First announced in Jump Magazine, Bravely Default: For The Sequel returns to the 3DS on December 5th, 2013 in Japan. The game will have support for save data from the original Bravely Default. According to the Japanese website, the game will have over 100 improvements and new features. Chief among them is support for Japanese or English voiceovers and text in Japanese, English, French, Italian, German, or Spanish.
Check out the awesome trailer below. Bravely Default comes to the Nintendo 3DS early 2014.
After a few Twitter-based teases, XSeed games has announced that Nihon Falcom’s RPG The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Second Chapter is on its way to North America as a PSN download for PSP (Vita compatible). The new game, as well as its predecessor, will also become available on PC via Steam. This makes sense, as they were both PC games originally.
No specific release dates have been set for these projects. The Steam version of the original Trails in the Sky is expected this winter, while the sequel is set to come at an unspecified time in 2014.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky was met with love when it arrived on North American PSPs two years ago. Unfortunately, the games in this series have quite a bit of text, and translating it is notoriously hard; this severely limited the progress that a small company like XSeed could realistically make on such a project. To the stated delight of the loyal fans and XSeed staff members alike, the long wait is finally coming to an end.
The game is basically a third-person magic infused monster hunting game that takes place in a series of Phantom Quests. These quests are housed in sprawling arena-style levels, where you either take on a pack of small monsters or one (or two) very big monsters. Sometimes you do this solo, other times you enlist the aid of AI allies. Or, if you’re feeling social, you can tackle the quests in either ad hoc or online co-op.
Combat is fast and ferocious, a blur of magical powers that range from quick melee hack-and-slash powers to huge, magical arrows and giant stone fists plunging out of the earth, sending foes high into the sky. Mechanically, the combat is actually pretty deep.
Counter-attacks have to be timed, but pack a huge punch and lots of damage. There’s no jumping, but your dodge is extremely useful. The left shoulder button can be used to reorrient your POV, but when you hold it down you lock on to an enemy—which is essential for survival, and basically required if you ever want to hit anybody outside of nose-to-nose melee.
There’s no stamina bar, so you can run and punch and dodge to your heart’s content.
However, your various powers will slowly run out depending on how much you’ve boosted them in the character screen between matches. You can fill these powers up at special locations in each map, but if you use any power all the way you’ll lose it for the match (and until you spend “lacrima” to replenish it.)
The combat is good, solid, and varied enough to stay interesting despite some of the problems the game does have with repetitiveness. When it comes to the actual fights, your sorcerer can be a melee brawler or a ranged specialist or a combination of all sorts of different powers, from healing magic to poisonous fists.
You have two sets of three powers mapped to the square, triangle, and circle buttons on the Vita. This means you can choose up to six powers, mixing and matching from long, mid, and close range combat powers as well as various defensive amulets, shields, and special moves. On top of that there’s a whole suite of special powers that can do anything from unleashing a Harpy’s shriek to mimicking the powers of your allies.
In other words, there’s a great deal of depth when it comes to simply choosing which powers you’ll use in any given combat.
The Black Magic of Character Customization
This is made even more complex (and rewarding) when you realize that many enemies have certain vulnerabilities—maybe they can’t withstand ice magic, or perhaps fire. You don’t know until you try. Furthermore, some enemies fly, or at least spend a great deal of time skyward, making it important to balance out your armament with some ranged weapons.
You can combine these Offerings to boost their power or fuse them together to make new Offerings that are even more powerful.
On top of all these powers that form the bread and butter of the game’s combat are a small selection of Black Rites. These are super-powers, essentially, which can be used once in a stage and then have to be repurchased with the game’s bizarre currency. Once used, however, the Black Rite will penalize your character until it’s repurchased. This is because in order to use a Black Rite, you have to sacrifice a part of your body.
The starting Black Rite may help you bring down that first tricky boss, but you’ll see your fire defenses halved until you buy it back.
Powers and Black Rites make up two of the three major components of combat prowess in the game.
You also have a special sorcerous right arm. It’s basically possessed, and you can carve different sigils you learn into it all of which give you passive buffs to various defenses or attacks depending on the composition of your character. These sometimes come at a cost as well. The game is called Soul Sacrifice for a reason, after all.
As you play, you unlock new arms and new types of arm (Dark, Divine, etc.) depending on the quests you play and the choices you make.
When you kill something in Soul Sacrifice you’re given the option to Save or Sacrifice. On the most basic level this can either boost your magical attack—through sacrifice—or your life and defense—through saving. You have a total combined max level of 99, so you can either balance that out between both defense and offense, or focus on one or the other. This allows for some build variety on top of all the afore-mentioned customizations.
It goes much deeper than this, however.
Depending on whether you save or sacrifice a big monster, various story paths open up. Different rewards for completing a mission are doled out. Bits of information in the game’s story are withheld or divulged. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, and can only continue down a given path by sacrificing (or not sacrificing) something.
This can be rewritten, however, by playing the mission over again or playing it in multiplayer, so while the choice has a gameplay consequence, that consequence isn’t permanent.
Permanence really isn’t a thing in Soul Sacrifice at all. You can change your gender at any point, or your hair color, or skin color, or raiment (new outfits are unlocked as you go also.)
The entire game is built around digging up the memories and stories of an evil sorcerer who has imprisoned you by reading through his journal, the Librom, a grotesque talking book from whence you gather the precious “lacrima” currency by wiping the tears from its one, ugly eye.
You follow the story of this mysterious sorcerer as he becomes a monster hunter for a society of somewhat insane sorcerers. The whole thing is voiced over beautifully, and there’s something really satisfying about the book itself, how everything is divided into chapters, and some bits are clouded from memory.
It’s not that the story itself is terribly deep, but it’s told beautifully. The whole thing is really bizarre, though I won’t spoil it here. (I may discuss at greater and more spoiler-filled length in a future post, however.)
As much as I enjoy both the game’s fast-paced combat and its story, both point to two of the major problems with Soul Sacrifice.
Levels in Soul Sacrifice are flat. They’re also boring and repetitive. While each area looks neat on the surface, it’s apparent almost instantly that surface is all there is.
There are no stair cases to run up, no tunnels to run under, and no hills to climb. You can’t enter buildings or attack foes from rooftops. Each level is basically an arena, so you don’t have any secrets to unlock or paths to make your way along (there are paths, but they’re really just arenas with paths linking hubs together.)
In an ideal world, this whole arena model would be saved for multiplayer only, or as a special kind of side mission. The story and bulk of the side quests would be built using actual levels, in which you progressed through waves of enemies until you reached the big monsters. This would be more satisfying, as you could add choice to how each level was approached and more secrets to unearth.
As it stands you use your Mind’s Eye power to find special weapons, soul shards, and so forth. It’s a fine mechanic, but ultimately unsatisfying.
Likewise, the reward system which doles out new (and old) powers based on how well you complete each mission, is a fine way to reward excellent play but leaves little room for exploration. Various criteria, such as how quickly you finish the level, whether you employ counters, and how much damage you sustain will determine how well you score each mission. This is all well and good, but it would be more satisfying to explore actually fleshed-out levels and be rewarded for doing so.
Many of the big monsters in the game are awesome, and even many of the smaller monsters. Orcs are wonderful—rather than the goblinoid race we’re accustomed to, they’re basically huge slugs. When you kill one, you realize it was just a cat, which you can then sacrifice or save depending on what you’re looking for in your build.
Goblins are dog-like beasts, for lack of a better description, that look nothing like what you’d imagine a goblin would be. They’ve been transformed into monsters from rats. The originality here is marvelous. But it gets less marvelous when you fight the same basic orcs and goblins over and over again. The only thing that changes is their damage and resistances.
Big monsters are better, and some of them are simply incredible. Massive slimes are made of gold and treasure, others of food. The whole Seven Deadly Sins thing is present in these distorted sorcerers who fell to greed or gluttony. They have more varied attacks, too. The Harpy can fly and has a powerful swooping dive move. The Jack-O-Lanterns turn into huge fiery boulders. These are great boss-type monsters whose challenge lies in more than just damage soak. They get better and better as the game progresses.
But even these beasts are recycled. In a game with so many flavors of power and such depth of customization, it’s a huge shame that the monsters aren’t more varied as well.
Between repetitive levels and bad guys, the game falters in a pretty big way. Combat is still great, but it could be so much better freed from the confines of these arenas.
These limitations are likely the limits imposed by budget, by the risk of introducing a new IP to a handheld system that’s not flourishing. Nor are they deal-breakers for me. On a Buy/Hold/Sell scale, I give Soul Sacrifice a resounding “Buy.” It’s fun enough to make its shortcomings less important, though certainly not to overlook them entirely.
Inafune has said of the game: “My own life story has been the inspiration of this game. I was put in a lot of situations where I had to make tough decisions. I learned that things don’t go well just because you want to be famous or rich or a better person. You have to constantly think what you’re willing to give up or sacrifice to make things happen.” I think that’s a pretty cool way to look at the game and what it means, and I definitely want to discuss all of it more.
I also want to talk about the game’s multiplayer, comparisons to Monster Hunter, and whether it’s the Killer App in an extended discussion on the game. That piece is already in the works, so please stay tuned, and let me know what you think of the game down in the comments.
Platform: PS Vita
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
Publisher: Marvelous Entertainment, SCE Studios Japan
Released: April 30th, 2013
The big day is finally here. You’re ready to profess your love to your soon-to-be spouse in front of friends and family. But before you can seal the deal, a mysterious band of assassins barges through the church and tries to murder you. Meanwhile, your red-headed fiancé Toki transforms into a knife-wielding blonde woman who fights them off with ease.
At least you weren’t left at the altar, right?
Time and Eternity is one of three PlayStation 3-exclusive Japanese role-playing games that Nippon Ichi Software (better known in the States as NIS America) revealed at its annual press event this week in San Francisco. A new entry in the Disgaea series and another game called The Guided Fate Paradox looked okay, but it was Time and Eternity’s unusual wedding theme and the beautiful, hand-drawn animation that caught my eye. It’s a joint venture between NIS America and developer Namco Bandai, and it’s coming out this summer.
A weird relationship
You control Toki and Towa, the two “dual souls” of the bride. They are traveling back in time with the former groom (whose soul is now inside a pet dragon named Drake) to unravel the mystery of the wedding crashers.
“Normal RPGs have grand and epic themes, but I wanted to do something different, something unexpected,” said Namco Bandai producer Kei Hirono, via a translator, to GamesBeat. “Marriage is one of the biggest events that everybody — maybe not everybody [laughs] — that most people have. … [Time and Eternity] kind of just happened. It wasn’t planned or anything. My marriage and wedding happened around the same time [as development].”
The developers incorporate much of the story and personality between Toki/Towa and Drake into the gameplay. Toki/Towa will transform into either of the souls when she levels up from combat. While each side of her has a basic set of attacks, it also has its own powers. Later in the game, you’ll have more control over which soul you want to use. Drake just acts as an autonomous sidekick, attacking enemies on his own.
Battles in Time and Eternity happen in real time, resembling more of a fighting game than a traditional JRPG because of how fast you need to react. From the 20 minutes I played, a key part of the decision-making involved how far or how close Toki/Towa was to the enemy. Pushing up on the left analog stick causes her to rush toward the foe until she’s right in its face while pushing back down returns her to the original position.
The controls are simple: Ranged and melee commands share the same button (with your powers mapped to the others), L1 is your block (and if timed right, a counter), R2 pulls up a menu of items you can use, and rolling the left analog stick left or right makes Toki/Towa dodge in those directions. Unlike some fighting games, however, you can’t cancel a move once you’ve triggered it — the animation has to play out, making timing all the more important. The enemies I saw usually had an obvious tell to let you know what they’re about to do.
An interactive anime
Time and Eternity is a peculiar juxtaposition of 2D hand-drawn animation (with no polygons, textures, or cel-shading) and 3D levels. It’s jarring at first as the backgrounds look somewhat lackluster compared to the detailed characters that populate the world. But after a few minutes, you grow used to it and realize that the distinctive styles actually complement each other rather well.
“It was really challenging because for anything that’s polygon-based or 3D-based, there are a lot of resources that we can use,” said Hirono. “There’s a lot of middleware, and a lot of places are already doing it — it’s easier to make something like that. But since here everything is hand-drawn, we actually had to make the game around the animation rather than making the animation around the system itself.”
Jumping into Time and Eternity kind of felt like I was in the middle of an anime movie or TV series. Though I couldn’t hear any sounds at the event due to loud music playing and a lot of people talking, a NIS America representative told me that most dialogue scenes feature voice actors. The plot was fun and lighthearted from what I could glimpse of the subtitles: Drake seemed to act as a comic relief role with his short temper and exaggerated gestures, characters questioned whether Towa knew about Toki’s marriage (they’ve “talked” about it before), and I fought two wannabe assassins named Linus and Lucy.
For Hirono, the tone was a welcome change of pace from his work on Dark Souls, a JRPG known for its grim atmosphere and punishing gameplay.
“So just like how it is with your life itself, you want to have variation,” he said. “For me, I think it was a good balance to be able to work on something dark and serious like Dark Souls and then at the same time, [Time and Eternity] is more casual and happier. [It’s] a good balance.”
This screen is a good example of how the 2D animation meshes with the 3D levels.
I’ve always appreciated what the Atelier roleplaying series strives to do, even if I haven’t always been thrilled with the ways in which it’s done it. Though the dialogue and voice work have never been terribly effective, many of these games’ characters still beg to be remembered, and few more than one Totooria Helmold, the star of Atelier Totori Plus. Earnest and open-hearted to a fault, her deeply personal motivation is the glue that, along with an intensive crafting element, holds this laid-back RPG together. And thanks to the Vita’s beautiful screen, the world around her looks better here than ever before.
Atelier Totori Plus is a Vita port of Atelier Totori that doesn’t disappoint in the least. It brings all the content of the original to gamers on the go, along with a few bonuses to sweeten the pot. Among other things: all the DLC characters from the PS3 incarnation, and more excitingly, a new post-game dungeon that Atelier Rorona fans will no doubt recognize. None of theses extras are game-changers mind you, but they do add an appreciated splash of extra variety whether you’re a new or returning player.
Totori’s technically simple, artistically intricate graphics really come to life on the Vita, as its sharp display brings out all the loving details in the characters’ designs. If you somehow failed to recognize how well-conceived Totori’s artwork is on the PS3, it’ll certainly come out and smack you in the eyeballs this time around. If you’re looking for it, you might spot an extra second of loading here, or a drop in framerate there, but none of it impacts gameplay. In fact, it inexplicably runs better than the PS3 version of Totori’s sequel, Atelier Meruru.
Still, this is a port, which naturally means it’s inherited the faults of its original. Totori’s flaws are few in number, but deep in severity, with the voice acting on the male side of the cast being the worst offense. Gino’s nasally delivery constantly grates, and the ever-whiny Peter proves to be just as rage-inducing on a small Vita screen as he is on a big one. The voice actor playing Totori’s widower father acquits himself reasonably well, but only to the extent that the clumsily wrought script allows him to. While the female performances are stronger on the whole, they aren’t enough to save the day. Given that Totori relies even more heavily upon dialogue than your average RPG, this sub-standard level of craft will be a sizable problem for many.
Of course, just as a port brings its big brother’s baggage along with it, so too does it bring the good stuff. Despite the writing and acting issues, I still find Totori and her quest to discover the true fate of her missing mother to be a suitable, if unlikely motivation to push through. Unlike Meruru and Ayesha after her, Totori has genuine bonds, either by blood or by history, with the people around her. This lends her interactions with them significance, especially where her family and her presumably deceased mother are concerned. Even amidst the airy, care-free atmosphere, there’s a heartfelt tale here about a young girl who refuses to accept the loss of her parent, and challenges herself to discover the truth. As someone who’s been slaying dragons and confronting world-ending evils since Dragon Warrior, it’s a refreshing change of pace.
Fishcraft? I don’t know what that is.
Having reviewed the PS3 version of Totori last year, coming back to it after moving on to Meruru and Ayesha really drove home why it’s my favorite of the PS3 Atelier games. Of all the main characters, Totori’s tale mattered most to me, and the cast surrounding her finds a comfortable sweet spot between light-hearted fun and believability. In terms of gameplay, Totori packs all of the franchise-signature crafting depth, and marries it to a well-tuned, free-form quest structure that’s rife with resource management. You can check my original review for all the sordid details, but in short, it’s less restrictive than Meruru’s system, but more open and challenging than the spoon-fed quest track that Ayesha runs you through. Striking such a balance in a system with so many moving parts is really quite commendable, especially given that neither of its successors could truly manage it.
Atelier Totori was a very good RPG to begin with, but its stylish, technically modest graphics, and focus on bite-sized quests make it an ideal candidate for handheld gaming. Everything that made the original what it is, for better or worse, is here on the Vita – including the near-constant interruptions by poorly executed dialogue which still bar it from greatness. But its additional content and small-screen visual presence make Atelier Totori Plus the definitive version, and an easy recommendation for franchise fans and RPG buffs in general.
Do you really want to find out what is on the Stranger's Bookshelf? It could cause shock and awe, or amaze you and cast wonderment. What secrets does it behold? Come and browse on The Stranger’s Bookshelf.