Stranger of Sword City Revisited (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £44.99 (Both this and Saviours of Sapphire Wings, £9.99 for each of the two soundtracks)
Where To Get It: Steam

Oh, I’ve been waiting for this one for a while. Bated breath and everything. Actually, it’s nice that my breath isn’t bated anymore, it was a real hassle. But yes, Stranger of Sword City is being Revisited, and I am very much down for trying it.

After all, when I last saw it, that one samurai guy kicked my ass, and I want to return the favour this time around with more quality of life, y’know?

Why yes, that is a Japanese schoolgirl with a big honkin’ sword, demon armour, who’s just sliced up a giant monster but good, why do you ask?

So yes, as mentioned in the Saviors of Sapphire Wings review, this is bundled with said game, and both are step based, grindyish RPGs in the vein of Etrian Odyssey or Wizardry, where you have to take the time to get powerful enough to beat that next asshole that’s blocking progress. You explore maps, you get random encounters and not-so-random encounters and bosses (I wouldn’t dare call any of them, except the beginning goblin, a miniboss), and you try and level up to get more special bosses murdered, to eventually…

Ahhh, but here we get to story, and honestly, I like this: You’ve been transported to a different world, a world where the detritus of multiple worlds ends up, including ours. And you are a chosen soul. Think that’s cool?

Well, it actually means everyone’s after either your allegiance or your head. And there are three major factions, each with their own goals to work with. It’s relatively minimal, with the focus more being on the world and its encounters, but it is interesting stuff, and the world is an asshole.

I do not wish to discuss the implications of your starting equipment at this time, thank you…

Aesthetically, it works a’ight. There’s a custom uploader for character portraits, but beyond this, and the great character/monster art already in the game, the UX is mostly workmanlike, pretty clear, everything important identified… It’s solid. I can’t really say the sound effects wow me, and the music’s alright, but overall, it’s solid, and that’s cool.

Mechanically… Okay, let’s get one thing out the way right now: If you want a game that respects your time, gives you an experience that doesn’t involve a whole lot of repetition, neither this or Sapphire Wings is it. This is an old school JRPG, and you either grind or die. Now that we have the turnoff out of the way, the game’s systems are relatively simple.

Creating multiple characters is a must for the game, as party members have a limited amount of resurrects, and if you’re not using those, they’re out for quite a while, several dungeon expeditions, in fact. Levelling and classes, well, they have fixed roles, fixed trees, and stat improvement is relatively slow, but consistent. What’s important here is that the game’s length is somewhat increased by keeping characters consistent in levels, and making sure you have backup roles, in order to ensure progression is relatively smooth.

At this time in the game, these are chumps to me. Their boss, on the other hand…

You will get caught off guard by bosses. You will run away from fights. And you will be making use of all your tools, including the new feature, Freemen. Technically, the other “new” classes are not, in fact new (the Puppeteer and the Clocker, who do enemy control and time fuckery respectively), but the Freeman most definitely is, and, at first? Doesn’t seem that useful.

However, even if they can’t take to the field like any of your other heroes, they level up in base like any other party member (At a reduced rate), and their levelling benefits… Make your life easier at home. Better experience gain for folks at the base. Better rates from the smith. Other fine benefits like that.

I could say a lot more, but, apart from the big caveat of “It’s an oldschool JRPG”? It’s a really solid game, and I’d already been looking forward to this Revisited version precisely because I already knew it was a cool member of its subgenre. It comes with Sapphire City, also reviewed this month, so it’s a solid purchase overall. Give it a go, JRPG fans.

I am no stranger to Sword City. We just never got past the hatesmooches phase in our relationship.

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Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassin (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £5.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Found thingumajigger type games can be interesting. When, that is, they properly open up. Or don’t tell a random person who found a random phone that they’re looking for a doctor who isn’t actually a doctor but travels through time and space.

Y’know, just normal found mobile game stuff, which wouldn’t result in the protagonist dropping the thing in the trash or handing it into a police station or… Look, there’s immersion breaking, and then there’s “everything about this feels wrong from very early on.”

Petronella…? Petronella, honey? UNIT is sort of meant to not talk about the Doctor so much, even if the Doctor talks about the Doctor the whole time…

None of the choices I’m given seem like something I would say in the situation. Some of the clues I’d like to pass on I can’t. I’ve been handheld for approximately 17 minutes (I’ll update as I go on.) For the first twenty minutes… I don’t feel like I’m solving anything.

It does, after this point, begin to open up. But… I still feel like I’m an observer of an observer, someone who’s more watching someone else click through a phone, listening to phone calls, talking to, as mentioned, someone who just casually mentions the Doctor like it ain’t no thing… A person I’m watching who doesn’t make sense to me. In fact, every time the Doctor comes up in conversation, I wince. Because, from the outside looking in, it feels so forced.

And, at times, I feel a frustration I haven’t felt in a long time. The frustration of having to go through all dialogue options to end the conversation in question, get back to the uploading of clues. And that’s forced in, most of all, when talking about the Doctor.

If they’ve bought the game, they know who the Doctor is. They know. They don’t need Petronella Osgood to forcefeed them.

Spooky! Scary! Neither of these adjectives actually held true for me!

It’s at this point that I feel I should point out that the history of Doctor Who games (and their quality) has been… Variable, but tending toward the lower end. Which is a massive shame, because it’s an interesting franchise, with some really memorable plots (and yes, some notable stinkers.) And yet…

It tries to jumpscare me, and I merely sigh. I see the staticky bits, and I tut, noting that this is not an epileptic friendly game.

And the mystery… After an hour or so, I stopped caring. I’m surprised I lasted that long, because apart from trips to jumpscare territory (and one unskippable video of a secondary antagonist, Mr. Flint), it… Didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. It was holding my hand for a fair few portions, and, honestly, it didn’t sell the concept it was trying to pull off at any point in that hour and a half. I come away disappointed, and the history seems on course.

I have more faith in Petronella Osgood than this, game, chatty though she may be…

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Geneforge 1: Mutagen (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (£7.19 for hintbook and bonuses, somewhat recommended)
Where To Get It: Steam

Geneforge is a name with associations for me. The clunky charm of Windows 95. College. Being able to play 2nd Edition AD&D without wincing. Not all of these are dependent on the time it was released (Windows XP was the same year as Geneforge, and AD&D… Well…) But they’re associations for a reason.

Geneforge is what we would call “oldschool.” It only takes one look at the screenshots to see eras bygone in game design, and the game was, originally, pretty damn tough. Save early, save often.

Although difficulty selection is a wonderful thing, don’t you think?

“You feel a deep compulsion” are words you generally don’t want to be hearing in a tabletop game.

In any case, being an old school type RPG is both a strength and a weakness. It’s a strength, in that the developer has considered how classes might be seen by the NPCs of the game, different dialogue options exist for both classes and skills, and dialogue is rich with lore.

It’s a weakness because some design elements have never really been fixed, and combat can be brutal for the unprepared, although it does ease you in very well.

God, that UI. That UI has no scaling options, and so icons are very small, so very small. Text is not quite so small, but it’s still… This ain’t the most accessible visually, and, as an aside, you will be holding down Tab a fair bit to see what the hell is interactable, and even that won’t necessarily help you with items that are just on the floor.

But for all that, Geneforge is nonetheless an interesting RPG, with a very unique world. In it, biomagics, “shaping”, are a rigidly controlled, yet powerful magic, that has shaped its society. Small, pig like creatures with humanoid faces take the place of computers, created to be repositories of knowledge and scanners, meant to last a long time. Servant beings have been created, and…

Shapers: We make monsters for utility reasons. Also dickwaving reasons.

Look, Shapers are Not Nice People. It’s made abundantly clear early on due to the early dialogue, the matter of fact way in which the protagonist is so calm about magically created/changed beings, how he just assumes that the humanoids on the island are servants, but ones who have gone a long time without a master… What sets alarm bells in his head is the canisters, one of your prime forms of levelling up in the game. They change you, change you from the inside out, insert skills, powers into your mind, your essence. And would you look at that, they’re also Shaper creations, although banned, a dark part of the Shaper’s already dark history.

Aesthetically, it’s… It’s clunky. It’s unapologetically clunky, and clearly still made with small window sizes in full screen in mind. Nothing really scales, so at larger resolutions, like, y’know, the now common 2560×1440, it’s somewhat eyestrain inducing.

“I cast death” “Hrm, what kind of death do you cast?” “Particularly deathy death.”

Combat, well, it’s turn based, it’s action point based (you can do multiple actions in a turn if you have the points, if not, well… Boohoo), and it definitely has its nuances and interesting encounters, although it will often boil down to “Murder things horribly with the right elements.” But it’s still good, and I still like it.

Still, overall, this is, again unapologetically, a niche game. It’s for those who love the old 90s isometric RPGs, with all their jank and dialogue heavy funtimes. I enjoy it… But not everyone will, and I’d only cautiously recommend it because it’s a good example of its genre.

The Mad Welshman prefers to play with artificial life. Don’t judge.

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Crown Trick (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Hrm… Sometimes, it’s clear that you’re not having fun, be it a good or bad game. Sometimes, it’s clear that you’re having fun with a bad game. But with Crown Trick… Despite knowing it’s a well designed game… I’m not actually sure I’m having fun. And it feels awkward to say that.

Y’gotta respect a bird who wants to derring-a-doodle-doo.

The general story idea is a pretty cool one: There is a plague of nightmares upon the land, nightmares that draw people in, ne’er to return, and the last hope, the last of her world saving kind, is a child who appears to have no arms, aided by a large crown with a single, annoyed eye (generally speaking, not a sign that this assistance isn’t due to villainous ulterior motives, but that’s by the by.) And so a turn based, procedurally generated roguesortakindamaybelike begins, with shenanigans and buying stuff to improve future runs ahoy.

And make no mistake, it does interesting things with its formula, having a cool visual aesthetic, nice soundwork, and a cast of enemies and bosses that are interesting and challenging without being frustrating.

Except for Dr. Frank. Fuck that guy.

Like, you see those words, and you know he’s a bastard.

So, how does it change up the formula? Well, the level structure is more of an episode thing, with a unique final boss to each area, than a single sprawling “Beat this in one run.” It has familiars, which add special abilities to the list, interesting gimmicks in each area, and a variety of weapon types with their own quirks, such as the shotgun, which can either hit three enemies, one 2 tiles away, the other two on each side, or it can hit a single creature point blank 3 times in one shot. So yes, it’s a video game shotgun.

And, speaking of guns, the guns are… Honestly the weakest weapon type. It’s not that they don’t have powerful abilities, as the rifle can hit everything in a line within a 4 tile range, and the pistol’s final shot is a double-tap… But the clip is ridiculously small, so, unlike any other weapon type, it’s 2-4 shots, depending on the weapon, and then a turn wasted reloading. I’m sure some people like it, but it just feels less useful than, uhhh, every other weapon, including the axe, which, for best effect, needs multiple enemies right up in your face, ready to inflict pain.

Speaking of things that are of, at best, dubious use, the cursed statues and their “blessings.” Cursed chests, I’m fine with. They provide interesting little wrinkles that make you balance the risk and reward, like not being able to change weapons for three floors, bleeding until you kill an enemy, and an “everything dies in one hit, including you (except in boss fights), for 8 rooms.”

But when it came to the cursed statues and their “blessings”? The risk well outweighed the reward, every time. I had no incentive to fuck with them.

I never noticed this nice little touch when you’re dying (the zooming in, which makes for this interesting look.) But it is nice.

Okay, I’ve been bitching a lot, but this is, legitimately, well designed overall. The weapon types are, for the most part, pretty cool, and I’ve been most at home with the dual knives, which, yes, can only attack adjacent enemies… But the enemies it does attack, it fucks up, especially as you get more stun in on enemies trying to attack you. Oh, yes, the stun system is fun too. Even bosses can be stunned, with a single attack knocking 1 off the stun counter, more if they’re either attacking you, or trying to use a special ability. And naturally, once stunned, you can fuck them up at your leisure, until they’re not stunned, after which… Well, they can’t be stunned again for a certain amount of time, and you have to whittle down the counter as before, but… The damage has been done.

There’s a fair amount of depth here, the game’s pretty accessible, it’s got some great visuals and good soundwork going on… And yet, I find myself unable to determine if I’m actually having fun with it. It’s still a good game, though, so maybe you’ll have an easier time working out if you’re having fun or not.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot to say here. Because review wizard needs coffee… Badly!

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Ziggurat 2 (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (Soundtrack £4.79, bundle £17.80)
Where To Get It: Steam

Well, well, well… Ziggurat was one of those games that, if you were into arena fight roguelites (Walk into room, if room has enemies, kill them all before you leave, get stuff, rinse, repeat, boss, end level) was not bad at all. Some cool bosses, interesting weapons (some of which were, alas, crap), and carnivorous carrots aplenty. Good times.

There is little more horrifying than seeing this as you close your eyes for the last time.

So now, we have a sequel, and it’s changed the formula somewhat. Let’s start with the story. In the first game, you, a wizard from a pool of wizards (some of whom were unlockable), had to go up the Ziggurat, a prison to seal away horrific beasties, as your wizarding exam. Turns out wizards don’t fuck around when it comes to higher education.

Alas, wizards are also known, beyond deadly educational procedures, for warring over things and causing apocalypses or other terrible events. So, yay, wizard schism, the Ziggurat (reminder: Prison to seal away very bad monsters) got blown up in the war. Now you, some of the few surviving wizards, have to clean up the mess this wizarding war caused by, er… Doing what you did last time, but in discrete areas.

And this is honestly one of the more interesting changes: Rather than a strict level based structure, it’s a more quest based deal, in which solving mini dungeons gets you cool stuff and money. Which you’ll need to level up your wands, staffs, spellbooks, amulets, and alchemical/mechanical weaponry. And your wizards. And, of course, you do that by blowing the shit out of stuff with those weapons and wizards.

Oh, whaddya know, one of my screenshots with shooting in it has the little bastards in it too. God-damn carnivorous carrots, cackling and getting everywhere…

But it’s still got a ways to go right now, and it shows. As far as looks go, it’s very pretty, and you can tell the modellers on the team have been improving their craft. And the new levelling system (XP and coins are necessary) and map system are definitely an interesting change. But it does need fine tuning, as, right now, coin drops are annoyingly hard to get, and I have far more things in need of a level up than I have coins to level them up. Add in that length 1 can mean 1 floor (okay, cool) or two floors (Less cool, that’s a war of attrition it’s not so easy to get through when you’re low level), and… Yeah, it needs a little work.

Aesthetically, a definite improvement, and pretty accessible to boot. Difficulty levels appear alright, although it’s definitely recommended you try the easiest difficulty first (don’t worry, you have multiple save slots, you’re good), and I can’t really say that being easy to be backed into a corner because you don’t dare look behind you is a flaw, as it’s very much by design (and a dash-dodge means you can leap over, for example, those fucking carnivorous carrots that are the bane of my existence.)

Hrm, what with running into this guy in repeated runs, would you say… Repetition helps hammer home a point?

It’s relatively early days, though, and as far as these arena type roguesortamaybekindalikes goes, it’s not a bad one, even now.

The Mad Welshman repeats that wizards should never be allowed to be prison guards. This sort of thing ends up happening, you get monsters everywhere… It’s a nightmare.

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