Monday, June 30, 2008

RPGs of the Week: Shipping July 01


Happy Canada Day/Independence Day for all us North America-ers! The birth of our countries grants us a chance to reflect on the founding of our countries and the rights, freedoms, and priviledges that go along with that.

...But more importantly, it gives us time off work and school. ;)

Unfortunately, it seems that new RPG releases are taking the week off as well, with only a free-to-play MMO for NA, and absolutely nothing (that I'm aware of anyway) for EU. Japan fares only slightly better, seeing the release of Square Enix's quirky horror/mystery game about an RPG, Nanashi no Game. Oh, and budget releases of Oblivion and Enchant Arm. (Why does Japan count budget releases as "new" releases anyway?)

EDIT: Oops. So I just realized I missed a couple of DS games for Europe that are shipping out this week. I've added them in the proper spot below. Man is there egg on my face or what?

North America

Dungeon Runners - NCsoft - PC


Japan

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Platinum Collection) - Bethesda Softworks, Spike - Xbox 360
Enchant Arm (The Best) - From Software - PlayStation 3
Nanashi no Game - Square Enix - Nintendo DS

Europe

Pokemon Mysterious Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness - Nintendo - Nintendo DS
Pokemon Mysterious Dungeon: Explorers of Time - Nintendo - Nintendo DS

So, picking anything up this week, or are you working on your backlog?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Fragile Existence

Last year Namco Bandai announced a Wii rpg / explorer project that would be called Fragile. But as far as any other information on the game went, all we received was one small teaser. Namco left everything else in the dark, we waited wondering when the game would ever see the light of day. It has been a long hard wait, but Fragile has now become a reality for many gamers (Or me at least). As now the game's status has changed to feel more official, receiving new art and screen shots in an update to it's website. Fragile once again gives me that giddy school-girl feeling that I first received as I watch it's debut trailer.

Yes, it does seem the the main character is wearing a dress (Hey if Link can do why can't anyone else!), and the mysterious girl character is wearing a little less then a dress, but never the less the game's graphics look jaw dropping and I still can't wait!
Here is The Trailer again as well. Cause you just can't get enough of that Sugar Crisp!


~Giggity

Friday, June 27, 2008

White Knights to Ride Fiscal 2008


According to Sony, Level 5's first HD RPG Shiro Kishi Monogatari (commonly referred to by English-speakers as White Knight Story or White Knight Chronicles) is set to (finally) release for PlayStation 3 in Japan during fiscal year 2008.

Okay, before you PS3 owners start jumping up and down with squeals of unrestrained joy (an RPG! an RPG! we finally have one!), understand that Fiscal Year 2008 actually goes until the end of March 2009. The fact that they announced it for "Fiscal 2008" and not just plain old "2008" leads us to believe that this release will be closer to the March 2009 side of the spectrum. Also, remember that there has been no news on an NA or EU release as of yet, and if the localization is left up to SCEA/SCEE (as it was with Rogue Galaxy), we may not see it on our shores for quite a bit longer than that.

However, for the RPG-starved PS3, this is definitely welcome news. Level 5's latest project was one of the first games announced for the PS3 back before launch in 2006, but has made very slow progress with even less press attention. So to know that the game is still coming out (and in the forseeable future, no less) is surely a sigh of relief for many PS3 owners wondering where the RPG love is.


I have always been a fan of Level 5's game design, and their gameplay is among some of the smoothest and most intuitive I've played (though their stories are often on the shallow side). Though the art style for Shiro Kishi Monogatari seems (to me, anyway) to be a step backwards (I preferredtheir cell-shaded work on Dark Cloud 2, DQVIII, and Rogue Galaxy to Shiro Kishi's odd take on photorealism), the game will most likely play quite nicely.

We'll keep our ears to the ground and keep you updated.

Arc Rise Fantasia will Fanatasize your... ah screw it.

Since all I had to go on with regarding Marvelous' recently announced Wii RPG Arc Rise Fantasia was it's title, developer, target platform, and a blurry photo, my coverage of it was understandably brief. Well, leave it to the internet to get out there and right the wrongs of our society, for some wonderful soul has scanned the entire article which has shed some light on this upcoming title.

Arc Rise Fantasia is set in what is called the Meridian Empire, a kingdom that is continually fighting against the Corrupted Dragons which plague the world. The Corrupted Dragons are a form of undead dragon that contaminate the world and destroy civilization.

The story focuses on a young mercanary named Bright. While working with the Meridian Knights, under the command of Arth, the second prince of Meridian and a close friend of Bright's, the company engages in battle against the Corrupted Dragons. In the middle of the battle, Bright comes into contact with a mysterious young woman named Rifia. Though she has little understanding of the world, she is amazingly gifted as a Coder and Songstress. Apparently, she will have a large role in the grander scheme of Bright and Arth's quest to save the world (of course).

Also featured is a young Light Summoner named Adel. The granddaughter of Bright's teacher, she is always cheerful, bright, and kind. She knows both Bright and Arth through her training as a Light Summoner (Arc Rise Fantasia's form of magic), which she is very skilled at.

The battle system appears to be a form of turn-based combat, where 3 characters form a battle party and share a set of Action Points (AP). Each action a character does in battle costs a different number of AP, and the article emphasizes that each character must play to their strengths while attempting to make up for the others' weaknesses.

Though no release date has been released, Marvelous Entertainment will be publishing Arc Rise Fantasia, imageepoch's fourth RPG, on Nintendo Wii in Japan. There is currently no word on North American or European release.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

imageepoch Share their Arcs with Wii


Okay, so I don't usually post any Wii-related news. There are two good reasons for this. The first and most obvious is, there are hardly any RPGs for the Wii (but still more than the PS3, strangely enough). The second is, I don't play Wii very often. ...Well sometimes. ...Okay, really almost never.

Be that as it may! Developer and publisher team that brought you boobsy witch hunting on DS in the form of Luminous Arc - imageepoch and Marvelous - are teaming up again to bring you an RPG for the Wii: Arc Rise Fantasia.

....Aaaand that's really all we know at this point. The game is supposedly going to be a "traditional" RPG, whatever that means. So for what it's worth, it won't be an SRPG. I think. At least, I don't think SRPGs are usually considered "traditional."


...Whatever. Anyhow, though no real info of any sort has been presented at this point, due to XSEED's recent partnership with Marvelous, it seems close to 100% likely that this game will eventually see North American shores at some point in the future.


We'll bring you updates as we get them.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hands On with Tales of Vesperia, or How Video Games Caught Up with Anime


For a lot of people, their weekends consist of sleeping in, watching TV, hanging out with friends, running errands, and generally just taking a break. While I too enjoy such things, the highlight of my weekend was the 20-ish minutes I spent playing Tales of Vesperia.

For those of you who have been hiding out in a cave for the past 6 months, Tales of Vesperia is the next "main series" Tales of RPG from Namco Bandai (the previous being Tales of Innocence for the Nintendo DS), and it marks the long-running Tales of franchise's first foray into HD gaming, debuting the end of this summer on Xbox 360 in both Japan and North America.

Before I get into my impressions and the nitty-gritty details of the demo I played, I think it's important for you to realize that I am something of a Tales of fanatic. Though I knew of the series from its inception, Tales of Phantasia on the Super Famicon, I never actually got around to playing it until Tales of Eternia (unfortunately renamed to Tales of Destiny II in North America) on my PlayStation 1. After that, I was completely hooked on the series and have kept up with it as much as possible since that time. In fact, I mostly bought my GameCube last generation just to play Tales of Symphonia. I hope that you will look upon my following impressions with this in mind.

First off, the demo starts with a brief, fully-voiced cutscene, which though mildly interesting, is not overly exciting or revealing of the plot in any coherent way. I suspect this was intentional so as not to give away any of the story, however, it makes the cutscene feel a little foreign, and probably won't do anything to draw anyone's interest in the plot.

One thing that everyone will notice right away, though, is just how crisp the graphics are. Though the game appears to be running on the same (or a similar) graphics engine that gave Eternal Sonata life on the 360 last fall, the graphics are greatly improved for ToV. In fact, the game looks like an HD anime, even during gameplay. Each character is truly a sight to behold, and puts the PS2's Tales of the Abyss' graphics to utter shame.

The voice acting (done completely in English for anyone playing the demo on a North American 360) is about what you would expect from an anime-esque game. While this may turn some off, I will throw in an interjection here that all of the Tales of games have had such voice acting, and it often ends up working well. Though I always prefer to play/watch media in its original language (especially Japanese, since I speak it fluently), from the little I saw, the English actors do quite a good job. Certainly anyone familiar with English-dubbed games/anime will feel right at home, if not impressed with the performance.

After the cutscene, players are given control of a party of 4 characters: Yuri, Estelle, Repede, and Rita. (Karol is present in the demo, but is not available for combat). Navigating the level map is just what one would expect from a Tales of game, with a generally linear path filled with monsters, treasures, and interactive points of interest. There are several branching paths that allow players to hunt for treasure or fight additional battles, as well as some giant flowers that will stun the player if touched.

Which brings me to the level presented in the demo. Like the cutscene, the area is unfortunately a non-descript grassy forest type area, typical in many RPGs, especially early on in the story. Being that as it may, the graphics are still quite lovely, and most JRPG fans (especially Tales of fans) will have no issue with it. Certainly we can be sure that there will be much more interesting locales to visit in the full game.

Battles are handled in a style very similar to Tales of Symphonia or Tales of the Abyss (which really should come as no surprise considering it was the same team that has worked on all three games). Your four party members are set off against a group of enemies in a 3D battle "zone." The character you are in control of can be guided around this field, dodging enemy attacks, attacking, using special moves and items, and generally just fighting it out. The "free run" ability (which was also present in ToS and ToA) feels much more fluid than previous installments, and makes the 3D battles feel much smoother. The only issue I had with the battles was the reversed controls. Traditionally, Tales of games in North America used the bottom face button to attack, and the right face button to use a special move (X and O respectively on the Dual Shock, A and B on the 360 controller). These are opposite on the demo, and definitely take some getting used to. Due to the demo actually being a Japanese-only demo, it is likely these are the Japanese controls and will be switched for the North American release, but it was still a little weird.

The demo allows you to control any of the four characters I mentioned above, but easily my favorite was Yuri. Sword combos mixed with 'artes' makes for a very familiar battle experience that many are sure to enjoy. Estelle and Rita, on the other hand, are relatively clunky in battle, and will definitely require more patience to master playing as. Repede is quick and fairly powerful, but I just had a hard time enjoying playing as a dog.

At the end of the demo is another short cutscene followed by a surprisingly difficult boss battle. The boss hits hard and is surrounded by smaller, faster subordinates that will consistantly hassle your spell casters and get in the way of your special moves. Without any specific plan of attack, my party fell quickly to the merciless onslaught doled out by the underlings. In fact, it generally seemed that the monsters could kill my party members faster than I could revive them. Interesting to note, however, was the presence of the stun-inducing flowers from the area placed in various locations around the edges of the battlefield. Striking these flowers produced a shower of pollen that would stun any enemy within its vicinity. Though initially frustrating, this battle showed not only that the game will require both strategic thinking and battle competence, but will also employ environmental elements within the battles that can give players an edge in more difficult encounters. Hopefully there will be more of these in other boss battles throughout the game.

Overall, despite the bland location chosen for the demo, Tales of Vesperia was an immensely enjoyable experience. Newcomers to the series will be instantly swept up in the gorgeous visuals and fast-paced gameplay, while long time fans will definitely be delighted by the enhanced gameplay mixed with plenty of tried-and-true Tales of gaming.

For those of you who prefer to watch rather than read, I've embedded Gamersyde's video of the first part of the demo. Enjoy.



Tales of Vesperia is set for release on Xbox 360 this August 7th in Japan, and tentatively for August 19th in North America. I, for one, will be picking this up launch day (and taking a day off to play it).

RPGs of the Week: Shipping June 23


This is a new feature I'm going to start on Sword Machine: RPGs of the Week. Basically, this will just be a release roster for what RPGs are shipping to retailers in the three main video game regions: North America (NA), Japan (JP), and Europe (EU). (Sorry for any readers not in these regions, but release dates for other regions are usually very difficult to track down, and are often close to one of the above mentioned 3 anyways. Sincerest apologies.)


So, let's get on with it!

North America

Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift - Square Enix - Nintendo DS
Mega Man Star Force 2: Zerker x Ninja - Capcom - Nintendo DS

Mega Man Star Force 2: Zerker x Saurian - Capcom - Nintendo DS

Operation Darkness - Success, Atlus - Xbox 360

Overlord: Raising Hell - Triumph Studios, Codemasters - PlayStation 3


Japan

Final Fantasy XII (Ultimate Hits) - Square Enix - PlayStation 2
Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix + - Square Enix - PlayStation 2
Kingdom Hearts II (Ultimate Hits) - Square Enix - PlayStation 2

Makai Senki Disgaea: Makai no Ouji to Akai Tsuki - Nippon Ichi - Nintendo DS

Tales of Symphonia: Ratatosuku no Kishi - Namco Bandai - Nintendo Wii


Europe

Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift - Square Enix - Nintendo DS

Soul Nomad - Nippon Ichi, Koei - PlayStation 2

I'm personally picking up Operation Darkness for my 360 this week, as well as a non-RPG (Alone in the Dark). Japan lucks out with ToS2 (I'm mildly jealous, but fairly content to wait for ToV which looks better to me anyway), but other than that just gets a bunch of re-releases.

So, anything worth picking up for you this week?

Friday, June 20, 2008

More ToV than you can Shake a Stick at

If any of you out there are anticipating Namco Bandai's latest game in the Tales of series, Tales of Vesperia, even half as much as I am, I think you will be quite pleasantly surprised with the contents of this post.

To get a few housekeeping things out of the way, here are the final two main characters in ToV: Judith and Raven. I know, I know.
Old news is old. I haven't posted anything on them until now because I was waiting to get some more info to share with you other than just their names. Read on, dear reader, read on.



Raven is a 35 year old w
anderer shrouded in mystery. Though his manner of speaking is often coarse, he occassionally spouts words deep in meaning. He seems to have a generally carefree attitude about him, but at the same time gets annoyed with tasks set to him. He seems to have experienced many rough times throughout his life, but no one knows much about him for sure.

Judith is a 19 year old lancer of the increasin
gly rare Klitea tribe. She encounters Yuri and the party while she is traveling with a friend. Though she appears to be soft spoken, her words are often harsh, and she will regularly call things as she sees them. She acts in whatever way she thinks is right, but rarely tells people about her plans beforehand. It should also be noted that while she generally conducts herself in a calm manner, she becomes relentless in battle. Yuri takes to calling her "Judy."

In addition to the announcement of these two characters, the official Tales of Vesperia website includes pics and summaries of two new locations, Developing City Heliode (JP=shinkou toshi herioodo) and Guild Home Dunglest (JP=girudo no soukutsu danguresuto). I won't bore you with location details, but if you want to see them, check the official site under story (4th line of squigglies counting down on the sidebar) then click on the second group of characters on the long, brown bar (it should be glowing).

Also in the new site update are a new plethora of screens (included below), most of which show off Judith and her big... uh, spear. =)





And last, but certainly not least, is the elusive Tales of Vesperia playable demo available right the hell now on Japan's Xbox Live Marketplace (available to all Japanese accounts). If you don't have a Japanese XBL account, I've
heard (this is all second hand information now) that you can, like, create one if you want. Like, you know, with numbers that you just made up, or something. Again, totally not sure about that.

For anyone unable to download that, I will have my impressions up on Monday! ;)


Tales of Vesperia will launch in Japan on August 7th, and presumably soon thereafter in North America.

Don't lose your Remnant, it's the Last one!

After the new trailer following Microsoft's Xbox 360 RPG Premier Event in Japan, new details and screens have emerged for Square Enix's homegrown RPG "for the world," The Last Remnant courtesy Weekly Famitsu. Of course we'll give you the low-down in case you don't read Japanese, or don't feel like reading the scans for yourself.

First off, the main premise of the game focuses on a world populated by 4 distinct races: the Mitra (JP=Mitora), the Yahma (JP=Yaama), the Kushtee (JP=Kushiti), and the Sobanee (JP=Sobani). In ancient times, mysterious yet powerful artifacts known as "Remnants" existed. No one knows who made the Remnants, why, or even what they used them for. However, the people who gained control of them became incredibly powerful, and the world was eventually split into rulers and oppressed due to these Remnants. Eventually, this lead to endless wars that have lasted over 1000 years.

The main character, Rush Sykes (Mitra), is a br
ight and honest 18 year old who grew up on a small island called Yulam Island (JP=yuramu-shima). He loves his family, and is especially protective of his younger sister, Irina. He leaves the island he grew up on for the first time after Irina is kidnapped by an unknown organization.

Irina Sykes (Mitra), Rush's 14 year old sister, seems like the kind of girl you would see just about anywhere, but has, from some past experiences, cultivated a strong will. Apparently, some sort of power sleeps within her, but no one, herself included, seems to know anything about it.

David Nassau (Mitra), at age 19, is the young ruler of the realm of Aslam. His country has long been under opression, and he himself has joined the front lines of the battle to liberate it. He weilds an enormous canon-like Remnant on the battlefield. After meeting with Rush, it appears that he and his troops will aid him in his cause.

Torgal, one of David's generals, is a Sobanee knight. The four armed Sobanee are known to dislike the other races, and few are ever seen, but for some reason, Torgal has pledged his allegience to David's army. Being 200 years old, Torga has immense knowledge and experience, but as a result, is often unimpressed with t
he goings-on around him.

Blocter is a 24 year old Yahma who has been friends with David ever since they were little. He is very powerful, but also very kind. When David took the burdens of the country upon himself, Blocter pledged his support out of concern for David.

Pagus, a 55 year old Kushtee, serves as the Chief of Staff for much of David's army. He loves history, and can often be found pouring over research materials whenever he has free time. Unfortunately, there are few who enjoy conversing about it with him.

Emma Honeywell, a 41 year old Mitra knight of the house of Honeywell (a long-standing supporter of Aslam) is as strict as she is valiant, and is one of the bravest warriors in Aslam. Before David took the throne, she served as his teacher, and continues to look out for him since.

In addition to the characters shown here, the article also covers the basics of the battle system. Basically, your main characters will each head up a group of 4 other characters, called a Union, which will fight together. The leader will give orders to the Union, and they will behave in battle accordingly. Thus, though command input battles have returned, you don't need to command each action that your subordinates perform. Sounds a little too FFXII to me, but I'm hoping to be proved wrong...

In any case, Last Remnant appears to allow for enormous battles with you controlling 4 to 5 Unions. Exactly how well this will flow remains to be seen, but so far the battles look interesting. Hopefully there will be more player input than FFXII...

Anyway, the game looks like its shaping up to be a new take on turn-based RPGs, and hopefully executes its innovative ideas well. We will keep you updated!


The Last Remnant is set to release sometime this winter worldwide on Xbox 360, with a PlayStation 3 release currently undecided.

Note that all translations of names, races, places, etc., are all my own takes on the original Japanese, and may differ in the official translation.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Detectives Need to go to School too

If the cover art for Atlus' upcoming PS2 RPG Persona 4 is to be believed, the latest issue of Famitsu has an introduction for the final party member: Naoto Shiragane.

Naoto is a first year high school student (and a little short), but also maintains a job as a (famous) private detective. Due to this, he is regularly involved with the serial killings in Inaba, and thus regularly comes into contact with the main character and his party. His demeanor seems calm and professional, but also cold to others around him (including girls who try to make a pass at him at school).

When Naoto awakens to his powers as a Persona User, he receives the Persona Sukunahikona. Sukunahikona is a deity from Japanese Shinto folklore that helped with the creation of ancient Japan as a country, and was said to be very small. Sukunahikona was also said to posses
s healing powers, and is often considered a god of healing and medicine. It is unknown if Naoto's Persona will acquire healing spells or not, but the Famitsu article does note that Sukunahikona is quite small in size (like his master).

Though there is still no news of a North American release at the moment, Atlus should be at E3, so we can all keep our fingers crossed.


Persona 4 will be released in Japan on July 10th, 2008 with both a standard and limited edition.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Sword Machine Review: Eternal Sonata

Eternal Sonata (Trusty Bell: Chopin no Yume in Japan) is Tri-Cescendo’s first solo project, and Namco Bandai’s first RPG for the Xbox 360. Though the game was generally well-received by critics, it remains fairly obscure when compared to other 7th generation RPGs.

Eternal Sonata follows famous Polish composer Fredric Chopin through a dream he has while on his deathbed. In this dream, he envisions a medieval world divided into two kingdoms, Forte and Baroque, which are vying for dominance. In the background, a relatively new medicine, Mineral Powder, is being heavily propagated, but has troubling side-effects.

Story: C-

Easily the worst part of Eternal Sonata, the story, though generally easy to follow, is very shallow, and many of the game’s plot points feel contrived. For instance, there is a pirate ship area that the party will visit, but for really no reason other than the fact that someone wanted to put a pirate ship in the game.

The characters in Eternal Sonata, though each fairly individualistic in terms of their design, have almost no discernable personalities, and most of them join your party for almost no reason at all. Additionally, most of the characters experience almost no character development whatsoever, and you will have a difficult time sympathizing with any of them. This problem is complicated further as you near the end of the game, and each character starts to preach and philosophize completely out of the blue, totally inconsistent with their character.

The story does an adequate job of giving you a reason to play, and gives at least some meaning to the transition between areas. Additionally, the constant musical references do a wonderful job of making the world truly seem like something a composer would dream up. Unfortunately, the final couple of chapters are completely random, throwing out whatever reason the main story had. It feels instead like the developers try to end the game quickly while still trying to fit in deep philosophical commentary and preachy Saturday morning morals. It all feels terribly out of place, and destroys a story that had some definite potential for 80% of the game.

Visuals: A+

Taking the idea of Chopin’s dream world, the art direction is spot-on, and consistently breathtaking throughout most of the game. Everything from the architecture of the most insignificant house in town down to the seams in characters’ clothing just teems with attention to detail. Despite the high level of detail, nothing feels crowded or overly busy. Instead, the dying Chopin’s dream world often feels more alive than many simulated “real world” environments from other games.

The character models are all exquisitely built, and present one of the best concept art to in-game model examples I have ever seen.

Only the lack of changeable weapon graphics and sometimes awkward animations during cutscenes prevent ES from earning an S rank in the visuals department. However, these are only mild annoyances to the ultra picky, and still won’t detract from the overall beautiful presentation.

Music & Sound: A+

Being an avid Sakuraba fan myself, I must admit that the soundtrack for ES is among some of his best work. The tracks fit the mood almost perfectly the majority of the time, either through cheery melodies or mysterious tunes. There are a couple of tracks that didn’t really hit me, but for the most part, the soundtrack is fantastic.

The voice acting is quite well-done, despite the undeniably cheesy script at times. Both the Japanese and the English actors deliver good performances. The Japanese voices are especially well done, with very good lip-synching. Again, because of the ridiculousness of the story near the end, some of the actors have an understandably hard time staying in character, but overall, a very good job.

Finally, the sound effects add just the right feel to the game, and whoever worked on them clearly worked closely with the art and story directors to keep the game feeling very cohesive to the “dream” motif.

Gameplay: B+

Eternal Sonata’s battle system is part turn-based, part action, and the result is something that has never quite been seen in any other RPG that I can think of. Party members and enemies are placed in various locations within a particular battle map, and each receives a “turn” based on agility. Within a given character’s turn, he or she may run around the battle map, attack, use items, execute special moves, or cast magic within an allotted amount of time. This time is usually short (ranging from 6 to 3 seconds), so taking enemy and ally positioning into account and planning ahead become the key to successful battles.

Another very cool feature of the battle system is the light/dark system. Basically, each character can have two special skills equipped: one for use in the light, one for use in the dark. Each battlefield has areas of “light” and “darkness” which are often static, but can be dynamic in certain instances. (For example, passing clouds can cast a shadow on the field, creating a moving “dark” area.) Positioning characters in the light will allow them to only activate their “light” skills, while the reverse is true in shadows. Additionally, some enemies glow or cast their own shadows, adding another dynamic element to some battles.

Despite the undeniably innovative battle system, battles become very repetitive very quickly. This is due partially to the fact that allies and enemies always arrange themselves on opposite ends of the field every battle. It is further dumbed down by the universal approach that most players will inevitably wind up falling into: Run to the nearest enemy, mash the attack button until the timer is almost up, mash the special attack button, rinse, repeat. Though there is definitely room for some strategic battling (especially in utilizing long-ranged attacks), there is little need, as even the most powerful bosses can be defeated using varying slight modifications to the approach outlined above.

Players looking to get maximum play time out of their game will probably be disappointed to discover the glaring lack of extra content in Eternal Sonata. There are almost no additional sidequests, and only one mini-game I can think of (which really isn’t very fun). There are no unlockables I know of, except for a harder mode available upon clearing it once (which really shouldn’t take you much more than 35 hours, even if you’re thorough).

Despite the flaws with the battle system, the game plays incredibly well, with nothing really to complain about. Map navigation, menus, shopping, and dialogue are all basic, though the presence of invisible walls in many areas might frustrate the more exploration-minded. It is too bad the battle system becomes so repetitive, otherwise the game would have definitely received an A in this category.

Overall: B+

Eternal Sonata is a solid RPG that benefits greatly from inspired music and art direction, and implements some refreshingly new concepts into turn-based battles. In all aesthetic and technical aspects, the game is brilliantly crafted, and is a testament to the innovation and skill within Tri-Crescendo. It is unfortunate that the game’s story is so shallow, otherwise the game would be a must-buy for anyone. As it is, the story will undoubtedly turn many off, and confuse the rest.

I still love this game despite its flaws, and would recommend it to anyone who can appreciate artistically original games. Hopefully we will see more inspired work (along with an inspired story) from Tri-Crescendo in the near future. Overall, if you’re a JRPG lover and own a 360, this game should definitely have a place in your collection.

Check out our review criteria and scoring breakdown for more information.

Sword Machine Scoring Breakdown

F: Trash. An utter failure. None of the perks make up for the copious amount of glaring flaws. No one should have to endure this garbage. Absolutely no way we can recommend this to anyone.

D: Poor. Below average. While the game does have noticeable good points, the overall presentation is so poor that it will be hard to appreciate them. Unless you’re diehard for the series or genre, we recommend that you avoid it.

C: Average. The game fulfills what it set out to do, but no more. Noticeable flaws will prevent the game from being overly enjoyable, and tedium will set it more often than not. If you’re really interested, we recommend you rent it first, but otherwise, you can safely forget about it.

B: Good. Above average. The game has more strengths than weaknesses, and comes out being quite enjoyable. Anyone who likes the series or genre will definitely appreciate it. Overall, a solid, good game.

A: Excellent. If only all games were like this one. Any flaws present do not distract from the overall presentation. Gamers of any genre or series will still find something to appreciate about this title, and fans will be absolutely blown away.

S: Perfection. Zero flaws. 100% pure awesomeness. There is absolutely nothing to complain about. Every single gamer should buy this game. It is a true masterpiece.

NOTE: + or - may be added to the scores if you felt it was slightly better or worse than the original score. Please note, however, that Rank S cannot receive + or -.

NOTE: Rank S is reserved only for the absolute masterpieces. It should not be given out unless you feel that a game truly has no downsides and that almost everyone (RPG fan or not) would appreciate it.

Sword Machine Review Criteria

Like any good video game site/blog, we at Sword Machine also like to review the games we play. Though each review is based completely upon the opinion of the reviewer, we try to let people who anticipated and (for the most part) enjoyed the game. In other words, no Final Fantasy hater will be reviewing a Final Fantasy game. This way, you’ll know how a legitimate fan of the game felt about it. Though we are generally positive about the games we review, we try to be as honest as possible. We’ll tell you what we peed our pants for, and we’ll tell you what made us want to throw a controller out the window.

Additionally, since we don’t receive “review copies” of games for free like some sites do, all of our experience with the games we play comes as a consumer. Thus, if we think a game wasn’t good enough to justify the price, we’ll tell you that.

Our reviews cover only 5 different categories: the story, the visuals, the music and sound, and the game as a whole (the “overall”). Below are what you should expect to see in each area:

Story: Here we’ll talk about the overall story and plot of the game (or lack thereof). After giving you a brief summary of the game’s premise, we’ll tell you if we thought the story is interesting, motivating, makes sense, and keeps you playing the game. We won’t give away any “spoilers” of the game, but we might tell you if the story holds up until the credits finish rolling.

Additionally, since the characters of any good RPG (playable and NPC alike) are closely related to a game’s story, we’ll talk about them here. Were they interesting characters that a player could relate to or sympathize with, or are they cookie-cutter 2-dimensional stereotypes that anyone who had taken elementary English classes could have dreamed up? Do they add to the story or detract from it?

Overall, a good story is one of the main reasons a lot of people play RPGs, so we take this section very seriously. Often times, a bad story will drop an otherwise good RPG down a lot further than some of the other elements.

Visuals: Though many people think of game visuals as strictly “graphics,” we at Sword Machine feel that game visuals are much more than that. We look at the character design, the architecture, the attention to detail – basically, we look at the whole spectrum of a game’s art direction. Thus, a game doesn’t have to be running at 1080p with ultra-photorealistic characters and maps to gain a high score here. In fact, you might find that games with more of an artistic flair tend to garner higher scores from us.

In addition to graphics and art direction, the visuals section covers many of the technical aspects of the games. For instance, problems like freezing, slow-down, framerate problems, and loading times often affect how you see a game, and so any issues related will be discussed here. Thus, even a game with incredible art direction can suffer due to legitimate technical problems, and we want to reflect that in our reviews.

Music & Sound: To us, a game’s soundtrack is just as important as its visuals. It’s one thing if a game looks good, but to sound good can add or detract just as much. In the music & sound section we’ll let you know how the game’s soundtrack affected us and the game. We’ll tell you if the musical score fit the mood, or if every note sounded out of place.

Additionally, we’ll let you know how we felt about any voice work here. We’ll tell you if the game’s voice actors were able to convincingly portray their characters, and if they were able to stay in character. Any additional voice features, like the presence of dual-language tracks, will also be reviewed here.

Gameplay: Gameplay is maybe one of the most hotly discussed topics for any game. A lot of gamers play games based solely on how much fun a game plays. We, too, feel that any good RPG should offer solid, polished gameplay, or it becomes difficult to continue calling it a game.

The gameplay section will first and foremost offer reviews on an RPG’s battle system. Did it fit the game? Was it innovative? Was it intuitive? How was the learning curve? Most importantly, was it fun?

We’ll also talk here about any extra content, like mini-games, achievements, etc, since these things affect how much play you’ll get from your game. Thus, if an otherwise solid title suffers from abominable menus, its gameplay score can take a beating.

Overall: Basically, our final feeling of the game. Is it worth the price of admission? Would we recommend it? Who would like it? Basically, we’ll be summing up everything else we’ve talked about here, highlighting each games main strengths and weaknesses. For those of you not interested in the nitty-gritty, you can probably just read the Overall section and get a feel for what we think of the game.

As a final note, please be aware that the Overall score for a game is not necessarily an average of the other sub-scores, for many games are more or less than the sum of their parts. An example that readily comes to my mind is Atlus’ Persona 3. Though the game really just puts together a lot of already tried-and-true systems into one, the result is one of the most innovative and enjoyable RPGs created (imho).

At the end of the day, however, our reviews are nothing more than our own opinions. Though we have been playing RPGs for what seems like ages, we still love them, and we hope that our reviews reflect that. However, since everyone’s interests, experiences, and opinions are different, you may not 100% agree with us. That’s fine. We encourage you to play the games you want and decide their value for yourself.

For a break-down of our scoring system, check here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rise of the Argonauts Trailer will Raise Your Argo... Or Something

With all the recent hubbub about the plethora of JRPGs announced, it's sometimes easy to forget that there are plenty of solid-looking RPGs on the horizon from Western developers too. One such that I have had my eye on is Rise of the Argonauts.

Set in ancient Greece, RotA follows mythical Greek hero Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece to revive his assassinated bride, Alcmene. Along the way, he will recruit famous Greek heroes Hercules, Atalanta, Achilles, and others.

Combat is said to happen completely in real time, and damage will be dealt in a manner comparable to Bushido Blade (as in on decisive strike can finish off an enemy).

For a full list of the game's planned features, I'll refer you to the press release from Codemasters as posted on Destructoid, 'cuz I just don't feel like typing them all out right now.

Though I remain a bit skeptical on some of the features they mention, the current footage we have does show some impressive visuals and solid gameplay. If the story lives up to promises, this could very well be quite an enjoyable title.

Anyway, the point of this article is: a new trailer! Woo!

While the graphics are FMV rather than in-game footage, it is all still very well-done, and looks like the game could be a solid buy. Give it a watch and let me know what you think.



Liquid Entertainment's Rise of the Argonauts is set to be released by Codemasters for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 this fall.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Wonderful Touch-Screen of Oz

You may or may not be familiar with the developer Media Vision. They got their break in the game industry by developing a quirky RPG series for Sony called Wild ARMs. Maybe you've heard of it?

Well, Media Vision is leaving the Wild West and heading somewhere over the rainbow with their new Nintendo DS game, RIZ-ZOAWD. RIZ-ZOAWD (pronounced in Japanese something like Ree-zode) appears to be a re-telling of L. Frank Baum's famous children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, bringing back the well-known characters of Dorothy, Toto, the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tinman.

The game is completely 3D (and for crappy DS graphics, it looks pretty good) and can be completely controlled via the stylus. Battles appear to be based on a simplistic turn-based system reminscent of Dragon Quest, albeit (again) controlled by the stylus.


For exploration, both screens appear to be used to display the world, giving the player a much further and more detailed view of the Kingdom of Oz. Battles will use the touch screen for player input, while the top screen will be used to display the action.

Though de
tails are scarce at the moment, this definitely looks like a title to keep an eye on for me, as I've really enjoyed a lot of Media Vision's previous work, and the game's style looks very appealing. Also, I've always really enjoyed the world around the Wizard of Oz since I was little (not that crappy old film that everyone has seen, I'm talking about the actual book now).

I've included the (admittedly small) Famitsu scans below for your viewing pleasure.


RIZ-ZOAWD is reportedly set to be published by D3 in Japan sometime this year. We'll keep you posted.

P.S. Anyone else remember th
e old Wizard of Oz anime? I loved that show!












Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New Last Remnant Trailer is New

Ah, exclusive announcements. There is nothing that stirs up the flames of fanboys' hearts to suddenly loathe and curse the very companies they swore allegiance to not even the day before quite like them.

Along with new details and trailers at the Xbox RPG Event for Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Infinite Undiscovery, and Tales of Vesperia, Square Enix's upcoming RPG The Last Remnant, being announced late last night as a timed Xbox 360 exclusive, has also received a brand shiny new trailer.

The Last Remnant has been a project that Square Enix has made almost no mention of since its announcement back early 2007, and even then, only a general concept and a short trailer were all that was given. The new trailer (embedded below for your viewing pleasure) gives us a better look at the world of The Last Remnant, its people, its technology, and its constant wars.

Though the game had more or less dropped off my radar, the new trailer looks quite cool and has renewed my interest in the game. I will certainly be picking it up when it hits this winter.

Give it a watch and post your impressions below.

RPG Tsunami!

Say what you like about the Xbox 360, but it has the JRPG support of this generation in a choke-hold.

Last night (North America time), Xbox Japan held a special RPG Press Release where they showcased a number of Xbox 360 exclusive and timed-exclusive RPGs. Microsoft showed off their upcoming Mass Effect (which hasn't been released in Japan yet) and Fable 2.

Namco Bandai also made an appearance to showcase Tales of Vesperia, and added official worldwide release dates. ToV will be released in Japan on August 7th along with an Xbox 360 ToV Special Edition Premium Bundle. Though no bundle will be available over here, the North American release is scheduled for sometime during August. Asia will see a release sometime this summer. Unfortunately, Europe will have to wait until 2009.

Square Enix then took center stage to announce tri-Ace's Star Ocean: The Last Hope (previously titled Star Ocean 4) for Xbox 360 sometime in 2009. Additionally, tri-Ace's other Xbox 360 exclusive, Infinite Undiscovery was shown with more gameplay footage, and was described as "action-heavy." IU will of course launch in both Japan and North America this September.

Finally, Square Enix's own The Last Remnant was shown and revealed as a timed-exclusive for Xbox 360, arriving on the green console worldwide this winter. The previously announced PlayStation 3 version will arrive sometime later in 2009.

With such a large-scale RPG concentration on the Xbox 360 at this event, it seems odd that Mistwalker was not on hand to show off anything new. It may be that they are still hiding away some surprise RPG announcement for E3 or TGS.

Though the Xbox 360 has lagged behind its competition in Japan, such a constant stream of quality JRPGs for the system, and the incredible lack of on the PS3 will surely turn heads on both sides of the Pacific.

I personally couldn't be more stoked about this news. Though I was fairly conviced that SO4 would be on the 360 (there has been some very convincing evidence for a while now), it is nice to finally hear it officially.

Below are the new trailers from the event. Enjoy.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope


Infinite Undiscovery (this video has been posted before)



For detailed info on the games shown, check out IGN's LiveBlog of the event here.

Thoughts?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Summon it Yourself!

A new Persona 4 trailer has just hit the P4 official site that confirms something I had predicted a while ago: all characters will be fully controllable in battle!

Persona 3's battle system only allowed for the main character to be fully controllable, leaving the rest of your party to its own devices (for better or worse). Persona 4 will apparently be bringing the series back to it origins, allowing each member to be fully utilized in battle.

Below I've included the trailer in question, showing Chie pwn some poor Shadows into submission with her Persona, Tomoe. It is still unknown if characters will be able to summon other Personae (ala P2), or if their initial Persona will be customizable (ala Digital Devil Saga).

Also, note that when Chie summons Tomoe, she touches her glasses. There has been a lot of speculation around as to what exactly the glasses are for. Though this doesn't necessarily confirm anything, it appears that the glasses play some sort of role in Persona-using.

Check it out yo.

More DS Love from NIS

Late last week, NIS America held a small press event to showcase a few of their upcoming games. Several of their previously announced games were shown including their upcoming PS3 SRPG Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, and DS remakes Disgaea DS and Rhapsody DS.

Along with these three titles was a "special announcement" that much of the internet (Sword Machine included) speculated was an announcement of Gust and Banpresto's PS2 RPG Ar Tonelico II. Unfortunately for Gust fans, and fortunately for DS RPG fans, the announcement was actually a new DS RPG from Hit Maker (creators of Blade Dancer and Dragoneer's Aria for PSP) titled "A Witch's Tale."

Though details are sparse, the game appears to be heavily Halloween-themed, and has a charming 2D art style about it reminiscent of the Disgaea series (at least, I think so). The game is reportedly an action-RPG that will make use of the DS's stylus to control much of the action, including the ability to draw runes to activate magic spells.

NIS and Hit Maker have yet to release any proper screenshots, but from the trailer it appears that all the locales will be hand drawn 2D. The game is set to hit North America sometime this October. We'll bring you more as we get it.

I've included the trailer from the event below.



Though I'm disappointed that Ar Tonelico II hasn't been announced yet, both A Witch's Tale and Rhapsody DS are looking like buys for me at the moment. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

You Got Your Tales of Vesperia in my Music Video

Bonnie Pink, Japanese singer/songwriter, in her PV (promotional video) for her new single and Tales of Vesperia opening theme, Ring a Bell, features clips from Production I.G's animated cutscenes of the upcoming Xbox 360 RPG.

The song is entirely in English, and is set to be the opening theme for both the Japanese and North American versions of the game. It also marks the first Tales of game to retain its opening theme for North American release.

It also features weird rotoscoping. So, yeah.

I've embedded the PV in question below, so feel free to take a look if you're interested in either the opening them or the anime cutscenes (or both). However, those of you wanting to keep as much of the game a surprise as possible, 1) you shouldn't watch it (though I didn't notice any real spoilers), and 2) why are you reading ToV-related posts?

Eternal Sonata PS3 Port Un-Confirmed for North America


Namco Bandai and tri-Crescendo's visually-stunning and narratively-boring Xbox 360 RPG Eternal Sonata (Trusty Bell: Chopin no Yume in Japan) was reportedly getting the PS3-port treatment last fall. (Though you'll note that the port has already missed its targeted Spring 2008 release.)

Well, it seems that Namco Bandai's North American arm has no plans to bring it over. A Namco Bandai US Spokesperson said:

"I can’t speak for any other territories, but I believe Eternal Sonata is only announced for the PS3 in Japan right now... We have no plans to release the game on the PS3 in the US at this moment. "

With Namco Bandai's notoriously spotty RPG-localization choices (read "they don't localize much"), Eternal Sonata looks to suffer the same fate as Tales of Symphonia's PS2 port (which also never made the jump).

Personally, since I own a 360 and the game, and felt it was decidedly average in every aspect except its amazingly awesome graphics and art design, I never saw the draw to wait for this port in the first place.

Eternal Sonata is supposedly being ported to the PS3 in Japan "sometime this year."

So PS3-onlys (all both of you), what do you think about this?

Latest Famitsu Reveals Persona 4 Character #7

If Persona 4's Japanese box art is any indication of the playable characters (and so far, it is), then we can safely say that there are at least 8 Persona Users that make up your team. I covered the first six last week.

This week's Famitsu has brought us info on the 7th character: Rise Kujikawa.
Rise (pronounced something closer to "lee-say") was one of the most popular idols in Japan until recently quitting for unknown reasons and moving back to her hometown of Inaba to attend Yasogami High School as a first-year student (grade 10). Note that this makes the main character, Chie, Yukiko, and Yousuke all one year her senior.

(As a side note that I failed to mention last time, the main character, Chie, Yukiko, and Yousuke are all second year students, while Kanji is a first year.)


Though you may not consider one year as significant, Japanese society is still very hierarical, and juniors are expected to look up to and respect their seniors, while seniors are expected to look out for and guide their juniors (even if it doesn't always happen that way). Having such prominant roles (i.e. ex-top idol and infamous juvenile delinquent) in a junior relationship is sure to cause some interesting dynamics in the team.


Anyways, back to the article. It seems that Rise will not be at Yasogami initially, but will eventually transfer in during the course of the year.


Though Rise will awaken to the power
of her special Persona, Himiko, she will not be directly participating in battle. Like P3's Fuuka Yamagishi, Rise will take the support position, relaying information about the enemy, the conditions of the battle, and warnings and explanations about negative status effects. The article stresses that all of her support will be fully-voiced, allowing players to "listen to Rise's beautiful voice" while fending off the Shadows. (As a personal note, I'm not too sure how this differs from P3, where Fuuka made all of her reports - at least in the English version - fully voiced as well.)

Persona 4 will be available for purchase in Japan on July 10, 2008.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

NIS has a Secret...


RPGamer's Run to the Sun feature has always seemed to me like the biggest waste of one of the best ideas ever. In theory, hitting up all of the major RPG publishers in the bay area with questions and comments from real news-hungry RPG lovers personally seems like it would be the kind of exclusive that almost ANY publication would love to get their hands on. In practice, however, the outcome is decidedly boring. Few, if any company's PR staff are allowed to tell more than what they are already telling the press, and even when the RPGamer staff do get exclusive looks at upcoming and unannounced games, they are often asked not to talk about them until the formal press release.

That being said (and it is completely my own opinion), every now and then some really juicy tidbits squeeze through.


In their visit with NIS America, RPGamer was told not only about the upcoming Disgaea 3 and Disgaea DS (which really aren't news), but were given a confirmation of the DS Rhapsody port for North America, hints about the company's work with Gust titles Ar Tonelico II and Mana Khemia 2, and the date of a new announcement from NIS on June 6 (this Friday)!


Yes, in the above run-on sentance, one game was announced, two hinted, and a teaser... um, teased.


You can read the whole interview here.


Personally, I'm thinking that announcement is Ar Tonelico II, but I've been wrong about these things before. What do
you think?