Friday, October 14, 2016

#TeamHandheld Report - 10/14/2016

Another #TeamHandheld Report! Shocker. Now get to playing, as there are tons of handheld games coming out these next few months. What's on your playlist? Here's mine.

Now Playing

Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse (3DS)

While I've been a distant admirer of the SMT series, my primary experience has been Persona 3 & 4 with a taste of Devil Survivor thrown in for good measure. I own Nocturne, both Digital Devil Saga games, and even SMT IV, but have not made much progress with any of them. Even though I didn't really get into the original SMT IV, I was still drawn into Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse because of many recommendations. I heard it was easier to get into and better paced than the prior game, and that has been seemingly true so far from what I can tell. It also wasn't a bad thing that this one offered a very easy difficulty via DLC that just hit. Considering this is my first real SMT game, It's been interesting.

I definitely enjoy the setting, but there are a few things about this that I'm not quite used to yet. Demon negotiation is likely the most annoying aspect of this game, as it feels totally random. Nothing really makes sense and demons keep asking for my stuff, and I don't like parting with my stuff. That said, it's not all that bad and I've been able to get a good party of demons up and running. Much like Pokemon, however, I don't really care about collecting them. I've been spoiled by Persona and Devil Survivor in that I care more about humanoid party members than demons, so even though I have some support members, they aren't in my active party. It's just a bit of a disconnect for me, but at least the support characters are interesting and a good part of the story. I also like that I don't really feel like I'm missing much by not having played the first SMT IV, though I'm sure there are nuances that I'll not catch. At least this way any reused content shouldn't bother me at all. The story has been intriguing so far, so I will likely keep playing for a while.

-What do these demons want?!?-

Langrisser Re: Incarnation - Tensei - (3DS)

When Langrisser Re:Incarnation dropped to the sub $10 range earlier in the year I passed, but this time when it hit $9 I figured why not? After all I've spent more on games I knew I'd never play, so this would at least give me something to talk about here.

If I had to describe Langrisser Re:Incarnation with a single phrase it would be low budget. The whole design of the game just feels cheap, which doesn't bother me in terms of graphical prowess, but does when it comes to gameplay and UI design. In fact the sad battle animations are so bad they're kind of cute, but where it counts is in the play and that doesn't work. The turn based tactical RPG combat is too slow and tedious for me to suffer through, which is a shame because this seems like it could have gone somewhere with a little more effort put into the design. Moving around the battlefield in a tactical RPG should be quick and painless, and for some reason it seems they've added so many unneeded steps that it's crazy. As is I don't feel bad adding this to the collection shelf, and I have easily played worse games. You'd not be missing much by passing on this, though.

-Pretty sad effort-

Wild ARMs XF (PSP)

I started playing Wild ARMs XF way back in 2008, but was unfortunately sidetracked by other games that I was reviewing and never returned. Thanks to a Twitter post about craving a good tactical RPG, Robert Boyd (@werezompire) began highly praising this game and tons of others jumped in to support his claim. How could I resist?

What immediately jumps out at me is the varied class system. Jobs are not the typical fighter, mage, healer combos as each seems to offer a unique set of skills. Each job fits a specific purpose in battle, and the way you can combine skills from other jobs once you've unlocked those abilities is a big boon. I imagine once I get further in, my party will have a huge selection of skills to pick from, so that's great. The game is a nice change of pace and having varied win conditions beyond "kill all enemies" has been a plus, too. The game's length is the only thing that's a bit of a deterrent right now, as I have tons of other games vying for my attention and this seems to be a 50-60 hour game. Not that that's a bad thing, but it's just going to get bits of my time on my PSPgo while the winter flood hits.

-Cute, but not amazing-


Alone With You (Vita)

Finally finished Alone With You and will be talking about it more in a future Report.

Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- (Vita)

I have no issues with the sexual content of this game, but I fear the gameplay might not be for me. Curious to try it out.

Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors (Vita)

Looks like I'm going to be playing through a lot of "girly" games over the next little bit. That's not a bad thing as long as the gameplay holds up.

World of Final Fantasy (Vita)

I'm not sure how soon I'll be checking this out, but it shouldn't be too much longer. I've really ignored most of the information about this one so far, so I'm going in pretty blind.

Friday, October 7, 2016

#TeamHandheld Report - 10/07/2016

Another week, another #TeamHandheld Report. Not feeling hot today, so I'm going to just dive right into the games. Please enjoy.

Now Playing

Darkest Dungeon (Vita)

Want a deep game to play? Darkest Dungeon is the game for you. Diving into a dungeon is not an easy task, as each party member can be both an asset and a liability. Party members have benefits for having them in battle, but also faults that can come into play during combat and really screw things up. Positioning is very important, as you want to keep your front line fighters strong and protect the weaker ones. Sometimes enemies don't let you do this, which makes for a great challenge. This is a complex game to wrap your head around, so I still have a lot more I need to do before I can get a complete grasp of this.

The few dungeons I've been able to battle through so far have been challenging, but I've pulled out some close battles. With as dense as this game is, it will take quite a while to learn all the ins and out. While I haven't had issues with it myself, the text and icons are a bit small on Vita. And the controls are a tad awkward to get a handle on, just because there is so much to do. And as @DocBrownPhD pointed out to me, Darkest Dungeon uses the rear touch option to swap between characters and it's easy to do this without knowing what's going on. While fun, this game is definitely a time investment.

-Amazingly deep-

Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics (Vita)

After my experience with the demo, I quickly bought both the digital version (for easy access) and the physical version (for my collection) of Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics. Yes, I was that impressed. It's perfect for quick pick up and play sessions, and you always make some sort of progress even when you lose. While the demo gives you a good taste of what the gameplay is like, the full version gives you access to all the other features of the game.

You start with the Swordsman class, but after the tutorial you can try out the Knight, Archer, Thief, or Sorcerer. There are also six other classes you can unlock using Genesis Stones which are earned during each attempted session. These other classes include Pirate, Adventurer, Half-Beast, Ranger, Wanderer (Shiren), and the Ultimate Student (a character from Danganronpa). As for the game itself, I touched on most of that in a prior Report. The full version just gives you many more options. Even though I've gotten two endings, there is so much more to unlock and do here. Look for a full review on RPGamer soon. It's great fun, and I plan on playing this for a while.

-One of my favorites of the year-

Limbo (Vita)

After a three year hiatus, I finally returned to Limbo. I had gotten stuck on one part and didn't feel like looking up the solution, so I just put it down and left it sitting on the memory card waiting for the day I'd return. Finally after three years I was back and have finally finished it off. I like the style and setting, but some of the puzzles were just crazy. It seemed to range from "this is easy" to "I know what to do, but how do I do it?" to "what is going on here?" all in a matter of a few minutes. I like those first two, but get easily annoyed at hitting too many of the last. Simply put, I suck at puzzle games. That aside, I was glad to finish it off even if I did have to look up a lot of the solutions toward the end. At that point, I was just ready to be done with it so I was happy to do that. I'm glad I played it, but wasn't blown away.

-Cute, but not amazing-


Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse (3DS)

I think this is the game that's going to cause me to take a break from DQVII. I wanted to get into the original SMTIV, but this one sounds even more accessible. Bring it on.

Langrisser Re: Incarnation - Tensei - (3DS)

I've heard the warnings, but when this hit $9 on Amazon I just couldn't resist. I have to see just how bad it really is.

Friday, September 30, 2016

#TeamHandheld Report - 09/30/2016

It's that time again. Here's the latest #TeamHandheld Report. I'm not going to drone on much here, because do you really read this anyway? I probably wouldn't, so I'll just get to the meat. If you like reading what I say up here about what's going on with me, let me know via Twitter. If you don't say anything, I'll know you don't care or don't read it. I wouldn't be upset either way. Now on to the gaming.

Now Playing

Dragon Quest Builders (Vita, Demo)

I've never been a Minecraft fan, as it's just too open ended for me. I don't want a sandbox, as I like structured gameplay. Thankfully, Dragon Quest Builders gives me the best of both worlds. The flexibility of Minecraft mixed with the grounded structure of DQ is just great. I only have the demo right now, but what I played of it was enough to get me hooked. I usually hate crafting, but it's so simple and seamless here that it just works and isn't too cumbersome. While it's too early to tell much about the story parts, but I don't care if it might be light on that end. I'll be happy just playing this little by little once it releases, doing little quests to improve my town. This seems like a perfect game to just keep handy on the Vita at all times.

-Super addictive-

Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of Forgotten Past (3DS)

I've been adamant in my support of #DragonQuestForTheWest and am super happy to be getting both Dragon Quest VII now and Dragon Quest VIII next year. That said, it's going to take a while for me to get through Dragon Quest VII. It is easily the most Dragon Quest of the Dragon Quest games, so it's not likely the game to convince those on the fence about the series to jump on board. There's a lot of padding, backtracking, and repeating dungeons early on that would likely turn most away. I should note here that Dragon Quest IV is my favorite in the series, because of its quick pace and shorter overall playtime. I like when a game gets to the point quickly, and Dragon Quest VII doesn't do that. I'm still enjoying my time with this, but it has yet to really sink its teeth into me. After playing Dragon Quest VI, the job system will likely be the make or break point for me. It didn't work for me in VI, but hopefully things will be looking up in VII.

-The Dragon Questiest-

Skylight Freerange 2: Gachduine (Vita)

Wow...Skylight Freerange 2: Gachduine is something else. An open world 3D RPG for Vita from a Canadian indie developer seems super ambitious, and this game is just that. I'm sad to say that it doesn't come together well. Not. At. All. I could forgive the really weird art style, as that's not a bother to me (even if it is really odd). What I can't get past is the completely unintuitive user interface in battle. After a strange intro scene, your created character and some random party members are tossed into a long tutorial dungeon where the game tries to teach you everything you need to know about combat. This is too much at one time, as it wants to get into the intricacies of how to handle specific enemies without being clear on how to even manage the basics of combat. When you end up encountering groups of enemies that require a certain type of weapon or skill to defeat and can barely figure out which button allows you to swap weapons or even bring up the menu, it gets frustrating. I don't mind a brief tutorial, but it should really teach you the important aspects of the gameplay, especially when they are not well documented. After dying a few times in the starting area, I just couldn't take any more. I turned it off and won't likely touch this again, but if you want a better look at this I highly recommend you watch BlueMaxima's video on it and see for yourself. It's something else.

-What is going on here? Make it stop!-

Wanderjahr (Vita)

Wanderjahr hits on the opposite end of the curiosity spectrum for me. It's a game that doesn't try to be over ambitious, but instead puts a great first foot forward and shows a lot of potential. The game is pretty straightforward, as each level puts you into a single screen area and has enemies attack, but you have lots of combat options available to help you stave them off. You get a character who acts as a tank with a taunt skill, a mage, a fighter, and a healer. Along with this, you also get a character skilled in buffing the party, one who can debuff enemies, a thief who helps you earn money, and more. The party members just keep coming, which is something I love. You can only have four active at one time, but can swap them on the fly, so it's easy to bring out your debuffer in place of your fighter and then move the fighter back in once the enemies are weakened. It makes for challenging, frenetic combat. You can level up your party members, buy items, and do all the other standard RPG trappings, but it just feels like it needs a little more polish and tweaking to balance things out better, as some of these boss battles are a pain. With just a few tweaks, I think there is something great here, especially with the combat. I can't wait to see if the developer does more with this down the road and maybe fleshes out a whole RPG with a touched up version of this battle system.

-Great potential-


Claire: Extended Cut (Vita)

Still have this on the back burner and hope to get around to checking it out soon.

Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness (Vita)

I'm pretty sure this will take more time to get a good handle on than I have right now, so it might be a while for this impression.

Yomawari: Night Alone (Vita)

I'll be checking this out soon. Looking forward to some horror.

Monday, September 26, 2016

An Interview with Sony's Third Party Production - Banner Saga (Vita)

Since December 2015, Vita fans have been hopeful for the release of The Banner Saga on Vita when Sony stepped in to help production along. While it's taking some hard work, progress is well underway, and we have an update from Sony's Third Party Production team about how things are going.

Michael A Cunningham (Pocket-Console): Before we dive into The Banner Saga, could you talk a little about what the Third Party Production department does? What other Vita games have you had a hand in helping along and in what capacity?

John Sanders (Lead Producer, Third Party Production): Third Party Production exists to assist developers and publishers that need help bringing games to PlayStation platforms. We are big fans of PS Vita and have had a hand in bringing 15 titles to the platform thus far. Some PS Vita games we’ve been a part of are Nidhogg, Risk of Rain, Grim Fandango, and Resident Evil: Revelations 2 just to name a few.

MAC: Last December was when it was revealed that Sony was stepping in to help save the Vita version of The Banner Saga. Does this mean that Sony is working on it directly or is there a third party involved in the porting process? Just curious about how this is happening.

For Banner Saga we brought in Code Mystics, who have helped port several titles to PS Vita (Metal Slug 3, The Last Blade 2, Risk of Rain, etc.). We're big fans of their work and they have taken on numerous challenging projects for the platform. We are involved in overseeing the project together with Versus Evil, the publisher, and Stoic, the creators of Banner Saga.

MAC: Back around PAX West, you made it clear that things were well underway for The Banner Saga. What challenges have you had in scaling this down to the Vita? Maybe some specific challenges? Anything go smoother than expected?

To this point there have not been a lot of specific technical challenges related to the game scope/content itself. It’s going to be super beautiful on PS Vita! What we've faced is some resource challenges in switching developers to Code Mystics, digging into the codebase, and ramping resources to complete it. It's hard to review a port in part/piecemeal, as you need to get most of the game up and running first. So it takes a lot of time, but when it clicks the whole game is pretty much there and the focus becomes performance tuning, polish, bug fixing, etc.

MAC: What are your thoughts about adding additional content for this version? Something to make it unique? Too much work?

The content all comes from Stoic. Not to answer too much on their behalf, but when we undertook this project they were super-focused on Banner Saga 2 and continuing to progress the story/content in that way. As they are a small team, it would have been a direct impact to the progress of that new game to come back and do anything for BS1, which neither party wanted to happen and so we focused instead on a direct port of an already amazing game.

(screens from PS4 version)

MAC: The important question...any ETA on a release date?

Code Mystics is building up momentum, so I would expect that we're going to be hitting the performance tuning, polish, and bug fixing phase soon. While we can't say specifically, I would expect to get this into eager PS Vita fans hands early 2017...we shall see.

MAC: Have there been any thoughts of doing a physical release for The Banner Saga, even if very limited? There may not be a massive audience for Vita, but as the folks at Limited Run Games have shown the Vita fans are passionate for physical Vita copies. I know I am.

This is a decision that rests with the game's publisher, Versus Evil, so if you'd like to see a physical release, I would ask them!
John Watson (Stoic, Technical Director): We definitely like the idea of physical media. We made boxed copies of both The Banner Saga 1 and The Banner Saga 2 on PC, primarily for European and Australian audiences. We will look into the possibilities for Vita! 

MAC: I'm curious...what would you think about just adding in The Banner Saga 2 while you're at it?

JS (3PP): 
Doing the work on BS1 helps set the stage for more Banner Saga to follow on PS Vita from a tech point of view – but again this is up to Versus Evil. I do know Versus Evil and Stoic are big PS Vita fans, so let them know you'd love to see more Banner Saga
JW (Stoic): Yes, from a tech side, having a unified engine really helps things along. It took us 2 years to port TBS1 to PS4, but because we were able to leverage the technology, we released TBS2 on PS4 only 10 weeks after the PC launch. We hope we can get this developmental speedup on the Vita side as well.

MAC: Any other future Vita titles we should be looking forward to from the 3PP team?

We sure do! Garou Mark of the Wolves continues our great partnership with SNK and Code Mystics to bring fighting games to PS Vita. Pox Nora from Desert owl will be bringing an amazing amount of content for all your tactical, turn-based online fantasy game needs. Also keep an eye peeled for Ray's the Dead from Ragtag and Adult Swim! 
We're also really excited for Darkest Dungeon's PS Vita release on September 27. If you're interested in a challenging, gothic, turn-based RPG, make sure to check it out.

Pocket-Console and #TeamHandheld would like to thank John Sanders, Gio Corsi, and the Sony PR team for their support of the Vita and for taking part in this interview. Many thanks as well to John Watson from Stoic for the follow up replies. Looks like we still have a little while before The Banner Saga hits Vita, but it's good to know that things are still going well. Fingers crossed it sells well enough to justify doing the sequel.

Friday, September 23, 2016

#TeamHandheld Report - 09/23/2016

It's been too long since the last #TeamHandheld Report, but I've been out of commission since June recovering from having my stomach removed so I hope you can forgive me. That said, I have a collection of games I've been playing since then that I need to talk about. A big chunk of time also went to The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, which is fantastic as my RPGamer review states, but I won't go into that more here other than to say get to playing it NOW. If you already are, you get a pass. Here's a sample of the rest. More to come.

Now Playing

Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate (Vita)

Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate just looks so pretty. I love the sprite work and attention to detail that Shiren offers, like a throwback to SNES days, yet prettier. I refuse to bash Shiren, because I went into it knowing that I'm not a roguelike/Mystery Dungeon fan. It's a genre I've tried many times and like in concept, but just don't have the mindset to be successful in. There have been a few exceptions to this rule, mostly Etrian Mystery Dungeon. The party focus was great, even if it did get to be too much for me eventually. All that aside, this Shiren release is not bad at all. It's more approachable than prior attempts I've made. Even if I wasn't able to really get into this, I still liked what I played. Fans will not go wrong, though I doubt it will convert others like me who just don't click with this subgenre.

-So pretty, but still rogue-

Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics (Vita)

Keeping things within the roguelike spectrum, but with a different take, is Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics. I'd been curious about this for a while, but after playing the demo I was sold. Unlike a Mystery Dungeon game where you dive into randomly generated dungeons, this game puts you into a random overworld instead. Instead of diving deeper, you must constantly move forward (to the right side of the screen) to avoid the encroaching doom barreling down from the left. You can pick different classes with different perks each time sort of like Rogue Legacy does, but you'll be adventuring across a world map instead. There are towns with NPCs, small structures housing treasures or powerful enemies, and randomly placed allies as you explore the verticality of the horizontally scrolling map. I've only played the demo so far, but I've played it multiple times and really had a blast. If you're questionable on this at least download that to see what you think. It might surprise you. It moved me enough to pick it up on PSN despite me planning to get a physical copy from Limited Run Games next week.

-Surprisingly refreshing-

Alone With You (Vita)

After spending way too long in my backlog, I was finally able to get around to Home by Benjamin Rivers. It was short and sweet, but handled adventure game choices very creatively for such a straightforward, unassuming game. Thankfully, shortly after I finished Home, Alone With You came out. While I've yet to finish it, it retains the simple, creative elegance of Home while expanding into something larger. It's all about dialog and interaction with holograms of characters that died on the planet you've been left alone on. Exploring where these characters died and then interacting with their AI is creepy, but in a fun way that I like. I've yet to get far enough to experience the true depth of the game, so I will report back once I have a better grasp of that. There's a patch coming soon, too, so it won't hurt to wait a little bit longer.

-Romantic and alone-

Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X (Vita)

I'm far from a Miku expert, but over the past few years I've played Project DIVA f and f 2nd on Vita as well as Project Mirai DX on 3DS. Project DIVA f on Vita struck me as fun because the soundtrack was catchy and the challenge wasn't too bad. DIVA f 2nd didn't catch me as much, as it wasn't nearly as friendly. Mirai DX was cute, but didn't do much for me in the long run. This may seem like damning statements, but I really did have fun with each, even those that didn't click with me long term. All that aside, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X has been a blast. I love the soundtrack, that the game's structure gives you a reason to explore every track, and how the guest characters engage with Miku in cute, entertaining ways. I was happy to play through the entire soundtrack and look forward to going back for more to continue to unlock the extra content and to just hear the songs again. It's a great addition to the Vita's already stacked library of rhythm games.

-This one rocks-

Adventures of Mana (Vita)

I've only been playing Adventures of Mana on and off for the past couple months. While totally not the mess that Sword of Mana was, this one seems a little too true to the original Final Fantasy Adventure that I played years ago on Game Boy for its own good. While it looks lovely, the dungeons and such are just as they were in the original, and I have less patience for them now than I did as a child. That aside, it's a very solid remake in terms of looks and combat. In the end, I just didn't find enough new, not just in terms of content, but in quality of life updates to really make me fall in love with this. I'm glad it hit Vita, but just wish the game in general was fresher.

-Too true for its own good-

Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma (Vita)

I'd been very excited to check out Zero Time Dilemma, as I loved the story of 999 and the everything of Virtue's Last Reward. While I did finish this one, I have to say I was left wanting. The whole game I felt like things were right on the tipping point of greatness, as if the bottom was going to drop out and I was going to be left picking my jaw off the floor. And then the game was just over. The twists were either completely transparent or didn't have much impact. I never once had that "OMG are you kidding me?!?!" moment that I expect from the series, so it just felt flat. The puzzles were better than in 999, but not as creative as VLR's and the general game structure was more convoluted than it needed to be. I have no malice towards this one, but simply dumped it from memory once it was over.

-Zero impact dilemma-


Skylight Freerange 2: Gachduine (Vita)

I've played a little of this so far, and it's really bad so far. The controls are so, so bad. I'm going to put some more time into this and get back to you, though.

Claire: Extended Cut (Vita)

I messed around with this a little, but there's a new patch that seems to fix a lot of things. Going to check that out and come back.

Wanderjahr (Vita)

I'm curious about this "compact RPG", so I'll let you know what's going on here soon.

Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past (3DS)

I have this in hand, but am not quite ready to talk about it yet. Hurray for more Dragon Quest in North America, though! I love it.