Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (360/PS3/PC) Review

This is a repost of my review which was originally on

A remake of the classic XCom PC strategy game makes its way to consoles. How does it hold up?

In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you're tasked with fending off a global alien invasion. From your underground base you'll manage research and development, build new facilities, and shoot down enemy UFOs. You'll also send your soldiers into turn based tactical combat with aliens on the ground. The campaign progresses over several in-game months as you develop your base and combat the aliens, eventually securing victory for earth. A typical campaign on Classic difficulty lasts about 20-25 hours and 25-30 missions.

Base management is XCOM's most unique feature and helps it stand out from other turn based tactics games. You're expected to do a lot more to keep your organization running than rearrange the gear on your soldiers. With limited resources you must decide what to research and build, where to deploy fighter jets and satellites, and which countries to focus on lest they panic and leave the XCOM project. It's a delicate balancing act as allied nations tend to panic and bail out on even if you're successful during combat missions on Classic difficulty.

XCOM's combat is similar to other tactical turn based cover shooters like the Front Mission series, Jagged Alliance series, Operation Darkness, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, or Battle Academy. It's a simple, balanced cover shooter with a relatively limited amount of depth and variety. Depth is limited to a small number of classes, weapon types, skills, and enemy varieties. Mission objectives are almost always to kill all aliens, with the rare bomb diffusion or civilian rescue mission. You'll usually employ the same basic cover shooter strategies throughout the entire game.

Environmental destruction is rarely seen in tactics games, and XCOM does it pretty well. It's fun destroying cover and then picking off exposed aliens, or blowing up vehicles that aliens are hiding behind. The cover system meshes fairly well with the level layouts, although there are occasional line of sight glitches, door glitches, and firing through solid walls.

XCOM's combat encourages camping and defensive play. The most reliable strategy is almost always to move to the edge of the map, hide behind cover and wait for the aliens to approach you. Ranged fire fights behind cover are very risky due to RNG and the potential for injury. If your soldiers take any damage at all, they'll be undeployable for several in-game days after the mission ends, and if they die they are gone for good. Ideally you don't want to give the aliens a chance to shoot at your soldiers at all. You're given several very powerful defensive tools like Overwatch and very few offensive tools. Even on bomb diffuse or civilian rescue missions, you're still given ample time to camp out and take enemies as they approach.

On all difficulty modes, groups of enemies will typically wander aimlessly around the map until they spot one of your units. Once you're spotted, the enemy group is forced to run and hide regardless of whether it's player or enemy phase. This is good if the enemy stumbles on your units during enemy turn because they won't be able to attack on that phase.If you run into the enemy during your turn, your units may be exposed and unprepared. Trying to flank an enemy risks alerting further enemy groups.

In most of the large outdoor maps, I had to spend 1-2 turns dashing ahead before I ran into any enemy resistance at all. Since dashing ahead is quite risky, you may end up spending several turns doing nothing but moving slowly and carefully under cover with no aliens in sight, which can be very boring. If you like camping and taking out aliens as they approach, you'll probably like XCOM's combat, otherwise you'll probably get bored. It is unreasonable to call XCOM fast paced when the best and most reliable strategy involves hiding from aliens until they move close enough to be ambushed by Overwatch.

XCOM can be played on 4 difficulty modes with an optional Ironman selection. Normal difficulty is suitable for new players with little tactics or XCOM experience. I had little trouble clearing Classic difficulty with a few reloads. On Impossible difficulty, the slightest mistake or poor dice roll will consign most or all of your soldiers to an early grave.

On an Ironman game you can't reload from a previous save, so any choices you make are permanent. Ironman is an interesting idea as it cements all of the randomness and mistakes you make in stone. In addition to bad luck, bugs can creep up and ruin an ironman run, such as game hangs during enemy turn, or enemy groups spawning or teleporting on top of the player. Ironman tends to exacerbate camping strategies as you can't reload if things go badly.

Combat speed is relatively slow for a tactics game. Animations can't be sped up or skipped, and common animations like firing a weapon takes 4-5 seconds. Overwatch shots are particularly slow, because the game game animates in slow motion while they occur. I get that the developers wanted slower players to understand what was happening, but it's irritating that there's no way to skip or speed anything up.

I had several issues with the console controls and camera of XCOM, especially compared to the PC version. Console XCOM treats the fact that it's a grid based game like a dirty secret. First, there is no typical grid sized cursor used to highlight and move units, nor are there any visible grid lines. Instead, movement is accomplished with a slow, inertia laden dot that slides along the ground from the position of the unit. Second, instead of clearly displaying movement range limits along grid lines, range limits are deformed to seem like the player can move their units in a freeform manner when they cannot. All this manages to do is confuse the player as to which grid tile their unit will actually move to.

The combat camera often has issues in areas where your units are underneath a visible roof or overhead, constantly resetting your view. I also ran into distracting flickering and transparency issues when ceilings or tall buildings were involved. The 3rd person camera angle during attacks reduces visibility and slows down the combat speed. The camera always resets to a default view when targeting, making it difficult to aim at targets when height levels are involved. There is a noticable delay between switching to a unit and being able to direct their movement, which slows down combat speed and feels unresponsive.

The PC version of XCOM provides better controls in comparison. The grid is clearly visible and selectable. The mouse can be moved around the screen to issue movement commands more quickly than the sluggish analog dot. The camera scroll speed can be adjusted for faster target switching and movement commands. 3rd person camera angles during attacks can be turned off. A wide range of keyboard hotkeys make selecting abilities and targets quicker. It's a fact that the PC controls allow a player to perform their combat actions more quickly and precisely. If you just want to mess around with XCOM you should be ok with the console version, but serious tactics gamers will want the PC version.

If there's anything XCOM does really well, it's in the graphics and atmosphere. Levels are detailed and realistic, aliens look menacing and animate very well, and the environmental destruction looks great. The CG looks somewhat dated, but it does the job. Often 3D tactics games suffer in the graphics department, but it seems there was enough budget to go around for XCOM. While XCOM is obviously no Crysis, I can't think of any better looking 3D turn based tactics games out there.

XCOM's sound effects and music are fairly average. Voice acting is strictly B grade. The two accented scientists that make up the bulk of the voiced dialogue through the game can be irritating. They're either waxing philosophical about the alien invasion or delivering flat lines during combat when you run into a new alien or alien artefact. The plot is bare bones and kitschy with a predictable ending. I found the long, droning descriptions of the sci-fi aliens and technology to be uninspired. Thankfully you can skip over most of it and get back into the game.

XCom: Enemy Unknown is a decent strategy title with some unfortunate control issues on consoles. XCom's tactical combat is well balanced but encourages camping and lacks depth and variety.

+Strategic base management
+Solid turn based cover shooting
+Wide range of difficulty levels
+Destructible environments

-Poor console controls
-Most tactical missions encourage camping
-Tactical combat lacks variety and depth
-Relatively slow combat speed
-Numerous bugs and graphical glitches

Monday, April 29, 2013

Battle Academy PC (ver 2.1.0) Review

Battle Academy (PC, iPad) is a WW2 themed tactics game, featuring historically accurate units and real world military strategies. It's not as complex or difficult as other military tactics games like Panzer Corps or Unity of Command, but serves as a good introduction due to its relative simplicity, accessibility and its stylized comic book presentation.

Battle Academy features 3 main campaigns totaling about 30 missions, with 4 separate DLC campaigns totaling about 40. User made campaigns and missions bump the total count well over 150. There are 3 difficulty settings for players of most skill levels. Skilled players can attempt to earn secondary objectives (called achievements). Achievements are usually given for feats such as capturing all victory points, minimizing casualties, or killing a certain number of enemies.

Each mission is prefaced by a comic book panel style briefing, giving you a bit of WW2 history. Maps are colorful and well defined, making it a bit easier on the eyes than the usual dull green and brown WW2 fare.

Battles are mostly a matter of tanks, infantry, turrets, and air strikes. Mission variety is generally limited to offensive sweeps or defensive survival. In combat, Fog of War plays a very important role. Infantry can see farther than vehicles and can hide in forests, houses, and other defensive spots to scout or ambush. Line of sight also extends vertically, so elevation can be used to flank the enemy by surprise. Reaction fire is extremely powerful, and moving a unit into an unsuppressed, unscouted position is very dangerous. Instead you use suppressive fire and air bombardment to suppress enemies and move in for the kill.

You usually have a very low percent chance of destroying an enemy tank from the front, but a higher chance if you fire at their weaker sides or rear. Even if you can't destroy an enemy you can force it to surrender by lowering its morale below -100. Since you're usually outnumbered 2-4 to 1 and facing superior enemy tanks, scouting, suppressing, and flanking are paramount. The mission turn counts are relaxed enough that you can play a slow and safe strategy most of the time and still earn all of the achievements with little RNG issue.

The presence of quicksaves is disruptive to game balance. In place of scouting and flanking you can substitute reloading until you get what you want. Reloading reduces a lot of the tension and punishment of mistakes or reckless play that would otherwise be there. There are a few achievements I felt were overly reliant on the RNG, but they're thankfully very rare. In a game where RNG and FoW are so critical, the absence of a "no quicksaves" option is disappointing.

As I played through the campaigns I got a bit weary of the combat depth and repetition. Unlike most WW2 tactics games BA is grid rather than hex based, and doesn't have any sea or air units. No unit fuel or limited ammo, either. Once you have the best strategy for sweeping or defending, there isn't much else to do but go through the motions. Even with the addition of suppressive fire, reaction fire, height and LoS, etc. I felt like BA came up a bit empty in depth and challenge compared to WW2 'lite' games like Advance Wars. You can find some user made maps that feature sea units and other custom units if desired.

The UI is pretty solid. Animations can't be skipped but they are very short. There are a few UI quirks here and there but nothing too bad. Even after years of patches (playing on version 2.1.0) I ran into a few minor bugs and typos.

Overall it's a pretty solid package, although the depth and level variety might wear thin on tactics vets. Battle Academy looks good, plays well, and is a great introduction to the WW2 tactics genre.

+Good introduction to WW2 themed tactics games.
+Well balanced combat that emphasizes real life military tactics.
+Multiple difficulty levels and secondary objectives cater to a wide range of skill levels.

-Lacks an ironman option despite the importance of RNG and FoW mechanics.
-No usable air or sea units. Some missions can feel routine and repetitive.
-Some bugs, typos, and UI quirks.

Reviewers experienced: Played the first 3 non-DLC campaigns. I might review the DLC campaigns at a later date.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS) Review

Fire Emblem: Awakening is the latest in a long running series of turn based tactical level games. Awakening is a far more RPG-like game than most in the series, sharing many similarities with Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones. You can grind in free battles or buy from shops on the world map, there's no scoring system, and difficulty tends to be on the low side. There are more wi-fi features than ever including Spotpass and paid DLC.

Awakening has a responsive and fairly well designed UI, which is to be expected from Intelligent Systems. Combat pacing is very fast, and you have the option of skipping the entire enemy turn's animations if you feel like it. This puts other tactics games with molasses-like combat speed and poor UI design like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre to shame. Awakening is a pretty good looking game and it has a very nice soundtrack as well.

Casual mode returns from Fire Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow, along with several difficulty modes. I think Casual mode is a good addition that makes Fire Emblem more accessible. I appreciate multiple difficulty modes aimed at beginner to veteran players, but only if the modes aimed at veterans are balanced and well designed. In Awakening this is simply not the case.

Awakening's level design is fairly bland and generic, lacking objectives and unique strategic situations or events. Maps are almost always a wide open area with an assortment of generic enemies and almost no other objectives. This is a far cry from the series' high notes of level design and strategy, or of tactics games in general. Secondary objectives, interesting terrain, and unique strategic situations would have helped quite a bit. Even on the harder difficulty modes you're mainly playing the game for the set pieces, cutscenes, plot, and characters.

Awakening's combat is a balance mess. This isn't a big deal on the easier difficulty modes, as those modes are already very easy, and it's expected that beginner and intermediate players don't care much for balance issues or strategy. Your average gamer playing on Normal difficulty will likely not notice or care much. For people who enjoy tactics games for their strategy, though, it's a significant issue. There are many ways to completely trivialize any difficulty mode, mainly by using any wi-fi feature, DLC grinding, or life drain tomes. It is easily the most imbalanced Fire Emblem in series history, and I'm hard pressed to think of less balanced tactics games in general. There is no scoring system to rate or encourage skilled play like in previous Fire Emblems.

Trying to do player restricted runs on Lunatic is hardly worth it, such as no wi-fi, no Nosferatu tomes, and no grinding. It's so imbalanced that if you make a laundry list of restrictions to prevent the game from being "broken", you still end up with an uneven mess where some maps are highly luck based or even impossible to complete. When the game starts throwing capped stat enemies at you on a challenge run, even with optimal strategies you'll have a fairly low % chance of success. Of course you can always trivialize the game by breaking out the wi-fi, grinding, life drain tomes, Frederick/MU pairing, etc.

Lunatic+ is even more of a mess. On Lunatic+ chapters 1-4 before you can start grinding, you have about a 15-20% chance of clearing the scenario even assuming an optimal strategy. Enemies are randomly granted skills at the start of a Lunatic+ scenario, and you'll end up having to restart chapters multiple times until you get enemy skill combinations that aren't impossible to get past. I'd be interested in seeing if it's even possible to clear Lunatic+ without paying extra money for DLC maps to grind on. Overall Awakening could have been a much better game had they put more effort into the level design and combat balance.

In comparison, Fire Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow's Lunatic/Lunatic' is far more balanced, less reliant on RNG, more challenging, has a varied and strategic campaign, and has a scoring system to promote skilled play. It also has casual mode and a forgiving normal mode. Awakening does have more party customization in terms of pairing up, kid making, skills, etc. but they are mainly there for sandbox play, not strategy.

Awakening has a lot of DLC. In Japan if you bought all the DLC you'd be paying about twice as much as the original game. I'm not opposed to DLC, but it seems like a shameless cash-in when they throw in dozens of characters from past FEs for sale. It seems like a bit of a one trick pony to me. DLC maps are mainly there to let the player grind. I haven't played through some of the supposedly challenging DLC maps which are not yet released in North America, but I don't doubt they can be trivialized in some way.

A large portion of Awakening's plot revolves around pairing your army up and mating them to produce offspring to fight for you, commented on by the uber-creepy old man Hubba. Hubba is an optional joke feature but is still a creepy addition to the game. Given the large amount of cutscenes/events, dialogue, missions, and gameplay devoted to it, it's a large portion of the plot in my opinion.

You can't avoid pairing at least some of your party members up, either. This isn't any sort of measured adult romance, but the stunted and immature "waifu" fanservice that plagues Japanese games and anime. You can also purchase DLC that includes beach and spa scene fanserevice, a depressingly familiar staple of Japanese RPGs these days. The whole mechanic is distasteful, embarrassing, and creepy.

I've heard the asinine argument that the large amount of content dedicated to waifus is immune from criticism because 'it's optional'. Reviewing game based only on what you're absolutely forced to go through to get from start button to end credits is ridiculous, especially in an open ended RPG like Awakening. Also, the marriage/breeding system is an integral part of party customization, leading to disturbing and bizarre eugenics required to optimize your party setup.

It's a large amount of content, it's practically all people on Awakening forums talk about, and its integrated into the core combat mechanics. Criticism is completely valid and warranted in a review. My opinion is shared by the vast majority of people, as well.

Nintendo even went the extra mile and added pedophile fanservice in the form of a childlike 10 year old girl in whore's clothing that can be married off and bred. Oh and you save her from a life of apparent "slavery" (I'll let you guess which sort), and she has lines like "People often forget I've been around the block a few thousand times." I wish I was making this up. But it's ok, because she's really a '1,000 year old dragon' or something. I found this character far more offensive than any combat related issue.

Awakening's story is generic and disjointed, and seems cobbled together as an excuse to let you fight alongside your army's paired up offspring. Your army is mainly made up of generic, lifeless anime stereotypes. The main antagonist is as generic a villain as they come. If you're playing Awakening for the plot and characters, you'd better love waifus and anime/JRPG stereotypes.

Overall Awakening disappointed me gameplay wise as a veteran tactics gamer and also managed to creep me out with its overload of fanservice and wife breeding. I recognize that my balance and combat concerns are not important to the average gamer who will likely enjoy the game on Normal Casual or Hard Casual difficulty, assuming they can stand the plot and characters. The Intelligent Systems development team is capable of better than this and I hope their next tactics game effort delivers.

+ Casual mode increases Fire Emblem's accessibility to beginners
+ UI is responsive and mostly well designed
+ Your average gamer will not mind the balance or combat issues
+ Graphics and music are both high quality

- Extremely imbalanced combat, not much worth salvaging with player restrictions
- Cash-in DLC that costs quite a lot more total than the game itself
- Mostly bland, boring level design
- Awfully stereotypical plot and characters w/ creepy "waifu" breeding

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mass Effect 3 (PC) Review

Mass Effect 3 is the end to the action RPG Mass Effect trilogy, and represents the shift from Bioware to EA/Bioware. While it's an improvement over ME2, it continues to hang on to old flaws and manages to pick up a few new ones along the way.

ME3's combat is a mixed bag. Combat is an improvement over ME2 in terms of enemy and location variety. You're not mowing down the same rows of color coded mercs or boring collectors, and there's more power customization available. Cerberus, geth, and reaper enemies all have different abilities and strategies to deal with, although I think they should have gotten access to more. Where are the enemy biotics or enemies that use high level tech powers like in ME1 for example? The lack of boss fights is disappointing, as well. Fight locations are no longer obvious and boring horizontal rows of cover as in ME2, so there's a bit more variety. However, fights do tend to consist of long waves of the same enemy types, which might grow tiring. Even with the improvements to ME3's combat, it's still a second rate cover shooter compared to the best of the genre, and barely makes the "passable" mark.

Unfortunately, the combat controls are about as bad as before, mainly due to the horrible decision to map run and cover to the same button. It's made worse by the presence of enemy grenades or flanking tactics that will force you to run out of cover, only to inadvertently cling to another nearby section of a wall and end up dying. This sort of horrible control decision was infuriating in ME2 and it's infuriating now. I don't care what reason they came up with to force this control scheme on PS3 or 360 users, but there's no excuse for the PC version with its expansive keyboard controls. On a minor note, the squadmade move and attack commands are mapped to the same button, meaning that if you have an enemy autotargeted (forget about manual target switching), you can't actually order your squadmates to move someplace, as they'll be ordered to attack the current autotarget instead. Bizarrely, there is a button for "Squadmate Attack" and "Squadmate Move/Attack" but not "Squadmate Move", which makes absolutely no sense from a control or design perspective.

Moving on to the plot, again the results are mixed. Unlike ME2, you aren't running a lot of inconsequential side quests to solve your teammates daddy or family issues, and the side quests are a little more substantial. The main story quests are certainly better, providing major consequences for your actions in attempting to unite the races of the galaxy. Unlike a lot of upset gamers, I am not particularly bothered by the ending. Yes, it's full of plot holes and unexplained sequences, and most of your decisions have no bearing on how the game ends, but I'd probably be more annoyed at an ending where you get to see your favorite aliens and allies all live happily ever after.

The overall Mass Effect plot as it's revealed, though, is sci-fi junk food. Apparently the reaper "harvesting" has been going on for millions of years every 50k years, meaning untold numbers of civilizations were harvested, yet the galaxy isn't a heaping junkyard filled with the remnants of such civilizations. Not to mention that 50k years is far too short for new intelligent life to develop. It took billions of years here in real life on Earth to reach that point. This is endemic of hard sci-fi wannabe writers who think adding a bunch of factually implausible zeroes to their backstory makes their shoddy plot more impacting or dramatic.

The original Mass Effect felt reserved and a bit Star Trek-ish, focusing on the morality around new technologies, while ME2 and ME3 are more concerned with emulating a Michael Bay movie. The additions of Diana Allers and James Vega are endemic of the rot setting into Bioware, obsessed with monetization, Mary Sues, and focus group oriented marines to appeal to the shooter crowd. The little boy's death in the intro to the game and the resulting dream sequences are cynical hollywood manipulation at its worst, even if you believe the speculation that there's more to it than it appears. Kai Leng as a major villian is another absurd addition, screaming "let's add cool ninjas to the game!" rather than any sort of consistency or refrain. Asimov, Clarke, and Scott Card this aint.

Bioware has cynically tried to maximize their profit from ME3 at a level far beyond post-launch DLC. Despite what the developers claim, the day 1 DLC From Ashes is an integral part of ME3 and its backstory with its Prothean companion. This isn't like Zaeed who had a minor role at best. From Ashes gives you several lengthy cutscenes showing the time of the Prothean empire, for example. Having played both a default New Game and an imported ME2 game with all survivors, it's ridiculous how much content you miss out on by not owning ME2. You miss out on not just most of the ME2 roster, but on several major story choices. The memorial wall on the Normandy is about to run out of space by the time you're near the end of a default ME3 game even if you do your best to keep people alive. Not to mention that starting ME3 at an imported level 30 makes most of the game significantly easier. I would go so far as to say that having ME2 is a requirement to experience a significant amount of ME3's content.

Online multiplayer is required to raise your Effective Military Score to the point where you can get the best ending. The online multiplayer is second rate cover shooter co-op with a microtransaction store. It was clearly added to further monetize the Mass Effect franchise rather than out of a need or demand for such a mode. It has no longevity to it, quickly gets very boring, and will be swiftly abandoned, despite the cynical attempts to force gamers into playing it to get the best ending.

Say you've got the 360 version - you'll need ME2, ME3, From Ashes, and an Xbox Live Gold subscription to get the complete ME3 experience and best ending. And of course if you buy your ME3 used, be prepared to pay for an online pass so you can play multiplayer to raise your Effective Military Strength so you can see the best ending. All told, you'll probably end up spending about $100 just to experience most of ME3's content, not even considering ME1, the ME2 DLC like Zaeed or Kasumi or purchases in the ME3 multiplayer online store. ME3 is a prime example of monetizing excess that is consuming the big budget game industry and EA/Activision in particular.

When factoring in the monetization, combat, and plot issues, there are quite a lot of problems with Mass Effect 3. It's a decent game when considering the positives, but there are far too many flies in the ointment to call it a good or even great game. Unfortunately it seems EA/Bioware will continue its terminal decline as its bean counters and consolized controls and awful writers tear the development teams apart.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 (DS) Review

My review of SMT: Devil Survivor 2 is up on Take a look.

I gave it an 8/10, and I think it's a solid and fun tactics game, if a bit too easy to break with a magic heavy main character. Normally I like to grade games based on 5/10 being an average score, but since extremegamer is picked up by metacritic, I have to fall in line and grade based on 7/10 being an average score.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Masou Kishin II (PSP) Review

Masou Kishin II for PSP is a direct sequel to Masou Kishin I, released on the SFC in 1996. Despite the passage of 16 years, Masou Kishin II plays nearly identical to its predecessor. The developers have added a few new mechanics to try to liven things up, but they end up not having a significant effect. Terrain effects were added, but they are rarely an issue when most of the terrain in the campaign is neutral. You'll very rarely come across patches of unavoidable water or lava with significant terrain effects. Even then terrain effects are largely ignorable as the RPS element chart, unit height, and unit facing is far more important.

Pilots can now equip and swap skills instead of learning a fixed set as they level. Skills can be leveled up as they're used and new skills are learned as you progress through the campaign. There's not much in terms of depth or strategy for skills - the choices in most cases are fairly obvious. You equip damage dealers with damage or critical rate skills, healers with support skills, and fill in the remaining slots with defensive skills like Mirror Image or Sword Cut. In a few exceedingly rare instances you might want to use some movement altering skills, but otherwise you'll just want to stack the damage or critical boost skills. On the plus side, annoying random skills such as Double Attack have been removed.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (PSP) Review

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together for PSP is a remake of the original Tactics Ogre released in late 1995 on the Super Famicom.  Tactics Ogre is not the "inventor", "innovator", or "the grandfather of" the tactics genre. Series such as Front Mission, Fire Emblem, Super Robot Wars, Langrisser, Daisenryaku, X-COM, Shining Force, Nectaris, Jagged Alliance, Panzer General, Famicom Wars, and well over 200 other turn based tactical level video games were released earlier than Tactics Ogre, and did just about everything TO did first. Nothing important about Tactics Ogre's game play was particularly new or innovative in 1995, let alone in 2011.

So how well does this remake stand up to the sleek, efficient, and well designed modern tactics games of today? Not very well. Tactics Ogre fails in its combat pacing, tactical variety and content, strategically meaningful depth, user interface, and difficulty.

Tactics Ogre is lacking in content variety. Almost every mission is completed by killing the enemy leader with a few token trash mobs strewn about. Almost every map is a hill gradually rolling from bottom to top. There are almost no scripted events or interesting things going on to speak of.

Almost all of the games depth - its physical attack and element types, skills, stats, statuses, spells, races, tarot signs, terrain, height, directional facing, finishing moves, battlefield conditions, and etc. can be soundly ignored in favor of a few simple strategies that are repeated ad nauseum. Tactics Ogres depth is strategically meaningless in the face of easy, simple, overpowered strategies. It doesn't get any more difficult or complex further into the campaign, either. As a result most fights are boring, easy, and repetitive.

Due to the poor level design and variety, I don't think TO challenge runs are particularly appealing. Not to mention you'll need to restrict yourself from using almost everything available, and the game will still be pretty easy regardless. Just like there are better tactics games to play, there are better tactics games to do challenge runs on.

Much of TOs depth is needlessly convoluted and confusing, on top of being mostly useless in favor of archers, TP, damage boosting skills, etc. Learning and casting spells is a convoluted process involving scrolls, skills, and "arcanas". Making one skill per enemy race and status effect only serves to pad out skill lists with useless chaff.

The insistence on obscurely naming every spell some sort of pseudo-latin gibberish is particularly ridiculous. It feels like an attempt to browbeat and befuddle the player with similarly strategically meaningless options that have little applicable effect on the game. Many times the shop and crafting list will flood with items and gear for classes you can't even use yet.

It's telling that mid way through the game the developers give up and hand you spells that cure all buffs/debuffs instead of creating an individual spell for each effect. The "Tactics Ogre is so deep!" emperor has no clothes.

The AI is incompetent, coded to run forward recklessly and hit the target that they'll do the most damage to. Even worse, the game constantly saddles you with uncontrollable, badly behaved AI allies. Your guest allies will ignore your own breakable crowd control such as sleep and won't exorcise undead.

When trying to save potential NPC recruits units that prefer to run away from you and not heal themselves, it's completely random as to whether they'll survive long enough for you to rescue them. Not that recruits are particularly valuable since they'll almost always have a worse skill set than what you can build onto the troops you begin the game with.

The developers require the player to grind to experience most of the games famed "depth". Classes all level up at once, but you can't level a class if it isn't used during a mission, and new classes start at level 1. Since level 1 classes tend to be very weak beyond chapter 1 you'll have to cripple your team or start grinding if you wish to bring a new class up to speed. This means any new class you get past chapter 2 is going to be a dead weight on your team unless you spend time grinding.

In addition, any new characters you get won't have the same skill point base or optimal build that you've developed with your older ones, putting them at a significant disadvantage. it's more efficient, in terms of time spent, to stick with your initial roster that you begin the game with.

Playing Tactics Ogre "any way you want" is only possible if you're willing to put in the hours grinding new class levels and new recruit skills. Of course grinding isn't necessary to complete the game, but then you're highly limited in the amount of depth you can explore because grinding is required for so much of it.

Random encounters are frequent and encourage the player to grind, although you can thankfully avoid fighting random encounters and run away. Optional areas exist solely to pit players against randomly generated enemies with no other purpose than more repetitive filler battles. Clearing these areas even once will over level your party for the next story battles. Recruiting units is a boring, repetitive grind consisting of surrounding a weakened enemy and spamming the recruit skill until they yield.

The pace of combat is slow and tedious for no good reason, with no way to skip any animations. There are additional, intentional delays when the AI targets something or moves or performs any action at all. The slow combat speed makes an already repetitive and boring game even worse.

Moving on to the user interface, it's outdated and lacking features. There's no L/R function to switch between viable enemy or allied targets in target selection mode. There's no way to rotate the camera to anything but an overhead view - a huge issue for an isometric 3D game.

The menu tree is a UI disaster. Instead of a context sensitive cursor that intuitively speeds up the battle flow by allowing you to move, attack, etc. without going into a menu, you'll have to have to select move, attack, or wait every time. A common series of actions like moving then waiting takes 4+ extraneous button presses due to the poorly designed menus. Abilities, skills, and items are inexplicably split up into different menu trees for no particular reason. Multiply that by the tens of thousands of times you'll have to navigate the menus to perform the simplest action and combat speed is significantly slowed down.

The shop and party management screens are similarly cumbersome. There's no way to see a spreadsheet list of character stats, instead you're forced to view one stat at a time. You can't check whether your classes are at a given level to wear a piece of equipment or learn a spell from inside the shop - meaning if they're unable to equip a piece of gear, it doesn't tell you what level they have to be in order to equip it. Nor can you compare shop items and currently equipped gear.

The description text in the shops scrolls by at an agonizingly slow pace. Having to jump back and forth between the shop and party management screen when you're trying to outfit 12+ units is tedious.

There's no indication of what's new in a shop as the story develops, forcing you to scroll through absurdly long item lists hoping that you spot what's new mixed in with the old. This of course ties in with the attempt to befuddle the player with long lists of mostly useless items, gear, and skills.

On to the battle preparation interface, there's no way to preview the upcoming battle during preparations or see how your unit placement grid relates to their positions on the map, nor can you save during the placement grid screen. You're unable to change the battle party grid on the world map. You can't save during preparation while doing a series of linked missions inside a fortress, forcing you to do your party management all over again if you want to restart.

There's no button to immediately remove every person on the battle party grid, instead you have to do it manually. The skip cut scene button(s) are annoyingly inefficient. You'll need to use it multiple times times just to get through what should be a single cut scene. Post-battle results features a distracting and annoying flag waving around - seemingly a symbol of how little thought was put into the user interface in general.

The crafting system is tedious, obtuse, and needlessly time wasting. First, you can't check the stats of anything you want to craft, so you won't know whether it's worth the time and effort. Most materials needed to craft items are found in the store, which then need to be synthesized into more refined items. Why bother making the player combine base items into refined items when they could just sell the refined items instead? Although there are certainly some materials that are only obtainable from random encounters (read: more grinding).

After an eternity of repetitively clicking and watching a little jar shake around turning your store bought materials into refined materials and combining those refined materials together to finally make an item, you'll usually find out it wasn't even worth crafting in the first place. Even worse, there's a chance your crafting effort will completely fail. You can save/load until you succeed, but then why bother with a sadistic failure rate in the first place?

There are a series of mostly meaningless "titles" added to the remake, most of which are vapid "gimmie" awards and have little or no relation to the players skill level. The ever present level and skill grinding makes any sort of challenge completable by patience instead of skill.

An autosave system going by the gimmicky acronym of "chariot" is present in TO, along with unlimited quicksaves that make the autosave system fairly meaningless. There's a title for not using the autosaves, but then you can use quicksaves to achieve the same effect, so why bother with a "no autosave" title in the first place?

Some of the titles are more a reward of patience than skill, such as "Finish the game without ever retreating." Not retreating from optional battles makes the game easier to complete due to higher party stats. It's ironic when it takes more skill to deliberately avoid getting an "achievement" than it does to earn it.

Like most RPGs it's so riddled with flaws and loopholes that allow the player to avoid difficulty that it's pretty much useless as a measure of player skill. Tactics Ogre is useful as an emotional experience only.

The plot is a JRPG take on medieval history and legends, with the typical teenage melodrama, ham fisted morality, and evil villains you'd expect from a JRPG. The faux-olde English translation seems like a desperate attempt to give the plot some sort of authenticity and hide its JRPG trappings. I happen to like my medieval fantasy without the JRPG conventions.

Tactics Ogre is a traditional RPG shoehorned onto a turn based grid while failing to take advantage of the added potential depth that the turn based tactics genre offers. If all turn based tactics started playing like Tactics Ogre/FFT/Disgaea, the turn based tactics genre would be almost entirely pointless, and all that would be left is a lot of RPG-esque, grind heavy "sandbox" games. For that reason, Tactics Ogre is a series that would be better off as a traditional RPG, instead of making a mockery of the turn based tactics genre.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Super Robot Wars F/FF (PS) Review

Super Robot Wars F/FF is the final entry to the classic SRW storyline, meant to replace 4th SRW. It's loosely based on the plot of 4th SRW, but is otherwise an almost entirely new game. SRW F and FF have a combined 78-80 scenarios per playthrough and over 100 total scenarios. It was longest continuous SRW campaign at that point and isn't for the fainthearted.

You can again create your own main character, although you have less control over which seishins they can use. The disparity between real and super MCs is quite large, which leads to super MC having a far easier time in F compared to real MC. The affinity mechanic makes its first appearance in SRW F, allowing two pilots who are friends or lovers to gain a stat boost when standing close to one another. While it's undocumented and fairly useless in practice, it shows how SRW continued to progress even in the classic series. Not to be left out, several mechanics from SRW Gaiden reappear in SRW F. This includes EXP for unused seishin points at the end of a mission and EXP for healing. Items are dropped by enemies instead of being hidden on the map, a trend that thankfully continues into modern SRWs.

A couple new seishins are added to mix things up such as Taunt and Dream, while other favorites like Rage have been removed. Formerly exploitable seishins in 4th SRW like Ressurect and Re-Enable are extremely rare and cost far more SP. There aren't nearly as many scenarios that can be finished by killing a single target like in 4th SRW, either.

Newly added series such as Ideon, Gunbuster, Gundam Wing, and Evangelion come with their own unique mechanics and abilities that help to add some much needed variety to the otherwise familiar classic roster. The Evangelion pilots have AT Fields to absorb damage and if Shinji's health is reduced to 0 his Eva will go berserk with a heavy case of the munchies. The Eva series also gets its own ending route, although it's more of a bad ending that skips the final 15 or so scenarios. Ideon is an extreme super robot that can wipe out entire maps with its Ideon Gun, or go berserk and aim at your forces instead. Gunbuster and Gundam Wing are more traditional robots and pilots without much in the way of unique mechanics, but it's still nice to see some new faces and units.

SRW F is one of the most difficult SRW campaigns, especially if you chose a Real pilot main character instead of a Super pilot. You'll frequently find yourself facing high armor, beam shielded L-Gaim, Guest, and Dunbine enemies, often on difficult terrain like forests, bases, and underwater. The two part scenarios where anyone used in the first scenario suffers a morale loss in the second scenario if their morale was over 100 are particularly brutal. In addition, you'll frequently be hounded by extremely powerful Evangelion angels and Guest bosses that are usually only possible to defeat with copious upgrades and lucky hits/critical hits. Sometimes it can get boring or annoying waiting around for these bosses to retreat if you don't feel like defeating them.

SRW FF is the direct sequel to F, allowing you to use your F save data to continue where the last game left off. SRW FF's campaign is significantly easier, with the exception of a few scenarios. Your Gundam pilots will reach double act, learn Spirit seishin, and get some decent robots with funnel attacks. Your super robots in FF are incredibly powerful and make most of the F supers look poor in comparison. Your other pilots learn a wide variety of seishins that make combat much easier. You'll often be fighting in space and not dealing with difficult earth terrain. Once you have full access to Ideon, it can make quick work of the last 10 or so scenarios.

Despite the huge number of scenarios, there is little empty filler. There's usually always some kind of reinforcement, event, retreat, or objective to keep things interesting. Most scenarios usually have multiple reinforcements and events that need to be carefully considered in any kind of efficient playthrough. There are two end game route splits of 10-11 scenarios that are both worth playing through.

4th SRW certainly had its game breaking combinations, and FF is no different. Late in FF, you gain full access to the robot Ideon which has two MAP attacks with infinite range and the maximum possible damage of 9999. On top of that, the Ideon pilots have both Strike and Spirit which guarantees the attack will always land and deal 3x damage. However, in order to use the MAP attacks Ideon needs to get attacked by enemies to raise its Ideon Gauge, and if it gets attacked too many times it will go berserk and start firing its MAP attack at anything it pleases, including your own units. In addition, if Ideon dies or is attacked too many times while berserk, you get an immediate game over.

While it's a double edged sword and requires careful management of the Ideon Gauge, the Ideon Gun can wipe entire maps clean of all enemies due to its enormous radius, infinite range, and extreme damage. The Ideon Sword is just as damaging, but is much more difficult to aim since it only fires in two straight lines instead of a huge cone. While building up the Ideon Gun or Sword isn't nearly as easy as the 4th SRW tactic of spamming Resurrect, Ideon Sword/Gun can still one shot any enemy in the game when combined with a Spirit seishin, final bosses included. Even when using Ideon to its fullest, though, the end game of FF is still more difficult than 4th SRW's endgame as the situation can quickly go bad when using Ideon.

F/FF uses the same engine as Shin, with a near identical UI. Sadly the feature from Shin where you could activate the same seishin across multiple pilots is not in F/FF. Animations are still unskippable so you'll want to use a speedup toggle to avoid sitting through them.

Overall F/FF is a great SRW entry for veterans, although a nightmare for the inexperienced. The only issues are balance between real and super type MC, Ideon being overpowered, and the usual unskippable animations.

Reviewers experience: Completed with no upgrades, no units destroyed, low turn counts, and no save/load spamming for low %. (Space/DC): 401 turns / 79 scenarios = 5.07 avg, (Space/Guest): 403 turns / 78 scenarios = 5.16 avg

Guide here!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Shin Super Robot Wars (PS) Review

Shin SRW was the first original Playstation entry, attempting to make a big splash as the series new vision. It's one of the few SRW titles to be re-released on the Japanese PSN as a digital download. It uses the same engine created for 4th SRW G but but includes a number of UI and control improvements. Shin SRW represents more of a leap in graphics than in gameplay or plot. It plays very similar to an easier, less eventful 4th SRW.

The campaign is split into two long routes which basically make it two games in one, adding up to ~71 total scenarios. While the core gameplay is fairly solid SRW fare, there's not much variety to be had throughout the campaign. Almost every scenario is completed using the same basic strategy with few alterations for scenario events or unique challenges. For most of the game you'll find yourself in massive, nearly empty maps with only a token amount of enemies. The kid gloves come off a bit near the end of each route, but by that point the you've gone through so many uneventful scenarios using the same strats that it might not feel worth the effort. It hasn't aged particularly well compared to other older SRWs. It doesn't help that the pilot and robot roster is relatively small compared to 4th, and it doesn't have much at all in the way of new seishins, skills, or unique features. Not to say that you can't get some enjoyment out of it, but if you're spoiled on modern SRWs, you'll probably be bored.

Graphically Shin SRW uses non-super deformed art. This works well for some robots designed to look realistic, but others look ugly or strange when not shrunken down. Shin SRW also adds cut-ins, close up face portraits, and long cutscenes to its attack animations. This turns out to be a double edged sword because like all older SRWs up until SRW Alpha, animations are still unskippable. When running at default speed the load times and animations are atrociously long and unbearable. Unless you have a way to speed them up in an emulator I don't advise playing Shin SRW. Much of the poor reputation of Shin stems from its slow load times and absurdly long, unskippable animations.

The seishin search menu, first added in SRW Gaiden, now lets you select multiple pilots with the same seishin and activate them all at once. This is a big improvement over past SRWs where you could only activate one seishin at a time.

The Shin SRW Special Disc was an encyclopedia or compendium of Shin SRW. In it you can view attack animations, FMV, tons of profiles, and listen to music. There's also a simple concept scenario where you can deploy a wide range of pilots and units, some of which you couldn't control in the main game.

Overall Shin SRW is hobbled by a fairly bland campaign and unskippable animations with long load times. It's not a surprise that any sort of sequel to Shin was aborted and replaced by the Alpha series. Only the most dedicated SRW fans should bother checking it out, and even then only if you can speed up the attack animations to 500% or greater of normal speed.

Reviewers experience:  Challenge conditions: No upgrades, no units destroyed, low turn counts, and no save/load spamming for low chances to hit or dodge. Total turncount for both routes + final mission: 295 turns / 71 scenarios.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Super Robot Wars Gaiden/OG Saga (SFC/DS) Review

SRW Gaiden is the last SRW title to be released for the Super Famicom and was recently ported to the DS in 2010. It's developed by WinkySoft, not Banpresto, which explains why it's very different from the rest of the series. It's more like an entirely different game that just happens to use SRW characters. The DS version has some interface improvements, skippable animations, plot alterations, and a new game+ feature, but the game play itself is nearly identical to the SFC original.

SRW Gaiden ditches the 2D overhead view for a 3D isometric view which happened to be all the rage in 1996.
As in most 3D isometric tactics games, height difference and unit facing plays a role in accuracy and damage. Zone of Control was added to make it more difficult to maneuver behind an opponent. Terrain bonuses, penalties, and movement rates are entirely removed.

In addition to EN and Ammo, a third weapon resource has been added called Prana Points, which are used in MAP and ultimate attacks. Prana Points work like EN except your robot loses stats such as HP, EN, and mobility when the points are used. When put into practice, though, Prana Points aren't much different from EN and they add little to the games depth. MAP attacks are still around but they are far less useful than previous SRWs. There aren't big groups of enemies to MAP anymore, MAP damage is fairly low, and MAP attacks share Prana Points and EN with ultimate attacks which need to be conserved for high HP bosses.

Weapons can be upgraded into new forms with improved properties aside from more damage. A rock paper scissors style elemental system and "caste" system was introduced so that certain unit types deal more or less to others. Pilot skills including double act are learnt at a range of possible levels instead of at a fixed level. Other minor changes from previous SRWs include EXP gain for healing, unused SP at the end of a scenario granting EXP, enemies capable of using seishins, and enemy stats no longer being hidden.

SRW Gaiden is one of the most shallow games in the series in terms of depth and customization. You can't switch pilots between units and there are no items to equip, unlike previous SRWs. The only thing you can do is upgrade your robots stats and weapons. You don't get to choose deployment spots until mid-late in the game and even then you can only choose 4-6 units. Similarly, SRW Gaiden only has about 40 combined allied pilots and robots compared to 4th SRW's count of almost 200. Enemy and ally counts during scenarios are significantly reduced, further lowering the games complexity.

Costs for seishins are so expensive that even near the end of the game you can only expect to use 3-4 seishins before running out, further removing strategic options from the player. Formerly cheap seishins like Flash now consume 30-50% of a pilots SP pool early in the game. The only strategy the player has control over is unit positioning, taking advantage of elemental weaknesses, conserving ultimate attacks for bosses, and using a tiny pool of seishins. The added directional facing, ZOC, and a simple rock paper scissors damage system doesn't make up for all of the other things removed or reduced. It's a shallow game compared to 4th SRW. There are still some scenarios in the game that push the available depth to its limit in terms of difficulty, but such scenarios exist in 3rd and 4th SRW as well.

SRW Gaiden adds a significant amount of randomness in the form of new or changed pilot skills. Branching (bunshin) is now always active instead of only active at 130+ morale. Double attack is easily the worst skill added to Gaiden, allowing any unit to attack twice for full damage. Bosses that can double attack will usually kill any of your units in two hits. If you unintentionally double attack, you might waste ammo/EN you were trying to conserve, or kill an enemy you were just trying to weaken for a lower level pilot. This is exacerbated by the low dodge rates of your pilots, the high cost of seishins, and the lack of a Focus (30% hit/dodge) seishin.

Bosses appear early in the game with many pilot skills before your pilots have any, leading to highly random and uncontrollable situations. Mid-late in the game every enemy pilot including the low level grunts have branching, block, double attack, and double act. The combination of simplified customization, low unit counts, and highly random pilot skills makes this the most dumbed down, RNG heavy SRW yet. The developers could have made changes like making double attack only deal 25% of normal damage, branching only at 130 morale, and make it so you can't block attacks from behind. Then the game would only be simple, instead of simple and uncontrollably random.

The scenario flowchart is complex with 3 ending routes and dozens of variables to keep track of. There are about 100 total scenarios, but quite a bit of that is filler. Much like SRW EX, there are a lot of heavily scripted "event scenarios" that are merely formalities. A good number of scenarios are simply mirrors of other scenarios with minor changes due to plot branching or feature reused maps. Even though the scenario count and branching looks intimidating, there aren't any more unique missions than you'd find in 3rd or 4th SRW. However, it is impressive how they managed to cram so much content and plot branches into an SNES game while avoiding game breaking bugs.

As usual the interface continues to improve. You can now check a list of enemies as well as allies. There's a new list of seishins which you can select to see which pilots currently have that seishin. By holding down select then pressing L or R, you can switch between enemies on the map instead of allies. This turns out to be very useful because you can't zoom out to a minimap view, likely a limitation of the isometric map. As usual animations cannot be skipped in the SFC version, so I suggest the DS version.

Reviewer's experience: Completed with no upgrades, no allied units destroyed, low turncounts, and no save/load spamming for very low chances to hit or dodge. Wendy Route: 221 turns, 45 scenarios. Baravia Route: 218 turns, 45 scenarios. Shuu Route: 232 turns, 43 scenarios.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2nd Super Robot Wars Gather (Gameboy) Review

2nd SRW G is a retelling of 2nd SRW for NES with new characters and scenarios. While some map layouts are reused from the NES version, there are so many other changes and new maps that it feels like a new game. Despite being released after 4th SRW and being based on the NES 2nd SRW, almost everything about 2nd G's mechanics are identical to 3rd SRW. Three major features from 4th SRW are weapon upgrades, and being able to select attack/dodge/defend when attacked on enemy phase, confirmation of hit/dodge rate before committing to an attack. Even the sprites are mostly downgraded versions of 3rd SRW sprites. Basically you're getting another serving of 3rd SRW with the addition of weapon upgrade and full upgrade bonuses.

New to SRW are full upgrade bonuses which reward a fully upgraded unit (7 points in HP, EN, Armor, and Limit) with extra stats or abilities. There are a few minor bits that made it from 4th SRW such as being able to quickload by resetting and holding A. One annoying limitation of the hardware is that you can't see whether a unit is flying or not on the map. On a related note, air/ground capable units can't land, probably a limitation of the game engine or hardware.

2nd SRW G's campaign is fairly short, taking 24-25 out of 33 scenarios per playthrough. Most scenarios can be completed in 4 turns. Difficulty is fairly easy overall - don't expect any harrowing challenges. Most of the bosses are lightweights except for the final boss, who has some fairly intimidating stats. Any experienced player will have no problem destroying the campaign in 2-3 days. The pilot and unit roster is tiny compared to 3rd and 4th SRW, and there are no equippable parts, so you'll be doing little party management throughout the game. Unlike 4th SRW with its 80+ pilots and robots with equippable parts, you can figure out which pilots and robots are worth using in 2nd SRW G in a couple minutes as opposed to hours.

With that said, it's still easily one of the best single player tactics games for the Gameboy, if not the best. Cramming a miniature but fully functioning SRW game into the Gameboy is no small feat. It looks good and animates well for a Gameboy title. The user interface is good and they manage to cram an impressive amount of features, including using the select and start buttons to sort units by HP/level. Give it a try if you love retro gaming and tactical strategy.

Reviewers experience: Completed with no upgrades, no units destroyed, low turn counts, and no save/load spamming for low chances to hit or dodge. 106 turns, 25 scenarios completed.

Monday, September 5, 2011

4th Super Robot Wars (SFC) Review

4th SRW is a sequel to 3rd SRW, furthering the original SRW storyline. It's once again based on the engine used in 3rd SRW and EX. 4th SRW was the largest SRW yet, including 69 scenarios and about 80 pilots and robots.

4th SRW represents a modest increase in complexity from previous titles. Additions include a customizable hero pilot whose choice of robot affects the plot, special pilot abilities, equippable robot parts, hidden items on the map (not seen since the original SRW), more seishins, and new stats such as crit rate and robot size. You can finally choose reactions to enemy attacks during enemy phase on a fight by fight basis instead of issuing general orders. Another major change is that almost all enemies have their stats hidden until you fight them. This added depth means you'll be spending more time figuring out optimal strategies and team setups.

The campaign starts out a little more difficult than usual. It's more difficult to earn levels early on and you don't start with any very strong units. Even Getta isn't a powerhouse until mid-late game. Around the mid game you get handed a bunch of MAP attacks and extremely powerful ultimate attacks, causing the difficulty to plummet. The ZZ Gundam is especially ridiculous with a MAP attack that covers half the screen and can kill almost any grunt in the game with one attack. Upgrades are quite simply too effective, nearly doubling the base damage of a weapon, which becomes even more ridiculous when combined with the Soul seishin that multiplies damage by 3x. Finally, the Revive seishin breaks the game by allowing you to suicide your pilots just to revive them again with full HP/EN, full Spirit Points and 100 morale. The Awaken and Re-Enable seishins are also too cheap and spammable. It's sad when you can finish the last 6 or so scenarios in 1 turn by making full use of the above features.

The endgame is easier than 3rd SRW by far. Bosses are easily blown up by fully upgraded MAP attacks and fully upgraded ultimate attacks. They are essentially big harmless punching bags that go down in a couple hits. In 3rd SRW an end game boss would take the combined might of your entire team to kill while remaining very dangerous, while in 4th SRW they aren't much more of a threat than the high HP grunts surrounding them. Even some SRW EX bosses were more dangerous. There are no waves of double acting grunts like in 3rd SRW, either.  Overall the early and mid game have some decent SRW style action, but unless you are playing a no upgrades and no units destroyed playthrough, expect the late game to be a joke.

Once again there are some UI improvements. Units in the unit list can be sorted by HP or level. The new powers menu shows a list of which pilots have which seishins. You can quickly load your mid-battle save by holding select after soft resetting. I was left pining for the modern seishin interface where you select which seishins to activate and they all occur at the same time, instead of going into the menu each time to activate one seishin. There's far too much seishin spamming and it gets tiring.

The color palette is even darker and more muted than SRW EX. Robots on the map are low contrast and blend in too easily with the background. I'm not sure why they did this since SRW EX was a good balance between the overly bright simplicity of 3rd SRW and the low contrast 4th SRW. As usual animations can't be disabled so I recommend using an emulator with a speedup toggle.

4th SRW is a solid entry to the series, but the developers were unable to properly balance all of the newly added features. Much of the difficulty and depth ends up drowned out by overly powerful attacks and seishins.

4th SRW Scramble was a port of 4th SRW for the Playstation, also the first SRW for Playstation. Thanks to the larger save size, you're no longer forced to scrap or dismiss units as the campaign progresses. There are some subtle changes to pilot, unit, and weapon data, mostly buffs to your stats to make the game slightly easier. A few extra missions are added, and some reinforcement and enemy layouts have been altered. 4th SRW S also includes a few interface improvements such as L2 and R2 to switch between enemy units. If you've already played 4th SRW for SFC inside out, it's not really worth a second trip. On the other hand, if you haven't touched either game, 4th SRW S is considered the more balanced (read: easier), less buggy version.

Reviewer's experience: Completed the campaign with no upgrades, no units destroyed, low turn counts, and no save/load spamming for low chances to hit or dodge. 146 turns, 44 scenarios completed.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Super Robot Wars EX (SFC) Review

SRW EX is the fourth SRW game, coming after 3rd SRW. It's more of a side story meant for series beginners. SRW EX is split up into 3 episodes featuring Masaki, Ryune, and Shuu. While stats don't carry over, some choices you make in one episode can affect other episodes. There are about 61 total playable scenarios and you'll go through most of them in a single playthrough due to the game being fairly linear with few route splits. By comparison, a 3rd SRW playthrough has 34-39 out of 58 total scenarios.

SRW EX uses a modified version of the 3rd SRW engine. Like most side games built on a previous games engine, SRW EX doesn't change things up too much, but does make several changes for the better. You can choose individual unit response during enemy turn, but you still can't choose your response per battle. Pilots no longer have a power stat, so damage is mostly increased by weapon upgrades. Robot attacks need pilot skill level in addition to morale level.

You can now move and attack with certain ranged attacks (marked with a P). Certain ranged attacks are still movement limited, though, and some ranged attacks now have dead zones. Just about every robot has a decent melee attack, unlike 3rd SRW where ranged attacks dominated. MAP attacks return in SRW EX and they come in a variety of unusual shapes, sizes, and directions. This makes aiming them a little more interesting. Once you have multiple MAP attackers most of which can cause friendly fire to eachother, it can be tricky to lay down effective coverage without blowing up your allies. Enemies are also more likely to use their MAP attacks on you.

SRW EX was the easiest SRW yet. It includes a tutorial mode and it's a very forgiving game overall. It's likely a reaction to the unforgiving difficulty of 3rd SRW. With the addition of weapon upgrades, upgrading your MAP attacks and EN capacity allows you to make short work of the game. Most scenarios can be completed in 5 or less turns. While there are a few tough spots here and there, they are mostly optional and easy to avoid.

Controls and UI mature a bit further in SRW EX. Most importantly, you can view the percent chance to hit and miss an enemy before committing to the attack, which was a big issue in 3rd SRW. In control improvements, you can switch between allied units with L/R, switch between enemy units in target mode, and Y brings up the overhead map. You can see most of the active seishins on your pilots. Finally, you can now move diagonally with the cursor. There's a bit of lag when navigating the menus due to slowness in fading in or out unreachable terrain when selecting the Move command, which is annoying and unnecessary.

The ISS (interactive scenario system) allows you to import a previous episode save file into a new episode, altering some scenarios and routes. SRW EX is the first SRW with a plot that isn't completely bare bones. It helps that you get to see the perspective of the games events from 3 different characters. It's a little more fleshed out and interesting than the previous "Londo Bell vs DC vs Inspectors" of 3rd SRW.

Graphically, one of the first things you'll notice is the muted palette and magical, fantasy oriented theme. It's not hard to mistake the forest and mountain terrain for a medieval fantasy RPG, not an ideal setting for super powered robots blasting one another. Talking animals, fairies, spirits, and magic powered robots are frequently spotted. Attack animations are still unskippable. Even the MAP attacks have cutscenes. This isn't a big deal on SFC SRWs that can be run on an emulator with a speedup toggle, though.

Overall SRW EX is a good entry for beginners with its mostly easy difficulty, tutorial, and hand holding. There is a partial translation patch available but no full one.

Reviewers experience: Completed with no upgrades, no units destroyed, low turn counts, and no save/load spamming for low chances to hit or dodge. 200 turns total for all 3 episodes.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

3rd Super Robot Wars (SFC) Review

Dai-3-Ji (3rd) Super Robot Wars is the third SRW game to be released. 3rd SRW experiences some growing pains as the series develops from a simple Game Boy game to a modern franchise. Major changes include a branching plotline with multiple endings, robots with more than two attacks, pilots and robots gaining separate stats, pilots able to switch between robots, robots upgraded during intermission instead of with items, weapons consuming energy/ammo and requiring morale, and pilot/robot terrain aptitude. Depending on the choices you make and your turn count, you'll play between 34-39 of 58 total missions per playthrough.

Unlike 2nd SRW where ranged attacks were a rarity, every robot you can control has a ranged attack. SRW3's game strategies start with a heavy emphasis on ranged vs melee balance. Ranged attacks are stronger than melee, but they're less accurate and you can't move and attack with them. Enemy AI is smarter than in 2nd SRW. It will often focus fire more effectively and is harder to distract or kite. I'd say this part of the game is fairly simple and balanced, much like 2nd SRW.

As the game progresses you'll be facing multiple high HP bosses that can act twice per turn and one shot most of your robots. Even the non boss enemies will be able to act twice per turn and have very high stats. At that point strategies shift to MAP area attacks that can destroy huge groups of enemies and strong single target attacks to deal with uber bosses. Your own pilots are eventually able to double act, leading to the tricky situation of both sides being able to quickly annihilate one another, with the one striking first being the winner.

3rd SRW is very receptive to speedrunning. Well placed MAP attacks can wipe entire scenarios worth of enemies in a single turn, and double act pilots can cover vast amounts of terrain to quickly engage far off enemies. Most scenarios can be completed in 5 turns or less, skipping most of the scheduled reinforcements. Your turn counts are tracked so you can see how well you're doing. It feels like there are balancing issues when so many missions can be cleared before scheduled reinforcements. Sometimes if you clear a mission too quickly you'll run into game crippling bugs or miss out on recruitable pilots, as well.

While 3rd SRW adds a decent amount of complexity and depth, in some ways it regresses from 2nd SRW. Every scenario goal is to kill all enemies with no variation. No escape missions, and no single target kill missions. It's certainly a difficult game near the end, but I felt like the constant MAP attack spam and uber bosses started to wear thin. There's just not enough depth to keep the entire game feeling fresh and varied.

Animations are still unskippable and the game is only tolerable by using an emulator speedup toggle. 3rd SRW combat is so painfully slow at normal speed that it's not even worth playing. You could go to the bathroom and make a sandwich in the time it takes for the CPU to take its turn in some of the more crowded missions. Controls are better than the FC version but they are still fairly primitive and don't even make use of all the buttons on the SFC controller.

3rd SRW is a game with quite a few growing pains and balance issues as it develops into a modern franchise. Despite its rough around the edges design, it has held up very well with the exception of unskippable animations.

Strategic Depth: Low-Medium.
Strategic Difficulty: Medium-high.
Overall Score: 7.2
Reviewer's experience: Completed with no upgrades, no units destroyed, and no save/load spamming for low chances to hit or dodge, 159 turns, 34 scenarios complete.

Friday, July 29, 2011

2nd Super Robot Wars (Famicom) Review

Dai-2-Ji (2nd) Super Robot Wars is the second SRW game to be released. 2nd SRW was a great game for its time in 1991, and certainly one of the best NES turn based tactics games. Despite being released in 1991, it bears a lot of similarities to modern SRWs. Major differences from the 1st SRW include named pilots, repair robots, motherships, quicksaves, revamped seishins, and robots surviving a battle if defeated. 2nd SRW picks up the SRPG standard of a steady cast of characters that progress through story based missions. There are 26 missions with no branching paths, making it a relatively short game for tactics vets.

2nd SRW sticks to the fundamentals of ranged vs melee, healing, focus fire, efficient seishin use, and carefully placed AOE attacks. All units are limited to only two abilities or attacks, although later in the game most of your robots can transform and use a different set of weapons. Unlike 1st SRW, almost none of your units get ranged attacks for the first half of the game, so they are frequently taking damage. This also makes it more difficult to surround an enemy for a fast kill. To make up for the extra damage you're able to use repair robots, motherships, or seishins. About half way through the game you'll get more ranged units, but they have their own drawbacks as well. Enemy AI isn't very good at focus fire or acting in a group, so it's pretty easy to divide its attention to avoid casualties.

You'll occasionally face large numbers of enemies attacking at once, making it tricky to keep everyone alive. It's fairly difficult to avoid repair bills while keeping a low turn count in some late game missions against bosses with very high stats and frequent double attacks. In several missions it's possible to finish before certain scripted events are supposed to happen, which I doubt the developers intended. The difficulty curve is fairly uneven, which probably owes to the development teams inexperience. You'll often find yourself surrounded and/or facing nasty bosses right after a bunch of relatively easy missions. Most maps can be completed in 7-9 turns. Quicksaves are available so it's much easier to recover from mistakes than in 1st SRW, or reload for better combat results if you are desperate. There's no grinding available, so if you play poorly you may find later missions difficult if not impossible.

Items and funds are not implemented effectively in 2nd SRW. You barely get any funds and items cost a ton. Even if you avoid repair bills you'll only be able to pick up a few items throughout the game, and they are more or less insignificant anyway. Your pilots levels are far more important than upgrades.

Controls are better than 1st SRW with an added unit list, quick stat screen button, and better menus. You still can't turn off battle animations or tab between units, unfortunately. Graphics are decent, but not animated. They could certainly have put more effort into it, considering there are Game Boy SRW games with better animation.

2nd SRW is a good representation of SRW's transformation halfway between a simple Game Boy game towards a modern franchise that has spawned dozens of releases. Note that while the Famicom version shares the same name with the Playstation version, that version is a remake with altered maps and gameplay.

Strategic Depth: Low.
Strategic Difficulty: Medium-high. If you speedrun and avoid repair bills, you're in for some fun.
Overall Score: 6.8
Reviewer's experience: Finished the campaign with no units destroyed, 243 turns.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Super Robot Wars (Game Boy) Review

Super Robot Wars is the first entry in the venerable Super Robot series of games. You'll find many of the series hallmarks including seishins (special abilities), transformations, recruitable enemies, willpower, and air/land/sea attack and movement types.

Players start out by choosing one of three robot teams. You'll then choose one of those robots to be the leader, granting them stat boosts and SP to use seishins. You'll see the other robots you didn't choose scattered in various missions, ready to be recruited. Successful recruiting depends on the enemy's HP level and the recruiters charisma and series relations. You can only have up to 8 current party members, so no recruiting the whole robot army. Ideally you want to have 8 of the best robots on your team, so strategically sacrificing weaker units to recruit better ones is an option.

There are 13 missions total, usually with a boss that must be defeated to progress. Items can be found in capturable towers and secret locations scattered around each map which are used to bolster your stats during intermission. There is usually a group of initially aggressive enemies at the start of a level, but the rest are fairly passive, letting you heal up and search for items if desired. It's usually best to dump your stat boosts on your leader robot since you can't lose them without facing defeat.

Gameplay tends to be somewhat unforgiving as healing is limited to seishins and captured towers, there are no quicksaves, and defeated units leave your party (but may be found as enemies later and re-recruited). This leads to a heavy reliance on uncounterable ranged attacks in order to preserve health. Whenever you open the seishin menu, you'll get your pick of 3 randomly selected seishins, so you never know if you'll get something useful or not. It's a surprisingly above average difficulty game that may throw SRW fans for a loop, since you can't spam quicksaves or grind to get out of trouble, and death comes quickly for your robots if ganged up on. One unusual feature is that player units cannot pass through other player units. I rarely see this in tactics games and it makes bunched up situations more tricky since it's possible to box in your own weakened units that need to retreat.

Graphics are surprisingly good for a Game Boy game, with well detailed map icons and good looking battle sprites. Music is limited to one battle loop. Animations can't be turned off so if you are on an emulator using the turbo button is advised.

Controls are a mixed bag. The cursor can't move diagonally, there's no button to switch between units, some menus can't be backed out of, and there's no quick button to check a units stats. And yes, they could fit that into the Game Boy's control scheme if they wanted to.

Overall Super Robot Wars is a good first entry to the famous robot series and shouldn't be missed by fans or anyone looking for some retro tactics action.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fire Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow review.

One of the best Fire Emblem titles with something for everybody.

Fire Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow (FE:HLS) is Intelligent Systems' (IS) latest title in the flagship turn based tactical Fire Emblem series.  It's a remake of the third FE title on the Super Famicom titled Monshou no Nazo, continuing Marth's adventures after Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon to put an end to the reptilian (dragon) menace once and for all.  FE:HLS is a significant improvement over FE:SD in both plot and character development, combat mechanics, content, balance, and difficulty settings.

The My Unit system lets you create and customize your own character to fight alongside Marth.  You can select their appearance, class, and provide them with stat and growth boosts.  As you might expect, an optimally configured My Unit will easily best anyone else in your army.  My Unit gets his or her own prologue and side story chapters focusing on a group of assassins out to kill Marth.

Maps are better designed than FE:SD, with plenty of variety and unique conditions.  Frequent enemy movement and reinforcements encourage the player to keep moving.  There are few choke points for the player to turtle up and hide in, and if there is a choke points, you can be sure there will be large numbers of enemies trying to pass through it.  There are many groups of enemies that are scripted to not move out and attack until you move one of your own units deep into their collective attack ranges, ensuring you'll need a durable unit that can take punishment from multiple enemies to proceed.  The many scripted events and tactical map design ensures most players won't get bored or feel like they are dealing with a brain dead opponent.

Side story chapters are far easier to access than FE:SD, accessible by clearing the chapter with a very lax turn count, or meeting a very easy optional objective.  You practically can't miss them this time around.  This should appease gamers who were highly disgruntled at having to kill off more than half their army to reach the side story chapters in FE:SD.

New to the series is Casual mode, where units that reach 0 HP during chapters do not die permanently.  Instead they are temporarily removed until the next chapter with no other penalties.  Casual mode is selectable independent of the difficulty level selection, so you can play any difficulty while remaining on  Casual mode.  This should appeal to audiences of gamers that don't like the permanent death feature of Fire Emblem.  Classic mode is still available for those gamers who enjoy their carefully laid plans going awry by a stray critical.

FE:HLS features the widest range of difficulty levels of any Fire Emblem game.  You may choose from Normal mode up to Hard, Mania, Lunatic, and Lunatic Reverse (note: Japanese names, may not be the same in NA).  On top of the difficulty selection, there is a ranking system that grades you on Speed, Survival, and Tactics.  The easiest mode is a walk in the park, perfectly suited to beginners or those who aren't interested in a hard slog.  Hard mode is most comparable to the original Super Famicom version - it can get a little stressful here and there, but you probably won't be losing any sleep over it.  Mania mode is fairly difficult, but it doesn't go all out like Lunatic mode.  Lunatic and Lunatic Reverse mode is a sadistic test of skill, patience, and planning that only gifted tacticians will be able to dominate.  Clearing Lunatic unlocks Lunatic Reverse, which is a version of Lunatic mode where enemies always get the first attack in combat even during player phase.

One major difference in Lunatic mode compared to easier modes is that you don't get game altering items such as the Warp stave, so there are far fewer easy 1 turn victories like in FE:SD.  Enemies promote earlier, come in vastly greater numbers, show up as reinforcements earlier or more frequently, wield powerful forged weapons as soon as the first chapter, and always have the highest weapon rank with a bonus +10 to hit.  By the mid-late game enemies have almost fully capped stats with very powerful forged weapons.  Having characters who can take more than one hit before dying are a valuable commodity on Lunatic.  Finally, Lunatic mode has an anti-boss farming feature that awards decreasing amounts of XP for hitting any boss with regenerating HP.  Getting low turn counts, every possible item, and every recruit on Lunatic Reverse is a worthy challenge for even the most experienced tactics veteran.

The class change system returns.  There are no characters with abnormally high growth rates like in FE:SD, so the system is far more balanced this time around.  Mid-battle save points make their return.  These are a useful way to keep random bad luck to a minimum or reload for level up growths.  Game balance isn't all perfect.  Some classes such as Heroes are particularly worthless in comparison to the better classes.  On Lunatic difficulty you'll be restricted to a handful of the best characters in the game if you want to survive.  The ranking system only goes up to A, no S this time around.  Veteran players will not have much trouble reaching an A rank on most difficulties, which is a disappointment.

During intermission, you'll have access to Everybody's Situation, where you can get free items, weapons, temporary stat boosts, and support conversation levels.  This feature is somewhat unbalanced as you can get some of the best weapons in the game if you get lucky or wait long enough.  There should have been more restrictions built into this feature, such as only being able to use it a limited number of times per chapter and removing the powerful weapons. 

The plot and characters are more fleshed out, with lots of personal conversations, base conversations, and an expanded plot featuring My Unit.  Much like Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, supports are developed by deploying characters in the same chapter together then initiating support conversations during intermission.  Gamers disappointed by FE:SD's bare bones plot and low character development will like the greatly increased personal development of the cast.

Wi-Fi features such as the Wi-Fi store are back.  Nintendo is offering free Wi-Fi goodies like the 77 use Rainbow Potion that gives your party members +2 to every stat for a chapter.  Expect the Rainbow Potion to show up 3-6 months after the expected NA release, if the JP release is anything to go by.  The Wi-Fi store contains the usual selection of items that you make the game significantly easier with, such as a Rescue and Again stave and hero weapons.  I would have liked to see more restrictions on Wi-Fi store usage on Lunatic difficulty mode.

The UI is responsive and well designed as would be expected from IS, but not everything is perfect.  The intermission management could have used some consolidation between the unit selection, trading, and class change sections.  There are a lot of unused buttons that could have been employed to do so.  The roster details section doesn't include pages where you can check a list of your army's weapon levels, which is something that previous FE titles had.

Clearing the game unlocks features like the ability to change male characters into a wider range of available male classes, adding stat boost items in the base store, unlocking 4 extra missions, and other goodies.  The extra maps have their own scoring system independent of the campaign and getting a top score is not an easy feat.

FE:HLS is a major improvement on FE:SD and one of the best console tactics games thus far.  There's something for everyone, no matter your skill level or whether you like combat or plot.  I highly recommend you pick it up if you're at all interested in tactics games.  I would definitely call it the best console tactics game of 2010 in Japan.

If you'd like to read more about FE:HLS, check out my guide here.

Strategic Depth: Medium-high. All of the micromanagement and tactical combat you'd expect from a Fire Emblem title.
Strategic Difficulty: Low to very high. A very wide selection of difficulty modes ensures just about every player will be satisfied.
Overall Score: 9.2/10 - A great tactics title that only falters when it comes to balance and abusable features at the higher difficulty modes.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Valkyria Chronicles II review (PSP)

Valkyria Chronicles 2 is the sequel to Valkyria Chronicles, a turn based tactics game with a unique semi-realtime system that plays like a combination between third person shooter and movement of one unit at a time strategy.  Command Points are supplied and used to take control of units, retreat them back to the roster, or give orders.  The core BLiTZ system is still here, but there have been some significant changes to other mechanics.  Each map is now divided into several smaller areas which are linked together by base camps.  The areas are smaller, but the developers tried hard to cram as much strategic terrain detail and height differences as possible, so no two maps feel too similar.  There are about 10 maps total with 4-5 areas each, ranging from forests to cities to warships.

The second most significant change is the smaller deployment limit of 6 allies.  This change forces the player to carefully consider who they have deployed in what location.  Units can be dismissed for no CP if they are standing on an allied camp, so the player is encouraged to move their units from camp to camp or deploy from a camp then head back towards the camp after performing their action, lest the map become littered with units that have to be retreated at a cost of 1 CP.

The scoring system has been enhanced from VC.  In VC to get the highest score you needed a low turn count while killing leaders, tanks, and aces.  In VC2 your score is penalized for letting allies get KOed in combat.  There are more enemies that reward points and crafting resources, such as yellow hat enemies, turrets, bunkers, and key targets like bosses and a certain tough to kill enemy type.  You are rewarded for capturing every camp at the end of a mission, which can be daunting when there are over a dozen of them scattered across a 5 area mission.  Score-rewarding enemies rarely appear as reinforcements, but it's not enough to throw the scoring system off.  Much like Fire Emblem, a game does not have to be 100% deterministic to be able to be played for score.

Many of the overpowered mechanics from VC have been fixed.  Orders are now so expensive that they are only worth using occasionally instead of all the time.  Scouts are no longer ridiculously overpowered, thanks in part to the order nerf, but also because camps are often well defended.  There is no longer quicksaving and quickloading during a mission, which prevents save/loading for unlikely hits or potential procs, and makes the randomness of enemy dodging and potential procs meaningful.  To make up for this change there is the morale meter which increases your units chances of potential procs the higher it rises.  That's not to say there aren't ways to lower the difficulty in this game.  Any of the Extras mission weapons are overpowered, although they aren't as broken as VC scouts or save/load abuse were.  There's also a certain tank gatling gun that is quite overpowered which can be obtained early in the game as an uncommon drop from an ace, which is pretty poor design.

The main campaign can take as little as 30-40 hours if you only do the bare minimum of missions, or as much as 70 hours if you play every mission you get access to.  The post-game is one of the largest I've played recently.  You get something like 50 extra missions to complete plus the DLC missions for $5.  Even though the content starts to feel repetitive, there are a few maps where they throw your army into tricky spots.  The difficulty is pretty low most of the time, though.  I didn't have any problems getting high scores and resource bonuses while finishing 2-3 turns ahead of the A rank, despite not grinding or using the overpowered Extras weapons.

There are about 200 missions but not nearly enough map types and enemy varieties to keep things feeling fresh over such a large amount of content.  It might be OK at first, but you'll likely feel worn down eventually from replaying the same areas again and again, even if the deployment, camp and enemy locations are different.  Some missions tend to suffer from feeling too similar and I don't think enough effort was put into making each mission feel unique with its own thoughtful strategies to figure out, such as the VC EX-Hard maps.  Some enemies are randomly placed each time you start the mission, which adds to the feeling of sameness once you get down the routine of how to dismantle each area of its enemies.  Some extra strategic difficulty and variety would have gone a long way given the huge amount of missions available.

Instead of only 5 classes, there are 35.  Sega did a fairly good job of balancing them, although about 1/3 of the classes aren't quite as useful as the others.  Added classes include the melee based armor techs and instrument toting engineers that provide buffs and debuffs.  Also new are APCs that you can load and deploy units from.  They can usually cover great distances so it's a common strategy to drive an APC up to an enemy camp, torch everything with a flamethrower, then drop units off for a capture.

Classes are promoted to 2nd and 3rd tiers using credits, which are randomly distributed per mission to anyone who participated meaningfully in combat.  While the system works statistically in the players favor if they use a large number (10-15) of recruits per mission, many players are upset over the fact that the system works against attempts to focus on getting one specific character to one specific class.  Instead it's designed to allow you to get enough promoted classes on average, even if it's not the character or class you wanted.  Of course there is optional grinding available if you absolutely must get your favorite character into a specific class.  While the system may be unpopular, it is a functional and logical set of game rules that isn't 'broken'.

The music is good, but eventually I had to turn it off.  Somehow despite the soundtrack being expansive, all I ended up hearing were the same few tunes over and over - mostly the mission preparation tune.  Graphics are pretty impressive for the PSP, not losing much of the flavor from the original VC.  Controls are decent although the PSP analog nub is still notoriously flaky.  I would tell you about the plot, but I skipped every cutscene in the game, which I think enhanced my gaming experience by not melting my brain with horribly vapid high school anime tripe mixed with superpowered valkyries.

Overall VC2 is more challenging and balanced than VC while maintaining the spirit of the original.  I would have liked to see less missions with a greater emphasis on unique combat situations, but there's still enough to be satisfied with especially when the difficulty is cranked up in the post-game.

Strategic Depth: Medium.  The depth is there, but it's stretched over so much similar content that it eventually starts to wear thin.
Strategic Difficulty: Low-Intermediate.  Strap on some DLC weapons and a Cptd AA gatling and the game becomes quite easy.  On the other hand, getting a high score and resource bonuses can be demanding on some missions.
Overall Score: 8.5/10 - Great portable Valkyria Chronicles style play, but the quantity over quality mission content will wear thin on most players.