Review: 428: Shibuya Scramble (PS4)

429_SS coverThis is probably one of the easiest reviews I’ve ever written and that’s thanks to Spike Chunsoft’s 428: Shibuya Scramble ($49.99, buy it!) being one of the best, most consistently enjoyable adventure game experiences I’ve had this year. Initially released in 2008 to acclaim in Japan, this visual/sound novel/mystery game hybrid manages to still be 100% relevant because the developer nailed everything right the first time and the snappy new English localization (courtesy of the fine folks at Absolution Games) does an excellent job at making everything click exactly where it needs to.

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Trust no one… well except for guys who aren’t anything but pesky sorts just trying to eke out a living. He’s okay (this is very early in the game, so nope, not a spoiler!)

On the other hand, it’s also one of the hardest reviews I’ve written because I don’t want to ruin a single thing about the game other than to say it’s gong to be best if you go in as cold as possible (avoid spoiler-laced video walkthroughs, please!) and enjoy the perfect blend of plot and puzzle elements this one brings to the table. trust me, your curiosity will be very well rewarded, especially if you love a good mystery laced with off-kilter humor, tense drama and some deep, dark secrets.

 

 

It’s pretty spectacular when a game zips from drama to comedy to fear-inducing without missing a beat while keeping your interest in its varied cast of characters and sub-characters. It’s even more special when it’s a game that uses live actors and mostly still images with limited animation and doesn’t come off as cheesy or half-baked. This is clearly due to Spike Chunsoft’s decades of expertise with visual and sound novels and even though it’s a ten-year old game, it feels like a blast of fresh cold air on a hot summer day. Five main characters’ (and a number of minor ones) lives cross paths during a fateful day in and around the busy Shibuya section of Tokyo and it’s up to you to choose how everything plays out. Pressure much? Good. That’s how this is supposed to work and wow, does it work.

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428: Shibuya Scramble Hands-On: Flawless Detection, On the Case

428 SS_smallA little game history goes a long way, folks. Chunsoft pioneered the visual novel game way back in 1983 with Yuji Hori’s The Portopia Serial Murder Incident and over the decades since, the company, now known as Spike Chunsoft has released a number of quality visual and sound novel titles primarily for Japanese audiences. Visual novel fans here in the west probably know them best for some solid titles that have managed to make the trip overseas such as the Danganronpa, and Zero Escape games on consoles and handhelds, along with the upcoming Steins;Gate, AI, YU-NO, and Zanki Zero games set to arrive soon on a few platforms. Yes, they’ve also done a bunch of other (and better known) non-adventure game classics. But as you’ve gone and clicked that link above, you can do that extra bit of homework yourself. Me, I’m here to chat up this spectacular new but old number you’ll absolutely want to check out.

 

(Thanks, Spike Chunsoft!)

 

Another game on the way is the stellar formerly Japan-only visual novel from 2008, 428: Shibuya Scramble, finally headed stateside for PS4 and PC on September 4. There’s a great demo out now on PSN that pulled me in right from its 70’s-sounding opening theme and had me playing through to both endings with a huge smile on my face. While it’s only a taste of what’s to come, the blend of text adventure, still photos and brief full-motion video clips makes this a quite impressive achievement even ten years after its release. It’s more or less a “choose your own adventure” game, but one where a failure state doesn’t necessarily end the game at all, but unlocks new story elements.

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Earth Defense Force 5 US Trailer #1: A Bit of Wait Gain

(La la la, PlayStation!)

 

EDF_5 boxIt’s about time,  but there’s still no concrete release date for North America. To be fair, Sony has opened up pre-orders for the game’s standard digital and deluxe digital editions. But that 12/31/2018 release date is a bit questionable (games usually pop up on Tuesdays and I don’t think a New Year’s Day release date would be a thing). FYI, with no official launch date decided, pre-orders have to include a tentative date so potential buyers have a general idea of when a product will arrive as a download or at retail.  I hope this game rolls in before the end of the year, as it’s a bit crazy-cakes that a worldwide release wasn’t in the cards from day one.

That said, I’m also surprised I didn’t snap up the import version at this point, but that was a mix of finances not being where they needed to be and not wanting to go to the hassle of creating a Japanese PSN account to get DLC. Well, that and I thought the game would have been out already,  Ah well. I have plenty of games to wade through in the backlog, so at the end of the day, holding out for this one in English means I’m going to be going in totally cold and enjoying every minute.

EDF 5_04

-GW

EDF 5 + Starship Troopers = My Eyes Bouncing ‘Round The Room

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While I still have NO idea who’s publishing Earth Defense Force 5 in the west and any news seems to be being kept way too quiet (grrr!), this trailer really set my “I need this NOW!” timer off. The funny thing is, I had NO interest in any other Starship Troopers films after Paul Verhoeven’s (it’s a great and intentionally ironic parody some still don’t fully grasp, by the way) and  even dismissed last year’s Starship Troopers: Red Planet (or Traitor of Mars) as looking too much like a game for my snooty cinematic tastes. Well, look who’s a crow-chomping clown who wants to see, er, find out more about this one?

Thanks, EDF! Now, about that US release date and publisher? Those giant bug-sized beans need to be spilled, and fast.

-GW

Review: Dragon Sinker – Descendants of Legend (PS4/Vita)

Dragon Sinker PS4KEMCO and ever-busy developer EXE-CREATE along with a few other studios have been whipping out dozens of mobile JRPGs for years and fortunately, a bunch of them have been slowly but surely arriving on home consoles, a great thing if you happen to be a fan of “old-school” dungeon dives. Dragon Sinker – Descendants of Legend is one of their latest and it’s a wonderfully, intentionally rustic style of gameplay that recalls the early Final Fantasy series as well as bits of Dragon Quest and a few other well-aged classics.

Granted, the game is going for more of a very solid homage to 8-bit JRPGs than it goes for the gold standard in terms of its familiar plot points. But between the clever use of the Unity engine to deliver appropriately chunky sprites and the developer implementing elements of its other role-playing games to great effect, this one’s a time-sink worthy of your time.

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© KEMCO/EXE-CREATE

While deceptively short if you follow the main quest and stick to it like glue, as with other EXE-CREATE games, the true depth lies in players seeking out side quests and late to post-game content. Sure, you can blow through the game in about a dozen or so hours, but you very likely won’t see everything or find some fun secrets that require more time leveling up for some fairly tough battles. This is one of those rainy or snowy weekend games where you plop down on something comfortable and only come up for air and food when required. Continue reading

Tokyo Xanadu eX+ PS4 LE: Falcom’s Box Of Fun Now Available

tokyo xanadu

If I had the room in my still too large game library and the funds to spare, I’d be all over this like a pack of piranhas chomping on some slow-moving tourists in a sinking canoe. Nihon Falcom’s critical darling Tokyo Xanadu eX+ has been on my backlog radar for a while now, but seeing this lovely looking Limited Edition made me want to go build a shelf and think about selling off a few things just to have  that nice big box to ogle when I’m not busy doing a hefty bit of dungeon crawling.

 

So, what’s in the box, you ask? Well, let’s see now…

 

Tokyo Xanadu eX+ Limited Edition includes:

Tokyo Xanadu eX+ PS4 game with additional game content – new side stories, characters, modes, dungeons, quests, and more!

9-inch Deluxe White Shroud Figure – top-quality, hyper-detailed poly-resin sculpture of the mysterious White Shroud character, fully assembled and painted, with detachable display base.

60-page Exclusive Art Collection – full-color book featuring over 300 of dazzling images of characters and settings plus important information on the world of Tokyo Xanadu.

Blade Card Game Deck – includes boxed set of 44 printed cards and 2-player rules, so you can take the Blade game into the real world!

CD Soundtrack – with 10 music tracks from the game, including the opening song “Seize the Day” (lyrics by Kyo Hifumi).

Collector’s Box – everything immaculately packed, including a separate printed carton for the White Shroud figure.

Note: If you already own the game on Steam, you’ll also get a free Japanese-language update (nice!), but the physical version shown above is only for PS4 owners. Go grab this from one of the retailers listed on the Aksys Games site and maybe be prepared to go build a shelf or move a few books around if you need to.

-GW

Random Films of the Week: A Little New Year’s Cleaning

Yeah, Happy New Year and all that stuff. I figure I’ll post more than I did last year even though I got sick and was out of action for a month or so which led to a bigger backlog that I’m still wading through. My plans to write up and pre-load posts went south thanks to that, but I think with my health getting better (albeit temporarily) I’ll try and tackle stuff slightly differently on occasion. Or: Eh, I’ve been watching a ton of movies in no particular order, so you get to pore over a few quickie capsule recommends.

Stormy Monday_AV093Stormy Monday – Mike Figgis’ first film was this stylized bit of 1988 brilliance that featured Sean Bean, Melanie Griffith, Tommy Lee Jones and Sting, plus a pretty darn neat jazz score by the director. The neon-soaked Newcastle setting features some of Roger Deakins’ lovely cinematography that makes this a total treat to watch. It’s more or less a noir gangster flick with some solid performances and an overall sense that something bad is going to happen what with all the tense glowering and some romantic notions that make for a bit of conflict as things progress.

I actually hadn’t heard of this film other than seeing a trailer way back before it was initially released in theaters. I didn’t think it was for me back then, but thanks to Arrow Video, I’ve been proven quite incorrect. Expect a fine director’s commentary from Figgis along with a few cool bonus features on this BD/DVD combo that make this a nice surprise to discover if you’ve never seen or heard of it until now. Amusingly enough, this pairs well with Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire thanks to both films mixing reality and fantasy elements (although Figgis gets the edge and the edgier performances overall).

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EDF 5 Truly Bugs Me (But That’s A Good Thing)

 

EDF_5Okay, at this point I’m hoping the planet doesn’t blow up just so I can get my grubby little paws on the three upcoming Earth Defense Force games coming from Japan where the earth is in danger of getting blown up after yet another massive alien invasion by what looks like everything great from a wide range of Japanese sci-fi flicks.

In addition to the absolutely insane-looking Earth Defense Force 5, Original developer Sandlot is teaming up with developers Clouds Inc. and Giga-Rensya for Earth Defense Force 4.1: Wing Diver The Shooter (set for a digital release on PSN) and veteran developer Yuke’s is handling the work on Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain, which is coming sometime in 2018.

Oh, here’s the same trailer but with English subtitles just because you might get why I’m so cuckoo about this long-running series:

 

 

For the record, the series has NOTHING to do with the old Super Nintendo shooter Super E.D.F., so that non-fact needs to disappear off the internet, stat. Anyway, EDF 5 is in Japan on 12/7 and I’m kind of in a mental bind trying to decide on whether or not to take the plunge and buy it soon or wait for the localized North American version. My Japanese is pretty terrible and even though I’ve played through previous games in the series and completed them, I kind of want to experience this entirely in English just so I don’t need to stop playing and look up a weapons guide or other gameplay tips.

earth-defense-forces-5-WD (Custom)

And nope, my decision isn’t at all bound by this gal and her seductive stretching (oh, Japan – you’re too much, but it’s all good):

 

 

Anyway, I’m leaning towards waiting it out, but man, is it going to be rough. I know of a few folks who will get the import, but I’ll avoid discussing anything with the because I want to go in totally cold and get my 100+ hours in and learn what’s what. Actually, I haven’t a clue as to who will be publishing this in North America, but a heads-up from a kindly PR person who wants to keep me calm might help out a little lot.

*Sigh* And so, the wait begins anew…

-GW

 

.hack//G.U. Last Recode – Launch Trailer: Time to Deep Dive Back In

 

Good gravy, veteran developer CyberConnect2 is made of of some incredibly busy and possibly crazy (in the best possible manner) people. Those power-packed Naruto games they’ve been doing great work on have set and raised a few bars in the anime to games scene and now, it’s .hack//G.U. Last Recode getting a superb-looking and super-polished remaster, now available on PS4 and PC.  I’ll need to grab this one when I have actual free time as I’ve been a big (but silent) fan of the .hack series since the PS2 days and while I was hoping the originals would get full remakes with new assets and features, this update of the second series will do more than nicely.  So, yeah – go add this one to your want list as it sure is coming in hot and pack to the gills with new stuff.

 

-GW

Random Film of the Week: Tōkaidō Yotsuya kaidan (Ghost Story of Yotsuya)

Tokaido Yatsyua kaidanI don’t believe in ghosts at all (an unapologetic non-flaw of mine), but I do believe in a good ghost story when it works flawlessly in delivering the spine-chilling stuff that leads to a restless night. That said, Nobuo Nakagawa’s 1959 masterpiece Tōkaidō Yotsuya kaidan (Ghost Story of Yotsuya) is one of the more frightening horror films I’ve ever seen. Given that it’s based on Japan’s most popular ghost story (written as a kabuki play and originally performed in 1825), Nakagawa’s film is memorable on a few fronts, melding its stage origins with the director’s perfectly placed camera as he brings us a tried and true tale of murder and vengeance, Japanese style.

You may initially feel sorry for rōnin Iemon Tamiya (Shigeru Amachi) as he begs for the hand of Iwa (Katsuko Wakasugi), but that feeling will vanish about a minute later after Iemon kills Iwa’s father and retainers and his scheming lackey Naosuke (Shuntarô Emi) disposes of the bodies and comes up with a perfect alibi. He later goes to visit a grieving Iwa, but she and her sister Sode (Noriko Kitazawa) want revenge on the man Iemon claims murdered her father. Of course, this doesn’t happen and instead, a respectable samurai named Yomoshichi (Nakamura Ryozaburo) who had a chance with Iwa is tossed off a waterfall thanks to Iemon and Naosuke wanting the two women for themselves. Clearly, Iemon and Naosuke are right bastards, ladies and gentlemen.

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