PlayStation – 1999
Koudelka was developed by Sacnoth and published by Infogrames in the West in 2000. It is a JRPG with a horror theme, which helps it stand to out among the numerous JRPGs on the original PlayStation. You control three characters, Koudelka, Edward and James, as they make their way through a gruesome mansion/ abbey. The game is spread across four discs yet it isn’t long (for a JRPG anyway). It manages to keep you moving forward well and I found I had to grind very little in order to get through the game. There isn’t a whole lot to it outside of the main quest as there is only one hidden boss but there are some hidden items that can be gotten by saving at particular times. The game manages to strike an excellent balance between its gruesome theme and its turn based combat. The enemies look excellent and the locale is suitably run down. The only downside I had with it graphically was that battles take place in a generic arena with no real background. The combat sees you move around a grid like a chess piece. It’s not quite a Tactical RPG but it does have some elements of the genre. The only thing to be careful of is if a character dies and the enemy moves past them, they can’t be revived. The game does focus heavily on magic as two of the three characters are spell casters. As you level up, you gain ability points to spend on a number of attributes, such as strength, vitality and piety. Magic and weapon skills can also be leveled up by using them. The music is wonderful (especially the final boss theme) and the voice acting isn’t bad. It’s definitely better than a lot of PlayStation games. The game does have three different endings but they don’t really require a full playthrough in order to see each one. Instead, you can save near the end and be able to see them all. I’d recommend picking this one up for your collection, especially if you like JRPGs.
PlayStation – 1998
Three Lions (or Alexi Lalas International Soccer in North America) was a soccer game developed by Z-Axis and released to coincide with the 1998 FIFA World Cup. At the time there were a few games based on the World Cup but this one does have some standout features. The graphics are decent for the time and the kits do look similar to the actual team kits. It has a wide range of teams to choose from, along with licensed players. The player faces look better than EA’s attempts at the time but are still horrifying (like most digitized faces from that generation). There’s only two game modes available: Friendly and Tournament. The Tournament mode is just the World Cup competition but you can choose World Cup Draw, Random Draw and Seeded Draw to give a it of variety. Completing the Tournament mode also gives you codes to unlock new teams, which increases its replayablility. The game-play itself is hit and miss (literally). The game has a target for shooting, which is a novel idea, but it also makes it hard to score. You control the target with the D-Pad but this means you’ll be moving as you try to line-up a shot. It’s also hampered by the fact that shooting is slow, which is odd because the passing, while not smooth, is relatively quick. The other issue is the camera has to move behind the player to show the target. The amount of chances I squandered because the ball would break to me but the camera wouldn’t turn quick enough. Defending is very awkward. Sometimes you’ll win the ball by bouncing into the opposition, other times they’ll win it straight back. I always found my defensive line parted ways when under attack, which was frustrating as switching player didn’t always give me who I wanted. There is only one stadium and no commentary, which is a bit of a let down, but at least you can hear shouts of “clear it” from the bench. The game also has some annoying quirks. Substitutions take a while and will only happen when the ball goes out but not if the ball is already out. Another thing is the X button simulates matches in Tournament mode while Start lets you play them. This caught me out when I reached the semi-final and accidentally hit X instead of Start. Overall, it’s an interesting premise that stands out from the crowd but doesn’t always bring it home.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
PlayStation 4 – 2016
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the game that introduced the Dragon Engine to the series. The graphics look wonderful and are a noticeable step-up on Yakuza 5. There are two maps to explore this time around, the familiar Kamurocho and a new location set in Hiroshima, Onomichi. Kamurocho is smaller than in previous iterations as both the Champion District and Kamurocho Hills are blocked off. Onomichi is a nice new area but it is small and lacks some of the items available in Kamurocho. The battle system has also gotten an upgrade. You’ll transition into battles quicker but the fighting isn’t as refined as Yakuza Kiwami 2 (the second game to use the Dragon Engine). One on one battles rarely pose a threat on the normal difficulty but you can get very quickly swamped when fighting a group of enemies and they can drain your health fast. The Heat mode has also been slightly altered. You fill up your Heat through battle, like previous games, and you can either use this for special attacks or unleash Extreme Heat mode. This is a great addition but the camera zooms in a bit too close, which is annoying. There are some features missing from previous games. The sub stories and cabaret clubs return but training is missing. Instead, you learn your abilities through gaining experience points. Clan Creator is also introduced and is a nice distraction but is very basic compared to Yakuza Kiwami 2. In terms of plot, I really enjoyed it. There’s a wide variety of people you’ll meet on the way and with you only controlling Kiryu, it felt more focused than the previous two entries. It has plenty of plot twists, suspenseful moments and a main antagonist that I really hated, which is a good thing. Oh, and it made Kiryu feel like the Dragon he truly is!
Yakuza 5 (Yakuza Remastered Collection)
PlayStation 4 – 2019
Yakuza 5 follows a similar structure to Yakuza 4. The game is split out into five chapters, with the first four following a different character before they come together for the finale. Each chapter has four acts so it is a lengthy game. What this one does have over its predecessor is that each chapter takes place in a different location. This is a bit of fresh air as the series has spent the majority of its time in Kamurocho. The new locations also have a bit of variety to them too, for example Kineicho is a bit of a sleazier town while Tsukimino is a snowy town that embraces its cold culture. The new areas are smaller than Kamurocho and this can be a bit of a nuisance. For example, Tsukimino may seem like a large city but a lot is blocked off due to the road structure. Then, you have to avoid the police in this city so it is further reduced. This presents a challenge when trying to avoid combat as you try to get things done. The combat has also seen an improvement over Yakuza 4. The transition is a lot smoother in places and taking out the leader will cause enemies to fall over in fear or flee. The overuse of blocking is back but it is no where near as bad as Yakuza 3. While I enjoyed the combat, I felt there were more random encounters this time around. I actually went from one fight straight into another which was annoying. The side-missions and mini-games return from the previous entries. While I didn’t spend much time with the mini-games, I did enjoy the side-missions. They never felt overbearing. The game also introduces story missions for each character and these can be a fun distraction. They include racing in a taxi, hunting and dancing. While I enjoyed the story, I felt it was the weakest of the series. Saejima is still running from the police, Haruka’s chapter feels drawn out (I know it has two characters, but still), and I don’t feel Shinada is well utilised. His story is interesting but I don’t think its well presented. He also feels like he has the shortest chapter. The finale tries to one-up Yakuza 4 but it feels a bit distracted and while I liked the final boss fight, I felt it lacked the grandiose build up of previous Yakuzas. One thing that did jump out to me was the music. It was fantastic and set the tone really well. Overall, I think this is the best of the Remastered games.
Rise of the Robots
Super Nintendo – 1994
Ugh. I could pretty much leave it there and that would be adequate. This is probably one of the worst video games I’ve ever played. It’s a 1v1 fighter where you control “Cyborg” as he fights his way through six opponents. There’s a story (or at least I think so) but it’s meh. There are some “cutscenes” that can be turned off in the options and it’s probably for the best. Player 1 will always play as Cyborg but Player 2 can select the other robots you battle in the 1 Player mode. Every other robot seems to have a longer range than Cyborg and are able to pull off basic combos. Cyborg, on the other hand, can barely hit them. If you both attack at the same time, it cancels the attack out. If you get an opponent in the corner and hit them, you bounce back. The controls are awful. They feel stiff and even hitting your opponent can be a challenge. There are special moves but I turned them off in the menu. Each stage is a rehash of the same bland idea. There’s music but I forgot it changed between stages as it’s the most monotonous sound ever but it’s probably the best part of the game. This was released in 1994, the same year as Super Street Fighter II and a year after Mortal Kombat II. That’s saying something. Absolutely avoid this one at all costs.
Yakuza 4 (Yakuza Remastered Collection)
PlayStation 4 – 2019
As with Yakuza 3, this is a remaster and not a remake. However, the jump in graphics between the two games is impressive. Everything looks cleaner, the character models are more detailed and Kamurocho looks impressive. It’s not quite on the same level as Yakuza 0 or Yakuza Kiwami but it looks great nonetheless. The biggest change in this game over the previous entry in the series is it has four playable characters. Each character has their own fighting style which you’ll pick up quick enough thanks to the tutorials. The substories are back and are less annoying than the previous game. They are fun distractions that can add to the story or even expand on the characters’ backgrounds (for example Tanimura). A number of mini-games return, including the hostess clubs, the batting cage and. golf. As the substories were longer required you to master these, I didn’t spend too long with them. The biggest improvement by far is the combat. It is a lot smoother than Yakuza 3, enemies no longer block constantly, and the characters are fun to play as. Experience has also gotten an overhaul (I feel like I say this with every entry). As you level up, you earn skill points that can be used to purchase abilities. Some abilities will require you to meet other requirements, such as unlocking another ability or reaching a certain level. Kamurocho is the only map this time and, although it has added in new areas such as the rooftops and sewers, it feels more evolution than revolution. I was disappointed not to have another location as even Yakuza 3 had Ryukyu. The plot is good, full of twists and turns as each character’s chapter comes together for a finale. While the story is not the strongest in the series but it’s still an interesting one.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7
Xbox 360 – 2011
Starting with Order of the Phoenix and ending with The Deathly Harrows Part 2, TT Games second Potter outing carries on pretty much where the first ended. The game has its usual cuteness, with a large selection of items to collect. Hogwarts Castle returns as the main hub along side mini-hubs based in London, Hogsmeade and the forest where Harry and co escape to. The game does improve on the original in a number of ways. The hubs now come with a tracker (in the form of a ghost) to let you know what collectibles still need to be found, the spells now switch automatically when targeting (except for two of them) and the game looks a little more polished. The roster has also been beefed up but it now comes with the rotating character icons as a result. These can be a bit of a pain when buying characters. At least you can now switch between characters in the hub world without needing to go back to a pot every time. The level layout is a bit odd this time. Most of the story is told through the hub world but each film has six levels. These can sometimes feel a bit disjointed as they jump from one part of the story to another. The dynamic camera returns but I found it worse than in the first game. This is most notable on the Hogwarts grounds outside Hagrid’s Hut. Overall, the game steadies the course of the original while adding in subtle changes but it still has some flaws.
Xbox One – 2020
F1 2020 is Codemasters latest entry in their Formula One sim series. This entry is unique as it doesn’t follow the actual 2020 series but rather what the calendar was supposed to be. The game features 10 cars and 20 drivers as well as a host of classic cars to pick from. It has 22 tracks, the largest in the series, and includes the new Hanoi and Zandvoort circuits. As usual, the presentation is incredible, with each track mirroring its real life counter-part. The 2020 cars look great, especially the black Mercedes that has now been patched in. I did find the classic car designs to have some texture issues though. The game also sees the return of F2. In Driver Career mode, you can choose to start your career in F2 or dive straight in to F1. The career mode also has a wealth of customisable options. You can change the season length, the qualifying format and turn on any assists you might need. You can earn resource points in practice to help improve your car. While not a new feature, it’s nice to see them return as they give a bit more importance to the practice sessions. The biggest new feature is My Team. Here you’ll create your own team, sign a teammate and engine supplier, then battle your way to the top of the grid. There are four engine suppliers to chose from, each with their own stats and price. You’ll choose your team-mate from a list of random F2 drivers. You can sign another driver halfway through the season but be prepared to enter a bidding war for their signature. You won’t start out a world beater, but by investing in your different departments you’ll build a car to get there. The game also introduces Pit Coins. These can be earned through the game or by purchasing them with real money. While I’m not a fan of micro-transactions, these are only used to unlock cosmetic items such as liveries or helmets. The game controls incredibly well, with each car having their own strengths and weaknesses. I spent a lot of time in My Team and when I started I did notice some over-steer but by investing in parts, the car became a lot better. A great racing sim that I’d recommend for any F1 fan.
Yakuza 3 (Yakuza Remastered Collection)
PlayStation 4 – 2019
First off, it should be remembered that Yakuza 3 is a remaster and not a remake like the two Kiwami games. It would be easy to point out the texture differences between this and the previous three games I’ve played in the series but it wouldn’t be a fair comparison considering this would technically be the oldest one I’ve played to date. However, as a standalone game, it does have some flaws. The story is excellent but it’s pacing can feel off. This is especially prevalent in the early chapters as the game jumps from the past to the present. Most of the new characters are well done but some aren’t really fleshed out. This comes from a mixture of how important they are and the way the story is presented. The side missions in this entry range from fun quests that expand upon the story, to annoying quests that I just wanted to get out of the way. An example of these are the side missions hidden behind the mini-games. They can sometimes require high scores to unlock them and the controls in the mini-games aren’t the best (cough, bowling, cough). The inventory is small and is shared between your items and your equipment. This can be an issue as even equipped items still take up space and if you want to have a weapon and armour in every slot, that’s six space in your inventory gone. The combat ranges from fun and fluid to frustrating. There were times when the combat felt close to Yakuza 0 or Kiwami, exciting and easy to maneuver, but more often it felt sluggish. Enemies will often block and this drags out battles as you try to break their block. They’ll even block in the middle of your combo. Some enemies won’t be staggered, so they’ll absorb your blows before unloading on you. Then there are enemies that are smaller than Kiryu and these can sometimes be a pain to hit or grapple. I think the Kanda boss fight is a perfect example of these flaws. He absorbs your blows, he can enter “heat mode” every so often and he picks up items that he swings with a wide radius, making it difficult to dodge. The game does have some great features though. The new location of Ryukyu is a nice addition. The map may be small but it has a unique charm that contrasts well to the grittier Kamurocho. The plot, once it gets going, is definitely one of the stronger in the series, and the character side mission are well presented and help to flesh out the supporting cast a bit more.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4
Xbox 360 – 2010
Based on the first four films, TT Games brings you on a magical adventure full of Lego charm. The game mainly takes place on the grounds of Hogwarts, combined with story levels to progress the plot, and Diagon Alley, where you’ll buy characters, red bricks and access the bonus levels. Like many of the earlier Lego games, it doesn’t have voice acting. Instead, the characters express their feelings through facial expression and props. For some, this adds to the charm of these early games. Lego Harry Potter also manages to strike a good balance between its hub world and the story missions. Each year has six mission attached to it but you’ll also be attending classes to gain new spells. The game, like many of the series, has a load of collectibles. These come in the form of Gold Bricks, Students in Peril, Character Tokens and Crest Pieces. They never feel overwhelming (unlike some of the later entries) but they can be frustrating if you miss any in Hogwarts, especially the Students in Peril as there is no tracker available. Hogwarts is a good size, allowing you explore areas from the films but never feeling like a trek to move from one area of the castle to another. The game-play is very basic. You smash items for coins, solve easy puzzles and revisit levels with new abilities to unlock more secrets. The music is very reminiscent of the films but some songs become annoying after a while. The game is fun to play with a friend and the dynamic split screen camera is a good idea but it can get a bit confusing. Also, when the dynamic camera isn’t available, players may need to stick together as the camera can restrict their movement. Overall, it’s one of the more enjoyable games in the Lego series than doesn’t feel like a chore to 100%.