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Old-School RPG Himeko Sutori Could Be Great, But Is Not Quite There Yet

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Himeko Sutori

Everything old is new again, so the saying goes. That trend is evident in recent waves of remasters and, now, remakes, but the past also emerges in homage. Himeko Sutori, which launches in Early Access today, owes a clear debt of gratitude to classic RPGs, but still requires considerable work before it can hope to be considered as a worthy successor.

At the heart of Himeko Sutori’s ambition is the large-scale, strategy-focused battle system. With enough money, players can recruit hundreds of soldiers to the cause, range them into small groups, and send them into combat. The scope of these skirmishes is impressive, yet the need for strategy is underdeveloped at present.

In general, battlefield layouts are straightforward, offering few opportunities for players to be creative in their movements. Flanking manoeuvres or phalanx formations are simply unnecessary. Furthermore, environments are free of hazards or other special tiles, resulting in the battles more often seeming like thoughtless brawls. Another major issue at present is that each enemy type has only one battlefield, meaning that, before long, the conflicts become rote and unexciting.

These issues are compounded by the lack of direct control. While each formation (or lance, to use the game’s terminology) can be tailored to the player’s liking, the nature and target of their attacks cannot. This design choice means that characters, with some exceptions provided by passive skills, strike enemies at random, often undercutting any attempt to strategically dismantle adversarial lances.

Nevertheless, the ability to build lances at will provides room for tactical play. Striking a balance between offensive and defensive units is essential, and that is where Rockwell Studios’s robust character customisation mechanics come into play. Through branching options provided when leveling up, soldiers can be assigned to one of dozens of classes, though the distinctions between some of them could be clearer. For example, multiple classes use strong melee attacks, so the choice of one over another can come down to aesthetic preference.

Therein lies another issue affecting the current build of Himeko Sutori. The game features dozens—perhaps even hundreds—of different items, armours, and weapons, but classes are limited in what they can equip. However, other than when actually equipping items, no clear indication exists as to who can use what, which is particularly problematic when attempting to outfit the party. The lack of clarity about game elements extends further to the effects of the upgrade options offered with each new level, the role of the colours embedded in each character’s statistics, and even the questlines.

This latter area is one in which Himeko Sutori seems woefully unprepared for even an Early Access launch. At present, beyond the first few missions, the journal is blank, the story unwritten. Even were that in place, the narrative feels unoriginal. Players step into the shoes of Aya, youngest daughter of House Furukawa, who one day finds her kingdom at war, overrun by enemy soldiers and demonic creatures alike. Alongside her sisters, she sets out to find a way to bring peace back to the world.

The storyline is incomplete, but reeks of the kind of epic fantasy already written and played in dozens of games across the years. Compounding this sense of been-there-done-that-ness is the quaint visual style that combines sprite-based character models with a 2D overworld. The pseudo-3D stylings of certain locales is a novel twist, but not enough to override the boredom inspired by yet another pastoral, pseudo-medieval fantasy setting.

Rockwell Studios predicts Himeko Sutori to remain in Early Access for six months, but that seems less than is necessary to take the game from its current shell state to a full-fledged, engrossing RPG experience. Of course, the developer is free to take longer than predicted. However, most importantly, the core gameplay loop of combat is solid and enjoyable. The shortage of clarity and diversity that stand out as Himeko Sutori’s most egregious faults can yet be remedied, and, once they are, the game could well stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the greats of the past.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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E3 2019

Dying Light 2 Developer Techland’s Leap of Faith is Paying Off

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Dying Light 2

Dying Light 2 is an ambitious sequel, especially when compared to its predecessor. The awkward marriage between parkour and zombies may have been little more than a gimmick the first time around, but now Techland is taking risks thanks to a newfound faith in its creative ideas. Techland’s sequel is crafting a realized, living world that can see drastic changes at every story beat and the changes to parkour are only the icing on the cake. Sometimes, forgetting Dying Light 2 falls into a sub-genre as beaten-to-death as zombies is easy, thanks to gameplay that is so damn impressive.

During E3 2019, OnlySP was invited to take a hands-off, private look at the game’s latest demo build which featured nearly an hour of story content. Along with the expected newly fleshed out parkour systems, the demo gave a peek into a world that can be completely melded by a player’s decisions and actions.

The demo opens up with the series’s new protagonist, Aiden Caldwell, as he struggles with fighting the zombie infection. After pulling himself together, the demo gives a solid look into dialogue and interactions with NPCs. For the most part, the dialogue options are staying simplistic, likely so players have a clear idea as to what choices they will be making. Throughout the presentation, Techland ensured that the choices made in Dying Light 2 have deep, interconnecting effects on the world and narrative. With that idea in mind, keeping dialogue options to only two choices seems like a smart call for now.

Dying Light 2

Caldwell heads into a bar where he meets up with some of his friends and presumed clan mates to discuss their group’s plan of action to get water for their people. Though the acting and dialogue is only a slight step up from the previous title, this bar scene is the first step into a fully-realized, lived-in world. Upon exiting the building, the demo showcased rooftops littered with friendly NPCs as far as the eye can see. These people are building on pre-existing structures, cleaning, cooking, and even farming on rooftops in many cases. Dying Light 2 is not just full of hazardous brain-deads: the game is populated with living, breathing people that are all just trying to rebuild.

Before Caldwell travels too far out into the world, a rival faction shows up and starts stirring up trouble on the streets below. In an instant, chaos ensues, and the rival faction attacks a group of Caldwell’s allies. Caldwell leaps from the rooftop and lands on a member of the enemy faction to break his fall, leading to the first combat sequence.

With one exception, the combat looks to be mostly the same as it was in the first Dying Light. Combat in the original title was by no means bad, just a little uninspired. The exception, however, is the new beefed up modding system. During this first fight, Caldwell initiates an electricity amplifier to send bolts of lightning through enemies. Later, after the player runs out of ammo for their gun, a button can be pressed to flip the rifle around in order to use it as a melee weapon.

Dying Light 2

Back to the first fight, Caldwell is given the choice to help his wounded friend or pursue the enemy truck that got away in the hope of finding fresh water. Of course, Caldwell begins a near 15-minute romp over rooftops to cut off the escaping vehicle. Along with parkour systems that fit the architecture unique to Dying Light 2’s city, Caldwell has been given some new tools. First, a grappling hook can be used to swing from nearly any ceiling or rooftop, and a paraglider for slow descents to the infested streets below. As an added bonus for those paranoid of taking fall damage, Caldwell can also tackle zombies through windows and over ledges and use them to break his fall, nullifying any potential fall damage. In general, quality of life changes to the game’s movement options can be found across the board.

By the time Caldwell tracks the vehicle down to the enemy headquarters at a riverside plant, the ripples of past decisions start to make waves. The friend from earlier has died and he could have been saved. Angered, Caldwell sneaks into the building to confront the faction leader, the Colonel. The Colonel gives the player two options: Fight back to open floodgates that could bring fresh water to the city or heed the Colonel’s warnings that Caldwell’s so-called friends could be working in a plot against him. Ultimately, the demo opts to turn open the floodgates. What happens next bodes well for Dying Light 2, assuming the team can consistently pull off such a feat.

Dying Light 2

Opening the floodgates saves the player’s people from dehydration and certain death, but also reveals a horrible secret. The floodgates had been keeping a lower level of the city completely submerged, which is now free for the player to openly explore. Within the sunken city, though, is a new breed of zombie that will inevitably wreak havoc now that it has been set free.

Seeing the water level lower to reveal and entire area with its own missions and quests simply because of a split decision was staggering. Players who make that same decision will have fundamentally changed their Dying Light 2 experience. If Techland is committed enough, the end product could see Quantic Dream-levels of branching story paths.

Considering the wide story is coupled with tight-looking gameplay, Dying Light 2 is posed to be a strong contender at next year’s award shows. Even if the overall narrative in the launch product leaves something to be desired, Techland may finally put the same plans so many others have poorly executed into action. Time will tell if the game is set to redefine the zombie sub-genre like it so clearly aims to do.

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