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16/03/2017

SNK confirms second KOF XIV DLC character as Yamazaki

Riding on the wave of last month's confirmation that additional characters will be coming to The King of Fighters XIV, SNK confirmed on Wednesday who the next DLC entrant will be. Its time to welcome back the insane Japanese yakuza with the dyed blonde slick-back hair, Ryuji Yamazaki.

It looks like SNK hasn't forgotten the parts of his personality that make him so fun to use. You can check out his character trailer below.




What do you think of the latest fan-favourite addition to The King of Fighters XIV? Are there any additional characters you would like to see added to the current game's roster in the near future? Any thoughts, feel free to share them in the Comments section below. Alternatively you can share this on Facebook, Twitter or your social media network of choice.

10/03/2017

First The King of Fighters XIV DLC character confirmed to be Whip

As per my previous post on the blog back in February, I shared that SNK would be revealing more details regarding the additional DLC characters it plans to add to its latest team fighter, The King of Fighters XIV.

Perhaps in efforts to please long-term fans, the first character was recently revealed on Wednesday this week and is none other than the former Ikari Team member and able whip user, Whip. Check out her character trailer below.




She is due for release on April 5th with a price tag of $5.99 (make of that what you will for how much she will be in £/€).


What do you think of the first confirmed DLC character for KOF XIV? And who do you hope to see for the remaining three DLC characters? (this image from my previous post shows four bodies unless there's an non-human character inbound?) Any thoughts, please share them in the Comments section below. Alternatively you can share my recent updates via Facebook, Twitter or your social network of choice.




05/03/2017

Games I played in 2016 - Part 3

Like many great trilogies, this series of articles is reaching the end of its road. Here I recount the final selection of titles I got my hands on last year, what I enjoyed about them, what frustrated and surprised me in bizarre and exciting ways. Read on to see what made it into Part 3 of my Games I played in 2016 series.






Blizzard's latest title, a 6-vs-6 team hero shooter
with oodles of personality


Overwatch

The first-person shooter genre has been at its peak for some time now. It is also a very popular genre which gets over-saturated at particular times of the year (mainly around the lead up to the Christmas period to be precise). Although it may have been surprising to some that of all developers, World of Warcraft maker Blizzard had decided to step into not just this popular genre but that of arena team shooters, Overwatch has proven that the highly successful developer has a capable hand when taking on a new project.


Presented as a team-based shooter where the player picks from a selection of 23 heroes (21 were available at launch with an additional 2 added in the last year), matches see players join a team in 6-vs-6 battles where a number of objectives are played for on a variety of maps (escorting a payload, defending a point, elimination, capture the flag and more) in order to emerge victorious. You might wonder what makes Blizzard's effort that different to Team Fortress 2? The honest answer is not a great deal. However with the developer's level of polish, high production values and what on the whole appears to be a generally well-balanced title, Overwatch shows it could very well be THE team shooter of this generation.

Much to the game's benefit, each hero comes with a selection of skills available to them during play (some can be selected during battle, others are passive and so on). They allow a range of benefits from dashing to double-jumping, teleportation, health recovery, flight, increased firepower, cloaking, shields and so. The beautiful thing about these is that they are available from the start without any need for levelling characters up for extra abilities (levelling allows players to obtain loot boxes which contain mainly aesthetic items and goods). This means a new player can jump right in and try out the likes of Tracer, Widowmaker, Reinhardt D.Va, Genji or any of the available heroes without worrying about having access to all of their tools from the outset.


The initial group of heroes that are selectable in Overwatch.
They're a diverse group full of personality and energy.


It allows players to very quickly find out which character types work best for them and discover a few favourites from the cast early on.  These decisions also play into team synergies too which is where the game's depth really shows. A team that has a solid Reinhardt or Zariya up-front with Tracer, Reaper or Genji supporting whilst Hanzo or Widowmaker are sniping from afar and Lucio, Zenyata or Ana are providing ample support can become quite the unstoppable force against a disjointed and uncommunicative opposing team.

Even with these types of odds where the flow of battle is very much in favour of one team, the existence of character ultimates can really help turn the tide of battle around at crucial moments. These are built up over time and can be helped along the way with good performance during play (i.e high kill counts, great assists, healing many around you, etc.) Once maxed out they can be unleashed on the battlefield and have a range of effects such as Reaper's matrix-style spinning blitz of bullets in a crowd, Mercy's ability to resurrect the whole party, Hanzo's arrow that turns into intertwining spirit dragons or D.Va's mech that self-destructs with an AOE explosion. It keeps the matches exciting and allows for an additional level of dynamic play that can effect the outcome of a match in the closing seconds.


Overwatch's launch trailer. Unlike other titles, it is one of 
many trailers with Pixar-esque production values.


Upon booting Overwatch up players can jump right into Quick Match which normally finds an available match within 30-40 seconds. Elimination, 3-vs-3 battle, anything goes custom matches and 1-vs-1 modes are also available to play. There are also occasional seasonal events such as for last year's Olympics, Halloween, Christmas and the recent Chinese New Year event which ended earlier this month. These provide modes unique to the event, adding more variety to the proceedings. Ranked Matches can also be played but players are required to firstly reach lv. 25, after which they will play ten placement matches before they can start to earn league points for the game's current season. Here you will find some of the most ruthless competitors as their solo capabilities are as strong as their team synergies, resulting in some very challenging but rewarding matches played.

On the whole I think Overwatch's greatest achievement is making me as someone who doesn't typically play FPS, let alone team shooters, not only interested in the game after playing it via one of the free weekends but actually go out and buy the PS4 version. Call me a convert but Blizzard has created a great title here and if the confirmation of future content being free is true then I hope they support this title for years to come (if those CGI shorts are anything to go by, perhaps we could get a CGI film sometime in the future please Blizzard?)






One of the first Tales of games to receive a release 
on Sony's (ill-fated) handheld, the PS Vita


Tales of Hearts R

The first portable entry in the Tales of series that I managed to play, Tales of Hearts R is a remake of the original title that saw release on the Nintendo DS. Redesigned with full 3D models, a world map, an updated battle system and two additional characters added, this portable JRPG has much to offer for those interested in getting into the series.


Players begin their journey as preppy and upbeat lad Kor (the original character is named Shing but his name got changed in the translation for some reason). In the game's introduction he is living with his grandfather Zex in the quiet coastal village of Seaville. Training his soma (a weapon linked to the player's soul), he enjoys his life but desires to experience the outside world. At the same time two black-haired youths are shown trying to escape from a humanoid creature looking not unlike a crayfish in her armour. Caught on the edge of a high clifftop, the humanoid (named Incarose) fires and orb of energy at the duo who end up diving into the sea below to escape.

The next day the young female of the two (name Kohaku Hearts) washes up on Seaville's shore which is where Kor finds her. After giving CPR, Kohaku regains consciousness and smacks Kor aside before apologising and introducing herself. Soon after they come across Kohaku's brother, the hot-headed Hisui. The three return to Kor's home to meet his grandfather Zex, shortly after which Incarose manages to catch up with them. They are easily overpowered and only escape due to Zex's intervention which sadly results in his death at the hands of Incarose.




Despite the harsh introduction to the game, players soon set out into the world of Organica as the trio venture to find the shards of Kohaku's spiria due to being attacked Incarose, then Kor using his soma to create a spiria link in order to cure her but instead causing the shattered spriria to be cast across the game's world. During their journey they meet additional friends, foes and party members that join the group. In Tales of Hearts R two additional characters join those available in the original game in Chalcedony (and NPC in the original DS release) and dual-axe wielding somatic, Gall.

The eight members provide a healthy variety of options in combat with emphasis on long-range combat, healing, buffs, direct attacking, aerial combat and magic use. It allows players to support their preferred playstyles as you can choose whee your party members start on the battlefield, whether they go all out or keep their distance and customise their actions even further through buying battle orders at various stores throughout the game. Players can choose who their party leader will be in the event you want a change from Kor and the game's battle system allows players to equip Artes to different directions on the D-pad or right analogue stick, making them easy to access during the midst of battle.


Some of the gang Kor and Kohaku join up with 
in Tales of Hearts R. They become quite the
likeable and trustworthy group over time.


The journey of recovering the shards of Kohaku's spiria is not the entirety of Tales of Hearts R's story and although I won't get into spoilers here I found me time playing the game to completion quite enjoyable. This entry in the long-running series is doused in a good amount of charm which I have found to be a recurring element of the series to date. When I get to my next Tales of title (whether that be one of the older entries or the recently released Berseria) I hope it is able to continue this trend. Tales of Hearts R is another strong entry in the Tales of series and worth playing if you want a good traditional JRPG for your portable.

24/02/2017

Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev 2 coming this year, KOF XIV costumes, stages and DLC characters inbound

I hope you have been reading and enjoying my Games I played in 2016 series so far. For those of you that have been reading, thank you. I aim to update the last part to my blog during next week.


In the meantime two interesting updates have been shared by developers Arc System Works and SNK. The first was the confirmation at the end of ASW's recent Arc Revolution Cup that they will be updating its ongoing weapons-based fighter with the aptly named GGXrd: Rev 2.

Arcade location tests have already taken place for the game which will see long-term series character and favourite, Baiken, return to the fray. Chipp's assistant and smartly-dressed ninja PA, Answer, will also join the roster. European publisher PQube has confirmed that the update will see a 2017 release (but no confirmation on an exact release date and price point as of yet).

EDIT: Arc System Works has recently confirmed the update will be getting a Japanese release on May 25th. Hopefully a Western release is not too far behind.

You can check the trailer for GGXrd: Rev 2 out below.




Not to be left behind, SNK also had its own reveals after the final of its recent The King of Fighters XIV World Championship. The trailer showed a nostalgia costume for Iori Yagami from his first appearance in The King of Fighters '95. The trailer also shared upcoming DLC costumes for a selection of the cast including Kula Diamond, Meiten, Sylvie and Angel. New stages will also be added free of charge to the game with a tribute to Terry Bogard's stage from Garou Densetsu 2 and the Monaco stage from The King of Fighters '97.

Finally (and perhaps most important of all), SNK confirmed that additional DLC characters will be coming to KOF XIV. Given all we have to go on now is a group image of white silhouettes, speculation is rampant among series fans.


Who could these new additions to KOF XIV be? 
And just how many characters are actually there?


The end of the video confirms we will get more details in March which is only 1-2 weeks away. You can check out the trailer out for yourself below.


    


What do you think of the recent updates from Arc System Works and SNK? Are you excited for what they are going to add to Guilty Gear Xrd and KOF XIV? Feel free to share any thoughts you have in the Comments section below. Or you can share this on Facebook, Twitter or your social media network of choice.


23/02/2017

Games I played in 2016 - Part 2

I hope you enjoyed my previous post regarding games I enjoyed playing back in 2016. There were more than five of them however so read on as continue to cover them in Part 2 of my Games I played in 2016 series.







The latest in Capcom's long-running
fighting game franchise


Street Fighter V

Perhaps the most controversial game release of 2016 (next to No Man's Sky) could be handed to the latest in Capcom's famed fighting game franchise. When the title released in February last year it was a fighter that was very light on single player content, had noticeable issues with working servers and online play at launch, modes that were inaccessible until at a least a month after launch and other issues. Shifting the emphasis to online play is one thing but when even that has severe functionality issues out of the gate, its not a fantastic way to successfully launch the latest numbered entry in a long-running franchise.

Those things said, the core gameplay is thankfully solid as ever with strikes, throws and supers hitting heavier than they ever have. Introduced in this instalment are V-Skills and V-Triggers. Each character has these, allowing for greater variation in playstyles as they gain increased power, speed, manoeuvrability or armour when activated. Most of the returning cast have been refreshed from their former appearances, meaning the likes of Ken, Nash, Karin, Vega, Dhalsim and co feel both familiar and new at the same time. The new faces in Necali, Laura, Rashid and Fang are worthy additions and fell right at home among old favourites (and not as bland or eccentric as SFIV's new additions).

Graphically the game is great with the Unreal 4 Engine being used to bring Street Fighter into the modern age. Backgrounds are diverse and appealing, showing a variety of locales and allowing the series' famed interactivity as signs break, environments shake and your opponent gets sent through a window at the side of the stage or ends up with a hot dog standee on their head. Modern yet instantly familiar to long-term series fans.



(I'm aware reading the following paragraphs back comes across as a mini-rant but I feel it still needed to be covered. Don't worry, the general game overview returns afterwards 😉)

Although we had to wait a month or so until after release to access it, the in-game shop allows players to use Fight Money accrued through playing the game's modes to purchase alternate costumes, stages, titles and perhaps most importantly, characters. Prior to release Capcom went on record claiming that original version of Street Fighter V would be the only version players would ever need to own. All additional fighters would be unlockable using Fight Money or could be bought through PSN.


Though this is true, consider that each character costs 100,00FM. Finishing the game's easy survival mode nets you 4,000 - 5,000FM. Completing each character's story mode will get you another 4,000FM. Sounds fair, right? However these are one-time only rewards. So how do you obtain FM otherwise? Well if you play online and win, you get 50FM. Its a huge contrast and not really a viable means of building currency without grinding. You do get 1,000FM for levelling up a character but this takes longer with each level gained. So yes, you can unlock them without paying more (£4.99 each or £24.99 for the 2016 character pass if you choose that method) but Capcom has turned something that should be challenging but engaging into a slog (tut tut Capcom). In contrast Street Fighter IV let you unlock 6 of its additional playable characters by finishing arcade mode with the right characters once. The remaining 3 characters were more challenging to unlock but they could all be unlocked within 2.5-3 hours. One wonders why Capcom's approach changed so drastically between SFIV and SFV and we can only speculate why until Capcom staff explain the approach one day (maybe).

You might wonder why I bother playing Street Fighter V after explaining the above. Well the core gameplay is still very strong, at high-level play the game is quite captivating for avid players and watchers alike and as of mid-February a new character will be added to the current roster by the end of the month (Gill's assistant and ice user, Kolin), taking the existing roster up to 24 with four more characters new to the Street Fighter series on the way. Its this expanding of the roster and other features that keeps me hopeful for the game's future and that we can put its rocky launch way behind us.






Naughty Dog's latest (and perhaps final) offering in
Nathan Drake's action-filled, globetrotting adventures


Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

When developer Naughty Dog announces a new title, players and fans feel a huge well of excitement. When that game is a newly numbered entry in the renowned Uncharted series, that excitement reaches levels of hysteria. Many had anticipated that Naughty Dog would be bringing the latest tale of Nathan Drake's adventures to the PS4 and we finally got it with Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.

Although the cover art would lead anyone to believe the series has progressed into dark territory, Uncharted 4 is more a tale about family and leaving an adventure's life behind. After his numerous adventures escaping the likes of Shambala, cities hidden deep in searing deserts and islands filled with otherworldly creatures, here we are shown a Nathan who has hung up his pistol and various treasures in his attic for a regular job in salvage and stamping maritime permits. Nathan appears happy after retuning to normal life and living with his on-off love interest through the earlier games, Elena Fisher. Even as they sit on the couch eating dinner together, Nathan is caught drifting off into his own adventure-filled world whilst gazing at a picture of an exotic island on the apartment wall. He may have left the treasure hunting life behind but his spirit and desire for that life is ever present.

Not too long after our reintroduction to Nathan and Elena does Drake's long-lost brother, Sam Drake, turn up. Looking like a mix between Luke Perry and Bruce Springsteen, Nathan is both surprised and overjoyed at his brother's appearance, leading them to have an hours long catch-up on the pier (players even get to choose which adventure Nathan (they) enjoyed the most in the previous games at this point). It is not long however before talk turns to another adventure for untold riches. Nathan quickly informs Sam that he has left that life behind and is quite happy with his life the way it is. Sam manages to convince Drake to go on a journey to retrieve the treasure of famed pirate Henry Avery, causing Nathan to lie to Elena that he has a short salvage contract in Malaysia. Thus begins the wild adventure of Uncharted 4.

Perhaps wild is an understatement given the nature of Naughty Dog's flagship series. Taking in a variety of locations including Italy, the Scottish Highlands, Madagascar and many exotic  islands, Uncharted 4 feels like Nathan's biggest adventure yet. As players progress through the game on the trail for Avery's long-lost treasure they cross paths with long-term career criminal and treasure seeker Rafe Adler and PMC and mercenary leader, Nadine Ross. Making the journey slightly less treacherous (and a little more charming) is the return of Victor Sullivan, the wisened and cigar-chewing mentor to Drake. They allow for interesting dynamics as characters show their history together and their liking (or severe disliking) of each other.




Being a numbered Uncharted entry you can expect tight, responsive gunplay and highly-engaging set pieces galore and Uncharted 4 does not disappoint. I will try to not go into huge amounts of detail here but the game's set pieces do a great job of challenging some of the series' best to date. They make great use of the locations which vary significantly to each other. Additionally each location is fantastically realised, bursting with colour that adds to a fantastic sense of immersion. Drake has also added a grappling hook to his existing arsenal. This allows Nathan to scale hard to reach areas, traverse and swing across gaps between cliffs and drag heavy crates/containers around. It allows for some creative usage in the game that I won't spoil for you here (yet might fulfil that itch you have to be Indiana Jones after all).

Multiplayer is present and although I haven't spent a great deal of time with this so far it appears to be more robust than its ever been. Players can build up points through in-game kills which can be used on helpers that can sway the path to victory in your direction. There are also AOE relics that can be used similarly to really mess up your opponent's team. Regular play of multiplayer also provides a variety of unlocks that allows players to customise their appearance, loadouts and taunts (because taking selfies over your enemy's dead corpse is a classy thing to do).

I had a superb time with Uncharted 4. Nathan's final foray into the world of treasure hunting is as exciting, wonderful, dangerous and riveting as you would expect it to be. That it looks this gorgeous from a technical and artistic point of view only helps in making the adventure even greater. You are really missing out if you don't play this on the PS4 and if this truly is Drake's final outing, well that's fine with me.


NOTE: It was announced at the December 2016 Playstation Experience that the spin-off Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is on the way featuring Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross seemingly teaming up. Naughty Dog handles strong female characters well so hopes are high for this being something great. Hopefully we will hear of a set release date soon.








ASW's long-running fighting game franchise returns
with aplomb in GGXrd: Revelator


Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator

Not one to believe in succinct titles, developer Arc System Works' latest entry in the ongoing weapons-based fighting game series Guilty Gear Xrd, subtitled Revelator, sees the fighter return to the PS3/PS4. Joining the existing roster are returning characters Johnny, a shades-wearing pirate dressed like a cowboy who practises the iaidō style of swordsmanship, and Jam, a Chinese restaurant waitress with heavy overtones of kung-fu and Bruce Lee). New faces introduced in GGXrd: Rev include Jack-O, a mask-wearing female with a serious case of split personality and a living ball and chain attached to her leg. Raven can be unlocked in-game and as per his namesake carries the crow motif in both his appearance and moveset. He also has a sado-masochistic streak with a longing for pain. Kum Haehyun is a DLC character that sees a tuner (as the game refers to them) inhabit a mechanical fighter that looks ever so slightly like Gouken from Street Fighter IV. Additionally, due to a popularity poll conducted by ASW, Dizzy was later added to the roster as a playable character (and was free to download for the first week of release). Its nice to have some of my old favourites return to the roster finally (I enjoy using both Johnny and Jam and I don't mind playing as Dizzy from time to time either) and the new characters feel like they fit quite nicely into the existing roster.






New additions and returning faces join the fray 
in Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator


As is the trend with ASW console releases, GGXrd: Rev has a cinematic story that continues the narrative of its predecessor, GGXrd: SIGN. For this players are encouraged to grab a hot drink, sit back, absorb the story and lore as Sol, Ky and company unveil a scheme by The Universal Will, a being who has a penchant for human genocide and Mexican Day of the Dead face paint. It makes for an interesting, exciting and at times heartfelt chapter in the Guilty Gear narrative, allowing characters we know and love to grow, change and put everything on the line to protect what's important to them and the world. Familiar faces also show up which may please those anticipating the return of their favourite character (the recently announced GGXrd: Rev 2 will see 'business ninja' Answer join the cast and long-time favourite, the pink-haired one-armed samurai Baiken finally make a return). Slowly and surely ASW is doing a great job of pleasing long-term fans, adding new and interesting faces to the expanding roster.




Standard modes such as Arcade, Survival, M.O.M (methods of mayhem), Training and Online are all present. The online component is robust, allowing players to walk as their small avatar around a virtual arcade, take a seat at a cabinet and wait for a competitor to join them in battle. Its nice to see the online work as although its done simply, the lobby system feels more interactive than the static fighters of other major fighters. Players can also go fishing which allows them to use currency earned in-game to potentially obtain titles, avatars, unlockables from the Revelator's gallery and even character poses for the Diorama Mode. Additionally there is a gallery mode containing various pieces of game art, voice samples, tracks from older Guilty Gear games, character colours and the character Raven all waiting to be unlocked. The great thing here is that earning the game's currency is not a drawn-out affair, meaning you will be able to obtain the parts you want from Gallery Mode within a reasonable amount of playtime with minimal grinding.

Overall GGXrd: Revelator makes for a comprehensive and content-rich package. After the initial release of SIGN which reintroduced players to the world of Guilty Gear, Revelator steps things up with an increased roster, additional mechanics and the promise of more to come soon. I'm looking forward to what ASW will do with the series in the future.








Game Director Hidetaki Miyazaki's latest in the dark-fantasy
RPG genre. Are you prepared to die once more?


Dark Souls III

I've already covered one 3rd-person action RPG from developers From Software in the first part of this piece already. That they released another title in a similar mould that I managed to play last Summer sings to the strength of the renowned developer.

The latest in the famed Souls series, Dark Souls III saw the original director of Demon's Souls/Dark Souls, Hidetaki Miyazaki, return to lead this entry in the right direction. And this he did quite superbly. This time around players will take their personalised avatar through the world of Lothric, another profoundly Gothic-laden land that may trigger memories for those familiar with the lands of the original Dark Souls. This journey will see players take on the Lords of Cinder in the Abyss Watchers, Yhorm the Giant, Aldrich, Devourer of Gods and brothers Lothric and Lorian (lords of cinder who were tasked with linking the fire for this generation but shirked their responsibility to live in quiet solitude). As you progress through Dark Souls III it is your task to defeat these Lords of Cinder, sending them back to their graves and collecting their ashes to progress to the game's end goal. If explaining it sounds epic, playing Dark Souls III is much more so. Whether it be the encounters, the boss battles or admiring the scenery of the castles, manors, forests, catacombs, caves and more, Dark Souls III  is as a much a love letter to those who have played the earlier games (specifically Dark Souls) as it is a fantastic action RPG experience.

Player actions and movement are once again governed by your stamina meter. This determines whether you can attack, defend, roll out of danger, handle heavy blows and more. Players would do well to assure their stamina meter is not easily emptied lest they become staggered, opening them up for a critical strike by the enemy. You can land these on the opponent too and nothing is more satisfying than knocking a huge knight's shield aside, then pinning him to the ground with a thrust to the stomach. There is still a level of danger with each encounter and this makes for an exciting experience, even if it all goes wrong and you end up dying.





And die you will. Firmly a series staple at this point, dying in Dark Souls III is part of the game's whole ecosystem and is not really something to lament and dislike. Akin to the previous titles, players are given a chance to reach the point you last perished and retrieve your collected souls. If you are killed before then you lose your souls for good. Given they are used as a means of levelling up and in-game currency it is of course important to stay alive in order to retain them for general use. They can be accrued again however by slaying enemies, bosses and found on bodies of the fallen around Lothric. Its this risk/reward style of play that makes Dark Souls III so captivating with you having to often consider if you should venture beyond the current bonfire when your current soul count is in the 200,000 range or more (only the very recently released Nioh may rival this for tangible tension in-game).

There is a unique kind of appeal in a title where you genuinely do not know what is around the next corner or dark, lonely corridor. It its this feeling of mystery that contributes to Dark Souls III feeling like a grand adventure where you unearth the secrets and horrors of the land, facing bosses that are as mesmerising as they are vicious and none feeling lacklustre in their presentation (the Dancer of the Boreal Valley, the Abyss Watchers and Yhorm the Giant being personal highlights). The game also has optional bosses to uncover which offers a substantial level of challenge for the seasoned Dark Souls player.

I haven't had the opportunity to try the game's DLC as of yet (one part was released last October and the second part sees release in late March). The regular release of Dark Souls III provides a highly immersive and engaging experience with or without said DLC and whether you are a returning fan or a newcomer to the series, traversing the dangerous and sometimes captivating world of Lothric will most certainly be worth your time.







Link's latest 3DS adventure
in the world of Hyrule


The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

I'd heard this game was good for a long time. Touted as a follow-up to the original A Link to the Past released on the SNES, this 3DS-specific Zelda title carries many of the hallmarks of the former classic. Therefore we see a top-down Zelda game that brings back many of the familiar locations too, from Hyrule Castle to Kakariko Village, the Lost Woods, Lake Hylia and Death Mountain, many of the areas are given a facelift to fit the 3DS' capabilities. We are also treated to a new tale that sees wizard Yuga turn princess Zelda into into a painting before kidnapping her. During the same encounter Link is also turned into a 2D version of himself.



The Legend of Zelda's hero Link,
both in 3D and his Picasso-esque 2D self


Although at first alarming, Link soon finds this can be used to his advantage as it allows him to not only blend into and traverse walls in the various houses, castles and dungeons he enters but also slip between cracks in those walls and sometimes even through portals (I swear sometimes the villains in Zelda games just want Link to reach them so they can have another fight). It allows for some very inventive use of Link's new abilities within the game's dungeons. Additionally, the adding 3D has allowed the developers to be just as creative with the game's puzzles as Link uses his items to traverse the various locations in new and interesting ways for a Zelda title.





The graphical style of the game is very fitting for the 3DS with everything looking great and functional for this entry in the Zelda franchise. Characters are once again small versions of themselves which might disappoint fans of adult Link from the likes of Twilight Princess and other Zelda titles but its something that can be easily adjusted to within a little amount of playtime. The soundtrack is great and recalls the classic Zelda theme together with a selection of old and newly orchestrated tracks. It all contributes to a very high-quality entry in the long-running series and if your question is "should I play this?" I would ask if you have every played a Zelda title and enjoyed it? If the answer is yes, go and play A Link Between Worlds. You won't be wasting your time.




That's my second round-up of games I got to play in 2016 that left a lasting impression on me. Have you played any of those mentioned? If so, what did you think? If you have any comments, add them below. Alternatively you can share them on Facebook, Twitter or your social media network of choice. Thanks for reading and look forward to the final Part 3 where I cover the likes of team hero shooter Overwatch, bizarre courtroom title Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies and the latest in SNK's long-running fighting game franchise, The King of Fighters XIV.




15/02/2017

Games I played in 2016

I was thinking last month about writing a piece regarding some of the most enjoyable games I got to play in 2016. That hasn't emerged until now. Read on to see what games I played, enjoyed, frustrated and surprised me over last year.







The many faces you will meet 
in Tales of Zestiria


Tales of Zestiria

This was my first foray into the long running series by developer Bandai Namco and I wonder why I've waited so long. Tales of games have been released on a regular basis on a number of platforms for the last 20 years and Zestiria is the first to see a dual release on both the PS3 and PS4.

Zestiria follows the legend of the shepherd, a human who can interact with seraphim (deities of the game's world of Greenwood) and purge the world of malevolence (the essence that emerges within humans, turning them into fierce creatures called hellions). In the game's early hours we become acquainted with our hero and young male shepherd Sorey, his friend and seraphim Mikleo and young female knight and lance user, Alicia. From the opening hours our trio of newly acquainted faces head out on a journey from the mountaintops of of Elysia to the lowlands of the Hyland Kingdom, amidst an impending war with its neighbouring nation, the Rolance Empire. What initialy appears to be a light-hearted journey of cleansing the world becomes a more serious matter as new friends, seraphim and acquaintances are met and new threats in the world of Glenwood reveal themselves.

Those familiar with the Tales of series will see the Linear Motion Battle System return, a fancy name given to the area that battles take place in an allows freedom of movement with the holding down of one of the controller's trigger buttons. Battles take place in the environment now rather than via a separately generated area, keeping things between exploration and battle more seamless. If you're not a fan of the lead character you can also switch to another party member to take down the hellions around you.

The world of Greenwood is an interesting world, taking inspiration from British and European folklore with a sprinkling of Eastern flavour ( Sorey obtains his initial sword from a stone akin to that of Excalibur, there is talk of a lady of the lake in one of the early visited towns and so on). The antagonists are fine but not outstanding (though it was interesting through playing Zestiria to learn how one of the antagonists became his beast-like self).

 I found the characters I used in the game to be charming throughout which not only made it easy to root for them when things got tough but also care for their predicaments and hope they got to the end of their journey unscathed. As my first major Tales of title it was a very solid experience and I look forward to checking more of these out in the future.






The newest console release title in 
the Assassin's Creed franchise, 
this time set in Victorian London.


Assassin's Creed: Syndicate

The latest release in Ubisoft's now long-running franchise sees the time and location move to Victorian London. Twins Jacob and Evie Frye become involved in the Templars activities, causing them to pursue these matters to England's capital and become involved in turf wars with a major Templar of the era, Crawford Starrick.

The Assassin's Creed games have covered a variety of locations and time periods so it was surely only a matter of time before Victorian England would be one of them. This time around players have the luxury of playing as either Jacob or Evie as they progress through the game's sequences to assassinate targets working on behalf of the Templars. There are specific missions for each twin but one the whole its nice to have the option of playing as either one for the majority of the game based on your own personal tastes.

As ever there are a number of famous locations to visit such as the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square and more. Famous figures such as Alexander Bell, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle many others also put in an appearance in AC Syndicate. In addition to the typical wrist blades, knives and smoke bombs, players are given an automatic grappling hook for use in the game. This can be used to traverse buildings and structures, making getting around the capital more dynamic and interesting. Players can also commandeer horse-drawn carts as a means of transportation and even get on top of the carriage for shootouts and fisticuffs. Its wish fulfilment at its finest.

Again I haven't spent a significant amount of time with previous Assassin's Creed and therefore for me this has been a highly enjoyable entry point into the ongoing franchise. I'll be interested in what Ubisoft does with the series going forwards.






A fresh take on survival horror in
Supermassive Games' Until Dawn


Until Dawn

How often do we see developers trying to insert cinematic elements into their games these days? Its almost present in every major AAA title released. What about games that aim to be a wholly cinematic experience? Can they actually be done well? History proves there have been more misses than hits in this ever evolving medium. However, with Supermassive Games' Until Dawn, they may have just bucked that trend.

Set among the cold and desolate Blackwood mountainside and a nearby lodge (a fictional mountain range but taking inspiration from the West Canadian wilderness), players control a variety of characters as they arrive at their mutual friend's place, venture out into the wilderness, learn that things may not be quite right in the area and attempt to stay alive until the day breaks.

Those familiar with television and film will recognise some of the faces playing the in-game roles with the likes of Hayden Panettiere, Brett Dalton, Rami Malek and Peter Stormare among the motion-capped cast. Developer Suppermassive deserves an award here for the attention to detail in the game characters with some almost approaching the uncanny valley. The atmosphere in the game is often well-realised as players guide their survivors around the lodge, the surrounding woods, mines, a nearby asylum and more.

The developers have done a fine job allowing players to remain in control throughout Until Dawn with this only being taken away during story development sections or brief moments of scene setting for the game's chapters. There is also the interesting Butterfly Effect (not the film with Ashton Kutcher) mechanic where making choices during the game can affect an outcome later in the game (i.e moving a baseball bat in the lodge's basement or giving a character a weapon/tool at a certain point in the game, etc.) This can also affect how those characters behave towards you which in some cases can be the difference between life and death for the player.

On the whole I had a very immersive and enjoyable experience with Until Dawn. I know the newest Resident Evil came out in late January this year but I would argue whether we need that franchise to return to the playstyle of the early games when Supermassive Games did a great job of putting their own spin on an interactive horror experience here. I hope that Supermassive gives Until Dawn another go around in a sequel at some point in the the future as I'm eager to play more once the credits have ended (Rush of Blood doesn't count).






From Software's blood-soaked action RPG
that sees your hunter pitted against
numerous beasts in the grim streets
of the gothic city, Yarnham


Bloodborne

This title was something I couldn't stop describing to my friend recently as he drove both of us home from Aysgarth Falls in North Yorkshire, such is my fondness for this highly atmospheric title. The newest original IP from Japanese developer From Software, the Victorian England-like Gothic setting of Yarnham is perfect for this action-RPG that sees you play as a hunter, out to clean the land of beasts over one very demonic and blood-filled night.

Familiar with the action-RPG formula by this point with Demon's Souls and Dark Souls 1 & 2 under their belt, game director Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team fully embrace the dark and Gothic with Bloodborne. Fantastically atmospheric and full of nasty surprises and creatures hiding in the darkened alleyways, sewers, halls and bridges, Bloodborne allows players to lose themselves in the world of Yarnham. There is also a great variety in the game's areas with woods, villages, graveyards, chambers, a looming church high above Yarnham and even a snow-laden castle. The game's DLC provides even more variety with areas both bloody, nightmarish and captivating in equal measure. Its a fantastically designed and interconnected world that begs to be explored.

Developer From made significant changes to the player's movement and combat mechanics too. Gone are shields and instead hunters brandish a trick weapon in one hand (weapons that can change into an alternate form) and a gun in the other. Players are encouraged to manouver and dodge around their opponents, landing a counter strike with their pistol if they catch the enemy at the right time. They can then move in for a finishing blow that sees your hunter plunge their hand into the enemy's chest, then tear it out of their side. This allows a small recovery of health, is as satisfying as it sounds and is very much welcome given the variety of beasts and bosses you face. They are a sight to behold and are both frightening and challenging in equal measure.

If you get tired of taking on the hunt alone the game allows you to summon a co-op partner with the use of a bell item in your inventory (be careful though as the game summons a bell-ringing woman that must be found and slain, otherwise your game could get invaded by another human-controlled hunter). It mixes things up nicely and could be just what you need to get past that difficult boss that you just can't best on your own.

Apart from the framerate very rarely dipping there is very little to dislike about Bloodborne. A superb setting, great atmosphere, involving gameplay and an incredible land to explore with interesting paths to open and discover. If you haven't played it yet definitely try this title out at the next available opportunity.






Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami's 
latest survival horror title. 
It'll mess with your mind, happily.


The Evil Within

The latest title from the original creator of the Resident Evil games, Shinji Mikami, The Evil Within aims to provide players with a true horror experience once more. Initially apeing the control style of Mikami's last foray into his famed franchise with Resident Evil 4, a couple of hours with the title will quickly show players they are in for a truly unique and disturbing survival horror experience,

Detective Sebastian Castellanos and his colleagues Joeseph Oda and Judi Kidman are called to Crimson City's asylum on hearing of a reported massacre in the asylum's foyer. When they arrive there are numerous police cars parked outside and they enter the asylum cautiously. As they walk among the bodies of what appear to be slaughtered patients and staff, they find a resident doctor named Marcello Jiminez who is still alive. After a brief discussion Sebastian ends up checking the security footage nearby. Here he sees three officers seemingly be killed by a figure who teleports between gunshots, then before he knows it said figure appears right behind Sebastian who is then knocked out cold. When he awakes he finds himself hanging upside down with a butcher hacking up corpses nearby. After escaping, being chased and consequently being cut by said butcher's chainsaw, Sebastian manages to escape, reaches for a cigarette which is both sodden and crumpled before throwing them to the floor with a disgruntled "fuck!" Fade to black (and that's just the game's introduction!)

Although players may feel The Evil Within takes the RE4 template and runs with it, thankfully there are enough gameplay changes to make it feel different enough to the former series' famed entry. RE4 had its fair share of tense and horrific encounters but The Evil Within does a superb job of ramping this up even to even greater levels. Each of the game's chapters feels like they are dropping Sebastian into another nightmare with little respite. Thankfully there are areas in the game and the asylum where Sebastian can take a moment to breathe and also power himself up through what appears to be a dentist's operating chair with headgear attached that plugs right into his brain. Vials of green liquid can be found and used to power up his different faculties including sprinting, stamina, weapons, health and oddly the number of matches (don't ask me why. Plus, you'd think a smoker would have a lighter anyway).

In the game's early chapters Sebastian gains access to a variety of weapons including the agony crossbow. This aptly-named weapon allows the player to create different types of bolts from resources found around the environment. These vary from standard bolts that can stick enemies to walls to fire, ice, electricity, blinding and explosive bolts. It allows the crossbow to be both a useful and varied weapon, useful for crowd control and boss encounters alike.

Not only are the weapons varied; given how the game unfolds players will encounter a variety of locales including castles, laboratories, an estate, Crimson City itself and more. The design team are a twisted bunch of individuals as the creatures that appear in the game are not for the faint of heart. From ogres to possessed humans, faceless monstrosities, huge clawed creatures and the bizarre Keeper who has a safe for a head, The Evil Within has a multitude of beasts and monsters out ot help Sebastian meet his maker.




Even though the game becomes more action-heavy towards its conclusion you are very much in a survival horror setting throughout. This comes recommended to those who longed for Resident Evil  to move away from being the game version of a Michael Bay film with RE6. I hope Tango Gameworks and publisher Bethesda will announce a sequel is in progress at this June's E3 show in Los Angeles.



Alright that's the first part of my Games I played in 2016 round-up. I will post soon on when parts 2 and 3 will be available to read. I may also post shorter pieces of game and entertainment-related news in the meantime. Thanks if you've taken the time to read and feel free to share, subscribe, like and comment on in the Comments section below or on your chosen social network.


04/01/2017

Top 10 Films of 2016


We come to the end of another year full of films both great, captivating and wholly disappointing. It wouldn't be right to see off last year without a round-up of my top ten films of 2016. Therefore here we are with the ten films I saw that make my Top 10.

Before we get underway I'd like to include a few honourable mentions. This doesn't mean the films were any less captivating or interesting to watch but is more an indication that I found the top ten to be of superb quality overall. Those that didn't quite make the list but thoroughly enjoyed include Quentin Tarantino's latest winter-set Western epic The Hateful Eight, Square Enix's CGI tie-in to its newest RPG release FFXV: Kingsglaive, the Texas-set modern crime Western Hell or High Water, the superb animated feature Batman: The Killing Joke, the latest entry in the Rocky franchise/soft reboot film Creed and director James Wan's follow-up to the fantastically horrifying possession movie set in Enfield, London, The Conjuring 2. Additional mentions see the likes of Marvel's latest hero and origin story brought to the big screen Doctor Strange, the humourous and somewhat educational about the housing market leading up to the financial crisis The Big Short, and Russell T Davies' biopic tinged with his typical directorial flair and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Joy.

If you get the chance do watch any of those mentioned above as they are all great films from throughout the year. With those out of the way, let's move forwards to the top ten films of 2016.






10.Concussion

Although I caught this film later in the year, the story of pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu who investigated the effects of repeated concussions on American football players being the cause of potential brain damage made for a heavily dramatic feature. Heavyweight Will Smith again shows his acting capability to take on a mature and serious role in Nigerian-born Dr. Omalu, the first to discover the existence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in American football players. The supporting cast is no slouch either with the likes of Alec Baldwin, David Morse, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Eddie Marsan and Luke Wilson contributing their acting talents to the story of Dr. Omalu's struggles with getting the NFL to admit the link between repeated concussions experienced by NFL football players and brain damage post-playing career.

Aside from a small amount of CG used to demonstrate the impact of collisions on the brain for the NFL players, the messages and statement made by Concussion is not heavy-handed nor too Hollywoodised. The film communicates an effective message about a matter the American NFL chose to bury for years and how they attempted to defame the name of Dr. Omalu in the process. Not unlike the link between smoking and certain cancers, the adamant belief Omalu carries throughout the film of the importance of this link being acknowledge and accepted is what makes Concussion a picture that will provide food for thought long after the end credits roll.







Before I begin writing this entry I can already feel a disturbance in the force; one of absolute disdain for me placing this year's release of prequel and standalone film, Rogue One, so low on the list. I won't deny the film was a highly enjoyable one to watch but its competition was just that good.

The first in Disney's films released to broaden the Star Wars universe beyond its numbered entries, Rogue One sees young thief turned rebel Jyn Erso (played here by Felicity Jones) join The Rebellion in its attempts to recover the plans of The Empire's looming planet destroyer, the Death Star. Jyn is joined on her mission by a group of individuals fighting for the same cause and consisting of rebels, force-aware monks, defectors from the Empire and even extremists such as Forest Whitaker's part-man, part-machine; Saw Gerrera. It makes for a compelling group to get behind through the film as they journey into Empire territory and eventually to the Pacific island-like planet of Scarif to retrieve the Death Star plans from the databanks watched over by the Empire's Director of Advanced Weapons Research, Orson Krennic.

Rogue One does have steady pace in the first act which I find to be deliberate and entirely fine due to the rising stakes throughout the film right until the closing set piece which is both grand and unique in its execution and display. The film is also no slouch in its healthy referencing of the Star Wars universe with tie-fighters, stormtroopers, blasters and the force (or at least faith in it) all being present. A few familiar faces also show up in Rogue One including one you can't miss if you look closely at the poster above (I won't spoil those scenes for you here as they are best enjoyed whilst watching the film).

Mature, entertaining, compelling, well acted and adding additional substance to the film that directly follows it, Rogue One is a great first attempt at bringing another tale in the Star Wars world to the big screen.

26/12/2016

Seasons greetings and upcoming postings

I've been quiet the last few weeks but I can only say that Persona 5 has been taking my time among other things. That said, this week I will be writing my Top 10 films of 2016 and aim to up it to the blog by the New Year (there may also be some special categories too). I might also write a Top Games of 2016 article also that will detail some of the best (and perhaps contraversial) games I got to play this year. Finally I hope to write some comprehensive impressions of Persona 5 once I finish the game given I am in the late stages of Atlus' latest JRPG. That will mostly be spoiler-free but I may also do a separate post detailing my thoughts on the overarching story and character motivations if I feel like it.

In any case, look forward to some of the above if not all of my upcoming content. As ever be sure to like, share and comment. Here's to a great upcoming 2017 and catch you all soon.

12/11/2016

Persona 5 impressions

Atlus' latest major RPG release



So it appears Autumn is being bypassed and we are moving swiftly into Winter with the recent weather and cold nights. Typically that can have a knock-on effect with people's mood as the days stay brighter for less and darker for longer. However there is no need to fret as there are a great number of titles available and leading up to the end of the year to keep us in good spirits and combat the chills of the upcoming cold season.


In a stroke of luck (i.e keeping my eyes daily on various online retailers/sellers) earlier this month I managed to pick up a copy of Atlus' latest major RPG release, Persona 5 (herefafter P5).


Persona 5's protagonist and leader of the Phantom Thieves


Contrasting with the countryside town setting of Persona 4, P5 sees our crow feather-haired protagonist transfer from his oringinal school to one in Aoyama, central Tokyo after an incident that is reported to the local police as an assault (though this is open to interpretation). From here the MC is thrown into a new school life whilst on probation, resulting in his guardian (cafe owner Soujiro Sakura) and new teachers treating him with heavy judgement. Perhaps as a result of fate however we are soon introduced to a smartphone app that looks like a giant red eye (or perhaps a portal) that allows our playable MC to travel to a world inside the hearts of heavily corrupt adults. It is from here that we learn more of this new world and how the MC gains his 'mask', something that bestows the power to reform the severely corrupted hearts.

If the above sounds bizarre then don't be surprised as this fits with the general themes and tone of the more recent titles in the Persona series. Playing the game sees you progress through a Japanese school year (April to March of the next year) as you gain friends and increase your social links (now called cooperations) with various individuals around central Tokyo and in the parallel world. As this takes place there are additional mysteries to uncover that develop as you progress through the year and in some cases tie into events earlier in the game. I won't spoil anything here but those with sharp eyes and a liking for detective mystery-like stories will be able to connect the dots more or less in Persona 5's central story.


Some of the cooperations you find earlier in Persona 5. Cooperations are made 
with various characters and link to different classes of tarot card


Presentation-wise developer Atlus continues to show its capability for highly polished flair here. Everything from the main characters to the dungeon settings, user interface and various persona (creatures that you capture in-game and use to fight by your side) are gorgeously presented without a glitch in sight. The music is no slouch either with series composer Shoji Meguro returning for the game's soundtrack duties. Equal parties rock, funk, acid jazz and more, Meguro has assured that for the duration the player will spend with the latest entry in the series that they will enjoy listening to the various tracks the game has to offer. Additionally the track Poem of Everyone's Soul plays once again in this game's version of the Velvet Room, this time a prison with returning character Igor being the MC's probation officer (perhaps).


He may looked crooked but Igor is integral to your journey in Persona 5


Its nice to have the change of setting in central Tokyo with famed areas such as Shibuya station square, crossing and central street, Harajuku, Akihabara and many other areas accessible through the game. The cafe the character's guardian runs is in a fictional district but takes inspiration from the real area Sangenjaya, west of Shibuya. It does a nice job of allowing players with a fondness for Japanese settings to feel both immersed and able to wander the streets of Tokyo whilst growing their character, catching persona and 'reforming' the hearts of various twisted individuals.


Quite possibly one of Tokyo's most famous
and popular locations, Shibuya Central Street


At around 50 hours in my major concerns are the volume of dialogue. Although this may be welcome for series veterans who love to soak up the world and characters presented here, sometimes it impacts the pacing of P5. Although developing the characters, setting and story are both welcome and necessary, sometimes what needs to be said can be in 30 words, not 300. It feels somewhat like the dialogue was written sometimes to give the voice actors (who all commit to their roles) a lengthier recording session rather than serve the game's story progression. That said, the character-specific stories experienced through increasing your cooperation ranks do well in fleshing out their concerns, worries and backgrounds. Its nice that these are mostly optional but tie into various benefits for strengthening the player and your squad inside of battle and around Tokyo.

Additionally, although the game's mascot character Morgana can be entertaining at times, he/she/it (the character identifies as he but the game doesn't confirm this 100%) can also be quite tiring. From a heavy amount of tutorials early in the game to commenting on almost everything, Morgana is more akin to a young child allowed to venture out with a parent for the first time. I understand that perhaps that is what Atlus is going for in P5 but even so, as soon as I had a fifth member join my party I swapped the cat-like treasure lover out for the newest addition to my group to give this love/hate mascot some time on the bench.


Love or hate him/her/it, Morgana's one of
your companions on the journey of Persona 5


Detractions aside, I'm going to continue with Persona 5. Although the issues with pacing were quite noticeable early in the game, thankfully with the tutorials out of the way and the game's flow more seemless now I can see it getting better and hope it continues in that fashion. I also intend to write a non-spoiler review for the title once I've completed it (but predict if it mirrors the length of Persona 3 rather than Persona 4 I might be in for quite a long journey with all its twists, turns and mysteries ahead).


Watch out or your rotten heart might be stolen
one day by the Phantom Thieves


If you've read this far, thank you for taking the time. Also feel free to share, like or share any thoughts you have about my early impressions of Persona 5 in the Comments section below.