Final Fantasy XII

Rating:
EU Release Date: 11 July, 2017
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Total play time: 02:01:00 (Chapter One)

Final Fantasy XII is my favourite game of the series. I love the characters, the story, the soundtrack… Everything. The remastered version keeps everything I loved about the game with a few improvements.

The story of FFXII centres on the Kingdom of Dalmasca, invaded and taken over by the Archadian Empire two years ago. The game’s protagonist, a teenage boy named Vaan, is an orphan, his brother killed by the traitor and kingslayer Captain Basch fon Ronsenburg in the war.  Spurred on by dreams of becoming a sky pirate, Vaan steals from the royal treasury and crosses paths with real sky pirates – the dashing  Balthier and his moody partner Fran. Along the way, they team up with Vaan’s childhood friend Penelo, the traitor Basch himself and the rightful Princess of Dalmasca, Ashe. Together, they fight to see their kingdom freed from Archadia’s rule. There are plenty of twists in the story along the way and nothing is ever quite as it initially seems.

Read the rest of this entry »

Episode Prompto

Rating:
EU Release Date: July, 2017
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Total play time: 02:31:00 (story mode)

In my eyes, Episode Prompto leaves a lot to be desired. The story is okay, if lacking in one or two vital details. The graphics are fine. The gameplay is all right. The music is quite good. Put these pieces together and you’ve got something that’s… adequate. It’s better than Episode Gladiolus, but it still doesn’t shine.

It’s a shame, because this could have been a really good side story. Prompto is arguably the most interesting character in the XV main party. He’s not like the others, born into the luxury of the Crown City, knowing his future was tied to royalty. He’s more like the rest of us – insecure, lost and not quite as ‘okay’ as he makes out. This story probably resonates with most of the game’s audience. And to make him even more interesting, he’s got a dark secret.

We rejoin Prompto just after Noctis threw him off the train and we trudge around a Niflheim base trying to work out what his secret is and what new weapon the Nifs are building. Later on, Aranea pops in for a bit. She’s mostly there to kick your arse into gear, but it’s still nice to have some company in the battles.

There are a few cool new gameplay elements when playing as Prompto and as you explore the base, you can pick up a variety of weapons to use including a bazooka and a more useful sniper rifle than the one offered in the main game. Prompto also has a few special moves that trigger in certain situations. Unfortunately, seeing how kickass he is in this part of the game does make you wonder why he seems so underpowered in the rest.

The music is good – but then I nearly always say that about game music. It has a good mix of tracks familiar from the main game and new pieces by XIII-2 composer Naoshi Mizuta. One track does sound uncannily like Adele’s Rolling in the Deep, but aside from that, it all fits with the atmosphere of the story. In the promo video, Mizuta said he wanted to capture Prompto’s more serious side. I think that’s been achieved.

What bugs me most about it are the small things. The intro is ridiculously slow and despite being thrown off a train, Prompto has somehow managed to find a change of clothes. Some of the little lines of dialogue don’t quite gel. The ‘side quests’ are ludicrously overpowered – you know that We still don’t know quite how Prompto ended up in Gralea; the implication is that it has something to do with Ardyn – but that was obvious anyway. And I really could have done without the reminder of that song from Frozen. Seriously, Square, is it really necessary to fill this game with rubbishy, overplayed pop songs? Stand by Me was bad enough.

However, with all that said, it is a fun little detour. You get to ride around on a snowmobile for a bit – tip: it’s much easier when the snowmobile isn’t upside down and in a tree. There are some cool weapons to play with. You even get to save a garulet from some baddies. I’d say it’s two hours well spent.

It has taken far too long for me to get around to playing this game. I reviewed the soundtrack a while back, but hadn’t got onto the actual gameplay. I’ve had it sitting around for a while, but in between work, Final Fantasy XV and NieR: Automata, there just hasn’t been the time.

But I’m finally there and my initial thoughts are promising. I still love the music and it totally blends with the gameplay. The quests are varied and interesting. The story… well, without having played the earlier games in the series, I’m not entirely sure I’m following it all and I certainly don’t understand the nuances of the relationships between the characters, but I get the gist.

The negatives: I keep having to check the controller scheme to work out which buttons I’m supposed to be pressing and I still haven’t got the hang of defending in a fight. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever defended in a fight, outside of the training level. It would be useful if you could customise the controller scheme. Perhaps them I’d spend less time rolling around on the ground like a fool. Let’s see how the rest turns out.

Rating:
EU Release Date: Mar 10, 2017 (for PS4)
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Square Enix

Cover ArtDirector Yoko Taro once gave a talk titled ‘Making Weird Games for Weird People’. ‘Weird’ is definitely the word to describe Nier Automata.

Following loosely from 2010’s Nier, Automata takes place several thousand years in our future – somewhere around 12,000 AD. Mankind has retreated to the moon and sent an army of androids to reclaim the planet from the alien ‘machine lifeforms’. Or have they? Just like its predecessor, Automata keeps you guessing, ready to rip what you think you know from beneath you at any moment.

You play as YoRHa No. 2 Model B – 2B for short – a female combat android whose Lolita looks belie her ninja quick skills with support from 9S, a seemingly super-rare male reconnaissance android. Together, you run around a post-apocalyptic world smashing up machines and trying to work out what the hell is going on.

The gameplay itself comes out in a mash of styles. At its core, it’s a hack-and-slash RPG, but it doesn’t stay within the confines of the genre. As you run through the map, the camera will suddenly change, thrusting you into a top-down shooter-style battle and then pulling away again, leaving you with a side-scrolling platformer. And the combat isn’t limited to swords and spears; you also have access to a variety of ranged attacks via a device called a Pod and in some places, a flight unit for complete aerial battles. This constant switching between styles is one of Automata’s strengths – it keeps you on your toes, eager to see what’s coming next.

The game isn’t without its flaws, however. The camera movement isn’t always smooth. The voice acting is sometimes a little hammy. Some of the AI decisions are questionable. But then you wander into a dilapidated amusement park full where machines with painted smiles ride around on a tank spewing balloons or you see a new adaptation of Romeos and Juliets where the romance quickly descends into a murderous brawl with the last surviving Juliet blowing herself to pieces. Where else are you going to find that?

Would I recommend this game? Well, it’s certainly not going to be to everyone’s tastes, but that’s what I love about it. Maybe I’m just one of the weird people this game was made for.

Rating:
EU Release Date: Nov 29, 2016 (for XONE and PS4)
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix

Cover Art

EDIT: I previously rated this game 7/8, but the end of the game has vastly altered my opinion. See Review Part II for more details.

ORIGINAL: POSTED 14/12/16

This is the game I’ve been waiting for.

If you’ve not played Final Fantasy before, XV is a great place to start. It even describes itself as “A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers”. I absolutely love the Final Fantasy series and this is definitely one of the best. It combines the best aspects of FFXII, in particular the vast, open map and the real time battles and combines it with something similar to the battle controls found in Nier or perhaps Lightning Returns.

The game focuses on Prince Noctis and his companions as they try to retake their homeland Lucis from the world-dominating empire Niflheim. The plot is really that simple – a return to the basic narrative of the older games in the series where the characters are what matter. Prince Noctis and his buddies are definitely a strength of the game and a welcome change from some of the irritating and miserable protagonists of the series’ last few releases. Rather than just being a bunch of dudes you got lumbered with on a coach trip, they feel like your friends – people you might actually want to know.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rating:
EU Release Date: Sept 19, 1997 (Original)
Jul 23, 2014 (Remake)
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants (Original)
Just Add Water(Remake)
Publisher: GT Interactive (Original)
Oddworld Inhabitants (Remake)
Total play time: 1:28:00 (Level 1)

Cover ArtOddworld: Abe’s Oddysee was a platform game in 1997 for the PlayStation and PC. The game focuses on a strange creature called Abe, a Mudokon slave in the Rupture Farms meat processing plant. After discovering that the farm bosses want to turn the Mudokon species into snacks, Abe begins an escape attempt, taking as many of the others with him as possible.

The gameplay is really quite straightforward. You move around the levels, getting the others to follow you to the escape portals while avoiding the armed-guards, traps, bombs, holes, motion-detectors, carnivorous creatures, gas clouds, electric beams and meat saws. Simple.
Read the rest of this entry »

Rating:
EU Release Date: Jan 30, 2015 (for Steam)
Total play time: 20:00:00 (approx)

Cover ArtLife is Strange is an episodic game from the makers of Final Fantasy. The story focuses on an eighteen-year-old called Max, an awkward photography student who discovers she has the ability to rewind time. This ability is one of the game’s greatest features.

The effects of rewinding time start off quite small – say the right thing and get people to like you – but the further you go, the more dramatic the consequences until you’re the only one who can decide if another character lives or dies. And, to make things even more complicated, the actions that have positive consequences in the short term might have worse consequences later on. It’s like one of those choose-you-own-adventure books, but not quite so easy to just undo that bad choice you made ten pages back.

The game also tackles a lot of issues that few others dare. In a game that is essentially about teenagers trying to work out who they are and where they fit in, issues like sexuality, mental health and friendship are difficult to ignore. These are the issues that pre-occupy the teenage mind. Hell, these issues affect many of us well into adult life.

Of course, every game also has downsides and this is no exception. Sometimes, the dialogue is a little hammy and the lip-sync is frequently really bad. Sometimes, the choices you make seem pointless. The graphics seem a little lack-lustre (perhaps a super-high-end graphics card would perk them up, but I doubt it).What’s more, the whole time-travelling thing is completely skimmed over in the story. It’s almost as if the only reason she can do it is that she is the main, playable character.

Despite its flaws, Life is Strange is an excellent, thought-provoking game. I would recommend it to anyone. And I dare you not to still be thinking about it days later.