Welcome to the tenth installment of The Otaku’s Gaming Study, a series which I have been using to produce mini-reviews of series that have been released in the past and due to my Masters degree which I was only able to finish last month – have not been able to get around to reviewing. For the first TOGS installment in the double digits, I will be covering two portable games released this year by North American game publishers / localizers XSEED Games. These titles are the Playstation Vita side-scrolling action platformer Sumioni: Demon Arts produced by ACQUIRE and the more recently released RPG Unchained Blades for the Playstation Portable developed by FuRyu.
Review codes for both these games were provided by the team at XSEED Games in downloadable format.
FuRyu | XSEED Games
Now available on the Playstation Network for the Playstation Portable. Currently it is not possible to download the game to the Playstation Vita UNLESS facilitated through the Playstation 3 content manager.
In a world inhabited by mythical beings, where colossal labyrinths called Titans tower over the land, there’s a legend that any being who can approach the Goddess Clunea high in the sky shall have a single wish granted. A powerful and self-absorbed dragon named Fang aims for those heights to meet with the Goddess and learn the name of the strongest monster in the world. His drive to find and kill this ultimate opponent and firmly establish himself as the dominant monster of the land is mighty enough to entreat the gods, but his boldness is also his undoing. Disdainful and disrespectful to the Goddess, she strips him of his dragon form and banishes him to the surface. Bereft of the power he once wielded as the Dragon Emperor, Fang must now adjust to surviving in a far weaker body as he navigates the dangerous mazes of halls in his quest for revenge upon the creator herself.
Introduction / Storyline
The first-person view RPG genre has never been my cup of tea, usually these involve a lot of dungeon crawling and very little visual appeal outside of the character portraits you see as you wander around the dungeons. Despite my own hesitances about this game, I jumped into it and found that it was actually pretty enjoyable to play through. While the game initially jumps between characters at the start of the game, you are initially given control of Fang (Aka. *Player_Name_1*), a fierce and powerful Dragon Emperor who after disrespecting the ruler of the world, Goddess Clunea, strips him of his powers and sends him back down to the surface as a mere human. From there, you are tasked with questing through and scaling dungeons to once again meet with the Goddess and obtain a wish. Along your journey you team up with a number of others including Niko a Spirit Foxgirl, Lapis a medusa, Hector a cowardly golem price and several other adventurers – each from a unique heritage and their own storylines… so they are not just silent party members. There was enough storyline here to keep me satisfied throughout my playthrough.
Visually the game is fairly mixed in quality, with positive and negative elements to both. Easily the best element to the design are the character designs, each of which were produced by a separate well-renown Japanese artist. Some examples of these include the character to the left, Mari who was illustrated by Sunaho Tobe (Hexyz Force), Lapis by Su Minazuki (Heaven’s Lost Property) and Fang by pako (Shining Force EXA). Each of these characters each have slight differences in their designs, but are all well illustrated, work well together and offers some variety.
Where the game is limited is in its dungeon designs which while I must complement for not being dull to navigate through with plenty of threats and twists ‘n’ turns, are not aesthetically appealing. While they do change designs of the dungeons occasionally throughout the game, there is nothing much to keep your interest for extended periods of time – although given past experiences this may just be the genre. Battle backdrops are modelled mostly after the dungeon designs themselves but has an nice angle which when coupled with the monster designs gives off a more face-on approach to the foes which is surprisingly effective.
The game looks great on the Playstation Vita’s high resolution with no noticeable graphical problems.
Audio / Voice Acting
The music was primarily composed by Tsutomo Narita with a couple of the games primary themes including the Main Title and World Map themes being produced by acclaimed Final Fantasy series composer Nobuo Uematsu. The game has a great selection of tracks however not a great variety of them – with only a couple of dozen included in this entire release. The battle themes are most noteworthy, each providing some badass catchy tune which provides some extra excitement to battles.
The game also includes a solid voice acting track by some notable talent such as Troy Baker, each who contribute a performance that is appropriate for their characters intended emotions, moods and personalities. The game does not offer the Japanese dub, however for those who choose not to listen the English dub you do have the option to mute it. Not all of the game is dubbed but a significant portion of it is.
As I stated in the opening paragraph of this review, the game is a first-person view RPG comparable to other similar titles as XSEED Games’ own Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls for the Playstation 3 and Class of Heroes for the Playstation Portable. This means that instead of viewing your characters wander the dungeon, you will be wandering through the dungeon as your main character. You can party with up to four characters (You unlock them as you progress through the game) and navigate your way through dungeons of increasing difficulty. The games combat system also takes place in first-person view but follows customary RPG mechanics including the ability to attack, use skills and items. Where Unchained Blades differs is that for each of your four main characters you are able to have four additional monsters (Followers) alongside them for a total of 20 party members.
These monsters are not controllable but instead they will attack and defend you when you are attacking or defending yourself. To unlock these monsters, you have to perform “Unchaining”, where your characters charisma is high enough and they have had sufficient damage done to them to warrant recruiting. While the recruiting minigame is simple, actually getting to the point where you can unchain them is difficult without dying yourself or defeating your target enemy. An example is that upon reaching the second floor of the first dungeon, you are required to have 5 monsters to take part in your first main boss fight. After an hour or two of casually navigating the dungeon I ended up with only four…. but the kicker is the game provides you with four initially so some grinding is required. There is an additional battle system known as “Judgement Battles” within the game, where all your Followers are pitted against an enemies Followers and can act as a hindrance to your progression as they can be quite challenging early on in the game.
Each of the characters in this game feature a unique array of skills so you will make use of all of them as you make your way through the labyrinths. The game features your stereotypical EXP-based levelling system, although the route you take your character on will depend on what choices you make on the games rather extensive Skill Map which gives you some control over their development. Despite the at times frustrating grind and difficulty spikes, the game comes with some rather nice gameplay features, active storyline and strong English voice acting. It is quite easily the most enjoyable RPG of its kind that I have played so far.
Storyline/Character Development: B+
Music/Voice Acting: A-
Personal Opinion: B+
Overall Score: B+
Sumioni: Demon Arts
ACQUIRE | XSEED Games
Now available on the Playstation Network for the Playstation Vita.
Introduction / Storyline
There once lived a great chancellor named Michisada, beloved and respected by all who served him. All, that is, expect Seimei – a man who desired Michisada’s seat so strongly, he was even willing to sell his soul to get it. Calling upon the forces of hell itself, Seimei seized control of the entire Japanese government, holding Michisada and his daughter hostage alongside imprisoning Michisada’s most loyal aide, Tengan. As Japan drifted more and more towards chaos and despair, Tengan knew that something had to be done. He recalled a legend of an old shrine within his prison grounds, wherein a great inkdemon had been sealed away. The Inkdemon’s name was Agura, and his power was legendary. Unfortunately, so too was his insolence…
Nonetheless, this seemed to be Japan’s last hope for survival. Tengan would have to sacrifice himself to rouse Agura from his slumber, so he entrusted his long-time Inkgod companions Yomihi and Shidou to keep an eye on this unlikeliest of heroes… then proceeded with the unsealing ritual. The fate of Japan, and perhaps the world has been entrusted to an unwilling, apathetic Inkdemon. And there was simply no time for argument.
Sumioni: Demon Arts served as the first Playstation Vita title for both Acquire and XSEED and one that at first glance is visually impressive with its strong edo era aesthetic and interesting choice of ink themed gameplay. However aside from these it proved to be only an average at best game with a couple of factors that kept the game from being great. As the storyline blurb above states, you take the control of the Inkdemon named Agura as he travels to save Japan from the grasp of Seimei. Unfortunately the storyline is not heavy in this game and lacks any interesting features alongside being short. While there are around 30 levels in this game, the game follows six tracks which lead to different endings. The game requires you to get a perfect score (3 Stars) in order to progress to the next track and a chance at a better ending – requiring you to not only perform well but get through the stages as quickly as possible. As it can take a while to grasp the mechanics sufficiently enough to get three stars in every stage, you are looking at potentially repeating the same limited storylines a couple of times.
Moving on to one of the games more enjoyable aspects, the visuals are repetitive at times but otherwise aesthetically pleasing. The use of designs which are reminicent of ink paintings alongside some appropriately designed enemies, characters and the appropriately included ink drawing feature all work harmoniously together. The limited storyline they do present comes with some well designed artwork. There is nothing much to say about this games design, and it is one of the more redeeming factors about this game.
Music and Voice Acting
Given the time period and location this game is set in, the music contributes well to the visuals and offers a nice variety of tracks to go alongside with them. The game unfortunatelys lack any form of dub track, with the storyline being delivered to you by scrolling text alone.
Sumioni: Demon Arts starts off with an interesting and ambitious concept… and for the first playthrough it actually works out quite well – you play as an Inkdemon who navigates through side-scrolling platformer worlds under attack by enemy forces and the occasional supernatural beast… and able to control the power of ink to produce platforms you can stand on to avoid traps or give you a tactical advantage. The gameplay mechanics are easy to grasp – X has you jumping, control pads to move and the square button to slash with your bisento. While there are attack combinations you are introduced to and can use during battle, you will find that for the most part you will just be button mashing the Square button. As an ink demon, you can summon the power of ink through your Vita’s touchscreen and despite being useless in the later levels where you need to be a bit more quick in your movements, works well with no problems. While building up Ink, you can also use it to summon two Ink God beasts or set everyone in the path of your ink ablaze.
I have no problem with the system they have implemented, and they occasionally shake things up by giving you timed attack stages or “Escape from the foe” stages… but the major problem is that most of the stages are short and unless you perform well in all of them they can get very repetitive and dull. Thus this leaves you with the dilema of having a game that actually has a fun gameplay system but offers annoying grinds through potentially the same stages time and time again. If they threw in longer stages, more stages that do not require multiple replays and perhaps a couple more foes it would have offered an experience that might even give my 3rd Place GOTY 2011 “Rayman Origins” a run for its money in terms of originality.
In the end, I finished my first playthrough of this game in less than half an hour which was disappointing to me, but Acquire still developed an interesting system which I would like to see them expand upon in a future release or otherwise put their creativity into developing equally enjoyable gameplay with a hundred times more weight behind it content-wise (Even a custom level maker would have been a nice inclusion).
Storyline/Character Development: E+
Music/Voice Acting: C
Personal Opinion: C
Overall Score: C-