mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

Rapid Reviews

It’s been a busy month filled with work, kendo, eating, exercising, a Spartan race, and of course plenty of video gaming. The past month has been extremely generous with releases on both console and especially handheld platforms. So far, there has been a mix of hits and duds. Here are some rapid reviews of the games I have checked out over the past few weeks.

Project X-Zone box art

Project X-Zone (3DS)

I'll admit, I was really excited for Project X-Zone. Come on -- how could a strategy RPG featuring characters from heavy-hitting Capcom and Namco series not be awesome? Two hours into X-Zone, I put it down. Although I gave the story barely any time to develop, the core of the game -- battling -- was just boring. I didn't feel like I had to plan out every move (like in Final Fantasy Tactics) to avoid getting wiped out. I was just moving my characters around the map, easily cleaning up the bad guys over and over again. While I'm glad quirky games like X-Zone are getting localized, this particular one really let me down.

Shin Megami Tensei IV box art

Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS)

My JRPG portfolio is disappointingly lacking in games from Atlus's Shin Megami Tensei series. So I dove headfirst into SMT4, and found the experience to be simultaneously rewarding, enjoyable, frustrating, and depressing. The game is definitely challenging: I was punished for using the wrong elemental spell by getting massacred immediately afterward by "smirking" monsters. Towards the end of the game, I resorted to abusing the reflect damage spells to defeat powerful enemies. However, the gameplay was solid; I enjoyed exploring each area, recruiting and fusing monsters to build my personal army of henchmen. Regarding plot, SMT4 doesn't tell a happy story. Exploring post-apocalyptic Tokyo, you'll experience the worst humanity has to offer. Depending on your choices throughout the game, you'll get one of a few endings, all of which are sure to disappoint the optimists out there. That said, I highly encourage anyone looking for a solid JRPG to check this game out.

Tales of Xillia boxart

Tales of Xillia (PS3)

Twenty hours in, Xillia is looking to be another solid entry in the Tales series. In Xillia, you get to choose between two main characters: a fisticuff-wielding honors medical student called Jude Mathis, or the Lord of Spirits in sword-toting human form, Milla Maxwell. When the main characters are together, you'll experience the same story, but when the characters split up, you experience the story from the perspective of your character. The opening hour of the game aside, the characters have spent most of their time together, so I don't see myself replaying the game to get the other character's perspective. The new additions to the already solid Tales gameplay are refreshing. The Lilium Orb resembles Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grid, and allows customization when powering up characters. Materials collected while exploring are used to expand shops, which then unlocks more powerful items. The already solid action-oriented Tales battle system now has Linking, which allows two characters to link up for all sorts of benefits. The story so far appears to be your standard JRPG story where some evil person has a super powerful weapon and you're tasked with destroying it. All the main characters are interesting, and I'm curious to learn more about them. I'm not even done with Xillia, but am already excited for the stateside release of its sequel in 2014!

Dragon's Crown boxart

Dragon's Crown (Vita)

From Vanillaware, the creators of Muramasa, I saw Dragon's Crown as a spiritual successor to Muramasa. I found improvements, but sadly, along with disappointments. Addressing Muramasa's hearty dose of backtracking, Dragon's Crown features a central hub town, and then a gate that allows players to fast travel to the different dungeons they explore. While this is awesome, the gameplay just doesn't feel as polished or smooth as Muramasa. Moving my character around feels clunky. Having to hold down a button to run, which is incidentally also the button to attack, seems dumb to me. Being able to recruit three NPCs or friends to play with you sounds good in theory, especially since monsters in dungeons are too powerful to be conquered alone. That said, with three other characters on the screen, I keep losing track of my character during the busy battles. With other strong offerings on handheld devices, Dragon's Crown has moved into the "paused" game backlog.

Mario & Luigi Dream Team boxart

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (3DS)

I've avoided checking out the Mario & Luigi series because I felt that it just wouldn't compare to its spiritual predecessor -- Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars -- which is one of my favorite games. That said, I decided to give Dream Team a try. Three days later, I'm six hours in and loving every minute of it. The story is light, funny, and of course features Peach getting kidnapped early on. Mixing platformer and RPG elements, the gameplay is fun and engaging. The battle system is turn-based, but involves a lot of action when it comes to getting critical hits and dodging enemy attacks. The game holds your hand a bit too much early on, but the tutorials fortunately taper off as you get through the opening chapter of the game. While it's similar yet different from Super Mario RPG, I'll admit I've made a mistake ignoring the Mario & Luigi series if all the entries are as awesome as Dream Team is shaping up to be!