Azur Lane: Crosswave
Sony PlayStation 4/Personal Computer via Steam
CHINESE developers Shanghai Manjuu and Xiamen Yongshi had a hit in their hands when Azur Lane made its way to mobile platforms in 2017. Aside from banking on stellar features that combined shoot-‘em-up, simulation, and role-playing game elements, it stood out for its unique interpretation of World War II ships. Indeed, its use of moe anthropomorphism to present shipgirls gave it the industry support it required to cross the borders of the world’s most populous country and venture into Japan within six months of its release. And while Compile Heart’s offering didn’t quite reach the scale of already-established titles from fellow publishers Kadokawa Games and DMM.com, it nonetheless managed to claim a base big enough to allow it to cross over to popular culture.
If nothing else, Azur Lane has proven its capacity to stay relevant for the long haul. Between the release of manga and anime adaptations, it found its way to the personal computer and Sony PlayStation 4 via a reworked narrative and presentation. Even as Azur Lane: Crosswave features cel-shaded three-dimensional graphics and new characters, however, it has wisely kept its winning formula: It combines an easy-to-pick-up but nonetheless engaging battle system with a humor-laced and fan-service-heavy story thread. That said, the latter doesn’t make any pretentious; for all its seeming richness and faithfulness to franchise canon, it ultimately comes off as a contrived call for action.
Fortunately, the combat is worth the setup. Azur Lane: Crosswave’s Story Mode has newcomers Shimakaze and Suruga steer other ships of the Sakura Empire through seven chapters’ worth of encounters with counterparts from the Eagle Union, the Royal Navy, and Iron Blood. While in the Joint Military Exercises, gamers get to do crafting and equipping, and even some experimentation after productive exchanges of blueprints. Combined with loot spawning after any given battle, the new items then serve as upgrades for the next mission. And so on and so forth, with the stylized setups tested against enemies at sea and in air.
The configuration of six ships, with three controllable and three for artificial-intelligence support, works like a charm, although Azur Lane: Crosswave can be uneven. Engagements are engrossing, but some go by quickly (okay, very quickly). Battlegrounds are fairly large squares, albeit with invisible boundaries that identify themselves mostly by accident. More characters are unlocked over time, and with hardly any difficulty. For good measure, the Extreme Battle Mode gives gamers the opportunity to go for standalone skirmishes that yield special gear; more than a hundred are on tap.
Needless to say, the presentation is at par with Idea Factory’s standards — which is to say uniformly topnotch. Characters and backgrounds are vibrant and replete with visual information, and the well-acted Japanese voice tracks blend well with music and ambient sounds. It’s just too bad that the visual-novel approach to furthering the narrative keeps things static outside of the occasional facial twitches. Thankfully, the work remains rock solid during combat, with the level of detail so stellar as to be distracting.
Azur Lane: Crosswave isn’t cheap by any means. Its PlayStation 4 version carries a $49.99 tag, although geographical pricing lops off three-fifths of the price on Steam for PC gamers on this side of the globe. In any case, it provides reasonable value for money with its singularly pleasing blend of genres. Those familiar with the series name, or with Compile Heart’s library of releases, certainly won’t be disappointed. Highly recommended.
- Excellent audio-visual presentation
- Unique gameplay
- Faithful to source material
- Engaging combat elements
- Weak narrative
- Screens can stay static for long periods
- Fairly short campaign
POSTSCRIPT: Rune Factory 4 Special isn’t exactly new. In fact, it’s a direct port of the RPG developer Marvelous worked on and released eight years ago for the Nintendo 3DS. That said, it’s a worthy addition to the already-expansive library of titles on the Switch as arguably the best in the Rune Factory series. While littered with elements followers of the franchise — and, yes, of other releases in the genre — know too well, it elevates itself with its crafty use of crafting, pun wholly intended, as critical to character development. And it’s certainly aided by a compelling story arc that has gamers invested in outcomes.
Rune Factory 4 Special begins with the main character heading to Selphia to deliver an offering to its deity, only to suffer from amnesia following a fight with hijackers. Ejected from the airship, he (or she, depending on gender choice at the start of the game) is then mistaken for royalty and tasked with running the town. Which he does even after the arrival of the real prince (who would rather do other things). And so he goes after its upkeep, maintains crops, makes friends, and even takes monsters as pets — all while, on whim and fancy, exploring dungeons in an effort to get to the bottom of a bigger mystery.
If Rune Factory 4 Special sounds a lot like a fantastic Animal Crossing: New Horizons, that’s because it is. It certainly puts its Harvest Moon roots to good use with a polished take on farming; better tools and better grounds make for better fruits of labor. And, in this regard, it makes use of a sophisticated crafting system that accounts for items picked up after battles, as well as of intertwined skill trees that improves character stats. Gamers are continually provided with incentives to level up, and thus have the wherewithal to keep exploring dungeons for rare finds, which are then crafted for town improvement.
The cycle is evident, and, in Rune Factory 4 Special, repeated at leisure. Those who have already played the original on the 3DS will have no trouble getting hooked anew. Meanwhile, gamers picking it up for the first time on the Switch will be pleased to note the smoothness of the interface despite the absence of a second screen. Controls are spot-on and intuitive, and rightly serve to help rather than hinder. The visuals have been reworked for high-definition appreciation, but the unavoidable reliance on a dated source material is clear. Moreover, the translation has rendered the text sharp but small — perhaps too small for comfort. It fares much better aurally, and benefits from the option to toggle between Japanese and English voice tracks.
In typical Rune Factory fashion, Rune Factory 4 Special is likewise into relationship-building. Depending on gamers’ preferences, any of six characters from the opposite gender can be wined and dined, and then married. Make no mistake, though; wooing takes effort, and compatibility concerns do arise. Parenthetically, it bears noting that randomly triggered town events are crucial to progression. In other words, it’s a boon to those perfectly fine with idyllic settings and setups, and far from perfect for those who feel like time is a valuable resource that cannot be wasted.
On the whole, Rune Factory 4 Special earns its $59.99 sticker price, and not just because of the additional content not previously available on the 3DS. Filled with surprising depth and integration, it figures to keep gamers occupied for tens, even hundreds, of hours on end.
- Pace dependent on choice
- Deep and engaging
- Interesting characters
- Varied gameplay elements
- Smooth interface
- Reliance on dated source material
- Still blocky visually
- Text can be too small to read without straining
- Randomly triggered events required to progress
THE LAST WORD: Paris-based independent game developer Parallel Studio aims high with EQQO, an adventure that leans on Ethiopian mythology for visual cues and on the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra to bring creator Nicolas Bredin’s compositions to life. The good news is that it hits more than misses its targets in presenting the tale of the title character, a blind child pushing an egg through a temple filled with obstacles, as told by his mother. There are five chapters all told, each increasing in difficulty and requiring exploration and puzzle solving in equal measure.
EQQO relies on various perspectives to consider the tasks at hand. Gamers need to continually move the camera to predetermined angles, either through the Switch Joy-Cons or by touchscreen controls, in order to comprehend the choices they have, and thereby need to make in order to progress. Those steeped in similar gameplay mechanics — notably from The Legend of Zelda series — will hit the ground running. Otherwise, there’s a learning curve that needs to be negotiated. In either case, enjoyment won’t be compromised.
All told, EQQO lives up to billing. It’s not perfect, particularly in the way its implementation of gyroscope functions can induce no small measure of discomfort. It‘s also short at under five hours from start to finish. Nonetheless, it’s a steal at $6, and lives up to billing as an emotive experience that won’t easily be forgotten.
- Lives up to billing as an emotive experience
- Visually stunning homage to Ethiopian mythology
- Superb score
- Puzzles challenging, but not to the point of frustration
- Camera angles can be hard to control
- Visual discomfort on occasion