Video Game Review: Epic Seven

Details: Played for at least a few dozen hours. This is a mobile game you can play on iOS or Android. More information can be found at https://epic7.smilegatemegaport.com/

Score: 7/10

Epic Seven is about as generic a gacha, role playing game can be, except that it has very stylistic visuals and character design. It’s a very Blazblue, two dimensional style (which is unsurprising since the two games actually did a collaboration a while back). I play this game mainly to look at pretty sprites attack each other. As always, this review is written from someone who has spent nothing on this game.

As said above, this is a gacha role playing game. Primarily, this is a turn based role playing game similar to traditional Japanese role playing games like old Final Fantasy games. As this is also gacha, you need to roll for the characters to fill your party in order to progress through the story.

As with most gacha games, the game gives you some characters up front to play with, but all the really good characters need to be rolled/summoned/wished for… which generally requires spending real money. When I started playing, it was during an event where they were giving out a ton of free rolls. Other than the event, this game is generally pretty cheap with giving free rolls. Making wishes/rolling is generally very expensive in comparison to other gacha games.

There’s pity (a mechanic where you are guaranteed a good character/item if you make a certain number of rolls), but it doesn’t transfer between banners, something that even the notoriously expensive Genshin Impact does have (Genshin Impact is still worse in terms of pricing and free rolls). In essence, if you want to guarantee obtaining an advertised banner character, you need to save or spend enough to make one hundred and twenty wishes. At about thirty dollars for ten wishes, that’s going to cost about three hundred and sixty dollars to guarantee and advertised character. That is a lot. There are also many other ways to summon/roll for characters, but all of them require resources that are hard to obtain unless you spend real money. The only redeeming factors to this stinginess is that the recent event which gave out a ton of summons and that you get one free summon per day… which is not encouraging.

In regards to the gameplay, Epic Seven is notorious for being one of the grindiest games among all gacha games or this type. Games like this are inherently grindy, meaning that you have to replay the same thing over and over again in hopes of obtaining an item or advancing a level. Luck is a big factor in whether you get equipment that will help you progress, meaning that the amount of time you spend grinding away at this game could go on infinitely.

Progression matters not only to get through the single player content, but there is also a very big multiplayer component. If you are a player who spend nothing however, don’t even try to make any meaningful progress in the player-versus-player multiplayer mode. The most proficient players are those who have spent the most money on this game, more colloquially known as the “whales.” This is common for this type of gacha game as the more money you spend, the more powerful a player you will be. If you want to be one of the best players, you’re going to need to outspend people who’ve spent thousands, if not tens of thousands, if not even more than that.

The single player mode is fun enough, but still grindy. You need to keep in mind that the goal of this game is simply to make your characters or your team of characters stronger. This leads to the multiplayer where, again, you’re trying to get stronger. Which leads to the ultimate conclusion that you need to spend money because that’s the only way you can make any meaningful progression. Again, this is normal for this type of gacha game and if you are not prepared to throw away thousands of dollars, just play the game casually and don’t take it too serious.

Additionally, there is also a Guild mode where you can join a guild and participate in guild wars. This… also encourages the spending of real money. In order to be useful to your guild, you need to have powerful characters, which means spending money… you get the idea. In case you are unaware, gacha games are known as some of the most degenerate games with some of the most degenerate players. The purpose of the game isn’t to have fun, but to get money out of you. Fun is just a by product of that goal and successful gacha games generally have to balance giving you fun things to do while annoying the hell out of you in order for you to pay them to stop annoying you.

Visually the game looks great. It uses a stylized, two dimensional sprite system that looks like it was hand drawn. I like the look. It looks like anime. There are in fact anime cut scenes throughout the plot.

The music is also pretty good. There’s voice acting in the game, but only for exclamation or battle cries, the kind of stuff you hear during a battle. The rest of the story is told through mostly silent text, like in a visual novel video game.

Because the story is told like in a visual novel, I found it mostly boring. I skipped most of it because I just didn’t care to read all the text and got tired looking at static images rather than hand drawn animations animations. I did watch the full animated cut scenes though because those were pretty cool.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with this game. I spent nothing and played through it very casually. I enjoyed all the free characters I got through the temporary event that just ended. I enjoyed the visuals and the art style of the game. The story was mostly ignorable. Most of all, I enjoyed the feelings of progression that I got while leveling my characters and seeing them get stronger, and that really is the primary driver in games like this. Even still, I felt ample pressure from the multiplayers aspects of this game to spend money to get stronger and that was annoying.

Video Game Review: Fire Emblem Heroes

Details: This is a mobile game for smartphones. I’ve played at least a couple dozen hours. More information can be found at https://fire-emblem-heroes.com/

Score: 6.7/10

Fire Emblem Heroes is a mobile gacha game that mostly uses the same strategy role playing game system used in the mainline franchise. I decided to give it a try because Genshin Impact is mostly out of content and I needed something else to scratch that gacha itch. Despite the reputation of gacha games to extract hundreds if not thousands of dollars from players who lack self control, I am a player who generally spends zero dollars on these types of games. This review is written from that perspective.

Fire Emblem Heroes basically takes all the characters from the entire decades long franchise and slams them all into one game. The story takes place in a kingdom where the royalty have the ability to open gateways into other worlds. These other worlds are basically the fictional worlds of all the other Fire Emblem video game. The protagonists are original and so are some of the antagonists, but every one else is from past Fire Emblem games.

Because of the nature of this story and all the characters, this game is primarily meant for long time Fire Emblem fans. If you are not a fan, you will mostly be lost by the huge number of characters that show up and will lack the satisfaction of seeing old, fan favorite characters again.

Something I really like about this game is that they reuse music and voice lines from old Fire Emblem games. Voice lines were only used since the Nintendo DS Fire Emblem games were released, but I think they rerecorded some lines for the older characters. This is all great and helps with the nostalgic satisfaction long time fans will get with this game.

The gameplay is a simplified version of the Fire Emblem tactical role playing game gameplay. Unfortunately, I already found the franchise’s gameplay fairly boring. In Three Houses, the most recent mainline Fire Emblem game, the gameplay was already feeling a bit stale and needed some reinvention. Unfortunately, the gameplay in this mobile game is far simpler and thus, far worse. It’s still fun for the first few hours, but it get stale fast.

There’s tons of multiplayer modes. Because of the nature of mobile gaming and Nintendo’s lack of expertise in online multiplayer, don’t expect real time multiplayer battles. What you get instead is that you play against a snapshotted team composition of another player’s which is then controlled by the game’s computer. So you’re always playing against the computer. I didn’t mind this very much and still found it somewhat fun.

This is a gacha game so something needs to be said about the gacha mechanics. Generally, I found this game fairly generous in terms of what they give new players. As with most gacha games, new players are given lots of in game currency and characters in order to hook them, after which they are expected to spend money on the gacha. There’s a decently sized story mode that you can easily get through without rolling for more characters.

Gacha games basically utilize an in game slot machine mechanic to randomly roll for characters that you need to use in order to progress through the game. You generally spend real money to buy in game money, which you then use to gamble on these characters (like casino chips, it’s meant to disassociate players from the actual loss of spending real money). While there are some unique quirks here, the gacha mechanics work pretty much like any other gacha game.

New players get two guaranteed five star units (the highest tier of units you can roll for). Each of the quests and in game tasks give a decent amount of rewards which can be used to strengthen or roll for new characters. There are literally hundreds of characters, not counting different versions of existing characters (for instance, there are bathing suit version of existing characters to appeal to players’ prurient interests). This is both good and bad in that there are lots of potential characters to attract players’ interests, but there are so many characters in the pool that it makes it difficult to get the character you want.

Visually, the game uses a cute or “chibi” style, which is pretty much what you’d expect from a game running on mobile devices. Mobile phones are not graphically intensive platforms. The visuals are satisfactory, but they don’t rise to the level of games like Epic Seven. The hand drawn portraits for the characters look nice, but these are static images. You’re going to spend most of your time looking at chibi versions of the characters.

Overall, this was a fun game, but I got bored with it really fast. The core gameplay just isn’t that much fun nor is it at least visually appealing the way games like Epic Seven are. They really need to throw in more twists and innovation to the Fire Emblem gameplay that has been around for decades. Fire Emblem Heroes just does the bare minimum in terms of gameplay.

Video Game Review: Pokemon Sword and Shield: The Crown Tundra

Details: You need to own either Pokemon Sword or Shield in order to play this. Spent about five hours playing through it. This expansion is identical for Sword and Shield, but I played the Sword version. More information can be found at https://swordshield.pokemon.com/en-us/expansionpass/the-crown-tundra/

Score: 5.7/10

The Crown Tundra was mostly a disappointment to me. It lacks story, something the Isle of Armor downloadable content (DLC) had a lot more of. Crown Tundra is simply an excuse to send players out to catch more Pokemon, often times with little to no context. If that is appealing to you, then you’ll enjoy this.

Crown Tundra takes place south of the main continent in Pokemon Sword and Shield. You walk in and are instantly asked to go on an adventure.

There is a short bit of story involving a new legendary Pokemon. That takes about an hour at most. Other than that, you’re basically told to explore this new area and catch more Pokemon. Almost no other context is given, which just doesn’t work for me. If the main thing you like about Pokemon is simply catching more Pokemon, then you’ll love this DLC. If you need a little more story and motivation, this content will fall flat.

The biggest dissapointment to me are the visuals. You need to keep in mind that the Nintendo Switch is an objectively, technically inferior video game console when compared to the Playstation 4 or the XBOX One. And that was the truth years ago when the Switch first came out. Now, the Playstation 5 and XBOX Series X are coming out and the visuals for this game look even more inferior by comparison. This is not a good looking game. It looks like it was made for the Playstation 3, at best. This wouldn’t be so bad if the gameplay made up for it, but the gameplay doesn’t.

One of the biggest complaints most critics had of Pokemon Sword and Shield is that it did nothing new. It took the old Pokemon formula and copied and pasted it into this game in its entirety. This was a system of gameplay that was developed in the 1990’s. It’s old and boring. I wish they would’ve done some kind of overhaul or big upgrade, but they didn’t. With Crown Tundra, the monotony of this gameplay is exacerbated by the passage of even more time. This game just isn’t that fun.

The game does try to add a few new features like Dynamax Adventure, but that’s just a slightly altered rehash of the preexisting Max Raid battles.

To make matters worse, the music wasn’t that great. There’s still not voice acting also, which sucks.

Overall, this was a disappointment. I do not recommend The Crown Tundra to anyone but the most ardent Pokemon fans who love to do repetitive, monotonous tasks and enjoy bland, outdated visuals.

Video Game Review: Lost Sphear

Details: Played on the Nintendo Switch. howlongtobeat.com says that most playthroughs take about thirty-four hours. More information can be found at https://lostsphear.square-enix-games.com/home/

Score: 6.4/10

Lost Sphear is the follow up game to the mostly successful I Am Setsuna. The goal of both games were to recreate the feeling of old fashioned Japanese role playing games.

The biggest issue I have with this game is that the game was boring until about halfway through. Keep in mind that the game averages to about thirty-four hours per playthrough, so to get to the interesting part, you’d have to get through about seventeen hours of boring stuff just to get to some stuff that isn’t that boring. It’s a big ask for a player and I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Lost Sphear takes place in a fantasy world of magic and monsters. You play a young boy named Kanata. When people in the world start disappearing and becoming “lost,” Kanata must now use his new found power to restore them and tackle a threat that seeks to destroy the world.

It’s a deliberately generic role playing game story that mimics the basic story structure of most Final Fantasy games. As said above, my biggest issue with this game is that the story is mundane until about seventeen hours into it. That’s a lot to ask of players to deal with before the game gets good. Even when the story gets good, it merely becomes tolerable from when it was intolerable. By the end of the game, I did find myself enjoying what was happening, but not enjoying half of the game was a lot for me to deal with.

Gameplay is a lot like I Am Setsuna, but with improvements. It was as if they listened to all the complaints fans had with I Am Setsuna and then published a patch which addressed them all. It’s not big changes, but many small changes which improve the experience overall.

Other than these small improvements, the gameplay is almost identical to I Am Setsuna. You explore a world map with smaller areas that you can further explore littered throughout the world. Enemies exist throughout the world and if you walk into them, you start a battle. The battle system uses the well known active time battle system. All this means is that each character in the battle has a bar that fills in real time. When the bar is filled, you get to take an action. An action can be attacking, casting spells, using items, etc. All characters have health bars and the goal of battles is to whittle down an enemy’s health bar before they whittle yours down.

This is all standard stuff. Again, this game seeks to emulate old Japanese role playing games. There are a number of new systems though that worth discussing.

First is the Vulcosuits. Basically, during a battle, you can morph into a mech robot that increases your power and gives you some new abilities. The problem with these Vulcosuits is that they don’t really become useful until much later in the game when you have more artifacts.

Artifacts are places on the world map that you can restore with Kanata’s power. Each artifact gives you a passive ability, like improving the duration of Vulcosuits, increasing damage providing a minimap in the top left corner. Many of the artifacts later in the game improve the use of Vulcosuits and without these artifacts, the Vulcosuits are mostly useless time wasters.

Altogether, the gameplay in this game is unoriginal, but satsifactory.

The visuals in the game are its weakest aspect. The game looks like it was designed for smart phones, from the menu’s to the layout of the world. It is not a pretty game and lacks much of the art direction that made I Am Setsuna so appealing. Lost Sphear looks cheaper. In a role playing game, presentation is everything and the presentation here isn’t great.

The music is fine. There’s not voice acting other than random quips made during battle. Also, all the quips are in Japanese since they didn’t bother recording English versions.

Overall, this game isn’t great. It isn’t terrible either. However, I do not recommend this game because it wasted so much of my time before becoming tolerably interesting. This game just isn’t worth the time.

Video Game Review: Genshin Impact

Details: I’ve played at least twenty hours, probably more. I have not spent a penny on this game. More information can be found at https://genshin.mihoyo.com/en

Score: 7.2/10

The most accurate name I’ve heard people call this game is “Breath of the Waifus.”

Genshin Impact is a free to play game that shamelessly copies the visual style and gameplay (and by copy, I mean it copies almost to the point of stealing) into a gacha game format. It’s a fun game for all the same reasons that Breath of the Wild was fun and annoyingly addictive for all the same reasons gacha games are addictive. This is a game with great presentation and likely a surprisingly high budget.

The story is about an interdimensional traveler who gets sent to a fantasy world with their twin sibling. Once there you get involved with the local people, fight bad guys, fight a dragon and a whole bunch of stuff that is pretty normal for most role playing video games.

The core gameplay is taken directly from Breath of the Wild. Like almost exactly. There is this big world for you to explore. The world is largely structured the same as Breath of the Wild. That means there’s mountains and rivers and some towns. The best part of Breath of the Wild is that you could climb a mountain and see the entire landscape. Then you could go to literally any point you just saw. Genshin Impact does that too.

Traversing the world in Breath of the Wild was one of it’s most positive aspects. Genshin Impact copies that almost exactly. There’s a stamina bar. You can climb any surface as long as you have stamina. You can dash as long as you have stamina. The one thing that’s different is that when it rains, you can still climb with no problems.

Combat is also almost exactly the same. Even many of the attack animations look like they were directly copied. The only thing about combat not copied is the use of magic.

The big differences come when we start talking about the gacha elements. In that way, the game is still unoriginal, they just folded gacha elements into Breath of the Wild gameplay.

In case you don’t know what gacha games are, they generally are cheaply made, free to play games meant to siphon money from players through gambling/slot machine mechanics. How it normally works is that you’ll download one of these games, usually on your smart phone, and you’ll play a bit. Then you’ll hit a wall in your progression that can only be overcome with a huge time investment or paying money to the game in exchange for what you need to progress further. But this isn’t a straightforward exchange. You normally buy a “loot box,” which is just a bundle of randomly generated in game items. The good items, which are the items you need, have a low chance of being generated while the trash items have a high chance of dropping. Hopefully, you’ll get what you want early on, but the probability is high that you will have to buy a ton of loot boxes before you get what you want. That’s the business model of a gacha game.

With that in mind, Genshin Impact is fun early on. I’d say it’s fun for the first ten to twenty hours. That’s pretty good considering this game is free to play. But then you hit the wall and you need to either invest a huge amount of time grinding in order to progress, or you could spend money gambling on whether you’ll get the in game items you need to move forward. And there are a lot of in game items in Genshin Impact.

Firstly are the characters. There are at this time around twenty-four available characters in the game. Each character has their own abilities and elements. During combat, you can swap between four available characters. As you play the game, you’ll learn that there is synergy between characters and their abilities. You’ll also learn which characters are good and which are trash, either by Googling it or through trial and error. The main way to get more characters is through loot boxes. At this time, there is a free character available, but I don’t know how that will play out in the future. The game was released like a week ago.

Then there is the equipment. There’s a ton of gear you can get, usually from treasure chests strewn across the land. Enemies don’t drop weapons. Gear is ranked between one and five stars. Four star and lower gear can be obtained through gameplay. Five star gear can only be obtained from loot boxes. Even then, the odds of obtaining one is very low. I have yet to see a five star weapon.

As expected from a gacha game, almost everything in this game can be leveled. Leveling is progression, which is what gacha games seek to block in exchange for real money.

For instance, the Adventure Rank is the most important level in the game. It controls whether you can progress in the story and whether gameplay mechanics can unlock. You can gain Adventure Rank only by doing things in the game. There is no way to directly purchase higher Adventure ranks. However, doing things in the game requires better gear and characters, which does require money. So Adventure Rank really acts as an umbrella form of progression under which the other loot box blocking kinds of progression in the game.

Characters and weapons can level up, but in order to do so, you need a complex slew of money and items. There’s just too many to properly discuss, but suffice it to say, paying real money will make it easier to obtain these items. Some of these items can be purchased directly from the in game shop. Others will have to be earned through grinding gameplay, which needs items and characters, which means real money for loot boxes.

In regards to how the loot boxes work in this game… it’s too complicated to explain. There are multiple forms of in game currency, many of which you can by and convert into other forms of in game currency for which to purchase loot boxes or other in game items. It’s a mess and it is likely deliberately so in order to confuse players and induce them into spending more money than they need to.

Despite the money grubbing loot boxes, there is cooperative multiplayer. Amazingly, the multiplayer is crossplay. That means that someone playing on their PS4 can play with someone on the XBOX or their computer. It’s amazing. But there is a limit to what you can do. Only up to four players can be in a game at a time and one person must be host. You can’t do main story missions or any of the many instanced dungeons in the game. You can do side quests and other world missions. Multiplayer is basically just for people to run around the world. Keep in mind, this is predominantly a single player game and multiplayer is more of a side thing to just screw around with your friends.

Visually, the world is beautiful… and looks like the world from Breath of the Wild. It looks like a direct copy. The art direction/style is exactly the same. The terrain, the sky, hell the grass looks exactly the same. Character animations looks the same. Combat looks the same. Everything looks the same.

Well, almost everything. This is a Chinese made video game, so there are a lot of Chinese elements in it. In the game world, there are two main sections. There’s a western fantasy part and a Chinese, wuxia fantasy part. Both parts are beautiful, but Breath of the Wild didn’t have none of that. As this is a free to play online game, I anticipate that more parts of the world will be released as time goes one. There’s probably going to be a desert, a snow area and a bunch of other commonly used fantasy terrain I imagine. I’m spit balling here.

The music is fantastic… and reminds me of melodies from other popular role playing games like Final Fantasy. Whether it is a copy or not, there are some beautiful tracks here. It’s almost entirely orchestral music.

I also love how this game is largely voice acted. Not only is there voice acting, there’s voice acting in multiple languages and they are all available to everyone. The voice acting is pretty good, too, in all the languages. It’s impressive as good voice acting is something that’s lacking in so many games.

Overall, I really enjoy Genshin Impact and will continues to play it in the near future. Personally, it’s the right game at the right time. I was just in the mood for something grindy and this gorgeous, free to play game dropped into my lap. The first dozen or so hours are really fun and they throw a few free loot boxes your way. However, this is still a gacha game. Soon enough, you will hit a wall in progression and if you want to see what happens in the story or defeat ever more power enemies, you will need to invest large amounts of time or real money.

Personally, I refuse to spend real money and don’t mind spending time. At least for now. At the time this review was written, the game has only been out four days. Who knows how things will change in the future, for better or worse. Even still, this is a beautiful, expansive world to explore and I enjoyed exploring it for amazing price of free.