2021 has been a pretty good year for my gaming experience, and while they weren’t brand new titles I still experienced them for the first time, from retro classics to various genres that I generally don’t approach like horror or tactical RPGs.
I was able to finish a total of 38 different video games over the course of 2021, and while my goal was to finish at least 40, I did manage to complete more games in 2021 than I had done in the previous years.
Like my 2020 post, I have compiled my thoughts over on Anime UK News but here is essentially a collection of my overall thoughts for each game and what I thought of them. It’s long but I didn’t want to trim down my thoughts as some of this info might make you interested in these titles.
Due to the length of the post, I have decided to split the list into two parts. Part 2 will cover the remaining 21 games I completed, which were during August to December. The anime backlog got in the way during the month of July so I didn’t play any games at that time.
Attack on Titan 2: Final Battle
The second game Koei Tecmo made based on the anime/manga series and it’s a very interesting one. For starters, the main base game for Attack on Titan 2 covers the first and second seasons of the anime (the first game covered Season 1 with bits and pieces from Season 2) in the Story Mode but what differs itself from the previous game is that you instead follow an original character who is pretty much a spectator of the whole storyline so it doesn’t affect the canon at all.
A lot of props to Koei because there’s a lot of love put into this game for the most part. Gameplay is very good, flying around is great and you can get a lot of satisfaction for the combat and the maps are decently designed with some areas that you can travel around without issue while others requires planning to avoid wasting resources and avoid titans.
Story Mode also lets you interact with the cast of characters, level up your skills and build the relationships with others to gain new skills that can benefit you during your progress. You can also unlock new equipment and go on Scout Missions with any character you choose to assist you. In addition, everything is voice-acted and animated in-game which is not something you expect nowadays with anime-based games.
Story Mode overall for Attack on Titan 2 will take about 16 hours to complete if you spend a bit more time building your skills to avoid the difficulty spikes near the end of the story. Since I own the re-release version, also included is Attack on Titan 2 Final Battle which is located in Another Episode and it’s a detour from the Story Mode formula because it is instead presented like a branch where you pick a mission and story portion as you progress, but it does cover all of Season 3’s content fairly well. Though saying that the quality is a downgrade from the base game in terms of cutscenes which is a shame. With this expansion, that’s another 10 hours of progress to the completion.
In terms of negatives, the gameplay can be messy at times especially when it comes to locking on against a titan’s body part because the angle may not be perfect in various occasions. Another issue is that as you progress through the story the titan’s basically become sponge at that point which can be tedious but at least the Sneak Attack ability makes up for it if you can perfect the attack. There’s also titans that go into a frenzy mode where you have to kill them in order to target others which is very annoying in specific events like wanting to save a companion who is about to be eaten but you can’t due to the lock-on setup at that moment.
Alongside your usual weapons, you can also use guns which work decently well as well as Thunder Spears from Season 3 which do a lot of damage though aren’t that great against Titans that have these special green glows that you have to damage before you can kill them which can get tedious if they switch around and the lock-on isn’t perfect. You can also use the Titan abilities which is limited but very effective (and I didn’t even know the characters that are shifters could use them when you control them (outside of the Story Mode that is) because the game never really explained it to my recollection – I knew you could get an assist character who is a shifter to use it when available though).
Overall, Attack on Titan 2 Final Battle is a very solid action musou game and one of the best spin-offs of the Dynasty Warriors franchise that works so well you can argue it’s not really a musou due to its unique gameplay concept. The game is pretty much available on every platform at this point so pick it up if you can. The PlayStation 4 plays at a solid 30fps with some dips when destruction is involved.
Thanks to the fans, SEGA brought back one of their big IPs to the world with 2019’s Sakura Wars, a continuation of the franchise but with a new cast of characters. Sakura Wars is a series known for its dating simulation gameplay but like Utawarerumono also incorporates an action-element to the game. The previous games had tactical RPG combat but for this instalment we now have action combat instead which in general works pretty well – dodging is very satisfying and each character has their own style of gameplay.
Sakura Wars follows your character as the captain of the Imperial Combat Revue which is in its last legs after the original group from the previous games are no longer around barring one character who is now managing their headquarters which is a theatre. Each character you are introduced to in the Combat Revue has their own personality:
- Sakura is a cheery girl who wants to do the best she can and is helped by the fact that she’s voiced by Ayane Sakura (Yotsuba Nakano from The Quintessential Quintuplets).
- Hatsuho is your delinquent attitude type who is very dedicated to helping her friends whenever possible, she’s also voiced by Maaya Uchida (Katarina Claes from My Next Life as a Villainess).
- Claris is a noble Luxembourg girl who loves books and stories, and her voice is spot on thanks to Saori Hayami (Shinobu Kochō from Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba).
- Azami is a serious ninja but likes snacks. She’s voiced by Hibiku Yamamura (Claudia Bruford from Warlords of Sigrdrifa).
- Anastasia is a mature Greek actress but likes watching plays and does her best to support the theatre. She’s voiced by Ayaka Fukuhara (Grea from Mysteria Friends).
My personal favourite in terms of the character development overall is Claris, and I think her voice actress definitely helped a lot to elevate her role. Hatsuho and Anastasia were both also great but it felt like something was missing for their background to make them even more interesting.
One thing to point out are the character designs. BLEACH’s Tite Kubo drew the main characters, but there are also guest artists who contributed to the project which may surprise people:
- Yukiko Horiguchi (K-On!) – Shanghai Combat Revue characters Xiaolong Yang & Yui Huang.
- BUNBUN (Sword Art Online) – London Combat Revue characters Arthur & Lancelot.
- Ken Sugimori (Pokémon) – Grand Imperial Peanut.
- Fumikane Shimada (Girls und Panzer) – Berlin Combat Revue characters Elise & Margarethe.
- Noizi Ito (Haruhi Suzumiya) – Theatre fan Itsuki Saijo and food shop owner Hiromi Hongou.
- Shigenori Soejima (Persona) – Swordsman Hakushu Murasame.
The story overall is really good but I feel that if you are someone who has played the original games you may be disappointed in terms of how they connect the two together and it comes off a bit badly in my opinion. Overall I do think the cast stands out enough to make the game interesting as you go along. The gameplay is also split into different parts with intermissions in-between which is pretty cool and you can see the status of how your character has done in terms of gaining the trust of others. Your dialogue choices do matter in terms of the overall outcome of your preferred female character’s ending so the more right choices, the better.
The game has a bunch of secondary content like additional dialogue with other characters, the ability to revisit previous battles in a simulator on Chapter 3, and also the most addictive mini-game ever Koi Koi Wars.
Koi Koi is a Japanese card game that basically requires you to pair specific cards together to earn points and the more complex the pairing the better. When you successfully get a pair, you can choose to stop the current round or continue by saying ‘Koi-Koi’. Saying the latter can be a gamble as you may end up running out of cards which would lose your current streak of points in the current round if you’re not careful. The only issue I have with this mini-game is that it is very luck-based as sometimes your opponent would have the best pairing immediately with no way to counter it.
Overall Sakura Wars is a great game and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in this franchise. Playtime wise it’s about 25 hours to get through all 8 chapters but for the Platinum trophy which I managed to get it’ll take another 8-10 hours due to having to rewind to see the other character’s endings as well as reach an S rank during the combat sections and defeating every opponent in Koi Koi Wars.
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered
During the HD generation of consoles, SEGA introduced a new IP for the PlayStation 3 – a tactical RPG with elements of a third person shooter in the form of Valkyria Chronicles. It became a cult classic but its two sequels were PSP exclusive and deviated to what helped make the original popular with its fan. Eventually SEGA came back to the original game and remastered it for modern platforms, so here is where I started to visit it for the first time.
What concerned me with the game going in for the first time was the perma-death system, but fortunately this game is quite generous. When a member of your team loses their HP, they are not dead – basically knocked out so you can rescue them before it’s too late after a few turns (and in each turn you have plenty of options before a change-over happens). My entire squad survived so no one died surprisingly.
Speaking of turns, may as well explain briefly how the combat works in this game. Before you start a battle, you deploy a certain amount of people into your team. There are five groups; Scouts who can run far and hold a rifle, Lancers who can deal great damage against tanks, Shocktroopers who use assault rifles which are handy if a rifle ain’t enough, Engineers who are very under-rated as they can help protect and heal your tanks, and Snipers which is pretty self-explanatory. Now some groups can survive better than others during combat so it’s important to have a bit of everything to protect everyone.
During combat, there are turns. Your turn can have as far as 8-9 depending on specific characters who have a gold medal. Those gold medals are your slots so if that character gets K.O’d you’ll lose that slot for the next turn (basically more slots, the better the outcome). Which is why in return, you want to kill the enemies who have a medal in their name so that they can have less turns over the course of the battle.
Tanks are also well-balanced. They can be useful against enemies but if a lancer shoots the tank’s weak spot at the back of the vehicle, it’s an insta-kill. This is a big deal because one of the main characters controls a tanks so if he’s insta-killed, it’s game over for the battle. Tanks, as well as snipers and lancers, do have a flaw in terms of accuracy so every shot counts as it could change the outcome pretty quickly in some situations. Which is why it’s very handy that you can save the game during mid-battle and resume back to that moment if something goes wrong.
The end of the battle could be capturing the enemy’s flag on the other side of the map, or defeating a specific target. For the most part, the goal will be to grab the flag. Finishing a battle rewards you with EXP and Money. EXP can be used to unlock new Orders and upgrade the group’s levels. Money is used to acquire better weapon and tank abilities.
Orders is where you can tell a teammate or the whole team to increase their accuracy, attack damage, defence, evasion and more which can benefit the outcome of the battle. Caution for instance means you’ll lose less HP when you are being shot as you run through the map. You can unlock more Orders when levelling up the groups with EXP and speak to someone in the War Cemetery.
The story has 18 chapters with 23 missions in total. You can also tackle 10 additional missions in a skirmish which is useful for gaining more EXP. Each mission can take as long as 30-60 minutes depending on how you handle the battle. If you fail to win the battle after 20 turns, it’s game over also.
Valkyria Chronicles overall is a really interesting game with a great gameplay setup and the story is pretty good. The gameplay has a difficulty spike to it so I do recommend a guide if you want some advice on how to tackle some situation to ease the tension a bit. For the most part I was able to get through the missions without too much issue, though some did take longer than others. Playtime wise it’s about 26 hours which is about the average for other folks.
Trophy-wise I just focused on the story. Trophies don’t unlock like you usually expect so in order to receive them you’ll have to wait until Chapter 9 and go to the Audience Hall to receive them. It’s a weird idea but it makes sense in the context of the game’s setting.
Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus HD
Originally planned to be played back in 2019 alongside the Jak & Daxter trilogy and Ratchet & Clank trilogy, I finally decided to visit the Sly Cooper trilogy, starting with the first game known in Europe as Sly Raccoon but everywhere else as Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus. This is an action platformer game developed by Sucker Punch, before they made the inFAMOUS series and Ghosts of Tsushima. It’s also one of the big IPs for Sony during the PlayStation 2 era so it’s no surprise they gave the trilogy a HD remaster treatment.
The goal is pretty simple – each world has a boss that you must defeat but in order to reach that point you have to collect keys that will unlock the path. Each world has individual levels with a key and most of them also include collectible bottles that will allow you to open up a vault which gives you new moves. Some levels are special mini-games like racing a three-lap course, shooting enemies to protect a friend, and acquire a certain amount of items before the timer runs out.
While Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank have more modern health systems, Sly Cooper is more on the lines of the classic approach seen in Mario and Crash Bandicoot where one life equals death. If you collect 100 coins you unlock a special shield that will keep you alive if you get hit once but there will be a special move that will allow you to be immune to death if you fall off a cliff but that’s only until much later in the game. If you lose all lives it’s game over, but it will let you replay the level. In fact dying will not erase your collectible progress so that’s very beneficial.
I do have some gripes with the gameplay and that the controls are quite tight. Double jump is not perfect as it feels more like a jump and a half, so you will die a lot more than you should. The aim controls for specific segments is inverted up/down so you’ll want to go into the settings to fix that so that it can make those stages easier to sort out. Fortunately in terms of dying, the checkpoints in this game are generous so progression can continue pretty smoothly without major issues.
The boss battles are fun and quite challenging. Each have a variety and you can actually die if you don’t pay extra attention. The rhythm game boss is very difficult because it takes ages to get back to where you are as there are no checkpoints in these stages. The final boss reminded me a lot of how the difficulty was for the final boss of Ratchet & Clank but this game’s take is much better as it’s shorter and easier to progress without wasting too much time.
The Platinum trophy is very simple, which is a nice change of pace. Basically finish the story and as long as you collect the bottles and unlock the vaults you will get the trophy in about 6-7 hours. The game also rewards you with a Japanese intro which is rather amusing to see.
Sly 2: Band of Thieves HD
After enjoying Sly Cooper, I immediately jumped into Sly 2 and it’s not only vastly different from its predecessor but it’s also like how Jak & Daxter went from the Precursor Legacy to Jak II. Sly 2 does keep its general gameplay concepts like stealth and a mini-hub world, but the overall game has improved in many factors.
Sly 2 is split into 8 episodes, each following one major storyline like the previous game did. In each episode you have a mini-world that you can explore which is really cool as it allows you to navigate through various enemies and objects in different ways, and within this mini-world you will also be given some missions, roughly 8-10 each episode. These missions vary from playing as Sly to pickpocket keys from enemies or setting up/destroying objects located in different areas. The missions also have tasks dedicated to Sly’s sidekicks Bentley who is your nerd turtle that will often have hacking mini-games, and Murray who is your brute hippo used to defeat big foes or destroy blocks. The missions between each episode have a great variety and work well.
Sly’s character is much weaker than the previous game so stealth is a crucial aspect to his character. The stealth in this game works really well and performing stealth kills from behind is very handy for specific situations. The game is very generous in its difficulty as the whole ‘one-hit’ kill your character had is replaced by a proper HP system plus any mistakes during mission or game over is often taken care of thanks to many checkpoints throughout which is very handy due to a lot of silly moments that can take ages to fix (which is what Jak II faulted on a lot).
The story is interesting and the characters are pretty well done. That said there are some flaws that I feel are worth addressing, and the biggest is that to me this game is longer than it should be. Less is more I think would have made the game a lot better, and I say that because many of the missions are pretty much the same but in a different location. I would say that the final episode is very good as it does splice up the tasks than the others did. The boss fights are half and half on quality – the Murray and Bentley ones were really good, but Sly’s battles were not as great as the previous games.
Overall, Sly 2 is a pretty solid experience with a lot of repetition throughout in its gameplay. Playtime was probably about 16-17 hours which is about right, and the Platinum trophy in this case only requires you to finish the story, collect 1500 coins at once, purchase specific abilities from the ThiefNet, and collect 30 bottles. The bottles collecting is toned down a lot in this sequel so you don’t need to do that for the Platinum trophy.
Sly 3: Honour Among Thieves HD
Going into Sly 3 I had my concerns. The second game was very good but it had pacing issues and too much content with the playtime it had. After finishing Sly 3, I was pretty impressed with how this instalment turned out.
Basically the game is very similar to Sly 2 in a lot of areas; the hideouts, going to the objectives in any order, being able to play as Bentley and Murray alongside Sly, and the episodic nature. The difference between Sly 2 & 3 is that Sly 3 basically takes what worked really well with Sly 2 and makes adjustments to improve the experience even further. The first example is the pacing because this is a shorter game than before, with only six episodes instead of the eight that the predecessor had. This change makes the pacing a lot better and there’s also less missions but more variety in return thanks to the cast of characters you interact with on your journey.
While Sly 2 lets you play as your companions, Sly 3 takes it a bit further as there are missions that let you play as other characters for specific moments which adds to the variety and enjoyment. This game also has more missions that uses more than one character than just focusing on one which is pretty neat considering it avoids the repetition that the predecessor had in many missions. The antagonists in this game are not related to each other but have their own character which is pretty neat to see and don’t drag out either so what you get in each episode is more than enough.
Sly 3 introduced a lot of different gameplay elements like the predecessor did. Examples include a RC helicopter to drag enemies away, using fireworks to hit multiple targets, controlling a boat to shoot down other boats or reach a specific goal, actually controlling a pirate ship to fight other ships in the sea, bouncing up and down like a ball, and shooting planes down with your own. The hacking mini-game is also back which was also improved and there’s a pretty cool task where you look at the paintings to find the code for the safe which is also cool.
There are some omissions that are minor. The bottles you collect in the previous games are gone, and the selling part of ThiefNet is also gone but in return that makes collecting gold much easier to sort out for pacing.
Since the Platinum trophy also requires going through the challenges, they turned out to be a lot better than I had anticipated though I do wish you had the option to easily restart without having to wait until the challenge has failed. The boss battles were decent and I liked the China battle a lot with that wuxia slow-mo inspired segment being pretty cool to use. Playtime was about 11 hours for the story and an additional 2 hours for the challenges and treasure hunt mini-games.
God of War: Chains of Olympus HD
It’s funny that I had been putting off acquiring the second HD collection for God of War over the past few years and after finally finishing the first of the two PSP games, I found myself wondering why I held it off in the first place. God of War: Chains of Olympus was a pretty decent game for what was designed for a portable handheld device. It’s very short, landing at about 4 hours 20 minutes with all of the collectibles and weapons 100% upgraded also, but it’s a fun experience.
For those curious about the gameplay, basically the God of War Greek saga of games were all action hack n slash games with elements of a platformer here and there. Kratos is an angry dude and he slaughters enemies pretty well, and this game offers less variety of enemies but none that would make you feel too frustrated for progression. The story is solid and the game’s progression is always linear going from one area to another but sometimes backtracking like entering one path and returning in another. The pacing is honestly pretty solid so I have no problems there.
Kratos weapons can be upgraded using these red orbs that automatically go to your character by either opening a crate or killing enemies. The crates can also cover HP (green) and Magic (blue) but also little collectible Gorgon Eyes (every 5 acquired gives you extra HP for the health bar) and Wild Feathers (similar to the other but focused on Magic) which makes the latter half of the game easier to progress. These collectible pieces are missable so you will want to browse around the areas of the game to find these crates whenever you can, as backtracking isn’t always possible. That said, once you max out your weapons they do carry over onto New Game Plus if you wish to play the game on harder difficulties.
What makes God of War memorable is its environment and boss battles, the level design is really good and the voice-work fits well with the world-building of the franchise. The boss battles are epic but this game unfortunately only offers a few which is a surprise given the previous games generally had a fair amount. The quicktime events are back and they are just as amusing as before, so if you make a mistake it can result in a game over. The checkpoints are quite generous but do note that HP doesn’t recover so always save when you can.
Overall, God of War: Chains of Olympus is a pretty good game though it is very short so that may be a big debate among various players out there. I am fine with the length as I wanted a solid experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome and the game offers enough to make the gameplay worthwhile.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta HD
After how short the previous game was, I figured I could jump straight into God of War: Ghost of Sparta, the second PSP game that was also remastered for the PlayStation 3. The previous game took place before the events of God of War (and after Ascension), while this one takes place in-between God of War and God of War II.
The gameplay is pretty much very similar to before, but this time we have different weapons and more variety of enemies that adds a lot more challenge to the mix. These new enemies have shields which makes hitting them normally pretty much impossible unless you use the fire ability which can knock them out. The fire is your best friend during combat because otherwise you will struggle in a lot of areas. Even though the game was fairly short, I would say this game is probably one of the hardest God of War games I’ve experienced so far (Ascension is still the hardest imo).
Playtime was about 5 hours 5 minutes which was 45 minutes longer than the previous game, so while it’s short it actually has a lot going on which is surprising, so in the long run it does feel like a proper console God of War experience but on a handheld. Though because it takes place in-between the main trilogy it also feels like a filler episode since we have the concept of Kratos searching for his long-lost brother. That said, the story and voice-work are still solid and the environments were pretty cool.
Much like Chains of Olympus, I did not go for a Platinum with God of War: Ghost of Sparta as I decided to go through both games on Normal difficulty though I have heard these two games are the easiest to complete compared to others in the franchise.
It’s been many years since I had last played a SoulCalibur game (I own the first game that was released on Xbox Live) and because I acquired the fifth game in the series a few years ago I decided it was time to check it out. Considered to be one of the weaker instalments in the franchise to my recollection, SoulCalibur V is a good time.
The story is a departure to the others and unfortunately is poorly handled. There are scenes without voice work and the difficulty is fine, but the game’s special moves setup is not really made clear so I never really got to use them with the characters that I have tried out. I have managed to finish the story mode and arcade mode, but overall I find myself not entirely clicking with the game. Even though I said it was a good time, it’s not a bad game but I’m not a big fan of the special move combo setup.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1
Hyperdimension Neptunia was one of the first games I played on the PlayStation 3. It had a great cast of characters, a neat concept and also a messy battle system. Fortunately the franchise did well enough to have sequels that revamped the battle system for the better. Not long after, the trilogy was remade for PlayStation Vita (and later released on PC) and while I bought the first game back in February 2017, I didn’t start the game until late August 2021 – which is about 4 years 6 months later…
Neptunia is a turn-based RPG with a large roster of characters, but only three at max can tag along during battles (though you can swap for another character for each individual so it’s technically 6). The battle system is split into different areas, starting off with the Attack approach which gives you three methods; Rush, Power & Break, with 3 hit combos (you can mix and match between the three). Rush is good for increasing the speed of the EXE Gauge, Power is for strong damage attacks, and Break is to reduce the enemy’s guard so that you can do more damage once it breaks. Once the EXE Gauge reaches a Level you can unlock a fourth combo that does extra damage, so the higher the EXE level the better. This approach is a vast improvement over the original which was quite hard to follow and a bit overly-convoluted.
Alongside the main Attack option, the battle also offers SP special which can help heal your team, add buffs & debuffs, and also do super attacks against one or multiple enemies. For Neptune, Noire, Vert & Blanc, these four also have the option to activate HDD which gives them extra attack power. You can also select Items in case you run out of SP and Defend yourself or try to Escape the battle if the scenario escalates. Again these are also improvements over the original battle system which was initially dependent on luck rather than being able to immediately use the items or special moves.
The battles overall can take seconds to a fair while depending on which enemy you’re up against. In each dungeon, a majority of the enemies are pretty easy to fight unless they go into Viral mode which can increase the difficulty. There are also large ‘tough’ enemies that can overwhelm you if you are under-levelled but the good news is that they won’t chase after you if you are close so you can literally walk past them without initiating a battle.
Then we have the boss battles which leads to my biggest issue with the game – the difficulty. Long story short, the difficulty ramps up by a lot compared to the regular enemies which ruins the pace of the game. The best way to describe this is if you’re Level 20 and you can deal with fighting enemies that are around Level 18-22, but then you fight the boss who is Level 30 for whatever reason and easily defeats you even if you have the most updated equipment. This to me, is the game’s biggest flaw in general because it ruins the pace and can often become unfun depending on the circumstances. The only way to fix this is the generic RPG approach of level grinding, which is unfortunate considering the battle system is very fun to use, and while you can suggest that spacing out your team is a key aspect to defeating high level enemies, the amount of damage they can do (and sometimes even heal more than the damage they take) will still cause problems.
Outside of battles, the game also has a Share system where each nation has a percentage of shares that will determine which of the two endings you will encounter (Normal or True). The True ending requires each nation having 20% shares and the enemy nation having 0% which is pretty easy to achieve. Shares can be achieved by defeating enemies in the Coliseum and going on Quests by fulfilling criteria like finding materials or defeating specific enemies. These will offer 1-5% shares for a nation, but in return can result in a decrease of shares for another so it’s all about balance.
On the world map, you also have little message pop-ups which can give you new plans to make items, weapons and dungeons. This where Re;Birth‘s new features come in but its easily missable if you don’t pay extra attention. The Remake system is a brand new addition to the game that lets you create new dungeons, new items, new game modifications and more after fulfilling certain criteria in terms of specific item drops from dungeons. When you create a dungeon, you’ll want to visit them at least once so that you can unlock additional plans that adds more enemies and changes the item drops for those dungeons. The game modifications include weakening or strengthening enemies, more credits, more EXP, increase in the EXE Gauge and more.
You can also use the Remake system to unlock Nepgear, Uni, Rom and Ram, characters from the second Neptunia game, for the character roster but they each require 30% nation shares to unlock the plan followed by 50% shares, 1024MB of Remake System space and an specific item from one of the dungeons near the end of the game. The Remake system does have a limitation to avoid breaking the game entirely, which is about 2000-3000MB you can use at max. Fortunately, the plans you create in the first playthrough will carry over into New Game+ with the MB space reset so you can keep your pre-existing creations and make more in return.
As for the story, it’s pretty much the same structure as the original with added characters to the mix. The franchise is a homage and parody of the video game industry with Neptune based on SEGA’s unreleased Neptune console, Noire based on Sony’s PlayStation, Vert based on Microsoft’s Xbox, and Blanc based on Nintendo. The other characters include Compa (Compile Heart), IF (Idea Factory), MAGES. (searching for that Dr Pepper), Falcom (basically female Adol), Tekken (yes that Tekken), CyberConnect2 (designed like a dot hack character), MarvelousAQL (as busty as Senran Kagura), and Broccoli (not the vegetable, but the actual company who made Di Gi Charat). For those curious, Nepgear (Neptune’s younger sister) represents SEGA’s portable console devices, Uni (Noire’s younger sister) represents Sony’s PlayStation PSP/Vita devices, and Rom and Ram (Blanc’s younger sisters) represent Nintendo’s DS handhelds. Because Xbox is mostly console-based, Vert doesn’t have a younger sister. Also NISA and Gust characters from the original do not appear in Re;Birth.
While the original PlayStation 3 version has a recycled battle system and assets from Cross Edge and Trinity Universe, two previous cross-over games from one or more similar developers/publishers oddly enough, the seriousness of the original isn’t carried over into the Re;Birth version so it’s more light-hearted than before. In terms of the story progression, there are 8 chapters in total and took me about 28 hours to complete alongside the preparations for other completion-based tasks like acquiring more dungeons, receiving the plans for unlocking additional characters, and levelling up the team to defeat the bosses. Once I finished the first playthrough, an additional 11 hours was spent getting everyone to Level 99 and acquiring 100 million credits for the Platinum trophy.
Regarding the 100 Million credits trophy, because I own a physical copy via the North American release (Europe was digital only), I had to take the long approach by fighting the Clione enemy which offers 322,000 credits with the Credits Up plans in place. It is a tedious journey but was much faster than I had expected as it took about 500 minutes to sort out. Fortunately since its accumulative, you only need to reach 50 million credits as you can then use the credits to buy and sell expensive items to reach the number faster. If you do have access to the DLC, that approach is much quicker due to receiving more credits by defeating an enemy in one of the Coliseum battles though it will require additional levelling up I believe.
Overall, aside from the frustrating difficulty spikes for the boss battles, Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 is a very enjoyable game and a massive improvement to the original PlayStation 3 release. Since I played the Vita version, I recommend you either opt for the PC version or the PlayStation 5 version for the better performances. The latter is known as Neptunia ReVerse which also offers 4 characters over 3 during battles as well as a different trophy list.
Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction
Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction is the first game in the Ratchet & Clank’s Future saga and was one of the earlier games released for the PlayStation 3. I initially was not going to acquire these instalments but after the PS3 store fiasco earlier in the year I decided to pick them all up when they were cheap.
Tools of Destruction is an interesting game for me because the gameplay is still as enjoyable as the previous games, with tons of different weapon options and big large areas to explore for metal objects and any hidden collectibles you can find. The gameplay structure is pretty simple, you visit a world and you go through one or more linear paths and find an object before leaving the world for another. Sometimes you may have a boss but the general concept is still the same.
The game offers a variety of puzzles, from using rails with gaps to avoid by jumping, pressing buttons on the ground before it explodes, and using helipads to unlock more platforms before it disappears. The puzzles in the franchise have always been pretty fun, but what caught my eye the most were the ones that involved using the PlayStation 3 SIXAXIS motion controls. Those puzzles include moving a ball in a techy grid to allow the electric current to hit one point to another, shooting a lazer and guiding it to break down a wall, and my least favourite but for those who love it a mini rhythm segment with pirate dancing.
The difficulty in this game is apparently dynamic and the final boss is pretty tedious since most of your weapons are effectively pointless to use even when they are fully charged. The checkpoints are quite spaced out so you will be frustrated more than once in various areas. The Clank segments are pretty good and enjoyable but the checkpoint setup tampers with the experience.
The story is alright but it’s setting up for big things that feels rather different to the previous games in the series, though the comedic humour tone of the franchise is still there. I personally didn’t mind the story but the villain was pretty forgettable. Overall I would say that Tools of Destruction is a pretty fun game and worth playing if you have a PS3 and find copies for cheap. Since this is an older game there are no trophies so there’s no need to worry about that either. Playtime was about 12 hours total.
Ratchet & Clank: Quest for Booty
Ratchet & Clank: Quest for Booty is a short 4 hour game that is pretty much a prologue or standalone demo for the next game A Crack in Time, and despite that the game does enough to offer some interesting elements to the mix. The game re-uses the same assets, weapons and concepts from Tools of Destruction with a few differences to the mix – Clank is not around and there are extra unique abilities that are pretty fun and works well with the game’s mechanics which involves using your wrench to move platforms around on the screen.
There’s not much to say for this game because it’s short, and the story is simple and does the job. The only importance is the ending which ties directly into A Crack in Time. Overall, I would say that the game is good fun but only get it for a cheap price if you want a physical copy because of its length. Like Tools of Destruction, there are no trophies for this game either.
Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time
In 2009 came the second major instalment in the Ratchet & Clank Future saga with A Crack in Time, and… this is a really damn good game, probably one of the best instalments in the whole franchise.
I had so much fun playing through this game and not only was the gameplay really fun but the story was way better than the previous games. The game brings back Dr. Nefarious from Ratchet & Clank 3: Up Your Arsenal and honestly I’m glad because he’s pretty memorable with his attitude and appearance. Even though it continues from the events of Quest for Booty and Tools of Destruction, you can honestly skip those two if you really need to as the only major thing you need to know was that Ratchet & Clank got separated at some point.
The game is shorter than Tools of Destruction, but pacing-wise is just about right because it has enough content to keep you occupied without overstaying its welcome, and the extra stuff is really good such as navigating from one planet to another in your spaceship. The coliseum returns as per usual as well as a variety of weapons including the RYNO V which does the job in destroying everything in your path. Personally, I found the game to be compared with the LEGO franchise due to its structure and collectibles. The puzzles don’t use the motion controls from the PS3 controller this time, but Clank’s puzzles are top tier and have a good balance between challenging and not overdoing it.
Graphics look great, the level design is very good, and the story is among one of my favourites in the franchise with a really interesting backstory for both of our main leads. The ending I found to be pretty satisfying so I’m curious to see how Nexus handles the end of the saga.
Overall, Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time in my opinion is a fantastic addition to the franchise and worthy of your 9 hour playtime (Almost 16 hour playtime for the Platinum trophy). The checkpoints is very reasonable and there’s enough post-game content to keep you occupied like finding the collectibles, a post-game boss fight and New Game Plus for more upgraded weapons.
Ratchet & Clank: Nexus
Just before the release of the PlayStation 4 and after a few spin-off instalments, Ratchet & Clank’s Future saga wraps up with Nexus (also known as Into the Nexus in North America). This is another short game but a few hours longer than Quest for Booty was, but has enough content to make up for it.
Nexus feels like a step-down in various ways. For starters there are only four major worlds plus an Arena world in general and the story itself is an epilogue but not the best that the franchise has to offer. The villains are okay but are not fleshed out enough to be as memorable as the others before them. Pacing is decent but considering the game’s length I can let it slide. Graphics feels like a stepdown despite the impressive space segment at the intro, and the performance feels worse than its predecessors.
Gameplay is not as great as A Crack in Time but the weapon selection is still solid, though they are mostly recycled from previous instalments. The new mechanics are pretty cool and Clank’s puzzle segments continue to be the highlight.
I don’t have much to say about this one other than the fact that overall it felt like an unnecessary addition to the series. While it is considered an epilogue it felt like one long drag to make a single point and while the gameplay was good, I don’t think the game is worth acquiring at full price if you do plan to check it out.
I did manage to get the Platinum trophy which requires going through the game on Legend difficulty (which isn’t hard except for the beginning parts of the game), going through New Game+ i.e. Challenge Mode, and the tedious part being upgrading every weapon to Level 6 which is a drag to say the least. There are collectibles in this game but surprisingly there are way less to collect than before.
SIREN BLOOD CURSE
In 2020 I played Deadly Premonition from my backlog to coincide with Halloween, and for 2021 I decided to play a horror game once again with SIREN BLOOD CURSE, an episodic remake of the original PS2 cult classic Siren aka Forbidden Siren. I actually bought both Deadly Premonition and SIREN BLOOD CURSE by chance in CeX back in 2019 so it has taken me this long to check this one out in particular.
Horror is not something that I generally delve into when it comes to the genre but I don’t mind giving it a shot from time to time. SIREN BLOOD CURSE has an interesting premise and it’s gameplay fits well with the genre. The goals are presented in a newcomer friendly way but there is still some challenge presented as your characters for the most part won’t have any items to protect yourself against these cursed people called Shibito. The Shibitio behave like zombies but do still have a mind of their own so they will use guns and get back on their feet when you are close by, they are basically immortal so you can’t kill them and the sense of fear is still there.
As mentioned, this is an episodic game so it was originally released as a digital download for the PlayStation Network but Japan, Asia and Europe each got a physical release on disc while United States was left out. Considering this is a Sony IP, the fact that the European and Asian copies got a physical release is quite a surprise, but then again the PS2’s second game was also not released in North America which probably explains the decision. That said, the English releases came out during the early years of the PlayStation 3 so physical copies are quite rare to acquire, and if you do find a copy I do suggest picking it up especially considering the EU/UK version also comes with a 20 minute Behind the Scenes featurette that can be accessed on the PS3 dashboard. The episodes are split into 12 parts with chapters that offer a mixture of cutscenes and gameplay segments.
The goal tends to be ‘reach this location’ but also with specific requirements like ‘keep this character safe with you’ or ‘grab a key to unlock the door to this goal’. The game goes through a show and tell approach so you won’t be completely lost but I wouldn’t say the game is super easy by all means. Sure there are checkpoints presented but the enemies do pack a punch if you aren’t equipped properly. Some Shibitio are even so scary that they could kill you in an instant so you’ll want to rely on being cautious as you progress through the story.
Included in the gameplay is ‘sight jacking’ which allows you to see from the perspective of the enemies which has its positives and negatives. One is that you can see what they are doing and whether its safe to proceed close by without being completely detected, however the performance drops in frame rate as a result. When you don’t use the sight jack you often get a mix between 30 to 60 frames per second while using it results in around 15 to 30 frames. This feature was included in the original games on PS2, but the difference here is that rather than taking up the full screen, it’s actually half a screen which by design is similar to recent titles like The Medium.
The episodic structure and the way the game was laid out I thought was exclusive to SIREN BLOOD CURSE, but upon some research it came to my surprise that the PS2 originals also had a similar structure. The difference between the PS2 games and the PS3 remake is that the former was designed similar to the visual novel 428: Shibuya Scramble with timeslots and branching paths, while SIREN BLOOD CURSE is linear and split by episodes. I actually don’t mind this approach but after discovering how the original was presented, I can see why fans of the original would be very let down by the game.
Puzzles do exist throughout SIREN BLOOD CURSE with various tasks like finding an object or having to kill a specific Shibito to proceed to the goal. With this combined with the atmosphere that the game has adds a bit more to the horror element. The game is mostly set at night-time so you will have to rely on your flashlight but also the sight jacking to proceed. The sound design is pretty good too as you can hear Shibito quite a lot so you’ll want to rely on noise to avoid being detected. You can crouch walk to bypass enemies to avoid detection also.
While I do think SIREN BLOOD CURSE is pretty good on the overall gameplay side, its biggest issue is its story. The idea of having American characters in Japan is not a problem, but this game has the US horror trope of characters being over-reactive and can be a pain to deal with, though I will give props to the main character Howard Wright who is pretty good and likeable. The Japanese character Seigo Saiga is pretty nuts throughout the game also. The rest of the cast is not particularly great, and the story delves into a direction that doesn’t make much sense because its first half followed quite well until the half-way point where there’s a lot of missing gaps here and there.
Overall I found SIREN BLOOD CURSE to be a fun, short and pretty scary game in general. The game took me 7 hours to complete all of the episodes and there were some pretty tough goals in the latter half of the game but overall I thought it was a good time. The final boss battle is also pretty cool and its ending is a homage to the original PS2 game also. Apparently SIREN BLOOD CURSE is portrayed as if this was an American film adaptation of the first Siren game, and that idea actually works in this case especially considering J-Horror has always been given American remakes over the years.
Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone DX
Recently acquired earlier in the month, I finally had a go at the physical release version of Project Diva Arcade. This came out back in November 2017 and I played the original version digitally when it first released in June 2016. I never finished off the Japanese version as I only had one of two packs, but I did finish all of the songs through the English version.
Not going to delve much into this one as the Future Tone DX version is pretty much the same as the original but with additional songs, most were released as DLC for the digital version. The trophy list is probably the most disappointing as it does not allow you to unlock trophies for the original version so in a sense it only has one small list making most of the songs pointless if you want a complete experience. That said the physical release is worth it to have access to almost every song on the disc. The Future Tone DX version does include a Platinum trophy.
Pre-installed on every PlayStation 5 is a short tech demo game designed to show off the DualSense controller. Developed by Team Asobi, we have the robot from Astro Bot: Rescue Mission getting a new adventure in a non-VR platformer experience that ironically pays homage to the history of PlayStation. I say ironically because Sony themselves doesn’t give a damn about their past as they prefer to focus on new stuff, remakes and other things. Yes I am still bitter of how poorly handled their PlayStation Classic was and their disregard for backwards compatibility for older consoles.
Despite that, Astro’s Playroom is a really solid adventure that shows off the controller pretty well. You have motion controls, voice controls and various abilities to get to the end goal. These include shooting with bow and arrow, jumping with a springer, rolling in a ball, climbing vines as a monkey, flying around in a rocket and also collecting puzzle pieces and items to complete the PlayStation collection.
Once you finish all four areas, each covering a piece of PlayStation history, you unlock a fifth area which I won’t spoil as it’s a pretty cool surprise. Astro’s Playroom does offer a Platinum trophy which is pretty easy to get, though the trophy system is a bit glitched so I had one trophy unlock but never appear on my trophy list, and I only managed to get out of it because another trophy unlocked afterwards.
Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight
First things first, the Persona 3 waifus look even better in this game. Holy shit.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night was a pretty cool music rhythm game though it’s setlist was very hit or miss. Atlus has brought back the concept with Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight & Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight though this time they’re also on the consoles. Now there’s good news and bad news.
Good news is that there’s no story mode and is instead replaced by Social Links which are much better and more interesting, and the setlist is a mixture of the original songs, remixes and some cool extras which is better than before. The English dub is still as strong as before, though a certain character’s voice has aged pretty badly for obvious reasons that I won’t delve into. The waifus are still great, heck Elizabeth is pretty funny here surprisingly.
The bad news is that the gameplay doesn’t quite work on console format. The issue is dependent on how large your TV is and where you’re positioned, if you’re close and the TV is large, you will likely struggle to understand what is going on because the note placement is on the edges of the screen. The gameplay itself isn’t bad at all, but this is a perfect example of a system that doesn’t quite leap very well on console format.
You can play the songs on Easy, Normal, Hard and All Night difficulty and with no punishment can add extra modules to change the difficulty of the gameplay such as randomised note placements, any button press to hit any note, faster speed and more. You can also unlock additional costumes and accessories which is neat.
The Platinum is pretty easy though it can take a while to unlock due to having to complete the social links, which overall takes about 9.5 hours to complete. I played the game on PlayStation 5 so I’m able to play the game in 4K resolution to go alongside the 60fps that was already available for the base PS4 users.
Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight
Released alongside Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight, Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight is pretty much the exact same game but for Persona 5! Honestly it’s just as good as the others, though the song selection depends on whether you prefer the music for P5 or P3.
I found this game to be pretty fun also, though I do think some of the songs overstay their welcome in terms of gameplay. I guess this is just my reaction due to how the setlist for Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight was.
Not much to say about this game since it’s just repeating what I said about Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight, except Makoto is still best girl.
Many years ago for the original PlayStation came MediEvil, a gothic horror themed action platformer that did pretty well for the console. The idea of a skeleton hero fighting the undead, monsters and more with statue ghosts mocking him along the way. I had heard of it, but never managed to get the chance to play it. That is until the PlayStation 4 remake came along in 2019, though I didn’t acquire it until this past few weeks.
The remake of MediEvil is very faithful to the original in terms of combat, exploration, and difficulty. The combat is pretty straightforward as you have a weapon and use it to attack other enemies, though you do have a selection to choose from like a hammer, longbow, spear and a few extra items along the way. The PS4 remake also added a quick swap-around option so you can alternate between a primary and secondary weapon which is very handy for certain situations. The shield is also there but I personally never found much use for it in most of the game.
The gameplay is also straightforward – reach the end-point to proceed to the next level, and if you like collectables but not too much that ruins the pace, there’s only two major ones in the game (one of which is exclusive to the PS4 version). The first are these Chalices which are unlocked when you defeat a certain number of enemies followed by locating the item once the percentage hits 100%. This rewards you with access to the Hall of Heroes where you can unlock more health, new weapons and more. The second collectable are Lost Souls that are scattered across the whole game. Find a soul and it will ask you to do a specific task in another level. Complete all of the soul tasks will reward you with the original PlayStation version of the game, however the UK/EU copies will be based on the PAL version.
The levels are fairly short, but this does mean that you will have to finish them without a game over. The game is quite challenging as a result of this, which is the norm for a lot of games released back then. You do have life force which is extra mini-lives that can be replenished when you find these green highlighted areas from time to time, but it’s important that you understand how enemies work and be cautious as you progress. Jumping into water or a pit will be an automatic life-lost for instance. Game over doesn’t mean you’ll be back to the main menu at least as you’ll be able to replay the current level when that happens, though it does mean having to re-collect the items in the game.
Overall, MediEvil is a short but great action platformer in general. The combat is fun and rewarding, the level design is really good including the puzzles and the collectibles are pretty neat too. I would say my only criticism is the camera as it’s not perfect plus the extra camera strafe option isn’t perfect for any accurate range shots. I was able to get the Platinum trophy for the game and one of the trophies is technically buggy (Die 7 different ways) but you can get out of this by getting a game over from a timer in one of the later levels. Playtime overall was about 10 hours.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
After the success of the 2018 game, Insomniac decided to offer a short game to show off what the game can do for the PlayStation 5. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales takes place after the events of the 2018 game and puts the spotlight on Miles who is the newest Spider-Man in the game’s series (though Peter Parker is still around and both will be fighting alongside each other for the sequel in 2023).
The gameplay is tweaked from the previous, with many of the mechanics being familiar while some new additions were added due to Miles having unique powers compared to Peter such as being invisible and bio-electric abilities. These two new additions actually makes the gameplay even better as it adds more fun to both the stealth and regular combat. If you hit enough enemies, the Venom Power is more rewarding.
The story is pretty good and explores Miles’ character a lot especially given the villain of the story as well as the side characters around him. There are also some side missions that you can do during the game alongside collectibles, challenges, hideouts and more. You can also unlock new skills, abilities, and costumes, including an animated cell-shaded suit and Into the Spider-Verse suit. The latter of which also provides a 20 FPS style animation which imo does become quite jarring when you’re playing the game at 60 FPS.
The length of the story mode is about 8 hours if you don’t skip any cutscenes, but going for the Platinum trophy will offer another 4-8 hours to the mix depending on how good you are with the combat. I have been KO’d quite a lot during the Normal difficulty mode and that’s mainly due to enemies constantly hitting you with rockets, brutes using streaks of fire that block your Venom Power & healing amongst other things.
Overall, the game is a solid launch title for the PS5 and worth playing while you’re in the Spider-Man mood.
And that concludes my list of video games I played throughout the year of 2021. The backlog has grown to about 113 games currently which is a lot, but I stand by my stance of acquiring the games and playing them later over holding off the games and acquiring them later due to the changing market on physical releases these days.
A majority of the games in the backlog were developed from Japan but as you can see from above I do play Western developed games from time to time. For 2022, expect some appearances from Nintendo Switch (hopefully) and PlayStation 5 games to go alongside the Vita, PS3 & PS4 backlog.