Sunday, April 12, 2015

Omega Quintet (PS4)

When I first caught word of this PS4 exclusive I was truly excited. It marked the first time an Idea Factory Intl./Compile Heart game would be coming to new-gen consoles, specifically the PS4. I immediately looked up the game's trailer to see what it was about, and the intro sequence that was shown really captured my attention. I liked the darker appearance of the enemies, and the unique concept that girls with pop idol talents would be the heroines to take on the ominous threat. At the time I had no idea how things would play out regarding the story, and battle, but once I got my hands on a review copy of the game It all began to make sense, in a wacky RPG sort of way.

Omega Quintet is an interesting game that builds upon the power, and influence of music. At the heart of the tale there is a secret group of girls who are born with a particular set of skills. Skills that are tied to music. These talented young ladies who have the ability to bend music into a weapon are known as 'Verse Maidens' within the game's lore. Through the leadership of elder women these Verse Maidens are taught to fight against a worldly threat known as Blare. Blare, as it were is a beastly plague upon mankind that threatens the very existence of humanity. In fact humanity is in hiding due to the threat of this otherworldly enemy. In order to keep hope alive, and combat the certain doom that is incoming Verse Maidens build up hype by battling the MAD (Mad Monsters) in a televised event that is not unlike a pop idol concert. The fan's applause, and support help the Verse Maidens' effectiveness in combat to grow. Unfortunately for the Verse Maiden's organization their lead mascot has grown past the age of being effective in the fight. As such she seeks other potential Verse Maidens to take her place, and rid the world of it's inevitable demise.

This is where the two main characters of the plot come in ... As childhood friends growing up in poverty, and barely scraping by both 'Otoha', and her male companion 'Takt' go about their day to day survival with modest ambitions driving them forward. It isn't until one fateful day while practicing her songs in an attempt to become a Verse Maiden herself that Otoha attracts a swarm of MAD. It is during this encounter that Otoha is confirmed to have the power of a Verse Maiden. Afterwards her and Takt are brought to the Verse Maiden HQ where their newly found place in the world is explained. As they come to grips with their job, and become acquainted with the other Verse Maidens Otoha, and Takt reluctantly, and sometimes willingly play their parts in the ongoing fight against the Blare. Of course not everything is straightforward plot-wise, and some business/organization rivalry rears it's ugly head as a formerly exiled Verse Maiden aims to avenge her dismissal as a viable weapon of music.

While 'Omega Quintet' includes old nods to features found within the Neptunia, and Hyperdevotion series it does good to do it's own unique thing. You will find that this time around that battle is more complex in design, and that character management is even more deeply involved than it ever has been before in an Idea Factory Intl./Compile Heart game. When it comes to the in-game task management you'll find that the game includes the usual interactive headquarters for your party along with it's various points of interest. In Omega Quintet's case this area of interest, and organization HQ (Headquarters) is known as the office. Within the world of the Verse Maidens things are managed a lot like a business, hence the "office" area. At first the elder female manager, and the retired Verse Maiden who discovered Otoha, and Takt will be dictating your activities as you progress through the tutorial tidbits, and as you move your way into the core experience of the game. After a while Takt will be nominated as the Verse Maiden's manager, and Otoha, who is the main playable character will become an underling to his bidding. The office management that follows the recruitment comes in the form of building relationships through dialogue driven encounters with the Verse Maidens, and the former manager of the firm. As a 3D version of Takt you'll also visit the training station to improve upon your battle skills. You'll even manage materials via the 'Workshop', and take on quests via the 'Quest' hub.

New features within the 'Office' include a 'Make-up' room for changing the Verse Maiden's hair colors, eye colors, and fashion accessories. There's even a 'PVS (Promotional Video System)' room for orchestrating your own pop idol performance with your Verse Maiden party members. This includes tweaking everything from the songs, to the lyrics, and even the special effects that go into the staged performance amongst other things. For those of you looking for cool unlockables like artwork, music, and cutscenes the 'Collection' area of the office space will take your coins that are earned through battle, and discovery in exchange for the extra features.

Outside of the office you'll find the usual world map setup in which a secondary 'Town Map' lies. The world map is where you'll find the locations you need to head to in order to complete the main quests. The 'Town Map' on the other hand is where you'll be taking on side quests that can be completed on the side for extra items. Quests, and side quests are your usual Neptunia, and Hyperdimension ordeal, with some differences added in to compliment the Verse Maiden, and Blare theme. You'll traverse path driven locations that have respawning enemies (MAD) of different types, and will come across blocked paths with different barriers, or blare in place. As a Verse Maiden you must kill off enough enemies within each area to get deeper into the location. By this I mean that there are Blare barriers that require a certain level to remove. By defeating enough enemies you, and your party of Verse Maidens can get past these numerically marked barriers. The only exception to this rule is the inaccessible areas that are only opened during certain parts of the story. To add yet another twist to the game the developer has also given each of the Verse Maidens an in-level ability that can make previously inaccessible areas accessible. Kanadeko, for example has the ability to push down objects, and jump to higher locations. Nene, on the other hand is the more tech savvy of the trio, and can trigger switches to get into the more hidden areas. Otoha, the initial leader of the group can engage enemies in a surprise fashion should you hit the "SQUARE" button fast enough. Each Verse Maiden must be leveled up appropriately though in order to be able to use these abilities.

When it comes to the actual turn based battle system, things are definitely new this time around. You'll have to incorporate several different features in order to masterfully defeat the enemy, and come out of the fight with some bonus perks. The first key difference in the battle system is that it is based on a range effectiveness scale. By this I mean that you will find a color scale underneath the enemy/s that will clue you into how effective each character's attacks will be against the enemy. Effectiveness, in general is judged according to the weapon (Mic) type, and it's proficiency. Each character starts of with a base weapon that has a certain range to it. Otoha, for example carries a hammer type weapon, and is more effective to the enemies that are closer up. Even Kanadeko, and her fist weapons are initially only effective at a closer range to the enemy MADs. Only characters like Nene, the rifle wielder can effectively hit MAD that are in the distance. As far as the color scale goes it changes according to the characters, and their weapon proficiencies. If an enemy is standing on a green spot it is an ideal target for maximum damage infliction. If it is on red then it isn't. Of course there are in between colors to slighter advantages, and disadvantages which include blue, and yellow in a shades of grey fashion. Each Verse Maiden can change weapons in the game, and effectively change their roles in battle in doing so. In order to do this they must learn new weapon skills via the office character setup (Disc skills), use said skills in battle, and wield the weapon that you aim for them to use.

Aside from the weapon based combat you will also find that skills are a must if you hope to rid the battle area of enemies more quickly. Skills come in two different types including 'E Skills (Energy Skills)", and "Mic Skills". Energy Skills will use up EP, and Mic Skills will use up Mic Points. Learning to use these wisely in combat will better your results, and reward you accordingly. Skills can be learned through the disc development system that has upgrades which can unlocked through experience points from battles. Each characters' Disc grid is arranged in a dot-to-dot pattern that includes new skills, new action slots, and other combat add-ons that will enhance the characters' performance in a battle scenario. It should also be noted that 'E Skills' are usually elemental in nature, and effect different MAD types differently. Some even inflict the enemies with status ailments. In order to make the best use of your skills you can check up on the MAD during an in-battle session via the MAD-specific bio. All you have to do is press 'TRIANGLE' when the prompt appears above the MAD, and an in-depth display of info regarding the weaknesses, strengths, and the MAD's attacks/defenses will be shown.

In addition to the Mic, and Skill based combat a pairing feature that includes the use of Takt as support can also be utilized in combat to extend upon attacks (pursuit), and defend the party members if acted upon quickly enough. Takt, while a more behind-the-scenes character plays a significant role in combat. In the formation, or order menu you can pair Takt up with a Verse Maiden of choice for added effect. These added effects include 'Pursuit' which deals extra weapon damage to the targeted enemy through Takt, himself as well as a 'Group Defense/Ideal Defense" which can be used to dumb down the damage to the paired Verse Maiden, or Verse Maidens. This defensive ability basically turns Takt into a human shield.

One thing you really need to understand in regards to combat is that each action you take, whether it be offensive or defensive takes up a characters' action points. Action points are unique to each character, and tie-in with their current proficiency level. By defeating enemies you can increase your action count, and combo count along with any additional damage that a paired Takt might perform. Once you use up your action points the turn will either go to the next Verse Maiden, or the enemy MAD, respectively. Depending on whether, or not you landed a surprise attack on the MAD avatar, or got surprised yourself (Danger) prior to actually going into battle will greatly influence the order of battle actions/turns. A "Surprise" attack on a MAD avatar gives your party a preemptive advantage with extra turns, while a "Danger" encounter will do the opposite, and allow the MAD to gain the upper hand.

As usual you can tell when, and whom the next turn is going to by a bubble system that shows the characters'/MADs' profile pic. Within this bubbled turn based area of the battle screen you'll also notice that some bubbles have added effects (Flash Focus) shown via an indicator on the side of the bubble. If your character lands on one of these 'Flash Focus' bubbles things like EP, HP, and damage will be boosted, or altered accordingly. The same goes for an enemy MAD that lands on such a bubble. As such it is imperative that you time your actions to better benefit your party. To offset the enemy's turn you can 'turn delay' by performing one of Takt's paired actions. Strategy is definitely a key element of the turn based gameplay in that sense. As far as using Takt in the "Paired" function goes you must press "X" after the paired Verse Maiden attacks, or before an enemy attacks the Verse Maiden. Timing is crucial as the "X" prompter will only stay up a second, and in the case of Takt's paired defense you'll have to choose from pressing "SQUARE" for group defense, or "X" for ideal/Single character defense.

Furthermore the combat, past the skills and the previously mentioned mechanics lies the combo-centric gameplay. By using standard attacks mixed with skills you can achieve "Overkills". This can be done in a variety of different ways, but mostly requires a character paired to Takt along with the 'E Skills' being used as a finisher past the initial enemy HP depletion. Like most Idea Factory JRPG enemies the MAD within this game's battle system have both a health bar (HP), and an additional shield meter that acts as a sort of guard break mechanic. Once you deplete the shield meter the MAD will receive greater damage from your attacks, and refill the health meter in a red color that measures the overkill status. In order to achieve an "Overkill" through a combo you must do damage in points equal to the designated amount that are shown in a "Health/Overkill" display. One way to guarantee an overkill is to use the "Follow", and "Link" system that ties-in with the 'E Skills'. In each, or most 'E Skill' listings is a "Follow" skill, and "Link" skill of a different kind. As I mentioned earlier 'E Skills' are aligned with specific elements. These 'E Skills' are then further divided specific icons. By following the chosen 'E Skill' up with the "Follow" skill, and a "Link" skill that are shown you will make a chain that will eventually result in a usable chain skill.

Ultra group based attacks called "Harmonics", on the other hand can only be achieved under two conditions. One condition is that you continue to attack in succession building up Voltage meter, and secondly that Takt must have an action/s left. Using the Harmonics will allow all party members (up to 5) to attack at once. The catch is that once activated during a fight Harmonics cannot be deactivated, so you must use it wisely. Chains, which I briefly mentioned in my discussion about "follow", and "link" skills in the paragraph above must be activated one at a time between characters. For example if you choose a green 'follow' skill that has a brown earth skill for a 'link' the green skill must be done by one character in the party, and followed up with a brown earth skill by the next party member in the passing order. If both skills are performed by a single character the chain will be void, and unusable for the remainder of the battle. Perks for doing chains includes the ability to use a powerful attack known as a chain skill. It is always important to upgrade your characters using the experience points you gain through battle as more 'E Skills', and 'Mic Skills' will be made available to you.

I should also mention the fact that once you complete a battle your methods of combat used will be tallied up for a final EXP boost. Things like the way you finish the final MAD (Link, Overkill ...) will be added up. EXP, or experience points govern how quickly each character levels up according to their RPG attributes. That's why it's best to put on a proper show, and finish each battle with a bang. This sometimes requires the packing of restoration items which can be crafted using EP from disassembled materials in the office 'Workshop'.

Other in-game features you'll be focusing on as you do battle, and engage in conversation include an "Affection" meter, and a clothing damage system. The "Affection" meter in 'Omega Quintet' basically takes the place of the usual Lily Rank, but makes Takt's affection towards the Verse Maidens the focal point. As one would likely guess Takt's relationship as the girls' manager, and "Friend" greatly effects their performance when they are paired with him on the battlefield. This "Affection" can be increased at the office through engaged character dialogue scenarios. Always check for floating icons/images of the Verse Maidens, and the main manager when returning to the office from a completed quest as it will help to build the Verse Maidens' effectiveness in battle. All you have to do is basically click through the dialogue, and the affection meter will rise once the final dialogue screen is finished. Of course there are some instances with multiple choice answers that could win you more affection, or lose it.

In regards to the clothing destruction that happens through received combat damage it's a lot like the stripping mechanic of "Akiba's Trip", or more so the costume damage system of "Senran Kagura". As your Verse Maidens take damage in battle their clothing will tear off in stages leaving them more, and more vulnerable to damage from the enemy. In each tearing of the clothes there will be a short cutscene showcasing the girls in an embarrassed state, and in an awkward and more revealing pose. To counter this you will either have to have more dresses in your inventory, or visit the 'Workshop' at the office to repair them. If you have an extra dress on hand you can change using one of your in-battle actions. Supposing you have to wait for workshop repairs though it will cost you EP (in-game currency) to fix based on the severity of the clothing article's damage percentage. EP can be earned through disassembling items found on outings, or through completed quests, and side quests. EP in the game can also be spent at the 'Workshop' for amps (Dress Accessories) that will increase clothing resistance to various status ailments.

In the way of main menu options you'll find that 'Omega Quintet' houses some interesting option tweaks. You'll find in place the usual English, and Japanese vocal options as well as options for turning off the annoying announcer that chimes in during, and outside of battles. I hate to say it, but the announcer in this game, paired with the repetitive comments from the characters makes things painful to listen to. Like nails scraping across a chalkboard painful. Through the 'Options' though two instances of this can be turned off, thankfully. Should you desire to do so you can also make it so that the worldly Verse Maiden avatar is constantly running, or so that it can run with a pressing/holding of the "L1" shoulder button. It's all about making the gamer feel more comfortable within the game's presentation.

The Graphics & Sound Quality ...

Graphically, 'Omega Quintet' is a slight step above the PS Vita versions of Neptunia, and Hyperdevotion. It's true shining quality comes in the form of vividly mastered dialogue screens that showcase new-gen worthy character art. The downside, on the other hand comes outside of dialogue, and within the 3D realm of Omega Quintet's fictional world. While the character avatars look upgraded, and luminescent graphics-wise the terrain still looks mostly like it did on the PS Vita ports of the latest Neptunia, and Hyperdevotion games. If it weren't for the interesting story, and characters I feel that this game would definitely be lacking visually as the dialogue driven scenarios are what makes this game so great. As far as the soundtrack goes it is superb as always. I loved the anime, and pop idol inspired music as well as the English and Japanese vocal representations of each character. In fact I'd say going with the English dub isn't all that bad this time around. For those of you looking to reminisce past your completion of the game the 'Collection' unlockables that you unlock with special coins will let your revisit key moments in dialogue as well as cutscenes, and songs that you might have found enjoyable.

Now the Verdict ...

Despite featuring some visual, and feature based nods to series like that of 'Neptunia', and 'Hyperdevotion', 'Omega Quintet' does good to present it's own lore, and it's own take on combat. While I had wished the tutorials weren't thrown at me so bluntly, and in rapid succession due to the amount of information to take in I think 'Idea Factory/Compile Heart' did good to usher us gamers into the new experience without too much hassle. One important question outside of said delivery remains though, "How did it stand up to new-gen standards?". To that I say you might be a tad bit disappointed if you were looking for something as spectacular as 'Bloodborne', or even something far beyond what 'Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart' had in store for you. It's just not a fully new-gen experience. In it's defense I will say that the anime elements really looked gorgeous on the HD screen, and that the 3D models of the characters were equally as impressive. On the bad side the terrain looks basically like some of the old terrain used in the Idea Factory PS Vita remakes. All in all it's still a unique, and noteworthy addition to the growing list of games coming from Idea Factory, and their co-developers, and publishers though. If you like a game that will make you smile, and laugh, and that is enjoyable to play ... particularly an RPG then I think you'll like this one. Keep in mind it does contain some more "Mature" themes that are a little on the perverted side though. If you can handle that then I'm sure you'll like the game as I did.

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