Destiny

No denying that Destiny has some beautiful scenery.

No denying that Destiny has some beautiful scenery.

Bungie’s first title outside of the Halo franchise since Oni in 2001 has been one of the most eagerly awaited and heavily hyped games to ever take the medium’s stage. With that in mind, I know that nothing anyone says about it matters. No matter it’s problems or failings, it’ll be the commercial giant that Activision and Bungie have gambled and estimated over $500 million for development and advertising on. Tragically, that does not mean that it’s a game that can forgo review or if they’re not glowing that Activision won’t say that it’s only whiny internet trolls. You guessed it… this is apparently a whiny troll’s look at Destiny.

    The Traveller, a giant, possibly sentient, celestial body was found on Mars and its discovery triggered a golden age of peaceful exploration and technological advancement that lasted for a hundred years. Then came The Collapse and The Traveller’s ancient enemy called The Darkness. The only known survivors on Earth were saved by The Traveller as it sacrificed itself. Now, 700 years later, The Traveller hovers dormant above the only safe city remaining on Earth and hostile aliens have taken residence in humanity’s ruins. Taking the mantle of a Guardian, who are given strange powers known as The Light taken from remnants of the dormant Traveller, you are tasked with the daunting challenge of defending the City, reclaiming the species place in the Universe and maybe one day reviving The Traveller itself.

    Character creation offers three species to choose from, this selection only has cosmetic value. Humans have a standard militaristic look, reminiscent of the look in Bungie’s Halo series. Awoken are your basic Elven race, lighter armor and blue hued skin. Exo are self aware machines that pre-date the Collapse. After choosing a race there are three classes to choose from. Titans are the heavily armored giants, a standard warrior class. Hunters are more lightly armored and thinner, a standard rogue class. Warlocks are the lightest armored but have more special light powers from The Traveller, a standard wizard class. All classes use the same armor and weapons. Eventually, with leveling up, all the classes split into two subclasses and their skill trees eventually establishes great differences between all. It’s too bad that it takes so long for this difference to be really felt and appreciated. For far too long, class seems almost as meaningless as race selection and individualization takes almost to the soft level cap of 20 to really notice.

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    Gameplay is a solid, if generic, first person shooter offering. The controls are wonderfully responsive and tight on a level that is never seen on a console. Not once did it feel like everything would work better with a keyboard and mouse. Destiny offers some incredible firefights, tense and overwhelming odds as you blast your way into a Hive base… all of which become repeated so often that by the third time you start to wonder how you could have possibly found it interesting the first time around. While the first 3rd of the story missions pass quickly but even in the early stages the shadow of the coming repetitiveness starts to be cast over the proceedings once you realize you’ve shot your way through the path you are on four times already. Enemy AI is just too stupid to keep you on your toes. Enemies will take cover, try to flank or charge you directly. This never changes no matter how many times you go through these firefight. They only change up is on occasion they will deploy in a slightly different manner, it’s a nice break up if only it was because the AI was testing you and not because you’d blasted your way through the group three times already.

    The graphics can be breathtaking. When you first enter an area it is absolutely gorgeous. The background and distant views promise fantastic and unique places to explore. You never get to any of these locations. You instead spend your time on what is really one large map on each planet, running from the same starting point through the grounds your past missions took place to a new corridor or cavern. After a short while the maps begin to look their generic reality as you stumble through the same firefights a dozen times. Coming across another player on a map is one of the highlights as you can either briefly team up or sit back, allow them to blast their way through and wait for the enemies to respawn before taking your go through an area. Tragically there’s no fall in or out team ups, meaning if someone comes on into your open map firefight that you’ve spent the last 10 minutes fighting through, they can grab the lone drop your trying to get, leaving you to repeat it all over again… and sometimes again…
Boss fights, especially in strikes, are some of the most boring ever put in a shooter. Every boss is a giant bullet sponge. You can hammer away at them for nearly a half hour in story mode, and even longer in strikes. To make matters worse, after blasting away for twenty minutes, you will often get hit with a one-shot-kill blast, which requires you to start the whole damn thing over again. This isn’t immersive, it isn’t a challenge… it’s just cheap.

SHOOT 'EM!!!

SHOOT ‘EM!!!

    While there is nothing wrong with a little grind, Destiny relies on it too much as you approach the end of the story missions. If you thought that the endless revisits to areas was bad in the normal course of the game, the grinding through them for hours just get get a single level up is almost torture. Thankfully, Bungie must have realized this as they also allow you to level up, and at a much faster pace, in their PvP arena known as The Crucible. Like most of Destiny the PvP is strangely limited. There are eleven maps in the Playstation releases and ten on the Xbox releases with four modes that unlock as you play. PvP is a mixed balance. While most weapons and armor rates are balanced out, there is no balancing for special skills. So while skill can be a major factor, a splash damage attack can also wipe everyone else out in a matter of seconds. There’s also a strange lack of competitiveness in PvP. Regardless of how you do, you receive a fair amount of experience and the lack of leaderboards, an odd oversight from Bungie that the community has been quick to rectify on their own with leaderboard tracking sites, take the edge off of it. So even the most embarrassing beating your team takes is still a completely worthwhile use of time.

    Besides the beautiful backgrounds, Destiny’s strongest element is its score. It swells and falls and blends seamlessly into the experience. Martin O’Donnell has pulled off an amazing feat with it. If only Bungie had point the same amount of care into the script. It’s lazy and often nonsensical. Too often it goes for a sci-fi nonsense that they often tell you they can’t be bothered explaining. One of the first lines uttered is “I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain”. It’s almost insulting how little Bungie has bothered to flesh out this universe. Almost as sad as how underused the majority of the genre favorite stuffed voice cast is. Gina Torres, Nathan Fillion, Bill Nighy, Peter Stormare, Lance Reddick and Claudia Black all have a few lines but they come and go so fast it’s a wonder that they even to shell out the cost for them. Almost the whole of Destiny’s narrative drive is placed solely on Peter Dinklage’s performance of Ghost, your AI sidekick. To his credit, Dinklage has some great reading that in a lesser actor would have just sounded as goofy as it really is. Tragically, these moments are few and far between and many of the lines you hear most often must have come at the end of a long day of recording as he sounds barely awake.
Bungie has spent many hours talking about Destiny’s social aspects. After hours of playing, I still have no idea what they were talking about. The only chat is when you are in a fireteam and only with your fireteam. Outside of it you are limited to waving, pointing or dancing. This isn’t social interaction, it’s just goofing. The social hub area is completely pointless, unless you want to just point at others. There is no sound there, no text communications to find a team. For a title that has spent so much time and effort to talk about it’s social element, it’s distinctly lacking.

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    To be completely fair, I don’t think today’s Destiny will be the same beast it will be a year from now. Bungie’s ambition seems to have over reached their skill but they’re also playing a long game here so maybe it’s really too early to call it a hit or miss. Maybe the future plans will raise Destiny to something resembling the experience that we’ve been promised since it was first officially announced back in 2011. Maybe no one will care by then.

Destiny- 7/10 There’s a lot of potential for the future here but it’s just not there yet.

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Drakengard 3

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A GIFT OF PAIN!!!!

Let’s be totally honest here. This is a niche title. It’s another in the “Oh, look how desperate Japanese games are to be weird, what a shame it always feels so damn forced” category. A prequel to the earlier two entries in the cult series, it still insists on making more than it’s fair share of winks and nods to the other titles and the whole time feels like it’s trying to be Neir… which isn’t surprising since many of the same folks worked on both. Tragically it’s no Neir and it’s no Drakengard 1 or 2.

    Zero is out to kill her sisters. Unfortunately, her first attempt fails and she loses an arm as well as her loyal dragon, Michael. A year passes when we pick back up and Zero decides to try against but this time she decides to attack each in their own lands one at a time, instead of stupidly taking them all on at once like she did the first time, supported by the child reincarnation of her dead dragon named Mikhail. While facing hordes of loyal soldiers would be a problem, Zero is an Intoner, a magical being sent from the heavens and controls the world in song. Before the end you’ll learn the secret of The Intoners, the timeline will split and all of this is will be monitored by a being called Accord. Yeah.
Unfortunately to get to the interesting parts you have to get through the rest of the game. The characters are all terribly written and insufferable. In Japanese tradition instead of being an interesting anti-hero Zero is just an insufferable bitch, made even worse when they attempt to explain her and soften her later on. The legions of enemies are all mind controlled by lust. Mikhail offers an interesting counterpoint to Zero but is one of the most annoying characters in gaming. The other Intoners are all variations on Japanese fetishizing of women. It’s all very… tedious and doesn’t once try to break free from the bonds of the standard. Though the ideas presented in the second half of the game are solid and incredibly interesting, they’re just not worth the effort to get to or play out.

Have I mentioned how much I hate this kind of cutesy shit? If you go dark, go fucking dark. Don't pull this half ass garbage repeatedly. Still better than when they do the audio drops.

Have I mentioned how much I hate this kind of cutesy shit? If you go dark, go fucking dark. Don’t pull this half ass garbage repeatedly. Still better than when they do the audio drops.

Graphically Drakengard 3 is one ugly date. Textures are muddy, backgrounds and characters look like they were taken directly out of a shelved PS2 title. The only thing here that really pops is the blood effects. I’d be lying if I didn’t say these effects are one of the best things presented here. Zero’s white outfit gets splattered as you progress, the camera gets it’s fair share of splatter as well. If only they took it a step farther and bloodied the landscape or the cluster of enemies standing right next to whatever fountain you’ve just sliced in half. Frame rate slows to a crawl in every encounter… I found myself flashing back to the days of “slow mo” options on aftermarket controllers where everything became a jittering stutter step as it wailed on it’s pause function.
The camera keeps pulling itself downward. It sticks to walls. It shakes like it’s located in the middle of an earthquake specially for it. It pulls too close to be of any use. It’s even worse when dragon riding. If everything before sounded passable to you… the camera is the most inexcusable feature here.
Of course all of this is forgivable and, as unbelievable as this might sound, can be overlooked if the gameplay is good. Drakengard 3 still doesn’t shine in this regard. The mechanics are simple, easy to pick up and there’s a fair number of combos available by the end… there’s just no reason to bother with any of it. Based on four switchable weapons, each for a specific type of enemy, there’s no reason to delve beyond your basic button mash. No matter how you play, enemies fall quickly and easily. They insist on either just circling you for the most part or running full steam ahead into a wall. At no point does anything outside of a boss battle give the slightest amount of challenge. To break up the hack and slash, Zero will mount Mikhail and take to the skies. Mikhail is a tank and destroys everything with even more ease than Zero does. It makes you wonder why she ever stops riding him.

At least there's plenty of gore in an attempt to cover the incompetence of everything else here.

At least there’s plenty of gore in an attempt to cover the incompetence of everything else here.

The graphics hurt your eyes, the fights are boring, the bosses are jokes, the camera has Parkinson’s and cutesy “edits” of graphic images and sounds. There’s just nothing to recommend here… unless you’re a fan of this niche of gaming. Then you’ll probably love it. If not, you should skip this and pick up Neir if you haven’t already.

Drakengard 3- 4.5/10… it’s just not my type of game. I get that. I’ve played through many of this niche market lately and will admit that I might be a little too hard here.

The Walking Dead: Season 2

STILL. NOT. BITTEN. First episode... single best moment of the whole season.

STILL. NOT. BITTEN. First episode… single best moment of the whole season.

Telltale Games second trip into the massively popular zombie riddled world of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. Telltale’s first season was one of a handful of titles released in 2012 that really helped set a high water mark for story and scripting in video gaming. The shadow it casts is still a large one. Keeping that in mind, there’s no surprise that Season 2 suffers from a sophomore slump.

    Clementine, the young survivor from season 1, is still on the road eighteen months after Season 1’s final episode, No Time Left. Rumors of a safe haven called Wellington are drawing many survivors north. Falling in with a new group who are on the run from despot Bill Carver. Tragically for Clem there are still hundreds of miles, thousands of walkers and nearly as many bandits between her and possible salvation.

    Season two’s gameplay is just like Telltale’s other release so far this year, The Wolf Among Us. Gone are the puzzles but remaining are quicktime action sequences, one or two in each episode do provide a nice break from the handholding and near endless dialog sequences. Controls are not nearly as responsive as they should be for quicktime. It’s not a deal breaker, even if it doesn’t register as it should on first attempt you get more than enough time to do it again… and again when necessary. What could be a deal breaker is how there’s no variety in the events. It only consists of two types. Type one is Zombie Action!!!, in it you dodge zombies and occasionally kill one. These should be tense moments but they aren’t. At no point does it feel like Clem is actually in danger. Type two is a normal button jam, but again, even if you are pushing through a tightly confined space with a biter right on your ass… there’s just no feeling of immediate danger, you can stop and take a couple deep breaths, maybe even get yourself a cup of coffee and a quick catnap, before hitting the final input if you want. I don’t expect this series to turn into a hard core action title, it’s the last thing anyone playing it wants, but at least some sense of urgency would go a long way.

So many dialog options. So little actually matter.

So many dialog options. So little actually matter.

    The other half of the title… I really can’t call “gameplay”. While there’s a great number of dialog options and some of the response times are really short, it’s too passive to be immersive. There’s also the fact that the constantly morphing group around Clem just aren’t very interesting. Where Season 1 really shined was in the character depths and story arcs for every member of the group, without losing site of the main relationship between Lee and Clem. Season 2 just keeps saddling you with disposables. While some have a good moment, it’s nearly impossible to care if they live or die. Ultimately, like all things in this franchise, it comes down to people acting like children and making the dumbest calls possible for cheap drama. The whole narrative relies on already caring about Clementine and if you go in without that, I don’t see it holding anyone’s interest for very long.

    While Clem has some great dialog throughout the season and a couple of actual choices in the finale, everything else leading to it feels meaningless and artificial. There are more variables in play this time around but the majority of them don’t really affect anything. For example, there is a character who can die as early as Episode 2- A House Divided. His death or survival at that point has no consequence to later episodes outside of a line of dialog or two. Events are pretty much static. While Telltale’s thing has always been a single narrative that’s only slightly modified by the player’s responses there are just too many moments where it simply doesn’t matter.

    The Walking Dead Season 2 suffers from far too much been there, done that. Honestly, the game pretty much boils down to just redoing highlights from Season 1, the TV series and the comic. There’s another pregnant survivor, there’s more guts smeared herd strolls, a violent dictator antagonist, characters acting like children because it’s easier to make drama by having everyone act like a bitch to each other instead of trying to survive. I do have to give Telltale credit for the ballsy move of putting us in Clem’s eleven year old shoes, as well as having us be largely ignored by the rest of the cast like a kid’s input would be, instead of casting players as a new protector/guardian for Clem. I can’t say that the whole short trip is worth it for the ending. Telltale seems to have made sure that this is the end of the road for Clementine’s tale, though I have no doubt she’ll pop up in someway in Season 3. No matter which of the three main variables you play out all have a nice finality to them and feel fairly fitting even if not truly satisfying. While it’s a rough patch in the series, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Season 3.

Bill Carver... like Thoe Governor but, you know, boring and not really threatening.

Bill Carver… like The Governor but, you know, boring and not really threatening.

 

The Walking Dead: Season 2
Overall- 7.5/10

Episode 1- All That Remains- 8/10

Episode 2- A House Divided- 7.5/10

Episode 3- In Harm’s Way- 5.5/10

Episode 4- Amid the Ruins- 6/10

Episode 5- No Going Back- 6/10

 

The Witch and the Hundred Knight

The camera is often useless. Especially in the early stages where trees overwhelm all of the map off the main path.

The camera is often useless. Especially in the early stages where trees overwhelm all of the map off the main path.

The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a stage based action JRPG from Nippon Ichi Software, the developers of the greatly loved Disgaea series, and published by NIS America, who have unleashed Time and Eternity and the Hyperdimension Neptunia on the world at large. It’s also the single worst gaming experience I’ve ever had. I won’t lie and say that I’ve had a lot of love for the JRPGs that have come across my path in the past couple of years and most of the worst have been brought to us by NIS America. In theory there’s some good stuff hidden behind the massive amounts of just tossed in garbage. The dark material could really work if it wasn’t presented in such a desperate to shock and with an unwillingness to actually go as dark as it needs.

    Assuming the role of the mythical Hundred Knight, whose legend of being an all powerful monstrously large demon warrior turns out to actually be a tiny and fairly cute demon… who will eventually be an all powerful blah blah blah. You’ve been summoned by the Swamp Witch Metallia to spread her domain by unlocking the Pillars of Tolerance, giant flower like things strewn all around the world that are for some reason stuffed with toxic swamp, and to destroy her enemies. Of course this means her enemies are all the goody two-shoes who most games annoying you throw you with. Let’s take over the world! Who doesn’t love a little domination and subjugation? This should at least be fun, right? Nope.
The biggest problem of the many with this is the character of Metallia and the endless dialog. Most of the dialog brings nothing to the game. It doesn’t establish the characters better or bring their motivations to light. It’s just lengthy set ups for incredibly bad jokes. Whole chapters of the game are just set ups for throw away punchlines. That will be repeated endlessly. Metallia is a tiring character. Throwing out insulting names for all, none of them even passingly humorous and often making sexually violent comments, she’s tedious. By the end of the tediously extended instructional stage I was already bored with her constant screaming and annoyingly censored vulgarity. That’s right. They won’t let her say “fuck”, even though she says it CONSTANTLY, but summoning horny rats to rape her just defeated foe is ok. It’s a strange line this game makes for itself to earn it’s T rating. The game seems to constantly congratulate itself for being about an evil character but doesn’t have the grit to actually make it more than a jokey boring snittiness.

One joke... twenty minute unskippable scene to get to it.

One joke… twenty minute unskippable scene to get to it.

    Of course this is a game and even the chore of the cutscenes and putting up for Metallia would be ok if the gameplay were up to snuff. Guess what? It’s another let down. While the basics work well enough, it just gets too convoluted with a dozen mechanics that do not ever really do anything. While there’s nothing wrong with deep gameplay there is something wrong with making it mostly optional. Every enemy has specific weaknesses which are flashed on them when they approach. The idea is that you will then quickly switch to a weapon set that works best for that enemy. This idea doesn’t work out because not only does the constant having to fall back to get what the game considers enough space for you to open the inventory to do this start taking up too much time but even bothering with it gets dull. Before the end of the first stage I had just made a cycle of my five best weapons of various types and rode them throughout. It’s really the only way to work it. Yes, most of your attacks won’t be terribly effective but stopping the flow every 10 seconds to change your loadout simply isn’t fun or engaging.

    The stage maps are all of decent size and exploration isn’t awful. The problem here is that you have to make multiple trips and the Gigacal mechanic. Gigacals are basically a forced time limit. Every action, even just standing there, burns them at different speeds and running out forces you to return to Metallia’s lair, the only way to refill them in one go. While there are items that will refill a small amount of it, they’re the rarest items and don’t really make enough of a difference to bother with unless you are in a boss fight and about to run out.
I really don’t want to waste more time with this. To quickly proceed in brief. There’s also problems with the controls, they’re just too complex to be really workable on a controller without often triggering the wrong thing in a fight. The voice acting is awful across the board. The camera is too often obscured. The graphics are poor and the particle effects are eyesores. The credits play after every stage for absolutely no reason I could figure out.

Hey! It's Final Fantasy and Star Wars characters Biggs and Wedge. Nope, their inclusion like this doesn't reek of cheap fan wank. Not at all.

Hey! It’s Final Fantasy and Star Wars characters Biggs and Wedge. Nope, their inclusion like this doesn’t reek of cheap fan wank. Not at all.

There’s just no reason to bother with The Witch and the Hundred Knight. I don’t get why companies insist on porting out these titles that don’t have any appeal. I know there are some great games being made in Japan that never see but completely deserve a release to the whole world. Why do the companies that are willing to bring them out only bring these pieces of shit over? There’s no way the small but dedicated JRPG fanatics can make this a sustainable business model. Give us some of the good stuff guys, not this terribly made crap that will appeal to no one but will sell a couple hundred copies because the press doesn’t cover them and the fans will buy sight unseen.

The trees... THE TREES! THE TREEEEEEESSSSSS!!!!!!!

The trees… THE TREES! THE TREEEEEEESSSSSS!!!!!!!

2/5- 1 for making it out of Japan and 1 for some interesting concepts.

Castlevania: Lord of Shadows 2

Some of the castle's scenery is fantastic.

Some of the castle’s scenery is fantastic.

MercurySteam closes their Castlevania reboot series, the 35th entry in Konami’s franchise, with the interesting idea of placing us firmly in the shoes of the prince of darkness himself. Tragically, their view of Dracula is a whiny, guilt ridden little bitch. This horrible character view isn’t helped any by the game’s repetitive, boring combat or it’s awkward stealth section or the terrible character designs or the linear and boring level design. It’s not all bad but I like to get the negatives out of the way up front.

    Gabriel Belmont has long ruled as Dracula when his castle is attacked. After quickly dispatching the invaders, Dracula wakes up a thousand years in the future to find a city built over the ruins of his castle. Weak, mostly powerless and almost dead he is confronted by his old enemy Zobek who informs him of the impending return of Satan. Satan has been unable to revive before because of the powers of Dracula. Zobek offers to kill Drac if he will regain all his powers and take out Satan’s three acolytes before the can summon the Big Evil back to life. So… in order for Dracula’s guilt ridden existence to end he needs to get healthy, insanely powerful and then let his oldest enemy just kill him after removing the only other being that is equal to him in power? Yeah. That sounds reasonable and not at all like a set up for awful. It’s ok though, since Dracula is incredibly stupid he jumps at the offer and never once thinks twice about it until he’s told otherwise.
Now this story could have been a lot of fun if it didn’t take itself so damn seriously. The director of Lord of Shadows 2, Enric Álvarez, takes this inanity far too seriously. It feels like he convinced himself that he was telling an important story here. The game feels that it’s convinced itself that it has something to actually say about redemption and fate and he nature of mankind. It doesn’t. It offers a rambly and incoherent meditation on nothing. It’s really too bad that no one could take this project in hand. Where the original Lord of Shadows embraced its silliness, thanks to the guiding hand of Hideo Kojima, this follow up is in denial of it. You can’t fault Álvarez for his ambition but you can fault him directly for it’s bloated failures.

Same can not be said for the City.

Same can not be said for the City.

The voice cast is stuffed with heavy hitters. Patrick Stewart’s Zobek is a solid and standard Stewart voice performance. He gives both gravity and a feeling of much needed self-awareness to the part. It’s what he does in games and he still does it wonderfully. This can’t be said for the rest of the cast. To be fair they mostly do the best with what they are given. Except Robert Carlyle’s Dracula. Carlyle is a damn good actor and often elevates projects he appears in. That is not the case here. His Dracula is flat and boring. He’s obviously just not feeling the material and has decided to not even try. It’s a shame since so much of the game’s heavy handed story needed a seductive or engaging performance of this part to even remotely work.

    Lord of Shadows 2 splits your time between the series standard castle and the future city built upon the castle’s ruins. Both settings are linear and you’ll visit each section repeatedly giving the illusion of a more open world than there actually is. The castle’s sections are each unique and punctuated with some incredibly stunning backgrounds. It’s the only real highlight in the game. The city, on the other hand, is one of the most boring and derivative environments I’ve seen. Every part of it is flat and offers nothing that has not been copied out of a thousand other titles.

    Lord of Shadows 2 really shines in it’s combat system. The combos flow nicely, the controls are responsive and the quick switching between weapons offers the possibility accommodating every play style. Sticking with Castlevania tradition your main weapon is a whip-like weapon with a nice range and speed. Complementing it is the Void Sword that, while the weakest of the three, replenishes Dracula’s life a small bit with every hit and can blast ice magic at targets to slow down enemies or freeze water to open a small area to explore. The third option is Dracula’s fingernails, the Chaos Claws, which shred through armour and enemy defenses. Chaos Claws can also fire bombs for crowd control and to knock down chandeliers to open more of the path. Each weapon has it’s own leveling and mastery system based on usage. When a skill has been used so much the total experience of it can be dropped into an overall mastery for the weapon which makes it stronger and unlocks longer combos. The boss fights are all highlights of the combat system, it’s almost a shame that all the other fights in each stage are all so wash, rinse, repeat.

Or the endless number of elevators and hallways that hide the shocking number of loads.

Or the endless number of elevators and hallways that hide the shocking number of loads.

    While the combat sings at times the forced stealth drags. Each part feels identical and doesn’t offer any real challenge. It feels shoehorned in to just pad playtime. Stealth is even more linear than the rest. Change into a rat and run along the course. It doesn’t offer any challenge or anything  on interest.

So many load hallways. Here's one made of blood. Blood hallways shift you between time periods. Oh... ew... I just got that.

So many load hallways. Here’s one made of blood. Blood hallways shift you between time periods. Oh… ew… I just got that.

     Padding, like the stealth sections and constantly having to revisit areas, is really Castlevania: Lord of Shadows 2’s biggest problem. MercurySteam has taken a short game and inflated it to epic proportions. It bogs down under its own weight. There’s some great stuff at the cold black vampiric heart but we’re only given glimpses of it under all the fatty tissue. It is a prime example of what happens when no one is there to say that you’ve gone far enough. Maybe if they’d cut a couple of hours and fetch quests out or if they’d had a stronger grasp on the emotions they were going for at the heart of the narrative all of these problems would be easy to overlook. As it is though it’s a mediocre and ponderously pretentious title that has a nice place if you need something to fill the time between the next God of War or Devil May Cry title. it could have been worse.

6.5/10 – While you have to respect the attempt, there’s little doubt that it just doesn’t succeed. Not bad but not actually good. Worth picking up on the cheap if at all.

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Tales of Symphonia Collection

Well... you aren't that ugly in HD if that helps.

Well… you aren’t that ugly in HD if that helps.

Bandai Namco Games revisits a classic RPG and brings its spotty sequel along for the ride. Remastered by tri-Crescent, the former audio studio that made Eternal Sonata, slaps a fresh coat of HD paint, and a nicely remastered soundtrack, on a title that has never received the appreciation it deserves. Eleven years after Tales of Symphonia’s original GameCube release it still stands as the pinnacle of the Tales series and a highlight of the genre.
Tales of Symphonia:

    When Collette is given the title of Chosen and tasked to save the world by restocking the life giving force known as Mana, her long time friend Lloyd Irving is quick to take up his sword and volunteer to help. Along the way they are joined by a large vibrant cast of characters on their, admittedly fairly standard issue, epic quest. To say much more would lead to inescapable spoilers and Symphonia is a title to best go into as cold as possible and let it unfold at its own pace..
Tales of Symphonia really shines in it’s characters. Employing the series trademark Skit mechanic to great effect. Unlike most entries in the genre there’s no overt reliance on GRAND MOMENTS or painfully long cut scenes to drive the story along, not that they are completely absent. Instead the Tales series unfolds its story in quiet moments of dialog between the characters as they explore the world, giving their back stories, personalities and motivations in a way that feels natural. It goes a long way in bringing the characters to life and drawing the player into the experience.

Chillin' in a cave with the gang. That's old skool RPG right there, son.

Chillin’ in a cave with the gang. That’s old skool RPG right there, son.

    To make it really shine the voice cast is excellent. The performances should all be praised. the only thing wrong with it is that not all skits are voiced and which one don’t receive this treatment are odd choices. Many of the truly emotional ones are silent while the more frivolous the more voices there are. I understand that much of this has to do with limits at the time of original release but even back then they must have known that some of these should have been switched.

Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World:

Richter has some really complicated feelings for Emil... but that doesn't stop him from constantly starting to attempt a homicide.

Richter has some really complicated feelings for Emil… but that doesn’t stop him from constantly starting to attempt a homicide.

    Taking place two years later, we join Emil and Marta on their journey to awaken Lord Ratatosk and give us a look at the aftermath of Lloyd’s quest. Again, I’m hampered by not wanting to spoil the first entry. The story this time around is not as strong. The whole Symphonia gang returns but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Dawn of the New World never lives up to the original and never steps out of it’s shadow for even a moment. All of what was done so well the first time around feels too forced this time. The cast doesn’t have the same life or personality they did previously and the new characters are not very good additions. At the heart of it there’s a great concept for a follow up but in execution it just fails to deliver.
The Skit mechanic returns and there are some nice bits. The whole just never comes together. The characters that were so vibrant are stripped to sketches of themselves, each having a moment or two that highlights what the developers saw as their defining characteristic. It feels like fan service, which is exactly what it is, and not for anything beyond that. You can almost hear the writers planning out exactly how we should react to each of these moments but they never elicit the demanded response. It all feels too lazy.

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's not really anything that interesting...

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s not really anything that interesting…

To make it all the worse the voice cast here just is not up to par. None of them stand out. The new characters lack any unique sound, they cast them to generic character design. The returning cast’s new voices have the same problem… especially disappointing is Lloyd’s new voice actor. There’s just no excuse for this problem in any title. Just cast better, people. Should not be that hard… I’m guessing anyway.

Chronicles:

    Both titles receive wonderful HD upgrade. Both titles are vibrant, detailed and obviously done with great care. The texture work is impressive and at no time were there any glaring problems which often plague HD releases of older titles. There are some new icons and extra costumes for returning players to enjoy.

     The audio has been remastered and sounds fantastic. Both titles give you the option to hear the English or Japanese cast. Tales of Symphonia had a fantastic score on release and here it’s made even better. Every track fits where it’s played. The quiet emotional tracks are wonderful and can easily hold up against the more showcase tracks. Like the rest of the title the Tales team really outdid themselves on the score. Again Dawn just doesn’t stack up. Though in this case there’s nothing egregious but there’s nothing really fantastic either. The whole score is taken from the JRPG stock music trunk. It’s serviceable and that’s about it.

In case I didn't make it clear just how much Japan loves this game, and the whole series in general, here is a picture from Tales of Festival 2013.  We stole this from http://www.abyssalchronicles.com/ I hope they forgive us for that.

In case I didn’t make it clear just how much Japan loves this game, and the whole series in general, here is a picture from Tales of Festival 2013. We stole this from http://www.abyssalchronicles.com/
I hope they forgive us for that.

    The combat system is the same for both titles. The real time turn-based action hybrid still works wonderfully. It stays engaging and fun to play through both titles. Since there’s a fair amount of grind in both it’s really impossible to overpraise how well the combat is done. Controlling one of the four in your fighting group, the other controlled by AI, the action is fast and easy to get into the swing of. While early on just hacking your way through is a valid option as the titles progress you will have to learn how to use the AI orders and parameter options to the best effect. Learn how to time special moves precisely and just when to activate unison attacks where you get back up from the rest of your team. At no point does it feel overwhelming and the difficulty ramps in Symphonia that you never find yourself panicked or in above your head in tactical terms (you could be crazy under-leveled though but that’s not the game’s fault). Of course once again I have to point out how this just is not quite true for Dawn of the New World. In that case the difficulty has a tendency to swing crazily to an extremely higher setting which sets off incredibly long grind sessions, which would be annoying but acceptable if the difficulty did not crash immediately after a single fight. This makes the grind to advancement ratio more than a little out of whack.

    Really this release is all about the first game, showing that it’s still a fantastic game worth going back to, and giving the audience the best possible version of it. Tales of Symphonia is easy to recommend and easy to call one of the all time best RPGs. It’s well worth the price of admission and, despite it’s flaws, the sequel is a nice bonus for fans of the original. Though if you don’t want to bother with the second game, the original is available as a standalone title in the PSN store. If you have any interest in the genre there’s simply no reason to not get this one.

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Tales of Symphonia- 9.5/10 Still stands strong with it’s engaging world, great combat and wonderful characters

Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World- 5/10 Deeply flawed and only of interest to those who simply HAVE to have more from Symphonia’s world.

 

Tales of Symphonia Collection- Overall: 8.5/10