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Archive for September, 2011

Review #435

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Atelier Totori: The Adventurer or Arland
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd.
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Genre: Turn Based RPG/Time Management Hybrid
Release Date: 09/27/2011

I had never been impressed with the Atelier series before Atelier Rorona. The Marie and Iris games just kind of bored me. So I was surprised that I not only loved Atelier Rorona, but that at the end of 2010, I considered it the second best game of the year. So here I am, almost a year to the day, with the direct sequel, Atelier Totori. Has lightning struck twice, or is Rorona still the only Atelier game I’ve actually liked?
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Review #434

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

The Baconing
Developer: Hothead Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 08/30/2011

It’s hard to believe that this is the third Deathspank game in a year. The first game came out in July 2010, followed by Thongs of Virtue in September of that same year. Now we’re here with The Baconing. If you’ve purchased all three games so far, you’re up to roughly $45 spent on the franchise. With a fourth game promised, that means with the release of that one, you’ll have paid as much as a full disc release for what amounts to an episodic RPG. If you’re a fan of the series that’s no problem. However, with Thongs of Virtue , you could really feel the loss of series creator Ron Gilbert (who now at Doublefine Games with fellow Lucasarts point and click adventure game alumni Tim Schafer). Because I was less than impressed with ToV, I was a bit hesitant to play The Baconing. After all, it was even more removed from Gilbert than the second. Still, my optimism won out, hoping that ToV’s lackluster performance was merely a stumbling block and that this third game would be a jump back in the right direction for the series.

Was it?
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Review #433

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Cladun x2
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 08/30/2011

Less than a year ago, Nippon Ichi released Cladun: This is an RPG in North America. It was a fun little dungeon crawl that featured retro visuals. My Laharl and Optimus Prime characters for the game became pretty popular with fans of Caldun and it was one of the better titles released for the PSP that year.

Now I’m sitting here with Cladun x2 - the sequel to the game. With less than a year turnaround is there that much different in the game? It’s time to find out.

Let’s Review

1. Story

Unlike the first Cladun which told the story of multiple characters and your homemade ones were just filler, here the reverse is true. The premade character are mostly just taking up space and it’s all about your homemade characters. Also gone are the customizable endings and end bosses from the first. Instead, you have a straight up ending for the characters along with a single end boss. In this respect things have definitely take a few steps backwards. You also can’t access the “I am done” ending at any time like in the first Claudun. In fact, that option isn’t even available to you.

So there is noticeably less story, customization and characterization. So what IS there? Well you’re back in Arcanus Cella, which for those of you who missed the first game, is a pocket dimension connected to all realities created by a powerful shut-in sorceress named Despina. However Despina is nowhere to be seen in this game. As well, it is revealed that there are MANY Arcanus Cellas out there, and this particular one is a prison for those who have committed many sins. On top of that, everyone in this jail has amnesia, so they cannot remember the sins. The only way out is to fight through all seventeen Dungeons. Again, one ending, one end boss. Compared to the original Cladun, I was really disappointed in the story or more to the point, the real lack thereof. The original Cladun was quite funny and you learned a lot about each of the playable characters in the game. This time around, since the generated characters are the focus, there is far less characterization and story. I also didn’t like the plot retcon for Arcanus Cella.

Overall, there isn’t much of a story hook in Cladun x2 and what is here isn’t very good. A lot of the appeal for me was the customizable story and that’s all been excised from the game. As such, this is about 85% hack and slash, 14% magic circle fiddling and 1% story. In this regard Cladun x2 is a really big disappointment, especially since story is one area where Nippon Ichi tends to shine its brightest.

Story Rating: 3/10

2. Graphics

Cladun x2 is meant to look like an old school 8-bit NES/Sega Master System game. In this respect the game succeeds brilliantly. Everything is blocky and superdeformed as things were back in those days. Unfortunately for the game we a) grade by what is possible for a system here which means it’s going to take a pummeling here and b) it’s the same exact backgrounds, sprites, visuals and monsters as the previous game with no real variation whatsoever. I could forgive the first because it’s meant to be thematically retro in tone, but I can’t forgive the fact that Caldun x2 is little more than a rehash of the first game…but with less of the things I actually loved about that game.

Unless you grew up in the 80s or are a big retro gamer, Caldun x2 is going to look hideous to you. Again, this is meant to be part of its charm, but I can see it having the exact opposite effect on younger gamers or more casual players. For those of you like me who loved the first game, you’ll be disappointed that there weren’t any changes to the visuals at all. Now I don’t mean “improvement” to something like 16-bit style visuals. I mean that there was absolutely no change whatsoever. It feels really lazy and unless you’re extremely forgiving to a video game, this aspect of Cladun x2 should grate on you, because you’ve basically paid twenty bucks for the same game as the first – now with less content.

So Caldun x2 is ugly. It’s meant to be ugly, but retro-graphics only appeal to a small niche of gamers and can easily be a turn-off as much as they are a nostalgia fix. I would have liked to have seen SOMETHING new visually, but when I’m fighting level 938 enemies and they’re the same as level 1 enemies from the first game in a dungeon that looks exactly the same well…that’s not cool.

Graphics Rating: 2/10

3. Sound

This is one area where Caldun x2 does an excellent job. You have the option of listening to tracks in MIDI or a more modern style. Either way, all of the musical tracks are very well done and exceptionally catchy. The entire soundtrack is a lot of fun and it fits the dungeon crawl experience perfectly. You will discover that several tracks are reused from the first game, but the music is so good, you either won’t care or you’ll just be happy to see those songs back. I will admit that once again I am disappointed that Cladun x2 is more rehash than sequel but I do so love the music in this game.

There isn’t any voice acting in x2, but that shouldn’t surprise you as it is meant to be a nostalgic throwback. The sound effects are limited to the noises from weapon on monsters and the occasional spell or object breaking. There isn’t a lot here in this respect, but what’s here is charming.

I’m still a big fan of the soundtrack, but like the other aspects of the game I’m sad to see that it’s almost the exact same game as the first. Audiophiles will have fun switching between all the tracks along with the ability to flip from MIDI to regular music tracks and back. Again, younger gamers might not “get” what Cladun x2 is doing and even some older gamers might not appreciate it, but the audio bits of the game are one thing everyone can appreciate.

Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control and Gameplay

This is really the heart and soul of the Cladun series and the engine is still truly phenomenal, even if very little has changed. You can customize just about everything in the game, from your characters appearance to what their weapons and armor look like. For Cladun x2 I’ve made Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe, Vampire Hunter D, Adolf Hitler (I’m Jewish), and more. The sheer potential for design is unlimited, especially when you factor in that there are roughly a dozen character classes (one big change from the original game. There were only five starting classes there)and that how you use a character determines what their stat gain will be.

The key to mastering Cladun is the magic circle. Each character starts off with two magic circles and gains more as they level up. When one character is the “main character” others are places in his or her magic circle. Then “sub characters” can then use their mana points to apply artifacts with enhance the main characters performance. For example. Let’s take a Level One Ninja, which is a class you gave to unlock. One of their two Magic Circles is called “Chu-ton” which lets me place a single character in it. For this example I’ll use Vampire Hunter D who is a level 20 Saint (Priest). D has 40 Mana Points which he can then use to attach artifacts to Snake Eyes. The specific type of artifacts that can be used are determined by the slots in the circle. In this case I attached artifacts that gave Snake Eyes +8 to his attack. Each point of attack, defense and the like is a pretty big increase in this game so +8 for a level one character is pretty intense. As well, the sub characters act as a meat shield for the main character. So any damage done to Snake Eyes by monsters would actually be taken from D’s hit points first. Then once D is out of health, any artifacts he powers no longer function, meaning that stats for Snake Eye would go down and he’d start to take damage as well. Magic circles can get pretty intricate and so the key is to find one that works not only for the character, but your playing style as well. In the first game I found Guardians with their high defense and healing magic to be best for me, and here I’m finding Saints and Sword Mages to be my particular favorites.

Leveling up takes special notice as well. Anyone in the magic circle gains XP just like the main character. However if you level up someone acting as a sub character, the stat boosts they gain make them function better as a main character. If you level someone up as a main character, the stat boosts they gain make them function better as a sub character. So to get through the game, you’ll constantly be flipping through characters and their functions. The good news is the game saves the last magic circle setup you used for each character when they were the main one, along with their equipped weapons, artifacts and armor. This means you don’t have to worry about spending a lot of time setting things up each time you switch main characters. That said, you will spend more time in the magic circle setup than in actual dungeons as you try to find the best possible combinations of sub characters, magic circles and artifacts for each main character. It’s a very intense stat crunching experience.

Besides the seventeen multi-leveled Dungeons in the main game there are also two types of randomly generated dungeons which the game calls “Ran-geons.” The Neo-geons are 99 levels deep and contain different gates which will determine what the next dungeon has in terms of items and enemies. The Tri-geon is a collection of three sets of Neo-geons, each with their own specific themes of Normal, Chaos and Heaven. It is these dungeons where you’ll get the best loot.

Cladun x2 is extremely deep and with new character classes and magic circles, this is the one area where the game feels someone new. Because of this depth of the engine and the magic circle process, tabletop gamers, SRPG fans, stats geeks and people who love customizing characters will be enthralled with Cladun‘s engine. It’s incredibly well done and even if you just take the game at service value, it’s an extremely entertaining hack and slash that lets you play a dungeon in just a few minutes or even a few seconds depending on your skill level and how powerful your character is.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

Although X2 lacks the customizable story, end boss and ending of the previous game, It does still offer a lot in terms of replay value. Even once you’ve finished story mode, you can design new characters and trade them with your friends. You can clear out Neo-geons and Tri-geons for loot and experience and work on crafting the perfect magic circle. There isn’t much here story-wise however, so all there is to do is just hack and slash to your heart’s content. I personally need a story to be motivated to play an RPG and so the fact x2 has so little is disappointing. At the same time the dungeons and combat are a lot of fun, so if that’s your focus, than you’ll find that you can waste countless hours fiddling around with Cladun x2.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

Each level of a dungeon is harder than the last and each new dungeon is tougher than the preceding one. If you find the current level too hard, maybe you need to switch your main character or your magic circle. If that still doesn’t help, you can grind away in previous dungeons or Neo-geons for more XP, gold and equipment. There are puzzles to be had, but nearly everything in the game can be overcome by brute force if you don’t have the tactics. Still, it’s nice to see that the story dungeons do give you a chance to use your intelligence as well as your button mashing skills.

The downside is that sometimes you won’t be able to get through a dungeon and you won’t know that until after you are already in the thick of things. You might need to have access to a specific spell or weapon to get through a story based level and with the randomly generated dungeons, the only gates that generate could be extremely evil ones and your level one character is suddenly surrounded by enemies several hundred levels higher than it (or more!) One aspect of the first Cladun that is missing from x2 is that some gates in randomly generated dungeons could lower enemy levels. Here, they either stay the same or raise. Those are your only two options. So the game can be a little brutal, especially to those that have played the original game.

What’s here is well made and will always offer a gamer a challenge, but it is a bit of a step backwards from the original in that the rewards are noticeably lessened and the punishments are drastically increased.

Balance Rating: 6/10

7. Originality

Thumbs in the middle here. The original Cladun was pretty innovative and out there in terms of character building and class customization. This sequel is released less than a year later and it’s 95% the exact same game in every way. There are a few new magic circles and character classes, but that’s really it. I’d honestly rather have more story than things that eventually blend together or get lost in the shuffle any day, and sadly, Cladun x2 has neutered that area of the game. With so much of the game being exactly the same, one has to wonder if x2 was actually needed. The release is so close to the original that x2 gets hurt with comparisons as the first game is still fresh in people’s minds and you’ll be able to they are basically carbon copies of each other.

So points for the game still being pretty unique in the scheme of things but points taken away for being little more than an expansion pack or a complete rehash of the first Cladun

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

Because x2 is practically the same game as the first Cladun, it was harder for me to get into this. The combat was still good, but I missed the story and wacky interpersonal relationships that developed. I could play the game for hours at a stretch, but the constant feeling of Déjà vu kept me from truly enjoying it or even caring about what happened. I’d fiddle with some circles, buy a new character class, and so on, all the way up until I beat the final boss and then…nothing. I felt no joy or sense of accomplishment. Instead I was left with the feeling that I’d already beaten this exact game before but with more of a payoff. That’s not a good feeling to have at the end of a game.

Cladun x2 will definitely interest those that just want to hack and slash their way through an RPG. For everyone else, there is very little payoff aside from playing with magic circles. I had fun with the game, but not as much as I did with the first. Basically x2 came out too close to the first game and with not enough changes or new content to make it feel special.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

9. Appeal Factor

Another thumbs in the middle here. I love that x2 is only $19.99 for a new PSP release. The system has received so little quality titles this year and I’ve only picked up two other games for it in 2011 so far: Tactics Ogre & Phantom Brave. Both of those are remakes and the only other PSP game I’m playing this year will be Persona 2: Innocent Sin, which is ALSO a remake. That makes Cladun x2 the only original game I’ve wanted to play on the PSP this year…and it turned out to be exactly the same as the first game. I’m unhappy about that and I think a lot of other people will be too. At the same time it’s $19.99 per game, or $40 for two games that are almost exactly the same. That equals out to a regularly priced game for the PSP…but both Cladun have an insane amount of replay value and put together you could play both games for months and still have stuff to do.

Fans of the first game will enjoy x2 on some level, yet still be disappointed that it is just more of the same. Those that haven’t picked up the first game probably WON’T bother with this unless they are just desperate for a new game to play on their PSP. I can’t see x2 being a huge seller or even something memorable to a lot of gamers, simply because it is nearly the same exact game as the first.

Appeal Factor Rating: 5/10

10. Miscellaneous

Despite Cladun x2 being almost exactly the same as the original game but with less story, it’s still fun for what it is? Like RPGs but don’t have a lot of free time? You can play a level in under five minutes, save it and get back to your hectic schedule. Do you enjoy making characters more than you do actually playing games? Then x2 is right up your alley. Don’t have a lot of money to spend? Cladun x2 is only $19.99 and offers an insane amount of play time. In short, the game has a lot to offer, even if it’s not as good as the original. I personally would have enjoyed it more had NISA released it in 2012 so the original wasn’t so fresh in my mind, but with the PSP running on fumes, it makes sense they released this so quickly.

Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10

The Scores
Story: 3/10
Graphics: 2/10
Sound: 7/10
Control and Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability:7/10
Balance: 6/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 5/10
Appeal Factor: 5/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10
Total Score: 55
FINAL SCORE: 5.5 (DECENT GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Cladun x2 is a step backwards from the original released just last year. It lacks the customizable ending as well as a lot the story and charm of the first. Instead it offers some new magic circles, several new characters classes and a triple random dungeon with 99 levels each. At only $19.99, Cladun x2 is worth picking up if you’re a fan of the original, but expect to be playing almost a complete carbon copy of the first Cladun.

Review #432

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten - Premium Figure Set Edition
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Genre: SRPG
Release Date: 09/06/2011

Nippon Ichi sent me a review copy of Disgaea 4 roughly a month ago and I’ve been playing it ever since. In my hands-on preview of the game, I admitted it was one of the best games I played this year. However on August 31st, my pre-order of the game arrived. Yes, even though they sent me a review copy I purchased the game. What can I say? I wanted the premium edition. It was the cost of a regular PS3 game, but with a softcover artbook, game soundtrack and a little Fuka figure. However since my girlfriend is big Disgaea fan as well, and likes to collect toys (mainly She-Ra), I actually sprang for the $120 Premium Figure Set Edition, which included nine extra figures from Disgaea 4. I was pleasantly surprised to see it arrive roughly a week early – not just so I could look at all the materials, but so I could give you, the readers a full review on the swag as well. I am still waiting for my Flonne download code however. Grrr.

So after putting a month of time into the game, did Disgaea 4 manage to unseat Mortal Kombat 9 as my favorite game of 2011 (Weird combo, I know), or did things fall apart the longer I played it?
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