Tuesday 28 June 2016

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir Review (PS Vita)

Odin Sphere launched late into the life of the PS2 and along with GrimGrimoir brought a slice of 2D JRPG action to the Sony console. While GrimGrimoir focused more on strategy, Odin Sphere was the action title and offered up a mix of levelling up and bashing things that is now much more common.

Odin Sphere has always been a classic but now it is far more accessible to a wider audience with this remake. This is mainly down to the changes made to the combat system which makes it more fluid and brings it closer to systems found in Muramasa: Rebirth – another gorgeous looking 2D game remade for the Vita. Veterans of the game need not fear though as you can play the original version of the game also (although sadly not with the extra lovely visual overhaul).

Speaking of the visuals they are stunning. The game always looked good but the crisp Vita screen makes everything sing and sparkle in a way that hints at magic beneath the surface of the world just waiting to be released. Characters are highly detailed while lighting and glow effects illuminate beautifully illustrated backgrounds. The story is one of magic and fantasy and the world fits it perfectly.

The structure of the game has you taking control of a number of characters as a story of prophecy and armageddon is told via a girl reading a book. You start with Gwendolyn, Valkyrie daughter of the king and switch to four other characters as you progress. You’ll be with each character for a large period of time though so don’t expect to be switching around every few chapters. It’s very much a case of finishing one story before moving onto the next. It can also be quite jarring after you’ve spent six to eight hours with someone to move to the next character that has a completely different fighting style.

As the different stories are told the protagonists will often clash with each other. This eventually leads to a final book where players must pitch the right characters against the right enemy in order to achieve the ‘happy’ ending and also reveal a final hidden text.

The structure of the game is fairly straight forward. You move to an area and then progress through a series of linked 2D arenas. Some contain battles while others will have rest spaces, treasure or simply be pretty to look at as you run through. Each location is ended with a boss fight and normally has a few smaller bosses along the way as well. You can also explore away from the main areas to find extra items and skills. Skills can then be further leveled up through points gathered from enemies and ‘Phozons’ that are released by butterflies, certain plants and dead monsters.

Aside from bashing things your main focus is on food. You can plant seeds and grow fruit and also collect ingredients to have cooked into meals by wandering chefs for you. Each time you eat you not only recover health but also slightly boost you maximum hit points and also get experience to level up. This makes the eating part of the game key to progressing as without constantly munching you may find yourself too weak for later levels.  There is also an alchemy system at work which lets you mix potions with collected ingredients.

It’s a wonderfully characterful game and there certainly isn’t much out there like it. The high fantasy story isn’t anything particularly knew but it is an interesting tale with a number of decent twists that should keep you occupied through the many hours of gameplay. The change in systems really helps the game to flow and while it certainly seemed to make the game easier that is no bad thing as the original was one of the toughest games we’ve ever played with progress constantly stopped by leveling walls, awkward combat and super powered enemies. We loved it but we certainly won’t be loading up the classic version of the game any time soon when we have this absolute joy to play with.

Overall, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is a perfect fit for the Vita. It sits very nicely alongside Muramasa and Dragon’s Crown as a combat heavy RPG while also being an all-round better experience than both of them. The new approach to the combat and revitalised visuals make it feel fresh and relevant and it’s about as essential as any Vita game has been for a very long time. It’s deep, satisfying and gorgeous. It always was a classic and certainly still is.

Overall 9/10

Friday 24 June 2016

Guilty Gear Xrd - Revelator- Review (PS4)

Following hot on the heels of the superb Guilty Gear Xrd comes the next instalment in the much loved series and my oh my it is a thing of beauty. While everyone is still waiting for Street Fighter V to be somewhere approaching finished REVELATOR has possibly the most content yet in the world of 2D fighters.

The tutorial mode alone is massively in-depth and will take players through the absolute basics such as movement to the advanced techniques of the game. Unlike most tutorials this one is actually quite inventive as well as you jump over obstacles, pop balloons and combo creatures. The more familiar process of producing special moves and combo strings is also included and even players who have never played a fighting game before will find a level where they can work on becoming an all-conquering warrior.

The game sees the cast of the original Xrd return along with a handful of new characters with more following as DLC. Of some surprise is that the returning cast haven’t really been tweaked or rebalanced. That said the first game was pretty much flawless anyway so it’s easy to see why the team decided to leave things as they were.

It’s tricky to go into all the different systems of Guilty Gear but the approach has been to tweak what was already in place rather than to bring in something drastically different. It’s intimidating for even veteran players but it also gives the tutorial mode yet more time to shine as it takes you through step by step. 

Though we would have thought it was impossible the game looks even more eye-meltingly amazing than its predecessor. Characters are large and detailed with flourishes a plenty and anime style entrances to each stage. The stages themselves buzz and hum with activity and lights. It’s glorious and stunning and any other words you can think of that describes something so utterly spellbinding. If there’s a more talented art team working in video games we’ve yet to see it.

The visually visceral design is not restricted to the backgrounds either. In motion the game is a thing of beauty with huge special moves and characters zinging around the screen. It can be difficult to keep up with it all at times but once you get used to the frenetic pace it makes you feel like some kind of joystick Jedi and with all the options and techniques each fighter has there is a real depth of choice to pick from.

As well as a depth of characters there is also a wealth of modes to choose from. Unusually, the arcade mode actually acts as a precursor for the story mode and goes through events that happen just before it starts. This gives players extra incentive to spend even more time with the game and encourages the use of all the available characters to get the full picture of what’s going on. These modes are joined by the M.O.M mode where players compete for in game currency and medals that can be used to level up characters to take on tougher challenges.

As you would expect the online options are also excellent with the usual ranked and player matches present. The presentation is very different though with players walking their avatars around an area and challenging players they come in contact with. There’s also a weird fishing game where you can fish out items in exchange for in game currency. This mode also allows players to change region so they can look elsewhere if their particular area is empty of players.

Overall, Guilty Gear Xrd – REVELATOR- is yet another master class in how to make and present a 2D fighting game. Every time the team produce a game it’s hard to think how it could be bettered and yet they keep finding new ways to improve, add and keep jaws dropping. There’s certainly a lot to take in and get to grips with but once you get it there is no other fighter out there with the same levels of depth to explore. The fact this depth is packaged with so much style is the final, beautiful cherry on top of the cake.

Overall 9/10