Bladestorm: Nightmare Review (PS4/X1/PS3/360) – “A Nightmare Worth Conquering”

Bladestorm Nightmare Wallpaper

In 2007, Tecmo Koei and developer Omega Force brought a new IP to the PS3 and Xbox 360, Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War. With the current generation currently running amok with remasters and definitive editions of game, Tecmo Koei and Omega Force decided to actually revitalize their IP in more of an expansion than a port called Bladestorm: Nightmare. Is this game worth the revitalization or is it a nightmare to steer clear away from?

Story: 4/5

Bladestorm: Nightmare contains two full-fledged story modes to experience. The first is Hundred Years’ War mode, which tells a fairly accurate historical rendition of, you guessed it, the Hundred Years’ War. Here you will create a mercenary that will take on contracts that work with either the English or French. You will aid famous characters such as Joan of Arc and Edward the Black Prince. You will see events unfold through the battlefield, as well as through diaries and conversations with soldiers in the main pub.

In the second and brand new mode, Nightmare, the developers decided to provide an alternate history with fantasy elements in place. Instead of a war between England and France, demons and mythological creatures are running rampant across the lands. The twist is that Joan of Arc, whom is known to be quite the heroine, is now the villainess commanding these demonic armies. Controlling the mercenary you created, you and Magnus (another mercenary) are both imbued with a sword that can take control of hordes of the demonic army. With this, you and Magnus are what actually stands a chance against the ever-growing army. You will be tasked with getting key characters to join your cause. Throughout Nightmare mode, you will see the events unfold in a familiar storytelling method that’s akin to Warriors Orochi 3 (Ultimate).

The stories in both modes are intriguing and promises something for those looking for a historical aspect or those looking for a fun, fantasy take on the history. In all honestly, it’s quite easy to get hooked into the game’s story and it’s cool seeing these characters care about the events unfolding.

 

Joan of Arc went through a bit of a change...

Joan of Arc went through a bit of a change…

Gameplay: 3/5

Bladestorm: Nightmare is an interesting game to describe genre-wise. It takes elements from various games where it’s part RPG, part strategy, and part action hack-and-slash. Seeing as how there are two games included with Bladestorm: Nightmare (Hundred Years’ War and Nightmare), each plays mostly similar with a few notable differences that will be mentioned. Let’s start with Hundred Years’ War.

You’ll start off by creating your own mercenary. Creating a character is fairly in-depth, allowing you to customize practically every single feature from body weight, facial structure, voice tone and pitch, skin color, etc. From there, you will enter the story and begin learning some basics to battle, such as how to command your squads, how the battle system works, and a few other elements to ensure you are off to a good start. Before actually partaking in battles, you will select your contract to accept at the local pub. This area provides to be the main area where you’ll take a break from battle to upgrade your character, buy and sell items, talk to other NPCs with information about the events unfolding on the battlefield, read diaries, and save your game. Upon taking a contract, you will begin your mission. Whichever side you choose to aide will not have any dramatic changes in the storyline, but how you play may change how missions will pan out.

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When out on the battlefield, you will have a squad follow you and listen to you on command. The type of squad varies, whether it is sword, bow, axe, etc. There’s an insane amount to choose from. Each can level up their stats so that more units follow your squad, and that their traits can improve as well. In terms of combat, if you are expecting to be a one-man army and just decimate your foes single-handedly, good luck because that most certainly isn’t happening. Combat is primarily handled by holding down the R1 button. Doing so will have you command your units to attack while your character will do the same to the nearest enemy automatically upon holding the button down. Depending on what you unit you have, they will either have an upper hand or lower hand to the opposing unit. This means that essentially certain units can deal more damage to the opposing specified unit. The game actually has a chart in-game to highlight which units go up against others best. When you form an army of squads, you can even unleash a “mass attack” to obliterate enemies with dramatic results.

Depending on the unit you control, the game’s dynamics will vary a bit. For example, if you’re part of a spear unit, you’ll most likely have a horse to ride on, which will make traversal a little faster than foot but will make you more prone to missing attacks. If you utilize the bow unit, you’ll be able to manually aim your well-placed arrows but shouldn’t take a chance leading a unit into close-quarter combat. The strategy plays a deep element into the overall gameplay in a satisfying way. Now in Hundred Years’ War, the more bases you take over on the battlefield, the more of advantage you will have overall. This will actually affect the next contract you take because the bases you took over will actually carry over. The battlefields are massive, with each feeling almost the size of an open-world in a separate game. Although, as cool and grand in scale as these battlefields look, traversing them takes forever…almost painfully so. Unfortunately, with these battlefields being massive, you’ll find yourself traversing more so than not with no enemies or NPCs in the area, leading to dull traversal.

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In Nightmare, the gameplay is essentially the same concept but is handled differently. Instead of being at a local pub to tackle contracts as a mercenary, you will progress in a straightforward chapter system. Throughout the game’s nine-chapter story (which can take between 6-12 hours depending on the difficulty you choose), you will work alongside Magnus and other key characters to form a united army to take down the demonic forces. Unlike Hundred Years’ War though, no matter how many bases you conquer on the battlefield, it will not stay that way should you return in a later chapter.

In terms of combat, it remains exactly the same but now with one key difference, you can control an army of monsters. Whether it is goblins, griffins, Cyclops, or even dragons, the dynamic switches up a bit with this. For example, you can actually ride a griffin, cyclops and dragon, which makes the scale of the battles even more grand. Actually leading a squad of these is just plain cool. It must be said that out of the two modes (Hundred Years’ War and Nightmare), Nightmare had me hooked a bit more since the progression was paced better.

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A cool feature is that both Hundred Years’ War and Nightmare are transferable amongst each other. Upon completing Nightmare mode, you can summon monster armies in areas that allow you to in Hundred Years’ War. Also, your character progression is seamlessly integrated between both games/modes. The entire game can be played in co-op, both local and online. However, if you’re playing the PS4 version, the infamously awesome Share Play feature is shockingly blocked.

As enjoyable as Bladestorm: Nightmare is, there were a decent amount of issues that hurt the experience a bit. First off, there are some bugs in the game. There have been several instances where my characters would run at a fraction of their speed and then revert to normal for absolutely no reason. I would be in the middle of an empty battlefield and this would occur, so I knew it wasn’t from some sort of enemy attack. While I understand that in reality they wouldn’t be moving that fast out on the battlefield, in a game, it can be daunting. Second, some missions have you protecting a key character who must traverse from point A to point B. The movement speed for this character is ludicrously slow that it becomes a real chore to complete these missions. Third, the final boss fight in Nightmare completely stopped at a halt during the final phase, where animations were frozen and AI wasn’t responding properly. I even accidentally broke apart my formed army and the controls wouldn’t respond at all to reform them; it wasn’t even showing the sub-menu to do so. Navigating menus can also be a bit convoluted to go through. Another issue was invisible walls. There were several times on the battlefield where my squad and I couldn’t advance at a certain point in town for no explicable reason. Despite the gripes that held back the experience a bit, I still found myself enjoying Bladestorm: Nightmare to return to it and keep taking over the battlefields.

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Graphics: 3/5

Visually, Bladestorm: Nightmare isn’t the flashiest looking game. After all, it is a revamp of a 2007 game but without a lot of effort focused on the graphics. Yes, the game is now in 1080p and depending on whether you play on the PS4 or X1, the framerate will vary. While the developers stated the PS4 version runs at 30 fps, I found several instances more so where it dropped below that. However, that’s not to say Bladestorm is a poor looking game. The lighting and environmental designs are done quite well, breathing some life into the battlefields. Trees sway in the background and grass blades lend to that extra terrain effect. Characters look fairly detailed with flashy pieces of armor. The game showcases hundreds of characters on-screen at once which lends to that “battlefield” feel. Omega Force games are notorious for displaying a ton of enemies on-screen but with tons of pop-up within the environments. Thankfully with the power of these consoles, draw distance has been dramatically improved and can continue to do so with future installments released specifically for this generation. Animations are also fairly smooth considering the amount of characters on-screen, without any animation frames dropped for characters out in a further distance. It’s not exactly a game that will showcase the PS4/X1’s prowess, but it’s not a poor looking game either. It hovers that line of solid, but not overly impressive.

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Sound: 4/5

Bladestorm’s best element may very well be its audio department. The sound of the armies advancing, the swords clashing, and enemies cries while they meet their doom all meet together to form a great audio experience. All the characters have English and Japanese voice acting that’s pretty serviceable and never quite reached “cringe worthy”. However, the real star here is the soundtrack. The orchestrated soundtrack that accompanies Bladestorm perfectly captures the game’s essence and setting. Whether you’re at the main menu, preparing for battle, or storming the battlefield, the music will go along superbly with the action at hand. It’s so memorable that I found myself thinking of the music whenever I’d leave the game and go about my daily life. The main gripe with the audio were the drop-out bugs. There were times where the sound effects completely dropped when entering a base and then would cue back in after taking it over. It wasn’t very often, but happened on a few instances where it was noticeable. Other than that, crank up the audio because this has one superb soundtrack.

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Overall Score: 14/20 = 7.0 out of 10

Bladestorm: Nightmare is a game that truly surprised me. While it has some issues that hurt the experience, it’s still a good game that people who like strategy infused with RPG and hack-and-slash mechanics should certainly give a go. While there is a learning curve, I found myself easily captivated to keep returning once grasped. There’s something about commanding your own squads to form an army, then work together to decimate anything that stands in your way that is immensely satisfying. Couple the fact that there are two games packaged in one, with progression seamlessly carried between the two, and you have a pretty solid package. It may not be for everyone, and it may not have garnered a big audience in 2007, but Bladestorm: Nightmare is a game that should be experienced by any strategy and/or RPG enthusiast.

 

Pros:

+ The original 2007 Bladestorm is included
+ Seamless progression between both games packaged
+ Enticing gameplay
+ Fun storyline
+ Outstanding soundtrack

 

Cons:

– Several gameplay bugs
– Slow environment traversal
– Average visuals
– Overwhelming menu navigation

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Bladestorm: Nightmare! Copy reviewed on PS4.

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Deception IV: Blood Ties Review (PS3/Vita): “The reason we have the ESRB”

Deception IV Cover

Have you ever gone through a game and thought to yourself: “Man, the bad guys are always overpowered. Where’s my amazing abilities and cheap combos?” Well wonder no more. Deception IV places you on the other side of the story, as in, the ‘oh so good to be bad’ side! Utilizing an incredible arsenal of various traps used to surprise, torment, combo, torture and ultimately finish off your enemies, you may have to adjust to the feeling of being… evil. Do you have the stomach for it?

Story: 2/5

You play as Laegrinna, a seemingly innocent looking, adorable and calm mannered girl… who is also the daughter of the devil. Together with your three daemon “witches”, you have set out to claim 12 magical verses inscribed on slabs that bind your father (the devil) in the afterlife, keeping him from reigning over the world. By recovering all of the verses, held by descendants of the virtuous and holy who bound the devil, Laegrinna will be able to undo the imprisonment and give the earth back to the most powerful and “deserving”.

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Deception IV never really goes into detail about why Laegrinna is trying to bring back her father. Other than being evil, and taking over the world is what evil people do, you primarily have to just go with it. Some repetitive dialogue cutscenes detail the game’s 12 chapters as you progress from one location to the next, collecting verses off of fallen bosses. Again, while there is really no explanation given (or needed), the owners of the verses seem to be attracted to the other verses, allowing you to basically sit and wait for the next hot shot to come in seeking glory for slaying the “witch”.

Deception IV never really builds a decent climax, or shrinks down to a low, it’s a pretty steady paced game without a real enticing plot line. In fact, the one recurring sequence of mystery potentially holding an exciting twist or story development is completely forgotten and never given any substance, making the completion of the story seem merely inconsequential. To be honest, if this is what it’s like to progress as the bad guy, I’d rather be a henchman without a name tag, but at least a life outside of taking over the world.

Nonetheless, I have to give credit for taking everything we have come to know as a “noble quest” and completely flipping it on its side. Being evil throughout the story actually did make me feel less empathetic towards my enemies and more focused on the end goal, by any means necessary. While I definitely can’t say I was engrossed in the story, I will admit that the progression pace and dialogue from time to time did enhance the gameplay slightly.

Deception IV Gameplay 1

Gameplay: 5/5

​What’s interesting about Deception IV is that you don’t play as some all-powerful character able to cruise their way through to the end based on self-growth alone; you need the demonic help of three “witches” – or daemons. Caelea, the daemon of elaborate death, Veruza, the daemon of sadistic torment, and Lilia, the daemon of humiliating demise, aid in your retrieval of the verses as well as most of the dialogue in the game. In fact, you have almost no powers, other than to call on the powers of your daemons. Laegrinna is actually very weak and she cannot fight. Instead, she uses carefully placed traps to ensnare victims and rob them of their lives. Each location is set up like a grid, with each square being a spot you can place certain traps. There are three types of traps: wall, ceiling and floor – being that each type of trap will appear from one of those locations. Your three daemons dictate what each trap may be themed after. Elaborate traps have a specific inclination to link other traps together, creating large combos by which you can hurl enemies around, inflicting more and more damage as more traps are used. Sadistic traps are used predominately to inflict damage. They work very well to get past defenses as well as catch an enemy off guard. Humiliation traps however are merely meant to amuse. While they are sort of in between the other two types, they really have a knack for bringing the funny out in death (picture a giant yo-yo crushing someone).

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​You start off with only a handful of traps to use. However, as you progress, earning more elaborate, sadistic or humiliation points, you can buy new traps with a never explained currency called “warl”. The different traps appear to be never ending, constantly adding new possibilities to torture and kill enemies. While some appear to be similar, they often hold different qualities which can affect enemies in different ways. There are a handful of different categories of traps as well. While wall, ceiling and floor dictate how the trap will appear and can be placed, there are subcategories that give reason as to how the trap functions and affects enemies. For example, there are fire traps which burns enemies, enrage traps that cause the enemy to forgo their inclination to avoid harm’s way, as well as crushing, freeze, electric, piercing (etc) traps. Utilizing different types of traps is the key to defeating different enemies.

The enemies in Deception IV are all given personalities. Some are knights, assassins, brawlers and even regular townspeople, and each are given a backstory which may help in determining their weaknesses, as well as how they will perform on the battlefield. For example, many townspeople will run when they get hurt, while knights will chase you down even if they are an inch within death. Also, some enemies wear armor or hold particular abilities which may disable the use of different types of traps against them. Some enemies can jump over obstacles, sense traps or even heal themselves and others. All enemies learn where traps have been placed as well as try their very best to kill you, so when you’re pitted against up to three enemies, you need to be wise about who to attack first.

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​As stated before, pairing different types of traps against enemies in a combo is the key to success (and by success, I mean mercilessly killing them without a second’s thought). Some enemies will be resistant or invulnerable to different types of traps. Resistant to a trap means that type of trap (electric/crushing/blinding) will not affect them if used first in a combo. However, link it after the enemy has been taken by a different trap and you can use it against them. Invulnerable however means that no matter how much you try, you cannot use that type of trap against them – so stock up on traps wisely! Enemies wearing armor will also take less damage from traps, so breaking it is essential. You can do this by carefully performing a trap combo, including the enemy’s weakness in the chain, then launching them into the air. The trick is that you never really know the enemy’s weakness. Many can be determined from the character’s brief backstory, but most of the time you’re left to a trial-and-error scenario.

​Overall, the pure strategy needed to defeat even the most menial enemies is extremely satisfying, but when a boss is thrown into the mix, you really need to plan out your attacks carefully. The surprising thing about Deception IV is that even though the strategy is fundamentally the same for each enemy, and you may utilize the same trap sequence over and over again, I never got tired of it. Location is an important element in the game, as traps are placed in a grid lock formation and enemies obviously do not move square-by-square, so getting a large trap combo to successfully land is extremely rewarding. Timing as well as knowledge of how your enemy will progress are both very important; and therefore you truly feel as though you are meticulously planning each individual’s demise, giving off the feeling of being a higher entity than those who oppose you. Nonetheless, boss fights and multiple enemies coming for your head provide an excruciating challenge and should not be taken lightly. Proper preparation and careful planning are wildly rewarded.

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​As you progress through the story, you will encounter different challenges provided by your daemons, rewarding you with appropriate point boosts to each particular theme (elaborate/sadistic/humiliation). These often include utilizing arena specific traps. Traps that are placed within the arena offer type boosts as well as continued combo potential. There are also larger traps in arenas dubbed “trap-mobiles”. These mobile traps require high levels of strategy to engage but reward you with large point and damage boosts, as well as a special quicktime event if you kill an enemy with them! Completing these challenges in story missions give you large boosts in character progression, which is beneficial toward unlocking new traps. However, if you would like another opportunity to earn new traps, there are other game modes. Missions give specific qualifications that need to be met for completion, and free battle allows you to set the goals. While only missions give the currency (warl) to buy new traps, free battle gives the opportunity to create, share, and download other’s challenges. As a whole, there is plenty of game to experience, especially as the strategy incorporated into the game makes the story chapters and missions take much longer than anticipated, without any loss to enjoyment. There is just something about brutally torturing a righteous soul beyond that of forgiveness that makes you candidly understand what it is like to be evil.

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Graphics: 3/5

​Most of the locations in Deception IV are dark and dismal arenas of death (as fitting to the nature of the game), therefore there really isn’t any room for a “wow factor”. Light effects are near non-existent, even when flickering torches light a hallway and character repetition, as well as pixilation, can be faintly distracting at the start of the game. While textures do add depth and feel to the game, the real quality is in the traps. Each trap is beautifully rendered when in comparison to the rest of the game, and since this is what you’re mostly focusing on during gameplay, you will hardly have time to notice the under-equipped details in the environments. A thrilling zoom follow feature allows you to lock-on to enemies to get a close-up angle to the action, letting you follow their horrendously painful demise. You can also use this feature to plan the start of a combo, or anticipate attacks from afar. On the PS3 version of Deception IV, you can also record and upload to YouTube the combo sequences from this perspective!

The primary drawback in Deception IV are that cutscenes are merely dialogue events, showcasing protagonists and antagonists as cutout characters with text underneath. This never gives the game an opportunity to go beyond the quality found in the gameplay. However, as stated, the trap effects and textures supersede the rest of the game and allow to you forget the weaker portions of the graphical quality.

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Sound: 4/5

​The eeriness of a deserted castle or the playful terror of an old amusement park are captured wonderfully by the soundtrack in Deception IV; and more importantly do not interfere with the intense calculations needed to strategically plan an attack on an unsuspecting enemy. The reactions to the torment of said attack are a different story however. The screams of agony from enemies as they’re ripped to shreds by a descending saw blade tend to get slightly annoying. That’s not just the removal of all empathy the game has installed in me taking over, the enemy’s voices can be really annoying. Most of the voices from enemies are reused and therefore get old pretty quickly, but then again how many different types of screams do you want? Luckily, you can turn down voice sound effects if you find the repetitive sounds of anguish too much to endure. While main character’s voices are clearly different and seemingly fitting to their composure, you will have to deal with everything being in Japanese.

Again, the traps take the glory here as each sound effect adds real weight and life to the effects of the torture inflicted upon your enemy. The real benefit to these sound effects is the ability to utilize them in completing combos. More often than not, I found myself overwhelmed with enemies, therefore not able to zoom and lock-on to an enemy to correctly time a combo. By listening to the trap effects, I was able to tell when one had finished and when to start another, thus prolonging my combo and allowing me to finish off an enemy easier. The enemy’s screams were also a very distinct indication of when a trap had successfully struck, giving more success to the strategy and careful attention to detail necessary to finish off an enemy. After some getting used to the game, I found the sound effects were mostly well balanced, but you can tweak them generally to fit your preferences.

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Overall Score: 14/20 = 7.0 out of 10
Coming in completely blind to the series, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. While playing as the bad guy (erm… girl) set me off guard for a minute, I quickly found it an enjoyable change of pace. Gameplay is extremely addictive and unlocking new traps is exceedingly enticing, only to be overshadowed by the pure ecstasy of landing a devastating trap combo. While the graphical quality isn’t distracting, I felt it could have been improved, especially considering the lack of resources necessary for the cutscenes. The sound effects were substantial for traps, but tended to get repetitive for characters, even if it helped to understand where they were at in my cycle of death. Quickly into the game, I became enthralled with tormenting my adversaries, and that feeling never seemed to subside. If you don’t mind being a part of the statistic that shows why we clearly need the ESRB, I would highly recommend picking this game up.

Pros:
+ Wonderful strategy element
+ A plethora of traps to choose from
+ Zoom and lock on feature clever and useful
+ Challenge level provoking and rewarding
+ Being evil is fun!

Cons:
– ‘Cutscenes’ were merely dialogue
– Weak story element
– Screams got annoying
– Environment quality inconsistent with the features of the game

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Deception IV: Blood Ties! Copy reviewed on both PS3 & PS Vita.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

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Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate Confirmed for this Fall

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Tecmo Koei and Team Ninja have officially announced that their new DOA5 “project” is “Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate”. Slated for release this Fall for the PS3 and Xbox 360, DOA5U will include the additional features from DOA5 Plus from the Vita, new stages and new fighters. One of the new fighters confirmed is Momiji from Ninja Gaiden. Here is the trailer for DOA5U:

 

Right now, there’s no price indication but if they follow suit with how they handled Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge for PS3/360, then we can bet it may go for $39.99. Also, there’s no indication of whether the game will see light on the Wii U…which has been much requested for on the Ninja Gaiden 3 Miiverse Community. We will keep you DOA fans up-to-date with any more news that reveals about the upcoming title.

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge Review (PS3/360): “The Quintessential NG3 Experience”

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Back in March 2012, Tecmo Koei and Team Ninja released their latest installment in their infamous ninja series, Ninja Gaiden 3. Under the direction of Yosuke Hayashi and practically a whole new team over at Team Ninja, they aimed to westernize the franchise a bit while still trying to retain elements that made it “feel” like Ninja Gaiden. Unfortunately, many fans and critics were incredibly displeased with the changes made to the franchise, with complaints made toward the game’s dumbed-down AI, lack of gore, “simplified” combat, QTEs (Quick-Time Events), lack of weapons, lack of multiple Ninpo and lack of upgrades. When I reviewed NG3 last year, there was no denying that I enjoyed the game despite all the changes made to the gameplay. However, after playing Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, it completely decimates the previous version that released in March 2012.

Story: 4/5

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge’s story has remained largely the same as the version that was released in March, although the game’s prologue has been completely removed. Ryu Hayabusa is visited by Ishigami and Mizuki McCloud from the Japanese Self-Defense Force, in which they, and the Ministry of External Affairs, are looking for his help. However, Hayabusa is being demanded for by an unknown terrorist organization which is why Ishigami and Mizuki have reached out to Ryu. Shortly into the game, it turns out that the alchemist known as the “Regent of the Mask” is the one demanding to confront Hayabusa for his own needs. After battling the alchemist, he casts a curse on Hayabusa known as the “Grip of Murder,” in which the Dragon Sword gets absorbed into Ryu’s arm and effects him due to the amount of people he has killed with that blade. Over time, the Grip of Murder will take over his whole body and kill him but as the story progresses, you’ll find out what exactly the whole purpose this curse holds. From here, Hayabusa will do whatever is necessary to stop the Regent of the Mask, no matter his condition.

To add a bit more to the story, Team Ninja has added two new chapters to the game in which you’ll see what the kunoichi, Ayane, is doing parallel to Hayabusa’s story. While it doesn’t add an enormous amount to the game’s story, what’s here is a nice bonus that ties in to little extra details and NES Ninja Gaiden fans will nod to the person Ayane is working for. Unlike Itagaki’s poor attempts at piecing together a story for Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge’s storyline actually makes sense and gives you a reason to continue the game for its narrative, much like the NES titles.

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Gameplay: 5/5

Played Ninja Gaiden 3 on the PS3/360? Yes? No? Whatever your answer, throw anything you recall of it out the window. Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge brings back an astonishing amount of features and content that were evidently missing in NG3. Upgrades? Check. Dramatically decreased QTEs? Check. Multiple weapons and Ninpo? Check. Wanting to smash your controller repeatedly against a wall due to absolutely vicious difficulty? Checkity check check! Razor’s Edge is the quintessential Ninja Gaiden 3 edition that fans were truly hoping for. Team Ninja took the feedback from fans and critics to heart and decided to rebuild the experience with all the complaints rectified.

Ninja Gaiden has always been known for having one of the most fluid, visceral and downright stunning combat systems in any action game. While NG3 may have been stripped down a bit from NG1 and NG2, Razor’s Edge brings the combat back in full swing by adding three additional weapons to the three that Hayabusa had in NG3. Aside from wielding a specific sword, Eclipse Scythe and Falcon’s Talons, Hayabusa will also gain access to utilize the Lunar Staff, Kusari-Gama, and Dual Katanas. Every weapon feels unique from one another and also provides more strategy to the combat due to certain enemies being weaker to specific weapons. The original three weapons from the NG3 have also been revamped and have even deeper combo sets than ever before. You’ll be provided new weapons when reaching a certain save point in a chapter or by collecting a set amount of Golden Scarabs. Fans, you heard right. Golden Scarabs are back for collecting and there are 50 scattered throughout the game that are waiting to be found. Much like Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 (although in NG2 you collected Crystal Skulls, which is in no way associated to the awful Indiana Jones film), for every five Scarabs found, you’ll unlock a new upgrade or new weapon. Speaking of upgrades, Hayabusa can now obtain new and helpful abilities that can be purchased with Karma Points. While playing through the game, you’ll obtain Karma Points based on how creative your combat is (in which you’re graded on after an enemy wave), your combo string, Golden Scarabs, etc. It’s a very rewarding system and one that helps keep the combat fresh as you try to string for a crazy hit combo (very gratifying when you achieve a 200+ hit combo).

NG3 Razor's Edge Gameplay 1

In NG3, when an enemy was on the ground, they would simply plead for their life (except for the Black Spider Ninjas) and you’d just finish them off to basically shut them up. In Razor’s Edge, when an enemy is on the ground or is missing a limb, they’re going to come at you with a last stand to take Hayabusa’s life with theirs. However, you can quickly end their life by pressing the strong attack button and watching Hayabusa obliterate his enemy in an incredibly visceral style. One of the complaints with NG3‘s combat was the “Steel on Bone” QTE action that initiated when finishing off an enemy. Well, that’s no longer the case but “Steel on Bone” hasn’t been removed either. Instead, to pull off a “Steel on Bone”, you’ll have to dodge an enemy who’s trying to grapple you (you’ll know from the red aura glowing around them), and then quickly press the strong attack button to instantly kill them, while then linking it to another enemy. The more your weapon is upgraded, the more of a kill chain you can pull off. As you keep cutting through your enemies, Hayabusa’s arm will glow red allowing you to initiate an immediate Ultimate Technique (which are now MUCH more jaw-dropping to see in action, especially the Dual Katana’s when it’s upgraded to Level 3). While UTs were in the original version of NG3, that was the only way you could pull them off. Instead now, you can still pull off an Ultimate Technique by standing still and holding down (charging) the strong attack button, just like NG1 and NG2. Another complaint about NG3’s combat was the restriction of only one Ninpo. Now, Hayabusa has the three Ninpos he had in NG2: The Art of the Inferno, The Art of the Wind Blades, and The Art of the Piercing Void. Each Ninpo has it’s own meter to fill up during combat and can also be upgraded in the Ninja Skills menu. Like NG3, Ninpo attacks will recover some of your health depending on how many enemies it successfully hits. Since you can’t carry any health items, building up your Ki meter is essential if you want to stand a chance in some of the tougher fights. Thankfully, when your Ki meter is full during a battle, it’ll stay that way unlike the original version where you either had to use it in that specific wave of enemies or you lost it. That tense feel of combat is back in Razor’s Edge and every battle actually feels like one that you have to fully concentrate on to ensure survival. Playing through on the Normal difficulty setting is essentially like playing NG3’s “Hard” mode from PS3/360…except without the monotonous waves of enemies. Team Ninja has definitely paced the game significantly smoother and feels less repetitive than the previous edition. The only problem that still lies within the combat is the camera. There are still a good amount of times where the camera gets a bit caught up during the intense combat. While Ninja Gaiden has always has some camera issues during combat, it’s still an occasional issue here.

My...what big hands you've got!

My…what big hands you’ve got!

NG3 introduced the new “Kunai Climb” ability in which Hayabusa would have to scale up a wall by alternating the trigger buttons. In the previous edition, you had to go at a certain speed with pressing the buttons when climbing and if you let go of both triggers, Ryu would fall. Razor’s Edge fixes this and makes it much more fluid by allowing you to climb faster based on how fast you alternate the buttons. Also, you don’t have to hold down both buttons to ensure Hayabusa stays on the wall, making the climbing sequences significantly simpler and more streamlined. Team Ninja also looked back at some of the levels and tweaked them. Kunai Climbing, while simpler this time around, has been reduced a bit and any sequences that required you alternate the triggers while traversing with a rope are completely gone. Some levels may have lesser waves of enemies, a bit more platforming and a few extra areas that contain Crystal Skulls. Each chapter contains a hidden Crystal Skull, which when found initiates a Test of Valor challenge. These challenges will bring Hayabusa and/or Ayane to a specific locale from Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2, in which you’ll face three waves of enemies, followed by a boss from the first two Ninja Gaiden games. These challenges are a true testament that Ninja Gaiden fans will eat up while newcomers will cower away from. To make it even more intense, should you die during the challenge, whether you’re on the third/final wave or up to the boss, it’s back to the first wave of enemies. It’s a real test of skill and endurance but completing them will net you a ton of Karma Points to use for upgrading.

There were moments in NG3 where Hayabusa’s curse would become severe and the camera would zoom-in over his shoulder. All you had to do was one-hit kill each enemy in a wounded state and then walk to a specific point for these segments to end. In Razor’s Edge, they’ve completely changed this concept into a more artistic direction. Instead, Hayabusa will be in a different dimension dishing out damage on enemies that flood his environment. The catch here is that your health is continuously depleting and can only increase slightly with each kill. Once you defeat all of Hayabusa’s “inner demons” in a sense, you’ll then return to his proper state. It’s actually a solid change that is definitely welcome.

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No Ninja Gaiden game would be complete without boss fights and this installment provides for some truly intense and memorable battles. Each boss battle has been completely reworked as well. They now provide stiffer challenges than they already were back in the previous version but they also provide health bars at the bottom of the screen. Whether you’re facing the Regent of the Mask, a Helicopter on top of a skyscraper or a Gigantosaurus (yeah, there’s a dinosaur boss and it’s intense), these will all provide jaw-dropping moments and heart-stopping intensity. However, be prepared for some frustration to really kick in here. While some bosses will take a few tries before you figure out a strategy, others will be just downright difficult and merciless. Regardless, when tackling boss battles, keep your cool and examine their attacks. It’s an old-school challenge that is immensely rewarding upon completion.

Additional to Hayabusa’s tweaked campaign, Team Ninja added two new chapters in which you’ll control Ayane. Her move set will be familiar to those who played Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, while also introducing new moves and abilities. Ayane’s combat is essentially the same as Hayabusa’s, only faster due to her light but lethal Fuma Kodachi weapons. Ayane also has her own Ninja Skills upgrade tree so any Karma Points you earn with her are strictly for her only. It’s great to see Team Ninja added these two chapters as it helps change the game’s pace a bit.

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The single-player replay value has also been significantly amped up this time around. Upon completing the game, you will unlock Momiji and Kasumi to play with in Chapter Challenge and Ninja Trials. Team Ninja has brought back the Chapter Challenge mode which allows you to revisit any chapter you want. More impressively, you’re allowed to replay any chapter with either Hayabusa, Ayane, Momiji or Kasumi (a first in the NG series), regardless of who the default character was for that level. This is a nice addition and one that will add replay value for those who prefer one character over the other when aiming for the leaderboards. Additionally, there’s a New Game Plus so that you can replay the game with all the upgrades you’ve obtained and continue to finish upgrading the characters. Even after you’ve finished upgrading Hayabusa’s, Ayane’s, Momiji’s and Kasumi’s abilities, you can use your Karma Points to unlock their alternate costumes (including Hayabusa’s original NES blue costume).

When accessing Shadows of the World (multiplayer), you will have the option of playing Ninja Trials or Clan Battle. Ninja Trials are essentially the co-op setup that players experienced in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, with a number of missions to complete varying by difficulty. This time around, you can play as Hayabusa, Ayane, Momiji and Kasumi in Ninja Trials. Also, it’s worth noting that if you’re playing Ninja Trials solo, you can now pause the game, which you oddly couldn’t do in the previous version. Clan Battle is your competitive mode, a first for the Ninja Gaiden series. To be honest, I really wasn’t too thrilled about it when it was announced. Thankfully, I can say that it’s not as tacky as I expected it to be. You’ll be able to customize your own ninja with specific weapons, different colors, headbands, gear and Kanji symbols to distinguish your character. You unlock more customization items the more you level up. When commencing a 4-on-4 Clan Battle, you’ll be pitted in certain levels from the campaign and have to just hunt the other players and cut them down. However, while it’s basically everyone running into the middle of the map to kill each other, there are more strategic approaches. Utilizing rooftops to snipe with your bow and walking to have your ninja cloak within the environment and prep an instant stealth kill are just a few examples. The multiplayer may be nothing groundbreaking, but it’s surprisingly addictive and a great change of pace from the typical other multiplayer offerings out on the market.

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Ninja Gaiden 3’s original version was a different take on the franchise. One which was an admirable effort in trying to take a risk, but as stated, didn’t reside well amongst fans and critics. However, Team Ninja has really worked tremendously within the past 8 months to completely fix all the issues with the game and provide fans with an experience that is completely relatable to them. What they’ve accomplished here is quite impressive and ultimately feels like a true sequel to Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. Where as NG3 felt repetitive, Razor’s Edge was incredibly hard for me to put down, just like Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 were. Despite still having some camera issues that the series has always had, it doesn’t really disrupt the game from being an absolute blast.

NG3 Razor's Edge Gameplay 2

Graphics: 4/5

Team Ninja has always boasted some impressive visuals in their titles and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is no different. Hayabusa’s character model is incredibly detailed, being able to see every cloth line on his scarf, every glimmering shine on his sword and top-notch, fluid animations. As Hayabusa cuts down his enemies, their blood stains on his body and the more you kill, the more bloodied up Ryu gets. It’s definitely a great little detail that further adds to the immersion. Ayane, Momiji and Kasumi have been very well designed also, with the same level of detail and attention as Hayabusa. Enemies all have a distinguished look to them and have a good amount of detail as well. Seeing enemies decapitate again is also a very welcome return that further adds to the gory visuals. The environment detail can occasionally be a mixed bag however. Certain areas look pretty nice with some great detail. At other times, it just looks more on the bland side. The game still runs at 60 fps, which is a necessity for an action game like this. Since the game is based on the 1.3 patch update for the Wii U, the frame rate has been stabilized tremendously and rarely drops. It’s great to see Team Ninja improving the game from a technical standpoint as well.

Well crap...time to prepare controller-throwing frustration again

Well crap…time to prepare controller-throwing frustration again

Sound: 4/5

Ninja Gaiden 3′s overall sound design is incredibly well done. The sound effects of cutting through enemies is very powerful and gruesome to hear, perfectly accompanying the visceral combat. The excellent soundtrack also conveys the action in a way that truly engages you into the gameplay and will stick with you well after playing the game. True story: I’ve listened to NG3’s soundtrack for over a year now on a daily basis…yes, it’s that’s awesome. Hayabusa’s voice actor, Troy Baker, does a solid job of delivering dialogue lines during cutscenes. However, it’s his incredibly badass battle cry while in combat that provides adrenaline during battle. Voice acting for all the other characters are pretty good, but nothing stellar that we’ve come to witness throughout this generation. “I don’t wanna die…I don’t wanna die!” is no longer a line that enemies will say during combat and their banter is not as repetitive as it was in NG3. Ayane’s voice is a bit on the “bratty” side though and comes off a bit childish at times. Regardless, the sound effects and adrenaline-fueled soundtrack really bring out the best in the audio department.

Ninja Gaiden 3 Razor's Edge Gameplay 1

Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5 out of 10

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is proof that the new Team Ninja has what it takes to develop further installments in the franchise. I can’t stress enough that Razor’s Edge is the quintessential version of Ninja Gaiden 3 that should not be missed by any NG fan. If you already own the Wii U version, there’s no reason to pick this up again on the PS3/360 (even if there are some extra costumes). However, if you held off for Razor’s Edge to come to the PS3/360, then don’t pass this up at all. With one of the best combat systems ever designed, a coherent story, devilish difficulty, tons of extra content, replay value, a truly exceptional soundtrack, and a raw intensity that little to no games can match, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is a must-own for any NG and/or hack-and-slash fan. The game’s tagline may be “Violence Reborn”, but I say it’s “Ninja Gaiden Reborn”.

PROs:

+ Feels like a completely different experience; More in-line with Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2

+ Visceral combat system is amongst the best ever designed

+ Outstanding soundtrack and audio design

+ NES Ninja Gaiden references

+ Great replay value; Multiple costumes and “Chapter Challenge” returns

+ Ninja Trials now feature Hayabusa, Ayane, Momiji and Kasumi

CONs:

– Voice acting can be a mixed bag

– Some bland environments

– Camera can still be an issue during combat

A special thank you to Tecmo Koei for providing us a review copy for Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge! Game was reviewed based on the PS3 version.

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Dead or Alive 5 Plus Review (PS Vita): “Team NINJA’s Most Impressive Vita Title”

Dead or Alive 5 Wallpaper

In September of 2012, Team NINJA released their highly-anticipated sequel to one of the hottest fighting franchises, Dead or Alive 5. The game provided for some intense fights, along with some cinematic elements to further heighten the sense of battle. A few months after the game’s release, Yosuke Hayashi announced that “Dead or Alive 5 Plus” would be coming to the PS Vita so that fans can take the fight on-the-go. Additionally, the game was promised a few new features that make the “plus” portion of the title stand for something. So how does Team NINJA’s port of DOA5 handle on the Vita?

Gameplay: 5/5

Dead or Alive was always an interesting fighter, and not solely because of the chicks and their “boob physics”. DOA was built around the concept of a “Rock, Paper, Scissors” fighting mechanic, in which certain moves work out better against others. Still to this day, this mechanic really stands out by providing a very complex, yet gratifyingly sense of accomplishment when understood. Thankfully, newcomers, as well as fans who need a brush up course, will be taught how every mechanic comes into play via DOA5+’s Story mode.

DOA5+‘s Story mode takes place shortly after the events of DOA4, in which Kasumi is determined to find Alpha-152, her weaponized clone that DOATEC created, and eradicate her completely. In the meantime, Helena Douglas is trying to give DOATEC a re-imaging by holding a fifth Dead or Alive tournament and showcase that they’re not all about creating weapons. Throughout the game’s 60+ missions (which will take roughly 3 hours to complete), you will take control of every character from the DOA universe and witness how their story connects with everything at hand. The story jumps around a good amount due to the fact that you’ll focus on a specific character each chapter and see their whole story, as opposed to a linear story structure. It has an intriguing opening scene that will definitely grab your attention, however the story from this point all the way until the halfway point won’t garner your attention as much. It’s not until the second half where the story really picks up tremendously and has you truly engaged. Regardless, the pacing is properly done and you’ll find yourself getting through this in no time, mainly because it has a “one more fight” appeal to it. To add some replay value to the story, Team NINJA added Bonus Missions in each fight where you’ll have to complete a certain stipulation (i.e. Perform 3 Mid-Counters, Perform a Ground Hold 3 Times, etc.). Completing these will unlock Titles, which are mainly to add some taglines to your profile when going online. You can have up to two Titles shown on your profile at once.

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Aside from the Story, you’ll have your main fight modes such as Versus, Arcade, Time Attack, Survival and Training. Versus will let you take on your buddies or the COM in any way you see fit, solo or tag team. You’ll be able to adjust the COM’s difficulty, health bars, rounds, and time limit. Arcade mode will have you tackling eight stages in solo, or five stages in tag team, against the COM in a range of up to eight difficulties: Rookie, Easy, Normal, Hard, Champ, True Fighter, Master and Legend. Time Attack is the same ordeal as Arcade except it’s about getting through the stages as fast as possible to post a competitive time for people to beat on the leaderboards. Survival is back as well from the past, this time broken up into difficulties and each difficulty adds more fighters you’ll have to take on. Each time you take out an opponent, you’ll receive a little bit of health back but if you’re expecting to pick up items that bump up your score (from previous DOAs) from downed fighters, that won’t be found here. Training returns as well with even more features at your disposal to truly let you master your characters in a variety of scenarios. The Command Training is where you’ll want to get the most out of mastering your character as it will showcase every move in order. Should you need to see what you’re supposed to be doing, you can press the Select and L buttons together to view a demo of that particular move; a very handy feature.

When it comes to fighting games, there’s always the concern of characters not being properly balanced. Thankfully, there’s no need to worry about that here. If there’s one thing Team NINJA has done extensively, it’s design characters that all have their pros and cons but never overpower each other, especially with all the latest PS3 patches being already incorporated in the Vita version. When choosing one of the 24 characters, you’ll notice that for the first time ever, they have a stat breakdown. All characters are rated based on Strike, Throw, Hold, Power, Speed and Moves. There’s not a single fight that you’ll partake in thinking “damn, this character is cheap” and the reason for this is DOA’s infamous Counter system. When it comes to an intuitive counter system, DOA has always stood on top of the list of fighters. It is because of this counter system that the fights in DOA are always interesting and edgy. They have returned to the 4-point counter system (hi, mid, mid-forward and low), in which you’ll have to master when to counter an opponent’s move or stop their combo.

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There are a few new features to be found in DOA5 that are well implemented. First off, new moves that can make battles more interesting and provide more flair are the Critical Strikes and Power Blows. Critical Strikes will allow you to really give your opponent no chance of countering or attacking for a little bit more time than normal. To successfully pull this off however, you’ll need to string a combo and then a Critical Strike move for it to be effective. You’ll know you did it right because a powerful audio effect and screen shake will kick in at that moment. Power Blows are charged up moves (think Ultimate Techniques from Ninja Gaiden) that can be initiated when your health bar is flashing red (which is at the 50% mark) and if pulled off successfully, you’ll witness a flashy and brutal combo to only be finished off by quickly choosing a specific location or Danger Zone to knock the opponent into. You’ll only get one of these per round so you can’t abuse this system continuously in a match. Speaking of Danger Zones though, DOA5 introduces a much more enhanced type known as Special Danger Zones. Knocking opponents into these will cause the environment to alter, whether it’s causing the building you’re on to collapse, a raft to dislodge from a tree and fall off a waterfall, or knock someone into a military chopper and blow it up. These moments are jaw-dropping to say the least and give DOA5+ an intense, cinematic style to the fights that really bring a deep immersion into them. Initiating these Special Danger Zones to trigger is immensely satisfying as it really draws out the intensity of a battle to a whole new level…literally. Another feature brought to DOA5 is partially one that was implemented in DOA: Dimensions for the 3DS and that is the ability to have your move list open in front of you during a fight. Where as the 3DS used the touch screen to showcase your move list and you could tap the move to pull it off automatically, DOA5+ has it placed in a corner of your screen and you’ll be able to scroll through it with the right analog stick. However, just note that you can’t have the move be pulled off for you like the 3DS edition. Lastly, the one additional feature to further add to game’s combat are the Cliffhangers. Cliffhangers will initiate when your opponent is knocked off a high ledge from environmental alteration and from here, a little mini-game is in effect. As the striker that initiated it, you’ll have to press either the Throw or Attack (Punch or Kick) button to keep dealing more damage to your opponent while transitioning to the next part of the arena. As the defendant, you’ll have to press a button to quickly grab the ledge, followed by the Throw or Attack button in hopes of pressing the same button as your opponent. Should you succeed, you’ll deflect the opponent’s attack. It’s a great little addition that changes up the pace of the fight and just look amazing to see in action. Every character has their own unique Cliffhanger attacks that are showcased and seeing them all is a pure joy.

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In terms of new characters to the series, Mila and Rig make their first debuts and to much welcome. Mila is an MMA fighter and seeing how popular the sport is in today’s times, it seems like a logical route to go. Her strikes are incredibly fast and proves to be a likable character that many may want to look into trying out. Rig, a Tae Kwon Do fighter, is another very welcome addition. His expertise in lightning fast kicks and sleek maneuverability make him a character that many may want to also consider testing out. Then you have your Virtua Fighter cameo characters: Akira, Sarah and Pai. For you Virtua Fighter fans, you’ll be glad to hear that Team NINJA replicated these characters exactly the way you remember from their respective series. Everything from the character’s details, to their move set is here in full swing.

Now DOA5+ does have some exclusive features that need to be brushed on. First off, they’ve added a new mode called “Touch Battle”. Essentially, this puts the game in a first-person perspective and you’ll have to tap, swipe, pinch and hold the screen to make your way through a fight. For those that played Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword for the DS, it felt very much like that and works extraordinarily well. I was a bit weary of how this mode was going to be handled but Team NINJA made it where it’s not gimmicky and rather, quite addictive. Another addition lies within the Training modes. Now, there’s a Combo Challenge mode for every character so that you can learn and master some of the more complex combos. It starts off easy and as you progress, naturally gets very demanding. However, completing these are immensely rewarding and mastering them will give you the upper hand against some of the better players online. Another nice feature for DOA5 Plus is that all the characters are unlocked right from the beginning. Those who were grinding tons of hours just to unlock Alpha-152…well, she’s already unlocked from the start here. Cross-Save between the PS3 and Vita version is in full effect here, so any progress with the Costumes and Titles will transfer over with no problems. Simply upload your save data for the PS3 version with the latest update, access it through the Vita and you’re good to go.

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Combo Challenge mode is a great way to master some intricate combos.

Naturally, many people are looking forward to taking DOA online and there are a few modes in play here. You can keep it straight forward by doing Simple Match, which is basically an unranked match and probably a good place for beginners to start. DOA competitors will most certainly be tackling the Ranked Matches so that they can show off their skills and receive higher grades. The grade system from DOA4 and DOA: Dimensions is back in play here but for those who don’t know, you’ll earn Grade Points for each match won. Once you’ve earned enough points, you’ll go up a grade (i.e. F to F+, then to E-, then E, etc). However, should you lose a match, you’ll lose some points and can be degraded. The Lobby Match type has been removed from the Vita version. So if you enjoy the Tournament style play, you won’t find that here. The online experience was rock solid throughout my duration of playing matches. The latest update for the PS3 version that’s incorporated into the Vita version allows for Cross-Play online battles. Every online match I had ran butter smooth, with little to no lag input. What’s really neat is that it shows if someone is playing through their PS3 or Vita when in a match. Also returning from DOA: Dimensions are Throwdowns, except it’s a bit different this time around. While playing the game offline, you can receive Throwdown invitations mid-fight. Simply pressing the Select button, you can accept someone’s invitation and initiate an online match (think of SFIV or MvC3 where you have the Arcade Request except you aren’t forced into them). It’s a cool feature that keeps the online aspect of the game constantly going.

Dead or Alive 5 Plus Gameplay 15

Graphics: 4/5

Visually, DOA5 looked stunning for the most part, and DOA5+ looks great as well, with some sacrifices that needed to be made. The character models are still very well detailed, showcasing sweat during fights, as well as environment interaction. Should the characters fight in the middle of a warzone, sand and dirt will stick to the character as the fight goes on. Same goes for when you’re fighting in the snow. The snow will stick to the character and their clothing. It’s the attention to little details such as this that make the character models pop out more. In terms of the graphical sacrifice here, the models lack that extra shine or polish that was visible in the PS3 version. The lighting within the backdrops and environments are pretty good, but have been scaled back slightly. An example would be in the Rapids stage, when the raft is moving it’s way out of the cave towards the waterfall. In the PS3 version, you’d see the rays of light coming in through the cave. In here, the visual effect is gone. Regardless, whether you’re fighting on a moving raft through a cave, on a building top that’s falling apart, or on an elevator in a laboratory, every stage is detailed nicely. There are other things going on in the backgrounds of stages as well that really make the arenas stand out from being simple, cardboard-cutout environments. For example, when fighting in a gym boxing ring, you’ll see other people training in the background while your fight is going on. Again, it’s little details that add up to making the visuals pop out more.

The game runs at its signature 60 fps at all times and character animations are top-notch. All the animations for the fighters are incredibly choreographed and make watching them in action a complete spectacle. As amazing as these characters looked in action, the Story cutscenes had a different effect. Characters look pretty good in the cutscenes but mouths were very stiff when talking, making them look a bit odd at times.

As great as the game looked on PS3, there was a gripe I had that hurt the game’s graphics score, and the same applies here: inconsistent texture work in the environments. Most environments, as I stated, look great. However, some of the environmental textures seem a bit washed out. Everything in the immediate environment might look great but when you notice the ground and background, it certainly stands out from the more polished details within the environment, giving an inconsistent look. An example would be the Street and Primal levels, in which the ground textures look a bit bland. In the Primal level, the snake and alligator in the background are neat and look decent, but you’ll notice the textures don’t have that fine-tuned polish. Also, the grass textures look a bit off. In the Streets level, objects like a trashed car or barrels that you knock an enemy into could also look a bit sharper, as can the ground. However, then you have other stages like the Flow, Fuel, and Scramble stages that look absolutely stunning. While it’s a minor gripe, it’s one that definitely detracted from the visual score. Regardless, DOA5+ looks great, runs flawlessly and has some of the best character models in a portable fighting game.

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Sound: 4/5

DOA5+ has a great soundtrack that accompanies some truly powerful audio effects. From the moment you enter the main menu, the game gets your blood pumping, ready to get your fight on. Whether you’re fighting in a military zone, atop a collapsing building, in a jungle or on the streets, every track does a great job of capturing the setting of the fight. Music changes to more intense, dramatic tunes when a Special Danger Zone is initiated, heightening the adrenaline of a match. Some tunes also return from the previous DOAs, such as Christie’s theme and Alpha-152’s (which is always a badass song to fight to). DOA5 introduced background stage music that played in matches pertaining to the locations as opposed to the opponent’s theme song. In DOA5+, they’ve added an option to switch the music to play based on Character or Stage. Additionally, you can customize the Character’s battle theme to any song of your liking. This is a very welcome feature that audiophiles (like myself) will appreciate. The audio effects really do a great job of signifying how powerful every hit is, including when initiating the Critical Strikes and Power Blows. It all adds up in providing an adrenaline-fueled audio experience that goes hand-in-hand with the gameplay. Definitely a game to crank up your Vita’s speakers or headphones.

Unfortunately, there are two songs that really ruin the game’s well done soundtrack: Zack’s theme and “The Show” stage. Zack’s theme song is an incredibly childish and awkward song to listen to that will irritate to no end. The Show is a stage where you’ll fight in a circus and while the stage looks cool, playing overly cheerly carnival music in a dramatic fight just doesn’t fit…at all. As a matter of fact, I had the audio blasting the whole time I played DOA5+ but when these two songs would kick in, down that volume went. Luckily Zack’s theme only plays during his scenes in the story and The Show’s song is strictly for that level. Also, English Voice Acting is a mixed bag. The voice acting is ok, with some characters doing a decent job, while others are not as effective. Interestingly, for the Virtua Fighter characters, their audio sounds slightly muffled just like the way it does in those games. It’s actually pretty cool to see they’ve replicated those characters to that extent. For DOA fans, you can switch the voice acting audio track to Japanese to bring back the feel of the originals a bit more.

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Replay Value: 5/5

DOA5 Plus has a good amount of modes but they’ll surely keep you occupied for quite some time. Whether you’re aiming to earn 100% of the Titles (good luck with that), unlocking every costume for all the characters, unlocking all the system voices, completing all the Bonus Missions in the Story mode, tackling all the Combo Challenges for every character or playing the game with buddies locally or online, DOA5+ is a game that will stay in your Vita for months on end. Whether you play for 10 minutes or multiple hours straight, DOA5+ will provide an enormous amount of entertainment.

Dead or Alive 5 Plus Gameplay 10

Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10

DOA5+ is easily Team NINJA’s best title on the PS Vita. While the PS Vita has a plethora of fighters to choose from, I can’t stress enough that DOA is by far the most robust and satisfying one. There are a few quirks that counters DOA5+ from achieving perfection, but in terms of gameplay, this is a perfectly tuned fighter. The game was mentioned as “Fighting Entertainment” by Team NINJA and in that sense, they meant that the game was accessible to both newcomers who’ve never enjoyed fighting games, as well as the core fan base. They’ve definitely succeeded by providing an experience that anyone can wrap their hands around and be engrossed in. Fans rejoice! The PlayStation brand received its first proper portable DOA title…and it could very well be the best on-the-go fighting game available.

PROs:

+ Addictive, gratifying combat system

+ Strong audio

+ Jaw-dropping Special Danger Zones; Cliffhangers are awesome

+ Great amount of content to keep the replay value going

+ Character balancing is finely tuned

+ Background Music customization is a nice feature

+ Combo Challenge is a great way to perfect intricate combos

+ Cross-Play works flawlessly

CONs:

– Some uneven environmental textures

– Ho-hum voice acting; some are decent, others not so much

– Lobby Match is missing from console version

A special thank you to Tecmo Koei, Team NINJA and One PR Studio for providing us a review copy for Dead or Alive 5 Plus! Be sure to follow us on FaceBook and Twitter for all the latest news and reviews: @GamersXTREME

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Review (PS Vita): “A More Ambitious Port Than Its Predecessor”

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Wallpaper

In 2008, Xbox 360 owners got their hands on a highly anticipated sequel to one of the greatest action games, Ninja Gaiden II. Almost a year and a half later, the sequel received the “Sigma” treatment, coming exclusively to the PS3 with better visuals, an online co-op mission mode and other tweaks. When the Vita released, Team Ninja created a portable version of the first Ninja Gaiden Sigma (NGS+ for the Vita) for launch day. One year since the PS Vita’s launch and we see Sigma 2 coming to the Vita. However, is this port better than Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus?

Story: 3/5

Ninja Gaiden’s story for the sequel remains unchanged from what was released on the 360, in addition to the scenes added in Sigma 2 for PS3. The game starts off in Sky City Tokyo, where CIA agent Sonia is speaking with Muramasa of the whereabouts of Ryu Hayabusa. She mentions that she needs to speak with him of a matter concerning the archfiend. Immediately, Muramasa’s shop is attacked by the Black Spider Clan with Sonia being captured (although she does attempt to fight back). Enter Hayabusa, coming in secretly, stylishly and deadly as hell. From here, Hayabusa will soon rescue Sonia and be brought in on the details of why he is needed. Elizébet, the Greater Fiend of Blood, is looking to resurrect the Archfiend and bring the world into chaos, being overrun and ruled by fiends. Hayabusa will find himself returning to the iconic Hayabusa Village, New York City, Venice and other key locales to try and prevent Elizébet and her group of greater fiends from this catastrophic resurrection.

Ninja Gaiden’s story is entertaining, but nothing great by any means. It serves the purpose of the player understanding why Hayabusa is going to each location, but never gives the feel of wanting to advance to see where the plot goes. In the NES era, Ninja Gaiden was synonymous for its story, whereas the newer ones (except for Ninja Gaiden 3 / NG3:Razor’s Edge) seemed to step away from that a good amount. What’s here is decent, but certainly the weakest element of the game.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Cutscene

Gameplay: 4/5

If you’ve never played Ninja Gaiden II / Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, but played the first game, let’s quickly touch up on how the gameplay evolved. First off, the combat is faster, slicker and more visceral than its predecessor. Also, while the original was more of an adventure, the sequel is set on a more linear path, with some exploration and platforming to be found. Combat is handled with light and strong attacks, while emphasizing the blocking mechanic if you want to have any chance of success. Combat has always been one of the key components as to what made the recent Ninja Gaiden series what it is, as well as its menacing difficulty. This sequel introduced the ability to dismember your foe, while also introducing Obliteration Techniques, which allow you to decimate your enemy for good. When you dismember an enemy, they’re not quite down yet, as they’ll do anything they can to grab onto you and inflict severe damage on Ryu. If anything, they’re more deadly dismembered than fully intact. When defeating enemies, they’ll leave essence orbs behind: Yellow for currency, Red for ki and Blue for health. They’ll automatically come to you when they hover in the air but if you block and attack, they remain there. The reason? You can charge up your strong attack to initiate an Ultimate Technique, a devastating move that will allow Ryu to pull off anywhere from 20-60 hit combos easily. If there are essence orbs in the area when charging up this attack, they’ll all absorb directly to you to immediately grant you the highest charge, at the expense of the essence effects. It helps make the combat a bit more complex by making you think if you’re willing to sacrifice the essence effect for a quick charge UT to help make it out of a tough battle.

While playing through the 17 chapter campaign, you’ll also take control of Momiji, Rachel and Ayane in their own exclusive chapters from Sigma 2. Each character plays entirely different from each other. Momiji dishes out some serious damage while also being agile and being able to double jump. Rachel wields a war hammer that’ll crush anything in her way, while also taking out foes with her semi-auto rifle. In return, she also handles combat the slowest of the characters. Ayane’s light, yet deadly, blades make her the fastest to handle but not the strongest. These characters all play to their advantages and help keep the gameplay fresh when giving Hayabusa a break. When taking control of Hayabusa, you’ll have a plethora of weaponry that he can wield. From the signature Dragon Sword, the vicious Vigorian Flail, deadly Lunar Staff, Dual Katanas, Kusari-gama, Tonfas, Enma’s Fang (which was new for Sigma 2), and the Eclipse Scythe, Hayabusa has a deadly arsenal. As you advance through the campaign, you’ll be able to upgrade these weapons whenever you reach Muramasa’s Blue Lantern shop. As you upgrade them, the move sets will become more diverse and they’ll also change cosmetically. You’ll also be able to upgrade your Ninpo when you find a Jewel of the Demon Seal that are hidden in boxes/chests.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Gameplay 3

When it comes to the Vita edition of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, there are a few things that were added into the game. First thing that’s worth mentioning are the touch screen controls. In the first Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, if you even slightly touched the screen, it would go into first-person mode. That has been removed here thankfully. When you want to use your bow or cannon (yeah, Ryu gets a beast of a gun in the first half of the game), you’ll simply tap the icon on the bottom left of the screen and go into the over-the-shoulder perspective to aim (without Sixaxis motion aiming). You can assign the aim and projectile weapons to be triggered with the game’s rear touchpad, but it’s completely optional. Also, there’s no Ninpo enhancing rear touchpad feature like in Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus. However, the one addition I did like that was brought back from Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword was the ability to double-tap the screen to fire off a projectile weapon. If there’s a hovering enemy on the top-right corner of the screen, you can double-tap on him and your character will fire a projectile at him. I found myself doing this often and it came in handy. The one negative element that actually hurts the gameplay a bit in the Vita version is the framerate. When the framerate chugs at times, the input responses lags and just ruins the game’s fluidity that it has been known for. While it doesn’t happen the entire time you’re playing, there are times it will kick in and it’s noticeable. Although, even when the framerate slows down a bit, the game is still more than playable.

Upon completing the game, there’s a great amount of replay value. First off, there’s Chapter Challenge, which lets you replay any of the game’s 17 chapters on a variety of difficulties. You’ll still be able to save at checkpoints when playing this mode and at the end of each chapter, you’ll be graded on your performance based on kills, time and karma score. Next is Tag Missions, which is basically the PS3 version’s online co-op mode. However, since the game turns off all network connections when playing, online co-op is now replaced with you and an AI co-oping the missions. The AI is actually pretty competent at holding their own but should they go down, you’ll need to head over to them quickly and revive them. A nice addition here is that you can switch between the two characters at anytime by simply pressing down on the D-Pad. Prior to starting these missions, you’ll have to choose the loadout for both you and your AI partner. This will include the character of choice, their main weapon, projectile weapon, ninpo and costume. You’ll be able to play on various modes here, which is new from the PS3 version. Normal mode will be like the PS3 experience. Practice mode will grant you and your partner unlimited revivals during missions. Then there’s a “Turbo” mode you’ll unlock, which increases the game’s speed 1.5 times faster.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Gameplay 6

The last mode that’s brand new and exclusive for the Vita version is Ninja Race. This mode has you trying to complete a course from the campaign as fast as possible, with a very limited amount of time. You’ll start with a set time but as you kill enemies, they may drop green essence orbs that increase your time by either 3.5 or 7 seconds. You’ll also need to chain kills together and you’ll have a meter that depletes in betweens kills. Should you take damage, the meter will deplete quicker. Some enemies may drop white essence orbs that add an additional combo bar to increase the meter’s time limit. If you lose the combo kill meter, you’ll be missing out on scoring some big points and the higher medals. Occasionally, enemies will drop purple essence orbs that you’ll collect. These will grant you the ability to trigger you and the enemies around you into “Turbo” mode. Like I mentioned in the Tag Missions section, “Turbo” will make the game run 1.5 times faster than before and due to the strict time limits, you’ll need this to reach the end of the course in time. Each course will contain checkpoints that increase your time limit dramatically. It’s an incredibly challenging yet addictive mode that I would love to see in future NG installments, especially with an online co-op buddy.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Gameplay 11

Graphics: 4/5

I’ve stated this before and I’ll state it again: The PS Vita cannot replicate exact PS3 quality graphics, but it can certainly come close. That being said, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus had to have some sacrifices made to fit onto Sony’s handheld device. The cutscenes are all pre-rendered from the console versions (360’s for most since the gore effects are intact for cutscenes, PS3’s for the additional exclusive scenes and/or you switch the gore off) which is fine…until it transitions to the gameplay. From here, you’ll notice the resolution isn’t as sharp but what’s here is still great. The environmental textures are still pretty sharp for the most part and character models, while scaled down, still look really good. However, the main element that hurt the score a bit in this department was the framerate. NGS+ ran at 30 fps, which fans weren’t too keen of since the NG series demands quick reflexes. NGS2+ also runs at 30 fps, however, can dip down to 20 fps depending on how many enemies are on-screen and how much is happening in the environment. Interestingly, the framerate can be a bit smoother if you switch the gore off to the infamous purple mist and increase the camera sensitivity to the highest settings. It’s a bizarre fix but helps the game maintain the 30 fps much more. On the flip side, the environments haven’t lost much detail at all, including the Temple of Sacrifice which has all the flying fiends in the background in full effect. The animations are still as smooth and fluid as ever before. They definitely packed as much visual content as they could into the game and it still looks great honestly. You just need to adjust to the framerate decrease from the console versions. If you’ve never played the console versions, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue for you.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Gameplay 10

Sound: 5/5

If there’s one thing Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus has, it’s incredibly strong audio. The audio ported over really well, with the sounds of decapitations, swords clashing and environmental effects sounding superb. The voice acting is pretty good and helps carry the story along. However, the real knockout here is the phenomenal soundtrack. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus’s hi-energy, varied soundtrack really gets you pumped for the action on-screen, as well as the exploration involved. Every single track truly captures the game’s moments and immerses you into the game. Plug in your headphones and crank up the volume to the max, because this is one killer audio experience!

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Gameplay 5

Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is a much more ambitious port than last year’s original and is still a great game on its own merit. Compared to Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, this sequel has a much better “on-the-go” feel to it thanks to more frequent save spots and faster gameplay. However, if you own a PS3, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is best played on there. If not or just love the NG series, then Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus will do very well in your Vita collection (as it is still one of the best action games ever made). Framerate complaints aside, it’s still the great game it was on consoles. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus packs a ton of replay value that will keep you coming back for quite some time.

PROs:

+ Intense combat system

+ Outstanding soundtrack

+ Plenty of replay value

+ Ninja Race is a great new mode

CONs:

– Lower framerate

– Story was, and still isn’t, anything great

– Online Co-op removed from PS3’s NGS2

Enjoy the review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for all the latest in gaming news and reviews!

Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 Review (PS3/Wii U/360): “Strictly For Fans Only”

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Wallpaper

In 1983, a Japanese manga called “Fist of the North Star” (also known as “Hokuto no Ken”) was created. The series took off and became a huge hit in Japan, which then received an English localization a few years later. Since then, the series has received a TV series, film and video games to reach out to other audiences. In 2010, the popular manga series got its first game for the current gen consoles known as “Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage”. While it wasn’t exactly a big success, fans of the series found it to still be an enjoyable experience. Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is now out for the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U, published by Tecmo Koei and developed by Koei/Omega Force. However, is this a sequel that improves upon its predecessor or is this game already dead?

This review is based on the Wii U version of the game.

Story: 4/5

Let’s get this out of the way: The extent of my knowledge to “Fist of the North Star” was that it was a popular anime series that started in the 80s. However, upon receiving this review copy, I researched a bit more on the series to get a better understanding on the universe of this much beloved Manga. As I got into the storyline, I started to also watch the anime and compare how the story is told there compared to here in the game…and can say they’ve done a very good job.

Fist of the North Star has a pretty intricate storyline, taking place in a post-apocalyptic world in the year 199X. The story revolves around Kenshiro, a warrior who’s the successor to the assassination arts style “Hokuto Shinken”. Venturing through the barren wastelands, Kenshiro stumbles upon groups that seem to be terrorizing civilians in villages. As a civil warrior, Kenshiro does anything he can to help those in need, whether it be a friend or stranger. As the story progresses, you begin to learn more about Kenshiro’s past and what his motivation is exactly.

The story relies entirely on the manga series, replicating the scenes as authentic as possible. It’s told quite well, using cinematic cutscenes and comic-style panels. The characters are pretty engaging and you’ll feel for the fate of many of them. Honestly, the story is the best thing to be found in Ken’s Rage 2.

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Gameplay 1

Gameplay: 3/5

Like I stated in the story section, I didn’t really follow the series before this game. I knew of it, I just never got around to actually watching the anime. With this being said, I also never played the first Ken’s Rage aside from its demo. For this sequel, the developers decided to tweak a bit of the gameplay style of Ken’s Rage. This time around, the game feels a bit more like a Dynasty Warriors/Warriors Orochi type of hack-and-slash, or in this case, beat-em-up. There are two main modes to tackle: Legend Mode and Dream Mode. Legend Mode will let you experience the entire manga of Fist of the North Star throughout the game’s 36 episodes. Dream Mode lets players explore the storyline of various characters from the series. However, each mode does play a bit differently.

Legend Mode will let players assume control of the main protagonist, Kenshiro. The format of Legend Mode will have you fighting waves of enemies scattered throughout the environments. Combat is handled with light and strong attacks, formulating combos that will pulverize enemies into a bloody pulp. As you give your enemies the beat down, you will build up your Aura Meter. When filled up, you can unleash an Aura attack that will unleash a devastating move to clear out a group of enemies or severely damage stronger opponents. As you move through the level, there will be moments where the game will transition to a cutscene to help flesh out the story a bit more and tie in the reason why you’re going to the next location. There are also moments where the game will try to change up the pacing a bit by having you play as other characters involved in Kenshiro’s quest. Depending on the scenario, you can even choose which character you’d like to play as for the mission. Platforming has been completely removed from Ken’s Rage, replaced now with a dash button. You’ll rely on this during boss battles in particular as it’ll help you dodge and counter their attacks. Boss battles provide to be more entertaining as they are much more challenging than the foes you’ll normally face. You’ll usually end off a boss by initiating a quick-time event. QTEs will occasionally pop-up mid-fight that will let you counter the boss’s attack and dish out some major damage. Watching Kenshiro finish off bosses is pretty sweet, especially with the quips he’ll say when finishing off his opponent. Legend Mode starts off a bit slow at first, but as you keep playing, you’ll find yourself getting more into it. While the combat may get monotonous at times, I still found myself coming back to keeping playing through this mode.

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Gameplay 7

Dream Mode changes up the game a bit. Instead of simply fighting enemies to advance the storyline, you’ll approach this with a bit more “Dynasty Warriors” style. You’ll have bases that you need to capture before you can face off against the level’s boss. I found myself enjoying this mode a bit more than Legend Mode, mainly because I felt more at home with the “Warriors” gameplay premise. Also, this mode allows for two-player co-op, both local and online. While the online servers were barren, local co-op was quite enjoyable, especially on the Wii U version thanks to GamePad/TV split-screen. There are a ton of quests and missions you can experience in Dream Mode, which feels like a separate game in itself that will take many hours to complete.

Ken’s Rage 2 features an upgrading system, but is not intuitive or fun to fiddle with at all. You’ll collect scrolls that have three slots on them. A specific ability will be placed in a certain spot on the scroll. The further in the game you get, the more abilities that will be placed on a single scroll. However, when you’re equipping these, you have five lines you can choose to place a scroll in. You need to try and match scrolls with ability icons to really have them increase your effects dramatically. There are five parameters: Life, Damage, Aura, Defense and Technique. Sometimes the scrolls may also have a special perk that allows you to link combos faster together or increase your attack speed when successfully countering. You can also permanently level up the character’s parameter by collecting blue experience orbs from enemies during combat.

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Gameplay 2

There are some issues that plague the game though. I already mentioned the “scroll” system feels a bit too complex and simply not fun to deal with. While the Legend Mode contains an engrossing story, the way it’s incorporated into the levels bogs down the gameplay. I mentioned earlier that cutscenes will initiate mid-mission, but it actually ruins the flow of combat. You’ll go from fighting hundreds of enemies within 1-2 minutes, to then watching a 7-10 minute cutscene. Then you’ll finally jump back in, fight enemies for about less than five minutes and watch another somewhat lengthy cutscene. This can drag on missions to take upwards to 30 minutes to complete, sometimes longer. It’s almost like driving at 100 mph, then unexpectedly slamming the brakes and pulling the e-brake immediately to come to a complete stop…then repeat. Also in Legend Mode, missions may have Caryatids that you can activate. When activated, you can access your scrolls, as well as do an “interim save”. While an interim save is nice to have for those lengthier missions, the odd thing is the place for some of these Caryatids. Sometimes, you’ll enter an area littered with enemies that contains a Caryatid but the game forbids you from saving when you’re “in battle”. So you would think, “ok, I can save right after I take these enemies out”, to only then watch a lengthy cutscene immediately after and end up in a totally different area with no Caryatid. While you can still access your scrolls, it’s bizarre to see the option to save and meanwhile, you actually can’t. Meanwhile, in Dream Mode, you can do an interim save at anytime by simply pausing the game and accessing it from there…and that mode doesn’t necessarily “need” it as those are faster missions. Another issue lies within the camera, you’ll find yourself adjusting the camera pretty often to face in the direction of the action. While this isn’t too detracting, the moments where it’s becomes the worst is during boss battles. The lock-on boss camera never follows the action fast enough, so if you kick the enemy all the way across the area, it’ll take some time to pan the camera in the right direction.

Issues aside, Ken’s Rage 2 is still an enjoyable game. Playing as different characters changes things up with different move sets pertaining to their styles. For example, if you play as Mamiya, she’ll be able to utilize an automatic crossbow instead of grabbing an enemy like Kenshiro would do. Also, it’s always fun to experiment with Aura attacks for each character as numerous become unlocked as you progress through the game. There’s an indicator near the Aura attack of your choice that shows the radius and direction the attack goes so that you know if the best used for large groups of enemies or strong, yet smaller groups of enemies. Overall, the amount of time you’ll get out of the game is staggering. The Legend Mode alone will take 15-20 hours, and the Dream Mode adds even more to that.

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Gameplay 3

Graphics: 2/5

Fist of the North Star’s visuals are quite subpar for today’s standards, but are passable. Character models are nicely detailed, with some decent animations. Enemies explode into pulps of blood as you beat the crap out of them, and you’ll also see their bodies deform prior to that (just like you’d see in the anime). The deformed animation looks a bit weak, and at times jarring. Environmental texture work is pretty solid, but still comes off as bland. While the game may be a bit drab to see in action, it is replicating the style of the manga series. However, the framerate seems to be really inconsistent. The less enemies on screen, the smoother the game will run, at times reaching 60 fps. However, once waves of enemies come in, the game’s framerate can dip well below 30 fps…at times even 20 fps. It’s a bit inexcusable for a game that’s not exactly showcasing anything overly impressive. The game doesn’t look awful, but it’s certainly not an attractive game either.

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Gameplay 6

Sound: 3/5

Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2’s audio direction is serviceable, but nothing more than that. The voice acting is solely done in Japanese, but is very effective. Sound effects are appropriate and gets the job done, making the game sound like it’s straight out of the anime. The soundtrack consists of metal rock tunes that appropriately convey the setting, if a bit generic. Some tracks are catchy, others not so much. While there are good amount of tracks in the game, they do tend to repeat a lot. The overall audio is good, just not great.

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Gameplay 4

Overall Score: 12/20 = 6.0 out of 10

Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is a game for a very specific audience and certainly not for everyone. While it’s faster paced than the first installment, the question of spending $60 on this game is something that’s hard to recommend to the average gamer. For fans of the series, anime, or “Warriors” games, then you may find a pretty enjoyable game here. If none of those apply to you, it’s impossible for me to recommend the game. It’s nothing great, but it’s a solid title that I found myself enjoying more than I expected. While the game carries a full retail value price tag for a digital only title, the game’s content and length can back it up. It’s not a very good game, but it’s certainly a guilty pleasure of a title that you’ll enjoy despite its issues.

PROs:

+ Faithfully recreates the series’ story

+ Dream Mode is fun, especially in co-op

+ Character models are nicely detailed

+ Some catchy tunes

CONs:

– Visuals are a bit bland; Framerate dips

– Scroll/Upgrade system is not intuitive

– Legend Mode’s mid-mission cutscene bog down action

– Strictly for fans of the series

– More of an update than a sequel to the original…and it’s retailing for $60

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Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper Review (Wii U): “Hyper Hack-and-Slash Action”

WARRIORS OROCHI 3 Hyper Wallpaper

Koei’s “Warriors” franchise has been around for quite some time and has spawned into various series. The latest one, Warriors Orochi 3, released for the PS3 and Xbox 360 back in March 2012. With the Wii U’s launch back in November, Tecmo Koei and developer Omega Force have decided to bring an enhanced version of the title to Nintendo’s new console, Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper. However, exactly how much of an enhancement is it to the PS3/360 edition, is it worth double-dipping and is this a proper introduction to the Warriors series for those who never tried them?

Story: 4/5

Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper begins at the end of humanity, where three generals on Earth remain standing against the Hydra that destroyed civilization. As you progress through an inevitable losing battle, they find themselves fleeing the battlefield and being introduced to Kaguya, a mysterious woman from the Mystic Realm. She tells the heroes that she has the ability to have them travel back in time before the Hydra invaded. With this, they can try and form alliances amongst allies and foes alike to put a stop towards humanity’s end. The story spans across four chapters, with the plot unfolding via dialogue and cinematic cutscenes. Throughout the plot, the heroes will join forces with not only characters from “Dynasty Warriors” and “Samurai Warriors”, but from other Tecmo Koei franchises such as Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive, Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll, Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War, and Warriors: Legends of Troy. The collaborations of these franchises adds a fresh element to the story and if you’re a fan of any of these series, you’ll get immersed into the story a bit more. During battles, you’ll see the generals all conversing with each other, fleshing out more of their characterization. Surprisingly, the story is pretty well told, with a few twists and turns around the corner that will keep you hooked to see where it all goes. It may be a bit hard to immerse into early on, but once you start getting through a few of the missions, you’ll dig the amount of story that’s here. While it’s nothing groundbreaking, it’s far from average.

Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper Gameplay 2

Gameplay: 4/5

Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper is a hack-and-slash, and one that emphasizes it by having you take on over 1000 enemies in each battle. You’ll participate in battles that will change the course of history across huge battlefields. The objective will resort to taking down the head generals of the opposing force, while also avoiding the stipulation of failure should a specific general on your team die or the opposing force flee. As you venture on the battlefield, you’ll have to pay attention to your map to see where your primary objective is and who requires your assistance at once. At first, it may be overwhelming with the amount of red dots, both small and large, littered on you mini-map. However, you aren’t required to take out every single one. The large red dots signify a general that should be taken out. Sometimes your path may be closed and defeating the general near the door will let you advance further. Although, you need to pay attention to the ones that have a yellow blip surrounding their red dot, as those are the key enemies to go after immediately. You’ll form a team of three characters to take control as during missions…and the cast of characters you’ll be able to choose from is enormous. Initially you’ll only have a very limited amount to choose from, but as you complete missions, you’ll get more characters to join your cause. As mentioned in the story section, the characters will range from not only the “Dynasty Warriors” and “Samurai Warriors” franchises, but many other Tecmo Koei franchises. In all, there are over 120 characters to unlock. Having an enormous amount of characters can normally sound like they’d consist of simple cut-and-paste characters with different coats of paint over them. However, the developers have made every single character play entirely unique with their own set of moves. In particular, when you play as characters from other Tecmo Koei franchises, such as “Ninja Gaiden” for example, the amount of detail put into replicating the characters moves are an immensely satisfying love letter to those fans.

Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper Gameplay 6

For a game of its type, Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper has a surprising amount of depth. Aside from the abundant amount of characters, you’ll be able to level up characters, equip better weapons for them, fuse weapons together and equip two different perks per character. Leveling up is something that never felt like a chore at all, as you’ll collect extra EXP scrolls on the battlefield for each general you defeat. However, you can also level up your characters by distributing “Growth Points”. You’ll earn these points at the end of missions and once you return to your camp, you can access the “Distribute Growth Points” menu to further upgrade your characters. Speaking of the camp, this will be your hub where you’ll be able to speak with other characters, form bonds between them, purchase and fuse weapons, and also access the Network Assistant (online co-op). Speaking with other characters is important as these will open up side-missions to unlock more characters, and only a few characters will appear on site to speak with at a time. An interesting mechanic is the “Weapon Fusion”, which will allow you to take elements from one weapon and attach them to another. Each weapon will have slots that utilize countless different perks, such as Ice, Flame, Prosperity and Wisdom, just to name a few. These abilities will allow you to have elemental attacks added, increase your EXP faster, earn more Proficiency for your weapon (which will permanently increase the damage your weapon does), increase your defense, etc. The perks can also be upgraded up to nine points each, so if you had “Ice+1” on the weapon you’re upgrading and chose to add “Ice+4” from another, it’ll become “Ice+5”. It’s this level of depth the weapon system has that makes it addictive to try and max out a weapon to become a complete beast. As for the Network Assistant, it does what it needs to in order to get an online co-op session going. However, the online co-op only allows you to play missions that have already been completed, so if you’re looking to co-op through the whole story mode online, you’ll be a bit letdown here. On the plus side, if you plan to replay through the game on harder difficulties and earn better weapons, that will give you some solid replay value, both offline and online. The campaign itself will take roughly 12-15 hours to complete, with a plethora of additional missions to unlock that add even more longevity.

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Another game mode that’s sure to give creationists plenty of game time is the Musou Battlefields mode. In this mode, you’ll be able to remix battles that you’ve completed with which generals you want teamed up with you, who your enemy generals are, the dialogue lines they’ll say during the battle, the music track, and the conditions. Once you complete this, you can upload your level for everyone to download and test out. User-generated content can come a long way into adding replay value to a game, and seeing this incorporated into WO3 is an incredibly welcome addition. On top of this, there’s the Duel Mode that’s been added exclusively to the Wii U version. In this, the game will become a 3-on-3 fighter where you can move around the arena and go head-to-head with either the CPU or another player. This mode is not only playable locally, but online as well. Interestingly, for you Koei fans out there, this mode reminded me a bit of Destrega (a PS1 fighter that I recommend getting off the PSN). It spices it up a bit by adding cards into the mix. You’ll be able to equip up to four cards (one assigned to each direction on the D-Pad) that will help change the flow of fights. One may give you the ability to create an invisible barrier that pushes your opponent away, while another may let you summon an offensive ability. You’ll collect more cards as you progress through the story mode.

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As for the Wii U version of the game, they’ve added four new characters, two of which from the Ninja Gaiden series: Rachel and Momiji. The other two characters are brand new to the “Warriors” series: Shennong and Seimei Abe. For Ninja Gaiden fans, returning to a rendition of Hayabusa Village to team up with Momiji or return to a ruined New York City to reunite with Rachel provide for nostalgic moments, especially when those character’s theme songs kick in, which are immediately recognizable to fans. If you’re playing local co-op, one player will play directly through the GamePad, while the other will have the TV to themselves, as you hack and slash your way through battles. If you want, you can still enable split-screen mode if you’d rather play it that way for a more traditional multiplayer experience. In terms of controls, you can use the GamePad, Wii U Pro Controller and Wii Pro Controller, so if you didn’t grab a Wii U Pro Controller yet but have the Wii one, you’ll still be able to co-op. Speaking of controls, while it handles very well and lets you customize every button, there are two buttons that can’t be changed, the zL and zR buttons. These buttons let you switch between teammates while the L button lets you block and R button lets you initiate one of your special attacks. Although, your fingers sit naturally on the zL and zR buttons, which would feel more intuitive for blocking and pulling off specials. It takes some getting used to but it’s jarring that while every button is customizable, these ones weren’t.

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Graphics: 3/5

Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper is a decent looking game, with character models that look pretty good while having some technical aspects that hold it back. Environments look okay, but nothing great by any means. The real kicker is that the game’s draw distance is pretty poor. As you advance through the battlefields, portions of buildings, trees, and enemies will vanish and then reappear depending on your distance. You can be running along the field and you’ll see enemies literally appear about 5 feet in front of you. While this is an issue found in the PS3/360, the draw distance seemed slightly more of an issue in the Wii U edition. The interesting thing is that after a few missions, this doesn’t become as jarring as it might be, becoming something you’ll adjust to. The game does render a ton of soldiers on the battlefield at once, which is a reason as to why they’ll instantly appear and vanish depending on your distance. The framerate seems to keep up pretty well, even though it’s less than the PS3/360. Where as those versions would occasionally run between 30-60 fps, the Wii U version is locked at 30 fps. This is actually for the better, as constantly switching between framerates can be unsettling. The game runs equally as well when playing local co-op between the GamePad screen and TV, with no visual fidelity loss. All in all, Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper is not a bad looking game, but skims the line of being just average.

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Sound: 4/5

If there’s one thing that really stands out, it’s the soundtrack. Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper has a killer soundtrack that range from epic orchestrated tracks, rock, techno and electronica. Each track perfectly suits the tone and feel of the game. Whether it’s original composed tracks, tracks from the franchises incorporated into the game, or remixes (Ryu Hayabusa’s remixed theme from the NES Ninja Gaiden is insanely awesome), there’s something here everyone will dig. There’s only Japanese voice acting to find here, no English voice option. While purists will be completely fine with that, it may become a slight hinderance when you’re fighting on the battlefield and constantly trying to read what they’re all saying, especially when it’s pivotal to achieving victory. Sound effects get the job done but that’s about it. Nothing overly effective, just decent. Overall though, the audio package is very good, with the soundtrack being the main highlight.

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Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10

Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper is a surprisingly deep for the hack-and-slash game it is. The story will take between 12-15 hours minimum to complete, with plenty of side-missions to unlock and tackle. The Musou Battlefields mode will add even more longevity for those who like to be creative and mix up their own versions of previous completed missions, and the new Duel Mode will provide for a solid amount of fun, whether local or co-op. While it has it’s technical issues, the game is still a great deal of fun, especially when co-oping. If you’ve never played a “Warriors” game before, Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper is a solid one to grab. If you already own this for the PS3/360, then your double-dipping purchase will depend on how much you liked the game. Personally, I found myself enjoying the game more on the Wii U than the PS3…possibility due to the fact that I played a majority of it from my GamePad. Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper is a game that can provide for many hours of entertainment and still have you coming back for more.

PROs:

+ Interesting story

+ Awesome soundtrack

+ Entertaining gameplay mechanics

+ Fun co-op

CONs:

– Poor draw distance

– Visuals are a mixed bag

– No English voice acting

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Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge Officially Coming to PS3 & 360

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Looks like PS3 and 360 owners who haven’t picked up a Wii U will be able to experience the true Ninja Gaiden 3 experience. Confirmed by Tecmo Koei and Team Ninja, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge will be available on April 2nd, 2013 in North America and April 5th, 2013 in Europe for both the PS3 and 360. Here’s what Yosuke Hayashi had to say about the PS3/360 announcement:

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is the most action-packed and feature rich Ninja Gaiden game ever created. The brutal combat will challenge the hardest of hardcore Ninja Gaiden fans while also rewarding them with tons of bonus content and new features including three playable female characters, new stages, and three times as many Ninja Trial missions.

Many NG fans were up-in-arms when they heard the definitive version of Ninja Gaiden 3 was going to be a Wii U exclusive. Fans who waited only have to wait two more months before they can experience the NG3 that Wii U owners have been enjoying since its launch in November (we gave NG3: Razor’s Edge an 8.5).

Will you be getting Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge for PS3/360? Sound off in the comments below!

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Box Art Revealed

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Later next month, Vita owners will be able to pickup Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus, practically one year since NGS+ was released. While this edition appears to be receiving more additional treatment than NGS+, we still haven’t seen any footage that showcases the game on the Vita. However, the box art has been revealed:

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It’s more or less the same box as the PS3 except the blue arc and feather on the left side of the box are additional. Hopefully we’ll start seeing how the game is shaping up for the Vita soon as we near the game’s release.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is slated for release on February 26th, 2013. Will you be picking it up? Sound off in the comments below!