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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


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.

A new courtroom battle unfolds in the Dark Age of Law
in Phoenix, Apollo and Athena's first 3DS entry

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies

The latest release in Capcom's long-running series that sees an unwitting attorney (they aptly named Phoenix Wright) return with his colleagues Apollo Justice and new face Athena Cykes (a young member of Wright's office who specialises in criminal psychology) to take on another round of extraordinary cases. This time around the game finds itself a home on Nintendo's 2DS, allowing the developers to utilise the portable's features within the game itself. This results in some interesting scenarios , be they checking crime scenes, looking at locations from different angles or examining evidence from different sides to find a vital clue that may help during the current case. It helps to keep the series fresh given its 16-year history.

As mentioned, everyone's favourite attorney with the angular parting returns to the bench once again. Joining him is former newbie now turned junior attorney, Apollo Justice. In addition to these two familiar faces is new character Athena Cykes, a novice attorney with a new approach to cross-examining potential suspects with her mood matrix mechanic that allows her to observe conflicting emotions in suspects' statements. This formulates the majority of the trail sections of the game with crime scene parts introducing players to new areas, characters and discovering pieces of evidence to use during cases.

Those worried that Dual Destinies is too much of a departure from earlier entries need not add the series' bizarre but charming characters and humour are both still very much intact. The game does feel like more time has been dedicated to developing the characters and the scenarios in reach case as it appears there is a heavier script here, meaning more dialogue for the player to read. Those that love the game's characters will appreciate this. However there are points where the sections of exposition or discussion between characters can feel like it has overstayed its welcome. On the whole this is the game's major misgiving in its execution.

Get ready to point with your first finger once more with
Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies
Uncover the truth
 in this dark age of law!

Graphically the game is solid with 3D models behind used for the game's characters. The developers have tried hard to capture their look in the previous games, including their expressions and reactions. Its a good way of modernising the series whilst retaining those elements that fans enjoy. There are also additional costumes and an extra case that players can purchase if they are interested (though it is not essential to enjoy the main game). Although only released as a digital download in the West, this doesn't stop Dual Destinies from being an enjoyable entry in the series. Hopefully future instalments can continue its popularity going forwards and Capcom understands that fans are eager for more Phoenix, his colleagues and those unlikely and strange cases.

The latest numbered entry in SNK's
famed fighting series, this time in full 3D.

The King of Fighters XIV

In addition to Capcom's release of its newest numbered entry in the Street Fighter series, long-term rivals SNK (also with headquarters in Osaka) decided or was time to share their latest efforts and compete once again with the newest entry in its long-running 3-vs-3 team battle fighter, The King if Fighters XIV (hereafter KOF XIV).

Let me declare this now. I've been a long-term fan of the KOF series since its first entry with KOF '94. For me it was the graduation from Street Fighter II that I was looking for with Capcom's famed entry being my introduction to fighting games. The team battle aspect was fresh and although I was familiar with the likes of Terry, Andy, Ryo and Robert from the Garou Densetsu and Ryuko no Ken series, SNK's newest fighter introduced me to a range of new fighting faces that are now just as familiar 23 years later with this, the fourteenth numbered entry in the series and its transition to full 3D. How does it fair compared to its rivals in the fighting game market? Read on to find out.

50 characters are available to choose from in KOF XIV 
(the two boss characters can be unlocked in a couple of playthroughs).

One of SNK's USPs (unique selling points for the uninitiated) leading up to KOF XIV's release was that it would have 50 playable characters. Not a regular launch roster and then additional teams to download. Not one to two characters added every month. No exclusive characters locked behind pre-orders or anything of that kind. SNK went with offering value to players from the outset and with the roster available that sees 30 returning chargers and the rest as new faces, it shows. Having bought the game on release back in late August last year there is still plenty to discover in the game without having to have download any additional content. In today's current gaming climate, I commend SNK for this.

Pretty much a series staple, the 4-button control scheme returns with light and hard punches/kicks available. These can be combined to carry out safety rolls, a stronger knock-down attack, perform stronger supers than those that consumes 2 gauges of the super meter or burst said gauge to gain access to Ex-moves for the chosen character. These core fundamentals offer even greater diversity among the available case where no two characters are the same (the Kyokugen Team are similar but even they are different enough to knee another). No doubt after a couple of hours play your favourites will emerge from the pack.

Perhaps more so than the roster is the degree to which KOF XIV is easy to pick up but hard to master. Beginners can feel like they have a chance add they can perform an auto-combo by tapping the square button repeatedly, ending in a special move or super if they have enough meter built up. It does a good job of stopping the game from being inaccessible to new players and that can only be good for the series. Those familiar to the series will feel at home with the flow of combat due to the combo system working as it has since KOF '97, letting players cancel normal attacks into command attacks, then a special or super if they are dexterous enough.

New to KOF XIV is the option to access Ex-moves by bursting your super gauge to go into Max Mode. This allows for moves that gain extra hits, auto-guard or juggle properties, allowing players to extend combos even further. Additionally, players with enough stocks of super meter built up can cancel lv.1 supers into lv.2 or lv.2 into their character's max super. It provides even more versatility during the fight and your only need to check out some of the combo videos online to see what is possible in KOF XIV.

Above are just some of the combos you can achieve with the right skills in KOF XIV

So I've covered the game's roster and the general gameplay systems. What else does SNK's latest in the long-running series gave to offer? Well there's the standard Arcade Mode with endings for every team, Time Attack, Survival and Online Battle. Players can set up a lobby where players can have matches table place simultaneously, play winner stays on, take turns and so on. Although the online is a little quiet these days (at least on the UK) its there and doesn't have its servers taken offline every three to four weeks (sideways glance at Capcom).

There is also plenty of artwork to unlock for those who want a nostalgia trip with the series together with team themes and a full sound test. The game's intro, credits and brief cut-scenes can also be viewed here (maybe one day KOF will hopefully look at good as it does during said CGI scenes). The major criticism levelled against KOF XIV on release was that the game already looked dated. A patch was released in January this year that has remedied that to some extent. Its a fair enough criticism but I think given the amount of content available on this instalment your will absolutely get your money's worth.

Screenshots of series poster boy Kyo before and after
the game's v.1.10 update in January

N.B I posted on the blog recently that SNK has announced it week be adding new DLC costumes, characters, backgrounds (FOC) and new DLC characters too. For fans of the series, things appear to only be getting better with SNK's flagship fighter).

The latest numbered entry in Atlus' Persona series.
 Its been a long eight years' wait.

Persona 5

Japanese high school life. It can't be easy what with regular tests, exams, clubs, cram schools and falling into line. You would think it would be infertile ground for any developer to set a game, let alone anything in entertainment in this environment. Yet here we are with the latest in Atlus' ongoing spin-off JRPG/social sim series, Persona 5.

It has been a staggering eight years since Persona 4 captured out hearts (and four years since the updated re-release, Persona 4: The Golden). The game was originally due for release on the PS3 back in 2014 but was delayed by Atlus. It was pushed to the year after with a loose release date of Summer 2015. The title however was pushed back again and with a trailer released in Spring 2016, was finally confirmed for release on September 15th, 2016 in Japan. Normally such delays and a multiple-year wait are reserved for the likes of Final Fantasy XV and Duke Nukem Forever. More importantly, have said delays helped to improve the final released game? That would be a health dose of 'Yes' but also a little dose of 'No' too.

Due to the delayed release of Persona 5, Atlus decided to bring the title to both the PS3 and PS4. I can only talk about the latter version as that is the one I have played but can understand why in the Japanese games market Atlus would bring the game to both platforms (there's still a healthy audience playing both consoles). This naturally brings up the concern that if it could be release on the PS3, what makes the PS4 version so special? To be honest, not a great deal. But it doesn't stop the game from being a very gorgeous looking, stylishly presented and interesting JRPG in today's current market.

The main protagonist and his gang of Phantom Thieves

For those unfamiliar with the series, Persona (at least since the third numbered entry) has blended traditional turn-based combat with the building of social links with characters you meet during the game. You might believe the two cannot work well together in an RPG (Bioware's output (shhh!)) but Atlus ha shown a great understanding of how to have both of these co-exist in Persona 5 without one overwhelming the other, mostly. The great thing about this JRPG is that working on making your connections with characters in the game stronger not only reaps you benefits in battle but also allows you to fuse more powerful persona in the game's Velvet Room (more on this later). The game does an effective job of promoting the mindset that if you spend time with people and invest in them personally, you will reap the short and long-term benefits. Its a great lesson for life and I love that Persona 5 has this gameplay system intertwined within the overall experience.

The driving force of Persona 5's story sees you and your comrades awaken your persona, the power that awakens within oneself when you acknowledge who you really are. With this power you endeavour to enter the hearts of corrupt and terrible adults in order to fight their demons in order to make them see the errors of their ways. If it sounds a little metaphorical, it genuinely is. The traversal of the game's dungeons are both interesting and visual stimulating with the depiction of what's inside the heart of the person you are trying to change taking the form of various locations include a castle, pyramid and even a casino. As you scale these places that sometimes have multiple floors to them there will be various challenges to overcome in order to unlock the path forwards and faces that person's shadow version in order to defeat them and steal what they treasure the most.

There is significant focus on the themes of thievery and the heart in Persona 5 and although the games have carried metaphorical overtones for a while now, here it is no different. Each party member's persona is name after a famous thief as well with the protagonist's fashioned after famed French thief, Arsene Lupin. The likes of Carmen, Captain Kidd, Zoro and others join with new party members as you progress through the game. They each have an elemental affinity and weakness with the likes of fire, ice, electricity, wind, blessing and curse being present with nuclear and psi types being added to this numbered entry. The One More system also returns where if you strike an enemy's weakness it will knock them over, allowing you one more turn to strike the demons in front of you. If you knock them all down you get the opportunity to hold them at gunpoint and carry out a negotiation allowing you to gain items or money from the demons (later social links allow you to gain better money or items too). Alternatively you can recruit the demons into your stored persona collection if you gain their favour during negotiation and your character's level is high enough.

If you want to finish them off instead you can initiate an all-out attack that sees your party fly around the screen as they land multiple blows before you get a cool piece of character art fly on screen as the demons suffer a fatal blow in the background. Its pretty cool and you will want to see the pop-art pieces for each party member. One of the Phantom Thieves you recruit in the game (Futaba Sakura) acts as the party's navigator, providing support through enemy analysis, healing your party's health and SP and also providing occasional buffs. It allows for much variety in a traditional turn-based JRPG.

The Velvet Room's host and master
of persona knowledge, Igor
Igor's companions in Persona 5, Justine and Caroline.
You even get an optional boss battle against these two
in the game. Be warned though; like previous Velvet Room
companions, they're very tough.

A reoccurring place in the recent Persona titles, The Velvet Room taks on the appearance of a jail in Persona 5. Its host Igor makes a return and is joined by two companions in twins Caroline who is softly spoken and Justine who is fiery and hot-headed. Here Igor acts as the rehabilitation office sat behind his desk with the twins acting as jailers. They help guide the protagonist through his 'rehabilitation' due to the events that act as the catalyst for our lead becoming a persona user and progressing through the game's story. You are also able to fuse personas at The Velvet Room in order to gain new and stronger persona for use in battle. As you improve the cooperations you unlock with Igor and the twins, you can increase the number of persona you can hold and gain extra experience when fusing persona. Additional fusions also become available that allow you to fuse multiple persona at once, allow persona to inherit a particular skill from another persona, put a persona in a cell for a number of days so it learns a new skill and more. It provides a great deal of variety so you can aim to full your usable persona with powerful allies that have additional elemental buffs, can automatically regenerate health and SP, easily inflict status ailments or critical strikes on the enemy and so on (most of the persona are quite varied and have great designs too).

Some of the persona your party members gain in Persona.
Bunch of thieves they are!

As you can see, there is plenty to experience ad enjoy in the latest Persona release. I did mention earlier that there was a little bit of 'No' in whether the game being delayed actually helped with the overall experience. It was mentioned during development that the script would be larger than the previous game and it shows here. Lengthening the script can help to flesh out characters, reveal essential developments in the story at the right time or give players more of the game's world to absorb. But there is a limit to how much this should be the case.

After playing Persona 4: The Golden (which even though it had occasions of lengthy dialogue was paced quite well), Persona 5 sometimes felt like it suffered from being bloated. I was invested in the story, characters and there were effective developments as I played, covering themes such as attempted suicide, sexual assault, plagiarism, being a shut-in, pressure to adhere to others expectations, arranged marriage, being at the mercy of those in power and more. However there were times where I would be working through 5-10 minutes of dialogue to progress the story (admittedly this could be shorter if you are reading the in-game content as a native Japanese reader but it is still noticeable). Its alright to have the above during essential points in the game's story; having them when your party is planning to enter the next dungeon, work through the dungeon, encountering the boss, beating the boss and so felt at times like unnecessary padding to an otherwise great and immersive JRPG.

Although I played an Asian copy with full Japanese text and voices, the Western release is out at the start of April. Due to it being delayed from February this year, it was confirmed by Atlus that the original Japanese language track will be included. It will be a great way for players to check out both versions of the voiceovers and although I've heard both I still swing towards the Japanese dub (it helps with the immersion given the game is set in Central Tokyo). I can still very much recommend Persona 5 as  a JRPG that when the likes of Final Fantasy XV are aiming to transform in order to appease a Western audience, Atlus' title still retains a distinctly Japanese identity. Plus, who doesn't want to fight demons with the game's often funky and jazzy soundtrack playing in the background? Persona 5 is an RPG that plans to steal your heart, metaphorically and literally.

I'll leave it to the Persona 5's opening to express 
the game's smooth and cool tone

So that's my final part of my Games I played in 2016 posts. If you read this far, thanks you. What did you think of any of the games I covered? Have you played any of them? Or are there any games you've played that you think I should check out soon? Leave you Comments below or you can share this post via Facebook, Twitter or your social media network of choice.

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