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Wild Arms XF
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When the first Wild Arms game appeared on these shores, it was critically well received at the time. Looking back, the dialogue was truly dire, the characters included the obligatory mute, the cocky man and the princess who can't fight but can use magic. It hasn't aged well sadly, despite having an intriguing story and introducing the world of Filgaia to us all.
Now then, pretty much 12/13 years later and here we have Wild Arms XF, the seventh iteration of the series (1-5 + Alter Code F, which wasn't released here...) and the battle make-up has changed dramatically. The battle system has more in common with the previous two installments on the PS2, Wild Arms 4 and 5 save for the larger area of battle. The battle arenas are divided into hexagons, instead of the regular squares for most SRPGs, and each battle has a varying objective, as opposed to the "defeat all enemies" ones. In early examples, you have to press a switch to open the gate but not one of your party members can fall in battle, which is incredibly hard when one of the enemy characters is level 10 with nearly 400HP while you languish on level 3 with roughly 100. And you have a dog on your side.
That's right. A dog.
He might have twice as much HP as most characters but can he 'eckers fight? Nope.
And that's the main problem with this game. It's FAR too hard. In the early stages, you are given objectives that are extremely difficult to fulfill first time and your characters are given zero equipment and very few chances of obtaining new equipment. You get a couple of opportunities to level up your characters but mostly against characters who counterattack and absorb your life energy when you attack them or literally kill you on the spot. They say it's random if the 'auto-death-attack' hits you but random means "always" in most cases and after trying to kill you a few times, on the final try, it somehow manages to work. How peculiar.
In order to totally alienate RPG beginners even further, the characters are given different classes and each time you change classes, you have to equip new weapons and items again. And again. And it's not like the classes are all that useful. The elementalist, i.e. the magician, can only use their magic if they haven't moved. Well, if you move and wait, the enemy will move and attack a character further away and out of the reach of your magic. Whose stupid idea was that? Seriously? It takes too much effort to level up every single class level and novices will feel utterly bewildered by it all.
And yet here I am making the game sound like a pretty substandard RPG that no one will enjoy. And yet there's 3 stars.
There are 3 stars because as an RPG veteran, I have taken to the game a little bit. I dislike the flaws, I dislike the difficulty curve but there's something charming about the game and it's battle system that makes me persevere. The voice acting is awful, the battles can take forever, the chances are I'll moan my way through the game and the character designs are so plain, a primary school child could have added a belt and made them more interesting.
But it's charming. The graphics are charming, the battles are deep and thoughtful and the musical score is excellent. Sure it's infuriating but so are most RPGs. It's simply a case of sticking with what you know.
A warning though, if you're new to the genre, be advised that it's like trying to climb up Mount Everest. Warm yourself up on simpler RPGs first and then try to conquer this one. You'll feel much better prepared and happier that you did.
Standard, occasionally infuriating, but ultimately charming and taxing.
Enchanted Folk And The School Of Wizardry
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Now, normally in my reviews, I like to consider the positive unless the game really, REALLY offends me somehow (stand up Generations of Chaos and most of the Imagine series). However, I am left at something of a crossroads with this game. Indulge me if you will, this could take some time.
You see, Enchanted Folk and the School of Wizardry is by no means a bad game. Quite the contrary, if anything it's quite a nice little idea: a cross between Animal Crossing and Harry Potter. So it's basically like living out the Harry Potter books only without the dark undertones in story and without you losing about seven years worth of your life. It had the potential to be such a good little game.
And yet... there is something constantly nagging in the back of your mind saying: "so what am I meant to do?"
The answer? Nooooo idea.
You get introduced to the basic rules of life at your chosen school and you meet a slew of characters who attend the same school gossip about you, try and be your friend, tell you you're horrible for NO REASON, ask you to do jobs to earn much needed cash and then you're asked to go off into a mystery zone that traverses your world and another.
Except... they tell you that if you hear a knock on the mystery door, you can't go in.
I haven't been through the door yet cos there's always been a knock at the door. Perhaps I'm doing something wrong but NO ONE WILL TELL ME WHAT TO DO so what am I meant to do? It's all a little too open-ended. Most people complain about games leading you by the hand but it would at least be nice to know what to do, where to start and how to do it.
The twee presentation should appeal to the Animal Crossing fans and the subject matter will appeal to Harry Potter fans but for those of us in the middle, we're most likely going to be perplexed.
Could have been great but as it stands it's just OK. You need to spend a great deal of time with it to really get lots out of it but in short bursts, you're not likely to find too many rewards.
Oh, and if anyone works out the spell system, let me know.
First things first, most of you reading this may not know what Suikoden is all about. For the majority, you'll be sitting there thinking: "of course I know what's about, why would I be reading a review about a game series I've never heard about?" and be already halfway through the game anyway. Those of you who are, DO NOT TELL ANYONE WHAT HAPPENS, OK? Pain of death applies, etc.
Suikoden Tierkreis is the game series' first incarnation on the DS and just by turning on the game and watching the beautiful opening sequence and being presented with some top-notch graphics, you can already see that it's gonna be a stomper. If you've played any of the previous Suikoden title on the PS1 and 2 then you will be familiar with the battle format here and you will welcome the return of the "auto battle" too. Nothing beats shifting battles into auto for those annoying weak monster fights that tend to sneak up on you all the time. This brings me to my first quibble: random encounters.
It wholly depends on how you take this leveling up system in RPGs as to whether this bothers you or not but even after a while, the constant wandering for a random battle is irksome and while you have the auto battle option, after a while it gets slightly tedious and repetitive.
My other major, MAJOR, quibble is the voice acting.
Oh yeah, that's right. I went there. You're all thinking: "so what? It's voice acting, who gives a bit?"
WRONG. It's not that it's awful. Some characters are fine, some of the characters show some real emotion and you do get a nice sense of atmosphere with it. BUT WHY, WHY, WHY DO THEY SPEAK SO FAST? Your main character speaks like he desperately needs the toilet and has to finish recording his lines before his bus leaves or summat which is painful to listen to. The poor child has obviously never heard of punctuation! There is no atmosphere or emotion evoked when you burble off "whenarewegoingtogokillsomemonstersweneverknowunlesswetry!" is the space of a second.
It is a shame that these quibbles have actually stopped me from giving it five stars. It richly deserves five stars for story, graphics and gameplay alone and I WOULD honestly have given it five, had it not been for the voice acting and the over-reliance on random encounters... but when certain things start to spoil the fun, it's not a perfect game and as such should be treated as one.
That's why it gets 4 stars despite deserving 5. I'm sure that makes sense.
Recommended wholeheartedly to fans of the series, but you'll have bought it already no doubt, and even to newcomers, I would recommend it. Just be warned that EVERYONESTARTSTOSPEAKASTHOUGHTHEY'REMISSINGFULLSTOPSANDCOMMASANDEVERYTHINGELSEINBETWEENAND my word it's hard to type without pressing the space bar...
Go. Buy it. Turn the sound down and enjoy.
Professor Layton And The Curious Village
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Usually in the run-up to Christmas, there are a couple of games that really stand out as the big sellers; those games that every person wants but cannot find because of two reasons: 1) everyone before you has already snapped up every copy available; or 2) the publishers haven't shipped enough copies so it sells out far too quickly.
Whatever the reason for this one being in such short supply, I can honestly say I'm actually rather surprised. This has definitely been the sleeper hit of the year, but not without good reason. At the start of the year, if you'd have said a puzzle game was going to be the big hit at Christmas for the DS, we'd have all laughed in your face.
HA HA BIG FAT HA, we'd have said.
Professor Layton is, as it says in the title, a curious little thing. Perplexing, challenging, thought-provoking and mind-bendingly frustrating all in equal measure, how is it that a game that is simply speaking 130+ different puzzles as good as it is?
In a manner of speaking, it is the story and the charming nature in which it is presented that leave you wanting so much more.
As it goes, along the way you meet a curious group of inhabitants in the strange village of St Mystere, all of whom have puzzles for you to solve along the way, and yet somehow, despite the premise of the story being wrapped around these puzzles, it doesn't seem strained, convoluted or pointless. It genuinely manages to hold your interest throughout. It may not be a mystery game as such, seeing as most of the way through you're being led by the hand having everything explained to you, but you are drawn in so deeply that you find yourself looking for every puzzle in every nook and cranny just to complete the game fully. It is THAT good.
It doesn't matter that you're not taking charge of the mysteries in the game, that's not what the game is. It's a puzzle game full of wonderfully charming, occasionally barking, puzzles that will lead to sleepless nights, gentle frustration and requires such out-of-the-box thinking that you wonder how you ever got by without walking up to random people and being handed a puzzle by them.
Want to get into the newsagents? Solve this puzzle and I'll let you in!
Actually that wouldn't really work would it...
I'm not advocating you spend over the odds for this game. That's not fair to you. If you find it for the proper price, then it's most definitely worth the money. And hey, extra downloadable puzzles?
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First things first, Katamari is a fantastic game and one of the best little gems of gaming history ever created. We Love Katamari on the PS2 was criminally unloved (but they didn't release the game in huge numbers so perhaps that's the excuse) and this new version of Katamari is simply top-notch.
So why only four stars, you might be thinking?
Well... the fact that it's really all based around one giant level just isn't really enough in my eyes. Granted, you can roll up the entire world and then the universe and it's nice that the levels are all connected... but after a while you get that horrible feeling of repetition which is quite off-putting. If anything, on the designers point of view, it's actually remarkably lazy. We Love Katamari had a dozen or so levels or rolling-up goodness and we're kinda stuck in the middle of one big level.
Where shall we roll today? Inside the house? Or outside the house? *sigh*
(For the record, there is downloadable content at a cost but I haven't actually looked into whether this is for a new level or what... or whether you get to play some of the levels from the older games...)
BUT. Despite this let-down, Beautiful Katamari is still an awesome game. To be honest, it defies description but let's just say that you use your katamari (it's a sticky ball to those who don't know) to pick up everything in the level that is smaller than you in order to grow and roll up bigger things. You have set goals within the levels, usually to get to a certain size within the time limit. Again, the main problem is repetition as pretty much ALL of the levels are the same thing over and over again. 3m in five minutes. 1m meter in four minutes. 10,000km in 18 minutes (but you get to roll up all of the countries of the world for that one!!!).
But it's such a charming game, how can I give it less than 4 stars? Watching as all the people in the city run away in utter shaking fear of you rolling them up is always brilliant, finding the 50 cousins spread throughout the levels is brilliant fun and the humour in the game is so blindingly brilliant, it will never fail to raise a smile. The King Of All Cosmos is without a doubt the funniest character in the history of gaming.
It might be a little too quirky for some. It might be a little too Japanese for some. It might not make the most sense in the world. It's a videogame, it shouldn't have to. If you fall in love with it, I wouldn't blame you in the slightest. It's a breath of fresh air on a console filled with First Person Shooters.
GO. Try it at the very least.
But then go and buy it.
Azumanga Daioh Complete Collection (6 Discs)
Azumanga Daioh is almost illegally good.
Now, I would love to finish the review with that but something gives me the impression that that won't cut it as a review. Why is it so good?
Point number one: It is astoundingly faithful to its source material. The manga is a slice of four panel comic goodness and amazingly, the transition to the small screen has worked perfectly, picking up on the best jokes from the books and portraying them with immense amounts of faithfulness (and looooove).
Point number two: Normally in anime shows, you usually find one or two characters to like more than others. In Azumanga Daioh, all of the characters are so deliciously unique that you will love all of them. You could like Chiyo-chan's super cute childlike qualities, Osaka's goofy dithering, Miss Sakaki's super-cool-exterior/loves-all-cute-things-interior, Tomo's outlandish OTT behaviour, Yomi's balanced common sense or Kagura's sporty tomboyishness. It doesn't matter. You WILL like all of them. God bless you Azumanga!
Point number three: It's remarkably poignant. It's not all comedy y'know. There are moments are sheer sweetness that you can't help but fall in love with it. In one episode, four of the girls have finished a culture festival and decide to have a victory parade. It's sweet without being saccharine, and poignant without being sappy and meaningless.
Point number four: It is HILARIOUS. Coming straight from the pages of a four-panel manga, you would expect it to be funny but each of the episodes follows a basic theme and while a couple of them are repeated in later epsiodes (the sports fest springs up three times but each one is as funny as the other!) they are extremely funny. This isn't just simple joke-string-joke-string-joke humour (although a fair amount can be). Even translated from the original japanese, it's not all wacky "typically japanese" humour either. There are some laugh out loud moments in every episode, especially when the perverted teacher Mr Kimura springs up (Key moment, when asked why he wanted to become a High School Teacher, he screams: "BECAUSE I LIKE HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS, THAT'S WHY!" - absolutely bonkers brilliance)
Point number 5: Loooook, if you have the manga then you should totally buy this without doubt. If you like anime, you should definitely consider giving it a look. If you're new to this sort of thing then you really cannot go wrong with this as a starting point. It's not typical of anime but it's extremely funny, it's completely insane and it'll make you howl.
Looking for a good comedy? Can't go wrong.
Therefore: Azumanga Daioh is almost illegally good.
There we go. Point made.
My Health Coach: Manage Your Weight (includes FREE Pedometer)
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Now then, in the absence of Wii Fi being available anywhere (at least at RRP anyway), Ubisoft having extended their Coaching series with My Health Coach. These Coaching "games" are by no means meant to be hugely entertaining, but merely a tool by which DS owners can improve their lives somehow.
For gym-phobics, strangely enough it might just work. MHC (as I shall refer to it from now on for the sake of my typing) works as a sort of miniature, robotic personal trainer complete with stick-man figure to coax you along. He, or she, sets goals and challenges for you in order to improve your health and encourage you to walk, exercise, etc... You can often be set simple goals such as a few sit-ups, a few push-ups, or even just doing the washing-up (seriously). It also offers 24-hour challenges such as making a healthy meal for yourself within the time limit, walking 15,000 steps a day and other challenges along those lines. The good thing is that all of the challenges are doable and realistically designed to coincide with your own levels of fitness and lifestyle. Gentle persuasion and encouragement from the in-game stick-figure adds a little bit of charm to this title. The game also comes with a nifty little pedometer that connects to your DS via the GBA cartridge port at the bottom which all in all is a nice little touch.
It is by no means a useless tool. There are a lot of people that will find it very useful and could gain real results from it, even if it's just by a little. The real question everyone will need to ask is whether it's worth the price tag. Granted, it doesn't count calories accurately (there is a very simple calorie counting tool involved but otherwise, you might as well use a calculator and do it yourself) but it is a fairly worthwhile tool and if it's the type of tool you're after, you are well advised to give it a try. It's hard to really rate something that isn't a "game" as such. It is a functional title that with the right effort and willpower is most likely going to be worth the time spent. If you've got Wii Fit, you may not need this tool but this is a worthy, albeit cut-down, alternative for those without a Wii or unwilling to pay the £70+ price for Wii Fit.
Three stars cos it's not awful, it's not the best thing ever but it does its job without truly offending anyone.
The World Ends With You
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You're probably thinking: "Whoa! Slow down there, the best game of the year? Are you crazy?" - to which I would simply cuff you politely and say "ever so slightly." However... let me embellish my potential hyperbole.
You see, The World Ends With You (which I shall continue to refer to as TWEWY for the sake of my typing) is one of the most striking games I have ever played in that it constantly has me coming back for more. The only reason I had to STOP playing it was because the battery on my DS had ran out. And it was 3am.
You start off as sullen, anti-social grumpy git Neku Sakuraba who initially comes across as a horrific emo-child. As it turns out, he is in fact the very antithesis of emo and much of the game's characterisation is meant to be a parody on emo culture. Thank goodness for that thinks this reviewer! I can't play emo games! I might want to cut myself afterwards!
That was a joke. I apologise.
Anyhow, as it turns out, Neku has been killed somehow and now has to survive the next seven days without being deleted (wow, dying twice in the space of a week? That's gotta be harsh...) and he does so by completing missions set about for him and the other dead folk, or players as they're referred to, which must be done in a set time or else the entirety of the player population gets erased! However, in order to get by, you'll have to have a partner! And Neku, being the jackass that he is, is hardly the most exciting of accomplices when all he wants to do is channel out the entire world and never speak to a living soul again. But he is forced into doing so by some chirpier characters (the effervescent Shiki, the irritatingly snotty Joshua and the over-the-top muscle-head Beat) who eventually start to bring Neku out of his shell and to start being less of a grumpy git and more of a NORMAL HUMAN BEING WITH FRIENDS.
Amazingly, the game manages to draw you in despite having such an annoying lead character. On some level, every person who plays this will be able to understand him and be ableto empathise with him although initially it is hard to empathise with someone who basically... erm... is a jackass (I'm struggling for other words here!) and never really looks to change his persona much. Ahhhh... but give him time and etc, etc... I don't want to spoil it too much.
Twists and turns in the plot abound making it exceptionally intriguing from day one and the characters are hugely impressive and some of the NPCs are even likeable!
The crux of the game is easily the comabt. Neku and partner are separated on the top and bottom screens. Neku can attack by scratching, slashing and tapping the touch screen and even blowing into the microphone while partner is controlled via the direction pad (or by the computer if you get a little too confused, which you will initially) - it's a tricky system to get to grips with but immensely rewarding nonetheless and one that will yield great rewards over time. The attacks are designated by pins you collect during your adventure and certain pins will let you unleash different attacks, allowing for huge combos and huge rewards... it's fantastic fun.
Look, all of this should tell you that TWEWY is a fantastic RPG and a fantastic game in general and if you haven't clicked BUY NOW yet then what the 'eckers are you waiting for? I mean, it's the best game of the year! I said that already and you didn't believe me? What are you, crazy?
*cuffs you politely*
Told you so!
My Word Coach
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The recent fad of Brain Training games is hitting the UK like a massive tidal wave and to be perfectly honest, while I could stand the charm of Sight Training and the potential benefits of Brain Training, there is a limit to things like this.
I have to point out that this is not so much a game, although likes most games of this nature, it breaks everything down into bite-sized mini-games, some of which are OK, some of which are just horrifically dull. In all, you get six, which doesn't sound like a lot (and it's not really) and two of them, Pasta Letters and Safecracker, are beyond dull really.
On the plus side, Block Letters, which has you tilting the DS on its side and spelling out the words listed on the left-hand screen (the top screen) on the touch screen, is a fun game to play but one decent game doesn't make up for the slightly less exciting ones on offer.
You can unlock a bonus, faster paced version of the Block Letters game for your own amusement and you can even unlock a spelling bee-style game. However, the downside to this mode is the woeful execution of it. When you spell out the word, you have to do it, letter by letter, can't go back and delete any letters and you have to confirm each letter as you go along. It is beyond frustrating.
And yet I find myself going back to this game more often than I would like to admit. There is a part of me that feels this is actually a far more useful tool than it really ought to be. It's not as if my vocabuary was terribly limited beforehand but I find myself using new words I learn from the game when I can fit it into the proper context.
So, it's a bizarre little thing really. It isn't a proper game but it's an interesting little curio and a good little tool for anyone who wants to improve their vocabulary.
It is nothing more and nothing less.
From the gamer's perspective, it's not going to do you any good really... not unless you want it to.
Zack & Wiki: Quest For Barbaros' Treasure
Calling all Wii owners: you cannot bypass this game under any circumstances! Why? Because you'd be doing not only the developers a disservice, but also yourself for missing out on this awesome slice of gaming.
The death of the point-and-click game has been GREATLY exagerrated and other than the PC, there aren't many platforms that could handle it in the same capacity until now. Thank God for the Wii's control system; a joy to behold in this game.
Don't be fooled by the cutesy graphics, the actual game is what matters and you'd be hard pressed to find another game quite so charming or intriguing as this on the Wii right now. Don't let it slip away from you! The time is now! BUY BUY BUY! :D