Category Archives: PlayStation Vita

Hanami Recharge

The complete lethargy that has been pestering me all this year is hopefully now a thing of the past, cured by the only way I know of. On Easter Monday, I flipped the bird at Finland’s cold and slushy spring and headed back to Tokyo after a break of a couple of years. That same day, the last winter storm hit the country pretty hard but the gallant professionals of Helsinki-Vantaa did a commendable job keeping everything running. Many flights were canceled, sure, but long-haul flights weren’t luckily among them. Although Finnair handled its part immaculately and the plane boarded on time, we still had to wait for connecting passengers from Sweden for over an hour. Because of Murphy’s laws, there also had to be that one poor sod whose luggage was already on the plane but the person was not. Still, we eventually got going and as a pleasant surprise, the originally overbooked plane had a couple of no-shows who would’ve been sitting next to me. The new Airbus 350-900 is a mighty comfortable plane even as-is with but when I had three seats worth of personal space, it was as much luxury as economy class can possibly offer.

Since my usual go-to- hotel, Ville Fontaine Kayabacho, had raised its prices uncomfortably high at least for the duration of the hanami season, I had to hunt down a slightly cheaper place to stay at. Equally near to the Tokyo City Air Terminal, I found a passable alternative in City Pension Zem. It’s a minuscule, 27-room family hotel that was quite modest and endearingly old-fashioned but as long as you don’t expect anything more than cheap accommodation, free Wi-Fi, and at least a little bit of breakfast every morning, it was most adequate. The sound proofing is abysmal but since each floor only has three or four rooms and fellow passengers were courteous enough to stay quiet most of the time, the nights were peaceful. The biggest drawback of the hotel is probably its location. It takes a five-minute walk just to the nearest metro station of Suitengumae, which isn’t even connected to anything noteworthy. Another five minutes of walking gets you to the slightly better aligned stations of either Ningyocho or Kayabacho but as these trips are always about plenty of walking, even short distances like these quickly add up to eventually murder your feet. Still, the hotel was good value for money and since the service was excellent, it’s certainly worth a recommendation on budget.

As for hanami, last year I was visiting the country a little bit too early and this time around a little bit too late. Japan had a chilly spring but at the last possible moment it turned into an unexpected heatwave that caused cherry blossoms to go crazy. Thankfully the first few days were still good enough to enjoy a bit of leftover spring celebration in Ueno Park, which was still teeming with people enjoying a relaxed picnic and food stalls offering all sorts of festival grub. Even Tokyoites seemed slightly perplexed of temperatures rising as high as 26° C but at least they later got down to more manageable 15-20° C. All in all, the weather was great for the entire week and for the first time ever, I never had to resort to an umbrella.

On whole, this year’s trip was mostly a best of selection from the past visits. I went to Odaiba to play some pinball and retro arcades (can be found from the fourth floor of Decks Mall Tokyo Beach), and enjoyed the new and impressively lit Unicorn Gundam in front of Diver City Plaza. For food, there was yakitori in the ever-wonderful Torigin in Ginza as well as on Omoide Yokocho, also known as Piss Alley, which featured loads of quaint little bars and grills on a narrow alleyway. The mandatory pilgrimage for Yakuza fans, Kabukicho, was also worth a visit. For thirst of culture, there was the Yebisu Museum of Beer, and a new Godzilla statue was featured in Hibiya, although it was a lot smaller than I thought it would be. Then again, the giant, steampunk-inspired Ghibli clock in Shiodome was truly a sight to behold, especially when it puts up an amusing three-minute show a few times a day.

I also checked out Yokohama, an hour away from Tokyo but easily accessible on the Tokaido line. For the second biggest city in Japan, it was a massive letdown. Sure, there was a little Nissan gallery, the observation tower of Minato Mirai, and Chinatown where steamed meat buns could be bought at practically every street corner, but that’s about it. The city is probably quite a bit more impressive during nighttime but as a day trip, it was just a waste of time. Thankfully Kawasaki, halfway between Tokyo and Yokohama, delivered big time. From the Kawasaki station, it’s just a five-minute walk to Anata no Warehouse, which very well might be the most wonderful arcade on this entire planet! This five-story complex, deliberately designed to look decrepit, imitates the Walled City of Kowloon and it’s just plain awesome! The entrance leads to a decontamination chamber good for a small jump scare, after which a dimly lit corridor leads you on a visually and aurally creepy time trip to the past. The elevator and the toilets in particular look like places to lose your life in bizarre circumstances, and the attention to detail is duly impressive. The main attraction, of course, are the games of which there are dozens and dozens, new and old, and many that can be played for just 50 yen a go. It’s a cheap, highly entertaining way to spend even an entire day, should your ears handle the cacophony.

Amid all this, there was naturally Akihabara. After paying a visit to the Kanda Myojin shrine and its wonderful manga prayer plaques, I rummaged through the arcades and game shops with huge fervor and ended up with a nice selection of all sorts of curios. For GBA, there’s Kessakusen! Ganbare Goemon 1+2: Yukihime to Magginesu, which at least looks like to be an action platformer of sorts. On PS2, it’s all about music (Taiko no Tatsujin: Tobikkiri! Anime Special and Taiko no Tatsujin: Wai Wai Happy Rokudaime) and bullet hell shooters (Dodonpachi Daioujou, Mushihimesama, Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced, and Twinklestar Sprites: La Petite Princesse). PSP retro comes in four flavors, namely Dariusburst, Capcom Classics Collection, SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1, and SNK Arcade Classics 0. For the 3DS, SoniPro: Super Sonico in Production promises gravure, rhythm, and idol management while Vita is good for music (DJMax Technika Tune) and shooting (Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours). My PS4 collection is bolstered with the Japanese trio of The Idolm@ster: Stella Stage, Game Tengoku CruisinMix, and Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone DX, and I even happened upon an import shelf that had a EU region copy of Shovel Knight. That’s probably the next summer vacation all sorted out, then.

Longing for the Olden Days

The usual, dear Nico, the usual…

Video game industry is a fickle beast. Even in the 90’s, graphic adventure games could still manage sales of a million copies. At least this was true for Revolution Software’s stylish and fondly remembered Broken Sword series, in which a French freelance journalist, Nicole Collard, and an American jack of all trades, George Stobbart, always seem to find themselves tangled up in murder mysteries and ancient, supernatural artifacts. By the end of the millennium, the gaming masses lost interest in the genre, and in 2013 the latest game in the series, Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse, had to rely on crowdfunding. Even if I was no longer gaming on PC back then, I spotted the game’s Vita version among last month’s PlayStation Plus selection. This was a nice chance to see if graphic adventures still do it for me.

For long-standing fans, at least, the adventure kicks off in an unsurprising fashion. Nicole and George meet in a Parisian art gallery, although it’s not a particularly pleasant reunion. A sudden robbery takes place, depriving the owner of the gallery both an exhibited painting as well as his life. Our investigative duo aren’t interested only in the killer but also the stolen piece of art that leads them on a trail of medieval cabals, gnostics, and the Spanish inquisition.

In general, The Serpent’s Curse is a fairly pleasant, beautifully illustrated and skillfully animated adventure. Its puzzles are solved in the usual fashion by picking up items, occasionally combining them in unexpected ways, and chatting with a whole bunch of eccentric characters. While adventure games can be notorious for getting the player stuck or wandering around aimlessly, The Serpent’s Curse alleviates this by penning all of its problems and their solutions in areas that are rarely larger than a couple of screens. Items, too, come in such moderation that trying everything with everything is never troublesome. Several puzzles carry rather absurd solutions but they’re rarely so obscure that the player wouldn’t have at least a modicum of an idea on how to proceed.

Sadly religious myths as a motif has already been thoroughly exhausted not only by this series but entertainment industry on whole. For the game’s first half, both the story and the overall pacing still manage to stay afloat. After that, the player is drowned in overly convoluted mega puzzles and plot twists so incredibly shoddy and clichéd that enjoyment goes straight down the drain. This Vita version contributes to that by only featuring touch screen controls. The small screen doesn’t really do justice to the game’s graphical splendor to begin with but it’s even worse when having to constantly use an index finger as a makeshift mouse cursor. Awkward and inaccurate.

The Serpent’s Curse is still very much a Broken Sword and very much a graphic adventure but for some inexplicable reason the taste of the series isn’t nearly as exquisite as it was 17 years earlier when The Shadow of the Templars kicked things into motion. I probably have to play that one once more to see if it’s just fond memories or still a classic. The Serpent’s Curse doesn’t feel like one.

Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire

Something along those lines. Whatever.

Sometimes running away from unpleasant things only gets you further into the gutter. Or at least that’s how I felt after switching from repetitious producing to Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni. It’s a game where big-breasted teenage girls are infected by a mysterious virus that turns some into powerful valkyries and others into weapons wielded by them and…

Oh, hell no…. No… I just can’t.

I refuse to spend even a single minute outlining a background story that would make even the shittiest of camp seem like an Oscar worthy script. Valkyrie Drive is nothing more than an incredibly rapid third person beat ’em up starring anime girls with gargantuan tits the size of their heads. Anything after that is pretty much downhill all the way.

If you’ve ever witnessed popular games in Japanese arcades, they often seem to be about lean mechas darting all over 3D battle arenas with breathtaking speed, unleashing devastating special attacks upon each other. Valkyrie Drive is something like that, only with buxom girls. One button is used for a light attack, another for a heavy one, third launches the enemy into air, and carefully timed bursts of the fourth is good for either scooting from one target to another, or juggling a hapless airborne adversary for so long that they can be pummeled with a 999 hit combo. The action is relentless and should the player lose focus, they soon find themselves on the opposing end of equally ruthless punishment.

I usually give any game a fair chance to sell itself but in this case, the lackluster story is a lost cause from the get-go. After just half an hour, I’ve skipped every cutscene, if only to save myself from second-hand embarrassment, and after a couple of hours I’m getting quite worried that I’m now in a quagmire of two weak-ish games badly overestimating their prowess. All that comes from the Land of the Rising Sun certainly isn’t good by default. I will keep pushing on under the gallant banner of Seeing Things Through, but it’s times like these that even an all-out average game from start to finish would feel welcome.

Upping the Ante

You WON’T climb away, filthy Militesi cockroach!

Whoa! When the big wheel of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD ultimately turns, it does so in a most impressive manner! If anyone doubts the influence of mere 14 teenage cadets in a full-scale war between superpowers, they would be correct. When push comes to shove, it amounts to very little. Once the conflict escalates, fair play get flushed down the toilet, and all participants resort to their extreme measures, the going gets epic. Sure, the Rubrum cadets are still in the midst of things but as the number of casualties grows to hundreds of thousands and the radio mostly relays the final moments of desperate units, it’s enough to make one’s hair stand on end. It truly is an unconventional Final Fantasy but in a touching and convincing way.

Sadly, Type-0 is also increasingly inclined to point out that it would like to be played through several times. Not only does it limit the time required to experience optional events, it rolls out more and more bosses that can probably be bested but hardly on the first playthrough. When such encounters do happen, the story will still continue after everyone in the player’s party has been wiped out but that’s hardly a source for drama. Even several side quests are so challenging that there’s very little point in trying to do them on the first run. There’s nothing wrong with replay value as such, but in this case the idea is definitely something that the game loves to shove down the player’s throat.

The other major fault with Type-0 is its lack of actual storytelling. The game shares, at least thematically, a whole lot with Final Fantasy XIII but it’s essentially more of a stage for a massive conflict than a bona fide story. Many of the terms used classify under “surely you know.” The academy library holds an encyclopedia called Rubicus, which eventually grows to cover more than several centuries of the history of this universe, but it sure could’ve used a glossary as well. The game is a little too confident that its player knows Final Fantasy lore like the back of his hand, and that proper storytelling can be replaced with just loads of text in a book. Just getting to know the 14 main characters is a matter of checking out the Rubicus for their backgrounds and motivations, as the game hardly bothers to flesh them out.

Fighting is still inscrutably ADHD. While brawling, the player can also choose to accept special orders. They are bite-sized, time-limited challenges such as besting the next couple of enemies with magic, avoiding all damage for 30 seconds, going for those sweet spots of damage, etc. Success will be rewarded with an item, failure with the death of the played character. Naturally all these orders would have to be opened, reviewed, and either accepted or declined while everything else is constantly going on, so at least us old fogies have a far better chance of preserving our sanity by ignoring them altogether. Gaming goddesses be praised that this HD remake also includes an easy difficulty mode, making it possible to push on without reactions measured in nanoseconds or being able to multitask eight different things at once.

That’s everything this summer. Really.

I’m quite pleased at how well I’ve managed to prune my backlog lately, and even more so because only one newcomer has managed to sneak in at the same time. Deemo: The Last Recital is presumably a PlayStation Vita rhythm game that relies on touch screen controls only. I probably would’ve skipped it altogether but couldn’t resist a physical copy. Even if touch screen controls don’t sound very promising and it probably won’t challenge the dominance of Hatsune Miku, it should have rhythm and that’s all I require to give it a go!

Tokyo Mended, All Is Well

Taking a break from saving the world

Gigants have been bested not just in Tokyo but around the world as well. As it turned out, Ray Gigant wasn’t just an Ichiya Amakaze parade. As the story progressed, a couple of other Yorigami adopters were eventually located in England and the Caribbean. I kind of wish they weren’t, though, as the heroes were a remarkably dysfunctional bunch of people. The trio of a dunce, a psychopath, and a bimbo only interacted by bickering, ragging, and wallowing in self-pity, on top of which they all had a nearly identical story segment. After slaying a few Gigants, everything starts to go horribly wrong and someone dies. As the characters are repulsive and hardly ever get along, there’s very little drama even the first time around, let alone third.

Things didn’t get much better with dungeon crawling. The initial uncluttered mazes were eventually replaced with a jumble of hidden walls, teleports, and pits all aimed to make progress as arduous as possible. Since there are no random encounters, it’s still fairly swift to get through everything, and Ray Gigant is not nearly as sadistic as many other games in the genre (cough, Dungeon Travelers 2, cough). Still, dungeon design especially towards the end is as unenthusiastic as it comes. The game does feature a handy auto-pilot that enables you to quickly move to a map square visited before but even that gets so confused by teleports and conveyor belts that it eventually turns useless.

Fighting is the only part Ray Gigant almost gets right. The bigger the Gigants, the more awesome they look, and even if the game is relatively easy, slowly chipping away bosses’ massive health meters is always at least a little bit suspenseful. The final boss, though, was cheap beyond belief. About halfway into the fight, it put up such ridiculously heavy defenses that almost nothing seemed to work. In the end, I had to repeat the same boring move macro for almost an hour with even the biggest special attacks dealing only a paltry amount of damage. Even if he fell in the end, it was a dreary battle of attrition.

Thankfully Ray Gigant at least knows how to be moderate. Unlike most JRPGs, the whole adventure took only about 25 hours, and for the most part there were so many good bosses that the overall experience was at least slightly above average. Sure, its story is pointless drivel and there’s no character chemistry whatsoever, but at least everything moves at a brisk pace. On whole, the game is a passable light version of dungeon crawling. It doesn’t come even close to the undisputed (not negotiable) king of the genre, Demon Gaze, but it’s still a decent effort, especially for a lowly budget release. If nothing else, at least its brittle shell hides some neat and original ideas.

Aww… Tokyo Broke Again

Yup… I’d classify that one as big.

So much for the gaming slump, thanks to Experience’s jolly little dungeon crawling JRPG Ray Gigant, even if its premise is hardly original. Tokyo is in ruins once more when aliens known as Gigants suddenly emerge, treating Earth as their personal pantry. The army is quickly annihilated but hey, that’s why there are teenagers! Ichiya Amakaze comes across a mysterious talking talisman, Yorigami, which provides him enough power to take down even a Gigant as large as a high-rise. Much to the chagrin of this reluctant youngster, this power is also a one-way ticket to a secret academy whose students are the final hope to repel the invasion.

Even if the story seems to be as tired as they come, Ray Gigant is still a quirky little title. In a party of three, the players is sent to crawl through grid-based dungeons in first perspective view. There, the youths slays plenty of grunt-level Gigants while working their way to the end to take on a much tougher mid-boss. It’s not until that one is bested that the crew scores a marker that can be used to lure out and kill one of the first-class Gigants that tower dozens of feet in height. Rinse and repeat while Amakaze’s chaperones do their best to figure out how to get rid of the baddies for good.

The biggest asset of Ray Gigant is probably its eccentric battle system. It is based on a pool of a hundred action points shared by all party members. Everyone gets a turn and can execute up to five actions during it. Of course, every action has a price tag, so going mental is only good for exhausting the pool within a single round. Points can be slowly restored either by using an entire turn waiting, or winning the skirmish as fast as possible. Since the game keeps track of the latest moves selected, clever players quickly come up with a handy macro that is good for most occasions. All hit points are automatically restored after each fight, and as there are even an indefinite amount of healing items, you might wonder if such a system has any chance to work in practice.

Challenge stems from having to mind opponents’ strengths and weaknesses in a rock-paper-scissors kind of style, but especially from Parasitism. This nasty disease, carried over between fights, hits after every ten rounds and forces the party into a state where moves cost hit points rather than action points, and that cost is mighty severe. The illness can be surpassed simply by winning the fight in which it occurs, but it can be especially catastrophic during the massive and lengthy boss fights. Thankfully there’s also a power meter that rises ever so slowly in every encounter. If it is even half full, Parasitism can be subdued with a proper harakiri. That’s when Amakaze slices his guts, awakens the full power of his Yorigami, and unleashes an absolutely brutal combo upon his hapless opponents. Its strength is determined by a rhythmical mini-game, so the battle briefly turns into an anime music video during which the player tries to hit as many notes as possible. More hits, more damage. Genuinely neat!

For a dungeon crawler, Ray Gigant is extremely forgiving. There aren’t even any random encounters. At the beginning of every dungeon, Amakaze’s talisman politely analyzes the location of every enemy and treasure on the floor. Even if the actual maps aren’t filled in until moving about, it’s nice to have at least a vague impression of what lies where. The dungeons feature the usual assortment of traps, hidden doors, and teleport panels, but the game doesn’t seem to get overly sadistic with them. Making progress is always a breeze, so the game is perhaps the most suitable title for newcomers interested in the genre.

Still, despite plenty of fun little ideas, the game also stumbles a lot. It’s an ongoing journey but perhaps by the next entry I can construe a solid understanding on why Ray Gigant is likely not much more than “pretty okay.”

E-Threesome

Either I need a vacation or I’m just getting old (or most likely a bit of both) but this year’s E3 galloped past without leaving much of an impression. For the first time in years, I skipped the live press conferences of the Big Three and didn’t even bother to watch them afterwards. Even if that was a subconscious decision, the overall feedback seems to support it; the traditional big companies showed off their traditional big stuff, and their showpieces seemed vaguely nice but not really anything more than that.

Still, digging around the outskirts of the big budget AAA swamp wasn’t a complete waste of time, given that E3 was still courteous enough to provide something for us pathetic hipster farts, too. First, there was Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom which finally got a solid release November release date. I’m not particularly thrilled that the children of the first game got replaced with teen protagonists but since Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, back in its day, was one pretty damn solid JRPG, I’m pre-ordering its sequel the very second it becomes available. The dub in the trailer isn’t particularly impressive but here’s hoping the original audio will be included.

The second place of this year’s E3 goes to Life Is Strange: Before the Storm. The first Life Is Strange readily challenged (the sometimes equally impressive) Telltale for the crown of emotion- and story-driven adventures, and if there’s more to be experienced then I’m first in the line. Sure, it’s still an episodic adventure split into three parts, so I’ll wait until they’re all out and dressed into a physical form but I’m very much in the line nonetheless. Before the Storm kicks off at the end of August this year, so with a bit of luck it’s going to be one awfully wonderful journey by early 2018.

For now, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim doesn’t even have a western release date (not even a Japanese one for that matter) but since its trailer has been localized, we’ll probably get to enjoy this Vanillaware latest eventually. Seems like yet another harrowingly beautiful 2D action-adventure but as it’s a recipe that has worked before, I have no qualms supporting it further.

I Am So Smart! S-M-R-T!

I can’t help but starting to feel that Picross 3D isn’t merely a second-stringer to be played when nothing else of importance is around. Whenever I decide to quickly solve a puzzle or maybe two, I suddenly find myself realizing how time has simply flown by. I’m no longer inclined to guess, and even if those initially oh-so-generous time limits suddenly feel uncomfortably strict, making me either go under or over them by a minute or two, the game is a logic rush like none other! After a whopping 24 hours, I’ve finally completed all Beginner and Easy challenges with three stars. Merely solving a puzzle is worth one, which is good enough to make progress, but the extra stars for not making any mistakes and staying within the time limit have – at least so far – been far to tempting to skip.

At this point, the game’s most rewarding feature is its pacing. I began with “heh, this is laughably simple” only to quickly run into “oh dear Lord, is this even solvable” and eventually “hoo boy, this sure takes time to solve.” Every now and then that one single cube needed to proceed does a stellar job hiding out of sight but on whole, relentless practice truly does make perfect. The geometry of any puzzle still occasionally allures me to mark and remove cubes that are right “for sure” but such seduction no longer works; I’m now all about numbers and logical deduction. The time limit is still nothing more than a needlessly stressful feature that mostly leads to stupid mistakes and a quick restart. Then again, the frequency of those mistakes seems to dwindle as I go, so perhaps such a virtual whip has a well-intentioned purpose after all. Then again, the 3DS sequel purportedly does away with time limits altogether, and it sounds like the best overhaul ever.

Whatever the case, I’m now totally into Picross 3D. After 144 puzzles solved, I’m (slightly worriedly) off to tackle the ones under the Normal category. This won’t end well.

In the meantime, the last few acquisitions of the first half of the year have finally arrived to wait for their turn to shine come summer vacation (or perhaps retirement) days. Despite all the snide remarks that PlayStation Vita is dead, it’s still very much alive and well, the dungeon crawler slash visual novel (?) Ray Gigant serving as exhibit A and the ecchi shooter (?) Gun Gun Pixies as exhibit B. Obscure Japanese oddities, of course, might not even count in the first place but after all these years, I’ve still managed to end up with slightly more Vita games than 3DS games. The difference is negligible, though, so as far as handheld console gaming goes, it’s definitely a case of either or – preferably – both.

A Girl and Her Golem

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Since the heavy hitters of gaming often require so much time and commitment, I think I’ll conserve most of them until summer vacation. Until then, there are delightfully compact experiences to enjoy on everyday weekends such as this one. This Saturday, for example, was all about jolly good time spent with A Rose in the Twilight. Then again, jolly might not exactly be the best adjective here, considering the game is a gloomy story of a cursed little girl, Rose, who wakes up in a dungeon of a decrepit castle with a white, thorny rose growing from her back. There’s not a living soul in sight and everything looks dreary, so it’s definitely due time to get out. Soon enough, Rose finds out she’s immortal and that her rose is capable of absorbing both color and time from objects nearby. Sadly, most of the color around is nothing but blood, giving Rose a glimpse into the final moments of the deceased as well as her own, forgotten past. What could be considered slight consolation, she at least bumps into a mysterious golem that just might help her find her away outside.

If you wanted the briefest of summaries of A Rose in the Twilight, it would be Japanese Limbo. A fragile little girl paves her physics-based way through forlorn surroundings, brutally dying dozens and dozens of times on the way. Even if the player was skilled enough, by the time new areas of the castle need to be opened, Rose has no choice but to bravely enter an execution chamber to give up one more of her infinite lives to offer blood to the brambles guarding the door to the next area. It’s all extremely harsh, although still skewed more towards desolate sadness than pure sadism.

Thankfully, there’s the golem. The two main characters are swiftly switched between by the press of a button, and unless both are present at the exit gate of any given area, it’s no-go. Not only does the golem have no trouble pushing through thorns that are fatal to Rose, it can also grab, carry, and throw stuff, Rose included. She, on the other hand, excels on absorbing color and momentum from objects and then transferring it somewhere else. The game mechanics are a breeze to pick up, and they serve a lovely round of puzzle-induced platforming. The two often get separated but the eventual reunion is always a jubilant occasion.

A Rose in the Twilight is stylish in a minimalistic fashion. Aside from a bunch of diary entries and a few tutorial messages, there’s hardly anything to read. The golem is mute, of course, but so is Rose. The story is all about hunting down and watching unspoken theatrical cutscenes, and the music is all instrumental, artfully conveying a feel of solitude. The best part is the presence of an actual story. The game can be a bit challenging at times, and by the first time the credits roll it might feel like enough is enough. Choose to push on, though, and it’s so much more worth it.

That’s not to say the game wouldn’t be an occasional, massive arsehole, though. All platformers relying on physics are more or less unpredictable, and by the time you restart a checkpoint for the tenth time to get to the next one while multitasking between two different characters with two different skill sets under an annoying time limit, it’s not necessarily fun. Even if everything else goes peachy, Rose’s (ac)cursed rose is probably in full bloom when it shouldn’t and the other way around. My personal nine-hour journey now feels worth every minute but during it, things weren’t always quite as elated.

The game has some speedrun trophies that can just as well shove it, but the overall experience was decidedly a good one. A Rose in the Twilight might not set the gaming world on fire but as a grim, yet fundamentally beautiful fairytale, it leaves behind an aftertaste most exquisite!

The Swinging Sixties

Yes, I am hidden (^^;)

Despite just recently getting out of the 80’s, I’ve somehow found myself back in the past once more. As predicted, Mafia III jumped the line and took me to 1968, the year Lincoln Clay returns home from a four year sortie in Vietnam. He’s keen to start living a normal life and get an honest job but his foster family is having a bit of trouble. Haitian ruffians are hampering their lottery racket and they have fallen badly behind in payments to the town’s most prominent mafia family, the Marcanos. Clay, with his special forces expertise, wastes no time dealing with the Haitians and even a ballsy, most lucrative heist of the Federal Reserve Bank goes without a hitch. The money stolen should be more than enough to appease Sal Marcano, yet the ruthless Don prefers to keep it all to himself and get rid of Clay and his friends for good. Clay is the only one to barely survive the ensuing bloodbath, and after recuperating for a few months, it’s time to strike down upon Marcano and his lackeys with great vengeance and furious anger. No style points for originality but it’s still a decent setup for yet another sandbox.

Mafia III takes place in the fictional city of New Bordeaux on the Gulf Coast of the United States. It’s a nicely varied blend of business, industry, and slum districts. There’s plenty of neon, ramshackled shanties, playful alligators, and 60’s classic rock. Heck, when even the main menu song is Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower, you can be certain that the musical aspect of the game, at least, is in good hands. Still, even if the game’s radio stations are full of excellent music and there’s plenty of mighty nice looking screenshots on the internet, New Bordeaux comes off remarkably flat, faded, and muffled. The roads are smooth and wide, there’s a little bit of traffic, and at least a handful of pedestrians who randomly greet Clay or scold him if he bumps into them. Everything you’d expect is present but rather than a bustling metropolis, the city feels more like a subdued ghost town.

As for actual gameplay, Mafia III is equally bland, if perhaps a tad more enjoyable. You go after Marcano by taking over his rackets one by one. By first roughing up informants, you learn what is going down and where. After that, you cause enough economic damage to the racket that its leader has no choice but to come forth. They are then either killed for some quick cash or recruited to Clay’s side for less money but more long-term benefits. For the first seven hours or so nearly all missions have been variations of the theme “go to the given location and deal with everyone there in a way of your choosing.” This is where Mafia III gets unwittingly silly. If you prefer to use firearms, the game regresses into a mundane cover-based shooter. It’s remarkably more fun to sneak from cover to cover and use melee attacks to get rid of the enemies with stealth. They’re dumb as bricks and apparently half blind, too, so every area is essentially just an empowering stealth track where it’s nigh on impossible to screw up. Besides, even if you get discovered, it’s just a matter of whipping out a pistol or a rifle and rain lead on the remaining baddies who either charge you or hide behind cover, waiting for that inevitable headshot. It’s all very unimaginative and unchallenging but, in some perverse fashion, also pretty damn relaxing.

Even if I’ve barely just started the game, it already feels like an antithesis of Mafia II. That one had a great story but was a pointless sandbox whereas this time around the scales tip the other way. Grand Theft Auto this most definitely isn’t but at least it’s awkward in a good, adorable way. It probably was a huge disappointment as a day one AAA behemoth but as a B-class bargain bin find, it’s actually really quite entertaining.

Aw yiss, motha f**kin P5!

As for having to curse like a sailor, there was no need for that, after all. Earlier this week, Atlus’ purportedly stellar Persona 5 finally found itself to my household, accompanied by NIS America’s gloomy puzzle platformer (I guess?) A Rose in the Twilight. While my original plan was to dedicate this four day Easter holiday to the first of those two, I’m making such jolly progress in Mafia III that perhaps a little break from Japanese games is in order. Of course, considering how fast my backlog grows, I’m destined to have projects long into my potential retirement years. Still, can’t really complain; these are exceptionally good times to be a console gamer!