154 Reviews liked by wafflesforleah

This review contains spoilers

I've often asked myself, what if Unreal was a Serious-Sampilled Turokcel, and it was going Quake II (Nintendo 64 version) mode on my PC? Well thankfully I finally have an answer, and it's kind of like if Painkiller was A Zorchpilled DukeNukemcel going Good Game mode on my PC.

no words i could write could say more than just reading this yourself would. a masterpiece without a shadow of a doubt, these answer arcs are gonna rock my socks off, i know it.

"Now rush forth, fast as you can, Imperial Assault Troupe!
and sound forth like thunder, Imperial Assault Troupe!"
So my experience with Sakura Taisen, (aka Sakura Wars) goes all the way back to 1995-6 where I saw it mentioned in Sega Saturn magazines. At the time it was being described as a strategy role playing game and all the screenshots were of units on grid based hexes. Fantastic!, back then Shining Force 1 and 2 were my favorite games and I couldn't wait for more. Sadly time came and went and the game never came to the west, nor did the sequel, or it's sequel, or it's sequel. The first game in the series that came west was the 5th title in the series and even then it never came to Europe so I still couldn't play it.
Finally in 2019 the Sakura Wars soft reboot on PS4 came out herein the uk! Only I found out they were never strategy role playing games....and more like dating sim visual novels that had strategy battles.... which for that release had been removed for some of the most brain dead action possible. Let's just say I wasn't a fan but there was an inkling there of what could have been, There is something about the series keeps calling me back that I want to like it. The art, music and my nostalgia for something I never got to play keep pulling me to the series. Thanks to fans hard work there is an English patch for the original Saturn game I was so interested in I can finally play it, albeit 27 years later than I wanted to.
So how does it actually stand up? Overall I like it. The main premise is almost exactly the same as it's 2019 counterpart. You play the role of Ensign Ichiro Ogami freshly promoted out of the navel academy straight to Captain of the Imperial Assault Troupe, a secret unit based in Ginza Tokyo underneath the Grand Imperial Theatre. The rest of the unit is composed entirely of the female actors who perform when not defending the city in steam powered mechs. The whole game has a very 1930's steampunk aesthetic with a mixture of Japanese and Western influence for the time period creating a wonderful look and feel.
The game is split up into episodes with 'next episode' previews almost like an anime tv show with each episode introducing new foes, characters and scenarios. Within that there are two gameplay types. The visual novel and the strategy battles. The visual novel section has you exploring the theatre talking to characters and choosing dialogue options. I like most of the cast and the game is almost fully voice acted with matching lip synch with the character art which I thought for the time must have been very impressive. Each of the characters stands out both visually and in personality from each other. Sakura is the newest member and a country girl, Sumire is the diva of the group, Kanna the Karate tomboy, Maria the mysterious stoic type etc. Whilst most of them do fall into stereotypes I think they are fleshed out well and have some impactful scenes together. One scene early on actually had me laughing out loud.
When the alert sounds and the battles begin the game goes to an isometric map with the characters in their steam powered mechs known as Koubu to fight off larger than life robots and demons. The battle system is simple in that on each characters turn they can take two of a select amount of actions; move, attack, special attack, defend, heal (only twice a battle) and rest (charges special attack) and that's it. Each character's koubu has slightly different attack ranges based on the weapons they wield. Sakura is only one square as it's a sword but maria has guns so can attack from 5 away for example. To balance this their movement ranges vary equally. There are no visible stats, no customization or weapons. The only thing that may vary from player to player is the mood of the team based on your choices having positive or negative impact on them during the visual novel part.
The visuals for the battles use sprites that look pretty decent overall for a Saturn game and match well with the portraits and animated cutscenes peppered throughout. Each character having a colour associated with their design that their koubu is also coloured is a nice touch. (Sumire always has a purple kimono, uniform so her mech matches etc.) The music is iconic throughout and while I driveled on about the amazing theme tune like a madman in my 2019 review the rest of the soundtrack is pretty stand out on it's own merits.
So as much as I like the structure, setting, art, characters, music and visuals it does have a couple of things that bring it down. The visual novel section can be incredibly annoying due to it's design. Exploring the theatre is often a chore because except a few hints dropped occasionally you have no idea where anyone is and often a limited amount of rooms you can explore before triggering the next major event meaning I missed out on talking to some of the characters I would have liked to. This is compounded in the opposite direction in a later chapter where I have to talk to everyone to progress meaning I slowly knocked on doors or checked each room looking for them. Added to that, not all the character interactions or story beats hit unfortunately with a couple especially around Iris who is only 10 years old were a little cringey and made me uncomfortable or wanting to roll my eyes.
Overall however they are small complaints to an otherwise unique fun little game. I hope the sequel fixes some of these issues as an English patch is being worked on now by dedicated fans. Sadly I don't think a character icon on the theatre map was added to it from screens I've seen, oh well....
+ Great music and art.
+ Likeable varied characters.
+ Combat surprisingly fun despite simple mechanics.
- Exploring the Grand Imperial Theatre for characters is a chore.
- Not every story beat works.

Delicious, smooth, goes down easy. Solidly in the upper echelon of retro shooters.

Pop'n is to Beatmania what Darkstalkers is to Street Fighter - but if instead of heading down the 'sexy body horror' axis, it treads into 'happy hardcore sanrio scrimbleabouts'. The key-based layout is familiar to BM, but now with 9 color-coded circular buttons and the scratch table gutted out. In place of the concept album-y music videos of IIDX are mascot characters that represent each song, dancing along based on your performance. They play with this by having each character's songs match the genre or backstories - it's a fun way to add heart to a genre that's usually somewhat depersonalized.
Popn also sets itself apart with a suite of progression-based activities. Every game has a unique unlock system where you participate in a special activity to get new songs and trinkets, usually centered around the game's theme. If nothing else, pop'n's one of the best when it comes to offering genre newcomers things to do that help them naturally learn the core mechanics without just practicing the same arcade mode ad-hominem.
As for playing popn music on a rhythmic level, I'm admittedly not a big fan. It's fine when it works - it has smatterings of what I like about beatmania without the horrible agony of spreading your fingers awkwardly over the scratch table, - but 9 buttons is total overkill. Much like beatmania, the keysounded charts mean songs get harder by adding more 'layers' of notes, and the transition into this form of difficulty is really harsh. It's like jumping right from 1-handed piano to 2-handed freeform jazz before even getting the chance to learn chords.
I also don't like the UI, the color-based notes aren't as easy to differentiate as DDR arrows, or hell, even BM 5-key. Swapping between this game's equivalent of 'white' and 'black' keys was really unintuitive for me. Other titles fix this with the 'beat' option - it replaces the lower-half notes with grey BM notes and the top-half with blue, something more comfortable for BM players. But Best Hits doesn't have this feature - no idea if it was a later feature, or if they excluded it to fit the 'best of' setup. I've been playing Popn 11 and 14 alongside this one and got too comfortable with that mode, and fucked myself over when i swapped back to this and had to rely on parsing 5 color types again.
The other thing that kills pop'n is not the game itself, but the PS1 controller designed for it. This thing. It feels awful to handle. The flat buttons have barely any travel distance or tactile feedback, it feels like you have to slap it to get any response instead of treating it like a button. I know pro pop'n players slap the notes for timing accuracy, but the arcade and professional controllers are larger and have rounded caps: It's easier to tell when you've made contact. If you're going to invest money in a popn setup, avoid these and invest in either a community custom controller or a premium model.
And I'm 50/50 on the music. Sometimes it's amazing, sometimes it's unbearably obnoxious, and all the time it's extremely anime OP playlist core. Having to write songs that fit characters first and complement rhythm gaming second means a lot of songs have a similar pop-rock structure, but filtered through a slightly different genre.
Damn, this wasn't really a review of Best Hits as much as it was a pop'n review

Sub-sub-makoto shinkai ass leering at naked teenagers tedium, no thank you

So a fan translation for this game was released last week when currently writing this and I gotta say, I didn't know this existed till I saw it got one. I was very curious about it as the art looked really nice and I thought maybe the writing would be really fun.
Private Eye Dol is a text adventure where you play as a girl named May going through 3 "Scenes" as the game calls it trying to solve the conflict going on in the game. I won't really spoil anything for this review so you can enjoy the story blind but the game's story is really good though keep in mind I barely play this genre so this could be the worst take ever. The plot while at time's hard for me to fully understand due to my stupidity, has a lot of great moments.
This game is pretty interesting gameplay wise as the usual gameplay is presented in a top down sprite look similar to like an RPG of that era. The game likes to introduce new ways of going through the Scenes like having a menu style town similar to the likes of many text adventures, a map that you have to fill yourself, and a couple of more new ways to do the gameplay. It keeps the game from being too boring.
Private Eye Dol though isn't perfect as it has those moments where you feel like you have to try everything not knowing what's changed. It also had one moment I had to look up the answer to because the place they wanted me to stand on was exactly on one tile making me confused what the game wanted me to do. There are game overs in this game but they basically reset you where you were just at before the failure so you don't even have to reload an old save.
I have to say I love the touch of how a lot of times characters will move around the areas you're in to get to parts to advance the plot. It really adds more to the world making it feel more real to my immersion.
The game graphically looks amazing as there's many detailed shots of the characters even sometimes redrawn to match the situation or time. It's amazing to think this was on the PC Engine. Though make sure you have the Arcade Card for this as it's needed for this title. I also noticed the girl Ayaka reminds me of Fuu from Magic Knight Rayearth. I wonder if it's the same artist. The voice acting is pretty good if a bit compressed though I think that's normal for the console. I will say at times it seems quiet, not sure if that was a problem with my emulator though. The music has a couple of CD quality tunes but a lot of it as for usual with games with lots of voices has to deal with the normal PC Engine sound. Though it's not all bad, I just think it's unfortunate they have these limitations. At least nothing ever annoyed me.
This game is a must play for anyone into these kind of games. One of the best I've played so far for the console. Happy this got translated letting me enjoy something I didn't even know existed. Hope this one someday gets more attention as it's one of better late end titles for the console. Sure it has it's flaws but it doesn't stop such a charming well made game existing. Hope others enjoy it if they ever get the chance to play this.
Also warning for anyone using an emulator, if your thing uses rewind, I'd recommend turning it off. It will break the game and even delete your save if you try doing it. Save states seem fine though. You won't really need either though just thought I give that warning to any of you all.

Spend any time in the indie space and you'll be bombarded by a sea of 'genre 1 + genre 2' projects with fleeting aims and fanatical foundations. And it's not that these games are fusions of disparate playstyles, but rather tandem affairs - usually doing one thing for a bit then alternating to another. Sometimes they pull it off - having one gameplay style drive the experience while feeding experiential unlocks into the other more passive mode. Even games that don't advertise themselves as mashups do this. But I don't know an immediate project to point at that succeeds at doing it without having two gameplay styles with absolutely no threads or reward systems feeding into each other at a large-scale level.
Actraiser does this - and well. Not the first of its kind by a wide margin, but maybe the one with the highest contrast between its play types. One-part classicvania-style action game, another-part god-sim. Besides some HP boosts and low-level items you can get for the action stages, there's no overlap in how the two interface. Taken at face value individually, they're both just ok - the sim is somewhat sluggish with how you have to direct your town's growth towards vantage points while constantly being locked out of the menu that lets you do that, and the classicvania shtick has some bad levels and bosses near the end. Combining them doesn't 'fix' either, but there's a good rhythm between how the game divides and transports you to each step. Every area is 'Act 1 -> Sim -> Act 2', though after the first level it feels more like 'Sim -> Act 2 -> Act 1': A low-profile breather gameplay style followed by an imposing challenge, and ended with a breadcrumb into the next major worldbuilding bits and conquest. It's a great fluctuation in theory and in practice.
The end of the game has a text crawl where the cherub tells you how all the civilizations have been doing, and I couldn't be bothered to read it cause the text moves as slow as hell. Hope the master is doing ok up there with all that free time of his.

Maybe I'm alone in thinking this but I think this remake would've been better off as a much larger expansion and reimagining of the concepts of the original game.
Panzer Dragoon's greatest strength is that all of it is built around hints and impressions of something larger. Not only the art style, but the stage design, cutscenes, and even the music evoke the imagination into filling out landscapes, ancient cultures, lost species, large battles over swaths of territory, grandiosity of flight, and a legend of some forgotten, unnamed hero.
Each stage made up of mini challenge ideas that represent larger chapters in the scheme of a chase, each musical crescendo and descent an emotional peak for a physical experience beyond self.
The cutscenes as well hint at personal and political relationships between people, factions, and environments and history. Not enough to make any kind of conclusion but it's all made of these light brush strokes of deforming quad-sprite fake polygon meshes and scrolling textures and tells your mind to do all the rendering work.
There's a moment in the game when you blow up the ship of floating white pillars that's been teased in cutscenes only instead of exploding it disintegrates into a flock of pink birds. A gift from the game, I can think about that image for weeks.
The remake adds a lot of small details on models and more set design and I think a pretty cool art style. I think the issue is it doesn't do enough. Since it wasn't just the art style that worked by hinting from the margins, but 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨, I would've liked to see longer or more stages, fleshing out the previous ideas for encounters into longer, more memorable setpieces, more cutscenes that don't necessarily explain the magic away but add more hints at the people, landscapes, factions, and relationships.
Panzer Dragoon is designed to speak volumes in sparseness (even if those volumes are different for every person's imagination), but Saturn sparseness doesn't quite work in a game that already looks like a reimagining, but doesn't play or read like one.