Weekly Haul: Week of 08/04

Welcome to the Weekly Haul, the place where we show you the new entertainment releases coming out during the week. Tales of Xillia and Dragon’s Crown hit the PlayStation 3. Elysium and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters hit the silver screen. Berserk gets it’s second movie with The Battle for Doldrey and much more. Check out the rest of the haul below! Continue Reading

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions Review

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Spider-Man is one of the most iconic and well known superheroes of all time. Sadly, there just aren’t many video games that do the webhead justice. So now Beenox takes the challenge of trying to craft a good game with our friendly neighborhood hero. Yet will they be able to do what Rocksteady did for Batman in Arkham Asylum?

Things start off simple enough with Spider-Man facing off with Mysterio during a robbery. Spider-Man foils his plans of stealing an ancient artifact… by shattering it into as many pieces as possible. If things couldn’t get any worse for Spider-Man, he soon learns that the fragments of the tablet have entered different realities. Luckily there are 3 other Spider-Men that can help him recover the pieces before they fall into evil hands.

The story follows a very straightforward pattern, with each Spider-Man going after a boss in possession of the tablet pieces. A good majority of the time you’ll play a game of tag back and forth through levels. It’s a pretty predictable romp of chase the bad guy, and see how powerful the tablet can make them.
When you finally step into the shoes of Spider-Man you might be a little disappointed. The tutorial points out many of the games flaws in the first ten minutes. The major issue is with the camera itself, which can make almost any action a nightmare when it feels like it. When swinging it will close in behind Spider-Man and follow him a close as possible no matter what. Attempting to turn the camera with the right analog stick, will just confuse things and whip it back behind Spider-Man.

When you’re fighting off a series of thugs, the camera allows for free movement… but it will slide like it is stuck in molasses. So it’s almost easier to just try to lock-on to enemies and pay as much attention to Spider Senses as possible. The worst of the camera issues comes from climbing along any wall. The camera will not allow you to focus anywhere else, and attempting to do so will cause a series of spastic movements as a response.

If you can get past those issues you’ll have four different playstyles… well not so much different in three cases. Amazing , Ultimate, and 2099, while having their own attack animations… aren’t really that dissimilar from each other. When you’re fighting as any of the Spider-Men, you will pull off the exact same abilities as the others. The changes in character come in minor powerful skills like Ultimate’s Rage attack, or 2099’s accelerated Vision.

It also gets a little ho-hum when you realize that each level is the same for these characters. You’ll chase after a bad guy and fight off waves of henchmen until you get into an action sequence. Usually this is something like running away from a Sniper as Amazing Spider-Man, or free-falling through the sky chasing after an enemy in the 2099 universe. These portions of the game come second to randomly tapping on buttons to defeat bad guys.

The only real dimension with its own fighting style would be Spider-Man Noir. It takes on an Arkham Asylum like approach to combat, with Spider-Man sneaking about and taking enemies out silently. It’s actually a refreshing change of pace from the rest of the dimensions, even if it is far too hard to stay out of the enemies sight. This is usually due to the camera, or the jittery movements of Spider-Man when on walls or even web swinging.

It’s hard to accurately position Spider-Man in the air while swinging, not only due to the camera but mostly due to the stiff animations. Sometimes you’ll reach an area and Spider-Man will roll out of it back into the air, where he will stand up until his animation fixes itself. Other times you’ll climb up the side of a wall trying to get Spider-Man to leap over a railing, but instead he will try to go in another direction. Yet the most annoying part of it comes in the form of actual combat.

When attacking an enemy with web strikes, it is highly probable Spider-Man will appear somewhere else. He will literally swing towards a guy and either teleport to another part of the room or into the sky. It’s an extremely irritating affair when mixed with the camera, and the terrible lock-on system that you’re forced to use. If you don’t use it you’ll just end up bouncing between enemies and objects and barrels trying to find an enemy. With the most annoying portion of it being when you need to actually hit enemies with items, but it will continue to target the enemies forcing you to constantly re-position yourself.

The saving graces in this game come in the form of the graphics, with some highly detailed environments for each Spidey to traverse. They range from the heavily populated universe of 2099, to the seedy darkened streets of Noir. It’s probably one of the best aspects of the game, especially since the character models are quite detailed. The cut-scenes during level openings seem more like animated comics come to life, and most of the animation is pretty top-notch when it works. The game makes excellent use of lighting effects on the characters and the surroundings in the levels.

This is also one of the only games where Spider-Man feels most like his comic book counterparts. With Amazing, Noir, and Ultimate doing a fantastic job in their roles. Amazing and Ultimate come about as close to the comical side of Spider-Man as possible. While Noir does a great job of being a seedier more justice seeking Spider-Man. He even narrates his situations like he’s straight of a detective film. Spider-Man 2099 is the weakest of the bunch, but that’s mostly the scripts fault and not the voice actors. He still delivers a solid performance even if his version of Spider-Man is way off for the character

To be honest I probably had more fun with this game as a Spider-Man fan. I think I would have long turned it off if I didn’t enjoy the character and the voice work. It is terribly frustrating to have to deal with clunky combat, a wacky camera, and outright buggy animations. I’d say if you are a hardcore fan of Spider-Man, wait until this game is below $40 in price. It receives a C- for finally giving Spider-Man proper character, but having poorly executed game mechanics.

Persona 3 Portable Review

I will admit that I had a total nerdgasm as soon as I heard that Persona 3 would be going portable. I’ve beaten the game at least 3 times trying to max out as many social links as I could. I even went ahead and purchased Persona 3: FES even though I already owned the original. Now why you ask would I be excited about a portable version of a game that I have played to death? Because they’ve added a female side to the game… now before you think I’m some kind of pervert. You have understand that more content in one of the greatest JRPG’s of recent note is a good thing.

Let’s get right into it shall we… now if you’ve ever played Persona 3 before, you’ll want to know what has changed. The most noticeable differences for fans of the original will be the dissection of most of cinematics, and the fact you can no longer walk around freely in the game. Movement is now tied to an isometric view with selectable sprites on screen. So instead of actually seeing your character, you will instead see a round ball that you use to talk to people throughout the game.

Now I know what you’re thinking… that’s a pretty big omission from the game. But in reality it actually works pretty well for the Portable version. Things go a bit quicker as a lot of the improvements for getting around town that were added in Persona 4 are included here. So you can bring up the town menu with square and navigate each area with a click of the D-Pad. This goes along well with the fact that the reticule moves quickly across the screen. So it is much easier to go from place to place in the Portable version of the game.

It also makes the dialogue go faster, instead of seeing characters animating on the screen in a lot of familiar sequences of the game. You’ll instead instantly see the faces of the characters and the dialogue pop up instead. It is actually a lot more in your face this time around, with characters speaking directly to you through the screen. While I do prefer to actually walk around with my character in the original Persona 3, the portable method adds an appeal all of its own.

The most major change to the game though would have to be the inclusion of the female character. Seeing as I’m someone that has beaten the original, this would have still been a purchase for me but probably not an immediate one. While I was skeptical at playing a female in a game with Dating-Simulation elements, I was more excited that I was given a reason to play one of my favorite RPG’s again. The added female portion of the game comes with a lot of different dialogue choices and story options. Yes, Junpei will still call you man and dude every five seconds… but that’s his style. When it comes to everyone else in the game, there will be no way that you don’t know you’re playing as a girl. There are some major dialogue changes here for the female character, and a good amount of social links open up and change based on being her.

One of the more admirable additions are the skill cards that players receive through various methods. Using these cards will apply magical bonuses to persona that wouldn’t normally be able to earn them. Which is excellent when you use them at the Naganaki Shrine to exchange for two more. Other notable changes are the addition of a bulletin board for searching for missing people. That and the part-time job system from Persona 4 makes its way into Persona 3. You will also hear different music when exploring the city as the female version of the main character. This really increases the content in the game, and these are mostly the changes outside of the dungeons.

Persona 3 utilizes a combination of two different types of game play styles, at night you can run around through a series of randomly generated dungeons. You can control your character with the analog stick or D-Pad, and press the X button to initiate combat with enemies you find. The triangle button calls up your basic character selection screen. Here you can equip your characters, use skills, check quests, and social links. The square button is used to give orders to your party, so you can make them split up and search for items or defeat enemies. This helps a lot if you have them properly equipped, since defeating enemies alone yields more experience for them and you.

For the most part nothing has really changed here from the console version, you ascend stairs defeating monsters so that you can level up to fight the boss at the end of the month. After defeating that boss, you pretty much repeat these actions until reaching the end of the game. There are some extra things that can be done inside of dungeons, mainly the requests given to you by Elizabeth from the Velvet Room. No that isn’t the name of a strip joint, it’s a place that I’ll go into further detail about later.

The major change that I saw for the dungeons was the inclusion of additional experience in certain areas. At times you’ll stumble into a dungeon and your character dialogue will come up stating that something feels different. This pretty much opens up grind points where you can gain double experience for killing all the monsters in the area. I thought this was a pretty cool addition to the game, because grinding can suck the air out of RPG’s. Also for a price you can choose to heal your party at the entrance to Tartarus for a fee.

Let’s move on to the actual combat sections in the game, which have adopted the style of Persona 4. By that I mean that now players can initiate cooperative attacks on a knockdown. So you can use this attack against other monsters to incapacitate them, which will finally trigger an all-out attack with the whole group. The most major change though is that your main character is stuck with one weapon type. You no longer have the option of using the different weapons for the main character, you’re stuck with either the sword for the male or Naginata for the female. Another slight change to things is the way that skills are leveled up, now instead of choosing a skill to replace… instead the game will automatically replace the old skill in the arsenal. Everything else remains the same, the shuffle still makes you choose a card to win extra experience, weapons, replenishment, and new persona. Your groups persona still evolve as they level up, and this time you have full control over each character.

How about we get to the second part of the game, and personally what makes the Persona games so interesting to me. By that I mean the social links aspect of the game, I can’t tell you how much time I’ve invested in trying to max out social links. I used to reset the game constantly on the original if I made the wrong dialogue choices. That’s because most of the social link stories actually make it seem like you’re having an impact on someone’s life. You get close to them and befriend them and things unfold like a TV drama, the stories are really interesting for the most part.. and that’s not mentioning the dating portions.

But social links aren’t just some way to fill time in the game, the higher the link of a friend… the higher the Arcana level to create more powerful Persona. Now let’s get back into the Velvet Room that I spoke about before, here you can choose to create new persona types from cards you collect. You can fuse these cards together to create even more powerful Persona. At first things start off slow with double fusions, but then you can combine triple, to quadruple… and then specific rare cards that make some of the most powerful persona types. This can be almost as addicting as the social links aspect, as it’s pretty much Personas version of Pokemon.

The Velvet Room can also be used to receive quests from Elizabeth or Theodore, these quests will lead you into dungeons for items, or have you looking for people at certain times, or have you go out on a date with them so they can see the world. These quests can keep you occupied in dungeons for hours, especially on some of the more rare challenges.

Beyond all of the interesting stories you’ll see through social links, the main storyline for Persona 3 is a compelling one. It follows the SEES. group as they try to fight off monsters in a secret time of day called the Dark Hour. Only people with the ability to use Persona are awake during this time, and they are the only ones who are able to stop the “Shadows” from causing havoc in the town. Yet the only way that seems like an actual possibility of beating them, is by traversing through their school when it turns into a dungeon named Tartarus.

I’m not going to spoil the story in Persona 3 by saying anymore, instead I’ll talk about the voiceovers for the characters in game. Which is by far the most impressive English dub for a JRPG I have witnessed. The cast is highly believable in their roles as angsty teenagers forced to fight monsters. A good amount of my time was spent laughing at well delivered jokes, as opposed to laughing at terrible voices trying to sound serious. This is only amplified by one awesome soundtrack, the music in Persona 3 is the best of the series. There are songs you’ll hear multiple times throughout game-play, but they are so catchy that you never hate them… instead you’ll be singing along with them.

Let me stop myself here before I continue to ramble on about Persona 3. This is one of my favorite RPG’s of all time, and Persona 3 Portable just adds to the content. What it does take out of the game is easily overlooked, because it adds so much more to an already awesome game. If you have a PSP and you have a taste for RPG’s, you should look no further than Persona 3 Portable. With that… Persona 3 Portable receives an A+ from Half-Ass Gaming… now let’s see if they make a Persona 4 Portable or Persona 5 for the PS3.