The Tales series has been on shaky ground for the last several years. Tales of Xillia 2 presented confusing and complex combat along with a choice system that ultimately felt useless and unneeded. Tales of Zesteria was a game so hated by fans that its price was slashed within the first few months of its release. Once again it had confusing and convoluted combat, and an even worse story setup. A character was given a paid DLC story expansion at launch, among other things. There was plenty of skepticism behind Tales of Berseria’s announcement, but Namco pulled through to make one of the most memorable Tales games in a long time.
Tales of Berseria’s story follows Velvet Crowe, a young woman seeking revenge against her brother-in-law, Artorius. Artorius is a talented exorcist, one specialized in eliminating deamonic threats, and sacrificed his and Velvet’s younger brother, Laphicet, in an attempt to end an event called the Scarlet Night. Velvet, heartbroken at the events that transpired, turns her rage into deamonic malevolence, and transforms into a demon before Artorius’ eyes. She attempts to kill Artorius then and there, but is defeated. Velvet is thrown into a prison cell to rot while the man who destroyed her life becomes a powerful political figures for attempting to end the deamonic curse that plagues the world. Three years later, Velvet is busted out of prison by one of Artorius’ ex-supporters, and her quest for vengeance begins anew. Velvet uses anyone and anything she can to achieve her goal, going so far as to incite a prison riot, take hostages, and even set a town on fire to create a diversion. She’s an anti-hero in every sense of the word, but the game still paints her in a light that is often sympathetic. You’re playing as the bad guy, but you’re in a corrupted world where morality and emotion often takes the backseat to convenience and logical reason.
Velvet meets many other anti-heroes on her quest to slay Artorius and topple his religious order, The Abbey. During her prison escape she meets Rokurou, a master swordsman turned deamon, who also has a vendetta against his older sibling, and Magilou, a young witch who seems take nothing seriously. Her travels also bring her into contact with a Malak (elemental spirit) pirate named Eizen, who seeks to find his missing captain, the rouge exorcist Eleanor, and a young Malak that Velvet eventually names after her late brother.
Berseria’s main and supporting cast is one of the franchise’s strongest. Despite the game’s darker themes it’s peppered with plenty of light-hearted interaction between its cast. In particular, Magilou has some of the best lines in a Tales game to date; her clever quips, along with those of the other characters, bring a much-needed sense of dark comedy that fits in well with the game’s already dark themes. Characters without evil intentions or backstory, like Malak Laphicet and Eleanor, also balance out against the other villainous cast members, and keep the game from turning into a brooding mess. The game shows that even villains can have good intentions, as the variety of side-skits and cutscenes does an excellent job of defining each member of Berseria’s cast. Berseria’s story is easily one of the best the Tales series has seen in a long time.
Story wasn’t the only thing to get a complete overhaul from Zesteria’s backlash, many gameplay elements have been changed too. Combat is a bit more streamlined, and feels more like the almost decade old Tales of Graces than Tales of Zesteria. Basic moves have been thrown out the window, and instead combat rewards resource management instead of button mashing. Every move a character uses costs a set amount of SG, and at the start of a fight every character has 3 units. SG can be stolen from enemies by stunning them, inflicting them with an ailment, or doing a frame-perfect dodge against their attacks. This can also happen to the player characters as well, who become greatly hindered if they lose too much SG to their opponents.
Combat customization gives every player-controlled character 16 attack slots that will chain together, 4 for each face button, with the option to earn more later. Strategy mostly comes down to knowing what moves to assign, and experimenting to find strong chains of attacks that work well together. When you first start out combat is a bit repetitive and sluggish due to a lack of moves, but once you start learning new artes the game becomes a lot more fun.
Berseria’s main story is roughly 40 hours in length, but it’s also crammed with plenty of side content that can nearly double that time for completionists. There’s a list of bounties for dangerous monsters in every area. Each bounty is roughly as difficult as a boss battle, and rewards you with plenty of gald as well as key items that improve everything from your running speed on the map to how many skills you can assign. There’s also a wide range of mini-games in certain towns that reward you with Tales coin to be spent on goofy costumes and other visual accessories.
The visuals in Berseria are some of the best in a Tales game to date. The map is dense, and filled with a variety of different locations. Castles and towns dot the islands of Desolation, and each branches out towards something different. There are beautiful tropical beach fronts, a freezing winter tundra, and quiet fall forests in addition to the more generic fields and dungeons. Each section is jammed with plenty to do thanks to the aforementioned bounty system and troves of hidden chests and puzzles that can make backtracking easier. Every location has its own distinct palette as well, it feels like Namco put in as much effort as they could to really flesh out each environment to its fullest.
The sound design is also exceptionally good. The soundtrack stands out with plenty of great themes, particularly those for specific characters, and the voice acting is great as well. The English voice actors really know how to get into their roles and make for some memorable performances. For those who would rather have other audio choices there is a Japanese track with English subtitles as a nice added bonus. Dual-audio is becoming a bigger deal in prolific JRPG releases, and it’s nice to see Namco adapting to meet both the needs of their customers.
Every game is not without its faults though, and Berseria has its fair share of them. Backtracking is ever-present in the game. Dungeons and fields can be large and elaborate at times, and while that’s great for exploration, it stinks when you have to get from point A to point B. There is an in-game item called a denore bottle that allows you to quick travel to any city you’ve visited at least once, but it doesn’t work if there’s a cutscene that needs to happen halfway out in the middle of a field. The game has draw distance issues with environmental objects as well. This game was built for the PS4 and PS3 in Japan, and it seems they just put the same build on both systems.
Tales of Berseria is a great JRPG. Namco seems to have learned a lot from their past mistakes in Zesteria, and set out to meet and surpass fan expectations. What they ended up developing is a 40+ hour enjoyable story with refined gameplay and combat all inside a rich and beautiful world. Tales of Berseria is easily a must buy for any RPG fan, and its biggest flaw was launching in the same week as 3 other huge games.
‘Donkey Kong Country’ – Still as Difficult, Demanding and Amazing to This Day
Donkey Kong Country: 25 Years Later
Back in 1994, Nintendo was struggling with their 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which wasn’t selling as well as they’d hoped it would. With the release of the Saturn and Playstation on the horizon, the Super Nintendo needed a visually impressive and original title to reinforce its market dominance. After three years of intense competition and heated rivalries, Nintendo desperately needed a hit that could prove the Super NES could output graphics on the same level as the forthcoming 32-bit consoles. They teamed up with Rare to produce Donkey Kong Country, a Mario-style platformer, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Donkey Kong Country is a game held in high regard and with reason. Monumental! Monstrous! Magnificent! Use any term you want, there’s no denying how important this game was for Nintendo and Rare. The graphics for the time were above and beyond anything anyone would imagine possible for the 16-bit system. For a two-dimensional side-scroller, Donkey Kong Country conveys a three-dimensional sense of dept. The characters are fluidly animated and the rich tropical environments make use of every visual effect in the Super NES’s armory. Each stage has its own theme, forcing players to swim underwater, navigate through a misty swamp, swing from vines, or transport DK using a set of barrels (cannons) to advance. And let’s not forget the mine cart stages where you ride on rails and use your quick reflexes to successfully reach the end. Every level has little nooks and crannies too, hiding secret areas and passageways that lead to bonus games where you can earn bananas and balloons, which you can trade in for additional lives. And in Donkey Kong Country, you’re not alone; your simian sidekick Diddy tags along for the adventure. You control one character at a time, and each has his own unique strengths. Donkey Kong can dispatch larger enemies with his giant fists, while Diddy can jump a little higher than his bulky cousin. It isn’t the most original platforming feature, but it works. The two heroes can also rely on various animal friends to help guide them through their adventure. Predating Super Mario World: Yoshi’s Island, Diddy and DK can also ride on the backs of Rambi the Rhino, Winky the Frog, Enguarde the Swordfish and more!
What’s really impressive about Donkey Kong Country is how it has withstood the passage of time. In 1994, Donkey Kong Country’s visuals were spectacular with its rendered 3D models, lively character animations, detailed backgrounds, and a lush jungle setting, and while some would argue the game is dated, in my eyes it still looks great to this day. Kong has heart, and he’s willing to show it in a game made with wit, excitement and moments of visionary beauty. Meanwhile, the soundtrack by David Wise is guaranteed to win listener’s over. Practically every piece on the soundtrack exudes a certain lyricism that has become a staple of Rare’s games – from its upbeat tropical introduction to the unforgettable climax which secures its place as one of the Super Nintendo’s most memorable boss fights. The result is an apt accompaniment to the colorful characters, tropical landscape, and tomfoolery that proceeds.
What really stands out the most about Donkey Kong Country after all of these years is just how challenging this game is.
But what really stands out the most after all of these years is just how challenging this game is. Donkey Kong Country is a platformer you can only finish through persistence and with a lot of patience. Right from the start, you’re in for one hell of a ride. In fact, some of the hardest levels come early on. There are constant pitfalls and Donkey Kong can only take a single hit before he loses a life. If your companion Diddy is following you he will take over but then if he takes a single hit you lose a life and it’s back to the start of a level. Needless to say, the game is unforgiving and requires quick reflexes and precise pattern memorization to continue. This game requires so much fine precision that it will definitely appeal to hardcore platforming veterans looking for a challenge and those that do are in for one hundred eighty minutes of mesmerization, astonishment, thrills, chills, spills, kills and ills. The only real downfall of Donkey Kong Country is the boss battles. Yes, Donkey Kong Country gave us some memorable villains such as Dumb Drum (a giant Oil Drum that spawns enemies after it hits the floor), and The Kremling King (who is responsible for stealing Donkey Kong’s Banana Hoard), but these enemies have very basic attack patterns and far too easy to defeat.
It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.
Along with its two SNES sequels, Donkey Kong Country is one of the defining platformers for the SNES. The game looks great and sounds great and the platforming, while incredibly difficult, is still very fun. Rare did the unexpected by recasting a classic Nintendo villain as the titular hero and it paid off in spades. It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.
The beauty of the original is that there’s more to it than the oversized gorilla. Donkey Kong Country is truly amazing!
– Ricky D
‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming
Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.
In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.
It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.
Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.
And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.
It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.
No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more.
‘Woven’ Review: Comfortably Soft and Lumpy
Despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure.
With a sincere warmth and fuzziness that conjures up dreamy recollections of 3D games gone by, Alterego Games‘Woven mostly overcomes its blurry visuals and technical jankery to somehow create a pleasant, old-fashioned experience. Those excited by modern gaming probably won’t give this lovable hand-me-down a second look, and perhaps they shouldn’t; extremely simple actions and soothing narration support a fairy tale quality that’s probably best suited to younger players. However, anyone willing to look past the well-worn exterior in search of a relaxing break from stressful button pushing may squeeze more fun out of this familiar stuffed toy than they might originally expect.
Woven tasks players with taking control of a meandering patchwork elephant named Stuffy, and guiding him through a sparsely populated knitted world that seems to have met an untimely demise. Because Stuffy has cotton for brains, he is assisted on this journey by a much smarter metal firefly named Glitch (a reference to his role in this story?), who floats alongside the curious-but-clumsy plush toy and provides hints as to how he can use his various abilities. Together, this odd couple will traverse open plains blanketed with colorful yarn grass, maneuver around impassable felt trees and plants, and hopefully discover the secret of where Stuffy’s clueless kin have all gone.
Along the way, the duo will walk great distances (often without much event), solve the occasional environmental puzzle, and generally just keep on keepin’ on.Woven is mostly straightforward in its campaign, merely about getting from point A to B by whatever means the path requires. Most often this involves finding new blueprints that allow players to change Stuffy’s design from an elephant into a wide variety of other animal shapes, each with a set of abilities that come with a new set of arms, legs, and a head. For instance, while the stocky (and adorable) bear can push plush boulders and perform a mighty stomp, the goat and frog can both use their legs to hop, while the kitty cat is able to push buttons on rusted consoles that activate dormant machinery.
However, these abilities are usually only able to activate when context-sensitive prompts from Glitch appear, so don’t expect some sort of platforming freedom. Woven handles a bit clumsily in that regard and others; strolling is definitely the order of the day, as long as Stuffy doesn’t get hung up on the geometry.
But these actions do help provide variety; a tropical bird of some sort (toucan, maybe?) can sing certain notes, while a pelican-thing can fly (sort of) over land and shallow water with great speed. And so, it often becomes necessary in Woven to alter Stuffy’s look with a total reweave. These designs can be applied at various sewing machine-like stations scattered about, which go a step further than just swapping Stuffy the deer for Stuffy the ape. Each blueprint is comprised of five parts, allowing for players to create a Frankenstein Stuffy made up of all the best abilities the player has on hand (or cushioned paw). By mixing certain sets, Stuffy will soon be able to scale mountainside crags, cross piranha-filled rivers, and pick up industrial cogs without the need to make a pit stop and bust out new needle and thread.
Some truly hilarious (or horrifying, depending on your sensibilities) aberrations can be created; seeing Stuffy hobble on hooves as he flaps a wing on one side and swings a muscular gorilla arm on the other, all with the head of a squirrel, is freakishly entertaining. In addition, for those who like to wander off the beaten path, there are a plethora of knitting patterns to discover, tucked away in both obvious and devious locations (and denizens). These cosmetic enhancements can also be applied at the sewing stations, essentially giving players seemingly endless amounts of customization. And these aesthetic changes even get in on the puzzle act every once in a while, especially when a pesky cobra shows up.
But outside the odd ‘connect the power line’ or ‘raise and lower platforms’ objectives, Woven doesn’t throw much at players that even young children shouldn’t be able to handle — and that seems to be the aim. Stuffy’s adventure lives or dies on its wholesome and serene vibe, which players either buy into or they don’t. There’s no combat here, very little to actually do outside hunting down those patterns, illuminating some painted caves, and activating some of Glitch’s ‘memories’ contained by machines hidden in the soft folds. Ongoing narration is pleasant to the ears, often conveying old-fashioned morals and cutesy jokes, but there’s no more story than in a classic fable.
And make no mistake — though the world is certainly bright and cheerful, it’s also quite fuzzy around the edges. The tactile nature of the cloth textures is lessened greatly by the low definition (at least on the Switch version), eliciting memories of the Wii-era. An increased crispness would have really made the world of Woven pop off the screen, perhaps luring in a larger audience who have become accustomed to such. There is still plenty of charm, but it feels like a missed chance at that true magical feeling the game seems to be shooting for.
Other stumbles come when certain worlds try to open up a bit more, which might lead a younger audience to get frustrated by the lack of direction (especially when they keep getting hung up on that geometry!); Woven definitely works better when it’s casually guiding players along, letting gamers of all ages envelop themselves in the easygoing atmosphere instead of requiring tedious backtracking. There’s just something nice about sitting back and relaxing to hummable music, watching the roly-poly amble of a stuffed kangaroo.
Woven will not be for everyone; those who play for challenge or eye candy won’t find either here. And yet, despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure. Woven certainly has its share of lumpiness, but somehow remains cozy regardless.
‘Woven’ is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch (Reviewed on Switch).
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