Let’s Talk – Blue Reflection – Heart To Heart

This is one of those games that, at a glance, attracted me. I’m not sure why. Nothing about it seemed spectacular, and after playing through it, there still isn’t much note-worthy to say about that. So why then, did I choose to play this over something a little more major such as Fire Emblem: Echoes Of Valencia, Ys VIII (which I’m still playing through at the time of this writing.) and the like?

The answer is, even I’m not sure.

Let’s get started with the surface look. Blue Reflection is a semi-Persona-esque game, but instead of a teenaged male invoking mythical demons and deities from your inner self, you’re a teenaged girl that gains mystical powers after delving into another world based on human emotions.

Persona with magical girls. That’s a sentence I’d never thought I’d say or write. But here we are.

Graphically speaking, everything looks great. Environments and characters are rendered nicely, there’s a realistic type of physics to movement (more or less. Some outliers may apply), and never once did I think that something could be better placed at one area, or that something didn’t fit.

… That’s about where that ends, though. This game had very limited production value, and it shows. While environments are nice to look, physically speaking, there isn’t much to cover or do in them. Lighting is a little weird in some instances (namely where sun is shining directly on characters in cutscenes, or when in the Fear zone in The Common), and the animations…

The animations are where it really shows. Most of the time, they come off stilted and have no fluidity or transitions. Even facial expressions on occasion, make me want to go “Damnit, FEEL!” at Hinako. This is one of the places where the game suffered the most, and it’s a shame.

The second downpoint is the overall plot. It plays completely straight with little to no mystery outside of the Citrus Sisters themslves. Even when you get your answers near the end of the game, you don’t care. Not about the grand scheme of things at any rate. This is where I think the game shows it’s Persona/Atelier side the most. You don’t care about the plot or story, you care more about the characters. You want to see these people have a happier ending and more importantly, by the end, you want everything to work out for Hinako.

Because in this game, the main story is a means to an end. It’s focused around Hinako and the friends she ends up making during the course of it and how they, ultimately, help make her a slight bit happier with her circumstances in life. Which is unfortunately where the lack of animation variation and smoothness sells it all a bit short, along with the occasional flubbing of double/triple checking on the translation. It’s not Megaman X6 levels of terrigood, but Koei Tecmo sort of dropped the ball here.

To give credit where due, this game tugged my emotions a fair bit. That’s not something games typically do to me. To also give credit, I thought the actual story was paced pretty well up until the final parts anyway. It’s structured as though I would be playing an actual episode from an anime, which I think worked in the game’s favor a bit.

The final downpoint is the gameplay:

Repititive.

That one word summed it all up.

Each mission in the game either revolves around you killing enemies or picking up items in The Common. It does not change at all throughout the entire game. On occasion, you’ll have crafting missions that have you making a couple items and showing them to a person, but that’s all the flavor you’re going to get from this gameplay: Kill, Gather, Craft, Repeat.

Which would be fine in a MMO type of setting. Not in a game revolving around magical girls and their school life.

And the other thing I should mention: Combat, unless forced, is optional.
There’s no experience or money to gain from fights. Your “growth” levels are tied solely to story progression, and hanging out with your friends.
Which is something I’d wish they add into the Persona series to make them more of a means to an end rather than mere Fusion boosting, but, well, baby steps.

However, because ultimately 90% of all fights are optional, it can make combat feel more like a chore than an experience. Not a good feeling to have in a RPG of all things, but on the flip side, there is basically no grinding for levels in the game. The other downside to that is that encounters also aren’t very interesting and devolve to the same strategies over and over again. When the most challenging thing in the game is an optional boss, mainly for reasons beyond your control, there’s something slightly wrong with your design.

Though this does let me go back into what I thought were good things about the game. The battle system is one of the best things I’ve seen. It’s an evolution from Atelier Iris 2’s system to the extreme; you have an extensive Timeline (which acts as a not-ATB gauge), your party on one side, the enemy on the other. Each attack and ability has different waits to it, and it’s your goal to figure out how to best destroy the things in front of you without letting them getting too many attacks in. There’s a lot of option available in here for something that ultimately doesn’t matter, which impresses me. If only I could do something more with it! It gets even better when the game adds in things to do between turns to minimize your actual downtime. It’s an incredible system that I certainly want to see come back in some form or another.

Finally, the music tracks in the game. Most of them are more quiet tracks, which are either peaceful or melodramtic. They are very Atelier-ish, not only in composition, but also in the fact that unless you’re specifically trying to listen to them, they are more or less just background and not overly intrusive. The title screen music is very relaxing, however, and I would recommend tracks such as At The Speed Of Calm and A Destiny Called My Own for your daily listening needs. This game loves the piano about as much as I Am Setsuna does, and I love it for it.

And then you get into a battle and the game blasts the most upbeat and energetic piece to snap you out of that lazy relaxation. OVERDOSE (literally. It’s literally named this) probably claimed a list in my “current” top battle themes by force. I may have- *cough*- overlistened to it by a fair bit.
… Listening to the title theme (simply called BLUE REFLECTION) is making me want to cry again. I better wrap this up.

Ultimately, this game gave me a similiar longing after finishing it that Fairy Fencer F did. There is good and bad, which leveled it out to be a pretty average experience, but there is so much missed potential, so much that could have been done, that it sort of hurts. And while I was a little more fulfilled with this game than with Fairy Fencer, this is also the type of game that most likely will not see a sequel of any calibur, so there’s not much chance of seeing improvements to this. But should the case ever present itself:

Add more variety to the mission structure, spruce up the animation quality a fair bit, place in a bit more to do in the gameplay fields, bring up the main plot a notch. And for fluff’s sake, invest in some English voice acting.

Blue Reflection is the case of a game where, for where it’s strong in, it shines, and for where it stumbles, it’s very noticable. I like it well enough where I would recommend that someone at least give it one playthrough, but it’s an incredibly hard sell at sixty dollars for what it ultimately a 30-40 hour experience. It doesn’t overstay it’s welcome compared to most other RPGs in recent times, but it’s also a case of where being left to want more can be considered a bad thing.

If you are so interested, you can grab the game on Playstation 4, the Vita or off Steam. Again, incredibly hard to sell this at $60 for what all it offers, so perhaps wait until around $40 or so…
But until the next time I write something, the Citrus Sisters and I wish you farewell.

BlueReflection8

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Horizon and a Short Look at DLC

With the last console generation, there were certain practices in the game industry that were introduced which never could have been conceived in a prior generation. The most prevalent of these, however, was the introduction of DLC as a way of expanding the game experience.

When it was first introduced, DLC was mostly a way to add a little more story content to a game or add in a larger variety of locales in multiplayer games, but it would eventually spiral into the mess we have today, where you have to buy costumes in a Tales game or- and this is a real thing- see through girl’s clothing in Gal Gun. Eventually, this would escalate into microtransactions, a concept from Free-To-Play games that has been blighting the AAA industry for about two years now, always in disgusting, slimy fashion.

However, there is yet hope! Certain games have taken DLC in an entirely different direction. Rather than forcing you to purchase things which should have been in the game from the beginning, or pervy gross wank-mechanics, Games like The Witcher 3 have, in the past, shown that DLC could be utilized more in the fashion of an MMO’s expansion pack, wherein you add in entirely new storylines that build on an existing, complete experience. And the latest to do so is Guerrilla Games’ Horizon: Zero Dawn.

When Horizon came out earlier this year, I was enthralled with it. The combat is tense, often chaotic fun, the story was gripping and well-told, with numerous interesting characters to meet and intriguing cultures to interact with, and the world was visually stunning. Unlike most other open-world games, Horizon didn’t feel the need to fill the world with pointless collectables, instead creating a limited number that they used to create unique gaming experiences, build further on their world, and even gave them a practical use if you know where to look. It wasn’t excessively long, clocking in at 55 hours for my first completion, and after I was done, I still wanted to keep playing.

Well, come November 7th, I might have reason to. Horizon: Zero Dawn will be getting an expansion, and this makes me so excited, not just for Horizon, but for games as a whole. The expansion is meant to include an entire new area, a host of new enemies to fight, a whole culture we have yet to interact with for any significant amount of time (the Banuk, which had one small settlement you could visit in the base game, but nothing beyond that), as well as continuing the story that ended so phenomenally, but still left room for more. Guerrila Games basically took what could have been the premise for a whole sequel, and are adding it to the existing game for a third of the price.

This excites me. This is what I have wanted DLC to be for so long, the only way I could ever truly be made to embrace the concept, even. One of the most scummy businessmen in the industry, EA’s John Riccitiello, once said this: “A few years ago, the game you bought is the game you got.” He portrayed this in a negative light, but for many, myself included, we look back on the pre-PS3 era as a time when we bought a game and played the game without the game ever trying to sell us costumes or gun packs or (god-forbid) ammo packs. We bought a game and it was complete.

I bought Horizon: Zero Dawn and it was complete. I do not have to wait 3 years and pay $60 for a sequel to this game. This is the marrying of two things which should have gotten together ages ago, but the sheer bliss I feel in seeing them now is still incomparable. This is how DLC should be done. This is how it needs to be going forward. Games industry, look to Horizon‘s example and learn from it.

Tales of Berseria: The Greatest Tales Ever Told

When Tales of Zestiria¬†came out, I absolutely fell in love with the story and characters, even if the gameplay itself was obtuse, unnecessarily difficult, and downright frustrating. Regardless, I immediately claimed it as my favorite Tales game, even if so many others are technically superior in all aspects. Zestiria garnered a special place in my heart that cannot be taken by any other. One came close, however: it’s immediate successor, Tales of Berseria.

Being a prequel to Zestiria, the games are similar in many ways, some good and others… not so much. As a result, this review will actually feature both in about equal measure. But while on the surface level, Berseria might share many similarities with Zestiria, once you graze beneath the surface, you start to see just how much improved in Berseria.

For one, the story is immensely better. Zestiria was a classic Good Vs. Evil story, “Like a bad play where the heroes are right, and nobody thinks or expects too much.” Blues Traveler’s words are very fitting for Zestiria, and it is a damning statement. Even if I personally found the world and story of Zestiria gripping, it’s easy to spot the numerous cliches. Sorey and friends are set on a journey to “save the world” from the ruin you don’t often actually see outside of cutscenes. The beautiful world sat in stark contrast to the terrified way people spoke of it. Not so in Berseria, where many areas of the world are clearly in states of decay. The world of Berseria is teetering on a ledge between doom and salvation, and even salvation would be doom. Where in Zestiria, the villain was a stock standard Stoic Evil Behemoth of a Man who had barely any presence in the story itself and a backstory that the game literally told you in a thirty second cutscene with no dialogue (it’s built on for about 5 minutes at the VERY end of the game), in Berseria, the bad guy is a Villain With Good Publicity such as Tales is known for, who genuinely wants the best for the world but was broken by his own experiences into utilizing methods that would make his goal ultimately meaningless. He is constantly in the background of the story, even if not directly involved in whatever current situation the party is dealing with.

One of Berseria’s big selling points was the first female protagonist in franchise history (not including Milla Maxwell of Xilia, who shared the position with Jude Mathis). Velvet Crowe is arguably one of the strongest characters in the Tales series, with writing that develops her well over the course of the story and a performance by Cristina Valenzuela that sells every moment. The prologue begins with her as a happy, cheerful girl who’s friends with the whole village and cares for her family deeply. After three hours, she is a broken, vengeance-fueled demon (quite literally) with the blood of the entire village wet on her hands. She is beholden to no such lofty goals like “saving the world” or “helping my friends” when she begins her journey. She wants only to kill the man who destroyed her world. At one point, one character refers to the party as a “troupe of villains,” and this indeed holds true to the very end of the game, as even though they ultimately “saved the world,” Velvet’s legacy is as the first “Lord of Calamity,” a term players of Zestiria will recognize immediately.

All the characters in the game are actually very well-written, especially on the party’s side. Rokurou Rangetsu is a demon who joins the party early on, claiming a debt to Velvet that beholdens him to her cause. He lives for the thirst for battle and aims to kill his brother for reasons he’s not immediately willing to share. Eizen (a returning character from Zestiria) is a pirate who joins the party searching for the captain of his crew. He is cold and ruthless (or so he likes to think). Laphicet is a malakim with, initially, no personality of his own, who joins the party due to an attachment he feels for Velvet. He’s also a Zestiria returner, though you might be surprised by who he is. Magilou is a witch who doesn’t care about the party at all and only travels with them because she finds it fun. She is an entirely mysterious character you learn little about, but is an absolute delight to have on your screen. Finally, Eleanor is a praetor for the villainous Abbey, who finds herself attached to the party after they’re forced to work together to survive. Aside from Velvet, Eleanor is probably the character who grows the most over the course of the story, and I found myself just as invested in her arc as I was in Velvet’s.

The most palpable improvements to Berseria were made to the combat system, however. Gone is Zestiria’s awkward Fire Emblem-esque weapon triangle, replaced instead by… nothing. Because it was unnecessary. The equipment system is far less obtuse, as well. Instead of a confusing mess where you had to combine items with abilities in specific slots in order to transfer them or mix two abilities to create an entirely new one (seriously, 60% of my frustration in Zestiria came from that), it has a more Graces-esque style of just using items to level the gear and unlock set abilities on the gear. It’s far more stream-lined and easy to grasp and I love it.

When it came to level and monster design, however, I have to call Berseria out for it’s laziness. Several locales are just retooled Zestiria locations (one particular early meadowy area I immediately recognized as a swamp from Zestiria, for example), and many trees, buildings, and such look exactly the same. Monsters were even worse about it, with probably about 50% of the bestiary being ripped from the game’s predecessor. And yes, the dreaded Marmot made a return (incidentally, being the spark that made me realize what was happening). Although, given that the game had a production cycle of about a year, I am willing to forgive this, while still acknowledging it happened.

However, character design is extraordinarily hit and miss, as well. Characters like Eizen and Laphicet have very memorable and sensible designs that clearly define who they are, others like Velvet and Magilou are far from sensible. Magilous’ “book skirt,” in p[articular, has become an endless fount of comedy for detractors of the characters, and I have to say… the book skirt is awful. I bought some of the DLC costumes just to get rid of it. Meanwhile, Rokurou wins the award for Least Visually Interesting Design In A Tales Game Since Genis From Symphonia. He’s a samurai. He wears purple samurai clothes. How cool.

Speaking of the DLC, however, this has become a major point of contention for me when playing recent Tales games. Zestiria made a handful of costumes DLC, which worried me then, but Berseria has taken the idea and ran with it. Gone are the days of cool sidequests where you might be rewarded with a nifty bartender outfit for Guy or even an epic black and red palette swap for Sorey. If you don’t unlock a costume via the story in Berseria, it’s DLC. Period. And there is SO MUCH DLC. They clearly had a lot of interesting ideas for cool outfits for all the different characters, but having to pay for them just feels gross. It’s a business practice in games that I’m becoming more and more disgusted with, where you take things that would have otherwise been in the base game, and force people to pay for it.

Ultimately, Berseria is a great game and you can’t go wrong picking this one up. It’s easily a contender for the best game in the series, and I personally would place it at the top. However, I cannot move past the hostage-taking of costumes, and I would like if, for the next entry, they made entirely new assets. Zestiria and Berseria taking place in the same world a mere few hundred years apart allows it some leeway, but going forward I would like to see both of these practices disappear.

Developer: Bandai Namco

Console: Playstation 4

Genre: Japanese RPG

Final Score: 8