Review: Shining Resonance Refrain (PS4)

SFRR_PS4 coverAs a longtime fan of Sega’s Shining series (the import version of Shining in the Darkness was the first JRPG I completed way back in 1992), it’s been quite interesting (to say the least) watching the series evolve over time. While the first game, the assorted Shining Force entries, Shining Wisdom, Shining the Holy Ark and the portable Shining Soul have been the most engaging, some of the games localized after that point fall into the hit or miss category.  The last three I played, Shining Tears, Shining Force Neo and Shining Force EXA traded in the first person dungeon crawling found in SitD and Shining The Holy Ark and the more strategic play in the Shining Force games with seemingly simpler hack and slash action against some very powerful enemies that made combat quite challenging. While there was some enjoyment to be found in these despite a few flaws, the bloom was definitely not on the Shining rose during the PS2 era.

Shining Resonance Refrain ($49.99) isn’t quite the return to glory the series needs, but this enhanced port of the 2014 PlayStation 3 import manages to be quite enjoyable overall. Developer O-Two took the Media Vision original PS3 game and added an all new “Refrain Mode” that allows players to experience the game with two of its main foes as playable characters along with what seems to be a nice load of included  (on disc or as part of the digital download) DLC content added at no cost across all platforms. Yes, it’s best to explore Refrain Mode after you’ve played the main game, as plenty of spoilers abound. But if that’s your thing, you do you, I say. It’s also the first time a new game in the Shining series has appeared on current-gen consoles and PC and hopefully, it will do well among JRPG fans on those platforms.

 

 

The game hits all the expected notes many JRPGs take these days from lengthy expository scenes, a cast filled with familiar likable to annoying characters, a decent combat system, and more than enough strangeness that might knock the wind out of the sails of those new to these types of games when they see some of the game’s kookier moments. When your party members or enemies break out into song as part of an attack, it’s more than clear you’re not in Kansas anymore. But if you surrender, Dorothy, it’s all in good fun at the end of the day.

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Review: Dragon’s Crown Pro (PS4)

DCP_PS4An instant classic on both artistic and pure gameplay levels, Dragon’s Crown Pro ($49.99) has finally arrived on PS4 with buffed up 4K visuals and cross-platform play/save compatibility with the PS3 and Vita versions. It’s a game that also hopefully going to be one of those true evergreens that new players will want to add to their libraries because it offers enough replay value to keep you dialed in each time you pick up that controller.

The game’s original notoriety to some for its mildly bawdy artwork for some of the female characters (but you get a half naked muscular dwarf as a counter to that) ends up being much ado about nothing. If you’ve a working brain in your skull, you’ll know the difference between gorgeous stylized artwork and solid animation and somehow deeming the game “controversial” because one doesn’t appreciate the very intentionally over-exaggerated art. That and hell, it’s a Vanillaware game, so assorted forms of pulchritude are a necessary non-evil.

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“Waiter, there’s a fly in m… oh, never mind (ogle!)

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Coffee Crisis on Steam: A Guaranteed Caffeine Hit

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Before you ask, YES, they still make games for the Sega Genesis. Well, small indie studios do. MegaCat Studios, for example. They put out a fun and funky Sega Genesis game called Coffee Crisis that got enough notice as a cartridge game that it was eventually ported to PC and can now be yours on Steam for less than the price of a can of coffee, or a few small coffees if you need a gauge of some sort.

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As for what the game is about, go pour yourself a cuppa joe (I’ll wait) and click, then read what’s below the jump.

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Preview: Dragon’s Crown Pro – That Golden Ask Is Going To Be So Worth It

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DCP_PS4There will be three types of people who’ll be interested in Atlus and Vanillaware’s Dragon’s Crown Pro ($49.99) on the PS4. Those completely new to the game looking for a very solid side-scrolling arcade action/RPG will find an excellent single player, 4-player co-op offline/online game that’s a gorgeous homage to a number of great arcade games from Golden Axe to Capcom’s two Dungeons and Dragons titles.

Those who’ve played the original Dragon’s Crown back in 2013 on the PS3 or Vita (or both platforms) and want to know what’s new will find  much sharper visuals (if they own 4K TV’s) , a new orchestral soundtrack (the original is also selectable) and thanks to a recent patch, cross-platform multiplayer and save data with Dragon’s Crown Pro. Or you can just be like me and dive into a new game just to experience everything fresh.

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The third category are those who went completely bonkers complaining about the stylized artwork and may want to poke at the game anew for its sexy Sorceress and Amazon characters, but I’m gathering that loud crowd will get drowned out by players who want a fun and solidly built couch co-op experience who won’t mind the art style one bit. Truth be told, I’m a big fan of George Kamitani’s art style since I picked up a copy of the lovely but flawed Princess Crown through a Japanese friend about 20 years ago. Kamitani also worked on those two D & D games (which just so happen to be available on the PS3)

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Review: The Alliance Alive (Nintendo 3DS)

 

There’s something warm and familiar about Cattle Call’s new RPG, The Alliance Alive that really pulled me in from the beginning. While not flawless, the game has the look and feel of one of those multi-disc original PlayStation JRPGs and while not quite an “epic” experience, it’s solid enough and certainly packs in enough characters in its massive maps while hitting pretty much all the bullet points it needs to that make it an overall decently nostalgic 3DS game. I’m a big fan of much of Cattle Call’s work since the quirky PS2 sleeper Tsugunai: Atonement, so seeing the familiar color palette and simple but intriguing battle system also had me smiling throughout.

Still, it’s also a case where you sort of wish the game was on a system that was a bit to a good deal more powerful. It’s not at all hard to imagine the developer making a Switch (or heck, PS4 or even a Vita) game with higher resolution art and even more detailed characters and environments. On the 2DS or 3DS, the game’s animations and numerous cut scenes are excellently handled. However, the large overworld maps tend to be a bit bland, there’s a bit of background pop-in and if you have a poor sense of direction, it’s a bit too easy to get lost unless you choose the option to be guided to and from certain story-related areas.

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Review: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

If Yakuza 6 (available April 17 on PS4) is your first trip to Kiryu Kazuma’s world, fear not. As an option on the title screen, the game can fill you in with rundowns of the previous five entries with a series of cut scenes taken from previous installments. These cinemas not only get you well up to speed, they’ll very likely make you want to track down the older games at some point (well, you’ll also need a PS3 for three or four of the older titles). As for this latest installment, it’s brilliant, bittersweet and worth the time investment for plenty of reasons.

Kiryu’s journey takes him from Okinawa back to his old stomping (and kicking and punching) ground of Kamurocho with an eventual journey to Onomichi Jingaicho in Hiroshima. Par for the course, the many plot twists and turns he’ll face range from melodramatic to absurd, but the main plot is quite serious stuff. After his former pop idol daughter Haruka goes missing, Kiryu tracks her to Kamurocho only to discover she’s been struck and badly injured by a car. He also finds out he’s a grandfather as Haruka was hit while protecting her son who Kiryu knew nothing about until he has to take care of him. With all this happening, the poor guy has to deal with a Yakuza and Triad gang war where both sides also want him taken out and a few other matters you’ll want to check out.

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Random Film of the Week: ALIEN³

(Thanks, THX1968!)

 

Alien 3_bI think it was sometime in mid-to late 1991 when I first saw the teaser trailer to ALIEN³ and had my eyeballs pop right out of my head followed by my jaw hitting the floor way too hard in the theater I saw it in. Ladies and gentlemen, do you know how hard it is to clean sticky goo off your eyeballs after they’ve rolled underneath a movie theater seat? Trust me, it ain’t easy. That and yuck-o, stale popcorn and half an old hot dog have the tendency to rather easily get into a fallen jaw if you let it sit down there for more than a minute flapping away in shock mode. Hey, I was busy trying to find my darn eyeballs, thank you much.

Needless to say, I was kind of shocked by this news that we’d get a third film in the franchise and it was coming in under a year. I wasn’t sure I liked the “On Earth, Everyone Can Hear You Scream” tagline at all and yes indeed, I thought bringing that cranky xenomorph to Earth was a bad (not a bad-ass) idea for a few key reasons. Although at that point, I was kind of screaming myself.

It seems 20th Century Fox may have agreed (or at least was pulling a fast one on us because they didn’t really have an idea about the film they were planning to make), as a few months later, this was the follow up trailer:

 

(Thanks, Media Graveyard!)

 

After gathering up my eyeballs and jaw again and handing a few people in the theater their eyeballs that rolled under and around my seat (which was quite interesting as I had to wait until the guy who picked up one of my eyeballs by mistake returned it or today I’d be the Jane Seymour version of myself or something like that), I took time to take in the trailer. Bald Ripley. Bald bad men, some bald men screaming and running, NO weapons at all and a reused music cue from the previous film had me both puzzled and really curious as to how the helllllll Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley character was going to get out of this new mess. That said, the art direction and sets looked solid and that finale bit with the Alien getting too close to Ripley had me intrigued as hell, as did my wondering who the heck was this David Fincher guy directing the film.

There were other trailers and eventually TV spots that arrived before and after the film was released, but I was sold before that point to the point that even if I didn’t like the final product, I had the feeling it would be really interesting and maybe even impressive.  Let’s just say I kind of got my money’s worth more on the visual side of things and a temporary gumball substitute for an eye after I picked up the first round object that I could touch after they popped out again.

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Capsule Reviews, The Third: Some RPGs

Let’s see now. I’m trying to shoehorn a load of stuff into my schedule this year, so I’ve taken to compiling certain games and films into shorter, easier to digest capsule reviews that don’t drag on like my longer boring full meal posts. Don’t worry, those longer reviews aren’t gone at all. I’m just saving up my currently lower than usual energy stores for those more epic length posts. Anyway, let’s get cracking:

 

 

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One More Dungeon (PC/PS4/PS3/Vita/Switch/Xbox One) – Not quite a RPG and more of a cross between a first-person shooter and a perma-death packed randomly generated roguelike, OMD’s in your face pixel art will seem garish to some players, but I liked it quite a lot. The game is a challenging bit of fun that will kill your character off constantly, but somehow keeps you coming back for more. Points earned via playing can be used to unlock assorted modifiers that make playing somewhat easier or a great deal harder, so how tough things get is eventually your call.

There’s a sanity level to consider and the game’s overall vibe reminded me a tiny bit of Eldritch, another retro-style FPS, although that game had a more Lovecraftian vibe going for it. OMD’s low price point and speedy gameplay keep it fun going even if you end up buying the farm a wee bit too much. This is one of those games that you’ll go back to a over and over, provided you like what you see and/or it grows on you. Developer Stately Snail and Ratalaika Games (who handled the port) deserve a tip of the cap for this one.

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Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online – Time Eater For The Always Hungry

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I’m a bit behind in my Neptunia backlog, but I really do enjoy the games when I find time to play them. There’s a certain earnest goofiness to them that’s consistent and cute looks aside, there’s often a bit of profound wisdom mixed with the offbeat humor that sneaks into the writing and English localization that can be surprisingly refreshing for a JRPG. Anyway, here we go again, but with a few twists to the formula in Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online (which is out NOW for PS4 and coming soon to PC).

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There’s a ton of stuff to cover in a game this big, but let’s just send you all right on over to the handy Newcomer’s Guide so you can see what you’re up against. Me, I’m just a busy bee here to post a gallery you get to peruse and maybe pick up the game at your earliest convenience. Also as usual, Idea Factory and Compile Heart are on the case and ever-busy developer Tamsoft is doing some of its best work on the visuals as you can see here and below the jump.

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Some Kiwami Films For Yakuza Fans

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With Yakuza Kiwami out now and hopefully selling well for Sega as an evergreen title into the future, overall interest in the long-running series over the past few years seems high enough that I’m thinking some of you folks might be interested in a few of the many Japanese gangster films out there. If you’re new to them, this very short list of recommendations may pack a ton of surprises on a few fronts.

If you’ve played Yakuza 0, Yakuza 4 or more recently, Kiwami (which means “extreme” in Japanese), you’ll very clearly see cinematic influences in abundance throughout the series. Even though the games are set in a more modern version of Japan, most of these films have very similar scenes that show how in general, some criminal behavior never really changes and it’s quite a draw for some who choose to live that lifestyle despite the risks.

Anyway, just step into this alley over here and I’ll set you up right… or set you upright after setting you up, right?

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Cops Vs Thugs * – Prolific director Kinji Fukusaku made a number of great yakuza-themed films, but this 1975 gem is probably his best. Notable for a brutal interrogation scene where an actor playing a gangster is actually beaten by actors playing crooked cops (the rehearsal footage is included as one of the bonuses), that scene is somehow very tame once added to the assorted forms of other violence on display.

When crooked but loyal to a fault cop (Bunta Sugawara) and his equally crooked and loyal to a fault Yakuza pal Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata) clash with a gung-ho young detective who wants all corruption purged from the force, plenty of mayhem ensues. There’s not a dull moment at all here and it’s also a case of seemingly minor characters having major roles as the plot twists pile up.

Fukusaku’s candid camera catches it all, sometimes tilting mid-action during certain scenes and freeze-framing during others for added emphasis. The imminent threat of random violence and no clear black and white heroes makes you almost root for both sides. But you’ll see that there’s no winners here when all is said and done. This one’s a must despite the kind of goofy title as well as a great way to embellish your Kiwami experience outside the game.

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