Monday, June 28, 2010

Skulls of the Shogun stream at 1up

1up will be live streaming Skulls of the Shogun tomorrow.  This will be the first public demonstration of the game.  It's a super-simplified TBS designed primarily for multiplayer, coming to Xbox Live Arcade and PC.  Check out the preview here.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the recorded livestream.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Aksys possibly porting Blazing Souls: Accelate to NA

2009/07/23 [PSP] [1] [2] Blazing Souls Accelate

According to a Gamefly entry, from a post on Siliconera, the strategy RPG Blazing Souls: Accelate may be coming to NA.  Blazing Souls is the series of games Idea Factory was cranking out before they started on Agarest War.  They are both pretty similar - lots of fanservice, grinding, and more patience required than strategy.

The Gamefly release date is listed as 10/14/2010.

 UPDATE: Aksys put out a press release announcing the game.

Video game performance and game theory articles.

Here are some science articles on game theory and video game performance I've found over the past year or so.

What gamers have in common with top athletes
Size of Brain Region Affects Video Game Performance
Men's Reactions Peak at Age 39
Study: Playing Video Games Improves Eyesight
The Future of Video Game Input: Muscle Sensors
Video Gamers Can Control Dreams, Study Suggests
Reactions Faster than Actions, Study Finds
NeuroSky lets gamers use their brains
Sleep may help you become a 'Guitar Hero'
Reward-driven people win more, even when no reward at stake
Game theory shows evolution follows most successful member
Unreal hormones: males treat games as social competitions
Moralists have the last laugh

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Daisenryaku Perfect PSP preview at Famitsu

My copy of Daisenryaku Perfect for PSP shipped yesterday, so I'll be providing some import impressions.  Systemsoft is the only Japanese developer left still making hardcore, full fledged tactical simulation games for consoles - the kind with dozens of real life nations, hundreds of units, generals, and all that good stuff.  Famitsu wrote a preview for the game in April with some screens.

I also spotted a fan translator making patches for some older Daisenryaku titles.  Web site here.

R-Type Tactics II rated by the ESRB

According to a post on Siliconera, the ESRB has rated R-Type Tactics II with Irem as the publisher.  It may possibly be an online-only release.  Either way it would be good news for the few of us hoping to play the game in English.

Star Hammer Tactics Review (XBLA/PSP)

 06/14 [XBLIG/PSP] [1] Star Hammer Tactics

Star Hammer Tactics is a tactical level turn based game for Xbox Live Indie Games or the PSP online store (PSP Minis).  Star Hammer Tactics is not your typical tactics game.  First of all, there's a 45 second real-time limit for every player turn.  Much like a timed chess match, you are under real-time pressure to strategize and carry out your orders.  To match with the time limit, most campaign levels involve about 5-7 allied units, so you're never bogged down with too many units to order around.  I personally like real-time limits because they add an extra element of pressure and intensity to your thinking skills that isn't often seen in turn based games.

Target seeking missiles can be fired by your larger ships, which move on their own and hone in on enemies.  Missiles have their own turn separate from player and CPU phases.  Be careful though, because friendly fire is possible and you can accidentally destroy your own units.  An important part of the games strategy is making sure your missiles actually hit their intended target, while dodging the enemy missiles or blocking them from hitting your valuable units by sacrificing a weaker one or hiding behind a floating asteroid or mine.  While I thought it was hilarious unintentionally blowing up my own ships, beginners to the genre may not be so forgiving.

Each unit has a combined pool of AP to move and fire missiles with.  Attacking is done automatically between turns whenever two units are close enough to one another - the units will fight to the death in any encounter.  You can alter the attack/defense ratio of all of your ships.  This allows you to set your faster moving ships more defensively while your large, slower ships move in to fire missiles.  This does tend to slow the game pacing down if you start adjusting the slider for every unit in your army.  I'm pretty sure most casual players will ignore this function, and I didn't find it necessary to bother with it during the campaign.

The campaign is a short and fairly easy 12 or so missions.  Even if you have no clue what you're doing for the first few missions, you're likely to win by default anyway.  Eventually things start to toughen up and you'll need to make sure each of your missiles count and that you attack your target with multiple units at once.  It took me about 3 hours to complete.

So with a game that's somewhat off the beaten tactics track, you'd think there would be a tutorial, right?  Nope.  You get two how to play screens and then you're thrown straight into the campaign.  While I was informed by the developer that this game is for casual players, I can see how a casual player with little patience would become frustrated with the real-time limit each turn combined with the unconventional combat mechanics.  The game is pretty easy to pick up after a few campaign missions, but a tutorial mission would have helped.

The plot involves space-faring humanity vs an unknown alien force.  The music is limited to a single ambient track that's tolerable, but like most strategy game music I eventually turned it off.  Sound effects are decent.  The graphics are clean and colorful with that hand-drawn indie vibe.  The UI is acceptable but has some speed issues.  Switching units is slow due to the sluggish camera movement programmed into the game, and you can't turn off the movement animation.  A faster, more responsive UI would have definitely helped.

There's local multiplayer available against the CPU or a player.  You spend points on your army and deploy them on the grid, then get down to the action.  The map size and real-time limit can be adjusted.  Overall this is a decent, somewhat unusual tactics game for the price that's worth a try if you're in need of a quick fix on your Xbox 360 or PSP.

Strategic Depth: Low.  It's a simple game.  There's less than 5 unit types total.
Strategic Difficulty: Low.  Plotting your missile trajectories, dodging/blocking enemy missiles, and surrounding your foes is just about it.
Overall Score: 6.7/10.  For an inexpensive online game, it's fun if you need a quick tactical fix.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Military Madness: Nectaris Remake Review (XBLA/PS3/WII)

2009/09/30 [XBLA/PS3/WII] [1] Military Madness: Nectaris Remake

Military Madness: Nectaris is a fully 3D remake of the original Military Madness back on the TG-16, or Nectaris on the PC-E back in 1989.  It's a tactical level wargame-lite, simpler than Advance Wars.  The 32 campaign maps are the same as ever, divided between normal and advanced campaigns.  The normal campaign is aimed at beginner to low-intermediate players, and the advanced campaign is around the intermediate level.  Mission strategy always involves rushing to claim factories, using factories to repair, surrounding enemies for support bonuses, and using the zone of control system to block enemies movement to and from factories.  I'm disappointed that they didn't bother creating some new maps or adding a level editor.  How many more decades are they going to keep reusing the same 32 missions?  Even the Playstation version of the game had some extra fan made missions included.

The lack of depth, such as no ammo, gas, or resource production/unit creation, still hurts the series with its lack of creative options to challenge the player with.  Combat outcomes tend to be fairly random - sometimes you'll get the full support and terrain bonus, and sometimes you won't get anything.  This is an intentional trait of most Nectaris titles.  Quicksaving is available if you feel the need to spam save/reloads to get the results you want.

The most notable addition to the game is online multiplayer for up to 4 players.  Each player gets a powerful general tank with customizable buffs to your units such as increased movement.  The maps and units are all predeployed much like the campaign.  I do like that the developers have added both a turn limit to each game and a real-time limit to each players individual turn.  The combination of limited units, limited turns, and limited real-time means games will be fast paced and over sooner than later.  Unfortunately the multiplayer involves leveling up, so long time players will be at an advantage vs new players - this may be one of the reasons why the multiplayer community is small to nonexistent today.

The graphics are clean and uncluttered, and the UI is decent.  Sound effects are fairly bland fare, and the music is best in the off setting.  There's not any plot or characters aside from invading the moon - it's just level after level of bare bones strategy.

Strategic Depth: Low.  It's bare bones, even for a wargame-lite.
Strategic Difficulty: Low-Intermediate.  Shallow depth and repetitive strategies, but a couple of the advance campaign missions may perplex your average gamer.
Overall Score: 6.5/10.  It's a classic, but it was showing its age a decade ago, let alone right now.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fire Emblem: Shin Monshou no Nazo Hikari to Kage no Eiyuu (DS) Preview

2010/07/15 [DS] [1] [2] [3] Fire Emblem: Shin Monshou no Nazo Hikari to Kage no Eiyuu

The next entry in the Fire Emblem series is a remake of the new content in Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, also known as Fire Emblem 3 for SNES. The english translation of this title is Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem - Heroes of Shadow and Light. However I doubt the official English name will be so wordy. Most of the details about the game are now official, so let's get started.

The original SNES title contains 21 original chapters, which is a bit slim for a main Fire Emblem entry. Thankfully, Nintendo is adding a new story for "My Unit", a character you create and customize to your liking, including class, appearance, and background. Your personalized unit will star in the tutorial prologue, fight alongside Marth in the main story, and engage in their own side chapters throughout the game. In addition, 4 trial maps from the SNES Satellaview releases will be included. This should push the number of chapters to an acceptable level, somewhere between 30-35.

Your personalized unit will be able to talk to others in your army during intermission, although it's not clear if there are any rewards for doing so. There will be over 300 conversations available throughout the main story. This is akin to the Base Conversations of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. Much like FE: Shadow Dragon, the interpersonal character guide will return, plotting out how every person is related in the Fire Emblem story. There will be characters added to the game from Shadow Dragon and the Satellaview maps, in addition to completely new characters to the series.

The reclassing system will return, where you can change a characters class and alter their base stats and growth rates. Hopefully it's a bit more balanced than it was in FE:SD. Gaiden chapters featuring your personalized unit will be available provided you meet certain requirements, which probably don't involve killing off more than half your army this time around, like you had to in FE: Shadow Dragon. I'm sure the developers have heard the sentiment of disgruntled fans who didn't like the lack of character development, personality-erasing reclassing, and having to kill off most of your army to access the side chapters, and it looks like the developers are working hard to address those complaints.

Wi-Fi returns with a couple new features. You'll be able to download new maps from Nintendo, both multiplayer skirmishes and single player chapters. The DLC single player maps will include new story content, not just trial maps with no plot development. You can trade characters with other players, although I'm not sure what the details on this are. The online store will be returning, which is one of the things I really disliked about FE: Shadow Dragon. You can go online and buy very rare items and ruin the games balance and difficulty, and you have to wait for a specific time of the month to buy the item you want.

Keeping with Nintendo's philosophy of catering to a wide range of player skill levels, there are now two difficulty altering settings available. New to the series are the addition of Casual and Classic modes. In Casual mode, if a unit reaches 0 HP, they will not die permanently, while Classic mode is the typical Fire Emblem permadeath feature. There are four difficulty settings, Normal, Hard, Maniac, and Lunatic. The two difficulty mechanics are independent of one another, so you can play Casual mode on Lunatic difficulty if you choose.

I have not heard anything about a score or ranking system, so I'm guessing there isn't one. That means this games challenges are not legitimate because you can boss/arena abuse, use the online store, etc. and ruin the games difficulty. I appreciate the extra difficulty modes, but they are pointless when you can spend infinite turns on a chapter farming XP and weapon skill, or going online and buying rare, powerful items that are only available once a month. And who knows how wi-fi unit swapping will upset the balance of the game? We're far removed from the legitimate rank based challenges of older Fire Emblem titles.

Graphically, the game looks a lot like the Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. It uses the same sprites and character art. Whether you like it or not, it seems like it's here to stay on the DS.

As you may already know, Fire Emblem and Advance Wars set the gold standard for tactical turn based strategy user interfaces. They are always extremely responsive and packed with useful features and management tools. I've seen quite a few tactical level games botch the UI and make the game a drag to play. Not so here. Expect the same polished quality that Intelligent Systems has been delivering for decades.

Import gamers may be unhappy to learn that the game may be 'DSi Enhanced', which means it will be region encoded if you try to play it on a DSi system. You'll be fine if you play it on a regular DS or DS Lite, however.

Overall this looks like another solid Fire Emblem title, difficulty issues not withstanding. It should please fans who were soured on Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, and the new casual mode should bring in more sales, appeal, and fans of the series. Look forward to import impressions once I've spent some time with the game.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Military Madness: Neo Nectaris iPhone Walkthrough/Guide/FAQ

I've written another Walkthrough/Guide/FAQ, this time for Military Madness: Neo Nectaris for iPhone, also known as Neo Nectaris released in 1994 for the PC-Engine. There's a bit of a story behind why I wrote this one.

I wasn't planning on writing one, but then I noticed that I missed a contest Hudsonsoft had put up, where they would publish an authors guide for Military Madness: Neo Nectaris on their official web site. This contest was unfortunately barely publicized at all. The person who won did not do a very good job on their guide, but I won't go into details. It's not about money or free iPods to me, only the fact that such a poorly written guide is up on the official site when the game deserves better. So I set forth to show 'em how it's done.

Take a look at the guide here. And yes, there are lots of screenshots. Sometimes there's not a lot to write because Neo Nectaris is generally intermediate level difficulty, not something that requires extremely in depth strategies like Advance Wars Advance Campaign or a complex tactical wargame.

UPDATE: Guide is now finished.  You can also view the plain text version here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Valkyria Chronicles II (PSP) preview

2010/08/31 [PSP] [1] [2] Valkyria Chronicles II

Valkyria Chronicles II is the direct sequel to Valkyria Chronicles for PS3. While the BLITZ combat system remains intact, the developers have made some significant changes elsewhere to suit the new portable format.

The first significant change is that you no longer fight on one large battlefield. Each mission is broken up into small segments that can be traveled between. This significantly alters the battlefield making each area into a small combat zone that favors mobile classes that can shift from one area to another without being vulnerable. To match with the smaller map size, you can only deploy up to 6 units per battle.

Next, quicksaving has been removed. You can no longer save and reload abuse until a potential procs or a lucky shot hits. Orders are back, but they are more expensive and harder to abuse. You can no longer stack orders on a scout and send them running to finish a mission in one turn while nearly invincible. This balancing out of the game may frustrate poorly skilled players who relied on these tactics.

The developers have added multiplayer PvP and co-op play, which is a bit of a strange decision to me. VC is not optimized for speedy multiplayer gaming. Each unit needs to move, aim, and fire, which will make for some very long turn waits even with the 6 unit limit. It may end up feeling like playing a squad TPS in super slow motion.

To make up for the small deployment limit, you're now able to customize your units with far more detail. Characters can choose between 30 different classes when upgrading from the original 5. Weapons can be customized into hundreds of varieties. There's also a few new vehicle types to deal with. The new morale meter changes based on your performance in battle, which should reward efficient play. The scoring system remains the same as before. You're graded based on turns taken, with extra points given for destroying aces, leaders, and tanks.

The game progresses month by month. Instead of a straight single campaign, there are a variety of side missions that can be completed before moving on with the main story and advancing a month. There are a large number of missions available, over 100, although some of them don't take very long.

As for hands on impressions, I've completed the Japanese demo that was released a while ago. The BLITZ system feels fine, but the confined maps take away some of the epic scope and strategic depth of the original. It was also very easy, to the point where you'd have to try hard to lose. From import reviews I've read, the most of the game is quite easy. I doubt you'll be seeing anything as difficult as the original EX-Hard missions.

The plot and characters target a younger audience, with less war and more school dating sim. It's definitely got more of an average anime feel and less of an epic war story like the original.

VC2 should appeal to anyone who enjoyed the originality of the BLITZ system, anime fans, and anyone looking for an original turn based multiplayer experience. I don't expect much of a challenge but maybe the developers will have some surprises in store.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

E3 2010 tactics and strategy wrap-up.

There were three big pieces of SRPG news to come out of E3 2010. Atlus has announced a NA port of Knights in the Nightmare for PSP with a release date of October 19, 2010. This SRPG is a little unusual with some realtime elements like bullet dodging, but it's a fantastic and creative game. If you have any love for the genre you'll enjoy learning and mastering what Knights has to offer. If anything, you should buy it so I don't end up weeping at the sight of a bunch of good Atlus titles in the bargain bins next to the shovelware and yearly sports titles. Just do it!

Valkyria Chronicles 2 has an official release date of August 31, 2010. Sega has taken the title portable, cutting the big battlefields into smaller segments. The game is aimed at a younger audience and the main campaign is apparently quite easy. According to a developer interview, the PSP was chosen not only for portability but also for multiplayer, which is new to the series. There are a lot more customization options available, but it remains to be seen how balanced they are, or how much of it is utilized by the mission content. I'm probably going to write a video guide for VC2 like I did with the original, so look forward to that.

Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions has been announced for the iPhone/iPod Touch with a release date of September 15, 2010. This is one of the most popular SRPGs in NA, with a frenzied Final Fantasy fanbase that still obsesses over the game to this day, even going so far as to hack and modify the game files to make it more challenging or balanced. The PSP version suffered some lag and load time issues that I'd assume an iPhone 4 or iPod Touch 3rd gen would avoid, in part because the data will be stored on the phones flash memory and not accessed from a disc. FFT is a decent game but suffers from slow pacing, many overpowered and imbalanced classes/characters, and general lack of difficulty. I doubt this version will do any balancing, but it proves Square is serious about the iPhone/iPad Touch as a games platform.

One last tactical game at the show was Magic: The Gathering Tactics for PS3 and PC. This is an online multiplayer game that's free to play with purchasable card decks. Each player has a summoner that uses cards to summon their creatures, and if the summoner dies the game ends. Like any card based microtransaction game don't expect to compete without spending some coin. This game was only being shown off behind closed doors at E3 2010, so there's not much news about it. You can read some impressions here and here.

Finally I'll talk a bit about Civilization V, which was revealed at E3 2010. According to a developer interview, they have revamped the tactical level combat with inspiration by games like SSI's Panzer Tactics. That's on top of all the strategic level diplomacy, nation building, resource control, etc. If they can successfully merge quality tactical combat with the strategic level play Civ is known for, it could be a standout title for any kind of strategy fan. The screenshot here shows off some of the tactical or operational level combat that will be taking place.

I didn't see any news regarding Skulls of the Shogun, but don't give up hope yet. It looks like a fun title that should do well on Xbox Live Arcade.

There was a new trailer released for Disciples III: Renaissance, although the game wasn't being shown at E3 2010. This is an RPG where combat takes place on a tactical level turn based grid.

3 SRPGs were announced in Japan around the time of E3 2010, coincidence or not. Fire Emblem 3 DS, Blue Roses (PSP), and Agarest Senki 2 (PS3). These were not at the show and there's no news regarding a NA release for any of them. Fire Emblem 3 DS is pretty much a given, while the other two I'm not so sure about. NIS is publishing Blue Roses in Japan and given their pro-NA stance I'd say there's a good chance Blue Roses will see a NA release. Agarest Senki 2 may also see release by Aksys, although it may be DLC only on the PS3.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Military Madness: Neo Nectaris review (iPhone)

2010/02/08 [iphone] [1] Military Madness: Neo Nectaris

Nectaris is a venerable series almost as old as Nintendo's Wars series.  It's another wargame-lite style game that isn't as complex as a full blown wargame, but makes up for it with creative and strategic missions.  This game is a port of Military Madness 2 for mobiles, which itself is a port of the 1994 Neo Nectaris for the TG16, making it the first time Neo Nectaris has been available outside of Japan.

The campaign is made up of 48 missions, which is a good amount of content for a $5 game.  There's a tutorial to walk you through the basics if needed.  The difficulty is aimed at an intermediate skill level.  There's only one difficulty mode so if you're not fairly experienced with the genre you might want to look for an easier title.  Some of the later maps can be huge and missions can take up to 30 mins on the first try, so if you like Military Madness there is lots of it to be had here.  There are a wide variety of unit types available, including creative units like flying blockades to prevent enemy movement, placeable time bombs, and artillery that can only fire with an allied infantry nearby. That must have been pretty cutting edge stuff back in 1994.

There are no funds or unit production, instead you rush to capture factories that have units inside them, which usually decides whether you win or lose the mission.  The mission strategy is mostly about rushing to capture factories and retreating your injured units into factories to be repaired, which can get boring if you don't find the game a challenge.  Like the original Neo Nectaris, surrounding an enemy increases the damage done to it.  Zone of control is in effect in this game, which adds to the depth.  The combat formulas are fairly luck based.  Sometimes you'll get the full terrain/gang up bonus, and sometimes you won't get anything.  Quicksaving is available and it's possible to save/reload spam until you get the results you want.  I found that isn't necessary at all though since the difficulty level allows some leeway for mistakes or bad luck.

The game has a real-time timer which measures how long it takes you to complete each mission.  This is an interesting concept but the game doesn't really do anything with it.  The time taken is sort of meaningless without other stats like units lost or turns taken, which the game doesn't record, although you can take a screenshot to record it manually.  At least there's some kind of stat tracking going on here.

I'm not sure why the developers removed multiplayer for this port but it's a disappointing omission considering the iPhone's connected nature.  Interestingly, the original Neo Nectaris had multiplayer support with 5 maps to play on.

The UI is mostly context sensitive which is good, although you have to touch the 'abort' button to move into enemy attack range without attacking.  Some very basic features remain missing like unit numbers next to each unit on the map, or damage numbers appearing above the units after combat.  The original Neo Nectaris for TG16 was like this as well, but that doesn't seem like a good reason to leave those basic UI features out.

The graphics look quite dated as you might expect.  The units look decent with good detail but the terrain and some icons are low resolution, making for an ugly mix.  There's no music and the sound effects sound like they came from the original TG16 version.

Strategic Depth: Low-medium.  No unit building, gas, ammo, etc. but there is a fairly wide selection of units.
Strategic Difficulty: Intermediate.  If you capture more factories than the CPU, you win.
Overall Score: 7.5/10.  Good value for $5 if you like the series and don't mind the repetitive strategies.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Skulls of the Shogun (XBLA/PC) preview

It seems Advance Wars has inspired a whole generation of western game developers, as games inspired by the venerable Wars series continue to be revealed. This preview is based on info at the official site and a interview. Skulls of the Shogun will be playable at E3 2010 so look forward to some more coverage tomorrow.

The development team is going for a tactical turn based strategy game similar to Advance Wars. The developers are aiming for an "arcade like experience" with simple and fast paced tactical fun. The focus of the game will be on tactical interaction between a limited variety of units and as little time spent in menus as possible. Like Advance Wars, there's no customization or unit growth between battles. Attention is being paid to streamlining the UI and making the game fast paced and easy to pick up.

Instead of a grid, units are allowed to free move within a circular radius. Zone of control becomes in effect when two allied units movement radii overlap each other. Buildings can be captured to produce income to purchase spells and new units. You'll also be able to summon creatures with special abilities. Your ghostly units can advance in rank by killing other enemies and 'consuming their skulls'. Tasty.

The game seems like a primarily multiplayer affair. The goal of multiplayer battles is to kill the opposing sides general. You're limited to moving 5 units per turn to keep the pace of battles fast, according to the 1up interview. The simplified nature of the games combat means it's more likely to be balanced and easy to pick up.

The game has a feudal Japan theme with lots of ghosts floating about. The cities are rice paddies and the factories are temples. The art style is clean and simple and gets its info across well. Skulls of the Shogun is definitely a game to look out for if you're interested in a fast paced multiplayer TBS game, and hopefully there will be some good single player content in there as well.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mecho Wars review (iPhone)

2009/07/13 [iphone] [1] [2] Mecho Wars
Version Reviewed: 1.53

Mecho Wars is a straight up Advance Wars clone with only a few minor changes and simplifications to the formula. The only twist is that every 20 turns or so, the water freezes for a few turns and ground units can walk over it. A few of the units have altered stats from Advance Wars, and the rock-paper-scissors format has been simplified down to air-infantry-heavy.

Most of the 20 mission campaign is an extended tutorial, introducing the familiar Advance Wars style cast of units each mission (minus a couple units). Beginners will enjoy it, while more experienced players may consider it a waste of time. The AI is dumber than usual, and won't even bother to pick off your infantry as they capture everything in sight. Most maps are played out using the same strategy, so don't expect any surprises or creative challenges. The campaign missions tend to drag on needlessly because you need to capture every enemy HQ long after it's obvious you've bested the map. Mecho Wars is currently being ported to the PSP, DS, and Wii, where hopefully the developers will spend some time on a campaign that isn't a long tutorial, as well as some more units to add depth to the game.

There are 20 skirmish maps aimed at novice to intermediate players which can be played in HQ capture or elimination mode. A couple of these skirmish maps are identical to the campaign maps. The original maps are well designed and if you liked the campaign they offer about the same experience and difficulty level.

The multiplayer, being a Wars clone, is fairly balanced, but it's simplified to the point where not a lot of strategies can be made, especially with the simpler than Advance Wars depth. For example, there's no anti-air sea unit to ward off air units, like the AW Cruiser. For the $1 price point though you can't go wrong if you're looking for some multiplayer action.

I felt the playing tiles were a little too small for my fingers, and I don't exactly have big hands - it's easy to fudge a position and there's no way to zoom the map. This game might be best played with a third party stylus. I also don't like how the UI is not touch sensitive - you have to touch Stay every time to end a movement instead of just being able to click on the just-moved units position, and you have to touch Attack every time to be able to hit a target. There's further inefficiency between every player turn where you have to sit through scrolling lists of whose turn it is, environment changes, and then city/factory income ping animations.  There's also no option to speed up or skip the movement animations.  All of this unnecessary time wasting adds up and makes for an unsatisfying experience to anyone used to better designed UIs and faster paced TBS games.

The art design is full of otherworldly colors and strange alien creatures. It's a neat concept, but my eyes began to grow weary of the unnatural palette. Maybe a martian would feel more at home playing this game. The games sound effects are well done, and the ambient music is repetitive but listenable while playing. Plot and characters are pretty much nonexistent.

Strategic Depth: Low. Simpler than Advance Wars.
Strategic Difficulty: Low. The campaign is for beginners only, and the AI is extra stupid.
Overall Score: 6/10. Above Average.

Highborn review (iPhone)

2010/06/02 [iphone] [1] [2] Highborn
Version Reviewed: 1.00

Highborn is a Fantasy strategy/tactical TBS game.  There's no unit growth/changes between missions which is unusual for a fantasy turn based game.  There are both generic and hero units in this game, with the heroes sporting a unique spell that can be used on the overhead screen.  A number of cooldown limited combat spells can be cast before any encounter, most of which are damage or buffs.  Recruiting during the mission is done by capturing buildings.  If you lose the building you lose the unit, and if you lose the unit but not the building you'll get a new unit after a few turns.  Monolith structures can be captured for new combat spells, and towers that can be captured for support attacks during combat between units.  Towers tend to be overpowered and trying to fight while being hit by one is a death sentence for generic units and dangerous for heroes as well, so taking control of them is very important.

While there are only 8 campaign missions, each mission is large and unique with its own plot, dialogue and scripted events.  The difficulty of the game is low to intermediate - don't expect a challenge here if you're experienced.  You can't undo movement or attack commands, which might slip up beginners, but you can quicksave if needed.  There's not a whole lot of strategic variety, just move through the map capturing buildings and slaying whatever enemies show up, then finishing off the mission boss.  The 8 missions manage to stay entertaining, but I'd hope to see some variety in later missions other than point A to B slaughter.  Additional missions will be added with a future patch to the game.

The UI is mostly context sensitive allowing you to tap to move, attack, and capture, although it requires a quick, precise double tap to pull off.  Unfortunately there's no way to skip movement and combat animations, which makes the game unnecessarily slow.  Units move along the map at a plodding pace for no particular reason.  In addition you have to click off whether you want to use a combat spell in every fight, when it would have been more efficient to have the spell selection during the overhead screen directly before combat instead.  And there's no reason to split the common 'wait' command into what's called "hold position" and "hold action" in this game.  Maybe they can do something with that "Useless Slider" in the options menu in a future patch, because the game could use a whole lot more speed-up options that are standard in most turn based games.

With those game slowdown issues in mind, it's fair to say the multiplayer is far slower than it needs to be.  It's best played one or two turns a day, instead of in a single (very long) sitting.  Towers are overpowered with high damage, infinite support attacks, the nonsensical ability to support itself when being attacked, and frequently respawning mage recruits.  Trying to fight while being hit by tower support is more or less suicide, so if someone grabs a tower they pretty much own the area around it.  There are a couple of maps available but I don't see the multiplayer being much more than a casual diversion in its current state.

The game has a wry and goofy sense of humor.  Conversations and unit descriptions are full of jokes making fun of RPG culture and history, frequently breaking the fourth wall to do so.  Sometimes it's corny, sometimes it's chuckleworthy, but it's more entertaining than another turgid medieval politics fantasy plot.  The humor provides a good motivation to play even if you find the difficulty too low.

Graphics are well done, especially the map and building tiles which have lots of detail for such a small screen.  The 3d battle cutscenes are good although you'll probably get tired of looking at them by the end of the campaign.  Sound effects tend to follow the humor of the game with cartoonish sounds and corny trumpet fanfare.

At $5 this is one of the pricier iPhone titles, but it's worth a purchase if you can overlook the slow pace of the game.  Highborn would make for a good full featured console/PC game if the developers added more content and fixed the UI issues and lack of options.

Strategic Depth: Mid-low.  Spells, recruit, and tower capturing add some depth to the game, but it's fairly basic overall.
Strategic Difficulty: Low to intermediate.  Not a challenging game but still entertaining.
Overall Score: 7/10.  Good for a $5 game.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dawn of Heroes (DS) preview

Dawn of Heroes for the Nintendo DS is a fantasy strategy/tactical RPG being developed by Wicked Studios based in Montreal and published by Majesco. This preview is based on video and screenshots on the official site and developer interviews at Joystiq and RPGamer.

Dawn of Heroes packs a full featured SRPG experience into the DS, with an ambitious 50 mission branching campaign, online multiplayer, and combat and customization systems that distinguish it from other SRPGs.

There are 26 different heroes available with their own stats and abilities. Heroes come in different classes like Supporter, Attacker, Guardian, and Controller. There's a wide variety of special abilities which should add plenty of strategic depth to the game. I'm impressed by the sheer number of abilities on display in the preview videos. There are buffs, debuffs, all sorts of damage spells, spells that move targets around, etc. I'm pretty sure each hero has a limited number of ability slots and the player can choose which abilities they want to take into battle with them. Heroes can be decked out in a wide variety of weapons and gear that all have different effects, and items and scrolls can also be equipped and used. The combat system reminds me most of a turn based Guild Wars, with the ability slotting and small scale fights with about 4-6 heroes.

The campaign has around 50 missions and there are also optional, sometimes hidden objectives and optional bosses. Bosses can sometimes be 4 squares large and possibly larger, taking up a lot of space on the battlefield. On the world map you can enter towns where you can hire new heroes and buy gear and consumables. In the camp screen you can customize your heroes name, palette colors, and swap around their gear and abilities.

The "fair fight rule" prevents a unit from being attacked twice in one turn. I don't recall this ever being done in an SRPG before, so it will be interesting to see how they balance this mechanic, considering that focus fire is an integral part of strategy games of all kinds. In some of the gameplay videos I see multiple units attacking a boss so maybe the rule has been changed, or it doesn't apply to bosses.

The developers have placed a big emphasis on multiplayer being balanced and strategic, not just a side thought thrown in at the last minute. It will certainly be impressive if they can successfully balance the huge variety of abilities and equipment in the game. You must build up your heroes in the campaign before you can use them in multiplayer, from what I can tell in the videos.

One big UI distinction is that the game is played with the DS stylus only. From looking at the videos on the site there are no text menus to speak of, only a bar at the bottom with icons representing your heroes abilities. Having recently played a bunch of iPhone games that are also touch only, I think there's a lot of potential in a stylus only context sensitive UI that bypasses menus entirely.

Graphically the game looks great for a 3D DS game - it's up there with the upcoming Dragon Quest 9. I'm hoping there's an option to turn the animations off, even though they look good. The music is decent and sound effects fit with the cartoonish nature of the game.

I've been told the game has been delayed due to the approval for production process, but hopefully those issues are cleared up quickly and the game arrives on store shelves this year. Even so, it's likely the print run for this game will be relatively small, so it's best to pre-order your copy to be sure. Dawn of Heroes DS looks like it will be an innovative and well made SRPG, so don't hesitate if you're a fan of the genre.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

E3 2010 tactical TBS/SRPG News

With E3 just around the corner, I'm going to be updating this post with whatever new E3-related info sprouts up around the time of the show. 


More Blue Roses screenshots.

Valkyria Chronicles 2 NA release date: August 31, 2010 on disc and PSN store.


Knights in the Nightmare PSP official trailer.

Another official Fire Emblem 3 DS site update.  New info includes wifi unit trading and new scenario/map DLC.

Nintendo 3DS games list released. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor (port or remake? I don't know), and Super Robot Wars 3DS (name not final)

Final Fantasy Tactics port announced for iPhone/iPod Touch. Release date 9/14/2010. Do you believe it's a serious games platform yet?


Blue Roses screenshots/more info.


Blue Roses announced, SRPG by Apollosoft published by NIS.  Release date 9/16/2010.


Fire Emblem: Shin Monshou no Nazo Hikari to Kage no Eiyuu official site update.
Youtube link to FE video.

Record of Agarest War 2 official site update.


New Fire Emblem: Shin Monshou no Nazo Hikari to Kage no Eiyuu screenshots.

Knights in the Nightmare for PSP announced.

UniWar review (iPhone)

2009/06/15 [iphone/CEL] [1] UniWar
Version Reviewed: 1.06

UniWar is a wargame-lite style TBS game like Advance Wars, with a heavy emphasis on base capturing and unit building. There are 3 playable races (Sapiens, Titans, Khraleans) with 8 fairly similar units per race - not a whole lot of strategic depth. Apparently the multiplayer is popular although from my single player experiences I can't see it being very balanced. First of all, each race has a specialized unit that can take control of an infantry unit from one of the opposing races, but not the other. This means certain race matchups clearly favor one race, presumably because the game is balanced around a 3 player free for all with each race, which seems like an odd choice. A quick browse of the official forums confirmed my suspicions that the game is far from balanced and the ladder is full of cheaters.

The 21 mission campaign is a mixed bag. On Hard mode the developers make up for the AIs weaknesses by giving it far more funds per turn than you, which means you'll often be swarmed by a large and aggressive enemy force. The difficulty is inconsistent, with a few missions like 4 and 19 being nastier than the rest, and a few of them being 5 minute easy. The 1.06 patch makes the campaign far more difficult than it was at launch, probably as an unintended side effect of multiplayer balancing or AI improvements.

Most of the mission strategies are fairly simple, involving massing one or two unit types or rushing to capture neutral factories, but you still need to have strong general tactics on top of that to get the upper hand. Almost every mission is completed by capturing all bases on the map, which can lead to some boring clean up duty when the doomed CPU refuses to give up. Also a minor annoyance is that you can't auto-skip the 5 second wait countdown after ending your turn (there is a button to skip it, but you have to press it every time). However I did like the UI's efficiency - touching a unit or hex is usually context sensitive, and the game auto-rests your units if you leave them unused. This means less endless menu touching and faster gaming.

The graphics are well done with good animations. The game looks clean and easy to read even with dozens of units on the screen at once. The music is forgettable and the sound effects are average. As for plot and characters? There literally isn't any besides endless hostility between the Terran, Protoss, and Zerg.. er.. you know what I mean.

If you want a quick portable tactics experience $3 is not a bad price for the 21 campaign maps.

Strategic Depth: Low. It's even an even simpler wargame-lite than Advance Wars.
Strategic Difficulty: Low to moderate. The 3 difficulty modes should appeal to most players.
Overall Score: 6/10. Above average.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tactical Insights review methodology.

Tactical Insights review methodology: This article is dedicated to explaining how I write my reviews and what my subjective opinions and tastes are.

A decent portion of my reviews will be put towards technical analysis and explanation of facts about the game. For example, if I were reviewing chess, I'd be talking about the size of the board, the variety and balance of the game pieces, and the strategic depth available. The second part of my (or anybody's) review is subjective - how I feel about the game design, difficulty, level design, artistic merit, etc. It's important to me to describe the facts in addition to opinions, so I'll never express an opinion without giving some sort of factual example to back it up.

Strategic depth is the number of options or legal game positions the player can make over the course of the game. For example, checkers has a relatively lower amount of strategic depth compared to chess. Strategic depth is only one side of the story, though - depth is meaningless without challenges that take advantage of it. Disgaea has a good amount of strategic depth, but the lack of challenges and emphasis on raw numbers and grinding means that its depth mostly useless and the game is more of a sandbox experience where you can do just about anything and still win. On the other hand a game like Advance Wars does not have a lot of strategic depth, but its challenges require you to learn all of that depth and apply it appropriately if you want the best scores.

Strategic difficulty is rated based on challenges that require the player to search through the strategic depth and choose an optimal solution. The more complex and puzzle-like the solution is, the higher the difficulty. Any kind of real time skills like timing or reaction time are also important. If a game has multiple difficulty levels, a scoring system, or if its difficulty varies significantly, I'll describe the range of skill levels that the game is capable of catering to. There's also game balance, artificial intelligence, variety of challenges, user interface quality, and scoring systems to consider when factoring in difficulty. A games difficulty can be heavily altered by one or two overpowering units or abilities, or if the challenges are simple and/or highly repetitive, or if the user interface is clunky and hard to deal with.

When dealing with a primarily multiplayer game like chess, the strategic depth is more apt to be referred to as the 'skill cap', that is the highest maximum level of complexity and strategy a player can employ against another player. For example, Chess has a higher skill cap than checkers. Similarly, the strategic difficulty is more about how much and what type of skill is required to reach that skill cap, including things like reading your opponent, reacting to random behavior, etc.

Whether a scoring system is useful for determining skill is based on whether the games challenges can be mitigated through mindless repetitive actions like optional grinding, save and reload abuse, or by pre-order bonuses/DLC that make comparisons between players impossible. If a game is legitimate then the difficulty is generally set in stone because it can't be altered. If a game has no useful scoring system then I will describe how that impacts the games difficulty and what the experience is like if you choose not to grind or take advantage of overpowered units/abilities. Keep in mind that in a proper analysis of a game, a reviewer may not ignore or disregard parts of a game's rules for any reason.

On to my subjective views and perceptions.

I respect a game most when it caters to a wide range of skill levels from the beginner to expert level. I like it most when increased difficulty involves new mechanics or different level design as opposed to only raising the enemy's stats. I like it when a game includes a scoring system that is useful for determining skill. If a game has only one difficulty mode and no way to gauge score, that will reduce its appeal and longevity and thus its overall score. I will generally deduct points if a game is on either extreme of the difficulty curve. I dislike "unfair" or "cheap" difficulty such as excessive, uncontrollable randomness, or difficulty that arises through simple repetitive actions instead of a variety of strategies.

I like variety in game content and I dislike repetitive actions, grinding, or boring filler. In tactics games campaigns I tend to like varied terrain, multiple objectives, interesting scripting unique to each mission, and a series of well designed and strategic content. On the other hand, if a campaign is highly repetitive and generic where every mission is 'kill everything' or 'kill the boss' with no interesting scripting,bland terrain, repetitive combat, and lots of repetitive grinding, you can expect it to be poorly received by me. I believe this view reflects the majority of gamers standards on what makes a turn based tactics campaign good as opposed to boring and repetitive.

I like a fast, responsive UI with a modern amount of features. I really don't like it if the UI is clunky, unresponsive, buggy, missing modern features, or hard to deal with. I like combat pacing and speed with skippable movement and animations. There is no excuse for a game that forces the player to sit through movement and other animation that they should be allowed to skip. While most slower and less experienced players won't mind a slow paced tactics game, it's important to me.

I don't make logically incorrect assumptions like "you will get frustrated with this game" which ignores the fact that players of other skill levels may find it subjectively more or less frustrating. Instead I would say something like "players of X skill level may be frustrated with this game".

I don't make false statements like "you must partake in optional grinding to progress in this game" when it is actually possible to progress without grinding by using more strategy and skill. I will always do basic journalistic research on parts of a game that seem confusing or difficult to me,  to confirm if players more skilled than I have accomplished what I could not, instead of arrogantly assuming that since I couldn't do it, nobody could.

 I don't like giving out review numbers but if you want to be counted you need to pick one. So there you have it. I tend to use the scale where 5/10 is average, unlike the typical scale where 7/10 is a "C" or average based on American school grading. Look forward to more comprehensive, reviews, previews, analysis and opinions soon!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New FE3 Remake details.

Nintendo has added some new details on the upcoming DS title Fire Emblem: Shin Monshou no Nazo Hikari to Kage no Eiyuu.  It's a remake of Book II in FE: Monshou no Nazo, or FE3.  The translated name of this new DS title is Fire Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow. The official website still has some links grayed out, so expect more updates before the game is released.
The release date seems to be July 15 2010.
You'll be able to create your own custom character sometime during the game. Your hero is the 'hero of shadow' referred to in the title of the game. Your hero will get their own prologue and side story missions with new maps.
Graphics seem to be the same as Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon.

4 Difficulty modes from Normal, Hard, Maniac, and Lunatic.
2 Game modes, Casual and Classic. In casual mode you keep your allies if they fall in battle.
In game plot and character encyclopedia.
The Wi-Fi shop is returning. This is bad for the legitimacy of the games difficulty, and it's just a gimmicky use of Wi-Fi. It's easy to go online and buy overpowered items that are rare in the actual game.
The re-classing system is back.

It looks like Nintendo is following the principle of appealing to gamers of most skill levels which is good. Unfortunately the Wi-Fi shop kind of ruins the chance of the game being legitimate in difficulty.

More info at Serenes Forest.