AKIBA’S TRIP: Hellbound & Debriefed Review (PlayStation 4)

The action RPG that’s been stripped completely bare.

There’s no denying that Japan is responsible for some seriously messed up games. Chances are you’ve come across at least a few videogames made in Japan that are questionable at best. There are popular ones that are eccentric and outlandish (Katamari Damacy), trippy experiences that emulate what it’s like to be on hallucinogenic drugs (LSD: Dream Emulator), games featuring scantily clad macho men hurtling through space (Cho Aniki), pinball featuring squealing scantily clad girls atop the table (Senran Kagura: Peach Ball), and a plethora of games that I shouldn’t even talk about unless I want the police at my door.

Aah, Japan…

Then it should come as no surprise that the game based on fighting your foes by stripping their clothes originated in Japan, and is even set in the very heart of Japan’s world-renowned pop culture district: Akihabara. First released in 2011 exclusively in Japan for the PlayStation Portable, AKIBA’S TRIP took the unconventional and risqué concept and managed to turn it into an action RPG. Considering the PSP was on its last legs in the West during this time, the game never made its way to our shores. However, we would later receive the sequel, AKIBA’S TRIP: Undead & Undressed, on PS3, PS4, PS Vita and PC.

Now that it’s been over 10 years since the original release, AKIBA’S TRIP is back and released in English for the very first time. So strip down, take a seat, grab some Pocky, and let’s dive headfirst into Akihabara in our safe-for-work review of this borderline NSFW RPG.

Plot

As the epicentre of pop-culture, Akihabara is truly a paradise for otaku, anime fans, gamers, and cosplayers. It’s a literal heaven on earth for fans of anything nerdy. Having completed my pilgrimage to Akiba three times, I know first-hand how incredible this ward is, like a bustling city in itself, streets lined with fascinating shops and the crowds that flock to them.

Chuo Dori, the main street in Akihabara, is home to everything pop culture.

Sadly, Akihabara is in peril. Rumours are circulating of a group known as the Shadow Souls – dark, vampiric beings who take the form of regular people, and feed upon the blood of otaku. Anyone attacked by a Shadow Soul is afflicted with a curse known as Shut-in Syndrome, a disease that is quickly spreading throughout the inhabitants of the city. Those with Shut-in Syndrome become particularly vulnerable to light, and are forced to live life completely indoors, never again to venture into Akihabara’s busy streets. This plague is not only crippling Akihabara’s citizens, but even the suburb itself is at risk.

Evil has never been so cute.

That’s until one fateful day where the player encounters a particularly unique Shadow Soul, who through a tender kiss, shares her blood with the protagonist. Gaining the powers of a Shadow Soul while retaining their humanity, the player sets off on a mission to avenge his friend who has been afflicted, and in doing so stumbles across an organisation named NIRO. Together with a team of unlikely heroes known as the Freedom Fighters, a ragtag group of otaku, the protagonist and the organisation must work together to unravel the source of the Shadow Souls, and their fearless leader, the Mother Soul.

Generic otaku, ponytail otaku, maid, and… Professor Oak? What have they done to you!?

For a game that seems like it would be almost entirely fanservice, there’s quite an intricate plot to be explored in AKIBA’S TRIP. What starts out as a slow, carefree stripping spree, eventually delves into a plot brimming with deceit, intrigue, and mystery, with writing akin to a teenage fanfiction.

Gameplay

Set entirely in downtown Akihabara, the game unfolds over the course of a series of missions as the player begins to investigate the mysterious beings roaming the streets in broad daylight. Though powerful, the Shadow Souls have one distinct weakness: sunlight. By identifying these foes using a special camera, you’ll have to wail on them until their clothes are fragile enough to be torn off entirely – once completely exposed, the enemy will immediately perish in the sun like a pale otaku.

Remember, folks, a gentleman always leaves a woman’s clothes on.

However, this goes both ways. The main character, having gained the powers of a Shadow Soul, is also susceptible to sunlight, and must remain clothed at all times like a respectable human being. Enemies will have the chance to fight back and tear off your clothes if you’re not careful. This means that having a full set of equipment at all times is vital, and you’ll need to go into battle with appropriate headwear, upper and lower garments. These can also be retrieved from enemies, however the appropriate guide will need to be purchased at a shop, otherwise the clothes are simply torn and destroyed once removed.

Outside of combat, there are several other key elements to the gameplay. Quirky side missions will see the player helping out the residents of Akihabara with their odd requests, and be rewarded handsomely with some hard-earned yen. Players can also learn new skills from the Master of Stripping, who presents various challenges that will let the player earn rare clothing sets and new skills. Several minigames are also available, including an incredibly basic claw machine, quiz game, and strip scissors paper rock. Overall I enjoyed the addition of Pitter the most, which is a social network messenger that is available on the protagonist’s phone. By checking into Pitter occasionally you’ll get snippets into active missions, the goss about Akihabara, and mostly just some incredibly hilarious nerdy conversation. It’s like I’m actually on the internet!

Pitter is actually hilarious. Definitely worth checking in regularly.

Despite all the added extras in the game, there’s one particular activity you’ll likely spend most of your time doing: stripping people. Surely that’s going to be the highlight of the game, right? I mean, it’s basically all about stripping. Well about that…

Combat

To put it lightly, the combat for the most part is unenjoyable, clunky, and unresponsive. If this was a serious fighting game without any of the stupid humour or ridiculous concepts like stripping your enemies, you’d more than likely throw it immediately in the trash.

Is this game even legal?

Playing out like a generic 3-button brawler, the combat is as basic as possible. By tapping triangle you’ll attack the enemy’s headwear, square will damage their shirt, and X will pummel their trousers. An array of weapons are available, including boxing gloves, swords, books, even old computer monitors. There’s also the option to dodge and block, though I progressed throughout the entire game without using either of these. Once you’ve damaged an item of clothing enough, you’ll receive a prompt to hold down the corresponding button and be able to tear off that garment. This can also be chained into a combo, taking off clothing from multiple enemies at once in a row, which helps significantly when surrounded by numerous deadly frogs.

Be sure to watch out for gangs of frog people if you ever visit Akiba.

What initially seemed like an amusing and light-hearted concept quickly became monotonous and tedious. Every fight is exactly the same, and requires almost no tactics or skill. Even the boss fights are unbelievably plain and feel just like fighting another enemy on the street. Towards the end of the game I was dreading any further fights, as the entire ordeal became such a pain that I just wanted to end.

Visuals

I’m going to be brutally honest here. AKIBA’S TRIP is quite possibly the worst looking game of 2021. Considering it’s essentially a “remaster” of a PSP game, I wasn’t expecting too much from the graphics department, though I was expecting more than this. The updated visuals feature new character models, improved textures, and modified lighting, and full 1080 resolution, but still feel as if they belong in another era. For a game that relies heavily on fan-service and eye-candy, there’s surprisingly little to enjoy here.

Left: the original PSP visuals, Right: the updated PS4 visuals.

That being said, the game does somehow manage to replicate Akihabara quite well through its outdated visuals. The streets are based on actual locations and have distinct shopfronts that parody actual buildings in the area. Environments too feature a pleasant filtered light that washes through the skyscrapers from time-to-time, which is an attempt to modernise the PSP-era aesthetic.

Just another day in Akihabara.

Luckily, there are some redeeming features. Character art and short occasional cutscenes are now far more detailed, and have an attractive manga/anime art-style, though I only wish the same effort could have gone into the rest of the game.

Audio

The music of AKIBA’S TRIP is by none other than Toshiko Tasaki, a name you may not be familiar with, but chances are you’ve played a game featuring her music. She’s responsible for the music of the original Persona game, Persona 2: Innocent Sin/Eternal Punishment, and several of the Shin Megami Tensei games. An impressive repertoire of excellent game music! Most of the tracks are inspired by those that you might hear in the real life location – there are upbeat poppy songs, some vocaloid, and others that feel as if they would fit right into an anime series. The game does however feature a proper OP by ClariS – if only the rest of the music was up to this standard!

“Dreamin” by ClariS

On the other hand, the audio of the voice acting is easily one of the best parts of the game, and makes dialogue much more enjoyable. Each character seems to embody a particular otaku stereotype, which is emphasised through their voices and intonations. It’s easy to pick the nerdiest of characters simply by the tone of their voice, or the villains by how sly and mischievous they sound. This can be swapped between Japanese/English at any point, but if you’re playing it in English then why are you even playing this game?

Conclusion

For a game concept as ridiculous and light-hearted as stripping your enemies, AKIBA’S TRIP somehow manages to do so in a bland, boring, and sometimes even unenjoyable manner. Many aspects of the game are already showing their age, particularly the poor visuals and the unintuitive combat – it’s a game that feels like an odd experience to be playing on a modern home console. There are, however, some redeeming factors that may convince you to stick through the entire game: plenty of otaku humour, amusing dialogue, and a reasonably accurate representation of Akihabara (albeit with far more stripping than what I’ve seen when I visited). If you’re a dedicated fan of Japan and its pop culture, this game may amuse you, but if you’re not that way inclined, then you’ll only be stripped of your dignity instead.

So, why should you play it?

  • Amusing dialogue and comedy from a wide cast of characters.
  • Reasonable representation of Akihabara.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Clunky, unintuitive combat.
  • Dated visuals that look out of place on modern consoles.
  • Incredibly repetitive gameplay.
  • Story that reads like a fanfiction.

A review code on PlayStation 4 was provided for the purpose of this review. The game was played and footage captured on a PlayStation 5.

King of Seas Review: PlayStation 4

Yo ho, yo ho, is this pirate game for you?
Or, is it scraping the bottom of the pirate game barrel?

King of Seas is a pirate RPG game developed by the team at 3D Clouds and published by Team 17 now available across all platforms (PC, PS4, Xbox and Switch).  Billed as a procedurally generated pirate action role playing game, we are promised a quest-based swashbuckling adventure on the high seas with the ability to partake in ship-based cannon blasting combat.  

I like RPGs and I like pirates, so do I recommend this game?

Plot

The plot here is relatively basic, particularly as far as an RPG goes. At the beginning of the game we are offered the choice of taking on the persona of either Princess Marylou or Prince Luky, heirs to the ‘King of Seas‘ and his kingdom. We are thrown straight into action as the king sends us out on a basic trading mission to learn the ways of the seven seas.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat
This guy doesn’t look dodgy at all

Shockingly, or rather – as you were probably expecting under the circumstances – the king is murdered while we are away and furthermore the blame is laid on us…even though we couldn’t possibly have even been there to do the deed. Despite our pleas of innocence, we are sentenced to death by the Royal Navy. They track us down and our ship is destroyed – we are left for dead in the open water. Fortunately, we are found and taken to the hidden refuge of the pirates. We have no choice but to turn our back on our previous royal life and turn to the daring and intrepid way of life as a pirate. YARRR.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat

Gameplay

Gameplay is the make or break element of any game. So how does King of Seas fare?

Well, unfortunately not so great.

The game follows a mission-based structure, with your main story events and side missions easily trackable through the menu. Don’t get too excited though, as there are only three types of missions on offer here:

  1. Combat missions (go and sink that ship)
  2. Delivery missions (take this object over there)
  3. Escort missions (follow this ship over there and make sure nobody sinks it)

To start with there is little variation here in the side missions and to make matters worse the game quickly recycles the same named missions.  Because it is ‘procedurally generated’ the same mission will not always be exactly the same – you might even get asked to deliver the package to a different place this time! But that is of little benefit when the sailing itself is just lifeless and boring.

The majority of your time playing this game will be spent sailing on the ocean. Sailing very…very…VERY slowly.

To get from one side of the map to the other, even with the wind blowing your sails in the right direction, will take you at least 5 minutes. I was hoping beyond hope that a ‘fast travel’ option would become available at some stage in the game, but it was not to be. Anyone who has played The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker will know what I am talking about here. The sailing in King of Seas is just not a pleasurable experience. Even with various interludes you will come across in your travels: floating treasure, red ‘X’s hiding on the beach, trader ships you can raid and destroy… it just isn’t fun. It feels like a chore after less than an hour of gameplay and you have a long way to go after that if you want to reach the end of the game.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat
Are we there yet???

But wait. It gets worse.

As this is a game based around sailing from point A to point B you will be referring to your map very regularly. But guess what? There is NO MINIMAP. Any time you need to work out where you are or where you are going you need to open up the full map. Which pauses the game. Which makes your travel take EVEN LONGER than it was taking already. It is just a bad development decision and I can’t think of any reason why they would not include a mini-map, or at the very least a general direction marker to help you locate your next port of call.

The combat is not much better. Initial thoughts from the first few battles was that the basic idea here is good. In this ARPG you control your ship as the ‘character’ in battle. You can shoot cannons to the left or right with three types of ammunition, and equip up to 4 different ‘skills’ at the same time. Skills can be either offensive such as blasting fire directly in front of you or RELEASING THE KRAKEN to damage opposing ships, or defensive such as lowering your pirate flag as a stealth/escape manoeuvre. The skills provide a good variety and allow for some different strategies, but the main cannon attacks which are fired perpendicular to your direction of travel are just yet another frustration in this game. Obviously you need to be moving parallel to your enemies to attack them, and they need to be doing the same. It leads to most battles becoming the same type of endless circular dance.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat
Fire away…literally

There are multiple different types of ship that you can buy to use with different focuses (trade, speed, attack power), and each ship can be buffed with ‘equipment’ that amounts to the different parts of the ship – figurehead, deck type, cannonball and more. The loot-based equipment, similar to Diablo, does provide a great motivation to keep on playing the game and for me this was one of the better executed game design elements. Glorious pirate booty abounds in King of Seas, you can find it upon sinking enemy ships, simply floating around the sea in lost crates or buried under the classic red ‘X’ on the beach in a hidden cove. Additionally you can receive gifts of loot upon completing any side quest in the game along with gold and experience points. This equipment appears to provide a reasonable level of choice in how you build your ship and plan your combat against the Royal Navy…or innocent passenger ships.

The RPG ‘talent’ progression element of the game, whilst somewhat simple in nature, does give you good control over the style of gameplay you wish to use. Prefer to be a pacifist trader? You can improve your diplomacy and trading skills to take advantage of this. Want to use voodoo skills and magic to trick the Royal Navy on the open seas? Go for it. Don’t have time to muck around and want to just put all of your power into your offensive cannons? Yes please. Each basic talent has multiple stages that you can progress through up to five times with skill points for maximum boost. There are also ‘big’ skills that provide a more significant stat boost but can only be activated once. Nothing ground-breaking here, but the system works well and is easy to understand.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat

Presentation

Presentation is another let-down in the King of Seas experience. The introduction to the game is fully voiced, but after that there is no further voice-over work. The initial voice-over has its own problems as well, with what to me felt like a very forced (bad) impression of a pirate accent. The character design looks unique and promising, until you have played for more than 20 minutes and see that other than the main two characters all of the models are highly reused. Graphical assets are decent and some of the islands and structures look very interesting, but again as a procedurally generated game after a while you will start seeing repetition – and a lot of it. There is very little variation in the soundtrack with a couple of good passages that get you excited for the game, until again you have heard these little flourishes too many times. Sound effects are fine with a satisfying ‘bang’ as you fire your cannons, but nothing to write home about. Everything here just feels a bit dry and outdated.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat
Ooh, these islands have bridges… like those other ones we just saw.

I can say that one big positive for King of Seas is that there were no bugs that I came across throughout my review gameplay. The game ran smoothly, and there were no issues with any quests, visuals/sound or other gameplay performance.

Conclusion

There is a long history of both good and bad pirate games across a variety of different consoles and genre styles. From the recent Microsoft hit Sea of Thieves going all the way back to 1987 and the original ‘Sid Meyer’s Pirates!’ on Commodore 64, you have probably played a pirate game before and honestly you’ve likely played a better pirate game than this one too.

The game promises an ‘epic adventure’ on the high seas full of treachery and treasure. What it actually gives you is a mish-mash of ideas held back from reaching their full potential with bland presentation, uninspired gameplay choices and frustrating design. King of Seas tries a lot of things that you have probably seen done before in other games, but it executes them poorly and isn’t really trying to do anything new of its own.

Playing King of Seas is a bit like sailing a leaky ship with tattered sails built from the corpses of other games. You need to deal with a bumpy ride over rough seas and spend far too much time digging at that red ‘X’…only to find that what you were hoping would be a treasure chest with the sparkling jewels of a great game is actually an old barrel containing an empty bottle of rum, a rotting peg leg and a stuffed parrot.

King of Seas does have the (skull and cross-) bones of a good game. If you are willing to look past the problems here this isn’t the worst way to spend some time, but it is not the best by a long stretch. The procedurally-generated world, two protagonists and five difficulty levels (two locked until you have beaten the game once) do offer some amount of replayability. But I don’t think anyone other than a masochist would want to play through the game more than once.

My recommendation is to make this one walk the plank, unfortunately that is what it deserves.

So, why should you play it?

  • You have a lot of time to spare and like watching a ship sailing slowly across the ocean.
  • Your Roger is Jolly and your timbers are shivered by anything pirate related.

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Repetitive gameplay gets on your nerves.
  • Fast-paced action/combat with a lot of action is more up your alley.

A review code on PlayStation 4 was provided for the purpose of this review. Review gameplay was completed on PS5 console.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Announced for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch

You’re really gonna dig this game.

Strictly Limited Games brings an awesome and addictive platformer from the 80s – from legendary developer TOZAI – to PS4 and Nintendo Switch! Retro fans need to prepare themselves for a real challenge. Spelunker HD Deluxe will be available as Limited and Collector’s Edition for pre-order from Sunday, June 6th midnight (CEST) at the Strictly Limited Games Shop! The digital version for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 will follow in Q3 2021 by ININ Games. 

Dedicated retro game fans might remember the original game, which was first released for Atari 8bit computers back in 1983. Or also the PS award-winning “Spelunker HD” that was released for PS3. And now Strictly Limited Games proudly presents Spelunker HD Deluxe coming with awesome fresh graphics and a new game mode!

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

A variety of game modes and many different stages will provide players with a lot of challenges on their way to seek out the mystery that lies in the depths. All of the modes can be played as single player, but they are also supporting online multiplayer with up to six people and offline multiplayer with up to four people allowing the players to explore the caves together!

  • Adventure:
    Players can explore 100 stages by fighting and jumping their way through enemies and obstacles
  • Competition:
    The best cave explorer wins! In this mode, players can compete with their friends
  • Championship:
    The name says it all… This mode includes another 100 super-difficult, challenging stages that seek for real cave exploring experts
  • Endless Cave NEO:
    In this mode, players can compete and see how far they get in endless, randomly generated caves

Whilst exploring dark caves and avoiding getting beaten by the dangers that lurk in the depths, players can enjoy a fresh visual appeal with new 3D assets and a realistic cave atmosphere, accompanied by a catchy, memorable soundtrack. But those who prefer to keep it classic, will also get their money’s worth – the well-received “Classic Mode” that was also included in the PS3 version will still be available in Spelunker HD Deluxe. So retro fans can enjoy beautiful nostalgic pixel graphics and 8-bit sound for the original Spelunker experience like back in the early 80s.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

Players that are ready for a real challenge can get themselves an awesome limited Edition at the Strictly Limited Games Shop.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

The Limited Edition Features:

  • Game for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4
  • Booklet
  • Individually Numbered

The Limited Edition is available for €29.99 and limited to 2700 copies for Nintendo Switch and 1500 copies for PlayStation 4.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

The Collector’s Edition Features:

  • Game for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4
  • Collector’s Edition Box
  • Spelunker Figure
  • Glow-in-the-Dark Sticker
  • Flyer
  • Large Reversible Poster
  • Soundtrack
  • Level Guide
  • Booklet
  • Individually numbered

The Collector’s Edition is available for €59.99 and limited to 1300 copies for Nintendo Switch and 700 copies for PlayStation 4. If you’re wanting to secure a copy, before sure to keep an eye on this link for when the pre-orders go live, as they won’t last long: https://store.strictlylimitedgames.com/collections/spelunker

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster Review: PS4/PS5

Reawaken your inner demon in this cult classic devilish JRPG, resurrected from the depths of hell.

When speaking about the JRPG genre, few series have gained notoriety in recent years as much as Persona. This massively popular series from Japanese developers, Atlus, has become an easily-recognizable staple of modern gaming thanks to its stylish anime visuals, catchy soundtracks, and colourful casts of characters. Though unbeknownst to many Persona fans, these games themselves are spin-offs of much a larger series, with roots deeply intertwined within the dark, devil-summoning origins of Megami Tensei.

Making its debut in 1987 for PC and NES exclusively in Japan, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei introduced a role-playing experience full of mature themes and grim undertones. Unlike most other light-hearted RPGs, which were primarily focused on traditional fantasy, this series had the player making deals alongside devils and demons in a hopeless and often depressing setting. Although popular in Japan, the series raised much controversy due to its mature content, distressing themes, and use of religious characters and imagery, making localization challenging.

Megami Tensei NES
The original Megami Tensei on NES.

This was until Nocturne.

The first mainline Shin Megami Tensei game to be released outside of Japan, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne originally launched in 2003 on the PlayStation 2, the following year in the US, and 2005 in Europe as a “director’s cut” version titled Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer’s Call. Despite remaining very much a niche JRPG, the game managed to receive overwhelmingly-positive reviews and cemented the series within a Western audience. Since then, numerous other Megami Tensei games have seen international releases across multiple console generations.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne PS2
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne on PlayStation 2.

Now over 15 years since its release, Nocturne, much like the post-apocalyptic Tokyo in which it is set, has been born again and revived in a brand new HD Remaster for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Though this begs the question: has this cult classic stood the test of time, or has it been outdone by the Persona series for which it is responsible?

Plot

All good JRPGs are set in Tokyo. That’s exactly where Nocturne begins: in the sprawling metropolis that is the heart of Japan. Playing as an unnamed silent protagonist, the story begins as a regular day in the city when tasked to meet up with fellow classmates and visit his school teacher in hospital. The hospital however is eerily quiet and the teacher is nowhere to be found – instead a mysterious figure attempts to take the protagonist’s life. It’s soon revealed that all those within the hospital are to be spared from the impending “Conception”: the destruction and rebirth of the world, which will annihilate all life and rebuild anew.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
If your hospital looks like this, maybe find another hospital.

Having conveniently survived the apocalypse, the player is beckoned by an unholy voice and infused with the power of demons: a Magatama. Undergoing changes even more confronting than those of puberty, the protagonist is forcibly morphed into an accursed “Demi-Fiend“, a forsaken being neither human nor demon. The newfound powers of the Magatama allow the protagonist not only to communicate with demons, but to recruit them to his bidding (a key gameplay element of the series).

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Sick tatts, Demi-Fiend.

Upon leaving the hospital, Tokyo now lays in complete ruins, having been reconstructed into a spherical “Vortex World” where the majority of the game takes place. Now occupied by two opposing demonic cults, The Mantra Army and The Assembly of Nihilo, these warring factions seek to take control of the Vortex World and rebuild it as their own creation. This can be only be achieved through the manipulation of Magatsuhi (a term you’re going to hear a LOT in Nocturne), the life essence extracted from the suffering of living beings, particularly a race of disturbing artificial humans known as the Mannikins.

Though ultimately it comes down to the Demi-Fiend to decide whose pursuit to rebuild the world may succeed. In discovering new areas of the Vortex World and recruiting demons for your cause, it falls upon you to unravel the motives of each cult and their leaders, and oversee the fate of all who are left within this post-apocalyptic demonic dystopia. It’s a bleak, morbid, and often depressing narrative that is absolutely gripping from start to finish.

Gameplay

Nocturne is very much a traditional JRPG, and features most of the gameplay staples that you would come to expect of the genre, which is divided into several key elements: exploration, dungeons full of clever environmental puzzles, intuitive combat, and character/party customisation.

The Vortex World acts as an overworld hub, which represents Tokyo and is split into areas based on each real-life suburb. Having been to Tokyo multiple times I found it quite amusing to stumble across places that I recognised (though in a dilapidated state). Traversing this overworld as a simple icon allows you to enter more detailed locations, dungeons and labyrinths, where the majority of the game takes place. Most dungeons feature brilliant designs making exploration thoroughly enjoyable, and include puzzles to hinder your progress which will at times require some serious thought.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
I don’t remember seeing this in Tokyo.

Exploration is made even more satisfying with the souls of the deceased and disturbing demons also scattered throughout the new world. These offer hilarious dialogue in between the plot details obtained by conversing with them. Also featured is a quick travel system known as the Amala Network, where you travel via mystical steel drums that are linked together by some sort of satanic internet.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
I guess it’s like a demonic internet modem?

Those who have played Persona will be immediately familiar with many aspects of the combat, as the summoning and fusion of Persona is directly inspired by the demon summoning found within Nocturne. During battle you play solely as the Demi-Fiend but possess the ability to recruit and summon up to three different demons to fight alongside you in combat, each of whom offer a unique skillset. Demons can be recruited during combat by talking to them, offering up items as a sacrifice, or sometimes even seducing them.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Some demons even run shops, like everyone’s favourite, Jack Frost, ho!

Outside of combat, party customisation comes in the form of swapping demons to/from the player’s stock, which expands with progression through the game. Stopping by the Cathedral of Shadows will also allow the registration and fusion of demons, creating stronger compatriots that cannot be obtained elsewhere. This element of gameplay is akin to the iconic “Velvet Room“, which provides the same service in the Persona series.

However, in a disturbingly un-RPG fashion, there is no equipment in the entire game. No weapons, armour, or even accessories. This is completely replaced by the Magatama: spiritual stones which are acquired throughout the game. By swapping Magatama, the Demi-Fiend’s stats will change and grow differently upon levelling up, providing varying skills that can be chosen and swapped out based on a particular play style. At first it was jarring not to have typical RPG equipment, but eventually I became accustomed to the Magatama which is a simple and satisfying system.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Magatamas: gotta ingest ’em all.

Visuals

Those spoiled by the incredibly stylish visuals of Persona 5 may have a hard time stepping back into a visual style like Nocturne, which in comparison appears very rough around the edges. Despite being a “HD Remaster,” it’s still immediately obvious that Nocturne is a PlayStation 2 game. The cel-shaded 3D graphics almost seem to scream the early 2000s era. But is this a bad thing? Not quite. Technical limitations of the era meant that graphical fidelity instead had to be enhanced by artistic direction and clever design.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
An abandoned school, one of the more atmospheric areas in the game.

Despite the lack of detail when compared to modern JRPGs, Nocturne manages to create a setting and atmosphere that is equal parts intriguing and disturbing. This is achieved through distinct environments that are often eye-catching and key characters/NPCs that blend modern Japanese society with a hint of the macabre.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Shibuya Scramble Crossing looking a bit empty.

Soundtrack/Audio

Shoji Meguro – maybe you’ve heard the name? Atlus’ in-house composer has been creating music for the series since the mid ’90s and has since become one of the most praised creators of videogame music. Known for his use of electronic, rock and jazz genres within the SMT/Persona series, Nocturne is a prime example of Meguro’s distinct musical style. Tracks vary from ambient and eerie through to frantic and fast-paced with everything in-between. It’s not quite the peppy J-Pop or acid jazz that has since become synonymous with Meguro, but it’s representative of his earlier creations and features tracks that fit with the melancholy and depressing nature of Nocturne. Check out the track “Tokyo Conception” for one of the more dramatic pieces in the game.

To accompany the soundtrack, a cast of characters ranging from delightfully devilish to downright demonic demonstrate voice acting performances that are some of the best from the PS2 era. The acting can be tense, genuine or convey legitimate emotion, and at times it can be comedic and cheesey (particularly some of the lines delivered by demons). Most importantly, it is at all times entertaining. The HD Remaster also now includes the option to swap between the original Japanese voice acting and the English dub which is a nice touch! My only complaint is that I wish there were more of it – we’ve become spoiled by modern games with full voice acting.

Extras

Nocturne and the Shin Megami Tensei series as a whole have gained a reputation for notorious difficulty. Though at times this can certainly be the case, the HD Remaster now offers a Merciful difficulty which caters to those simply wanting to enjoy the story with minimal challenge. Absolute masochists may even get a kick out of a fiendish hard mode (which I wouldn’t dare touch). This can be changed at any time and helps to make the game far more accessible for a wider audience. Throughout the game I found myself comfortably playing at the standard difficulty, though I did on occasion drop it down to Merciful to avoid frustration or tiresome grinding.

One of the other notable extras in the game is an block puzzle minigame that is thankfully completely optional. It’s reminiscent of early DOS games like Chip’s Challenge and has 20 levels of block-pushing madness that steadily increase in difficulty. After attempting to complete this and failing miserably, I have incredible respect for anyone who manages to finish all levels without the use of a walkthrough. I’d argue it’s tougher than the game itself.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
I’ll be happy to never see this again.

Conclusion

Not only is this one of the finest JRPGs available on the PlayStation 2, but it’s an excellent entry point for exploring more of the Shin Megami Tensei series, especially for fans who have only been exposed to Persona. Now made more accessible thanks to the HD Remaster, anyone with a PlayStation 4/5 or Nintendo Switch has no excuse to try out this cult classic. Once you look past elements of the game that are now quite dated, you’ll experience an enthralling JRPG that is almost singlehandedly responsible for all other Atlus titles in the West that have followed it.

My recommendation? Don’t sleep on Nocturne.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’d call yourself a fan of the Persona games.
  • Never played any of the previous Shin Megami Tensei games? This is the perfect entry point.
  • Looking for a gripping, JRPG full of dark, mature themes? Look no further.
  • Plenty of difficulty options for those who might have previously struggled.
  • Featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Played the original to completion? You might give the HD Remaster a pass then.
  • Enjoy upbeat, happy games? Stay well away from Nocturne.

A PlayStation 4 review copy was provided for the purpose of this review. The game was played on PlayStation 5.

Rez Infinite Review – PS4/PS5

Take a trip through the infinite to experience true synaesthesia.

As most PlayStation 4 and 5 owners will (hopefully) be aware – Sony are encouraging people to do the right thing during the COVID-19 global pandemic by giving out a stack of 11 free games to motivate people around the world to stay safe by staying at home. The best part of this deal is that you don’t even need to be a PlayStation Plus subscriber to take advantage of this generous offer. Amazingly, as long as you add the games to your library while the offer is up, the games will be remain available for you permanently to download and play at any time in the future.

By the time you are reading this you have likely missed out on the first available game, Ratchet and Clank 2016, as this was only available to 31 March 2021. But this is your warning to get off your arse and go add the current batch of 9 games to your library RIGHT NOW…so you can sit back down on your arse to get in some quality gaming. Even if you don’t currently have access to a PSVR headset, there is literally no reason to not add the VR only games including the first appearance of the lovable PS5 mascot Astro Bot in Astro Bot Rescue Mission (a great game in its own right).

In addition to the aforementioned Ratchet and Clank 2016 there are some absolute winners here in Sony’s offering that deserve your attention. The survival indie classic Subnautica, atmospheric mystery/puzzler The Witness and bullet-hell rouge-like dungeon-crawler Enter the Gungeon are all high-quality games that have scored well with both critics and player communities alike. Even more crazily, from 19 April 2021 the game-of-the-generation contender Horizon Zero Dawn will also be FREE to download – and that is the ‘Complete Edition’ with additional DLC included!

But what I’m here today to tell you is that there is a better game on the free list. A game that in my mind is an outright classic across the entire history of video games. Yes, a game that is better than Ratchet and Clank, better than Subnautica and BETTER THAN HORIZON ZERO DAWN (I said it)- and that game is Rez Infinite.

Play at Home 2021 update: 10 free games to download this Spring
It is the first game on the list. Sony knows what’s up.

I should clarify that Rez Infinite is not the type of game that everyone will enjoy. The ‘on-rails shooter’ genre died out a long time ago as technology passed it by. But Rez it is a truly unique gaming experience that makes the most of the human senses of sight, hearing and touch to invite the player to enter the trance-like state known as ‘flow’ more than anything else this lifelong gamer has had the pleasure of playing.

Rez was originally released on the Sega Dreamcast and PS2 in Japan in November 2001, with western releases following on those consoles through early 2002. The original game saw an HD remaster release in January 2008 that was only available on the Xbox 360.

The version now available as part of the Play at Home package is the fully updated PlayStation 4 release ‘Rez Infinite’, which includes full PlayStation VR compatibility and a whole new game area created specifically for the Rez Infinite version that provides a whole new way of playing the game while also making the most of current technology of Unreal Engine 4. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to PSVR (or Oculus, where Rez Infinite is also playable) so I can’t provide comment on that mode of play. But I can say that when I do eventually enter the VR world, Rez Infinite will be the first thing I play.

PLOT

The plot of Rez is as bare bones as you can get. Set in the near future, an online network known as “K Project” is created to manage the massive amounts of data through the power of an AI called Eden. As you might guess, the AI is unable to understand the evil and corruption of the human race and begins to doubt its purpose and existence. Rather than going all Skynet, Eden escapes to the depths of cyberspace and shuts down. You play as a hacker attempting to ‘rescue’ Eden from digital infection (viruses) and wake her to fulfil her role in helping humanity.

…Lets be honest, you aren’t playing Rez for the Plot.

What does it want? To stop you moving forward. Why? I dunno…

GAMEPLAY

The simple controls of Rez have not been changed over the past 20 years. The left stick moves the small targeting reticule around the screen, when over your target you press X to shoot a single shot, or hold X to charge up to 8 shots across up to 8 separate targets. All shots ‘home’ in on your enemies or powerups, but don’t think that makes the game easy. This system comes with an inbuilt risk/reward play style. If you always try and charge to the maximum 8 shots then you might not have time to get another shot out to hit that newly spawned projectile coming your way. However, the process of charging is much faster than mashing out 8 individual shots, especially for the enemies that take multiple hits – some more than 8.

Locked on and charging up.

Through each level you may be lucky enough to pick up ‘Overdrive’ charges. Overdrive charges are your typical ‘bomb’ attack that will take out everything on the screen for about 5 seconds. You can hold up to 4 Overdrive charges at once, and there are some sections of the game where you will absolutely need these if you want to avoid taking a hit.

Old-school controls come with old school difficulty. There are no gameplay difficulty settings available here to make things easier for you. Starting from Area 1 your avatar will be level 1, meaning you can take a maximum of two hits. As you play through the game and shoot down your enemies, they will occasionally drop ‘progress nodes’. Collecting 8 progress nodes will allow your avatar to level up to a maximum of level 5, with each level allowing you to take another hit before dying.

Sometimes the enemy itself is the least of your problems.

There are 5 Areas in the base game each with its own unique boss. Each boss battle actually comes in three difficulty levels (Mega, Giga and Tera) which are based on your performance though the Area – the game adjusts somewhat to your skill level in terms of boss difficulty, though the easier ‘Mega’ bosses can still pack a punch. The Bosses are definitely a highlight of the game and challenge you while never feeling unfair.

Area 1 boss battle. Form of: psychedelic disco octopus.

On completion of the base game and reaching specific score ratings, you will unlock additional game modes such as boss rush and score attack. It will take new players, particularly those new to this sub-genre of games, multiple attempts to even finish the areas beyond Area 1, and even longer to get ‘100%’ completion ratings. At its core, like any shooter, Rez is an exercise in pattern recognition, memory, and visual awareness. The more you play the better you get, and the more of this magnificent title you get to experience.

The addition of ‘Area X’ to the PlayStation 4 version provides a new way to play Rez. Not only are the visuals and audio massively upgraded (even beyond the HD update), but you are no longer confined to the one-directional ‘on-rails’ control scheme, and can now rotate in full 360 degrees. There was clearly a lot of love put into the latest update to the team, and Area X almost feels like a sequel in terms of quality.

VISUALS/DESIGN/SOUND

THIS is where Rez truly shines. For this title it is impossible to separate visuals, design and sound due to the way they are so intricately intertwined. Furthermore, every element of the gameplay builds upon the core focus the game – to immerse you in the sights and sounds of Rez.

At the start of each Area the soundtrack, sound effects and visuals are minimal. As you progress each button you press, each shot that you fire and each enemy that you destroy builds upon the soundscape and atmosphere. Each Area contains 10 sections known as ‘Layers’. Cracking each progressive layer of security will further enhance the sound and visual experience of the Area, always for the better.

Unlocking the next layer, unlocking the beats.

What starts as the occasional snare drum hit and synth chord evolves as you play into a full-blown tune. And I mean TUNE. New instruments can be added to the soundtrack, the additional sounds you trigger when shooting enemies will change and the wire-frame visuals will twist and morph from simple lines into pulsating pyramids, forests and temples. All of the tracks are electronic music and that might not be your jam. But if you like a lick of EDM, a dash of Drum and Bass, or a sliver of psy-trance – this game is for you.

I find myself uncontrollably becoming a member of the Night at the Roxbury crew so often when playing Rez that I fear I will wake up the next day needing a solid physiotherapy session.

See the source image


Each of the core game’s 5 Areas and Area X contain a discrete audio-visual experience. Effectively giving you the feeling that you are inside a computer. Think along the lines of Tron…has anybody seen the movie Tron?

The pure sense of synaesthesia is most apparent the in the original Rez’s breathtaking final Area. It is one of my favourite levels in all of video games and it deserves to be preserved in an art gallery for future generations.

CONCLUSION

Rez Infinite is not a new game. It is a remastered version of a game from 20 years ago that was pretty much the swansong of its genre.

It is a niche retro experience that in all honesty is not for everyone. It can, at times, be brutally difficult. But if you enjoy a great shooter, if you are an audio-visual buff, or if anything said above piques your interest in the slightest, I urge you to give Rez Infinite a try.

Rez Infinite is simply the pinnacle of the rail shooter genre.

So, why should you play it?

  • Electronic music is your thing
  • You want to experience unmatched audio-visual synaesthesia
  • Um, its FREE

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  •  …uh, maybe if you don’t own (or have access to) a PS4 or PS5

People, its FREE.

The current Play at Home selection of 9 games, including Rez Infinite, will be free right through to 22 April 2021, so what the hell are you waiting for?!

Note: I own this game on PS2 and I also paid for the Rez Infinite version loooong before the Play at Home games were announced.

Persona 5 Strikers Review – PS4/PS5

They might be Strikers, but this time the Phantom Thieves have hit another home run.

Warriors spin-off games are everywhere. No series is safe.

What originally started as a fighting game similar to the Soulcalibur series, soon evolved into a genre of its own with the PS2 launch title: Dynasty Warriors 2. This game coined the term “crowd-combat“, placing the player on an open battlefield fighting 1 vs 100 against swarms of enemies at once interspersed with stronger bosses in what is often referred to as a musou game (literally translates to Warriors in Japanese). Originally these games were focused on the Three Kingdoms period in China and featured historical settings and characters locked in feudal war. However, it was not long before the influence of these games began to spread to other series:

The Legend of Zelda became Hyrule Warriors (and Age of Calamity).
Fire Emblem became Fire Emblem Warriors.
One Piece became One Piece: Pirate Warriors.
Gundam became Dynasty Warriors: Gundam.
…the list goes on!

And now Persona is the latest series to fall victim with Persona 5 Strikers.
But the catch? It barely feels like a Warriors game at all. Read on to find out why!

PLOT

Set only months after the events of Persona 5 (the base game, not Royal, so no Kasumi), protagonist and leader of the infamous Phantom Thieves, Joker, decides to get the gang back together again for a reunion. Upon gathering the crew, the group discover a popular new phone app known as EMMA taking the world by storm. After attending a public meet and greet with pop star, Alice Hiiragi, the Phantom Thieves are given a calling card and discover they can use the app to enter the Metaverse allowing them to explore new “Jails” to confront the shadow versions of people behaving abnormally in real life. It’s a premise much the same as those of Persona 5.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Jail
Yeah, I don’t think real life jails usually look like this…

Several new characters are introduced and are key to the plot of the game. Early on you come across an artificial intelligence affectionately named Sophia, who becomes a playable character in the metaverse and essentially lives inside Joker’s phone. In the place of Sae Nijima (the prosecutor from the original game), the team now begin working alongside police inspector, Zenkichi Hasegawa, and must determine whether he is friend or foe.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Characters Zenkichi
“How do you do, fellow Phantom Thieves?”

Shortly after the initial events set in Tokyo/Shibuya, the Phantom Thieves set off on a road trip. Literally. In an oversized camper van that becomes their mobile base, you explore new settings around Japan and discover new jails to uncover those responsible. It feels almost like a coming-of-age story, but makes for an amusing setting and a creative way to explore new regions.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Futaba Holiday Road Trip
Even the Phantom Thieves need to take time off occasionally.

GAMEPLAY

Many Persona staples make a return in Strikers, making the game feel far much more like a follow-up than a Warriors spin-off. I had to regularly remind myself I wasn’t playing a true sequel to Persona 5, as it’s quite easy to forget. And that’s a good thing!

Elements like Persona collection and fusion return, and will see you making regular trips to the Velvet Room in-between missions. Managing your team and their equipment is still an important aspect – the only difference is you no longer visit physical stores (so no more Airsoft Shop or Takemi Clinic), instead all of your items are ordered online and delivered directly to the Hideout. There is also still plenty of character interaction and amusing dialogue, though “social links” now have been completely replaced with a simplified “bond level” that allows you to unlock and upgrade various abilities.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Lavenza Velvet Room
It’s real velvet.

Overall the gameplay is quite simple and easily approachable: as you progress through the story you’ll trigger scripted events in which you explore new Jails (which are essentially large dungeons). These dungeons involve solving puzzles, clever areas of platforming, and of course plenty of combat which is certainly the highlight of the game. You’ll fight swarms of enemies and bosses to progress further through the Jail, and eventually confront the Monarch at the end in order to change their corrupted heart.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Gameplay Jail
The first Jail, which has an Alice in Wonderland theme.

COMBAT

It really wouldn’t be a Warriors game without button-mashing combat and swarms of enemies, but Strikers does incredibly well in allowing this combat to feel as much like the original game as possible. Although it is no longer turn-based and instead gives the player full control over their character’s movement, it incorporates many of the aspects of Persona’s combat:

  • Personas: during combat you can call upon your Persona. If you’re playing as Joker you can pause time, swap Personas mid-combat, and cast spells and abilities on the fly.
  • Your party: you can play as any combination of 4 of the Phantom Thieves (and some guests!) during combat and swap between them using the D-pad. Though characters other than Joker are limited to using only their own Persona.
  • Strengths, weaknesses, and all-out attacks: choosing your abilities is crucial in combat, and by exploiting enemy weakness you’ll be able to knock them down. Once enemies are down then in true Persona fashion a stylish and devastating all-out attack can be performed.
  • Ambushes: enemies can be attacked from behind or above and be swiftly and stealthily dealt with.
Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch All Out Attack Take Your Heart
The all-out attacks are still as satisfying as they were in the original game.

There are also new additions to the combat not previously found in Persona 5, most of which work in favour to make the action-based combat much more engaging:

  • Environmental attacks: each area has unique aspects that you can use during combat (for example, a party-themed area may have party poppers that can be activated to stun an enemy).
  • Ranged weapons: each character has their own ranged weapon with a limited amount of ammo.
  • Showtime attacks: defeating enemies will charge your Showtime Gauge which, when full, allows you to unleash a devastating and visually-impressive attack to clear the battlefield.
Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Showtime Attack
The showtime attacks definitely are the star of the show.

Considering it’s such a massive part of the game and will probably take up the majority of your time, it’s satisfying to know that the combat not only takes many elements from Persona 5, but somehow manages to improve upon them all while maintaining the game’s distinct visual style…

VISUALS AND STYLE

Of course one of the most impressive features of Persona 5 is its stylish visual aesthetic. Every character movement and action is done with flare and an effortless coolness. And it’s not just the animated cutscenes, environments or combat that are impressive; even the game’s loading screens, menus and inventories are an absolute pleasure. Well thankfully Strikers does the series justice and manages to maintain the distinct elegant graphics in its environments, animations, UI, and animated cutscenes (which swap between pre-rendered CGI and stylised anime).

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Stylish Menu
I could seriously watch these menus for hours.

In keeping the distinct visual style, Strikers manages to feel like a legitimate follow-up to Persona 5 rather than a simple spinoff. However, visuals are only part of P5’s style, as it’s the smooth acid jazz soundtrack that really tops it off.

SOUNDTRACK

Originally composed by series sound director, Shoji Meguro, the music to Persona 5 ranges from smooth jazz and lounge music all the way to big band, electronic and intense upbeat tracks like Rivers in the Desert. Though he was not involved directly in the music for Strikers, many of the tracks from the original game have been incorporated, rearranged or remixed, and are also available if you have a Persona 5 or Royal save file.

The brand new compositions in Strikers feel right at home among the original tracks, and have a much more upbeat tempo fitting of a Warriors game. In particular, many of the battle themes really stand out in this soundtrack and will hype you up while facing off against a challenging enemy.

CONCLUSION

So what’s most impressive about Persona 5 Strikers? It’s the fact that it feels more like a legitimate follow-up to Persona 5 than it does a Warriors spin-off. In retaining the best aspects of Persona 5, Strikers manages to blend its action-based gameplay perfectly into the world of the Phantom Thieves, and unlike other Warriors games does not at all feel forced, repetitive, or unnecessarily padded.

If you’re a die-hard Persona fan and love the series for its characters and story, then Strikers is a rewarding return to the world of the Phantom Thieves. You won’t be turned off by the combat either, as it manages to incorporate aspects of turn-based combat to create an almost hybrid style of battle. My only gripe is the lack of Social Links/Major Arcana, instead being replaced by a dumbed-down “bonds” system that does not feel anywhere near as engaging or rewarding.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Ann

So why should you play it?

  • You crave more Persona goodness and enjoy the series.
  • Stylish anime visuals, combat and cutscenes appeal to you.
  • Turn-based combat tends to get a bit boring.
  • The satisfaction of destroying swarms of enemies and over-the-top attacks is unparalleled.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • As a JRPG fanatic you’d only ever play games with turn-based combat.
  • Social Links were the most enjoyable part of Persona for you.

Persona 5 Strikers is available on both Playstation 4, PC and Nintendo Switch. A review code (PS4) was provided for the purpose of this review, though the game was played on a Playstation 5 and performance may vary.

Natsuki Chronicles Review – PS4/PS5

The shoot ’em up is still alive and well and flying guns-blazing out of bullet hell.

It’s time to go back in time to an era where sweaty teenagers were jammed into dimly-lit arcades. To a simpler time of basic controls, where a joystick and a couple of buttons was really all you needed. When depleting credits either meant you scrounged for more coins, gave up, or faced the odds through an onslaught of bullets.

This was the age of the shoot ’em up (affectionally termed the shmup). A truly iconic genre and a classic staple of The Golden Age of Video Games. Games that feature the player facing off against waves of enemies, screens littered with bullets, an array of ship upgrades, weapon enhancements, and massive boss battles.

Shoot Em Up Gradius 1942 Ikaruga
Left to right: Gradius III, 1942, Ikaruga.

You’ll probably be familiar with games like the classic Gradius or 1942, or more recent titles like Geometry Wars and the critically-acclaimed Ikaruga. It’s a genre that spans decades, with the highly-influential Space Invaders being considered one of the earliest titles in the genre.

Though shmups aren’t quite as popular as they once were, there are still games that are keeping the genre alive, and today I’m writing about one that completely took me by surprise: Natsuki Chronicles. The developers, Qute Corporation (what a cute name), are quite experienced in creating games of this genre, and this game occurs in parallel to their previous title, Ginga Force.

Natsuki Chronicles PS4 PS5 Boss Fight
Yep, you’re supposed to dodge those. Good luck!

PLOT

You play as budding pilot young Natsuki Sugiura aboard a ship by the name of Dominator and is a new member of the planet’s Rapid Defence Force (RDF). The game follows a story linked to its predecessor and is scattered with character dialogue and short cutscenes at the beginning of each mission. Although the story feels somewhat tacked on and certainly is one of the weaker parts of the game, that’s perfectly fine, because nobody plays a shmup for the story. It’s all about the gameplay. Thankfully this is where Natsuki Chronicles goes above and beyond.

GAMEPLAY

The game has two modes: story and arcade mode. Both take you through 10 main levels, each in a distinct environment with set patterns of enemies, plenty of hazards, and a challenging boss fight at the end. During the story mode you start each stage only being allowed to take 3 hits (which slowly recharge), but as you progress further through the stage this contributes towards stage XP, overall XP, and credit points which you can spend on weapons and upgrades.

With each failure your stage XP increases and unlocks additional shields to use during the level. Every additional shield will allow you to progress slightly further through the level until you reach the perfect point where you have just enough to take down the boss. Some bosses are brutal and will require a full set of shields, but never felt unfair or overly difficult. It’s a perfect way to adapt the difficulty based on the player’s proficiency.

Natsuki Chronicles PS4 PS5 Boss Fight
You’re gonna need every shield you can get.

Over the course of the game you’ll begin to level up and unlock an array of armaments. You can choose to change your main weapon, sub weapon and special weapon with an almost limitless number of combinations. Whether you have a play-style that best suits a hard-hitting focused beam, bullets that spread out and cover the entire screen, or a homing attack so you can focus on dodging instead. There’s something for everyone! Certain weapons are also suited for particular stages: a level with lots of walls requires a weapon that can fire through them, or a level with lots of enemies approaching from behind requires weapons that can fire backwards.

Natsuki Chronicles PS4 PS5 Ship Customisation Equipment
The equipment screen, which allows you to change your weapons prior to the level.

VISUALS

Playing on PS5, the game runs at 4K and maintains a consistently smooth framerate, and as such is highly responsive and looks detailed and clean. Though the game is far from a visual marvel, the environments of each level are a pleasure to look at and the enemies have a distinct cartoonish appearance allowing them to stand against the background. The same goes for your ship: the Dominator; even when the screen is jam-packed with bullets you’ll rarely lose track of yourself. The game also aides you with warning lines to mark the trajectory of incoming bullets, which comes in handy during particularly difficult sections of the game.

Natsuki Chronicles PS4 PS5 Boss Fight Visuals
At least this boss is an easy target!

EXTRAS

During the story mode there are also extra “training missions” and certain levels that allow you to pilot a much larger ship that launches a literal wall of bullets. Each level in the game can also be played on one of four difficulties; I played through the entire game on Normal and felt this was a reasonable challenge. If you’re a bullet hell maniac then by all means play on Hard and above, but I would not recommend this for the regular player.

Natsuki Chronicles PS4 PS5 Boss Fight Extras Arcade Mode
Try throwing dollar coins at the screen during arcade mode for an authentic experience.

Arcade mode also offers a more challenging version of the game, as you collect power-ups while progressing through each level. Getting hit forces you to lose a power-up instead of a shield, meaning that dodging bullets is even more important. Once you aim for the hi-score you’ll be able to upload it onto the global leaderboard in order to gloat to your friends. I got #100 globally after a few tries which was satisfying, so fans of arcade gameplay are likely to get decent replay value out of this mode.

The soundtrack by composer Yousuke Yasui is also one of the game’s best features. Its fast-paced beats, retro style and funky bass lines feel straight out of the ’80s and are incredibly fitting alongside the frantic gameplay. He’s no stranger to shmups, as the composer has created music for a massive list of games including the previous Qute games, multiple Touhou series games, Under Defeat HD, and outside of the genre even 3D Dot Game Heroes! It’s well worth a listen even after having finished the game.

CONCLUSION

Overall the campaign took about 8 hours to complete (with many deaths along the way), and during this I ended up unlocking a majority of the weapons and trophies along the way. It’s quite a lengthy campaign for a shmup game and felt like good value for the time that I committed. The vast options for weaponry along with a clever level-up system and adaptable difficulty make it one of the best modern shmups I’ve encountered. If you’re a fan of the genre you’d be a fool to go past Natsuki Chronicles.

So why should I play it?

  • You enjoy the shoot ’em up genre.
  • Lengthy games are too time-consuming – something quick and engaging is more suitable.
  • Space ships, guns and bullets (lots of them) are your thing.
  • Arcade gaming is a fond memory for you.

But why shouldn’t I play it?

  • You dislike repetition and would rather not play through the same levels repeatedly.
  • Hundreds of bullets on screen at once would give you a heart attack.

Thanks to Rising Star Games and Plan of Attack for providing a PS4 review code for the purpose of this review. The game was played on a PS5 console.

Biomutant Collector’s Editions Revealed

THQ Nordic have announced that Biomutant will be out for PC, PlayStation®4, and Xbox One on May 25th, 2021. Two collector’s editions of the game will be available:

The ultra deluxe Atomic Edition for $599.95 which will probably take up half a room includes:

  • High Detail Diorama – 60cm/23″ long, 25cm/10″ width, 30cm/12″ height
  • Game Biomutant
  • Steelbook
  • T-Shirt in L/XL
  • Oversized Mousepad 80cm/31″ x 35cm/14″
  • Artwork on Fabric A1 size
  • Soundtrack
  • Premium Box
Digital mockup of the Atomic Edition.

If you’re not willing to drop nearly $600 on a sweet diorama, the collector’s edition will set you back $199.95 and includes:

  • Game Biomutant
  • Game hero figurine
  • Artwork on Fabric A1 size
  • Soundtrack
  • Premium Box
Digital mockup of the Collector’s Edition.

More information on the game will be released in the next weeks and months. At this stage there has been no announcement of PS5 and Xbox Series S|X versions of the game.