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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

First Impression Review - Valkyria Chronicles II

SEGA’s Valkyria Chronicles (also known in Japan as Senjou no Valkyria) was a big success back when it was first launched for the Playstation 3. It introduced a very unique kind of turn-based strategy gameplay never before seen from other games in the same genre. It even got its own anime series, shown a year after the game was released, which boosted its popularity even more.

Now, VC returns for its sequel, Valkyria Chronicles II, though this time for the PSP. It’s now a question if the second installment of the game would work well in a handheld with much less hardware power, and if it’ll still be the same real-time tactical role-playing as its predecessor.

The story of VC II starts 2 years after the events of the original, where a civil war has emerged within the Principality of Gallia. Because of the recent war and its law issues, which prevents the forming of a proper army to fight against the rebels, the government resorts to deploying military academy cadets to the frontlines instead. The story focuses on a new student at the Lanseal Military Academy named Avan Hardins, along with his friends (also newly enrolled) Cossette and Zeri, as well as their classmates in Class G (the bottom feeders of the academy), as they fight to gain a good reputation with the other classes and fulfill their personal motives, and fight the war at the same time.

Some fans of the original VC probably scratched their heads upon learning that game series’ theme mixed school life with the existing war theme. I admit that I prefer a more serious tone in the story than a light-hearted one, BUT that doesn’t mean that VC II’s story just goofs off. Personally, I still find the game’s story very good despite the mood. The idea of incorporating a school is odd but the way they did it is kinda clever. In my opinion, it’s pretty much acceptable.

The overall tactical gameplay is faithful to its predecessor. It still uses VC’s unique battle system called the BLiTZ (or Battle of Live Tactical Zone) system, where, from an overhead map view, selected units will switch to third-person view and can freely move around and take action with a limited number of steps. At first, you might feel confident at being able to breeze through missions with just a few units at hand without much of a strategy, but soon you will realize that the game tends to catch up with you and you’ll definitely end up needing to play strategically and put every unit you have to good use.

The game’s intermission is all found in the academy itself. The academy features various options for leveling-up your unit classes (as opposed to individual units), changing a unit’s class, buying/creating weapons and equipment, vehicle upgrading, and mission selection. You can also see events that drive the story of the game, or just various characters’ side stories. Character-related events can be triggered depending on how much you use the characters in missions. This opens up their back stories and furthers character development of that particular character. Clearing events involving certain characters will improve its relationship to the main character or even to other characters. This could greatly affect the overall performance of characters when used in combat missions.

Missions are broken into several parts and grouped by month. Certain key missions must be cleared to advance further in the game’s story. Even if you’re done, you can always go back and repeat the missions, in case you want to grind up some experience before going to the next objective, or get a chance to improve your unit ranks in certain missions. Same thing also applies to missions that are triggered through character-related events and free missions. 

There are tons of hidden stuff and achievements that you can unlock in the game. There are a number of hidden characters as well. Most of them are characters from the original VC. Certain tasks must be completed to obtain each one of them, or you can just input a password at the Extra menu option of the title screen. Do note that hidden characters are merely extra character sprites for the game and don’t have any relevance to the main story.

VC II greatly impressed me. I easily got hooked with the uniqueness of the battle system and its war-themed story. Although the story may have not been given a more serious tone compared to the original VC, overall it’s okay and personally, I have no major complaints with it. More importantly, it’s still Valkyria Chronicles. If you’re a fan of the original VC, then VC II is highly recommended for you. For gamers who love tactical role-playing games, then you should definitely try VC II as well.

And that’s my first impression of the game. The rest is up to you to find out.

Until then! 


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

First Impression Review - Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is a new KH title exclusively for the PSP. As Square-Enix has finally brought the franchise over to Sony’s handheld, let’s take a peek into the Kingdom’s door and see if the game is worthy to be the “awakening” title for KH.

Before anything else, let me give you few guidelines to my review: Since I’ve never played any of the past KH games and am not very familiar to the story of KH in general, I can’t tell how different KH:BBS is to previous KH titles or even how their plots are connected to each other.

KH:BBS is a prequel to the original KH series. The story revolves around 3 friends, Ventus, Terra, and Aqua, as they get involved in an incident that relates to the appearance of dark entities called the Unversed. These happenings lead them to a journey and eventually tear them apart.

The game is separated into 3 campaigns, one for each of the main characters. The three travel separately through different Disney worlds. Although they would all travel through the same worlds, their paths taken are mostly different. For example, in Snow White’s world, Ventus is with the dwarves while Terra is in the Evil Queen’s castle. Another is at Cinderella’s world, where Terra is assisting Cinderella to the castle while Aqua just came to follow his tracks. They would sometimes bump into each other at certain points of the game and even fight together at times.

KH:BBS’ Command Deck System allows you to customize things such as the Battle, Action and Shotlock commands for use in the fight. Battle commands consist of skills and magic commands that can be leveled-up to certain degree. Slots used to insert commands are limited but will eventually increase as you level-up. You can insert any commands or even items to be used and order them however you want, but if properly arranged, you’ll be able to connect combos out of it. Action commands are basic movements like Jump, Dash and Block. You will eventually obtain more movements like Air Dash and High Jump that will soon be useful not just in battles but also while traveling. Shotlock commands are basically just your regular long-range attacks that consume your Focus Meter, which may not be of much use most of the time, but still comes in handy at times.

You can create new Battle commands by “Melding”. Combining 2 mastered commands will create a new command. Meld it again with another mastered command and you might probably get a new one again. Also, if you add a Synthesis item while melding, new commands created can get bonus abilities that can be used to boost your stats, attacks, defenses, item drops, experience received, etc. Abilities such this will only activate if you use the command that goes with it, but once you’ve mastered that command, the ability is yours to keep and use even without the command (kinda like the learned abilities in Final Fantasy IX).

KH:BBS’ battle system plays quite similarly to the action-based, hack-and-slash style of previous KH games. Since the battles are fast-paced, it would probably take some button-mashing until the hordes of enemies are defeated. However, button-mashing isn’t everything here. When you face the cleverer and more powerful enemies, especially the bosses, you HAVE to fight strategically. Here, camera angles might pose a problem. Although your cursor automatically locks on to the nearest enemy, the camera angle won’t follow so you might find yourself viewing the fight from a wrong angle. This might become a problem, especially in boss fights. Anyway, you can still manually aim your attacks at a target if you desire.

Other than your Command Deck, you have other abilities to use in the battle. D-Link (or Dimension Link) allows you use other characters’ commands and allows you to fight at the same groove as that character. For example, if you’re Terra and you D-Link with Ventus, you can use the latter’s commands and you even move just as agilely. You also have this command gauge that fills up for every blow you throw at the enemy. Once it’s filled up, you become temporarily powered-up and can do a final attack move, but if you’re only able to fill it up partly using your Battle Commands instead of your regular attacks, you will sometimes change Command Styles. Your Command Style will depend on the Battle Commands you used. Once you change Command Style and are able to fill up your Command Gauge again, you can perform a much more powerful final attack.

There are other features in the game that would probably keep you busy other than the main missions. There’s this Mirage Arena which features several modes, mainly for multiplayer play. Although I haven’t explored much of the multiplayer aspects of the game (since I don’t have someone to play the game with), I could still say that the multiplayer feature here is probably something worth a try. There’s also a mini-game called Command Board that is more like a board game that plays using your Deck Commands.

Overall, KHBBS is a very good game. For a game that’s on a handheld, the graphics and cinematics are beautiful. Of course, since it’s Kingdom Hearts, the highlight of it all is the crossover between Disney and Square-Enix characters. Though I’m not much of a fan of Disney’s works in general, a crossover like this always amazes me. The voice-acting is okay (I guess), but there are parts that’s kinda off. Nonetheless, it’s very much tolerable, considering that most of the voice actors/actresses here I believe are popular in the field. The replay value here is high especially if you wanna go over each character’s campaign.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is an action/RPG game developed by Square-Enix for the Playstation Portable, released in September 2010. The game requires Official Firmware update 6.20. It has an optional Data Install option that requires 200-600+ Mb of data.

Until then!