YS VII (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I’m somewhat grateful that I don’t need a heck of a lot of context for the Ys games, because there’s a lot of world throughout the series. A lot. Thankfully, one of the first nice things I can say about Ys VII is that, like others, while you’ll get a couple of references and extra context by playing previous games, each Ys game is self contained enough that you don’t need to.

Ys VII is an action RPG in perhaps one of the purer senses, in that a gamepad is useful, and fighting is mashing the hell out of buttons, dodging, blocking, all in real-time. One button for main attacks, four for specials, one for block, one for dodge-rolling, and one for ultimate power. Easy to understand, somewhat twitchy to play. In this particular installment, you play Adol (Who has a bad enough case of protagonism that he is the only character to explain that he is okay rather than just saying “I’m fine”) and Dogi, heroes of a couple of previous Ys titles, as they get embroiled in dangerous and momentous events on the isle of Altago, home of the Five Dragon Gods.

Altago is very pretty.

Originally a PSP game, the port is fluid and easy to play, with the only major sign that it is a port being the save menu. As such, I’ve been enjoying myself immensely, whacking the hell out of monsters, getting and solving quests, and fighting… Titanos.

Effectively, the rough way it goes is this: You get a plotquest, maybe some sidequests if you actually talk to the NPCs (Even if you don’t do this for quests, the dialogue is occasionally interesting, and the world seems quite alive, so I’d recommend it), make your way through the overworld map, fighting as you go (Or, if you can’t be assed, dash-dodging your way past everything… Although this means you miss out on XP, gold, and resources used to craft better gear you’re probably going to need) to a dungeon, solve a few puzzles, and fight… Titanos. A boss by any other name is just as pattern based, and just as bossy. Giant beetles, boars, and stranger creatures abound, and honestly?

Screenshots, unfortunately, don’t do justice to how smooth and quick this is… Or how boned I am about to become.

These are the real skill-gates of the game, compared to the enemies. Until later in the game, yes, enemies have attacks. They give conditions. They have defenses. But they also generally go down to a sustained assault, which is exactly what you and your AI companions are probably doing. Titanos, in the meantime, are definitely both the more intriguing and frustrating end of things. Zeran Fith, the giant beetle, for example, won’t be taking much damage at all until you knock the armour off his legs, letting his almost chameleon-like sticky tongue out and giving you a proper chance to wail on it. And there’s a fair amount it can do to dissuade you (terminally) from this. Turning quickly, webs spit out, poison is shot, prawns with fiery bubbles are summoned… I died twice to Zeran Fith, and he’s only the third Titano you encounter.

Thing is, though, even coming out of that sweating, I’ve been having fun. Every basic mechanic is explained clearly, the world is interesting, the music good, and the world is beautiful. The rock-paper-scissors of bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing damage versus various enemies is clever, encouraging me to get to grips with every character I play as, and each one definitely has character. Adol is perhaps the most generic (Heck, it’s even joked about with that third person narration), Dogi puts his all into what he does (Which, in the overworld, is punching the hell out of armoured enemies), Elk fluidly and rapidly wields his dual bladed staff, almost dancing. And these are just the earliest examples.

Adol thought he should really stop speaking in the third person. But nobody else seemed to notice, so he carried on.

Honestly, there’s not a lot I have to moan about here, because even death is a case of retrying from the start of the fight or loading a save (A quick process), and the experience, overall, is fluid. The writing’s solid, the game’s solid, the difficulty curve is actually pretty good (This is an RPG where Normal difficulty really does mean “To an average player’s skill” , which is very nice.) The only flow breaker I’ve seen is using potions and items, which, due to limitations of the original platform, is effectively a pause menu.

Overall, a good action RPG, well worth its price, and well worth a look.

The Mad Welshman only speaks in the third person for effect, or when he really, really wants to close a conversation.

Cogmind (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Site
Version: Beta 3

It’s one heck of a thing, to see a robotic hive in action. A wall gets blown up, along with some hostile bots, and a small army of utility robots arrives on the scene quite quickly, to pick up parts and rubble for recycling, to rebuild the walls, and, before you know it, everything’s pristine again.

The mines, where I found a wonderful sensor that I thought would keep me safe. Oh boy, was I wrong.

Not that you’ll be spending too much time watching this, since hostile robots are also quite quick to the scene, repair is hard to come by, and, being a sentient robot that is quite fragile once all the bits it’s accumulated have blown off, you generally don’t want to be hanging around. But it is interesting to see. Such is Cogmind, the Roguelike by GridSage Games.

Now, one thing to definitely get out of the way first is that Cogmind is hard. Thankfully, there are two factors that make this game more accessible (Beyond being turn-based.) Firstly, there’s two flavours of “Easier Mode” in the options (Yes and EXTRA YES) , and secondly, the controls are fairly simple. Left clicking on things interacts with them (and is fairly context sensitive: Left clicking an enemy fires at it, for example), right clicking examines them (Useful information wise, and the ASCII art for various items is kind of cool), numpad keys moves, G gets things, and escape opens up the menu.

Core to the game is the fact that you are reliant on parts to become less vulnerable… But those parts come from other robots, and the longer you stay in one area, the more you fight or blow shit up or hack things, the bigger the response is. Leaving for another area lowers the alert a little, but you’re always a patrol or two away from death, even with high powered machinery. So… Do you try to find sensors, so you can see them before they see you? Bigger bangtubes so you can kill them before they have much of a chance to react? Smarter weaponry that lets you murder from afar? Maybe hacking tools, so you can make all these lovely, deadly creations your best friends in the whole world? All of these require different strategies, and, of course, finding the right parts. Which, generally speaking, will not be parted so easily from the robots that are currently using them. Everything else, from finding materials forges to murdering scavenger droids for anything they’ve picked up, is pretty much a gamble. And, since the parts double as your armour, getting into fights means you have to replace parts, changing your strategy on the fly.

On the one hand, I got tantalising information, and hints as to how get more. On the other, the alert level just got raised, and they know roughly where I am. Crap.

As such, the main killler of my runs so far aren’t the rare boss encounters, or the melee only Bruiser Bots… No, it’s the humble S-10 “Pest.” They’re not armed with much… They’re not tough… But they’re fast, and come in groups, outpacing even your speedily rolling exposed core. And if something can keep up with, and keep firing on, your core… Well, it’s game over, and back to the trash-heap you go.

If you can get into it, however, and get somewhere, there’s an interesting world out there. A world of robots, some sentient, some not-so-sentient, and clues as to the true nature of your core. It helps that, once you’ve got the hang of things, you can do some serious damage, and get around a fair bit. But, most often, you’ll end your runs a small, desperately rolling ball, chased and reduced to scrap, seemingly for the crime of being just that little bit different.

If you’re okay with that, then give Cogmind a go. Perhaps you’ll find more about the world than I have.

I’d managed to blow quite a few up before they got me, but, as you can see… There were a lot more coming, and I had no options left. Time to die…

The Mad Welshman sympathises with the plight of his robot overlo- er, friends. Yes, definitely friends.

BattleChasers: Nightwar (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £24.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ahhh, Battlechasers. An interesting comic about a young girl called Gully, who inherited her late father’s magical gauntlets, and now… An interesting RPG mixing turn based combat with real-time exploration. So, with the foreknowledge that I mostly like this game, let’s get the “Your mileage may vary” bit out of the way, shall we?

Er… No, Monika. Although you’re one of the few I *don’t* miss in this game.

Nightwar is, as I stated, based on a comic called Battlechasers from Image back in the late 90s. It was written by Joe Madureira and Muneir Sharrief, with a variety of artists, although the pencils were all done by Joe Madureira (Who, not coincidentally, was the art lead on Nightwar.) Even though it ran for only 9 issues, it’s had a cult following, and the art style is very distinctive. Also distinctive are the sometimes implausible costumes that mainly seem to affect the women (His work can be male gazey. Like… Juuuuust a tadge.) This is a good segue into the visuals.

So yeah, while I’m not the biggest fan of the more implausible lady costumes (Which isn’t a huge pool to choose from, and mostly consists of Red Monika, the heavily Red Sonja inspired and largely unsupported rogue of the group… And yes, I was talking about the boob cup), I cannot argue that I like most of the character and monster designs of the game. Gully is perhaps the best example of a teen punchwitch I know of, Calibretto is an interesting and cool design, and there’s a lot of dynamic, colourful, and well crafted art on display here, and not just in the characters and creatures. The overworld map gives the impression of an actual map, with little crosshatches, designs, and other nifty little elements, and the world is both colourful and clear. The battle animations are meaty as heck, and quite a few hours in, I’ve yet to tire of even some of the more basic ones. Soundwise, the game’s a little less impressive, but only a touch, and so, aesthetically, it’s been quite the pleasing experience.

Example of the charm: I genuinely appreciate a Lich who has the brass to try something like this.

Writing wise, well, it’s high fantasy where Mana, the source of magic, is a mineable resource, and technologies both ancient and new have arisen as a result. Our heroes go to a forgotten island, get shot down by unexpected pirates, and get embroiled in deeds that threaten the wooooorld. So, on the surface, the writing isn’t exactly going to win awards. But, with the exception of Knolan, who is presented in barks as quite the unlikable asshole of a wizard (and not much better outside), again, it seems to work. Quest steps are mostly well explained and reasonable, there’s at least a little bit of character in everyone (From the snobbish, jaded alchemist to the Lycelot who believes his tribes have lost their way in following… [DRAMATIC THUNDER] The Dark Lady) , and everything has a sense of place, fantastic as it is. Mana mines that have been abandoned due to some unforeseen taint (Not to mention the fact that they’d almost run dry)? Reasonable. A shanty-town with industrial elements as a bandit stronghold? Reasonable. Heck, not even all the bandits are willing to fight. It’s one of those things where I’d feel silly trying to explain its charm to someone who’s never seen high fantasy of any sort, but it is, nonetheless, pretty well put together.

So… We’ve established that, narratively, there’s charm… What about the damn game, Jamie, what about the gaaaame? Hold your horses, because that, also, is reasonable and with a charm of its own. First up, this is fairly friendly for an RPG. You don’t die, you get knocked out if you screw up, lose some money, and end up back in town. And the difficulty curve is reasonable enough that the only times that’s ever happened are either when I’ve unwittingly disturbed something way above my pay grade (For example, an Elder Elemental Deity. Ohhhh, they’ll get theirs, the rocky, fiery asshole…) or during trap-heavy dungeons (Traps, being in the real-time exploration, are somewhat harder to deal with than, say, a magic/coal powered mechanical device built for ramming people with spiky, speedy violence.) Heck, I haven’t even been grinding that much, and I’ve been Doing Okay. Part of this is that stats are mainly linked to your level, with some boosts from equipment, some from perks that let you mix and match two paths of each character, and some from the Bestiary, which improves your stats the more goals you fulfil… Most of which you’ll be doing organically through play. Kill 50 beasts? Yeah, no prob, thanks for the 1% increase in health! Similarly, each character has abilities that either affect the world (See stealthed enemies, smash secret walls), an impending fight (Inflict bleeding if you hit with Calibretto’s cannon, for example), or both (that smashing secret walls? Also stuns enemies at the start of a fight if you get it off.)

This was 0.1 seconds before EVERYTHING DIED (Also two XP bonuses, possibly three)

What I guess I’m getting at is that Battlechasers: Nightwar, for all its niggles, is a solid, charming, and, for an RPG, a friendly experience overall. I quite like it, and I definitely see myself aiming for finishing New Game+ .

The Mad Welshman would like to know where one can get these self-propelling tanks. Answers at the tradesman’s entrance, please.

Immortal Planet (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I’m getting really tired of the word “soulslike.” I’m not ashamed to say this, because, like many game development fashions inspired by at least okay games, it can vary widely. Immortal Planet, sadly, is one of those that just doesn’t gel with me. Partly because it is as slow as advertised… And partly because it isn’t.

The game has an inventory, built up as you go through the game, weapons with multiple modes, and, of course, skulls and masks. A fair few of them.

The story is relatively simple: There is a planet, filled with folks who just won’t die (The justification for respawning enemies whenever you rest/level up.) It’s mysterious, and you, one of the big, hulking masked folk that populate this world, are a prisoner. Tromp and stomp and murder your way through the 5 bosses and 52 rooms. I know it’s 5 bosses from the achievements, and I know it’s 52 rooms because, for some odd reason, the room graphics are right there in the game’s directory (Found as I tried to get windowed mode to work. Which it still doesn’t seem to.)

Problem is, the game is frustratingly grindy, and, while the walk speed is slow (and the run isn’t a whole lot better), the combat is quick exchanges. And, like a Souls game, everything appears to be made of bricks that are made of bricks until you level up. Slash slash backstep to recover and let this fool get his two attacks off slash slash dead. This guy’s near an edge, haha, wait block dash the sod into the black ether and get the XP so much easier. Slash slash sla- dammit I’m out of stamina, backstep get hit get hit dammit now I have to use a healing item. So yes, it’s slow in one sense, but the fights are, comparatively, quick, twitchy exchanges. And then you meet the first boss, and realise another area the game is slow.

Block, slash, ohgods I barely scratched him, and even through my block that hurt. Slash, wait, he’s got a melee punish move, ohgod I’m almost dead, try to ba- aaaaaand dead. Lose all my XP, lose my healing items, reset, restart.

This enemy is about to be punished for having a dash-two slash combo that’s easily avoidable. His compatriots can be a lot more challenging.

Immortal Planet is not the friendliest of games. Funnily enough, though, most of this is feeling. On leaving a session, I was surprised to note that three loops around the first hub, combined with two deaths (one my fault, one due to somehow dashing off a cliff to my death when I’d intended to push someone else off the opposite cliff) took around 20 minutes. It felt like a lot longer, not least because while the game has sound (and some quite meaty sounds for the weapons too), it doesn’t have music, per se. Snatches, here and there, like when you die, but mostly, it’s silent, with that tromp tromp tromp tromp tromp of walking around the main punctuation for a lot of the time.

Eventually, I got used to the combat, which involves being as risk averse as humanly possible, and taking advantage of the fact that the enemies’ charge attacks are, for the most part, easily dodged, and well telegraphed. Now, I mention being risk averse, and you may be saying “Dark Souls also encourages risk aversion” , but this is not quite true. It involves calculated risk. While a single loop around the first area and level up purely into Strength (Damage) will ensure two of the first three enemy types will be chumps (Taking around 5-10 minutes) , the third enemy type (and the first boss) will punish you heavily for a mistake, and no, there is no option to just level up. You can level up and rest, resetting all enemies and any items you may have found beyond your basic allotment, or you can not level up. Bosses have multiple health bars, and, despite the fact it doesn’t actually take all that long to play, the grind and seeming slow pace makes it feel much longer than it is.

This exchange will take only a few seconds, but at this point, he’s already dead. If I’d misjudged, it would be *me* who was close to death.

In the end, Immortal Planet is very much a deal of “Your Mileage May Vary.” Myself, I prefer a different pace, and find elements of the game feeling iffy for me, but I can see how someone who wants a bit more challenge might enjoy this game. Aesthetically, it’s very clean, it has a moderately interesting story, but, alas, it’s not for me.

Sundered (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (£6.99 for the soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

I am, most of the time, a pretty calm person. Suffice to say, this sentence has an unspoken “BUT” , and, certainly enough, Sundered is that “BUT.” This is both a good… And a bad thing.

Congratulations, Thunder Lotus Games. You have discovered the edge, the very edge, of my video-game masochism.

While not a mobility or attack powerup, the shield is bloody useful because… Well, you *live* longer, innit?

In any case, while I’ve been jokingly referring to this as a “Soulscraftroidvania” (This is a joke on my more jargon loving peers in the industry) , it is, once you break down the word, moderately accurate. It has a high difficulty curve that is supposed to get better by dying and levelling up from the fruits of that dying. One of its antagonists (who is also your weapon) is the Shining Trapezohedron, and Lovecraft references abound… I would like to add, at this point, that making the main character a woman of colour is both a nice step representation wise, and a nice subversion of Lovecraft’s work, which often had folks of colour as the villains (Sigh.) And, like Metroid and Castlevania, progression depends on getting powerups, not all of which are mobility based, but all of which unlock some kind of skill gate or another. Explore three areas, murder enemies and bosses, get cash, die, repeat, hopefully making some progress. Equally, another core mechanic is that you can, with the Elder Shards dropped by boss and miniboss alike, either empower your abilities, changing them, or get more basic shards with which to improve your skillls.

That’s the absolute basics. Let’s get the good out of the way. Aesthetically, it’s beautiful. Thunder Lotus have a clean, consistent style, they know their UX, they know their animation, and they know their music. The sounds are mostly good, even if one in particular has associations with the mixed bit. The powerups are interesting, and some have some very interesting factors that make them extremely multifaceted.

Wait, tenta- NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE, DIE DIE DIE.

The best example of this is the Cannon. On the one hand, it fires a massive bolt that does at least three times the damage of your best melee strikes, and pierces walls, enemies, and the pots, crates, and gooey blobs you shatter to maybe get money. On the other, it’s slow to fire, takes both a unit of ammunition and stamina (Only one of which regenerates. The other must be found), only fires straight forward, and hurtles you backwards (Funnily enough, that makes it a mobility tool too.) On the third hand, it’s the only way of opening certain locks that exist… In the first area of the game. That is good design.

Similarly, the writing is pretty good. The Shining Trapezohedron is a weapon, an antagonist, and an unreliable narrator. It wants you to kill. It wants you to be better at killing. It hates you when you don’t take this option, and I’m almost certain it’s lying to you.

Now let’s get to the bad bit. Funnily enough, just like the Cannon is a core gameplay element, so is the part that I’m extremely unfond of: Enemies. Not specifically the fact that there are enemies, or the fact that they’re tough (Although some are extremely tough, serving as their own damn skill gates, and some, like the Aberration or… Well, nearly anything with ranged weapons, honestly, are just bloody annoying.) It is, like the Cannon, a multifaceted problem.

They are not in set positions, but rather, come in waves of increasing brutality, each wave being made of “native” enemies (For example, Cultists, Crawlers, and Screamers in one area.) Sometimes, they will be megawaves (signalled by a gong or a klaxon, depending where you are.) The ranged opponents can attack from offscreen… A long way offscreen. This gets worse later on, when some of the enemies get homing bullets. And, due to another facet of the game (Its tendency to zoom out to show you pretty or big things) combined with the number of enemies that can appear on screen at one time, the fact the ranged enemies often force you to hunt them down (While sometimes limiting your mobility) by virtue of firing from way offscreen (Hunters are the earliest offenders here, but not the worst), and, of course, the Endless Horde rooms you have to race through to get perks you will most likely need before the endgame (and, if you’re a completionist, definitely want)… Well, it makes what are meant to be big, epic fights sometimes confusing, often frustrating, and, overall, makes it feel more like difficulty padding than merely challenging. The limited pseudo-random generation of areas (The basic layout remains the same, but the specific paths within those areas varies from game to game, and indeed death to death) is an interesting idea, but also, at times, leads to frustration as a longer way out dicks me out of just a tadge more progress by… Well, having to deal with more waves.

Pictured: A nice game of “spot the protagonist in the middle of a bossfight.” Not pictured: The 50 or so assholes he was going to summon.

Similarly, your mileage may vary with the bosses. Quite widely. All of them are at least moderately pattern based, and relatively easy to understand, but some are exercises in frustration and pain. Funnily enough, all three of the examples I can think of off the top of my head are variations of ranged enemies, based on the Cultist (Creates walls of tentacles and explosions), the Screamers (Tries to keep out of your range, shoots you), and the Aberration (Often keeps out of your range by grappling from wall to wall, fires bullets with moderate homing.) The Aberration boss, in particular, has driven me almost to tears, and, at the time of writing, still hasn’t been beaten.

And this is a damn shame, because, while I normally would only not recommend this game to those who, for one reason or another, don’t like or aren’t able to play twitchy games (Being an action combat platformer, it’s very twitchy, and button mashy a fair bit too), I also can’t recommend this game to those with anger-management problems, because keyboards, mice, controllers and monitors are expensive, and I have no desire to be responsible for the destruction of said items in a frustrated rage that I freely admit I’ve come close to at times with this game. Not for novice players, it definitely has its good points, but the experiment of not having basic enemy placement is one that, unfortunately, I’m not fond of.