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First impression: Sanator: Scarlet Scarf (PC) ~ Who wears that scarf?

Steam store page

Hi, NotThatAlice here. NekoJonez asked me to review this game and I gladly agreed. Unfortunately, due to bad mental health, I put off reviewing this game until the last moment… Today I’ll be talking about a visual novel game called Sanator: Scarlet Scarf. For this review, the developers provided me with a review code. As requested by the developer, you will be able to read my 100% honest opinion in this article. As usual, just leave a comment with your opinion on the game and/or the content of the article in the section down below. 

The story

The story of this game is based upon the legend of the Plague Maiden, a Norse mythological creature. A woman can become a plague maiden when she didn’t get a proper burial after she was murdered on her wedding day. Now, this legend is also used in German-speaking regions when the bubonic plague was happening.

In this game you explore the world that has fallen twice and has an unclear future. You dive right into the mystery of a dying city with the fate of the Sanator in your hands. Are you able to stop the calamity before it’s too late? Because this is a big story based game, I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum in this review.

Now, if you are a fan of text-heavy games, you will absolutely love this game. Personally, I prefer action-packed games more but I believe that everyone has its own favorite game style. One of the great things of this game is that you can use your imagination, you don’t have to do what the game tells you to.

One thing you need to play this game is patience, it takes a while before you can decide something in the game. This also means that the game can have more than one ending so it has some replay value to find out what the other decisions have as an outcome.

The game sometimes uses unknown wordings, that something to get used to. It has some kind of codex but not every word is explained. On the other hand, they are talking about a plague that is killing tons  of people, that is a realistic thing from the middle ages. I also recognized the crow mask as a mask that was used in the middle ages by doctors in times of the plague. (I totally didn’t learn this from watching Beauty and the Beast, Disney-fan talking :p )

A little side note, something that NekoJonez didn’t like was the fact that some text was extremely close together. This can be seen in the codex. He said that sometimes an enter or two could have helped.

The text settings in the game are quite simple. You can choose to remove the text from the screen so you can see the full picture, you can change the text shading,… I would’ve made the text a little bigger though, it kinda made my head hurt a little.

Even though the game is read-through, you can enable voice assistance. This means you can still read the text but it is also read to you. One thing i would maybe change to this feature is that the text is only read to you when everything is on the screen and not while the text is written. This means you have to wait a while before you hear what is being written. It is also all in the same voice, which means you have to concentrate on who’s talking. If only the text and dialogues were color coded, that would help quite a lot.

Technical thingies

I really liked the visuals of the game, even though there isn’t a lot of animation. The style of the game is like it is painted on your screen, with paint strokes and darker colors. This makes the game a little extra special since it isn’t just an average animated game.

The background music gave me the chills. The music is kinda monotonous but at the same time it gave me the feeling that something was about to happen… The music also kinda resembled that of the Zero Escape series, which made it even scarier to me.

While playing through the game for the review, it really made me want to play on and on. The beginning may be a little slow but it you keep going until Syl tells her story you might be as restless to advance as me. This makes me admire the writer of the story a lot. I have read a lot of books, but if a book started slow, it makes me stop reading it. This game doesn’t have that problem at all.

One thing I accidentally did while first starting the game was put the game in Russian. I kinda was impatient and just pressed the first thing I saw. Maybe it’s easier if the language settings on the screen instead of only lighting them up if you move your cursor over them. I had to look up how Russian was written in Russian to find out where i had to click next. Now i kinda think it’s funny that it happened though.

Something I think that could have been improved was how the demo was handled. The demo of this game is a stand-alone package. But here is the thing, it’s a bit unclear that the demo is a prequel to the story. I think it would have worked better if the demo was the implemented into the full game as a sort of first chapter. Maybe as a sort optional chapter for those who already played the demo. What I thought when NekoJonez started playing the game at his place was that the demo actually looked like the beginning of the actual game. I don’t know if that was intentional or not.

I think that  the price of 8,19 euros for the game is a good  price. If the game only had 1 ending it would be a bit much but the game can be played several times, like I said earlier. There is some replay value in this game.

If you play the game, always remember to save your progress. The game doesn’t autosave, and when you exit, it doesn’t give you a prompt to save. This means all unsaved progress will be lost. Also, I found it a bit annoying that you can’t name your saves. The name of the save is simply the date from when you made the save. So, if I wanted to go back to a certain point, I had to remember which save file it was.

The settings of the game are quite simple, you can choose between windowed and borderless mode, you can change the volume of the music and sound and, which I thought was a nice extra, you can change the mouse cursor in the game. There is also an option where you can easily listen to the whole soundtrack that the game has. Besides that, you can also choose to darken the text that isn’t part of the current paragraph or on which side of the screen the text will appear on. I could nitpick that the arrow buttons weren’t the best symbol for this, since it almost gives you the impression you can move the text window to your heart content… to the middle for example.

And that’s everything I wanted to say about this game for now. When I have fully finished the game, I might write a more in depth review about this game. I want to thank the developers for the opportunity of reviewing this game. I also want to thank you, the readers for reading this article. Feel free to let me know if you enjoyed reading this review as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then have a great rest of your day.

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First Impression: Project Zero 2 – The Crimson Butterfly (PS2) ~ A Sisterly Bond

Fatal_Frame_II_-_Crimson_Butterfly

Wikipedia entry

Ah Fatal Frame, a series I found quite interesting when I was a little child but fell in love with a few years ago when I was able to get my hands on a collector’s edition of the Wii U entry in the series. It was the 5th entry in the series and I loved it so much, I started to hunt down all the other entries in the series. Last year, I was able to get myself all the European released games on PS2, in a physical copy! While testing them out,  enjoyed myself quite a lot with Fatal Frame 2. So, I kept playing that game. It’s no secret that I enjoyed myself with this game since I gave a spot on my top 10 games I played in 2018. So what are my actual opinions on this game? Well, let’s find out! And as usual, feel free to leave a comment down below with your opinion on the game and/or the content of this article.

PS: The article was originally going to be publish on this Sunday, but because today is my 26th birthday, I decided to publish it today as a birthday special.

A sisterly bond

fatal frame II screenshot 2The story starts out with two sisters running around in the forest playing. Suddenly, the pass a stone and it looks like the duo entered another dimension. The two get terrified that there is no easy way out and even worse, the two split up. Not willing, mind you. One of the two sisters get mesmerized with a crimson butterfly that she keeps following.

So, you need to go look for your sister in a creepy and haunted town while you need to escape ghosts and try to find an exit of the city. The setting for this horror game is excellent. The voice acting in this game is really well done, the voices of the two sisters is excellent. I also loved the performances of the ghosts since they kept me on the edge of my seat in certain battles.

The story is mostly told through notes, cutscenes and the environment.  There are moments you are together with your sister and there are moments she sees that damned butterfly again.  She really likes these red butterflies. Now, the story so far has been quite enjoyable. While sometimes I feel that the story is mostly used to string levels and area’s together, it’s executed extremely well. I really felt that something strange was happening and that there were higher powers at play.

Now, I am quite curious where the story of this game will go. The mysteries are getting unrevealed slowly but I still don’t have any answers. Now, do you need to play the first game before you can understand the story of the 2nd game? Well, not at all. The story is totally independent from the first game, while a lot of story mechanics return in the second game, all the characters are new.

Also, I haven’t beaten the original game myself. Now, you might wonder why I have chosen to play this game on the PS2 and not go for the director cut on the XBOX or Wii. That has two reasons. One, I don’t own an XBOX and two, the physical copy of the Wii game is extremely expensive. Now, when I was finishing up this review, I discovered that the game got released on the Nintendo eShop, so I bought myself a digital copy.

Anyways, we are getting off track here. The story itself is interesting. It’s two fold actually. In one part, it’s about how to escape the village and in another part, it’s about saving your sister. So, I have the impression that this game has multiple endings. But, I have to beat the game to know that for sure!

Spooky Camera

project_zero_2-6Because this is a Fatal Frame game, the Camera Obscura shows itself again. If you have played any other games in the series, you know how this game plays. In this game, you have to explore an area that’s filled with ghosts. Some ghosts aren’t hostile but the most of them are hostile. In order to defeat the ghosts, you have to take pictures of the ghosts. The better they are in frame, the more damage they receive. The damage also depends on the film you use. There is an aspect of survival horror to this game since the amount of film isn’t infinite. The stronger films are really hard to find and quite rare.

Combat in this game is an awkward dance with the ghosts. You have to come close to snap a good picture. But, if they are too close, they can grab you and you get damage. So, you have to move backwards. Now, the camera you use is quite old. So, it needs to recharge after each use. You have audio and visual cues to see when the camera is recharging.

To be honest, I found the combat controls better in the Wii U game I played. In my review of Resident Evil 4, I mentioned that I had difficulty with aiming my gun on the PlayStation 2. The same thing applies here. So, each play session, I have to get used to the controls. It doesn’t take too long, but it makes me miss the Wii U controls. Maybe when I play the Wii version, I won’t have this issue too much.

Now, this game doesn’t have an autosave. Much like Resident Evil 4, you can save at certain locations. In this game, it’s a red lantern on a pedestal. You have a limited amount of save slots, but that doesn’t bother me too much since it helps me to get more points. Side note, there is an improvement over the save system of Resident Evil since there is a small picture accompanying the save file.

Yes, the better the image, the higher the points you get. These points can be used to upgrade your camera. Upgrades like shutter speed or damage output. You can also find upgrades in various, sometimes hidden, locations to get certain things up to a higher level. There is a safer way in earning points as well. If you are able to make a picture of the scripted harmless ghosts, you get some bonus points. So, it’s highly advised to explore around and not go to solve the puzzles straight away.

Oh yes, this game has puzzles. Some of the puzzles require you to analyze a photograph and try to work out where it came from. Other puzzles require you to find a certain key item to open a door or to lift a curse on a door in order to progress.

Like a lot of other survival horror games, this game also suffers from some jump scares. Now, I find the build up to the jump scares pretty good. Most of the jump scares happen a bit off screen when you haven’t encountered a ghost for a while. In the Wii U game, the jump scares were way worse. Also, it’s quite possible to miss some jump scares if you didn’t explore certain areas of the room.

Exploring the city and the buildings is made much easier with a great map system. The map draws itself while you are exploring. The area only adds itself when the area is discovered. Also, when a door is locked, the door isn’t shown in blue but in red. Now, if you unlock a door when solving a puzzle that is somewhere else on the map, I don’t know for sure if the door also changes to blue. Since, to be honest, I haven’t paid attention to that.

There are a few additional things to the combat and gameplay I’m going to keep a secret for this article. The only thing I’ll say about it is that there is a combo system and a few other features. The camera is used in so many different unique and creative ways, it keeps the mechanic from being repetitive.

 Atmosphere in the dark

fatal frame II screenshotThis game is totally worth to wear the title of horror game. The atmosphere of the game is done extremely well. While this game first released on the PS, this game still looks amazing to this day. Some models and textures do show their age, but the lighting and visual design gives an extremely creepy atmosphere. I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat during most of my play sessions. I even went as far as closing the curtains of my room or to play this game at night with a good pair of headphones and in the dark. Only the dim glow of my darkened LCD television to keep me company.

I have played this game without and with my headset on. I found the game better when I played with a headset or with a good sound system. I wouldn’t listen to most of the soundtrack outside of the game but in the game, it helps to build the scary atmosphere so well. Some tracks sound like wind blowing through the room or that something is chasing and/or following you. Together with the amazing sound design of the ghosts, this game is just creepy.

The ghosts don’t sound either human nor other worldly. This is especially creepy because the ghosts moan and speak in Japanese. Well, most of them speak Japanese. Some ghosts also speak English and hearing that suddenly makes it even more creepy. They even managed to make picking up items scary with playing an animation and a creepy sound effect each time when you reach down to pick up an item. You also never know what the item will be since it’s a glowing white orb on the ground. It’s also possible to find some items in various drawers and house hold items. So, explore away!

Now, the bulk of the story is told through the locations you visit. There are some cut scenes where somethings are explained, but the visuals help to tell the story. There are also some moments where you find a stone that tells some additional story to flesh out the story even more. Earlier in this first impression, I talked about how the two sisters entered a cursed village and they are trying to find their way out. In this game you explore various locations. From a graveyard to a scary forest. You also explore various typical Japanese homes to a big shrine. While I was exploring, I really felt I was exploring an abandoned haunted village. The realism and attention for detail in the visual presentation is amazing.

Something I really want to praise this game for is that lighting. The lighting in this game is one of the strongest points. Of course, the game takes place during the night. It’s never light outside. At least, so far. I haven’t finished the game after all. The various candles littered around the village help to sell the atmosphere even more. The flashlight that you can control with one of the joysticks of the PS controller works flawlessly.

So, I think it’s quite clear that the atmosphere of this game is solid. When you want to play a good horror game, I highly recommend this game. The game also provides you with some good challenges. From tricky ghost encounters to clever puzzles. Now, you can run away from the ghosts, but you’ll lose points. And if you don’t get enough points, you might not be able to defeat certain bosses easily. Since, points = upgrades.

The controls is something that some people don’t like about this game. Personally, I got used to them after a while. I already talked about the struggle I had with the aiming of the camera. But, that also helps in the immersion department in a way. Remember, you are playing as a young Japanese girl trapped in a cursed village looking for your sister and a way to escape. Of course, you are scared and you are looking frantically for a way to defend yourself.

I’m almost forgetting to talk about the animation of this game. The animation in this game gets extremely close to the uncanny valley. I’m convinced that it’s in the uncanny valley for some. Especially how certain characters react and express their emotions. For example, how the two sisters like arms when they are witnessing something scary for the first time. They are looking for comfort with each other. It still blows my mind that there was such life like animation on the PlayStation 2.

I could continue to talk about this game for a while longer but most of it will be praising the game. If you are a horror fan, you really owe it to yourself to check out this game. The quality of the Fatal Frame series is up there with the Silent Hill and the original Resident Evil games. I’ll talk a bit more in depth about the game when I write my review. Consider the things I haven’t talked about in this first impression review as nice surprises when you decide to play this game.

With that said, I want to thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing this article. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.

Review: Atelier Rorona -The Alchemist of Arland- DX (Switch) ~ Crafting The Adventure With Alchemy.

atelier-rorona-featureWikipedia page

On my top 10 games list of 2018, I talked about Atelier Rorona. I talked about how this game got me interested in the Atelier series. Now, it’s time to give my full opinion on the game. Why did I place this game on my top ten list and why wasn’t it higher on the list? I think it’s time to talk about crafting and exploring. Adventuring and RPG’ing. And as usual, feel free to leave a comment with your opinion on the game and/or the content of this article in the comment section down below.

Get of your lazy bum

atelier rorona screen 1The story of this game has a simple premise. You play as Rorona, a young girl who is an apprentice at a local alchemy shop in the Arland Kingdom. Her master Astrid is so lazy that business isn’t going well at all. In a matter of fact, she didn’t get of her lazy bum for so long, the kingdom is considering to close down the shop. Rorona doesn’t want this to happen so she takes on the challenges provided by the kingdom. She gets a deadline of three years. During these three years she has to prove that she can run the alchemy shop and make profit. If she fails one of these challenges, the shop will be closed without any further question.

On the surface, the story of this game isn’t anything special. It’s one that has been done various times before. Yet, the story actually changes a lot on your actions. It depends on who you take with you on your journey, how good you craft your items, how you interact with the characters and how you run your alchemy shop. The one that lazy Astrid sort of gave to you because she wanted more sleep but didn’t want the shop to be closed.

This makes the story quite a lot of fun to play through. Because each and every playthrough is going to be different, you will have a different story. This game has various endings that all depend on how good you did during your missions provided by the kingdom. When I had beaten the game for the first time, I got a very generic ending that didn’t give the closure I felt that the story deserved. Because of that, I feel motivated to replay this game with so I can get an even better ending.

The writing of this game makes replaying this game even more enjoyable. While I was playing this game, I posted a short clip on my Twitter showing off the voice acting. The game has a lot of funny and charming moments. I actually fell in love with the characters of this game. Now, depending on how good you play this game, the characters you interact with get more character development.

Now, during my playthrough the story was quite enjoyable. While it didn’t have a lot of moments where I sat on the edge of my seat, it was quite relaxing. Maybe the other endings have more thrilling moments, but over all I enjoyed the story quite a lot. The writing, the pacing and the voice acting make for an enjoyable experience. I can’t wait to see how the game plays out on my next playthrough.

With that said, how do you actually go about saving the shop? For that, Rorona needs to gather ingredients from various locations and craft various items. Depending on the quality of the items, you get better items. Now, I do have one thing I felt mixed about in terms of the gameplay.

Running that shop

atelier-rorona-the-alchemist-of-arland-dx-screenshot-01-ps4-us-04dec2018

Yes, this is a screenshot from the PS3 version, but the Switch version looks the same apart from the different buttons.

While the story pacing is quite good, the pacing of the game is … let’s just say, strange. Because the game gives of a relaxing and casual vibe, the game can feel extremely slow. But this is very misleading. Because you have a strict time limit; you shouldn’t waste time at all. You have to play every move extremely carefully. The more mistakes you make, the worse your ending gets. The depth in this game is crazy. You do get an assistant in the middle point of the game. This mechanic saved me various times. You can assign this assistant to go and explore for you or craft items for you.

Be warned, the tutorials of this game only scratch the surface of the mechanics of this game. Something I recommend is that you use the save system to your advantage. I had various saves at various points. So, I can go back when I felt I was able to finish the missions with better results.

Talking about the save system, the fact that this game got ported from a PlayStation system really shows in the UI. If you have played a game on a PlayStation you will recognize the typical save and load UI easily. The only thing that annoys me is that I’m unable to name my saves. This would have helped quite a lot.

So, you have to explore, fight monster and craft items. This sounds like your typical RPG fair. You do have side quests that can help you to get a better relationship with a certain character. Some of these side quests have the potential to improve the reputation of the shop which also has a big influence on the ending of the story.

All in all, the biggest challenge of this game is time management. Use your time wisely and try to waste as few days as you can. I always tried to finish the assignment of the kingdom as fast as I could. When I finished that, I used the remaining days to explore new area’s and improve my relationship with the other characters.

The gameplay immersed me quite a lot. I really felt like a shop owner trying to find the best strategy to get my shop up and running and to try to get as many customers as I can. While the game isn’t too difficult to get the most basic ending, the challenge for this game hides in trying to get the best endings.

A normal playthrough of this game will take you somewhere around 20 hours. But, if you want to see all the endings, you will get a lot more out of this game. On howlongtobeat.com, there are reports of players taking 60 to 100 hours to fully complete this game. Now, this is for the PlayStation 3 version. On the time of writing this review, the website has no listing for the Nintendo Switch version.

Now, the meat of this game is in exploration and the crafting. First of all, let’s go a bit more in-depth about the exploration. During your exploration you can take two allies with you. Certain allies require a certain price to hire. This price needs to be paid up front. So, make sure you have enough gold in the bank to hire them.

During the exploration you can go to various locations. Each location has several area’s you can explore that provide different items. These items aren’t randomized, so if you find herbs in a certain area, you will be able to find those herbs every time there.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that you have an inventory limit. If you reach that limit, you have to throw out items. Also, you need to keep in mind that certain items can lose their freshness. For example, if you collect berries and don’t put them in your storage in the chest in the shop, the quality will drop.

During your exploration, you can see certain spots where items can be gathered. In the meantime, you see the enemies roaming around. When you interact with them, you can start a fight with them. The battles are turn-based. It’s the system you see in a million other RPG’s. But there are a few differences.

One difference is that only an alchemist can use items. So, only Rorona can use healing items during the battle. Another difference is that you can use certain characters to defend you and make combo attacks. In each battle, a meter builds up. When that meter is full, you can use the shoulder buttons to defend Rorona. A similar mechanic counts for the combo attacks.

One thing you need to keep in mind during the exploration is that moving between locations and area’s takes valuable time. So, make sure you know which items you need and where you can find them and plan accordingly. Otherwise you might get into trouble and you aren’t able to craft certain items.

In addition to that, keep in mind that you have a limited amount of MP. MP is also used to craft items. And this brings me on the second part of the gameplay I want to focus on, the crafting. This is something I didn’t always paid attention too. Each item can have certain properties that make a huge difference during crafting. Each item has also a quality level that changes the outcome quite a lot as well.

Something I found extremely tricky was looking for high quality items. For some reason, I always found mid tear or low tier quality items. I’m quite sure that this was one of the reasons that resulted in me having a mediocre ending. Now that I know that, I know what I should look for in a second playthrough.

Anyways, the crafting system itself is a bit basic. You can select various ingredients to craft an item. If you don’t have a certain sub ingredient that is craftable, you get forwarded to the craft menu of that item. One thing that I found really annoying was that it wasn’t always clear which ingredients were missing. For example, the icon of the missing ingredient was a flame. But I had a few ores that looked extremely similar. Yet that wasn’t the ingredient I needed. It turns out I needed oil.

Something I really liked was that in the crafting list, you were able to sort ingredients in terms of quality or rarity. Also, you had various symbols that gave information if you were or weren’t able to craft a certain item. For example, a triangle means that you are able to craft the item but you have to craft a sub item first.

One thing that I would like to mention is that this game can be repetitive. It’s quite easy to fall in a loop for every assignment or mission. Explore, craft, rest. Explore, craft, rest. Explore, craft, rest. And repeat. Each assignment has a different theme like preparing for a festival or helping to craft medicine.

I didn’t mind too much, but I feel that a bit more variation in the gameplay would do the game some good. For example, a bit more assignments where you needed to defeat a certain number of monsters or collect a certain amount of ingredients would do the trick.

Arland is saved

atelier-rorona-the-alchemist-of-arland-dx-screenshot-03-ps4-us-04dec2018Let’s talk about visuals. This game looks quite nice in my opinion. While the game could have benefited from a free camera, I actually didn’t mind too much since the camera allowed me to watch the nice city and fun dungeons in great detail. Some enemies suffer from the recolor syndrome, like the slime enemies. There are at least 3 variants and only the color has been changed. I wish those games added a few extra details. Oh well. At least I never had slowdowns during gameplay and I was able to play the game at a decent frame rate.

In terms of animation, this game is good. While the cut scenes would have benefited from some more character animation instead of gorgeous looking 2D artwork. Now, if the game came out in a previous generation, I would excuse this…. oh, wait… that’s right, this game is a port of a PS3 game. Then again, the PS3 is capable of so much more. Oh well.

Now something that bugged me a bit is the rather awkward jumping animation. I think it’s missing a few frames near the end where Rorona’s feet almost snap into place. It also looks strange when you adjust your jump in midair. Since Rorona sort of floats awkwardly. It’s hard to put into words but while the jump works great, it feels off and looks a bit off.

Jumping in itself is easy to do and control. You just press the jump button and voila. I don’t have any complaints about the controls. I really like how there is a dedicated button to cycle through Rorona’s animations. The game controls great and I didn’t have need to spend time getting used to them. The UI explains it so well, I got the hang of it right away. One minor nitpick is that the prompt for running is a tad confusing. When the UI shows a button for “running ON” and you press that button, Rorona actually starts walking. So, that promt in the UI actually shows the status if you are running or not.

Now, the UI has some amazing things I really liked. Like how easy it is to sort items or the great and easy to use crafting system. But I have a few complaints. First of all, I wish I was able to see which ingredients where at a certain location before I actually travelled there. I would have been able to save so many days…

Secondly, while I totally understand why the developers did this; I wish I was able to see how many days it would take to go to a newly discovered gathering area. The reason why they don’t tell you this is most likely for immersions reasons.

And my final and third complaint is when you buy armor, you can’t see if it would increase somebody’s stats or not. This was quite annoying, especially when the armor shop rarely has new items because the game really wants that you craft it yourself.

The music and sound effects for this game are good. The soundtrack really fits the mood of the story quite well. It’s relaxing and rather melodic. It helps to get immersed into the game. I even added the soundtrack to my playlist for when I want to relax. Now, the sound effects are great but I wish there were a bit more of them. For the whole crafting system, the use the same effects and I would love some different ones for food or bombs. Also, one for days passing while the clock ticked over would be the cherry on the cake.

Oh, and here is something nice, you can totally change the whole soundtrack. Yes, while interacting with the book in the atelier, you can change each and every track to another track. You can choose between a pretty long list of other games in the series. Now, this is an amazing feature but it could have used some additional features. Like a reset to default option and one where you easily see which song you have selected since in that menu there is a lot of unused screen space. And the biggest missing feature is in my opinion a preview of what song is currently playing. Oh dear, they were so close.

In that same menu, you can access the different costumes for Rorona. As far as I know these are only cosmetic. You can do save file management and decorate the atelier to a certain degree. You can also access the options menu where you can adjust the sound mix to your liking. In here, you can also change the language of the voice acting to Japanese or English. So, if you want Rorona to greet you in Japanese in the main menu, you can do that.

After you have finished the game, there is a postgame chapter. I won’t spoil what the chapter is about but it adds some additional story. But after this post game, there is no free roaming. So, you can’t experiment with the game… This is a real missed opportunity since I would have loved to try and experiment with the game to learn and have a better run next time. Yet, on the other hand, I totally understand why they did this. Because the game has so many different endings in which different characters aren’t present, it would have been a hell to program.

Interestingly, during me writing this review and posting it; the game got a small update. I have no clue what has been added, but I wanted to mention it, just in case something in my review doesn’t make sense anymore.

With that said, I have said almost everything I wanted to say about this game. I did leave some things out for you as a surprise if you decide to play this game. But, it’s time for the conclusion of this review and my final thoughts.

Conclusion

The bad:

  • The jump animation looks awkward.
  • The game can be repetitive.
  • There is no free play in the post content.

The good:

+ Enjoyable story, writing and voice acting.

+ Amazing charm.

+ Great UI.

+ High replay value due to the different endings.

+ Relaxing soundtrack and you can change it to your liking!

+ ….

Final thoughts:

I don’t know exactly how this game compares to other games in the Atelier series. Since this game is the first game in the series I have played. Nevertheless, I did enjoy my time with this game quite a lot. The game is on the surface a relaxing game with a lot of charm. But, don’t get fooled, this game can become quite hectic in a good way.

The game is quite enjoyable to play but difficult to master. You really need to plan every single move to make sure to you get yourself in a difficult situation.

This game is perfect for everybody who is looking for an RPG with a crafting system or somebody who is looking for a shop simulator. While I can totally understand why some people won’t enjoy this game too much, it did click with me.

But the game is far from perfect. Don’t get me wrong, this game is quite good but it has some flaws that hinder the gameplay in my opinion. Like the strict deadlines and the repetitive nature of the game.

Personally, I recommend that you give this game a try. If only there was a demo of this game you could try out and judge for yourself if this game is for you are not. I bought this game because the screenshots and descriptions looked interesting on the Nintendo eShop and I wasn’t disappointed.

Now, I can’t wait to play the other games in this trilogy to see if they improved the mechanics in the other games. Maybe they crafted an even better adventure while they kept everything that worked quite well in this game.

Do keep in mind that I’m not saying that this is a bad game. It’s a good game with some flaws. It’s up to you to decide if these flaws would hinder your enjoyment of the game or not. Since this game has a lot of depth so you will be able to have a lot of fun with this game.

With that said, I want to thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in a different article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.

Score: 70/100

Review: Death Mark (Switch) ~ Alive Until Dawn

death mark

Official website

You are walking on a street and you overhear two schoolgirls talking to each other. They tell a story about one of their teachers dying in a horrible death. Her arm was found in the library of the school, cut off from the rest of the body with a red bite mark on the hand. That’s how Death Mark opens. The game I decided to play during the Halloween season because I already finished Angels of Death by then. Since I started playing the Zero Escape series and Corpse Party, I have been hooked on the horror genre. I wanted to play more horror games or games with a strong focus on horror. It doesn’t need to be survival horror like Resident Evil 4 or Silent Hill but a game that fits the mood of the holiday perfectly. Now, I know I’m terribly late with my review of this game. But, it was part of my top 10 games of 2018 list and I want to give my honest opinion on it. So, let’s talk about the PS Vita game that got ported to the Switch called Death Mark. As usual, feel free to leave a comment with your opinion of the game and/or the content of this article in the comment section down below.

Alive until dawn

nswitch_deathmark_05So, the story of this game centers around the mystery of the mysterious Death Mark people have been receiving. This red bit mark appears on people’s bodies when they interact with spirits. The protagonist of this game suffers from your typical case of memory loss and doesn’t remember his past. After you heard the two girl’s their story, your own mark starts to burn and you get teleported to a mansion. When you enter the mansion, you find it to be abandoned. When you visit one of the bedrooms, a thunder crack reveals the dead body of a girl on the floor with flowers blooming from her stomach and chest. Startled, you run down starts where you meet up with a doll that explains to you that the Death Mark is quite real.

If you are unable to remove your mark, you will die by the time dawn comes. One theory that you quickly form is that you can possibly remove the mark by killing or defeating a spirit. But, how do you kill a spirit? How do you kill something that is already dead? Well, by trying to solve the grudge that is keeping them in the living realm.

After you got the explanation of the living wooden doll that lives on the sofa in the entrance of the mansion, you heard a knock on the door. You open the door and find two teenagers. They are looking for the previous inhabitant of the mansion. She is a spirit healer and they are looking for her help to get rid of the same mark you possess. It’s revealed that she was the dead body you discovered earlier. So, you try and take her place. So, now you start in trying to help the other people with a Death Mark while trying to discover who you are and which spirit gave you your Death Mark.

All of this is explained in a quite lengthy introduction. The writing of this game is amazing. If this story sounds interesting to you, I have to give you a fair warning. This game is a visual novel adventure game. There is quite a lot of text in this game. If you aren’t interested in playing a game that has more dialogue then gameplay, this isn’t your game.

I do have to say that the writing is amazing in this game. The story has it a weird charm. At one hand, the game has amazing characters and great development. It didn’t take long before I got attached to certain characters and I got quite invested in them. Yet, this game is also a horror game. So, a lot of creepy stuff happens on your journey. From finding death bodies to combating spirits, this game has it all. This game has just the perfect mix between the two worlds and I have no complaints about them. The pacing of the game is just perfect as well.

The only minor disappointment is that the characters are voice acted in Japanese. Now, I don’t mind Japanese voice acting that much, but I personally prefer English voice acting. The whole game isn’t voice acted, but quite a lot is. The voice acted that is present in the game is really great. But, I’m not going to critique it too much since I don’t know enough about Japanese to say it’s good or bad. But, from my personal experience, I feel that the voice actors always used the right emotion to what appears on screen.

This game has 6 chapters. The original PS Vita game had 5 chapters and one DLC chapter. The DLC chapter is included for free in this Switch port. There is something in terms of the chapters I’m quite on the fence about. The chapters themselves are not too long nor too short. But, if you combine all playtime to get through the game and fully beat it, this game takes around 8 to 10 hours to complete. This game is quite short, too short even.

Near the end, I was so invested in the game, I was extremely bummed when I finished the final chapter. I wanted to play more, explore the world and setting of the game a bit more. But alas. Thankfully, this game doesn’t have a lot of filler content. The story in some chapters can go at a breakneck pace and that was a refreshing experience.

Explore and read

nswitch_deathmark_04One of my favorite genres in video games is the visual novel. There are two types of visual novels; the ones with gameplay and the kinetic ones. The kinetic ones almost have no gameplay and I honestly dislike playing. This game isn’t a kinetic novel. In this game, you have to explore various areas where a spirit is roaming. During your exploration, you have to find a reason of the grudge of the spirit.

While you are exploring the area, you can come across live or death situations. You get presented with different options and if you choose the wrong option, you get a game over. In some cases, you lose soul power. What is this soul power? It’s the power of your soul, when this drops to 0, the spirit of the chapter catches you right away.

When you are in a live or death situation, you are timed. The remaining time you have, is the remaining soul power you have. During your exploration, you can find talismans that restore your soul power if it gets low. Now that I have beaten the game, I can say that there is no additional reward when you answer all the questions correctly without losing soul power. This is a missed opportunity. It would be great if this unlocked the additional 6th chapter or some character art.

Anyways, your soul power fully restores in-between chapters. So, you aren’t punished for mistakes in an earlier chapter. Personally, my favorite chapter is the 6th chapter. The moral of that chapter speaks to me on a personal level.

Now, there are two different endings to this game. The ending that you get depends if you are able to fully solve the grudge of the spirit of that chapter. So, when it comes to the climax of each chapter, think long and hard before you make your next move. Since one mistake during those battles can change the ending dramatically.

Speaking about the climax of each chapter, think carefully who you take as a partner on your journey. Sometimes you will be unable to defeat a spirit if you don’t have the right character in your party. I loved trying to work out who would be the best character to use against the spirit. Reading their character profile is even more important now than before. My advice is, save often. You are only able to save outside of dialogue sections. So, don’t be a hero and save after you made some progress. Also, pay attention that this game doesn’t automatically save. And when you are dead, you have to restart from your last save point. You can save using the “Y” button. There are a limited amount of save slots, so use them wisely.

Saving is this game is quite easy. After the introduction, you can save when you are in the mansion in a limited amount of save slots. Now, if you want to be able to restart a chapter, I highly advise you to save right after the introduction of the chapter. Since, there is no other way to start from a certain chapter. The only option in the main menu are new game, continue or a gallery. In this gallery, you can see the animation of the spirits and the images you saw during the chapter.

In terms of the UI, this game is good. I have no real complaints. I do have some minor suggestions. Especially with the inventory screen. This would feel so much better if the inventory screen had a static image of the item you have selected. Now, it’s just a boring looking list of items, like you would see in a spreadsheet.

Anyways, sometimes the story of one spirit links to the story of another spirit. In that case, you can always read a small summary in the pause menu. During that, you can watch the amazing full screen pictures that were used during the chapter.

During each chapter, you have to explore a location. You can only explore with one partner. The other partner or partners will stay at the mansion to look for clues in solving the mystery of the Death Mark. You can go at any moment to the entrance of the location to take the car back to the mansion to change partners. Like I said earlier, the choice of partner matters. If you are unable to solve a puzzle or pass through a location, try having another partner.

The locations themselves aren’t that large. It doesn’t take too long before you are able to fully explore the location. Now, there is something to do in each and every screen of the game. From small jump scares to big puzzles. Oh yes, this game has small jump scares. Most of the jump scares are rather subtle and aren’t too distracting from the exploration. To be honest, I found them used quite well. Also, it’s possible that you don’t even see all the jump scares since they are location specific.

During your journey for the truth in the Death Mark mystery, you explore a forest, a school and various other locations. Each location is extremely memorable. The detail in the artwork of each location is impressive. The atmosphere building with the visual presentation in this game is a strong point of this game. I really felt on edge while exploring certain locations. I really felt that the location I was exploring had a certain presence and a morbid history to it. In some occasions, the game managed to get underneath my skin.

Now, in terms of the animations, this game has a lot of missed potential. Apart from the spirit battles, this game doesn’t have a lot of animations. I think it would have been better if the game had a bit more animations and scene transitions. For example, a walking animation from going between rooms would aid a lot with the world building and immersion. And if you give the option to the players to turn this animation on or off, it would be perfect. Now, there is a small dialogue box that appears when you move between rooms with a sound effect, but could be so much more.

On the edge of my seat

nswitch_deathmark_03Exploration in this game is really well done. During the game, you are able to use your flashlight to investigate each and every room. I highly advise that you look around carefully in each and every room. Since every little detail can aid you in your quest to solve the grudge of the spirit. The game helps you out a bit in the investigation. When you can interact with something, you see a little sparkle animation when you hover over it with your flash light.

When you have to use an item in your quest, the item will be automatically used. Expect during the spirit battles. In those battles you have to use every item in your inventory to try and defend yourself. You and the spirit take turns in making a move. If the spirit comes too close, it’s game over.

Apart from one puzzle, the puzzles in this game are well crafted. They really test your skills in exploring the area you are in and your investigation skills. Exploring the location gets even better with the fluid controls. The flashlight is mapped to one of the joysticks of the joycon and reacts very responsively.

Now, there is one thing that could turn some people off and that is the map system. During the exploration, you have a mini-map of the location at the top right. This mini-map is nothing more than a few squares and lines how the squares connect. So, you will have to build a mental map of the location during your exploration. This is highly essential when you don’t want to get lost. A more detailed map would have been welcome, but I felt it added to the world building of the game. Remember the story? You only have the few short hours of the night to try and get rid of the grudge of the spirit before you die. So, creating an actual map might lose too much time.

The controls in this game are quite decent. Sometimes I got a bit disoriented, but that’s because my mediocre navigational skills in games. It doesn’t take long before you get used to the control scheme of this game and learn to use it to your advantage.

The exploration is added with some great sound and music design. The soundtrack sounds like a combination of the Zero Escape series, Ace Attorney and Corpse Party. The music gives of eerie vibes and fits the visual presentation like a glove. I’m actually hunting down the soundtrack of this game to add it to my music library.

Together with the amazing sound effects, the visual and audiovisual presentation of this game is a real treat. I can’t make any complaints about that aspect of the game. Before I keep repeating myself, I think it’s time that we talk about another aspect of the game.

The difficulty of this game is just right. The game is even more difficult when you don’t pay attention during the investigation. In the later chapters, I even took some physical notes to aid myself during the investigation.

Now, if you forgot to save, there is a button that you can use to fast forward the cut scenes. I rarely used this button since I was too invested in the story. I used this button only once when I forgot to save before a LIVE OR DEATH situation and I got a game over… Now, I could have used the “decide again” option to restart from the beginning of the LIVE OR DEATH situation but I lost too much soul power. So, restarting from an earlier point actually benefited me.

Also, there is a message log you can access. A minor complaint is that the button to fast forward is quite hidden in the UI. It’s the L-button.

The replay value of his game isn’t too high. Not counting replays for fun, you can play twice through the game before you have seen it all. Now, this isn’t a big issue but more endings would extend the already short overall game time.

With that said, I said almost everything I wanted to say about this game. I think it’s high time to go to the summary and closing statement of this review.

Summary

The good:

+ Amazing atmosphere in the visual and audio department.

+ Great writing.

+ The game has a lot of text.

+ …

The bad:

  • The game is too short.
  • The game has a lot of text.
  • A bit more animations would enhance the game a lot.
  • You can’t restart a chapter without a save.

Final thoughts:

This game is not for everybody. If you don’t like a game that has a lot of text, I think that it’s best for you to skip this game. If you enjoy games like Ace Attorney, Zero Escape, Walking Dead, Corpse Party, Trace Memory… I highly recommend this game.

This game is the perfect game to play through on Halloween night or whenever you are in the mood to play more horror focused games. The writing, pacing, audio and visual presentation of this game is very well done. The biggest flaw of this game is that it’s too short. I got so invested and the ride was over before I knew it.

Now, a spiritual successor is going to be released in Japan really soon called NG. I really hope and wish that they are going to bring this game to the west as well. Since the trailer looks amazing and I really would love to play it.

I can totally see why some people would be turned off by this game. But personally I loved my playthrough. When you play this game, don’t use a walkthrough. This game gets even more fun when you aren’t using a walkthrough to guide you in every step of the way.

If you ask me, I think that this game is totally worth it’s price. This developer really convinced me of the quality games they can put out. While this game has flaws, in my eyes they don’t ruin the experience at all. But, I’m really going to hammer this home… This game would be perfect if there were a bit more chapters. A bit more content.

And with that said, I have really said everything I could say about this game. I want to thank you for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care!

Score: 90/100

Review: Pokémon Mystery Dungeon – Explorers Of Time / Darkness & Sky (DS) ~ Expansion Dungeon?

PMD3

Wikipedia entry

So, remember when Nintendo released an enhanced version of each generation? Games like Pokémon Yellow, Crystal, Emerald and Platinum come to mind. Well, they also did that once for their Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series. When Explorers of Time and Explorers of Darkness released, a year later Nintendo released Explorers of the Sky. I have beaten Explorers of Time but I haven’t beaten this updated version yet. Why did I decide to write a review then? Well, the core mechanics haven’t changed in this version. In any case, it’s time to take a look at this game, what do I think about this entry in one of my favorite game series? As usual, feel free to leave a comment with your opinion on this article and/or the game. 

250px-MD_Time_EN_boxart

Note: In this review, I will focus mostly on the Sky version of the game. But my thoughts in this review apply to all versions of this game except the exclusive stuff in the Sky version.

Note 2: To avoid mentioning the full title of the game every time, I refer to the games by only using the last word in the title.

Let’s form a guild

Pokemon mystery dungeon explorers of the sky 2

So, you start up a new game and you get a personality quiz. This will decide which Pokémon you will be during the whole adventure. For some reason, I love doing this quiz. I have played it various times and I always end up with the same Pokémon.

So, the story of this game. You play as a human that got turned into a Pokémon. You meet your partner on the beach. After your partner gets his special artifact stolen from some rival gang, you and your partner go and reclaim the stolen artifact. After you have helped your partner, both of you team up and go join the local guild.

When you join the local guild, you learn that somebody is stealing the time gears and which controls time in that given area. So, you set out on an adventure to stop this madness and restore peace to the land.

And that’s just the basic part of the story. This story goes much deeper. You go on various quests and adventures, it’s great. The writing in this game is great, but some jokes are more aimed at the younger audience. In the Sky version, there is additional backstory added to the game. There is also a longer epilog added to the game. I still have to finish the epilog, but I love the added stories so far.

The visual presentation of this game is, as you would expect from a Nintendo game, excellent. I can understand that the visuals might turn some people off since they aren’t upgraded too much from the original GBA title. Still, the detail in the artwork is well done. Also, the gorgeous full-screen pictures are an amazing touch. A common criticism of this game is that

A common criticism of this game is that the dialogues go on and on for too long. I honestly didn’t mind this too much, but I do understand why people complain. This game could have benefitted from some cutscenes, even when it’s just a big picture that goes over the two DS screens.

Was this needed?

620279-pokemon-mystery-dungeon-explorers-of-sky-nintendo-ds-screenshot

The expanded Sky version has a very mixed reception. While some reviewers hated this version, some reviewers loved it. The biggest issue is that the things that were added in this version were somewhat minor at first. Why do I say minor at first? Well, this version has much more polish than the original versions.

Why do I say minor at first? Well, this version has much more polish than the original versions. Also, there are some many things added like: new dungeons, new story, more starters, new places and shops… But most of them appear after a bit of playtime or is post game content.

I think that this could have been handled better. I think that the Sky version should have been the only one that got released. It’s the superior version of Time and Darkness. So, if you haven’t played these games yet, don’t bother with Time and Darkness, play the Sky version.

Another interesting idea would be a sort of “save file transfer” feature. So, that you transfer your save file from either Time or Darkness to Sky and you get direct access to the new features without having to replay the whole game.

If you have played Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Blue or Red Rescue Team, you know what you can expect in this game. You go through randomized dungeons while fighting various other rogue Pokémon. Your goal is to reach the end of the dungeon so you can continue to the story.

Sometimes you have sentry duty over at the guild. Then you have to guess which 250px-MD_Darkness_EN_boxartPokémon wants to enter the guild. I think this mini game would be pretty tricky if you aren’t familiar with Pokémon. But, if you are familiar with Pokémon, this shouldn’t give you too much trouble.

When you aren’t exploring a dungeon, you can go and visit the local town to buy items and upgrade your Pokémon. You can also go on various side quests and/or hunt after wanted criminals.

The core gameplay can be repetitive, yet enjoyable. If you play this game more an extended amount of time, it might get boring. But, if you spice things up with some side quests and trying to progress the story, the game stays enjoyable.

In Sky, there is a new Spinda Café added, which adds some new mechanics into the game. But, I’ll leave that for you to find out. One of them is a recycling mechanic and another is the lottery mechanic. That’s all I’m going to say about that. Check it out since it will help you in your journey.

When you die in a dungeon, you get kicked back to the start of the dungeon or the mid-way checkpoint. The catch is that you lose some items and almost all your cash. So be careful what you take with you since you can loose it when you aren’t careful.

The music for this game is excellent. There is one song that almost every time hits a cord with me. That song’s name is “Don’t Ever Forget – I don’t want to say goodbye…” and it plays near the climax of the whole game. To avoid spoilers, I’m not going to say too much about it, but it still gives me goosebumps while writing this part of the review. And I’m not the only one. Just go on YouTube and read the comments. Yeah, you will understand what I mean.

The music adds so much to this game. There are so many memorable moments that are made so much more powerful with the soundtrack. So, I highly recommend playing this game with a good pair of headphones. Thank me later.

A quick note about the sound design, it’s great. But honestly, due to the amazing soundtrack, it didn’t pay too much attention to the sound design to comment too much about it.

Snatch that jewel

Pokemon mystery dungeon explorers of the sky 1

This game can be pretty difficult in some places. But, most of those moments can be defeated with some grinding. Yet, sometimes you have or can get lucky and finish a difficult dungeon by finding the stairs on each floor.

In Sky, there are various tweaks at the difficulty. But the random monster houses can be so cheap. I died more than once because of this.

The controls for this game are great. I didn’t have any problems with them. The only annoying thing is that you attacking diagonally is a nightmare. I had to struggle with the controls more than once to do that. Also, attacking at a corner doesn’t work. Your attack always misses. This is fixed in later entries in the series.

Due to the randomized nature of the dungeons you enter, there is a lot of replay value in this game. But, you will miss a skip button for skipping the story bits.

Speaking about that, something that annoyed me was the end of the day after you finished your missions. You go through dinner with your guild and it takes a bit too long. I honestly think that a skip button for this would help. But, that would be tricky since sometimes at night time, you get important story bits. So, I can understand why it isn’t added.

This game’s length is great. If you play through the game to just beat the main story, you will have 30-ish hours of gameplay ahead of you. But, I have read that when you want to complete this game, you have over 150 hours of game time ahead of you.

So, that’s everything I wanted to talk about in this game. I didn’t talk about some parts, but hey, that means there are still surprises for you to find when you decide to give this game a try. So, it’s time to wrap up this whole review in the conclusion.

Conclusion

The bad:

-Some minor issues like not being able to attack at corners aren’t fixed from the previous entry in the series.

-The bad reception for the Sky version is understandable. Due to the release of Sky, the Darkness and Time versions look unpolished.

-This game could have benefitted from some cutscenes.

-A skip button for the story isn’t here. This would benefit 2nd playthroughs so much.

The good:

+ Great story and writing.

+ Great visuals.

+ Amazing music.

+ Fun, yet sometimes repetitive, gameplay.

+ …

Final thoughts:

If you want to give this game a shot, I highly recommend playing the Sky version. If you think the games are worth a replay, you might give the Time & Darkness a chance. But remember, like I said in the review, the Sky version is better since it has much more polish than the originals.

This game is excellent. This game is one of my favorite games in the series and I can’t wait to finish the additional content. I have beaten this game at least 4 times, so that’s why I wrote a review instead of a first impression.

I can understand people who are let down by the Sky version since they played Darkness and/or Time first. But, don’t let it discourage you to not play this game. You would miss out on a great Pokémon spin-off that is slowly growing into an amazing series.

This game doesn’t have too many flaws, but the flaws it has aren’t too big of a deal in my eyes. They didn’t stop me from enjoying the game and having a great time.

In any case, thank you so much for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing this. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.

Score: 95/100