Digimon Stories: Cyber Sleuth Complete Edition (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £34.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Digimon, Digital Monsters, only certain ranks of Digimon are the Champions, as it turns out, doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. But that’s besides the point, we’re reviewing one I missed, because the budget’s never great: Digimon Stories – Cyber Sleuth, Complete Edition. Bit of a mouthful, but I appreciate that it is. Even down to the “Timesaver” bonus content. Whuff.

Okay, it’s time for the Devilma- What do you mean, Devimon doesn’t have the same theme song?

So yes, the general idea: It’s the future of our world, virtual reality that doesn’t make you motion sick (or need to move physically) is a thing, people quite literally “go on the internet”, and cyber crime still exists… Except using Digimon, which humanity, as a whole, seems to be unaware are actually living beings, albeit in digital form. And two protagonists, along with their friends and mentors, discover Great Events in the offing, as they gain the friendship of Digimon, and the Digital World and the Human World entwine and bleed into each other all the more.

It’s dramatic stuff, and I appreciate how the main plot’s kept me coming back, what with corrupt corporate businessfolks I love to hate (Well, no, I just hate, to be honest), Digimon of various personalities, such as one that simply wants friends, but goes about it in precisely the wrong way (and other, darker individuals), and, of course, friends, characters, their own stories. Nice. It’s also aesthetically pleasing, mostly, with a mostly clear UX. We’ll get into that mostly in a moment. But how does it play?

Not only are these two cute as hell. Not only are these two magical girls in the vein of Bayonetta or Panty and Stocking, but cute… You can get them as Digimon, and embrace cute. Doooo iiiiit.

Well, beyond the basics, which are a little more involved than Pokemon (You have two sets of types to consider: Vaccine/Virus/Data/Free, and element types. And yes, both of them factor into damage, so if you have precisely the wrong matchup, prepare to have that Digimon knocked out very quickly indeed), the devil’s in the details of which story you’re playing in the game: The Hacker’s Memories, or Cyber Sleuth. The Hacker’s Memories involves different kinds of battles, and seemingly no use for the Mirror Dungeon part of the DigiLab (where you do various things starting with Digi- to Digimon, such as Digivolution, the changing of a Digimon into a different Digimon, or back to give a little more of a level benefit. A thing that’s required for certain kinds of digivolutions.) Meanwhile, Cyber Sleuth has more of a real world map. But both involve… Look, I would be here for a very long time if I were talking about mechanical differences, and the Digivolution process, so let’s talk about how it feels… And the negatives of the game. Positive wise, we shall leave it so far as “Mostly good aesthetics, mostly good UX, a fair bit of depth and complexity, without being overwhelming, and puzzle areas that didn’t make me want to tear my hair out at the roots.

Feel wise, I’m feeling myself drawn into the story and its characters, enjoying the boss battles, and finding the world interesting. It dripfeeds the lore, only as it needs to, and, for the most part, doesn’t go “Hey, did you know about ‘World thing?’” unless it’s genuinely something the character wouldn’t know, or is unclear about. Good! The random battles… Exist. Maybe I’m overlevelled a lot of the time, maybe it’s just that way once you get any sort of decent team, but it’s only either when I’m in a new area, or am just starting out that I don’t seem to be one-shotting Digimon that I’m not weak against. So… The random battles feel a little like busywork as a result, especially due to the digicapture system (yes, a lot of things being with digi- . Deal with it.)

Team Monster +1, in that rare crit, the “Somebody is going to become very very dead” triple link-up!

See, you have to beat up a certain number of Digimon of a species to get enough data to hatch one yourself. And then more data, up to 200%, to make sure your Digimon is the best of its kind it can be. This can be eight fights with a digimon of a type (25%-30% each.) It can be ten. And it can be 14 fights. I haven’t found anything below 15% Data from each fight yet, but… Yeah, getting Digimon can be a grind. And some, you have to either feed in the Digifarm a lot, or have along with you in fights, to raise their CAMaraderie to the level you need. Rare Digimon can take a silly number of levels, plus special items to make, but… That’s rare ones, I’m okay with that.

What I’m less fine with is the type-match colouring when you select an enemy to hit, which is Red (Good damage, but not necessarily great damage, because, as you recall, there are two sets of type matchup.) which is fine… White for normal, which is fine… And blue for bad, or, more accurately speaking… Cyan for bad. These last two colours are very close together, to the point where even a fair few folks who aren’t colourblind can’t tell them apart, so… Bit shit, that. And no, there is no colourblindness option. At all.

It is no spoiler to say that this… This is the face of evil. Believe me, she gives away how gleefully evil she is from the first time(s) you meet her.

Equally, there are two minor niggles. The dungeon animations, or animations where your group is both running and bigger than 2, get weird, because the monsters can easily get caught up on you (stilling their animations, although it doesn’t restrict their movement), and are always pointed toward you when they’re running, which looks janky as hell. It’s not a dealbreaker, and nor is the fact that audio options don’t seem to take effect (or can even be set) until you start a game or continue it (the first time you play, you set them, and can change them in game.)

Overall, I’ve had a fairly good time with Digimon Stories, and it’s probably one of the games I’ll actually new game+ , in my large backlog. As a monster collecting game, it’s solidly designed overall, its story is drawing me in, and, apart from these problems, I’m having fun, and would recommend it to other fans of RPGs, especially those who are into the monster collecting gig.

I’ve appreciated having two months in a row where I’ve had nice monster collecting games. Now if only I had the free time to play them…

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Ashen (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £30.99 (Definitive Edition £38.18 , Soundtrack £5.19, Nightstorm Isle DLC £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam

And so the dark age passed into an age of light, a… Wait a minute, I was promised Dark Souls, not… Okay, fun aside, it’s actually nice to see some legitimate hope in a game with the “Go out, bash things with an input system that encourages only hitting the buttons you need to, not mashing them, die, spend money on improvement, hopefully get further this time” formula that has been called “Soulslike.”

I wanted to focus on the beauty for this review. For the combat, imagine a small circle in the middle of an enemy, as I slam that giant axe into its smug midsection.

In Ashen, you are, obviously, a voiceless Chosen One, who, along with two friends (and the others you meet along the way), must protect the Ashen, a bloody great bird made of light and life that sat on the World Tree, died (its three breaths creating three ages, which passed, and elements of the three civilisations still lived through the dark age), and is due to be reborn. Gosh, my throat’s a little bit norse from that short bit of exposition, lemme back up a bit.

Essentially, this is a third person action RPG, in which your low poly protagonist wanders through a map, directed by both the needs of currency/items gained from enemies, and the quests, side or main, from the people of your small, new township. This actually deserves a mention right now, because it’s a fulfilling aspect of the game: The further along the game you get, the more sidequests you do, the more your town hub (Well, more of a “start point on the journey”, really, as you travel along a narrowing spiral toward the end, unlocking Ritual Stones, your travel points, along the way) builds up and grows, starting as this near barren, ramshackle set of ruins, and, by the end of the game? It’s a thriving village, with each of your fellow characters having their own cohabitation with various people attracted to this glowing beacon of hope.

Early in the game, but I like the image of Batarn, the giant one armed smith, helping to build what will be a beautiful village toward the end, an enduring legacy of hope.

Even if the game weren’t good, this would have to be mentioned, precisely because it’s almost unheard of in this genre (or indeed, quite a few.) But the game is good. It doesn’t give you fast travel until a few main quests in, but the progression feels natural, and I only died once or twice in the early game, mostly due to either overconfidence or stupidity. Especially as you have a friend, always (whether a co-op partner, or one of the companions you meet, each with certain styles of weaponry), and so long as one of you is alive long enough to resurrect the other, you’re okay.

And the world is pretty. Even in the bleaker areas of the game, there’s a sense of beauty, fallen or otherwise. From the parts of the world so far reclaimed from the Ash, to the almost tundra like ruins of Sindre’s View, to… Ah, well, that would be spoiling things, but suffice to say, there’s a lot of environments, including, yes, dark areas. And the difficulty does ramp up, with some of the underground segments, in particular, making for a large difficulty spike. Still, it’s also a world where the developers want you to try clambering over it, to see what you can do, and want you to see it, and this, also, is appreciated. Finally, the music is, for the most part, calm, relaxing. This is a world you’re meant to take in.

Even in this bleak, ashen wasteland, there is beauty.

Are there complaints? Well, yes. The game very much overloads you with stuff early on, and it’s somewhat resource hoggy, with slowish loading times, and, outside of challenge runs, why wouldn’t you give your companions their quest items? But… There’s a lot it does right, over its compatriots, a lot it does differently. The game doesn’t really bar you that much, so you can engage or not as you like, explore as much or as little as you like, although it is highly encouraged you do those side quests before tackling a main one. As such, it’s more guiding than holding back or pushing, not holding your hand, but showing you the way.

So, in summary, I would say that this is a better introduction to the subgenre known as “Soulslikes” than… Well, Dark Souls, the game which popularised the term! It’s pretty, it’s interesting, its characters are cool… Yup, I like it.

The Mad Welshman appreciates beauty, bleak or otherwise, as much as he appreciates bearded handaxes. Which is to say, a fair bit.

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Blink: Rogues (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

There is a common misconception among folks relatively new to vertical or horizontal shooters (or shmups, as they’re called) : That the Japanese ones are more difficult than the Western ones. While this certainly can be true (Hello Gradius, Hello Touhou!), there are still Western Shmups that are, for want of a better phrase (haha, not really), “Bastard Hard.” Jamestown. Raptor: Call of the Shadows. Xenon 2. They’re slower paced, for the most part, but enemies can be nasty.

Hrm, now how am I going to murder all eight of these enemies efficiently?

And so it is with Blink: Rogues, which combines some elements of the older European Shmup style (Slow paced, health bars, enemies are bullet spongey to the basic attack) with other ideas known to the genre, like enemies that can only be murderised with one of the three special weapons you have, flipping your craft to fire backwards, and a feature I haven’t seen outside of one other game (Dimension Drive) : Swapping between two different playfields, both because there are enemies to kill/avoid in both, and there are obstacles in both, some of which can only be avoided by blinking between sides.

Which would make the game more interesting, if it wasn’t for a lack of flair to it all. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like me a low poly aesthetic, I love it contrasting with painted characters and nice, clean text. And I love little touches like parts that come off when you shoot them, even if it makes the enemies that little bit more bullet spongey. But the projectiles, the music, the enemy explosions… They can best be described as “workmanlike.”

I do like a bearded older man with a cigar and a naval uniform sometimes…

Add in that there’s no UX scaling for the main, shooty bits, and no reminder as to what the special weapon keys are. Yes, I forgot. Regularly. Colours? No. Keys? Yes. I’m also not certain as to its colourblind friendliness (being Red, Blue, and Green), so maaaybe different shield animations would help there? In any case, it’s not quite as accessible as I would like, and while the story is reminiscent of old arcade games and the DOS shooters that had story (Short conversations and collectible journals), it’s also somewhat workmanlike.

I don’t know, maybe I’m jaded. In any case, the difficulty ramps up reasonably well, although a big part of that is that death doesn’t lose you the mission, but instead takes you out of the fight for a whole 3 seconds (and, if you were in the middle of a wave, 3 seconds is a loooong time), and lose your multiplier. That’s pretty much it, although it does make reaching the star goals of a level that much harder if you die (Kill 50%, 75%, and 100% of enemies, sometimes with an extra modification like “You have to kill all the red beacon ships!”)

Rocks. Cuboid rocks, but… Well, they are rocks, I’ll give this mission that.

Despite that workmanlike nature, it’s not a bad game, by any means, and a multiplayer mode (local, whether against another player, or an AI with 5 difficulty levels) with several story missions that don’t outstay their welcome (and now, survival levels afterward, presumably on a “One life” basis) helps give it that little touch of replayability once you’re done (Whether that’s “Beaten all the levels” or “All the stars, all of them!”), but… As mentioned, it’s workmanlike and low key, and I can perfectly understand why that would be a turn off to folks.

The Mad Welshman once had a successful 100% run of the Monty Python DOS game. To this day, he doesn’t quite know how.

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GRID 2019 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £44.99 (Ultimate Edition £64.99, Upgrade to Ultimate Edition £29.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, Codemasters. Purveyors of racing games since… Well, as long as I can remember. No, that’s a lie, I grew up with them publishing Dizzy games. But for a while, at least. Sometimes a little simulation-like, mostly arcadey, with fairly good music, a fair few licensed vehicles/teams/racers, and this time…

Rolliiiiing START!

Three races before you even hit the main menu for the first time. Three races, and something like five interminable cutscenes. Oh, GRID 2019 is off to a rolling start, and… Wait, what are the keybindings again? Oh… Oh… Suffice to say, even though I understood part of why, I was less than impressed with how my experience started.

Was I impressed with the game itself? Weeeelll… It honestly isn’t bad. The cars are somewhat tunable, and there’s a moderate variety of them, with the most in the Invitational category (presently, at least, as the game has a Season Pass and some car DLCs already… hissssss…) Aesthetically, it looks good. The menu music is solid Racing Game music, of the kind you hear in racing recap segments, or, indeed, earlier Codemasters games (in mood and motif. Not exactly the same music) But when it comes to the races themselves, it’s the cars you concentrate on, and they, also, sound good. A Camaro sounds different to a Mini Metro, and when you’re pushing them to their limit, they sound like they should… Straining and buzzing angrily at the treatment you’re giving them.

When in doubt, I trade paint. Epilepsy aside, this is probably why I shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

The tracks, the racers, the cars… They are, for the most part, the popular ones. Oh, there’s Silverstone. There’s San Francisco. But there aren’t that many of them (although, as with many racing games, extra variation is added with track weather and driving the course in reverse), and… Well, even though I’m sure there will be some free tracks, the purpose of that Season Pass becomes clear.

But this, also, I could somewhat forgive, because what there are are some interesting and technical tracks. And, if you’re not a great racer, one who makes some pretty nasty mistakes, the flashback feature from past Codemasters games is alive and well, on a rechargable basis rather than “You have this many.” These are nice. It even allows you to unlock races without actually winning them. And, of the race styles, there’s a fair few, which, overall, is the most varied part of it for me (With Invitational taking up the most room in terms of both cars and events)

The customisation system is also alright. A limited pattern set, but I wasn’t expecting Picasso, and I managed to make something I’m happy with easily enough.

Hell, the AI is at least alright, reacting to you, playing aggressively if you’re anywhere except in first and speeding the hell ahead, although if you qualify, then get first, you’re going to have a much easier time of it, and some racers… Well, here we get to what’s not so great. Specifically, the nemesis system, and the team system.

The nemesis system, on the face of it, is a clear one: If, like me, you race dirty, and trade paint, or even bits of your frame, to gain advantage, you’re going to piss other racers off. And you have a team member, who can be ordered to attack (try and move up), and defend (try and help you forward.) There’s even purchasable team members, but, to be honest… Neither feature seems to play much of a role. Nemeses (for lo, I often have multiple on any given lap) don’t seem to be more willing than usual to trade paint with you, or screw you over, and team-mate orders don’t really help all that much with your position over, say… Having a good line, and being aggressive.

Okay, okay, so maybe that’s trading more than paint. I got a decent position, alright?

As such, buying team members isn’t really a purchase I’ve bothered with, to, basically, no effect on how I’ve enjoyed the game (which is “Somewhat”) The UX is that understated style you often see in racing games nowadays, and, in and of itself, it’s not bad (although damn, do the visuals on cars seem to take an Ice Age to load in those menus!)

And this leaves me uncertain where I stand, precisely, with GRID 2019. It’s alright, for sure, but it’s made some odd decisions, I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Ultimate Editions, Season Passes, and whatnots, and some of its features seem under implemented, despite being seemingly flagship features. I also can’t deny that it feels like less than its predecessors. And, as such… I’m erring on the side of “Not really.”

The Mad Welshman is not, after experimentation, as bad at arcade racers of this style as he feared. Turns out he’s just aggressive.

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Kind Words (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99 (£2.09 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Kind Words is a game with the best of intentions: Put simply, you write… Kind words. Sometimes they’re words of encouragement. Sometimes, they’re words of understanding. Sometimes, they’re shared pleasures. Sometimes, if you feel you have the capability to give it, they’re words of advice.

True dat. Men especially, take this one to heart.

So, disclosure time: I’m a depressive. Not as bad as others, but still I have my very bad days, and don’t deal well. So it was actually somewhat nice to see a game like this, where comforting beats are the only music, to send out a few of my problems and receive advice of varying usefulness, kind words, and the sympathy of shared experiences. But… I want to put out a few disclaimers.

This isn’t going to replace a support network, and you shouldn’t go in thinking that. It has some heavy requests, so people who have a lot of empathy aren’t going to be doing themselves any favours. Follow the advice of the devs, in not giving away personal deets. And the advice will vary in mileage, just as it does anywhere else. Remember folks, if you can see mental health professionals, or be prescribed medication/therapy, please do so. Okay, disclaimers over. Let’s talk about what you actually do.

Hugs are not always okay. But I have yet to meet someone who misunderstands a warm beverage offered kindly.

So, essentially, you have 14 lines in which to respond to 7 line requests. You are rewarded for offering those kind words to others, be it advice, clarification on a question they have, kind words, or sympathy, in two different ways: Stickers, and, daily, a musical track offered by your anxious mail delivery deer, who’s building a mix-tape for you to help deal with their own anxiety. That’s… Pretty nice, actually. And everything is anonymous, and there is a report button (sadly, always looking like it isn’t active. But it is, always) if something’s up (So far, the devs have been very good at moderating.)

If somebody likes your advice, they’ll send you a sticker. Anonymously. And likewise, you get to make your own requests for advice or kind words, with that aforementioned 7 line limit. Finally, you get to write more general kind words (7 line limit), and send them off in a paper plane, which then flies past other people’s rooms for them to click on if they so choose.

And, while it has been a criticism levelled at the game, that you don’t see who liked your advice, or get replies back, it’s… Honestly understandable. It’s specifically for these short little bursts of kind words, and, if we’re being honest, the anonymising of names through initials (J wrote this, T wrote that…) means that it would be hard to remember what piece of advice you offered.

Aww, bless you, little Mail Deer. And I’m glad your mixtapes are helping you, they’re legit good.

Aesthetically, the game has a few nice touches. While stickers are limited, each one adds a decoration to your small, isometric bedroom/writing room, the stars of the background are a nice use of the negative space (and I found it pleasing that they form, as you scroll up to the room, the word LOVE. Which is LOVEly.) Musically, it’s chillhop, almost ambient, relaxing beats that put you in the right frame of mood to be calm, and maybe help some folks out.

Overall, while the disclaimers I made are still very true, it has, apart from the odd request that was either silly (not in terms of a silly situation, but a non-question) or emotionally draining to me (part of the devs’ help here is a button linking mental health resources as part of the making and replying to requests UX), been a pleasant experience, and one I return to, for a short time each day (as intended), just… Sending what positive vibes and warm beverages I can. And that’s what it’s there for.

The Mad Welshman approves of more kindness in the world. Don’t fuck that up, please.

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