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Review: Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories

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By Iris the Keyblade Master

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is one of those games that probably shouldn’t work as well as it does.  The first game in the series was this big, epic adventure, involving Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy traveling all over the universe to stop Maleficent and meeting all kinds of Disney characters along the way.  Kingdom Hearts II was another a big, epic adventure that continued Sora’s quest.   He searched for his lost friends, befriended more popular characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and Tron, and fought an evil organization.

Chain of Memories limits the adventure to one castle made of illusions.  Every floor that Sora visits is designed to look like a Disney world from his memories.  So almost all of the levels that you complete are areas that you’ve already explored from the first game.  (Little did we know that this would be a recurring problem in future games.)  It’s not necessarily what a person would have in mind if you told them to check out the sequel to Kingdom Hearts.

However, I love the story of Chain of Memories, so it’s probably the entry in the series that I replay the most apart from the first game.  It picks up where the first game left off, with Sora, Donald, and Goofy on the trail of their lost friends, Riku and Mickey.  They come across a castle inhabited by a mysterious organization that claims to have something- or someone- that Sora wants.  Sora takes the bait, only to find as he progresses through the castle that he’s losing his memories.

First, the story’s fantastic.  It’s one of two games in the series that involve a group of villains trying to trick Sora into working for them, and this one executes the idea much better.  The other game more or less saves the mind-bending shenanigans for the final level.  In Chain of Memories, it’s a steady progression of Sora forgetting his previous adventures and becoming increasingly obsessed with rescuing Naminé and Riku from the Organization.  Sora’s been previously established as somebody who cares deeply about his friends and the promises that he makes to them, so his change in personality makes complete sense.  The new characters are also well-written.  It’s the game that kicked off Axel’s popularity, and it’s easy to see why.  Naminé is wonderful too and a good example of a well-written “damsel in distress.”

I thought I would hate the battle system when I learned that it would be card-based.  Every attack that you make and magic spell that you cast is limited to the number of cards that Sora has in his deck.  However, I found that it was very manageable and does force you to strategize a little.  You can only carry so many cards in your deck, and the powerful ones are more expensive than the weaker ones.  You can also create special attacks called “sleights,” where you load three cards and use them together.  But the first card that you load for the sleight will not reappear for the rest of the battle.  So spamming sleight attacks will only take you so far.

Oh, and Donald gets to be just as useless in this game as he is in every Kingdom Hearts game.  Only this time, he doesn’t just fail to heal you.  If you don’t watch it, he can heal your enemies.  Yeah.  You read that right.  You’ll be desperately fighting Axel or Hades, who both use Fire spells, and he’ll happily hit them with Fire spells that bring their health back up.  Try to avoid using him in a fight with a magic-based enemy.

I also find it interesting how the difficulty level of the bosses and the usefulness of certain cards did change in the GameBoy Advanced version and the PlayStation 2 version.  See, the GBA obviously has a small screen, so big enemies aren’t hard to fight and Summon cards have a wider reach.  Cloud Strife was my favorite card in the GBA game.  All I had to do was summon him and he’d wipe out enemies with two slashes of the Buster Sword.  But the PlayStation 2 remake puts you in a bigger, three-dimensional area, so it’s a matter of getting close to an enemy, hoping that enemy stays put as you summon Cloud, and hope that Cloud moves in the right direction to slash said enemies.  If you’re in the wrong place or facing the wrong way, he’s completely useless.

All in all, I think this game was much better suited for the GameBoy Advanced over the PlayStation 2.  It has a smaller story and the levels are mostly the same as the first game.  In a way, it’s kind of impressive.  In terms of world design, it plays like a GBA remake of the first game.  Yet it has its own unique story, which supplies a reason for why you’re playing through the same locations again.  If you play the PlayStation 2 remake without that context, it comes off like a cheap, lazy sequel.

Nonetheless, I love playing the PS2 remake due to the improved graphics and voice acting.  Sora’s character arc and his relationships with his friends go to interesting places.  The series got two new fabulous female characters.  The soundtrack mostly rehashes the first game, but Yoko Shimomura composed some beautiful new tracks, i.e. “Naminé” and the final boss battle theme, “Lord of the Castle.”

Although it’s not an entry in the series that you absolutely must play to understand the rest of the plot, I highly recommend Chain of Memories.

Review: Flat Kingdom

Developer: Fat Panda Games
Publisher: Games Starter
Release Date: April 7, 2016
Platform(s): PC

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Flat Kingdom is an adventure platform game for the PC that is more adorable than I have words for. It’s also incredibly frustrating, just like almost all platformers.

You are Flat, knight of the Kingdom. The Princess has been captured because of course she has. By a fox-headed person, whom I assume is wearing a mask. They are also taking all of the crystals that are keeping the Kingdom wonderful and peaceful. Your job, as Flat, is to stop the Fox, save the Princess and return the Crystals. Easy, right?

The artwork is elegant. It honestly looks like it was all cut out of paper and beautifully crafted together. All of the enemies are adorable, but the boss monsters terrifying. I adore everything about this game: the music, sound effects, story, level designs. It is all incredibly thought out and masterfully put together to create an amazing experience for the player.

As Flat, you are primarily a circle, but can also turn into a square and triangle. Each shape has their own pros and cons for each situation, including how to defeat enemies. Thankfully, the game allows you to have a Shape Legend in the bottom right corner to remind you what shape beats what. Circle beats Square; Square beats Triangle; Triangle beats Circle. This is a constant throughout the game; however, it is difficult to tell what all the monster shapes are and this doesn’t necessarily apply to the boss fights. Which are hell all on their own.

The levels, of course, increase in difficulty, starting off with the false hope that I could actually get through a platformer once in my life. Each level reminded me that I’m horrible at these games and that this is my own personal hell. Whilst still having fun and loving the game, I am cursing at the screen each time I die because I was just never good at these to begin with. I will finish this game, though, if it’s the last thing I do.

Right now, I’m in the third section of the game, trying valiantly to finish it and not throw my computer out the window at the same time. My Let’s Plays have dwindled down into death montages and glares at the webcam, but I swear I love this game and, for $8, you will love this game, too. I can’t wait to see what the store has laid out for me because I feel there is so much more than meets the eye.

Watch my first let’s play here:

Review: Unravel

Review: Unravel

Developer: Coldwood Interactive
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: Feb. 9, 2016
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC

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You know that I always say that I’m not good at puzzle games. Well, to be honest, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been playing puzzle games my whole life and, while I say I’m not good at them on camera when I get flustered, I can get through them fairly easily when I’m playing them on my own and I can take the time to figure it out. It’s just a matter of perspective. A puzzle-platformer game, Unravel has all the elements I love.

What’s it about?
Unravel follows a small humanoid creature named Yarny. Yarny is, as you can guess, made out of yarn. As you move, Yarny unravels, so you have to find all the clever places where yarn is stashed so he can remake himself. As Yarny, you move through different puzzles and obstacles in search of memories and small crocheted (or knit – it doesn’t specify and I don’t know enough to figure it out myself) animal-shaped pieces that his owner has lost during significant times in her life.

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What did I think?
This game is incredibly moving and absolutely beautiful. The storyline takes the whole game to reveal itself, but it’s so worth it. The storytelling aspect of Unravel is so beautifully done that you find yourself caring deeply for Yarny and his owner and her family. I cared about Yarny so much that I actually jumped or screamed during parts when the environment tried to attack him. It’s powerful, to say the least.

The graphics are amazing. Yarny is simple enough, but you can really see him getting smaller and smaller the more he moves around. The details are incredible. He’s also surrounded by this gorgeous scenery, whether it’s a beautiful bumbling brook in the backyard, a snowy vacation or a terrifyingly real lighting storm.

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The controls are easy to master and Yarny is very responsive. I’ve been playing on my PS4 and I’ve found that I very rarely yell at my screen, “Jump when I say JUMP!” (If you’ve been watching my Ori and the Blind Forest series, then you know I say that a lot). The gameplay is smooth and even relaxing, except when you’re in an area that’s super stressful… like when you’re trying not to get snatched up by birds in an open field.

Some puzzles are more complex than others and I wouldn’t say that they get any harder as the game goes on. There are 12 puzzles in all and once you get the hang of it and learn the game, they’re actually pretty quick to figure out. That doesn’t make them any less brilliant or the game any less challenging. There are little tricks and tips you really have to master in order to finish some of them.

The replayability in the game is low. Once you go through a level, you basically can just go through it again with no changes. There are little secrets in each level that could be fun to go back and explore; however, you’re really only going to get one play through out of the game – unless you’re a completionist.

Do I recommend it?
Yes, I do. It’s become one of my favorite games to play when it’s been a long day. It helps me unwind and I just can’t get enough of it. I highly recommend it. You can find it on Origin, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 for $19.99.

Games to Get Excited About: No Man’s Sky

Games to Get Excited About: No Man’s Sky

 

Guest Post By: Michael Wells

 

Happy April and welcome to this month’s edition of Games to Get Excited About! This month we’re taking a look at No Man’s Sky.

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No Man’s Sky is a game you may have been hearing about for a while. The game is the brainchild of Sean Murray, formerly of the Burnout series, and was unveiled by developer Hello Games and publisher Sony back at E3 2014. The game generated a lot of buzz for its popping visual style and promise of seamless gameplay. A particular standout for me was the part near the end of the trailer where the player hops in their spaceship on the surface of one world, then flies into space and down towards the surface of a neighboring planet with nary a loading screen in sight. With a heavy emphasis on freedom and exploration the game made a positive first impression for many gamers. That early reveal was a tantalizing glimpse of the project’s potential, but it left a lot of questions in its wake.

 

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No Man’s Sky promises a LOT of space

How Does It Work?

One of the first things that was revealed about No Man’s Sky is it’s scale. The game promises 18 Quintillion unique planets to explore. Obviously it would be impossible for any designer to come up with that much content so instead the game universe is proceduraly generated from seed code that mixes and matches from potential combinations of traits for planets including the atmosphere, biome, geography, and presence of intelligent life. The game renders that in real time as the player explores, and discards it when the player is not present. What makes this interesting is that any player who goes to the same spot will see the same things but the game doesn’t need to use the processing power to depict more than a infinitesimal fraction of its vast universe.

What Do You Do?

Hello Games has talked a lot about the scale of the game and the math that makes it possible. It’s obvious that they are proud of the work they’ve done, and rightly so. But the promise of an infinite universe only gets you so far if that universe isn’t full of interesting things to do. Details on the actual gameplay have been scarce until recently. So what can you do in a playground of this frankly unimaginable size?

The primary motivation of the game is exploration itself. Every planet you discover, every alien creature, and every landmark will be tagged as your discovery. A lot of the initial draw for the game will simply be seeing what is waiting over the next hill, on the next moon, past the next star… The eventual goal will be to make your way to the center of the Universe. As you progress further towards the center the game will become more challenging. Planets will become more dangerous, not only will they have stronger and more aggressive creatures, but they will also have extreme temperatures, toxic atmospheres, and other hazards. In order to survive you will need to upgrade your spacesuit and weapon to overcome the challenges. More dangerous planets will yield more valuable resources which you can use to craft more powerful upgrades. Crafting will utilize the game’s periodic table as you synthesize compounds from the raw elements you obtain from mining, scavenging ruins, and salvaging enemy robots and ships.

Your ship can be upgraded as well, to improve your speed, weapons and defenses, and even your FTL drive so that you can jump further and speed your progress towards your goal. Space provides its own challenges in the form of factions that can ally with or attack you based on your behavior. If you act like a pirate, don’t be surprised when the local faction drops a hunter killer fleet into your system to deal with you. But if you move to a sector controlled by that faction’s rivals they may reward you for attacking their enemies and give you preferential prices on trades. You can even take part in large scale space battles between factions that happen based on ongoing changes in the persistent universe.

A Shared But Lonely Universe

No Man’s Sky is an online game and the marks you make on it with your discoveries and interactions with factions will leave a permanent mark on the universe of the game. With that said, Hello Games has crafted what promises to be a strangely solitary experience. With the magnitude of the game’s universe it will be a very rare occurrence for players to run into other players. The game doesn’t provide any way to track other players or party with them. It doesn’t even incorporate any way to talk to each other. In some ways this design ethos reminds me of Journey. It will be interesting to see whether people coordinate outside the game to meet up within it. Will we see a galactic mapping project, or a safe planet become a de facto meetup spot? Will we see players build a structure around potential PvP? This is one part of the game which will probably surprise even the developers once it is released.

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So Why Get Excited?

No Man’s Sky is promising to bring an unprecedented amount of scale to a genre of game that has always benefited from having wider horizons. The ultimate question of whether the game is mechanically satisfying and rewarding to play won’t be answerable until the game is in our hands but the game has a staggering amount of potential. To get an idea of why I’m excited look at the picture above this paragraph. In the foreground there is a stone tablet that will help you decipher an alien language so you can better communicate with that faction. In the background is a small outpost of some kind. Maybe it’s a trading post, or maybe it’s home to some unfriendly natives. In the sky is a moon or sister planet that you can fly to with no loading or instancing of any kind. No Man’s Sky offers the final realization in some ways of that old game developer’s promise: If you can see it, you can get to it.

That level of seamless exploration is something that I have been waiting for since I started gaming. With high expectations there is always the potential for disappointment, but at this point I can’t help but be optimistic. Wherever the game ends up taking me, it is a journey I’m looking forward to taking.

No Man’s Sky releases for PC and the PlayStation 4 on June 21, 2016. The game will have a physical and digital release and there are two collector’s editions including a PC only edition that comes with a model space ship in case the digital ship isn’t enough for you.

Indie Game Spotlight: Blacksea Odyssey

Written by: Blacksea Odyssey
Overview
Blacksea Odyssey is a top-down shoot ’em up about ripping colossal space creatures to shreds with a harpoon and rune-infused spears. Play as the cybernetic Old Man who has entered the deadliest competition in the galaxy – the Blacksea Odyssey! Four of the bravest huntsman compete in capturing bounties for the largest space creatures that exist! Only the sole champion of the competition is awarded the honor of encountering the Titan of the Stars! Legend says no one has ever lived to tell a tale about the Titan. Will the Old Man be the first?
Inspiration
Blacksea Odyssey‘s core concept drew inspiration from the classic arcade game Asteroids and the novels Moby Dick and The Old Man and the Sea. However, it has since evolved to draw from numerous other sources: imagine, if you will, Shadow of the Colossus’s massively scaled bosses, Geometry Wars extremely crisp and fluid control scheme, Path of Exile‘s deep RPG-like rune system, and Binding of Isaac‘s insane replayability.
Current Status
We have an Alpha Demo available on our website: blackseaodyssey.com. We plan to release Early Access on Steam in late February followed by the PC launch in May and a console launch in June.

Fallout Shelter

Fallout Shelter by Bethesda
Mobile Game

So, I’ve had the pleasure of playing the crap out of Fallout Shelter for my Samsung/Android. It’s been out long enough that I’ve beaten it and now am working on new content that they just put into the game. There is a really good reason for the new content, but I will get to that.

You are in control of a Shelter and the goal is to grow your shelter and protect your people. Simple right? Not really. I think I went through 10 different vaults before I didn’t kill all my people.

You have to worry about power to your rooms. After that, you need food and water for your people. They also like to be happy. So you create your rooms, put people in them (when they are in the ‘correct room,’ the cursors on the corners turns green) and hope they aren’t killed by raiders or deathclaws. BTW, Deathclaws come when you have more than 50 people.

You create training rooms to increase the S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats of your people (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charm, Intelligence, Agility and Luck). You can also send people into the wasteland with items (the gun and armor you can equip and a max of 25 Stimpacks and Radaways). They will bring back armor, guns and caps. Be sure to keep checking on them to bring them back before they die out there.

Now that I’ve said all of that, let’s talk about what I think. I think it is a fairly awesome time kill that took me a bit to get started. However, I reached the ‘end’ fairly quickly once I got started. I have 200 people, which is the max. I have pretty good guns and armor doesn’t matter because I’ve been maxing out all of their stats. At this point, I’m trying to get all the collectables, which is difficult since I’ve maxed out my people.

I must admit I was surprised that they added Halloween decorations, which I loved, but I’m confused because they only did the diner and the living quarters, which seems a little half-hearted. Why not just do them all?

Now they have recently added a new mode: Survival. You start getting attacked immediately by larger groups and you can’t revive anyone that dies. I’ve started it and it is taking longer to build up than previous vaults. It is definitely interesting.

With all that said Fallout Shelter is a good game, a good time waster, but I really hope they do more with it. It’s awesome and short and a nice way to keep people interested in Fallout 4 coming out, but we will see if it holds up over time or fizzles out.