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A long evening’s distraction

GIRAFFE AND ANNIKA, the inaugural offering of developer Atelier Mimina founded by veteran game designer Atsushi Saito, isn’t aiming to be a standout. As far as anime-inspired releases go, it’s middle of the road in presentation, with a pleasant art style and fairy-tale narrative designed more to please than to challenge. That said, it manages to offer a pleasant experience that provides no small measure of entertainment in ways that plenty other puzzle platformers don’t.

Intimate and grandiose

NIHOM Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel series enters the latter half of its quadrilogy with the release of the third installment. Pushed out on the Sony Playstation 4 last year and the personal computer earlier this year, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III has now also made its way to the Nintendo Switch to predictably stellar results. The extremely popular franchise’s steampunk setting mixed with magic locked away behind the mystical Quartz stands strong no matter what platform it is played on. Is it even a surprise, really?

A brilliant game that nobody should miss

Ghost of Tsushima won’t strike gamers long familiar with the action-adventure genre as transcendent at first glance. Those who have spent countless hours captivated by, say, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Lord Of The Rings: Shadow of War won’t find its grounded setting appealing from afar. That said, all it takes is one spin, however short, for doubters to conclude that even its well-made trailers don’t do it justice; it’s like a cake that looks nothing out of the ordinary in appearance, but hooks the reluctant with just a single taste. Certainly, its unique sense of style and presentation entices even the most skeptical to binge on it with nary a care for the time.

Revenge is a fool’s errand

Not surprisingly, The Last of Us Part II dominated gaming news since the leaks spread on the internet in late April. Anticipation, already eager to begin with given the proven value of the source material, was further fueled by third-hand information. On the flipside, not a few quarters found cause to draw thoroughly unfair conclusions; after all, the game had yet to hit retail shelves, and any discussions on particulars of that title, or argued lack thereof, bordered on speculation. If there was any benefit to all the talk, though, it was that Sony wound up committing to a release date. Earlier in the month of the leaks, it was postponed indefinitely due to the novel coronavirus pandemic‘s effects on international distribution.

Understanding the value of small things

To argue that Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories has an interesting backstory would be an understatement. Originally supposed to be offered for the Sony PlayStation 3, it found itself stuck in development hell after the 2011 earthquake in Tōhoku, Japan. Similarities between the natural calamity and its premise all but secured its place in the dustbin of history as abandonware -- until, that is, popular demand brought it back to the public eye. The renewed interest spurred chief producer Kazuma Kujo to acquire rights to the title under Granzella, his new company based in Ishikawa. Working with former Irem staff, he finally managed to steer the project to fruition a full nine years after its initial release date.

Free-form approach is exciting

DAEMON X Machina was about a year into development prior to its public unveiling at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2018. The reception was good, and not simply because it had industry giants Nintendo and Marvelous behind it. As a stylized third-person mech-action shooter, it certainly benefited from the involvement of veteran producer Kenichiro Tsukuda; his excellent work on the highly regarded Armored Core series raised expectations. And it didn’t hurt that noted character designer Yūsuke Kozaki was likewise on board.

An intense romp

Infliction: Extended Cut is an horror title from independent developer Caustic Reality that’s not afraid to show its sources of inspiration. From its dark, depressing setting to its grim tale of family disputes, alcoholism, and abuse, there isn’t much new in the grounds that Infliction covers. That said, the paths it treads wind up worth taking, even if they do get a bit rocky from time to time. In this regard, it’s thankfully propelled by its competent defense of the argument that pain is felt in far worse ways when coming from loved ones as opposed to total strangers.

Ample rewards from La-Mulana 1 & 2

There was once a time when MSX systems ruled Japan. A joint venture of Microsoft and ASCII, the standardized home computer architecture was released in 1983 and subsequently wound up being produced by no less than 22 hardware manufacturers in the country.

The hammer strikes

Warhammer: Chaosbane Magnus Edition Microsoft Xbox One Even casual gamers will recognize Warhammer not just from its immensely successful tabletop simulation. The sheer number of good-quality...

A can’t miss title

THERE are undoubtedly those who will remember a promising tactics game by the name of Warsong. Released for the Sega Genesis, Warsong blended Japanese-role-playing-game mechanics with turn-based strategy gameplay, asking its players to not merely take control of several mighty heroes, but also direct whole armies into battle. At the time, the unique twist to the genre enabled it to stand out; it was able to use its much larger sense of scale to its advantage. Unlike other contemporary titles, it didn’t just compel characters to fight; it likewise required players to manage troop composition, take care of commander levels, and watch their overall positioning on the battlefield to win the day.

A promising start

THERE’S A huge lack of scary titles currently out on the market. Aside from the release of a few choice offerings such as the remake of Resident Evil 2 last year, the gaming landscape seems to have largely eschewed the genre; not many developers appear willing to try their hand at creating the next horror classic. Thankfully, Supermassive Games is not among them. From its humble beginnings making downloadable add-ons for the Sony PlayStation 3 platformer Little Big Planet in 2009, the independent company based in Surrey, England has come a long way; now, it’s recognized as an award-winning creator of content that pushes the envelope.

Constant challenge

CAPCOM’S Monster Hunter series has stayed strong throughout its lifetime, and there’s no real wonder as to why. While not the most thought-provoking out in the market, it knows its strengths and is second to none in its unabashedly heavy focus on adventure and exploration. There’s simply no other franchise that can emulate the mystery its forests and jungles bring, or come close to approximating the dread, say, a Rathalos provides as it comes bearing down with fangs and claws extended. Even as it requires grinding to the point of excess, it invariably delivers on its promises of grandeur, riches, and glory that can only be the stuff of dreams.

Adrenaline-fueled

DRAGON BALL has a rich, colorful history. From its humble beginnings as a fun, over-the-top anime series created by manga artist Akira Toriyama in 1984, it has evolved into a giant franchise pervading just about every book and cranny of popular culture. And even casual observers know and understand why: Its deceptively simple story of perseverance, heroism, and strength entertains and resonates among a loyal base of followers with otherwise-disparate tastes. It’s filled to the brim with good-natured humor and fun, with epic tales about godly powers and all-too-human frailties. Notwithstanding the countless competition, it has remained a favorite of both the young and young once, and with reason.

A great game to play

JAPANESE role playing games have come so far from their once-humble beginnings. The early releases struggled to gain a foothold in the West, but subsequent offerings from such franchises as Final Fantasy 7, Fire Emblem, and Dragon Quest managed to find homes in the hearts of gamers. Intellectual properties like these have reinvented the genre, however slowly, and their success underscores the core tenets of timeless examples: proper emphasis on deep stories, interesting gameplay mechanics, and immensely likable characters.

Everything for everybody

CONSIDERING that the Dead or Alive franchise first came about due to necessity, it couldn’t but have drawn inspiration from successful titles in its genre. Pressed to produce a videogame that would prop up Tokyo-based Tecmo’s flat sales figures, designer Tomonobu Itagaki saw fit to survey the landscape and take what he felt were the most popular features of the best titles on the market. Dead or Alive, the result of his exertions, combined aspects found in such notables as Sega’s Virtua Fighter, SNK’s Fatal Fury, and Midway Games’ Mortal Kombat series. And, even as it was so named in reference to his do-or-die mandate, it took coin-operated machines by storm in 1996 and promptly spurred work on Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation versions.

Good way to spend an afternoon

REAL-TIME strategy games on consoles are a dime a dozen, but few stand out. The problem isn’t in the effort; in fact, developers continually try to exceed themselves in lifting up the genre for home gaming platforms. Unfortunately, they’re hard-pressed to do so given intrinsic limitations. Broken down to basics, control sticks exhibit frailties vis-à-vis keyboard-and-mouse configurations of personal computers, thus requiring reprogramming of ports to present streamlined mechanics. The more successful titles — Halo Wars and They Are Billions, for instance — are fondly viewed as diversions that admittedly provide an enjoyable experience for casual gamers, but nonetheless fail to match the sophistication of dedicated rigs.

An experience unlike any other

RED DEAD REVOLVER almost never came to light. Angel Studios began working on it at the turn of the millennium, and managed to move it forward enough to be officially announced alongside three other intellectual properties two years later. Despite the support of industry giant Capcom, however, it went on to miss production targets and wound up being canceled not long after. Fortunately, fate intervened, and holding company Take Two Interactive’s acquisition of its erstwhile developer paved the way for its resurrection at the hands of subsidiary Rockstar Games. Under the tutelage of Rockstar San Diego, it lived up to its promise as a spiritual successor to Konami veteran Yoshiki Okamoto’s vertical-scrolling arcade shooter Gun.Smoke on sixth-generation consoles.

Engrossing experience

TIME TRAVEL is a tricky concept to incorporate, whether in the gameplay or in the story of any given videogame. It requires from the developer a not insignificant attention to detail, lest the vagaries encountered in its implementation be lost in translation and its net result wind up being much less than the value of its parts. Thankfully, Nippon Ichi Software has it down pat in Destiny Connect: Tick-Tock Travelers. In fact, it’s the engine that drives the Japanese role-playing game as nine-year-old Sherry, her friend Pegreo, and a robot named Isaac designed by her father to protect her strive to uncover the mysteries behind the literal loss of time in the town of Clocknee.

Frustrating

DEVELOPER Numantian Games’ They Are Billions is one of Steam’s Early Access success stories. Despite its humble beginnings, it has managed to make a name for itself in a genre that many consider long dormant. Presenting a mix of city-building, tower-defense and real-time-strategy elements in a post-apocalyptic setting, it pits a budding human colony against innumerable hordes of the undead in the late 22nd century. Its gameplay forces the last bastions of the human race to build and develop a base of operations on which they survive, and then thrive, against a seemingly never-ending tide of flesh-tearing, brain-eating zombies.

A gift that keeps on giving

RESIDENT EVIL was an instant hit when it came out in 1996. Its first on-screen text was cryptic, if awkwardly put together. “Enter the survival horror.” The words likewise spoke the truth, and to the point where they introduced a whole new genre in the industry. They set the tone on what the game wanted to do in a way no other release was hitherto able. It was less about breezing through enemies and more about rationing supplies and equipment. It was about grittily plodding on in a hostile, alien environment. It was about atmosphere and tension, about unsettling gamers with both anticipation and actual experience.

Warriors Orochi 4 is a fun ride

THOSE FAMILIAR with Koei Tecmo Games will undoubtedly not be shocked at the release of Warriors Orochi 4, a hack-and-slash video game that combines the Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors franchises and lets them loose in a world of myths and monsters.

A heck of a ride

PART brawlers, part Japanese dramas, and part open-world experiences, Sega’s Yakuza games have always been a ridiculous but compelling blend of action and adventure. While they initially seem like compilations of conflicted ideas from a fever dream, their interesting, over-the-top antics and enjoyable combat systems are truly anything. Their stories keep you invested, and their atmosphere, taken individually or collectively, is nothing short of engrossing. Yakuza Kiwami 2, a remake of 2006’s Yakuza 2, follows pretty much the same formula. Featuring better graphics and sounds, enhanced gameplay, and new story elements, it does its best to keep the spirit of its source material while tacking on some of its own unique flair.

An easy recommend for all and sundry

MOST GAMERS are familiar with the modern dungeon crawler, with the likes of Diablo III, Torchlight II, and Path of Exile proving to be critical and commercial successes. That’s not to say that every release in the category follows the same formula; such notables as Class of Heroes, The Dark Spire, and The Lost Child are superb takes on turn-based exploration and fighting in elaborate milieus. They’re not for everyone, though; while compelling, they generally rely on the slow burn of an interesting story to keep players hooked, and their often-complicated battle systems can be a doozy to navigate through, especially for newcomers to the genre.

A wonderful blast from the past

WHEN producer Souhei Niikawa and principal programmer Yoshitsuna Kobayashi set out to make Disgaea: Hour of Darkness from scratch, they had no idea that it would stand the test of time. True, they were determined to meet the objectives set forth by publisher Nippon Ishi Software; they aimed to come up with a role-playing game that both adhered to popular mechanics and pushed the envelope in terms of execution. Even as they succeeded in doing so, however, they could not have envisioned an outcome that exceeded their highest expectations.

Time has not been kind

LONGTIME gamers remember Shenmue fondly for what it tried to achieve. The open-world adventure brawler was revolutionary in its ideas, trying its hardest to blend an engaging narrative, extensive exploration sprinkled with minigames of various types, quick time events, and combat sequences. Released back in 1999 as a Sega Dreamcast exclusive, it met with extremely positive praise, but somehow failed to parlay its critical acclaim into commercial appeal.

Not for everyone

THERE CAN be no denying that FromSoftware’s Dark Souls is brutal and difficult, often bordering on the sadistic in terms of its capacity to challenge players. That said, it’s beatable, and while its gameplay borders on the unforgiving, it succeeds in its objective. You get a massive sense of achievement in persevering through it and conquering the even-tougher-than-tough parts. It’s an acquired taste, a pain to get into, really. It’s also harder to put down once you’re hooked.

The best game in the series to date

IT’S NOT HARD to understand why Nihon Falcom and NIS America have moved to port Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana in the Nintendo Switch. Having seen the title generate positive reception upon its release on the PlayStation Vita in 2016, on the PS4 last year, and on the PC earlier this year, they understand its potential to reach a new set of gamers via the hybrid console. Their confidence is not unfounded, and not simply because they carry a lot of weight in the gaming industry. More importantly, their latest contribution to the Ys franchise has been praised as the best yet.

Managing your expectations in the zombie apocalypse

UNDEAD LABS’ State of Decay was a certified critical and commercial hit upon its release in 2013. Best described as a third-person sandbox-cum-survival game simulating a community in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, it tasked you with finding resources, interacting with other denizens, and clearing out zombies in an effort to survive. And, on the whole, it proved to be a compelling experience, its flaws notwithstanding.

Riding the rails

TYCOON GAMES aren’t for everyone, but it isn’t hard to understand why they have a loyal following. They’re flashy, and they’re capable of producing a surprising amount of fun and complexity. From Sim City to Zoo Tycoon to Roller Coaster Tycoon, the process of building something from scratch and seeing it thrive and prosper brings about catharsis. And, by the same token, Kalypso Media delivers.

A polished remake

IT’S BY DESIGN that Vanillaware is best known for stylistic two-dimensional action-adventure games. In an industry proliferated with 3D titles, the Japanese developer has made a conscious effort to trod the less-beaten path. And, to its credit, it has had much success in this regard; via a proprietary programming process, it enables its artists to render pixel sprites in such a way as to uniquely project depth. It’s why gamers instantly took to Odin Sphere for the PlayStation 2 in 2007, as well as Muramasa: The Demon Blade for the Nintendo Wii in 2009.

Well worth its price tag

By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong KOEI TECMO and Omega Force were on to something when they unveiled Attack on Titan in 2016....

Charming, stylish, and fun

By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong WHEN IT COMES to video games, there’s a certain polish that Bandai Namco is able to give them...

Gameplay flourishes where the story languishes

By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong NIPPON ICHI Software distinguishes itself from other developers by the style of its games. Displaying its strengths...

An acquired taste

By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong FOR LONGTIME FANS of the fighting game genre, Ecole Software is a name they cannot but be...

Noir on steroids

By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong AS THE BRAINS behind such groundbreaking titles as Killer7, Killer is Dead, and No More Heroes, video game...

Well worth its price

NIHON FALCOM is no stranger to Japanese role-playing games. Having been behind the successful Legend Of Heroes, Dragon Slayer, and Ys series, it was...

Lots of rhythm, a few blues

By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong RIGHT OFF THE BAT, followers of DJMax Technika might see something familiar in Superbeat: Xonic. Little surprise,...

For a few hours of distraction

By Alexander O. Cuaycong BY WAY of background for the uninitiated: Project Shrine Maiden is a collection of manic-shooter video games published by Team Shanghai...

Last Recode: definitely worth its price tag

By Alexander O. Cuaycong IT’S difficult to pinpoint exactly how influential .hack (stylized in lower case and pronounced “dot hack”) has been as a series....

Options at a cost

By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong SPORTS GAMES are an acquired taste, and even those who hold them in great affection tend to...

Death is inevitable, but so is progress

By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong NEON CHROME is an interesting top-down shooter developed by 10tons, originally released in May 2016 on the...

Recommended for first-timers

By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong AT FIRST GLANCE, it’s not wrong to think of L.A. Noire as a spin-off of Rockstar Games’...

For Mask of Truth, story is both its greatest asset and...

By Alexander O. Cuaycong FOR THE REVIEW of the prequel Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, please refer to this link: https://goo.gl/zmGgHu Released in Japan in September 2016...

More hit than miss

By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong NIGHTS OF AZURE 2: Bride of the New Moon (NotA 2) is the sequel to the action...

Utterly ridiculous, and utterly satisfying

By Alexander O. Cuaycong SOUTH PARK: Stick of Truth was a game that was much, much better than first impressions conceded. While its graphics were...