Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pocket Review - Steins;Gate 0

First things first, Steins;Gate 0 (zero) is a game that very highly reliant on players having enjoyed the original Steins;Gate. This sequel's primary purpose is to build on one of the endings of the excellent original game, and so really isn't a game suited to newcomers. As one of the best visual novels out there, fresh faces should go and check out the first title before deciding whether to come to a worthy follow-up to the twisting original story.

Steins;Gate 0 takes place in the Beta world line where the trigger for the original game's true ending doesn't happen. Protagonist Rintaro Okabe has unsurprisingly not coped well with recent events including his last attempt to fix things, and is trying shake off their weight by discarding his Hououin Kyoma persona and living a more normal student life. The universe, however, has other plans as Makise Kurisu's associates from America turn up and introduce him to the project that she that was working on.

Unsurprisingly, given what players know to be coming in this world's future, Steins;Gate 0 manages to be even darker that the original, as things really go to pot as the world's superpowers and secret organizations fight for dominion over time. Okabe is never certain who is closest to finding the breakthrough, and the game handles the intrigue and the potentially very messy business of time-travel and multiple universes, superbly. However, the game is not all doom and gloom. It still gets in the fair share of lighthearted moments to provide a solid dichotomy, and the game manages to keep the sense of hope that the route to the original true ending is there somewhere. All the characters from the first game return in one way or another and stay true to form, and the new characters are all solid additions to the cast, particularly Kurisu's colleague Maho Hiyajo. While Okabe is understandably a bit more subdued, his supporting cast all stand out in their own ways and are key to keeping the narrative strong throughout.

Steins;Gate 0 adds in some viewpoint sections from other characters — usually Maho and Suzuha — that help to switch things up a little as it lets players to get an insight on how others' view Okabe. Small complaints can be found in certain routes having minor pacing issues, some of these admittedly caused by those alternative viewpoint sections as they take a little too long to get the point. However, overall Steins;Gate 0 once again manages to suck players completely into another thoroughly engaging tale.

This title has a slightly different route structure than the original by having a set divergence point. One particular ending is required to unlock the sixth, true ending that lies on the other path, but the other endings still build the overall story, so they are recommended to find. It retains the process of decisions being made through Okabe's reaction to phone calls or messages, but in 0 there are only three in each route that affect anything, and it's not too hard to figure out which these are (albeit likely after the fact). Outside of this, the game is unashamedly a straight-out visual novel, so those looking for something other than reading through lots of text will not find it here.

Although it's once again a shame not to hear the excellent English cast from the Steins;Gate anime series, the Japanese voice acting is excellent. Certain sections contain a fair amount of English voicing, and although it's obviously being spoken by a non-natural speaker, the grammar is surprisingly solid. The soundtrack is once again primarily scored by Takeshi Abo and strongly complements the game. The distinct art style of the original is pleasingly maintained with very nice character designs and artwork that help bring life to the story. Those who started the game before downloading the latest patch, which fixed a couple of minor graphical and text issues, should note that it has been known to cause save file corruption.

Developer 5bp. has certainly made the most of what is easily the most successful part of its Science Adventure series and treated its fans greatly while doing so. Steins;Gate 0 upholds the reputation of the original game, expanding the overall story by giving players more of an insight into what went on in the Beta timeline. It's a story deserving of the name, whatever it means.

TLDR An excellent follow-up to one of the best VNs out there (though not suited to newcomers)
Enjoyed By? Those who enjoyed the stellar original story, newcomers should head there first

This game was played on Vita and was purchased by the reviewer.

Friday, December 2, 2016

#TeamHandheld Report - 12/02/2016

Despite being a little down and out right now, I couldn't help but put another #TeamHandheld Report out. I have four games to talk about today. Enjoy.

Now Playing

Demetrios - The BIG Cynical Adventure (Vita)

Demetrios - The BIG Cynical Adventure is a really interesting point-and-click adventure with an odd sense of humor. In fact, the game even gives you an option to turn the toilet humor on or off at the start of the game. I left it on, so I can't say what the game is like without it. With it on, there were some silly jokes, but nothing super offensive. The game itself follows the mishaps of a pathetic antiques dealer named Bjorn. Bjorn is lazy, sad, and just a total mess who wakes up in the middle of the night to find someone has broken into his apartment and stolen an antique tablet. He begins an adventure to find out who stole it and why.

The point-and-click parts of the game are pretty good. The balance of exploration and guessing works well enough that Demetrios remains challenging without being overwhelming. Each area you explore also has a trio of cookies hidden within the stage which are collectables for an achievement and can be eaten to give you a clue as to what to do next. The overall story is pretty silly, but it works for this type of game. It's also rather predictable, as I guessed who the main villain was in the first chapter, but it frames the experience well enough. The art style is like a comic book, and it is just as fitting. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience. It hits Vita in North America on December 6 and will be $9.99 with a 20% discount for PS+ subscribers.

-A quirky little point-and-click adventure-

Grand Kingdom (Vita)

I finally got around to Grand Kingdom and have been pleasantly surprised by it so far. The concept is fairly simple, though there are plenty of features for those who want to dive deeper into the game. For the most part, you simply recruit a group of four characters from various classes and tackle missions with them. You can hire and train up new recruits as you go along, as there are plenty of new classes that become accessible as the game progresses. As for combat, players venture around a game board map with each node possibly bringing about a fight, some treasure, or an obstacle to tackle into order to move past it.

The story might be forgettable, but the variety of gameplay options and the tactical battles are quite enjoyable. In combat, players take up arms against a group of foes and take turns finding the right position and deciding how best to confront the group. Charging in blindly is a good way to get defeated, but hanging back and planning the best way to handle the situation is key. Currently I'm rolling with a slow, defensive Paladin, a quick, powerful, yet fragile Rogue, a ranged Archer, and a brutal, but slow Dark Knight. I've tested quite a few jobs and each have their pros and cons, but the variety is there to fit any play style. It's a creative game, and I hope to finish the main story soon.

-Deep gameplay, but not much story-

Volgarr the Viking (Vita)

At the time of this writing, I've only had a little time to check out Volgarr the Viking. What I can say so far is that it it nails the "NES hard" vibe it set out to fulfill. The two man team at Crazy Viking Studios has done a great job with this one, though it's not going to be for everyone. It's a matter of remembering how best to work through each area and to get to the distant checkpoint in each stage. It's tough and makes no bones about it. If you like a challenge, Volgarr is the game for you. It runs great on Vita, but pulls no punches. Check it out if you dare.

-NES hard is still a thing-

Crimson Shroud (3DS)

I started Crimson Shroud back in 2012 and was enjoying it until I reached chapter 2 and needed a random drop key item that I spent around four hours trying to get. Frustrated, I set it aside for a while, but did attempt to go bank to retrieve the item to no avail. Finally just a week ago I tried again and got it on the first try. After that it was smooth sailing to the end. This board game themed RPG was a quick and easy play (outside of the key item drama), but worth a look if just for the dice-based combat system. The UI could be friendlier, but it works and is easy enough to not hinder anything too much. I'm glad I finally finished it.

-Four years later, it's done-


Slain: Back from Hell (Vita)

Still waiting on this one, since there was a bug in the Vita version that needed patching.

Steins;Gate 0 (Vita)

I'm still early on this one, but there's someone else that might have a surprise for us soon.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Pocket Review - Root Letter

Root Letter is set in the real-world town of Matsue, with players visiting a number of actual locations in Matsue. The thirty-year-old protagonist, nicknamed Max, is currently between jobs and living in Tokyo with his parents when he happens upon his old correspondence with a pen pal named Aya from Matsue from his high-school days fifteen years back. In addition to the ten familiar letter, however, he finds one without a postmark, with the contents indicating that the writer killed someone hence. With some time on his hands, Max decides to visit Matsue to investigate what exactly happened fifteen years ago.

Root Letter offers a bit more engagement from players than many straightforward visual novels, with the meat of the game being somewhat similar to the investigative sections in Ace Attorney. There are a few more places to visit with things being a bit more linear, and the game's "Think" option always available to tell players exactly what to do next. Specific sections will need to be completed in an interrogation style series, having to ask the correct things or show the correct items. A very small number of correct choices are a little arbitrary, but these are the only areas where failure is actually possible in the game and even then option of save scumming is happily provided. These bits also include "Max mode", where he simply decides to chew out the recipient of his attention, though players are thankfully allowed infinite attempts on these as it's not very clear which one is actually correct.

The story has ten chapters, and early on in each Max will read through one of the letters sent to him by Aya and then give players the opportunity to decide how he responded. These responses determine which ending players get, which takes up the final two chapters. Outside of this, the first eight chapters remain the same, however, once the eight hour or so first playthrough is done players can start skipping chapters, making it easy to see the remaining endings. There is a huge spectrum in how the endings play out, with the story impressively managing to even switch genres (e.g. horror, romance) between them while working with the same lead up material.

The writing has its issues. Due to the nature of the endings, the hooking conundrum of a letter being sent by someone who everyone claims died ten years ago and their claim of killing someone ends up more at the backburner as Max instead focuses on the slightly less interesting endeavour of finding Aya's friends. The weird nicknames that Aya used for them are bizarrely mean ("Fatty", "Bitch", etc.), and Max's continued use of them makes him come off as rather a jerk. That said, it's still a generally engaging story to experience and keeps things going along at a good pace without getting bogged down in any specific sections.

The level of detail in recreating Matsue along with nice character art leaves Root Letter looking pretty throughout. All the buildings are based on real places, impressively accurate in their recreations. Strong background music and Japanese voice acting further helps add to the experience.

With the resurgence of visual novels, it's good to see more of them heading onto Vita, a system that really works well for them and is easily my preferred visual novel platform of choice. Root Letter may not quite manage to fully follow through on its strong hook à la Steins;Gate, but the compelling experience of wandering about a beautiful Japanese town while searching for what happened to Aya is a pleasant step away from a lot of other recent titles and one I very much enjoyed taking.

TLDR An enjoyable investigation in a faithfully recreated Japanese town
Enjoyed By? Anyone who likes to relax and enjoy watching the characters and setting provide the atmosphere.

This game was played on Vita and was purchased by the reviewer.

Friday, November 25, 2016

#TeamHandheld Report - 11/25/2016

Here's the latest #TeamHandheld Report with four games on the docket. I've got something else I've wanted to write coming up soon, but it might be the week after next. For now, please enjoy this one.

Now Playing

Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky (Vita)

I'd never gotten into Valkyrie Profile, so the comparisons to that game isn't what drew me to Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky. The beautiful art direction and promise of interesting level design in the "Metroidvania" style is what caught my eye. Sadly, neither of those aspects were enough to outweigh the tepid combat or the dull, yet pretty, environments. The game just didn't grab me at all, despite repeated attempts to get into it. It starts off super slow and takes forever to get going, and in talking to Adriaan at RPGamer about the game's pacing, it apparently never seems to get better. An RPG really needs to pull me into the fold quickly, and this one didn't at all. I bailed early on and tried to come back, but to no avail. Exist Archive is yet another disappointing RPG for 2016.

-Looks fantastic, but isn't too engaging-

Wanted Corp (Vita)

2016 has been a curious time for Vita games. There have been a lot of cancellations that have angered many a Vita owner, but there have also been a lot of games that clearly needed more time to polish. Wanted Corp is the latter. This game has a great concept with players being able to swap between two characters in a top down action shooter, but unfortunately I haven't been able to get past the first area due to bugs.

After finishing the helpful tutorial I jumped right into the first mission and was unable to leave the first screen. Restarting the game fixed that, but when I progressed to the midpoint of the stage I was once again blocked when one of my characters died and the game still expected me to have them alive and performing actions as they were still speaking as if alive. Having to restart a third time, I made my way back to the area I'd been blocked at prior only to have the game completely crash. I was done. Something with such promise had bugged out three times, so I didn't want to go any further only to have this happen again. If it gets patched, I'll gladly return. Definitely sad that I couldn't make it further into Wanted Corp, as I've been excited to play it.

-I want to play this, but it won't let me-

Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom (Vita)

I saw Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom on sale on PSN for $0.99 and couldn't pass it up. This game really feels like a Link to the Past clone, but that's not a bad thing. The only issue I have is that it doesn't feel as tight as the game it is clearly taking inspiration from, which is a personal favorite of mine, so the comparisons stand out much more. The pacing and direction aren't as clear as I'd hoped and some of the enemies are just annoying to battle, but despite all that it's a solid take on the Link to the Past formula. I didn't get a lot of time with this one yet, but it's been good enough to warrant continuing, especially at such an affordable price.

-A curious Link to the Past clone-

Alphadia (3DS)

Let's be honest if you're like me, when you look at most Kemco releases it's hard not to think they are pretty generic. That said, Kemco tends to have a collection of developers that help crank out release after release. Most are on mobile, but there have been a good number of PSP and 3DS titles, too. I decided to finally jump in and see if they were as straightforward as they looked. Alphadia is where I started, and I have to say, it wasn't bad...it just wasn't great either. Combat is a simple turn-based affair and the characters seem to fit right into the niche archetypes you'd expect. It is easily a by-the-numbers RPG, but that's not all bad. If you want a simple, traditional RPG, Kemco games seem to be where it's at. As my Twitter friend Shaun Musgrave from TouchArcade has assured me, despite how I feel about this game, I should still be looking forward to the Vita release of Asdivine Hearts as that is one of the better Kemco titles. This one wasn't bad at all, but it just doesn't stand out.

-Got caught in a web of fun-


Demetrios - The BIG Cynical Adventure (Vita)

This is an interesting point-and-click adventure game with a twisted sense of humor. Will have more to say about it soon.

Volgarr the Viking (Vita)

Been looking forward to playing this one for a long time, so hopefully it pans out on Vita.

Slain: Back from Hell (Vita)

Excited to see how the Vita release of this one turned out as well.

Steins;Gate 0 (Vita)

This is the will of Steins;Gate! El Psy Kongroo! Might be a while before I've played enough of this to talk about it.

Neon Chrome Lights Up Vitas Next Week

A new twin stick shooter from 10tons Ltd, Neon Chrome, is hitting Vita on Nov. 29 in North America. It will cost $14.99 and will be cross buy with PS4 when it hits. Check out the video of it running on Vita below along with some screens from prior versions.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Steins;Gate 0 Arrives Soon

The exciting follow up to the original visual novel Steins;Gate, Steins;Gate 0, hits Vita (and PS4) soon. It launches on Nov. 25 in European and on Nov. 29 in North America. Here's the latest trailer and screens. This sequel follows a timeline where the true ending of the original didn't happen, so we're told to expect an even darker story this time around.