enfrdeitptrues

Turn Based Strategy

  • Ambition of the Slimes (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Ambition of the Slimes
    Developed By: Altairworks, Flyhigh Works
    Published By: Circle Entertainment
    Released: August 11, 2016 (3DS)
    Available On: 3DS, Android, iOS, Vita
    Genre: Strategy RPG
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Up (Fantasy Violence and Suggestive Themes)
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $5.00

    Thank you Circle for sending us a copy of the game to review!

    In most RPGs there are creatures known as slimes. These enemies normally pose little, to no threat, and are only considered good for grinding levels early on. Ambition of the Slimes aims to change all that by putting the player in control of an army of slimes.

    At the start of the game there is a nice and simple  tutorial that teaches some of the basics to this strategy RPG. First off, battles take place on grid-based battlefields. Enemies and slimes can move a certain distance before performing an action, like attacking, or waiting and ending their turn. Secondly, slimes are very weak in battle, and though they can fight back they all have the unique ability to "claim" a human target. This happens when a slime comes into contact with said target. Selecting claim from the battle menu plays out a disturbing cutscene in which the enemy's head tilts back, and the slime attempts to slide down their throat. This is pretty terrifying the first few times it happens, but you'll quickly wish you could just skip it. Slimes may also have other abilities like warping anywhere on the map, while some may have higher success rates of claiming. Battles are won when either no humans remain, or only possessed humans and slimes are on the battlefield. 

    Ambition of the Slimes
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Surprisingly challenging; Cutesy graphics and well implemented 3D; Great twist on the SRPG genre.
    Weak Points: Frustratingly difficult at times; Enemies crowd each other; Grammatical errors.
    Moral Warnings: As with any RPG, there's a moderate level of fantasy violence; Slimes possess humans in a disturbing fashion; Some overly sexualized enemy sprites.

    Before each stage is played you can choose which slimes to bring into battle. Each enemy and slime has an elemental affinity being water, fire, and earth. Water is strong against fire, but weak against earth, much like rock-paper-scissors. If your slime has the same element as a human you want to claim, and the claim is successful, that human will have increased attributes which is imperative to complete most stages. Most humans will have a 100% claim rate, but most maps will have at least one enemy with an incredibly low claim rate. When successfully claimed, these humans can completely turn a battle around for the slimes. 

    The biggest issue with claiming a human is that they are usually surrounded by other humans, and cannot move after being claimed. This results in that human being attacked upwards of four times, should they survive that long. The height of the battlefield will also come into play when maneuvering your characters. Should your character be on higher ground than its target while attacking, more damage will be inflicted to them and you take less damage. Unlike in other SRPGs, attacking an enemy with its back to you won't result in bonus damage.

    Ambition of the Slimes
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The retro graphics are very reminiscent of other games localized by Flyhigh Works, such as Witch & Hero and its sequel. They are very cute and the spritework for enemies and the slimes are detailed nicely. The battlefield itself can be rotated during battles and the 3D has been implemented very well. The music is nothing spectacular, and for the most part sounds like it's from Witch & Hero. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it instilled a sense of nostalgia in me hearing these simple chiptunes again. 

    As for moral warnings, it would be expected that there is a moderate amount of fantasy violence. That's not really the case for Ambition of the Slimes though, as battles are merely a static screen with sprites crashing into each other. I'm sure most players will be more terrified by the way the slimes possess their targets rather than the way battles unfold. Even after seeing the claiming process for 15 hours it's still disturbing to see them slide down enemy throats. Also worth mentioning are the rather sexually designed females enemies. Some are posed rather peculiarly, while others are more "top-heavy."

    This is an excellent game for fans of the SRPG genre, though one shouldn't expect an exact ripoff of Final Fantasy Tactics. Aside from some grammatical inconsistencies and the high difficulty, there is a deep strategy game here. With patience and endurance, this title is sure to satisfy those that are seeking a challenge from their video games.

    -Kyuremu

     

  • Atlas Reactor (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Atlas Reactor
    Developed By: Trion Worlds
    Released: October 4, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Strategy
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen: Violence
    Number of Players: 8 online 
    Price: Free-to-play but $29.99 for full unlock

    Have you ever wanted to play a MOBA but you don’t have quick enough reflexes? This is your game. Atlas Reactor  is a game where you pick a character, team up with three other people, and then fight a four-person team in turn-based combat. The game advertises itself as a MOBA that does not require quick reflexes and it delivers on that.

    In Atlas Reactor you fight matches using freelancers. Each freelancer has its own set of stats and abilities. There are different freelancers designed to fit different roles such as a tank, support, fighter, and assassin. Once you have chosen your freelancer you can look for a match. You can play against bots with an AI team or other players, compete against other players, or play ranked. Once you start a match you will have 20 seconds to plan your turn. After that 20 seconds, all actions will be carried out simultaneously and then the next round will start. The first team to reach five kills in twenty turns will win the match. That’s the core of the game.

    Currently the freelancers are very diverse. There are supposed to be three different categories, (firepower, frontliner, and support) but freelancers can vary wildly within categories. For instance, in just the firepower category there is an artillery unit that leaves mines where it shoots; a long-range, sneaky sniper; a guy that can bounce his shots off walls; and a girl with a crossbow that can order a drone around the battlefield to scout out and shoot enemies. Each character has their own set of unique abilities they can use. There are four types of abilities in this game and each one happens at a different time during each turn. First you have the prep abilities. These happen first and consist of healing, buffs, debuffs, and the placement of traps. Next you have dash abilities. These allow a player to quickly move in order to avoid damage or to gain some extra mobility. Some dashes cause damage while other simply move you. All dashes happen at the same time so if somebody is dashing to you and you dash away you’ll receive no damage. Next is your blast abilities. These are your attacks which come last and happen before your character gets to make a basic move. Different attacks do different things and have their own quirks as to how they are used or aimed. Blast abilities all happen at once, but they get shown to the player one at a time. In addition, each character has a special ultimate that they can use after they gain enough energy by using their other abilities. 

    After you play with a freelancer for a while you’ll be able to unlock mods. Mods allow you to augment your abilities in order to better suit your playstyle. One thing that is interesting about mods is they are balanced. Each player can only equip up to ten points of mods and more powerful mods cost more to equip. It’s an interesting situation having to make an ability weaker to strengthen another ability but it allows the creation of a unique freelancer. This helps to make the same freelancer feel different each time you fight one since you never know just what kind of mods they have equipped.

    Atlas Reactor
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique gameplay; Varied freelancers; The ability to mod freelancers in order to suit different playstyles; Allows the player to still be able to play competently without having quick reflexes.
    Weak Points: No offline singleplayer; It can require a decent amount of grinding to do stuff; Game currently only has one game mode; Global chat can be a cesspool.
    Moral Warnings: Some language; Some sexual content; Some cartoonish violence.

    The different freelancers are fun to use but there are a limited number of ways to use them. Currently, there are only four maps that you can play on. Also, there is only one game mode currently available. There was another game mode in the game at one point, but it was been removed, although it seems to come back for a little while every now and then. Playing deathmatch over and over again can get a little stale in my opinion. Thankfully, the game rewards your play by giving you a loot matrix every time you level up your season level. A loot matrix can be opened for random pieces of loot that are available at the time. These items are things such as skins, boosts, iso (an in-game loot), taunts, and pieces for your banner. If you get a duplicate you get iso which can be used to buy any piece you want so long as you have enough iso. Completing matches in order to keep unlocking loot matrices is one of the thing that keeps me playing. It’s really fun opening up a loot matrix to see what’s inside.

    This game does have a story but it is not very obvious. This game has things called seasons which are a collection of chapters that are only available to do for a limited time. Each chapter contains objectives to complete. When you complete all the objectives you unlock a new chapter. Some objectives can be easy such as playing ten matches or gaining ten season levels but some can be tedious and time consuming such as using twenty taunts in games you win, play fifteen matches as an Omni freelancer, or complete five daily quests. Completing chapters earn you rewards and can unlock more story. Each chapter contains a decent length story that a player can read. Each piece of story is supposed to relate back to the quests the player is doing in that chapter. Overall, what little I’ve read of the story seems okay, but I have not read all of it since it takes a considerable amount of time to sit there and read it all when one could be playing the game and unlocking more items.

    The game has surprisingly good graphics. More turn-based games don’t seem to have really nice graphics, but that’s because the player is normally zoomed out so that they can see the battlefield. This game lets you zoom in all the way. Also, I mean that literally. For some reason, you can zoom in so far that you can look at a freelancers waist. Now, I have no idea why one would really want to zoom in that far since it makes the game impossible to play but the graphics do look good zoomed in all the way. My only real complaint about the graphics is that you can’t zoom out that far (I’d really appreciate a top-down angle) and that sometimes the character models clip but this seems to mainly happens when playing a taunt (a special animation) with a special skin equipped. The audio is also pretty good. Characters all have nice, distinct voices and they say things rather frequently during battle. In addition, the different abilities all sound rather well. The only downside is the music is not that impressive. The main menu theme is nice but while playing a match the music is mostly background noise and ambient sounds. 

    The game does have a very interesting control scheme. For the most part, everything can be done with the mouse and most things seem to try and be done in the fewest clicks possible. That can be good since you are on a timer but some things can be just downright frustrating. For instance, one character can throw two little grappling claws at her enemies. She can throw them both at one enemy, throw them at different enemies, or throw one at a power-up to pick it up. In order to throw both at one enemy you have to aim the mouse away from the player in the direction you want to throw. If you want to target two locations you have to move the mouse closer to the player until they split. Once they split, you keep moving the mouse closer to the player to split them further apart. If you need to change the direction you are throwing them in you have to keep the mouse that distance from your character and rotate the mouse around. It can be pretty tedious to aim that ability just right. Also, that’s just one of the abilities that behaves like that. 

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

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 74%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 4/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Some freelancers have different firing modes that change depending how far the mouse is from the player. Other than that most of the controls seem pretty good. My only other real complaint is that since this is an online multiplayer game, you can be affected by lag. That can make the game slow to respond to your input. Normally this is not that bad but it can really mess you up every now and then. Another weird thing about the abilities is how aiming works. Some abilities are single-target, others are multi-target, and some attacks can switch between the two. Sometimes, if you can’t hit a target with a single-target shot you can change to a multi-target mode and be able to hit them. This can lead to some weird attacks and can lead to you dying when you thought you were safe.

    During the course of writing this review the game went free-to-play. This has changed the game somewhat. It used to be you had to pay $29.99 to play the game with full access to everything. Now, you can play the game for free to earn a special currency that can be used to unlock freelancers. This is good for them but the problem is people that have bought the game have a bunch of that currency they are also gaining that is mostly useless to a paying player. Also, even though the game is now free-to-play they still offer the $29.99 package that I had gotten and they do seem to encourage you still to buy that since it seems like unlocking stuff as a free player takes a while.

    Overall, this game’s biggest moral problem is its language. There’s not much offensive language that is said in this game besides using the Lord’s name in vain, but there is language that appears in the story. There is also the inclusion of a global chat and some things posted in it are very bad. There is a language filter to bleep out the curse words but there is a lot that is not filtered. There is some violence in the game, but is mostly cartoonish violence. Now, there are some more sexualized outfits for some characters but most of those are optional outfits you can unlock and are not the default outfits.

    If you want a fun and fast-paced (for a turn-based strategy) game with the ability to battle your friends I’d recommend playing Atlas Reactor. If you like the idea of this type of game I’d really recommend checking out the free-to-play option to test it out for yourself. The free option doesn’t seem to be too limiting and the price you pay to fully unlock everything is not that bad. The only downside is it only has one game mode, but the game is also pretty generous with giving you loot matrices to unlock so you always have something to play for. Overall, it is a pretty fun game to jump into for a little while and play a couple of matches.

    -Paul Barnard (Betuor)

     

  • B*stard Bonds (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Bastard Bonds
    Developed By: BigFingers
    Published By: BigFingers
    Released: April 29, 2016
    Available On: Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Tactical RPG
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Single player
    MSRP: $19.99

    Thank you BigFingers for sending a copy of this game to review!

    B*stard Bonds is a tactical RPG with turn based combat. You start the game by creating a character that is being sentenced for a crime they may or may not have committed. Regardless, the punishment handed out is exile to a prisoner island. Once on the island a fellow prisoner springs you from your cell and the two of you escape to the countryside.  You move from location to location on the vast map fighting monsters, gaining allies and uncovering the mysteries of the island. Once you've gained enough allies you can create a Stronghold to further advance your party and equip them to explore the entire map. 

    The first word B*stard Bonds uses to describe itself on its Steam store page is "mature." The game certainly earns a Mature rating but I found a lot of its content to be rather immature. A perfect example of this is the title screen. It's a picture of a smirking judge looking down on a man and a woman with chains around their necks. I thought the image was fitting for the premise of the game. Then in the Options menu is a setting that removes everyone's clothes on the title screen. It has no effect on the rest of the game, it's just there to show some skin. It's an option that reeks of immaturity and unfortunately there are similar examples in the actual game. 

    I have to compliment the pixel artist on this game. A lot of indie games that try for this pixelated art style have lazy and blocky graphics, but this game has great looking art. I'm especially impressed by the amount of detail put into the character sprites. The character creator has a good amount of body types for both humans and orcs. There's also a massive amount of clothing options to mix and match for your sprite. The enemies also come in every shape and size; from small rodents to massive demons, all with great detail put into their appearance. The game is skimpy on the animations though, limiting each sprite to a handful of idle animations. All attacks are done with spell effects and characters seemingly hop between tiles on the map; they won't even turn to face enemies while attacking. Despite the plethora of options available in the game many of the NPCs are very hulking and very naked individuals. It get's old by the fifth or sixth time you find a big, bulky guy alone in a cabin in his loin cloth. You could argue this is due to many of the citizens on the island being prisoners but there are many example of NPCs who did manage to find clothes. 

    Bastard Bonds
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Huge cast of characters, deep customization, expansive map full of unique locations, non-linear progression, very little hand holding
    Weak Points: Unintuitive user interface, gameplay can get repetitive, very little handholding
    Moral Warnings: Gratuitous nudity, sexual scenes, homosexuality, occult magic, satanic images, demons and undead

    The art for the world is equally impressive, although the sheer size of the map causes there to be a lot of repeat use of assets. The world map is dotted with over a hundred hand-crafted locations such as castles, temples, forests, caves, towns, swamps and more. Each location not only looks good but is well designed from a tactical point of view. There are corners and choke points flawless integrated into the maps, such that you never really know where monsters could appear. There are numerous books to be read and people to talk to in order to learn about the island. The story of the island is told in a very hands off way that I really enjoyed. The stories of the various allies you meet, on the other hand, are less well done. Nearly everyone you recruit will talk you in your Stronghold, and as you adventure with them, they will gain your trust and eventually you will get a special scene where they share their backstory. There's no way to know how close you are to attaining these scenes, and you have to constantly go back to your Stronghold and check their chat options. The game certainly doesn't hold your hand; there is no correct path to progress through the map. Some locations require you to level up or visit other areas first but that's rare. 

    The combat in B*stard Bonds is standard turn based tactical combat with a bit of a twist. Each action (moving or attacking) can be made as a "risky" action. Risky actions contribute to that character's risk meter. The higher the risk meter, the higher the chance for a risky action to fail, which skips the character's turn and leaves them vulnerable. The reward for a successful risky action is that the character gets an additional action at the end of the current turn. You can keep performing risky actions until either you fill up your risk meter or you fail.  Both player characters and enemies can perform risky actions. This is a really nice system that both speeds up combat and adds more depth. You can chain attacks together with the possibility of failing and leaving yourself open for enemies to chain attacks. I really enjoyed the combat and the overall challenge of the encounters. I enjoyed having to find the right band of four characters in order to defeat certain enemies. Due to the sheer size of the map, I felt like there were a lot of mundane combat encounters that started to feel repetitive as time went on. 

    One of my main complaints is the behavior of your party while exploring a location. You control one character at a time and can move them a certain number of tiles in any direction based on speed. The other three characters follow behind. The AI for the following characters is downright bad. I cannot count the number of times I'd stumble into a group of enemies, only to discover one of my party members is six rooms back because he got stuck. As much as I love the design of so many of the locations, the ones that twist and turn can be a nightmare. Also, you need your entire party together to exit an area, so I've had three characters standing at an exit, and then I'll have to take control of the missing one to find where he went; then the other three start moving back again and get stuck. It can be a mess. 

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

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 21%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 1.5/10
    Sexual Content - 1.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 3.5/10

    There are a lot of RPG elements in B*stard Bonds. Each character has nine stats they can put points into upon leveling up. The three main stats Force, Guile, and Magic (Strength, Dexterity, and Intellect) each has an offense, defense and utility component. No character is locked into any one role, and you can advance your characters any way you want to. In addition to managing each of the characters you recruit along the way you have to manage your Stronghold. The game tells you next-to-nothing about what a Stronghold is, how important it is, and how to manage it. There's just an ever present red text on the top of world map that says, "Your Band has no Stronghold!" Eventually I figured out that there's a system by where you gain manpower from yourself and your allies based on their stats and alignment. Once you have enough manpower you can claim a completed area as a Stronghold. There is only a barebones help screen to guide you in building up your Stronghold. Really the entire user interface of this game leaves much to be desired, but the Stronghold UI is especially bad. Which is unfortunate because Strongholds are where you store items, craft items, buy items, sell items, converse with your party and much more. There is essentially a city-building game inside this tactical RPG. As much I appreciate the overall hands-off approach to progressing through the game, I really wish there was something to ease the player into Strongholds. 

    As I mentioned earlier there is a huge variety in enemies, and many of these are large, barely clothed demons of both sexes. There are all manor of devils and undead enemies as well. The occult and magic are prevalent throughout the entire game; there are pentagrams and ritual sacrifice. There are a lot of overt religious references, there is some satanic imagery and there are good and bad religious characters. As for language it really runs the gambit; there's profanity, crude jokes, and sexual dialogue. Some of the conversations are interesting discussions centered around the brutal reality of the world the island the characters find themselves on. Other conversations consist mostly of boorish humor and feels included in an attempt to make the game more "mature." There are some actual sex scenes however you don't see anything, it just fades to black. Homosexual relationships are possible as well. The game is very violent in nature but due to the lack of animations it doesn't appear as violent as it actually is. 

    Hiding under B*stard Bonds dark and vulgar physique is a very well made tactical RPG. I loved all the effort put into the graphics and into designing the the locations. I loved how the combat worked; it was familiar but also mixed things up just enough. I didn't love the controls and AI though. I loved all the RPG elements, even if they were frustrating to figure out. I loved exploring the island and figuring out it's secrets. I could have done without trying to get to know the characters better, and truthfully I stopped trying after a while. This game has a ton of content; you could easily spend over 100 hours on this game. With all that said I find this game impossible to recommend to another believer based on the "mature" elements found in the game. 

     

  • Battleship (Xbox One)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Battleship
    Developed by: Frima Studios
    Published by: Ubisoft
    Release date: August 2, 2016
    Available on: PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Board game
    Number of Players: Up to two
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence and mild language
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Ubisoft for sending us this game to review!

    Battleship is a classic board game that I have not played in ages.  I’ve been wanting to show it to my kids, but the electronic one that I had growing up is listed for $80 on Amazon.  The newer versions of Battleship aren’t as sturdy and like all physical board games, you can lose the pieces.  This version of Battleship is only available in digital format and provides thirty story missions and endless local and online matches.  If you’re looking to play against anyone online, you had better look elsewhere since I was not able to find anyone to play against.

    Thankfully you can still play against the computer or a friend.  Playing against your friend requires the honor system as the game asks the opposing player to look away while the ships are being deployed.  Each player needs their own Xbox account or a guest account logged in to join a game.

    The classic game rules can be used where only one shot per turn is allowed or you can play the much faster Clash at Sea mode.  With the new rules each player earns three white and red pegs per turn.  Spending them during the ninety-second turn is optional as more powerful attacks require more pegs.

    Battleship
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A classic board game re-created with classic and enhanced play modes
    Weak Points: Nobody online to play against; local multiplayer asks players to look away from the screen; dumb AI
    Moral Warnings: Naval warfare; minor language (d*mmit)

    The advanced attack modes require active ships so as your fleet gets depleted, so do your options.  Some of the enhanced attacks let you place five white pegs at the cost of four.  Another new move lets you deploy a mine that will attack anything in its radius when hit with a missile.  If you want to canvas a rectangle shape or an entire row (throughout a couple of turns), it's possible with the new rule set.  With the added arsenal of moves available, more strategy is added along with faster gameplay.

    Five tutorials are available to teach you the basic and advanced battle techniques.  The story campaign is decent though the enemy AI seems rather dumb at times when it chooses not to sink ships right away after it detects them.  The missions vary and some of them put you at a disadvantage by starting you off with less ships than your opponent or by requiring you to sink their fleet in a limited number of turns.  

    The enemies range from pirates to orcs and you can unlock and customize different fleets with Uplay points earned in-game at the Uplay store. The different fleets have variations of the same attacks at their disposal.

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

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Visually this game won’t disappoint.  The 3D graphics look good and you can rotate your grid to see your ship’s placement by pressing the right bumper button on the controller.  When a ship is hit the controller will vibrate and you’ll see the cracks on the head-up display (hud) screen.  When a ship capsizes it will appear on the grid and will be grayed out on your hud. 

    The sound effects are good, especially when a ship is hit.  Each attack has its own sound effects too.  The battle themed background sets the mood accordingly.   Though there is dialog in the campaign, none of it is voice acted.

    As fun as this game is there are a few things holding it back from a solid recommendation.  The first is the fact that nobody is playing it online.  Playing against humans is always more fun than dumb AI.  Hopefully you can trust that your opponent will not be looking at the screen while you’re setting up your ships.  My last complaint is the language.  While it’s not severe, I still don’t think it’s necessary to include the word d*mmit in a family friendly title.  This is not a word I would like my children to be saying when they get frustrated.  Because of these issues I recommend passing on this title and sticking with a previous release or the physical version.

     

  • Disgaea 2 PC

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Disgaea 2 PC
    Developed by: Nippon Ichi Software
    Published by: NIS America
    Release date: January 30, 2017
    Available on: PS2, Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Turn based strategy
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Mild Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    Disgaea 2 was originally released for the PS2 in 2006 and was released for the PSP in 2009.  All of the content in those games along with enhanced visuals plus keyboard and mouse support is now available in the 2017 PC version.  Since characters from the first Disgaea make an appearance in this title, I highly recommend playing the original game before picking this one up.     

    The main character in this title is Adell, the only human living in the netherworld which has been cursed fifteen years ago by the powerful Overlord Zenon.  The curse Zenon placed on the inhabitants caused the humans to lose their memories, conscience, and slowly turn into demons.  Adell doesn’t know what became of his human parents, but he loves his adopted demon family who fully support his quest of defeating Zenon to avenge those impacted by Zenon’s curse.  Luckily, Adell seems to be immune to it.

    The story begins with Adell’s adoptive mother trying to summon Zenon (using her children as part of the ritual) and getting his only daughter instead.  Princess Rozalin is very stereotypical with her pampered ways and high demands.  The clash in personalities provides much humor and silly dialogue which is voice acted in cut-scenes.  

    Since the princess lived in a secluded mansion, she hasn’t done much fighting and is unfamiliar with the world of Veldine.  Adell is relying on her to bring him to her father who he wants to defeat.  She hopes that he’ll succumb to one of the increasingly stronger demons along the way.  

    Disgaea 2 PC
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Funny characters, fighting abilities and dialogue; challenging battles
    Weak Points: Lots of grinding is required to survive enemy attacks; no way to skip attack animations
    Moral Warnings: Sacrifices are made to summon demons; language (b*tch, b*stard, d*mn, hell); sexualized outfits; gross humor

    Adell and Rozalin won’t have to fight them alone though.  Along the way they’ll meet some people with interesting backstories who are willing to join their cause.  Several party members are available through the bundled in add-on content called “Summoning Experiments.”     

    Like many 3D turn-based strategy games you can deploy a limited number of party members (maximum of ten) and can move and perform an action during each turn.  The number of movement spaces is dependent on the character’s stats and the actions can be consuming an item, fighting, or using a special skill like magic.  After all of the party members have used up their actions, you can end your turn and watch the enemies retaliate. 

    Many games have used the ability to counter an attack, but this series has a counter-counter ability that can counter up to four times back and forth!  In fact, many of the special attacks are silly and often drawn out in the cut scenes.  I wish there was an option to skip the fighting cut-scenes because they are tediously long.  As abilities are used more they level up and as the characters gain levels, more special abilities become available to them.

    Another returning feature is the Geo Panels which apply various attributes to similarly colored squares they are residing on.  Sometimes the Panels are helpful to either the allies or enemies by giving them a damage or defense boost.  Other times the Panels can be very restrictive by blocking players from crossing them or by granting units invincibility.  Geo Panels can either be attacked (as long as they’re not invincible) or picked up and thrown to another colored square.  

    The story mode battles ramp up in difficulty relatively quickly and much grinding is required to be strong enough to advance the storyline.  To level up you can replay previously completed story missions or play in an item world several levels deep to fight numerous enemies and a final boss before returning to your castle.  Successfully completing item levels will increase and strengthen the item’s level.   It should go without saying that the more valuable an item, the tougher the enemies within will be.  It’s nice to have an exit item on hand because there is no telling how many levels deep an item world is and leaving is not possible without an exit item or without clearing the last boss.  If you plan on adventuring in the item world, make sure you’ve set aside about an hour of time to do so.

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

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 71%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    After completing Adell’s story, Axel’s story becomes unlocked and there’s even more enemies and silliness there.  Axel’s starting level is 100 and party members from Adell’s adventure are at his disposal.  I like how Etna from the first Disgaea game is available as a party member later on.  Be warned that there are some battles that are meant to be lost to progress the story.  If you find that the boss has several thousand more defense and hit points than your characters, they’re probably not meant to be defeated.  If you’re struggling to defeat enemies and bosses perhaps it’s time to upgrade your equipment and power level to give your party a fighting chance.

    The more you shop at the weapon and accessories stores, the higher your customer ranking will be.  As your rank increases, you can talk to the senators and ask their permission to get more expensive (or cheaper) equipment.  If you have enough favor with them, they’ll grant your request.  If their vote is leaning against you, they can usually be bribed with items from your inventory.  However, if they reject your request, you can battle the senators that voted against you to reverse their vote.  Senator approval is also required when creating decent characters, but if you have some good for nothing characters, you can re-spec them for a fee.

    Some of the female characters wear bikini like outfits and flaunt their cleavage and back sides.  Some of the humor takes a sexual tone with several breast (and lack thereof) jokes.  Language is scattered throughout the game, but doesn’t use the F bomb.  Other words like hell, d*mn, b*tch, and b*stard are said though.  Since there are lots of battles, violence is a given but there’s isn’t much blood seen if any.  Magic use is unavoidable since some of the enemies are practically immune to physical attacks and the long range spells are extremely helpful.

    If you don’t mind magic use, sexual humor, and language, Disgaea 2 is a fun turn based strategy game that’s bound to entertain you for several hours.  The asking price is a reasonable $19.99 and there have been bundle sales that included both games at a discount.  I look forward to playing more of the series on PC and other console platforms.

     

  • Fate of the Dragon (Preview)


    This is a fun strategy game. You must pick a Chinese dynasty and unite the other two. You have to build up your kingdom collecting resources such as gold, food, wine, wood and men. Then you must train them and learn about new technologies so you can conquer and unite China once again. From a Christian perspective you must understand there is a different culture involved in this game. In the game you must restore Buddha sculptures and build temples. Also, this a war strategy game so there is violence but I have seen much worse. The game is easy to play, it has a good interface. Graphics are nice, a little slow loading the map sometimes. 3D acceleration is not used. Good sound effects. This demo does not have multiplayer yet but a newer demo will have that feature. It\'s a pretty fun game.

    Final Ratings

    Appropriate: 3.5/5 Interface: 4/5 Game Play: 5/5 Music/Sound: 3/5 Graphics: 3/5 Stability: 5/5

    Overall: 78%

  • Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (DS)

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    Game Info:

    Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
    Developed by: Intelligent Systems
    Published by: Nintendo
    Release Date: February 16, 2009
    Available on: Nintendo DS, Nintendo Famicom
    Number of Players: 1-player local, 2-player Wireless/Online
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for ages 10 and older: Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
    MSRP: $29.99

    In 1990, Intelligent Systems released Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryū to Hikari no Ken for the Japanese Famicom system. The tale of Prince Marth and his quest to rid his homeland of a horrid dragon quickly inspired a cult following and a sequel in Japan, but never expanded overseas. The third Fire Emblem game eventually found its way to rest of the world, but it seemed like the original would never reach foreign shores.

    Nineteen years later, the classic came back to life as Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. By keeping most of the old traits of the original, updating the graphics, and spicing up the gameplay, Intelligent Systems attempted to give everyone the chance to relive its first crowning achievement. Did they succeed?

    For the most part, yes. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is an incredibly good game. It follows the standard turn-based strategy formula: you control a small army of soldiers, move each one once per turn across a top-down map, attack, and allow your opponent to do the same. When you attack, the game switches to a side-view for the turn-based battle animations. The Fire Emblem series adds a separate twist to it, however: each character has its own personality, its own abilities, its own back story, and its own life. Meaning when a character dies, that character is gone forever: you lose one, and that character, along with any side story or extra characters that could be unlocked with it, disappear. This adds an emotional tie to the characters, and gives you the extra incentive to keep everyone alive. 

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Solid strategy, excellent character design
    Weak Points: Slow pacing, dated story
    Moral Warnings: Minor Occult references, fantasy violence

    Generally speaking, the game plays well. The button-based controls work well, though the stylus-driven controls can be cumbersome. Battles are fun, if you can get past the somewhat slow pacing that naturally comes with the genre. Success relies on using your units together: sending one unit off alone, no matter how strong, will find it promptly surrounded and slaughtered. Those that can utilize teamwork reap the rewards: a fitting message found throughout the series, and is, for the most part, a good mechanic to build a game on. It is frustrating, however, when you lose a unit, because if you want it back, you have to restart the entire level. And when an hour has already been invested in the fight, the game can become down-right unbearable; I often had to put the game down and walk away for a day after losing some climactic battles.

    Fire Emblem spins a stereotypical tale: Marth, prince of Altea, has his home invaded by the armies of a resurrecting dragon, who kills his father and kidnaps his sister. Fleeing from his homeland when it needs him most, Marth is filled with regret and the desire for revenge. Flashing forward a few years, Marth builds a small army and sets out to rid the continent of the dragon. Over time, he grows from a youth bent on revenge to an adult fighting for the good of the poor and defenseless. The story is one place in the game where it shows its age: it's basic, it's predictable, and it's quite forgettable.

    While the original game's graphics were acceptable for its time, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon takes advantage of the Nintendo DS's drastically improved hardware to produce excellent images. The maps are spectacularly detailed and varied, and while the characters' movement animations are nothing to brag about, the battle animations are gorgeous. The anime art-style works well with the game's overall Japanese feel. I was personally disappointed with the lack of cut-scenes and videos, as the last two console-based games included stunning ones.

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

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As far as sound goes, the game does a decent job: its melodies are pleasant, but not memorable. The background music fits the battles and scenes, though I doubt you will find yourself humming the tunes when you put the game down. The sound effects fit well, and while they never get annoying, they are not memorable, either.

    Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon also includes a multiplayer option, which allows you to pit your best troops against another army via local connection or online. This is Intelligent System's first crack at online functionality with the Fire Emblem series, and it works fairly well. It suffers from its own mechanics, however, as it takes a well-groomed and carefully trained team with the highest stats possible to even hope to do well at it. Still, it is a fun distraction for those with the time and willpower.

    Nintendo is known for creating morally-acceptable games, and this one is no exception. There is no profanity that I could find, although the boss characters are highly insulting. There is fantasy violence, but no blood, and bodies simply fade away after death. Minor occult references are made throughout the game, but always on the villain's side, and at no point in time must the player take part in them. There are no sexual references, and characters' clothing properly covers themselves.

    Overall, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is a great game for anyone with patience. I can not stress how much patience is needed to progress through the game, especially for completionists who try to finish with all of the characters. Beyond that, it is fun, moral, and satisfying in its presentation.

  • Grand Kingdom (Vita)

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    Game Info:

    Grand Kingdom
    Developed by: Monochrome Corporation
    Published by: NIS America
    Release date: June 21, 2016
    Available on: PS4, Vita
    Genre: Tactical RPG
    Number of players: Single-player with multiplayer battles
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Fantasy violence, Mild blood, Suggestive themes, Use of alcohol
    Price: $34.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you NIS America for sending us a review code for this game!

    A group of fighters were doing well in battle and bested some mercenary soldiers.  Before they could deliver the final blow, their army had surrendered and the battle was over.  Discouraged that they would not get paid for their valiant effort, the mercenaries they spared suggested they join their guild. 

    Before being admitted to the guild, this group of fighters must prove their worth and impress the guild leader.  It is during this scenario that the player becomes familiar with the basics of fighting in this turn-based tactical RPG.  There are seventeen unit types and you can fully customize their appearance and voices.  You can command up to six troops and it’s beneficial to have a combination of melee and long range fighters in each group.  Each troop can have four soldiers in it and mounted units take up two slots. 

    When hiring mercenaries you have to take into consideration their stats.  They are assigned letter grades for their constitution, strength, agility, magic, spirit, technique, stamina, and vitality.  Don’t be too discouraged with the low letter grades as they typically come with bonus points to tweak them a bit further.  

    Once your first troop is formed, it’s a good idea to head to the shop to equip them with better weapons, armor, and accessories.  Throughout your adventure you come across various enchanted gems that you can insert into your weapons and accessories to grant you special powers and abilities.  Some of the enhancements can be stats related or as simple as increased physical or magical abilities.   

    Grand Kingdom
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great turn-based combat and lots of variety and options in units available; humorous dialogue
    Weak Points: Overworld controls are a bit confusing; online connectivity required to send out and retrieve units dispatched to fight in the war
    Moral Warnings: Combat violence; language; alcohol and drunkenness; accentuating clothing for female characters; magic use

    After your party is assembled and equipped, it’s time to venture out and rack up some experience and prestige.  There are various quests to take part in; the exploration ones are great for beginners, since there are no turn limits to worry about and there are plenty of treasure chests to unlock and resources to gather.  Resources can be used for upgrading and creating new weapons at the blacksmith.

    The offline campaign quests tell the story of how your troop rises up the ranks within the guild.  The remainder of the quests require an internet connection to partake in.  The versus quests have you compete with other online players to achieve the same objective.  The single quests require you to have an active contact with one of the four nations before you’re able to partake in them.  Before embarking on a quest make sure you read the objectives and have your squad at the recommended level.  

    By signing a contract with a nation, you are welcome to visit their capital and purchase from their vendors.  You can also cast your vote on war strategies and listen to the local gossip.  If you do well in battle, you’ll be granted an audience with the ruler and rewarded handsomely.  The local bards may sing songs in your honor as well.  One of the more well to do troops has a naughty name that warranted being starred out.  Despite the language filtering there is still some cussing in this game (b*stards, *ss, d*mn).

    Other moral issues to note include battlefield violence which looks pretty painful as units are tossed about like rag dolls, but no blood is shown.  Magic is used as there are various magical units like shamans and sorcerers.  Some of the female characters are not nearly as covered and well armored as their male counterparts.  Last but not least is the drinking which improves the troops' morale on and off the battlefield.

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

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 64%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6.5/10

    The 2D graphics are well detailed, especially in the towns during battle.  The overworld is a bit more complex with the various armies running around the game pieces and various obstacles and weather conditions to avoid.  Maneuvering around the battlefield takes some getting used to in regards to the controls and a wrong turn/move costs you precious turn points which are needed to complete the objective in time. 

    The voice acting is well done and the dialogue is rather humorous at times.  Because of the language and alcohol references, I do agree with the ESRB’s Teen rating for this title.

    To best enjoy Grand Kingdom you’ll need to have reliable internet access to partake in the real time online wars.  I like how you can send your troops out and let the AI control them for you in your absence.  When they arrive you’ll be able to watch their battles or just a get a quick summary of their win/loss ratio and a reward.  I learned the hard way to remember to recall my troop before I leave my house if I want to play this game on the go.  If you call them back without internet connectivity, you’ll lose out on any experience and rewards they have earned.

    If you like turn-based tactical RPGs then I highly recommend looking into Grand Kingdom.  I love the real time and offline battles and it’s fun creating and experimenting with various troop combinations.  There’s plenty to do offline, but the meat of this game requires an internet connection to enjoy it.  If you don’t mind the fantasy violence, magic, and language this is a fun title to add to your Vita/PS4 library.

  • Kings of Israel (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Kings of Israel
    Developed by: Funhill Games
    Published by: Funhill Games
    Release date: December 21, 2015
    Available on: macOS, Windows
    Genre: Board game 
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Funhill Games for sending us a review copy of this game!

    The board game version of Kings of Israel was successfully Kickstarted in November of 2013 and received more than three times its meager goal of $9,500.  For $45 backers could own a copy of this Christian themed board game that received positive reviews from various media outlets.  The board game is available to everyone at the same price on Funhill’s website.  The video game follows much of the same ruleset and is available at a fraction of the price.  The only downside is that it’s single-player.

    It’s up to two prophets with unique skills to cleanse Israel from the sin that is steadily corrupting it.  Their goal is to build enough altars by gathering resources and knocking down idols while preaching God's message along the way.  If the predetermined number of sin clouds or idols are erected, then the game ends.  Another way to lose is to not have enough altars built before the 300 years of good and bad kings has ended.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun digitization of a Christian themed board game; a great way to learn about the good and bad kings of Israel.
    Weak Points: No Steam cloud saves.
    Moral Warnings: None!

    During the reign of a good king, a blessing card will be drawn at the beginning of the round and give the prophets a slight advantage.  Some of the blessing cards include the ability to summon resources or to quick travel to another town of their choosing.  If an evil king is ruling, a Sin & Punishment card is drawn and they work against the progress of the prophets.  Sometimes those cards will destroy an altar and replace it with an idol instead or reduce the number of actions or resources available to the prophets on their turn.  While strategic skills are needed, luck plays a big part as well and sometimes the cards are stacked against you.

    After the blessing and curse cards are drawn, the sin increase phase begins and you’ll see sin clouds gathering around various cities.  When three sin clouds are in the same city, an idol is erected.    After all of the wickedness is dispersed it’s time for the prophets to take their turns and deal with the sin.

    Most of the actions they take use up one action point but some, including destroying idols or building an altar, take two.  Walking, sailing, or taking a camel to travel use up an action point too.  The camel lets you go further, but the tradeoff is that it costs you a calf or grain for payment.  Other available options include preaching to remove a sin cloud, or making an offering at an altar to remove sin from that town and adjacent ones.  Making a sacrifice also gives you an additional blessing card.  If you don’t have the resources needed to make an offering you can request one at the cost of an action point. 

    Kings of Israel
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Some prophets have the ability to foresee what the next two resources given will be.  Prophet abilities and using blessing cards can be done without costing an action point.  If multiple prophets are in the same town, they can trade items to make altar building easier.  Some blessing cards or prophet abilities allow you to trade freely, but there’s normally the cost of an action point to do so.

    Those who know Israel’s history will be aware that there were more evil kings than good ones. In other words, you’ll be getting a lot of Sin & Punishment cards during your gameplay.  If you want to test your Bible knowledge further there’s a Bible Study mode that asks a trivia question and rewards or punishes you depending on your answer.  

    If you’re looking for a fun Christian themed board game to play with your family I recommend looking into the table-top edition.  However, if you’re playing solo and want a fun and challenging Christian video game, look no further than Kings of Israel.  The price is a reasonable $7.99 on Steam and it’s bound to keep you entertained for several hours as it scales its difficulty level on your win/lose ratio.  My only complaint is that there’s no cloud save option to sync my progress between my desktop and laptop systems.  

     

  • Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Switch)

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    Game Info:

    Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
    Developed by: Ubisoft Paris
    Published by: Ubisoft
    Release date: August 29, 2017
    Available on: Nintendo Switch
    Genre: Turn based strategy
    Number of players: Up to two
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for cartoon violence, comic mischief, mild language
    Price: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Ubisoft for sending us this game to review!

    It’s always neat when franchises work so well together unexpectedly. Kingdom Hearts (Disney + Final Fantasy) immediately comes to mind, and now there’s Mario + Rabbids. It should come as no surprise that the Rabbids are behind Mushroom Kingdom’s new look and inhabitants thanks to a device that combines any two objects or characters.

    The Rabbids unintentionally invade Mushroom Kingdom through a wormhole that appears over it. Mario finds himself surrounded by a Rabbid Peach and a Rabbid Luigi. Thankfully, these new partners are calmer than typical Rabbids. A Roomba looking gadget named Beep-O assists Mario in getting acclimated in this modified kingdom. Beep-O suggests locating the Rabbid dubbed Spawny who is the one wreaking havoc in Mushroom Kingdom.

    In total, there are four worlds to explore and they each have numerous treasures, coins, secrets, and battles to uncover. There are many collectibles like artwork, soundtracks, 3D models, and Tarot cards which can be viewed in the museum. In the Battle Headquarters you can modify and upgrade your party and weapons. Each character has a unique skill tree that can have the various tiers unlocked with Power Orbs, which can be found in levels or earned by completing Rabbid Challenges. The Buddy Dome is where co-op multiplayer battles take place. Multiplayer isn’t available until the first mini-boss is defeated. By then, the players should be acclimated with the ins and outs of this turn based battle system.

    Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun turn based strategy game that skillfully combines two different franchises
    Weak Points: Second hand owners won’t have the weapon advantage of the original owner
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; potty humor; mild language (hell), Tarot cards and fortune telling

    Your battle party consists of three characters who each get to move across grid style levels and attack during the player’s turn. Some of the player characters as well as enemies have a preemptive or counter attack ability so keep that in mind when playing your characters. If your character is close enough, they can slide into an enemy before using their attack for additional damage. Most battlegrounds have areas to take cover, but many of them are destructible and temporary. If possible, try to stay on high ground for a significant damage boost.

    Before the battle begins, you can choose to play at an easier difficulty which will replenish your party’s HP (health points) and give them an additional 50% of health. Some battles will replenish your health afterward, but most of them don’t. You may find some mushrooms around the world that can heal you, but they are few and far between.

    Most of the battles are won by defeating all of the opponents. Some battles only require eliminating a certain number of foes which will keep respawning until that goal is met. Another battle objective is just having at least one of your party members make it to a designated area. If all of your party members survive, you’ll get a perfect rating. If one party member gets knocked out you will earn a good rating and having one standing will net you a fair rating. You can always replay battles to get a better score if desired. The better the rating, the more coins you will earn. Coins are used for unlocking better weapons. The physical version of the game I was sent contained a DLC code for upgraded weapons, which were significantly more powerful than the starter ones. Besides this DLC there may be a new story and worlds added so a season pass may be worth considering if you enjoy this game.

    Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    The current worlds will keep you entertained with several levels, a mini boss, and an intimidating boss at the end. Once the boss is defeated, the next world will become available by unlocking a new ability for Beep-O. You can use the new skills to unlock areas and get to treasure chests previously inaccessible in the earlier levels.

    The worlds and enemies have a lot of variety and detail. A lot of effort and thought went into the design of this game and the visual and audio quality shows. The same voice actors reprise their roles and I love hearing Luigi's "I'm a winner" at the end of a battle. The controls are pretty responsive and easy to use as well. People of any age should be able to grasp this game pretty quickly.

    As bright and colorful as this game is, it's bound to catch the attention of kids. Thankfully, it's pretty clean and there's not too much to worry about here. The first boss is Rabbid Kong who loves bananas. Once you remove his stash of healing bananas, he gets upset. He’ll then take the offending character and wipe his butt with them, and then throw them. There are some other instances of potty humor with various bodily noises that the Rabbids make. The word "hell" is also used in the game. Last but not least is the cartoon violence which is a given in any Mario or Rabbid title.

    If you’re a fan of turn based strategy games and appreciate the Mario and Rabbid games, you’ll definitely want to pick up Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. The crude and silly humor will entertain kids and the challenge will keep gamers of all ages engaged. The multiplayer co-op mode is fun as well if you have another player nearby. This title is worth adding to your Switch library if you don't mind the Tarot cards and fortune telling.

  • Mordheim: City of the Damned (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Mordheim: City of the Damned
    Developed by: Rogue Factor
    Published by: Focus Home Interactive
    Release date: November 19, 2015
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Turn based strategy
    Number of players: Up to two online
    PEGI Rating: 16 for Realistic looking violence
    Price: $39.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Focus Home Entertainment for sending us a review code!

    Mordheim: City of the Damned is based on the table top game that came out in 1999.  It didn’t have much of a shelf life since Games Workshop stopped supporting the game in 2004.  The fans have been maintaining it since and apparently there are enough of them to warrant the development of a videogame.  

    Like the board game, this 3D turn based strategy videogame is set in The Old World which was struck by a comet and scattered powerful gems called wyrdstone throughout the streets.  These gems are in high demand and you must gather them for your faction, but you will not be alone.  Many other warbands are gathering them too and they will put their lives on the line to collect them all.

    Each warband has their own strengths and weaknesses as well as weapon limitations.  In my forty-hour campaign, I played as the Sisters of Sigmar (hammer wielding nuns that worship the patron god of the Empire) that have no ranged weapons.  They do however have ranged based magic attacks like the Comet of Sigmar spell.  The only problem with that spell is that my caster was often cursed by their deity shortly after using it.  

    Other warbands include the Skaven (giant rats) who are fast and stealthy; human Mercenaries are also lurking about and they’re pretty strong.   The Cult of the Possessed are zealots that wish to promote chaos to please their four Chaos Gods as its pantheon.  A new warband, the Witch Hunters is available as DLC for $9.99.  No matter which warband you choose, they all have their own goals be it making money, chaos, or purging evil in the land.  Each warband has a two act single-player campaign with several missions in each act.  

    Mordheim: City of the Damned
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging 3D turn-based strategy game that has RPG elements
    Weak Points: Merciless difficulty with perma-death and no way to back-up your save file; slow-paced; not many people playing online
    Moral Warnings: Violence and bloodshed as your bludgeoning and slashing enemies with hammers, swords, maces, daggers, and other deadly weapons; magic use; references to various deities; some females wear form fitting outfits  

    Between story missions you can play as many skirmishes as you see fit to power up your warband and collect enough wyrdstone to meet the demands of your primary faction.  Every few days your primary faction will require a certain weight of wyrdstones to be delivered and in return, they will pay you and supply your warband with new items and abilities.    Failure to make four deliveries will result in an end to your campaign.  There are also secondary factions that you can send wyrdstones to for better payouts and even more unlockable items and abilities.  

    While the primary objective in each skirmish is to either annihilate or lower the morale of the enemy to make them rout, there are several optional objectives that can net your warband valuable experience for completing them.  Some of the optional objectives include collecting the majority of the wyrdstone in the level, stealing the enemy’s idol and securing it in your cart, or killing specific enemies and collecting their tokens as trophies.  

    Experience earned in missions helps your soldiers level up and gives them points which can be used to increase various stats like agility, alertness, intelligence, leadership, strength, and toughness.  Skill points can be used to unlock numerous skills as long as the minimum stat levels are met. Not all of the units have skill or magic upgrade options though.  

    In battle, each unit has a limited number of movement, offense, and strategy points.  The restricted movement and attack points make this game a bit too slow paced for some.  What turns off others is the brutal difficulty.  If a unit is badly injured they may lose an eye or a limb and it will impair their attack as a result.  Sometimes there will only be a light wound which will involve a couple days of downtime, while other times they may die on the spot and you’ll have to start leveling up a new character.  More experienced units are available for hire, but they cost more gold to recruit and maintain.

    Mordheim: City of the Damned
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence - 2.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    If a unit is awaiting treatment or payment, they will not be able to partake in future missions.  Firing a unit is possible, but you have to pay their medical bills and wages first.  If a maimed character is weighing your warband down, you can fire them and get a Cold Hearted Steam achievement while you’re at it.  In total, there are one hundred and six Steam achievements available.  

    To earn all of the Steam achievements you’ll have to complete the single-player campaigns for each of the warbands and play some multiplayer skirmishes.  Given the difficulty level of this game, unlocking those Steam achievements is easier said than done.  The single-player campaign is merciless and does not allow you to back-up your save file.  Thankfully the multiplayer mode lets you play lighthearted battles that do not carry over unit injuries or treasure.  You can still play for keeps if you want to keep it challenging.  Sadly, I did not see many skirmishes to join and the ones that I did see were not in my warband’s experience bracket.   

    Not only is the difficulty brutal, so is the violence.  Blood will splatter as the units are clobbered with hammers, swords, daggers, maces and various projectiles.  

    The enemies, allies, and city maps are all incredibly detailed.  The streets of Mordheim are covered with traps and the walls literally have eyes that follow your every move.  Some of the levels take place in the daytime while others are foggy, or at night.  The maps vary in size and it’s easy to get lost and thankfully the steps of your teammates are glowing so it’s easy to follow their tracks if needed.   The audio is just as well polished as the visuals with eerie choral music and superb voice acting.  

    In the end, Mordheim: City of the Damned is an extremely well-polished but brutally difficult turn-based strategy game.  Despite the lack of multiplayer activity, there’s plenty to do in the single-player campaign.  If you’re a fan of Games Workshop games then you should keep an eye out for this one if you don’t mind the violence, magic use, and references to various deities.

     

  • Oriental Empires (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Oriental Empires
    Developed By: Shining Pixel Studios
    Published By: Iceberg Interactive
    Released: September 14, 2017
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Strategy, Simulation
    ESRB Rating: None
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Iceberg Interactive for sending us this game for review!

    Historically based video games are a unique bunch. On the negative side, games with this particular label invite extra helpings of scrutiny for itself. People inspect its accuracy with a microscope, and the second common pitfall is for the game to shove so many facts in the player’s face that it outright murders the fun. However, should an edu-tainment game hit that sweet spot between education and play, it can be one of the most effective learning tools known to man. With their strategy game, Oriental Empires, the creative minds at Shiny Pixel Studios decided to rewind the clock by a few thousand years and place focus on the Far East. Published by Iceberg Interactive, Oriental Empires opens a window into ancient China.

    This game starts you somewhere between the Autumn and Spring Period and the Warring States Period. For those of you who don’t know, this era directly precedes China’s official founding. Here, you act as a ruler, and you get to pick one among several kingdom states that will one day compose China. Your first goal is to stabilize your selected kingdom so that it can provide for its peoples’ needs, happiness, and protection. As for your second goal, you aim to unite all city states under your banner as the first emperor. The game’s structure is set up like a turn based strategy RPG. You take your time administering orders, organizing armies, passing edicts, and whatnot before sounding a gong on the bottom corner of your screen. Once the gong is struck, you end your turn. Then you can sit back and watch the populace do their stuff. This start and stop dance will thus continue in an endless cycle. There’s no rush in your decisions (and there will be a lot of decisions), and it’s nice to have the option to just watch your people do as they’re told. To me, this procedural method feels very natural and easy-going, which is great considering how dense Oriental Empires is.

    Following strategy game norms, Oriental Empires is structured around management. Like I’ve said, the main things you oversee are the funds, city development, and overall maintenance. As you found your settlements, you need to consider what needs development most. Nearly every decision of yours costs money, and some decisions carry maintenance fees to boot. Believe me, you can suck your treasury dry in two licks if you’re not careful, and trying to fix one problem can cause a whole conga line of consequences. To demonstrate what I mean: the fast-lane solution to the ‘bankrupt bank blues’ is to establish a functioning economy. Commissioning shops and mines can thusly spurn money-making trade. However, if your people are starving, they’d sooner rebel than be productive. Planting farms would then be the solution, but then you’d need to wait for them to be completed. Not to mention you can’t build squat if your workers are too few. Even then, if they’re overworked, they might rebel anyway, which leads to another batch of headaches. (Frankly, the whole ‘satisfying the people’ thing is probably the most annoying element. I mean it. Very few things don’t rock your whine-prone population’s boat, and having either peasant unrest or noble unrest is bad news.) Then there are what could be called skill trees that you use to determine which upgrades your kingdom gets in what order. There’s a power branch, a craft branch, a technology branch, and a religion branch that must be enhanced to further progression. Exhausted with this list yet? It’s not over. Not even close. There’s diplomacy, where you can host or be called to meetings with other kingdoms. There’s edicts you can pass, which can change up the way the game runs (each with their own sets of pros and cons), and then there’s the occasional disaster to deal with too. *Pant* *Pant* *Pant* Well, you’ve gotta hand it to the developers. They really have thought of everything.

    Oriental Empires
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Impressive historical portrayal, Ultimately rewarding gameplay
    Weak Points: Oversaturated text, Hostile learning curve, A minor bug
    Moral Warnings: Ancient Chinese philosophy/religion

    On that note, the first thing about Oriental Empires that impressed me is the massive amount of historical research. Sure, you picking a kingdom to be victorious with means the game isn’t strictly following the factual timeline (*The Qin kingdom won*), but the sociology side of it is pretty spot on. Inventions, arts, clans, customs; no matter if it has gameplay relevance or not, if you can click it, there’s an informative textbox for it. I daresay the game’s intel reaches encyclopedic levels. Forget the library. Play Oriental Empires, and you’ll become an honorary expert. Unfortunately, all this info can cause a significant problem after the first minute of play. First and foremost, a game must remember that it’s a game, not an encyclopedia. For the most part, Oriental Empires handles its info just fine. That’s really saying a lot, but there is one main place where the facts get in the way: their in-game manual. It’s not consistent in clearly describing how to perform certain actions. Now at times, it does explain matters well, but whenever it wastes time talking about what something is rather than how it should work in the game’s context, it becomes less helpful. I’d like to say this was a minor offense, but in this game’s case, it grew a little bigger than that.

    To elaborate, this game feels overwhelming. Very overwhelming. I yapped about the gameplay’s complexity earlier, but once you get into the mechanics side of it, complex turns into oversaturated. As stated, the broadstroke rundown is that you’ve got to establish trade, organize some kind of security, and ensure your citizens are fed and happy. However, once you zero in on any single factor, you’ll discover a pile of mechanics dense enough to merit its own game. Take army management for example. You can recruit a certain number of citizens in your current population to take up arms. Drafting a faction costs both an initial fee and a maintenance fee for every turn that faction exists. There are multiple types of soldiers to choose from, but your main draftees are divided into two camps: nobles and peasants. High cost nobles are better skilled but not as mobile, and peasants, while cheaper and agile, aren’t as strong. You have to weigh out what you can afford versus what’s best for your situation. Then, after you’ve recruited your faction(s), there’s a whole command pool to learn just so you can tell who to go where and what to do when. You also have to mind their strength and stamina. Use your faction(s) too constantly and they’ll tire out, losing their effectiveness. Sounds like a mouthful, yes? And that was just a drop in the vast pool of Oriental Empire’s gameplay. I hadn’t even bothered splitting hairs about all that goes on in order to do the construction, trade circulation, or ambassadorship, ‘cause frankly this paragraph is long enough as it is. The fact that the manual isn’t clear enough at times on how to handle these things doesn’t help. Doesn’t help at all.

    Now, I know I just made Oriental Empires sound unforgivably convoluted, and younger me (as in one-month-ago me) would have agreed. I spun my tires for an hour, straining to keep everything straight or even how to give the most basic of commands. Needless to say, this game has a horrible first impression, and it put a nasty taste in my mouth. However, after a while, I got accustomed to its groove, and found myself enjoying it far more than I expected to. That’s what genuinely surprised me. To watch your seed of a town branch into a thriving empire is an addictive joy. I subconsciously continued turn after turn from a genuine desire to keep improving my people’s lives. In a way, the game is like a sculpture. It begins as a boring block but will gain meaningful form under loving hands willing to shape it. It’s just the fact that its learning curve is such a complete turn off is plain tragic. However, if a person is willing to stick it out, the struggle becomes quite the satisfying reward. I’d also like to add that there are some atou-build and auto-spend options that you can toggle to handle some of your funds for you. However, I would caution you to watch your towns like a hawk should you have one on. Structures you may not want might end up built, and it’s an oversight that can cost you thousands from your struggling treasury. At first, I thought this auto-build thing was a bug, but once I figured it all out, my silly builders finally, finally stopped trying to construct that same do-dang shrine. Like I said, keep an eye on those switches then be ready for any consequences.

    Oriental Empires
    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 - 88%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The world map in Oriental Empires offers quite a view. Your field of vision is limited in the beginning, but it expands the further you venture off the map edge. I was awestruck by the landscape. It’s so pristine and well rendered. The rivers glisten from every angle, and the entire country side even changes seasons after every turn. Now, in my opinion, the whole area looks its best at a distance. Thankfully though, it’s not too shabby up close either. Zooming in to the ground level lets you see people and animals. Their models aren’t stellar. They don’t do much either, but they don’t look bad. Battles in between turns are also slightly more exciting magnified than far away, even if the animation is largely unimpressive. As for music, I‘ve always had a weakness for the oriental faire, so I might be a little biased in my assessment. But I loved their score in an instant. It had great quality, the orchestration was pleasant to listen to, and not once did it annoy me.

    I compliment Oriental Empire for achieving fairly reliable functionality. Large games are not easy to sustain, especially considering the strings upon strings of code it takes to run. Notice, though, that I said, ‘fairly’ reliable. I came across a couple bugs that slipped through the cracks. My army factions would shuffle around on occasion. These occurrences were unprompted and happened before I rang the gong. It was more funny than obstructive really - kind of like watching action figures doing musical chairs. I also recall having the game freeze on me once, but that was only once. It wasn’t a recurring issue. I’d also like to point out that there is a multiplayer mode in Oriental Empires. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to test it, due to the lack of opposing players. There’s just no one to play against.

    A careful reader likely noticed the word ‘shrine’ in my earlier paragraph. When it comes to Biblical teachings, it shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise that a deep dive into ancient Chinese culture would include some contrary belief systems. Just about every oriental philosophy under the sun is mentioned from Daoism to Confucianism. Additionally, the option to build shrines and pagodas is available but not required. Now, in Oriental Empire’s defense, you could argue that this makes for a well rounded study. You can’t fully understand a culture if you don’t understand what they believed. However, parents should know that the religion upgrade tiles ask players to promote false lines of thought in order to get their upgrades. Not only that, but your in-game bid to become emperor is also a claim to divinity as the ‘son of heaven’. Some might say that’s taking things a little too far, and they might be right. When in China, you shouldn’t have to play monkey see, monkey do. However, the ultimate decision lies with you. Is this just a thoroughly explorative game? Or a yin-yang glorifier? Pray and take your pick.

    As I finish this review, might I add that I’ve had interest in Chinese history since I was kid. Thus, you can imagine I highly appreciated the developers’ efforts in Oriental Empires’ portrayal. On the positive side, my inner historian was stunned, but on the negative side, my inner gamer groaned for the first hour or two. Now, whether a good game should be simple or complex has become a popular debate in recent years. It’s easy to see why. Simple games are a great change of pace in our hectic lives, but there’s a certain beauty to complex games too. Just think. A group of people toiled long hours to get systematic juggernauts like this running. That’s hard not to admire, and as Oriental Empires demonstrated, they can have plenty to offer in the long run. However, complex games shouldn’t have to be complex to learn. That’s Oriental Empires’ primary deterrent, but if you’re willing to learn and aren’t turned off by heavy doses of Chinese philosophies, then I can imagine Oriental Empires being worth your time. You’ll like it. That is unless games like Civilization aren’t your style. There’s that too.

  • Phantom Brave PC (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Phantom Brave PC
    Developed By: Nippon Ichi Software, Inc.
    Published By: NIS America, Inc.
    Release Date: July 25, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Violence, Blood, Suggestive Themes, Mild Language, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco
    Genre: Strategy Role Playing Game
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    Phantom Brave PC is the definitive (perhaps final?) edition of the highly regarded PS2 game of the same name. This version includes all of the extra content from the Wii and PSP ports, and has higher resolution backgrounds and interface adjustments to make it run and look reasonably well on PC. While not an ideal PC version, it is a decent enough port, and the deep and charming story as well as the complex gameplay systems are all here.

    The main characters are Ash and Marona. In the introduction, it explains that Ash and Marona's parents were fighting a powerful evil force, and they were defeated. Just at the moment of death, Marona's father casts a spell on Ash preventing his complete death, but instead of remaining living, he becomes a Phantom. In this game, a Phantom is probably easiest to describe as a more powerful ghost – it's dead and yet not, as he can manifest physically for a limited time, and has a full personality. Marona inherited from her parents the ability to see and interact with Phantoms, which both grants her great power, and makes her an outcast and someone to fear from almost everyone.

    Marona was five years old when her parents died, and Ash was left behind to help take care of her. Ash cares for her very lovingly, and Marona trusts him very deeply as well. Their relationship is one of the highlights of this game, and their intense care for and trust in each other comes through very clearly throughout the story.

    At thirteen years old, Marona decides that she has to start working in order to meet her needs, so she heads out as a Chroma (which is what Ash and her parents also were in life) in order to offer her services to any citizens in need. Chromas are basically legal mercenaries for hire; their jobs range from finding lost items to defeating powerful enemies. Of course she is not the only one, with other individuals and companies competing for contracts.

    Despite people's constant harassment because of her unusual (and frightening) power, she believes deep down the words of her parents – that she would face a lot of difficult prejudice against her, but over time, people would be swayed by her kind personality. Watching this happen is one of the highlights of Phantom Brave's main campaign. Over time, you come to really love Ash and Marona.

    Phantom Brave PC
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Wonderful characters; fantastic music; interesting variation on the SRPG genre; solid challenge, with a whole lot of character and item customization; tons and tons of content
    Weak Points: Character art is much lower detail than the backgrounds, so it takes time to get used to it; at times very difficult (if that's a con) which can require grinding to overcome; controls could be better; requires a significant time commitment to make progress (not pick up and play)
    Moral Warnings: Some blood and cartoon violence; foul language, with words like 'b*st*rd', 'hell', '*ss', 'd*mn'; sexually suggestive dialog in a few places, with references to breast sizes; some skimpy outfits, though most are on very pixelated sprites; alcohol consumption, drunkenness, and tobacco use; significant spiritual elements, most of your warriors, as well as one of the main characters, are Phantoms, which are manifested by possessing items; magic use

    The second story, which is accessible via New Game+ or from the main menu, is called 'Another Marona'. This story is a bit darker, with more conflict between the characters, and more sexually suggestive dialog. I would recommend the main campaign be played first, with 'Another Marona' reserved for older gamers.

    At first glance, it may appear that Phantom Brave is a Strategy Role Playing Game (SRPG) similar to other popular titles, like Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics. In some ways this is true – it's a top down, hybrid 2D/3D game (3D areas with 2D sprites) with characters that move about the battle map with skills that affect friends or enemies with various areas of effect, and so on. Each turn, your characters, along with enemies, go in order of their speed attribute, and move into place to utilize the best skill or attack for the situation. It's a time tested and enjoyable game mechanic, and it works well here, too.

    Despite a similar heritage, there are a few aspects of Phantom Brave that really sets it apart from other SRPGs. For one, rather than the more typical grid or hex based system for movement and combat, everything here is completely freeform. This means that if you are careful, you can step around objects, or find the exact shortest paths to make the most of your movement. This is really handy on slippery levels, where you can move really far with the smallest amount of movement. At other times, it can be a bit frustrating, as characters may not go exactly where you expect, or they can get stuck on something stupid, which wastes their turn.

    The other, and much bigger change, is that all of Marona's team members are Phantoms. She literally summons her team members into nearby items, which then go on to possess those items, take physical form, then proceed to fight for her, until their time runs out. Each class has a summon turn limit – anything from three to eight – where they can move and perform actions. Once that limit is reached, they disappear and cannot be summoned again until the next battle. There is an incredible amount of strategy involved in both character and item summons, as well as placement; after all, a move-only turn is all but wasted. There is a lot to consider here, and a well executed plan can be very rewarding indeed.

    The game system is really meant to be abused, by design. Much of the more difficult content expects you to know how to do this, and the game seems to expect you to use a guide or figure it all out via trial and error. Item leveling, skill leveling, character leveling, and even dungeon leveling, as well as titles, are all interlinked in that you can take advantage of the systems to make obnoxiously powerful characters with levels that are just nuts.

    And there is also the fusion system. You need to fuse items together, generate random dungeons with various attributes, fuse characters together, and so on to transfer skills, mana (which levels skills), and more all in the pursuit of more power. The game has a character and item level limit of 9999 – which cannot be reached without a ton of fusions. Honestly, the fusion system is very complex, and that's not all of it – there is another tangential blacksmith system as well, not to mention merchants whose items level up as they do. And of course there are ways to abuse the game to get tons and tons of money as well. Exploits and powergaming opportunities are endless.

    Phantom Brave PC
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 64%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The presentation is a mixed bag. Graphically, the characters are very low resolution sprites, which looks jarring next to the much nicer backgrounds. Thankfully, there are filters you can apply to the sprites that helps somewhat. The backgrounds look better, though you can tell much of the improvements are just higher resolutions, with textures that are clearly dated.

    On the other side, the music is clearly fantastic. The pure audio quality is top notch, and there is an enchanting mix of instruments and vocaloids that really sets the appropriate moods. There is also excellent voice acting that really helps you get to know each character. Top ratings here for sure.

    Moral warnings are a mixed bag. On one level, we are talking about Phantoms - ghosts who fight for their living masters. There is emotional pain, and loss of life. On another, you see people with an undying desire to help others, and an unrelenting kindness that never gives up, and the rewards of that love. Marona also thanks God for her gifts and desire to help others and considers her powers to be from God. God is otherwise unnamed. You also see the consequences of lying, and other moral lessons.

    There are also other concerns, like violence, language, and sexual content. There is cartoon violence, blood, and a scene has a man impaling himself. Foul language includes 'b*st*rd', 'hell', '*ss', and 'd*mn'. There is sexually suggestive dialog, mostly in the 'Another Marona' episode. Some outfits are very skimpy, showing skin everywhere but the required coverings, though it is rather low detail because of the sprite resolution as mentioned above.

    Phantom Brave PC has a rather excellent story and game system, and is absolutely worth playing if you are looking for an extremely long and involving SRPG. If you like a quick pick up and play, this game is absolutely not that – I would never commit less than an hour or two at a time when sitting down to play this game. A game for lunch breaks this is not. While not without flaws - the controls are a little tedious on keyboard/mouse, and occasionally stubborn on controller (Steam Controller is best in my opinion because you can have both), and the graphics have a lot of room for improvement - it is a very good game, and worth playing. And as always, please consider the moral warnings before purchase.

  • Pit People (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pit People
    Developer:The Behemoth
    Published by: The Behemoth
    Release Date: Jan 13, 2017
    Available on: Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Action, Strategy RPG
    Players: 1-2
    ESRB Rating: T for violence, blood and crude humor.
    Price: $14.99

    Every gamer out in the world has that one genre they are very peculiar on. Some people look for the best platformers. Other people are very picky when it comes to rhythm games. For me I am specific with strategy games. I have seen games that claim they have deep strategic layers only to disappoint me.  So I was pleasantly surprised with Pit People. The style, charm, and quality are here and the game is one of the best strategy games I have played in a while. Let’s lead our group of princesses, berry farmers, and cupcakes with Pit People.

    Pit People starts with a gigantic bear crashing into earth, terraforming the land into a chaotic mess. Horatio the berry farmer fights to protect his son from cannibals. A voice from the sky commands Horatio to die; when he refuses the voice crashes the hand of the bear into his home to take his son away into space. As he fights for survival he is joined by the princess Pipistrella and the cyclops Yosef in an effort to fight against all odds. Gather in the city, build up your forces and lead the charge against the apocalypse. 

    People describe this game as a mix between Fire Emblem and Pokemon and it shows. Once you organize your party and equipment you pick the next quest you want to work on whether it be a main story quest or a side quest and you enter the world. Side quests can also be found exploring the world map. In battle you move your team along a hex grid, positioning your team where they can best attack foes. After they move they attack automatically. You do not get to choose who they attack so your positioning matters much more compared to other strategy games. When you are down to the last enemy in any mission you can use the cage item and a unit with a capture weapon to take the unit for your own use. Units can range from humans, giants, robots, living cupcakes, fairies and more. Your hub city allows you to compete in tournaments to win equipment against the AI or human players. You can change your difficulty, customize your party, and start online or local co-op games as well. 

    Pit People
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A challenging strategy game with fun humor and an interesting story.
    Weak Points: As always be wary of early access games. Depending on how the finished product comes out, the game may lack replay value.
    Moral Warnings: Crass humor is in this game. Some of the jokes will be inappropriate to certain age groups. This includes drug references, poop jokes and self mutilating cupcakes.

    The depth of the strategy in this game took me by surprise. The story was engaging and fun. I was strangely moved by Horatio  and his war against the vile narrator. The soundtrack makes you feel like you're in an excellent action movie. The character customization is one of the best I have seen in a strategy game. You can equip your team with anything from swords to lollipops to used matchsticks. The equipment does not change stats much. Most of the weapons will have little to no stat changes; only some have different elemental effects or damage increases. The changes you make to your characters are mostly going to be for visual fun. Unit types will matter much more then the level of your units. Be aware that as of now you don't have to worry about your units dying. Once you get back to the city, knocked out units will be revived at no cost.

    I don't have many negative thoughts about this game. While Pit People seems easy since it takes away the ability to choose your targets, simply charging into battle will get you nowhere. You have to use your weapons, abilities and positioning to your advantage to attack who you want, and have your enemies move the way you want them to. The game is balanced well, nothing feels broken and the power you gain, however small, always feels worth it. Note that the story mode is not complete and the title is in early access yet the game has plenty of content to cut your teeth on. A glaring negative that may or may not come from this game will be a repetitive nature depending on how the pacing of the main story comes out. As it is right now, I would want to have more reason to come back to the game after beating story mode. The balance of the game is sort of a double edged sword. Sure, everything's usable and strategies are varied, but visual loot will only drive so many people to keep grinding once the main story is complete. I respect the artstyle and graphics, yet funnily enough, it's nothing that surprises me or keeps me interested in the game. With all the customization you won't keep the main story characters looking the same for long. The Behemoth's wacky nature almost leaves me inoculated to beating enemy soldiers with a potato. 

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

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Multiplayer is a bit of a different story and adds to the fear of the repetitive nature of the game. The good news is that the gameplay is very balanced as of now. This allows you to make various team compositions to face opponents with or beat the unfair AI challenges in arena. Yet the game lacks that motivational push to play past single player missions. I didn't even know that prizes were awarded the more you build up your victory score. If they were to advertise the special prizes you could get each week in game this would push more competitive gamers to play past single player content.

    The Behemoth’s crass humor is here as usual. This can range from poop jokes, self mutilating cupcakes or references to drug hallucinations. (At least, that's what I think the thing between Horatio and Yosef was.) The violence is cartoony and exaggerated, most foes explode into blood and bone upon defeat. I recommend this game to anyone over the age of 13 due to complexity and mildly suggestive humor. 

    The Behemoth fans and newcomers will enjoy this latest adventure. Prepare your band of misfits to save the world from its end. 

     

  • Quar: Battle for Gate 18 (HTC Vive)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Quar: Battle for Gate 18
    Developed By: Steel Wool Games
    Published By: HTC
    Release Date: April 4, 2016
    Available On: Windows (HTC Vive required)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Turn Based Strategy
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $19.99

    Thank you Steel Wool Games for sending us this game for review!

    Quar: Battle for Gate 18 is based on the miniatures tabletop game This Quar's War. There are two main opposing factions, the Crusaders and the Royalists.  Quar life has had war as an almost constant for centuries.  The Crusaders have decided that in order to finally stop the hundreds of years of war, they must make it worse – so it can get better, and finally give the common people their freedom.  Battle for Gate 18 is a series of skirmishes that culminates in the historic eponymous battle for which the game is named.

    Quar are an interesting race of humanoid anteater-like creatures.  They are intelligent, speak in a Scottish-like accent, and the game world has a World War I level of technology.  You get to fight with many types of infantry, cavalry, various kinds of tanks and other vehicles, and air strikes.  Depending on the unlocked units and the number of battle points you have in each mission, you can select a number of units to try to overwhelm your opponent using strategy and military might.  As you win battles you gain VP, which you can use to upgrade your unit buildings, which in turn upgrade your units and make them stronger and more powerful.  Which of course leads to victory in more battles.

    The game takes place on what looks like a very large miniature playset set up on the floor.  But unlike your typical miniatures, everything is living, breathing, and moving as you stand there above them.  You can use the Vive's controllers to teleport to anywhere on the map, and thankfully, changing your direction without having to rotate your body was added in a recent patch, which makes stationary play at a desk much easier.  If that wasn't enough, you can also change size – then, you see that the Quar really aren't so small, but appear to be a few feet taller than you, and quite an imposing presence.  If you don't mind changing size often, there is a ton of details to be observed for the motivated by switching between overlord and soldier view.

    Quar: Battle for Gate 18
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Charming game world and characters; nice, detailed graphics; good music and sound effects; well implemented turn based strategy system; being able to zoom in or out is very neat
    Weak Points: Controls take getting used to
    Moral Warnings: Battle between opposing armies, so people die from gunshots and various other weapons of war

    The main gameplay consists of turn based battles, using a hex grid, with a base view in between.  While in base view, you can witness the correspondence between a soldier and his nephew.  This is fully voiced, and quite touching.  You can tell that a real child read the lines that were written for the boy, and their long distance conversations really do a great job of humanizing the Quar, as well as making you care about this world and why they fight.  They also give names to every unit, so if you lose one, it feels more personal.  I haven't noticed any actual impact on your effectiveness, but it again humanizes the Quar under your command.  It's a really nice touch, really.

    In battle, you first choose your units as mentioned before, and then place them in some of the many spots allowed for your units.  There is a lot of implied strategy here, as depending on the terrain, you can gain cover advantages, be out in the open, or gain an advantage (or deficit!) with a pincer strike.  The options are endless, only limited by your strategic skills.  Each unit type also has strengths and weaknesses against various other unit types.  Some also have abilities, that can help compensate for weaknesses if used correctly, or make them even more dangerous on the field.  The commander's a good example – a mostly worthless unit some of the time, but practically indispensable when raising morale or ordering an air strike.

    Each turn, you get to choose which unit goes next, and give them any orders you would like that is within their skillset.  You point at the unit using the Vive motion controllers, chose what they do, and then watch them do it in front of you. The controls mostly work well, though mistakes can happen, especially since they treat the touchpad as a d-pad, with options on the top, bottom, left, and right of the pad.  Several aspects of the game control scheme seems a bit wonky at first, but you do quickly adapt.  After all, this game was one of the very first turn-based strategy games in room scale VR ever.  It's natural that there may be some learning involved when it comes to the interface.

    Quar: Battle for Gate 18
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Quar is of a decent length, with each battle taking between ten and twenty minutes for most of them.  Longer battles seem to happen when the random number generator (RNG) works against you too much; there is definite strategy to battles, but a certain amount of luck as well, as your shots have a chance to miss – and that does indeed happen quite often.  It seems that each member of your attacking unit gets a certain number of shots, and if they get a lucky roll (the rolls are all invisible) they may hit their targets.  If they hit, they either die right away, or their vehicle gets visibly damaged.  Even after playing for a while, it's always a sight to see to watch a tank literally go up in flames when destroyed – and see the progress as you see more smoke and damage as they get closer to that gruesome end.

    Despite some very small issues, like poor performance looking at water on some hardware, or Vive controllers acting up occasionally, there is actually an impressive amount of polish in this game.  It doesn't feel cheap or hokey, despite being made by an independent developer, and being low polygon models.  In many ways, it's actually one of the more ambitious VR games I have played to date, with no 2D option at all, and also one of the few with a fully developed world, storyline, and a fair amount of gameplay as well.  The developers suggest over six hours, and I already have seven, with some things still left to do.

    Appropriateness-wise, this game is really clean.  Most of the talking is done between the uncle and nephew, and I didn't note any curse words, though admittedly it is really difficult to take notes with a screen strapped to your face.  Of course there is war and dying.  When a soldier dies, a flower is left in their place.  There is no blood.

    Quar: Battle for Gate 18 is a really ambitious turn based strategy game, exclusive to the HTC Vive or SteamVR.  I was pleasantly surprised with this game, and if you enjoy turn based strategy, or are really into Quar miniatures and would like to delve deeper into their world, I would highly recommend this game.  Honestly, if you have a Vive and are looking for something different than the more typical first person fare, that is also a great reason to check out Quar: Battle for Gate 18.

     

  • Renowned Explorers (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Renowned Explorers
    Developed by: Abbey Games
    Published by: Abbey Games
    Release Date: September 2, 2015
    Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
    Genre: Turn based strategy
    Number of Players: Single Player game
    ESRB Rating: Unrated
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    That curious sense of adventure is within everyone. Whether it's a new direction you've never traveled before or that brand new restaurant down the street, we are always ready to try something new. When we were children small hills and holes in the wall become tall mountains and mysterious caves. We don't lose the adventurous spirit as we get older. We can't go explore the deep reaches of the Caribbean or the lost Mayan temples on a whim. However, with Renowned Explorers: International Society you can live out those dreams. This lovely gem is brought to the world by Abbey Games and the quality sparkles like the treasures you will be tasked with retrieving. 

    Renowned Explorers challenges the player to create a cohesive team with different roles. Those roles include fighters, scientists, speakers, and scouts. Whoever you choose as the captain will give your crew special abilities. The first map will always give you the option of a robust tutorial which teaches you what spaces on the board game like map mean and how to make the most out of your score. Each map tasks you with collecting gold, fame, and research through different event spaces. Spaces marked with treasure chests will give you a chance at obtaining a treasure which will be where the majority of your score comes from. 

    Renowned Explorers
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A game with heavy replay value and great imagination. This game is designed to give you a reason to play again.
    Weak Points: Complex games deserve detailed explanations. While this game is not hard to learn a bit more in-game advice for new players might be nice. 
    Moral Warnings: Unless you find punching sheep offensive or retrieving a voodoo doll to lock it away in a museum then there isn't much in the way of offensive material.

     

    Everything you gather adds to your Renown points which is what you need to beat your rival, Matthieu Rivaleux, and become the World Renowned Explorer. Science is spent on research trees which are basically different builds for what you can earn through exploring. Gold will get you new equipment for your explorers that teaches them skills and increases their stats. Status will allow you to purchase entourage members and specialists. Entourage members can increase the value of status, gold and research you earn. Specialists have strong effects such as teaching a crew member a skill or adding powerful bonuses to your team as you explore. 

    The sounds, while repetitive, are not displeasing to the ear. The graphics are very stylized and always a pleasure to look at. It really adds to the value of the treasures I find in each stage when they have such detail to their art. The game's replay value is extremely high, with 148 achievements, hundreds of treasures and plenty of ways to explore each location. You'll find yourself coming back for more. 

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

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    The only problems I personally have with the game are very small. While the tutorial is decent, some finer points could use more explanation for new players. An example of this is how you build your crews. While you can solve encounters in devious, friendly, or aggressive ways, you won’t understand how the crew you build will somewhat dictate what treasures you find on a stage. A devious crew won’t achieve as much in Mali as a friendly crew will. The game doesn't need to hold my hand, but emphasis wouldn't hurt.

    There isn't much in this game that could be morally disturbing. While some treasures you could retrieve include shrunken heads and voodoo dolls, your crew never uses them as anything more than museum pieces. Violence is cartoony and strange; you might find yourself punching a sheep or saying mean things to Dracula. With over 88 hours in the game so far I have found no bad language or grotesque sexual content.

    Renowned Explorers will make your inner child get ready to sail the seven seas again. With fair challenge and plenty of wonder, you'll enjoy exploring the secrets of the world. 

  • Renowned Explorers: The Emperors Challenge Expansion (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Renowned Explorers: The Emperors Challenge Expansion
    Developed by: Abbey Games
    Published by: Abbey Games
    Release Date: May 10, 2017
    Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
    Genre: Turn based strategy
    Number of Players: Single Player game
    ESRB Rating: Unrated
    Price: $19.99 for the game, $ 7.49 More To Explore expansion. $7.49 price for Emperor's Challenge expansion.

    Thank you Abbey Games for sending us a review code.

    Exploring! Adventure! Excitement! That's what Renowned Explorers: International Society brought to me; to think I picked this game up at random. Now this is the first time I'll be writing a review on an expansion. I'll add upon some thoughts from the former review and add new ones with what the expansion has brought. Keep in mind that the scores will combine both the base game and the expansion.

    The main focus of the Emperor's Challenge is a new game mode. In this mode instead of competing to maximize your Renown score, you are invited by Emperor Guāngxù to compete in challenges of his own design. Since he has invited your arch-enemy Rivaleux, you'll have limited time to complete them. These challenges can include but are not limited to raising the stats of your explorers certain ways, collecting particular amounts of study, campaign or science tokens or gathering treasures quickly. You'll also have renowned challenges and encounter challenges as well. Each challenge you complete rewards you special pottery from the emperor; the main challenges reward you much more elegant pottery while others reward you smaller pots. At the end of a set of expeditions, the team of explorers with the most pottery wins.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: The new location is fun to explore, and the four new explorers are rather lovable even if they vary in strength and ability. The new mode will have a lot of challenge for experienced players.
    Weak Points: While the Emperor's Challenge mode is strong, the amount of loss you'll experience due to luck is high in this mode. Your skill with the game will not save you in certain moments. 
    Moral Warnings: The cult story can be rather disturbing for some people.

    The expansion also includes a new place to explore and four new explorers from the reaches of Asia. They are Phailin Boonyasak, a cultured dancer and retired Thai assassin; Wang Yu, a wild inventor with a knack for explosives; Hojo Fumiaki, a great explorer and janitor; and finally Min-Jeong, the talented 12 year old scientist and diplomat. While all the other locations are still standing strong, now you can journey to a set of islands called the Anagogic Archipelago. A explorer named BoBo the Misadventurous has gotten lost while investigating a strange new religion that seems to give people an over-abundance of happiness and a really large amount of free coffee mugs.

    So the positives first: the new area to explore has an interesting backstory to it. You get to save a goofball explorer while putting a stop to this evil happiness cult. The treasures have a lovely east Asia theme to them as well. Stopping the king of toucans was the best side challenge to experience. The new characters are a mixed bag for me, as captains, Min-Jeong and Hojo are the best while Phailin and Wang Yu have rather boring captain perks. Min-Jeong and Wang Yu seem to be flexible enough for multiple parties while Hojo and Phailin need to be built around. All of their personal campfire stories are rather fun and helpful at least and it adds to these character's unique personalities.

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

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    Now the new game mode shows both the strengths and the weaknesses of Renowned Explorers. The Emperor's Challenge is either a daily challenge or weekly challenge that are reset accordingly. The thing about that is if you want to have a successful run you'll want to know the game inside and out. You'll also want to take a team of explorers who have all their campfire stories unlocked. Campfire stories are unlocked by completing expeditions to earn card packs of campfire stories. The problem with a min-max game mode in Renowned Explorers is that the problems of the random number generator (RNG) and game knowledge can be highlighted. Usually I am ok with a random element to my games yet even with my hours in Renowned Explorers I felt at the mercy of luck in this game. If you don't get the right events in order before you run out of supplies, or you get a challenge that may mess up your team build, it makes it that much harder to win. I had Emperor's Challenge runs where it asked me to add diplomat or athlete perks to my explorers when I had no plans to give them said perks. Depending on the challenges you may have to plan to get certain treasures which can sometimes be up to luck as well. Add all this to the potential to fail on the adventure wheel to get certain treasures, perks or rewards and you won't be happy at every failed dice roll. I am fine with the game mode being catered towards experienced players, but the balance seems off and adds to the frustration, not the fun. Don't expect to have a team to get every single challenge completed. You'll have to decide which challenges to focus on to succeed and abandon the ones that are beyond you at that moment.

    Morality-wise, most of my points still stand from the original review. Violence is strange and cartoony but not disturbing in any way at all. With the new location some people might find the story of the cult strange and disturbing. Any treasure you may find are just museum pieces.  

    It's a good expansion regardless for the characters and the new area to explore, experienced players will enjoy the expansion no doubt, but that enjoyment may come with a asterisk. You can almost hear the Emperor laughing at any bad luck you may have.

  • Rezrog (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Rezrog
    Developer: Soapog
    Published by: Kasedo Games   
    Release Date: May 31, 2017
    Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
    Genre: Adventure, Turn Based Strategy
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Unrated   
    Price: $9.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Kasedo Games for the Review code.

    I can't think of many games that try to give a hardcore feel yet has easy access for every type of gamer. It gives me hope for future titles that can catch and please almost everyone. This is Rezrog.

    Rezrog gathers a bunch of adventurers of the usual fantasy tropes such as rogues, archers, mages, paladins and more to dive deep into dungeons filled with monsters, mages and villains of all sorts. That's it for the story folks, you won't find a meaty plot here, but thankfully that does not cause any problems to the enjoyment of the game. The problem comes in the ups and downs of the gameplay.

    In Rezrog you choose an adventurer to dive down into a dungeon and solve its randomly generated task - though the first dungeon always has the same goal. Some runs, for example, may ask you to repair a key or forge a special weapon before you exit. You control your character by clicking where you want your character to move. When you're not in battle you have infinite movement but when you're in a fight with enemies you have a limited amount of movement spaces and one attack per turn. When you begin each dungeon a random event will be rolled on a wheel to change the dungeon. Some of these events can aid you by giving extra rewards in chests or extra strength. Some events will weaken your defense or make the monsters stronger.

    Rezrog
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: This game is not only cute to look at but it can be quite challenging in a fair way. 
    Weak Points: The luck based elements and structure of the game itself makes grinding xp for characters rather daunting.
    Moral Warnings: Small bits of magic and fairy tale monsters yet nothing to really throw a critical eye at.

    Keep in mind that aside from the first dungeon, the physical layout of each level will always be different. If you succeed your quest you'll be given gold, xp and a random extra reward of your choosing. If you lose your character will be imprisoned. Aside from not being able to use the character in question, you can't have access to anything they were carrying at the time. You can use another Hero to rescue the lost Hero in the dungeon you previously failed. If you fail with all characters your entire game starts back from the beginning of the game. Hope isn't completely lost if you reach a permadeath state in your save file. You can craft legacy points with special items and money. Use these to give your new group of Heroes extra stats to boost yourself further. The Tavern will allow you to craft new weapons, buy new weapons and supplies and organize your party.

    The aesthetics of the game are top notch. It gives that pen and paper board game feel. You'll even see cans of soda, pencils and other silly objects outside of the dungeon walls. The way the dungeon forms when you enter each door is exciting. Watching the procedural generation take place is something that is more pleasing than I thought it would be. Though your character is only a board game piece the animation and sounds that go with battle and movement bring that feel of a tabletop game to life. Coming up with strategies for defeating monsters and discovering weaknesses is part of the fun.

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

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The repetitive nature of the game becomes very apparent very fast. If you lose a character in a level 7 dungeon and you don't have any other Hero that high of a level then you're going to want to grind that Hero first to obtain the proper levels and equipment. The most optimal way to play this game seems to be grinding characters evenly. With the game having more than 100 levels the grind can get annoying. Even with procedural generation and a cute aesthetic that can get very boring quickly for a lot of people. The random events at the beginning of each dungeon can also add to the pain of grinding. If the enemies get that extra damage or you lose some power, that bad luck can cost you another Hero. Don't rely on those legacy points either. They seem to be more designed to help the hardcore gamer if they lose all 8 Heroes in a run. They get more expensive to make as you generate them. The gold they cost could also be used to buy new equipment and healing items.

    While its very cutesy and not focused on, magic and monsters are a part of Rezrogs world. Wizards and Necromancers are an example of what you'll see. Despite this it doesn't put any main focus on magic in the story. Keep in mind Rezrog only has the look of tabletop games, not the roleplay functions.

    This game will be for the more hardy grinders and dice rollers for sure, yet it has just enough access to turn the most casual of gamers into hardcore burly controller wielders. Take your risks everyone, with Rezrog.

  • Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked (3DS)

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    Game Info:

    Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked
    Developed by: Atlus
    Published by: Atlus
    Release date: August 23, 2011
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Tactical RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for violence, blood, language and partial nudity
    Price: $23.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor was originally released in 2009 for the Nintendo DS system.  It was well received and inspired a Manga and a drama CD after it.  A sequel was also released a couple of years later.  Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked provides full voice acting and some 3D effects to utilize the 3DS’ capabilities. Depending on which of the endings you choose, there’s optional 8th day content.

    Other than the new day, the original story remains the same.  Humankind is being judged for their misuse of power and their ability to summon demons with the help of devices that look like Nintendo DS' called COMPs.  While some demons can be tamed and used in battle, many more are roaming around Tokyo and attacking innocents.  Because of this problem, Tokyo is under a military lockdown and only has a week to solve the demon problem or face destruction from mankind or from God Himself.  

    You may be wondering why we know that there’s less than a week to solve this crisis.  Besides forging contracts with demons, the COMPs let you see how many more days a person has left to live.  Most people in Tokyo only have a few days to live.  Thankfully, the numbers above their heads are not definite and can be extended depending on your party’s actions.  You’ll spend a good majority of the game with your death clock at zero days. 

    Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun tactical RPG game with multiple endings
    Weak Points: Dated visuals; lots of grinding required
    Moral Warnings: This game requires you to forge contracts with demons; some of the demons have revealing clothing or lack thereof; violence and blood; swearing and blaspheming

    This game is broken down into days. You can choose where to travel and who to talk to in order to establish relationships and to guide the story.  While there are free battles (for grinding) that do not consume time, most relationship scenes and story battles take away a half an hour apiece.  Success in battles depends on who your party members are and how powerful the demons they have equipped.

    The starter demons are pretty weak and you can acquire higher level demons by buying/bidding on them through the COMP.  Demons can also be combined/fused together to make stronger ones.  When fusing demons you can customize some of their attributes and abilities.  Each demon type has its own strengths and vulnerabilities to certain types of elements or physical attacks.   Demons can attack with and be weak to fire, ice, electricity, wind, and curses.  Both humans and demons share other attributes like strength, magic, vitality, and agility.  When the main character levels up you can increase one of those attributes.  Everyone else has their skills adjusted automatically. 

    Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 39%
    Violence - 4.5/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    There are a wide variety of demons and many religious influences have gone into their designs.  Some demons are angelic in appearance while others are distinctly evil, especially the boss battles.  Towards the end of the game you’ll have to battle Beelzebub.  Depending on your choices you can even battle God Himself.  (I didn’t take that route.)

    Other issues worth mentioning include violence and pixilated blood.  The scenes that have blood are DS quality and not very detailed, but you can still tell that there’s blood involved.  Some of the deaths by demons go into some gritty details.  There is a lot of language and blaspheming in this game as well.  The F-bomb is not used, but every other word is in the game, including the Lord’s name being used in vain.  Last but not least is the lack of clothing on demons both male and female.  Nothing is seen in either case but plenty of skin is shown.

    If you don’t mind the moral content, there is a lot of fun to be had in this game.  I’ve spent over forty hours completing just one of the endings. The refined visuals and full voice acting add to an already great title, though I’m not sure if it’s worth buying again for owners of the original game.  If you enjoy darker themed tactical RPGs, this one is worth checking out.

  • SteamWorld Heist (3DS)

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    Game Info:

    SteamWorld Heist
    Developed by: Image & Form
    Published by: Image & Form
    Release Date: December 10, 2015 (3DS)
    Available on: 3DS, Linux, PS4, Wii U, Windows, Vita, Xbox One, iOS
    Genre: Action-Shooter, Turn-Based Strategy
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Up (Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Use of Tobacco)
    Number of players: Single player
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you so much Image & Form for sending us a review code!

    Released nearly a year ago, SteamWorld Heist debuted on the Nintendo 3DS to critical acclaim. Over this past year, Heist has been ported to numerous other systems with a physical version for the Wii U also due to release in the coming weeks. After playing the game for the first time for this past week, it isn't hard to tell what all the fuss was about.

    The story of Heist takes place hundreds of years after SteamWorld Dig, and follows Captain Piper Faraday. She was once a pilot for the Royalist Space Force, but deserted after she refused to bomb a rebel base. She leads a ragtag band of steambots as they raid Royalist spaceships in the search of loot and glory. Along the way she'll be able to recruit more crew members and deck them out with massive firepower and dashing hats.

    The gameplay is something not seen very often, blending turn-based strategy and precision shooting on a 2D plane. Missions take place in procedurally generated spaceships, and each bot has a certain amount of steps they can take before ending their turn. Their movement paths are highlighted with orange and blue lines. The orange line represents how far you can move and still be able to shoot after, whereas the blue line is how far you can fully move without the ability to shoot that turn. This mechanic of moving and shooting felt similar to the Worms series of games.

    SteamWorld Heist
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Graphically impressive; The soundtrack is woven into the game wonderfully; Challenging and rewarding gameplay.
    Weak Points: Some trial and error is required for certain stages; Lining up long shots can be difficult due to the limited size of the top screen.
    Moral Warnings: Depictions of robots being blown to smithereens; Stealing; Part of the story involves robot necromancy; Minor amounts of swearing (d*mn.)

    Combat and movement is displayed on the top screen with the touch screen being used to activate abilities or items. Shooting requires the player to aim their gun with the D-pad in order to line up a shot. A bullet can ricochet off walls and other objects, and certain weapons allow the bullet to ricochet off more objects before stopping. This makes trick shots possible, and also adds to the fun factor. The only issue is that due to the small screen on the 3DS, some shots feel like a complete gamble because you simply can't see the enemy. Completing a mission with all crew members surviving, as well as collecting all the loot in that particular ship, will reward more reputation. This is represented as stars and is used to unlock new areas and rare weapons at stores.

    Each crew member has unique abilities and primarily focuses on the use of one type of gun. Piper uses handguns that deal moderate amounts of damage and normally have the ability to shoot twice, or the gun has a laser scope to help with aiming. Other guns include: SMGs, shotguns, as well as RPGs and grenade launchers. Each weapon has its ups and downs as far as effectiveness goes, but each is a blast to use and experimentation is the key to success. By completing missions you'll gain experience points needed to level up the crew. Each level usually unlocks a new ability or perk. 

    A neat feature to the game is ability to shoot the hat off of an enemy. Each enemy robot wears a hat, and you can shoot it off their heads and claim it as your own. They don't add any additional benefits, but they all look great and make your character stand out. Once you have one you can't claim it again and each member of the crew can wear it. If you own SteamWorld Dig you'll get a very special hat. It was one of the few hats I had Piper wear throughout the entire game.

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

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    Throughout my 15 hours with the game I was blown away by the art style in Heist. Every inch of the game is incredibly detailed, and the bots themselves are just a joy to look at. Interactions with NPCs and the crew opens up much more of the backstory of the game and its inhabitants. So on top of breathtaking graphics, there's a deep lore to get lost in as well. There's a ton of hilarious conversations to be had. In an effort to not undersell it, the writing in this game is top-notch.

    During your expedition through space you'll be accompanied by a standout soundtrack. It still retains that old-western vibe that made Dig so good in my opinion, but other pieces sound much more somber and futuristic. Sound effects are fantastic, with the guns sounding extra amazing. The real gold here though is actually hearing Steam Powered Giraffe in a video game! Songs both new and old by the band are used at the various bars around space. Now initially when I started playing I'd never heard of them before. After my first trip to a bar in the game I knew I was hooked. To say that the production of the music is high would be an understatement.

    Morally there are a few things to mention. As this is a game about guns there's inherently some violence to be witnessed. Finishing off a robot at low health shows them disintegrating into a pile of scrap. Headshots are encouraged, and if it were to finish off an enemy, it would result in a slow zoom-in to the pieces of the robot scattering. There's swearing in the game, but it's so minimal and used so infrequently that you may never notice. Looting ships is the main goal to the game, and though it's technically stealing, it's the only way for Piper to maintain a decent amount of water for her crew of steambots. One of the bosses is a necromancer named Chop Sue. She combines robot scrap parts together to make new ones, and in combat can resurrect her fallen minions.

    Now if you don't mind a little robot violence with your turn-based strategy there's a lot to enjoy with Heist. Its campaign lasted me 15 hours and with the New Game+ option, there's plenty of reasons to replay the story. There are a ton of hats to find, multiple difficulty options, and with the DLC pack known as The Outsider, there's a lot to enjoy long after those credits roll by. This is a game that should be played no matter what console you can get it for.

    -Kyuremu

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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.

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