14th Jul2013

Tales of Grace F Review

by Kuro Matsuri

Tales of Graces F Kuro Matsuri Video Games Review

The Tales games are a long running series that started back on the Super Nintendo with Tales of Phantasia.  Tales of Graces started off on the Wii in Japan only, but was later released on the PS3 in Japan and America as Tales of Graces f.

At its core, it is a typical Japanese RPG.  You travel from one location to another, watching cut scenes for the story, and fighting enemies along the way.  You gain experience points, leveling you up and increasing your stats.  But, that’s just the beginning.  Tales of Graces has a wide array of systems that make the game more complex and interesting.  At the same time, you don’t need to understand all of the systems in order to have fun playing the game.  This gives it a nice balance, allowing both casual gamers and serious JRPG fans to enjoy the game thoroughly.

The Systems

On top of a typical leveling system, there is also a Skill system.  In this system, you gain Skill Points which then apply to Titles that you earn by going through the story or by accomplishing certain feats.  These Skills include stat increases, new attacks, new abilities, and upgrades to those attacks and abilities.  It allows you to have more control over the capabilities and skill progression of your characters.

There’s also a flexible crafting system, called “dualizing”.  It allows you to create a variety of new items, from new weapons and equipment to consumable items for battle.  You can even upgrade the same weapons and armor multiple times, allowing you to create better and better equipment.

To help you get the items you need for dualizing, as well as to help you in battle, you are given an “eleth mixer”.  You can select items that you want, giving you a certain percentage chance of that item being generated, at a cost, as you walk around.  Additionally, it allows you to select food dishes that are cooked during or after a battle based when certain conditions are met.  And, finally, it also lets you equip spell books that do a variety of things, such as reducing damage in battle, increasing your movement speed, or making your eleth mixer improve at a faster rate.

Even shopping gets a neat system in which using a shop will earn you stamps.  If you get 10 stamps, you unlock a new item that can be purchased from that shop.

To help the player understand all of these systems, tips are provided in little bits as you play through the game.  Additionally, on the easier difficulty levels, you can ignore many of these systems and just play through the game without it slowing you down.

Tales of Graces F Fighting Gameplay

Fighting System

As with any RPG, the fighting system is arguably the most important. Tales of Graces has a fast-paced real-time battle system where, in addition to determining which attacks to use, which enemy to attack, and what items to use, you also need to carefully time your attacks and spells, as well as block or dodge enemy attacks.  This is a staple for the Tales series, and one of the aspects that separates it from many other JRPGs.

As you fight, to give yourself the best chance of winning, you need to be aware of the different types of attacks you have and which ones your enemy is weak to.  This isn’t always critical for winning a fight, but it always helps you do more damage.

You can change characters at any time, including mid-battle.  However, you will have to adjust your play style at least a little bit for each character, because they each have their own nuances and abilities that significantly affect what methods are effective from one character to the next.  This variety goes a long way in keeping the game fresh as you play through it, which can take anywhere from 80 to 120 hours for the first full playthrough if you are taking your time.

Unlike many other JRPGs, you can change the difficulty at any time, except in the middle of a battle.  You might think it unfair, but it is balanced by a risk and reward system.  On a fight-by-fight basis, the higher the difficulty, the more experience points and Skill Points you get, and the better items you receive.  Thus, it is to your advantage to always play on the hardest difficulty you can manage.  This setup allows newcomers and veterans alike to enjoy the game from beginning to end.


Tales of Graces supports up to 4 simultaneous players, but only during battles.  Additionally, it only supports 4 players when you have 4 characters on your team, which is for most, but not all, of the game.  In order for other players to join, though, you have to know a couple of things that aren’t immediately clear.  First, you have to make sure that the second character in your team is the one that player number 2 wants to play as.  The position of the team member dictates which controller gets to play as that character.  Second, that character must be set to either semi-manual or manual modes, which you set character by character.  The game does not auto-detect that you are trying to play with multiple players, nor does it have a clearly labeled option for enabling multiplayer.

That being said, the multiplayer is a bonus to an already good JRPG.  Still, due to the unclear way in which it is enabled, it leaves significant room for improvement.

Tales of Graces F Story


If there’s anything that is more important to an RPG than the fighting system that consumes the majority of the player’s time, it’s the story.  In Tales of Graces, the story manages to have multiple layers of story arcs that are entirely contained within other story arcs, which each layer getting larger and grander than the one before it.  By the end of the game, you do have a story that can arguably be described as epic.

However, to get to all of this story, you will have to put up with a number of clichés.  The primary story arc starts with amnesia.  Trust and betrayal are reoccurring themes.  The story includes sub-plots like child rebellion and a love story.  It even includes a coup d’etat, complete with a revenge plot.  There are a few more clichés later in the game used as plot twists as well.

As long as you can get past the clichés, the story is very enjoyable.  Additionally, Tales of Graces goes one step further by including a complete After Story without requiring DLC.  The extra story occurs 6 months after the end of the primary story, and significantly expands the backstory of the main antagonist.  Without this extra story, the game would feel incomplete due to the way that the main story abruptly ends.  However, with this extra story, it adds an extra dimension to the overall story.


For many players, replayability will not even be a consideration with this game due to its length.  If your goal is simply to enjoy the story, the game can be a 40 hour experience, but a typical playthrough can easily exceed 100 hours.  Even so, Tales of Graces offers an attractive New Game+ option.

Different accomplishments during a playthrough will earn you points that can be spent when starting a New Game+ to unlock more starting titles, skills, and more.  You can double how fast you earn experience points and skill points, or even multiply that rate by 5 if you have enough points from a playthrough.  With these upgrades, it makes it easier to handle the higher unlocked difficulties, like Evil or Chaos, while also making the game generally more fun.  Even if you play over 100 hours on your first playthough, you will likely be tempted to at least try out the New Game+.

Tales of Graces F Presentation


If you enjoy colors in a video game, this game will give it to you, but that is unfortunately the nicest thing that can be said about the presentation.  The graphics are nice overall, but they are far from perfect.  There are some scenes in which the characters inexplicable shake, and some scenes are surprisingly blurry, including the title screen.  This likely stems from its origins on the Wii.

In general, though, the presentation is colorful, and doesn’t detract from the gameplay or the story too much.  Just don’t expect it to compare with similar titles that are built for the PlayStation 3 from the beginning.


Story: 7

Gameplay: 8

Presentation: 6

Replayability: 9

Overall: 7.5

04th Mar2013

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance Mark of Mastery Edition Review

by Kuro Matsuri

Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance Mark of Mastery Edition

Welcome to the Kuro Matsuri Video Games review of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance: Mark of Mastery Edition.

Kingdom Hearts 3D, a.k.a., Dream Drop Distance, is a continuation of the Kingdom Hearts series.  In fact, if anything, it is the culmination of the series so far.  It refers to nearly all of the previous iterations of Kingdom Hearts.  In part, that is what makes the Mark of Mastery Edition of Kingdom Hearts 3D so impressive; at least in part, the bonus items reference all of the previous iterations.

First, here’s a note of everything that comes with the Mark of Mastery Edition of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance:

Kingdom Hearts 3D Mark of Mastery Edition Contents

The Mark of Mastery Edition comes with a variety of items.  The box is multi-layered with a white and grey design on the outside, and a black and grey design on the inside.  Of course, it comes with the game.  In addition to the game, it also comes with a set of postcards that go through every iteration so far of the Kingdom Hearts series. This includes the Final Mix re-releases, so there are quite a few high-quality postcards with very pretty and clean art on them.  It’s practically an art collection for the series.  In addition to that, it also comes with a set of 5 AR (augmented reality) cards.  These serve multiple purposes within the game.  The first is that it allows you to specifically place your Dream Eaters (the monsters that are on your side) onto a location and circle around them with the camera as though they were really there.  Additionally, some of them allow you to get rare Dream Eaters by scanning them; Dream Eaters that cannot be obtained any other way.  Don’t worry; if you don’t have these, don’t think you’ll be at a significant disadvantage.  The secret Dream Eaters are modifications of Dream Eaters that you can normally get in the game, but with marginally improved characteristics.  It’s a nice touch for the collector, but it won’t hurt the experience in any way for the non-collector.

Finally, it comes with a protective case for the 3DS with a Kingdom Hearts design on it.  The protective case is in two pieces.  The top piece has a nice black-on-clear design on it, while the bottom piece is only clear, serving only to protect.  As such, I’ve chosen to only use the top piece, as it adds a nice style, but it doesn’t prevent you from using the charging dock included with the original 3DS.  As a note, this case will not fit on the 3DS XL.  Here’s what the top layer of the case looks like on my red 3DS (note, the Keyblade attachment is not included):

Kingdom Hearts 3D Case

Overall, the Mark of Mastery Edition includes a nice array of extras.  It includes practical items, like the 3DS protective case.  It includes digital items, like the Dream Eaters you get for scanning the AR cards.  It also includes collector’s art items, like the postcards and the AR cards themselves.  All-in-all, it is one of the better collector’s editions out there.

Now to the actual game:

Pacing: 4/5 Stars (Above Average)

The pacing is always limited when you’re talking about a handheld console.  Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance does a good job of balancing portability and pacing.  Generally, a portable game needs quicker pacing, and the ability to put the game down at any time.  Dream Drop Distance achieves this by providing a mechanic by which the user is encouraged to play for shorter periods of time; it’s called the Drop mechanic.  After a set, but unspecified, amount of time, you will be forced to switch between Sora and Riku.  It can be jarring, but it does provide a sense of urgency.  Additionally, it manages to break up the action into bite-size chunks; perfect for a handheld experience.  That being said, if you are attempting to experience the entire game in one go, it can mess things up, and it can be frustrating.

However, it does allow you to immediately switch back to the character you were playing as, which alleviates a lot of the frustration.  You do lose out on some bonuses during the switch, since you gain optional bonuses by getting enough points between drops, but the bonuses are fairly nominal, and going without them doesn’t seem to make a huge difference in your capabilities.

Story: 4/5 Stars (Above Average)

The story brings all of the stories from the previous Kingdom Hearts games together.  All of them play a role, even Kingdom Hearts: Coded.  They culminate into one experience that explains a lot, albeit in the same obfuscated way that all Kingdom Hearts stories seem to go about it.  If the story wasn’t so contrived, this would be an amazing story from beginning to end.  Instead, the story comes of as “good, but hard to understand”, meaning that the level in which you have been involved in the other Kingdom Hearts stories will heavily dictate how much you enjoy the story in this one.

Don’t worry, though, if you have missed some of the previous games.  It provides flashback sequences, as well as text-based re-caps, of many of the previous games’ stories.  This means that you can miss some games and still get the grand sense of the overall story.  However, if you haven’t played any of the previous games, the grand over-arching plotline will likely be lost on you.

Presentation: 5/5 Stars (Superb)

Given the resolution of the 3DS, the graphics are very impressive.  It runs smoothly the entire time, and it proves entertaining throughout.  This honestly seems like some of the best graphics the console can manage, even though it is so early in the console’s career.  All-in-all, nothing is really missing from the presentation in Kingdom Hearts 3D.

3D: 5/5 Stars (Superb)

Not everyone likes 3D, but it does add some extra depth in Kingdom Hearts.  It does take some practice to hold it still enough to fully enjoy the 3D without it getting in the way, but it manages to be engaging even at the highest 3D settings once you get used to it.  If you can’t manage to get used to the 3D effects, you can turn them off without any real hindrance to the gameplay experience, but you will be missing out on just how interactive and immersive the 3D gameplay can be.

Gameplay: 4/5 Stars (Above Average)

The new Flow Motion abilities are great fun to play around with.  They allow you to travel across the areas at great speed, and they allow you to perform relatively low risk and relatively high-damage attacks to enemies in the middle of a battle.  Given the time constraints forced upon you by the Drop mechanic, this fast-paced movement is much appreciated.  But, more than that, it’s outright fun.  Darting around the level at high speeds just makes the experience that much more entertaining.  Unfortunately, it does manage to expose some of the flaws in the levels when you hit unexpected invisible walls, but they don’t interfere as much as you might expect.  Overall, the gameplay is very polished and very clean.

It does borrow from the previous game in the series, Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, for the Deck Commands.  At any point, you can press X to perform the highlighted special attack or spell.  This lets you customize how you play quickly and easily, while almost always allowing you to continue being effective.  Additionally, since this is only a part of the fighting mechanics, there’s plenty to do outside of the Deck Commands, giving you lots of flexibility in battle.

Kingdom Hearts 3D also allows you to train Dream Eaters to fight by your side.  These Dream Eaters effectively replace the roles that Goofy and Donald played in some of the previous games.  They are your computer-controlled allies, and they can be powerful.  Creating new Dream Eaters and leveling them up also provides a way for you to increase your own skills and abilities, similar to the way the Sphere Grid worked in Final Fantasy X.  You build up points and use them to travel around each Dream Eater’s grid to unlock new skills, stats, and abilities.  It allows for a lot of customization of the gameplay, letting you play how you want to play.

If only it weren’t so complex and confusing.  There are so many aspects that allow you to customize how you play that it can be overwhelming at times.  However, if you just continue to play and “go with the flow”, if you will, you’ll find it very enjoyable.

Exploration: 5/5 Stars (Superb)

The Kingdom Hearts games, at least in part, are known for their relatively linear paths that also allow for plenty of exploration.  More so than other games in the series, there is a lot to explore in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance.  There’s enough branching paths and open areas that it can be difficult to thoroughly explore all of it as you look for more treasures, but that’s exactly what makes it interesting.  Even in the early levels, it can be quite the challenge to find every treasure box and fight every special enemy Dream Eater.  If you want to complete the game, you will have a lot of fun continuously exploring each of the worlds to find every nook and cranny in your attempts to collect every item available.

Replay Value: 4/5 Stars (Above Average)

Thanks to a New Game Plus feature, you can carry over the Dream Eaters you’ve created in a previous game.  They lose their levels and abilities, but it goes a long way towards helping you complete the Dream Eater bestiary as you play through multiple rounds.  Additionally, beating the game on the initial hardest difficulty, Proud Mode, unlocks a new difficulty, Critical Mode, giving you extra incentive you play through the game once more as you increase your Kingdom Hearts skills.

Difficulty: 3/5 Stars (Average)

Let’s face it, the difficulty in Kingdom Hearts as been up and down throughout the series.  The first Kingdom Hearts had plenty of challenge, and the second Kingdom Hearts was way too easy.  358/2 Days was awkward to play, and Birth By Sleep was very smooth to play, but both were reasonably difficult.  Dream Drop Distance really falls somewhere between all of these.  The challenge level is pretty low, even at the hardest difficulties.  That being said, it is nowhere near as easy as Kingdom Hearts II was.  It will provide a reasonable challenge on Proud Mode, and a real challenge on Critical Mode, but nothing extraordinary; that is, unless you want to go for a Level 1 Critical Mode play-through by blocking all experience points.  That certainly does prove challenging.  But, one step below that is only a reasonable challenge, and nothing more.

Overall: 4/5 Stars (Above Average)

All things considered, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is a lot of fun to play.  It ties lots of previous Kingdom Hearts stories together in a meaningful way, and provides a reasonable challenge.  It also features a drive for collection by keeping track of how many treasures you’ve found, as well as providing you with the option to create more allies and level them up to gain new abilities and stats.  This is one of the better games in the Kingdom Hearts series, right up there with Birth By Sleep and Kingdom Hearts II.  It is well worth the purchase.

Enjoy the game!

-Kuro Matsuri

28th Mar2010

3D Dot Game Heroes Review

by Kuro Matsuri

3D Dot Game Heroes Review
3D Dot Game Heroes is an homage to Zelda. In many ways, it’s also a ripoff and a parody. It’s an interesting and entertaining game that is about as niche as they come. This review will attempt to take a relatively objective look at the real quality of the game to see how good it really is.


The graphics are simple, yet flashy. It’s kinda hard to imagine how that can be done until you see it. Hey, just take a look for yourself:

The simple 3D-pixel styling sounds simple, and in many ways it looks simple. It’s actually a lot less simple than it looks or sounds. Add to that some of the effects they put in there, and it comes off actually pretty flashy. Between some of the high dynamic range lighting effects, such as when you come out of a dungeon, and the “particle effects” where a defeated enemy bursts into a bunch of blocks that fly around all over the place, the graphics are actually visually appealing and entertaining to look at.

There are a few problems with the graphics, though. The biggest gripe is more of a style choice than a technical graphical issue, but the way things in the distance blur can get frustrating. It blurs too much too quickly. It’s hard to understand sometimes why something 5 steps ahead of you is blurry. At other times, it can actually have a nice effect, but it would have been better if the blurring was less intense.

You would also think that a game with such a simple graphical style could be run in full 1080p, while it only runs in 720p. However, at 720p, the framerate will occasionally drop. It doesn’t drop all that often, but it is noticeably when it does. So, the graphics must actually be much harder to render than it appears at first glance. Still, this certainly leaves some room for improvement, either in resolution or in framerate.

Graphics Score: 8.5


There’s a story? Yeah, there is. And looked at as a whole, it is fairly amusing. Really, it’s just enough story to give you a reason to go to all the places and do everything. It’s hard to really care about the story, but then again, in order to care about the story, you might need to take the game as a whole seriously. While this game is definitely fun, it is definitely not styled to be taken seriously, so it had quite a challenge ahead of itself in trying to get the player to care about the story. Well, it didn’t make it.

Still, if you go into it expecting a light, amusing satire, the story becomes amusing enough. For example, take a look at the beginning story sequences:

It probably made you chuckle in one or two places, but the story just doesn’t hold up to the rest of the game. Perhaps an homage to a retro game in the story department just doesn’t quite work out all that well.

Story Score: 6.5


The retro gameplay is what really makes or breaks the game for each individual who tries it. If you’ve been dieing for some retro game action with some HD graphics, this is your chance (and possibly your only chance). It plays almost exactly like the original Zelda, with a bit of it’s own unique twist. After you attack, you can manually spin in a circle to do a spin attack. There’s enough time to spin in a complete circle, but only if you’re fast. It quickly becomes a staple move in your arsenal of straightforward 2-frame attacks.

Also, one thing that retro fans will appreciate that might turn off other gamers is the ability to roam anywhere, sometimes without a clear goal. It is possible to miss talking to the right person, and end up roaming around lost for a while. The good news is that roaming will likely let you find some nice goodies that will help you later, and occasionally you can even complete tasks out of order (usually by accident) this way. It makes it interesting, as long as you have the patience to stick with it when you aren’t completely sure what to do.

The dungeons are very similarly styled as well, cycling through a variety of elements from one dungeon to the next. The early dungeons are very easy, while the later dungeons can get surprisingly hard. The bosses are actually a lot of fun with a fair amount of variety, though there is an exploit or two that can be used to make a boss really easy on occasion.

Here’s the first dungeon in it’s entirety. This should give you a good idea of what the gameplay is like.

Part 1:

Part 2:

What is there to say, really, except that the gameplay was good back in the original Zelda era, and it’s still good now. It is, however, a tired gameplay system, so those looking for a truly new experience aren’t going to like it. Then again, someone looking for a truly new experience is probably going to dislike a lot of things about the game. But, if retro-styled is what you’re after, but you still want a good challenge while playing through it, this is where it’s at… well, it is once you get to some of the later dungeons!

Gameplay Score: 8.7

Weapon Growth System

This section is called the weapon growth system for one reason, your weapon will grow more than anything else in the game. To ridiculous proportions. Imagine if your sword in the original Zelda series could get large enough to practically cover the entire screen… and then some. It’s the ultimate in power for a 2D world gone 3D, and it is very amusing and completely satisfying.

On the other hand, upgrading is slow work. You have to collect a sword that can be upgraded to the level you want it to be, then you have to collect lots of money in order to upgrade it all the way… money that could be used for healing items or other one-time use weapons (bombs or arrows, anybody?) Also, getting a sword that can really be upgraded can be difficult too. If you watched the dungeon video above, you saw that you can collect “small blocks”. These blocks are used to purchase new weapons, but small blocks are hard to find, and it can take as many as 20 of them to buy a new weapon. Though, that does make it all that much more satisfying when you get the ultimate weapon of hit everything on the screen at once.

Yeah, it’s essentially just a novelty trick, but in retro games you had to put in cheat codes to get such ridiculously awesome swords. Now you can do it legitimately, and that is awesome.

Weapon Growth System Score: 9.1


The pacing is only what you make of it. You are given the freedom to go directly from one dungeon to the next (though that can become rather difficult if you’re not careful), or you can wonder around aimlessly defeating monsters and collecting random stuff for hours on end.

However, even if you do go straight through the game, the story is so thin that the pacing still drags on quite a bit. The vast majority of the game is spent collecting the 6 orbs from a variety of dungeons. No truly new information is presented until right near the end of the game, and even then, there’s not much of a revelation to make it all feel worth it.

The thing is, that’s just how retro games did it. If 3D Dot Game Heroes had a more complex story with high quality cutscenes, it probably wouldn’t have been a true homage/parody/ripoff/whatever. However, a couple complex action cutscenes done in the 3D pixel style could have been truly hilarious. I’d call that a missed opportunity right there.

At any rate, the pacing is slow… very slow. Thankfully, the gameplay makes up for it, but the pacing could easily boot out a few players who were on the edge of enjoying the game to begin with.

Pacing Score: 5.5


The music in 3D Dot Game Heroes is where the game seems to truly scream “homage”. If you weren’t paying attention, you might think the music was actually Zelda music. Upon listening closely, you’ll find that it’s actually full of surprisingly memorable tunes, the majority of which are nice to listen to and do a good job of complimenting the theme of each region. I found myself humming along as I played on more than once occasion.

As for the technical quality of the music, it’s as though the 8-bit music just bumped up its production values or something. The style is distinctively 8-bit, but it puts in high quality sound samples instead of the scratchy 8-bit samples of yore. Chances are that it will get you humming along to it as well.

Music Score: 9.0


After spending 30 hours to play through 3D Dot Game Heroes once, and having a good challenge in the process, I discovered that beating the game unlocks a new difficulty. This is not a “new game plus” scenario, when you start a new game, you start over from scratch. While I enjoyed the game, I found myself thinking “ewww…” when confronted with the option to start over from scratch on a harder difficulty level. If anything, I would go back and play some more on the save that was right before the end of the game so I could explore more and collect more stuff. Starting over didn’t sound appealing in the slightest.

There is honestly very little incentive to continue playing this game once you’ve played through it once, provided that you really explore and invest your time into doing as much as you can the first time around. You might want to come back and do a couple more things, but starting over feels like spitting on all of your work up to that point.

In fact, you’re much more likely to want to go back and play the original Zelda after playing all the way through this. That’s not a bad thing, but it is rather unlikely that you’ll want to play this game again at least for a while. It’s not like anything is going to be different the second time through, and the combination of novelty and nostalgia can only go so far before convincing you to just go back and play the original that started it all.

Replayability Score: 5.2



Graphics Score: 8.5

Story Score: 6.5

Gameplay Score: 8.7

Weapon Growth System Score: 9.1

Pacing Score: 5.5

Music Score: 9.0

Replayability Score: 5.2


Total Score: 52.5/70 = 75.0%


Import Friendly?

This game is available now in Japan, and it will be available in the US on May 11, 2010, and in Europe on May 14, 2010. How hard is it to play in Japanese if you don’t speak it? Well, most of the game, it’s not too hard. You’ll be able to figure out the dungeons without any knowledge of Japanese at all. There are a couple of parts that will prove difficult since you are occasionally told where you need to go without putting an actual marker on your map. Those 2 or 3 parts might leave you totally lost and confused, but if you don’t mind looking up a guide for a couple of small sections, you can enjoy this game all the way through without knowing any Japanese.

You will, unfortunately, miss out on the story… but there isn’t really much story here. Besides, you can probably guess the story based on the opening video (shown at the top of this review), almost right down to the end. If you can’t wait to get your hands on this game, the language barrier won’t stop you from enjoying 3D Dot Game Hereos.

Import Friendly Score: 8.5/10

21st Mar2010

Play-Asia Review

by Kuro Matsuri

Play-Asia Review Screenshot 1024x834

Let me start off by being completely honest. Play-Asia is one of my affiliates. I promise that this does not effect my opinion of them in this review. Also, I would like to include that since this is not a video game review, it doesn’t follow my standard review structure. I will still give it a percentage-based score at the end, though.

Now, let’s get to it. So, Play-Asia has lots of good reviews out there, and a good handful of bad reviews too. But how good are they, really? Let me share my experiences with you.

I have ordered over a dozen things from Play-Asia in the past. They have always arrived in good condition and at reasonable prices. That’s not to say that everything has been perfect, though.

Prices and Shipping

See, here’s the thing. They look like they have the cheapest prices when compared to the other import locations like www.ncsxshop.com or www.japanvideogames.com. But, that’s only true if you use their cheapest shipping. The problem with that is that their cheapest shipping can take up to 10 business days, or two full weeks, to arrive. What’s worse is that this level of shipping doesn’t even include a tracking number, which leaves you hoping that nothing went wrong with the shipping. It’s never gone wrong for me, but it has gone wrong for others, increasing this 2 week shipping time to 2 months or more. This is because they are based in Hong-Kong, so it’s somewhat understandable, but it’s still not good. They do have better shipping options, but if you want to use the better options to get your game quickly or you want tracking, their shipping charges skyrocket, and suddenly their competitors (especially the ones based in your own country) have better deals for the same item shipped at the same speed.

Availability and Selection

That being said, they still have the best selection out of all of their competitors. They have pretty much everything, and it’s rare that they don’t have what I’m looking for unless it’s old and out of print. They also tend to have pre-orders much sooner as well, such as the BlazBlue Pre-order I’ve talked about before, so you can insure that you’ll be getting a copy through them much sooner than anybody else most of the time.

I’ve personally never received bad service from them before. And what’s more, they almost always include a $5 off coupon in every order, which is a nice touch. If you do buy from Play-Asia, I do recommend shipping your games in a box instead of an envelope. It’s only $1 more, and it will give your game a lot more protection for it’s journey half-way around the world.

The Verdict

My Score: 85%

Good service, good prices, but shipping is either slooooow or expensive with no middle ground.

Have you had a good or bad experience with Play-Asia? If so, post it in the comments. I’ll pick a couple of the best and a couple of the worst experiences mentioned below and put them directly into the review up here. Feel free to include your own score in your comment as well.

18th Feb2010

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Review

by Kuro Matsuri

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Review

Welcome to the Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Review by Kuro Matsuri Video Games. There’s a small change from the last review this time around. From now on, games on Kuro Matsuri Video Games will be reviewed based on 7 categories; graphics, music or sound, gameplay, growth system or customization, pacing, continuing playability or replayability, and story, though not necessarily in that order. If a particular genre of game doesn’t have one of these elements, something else will be chosen to maintain the total number of 7 categories. Each category gets rated from 0 to 10 with one decimal place. The percentage is then directly calculated from these scores, again, to one decimal place. Also, one final note, the story section will never have any spoilers in it. And, of course, there will always be a separate score for how import friendly a game is. Now that the boring stuff is out of the way, it’s time for the actual review!


Considering that this is on a handheld console, there are very few faults to be found in the graphics. In many ways, the graphics in Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep was practically equal to the graphical quality of the PS2 entries in the series. In fact, it felt as though I was playing a PS2 game visually. The textures were as sharp as they can be given the lower resolution of the console. However, while very few scenes looked at all awkward, there are a small handful of cutscenes in which a polygon or two seems out of place, usually in the shoulder area of one of the characters. Aqua seemed to have this problem most often, but even then, it was 2, maybe 3 times throughout the entire game. This seemed to be the only flaw in the graphics throughout the entire game.

Graphics Score: 9.6


The quality of the music is superb. Everything sounds crisp and clear, especially through headphones. Even the footsteps of the characters seem to have real presence auditorially. Most of the levels have new music, and most of it is pleasing to the ears. You may personally dislike the music for a world or two, but it is all high quality. However, some points are lost for the lack of originality. The opening theme song is the exact same song as the first Kingdom Hearts. A couple other worlds, namely Olympus Coliseum and Radiant Gardens, have recycled music as well. It makes more sense in those cases since the feel of the world should be consistent between games, but a noticeable tweaking of the music would be more appreciated.

Music Score: 9.3


Much as the rest of Birth By Sleep, the story is of high quality. There are enough twists and turns to keep you interested, especially since it was split into the individual viewpoints of three individuals instead of a straight story from the perspective of one person or one group. This allowed for several “Aha!” moments throughout the story, which made the story very enjoyable. The normal endings for each of the three characters have their own revelations, making it well worth playing through all three characters. There is no real preferred order of playing through them, either. Any order is good. However, it should be noted that Terra’s story has the biggest revelation between the three of them, so depending on your personality, you might want to play him either first or last.

The biggest revelations for the entire story, however, are found in the secret ending, which is actually playable this time around (as opposed to being just a video). It is well worth the time and effort to unlock the secret ending. Unlocking the secret ending takes more work if you play on an easier setting, and is actually impossible to unlock on the easiest setting, so you may want to take that into account when you pick your difficulty level.

All in all, the story entertains and keeps you engaged in the game. As a standalone game, the story is not that complex. However, when tied to aspects of the other games, the story feels very grand and expansive. This is both good and bad. This means that those who haven’t played the other games won’t be overwhelmed by the story in this one, and those that have are really treated. However, it also means that the story in this particular game isn’t as strong as other entries in the series, which have been known to be fairly grand and expansive all on their own.

Story Score: 9.5


This is undoubtedly the highlight of the game. The gameplay is fast, fun, and addictive. It is very reminiscent of the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts II, but with some key (and enjoyable) differences. You equip special attacks called “Deck Commands” that you pick up and create throughout the game. Pressing up and down on the D-pad changes the selected Deck Command, and pressing triangle performs that command. Since you control which commands are equipped, you can change how you fight. Circle does normal attacks and opens chests and the like when applicable. X jumps, and square performs moves like Dodge or Guard. It is extremely easy system to use, and it keeps the fights fresh and exciting all the way through the game.

There are two more aspects to the gameplay, however. The first is “Finishers”. There is a special “Command Gauge” that fills when you successfully hit an opponent. When it fills all the way up, the next attack you perform by hitting circle will be a powerful Finisher attack. The last aspect is “Command Styles”. If you get that Command Gauge to full by using the right Deck Commands, you will change Styles. This is where the fighting can get really exciting. Each character has Styles and Finishers that only they can perform. Ven, for example, is the only one that can use the Command Style “Wing Blade”, as seen below:

Aqua has a unique Style that she can call her own as well. It goes by the name of Ghost Drive:

This system is fast, easy, fun, exciting, and is always changing. It’s hard to ask for much more from an action RPG.

But, there is one MORE aspect to the gameplay. It doesn’t involve the fighting at all. In fact, it’s completely optional, which is good, because it tends to be a little on the boring side. It’s called the Command Board. Rather than explain the entire thing here, I have a translated video for you to watch. This will serve two purposes, one is showing you the minigame, the other is to show you how boring it is when compared to the much more exciting fighting gameplay. Now, that doesn’t mean that it’s actually boring, just boring by comparison… well, just watch:

Since it’s an optional part of the gameplay, it can’t hurt the score much. However, since this part isn’t perfectly fun, and you are heavily encouraged throughout the game to try it, it keeps this game (just barely) from reaching a perfect score in this category.

Gameplay Score: 9.9

Growth System

This growth system is unlike any other I have seen in many ways, and exactly like others I have seen in many ways. First, the traditional experience to gain levels is in full effect here. Your character gains experience every time he or she kills an Unversed, and enough experience gains that character a level, which increases a series of stats by a predetermined amount based on the level and the character. Very straightforward. However, there is a whole different layer to it. Your individual moves (Deck Commands) can be leveled as well. Yes, they simply gain experience when you defeat an enemy as long as the Deck Command is currently equipped, and a certain amount of experience levels them. But, you can then combine the leveled Deck Commands into entirely new Deck Commands. The result is that you are constantly upgrading your moveset in unique and interesting ways. This is especially good for a handheld, because you can play for 10 or 15 minutes and make significant progress in your growth by leveling a Deck Command in that amount of time (or several, if you’re lucky). You can even level up your Deck Commands, as well as get new ones, by playing the Command Board minigame.

That’s not the only benefit of leveling your Deck Commands, though. When you combine Deck Commands, you have the option of using a special item that will attach an ability to the newly created Deck Command like Combo Up, which increases your max combo for normal attacks, Fire Up, which increases how much damage your fire based attacks do, or Leaf Veil, which makes it so that you can’t be hit in the middle of a Cure. If you then level this new Deck Command to it’s highest level (anywhere from 3 to 5, depending on the command), you can then continue to use that ability without equipping that command. This gives you a lot of reasons to experiment.

And then there’s the icing on the cake. Your Finishers can also be improved. When you have one Finisher equipped, other Finishers, based on a hierarchical Finisher tree, will gain experience from specific actions (usually involving performing Finishers). If you fill up a Finisher’s experience points, that Finisher is unlocked, giving you even more options in battle.

The only flaw in this growth system is that it’s a lot to keep track of. There will be times when you spend 5 or 10 minutes just combining and equipping different Deck Commands to see what you can get, and that process can start to get cumbersome. In the end, though, it is all worth it.

Growth System Score: 9.7


The pacing in this game is excellent (you might see a theme here by now). The story moves along at a brisk (but not rushed) pace. You consistently feel like your making progress in the growth system. There’s really not much to fault here. With each character taking between 10 and 15 hours to beat, depending on how much you rush yourself, there never seems to be a completely dull moment. There’s even a good amount of exploration going on, even though it’s all a little faked. The story progression is almost completely linear, and you must “go here” and “do that” to progress through the story, but you don’t always have to do it right away. There are occasionally branching paths (that go out for more than just a few feet) that will allow you to explore. And since they game gives you a pat on the back for finding all of the treasures in the game, there is some incentive to explore as well.

The pacing only feels like it starts to fall apart after you’ve played all the way through with 2 of the characters, and you’re playing through with the third. Since you’ll likely know the Disney stories, and you’ve seen two thirds of those stories in the game already, you’ll be able to guess fairly well what happens with the last character, and it can make the progression feel a little more sluggish. The game counters this by having a number of smaller revelations throughout the game, which helps keep your mind occupied on things like “oh, so while he was there, she was there!” or “so that’s why she said he did that!”. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting pretty close to it.

One other problem that effects the pacing is the loading times. They are rather long (as you can probably see in the opening video on this page). They are not so long that they destroy the game… IF you do a full install. It cuts down the load times a lot, and it is worth it.

Pacing Score: 9.6

Continuing Playability

Is there a reason to continue playing after you’ve beaten the game with all three characters? Yes. To unlock and beat the secret ending, and unlock the final secret video. Depending on the difficulty level you chose and how thorough you were in playing through the game, this could lead to a 50% increase in total gameplay time by itself… or it could be done in a couple of hours. Once you’ve done this, there’s little incentive to go back and continue playing unless you really are just one of those people that has to really complete a game to be satisfied. The unfortunate thing is, completing absolutely everything in the game does nothing more than put a little stamp in your journal under each category to signify that you’ve done everything. The one redeeming factor is that there is a secret boss to beat, and a rather hard one at that. For many people, a real challenge (instead of “collect everything”) is a much better reason to keep playing. This secret boss does give that challenge, and it will take you a significant amount of time to become powerful enough to beat this boss. So, there are little things here and there to keep you playing after the ending(s), but nothing truly extraordinary.

Continuing Playability Score: 8.7

Review Summary:

Graphics Score: 9.6

Music Score: 9.3

Story Score: 9.5

Gameplay Score: 9.9

Growth System Score: 9.7

Pacing Score: 9.6

Continuing Playability Score: 8.7

Total Review Score: 66.3/70 = 94.7%

Import Friendly?

Since it’s on the PSP, which has no region protection, playing it is not a problem. There is a slight glitch when playing the Japanese version on an American PSP, though. When you’re playing the game normally, it swaps circle and X because that’s just the way Japanese games are. However, when you access the Save or Load menus, it swaps them back. That is, unless you’ve pressed the PS/Home button at any time since you started playing the game. It’s a minor problem, and easy to work around once you know what’s going on, but it can and will cause some confusion if you’re not aware of it ahead of time. As for the story and gameplay, everything is in heavy Japanese. You won’t be able to understand the story without having at least an intermediate level understanding of Japanese. However, for simply playing the game and understanding the Deck Commands and such, you should be able to get by if you only know katakana. If you’re in it for the gameplay, which is the best part anyway, you can learn katakana in just a couple days if you have the will to. In which case, you should Buy Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep at Play-Asia, especially since the game doesn’t yet have a release date for the US yet. However, if what you really want is the story, you might have to keep waiting. That is, of course, unless you know Japanese.

Import Friendly Score: 6.0/10

I hope you enjoyed this Birth By Sleep Review. What do you think? I would be glad to find out. So, please feel free to leave a comment if you would like to say anything, or if you have any questions!

26th Jan2010

Final Fantasy XIII Review

by Kuro Matsuri

Final Fantasy XIII Logo

Welcome to the Kuro Matsuri Video Game review of Final Fantasy XIII. Since this is our first review, let me start by presenting the format of our reviews (you can skip to the first category under this paragraph if you don’t care). First, we select a number of dimensions that are highly relevant to the genre and/or specific game we are reviewing. Then, we rate each one on a 0 to 10 scale, decimals allowed. We sum the scores up and divide it by the total possible in order to give the final score for the game, which will be in terms of percentage (100% being an absolutely perfect game in our eyes). Then, since we review Japanese games for American and European audiences, every one of our reviews includes a part at the end about how “import friendly” the game is. This rating is based on two things, how easy or hard it is for a person with the American or European version of the console to be able to play the game (e.g., can they just put it in and play it, or will they have to modify the console, or even get a new Japanese one?), and how easy or hard is it for someone with little to know Japanese knowledge to play and enjoy the game. This, too, is on a 1 to 10 scale. Alright, here we go. We’ll start with graphics.


The graphics are outright impressive, especially when viewed in full 1080p. Most everything looks crisp and pretty. However, it certainly isn’t flawless. Some of the characters’ hair appears to have an odd filter over it, making it appear almost pixelated. Lightning’s hair seems to be have the worst case of it, while Sazh’s hair doesn’t seem to do this at all. Apparently, afros are the way to get around this problem. Ironically, whenever the characters are in motion, this filter makes the hair look very realistic. But, whenever they are standing still, it makes the hair look out of place when compared to the rest of the game. That is, until you get used to it. By the end of the game, it probably won’t bother you anymore. There were also a few cases of lower resolution textures here and there throughout the game, but really not too many. Considering the length of the game, the detail presented through the entire game is certainly something worth admiring.

Graphics Score: 9.5/10


(NO SPOILERS) Full of twists and turns, the story in this game is what you have come to expect from a Final Fantasy game. It might not become one of your favorite stories, but it will not disappoint. It has several sub-plots that emerge as the game progresses, none of which feel pointless. You will have to struggle with whether your group is doing the right thing or the wrong thing, and you later find out for sure which one it is. After Final Fantasy XII, I was worried that the ending might disappoint us much as FFXII’s ending had. I was happy to discover the opposite. The ending was pleasant, but not too pleasant (perfect happy endings are kinda boring), and had everything to do with the characters we had grown attached to through the game. There is no question in my mind that the story is the highlight of the game. That being said, there are sections of the story that wear on a little too long, and some of the twists and turns are very easy to see coming. That’s why FFXIII didn’t get a perfect 10/10 for its story.

Story Score: 9.8/10

Battle Gameplay

In any Final Fantasy game, how the battles are played is something to be considered separately from the rest of the gameplay. In order to complete the game, you’ll have to play through hundreds, if not thousands, of battles. Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system is fun, but flawed. First, I’ll explain the basics of the battle system. There is no MP, all actions cost one or more sections of your ATB (Active Time Battle) bar. As such, there’s no way to use magic outside of battle, so you’re always automatically healed to full after every battle. You either select your actions manually or use the “attack” button to allow the game to pick the best options based on the enemy you are selecting and the optima you are in (optima will be known as paradigm in the English version). There is a “break” system (known as “stagger” in English) that increases the amount of damage that your attacks do. Every time you hit an enemy, their break percentage increases. This percentage represents how much of your base damage you do to this opponent. So, if the break meter says 500%, you do 5 times your normal damage. If the break bar fills up, the break percentage automatically increases by 100%. Furthermore, when an enemy is in break mode, some of them won’t be able to attack back, and some of them can be knocked into the air and juggled. This is crucial to doing well in battle, as shown below:

In fact, for the Behemoth, if you don’t manage to get them to break before they are half dead, they will transform and become even harder to kill, as shown below:

However, if you do manage to get them to break, they become MUCH easier:

You may have noticed in the above videos that you are given a ranking for how well you did in the fight. The rankings go from 0 to 5 stars, and it’s based solely on how quickly you beat the enemies. The time restrictions get smaller as you get stronger because it attempts to be an accurate judge of how well you did a particular fight. On average it’s a good indicator, but there is one problem. The required time can be manipulated by reducing your max stat. If you have medium high physical attack and magic attack instead of really high physical attack and low magic attack, the time required for a 5 star rating is increased. Which means that there is a reason not to max out one role versus another, and instead it is indirectly encouraging keeping each individual character very balanced as opposed to a balanced team of characters that are each really strong in their own areas. This aspect was a bad move. A battle rating system shouldn’t be able to be manipulated like that.

But the real flaw is that you can only control one character, and you can’t switch which character mid-battle. Furthermore, the best you can do to control the other two characters is to give them a role to play. Basically, you can give one character the general role of “Attacker” (“Commando” in English), and they will use the abilities that come with that role as they please. Same with “Healer” (“Medic”), “Enhancer” (“Synergist”) and the other 3 roles. How the other characters utilize these roles is completely up to the AI, and you have no control over it. The only saving grace is that you can change characters’ roles mid-fight, but you can’t just change one character’s role. You have to pick one of the 6 3 role combinations you made before you entered the fight, meaning you have to change everybody’s role at once, though it is possible to “change” someone’s role to the same role in the process. Just to make matters worse, if the leader of the party dies (the leader is the one you are actually controlling), it’s an immediate game over. This can be particularly frustrating when the leader is low on health, but another character is slightly lower on health, so the AI heals that one first even when the leader is clearly the target of the next attack, resulting in a game over. Granted, that scenario doesn’t happen all that often, but it did happen several times while playing through the game.

Another thing to note is that there is no evasion or accuracy stat. All attacks hit or miss based on straight hit detection. Some enemies move around a lot, and you’ll miss them more often. Other enemies hardly move at all, and you’ll essentially never miss them. That’s all well and good, but that means that there is no way to increase how well you dodge, or how well you aim. Ever. Though, to be honest, I’m overall happy with this aspect. It kinda makes sense when you play it. Except for ONE enemy. The Behemoth. If you break a Behemoth after it has transformed and then knock it into the air, if no one else hits it to force it to reset it’s floating animation, you WILL miss the next 2 hits. The enemy is supposed to be completely helpless and open to attacks, and you automatically miss twice. This is a horrible flaw that, thankfully, only seems to effect one fight, but it is glaringly awful.

Battle Gameplay Score: 7.5/10

Leveling System

The leveling system (called the Crystarium or Crystalium) is always a major part of any Final Fantasy game. As such, it’s a category that simply can’t be ignored in a Final Fantasy review! The leveling system in FFXIII is very reminiscent of the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X, with a few major differences. One difference is that the characters never become essentially the same. Yes, every character can eventually get to the highest level of every role, but certain characters will never be as good as other characters at a particular role. For example, Lighting is one of the best Attackers in the game, and Hope or Vanille just simply can’t get as good at the role. But, they can be better Blasters than Lightning can. Also, every character has their own special attack that they can use as many times as they want in battle that the other characters can never learn. On the other hand, every role tree is very linear. You’ll rarely go more than 4 slots out from the main path, and never go more than 5 or 6. You also don’t really have a location in the tree, unlike the sphere grid, so you never actually backtrack. As such, there’s less planning involved with leveling. However, there is still some planning in the sense that you need to choose which jobs to prioritize enhancements for, and then you need to match that planning up with the way you’re leveling the weapons and accessories. Yes, you level up your weapons and accessories.

So, how do you level up weapons and accessories? Well, you obtain items that can be spent to increase the experience points of a weapon/accessory. Some items will give the weapon or accessory a multiplier that increases future experience point earnings for that weapon or accessory, while others will give huge boosts but reduce that multiplier. Once you get the weapon/accessory to a high enough level, you can use items with the effect “item change” to change the weapon or accessory to a lower level of a higher tier item. Meaning that you can really invest a lot into a weapon and make it very powerful.

So, with careful management, but without the pain of true micro-managing, the leveling system becomes very enjoyable. It is one of the better (though it’s hard to call it the best) leveling systems in the Final Fantasy franchise.

Leveling System Score: 9.1/10

Pacing And Exploration

This is where much of the buzz on the internet has been coming into play. The pacing of the game is very controlled by being very linear, with the exception of one large, open area that is around 2/3 of the way through the game. I consider this to be both good and bad. On one hand, there are no side quests until you reach the larger, more open area (which I didn’t do until just over 30 hours into the game), so there is no reason to spend extra time in any area unless you plan to run back and forth in a straight line just to kill more enemies for experience. On the other hand, there’s no need to really do that. If you kill every enemy you see and level up wisely, it won’t be impossible by any stretch to beat all the bosses that come up through the game. But, everything changes once you reach the plains-like area. Once you’re there, it would be wise to do many of the missions (though not all of them as some of them are ridiculously hard until you reach much higher stats) so that you can get strong enough to avoid lots of difficulties after you leave the area.

Except that, despite what I just said, not everything changes. Once you’re done with the big open area (which you can return to), the path goes right back to being incredibly linear with almost no exploration whatsoever. I can comfortably say that this is the most linear main Final Fantasy title to date. This doesn’t bother me too much, as before this, FFX was in my top 3 or 4 list of FF titles, and it used to be the most linear of the Final Fantasy games. But exploration is definitely limited, which hurts the score of this category. And a few things simply took too long before they were available. I couldn’t choose my party members at all until just over 25 hours in, for example. There is definitely room for improvement here.

Pacing And Exploration Score: 8.5/10

Continuing Playability

What I mean by continuing playability is this: is there any reason for me to continue playing the game after I’ve finished the story? This is a little different from replay value in that I’m not referring to starting the game over, but rather whether or not you will want to continue to improve your characters and completing optional content once the final boss has beaten. The answer: yes, you will. The last tier of the Crystarium is not unlocked until you’ve beaten the final boss. This sounds odd, but it keeps the final boss from being too easy the first time you fight him, which I feel is a good thing. This last tier gives HUGE boosts to stats. Beyond that, there are 64 optional missions, some of them more difficult than others, and some of them more fun than others. The Jumbo Cactuar (or Sabotender as they are known in the Japanese Final Fantasy games) is an amusing fight that makes you feel rather accomplished once you manage to beat him. About that fight, let me say this. 10,000 Needles is painful.

Even if you beat all of the missions, there are trophies and secret wallpapers to unlock by collecting all the items in the game or beating all of the missions with a 5 star rating. All of this is more than enough to extend the play time to over 100 hours, which is very respectable for a good Final Fantasy. However, there isn’t much else that you can do. No mini-games or other amusing distractions. Thus, a perfect score just can’t quite be justified.

Continuing Playability Score: 9.5/10


Graphics Score: 9.5/10

Story Score: 9.8/10

Battle Gameplay Score: 7.5/10

Leveling System Score: 9.1/10

Pacing And Exploration Score: 8.5/10

Continuing Playability Score: 9.5/10

Total Score: 53.9/60 = 89.8%

Import Friendly?

Since this game isn’t available in the US or other regions until March, the only way to play this game at the time of this posting is to A) be in the gaming industry or gaming journalism industry and get an advanced copy or B) import the game from Japan. The good news is that the PS3 version of the game (the only version available in Japan) is completely region free, as are all PS3 games. This means that if you have an American or European PS3, the game will play just fine in your system. This certainly lends it some “import friendliness”. But, since this is an RPG with an involved story, it has LOTS of Japanese text and voices. You will not understand the story and may even get confused as to what you’re supposed to do if you don’t understand a fair amount of Japanese. Can you still get through it and enjoy the gameplay without knowing Japanese? With some experimentation, sure. But you won’t get the story, which I’ve already said is the best part of this release. If you can understand Japanese, though, you should go ahead and Buy Final Fantasy XIII at Play-Asia (maybe even with the FFXIV beta application code, if you can still get a first print copy) especially since the English voice acting isn’t quite as good (minor complaint) and they changed the main theme song (bigger complaint) in the English version of the game. If you can’t understand Japanese, or can’t afford to import (it is more expensive), just wait a couple more months until the game comes out in your own region. It will be worth the wait, even with the unfortunate changes.

Import Friendly Score: 5.0/10

If you have any questions, complaints, hearty agreements, disagreements, rebuttals, etc., please comment below! It will be much appreciated! ^_^