Hell’s bells!

Video Game Review
Poison Control
Nintendo Switch

Saviors of Sapphire Wings/Stranger of Sword City Revisited
Nintendo Switch

Immortals Fenyx Rising
Nintendo Switch

NIPPON Ichi Software’s Poison Control hits all the check marks of a standard game from the Japanese developer and publisher. It’s got fun characters, a nice art style, and a witty story to wrap it all up. Blend all these together inside a third-person shooter cum role-playing game hybrid, and you have the makings of an extremely interesting game, with a lot of personality. After all, what other game throws you in hell to clean it all up?

In Poison Control, you’re tasked with the impossible idea of getting out of hell, a goal possible only by purifying the various delusions called “Belle’s Hells” into reality. Each of these Hells are created by strong, negative emotions. It’s only by going inside of them and cleaning them of “poison” that you can eventually find a way to escape, as each conquered hell earns you a ticket for your effort. Enough of these tickets can send you to Heaven, and from there, be able to make a wish to set you free from your bondage. It won’t be easy, though, as you’ll need to sweep up toxic pools of poison, shoot down the denizens living inside each fantasy, and even have to tread carefully around your sidekick Poisonette. It’s only by doing all of this that you can be cleansed of these delusions, and, in so doing, be able to escape hell as well.

The concept of Poison Control borders on the ridiculous, but the premise of the game holds up well. Its nonsensical parts are kept in check by each of the Belle’s Hells you have to conquer, and there’s enough substance in there to keep you going. Each Belle’s Hell is its own persona; it has its own narrative, objectives, and conclusions attached to it, offering uniqueness in spades, especially when complemented by the various enemies and obstacles you have to face. Rounding these stories together is the tale of your own plight. Here, Poisonette serves as both helper and hindrance in your quest to escape, and it’s surprising how well its plot can craft an interesting but uneasy partnership.

Fanservice moments aside, Poison Control‘s cutesy attitude hides an overall engaging story, one that’s reliant on trust and mistrust to carry its message through. When paired with the game’s great art style and addictive music, it’s only natural to fall in love with the narrative, which, happily, does not disappoint. It’s decidedly over the top — sometimes serious, sometimes silly, but always fun to parse through.

To be sure, story isn’t the only thing that propels Poison Control. It is, at heart, half visual novel, half RPG, and just like any good third-person shooter, you’ll be doing a lot of sniping. The movement and shooting controls are fairly standard, primarily focused on dancing around enemies and avoiding fusillades of shots. You can return fire with your own weapons, and there is a fair amount of different weapon types to get your hands on. You’ll be able to equip antidotes and catalysts to buff your stats, not to mention arm yourself with new kits and abilities that can affect how you approach combat. You can even talk to your partner-in-hell Poisonette to give you some extra insight into her character.

Above all else, what makes Poison Control stand out is in how it manages to meld its pluses together so that it becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Shooting and dodging might be a simple affair, but the levels are crafted with poisonous terrain in mind, and stepping on one not only slows you down but also damages you over time. Ridding yourself of poison, though, gives you some helpful benefits, and even lands a free hit on enemies that stand on it, so you’ll find yourself juggling between cleansing the poison and shooting down enemies.

It’s the edge-of-seat decision making that keeps Poison Control interesting, and you’ll soon find yourself instinctively dancing between enemies, mowing them down with your shots, and taking a breather by skating through the poison. The game does this type of gameplay loop so well that it just naturally clicks and becomes addicting and addictive, especially when it isn’t afraid to throw some tougher enemies and weirder level designs at you.

Which is not to say Poison Control is perfect. The gameplay mechanics are fairly solid, but the constancy of encounters admittedly engenders a been there, done that vibe. Towards the latter half of the game, it’s hard for you not to feel like there was something missing to spice things up, as if just one more new mechanic or item could be for the better. If anything, its pacing is its biggest flaw; even as the story is invariably entertaining, its mechanics can feel repetitive after a few hours, when its outstanding level and enemy design is hard-pressed to offset familiarity.

For anyone who’s a big fan of good stories and NIS’ trademark cute designs and music, Poison Control is charming enough to keep you entertained all the way to the end. Its action RPG elements will tide you over between major story segments, and when that starts to get boring, the game’s writing can make up for it with significantly dramatic moments. At the end of the day, its story drives it – more story driven than third-person shooter, and that’s not an entirely bad thing. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who love its flavor, it’s one that won’t disappoint.

THE GOOD:

Great story, good art style, and nice music to enjoy throughout

Excellent gameplay mechanics

Multiple endings to play through

THE BAD:

Can get tedious and repetitive in the latter half

Somewhat lacking in enemy and stage variety

Occasional glitches and optimization issues

RATING: 9/10

POSTSCRIPT:

Games like Etrian Odyssey, Shin Megami Tensei, and Legend of Grimrock prove that while first-person dungeon crawler RPGs come from a niche genre, there’s still a very dedicated fanbase looking for them. While the market isn’t bustling with these titles, there’re still a lot of good ones to pick from, with two of them being NIS’ Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City Revisited. The entertaining mixes of JRPG and adventure have a lot on offer; from its beautiful art style to its interesting gameplay, they present a good blend of accessible gameplay features with deep, engaging, and ultimately enjoyable combat and narrative.

The premise of Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City Revisited are simple. Create your own party of daring adventurers, deck them out into unique classes of your choice, and unleash them into the world. They’ll fight monsters, explore dungeons, use skills, and even bond with one another, and, once powered up to fullest potential, save the world from what evils lay in wait to threaten its existence.

That’s the primary gameplay of Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City Revisited in a nutshell, and while it’s standard for dungeon crawlers, the features do stand out. There’s a wide variety of classes to experience, with each having its own unique strengths and drawbacks. Characters can form bonds with one another to boost their effectiveness, take different row positions to maximize their strengths, and even customize their ability progression, lending you a small degree of freedom in how each operates. Equipment also goes a long way into determining their effectiveness, and the games will have you running from dungeon to dungeon in an effort to maximize your gear. And that’s not talking about the base combat mechanics either. With lots of buffs, status ailments, debuffs to manage, and a simple elemental system to master, it’s “cookie cutter,” but all good fun, especially when enhanced by the capacity to repeat actions or skip animations entirely to cut down on the grind time.

And, make no mistake, grinding is really what you’ll be doing for most of Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City Revisited. You explore, you level up, you sell trash, you acquire new loot, and you do it all over again until you’re strong enough to face the boss. It’s evidently time-consuming, but you’ll find yourself losing track of the hours as you traipse through dark hallways and musty corridors. The epic monsters you face, the well-designed backgrounds, and the engaging combat all serve to keep you occupied through your playtime, and even well-beyond that if you’re in the mood for some well-designed dungeon-crawling fun. The gameplay style doesn’t change much, but the music does, and it’s pretty good, too. Stranger of Sword City Revisited‘s fantastical, melancholic music melding with its faster paced boss pieces serves a stark contrast to the Saviors of Sapphire Wings‘ much cooler, composed tracks. Moving from one game to the other really serves to highlight the contrast, and gives each its own distinct personality.

If there has to be anything to knock the twin releases for, it’s that the base games are honestly not very difficult. Unlike their contemporaries, Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City Revisited‘s game designs aren’t the cruel and unusual types you’d find in some of the older dungeon crawlers veterans of the genre. What curve balls exist in the games are more than manageable, and what mistakes you make in the process can be made up for with surprising leniency. At no point do the games ever feel truly challenging, and while it’s easy to appreciate their fairness, restraint, and, most tellingly, lack of instantaneous deaths, they can just feel a little too easy sometimes. It lacks a sense of urgency inherently important in games like these, as without it, much of the tension and enjoyment of exploring goes away. They do try to challenge you, but not for long, and without much of a fight.

In sum, if you’re looking for an accessible dungeon crawler with solid JRPG elements, good Quality of Life features and interesting environmental and enemy designs, then the Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City Revisited bundle is a decidedly good buy. It might be missing the challenges posed by the harsher, more serious dungeon crawlers in the genre, but it features solid mechanics, and should prove more than enough to keep the vast majority of gamers entertained.

THE GOOD:

Great artwork, design, and soundtrack

Accessible and easy to understand dungeon-crawling

Plenty of game time to run through, and most of it enjoyable due to QoL features that mitigate frustration

THE BAD:

Customization isn’t as flexible

Gameplay is interesting, but not very challenging, and somewhat easy to master

RATING: 8/10

If there’s one thing Ubisoft is known for, it’s the design of open world games. Whether you’re trudging through the forests of Far Cry or traipsing through the medieval cities of Assassin’s Creed, the familiar sandbox formula of the French developer and publisher is one you’re not likely to miss, and within this formula lies a plethora of side activities to engage in. Tons of collectibles to pick up and a lot of land to cover blend together to make for an experience designed to hold your attention for hours to come.

This sandbox formula is one that Immortals Fenyx Rising seems to have taken to heart. And, while much of what it does is formulaic, its own sense of style pushes through in a way that makes it hard to forget, as very few games manage to pull off what it does with its jokes, its visuals, and its gameplay. In Ubisoft’s latest offering, you play as Fenyx, off to save the world from mad Typhon’s grasp. After the latter has locked away the gods and turned to stone all who oppose him, it’s up to you to undo the chaos and restore order back to the land, no matter the cost.

What this means for you is navigating Fenyx through the land and rescuing the four main gods from their confinement. However, travel is not a mundane experience in Immortals Fenyx Rising, as unlike other adventure games, you don’t just walk. You glide. This is one of the more charming ideas implemented in an engaging way, and while it’s hardly an original idea, it does keep you immersed as you swoop across the skies and explore the land at your leisure. Being open world, the game offers you more than enough locations, and whether it’s the dried-out wastelands or lush forests and rivers, you’ll be steeped in exploration.

But that’s not all you do in Immortals Fenyx Rising. Finding treasure is only half the fun. After all, Typhon has twisted the land and its denizens to his will. Now, mythical creatures are out for blood, and you’ll have to use every trick in the book to beat them. From hacking them down with your sword and axe to throwing parts of the environment at them to knock them flat on their behinds, combat is fast, fluid, and responsive, with your heavier hits capable of stunning opponents and leaving them vulnerable. And that’s not even mentioning the wide variety of skills available for you to unlock in order to complement your fighting style, letting you play much more aggressively than you would otherwise have been able to.

There’s also the many dungeons in Immortals Fenyx Rising to explore. Each of these Vaults is unique, testing particular skills in platforming, combat, and puzzle-solving, and each rewards players with valuable equipment and loot. What’s more, exploration also nets you power-ups, giving important boosts to your health and stamina that allow you to take more punishment, climb higher objects, and use your skills more often.

All of these positives — the exploration, the story, the combat — hit hard, mainly because of one thing; the game’s unique brand of humor emanating even from its unique art style and design, which fit perfectly with its story and themes. Its Greek motif stands strong, with the enemies you face pulled straight from the annals of Greek mythology. Minotaurs, cyclopses, and harpies roam the land. The shades of fallen soldiers haunt graves, shipwrecks, and tombs long forgotten, and Typhon’s corruption seeps through the terrain and causes it to fester and break out into rubble. It’s a sight to see, and when it’s good traits are combined with its constant references to Greek mythology, it’s hard not to fall in love with it outright.

If Immortals Fenyx Rising does have a flaw, it’s that the jokes fall flat if you aren’t too familiar with Greek mythology. Much of its dialogue and story segments rely on prior knowledge of how these Greek myths were told. Without it, much of the game’s humor goes by unnoticed, and the jokes feel more irritating than witty. The game relies heavily on its charm to keep its foundation strong, and without it, Immortals Fenyx Rising feels wobbly at best.

Still, what Immortals Fenyx Rising manages to accomplish is truly surprising. It’s not as gritty, or as dark, or as dramatic as Ubisoft’s other open world titles, but it’s just as captivating, if not more so. It’s a title that’s hard to put down, and while it doesn’t tread new ground, the path it walks is certainly one worth choosing.

THE GOOD:

Great sense of atmosphere, design, and pacing

Simple but robust combat mechanics revolving around hitting, parrying, stunning and dodging

Tons of areas to explore, challenges to face, and puzzles to solve

THE BAD:

Story can be hit or miss depending on degree of familiarity with Greek Mythology

Can at times feel grindy due to its open world nature

RATING: 9.5/10

THE LAST WORD: If you’re on the lookout for outstanding gaming hardware on the go, look no further than Asus’ Republic of Gamers lineup. The name speaks for itself, and, for those angling to get their hands on the best laptops it has to offer, there is no better time to act than now. The brand is heavily pushing its top-of-the-line models via a month-long promotion that gives significant freebies to buyers.

If there’s one minus to Asus, however, it’s that the Taiwan-based multinational company will implement its promotion mechanics to the letter. The sales blitz started on April 29, and, as far as it’s concerned, any purchase before it will not qualify. A purchase of the ROG S17 made on April 26, for instance, was denied the opportunity to avail of the freebies.

Which, of course, is Asus’ prerogative. That said, the intrinsic value of any promotion lies in its capacity to engender customer loyalty. It’s one thing to entice gamers to make a one-time purchase, and quite another to ensure that they stay with the brand for the long haul. The insistence on sticking to the fine print is even more telling in light of the cost of the laptops. The cost of the S17 in the aforementioned case is in the six figures, certainly far from cheap. Moreover, the fact that the purchase was made a mere three days from the start of the promotion — and well within the seven-day window for returns — should have made the decision a no-brainer for Asus.

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