Wednesday, March 31

Litmus Test: Final Fantasy XIII

I know I reviewed God of War III, but it is an action game. Action games typically take 6-10 hours to complete, so that means I can complete these games and write about them without my professional and personal lives copping a beating. Final Fantasy XIII is a role-playing game. Role-playing games very rarely take less than 40 hours to complete, and sometimes as much as 100+. Sure I could've finished it already like so many other people, but that would more than likely mean that I would be close to unemployed and my lovely fiance may not be too happy with me.

The purpose of this article is to provide you with my initial impressions of FFXIII, as well as indicate whether you should give it a look.

What is it?
Final Fantasy XIII is a role-playing game which asks you the question: "Do you have the courage to face your destiny?" Your answer to this question will be in direct correllation to another: "Do you have the courage to follow a straight line for at least 10 hours?" If your answer to both of these questions is yes, then this game may be for you.

I am sure that many of you have read sentiments which portray that FFXIII is a very linear game and there is very little of the usual RPG fare like towns and (traditional) stores. While these observations are true, I need you to bear with me and with FFXIII. I am now about 12 hours in and while the game is still a straight line, it is a beautiful straight line with an emotive and intersting narrative running along with it.

Why should you care?
Some of you may have watched the video above and quite rightly thought "What just happened?" That will happen a lot in FFXIII not only because some narrative elements are slightly clumsy (not half as bad as I had been led to believe) but also because a lot of FF cliches (O M G) have been discarded or reinterpreted. For example, after 12 hours I have not used any MP but I have still cast spells!

Final Fantasy XIII employs a lot of (in my opinion) necessary changes and brought in some new elements to make the experience different to any other Final Fantasy titles you may have played. The only problem is that these additions are introduced in such a painstakingly slow manner that I can understand if you will or already have lost patience. It takes about 3 hours before you actually start upgrading your characters' skills and just short of 10 hours before you can upgrade equipment.

 Is it worth a shot?
Yes. It still may not be your cup of tea but there is too much to potentially miss in this package. I have heard many criticisms of FFXIII and in the grand scheme of things, few of them have so far proved to be valid. What you get is (for the most part) a wonderful and endearing cast of characters, an intriguing lore (complete with wacky terminology), a complex new battle system (which will eventually *I promise* make sense) and fantastic art direction.

On ABC2's Good Game I became quite fearful when they started talking about the Auto-Battle button and how it has dumbed down combat. This is far from the truth. With the need to switch paradigms and the wealth of abilities and techniques at your disposal, you learn the Auto-Battle button is just as essential and functional as Attack in every other Final Fantasy game. You may not use Auto Battle every turn, but you WILL use it and appreciate that it is available.

Will I finish it?
I will definitely try. Final Fantasy XIII has captured my imagination and my time and I am looking forward to recruiting the rest of the cast and summons. Just quietly, the baby chocobo is one of my favourite FF characters of all time: cute AND hilarious!

Have any of you guys played FFXIII? What were your feelings regarding combat/linearity/summons? What is your favourite FF?

Monday, March 29

Only one man owns me!

That man is Ryu. I'd turn for that iron-fisted wanderer.

With the release of Super Street Fighter IV upon us, I thought it would be a good idea to look at why I'll be picking up SSF4 on day one.

What's old is new again
I never got much face time with Street Fighter III and it's many iterations. I am very strongly looking forward to reacquainting myself with Dudley as well as trying out Ibuki and Makoto. I am also very excited at the prospect of playing as Final Fight combatants Guy and Cody once again. Cody was one of my favourite characters from Street Fighter Alpha 3 and it looks as though he has retained much of his formidable move set. I could never get the hang of Guy. He was a bit all over the place. I do appreciate that his mobility is a strength but with Guy, I could rarely land a hit on my opponents.

I was devastated to learn that both Eagle and Rolento won't be returning, yet I am confident that with an open mind I will find some new favourites from Street Fighters past. I am a bit frustrated that Deejay and T Hawk are making a return though. T Hawk has always sucked harder than a Dyson!

Also of note, Bonus Stages will be making a return. This, of course is not a deal maker but I am sure those of you who have previously played Street Fighter II will be looking forward to beating the shit out of a sedan...or barrels. Whichever inanimate object you hate most, unleash your rage!

What's new
Juri looks mad. She's quick, she's wearing nothing much up top and she strokes your face as she kicks your ass (watch the video above if your knee-jerk reaction is WTF Trit).  I'm glad they're presenting us with an original villain who isn't a super muscular eunuch. My only concern is that she may be too fast. Some of the videos I've seen have left me with severe doubts that my jumping fierce kick, low fierce kick combo will work as well as it used to.

Hakan looks and sounds like a nutbar. Any videogame character who constantly exclaims that "It's time to oil up," has my personal vote of approval. Further to that, his Ultra combo is a ROFLcopter, prepped and able to launch.

Online rejiggered
I played Street Fighter IV online quite a bit. I played over 200 matches on the PS3 and results (skill level notwithstanding) were mixed. Some matches played very smoothly, as though my opponent were in the room with me. In 3 out of every 5 matches (at least) I battled some strong lag. In most cases you could deal, but every now and then I found it unplayable. With the promise of new online modes I am also hopeful that the net code for SSF4 will be far better than its predecessor.

I was a huge fan of the lobby system in Street Fighter 4 as I could play through the single player game and accept challenges concurrently. For a trophy whore like myself, this allowed me to multi-task and led to more meaningful play time. I hope aspects of this system are retained in SSF4.

The heat of battle
Most of all I am looking forward to challenging some old friends to a fight or two. To me, there is no greater multiplayer experience than Street Fighter on the one console in one room.

I don't work for Capcom (wish I did), and you are well within your rights to view this as an advertisement. Please believe however that I am genuinely excited for Super Street Fighter IV and I am confident that it will be one of the better games to be released this year. Below is a video of the final from the Street Fighter IV World Championships. It is honestly one of the most brilliant competitive displays on show. Enjoy!

Friday, March 26

When Doves Cry

As hinted with a great deal of subtlety in my previous post, I now intend to touch briefly on the brilliance that was the Sega Dreamcast. I purchased the DC in concert with my older brother from Harvey Norman for the paltry sum of $300 at what I would approximate as 3/4 through the console's life cycle in Australia. We got 2 VMUs, Blue Stinger and Sega Rally 2 for about $100 (which is a bargain just quietly). Our game library expanded pretty fast. While on a lunch break from my job at the Pick n' Pay Hypermarket I picked up Sonic Adventure, Soul Calibur and Dynamite Cop for $30 each.

Dynamite Cop was like Die Hard Arcade without John McLean. It didn't hold our attention for long but it is the perfect candidate for a PSN/XBLA remake. The last level took place on a pirate ship, nuff said. I can't remember much about Sonic Adventure. Any sense of nostalgia has since been violated by Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Heroes, Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Unleashed. Anyone who says anything negative about Soul Calibur must simply not have played the game. There is nothing I can say about Soul Calibur (the graphics, the revolutionary 8-way run, Ivy's costume physics) that has not already been set so please enjoy the clip below.

In the following weeks and months more retailers lost faith in the console and of all places, the Telstra phone centre was the place to shop for Dreamcast games. Before long I had purchased Marvel VS Capcom 2, Dead or Alive 2 and one of my all-time favourites: Jet Set Radio. This was a game that I literally played for hours on end. With Sambo along for the ride, we would trick our way up to what were previously unthinkable heights. Under heavy pursuit from the law, we'd tag our way back to safety and love every second of it.


Toward the Dreamcast's tragic end, a friend donated their collection upon purchasing a Playstation 2. Crazy Taxi didn't have a great deal of reply value, it's sequel however was a completely different monster. I have a lot of fond memories tearing Round Apple with the Iceman. Space Channel 5 is the gaming equivalent of a nutbar complete with a cameo from Michael Jackson! I also finally purchased the brilliant Powerstone. This game didn't have a lot of legs either and from all accounts the sequel was better but I struggle to think of a panic that compares to making a mad dash for the last stone with your opponent dangerously close to a full set.

The Dreamcast was not the greatest console, nor did it have a great deal of fantastic games. I enjoyed a short and sweet ride with the last of Sega's machines. RIP Dreamcast and Space Michael.

Wednesday, March 24

Console Bipartisanship

Travelling back in time once again. The Playstation 2 as I had posted previously, is the greatest console in history. It had competition at various times during its life cycle, namely the Nintendo Gamecube and Microsoft Xbox. The Gamecube was important for two reasons: Super Monkey Ball and Super Monkey Ball 2. The first a fantastic puzzle game with twitch gameplay and courses that at times were so daunting they made me place the controller on the floor rather than play. Playing these same courses with 4 players similtaneously was a joy that I have failed to recapture with more recent puzzle games. Super Monkey Ball 2 failed in its single player component as success depended more on luck than pace, planning and physics. Where it succeeded however was its split-screen multiplayer. The minigames on SMB2 would actually qualify as full XBLA titles in their own right. Monkey Target 2 created genuine tension as I squabled with my friends for precious stars, bananas and good target placement. It was a game of lawn bowls with flying monkeys and dynamic playing fields. Monkey Billiards and Baseball allowed me to engage with casual gamers like my lovely fiance who would much rather play SMB2 than any blockbuster on the PS2.

While the Damen's owned an Xbox we rarely spent time with it. The only exception being when we first purchased the console and played Halo in split-screen almost continuously for 3 days starting from a Christmas Eve years ago. I still crack a smile thinking of the time when my brothers and I drove through the suburbs of Brisbane on Christmas Day looking for an open video store or retailer to purchase a 3rd Xbox controller. Most other titles of note on the Xbox were available on the PS2. More often than not, most titles of note on the PS2 and Xbox were also available on the Gamecube (however I will concede that over time this trend started to die out).

There were two titles across all 3 platforms in which my friends and I sunk a lot of time: Tiger Woods 2005 and Capcom Vs SNK 2 - Mark of the Millenium. CVS2 nearly ended friendships. It was a 2D fighting game that bred frustration, inspirational acts of bravery (Dramatic KOs anyone) and ultimately led to mutual respect. Matt's Blanka is one of the most fearsome opponents you will ever hope to face. It took many matches to find a suitable counter, Terry Bogard and the Crack Shoot. It didn't always work but it did help prop up a withering win ratio. Some of the SNK characters were left pretty weak in this title however Rugal was a favourite in terms of both style and arsenal. He was probably a little too strong and had a few more moves than most of the large combined cast of characters, probably why I liked him so much. My brothers (both by blood and by association) invested hundreds of hours in that game and I am dying for one or more of the following to happen: a) PS2 games made playable on all PS3 models; b) Remake of CVS2 released on PSN (even XBLA then I will buy another fucking 360); c) CVS3 (OMGWTFBBQFTW!!!!).

Tiger Woods 05 allowed my friends and I to create our own golfers from the astoundingly attractive Rootsman (who looked a little bit like me) to Dave's crack smoking, liver spot covered blowbo Davey. This was the perfect golf game because the emphasis was placed on driving and approach games while putting was wonderfully easy. Not only was there Tiger Vision, there was also a line which displayed the ideal orientation for the put. You could play this game (well) sober or hammered. The game also featured an in game achievement system which led to much Tiger Woods style dick swinging when we all compared trophy collections.

Currently playing Final Fantasy XIII with mixed feelings. Combat is fast, but clunky (never a great combination). Story is good and the cast is (for the most part) likeable.

Anybody have a Dreamcast? I did,  it rocked! Tell us about your favourite memories from the previous generation of consoles.

Monday, March 22

In case you haven't played it: God of War III Review (PS3)

I know I said I would explore my gaming history a little further, however I want to start living in the now.

On Saturday I played through and finished God of War III. Was it good? It was great! Is it worth AU $119.95 HELL NO! This is a game you can potentially finish in one sitting. Not to say this fleeting experience will not stay with you, or that you would not want to relive it.

For those of you who haven't seen GoW III in action know this: it is quite simply the most visually spectacular game in memory. The scale of the creatures and environments is nothing short of breath-taking. Standing in "The Forge," while Hephaestus slaved away creating statues is one of the greatest sights in recent gaming memory. The framerate is consistent and visual hitches are a rarity. The graphics exceed expectations in both artistic and technical contexts. The character model for Kratos is honestly life-like.  The boss creatures are huge and intricately detailed. You will have read this before, but the first 10 minutes of GoW III will blow you out of the water! (Poseidon joke!!! Hilarious!!!)

The action is solid. For those of you who have played any of the previous chapters you know exactly what to expect. Stringing together combos of melee hits and magic attacks is made all the more easy now that you can swap weapons on the fly. Real time event executions also make a return and some of the visual effects are outrageously brutal. The platforming sections are competent and at times enojyable. The puzzles are somewhat easier than the usual God of War fare, very rarley was I left scratching my head. GoW III is fun, but very little has changed since the last iteration. It is not quite stale yet, but the sense of familiarity with the action did take a little away from the experience.

Where GoW III fails is the story. To me, Kratos is a jerk. A jerk I can't relate to. A jerk who needs to pull his head in. A lot of the violence is unjustified: not only can you render vengeance on the Gods and their undead minions, you can also walk up to fleeing civilians and grapple kill them to obtain extra orbs. There seems to be a reward for killing/destroying everything. Kratos is not an anti-hero, or a victim, he is an instigator, he is evil. The half-assed attempt to redeem Kratos also fails to make him endearing. I've read extensively about how the ending is fantastic... I found it to be a bit of a cop out. You make your own judgement and please feel free to share it with me.

The score is great and really adds to the sense of scale and drama. The sound effects accurately portray what I imagine buckets of blood being spattered across the Greek countryside would sound like. It is nauseatingly brutal at times, the aural experience of Kratos gutting a centaur is one you will remember for quite a while.

I've read whispers of sporadic visual glitches and game freezes interrupting and at times, spoiling play. From my experience, I had one 3 minute freeze in the lead up to the final battle. I could resume play after the freeze and I was very happy with the stability of the game.

8/10: GoW III is unforgettable. The graphics are easily the best on the PS3 and I can't think of anything else that compares to it. The action is solid if familiar and for many this can hardly be considered a negative. The sound is suitably epic and many of the tunes will stay with you for weeks to come. There is not enough here to keep you going. I know there are extra difficulty settings and challenges but 10 hours for a single player only experience is not good enough. Rent it for now, buy it when it goes platinum.

PS. In the Collector's Edition you get some extra skins and challenges however you can't play them until you finish the game. Further to that, if you use any of the bonus skins, trophies are disabled. I'd say it isn't worth it, but when the CE costs the same as the standard game I guess it doesn't hurt.

Friday, March 19

Let me show you what it's all about

At the moment I live a passive life. I receive (inuendo not intended, not that there's anything wrong with that). I am not the master of my own destiny.

That is not to say that I don't enjoy myself. There's a lot of funky noise out there. I'm playing a lot (A LOT) of videogames at the moment. More than usual and for me that is saying something.

I first started playing videogames when I was 3 years old. Dad had a Collecovision and an Atari 2600. He provided for his family. I logged a lot of time on Missile Command, River Raid.... and Strawberry Shortcake. I can't remember much about those games, how they played, even what they looked like but I can imagine that they haven't aged well. My Uncle Peter (RIP) then passed on his Amstrad to my brothers and I. Prince of Persia (and it's effective DRM) captured my imagination and I must admit that I enjoyed watching far more than I enjoyed playing (mainly because I sucked at it, hard).

One of my Mother's work colleagues allowed us to borrow a Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) and suddenly the Atari looked like a dusty box of horrors. Pixels could now articulate blue hedgehogs, burly men and attack helicopters. My Dad could see how much the Damen boys needed a Mega Drive so he bought us a Sega Master System. WHY!?!?! In retrospect, I am eternally grateful for his technological faux pas. I got to play the likes of Alex Kidd In Miracle World, Shinobi (Joe Musashi FTW!!!), Lord of the Sword and one of my all time favourites: Wonder Boy III - The Dragon's Trap. WBIII captured my love of morphing into cute magical creatures to traverse serene beaches littered with fire breathing snakes. My mate Greg had a Nintendo Entertainment System which allowed face time with Kid Icarus and one of the greats: Super Mario Bros 3.

The Damen family did eventually adopt a Mega Drive. To date, the Sega Mega Drive is the longest serving console in my gaming lifetime. Street Fighter II: Championship Edition (with it's $149.95 price tag) captured a great deal of my childhood. The 16 Bit machine reigned for 6 years at the top, and we still fired it up to play a borrowed copy of Gunstar Heroes in the years after the Sony Playstation entered our lives.

My experiences with PC gaming have been limited but have always left me yearning. It began with Star Wars: Rebel Assault and other space shooters like Wing Commander III. Games like Relentless: Twinsen's Adventure, Crusader: No Remorse (and the disappointing sequel, No Regret), Warcraft II and Total Annihilation are pleasant memories. I never owned machines strong enough to play Half Life at a decent speed however I would always reassure myself that one day I would own a machine strong wnough to play it. While that dream has come true, the laptop heats up to the point of combustion when I load up TF2.

The Sony Playstation (and before you ask, I am a Sony fanboy) continued to distance my body from bouts of physical activity. The Final Fantasies, Metal Gear Solid and many various Capcom 2D fighters (including the incredible OMGWTFBBQ Rival Schools: United By Fate) absorbed most of my time. I got my first job about this time and I bought a shitload of games for the PSone. Good ones, bad ones, games I remember owning but honestly don't remember playing. I am desperately hoping that one day soon I will get to play Jackie Chan: Stunt Master once again. It was the hidden gem of a generation of gaming. We did own a Nintendo 64 however most of the system's killer apps were missing from the Damen's collection. We never owned Super Mario 64 or GoldenEye64. We did have Perfect Dark and the recent XBLA port has me pondering whether I should buy my 4th Xbox 360.

The Playstation 2 is in my opinion the greatest console in history. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, Final Fantasy X, Metal Gear Solid 2 (3 was great too), SSX and it's many sequels and without a doubt, the single most influential game in the last 10 years: Grand Theft Auto 3. We didn't own a PS2 when GTA3 was first released in Australia. When the game was pulled off shelves, I resorted to purchasing an ex-rental copy from the Aspley Blockbuster Video for $110 without a system to play it on. I never regreted the decision.

I have to this date endured an expensive, exhausting love of portable game consoles. My parents bought me a Game Gear with Mickey Mouse: Castle of Illusion, a true gem. The Master System Converter was another gift from my parents for which I am eternally grateful. I spent a lot of time with the Gameboy Advance and the Pokemon games. Matt and I tried sooooooo hard to catch them all. We came pretty damn close. The GBA Metroids and Fire Emblem games are also true time consuming classics. The Sony PSPgo is now my sole portable system. I hate this machine more than my lone, freakishly long back hair. Seriously, pick 5 good PSP games available on the PSN store I triple fucking dare you.

My hands are now chapped, and bloody so I will discuss the Gamecube and Xbox in my next post.

Please share your favourite gaming memories from any generation. Or tell me about yourself and why you think Street Fighter EX plus Alpha is one of the most underrated fighters of all time (it is just quietly, seriously: Skullomania, C Jack and Allen).