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Rocky’s Reviews

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II

PlayStation 4 – 2019

The second entry in the Erebonia arc starts off right where the first game ended. After escaping battle, Rean Schwarzer finds himself alone, stranded in the mountains. Finding his way back to civilization and learning more about the Divine Knights, Rean sets off to reunite with the other members of Class VII to help liberate Thors Academy. Where the first game spent a lot of time building the nation of Erebonia, the second entry lets us loose on the Eastern half of the county. Erebonia has been thrown into civil war after the events of the first game and the Thors students are caught in the middle of it. The story further expands upon the foundations laid out in the first game, almost feeling like they were one game split in two. While the first Trails of Cold Steel was a linear adventure, moving you from one area to another quickly, this game opens up a lot sooner, allowing you to explore at your leisure. The world feels more connected as you can travel from town to town along the roads rather than being ushered by train but you do gain access to an airship rather quickly. This allows you to visit towns, complete missions and battle secret bosses as you wish. Combat remains fairly unchanged, with Arts and Crafts still at your disposal, but now you can “Overcharge” allowing you to use skills without a wait time. These are built up through combat. Each character must complete a trail chest before you can unlock these but they’re well worth searching out for. You can engage in more ”Divine Knight” battles than before (the first game had one). These are a fun addition to the game. The graphics also look very similar to the first game, with little improvements here and there. The music is much more memorable this time around, with plenty of blood-pumping tracks to keep you engaged. The voice cast from the first returns, so you’ll know what to expect from them. Despite little tweaks here and there, the openness of the world is what really makes it stand out and it is such a welcome addition. However, you’ll be returning to a lot of places you visited in the first game. You’ll also have a larger cast of characters to use in battle, some temporary and others permanent. Again, each character has their own unique skill set but with plenty of options, you should be able to find a team that suits your playstyle. The game does have a difficulty spike towards the end, with the last few bosses requiring a lot of strategy and luck but you can always retry or even weaken the enemies if you’re having difficulties. Less world building, more exploration and an epic finale make this a worthwhile adventure.

4.5/5

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

PlayStation 4 – 2018

My first foray into The Legend of Heroes series takes me to the Erebonian Empire, a nation facing threats from both outside and within. Nihon Falcom’s JRPG is an interesting spin on the JRPG genre. Set in a military academy, you step into the boots of several new recruits. Each of these characters have their own attacks and special abilities. They can also acquire magical spells through orbs called Quartz. These can range from defensive spells such as healing or speeding up your characters, to devastating offensive spells. The game features a large cast, with eleven permanent members, alongside some guest party members too. The game manages to balance the large team out by having only certain characters accompany you on field trips. Despite the large range of characters, they’re all interesting. They include the noble Laura, mysterious Fie, explosive Machias and the humble Gaius, all led by the charismatic Rean. The combat is where this game really shines, with character positioning playing a large role in the attacks you can undertake or what enemy manoeuvres you can avoid. You can also link up with characters to build bonds and unleash devastating attacks. There are also S-Crafts, special attacks you’ll learn as the story progresses. The music ranges from epic to forgettable but the voice acting is decent. One issue I had was that in certain scenes, some characters would be voiced but others wouldn’t. It’s odd has the characters that don’t have voice acting in these scenes do have some in later ones. The graphics look good but they’re not exactly pushing the PlayStation 4 to its limit, which is understandable as it was originally a PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita title. There are moments of clipping though, which shouldn’t really be happening. The story is arguably its strongest and weakest point. The game does a fantastic job of unveiling Erebonia to you and details the conflicts between the several factions within the Empire. It also balances it well with a student perspective, keeping you in the dark a lot. However, there is a lot of story, especially for a JRPG. There are times when you will be watching cutscene after cutscene, just wanting the game to move on. The game is also very linear, never allowing you much opportunity to explore. When you think it’s opening up, it just turns into a false dawn. Field studies (missions in the game) take a similar form, go to a new area, complete some mission (both required and optional) and then uncover a bit more of the overarching plot. It’s a good JRPG that sets up its sequel well but it just needed a little less cutscenes and a little more gameplay.

4/5

Fighting Force

PlayStation – 1997

Developed by Core Design and Published by Eidos Interactive, Fighting Force is a 3D beat’em up, a sort of spiritual success to Streets of Rage. Released in 1997, Fighting Force has you take control of one of four characters to stop the evil Zeng. There’s not really much story. The game has some cutscenes when you travel to a new area but it doesn’t really give you any information. As you’d expect from a beat’em up, each of the four characters have their own stats, from the speedy Alana to the powerhouse Smasher. The game can also be played in co-op with a friend. Graphically, the game looks ok, not terrible but not spectacular either. Some areas, such as the street look good but a lot of the indoor stages look similar, with drab tones. The character models look good but as you’d expect from a PlayStation game, there is texture warping. The soundtrack is forgettable, lacking the explosive beats of Streets of Rage. There are some voice clips but it’s nothing to shout about. Combat can feel fluid in places and sluggish in others. Combos can be pulled off easily but there is sometimes a delay with the button input. This mostly happened when I was trying a running attack. Each button has its own move. For example, O jumps, X punches, Square kicks and Triangle grabs. Grappling in the game is odd as sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t and you won’t really know until you’ve gotten hit. The X button is also used for picking up items, which is a pain especially in levels with items littered everywhere. Like most beat’em ups, you can pick up all manner of items from axes to poles and even guns. Enemies will also have weapons that you can knock out of their hands and take. The levels feature some destroyable environments, from standard crates to drinks machines and even areas where you can get weapons by pulling a bar off the wall. The game isn’t long, with a playthrough taking about 90 minutes but there are some alternative paths to take to try and boost replayability. The levels themselves aren’t as free flowing as other beat’em ups, which each one being a short stage where you’ll have to beat up a few enemies before it ends. It lacks the flow of other games, hampered further by the constant load screens. These occur between stages, cutscenes and even when the stage is simply loading the bosses. The camera for the most part does a decent job but can sometimes swing around to show enemies arriving. It falls apart when it comes to boss fights. In single-player its not so bad but in multi-player it becomes hectic. The camera tries to focus on the boss and as a result if the players go in two different directions, it gets confused as to who to follow. Overall, it’s a decent game that can help waste a bit of time and it did try to pull beat’em ups into 3D but it falls short.

3/5

Sonic Advance 3

Game Boy Advance – 2004

Sonic Team return with their final entry in the Sonic Advance series. Released in 2004, Sonic Advance 3 builds on its predecessors in a number of ways. The first thing you’ll notice is that now you have to select a partner. When starting off, you’ll only have Sonic and Tails to choose from but as you progress, you’ll unlock Knuckles, Amy and Cream. This team mechanic has some advantages. Certain characters can access different areas in each level and holding down the R button, you can summon your teammate to help you. These can be things like hurling you forward or picking you up and flying over. Your teammate can also collect rings, defeat enemies and get hits on the bosses. There is a downside to this. Your AI partner isn’t the smartest and, in some areas, he can activate movable platforms or mine carts before you are ready. In one instance, Tails activated a mine cart on me, which left me stranded underwater and eventually Sonic ran out of air. The other noticeable addition is hub worlds. Gone is the simple map, where you’ll select a level, replaced with an open area to explore. Here you’ll find levels, bonus areas and boss rooms. You’ll also find chao to give you hints and tips as well as some to collect. Collectable chao can be found in the levels as well. Collect all ten in a zone and you’ll unlock a key to find the Chaos Emerald bonus zones. Collect all the Emeralds to once again unlock a hidden final boss. These hubs are fun at first but after a Game Over, it can be a bit of an annoyance to retrace your steps back to the level. There are now three acts in each zone along with a boss battle. The game is more forgiving than Sonic Advance 2, with game overs merely making you replay the level and not the whole zone. The difficulty has been toned down but you can still change it from Normal to Easy in the options menu. The levels are colourful and have a range of artistic styles unique to this game. The music once again complements each level well, with a mixture of rearranged classic tracks and new ones too. Speed is still important but you’ll need to be cautious this time around, especially in the later stages that require a lot of platforming. The platforming can feel a bit ropey in places. I noticed this more in the final zones that required precision jumping. The boss battles are a healthy mix of different styles, from the usual jumping on Dr. Eggman’s head to dropping platforms on him as he chases you up the stage. Overall, it’s a great platformer for a handheld but with tighter controls, it would have been near perfect.

4/5

Sonic Advance 2

Game Boy Advance – 2002

Released one year after the first Sonic Advance, Sonic Advance 2 focuses a lot more on pure speed. As a result, the levels have been made slightly more linear but you still have different routes throughout each level. The game features five playable characters, including newcomer Cream the Rabbit. You start out as Sonic but will unlock new characters after beating certain levels. Again, each character has their own ways of progressing through the stages. The graphics look crisper than the original, with Sonic receiving a blurring effect when you hit his maximum speed. The levels range from your standard entry grass zone, to a musical zone and then the usual egg factory zone. Along the way, each level is accompanied by a wonderful score. These are probably some of the hedgehog’s finest ever tracks. Each zone has two acts with a boss stage at the end. Almost all the bosses are moving and Sonic has to chase after them. At first, it’s a novel idea compared to the standard boss arenas of old but after a while I (and my left thumb) yearned for a standard boss stage. The game does have some difficulty options, with Easy mode and turning time outs off. They make a marginal difference as you’ll be going so fast that you’ll rarely get a time out. The difficulty on the other hand has been boosted since the first game. It will start off easy enough but by Sky Paradise you will notice a significant difficulty spike. At the centre of this spike are the boss battles, with Final Zone ending in a boss rush. The game also features one of the worst looking stages I’ve ever seen, Techno Base. It’s a novel idea, with flashing lights and flickering effects but by my 5th attempt, I just wanted it gone. Since the game is built on speed, I also found myself holding right a lot as I blasted through the different stages. It’s a challenging game that encourages repeated playthroughs to unlock everything, which is helped by each character having their own special moves to help you along.

4/5

Sonic Advance

Game Boy Advance – 2001

Developed by Sonic Team and released on Nintendo’s popular handheld, Sonic Advance would be the start of the blue blurs “Advance” trilogy on the GBA. You can take control of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy as you whizz through 13 stages (and a secret one), split across 6 acts and a Final Zone. Each character has their own skills, meaning each level feels slightly different depending on who you choose. The levels are well thought out, taking full advantage of each character’s special trait. Playing as Sonic, the game feels like a blast, with the player having to slow down very little. The controls can feel a bit floaty in places but overall, the characters are easily controlled. The game introduces you nicely, before slowly cranking up the difficulty. If you do find it a bit too challenging, you can change the difficulty or even turn off “Time Up”. The camera is zoomed out far enough for you to see what’s coming next, an issue other handheld Sonic games suffered from was not being able to see far enough ahead, but there are times when the game requires you to take a leap of faith. The bonus stages, required to collect the Chaos Emeralds, can be a bit challenging due to the 3D camera. Collect all of these Emeralds and play through the game with the game with all characters and you’ll unlock the true final boss. This is something Sonic games have done previously and encourages you to experiment with the other characters, increasing replayability. The graphics look impressive, even to this day, with the sprite work running smoothly. The levels look gorgeous and there is a nice variety to them. The music is wonderful, taking full advantage of the Game Boy Advance’s sound chips. I played this one through the Game Boy Player on the GameCube and had an absolute blast.

4/5

Wild Arms

PlayStation – 1996

Set in the decaying world of Filgaia, Wild Arms follows a trio of travellers as they adventure across the world and beyond. Developed by Media Vision and originally released in Japan in 1996, it would see a North American release in 1997 while Europe had to wait until 1998. Demons, once thought to be a myth, have returned to Filgaia to awaken a dormant evil. The three protagonists, through a series of circumstances, join together to stop this evil force from destroying the world. At the start of the game, you can choose one of the three protagonists and experience their prologue, a short introduction to each’s fighting style and story. After this, they’ll join up and help each other out with their own unique traits. Each character has a set of tools to use outside of combat, for example Rudy can use bombs to clear boulders, Jack can use a grappling hook to traverse gaps and Cecilia can use a wand to speak to animals. As you journey together, you’ll unlock more tools. In combat, the three party members have their own unique abilities too. Rudy can use Arms, a special type of gun. This uses ammo that can be replenished in towns and new Arms can be found in dungeons. Jack uses Fast Draws, sword fighting techniques he can learn along the way. Cecilia is your mage and can learn acquire news spells after obtaining a Crest Graph. Battle is your standard turn-based affair, where you’ll select your actions before a round starts and your characters (and the enemy) will play them out in turns dependant on your speed. It’s a system that is very simple to master. The game’s graphics are very reminiscent of 16-bit era JRPGs, failing to take advantage of the PlayStation’s 3D capabilities outside of battle. As a result, it looks less impressive when stacked up to some of the JRPG power-houses. However, it should be remembered that it was released before Final Fantasy VII and Grandia. The game utilises a chibi art style for both the overworld and battle maps. One issue I had was the text font. I found it to be difficult to read in places. The game’s standout moment is certainly its music. It features a fantastic soundtrack, full of emotion, and reminded me of several JRPGs from this era. It’s a bit on the short-side for a JRPG, even if you defeat the optional bosses, but it constantly keeps you moving without ever being punishingly difficult.

4/5

DOOM Eternal

Xbox One – 2020

DOOM Eternal is the latest entry in Id Software’s first-person franchise. Following directly on from DOOM, you once again step into the shoes of Doomguy as he battles the minions of Hell. The gameplay has more of a narrative to it. Earth has been invaded by demons and you set out to stop them. It’s not as in-depth as other games but it’s a bit of a step up from its predecessor. The game looks as gory as ever. Enemy models will have lumps fly off them as you blast them, the environments look beautifully detailed and diverse, and the cutscenes are presented well. The music is just as blood-pumpingly excellent as usual. Once that beat hits, you know it’s time to rip and tear. The game controls slightly slower than the previous game but you can still run and gun your way through enemies. You have some new abilities this time too, from a dash which is useful to get around and avoid damage, to the ability to climb certain walls. The game also changes how you recover health, shields and ammo. Health can once again be recovered by using “Glory” kills but shields are recovered by using a flamethrower called a “Flame Bletch” and ammo is recovered using the chainsaw. Unlike the first game, the chainsaw will recharge after use. There’s also a fair number of collectibles to find, from codex entries to figurines and even cheat codes. These will have you replaying levels until you find everything. The game does a lot of things well over DOOM but I feel its level design lets in down. There is a much heavier emphasis on platforming this time around and it doesn’t always flow as well as the previous game. Another issue I encountered was in battle I would often find myself cornered easily or knocked off a platform without a way to get back up without falling down and respawning. Some levels were fun adventures similar to the first game, while others were sometimes chores. The enemy selection has been greatly increased, with new foes and new tactics abound. Certain enemies have a weakness and exploiting these is key to survival. While playing the main campaign, I enjoyed the variety but some of the new enemies in the Ancient Gods DLC were a pain. Overall, it’s a fun game that doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor but both the main campaign and the Ancient Gods DLC are worth a bash.

4/5

DOOM

Xbox One – 2016

Id Software’s DOOM sees the Doomslayer return to take on the hordes of Hell. The game is a fast-paced, frantic first-person shooter that successfully recreates the feel of the original games. The combat is exhilarating as you battle off the demons of Hell, while taking them out in all sorts of gruesome ways. These “Glory Kills” are encouraged as they help to restore health, provide armour and replenish your ammo. The game controls incredibly well, with the Doomslayer a joy to behold. It did feel a little oversensitive at first but this is all part of the experience and you’ll get used to it very quickly. You have a large selection of weapons to choose from such as shotguns (my personal favourite), chainsaws, assault rifles and, of course, the BFG. Most of these weapons can be upgraded by finding a weapons drone and then accruing certain points. You can also upgrade your ammo, armour and ammo by discovering certain items. In fact, there’s a decent chunk of collectables here, from Runes that will give you certain abilities to DOOM figurines and even Classic Maps. The game’s plot is incredibly simple, kill the demons, get to Hell, yadda, yadda, yadda. It actually suits the game really well. The game also features an Arcade mode and several difficulty levels to sink your teeth into. The graphics look fantastic, with dark corridors, blood-soaked walls and the red Marsan service all standing out. There was an odd bit of texture pop-in but it never took away from my experience. The soundtrack is simply fantastic. It’s good old DOOM! Once the metal track kicks in, your blood will be pumping and you’ll be ripping through demons. A fantastic FPS that definitely stands out among the rest. Rip & Tear!!!

5/5

Chrono Trigger

Super Nintendo – 1995

One of the greatest JRPGs ever released, Chrono Trigger places you in the shoes of Crono and his companions as they travel through time. The story sees our heroes travel to the Prehistoric Age, Medieval Times and a Post-Apocalyptic future. There, they will uncover the great mysterious of their world and come face to face with a cataclysmic force. The game features multiple endings, obtained by meeting certain criteria, as well as a New Game+ mode to sink your teeth into. Crono is your typical silent protagonist but his companions have enough wit, charm and humour to see you through. The game plays like a standard turn-based JRPG, with an Active Time Bar similar to the Final Fantasy series. You can also learn new abilities and perform Double and Triple Techs with your teammates. The game doesn’t feature random battles, instead the enemies are present on the screen and entering a certain area will trigger an encounter. Unlike some other JRPGs, these encounters all take place on the dungeon map and don’t load a unique battle arena. The sprite-based graphics are beautiful and hold up even to this day. The character animations really help to capture their emotions too. The soundtrack is composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, with some contributions from Nobuo Uematsu and Noriko Matsueda. As a result, it has a wonderful blend of styles that help to complement the games art style. With plenty of endings to find, a fairly intuitive battle system and a wonderful adventure, Chrono Trigger is a must have for JRPG fans.

5/5

Golden Ham Winner 2021
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