Atelier Ryza Review – Relaxing Cuteness

Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4
Developer: GUST
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release: 29th October 2019 (PC)
Price: 59.99

GUST’s biggest franchise is Atelier, by far. Featuring almost annually entries full of new characters, ideas and cute plotlines, they became a popular niche series for (J)RPG fans from around the world. With Atelier Ryza they didn’t only try to modernize this whole thing quite a bit but also polish it to a wholly new degree so how did it hold up? Very comfily.

Ryza is pretty much living a perfect idle life. Strolling around with her friends Tao and Lent, trying to find an exciting adventure in their quit townlife. After all, Ryza’s only goal is to become a famous alchemist, go on adventures, have fun and live this carefree fantasy life. Unfortunately, while her dream of learning alchemiy soon becomes reality, there are forces she might have to put them to use against sooner than she desires.

More than ever, Atelier Ryza isn’t about fighting a big evil or saving the world, nor about rising to the very top, instead, the true core of this entry is simply having a relaxing, fun time more than ever. Naturally, there’s an overarching plot, Ryza is becoming better and better and all that stuff known from other entries, it just feels a bit more relaxing and wholesome and previously. This is also because of the whole plotline being even more trimmed down to clichés, forseeable but kinda endearingly naive twists and so on. It feels like a love letter to innocent fantasy stories and should be enjoyed as such.

Naturally Atelier Ryza makes many adjustments in the gameplay too, like the kinda real time combat system. Instead of stiff rounds, enemies and you gain points each second, enabling both to cast spells, attack or use items, similar to other more action oriented JRPGs. While this isn’t a giant revolution, it makes the very stiff GUST system surprisingly more engaging and reactive, since the game constantly tries to build pressure through the many available menus, amount of enemies, party members you can control and general speed at which characters can execute moves.

Combat just feels a lot more streamlined and… fresher, which can be applied to many other aspects too. Like the gathering of resources pretty much never requires you to watch animations of Ryza picking stuff up, the ability to teleport to any gathering spot and hub spot or the seemingly more interesting quests, that offer a better pacing to the previous games. While none of those improvements is entirely new to the series, all of them brought together with the new focus and general streamlined experience actually removes many of the tiny bumps I had with Atelier games.

Speaking of bumps, everyone familiar with Atelier Ryza likely already saw the heaps of fanart and anticipation around not only Ryza’s design but many of the female main protagonists but also male ones in general. I think this perfectly summarizes one central appeal of this, maybe even the biggest one: This entry is the visual high point of the franchise so far. Featuring memorable designs that finally find the right spot between the innocent, outgoing spirit of the plot and Ryza but also the typical anime-like sexiness. Naturally, this is all intentional, it wants to invoke the image of being exactly what you expect from it: Kinda naive and fun to hang around with for that exact reason.

On top of that, Atelier Ryza is a generally beautiful game, profiting heavily from its strong lighting which can create some truly stunning sceneries. Combined with the great design work all-around, it definitely became the one title I could recognize without a doubt out of the whole series. Of course, the soundtrack is a relaxing breeze of fluffy air as well.

Conclusion

Atelier Ryza feels like the comfiest and warmest entry in the series since a long time. Featuring some of the best character designs in the whole series, an enchantingly beautiful graphics upgrade, some new comfort features and a whole lot of innocent, relaxing fun. It’s a title anyone who wants some warm place to relax can enjoy to its fullest and honestly, should right now.

[A Review Code was provided by Koei Tecmo Europe]

Dusk Diver Review – Diving into Fun

Platforms: PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Wanin Games, JFI Gams, Jera
Publisher: PQube
Release: 23th October 2019 (PC)
Price: 39.99

Continuing their streak of releasing incredibly promising titles, PQube brought us an anime style RPG… from Taiwan, set in Taiwan? Yes, this doesn’t only sound like an unusual mix but actually makes sense considering Taiwan offers many similar places to the ones often seen in Japanese titles while giving the team the opportunity to infuse it with its own charme.

Yumo is your ordinary high school girl, who just wanted to have some fun with her friend in the Taiwanese Akihabara Ximending, when suddenly, she’s transported into another realm, Youshanding. There she encounters not only phantoms but also so-called guardians and she quickly learns she possesses special powers, enabling her to fight alongside them and free the shadow realm of the evil. So her fight begins of gathering more and more guardians, strengthening her bonds and punching through hundreds of phantoms.

Story-wise it definitely is more on the simple side, relying on its many different guardians and Yumo’s relationships with them and her friends to carry its 10-15 hours long story. Luckily, I like pretty much all of them! Not because theyre super deep characters or more interesting than in other games, but because they’re incredibly entertaining. Every guardian in particular is pretty much just a walking anime cliché and often there isn’t a whole lot of underlying character going on beneath it, instead Dusk Diver focuses more on packaging these stereotypes in a really appealing way. They’re quirky and Yumo often questions their clichéness herself, creating some really nice moments, that are just entertaining.

What’s less entertaining is the core gameplay loop though. Dusk Diver consists of clearing several stages in the shadow realm by musou-like defeating all the enemies in them. The thing is though, before you can do that, every stage requires a certain amount of shards… which are often collected by running through the quite empty and boring world, searching for them and often failing. It’s just a drag that only gets worse the longer the game goes on as the quantity goes up more and more while their spots get harder to find everytime. It’s neither well guided, designed nor fun in any way and especially later on I often found those spots to be the least fun of all of them.

Once this hurdle is overcome though, the combat is pretty damn fun. It plays surprisingly fluid and responds quite well to switching combos or dodging mid combo, unlike many other tinier productions in this genre. Every guardian can assist you in battle, has its own array of special attacks that consume SP meter and the best part: Most of their attacks can chain into your combos and even have different effects depending on them. Combined with the very Dynasty Warriors like combo system of having one main light punch streak you can branch into others through heavy attacks, it’s a surprisingly easy but flashy system. You can even gain more SP and some flashy slowdowns by dodging perfectly, which is a neat option to perfect your playstyle.

Unfortunately, there’s rarely any need to put a lot of thought into the combat, as both the levels and enemy variety is lackluster to say the least. Spawning the same enemies without many variations or unique quirks, especially early on, Dusk Diver doesn’t impress in any regard. Combined with the actually retarded AI it may often feel like a Dynasty Warriors game in those regards but lacks the base capturing or silliness nor offers many characters to make up for it. At the same time it lays a far greater focus on an action game style by locking you into an area until you defeated all enemies, making it feel like a confused mix of many, many approaches.

Luckily, at least the visuals are pretty much always appealing. Featuring a truly wonderfully colourful artstyle with some truly great character designs. Infusing even the mere act of rendering bystanders with a lower model depending on their distance, infusing every move with surprisingly well-fitting anime particle effects and rocking this simply enchanting visual presentation (though to be fair, I can’t exactly pinpoint why I like it so much from the first time I laid eyes on the trailer).

Conclusion

Dusk Diver is a pretty alright action/musou game. It really is. There are some bigger and smaller annoying aspects but all in all, the unique setting and visuals can make up for it by a whole lot so ya, go for it if you felt a bit enchanted by it like I was.

[A Review Code was provided by PQube]

Untitled Goose Game Review – Honking

Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch
Developer: House House
Publisher: Panic
Release: 20th September 2019
Price: 19.99

Sometimes there are indie games that sound so utterly crazy that I doubt they can actually made into fun games. One of those is Untitled Goose Game, centering about a mean goose and it took over the internet in a storm, and somewhat me as well.

A goose sets out to make the life of many citizens a whole lot worse. Featuring a handful of environments, Untitled Goose Game is solely about experimentation, exploring and hopefully solving some puzzles on the way or just honk everyone into madness. So, anyone who can’t get enjoyment out of experiences that rely on the player and his imagination to create the truly intended experience, this may not be for you.

Still, looking solely at the puzzle designs, Untitled Goose Game is still a solid 3 hour ride, featuring some quite imaginative ways to lock someone into their garage, steal sandwiches or hats and whatnot. Due to the short time spent in each environment, it can constantly introduce new ideas, like two separate environments and keep things relatively fresh. The one problem it often falls over though, is the lack of any kind of progression, for, well, the goose. Since the only action is to grab things and honk, the amount of different interactions you can come up with is also, fairly limited.

This limited interactivity in exchange for the marketable goose gag also weighs down some of the puzzles. With the given list of each level, it’s fairly hard to figure out what to do exactly. So, it’s almost essential to first experiment quite a lot and even then, finding the right solution is often more of a guessing game than actual thinking. This falls in line with the previously mentioned “player story” theme of Untitled Goose Game. It’s not meant as a traditional point’n click or puzzle adventure. Instead the core consists of you, the player, creating your own funny situations and through those and a whole lot of fantasy, come most of the solutions. As a result, it may be the perfect game for people into these type of experiences.

Last but not least, let’s not forget the truly beautiful visuals. Featuring a really simple style for most environments, Untitled Goose Game is masterfully crafting atmosphere and especially character through animations, visual design and interactions between the goose and citizens. In that regard it’s once again enforcing the overall theme of providing a great playground.

Conclusion

So, if you’re into exploring, creating your own narratives or simply having silly fun, yes Untitled Goose Game is certainly for you. If you’re searching for a satisfying puzzle adventure though, then this game is likely too frustrating without the aforementioned desire to make silly things before even batting an eye on the actual objectives.

[A Review Code was provided by Panic]

YU-NO A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bounds of this World Review

YU-NO is probably a title, or visual novel, many fans recognize as one of the most influentual ones compared to its age. Originally released in 1996 it quickly became a hallmark for visual novels of that time, offering a similar scope and world to Steins;Gate ins some regards yet melting it with a very open approach. Given, I never played the original, simply saw it floating around on the internet and so I got excited to see it got a remake. Even more so, because it actually got a Western release, mere 2 years after its Japanese release.

Following the student Takuya, we’re experiencing his search for the cause of his father’s disappearance. Meeting dozens of characters, some even potential love interests, and gaining control over the so-called Reflector. With this device he’s able to jump between timelines, carrying over some items and knowledge that help him progressing through other ones and exploring what could and couldn’t have been.

As intriguing as it sounds, YU-NO A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bounds of this World is as convoluted as its title when it comes to its premise. Starting out, it’s nothing more than a simple and quite bad dating sim to be honest. Literally, the first five minutes are filled with mediocre writing and a ton of unfitting, perverted dialogue. For whatever reason, the whole game and Takuya’s character itself are filled with tons of simply unfitting perversion, especially early on. From panty jokes in the first minute to the vast option of how you can interact with the world and the female body parts. If a story starts out with a student and techincally a teacher talking about the teacher’s breasts and panties like it’s an everyday topic I simply cant take it seriously. Especially with the whole first hours being basically filled to the brim with these moments it’s not hard to loose interest in it.

However, it’s also not hard to still be intriguied by the few actually nice character moments, the overall nice design work and the promising story as a whole. Luckily it worked out mostly. It’s still a fun story to follow the longer you spend time with it, since characters begin to develop into likable and quite fleshed out personalities that can stand their ground even today. Combined with the general sci-fi themes it actually develops into quite the fascinating adventure. While the whole concept and main themes are kinda dated now that games like Steins;Gate and alike came out, the whole parallel dimension thing is actually carried more by its gameplay.

As previously said, YU-NO A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bounds of this World uses the so-called Reflector to allow Takuya to jump between timelines and carrying over certain things from them. This is used both as a normal timeline to give the player a better overview of how the whole story is connected, especially because it offers quite extensive character routes for every romanceable person.

Another thing that astounded me is how atmospheric and beautiful the whole experience is. Given, the visual fidelity is due to the remake basically redesigning and redrawing every character, background and some menues to make them look as good as any visual novel from 2017. While fans of the original may not like the artstyle switch in particular, I find nearly all characters and art really enchanting, if only the dialogue could hold up. Luckily, at least the many interactions offer surprisingly well-written, gripping descriptions of the atmosphere or surroundings, perfectly underlined by the great soundtrack.

Conclusion

Overall, YU-NO A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bounds of this World may not be the masterpiece I expected but it’s certainly an interesting experience. Offering a wild mix between a really mediocre dating sim, interesting sci-fi concepts and gameplay ideas as well as the charme of old visual novels packed into a new, wonderful coat.

[A Review Code was provided by Spike Chunsoft]

Cat Quest 2 Review – Pawed

Platforms: PC, PS4 Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Developer: The Gentlebros
Publisher: PQube
Release: 24th September 2019
Price: 14.99

I loved Cat Quest for the simple, rewarding RPG experience it offered during its 3-10 hours playtime. Considering I wasn’t the only one and it sold surprisingly well, a sequel announcement was just a matter of time and soon enough 2 years passed by and here we are. While writing this, I also noticed, this is one of the games that accompanied me over three years already since I played either the first or second one on all three gamescom’s I visited. How time flies.

Once again, a giant evil is threatening the world and only the two kings of the rivalling worlds can stop it. So it’s time for the cats of Felingard and the dogs of the Lupus Empire to unite and help their rulers reclaim their throne before it’s too late.

Once again, Cat Quest 2 presents a simple fight between good and evil to us, given, with some little twists here and there but nothing to write home about. Instead it’s what the first game already set out to do: Deliver a fun, pun filled plot to entertain you for the next 6 hours. Due to the clearer focus and bigger scope, especially with the already amazing first game. However, if you already played the first title to death, especially the first hours won’t be as entertaining as one would hope, simply because Cat Quest 2 recycles many missions, characters and puns, as well as the whole map. Naturally, this makes sense sturcture-wise since it’s still Felingard but not a whole lot for the player. Luckily the Lupus Empire on the other hand brings a whole new pun flavor to the mix and offers basically the same experience as Felingard did the first time around.

Gameplay-wise, much of Cat Quest’s original mechanics were basically copied and simply expanded in scope. The combat is still a quite challenging balance between hitting enemies and dodging their attacks. Depending on your armor and weapons you can specialize in either using magic or relying on weapons like swords, axes and alike. It’s simple, only needs 2 buttons and the shoulder ones for magic and still offers a challenging experience with quite a lot to learn and vary. Naturally Cat Quest 2 brings a ton of new spells, armor, weapons and whatnot to the table but doesn’t add anything truly new, not even a running option.

Especially due to the bigger map, traversing both worlds can take quite a while and since I saw at least a third of it already in the previous installment, having a way to quickly move forward and reach my destination was something I already wished for before. Additionally, most quests require quite a lot of path following or walking in general, only enhancing this need for something more convenient than rolling around like a maniac.

On the flipside, I’m glad the whole artstyles didn’t change one bit. While I’m not a huge fan of many cat designs being recycled despite this time skip and the whole cat world in general, I can’t say it annoyed me too long. It’s still an incredibly beautiful, cute game that profits from its scope, presenting more new designs, some more variety in its dungeons and well, basically everything’s way more diverse and interesting the longer you play. Playing Cat Quest 2 feels similar to its predecessor, just comfy, nice and happy especially when listening to its great soundtrack.

Conclusion

Cat Quest 2 is exactly what one expects from a sequel to a fun, simple and addictingly well paced RPG: More of it. Naturally I had a great time. Dancing right on the edge of recycling a bit too much, the first game was short enough to warrant the lack of too many truly unique additions in this title. I just hope The Gentlebros don’t step into the trap of pumping out more and more Cat Quests with this formula as I don’t see myself enjoying another one as much as I did Cat Quest 2.

[A Review Code was provided by PQube]