that represents your corruption. When you start the game it begins at zero, but the longer you fight the more that gauge increases. When it hits 100% you basically are ripped to a bad ending. You do get to see what you could be at full strength but after the end, you have to start over. After you get through your first playthrough of the game, you also are rewarded deductions to this gauge depending on how efficiently you dispatch your enemy. So again like the guard break and charge gauge, the game rewards aggression.

You also have a pair of items that you can use as well. One of them is a one time heal that allows you to completely restore your health, this recharges when you go to the various leveling checkpoints around the map. The other is the rewind ability, and this is pretty much exactly what you think it is. if in the event that you are going through a fight and you quickly learn that it is not going well, you can tap that rewind and immediately revert back to where you were healthwise and reset the room, hopefully for a better turn out on your next round.

Battles on the first run are rewarded with experience up to a 30 level cap. But interestingly, you can only chose between 4 upgrades per level and these upgrades change and alternate per selection, so it's next to impossible to just load up on one specific trait to imbalance your build. With the level cap, it is actually disservice to you to do so. They do eventually unlock a revert ability which allows you to rebuild your character on subsequent playthroughs.

I will say that the game is challenging, but there is a pretty decent amount of customization to that too. In addition to the difficulty settings, there are a pair of separate settings that can adjust how much damage you can deal, and how much damage you can take. After completing the game one time, you also unlock cheat menus that will allow you to have things like indefinitely charge, stamina, and so on if you want to just rip through the game to experience the story.

If you haven't already learned from the story description, the visual style and sound design supplement a very bleak picture. The visuals are probably the thing that first drew me towards this title. Graphically it is a very low-res with rough animations and character designs. I describe it as if someone animated it using colored chalk on a blackboard. I've also heard the comparison of neon  as well. It's basically outlines of color on a black background with very jagged designs in almost a bouncing rubber hose animation.

But its rough look is not a sign of poor design, because the animations are clear and fluid, and the game moves an a pretty fast and satisfying pace for the action in a game of this nature. The impacts of attacks and guard breaks have what I call "ECW camera" where you have a series of short zooms at the impacts of big hits. It adds to what I often refer to as the combat weight and adds to the feel when you break a guard.

Lucah's sound design I am a bit less of a fan of. Its low-res nature to match the visuals is certainly fitting, but as you might expect of a game as bleak as the tone we are setting this one, there is a lot of low end droning in the music. A whole lot of low end beats to generally slower tempo'd music. There are a handful of tracks that I certainly liked better than others, and I did have a few stream watchers comment on how much they enjoyed the music, but it didn't particularly grab me.

I do have some complaints on this one though. First off, I don't know if the game's developer MeLessThanThree actually had a story in mind here. Or rather they had some feelings they strongly wanted to express, but I don't know if they had an actual story to tell. We have a whole lot of loose elements in play that seem like they interact with each other, but I don't know if they really do. You start off the story being chased by a nightmare, but this opening segment turns out to maybe be a dream? Then you start to meet other characters, and some of them give the inclination that they know you.

Then they also feed into the confusion that this maybe or may not be a real world and you may or may not be in a dream. Now we are getting into inception territory because the characters have real sparse memory about who they we before, and you are trying to pick up pieces of it through these separate interactions. There definitely is a connection to you, and some of them hold you responsible for their current plight.

I tell myself the same thing every day.

But after stretches of incredibly sparse story telling, this game will go straight up Zork/Nier: Replicant and just wail on you with pages and pages of text dump telling a story of a pair of girls that may be angels who are under the control of this religious order. One of these girls may be the main character (you), and there is a big discussion about their inability to dream.

This is all confusing enough, but on subsequent playthroughs there are some side character stories. One that seems to be from a group of 3 mercenaries that play out in a JRPG fashion of them infiltrating the church to kill one of these girls, but they get attacked by the nondescript nightmares you have been fighting up until this point. The text can get incredibly dense and run for much longer than it needs to. I have played through the game multiple times and I don't feel any closer to understanding it if I am being honest. Allegedly there are branching story paths, but after a few plays I seem to be taking the same route every time.

And while on the whole I love this design style because of its uniqueness, I would be lying if I said that combat didn't turn into a mess during harrier portions of the game. Between trying to time my dodges and land hits, the sudden jarring zooms can make things a little confusing to what is actually happening. I have lost more than one fight because I thought I was parrying or dealing damage but in reality I was the one who was taking hits. But it zooms the same way so it can be very difficult to tell.

The difficulty curve is kinda messed up too. This game starts off incredibly challenging, not only because of the visual hiccups but some of the fights are actually pretty tough to balance your stamina, dodges, and your own attack speed. But then you get a healing support, and combat quickly becomes a breeze because you now have a pretty much limitless cache of healing to fall back on.

Even more so, after getting the bad ending (I believe) it allows you unlock probably the most savage mantra in the game which allows of fast, heavy hitting attacks that also can be used at a range. compile this with the healing from the paragraph above the fights now become laughably easy, even with difficulty modifiers added. There were points where I cranked up the difficulty with this build in place and I couldn't tell any significant difference.

Lastly I don't know if I full understand the whole map closing mechanic. See, as you move along the map sometimes a path will close off behind you. If you try to wander back into it, you will be blocked and be told "You are not brave/strong enough to enter the darkness". In the early stages there are parts of the map that locked off this way, so I assumed these would be open later in new games to give me the full story. But unless I'm not doing something right, they don't appear to ever unlock. So what is the purpose of making me thing there is something there?

There are also some sections of the map that if you venture too far forward, the darkness closes off behind you and you need to either loop around the map the long way to possibly backtrack to the checkpoint to save or level, or just be forced to press forward with the level even if perhaps you didn't want to.  Again, this might be a matter of me not having unlocked the proper amount of game to do so, but at time of writing it feels like I have done all I can do in this one.

At the end of the day, Lucha: Born of a Dream is will probably not go down as world beater but it should be lauded for what it does very right. Games like this one are important because while it doesn't really come with an new mechanics that might blow you away, it does have a unique design to it that makes it stand out, it's competently developed, and I thought it was fun to play.

Sure, it has a lot of rough edge but I am willing to forgive them because it was done by a single indie developer who released a core concept demo for free, and when he got backed followed through with his core concept to make full game and released it at a fair price. I can't say for show how often I will go back to Lucah, but I very much enjoyed my time with the game and will probably play it a few more times. I would give it a recommendation.

Seriously, the moment you unlock the Aether Mantra,
You become death incarnate.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Valkyria Chronicles 4 (PS4): Treading back to familiar ground.

So. Remember when I was all excited for Valkyria Revolution? Man, I do. Thought literally nothing of putting that one on preorder without a second thought and eagerly dove right in. Although I had seen a gameplay trailer and knew it wasn't the game I was hoping for, I was still going to give it a chance to live up to the lineage of the game I loved.

I shouldn't have. It was total dogshit and it got rightly panned by myself and every other reviewer who played it. Well, apparently the team at Sega must have seen this coming because not long after the release of Valkyria Revolution they released another trailer as if to say "uh hey, we are working on this too?" This one had design more like Valkyria I remember. Had tanks, similar art design. Looks like it played like it was supposed to. I was skeptical now, but still willing. So after waiting for what felt like forever, I finally sat down with.....


Valkyria Chronicles 4 takes place within the same timeline as the original Valkyria timeline, but further south of the original nation of Gallia. The Empire of the east has been pushing westward against Federation territory in an attempt to claim more land and in doing so more Ragnite, the material that is used as a power source for the nations and their military equipment. 

We assume control Claude Wallace, a wet behind the ears but competent star military recruit who joined up with the federation army with his childhood friends Raz and Kai. After some initial friction as a unit, the team eventual gels and passes their training to join the Ranger Corps, which is an elite squad within the federation army, and Claude is awarded the rank of Captain of Squad E.

After some initial strong showings as a team, the Squad learns that the empire is taking ground from the federation, and that they are marching towards Gallia and their small hometown of Hafen. The federation makes the decision to put all their effort into Operation Northern Cross: a massive offensive push to the capital city of the empire, Schwartzgard. Squad E is to take part of this offensive as one of the federations stronger weapons.

I can thankfully say that this time around Sega has learned from their mistakes because this iteration of Valkyria Chronicles is once again built on the same gameplay framework as the original. The wonderfully unique combination of tactical RPG, JRPG, third person shooter, and first person shooter. There are a handful of little differences put into this version, but it otherwise is a stone for stone rebuild of what made the first one great.

As you did before, you start off by selecting your squad for a given mission. Then each turn you have a set number of actions to use. Once selecting a character, you zoom into a 3rd person mode and then get a limited amount to move them across the battlefield to your desired location. During your move opposing forces are able to take pot shots at you so move quick and use cover. Once there, you can zoom again to a first person angle to line up and take a shot of your own, if it doesn't kill your foe they get to counter attack. Once you have used all your actions you end the turn and then enemy gets their phase to do the same.

How the game differs this time is in addition to the order system that was in place, the special commands for stat buffs you could spend action points to use, you now also have series of support commands from the main forces you can use to open the map locations, bring in artillery fire, and other support actions. These are story based so you don't always have them, but there a nice bit of options to have.

There are handful of new squad mechanics too. In addition to having some tanks to control, you also have an APC unit to control. I foolishly ignored this for the first part of the game, but this little guy is incredibly useful in getting some initial moves on the map done safely. On his turn, he can pick up a number of troops and essentially move across the map without taking much in the way of damage from anything that isn't a tank or anti-tank artillery. Once in position you can dispatch units at the cost of their normal move. This is fantastic for troops like Shocktroopers or snipers who do not get a lot of initial movement. 

There are two big new aspects to the squad too.  One of them is the new troop class, the grenadier. Their job, as you might expect, is a slow moving portable artillery. They take a minute set up so they are risky to bring right into the lines of enemy fire, and they can be somewhat inaccurate. But they can provide big damage to turrets, tanks, heavy soldiers, as well as provide smoke cover. When used properly, they can be a very effective force. And one of them is a major character, which will provide you an additional action.

The other is now each turn, you get a single command point. By spending this point, some characters can basically take command of two other troops in a single move. This is incredibly useful for a number of reasons. For one, like the APC, it can be used to move two troops a significantly longer distance. But while they can take damage as if they were on a normal move, they aren't the targeted enemy. They also are just in range for to possibly join in for a joint attack. So for example: if I use a scout to use the CP command to pull two shock troopers, those troops basically get to move double the distance they could have by themselves without expending their own move yet, and if I take a shot at a nearby enemy, I essentially get a 3 man attack to mow down whoever I was aiming at. It is incredibly useful.

In that initial game summary I provided more of the overarching narrative for Valkyria 4 because while it does coincide with the original Valkyria Chronicles it really could be its own game if they had changed the names of the territories. I will say that the original Valkyria was more cut and dry because it was one army vs another army with a focus of smaller characters having a smaller side stories within them.

Valkyria 4 however feels more like the main story is there only to provide the framework for all the characters stories which are the much bigger focus of the plotline. Through out the game you the military is basically part of two major operations and if that ended up being the focus it would be very one note. By making the focus more about the characters in the squad themselves, I feel that the narrative is actually stronger for it because it allows for more faces to take the stage.

While the primary characters are the source of the main narrative, this story focus is best displayed on the brighter spotlight on the lesser members of the squad. As you might remember from the first game, they released some DLC packs where you got take control of Edy and a number of other squad members. It was a fun little aside and got to give you more depth to the rank and file troops you have been using. Before, you only got to read a little blurb about their history and that was all you got.

Now between chapters, you also get "squad stories" where a small number of the squad has some interaction with the main cast. These little asides give you some backstory to these character and completing them allows you to turn some of their negative quirks into positive bonuses, so it is more than worthwhile to do them. I feel that the story as a whole in this game is pretty good, but it does have a few anime cringe moments that feel are in there for the sake of being there.

The visual design for the original has come back as well and thankfully for it it this time around. It's a well proportioned anime style done in that washed out yet colorful watercolor look that the first one had that made me feel like I was watching a well produced anime (which was sorely missed after the video gamey look of Valkyria Revolution). Sound effects are accentuated by animated onomatopoeia such as the "ratta ratta" of guns. Even has some cool weather effects for some missions.  They have added some better transitions for when troops trigger their quirks and flaws. Generally better cleaned up this time around.

It has a pretty exceptional classical soundtrack. Much like before it feels very fitting of a military story that give a lot of the missions and scenes a feeling of "epicness" but they also fit in a number of rearrangements of tracks from the original game that sneakily felt iconic to it. I couldn't hum a few bars of the main theme right on command for you if you asked me too, but I'll be damned if I didn't notice that song immediately when it crept in on a major scene.

Unfortunately for Valkyria 4 by being a stone for stone build of the first game, a lot of the bad aspects of the series also make a return as well. First off, this game like its predecessors is notoriously talky.  Because of how the natural flow of the actual "game" element is, it doesn't allow for a lot of narrative to actually take place during missions, so much of it is crammed in between the missions of the game. Like you can with most modern games, you can always skip them but this is a narrative based game so I don't know why you would want to.  

But this does bring us back to the biggest complaint of the Valkyria games and it's something they should have fixed. But in between every single story segment, the game brings you back to the book menu. The book menu is what you can use to flip through all your various options of the game like skirmish missions, R&D to make new weapons, proceed with the story, adjust your squad, etc.  As a base framework, it's fine. But for some reason after every single story transition it brings you right back to the book and asks you if you are sure you want to proceed with this chapter.

Literally every time you want to advance the game, you have to select this.

I appreciate the need to confirm that I am making the decision, it's fine for almost any of these functions so I don't accidentally go into a menu I don't want to. But in the context of following the story it's an absolutely pace killing nightmare. If I start going through the story segments, what SHOULD have happened is it would play through all of the necessary story bits until I tell it to stop. Let me pause and either skip and go back to the book menu at MY whim so I can pick up were the story left off. Then after it completes the story it then would go back to the book on its own so I can prepare for the coming mission.

This is how it SHOULD have worked. This is how it should have been implemented from the second game onward. But it's not. So now after every couple minutes of cutscene (and sometimes even less than that) it just yanks me to a loading screen and then back to the book so it can ask me if I want to see the next part of it, and then wait for the loading to finish to continue the story I didn't ask to stop in the first place. It's arduous, completely unnecessary, and it makes a game that doesn't exactly move at a break neck pace go even slower.

The additional unit types do allow for more strategy, but at its heart this iteration of Valkyria can be won in the same fashion as the first game. That means with the right defensive buffs, and the right moves, almost every single mission can be won on your first turn. Yes, a handful of them do require some very specific strategies to survive, but there was a lot of times where I would use my raise all defense buff, command a pair of shocks with a scout to dash towards my goal, and then finish off to take base with my two troopers. Inside of a few missions I was "A" ranking all of the story missions and skirmishes.

That being said, Valkyria 4 did a better job of making all the ranks way more useful. In my last review I said that you shouldn't waste your time with medics, lancers, or snipers. Now the missions have a lot more different nuances to them so it is to your benefit to play around with it all and bring at least one of everything to the table. You have no idea when you might need a snipers long range accuracy or a lancer to bring out a frustratingly placed tank. The only class I ended using the least was actually new grenadiers. They had use but not as much as the other classes did, at least when I played it.

R&D can be a grind to do sometimes. Up to three tanks in the game and 3 branching trees of weapon means a lot of upgrades to do if you want everything. This too is muddled by the support character reacting every time you build a new weapon with one or two lines. This also should have been changed to only react as you were leaving R&D, so I could speed through my upgrades without having to stop to cancel this reaction. Instead, like the book, the progress is slowed for unnecessary pause

And like the first Valkyria a significant number of the upgrades are worthless. More damage is nice and all and so is clip size. But this is a game that rewards head shots so it doesn't make sense to use anything but the starting weapons because they have the best accuracy and that ultimately is the strongest stat in the game. They thankfully now show on our squad screens how accurate each solider is so now you can change things accordingly, and admittedly some of the weapons you find are indeed better than the base weapon. But so long as you keep upgrading center of the tree, you will have little issue progressing.

The last thing I want to bitch about is one enemy in particular, Klaus Walz. As a character, he is fine. He's a foil to Claude as being their big enemy tank captain. But he he specifically is bullshit because outside of having a fast and maneuverable tank that is next to impossible to bring down, he is one of two units that break one of the rules of the game. His tank is able to just have generic machine gun fire that triggers WHILE he moves. So if for some reason he is making a turn around where one of your guys are standing, he just completely obliterates their health bar without even taking his turn.

And one of the missions you fight him, he gets the first turn! So after you carefully set your troops up to start the level, he just blows through 1 to 3 of them before you even get to take an action. It's one of the few missions where you might have to restart it just because you got fucked before even take a turn. Even the final boss lets you get a goddamn move in first.

Ultimately the question is, is this good or better than the first Valkyria Chronicles? Well, that's a tough call because it's working against nostalgia. If I take them from a mechanics standpoint I do have to say that Valkyria 4 is better due to the additions to the games and minor improvements. I do love this cast and this story, and it had some great moments in it. But it does feel like there is a bunch of wasted potential because they had 3 previous games to fix some quality of life annoyances that could have made this game superb.

Instead, I have to lave with the somewhat unimpressive rating of "If you liked Valkyria Chronicles then you will like Valkyria Chronicles 4."  Which is true and by no means a mark against it. I frick'n loved this game and would certainly recommend it for its uniqueness. But it feels like it could have been so much more polished after all this time. But I am not looking a gift horse in the mouth. They messed up a series and I liked and then fixed it with a proper installment. If I get an Valkyria Chronicles 5 then I am more than happy to see it.

I will say that this one kind of messes up its own
lore about the Valkyria, but it was a nitpick at best.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon (PS4): Baby Steps Forward

I wanna say at some point in 2016, I saw a trailer for a game that was being produced by Gust. If you don't know who Gust is, that would me you probably don't play the Atelier franchise with almost the heroine like addiction that I seem to. While they are known for item creation RPGs, the trailer depicted a much more faster paced action game with hack n' slash combat, over the top super movies, and what seemed to be good soundtrack. Gust is a competent studio, so I gave this a purchase with little thought.

It was not a very good game.

So I didn't immediately rush to pick up the sequel when it came out, but during the summer months I had a relative dead spell where I didn't have any immediate new releases to get to, and I saw that gamestop of all places had it ridiculously marked down (not a good sign). But as poor as the previous was, I was able to see it through to the end, and felt with nothing else to do and only 20 to spend, why not give the sequel a try....


Nights of Azure 2 picks up in the distant future from the previous iteration of the game. After the last battle with the Nightlord banished away eternal night, the world was not as saved as people hoped as during the night monsters called fiends surface and terrorize humans, leaving the sun as their only defense and forcing the world to never truly know restful sleep.

A holy order known as the Curia task of their best agents, a woman named Aluche, to take her friend and now-priestess Liliana to be a sacrifice to one called the Moon Queen and to become the fated Bride of Time. An upset and distraught Aluche proceeds with her mission to accompany Liliana where the ceremony is supposed to take place, but they carriage never makes it. They are attacked by fiends and in Aluche's efforts to protect her friend, she is slain in battle.

Sometime after, Aluche awakens to find herself under the care of a Curia researcher called Camilla Alucard (yeah, that's not fucking on the nose). Using sciences shunned by religious practices, Aluche now lives again as an artificial half demon with purple blood, like the last holy knight to fight the Nightlord. Leliana is missing and leads point to a nearby ruined city and with no other course of action, Aluche pursues to try to find and save her friend. 

Okay before I even get started with the actual review: Carmilla Alucard? Really? You named a fucking character Carmilla Alucard? Come the fuck on. I mean she's not a vampire so it's kind of misdirection I guess, but she does deal with blood transfusions for the half demon character. You could have named her Elvyria D. Edgelord and that would have been about as a subtle. Sheesh. 

So Nights of Azure 2 plays pretty similarly to the previous iteration of the game with some subtle differences, so while I never gave the first version of the game a proper review, there is going to be some significant carry over here so you could see this somewhat as a double review.

At its core, Nights of Azure 2 is a mission based hack and slash spectacle fighter with some RPG elements and splash of Pokemon monster collecting to go with it.  Functionally how it works is you start by accepting missions at your base of operations (the same hotel from the first game) and then go out into the surrounding map to try to complete your objective, be it slay a certain monster, number of them, find specific items, etc.

The rub is that even though Aluche's new half demon status grants her significantly more strength, it does require regular blood transfusion and digestion to maintain, essentially forcing her into a state of vampirism to stay alive. So when you leave the hotel, you only get a short amount of time to complete your goal. So with a clock constantly ticking, you have to quickly navigate the map as efficiently as possible, while simultaneously battling monsters to increase your experience and gain blood so you can level your character and thus allow you to fight for longer stretches. 

If the time expires during the mission, you only get the experience for the monsters that you defeated none of the rewards for completing the quest. This forces you to try it again the next time you go out, the problem is with each chapter you only have a limited number of nights to get your main story quests done, while side questing along the way. If you fail to get everything done by the time the moon goes dark, you get a game over.  I've heard people complain about the time mechanic in this one but honestly outside of the first chapter or 2, I never really felt pressured by it. I've completed story missions with plenty of moon phases to spare, and then ultimately those carry over. You could do more side questing later.

Like the last game, on top of using a combat system with light, heavy, and special attacks to combo and chain, you can still summon demons that you collect called Servan to fight alongside you. Some of these can be used for support and some of them have attack properties. But a handful of them also have some situational map purposes such as burning down an impeded path or using one's flight to jump to a higher level and open a new route. So while it is good get some some strong one's leveled up, you will need to occasionally rotate some out from mission to mission.

How it differs from the first Nights of Azure game is now this time you have a number of support characters who can fight with you as well. It wouldn't be a Gust game if it literally wasn't barfing cute anime girls at you with every given opportunity but it did add an interesting new ripple to the game. If you are going to give me all these characters, at least they are letting me get some use out of them.

Because of the breadth of characters to choose from, the game now also features an affinity mechanic that plays a factor on character specific side quests, cut scenes, and possible ending outcomes. So if you want to unlock more of the content, you are going to want to jump around from character to character. To its credit, some of them have some pretty unique moves that make them all pretty interest to use. But as it is with games like this, you will find one or two characters you will want to stick with be it for their moves or story.

Once you are back at your hotel base, you can speak to your supporting party members to finish up any specific side quests you did for them to watch new interaction scenes with them, and then head to the lab to level up. In the lab you basically have two forms of experience. Your regular XP you use to level up your skill tree for stats, weapon abilities, and other passives. You also have a blood XP that is used to level up your Servans. Once they level up to a point your "evolve" them which basically makes a stronger version of the one before, and sends it back to one.

Now before I get into the complaints with the game, I would like to stress that I do generally enjoy games that Gust puts out  (most of them are Atelier, but shut up). So the real crux of the review is did they learn from their mistakes from the previous title to make Nights of Azure 2 a better than the first one? Nights of Azure was functional and did had some bits that I liked, but there was a lot of room for improvement.

Well, there are some story bits that are still pretty cringe worthy. First of all leveling your character. Much like the last Nights of Azure Azure 2 had to contrive a reason for when you are leveling your character, the process requires Aluche to be clad in a scantily white set of bridal lingerie. They did this in the first Azure as well. Whenever she successfully raises a leave she has this pleasured moan animation that she does to complete it. It's super awkward.

There are some useful skills on each tree, but stick to one weapon or the game becomes a grind.

Then you have a number of "pool" scenes. Since they highlight that this hotel has a pool, they basically have a significant number of character interactions take place at the pool to justify the characters getting into swimwear. And holy crap, if the level up bridal lingerie was racy, then the swimsuits are a step over that. I don't think even girls with perfect bodies would have the courage to wear some of the suits the characters in this wear. I love me some fan service as much as the next guy does, but these are so over the top it borders on comical.

They do this, I feel, to really hammer the point that Aluche is gay. The first Azure game also had gay protagonists. That's fine, I get that it's a consistent theme since the first game and as I played through I started to piece together that the affections between the main characters were clearly more than friendship. But at least to that sense, it felt more natural as the story progressed on. Azure 2 would have been about as subtle if they just said: "Aluche got a massive girl boner because Carmilla wore her bathing suit". It feels like it had to be crammed in because the last story did.

Speaking of cramming things in, this game expects you to do an awful lot with very little time. I did a fairly significant number of side quests and used a decent amount of my allotted time to explore the maps to try to find better paths or where certain monsters or treasures were. And when I would get back to the base, I would be awarded with affinity from the character I used. Each character has about 6 hearts to fill, but after playing through the entire story, I don't know if it's even possible to to max out every character's possible affinity rank. I feel you must be able to to get the good ending, but I don't see how.

This is something I bring up a lot of games of this nature, but the combat still kind of has that weightless floaty feeling the first one did. It is better this time around but the recoil from enemies taking damage still jerky and unnatural, and it ruins the entire feel of the combat. It also really doesn't motivate me to learn how to properly combo since stun locking enemies into the longest slew of attacks I can muster basically traps them into place. It also negatively impacted my Servan usage since I basically didn't need them. I would wait for my special counter to finish and then mow groups down with it. It just didn't have that visceral recoil that I get when I play Bayonetta.

The skill tree branches on a few different paths, and it's mainly to beef up the various weapon types as you play through the game, but honestly I just stuck to the route of the base sword and it really didn't seem to affect my experience in any tangible way. The first Azure title was not very difficult to get through, and this one really isn't either. So long as you occasionally remember to spend your points at base, you should pretty easily clear the game.

It's visual design is.... fine. I guess. It's an anime game so I don't know how much I can say about it. It's pretty consistent with the games they tend to put out, but it looks like it would be just as at home on the PS3 than a PS4. But I have to figure if they aren't going full bore on the details of the characters or environments (which admittedly can feel samey), you would figure to get a must smoother and consistent frame rate.  Perhaps I am remembering wrong but Azure 1 had a pretty solid 60fps all game. I don't think Azure 2 is that smooth at any point.

I generally like the soundtrack in Gust games, and Azure 2 is no exception. Much like the boss battles of the Atelier series, this series is known for blending synthesized fantasy classical blended with contemporary rock and metal. For lack of a better expression, it very much is "video game music" but it's not bad. It didn't shake me like Persona, Doom, or Undertale did, but it's definitely a credit to the games favor. And for certain story moments, you might recognize updated arrangements from the previous Azure title, and I appreciate consistency like that.

But the sound design overall in this one is not great. There are inconsistencies throughout the game. There will be points where the voices will just cut out during scene (Japanese language). During combat voice lines will sometimes surge up and sound effects of attacks will mute during special moves. Some song volume levels are much higher than others. It's strange and feels very unpolished, which honestly wouldn't surprise me with how fast this company pumps games out.

It's story is still somewhat nonsensical. They do not have a lot of build up to who exactly the final boss can be. I think in both games they make an early appearance and then never again until the actual last boss battle. It makes it a little hard to get motivated when I don't really know what it is I am fighting. I actually finished the first game not realizing that was the final boss. It adds characters and gives you new locations, and it does constantly warn you of the impending doom, but yet as I play it it never feels like the stakes are getting raised. The tension level remains consistent from the first to last stage.

But Gust does do some story things right. They are very consistent in their lore. In Atelier games, in sequels major characters in one title will be minor characters in another, showing a change in the timeline and growth. Azure 2 does this as well as one familiar support character references and tells of the events of the previous game, which culminates with a major character returning to join the party. I won't lie, despite my lukewarm feelings to the first one I got happy to see them again, and was even more happy when I got to use them too. So the story must have done enough to leave some kind of lasting impression.

I find myself somewhat mixed on Nights of Azure 2. I affectionately refer to it as "anime trash" because that is absolutely what it is. But for a game that I didn't think was that good to get a sequel, and for that sequel to be good enough to see the story through does say something. I definitely can say that they did make improvements so it certainly is a better game. But at the same time it just so decidedly average.

Azure 2 is an ultimately unoffensive title. It pushes no boundaries and doesn't really shake up any established game mechanics. It's visual design is pretty anime and it has a relatively decent soundtrack. It's not a horrible game, but depending on what it is you are looking for you can find so many better options in that same vein. It's vanilla ice cream. It's perfectly fine as it is but it feels like it's begging for so much more. Tighter story, more weight to the combat, better implementation of its mechanics, better sound design.

I want to say that I paid close to 20 or 30 bucks for this game. That's probably a fair price because despite showing improvement, there is still quite a bit wrong with this game. That said, the ARE showing signs of improving, so I am not totally ready to write this one off. I wouldn't tell anyone to take a chance on this one, and it is a game that can be very easily forgotten after you've played it. Roll the dice on it if something about it speaks to you, but otherwise I wouldn't give a recommendation.

Carmilla Alucard.
I'm still mad about that.