Disgaea 4+ Complete (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £34.99 (Some “Time saving DLC, £2.39 max each, artbook £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, Disgaea. An SRPG series I’ve come to enjoy, in the short time I’ve researched it before taking on this review. Its world is an odd one, it has a mix of the dark and the humorous that intrigues me, and… Well, a game where a sardine loving vampiric demon lord takes on a corrupt government over Prinny rights?

What the hell’s not to like about that story setup?

This guy knows what’s what! (Although I’m more of a cod man, myself)

Before this continues, however, there is one important warning to players new and old: Autosave is on by default. Turn it off. Turn it off for your own sanity.

Okay, okay, the autosave is separate from manual saves, but you do want to get into the habit of saving early, and saving often. Even if you think you’ve bribed senators on votes enough, there’s still the chance you’ll be voted down and lose mana.

So, I’ve already gone over the basic plot, what the heck is this? Well, it’s a turn based strategy RPG, in which you summon units to your team, level them up, use them to kick the snot out of your enemies, and each area is about 5 maps, the last having a boss encounter. As to the details?

Well, yes. Until you inevitably slap someone with a herring, and you ruin your social media presence, warcatte.

Well, you can tell this is a transitional game between 3 and 5, because it has the most complex set of mechanics I’ve seen in the Disgaea series. From earlier games, the summoning that doesn’t have levelling built in, so you can improve stats (somewhat), but you have to level them up through fighting, leading to repeating maps or entering the Item World, a mechanic that exists throughout the series (go through a randomly generated dungeon, with bosses every 10 levels, to level up an item and make it more rare. Oh, and this game has branching paths in the dungeons every 5 levels too.) The senate, also, has a new wrinkle to it, in the form of evil dispatches. I haven’t quite worked that one out yet, to be honest, beyond “You can place buildings that have effects on surrounding tiles, the tickmark of which chooses the leader of the group getting the benefit.”

Haha, I bet you thought you’d see big numbers, didn’t you? Nah, this one only did 890 damage at the end.

Skills are learned through the use of mana rather than levelling, weapon levelling is gone for this installment, replaced by “You can only learn skills in your character’s weapon specialties.” Even in combat, there’s something new: Fusion. Effectively, two monsters of the same type can become one giant monster, for better stats, the ability to punt people, friend and foe alike, to one side, and, if you’re in the late game, you can magichange a fused monster (magichange being “Monster turns into a weapon, with a special ability unique to them.”) or dual wield magichanged monsters.

I could go on, and on, and on, but let’s wrap this one up. Aesthetically, it’s damn fine. My only gripe visually is the one I’ve had throughout the series, where you need to rotate the map to see certain tiles, and the things on them, and even that… Is not guaranteed if it’s a trough of some sort. You can also zoom out, but… That doesn’t really help much. The voice acting is good, from the Prinnies (we rock, dood!) to Valvatorez (SARDINES!) to the villains (some of whom become your allies.) The game is grindier than, say, 5, but not as grindy as the earlier installments.

The one casting this, by the way, is behind the wall. They’re a friendly, so…

I wouldn’t recommend this to people who don’t have a lot of free time on their hands, or people who get irritated by grind, but for SRPG players, or people with a fair amount of free time and wanting to get into SRPGs? Honestly, Disgaea isn’t a bad start, and this is certainly the best story in the series (although they’re all fun.) So yes, I recommend this one with those caveats: It’s got a lot of grind, it’s mechanically the most complex in the series, but… Well, the Disgaea series in general has fun, often silly stories (that sometimes turn dark and serious later, but there’s always a hint of the ridiculous), cool characters, and each installment has something to recommend it.

The Mad Welshman is totally not a Prinny, dood!

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Library of Ruina (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Okay, let’s get an important warning out the way right now: Library of Ruina somewhat spoils the ending of Project Moon’s previous game I’ve reviewed, Lobotomy Corporation. It is, after all, a direct sequel.

And damn, does it have a great intro. The game, also, is solid, if a little grindy at times, and annoying at others. But we’ll be getting into that.

Instant bonus points for the use of my favourite word, Angela. And Project Moon.

So, our protagonist (?) is a Fixer, essentially, a high-grade mercenary in a city where urban legends are both real and deadly, and, having been seemingly killed, he is resurrected, and given a very special job: To kill others in increasing power, who are invited to the library, to create pages from their souls… To hopefully create… The Perfect Book.

And how do you do that? Essentially, by deckbuilding, and using those cards (balancing powerful attacks with lower cost cards) in turn-based battles. Using the powers of the pages to increase your own, as “burned” books create pages, which your increasing cast of Librarians and Assistants can equip to take on their likeness (to an extent) and abilities… And the pages, when burned, can Realise other pages (level them up), and give you cards from said page’s deck, to use in your own combat decks. You don’t need to engage with that last part for the early game at least, but it’s highly recommended to take a look, and see where a Page’s base deck can be improved or changed to fill a good role.

Yes, the ones who came before you have all died here. Repeatedly. I’ve been… Grinding them… Ohohoho…

Earlier fights can be replayed for their pages, which is useful if you want to get said pages to their level cap (although fights also give XP to that page), but generally, you engage in an upward journey, eerily similar to the Sephirah of the previous game (and, indeed, said Sephirah are represented by familiar characters from Lobotomy Corporation, still under the control of Angela from the previous game), occasionally fighting equally familiar Anomalies from the previous game, such as the Forsaken Murderer to progress.

Each Anomaly is, essentially, a sort of puzzle boss, with some pretty specific strategies, although the Anomalies give hints sometimes, and you learn their patterns. Dying doesn’t do anything bad, at least as far as I know, so you’re welcome to try, try again. And, funnily enough, it’s the anomalies where I find the most grind and irritation. Forsaken Murderer, in particular, was, as the technical term goes, “A right bastard”, and it, along with some later fights in the current content, required some good strategy and a fair amount of grind to get things to the level I wanted.

This one, thankfully, wasn’t too bad. Later ones will not be as forgiving.

Aesthetically, the game is split between a well painted manga style, and a more stylised chibi set for the turn based fights themselves, with a sort of Art-Deco look to some elements, contrasting with the blood-red lettering of some elements, the scratchy backgrounds of character thoughts at the bottom, but every element that needs to be clear is clear, from health, to the emotion system, and the UX. Yes, there are lots of fonts, but each has its purpose. The sound, similarly is good, and the music solid.

Basically, if you want to see where Lobotomy Corporation’s world went after the first game, or if you like deckbuilding turn based combat with RPG elements, Library of Ruina is a solid pick, and its eerie world, with some light elements, but mostly surreal and a little dark, appeals.

The Mad Welshman loves libraries. He also loves tastefully done flesh-walls. Perhaps there’s some way to mix the two?

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Conglomerate 451 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £16.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Previous Reviews: Early Access

It is the far future. And you’ve got a job ahead of you, commander. Because you’re the head of a private agency (not a corporation, honestly, really!) who has been tasked with dealing with the criminal influence of four cacklingly evil corporations, on behalf of the government. In sector 451 of the city of Conglomerate, and yes, they did call it that. So… It’s cyber, but not punk. Still.

Two “Good Boys” (Spoiler: Not Good Boys At All) and a very angry man kitted out like a personal tank. Oh, and a bomb.

So yes, this is one of those step based RPGs (first person, move a tile at a time, moving costs time but turning or looking around doesn’t, effectively turn based), with random loot, random enemy placement, a pool of maps, a research tree… It seems like a lot, but what it boils down to is: You do missions, which are usually kill a thing, kill lots of things, or find a thing. And doing these things breaks the influence of one of the four corporations who are openly criminal in the sense of drug dealing, slavery, and the like. Them’s your basics.

So… Last time I reviewed this, I said it was mostly solid, pretty promising, with a few things that needed work. That opinion has, apart from the whole “It’s released” thing, not really changed all that much. Because it still has issues. It’s just that they’re now mostly in terms of writing and accessiblity, rather than one of the two minigames being tedious as hell (the hacking has changed to be something a little more quickfire than “Click on some text when you see it”), and the money part of the game’s economy not being great (unlocking the in-mission benefits like “Can always ambush enemies if they don’t see you” costs money now. Which I’m fine with.) Not changed, however, is the fact that the bigass gun which looks like it can chew a room to shreds has a range of… 9 meters.

Yup. This thing still only has a range of 9m, single shot. Who the heck knows why…

Now… Even if you have white writing, folks, it’s going to be nigh illegible with a moving background, or something of even roughly the same value. That’s an accessibility issue, for which there is no option to fix. Dark red health on a dark brown background? That’s hard to read, so… Colourblindness issue, no option to fix. These are both two examples of how the game could work on its accessibility (a third being UX/Text scaling.) And then… The writing/barks. I’m not expecting Great American Novel, folks. What I do expect, however, is not to be very tired of the AI’s yakking two minutes into a mission. Yes, I get she was built by bad people to help you do bad things to bad people. I got that in the first two voicelines about how gleeful she gets about murder.

What I’m less fond of is references, without a hint of self awareness. Ah yes, my training mission was a “Kobayashi Maru” type. Mmmhm. Why yes, AI, we did come, we did see, we did kick its ass… But both of these references are almost as old as I am. And no, there is no option to turn off these barks, which… Sorry, developers, they’re not well written, and in one case (SPU chips, which add a little to stats), it doesn’t even make sense. Copper and some wires, but maybe it will be useful? I… AI? Have you been trained? At all?

Okay, okay, lemme try one. “You fell for one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is ‘Never get involved in a land war in Asia’, but only slightly less well known is this: Never make an 80s reference when a critic plays the game! Aha, ahahaha [dies]”

So, in terms of aesthetics, it’s alright. There’s some good enemy designs, the world maps are interesting and aptly get the feel across, the sound isn’t bad, and the visuals for attacks are kinda cool in places. In terms of gameplay, it’s a little grindy, but otherwise, I’m actually down for a limited set of map layouts, partly because you know vaguely what to expect. Improvements have been made in some areas… It’s still got jank, but… I’d still recommend it somewhat for fans of step-based RPGs, because it ain’t bad.

But it could definitely work on its accessibility.

The Mad Welshman would offer their services as a dystopia writing consultant, but… Well, not much point.

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Abyss Manager (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Sometimes, a game changes in Early Access. Quite dramatically, at times. Others… Not so much. Case in point: Abyss Manager, a game where, last time I looked at it, I effectively said that the game didn’t want to be played, what with poor tutorialisation, lots and lots of grind, and, due to a big part of that grind being trying to balance beefy bastards of various species trying to kick down your door as a dungeon keeper, tournaments between other dungeon keepers, exploration, research, building up your funds… And beefy bastards takes up the majority of that time. And this, as I’ve mentioned before, is a crying shame, because there’s a cool research tree. Exploration is an interesting idea, even if its implementation is pretty basic: Send X of your employees to a site, hopefully pass a skill check, get loot.

FFFFFFFFFF-

…Come to think of it, most of the systems in the game are like that. It’s a very dry game. It’s colourful, aesthetically, with some good lo-fi spritework, but battling is the majority of what you do, and everything else… Well, it’s just kind of there, and some of it (exploration and matches) will take some of your most powerful creatures away from either employment or the battlefield for several turns (As in, easily 7-10, sometimes more.)

As such, there really… Isn’t much to say. The grind still exists, as bad as before, the systems are ho-hum, the aesthetic can’t really save it from that, and, even turn based as it is, it’s somewhat stressful to play. I find myself struggling to write more, and so… I guess I’ll finish up by saying that, alas, things didn’t improve, and I can’t recommend this unless you’re really a fan of grind. It’s no doubt added some things, but… I can’t see them, precisely because the overall experience is dry and unappealing.

Yup. It’s pretty much a loss all round.

The Mad Welshman sighs. Sometimes he hates his job.

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Autonauts (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £17.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Robots can be frustrating things. Colonists and their needs can be frustrating things. So… What happens when you put them together? Well, it sure ain’t cherry pie, friends. So… Autonauts is a colony building game, but instead of a group of colonists you control (directly or indirectly), it’s robots. Robots you… “Program.”

I would say we’ll get to that in a second, but no, it’s a core issue with why I find the game so damn frustrating. It’s got a programming language, programming limitations, but, apart from being able to delete instructions, what is it actually? It’s monkey-see, monkey-do. You set the robot to record actions, you do the things, and… Once you’ve done that, you’d think it was over, right?

This, funnily enough, still doesn’t seem to do the job right. If only I had… A variable to compare rather than a binary state…

Well, not quite. You can change some conditions, such as loop conditions, but without knowing that (It doesn’t actually teach you that explicitly, you have to futz with that menu you see (or know Scratch, and how it does that too) to know this.) But otherwise, there’s not a lot of programming going on, and, since the robots were designed by the Department of Cut Corners, the early game is a massive drag for several reasons. Let’s start with getting your basic industry up and running.

So, in the tutorial, it tells you you need three robots to log and replant an area. Fine, cool, this is technically true. What it doesn’t tell you is that, if you don’t want to be rushing around trying to fill every one of their needs, from recharging (the default bot’s battery life can best be described as “Shit”) to needing tools when they break, you’ll want an extra two bots, one for recharging, one for making tools, a set of crates to put those tools in, and to go back and adjust the robots so they get a tool from the crate when theirs is broken. Not to mention the log chopping bots, the plank chopping bots, the storing bots, the recharge bots for all of these, the mining bot, the stone storing bot, the charging bot for those

Pictured: A bot about to run out of battery, halting progress until I recharge him, because I hadn’t, at this early point, realised you can program a robot to recharge other robots (Disclaimer: A robot needs to not be charged for this instruction to be programmed.)

And until you have that basic logging and mining setup, you’re going to be manually doing a lot of this work. Does it get any easier later on? Not… Really. Because then, there are colonists. Who are factories of a resource called, no joke, Wuv. Suffice to say, I have very little Wuv for these parasites, because while I and the robots are working our asses off to fill their pyramid of needs, they… Well, they don’t really do anything except generate Wuv. Which you need for research to improve their needs, and…

Oh shit. We’ve got more industries to deal with. Which you’ll be setting up bots for. You can, to be fair, make this slightly easier by… Building several robots to build robots, a specified number, rather than an infinite loop. That way, you can just hit play on up to four bots to build a more complicated bot. (their charging bot is always active unless it loses battery, and no, another charging bot won’t solve the problem, it’ll just delay it a fair bit (Unless their batteries run down simultaneously early))

But I hope I’m getting across my main problem with this game: It is perhaps the most busywork colony builder I’ve come across in a while, because there’s not much breathing room for things to just work without… Oh. Yeah. Doing the legwork to build, program, and equip several bots for a single task that… I dunno, maybe those lazy bastards we’re feeding, clothing, and housing could help with?

Okay, arable land, check… Cooking pot, check… Wait, crap, now I need, like, three or four new robots. Per meal type. SOD.

Aesthetically, by the way, it’s quite pleasing. Nice low poly look, good sound, the music is… Well, it’s meant to be relaxing, but, as you might gather, it hasn’t helped a lot. It has clear menus (Although it should be noted that the Blueprint encyclopedia is also the “What’s in the world” encyclopedia. So you know), the Scratch interface for robots is somewhat clear (Yes, I missed conditional loops for hours, so you can imagine how frustrated I was before this small, but very significant detail was spotted), so… This is alright.

But I have to admit, I’m not having fun with it. My colonists are parasites, my robots are flawed, and for every new task I need to do, there’s a lot more setup than is perhaps necessary, and I didn’t feel like the tutorialising was clear. Is it an interesting approach to a colony building game? Yes. Is it unfortunately an unenjoyable romp into this territory? Well, for me, at least, it was.

The Mad Welshman does count his blessings. At least it’s not the SP10 series we’re using.

Okay, that one was a little obscure, even for me.

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