Video Game Review
Gran Turismo 7
Sony Playstation 5
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist Of The Mysterious Dream
IT’s a credit to the developers that even those outside of the intended audience find lots to appreciate about Gran Turismo 7. If nothing else, it brings gamers back to a simpler time, when simply basking in the thrill of fast cars roaming in picturesque countrysides could not but be the ultimate objective in and of itself.
In Gran Turismo 7, much of the core gameplay revolves around the speed and maneuverability of the cars you have at your disposal. Once you’re behind the wheel, it’s all up to you to reach your destination in the fastest time possible on whatever vehicle you feel comfortable steering. Each vehicle is unique, not only in looks, but also in handling — which is to say picking the right car is just as important as being able to drive it. With a wide array of vehicles to choose from and different ways to customize them, there are plenty of ways to experience each car as you desire, and to model it pretty much however you’d like it to look.
Once you’re done picking a car, it’s your job to race it. There’s a plethora of different races to enter in Gran Turismo 7, with varying amounts of payouts and rewards to earn for doing well, including cash investments to spend on acquiring a new vehicle, or on pumping up your current one with new attachments and upgrades that can boost its performance.
That really is most of what you’ll be doing with Gran Turismo 7. Race, buy cars, upgrade them, and repeat. With different circuits to run and different tracks to drive in, most of what you’ll be doing might not change, but the core gameplay loop is able to sustain itself just because of how good the game feels. With the hum of your vehicle in your ears and the drone of your engine as you go fast, Gran Turismo 7 gives you more than enough to keep you going. And going. And going. Most of the game revolves around it, and if you’re an avid car lover, there’s nothing better, what with the constant influx of unlocked cars, the myriad customization options, and, finally, the opportunities to test the products of your mind on the road.
Gran Turismo 7’s appeal doesn’t end there. For example, Music Rally pushes you to complete tracks before the songs end. Custom Mode enables you to race however you want to your heart’s desire, letting you tinker with race conditions and alter them as you please. And if you’re feeling a bit competitive, you can peruse the game’s multiplayer mode and test yourself against others online. The game is for you to enjoy as you please, and with it very much focusing on its racing aspects, it does deliver on that part extremely well.
That said, Gran Turismo 7 does have its flaws, mostly in regard to its backend. The game does look beautiful, yes, and it has a very atmospheric feeling when you’re playing it. However, it’s all the other side stuff that really drags it down. Unlocking new cars is difficult, making microtransactions less of an option and more of a solution for desperate players. Occasional server issues likewise spoil the appeal of online play.
Nonetheless, Gran Turismo 7 makes for an extremely enjoyable experience. It’s still the best simulator on the market by far — which is to say it lives up to its billing and more. Highly recommended.
• Outstanding graphics and sound design
• Deep selection of modes to play through, with myriad unlockables on tap
• Smooth interface
• Grinding required for unlocks outside of microtransactions
• Progression system could be better
• Server issues resulting in downtime and progress loss
POSTSCRIPT: Of all the things you can say about Ghostwire: Tokyo, you can’t go wrong with “unique.” After all, you find yourself awash in its potential given its capacity to combine aspects of an open world role-playing game with a mishmash of shooter and horror tropes to spice things up. And, wait, there’s more. Developer Tango Gameworks goes the extra mile with its presentation, throwing in some flashy visuals and setting it in one of Japan’s busiest cities, all while having ghosts and demons stalk you through its streets. It’s exhilarating, tense, and really, really fun.
In Ghostwrite: Tokyo, nightmares become reality as the streets of Shibuya are now steeped in fog and shadow. Playing as Akito, you have one job: to survive this literal ghost town and find your sister. You must dodge and defeat whatever ghosts stand against you, using the different elements at your disposal to dispatch as needed. You’ll scavenge for food in stores, exorcise restless spirits, and help wanting souls meet their maker. These concepts might sound a bit overwhelming, but they’re easy to digest as soon as you grab your controller. While it might seem strange, a lot of its mechanics are based on familiar concepts already present in other first person shooting adventure games.
For starters, combat in Ghostwire: Tokyo is mainly done through the use of elements. You have three at your disposal, and they all act like your standard first-person-shooter weapon roster. Wind, the first element, is your reliable, fast-firing pistol. It’s accurate and able to lay down a barrage of projectiles pretty reliably, and will be your main weapon. Water, the second element, is your high-powered shotgun, dealing incredible damage up-close, especially with upgrades that boost its range and base damage. Fire, the last element, is both your rocket launcher and rail gun, dealing explosive damage if charged up, and piercing regular enemies if fired.
In Ghostwire: Tokyo, you’ll be cycling between the three elements pretty often, and while there’s not much variety in the combat, there is at least a decent mix-up in how the battles play out. Enemies, depending on their type, are often quick on their feet, and fairly aggressive. While you can block their attacks, the damage they deal can get out of hand fairly quickly, and so you’ll be switching between the three elemental types in an effort to keep them at bay and expose their cores, which can be revealed only by dealing enough damage to them. These exposed cores allow for a channeled execution move. While these will dispatch without the expenditure of further elemental magic, however, the channel time leaves you exposed to other enemies, forcing you to always be aware of your surroundings. You’re not invincible while you’re doing it, and the channel time is often just long enough to leave you exposed and out of position, making combat feel like an interesting dance of fighting, repositioning, and executing ghosts at a safe distance.
Ghostwire: Tokyo also gives you the chance to sneak up on and take down your foes with some pretty by-the-books stealth mechanics. While these don’t add much depth to how you can approach battles, the game does account for situations where you want to go silent. The ability to use a bow to snipe enemies from afar or to use silent takedowns on unwary foes helps quite a bit in thinning down the Visitors’ numbers before things go awry.
All told, Ghostwire: Tokyo can be very charming once you get the hang of it, and while its combat pales in comparison to what something like Doom Eternal can offer, it makes up for the seeming shortfall with its excellent environmental designs. The streets of Shibuya are rendered fantastically by the game engine, showing off bright lights and colorful buildings made with much love and detail. In some ways, it feels like taking a virtual tour in one of Tokyo’s streets, and the open world aspect is able to make the explorable areas feel big enough for you to lose yourself in. There are lots of side activities to enjoy, and lots of side quests to take up your time. There are small stores to visit, upgrades to purchase, and collectibles to gather. It’s an open world experience set inside a colorful, neon-lit first-person shooter, and it does its job so well that it’ll hold your attention for hours on end. There’s even some minor verticality to be had with the exploration, with the game letting you grapple onto rooftops for some new side areas to explore.
Combine all these elements with the Japanese horror aesthetics and flashy design, and you have a very charming game with quite a bit of content on hand. The story’s excellent writing draws you in, and its set pieces are a great mix of flashy otherworldly experiences crossed with Japanese horror elements. The side quests and side activities you do help boost your character’s growth, and the ramping challenges you’ll face keep the game from being boring as newer and more dangerous types of enemies come to square off against you.
Sadly, while Ghostwire: Tokyo does a fantastic job at keeping you hooked, it still suffers from issues endemic to open-world RPGs. While the main campaign is just long enough to keep the mechanics feeling fresh, the rest of the side content slowly starts to bog the experience down. It’s not that they’re bad. For the record, they’re very, very good. It’s just that they eventually run out of new mechanics, encounters, and features to keep you going.
Where other games could keep your interest with stellar combat or good side quest design, Ghostwire: Tokyo’s main selling point is its visual flair. Its fancy lights, its creepy enemies, and its enchanting atmosphere are what spur you onward, but these don’t keep their novelty through all the side quests.
Make no mistake. Ghostwire: Tokyo’s main campaign is a blast to run through, and while it might feel a little short compared to other actioners, it’s still an experience that shouldn’t be missed. The visual spectacles it’s able to provide serve as ample attractions in and of themselves. Few games are willing to go through the lengths it does to mix bright, colorful environments with horrific creatures straight out of myth and legend. It’s a celebration of how seemingly disconnected and disjointed concepts can work in tandem with the right designs, and it should make gamers look forward to the inevitable sequel that improves on it.
• Excellent graphics, art and environmental design
• Superb combat, with some RPG and open-world elements to enjoy
• Decently long main campaign with lots of side activities to do
• Combat can be repetitive after a while, with few weapons and options to really spice things up
• Side content gets mundane, especially as it doesn’t share the pacing of the main campaign
• Lack of variety in approaching scenarios
The Atelier games have always exuded an aura of comfort that makes the franchise feel fresh and easy to pick up. Its colorful characters, interesting combat systems, and wholesome themes of family and friendship set it apart from other more melancholic JRPG offerings. True, recent releases in the series have started to delve into far more mature topics. That said, it has steadfastly remained true to its bloodline. Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream arrives with the promise and premise of its forebears, and it bears the weight of expectations brilliantly. It emulates the core experiences of its earlier predecessors, particularly Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, and more. It brings with it better combat mechanics, an expanded roster to play with, tons of items to use and create, and a strong sense of personality to anchor it to what it does best.
In Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream, the title character finds herself in the strange, alternate world of Erde Wiege, which is fully populated by peoples from different time periods. In order to escape her surroundings and reunite herself with her mentor Plachta, she must do what she does best: create items, and then search and explore nearby areas and dungeons for any materials and clues she can gather. Only by teaming up with others can she really find a way to return to her original world.
In a lot of ways, this concept that underpins Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is pretty standard JRPG fare. Sophie’s own adventures along with the characters she encounters are all tropes that have been played out before. However, what makes the game shine isn’t the uniqueness of its story, but the sincerity in its writing. Its character moments may sometimes be hit or miss, especially for those who seem to be playing out their stereotypes, but the warm, relaxing pace of its story makes for some easy reading. The side quests you take serve to flesh out your companions, and characters you meet all have their own motivations and drive to them. The main quest serves to fill out the world, which itself feels like a fairy tale come to life, and the entire narrative is driven by its fantastical themes and whimsical moments. It’s almost like a carefully laid out fantasy, and while it’s not a perfect one to lose yourself in, it’s an experience that allows you to just chill and relax, basking in its wonderful art style and its addicting gameplay
In a nutshell, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is better than its older siblings. While its narrative might be playing safe, its gameplay has seen some much-needed improvements. The overworld and crafting parts, for instance, have seen improvements. Navigating the world map is easy, with plenty of fast travel points to use to get yourself from area to area at a moment’s notice. Sophie moves at a brisk pace to begin with, and the areas you explore might have their gimmicks, but they’re moderately sized so you won’t really be getting lost in them. You’ll be gathering lots of plants and materials, and these are brought to your Atelier, where you’ll use them to craft important items. You can even boost the crafted item’s quality through its own minigame, and the progression you take is always easy to follow due to the helpful recipe book to get you to find what item you need next.
Bottom line, though, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream’s combat system is where it really is at its best. The battles themselves are generally fast-paced, but the addition of front row and back row characters as well as the use of Technical Points make them flow even smoother. In combat, your front row characters perform your attacks, while your back row characters support them. Every move you make earns Technical Points that can be used to great effect, from shielding allies to even taking combined turns to further boost your damage. These are small changes, but ones that really help with the pacing once you understand them, allowing you to breeze through your opponents and even letting you be fairly liberal with your skill and item usage. It’s a great combat system to juggle, and one that manages to keep up with enemies later in the game, where you’ll be exploiting weaknesses and bringing better damage types to bear, and having to find a way to deal with shields and elemental handicaps. It’s a deep combat system that isn’t typically present in titles from the Atelier franchise, and one that really pairs up nicely with the game’s visuals.
And then there are the outstanding graphics. No matter what system you play on, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream looks pretty good. Its environments are fairly tame, ranging from rural farmsteads to ruins and grassy plains, but the art style and its aesthetic are what really catches the eye. Everything in the game just oozes color and charm, with the character and monster art, in particular, looking fantastic. The main characters are all easy to tell apart; they all have their own style so you won’t forget them. Monster design is exemplary. While golem-like beings, birds, and slimes are all pretty normal for a JRPG, developer Gust’s Atelier art style brings them to life in a very cutesy way that feels just at home in their colorful world. If there’s any fault with the aesthetics, it’s mostly in the non-playable characters and areas where the programmers figure you wouldn’t look too carefully. While its main cast and enemies are all brimming with life, supplementary characters don’t have as much attention given to them, and some pop-in does still does occur to ruin some of its visual feast
Overall, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream does a great job of staying true to its roots, but, at the same time, improving upon them. It excels in areas that help its gameplay flow better while preserving the charm and feel of the Atelier series. It’s completely accessible to play — easy to understand and yet deep enough to be engaging. If nothing else, it proves you don’t need to subvert stories or create new genre-defying gameplay to make a great game. All you need is some heart, a standout art style, and efficient systems in place, and everything else will follow.
• Witty, charming, and entertaining characters
• Strong, solid gameplay loop with a lot of content on offer
• Engaging, relaxed fun, with some memorable moments and environments
• Background NPCs feel lifeless
• Has some framerate and pop-in issues
• Tropey characters in its roster
THE LAST WORD: The crossover action RPG Neptunia x SENRAN KAGURA: Ninja Wars is slated to launch this week on the Nintendo Switch, and in early May on the personal computer via Steam. The Switch eShop is offering a 20% discount for digital preorders. Meanwhile, the Limited Edition version is available on the IFI Online Store. The LE is comprised of a physical copy of the game, The Art of Ninjutsu Hardcover Art Book, an Ukiyo-e Wall Scroll, the official soundtrack, an exclusive trading card, and a steel game case.
Neptunia x SENRAN KAGURA: Ninja Wars is a single-player hack-and-slash RPG where two camps of martial arts disciplines, the Compa and the Honeypa, fight for supremacy in a ruthless competition. Originally released on the PS4 last year, the game’s Switch and PC iterations include an all-new difficulty setting and free Alternate Costume downloadable content.