Review: AI: The Somniun Files (PS4)

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Get a clue, Date. Bet a cluuuuuuue.

AIBrilliant. Spike Chunsoft keeps it perfectly weird at all times with AI: The Somnium Files ($59.99), a visual novel/adventure that’s one of the best games of this type to date in terms of accessibility. Granted, it opens with a disturbing crime scene, but that gory mystery to solve (and a few others as the game goes on) becomes the starting point for Kaname Date’s adventures and every investigator needs a good mystery, right? Of course, Date soon realizes this case has ties to his past (you’ll see) and with some assistance from Aiba, his trusted partner who resides in his left eye socket (you’ll see), things get more or less cleared up (the AI’s have it, heh).

The victim, her husband, and whip-smart young daughter all have connections to Date and Date’s oddball (eyeball?) relationship with Aiba is part of the game’s pull. She’s necessary to solve a few puzzles both in the real world and the Sonmium dreamscapes you’ll dip into. Her real form is an oddly cute tiny cyclops bear thing, but in dreamscapes she takes on a more humanoid shape partly because she thinks Date’s tastes lean toward pretty women. His do, but Aiba’s form appearing outside of dreams is too distracting for him at certain points.

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Brainnnns. Expect to see a few odd dreams for Aiba to mess around in.

Gameplay combines a bit of thinking with plus trial and error in the timed Aiba segments, plus traditional point and click sections where Date investigates plot elements and clues. The latter are untimed sections where camera movement is confined to whichever location Date happens to be in while Aiba’s sections are limited to six minutes. Retrying Aiba’s more freeform portions can be done either from auto-saves, from certain spots by adding or subtracting time or by retrying if you get stuck on solutions and time expires.

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Review: CRYSTAR (PS4)

Crystar PS4“Brilliantly depressing” is how I’d describe CRYSTAR ($59.99), Gemdrops Inc. and FURYU Corporation’s new Action/RPG published by Spike Chunsoft, but let’s not get too far ahead of things.

Rei Hatada and her little sister Mirai are pulled by a strange being into an odd dimension called Purgatory where violent creatures soon appear to attack the two. Rei manages to unleash a hidden power that gives her a powerful weapon and fancy costume, but she accidentally kills her kid sister during one battle. As she cries at losing her sibling, two oddly garbed female demon twins appear and make her an offer she can’t refuse. Become an Executor for the twins and kill enough demons in Purgatory in order to gather enough Idea (tears) to save Mirai’s soul before it descends too deep and gets reborn as a completely different person. You get one guess as to Rei’s decision.

Thus, the downward spiral begins in a game that will hit home hard for some players thanks to its assorted mostly gloomy thematic elements and a story that has a few surprises tucked into its narrative. Thankfully, while a tad (okay, very) downbeat at times, the game is gorgeous to look at. Illustrator RIUICHI’s work was lovingly translated into 3D characters by Character Designer & Modeling Lead ntny and the game also features an outstanding score from composer Sakuzyo that’s worth a listen.

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Wake up, time to cry. And you thought you had issues. Rei’s literally surrounded by her and her slain foes mental status, even during dungeon diving.

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Review: Zanki Zero: Last Beginning (PS4)

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…

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CHARGE COMBO… er, hey? Does that come with fries, or just a large punch? I got jokes, man. Not good ones, but I got jokes…

ZZPS4“Gleefully Apocalyptic” or “Cheerfully Downbeat” may seem like damnable praise for a game, but Spike Chunsoft has made that a winning strategy in a number of its more popular titles such as the “Deathly Amusing” Danganronpa series or those “Wonderfully Grim” Zero Escape games. Veteran developer Lancarse’s Zanki Zero: Last Beginning ($59.99) is in some ways similar, but not 100% quite like those other games, though. It’s a “Non-stop Survival RPG” with a demanding set of gameplay requirements some new to this sort of thing may find a bit tricky to grasp, but it ends up pretty satisfying once you settle in and grow accustomed to what it requires from you. In English, you’ll dig this for what works well more than those who might not “get” it at all. Go try that lengthy PS4 demo out and make your move, I say.

You play as a team of eight survivors of a world-ending event who initially seem to think they’re in a bizarre reality show, but soon find out they’re clones with a 13-day lifespan forced to repeat the cycle of birth to death as they puzzle out the hows and whys of their existence. Their guides? A pair of cartoon show hosts living in a separate reality who pop up on an unplugged vintage televisions to give them missions that will expand or end their lives (or both) as they’re completed. Yes, you get 10XP if you realize there’s some nefariousness going on behind the scenes (or, under the skin, if you prefer). And yes, I thought David Lynch would make a fine directorial choice if there’s ever a live-action version of this one, but as usual… I digress.

 

 

As you can see from that trailer above, you can expect death to come calling frequently (a lot less so if you play on the new to the English version Easy mode). That said, dying here isn’t all bad, as what can kill you will in most cases will make your party members stronger as new resistances and even a bit of lifespan extending can be acquired based on how and when you buy the farm. Buy early, buy often, but try not to buy it too much as your lives are limited. There’s also that parasitic Clione the clones have to deal with – use their powers wisely, or pay the price with a somewhat spectacular death.

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Zanki Zero, You’re My (New) Hero

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Keep an eyeball peeled for this one, folks.

While it’s not officially out until April 9th, I’ve been playing a review version of Spike Chunsoft’s new first-person “Non-stop Survival RPG” Zanki Zero: Last Beginning for a few days now and it’s pretty amazing on a few fronts. I’ll save most of that “How amazing is it?” stuff for my review, but I’ll gleefully urge you to go download the demo if you’re a PS4-owning JRPG fan who wants something a wee bit… different yet but quite familiar in its mature tone to Spike Chunsoft’s other quirky titles.

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One of the first people you’ll meet in the game. Expect total strangeness from this point onward.

That trailer below doesn’t even begin to convey the sheer wackiness and brilliance on display, but it sure makes for an interesting watch:

Oh, before you get all “Aw, man… I want to play this on my PC!”… the game will indeed, get a PC version on the same day as the PS4 game ships. Excellent.

Alrighty, then. My work here is done for now, but I’ll be back with a review next week. Expect strangeness.

-GW

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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Conception II Hands-On (PS Vita): Raisin’ Space Babies, Beatin’ Beasts With Rabies…

Conception II VitaAtlus’ upcoming JRPG,Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars, is sure to get the dirtier gamer minds over-activated into the puerile zone what with it’s show and tell “Classmating” sequences, too-jiggly females, an aged priest with some intentionally pervy dialog and plenty of direct and indirect references to sexytime antics mixed in with a cosmic religion theme. But hey, it IS an M-Rated game and some of the people who are going to be playing this probably shouldn’t be. But you know how that goes, right?

Here’s a game where you play as a young man called “God’s Gift”, and yes, that means not only in terms of the terrific monster bashing powers at his disposal, but in terms of his ability for Conception with the game’s nubile young females. Did I mention that this is basically a futuristic high school setting and this is more or less a dating sim with random dungeons packed with plenty of monsters to wail on? Yeah, par for the course for the genre, I know, I know. Yet, for all the lovely visuals and solid combat there’s a decidedly cute yet creepy vibe here that may make a few players cringe as they groove on the lovely visuals and catchy tunes.

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