Latest posts by Stephen Welsh (see all)
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Marona’s Bizarre Adventure Part I – Phantom Brave
Disclosure: review code provided by NIS America
NIS America released a decent PC port of PlayStation strategy RPG Disgaea a few months back, though some users faced performance issues that marred the experience. Built in the same engine and featuring similar enhancements; Phantom Brave PC might make some fans cautious following the troubled launch of its predecessor. Luckily, NISA have released a Steam demo so you can see for yourself just how the port runs, as well as get the chance to experience the 2004 tactics game for free.
The new version of the game offers almost all the bells and whistles that were found in Disgaea PC. As with that game, I don’t recommend using the ‘Character Filter’ option as it blurs the sprites into what I would describe as low-resolution blobs. There are options to use a shiny new user-interface, or the game’s original one if you want to experience a Phantom Brave that’s a little more vintage. Sadly there’s no updated map textures like there were in Disgaea PC, so you’ll have to tolerate a low visual quality for the battle environments. If there’s one highlight to the PC port, it’s the gorgeous background art full of colour and detail. The character sprites might contrast with such visuals, but that shouldn’t spoil the eye candy found in the tropical world of Ivoire. If you’re hooked on NIS’ role-playing games, then this is well worth buying. Newcomers ought to try the demo and see if the gameplay and writing are their cup of tea. Here’s hoping NIS America can deliver another quality conversion when Disgaea 2 makes its way to Steam next January.
Phantom Brave PC is available now on Steam
Only Nineties Kids
In Silent Hill and Resident Evil, there was always a sense of dread to encountering an enemy. Not just because they were grotesque horrors, or over-sized super beasts, but because their presence immediately made players realise the room was dangerous. Getting hunted by zombie dogs and spiky flesh creatures was intense due to many factors such as cramped environments, tricky tank controls, lack of health, limited supplies, and ineffective weapons. Survival horror was hard, and first playthroughs would always have a sizable amount of gruesome deaths for the player character.
Back in 1995 is an indie game that aims to take players back to the days of early 3D survival horror – most notably by using intentionally hideous, low-fidelity graphics. However, without even taking the visuals into account, the game fails at this goal for one very simple reason: it’s one of the easiest video games I have ever played. This journey through a series of skyscrapers pits players against inexplicable monstrosities; fighting for survival with only a wrench and a couple of guns to defend themselves. Yet these creatures pose barely any threat, with floating bags of flesh barely managing a hit on the player character, and massive inside-out beasts going down after a tiny amount of shots. Resources aren’t exactly plentiful, but the enemies are so weak that it’s likely you won’t need to worry at all during the one-and-a-half hour it takes to finish the game. I was managing a no-damage run of the game on my initial playthrough without even realising it.
It’s clear that Back in 1995 is trying to pay homage in particular to the aesthetics of PlayStation 1 horrors like Silent Hill, yet the intentional crappiness of the visuals becomes exaggerated and loses its charm as the game goes on. It’s the lack of visual craft in the models and the environments that makes the game feel like a novelty instead of a genuine and effective emulation of early 3D classics. Textures warp to an aggressive degree, and the whole thing carries the polish of an abandoned prototype of SH1. There’s an optional CRT filter and flickering setting for the sake of a e s t h e t i c s, but the game could have used with some higher difficulty options if the developer really wanted to deliver a faithful survival horror tribute. Combat aside, Back in 1995 is just more boring than it is scary thanks to very basic level design and puzzles. The story threatens to become an interesting meta plot in the final 10 minutes, but it’s over in a flash. This game really did hook me on the concept when it was announced, but I was just greatly let down by the execution. It could be worth playing if you ever obtain it in a bundle of games, but as of now, it just isn’t worth the price of purchase.
Back in 1995 is available now on Steam
PlayStation Mystery Dungeon: Vita Rescue Team
Disclosure: review code provided by Aksys Games
For a current handheld niche fix, PlayStation Vita owners can take on the challenges of Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and The Dice of Fate. You’ll know exactly what you’re in for if you’ve played any of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon or Chocobo’s Dungeon games. The game’s a turn-based RPG, where characters move along grids in a randomly-generated dungeon. Strategic awareness of enemy actions each turn, and effective grid movement are a must, as the punishment for dying is befitting of a long-running roguelike series: your held items, money, and experience are lost as you’re sent back to town. Thankfully, the townsfolk are all friendly and offer a variety of services to aid your adventure, such as a blacksmith, item shop, lottery, and a very in-depth tutorial.
Keep in mind this is an updated port of “Shiren 5” for the Nintendo DS, so some of the sprites and especially the artwork for the character portraits looks rather dated and low quality. If you’re a hardcore follower of the series, this probably won’t be much of a fresh experience for you, but if you’ve always wondered what this sub-genre would be like without a Charmander in sight, then this is a great introduction to Mystery Dungeon if you’re willing to invest the time into crawling up the towers and becoming a masterful wanderer.
Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and The Dice of Fate is available now on PlayStation Vita
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