School Girl Zombie Hunter Review(4.5/10)

School Girl Zombie Hunter_20171117184217“Lose the clothes, save your life!”

With such eloquently stated writing on the back of the box, whatever could School Girl Zombie Hunter possibly be about? As a spin-off to the Onechanbara franchise, School Girl Zombie Hunter aims to titillate, but is it any good? The previous game, Onechanbara Z2: Chaos, while low effort in many ways, at the very least exhibited flashy combat that exceeded the level of depth you’d find in typical western character action games like God of War or Heavenly Sword. 

School Girl Zombie Hunter_20171117172626Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of School Girl Zombie Hunter. While the game may introduce interesting mechanics, the core shooting feels under-cooked with a horrible frame rate that exacerbates the less than optimal character movement and control. Despite running on Unreal Engine 4, the game looks about 10 years behind the times. Even releasing in this state in 2007, it would pale stacked up to the competition. Remember, 2007 was the year of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Crysis. Regardless, it is a modest visual upgrade over Onechanbara Z2: Chaos. Tamsoft finally upgraded from PS2 era levels to mediocre PS3 environments.

With that said, for a Playstation 4 exclusive running on a modern engine like Unreal 4, its laughably outdated visuals make the performance profile all the more baffling. Low budget Japanese games are no strangers to poor performance, but even so, School Girl Zombie Hunter is one of the most jarring experiences I’ve had all console generation second only to Warriors All-Stars. It seems to target a 60 fps refresh, though it regularly drops below 40 frames per second, with minimums as low as what feels like the teens in extreme cases. Even on a PS4 Pro with boost mode enabled(it has no official PS4 Pro support from what I can tell), it runs like hot garbage. When we have console games like DOOM running at 1080p at a stable 60 frames per second on the standard PS4, performance like this stings even more.

School Girl Zombie Hunter_20171118155025Unfortunately, fixing the frame rate wouldn’t solve much considering School Girl Zombie Hunter is a below average shooter at best. The game contains five playable characters throughout the roughly 4-5 hour story with each character providing different benefits. Rei is invincible during her melee animation, for example, while Mayaya reveals collectibles dotted around each level. The most interesting mechanic revolves around disrobing. Players can dress their characters in various outfits and even select the underwear/bra set underneath.

Pressing the touch pad rips the selected clothing, acting as a trap, enabling zombies to ignore the player and friendly AI. Underwear traps work exactly the same, though their effectiveness hinges on how long a character wears a set of underwear. School Girl Zombie Hunter tracks the amount of time each character wears an underwear set. Once ten minutes is exceeded, you can take a shower from the menu outside of missions, saving the dirty underwear as a single use item. The longer you wait to take a shower, the longer the underwear trap will last, capping out at one minute for thirty minutes of in-game underwear time. Traps are an underdeveloped throwaway mechanic that’ll make you chuckle once.

School Girl Zombie Hunter also contains a thin veneer of rpg elements. Completing missions rewards experience points with each level increasing a character’s health and stamina; a bar whose management is integral to sprinting, dodging, and performing melee attacks. Leveling up has an imperceptible impact on gameplay, though the loot drop system with several weapon types having different properties and effects adds depth to a game sorely lacking in meaningful content. It’s a shame then that with so many weapons containing variable stats, the game lacks a basic weapon comparison feature. Consisting of a by the numbers plot filled with archetypal anime characters and horrendous cinematography in addition to outdated animations, the loot drop system ends up being the single most compelling element of the entire experience rather than a supplemental addition to what should be the core shooting mechanics.

School Girl Zombie Hunter_20171117144915The act of shooting things lacks satisfaction. All weapons, including shotguns, sniper rifles, and rocket launchers lack impact. Even dismemberment weapons(guns that automatically dismember enemies on contact) feel weightless. When mowing down waves of zombies, I felt like I was shooting spitballs at grown muscular men. Shooting lacks the sense of weight and player feedback necessary to make the violence truly gratifying. Even worse, the campaign recycles the same four maps throughout the entirety of its run-time. The budget apparently only allowed Tamsoft to render School Building A, School Building B, The Outside, and Underground. Some chapters mix things up slightly by opening up the ability to freely travel across both school buildings and the outer premises within the same mission, but at the end of the day, it’s still only four maps that are repeated ad nauseam. Within the first hour, you’ll grow tired of seeing the same backdrops.

School Girl Zombie Hunter_20171120115817School Girl Zombie Hunter is a frustrating game. It follows a competent action game by the same developer just two years ago, but that’s not why it’s so frustrating. In the current political North American climate, low brow sexy games like this are unfairly dismissed by mainstream gaming media. Far too often, we see supposed “professional” reviewers give games poor or reduced review scores simply due to the reviewer being offended by said game’s representation of women or minorities, completely ignoring the actual quality of the game experience. Tamsoft has proven that they can make decent erotic games, but School Girl Zombie Hunter only adds fuel to the fire. Its poor level of quality and downright laziness serves as more ammunition for “politically correct” gaming journalists to justify their automatic condemnation of “weird Japanese games”. Even at a launch price of $40, School Girl Zombie Hunter is difficult to recommend, though if you find it on sale for under $20, it’s a passable mindless time waster for when you’re in that mood.

SCORE: 4.5/10


Yakuza 0 Review(9/10)

Eleven years after its western debut, 2017 has finally become the year the Yakuza franchise has gained a foothold outside of Japan. The series has seen a dedicated following, but it wasn’t until January 2017’s localized release of Yakuza 0 that the series finally struck gold in western markets.

Part of Yakuza 0‘s success at reaching a relatively large audience stems from the fact that it is a fresh start. As the “0” in the title implies, this is a prequel to the entire franchise, setting up events that lead into Yakuza Kiwami, a remake of the original PlayStation 2 entry. It’s never been a better time to get into Yakuza.

Yakuza 0 centers around the plight of Kazuma Kiryu after he is framed for the murder of a civilian, which brings unwanted attention to the Tojo Clan. Through a series of events, Kiryu finds himself excommunicated from the Yakuza, allowing him to act on his own devices. Unbound by the shackles and “code of ethics” of the family he once belonged to, Kiryu is determined to clear his name.

Comprising of seventeen chapters, Yakuza 0′s story alternates between Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima every two chapters. This structure provides a strong foundation for a multilayered narrative. What begins as two distinct narratives about two entirely different characters with seperate goals eventually morphs into a cleverly connected overarching plot that ties the seemingly disparate stories of Kiryu and Majima together. It’s this penchant for storytelling that remains Yakuza 0‘s greatest strength.

The game has a strong enough narrative to be worth the price of admission alone. Thankfully, the game underneath all this story is just as worthy, though for entirely different reasons. 

While Yakuza 0 presents a serious narrative with incredibly dark scenes and well produced cinematics, it also presents its gameplay elements and mechanics through dissonance.

To begin with, combat in Yakuza 0 is ridiculous in the best way possible. Battles play out in a simplistic 3D brawler fashion with standard light attack combos and a heavy attack that can be utilized as a finisher for said combo. In addition, players can pick up random objects such as bikes, chairs, ashtrays, stun guns, and poles. Enemies can also be grabbed and punched or thrown onto the ground. Throughout combat, players will fill a heat gauge that has up to three levels. A level two and 3 heat gauge will allow heat actions to be initiated, which are essentially destructive special moves of sorts. These heat actions range from contextual animations such as knocking an enemy over a nearby ledge to jamming nails down his throat. It is excessively violent and works fine, but repetition starts to set 50+ hours in after witnessing the same thirty or so heat actions repeatedly. 

As players earn money, they’ll be able to unlock new moves for each of the three fighting styles with a fourth style unlocking after completing Kiryu’s real estate management and Majima’s cabaret club side stories, respectively. 

That’s right. Real estate management and running a cabaret club, each complete with their own storylines are just a few of the dozens of fully fleshed out  activities available in Yakuza 0. Other activities include batting, bowling, disco dancing, karaoke, playing old sega arcade games, watching erotic videos, “phone sex”, mahjong, shogi, darts, and pool. The list goes on and not a single activity save for erotic videos isn’t fleshed out enough to stand on its own and distract players for hours. 

There’s nothing quite like finishing a heart wrenching ten minute cutscene, followed by going to the disco club and witnessing the hardened Goro Majima dancing like a fool to cheesy 80’s music with a ponytail and eye patch; or masturbating to erotic videos, after which, the character’s heat gauge will fill up to max level.

This wildly erratic tone that juggles between deeply engrained human emotion and absurdist humor is part of what makes Yakuza the distinct experience that it is. This dissonance between narrative and gameplay is further compounded by the roughly 100 substories. Substories are Yakuza‘s version of side quests, though most of these consist of nothing more than dialogue. Substories can range from stuff like teaching a timid dominatrix to assert her dominance to buying an adult magazine for a ten year old kid. 

In other games, this tonal imbalance would be a detriment, but Yakuza 0 asserts itself with such confidence that players either learn to accept this dissonance or they don’t. Considering Yakuza‘s target audience, refusing to pander to western sensibilities is precisely what makes it such a success. It’s a representation of not only Japanese culture, but also its design doctrines with the west and the east adopting differing styles of game design and storytelling.

In the modern day, with more and more eastern studios like Square Enix acquiescing to western design sensibilities, it is a breath of fresh air to witness a game that flies in the face of contemporary design conventions. While the increasing trend in the industry has been to meld narrative and mechanics in such a way that they complement each other, Yakuza 0 says “fuck you. I’m a video game. I can be what I want.” to all of that. It is a deeply engaging narrative experience that also cements itself as an addictive video GAME by providing endless distractions that offer a reprieve from the story’s heavy themes.

SCORE: 9/10

Onechanbara Z2 Chaos Review(7/10)

Onechanbara Z2 Chaos is another game in the pantheon of erotic Japanese games that markets itself as this sexy experience you’ll get off to, but like so many other games of this type, the fan service is relatively light. Cutscenes do show off the sexy cast of characters, but these scenes are so brief and infrequent that they do little to titillate. In addition, due to the nature of the game’s musou style combat, it’s difficult to see anything erotic during gameplay. 

When all is said and done, Onechanbara Z2 Chaos is an action game first and a sexy game second. Combat is much more accomplished than expected. It seems simple at first with standard light and heavy attacks, but spend more time with it and you’ll find a fairly complex game underneath. The game stars four characters: Kagura, Saaya, Saki, and Aya. Every character has access to two weapons and a sub weapon, each with their own combos and properties. 

Basic combos are simple to pull off, but every combo string can be interrupted mid-combo and be continued by switching weapons or characters on the fly, continuing a combo string. This on-the-fly switching coupled with other mechanics such as the chase system, which automatically dashes you toward the nearest target and launches them in the air, transforms what would otherwise be mediocre combat.  

Onechanbara Z2 Chaos takes a few hours to master and understand, but once you do, the pacing and fluidity of it all makes it incredibly addictive. Even when the PlayStation 2 era environments with uninspired level design rear their ugly head, the core gameplay is so satisfying that the poor design is mitigated slightly. 

It helps that the game’s story clocks in at around 4 hours, meaning it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The story itself is nothing to write home about. It’s so poorly written with such sporadic pacing that skipping all the cutscenes wont detract from the experience at all unless you really NEED to see that two second ass shot. 

Onechanbara Z2 Chaos is a perfectly competent action game with enough depth to satisfy hardcore action fans, but its limited scope and budget severely impacts the quality of the title. It has the basic mechanics down. All it needs is more polish to become a bonafide classic. 

SCORE: 7/10

Sorcery Saga: Curse of The Great Curry God Review(7/10)

Rogue-likes are intimidating. The traditional role playing rogue-like in the vein of Mystery Dungeon is one of the most underrepresented genres in contemporary gaming, making it difficult for newcomers to acquiesce to. Fortunately, Sorcery Saga: Curse of The Great Curry God fits into that mold, acting as the perfect entry point for the genre.

Sorcery Saga begins with an anime-esque opening song that sets the stage for a cutesy adventure with cutesy characters. The story stars Pupuru, a student of a magical academy tasked with retrieving a magical orb from a tower as part of her graduation exam. At the top floor of the Tower, Pupuru meets Kuu, a blobby mess of a creature that consumes the magical orb before she is able to retrieve it.

Upon returning with her report of the situation, Pupuru’s teacher suspends her for failing the exam, after which she becomes embroiled in the pursuit of creating the ultimate magic curry by gathering the required ingredients from nearby dungeons. 

Sorcery Saga oozes charm from the outset. Character art is lively and expressive. Each character has a distinctive look with unconventional names ranging from Gigadis to Puni. Through the course of the story, players will likely grow an attachment to the some of the oddballs. In typical JRPG fashion, the cast is filled with anime tropes including the resident pervert and the annoying cutesy creature that does nothing but cause trouble. 

Sorcery Saga‘s aesthetic and vibe is an incredibly important part of the experience. As mentioned before, this is a rogue-like for beginners and the soundtrack plays a huge role in making the adventure feel relaxed. Every track fits Sorcery Saga‘s accessible nature, making it difficult to feel stressed while playing the game. It plays similarly to others in the genre. Dungeons are randomly generated and movement/attacking is handled on a turn-based grid system. Because of this, positioning is key. Combat itself is basic. You press a button to attack and that’s basically it. 

There are hundreds of items, weapons, scrolls, and magic abilities in all, but the game’s difficulty ceiling is so low that the majority of these are useless. Magic and most scrolls are only helpful during boss battles in the early game and the 256 floor post-game dungeon. The easy difficulty might be a turn off for experts, but Sorcery Saga‘s core gameplay loop is satisfying and the style charming enough to prevent repetition and boredom from settling in too quickly. 

By design, the player resets to level 1 every time he/she enters a dungeon whether it’s the first time or the tenth time. The only way to experience permanent character growth is through upgrading weapons and shields. These are found in dungeons and their stats can be upgraded only when there is a plus symbol attached to them, be it +1 or +3. 

Non-plus weapons can be upgraded through killing enemies, but this form of upgrading only unlocks more seal slots for the weapon, allowing more benefits to be applied to said weapon or shield after it is combined with another. Due to the  random nature of the game, the frequency at which equipment can be upgraded varies wildly which is why the level reset helps to maintain a meaningful sense of progression. Even when players are stuck trying to find equipment that can be combined, the consistent leveling of every dungeon crawl keeps the player invested as something is always being gained or improved regardless of the randomly generated elements. 

Combining weapons and shields  costs money in town, though there is another way of upgrading equipment, which will be a point of contention for players. Kuu accompanies Pupuru on every dungeon excursion and his introduction serves as a means to spice up the traditional rogue-like formula. He acts as a typical AI buddy, dealing damage to enemies and acting as a tank, though he levels up through the consumption of items. Throw enough items at Kuu and he’ll start leveling up, learning new abilities along the way. One of the most useful is Crafting Smarts, letting the player combine equipment once per floor at no additional cost. 

Kuu learns abilities randomly. There is no rhyme or reason for which abilities Kuu will learn at which level, making it frustrating to constantly feed him, hoping you’ll get that one benefit you want only to be disappointed. Keeping Kuu protected is paramount as dying with him alive will result in being transported to town with no real penalty. Letting Kuu die before you, however, means losing your equipped sword and shield. 

On the surface, this seems like a huge set back. Losing hours upon hours of progress doesn’t sound very enticing if this is a new concept to you. Fortunately, your first death unlocks a special five floor dungeon with generous drops, providing decent equipment on each run. Go through this dungeon a few times and you’ll be in a comfortable position to return to the main game. 

Theater items can be acquired in dungeons with each item unlocking a new skit in the game’s Chara theater. Each skit plays out on a theatre with its painted backgrounds, fancy flooring, and curtains hanging off each end of the stage. These scenes tend to add more to the characters, making them the perfect optional scenes for players that love the character interactions throughout the main game without slowing down the experience for those that don’t care enough to sit through them.

Item management is vital. With only twenty four item slots and no way to upgrade storage space, the longer dungeons will turn into a mini item management simulator. Figuring out which items to keep and which to throw away is the most mentally taxing the game ever gets. These decisions can be genuinely difficult to make sometimes, adding a tiny layer of strategy over one of the easiest rogue-likes you’ll ever play. 

Sorcery Saga: Curse of The Great Curry God is a decent rogue-like that appeals mostly to newbies of the genre. If you consider yourself familiar with these kinds of games, Sorcery Saga may be a little simple minded for you unless you’re interested in the game’s style and characters. Not every single game in the world needs to be super challenging. Sometimes a gamer just wants an experience that lets him/her unwind and turn their brain off while feeling like something is still being  accomplished. Sorcery Saga fits that bill. Even if you do end up dying, how could you get angry at such cutesy character designs and relaxing music?

SCORE: 7/10

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2 Sisters Generation Review(5.5/10)

If Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 showed promise for a franchise that could grow past mediocrity and become something special, then Re;Birth 2 squanders that potential full force. It makes some interesting minor additions, but comes up short of its predecessor. 

The first addition comes in the form of four player party battles as opposed to the original’s three player battles. It’s a relatively minor alteration that does just enough to speed up the flow of combat and allow for strategy to be a bit more viable in heated situations. The core combat has remained untouched with the same system of rush, break, power attacks and an EXE gauge. 

The only other addition to Re;Birth 2 is an optional rogue-like style mini game. Players can assign equipment to an avatar and send her into a dungeon to gather items and special materials. Players do not actively control this avatar. Instead, she is sent out for an allotted amount of time depending on what floor of the dungeon she is assigned to, letting players make progress in the story until she returns. If she dies while out and about, her currently selected equipment is lost.

First impressions of Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2 Sisters Generation were strong. These two additions seemed like the start of a greater overall experience with more polish. Unfortunately, it sets into the same rhythm as the original within a handful of hours and never grows past that. The amount of reused assets is staggering. 

Combos and abilities of returning characters are identical, but the re-used dungeons are the most egregious example of asset flipping. The first game had a habit of re-using the same dungeons multiple times as story dungeons and side dungeons. Different locations on the world map would be given different names and yet they’d be the same dungeon you’ve already seen three times before in the story under three different names. Re;Birth 2 is no different. In fact, the developers go so far as to take a dungeon that was copy/pasted four times in the first game and copy/paste it another four times here. Never in my life have I seen such laziness from even a low-budget Japanese game. 

It’s not all a disaster, though. For as many missteps as it makes, fans can still expect that same brand of quirky humor with endearing archetypal characters and references to anime/gaming up the ass. The game introduces Red and Cave, two of the most interesting characters in the Re;Birth series thus far. 

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2 Sisters Generation is frustrating. It’s frustrating because it tried making incremental improvements to the formula, pacing, and writing to offer a refined experience, but fails  on the merit of its repetition and laziness. It’s essentially the yearly franchise model: JRPG edition. Luckily, it clocks in at roughly half the length of the first game, a blessing in disguise. 

SCORE: 5.5/10

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 Review(6.5/10)

the game looks a little on the blurry side, running at a sub-native resolution on vita

The Hyperdimension series has become huge over the past few years, almost to the point of self referential parody. What began innocently enough as a single turn-based rpg grew into a franchise with multiple remakes and spin-offs ranging from an idol management simulator to a strategy rpg. One could argue the franchise’s true beginning wasn’t until Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1, a PlayStation Vita and eventual PC remake of the 2011 PS3 original. 

Re;Birth 1 makes use of the battle system introduced in Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2, which employs a mix of turn-based and real time elements. Enemies are visible in dungeons and can be attacked for an initiative bonus. Once in battle, characters act by turn. During that character’s turn, the player has full 360 degree movement on the field within a specified radius(dictated by the character’s movement stat) and can line him/herself up perfectly to execute a set of combos on an enemy or multiple enemies. 

performance is also less than ideal, but with turn-based action, it’s managable

Combos aren’t a matter of dexterity or rote memorization. Each branch of a character’s combo can be initatiated step by step as the character’s turn doesn’t end until the combo is finished or the player decides to cancel mid-combo. Icons on the bottom of the screen will be friendly reminders of what your options are at each branch. 
The real depth lies within combo customization. Attacks are separated by three categories mapped to different buttons. The triangle button is mapped to “rush” attacks. The square button is mapped to “power” attacks. X is mapped to “break” attacks. 

Rush attacks fill up the EXE gauge more quickly, allowing for devastating EXE-drive attacks or the ability to attack one last time after the combo ends with each final attack requiring differing levels of the EXE gauge to execute. 

Break attacks deplete the enemy’s shield while power attacks inflict the most raw damage to its health. Each slot in the combo tree can be customized, allowing players to set what move they want wherever they see fit. It’s a mix of simple raw combat and in-depth customization that keeps the game from becoming too repetitive despite the groove combat settles into early on. Late in-game, when Re;Birth 1 unleashes all of its characters for players use, it becomes almost daunting managing each character’s combos. 

This is most definitely an RPG for RPG gamers. Unfortunately, it sticks a little too closely to that hardcore RPG mold. Re;Birth 1 is too stat-based. While most modern rpg’s have clearly defined stats, they’ve moved on to the point that players can generally wipe the floor with higher level enemies and bosses to a degree provided precise planning and strategy is used. That’s not the case in this game. Every level-up and minor equipment change makes a HUGE difference. 

This brings to light Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1‘s biggest issue. Difficulty. It constantly flip-flops between incredibly easy and unfair insta-kill enemies. On more than one occasion, easy dungeon runs culminate in a boss battle with a massive difficulty spike. On other occasions, an easy boss quickly leads into the next dungeon being filled with near insta-kill enemies.  It’s an artificial way of extending the game’s length as even after going through all the side dungeons, story dungeons, and doing multiple hours of grinding, the playthrough ran at under forty hours. 

Speaking of dungeons, items, and equipment, the game makes use of a mechanic known as the “remake” system. It’s essentially just a fancy word for crafting. Plans can be acquired to craft weapons, items, and outfits, but new side dungeons can also be created using this remake system. Re;Birth 1 goes a step further, allowing for dungeons to be changed. Every dungeon has plans allowing items/materials to change and for stronger enemies to be added. It’s a basic system that does just enough to alleviate the tedium of the grind slightly. 

All the combat and staring at menus is well and good, but it’s clear from the outset that Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 is a character driven game and these characters are what have kept the series alive so long. If you consider yourself a knowledgable video game and anime nerd, then Re;Birth 1 has you covered.

The premise of a world named Gamindustri split into distinct regions controlled by goddesses engaged in a console war is ridiculous. In fact, ridiculous is the best way to describe the humor and characters. Nearly every dialogue scene contains at least one joke. Some are quite clever and subtle while others are not so subtle. Let’s just say one of the characters is named Tekken and she wears a necklace that says Tekken while wearing gloves that bear a striking resemblance to a certain Jin Kazama. In spite of the archetypes, nearly every character has an endearing quirk that players will likely grow to love. 

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 is a stupid game. It’s got a stupid premise and a lot of characters fill in the roles of various archetypes. Item and quest names are also stupid ranging from stuff like “non-RPG growth” to “kinda pervy”. Almost everything about this game is stupid, but that’s exactly why it works. I found myself laughing far too often at the dumbest lines or references because sometimes it seems like the writers didn’t try.

 It is a deeply flawed game. Combat is basic and dungeons are incredibly repetitive(some dungeons are recycled and given different names up to four times), but it gets by on its deep customization and charm. Get to know Neptune, Compa, IF, and the rest of the cast for a good time. 


Gone Home Review(8/10)

Three years on from release and Gone Home has one of the most infamous reputations in recent memory. Sure, it was recieved well by critics, but consumers weren’t so kind to it. It’s one of those games with a huge divide between the general critic and consumer consensus. Those that swear against Gone Home claim it “isn’t even a game” among other things, but is it really that bad? Why all the vitriol over any game within the “walking simulator” genre? Are consumers so rigid in their expectations of what a video game is that once something challenges those expectations, said game is automatically dismissed as “boring” and “not a game”?

Gone Home is an incredibly simple game. Like others of its ilk, you won’t find many genre conventions. Gone Home is devoid of combat and puzzles that never go beyond finding the right key or combination code. There’s also no fail state. Traditional gamers will be instantly turned off by the lack of tangible gameplay mechanics that could be considered fun, but that’s not what Gone Home is.

It’s a directed story driven experience that hinges upon exploration and the player’s own curiosity. The game begins with Kaitlin Greenbriar returning to her childhood home after spending years overseas. Upon returning home, Kaitlin finds the house deserted with a note attached to the front door imploring her to shy away from investigating what happened in that house.

The intro sets an expectation for an eery horror game when in reality, Gone Home is nothing more than a relaxing stroll through a harmless house. Once players acclimate to the fact that no danger resides in the house, the game settles into a comfortable groove.Gone Home rewards thorough exploration. The crux of the experience lies within finding notes and other scattered items around the house left by the various family members and learning about them as individuals. The main plot line involves Kaitlin’s sister, Samantha, though there is much more to delve into than just her story. The attention to detail is staggering. Rarely has a video game seen such an organic and lived in environment. Save for the slightly odd layout of the house, each room tells a story in a convincing manner.

Players that soak in the environment will find a lot to delve into. It’s not always incredibly deep and emotional plot lines that you’ll find either. Sometimes the beauty of Gone Home lies in the smaller details. For example, the family living room has a television guide with different real world shows on them from the 90’s. In that same room, shelves are littered with labeled VHS tapes; recorded episodes of tv shows. 

The nonlinear structure ensures that anyone that wants to experience the meat of the story can get right to it and finish the game within less than an hour whereas those looking for more context and narrative can find it. Unfortunately, the main story is also the weakest element of the game. Notes left behind by Samantha are accompanied by voiceover which gets the job done, but the delivery is a bit hamfisted. In lieu of the emotional highs and lows, the impact of her story is lessened dramatically by how much is spelled out to the player. Too often a monologue by Kaitlin will detail exactly what she’s feeling and exactly what happened to the extent that it leaves no room for interpretation. Whereas some of the other subplots from the Greenbriar family require a degree of mental exertion to piece together different parts of a whole, Kaitlin’s story requires none of that exertion.

If Gone Home had chosen to employ the same degree of restraint with its main plot as the rest of the experience, it would have hit home a lot deeper. As it stands, though, it’s still a worthy experience for anyone that doesn’t mind a “boring walking simulator” and wants to be immersed in an environment. 

SCORE: 8/10

Project X Zone 2 Review (6/10)

This sequel to the 2013 crossover title aims to right the wrongs of the original, but does it actually make a marked improvement?

The original Project X Zone was a mediocre game that suffered from a lot of problems. It was plagued by repetitive combat/missions, excessive dialogue, and an insultingly easy difficulty along with the most boring maps ever conceived in a strategy RPG. Project X Zone 2 begins on a positive note for the first few hours, but by the midway point, repetition sets in yet again with another 15-20 hours of playtime still to go. The writing and character interactions have seen the biggest improvement. Dialogue is more consistently funny with some fairly subtle references to beloved and obscure franchises/titles alike. Players are treated to a pleasant experience for hours, but as the in-game cast grows, dialogue begins to suffer. Every character needs to have a word in and basic scenes that should move along briskly grind to a halt when 20+ characters have to iterate upon the same message one after the other. The writers of Project X Zone 2 need a serious crash course in restraint.

Gameplay has seen minor improvements. The addition of the mirage cancel, which allows players to expend 100 XP to cancel any attack mid-combo and slow down time, does add extra strategic options to combat. However, that’s essentially the extent to which the core gameplay has seen any revisions and it’s not necessary to complete the game at the default difficulty. Every map still boils down to finding the best combo set-ups that work for each pair and very rarely deviating from that. The cross break system has also been slightly tweaked.

In the original, having a pair and solo unit  attack an enemy at the same time would initiate a cross break, freezing the enemy in place. This made timing combos significantly easier. In Project X Zone 2, the cross break system still locks enemies in place, but it’ll short out more quickly. This places a different emphasis on the use of cross breaks. Whereas one used to intimate cross breaks for reliable to hit combos, it now serves more as a tool to fill up the XP meter. Beyond that, the core of Project X Zone has remained unchanged. Players still will acquire more gold than they know what to do with and items can still be used on the map with no limit. This generous item usage along with the mostly basic maps means the “strategy” in this strategy RPG is all but nonexistent. Careful attention to a unit’s positioning isn’t required. Some maps in the story mode have interesting hazards and gimmicks that need to be either avoided or manipulated, but these are too few and far between. Out of the 42 chapter total, less than ten make use of the environment in an interesting way, leading to a dull experience. 

And dull is perhaps the best summation of what it feels like to play Project X Zone 2 through to completion. It starts strong with genuinely funny dialogue that doesn’t overstay its welcome and the soundtrack is a fanboy’s wet dream. The combat also has its moments. Earning a new pair unit and attempting to figure out the most efficient combo can be surprisngly engaging, but these qualities can only carry the game so far. It takes a hard left turn by the mid-point. Fans of Project X Zone will like its sequel even more, but anybody that hated the original isn’t going to be convinced by this slight iterative installment. The franchise still has potential to grow and be something truly special. The question is whether or not the developers will capitalize upon that potential. 

SCORE: 6/10