Stuff You Should Really Be Into 4 – Too Many Darn Sequels

Time to level. I haven’t been updating much because I kind of got out of the groove with reviewing what with being a third year university student and all. That said, I have played a lot of games this year like Sleeping Dogs, Dishonored, Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider, Transformers: War For Cybertron, Inazuma Eleven Far Cry 3, not to mention the news 3DS I bought myself. So maybe you’ll be getting more reviews soon. But until then, I’ve recently discovered a treasure trove of my new nerdvana: retro videogame webshows. So here’s some of the stuff I like in no particular order.

Pat the NES Punk

Where The Angry Video Game Nerd uses excessive swearing (and if you don’t mind/like/can get past that, his show is pretty damn great), Pat uses excessive self-deprecation.

His purview is NES games, believe it or not. He reviews games good, bad and somewhere inbetween. If you’re interested, you can find his stuff on YouTube, Blip, &

PushingUpRoses’s A Second Look At

A reviewer of old PC adventure games, PushingUpRoses also has a pretty large amount of Let’s Plays with various webshow folk you might be familiar with like Paw. Her stuff can be found on YouTube, Blip and

Note: Her Let’s Plays are not on


General 8 and 16-bit game stuff. Sometimes it’s reviews, other times it’s discussing things like censorshipin Nintendo games or stress-testing NES carts. It’s an enjoyable mix.

Only a small about of Rinry’s stuff is up on, the rest can be found on her YouTube channel.

Roo of the Clan of the Grey Wolf’s 16 Bit Gems

Another contributor, Roo creates the 16 Bit Gems show. Which, believe it or not, is dedicated to reviewing SNES games you might not have heard of but are, well, hidden gems. That last sentence has too many commas, doesn’t it? Oh, well, you’ll, live, probably,.

His Blip channel contains a lot of vlogs and such, so you might want to stick to watching his stuff on YouTube or

JewWario’s You Can Play This

A show dedicated to 8 & 16-bit Japanese games that you can import and play. Ever wanted to know which Japanese Famicom platformers to import? I haven’t, but I do love seeing periods of gaming history I’m all but ignorant of!

His stuff is on Blip, and YouTube.

The Video Game Years

A collaboration documentary project of many contributors which goes through video game history year by year and talks about the various milestones and oddities along the way. Available on & Blip, as well as the retroware YouTube channel.

One last thing

While I like what little of 8-Bit Alli there is so far, it’s still a very small amount. Put her under the “ones to watch” category, I guess. She’s also on & YouTube.

Another last thing

These content producers do so off their own backs and are only paid via ad revenue. If you’re going to watch their content, please disable any ad-blockers you normally use for these sites, or at least for as long as you’re watching there stuff. Watching on Blip will give them a better cut of the proceeds than YouTube, and if you do use an ad-blocker on Blip you’ll be forced to stare at a message about ad-blockers for 90 seconds instead of watching a 30 second advert, so it’s really not worth it.


Should I Buy? – LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7

A brief look back over my posts will show that I’m quite the fan of Traveller’s Tales  series of LEGO games based around famous franchises. I was quite taken with LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 in particular for its emphasis on puzzles and exploration instead of the more linear, simple formula the earlier games had relied on. It wasn’t their best game, sure, but it was a fun experiment. So surely Years 5-7  must be a refinement on the original and a true classic of the series, right? Eh, not really.

It’s not a bad game by any means. It will occupy your time. It’s not that there’s a whole raft of problems holding it back, it’s more that Years 5-7 is just…going through the motions.

It recreates the films pretty faithfully, with the slapstick humour the LEGO games are so well known for. This does lead to some odd choices in order to fill out the necessary twenty four levels, but seeing a they’re pretty much all based around solving puzzles it’s not as noticeable or annoying as with other games.

A weakness of Years 1-4 was that the minimal fighting and lacklustre bosses meant levels often felt free of tension or danger and that’s certainly still present to an extent. There are more enemies added in when it makes sense, but the bosses aren’t really improved much. Most of them are just the same ‘puzzle’ recycled.

There is a true improvement on the combat, though, as Duelling has been added. You and your opponent stand in a circle and have to cast the appropriate spells to hurt each other. Again, it’s recycled without variation and is basically just another puzzle, but it does help to add variety and keep things fresh.

By far my favourite part of Years 1-4 was how Hogwarts was full of secrets to uncover, and as you learned new spells and abilities you could explore more and more. It helped pace the game and  give a real sense of growth to your main trio, seeing as you were almost always stuck with playing as them.  And yes, your characters do have to relearn a lot of their spells and there are special abilities you’ll need to get from buying other characters, but there isn’t the same sense of exploratory wonder any more.

Partly this is because your characters, despite the depowering, still have a large selection of powers off the bat. By the time you’ve played a good chunk of the story levels, you’ll have almost all of them. And finally, either finding all the collectibles is that much easier in this game or I’ve become some sort of LEGO game Zen master. Regardless, I got 50% in under two days without even trying.

My biggest problem with Years 1-4 was that if you needed another character’s skills while roaming Hogwarts, you had to backtrack all the way to a Polyjuice Potion in order to do it. Thankfully, Years 5-7  lets you use any cauldron in the Hub areas as any of the four available potions, and using a Polyjuice Potion gives you a wheel of characters who cover all the skills (provided you’ve bought a character with the necessary skills) to flick between with the press of a button. Problem though, why do I need to use a Polyjuice Potion before I can use this feature? It’s unnecessary busywork.

Should you buy Years 5-7? If it’s going cheap and you want a light distraction or are/have a rabid Potterhead in your life, sure. But it’s not one of the classics of the series. It’s an also-ran. It fixes a few problems of the original but fails to offer anything substantive or new enough to make it stand out.

In Which I Don’t Review Katawa Shoujo

A freeware visual novel/eroge based on the drawings of a doujinshi artist, developed primarily by 4chan users in which the player romances and, yes, sleeps with one of five disabled girls. Oh, and the title’s best translation into English is “Cripple Girls”.

Here’s a link to it.

Depending on what corners of the internet you inhabit, that was either a stream of useless gobbledegook or a series of alarm bells. But I’m here to tell you today that such fears are actually pretty unfounded. I’m not sure I can really say I’m a fan of Katawa Shoujo, but it is a brave, bold game that deserves credit for even trying to tackle its subject matter in the way that it does.

Yes, 4chan looked at porn and said “let us come together to make a respectful game about love, relationships and disability.” Also, dear 4chan users out there, I know I am riffing on the bad reputation the site gets but I know that you and the site are not the greatest hive of scum and villainy on this side of the galaxy. You guys do have some freaky porn, though.

And yes, while I’m addressing things I feel the need to point out two things Katawa Shoujo has. Romance, and sex. If you’re not into romance, then only a real interest in the representation of disability and disabled characters could possibly get you interested in this game. If you’re just here to get your rocks off with the sex scenes, they are both brief and rare. This game is not porn. And finally, if the inclusion of sex is a dealbreaker for you, then…well there’s an option to turn the sex scenes off but I wouldn’t recommend it as the sex scenes help give us insight into the characters and they can be just as important, if not more so than a lot of the surrounding scenes.

Down to business. You play as Hisao Nikai, a third year Japanese high school student who has a heart attack when a girl asks him out. Insert joke here. As it turns out, Hisao actually suffers from a form of arrhythmia and this is just the first time it’s ever amounted to anything. After four months of depressing hospital care, his parents transfer him to Yamaku High School for the rest of his final year, as Yamaku specialises in providing care and assistance for physically disabled students.

While there, events contrive to ensure he meets five girls. Hyperactive sporty Emi (a double amputee with prosthetic legs), artist and all around oddball Rin (who was born with no arms), Student Council President Shizune (who was born a deaf mute), severe social anxiety sufferer Hanako (whose right side of her body is covered in severe burns) and the half-Scottish Lilly (who was born blind). Your actions will set you on the path to a relationship with one of these girls.

I’m no expert on the subject of disability in general or any of the specific disabilities the cast have, so I can’t really say how good the representation of disability is here. From what I can gather, there aren’t any major criticisms people have with this game’s handling of its subject matter from a representational standpoint.

Still, this is the internet and I’m sure somebody does have a problem with it. Nothing jumped out at me, and to be honest the way that the game incorporated both the practical issues of life with these disabilities as well as using them to inform rather than define the characters was what kept me playing well after the point when the saccharine romance was losing its charm.

For example, in Shizune’s path, Hisao starts learning Japanese Sign Language so he communicate with her when her friend Misha (her usual interpreter) isn’t around. He realises how the loss of vocal tone means that a lot of conversational nuance is difficult or impossible and comes to understand why Shizune can be so blunt. He also realises the difficulty in using a rather rigid language to articulate complex thoughts and emotions, and how something like holding a box or eating lunch renders you unable to communicate. Through this, we’re given hints as to why Shizune is the way she is without it ever having to be stated through character conversations or ever outright confirmed as the truth as it relates to Shizune.

Getting back to that ‘saccharine’ comment…Don’t get me wrong, there are external and internal problems for both characters in every romance path that complicate and impede things, but the prose here is rather purple.  Thus, when things are happy or contemplative, saccharine. When they’re downbeat or introspective, angsty purple. While the dialogue won’t win any prizes, it’s not a purple as Hisao’s internal monologue and each character has a distinct voice. A professional editor would gleefully take pruning shears to the script, but it’s by no means unreadable.

Though for a freeware indie title from a team of non-professionals, the production values are rather high. Each character has a range of expressions and poses, the background music is pleasant enough and each path gets its own little animated sequence. The backgrounds do kinda suck, but I can forgive that.

This not a review is starting to sound an awful lot like a review, but I’m not really here to critique or pass judgement on Katawa Shoujo. Instead, what I really want to say is how glad I am that this title exists. Also, SPOILER ALERT.

Yes, each girl does have an ‘issue’ that their relationship with Hisao helps them face. This issue is always ‘letting somebody get close to me’, and may or may not be related to their disability. Instead, it’s Hisao who has to grow and change to ensure the happy ever after. He comes to Yamaku as literally and figuratively a broken-hearted boy, and each of his relationships help him find a way of coping with what he’s going through. And in doing so, he develops the kind of unhealthy trait you get from putting all your eggs in one relationship basket. Then it’s the girl he’s romancing that helps him snap out of it.

Take Hanako. She suffers heavily from social anxiety in addition to her burn scars. When the game starts, the only people she can bring herself to talk to are Lilly and Lilly’s sister and she regularly skips class to hide away in her room or the library. When you romance her, Hisao is too afraid of acting on his feelings for her because he sees her as too fragile for such things and is happy with just taking care of her. When you finally get to the big climactic moment of her arc, she tells you that it’s exactly that kind of condescending ‘care’ that’s stopped her from wanting to enter a relationship with you. She calls you out on seeing her as some scared child, and not a person and equal who, yes, sometimes needs time to herself or that little extra bit of TLC. The only way to achieve the happy ending is to have recognised throughout her path that your smothering approach might not be right, leading to your ability to truly realise your mistake and want to change.

Contrast this to when you’re romancing her friend Lilly. Because Hisao isn’t worrying over how to treat her or whether to make a move on her he treats her much like any other person, but becomes mindful of the fact that she likes her space and that not every silence has to be filled, or every absence checked up on. Because she has this new friend that shows she can interact with the world around her and her past experiences won’t necessarily be indicative of her future, she becomes much more open and outgoing than she started out as. She even joins a club and makes a friend outside of her little trio with Lilly and Hisao, something that is done firmly on her own terms.

Also, with regards to the sex scenes. They’re not porn, or even really erotica. Yeah, there is plenty of amazing first times and simultaneous climaxes to go around but there’s also scenes that are uncomfortable for the characters, whether it’s because they’re not emotionally ready or they’re trying something physical that doesn’t pan out.

And like I said earlier, the attitudes of each of the girls to sex and their actions in the scenes aren’t the sort of stuff harem animes are made of. The sex scenes are, by and large, used to inform the characters. Any titillation is really more a side bonus than an intended effect.

Also also, the  most you’re going to see is some boobs. Everything else just so happens to be out of shot.

Katawa Shoujo deserves to exist. It has earned its place in this world more than any of the dozens of mediocre AAA titles that get shovelled out every year. It deserves to be played and examined and debated. There are plenty of reasons not to like this game, be it the premise, its handling of disability, relationships, sex or female characters, the writing, the setting, the genre or the characters themselves.  But that shouldn’t stop you from giving it a go.

If you’ve got time to spare that is. Seriously, there’s a damn lot of reading to do to get through this one. It can be a good few hours before you even start a romance path. Thankfully there are dialogue skip buttons available in the menus for repeated playthroughs.

Should I Buy? – Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3

I don’t make any secret of the fact that I really like the Dynasty Warriors games and the associated spinoffs, something which is not common among a lot of professional reviewers due to how “formulaic” and “repetitive” the games are.

Usually I take umbridge with those words attached to a Dynasty Warriors game as I roll my eyes and go through the mental Rolodex of redesigned maps, new mechanics, tweaked movesets, overhauled weapon systems, brand new characters or gradual improvements in storytelling each iteration brings. But with Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3  those words really do feel applicable, at least to the game itself.

By the way, if you’re a Gundam fan looking to see if your favourite characters, Mobile Suits, musical tracks or whatever are recreated for you to play with I’m afraid I hadn’t seen a single episode before playing this game so I can’t help you there. Also, I haven’t played the two preceeding DWG games so I don’t know how much has changed for this third installment.  I’m sure it’s a big deal to some of you out there that Ribbons Alamark and Char Aznable can go Mobile Suit-to-Mobile Suit or have Setsuna and Amuro fighting hoardes of Zukos back to back.

Despite the same huge cast of loosely connected characters and frantic button-mashing combat being in place from the DW franchise, this game feels a lot different from the main series.

All the battles take place on a handful of small maps, made up of connected “Fields” that you battle for control for. Whenever one side loses a Field, their special gauge at the top of the screen drops by a certain amount. Once below 50%, an army’s Ace Pilots can no longer respawn and the powerful laser cannons at their Headquarters are powered down, making it that easier to move in for the kill.

In and of itself, this promotes moving fast from Field to Field, taking them from your enemies and claiming neutral ones in a furious, explosion filled tug of war. Thankfully, this isn’t all there is to it, as certain Fields are special bases that confer bonuses to the army that control them and provide incentive to pick a certain route through the battlefield and prioritise your target instead of just hitting everything you come across with laser swords.

Given that the special objectives in missions are both rare and seem to revolve entirely around which random Ace Pilots seem to be on the field (i.e. only Seabook ever gets ambushed by ‘Bugs’ that you have to save him from) this rinse and repeat formula of field claiming isn’t enough to sustain long missions. Which probably makes it a good thing that this game *has* no long missions. It’s always the same few small maps to scrap your way through.

I can’t really call that a problem though, the game doesn’t go all out on a story mode that would make such missions necessary and the fast pace of the game will probably ensure you don’t notice. Given that you’re into effortlessly slicing through hords of giant robots with laser swords on Easy, or mastering combo strings and block timing and emergency dash on Hard, that is.

Often Dynasty Warriors games bore me because their pace can be too slow depending on my mood, so pumping the action to a break-neck  pace is pretty much the perfect method of enrapturing me. Of course, everybody’s tolerance for repetitive missions and button-mashing is different so while it worked for me better than just about any previous DW titles, you know your own limits on the subject way better than I could.

I mentioned the story mode not being up to much above, and it’s really not. Each character (seemingly at random) is part of one of several groups who band together after finding themselves in some mysterious alternate dimension, and start battling over control of several self-replicating facilities. Each group goes through exactly the same motions, so only the characters spouting the lines are really any different. I’m sure all the people forced together by the whims of fate means something to a Gundam fan, but as I said before I don’t have that connection to the source material.

Aside from the story missions (which will probably take you a few days to get all the way through, just going by the sheer number of them), there’s an array of extra ones for specific purposes. History missions let you replay battles from the different shows, Collection missions let you fight themed collections of Mobile Suits to get the Plans for certain types, Relationship Missions let you get a huge boost to your Friendship with certain characters, etc.

Oh yes, Friendships.  You can forge one with each character in the game and levelling it up to certain levels confers bonuses, like being able to call on them for special attacks or unlocking them as either your mission control or a playable pilot. The system for levelling them up isn’t entirely explained and as such seems a bit random, but I can’t really think of a better way it could have been done that wouldn’t have made the production team cry for a week and go on crunch for an extra six months.

The music? The same high octane metal guitars DW games are famed for. The visual design? A cel-shaded approach which often comes off more as a really great 3d anime than it does a cel-shaded videogame. Seriously, it took me a long time to realise it even was cel-shaded.

Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 is no work of art, but it’s a fast, fun experience full of giant robots, laser swords and plentiful explosions. Except for the final boss. Seriously, even on Easy, that guy is some of if not *the* biggest bullshit, fake challenge I’ve ever come across in a videogame. Seriously, fuck that guy.

Should I Buy? – Saints Row The Third

Saints Row II surprised everybody by actually by not only good, but pretty damn funny too. Ultimately the process of grinding the same four or five side missions to be able to play the actual story annoyed me so much I gave up about three quarters of the way through so my expectations weren’t particularly high for the third game.

But rest assured, Saints Row The Third is still fun and humorous. It seems to have taken the sequel trope of “go big or go home” a little too much to heart. You begin the game by robbing a bank and firing an assault rifle with infinite ammo at dozens of SWAT troopers and attack helicopters, and ten minutes later you’re dumped in a new city and expected to take on the kinky mafia, a gang of luchadors and one whose design philosophy seems to have been “what if TRON had an anime series.”

There’s pretty much two games going on here, one is an over the top third person shooter that mixes the afformentioned gimps, luchadors, anime cosplayers and army dudes that seem to have been ripped out of Starship Troopers that, while goofy is still fun and the set pieces manage to impress most of the time.

The other is most of Saints Row The Third, the actual sandbox element. Remember how in GTA: Sand Andreas you could get in shootouts with other gangs to take over areas of the city and expand your gang’s influence? Well instead of doing it all in shootouts, The Third lets you buy up properties and take on special Activities as well.

I say “lets”, but “really, really wants you to” is closer to the mark.  Some of the missions consists of support characters introducing you to the activity as contrived ways of taking on the different gangs of Steelwater, and earning money is an important task. See, missions and Activities don’t pay that much and money is now used to buy upgrades to your character and gang, as well as guns and ammo. Each chunk of territory you take control of both gives you a higher income and cuts down on the number of enemy gang members on the map.

The economy system actually works quite well. You can’t buy an upgrade until your Respect has reached the appropriate level, and even then the increasing cost means you have to pick and choose the upgrades you want. Even by the end of the game, I’d conquered the entire city and bought some top tier stuff but needed rivers more cash to buy up everything.

That said, the upgrade system is not perfect. Some options are just kinda useless, like decreasing falling damage. Any time you actually fall from high enough to take damage, you can just use your infinite use parachute yo glide to safety. Or the ability to get cash from bumping into people. It never seems to top triple digits, and would take far longer bumping into random people to pay for itself than the game actually is.

As for the combat, the range of weapons is quite small. There’s the usual array of weapon types and some of the Special weapons are hella powerful, but not all that necessary or practical. Melee combat is quite fun, if only for the “groin attack” button and Heavy Melee button which sends you into a quick time event of graphic wrestling moves and physical violence. Combat is most of the game, and while not the Arkham Asylum kind of so fun you can play just that for hours on end it’s perfectly functional.

Driving works a lot better than Grand Theft Auto with cars having something almost approaching steering and being able to stand a few knocks. Strangely, the game provides two types of vehicle entry. One, where your character walks up to the door at an agonising pace and risks getting stuck on stray textures and another where you can you dive kick in through the window for half a street away. I see absolutely no reason why you’d ever use the first one.

The Activities themselves are a mix of wanton destruction, psuedo-racing and a few eclectic odds and ends.  Each one gets six different iterations  and in some cases, like the Insurance Fraud this is a shame as they’re inventive and fun. In other cases, like Trafficking (which doesn’t actually involve any drugs) are more just chores you’ll slog through. At least you’re often given indestructible vehicles or infinite ammo weapons for them.

While nothing in the gameplay ever really rises above pretty good, The Third is one of those games that’s very playable. I got through it after two and a half days of dedicated playing and still spent most of the next day playing it with a new character. It’s that same comfortable level of being diverse and competent enough to engage but comfortable enough to be able to half zone out and just unwind.

The story and characters are another matter. I was sad that the lack of different walking animations and reduced makeup options meant I couldn’t recreate my British Joker from Saints Row II, so instead I cranked the age up to maximum, gave him floppy hair, a tacky suit and all the facial scars I could and decided I was playing Evil Mick Jagger.

I grew attached to Evil Mick. The Boss has mellowed from II‘s wanton sociopathy into a more level headed character as part of a plot thread about the Saints selling out and becoming celebrities and losing touch with their criminal roots. The male British voice option is very snarky and enjoyable. The other characters don’t endear themselves as much, however.

Your beginning lieutenants are Shaundi, who is angry, and Pierce, who likes selling merchandise and playing chess. Alter on you’re joined by Oleg, who’s pretty much Team Fortress 2‘s Heavy without the gun, Zimos, some kind of ultra-pimp who talks with an obnoxious golden autotuning cane, Kenzie, an ex-FBI computer genius shut in and Angel, a grimly serious ex-Luchador.

The only ones who made an impression on me were Oleg and Kenzie. Knexie especially, seeing as she was a lazy, anti-social shut in who prefers the company of her laptop. Yeah OK, obvious points aside, there were hints of agoraphobia and such that gave her at least a veneer of depth.

Though you don’t strictly have to, you’ll often want to take breaks from the missions to earn cash, conquer territory and upgrade your skills. All sandbox games run this risk, of being unable to tell a cohesive story because of how stop and start players can be about actually doing the missions. The Third falls into it not necessarily by not keeping things episodic enough, but by being too non-linear.

Strange as that may sound for a sandbox game, as soon as you finish Act 1 you gain access to three new lieutenants, each of whom offers missions against one of the three different gangs and while you’re faffing about with them, the actual plot gets put on hold for a few hours. Not only that, but you can have two actual plot threads going on at once depending on which order you play the missions in. Though I’m glad they don’t lock off the islands until you’re done with each one like GTA, it wouldn’t have hurt to lock off the mission threads into a preset order.

The story works best when embracing its silly aspects and just goes for broke, which is a shame because it too often attempts to be serious. It’s a pleasantly coherent silly that plays it so nobody bats an eye when the city’s crime boss is a luchador with ‘roid rage who never removes his mask, or bats an eyebrow when the military start using laser rifles.

Some final points, but the game is bugged up the wazoo. I don’t know if this is just a problem with the XBOX 360 version or because I hadn’t downloaded any patches, but it was certainly a problem. Characters would get stuck inside textures, Follower AI pathfinding was terrible and sometimes Gang Operations would fail to trigger amongst other niggles. But really, niggles is all they were.

Also, the difficulty levels of an Activity is not always truly indicative. Take Mayhem, where the Hard versions are far easier because you get an infinite ammo rocket launcher, or one Medium version of Escort which is by far the hardest because you start at the airport, where all the one lane roads make it much easier for the news vans to hem you in.

Finally, when will a GTA or GTA  style game include radio stations that actually cater to a wide range of tastes? Even the stuff in the genres I actually like was boring and forgettable. I know licensing pop culture classics is expensive, but licensing nothing is better than licensing 98% crap, as you can tell by playing any Guitar Hero style game after III.

So that’s Saints Row The Third. A flawed and sometimes infuriating gem. If you can overlook the slightly wonky design choices and disjointed story there’s a lot going for it. I certainly recommend it if you want a timesink.

Should I Buy? – Warriors Orochi 3

The works of Koei, now Tecmo-Koei, are a rather love it or hate it affair. Koei is best known for its two Warriors series, Dynasty Warriors set in the Three Kingdoms Era of ancient China and Samurai Warriors set in the Sengoku Jidai of feudal Japan.

They both follow the same basic hack’n’slash structure, you choose a character and beat up on folk through a recreation of a historical battle. In Japan they’re well received, but in the West they’ve never really caught on thanks in part to critics deriding the entire series as repetitive regardless of what changes were actually made between iterations.

Warriors Orochi is a subseries which unites the casts of Dynasty and Samurai Warriors into one game. Why? Because it’s freakin’ awesome, that’s why. With WO3 some of the greatest warriors, strategists and leaders of Asian history are united to wage war against demons. See what I meant when I said it was an awesome premise?

Those of you who have played a Warriors game before will find the basic combat mechanics incredibly familiar, as this is essentially more of that. For those of you who haven’t, each character has a one note personality, a ridiculous weapon and can string together a variety of combos from their “Normal”, “Charge” and “Musou” attacks to slaughter waves of footsoliders and the occasional enemy officer.

So, the excuse to have Oda Nobunaga facing off against Guan Yu this time is that several years after the events of WO2, the demon army returns with a giant 8-headed Hydra at the…head of it. Unfortunately, the war against the Hydra goes south and we start the game with only three of the game’s impressive 132 playable characters still alive. And so just when it seems that Sima Zhao,  Ma Chao and Takenaka Hanbie are about to fall, the Mystic Kaguya rescues them and takes them back in time to find a way to destroy the Hydra.

From here the game’s story consists of the various characters using their knowledge of the past and future to revisit important battles in order to turn the war around. This makes for a surprisingly interesting tale, where one character can lament the loss of a close friend, only to travel back in time and save them.

I appreciate and admire Koei’s attempt to craft more engaging and mature stories for their Warriors games over the years, but WO3 won’t knock your socks off in the story department. While it’s perfectly competent in what it tries to achieve, with such a huge cast it can’t ever focus on the development of the major characters that would be necessary for a truly engrossing story.

Attempts have been made to invigorate the combat with a few extra tweaks that keep things flowing faster. For example, you can now combo straight off of a rush attack and switching a character mid combo will make them come out swinging, allowing you to extend your combo with all the tricks your two allies can bring to the table. All these changes work and give you a lot of new options to experiment with.

Unfortunately, most of the characters who lost their unique fighting styles in Dynasty Warriors 7 don’t regain them here, though there has been some effort to shake things up. As a tradeoff for this though, each character is stuck with one weapon style instead of being able to chop and change between two on the fly.

The shared movesets aren’t as annoying here as they were in DW7 because A) you have dozens more characters to play with and B) the focus on the more obscure characters means that you won’t have to put up with the damned Spear and Sword movesets all the time.

Tecmo-Koei have come up with a rather elegant solution to the problem of managing the huge cast. Each mission has a set of “Recommended” characters, who often tie in to the particular story thread at hand. Thanks to the “Growth Points” system, you won’t have to keep on carting a load of level one characters into battle. Growth Points are basically EXP that gets put into a bank from which you can assign them to any character you like.

Though you can get a good few days out of the Story Mode, once it’s done you can’t restart it without making a fresh save. You still get the pre and post mission briefing, but not the connecting cutscenes and such. If you’re not the sort of person who can keep replaying old battles without a sense context, this might give you problems.

Another potential problem is that each battle is very much intended to fill a role within the story, and as such are highly based around completing certain objectives and not big pitched battles. Sure, you can ignore these objectives, but this will often lead to the odds becoming highly stacked against you.

Unfortunately there’s no “Legendary Battles” for each character like some of the other games, or versions of famous battles like Sekigahara or Chi Bi to play. That a few of the maps get recycled isn’t as much of a problem, however, as they’re not that common and each time it does happen, the allied and enemy armies tend to be laid out in completely different patterns.

There are a few other things I should mention. the most important is the lack of English voice acting in this game. Though everything has subtitles, some people may be put off by this (especially as it has that problem where the text is tiny if you’re not using an HD TV).

There’s nothing wrong with the Japanese VAs, though I found myself thrown by how wildly differently some of the characters sounded between versions.  The biggest of these was the contrast between Guo Huai’s deep raspy death rattle in the English version and his high-pitched Japanese version.

The other thing to mention is that this game includes a number of guest character from various Tecmo franchises. Included are Ayane from Dead Or Alive, Ryu Hyabusa from Ninja Gaiden, Joan of Arc from Bladestorm: Hundred Year War, Achilles from Warriors: Legends of Troy and Nemea from Trinity: Souls Of Zill O’Ill. Which is pretty cool.

It’s pretty fair to say that you’ll get out of Warriors Orochi 3 what you get out of any Warriors game. If you’ve never played one, this game is an acquired taste but if it grooves with you there’s a lot to be got out of it.

The various team mechanics and overall polish can make for a lot of crazy combo options, combined with the numerous difficulty settings means there’s a lot here for players who like to master a game to find. If you’re after something casual then playing a few battles on Easy Mode every now and again is a fun way to pass the time, especially with a friend.

But if you’re after a great story then this isn’t the game for you. As nicely as it’s presented, this game is about the mechanics first and foremost.

Warriors Orochi 3 is available on XBOX 360 and PS3, although it is exclusively a digital download for the PS3.

Should I Buy? – Penny Arcade On The Rainslick Precipice Of Darkness Episode 3

Which, to save me from typing out that mammoth title every time, shall henceforth be referred to as Rainslick 3. The history of this series is a little troubled, the first two being fully 3D hughly linear riffs on JRPGs, Cthulhu mythos style apocalyptia and Penny Arcade’s trademark humour. Though the first one did reasonable business, the second game (despite being superior) only sold half as well and the series was shelved for several years until a deal was struck with Cthulhu Saves The World dev Zeboyd Games. Zeboyd signed on to complete the quadrilogy, their own irreverent humour and use of antiquated JRPG mechanics nicely  matching Rainslick’s.

So how’d it do? Well, for the most part. Obviously there’s been a severe graphical downgrade which unfortunately a lot of Penny Arcade’s signature art that made the first two episodes look so great is missing. Luckily though, Rainslick 3 trawls through the Penny Arcade backlog to deliver a host of familiar creatures like the Broodax and the Deep Crows.

The music, while also a departure from the previous episodes, is enjoyable though not exactly memorable stuff that’d sound right at home in any given 8 or 16 bit JRPG.

Character customisation is obviously gone, in its place is an entirely new combat system with four party members. See, each character has an innate Class, like Brute or Scholar, and characters can equip Class Pins to gain additional classes like Hobo or Tube Samurai which level up and learn new skills just like the innate ones, with the bonus of being switched between the team for different strategies.

I gotta say, some of the class pins are downright worthless. Whether its a lack of skills or just downright terrible skills some will simply not be useful whereas others like the Hobo and the Elemenstor are more useful than some innate Classes.

Items are also pretty useless, though only at lower difficulty levels. At high level play the additional stat boosts and other such effects become much more useful as battles become more protracted.

It also uses the full restore after every battle shtick to both streamline play and to promote the use of as much power as you can muster in each fight, fitting the surprisingly fast pace of the battle system. See, MP starts at zero and you get one point each turn, so you have to play strategic and think ahead. Luckily most techs fall between one or two MP, but anything beyond that won’t see frequent use.

It also has a unique time mechanic that, while a little tricky to get used to, adds another layer of strategic depth to the title. See, when nobody’s doing anything all the icons representing characters and enemies move along the bar at the top of the screen and when they reach the ‘CMD’ section, you get to input the command which won’t come into play until it reaches the end of the bar. But if you use an attack with the Interrupt property on an enemy who’s between CMD and END, they’re sent waaaaaaay back along the bar. Newcomer Moira gets cheap techs that do just this and if effectively used, make boss battles laughably easy as they struggle to get a single turn in.

The secondary Classes are an eclectic mix. The Hobo is a hard hitting bruiser with a powerful poison type effect in the “Hoboism” disease that works so well when given to Gabe, but at the other end of the scale you have classes like the Masochist and the Diva which have weird, weak effects and undesirable side effects. You’re likely to find one good combination and stick with it the whole way.

All in all, combat works really well. It’s more forgiving and a little more laid back than Zeboyd’s previous games, and the difficulty that you can adjust on the fly will allow you to find the challenge sweetspot.

Which is great news, because this game basically is dungeon crawling. Sure, there’s a world map with some shops and such but dungeons are everywhere, to the point where one dungeon has two more inside it.

This is a shame in some ways, as we miss out on a lot of the dialogue the previous games revelled in. It’s still sharp and witty, but most of it is loaded onto the front of the game and the plot seems stretched pretty thin over the game’s many dungeons. Penny Arcade’s great writing is there, there’s just not enough of it.

Despite being plentiful, the dungeons are pretty small and bare. What Zeboyd can do with combat, they do not match in area design. It’s way more a series of rapid fire gags than a string of impressive set-pieces. Well, so long as you’re not in one of the dungeons with a plethora of damn durable monsters, in which case it’s a slow gag that you will just want to end.

I’m not entirely sure where it is that the narrative elements fail to come together. Perhaps its that the villain doesn’t get enough screen time? Or that the game doesn’t explain its plot as well as the previous entries? That the previous two were much more focused in design and location and subsequently much more narratively focused? Probably some combination of the above.

The expansion on the hinted at Brahe family history is interesting, if a little mishandled. Also Gabe, whose childlike enthusiasm and simple-mindedness are somehow even funnier than Tycho’s caustic wit and misanthropy in these games, gets a dramatically reduced line count as the game progressed. Tycho’s ex-wife Moira holds promise but her relatoinship with Tycho is never followed through and she fails to really leave an impression.

But the game is a blast to play for fans of old school JRPGs, easily eight hours long (the length of most single player campaigns in AAA titles these days) and great value for the ridiculously low price they’re asking for it. Seriously, you could buy this game with pocket change…If the pocket change were actually in your bank account cause you have to buy it digitally…

Anyway, I totally recommend this as a fun distraction to while away a couple of afternoons or one dedicated day.

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