The Game Corner – What Are You Playing? Week of 1/4/21

ACT Game Corner 1/1/21

Welcome to the new year! Now that we finally left 2020 behind, we’re looking forward to a much brighter and better year! With that being said, welcome to the Game Corner!

ACT Pokemon Game Corner

What is the Game Corner?

Named after the Pokemon series’ casino, the Game Corner is a column where I cover my gaming backlog. I’ll also include activities in the games I regularly play, such as Fire Emblem Heroes and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. If you’re fond of JRPGs, Nintendo series, PlayStation hits, and a hint of fighting games, you came to the right place!

We encourage you to share your backlogs with us in the replies as well. Hopefully, this column will give you some ideas on what to add to your backlog. If you’re looking for new games to play, you might find something you like!

Super Mario 3D All-Stars

ACT Super Mario 64

Yep, I did it. I cleared Super Mario 64 with 120 Stars. I’m no stranger to this game and I got into it when it came out on the Nintendo 64 back in 1996! I’ve cleared through this game many times to include on the DS with 150 Stars! Despite being many years since I’ve last played through this game, though, it’s a blast to play no matter how many times I replay it.

Surprisingly, as well as it’s held up, it’s become easier to identify some of the design flaws in the game. Perhaps it’s because Super Mario Galaxy spoiled us. But when it comes to finding 100 coins, redoing a long mission because of a death and no checkpoint, or clearing Tick-Tock Clock, some of the missions were actually frustrating! It’s one thing for Mario to be challenging but when you have to go all the way back through the Hazy-Maze Elevator because you feel once, it admittedly becomes tedious.

ACT Super Mario 64 Tick Tock Clock
Tick Tock Clock was heavily redesigned in the DS remake. The level design was much more tolerable.

Still, I gotta say it was hard to put down even today. As long as my backlog is, I’m honestly surprised I decided to stick with 64 till the end and clear it over the last week. Believe it or not, going over some of the 3D platformers I’ve played in my life, I can’t say I’ve played one better from a series that wasn’t Mario. 64 isn’t just revolutionary but a polished monument to some of the best and most enjoyable gaming experiences imaginable.

ACT Super Mario 64 low-poly
Did you know that Mario’s model becomes low-polygon when the camera zooms away from him?

Judgment

ACT Judgment Yagami Kaito

Ah, good old Yakuza. The franchise that received a huge boom in the mid-late 2010s thanks to Yakuza 0, Sega’s been a master at marketing this title. The Yakuza series is known for its hilarious, serious, and clever writing, combining strong storytelling with over-the-top humor. Any fan of shonen anime and Japanese culture will fall in love with Yakuza. It’s got those Fist of the North Star and Jojo vibes in combat with just a hint of pro wrestling.

The beat ’em up gameplay in Judgment is just as smooth and fluid as the Yakuza series could possibly deliver. This spin-off, however, also features a murder mystery. You’ll be solving puzzles, searching for clues, and even defending people in court just like in Ace Attorney. I also like the streamlined sub-quests which are now featured on corkboards for you to pick at.

Look. No touch!

Yagami’s truly a likable protagonist and Kaito’s an amazing side-kick, you could say! They differ from the series’ protagonist, Kiryu Kazuma, in many ways with Yagami being a little more coolheaded and Kaito being a little more cocky. Now that I’m on Chapter 9 I feel like I’m just a bit over halfway through the game at 30 hours.

Having beaten Yakuza 0, Kiwami, Kiwami 2, and Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, I look forward to continuing my journey once I clear Judgment. I’ll play through Yakuza Remastered Collection, Yakuza 6, and finally, get to try Like a Dragon once I’m through.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Believe it or not, I’m still on the grind here. Still playing competitively, I find it hard to put Smash down. Even in an era without offline tournaments, I cannot put down my favorite game. I just gotta keep practicing for that time the tournaments return.

I’m still learning new things with Terry, Mario, Cloud, Chrom, Roy, and others. I honestly just love learning multiple characters. Even though in all practicality, you’re supposed to keep a small character pool in tournaments, it’s incredibly hard not to want to play more than a small handful of 78 characters. I even dabbled a bit with Sephiroth when he came out. Unfortunately, his zoning playstyle really isn’t for me and I just found Cloud to be more enjoyable personally.

I found a new YouTube channel, called 1437 Ultimate, with some sick plays by other top players. I’m already getting some inspiration from Zenyou’s Mario. If I find any more goodies, I’ll be sure to include them in my next column!

Fire Emblem Heroes

As always, I’m logging into my only gacha game regularly. I love Fire Emblem Heroes too much not to play it and care too little about other gacha to play anything else. I don’t even follow the meta anymore. I just look up guides on Gamepress, build my characters optimally, and send them out into Abyssal Maps. Don’t get me started on Aether Raids either.

Duma’s Abyssal stage. I still cannot beat this effing map.

Been running Fallen Ike, Brave Dimitri, Peony, and Brave Camilla lately. Unfortunately, I ran into a roadblock trying to conquer Abyssal Duma. Yet one switch from Camilla to Brave Claude and, within two tries, I clobbered that map like it was nothing. You gotta adapt to your changes and when you see a map full of fliers it’s time to get the bow out.

The new year banner is coming so I’m looking forward to that. Much as I would love a summer banner of the Ljosalfheim faeries, this gracious New Year banner gives them beautiful kimonos to wear and fly around in. However, I can’t say I’m ready to commit to the New Year’s banner when I could still possibly get Winter Sothis and Winter Fae. Just maybe!

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD

That’s right. I’m back to playing an old favorite Zelda title. Having beaten it on Wii (2006) and the GameCube years later, I had to pick up the HD remaster. One thing that drove me to this release was the addition of a harder difficulty.

Barring A Link Between Worlds, I’ve never been a fan of the Hero Mode difficulty in Wind Waker HD or this one either. However, with the use of the Ganondorf amiibo, I could boost enemy damage x2 and still collect hearts in the field. Unfortunately, I have to use my amiibo every time I load up the game.

I’m at the Lakebed Temple now which is the Water Temple of the game but on steroids. For those unaware, the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time was infamously difficult the first time we played through. Lakebed Temple is that but even bigger and more intimidating. That being said, I’m looking forward to getting this one over with.

Despite how much I enjoy this game, I always thought it fell short of the N64 classics, Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. A large part of that reason was due to how easy combat was. Enemies dealt 1/4 heart of damage and you could get by them without even trying.

While the HD version’s difficulty gives me the incentive to beat the game, I have little doubt that Nintendo will release this game for Switch as part of this year’s celebration, Maybe we’ll see Twilight Princess and Wind Waker as part of Zelda 35th Anniversary. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can use the Wolf Link amiibo to help me with the DLC in Breath of the Wild.

Wrap-up

Well, here’s hoping I can clear Judgment before the next Game Corner. It’s probably around 60 hours and I’m doing side-cases like mad. Eventually, I do want to finally start my copies of Nioh 2 and Ghost of Tsushima, both of which I’ve heard nothing but fantastic things about. But I’m also trying to be good and not scatter off to too many games at once. I say this as I haven’t touched my half-finished copies of Final Fantasy XV and Final Fantasy VII Remake in weeks.

Share with us what you’re playing in the replies below. Stay tuned with us for next time’s Game Corner. And finally, be sure to follow us on our social media links below. Happy New Year, everyone!

Retro Review – Ys Origin: An Epic Action/RPG Worth Your Time

Ys Origin

Ys Origin was developed by Nihon Falcom in 2006. The title would later be published by XSeed in the west in 2012 coming to PS Vita, PC, PS4, Xbox One, and finally Nintendo Switch.

The Ys series (pronounced “Eess”) features hack-and-slash RPG gameplay with real-time combat, puzzle-solving, and challenging boss battles. Ys Origin features three playable characters with the last one being unlocked by clearing the other two routes. With that being said, I found Ys Origin to be quite enjoyable from start to finish.

ACT Ys Origin Rado's Annex

Despite being released in 2006, its gorgeous character sprite work, boss design, and incredibly fast-paced and intuitive gameplay held up more than well enough. While I think it could use a few more exploration routes, this title was an absolute blast to play in all three playthroughs.

Story

Ys Origin takes place 700 years before the start of the series. Taking place inside of the enormous Darm Tower, it features a group of heroes seeking the goddesses – Feena and Reah – to inquire about their departure and the arrival of powerful demons.

The game features three playable characters: Yunica, Hugo, and Toal. Each one follows their own route, interaction, and even a few unique boss battles. They all have their own writing as each character experiences their own growth and development progressing throughout the story. Despite being only 10 hours long, I’m surprised at how much the protagonists grew in such a short span of time.

ACT Ys Origin Hugo Epona

One thing I absolutely love is a major twist that’s only featured in the final playthrough. It brings everything together in a way that could not be explained in Yunica or Hugo’s route. Along with the surnames of the characters (Tovah, Fact), veteran Ys players will meet familiar faces in the series. Fortunately, Ys Origin makes for a perfect entry point for series’ newcomers as well.

ACT Ys Origin Saul

Audiovisual

If there’s one thing the Ys series excels at, it’s music. The rock and smooth jazz accompany such amazing beats and bass lines thrown throughout the soundtrack. Anyone will also fall in love with the heavy metal riffs that play during boss fights. Falcom’s sound design is as sterling as ever. For some reason, the soundtrack gives me major Castlevania: Rondo of Blood vibes. Some of my favorite pieces include “Dreaming,” “Oboro,” “Tension,” and “Beyond the Beginning.”

Despite being overlaid on a 3D plane, Ys features 2D sprites. Yet they meld surprisingly well, hand-in-hand, akin to some of the older PlayStation JRPGs like Valkyrie Profile, Star Ocean, and Tales. Both the sprite animations of the characters and the bosses look magnificent even today. Plus the character art looks gorgeous and detailed and the characters feature different expressions. Falcom truly cares about the artwork as much as their music and it shows by how well it’s held up today.

Gameplay

Like past Ys titles, Origins features real-time hack-and-slash combat. You can jump, slash with combo attacks, and also use magical relics to deal additional damage. The puzzles within the game are enjoyable and nothing too hard. Rather, you’ll find additional relics that will either function as keys or new abilities which can open new paths or increase your movement.

ACT Ys Origin Yunica Boss

You’ll get three playable characters. Yunica, your battle warrior can use an axe while Hugo, the mage, attacks exclusively at long range. When you clear their paths, you’ll unlock Toal’s story. He can also attack at close range but is much faster and deals incredible damage with his claws.

ACT Khonsclard Ys Origin
Several bosses take cues from bullet-hell titles.

Each stage has different layouts. You’ll encounter plenty of different enemy types and stage obstacles. Even though it’s confined to a tower, each floor offers plenty of variety. Quicksand, lava, water, and powerful enemies help make up this game’s 25 floors.

ACT Ys Origin Mantis

If you ever find yourself struggling, it’s worth leveling up a bit. As much as I dislike level grinding, thankfully it never takes more than 2-3 minutes tops to get to a new level. You can save right before a boss room, grind levels for a few minutes, and end up at a high enough level to take them on. Ys Origin is quite forgiving by allowing you to continue at the boss fight if you lose.

Final Thoughts

Ys Origin offers solid replayability in spite of its short length. With 3 stories, it totals up to around 25-30 hours of solid writing, character development, and even tragedy. When you clear the game, you can also unlock boss rush and trial modes which in-turn unlock secrets.

ACT Ys Origin Roo

I enjoyed the game’s thematics. I enjoyed Yunica’s story of feeling held-back for not being capable of using magic or even the goddesses’ own human nature and flawed existence. Meanwhile, both Hugo and Toal fought against their own fate. They’re human and they’re written in a way that seems to defy a game released in 2006.

ACT Ys Origin Toal Reah

I feel like they could have opened up more avenues to explore. Granted, for exploring outside of the beaten path you will get better armor and accessories. However, as much as I love the game, I could always use more. It’s like a cross between the original and Metroidvania titles of Konami’s Castlevania series. While it moves on a linear path of stages, each stage offers a chance to explore a bit. Ys Origin is not perfect as it does feel quite linear. Yet it’s also well-written with some beautiful aesthetics and a fantastic soundtrack to boot.

If you enjoy classic 2D gameplay akin Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda titles, enjoy hack-and-slash games, and want a solid story that paces itself well, Ys Origin is a great choice. It’s a definitive hack-and-slash title and one of the best games in the series out there. Even if you don’t play other games in the series, it’s a quality standalone title that will make a solid entry in your library no matter what system you’re playing on.

Score: 8.5/10

ACT Ys Origin Feena Reah Yunica

 

Retro Review: Ys I & II Chronicles – Outdated Upon Release.

Ys I & II Chronicles is an Action/RPG title developed by Falcom and published by XSeed for PSP, mobile devices, and PC. The latest remake of the titles Ys I & II from the late 1980s, this title brings the original gameplay style to newer consoles featuring an updated visual style, arranged soundtrack, and animated cutscenes.

The original Ys I & II titles were ported to various systems. Originally released on PC-88, the title’s first remake, and perhaps the most prominent, came out on the PC-Engine which was known as the Turbografx-16 in America. This version featured animated speaking cutscenes with full voice acting and an exceptional soundtrack with surprisingly quality instrumentals for a release in the early 90s.

Unfortunately, Ys I & II’s gameplay is woefully dated. Its gameplay style featured the “bump combat” system. That is to say, instead of having an attack button, you would bump into enemies to damage them from an angle. If you were higher level, you wouldn’t take much damage and would win the exchange. If you were low level, you had to frequently grind levels.

While you could save nearly anywhere, the amount of grinding needed to survive became ridiculous. Moreover, the title did not offer many guide points to avoid getting lost and also featured major pacing issues, especially in the final dungeons of each respective title.

For the record, I beat the PSP version on my Vita. If you have hand cramps or carpal tunnel syndrome, then I strongly suggest playing on Steam or mobile.

Story

Ys I begins with the protagonist, Adol Christin, shipwrecked on an island. Ys fans will tell you this is par for the course and that’s 100% true. In this case, the island he’s on houses two goddesses, a black pearl, and a slew of demons that have invaded the island. The progression is tight, simple, and paces itself fairly quickly. After all, Ys I can be beaten within 10 hours with a lengthy chunk of time spent in the final dungeon.

However, Ys II covers a bit more about the goddesses and the villains which have invaded the world. It’s standard JRPG fantasy fare with a bit of tragedy woven in. Perhaps what’s most impressive about the story is the level of consistency that carries over throughout its sequels as well as Ys Origin.

Audiovisual

Make no mistake. This visual update looks gorgeous. The updated character art and the game designs and levels just look great for a game of its time. Ys has some undeniably strong character designs. I’ve always been fond of the artistic style of the Ys series. Taking character designs from the 80s and remastering them in the 2000s, the designs look gorgeous even today.

I’m in love with Reah, so what?

I can’t say enough good things about the epic music. Dungeon, town, and battle themes alike all hit strongly and are memorable tracks. I’m quite fond of “Holders of Power,” “Tower of the Shadow of Death,” and “Dreaming.” Ys excels as a musical adventure which may very well be the best part of the game.

Gameplay

Unfortunately, the gameplay is where Ys quickly slides down to rock bottom. As mentioned earlier, it features the “bump” combat system. However, this is perhaps the tip of the iceberg of problems featured within the game. I say this because this title was also released on DS as Legacy of Ys: Books I & II. The DS version even featured an attack button. But I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s better when you consider everything else holding the title back.

Legacy of Ys: Books I & II for Nintendo DS (2009)

For starters, if you’re playing on Normal, you will need to grind levels. This happens early on and lasts for the rest of the game. If you do not want to grind, pick Easy mode. It will balance out the challenge which is something I discovered when playing Ys II.

One of the saving graces of Ys II is the ability to use magic.

The bosses themselves are a pain partially because of “bump” combat but also because of the limited window you get to attack them. You will certainly take damage in every fight you’re in. If you’re under-leveled or lack strong armor, you may die almost instantly. One boss even features two floating heads and makes taking damage nigh-unavoidable.

They become endurance matches for your HP rather than a skillful battle of proper timing like, say, Link’s Awakening. I say this because it’s entirely possible to trivialize these very bosses with a bit of grinding making it an incredibly lopsided challenge.

Now, let’s also take a look at the two final dungeons of each game: Darm Tower and Solomon Shrine. In the former, you’re climbing up a lengthy tower, but you will need to go back down several floors, several times, to pick up items and progress.

In the latter, you will find yourself in a less interconnected dungeon, but one that will have you moving all over the place. Not only will you certainly get lost multiple times but you will have to exit the dungeon, multiple times, to finish your progression. These dungeons can take several hours to finish. But the level of warping to-and-from might drive you insane.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I cannot in good faith recommend Ys I & II Chronicles to any but the most patient and curious fans of Action/RPGs or nostalgic fans who played an older version of these games. Both games can be finished in an accumulated 20 hours. While the levels outside of the final dungeon pace themselves relatively well, the momentum halts once you need to grind some more.

If you’re playing on Easy mode, which I strongly recommend, you’ll have to grind less. Unfortunately, the final dungeons will still be lengthy, repetitive, and force you to backtrack for hours. It’s such a shame because I love the audio, visuals, and character designs in this game.

Despite its ambitious audiovisual style and attempt to update the oldest Ys titles, they only hold up well to the most dedicated, hardcore players with enough patience to last through both games. Those seeking a challenge will certainly find it, and then some, in Ys I & II. But aside from its audiovisual presentation and story, you’ll be better off picking another game in the series, such as Ys Origin or Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana.

Score: 4/10

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 Review – More of the Same, But Better.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 is a side-scrolling platformer released for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The sequel to 2018’s Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, this Castlevania-throwback experience features new characters, stages, and even 2-player co-op. Having recently beaten the game’s Final Chapter, I’ll briefly discuss the best and not-so-best parts of ArtPlay and IntiCreates’ latest title.

For anyone wondering, Koji Igarashi‘s studio, ArtPlay, developed the spiritual successor to Castlevania, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Inti Creates, known for Mega Man Zero and Gunvolt, developed the 8-bit Curse of the Moon titles. While they feature similar characters and settings, Curse of the Moon’s storyline spins off from Ritual of the Night’s. Thus, the two are not interetwined.

While I find CotM 2 to be quite an improvement over the first game, I think it still clings to some of the previous title’s fundamental flaws. For one, I don’t really need an excuse to replay a game just for a few different gimmicks. If I want to replay the game, i would rather do it on my own terms instead of being cheesed into unlocking the true ending. That aside, however, its presentation offers a stellar job with boss battles, levels, and gameplay.

Story

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 follows the plot of the first title. However, Zangetsu is now accompanied by new companions. These include Dominique, the exorcist from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a sniper named Robert, and a mech-piloting corgi named Hachi.

The story’s straightforward narrative involves going to a castle and slaying the demons to save the world. However, it takes some interesting twists within the game’s replay formula. Each one follows an ending, a new chapter, and an opening. Each of these chapters also affects the lineup of your party.

While little changes regarding the level designs, the final boss will be altered in both Chapter 2 and the Final Chapter. There are four different chapters and the final one features the true ending. Additionally, some of the dialogue among party members ends up rather humorous. Between that and the cutscenes that play between chapters, it becomes a bit more worth replaying the chapters with a slight change of pace.

Audiovisual

Much like its predecessor, Bloodstained follows the classic NES Castlevania aesthetic. The 8-bit title features an array of gorgeous colors and boss animations. Similar to Shovel Knight, the game presents various levels, bosses, and design choices far surpassing the NES’ own capabilities.

The chiptune music provides a selection of fast-paced music fitting for a Castlevania-esque title. I found the tunes to be catchy and at times quite engaging, such as The Demon’s Crown. I was also quite fond of the boss theme.

Gameplay

The 2D action gameplay features platforming, the ability to switch between multiple characters, and exploring non-linear stages. This means you can choose different paths to clear the stage depending on the characters you have available. Additionally, each character has their own playstyle.

Unfortunately, I was not at all fond of using Robert. While he served to be a sniper with long-range capabilities, he had no way of protecting himself up close. He felt woefully out of place in this game since his mechanics made clearing stages or bosses extremely difficult if not impossible.

Another slight issue I had was with Zangetsu. He gains a more powerful sword later in the game which gives him vertical slashe and multi-strikes. After Chapter 2, however, if the player didn’t hunt down the secret sword, they would lose it to the basic Zanmatou in the EX Episode. I feel downgrading abilities from a player is a big no-no.

Bloodstained also once again goes the route of “beat game and replay” ad nauseam. They try to write a different chapter of the tale but you’re really just repeating the game again with a slightly different roster in the 2nd chapter or the CotM 1 cast in the EX Chapter. By the final chapter, you have everyone, albeit briefly, to collect parts to reach the final level. But you’re just doing the same stages over again.

The developers would benefit greatly from creating more new stages to go with each stage rather than force the player to do the same game four times to get the final ending. Sonic Heroes is one example of a game that makes the player replay the exact same game, with slight differences, just to get the best ending.

Final Thoughts

I will admit that I greatly enjoyed the co-op in this title. The 2-player co-op allows players to jump in and exit anytime. While it’s limited to offline play, it still offers players to work together to defeat bosses or even access hidden areas.

Another good part was the difficulty level. The Veteran difficulty was tough as nails. Casual Mode offers its own challenge as the stage layout and enemies don’t change. After Episode 2, I switched to Casual Mode because I didn’t feel any need to play the same game again. I just wanted to finish the story. Furthermore, the bosses just become HP sponges on later chapters and it’s no longer enjoyable to fight them and mimic the same pattern each time.

Bloodstained does a great job of presenting a classic 2D platforming experience. However, it still relies heavily on gimmicks like forced replay or unbalanced characters in a side-scroller. Even compared to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, it was at least possible to solo the game with Trevor, Sypha, Grant, or Alucard.

Despite these mild shortcomings, Circle of the Moon 2 is well-worth the purchase. Even if it’s just one playthrough, you’ll surely find an enjoyable challenge and experience through the title. If you’re missing classic 2D Castlevania action or just enjoyed the first Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon title, it’s recommended giving it a try. I found the level designs to be vastly improved and more varied than the first Curse of the Moon title.

Whether you decide to continue with the replay chapters or not is up to you. However, I recommend at least playing through it once to all classic gaming fans who seek a real challenge.

Verdict: 8/10

Persona 5 Royal Review

Persona 5 Royal is a Japanese RPG developed and released by Atlus, in 2020, for PlayStation 4. Being a re-release of 2017’s Persona 5, Royal features new features, storylines, quality-of-life improvements, and characters. This improved version of the game echoes Atlus’ previous re-releases in the series: Persona 3 FES (2008) and Persona 4 Golden (2012).

In Persona 5 Royal, you’ll play as the leader of the Phantom Thieves. This group of vigilantes becomes known for erasing the distorted desires of villainous beings. As you live your daily life in the outskirts of Shibuya, Japan, you’ll hang out with friends, enter dungeons, and even play mini-games. The social link-building, well-paced gameplay, and epic music will surely charm fans of the genre.

When I played Persona 5 back in 2018, it introduced me to an immense world. I’ve never played something so stylish, so polished, and yet, so long. Spending over 100 hours, I found it to be one of the greatest games I ever played and finally understood the hype surrounding it. This past year, I’ve beaten both Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 Golden and admit they’re easily as engaging as Persona 5. With that said, I knew it was time to return to Shibuya for another round with Royal.

If you want to view a quick list of updates and additions in Royal, check out the list here.

Story

Persona 5 Royal features the high school transfer student, Ren Amamiya, trying to live life after being convicted of assault. Sentenced to probation he now attends Shujin Academy as an exchange student. Living at Cafe Leblanc, he must spend a year away from home while trying to manage school and his life as the Phantom Thieves.

What I love about Persona 5’s story is its ability to touch on real-life social issues. Your first villain is a teacher/coach who commits sexual abuse against female students while bullying the students on his volleyball team. You’ll fight plenty of demons, shadows, and other mythological beings. But Persona 5 does a handy job of exposing the worst of society by reforming them and changing their hearts. Of course, it’s with plenty of humorous moments along with being dead serious.

What makes Persona 5 Royal’s story especially interesting is its gray morality. The Phantom Thieves become a hot debate in society as to whether their actions are righteous or illegal. It becomes even more complicated thanks to the third semester. If you unlock the right conditions, the third semester’s story will open up. This will bring you to an even grayer area on whether it is alright to rob people of their escapism in order to pursue happiness.

Character Design

Persona 5 offers a colorful cast of appealing characters. Engaging in their social links allows you to develop your relationship and help them solve their life problems. You can even enter romantic relationships with them. The game’s writing brings the player close to the characters with such clever writing as to immerse them in the story. Their pain is your pain.

I love the character design just for how well-animated the characters are. I’m especially fond of Morgana for your being the occasionally smart-assed, sensitive cat friend. Amidst the heroes, villains, and those in-between, you’re bound to find characters you bond with. Also note that, even with as much dialogue in the game, the game cleverly paces it with strong writing.

I should also mention that one particular character received outstanding character development. While their story expired late into the original Persona 5, the 3rd semester brought forth their inner, true self in the grandest way possible. It turned a character I strongly disliked and spun a complete 180 on them in the best conceivable way.

Aesthetics

Persona 5 features gorgeous animations and visuals. It offers a robust, stylish, UI, smooth battle transitions, and feels wonderfully polished in every possible way. Persona 5 Royal now offers 4K support for PS4 Pro as well. The battle animations, anime cutscenes, and portraits breathe life into the game.

Persona 5 Royal_20200308234501

Persona 5 Royal also boasts an exceptional soundtrack. Jazz, rock, and J-Pop all meld together perfectly. Shoji Meguro also composed for Persona 3 and Persona 4 and now brings a more smooth jazz style to P5. Honestly, this could be the greatest soundtrack I have ever heard.

Gameplay

The turn-based Persona gameplay continues its traditions here. You can attack, cast spells, gun down your enemies, and even hold them up. What I love about Royal includes some of the new improvements. You no longer need ammo for your guns, you can unleash powerful Technical attacks, and it features the new Showtime abilities which are both powerful and incredibly flashy. These become your finisher attacks that occur during a desperate situation and work to even the odds in your favor.

Persona 5 Royal rewards players who pursue building their social links. It’s incredibly beneficial to boost them with party members and NPCs alike. Whether it’s to add to your battle repertoire or so party members can shield you from lethal attacks, this game rewards the notion that you go out of your way to care about your allies.

The calendar system progression offers you a set amount of days to complete all your tasks. Knowing which social links to manage becomes entirely up to you. In fact, you choose how to spend every day of your life. Whether you want to boost a social link or boost a social skill, you can talk to allies, eat at restaurants, or even invite them to mini-games. The level of variety in this game offers you a bevy of fun activities with the dialogue that goes with it.

Also, while Persona has a history with randomly generated dungeons, Persona 5 added Palaces. These feel more like your traditional dungeons which feature puzzle-solving elements. As Phantom Thieves, you’ll also engage in stealth gameplay while you hide from and ambush Shadows.

Mementos, the randomly generated dungeon, also features a complete overhaul. In addition to new songs playing at deeper levels, you meet a new character – Jose – who shows up as a merchant. You’ll collect flowers and stamps in order to buy items and boost your EXP, Money, or Item Gain in Mementos. This alone makes it a major step up from the previous release’s Mementos.

Value

Persona 5 Royal is important for the JRPG fan, the Persona newcomer, and even the Persona 5 fan. Newer fans will certainly appreciate one of the greatest JRPGs out there while veteran Persona 5 fans can unearth dozens of hours of new content. Royal features a full-on story expansion that offers new social links, mini-games, activities, unlockables, and an entire third semester.

This comes along with various improvements to battle gameplay, exploration, and the abilities you gain. To be honest, I found Persona 5 to already be a near-perfect game. Doing the unthinkable is to polish it and add more to a game I already valued so highly.

If I had to say I had any gripes with Persona 5 Royal, it’s that it can admittedly become too easy. Even if you download the DLC Personas in the Velvet Room, that alone is not enough to break the player. You’ll still need to be on your toes so you don’t get one-shotted or ambushed.

However, strategic management of social links will allow you to gain these high-level Personas sooner. Meanwhile, your continued support of your allies, especially NPC social links, will grant you abilities that will significantly boost you against powerful enemies. By the time I finished the third palace, I was playing on Merciless difficulty and died only a small handful of times.

Despite this, Persona 5 Royal offers a level of flexibility that can enable players to become godlike or even balance their challenge. While you can, in fact, become quite broken partially due to DLC Personas, it’s entirely up to you whether you choose to or not. Even then, you will surely face challenging bosses and need to keep your guard up from enemies who can KO your protagonist in a fell swoop.

Final Thoughts

I cannot say enough good things about Persona 5 Royal. It might be quite possibly the greatest JRPG, if not the greatest game, I have ever played. The 172 hours I spent immersing myself in this experience is among the greatest I’ve ever enjoyed in a game. I’ve played countless hours of other JRPGs, including Persona 3 and 4, and I’m not sure if anything will ever be possible to top this.

Nothing feels quite as immersive as getting to live as your character, indulge in social links, and invite them to play darts or pool while boosting your stats along with them. Everything you do grants incentive and rewards the player. This includes anything from building social links to implementing battle strategies. The gorgeous, shiny graphics, the beautiful soundtrack that accompanies you, and your daily life brings immense levels of world-building within your little corner of Tokyo.

Overall, this is a must-play for any RPG fan including, again, those who played the original Persona 5. The amount of content far surpasses the price tag while the quality improvements raise the bar to the highest possible standard. With that being said, I hope you will enjoy this game as much as I did.

Want more reviews? Looking for the latest in gaming news, previews, and features? Visit our social media links below and follow us!

Review Plus: River City Girls.

Welcome to our first edition of Review Plus!

You will find our review shortly after the introduction. In addition to our review of the game, you will find useful tidbits of information covering River City Girls. Plus, this review will address the beat ’em up genre and the direction it’s moving in.

River City Girls is a 2D beat ’em up developed by WayForward. Known for the Shantae series, WayForward adapted the River City Ransom (NES) title which is known as the Kunio-Kun series in Japan. Featuring animated cutscenes by Studio Trigger, River City Girls features classic 2D pixel artwork along with anime transitions for the opening, boss fights, and endings. In addition, you will find part of the story told through manga-like cutscenes.

Despite its good intentions, I believe River City Girls falls short of its potential. While it features incredibly strong brawler action, a few issues hamper an otherwise decent revival of the 2D beat ’em up genre. However, the classic style gameplay remains both the focal point and the game’s strongest suit.

Story

The game starts off with Misako and Kyoko receiving a mysterious text that their boyfriends have been kidnapped. Contrary to the stories of games, like Double Dragon, the premise of the story reverses the role.

Perhaps the most pressing part of the story comes from the game’s ending. It turns the entire plot on its head in a surprising way and emphasizes the girls’ true role. I give major props to WayForward for this one.

Misako and Kyoko play foil to each other throughout the game. These single-track-minded women just want an excuse to throwdown. Despite their idiocy, you can’t help but feel charmed by their tenacity.

Unfortunately, I did not find much of the story and dialogue to be amazing. Aside from a little bit of witty banter, I found it to be cringeworthy. While much of the boss dialogue feels like wasted banter, one particular character, Godai, seriously bothered me.

Your resident creeper-stalker feeds you information while trying to get into your good graces. Even without Godai, much of the dialogue in cutscenes felt like forced humor. I honestly wanted to skip most of it but didn’t want to leave out any possible useful information.

For better or for worse, River City Girls maintains a cast of wacky characters.

Visuals

One of the high points of River City Girls comes from the artwork. The character designs and backdrops feature well-drawn details. I’m especially particular about the shop designs. Several shops have their own art of the girls shopping while a different shopkeeper takes their order.

River City Girls features 2D sprite artwork somewhat reminiscent of the 16-bit era. However, I’ve seen this style before used in multiple indie games which it honestly feels more like than a mainstream title. While WayForward tends to use a more cartoonish art style for their flagship series, Shantae, this reminds me more of games like Katana Zero.

Katana Zero (2019)

What I strongly dislike, however, is how small the text is on the menu. The menu is displayed on the character’s smartphone. However, I had to come up to my 52″ HDTV just to check inputs or side-quests that I could not read from my usual sitting position.

Unfortunately, I also ran into multiple frame-drops throughout the game. They didn’t prevail literally the entire game but were noticeable when they did. Even after a year’s release, I’m surprised WayForward still has not patched them out.

Audio

You’ll feel a solid amount of satisfaction breaking your fists on enemies and crashing weapons over their heads. However, I found some sound effects lacking. I don’t get why an enemy slamming a hammer on concrete produces no sound. On the other hand, bashing enemies feels satisfying as you might expect and keeps you wanting more.

Despite middling feelings on the sound effects, most of my enjoyment came from the music. Much of it was catchy and, along with a number of sound effects, featured 8-bit cues you would hear in the NES River City Ransom. Several of the vocal sounds featured some catchy beats you would enjoy while fighting.

Gameplay

This game presents its beat ’em up gameplay in a manner that says the genre never even left. It feels so seamless to beat down enemies with combos, throws, stomps, and weapon attacks. Despite this, however, the game will not count your combos.

One of my favorite parts of gameplay was the ability to recruit enemies to join you. If they surrendered, you could grab them and enlist them as summons. Similarly to Marvel vs. Capcom, they would hop in, use their signature attack, pose, and hop out. You would not be able to use them for a set time.

My problem came from the inconsistency of combos, however. This isn’t Tekken, but you will maximize your damage by juggling your enemies. Unfortunately, your timing must change based on enemy types. This threw me off multiple times.

Gameplay Issues

Another problem I had came from how invincibility frames work. Congratulations to the developer for not giving the characters invincibility frames while using throw moves. It makes them useless when you’re getting pounded in the back of the head. From my experience with other games in the genre, this is a big no-no.

Also, I had a moderate issue with the equips. The Frilled Bra and Frilly Bottom might be the only useful accessories I used. Everything else gives around a 5% increase or a 5% chance to activate. These passives were so useless that you could easily get through the game without using them. I wouldn’t bother buying them and would save your money for the Dojo or healing items instead.

Unlike other beat ’em ups, this also features an RPG system where you equip gear, level up, and can use items to heal. For anyone who remembers Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, this is where these elements came from. The Scott Pilgrim game paid massive homage to River City Ransom and used many of the mechanics as well.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game (2010)

Let me also mention this game is full of load times transitioning between each screen. If it was another large area, I could understand that. But I feel they put no effort into good transitioning for a 2D game released in 2019. This will likely annoy you especially if you’re making trips back to shops to pick up items or new moves.

Co-op

This game is best experienced with a friend. However, not everyone is big into beat ’em ups. If you’re flying solo, you might have a harder time with it than others. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for others to play with, this game does not feature online co-op.

However, for a 2019 brawler, this feels woefully outdated. Multiple games of its genre, released in the last decade, feature online co-op. Even the recently released Streets of Rage 4 features online co-op. I do not understand why WayForward opted not to release a feature such a basic option in a multiplayer game released today.

Extras

This game encourages a level of exploration. Unlike the stage-by-stage games prevalent within the genre, the River City titles have you moving through destinations in multiple directions. You can also find statues of Sabu and destroy them. Completing the quest of destruction unlocks the true hidden final boss fight.

Additionally, you can unlock New Game Plus. Doing so not only lets you carry over your gear from the first playthrough but you can also unlock two characters. Riki and Kunio, the main characters of River City Ransom, become available.

However, this will otherwise not change much regarding the game itself. The only other incentive is a cat side-quest that unlocks infinite SP. Keep in mind, however, that Riki and Kunio are only a glorified palette swap. Nothing about the story changes as the sequences are still voiced by the girls.

The Future of the Genre

River City Girls was the first game in which I recall to pave the way forward for brawlers in the current generation. Previously, WayForward released Double Dragon Neon for PS3 and Xbox 360. Plus, Double Dragon IV came out to a lukewarm response. WayForward’s advertisement at least shined a light on a bright and colorful attempt to bring attention to the new game.

One year after its release, we now have Streets of Rage 4. Sega’s shining star beat ’em up series came back after a 25-year hiatus. Furthermore, even Raw Thrills released an arcade-exclusive TMNT title that pays homage to Konami’s titles of the past.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2018)

2D beat ’em ups feel largely obscured by their 3D evolution. Modern games include Platinum Games’ Astral Chain or Sega’s Yakuza series. It’s hard to find the interest generated in beat ’em ups in an era without the 90s interest of arcade games. However, the demand for the genre remains real and strong enough for developers to take notice. The genre is not dead and, with this momentum, might become a mainstay for the decade once more.

Also, the creator of Scott Pilgrim noted that Ubisoft, developers of the game, reached out to him.

Final Thoughts

Overall, River City Girls excels in combat despite several flaws hampering both gameplay and story alike. I found it hard to put down as I was pummeling enemies, bosses, and even cars. It even served a heavy enough challenge for me to retry bosses several times over.

However, its addition of annoying dialogue, incredibly short length for a game released in 2019, and a few bothersome issues to gameplay made me want to end the game once I was over halfway through.

While it was cool back in Double Dragon to have enemies that looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 80s. No, it is not funny today to have these same enemies that make “Ahnold” noises with Terminator references.

WayForward’s cheap humor stems from the Shantae series which is hit-or-miss. They could do without forcing comedy and that alone would boost the grade. If you want a better, cute beat ’em up based on anime aesthetics, you could always go with Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds.

Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds (2013)

However, if you’re after a beat ’em up and you don’t mind the cheesy dialogue and voice acting, then go right for it. Even then, it features undeniable charm from the character designs. It’s at least 8 hours of fun enemy-bashing and button-mashing.

To summarize, I recommend it for enthusiasts of the genre or those seeking to play some couch co-op action with a friend or a loved one. You’ll enjoy the music, the cutscenes, and the retro homages. It’s easy to pick up and play. However, I don’t think it qualifies as being a game for everyone.

In this era, there are scarcely any releases you will find in the genre besides re-releases of classics. If you passed up River City Girls, you wouldn’t miss much more than some solid aesthetics for an otherwise alright game in the genre. Depending on the systems you own, you could download classics like Double Dragon II, Streets of Rage 2, or even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. If you want a modern release still available on current systems, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds would surely endear you.

However, if you like beat ’em up action, then these issues might not stop you from trying a decent brawler. I recommend it to enthusiasts of the genre but I wouldn’t expect it to be anything impressive outside of the aesthetics and your standard brawler fanfare. Despite this, it should still entertain you for a few hours. While it’s not a bad game, it could truly be better.

Score: 6.5/10

Be sure to follow our social media channels so you can take our latest gaming content with you!

Madoka Magica, Bravely Default, and the Relationship Between the Two.

Puella Magi: Madoka Magica is an anime, written by Gen Urobuchi, which was developed by studio Shaft in 2011. This dark, enchanting tale told of teenage girls who were lured into becoming magical girls once tempted by fate. Their dark struggles became gruesome as they realized that they were being used.

Meanwhile, when Square-Enix and Silicon Studio developed the Japanese RPG, Bravely Default, in 2014, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the two. While I beat Bravely Default before I watched Madoka, the similarities became more noticeable the further I watched the latter. For fans of either, check out what makes these two similar below.

Be wary of spoilers for both series.

Airy and Kyubey

Art by Adeshark. Please visit the author’s page here.

In Madoka, Kyubey, the small, cat-like mascot talks to the girls. He entices them to become magical girls in order to grant their wishes. Later, his purpose is revealed as a soul-harvester. Revealing Kyubey as the antagonist was a shocking turn for many as few would expect the cute mascot to be capable of evil.

Similarly, in Bravely Default, Airy, the small cryst-fairy guides the party towards rejuvenating the crystals. However, I caught her one-track mindedness to be suspicious during the Fire Crystal arc. I noticed Airy became more obsessed with the crystals than rescuing a young child from a mine.

True to my suspicions, late in the game, she’s revealed to be the true antagonist. She’s the cause of mass genocide and serves the demon lord, Ouroboros, to break his seal and set him upon the world. Despite this, they wrote Airy cleverly in as a supporting character while subtly hinting she could be your enemy.

Both of these characters are revealed as traitors despite their unsuspecting appearances. Few people expected either of them to be powerful, malevolent forces. Only when you learn the truth does it become too late to turn back the clock.

Witches and Ba’als

The witches in Bravely were oddly-shapen monsters trapped in labyrinths. These were later revealed to be the corrupted souls of former magical girls. Their labyrinths spawned from a twisted cognition of reality.

Similarly, the Ba’als (known as Nemesis in Bravely Default) were corrupted, twisted memories. These were later identified as Ba’als which came from the moon in the sequel, Bravely Second. Unlike the witches, these came from the corrupted dreams spawned by a major character.

In both cases, these powerful creatures are fought within a twisted dimension from reality. You can see a semblance of real life within the scenery. But the colorful, blotter-art dimensions and macabre enemies bring together similarities.

Time-Traveling Savior

Both Madoka and Bravely feature a time-traveler, clad in black, to prevent the worst from happening. In Madoka, Homura Akemi was Kyubey’s victim. Her time ability allowed her to go back to try and save Madoka, time and time again, while failing with each attempt. Despite originally being depicted as the antagonist, the story later showcased Homura as Madoka’s friend.

Likewise, Alternis Dim, the Dark Knight, battles the party to stop them from achieving from their goal. The party member, Ringabel, is later revealed to have been Alternis Dim from another universe. Much like Homura, he is also a victim of the aforementioned antagonist. As Alternis, his personality was changed and he lost his memory.

Interestingly enough, both focal characters of the stories are fated to die. Madoka becomes a Magical Girl while Agnes becomes the Vestal of Wind. Both would fall victim to their respective antagonists.

Notable Points

While the first two and a half episodes felt pretty droning and typical moe cuteness, the end of Episode 3 caught me completely off guard. It was dark, gruesome, and changed the tone of the entire series.

Likewise, Bravely Default did this several times. Several of the Asterisk arcs, such as Summoner Mephilia’s, took an incredibly dark turn. Bravely Default starts off as a fairly typical JRPG but ends up shocking the player on multiple occasions.

One lovable thing about the Bravely series is its amount of references and homages to other series. The Enopu Mushroom, for instance, even features a lore description that references the Super Mario series. The crystals themselves also reference Square-Enix’s headline series, Final Fantasy.

It isn’t far-fetched to say that Bravely Default took notable cues out of anime. The game was even composed by REVO, who composed the openings for Attack on Titan and Sailor Moon Crystal. Moreover, Bravely Second also features an arc where a character saved his young son’s life by sealing his soul inside a suit of armor. This serves as a nod to the anime and manga Fullmetal Alchemist.

Final Thoughts

If you enjoyed Bravely Default, I strongly suggest playing Bravely Second and Octopath Traveler which were also made by the same developers. Furthermore, Bravely Default II comes out for Switch supposedly later this year. Keep an eye out on our site for the latest updates on Square-Enix’s and Team Asano‘s next JRPG.

If you enjoy our content, be sure to follow our social media links below. Continue following us for more anime, video games, and cosplay content. Finally, if you enjoyed what you read and want to point out any more similarities, be sure to leave a reply in the comments!

What Are You Playing? – 8/17/20

Welcome to the newest column for All Cool Things. I’m starting a new column blog where I discuss what I’m clearing off my backlog every week! If you find something you’re playing on our list, we would love to hear your thoughts.

Without further adieu…

Tekken 7

I’m no pro at Tekken. I love the character design, music, and gameplay. But I’ve never really played it competitively.

However, I live in a part of Georgia that plays it heavily. It’s one of our top 3 fighting games along with Street Fighter V and Dragon Ball FighterZ. I managed to host a 10-player tournament once but I didn’t compete in it.

Despite that, I’m on a Trophy run right now. I hate admitting that I play a fighting game casually. But I’m trying to finish collecting Trophies. I’ve done all the single-player mode achievements. The 3 Special Battles one was detestably long and random.

The only Trophies I have left are the 1 Ranked Match, 10 Ranked Matches, and win a tournament battle. I main Miguel and he’s the only one I play. I’m vaguely familiar with his style yet I haven’t even incorporated Savage Stance into it yet. Despite being new to the competitive meta, I’ve already managed to send one ragequitter packing.

Did I mention I met Katsuhiro Harada, creator of Tekken, at Final Round 2016?

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir

Even though it came out in 2007 for PS2, I always wanted to play this game. I loved Vanillaware’s Dragon’s Crown for PS3. Ever since I played Dragon’s Crown, I’ve become a huge fan of George Kamitami’s work.

Right now I’m still only on the Valkyrie story. I love hearing all the familiar voices from the games I recently played. It might be because both Persona and Odin Sphere are developed and published by Atlus that these games share voice actors.

This game still looks beautiful as heck. Even with the remastered visuals, though, I can still tell this is a PS2 title by the mouth movement animations. That’s not a bad thing by any means.

Moreover, I can tell how much Odin Sphere influenced Dust: An Elysian Tail which is one of my favorite indie games. The hand-drawn style and 2D beat ’em up gameplay both showcase similarities between the two.

Once I beat Odin Sphere, I plan to jump onto Muramasa Rebirth for PS Vita. I had the Wii version but sold it shortly after I played it. But now I can try the definitive version of Muramasa before Atlus’ next game, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim comes out.

On that note, it makes me wish Princess Crown got localized.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

As always, I’m playing Smash. I don’t get how I can’t let this game go. Even though everyone hates online mode – and rightfully so – I can’t seem to stop logging onto Elite Smash, play a few rounds, and call it a day.

Who I’m currently playing as online.

Despite everyone’s online complaints, Nintendo did manage to patch the game’s online. However, this was honestly too vague to decipher what they meant by patching the online experience. We know it isn’t rollback netcode. But at the least, Nintendo also said they would continue patching the game’s online mode.

Fire Emblem Heroes

Did you know I enjoy gacha? Yeah, only this one and maybe a little bit of Dr. Mario World. Even as gorgeous as the Final Fantasy gacha titles look, I’m not allowing myself to get hooked on another one. That especially goes for spending any money on them.

I’m so far behind that I haven’t played much since the latest update. I’m probably missing out on a ton of orbs. Unfortunately, not only is the Pirate banner the only one that interests me, but I haven’t landed a solid 5-star in weeks now.

It’s demoralizing to the point I hardly care. Moreover, none of them give you the 40 summons + 1 free one. Why even introduce this feature if you’re not going to implement it every month? Good thing I didn’t subscribe to Feh Pass.

…Although I admit that my lazy self could also use those continuous auto-battle features. Not to mention I’ve been tempted to buy those beautiful Resplendent units.

Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise

Finally, after beating Persona 5 Royal, I’m ready to commit to another long game. I haven’t touched a Yakuza title since Yakuza Kiwami 2. I plan on beating this one before I move onto Judgment. Then I’ll start Yakuza Remastered Collection afterward.

I love Fist of the North Star. I finished the anime series before FotNS2. Yakuza is filled with references to the series so it doesn’t surprise me that RGG Studios would want to adapt Fist of the North Star into a game.

I’m only past the intro but it’s fun so far. It’s standard Yakuza side-quests and beat ’em up action with tons of violence. Plus I’m using the Kiryu skin. Interesting fact, Kiryu’s Japanese voice actor is also Kenshiro’s. It fits perfectly all things considered.

Well, that’s a wrap for my play log this week. Maybe one day I’ll finally get back to Dragon Quest IV. I would like to play the rest of the series.

In the meantime, what are you playing this week? Reply with your games in the comments below.

Retro Runback: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is a 2D side-scrolling Metroidvania title. Developed by Konami and released in 2003, this title was produced by Koji Igarashi (IGA) who was renowned for the 1997 hit, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Featuring the artistic talent of Ayami Kojima, and music by Michiru Yamane, this title brought the Symphony team together for another experience on Game Boy Advance.

With that being said, I recently beat Aria of Sorrow for over the dozenth time. As my favorite Game Boy Advance game, I wanted to go back and play it to see how well it’s aged. In today’s era, IGA released Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the spiritual successor to his Castlevania titles. Therefore, I figured I would return to celebrate one of his best works and see how it stacks up with his latest endeavor.

Story

Aria of Sorrow takes place in 2035 and is set decades after the final defeat of Dracula in 1999. When college student Soma Cruz vanishes from the Hakuba Shrine, he appears at the entrance of Dracula’s Castle. Caught in a solar eclipse, he is greeted by his childhood friend, Mina, and the mysterious Genya Arikado. The latter brought Soma to the castle to discover the truth behind his soul-stealing powers.

The title introduces several characters which include both friendly and hostile faces. Perhaps the most pressing thing about Aria is that it is not your traditional “end Dracula’s reign” game. In fact, Aria of Sorrow may have perhaps the biggest twist in the series’ history.

Aria of Sorrow brings together the new protagonist, Soma, Yoko Belnades, a descendant of Sypha Belnades from Castlevania III, the Belmonts, and Dracula’s son, Alucard, together to help stop Dracula’s evil once more. As Soma, you will venture through the castle in order to uncover the truth behind your powers. Plus Aria of Sorrow features multiple endings including a particularly engaging Bad Ending. For a 2D Metroidvania title, it features an astounding plot.

Audiovisual

Konami released Aria of Sorrow mere months after Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. While the latter featured bright, colorful visuals, Konami sacrificed the audio quality. While Harmony of Dissonance had wonderful melodies, composed by Yamane, it could only handle playing 8-bit chiptune music. Aria of Sorrow managed to not only feature gorgeous visuals but did so without downscaling the sound quality.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (2002)

In Aria of Sorrow, the animations stand out wonderfully. Soma’s coat animates well with his movements while enemies engage him with various attacks. Plus the Soul system offers creative animations for each of your abilities.

Perhaps the excel point of Aria’s visuals include its gorgeous background decor. Each area wonderfully separates itself from the others and looks beautiful, majestic, and gothic. You will certainly appreciate the background pseudo-lighting effects as well.

If you enjoy strong gaming soundtracks, Aria of Sorrow delivers in spades. Michiru Yamane’s soundtrack stands strong to include “Castle Corridor,” “Heart of Fire,” and features subtle remixes of “Cross Your Heart” and “Bloody Tears.” One of my favorites includes “You’re Not Alone” which plays near the game’s ending.

Gameplay

Aria of Sorrow follows the side-scrolling Metroidvania formula set forth by its predecessors. The game encourages you to explore as you fill in your map, break hidden walls, and gain abilities to open up new areas. You can double-jump, transform, slide, and even fly as a Bat.

Combat involves hacking and slashing while equipping new weapons. You can use swords, lances, knuckles, and even firearms. Despite setting itself apart with the use of Guns, the long-range weapons feel remarkably apropos.

Perhaps the most pressing and significant part of the gameplay involves the Souls mechanic. As Soma wields the Power of Dominance, he can absorb the soul of any enemy he defeats. Similar to the Persona series, each soul comes with different abilities. You can equip up to three at a time to configure various combinations.

Between the souls and weapons, players can use a variety of combinations to play in their own style. This mechanic opened up the door to the Glyph system used in Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia as well as the Shards used in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

Extras

After beating Aria of Sorrow, you unlock Boss Rush Mode, Hard Mode, New Game+, and Julius Mode. Boss Rush mode lets you fight against all of the bosses in the game. Clearing within various time limits grants you powerful weapons, such as Excalibur and Positron Rifle.

Unlocking Hard Mode allows you to play with or without a new file if you so choose. New Game Plus will carry over all except a few souls to your next playthrough. Players seeking a challenge can also input NOUSE and NOSOUL to restrict the use of items and souls, respectively. Furthermore, New Game Plus also allows players to discover new weapons not seen in the first playthrough. Clearing the map 100% also features extra dialogue in the ending.

Finally, Julius Mode continues the tradition of unlocking a character to play through the game as them. In this case, players can use Julius Belmont who uses MP for sub-weapons. Julius comes armed with the Vampire Killer whip, a super jump, and a teleport-dash that resembles Akuma’s from Street Fighter. He’s fun to play and quite powerful. Unfortunately, as per tradition with IGA’s extra character modes, I wish they added dialogue to move the story forward.

How does it fare today?

Koji Igarashi released Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night in 2019. The side-scrolling Metroidvania title featured the spiritual successor to his Castlevania titles. When Konami underwent their worst years, and rebooted Castlevania as Lords of Shadow, IGA left to form his own studio, ArtPlay.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (2019)

Bloodstained offers much of the charm you could expect from Castlevania. It features similar gameplay and progression. The side-scrolling gameplay and exploration, and epic boss battles feature series’ hallmarks. Plus it even recently added Zangetsu Mode which echoes the second character mode of IGAvanias.

However, I don’t think its visual polish ever got better than a lighting upgrade before its release. Even in HD, the game looked fairly standard to me. Despite a visual facelift prior to release, I still never found myself impressed with Bloodstained’s visuals as much as I did with Aria of Sorrow’s sprite work.

Plus some parts of the game weren’t properly utilized. If you needed to swim underwater, you found the ability through progression in Aria. Bloodstained makes you kill a random water enemy to gain the swimming ability and I feel that was one of the pacing issues I had with it.

However, I do recommend Bloodstained for any Metroidvania fan. Anyone wanting a callback to IGA’s best games will find plenty of love and polish in Bloodstained. Overall, though, while Aria of Sorrow is one of best IGA’s games, Bloodstained does well on its own as a Metroidvania side-scroller.

Final Thoughts

My only gripe with Aria of Sorrow is that it’s a bit short. To this date, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is still the longest game largely thanks to the Inverted Castle. Moreover, it was developed on the PlayStation which held more memory than the GBA. Despite this, Aria of Sorrow is a clean, polished adventure from start to finish. Plus, Aria of Sorrow rewards players with an incentive to beat the game more than once.

The Soul System remains one of the best gameplay mechanics ever introduced. I love being able to combine and customize which abilities I can use. Projectiles, support skills, and passive abilities were all organized easily and user-friendly.

The variety also gave life to endless combinations and I enjoyed getting to pick and choose what to use. Plus the weapon system went a step above Symphony of the Night’s. Greatswords were much larger and the weapons offered much more variety.

Overall, Aria of Sorrow just felt like a nice, complete package. It was a polished, near-perfect little game that I’ve come back to for over 15 years. It’s my favorite title on the Game Boy Advance and one I recommend today. However, with the exception of the Wii U eShop release, Aria of Sorrow was never released outside of the Game Boy Advance. Despite this, I highly recommend Aria of Sorrow. If you enjoy side-scrollers and Metroidvanias, track this game down. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.

How the SEGA 32X Could Have Saved the Saturn, and to a Greater Extent, SEGA’s Hardware Business

(Originally Posted April 21, 2019)

First off, I’d like to say that I would love it if folks from SEGA of Japan and North America could see this article.  I have been a SEGA fanboy ever since the Genesis was released in North America.  When I got my Genesis and Power Base Converter that Christmas, it was one of the most magical moments ever.  I had only owned an Atari 7800 before that, and the Genesis assaulted my senses and imagination.  Because of SEGA, to this day Mario, Link, and Samus mean nothing to be.  My home experience was a slightly scaled down arcade experience rather than the small screen made for home platforms.  Thank you, SEGA, for making my bedroom an arcade room.

Oh, and I am not a programmer.  Nor am I someone that works with computer hardware, professionally.  If I suppose or think that something could be done in this article and it cannot, please be kind.  This is more of a “love letter” to SEGA and what it meant to me a long time ago.

 

A lot of gamers think that the launch and support of the SEGA 32X was in the top three of SEGA’s mistakes that killed off their hardware business.  I think that how they handled the 32X was.  I think the 32X had great potential, and it’s success did not have to be exclusive to it’s big brother, the Saturn.  As some of you know, the 32X was SEGA of America’s baby.  The Genesis was still a hot success when talk of 32 Bit systems started, and SEGA of America saw it as a means to capitalise on both.  However, SEGA OF Japan wanted a truly next generation machine, and seemed to do everything in it’s power to make the Saturn as seperate and standalone from the 32X as fiscally possible.  However, the success of both the 32X and Saturn could have depended on cooperation rather than pissing contests and inhouse competition.

 

 

Really, the 32X wasn’t that bad!  Have you even played one?

 

First off, if what I heard was correct, one of the reasons that the Saturn had a RAM/Cartridge slot was the success and love of the Genesis/Mega Drive.  Is there any reason that they didn’t make the Saturn backwards compatible with the Genesis/Mega Drive?  True to both the legacy of SEGA and Atari, the Saturn’s sound chip was the main processor of it’s past generation machine.  This helped with the library of their machines because it meant an easy means for their new machines to play games from their predecessors.  The hardware was there.  All SEGA would have needed was to make the cartridge port the same as the Genesis/Mega Drive.  

How cool would that have been to play Streets of Rage 2 on the Saturn?  I’m not even sure if Genesis/Mega Drive backwards compatibility would have meant backwards compatibility with Sega CD, but I’m sure that was something might have been able to have been worked out.  The hardware power was definitely there, but that’s not even that important.  The important thing is that the Saturn would have been physcially compatible with the 32X.  I know, that probably sounds blasphemous to some of you, but keep an open mind and follow me for a few more minutes. 

The SEGA Saturn was already a superior machine to the PlayStation.  The only thing that the PlayStation had on the Saturn was an easier chipset design specifically made for a home console,  and better and easier transparency technology.  The Saturn’s progaming and chipset has been misunderstood and cursed with erroneous lore for decades.  It’s 3D prowess was believed weaker than PlayStation’s because programmers lazily made straight copied ports of PlayStation’s games, completely ignoring the power of the multiple chips sets in the Saturn, which were not just slapped together without thought, but was directly influenced by SEGA’s prolific legacy as an arcade giant. 

Yes, arcade machines’ motherboards used multiple chips to maximise power, efficiency, and performance.  The Saturn and Genesis/Mega Drive were actually at home heirs to that legacy.  Multple processors to lighten processing loads, plus the cartridge slot that made increases in RAM and a second direct access to the processors made for gaming experiences  far beyond that of the PlayStation.  If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the videos  below that compares PlayStation games with Saturn games that were built from the ground up, rather than being ported over.

(Video by VCDECIDE)

Notice the many objects on the field and how much more deail is in this.

While the PlayStation did have transparency effects, the Saturn has more

to offer visually and does it’s best to replicate the transparencies.

 

 

(Video by VCDECIDE)

Again in the video you can see how the Saturn is able to handle more

sprites and overall information at a time.

 

 

(Video by VCDECIDE)

The final example is Dead or Alive or DOA as the game and

the series has also come to be known.  The difference between

the Saturn and PlayStation was so profound that the creators,

Team Ninja felt that the Saturn was not only superior, but

was “the definitive version.”

 

 

Now imagine if that Saturn with the RAM/cartridge port shaped like a Genesis/Mega Drive was able to take advantage of the added power of the 32X.  Can you imagine how much more slack could be taken off of Saturn’s chipsets if yet two more Hitachi 32 Bit RISC, a VDP, and a 32X VDP were pumping out power? Not only woiuld the Saturn get more parallel processing power, but an addition of 4 Meg of RAM from the 32X. Of course, this would have required forethought in the production of the Saturn to have the interface outlets possible There is no doubt in my my mind that a Saturn 32X would be able to play a decently passable version of Virtua Fighter 3, not to mention decent versions of any other SEGA Model 2 arcade games.  Saturn + 32X + 4 Meg RAM cart > PlayStation. In fact, it might have even given the PS2 the same surprising competition that the SNES gave the 32X in graphics.

 

 

(Video by Top Hat Gaming Man)

Top Hat Gaming Man researched and found an attachment that might have been in the

works to give the SEGA Saturn that extra UMPH! that could have KOed the PlayStation

right out the box!  ‘Look familiar..?

 

 

(Video by Michael’s Retro Game Reviews)

In Michael’s Retro Game Reviews Channel, Michael uncovered that SEGA

almost released a Saturn version of Virtua Fighter 3.  it was speculated that

it might be possible with the latest development packs.  However, this was

more likely to be possible because of an add-on with technology from

Lockheed/Martin.  ‘Sound familiar, again?  Could this have been the 64X?

Do both of these technologies get inspiration from the 32X?

 

 

Now instead of being sold for $20 a pop in clearance bins, 32X machines would have been a hotly sought after accessory in the 90’s rather than a cult object of interest in today’s retro gaming world.  Who knows?  SEGA might have actually had to have made more, as well as Saturns.  Maybe it would have pushed back the timeline in video game generations, increasing the quality of all gaming consoles to come.

But for this to have been possible, like I said, it would have required cooperation between SEGA of American and Japan.  It would have required SEGA of Japan to see all of the possibilities of the 32X and all of it’s strengths suggested by SEGA of America.  If that failed, then SEGA of America could have also embraced the other side’s suggestion of the Saturn, and sought to find a way that 32X could have played support for it’s big brother, as well.  In the end while both sides failed, it ultimately falls upon the shoulders of SEGA of Japan to take the lion’s share of blame.  They were the ultimate authority, and should have been more open and mature about the rivalry, especially since thier bottom line is ultimately the international bottom line of SEGA.

So what do you think?  Did what I say make any sense?  Do you think the tweeks I suggested to the Saturn’s hardware and design were reasonable?  Would a 32X charged Saturn have made that much of a difference?  Comment below on that.  Share to perpetuate the debate.

I cannot think of all of the sources of information I have for this article.  Like I said, it is sort of a “love letter” to SEGA and the Saturn.  I can tell you the places that I do get my information from when I need it, and chances are that they are responsible to a great deal of what I do know and allowed me to write this article.

 

Thanks to The Top Hat Gaming Man and Sega Lord X.  Their YouTube channels are constants in my retro-love, and I don’t miss any episodes.

There are also a couple of Facebook groups that I am in that help tremendously when I have questions in real time:  Sega Saturn Collectors of America and The PS Junkyard (Planet Saturn Junkyard).

Thanks also to David Lee and Ke Kona, fellow members in many of my Facebook groups and hosts of SEGA SATURN, SHIRO Podcast.

All of you have helped grow my knowledge and obsession with SEGA.

‘See you next timie.

-HEREITCPRIME