Thursday, August 13, 2015

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance Review - Drop it Like It's Hot

Score: 7.5 / 10
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: July 21st, 2012

  • Classic Kingdom Hearts combat alive and well
  • Disney inspired worlds are true to their source material
  • Dream Eater mechanic is enjoyable for collectors at heart
  • More challenging boss encounters than previous titles
  • Drop mechanic does little besides interrupt your current session
  • Worlds can feel empty and closed off
  • Command List is tough to navigate on the fly to the ability you want
You know that feeling you get when you are playing a game, and you are completely in the zone but the batteries in your controller give out and the game pauses, interrupting the very intense fight you were just about to overcome? Square Enix decided to make a game based around that premise with Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. The fun of Kingdom Hearts combat is there, and the enjoyable atmosphere of classic Disney films are ever present; but all of that is tucked away beneath a game mechanic that adds little to the experience besides the continual glance at a clock, wondering how much time is left before your narcolepsy takes over and you are forced to live out the plot of The Hangover in piecing together what you were doing.

Careful with that sword Minnie!
Following the events of the second game, you pick up with Sora and Roku as they work toward their Master Class Training for Keyblade Masters. This is all to prepare for the events of the third installment. They must both "wake the ones who sleep" and dive into the dream world in order to complete their training. If you are new to the series, prepare to be overwhelmed by six games worth of backstory and terminology. If you are an active follower of the series...prepare to be overwhelmed by six games of backstory and terminology you forgot. The plot is an intriguing journey, but requires a lot of previous knowledge to truly enjoy. There are still the simple tales of each dream world you visit, playing out events of the movies almost shot for shot; but the overarching premise is the central focus of your mission. While new players can eventually piece it all together, those who have been committed to the franchise will have a true appreciation of how it all plays out.

The basis of the game is swapping between Riku and Sora as they fight their way through waves of dream eaters, ultimately facing a boss before saving the world and moving to the next Disney inspired tapestry. The primary drop mechanic is meant to intertwine these two tales, but ultimately feels like I am playing two separate save files of the same game. There are items to hold off from dropping and each time you drop, you can boost the other character depending on how much you gathered during your set time. Despite all of this, the mechanic does too little to have any real effect other than interrupting a boss encounter or story progression. Luckily you can drop at any time, so if you prefer to finish out a world you can drop immediately after taking control of the other character.

Please don't fall asleep at the wheel...
The worlds you explore are what makes Kingdom Hearts so memorable, and the variety offered in Dream Drop still leave you feeling a sense of childish excitement as the title card for each world lights up. The disappointing beginning worlds of Tron and Notre Dame left a lot to be desired with repeating hallways and textures, but soon the animated world of the Mousekateers or wonderment of Dumbo takes over and reminds you why you enjoy the series in the first place. Though fun to look at the worlds themselves feel less lively than previous games, with empty corridors and towns. There are a few open areas to encourage exploration and many chests tucked behind corners or tops of buildings.

Veterans of the series should feel right at home with the combat system. You vary between hacking away at enemies or abilities from your command list, which are automatically shuffled to your ability button while others are on cooldown. You pick from a wide range of abilities to put on this command list, with the potential to tailor it for bosses or multiple enemies. The issue is that it can be difficult to cycle to the command you really want, oftentimes trying to find a cure spell while being harassed by a boss. There is also a free-running component that allows Sora/Riku to grind rails or fly off walls, adding much more speed and ferocity to traversing the maps.

New to the series are the Dream Eater companions. Gathering materials from fallen enemies you can create a Spirit that acts as your second and third party member. Each Spirit is akin to Pokemon, with varying abilities and effects that grow stronger as you fight with them. There is also the ability to fight with your spirit in Flip Mode, an arena like mini game that allows you to battle AI controlled or player controller spirits using the bottom screen to play a numbers game to attack or defend. While an interesting concept, I miss being able to fight alongside the Disney characters, and the lost opportunity of fighting alongside the Three Mousekateers or the Hunchback of Notre Dame left me ultimately disappointed.

Snorlax and Snubbull, I choose you!

Dream Drop is a game that is constantly interrupted, but still enjoyable for fans of the series. There are a ton of Spirit customizations, treasure chests, and side collectibles to power and strengthen your team as you see fit. The worlds, though initially dull, soon become much more alive and unique. The lost potential is hard to shake off, but all in all, if you love Kingdom Hearts you are able to look past the bizarre outer shell to what makes the series fun.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Iron Banner Week is Live

Iron Banner has returned again for the week of July 28th. This PvP event has players pitted in Controlling zones and earning reputation for goodies from the vendor. Here is a list of the possible gear for this week:

New Titan Helmet
New Hunter Helmet

New Warlock Helmet

Dragon Quest XI Announced

Dragon Quest has been a franchise staple since 1986, with ten titles spanning multiple consoles over the years.

Square Enix announced yesterday that Dragon Quest XI is slated to be released for the Playstation 4 and 3DS in Japan. They managed to drop Nintendo NX as a possibility as well, Nintendo's yet to be revealed next console, claiming it is under consideration.

No confirmation of an American Release as of yet.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Spotlight: Seasons After Fall

Seasons After Fall
PC - Xbox One - PS4
Developer: Swing Swing Submarine
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: 2016

Charming platformers tend to ring a chord with me, and Seasons after Fall is well within that category.

Seasons after Fall is an exploration game at heart, in which you take the role of a fox with the ability to change the season as needed to manipulate the world around you. These actions can create platforms with blooming flowers in spring or freezing water to traverse over the icy rivers.

You have unlimited power to change the seasons, but also have the ability to communicate with other animals. We see the fox utilize a floating jellyfish to assist in opening a bridge, and even possible communication with a lumbering bear for a bigger task.

The game is shaping up to be simple, fun, and has potential for some pretty clever platforming puzzles.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ori and the Blind Forest Review - When Storybooks Come to Life

Score: 9.25 / 10
Ori and the Blind Forest
Xbox One - PC
Developer: Moon Studios
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: March 11, 2015

  • Gorgeous visual appeal
  • Gameplay is fluid and easy to pick up
  • Story is wonderfully told
  • Hidden collectibles and tasks have you often straying from main path
  • You can create your own savepoint, but will often forget
  • Some segments are frustratingly difficult

Ori grabbed everyone's attention at E3 last year. It was a new IP, and a gorgeous one at that, and similar to Limbo or Journey the visual appeal allowed it to standout amongst triple A titles. It was not just the look of the game that drew me in, but the emotional impact a minute and a half trailer carried with it. That small window of time captured loss, hope, and fear with a few simple frames and a beautiful soundtrack. The trailer that stuck with me a few years ago has delivered that very experience from start to finish, with a wonderfully crafted game that is as fun to play as it is to watch.

What is this warm, fuzzy feeling?

Like playing out a storybook, Ori and the Blind Forest's wonderful art direction and atmosphere keeps you hooked into the game from start to finish. Every aspect of the game is the definition of beauty. The light hearted soundtrack compliments the visual brilliance, soothing you with simple melodies or pumping up your heart rate during an epic chase. The standout of the 2D environment shines through with the vivid contrast of light and dark, with Ori standing out like a lens flare in a Tim Burton film. It is a living, breathing world that entices you to explore every corner.

The story compliments this tone with a simplistic, yet fitting approach. No dialogue is spoken throughout the game, and only a translated omnipotent Narrator along with your companion will guide you through the events that unfold. Ori begins his quest after falling from the Spirit Tree during a storm, and is adopted by a creature known as Naru. Soon a cataclysmic event orphans Ori, who is restored to life near the Spirit Tree. Upon awakening Ori is tasked with  restoring the forest by recovering the light of three main elements that balance Nibel.  You meet\ a few other faces along the way that delve into the origins of the cataclysm, the mystery behind your aggressor Kuro, and the effect Ori has on the creatures he finds along the way. It is a tale of love, loss, and the glimmering light of hope that Ori embodies as he overcomes every trial to restore balance to the world.

Fighting the Color Purple

Gameplay is very similar to fans of Metroid as a side scrolling platformer with a mix of combat and perfectly timed jumps. Ori explores areas, unlocks new abilities, and uses those abilities to progress further to each marked objective. Platforming becomes very fluid with wall climbing, boosted jumps, and glides that string together seamlessly. Soon the game will have you chaining together everything you know during chase segments, creating a fluid movement to a safe zone. Combat varies with the different enemies that bar your path, some shooting projectiles and others hopping around aggressively to plop on your head. Ori's guide will shoot out beams of light at a certain range, which can be combined with ground pounds and bashes to open your enemy up for attack.

Ori features a save system that is manually done in lieu of a typical autosave. There will be segments that automatically save but for the most part, you must lay down a save spot before trudging along through a difficult segment. This is a double edged sword, as laying a spot down just outside a difficult part is a joyful convenience, but if you are like most who are conditioned to expect auto saves you will forget this feature a lot. This leads to many trudges through the same spot over and over again until you finally remember to lay down a save point. There are also segments that are frustratingly difficult, especially the end segment that requires near-perfect timing to complete. I found myself having to walk away at one point after dying so much that I could not bear to repeat the same part for the thirtieth time.

 I will find you shiny item...and I will collect you

Those who strive to collect every last item will find a fair share of content off the beaten path, each with its own use. Life Cells and Energy Cells are scattered around that increase the health of Ori or magic ability. These are usually found in areas behind secret walls or areas previously explored. You also gain experience and go through an ability tree, fine tuning your mobility, map awareness, or combat capabilities. By the end of the game I kept them pretty even and still had a handful of locked out abilities that would take a little more effort to fully unlock.

The few inconveniences of the game were not enough to outshine what is one of my favorite titles I have played this year. The wonderfully crafted world, the finely adapted soundtrack, and the fluid gameplay had me exploring every corner and overcoming every obstacle to see the game through to its conclusion. Ori is a game that is captivating from start to finish, and though the road ahead can be frustrating, the storybook feel of the game will keep you motivated to see every backdrop and corner of the world.