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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Life is Strange: Episode 3 Chaos Theory - Review

Well, here we are again... Wait, have I said that before? Anyway, once again (after quite the wait) Life is Strange is back with a new episode. Although if you've already played the other two episodes you may already think you know what to expect, I'm going to come out and say it now -- you don't! With the other two episodes, things were quite different. Episode 1 was an intro that either got players interested or pushed them away, and Episode 2 was sort of that in between one. Yes it was fine and all, and it was also where some of the other core gameplay features came into play, but it was more of an expansion of the intro, and it set the stages for what was to come. In other words, it all lead up to this -- the episode which may be the deciding factor on how good this game really will become. It's a big one, and the "true" start of what may possibly be a game none of us will ever forget. Now, with that being said, let us get on with the review.

The Story:

Life is Strange is a game about life -- sort of. It follows the story of a young girl named Max as she returns to her home town to attend a famous arts school and follow her dream of becoming an ace photographer. Of course, things aren't that simple. Upon returning, she finds her old home town a shell of what it once was. She learns of her best friend's dad's death, she hears about a missing girl, she watches as her new friends are bullied, and she sees how the people in the town are struggling simply to get by. Everything is a mess, and it's almost like a dark cloud constantly lurks above all who live there. This town of "Arcadia Bay" is now one filled with sadness and mystery, and soon our long Max will find herself caught up in it all.

After witnessing a girl who looks like her old best friend get shot and killed in the girl's bathroom (by a boy who's family now controls the town on top of that), Max reaches out towards her and cause something strange to happen -- she rewinds time and reappears at her desk in her classroom. Unsure of what just happened, Max does some simple tests to see if what she thought just happened truly did, and she heads to the bathroom and waits. Upon seeing the girl (whom she can tell is her friend Chloe) and the boy enter, she pulls the fire alarm, and saves Chloe's life. Max, has changed the future.

Using her powers Max explores Arcadia Bay and attempts to set things "right." Throughout Episode 1 and 2 she reunites with people from her past, learns more about the missing girl, helps those in need (or attempts to), and starts to piece together the reason why things are happening. There's a lot going on in this town, and everything seems to be connected. Although she's unsure of why she has this new strange power, Max attempts to use it to change the world, and changing the world is exactly what she does.

Episode 3 opens up shortly after the end of Episode 2 (as in a few hours later), and depending on what happened in the previous episode, things will be very different. Episode 2 had a few major events which control the fate of this game's future, and depending on what the player did they may find Max and the school in a very different place. Even so, the game continues to follow both Max and Chloe as they try to both find the missing girl, Rachel Amber, and find out just how she may be connected to everything else that is happening.

The Gameplay:

If you've already played the other episodes, you should already know the basic gameplay; however, this episode itself is quite a bit different from the other two, and that's a good thing.

Just like in the previous episodes, Life is Strange is an interactive drama -- this will not be changing. Players take control of Max, walk around the world, and interact with it in different ways. Some objects you can "look" at to hear a comment from Max, while others you can actually interact with -- such as most of the people you see. As one might expect from this sort of game, talking to those around you will typically present you with a dialogue tree where you can choose what Max asks them, or how she responds to them. By talking, and asking the right questions, you can learn more about what's going on in the world, or learn information which can be useful later on down the road. This is just something that's standard in these sort of games, and it really does give you more control over the course of the game; however, Life is Strange does put a twist on this system.

Max has the ability to control time, and not just in the story -- this is actually a mechanic that you, the player, have complete control over. You can rewind time to stop things from happening in front of you (such as to prevent a girl from being hit), you can rewind to take back what you said to someone, and you can even rewind time to solve puzzles. It can be a bit challenging to wrap your head around how this system works at first, but once you do, the possibilities almost seem endless. Sometimes you'll learn something from a character, but the conversation may not always end on a good note. For example, you may talk to someone who is worried and lashes out at you for confronting them. Of course during this you may learn what they are worried about, but that character may hate you for prying, and things could go bad later on because of it. Well, by simply rewinding time you can take back what you said, and this time talk to said character about their problems. The information you learn before rewinding time carries over, and that can be used to your advantage in a lot of situations. Although, there's a limit to this...

While the vast majority of the game can be rewound, there's cut off points where once you leave an area you cannot undo your actions, and there are even some scenes where you cannot go back in time to try different dialogue options, or take back your choices. During these times you truly have to watch what Max says or does, and sometimes these moments are the ones that matter most -- especially in the previous episode. Other than that, rewinding time has almost no limits, and it is even used for puzzle solving. Need to get past someone without them seeing you? Rewind time to a moment where their back is turned, or before they enter the area. Max stays where she is standing when time goes backwards (unlike in the first episode's opening) so you don't have to worry about losing your place, or making a mad dash towards the location  you need to be at. This too is actually used for solving puzzles, and can take a bit to get used to at first.

The thing is about Life is Strange, there are MANY ways to play this game. Your actions change it, and because of that each player will have a different experience. What's nice is the game gives you stats at the end of each episode to show you what other players did, and it also shows you anything you may have missed -- this allows you to easily replay chapters and make new choices if you wish to do so, and it gives you an idea of what other players may be seeing as this game goes on. While you may not realize it at first, even small actions may greatly alter the future, and sometimes missing that one little thing, or siding with the wrong person may have grave consequences. This is a game that is based on the butterfly effect, and with Episode 3 that is very apparent.

The Good and the Bad:

Life is Strange is a game that does a lot right. It's a game that pulls the player in, and keeps hold from start to finish. It has great music, a unique art style, a character whom you may possibly really relate to (it doesn't matter if you are male or female), unique gameplay, and a very well written story full of mystery. While some of the slang or dialogue may make you cringe, it actually captures the high school feel perfectly, and I'm sure each and every one of you can remember a time when these characters were us (unless of course you are still in high school, then you can possibly relate to it now). It is a game all about life, and it is filled with nostalgia. As for this episode itself, it has greatly improved upon everything set forth by the previous ones. The locations you visit are more varied, there are more puzzles for you to solve, a lot of new things to interactive with and old to follow up your previous actions, and it contains one of the most shocking moments you will ever see in a video game -- so shocking you will never forget it. Overall this episode is packed full of content, and much more enjoyable than the previous. Heck, even the issues that were very noticeable before (such as the sometimes funky lip movements) have been fixed. Sure you may notice the voices get off every once in awhile, or you may run into a rare glitch or two, but other than that the game has been refined.

If you liked the previous episodes, or like interactive dramas in general, Life is Strange is a game well worth checking out. Each episode is roughly 3-4 hours long depending on how fast you play through them, and now that Episode 3 Chaos Theory is out a large chunk of the game is available. Sure you could always wait until the entire thing is out to play, but at this moment there already is enough content to make it worth playing. Although after this one the wait for Episode 4 is even harder than it has ever been... So, with that being said, I'm giving Life is Strange: Episode 3 Chaos Theory a perfect score of 10/10. The few minor issues are nothing compared to how great the rest of this episode is, and personally I can't see how they are going to top this one -- although I'm sure they will.

"You can't go home again, said Robert Frost, but here I am."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ben's Corner: The Vita - Then and Now

It's hard to believe, but the PlayStation Vita has been out for quite a few years now, and I can't help but look back on it's current life. Where it started, how things changed over the years, and where it is at now. Things are so much different from what they used to be back when I first reviewed the thing, and although I didn't think it was possible, my opinion of it has greatly changed. So, today I'm going to do just that, take a look back on the past few years, and let you guys know my current thoughts on the console -- starting at the beginning.

When the Vita was first coming out, I didn't know how to feel about it. I wasn't really excited for it, but at the same time I knew I wanted to get one. I liked the PSP for what it was, and even though the Vita only had a small line up, I had faith that some more games I would love would come out sooner or later. It already had a few interesting titles such as Gravity Rush announced, but at the time the Nintendo 3DS was just more appealing. In it's case, I rushed out and bought it on day one, spent hundreds of hours playing it, and I continued to follow every little piece of news Nintendo (or 3rd party devs) put out. I loved it, and I really couldn't see myself liking the Vita quite as much. Heck I even remember thinking "if I get a Vita, I'd never use it as much. I don't need Netflix on it, I'll use it for a few games and stick to using it on my 3DS!" Man, I want to hit myself for that, but it's the way I thought back then and I can't change it... Anyway, the Vita wasn't something I was going to run out to get on day one, but it did interest me some, and I had hopes for future releases. So, I held off on getting one up until my 21st birthday.

Although I had become used to buying my own games and consoles during high school, my family would still get me gifts on special occasions, and for a "big birthday" such as 21 they decided to get me a big gift. The question was though, what did I want? I typically bought everything the moment I wanted it, so what would I ask for for my birthday? Well, the only thing I could think of was the Vita, and Uncharted: Golden Abyss -- a game I couldn't wait to play, but at the same time one I couldn't get myself to save up for a Vita for (mainly due to other releases on the 3DS). So, I waited, and when my Birthday came I finally got one. Along with Uncharted and Gravity Rush (which I bought before I even owned the console), I dove into the world of the PlayStation Vita, and instantly liked what I saw.

Putting aside the nice OLED touch screen, the wide verity of apps (some of which, such as the YouTube app, are sadly gone), and and the very much improved message system and the brand new party system, what really blew me away were the games themselves. Uncharted made me feel like I was playing a PS3 game, Gravity Rush quickly became one of my favorite games in recent years, and the games I bought soon after continued to stun and amaze me. Everything about the controls felt right, they looked great, and they were a lot of fun in general. I came to really like the Vita, and I started using it for things such as Netflix, but it wasn't before long that I ran out of things to do. It ended up being something I would pick up and sit down every once in awhile, but it's lack of games put me off. I continued to see my 3DS as my "better" system of the two, and I wasn't expecting too much more form the Vita -- until things greatly changed.

Not too long after, the Vita started getting updates, PS1 games were added, and the PSP library continued to expand. More and more games continued to come out, JRPGs made their way to the west (the main reason I even wanted a Vita), and even visual novels such as Virtue's Last Reward were released! Suddenly the Vita that I originally wasn't that excited for, had became something I could have only dreamed and hoped for. It was a handheld that was giving me great RPG titles like Persona 4 Golden, my favorite fighting game series BlazBlue, visual novels like Danganronpa, and a ton more of classic PS1 and PSP RPGs as well! Soon my small collection of 4-5 games grew into the tens, then into the fifties, and soon I found myself with over eighty games not counting my collection of PS1 and PSP downloads. I was overloaded with games, and still to this day more continue to be released that I cannot wait for.

Although a lot of people may be unhappy with the steady stream of Japanese games, for anyone who actually loves this sort of thing the Vita greatly improved. It's a JRPG beast of a handheld, and it continues to get more and more as the days go on. However, on the other hand, if you were expecting it to be non stop first party Sony games, and handheld versions of console games like Uncharted or Killzone, then the Vita could easily be considered a flop. Yes it does have some HD collections which are really nice (Metal Gear Solid, Sly, Jak, etc), but for anyone hopping for larger releases, I can see why the Vita wouldn't be for you. The Vita basically turned into the PSP after the first year or so, with Sony only focusing on the remote play aspect of it for the PS4, and the streaming aspects which is the main selling point of the PlayStation TV (Vita TV in Japan). Even so, for me, the Vita is one of the best things that could have ever happened.

On another note, the Vita is still lacking in some areas, and it has lost quite a few apps over the past year -- including the YouTube app which I would use constantly. While it is true you can use the web browser, it just doesn't work as well, and it takes longer to get to. Despite this, I still personally feel that the Vita is worth owning, but only if you're the type of person who is into JRPGs, visual novels, fighters, and indies, or if you want to play some PS1 classics, or PSP games. If you're hoping for major releases from Sony, then well, you should check out the PS4 instead.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ben's Corner: Prince of Persia - Mine at last!

Man, it's been awhile since I've done this! But anyway... Welcome to the first entry in my brand new series "Ben's Corner." As I explained in the previous post, this is sort of going to be a series of blogs that return to the roots of NGR. They will be me, posting about whatever, and (hopefully) you guys contributing as well. These "articles" are going to be written on a much more personal level, and will not reflect the views of Netto's Game Room as a whole. We are a pretty diverse group here believe it or not, so I encourage the others to follow in my footsteps if they wish. But anyway... Let's get started! (Don't worry, this will be the last time I'll explain all of this.)

The other day I was browsing for some deals on Amazon when I came across something I had completely forgot about -- the reboot of Prince of Persia. Now when I first heard about this game it was back when I was mainly playing games on the Xbox 360, and it was shortly after I had bought the first Assassin's Creed. I was looking on GameStop's official website for other games I might like (I was a new 360 owner so my game library was quite small still), and this one instantly caught my eye. Although I had never played a Prince of Persia game before, the cell shading style I saw in the screen shots instantly excited me, and when I heard it was made off of the Assassin's Creed engine I was sure it would be a game I'd love -- the only problem was the story.

Despite everything else looking great to me, the game's story just didn't seem that great to me. Something about two gods fighting each other, and the evil one being released? Of course now I know quite a bit more about it after playing it for a good hour last night, but back then it wasn't something that I thought I would like. I'm really not sure why, but the moment I read the game's story, it actually turned me off completely and the game faded from my memories. Until now that is!

When I saw the game on Amazon I had a sudden urge to buy it -- that's really all there was to it. I didn't really think it through as I was clicking the order button, but I couldn't help but recall the memories of when I first discovered it. It was sort of a nostalgic feeling, and shortly after I clicked and saw the confirmation, I realized my almost seven year long wait had come to an end. While I hadn't actually waited to play the game all that time, just realizing it had been almost seven years since I first saw it was kind of shocking. So many things had happened between now and then, and finally owning the game after all this time just feels right. I've come a long way since that moment, and now I'm finally ready to dive into this new world and see what I've been missing out on. Although, it does feel a bit strange playing it on a PlayStation 3 when I've always associated it with the 360, but whatever. It's still Prince of Persia either way you look at it, but it's also more than that to me -- it is also my very first.

As shocking as it may seem coming from someone who has played nearly every major game release out there (and hundreds of niche games), I have actually never once tried a Prince of Persia game (a fact that shocked fellow NGR writer "GlacialLeaf"). Actually I didn't even know the series existed until the early 2000s when The Sands of Time was announced! Really I'm not even sure how this is possible myself, but I somehow managed to avoid renting it during all of those trips to the movie place, and I never once heard any of my family members or friends mention it. It was a series that didn't exist to me back then, but when the PlayStation 2 came out and they started advertising it's games on Nickelodeon, I finally saw it.

When I first saw The Sands of Time advertised I actually didn't know what to think. It looked like a really cool game, and I liked what I was seeing with the time mechanic, but I also just sort of accepted the fact that I would "never" get to play it. You see, I never had a PlayStation 2 during the early days -- in fact I didn't get one until I was 13 years old and Mega Man X8 was out (one of the main reasons I even wanted it), so I was missing out on a lot. I couldn't play Jak, I couldn't play Sly, and I couldn't play that cool looking game with Disney characters either. I didn't have a PS2, and I could never see myself getting one, so Sands of Time was just another game I put on the list of ones I couldn't play. Even so, them memories of seeing that commercial on TV stuck with me all of these years, and that alone may be the reason I even looked into this reboot in the first place. Finally I had a console that could play a new entry in this series, but as I already explained, I didn't.

Anyway, here I am, and I finally have a game in the series. While I do understand that this game is a reboot (and very different in general), just owning one game in the series is already making me consider going back to try the others. There's an HD collection for the PS2 games, and there's others that I could easily track down now as well. It's just that I worry I'll end up loving the reboot so much that playing the older games becomes hard for me, or I'll end up hating the reboot and be scared off from the series completely. I do try to keep an open mind when trying new games, but you just never know how things will turn out. Even so, I'm sure I'll love this game, and I'm sure one day in the near future I'll be looking into the others!

Really can't wait to play this tonight, but until then... I guess I'll see you guys next time!

Announcing "Ben's Corner!" - NGR returning to it's Roots

Hey everyone, how's it been? I know it's been quite some time since I've made a "personal" post like this, but I wanted to take some time today to explain some things that will be changing here at NGR -- or rather, to announce that things will be slowly returning to the way they once were. You see, back when NGR first opened four years ago, we were all about the people. Sure, we would share news articles and what not, but the sort of things you would see here most of the time were reviews, top 10 lists, discussion topics, and just personal posts in general. Instead of writing about the same old news story you may have seen hundreds of times already, it was a blog about us, the writers, and you, the community. Instead of posting about that new game coming out everyone already knew about, we would share our thoughts and feelings on it, and rather than simply writing about whatever popped into our heads (or into the news), we would look at what you guys wanted to see, and do it if possible. A lot of our older enteries actually came from questions we were personally asked, and others actually came from discussions we had with our readers. This is the sort of thing we would love to bring back, and it is the reason I'm making this post today.

Starting later today I'll be opening a new blog series here on NGR. The series will be called "Ben's Corner," and it will be me personally returning to our old style. Of course we'll still be posting news articles, reviews, and whatever else you've come to expect, but this series will truely take this blog back to our roots. It'll be a series of personal entries from me, and they will not reflect the views of NGR in general. I'll be sharing stories, discussing things I currently have on my mind, and hopefully I'll be able to get you guys involved again as well. I'm willing to answer any questions you'd like to know the answers to, and I'll glady discuss anything you are interested in as well (if possible of course).

With all of that being said, I'd just like to remind you guys that these posts will be my own personal opinions, and at some point I may say something you disagree with. I just ask that you guys respect my opinions, but at the same time feel free to disagree with me and leave it in the comments! It's just one of the many ways you guys can get involved, and I would love to see your feedback! (Just like old times.)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Igarashi Returns With the Spiritual Successor to the Metroidvania That Inspired it All

If you're a Castlevania fan, you know of Koji Igarashi. Listed in the Special Thanks section of the credits of Castlevania: Ronbo of Blood, he was the man behind Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and can be called the father of the metroidvania genre, combining the non-linear map style from the Metroid series with RPG elements plus the storylines from Castlevania. All the way up to 2010's Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, which combined characters and gameplay from Rondo of Blood onward, Igarashi, or simply Iga to the Castlevania fanbase, has been an integral part of the series.

For years, fans of Iga and the Castlevania series have been pining for the series to return to how it was in Symphony of the Night. Numerous games have come and gone that were inspired by this new subgenre Iga invented, but none have seemed to capture the magic that SotN had. Until now.

Launched on Kickstarter today to very positive acclaim, Iga is working on a new IP: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. With a goal of $500,000 and a planned release for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC, Bloodstained promises to be the definite successor to Symphony of the Night, and is definitely Iga's dream project.

From the Kickstarter page. Look at the pretty!
The reward tiers include the $5 tier of Iga's gratitude, to the $10,000 tier, which includes dinner with Iga, along with joining him in a live stream to play a bunch of games. Said tier includes a fashionable silver ring designed by Iga, an 8-inch design of stained glass, and several other goodies. Of course, the tiers in the middle offer things such as the OST, physical boxes and discs, and designing things for use in the game.

For a Castlevania fan, and metroidvania fans, this is the dream game. Already, in the time it has taken for me to type this up, the core funding goal has been reached. All that remains is the stretch goals, which include another playable character, voice acting from David Hayter, and other things, as well as achievements that will give backers exclusive things such as wallpaper and other bonuses. The physical copies of the game include further exclusives like a swordwhip, which sounds like the most amazing thing ever, a hidden extra boss, and a slipcase for the physical game.

The story centers around an orphan who is under an alchemist's curse that is gradually turning her body to crystal. Along with her friend (and the presumed second playable character) Johannes, she traverses a demon-filled castle ruled by another old friend of hers, in an attempt to stop the curse from destroying her.

Given the game meeting its primary goal, it's clear that this is something that has been desired for a long time. All that remains to be seen is how much more will be given towards the game. Will we see another million-dollar Kickstarter success? Time will tell.