<![CDATA[A-to-J Connections - Gaming]]>Sat, 18 Nov 2017 12:08:06 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Barbarossa: The Card Game]]>Wed, 15 Nov 2017 08:00:00 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/barbarossa-the-card-game
You’ve probably seen anime girl versions of famous WWII officers and commanders while browsing through your favorite websites. Cute versions of Lil’ Hitler and Big Sis Stalin, if not you’re probably googling that right now as you’re letting your curiosity get the better of your thought control. Well, someone at Arclight games, the fine people of Japan that brought you Tanto Cuore, thought: “What would it be like if the Germany invasion of Russia was played out by Anime Girls?” So now you have Barbarossa, the deck building card game. 
“But what’s a deck building card game?”, you might be asking. Well, card games aren’t too popular with the ease of access of video games right on your computer, so the question isn’t too common unless you’ve played games like it. A deck building game means you start out with a minimal number of cards in your hand, in the case of this game, you get eight cards total. You gain supplies using supply cards which can be spent on cards that are both visible and purchasable to everyone playing. Now there’s much more to it, but we’re not here to bore you with the details. The game, as told before, centers around the invasion of the Soviet Union. Up to five players; all playing on the side of the invading German Army; are competing against each other and like most deck builders. Each play is collecting points, and the one with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
Unlike most Deck Builders, Barbarossa introduced a new concept to the table for a game of its type, the combat system. To gain points, you must attack sites and cities. You do this by building up your forces and dealing with defending Russian units that are flipped with an event card when you attack. The game officially ends when Moscow is taken. All points are totaled up from the various cards that supply them. As stated previously, the player with the most points win
Now that we talked about how the game is played, let’s talk about the game itself. The first thing one will notice about the imagery of the cards is that it isn’t very kid friendly, nor that it’s a game you want to break out while visiting a very conservative pair of family members. Let’s not give grandpa a heart attack over finding the gender-bent and heavy chested General Rommel. These cards are clearly eye candy for the players as not only do they wear very skimpy clothing, but seem to enjoy poses that would get them into playboy magazine. Luckily, there is no nudity, so the common teen could play this game. But again, let’s not break it out for family game night unless you have some open-minded parents who can look past the anime girls and see it for the game.

If you’re a big fan of deck builders then you’ll most likely enjoy this one. As stated, it has a combat system that makes for good pacing later. It is still laid back, but when one of your friends/rivals go to attack the city, you secretly hope that event card they flip over with ruin their turn. But until you reach the combat phases, the games pacing early on may suffer. At the start, nobody will be attacking as it takes time to build up your units and deploy them. The more cards you get the longer it takes to attack and set things up. Each game may take some time to finish, expect a longer playtime than your typical card game.

Despite the flaws that come with the game, it is certainly worth a try for history buffs, card players, and strategist. And if you take the time to roam through the internet, Arclight did have a limited edition set that are Stock Photos. Not the cleanest of pictures with that old camera technology, but at least you’ll not have to explain why there’s a lot of half-naked anime girls on your gaming table.

For More On Barbarossa:
http://www.kamikaze-games.com/

-MCV Driver
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<![CDATA[Rhythm Lives On: Superbeat: XONiC Review]]>Tue, 14 Nov 2017 04:51:07 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/rhythm-lives-on-superbeat-xonic-review
Player(s): 1
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Xbox One, Sony PlayStation 4, Sony PlayStation Vita


The rhythm game genre is oft shoved to the side, which is a shame considering the important sensors it takes advantage of with the player. Rhythm games touch into our coordination, our incessant need to take the challenge of doing the best we can in what we play, our love for unlockables and most importantly, the human desire to enjoy music. Superbeat: XONiC takes all of these standards in the genre and heightens them in a way that helps it stand out from the plethora of rhythm games that exist.
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The art in the game is absolutely fantastic.
As a fair warning, this review is based solely on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. We did a small first impressions bit on the PSVita version which you can read here. As it stands, the Switch has a decent number of rhythm games with varying types of gameplay. XONiC is a sort of spiritual successor to the DJMax series, without the unforgiving difficulty that has followed in that series’ wake.
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The background never impedes what you need to see.
The game makes use of practically all the buttons on the controller, which may sound complex, but actually flows quite well. This is in large part due to the way the screen displays the button cues. The screen is split in two halves, representing the right hand and left hand. Actions representing ‘up’ go on the top and vice versa. For example, if a cue requires you press up on the D buttons, then it will appear in the top left section of the screen. If the action requires you move the right analog stick down, then it will appear on the lower right of the screen. This logical presentation really helps to take away unnecessary learning curve and enable the game to present more challenging scenarios from the get-go. This sounds like the potential for a really painful learning curve, but it really isn’t. It also helps that all of the actions are color-coded, so that you not only associate cue positions with controller button positions, but you also start to mentally associate colors with buttons, thus making it really easy to reflexively do the appropriate action.
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You have plenty of time to react to the cues.
There is a downside to this, though. The game was originally designed for the PSVita, and it clearly shows. There are a lot of quick transitions between buttons and analog movements, which normally wouldn’t be an issue. The problem is that the right analog stick on the Switch is on the bottom of the controller, not top. This means that you’ll be mentally reacting in opposite ways for each hand. This may not seem like a big deal, but when the game depends so heavily on subconscious reflex and coordination as the way for the player to do complex actions, it really ends up becoming difficult to adapt. Even after progressing to level 30 and completing a good amount of the game, I still have random bouts of trying to do an analog action on the buttons or vice versa for the right Joy-Con. You’d think that the ability to play the game with touch screen would solve this issue, but the touch screen actions never seemed to respond properly for me. After spending a lot of time with a different rhythm game called Voez, which is exclusively touch screen, I know that it’s not an issue with the Switch’s sensors, but rather with how the touch detection is programmed. I can’t really think of any effective way to overcome this issue, and this is likely what the developers thought as well. Maybe if the game was made just for the Switch they could have come up with a solution, but being a multiplatform game means they have to try and make everything work as well as possible between systems. Being able to restart songs on a whim without losing progress from previous songs in that set and the fact that the songs are short versions really means that you will get used to it sooner or later without being too intrusive.
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One of the World Tour challenges.
To help this out is the rather forgiving window within which you can do the actions. With how fast and challenging the game can get later on, this is a very welcome way to address this slight time your brain needs to think about the action switch on the right hand. Speaking of difficulty, I really love that the game doesn’t force you into playing the hardest difficulties to unlock a good amount of the content. You can adjust the scroll speed of the cues to your needs without disabling your progression ability. The best part is that you can set this on a song-to-song basis, regardless of the game mode you’re playing. The downside is that your score potential goes up with the faster you set the speed, if you’re looking to get the best possible score.
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The highest rank I've seen is S++.
Speaking of game modes, this is really my main complaint with the game. There are, realistically, only two game modes: Stage and World Tour. In Stage Mode, you select one of 3 difficulties (which adds button presses to the songs, making them more complex) or Free Play, and play through a series of songs of your choice. In World Tour, you play through a pre-set group of songs with pre-set challenge criteria as a goal. You have to play through these songs back to back with the only break being the appearance of the logo for the next song. An example challenge would be to reach a minimum combo of 100 while limiting the vision of action appearances by half. This mode is a lot of fun, and really tests your abilities, but is the only unique mode in the game. Everything else merely involves looking at your unlocks or high scores. It feels like a missed opportunity for more creative modes due to the function of unlocks.
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The portraits aren't just for show, they give you abilities.
Unlocks come in a few forms. There’s the standard new song you can unlock, and then there are aesthetic unlocks such as profile icons. The cool thing about the profile icons is that they also give you special abilities such as increasing your health before failure or increasing the window for a perfect button press. This means that you can actually tailor your abilities to the song, or to your play style in order to try and make up for whatever your greatest weakness might be. This is a great way to allow less skilled players to still enjoy a challenge without completely cutting them off from some of the harder parts of the game. It’s little things like this, which are geared towards accessibility without forcing the more skilled players to lose the challenge factor, that really make XONiC so fantastic.
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If you keep a good combo, you get the score increasing Fever mode.
To even further help the game be playable, is the very aesthetically pleasing presentation. There is just enough flair to keep your senses on edge, without being overwhelming to the point of being distracting as a cheap way to prevent the player from doing well (I’m looking at you, Hatsune Miku series). I’m really impressed that they managed to find such a seamless balance, and it really makes the player feel comfortable even in the tensest situations.
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Every song has a beautiful cover art.
Let’s forget about all that though. You now know that the game plays well, despite its flaws. The most important part besides that is, of course, the songs. It has a good collection of over 60 songs. From my understanding, the songs are a collection of original content along with licensed content. There’s a large variety of genres covered, in multiple languages including English, Spanish, Japanese and Korean. The song selection is very very good, and I’m surprised with how they managed to successfully represent such variety in genre and language while keeping a high standard for quality. Even for the songs that are in genres I’m not usually into, I can happily say were a joy to listen to. Part of this is due to the heightened connection you have with a song by actively playing the game in tune with the song, and the rest of the credit goes to the production quality as well. To top it off, not only can you choose to turn off action noises (noises that happen when you press a button), but there are a ton of action noises to choose from, thanks to many unlockables.
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Gotta get the highest score!
Since the Switch doesn’t accurately record game play time, I am not sure how much time I spent with the game. I can say that I played enough to get a minimum of an S-rank in all songs in the first two difficulties along with completing all World Tour challenges unlocked up to about player level 35. Even at that point, I still feel like there is a lot for me to accomplish before I’ll feel ready to shelve the game, and really helps to lend the game a lot of value. Throw in a leaderboard to fuel the competitive spirit, and the player will be hard-pressed to find much to complain about regarding the volume of content.
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You can set your difficulty and the sounds easily per song.
Superbeat: XONiC is a clear love-letter to rhythm game fans old and new. It manages to present quality music in a novice-friendly environment, while offering plenty of challenge for veterans of the genre as well. Everyone who is looking for a fun rhythm game will find plenty to enjoy out of it. At a $39.99 asking price and available both physically and digitally, this is definitely a game worth checking out.
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42 World Tour challenges to tackle.
NOTE: As mentioned, the entirety of this review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. Only some of the DLC content from earlier versions is included from the get-go, with no indication if the rest will be released later. All the features are the same between versions. The game runs smoothly on all platforms, but the Switch and Vita versions offer the benefit of portability. The Switch also offers the seamless ability to play on the TV without the need to buy any extra hardware, and is easily the highest recommended version of the game by me despite us not being sure about whether we’ll get all the DLC content at some point or not. Ultimately though, get whichever version you prefer. The Nintendo Switch version releases November 21st.

- Teepu

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You're welcome!

Graphics: EXCEPTIONAL
Sound: EXCEPTIONAL
Gameplay: AMAZING
Value: AMAZING

OVERALL: AMAZING


Disclaimer: This game was provided to us from the developer/publisher for the purpose of this review.

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<![CDATA[Tokyo Tattoo Girls Review]]>Mon, 13 Nov 2017 18:24:31 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/tokyo-tattoo-girls-review
Platforms: PC (via Steam), Sony PlayStation Vita
Player(s): 1

Ever want to take on the role of an unnamed Tattoo artist and help a girl conquer the 23 wards of a post-apocalyptic Tokyo? Well then NIS America has the game for you!
Tokyo Tattoo Girls is a game developed by Sushi Typhoon Games (a subsidiary of the legendary Nikkatsu) and published in the US by NIS America. It features six girls who all bear a tattoo that grants them the ability to stand up to the rulers of the 23 wards of Tokyo who also bear tattoos which give them the power to rule this cut-off region of Japan. The game itself is a simple strategy game where you (sometimes) command your partner to do various tasks that help her gain a foothold in the various districts before eventually facing its leader, defeating them, and finally taking it over. You win various items by completing the game each time and you also have several difficulties to try your hand at if you find the core experience too easy. Now this might seem like a very brief description of what this game is, but I've really covered everything this game offers right there. Now let's take a deeper look and see if this one is worth your time.
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Sorry for those expecting that...
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They really do.
Let's start with the story. The story that is here is pretty much as barebones as you can get; it's barely there. We are told via the intro that some nameless calamity destroyed Tokyo and several girls with powerful tattoos arose to bring order to the chaos and currently rule together as "The Syndicate". Apparently this calamity was centralized to Tokyo and the city itself is walled off and the rest of Japan is presumably carrying on as usual. This is all we're really given for the background. The six main characters each have their own reasons for embarking on their journey to unite Tokyo under them and the 23 leaders have their own (sometimes ill-defined) reasons as to why/how they rule their respective districts. While 29 total characters may seem like a lot, there really isn't much more story here and each girl only has four truly unique scenes that help flesh out the story with the 23 leaders not even being given that luxury. Character 30 comes in the way of your avatar, a tattoo artist who wanders into Tokyo to help one of the six girls and is basically given no story at all and only exists as a vehicle to drive the game forward with only the most minimal of interaction from your partner and none at all from the 23 leaders. Also worth noting that this game implies that the area is solely, or at least largely, occupied by girls. Your character is largely left as a blank slate so you can assume what you will about the tattoo artist's gender.
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Just starting out...
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Full tattoos
Now let's talk about gameplay. There is also unfortunately very little to speak of here and that's all the more problematic being that this title falls under the strategy game genre. Your chosen partner starts out with just one small tattoo and your job is to fill up the rest of her back with tattoos that help out various aspects of gameplay, such as recruiting clanswomen and affecting things like your honor (this game's life bar) and such. Each turn is a day and each day sees your partner doing various things like invading neighboring territories, recruiting punks and clanswomen, and receiving protection money. (PM: this game's currency) Besides the aforementioned adding of tattoos, your actions mainly come by way of dealing with issues that might arise from invading territories, collecting random suitcases of protection money, and giving commands to your chosen partner. Now this might sound like your standard strategy fare and in fact I went into the game thinking that. I spent lots of money on actions for my partner that I assumed would help her conquer various districts and promptly lost the game after several turns with no real way to recover my dwindling honor. It was then that I found out that the game will pretty much play itself if you let it and you can just spend protection money on tattoos and the occasional boost to honor as it goes down each time a "turf war" breaks out in a district. (An action caused when you're recruiting too many people in any one area.) Very little happens on screen at all actually. The only true events in-game are when you face a district's leader, everything else is just told to you by your partner. It would have been nice if each of these events, such as an area becoming wary of your interest, you invading a new area, etc., were accompanied by some sort of small animation to break up the monotony of the map screen, but this never happens. The only animation that plays is for a turf war and even these seem to appear sporadically. As long as you keep your honor from dipping too low you can pretty much complete a game without ever truly interfering with your partner's automatic actions. I honestly found that the best way to play is to put the speed on fast and collect protection money only breaking that up to put new tattoos on my partner or complete the versus sequences with the leaders. Speaking of those sequences, these aren't exactly a break from the norm as they are impossible to lose from my experience and the only true variable being that answering a certain question correctly will net you an honor bonus. That is seriously it when it comes to gameplay and I was definitely left wanting a deeper experience. This game also has a random gambling mini-game, but I found it to be a waste of time and honestly ignored it after the first couple plays.
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A typical gameplay scene.
Now is the part where I would usually talk graphics, but I can't find too many words to say about them. Character designs are good, if a little generic, and I share the same sentiment about the backgrounds. Everything looks colorful and nothing truly disappoints, even if it also never truly stands out. There is very little else in the way of graphics as there are very little visualizations or animations going on during the core gameplay moments. Everything works, and while I do like some of the designs, it comes off as a very standard bunch that doesn't try anything too unique beyond the typical anime tropes.
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Pretty much the only reason to keep playing tbh.
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That's too bad...
Let's talk characters, because some of you might be thinking that maybe one should look at this game as a type of visual novel and less like a strategy game. Now I wish that were the case, but I honestly can't let it off the hook using that reasoning. The characters here are a somewhat interesting mix of stereotypes from your average cat-girl Tama, to Choufu, who aspires to be an actress and several other types in-between. As stated earlier, each of the six girls have their own reasons for trying to conquer the 23 districts and while we do see some characterization from the girls it's often very sporadic and extremely one-note. Also many of the character's motivations aren't even given resolution at the end of the game. Not in a "this was left open-ended on purpose" way, but a more "oops, we forgot to wrap up that plotline" sort of way. The bosses of each area get even less characterization as you do not interact with them at all except before and after your "fight" sequence. More interaction in the main game might have been interesting or even a simple introduction as to who they are before you fight them. It is worth noting that each of the six girls do have different interactions with these leaders and while there are some variations in the interactions depending on the character, such as different insights here and there and references to prior relationships, but they're rather insignificant and don't serve to flesh out a mostly uninteresting lot. Now this doesn't mean that it's all bad. I found some of the boss characters, like those of Shibuya and Shinjuku, to be mostly funny and some characters like Choufu and Tachikawa have more than their share of interesting moments, but these were more the exception than the norm. The problem core problem here is that there is very little actual "game" present be it as a strategy game or as a visual novel. Once you've finished a playthrough with a girl you've literally seen everything their route has to offer.
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As far as I can tell you can NEVER lose one of these.
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You rarely see these chibi models elsewhere sadly.
Replayability is apparently where this game puts a lot of its focus. I looked into the trophy/achievement lists before playing and I was surprised to see trophies referring to beating the game eight times with each girl as well as completing each difficulty level. I assumed this meant that there would be some sort of New Game+ aspect or maybe a variation on each playthrough, but there really isn't. Besides beating the game on each difficulty for various items that decorate the girl's room (a very underused mechanic might I add that only adds other boosts similar to new tattoos) there is very little reason to keep playing once you finish a playthrough besides for said achievements/trophies. That being said, I will admit that the game did grow on me a bit and I played through the entire game several times with each of the girls, but the latter playthroughs were played on the highest speed with me skipping most of the conversations. You also get rated after each playthrough and collect a gallery of the pictures you get from each interaction with the bosses so there are other reasons to keep playing, but very little to keep any but the most hardcore achievement hoarder form playing beyond the first couple hours. Also for those hoping to unlock some sort of final story that wraps everything up by beating the game with every girl on every difficulty you are unfortunately mistaken as doing this nets you nothing special. I know that that might be counted as a spoiler, but I feel that it's important enough to mention as I wasted quite a bit of time doing this for this review.
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The scenes in Shinjuku are my favorite bar none.
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Masked Sumida is probably my favorite boss.
For this review I played both the PS Vita and Steam versions and I expected very little differences between the two besides some interface changes, but I was wrong. I would be giving this game a much harsher rating if I had only played the Vita version as it is plagued by very annoying loading times (I hated entering the partner screens as each one had a loading sequence) and was nearly unplayable at because of both their frequency and length. It also suffered occasionally from slowdown even though very little was happening on screen. The Steam port on the other hand has neither of these problems and ran very smoothly. What's odd is that this PC port is exclusive to this US release and otherwise is barely optimized for the platform. (The title screen still says "Press Start" for example) I liked the idea of using touch controls on the Vita since this game seemed like it lent itself well to them, so having those absent from the PC release was a minor letdown, but I still feel that this is the only way to get any real enjoyment out of this game. It should also be noted that while playing during the review period both version had glitched trophies/achievements and while game received several updates before release (including one on release day) I still experienced problems. Perhaps these will be fixed in a later update, but it is worth mentioning here.
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Different choices don't affect much sadly...
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It's actually not all that hard to get an S Rank
In short while I did find some enjoyment with this title I honestly can't wholeheartedly suggest that you check out this game, and I can't recommend this game at all for those looking for a good strategy game. If you want a collect-a-thon with visual novel elements though then this game might be for you. That said I strongly suggest that you forego the Vita version and go Steam if you really must experience this title for yourself.

-Manuel (alavic_222)

The game is available now on PS Vita and Steam. More information on where you can get the game can be found on its official website:
http://nisamerica.com/games/tokyo-tattoo-girls/

Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Gameplay: QUESTIONABLE
Value: GOOD

OVERALL: GOOD

Disclaimer: This game was provided to us by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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<![CDATA[Two Cute Girls and a Monster Threat: Sakura Agent Review]]>Tue, 24 Oct 2017 01:00:41 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/two-cute-girls-and-a-monster-threat-sakura-agent-review
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Platform(s): PC (via Steam)
Player(s): 1


Visual Novels are an odd duck. Sometimes they have fantastic stories and are phenomenal and sometimes they are merely tools for delivering fan service to the readers. Sakura Agent is somewhere in the middle, being one of Winged Cloud’s better visual novels that I’ve gone through.

WARNING: This review is based on the complete version of Sakura Agent, and as such will contain some nudity in the screenshots and I will openly talk about these scenes. For your convenience, I’ve hidden these images behind buttons and have clearly marked the section where I talk about it. You have been warned.
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No chill with those tentacle monsters, eh?
The story starts off already a little more exciting than the VNs I’ve had experience with. Rather than having the main character be a helpless plain person who gets thrust into the thick of things, Akira is an agent of a secret organization who is the best of his kind. The organization fights off alien threats and makes sure the public doesn’t know about the threats, something akin to the Men In Black. The organization’s agents are mostly made up of people with special powers who help fight off these monsters. The thing that makes Akira special is that he has no powers. He’s just really skilled with a gun and can be crafty, which has helped him climb the ladder as an agent. The problem is that he can be a bit lazy and sometimes unreliable, which has resulted in him having a ‘caretaker’ who is essentially there to babysit him and shadow him to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.
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Just because she's a good agent doesn't mean she's a good cook.
Enter Kimiko. A gorgeous partner to Akira who essentially acts like a playful partner more than a watcher. Her power is the ability to make objects with her mind, essentially allowing her to make any weapon she needs at any time if she concentrates hard enough. Their relationship with each other is amusing and fun and gave me many good laughs throughout the VN. It never felt forced and was quite well-written, which is a lot of praise for a company who tends to pump out mediocre writing in favor of pretty art. That’s not to say the art isn’t pretty. The backgrounds, while lacking in variety a little, are overall designed well and the two characters you meet are unique and well-drawn.
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That's one way to get noticed I suppose...
Speaking of two characters, as you continue in the story you’ll also meet Masumi. While Kimiko is the calm, collected and efficient model agent, Masumi is the opposite. She’s a fresh recruit who comes from a small town, doesn’t know how to interact with people in a big city and has some odd behaviors (such as getting naked and painting her body). Her power is super strength, and her untrained skill shows as she tends to have a lot of collateral and has poor form. The agency doesn’t trust Akira yet, and decides the best way to test him is to give him Masumi as his apprentice.
With that story setup, the plot progresses as these three fight to figure out what is causing the breaches that these monsters are coming through, with some relationship development along the way. As you continue, there is no real gameplay. That being said, you are given some decisions along the way, with the only benefit being that you’ll unlock some extra scenes, all of which are suggestive and add almost nothing to the plot. Sometimes the scenes are silly, and despite the suggestiveness of them you’ll still get amusement out of them, while others are obviously there for the purpose of having an excuse to give the reader some nude art of the two characters.
- NSFW SECTION STARTS HERE -



This is a common problem I have noticed as a whole in many visual novels, where nudity and sex scenes are forced in merely for the sake of giving people something to gawk at. It’s unfortunate that Sakura Agent is no different. Most of the scenes feel completely out of place. For example, there is a scene where you have to go rescue Kimiko after being captured. She’s tied up with a rope that is suppressing her power, and thus she’s naked. The explanation for this is that she doesn’t actually wear clothes, but that they’re conjured. So the rope is preventing her from having clothes. Ok, this explanation I can deal with and is perfectly fine. The problem is that in the middle of the rescue, completely out of the blue and out of character, she says she’s thinking about a fantasy and asks Akira to masturbate in front of her and release his load all over her. If her character was being developed in this way, this wouldn’t be a problem, but it isn’t. Throughout the VN she’s made out as being romantically interested in Akira but never willing to rush into things, so this sudden change of heart makes no sense in the context of the rest of the story. This is how most of the sex scenes play out, and it’s really jarring to the narrative as a whole. There are maybe one or two scenes max that actually make sense and work out well, but the rest are all misplaced and odd. It makes sense for Akira, since he’s always thinking dirty thoughts internally, but it makes little sense for the two girls.



​- NSFW SECTION ENDS HERE -
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Guess which choice leads to a naughty scene.
On the flip side, most of these scenes can be skipped. As I mentioned, they carry little to no relevance to the plot, so you don’t miss anything by skipping them. To make the situation even more acceptable, the scenes aren’t even in the VN to begin with, nor is any nudity. You actually have to download the 18+ patch from here in order to be able to enable that content. So on the one hand, none of that content is forced, and the visual novel flows well in the censored version. On the other hand, if you’re a completionist and want to see every piece of dialogue and get all the gallery unlocks then you’ll have to download the patch. If you’re into that and want the scenes for your viewing pleasure, then you’re a winner. I do appreciate that it’s not forced on the reader though, which definitely makes the integrity of the narrative stronger. Think of the explicit scenes as ‘bonus’ scenes that are only there for people who care about it. I give Winged Cloud props on that.
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One of the most adorable shots in the game.
The narrative progresses along quite nicely and has a pretty satisfying conclusion. The bigger problems I have with the VN are two-fold. There is no voice acting at all. Winged Cloud had made over a dozen VNs by the time Sakura Agent was released, so there’s hardly excuse for that. The other issue I have with it has two sides. The first, is that there are only three characters. The other people you have slight interactions with are generic with generic names and really takes away from the experience. The writers did a reasonable job of keeping the story engaging with a focus on the three, but there are times when they interact with others and these ‘characters’ feel like empty shells. Something as simple as giving them names to make them feel more real would have made a world of difference, but alas this isn’t done. The second is that Akira, who is similar to most VN male mains, has no face. If you’re going to try and make the main character be a reflection of the reader to be more engaging, then the reader should be given more choices throughout the story in order to make it more personal. This isn’t the case. Akira has a decent amount of personality and feels like a unique character, and as such should have been given character art, but wasn’t.
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The scene where Kimiko opens up emotionally is one of the best.
Besides these issues, Sakura Agent is a pretty solid story. It took me 5-6 hours to get through the whole thing and unlock all the achievements, which isn’t too bad at the $9.99 asking price. It’s a good sign that Winged Cloud has been learning how to make a compelling visual novel. It’s nowhere near perfect, and there are definitely better visual novels out there, but if you like the Sakura series’ artwork and would like a more satisfying narrative than their earlier works, Sakura Agent is not a bad way to go.

- Teepu


Gameplay/Story: GREAT
Sound: GOOD
Graphics: GREAT
Value: AMAZING

OVERALL: GREAT


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<![CDATA[Bonding With Monsties: Monster Hunter Stories Review]]>Fri, 20 Oct 2017 20:05:50 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/bonding-with-monsties-monster-hunter-stories-review
Players: 1-2
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS


The Monster Hunter franchise has long been known for giving the player the ability to work together with friends in hunting crazy and intimidating beasts. In Monster Hunter Stories, this entire concept is flipped on its head.
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Somebody doesn't look happy!
Monster Hunter Stories is a game that is about forging bonds with monsters, rather than killing and hunting them. This spin-off is quite different from the rest of the franchise, playing more like a Pokémon-like take on the franchise in the form of a turn-based RPG and monster collecting. Things start peacefully enough, with your custom made hero living at home, working hard at becoming what’s known as a Rider. The initiation ceremony is coming up and you’re off with friends trying to find your own personal egg. Things come to a head, disaster strikes, friends part ways and you go on a quest to discover the cause for what’s called the Blight: a sort of curse that is causing monsters to act uncharacteristically hostile.

The story is relatively simple, but engaging enough to keep you going. It’s clear from the start that this game was geared towards kids, since none of the slightly deeper features are ever needed for progression. It wasn’t until after beating the game that I discovered there was also a tie-in anime released for kids, solidifying my thoughts. Don’t let the kiddy exterior fool you though. Under the relatively simple game and fairly silly and cookie-cutter story is a genuinely enjoyable game.

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One of the many beautifully designed areas.
The first thing I noticed was that the beautiful Monster Hunter aesthetic is displayed wonderfully in Stories. The monster designs are as fun as ever, the towns and characters are creative and colorful and the detail is phenomenal considering the hardware limitations. There are, of course, sometimes noticeable low-quality textures and sometimes barren landscapes, but overall things look very good. It helps that the animations are fantastic in and out of battle as well. Couple that with plenty of well-done music and sound effects and you have a game with some of the best aesthetic I’ve seen in a 3DS game. My biggest complaint is that the 3D mode is mediocre. I feel like they didn’t work too hard on making the depth detection good, since it’s barely passable. This is especially disappointing since the main Monster Hunter series usually offers a pretty solid 3D mode.

As you walk around, riding your Monstie and taking in the sights, you’ll notice that the game controls are entirely designed for the Circle Pad Pro. You use the Circle Pad to control movement and the D-pad to control the camera. This means it’s nigh impossible to control both at the same time. With a CPP the camera control is delegated to the right Circle Pad, making things far more intuitive. You can use the L or R buttons to rotate the camera, but having free range movement can be important when looking for paths, secrets and especially when you’re flying. If you are playing on the New 3DS models, then you have nothing to worry about with its built in right Circle Pad. In battle, the controls are quite simple, and can be done with touch screen or with buttons. It really only consists of selecting attacks with the occasional interactive battle segment. Due to some of the ways the monsters move the controls can be a little clunky, but this was a minor annoyance in an otherwise easy to control game.

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This Tigrex isn't very nice.
Since we’re on the subject of battles, let’s talk combat. The combat runs on a literal rock-paper-scissor format. You have three attack types: technical, power and speed. Technical trumps speed trumps power trumps technical. If you and the enemy happen to be targeting each other, then you get pitted in a head-to-head battle. If you two used the same attack type, then damage is dealt normally. If not, then the one with the winning attack type overwhelms the loser, minimizing the loser’s attack while increasing their own. If both you and your Monstie happen to target the same enemy and win the head-to-head, then you neutralize the enemy completely for a turn. As you progress the fight you fill up a Kinship meter, which allows you to ride your Monstie in the fight giving you the ability to perform a really powerful attack before dismounting. Your Monstie chooses attacks seemingly randomly, with only a semblance of intelligence. Not having control over your Monstie is the biggest frustration of the game, since often they’ll do something really dumb repeatedly forcing you into healing duty rather than combat duty.

It’s a relatively simple system and easy to grasp. As you do side quests and level up, you unlock special abilities for both you and your Monstie. These can cause status conditions or other interesting effects in battle, at the cost of some of your Kinship meter. You can actually control your Monstie by telling it what special skill to use, but since this removes Kinship level rather than raises it, it’s not often you’ll find yourself doing this. To add fuel to the fire, if your Monstie uses a special skill on its own, it doesn’t cost any Kinship. It’s a rather nice system, which is only marred by the stupidity of your partner’s AI. Even with that annoyance, I rarely had any real problems in the game. You can, of course, also use items in combat, flee or switch your active Monstie with any of the others in your party. The complexity doesn’t really have any importance to the game unless you decide to dabble in multiplayer.

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The different equipment usually is designed based on a specific monster.
In the multiplayer mode, the rules change a little. The only way you can target the opponent Rider is through your Monstie. Riders themselves can only target the active Monstie. This forces a bit of strategy, and also allows for some more creative uses of items that you won’t necessarily experiment with in the game’s main story. Even though there are 100+ Monsties to choose from, there are only a handful of higher tiered creatures that are really viable in multiplayer since the rest are fairly weak. The multiplayer mode is turned into a novelty as a result, rather than a truly fun and competitive feature as it should have been.

As you explore the world of Monster Hunter Stories, you can enter randomly spawned and generated Monster Dens. At the end of each den you will get to a nest where you can acquire a semi-random monster egg, and is how you get new Monsties. Luckily, the dens aren’t very long so it never feels like a chore going on a hunt for a new buddy. While you’re doing all this you can gather materials to use for crafting items or for upgrading the tons of different gear you can get. Money is only handed out through the tons of side quests you can do. There are a lot of them, and they are extremely repetitive. There’s only about 4-5 different types of quests you can do, and it gets old fast. The side quests feel like nothing more than filler added for the sole purpose of creating an artificial extension of the play time. If they had cut down the number of side quests by about half, it would have been far more reasonable. The thing is, you need lots of money if you want to acquire and upgrade all the equipment in the game.

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RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!
Upon beating the game, you’ll find a couple of extra quest lines to tackle that offer ample challenge for you, as well as a handful of new monsters to hatch. This helps add some value to the game after completion, without being overwhelming. Another positive point is that the DLC is all completely free, and there’s a bit of it. Half of it is cosmetic stuff, but the other half is special targets to defeat that end in new equipment. The most interesting is the one that involves a Zelda themed weapon and Link’s horse Epona as a usable monster. To add to that, there’s 100 hidden Poogie’s around the game for you to find, giving you plenty to do outside of the main story.

Monster Hunter Stories is stock full of content, filler and otherwise. It took me about 60 hours just to get through most of the main set of subquests, DLC subquests and main story. I’m currently working on perfecting a party for tackling the bonus content you get after beating the game, and figure I’ll put another 5-10 hours in before I’m done with it. There’s also an achievement system that’ll make people happy who are into it. By the time I finished the game with my relatively thorough play style, I had finished 70 out of the 100 total achievements. I have been completely satisfied with the amount of things there are to do in the game, and feel like I got way more than my money’s worth. There’s even amiibo support, though it doesn’t do much outside of giving you random items. If you import the extremely cute Monster Hunter Stories amiibo that only released in Japan for some reason, you can unlock some Monsties that coincide with the characters and focus a little on the anime aesthetic.

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A lot of familiar faces for franchise veterans.
If you’re a fan of the Monster Hunter series, and are looking for a similar experience you probably will want to go elsewhere. While a lot of the monster’s conventions and patterns are retained and the aesthetic is entirely Monster Hunter, the game at its core is a completely different beast. If you want something that’s different, but enjoy the Monster Hunter universe, then this is a fantastic diversion to enjoy while we wait for Monster Hunter World to launch. If you don’t even care about Monster Hunter, but enjoy the idea of a relatively approachable monster collecting RPG that isn’t Pokémon, this is a fantastic choice. The best part is that if you’re on the fence, there’s a demo you can download that includes the first chapter in its entirety, and allows you to continue into the main game if you purchase it. It’s what I did, and it worked for me. I don’t regret a single minute I put into Monster Hunter Stories, and I look forward to many more hours as I work towards getting all the achievements.

- Teepu


Graphics: AMAZING
Sound: AMAZING
Gameplay: AMAZING
Value: EXCEPTIONAL

OVERALL: AMAZING



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<![CDATA[A Unique Entry In The Pokémon Franchise: Pokémon Duel Review]]>Thu, 19 Oct 2017 01:30:25 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/a-unique-entry-in-the-pokemon-franchise-pokemon-duel-review
Players: 1-2
Platforms: Android, iOS, Kindle Fire


What happens when you take a classic franchise like Pokémon and turn it into a sort of board game for mobile devices? Pokémon Duel is what happens! Pokémon Duel is an odd Psyduck. It takes some very different and unrelated concepts and mashes them together. The first is the Pokémon theme. You collect figures in the form of board pieces, representing various Pokémon from every generation. The connection to Pokémon pretty much stops there though.

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Each tower represents another leg in the story.
At its heart, this is a simple board game where you have to try and navigate your pieces to the opponent’s goal before they get to yours. You are allowed a party of 6, and can only move one piece at a time. Each piece has a certain number of spaces it can move, so you need to plan accordingly in order to work to block the opponent while trying to move your way to the goal. The big dynamic is in the form of combat. When two pieces are adjacent you can spin a wheel which has various attacks on it, each one doing different things and having different priorities based on the individual figure. If you win the combat, the opponent’s piece gets knocked into their bench, or vice versa. The attacks share names and similar functionality with the main Pokémon games in a way appropriate to this board game format. There are no weaknesses or resistances to worry about though, so you can pick your party based on a combination of attacks and what you like, without having to worry about type matchups and balancing.
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Each tower has consecutively more battles to tackle.
At first, I was a little bummed at this missed opportunity to pull from a core Pokémon mechanic, but as I got deeper and deeper into the game I really learned to appreciate the choices on the part of the developers. It allows for just enough emphasis on strategy to be fun without adding too much complexity to scare away the type of casual player that is attracted to mobile games. It’s quite a clever balance, to be honest.
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That poor, poor Bidoof.
That leads me to the third main concept of the game: mobile gaming. The game tells you every time you boot up that you can play through the game without spending a dime, which is mostly true. Like most every mobile game, you can spend money or gems (gems can be earned through gameplay) to open booster boxes which will contain new figures. When dueling other people, you will be hard-pressed to make much progress without at least a mediocre team, which means you’ll find yourself spending at least a small out of money from the start to get a good starting party. This isn’t necessary, if you play through story mode, which not everybody will do. Still, thanks to the relatively crafty strategy and the touch of luck that’s imbued in the game, even with a low-end party you could find yourself making it far if you play smart and have some luck on your side. In the store, you can also spend coins and other currency to get items called plates, which are items that can be used once per battle when put in your deck to give you a special power. To me, this all felt reasonably fair. I went through about a third of the campaign before tackling multiplayer, at which point I had won enough gems to acquire a formidable team. I haven’t been back to the campaign since. There is also a stamina meter that depletes with each game you play, though I never sat down long enough per session to ever use it up. If you are looking to play for a while though, that could get annoying and will cost you your resources to replenish. It’s these mobile elements that hurt the game a bit, even if I feel they are (mostly) executed pretty fairly. Maybe this is just my bias against the way the mobile gaming environment is currently setup, but it still left a slightly sour taste in my mouth.
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Crossing my fingers for a good spin!
Speaking of campaign, the story mode is pretty light on story. There are some fun characters and a slightly intriguing story, but nothing complex enough to write home about. I’m about halfway through myself, and am enjoying it enough to continue playing it gradually. At this point I can’t be too motivated out of continuing since playing against other players is more interesting to me. The real fun, though, is in the online matches. There are two modes outside of event modes for multiplayer: League and Room. The League is a tiered ranked system, where you will face the best players. I’ve made it up to the fifth tier myself, and have noticed that the player base per tier is balanced fairly well. I’ve never felt, in any tier, that I was overwhelmed in an unfair way by the opponent when I lost. The other mode, Room Match, is a combination of unranked (even though it has its own ranking level) and private matches. You can create a lobby and password so that friends can play, or just keep the game open so anybody can challenge you. It’s a good place to practice tactics without facing major repercussions to your standing, or to just have some casual fun.
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Pikachu isn't joking around.
To add to the mobile element are Time Boosters, which you acquire from League matches. These are booster boxes with varying quality figures depending on how well you played your match. It takes a certain amount of time to unlock these, so you want to set the timer to start as soon as you get them. I’ve seen them start at 1 hour to as long as 24 hours. It’s a nice way to get figures for free, though having to wait is a superficial way to force players to keep coming back. The game is good enough that this sort of tactic isn’t needed, but they felt like they needed to follow standard mobile game conventions, I suppose. There’s also Daily Missions you can do for small bonuses. Three can be done per day, and usually only takes a couple matches to complete. The requirements range from viewing featured duels to playing a league match to fusing figures.
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Having more pieces on the board doesn't always mean victory.
Fusion is the main way to level up and improve your figures. You gain a little experience from battle, but it’s usually negligible, especially at higher levels. You can consume figures or special levelling cubes in order to add XP to your base figure to level it up. This gives you the opportunity to expand an attack’s space on the wheel of your choice, while lowering the space that a ‘Miss’ space will take up. It doesn’t give you a huge advantage, which means you have the freedom to experiment with different Pokémon often, but it does give that slight edge that could make a difference in higher level play. Evolutions are also part of the gameplay, which I liked. Unfortunately, it isn’t really explained properly, so you just have to experiment on your own to figure out how it works. This surprised me, since the rest of the game is explained pretty well.
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Eevee managed to win with greater attack.
As you can see, the game is reasonably complex under its simple cover. This is what attracts me to the game as a whole. Being a person who doesn’t really play mobile games due to pay walls and time walls, I’ve found myself playing Pokémon Duel quite a bit, even so long after release. The art for the figures is nice, the sound and music are acceptable and the gameplay is fun as heck. My main complaints are mostly in the form of the mobile conventions which are implemented. Thankfully, I never felt like they really got in the way. I would have liked a variety of game boards, rather than the single one used for all matches, but I can see how having a universal game board allows for simpler balancing.
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A great pull that's served me well since the start.
In the end, Pokémon Duel is a mobile game I didn’t expect to like, but ended up falling in love with. If you’re looking for a little bit of simple yet strategic fun out of a game that you can play with or without others, then this is definitely worth downloading. Having a Pokémon coat of paint only sweetens the deal.

- Teepu

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<![CDATA[No Such Thing as Too Many Kirbys: Kirby Battle Royale coming January 2018!]]>Wed, 18 Oct 2017 01:14:28 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/no-such-thing-as-too-many-kirbys-kirby-battle-royale-coming-january-2018
You can never have enough Kirbys. They're so cute and round and lovable and extremely powerful. Thankfully, Nintendo is also aware of this, and is giving us Kirby overload with Kirby Battle Royale for the 3DS!
The game centers on a Kirby-centric tournament, with both single and multiplayer modes, both online and local. Copy abilities old and new abound in the game, giving players more ways than ever to bring the pain as their favorite pink puffball.
Kirby Battle Royale is slated for release January 19th, 2018! Keep an eye out for more information as the game draws near!

-Janette G
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<![CDATA[All the Best Mario Party Games in One Place! Mario Party: The Top 100 Coming Soon!]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 03:24:15 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/all-the-best-mario-party-games-in-one-place-mario-party-the-top-100-coming-soon
If you've played a Mario Party game, then you probably have a favorite mini game, if not several. I know this, you know this, Nintendo know this, and the newest Mario Party game for the 3DS probably has it!
Mario Party: The Top 100 brings the best minigames to the 3DS, and with local Download Play, up to 4 people can play together with only one game cartridge!
Mario Party: The Top 100 will be out November 10th, 2017, just in time for all your holiday get togethers! Keep an eye out on http://marioparty100.nintendo.com/ for more information.

-Janette G
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<![CDATA[Super Mario Odyssey is Almost Upon Us]]>Wed, 11 Oct 2017 03:00:16 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/super-mario-odyssey-is-almost-upon-us
If there’s one thing we can count on out of the Super Mario series, it’s that every console release in the series will take some kind of bold risk with the franchise, assuring that we get a fresh take and are never left playing the same game.
The Super Mario series has come a long way since its inception on the NES as one of the 2D platforming genre’s most influential and important games to this day. First Mario developed various abilities over the course of his 2D adventures, then boldly jumped into a sandbox-style 3D world in Super Mario 64. Later, we got out worlds turned into literal worlds, where we explored on multiple mini-planets causing our perception to be tested in Super Mario Galaxy.
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Bowser has never looked spiffier!
Now, in Super Mario Odyssey for the Nintendo Switch, we will explore another sandbox-style game using the unique abilities of his new cap. Namely, the ability to ‘capture’ things and thus become those things. Between Cappy’s crazy abilities, worlds filled with secrets and surprises, a co-op mode and more, we can expect to have a grand time.
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Being able to capture a T-Rex is speaking to our inner child.
The best part of all this? Super Mario Odyssey is slated for an October 27 release on the Nintendo Switch, meaning we don’t have much longer to wait before we can enjoy what looks like another timeless Mario adventure. While you wait, check out the trailer below and a bunch of cool pics that gives us a peek into what’s to come. I’ll see y’all in New Donk City!

- Teepu



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<![CDATA[Preview for NIS America's Cult Title Yomawari: Midnight Shadows]]>Sun, 08 Oct 2017 03:12:09 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/october-07th-2017
NIS America has followed up the 2016’s cult horror hit Yomawari: Night Alone with Yomawari: Midnight Shadows aka, 「新夜回り」in Japanese, with two brand new girls, Yui and Haru, to the night and the spirits who haunt it. Separated by a mysterious attacker, each girl will explore haunting and bizarre locations, face the terrors of the night, and test their courage and wits to survive and reconnect with one another.
Key Features Include:

Complete Town to Explore
- The girls test their courage against the night! Travel through the nightmarish town to find one another! Traveling through abandoned homes, traverse through mountains, explore junkyards, and much more!
 
Two Different Views of the Darkness - Search the darkness as Yomawari: Midnight Shadows characters, Yui and Haru to gather clues and/or to save the other from a series of unfortunate events!
Horrors, Oddities, and Mysteries - Japanese spirits that come to life, as you encounter horror birthed through nightmares, oddities that will make you question what is real, and mysteries that will keep you up at night!
 
“The dark is no place to be alone”.
 
NIS America released a bone chilling trailer for their latest hit in the cult series Yomawari: Midnight Shadows. Please check it out:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvEhQ624-2A
 
For more information check below:
http://nisamerica.com/games/yomawari-midnight-shadows
 
-光る
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