Yeah, an actual videogame devoid of the gacha free-to-play trappings, based after the “Kancolle Killer” smartphone title that basically positioned itself as a Kantai Collection clone (not quite, but it’s obviously aimed at the same demographic), one easily available pretty much worlwide instead of a japan only browser game requiring VPN and troublesome hoops to jump through and compatibility errors if you want to play it.
It’s an odd concept to have a proper videogame that you pay to own as a spin-off of a free-to-play estabilished/borne series, almost emblematic of the state of the market and this “era” of gaming, but it’s interesting from a conceptual standpoint, and now you don’t have to import it from Playasia, as it came out, even in physical retail form, in Europe and the States. Still kinda surprised by that.
I preordered the “super duper hyper” edition with all the tat and OST and artbook, but maybe i’ll eventually review the Limited Edition contents by themselves, they don’t factor into the actual PS4 videogame at all.
So, what’s the premise?
Like many of these franchises, Crosswave takes place in it’s own continuity, with the same basic premise as the mobile game, but taking place before the Sirens’ assault (handy if they ever wanted/needed to treat this as a prequel or connect it with other installments), and sees the forces/faction rappresenting the nations (Sakura Empire, Eagle Union, Iron Blood, Royal Navy, etc.) meeting in Sakura Empire territory for a friendly joint military exercize, nominally in order to cement their peaceful relationships, but also to distribute without causing favoritisms (or political incidents) the strange cubes found one day in a Siren’s transport ship by Shimakaze and Suruga, new characters that end up being the protagonists of the very typical plot.
There’s the typical conflict you might aspect from the absurd as hell premise of “humanoids girls with the power of WWII warships fighting other weird shipgirls for reasons”, nothing that can’t be resolved by a lot of moe, anime archetypes and shonen manga logic, with the occasional touch of very basic and chill philosophical discourse of war and existentialist dilemmas… until the sis-con character Portland starts selling books of how her sister Indianapolis cuteness is justice or selling cookies made in her shape. Or one blabblers about her idol routine.
I mean, it’s Azur Lane, but keeping that in mind, the narrative it’s alright and slightly better than you might expect (take that for whatever it’s worth), you can follow it even if you’ve never played the mobile game or seen the anime (we’re getting to that later this month), it’s not like there’s too much to understand or easily guessable that’s gonna fly over your head. But, of course, those already familiar with the franchise will get the most out of the many interactions between the characters you can witness in the game. If you can get over the designs, which more often than not can be fairly described as “alarmingly horny”. Not always like that, but mostly.
GAMEPLAY AND WHERE TO FIND IT
Unlike the mobile game where manual control was there just to have it listed as a feature (despite being very limited and inefficient in the long run) so Manjuu could say it’s not an auto-playing thingie (which it was and still is) like other anime gacha free-to-play games, Crosswave actually lets you control the shipgirls in a third person shooter style, but don’t expect Gundam Breaker or a complex experience at all.
It’s definitely an upgrade over the gacha usual brand of auto-play nonsense that treat your interaction as an obxnoxious formality, but still, they basically keep some functions as automated, like the anti-air artillery that shoots automatically when enemy planes are in range, but now you can move freely (in the small area designated for combat, anyway), lock on for cannon fire, launch torpedoes, perform evasive manouvers, or activate skills specifics to the character or the character’s class, with ships divived in Destroyers, Light Carriers, Aircraft Carriers, Battleships, Heavy Cruiser, etc.
While the ships are not cloned or identical, the classes/types different enough from each other, as far as this type of gameplay can allow, anyway, but it doesn’t help that most of the skills (especially the ones unique to a certain characters) are automatic, just trigger when the conditions have been met like in the mobile game. Sadly can only control 29 of the 50 ships directly, the other are support only, which is code for “we didn’t have time, money, opportunity or cared to make these playable”. Like how the Submarine class is technically in the game, but just as support never seen on screen, otherwise Felistella would have needed to create it’s own mechanic for submarines.
It’s no exagerration to say they made more ships “support only” so they didn’t have to render more models, as the Photo/Diorama Mode (i think a customary mode for these niche anime games AND awful Godzilla videogames about generators) doesn’t let you choose the support ships for posing. I mean, given how the mobile game has 400 ships as of now, it was expected to not see some of them not present in any shape or form, but this is incredibly cheap. At least Neptunia from the Hyperdimension Neptunia series is in as a free DLC character (it’s a Compile Heart production after all, so it makes perfect sense), and we’re probably gonna see some DLC for the many Iron Blood ships missing (very few of those, the opposite of the many Sakura Empire characters), or for the other factions just mentioned in dialogue but never seen, like the Sardegna Empire.
While the basics are there, sadly there’s not much else to the gameplay. You wonder about in a small world map where to find events (cutscenes that move the plot along or just show you some characters interacing), crates with items in them, or battles, against mass-produced battleship (yeah, actual ships) and/or other Kansen (some time ago Kadokawa got litigious with Yostar over the term “kanmusu”). Problem is the stages themselves are repetitive and frankly embarassingly short, enough so that they carried the same “3 stars” requirements from the original game, and you definitely can finish a lot of battles in under 2 minutes, sometimes even less than 60 seconds.
I tried to play at Normal difficulty but switched to Hard not long after because the standard difficulty is really “piss easy”. Not that it fixes everything, but at least there’s some challenge to the gameplay when the game calls for it, on Normal even against three shipgirls i had it easy, and the game doesn’t even try to limit much, besides not letting you use some characters for story reason s in certain battles. You can select up to 3 playable ships and 3 support ones, which of course can be equipped with various weapons and support items, and the skills can be upgraded in a manner that will be familiar to fans and it’s pretty straightforward anyway (even more because this is not a free-to-play title, nor it has microtransactions of any kind).
It’s nice, but even by keeping the stages short and small as they are, it doesn’t take long at all to see they all take place in the same indistinct small area, with the objectives being just “destroy targets”, “destroy 20 aircrafts”, “defeat all bosses”, or sometimes “survives for 2 minutes”, often with just needing to navigate for a few second to another small arena in the direction of the arrow. It’s a very monotonous experience, at times messy (a radar on screen would help to see some torpedoes coming, just saying) and even the odd battles against powerful opponents, as welcome as they are, tend to be a little too late and/or be peppered with big difficulty spikes, because the videogame has had enough if you never dying once ‘till now. And to make you grind in order to pad out the story mode’s longevity a little bit, of course.
And even so, at heart it’s still one of those budget japanese niche titles that makes you spend more time in “event cutscenes” than in actual gameplay missions, and you cumulatively still spend more time upgrading, buying and fiddling with items in the shop or upgrade screens than in battle. It’s oddly fitting of the typical Azur Lane experience, which also means this is barely evolved from the original mobile game, with just enough more “depth” to improve the basic formual without expanding on it And it’s odd how they never bothered to introduce melee attacks, despite some of the characters carrying around blades and lances n shit alongside the cannon rigs.
It’s a shame, because the game still has its moments of hectic fun, and the overall concept has the potential for a great Tactics style rpg, or even a decent little shooter, but developer Felistella (the Summon Night series, Genkai Tokki: Seven Pirates, Genkai Tokki: Castle Panzers) seems like it didn’t care or bother to build on the game’s “skeleton” (so to say). I don’t like to say something’s a “cashgrab”, but the overall atmosphere permeating this experience is one of not trying hard, if at all. And budget can’t be an excuse forever, it just can’t, especially now.
THE MONEY CAT SHAKEDOWN
While it’s nice to have an Azur Lane game without the free to play gacha bullshit, this is a budget game through and through, and having it sold with a MSRP of 50 bucks… jesus, Compile Heart. 30 (ok, more like 20) bucks would have been more honest. And i kinda detest the whole equating of content to price, but i’d say full price for this is too much, since there’s not even an attempt at multiplayer, it’s 1 player only. And yes, the online servers for an eventual multiplayer mode(s) would have been empty as hell anyway, but at least some local co-op would have been nice.
Besides the story campaign (which rounds up to 7/8 hours, maybe less if you play on Normal all the way) and the aforementioned Photo Mode, there are side episodes based on the characters, but they’re just cutscenes, nothing else, if you want battles you’ll have to play Extreme Battle mode, which at least provides a lot of battles with pre-determined sets of opponents at an increasing level (so yeah, it’s not so “xtreme” if you have way overleveled characters from just playing the story mode), and there’s useful for grinding, since the post-game story chapter has some hard and frankly impossible battles if you don’t use items that also become available after you beat the game, like the strategy books for upgrading skills, and a chip to “awaken/uncap” a ship that reached level 100 so it can reach the maximum level cap of 200.
Wish the game told me in any shape or form that i needed to get S ratings on all normal story chapters to even unlock the awakening feature, instead of telling me how to collect “heart tokens” to trade for a ring so i can “marry” a certain shipgirl. But i didn’t bother to go so far as the nuptials as i wasn’t feeling in the mood to grind the ships (not that way) over and over, even if the game has the decency of not giving you every ship you unlock at level 1… and for some reason i found ships i never or barely used leveled up anyway from time time, i really don’t know why or how.
Also, remember to save manually often, there’s no autosave. I wish i was joking.
As of now, there is some DLC, one being the aforementioned free DLC that adds Neptunia from the Hyperdimension Neptunia series (being a Compile Heart produced game, it’s no surprise) as a playable character (and with her own cutscene episode), and the other two being some weapons/gear and a manual for racking more exp from battle, both as 2 bucks each. Kinda refreshing after the deluge of cosmetic dlc often found in Senran Kagura and similar niche titles, and the DLC items are fairly useless, so you won’t miss out on anything at all if you ignore them.
On the technical side the character models are definitely the best thing as far as graphics goes, the cel shading is decent, but still, it’s a presentable title that also obviously low on production values, not the lowest bowels of “budget game”, but not the highest, and there’s not many models or scenarios. Decent water effects and fxs, and for the most part it runs smoothly, but there are some framerate drops in particularly hectic battles with a lot of shit on screen, noticeable but not game breaking.
Music is decent but it’s one of those game where it’s kinda hard to hear the tracks during the game itself because of explosion sounds, air plane dropping bombs sounds, characters announcing when they launch a special skill or move, or spouting crap just so there’s always something or someone talking. It just that kind of anime videogame audio design, for better or for worse… more the latter, but still, noting really “bad”.
Azur Lane: Crosswave isn’t good, but if anything it stays close to the source material… a bit too much, in this case, because it carries the “spirit” of the original Azur Lane smartphone game, so it’s kinda fitting how here as well gameplay isn’t the main drive or attraction. It’s not an excuse, but it sadly makes sense. A shame, because the series has all the elements to make a better third person shooter than this, or a great tactics game, a real turn based tactical rpg, but clearly they don’t care enough. They don’t have to.
It’s not even bad by most accounts, it’s just mediocre, monotonous and overpriced for what it actually is, not even factoring runtime is a budget game through and through, not one big on content, with a decent idea/gameplay concept of a third person shooter with “shipgirls” at the core, one that has it’s fun moments, but it’s mandatory (and i repeat, mandatory) to play it on the hardest difficulty possibile to get some challenge out it, and even so repetition and grinding don’t help, especially if you try to 100 % it.
Definitely NOT one of those game where you can enjoy the gameplay regardless if you know the series it’s based on (even more if you DON’T like niche anime styled games) or if you don’t care about the license, maybe hoping it will get you interested in it. Quite the opposite, as the story and characters interactions are the main attractive, even more than gameplay, for the intended demographic, and sadly it’s hard to shake the sensation of this being a bit of cynical cashgrab, another opportunity to – in theory – squeeze 50 more bucks out of people that already spent a lot of real money in the gacha of the free-to-play Azur Lane title that this originates from.
Just for fans of Azur Lane (who surprisingly won’t have to import this one from Playasia), and even so, get it when the price drops to 20/30 bucks or less. Just wait for an eventual sale. It’s also on Steam, but my point stands.
For everyone else, nothing to see or particulary bad that deserve great scorn or morbous interest from niche gaming enthusiasts, it’s not a broken disaster or like it had anyone expecting much out of it anyway.