enfrdeitptrues

RPG

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Catacombs 1: Demon War
    Developed By: SimProse Studios
    Published By: SimProse Studios
    Released: July 12, 2017
    Available On: Windows (English only)
    Genre: Turn-based RPG
    ESRB Rating: None specified
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $1.99

    Before we begin, my thanks to SimProse Studios for the review key for this review.

    As to the work itself, despite the name giving me flashbacks to the early 1990's proto-Doom title of a similar name, this is an attempt at taking turn-based combat and fusing it with what made the Diablo franchise so good. For those not familiar with Diablo, it's a game made in 1997 that perfected the randomized dungeons and equipment role-playing game experience, meaning no two people would have the exact same playing experience since all enemies and equipment were randomized in terms of stats and rarity with some limited exceptions. Catacombs 1: Demon War takes heavily after this game in terms of concept (to the point it feels like a clone), so it will be very familiar to fans of Diablo and its sequels.

    The story has many of the same elements. An evil demon is sealed away that should never be freed, the reason it was sealed plays a huge role in the plot, the story is pretty grim from the start, and as we proceed deeper in the abyss, the story gets grimmer. The similarities end there; the developer did try to do their own thing past using the basic tropes of the obvious inspiration, and while many are successful, some really need some work. The actual story is that you (default name Galahad) had your father pass away recently, and with his dying breath urged you take down a demon named Sorsobal he had a role in sealing away in the dungeons outside town and otherwise never spoke about until on his deathbed, and wanting to know why you decide to discover the truth.

    Catacombs 1: Demon War
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good mix of Diablo-style and turn-based RPG mechanics
    Weak Points: Horrible controls and UI
    Moral Warnings: Some blood decals in some scenes; minor occult-like magic system; some violence; some dark and disturbing content

    This serves as the setup for the plot, but it gets convoluted fast when you discover the story is a lot more complicated than "ancient evil daddy sealed away is returning" pretty quick. It's meant to be the first in a series of games, so the story is meant to develop much further. The title uses the RPG Maker MV engine, and while RPG Maker is notorious for asset flips and schlocky, cheaply turned out work, this game goes to great strides to make you forget it's an RPG Maker-based title. It uses the High Fantasy Medieval DLC assets as opposed to most stock assets as the core on the graphics side, and for the theme they are angling for, they are an excellent choice, as they fit the grim, dark atmosphere of the inspiration like a glove, though it's hard to notice the few original graphics used because of heavy DLC asset use. The sound draws from the same basic well, and the music and sound effects again fit the atmosphere perfectly. The game even has voice acted segments, very well done at that. For an RPG Maker game it's a very stable experience as the developer is clearly more than competent on the coding side of things as no crashes or glitches were noticeable, but the control scheme used for this game is when that goes bad otherwise.

    Diablo used an isometric, eight directional movement scheme while this game is top-down, cardinal directions based. While the latter usually works fine for a basic RPG Maker game, that's one of the immersion breakers and key frustrating points of the whole experience. Worse, the key assignment is set up in a rather bizarre manner, and while they are re-mappable to a much more familiar WASD based setup this is not a fun game to play on a keyboard. In fact, most controls work best with heavy mouse usage. However, even that has issues as the UI has some response time problems and menus seem to have problems responding to the mouse at times. Movement is helpfully highlighted with the mouse, but the four directional movements can make this tedious in tight spaces. The worst part, though, would be the overall user interface. There is no easy to use UI, instead having a somewhat more obtuse and sparse layout, and while there are easy to follow tutorials, it still could use a better visual interface.

    Otherwise, the mechanics of limited durability equipment and skill point leveling were otherwise adapted well to a turn-based format, though the balance is more like Dragon Quest or Shin Megami Tensei than Final Fantasy. And unlike Diablo, which had a space limited inventory, you have a huge one that can easily accommodate the rather generous randomized loot you can get, and you are encouraged to hoard: equipment can break (and be replaced) in battle, having spares is always good, as there is no repair system. You can also recruit more than one playable character to join you, which further encourages you to hoard extra equipment. However, this is also a drawback, as all characters feel very much like clones who can equip the same gear, which is easier to adapt to, but makes them very dull in terms of gameplay.

    Catacombs 1: Demon War
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 66%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 1/5

    Morality Score - 83%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    On the moral front, this game has some minor issues. Violence is fairly low, no gore or blood (save as background decor in dungeons, which is a tad gruesome in spots), and enemies disappear when they die, but there is no fighting anything human (save a token fight or two) or that doesn't force you to defend yourself, at least in my experience. Language is pretty tame and sexual content is basically absent, even the art style contains no hints of this. General dialogue is pretty clean if archaic, but that's just authentic to the setting.

    The magic system does seem somewhat occult-like, spells have a pseudo-Latin naming schema to them, but aside from mentions of a demon lord, specific references to religion or God are hazy at best. Your character does work with the village residents and its elder, and while some of them aren't entirely up front with you at first, your character doesn't resist helping them willingly. For someone who enjoyed the original Diablo, this is a pretty good attempt to adapt the basic premise to a turn-based RPG, but it's crippled by frustrating and bizarre control and UI choices, which, since the developer intends sequels, definitely need severe improvement.

    Otherwise, if that can be overcome, it's a pretty good discount Diablo-like experience suitable for older teens or older.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Chrono Cross
    Developed By: Square Product Development Division 3
    Published By: JP Square, NA Square Electronic Arts
    Release Date: August 15, 2000
    Available On: Playstation Network, PS1
    Genre: RPG
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: T
    MSRP: $9.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    As a JRPG fan since I was very young, one of my favorite games has always been Chrono Trigger. I always wanted a sequel to come out, and it finally did in the form of Chrono Cross, though it didn’t feel like much of a sequel as I played it. After completing it, spending hours discussing it with friends, replaying it and reading over some of the dialogue and hints given throughout the game, it’s much more than a sequel but a conclusion to all the chaos caused by Lavos (the main antagonist of Chrono Trigger). In reality, many fans didn’t accept it as a sequel because Crono is not the main character, but only found in one place which I won’t spoil. Still, this game stands on its own in regard to story and gameplay whether you feel it concludes Chrono Trigger or not.

    Chrono Cross is a game about a boy named Serge who lives in El Nido. He gets transported to Another World (this is the other dimension you can travel to, while his native one is called Home World) and discovers that he has died in this dimension. Nobody knows who he is since in that world he passed away as a baby, so he becomes confused as to how this is happening. He meets up with a girl named Kid who explains how the world was split into two ten years ago, and through her Astral Amulet they are able to jump between both worlds.

    Their adversary, a cat-man with a large coat named Lynx, is after Serge and wants to kill Kid as well. As the story progresses, you learn about the Frozen Flame which is a powerful artifact from the past that can grant its wielder any wish or ability. Serge gets involved in the plot to stop Lynx and FATE itself from controlling the world and stopping time itself from being devoured. Eventually you learn about the mistakes that the heroes from Chrono Trigger failed to prevent, how Kid and Serge play the most important roles of saving a Princess from the ancient Kingdom of Zeal, and how to put an end to a plot that is already in motion to destroy everything.

    Chrono Cross
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: The gameplay is fun and the battle system is unique to this game. The music is excellent and is one of the best soundtracks of this generation of RPGs. It is a sequel to Chrono Trigger, though not the one us fans wanted.
    Weak Points: This game’s weakest point is the plot. It’s very confusing, though it’s a sequel there isn’t a ton of references to the first game. There is so much going on, that by the middle or near ending of the game it’s hard to figure out why certain events happened or how to put the story together. Once you understand it, it makes sense and does wrap up loose ends from the first game but still, it’s not easy to do. 
    Moral Warnings: There are a few foul words like d*mn, but rarely and forgettable. Some characters have revealing clothing, but you can’t see much since the graphics are pixelated. There is an area in the game with bones and skeletons littered around while you explore, and there is idol worship to the “Dragon god” mentioned around the end of the game. Your characters don’t partake in any of that worship but it is discussed a few times. 

    Serge is the main character that you control throughout Chrono Cross, along with the many side-characters you can recruit. You travel on the map with an overhead view similar to Chrono Trigger, and random encounters occur when you touch a monster that is roaming the area. If you don't then you’re fine, but often they are placed in such a way where you have to fight them to make progress. Battles are turn based but you don’t have a time limit, unlike other RPG's where you have to make a decision quickly.

    Elements play an important role in battle, as you need to equip them to each playable character. Each element is like a spell or ability, and they have different levels. They also have colors that represent real life elements like red is for fire, blue for water, green for wind, etc. You can use the opposite color for an advantage against enemies, but you need to check what each character’s base element is so that you match them with the right ones for extra power. Field effect during battle is when a battle has an element attributed to it and if you use that color, the attack will get a boost. So, if you are on a white element battlefield, you should focus on white element attacks for the win.

    Traveling throughout dimensions is the core of Chrono Cross, just as time travel was for Chrono Trigger. Instead of jumping between eras, you must go between Home World and Another World to different locations to complete the game. It's very interesting to see each one because they are generally the same places with the same people, but they often have different dialogues and interactions. It's like meeting the same person in an alternate universe. You can also recruit new characters between both worlds, and what you do in one affects the other in various ways. There are 45 characters you can add to your party, and they come in all shapes, sizes and races.

    Like Chrono Trigger, there is also the New Game+ option which is available once you beat the game for the first time. There are 12 endings you can watch depending on different decisions made throughout the story, so you can go through it several times. Think it might take too long though to beat? No worries! There’s a fast forward feature that you can use after you beat the game, and you retain your levels as well so you can pound through the game in a few hours.

    This is a PlayStation One game, so the graphics are outdated, but you will enjoy the beautiful artwork for each character and the dialogue that goes with them. What’s also great is that many characters have accents or use different kinds of slang when they talk, so you get a personal feel for each one. The cutscenes are spectacular, but they are few and far between. The layout of the map when you go from place to place is like walking on a watercolor painting, which was very nice to look at. Each location has its own atmosphere to it, as the music flows well depending on where you are or what’s going on.

    The soundtrack, done by Yasunori Mitsuda who also did the score for CT, goes to another level with this one. Just by hearing the music you could almost tell what kind of place you are in; from the villages to the dungeons to the somber pieces there’s a lot of emotion to each track. Personally, Chrono Cross has one of my favorite video game soundtracks.

    Chrono Cross
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 81%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    I have spent a lot of time looking over all the loose ends this game ties up, how it relates to Radical Dreamers (which was an old Japanese text based game that was meant to wrap up a plot hole in CT) and watching all the endings to understand everything that is going on. When you get to a certain technological place in the game, you discover a lot of the back-story all at once. Since there are various clues hidden throughout the story or only mentioned once here and there, it can be very difficult to figure out every plot hole.

    Chrono Cross is a family friendly game, though there are a few cuss words here and there like d*** or hell, but overall the game is clean in its dialogue. Aside from Kid’s revealing clothing, there isn’t anything sexual to be concerned over. There are some points in the game where the characters will be drinking alcohol but it’s more referenced than actually done. Spiritually there is a lot going on. There is the worship to the dragon god later on in the game and discussions of life and death without a Heaven or Hell. Fate plays a large part in the game and somewhat negates the free will of the characters, having them instead follow a pre-determined path (best way I could explain it without spoilers). This is very important to the plot but it shows that God is not part of the plan nor of any importance. NPCs (non-playable characters) are afraid to be free to make their own decisions at one point in the game.

    This is a game that every RPG fan needs to pick up and enjoy, as thousands of others already have. For those that wanted a literal sequel that looks and feels exactly like its predecessor, you’re in for a surprise as it went in a different, possibly strange direction. Chrono Cross stands alone as a great game with an amazing soundtrack, memorable characters, and a plot that is deep and complex. I used Chrono Compendium to help me understand what was going on in the game’s plot but be sure that you’ve beaten the game already, so it will make sense to you.

    I hope you explore and enjoy Chrono Cross as much as I did! God bless.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Citizens of Space
    Developed By: Eden Industries
    Published By: SEGA
    Released: June 18, 2019
    Available On: PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, Windows
    Genre: Role-Playing
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen: Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence, Simulated Gambling
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you SEGA for sending us a review code!

    Ah, finally! The Galactic Federation recognizes Earth and its citizens for our wonderful achievements throughout the universe! It is of great honor to accept this privilege. As Ambassador of Earth, my plucky assistant and I will tell you of all the glorious luxuries of our blue and green planet. But first, let me show you our humble planet…

    Egad! What is this?!?! The Earth is missing! That can’t be! I was just there a few hours ago. Someone out there must have planetnapped our glorious round planet. I must get to the bottom of this—how else can I ambass for a planet that isn’t where it is supposed to be? After all, Earth’s citizens are depending on me!

    Citizens of Space is a successor to 2015’s Citizens of Earth. People familiar with the prior game know that you played as the Vice President of Earth. This time, you take control of the Ambassador of Earth and his job is to represent the Earth. Our Ambassador is kind of an idiot but executes his job with brimming optimism and a permanent smile etched on his face! With such charisma and a positive attitude, you can’t help but root for him. Just like the previous entry, Citizens of Space is a role-playing game with a few changes, namely in its art style and combat.

    While CoE’s combat system took inspiration from games such as the Earthbound/Mother series, CoS decides to go in a different direction—taking inspiration from more interactive turn-based combat systems. Fans of Paper Mario (at least the first two entries) will immediately recognize its system. Other games, such as South Park: The Stick of Truth also use this system. What makes this turn-based combat different from the others is the use of minigames or quick-time events. Every attack in the game has a button prompt attached. If the prompts are successfully executed, your attacks will do more damage. This also applies to defending yourself as well, taking reduced damage.

    Citizens of Space
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A large cast of charming and quirky characters; turn-based gameplay is of the Paper Mario variety
    Weak Points: Does very little to improve or innovate on the genre; reports of game-breaking glitches
    Moral Warnings: Violence against alien creatures; lots of poop-related humor; some minigames are of the gambling variety, like slot machines

    The Ambassador, of course, doesn’t get his hands dirty in these menial bouts. His title is Ambassador, not Fighter! That is for the other citizens to partake in, while he cowers behind his subordinates. (He calls it "support from behind," not that you should fully believe him.) On the journey to save Earth, the Ambassador has the chance to recruit 40 citizens separated into three categories: combat citizens, which is pretty self explanatory; partner citizens, who have field effects and can be equipped like items to combat citizens to increase their stats and give them special effects; and lastly, the summon citizens that can be summoned into battle for devastating effects. The Ambassador does lend a hand in battle with his various supporting abilities such as item usage (which does not use up a turn), summoning citizens, or using special diplomacy abilities that affect all characters on the field, both allies and enemies alike. Every citizen in the game has tiers and they all start at tier 1. One of the main ways to increase a citizen's tier is to accumulate ability points (AP) through battles.

    The party members are all based on occupations ranging from scholars and chefs to sheriffs and celebrities. Out of the 40 citizens, only 12 of them are combat citizens and more than half of the total citizens are purely optional members of your team. Although you can complete your task of saving Earth with the mandatory citizens as Citizens of Space isn't a challenging RPG, it is highly recommended to seek out as many citizens as you can as they offer a lot of quality-of-life benefits both in and out of battle. Be aware that game balance between citizens is non-existent as there are a few citizens that are blatantly better than the rest. For those who only care about the narrative, there is a "Story Mode" option unlocked an hour into the journey which makes it impossible to lose battles, but cannot be toggled off once activated.

    This unique form of combat that Citizens of Space offers is beloved for a good reason. It can be very engaging and seeing that Nintendo refuses to have a “traditional” Paper Mario made again, then it is all the more appreciated that someone is willing to pick up the slack. A bit of a difference between CoS and the other similar RPGs is that energy takes the place of the traditional mana or PP (power points) bar. Energy can only be built up with the use of items or using your standard attacks, in which you can use energy for stronger attacks. After every completed battle is the option to continue the fight in "phases" that grants you more experience and ability points by an increasing percentage as you fight stronger enemies before. It's a nice feature to grind away at levels and quickly raise the tiers of citizens, but abuse of this feature can turn an already easy adventure into a joke—and not the ha-ha kind of joke!

    Humor is one of the most subjective forms of entertainment there is. What one person finds hilarious, another person won’t even crack a smile. CoS is a very goofy and lighthearted game in its core, taking many opportunities to take a playful jab at the situation it is in. Serious moments are very few and far between, so there are no melodramatic moments that tend to plague many RPGs. The humor is very satirical and pun-based with many of the citizens and enemies making puns based on their occupation or species. A good amount of the comedy is politically driven, although I didn’t particularly notice if it was biased towards a given party, as I do not keep up with politics often. (There are, however, a couple of simple Trump-related jokes, and they are exactly what you would expect them to be.) The Ambassador’s obliviousness to situations and his Assistant’s snarky behavior add to the comedy, and both of them play off each other well. Although CoS never had me catch my breath for laughter, it did give me a lot of chuckles throughout various moments. If your humor aligns on satire, references, and poking fun at the role-playing genre, I’m sure you’ll be grinning just like the Ambassador throughout this adventure.

    Citizens of Space
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 83%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7.5/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 8.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Citizens of Earth has more of a political cartoon art style. For Citizens of Space, however, Eden Industries decided to change it up. If someone told me that CoS was a cartoon that was going to air on Cartoon Network or Adult Swim, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. The art style fits right at home on those channels. Bright and colorful, with exaggerated proportions—there is a lot of charm that went into the design. Every citizen design is radically different from each other, giving off a uniqueness that you are exploring a diverse solar system. This also extends to the environment, being colorful and distinct. Sometimes, certain animations can be stiff so the animation quality isn’t all there. It still manages to be serviceable.

    Voice acting is well-executed. With the Ambassador having a voice that is charismatic and pleasing on the ears, and the Assistant having the voice to match his sarcastic personality, I enjoyed most of the voices. There is voice work that can go on the more stereotypical side for some characters, but I can say that their voices are good too. Funny enough, there are more voice actors in CoS than there are developers. Not every character or line is voiced. If a character is voiced, however, you can safely guess that they can be recruited or have a role in the story. The soundtrack is rather standard with only the battle theme being the only one sticking out for me—most likely because it’s the one I heard the most.

    Fortunately for me, In my journey to save Earth, I did not run into any severe glitches or crashes—that doesn’t mean they do not exist. I’ve seen many reports by other players that Citizens of Space can be quite buggy, with minor glitches such as item drops or currency spawning out of the boundaries, to major glitches and crashes such as quest progress not registering correctly, which require some players to restart their entire journey again. I was one of the few to only experience minor mishaps. It seems that more of these major glitches are more common on the PC platform, and the radio silence from the developers is pretty worrying. In a way, I find that ironic considering that you play as an ambassador and the team is silent on any updates or fixes. It is recommended to save frequently, and have a backup save just in case something does go wrong.

    Like many RPGs, violence is a given. It is fantasy violence against robots, aliens, and all sorts of other creatures. The crude humor is mostly relegated to poop jokes. Language is pretty squeaky clean outside of that. The aforementioned jokes get grating after a bit as they increase in frequency to the point where you will meet poop-shaped aliens and certain minigames will have poop-shaped objects. There are some instances of gambling within the game, mostly in optional minigames.

    Citizens of Space may not do much to innovate or improve on the genre—you’ll most likely have seen what CoS has done in other games. It is still a well-executed entry into the RPG genre with a colorful cast of characters (both figuratively and literally), rewarding gameplay, and a good sense of humor. The biggest issue with the game is its reliance on poop humor later in the game and the multitude of glitches with the lack of communication from Eden Industries being very worrying. The price range of $15 is good for the 15-30 hours that it will take you to get Earth back from whoever took it. Due to possibly poor optimization on the PC, as it may have not been the original platform it was intended for, it has a higher frequency of glitches than the other platforms so I would recommend opting for the console versions over the PC version if possible. Other than that, Citizens of Space is a nice entry with a combat system and personality that is sorely missed. Now that you know everything that there is to be the best Ambassador of Earth, it’s time to go save it!

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Cladun Returns: This Is Sengoku!
    Developed by: Nippon Ichi Software
    Published by: NIS America
    Release date: June 6, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Vita, Windows
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Up to four online
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco
    Price: $29.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

    This is the first Cladun game I’ve played and given how much attention to detail there is, I can see why this series is so popular. When first launching this 2D RPG, you get to choose between modern and retro sounding music. I went with modern. I like how you can change the background music and customize songs for NPCs at the inn to sing.

    The retro styled graphics are cute and completely customizable. You can edit your character’s appearance and equipment. There are also many jobs and personality traits you can assign to your character and party members. I wish some of the traits for male characters were available for females.

    I couldn’t really find a personality I liked for my main female character/lord. I don’t really consider myself sexy, shy, gluttonous, silent, ditzy, or fashionable. I wound up going with spiteful even though I don’t feel that way. If the male trait of prankster was available, I would have selected that one. Other male traits include narcissist, imbecile, drunkard, and scholar.

    There are plenty of job choices no matter which gender your character is. Each job determines your character’s base stats. The beginning job roles include samurai, swordsman, merchant, onmyoji (magic/divination), magician, vile priest, and saint. Some of the professions have terrain advantages over the others. If you name the characters after real life people, you can assign them relationships in game though it doesn’t impact the gameplay in any way.

    Cladun Returns: This Is Sengoku!
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Funny dialogue; lots of character/party customization
    Weak Points: Lots of grinding required to progress in the game; nobody online to play with
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence and magic; references to reincarnation; alcohol and tobacco references

    Once your character is created, they’ll wake up in a land called Arcanus Cella. Upon being told that they’ve died, they take the news fairly well. Until their memories return and they come to terms with their death, they’ll have to help other souls settle their affairs so they can reincarnate in peace. Upon talking to a troubled soul, a new dungeon will open up. Each dungeon has several floors that unlock as the previous one is cleared.

    Speedrunning is encouraged as each dungeon level has a time record to beat. There are worldwide rankings on who has cleared each floor the fastest. In order to achieve the fastest times you’ll have to avoid some battles but many of the gates blocking the exit can only be opened by defeating a certain number of foes. There are also colored gates that can only be opened by flipping the similarly colored switches.

    There is a decent amount of variety when it comes to enemies and bosses. Many enemies have an elemental affinity/weakness while others can only be attacked from behind or on the side. Besides enemies there are various traps that have to be avoided so you’ll always have to be on guard. Many of the traps can be bypassed by simply jumping over them, though in the heat of battles, that’s easier said than done.

    The main character/lord learns special attacks/abilities as they level up. The supporting characters/vassals grant additional abilities and take damage for their lord depending on which way they’re facing. Character placement and supporting equipment is configured in the magic circle. Positioning is everything as some places have negative status effects. Some of the charms equipped can negate some of the effects though. Rotating characters is recommended for level balancing.

    Cladun Returns: This Is Sengoku!
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Like many RPGs, grinding is necessary to overcome some of the tougher bosses. You can replay levels as often as you like and for every chapter cleared, a tougher EX dungeon becomes available. The EX dungeons are great for earning experience and possibly recruiting renowned samurai lords to your party. There are also quests available in town, which can bring your party some fame, money, and nice loot.

    Multiplayer mode is available though I was unable to find any adventurers online to fight alongside. In theory, you can play with up to four people online. Maybe the PS4 or Steam version has a better online community. The Vita version is ten dollars cheaper and the portability is great.

    I have seen both Teen and E 10+ ratings for this game. There is some violence and a little blood but nothing too disturbing. Elemental magic is also used. References to reincarnation are part of the story. There is some suggestive dialogue if you chose a sexy personality for a female character. Last but not least, there are some drinking references and some characters are seen smoking.

    Overall, I enjoyed Cladun Returns: This Is Sengoku!. It’s a shame that the multiplayer is dead, but there is plenty to do solo to keep me busy for a while. I’m not sure I would pay full price for the Steam or PS4 version, but it’s certainly worth picking up on sale. I think the Vita’s price of $29.99 is fair for the amount of content packed into this title.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars
    Developed By: Spike Chunsoft
    Published By: Atlus
    Release Date: April 15, 2014
    Available On: Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita
    Genre: Role Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: M; Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes
    MSRP: $39.99
    (Amazon affiliate link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

    Dusk Circles have appeared around the world, launching monsters formed within into many populated areas, seriously threatening everyone.  Each Dusk Circle represents one of the seven deadly sins.  To combat this, the Star God, some time between a child's 16th and 18th birthday, will make a brand appear on their hand. This brand is a sign that the child has been chosen to combat the forces of evil, and has been granted special powers to do so.  They are called Disciples.  This brand, and their powers, disappears on their 19th birthday, so the government of Aterra has setup a special school where all children who have the brand are gathered and are trained to fight the monsters and save the world from this grave threat.  Female Disciples possess Star Energy, which is the main power for most magic, and males possess Ether, which can greatly amplify Star Energy, and is also a direct counter to Dusk Energy, which is what flows out of the Dusk Circles.  

    In Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars, the protagonist, named by default Wake Archus, is a male Disciple who finds out quickly after having his skills and Ether levels tested that he is more than what he appears.  While most Elite Disciples (those who show higher promise than most) have an Ether count of around 50, Wake shows a reading of at least 1500 – the highest level ever measured in the 20 years since the Dusk Circle crisis began - before promptly causing the measurement device to crash.  As a result of this, he is seen to be a fulfillment of a promise the Star God made to the High Priest – and is heretofore referred to as God's Gift.  Since you can customize the main character's name, the voice acting often refers to you as such, or alternatively, G.G.

    And the voice acting is strong with this one.  Seriously, there is a lot, and it's great.  While not every written line has a voice over, much of it is, and it's all done extremely well.  Where there is not voice acting, there often are emotion noises that convey the sense and character of the person speaking it.  Many characters follow some anime trope, especially the girls, but despite this I found them very likable.

    And the game strongly encourages you to get very close to all seven of them.  You see, in order to fight against the monsters, and ultimately cleanse the Dusk Circles by defeating the Dusk Spawner, you need to raise lots of Star Children. Much of the game mechanics revolve around ways of making stronger and stronger Star Children.  They are born by a ritual that takes place in the Church where a male's Ether and a female's Star Energy combine inside a Star Womb Matryoshka doll.  This process brings about a Star Child in every case for God's Gift; others who practice this ritual also have a very small chance to produce a Star Child, but you travel with your heroines and children.

    conception2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Decent story; very likeable characters; fantastic voice-overs; good graphics and music; interesting party composition options; many, many hours of gameplay
    Weak Points: Dungeons get boring and very repetitive; quite a bit of grind (the bad kind...); enemies very repetitive with little variety
    Moral Warnings: RPG Violence; blood in a few places; some language, including 'sh*t', 'a**hole', and h*ll; Lots of sexual themes and imagery, including: perverted priests, bouncing breasts, girls wearing extremely revealing clothing; accentuated crevices of nearly every kind; near-nudity and sexually charged situations in a few places; silhouetted girls in extremely sexual poses; “promiscuous” (though not technically) behavior towards your 'harem' of seven girls; many, many romantic or near romantic situations; a few moments of homoerotic tension

    These children are not your physical descendents, but they are the Star God's children that you bring into the world.  Despite this, they do take on physical characteristics of their mother.  Each of them looks like a ten year old, and comes ready to fight.  Depending on the stats, levels, and mood of the mother, the Star Child's maximum level and available classes can change.  As a result, Star Children can become both disposable, and very valuable depending on their maximum level and skillsets.  Those with lower maximum levels, or are maxed out, are often made independent – where they can raise the level of the town the game takes place in, and raise the levels of various buildings and functions.  It does make for some interesting strategy, though it makes it harder to feel any sort of bond with your Star Children, despite enjoying their silly banter in dungeons.  Of course, if I let my ten year old child live on their own, I'd be in jail.

    While the game makes it clear that the process of making Star Children, called 'classmating', is in no way sexual, the developers decided to unnecessarily saddle the process with sexual imagery.  The process itself is described as touching each other in some way (holding hands is enough), along with thinking deeply about each other.  The better they know each other, and the more they like each other, the more powerful the Star Child.  But during this process, they insert a scene with a pink silhouette of the girl (or girls in the case of tri-mating later on...) in ridiculously sexual poses.  As you progress in the story and in your relationships, these scenes get longer, with poses getting dramatically more sexual, and the song (with lyrics) eventually saying 'I want to make love to you'.  Thankfully you can skip this scene, but it adds overt sexual overtones to a mechanic that, while a little odd, did not need it.  Later on there is also 'classmanting', with two guys... which is less sexual in the silhouette scene, but the game sure does play up the obvious homoerotic angle in ensuing dialogue.

    But even before the first classmating scene in the intro, there are hints, some more subtle than others, that sexual tension and related humor will be present throughout.  Even before the first fifteen minutes is up, there have already been upskirt jokes, perverted priests, and a “smokin' hot tomater!”, referring to the busty lab chief Ruby.  Included are associated breast physics.  And her response is “You're an honest young lad.  I like that.  I might have a nice reward for you later.”  It is quickly clear that she likes to tease the boys.

    Despite the obvious sexual overtones, they did do a fantastic job with character interaction in general.  In the visual novel/storyline scenes, characters talk, their bodies move, and there are a lot of small details that make the characters feel alive.  And with the top notch localization job, it can be very entertaining to watch at times.

    conception 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 56%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 1/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The visual novel/storyline sequences were by far my favorite part of Conception II, despite the many appropriateness problems contained within.  It is so well polished, and the characters are all so likeable and fun to talk with and listen to, that this was the main draw, for me.  But because of the content, I felt very conflicted at times playing it.  If my wife did not offer to allow me to review this game, she probably would have given me dirty looks had I spent my own money on it...

    And I would have deserved them.  By design, you are encouraged to flirt with seven different high school girls, each at various levels of 'development', simultaneously.  In a way, it's a form of sanctioned two-timing – except it's really seven-timing.  While a few of the girls are appropriately non-sexual, and your character is always a gentleman, it's still obvious that romance is an undertone with most of them.  Near the end of three of the girls' storylines, you get to see them naked – though at least some of it is left to your imagination in each case, which doesn't really make it much better.  On the other hand, there is an ending for each girl if you choose them, and at least two of them feature you getting married, which is a pretty nice.  Now the harem ending on the other hand... (it's cute up until the last line, where they all agree to have your children!)

    While the visual novel aspect is well polished, the dungeon crawling is far less so.  Each girl has to transform into their battle suit, with a few of them being completely ridiculous outfits.  While some are actually kinda cool (girl carrying a minigun, anyone?) one in particular is basically wearing a leather bondage outfit only fit for the most risque of bedrooms.  The environment you travel together is a bunch of boring randomly generated combination of rooms and hallways in a fashion that is quickly rather predictable.  The monsters are visible and can be avoided if you wish, though not always, as some will block the exits.  Dungeons are between five and twenty-five levels deep.  Shorter dungeons aren't so bad, but the deep ones get really boring in a hurry.

    And the battle system, while not terrible, doesn't do enough to keep grinding from getting monotonous.  In theory, it should be great.  Your party is made up of you and a chosen heroine, and three groups of three Star Children, which, like you and your girl, act as a unit.  Each Star Child has skills of their own, and combinations can enable team skills which are often very powerful.  In battle, you can position your teams to attack enemies either at their weak points, or make direct attacks, which can raise a chain gauge, which once activated, can allow you to get in extra attacks on an enemy.  In practice it works, but the repetitiveness of the battles, with little enemy variety, and the same with the dungeons, makes that aspect of the game rather boring.  It also doesn't help that the first half of the game is dead easy – but near the end, the challenge ramps up significantly, which requires you to learn battle tactics, where they really didn't matter too much up to that point.

    The graphics are quite good outside of dungeons, and passably good inside. Dungeons and battle do have decent stereoscopic 3D effects, which helps some.  But based on screenshots I have seen, the PS Vita version looks much better.  While the bottom screen is used, it is also a wasted opportunity – the dungeon map, for example, would have been a great use for the bottom screen; instead, it overlays the top screen like it would have on the PS Vita.  On the other hand, the music is really decent, with some very catchy tunes.  Even the ones with the dorky lyrics can be a fun listen.

    Conception 2: Children of the Seven Stars is a really quirky game with a bit too much over the top sexuality to recommend to even our most adventurous readers. There is a good visual novel combined with a decent (but not great) dungeon crawler that makes a very long and somewhat entertaining package.  Being the completionist that I am, I clocked in over 150 hours.  Most people could easily beat it in half of that – but again, should you?  I would say that the primary target audience, men, probably should not.  With softcore porn-like imagery, and sexual humor, it's probably best to pass.  

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition
    Developed by: From Software
    Published by: From Software & Namco Bandai Games
    Released: September 22, 2011
    ESRB Rating: M
    Available On: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
    Genre: Action-RPG, Adventure
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $43.99 new ($29.99 for PC), $40.00 used

    Prepare to die. Has an interesting ring to it, huh? A game that teaches you the old school way, Dark Souls is not for the weak of heart, and provides a challenge for even the most hardened veterans of gaming. This game is a true testament to how video games were in the days of the NES and the SNES: hard, frustrating and rewarding. However, the title does allude to some less than brilliant themes, but more on that later. 

    The story behind Dark Souls is one that that seems rather simple at first, but is actually completely determined by the player’s understanding of it. Here is the long and short of it: In the beginning there was nothing but darkness, and in this darkness ruled the dragons, who were immortal. Soon fire was born, and humanity seized it and with its power they slaughtered the dragons and began the Age of Fire. Humanity prospered like never before, although this was not to last. After a while a dark circle began to appear upon people. This was named the Darksign. Humans with this ‘sign’ emblazoned upon themselves would be gifted with a form of immortality. They would be able to die, but would be reborn next to a bonfire, their resting places, after they had died. Instead of this immortality being a blessing however, this instead became a curse. When a human dies and is reborn, they become undead, lose their humanity and become crazed.

    Your character, which you get to make yourself by way of character creation, is the chosen undead. The chosen undead has been prophesied as the one who will go forth to ring the two bells of Lordran. For the most part the story is simple: battle your way through many different and varied locations fighting towards the end goal of either saving humanity, or condemning it. Given the context of the story, it is hard to figure out what you’re doing is right or wrong, as the game has 2 endings. Both of these are completely determined by the player’s view of which one is right or wrong.

    The gameplay is what really sets Dark Souls out from the rest of the crowd. While most action-RPGs have the tendency of swinging your sword and rolling haphazardly out of the way of attacks, Dark Souls punishes you for making even the slightest of mistakes. Even the most basic of enemies can kill your character relatively easily, so it’s up to the player to memorize how an enemy attacks and wait patiently to counter attack. When you start the game, you get to choose between 10 different classes. You have the beefy Knight, built to weather strikes, the strong Bandit, designed to send your foes flying and others. The best part about the class system however, is that these class only dictate your starting gear and level. They do not tell you where you need to spend your skill points. That is up to your playstyle. Don't like swinging that sword? Put a few points into intelligence and your warrior can now cast spells. Swords, axes, maces, lances, magic, and even whips are at the characters disposal. The game’s difficulty is super high, and while this might turn off a lot of players, the game system is balanced incredibly well considering the amount of weapons, armour, and spells that line the game’s huge inventory. When you do die, it feels like less of the game’s fault and more your fault for not being able to beat a certain enemy.

    And they told me it wouldn’t hurt me… Liars
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging gameplay focused on learning enemy’s attacks and slowly progressing. Great replayability.
    Weak Points: Has a high learning curve. Not a “casual” game.
    Moral Warnings: There is a lot of spell casting in the game. Also there is a lot of violence and some enemies are made to look demonic.

    Tip on how to stay alive? Look before you leap. The terrain serves as a big part of the game’s difficulty with invisible walkways, lakes with drops into the abyss and even crystal caverns. Enemies are carefully placed through each area so that you will not be safe until you have cleared out an area. Enemies with bows will snipe you from afar while their sword wielding counterparts will rush you head on. This may sound hard, but if you know the landscape, you can run past some enemies to kill the weaker ones. Once you've taken out the small ones you can turn around and defend yourself from the other, larger enemies. If you take the game slowly and strategically, it becomes much easier to succeed. The game difficulty is in how you play. Slow and steady definitely wins this race. 

    All of this is all fine and dandy until you die however, which you will be doing a lot of (the sub-title of ‘Prepare to Die’ isn’t just for show). When you die you lose all your souls (the currency of the game) and have to restart at the last bonfire you rested at. Did I mention that the game doesn’t have a pause function? Yeah, don’t expect any favours from this game. You play by its rules or not at all. At least you can go pick up your gear from where you died.

    The online play in Dark Souls is unique in two ways. The first way is that players can ‘summon’ other people to help them with boss fights. The second way is less satisfactory and is where the online play becomes a double edged sword. When playing the game you are either in human or undead form. In undead form you cannot summon other players or call for help whereas a human can. Being in human form, on the other hand, means you can be invaded. Being invaded means that another player is entering into your world with the intent to kill you to steal your souls. If you are invaded you cannot enter a boss fight until you have killed the invader or he has killed you. If you defeat your invader you gain a set amount of souls based on your invaders level. However, should you die to your invader, you will be turned into an undead and you will, again, lose your souls.  Do not fear though! Every person that can invade your world will be similar to you in levels. The only difference between you and your attacker is that they might have played this game a lot while this might be your first time. Because of the skill difference between hard-core invaders and regular players, many players choose to play this game without connecting to the internet simply because they find it hard to deal with the other online players.

    When you finally do finish Dark Souls, what do you do? Well, you run the entire game again, but this time with enemies having more health and doing more damage thanks to the game’s New Game + feature. And what should happen when you finish New Game +? You get New Game ++ of course! Where the enemies are given even more health and damage. Around New Game 7+ the difficulty no longer increases, but it will take you a while before you get to it. Also, with the release of the Prepare to Die DLC, you can now explore a new area filled with new bosses, enemies and more beautiful scenery than you can shake a stick at.  Although you will never truly be finished with Dark Souls, if you are a person who enjoys replayability in their games, this should suit you down to the bone.

    Yes ladies and gents: This is in-game graphics
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 64%
    Violence - 4.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    The graphics of Dark Souls may not be the greatest but they are far from average. Each area is crafted down to each individual bush and has amazing set pieces for each area. Every area that you can see you can travel to, or at least that’s what the game tells you. After a very short loading time (5 seconds on PS3 and almost immediately on a high powered PC) you are thrust into the land of Lordran, the world in which Dark Souls takes place. From this point, until you die or exit the game, there will be no more loading screens. Considering the quality of the enemies and places you visit, this is no small feat. There are a few times when the game will lag from the amount of things that will be on screen but thankfully this doesn’t happen often. For the PC players, you can download mods that will increase the graphical quality of the game, as well as fix the controls.

    The music of Dark Souls is fitting and is orchestral. Everything sounds how you would expect. Tense and dark for normal areas and fast and furious for bosses. The game does suffer from a few glitches, moreso on the PC port but overall is really good, suffering nothing game-breaking. And finally the controls are good although using a controller is much, much easier than using the keyboard and mouse.

    There are a few things that sets Dark Souls back in its morality. The first and most obvious is that there is a lot of violence in Dark souls. There isn’t much gore but there is a little blood. Also the game’s currency is the souls of others which are obtained by killing any enemy in the game and even some friendly units. The game has many references to witches, demons, and undead and are commonplace within the gameplay elements. The game also forces the player to think only for themselves and put everyone else second. However, the game’s overarching theme behind violence is that you are only fighting to defend and protect yourself from enemies, while you adventure through Lordran. Also when you start the game you have the option to play as a class called the deprived. The deprived class starts out with no armour and has only a loincloth covering their dignity. However this only lasts until you decide to put on armour so it only exists to show the player that they are not wearing any armour.

    At the end of the day Dark Souls is a hard but rewarding game that has some issues morally, but is enjoyable if you are willing to look past this. There are witches and undead, demons and spells, but the real meat of the game is in its gameplay. The rewarding play style coupled with the huge scale of the areas, amazing replay value, and optional side quests to keep you going for weeks, maybe even months on end, definitely make this worth a buy gameplay wise.

    ~Ben

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Dead Age
    Developer: Silent Dreams
    Published by: HeadUp Games
    Release Date: July 14, 2016
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: RPG, Strategy
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: unrated
    Price: $15.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Zombies! Everyone likes to do the zombie; at least the video game industry does. Zombies are one of those things that can make you look at a game and go "ehhh I've probably played millions of games like this already." However, even if zombies are the boring vanilla swirl, the common and cheap white paint of the gaming industry, that doesn't mean you should turn away! Dead Age is one of those games that still has good value despite the common base of the genre. While not a perfect game by any means, it does enough to go beyond the sea of average zombie titles. This is Dead Age.
     
    Dead Age starts you off as a protagonist you get to name and it throws you into the zombie apocalypse. When you begin, you only have access to the student class, yet you can unlock other classes later.  Your sister gets killed and after a brief tutorial you're taken to a safe haven to survive the apocalypse. Your job is to keep the camp safe and gather various supplies. As you build your team of survivors, you can assign them to different jobs to craft new items, keep yourself safe from raiders and hunt for food. As the days go on, survivors may give you quests and new quests will appear at random. When you go to travel to search for various forms of loot, you pick locations in the day or night and you try to survive as many areas as you can. Some areas may give you waves of enemies to face or may reward you with new survivors or special missions. The battles are turned based, similar to classic JRPGs. By leveling up various stats you learn new attacks and gain higher damage. Instead of the usual stats, such as strength and agility, you have to focus on the different weapons or medical and engineering skills. You'll also have to choose between combat stats and stats that help with the specific camp jobs. If your main character dies you'll start over from day one. However for every challenge you succeed in game, you'll earn medals which you can use to upgrade different abilities and unlock the other starting classes.
     

    Dead Age
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: The gameplay is nearly flawless, it has an addicting feel to it yet you can walk away and pick it up and anytime. The challenge is constant without it being unfair.
    Weak Points: The story's potential is wasted, all the story beats seem to be pulled from the wheel of zombie survival tropes. Visuals and music are nothing to write home about.
    Moral Warnings: Despite being an average story, the characters have no moral backbone and you do have some brutality in a world filled with zombies.

    So the big pull of Dead Age is the rather addictive gameplay. The story wasn't anything special at all, yet it was fun to use your imagination to fill in the blanks. The game sports multiple endings too, so keep that in mind when you beat the game the first time. With everything being turn based, the challenge will come from knowing when to continue in any given area on a day and when to give up. Party and time management are key here. The turn based combat is fun and will make people reminisce about the old RPG days in a good way. With those upgrades you can get after dying, they do give a noticeable boost yet the game doesn't seem extremely easy with my upgrades. Understand that these upgrades carry over into other play sessions after you lose. The challenge is always there without bending you over and hitting you on the head.
     
    While the story's blandness doesn't affect the enjoyment of the game, the dry story still isn't something to look over. Everyone is a stereotypical zombie survival character trope. You'll have drunk soldiers, country hunters, as well as wild and crazy women. The characters were so cut and paste I almost expected to meet a hardcore quirky warrior with an odd weapon like a samurai sword. If you're not the kind of gamer who can get enjoyment out of turn based combat with good strategy and time management you will not enjoy this game. Sure you can name your character, but unless you think up your own story as you play, you won't feel connected to it at all.

    Dead Age
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    Other than the challenge and achievements the game doesn't offer much else. The graphics are around early PlayStation quality so nothing is going to really draw your eyes to it as far as art direction. The music is simple loops and has nothing creative about it. The backgrounds in each stage are boring and just thrown together to have a place to battle. Don't expect any location in the game to be the least bit memorable via visuals. If this game didn't blend its gameplay well enough to give that room for imagination as you play, I'd have probably found it a lot more boring than I did even with the challenges within the game.
     
    Despite the characters being predictable survival story tropes, those tropes still have plenty of morality issues. None of the characters have a strong moral backbone and will gladly screw you over for survival first unless you provide for them and keep them happy. You'll get the common curse word here and there in the characters speech as well. While the graphics are low quality, you'll still have blood splatter effects and the sight of rotting flesh on most enemies.
     
    Dead Age is truly a game built for the gamer all about numbers and strategies. While the game's world has a metric ton of wasted potential this doesn't mean you should pass this game over. If you want to see how long you'll last at the end of the world, give Dead Age a try.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Death's Gambit
    Developed By: White Rabbit
    Published By: Adult Swim Games
    Release Date: August 13, 2018
    Available On: Windows, PS4
    Genre: Action-Adventure, Role Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: T for Blood and Gore, Use of Alcohol, Violence
    MSRP: $19.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Adult Swim Games for sending us this game to review!

    Death's Gambit is a 2D side-scrolling action RPG (Role Playing Game) designed for those seeking a challenge. At first, it seemed like this would fall into the 'Metroidvania' style, where you collect upgrades and explore new areas as new skills allow you to do so. While there can be a fair amount of backtracking if you want to, it turns out that while you do find new weapons, and can upgrade existing ones if you wish, by and large the game is not linear in this way. It's actually remarkably open ended, which is really cool in its own way.

    You see, despite strong expectations to the contrary, you never do end up getting that double jump upgrade that seems like it just has to be around the corner. Instead, you have to explore, defeat bad guys, and explore some more to figure out how to get to that hard-to-reach secret. (There are a small number I never did figure out how to reach.) Once you get to a certain point, you can choose to explore fairly freely - and if you buy a specific emblem and use it before you're powerful enough, you can go and die as much as you like. Some areas are locked behind other bosses, but most are there ready for you to explore as much as you like.

    When you start, you first get to choose from one of seven classes, each which specializes in something slightly different. I was a Blood Knight in my playthrough, as having opportunities to heal damage through aggressive play suited me just fine. I tend to wail on enemies when given the chance, anyway. That's not always the best way to go, as death can come swift, and often. Thankfully, through your contract with Death, you can die as many times as you like.

    In the beginning of the game, you find yourself on the brink of death after your unit of soldiers dies on an expedition sent to find the source of immortality at Siradon. Death offers you the chance to live again as an immortal yourself as long as you work to stop the other immortals living there. Once you agree, you begin to search and explore, while taking advantage of being raised again and again to the last Death statue that you rested at. Chances are, unless your skills strongly surpass mine, you will likely need it again and again.

    Death's Gambit
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Well designed, interesting gameplay; great music; nice weapon variety; combat feels great; interesting pixel art, with really nice animations; very challenging at times
    Weak Points: Text display is really unclear if you don't have a 1080p screen; a few minor bugs; very challenging at times
    Moral Warnings: Game is extremely dark and brooding, with lots of blood, gore, and undead and other mystical creatures; magic is used by enemies and the player; a hexagram is shown for an enemy attack; alcohol use is shown in a few places, and you can choose to imbibe yourself; violence, as you kill (and kill again) lots of creatures; the word 'h*ll' is used

    In order to have a chance against these powerful foes, you'll need a weapon. There are ten main types of weapons, each driven by a primary damage stat. Longswords, Greatswords, Greathammers, Halberds, and Axes are Strength-driven weapons. This means their damage scales with a higher Strength. Daggers, Scythes, Spears, and Bows are Finesse-driven weapons. Tomes, and the special Spell Blade, are driven by the Intelligence stat. Every weapon has a minimum required stat for use, a damage rating, and a unique moveset. Strength weapons tend to do the most damage per hit, Finesse ones tend to be fast or have range, and Intelligence ones are magical. I played almost entirely with Strength weapons in my playthrough.

    Besides weapons, you also have weapon abilities, which are skills you can activate if you have the right weapon equipped, and a shield. Abilities cost Soul Energy to use, which you can gain through attacking enemies; if not used, it naturally drains while just standing there or moving around. Shields are critical to learn, as you can't always dodge every attack. Instead, you can absorb the blow without taking damage, though each type of shield does have a limited number and strength of attacks it can take before it breaks. Breaking is not permanent; it just staggers you and leaves you vulnerable for a moment. Once you're back to normal you can use the shield again.

    Attacking, blocking, dodging, and most other moves cost stamina. This is a critical resource, as once you run out, you have the honor of just standing there or moving – but no attacks for you. Along with Strength/Finesse/Intelligence, which relate to damage dealing, there are other stats as well. These relate to total health (Vitality), total stamina (Endurance), and regeneration rate (Haste). These three are just as important as the others, though I ended up putting the most points into my damage-dealing stat (Strength, in my case) as it has the biggest impact in boss-beating by far. You can't increase Soul Energy through increasing stats.

    I found that more often than not, doing the most damage as quickly as possible was the most effective way to get through bosses. This is probably heavily influenced by my playstyle and character class; I'm sure that if I spent the time to actually get skilled at this game, rather than plow through it brute force, I may have found other methods more effective. As it was, I ended up maxing out my character's level before completing the game; it was surprisingly quick to do so, and I always felt like the constant growth kept the game interesting.

    Most weapons actually only have one version of them, with a few notable exceptions. There is only one axe, for example. Rather than being stuck with the starter weapon the whole game, you can enhance your weapons through the use of Soul Stones, and eventually Immortalite. These items are relatively rare; I was not able to max out any weapons in my first playthrough, though to be fair, I did waste some on non-endgame items. You can get some back by disenchanting loot, but I still didn't get quite enough in a normal playthrough.

    Death's Gambit
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 72%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    Enemies vary in strength and power quite a bit, but even the weakest enemies can kill you if you are not paying attention. A simple archer, which takes just a few hits to kill early on, remain a significant threat near the end of the game. There are a few places where they gang up on you, and if you don't eliminate them quickly, they can kill even my endgame character if I'm lazy (and let's face it, endgame characters usually have the luxury of being lazy). Bosses can be quite challenging; I did at least one out of the recommended order, and it took me close to fifty deaths to finally beat it. But the levels I gained sure made the other bosses easier!

    Graphically, this game is good, but not great. The pixel art is good, and some of the bosses and enemies look great. The animations are also excellent. What really bothered me was that if you don't use a 1080p screen, some of the art, but especially the text, is scaled in the worst way possible. Have you ever seen a really lazy nearest-neighbor scaling algorithm try to increase the resolution on a fractional resize? Well that's exactly what's happening here, and it's hideous. I use a 1440p screen most of the time, and it's bad enough, though I was able to read everything. Scaling down to 720p, which I needed for my GPD Win 2, and it was barely readable at all. The game was perfectly playable and looked great otherwise.

    The sound effects do their job, but the music is really nice. I wouldn't say the music is the kind that is likely to get stuck in your head, but it is very nice to listen to while playing, and certainly adds to the mood to improve the experience. The voice acting is really well done. The language is mostly clean, though there are mentions of 'h*ll'.

    There is a lot of violence; while there is of course the typical animated violence when attacking other creatures, there are also many moments of blood and dark, brooding environments. There are areas where there are pools of blood everywhere, and skeleton parts, severed body parts, and so on. You serve Death, who is a creature composed of bones, and carries a scythe. The art around the characters is really great, but quite dark. Enemies are all over the map, but several are magical in nature, and you can use spells as well. One enemy's attacks form a hexagram. A small number of creatures imbibe alcohol, and you are given a mug full of it to drink yourself if you choose to.

    Death's Gambit is a fairly enjoyable 2D side-scrolling action RPG. It was both what I expected (many compared it to a Dark Souls-like experience) and something a bit different (it avoided an expected Metroidvania trope). The art, animations, music, and combat are all very well done. I hope they fix the resolution issue, and, while I did occasionally experience a small number of bugs, it was nothing earth-shattering. If the genre, style, and especially content don't bother you, then I would recommend you to look closely at this title; I enjoyed it enough that I wouldn't mind attempting a New Game+ run if time allows.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga
    Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
    Developer: Larian Studios
    Released: November 5, 2010
    ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood; Suggestive Themes; Violence
    Available on: Xbox 360; PC (version reviewed)
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    MSRP: $40 (Amazon affiliate link)

    Thank you to Larian Studios for sending us a copy to review!

    Sequel to the cult hit, Divine Divinity – Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga steps away from its isometric predecessor to offer a different kind of game. Now with the focus on third-person action, Larian Studios set out to correct some of the mistakes with Divinity 2\'s original release, Ego Draconis. With an updated engine, retooled gameplay, and inclusion of the Flames of Vengeance expansion, Divinity 2 sets the bar high. Let\'s see if this RPG is worth the gold.

    Divinity 2\'s yarn revolves around the exploits of a Dragon Knight, a new recruit into an order of like-minded folks who have glowing eyes and special combat training. Not only are you a superstar to lowly villagers, but you\'re also targeted early on by the main villain, Damien. Damien, who threatens to kill you at every chance that he gets, fills the archetypical role of the bad guy, both by spouting bits of monologue and looking grumpy.  The story itself takes around 30 hours to finish, depending on how many side-objectives you feel like accomplishing. Divinity 2’s story wrapped up in an abrupt fashion, which felt both disappointing and undercooked; the expansion – Flames of Vengeance – alleviates this to some extent, by continuing where the main game left off. Or, you can play the expansion straight from the menu with a new higher-level character. Either way, the extra few hours are worth it.

    Along your journey in Rivellon, you\'ll accept quests from townsfolks, bandits, ghosts, and even inanimate objects. Quests range from fetching an item such as a journal, to clearing out an enemy camp, or even sneaking a group of pigs back to their rightful owner. The quests found here have several outcomes depending on which path you choose. Should you slay some guards so the pigs can escape, or leave the pigs where they are to the dismay of their owner? The actions you choose may not evolve on the level of say, the Mass Effect series, but they do have a wide amount of effects that you can see relatively quickly.

    Quests are not all cut and dry, however, with many leading you into dungeons packed with enemies. The large number of dungeons, caves, and tombs you visit also have the occasional hidden passage or concealed switch. Finding these may lead to chests full of bounty, or in more than one situation, lock you in with enemies. With so many enemies standing in your way, you\'ll need something to fight them off with.

     

    When considering how to go about combat, you\'ll have a few options to choose from. One way is with melee combat by utilizing axes, hammers, and swords. Dual-wielding, two-handed weapons, and shields are available as well. For the spell caster classes, you can go barehanded or choose to rely on your backup sword when the mana runs dry. There\'s bows for the ranger class, though I found this to be the least thrilling. Every swing of the sword or arrow shot requires a simple click of the mouse. While this is fine for the warriors, it makes being a ranger pretty underwhelming due to the lack of mobility. Being forced to stand in one spot to fire off arrows doesn\'t work as well as I hoped when it comes to this combat system. Assigning items and skills to your number keys without needing to fumble around in the inventory screen for a potion is here as well.

    By completing quests and slaying enemies, you\'ll be rewarded with experience points. After a set amount of points, you\'ll level up. Each level grants you stat points, which go towards increasing the character\'s focus. There are several different stats and passive percentages that alter how a character will perform, so pumping strength for your warrior, or intelligence and spirit for your mage would be the right course of action. Skill points will also be awarded after each level up. These range from passive abilities such as damage increase with certain weapons and mana efficiency when casting spells, to active roles like heals, summons, and fireballs. While I would\'ve liked to see a more diverse array of skills, the ones here, while rather simplistic, get the job done.

    About a third way into the main game\'s story, the option of having your own headquarters is made available. This headquarters, or “Battle Tower” as it\'s called in-game, houses multiple NPCs who make the journey less stressful, and add a bit of depth to what would be a rather standard RPG. A necromancer handles mixing and matching of your pet, a summon who can be called into battle to fight along side you. Limbs you find during the game as loot or from quests alter the pet\'s stats and abilities depending on what parts you choose. An enchanter allows you to customize gear by removing bonuses from weaker pieces and slotting them into your better armor and weapons.

    An alchemist allows for the crafting of potions, and the skill trainer offers skill redistribution for a price. Some of these processes require ingredients. In a smart move by the developers, you\'ll have three runners: NPCs who automatically fetch these items after a set duration. By paying for better weapons and armor from the NPCs mentioned above, the runners will have higher rates of success in finding that special item you require. The whole Battle Tower concept is pretty neat, not only because it makes tedious tasks easier, but because it adds a sense of accomplishment and of influence that a great hero would normally have.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points:Solid dialogue and plenty of written lore; exceptional voice acting; graphic engine runs smooth and offers pleasant environments; subtle humor throughout

    Weak
    Points: Uneven difficulty; crude and dated menus; not very newbie friendly; uses SecuROM

    Moral Warnings:
    Sword and sorcery abound in combat; blood is seen in environments and with melee attacks; occult themes like mind-reading, communication with ghosts, and necromancy are present, as are pentagrams; innuendo in some dialogue

    Not long after the Battle Tower, the ability to transform into a dragon will open up. This is one of the better aspects of Divinity 2 alone. Though it is simplistic to an extent, there\'s plenty of cool factor because, well, you\'re a dragon. While the dragon can be customized to some degree, it\'s largely hands-off, except for the occasional dragon armor piece here or there. The arcade action as the dragon gets tiresome as the game progresses, however.

    As neat as all of this sounds, one huge drawback when playing Divinity 2 was the difficulty level. I played on normal difficulty for a large portion of my experience, but I eventually had to bump down to casual from the sheer frustration that the game can throw at a player. Early on as a warrior, enemies could take me down in only a handful of hits, and with poor weapons, I had to trick the AI by hiding behind obstacles so I can slowly regenerate my health. Only a few hours later, with my character around level 12, the game\'s challenge seemed to nose-dive, offering up weak enemies that were dispatched in one to two hits. It\'s a weird aspect of the game that comes off as bipolar. One moment you\'re chugging all the potions you have just to stay alive and the next you\'re enjoying a cakewalk through a dungeon.

    The fantastical nature of the world crafted by Larian brings with it the content that readers may find inappropriate. Generic bandits, goblins, and skeletons show up throughout the gameplay experience. Along with them are various demons, summoned beasts, dragons, ghosts, and the undead.

    Spells can and will be used by the player, whether for combat or during scripted sequences. The priest class can summon allies to aid in battle, and mages employ different types of explosive spells; enemies, too, can use the same skills and tools in battle. Combat is largely tame, even though violence is shown through the use of bows, bladed weapons, or fire magic. Blood is seen in combat, but nothing over the top.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay 16/20
    Graphics 7/10
    Sound 9/10
    Stability 5/5
    Controls/Interface 4/5

    Morality Score - 46%
    Violence 3.5/10
    Language 6/10
    Sexual Content/Nudity 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10

    Dark and decrepit environments like crypts, tombs, dungeons and caves make up the majority of where you\'ll be fighting. One dungeon had an experimentation room with bloodied corpses on tables and sharp tools nearby; another had corpses that were hanged. Some rooms are littered with the bodies of dead adventurers or with skeletal remains. A villain is pieced together with various body parts for the main purpose of serving a powerful necromancer. The pentagram symbol is visible for some spells and in books that require interaction to progress through the story. Spell invocation, mind reading, communication with ghosts for quests, and using a blood altar are present, too.

    One quest ends with an adulterous relationship between two characters, and some minor dialogue with townspeople is laden with subtle innuendo. Cleavage is present with many female characters, and some are fairly buxom or wear tight-fitting armor. I haven\'t seen anything in the way of nudity or sexual contact compared to other western RPGs on the market. Swearing is low-key: a few “b-stards” and “d-mns” are sprinkled in the dialogue, but again, nothing out of hand.

    With all that said, the fantasy elements that envelop the story are fairly dark through and through; the majority of these cannot be avoided. Please be aware of that if the themes above are not something you want to experience when purchasing a game of this type.

    Sound is one of the best aspects of Divinity 2. Character dialogue is mostly well-acted with varying degrees of accents, emotion, and a good amount of humor. I\'ve yet to run into a character that wasn\'t voiced. Even your own character\'s actions have narration, which helps to guide you in the right direction. It was quite refreshing to come from the handheld text-based RPGs I recently played to a game where everything is voiced; it sure added a lot more character to an already interesting array of characters. Several of the musical pieces that accompany new locations are crafted nicely and fit the area\'s theme, but they can be hit or miss. I did hear a few lackluster ones that either sounded out of place or were a tad convoluted to the point of muting the music until I reached a new location.

    Divinity 2 is built on the Gamebryo engine, which you may of seen in Oblivion or Fallout 3. Here though, the faces aren\'t smudged or, well, downright ugly. Much of the game is easy on the eyes and ears. Excluding enemies, character models are detailed and are different enough so villages aren\'t filled with clones. The graphics of the game can be quite lush, and offer plenty of open vistas to take in; one can easily find panoramic moments, whether it\'s standing on a waterfall, overlooking a cave filled with lava, or when traveling in forests. The third-person camera may have some issues in tight corridors or in flight, but it\'s largely fine.

    Dungeons are jam-packed with detail and appear like others have visited the location before. Aged, ruined, or forgotten, these environments feel alive despite housing all matters of beast. There\'s plenty of nice touches along the journey in environments you visit, whether it\'s a cave\'s natural blue crystal giving off a faint glow or a jail cell holding shackles, a journal, and skeletal remains.

    One big issue I had with the game\'s graphics was that they were locked at 30 frames per second (FPS). While fine on a console, this made the entire game an eyesore to play, due the choppy nature of rendering and how clunky the combat seemed. I saw that a recent hot fix allowed the game to go higher than 30 FPS. After applying the right settings, it improved the gaming experience greatly by allowing a much more fluid feel, in both combat and exploration. The video I posted with this review has the game configuration at a steady 60 FPS, so if you pick up the PC version, be sure to unlock the game from 30 FPS before starting the story.

    When it comes down to it, Divinity 2 is a well-crafted game that doesn\'t exactly transcend the genre. Plenty of heart went into the game and it\'s easy to see that. From the well-written dialogue to the large amount of quests to the nice dose of humor, there\'s plenty to enjoy. The game was, frankly, grating the first three hours or so I played. As time went on, though, I eventually warmed up to it. The world becomes less confined the longer you play, and it feels more expansive by the time you hit places like Sentinel Island and Orobas Fjords, around the eight to ten hour mark.

    For hardcore RPG fans yearning for some adventure, this game has it in spades. You\'ll easily sink dozens of hours into this game if you choose to work at it. At $40, it\'s a reasonable deal, especially with the improvements to the core game and the included expansion.

    More casual gamers, however, may want to look at other options instead. The slower story progression, difficulty of the game, and lack of hand-holding make this a hard sell to those not used to such staples of the genre.

    -- Jonathan "Keero" Harling

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Divinity: Original Sin 2
    Developed by: Larian Studios
    Published by: Larian Studios
    Release date: September 14, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Up to four players online or locally
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $44.99

    Thank you Larian Studios for sending us this game to review!

    I previously reviewed and was impressed with Divinity: Original Sin – Enhanced Edition on the PS4. It’s no surprise that Divinity: Original Sin 2 was successfully Kickstarted and met all of its stretch goals bringing the final pledges to over two million dollars. There is much to be praised in this game with the high quality audio and visuals, but like the first game, there are many moral issues to note as well. Since this game has not been released on consoles yet, it does not have an ESRB rating. I imagine that it will receive a mature rating like its predecessor. If you haven't played the previous title, you may miss some references, but the story in this one is independent from the prequel.

    When creating your character you can choose an origin character with a backstory, or customize your character from the ground up. I went with the origin character Lohse, who is a female bard that is demon possessed. With all of the females hitting on my character early on in the game, I figured that her sexuality was predefined as well. Thankfully, I was able to pursue romance with males and even one of my mysterious party members. Having the narrator describe sexual encounters in detail was interesting, but thankfully, nothing was shown other than my character being in her bra and underwear afterwards. Her “getting lucky” carried over a lucky status that temporarily boosted her luck attribute.

    The voices in this game are phenomenal and every line from NPCs and main characters alike is fully voice acted by top-notch actors. The world is beautiful as well and you’ll get to explore numerous islands and the great beyond. There are several gods in this game and you can pay homage at their shrines and use them to teleport to different areas quickly. Because of your character’s magic abilities, they are referred to as a godwoken.

    Divinity: Original Sin 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay and lots to explore; challenging battles; high quality and fully voiced acted; gorgeous visuals
    Weak Points: Experienced some crashes to desktop; not available on consoles (yet)
    Moral Warnings: Intense violence with blood and gore shown; magic use; pentacles seen on many spell books and underneath the spellcaster; zombies and other creatures summoned by necromancers; language (b*stard, d*mn, sh*t); prejudice; drinking and drunkenness; sexual encounters can happen with any gender and different species

    In the beginning of the game, you’ll have a couple of strikes against you. A collar preventing source/magic is around your neck and if/when it gets removed, you’ll initiate a battle between any magisters who see you collarless. Magisters are not the only ones after you; voidwokens will attack your party as you explore the various islands.

    Up to four members can be in your party at any given time. You can split your party up and the teleport pyramids make a welcome comeback in this game. Playing alongside real people is also possible with the local co-op and online matching making. Secondary players will need to use controllers, but I still prefer keyboard and mouse.

    The battles are turn-based and are not easy. You’ll have to use your environment wisely. When attacking your enemy, blood will spill and you can use it to conduct electricity with a shock attack. There are many schools of magic including elemental and necromancy types. You can summon a swarm of mosquitoes to attack your foes or hack at them with enchanted weapons. Characters are not limited to RPG stereotypes and you can customize them as you see fit. Sure, some weapons, spells, and armor have requirements that need to be met before equipping them, but you can allocate the needed points as you level up.

    If you increase your persuasion, you may be able to sweet talk your way out of some tricky situations. Automatically reflecting damage back to the enemies is nice too. There are so many great skills available and you can fully customize your party members to get all your bases and/or elemental attacks covered.

    Divinity: Original Sin 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 20/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 24%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 2.5/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    The inventory is shared among the party, but objects are usually carried by the person who picks it up. Some items you’ll want to have on hand include resurrection scrolls, healing potions, a magnifying glass for identifying items, a shovel for digging up treasure, and a repair hammer for fixing equipment.

    There is plenty to do in this game and the islands you visit are pretty sizable. Lots of side quests are available to keep you busy. Besides the main story, you can attempt to become the champion at different underground fighting arenas. By becoming a champion and completing this game on various difficulty levels, you’ll earn Steam achievements. There are ninety-seven Steam achievements available and close to a hundred hours of playtime for a single run through the game.

    While there is much to like, there is also much to be wary of from a moral standpoint. Like the first game, there is a lot of unavoidable magic. Pentacles are seen on some spell books and the floor below the spell caster. There’s quite a bit of language too so you won’t want to play this game around children within earshot. I already touched on the blood and sexual content earlier in this review.

    If the moral issues bothered you in the previous game then you’ll want to steer clear of this one as well. However, if you enjoyed the first Divinity: Original Sin, then you’ll definitely want to add this one to your library. The game is reasonably priced and provides a lot of bang for the buck. I did experience a crash or two but thankfully the game auto saves often so not much progress was lost. Hopefully, console gamers will get to enjoy Divinity: Original Sin 2 someday soon.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Developed by: BioWare
    Published by: Electronic Arts
    Release Date: November 18, 2014
    Available on: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC
    Genre: Action role-playing
    Number of Players: Single-player, multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Mature
    Price: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Dragon Age: Inquisition is the third entry into BioWare's highly regarded original fantasy role-playing world and it was met with high expectations.  The anticipation speaks to the pedigree of the series, for BioWare has few peers in the genre, much of it was fueled by curiosity as to whether Dragon Age would recover from the disappointment many felt with Dragon Age 2.  In many ways it is a rousing success, but I can't help but feel there was a cost.

    BioWare admitted it felt it needed to respond to Bethesda's smashing success The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but I have to wonder why.  And why now?  Skyrim didn't do anything substantially different than Morrowind or Oblivion and when those games were getting press BioWare was getting press at the same time doing its own thing.  They seemed, to me, content to let Bethesda play in the open world sandbox while they focused on admittedly smaller worlds with richer experiences.

    “Emotionally engaging” was the phrase BioWare used often and it wasn't something Bethesda could really respond to.  No matter how much fun Skyrim was, no one was calling it an emotionally engaging experience. It was not the kind of game that made you care at all about the NPCs you interacted with or the greater conflicts that gave context to your actions.  This was BioWare's bread and butter; if they couldn't make you care, they failed.

    For the most part I just didn't care about what was happening to Thedas or the threat the surprisingly one-dimensional baddie posed to the realm.

    Before I dive further into what I felt BioWare sacrificed to compete in a race it never needed to, let me talk about what I did enjoy.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful environments, engaging companions, challenging combat
    Weak Points: Incompetent party AI, minor bugs and occasional crashes, flat villain and story
    Moral Warnings: Strong language, violence, nudity, occult references, alternative relationships

    The game is spread across the two neighboring countries of Orlais and Ferelden.  The latter is the setting of Dragon Age: Origins, and is recovering from the ravages of the Fifth Blight.  Orlais is a France-inspired land of decadence and intrigue.  We've never seen it before and those familiar with the lore will know it occupied Ferelden in the not too distant past.

    Rather than go open world and allow you to traverse the two lands unimpeded. BioWare sprinkled large open zones across them.  According to them, the first zone you enter, the Hinterlands, is larger than the whole of the first game and that's believable.  The variety of zones you can explore as the game unfolds is a welcomed change to the reused brown bleakness of Dragon Age 2.  Verdant forests, desert plateaus, rain-drenched bogs, open plains, it's all here to explore and it's quite addictive to do so.  When you first enter a zone, your quest map only shows a sea of black pinned with quest markers.  As you trek, the map opens up and you discover a wealth of time-sucking opportunities.

    I don't use the phrase flippantly.  Much of what you can do in these zones, any zone, is designed to be a time sink.  When adopting the open world style, BioWare found itself with the task of filling that space with things you could do, most of it having little impact on your main quest.

    There's herbs to collect, ore to mine, fetch quests to fill, and Fade rifts to close.

    So many Fade rifts to close.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 30%
    Violence - 3/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    For those of you who do not know, the Fade is the realm of dreams and spirits.  Also, according to Chantry doctrine (see: what might happen if the Christian church was established by Joan of Arc) it was host to the Maker's Golden City.  In short, heaven.  A long time ago, however, the city was entered by human mages using blood magic, turning it black.

    The villain of Dragon Age: Inquisition, Corypheus, is one of these mages, freed from imprisonment during the course of Dragon Age 2's DLC Legacy.  According to him, the city was already black when they arrived.  Believing there is no Maker, he now seeks to make himself a living god for humanity and enter into the Fade bodily once more.

    His actions have caused the veil between the world and the Fade to weaken, thus plaguing the lands with many, many Fade rifts that demons are using to enter Thedas.

    Remember in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion when Oblivion Gates started opening everywhere in Tamriel?  Yeah, basically the same thing only slightly less annoying to deal with because you don't have to invest nearly as much time in closing them.  So, thematically, they serve a purpose, but their larger purpose is to pad gameplay with busy work.

    Filler aside the environments are varied and beautiful.  Seriously.  They're a real treat and a promising look at what this console generation will deliver.

    Next, we move on to what you'll be spending most of your time doing other than filler quests: combat.  Intended to be more strategic than previous incarnations, Dragon Age: Inquisition finally allows console players a tactical view of the combat area that was only available to PC players.  On the fly, you can pause the combat, take an aerial view, and assign paths and actions to your party.  On casual and normal difficulties, you can forgo this mechanic for a more action-driven experience, in hard mode, it becomes a must, in part because of the sometimes flaky AI.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition

    I didn't spend too much time with the tactical view, but the number of times party members fell because of stupid AI decisions (rarely using a shield to block, never stepping out of the way of sustained breath weapon attacks from dragons...) made me long to master its intricacies.

    Gone are healing spells for mages, which took me a minute to deal with... emotionally.  However, I found that I rarely needed them in combat since my health, and my party's, was often regenerating in combat due to arcane wizardry on the part of my AI-controlled mage.  When emergencies arise, the party can share a pool of up to 12 healing potions and you can equip other potions to each companion manually.  Only healing potions are refilled automatically without a cost in camp, so you must choose wisely who gets any of the other potions, tonics, or grenades.

    As with previous games in the series, abilities are mapped to three face buttons and pressing the right shoulder button gives you access to three additional face button slots, making a total of six abilities at your disposal quickly.  I was playing a warrior and spread my accumulated points across four ability trees and found myself mining for passive abilities once the six slots were filled with go-to actions I didn't want to mess with.

    Were combat kept to a single protagonist, and not a party, I'd have little to grouse about but it's not and it all comes down to AI; it's frustratingly stupid sometimes.  Those 12 healing potions the party shares aren't for me.  Aside from when the environment occasionally conspired against me (it's swell when you're mopping up a hard fight only to have a few bears wander in), I didn't find myself having to use them nearly as often as the rest of the party.  Warrior abilities and magey stuff kept my health high most of the time.  Many was the time, though, when I'd see a party member's health take a dive and find them engaging in activities they'd no business entertaining.

    One might argue that the tactical view alleviates this problem, and they'd be right, but it misses the point as the action-driven playstyle is just as legitimate.

    Lastly there's the companions themselves.  By and large they're all pretty great with unique voices, viewpoints, and depth.  Perhaps the most one-note of the bunch was Varric, a carry-over from Dragon Age 2, but I can admit it may be my own bias.  I never cared much for him in that game and that sentiment didn't change here.  I took no small amount of glee during a particularly heated scene between Cassandra, my paramour, and him and siding with her as much as I could rationalize.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    I more or less ignored Vivienne, a loyalist Circle mage from Orlais because, pretty much, she was the last to join my party and I was already invested in Solas and Dorian, the other two mage companions. As the game went on, the colorful Dorian overtook dour Solas as my favored mage. As my time with the two of them progressed, Dorian proved more accessible and his relationship with his father is one I think Christians could learn a few things from.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition is more of a sequel to Dragon Age 2 than Dragon Age 2 is a sequel of Dragon Age: Origins. Dragon Age: Inquisition picks up a year after the beginning of the Mage-Templar War got kicked off in Dragon Age 2 and is heavily influenced by it. The game dramatically opens up with a peace conference between the two factions literally exploding. As part of the main quest in the game, you're forced to choose one of the two factions to back. Given that I thought mages needed to be watched, backing the Templars was a no-brainer. Like Marvel's X-Men, the game tries to treat being a mage like it's a civil rights issue, but the argument falls apart on close examination.

    Are there good mages who don't want to enthrall a village to their will, or invite demonic possession for quick power? Sure. There are also gun owners who don't want to rob a bank or shoot random strangers.

    One of these groups still has to get a background check.

    It's for these reasons I didn't find the mage angle convincing, though obvious Templar excesses are inexcusable, and why I was tired of mages by the time Vivienne hitched her wagon to the Inquisition's train.

    Since the game centers around mages and Templars so much, of course the Chantry and its teachings and politics takes front stage. In fact, as you progress the Inquisition may even throw its influence behind a new Divine, a heavy decision indeed. What's most noteworthy about all of this is the discussion BioWare tries to elicit about faith.  What could have been interesting came off to me, a man of faith, as very patronizing. It's hard to explain further without delving into real spoilers, but suffice to say the message I got was, "You're free to believe whatever you want, despite the evidence, so long as it make no demands upon those around you."

    The Gospel of Jesus the Chant of Light is not.

    Like all BioWare games, romancing a companion is an option and I've already mentioned who I chose. To BioWare's credit, they eschewed making most everyone bisexual (something I've complained about in the past), keeping it limited to only two: one companion and one adviser. Some characters aren't even interested in a romance, which is a nice change.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition

    BioWare took this game as an opportunity to really lay out their politics on the matters of sexuality and sexual relations.  To anyone familiar with the company and their left-leaning attitudes, it's no surprise.  Same-sex relationships in Thedas are common and barely worth batting an eye about.  In fact, there's even a codex treatise on the topic should you wish further reading.  Additionally, this is the first game from them that I'm aware of that features a transgendered NPC.  She's a member of Iron Bull's (one of your companions) retinue and while it seems the setting does take notice at that, Iron Bull does not because she's a good soldier.

    Which is something BioWare also chooses to plant their flag on: women serve equally side-by-side by men in battle.  While this is a topic of debate today, and only possible given technological and medical advancements made within the past 100 years or so, it's absurd to cast it as feasible so far into the past, even a fantastical past.  It's clearly there to make a political point while ignoring socioeconomic realities of the medieval age it purports to take place in, and the stark biological differences between the sexes.

    This is the worst sort of storytelling and it's all the more noteworthy because BioWare is better at its craft than this.  That said, however, they've embraced one of the key techniques of normalizing otherwise objectionable content in media: don't draw attention to it.  Don't draw attention to it, treat it as innocuous, and it will be absorbed a piece at a time organically.

    This is a lesson Christian media has yet to embrace, preferring to obtusely beat non-believers about the neck and face with a message.

    Finding Cassandra's warm center – BioWare has described her like being a “crusty baguette” - was a real joy. Her embarrassment when you uncover her more 'girly' predilections is delightful.  The height of the dance between the Inquisitor and her (and the only time nudity came up), however, was unceremoniously marred by a glitch that froze the cutscene for a minute or so.  The drama, the poignancy, was gone and I was reminded that I was playing a video game.

    This particular glitch reared its head a numbers of time during my play through, tossing a damp rag on what would have been story highlights.  There's nothing quite like thinking, for a moment, a scene paused for effect when in reality it was taking a smoke break.  Thankfully the bug got squashed with a 300MB patch that came out when I was about three-quarters of the way through my game.

    But it seemed to then introduce total game crashes, an issue I never experienced before the patch.  I suppose I should thank BioWare for the new feature.  After losing several hours worth of progress, I really took stock of what I was doing and realized that I'd gotten caught up in beautiful chores.  Nothing I'd done during that time progressed the plot, mattered to anyone I cared about, or would even open up an interesting bit of side-story.

    I wrapped up my time with Skyrim when I noticed I was approaching 100 hours of playtime and it felt like a good place to deal with Alduin because he'd been so patient about my shenanigans to this point.

    I wrapped up my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition when I realized nothing I did for the majority of the game mattered.  Astute readers may see a contradiction but the thing is I didn't expect to matter in Skyrim.

    I do in a BioWare game.

    And that's what I think BioWare sacrificed in trying to compete with Bethesda.  But I have to admit that my voice may be alone.  Already the game has garnered several Game of the Year awards from various publications.  I think that if this game were The Elder Scrolls VI I'd have to agree.  Bethesda would have done an admirable job at pushing a story and characters that matter, that we might care about, to the fore.  It would have represented a step forward for them.

    While Dragon Age: Inquisition is an improvement from Dragon Age 2, and not quite a step backwards, it feels like an unnecessary sidestep.  It picked up a gauntlet I'm not sure was ever thrown.

    I enjoyed my time with the game. I really did.  I cared about most of my companions, what they thought and felt. The combat, while sometimes frustrating because of deficient AI, is a lot of fun, and seeing Skyhold grow and change as the Inquisition becomes a force to reckon with is a nice reminder of what you mean to a world that really lacks such a reflection for most of what you're doing in the game.

    My time in Thedas is now over.  I don't think I'll be revisiting this incarnation of it anytime soon.  Dragon Age: Origins, my favorite BioWare game, calls to me again.  I might take it up.

    Of course now that Green Ronin Publishing finally got Set 3 of the Dragon Age paper-and-pencil RPG out I could always get a group together for that.  Let it never be said I am not a fanboy for the setting!

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen (NDS)
    Developed By: ArtePiazza
    Published By: Square Enix
    Release Date: September 2008
    Available on: Nintendo DS
    Genre: RPG
    Single Player with limited multiplayer capabilities
    ESRB Rating: E10
    Price: $30
    (Amazon affiliate link) 

    Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen is a remake of the 1992 NES version which was released in the US as Dragon Warrior IV. In 2001, Japan had a PlayStation version but it was never released in the US. The story is pretty much the same but the graphics are improved along with the addition of a new chapter, dungeon, and a boss.

    As the title suggests, this game is split into chapters. The first few chapters have you learning the back stories of random people who will unite with the hero and save the world from domination by monsters. The characters include various walks of life including a castle guard, an overweight merchant, a tomboy princess, and twin sisters who are avenging the death of their father. Each party member offers a different skill set including magic, healing, and sheer strength. One party member can tell fortunes and use tarot cards as a weapon.

    Highlights:

     

    Highlights: Fun game play with good character development  and side stories.

    Weaknesses: Multiplayer is limited to recruiting people to a town via wireless connection. That’s it.

    Moral Warnings: Violence, revenge, magic and tarot card use.

    Once you get to know all of the characters, they will all unite with the hero in chapter five and defeat Psaro the manslayer in his most powerful form. Once Psaro is defeated, the original game is over and you’ll see an ending sequence. If you load your newly saved game, you can defeat another evil boss. The ending is mostly the same but there are some differences.

    The hero is a byproduct of forbidden love. The main protagonist is called Hero, he\'s both half-human and half-Zenithian, an angelic race that lives in a sky castle. In order to get the help of the Zeninthian dragon, you have to gather all of the Zenithian equipment needed to ascend into the skies. Besides this undertaking there’s tons of side quests and dungeons to explore. There are legendary magical staffs and swords to be found and they are definitely worth looking into. There are mini-medals scattered around the world and you can redeem them for nice equipment on an island castle called Mikikin’s Dominion.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

     

    Game Score: 86%

    Game Play: 16/20

    Graphics: 9/10

    Sound: 8/10

    Stability: 5/5

    Controls/Interface: 5/5

     

     

    Moral Score:73%

    Violence:  2/10

     

    Language: 10/10

     

    Sexual Content: 10/10

     

    Occult Supernatural: 6/10

    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 8.5/10

     

     

    You can travel by foot, wagon, ship and eventually, by hot air balloon. The last three methods are available after completing quests. You don’t just get handed a wagon, boat or a hot air balloon. As you travel, time progresses and you’ll see unique monsters and get different NPC dialogues during the night.

    Dragon Quest IV  plays out like many other classic RPGs. The random battles are pretty straight forward, and you can control the actions of your main characters. There are some temporary alliances and these party members have a mind of their own. You can tell your party to flee, defend, attack or use magic. If the enemy you told a person to attack is gone, they will automatically select another monster to attack.  When a battle is won, experience, gold, and sometimes a treasure chest is left behind.  When enough experience points are accumulated, a character levels up. The attributes and spells are automatically adjusted so there is no customization there. The only way you can impact your stats directly is by consuming seeds of magic, life, agility, strength, etc. The items you equip also impact your stats. Be careful, some items are cursed and you can’t remove them without the help of the church.

    The church is where you save your games or record a confession as the game calls it. There is an option to quick save, but you have to load this up to resume your game. It replaces your save file so don’t depend on it as a backup or a duplicate.

    Graphically, this game is very unique. The game appears to be 2D and has a colorful painted look to it. There are 3D elements as you can rotate your view using the L and R triggers. This comes in handy when you’re exploring dungeons. In battle the graphics are in 2D but the enemies animate as they attack you and the magical effects add a little eye candy.

    The background music is pleasant to listen to, but the speakers on the DS don\'t do it justice, so I would recommend using headphones to fully enjoy it. And while there is no voice-acting, the sound effects for both enemies and magic attacks are very fitting and well-done.

    When it comes to appropriateness there are some issues worth mentioning. There is fighting and violence including cold blooded murder and female sacrifices. Some of the characters in your party are fighting to avenge lost loved ones. Magic use is unavoidable and there are some instances of fortune telling. One character can use tarot cards as a weapon.

    Those issues aside, Dragon’s Quest IV is a great addition to the series. The character development is well thought out and there are some touching moments, especially at the end. I haven’t played the NES version but going from Dragon Quest IX to this, I miss the ability to see the enemies roaming around. The last few bosses are fairly challenging and will require some level grinding to defeat them. All in all I spent over forty hours playing the main storyline and getting some side quest weapons. I didn’t bother with the multiplayer feature; I can care less about populating a town with random people. If you don’t mind the appropriateness issues and lack of decent multiplayer, I recommend checking this game out.

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (DS)
    Developed By: Level-5, Square Enix
    Published By: Square Enix, Nintendo
    Release Date: July 2010
    Available On: Nintendo DS
    ESRB Rating: 10+
    Genre: RPG
    Single/Multiplayer
    Price: $35
    (Amazon affiliate link)

    It’s been a while since I played a true Dragon Quest game.  After playing Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime I wanted to go back and pick up where I left off since Dragon Warrior 3.  Yes, I’m dating myself - I last played Dragon Warrior 1-3 on the NES.  Fortunately, with Dragon Quest IX, the formula is still pretty simple and many familiar enemies and relics await your arrival.  The storyline is unique so you don’t have to play the previous eight games to enjoy this one.  There are two worlds, the celestian world and the mortal world.  The angelic celestians protect the mortals and are assigned to specific towns to watch over.  Without giving away too much of the story, the premise is that both worlds are in danger and you must prove that the mortals are worthy of being allowed to live. 

    The game starts with your mentor, Aquila, showing you the ropes of being a town guardian.  The mortals cannot see celestians but believe in them through answered prayer.  When you help them, they will give thanks thus creating Benevolence.  In turn, you collect this Benevolence and offer it to the World Tree named Yggdrasil.   There’s much more to do in the game besides answering prayers.  Like many RPGs, you have to explore, talk to everyone, and fight lots of enemies for experience and gold.   I like the fact that the enemies are no longer hidden and it makes it easier to avoid or target specific enemies. 

    Later in the game you get to set your vocation.  By default I was a minstrel which is a pretty well rounded character.  You can also be a Mage, Martial Artist, Warrior, Thief, or a Priest.  If you’re unhappy with your selection, you can change it again and keep your skill points, but you’ll be back at level one.  Don’t worry; it doesn’t take long to regain levels again.  To assist you in your battles, you can have up to three friends in your party.  You can design your own characters or go with the token Mage, Priest and Martial Artist.
    Highlights:

    Strong Points:Simple and fun game play, lots of online content, no random battles
    Weak Points:
    Some may find it too easy
    Moral Warnings:
    There’s violence, magic use, nature and goddess worship

    Quests are a big part of this game and usually have good rewards.  There\'s story line quests and side quests that you can accept by talking to the villagers.  You\'re limited to a certain number of open quests; fortunately you can later decline doing them.  More quests are available via wireless download.  In fact, many of the DS features are utilized in this game.  You can use the stylus to move around, but I preferred using the regular controls.  The top screen displays the map and battle animations.  The bottom screen shows your characters moving around and is where you control them in battle.

    The battle system can be as easy or as complex as you want it to be.  You can manage your party by having them be in the front or in the back for less chance of being attacked.   The preset AI attack styles are nice and include modes such as “No Mercy, Fight Wisely, Focus on Healing, and Use no MP (magic points)”.  These presets are great for hunting for gold and experience but when it comes to boss battles, I highly recommend controlling all of the party members manually.

    When you’re in battle you can attack, try to flee, defend, analyze your foes, or use an item, ability, or a coup de grace.  A coupe de grace is an extraordinary attack typically granted after you take a huge hit.  For example, a warrior can get a guaranteed critical hit, a mage gets to use spells without using MP, and priests can summon angels to heal the whole party. Each class has their own unique coup de grace and abilities.
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Game Play: 18/20
    Graphics: 9/10
    Sound: 8/10
    Controls: 5/5
    Stability: 5/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence:  6.5/10
    Language: 10/10
    Sexual Content: 6.5
    Occult/Supernatural: 4/10
    -3 for magic use
    -3 for false religion references
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 10/10
    +3 for a good moral lesson

    When a character levels up, points are automatically assigned to attributes like strength, agility, magic, health, and so on.  The skill points, on the other hand, are assigned manually.  Each class has its own shared and unique skill abilities.  The skills are typically weapon specific but there are shield skills and class skills too.  If you max out a skill, it will go with you if you change vocations.

    The world is pretty big and the monsters get harder as you venture onward.  There are many towns and the best way to replenish magic points is to stay at an inn.  The further out the town, the more expensive the stay at the inn is.  Make sure you visit each armor and weapon store to see if they have better weapons and armor than what you’re wearing.  The better the gear, the more expensive it will be.  The best way to upgrade your equipment is through alchemy.  As you explore, make sure you keep an eye out for shimmering objects to collect and alchemize.

    The graphics appear to be 3D and I like how the battle backdrops are unique for each area that you are in.  The enemies bring back memories and there are many familiar faces and even bosses from previous games make an appearance.  There’s lots of variety, but many of the same models are re-used but with a different name and color palette.  When you\'re in battle you\'ll see the enemy\'s attack animations and there\'s plenty of eye candy when it comes to magic use.  The characters in this game are totally customizable by setting your eye color and hair styles.  When you change your clothes and armor, your character will reflect the changes made.  Some of the outfits can be a bit skimpy as you’ll run into belly dancers in some towns.

    Other appropriateness issues include violence and magic used in battles.  Magic use is pretty inevitable if you want to survive.  There are goddesses and nature worship and many references to ghosts and the undead.  Some items and trinkets you can buy boast of satanic power.  To offset the negatives, I can say that the story is uplifting and ultimately is about redemption.  

    The music in this game is pleasant to listen to and I have caught my kids humming along with it.  Some of the music is identical from previous games; for example, the game saving jingle at the church is the same.  There is no voice acting, but the battles sound effects are great.  

    There is a ton of replay ability, even after you beat the main quest.  You can travel to other player’s games and play in their world.  There’s a mode called Tag mode where you can share treasure maps with other players.  These treasure maps often have good loot and tough bosses to fight at the end.  There have been events at major retailers offering exclusive maps to players bringing in their DS’s with the Tag mode enabled.  Dragon Quest IX also has a store that offers exclusive online content if you have a Wi-Fi connection.

    If you’re new to Dragon Quest or a veteran, this game is definitely a worthy purchase.  Some may find it easy but I found the final boss and the Treasure map bosses to be quite challenging.  There’s plenty to do between the main story, alchemizing unique items, and treasure hunting.  I have easily spent forty hours playing this and there’s so much more I can do.  You’ll definitely get your money worth if you don’t mind the magic and false religious concepts.

  • Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is the latest installment in Square Enix's venerable series of Role Playing Games. Dragon Quest is actually one of Japan's most popular game series, but for one reason or another it has not been as successful on Western shores (where until this iteration the series has been known as Dragon Warrior). There is a whole lot here for RPG fans to like as long as they don't mind the content typical of a Teen-rated RPG and some unusual religious overtones. Casual gamers might want to test the waters first because, though the cel-shaded graphics and top-notch production values are modern, the actual game play is, for better or worse, old school to the core.

    Story:

    The story is relatively simple throughout. Cookie-cutter RPG villain no. 302 has stolen a magical staff and has used it to reduce Trodain Castle to ruins and turn the king and the princess into inhuman creatures while he was at it. The mute main character (the player names him at the beginning) was the only person to escape the attack unharmed and it is up to him to journey with the king find a way to reverse the curse. Along the way other characters that have their own reasons for taking the bad guy down will join the party.

    There is a twist or two that change things up a little bit along the way, but the story is always very straight forward. This isn't a game like Final Fantasy or Xenosaga that is full of convoluted political intrigue and complicated interpersonal relationships, but it is charming in its simplicity. The characters are one-dimensional but likable, especially the titular cursed king who, with a voice that is something like Grover's with a British accent, always manages to be amusing; it is too bad he isn't a playable character. Anyway, fans of modern RPGs who are expecting a brilliant story probably won't be satisfied, but at least that means the cut scenes aren't billions of hours long.

    Game Play:

    Dragon Quest VIII plays much like any other traditional Japanese RPG. The heros go from town to town solving the problems of every stranger they meet, fight random battles for gold and experience, and explore caverns and ruins on their way to defeating the big boss. If something sets DQVIII apart, it is scale. The streaming overworld is one of the biggest I have ever experienced in an RPG. There are enough mountains to climb, forests to hike through, and caves to delve into to make the player feel like s/he is exploring real continents and not man-made game environments. Sometimes the size of the world seemed overwhelming to me, but once I realized that there is no real need to visit every place in order it became liberating. The frequency of random battles makes being absorbed into the exploration element somewhat difficult at times, but as the characters learn spells to reduce the encounter rate and obtain faster means of transportation the player will probably find himself or herself purposely going as far off the beaten path as possible to see new sights and find hidden treasures. Dungeons are simply designed and for the most part easy to navigate with the help of a map, and the monotony of walking around and fighting random battles is occasionally broken up by simple puzzles.

    The battles themselves are like any old school RPG; the player gives commands to the party members through a menu system and they and the enemies take turns hitting each other. The system is uncomplicated but deep in the sense that you gain a whole bunch of special attacks, spells, and abilities to use, and every one of them is useful. A character can also spend a turn to 'psych up' to make his or her next attack more powerful. This technique becomes vital in the more difficult battles. Sometimes the fighting can get repetitive, but the higher-than-average level of challenge keeps it from getting outright boring. It takes a long time to level up in this game, so good tactics will get the player through the fights faster than gaining a lot of experience will. Leveling up finally occurs, the player is treated to a refreshingly simple upgrade system. Besides the usual increase in hit points, magic, etc, a couple points are given to allocate among a few different skills which are unique to each character. It isn't as deep as the customization in some other, more modern RPGs, but it gets the job done. When the game suffers, it does so because in being so old school it ignores the conveniences of modern RPGs when there is no reason to. The save system is the biggest flaw. Progress can only be saved by going into a town and confessing to a priest of the 'Almighty Goddess'. There are no save points in dungeons or even in the field, and I can't begin to guess why. Also, managing items in the in-game menus is a pain. Characters can only use items in battle which are placed in their own limited inventories, which is an unnecessary hassle compared to most RPGs where all characters draw their items from a communal pool. Other than that the interface works well and the game is glitch free.

    There is a lot of game play here. Taking my time (but not being overly meticulous), it took me nearly 80 hours to make it to the end credits. If I tried to complete the Pokemon-esque battle arena mini game, find all hidden medals, get the biggest prizes at the casino, create the best weapons and items using the alchemy pot, and complete every optional dungeon, then that number might get closer to 100.

    Sound:

    For the American release, DQVIII was given an entirely new orchestral soundtrack, and it is great. The majestic score adds an epic flavor to the experience. After 80 hours some of the songs, especially the out-of-place battle theme, get repetitive; however, sweet new melodies are added often enough to make this only a minor annoyance. Also new to the American version is voice acting. Nearly every character has a British accent of some sort. A lot of respect has to be given to whoever localized this game because I doubt most Japanese people know the difference between Irish and *****ney accents and the dialects become an integral part of the game's character. The writing takes advantage of characters' voices too, so if someone has trouble pronouncing the letter 'R' you can bet that he will be given lines with a lot of them. With all this fun added to the game by the localization team it is no wonder that it took so many months to bring the game to North America.

    Graphics:

    The graphics are cel-shaded, so the game looks like a hand-drawn anime cartoon. Often graphics done in this style seem lifeless and flat but the experienced developers at Level 5 have put done a good job of creating the illusion of life in the environments with subtle visual effects and absolutely incredible detail. My breath was taken away by some of the massive cathedrals and monuments in the game world. I just wish the faces on the characters had some real animation and depth. There is some pop up too, which is a shame because in a game with environments this open it would have been great to be able to see forever. The characters and monsters were all designer by Akira Toriyama, whom you may know as the creator of Dragon Ball, so that is the style one can expect. The player characters are all distinctive, but the models for the people in the towns are recycled much too often. The monster designs are fun and cutesy; some were so cute that I felt bad killing them at times.

    Appropriateness

    The ESRB rated Dragon Quest VIII TEEN for Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Simulated Gambling, Mild Language, and Suggestive Themes.

    Violence:

    RPG Violence (This is where you enter a command and watch it happen Ex. Final Fantasy) (-3 pts) The violence here is pretty tame even by RPG standards. There is no blood or gore; the cute monsters simply disappear when they die. The player never kills a human being in battle.

    Language:

    No Foul Language (-0 pts) Sexual references are made throughout the game. (-3.5 pts) I don't remember any bad words myself, but the ESRB label says that there is 'Mild Language' (whatever that means) so there might be something in there that I missed. Jessica, the female playable character, has an upgradeable skill called 'Sex Appeal' which grants her skills such as blowing kisses or fondling herself to distract enemies. This type of thing is the main reason why I am hesitant to recommend this game to Children.

    Sexual Content:

    Characters clothing is sexy or accentuates their sexuality (Ex. tight clothing or low cleavage) (-1.5 pts) If Jessica had half of an inch more cleavage, then this game would be rated M. Some other female characters also wear skimpy outfits. These characters are probably not realistic enough to incite overwhelming lust, but if you play this game expect to be looking at cartoon cleavage throughout.

    Occult/Supernatural:

    Game takes place in an environment with minor occult references. (-3 pts) Fairy tale type magic is used in game by player. (-1.5 pts) Nearly every character in DQVIII reveres the Goddess, and this religion is a major part of the environment and plays a minor to medium role in the story. The Goddess herself doesn't actually appear, but the presence of the church that worships her is very strong. Besides the gender of the deity, this institution resembles the Roman Catholic Church complete with priests, nuns, cathedrals and even knights templar. In order to save the game you must confess to a priest of the Goddess. Some enemies, especially the final boss, are demonic in appearance but I do not think the word 'demon' is ever used. They aren't frightening because like all monsters in this game they are cartoonish and somewhat comical looking. It should be noted that the main villain's MO is to possess people. Also, one boss can only be beaten by praying to a magical staff. These things and the Goddess religion aren't necessarily 'occult' in the technical sense, but they are likely to bother many Christian gamers. Magic is used in this game much like in any other fantasy RPG. Spells may produce fireballs, cure poison, kill enemies, or resurrect dead allies.

    Cultural/Moral/Ethical:

    There are no issues in this category to speak of.

    Conclusion:

    A lot of this game's content may offend or embarrass many people. If the issues outlined above don't seem like a big deal, then Dragon Quest VIII is a great RPG for hardcore fans of the genre to spend hours on. The slow pace and archaic game mechanics might frustrate casual fans, but for those who take the time to get lost in this giant world will find the rewards worth while. Also, the game comes with a playable demo of Final Fantasy XII, which I will not review here. It isn't worth buying this game just for the demo, but it is a nice bonus for fans of Square Enix's other big RPG franchise.

    Gameplay: 17/20
    Controls/Interface: 4/5
    Sound: 9/10
    Graphics: 9/10
    Stability: 5/5
    Total: 44

    Violence: 7/10
    Language: 6.5/10
    Sexual Content: 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 10/10
    Total: 37.5

    Final Score: 81.5

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
    Developed by: Square Enix
    Published by: Square Enix
    Release date: September 4, 2018
    Available on: PS4, Windows
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Fantasy violence, mild blood, suggestive themes, use of alcohol, crude humor, simulated gambling
    Price: $59.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Square Enix for sending us this game to review!

    I’ve been playing and enjoying Dragon Quest RPGs since they were called Dragon Warrior on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Each title has its own unique story and characters, so you don’t need to be familiar with the other entries to enjoy this one. Though the visuals are top notch, I appreciated the throwback sound effects and familiar tunes from the previous games. I did install and highly recommend the free orchestral mod that replaces the MIDI-like sound files with symphonic renditions that add much more depth and quality to an already amazing soundtrack.

    In Dragon Quest XI your character is the luminary, a reincarnated hero destined to protect the life-giving tree, Yggdrasil, from the upcoming evil threat. The game begins with your character being born with a mysterious symbol on his hand that confirms his identity and marks him as a target to the forces of evil. When his hometown is destroyed by hordes of monsters, he escapes Moses-style by being placed in a floating bassinet and sent downriver. He is raised by some kind villagers and they inform him of his destiny after completing the coming of age ritual of climbing Tor’s summit.

    While exploring Tor, you’ll learn the basic controls and battle mechanics. Though keyboard and mouse are supported, I preferred playing with a gamepad since the button mappings are easier to navigate with it. The luminary’s childhood friend, Gemma, accompanies him since she is the same age and must also complete the ritual. When a character who is not part of your party tags along, they seem to have infinite health and the means to restore your health and magic points indefinitely. They’re certainly nice to have around! Once a person officially joins your party you have full control of their inventory and skill tree abilities. You can have up to four active party members and can swap them out mid-battle as long as they don’t have a petrifying status aliment. Some battles continue on if the luminary dies, but in others it’s an instant game over.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful visuals; excellent voice acting; well-balanced gameplay and good level design; lots of side quests; multiple endings
    Weak Points: No magic point (MP) conserving fighting style
    Moral Warnings: Combat violence and cold-blooded murder; references to reincarnation; language (h*ll, d*mn); tobacco and alcohol consumption; gambling is required to progress the main story; revealing clothing; sexual references and girly magazines

    The default battle behavior is for the party members to “Fight Wisely,” and this mode works pretty well. Characters set to it are good at boosting, removing ailments from and healing others in need as well as using their own powerful attacks. My only complaint about this mode is that my party members would often run out of magic from spamming their most powerful and magic point (MP) consuming attacks. There is a setting for “No Magic Use,” but a magic conserving setting would have been nice to see. Of course, there is the “Follow Orders” mode where you have full control of each of their actions. I only used this mode for boss battles and let the AI handle the smaller fights.

    Each of your party members has a unique personality and a backstory to them that gives them some depth and quests to complete. Every party member has different attributes they specialize in, and they can be equipped with various weapon configurations. Your first friend is a thief named Erik, and he can wield knives, swords, and boomerangs. Whatever weapon you equip on each person, you should also max out the abilities in their skill tree to unlock helpful special moves and related stat boosts. With every level gained, attributes are automatically adjusted, and skill points become available for spending on the skill tree.

    There are many amazing abilities that you can unlock for party members. Many of them have a dual wielding option which lowers defense by not being able to equip a shield, but the offensive gain is a worthwhile tradeoff. There are some unlockable stat boosts that increase base health, magic, and attack power (when wielding a specific weapon type). Plus, somewhere in each character’s skill tree is a hidden stash of free skill points when unlocking a random skill.

    When going into a big battle, it’s highly recommended that at least one of your party members has the magic ability or items on hand to replenish health for injured teammates. I learned the hard way that items placed in the “Item Box” are not accessible in battle. There is a tactic for setting your healer to “Focus on Healing.” Having a buffer and a person capable of removing status ailments is helpful as well. In the event that your party gets wiped out, you can restore your progress from the last auto save or manual save. The save points are plentiful, and I didn’t lose much progress when dying.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 62%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    Like previous Dragon Quest/Warrior titles, certain metallic enemies are very skittish and agile, but if you beat them, you’ll get a boatload of experience. Metal slime kings and handy hands can give you more experience than most bosses. It’s worth adding the metal slash skill if you plan on grinding on metallic foes. Thankfully, I found this game well balanced and not requiring too much grinding.

    Along with the main story, there are several side quests to keep you busy for quite some time. I saw the first ending after forty-two hours, and there’s an alternative ending available for those willing to complete a new post-game story arc. Some of the side quests are funny and often have good rewards for completing them. There are some love-based ones, and I liked the one titled “Put a ring on it” that had me forge a gold wedding ring for a villager. The ability to create your own weapons and armor from recipes is quite powerful.

    Be sure to explore all of the villagers' houses and read books in the bookshelves to learn how to make new items. It also pays to open up their dressers and take whatever clothes you find in there. I found it funny that I was able to take stuff and break pottery in their house without much of a fuss.

    Aside from “borrowing” items from people, there are other moral concerns to address in this game. There’s an old man in your party who gets caught multiple times with a girly magazine. Some villages have girls offering the main character a “Puff Puff.” While not explicit, it does seem sexual in nature and according to many fans it’s referring to placing the character’s face between their bosom. After one Puff Puff service, it implied that makeup was applied to the main character. One of the male party members is rather flamboyant but nothing is confirmed in that department. Erik cusses a bit, but it doesn’t get much worse than d*mmit. Some characters are seen drinking and smoking. Many towns have a tavern and a couple of them have casinos. Gambling is required to complete the main story, but thankfully, the tokens are free in this particular casino.

    Though there are many moral concerns, there are some good moral values being promoted in this game. While some party members are driven by revenge, others learn about forgiveness on their journey. Another lesson taught is that a bad action is not canceled out because it is benefitting a wholesome cause.

    In the end, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is a beautiful game that I recommend to any Dragon Warrior/Quest fan. It’s well designed, balanced, and fun to play. The characters are likable and the story is good. I look forward to completing the post-game content as time permits. If you’re not comfortable with the reincarnation references or other moral issues, you may want to pass on this one.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Dragon Warrior 7: Warriors of Eden
    Developed By: Heartbeat, ArtePiazza
    Published By: Enix
    Release Date: November 1, 2001
    Available on: PlayStation 1
    ESRN Rating: T
    MSRP: $35 used

    The Dragon Warrior series is known for expansive worlds and great storytelling, but the sheer number of titles may be overwhelming for newcomers. Thankfully, with an independent story, Dragon Warrior 7: Warriors of Eden makes it easy for anyone to jump into the Dragon Warrior series and doesn't require you to be familiar with the franchise to enjoy it. There are many returning features like collecting mini medals and the ability to change classes, but the story, characters and the world are brand new.

    You begin the game by naming your character, who also happens to be the son of the best fisherman around.  You’re nearly of age to join your father when destiny decides it has other plans for your young hero. Together with your best friends, the neighborhood girl Maribel and the prince of the next town over, Kiefer, you explore the peaceful land of Eden, a continent alone on a seemingly endless ocean. But a nearby ancient ruin reveals a portal to lands lost in time.

    As you talk to people and explore your surroundings, you’ll collect pieces of shards, that when combined, will open up a portal to a land in the past in need of saving. If you can successfully save the citizens from certain doom, their ancestors are suddenly alive and well in the present. Although some towns need more saving than others, as one town required intervention three times!   These quests vary from saving a town from a volcanic eruption, to stopping a mechanical army from destroying another.   Some of the towns are being tormented by a tough enemy that you will have to deal with in order to save them.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Over 110 hours of game play, not including the bonus engines.
    Weak Points: No multiplayer or re-releases on newer platforms.
    Moral Warnings: Swearing, violence and sexual references.

    The boss battles are the same as normal ones with the exception of different background music.  The random battles are pretty straight forward as you direct your party to attack, defend, or use magic.  You may be able to flee from regular battles, but not from boss battles.  If you die, half of your gold will be taken and only the main character will be revived at the last church you saved at.  When a battle is won, experience, gold, and sometimes a treasure chest is left behind. When enough experience points are accumulated, a character levels up, though attributes and spells are automatically adjusted, leaving little room for customization in that regard. The only way you can impact your stats directly is by consuming seeds of magic, life, agility, resilience, and strength.  Most weapons increase your attack attribute; however, there are a few that can be used in battle as a tool.  Some weapons are cursed, and if you equip them, they may negatively impact your stats.  

    Some of the magical attacks have really neat graphical effects and eye candy.  The explosions, wind, water, and fire attacks are always fun to watch.  Being the target of those attacks is another story.  The towns and dungeons have a  3D over view  and you can rotate to get a better viewing angle to spot those treasure chests that are not in the default field of vision.  These graphics are on par with the Nintendo DS releases of Dragon Quest IV, V, and VI.  

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 66%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Dragon Warrior 7: Warriors of Eden is the first Dragon Warrior game to be released on a Sony platform.  While the Nintendo releases had a couple of ”d words” in them, this game had them more frequently and one of the bosses calls your party b**tards.  Violence is a given, but it’s not gory or violent.  One of the towns has a kid being bullied and your party helps intervene.  You’ll make many friends, and some of them have romantic implications.  There are sexual references, including the ability for your character to get "puff-puff” for good luck at the casino.  As you progress in the story, you will need the help of the four guardian spirits (aqua, flame, terra, and wind) to defeat the powerful evil spirit.  To gain the help of the wind spirit, you must agree to send her five cute guys a year.  It goes without saying that a few of the characters you encounter are notably promiscuous.  

    Those issues aside, I like how this game offers you choices and exposes the depravity and redemption of humanity in general.  It even shows you the fallibility of the spirits that these people worship.   There are moments in this game where you will be put on the spot and asked to make a choice on how to save a village.  Sometimes the people asking you have impure motives and you have to look at the situation from multiple perspectives to uncover the truth.  

    As you can imagine, the character development is great and the story being told is a memorable one.  Since the boss battles get progressively harder, there will be times where grinding sessions will be required to be prepared for the upcoming battles.  A necessary evil for many RPG games out there and this game is no exception.  If you are a fan of the Dragon Quest/Warrior series this is a very long and great addition to the series.  Just keep in mind that it’s not as family friendly as the Nintendo offerings.

     
  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Dragon's Crown
    Developed by: Vanillaware
    Published by: Atlus
    Release Date: August 6th, 2013
    Available on: PS3, Vita (reviewed)
    Genre: Action RPG
    Number of Players: single-player, four player multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Teen for violence, alcohol and tobacco use, partial nudity and suggestive themes
    Price: $50 for PS3 version, $40 for Vita
    (Amazon affiliate link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review! 

    The Kingdom of Hydeland is in turmoil as the king has gone missing. To make matters worse, magic users have been seeking out a legendary artifact called the dragon's crown to awaken the ancient dragon.  With monster attacks on the rise, the adventurer's guild and royal family have plenty of tasks for you to complete.   Are you up to the challenge?

    When you first start the game you will have to choose your character class. Since some are easier to play than others, the game recommends starting off with a brawny class like the amazon, warrior or dwarf.  You can also choose the sorceress, mage, or ranger.  Each class has unique abilities, fighting styles and equipment.  As you fight and gain experience you will also earn skill points that can be assigned to common or class specific abilities.  

    Some of the abilities include new attack moves, more health, or inventory space.  Dragon's Crown combines the action of 2D side scrolling brawlers with the allure of finding hidden treasures deep within dungeons and towers.  While there are only ten areas, there are multiple paths with a boss waiting at the end of each of them.  I like the humor of this game as one of the boss' is from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun combination of brawler and dungeon crawler gameplay.  
    Weak Points: Multiplayer is not available until the initial single player quests are completed.
    Moral Warnings: Like many RPGs there is violence and magic use. The female characters in this game suffer from abnormally large breasts, thighs, and buttocks.  They are also dressed so provocatively that a sneeze could cause a wardrobe malfunction.  The males of course are adequately covered and are without delusional enhancements.

    As you accept quests and explore new areas you encounter many enemies including orcs, vampires, lizard men, skeletons, evil mages and of course dragons.  They often drop coins after their demise.  There are also treasure chests and bones of fallen adventurers to be looted.  You can either revive the bones to get a NPC party member or you can bury them for a random treasure.  

    The first few quests are solo as you learn the game mechanics and prove your worth to the adventurer's guild and royal family.  Once you're at the point of collecting the nine talisman to battle the ancient dragon, you can play alongside NPCs, local friends, or random people online.  The boss' hit points go up the bigger the party is.  Some of the bosses I fought solo to make it easier on myself.  Some of the adventurer's guild quests require you to fight on your own as well. To do that you must disable joining.  If you have join enabled and are on the network, online players may hop into your party at any time.  It should come as no surprise that in order to play online, your system has to have the current firmware.  

    I never had any trouble finding anyone online to play with.  There is no chat and the only way to interact is you use your hand pointer.  When there are multiple dungeon paths, the majority vote wins.   Joining a random game is always fun and if the other players are higher level you may get even better loot.  I once picked up the bones of a level 99 adventurer; I didn't have the 999,999 gold to revive them though.  

    Gold comes and goes in this game pretty fast.  After you raid a dungeon you can either appraise (for a price) or just sell an item outright.  You cannot use an item until it has been appraised though.  Fortunately each item is assigned a rank form E (worst) to S (best) so anything C or lower I typically sold without bothering to appraise it.  As your character takes damage their equipment deteriorates or breaks altogether.  If you're carrying multiple bags of items you can switch equipment at the dungeon crossroads.   Anything damaged or broken can be repaired in town for a price.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 64%%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 2.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Magic runes play a big part of this game no matter what class you play as.  There are rune markings on many of the dungeon walls and if you combine those with the runes your purchase, you can conjure up temporary weapons, buffs, hidden treasure, healing circles or an extra life.   You start off with three lives with the option to pay and pray for an extra one at the temple.  When those lives are exhausted, you can pay again and again until you can no longer afford the increasing revival rates.  When you're out of money and lives you're taken back into town and revived by a friend.

    Violence and magic use is a given in role playing games.  What surprised me with these titles was the blatant sexualizing of females.  The Amazon warrior I played was incredibly buffed with thunder thighs and a thong suit.  I mean who would seriously fight an ancient dragon wearing a thong bikini?  The sorceress was even worse with her double J bust size and a lace dress that was extremely low cut.  It gets even worse.  In the dungeons I encountered a mermaid with a human buttocks, a wounded female monk warrior spread eagle with her chastity belt holes exposed, and lastly, a bound attractive female spirit wearing a thin semi transparent outfit.  This artwork was extremely one sided; granted the warrior and dwarf classes were muscular like the Amazon warrior, but their groin area was realistic and not jiggling as they walked. 

    It's a real shame since the 2D artwork in this game is incredibly detailed and well done.  Unfortunately, they put too much detail into the females.  I would not recommend this game to anybody who is struggling with pornography or lust.  The sound and voice acting is top notch as well.  The gameplay is solid and had it not been for the sexual fantasy art, I would recommend this game to any RPG or brawler gamer out there.  

     

     

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
    Developed by: Capcom
    Published by: Capcom
    Release date: January 15, 2016
    Available on: PS3, PS4, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Violence
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Voitan_Rex for gifting us this game to review!

    Dragon’s Dogma was originally released in 2012 on the PS3 and Xbox 360 consoles. Four years later, it came out on PC and in 2017 it was released on the latest generation of PlayStation and Xbox systems. Although the graphics are a bit dated, the gameplay is still solid and this title separates itself from the many RPGs out there today. I can see why gamers have been longing for a sequel and am now among them.

    The game begins with you customizing your avatar and being placed in your home town of Cassardis. A huge dragon attacks your village and you’re one of the brave few to pick up a sword and fight it. Many villagers lose their lives and your character does not leave the battle unscathed. In fact, the dragon eats your heart and yet your character lives through the ordeal and becomes known as the Arisen. As the Arisen, you’re destined to battle the dragon and can command soulless warriors known as pawns.

    Along with customizing your character, you get to create your own pawn from the ground up. Pawns made from other characters roam around the world (if your system is online) and you can recruit them into your party. Up to three pawns can be under your command. Surprisingly, I was able to recruit pawns that were well over one hundred levels above me.

    Like many RPGs, you can get side quests from villagers which reward you with money and discipline points upon completion. Your character and pawns can learn various skills and abilities with the points earned. Characters level up both in their vocation and overall level as they battle and complete quests.

    Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay with good AI companions and epic battles
    Weak points: Quests can be confusing at times with no clear direction on 
    Moral Warnings: Violence and bloodshed; revealing clothing; can pursue relationships with anyone in the game, male or female, married or not; language (d*mn, b*stard); magic use

    When visiting an inn you can adjust your skills and pawn behavior. You can set how chatty they are as well as what kind of enemies to focus on (strongest/weakest). It’s worth visiting various vendors for the best weapons/armor and healing supplies. Picking up ferry stones for teleporting between various towns will save you a lot of walking.

    Though there are many enemies along the roads, even more are lurking away from them. Exploring is rewarded by uncovering many treasure chests with nice loot inside. Bigger enemies tend to drop good items after they are defeated. There are many enemies that are the same size or smaller than your character, but the bigger beasts are more fun to conquer. When battling huge monsters like ogres, cockatrices, wyverns, and more, you and your party can actually climb up them to strike vulnerable areas. For example, you should climb on top of a cyclops to take out their eye or slice off the serpent tail of a chimera to weaken them. Dismemberment and blood are a given for many of the battles in this game.

    Not surprisingly, there are some mage characters that cast powerful spells and undead creatures that need to be put to rest once and for all.
    There’s a great amount of detail in the monsters and their movements are well done. Though aged, the visuals are still pretty good and it didn’t feel like a six-year-old game to me. There’s a fair amount of variety in the different pawns and NPCs. The chatter from the pawns does get repetitive though. The voice acting is good and the background music is well done.

    Some language is used in the game but it’s pretty mild compared to other M rated titles out there. Every character can be romanced/won over by giving them gifts. There are a handful of quest-related love interests, but ultimately you can achieve a maxed affinity with whomever you please no matter their gender or marital status. One of the quests lets you romance the duke’s wife. When it comes to love scenes, I have only seen kissing. When changing armor/attire characters can be seen in their undergarments. After my heart was ripped out from the dragon, my female character’s shirt was badly ripped but the necessary areas were still somewhat covered.

    Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 50%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    I was able to complete many quests without a hitch. I appreciated the warnings for when the game’s story was about to progress and any side quests would have to be ignored or completed before moving on in the game. By completing some quests, others will be nullified and the game will notify you of that too. Some quests left me scratching my head as the map marker did not align with my next destination. In one instance, the quest marker was stuck at talking to an individual when I should have been prompted to visit a location they mentioned instead. Thankfully, there are plenty of walkthroughs and maps available online to check if you get stuck.

    Though this title autosaves, I highly recommend saving manually as I was kicked back to my desktop unexpectedly more than once. There’s only one save slot so keep that in mind if you’re about to do something absurdly violent or stupid. I accidentally struck someone instead of talking to them and was quickly tossed into jail. I tried to reload after posting bail, but the game autosaved and my 5,000 gold was forever lost.

    I was able to complete the main story and a few side quests in roughly twenty-three hours. There is a speed run option available if you’re into that. If you’re the type that likes to explore every inch and complete every possible quest, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen has you covered. After the credits roll there is some post-game content that adds significant but spoiler heavy story sequences. Your character can actually become like a god and take control of life in every realm.

    If you like epic battles and RPGs, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is worth looking into if the moral content doesn’t bother you. This title is well worth the entry fee and is worth checking out if you haven’t played it yet. Be warned that it will make you long for a sequel though!

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    DreamWorks Dragons: Dawn of New Riders
    Release Date: February 1, 2019
    Developer: Climax Studios
    Publisher: Outright Games
    Available on: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4
    Genre: RPG, Adventure Game
    Price: 29.99
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E 10+
    Price: $29.98
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    First of all, I want to thank Climax Studios for the code for this game!

    Dragon Dawn of New Riders is an interesting game developed by Outright Games. It is part of the "How to train your Dragon" series, and is set in a cool fantasy, Viking setting with characters such as Patch, Scribbler and Astrid. The game begins with a dragon in an egg and you need to let the dragon hatch out of the egg. You are then able to control both Patch and Scribbler in a thrilling adventure!

    Dragon Dawn of New Riders opens when you fly into a burning area. As with many RPGS, the plot begins with the age-old adage of the hero's hometown or area being destroyed. A second character is found by Hiccup, but does not remember who he is. The hero is thus named 'Scribbler,' as 'this will do until we find out what your real name is'. The adventure then begins with 'Scribbler' wondering how he will protect himself and the purple egg he has awoken next to.

    DreamWorks Dragons: Dawn of New Riders
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good graphics; entertaining storyline; Game is mostly helpful on telling you how to play it
    Weak Points: Some controls and camera angles make assignments difficult; repetitive storytelling
    Moral Warnings:Fantasy violence and magic

    After that, Dragon Dawn of New Riders begins to explain the controls and missions and is fairly user-friendly. It explains right away how to open chests and that these chests contain valuables of various kinds to help in a quest. This is obviously designed for new gamers, as in earlier RPGs such as Zelda or Final Fantasy one would simply go up to the chest and open it without any explanation needed. As the journey starts, Scribbler first decides to just stay in his area, but then is harassed by Dragon Trappers who steal the dragon egg, thus making it necessary for him to fight them and get it back. Needless to say, the player now controls Scribbler and he goes after the egg. After some fighting, the egg hatches and we meet Scribbler's new dragon friend, an adorable purple dragon named Patch. Patch will soon become your best friend and constant companion.

    Dragon Dawn of New Riders is divided into separate mission areas and each of these areas opens with an assignment telling you your primary purpose for being in this region. The only downside is they can be clunky at times, especially when flying. Also, the first boss fight was not explained well. In earlier fights, one had to bash at orbs to free certain dragons. The way it is explained at the first fight makes it sound like this is all you have to do, but when I tried to attack the dragon via this method, I got defeated. The way one is to defeat this boss is to have Patch stand on certain switches and raise platforms to stun the dragon and then you fight the Dragon Trappers. I could not figure this out without a guide. This was somewhat frustrating, as most guides to this game are on YouTube rather than text-based. But that is not the fault of the game itself.

    DreamWorks Dragons: Dawn of New Riders
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As Dragon Dawn of New Riders progresses, we are treated to several interesting characters. My favorite is Astrid, the alchemist. The controls are easy to figure out and are even explained. Gameplay is fun and interactive, but can get a bit repetitive at times as the missions tend to run into each other as time goes on. The game play is in the first-person in real time. It's quite similar to Zelda in that it is an open air area and you can explore the areas at will.

    From a Christian perspective, how does the game hold up? Given that this is a fantasy RPG, magic is to be expected. Patch the dragon can breathe ice and has other powers, and alchemy is also used in the game, wherein you mix together different materials to create your healing items. The game is also set in a Viking setting, which is known for paganism, but there are not any scenes of worship in the game. The lines between good and evil are shown pretty clearly in this game, a refreshing change in a time period when these distinctions are getting more and more blurry. The Dragon Trappers are clearly shown as evil for trying to imprison the dragons and when the dragons are freed, it is a time of great joy for the dragons and their owner. Of course, dragons are mythological creatures so if that concerns you, that is the only thing to be aware of. Also, it is a very short game, and I was left wanting more.

    All in all, this is a fun game, even if it can get tedious and boring at times. It reminds me a lot of Zelda and Final Fantasy for a new generation. The only concern from a moral standpoint might be the dragons and the alchemy. But I really enjoyed playing this and would recommend it as fun for the whole family.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Dungeon Souls
    Developed by: Lamina Studios, Mike Studios
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Release Date: December 2, 2016
    Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux, SteamOS
    Genre: Rogue-like
    Number of Players: Single Player game
    ESRB Rating: Unrated
    Price: $12.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    *Advertising disclosure* - After this review was posted, Black Shell Media became an advertising partner.  This review is not influenced by this relationship.

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us the review code.

    Skill level is a hard thing to talk about with game reviews. I always try to avoid using the phrase casual gamer. Who am I to tell someone they aren't good enough for a game? Yet at the same time certain games are not meant for everyone. Some people have massive backlogs simply due to the fact there are certain games we just couldn't beat. I have a few of those myself (looking at you FTL: Faster Than Light). So now we have a game that is supposedly the Dark Souls of rogue-like games. Dungeon Souls certainly lived up to that nickname in my book.

    Dungeon Souls takes you through a fearsome dungeon. Souls are trapped and a select few are reborn with a chance at earning freedom if they conquer the dungeon. You choose from classes such as the barbarian, thief or ranger as well as a medley of unlockable classes. Each class has its own unique abilities; some classes focus on melee attacks, some on magic, some on pure ranged combat.

    Dungeon Souls
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A well thought out procedurally generated game with plenty of content to keep you going.
    Weak Points: This game has a lack of world building and story.
    Moral Warnings: A rather dark game with eternal punishment themes. Some may compare this to Hell.

    To progress through the stages you have to activate a varying number of summoning circles in each level. Once you have defeated the monsters at each summoning circle an exit portal will open up to the next stage. You only have a limited time to escape to the next stage before the Redeemer ends your life quickly. Don't try to rush through every stage as the gold you earn can be spent on shops, or you may find a golden or silver key to open special chests that contain powerful passive items. Take too long and the Redeemer will come for you even if you're not finished with the stage. After every couple of levels you will face challenging bosses from skeleton kings, frozen golems, and Merlin. If you die, you will have to start over without any items or upgrades. However, materials you collect such as bones, metal, and magic dust can be used in the arcane forge to craft new weapons and items for your favorite classes to make them stronger.

    The challenge certainly lives up to its nickname. Enemies are abundant and constant, but never feel like they are just meant to completely overwhelm you. You also feel like you get upgraded when you pick up an item. In these rogue-like games too often do you find that certain items are useless no matter which way you look at it. Making items in the Arcane forge can feel like a bit of a chore due to the amount of materials some of these recipes require. However, the game doesn't make you feel like they are needed for meaningful progression. You will die so don't expect to beat this game within a few hours. Some gamers might find such challenge as a deal breaker and may take long breaks from playing. Many people may never finish the game at all.

    Dungeon Souls

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    The biggest notable con I have with this game is a lack of story. The game doesn't need it, but, imagination doesn't always carry interest. Why is each character trapped in the dungeon in the first place? This is one of the many questions I know I won't get answered. The only notable story bits I have come across is by appearing in a secret location when trying to find Merlin that I won't spoil. Story doesn't have to be around to make a good game, but you can develop the story off the back of a good game. Be warned this game has a notable memory bug where if you horde two million coins the game will crash on you and reset all progress. Controller support is lacking in this game as well; the character feels much harder to maneuver with a controller. 

    Morality comes from the few bits of story you get. You're playing as mysterious individuals whose souls are trapped in a deadly dungeon. Other than the more obvious occult themes, the violence is overexaggerated and extremely gory for an old 8-bit style game. With a lack of story elements it may not be clear what the developer was going for theme wise in certain moments.

    Dungeon Souls will frustrate you, anger you, and challenge your skills to the core. Rise up to the challenge and beat it, gamers! Or let it become another game in your backlog. The choice is yours. (Unless it erases all your progress.)

     

Latest Comments

About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

S5 Box

Login

Register