Tales of Xillia
3 stars = Good
Gamers occasionally get themselves worked up about a new release that receives international fame. However, some games, like "Tales of Xillia" (PlayStation 3; Namco Bandai; T, for Teen), take a wee bit longer than others to cross the vast oceans and actually arrive here. "Xillia" debuted in Japan some two years ago, so after all the acclaim and hype, the expectations may have been too high. The final product doesn't hit all the marks it should.
Not to say that gamers will walk away disappointed. Far from it. The game delivers exciting combat, a colorfully vibrant world to explore and a story dominated by two compelling leads aided by quirky extras.
Jude and Milla approach the story from different angles. He is a student learning to master new skills, and she is a once-all-powerful being whose powers were stripped away. But they quickly forge a bond that continues throughout the game.
Gamers reap the rewards of seeing their stories through to the conclusion, but a plot glitch hampers the overall effect. You must choose between Jude and Milla as to whose story you want to focus on -- meaning, to see how events unfold for the other, a replay of the entire game would be required. "Xillia" packs a lot into the game, so devoting that much time asks a lot of gamers in a crowded marketplace.
Controlling one character while the three others in the party are controlled by the AI works well. Rather than coming off like gnats just swarming around the battlefield, here the allies actually perform useful tasks like stringing together attacks, healing party members and generally making life difficult (and short) for enemies. The skill tree used to level up the characters comes off limited and constrictive, giving you less of a sense of freedom to mold skill sets.
The cutscenes and interactions, combined with excellent combat encounters, all join with other elements to make "Tales of Xillia" an engrossing RPG game that gamers will certainly enjoy. It doesn't exceed the hype this franchise has engendered over the years, but anyone with a hankering to dive into a rich story will find satisfaction here.
2 stars = Mediocre
A few years after the release of the stellar "NHL 11," we hockey fans are still awaiting the next big innovation from EA Sports when it comes to its hockey franchise. Sadly, the treading-water condition that has plagued the "Madden" and "College Football" series has also hit the ice.
The ways to play feel relatively untouched from previous editions, so anyone who loves GM, season, franchise and online modes shouldn't expect any surprises or new gimmicks.
The most disappointing aspect, however, concerns the seminal hockey game "NHL 94." The 94 edition finally condensed everything hockey fans love about the sport into a game, so much so that it lives on via a classic scene in the movie "Swingers," where "making Gretzky's head bleed" became an oft-repeated one-liner.
"NHL 14" (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3; EA Sports; E, for Everyone) sullies this, unfortunately, by offering a halfhearted re-creation of the 20-year-old video game. The top-down camera, stars under the players skating and single-button controls all feel like old times, but the inclusion of modern rosters and other tweaks come off forced instead of natural. It makes you wish they had simply ported the original game onto the disc instead of trying too hard to modernize a classic that fans know too well to be acceptably altered.
Those who relish buying a franchise's latest release shouldn't necessarily not get "NHL 14." You just wonder when these sports franchises will produce something truly innovative to create a new host of followers.