Well worth the wait

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Game Time

Date A Live: Rio Reincarnation
PlayStation 4/PC via Stream

DATE A LIVE has been around since the turn of the decade, and it’s a testament to the franchise’s appeal that it picked up a loyal following off the bat and, more importantly, developed the legs to cross media platforms over time. Written by Kōshi Tachibana, the light-novel series parodies the invasion proposition common to Japanese mecha offerings and runs with it via Idea Factory mainstay Tsunako’s distinct art style; it deftly mixes science fiction and romantic comedy, with organized undertakings to prevent alien annexation deemed successful only when the occupying beings wind up falling for the principal protagonist.

The evidently ludicrous premise notwithstanding, Date A Live works, and how. It centers on the exertions of kind-hearted high school student Shido Itsuka to have “spirits” from other dimensions — the cause of “spacequakes” which have plagued Eurasia for the last three decades — love him. With the aid of foster sister Kotori, classmate Origami Tobiichi, and other members of the Anti-Spirit Team, he sets out to “seal” any given spirit’s power with a kiss. Interspersed with his efforts to hone his unique capacity to attract affections via dating-sim training exercises are those of defenders to keep would-be conquerors at bay by engaging them in battle.

Date A Live does have serious undertones, but sticks to its conceit with its fatuous but self-aware treatment of its narrative. Needless to say, it offers fan service in spades, but always in support of the overarching plot. Characters are well developed, literally and figuratively, and tackled with surprising depth even amid seemingly silly situations. Parenthetically, the proficient handling of the intellectual property extends to other media; the short-lived manga and continuing anime adaptations of the 20 volumes so far published by Tokyo-based Fujimi Shobo are, if nothing else, faithful to their source material.

Considering the popularity of Date A Live, its branching out to video gaming was a matter of when, not if. And, true enough, it made its industry debut with Date A Live: Rinne Utopia, which made its way to the Sony PlayStation 3 in 2013 and to the PS Vita two years later. Date A Live: Arusu Install hit store shelves between the two releases, followed by Date A Live Twin Edition: Rio Reincarnation. Significantly, four years would pass before developer and Idea Factory subsidiary Compile Heart would bring localized versions of the titles to Western audiences.

Still and all, here’s the good news: Date A Live: Rio Reincarnation is well worth the wait for gamers bereft of any knowledge of the Japanese language. Above all else, it contains all three visual novels; more than the apparent value-for-money proposition, the presentation allows for complete appreciation of the material whether on the personal computer or on the PS4. Incorporating events in the first four volumes of the light-novel series, Date A Live: Rinne Utopia has Shido dealing with his supposed best friend since childhood. Meanwhile, Date A Live: Arusu Install and Rio Reincarnation come after the first seven volumes, and sees him facing off first with an artificial intelligence while stuck inside a virtual-reality game, and then with a new spirit in search of “the most important thing.”




As with most other visual novels, Date A Live: Rio Reincarnation makes heavy use of text over static backgrounds for story exposition. That said, it can be counted among the best of the genre for its excellent writing and restrained audio-visual presentation. Given the subject matter and its fan service obligations, it could easily have given in to temptation and gone over the top; instead, it exhibits remarkable subtlety and nuance even as it sets out to deliver on its promise. Moreover, it boasts of gameplay mechanics that give gamers ample freedom of choice; in the six hours or so it will take them to finish each title on first pass, they’re provided with options to frame the ending as they see fit.

Considering the amount of reading gamers have to go through, Date A Live: Rio Reincarnation creditably sports spot-on English subtitles (outside of the occasional typographical or translation error) backstopped by stellar Japanese voice tracks (which, for some reason, Shido is devoid of). At the same time, they’re compelled to wade through dating-sim conditions numbering in the triple digits, thus enhancing the games’ replay value. As there is hardly any aspect of the collection testing the upper limits of hardware processing, the interface is similarly relaxed and trouble-free on the PC and PS4. However, it must be noted that the Steam version remains faithful to the original Japanese releases, while Sony has, in choosing to stick to stringent community guidelines, seen fit to modify two cutscenes and excise four images from its console’s iteration.

Nonetheless, Date A Live: Rio Reincarnation is a boon to the library of visual-novel enthusiasts in general and of franchise faithful in particular. It honors its source material with consistently excellent character designs, lighthearted treatment of proceedings, and understated fulfillment of fan-service commitments. It comes highly recommended, and should tide gamers over until the release of Date A Live: Ren Dystopia next year.

THE GOOD:

• Faithful to source material

• Outstanding presentation

• One of the best in the VN genre to date

• Tons of content to go through

• Excellent character designs

THE BAD:

• Steam version sports oversized text that cannot be customized

• Keyboard binding/remapping limitations

• PS4 version modifies two cutscenes and omits four images

• Hardly any variations in gameplay over the three included titles

• Requires some background knowledge of the franchise

RATING: 8.5/10

POSTSCRIPT: First things first: Epic Astro Story is Japan-based Kairosoft’s latest in a series of ventures to port its mobile-gaming intellectual properties to the Nintendo Switch. Moreover, the simulation title is far from a new one, and even as it made its way to the Android and iOS platforms seven years ago, its roots continue to be evident in its hybrid-console iteration. From the home screen thumbnail to the presentation to the interface, there are aspects that will undoubtedly serve as reminders of its small-screen origins. That said, it’s nothing short of excellent, succeeding in its intent to keep gamers engrossed in its proceedings.

Like any other simulation title, Epic Astro Story essentially makes gamers operations managers of its realm. Unlike any other simulation title, it dreams big. It’s not about building a tennis club or ski resort or even a village from scratch. Rather, it sets as its main objective the management of a colony in space and, concomitantly, the exploration of other planets. Needless to say, proper handling and investment of resources are required, and doing so enables progress. Development leads to more citizens attracted, which leads to more demand for land, which leads to the fostering of harmonious relations with neighboring planets (or, as the case may be, the conquering of hostile forces), which leads to more areas to forage. And so on and so forth.

Epic Astro Story may sound daunting, but, in truth, it’s rollicking good fun helped in no small measure by its irreverent humor especially pandering to Trekkies. If there’s any negative, it’s that the proceedings can drag; the option to speed up and fast-forward the colony’s evolution is made available only after one playthrough. In sum, though, it’s a delightfully stress-free game that time and again provides a sense of accomplishment. Perfect for easy negotiating on the go, it generates tons of replay value and figures to be on any self-respecting simulation buff’s steady rotation of titles for some time to come. (9/10)

Furwind is long on promise as an ode to action platformers of decades past. All of the usual factors making the genre popular are present in Boomfire Games’ offering. First, it makes use of an animal as the title character out to save the world. Second, it has its leading man — or, rather, fox — and his surroundings presented in colorful pixel art. Third, it employs immersive music and ambient sounds to keep gamers transfixed as they explore cave after cave. Fourth, it requires hand-eye coordination, no small measure of tactics, and a willingness to grind in order to attain success.

If Furwind works for the most part, it’s because the tasks at hand are diverse but not entirely unfamiliar, stimulating but not to the point of frustration, and rewarding by way of preparation for the next challenge. The story itself is far from unique, and the game sometimes stumbles in pushing it forward with passable voice acting and myriad text screens that exhibit the occasional grammatical error. Not so the undertakings, which are designed to keep the adrenaline pumping. Movement is fluid and animations are crisp while in the midst of timed jumps, item collection, and enemy fights, more than making up for the evident reuse of background assets.

Perhaps Furwind could have benefited from more polish; its official Nintendo site, for example, doesn’t do a good job of selling its strengths. Considering its Spanish roots, however, its stumbles with a language that isn’t its developers’ native tongue can be forgiven. And it does have plenty of strengths to boast of. At $9.99, it’s likewise a good value-for-money proposition designed to keep gamers glued to the screen for a good half a dozen hours of fun and entertainment. It presents a variety of routes, tough but fair battles, intriguing level designs, and ingenious attack modes that place it a cut above others in its price point. (7/10)

THE LAST WORD: Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble on the Switch arguably provides more bang for the buck vis-à-vis its Steam version (reviewed on this space last week) owing to its portability. Even as it loses absolutely nothing in the translation to the hybrid console, it gives gamers the option of taking it in while on the go. Controls are responsive, and while some stuttering is evident when the screen gets busy, the gameplay remains unaffected in the face of its turn-based mechanics. A can’t-miss release in any case. (9/10)

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