Gungnir, the latest in Atlus and Sting’s Dept. Heaven series, is supposed to be bizarre. It is, after all, Episode IX of a series that, while jumping and skipping around rather than releasing sequentially, is supposed to be further and further from normal the higher that episode number gets. It’s five installments crazier than Knights in the Nightmare, a game that put bullet-hell mechanics into a tactical RPG.

As it turns out, though, Gungnir is relatively traditional. It’s a strange choice, but one that results in a game that’s more accessible and still fun.  READ MORE

PlayStation Minis, like Xbox Live Indie Games, have been a way for smaller developers to get their games out to the masses at an affordable price. Every so often, you stumble across a game on one of these services that surprises you. Despite its best efforts, Idiot Squad is not one of those games. READ MORE

Occasionally, I see a game and I wonder why it even exists in the first place. Very rarely do I ever get to play the game in question. One of those games would be Hungry Giraffe. While it’s not a terrible game by any stretch, it’s definitely quirky. READ MORE

Otome games aren’t exactly the standard fare we get in the US. (For publisher Aksys Games, it’s probably the craziest localization idea they’ve ever done, and we’re including Fate/Extra.) Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom takes place during the chaotic Meiji restoration era of Japan, where you follow the lives and circumstances of the men of the Shinsengumi, a group of soldiers following the command of the Tokugawa shogunate. Biggest plus of the game? It’s one of the few localized Idea Factory titles that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to play in public. READ MORE

We don’t see many titles these days that truly embrace the values of a good horror game. For all the praise games like Dead Space get, their style of horror is mostly limited to some cheap scares via clever monster placement or gratuitous amounts of gore. Games like Siren and the Fatal Frame series are rarer than they were last generation, and even series that used to play up the horror to some degree have mostly ditched that for a shot at the action genre. Enter Corpse Party, a game that truly embraces the values of a good horror game. Jump scares only make half the game, after all. READ MORE

The Fate/Stay Night franchise is somewhat well-known in Japan, but it’s as niche as they come here in the U.S. Despite this, Aksys Games took it upon themselves to localize Fate/Extra, a spinoff RPG aimed at a particularly niche bunch of fans, on a handheld console that isn’t exactly breaking sales records these days. If XSEED ever decides to give up the mantle of bravest publisher in America, we sure know who to pass it on to. READ MORE

When Persona 2 originally made it stateside in 2000, most fans were unaware that they had only received half of a complete story. The game’s first half, Innocent Sin, would only be released in Japan, leaving a gap that wouldn’t be filled until 11 years later. Atlus has heard the call, and with the US release of Innocent Sin’s PSP remake, fans can finally visit the missing half of Persona 2’s narrative, along with a redone soundtrack by Shoji Meguro and a new, stylized interface. READ MORE

Following in the footsteps of the original Cladun and Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman, Cladun x2 is the latest in Nippon Ichi Software’s series of handheld 2D dungeon crawlers, with an increased focus on making you spend hours managing your characters. Then again, we noted in our Disgaea 4 review, most NIS titles seem to revolve around massive amounts of replay value built on rather basic combat with complicated gameplay mechanics. Cladun x2 is no different, as it continues its shares its predecessor’s quirks while introducing even more stuff to make you play the game. READ MORE

Square Enix has never stopped pumping out Final Fantasy games, but my personal favorite is Final Fantasy IV. Everybody has played this one by now – it was first available on the SNES, then the PSX, GBA, DS, and now the PSP. Why would you consider playing it again? Because the PSP version returns to sprite-based art and includes Final Fantasy IV: The After Years along with an Interlude bridging the two games that isn’t available anywhere else. For those who have never played FF4, or those that want the entire story on a single platform, Final Fantasy IV Complete is the version to pick up. 

Square Enix is no stranger to rereleasing their back-catalog on modern platforms, but with Final Fantasy IV Complete you get updated sprites and magic effects instead of the same graphics you saw on the SNES (PSX, GBA) or Square Enix’s terrible idea of what 3D on the DS ought to look like (DS). Audio is upgraded as well, but you have the choice between the SNES-original soundtrack and an updated score, and both are worth listening to. While the original is full of classics, the update calls back to the original wonderfully. You won’t forget what you’re playing, and you’ll find yourself humming the new music just as much as the old. Where Final Fantasy IV really shines, though, is its characters. Final Fantasy IV plays the most like a true role-playing game out of any Final Fantasy game I’ve played. Characters are complex, have their own motivations for tagging along with you, and don’t have plot armor. You will control up to five characters at a time, and it’s believable because when you have three party members then that is who you’ll use in battle. You will never have people sitting on the bench while your mains fight, and that’s refreshing. Everybody is walking through this cave, and for once in a JRPG they’re all taking part in every battle.

Odds are that if you’re at all interested in this collection you’ve played Final Fantasy IV. New content is probably why you’re here, and Final Fantasy IV Interlude and Final Fantasy IV: The After Years are it. The After Years was originally only available on the Nintendo Wii through the WiiWare download service, and it follows Cecil’s son Ceodore as a new villain emerges and threatens the world 17 years after you saved it in the original game. You’ll control and meet many of the same characters that you got to know over the course of Final Fantasy IV, and everything should feel familiar. The graphics are the same type of upgraded sprites that you’ll find in Final Fantasy IV. The battle system, though, while similar has seen a couple of updates. First, you can “band” attacks together. Banding works like Double and Triple Techs from Chrono Trigger and makes for more strategic battles. Not everybody can summon (just like Final Fantasy IV characters are restricted to their one preset class), and banding gives you a more powerful option to break out in battles. The second addition is that of lunar cycles. Some monsters only appear during certain phases of the moon, and your party’s combat prowess is affected by the moon as well. Some phases favor melee strength over magic while others are the exact opposite. This means you won’t be leaning just on one party member since every stay at an inn can drastically alter who your primary damage dealer is.

Interlude serves to bridge Final Fantasy IV and The After Years with a chapter showing some of the events that take place in the 17 years between the two. It fits well between the two games, and the style meshes well with the rest of the package, and it should since Interlude had may as well be the new chapter 1 of The After Years.

You’re really getting the most bang for your buck with this package. Upgraded sprite graphics, cutscenes from the DS version, content previously only available via WiiWare, and a chapter that can’t be had on any other platform make The Complete Collection the definitive version of Final Fantasy IV. Now maybe SE can move on to giving Final Fantasy VI a similar treatment on the PSP.

Pros: Tons of content, beautiful upgraded sprites, great musical choices, finally a single collection

Cons: Lack of diagonal movement (FF4 was a SNES game, after all)


The 3rd Birthday

April 14, 2011

The 3rd Birthday is rife with things that don’t make any sense. The story is all over the place, the RPG elements are nearly non-existent, the genre (third person shooter) typically does poorly on the PSP so it has been dumbed down to the point of removing any trace of challenge and, when taken altogether, the entire package does not feel like a part of the generally high-quality Square Enix library. 

The 3rd Birthday is not a Parasite Eve game in either name or mechanics. Horror is traded for quick easy fights, and Aya, since she was sent back in time and is able to trade whose mind she inhabits at will, is nearly invincible. If you’re running low on health just jump to another ally a la Mindjack. While the concept is just as interesting here as it was there it realistically only serves to lower the difficulty and make moving through the battlefield ridiculously simple.

Shooters tend to do poorly on the PSP for a very simple reason. The device is not designed for a player to control the camera, the character, and the character’s gun simultaneously. The absence of a second analog input makes everything harder than in should be because when you move camera control to the shoulder buttons you’ve lost the natural location for a trigger, and when you move camera control to the directional pad you insist that the player perform to vital functions with his left thumb. Games like Killzone: Resistance manage to avoid these problems by moving to an isometric perspective which delivers a great and unique gameplay experience. The 3rd Birthday, on the other hand, just has its difficulty ratcheted down to make up for the PSP’s lack of inputs.

This, obviously, takes away from the atmosphere. You move through the bland environments in this fashion for 10 hours. Move forward, lock on to an enemy, unload a clip into it, take cover. Remove lock-on and you have a good formula. Gears of War has been using it successfully for years, but it has some other things going for it. Weapons feel different and are useful in different situations, and moving from cover to cover is vital to keeping your guy alive. The 3rd Birthday‘s difficulty level negates cover, and whatever weapon you have equipped will do the job since you can lock on and be guaranteed that your shots are connecting with their intended target.

Parasite Eve is a series that deserves to be revisited lovingly, and I hope that someday it gets the revival it deserves.

Pros: Battles start and end quickly

Cons: Combat is astoundingly easy, RPG elements are overly light and not taken advantage of, the game’s difficulty is low to compensate for the PSP’s control setup