Speak to anyone who claims to be a fan of Konami’s Castlevania series and ask them what their favourite entry in the series is, and doubtless each one will give you a different answer.
Some will prefer the purity of the NES originals. Some will cite Symphony of the Night’s genre-defining nature. Some will extol the virtues of the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS titles. Some even have a soft spot for the 3D Nintendo 64 installments in the series.
One title you won’t hear a lot of people cite as their favourite Castlevania, however, is 2010’s Harmony of Despair, a digital-only game that originally released on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 platform — not typically a hotbed of Japanese games — and which subsequently came out on PlayStation 3 a year or so later, featuring a number of enhancements.
It’s a game that wasn’t received all that well on its original release, primarily because it deviated fairly dramatically from the Metroidvania format we’d come to expect from the series by this point. But although this game is far from your typical Castlevania of the era, it remains worth a look, particularly as its age means you can now pick it up pretty damn cheap.
Continue reading Harmony of Despair: Castlevania’s Red-Headed Stepchild
Nier is possibly one of Square Enix’s most misunderstood games.
Released to a rather lukewarm critical response back in 2010, this Cavia-developed PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 action RPG, directed by Taro Yoko, is actually a fascinating game that is well worth your time and attention — so long as you have a bit of patience to deal with its idiosyncrasies.
This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2012 as part of the site’s regular Swords and Zippers column on JRPGs. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.
Continue reading From the Archives: Birds Suddenly Appear Every Time You Are Nier
Since its original appearance in 2010, the Neptunia series has grown from a niche-interest RPG into one of developer Compile Heart’s biggest success stories.
This is a particularly remarkable achievement, given that the first installment in the series didn’t have a strong critical reception at all — while review score aggregation isn’t an exact science by any means, the fact that the first Hyperdimension Neptunia game sits at a not-so-proud score of 45 on Metacritic should make it fairly clear that this is not a game that the mainstream press liked. At all.
And yet here we are, six years later at the time of writing, celebrating the release of the seventh (or fourth, depending on how you want to look at it) installment in the mainline, canonical Neptunia series, and the tenth overall release to carry the Neptunia name in the West.
How did this happen? How did a series that started with a game almost universally panned by professional critics become one of the most recognisable Japanese franchises on the worldwide market?
Continue reading Megadimension Neptunia V-II: Introduction
One of video gaming’s great strengths is the opportunity it affords us to truly, interactively immerse ourselves in other cultures.
We talked about this a little while back when we examined how Steins;Gate is positively dripping with the otaku culture of Tokyo’s Akihabara district, even going so far as to include an in-game glossary explaining and defining all the memes, urban legends and specialist jargon that crop up throughout the narration and dialogue.
Steins;Gate is far from an isolated example, however; Acquire’s Akiba’s Trip 2, localised for Western PS3, PS4 and Vita audiences as Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed, also provides you with the opportunity to live the life of an otaku in their spiritual home — and in a somewhat more interactive manner than Steins;Gate’s visual novel stylings.
Oh, and also there are vampires. Kind of.
Continue reading Adventures in Akihabara
Every avid gamer out there has at least one series — or perhaps even just one game — that they latch onto and will defend to the death.
For my friend Alex, it was the Ar Tonelico series, a generation-spanning series of role-playing games from Gust, the team best-known for the Atelier series. And, once I’d played through all three games in the series, I became a true believer, too.
I came to Ar Tonelico and its two sequels quite a while after their initial release, but they’re not as old as you might think — or as their dated graphics might suggest. In fact, the initial games’ release on the PlayStation 2 just as the PlayStation 3 was starting to wind up and capture the attention of everyone probably contributed to the fact that, although rather wonderful, these three games are somewhat underappreciated by many, and even unknown to some.
So let’s rectify that, shall we?
Continue reading I Shall Give You Endless Earth
It’s been a little while since our last report from Eorzea, the setting of Square Enix’s spectacular rebooted MMO Final Fantasy XIV, and so it’s about time we checked in.
Last time we spoke, you may recall that there was some controversy over a new game system added in the 2.3 Defenders of Eorzea patch, known as The Hunt.
Loosely inspired by the similar mechanic in Final Fantasy XII, The Hunt challenges denizens of Eorzea to track down and defeat numerous powerful monsters in exchange for a new type of currency: Allied Seals. This currency is in high demand because not only does it allow access to some attractive vanity gear and exclusive minions, it also indirectly allows players to acquire Sands and Oils of Time, which in turn allow them to upgrade item level 100 “Weathered” weapons, armour and accessories into their item level 110 counterparts.
There was a problem, though: the attractiveness of these rewards meant that there were suddenly swathes of people zerg-rushing the monsters for The Hunt, which caused all manner of other problems.
Now that patch 2.35 has been released, incorporating a few fixes to The Hunt, is the experience at least playable now?
Continue reading Eorzea Diaries: Fixing the Hunt
There’s a reason we don’t see all that many direct sequels in gaming these days: they’re extremely difficult to do effectively.
This is particularly true in genres where individual installments are sprawling, lengthy affairs with narratives of a length equivalent to your average TV series — such as, say, role-playing games. This isn’t to say that developers don’t have a good go at it — Square Enix has done it three times to date with the Final Fantasy series’ X-2, XIII-2 and Lightning Returns installments, for example, and one of the best things about the wonderful Shadow Hearts series is the coherence of its narrative, particularly between the first two games — but often it’s just easier to have games in a series like this be thematically similar rather than directly related to one another.
Such has been the case for most of the Tales series’ lifespan, bar a few outliers like Tales of Destiny 2 and Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. Xillia 2 has a difficult role to fulfil, then: it’s the sequel to a great game, and it needs to follow up all the things that title did well, improve the things it could have done better and provide a very good reason for people to go back into the same world with the same characters.
Does it manage this without “reducing, reusing and recycling?”
Continue reading Tales of Xillia 2: The Difficult Second Game