Tag: Simulation

Road To Guangdong Review (Xbox One)

  • Genre: Puzzle, Simulator
  • Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, PC
  • Developer | Publisher: Just Add Oil Games | Excalibur Publishing
  • Age Rating: PEGI 3+ | ESRB E (Everyone)
  • Price: £16.74 / $19.99
  • Release Date: 28th August 2020

Review code used, with thanks to Excalibur Games! And thanks to James Butler for reviewing this game. Follow James @Ludonymist on twitter!

An emotional ride – in every sense of the word. This review is being written in a tiny hamlet in North-West England, in the middle of a grey wet November and a concurrent pandemic lockdown. I provide this information not to date this summary, but to draw attention to the true extent of the cathartic role that games hold in our lives.  I miss the days of long drives, on road both familiar and unknown, small chit-chat with a passenger, looking at unusual names on road-signs, particularly obnoxious adverts, and curious landmarks that dot the horizon – as well as the inevitable missed turn and even the thrill of feeling ‘I can make it to the next petrol station. I know I can. … I hope …’. The core gameplay of this title replicates that sense in full. Especially after nearly 8-months of travel restrictions and being stuck in a small place with seemingly no end in sight getting to truly know your accompanying passengers; the title offers a means of participating in a virtual road trip, and all the emotion that comes from such trips.

Story and Characters

The story is where the soul of the game comes into play. It is a highly personal trek that the player is invited along on in order to reconnect and collect family recipes from relations, whilst getting to know the story of your immediate family – especially your constant companion, your Guu Ma. At every step/stop a kodak moment Is captured on the stat summary screen, which hammers home the intimacy of the experience. Some critics have commented on the use of Cantonese terms peppered throughout the game with little explanation provided – but such a Clock Orange-style glossary would absolutely take from the immersion. We all have pet names of endearment and familiar traditions which Road to Guangdong captures perfectly : those hazy moments of being, of family, of love.

Gameplay

Road to Guangdong is – at its very core – an efficiency-and-optimization led puzzle game. The objectives are to reach estranged family members on a highly personal journey, and ensuring that your car – which runs on little more than hope, prayers, and love – can withstand each leg, through carefully balancing finances with anticipated wear-and-tear. Fan belts, oil and air filters, tyres – bought new and scavenged from scrap pules … the savvy player will also need to keep a quantity of oil and petrol on hand – just in case those long desolate roads are a little longer than initially anticipated. And I love that. Puts me in mind of my own first car. Routine is key – you even have to turn the key to start the engine, and manually press a button on the dash to turn the lights on, keeping the car going at a steady pace once you have found the sweet spot that doesn’t overheat the engine or guzzle petrol too quickly. 

Graphics, Sound, and Performance

Road to Guangdong’s low-fi aesthetic (described by the publisher as ‘a visual novel’) shines through at every level of its composition. There is very little that seems as though it would tax even an original psx console, but that simplicity of the environment and overall form allows the player to imagine what lies just beyond the horizon. The lighting is simple, but majestic, and captures the sense of a remembered time and space perfectly. The one thing I would have really liked to have seen would be an increased level of traffic – both motor and bike-based – but again, the low scale effects capture the style of a memory with veering slightly towards distant headlights as you look around to check out an interesting doodad of scenery or keep a diligent eye on the temperature gauge.

The sound and music (controlled entirely by the radio, of course) is minimal – but soothing. There is no spoken dialogue, which fits nicely into the whole memory / graphic novel compositional form.

The performance is understandably smooth given the minimalist elements in play, but players expecting an accurate physics model for destruction or a touch of decorative customisation to make the old family car will be disappointed (which could have been a lovely little touch if implemented given the game’s premise about visiting distant places, consolidating family history, and making new memories), but then such physical mementoes might overshadow the very point of the experience. 

Difficulty

The game takes its time in explaining the fundamentals, making sure every little detail is hammered home before the player is given the freedom to choose their own path, and begin the process of planning optimisation. There are a number of destinations which have to be visited, and each presents a slightly branching narrative that touch upon moral choice and consequence at a deeply personal level. Although this might offer incentive for a re-play, such would detract from the very nature of the game and make it less a memorable experience and more just a story – which would be a shame. 

The is very little to challenge the player once they are familiar with all the dials and parts needed, and the monotonous nature of the driving is overshadowed by beautiful scenery and the occasional one-sided chatter from your passenger – once again drawing on particular moments familiar to most of us, but artfully crafted into a whole new culturally-edifying experience.

Conclusion

Road to Guangdong captures the spirit of a last-minute road trip with aplomb.  It doesn’t provide the trickiest of puzzles with its maintenance system, and the actual driving is incredibly dull; but like many great adventures, it isn’t the destination that matters but the experiences encountered on the way – a cheesy sentiment, maybe, but all the elements come together to provide a wonderful little slice of mental refreshment; especially during these unprecedented days of 2020 lockdowns. 

Verdict
A slice of personal nostalgia that is made the player’s own, despite the unfamiliarity of the cultural nuances that comprise the soul of the narrative. It is not an accurate portrayal by any means, but a distilled sense of personal discovery and authenticity. This title offers a new take on immersive roleplay, and it does so wonderfully. 

Vera Blanc: Full Moon Review (Nintendo Switch)

  • Genre: Adventure, RPG, Simulation
  • Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, Playstation, PC, Android, iOS
  • Developer | Publisher: Winter Wolves Games | Ratalaika Games
  • Age Rating: PEGI 12 | ESRB T (Teen)
  • Price: UK £4.99 | US $4.99
  • Release Date: 13th November 2020

Review code used, with many thanks to Ratalaika Games!

Vera Blanc is a series of interactive comic books with paranormal themes. Full Moon is the first of the series to make the leap to Switch – has it whet the appetite for the (hopefully) others to follow?

Story/Characters

Vera Blanc is a rich girl with a secret – she can read minds! And yes, that is as cool of a mechanic as it sounds. She started out as a very clever, but very unfortunate young woman; a brain tumour put an end date on her short life. After a ground-breaking surgery – that I’m not entirely sure was legal, but I suppose money opens all kinds of doors – she found herself with this new ability. Instead of using it to get ahead in business, or take advantage of others, she decided to try and help people.

Cue Brandon Mackey, an experienced FBI-agent-turned-PI with a vested interest in less-than-ordinary cases. Rumours of a lupine serial killer lure the pair to a quaint town in rural Germany, where everyone seems to have a secret. Is the mysterious bombshell, Ava, more than she appears? Or could the short-tempered Mayor be behind the suspicious goings-on? In a paranormal-hued adventure where death is waiting around every corner, can you solve the mystery of the werewolf?

Vera Blanc: Full Moon was a bit of a strange one for me, story-wise. It reads like an epic adventure but plays as more of a B-movie thriller that somehow manages to be excessively corny and predictable, yet simultaneously amusing. Think along the lines of its-so-bad-its-good. I personally loved the story, finding it almost addictive and easy to consume in a single sitting. The characters were full of personality, and there was plenty of humour to be found in the somewhat serious adventure.

Gameplay

Vera Blanc is an interactive comic book, and a great way to spend an hour or so with a cup of coffee. Pressing A will advance the scenario, or there’s even an Auto button so you only need hands on the controller for making a choice or playing a minigame. These are the two progression mechanics. 

Sometimes, you’ll be presented with a number of options and only be able to perform one, or make a number of choices. This may take the form of investigational options, such as examining different aspects of a scene, conversational options such as which questions to ask, or action options like hitting an opponent or running away. Depending on the scenario, this can result in a death situation, so save often!

Minigames consist of either spot the difference, remembering numerical sequences, hangman, or finding pairs of numbers. These are sometimes timed, and failing the minigame will result in a failure of the task e.g. if you lose too many lives during a mind-reading session, you’ll fail to decipher the message and lose the opportunity to attempt anything else. Again, failure can also result in death, so keep those saves up to date.

There are 2 final endings, and a variety of ways to die, so some replayability is available although there’s no way to track which endings have been achieved.

Graphics, Sound, and Performance

The old-school comic book art style gives Vera Blanc a lot of charm. I suspect the game would feel disappointingly corny and lacking in substance if designed differently, but the graphic design really pulls it together into an oddly nostalgic experience. If this were an actual comic book, I’d be buying it in a heartbeat.

The punchy 90s soundtrack keeps the nostalgic theme going, and had me bopping my head with a silly smile on my face more often than not. It switches up dependant on the scenario, meaning that the somewhat repetitive tune changes before it gets annoying.

There were no noticeable performance issues in either docked or handheld mode, though I wouldn’t have expected any considering the static nature of the comic strips. Also, although the text size was a little small in handheld, certain minigames were much easier – I accidentally quit out of a timed pairing game multiple times because I moved the control stick a fraction too far.

Conclusion

Vera Blanc: Full Moon is a relatively short game that’s full of cheesy character. Despite the charming art style, amusing characters, and perky music, I suspect it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Breaking up a thriller comic story with kooky minigames sounds like a bizarre idea on paper that should ruin the entire vibe of the game, but it somehow works in this fun little interactive comic.

Verdict
A quirky experience that shouldn’t work on paper, but has me eagerly anticipating a sequel.

Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin Golden Harvest Edition Announced

Developed by Edelweiss, this Action/Simulation game looks to use a combination of side-scrolling platforming and 3D farming simulation to charm players, with the limited Golden Harvest edition being announced for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. The standard edition will also be available for Steam on November 10th 2020.

Golden Harvest edition, as announced by Marvelous Inc, will contain the same beautiful contents regardless of whether you go for Switch or PlayStation. There’s the physical game, a 132-page artbook, the game’s soundtrack split over 3 CDs, a double-sided poster, and a classic collector’s box. At £49.99 from the Marvelous Store, it’s a steal!

In the game, you’ll take on the role of Sakuna, a spoiled harvest goddess who’s been banished to a dangerous island with a group of outcast humans. There, she’ll explore beautiful and forbidding environments, fight demons, and maybe even find a home. Bettering the lives of humanity and harvesting rice are key to proving herself, and Sakuna will have to work hard if she wants that title back!

Join fallen goddess Sakuna on her adventure to regain her holy status on This Holiday season!

Rune Factory 4 Special Review (Nintendo Switch)

  • Genre: RPG, Action, Simulation
  • Platforms: Nintendo Switch
  • Developer | Publisher: Marvelous Inc/Neverland/Hakama Inc | Marvelous Europe/XSEED
  • Age Rating: PEGI 12 | ESRB T (Teen)
  • Price: UK £32.99 | US $39.99
  • Release Date: 28th February 2020

No review code was provided, and any opinions contained below are my own. I actually went all out and bought the Archival Edition – I couldn’t help myself!

Rune Factory is a series that sits near and dear to my heart. As the first series to really get me into gaming, and one that I’ve followed religiously (the handheld variants, anyway) for many years, I was delighted when Rune Factory 4 got a fresh coat of paint for the Switch, but did it live up to my lofty expectations?

Story/Characters

If you haven’t played a Rune factory game before, they generally have the same premise; the protagonist rolls into town with no memory of who they are, where they’re from, or why they’re here, and with the assistance of the pushy but kind-hearted townspeople end up with a home and a very overgrown farm. After a short time of peace, something goes wrong that causes you to investigate one of the dungeons that lie nearby, and so begins your quest to fix whatever calamity has occurred and therefore save the town you’ve come to love. It’s a very basic premise that allows for a lot of variation, and differentiates Rune Factory from it’s combat-free sister series Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons.

The characters you’ll encounter along the way give the game much of it’s charm; from the wonderfully reliable Volkanon to the exuberant Procoline, each townsperson has a very distinct personality and background that really emphasises the fact that you’ve just been dropped into the middle of these people’s lives. As your relationships improve with various people you’ll learn more about their pasts, and gain insight into their current problems. Selphia really does feel like an organic town, and provides a wonderful escape from the outside world. 

Gameplay

Anyone familiar with the Harvest Moon series will be familiar with the majority of the mechanics in Rune Factory, but they’re nice and simple. You have one active equipment slot on B for weapons or tools (such as swords, hoes, and seeds), four ability slots (X, Y, R+X, and R+Y) for spells and rune abilities, left control stick to move, and A to interact. + is your bag, level tracking, and settings, while – is your quest list – if there’s a limit on how many quests you can have active at once, I haven’t encountered it yet. You collect quests from either talking to villagers or picking them up from Eliza the talking request box.

Combat is hack-n-slash, using both your equipped B weapon and rune abilities/spells. The higher you level in the associated skill, the lower the RP cost will be, but the higher your weapon level the higher the RP cost e.g. you could forge a Lvl 10 amazing short sword at Lvl 99, but if your Short Sword skill is only level 20 you won’t get many swings out of it before your RP is gone. Monsters each have an associated strength/weakness from the following; physical, fire, water, earth, wind, light, dark, and love. Figuring out these weaknesses is key to defeating higher-level bosses, as with the right equipment loadout you can make all damage nullified or even heal you for a small amount.

Farming is also primarily done using the B button, in combination with A. B uses the equipped tool, for example a hoe or watering can, and A is used to pick something up. Depending on the seed, each type of plant may only grow in a certain season, or take a very long time to grow (dungeon fields are a saviour in this case) so think strategically when planting! Rune Points are also used when doing farming tasks, so during the early game you won’t be able to do a huge amount during a day – interactions don’t cost RP though, which is nice!

Crafting is broken down into 4 sub-categories; cooking, chemistry, forging and crafting. Each has its own set of tools, for example cooking is performed on a selection of tools such as the knife, steamer, pot, oven etc, and a chemistry set, forge, and crafting table are available relatively early in the game. Each recipe has 6 ingredient slots, though I haven’t yet found a recipe that uses all 6, and recipes can be learned by eating recipe bread obtained from either the restaurant or winning festivals. If you know a recipe but haven’t got a high enough level in that skill, or have a high enough level but don’t know the recipe, then an item will cost more RP to make, whereas if you’re both too low a level and don’t know a recipe, then you’ll just fail. These skills are very important when you prepare for combat.

Relationships are the final cornerstone of Rune Factory. There are three primary types; friendships with townspeople, romantic relations with townspeople, and monster friendships. Not all townspeople are marriageable, so some will have a friendship meter while others will have a love meter (essentially the same thing, but a love meter indicates a character with whom you can begin a romantic relationship if desired). These levels can be raised by speaking to people daily and giving them gifts – if you want a quick guide on what to get whom, and when their birthdays are, there are loads of websites that list it all nice and neatly! Monster friendships work in a similar way. Once you’ve built a barn, and tamed a monster (usually by throwing lots of stuff at it and brushing whenever it isn’t trying to attack you) it’ll move in. You can then take it as a companion on adventures, receive things like wool and milk, or set it to work on the farm once your friendship is high enough.

Both monsters and townspeople can join you in exploring the nearby dungeons. For characters their relationship level must be high enough though; you then start a conversation and press either L or R. Once the conversation is over, you’ll have a few extra options – this is also how you confess your feelings to an eligible bachelor or bachelorette, so it’s a handy one to remember! No matter who accompanies you out in the field, they’ll gain combat experience and level up accordingly. Gifting equipment to humans will make them equip it, so be sure to load them up before [ in the item description) will increase their base stats. 

Graphics, Sound, and Performance

This game looks beautiful, especially when placed alongside its 3DS predecessor. The graphics are still rather simple, but the game oozes charm with the uncomplicated animations and vivid colour scheme. Each character feels truly unique, with completely individual designs and voices (with a choice between English and Japanese!) and are easily identified on the zoomable mini-map. Whether in handheld or docked or Lite, the graphics retain their nice clean edges and everything is easy to see.

The music has had a slight upgrade from the 3DS version, having been cleaned up and made smoother, but the only major change is the intro song. Personally I preferred the original, but the new one is a good fit for this relaxing yet challenging game and really seems to fit the town you’re in.

Also – no performance issues in any mode, win!

Difficulty

Difficulty options galore! Along with the traditional Easy, Medium, and Hard, Rune Factory 4 Special gained an additional difficulty; Hell mode. I haven’t tried it personally, because I love to play on easy and just enjoy the game, but my friend plays on Hell and she’s found it a major headache – it’s called Hell mode for a reason! Even on easy, it isn’t the easiest game; I breezed through the first ⅔ until the final major dungeon absolutely destroyed me, not to mention the challenge maze you can unlock! It’s definitely a grind-y game, but enjoyable enough that the grind doesn’t feel like a huge problem.

Conclusion

Rune Factory 4 Special had big shoes to fill. I’m delighted to admit that it filled them and then some; it was a thing that I didn’t know needed to happen until it did, and I’m so glad that we’ve got a Rune Factory 5 confirmed, even if we don’t have a timescale yet. The classic story has been updated with some adorable married life content, the graphics and soundtrack got a beautiful overhaul without losing the charm of the original game, and the Another Episode DLC is a very cute little add-on, but I may be biased as I got it for free during the launch promotional period.

Verdict
A must-try for any farming sim/RPG fan, Rune Factory 4 Special is a worthy successor to the DS and Wii titles. It may be nostalgia speaking, but it’s my favourite game at the moment and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
10/10