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Japan Review Check: Gears of War: Judgment, Phantasy Star Online 2, PS Vita Muramasa

A quick look at the highlights among the games coming out in Japan this coming week, courtesy the review pages of Famitsu magazine:

- Phantasy Star Online 2 (9/8/8/8, 33 points): The PS Vita version of PSO2 came out a couple weeks ago in Japan, but Famitsu published their review of the game (which is a free-to-play download, but is also available in a retail package with a wealth of gameplay bonuses) in this week's issue.

"Thanks to the improved action gameplay," began editor Reona Ebihara, "the way you fight has become a lot more strategic and fun, with positioning and the correct use of skills playing a bigger role. All the technical jargon may be off-putting at first, but the touch-based controls are comfortable and well-made. The fact this is free-to-play is pretty surprising, but the extravagance you get in the retail box is just as impressive, especially the 30-day premium set offer."

"The retail package gets you special weapons, armor and other bonuses, expanding the range of play at your fingers," added writer Maria Yoshiike. "You're able to do a lot, but there's also a ton you have to remember, and it's a bit frustrating until you get used to it. Still, it's well-made and worth playing. Try downloading it; if you like it I'd recommend investing in the retail box."

- Muramasa: The Demon Blade (8/8/8/8, 32 points): The PS Vita version of Vanillaware's Wii classic (planned for US release later this year thanks to Aksys Games) earns decent reviews. "The world setting and graphics are as charming as you've come to expect from Vanillaware, constantly pulling you deeper into the game," Ebihara wrote. "Holding down the attack button and pulling the left stick in assorted ways lets you unleash some killer combo moves, which feels great and makes you want to try out a bunch of different fighting styles."

"This game already had really well-made graphics," added writer Atsuhiro Fujiwara, "but the color output on the Vita makes them even more beautiful. Simple controls give you access to speedy and impressive-looking action, and there are difficulty settings for all walks of gamer. Still, despite that, I feel like enemies take a lot of damage to kill, even with the bosses in the opening sections."

- Gears of War: Judgment (10/9/9/9, 37 points): Thanks to Famitsu coming out a day earlier than usual (due to Wednesday being a national holiday in Japan), Japan's #1 game mag manages to get its scores out right alongside the U.S. game media's launch-day reviews, even though Judgment isn't out in Japan until March 21. Not a bad feat for a print mag to pull off.

"The controls and camerawork are great," wrote editor Ranbu Yoshida, "and the game's so fun to play that I have to take my hat off to them. I like the weapons with unique effects, like the grenade that lets you see through walls when thrown. There's a wealth of multiplayer modes, and especially on maps with a lot of height variety, co-op and team battles seem a lot more fun."

"The game retains the feel of the rest of the series while improving itself in lots of ways," added writer Daichi Baba. "Single-player features 'classified moments' that let you optionally up the difficulty, as well as enemies that attack you in waves. Both add a nice accent to the action, and no matter what mode you pick in multiplayer, it seems a lot more fun than before."