Review: Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess (PS4)

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Title: Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (1.8 GB)
Release Date: July 14, 2015
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Original MSRP: $49.99
ESRB Rating: M
Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess is also available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
It’s not every day that you get to play the villain character but Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess allows you to do just that. An enhanced version of Deception IV: Blood Ties, Nightmare Princess’ two different stories revolve around the daughters of the devil: Velguirie and Laegrinna. Velguirieā€™s story begins after she awakens from a long sleep. She has the ability to haunt humans in their sleep, which she uses to gain power with the goal of reviving the devil. Laegrinna’s story, a carryover from Blood Ties I believe, focuses on her trying to find the descendants of the Twelve Saints, who sealed away her father, with the hopes of finding the 12 Holy Verses and releasing him.

Story reasons aside, Velguirie and Laegrinna both have a similar goal: to defeat humans. Both characters take a mostly hands-off approach to accomplishing that goal. Rather than directly getting their hands dirty, the devil princesses employ a variety of traps, setting up elaborate death machines to defeat the humans that happen across them. The people that are attacking are not completely helpless though.

Gameplay starts out in real time and the devil princesses only have a few abilities to help them out: Laegrinna can perform a dodge move and Velguirie can do that plus a few kick moves that do very little damage. However, they can both temporarily freeze time to set up their traps. Once they’ve set the traps, they can return to real time and maneuver the enemies into them.

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Traps come in a plethora of types and can be used in different ways. Some traps deal a lot of damage, such as a boulder that drops from the ceiling; others serve as a means to move the enemy around, such as spikes that come out of the wall; and others still are great for keeping an enemy stunned, such as an electrified orb that pops up from the ground. All of the types are important but being able to move enemies around or keep them stunned is paramount to doing well in the game.

Although the end goal is often (although not always) to defeat the enemy, the game rates the player based on how well they were able to perform combos and chain together traps. Moving the enemy around is key to chaining traps together, while keeping them stunned gives the player time to replace traps and keep the combo going longer.

… forced me to think up new combos and change my routine …
Performing cool trap combos is definitely the highlight of the game. There’s a Rube Goldberg-esque quality to the combos and I found it incredibly satisfying to activate my perfectly set traps in succession. Because the player can only set a few traps at a time, there’s a lot of skill involved in both knowing how they will all play out and setting up stun time in a combo to pause the game and replace them. Traps have a cooldown time after being placed or used so a combo must take into account those times before the next one can be used.

There’s an added layer of complexity with the way certain traps interact in different ways. Drop the boulder in front of the swinging axe, for example, and the boulder will go rolling giving a different way to use that piece. The stages add complexity as well. Some ways are pretty simple, such as dropping that boulder on a slope to cause it to roll but others involve traps built into the stages. For example a stage might have a specific square that causes a guillotine to drop if the enemy (or player) steps/lands on it.

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Enemies add some variation and complexity as well. Early in the game I found myself using a few go-to traps very often and would frequently use the same combos on each level. As the game progressed, however, some enemies had a resistance or invulnerability to certain trap types, forcing me to build their trap combos differently. Types of enemy resistance can get very extensive, making the later levels in the game pretty challenging.

Levels that have additional goals to use specific traps or stage hazards also forced me to think up new combos and change my routine. Velguirie’s story even has her fighting against other trappers, such as Laegrinna and the protagonists from the previous Deception games, which changes the dynamics as the player has to avoid the enemy’s traps.

The very nature of the game is to set traps, which means that the real-time aspects suffer. The player can’t interact much while they wait for traps to come off cooldown and instead they have to simply run around in circles avoiding the enemy’s attacks while trying to bait the enemy into a trap. Even once they are in the first trap, the juxtaposition between the grid-based trap system and the not-grid-based movement messed up my combos on more than one occasion.

… real-time movement didn’t feel great …
An enemy might be just barely in the square enough to get caught by my suction square, but the next trap, a swinging axe, might just barely miss them because they’re not quite in the center of the square. Once an enemy is in a trap combo, the game feels like a skillful puzzle, but getting the enemy into that trap combo can occasionally be an exercise in patience.

The puzzle-like nature of setting up traps and combos while keeping an eye on trap timers was the most enjoyable part of the game for me. That gameplay is very interesting and unique in the gaming landscape. Unfortunately, I did find some of those real-time elements a little annoying.

The controls during real-time movement didn’t feel great as well, especially while using Velguirie’s kicking motion, I would occasionally want to use a kick on the enemy but might miss them or knock them back in the wrong direction due to the wonky feeling movement.

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A few extra modes round out Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess‘ offerings. There is a mode to create enemies by customizing their look, weapons, and resistance plus a scenario creator and a free play mode to fight against any enemy from the story modes or your custom creation. The game can save replays as well and includes an encyclopedia of defeated enemies. There are a lot of traps and unlockable enemy outfits to find, usually obtained by performing extra goals in addition to the level’s main goal. I feel that the game has plenty to offer, with two full story modes and all of the extra side content.

… there’s a macabre humor in watching an enemy struggle …
Visuals:
Being on all three current PlayStation platforms, Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess does suffer in the visuals department on PlayStation 4. While I would imagine that the Vita and PS3 versions have lower visual fidelity than the PS4 version, this one still feels like it has been dragged down by the other two and doesn’t quite hit the graphical quality one might expect from a PS4 game.

What the game lacks in visual fidelity, it makes up for in style. Stages are varied and interesting, ranging from dungeons, to an abandoned amusement park, to a school play yard. And of course the varied stages each feature their own stage hazards so the variety extends to the gameplay. It’s fun to watch traps go off as well and there’s a macabre humor in watching an enemy struggle in a giant bear trap or seeing them be humiliated by the wooden horse. The game even gives a nice close up of traps going off to make the player’s giant death machines all that much more satisfying.

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A note that I thought worth bringing up but the game is very light on the actual gore. Although traps and stage hazards talk about things like chopping up victims or decapitating them, most of the animations are more cartoonish. The game still has an M rating though, probably because there is some blood shown when enemies get hit, but even someone like me who has trouble stomaching gory movies like Saw was able to play this game without any problems.

Audio:
Audio in Deception IV fell solidly into the good but ultimately forgettable camp for me. The soundtrack is ominous and helps fill the atmosphere of the stages but wasn’t something I found particularly memorable. I even had to go back and play a few levels again just to remember exactly what the soundtrack sounded like.

… particularly unique and fresh …
Character voices, when used, make up some of the difference. Velguirie’s sadistic side shines through in the voice work, and on Laegrinna’s story, her sidekicks (yup, she’s got her own minions) threaten to steal the show. Enemies are mostly relegated to grunts and cries of anguish though and the game only comes with Japanese audio so keep that in mind.

Online/Multiplayer:
Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess is single player only but does have a few online features. There is some ability to share created scenarios online as well as the ability to share replays. A few different leaderboards round out the game’s online features.

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Conclusion:
Considering where the games industry has been going recently, with most game systems seemingly cribbed from other popular games, Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess feels particularly unique and fresh. I can’t think of many games that are similar in mechanics and even fewer that meld the mechanics and atmosphere that Deception provides.

The game is not without faults, such as the duller side of dealing with the stiff movement while trying to bait enemies into a trap, but the fun of setting and activating a big death trap on an enemy far outweighs the faults. The game earns a hearty recommendation to anyone who likes puzzling through setting up gruesome combo machines. Sometimes, it’s fun to be the villain.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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