Destiny Review

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"The game is eminently engaging while it lasts, but I haven’t experienced the vast living and breathing universe the developers so confidently gloated about."

Destiny is a tough game to score. On one hand, venturing through the exotic landscapes, upgrading gear, searching for loot and shooting aliens during my week-long playthrough was quite enjoyable. One the other hand, Destiny doesn't live up to its absurd marketing hype. Destiny is a very (very!) standard first person shooter with gorgeous visuals, solid controls but sadly lacks innovation and variety. The missions are repetitive, the world feels small and lifeless, yet simultaneously Destiny manages to perpetuate Bungie’s charm and indisputable polish. Maybe if Activision hadn’t raised everyone’s expectations so high, my ultimate enjoyment of the final product would have been different. As it stands, I want to love Destiny…but the initial hype has regrettably raised my expectations a little too high. The game is eminently engaging while it lasts, but I haven’t experienced the vast living and breathing universe the developers so confidently gloated about. Maybe this is just the beginning. Maybe Destiny will grow over time as new players and new environments are introduced, but in its current state Destiny feels too safe and devoid of Bungie’s acclaimed creativity. So it comes down to whether Destiny is worth the asking price? Yes, absolutely! As long as high expectations are set aside, Destiny is a fun time and has the potential to be something truly great.

"Destiny’s entire design is genuinely impressive and taking the first steps through the vibrant scenery of futuristic Russia feels mysterious and unfamiliar."

It was hard, but I managed to steer away from Destiny’s beta because I wanted a sense of discovery and awe when first booting the game. Being patient certainly paid off. The opening cinematic does a superb job of setting the stage and Paul McCartney’s musical partnership with longtime Bungie composer Marty O’Donnell and colleague Mike Salvatori is a divine match. The score makes an immediate impact and continues to amaze throughout the entire adventure. Destiny’s entire design is genuinely impressive and taking the first steps through the vibrant scenery of futuristic Russia feels mysterious and unfamiliar. Bungie’s legendary gunplay becomes immediately apparent. The Halo makers certainly know how to craft believable futuristic weapons and both fps veterans and newcomers will immediately adapt to Destiny’s mechanics.  

It’s a shame then that the overall lore and narrative feels so stale. It’s difficult to become invested in anything that’s happening in Destiny and Peter Dinklage’s atrocious voice acting doesn’t help either. Don’t get me wrong, Dinklage is one of my favorite actors of all time…but his performance in Destiny is absolutely laughable. I’m not sure if it’s just the poor writing and directing or Peter’s lack of experience doing voiceovers. Either way, if you thought the “Moon Wizard” phrase was a joke, wait till you hear the rest of the game. The remainder of Destiny’s narrative doesn’t fare any better. It boils down to shooting the clichéd bad guys and reviving “The Traveler”…a white, spherical celestial body that seemed way cooler in the trailers than in the actual game. 

"The superbly polished shooting is the core reason why I kept coming back to Destiny."

Luckily, the gratifying gameplay makes up for the lack of plot. The superbly polished shooting is the core reason why I kept coming back to Destiny. Every gun feels unique, every upgrade feels substantial and taking on colossal bosses is incredibly satisfying. Destiny also does a wonderful job of blending MMO and single-player elements together. As someone who typically shies away from multiplayer games, Destiny feels surprisingly welcoming. Planets are divided into numerous activities: Explore Destiny, Strikes, Story and Competitive Multiplayer. Strikes are intense cooperative missions where three players form a Fireteam and set out to fight hordes of enemies, which ultimately lead to massive boss battles. The story and exploration modes offer a nice single player/cooperative balance where players can choose to play solo or join others in unfolding Destiny’s narrative or revisit areas to seek out rare loot and upgrade their characters. The competitive multiplayer is my least favorite. In terms of functionality, it does everything flawlessly…but it feels no different from traditional multiplayer in any other game. For a title that prides itself in reinventing the genre, I expected something new…something risqué. Instead I was met with familiarity. This may not be an issue to most gamers, but it certainly doesn’t feel like the next big thing. Fortunately, I enjoyed myself enough in other modes as they offered more diversity and excitement. Being able to explore the vast environments with buddies or even strangers is undeniably fun and it’s easy to see how far Destiny can grown once more content is added to the existing universe. 

"I can see myself revisiting planets and trying out new classes for the unforeseeable future, and the idea of Destiny’s universe constantly expanding is quite intriguing."

Ultimately, Destiny keeps drawing me in day after day…meaning Bungie obviously did a lot of things right. I can see myself revisiting planets and trying out new classes for the unforeseeable future, and the idea of Destiny’s universe constantly expanding is quite intriguing. At the same time, I can’t shake the feeling of disappointment. Destiny’s lore lacks personality and the entire experience feels all too familiar. Destiny has potential to be something truly special, but it’s not there just yet. It’s a good game…maybe even great at times, but it does little to separate itself from the rest of the crowd. For science fiction and FPS fans, Destiny is worth every penny…and if you were lucky enough to avoid the game’s ludicrous hype, you’ll get far more value out of it than the rest of us who expected something more revolutionary.

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

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Tales of Xillia 2 Review

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"Tales of Xillia 2, the fifteenth Tales installment, is one of the most enjoyable JRPGs in years."

Despite the RPG world constantly evolving and slowly shifting away from its Japanese heritage, Hideo Baba’s beloved Tales franchise has managed to withstand the continuous western influence on the market. While preserving the series’ roots and simultaneously reshaping its mechanics, the Tales games are a perpetual reminder that JRPGs still have what it takes to capture a global audience. Tales of Xillia 2, the fifteenth Tales installment, is one of the most enjoyable JRPGs in years. Building upon its predecessor’s successful framework, Xillia 2 is not only a gratifying sequel but may be one of the franchise’s biggest highlights. From its gorgeous cel-shaded visuals to the charming cast and immersive combat, Xillia 2 is the embodiment of everything that makes JRPGs so alluring. 

Tales of Xillia 2 takes place a year after the events of its predecessor. While it’s best to play through the original first in order to better grasp the universe and its characters, newcomers will find the narrative easy to follow. You play as Ludger Kresnik, a lightly spoken protagonist who strives to become a Spirius Corporation agent like his brother Julius. After failing the admittance exam, Ludger gets involved in a train hijacking by the terrorist organization Exodus where he meets young mysterious Elle Mel Marta. Following the instructions of her father, Elle is on the search for the mystical Land of Canaan. A few fights and a massive explosion later, Ludger and his companions find themselves rescued by a sneaky doctor who demands an absurd compensation for saving their lives. Forced into a contract with a staggering dept and learning that his own brother may be responsible for the train hijacking, Ludger sets out to traverse the world and find some answers. 

"The combat appears simplistic at first but quickly grows in complexity as new techniques and linking abilities are introduced."

Much like the previous Tales entries, Xillia 2 has an action based combat system that requires fast reflexes and quick strategic thinking. A large circle defines the combat arena and your character can roam freely within the area. Attacks consist of simple quick button mashes a la Dynasty Warriors but proper use of blocking and special attacks is key to overcoming harder foes. Where the combat gets interesting is in Ludger’s ability to link-up with his companions. This allows strategic flanking and the ability to have your partner perform heal or revive spells when down. The combat appears simplistic at first but quickly grows in complexity as new techniques and linking abilities are introduced. The action-heavy gameplay is what separates Xillia from traditional turn-based JRPG mechanics and may even appeal to gamers who typically prefer the likes of Skyrim and Dragon Age. 

"The 2D/3D aesthetic works beautifully and each environment is filled with interactive NPCs and unique architecture."

If there’s one problem I have with Xillia 2, it’s the grinding for cash. By now, I’ve become accustomed to endless hours of leveling up (frankly, I enjoy a good grind every now and then) but Xillia 2 takes it to absurd levels. Because of Ludger’s obscene debt, you’re forced to fight endlessly, completing side quest after side quest only to earn a fraction of the needed 20 million gald (the game’s gold). After a while, it feels like the game is twice as long as it should be and hampers the story’s otherwise superb pacing. Luckily, most of your time is spent with likeable characters and intriguing dialogue. While traversing the world, conversation prompts allow Ludger to address companions’ concerns or simply get to know them better.  

"Tales of Xillia 2 is easily one of the best JRPGs of this generation as it does nearly everything right."

Tales games always boasted charismatic Anime visuals and Tales of Xillia 2 is no exception. The 2D/3D aesthetic works beautifully and each environment is filled with interactive NPCs and unique architecture. During certain key moments Xillia 2 switches to gorgeous hand drawn cinematics that further accentuate the game’s alluring style. Even the voice acting impresses. JRPGs are typically notorious for bad dubbing, but Xillia 2 is anything but. The voice actors sound convincing and emotionally invested and even the high-pitched Elle has a certain memorable tone.

Tales of Xillia 2 is easily one of the best JRPGs of this generation as it does nearly everything right. From its engaging plot and diverse cast to its addictive combat and challenging enemies, Xillia 2 is filled with excellent content (even if some of the grinding feels like senseless padding). Namco Bandai and Hideo Baba make a remarkable team and I can only hope they continue this trend through the new generation. Quality JRPGs are becoming a rarity and it would be a shame if titles like these get left in the dust. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 3

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Transverse: New Sci-Fi MMORPG from the Creators of MechWarrior

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Piranha Games, the creators of MechWarrior, are working on a new MMORPG set to release in 2015. Transverse is a galactic, flight-based online RPG that takes place in a distant galaxy where science and industry govern the advancement of interstellar progression. The galaxy is on the brink of war between humans on Earth and the trans-humans of the outer colonies. Forced to choose between integration or emigration, they've chosen isolation. With their ability to transfer consciousness into different bodies, the now immortal trans-humans have the ability to advance a pilot's skill by augmenting their host.

Real-time physics-based combat, detailed station and ship construction and massive solar-system-wide player events are at Transverse's core. As a skilled pilot, the players is part of a living and breathing dynamic resource ecosystem where player-generated missions can shift the balance of power in perpetuum. Transverse is already available for pre-order starting at $30 USD. Based on the early teaser footage and screenshots, Transverse looks like it has a lot of potential. It's still too early to tell how the game will separate itself from other MMOs but the concept of consciousness migration sounds intriguing. While MechWarrior Online was met with mixed reviews, it was welcomed by fans of the mech genre. With Transverse, it appears Piranha Games is trying to broaden their audience while still preserving the sci-fi roots of their past titles. Have you guys seen the trailer yet? What are your thoughts?

Transverse Screenshots:

News by: Tin Salamunic
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Tropico 5-The Best City Sim Ever?

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"Haemimont Games has improved nearly every area that made the series successful in the first place."

Tropico prides itself in turning the most honorable leader into a monstrous dictator. My first few hours of leadership were build on trust and peace. Yet despite my good intentions, I ended up bankrupt with half the island warring and my allies turning against me. While playing an honest leader is certainly possible, Tropico’s satirical approach to politics “encourages” dirty play in order to truly succeed. Then again, considering how foul most politicians are in real life, Tropico may be far more realistic than it appears at first glance. Since its original release in 2001, Tropico’s niche has been its tongue-in-cheek presentation of the banana republics and Tropico 5 is no different. The game’s humor is still undeniably charming while the mature gameplay offers a complex, immersive and challenging experience. Tropico 5 may not be a massive franchise overhaul, but Haemimont Games has improved nearly every area that made the series successful in the first place. For anyone who’s been let down by the recent Sim City catastrophe, Tropico 5 may be the remedy you’ve been looking for. 

If you’re a series newcomer, the game offers a robust tutorial mode that demonstrates the ins and outs of becoming an economic, political and military power. The fundamentals are easy to grasp and the humorous tone makes each lesson a joy to play through. As with previous entries, the goal is to build a thriving island and strike a balance between citizen contentment and formidable leadership. Being too cordial can make you an easy target for invasions whereas barbarous dictatorship quickly leads to messy rebellions. Knowing when to please your islanders and when to put your foot down is key to succeeding in Tropico 5. 

"Each era radiates with architectural diversity and gives Tropico 5 a greater sense of progression and grandeur."

Series veterans will immediately notice the addition of eras. Being able to play from the 19th to the 21st century is both more dynamic (leading to drastically different strategic solutions) and visually compelling. Each era radiates with architectural diversity and gives Tropico 5 a greater sense of progression and grandeur. Unfortunately, eras also come with restrictions. Certain facilities can’t be constructed until a specific time period is reached and staring at the grayed out icons creates a sense of restraint. But considering the broader range of industry and development, it’s easy to forgive the initial gameplay imbalance. 

Another interesting new feature is the introduction of Dynasties. With a family by his side, El Presidente can appoint different leadership positions to his children and even choose the rightful heir. Up to seven family members can be added to the players’ Dynasty, each with their unique traits and history. Research and renovation is another welcoming addition to Tropico 5, allowing players to send out scouting units to discover new building and technologies and allowing old buildings to be remodeled into more modern versions. 

"Fundamentally, Tropico 5 still retains the predecessors’ core mechanics. It’s more of the same, only better and deeper."

Visually, Tropico 5 is an outburst of color and style. The predecessors’ gorgeous aesthetic still remains with many of the rough edges polished to perfection. Shifts in color saturation dance with the constantly changing weather, making the entire island feel energetic and alive. Tropico 5 may not push a PC’s hardware to its max, but it oozes with style and charm. There’s something extremely satisfying about being able to zoom in on the island’s inhabitants and watch them go about their day and analyze their thoughts and needs. Tropico 5 creates a sense of immersion unlike anything else in the genre. I only wish the character creator offered more options. You’re limited to a few generic facial and apparel presets, which contradict the otherwise diverse and flexible nature of the gameplay. Nevertheless, Tropico 5 is a real treat for the eyes, especially once the island fills with more citizens and newer technologies in later eras. 

Fundamentally, Tropico 5 still retains the predecessors’ core mechanics. It’s more of the same, only better and deeper. If you’ve never played a Tropico game before, this is undoubtedly the best place to start. And for long time franchise devotees, Tropico 5 offers enough changes and tweaks making this the most impressive installment to date. With the console port just around the corner, I can only hope the developers manage to translate Tropico’s spirit to the gamepad the same way they did with Tropico 4.

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC

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Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate review

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"Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate is another superb hack n’ slash entry packed with what seems an endless amount of content."

Despite being a lifelong Dynasty Warriors fan, Warriors Orochi went completely under my radar when it first released back in 2007. The first two releases were critically panned, so I never bothered with the third installment. When I heard Koei Tecmo was re-releasing an “Ultimate” edition of WO3 I was a bit confused, but considering their superb DW 8: Extreme Legends Complete Edition from a few months ago, I tried putting all skepticism aside. I am glad I stayed optimistic. Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate is another superb hack n’ slash entry packed with what seems an endless amount of content and the same smooth action seen in Tecmo’s DW HD upgrade earlier this year. While the gameplay remains largely unchanged and does little to attract newcomers, this is an absolute must for franchise devotees and those looking for chaotic wuxia action.

Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate is a re-release and sequel to Warriors Orochi 3. The story mode opens with a gargantuan eight-headed serpent beast massacring through the warriors. With Moon Princess Kaguya’s help, it’s up to the three remaining heroes: Ma Chao, Sima Zhao and Hanbei Takenaka to travel back in time and defeat the monstrous Hydra. The game assumes you’re familiar with the series and does little to introduce its characters and lore. This is not a problem for long time fans, but newcomers are likely to feel lost and confused. Luckily, these games have never been about the narrative or complex character developments. Once you’re let loose on the battlefield, the story just becomes background noise. 

"I didn’t experience any slowdown regardless of how many enemies filled the screen."

One of the main complaints with previous Warriors Orochi entries was the abysmal framerate. I’m happy to report that Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate runs like a dream. I didn’t experience any slowdown regardless of how many enemies filled the screen. There were a few times when the frame rate slightly chugged, but this only happened during moments of complete chaos when the entire screen filled with explosions and NPCs. One of the most exciting additions is the ability to switch between team members during a fight by tapping the shoulder button. With each character also given a second personal skill that contributes to the team’s stats, the missions feel more diverse and allow for more gameplay flexibility. 

My personal favorite has to be the addition of the Gauntlet Mode. Characters are tasked with surviving various trials while trying to escape a multi-leveled dungeon. Saves are disabled until a level is cleared and the difficulty gradually increases based on progression. Additionally, the Story Mode has new added chapters highlighting two major story arcs: The Tale of the Latter Day and The tae of the Former Day. The second story line is set before the events of the first game and delves deeper into Orochi’s crimes. Free Mode also makes a comeback and allows players to side with the enemy during certain stages, which vastly shifts the battlefield dynamic. 

"Dynasty Warriors fans will find tremendous value here and Tecmo continues to improve on its successful formula."

Added modes and tweaked gameplay elements aren’t the only changes in Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate. The game is not only technically smoother, but is graphically light years ahead of its predecessors. While the visuals aren’t pushing the PS4 hardware by any means, they are quite impressive considering how much is happening onscreen at all times. Sure, the enemies look repetitive and the landscapes aren’t particularly detailed, but the overall look and feel of the game is a nice step in the right direction. 

Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about the series. If you didn’t like these types of games before, you’re not going to like this one either. However…Dynasty Warriors fans will find tremendous value here and Tecmo continues to improve on its successful formula. Considering how strong their recent HD remakes are, I would give anything if they could bring back the beloved Kessen series. But I guess that’s not happening anytime soon. In the meantime, both Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate and Dynasty Warriors 8: Extreme Legends Complete Edition are two of the best Tecmo brawlers to date and serve as a great example of how to make a real “Ultimate” edition of a game. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

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Triforce Quartet Interview

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Triforce Quartet is a classical string quartet from Washington DC that performs covers of classic and contemporary games; everything from classics like the Super Mario World theme to some deeper cuts like the Spark Mandrill theme from Megaman X. They’ve played at video game conventions such as MAG Fest, and can be seen playing at PAX in Seattle this Friday. I sat down to talk to them about games, music, and who is the best at Smash Brothers. Members include Chad Schwartz (cello and arrangements), Chris Ferrara (violin), Jacob Roege (second violin), and Stanley Beckwith (viola) who unfortunately, could not be here for this interview.

Nick Walge: How did this come about?

CS: This stated somewhere in 2006. I always liked video game music. There’s a Zelda medley played by Hyrule Symphony that I found on Napster, I think…
CF: Maybe Kazaa?
CS: Maybe Kazaa.
JR: Limewire.
CS: Maybe Limewire. It was a long time ago. Whatever legal torrent… It was a really awesome. I was a senior in college, and thought, “Yeah, I’m going to find a way to do this for my senior recital.”
JR: We all went to JMU [James Madison University]. 
CS: Yeah, we all went to JMU. So over the summer, I listened to the Hyrule Symphony, and painstakingly figured out every part, wrote down every part, for all four instruments. And there were something’s I didn’t like, so I changed that around a little bit. That was the original Zelda Medley. I played that, at the time Chris played, and a few other members, unfortunately Jake wasn’t with us then- and we played that as an encore at my senior recital. My teacher was really angry. Fun side story, I actually got in trouble for it. If you look at the video online, you can actually hear him storming out of the door about an eighth in. You hear the door slam, and he waited for me backstage to chew me out. He docked me a full letter grade. So what happened that summer, this is before people really played video game music and there wasn’t that much online. So I put it up on YouTube, and then one week it just exploded. And Kontaku and a bunch of other video game websites found it and put it up on their website. Iwetn from having about 100 views to 90,000 views in a week, and eventually got over a million views. It’s really old, and honestly, I can’t even listen to it anymore. Everything’s out of tune, I don’t know, I just can’t listen to it anymore. It doesn’t get a lot of views anymore, it’s just sitting at like 1.3 million views I think. 

NW: You’ve done a lot of videos since then, and I was surprised to see a lot of more contemporary stuff. You’ve done pieces from the Halo 3 soundtrack…

CS: After I did the Zelda medley, there were a lot of themes that I really liked. So I just kept adding to it, adding themes that I liked. And where it started out at about five minutes, we’ve just added to it so you can barely recognize the orignal Hyrule Symphony anymore. SO then, I did a Final Fantasy medley and a Mario Medley. I started a fraternity at JMU, and they were getting their…
JR: Charter.
CS: Charter, thank you. I can’t remember, [laughs]. And I was already out of school, and I was just using it as an excuse to keep playing video game music. And that’s when Jake played. And then we played a concert with the Zelda medley, the Final Fantasy medley, the Mario medley, and the Halo 3 medley, which you are talking about, as an encore. And later on, we added more to that one. You can’t hear it in that video, but later on we added on to it, themes from Halo 4. 
JR: Yeah, over the years as stuff has come out, we’ve just added to them. 
CS: Every performance, you know, we’d have another flap of music. Like, two days before I’d be like, “Oh, so I have another theme…”
CF: I think it’s finalized now. 
CS: Yeah, I don’t think I can add anymore.

NW: When you’re doing something like that, something that has been composed for a full symphony, do you find that easier to arrange than the old MIDI music?

CS: It’s actually the opposite. And the reason for that is, say,  Final Fantasy was the hardest one to do because it’s such a rich orchestration, it’s so difficult to take something that was written for eighty instruments and bring it down to four and have it still sound right. A lot of people say “Oh, why don’t you have the Final Fantasy VII final boss theme, with Sephiroth. You know, it’s one of the most famous themes, and I say it’s because it’s such a rich orchestration, it just wouldn’t work.
CF: The texture just wouldn’t work. You’d need drums, you’d need a tambourine.
JR: A triangle.
CS: It just wouldn’t sound good. 
CF: You’d need a full chorus.
CS: You would. MIDI stuff is usually like three or four tracks, so I just make those our parts. And we sit around and you know, make sure it works. So those are a lot easier.

NW: As I was looking over the videos from MAGFest, and usually when I think of a string quartet, it’s a very quiet thing, everyone’s sitting down, and everyone’s very polite. What’s it like playing for an audience that gets so engaged when they hear their favorite theme? Is that distracting considering what you’re used to?

CS: No, I think it motivates you, it gives you energy. It’s the same thing when people are playing rock music, there’s just so much energy from the audience.
CF: You feed off of them. 
CS: Yeah, you feed off of them. I think we somewhat bridge the gap between classical music and rock music, or whatever it is, you know, we have a lot of people that don’t normally listen to classical come see us. And we don’t want to look old fashioned or feel old fashioned. We don’t want people to come in and feel uncomfortable. And that’s I think a problem with a lot of classical music, you don’t have a lot of audience interaction, not that you need it, because it’s that kind of environment. But we don’t have to do that, we can do whatever we want. 
CF: And we’re miked. Normally, if you’re listening to Beethoven or whatever, there’s so much going on that you wouldn’t want to be distracted by that. But we can be as loud as we want.

NW: Do you ever see anyone move from one environment to the other? Is there anyone who has listened to you and thought, “Oh, maybe I should give classical music a shot.”

CS: That’s a good question. I’d like to think so, but I’m not sure.
CF: Actually, yeah.  So I hold this Chamber Music festival in my own hometown of Norfolk, VA, and basically, there were people that came to it that had only heard about the Triforce thing, then they heard about the Chamber music thing and came out based on what they’d heard and listened to Bach, and loved it. 
CS: Some people don’t realize how similar a lot of video game music is to a lot of classical music. Nobou Nomeatsu, for example, he’s a classical, romantic composer. If you like him, you’re going to like a lot of music from that era.
CF: And people don’t really know chamber music. They think classical music and they think full symphony, they don’t think of quartets, quintets, piano trios, and then they hear it, and they’re like “Oh my god.”
What is everyone’s all-time favorite music soundtrack.
JR: Final Fantasy VIII.
CF: Wow, he was ready for that.

NW: Quick on the gun. Laughs.

CS: Yeah, there’s a lot of Final Fantasy soundtracks that are really great. Final Fantasy VI is probably my favorite, although Chrono Trigger is way up there.
CF: I’m going to be the odd man out, I’m going to say StarCraft 2.
JR and CS: Whoa!
CF: StarCraft 2 has amazing music. All of those Blizzard games, Warcraft, and Diablo. So Blizzard games for me, in general.
JR: Yeah, Final Fantasy VIII was one of the first games that really got me into video games, so there’s something special for me there.
CS: I have this theory, that everyone has a favorite Final Fantasy, and it’s the first one they ever played. You know, VI was the one I played through first, and my little brother, his first one was IX, and that’s his favorite. You know, I think IX is better than some of the others, but it’s not the best.

NW: Did your teacher at JMU ever come around?

CS: I don’t think so. It was really awkward, afterwards.
CF: I talked to him a couple years ago, actually, and mentioned you. I visited JMU, and saw him in the hallway, and he’s like, “Oh, what are you doing?” And I was like “Oh, I’m doing, you know, Chad’s thing.” And he says, “Oh, that thing.” 
CS: And yeah, I stayed in that area for a while, and I would talk to people over at JMU who were walking around with instruments, and trying to figure out if they knew about the video without actually asking them about it. And you would get people who would see that video online, and be like “Well, I want to go there now, if they’re doing things like that.”

NW: What tracks haven’t you done, that you’d like to do. Is Green Hill Zone in that list?

CS: It’s funny that you should say that because we do have a Sonic Medley, and Green Hill Zone is in there. I arranged it about a month ago, and we played it at VGU a few weeks ago. With Taiko drummers. 
CF: Yeah, he played the Sonic theme with us, then we played the Game of Thrones theme, which was awesome. I would really like to do Kirby.
CS: Yeah, I kind of base it on that, you know, I did the Sonic thing because Chris was really pushing for it.
CF: Yeah, but look how popular it is. He even asked, like, Green Hill Zone, people know about it.
JR: I think the Final Fantasy Boss Medley is something I’m really excited about. That’s premiering [at PAX], with boss themes from Final Fantasy IV, VI, VII, and VIII. 
CS: That’ll be the premiere thing tomorrow. And it’s impossibly hard, and I don’t know how they do it. 
JR: Bravely Default, I’d really like to do that.
CF: Contra, I think that’d be good to do.
CS: Yeah, we could probably do the first level. I know a lot of people want to do Chrono Trigger, so we will probably do that. And what’s the other one that we always get requests to do… The one everyone plays…
CF: Skyrim?
CS: Skyrim, yeah. But that’s one that it would be good to have that Taiko drummer for. But it’s another one that has a very rich orchestration, and would be very difficult to do.
CF: Plus, a lot of the new games, their music is a lot more for texture, or atmospheric effect, it’s going for an emotion. So it’s not like in Final Fantasy where Aeris comes out and her theme plays, or when Mario comes out, and his theme plays.
CF: Yeah, it’s, like I said, very atmospheric. Very filmy. It sounds like you’re at a theater, and you know, you have tension music…
JR: Yeah, there’s no real melodies to it.
CF: No real melodies, no real themes. So it’s hard. 

NW: I saw that you guys did a cover of the Super Smash Bros. theme. Which one among 
you smashes the best?

JR: I think I usually win, actually.
CS: Really? I don’t think so.
JR: With Lucas, I usually win.
CF: You’re pretty annoying with Lucas.
CS: Yeah, that’s a pretty good question, I think we’ll have to throw down later.
JR: Best two out of three. 

Follow the Triforce Quartet on Twitter, like them on Facebook, and look out for them on Louder, iTunes, Spotify or the Google Play Store. Also, if you’re at PAX in Seattle, check them out on the show floor this Friday! If you’re not at PAX, then you can still watch their performance on Album is available do download here

Interview by: Nick Walge
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Robocraft Impressions

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There are many pre-release games out there and almost all of them require that you buy before you try. Not many games can survive on a free-to-play business model while the developers are still working on how the game should play and develop – but as an example of a game that used this beautifully you don’t need to look any further than World of Tanks and now Robocraft.

Robocraft is a game that allows a player to create a vehicle, one of three types, and then ride their customized chariot into battle. There’s not really a whole lot of strategy involved in the game so far as most of the time you will see yourself back in the garage within five minutes rather than riding out the entire round to victory (or bitter defeat). The game will require more strategic thinking as you progress in player levels and vehicle tiers, but there’s little in the way of communicating with other players in the game. Most people are happy running out and getting blown to small robo-pieces rather than actually trying to win a match. Because you know, winning is hard! Fighting in a platoon of three players, four if you have purchased premium time, will be a huge advantage to players who can use a VoIP such as Teamspeak to coordinate your efforts. Many players do not return to the base to defend or attack the enemy capture point because they are too focused on killing the enemy rather than winning the game. One player distracting the enemy team while you and the rest of your team captures the base is a very viable strategy.

While comparing the early Robocraft gameplay to that of World of Tanks, there are no shortcut keys to ask for assistance and the chat box is not scrollable, meaning you are confined to what the last five players have said. There’s no pinging the map to report locations enabled yet – but they have recently added a spotting key “Q” to report an enemy using the same system as the Battlefield games. If you miss tagging an enemy, you must wait five seconds before you can tag again to prevent tagging spam. While helpful, your radar is only visible to you and of limited function if they are using a radar jammer. You will find that not many players are willing to tag enemy units and you have to guess where the enemies are by the disappearing blue dots on the mini-map. All that aside, the actual meat of the game resides in the garage. It’s here than you will spend up to your allowed level of CPU pFLOPS which is a way to restrict bigger builds until you have played a significant number of battles. Tier also restricts you. A bar on the bottom of the screen moves from the left to the right as you add more and more pieces with higher-ranking attributes. The higher your vehicle’s rating, the more advanced the other players robots are too. The difficulty is trying to outfit your robo-vehicle with enough high-powered pieces that you still fit right in under the bar for the next tier. Going into a higher tier battle with the equipment from the last tier is a good way to guarantee that you won’t make it out of the match alive.

Taking all of that into consideration, you will find that some players will “cheese” up their build by taking parts such as a high powered weapon and taking them into much lower tiered matches. It’s a good way to rack up kills, but a poor way to make friends.

 Three different methods of movement – wheels, hover, or flying.
 There is huge developer interaction with the community and they constantly givecodes for free premium time.
 You have the ability to create just about anything you can imagine on a battlefield short of a mech or anything with legs.
 There are three different types of weapons so you can choose which style of play suits you best – sniper, gunner, or bomber.

 The game is free-to-play so you will see a LOT of people who are just in the game to troll.
 Expect to get frustrated by the players in the beginning of the game in the low tiers.
 The weapon balance is better suited to higher tier play. Early in the game in the lower tiers you can expect to be taken out in one shot by someone using a weapon much more advanced than your battle tier (even if that does restrict the amount of points they have to use for vehicle construction).
 You will lose hours, days, or even weeks in this game. I have spent countless hours tweaking and refining a vehicle only to take it apart later to start over.

The game is currently in early alpha and you can get it for free on Steam now. When signing up for an account for Robocraft, use the code STEAMLAUNCH1000RP for a little boost to your starting funds. Hope to see you on the battlefield!

Article by: Mark Brenner | Tested on: PC (Steam)
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Sacred 3 Review

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"Unfortunately, the final product does not quite reach the humor of the former nor the button mashing fun of the latter."

Sacred 3 is a traditional hack and slash action RPG from publisher Deep Silver that doesn't take itself too seriously, something of a cross between The Bard’s Tale and the Gauntlet franchise. Unfortunately, the final product does not quite reach the humor of the former nor the button mashing fun of the latter, and while it does have its charms, players should think long and hard before settling into this colorful adventure.  

The gameplay in Sacred 3 is very straightforward. You pick one of four heroes: a paladin, a lancer, a barbarian or an archer, and progress through a series of story-based and side missions that revolve around laying waste to hordes of enemies while completing the same three or four objectives and tackling massive bosses. Each character has a basic attack, a bash attack, and two special abilities at their disposal, and players can upgrade their characters by upgrades to their weapons, armor, and special moves. Characters also can equip Weapon Spirits, which are unlocked pretty arbitrarily as player’s progress through the games storyline, and grant specific buffs to the player and their party. Unfortunately, most of the characters play very similarly, with only the archer breaking up the “attack-and-evade” pattern that worked for everyone else quite efficiently.

"The missions are very linear, and contain very few branching paths or secret areas."

Playing with a group is very much encouraged here, and dropping in with a buddy either online or locally is a breeze. Having four players on the screen with you at one time, however, does make it a little tougher to follow the action, as the colorful animations and large number of on-screen opponents can make certain sections more cluttered than one would like. The missions are very linear, and contain very few branching paths or secret areas. Instead, extra items and buffs can be found in the side missions, which are immediately available from the level select screen. This keeps the pace of the story missions steady, as you don’t have to invest in finding these things on your own, but it does imply that your gameplay experience is going to be the same as everyone else’s. 

The visuals in Sacred 3 are top notch. From the pre-rendered cinematic cut scenes, to the digital artwork that breaks up the missions in between, to the character and level designs; everything looks fresh, bright, and colorful. It was a wise move on the developer's part to discard a lot of the more traditional fantasy tropes in favor of the more eclectic selection of heroes on display here. Playing a knight in shining armor for the thousandth time could have gone over just fine, but playing as Claire, the blonde paladin with a pair of luminescent wings sprouting from her back is even better. Similarly, the developer should be applauded for its gorgeous level designs, which inject enough color and detail into the games 30 or so levels to make even such well-trodden venues as the sewer seem like they are being seen for the first time.

"Some of the chatter is so bad that you might find yourself choosing which Spirit to use based on who says the least."

Unfortunately, it is in the voiceover where the presentation begins to go off of the rails. While I can appreciate a game taking a more tongue-in-cheek approach, much of the humor falls flat at first, then descends into repetitive annoyances. The Weapon Spirits are the worst offenders, as each one is designed with some goofy archetype in mind. The Dryad, for example, is the peace-loving hippie, while the elven Bard sings most of her comments in the style of a Mickey Mouse Club pop-star, etc.,) and boy do they ever have a lot to say about your progress. Some of the chatter is so bad that you might find yourself choosing which Spirit to use based on who says the least-- that being the Gladiator in my experience, whose one word utterances of "Violence!" and "Dying!" cause the fewest distractions.

There is a lot to like about Sacred 3. The unique setting is a refreshing take on typical fantasy games, and the army-crushing combat is satisfying for quite some time. But unless you are able to look past the groan-inducing caricatures, misplaced humor, and somewhat repetitive gameplay, there are other titles on the market that are far more satisfying, whether you’re looking for a lighter arcade experience or a deeper, more involved RPG.

Review by: Nick Walge | Reviewed on: Playstation 3

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Metro Redux Review

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"For those new to the dreary and dark world of Metro, know this…Redux may be the best sixty bucks you’ll spend all year."

As far as HD remakes go, 4A Games and Deep Silver are the new kings on the block. Metro Redux is not only one of the best new-gen titles on PS4 and Xbox ONE at the moment, it’s a wonderful reminder that some developers and publishers still genuinely care about their fan base. If there’s one HD remake that truly deserves the “ultimate” or “definitive” subtitle, it’s Metro. Metro Redux brings not only a fresh coat of paint to an already graphically impressive series; it improves major gameplay elements to make the journey through both titles a more cohesive and immersive experience. Even if you’re a franchise veteran, there are enough improvements and changes here that warrant another purchase. And for those new to the dreary and dark world of Metro, know this…Redux may be the best sixty bucks you’ll spend all year.

I’ve always been a big Metro fan, but one of my main complaints was the fact that both games felt like pieces of something bigger. Metro 2033 had superb atmosphere and horror elements but suffered in the gameplay department whereas Last Light improved shooting and stealth mechanics yet lacked the original’s tension. With Metro Redux, 4A Games has managed to merge the best elements of both titles into one seamless experience that ultimately changes both pacing and perception of Metro’s narrative. Everything feels more unified now. While the two titles are still divided on the main menu, playing through both upgraded versions sequentially feels like one massive haunted house ride through hell. 

"Graphically, both titles look absolutely stunning. Metro 2033 now uses Last Light’s engine and looks as sharp as the PC version on high settings."

Metro 2033 has seen the biggest improvements. The enhanced UI, shooting mechanics and more realistic stealth segments have all been brought over from Last Light, making 2033 an entirely different experience from its original release in 2010. While the enemy AI is still buggy at times (enemies can spot you from miles away or ignore you when you’re standing right next to them), being able to stealthily make your way through entire sections without triggering the alarm is indescribably satisfying. Both “Spartan” and “Survival” modes are now selectable when starting each title.  Survival offers a slower, stealthier approach with limited ammo and health packs (more akin to the original Metro 2033) while Spartan emphases a run-n-gun approach similar to the more action-heavy Last Light. Both modes provide completely different experiences…and those looking for a real challenge can now select “Ranger Mode” which strips the UI and makes each and every encounter absurdly challenging.  

"Metro Redux is hands down one of the best HD remakes to date. It will be difficult for anyone to top this package both in terms of value and quality."

Graphically, both titles look absolutely stunning. Metro 2033 now uses Last Light’s engine and looks as sharp as the PC version on high settings. The lighting has received a drastic overhaul with more realistic reflections illuminating the dark corridors and the character animations are more fluid and lifelike. Textures are noticeably crisper and the framerate remains locked at 60fps no matter how hectic the action gets. The beginning and ending movies are still compressed low-res clips, but luckily it doesn’t happen throughout the actual game. If there’s one thing I still have a problem with, it’s the English voice acting. It is still as horrible and distracting as before. There are times when it completely ruins the immersion, especially when the little kids are talking, which is very unfortunate considering how polished the rest of the game is. Switching to the original Russian dialogue helps tremendously, but makes reading subtitles somewhat difficult when you’re in the heat of a battle. But none of these little shortcomings really matter. As a whole, Metro Redux is a technical masterpiece and I cannot wait to see what the developers have in store for us with their upcoming new IP.

Metro Redux is hands down one of the best HD remakes to date. It will be difficult for anyone to top this package both in terms of value and quality. 4A Games and Deep Silver have once again proven that they take their fan feedback very seriously and I applaud them for going the extra mile. If you really want to see what your new shiny Playstation 4 and Xbox ONE systems are capable of, look no further. Metro Redux is a gorgeous, terrifying and incredibly immersive survival-horror action hybrid that every serious gamer needs in their collection.

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

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Sengoku Collection Review

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Let me just start off by saying I had no idea what to expect from Sengoku. Just by looking at the cover I suspected a slice of life genre… and in a way, I was partially correct. But despite the lack of a true underlying plot, Sengoku certainly held my attention throughout and it wasn’t until the last few episodes that I truly appreciated what the series had to offer. It’s a mixture of slice of life, shoujo-ai, light fan service and randomness all delivered in one package.

Sengoku’s barren plot is just enough to tie the episodes together. Summed up, the entire concept revolves around warring state generals from an alternate universe arriving on our world. Better known as “Samurai” in our world, the entire show focuses on their adjustment to daily life. One of the generals, a girl by the name of Nobunaga, goes around collecting what are called “Secret Treasures” from each of the generals. She needs these treasures in order to help her return to her own universe. The anime is a collection of small stories with each episode dedicated to one Samurai in particular. Randomness ensues as the anime leaps back and forth between each one. It’s hard to understand what is going on after watching the first few episodes. At first I kept wondering what the underlying narrative even was. It was only after about the fifth episode I realized this was the entire concept of the anime. While the plot is there the concept was to focus on the characters themselves.

Each episode in the series comes complete with its own storyline. This is both a curse and a blessing for the anime. The stories range from achingly sweet to tragic as the series progresses.  At the same time though this creates confusion since the anime doesn’t explain what’s going in between each episode. I even had a hard time following the little hints at the plot they tossed into the anime. It was like trying to put together a puzzle with several of the key pieces missing.


There is such a huge cast of characters to choose from. I could not even begin to list them in any proper order for anyone to understand. Through all twenty-six episodes Sengoku managers to not only paint believable characters within twenty minutes but a story for each individual character as well. For each episode there is probably going to be a character someone doesn’t like. On the plus side you will never see that particular character again. There’s good chance a favorite will certainly be picked out. What sucks is you’ll never see your favorite character again except perhaps in passing in another episode.   There is a heavy dose of shoujo-ai in the show as well. Throughout the entire anime there is a majority of female characters. Which is definitely a nice change from the usually muscly men based anime I watch myself. While there is some fan service sprinkled in the series for taste it’s never in your face. In fact, the anime uses this to its advantage by showcasing some of most well rounded characters in this fashion. While cleavage is shown it’s usually followed by them kicking ass in the next scene.

The action scenes are not the main basis of this anime. In some cases it was pulled off rather well when the storyline became dark. At other times when the characters fought each other I found the action sequences cliché and stiff. It was as if the creators had done a rush job in order to just fill a time slot in certain parts of the anime. Thankfully, the action was not one of the main aspects of the anime. Artwork for the series itself is actually quite beautiful. The characters themselves are drawn rather well. With their own features and unique outfits which makes them easily recognizable on sight. Even if I couldn’t remember the name of each character I can identify each one alone by their outfit. From a common maid outfit to what appeared to be the robes of made for an angel I appreciated this attention to detail. Even the environments had special care be it a moon in the windowsill or a tear in the couch. I rather enjoyed the style Sengoku had been written in. I believe it boils down to personal taste how good the anime is. If you enjoy a collection of small stories this anime is definitely a good fit. It even left me with a few things to consider at the end of some of the episodes. Other episodes they were so ridiculous I could not help but roll my eyes wondering if the creator had been taking narcotics.

There are only a few small downfalls. For one, the anime does not explain what is truly going on till the end. While I felt the ending was fine, it didn’t feel as rewarding as it could. A sorry way to conclude what I felt had been an interesting experience for a 26 episode series. Sengoku is certainly worth trying if you’re looking for a change of pace, but don’t expect any intricate storylines or complex plots to hold your attention. Sengoku’s saving grace lays in its strong characters and its ability to tell a story in a short amount of time. 

Review by: Shezka Foxe | Review Format: DVD | Running Time: 650 Minutes

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Lost Universe Series Review

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I rarely watch science fiction shows. I avoid the genre like a bird avoids a canary hungry kitty cat. Yet, the entire time watching this series I was glued to the screen. Staying up far later then I was supposed in order to just watch one more episode. Hopefully, I can find the words to describe how amazing this anime is. It certainly gave me a memorable ride.

Lost Universe takes place in…well, the universe. One of the main characters is a young lady by the name of Millie Nocturne. Through a misadventure she becomes friends with a psi-blade wielding young man called Kane Blueriver. There is also the computer hologram of his spaceship, Swordbreaker, a young lady who goes by the name of Canal. Together this trio explores the universe solving crimes and defeating bad guys. A main aspect of the anime is the legend of Lost Ships.  These ships are from a lost time with technology which rivals even the present time. At first Kane believes he is the only person to own one such ship, the Swordbreaker. These ships are powered by “psi energy”.  Psi Energy is psychic energy given off by human minds. This energy can also transform into various weapons such as Kane’s psi blade. Glowing swords which can be summoned at will which strongly resembles a light saber. There is also secret organization called Nightmare who owns half the universe. Their goal is to rule the entire universe and bring it back to an age of darkness. As Kane, Millie, and Canal, eventually figure this out they are framed for the murder of an entire fleet of Universal Guardians. An intergalactic police force meant to protect the general populace of the galaxy. Forcing the entire crew of Swordbreaker go into hiding to avoid capture. This forces Millie, Kane, and Canal into a quest to defeat Nightmare once and for all.

For an anime with twenty-six episodes, Lost Universe has a small cast of characters. The main focus is on Kane, Millie, and Canal. Millie is a sharp shooter with any firearm. She is able to get herself out of tough situations despite being a klutz. She also enjoys cooking but has a bad habit of making the oven explode. Kane Blueriver is the main antagonist of the entire anime. He inherited Swordbreaker from his grandmother. He’s a troubleshooter, a mercenary of the universe, who accepts jobs. Once he completes a job he is paid and moves on to the next one. He can usually seem a bit clueless at times but always follows through on his promises. His feelings for Millie begin to show when he becomes concerned about her safety during upcoming battles. Not once, but twice attempting to leave her behind in order to protect her.

Canal is the hologram of Swordbreaker. She is the mainframe of the entire ship with a strong intelligence. Canal is the one who handles information and finds jobs for Kane to accept. Her greatest love is getting new weapons for the ship whenever she docks. She also oversees the general repair of the ship and aids Kane in most of his assignments. Several times providing back-up to him and Millie in times of emergency to provide a fast escape.

Lost Universe is not a new anime. It originally aired in 1998 for one summer on TV Tokyo. So the quality of the picture is a bit dated. While watching the DVDs sometimes the picture of the anime would split into lines. This happens a lot during intense action sequences. While this is a minor problem and didn’t take away from the anime itself I do find it distracting. I’m so absorbed in the show I was a put off when the lines would appear. A major saving grace for this anime is its action sequences. They are hands down amazing! Despite its age the anime does a good job of pulling off action. Kane launches into battle wielding his psi blade. He issues a battle cry before he begins to cut down his foes with relative ease. Even Millie shares in the action by escaping a group of bikers in a high speed chase down a freeway. While not even looking Millie holds a gun over her shoulder and begins shooting.

Did I also mention the space battles? When Swordbreaker enters into a battle it can only be described as epic. The fights take place in space which left me cheering for Canal to win the fight. Spaceships flying through the black void of the universe shooting lasers at each other cooler to me then sliced bread. The CGI of the ships in some parts is a bit iffy, but still communicates a galactic battle well in the show. Managing to dazzle the viewer with sharp colors as a ship explodes in a ball of fire. I have to admit Lost Universe is a gem of an anime. I did not expect it to be as good as it was. There were parts of the anime I came close to tears. Not only does the show have comedy with the antics of the characters, but it also has an emotional depth. One of the more touching moments is when Kane has flashbacks of his grandmother. Remembering her when he was a child and growing up to wanting to be just like her. Throughout the anime he even quotes her in order to motivate himself.

Lost Universe does an excellent job of sticking to its plot. It starts out slow, but begins to build up gradually with each episode. The anime even manages to get a few life lessons across with a handful of morals thrown in for flavor. With Kane it’s never giving up despite the odds and making your own destiny. With Millie the lesson is it doesn’t matter how you started out in life. If you go down the unbeaten path it’s possible to find happiness. Even Canal left me in tears when she made the ultimate sacrifice in favor of helping her friends. 
Despite the picture quality at certain times this anime is absolutely perfect. There is a bit of everything for a person to enjoy. There’s romance, intense actions, character building, crazy antics, and epic galactic battle sequences. If you’re looking for a good anime to watch for a few hours definitely go with Lost Universe. You won’t regret it.

Review by: Shezka Foxe | Review Format: DVD | Running Time: 650 Minutes 

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