Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae Impressions

Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae is the long awaited demo for Final Fantasy XV. Coming bundled with Final Fantasy Type-0 HD in a 'Day One Edition', this is our first look at the upcoming game which currently has no release date.  However, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD was released March 17, 2015 for the PS4 and the Xbox One.  The copy I have was made for the PS4, but the quality should be similar across all platforms (and barring any unforeseen circumstances, there will be a review of Type-0 at some point soon).

Firstly, I would like to mention that the gameplay contained within Episode Duscae may not be totally indicative of the final product.  What has been released is merely a sampling of the final game, a sampling which is likely to be changed before the final product makes its way to consumers.  As such, this is not a real review, merely a look into the released product.  We shall see once the game is truly released how well these impressions hold up.  With that out of the way, I shall get on with the bits you came to see!

Episode Duscae begins with some backstory explaining that our band of brothers, Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolus and Prompto,  are traveling across the country when their car breaks down in the province of Duscae.  In order to get back on the road (and, presumably, continue eluding Imperial forces) a sum of 24,000 Gil must be gathered.  While it seems possible to gather the sum without ever following the story of the demo, that story is laid out immediately after gaining control of the group: hunting the great 'Deadeye', the Behemoth.  Giving a total of 25,000 Gil upon successful kill, the aim of the demo is ultimately to kill Deadeye.

After a short tutorial on combat - it is skippable, but since the combat was such a departure from previous entries, I deemed it appropriate to go through with it as a matter of principle - you are given free rein.  I started my demo by running off and killing some of the wildlife, which I was informed was called a Sabertusk.  A pack animal, they typically attack in groups of 3 to 5 from what I could tell.  After dealing with the lot of them, this game's version of the Battle Over screen appears as an overlay that tallies up the EXP gained and a couple other morsels of information which factor into an EXP bonus, which modifies the base EXP given by each enemy.  The better you handle the battle, the more EXP you get, which is a very nice addition.

After I killed a few of the Sabertusks, I turned my attention to the Garulas.  Looking like enormous cows, they are harmless to you...until you attack one of the herd. I found this out accidentally as I happened to hit one while trying to fend off a Sabertusk attack.  What made that battle even better was the further addition of rare spawning Imperial Guard Troops.  While playing the demo, a patrol of Magitek Troops will land near you and engage.  That battle was quite hectic, as I was fending off three different groups of enemies - though the AI seems to keep them separate, as each engaged the other in differing ways as well, making it quite fascinating.  Luckily it's hard to die in this game.  When your HP gauge is depleted, that nice white HP bar becomes red.  Which it's fully depleted, you drop to your knees and are susceptible to 'permanent damage', which means damage you take depletes the red bar.  After each battle, your health regenerates, but only up to the end of the red bar; so the more damage you take while downed, the lower your total health until you camp.  Having the red bar totally depleted results in death and Game Over.  However, if you manage to escape the scrum, one of your brothers will come stand over you and allow you to recover, returning your nice and white health bar.  The same thing can happen to them, and any of you can help them - I've 'rescued' a comrade a couple times, and the other AI partners did so in a later battle.

Another departure in this game over previous is that EXP isn't automatically given.  In order to level up, you have to camp - usually done once the sun goes down, but presumably whenever you like.  When camping, a meal is made based on ingredients you have in your inventory (killing the wildlife can give you drops normally found on that animal, and you can also buy foodstuffs from shops around the area), and this meal confers bonuses the next day.  After the meal screen, you're taken to a screen that tallies up all the EXP gained for the day, and then levels your characters up based on that.  Personally, I'm slightly against the need to camp to level up, but the meal buff makes it almost worth it.

At any rate, after destroying a few packs of Sabertusks and Magitek Soldiers, I turned my attention to the mission at hand: killing Deadeye.  The structure of the mission was exciting: I had to track his position and finally move in on his apparent den.  Once you enter the den and come face to face with the beast, you have to track him through the mist, using his blind eye and rocks for cover - this use of the cover system was quite ingenious, but it functioned like any insta-fail stealth mission from other games, so it got annoying after a couple failures - before finally moving in on its true den.  Ignis laid out a rather good plan - though rather simple - and following through on it seemed too easy.  My fears proved right when the beast jumped up and attacked.  We regrouped and fought it for a bit before it proved too much and we were forced to flee.  I feel like the game should've explained that better, since I hit a game over screen far too many times because my group ran off without me, leaving me alone with the beast and unable to flee.

After I managed to get away, we searched for clues and found out that there was a cave near a ranch that was apparently 'haunted'.  Obviously, four bros were  more than up to the task, so we went in search of that cave.  After battling through a goblin horde, Noctis acquires the summon for Ramuh.  From what I've heard (since I have stopped playing the demo for other reasons at the moment), the summons only activate upon 'death' so I have yet to see this in action.  However, it appeared to be what I needed to do, since my current quest objective is to return to the lair of Deadeye.

From what I can see, the game is very well crafted.  It looks gorgeous, the controls feel right (though the camera could probably use some work) and the banter seems okay - I do hope there are more lines in the finished product, since they repeat themselves quite often.  The Duscae region we are exposed to is but a small portion of the game proper, so I'm sincerely hoping to see as varied a continent as we've seen in not only other entries into the franchise, but also other open-world games like Skyrim that we can see have been borrowed from.  Just look at that monstrosity to the right; that was as close as I could get, so each of those spines is easily as large as Noctis.  I hope to be able to walk across that water in the finished product and lay waste to that hulk, just to see if I can do it - much like every encounter I had in Skyrim.

All in all, I"m very happy with the demo.  I'm sure I'll be playing it multiple times to see what I can find locked away in it, but until then, the demo simply stoked the fire I have for this game.  I hope E3 gives us more information about this game, most importantly an actual release date.  

Warlords of Draenor Review

Warlords of Draenor is the fifth expansion pack for the acclaimed MMO World of Warcraft.  It was released on November 13, 2014 by Blizzard Entertainment, and is exclusively for the PC.

Before the review, a bit of backstory.  For those familiar with WoW lore, Draenor is the name of the planet from the first WoW expansion, The Burning Crusade.  However, in TBC, we were dealing with a broken world, a planet absolutely destroyed by the influence of the Burning Legion, a horde of demons hellbent on destroying everything in their path.  TBC was when I started my first true character - my *first* character was on a friend's account so it didn't count - a Blood Elf Paladin named Viriatus.  As I leveled through Outland (the new name for Draenor in TBC) I fell in love with the lore, with the models, and everything about WoW; a love that still goes strong today, despite all the bad press WoW seems to get.  So, when I heard we were going back to Draenor, before it was destroyed, I was at once excited and reticent.  On the one hand, I feared for my memories: what if, in going back to areas I remember from TBC, the lustre from there disappeared and I realised I hated the game?  On the other hand, what if everything they did with the expansion was what I dreamed of and more: A new history for the planet I had so much love for?

Luckily for me and my memories, I absolutely loved the new take on the planet I held dear.  Indeed, my favorite new area has to be Nagrand, which was also my favorite area in Outland.  It nicely wraps up the story that we were given going in, and leaves enough questions to make us wonder what we were going to be doing next.   Going through the opening zones, I felt confused.  After all, we entered the new Dark Portal in pursuit of Garrosh Hellscream, son of Grommash Hellscream, and the final boss within Mists of Pandaria.  The story given was that Garrosh was saved from trial by a renegade bronze dragon, who sent him back in time to Draenor pre-destruction, where the Iron Horde was built and turned loose against Azeroth.  

However, when we enter Draenor for the first time, not only do you not see Garrosh until the absolute end of the instanced Tanaan Jungle, you barely encounter the Iron Horde in the zones following.  All the lore we were getting in the leveling zones was great, but I wanted to see the culmination of the story I saw unfold in the Siege of Orgrimmar.  We met the Frostwolves, the Laughing Coffin, the Arakkoa and even helped drive the Iron Horde out of Shattrath, but I managed to level to 100 before ever encountering Garrosh again.  Luckily, the story had quite the satisfactory ending, one I will not spoil so early in the expansion cycle, since I believe it's something everyone needs to see for themselves.

Following that, the game returns to what we've grown accustomed to.  We grind for gear to get into heroics for better gear, which we then have to grind for more gear to be able to get into raiding, et cetera.  The monotony is broken by the addition of level 100 rare elites that drop gear that can help you bypass a bit of grinding, and by the Garrison.  The Garrison is, I feel, one of the best additions to the game in a long time.  Not only is your character finally being recognized for all the work he or she has done for their respective faction, but you finally get to feel like you're actively changing the world around you.  Garrisons effectively put you in the driver's seat of your own thriving base of operations in the opening zone for your faction.  Your choices on outposts within your garrison are limited, even at max garrison level, but even with that limitation, I start and finish every game session in my garrison.

The graphical upgrade of the character models seem quite unnoticeable, but that may be because I play a Blood Elf primarily, one of the few races to not get an update at this point in time.  I've read Blood Elves will get their upgrade in the first major content patch, but we'll see when that day comes.  What was noticeable, however, were the zones.  The zones in WoD are some of the best crafted zones in the history of WoW.  From the beginning, in Frostfire Ridge, to the end in Nagrand, I was in awe by my surroundings.  Especially in Nagrand, you can certainly see the depth Blizzard went to making this expansion look amazing.

One last bit before I wrap up: dungeons and raids.  As a healer, I feel the changes made to dungeons and raids negatively impact us - it's far too easy at the time of writing for idiot DPS to die to stupid avoidable things (My main is a Discipline Priest, with Shadow as my off-spec.  I did dungeons as Shadow to figure things out, see where the damage spikes are, etc; I found myself dying to things that didn't have as big a 'tell' as previous expansions) that I feel if you are not an amazing healer, you are simply going to hate your life.  Also, tying Heroic queues to the 'Proving Grounds' is a laudable goal - teaching people their role is great in theory - but as a healer that specializes in single-target healing, getting through the proving grounds had to wait until I got to higher levels of gear before I managed to even queue for Heroics (Despite having healed respectably as tank healer in Highmaul not hours before).  I will say, however, that dungeons and raids are far and away more interesting than previous games.  Grimrail Depot is fun, despite having much avoidable damage that people cannot seem to figure out how to avoid.

My final verdict: as stated previously, I love World of Warcraft.  I'm in for the long haul, even though I may lose interest and disappear for periods of time.  Warlords of Draenor is one of my favorite expansions, and I'm hoping that my guild manages to complete Highmaul before Blackrock Foundry opens up - it's definitely very exciting to actually be able to do content when it is relevant, even if you're not the first ones to drop bosses.  I'd definitely recommend WoD for anyone who feels able to justify the subscription. 

Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus Review

Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus was released for the PS Vita on February 28, 2013 in Japan and October 14, 2014 in North America, with a European release following on October 15.

Senran Kagura is a 3D Brawler in a similar vein as the Dynasty Warriors franchise.  However, due to the limitations of the Vita system, it doesn't feature quite as much depth in terms of AI or enemy count, but it does seem to offer larger aerial capabilities.

Right after getting into the game, you are given a choice between three 'schools':  Hanzou Academy, Gessen Academy, and Hebijo Academy.  Each have their own story, and after a short Visual Novel introduction, you are free to move around.


The above screen is what you see once the original exposition is finished.  You can either move around the room - there are also NPCs you can speak to who have different dialog depending on where you are within the story - or you can hit the right trigger and open the screen to the right, which allows quicker navigation.

I'll skip Missions for now, since those lead into the bread and butter of the game.  Dojo takes you into the multiplayer with the game.  As, at the time of review, the game is not out yet, I haven't been able to test this mode just yet, but it seems to be fairly well designed from what I've seen.  The Dressing Room allows you to alter the outfits of the heroines, using articles of clothing or accessories you have bought or obtained during missions.  The Library functions as its namesake: it holds all the unlocked pictures, videos, songs and your overall score.  Some items are given over the course of the missions, while others can be bought through the Store, which I'll cover right now.  As the name suggests, the Store is your go-to for buying clothes, accessories, and Library entries.  It also has the appropriately named Lingerie Lottery which, as you might surmise, allows you to bet money (Zeni) to get new Lingerie for your heroines.  There are 98 pieces of Lingerie to collect and each time you bet money, the chance to get a new piece decreases.  You can also presumably buy lottery tokens from the PS Store for some amount of money that is currently unknown.  These are probably ideal, since each token gives you a 100% chance to get a new item, but depending on the cost, might be exorbitant. 

Moving down to Character, this allows you to change characters - however you can do this through the Dressing Room by hitting the Left or Right Trigger, so the use of the Character menu is to allow you to examine each character's stats and combo list.  I find this selection to be fairly unnecessary, but it might get its mileage later on.  At any rate, Records allow you to save outside missions - which allow you to save after every one - as well as load a different save or delete.  Settings should be self-explanatory, since it's the same menu you are probably familiar with from any number of other games.  Finally, the selection hiding under the watermark on the right is to Change Schools.  You are allowed to change your school at any time from this screen, and I believe it resets the story - each school has its own story, and what you do in each doesn't appear to crossover between schools. 

Finally, to the meat of the game.  Missions allow you to choose between story missions or character submissions.  Story missions progress the main story and demonstrate the relations between the different schools you can choose from.  Character submissions follow a specific character and help flesh out her backstory.  They appear to consist of five missions, in which you fight against a group of cannon fodder, and a boss.  Sometimes there are waves you have to complete, other times you are pitted against the boss from the outset. 

One of Hibari's Submissions

One of Hibari's Submissions

Once inside one of the missions, which all seem to function basically the same, the brawling portion of the game begins.  As previously mentioned, you fight a group of enemies plus a boss.  The controls are very similar to Dynasty Warriors, with the Square Button being your standard weak attack, Triangle being your strong attack (and combo ender), Circle allowing a dodge move and Cross being your jump.  There is also your Shinobi Transformation button, typically assigned to the Left Trigger, which acts as both a strategic move and a game changer.  When used, the Transformation restores your health to full, while also modifying your attacks.  In addition, your attack and defense go up, which helps tremendously if you're fighting a particularly challenging boss.

Boss using Transformation

Boss using Transformation

However, bosses also have access to this Transformation, and will typically use it when they are down around twenty to thirty percent health.   This provides them the same benefits afforded to you, so be warned.  Also, as astute readers might notice form the image to the right, there is another system in play.  The more damage you take, the more damage your clothes take.  I haven't yet figured out the point behind this system entirely, but I have noticed that if you use one of your Shinobi Arts on the boss - you refill this bar through combat, and at certain intervals gain more - while they are in this state of...undress, it destroys a piece of their lingerie according to which form of Art is used.  As I mentioned, it's a fairly interesting and seemingly unnecessary system, but maybe it has a use later on that I have not encountered as of yet.


Completing the mission takes you to the level up screen.   Based on the stats on your mission complete screen before this, you gain more levels.  Mastery refers to the power within each 'stance' available to each heroine: Flash refers to your pre-Transformation power; Yang refers to your post-Transformation power; and Yin refers to your power within 'Frantic Mode', an activated mode in which your clothes are completely stripped, but your attack skyrockets, making you a literal glass cannon.  You can very easily be destroyed in Frantic Mode, but it allows you to chain your weak attack indefinitely, which would allow you to juggle the boss indefinitely as long as you're careful of your surroundings.

Last thing I want to cover slightly is the animation.  Considering you're dealing with dozens of enemies on the screen and many of them are probably being hit by attacks, the animation is quite fluid.  In fact, in the missions I have completed, I have experienced little to no slowdown - I say little, since if there was any slowdown I did not notice anything.

Verdict: Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is a fairly odd game.  On the surface, it's very 'fanservicey' (a term used in anime and manga to denote elements added simply to please its fans) with its additions of the lingerie and stripping mechanics.  When you delve deeper, however, the systems in place show an understanding of brawling games in a similar vein to Dynasty Warriors.  All in all, it's a strange combination, but I think they did a great job.  The story seems to be a typical anime story, but the gameplay is engaging enough to make me want to keep playing.  Further, the grading system inherent in mission completion gives you a way to aim for a high score in any given mission.  I will continue playing this game in weeks to come, and I would recommend it to anyone with a Vita.

Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate Review

Sorry for the length between reviews; Destiny stole my soul for the month of September - a review is forthcoming for that as well - but I managed to wrest control of my soul from the maw of Destiny and make a triumphant return.

Anyway, Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate was originally released on the PS3 and Vita on September 26, 2013, with the PS4 version released on September 2, 2014.  This review comes based on the PS4 version of the game.

A bit of backstory on this series.  The Warriors Orochi series is a cross-over of the Dynasty Warriors and the Samurai Warriors franchises.  As such, it features popular characters of both, as well as very similar gameplay elements.  Not having played the WO series prior, I wasn't too familiar with the storyline of the series, but they give you a short introduction before the first mission to bring even veterans of the series up to speed.  However, despite my lack of background with WO, I knew about what I was getting into when entering this game due to my history with the Dynasty Warriors property.

If you've played any entry into any of the three properties involved here - DW, SW or WO - then you're familiar with the gameplay.  You play a main general whose sole job is to cut swathes of enemies apart.  The PS4 entry is especially sweet, due to the sheer processing power of the system, bringing untold hundreds of AI enemies onto your screen at any time.  Also, WO uses the weapon system from previous games in a unique way: Instead of switching weapons, you switch between generals, each with their own moveset and flair.  This allows you to keep combos moving nearly indefinitely, only failing to continue when you run out of fodder to destroy. 

The story for WO3 follows years after the events of WO2, in which the titular Orochi is finally killed.  The opening mission in WO3 is based on the Hydra, a megabeast destroying its way through the warriors in the world.  You are a leader in a coalition army that attacks the Hydra's base of operations, and your job is to kill it.  Unfortunately, it further massacres your army, and you are forced to flee.  When all seems lost, the remnants of the army are rescued by the goddess Kaguya, who uses her powers to allow the heroes to travel back in time and save their comrades from their deaths.

Your Camp

The above screenshot shows the camp, your base of operation during Story Mode.  Here, you can chat with the other officers you have access to, and you can also use the Blacksmith you can see in that picture to upgrade your weapons and buy more to further upgrade them.  Adding in Sockets and Attributes to fill those sockets, the relatively simple system becomes somewhat more complicated.  There may be special weapons and attributes, but I have yet to encounter any just yet.

After leaving the camp, you are able to choose your mission and are taken to a very familiar screen for veterans of the series.  Here, you can change weapons and accessories on your characters, take a look at each army's members, and accept side missions that are are to be completed during the mission.  It also shows a map of the battlefield and you are free to begin planning your route of attack, if you so choose.

Finally, hitting Begin Battle takes you to the actual battlefield.  Again, for veterans of the series, this comes as nothing new.  The map from the Preparation Screen appears again - and is very helpful in thwarting the opposing army's movements, since it shows every move made by any member of any army and will end up being one of your main weapons against the enemy.

The battlefields each have their own win conditions, but I've always been partial to the 'kill all of the things' condition which, while it may take a while, is not only satisfying but also ensures optimum experience gain for the team you took into the mission.  It's rare, but enemy commanders can drop an item that puts you in a state called "EXP Fever" in which every enemy killed drops an EXP satchel, which vastly increases speed of leveling and becoming stronger.

Verdict: If you are a fan of the Dynasty Warriors franchise, Warriors Orochi 3 is a very solid entry to the genre.  It's quite satisfying to rack up thousands of kills in the span of a battle, and the harder difficulties are challenging enough to make even the highest level characters sweat in the course of each battle.

Akiba's Trip Review

Akiba's Trip: Undead and Undressed was published by Acquire and released in Japan on November 7th 2013 for PS3 and PS Vita, and July 3rd, 2014 for PS4.  XSEED Games localized it for North America, which released August 12th, 2014 for PS3 and PS Vita, with a PS4 release coming November 4th, 2014.  The review was on the PS Vita.

I was very surprised when I heard this game was getting a NA localization, since the premise is quite...obscure for many American gamers.  The main character is Nanashi, a high school age boy living in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan.  The story begins with Nanashi learning that he was transformed into a Synthister, a vampire-like creature that feeds off the life energy of humans living within Akihabara.  Not long after, another main character appears, a young girl by the name of Shizuku Tokikaze.  A short tutorial battle ensues, after which there is more exposition, before finally opening the exploration portion.

The story revolves around the Synthisters and why they're feeding within Akihabara, as well as a lot of backstory on Shizuku.  The main story is set in stone, however there are five 'routes' within it; these routes revolve around the affection level of five of the main female protagonists, and show different angles of the same general struggle.

The gameplay is fairly addictive.  Outside of the visual novel portions, you have two additional angles: Exploration and Combat.  Exploration sets you in a near perfect representation of the Akihabara district.  Those familiar with Akiba (A diminutive of Akihabara) will delight in seeing some of their favorite locales within the game.  For those not, it serves as a nice intro to the district, should one decide to travel there.  Additionally, you can receive flyers in-game for real stores and cafés within Akiba, with a trophy for those who collect all of those flyers.

Combat within the game is deceptively simple.  On the surface, it's quite basic: hitting Triangle targets the enemy's head, Circle hits their chest, and Cross their legs.  The goal of this is to strip your opponents - being vampiric, Synthisters melt in the sun (though covered later in the story, and not relevant to events, by melting they turn back into normal humans instead of completely dying).  Conversely, you also have to be mindful to not be stripped yourself, else you hit a game over screen - though the game allows you to redo any combat quest following, so long as you choose to continue.  It's quite simple, until you factor in blocking and strip chains, and unblockable attacks, etc.  For the unwary, it's entirely possible to be completely overwhelmed by your opponents on higher difficulties, but once you understand the nuances of combat, the game evens out in difficulty.

To add a level of depth, you can change your clothes and weapons to numerous different varieties.  You can collect them from the NPCs that spawn in each zone - though you have to level up your Strip Skill for that clothing style.  Without a maxed Skill, the clothing has a high chance to 'rip', rendering it useless to everyone and disappearing to the nether.  Once it maxes, you can gather all the clothing to your heart's content.

Finally, there are two parts that pad the length of gameplay: Side Quests and the Battle Arena.  The Arena is quite simple.  Each level - F, D, E, B, A, and S, in order from lowest to highest rank - pits you against three groups of opponents, the goal being the same as any combat within the game: to strip the opponent.  Early levels are populated with groups you can find wandering the streets naturally, while the final levels have unique gear that can only be found in the battle arena.  Sadly, there is no way to repeat a set without restarting the game (I'll cover that slightly later), so be careful if you go in with less than max Strip Skills and want the unique clothing.

Side Quests function like any other game that has side quests; you accept the quest, and then complete it to the satisfaction of the giver.  The side quests can be failed if you don't complete them in a timely fashion - usually within two or three story missions - so it's a good idea to complete them as soon as you accept them.  They range from combat (There's an annoying man who runs around making train noises all day) to search quests (A maid cafe is opening and you're looking for new maids to work there).  They all give money, so it's a good way to gain cash early on.

Last thing to cover are gripes.  The game is fun, but unfortunately comes with some downsides.  The combat sometimes causes the frame rate to suffer, and the hit detection sometimes misses the mark entirely.  Once you figure out the timing, it doesn't affect the combat too much, but it is slightly annoying that one even has to learn how to move around the stuttering frame rate.  Additionally, the game sometimes chooses to not load important quest targets - not a problem for Main Quests, which load when you enter the requisite area, but having to search an area for minutes at a time for a quest target that's standing in a corner that you checked right before is troublesome.  A simple increase of loading precedence of these targets would solve this issue, but until then it's definitely an issue.  Finally, the lack of a targeting system is my main gripe.  During combat, not being able to target an enemy right next to you - instead preferring a target on the other side of the battlefield - was the cause of multiple game over screens for me.  I would've liked a simple targeting system to make it much easier to complete quests.

Verdict: If you're in the market for an off-the-wall JRPG that may or may not be appropriate for others to watch you play, buy this.  The few gripes I have are minor to the fun I had playing this.  Also, being able to choose to play the game entirely in Japanese - in the English port - gives it a big boost for those who are learning the language.  Very few English releases of JRPGs like this allow you to change the written language into Japanese, so being able to do it sets it above the rest I've found so far.