When the big-budget games fade away, the obscure Japanese out come to play. The gorgeous beat-em-up Battle Princess of Arcadias and the mouthful RPG Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland both hit the PS3, with the latter also popping up on the Vita. Meanwhile, the Xbox One plays catch-up by snagging the PS4 launch title Contrast, and an arcade-style rail shooter, Blue Estate, perks up the burgeoning PS4 library.
Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland
(PS3, Vita, $50, Teen)
An overlooked 2010 RPG gets a souped-up rerelease, with a list of additions nearly as long as its title. It’s a tale that follows three years in the life of a young female alchemist who takes on crafting and magical tasks to help out her beloved kingdom. The graphics have been entirely overhauled, with new backgrounds and character models, and the story gets a boost with new chapters, characters and bosses.
There are a ton of choices you can make throughout the game that lead to more than 30 endings, and you can swap save files from PS3 and Vita versions as you tinker with your decisions to check out the different outcomes. Slow pacing and heavy dialogue can turn the game into a slog, but it’s a solid choice for those who like to sit back, take in the scenery and story and sink into a vibrant world.
Battle Princess of Arcadias
(PS3, $30, Teen)
Melding side-scrolling beat-em-up with RPG elements like Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara, Battle Princess of Arcadias follows the quest of three vengeful princesses who slash and hack the kingdom’s ample supply of marauding monsters. You’re constantly juggling enemies, swapping out weapons — there are more than 900 of them — and enhancing your attack and defense with items you pick up along the way.
The cheesy anime vibe is way over the top in the best of ways, adding lighthearted twists to cliched tropes in the genre. While the customization is admirable, though, combat falls flat because there is little difference in the effectiveness of most loadouts. This is a thorough button-masher, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re in the mood to turn off your brain, take in the bright colors and silly quips and get the ego boost that comes with committing genocide of sad, ugly beasts.
(PS4, $20, Mature)
Light gun shooters such as Time Crisis, Zombie Raid and The House of the Dead are a dying breed. At its best, Blue Estate manages to show why the genre is missed, but it also trots out plenty of the archaic annoyances that have robbed such games of their popularity. The developers deserve credit for the comic book-inspired presentation, which provides the feel of hopping into a graphic novel to shoot a bunch of fools. It’s exhilarating to bust caps with deadly precision into a cascade of enemies, slip in some well-timed reloads and hammer away at the next wave. The PS4 controller’s well-calibration motion functionality works brilliantly.
On the minus side, the camera is one of your chief enemies, leaving you prone to ambushes you won’t be able to manage until repeat playthroughs following cheap deaths. The guns are also woefully underpowered, often requiring you to empty clips into the tougher, bullet-sponge enemies. Much of the replay value of the four-hour game comes in learning how cheap and evil the game is the hard way, then coming back to claim your revenge.
(Xbox One, $15, Teen)
PlayStation Plus members who bought the PS4 at launch remember this game well, because it was free, intriguing and one of very few titles that were available on the system at the beginning. The puzzle-platformer, which has you control a 1930s burlesque ghost-lady thing as she helps a little girl cope with family problems. Echoing The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, the chief traversal mechanic has you become one-dimensional, fuse with the wall and leap to areas that would otherwise be unreachable.
The art style and tone are the calling cards, with the ever-darkening story flipping back and forth between head-scratching strangeness and heavy emotional impact. The game’s obtuse puzzles and sloppy controls are tougher to stomach when you’re paying $15 for the game rather than giving it a whirl as a freebie, but since Xbox One owners are even harder up than PS4 players for games to take on, it’s well worth a look for the curious.