Way of the Samurai 2

 

Welcome to PS2 Review Week! Each day of this week I’ll be reviewing an old PS2 game I love and still play, focusing on the slightly lesser known or lesser played games and franchises (so no, even though I loved Final Fantasy, you won’t find reviews of it here).

For day 4 We have Way of the Samurai 2!

Following the Feudal Japan theme, Way of the Samurai 2 puts you in the role of a starving rounin who, having arrived to Amahara, must now make its way in the world and survive.

Way of the Samurai is mainly, but not entirely, a fighting game, and as such fighting is what you will be doing a lot of. However, you will also have choices to do other things, as well as choices on who you fight for, and against, by siding, or not, with the different factions.

Although I would have wished that this game was infinite play, it sadly has a time system. Each day is divided into five sections: Early morning, morning, afternoon, evening and night. Most of the things you can do, including traveling within locations, might take up time to achieve, so you have to manage your time carefully, for you only have a certain amount of days to work within. Because there’s a time limit, you will be left wanting to replay the game to accomplish things you’ve run out of time to do, or even to turn from a good samurai to a bad one…building your reputation and siding with different people and factions in each run.

Because of all the choices you can take, there are also several endings for each type of samurai you can become. You can become a lone samurai, a sort of police, a gang member, a people’s samurai, etc. It all depends on the quests, missions, and sides you take, and who you side or make friends with.

The controls aren’t the best, but they’re decent enough that you won’t find yourself troubled by them. There is some character customization at the start, letting you choose between male and female, a name, what starting weapons you’ll have, and a bit of variation in heads and clothes. While it’s not very vast, it’s nice to have various types of weapons and looks to choose from. If this is not enough, along your journey, aside from the typical consumables and story/quest-related papers, you will also find decorative items you can wear, sometimes quite funny, sometimes… really weird.

While Way of the Samurai 2 might not have a ground breaking story behind it, the sheer amount of choices you can make in your replays and the likeable characters, as well as the lovely typical music, make it a must-play for me.

 

4.5/5

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Shadowrun Returns

Many might know Shadowrun, and more yet might now Shadowrun Returns: a tactical turn-based RPG set in a cyberpunk/fantasy world that fuses the best of tech and magic.

I can’t really speak for how Shadowrun Returns maintains the rules and setting, for I’ve admittedly never played the original game. I have, however, recently spent many an hour playing through the entirety of the base campaign, and then some extra campaigns, and I can honestly say: I love this game.

“Let’s start first with the basics, and the most important aspect for me: The game runs wonderfully on my old toaster of a computer. Requirements are fairly low, and the game ran smoothly throughout the entire gameplay”

Entering the game, you are presented with character choices. There are a few different type of characters you can choose, some that are more proficient in the physical aspect of fights, others in magic,  and others in technological aspects. Although the game doesn’t offer much in terms of customizing the looks of the characters, it still has various choices for hair styles and colors, skin, and character avatar, so you’re certain to find something you’re at the very list ok with.

Whatever type of character you choose, however, the fact remains that you are now a shadow runner; a man often hired to run jobs of various types and difficulties (and, perhaps, legality).

The story begins when you’re called by an old shadow runner friend who has died. That’s right, the man left a dead switch that would call you and request you to find his murderer, for a price, of course.

“I’m usually rather picky when it comes to stories in games that offer a lot to read in them, particularly if they’re based around characters, and this Shadowrun campaign does offer lots and lots of it”

Aside from the strategy/tactical aspect of the gameplay, there is a lot of background story to be told, a lot of extra information and logs that, although you don’t necessarily need to read, they bring a lot more to the world when you do, and a whole lot still of characters – admittedly some more complex than others.

And let me tell you, this game ticked all my boxes. It takes a very good story to make you like a character that starts off dead, and yet I totally loved him. I felt compelled to find his murderer and bring him justice just because he seemed like he’d been as good a friend as you could get in that world.

“The story was solid, although I do wish there had been more than the base campaign to play by the original makers; the characters were all likable (or appropriately non-likable for the bad guys 😉 ), and the world – the world is simply fantastic”

The mix of technology and magic isn’t even weird, it’s melded perfectly to create a perfectly reasonable world with strict rules of what can and can’t be done, and it’s somehow not strange at all to find yourself going down the street and suddenly meeting an elf, or a troll.

The art style is also very well done, though it borders on comic book style; the settings are beautifully put together, the mix of drab and brightness make for an interesting city, even if they do get a bit basic and feel slightly repetitive as you progress in the story.

The characters are nice, and the offered list of powers and perks for the various types, although they might not span into big skill trees, are sufficient to keep you entertained. The music, sounds and FX are not only fitting, but also very well done.

“As far as the gameplay aspect goes, it’s a very typical tactical RPG: you take turns to move from cover to cover and complete your mission”

I rather liked the implementation of deckers, a type of hackers, but it really felt like they didn’t have that much use in the game: when they were required I couldn’t usually bring more than one to the virtual world, or the trip to it was just too short to make it overly worthwhile.

The virtual maps though had an interesting feature that added to their complexity: an alarm would sound and rain hell on you if you were careless there.

“When it comes to character interactions is another part where the game shines, for you have various choices that can turn you into a good, neutral, or bad person according to the choices you make, and what you tell and how you treat people around you”

Like I said, the basic campaign is beautifully put together and a joy to play through, but it does feel too short and it leaves you wanting for more.

The upside? The game allows you to make your own campaigns: with a large community on the workshop, there are plenty of extra campaigns available for download and playing if you’re not into making them. Some are better than others, so it might take some trial and error before you find one you like.

Overall, I was very pleased with my play-through of Shadowrun Returns, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys some good storytelling.

Great game with wonderful writing and excellent support from the community. If you enjoy this type of game with this specific type of setting, then you definitely wont be disappointed!

Capsule

Capsule is a very short (1 to 2 hours at most) immersive game that comes with quite a few warnings, and I can understand why. The developers warn anyone with claustrophobia, misophonia, or other similar phobias not to play the game. And why? Because this is truly one game best played in the dark.

If I had to put it in a category, I’d say Capsule has a slight feel of a minimalist puzzle game; but the truth is, there’s really no puzzle to it – at least not gameplay wise.

The story, however, does make you wonder even though it is at its core an immersive survival game.

The story goes as follows: You wake up trapped in a capsule, only able to experience the outside world through the radar on it. You don’t know what’s happened, but you have an idea of where to go to start the journey into finding out…

Although you’re thrown into the game with barely an idea of what to do, for this particular case the lack of a proper tutorial beyond how to move is actually not hindering, because controls and story are so minimal you really can’t go quite wrong… even if it did take me a while at first to get my bearings.

You have oxygen and power to worry about, a radar burst, a bearing, and a distance to your target.

Each level you reach a destination, where you have more of the story develop in the form of messages which often give you a new direction in which to go. You have to be mindful of the hostile environment while making your way to the next destination, but watch out for your power and oxygen! You might fall short and die of asphyxiation!

The look of the game is ultimately minimalistic. You can only see the radar of your capsule, a pixelated screen through which you move with the arrows and send a sonar wave with the space bar.

The blueish color is very pleasant to look at, and the flicker of the screen manages to make it quite immersive, particularly if you do play with headphones and in the dark!

The sound effects, though simple as well, help further the atmosphere of it all, and the feeling of immersion. The breathing, the static, the beeping… Even when on my first round I played it with the lights on and during daytime, I could easily forget that I wasn’t actually in the Capsule.

I have to say that because of its immersive aspect, it adds a whole level of ‘horror’ to the game that you shouldn’t overlook. Dying the first time was truly terrifying.

However… and there is a small con: it’s that the game becomes a little bit boring once you get a hold of the whole bearings/distance and when to restock oxygen and power not to die. So basically, once you get the hang of it things get a bit easy. But the game is so very short that, honestly you won’t even mind.

I think this a very nice, atmospheric game – simple and minimalist, if you’re into psychological type of horror you will definitely enjoy the hour of play. If you like jump scares in your horror, steer clear. This is real horror right here.

Dishonored

If you don’t know Dishonored at least by name, then, my friend, you’ve been sorely missing out.

Arkane Studios and Bethesda brought to us one of the most amazing stealth games I’ve ever played. Biased? Maybe a little.

I don’t think I need to start with what Dishonored is about, as it’s such a well-known game already, but in case you’ve been living under a rock (admittedly as I was until I got it, haha), then here: Take on the role of Corvo, the late Empress’ bodyguard, now framed for her murder and deemed an assassin. As you search for the ones who are truly at guilt and try to regain your good name (or make a new name for your own), as well as get revenge, you go through the most amazingly crafted story and world, finding out about the plague that has struck the city, as well as many other things I shall not spoil for you.

Onto a more technical aspect: Dishonored is a first-person stealth/action game set in a steampunk type of world with some fantasy/magic/supernatural elements in it; I found it quite reminiscent of Bioshock in some ways, and it is an amazing, amazing] game. And this coming from someone who normally doesn’t like first person games that much, and who really sucks at stealth. The only thing that would make Dishonored any better to me right now would be if it had an option for third person.

So, what’s so great about this game, you ask? For starters, the graphics are breath taking, even in the lowest settings; and it works on lower end PCs without a hitch, which goes to prove you can have pretty cool graphics without sacrificing playability on toasters.

The sound in the game and the voice acting too, is beautifully done. The voice, the music, everything seems to fit just perfect with the setting and characters. What’s more amazing is that the sounds your character makes when moving aren’t just filler for your enjoyment. If you’re far too loud, enemies will hear you, and will find you.

Dishonored provides you with a varied style of gameplay, not the least of which is the supernatural aspect. It has many powers to choose from, and using them is not as hard as it appears at first. Once you get used to the controls, you find they’re reasonably comfortable, although not all of them precisely handy.

But my favorite thing of all has to be the many ways you can play this game, and many ways you have to approach a mission, which just ups the replayability up to a hundred; you can try different power combinations on different playthroughs, approach everything in a rather YOLO kind of way or try to stealth your way around and be a ghost, you can even mix and match! Choose to use or even not use your supernatural powers at all, and make several moral choices that will determine what kind of ending you get after all, and what kind of person Corvo becomes. Every moral choice you make, every person you kill or not, will change how people perceive you, how you as Corvo see yourself, and the ending you get. You also have more than one path to choose for each mission, which makes it feel far more like an open world, even if it’s not really an open world game.

I would definitely recommend everyone to play it at least once; it’s too much of a fantastic game, you simply can’t miss it.

Influent + Japanese DLC

Data
Break Up
Game: Influent (Japanese DLC)
Genre: Indie, Simulation, Strategy
Developer: Rob Howland
Publisher: Three Flip Studios
Release Date: Mar 20, 2014
Platform: PC / Played on Windows 7
Overall rating:  8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Controls: 7.5/10
Level/Puzzle Design:N/A
Sound: 7/10
Story: 3/10
Replay Value: 9/10
Community: N/A
Review

Influent is sold as a “Language Learning Game” focusing on vocabulary and and pronunciation. I was the lucky winner of the Japanese pack and I’ve played around with it for quite a while, so let’s explore it a little, shall we?

I already had (a very low) background in learning Japanese when I got this game, so my experiences may vary from someone who has never touched the language before.

Believe it or not, Influent has a sort of ‘story’ behind it. It’s not overly… special, but a story is something you don’t necessarily expect in something like a Language Learning software – game or not.
In Influent you take the role of Andrew Cross. He’s spent three years developing a device that would allow people to interact with their surroundings by providing them the item’s names in different languages. However, this device is stolen and sold under the thieves’ branding, and so Andrew’s response to this was to improve on the device and launch a campaign, swearing to learn 300 words in a foreign language to prove how evil those thieves are.

Just how precisely that works, I have no idea. The story makes no sense, hence it gets a low rating, however, the fact that they even thought as far as to give it a bit of a backstory besides “randomly get words in another language” deserves cookie points in my book.

The graphics aren’t out of this world, but I think they’re sufficiently good in their cartoonish way, and fit the quirky story of the game. I actually really like the art and the style of it. It’s simple, it does the job, and, more importantly, it makes it more approachable as you don’t need a super computer to run it.

That said, I don’t feel this is neither a language learning software, nor all it could be. Don’t get me wrong, I do love this game, but it lacks something. Before I get into that, though, let’s get on with the more technical aspects:

You can play this in first or third person. All of the game (so far) happens inside Andrew’s apartment, so it’s a tad limited in that sense, however, there is good depth of detail on the words you can learn; for instance, you can point at the door to get that word in Japanese, but if you point at the door frame, you will actually get “door frame” and not just “door”. You can open things (drawers, closets and cabinets, fridge, etc) and look at the things inside.

Basically, you move around the house and press a button to have the name of the item you’re looking (pointing with the mouse) at appear in the target language. The user interface is already available in various languages, and there are several target language DLCs you can choose from, in my case, since it was Japanese, you got all the necessary information: romaji, kana and kanji (along with pronunciation). You can select which of all this to see, you can see alternate words for the item, you can choose to add it to lists, and as you progress through your lists achievements you will be able to unlock more things: you start with simple words for objects, then you move on to adjectives and the like.

You have various lists, all of 10 items, which you can then test yourself on. When you play this mini-game, you will be given or told a word, and you will have to find the item and press a button again to mark it. Depending on how fast you are, you might even earn stars. Complete enough lists or achieve a certain speed and you will start ticking off achievements in the game. It also has small goals with their corresponding achievements.

Now, here we reach part 1 of what bothers me: This isn’t really so much a Language Learning game as just a tool to aid in Language Learning. There is a difference, as with a language learning programs you can expect to get some basic structure so that you can start speaking with, at the very least, short, broken sentences; Influent, however, only gives you words. There are no connectors, no real actions (even in you have some verbs), and no further information on how to put a sentence together. That’s fine, but it’s what makes it only an aid tool. It’s basically just an interactive flashcard system and a great help to expand on your basic and not so basic everyday vocabulary, but it’s not the only tool you’ll need if you actually want to learn the language.
It can, however, also be used as a starting point to gain some vocabulary before you go into basic sentences.

The second thing that… not so much bothers me, but just disappoints me, is how limited it is. Since everything happens within his house, then that is all you get to learn about. I would really, truly adore to see the game be expanded on (as default, and not as DLCs!) by include the outside world. The idea of being able to take my character out into the world and see the items at a park, or buildings, or houses, enter a shop and see what they sell… it could be so muchmore, and it feels like the game doesn’t reach its full potential. I feel like they could even include very basic dialogue with NPCs (for instance, talking to a neighbor and saying “Nice weather” or entering a shop, picking an item, and being able to choose between “how much is this” and “I’ll take 5 of this”). So at the end of the day, it feels rather bland.

The game controls aren’t too difficult, but they aren’t overly comfortable either. The replayability is both high and non-existent depending on your level with the target language. it’s high while you’re learning and reinforcing the basics, but once you’re past the basic household items level, you really have nothing else to do with the game other than an occasional revision.

All in all, Influent is a very nice tool to help with your language learning, and I would highly recommend it as that, but I don’t think I would recommend it if you’ve never touched the language before OR are way past beginner level.

Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan

This review was originally written for WalaWala Games.
A free copy of the game has been provided in exchange for an honest review.

Title: Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan
Platform: PC / iOS
Developer: Artifex Mundi
Genre: Action / Casual Adventure / RPG

Part 2 of the Grim Legends series, Song of The Dark Swan is another wonderful Adventure and Hidden Object game from Artifex Mundi. I own and have played several of their games and I have to say, they’re my favorite in the genre. They just know how to mix story, art, and game-play wonderfully. So, needless to say, I was quite excited to be able to review one of their games.

In Song of The Dark Swan you step into the shoes of a healer gone to see a queen about her illness, only to have the queen be accused of dark magic. The healer must then set off to save two Kingdoms by undoing a family curse, finding the missing heir to the throne, saving the queen and finding the true dark sorcerer; and all of this in one day!

For those unfamiliar with the gameplay of these type of games, and particularly the  Artifex Mundi ones, the mechanics are quite simple. In between story parts you will find several different game-play methods: Point and Click areas in which you will have to find small items in the environment for later use in puzzles; Puzzles, such as sliders, arranging puzzles, find-a-piece puzzles, follow-recipe puzzles, and the sort; and finally Hidden Object puzzles, in which you’re presented with a heavily packed screen full of items from which you’re provided a list, and you must find them in the picture. What I love about this developer is precisely this: they don’t just stick to hidden objects or slide puzzles, they mix and match and offer a great variety through the game.

You only need your mouse to play these type of games, and they usually don’t require high grade computers, either. Artifex Mundi is particularly good at this, their games tend to work in even the lowest end computers I’ve owned. The videos might get a bit choppy if you’re not in a decent rig, but I have so far only had that problem with one of their games, and this one wasn’t it.

And, before anyone asks, no, you don’t need to have played Grim Legends 1 to understand or follow part 2. They follow a similar theme, but they aren’t the same.

Let’s move along to the actual game!

Song of The Dark Swan doesn’t disappoint in terms of music and sound effects. The music suits the atmosphere perfectly, it’s beautifully eerie, truly giving you a feeling of being in a fantasy land touched by dark magic. The sound effects are quite pleasing to the ears, too. The voice acting, however, is hit and miss. It’s not bad, the voices are pleasant enough, and the intonation fairly good, but there was something lacking. It’s still improved plenty from the last games, however. Particularly, I was bothered by the sounds the fairies made as well as the children voices. The rest were fairly good.

Artifex Mundi is wonderful at their game art; as far as the world goes, the art is amazing! It’s full of small details and truly brings the world to life. I always enjoy going to new locations and discovering all the effort put into each and every piece – be it nature or indoors. It’s also very colorful and bright, even in the darker themed games such as this.

Characters, however, can be a bit hit and miss. Most are pretty beautifully rendered, but then you’ll have the slightly odd face or odd pose during cut-scenes, and they can get just a bit creepy. Still, their games hold some of the best artists I’ve seen.

Song of The Dark Swan is the same in both aspects. The world is represented in magnificent detail and it really helps bring it to life, especially if you take into account some things in the backgrounds are partially animated; the characters are fairly well done, particularly when static, but some are still better rendered than others. What differentiates characters in this one is that they’re more paint-style art than in their other games, and I found I rather liked the change.

The cinematic scenes have certainly improved plenty from past games, making the cut-scenes pleasant to watch and just short enough that you really don’t see the need to skip them – unless that annoying fairy is talking.

In Song of The Dark Swan, like in their other games, the world is full of little collectibles. In this case small symbols throughout the different areas. Some are easy to spot, some much harder. It makes for an interesting challenge to find them all!

The story itself is quite nice. It’s short and simple. It’s been obviously based off a fairy tale, but still manages to spin a story of its own; it has hints to background lore and legends within the story itself to give it depth, too, which is always a plus in any game, and makes the story engaging. There are darker parts to the story as well, but ultimately you get a relatively happy ending, and I do love my happy endings.

As for the game-play itself, I missed the ability to switch a puzzle for a mini-game from previous games, but it was also an option I used only when an item was particularly hard to find, so in the long run it wasn’t really that much of a drawback.

However, I enjoyed the variety of puzzles offered; in fact it seemed to be a bit more varied than in their previous titles. It’s one of my favorite things on this developer’s games, and Song of The Dark Swan didn’t disappoint. I also quite enjoyed the ability to have companions – the first time this was introduced in one of the developer’s games I fell in love with the idea as it added not only a friendly little creature with you, but a second level of challenge where you had to ponder just where the little animal might be of use. Here I could use not only one, but more, and that was pretty awesome. On the downside, even when replaying the game on expert mode, the companions made little sounds to hint where they could be used, which was slightly annoying.

There were a lot more locations to visit than in previous titles, which made me happy, and the developer has the wonderful habit of offering quick-travel if you’ve visited those locations, something I honestly love them for because the more locations, the more confusing it can get to get where you’re going. There was also less of a need to backtrack through maps, usually whatever you needed for that ‘chapter’ could be found within the map world.

There was also more interaction which characters and more parts where you had to uncover the story of the curse, which was done through finding golden feathers. I really enjoyed those little flashbacks, the art was pretty and the story in it was interesting.

Song of The Dark Swan had a better balance between puzzles and hidden object scenes. I guess depending on what you like this could be good or bad. I found I didn’t mind it.

The achievements are not too hard to get, which was both pleasing for me as a casual gamer, and yet slightly bothersome as someone who likes the challenge. There should be about 30 of them for you to gather though, so you won’t be bored.

As for the difficulty of the game, the puzzles aren’t overly difficult, and if you’re used to the developer’s games they will not be much of a challenge for you, as they’re not the hardest I’ve encountered in their games; but they’re pleasing puzzles nonetheless.

In a whole, the Collector’s Edition with its bonus story takes about 5 and a half hours to beat, perhaps a bit more if you’re a completionist. It’s an enjoyable fairy tale type story with enjoyable puzzles that are sure to please casual gamers, though I doubt even expert mode would challenge seasoned players. It would also make a great introduction to anyone just looking into starting with hidden object type of games.

Song of The Dark Swan is definitely recommended in my book!

 

Overall Rating: 9/10

 

Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Let the Right One InLet the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars award_star_gold_3

I can’t believe anyone’s mentioning Twilight in any form of comparison with this, because the only thing they have in common is it deals with vampires…

While I felt the story itself was kind of basic (what is original anymore?), I did like the characters, and Eli’s character I found particularly interesting (I would have enjoyed more details about his background), as well as the way vampires were portrayed. Oskar was a bit of a wimp, but alright nevertheless.
Overall I found it a very interesting read- and as I’ve also watched the movie, I would’ve wished to see in it a bit more of the book. I still think the adaptation was great too, and both are worth a chance.

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Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

Castle in the Air (Howl's Moving Castle, #2)Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars award_star_gold_3

This is a sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, and like it, it doesn’t fail to deliver it’s funny moments. The setting is slightly different, however, as it reminds you more of something just out of 1001 Nights. There’s even appearances of characters from Howl’s Moving Castle, including Howl and Sophie themselves, however there is no real need to have read that book in order to fully enjoy this one.

Much like the first, I know I will be re-reading this one often.

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La Saga de los Confines (Trilogía) by Liliana Bodoc

Los días del venado (La saga de los confines, #1)La saga de los Confines by Liliana Bodoc
My rating: 5 of 5 stars award_star_gold_3

I can’t say how much I love this trilogy. I bought all three in a whim, and when I learned the author had previously only made children books, I thought I would be disappointed, but I was not.
I don’t regret my purchase at all. It kept me hooked from beginning of the first book until the very end of the last book.
It’s a sort of quasi-historical cavemen story, if you may, mixed in with lots of fantasy.

They must be read in order. The three books describe in parts the main setting and troubles that arise, an all out war between good and evil, and it’s resolution.

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Get the rest of this series: La saga de los confines I: Los días del venadoLa saga de los confines II: Los días de la Sombra & La saga de los confines III: Los días de fuego