A Look at Blade Assault

Blade Assault is 2D, action rouge-lite, platformer with an emphasis on action. It’s available in this month’s Humble Choice and it’s the game I’ve taken for a spin for UnwiseOwl’s communal monthly Humble Choice Review.

The first thing that drew me to Blade Assault was the flashy, fast paced combat featured in the trailer. The combat turned out to be just as satisfying as it looked and has kept me playing for five hours now. The main character, Kil, has three weapons to choose from before each run There are three other unique characters to unlock, each with their own weapon, which keeps things fresh between runs. So far, I’ve mainly played Kil but I’ve tried them all. I enjoyed the few run’s I’ve spent with Zett who has a shield and is much tankier than the other characters making things more forgiving.

Each run consists of a series of stages and bosses. The bosses appear to be in the same order every time with only the stages changing layouts between each run. Each stage consists of two waves of enemies to fight and a third wave, usually with stronger enemies, at the end of the stage. This third wave starts to fill up the threat meter depending on how long it takes to finish the wave. Each time the threat meter is filled up, the difficulty level increases and enemies get fun new modifiers to kill you with.

During the stages you’ll find chests to open that contain gear which applies passive bonuses. At the end of every stage, a core can be upgraded which adds different elemental effects to your primary weapon, sub-weapon, and dash. There are also some that provide passive bonuses like damage reduction, sheilds, crit damage and more. There are others that will enhance or add new effects to a characters active skill as well. The gear and cores are what you’ll make your build around each run. With the difficulty always increasing I’ve found there’s a fine balance between increasing your damage to deal with tankier enemies while also managing your damage reduction, health stat, and MP stat along the way.

Of course, with Blade Assault being a rouge-lite, each time you die you’re sent back to the beginning with currency you’ve obtained along the way to purchase permanent upgrades. There are three types of permanent currency that carry over from run to run, coins, chips, and dice. The coins are used for the character upgrade system. This allows you to purchase passive effects that make your character stronger from run to run. As your character levels up there are additional tiers of passive abilities that open up. I was surprised to find that there is one tree for all four characters so you don’t need to level them up individually. The chips are used to level up the passive abilities on your weapons and also purchase drones that provide additional benefits. The dice are used to increase your Friendship level with the various characters you’ll find throughout the world. These allow you to unlock the three additional characters, buy items from vendors at a cheaper cost, and add characters to your base that will provide more effects before each run. I’ve always liked this style of meta progression. It makes each run a learning experience with the added benefit of providing a reward of some sort every time you die.

I’ve been enjoying Blade Assault in short bursts. I’ve only made it as far as the third boss but each attempt only takes 15-20 minutes. This would be the perfect game to play on the Steam Deck but the text is just a bit too small where I’m straining my eyes to read each item’d description. Once I become familiar with all the items by their icons this will be an easy one to boot up on the Deck when I’m short on time.

So, is Blade Assault worth buying December’s Humble Choice for? Not on it’s own, as seems to be the case for most of the games I pick. Greedfall and Wasteland 3 sold me on this month’s choice but Blade Assault is a welcome addition.

Backlogged: Ghost Song

Developer: Old Moon

Platform: PC

Time to Finish: 10h 25m

I’ve known about Ghost Song for a while now. Brother has been following it for years, even played a few demos, and, quite frankly, I didn’t think it would ever come out. At one point the entire game engine was scraped and the game was built on another. But at the beginning of last month, Ghost Song released after nine long years in development. I was happy that my friend would finally be able to play the game he was so looking forward to but I didn’t have much of a desire to play it myself.

Brother finished up the game and was looking for someone else to play through it to discuss. I saw that it was available in the Humble App and since I was picking up the Humble Choice already, I decided to give it a go. I almost immediately bounced as I was met with Dark Souls style punishment for death, losing nano-gels (souls) and losing a chunk of health that needs to be repaired with more nano-gels. This isn’t my typical genre and I was probably going to be dying a lot.

I started a new game on the Explorer difficulty which does away with all the annoying Dark Souls mechanics. It also makes “Certain other adjustments”, I went digging around the Steam discussion boards to figure out what those might entail. It looks like the other major difference is that enemies don’t scale with after each ship part is found. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem to be much different.

Things I Liked:

Lorian

Lorian is the moon on which the game takes place. It’s beautiful. The world feels like a living painting. From it’s desolate surface littered with robots and crashed ships to it’s depths littered with more robots, some people, and some very large bugs. All of it is dripping with atmosphere. As you learn more about the world the eerier and more beautiful it becomes.

The lore of Lorian is also fantastic. The moon is surrounded by a static field that crashes ships and makes it impossible to leave. The lore is all delivered through dialogue in bits and pieces. As you explore you’ll meet a host of other robots, creatures, and people, all of which will drip feed a bit more information. I don’t typically like this approach to storytelling but it works in Ghost Song as it’s tied with exploration. The more of Lorian you discover the more information you get.

The Crew

The main story focuses on The Deadsuit after it wakes up in the middle of Lorian with no recollection of who it is or how it got there. After a few hours, The Deadsuit encounters Roper who is the captain of a ship that’s crash landed. They made a camp around the ship, Gambler, and are trying to figure out how to repair her and get past the static field.

The crew is a group of interesting characters who aren’t all what they appear on the surface. Which is a good thing because you spend a lot of time talking to them. My favorite was Raven, an android who was badly damaged in the crash and spends most of the game deciding on how to build her new body. There’s some thought provoking conversations that take place between The Deadsuit and her around identity.

The Module System

The majority of items you find during the game are modules. These are slotted in to the Deadsuite and have passive bonuses. They can cause your gun to overheat less, they can give you super armor for a short time after dashing, add extra projectiles to the blaster, and a whole bunch of other useful things. You are limited in the amount you can equip by their power consumption. You’re able to use more as you level up the Deadsuit and increase it’s power level. By the end of the game I had six or seven equipped at any given time.

By the time I finished the game there were still a lot left that I hadn’t unlocked or found. I wasn’t going out of my way to get them but I was exploring every room I came across. There’s a ton of variety and different combinations to try which adds some nice replay value.

Blaster/Melee Mechanics

One of the more interesting mechanics in Ghost Song is the synergy between the blaster and your melee attack. After a certain amount of use the blaster overheats which lowers it’s damage and rate of fire. However, the overheated blaster increases melee damage. This isn’t something I’ve seen before but it makes sense, hitting something with a hot gun barrel would hurt more. There are modules you can find that increase or decrease the rate at which the blaster overheats so you can fine tune your combat style. I found myself favoring a little extra blaster time but still utilizing the overheat feature for burst damage.

Explorer Difficulty

If you look around the internet of reviews for Ghost Song you’ll see a wide range of opinions on the games difficulty. Some think the game is too easy and the punishments for dying are out of place because you don’t die that often. Some think the game is too hard even on the easier exploration mode. I land somewhere in the middle.

I don’t have much experience with this style of game so I found it challenging even on Explorer. But I never found it too challenging that I wanted to give up at any point. I died a lot in the beginning but as I got more familiar with the combat and the controls the game did become easier. It still took me a few tries on every boss but it never felt like I wasn’t able to beat them. Even so, I feel like the punitive mechanics for death aren’t needed. They don’t do anything to heighten the experience or the gameplay they’re just frustrating. I’m glad there’s an option to turn them off.

Things That Could Have Been Better:

The Deadsuit

The Deadsuit is our main character. It wakes up on Lorian without any recollection of how it got or what it is. It’s mysterious, yes, but it’s also hard to connect with or care about a main character without an identity. I think it would have been better if we slowly learned more it as the story progressed like we do with the rest of Lorian. As it is, there’s one specific place, kind of out of your way, you need to get to and watch a very short scene to get any kind of resolution regarding The Deadsuit.

The Music

There are maybe one or two tracks that stand out and convey a feeling of an alien world but most of them are kind of boring. The soundtrack feels too mellow for a game where the majority of the time you’re blasting alien lifeforms apart and fighting bosses.

The Story (Spoilers Ahead)

After this picture, the rest of this post contains spoilers for the end of the game.

I found the setting so interesting but the story itself fell a bit flat for me. Before you ask, yes, I got the “good” ending.

I get that there needed to be a reason for the player to explore the map and that’s why we’re tasked with finding ship parts for the stranded crew. The crew was probably one of my favorite parts of the game but there isn’t much else going on story wise. There are a few side quests that you can follow but the majority of the map is empty of any other story threads. Which is a shame considering how interesting the setting is.

Like I said before, you won’t get much of a resolution to the Deadsuit’s identity unless you find a specific spot on the map to trigger a very short cut scene. Getting there requires getting all four jumps, one of which is hidden away behind a secret trader. I only knew about this because Brother told me about it.

On top of this, you also need to be paying close attention when talking to the crew, specifically Pasha. Up an to that point, I had figured out that the Deadsuit contained a ghost of someone from the crew but I didn’t know who exactly. There’s a couple things that hint at this including finding the escape pod and a scene where Pasha says you seem familiar.

I got to the end of the game, saw the scene with Pasha and the Deadsuit and felt like I was missing something. The scene played out like it was suppose to be some big emotional reveal but I came away from it feeling pretty indifferent about it. It wasn’t until I talked about it with Brother that I realized that Charley was Pasha’s sister and that’s who the Deadsuit was. I either missed this key bit of information for not paying close enough attention or missing a couple conversations with Pasha when I turned in two ship parts back to back and forgot to talk to her. That’s on me and I’m not holding it against the story. it’s a nice ending. Far better than the default ending which explains nothing and rolls the credits.

At the same time the ending is very human for a game that takes place on such an alien world. I would have proffered if the Deadsuit was a denizen of Lorian before the it was destroyed and was learning about their past while helping the crew. Even better, on a moon that crashes ships, why not have Deadsuit be the consciousness of a ship that was destroyed on the planet. The other ships it encounter constantly think it’s a ship. I guess, in a way,it it’s a ship for a ghost.

It does leave some questions t

Phantom Brave: Wait, it’s over?

Remember way back on Wednesday when I said I had a few more hours ahead of me in Phantom Brave to go? Well, it turns out a few more hours meant one hour because Wednesday night I beat the final boss and rolled the credits.

Here’s what happened. I took my squad through a few floors of Failure Dungeons to get leveled up. I brought a bottlemail unit who has a high chance of taking items with it when it’s turns are up so along the way I was able to pick up a few very high level items. This lasted all of a half hour or so. I took those items and used Failure Fusion to get some higher stats on Ash’s weapon and one of my Valkirye’s weapon.My plan was dip in to the last fight, see how much more damage my weapons were doing, and then quit out and continue to farm the Failure Dungeons for weapons and xp.

I also had an idea I wanted to test out. A little while back I had summoned an archer because it had a Failure title and never stored it away. Then I summoned it accidentally in a dungeon run andto my surprise, despite being level one, the archer was going second in the turn order. That’s because it has a passive called quick attack which lets her attack right after Marona when it’s summoned. So when I got back from the run, I looked for other units who also had this skill and I found the Fenrir which had quick attack and more movement speed than the archer.

The final boss fights have crystals that give the boss invincibility. So the priority is to kill the crystals as quick as possible before using strong units to engage the boss. I was doing this by summoning some of my middle of the road units who could kill the crystals but by the time Marona was up again most of them would be dead leaving my stronger units open to being targeted. The idea is to summon all three level one Fenrir, have them pick up the crystals, and run straight to the boss. Since the boss seems to attack the weakest and closest units to it I was hoping it would kill all 3 and in the process destroy the crystals for me.

Here’s how it all went down.

Spoilers ahead, this game is old enough to drive, but still.

Ah Sprout, I thought you were going to be the bad guy but it turns our you’re just edgy.

Marona and Ash battle their way across the Island of Evil. After every battle they seem to be up against insurmountable odds but the people they’ve helped along the way show up to lend a hand. Eventually the gang ends up at the at Sulphur’s lair where they’re ready to fight and seal Sulphur away for eternity.

Until Sprout shows up and just fights Sulphur on his own. Honestly, I would have been satisfied with that ending, it would atleast be unique, the main character doesn’t have to kill the big, bad, world destroying monster for once. But this is a JRPG and there are rules!

It appears Sprout has defeated Sulphur but Sulphur has other plans. He takes over Sprouts body and the first fight begins.

Run to the center!

I put my plan in to action and summoned the three Fenrirs A, B, and C (definitely not names of disposable units. Not at all.). They grabbed the three crystals providing stat boosts to Sprout and ran up to him. Sprout took the bait and killed all 3 on his next turn along with the crystals.

Giving my stronger units an extra turn really made a difference here. Ash and company did more damage with the upgraded weapons but it wasn’t significantly more. They did, however, get to go twice this time and make quick work of Sprout.

Cue the next cut scene.

After the fight, Sprout realizes the only way to stop Sulphur now is end his life and take Sulphur with him.

Except, that doesn’t work either. Sulphur comes back for his second phase and the next battle begins.

This fight has a similar setup to the last one but there are 4 crystals now providing invincibility. Sulphur also has some wicked long range AoE attacks. Again I summoned the three Fenrirs, picked up three of the crystals and ran right next to Sulphur. I would have to use the archer to get the fourth crystal when Marina could summon her again.

I fully expected Sulphur to wipe out the Fenrir’s on his next turn. Instead he walked over them and then did nothing. I summoned my archer, grabbed the fourth crystal and had her join the Fenrirs. Then Sulphur took his turn and did the same thing as last time. He walked a bit and then did nothing. At this point I thought maybe Sulphur wouldn’t attack units holding his magic crystals.

I summoned the rest of the crew just in case Marona didn’t get another turn. On Sulphur’s next turn, to my relief, he hit all four units holding the crystals and destroyed them all. At this point, all of my strongest units were up. Now the play was getting in as many hits as I could with each unit while also making sure they didn’t all clump up together. I still didn’t expect to win the fight but I had to try.

It all came down to this moment.

One by one Sulphur picked off each of my units. When it was only Ash left and Sulphur used a powerful spell I thought it was all over. But through those extra levels or sheer luck Ash held on with only a few hundred health left. It all came down to Ash, on his last turn, with Sulphur sitting at 2400 health. The great thing about Ash’s last turn is it gives him a significant damage boost. We’re talking a double damage or more kind of boost. I attacked with Pincushion, a skill that does 9 hits and then a big 10th hit, all of the 9 hits were over 200 damage so as long as the last hit was big enough I would defeat Sulphur. Lucky for me, it was just enough. The Stage Clear notification popped and we were back to the cut scenes.

Is it though?!?

Sulphur was once again gone and everything looked like it was wrapping up. I had a sneaking suspicion that there might be a third phase. And wouldn’t you know it, Sulphur came back yet again! There’s a moment where Ash is going to sacrifice himself (because that worked so well for Sprout) to seal Sulphur away and Marona tells him she can’t live without him. But our kind of rival Walnut, who has the same power Scarlet the Brave used to lock Sulphur away last time, comes in and finishes the job.

And that’s it! The credits roll, I went back to Phantom Island to save, and the game is over. Unexpected for sure but I’m glad I got to see the ending.

Phantom Brave: Almost Done but Not Quite

I’m on the “Final Episode” of Phantom Brave. Marona and Ash have fought there way through scores of battles on the Island of Evil with some help from the people they’ve met throughout the game. They’ve arrived of the big bad’s door step and all that’s left to do is take it on. Well, in theory. In reality, there’s a fair bit more game to go if I actually want to finish Phantom Brave. Why? Because I find my squad over leveled and under leveled all at the same time.

I’ve tried to take on the final scenario a few times. Without getting too spoilery, the final encounter is a two parter. I’m able to barely scrape by the first phase with Ash as long as I sacrifice my other party members and get one good damage spell off from my witch. The second part is where I’m really struggling. There are four crystals that give the boss invulnerability that need to be destroyed before I can start doing damage. All of the crystals are on opposite sides of the room. So the plan is to summon phantoms next to the invulnerability crystals, take them out, and attack the boss, all before it has a chance to pick off to many party members. There is just one problem, that fourth crystal is at the far end of the room and it will take at least 2 turns for Marona to get close enough to confine a phantom over there but that will also take her very close to the boss. No Marona, no more summoning party members. The other issue is that the boss uses very strong AoE spells so if there are too many party members standing next to each other it’s going to take them all out.

I have 3 party members (Ash, a Valkyrie, and a Witch) who can do reasonable damage to the boss per turn but I’m having trouble keeping all three alive long enough to get their shots in. Then there’s Marona who is a good 20 to 30 levels below the rest of the party so keeping her alive is a challenge.

Unlike Labyrinth of Refrain I can’t just lower the difficulty for the final boss so the question is where do I go from here? There are two options. Option one: Continue to play for a few more hours to get my party leveled up. Option two: Go watch the final scenes on Youtube and call it a day. I’ll probably go with option one, I’m still enjoying the game and watching cut scenes on Youtube just doesn’t hit the same.

After a little internet research the best way forward from here seems to be Failure Dungeons and Failure Fusion. I knew about Failure Dungeons before and have used them to get the party leveled up when I ran in to difficult scenarios.

Example of a Failure Dungeon. The item is level 297 with 3k health. That lone enemy over there is level 297 with 400 health.

The idea is to create a random dungeon that’s about three times your level and then use the Titlist to put a Failure title on the dungeon. This causes the enemy levels to be high but their stats are severely diminished and they don’t give XP for being killed. You might be wondering how leveling works if the enemies don’t give XP. Well, phantoms also gain XP based on the level of the item their confined in to. Since the items in the dungeon are the same level of the enemies you get a ton of XP for confining and then it’s very easy to pick off the weakened enemies. The only issue with this method is while the phantoms gain levels rather quickly, Marona get’s very little XP which has lead to my current situation of Maron being under leveled.

Failure Fusion is not something I’ve tried yet. The idea behind this method is to take a weapon whose stats you want to boost, put a Failure title on it, and fuse it with a much higher level weapon. The Failure title makes the primary weapon five times weaker and since stats through fusion are determined by the difference in primary and secondary weapon you get a massive stat boost for fusing and then even more when you take the Failure title off. The best way to get secondary weapons for this is the Failure Dungeons since the item levels will be much higher than anything I currently have. I’ll just either need a lot of mana or I’ll need to get my Fusionist leveled up more before I can do this.

I’ve got a little work ahead of me if I want to complete this one. Not to imply that it’s something I won’t enjoy. If I didn’t like the battle system and the story so much I would have shelved this game a few episodes ago when things started to get tough.

Phantom Brave PC Early Impressions

Phantom Brave was first released for the PS2 in 2004 by Nippon Ichi Software (NIS). You might know NIS from the Disgaea strategy RPG series which released one year before. Over the years, Phantom Brave saw a remake on the Wii (Phantom Brave: We Meet Again) in 2009 and again in 2011 to the PlayStation Portable (Phantom Brave: the Hermuda Triangle). In 2016, Phantom Brave PC was released on Steam which includes all content from We Meet Again and the Hermuda Triangle. This Steam version is the one I’m playing.

I picked up Phantom Brave PC along with a couple other games either developed or published by NIS. There was a sale you see and I was really into JRPGs that day….I was actually surprised to find how many of their older titles have been ported on to PC over the years. While this is my first time playing Phantom Brave, I have played more than a few hours of Disgaea 4 on the PS3 so I have some familiarity with NIS’s flavor of SRPGs. Even so, Phantom Brave is it’s own variant of the Disgaea formula.

For one, instead of choosing units at the beginning of the fight, Marona summons units out of objects on the field which affect the stats of the unit. You want to summon fighters out of objects that will increase attack and HP and magic users out of objects that boost intelligence.

There’s a speed based initiative system as opposed to a back a forth player turn then enemy turn system. You can see the turn order which helps to plan out your attacks. Phantom Brave also replaces the grid based movement of Disgaea with distance based movement. Each unit can move in any direction up to its move distance and you’re able to see just how far an enemy unit can move. With these combined features I feel like I have a lot of control over the battle. I can prioritize knocking enemies out that are between my characters turns and make sure to move my units out of the enemies range before ending their turn.

Finally, units only last for a set number of turns which leads to some interesting choices on when and where to summon your units throughout a given fight. So far I’ve found the whole battle system very engaging.

Our story starts on the Island of Evil. We see Jasmine, Haze, and Ash in the middle of battle with a bunch of monsters and it doesn’t look like it’s going well. As the group retreats, a big, powerful monster appears and proves too much for the group. Haze uses the last of his powers to save Ash as the rest of the party is wiped out.

Then this guy shows up, easily kills the monster and absorbs it. He doesn’t have a name but he sure looks like the bad guy…

From there story focuses on Marona, the 13 year old daughter of Haze and Jasmine, who just so happens to be have the ability see phantoms. Turns out, this is super useful because Haze’s magic didn’t exactly save Ash from death but rather made him in to a phantom. Ash takes it upon himself to watch over Marona in absence of her parents.

With Ash’s help, Marona works as a Chroma, a kind of adventurer/ bounty hunter that people hire to solve problems. Thanks to her ability she’s pretty good at it but she’s not so good at the whole requesting a fair payment thing which Ash constantly reminds her of.

The story in Phantom Brave takes place over a series of Episodes. It has the sort of structure of a Saturday morning cartoon: Morona and Ash get a request via Sea Mail for a job, they go and talk to the requester, check out the location of the job, there’s some sort of twist, they fight a big bad guy, and then return to complete the job. There’s some overarching story points along the way but you could watch any episode in isolation and get a complete story from start to end.

This is a a game where I can start it up and time just seems to melt away. Maybe it’s the novelty of playing an SRPG which has very different mechanics from games I would usually play and it will wear foff eventually. Or maybe the systems in this game just click in a brain pleasing way. Only time will tell. One thing I know for sure is that I have been enjoying my time with it. I’m about 20 hours in and haven’t finished the first chapter yet….I never claimed to be good at strategy games!