In For the Long Haul: Komi Can’t Communicate

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is AAAABURrSlwq5rHPNicfjV0_KuzQKahKMEfd7NP_AeFATmlx_21bcCmc9lvva94YZvaXTGXotzWITg-F4lwB-jb7Hk8VOPSq.jpg

Komi Can’t Communicate is a manga I picked up on a whim because I was intrigued by the premise; a girl, the titular Komi, has such severe social anxiety that she can’t speak to people, which is misinterpreted by most people she meets as her being cool, aloof and some kind of goddess who’s way to good for them. Four volumes down and I love it; they have fun with that premise but don’t overuse it, instead focusing more on a core group of people who quickly become friends with Komi, hang out with her and set out to help her achieve her dream of having one hundred friends. It’s funny, it’s sweet, the characters are all strong, it’s ace. Anyway, an anime adaptation just started, so let’s get into it.

Episode 1: “It’s just, I wish I could speak.”

The first episode introduces the core relationship of the series; Komi and Tadano. Everyone else in class 1-1 treats Komi with an almost obsessive, slightly creepy reverence, and it’s only the seemingly bland, middle-of-the-road Tadano who picks up on her mannerisms and deduces that she has trouble speaking to people. They strike up a conversation by writing on a blackboard, something the anime makes seem really powerful with the score and camera angles, and Komi reveals her dream: to make one hundred friends. Tadano responds that he’ll be her first, and help her make the other ninety-nine. The narration reveals that it won’t be as easy as he thinks, however, as the school they attend is filled with eccentrics because admission is based solely on personality.

This was a good opener; spending the whole episode focusing on that core relationship was a good idea, and while there are brief shots of the rest of the main friendship circle, this is very much Komi and Tadano’s episode. The advantage anime has over manga is, naturally, the addition of movement and sound effects, something Komi Can’t Communicate uses to great effect. Komi’s anxiety face, where her eyes become giant and her other facial features disappear is even cuter here than it is in the manga, hearing her stuttering out a single syllable repeatedly when trying to speak gives a better idea of the trouble she has communicating, and they play up her stone-faced response to people being unintentionally intense and intimidating. It also has what I assume will be the OP going forward, but I’ll speak about that next episode when I confirm that’s what it is. So yeah; good start, great manga that I’m eager to get back to, looking forward to the next episode.

By James Lambert

Lost Judgment Review

You can always rely on Ryu Ga Gotoku studio. Anything else you’re looking forward to has the potential to whiff, but RGG games are guaranteed to be good. They’re a comforting, firm hand at the tiller; something I know I’ll enjoy, as I have with every other game they’ve made. This one is the sequel to Judgment; the detective thriller-spin off from the main series that I had a couple of issues with, but otherwise thought was really solid. It showed that Kamurocho could be the setting for a compelling story even without Kiryu and friends, something doubled down on with last year’s superb Yakuza: Like a Dragon.

Speaking of Like a Dragon; that game took place in new location Ijincho, Yokohama, and RGG like to make the most of their assets, so Private Detectives Yagami and Kaito just so happen to be called over there to help out a couple of friends who’ve entered into the trade themselves. What starts as an investigation into bullying at a private high school quickly reaches a fork in the road: one direction leads to something I’ll get onto later; the side content “School stories”, the other leads to the main focus of the plot: the brutal murder of a bully, whose body is brought to the authorities’ attention by a police officer on trial for subway groping. Said bully was a student teacher at the school Yagami was investigating, and ties into a much bigger plot that slowly unravels over the course of the game. That initial hook of one crime being used to spotlight another is interesting, the bullying subject matter is handled well, and it culminates in a dramatic, both-sides-have-a-point quandary and if not the best boss fight in an RGG game, certainly one of the top three. Whereas the first game focused on a mystery featuring people close to Yagami personally, this is one where he’s entirely an outsider, but deeply invested because of his own convictions. It’s a story about the justice system failing people, them having to take matters into their own hands and work outside of it, and Yagami, as a licensed defence lawyer and private detective, having his faith and dedication to that system being questioned and tested. When it all comes down to it both sides have a point, as I said, and whether or not you agree with Yagami or his opposite number in the argument is entirely down to personal belief. It really hit me in that aforementioned final boss fight; the real “Villains” of the piece have been dealt with, all that’s left is for two people with different approaches to what constitutes justice resorting to a brutal fight, each knowing that there is no other way to settle things. It’s superb.

The other side of the story is the aforementioned “School stories”, which frankly contain enough content to be their own game. While planting cameras for the bullying investigation, Yagami is caught in the act by Kyoko Amasawa; a student and president of the “Mystery Research Club”. Yagami gets out of it by becoming the MRC’s outside counsellor, and gets embroiled in Amasawa’s hunt for “The Professor”; a shady character on the dark web aiding students in a variety of criminality. To that end, Yagami has to go undercover in several school clubs, as well a Biker gang, secret casino and girls bar; each one offering their own minigame and story thread. It’s a hefty chunk of content that could turn people off, but I really enjoyed it. The minigames offer plenty of variety and they’re all enjoyable, even if some are definitely better than others, it’s an approach to detective work I’ve not seen before, and it has a fantastic ending where everyone Yagami’s met comes together to help him out. Also Amasawa’s great, and has real potential as a detective that I sincerely hope sees her working for the Yagami Detective Agency in the next game.

Gameplay wise, they’ve taken out the two issues I had with the first game and added in a really fun new fighting style, so we’re off to a good start. Mortal wounds? Gone, and you can parry the attacks that used to cause them for massive damage. Repeated raids resulting in stronger enemies in larger groups? Gone. The fighting style is Snake; one that lets you disarm enemies, parry them and kick their legs out from under them and slam them into the ground. It compliments the existing crowd control Crane and charge-attack focused Tiger really well; each one is fun to use and has its definite place. Tailing missions are far fewer this time around, which is good because tailing missions are arse, but there are forced stealth sections now. Fortunately they’re all pretty brief and painless, but they do have an odd mechanic where you can’t choke someone out from behind unless you’ve distracted them first; unstoppable kung fu-expert Yagami will insist he “Won’t get away with that”. It’s weird. These are only small parts of the game though, it’s mostly great melee combat and the school stories minigames. Also there are multiple fights with the students at the private school; you can absolutely destroy them same as you would anyone else, it’s fantastic.

So that’s Lost Judgment; great story, great gameplay that irons out the problems I had with its predecessor, and a massive chunk of side content that I got fully invested in. Judgment showed RGG were confident in their story telling in general, Lost Judgment shows how confident they are with this new set of characters and their stories, and how willing they are to have them interact with heavy subject matter. I said at the start of the review that RGG games are always good, but that doesn’t mean a great one doesn’t stand out; Lost Judgment is one of the best they’ve done, and definitely worth a look.

By James Lambert

DLC Review: Ghost of Tsushima – Iki Island

This is an odd one; while you can buy Iki Island standalone, it’s in the form of a paid upgrade to the simultaneously released Director’s Cut of Ghost of Tsushima. I don’t know what that version adds besides this new content, I’m just focused on Iki Island as a piece of DLC. I enjoyed the main game a lot when I played it last year, so I was eager for another slice of bleak Samurai action.

Having killed Khotun Khan, crushed the Mongol invasion and, in my playthrough at least, his own uncle in single combat, Jin doesn’t have time to rest. A Mongolian woman known as “The Eagle” has wrought havoc on a small village; poisoning its denizens with “Medicine” that forces them to confront their deepest fears. Her scouts direct Jin to the titular Iki Island; a place still sore from a brutal campaign led against its raider population by Jin’s Father Kazumasa, a raid that ended with Kazumasa dying and Jin being too afraid to save him, as seen in the main game. As a result of this, Jin has to hide the fact he’s part of the Sakai clan, and even then the locals are wary of having a samurai cutting about the place. The Eagle is really just there to be a final boss; the important part of the story here is Jin’s relationship with his Mother and Father, his Father’s campaign on Iki and Jin’s attempts to redeem the Sakai legacy and help the denizens his Father slaughtered like animals. Jin, tainted by the Eagle’s poison, often hears her voice calling him out for his cowardice in letting Kazumasa die, as well as vocalising his fears that the raiders with whom he’s formed an alliance will discover his identity and kill him. If he doesn’t kill them first, which he should, because they murdered his Father. A new collectable in the form of animal shrines where you play Jin’s flute, as well as flashbacks to a young Jin’s experiences in the campaign show that his Mother taught him a far lighter, softer side of life, something he took to more than his Father’s cold, distant attempts to make him a Samurai. The whole island is a cauldron of misery and emotional strife for everyone left behind by Kazumasa Sakai; “The Butcher of Iki”. It’s quite short, but packs a decent amount of emotional heft.

Gameplay wise, it’s the same but with a few new elements. Combat is made harder by the presence of “Shamans”; The Eagle’s chosen ones who chant and cause enemies to attack more aggressively and without tiring. Alongside the main game’s haiku spots, bamboo stands and the like are the aformentioned animal shrines, where you use the Sixaxis (if that’s still what it’s called. Moving the whole controller around) to move a dot up and down and guide it down a path. As someone who’s despised Sony’s attempts to cram motion controls into its games since the grenade aiming in the original Uncharted, this works fine, and the songs are all short enough to stop it being annoying. Your horse quickly gains the ability to ram into enemies, but I only really found it useful in a few spots, otherwise falling back on the stand-off mechanic I love so well.

That’s about it, really; Iki Island doesn’t shake things up at all, it’s just more Ghost of Tsushima. The DLC does a good job of further exploring Jin’s familial past and his legacy; if you enjoyed the main game this is definitely worth getting.

By James Lambert

Necromunda: Hired Gun Review

I don’t know much about Warhammer. Didn’t even know this was a Warhammer game actually, at first, but was drawn to it because it looked like a frantically paced, violent first person shooter and I’m always up for one of those. I bought it in a sale recently, and I’ve reached a point where I just can’t put up with it anymore. If I could get a refund I would. It’s Mortal Shell all over again.

So you’re a bounty hunter, or “Hired Gun”, on the titular Necromunda; a massive machine planet ruled over by a guild of merchants, who instil rules that keep higher authorities from intervening, and as a result are considered off-limits for murder. I gave up following the story quite quickly, but I think the setting is pretty interesting; I feel like a better game would have pulled me into this world. Necromunda as depicted here is rather bland, though; lots of grey industrial areas, the occasional skeletal ornament or piece of body horror to spice things up (not nearly enough of them for my tastes), and the story and gameplay don’t do anything to make the world engaging. It doesn’t feel like a realised place, it’s just big arenas with connecting hallways. Sort of like Ghostrunner, but without that game’s irritating but unique approach to combat. There’s one level that switches out industrial areas and goons for meat moss and monsters, but it almost feels like a joke; you fight one big monster, then in the next encounters with its kin, ludicrous hordes of them run at you and look really goofy doing it. The aforementioned goons feel like a waste; outside of giants and big robots, they’re all just identikit mad max rejects. This universe has people with their limbs cut off attached to wheels that open doors, how did none of that aesthetic bleed over into the rest of the character design? It all just feels like a waste; this universe seems neat, either I’m wrong about that and this is what it’s always like, or this game lets it down.

It is indeed a first person shooter, and not a good one. The guns don’t have much weight to them, it has an odd health system, and some of the enemies absolutely take the piss. Guns first; none of them stand out. I defaulted to a shotgun for most of my time with the game because nothing else felt like it got the job done, but it didn’t matter because of the aforementioned piss-taking. Some enemies, who have shields I think, just tank an absurd amount of shots without flinching, and the game gives no indication of how much health they have or how much damage you’re doing. One boss in particular took me so long to kill I wondered if I was doing something wrong; he didn’t react to getting shot at all. I only kept going because at one point he changed his weapon, which was the only indication I was making any real progress. I ran around that arena, blasting away at him and his never-ending gang of mates and at no point was it even remotely enjoyable. You have bionic abilities like slowing time and stunning enemies, but they hardly last and further upgrades are locked, with the game keeping how to unlock them to itself. It might have something to do with the otherwise worthless character levelling system, but if it is, it isn’t obvious. The health system takes two main forms: you can regain health by killing enemies, which is how I did the majority of my healing, or use health packs, which you can buy before missions or find, though I stopped finding them after the second mission. Not one. Not a single health pack. You earn money to buy weapons, bionics and weapon customisation, but it’s all pretty shallow; the game has lofty dreams of being a looter-shooter, but none of the loot is remotely interesting, just identikit items that give miniscule buffs, the same armour with slightly different numbers, and weapons with stats that can easily be obtained through upgrades. Also besides the aforementioned buff-granting items, all the loot is found in hidden chests, so it lacks the constant feedback loop of new guns and items you’d find in say, Borderlands. There are side missions, but I quickly gave up on those because they often require you to fight big groups of enemies to proceed; I did one where the invincible shield enemies surrounded me and shot me to bits while I tried to fight back to absolutely no effect. That was enough for me. It’s quite glitchy, too; I saw framerate drops, multiple crashes, and at one point I died in the optional gladiator arena, spammed the quit button when it became unresponsive, and the game warped me back to the hub area and then knocked me over and revived me in a loop about ten times.

I took a chance on Necromunda, and I feel like I wasted my time and my money. The universe seems neat, but the game depicting it is a bland, dull first person shooter that’s mediocre and uninspiring at best, and frustrating and annoying at worst.

By James Lambert

Hades Review

Hades is, much like Disco Elysium, a game that came out to monumental praise, but due to being unable to play it I had to wait for the promised PS4 release. When I say monumental praise, I mean people whose opinions I respect went absolutely mental for this; Supergiant’s Greek Mythology-themed roguelike. I finally got my hands on it to see for myself if it lives up to the hype.

You are Zagreus; little covered but nevertheless present mythological figure and son of the titular Hades, god of the dead. Zag’s been lead to believe that his mother is Nyx, the personification of night, but discovers that actually everyone’s been lying to him and his birthmother is a woman named Persephone, who’s absent and about whom no one will speak a word. Thus begins the gameplay loop: Zagreus attempts to break out of the underworld level by level: Tartarus, Asphodel, Elysium and the temple of Styx on the surface in an attempt to break free and meet his mother, with his final obstacle being Hades himself; obstinate, brusk and hell-bent (no pun intended) on keeping Zagreus at home where he can’t make any trouble. Helping Zagreus in his endeavour are the gods of Olympus, who provide a variety of buffs and aid to the young prince because they mistakenly believe he’s attempting to join them on the mountain. I don’t want to go into any more detail for spoiler reasons, but the story and characters are really strong. As you repeatedly complete runs the details about what’s happening are revealed; who Persephone is, the nature of her relationship with Hades, why she left and the role the other Chthonic gods and house of Hades staff play and have played in Zagreus’ life. It’s a story about people stuck in a bad place emotionally or inter-personally needing and accepting help to deal with their issues and reaching the other side stronger for it. It does something I’ve not seen in my admittedly limited time with the genre; the starting area gives you plenty to do. Everyone you can converse with has a bond that can be increased by giving them gifts, resulting in items that offer permanent buffs, potential romantic relationships (you can be polyamorous and it’s treated like the totally normal, cool thing it is), highly damaging summons and generally just extra depth and good dialogue. Compared to say, Dead Cells, where the starting area is three screens where you choose your outfit and starting weapons, or my previous favourite Roguelike Void Bastards that doesn’t really have a distinct starting area, here there are characters to talk to, skills to upgrade, new weapons and weapon forms to unlock, and a whole load of renovations you can make to the house; some of them useful, some of them aesthetic, all of them deemed by Hades to be an irritating waste of time and money. Dying doesn’t feel like a regression, it feels like moving forward to the area where half of the game’s mechanics are.

You pick from a set of weapons, with different forms that offer unique skills and attributes, then fight through a series of contained rooms with a reward given for clearing each one. You can unlock the ability to alter what reward you get before you enter, but they’re still largely randomised; sometimes you’re underpowered and poor, sometimes you’re rolling in money and an all-destroying god of death, backed up by your boyfriend who is literally death incarnate, sometimes you’re somewhere in the middle. The combat is simple but satisfying, and the different buffs add some variety, particularly the Daedalus hammers that can completely alter your attacks. Once you’ve beaten it once you can add a variety of modifiers that make the game more difficult in exchange for resetting the rewards you get for clearing each area, including one that drastically alters every boss fight. The run through the underworld is short and sweet; it’s a tight, contained twenty to thirty minutes that feels well paced with its constant, random rewards and NPCs to meet that offer you unique buffs. It’s a good example of less being more; that loop of conversing and customising in the starting area, tear-arsing through the underworld, putting Hades on his arse and doing it all again is satisfying. When you finally achieve your goal the game gives you a reason to keep completing runs, with shifts in dialogue and character interactions to match; it takes twenty minutes of gameplay and stretches it into hours, keeping it fresh with modifiers, social links and unlocks.

So that’s all good, but I do have one slight problem. You can only talk to characters once each time you see them, and important, story or bond-important interactions can get backed up in an invisible queue as one character gets distracted by something else they want to tell you, that stops another character from saying something important and so on. That is if they’re even available to talk; they could be having a conversation with someone else you can listen in on, or might just not be there at all. I maxed out one character’s romance path and it took the game ages to show me the conclusion because there were other characters involved who are story critical and had things to say about that instead. It’s mitigated by the escape attempts being fun and quite short, but it can be frustrating when you’re trying to finish off a certain sidequest and the game won’t play ball.

So then, does Hades live up to the hype? In short, yes; it’s a deeply engrossing game that balances a good story and likable, well-written characters with satisfying gameplay that nails that “One more go” feel. By keeping the combat side of the game short and sweet with variety it avoids feeling like a slog. By having things to do outside of combat it prevents the game from feeling lop-sided, and fleshes out the characters involved and their motivation in proceedings. I’m glad I finally got to play it and fully recommend checking it out if you haven’t already.

By James Lambert

DLC Review: Streets of Rage 4 – Mr. X Nightmare

When DLC was announced for last year’s superb Streets of Rage 4, for me the best part was easily the extra characters. There was a survival mode announced too, but that was of far less concern than the ability to play as Estel, Max and Shiva. Little did I know what the game had in store, and quite how good its approach to survival modes would be.

The titular Mr X Nightmare is a survival mode happening inside a simulation made from series villain Mr X’s dead brain; the main characters feel they have to be ready for anything going forward, so throw themselves into a brutal slog through all manner of Streets of Rage-related content; levels from past games with enemies rendered in old school graphics, new locations, returning enemies and bosses, new re-coloured, stronger versions of enemies from 4, that sort of thing. There are a whole load of new weapons, completing each stage gives you access to a variety of buffs given at random, and best of all: every character has new moves to unlock. The amount depends on what game they’re from; the original game’s trio can only unlock one move to replace the iconic “Call the cops” super move, but everyone else gets more, with lovely new animations that slot in nicely. Unlocking the new moves takes some grinding, but it’s far from a problem when the mode is so fun; you can choose from either a set path that refreshes after a certain amount of real world time or any number of random combinations. It’s that tight, weighty, satisfying combat from the main game with all manner of weapons, enemy mixes and bosses thrown at you, often with new environmental hazards and the aforementioned buffs; everything from faster movement speed, extra jumps and more damage to elemental damage being added to different attacks, your star move calling in a number of rockets, and trade-off power ups that offer a bonus at some expense, like taking away your ability to jump or regain health used for special moves. Also, the buffs change slightly to suit your character, so the SOR1 cast get environmental damage on their regular combo and jumping attacks because they don’t have supers, and choosing a weapon-flavoured buff as Shiva just gives you a random other upgrade instead. The fighting is as good as ever, and the new stuff gives it a really strong sense of replayability.

As for the new characters, they’re all excellent. Estel is a heavy hitter with access to instantly detonated or air-thrown grenades and a tackle that lets her ground and pound regular enemies. Max has superb grab attacks and makes up for his glacial walk speed with supers that let him rush forward. My current favourite is Shiva; fast, agile and strong, with excellent supers and air combos. He also makes up for the SOR3 version’s one weakness, the inability to use weapons, by being able to kick weapons at people. It works on any weapon either on the floor or being thrown at him, and if timed right you can bounce them off people for multiple hits, it’s awesome. Each character’s new moves can be selected manually when you choose them; you switch between the original move or replacement, so you can tailor them to your preference.

So that’s Mr X Nightmare; I’m still playing it, but I feel like I’ve played it enough to give an opinion. It’s a love letter to the series that adds a fresh new angle to an already excellent game. The new characters are great, the random factors in the survival mode add a lot of replayability, and the new moves give combat an extra layer of depth. It’s really good, I have no complaints, if you like side scrolling beat em ups in general or SOR4 in particular this is absolutely worth getting.

By James Lambert

Doki Doki Literature Club Plus Review

PLEASE NOTE: This review will contain spoilers. If you’re unfamiliar with this game’s plot and are interested in experiencing it, I suggest you do so without knowing any details. Having said that, the game offers you a spoilery content warning at the start, and I suggest that you read it. Trust me on this; it’s worth knowing.

*Deep breath* Okay. Remember Doki Doki Literature Club? It scarred me in ways few games ever have. A cutesy dating sim disguise draped over a psychological horror story specifically targeted at the three mental illnesses I so happen to suffer from. With characters I immediately took to put through the wringer and made to experience horrors tailored to their insecurities and mental issues. It was a tough sit, but one I really enjoyed even if I never intended to play it again. But here comes Dan Salvato, dragging me back in with a console port that includes extra content. Goddamn it. Fuck. Here we go again.

The original DDLC hasn’t lost its edge, though it’s easier to deal with when you know what’s coming. Note that I said easier, and not easy. I took a couple of different routes this time around that introduced me to knew horrors I hadn’t previously experienced, and found out that if you deliberately tailor your poems to either Natsuki or Yuri, the other eventually just refuses to share her poems with you and shuts you out completely, outside of mandatory story conversations. I will say that there is one problem brought on by the nature of the new content; unlocking it requires seeing all the different routes, so you’ll be experiencing all of Doki Doki’s horrific gut punches over and over again. It’s like the Beneviento house in Resi Village in that the actual content is still a masterfully crafted, wonderfully distressing horror experience, but after seeing it all so many times the impact is softened somewhat. Personally I think that the new stuff should just be unlocked by beating the main game; that would go a long way to preserving what makes it so effective as a horror game. The actual content itself is still really good though; it’s still a horrible, upsetting, harrowing experience.

The new content has a framing device that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere, with faceless people emailing each other about an apparent simulation and alternate universes. None of that really matters though, what’s important is the content itself; six two-part stories set in a world where the protagonist isn’t around (he’s referenced once and that’s it), Monika is just a regular character in the game and not self aware, and the four girls meet each other and become close friends whilst doing their best to navigate their mental health issues and understand each other. It’s really good; without the horror elements or dating sim fa├žade Monika, Sayori, Natsuki and Yuri have room to breathe and and time to shine as characters. Especially Sayori; she opens up to Monika early on about her depression and time is spent showing exactly why she’s vice presidnet of the club and how good she is with people and her ability to adapt to their needs. She becomes a lens through which to view Yuri’s OCD and Natsuki’s inferiority complex and desire for a safe space; she empathetically meets their friendship needs and makes them feel safe and loved, and from there the two of them help each other with their issues further and become friends; the bickering between them in the main game being examined in more detail and ultimately dealt with. Once Yuri feels more comfortable she develops a dry wit, which was a pleasant surprise, and the four behave more like actual people trying to navigate issues and stop said issues interfering in their burgeoning friendships, something only possible now that it’s a story without any meta elements shaping their characters. It ends on a really sweet note, and after everything Monika puts those poor girls through in the main game, it’s deeply satisfying to have an alternate story where she’s just a normal girl starting a literature club, its members all have sensitive, emotionally honest friendships where they help each other with their issues, and said issues are well handled and written, and not played for horror. I needed that.

Tying off this version are unlockable pictures of in-game poems and CGs, as well as concept art and other specially made images that you can set as the main menu’s wallpaper. You can also listen to the game’s soundtrack, if you want to. There’s a song that’s a pun on Sayori’s name and the Japanese word for goodbye that I assume is from her suicide scene. I don’t know, I haven’t listened to it and don’t intend to.

So that’s the updated version of Doki Doki Literature Club; in my opinion it’s easily the superior version. The main game still packs a punch with its distressing, harrowing horror elements, and the new content is heartwarming and just generally really lovely, providing a welcome contrast and giving the whole package a Yin-Yang feel that I really like. If you’re interested in the game and can handle its content then I fully recommend getting this version; that new stuff is worth the price of admission. A great game made even better, one that will stay with me for a long time.

By James Lambert

Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne: HD Remaster Review

After a while with no western release date for the HD, fully voiced remaster of SMT Nocturne, I thought I’d give the original version a try. I enjoyed what I played, made some decent progress but eventually put it on one side, which happens quite frequently when my OCD makes me turn my attention and focus to other things. Anyway, the HD version then got a release date and subsequently came out, so rather than stick to my original plan of playing through the whole original game before checking this one out, I thought I’d just take my experience with it, cut my losses and jump straight into this one. If you’re intrigued as to where I got to: up to the Obelisk, down to the second Kalpa, and three trips to The Bone Zone. Right then; SMT3 HD.

Shin Megami Tensei is the series Persona was spun off from, and as such can be described as basically Persona without any of the social link stuff or going to school. Instead the focus is placed entirely on punishing but satisfying turn based combat, with a lot of the same enemies and attacks but a greater emphasis on tactics with the Pass Turn system, which was simplified into the One More mechanic in Persona. More on that later. Nocturne starts with the end of the world; the human population is all but wiped out and the world placed into a state of flux awaiting “The Conception”, in which one of a competing group of people have a new world formed according to their vision, called a “Reason”. You are the Demi-Fiend; a young man forcibly turned into a human-demon hybrid by a mysterious being who appears alternatively as a little boy and an old man in a wheelchair. He has a plan for you, but whether you buy into it is up to you; you could instead latch on to one of the Reasons people have come up with. There are two groups vying for control of creation: the Mantra, who believe in survival of the fittest, and the Nihilo, who want a world of stillness where everyone is part of a uniform whole and nothing ever happens. The Demi-Fiend’s two shitty friends also have their own Reasons, and their cool teacher has her own plan going on too. The story is largely just people putting forth their ideologies, spending time in this new world soaking everything in and considering what form the world should take. Pleasingly, you can reject everyone else’s ideas and take matters into your own hands in multiple ways; there are no good or bad endings, it all counts on what you believe in. The game places a lot of focus on atmosphere; enemy design, the superb soundtrack and level design all create a gorgeously macabre tone, particularly given all the representation for various folklores and mythologies, including several big cheeses from the Bible. Also Dante’s here for some reason, or at least he is if you pay for him. Otherwise you get demon summoning detective Raidou and his talking cat friend Gouto, from their own little corner of the SMT series. Personally I prefer Raidou because of his links to further SMT lore, but Dante was cool in what I played of the original, and he should have been included for free.

The Press Turn system I mentioned earlier is the game’s USP. You and the enemy party get as many turns as there are party members; if anyone is hit with a critical or an attack they’re weak to, the other side gets an extra half turn. If someone is hit with an attack that they dodge, block (based on a stat, not an actual blocking action), reflect or convert into health, the other side just straight up loses full turns. With the right mix of resistances, elemental magic and critical-increasing passive buffs you can run rings around your opponents, but they can do the same to you. There’s a legendary wake-up call boss who can greatly buff his dodge rate, then when you repeatedly miss with your attacks and throw your turns away he goes in for the kill. Buffs and debuffs are really important in this game; getting used to having your party play a variety of different roles is key to 1) making progress and 2) getting the most enjoyment out of the combat. As in Persona you can recruit demons to your side and fuse two or three together to make more powerful ones, though the former process is tricky here. Basically they ask you for random items, amounts of money and permission to drain your health and if they like you they’ll usually ask you a question that’s easy to get wrong and often doesn’t seem to follow any particular logic. Some demons have passive skills that help in negotiations but they don’t always work, and potential new party members can and will take all the gifts they asked for then just piss off. As fun and deep as the combat is, the game’s over-reliance on puzzle dungeons themed around teleporting you around gets tiresome. The big, optional dungeon uses this teleportation mechanic to good effect, paired with creepy, intense design and music; you travel further and further down into hostile territory designed to test your physical and mental fortitude. Every other area just feels irritating, and after a while I ended up using a guide to just follow the correct route and get through it. It does do you a favour and mark the teleportation spots on your map, but it’s based entirely on trial and error initially, as the spots don’t look any different, they’re just regular looking floor tiles that transport you somewhere else. Fortunately that’s my only problem with the game itself; everything else about it works really well. It looks great, it sounds great, the combat is fun and I really enjoyed the storyline I pursued; I took the old gentleman in the wheelchair up on his offer, and it was deeply rewarding. As for this remaster: having voice acing is great; there may be some people who prefer it the old way, I don’t know, but I much prefer having the characters vocalise their dialogue. The graphics are sharper and the haze effect is gone. For the most part it looks really nice; they’ve sharpened everything up. However, the pre-rendered cutscenes haven’t been changed at all; they’re still in the original aspect ratio, and not in HD. It’s not as bad as the PS4/Xbone port of REmake where some of the cutscenes looked liked they’d been rendered on a toaster but it’s still noticeable. You can now choose inherited skills when fusing demons which is a pretty sizeable quality of life improvement. There’s some DLC featuring two dungeons where you obtain huge amounts of money and DLC, and there’s a new difficulty called “Merciful”, which is free to download. I don’t know what that’s like, I did it on normal, but I’m all for easy modes in games. Even Souls games.

As a remaster of SMT 3 Nocturne, the voice acting, improved graphics, ability to choose skills when fusing and just the ease of having it on modern consoles instead of digitally on PS3 marks an improvement. The game itself is superb; its atmosphere, soundtrack, combat, art design and story focused on ideologies and their merits come together to make an excellent RPG that is absolutely worth playing. Having finished this I’m going to play SMT 4 and its sequel Apocalypse, and the upcoming SMT V is the game that’s finally made me decide to get a Switch. SMT 3 rules, you should buy this version.


By James Lambert

DLC Review: Dragon Ball Z Kakarot – Trunks: The Warrior of Hope

The announcement of exactly what DBZ’s more substantial piece of DLC was took me completely by surprise. It’s based in part on the superb History of Trunks; a harrowing look at the decimated world future Trunks comes from, and the story of how he came to be the time travelling super Saiyan we all know and love. It has my favourite version of Gohan in it, a version who’s also one of my favourite Dragon Ball characters generally. I was hype, basically, and having finished the DLC earlier today I’m going to talk about it. Please note that like Resident Evil Village, Trunks: The Warrior of Hope contains content not shown in the trailer that I was pleasantly surprised to see, and it’s best experienced blind. I’ll be going into it, so you might want to play the DLC first; I do recommend getting it.

So the first half of the story covers the events of History of Trunks and Dragon Ball Z: a young Trunks is trained by an older Gohan, who as the last living warrior is fighting a hopeless war against 17 and 18. It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from here: either Gohan finally manages to beat them, or we’re all doomed. Emphasis is placed on Trunks picking up the torch and eventually being the one to eventually save Earth: Gohan goes to his death with some comfort over that fact, after a brutal, well-realised adaptation of his final battle. First you fight the androids and seemingly win, then they reveal they were holding back and what follows is a grim supposed to lose fight where you move really slowly, can’t charge your ki and using a masenko makes sparks come out of Gohan’s one good hand. You’re basically waiting to be killed. This might seem a weird thing to focus on but I’m so glad they finally let Gohan have a missing arm. Normally Japan’s aversion to severed limbs prevents it; Xenoverse 2 tried to get around this by having him dangle his left arm and not use it in combat, but here it’s gone, he’s got the empty sleeve and he has a fighting style that adapts to his circumstances. It’s awesome. It has some nice little additions to the story, too; Trunks spends time with Chi-Chi and Ox-King, with the three helping each other deal with their grief, there’s a side mission where Roshi uses 18 being a cute girl as a cover to size up the androids and give Trunks some advice, and instead of dying straight away, Gohan powers up and fires off one last massive kamehameha. Trunks has one last hopeless crack at the andorids before going back in time, and after a short recap of the events shown in the main game, comes back to his world and promptly stomps them into the ground before moving on to first form Cell. It is, all in all, an excellent adaptation of one of my favourite Dragon Ball stories. It replicates all the key story beats whilst peppering it with nice touches and extra scenes that all fit in well. The credits rolled, and got ready to review it.

But it didn’t end. Instead, it kept going, and adapted scenes only talked about in Dragon Ball Super: the Supreme Kai recruiting Trunks to help take down Babidi and stop the birth of Majin Buu. I didn’t see this coming, and it’s entirely welcome. I thought, at most, there’d be a hint at the later appearance of a certain pink-haired genocide fan, not a full fleshing out of how Trunks saved the world again. You train on the planet of the Kais, you crush Pui Pui and Yakon, and you jump up to Super Saiyan 2 to put an end to Dabura and Babidi. It’s ace. After that there are a smattering of story missions, all of which are disposable apart from one where Trunks tells Chi-Chi and Ox-King all about how Gohan saved the world in the main timeline, and one where Roshi has you rescue discarded porn to present to Krillin’s spirit in the afterlife. That was kind of nice, I could have done with other missions for the other dead characters, rather than the mission where you fight a load of annoying robots so Puar can pretend you’re a student of the all-powerful Yamcha. He’s still a hype man, even when the man he’s hyping is long dead. A couple of sidequests being mediocre is my only complaint though; I had a great time with this DLC. It’s an excellent adaptation of a story I love, it finally gave me one armed Gohan, and adapted an interesting little arc I was happy to see get some love. Trunks: The Warrior of Hope is a love letter to the character and well worth playing, particularly if, like me, you were disappointed by the previous DLC offerings.

Now can I please have one armed future Gohan in Dragon Ball FighterZ?

By James Lambert

NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… Review in progress

Deja vu, I know, but this time I’m going to really try and stick to it. Let me back up: I’ve finished the NieR Replicant remaster once, and in order to get the whole story and the new stuff for this version, I need to do so four more times and find/earn/buy every weapon in the game. I’m enjoying Replicant, but the gameplay is far less interesting than the story and characters, so right now the prospect of playing that much of it just doesn’t appeal, and I feel like if I did it now I’d be down on the game unfairly. So instead I’m going to take a break from it at the clean stopping point I’m at and review something else, namely the HD remaster of SMT Nocturne. Over the coming weeks/months I’ll go back to NieR Replicant, do everything required to achieve those four subsequent endings and review it at that point. One could argue I should just barrel through it, and if it’s a boring slog then that reflects badly on the game. I’d counter by saying that I want to give the game as fair a chance as I can based on my emotional state, and this is a better way to do it. Anyway, SMT 3 HD next, NieR some time in the the future. .

By James Lambert