Gunvolt Records: Cychronicle is a rhythmic walk across memory lane. Because of the generally low amounts of content on offer, I would say that this game is best enjoyed by Gunvolt fans rather than general rhythm game players. With gratifying and intense rhythm gameplay coupled with a loving look into the series’ history up to this point, it can satisfy the cravings of diehard fans quite easily. At its best, it serves as a good reminder of why I liked the series to begin with. Meanwhile, at its worst, it's still a perfectly decent rhythm game that falls short on things to see and do. Inti Creates’ first foray into the rhythm game genre gets a thumbs up from me.
Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is a brutal, uncompromising game. It carries out all of its unconventional and punishing rules with conviction and smart consideration, making for an unsuspecting RPG that’s one of the most consistently thrilling I’ve played in years. Couple this with dramatically improved presentation compared to past entries, and you have an excellent example of how to modernize an old series without sanding off the edges. It says a lot that after finally completing my first playthrough, I was ready to jump back in again for another round. If you’re feeling brave, enter the dungeon and take a roll of the dice with this excellent iteration on the Mystery Dungeon genre.
If Detective Pikachu Returns’ goal was to make a mystery game that any kid could enjoy, then it’s almost a complete failure. This is most certainly no Professor Layton, nor is it anywhere close to that pedigree in any category. The mysteries are robbed of all of their catharsis because the game doesn’t ever trust the player’s intellect and intuition. Not that you may want to see the story to its end when the main narrative can’t make up its mind on what it wants to be. For only a very brief stint of time was I invested, but then I soon realized that I already saw everything that it had to offer. Its few bright spots in character interaction and charm couldn’t hide that. This isn’t a broken game, but it’s something I found worse: it’s boring.
Sonic Superstars is a largely successful evolution of the classic formula. Although its multiplayer component doesn't really appeal to me, the addition of Emerald Powers when combined with more ambitious levels won me over and then some. It doesn't quite touch the peak that Sonic 3 & Knuckles still sits upon, but it makes a valiant effort to stand tall with its peers. What holds it back from claiming the throne for itself are inconsistencies in its visuals and music, but those are easy things to forgive with how much it ends up getting right. I'll likely be playing this one for years to come alongside the other classics, and that's all I really want at the end of the day.
The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails is one of those rare, utterly exceptional games that leaves me at a loss for words upon completion. It’s a crime that this game took as long as it did to come westward, but better late than never. Better still is that it stands tall like a well-aged wine. Nayuta’s tale deftly weaves all of developer Falcom’s best talents into a single emotional and fun-filled synthesis. Crunchy, satisfying combat and platforming is strengthened further by an incredibly fun progression system that gives you more even after the credits roll. The story is imagination-filled, emotional, and left me so content that I shed some tears at its ending. I could list some nitpicks I had with the game, but they mean nothing in the face of how otherwise accomplished this package is. If you're looking for the single, shining example of what Falcom excels at, this is the game you look to.
I’m confident in saying that Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is a game that easily and decisively manages to surpass its inspirations. The few stumbles it makes are the result of overconfidence in its own build. This confidence is rarely ever misplaced though, and is often to the benefit of the rest of the game. It takes its own status as the unofficial Jet Set Radio 3, runs with it, and then takes a victory lap just for kicks. Even after I had rolled the credits and saw what I presumed to be all the game could offer, it gave me even more on top of that. This is Team Reptile’s tour de force.
Gravity Circuit is a damn good time. Although it doesn't really do anything particularly original, it molds concepts taken from its many inspirations in fresh and smart ways. It wears its heart on its sleeve and is better off for doing so. From the moment I first took control of Kai in the tutorial, I knew the game was gonna be something great. After the hours it took to beat it, the game has thoroughly proven me right. It's brisk, immeasurably satisfying, and one of the best platformers I've played all year.
Sonic Origins Plus is an okay, but ultimately superfluous expansion to an already good collection. The addition of Amy is a net positive and a nice primer ahead of her playable appearance in the upcoming Sonic Superstars. Knuckles finally becoming playable in Sonic CD also feels like it fulfills an age-old promise, but in his case, it feels like too little too late. The Game Gear titles themselves are nice to see again, but many of them have little lingering novelty. Their shoddy sound emulation is also somewhat disappointing. If you don't own Sonic Origins, go with the Plus version. But if you do, this will really only appeal to the most diehard of Sonic fans.
The big question heading into Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection was whether Atlus could successfully translate the series' one-of-a-kind gameplay onto more conventional hardware. To me, they’ve answered back with a resounding and confident yes. These are excellent remasters that show that Atlus has carefully considered what to bring over and what to ditch in the transition away from dual-screen hardware. They look sharper than ever, they sound nicer, and despite not having a second screen, they arguably even play smoother. If nothing else, this collection definitively proves that Etrian Odyssey’s future is not jeopardized by its lack of two screens. Having said that, this collection as a whole is still a tough sell. If it was just Etrian Odyssey III, I could recommend it in a heartbeat—it’s one of the best DRPGs around. The first two games, however, I do not hold the same charity for. They aren’t bad, but they are massively unrefined and unsophisticated compared to what came after. Despite being good remasters, you’re still better off playing their 3DS remakes. Their novelty just doesn’t linger for long, and with the eye-popping price tag attached to Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection, I’d want something more than that. If prospective buyers are willing to accept that, then they’ll have a solid time with the humble origins of one of the best DRPG franchises around.
No number of superlatives can do this game proper justice, so I’ll cut to the chase: this game is nothing short of a masterwork that must be played. By all accounts, it is as much of an accomplishment as its predecessor. Like the game that came before it, it’s by no means perfect, but the number of new and creative things it does far outweighs that and turns it into something more important. Better still is that just about every new thing it does is well-conceived, fleshed out, and fun most of all. Even in moments of frustration or when things started to slow down, I was never anything less than enchanted by all of the new things it was doing. It’s like the game cast a spell that I was all too happy to be under. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom embodies what it means to be an outstanding video game.
I found very little to enjoy during my time with Lorena and the Land of Ruins. Through and through, it’s a very poorly made game that can’t really do any of the things it sets out to do well at all. Gunplay is poor because of an appalling lack of polish and bad game balance. Platforming is weightless, unsatisfying, and thoughtless. Then there’s the game’s moe aesthetic, which is completely ruined by incohesive, wooden, and massively dated visuals. The only thing I’d say is sort of a saving grace is the rather novel speedrunning element, but that’s only if you’re willing to put up with the many warts of gameplay. Lorena may be a treasure hunter, but all you’ll find in this game are duds.
If not for the still remaining translation quirks, I’d have been tempted to give this collection a perfect score. Mega Man fans have been clamoring for Battle Network’s comeback for a long time, and in almost every regard it was well worth the wait. Excellent online functionality and the restoration of lost content brings up each title featured to their definitive forms. With six RPGs featuring lots of content, it’s also an excellent value proposition. Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection is undoubtedly a collection done right.
It’s hard not to get the sense that Process of Elimination is a game that’s only ever content with punching below its own weight. In the moment of play, it can be a reasonably satisfying and fun visual novel that pays great respect to its contemporaries. However, it never becomes more than that because paying respects is all it seems interested in doing. Any genuinely interesting ideas it may have are buried under a cliched, predictable, and rote storyline filled with character archetypes you’ve almost assuredly seen executed better elsewhere. It just never lingers in the mind. This title may wear its heart on its sleeve, but it’s at the cost of any semblance of style or identity.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure is a sequel of higher highs and lower lows. I don’t think it’s as consistently enjoyable as its predecessor, but the game’s incredible emotional and gameplay highs bring it to something that I feel is on roughly even footing with Zero. I compared it to a roller coaster earlier, and I feel that’s an apt summation for the entire game. It’s bumpy and not all of it’s going to be enjoyable, but the thrills experienced make it absolutely worthwhile.
This game may yet be my favorite Inti Creates title of this era. A well-considered, refined, and lovingly realized tribute to Castlevania combined with the quirky, yet fully sincere personality of Gal*Gun makes for a one-of-a-kind platformer. Although I do have some grievances with the overall execution of parts of its level design and partner system, the smile I had on my face the majority of the time outweighs that many times over. Stylish, funny, and breezy all at once—Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is an easy recommendation.
Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society satisfies with an engrossing story, great artwork, and compelling dungeon-crawling gameplay. It’s let down by not being much of an improvement over its predecessor and having many of the same problems. Poor yet constant tutorials drag down the pacing and battle mechanics never feel well-considered, although it’s never flat-out poor. If you played the previous Labyrinth game and didn’t like it, this will not convince you otherwise. That said, if you choose to stick with it in spite of its problems, you’ll find a clumsy game with a lot of heart.
As both a celebration of the series’ past and as a Strategy RPG in general, Fire Emblem Engage is masterfully and lovingly made. Though the story left much to be desired, addictive and airtight strategy gameplay kept me easily invested the whole way through. Much-needed enhancements to the presentation and its return to more simplified and straightforward structure make this my favorite outing for the series in a long time.
The few improvements made to Persona 3 Portable cannot begin to make up for how half-hearted this remastering effort feels otherwise. Shoddily redone audiovisual aspects compromise its atmosphere and painstakingly crafted emotional beats. Things that should have been improved simply weren’t. I implore you to play Persona 3 if you haven’t already, it’s one of the most fulfilling and characterful JRPGs ever made. However, don’t make this disappointing version your first experience.
As a longtime fan of the Blue Blur, I am overjoyed by Sonic Frontiers and what it represents for the series moving forward. With solid new gameplay ideas, an engaging and rewarding story, one of the best soundtracks in the series, and a good length, it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had with a Sonic game. What holds it back are inconsistent visuals, a general lack of polish in some places, and not being particularly newcomer friendly. That being said, it’s a game I can still recommend with ease because of the sheer amount of heart it has, and how addicting it is when taken on its own terms. It’s a new frontier, and the air has never been so fresh.
My only complaint with Little Witch Nobeta is that I wish there was just more of it to enjoy. Even for a Souls-like game, it’s pretty short and I clocked in about 9 hours before the credits rolled. That said, within that time span, I was left consistently impressed by its razor-sharp level design, strong enemy and boss design, and smart application of its unique mechanics. Nobeta may be little, but she leaves a big impression.