Category Archives: PlayStation 3

Rugged Rallying

Working my way through the PlayStation Plus backlog continues on the good old PS3. Back in the summer months, it was given WRC 5 and as it has been quite some time since my last driving game, I eagerly took it for a spin. This turned out to be not the best of ideas, as the game didn’t provide much in the form of entertainment. In terms of numbers, it should’ve been a good one, featuring rallies of a whopping 13 different countries, a total of 65 special stages, and 21 cars. All of these are instantly available either as single runs or in a career mode that guides the player through rally school and Junior WRC all the way to the very top of WRC itself.

I usually prefer my driving games in cockpit view but in this case, it doesn’t really work that well. Not only do the cabins look awfully spartan, general visibility is often so poor that the feeling of speed is very much amiss. Switching to bonnet view helps things tremendously but sadly the developers’ idea of rallying is rather eccentric. Only about a fifth of the special stages are such that one can press hard enough to even make it a little bit scary. Most of the stages, however, are just bends following each other with such frequency that driving becomes a chore. The most egregious stages are so twisty that average speed drops closer to forty miles per hour, which no longer resembles rallying whatsoever.

Although each car has a pleasantly distinctive sound, their handling is always uncomfortably floaty. Grip is still decent on dry tarmac but especially on gravel, snow, or in heavy rain, driving turns into slalom. While that is basically realistic, utterly hopeless brakes and almost unnaturally smooth road surfaces make the cars feel more like bobsleighs. There are no impressive crashes as straying off course simply turns the screen black and returns the car back to the middle of the road. Blunders closer to the track damage various parts of the car, though. Careless driving with wild abandon can knock out individual shock absorbers, chassis, engine, gearbox, or even the in-car radio. Should any of that happen, there’s no choice but to try and limp to the next service park where mechanics are given 45 minutes to mend the car as much as they can.

The career mode is hardly inspiring, given the short length of the races. Each rally consists of only six or seven special stages that take about 2-7 minutes each. What’s worse, these half-hour races aren’t really about racing at all as the player’s performance is effectively ignored altogether. Unless driving extremely slowly or absolutely wrecking the car, each stage yields the best time with the second best always being 0.2-2 seconds slower. As every stage and every race ends the exact same way, the career mode is just mind-numbingly boring.

WRC 5 isn’t that good technically, either. It’s prone to frequent crashes and every now and then the car apparently doesn’t hit a point that would activate notes for the next three or four corners. While the co-driver eventually wakes up from such naps, having to drive blind even briefly can be quite jarring. The graphics are fairly bland, too. Trees and whatnot are sparse and especially on stages run early in the morning or late in the evening, merely discerning the road becomes a needless challenge.

Despite all this naysay, WRC 5 is still decent enough to quench at least a casual thirst for rallying. Given that it was technically free, its faults are forgivable and I suppose there’s some longevity in trying to improve one’s own times or heading online, even if two years after release there are hardly any players around anymore. Still, on whole the game is mostly just lackluster. While it basically has all the ingredients of a good rally game, it only manages to feel uninspired with more emphasis on quantity than quality.

Daishi’s Longest Month

How about a game of Spot Ranko?

It seems like early spring lethargy has become a tradition for me. Despite the days getting longer and winter slowly but surely starting to yield, I just don’t seem to get any gaming done. While the pile of sizable games requiring dozens of hours of commitment just keeps on growing, I’d much rather enjoy something more lightweight and fleeting for a change. Thankfully my backlog had something for that itch, too, namely Bandai Namco’s multimedia project from 2014, Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day. It’s a peculiar little anime/game hybrid that consists of four short films, about 15 minutes each, and a game. They have been produced by heavyweights such as Katsuhiro Otomo and Goichi Suda, so my expectations were high from the get-go.

The anime half of the release is visually stunning, although really quite random in content. Possessions is a story of a skilled artisan spending a night in a possessed hut while Combustible tells a tragic love story in Edo period Japan. The violent and gory Gambo focuses on a fight between a bear and a demon, whereas A Farewell to Weapons follows a squad battling robotic tanks in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Although these shorties sport impeccable style and animation, they’re mostly just vague concepts; loose, momentary glimpses into various worlds. Even if A Farewell to Weapons, at least, serves a tasty morsel of gallows humor about mankind’s self-destructive tendencies, it feels like these films are not so much about poignant stories than about promoting Japanese animation and what it can be capable of.

As for the game half, Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day isn’t any more full-bodied but at least it opens up all the floodgates of sheer anarchy. Its titular heroine is a 17-year-old high school girl slash assassin, who decides to avenge the death of her mother by killing his father. Ranko’s journey of vengeance is a rapid 2D platformer in which she slices various oncoming monsters with a katana while being chased by spirits that are kept at bay by shooting. The game also features hoverbikes, a dragon the size of a high-rise, one awfully feisty Pomeranian, Mexican professional wrestling, and several utterly bonkers cutscenes realized in pretty much every style imaginable. And all of this compressed into a package that lasts just a little over one hour!

The strength of Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day lies in its comprehensive and unrestrained frolicking. As a game, however, it’s a bit unwieldy. There’s never any breathing room as the aim is to get Ranko up to speed, Sonic style, and then keep the momentum going. Both attacking and bumping into obstacles slow Ranko down, so the game is essentially a stressful reaction test that requires an almost zen-like flow. There aren’t even any checkpoints, so if you die in a 2-3 minute stage, you’re ruthlessly returned back to its beginning. Disposed enemies explode into graphical, onomatopoetic fireworks, so most of the time the screen is full of pure, incomprehensible clutter. The short length of the game is compensated by dozens of presents hidden in its stages, unlocking concept art and additional costumes for Ranko. Of course, there’s also a bunch of trophies that reward exceptionally skillful and speedy gaming. All of that probably means there would be a couple more hours of entertainment to be salvaged. To my liking, though, Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day is just a wee bit too hectic and frustrating.

Overall, Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day is a one evening snack, which justifies its existence mostly as a shrewd curiosity. It’s like a small platter of assorted sushi, demonstrating Japanese entertainment culture in a delightfully compact and versatile way, but in the end that’s pretty much all there is.

Tokyo on My Mind

One more month of agonizing waiting and we finally get to enjoy Persona 5! Regarding the game, I’ve deliberately kept myself in the dark as much as possible but what the heck, one fast-paced trailer won’t hurt. I didn’t get into this outstanding and highly creative demon slaying / everyday high school life JRPG series until last year (!) on Vita but on that one, Persona 4 Golden instantly became one of my most beloved games ever. Compared to that, Persona 5 seems very much the same (even including the main characters) but with even more style. One of the only minor flaws in the fourth game was its forced dub, which ate away some of the ambience of such a deeply Japanese experience. The fifth game, however, also features original audio so come April 4th, it might provide an even more authentic virtual Tokyo than Yakuza 0!

Speaking of Tokyo, Spike Chunsoft announced some interesting news this week. Even if it’s not until spring next year, PS4 will be getting a localized version of 428: Shibuya Scramble. It’s some sort of peculiar visual novel that combines text, anime, and live action video clips. In Japan, the game was released on Wii in 2008 and on PS3/PSP in 2009. That’s pretty much all I know but since Spike Chunsoft is a true professional of the genre and since Famitsu awarded the original game a perfect 40/40 score, I’m most certainly picking it up come 2018. It’s delightful to see how even Japanese niche releases are slowly but surely finding a market here in the west, too!

Backlog Grooming

As for actual gaming, I’ve spent the past three weeks fixated on Dynasty Warriors 7. This 2011 release turned out to be quite an eternity project. It wasn’t even until 2013 that I picked it up from some bargain bin but back then, it didn’t seem entertaining for more than one evening. In summer 2016, I gave this ancient China brawler another brief go but it wasn’t until 2017 that I finally managed to get it off the backlog for good. Since the game is six years old already, I suppose no introductions are necessary; officers vie for the domination of the land by darting around large battlefields and beating the living daylight out of each other and their throwaway troops. I think the last game I played was 3, so it’s hard to say just how much the series has evolved. Still, 7 features at least horseback riding, siege weapons, quizzes, tons of melee weaponry, story campaigns for four different factions, and even a separate conquest mode in which the map of China has been divided into hexes that you conquer by completing the skirmishes they hold.

Dynasty Warriors 7 is actually an impeccable comfort game. Every now and then you have those moments when you’d just like to play something without actually concentrating on anything. This is when Warriors games shine. Pretty much all you have to do is learn three buttons (attacks of the light, heavy, and special variety). As the battles only last five to ten minutes each, it’s perfectly possible to just turn off your brain completely and gleefully mow down hundreds of soldiers and dozens of commanders without a care in the world. Throw in a sofa, a few beers, and a pal, and you can even enjoy a split screen co-op mode.

Dynasty Warriors 7 is awfully bloaty, though. Merely going through the four story campaigns is a bit of an ordeal due to repetition. They’re not particularly memorable stories, either, as the cinematics are mostly just officers bragging, and should someone occasionally die, there are so many lineages, loyalties, and relationships in play that it’s pretty much impossible to follow what is going on, let alone care about any of it. The conquest mode is a veritable timesink as well. Merely conquering all the hexes takes several evenings and if you decide to unlock all the skills of all the 62 playable characters (!) while also collecting pretty much everything from weapons to sworn loyalties, the amount of effort required is staggering. It was a grind hell like none other and although the game doesn’t seem to track time played, by the time I got the platinum trophy, I had completed 700 battles and vanquished 220344 foes (x . x)

These are fun maybe once every console generation but I’d now welcome a half a decade break with open arms. Except Musou Stars is right around the corner. Darn.