Archives for category: Vita


You know a game takes its scares seriously when the first thing it asks you to do is turn off all the lights and refrain from tearing your gaze from the screen. Yomawari: Midnight Shadows even implores you to promise not to break these rules. You might wish you did.

Much like last year’s Yomawari: Night Alone, Midnight Shadows begins with a little girl and her dog. While we, unfortunately, had to witness the demise of the former protagonist’s cute little pup Poro, here we’re introduced to Yui, who has headed up into the mountains near her quiet little town to bury her beloved pet. I think Nippon Ichi might have something against dogs.

If you’re new to the Yomawari games, you might find yourself somewhat mollified by the cutesy chibi character designs and beautiful hand-drawn art. Do not be fooled. This is a bleak world where bad things happen. Much like the first game, that charming art gives way to an oppressive atmosphere, exaggerated by some incredibly minimalist audio – which frequently uses nothing but natural sounds like the rush of a river or the wind through the boughs of a tree – and some severe vignetting that darkens the periphery of your vision, forcing your focus to the centre of the screen, and hiding the terrors of the night in deep shadow. This is not a relaxing game to play. Even before you’ve seen anything out of the ordinary it’s put you on edge.

Of course, you’ll discover very early on that things are not normal in this town. The opening of Yomawari: Midnight Shadows – which I don’t want to spoil – might be the bleakest thing I’ve seen in a video game, and I honestly still don’t quite know how to feel about it. Dressing this segment up as the opening tutorial amplifies its effect substantially; “Ok,” you think, “the game’s teaching me how to play. I just hold X to pick this up. I push this over there. There were go. Aaaand… Oh. Oh God.” You’re lulled into a false sense of security, because you’re just being taught the controls, right? Nothing bad can happen in a tutorial. Yet with a few simple button presses, Yomawari: Midnight Shadows makes you complicit in a genuinely shocking act. And you’re only ten minutes in.

Returning players will note many similarities beyond just a little girl and her dog. Indeed, Midnight Shadows both looks and plays almost identically to the 2015 original, and that’s not a bad thing. What we have here is kind of an isometric 2D Silent Hill, where you’re tasked to explore an apparently-normal town where things have somehow gone very wrong. After the opening segment, we’re re-introduced to Yui, who has come to the mountain overlooking town with her friend Haru to watch a fireworks display. It turns out Haru is moving away and the girls are saddened that they will soon be separated. Haru, of course, doesn’t want to leave her friend, and declares that she’s not going anywhere. She’s going to stay with Yui forever.

As darkness falls and the girls head home through the woods, they begin to hear strange noises. Eerie apparitions flitter in the corners of their vision, and finally they hear a voice. Armed with a torch, Yui volunteers to go and take a look, and instructs Haru to hide in the bushes. Heading through the woods alone, she comes across something lying in the middle of the path. Bending to pick it up, she realises it’s the red leash she had used to walk her dog. We’re instructed to jump into the inventory to view it, so we do just that, reading the little text description and OH GOD WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?!

Christ. You’re not even safe in the menus.

We cut back to Haru, who emerges from the bush to find Yui gone, her discarded torch lying on the ground nearby. She sets off through the night to find her friend.

As you make your way around town, investigating points of interest for useful clues, you’ll note the cues Yomawari: Midnight Shadows takes from the earlier Silent Hill games. The inspiration is apparent too in that bleak, oppressive atmosphere, and there’s the roaming monsters and spirits that appear to block your path and chase you down. In Yomawari however, you feel more vulnerable than in, well, the vast majority of games, to be honest. It’s not just because you’re a little kid that can’t fight back, seemingly abandoned and alone in a town with no friends, no adults, no signs of normal life. Yomawari uses the children’s innocence to underscore just how miserable all this is; there are no adults around, strange spirits are roaming the streets, and yet for all that, the town looks normal, and Haru doesn’t even question it, doesn’t wonder where her parents are. She just wants to find Yui again.

The foreboding mood is fostered by that crushing sense of creeping dread that the best of Japanese horror cinema does so well, where even mundane, every day things will set your teeth to chattering, like the rustling of litter or the buzzing of a sodium streetlight. And of course there’s the scares. The majority tend to consist of jump scares, and I’m usually pretty immune to those, but there’s something about this game, something that makes me jump out of my skin whenever some multi-limbed grinning horror bursts from a seemingly-innocent little alleyway and chases me down a dark street when all I want to do is get back to the safety of home.

Luckily, Haru can hide in some of the scenery around town. If you see a bush or an A-board, you can duck behind it to escape the night, and you’ll see your chosen hiding place illuminated in the centre of a black background, the roving terrors that are following you picked out in red as they near your hiding place. You’ll hear Haru’s heartbeat pounding in your ears as they get closer, and even though you’re sure they can’t pull you from safety, your already-frayed nerves will be at breaking point until they start to move away, and you think it might be safe to emerge and continue your journey.

When you do, you’re just back out in the night, with the monsters, the dark, and the rushing of the wind.

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It’s been a while since I posted about my YouTube channel, A Game with Chums, so I thought I’d throw up a short update.

As Hallowe’en is now upon us, I’d like to point out that we’ve been playing horror games all month on the channel, and tomorrow, October 31st, our final video goes up. We’ve been continuing with our let’s play of Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn on Mondays, and then uploading a random horror game every Wednesday and Friday, until last week when we decided to go all out in the run up to the day itself, and post a new one daily. Here’s our latest one, which went up yesterday.

This was our first time playing Forbidden Siren, so we weren’t great at it. It was pretty tense though! Below you can also find the latest part of out Until Dawn let’s play. Things escalated pretty damn fast.

Here’s the list of all the games we’ve played so far for our month of horror, as well as the platforms we played them on. Why not catch up before our final video goes up tomorrow? I’ll also have a timely review for you tomorrow as well.

Project Zero || OG Xbox
The Evil Within || Xbox One
The Thing || OG Xbox
Yomawari: Night Alone || PSTV
Layers of Fear || Xbox One
The Suffering: Ties That Bind || OG Xbox
Dead Space || Xbox One
Corpse Party || PSTV
Condemned: Criminal Origins || Xbox One
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth || OG Xbox
Resident Evil Revelations 2 || Xbox One
Silent Hill 2 || OG Xbox
Forbidden Siren || PS4

If you happen to check out any of our videos, please do let me know what you think below, and come back tomorrow for that final video and spooky review.

Gravity Rush's Kat
A quick (mildly passive-aggressive) heads-up for the PS4 owners among you: Gravity Rush Remastered hits UK shop shelves today, and you should absolutely go and buy a copy.

Originally released on PlayStation Vita back in 2012, Gravity Rush has since become a cult favourite for fans of the under-appreciated handheld, and now it’s coming to a wider audience, fans are hoping it can attract a whole new fanbase on home console. Honestly, it’s a miracle we’re getting a sequel, which is coming to PS4 sometime this year, so if you never had access to a Vita, now’s the time to play this unique, wonderful game from Sony’s Japan Studio.

The Vita game had a wonderful effect where the horizon became a sort of abstract sketch to mask the draw distance. Thankfully, Bluepoint have retained the effect on PS4. I loved it then and I love it now.

The Vita game had a wonderful effect where the horizon became a sort of abstract sketch to mask the draw distance. Thankfully, Bluepoint have retained the effect on PS4. I loved it then and I love it now.

So what is Gravity Rush, exactly? I’m glad you asked. It’s a mission-based open world game, though it’s different from any you’ve played before. Well, maybe Crackdown is the closest thing to it – certainly in the way that collecting gems to power up Kat is just as addictive as hunting down Crackdown‘s agility orbs – but even then the two games aren’t particularly alike. It’s effectively a superhero origin story, starring a teenage amnesiac, and you’re already beginning to roll your eyes and groan, imagining lots of attitude and a dark backstory. Well, it’s the opposite of that. Gravity Rush‘s protagonist, Kat, has no backstory. And she doesn’t have much of an attitude, either. She wakes up one day in the city of Hekseville with no memory of who or where she is, finds she has the power to manipulate gravity through a mysterious cat she names Dusty, and then she promptly sets out to cheerfully help the people of the city as they find themselves under attack from strange monsters called Nevi.

I said Kat can control gravity, remember? Well, the whole game is built around that. With the tap of a button, you can untether her from gravity altogether, and then decide at will which direction you want to ‘fall’. The city is one huge playground for your to fling yourself around – through, over and under, as Hekseville rather strangely just floats in a void. The ability to realign gravity means Kat can walk on walls, drop horizontally to travel at speed, or simply just fall into the sky. You can see what I mean in the video below, which shows ten minutes of early-game play, as our heroine sets up a home for herself.

I love games that make it a joy just simply getting around the world and exploring, and in that respect, Gravity Rush is one of the best. Add to that beautiful art, a soundtrack with serious earworm potential and a likeable, engaging lead and you’ve got something really special. The conversion has been masterfully handled by remaster specialists Bluepoint, who have done a wonderful job bringing the game up to PS4 standards while respecting the art and aesthetic of the Vita original, and at just half the price of a standard new game, how can you say no?

Well, don’t. Go and grab a copy and maybe we can all make sure that Gravity Rush 2 is a smashing success. Sony may have sent this game out to die with no marketing, but we can show them that unique games like this have a place in the market.

Steins Gate

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Originally released on Xbox 360 in Japan back in 2009, this wonderful visual novel finally made it to the UK this year on Vita and PS3. Steins;Gate stars teenage student Okabe Rintaro, the self-proclaimed insane mad scientist of Akihabara, as he sets out to create the world’s first working time machine in the summer of 2010. Of course, things don’t exactly go to plan.

Okabe is a wonderfully nutty eccentric. Going by the pseudonym Hououin Kyouma, he founds the Future Gadget Laboratory to further his mad scientist dreams of bringing chaos to the world, telling anyone who’ll listen of his apparent paranoid delusion of being chased by ‘The Organisation’. In reality, he’s got a really bad case chuunibyou. Although, you know what they say, just because you’re paranoid…

He finds himself in the midst of a conspiracy through space and time, doing all he can to fix the timeline he inadvertently messed with, and he’s joined by an equally engrossing cast of characters, including his childhood friend Mayuri Shiina, his right-hand man Itaru Hashida, and the new girl in town, aloof overachiever Kurisu Makise. Then there’s Suzuha, the mysterious ‘part-time warrior’, the cat-eared maid café waitress Faris NyanNyan, the quiet, unassuming Luka and the ‘mail demon’ Moeka Kiryu, nicknamed Shining Finger by Okabe for her prodigious emailing talent.

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On the surface, these characters might sound like archetypes, but they’re far more than that; each has their own opinions, desires and beliefs, and each of them is more important to Okabe than perhaps even he will admit. Steins;Gate is a lengthy game, with a single playthrough taking upwards of twenty hours, as well as six endings to see, so it helps that the cast are such an engaging lot. When you finally put the game down, you’ll feel like you’ve lost a group of friends.

Though it seems like pretty standard anime fare on first blush, Steins;Gate can be pretty heavy-going, both emotionally and conceptually. This is a science fiction story, and while it takes plenty of liberties, it certainly doesn’t skimp on the theoretical physics, with plenty of lengthy discussions about the theoretical possibilities of time travel, or theological ruminations on the existence of the human soul. And of course, being set in Akihabara, it has its fair share of nerd-culture callouts, even if some of them are purposely obscure or camouflaged (I’m sure everyone can figure out what ‘Gunbam’ is, however).

Steins;Gate also goes to some seriously dark places, especially in some of the endings, which can be incredibly bleak. There’s also a lengthy section about halfway through the game that almost feels designed to emotionally break the player, but the game would be weaker without such inclusions. Steins;Gate spends hours building up its characters and getting you to care for them, before savagely deconstructing them in front of your eyes, only to offer possible salvation by jumping back in time and trying again. It might be a cliché to say that the experience is an emotional rollercoaster, but you’ll certainly want to get everyone to some semblance of a happy ending.

Kurisu

Put in the time, and you will. It can be pretty hard going at times, but Steins;Gate offers a compelling story and a fantastic cast of characters, and it’ll make you laugh, cry, cringe and smile. Sometimes all at once.

xillia2bannerIt’s a good time to be a Tales of fan.

I seem to be saying that a lot recently, but this week it really is a good time to be a fan of Bandai-Namco’s long-running jRPG series. We’ve had plenty of new info on the upcoming 20th anniversary game Tales of Zestiria, finally got a release date (and a collectors edition!) for this year’s Tales of Xillia 2 and, best of all, we actually got confirmation of a Western release of Tales of Hearts R, one of two Vita titles that I honestly thought would never see the light of day outside of Japan.

It was not always thus. Releases in the series have generally been a bit spotty; 1995′s Tales of Phantasia, the first game in the series, only saw release outside of Japan in 2003, whereas 2005′s Tales of the Abyss was made available in 2006 in the US, but remained unavailable in Europe until its 3DS port hit shelves in late 2011. Meanwhile, titles that did make it to our shores, such as Tales of Symphonia (2003) and Tales of Vesperia (2009) only did so in very small quantities – quantities which quickly disappeared, meaning those games were effectively unavailable to anyone that hadn’t thought to pre-order a copy.

Happily, things have really turned around recently, with reissues for both Abyss and Vesperia suddenly popping up on store shelves just months before we got a lovely Day One edition of Tales of Graces f. More recently, fans have been able to show their support by grabbing excellent special editions for both last year’s Tales of Xillia and this year’s Tales of Symphonia Chronicles. In turn, Producer Hideo Baba showed his appreciation by spending much of last year travelling around the world, attending European and American conventions, interacting with fans and giving presentations on his team’s work.

This greater focus on a worldwide audience was brought to a head when Tales of Zestiria was announced last December, with Baba-san immediately confirming it would be released in North America and Europe shortly after its initial Japanese launch. The game is set for release in 2015, 20 years after Phantasia debuted, and details have been sneaking out here and there about the characters and world. We can expect to hear more about the game from June onwards, but for now here’s the latest trailer, which aired just a few days ago at the NicoNico SuperConference. In it, we get a glimpse at the battle system in action and another look at what appear to be rather expansive environments. Check it out below. Needless to say, I’m excited.

Also this week, we finally got a release date for Tales of Xillia 2. I had been expecting it around August going by previous releases (Graces f in August 2012, Xillia in August 2013), and August it is – the 19th in North America and the 22nd in Europe. We’ll also be seeing a ‘Ludger Kresnik Collectors Edition’ that looks very similar to that of the first game, with a figure of protagonist Ludger, a replica of Elle’s pocketwatch, an art book and some other goodies. You can see an image below, and this is certainly the edition I’ll be going for, being something of a fan of Tales of figures.

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There’ll also be a Day One edition, with steelbook case and soundtrack selection CD for those that have no interest in figurines and such, and I’m guessing this will be the same deal as the publisher’s other Day One editions, where you’ll get the extras for no additional cost so long as you pre-order or buy on day one.

I’ve heard mixed reactions to Xillia 2 from those that have played the Japanese version. Some say it’s better than the first (which I adored) while others say it’s not as good, and I’ve also seen concerns about Ludger being a silent protagonist. I’m really excited to get my hands on it though; as I said, I loved Xillia, but I did feel that Elympios wasn’t quite as fleshed out and explored as much as it could have been. The sequel seems to address that, not only letting us get more of a feel for Elympios and the people that live there, but also giving us a glimpse into the lives of the original cast while introducing new characters to get to know. I plan to play through Milla’s side of the story in Xillia before the sequel arrives, and I’m sure I’ll be more than ready to jump in come August.

Finally, the biggest piece of Tales of news of the last week is undoubtedly the announcement that Tales of Hearts R is actually coming west. I honestly never thought this would happen. I guess Sony’s Shahid Ahmad’s #JRPGVita Twitter campaign really paid off – indeed, when Hearts R was announced last week Ahmad took to Twitter to specifically call out the initiative, pointing out that Hearts R was the most-requested game in his informal poll. So just remember that the next time someone in the industry asks you what you want!

For those not in the know, Tales of Hearts R is one of two remakes of DS games for the Vita (the other being Tales of Innocence R) that were released in 2012/2013 in Japan that Bandai-Namco had been fairly adamant would not see release outside of their home territory given poor sales of Sony’s handheld. Nothing has been said about Innocence, but considering a week ago we were getting neither of them and now we can look forward to Tales of Hearts R, I’m not complaining.

The game stars Kor (called Shing in the Japanese original) who has a bit of an accident while trying to remove a curse on a mysterious young woman called Kohaku. When things go a bit wrong, Kor must set out on a journey to make things right. We don’t have a date yet for Tales of Hearts R but we can expect it in winter; that means there’s a chance that we’ll be playing Hearts R on our Vitas early next year – after all, they probably don’t want it to be in competition with the release of Tales of Xillia 2 towards the end of this year. Check out the below video to see Baba-san himself announcing the localisation, and go here to see the announcement trailer.

Again, it’s a great time to be a Tales of fan. But it’s also a great time to get into the series if you aren’t yet a fan; there are a number of strong games in the series to try out and at least a few more on the horizon. If you’ve ever had an interest in the Tales of franchise but haven’t yet jumped in, now’s the time to join us.

Wow, it’s been some time since my last Eorzean postcard! My last entry in the series was back in November! Unfortunately I drifted away from the game for some time a few months back, just after finally advancing to the bard job class – I’d just bought both an Xbox One and Wii U, and so they were claiming all of my gaming time.

Funnily enough, it’s another console purchase that brought me back to the game today, as my PS4 arrived this afternoon – just in time for the start of the platform’s early access period for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. After transferring my PS3 license (for free, I might add!) to the PS4, all I had to do was install the client… which took almost three hours. But anyway, once that was all done, I spent a few hours getting reacquainted with the world; at first, I thought I’d completely forgotten how to play the game, but it all came back to me as I spent a couple of hours touring Eorzea, revisiting my favourite haunts and seeing how they looked on PS4.

With that in mind, here’s a call-back to one of my previous postcards – a nice view of the Shroud’s Little Solace, temporary home of the Sylphs, only this time in shiny PS4-o-vision.

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(you’ll have to excuse the renegade mouse cursor – I need to get used to that Dualshock 4 touchpad and stop accidentally brushing it with my finger).

BONUS ROUND!!

Seeing as it’s been months since my last series entry, let’s celebrate the impending launch of the PlayStation 4 version with a couple more screenshots. First up, here’s a nice colourful pic of Nophica’s Altar in Gridania. Notice the easter eggs scattered around on the ground – it’s Easter in Eorzea, and that means it’s time for the Hatching-tide festival!

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As part of the Hatching-tide quests, adventurers are given fetching egg-themed headwear. Here’s my Elezen bard modelling one of these handsome adornments.

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And last, but certainly by no means least, here’s a pic of the game on my Vita, running via remote play.

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I was in a room directly below the room where the PS4 was, and while the remote play connection wasn’t as stable as my Wii U, it was generally very responsive and playable. Controls are somewhat compromised, given the lack of buttons relative to a controller, and while I certainly won’t be running dungeons on my Vita it was a perfectly good way to spend a couple of hours in front of the TV doing some crafting. I’ll certainly get some use out of it for the slower-paced, more considered side of the game.

That’s it for this edition of Postcards from Eorzea. I promise not to leave it so long next time.

Feel free to share your own postcards from Eorzea, and let me know in the comments what you think of Naoki Yoshida and his team’s world. I’ll share another of my shots next week. To browse through this and previous editions of Postcards from Eorzea, click here.

2014-03-23-015933Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster is finally (finally) with us. After a wait of almost two-and-a-half years, I finally have one of the games that convinced me to pre-order a Vita in my hands. Actually, I have two copies (erm…), as I also grabbed a copy of the PS3 limited edition, which comes with a gorgeous little hardback artbook, complete with notations for much of the included full-colour art.

But it’s the Vita version which has most impressed me, despite the reduction in resolution from its big screen brother. It looks every bit as sharp and clean as the PS3 version (bar some artifacting in some FMV scenes – disappointingly, one of my favourite scenes in the entire game is quite macroblocked), and those lovely bright colours that drench the beaches and jungles of Besaid really pop out of the handheld’s OLED screen.

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I’m constantly stopping in-game to pick out detail that you could barely identify in the original PS2 release, like the Besaid ruins in the shot above, or the ornate flooring of the island’s Temple of the Fayth. It’s far from the best-looking title on the system (you can probably look to Killzone: Mercenary for that), but it’s been impressing me at every turn; I know the game very well, so it’s almost like seeing a long-held favourite in a new light.

What I’m less sure of so far is the remastered music. Some of it is unquestionably better in my opinion (like Besaid’s theme), while others I’m less sure about, such as ‘Calm Before the Storm’. It’s only subtly different, but for the worse in my opinion. The original always had a somewhat otherworldly feel that the new arrangement doesn’t quite manage to elicit.

The gameplay though? It’s as good as it ever was, and it’s actually surprised me just how good. Final Fantasy X is a game I’ve played twice. Well, almost twice; I never quite finished it the first time (at launch – I had a lot going on, okay?), so I went back about three-or-so years ago (yep, just before they announced this remaster…) and played it from start to end. By the time I reached the climactic hours of Tidus and Yuna’s adventure, I was massively overpowered. Not because I’d purposely set out to be so, but I just had so much fun battling with the game’s enemies and exploiting its systems.

Replaying the Vita version these last few days, I’ve been reminded of just how inviting and engaging the game is. In conversation with a friend, a fellow Final Fantasy X fan, the word that kept coming up was ‘frictionless’. The game doesn’t put many obstacles between the player and their enjoyment, and when it does, it’s actually fun to overcome them. Take grinding for instance, that constant jRPG companion that so many have come to loathe (and I say this as someone who’s been stuck on a single boss in Tales of Eternia for weeks). For me, battling in Final Fantasy X is not only enjoyable, but compelling. I want to do it, and I want to do it because the battle system puts everything in your hands and just says ‘have fun!’

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The game is probably one of the easier instalments in the series, but it’s kept engaging by making everyone useful in some way: Tidus is fast, so his turns come around often enough to use him as a backup healer; Yuna has her white magic and summons; Rikku can steal and combine items, and one-shot mechanical enemies; Kimahri can learn abilities from his enemies; and so on. So you’ve got a relatively straight-forward take on the traditional Final Fantasy job system, but what keeps X engaging is the ability to switch any party member in or out of battle at will to meet your needs. Up against an enemy with high physical resistance but weak to magic? Switch in Lulu and deal some massive damage. His buddy’s armoured, you say? Auron, you’re up!

This immediacy is further reinforced by such design decisions as giving your white mage Esuna right off the bat. Generally, you’d have to work for such a useful spell, spending your initial hours throwing away precious items to cure your party of status effects. Here, you just sub someone else out for Yuna, cure the afflicted, and then get back to your gameplan. Save points in the world will replenish your health and magic, making level grinding more appealing as you no longer need to travel to an inn each time you reach your lowest ebb, and levelling and skill acquisition also benefit, offering to make the process as simple or involved as you like; I’m using the expert sphere grid for the first time, and enjoying the initially-overwhelming scope to develop my party as I see fit, but players that just want to follow a straight path can do just that with the normal grid, letting the game shape their characters’ growth for them.

If this all sounds like it makes the game easy, well… it can do. But in adding an extra layer of both strategy and, crucially, possibility, what it ends up doing is replacing a system that often boils down to using the same three characters and mashing ‘X’ to spam physical attacks in an effort to speed through encounters, with one that not only encourages you to experience more of what the game offers, but makes it enjoyable to do so. In Final Fantasy X you’ll use everybody. Not just once in a while, but often in every fight. It gives you the tools to do what you need and want to do, and it’s eminently satisfying when you do it.

Final Fantasy X is looked at as the point where the series began to streamline somewhat, the logical conclusion thereof being 2010’s Final Fantasy XIII (indeed, there are many parallels you could draw between the two games, not least their linearity). But when I talk of the frictionless nature of Final Fantasy X, I don’t mean streamlining. I mean the ways in which the developers have taken fairly complex systems and made them easy to understand and manipulate; the way they’ve taken often-frustrating game mechanics like grinding and made them enjoyable and compelling. I mean the ways in which they’ve sanded down the barriers between what the player wants to do and what the game allows you to do, making it possible to have fun no matter what you’re doing in the world of Spira.

Except Blitzball. No one likes Blitzball.