My Experiences as an “MMO Girl” (Part 2)

My nearly six-month experiment came to a close earlier this month when I officially retired “Chichi” and restored Kijimuna to his former glory.  For those of you that may have missed the original article; back in January I wrote a piece about my attempt to see what gaming is like through the eyes of a female. Having spoken with several girls I know in Final Fantasy XIV, I decided to quietly moonlight as a female character for six months to see just how different, if at all, I would be treated.

If you read my original article, you’ll learn that aside from people being just generally nicer, my initial experience was not all that different. Back in January, I wrote that I had not encountered any harassment or sexisim, etc. So, now, six months later has that changed? Well, the answer is both yes and no.

In the months since my original article, I finally consented to joining a free company (guild). I decided to pick one of the largest on the server. From my personal experiences, larger MMO guilds tend to be busy and impersonal. People come and go all the time. I didn’t want to become close to anyone or have to lie about my identity, so a large guild would allow me to simply be another face in the crowd. This worked well for quite some time. Then, one day I volunteered to join some members on a trial (big monster battle). This event marked the first time since I started playing a female character that I was “hit on”…

As I stood there, healing my companions, a member of our party made a semi off-color comment about how well Chichi was able to “handle her staff” and would I like to see if I could “handle his”. This was quickly dealt with as Chichi informed him that if he presented his staff to her, she would snap it in half and sheathe the two pieces in a very uncomfortable place. This person later apologized to me in private for his behavior.

A few weeks later, another person seemed to become infatuated with Chichi. He followed me around and volunteered to help me with whatever I was doing. At one point, he even offered to pay for a private house so Chichi could have her own dwelling. For those who do not played FFXIV, let me tell you this is a VERY generous offer. Housing is scant and expensive on nearly every server in the game. I politely declined the offer.

As my time playing as Chichi drew to a close, I found myself realizing that I was going to miss her. Chichi had come to grow on me. The character was simply adorable. I entertained the thought of just continuing to play her, but I also missed playing as Kijimuna, a character I created almost 7 yeas ago. So that I wouldn’t have to completely say goodbye, I came to a compromise. I hired a new in-game “retainer” or virtual companion and named/modeled it after Chichi. So now, even though Chichi is no more – a part of her still exists in the world of Eorzea.

So, after six months of playing a female character incognito, what are my thoughts?

Well, overall – even though I never actually presented myself as a female, acted flirty or feminine, the majority of players did seem to treat me nicer that they did when I would play a male. As I originally observed, many players were more patient and helpful. Aside from one sexual remark by a single individual, I was never objectified or harassed.  Perhaps this was because I never did come out and claim to be a woman. I really can’t say. But based on this experiment, albeit unscientific as it was, I was relieved to see that players perceived to be female are not the subject of sexual harassment day in and day out.  I’m not claiming that women gamers tend to to cry wolf about such topics, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be quite as bad as one might think by simply hanging out on twitter for five minutes.

When dealing with other players in any multiplayer environment, it’s always wise to remember the wisdom of Rufus from Bill and Ted’s Excellent adventure… regardless of who you are or who you are dealing with, “Be excellent to each other”.

Review: Final Fantasy XV

It is finally here! My full review of the long-awaited Final Fantasy XV! And in record time, might I add.  This review took me less than a month, but unlike those other day-one reviews you’ll find on the web, all of my playthrough reviews are only written after I’ve completed a game from start to finish and poked through every nook and cranny. (Don’t believe me – check my PSN trophies).

As you most likely know, the hype train behind this game was running at a fever pitch. So, let’s start off by talking about about what made this game one of the most anticipated titles in years. Final Fantasy XV began development almost a decade ago. That’s a long time for a single game. Originally announced under the title “Final Fantasy Versus XIII” – it was initially intended to be part of the Final Fantasy: Nova Fabula Crystallis sub-series. (A spin-off of FFXIII) But after several years and management changes, it was re-announced as the next major entry into the main series. Since that time, teasers, leaked footage and interviews caused the game to develop a huge following. Now it is finally here.

So, before we dive into the game itself, let’s do something I dread and take a moment to discuss the various editions and incentives.  For FFXV you basically have three (realistically two) choices; The Standard Version, The Deluxe Edition, and the Ultimate Collectors Edition.  The latter was available directly through Square Enix only and is no longer available for purchase.

  • The standard “day one” edition comes with the game only and a DLC sword.
  • Both the Deluxe and the Collectors editions come with the following DLC perks: A stat boosting costume, the sword from the standard edition and a vanity skin for the in-game vehicle. Both the deluxe and collectors editions also come with a Blu-Ray copy of the FFXV: Kingsglaive motion picture.  – I purchased the Deluxe Edition.
  • The Ultimate Collectors edition also comes with a few exclusive DLC perks that includes in-game discounts, uncommon and exclusive items, etc. But in all honesty, these do not prove to be very valuable. This edition also comes with a playart statue, art book, Blu-Ray copies of FFXV: Brotherhood / Kingsglaive and a special soundtrack.

So now, *Sigh* – let’s talk about the pre-order perks.  Basically, there’s really only three that you need to know about.

  • If you preordered the game from PSN or Xbox Live, you get the Angler set (some fishing-based items from the Collectors Edition), and an exclusive vanity skin for the car… Meh.
  • If you preordered the game from Amazon, you get three exclusive mid-level weapons and three of the four DLC item sets from the Collectors edition. Nice!
  • Finally, if you preordered the game from Gamestop, you get a second Final Fantasy XV mini-game called “A King’s Tale” for free!! … WOW!!!  – I preordered my copy from Gamestop, but I managed to snag an extra copy of the Amazon DLC codes from a friend who received two in error.   

There’s a few other random skins and other worthless freebies given out through contests and promos, but nothing really worth mentioning.

I’ve included a handy-chart below that provides details for every single possible purchase option for the game. (Because this is way more confusing than it needs to be).

*Click to enlarge*

*In a nutshell: If you have the Deluxe Edition and preordered from Amazon to have 99% of the digital perks from the Collectors Edition – If you missed out on any of this, please don’t worry. None of these perks are particularly game-breaking or game-boosting in the overall scope of things, and knowing SE – it wouldn’t surprise me if these don’t appear for sale in the future as individual DLC.

Speaking of downloadable content, the game has a handful of DLC planned in the coming months. These will be available individually for purchase or you can pay the reasonable price of $25.00 for a season pass. At the time of this writing, only the Holiday Pack is available for download. (More on this later).

So. Now that you’ve figured out which version of the game is right for you, I would like to make suggestion. Before playing the actual game itself, I highly recommend installing and completing the free Final Fantasy XV Platinum Demo. The demo is a unique scenario that does not exist in the game itself. Not only does it do a great job of teaching you the combat mechanics of the real game, but upon completion it unlocks a special perk within the retail copy of the game. (A special summon).

FFXV Platinum Demo

So… you’ve watched the Brotherhood anime and the Kingsglaive Motion Picture, you’ve played the demo… you’re finally ready to play Final Fantasy XV. Here’s what to expect from the storyline.

The story of Final Fantasy XV takes place in a world called Eos. The majority of this world is ruled by the militaristic Empire of Niflheim. However, to the north, the small Kingdom of Lucis remains free from Imperial rule. Lucis, protected by a magical barrier, has been able to ward off the Empire for generations. Recently, peacetalks between the Empire and Lucis have manifested. One of the conditions in the peace treaty requires that Noctis, Prince of Lucis is to marry his childhood friend Lunafreya, the oracle of Tenebrae (an area under Imperial control). The game itself mainly focuses on the character of Prince Noctis and his three companions as they journey to the nearby nation on Tenebrae, for the Prince’s wedding. However, shortly after leaving the Crown City of Insomnia, their car breaks down – halting their journey temporarily. While awaiting repairs on their vehicle, the news reaches Noctis that the peacetalks were nothing more than an elaborate ruse. The Empire has occupied the kingdom. The King, Noctis’s father, is said to have been slain. Now, last of his line, Noctis undertakes a journey across Eos to claim the magic powers of his birthright and retake the kingdom from the Empire.

Despite having a backstory this epic, a large focus of Final Fantasy is actually on the relationship between Noctis and his three friends. The first half of the game can appropriately be described as the ultimate Bro Roadtrip. Three guys, hanging out.. being guys. The banter between Noctis and his companions really does a great job of making you care about all of the characters on a very personal level.  In the entourage we have; Noctis – the Prince. Gladiolus – Noctis’ bodyguard. Prompto – Noctis’ childhood friend. And finally, Ignis – Noctis’ personal adviser and attendant.  Each character has their own personality and quirks that you’ll grow very familiar with throughout the game. Gladio is a bit rough around the edges, Prompto is easily excitable and obsessed with photography, Ignis is the straight-man and an accomplished chef, often preparing meals for the party when they camp out in the field.

The game is split into 15 chapters. To be quite honest, the main scenario of the game can be completed in just over 20 hours by most players. This is actually a fairly short time for these types of games nowadays. However, there’s way more content in Final Fantasy XV than just what is found in the main storyline. There’s tons of sidequests littered throughout the game. Most of these can be discovered pretty easily by playing the game normally. But there are a handful that can only be uncovered by venturing a bit off the beaten path. With a few exceptions, you have free reign to explore the entire world at your leisure. You can do so on foot, via car, and after a certain point in the game by Chocobo. Most the time, the car will be your main mode for transportation.

When cruising the roads in the Regalia (the model name for the car), you can instruct Ignis to drive to various destinations on the map. After a certain point in the game you will also unlock the ability to drive manually. Driving the Regalia is fun at first, but it does get tiresome after a while. During your time on the road you will treated to banter between the guys and occasionally some important exposition. One neat little feature during these roadtrips is the car stereo. Just like in games such as Grand Theft Auto and Sleeping Dogs, you can scroll through the channels and listen to cool music. Expect in FFXV the track selection can include soundtracks from other games in the series! Tracks can be purchased throughout the game when visiting gas stations and rest areas. I thought this was a nice touch.

The downside to these drives is the time it takes to get from place to place. Thankfully, once you’ve arrived at a particular area, you can fast warp there in the future for a small price. This certainly saves time, but to be honest – the loading times when warping from place to place, or even when loading new chapters and cutscenes in the game seem unusually long. Sometimes, I found myself sitting on a loading screen for well over a minute. (This was my experience playing on the original Playstation 4. Perhaps this is not an issue on the Xbox One or on the new PS4 models… I dunno). But, it’s long enough to be an issue.

Sadly, I was not as impressed with the soundtrack for this game as I usually am with Final Fantasy titles. There are a good number of great tracks in FFXV, don’t misunderstand. But overall, the background music just feels “off”. Even when the songs are catchy… to me they just seem a little out of place. But this could just be me being quirky. My 8-year old son absolutely loves the music. He likes it so much, I had to make a CD of game tunes at his request so he can listen to it when he goes to bed at night… So, take my opinion with a grain of salt here.

Graphically, the game is gorgeous. To date, it’s the best looking console game I’ve played. If you have one of the newer model PS4s, FFXV will take full advantage of the hardware as well. The game can also be tweaked even further for HDR televisions and home theater audio.

Progression in the game is tallied as you complete sidequests and battle monsters. Experience points earned by your characters are paid out whenever you rest in camp or at an inn-room. This serves to level your characters up. Your party also earns AP during their adventures. These points are spent unlocking new abilities.

Combat in the game is a bit of a mixed bag. Especially at first. Starting out, I had a hard time grasping it. The combat controls felt awkward and not very intuitive. But, as you continue to play and unlock more combat skills, it starts to come together. By the end of the game, it felt like second nature.  My biggest complaint has to be not with the control scheme, but with the in-game camera during combat. More often then not, battles take place in dense outdoor areas or in confined dungeon spaces. The camera tends to go haywire and it can be difficult to focus on what you need to see. A prime example of this can be found during the mega-boss fight against the Adamantoise. The boss is so massive that the camera doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself. This is very long fight, and my biggest problem with it was not the battle itself, but dealing with the darn camera angles. This seems like something that might be easily fixed with a patch. Time will tell.

All in all, Final Fantasy XV is a very different type of Final Fantasy game. Square Enix has declared that this entry is intended to appeal to both veterans of the series as well as new players. When I first settled in to play this game, it wasn’t at all what I expected. I think my JRPG-mindset may have kicked in too hard at first and I misplayed the game from the get-go. Out of the 80 hours I clocked in playing FFXV, I’d say the first 40 were spent in the first four chapters alone. I grinded sidequests and hunts like nobody’s business.I was hesitant to proceed with the main story until I completed absolutely every bit of optional content I came across. While this was great in terms of leveling up and getting ahead of the curve, it made for a very slow start.  Once I managed to put this aside and just enjoy the game for what it was, everything fell into place. By the end of the game, it ended up feeling very much like a Final Fantasy title.

Wrapping things up, I want to touch a bit on the game patches and DLC.  At the time of this writing, the game has received an important day-one update and a small bugfix/feature patch.  So I’m going to assume anyone playing is going to have installed these. The developers have expressed a desire to further patch the game – adding some additional cutscenes and possibly making major changes to the 13th chapter of the game itself. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Having already completed the game, I hate to think I might miss out on some crucial story elements. We’ll have to see how this manifests.

To date, only one piece of DLC has been released: The Holiday pack. This comes in both a free download and an special paid-for version. For the most part, there’s not much of value in this package currently. A few random in-game items, and a costume that will be unlocked at a later date. The real gem in this DLC is the upcoming limited-time carnival. Apparently, SE is waiting until after Christmas to open up this event. Details behind what this carnival will contain are still sketchy, and I’m not really sure how I feel about having a time-locked event as part of a DLC package… but we’ll see how it all plays out. As more downloadable content is released, I’ll review them separately on the site.   – But in regards to this carnival, don’t let this pending release stop you from playing the game to completion. Upon finishing the game, you have the ability to continue playing. So anything you may have missed and any new add-on content like this, should be available to experience.  In fact, there’s even a secret optional dungeon in Final Fantasy XV that’s only available once you have completed the game.

All in all, I found Final Fantasy XV to be a solid game and one worthy of the franchise. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly worth a look if you’re a fan of the series. Despite experiencing a slow start, I found my enjoyment of the game to grow the longer I played it. The storyline is second to none, certainly one of the more impactful in the series, in my opinion. I feel that longtime fans will be divided on what to think of the game. But, putting nostalgia for the previous games to the side, FFXV certainly stands on it’s own.  I look forward to seeing what’s to come in terms of the upcoming add-on scenarios.

Difficulty: Variable –  Final Fantasy XV has two difficulty options: Easy and Normal. Easy mode turns down the difficulty of battles considerably. Also, when Easy Mode is enabled, if you do die and you have the Carbuncle summon unlocked from the demo, you get an instant raise. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that Carbuncle, in fact, only appears when the game is on the easy setting – as I never saw him appear once when playing the game on Normal. I would recommend Easy Mode only for players that want to experience the game story with no challenge whatsoever. Normal mode is really not that difficult as long as you spend a little time grinding and preparing. Plus, you miss out on one of the coolest fights in the game if you play to the end using the easy setting. As usual, most the really difficult content comes in the form of optional bosses and dungeons. These are intended to played post-game.

Story: The storyline presented in FFXV is simply amazing. It stands just fine on it’s own, but backed up with Kingsglaive and Brotherhood, the lore behind game is just fantastic. In the later part of the game, a lot of concepts are introduced at a pretty fast pace, so if you’re not paying attention it will be easy to miss some key elements.

Originality: For a series with no less than fifteen installments, it can be difficult to keep things feeling fresh. But Square Enix always seems to manage to pull something new out their hat, while keeping the elements that make a Final Fantasy game a “Final Fantasy game”.  This is certainly true here for XV where we have a game that is both somewhat hub-based, yet also very open world. Many of the concepts in this game are indeed recycled from previous entries; Hunts are a prime example. Yet, the setting that encompasses the game manages to keep things feeling new. One shining feature here is the social media integration. SE has flirted with this before, but never got it right until now.  Throughout that game, Prompto will randomly take photographs. Every time you rest, you have are able to review the pictures he’s taken and share them on social media… pointless, yes. But fun.

Soundtrack: Don’t misunderstand what I said above. The music in this game is very good. It’s beautiful and well composed when it needs to be, and quirky and playful when appropriate. But, when compared to other games in the series, the bulk of it does not seem as memorable.  The exception to this gripe is the main theme “Somnus” – This is an absolutely lovely track. When it comes to voice acting, the game has it’s ups and downs. Noctis and his companions are overall, very well done, but their banter can become repetitive after a time. The side characters on the other hand… are cringe inducing. (I’m looking at you Cindy and Dino).

Fun: Final Fantasy XV, for me, was very enjoyable. RPG fans should have a field day. Heck, even my 8-year old is in love with the game. But, I feel like large portion of games just won’t “get it”. If you like RPGs that don’t hold your hand, there’s a lot to like about FFXV.

Graphics: Incredible. The scenery and most of the models in the game are absolutely excellent. There’s a few odd exceptions, but overall Final Fantasy XV is once of the prettiest games I’ve ever played.

Playcontrol: This is where the game suffers the most. But, in theory, this is something that could easily be fixed. Number one, as mentioned above, the camera during combat is big a issue. Second, the jump-button also serves as the button needed to initiate dialog or interact with objects. This often leads to you trying to select an NPC for conversation, only to end up jumping in their face for no reason. Annoying.

Downloadable Content:  Yes. Free and paid DLC.

  • Various pre-order and deluxe edition weapons and skins.
  • Holiday Pack
  • Episode Gladiolus
  • Future character-based episodes
  • An online co-op expansion has also been announced.

**This section will be updated with links to more details as they become available and are released**

Mature Content: Some language and scantily clad characters.

Value:  The base game retailed for $60.00 new. The Deluxe Edition sells for $80. As recent as a month after release, the standard game has been seen on sale for as low as $35. – To me, considering the amount of content the game offers, it’s well worth the $60. To be fair, considering the $80 version also comes with a Blu-Ray movie as well as additional in-game content, this amount is also justifiable.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Final Fantasy XV is a great game. But, it has it’s share of flaws. Its not a perfect title by any stretch. Considering how long the game was in development, some of the issues are quite honestly, inexcusable. But, none of them are major enough to detract from the overall enjoyment of the title.  There’s plenty to enjoy in this game, and the story presented here is absolutely breathtaking.

Available on: PS4 and Xbox One

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

FFXIV: Version 3.3 Update

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Since completing my post on Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward, Square Enix has released the anticipated 3.3 patch. For many players, 3.3 was expected to be a much needed shot in the arm for a game that has slowly been slipping into a lull. So, what all is included in the 3.3 patch? Let’s take a brief look:

*This patch adds new content that continues the main scenario (Heavensward) story line, and makes a adjustments to previous main scenario quests.

*New misc quests added and adjustments to existing quests (Including a new category of daily Beast Tribe quests)

*New Raid added: The Weeping City

*Two new Dungeons, and new trials added.

*Adds a new tier to the Anima Weapon progression

*A new “treasure hunt dungeon” the Aquapolis.

*More Player Housing zones added, new furniture items added and a new “Flower Pot” system introduced.

*New items and mini-game adjustments, new player hairstyles and emotes.

*New “RaidFinder” system added.

*New PVP System “Shatter”

*Misc fixes, balance adjustments, and UI updates

Wow! That’s quite a lot of content. Sadly, one of the announced features that I was most looking forward to, was not included in this update (The Undead Dungeon), so I supposed I’ll have to wait a little long for 3.35 before I can sink my teeth into that one. But aside from that, this was my experience with the 3.3 update:

I played through all of the new main scenario and misc quests in about three days. This includes the new dungeons and trials. By the 5th day I had completed the new raid. Despite having cleared a majority of the new content already, the rewards provided by these new additions certainly make the very re-playable. It’s easy to see that the Heavensward story is quickly coming to a close. I expect soon that SE will make an announcement regarding the next expansion. Once that occurs, I only expect a couple more major patches for 3.x.

All in all, I give this patch a rating of:   B

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Review: Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

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This post concludes the “Final Fantasy Initiative” project that I started in December of 2014. Since that time, I have played through and reviewed every title in the main Final Fantasy series. During the course of this project, I have even managed to check off a number of the side-games as well. Technically, Final Fantasy Type-0 is one of those. Meaning, it is not a numbered Final Fantasy game. However, considering it is a part of a Fabula Nova Chrystallis  subseries, I decided to include in my project as it ties in directly with XIII and the upcoming XV.

To start, let’s talk a bit about the history behind Final Fantasy Type-0.  When Square Enix originally announced the release of Final Fantasy XIII, they stated that it would be part of a subseries of games. As mentioned above, these games are grouped into what is commonly known as Fabula Nova Chrystallis. Final Fantasy XIII was to be the more traditional RPG entry, while a game called Final Fantasy Agito XIII was to be an action oriented spin-off. A third game called Final Fantasy Versus XIII was also announced. All games in the Fabula Nova Chrystallis series were to share a common mythos. Not necessarily set in the same gameworld, but all tied by common themes.

As time went on, the name Agito XIII was changed to Type-0 and Versus XIII was later re-branded as the upcoming Final Fantasy XV. As you probably know, the XIII game world became quite popular and XIII spawned two direct sequels. All this attention for XIII and XV, pushed Type-0 to be a sort of redheaded step child. For a while, it seemed like the US would miss out on this game. Luckily, that was not the case. Originally released in Japan for the PSP, Type-0 was finally brought to the west as an HD remake. This is the version that I will be reviewing.

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I purchased Type-0 HD on the day it was released (interestingly enough a year ago from the date this review was posted), but due to my backlog I didn’t get around to playing it until recently. I purposefully avoided reading much about the game itself because I tend to enjoy experiencing a game with fresh eyes. So, it’s safe to say I had no idea what to expect.

If I have to sum up my first impression of Type-0 in one word, I would pick: confusion. The game starts with two extremely long and very wordy cutscenes.  A lot of proper nouns are being tossed around in the opening scenes that make no sense to a first time player. These are presented in a way that makes you feel like you’re already supposed to be familiar with the place and things being referenced. When in truth, you have no idea what is going on. While visually stunning, these cutscenes didn’t do much to really get my head into the game itself. In fact, it wasn’t until I was about a quarter of the way through the game before I finally had a firm grasp on what this game was even about.

To sum it up, the basic premise of the game is this: Type-0 takes place in a world known as Orience. This world is divided in to four nation-states. Each nation is guided by and protects a sentient crystal. Each crystal represents a certain power  (Magic, Science, etc. These crystals can bestow an individual with special powers by making them a l’Cie – much like in FFXIII). At the start of this game, the industrial nation of Milites is engaged in a conquest to control the crystals of the other three nations. Their goal has brought them the nation of Rubrum, a dominion that specializes in Magic. Using a newly constructed magic-jamming device, Milites attempts to invade Rubrum. This is shown in the opening cutscene of the game.

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During the game itself, you play as any one of the cadets in Rubrum’s military academy. Specifically, you are a member of the mysterious “Class Zero”. A group of youths with rather mysterious origins. The game is divided into chapters, each chapter mostly focusing on a specific mission that Class Zero must complete. Most of these involve defending  the dominion from invasion, or overtaking enemy territory. During these missions, you can form parties from the class roster and switch between characters as needed. Each cadet specializes in a different form of combat, so a big part of the game learning which characters to use in which situations. As you play through the game, more details unfold that help to shed some light on rather obscure storyline.

In the downtime between operations, you are free to explore the school, participate in sidequests and optional tasks, attend classes (to increase stats). Every one of these things takes time and will deduct hours from the “freetime clock”. Eventually, it will be mission day – which means it’s off to your next assignment. One of the first things I noticed is that there are simply not enough hours in the game to complete all of the optional tasks available. That is because, Type-0 is actually designed with the expectation that you will play through it more than once. Upon beating the game, you have the ability to start over with your developed characters. (More on this later).

Back to missions for a moment, when engaged in a mission, you have the option to accept special goals. For example, you might receive optional orders that say “Take no damage for 3 minutes”. If you accept, you will receive a reward upon completion. If you fail, your main character dies and is unplayable until the end of the operation. I found this to be a very interesting concept, something I had never seen in a game before. Also, when embarking on an operation, you can also elect to accept support from computer controlled NPCs. Choosing to do so, can often make the mission easier, but you receive less of a reward. You see, everything that happens during an operation is graded. Upon successful completion, you will be presented with a scorecard – rating your overall performance.

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As you can probably already tell, Type-0 is a very different type of Final Fantasy game. Yes, almost all aspects of Final Fantasy are represented here in one way or another, but it’s very much an action-based RPG. The combat system is fast-paced, and a little hard to grasp at first. But once I got the hang of it, I found that I liked it quite a bit. Occasionally though, certain parts of the game will revert to an overhead (almost RTS style) view. During these phases of the game, you are often in charge of large-scale military operations: invading an occupied city, issuing orders to soldiers, etc. These are infrequent, but when they occur they seemed to me to be an odd change of pace in a game that is largely filled with fast-paced action.

Overall, I found Type-0 to be hard to get into initially. But, once I got my head in the game, I was hooked. In a lot of ways, it is obvious that this was once a handheld game. It’s structure and design reminded me a lot of Final Fantasy Crisis Core at times, but I think SE did a brilliant job moving the title to the console.

Finally, let me mention again that this is a title that is meant to played through more than once. Without spoiling anything, I will say that upon completing the game the first time, you may be left scratching your head at the ending. But if you pay close attention to the backstory throughout the course of the game, you will be able to understand exactly what’s happening. Completing the game a second time unlocks an optional ending.  Also, on your second trip through, you have the opportunity to make some interesting choices, that deviate from original playthrough. This helps make the second time through a lot more interesting and not too repetitive.

All in all, I have to say Type-0 is a solid, good game. But if you’re a traditional Final Fantasy fan, prepare to come out of your comfort zone just a bit. But don’t worry too much. There’s plenty of moogles, chocobos and an INSANELY difficult optional boss. I’m proud to say I did not shy away from this challenge, but I admit it took me until my second playthrough before I was able to step up to the plate on this one. So, yes. It’s Final Fantasy, but presented with a much different flair.

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Difficulty: Variable –  There are multiple difficulty settings to choose from. Upon the first completion of the game, a “hardcore” mode is also unlocked. I found the difficulty options to be pretty appropriate. Choosing a difficulty setting does not affect the game’s storyline in any way.

Story: Very confusing at first, but fleshes out after a while. Type-o actually has a very deep and complex story. One that I found to be quite intriguing. The whole game is actually presented almost like a record of events. Very compelling stuff.

Originality: A lot of what’s seen in Type-0 has been done before in one way or another. But what makes this game very unique is the way all of these ideas are mixed together and presented. There’s a lot of different stuff going on here, but SE really managed to make Type-0 seem like something fresh and new.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack for this title is absolutely outstanding. Everything from the composition to the audio quality is mind blowing. Many FF favorites are included here in one way or another, but there’s tons of new original songs as well. All of them are simply amazing.

Fun: I have to say, when I first started this game I had no idea what was going on and as a result, I just wasn’t into it. For a while I honestly had little motivation to play. But after giving the game a little time, it REALLY started to grow on me. By the time I had completed it, I was actually eager to start it over for a second playthrough.

Graphics: Despite being an HD port of a portable title, Type-0 HD looks wonderful. SE did a fine job with this remake. The overworld portions of the game are a little iffy… but most of the game is in third-person 3D and looks stunning.

Playcontrol: Overall, no issues. Combat takes a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, all is well. Occasionally ran into issues with the game camera not focusing on what I needed to see during fights, but this most often occurred when I was up against a wall or backed into a corner.

Downloadable Content: NO– The original JP version of the game had some DLC-ish costume unlockables, but these are all integrated into the main game now.

Mature Content: War time violence, graphic bloody imagery. A very sexy cutscenes.  As far as I know, this is the only FF game with a mature rating.

Value:  Originally released a premium price, the game is now often available for around $20 new. At this price, it is well worth the purchase, in my opinion.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – This game does have some flaws that prevent it from getting a perfect score, but at the same time there’s a lot of great gameplay here. Many fans of the series may be turned off at first, but if you can manage to stick with, Type-0 can really be a rewarding experience.

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s Tale – XV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

Review: Lightning Returns – Final Fantasy XIII

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A blizzard is the perfect time to catch up on some backlogged gaming. This year, during the big snow-in, that’s exactly what I did. I managed to finish my playthrough of Final Fantasy XIII – Lightning Returns. The third and final chapter in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy.

I purchased this game when it was released, but this was my first time sitting down to play. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect with this title, I had heard it was very different than the first two XIII games, and indeed it was. Admittedly, I was quite confused for probably the first 4 or 5 hours of playtime. I couldn’t quite figure out the mechanics and flow of the game. It felt very foreign to me. Eventually, it did all begin to fall into place. But before I dive into all that, let’s first take a look at the storyline.

This game takes place 500 years after Final Fantasy XIII-2. During that time, the people of the world of Gran Pulse have been gifted with near immortality. However, the world itself has been consumed by mysterious dark force and mostly destroyed. At the time in which this game takes place, only a few small patches of land are habitable. This world has been rebranded as “Nova Chrysalia” by it’s inhabitants. As chaos continues to consume what remains of the world, the end of time is mere days away. Those who played the previous game, will be aware of the fate of both Lightning and her sister Serah. Spoiler Alert, for those who may not have played it, at the end of Final Fantasy XIII-2, Lightning is transformed into crystal, assumingly for all eternity. But now, something has changed. A new god known as Bhunivelze has decided to craft a new world. His desire is to populate it with human souls. To do so, he will need someone to reap the souls of the living. To accomplish this task, Lightning is brought back from her crystal statis, with the promise of having her sister resurrected if she will assume the role of “Savior”.

Only thirteen days remain before the end of the world, and Lightning must do her best to help ease the suffering of the people of Nova Chrysalia before the end of the final day if she wishes to be reunited with her sister again. This mostly consists of undertaking various quests and solving problems for those in need. But of course, during the course of the story, Lightning is sure to encounter some familiar faces.

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As mentioned above, the main objective of the game must be accomplished in thirteen “game days”. This means, that a large part of this title involves trying to get as much done before the clock runs out. When I first started playing, this was very unnerving to me. It became apparent pretty quickly that some content in the game is time-sensitive. Certain objectives only occur at certain times, so it’s a constant race against the clock. I dislike this mechanic in games very much and I was worried that I would end up missing some critical content as a result. But, after spending a lot of time with Lightning Returns, I’m happy to say this is not really as big of an issue as it first seems. In reality, there’s more than enough time to accomplish everything in the game that needs to be done. In fact, if you manage to complete enough sidequests, you can even extend this deadline by one full day.

While the timer is certainly one of the biggest changes to the game mechanics, that’s not the only thing. The combat system in this game is radically different from anything seen in Final Fantasy yet. Gone is the paradigm system that has so far been a staple of XIII, now we have something called the Schemata system (or as it is official known, the Style-Change Battle System). It’s best described as a mix of the XIII Paradigms and the Dressphere system from FFX-2. Essentially, Lightning can set up three different active roles to switch between during combat. These roles are customized based on her weapon, clothing, accessories and skills. The Garbs (or outfits) are the core to this system. New Garbs can be obtained through NPC merchants, quest rewards, and DLC.  The combat itself is very action based. Each role has it’s own Stamina Meter that is depleted as Lightning executes actions. This meter recharges as actions go unused. The key to mastering this system is to create a balanced set of Schemata and learn how to make the most appropriate use of them depending on the enemy you are encountering. I found the whole thing to be a bit confusing at first, but after a while, it started to click.

As I mentioned above, some outfits are available via DLC. Yes, this game does feature downloadable content, but unlike Final Fantasy XIII-2, it’s all optional items. The entire game story is included with the purchase of the game itself, so you don’t have to spend any extra money to experience the entire game. The garb that is available in the store is largely cosmetic, but there are a few useful pieces. Personally, unless you really want to play dress-up, I see no reason to spend your money. The Garb that is available in game is more than enough to accomplish everything you’ll ever need. That being said, there are a few free pieces you can acquire if you happen to have XIII, XIII-2 and FFX-HD saves on your PS3. (This might be true for Xbox users as well, I cannot personally confirm).

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Aside from DLC, the game also features a rather novel Online function called the Outerworld Service. This service, if enabled, will occasionally place avatars for other players in your gameworld. When talking to them, you can view a gameplay screenshot that they’ve shared, and sometimes even purchase items and weapons that they’ve decided to sell. At one time, Outerworld would also connect to both Facebook and Twitter, but SE pulled the plug on this option last year. Also worthy of mentioning, enabling Outerworld Services also rewards you with free DLC that was previously only available to those who played the Lightning Returns demo.

As I mentioned earlier, this game is very different from others in the series, and as a result can be a bit confusing at first. But if you go in without any expectations and keep an open mind, everything soon falls into place. It wasn’t long before I found myself drawn into the game itself and having quite a good time with it. Lightning Returns is certainly it’s own game, and it’s not a bad game at all. But to me, it didn’t really feel like Final Fantasy. Yes, there’s moogles, chocobos, and a number of other classic FF throwbacks, but it just doesn’t feel like Final Fantasy to me.

No matter what changes may exist here, this game does stay true to one constant in the Final Fantasy universe: there’s plenty of optional content. As always, I made it my goal to unlock and defeat every optional boss the game had to offer. (One of which, can only be done ensuring you have access to the missing 14th game day). The trophies I earned for defeating these battles were well deserved if you ask me.

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Difficulty: Variable –  This title comes with a Normal and Easy mode option out of the box. Once you have completed the game, Hard mode will be unlocked. Based on my experience, Normal mode is not really that much more difficult honestly. So this choice is really up to the player. Regardless of which option you choose, the time limit will still apply and the game can still be challenging in spots.

Story: The story presented here is actually very rich and enthralling, if you can manage to make it far enough into the game for all the pieces to start to fit together. For me, at the beginning, it was a confusing mess. It’s unclear at first why so much time has elapsed, yet everyone from the last game is still alive and kicking. Not to mention the sudden new deity everyone is so worked up about. But, as I said, if you hang in there, it’s all answered in the end and once it’s all said and done, it really makes a wonderful capstone to the Final Fantasy XIII mythology.

Originality: While many of the gameplay ideas founds in Lightning Returns are not fully original, they are certainly new to the series itself and really make for a new experience. The outerworld services are a neat touch, but I feel like they could have been implemented better. Combat in this game is certainly different than what we’ve seen in the series thus far.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack here is a mixed bag. Some of the new musical pieces are very well done and hold their own with many of the other Final Fantasy classics. Others are a bit drab. A good bit of the background music is ambient type stuff that is appropriate for the game, but not very rememberable. Thrown into the mix with all of this, are reworkings of other XIII and FF songs.

Fun: I admit, at first, I was not impressed with the title and was not enjoying it very much. But I’m happy to say that this changed about a quarter of the way through. Once I hit that point, I had quite a good time with this game. Many of the sidequests are quite a bit of fun.

Graphics: This game uses the same graphical engine as XIII and XIII-2 and looks just as good if not better than the previous two. It seems that by this point, SE has had plenty of time to really tweak their Crystal Tools engine. Again, the PS3 has a slight edge over the 360, but not by much.

Playcontrol: No real complaints here. The game controls work as expected. The camera controls are natural and precise, the button mappings are intuitive.

Downloadable Content: YES – Downloadable outfits for use in the game. Some of these are nice to have, but offer no major tactical advantage. Somewhat overpriced. (PC users can snag most of this for free)

Mature Content: Minor language, skimpy outfits, heavy anti-religious overtones (fictional).

Value:  I purchased the game at full price when it was released. I feel that there’s enough content in the game to make it worth the amount that I paid. These days it’s often available for around $20.00. Certainly a great bargain at that price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Lightning Returns is good game, but it doesn’t rank with some of the other games in the series. Fans of XIII are the most likely to enjoy this one.

Available on: PS3, Xbox 360, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

Final Fantasy XI: Rhapsodies of Vana’diel

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Last month saw the release of the final chapter in Final Fantasy XI’s latest add-on scenario, Rhapsodies of Vana’diel.  This scenario marks the end of all new storyline/expansion content for the game. In the eyes of most players, Rhapsodies’ serves as a sunset for a game that has been loved for over a decade. As promised, I have taken the last few months to catch up on much of the content I’ve missed over the last few years and I have to say, now that the final chapter has been told, I’m glad I took the time to give this wonderful game one last look.

For veteran players who have already conquered most of the game’s content, Rhapsodies of Vana’diel will serve as both a trip down memory lane, and a final capstone to all of the epic storylines that FFXI has presented over the years. Between the three chapters in Rhapsodies, Square Enix has done a wonderful job of bringing back old characters from the various ages of Final Fantasy XI and blending them in to one final romp through the various locales of this vast game. For new players, the Rhapsodies content actually integrates into the existing storyline as players explore the content in the game. It serves as both a guide and a vehicle to clarify some of the more obscure parts of the game’s scenarios.

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Aside from simply being a collection of cutscenes and battles, RoV also introduces three new zones to the game. Admittedly, two of these are largely recolors/remixes of existing areas. The third, however, is an entirely new zone and one that players have been begging to explore for many years. I suppose the inclusion of this area is small way of saying “Thank You” to players who have stuck through the game over all the ups and downs.

I was fortunate enough to experience RoV along with a few of my old FFXI friends. But thankfully, the scenario is also quite solo-able thanks to the new Trust system in the game that allows to you make make virtual parties with AI controlled NPCs. So if you’re on the fence about returning to Vana’diel to experience this swansong, don’t be. The content is very accessible even if you have to play through it alone.

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As I mentioned in one of my previous XI posts, stepping back into this world after being gone for a couple of years felt both familiar and foreign at the same time. So much has changed with Final Fantasy XI since it’s prime that it did take a little getting used to. Yet, it didn’t take long for everything to start falling into place. If you’re one the fence about returning, know this: Yes, the game is much easier than it used to be. Content that used to require alliances of players can now be conquered alone. Yes, the population of the game is significantly smaller than it used to be. But the players that remain have a true love and passion for the game that is undying.

I would find it difficult to recommend FFXI as a whole, to a new player simply because it has reached its sunset period. But if you are a true fan of Final Fantasy, or if you have a friend who is also interested in playing, it is certainly worth spending a little time exploring this world. Personally, I have played countless games over the years, a majority of them RPGS. I have also dabbled in nearly every MMO on the market and I can say this with no hesitation: Final Fantasy XI is without a doubt the greatest game I have ever played in my life. It certainly has it faults, but I doubt that another game (even FFXIV) will ever be able to take its place in my heart.

As a final treat, players who complete Rhapsodies of Vana’diel are rewarded with a final cutscene and credit roll. The song that plays in the background features a chorus sang by the players of the game itself. A few months back, SE provided instructions for recording audio that could be sent back to SE for inclusion in the mix of the final song. I found this to be a touching gesture and nice way to immortalize the loyal players by placing them into the game itself once and for all.

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** POL Viewer Final Fantasy XI – The Rise of Zilart    –   Chains of Promathia   –   Treasures of Aht Urhgan –  Wings of the Goddess  –  Add-on Scenarios – Abyssea Scenarios –  Seekers of Adoulin –  Rhapsodies of Vana’diel **

Review: Final Fantasy XIII-2

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It took a while to get this review out there, but I have finally finished the second game in the FFXIII trilogy and I’m ready to share my thoughts on the title. I want to start by saying that I often feel like the odd-man-out when it comes to the original Final Fantasy XIII. Most people pan the game, but I found it to be an excellent title.  Regardless of the negative criticism the game received, it sold well enough to spawn a sequel: Final Fantasy XIII-2. This game was generally held in much better regard than its predecessor. So I was curious to see just what I thought about this entry.

I purchased this game when it was released in 2012, but I only played it for a few days before other games captured my attention. So at the time, I didn’t really have a chance to really sink my teeth into the title. For this playthrough, I erased my old savegame and started over from the beginning.

The story behind FFXIII-2 begins about three years after the end of the previous game. It focuses on Serah as she struggles to understand the events that followed previous title. Serah has a vivid memory of speaking with and spending time with her sister Lightning after the events of Final Fantasy XIII, but to everyone else, Lightning disappeared (and assumingly sacrificed herself) during the events that ended the game. Then one day, a strange boy named Noel suddenly appears in the village, claiming to be a time traveler sent by Lightning to retrieve Serah. As it turns out, Lightning was chosen by a powerful goddess to be a guardian to the eternal realm of Valhalla. The goddess is under attack by a mysterious time traveler named Caius who is causing dangerous paradoxes and disturbances all over the timeline, causing havoc with the universe. Serah decides to follow Noel and travel through time resolving these paradoxes in hopes of eventually meeting her sister again in the timeless realm of Valhalla.

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Admittedly, the storyline above may seem a bit confusing. In fact, I was quite confused by it when starting the game. But eventually, things start to piece together and by the end of the game, it’s quite impressive just how much sense everything makes. Trust me on this one. Regardless, if you played the original Final Fantasy XIII, you can probably already tell just by the story alone, this is a very different game.

At risk of sounding contradictory to what I’ve stated above, in a lot of ways, XIII-2 is similar to the original game, but in just as many ways it is radically different. First, let’s talk about what’s the same. Combat. For the most part, XIII-2 uses the same combat/paradigm system as XIII. If you are familiar with this, you’ll feel right at home. The only difference here is that your basic party is only made up of two main characters now (Noel and Serah), the third slot if occupied by a monster. Monsters are collected throughout the game, often by defeating them in regular combat. Different monster are assigned different “classes”, so by adding a monster to your roles, you can effectively make a three-person Paradigm just like in XIII. Since monster roles cannot be changed, you have the ability to “equip” three different monsters in your “paradigm pack” and can swap out as needed. Most monsters can also be leveled up to a certain point as well. This brings me another familiarity, the Crystarium system from XIII is back, albeit slightly refined.

That’s where most of similarities stop. One of the greatest complaints about XIII was that fact it is was very “closed”. Many described the game as being “Final Fantasy on Rails”. This is not at all the case with XIII-2. Of course, in the beginning, options are limited. But it doesn’t take long for this game to open up dramatically. Essentially, players are able to explore various locations/times via a central hub known as the Historia Crux. This is basically a cosmic “Warp Zone” of sorts. When exploring new areas or completing certain objectives, more locations and options become accessible. The main storyline of the game does guide you toward certain areas and some locations are locked out until checkpoints in the storyline are reached, but where to go and what to do is left largely open to the player. Even though I personally enjoyed XIII, this new level of freedom is admittedly refreshing. Another interesting addition to this game are “cinematic actions”. Many boss fights end with these button mashing fests. I’ve seen these concepts in other games, but was surprised to see them pop-up here.  I’m not a fan. What’s the real point of this? You’ve just spent twenty minutes beating this monster only to have to execute a number of precise button pushes in order to a get a perfect win? Blech.

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Another thing that makes this title unique is the inclusion of Downloadable Content. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is officially the first game in the series with DLC. Quite a bit of the DLC for this game is worthless/vanity costumes, etc. But there are also purchasable “Coliseum Battles”. These are optional DLC boss fights that take place in a special zone on the Historia Crux. These battles are quite challenging compared to the rest of the game, but the reward for winning is being able to add the monster/character defeated to your paradigm deck. The most interesting of the coliseum DLC choices is the “Snow’s Perpetual Battlefield”. Yes, this is another battle, but one that shed’s some light on the fate of the popular character, Snow.

Other DLC options include an optional episode called “Heads or Tails”. This focuses on the character of Sazh as he finds himself in the strange “cosmic casino” known as Serendipity.  Essentially, this DLC serves as an expansion of sorts to the Serendipity zone within the game, adding a few new games to the casino. Completing this DLC will unlock Sazh as paradigm option and also provide some details regarding his inclusion into the game’s main storyline.

Finally, the last and most controversial DLC option is “Requiem of the Goddess”. This content is essentially a mini-episode intended to be enjoyed after players have finished the main game. It is through this DLC that players will be able to see the final “chapter” in the story of XIII-2. As expected, there was a loud voice of disapproval from fans over the concept of locking out such a crucial part of the game storyline behind a paywall. Personally, I find these DLC episodes to be largely inexpensive and well worth the investment. But I do find it hard to shell out more money after already spending a big chunk on the game itself. Regardless, I personally enjoyed each and every additional scenario and arena battle. However, the only customs/weapons I obtained were the ones that I received by preordering the game. I didn’t spend a dime on the gimmicky costumes.

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All in all, I found Final Fantasy XIII-2 to be fairly solid sequel to the original. For me, it took a lot of getting used to at first, but once I got an understanding of just how the level-hub system was put together, I began to really enjoy the game. Regardless, I still found myself enjoying the original XIII just a bit more.  Either way, if you’re a fan “Fabula Nova Crystallis”. It’s certainly worth setting aside some time for this entry in the series.

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Difficulty: Variable –  This title comes with a Normal and Easy mode option. But in all honesty, even in normal mode this game is not particularly difficult. The main scenario is quite beatable with little difficulty. The only caveat to this is that to be successful, you do have to actually take a little time to learn the mechanics of the paradigm system. Once you have a firm understanding on how the combat works, the game is more than manageable. The biggest challenges in the game can be found in many of the downloadable Coliseum Battles available for purchase.

Story: Building off the mythology of the original game, the storyline to XIII-2 starts off in a very confusing place. The game does a great job of setting things up at first, but before long, things become muddied and confusing. Fortunately, about halfway through the title things start to clear up and the storyline really begins to shine.

Originality: Despite being a direct sequel to XIII, XIII-2 manages to stand on it’s own quite well. Even though it is set in a familiar world, with familiar characters. The whole time travel concept presents a very unique experience. Even re-used game mechanics like Paradigms and character advancement are tweaked just enough so that they remain fresh.

Soundtrack: This is probably where XIII-2 receives is lowest marks for me. Yes, there are some very good tracks in this game. The title screen theme is a prime example of classic/excellent Final Fantasy music. But a large bit of the music in the game just left me cold. For one, too many background songs have vocals. While this is ok from time to time, it feel like it was overdone in this game. Not to mention that quite a bit of them are not just not that good. Sad.

Fun: I wasn’t sure what to think of this game for about the first half of the title. It started off quite fun, but then began to feel a bit repetitive. Eventually however, everything clicked and I ended up enjoying the game quite a bit.

Graphics: This game uses the same graphical engine as XIII and looks just as good. Beautiful stuff. Again, the PS3 has a slight edge over the 360, but not by much.

Playcontrol: No real complaints here. The game controls work as expected. The camera controls are natural and precise, the button mappings are intuitive.

Downloadable Content: YES – Vanity items, optional battle content, and additional story scenarios. Average pricing.

Mature Content: Minor language, skimpy outfits.

Value:  I purchased the game at full price when it was released. I feel that there’s enough content in the game to make it worth the amount that I paid. However, considering all the additional story-based DLC, I feel that the original release price was a little steep. These days, the game can be found for around $20 or less. At this price, you certainly get a good value. PC users even get most of the DLC at no additional cost.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Most people rate this title better than the original XIII, but to me the first entry just had a certain charm to it that seemed to be missing from this title. Not to mention, I was slightly turned off by the concept of spending more money on additional story DLC.  That being said, don’t misunderstand. XIII-2 is a great game! I certainly recommend it to fans of the series, but to me, it misses the perfect score mark.

Available on: PS3, Xbox 360, Steam

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

Review: Final Fantasy XIII

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I am slowly but surely reaching the end of my Final Fantasy playthroughs! As much as I hoped to be finished with the entire series by the end of this year, it seems I may miss that goal by just a hair. Regardless, I present to you my review of Final Fantasy XIII.

FFXIII is an interesting game. It’s one of the most popular, yet also most controversial entries in the series to date. It is the first title in the mini “Fabula Nova Crystallis” series (a subset of Final Fantasy Games – much like the “Ivalice Alliance” of FFXII-related titles). It was the first “modern generation” entry in the series. Meaning, it was released on platforms that are still available today: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. As a result, here we have one of the most beautiful entries in the series so far. But we before we get too far into the particulars, let’s touch on the story,

Final Fantasy XIII, like all other titles in the series has a deeply rich storyline. The world of XIII is a planet called Gran Pulse, but the game actually begins on an artificial moon of sorts that floats above the planet called: Cocoon. Cocoon is ruled by a theocracy known as The Sanctum. The leaders of Sanctum are strange godlike beings called fal’Cie. Occasionally, these fal’Cie will select people for a specific task (or Focus)- these individuals are then (literally) branded as l’Cie. If a l’Cie does not manage to complete their focus within the allotted time, they are cursed to become mindless monsters. While those that do, are supposedly blessed with eternal life. – Wow. That’s a lot of funny names.

When the game begins, we learn that to the people of Cocoon, Gran Pulse is somewhat of an anathema. People on Cocoon are taught that Pulse is filled with monsters and anything related to the word below should be shunned. Just prior to the events of the game, we learn that an unfortunate individual has come into contact with a fal’Cie from the world of Gran Pulse.  As a result, the Sanctum is currently undertaking a “Purge” – forcefully sending those involved away to live on Gran Pulse. A fate supposedly worse than death. The main hero in the game is the character known as Lightning. Lightning is actually in service to Sanctum, when she learns about the Purge taking place in her hometown. As the game progresses, Lightning meets a number of other characters and over time begins to piece together the secrets surrounding both the fal’Cie and the truth about Cocoon.

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While the summary above may seem a bit confusing, the game itself does a fantastic job of explaining the lore behind the title as well as giving each main character a proper introduction and backstory. Each character in the game has their own overall role, but characters can be customized greatly as one would expect. In Final Fantasy XIII, character customization is handled by something call the Cystarium. This very similar in many ways to the Sphere Grid concept of Final Fantasy X, but with a slightly different twist. In FFXIII, there are no pre-determined character “classes” instead, there are various roles or “Paradigms”.  Any character can take on any Paradigm at almost any time in the game. So when leveling up, you can choose to spend your Cystarium points on different skills in different paradigm trees. When engaged in actual combat, characters can execute actions that they have unlocked from the role they are currently assigned to.

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It may seem confusing at first, but the game does an excellent job of explaining and coaching you through these concepts early on.  For the most part, combat in Final Fantasy XIII takes place with three characters at a time. During combat, you only have direct control over the main character. The other two are AI controlled, but will function in accordance with the role they are currently assigned. Mastering the Paradigm system is really the key to the entire game. Knowing when to shift your character from one Paradigm (aka: swapping roles) to another makes all the difference between success and failure. FFXIII makes it easy to gauge your skills in this area as well, as your performance in every single fight is rated. The higher your rating, the better rewards you may yield when defeating your enemy.

You see, in Final Fantasy XIII monster will often drop material that can used to enhance your current weapons. So it’s important to collect as many materials as you can. You never know when you may need a certain item so you can get that perfect weapon.

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Final Fantasy is often criticized by many for being very linear, or as some have labelled it “on rails”. To an extent, critics have a valid point. Especially, in the early parts of the game exploration is very limited. Players are very restrained in where they can go and what they can do. But as the game unfolds, these restrictions are lifted one by one. By the end of the game, your characters will pretty much have access to the entire game world. And as expected with a Final Fantasy title, there are plenty of areas and activities to explore that are not part of the main storyline of the game.

I’ve often been quoted as saying; to me, Final Fantasy XIII doesn’t start until you beat it. My favorite activity in the game ended up not being that main scenario progression but rather participating in Marks (bounty hunting) – a throw back to a side quest from Final Fantasy XII. This series of optional objectives (known a Cie’th Stone Missions) are both challenging and rewarding. Most of the optional bosses found in FFXIII are available through this series of quests. As usual, I made it my goal to ferret out and defeat every one.

All in all, Final Fantasy is very unique entry in the series. Personally, I don’t understand the huge backlash the game experienced on release. Yes, it is very different from what most would expect from a game bearing the Final Fantasy title. But I also found it to be quite refreshing. The game is beautiful, the graphics in this title are the best the series has given so far. The music in the game is outstanding. The combat and game mechanics are fast paced, interesting and unlike anything we’ve seen yet. Personally, I think XIII is a notable entry in the series. I enjoyed it when it was released back in 2010, and even now, revisiting it again five years later – I found the game to be a pleasure.

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Difficulty: Medium –  For the most part, Final Fantasy XIII is fairly middle of the road in terms of difficulty. Some boss battles can end up being a bit tough compared to the rest of the game. However, taking the time to learn the Paradigm system is the key to success. Like most FF games, the biggest challenges are optional bosses and side quests. Achievement/trophy hunters will not have an easy time.

Story: The scenario presented in XIII is very unique. The concept of Cocoon and “lost world” below really struck me as interesting. With XIII, Square was not at all afraid to introduce a rich and original storyline filled with lore and the game really benefits from it.

Originality: In many ways, XIII feels like XII – done right. The combat seems to hit that sweet spot of automated yet still controlled. The character customization, while reminiscent of X is unique enough to stand on its own. SE always has a tough time balancing the need to keep the series from getting stale while pleasing their hardcore fans. But in the case of XIII, I feel they managed this masterfully.

Soundtrack: The score in XIII is very different that what we’ve seen in any other Final Fantasy title so far. I don’t think there’s a single original Uematsu track in the game. But despite this, I love the music here. Its catchy, fitting and all around good stuff. Music aside, the voice acting in the game is very well done as well. (Even if Snow sounds like Keanu Reeves on downers).

Fun: I personally enjoyed this game A LOT. XIII gets a lot of hate for being very non-traditional when compared to other FF games, but I just don’t see it. The main scenario is entertaining and the optional content is fun and engaging.

Graphics: Breathtaking. The best in the series so far. PS3 players have a slight edge here over 360 users,  but not by much. The game looks amazing on either system, truth be told.

Playcontrol: It seems that every time I play 3rd person game, the camera controls feel foreign for a while. But after an hour or so this goes away and begins to feel natural. Everything else in the game seems to just click. No real issues to report in regards to playcontrol.

Mature Content: Minor language, skimpy outfits.

Value:  To me, this game is worth the purchase. I bought it on day one at full price and never regretted it. These days, it can often be found on sale or at a reduced price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I’m the weirdo who thinks Final Fantasy XIII is a top-tier title. Many others may disagree with me, so feel free to seek out the opinion of others. But if you ask me, XIII is certainly worth your time and money. The series has matured over the years and with maturity comes change. I welcome it.

Available on: PS3, Xbox 360, Steam

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

Review: Final Fantasy XII – Revenant Wings

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Bouncing right back from my playthrough of Final Fantasy XII, I dove right into the sequel: Final Fantasy XII – Revenant Wings. This is a very unique title in the Final Fantasy series for a number of reasons. First,at the time of release, this game was only the second title in the series to be a sequel to a previous Final Fantasy game. Second, when compared to its predecessor it’s a radically different game. This title was released on the Nintendo DS system only. As a result, it plays very differently than standard games. The game takes full advantage of the two screen experience and while some DS games do not really require playing with a stylus, this game does seem to function much better with one.

Revenant Wings takes place where FFXII left off. Vaan has acquired his own ship and has become somewhat of a sky pirate. The game begins as Vaan finds his airship has been reclaimed by its previous owner, Balthier. Following instructions left for him, Vaan and Penelo meet up with Bathier to hunt for a bit of a treasure. This is followed by a series of events that ultimately lead Vaan and several of his friends, both of old and new, into another epic adventure.

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This game is a very strange mix of RTS elements and overhead dungeon crawling. The game itself is divided into chapters, each containing a number of missions. These are very short and the game can be saved after each mission. Typically, each mission will have a particular goal. Once this is accomplished the mission ends. Gameplay consists of mainly walking and combat. Characters you control tend to specialize in certain forms of combat. Be it melee, magic, or ranged attacks. The key is knowing which character to use against certain types of enemies. That being said, you characters do not have to fight alone. This game focuses very heavily on the ability to summon monsters which in turn, fight side by side with your characters.

The key to the whole game really is knowing which monsters to summon based on the enemy you are encountering. Sometimes other minor strategies come into play as well. For example, its often wise not to venture too far from a summoning portal so in the event that your characters get pinned down, they don’t end up being unable to call for reinforcements.

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As new summons are unlocked, players have the ability to choose which summons will be available in advance of the next mission. So there is a bit of planning involved as well. This can often make the difference between success and failure.  All in all, this makes for a pretty interesting experience. For me, however, it doesn’t really do much. I’m not a fan of RTS games, and while I wouldn’t call this title a pure RTS, there’s enough of the element present to turn me off. But, that’s just me and my preference.

Despite not really being my cup of tea, it was nice to see Vaan and the other characters from XII make one more appearance.

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Difficulty: Medium –  Interestingly enough, the US version of this game is actually more difficult than the original Japanese release. If you take your time and really pay attention to the tutorials that pop up at the beginning of the game, you’ll have a much easier time than someone who speeds through all the text. But, overall, I’d say the same tends to be middle of the road in terms of difficulty.

Story: The story in Revenant Wings is pretty good, but is very self contained. There’s bits of lore presented that serve to enrich the overall world of Ivalice, but the game itself does little to expand on the story presented in the original Final Fantasy XII.

Originality: Despite being a sequel, Revenant Wings is a beast all its own. The unique playcontrol brought by the DS as well and the overall difference in gameplay really make this title an experience all its own. High praise to SE for this.

Soundtrack: The music is in this title is mostly a rehash of tunes found in FFXII. What’s amazing is just how good and true to the original they sound considering the vastly different hardware. The music in Final Fantasy XII was CD quality audio, while the majority of music in this game is digitally created. Also, most of the music here is dynamic. It comes and goes depending on the events that are taking place in a game. Pretty neat stuff.

Fun: I’m somewhat infamous in my dislike of RTS games so it would be easy to let that influence by review. But casting that aside, this game still managed to be quite enjoyable for me. For someone that really enjoys that style of game, Revenant Wings offers a lot of enjoyment.

Graphics: Being a DS title, the in-game graphics are about what you’d expect. The overhead view has a sort of 16bit pixel feel to it, but its fitting and well done. The character art has a more anime-style feel to it. Surprisingly, the game also contains some pretty amazing cutscenes that are on par with what you’d expect from a Final Fantasy console game.

Playcontrol: Being a DS title, the playcontrol here is interesting, but not as bad as many games on that platform. For most of the game, the top screen serves as a map. The bottom/touch screen is where the action takes place. Characters are selected by tapping on them, or from a tab at the top of the screen. Actions are menu driven, so a stylus is highly recommended. Overall, it takes a bit of getting used to but once you have the hang of it, it’s a piece of cake.

Mature Content: No Concerns

Value:  This game is out of print and often sells for over $50 on Amazon in new condition. At that price, I find it hard to recommend considering the amount of content in the game. But if you came manage to find this for under $30 or less, you will certainly get your money’s worth.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Even though I’m not  fan of these types of games, its not hard to see that this is a very well put together title. Fans of Ivalice and FFXII should certainly give this game a look. Players who strictly enjoy RPGs may have a harder time with this title. But that being said, the quality of the game is undeniable.

Currently not available.

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

Review: Final Fantasy XII

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It is with trembling hands that I type this. This game was long and I need nourishment if I expect to live long enough to write this review.  After 110 hours of gameplay, I have finally finished Final Fantasy XII. This game now holds the record of being the longest single player RPG I have ever experienced. As a result, there’s a lot of talk about.

First, let me start this by stating that Final Fantasy XII is the first game in the series that I did not experience at all when it was originally released in the US. This game came out during a time when I was fully invested in another FF title, the online MMO Final Fantasy XI. I purchased XII, but I never could find the time to play it until now. Sadly, this is game remains one of the more obscure titles for people just getting into the series because it is one of the few games that is not available on any current generation platform. Final Fantasy XII was released on the Playstation 2 only, and to date there has not been a re-release or remaster of any kind. However, there are many rumors indicating that an HD version is in the works.

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How to describe this game…. the story of Final Fantasy XII reminds a bit of a mix between Game of Thrones and Star Wars. The game is set in the world of Ivalice. A realm shared by a few other spin-off FF games. There’s a very large cast of characters many of which are members of regal “houses”. The lore behind the game is vast, but for sake of this review we will summarize the story like so; The game begins in the desert city of Rabanastre, in the Kingdom of Dalmasca. A kingdom that as recently been occupied by the powerful Empire of Archadia. When the game begins, it focuses on the character of Vaan. A young street urchin simply trying to make his way from one day to the next. Vaan is tasked with a heist that involves taking advantage of city-wide ceremony, to sneak into an Imperial guarded palace and steal a valuable stone. While there, he meets and teams up with a Skypirate named Balthier and his companion, a female rabbit-like humanoid named Fran. Through a series of events, the team meets and takes on new adventurers into their fold, including none-other than the presumed dead Princess of Dalmasca herself. What starts off as an “innocent” break in, eventually turns into an epic quest to overthrow the Empire and help the Princess Ashe reclaim her throne, thus restoring freedom to Dalmasca.

Storywise, this title is just as epic as any other entry in the Final Fantasy series. But to a large part, that’s where many of similarities end.  Now, I don’t mean this in a bad way, but to me this did not really feel like a “Final Fantasy” game. Yes, many of the staples are present. Summons, airships, and a registry full of familiar foes. But I found the gameplay itself to very different from anything in the series so far. First, there are no random encounters. You can see enemies from far away, and as a result avoiding them is an option. Also, the combat system in this game is very different. Yes, I know that each game in the series tends to change things up a bit, but this time we have a radical new thing called the Gambit system. Essentially, you can manually control everyone in your party if you wish, but combat is so fast paced, that’s not really a viable option most of the time. So instead, you control one character, while the others fight using scripted actions that you can define. For example, you can give a character a list of commands ahead of time based on variables; (Use Cure on Party Leader if HP < 50%) – It reminded me of writing computer code. The off-characters will execute command in battle based off the Gambits to you have assigned to them. It’s quite clever, but it takes a lot of getting used to.

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As characters earn experience they level up much like you would expect. Hit points and Magic Points are increased automatically, but characters also earn what are called License Points. These points are used on something called the License Board. This is how you determine what skills and abilities are learned. Points are spent on acquiring abilities or “licenses” to use certain types of weapons and equipment. Its similar to the Sphere Grid system from FFX, but with a unique twist.

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A large part of the game is linear in nature, but there are several times in the game where you have full reign to explore outside of the confines of the game story. Like most Final Fantasy titles are there are countless sidequests and optional fights. Part of what took me so long in completing this title was my habit of trying to see and do everything possible. During my gameplay I unlocked all thirteen Espers, completed all of the hunts, etc. It was grueling work, but by the time I was finished with all of the that, the final challenges in the game itself were a piece of cake.

I should note that in the US, we only have access to the original version of Final Fantasy XII, but in Japan is a special “International Zodiac Version” that comes with tweaks to the License system as well as improved combat mechanics and even a New Game + option. I should go on record now and state that I fully expect a new North American remaster version of this game within the next two years. Naturally, I would expect all of the Zodiac options to be available in the remaster. Let’s see if I’m right with this prediction.

All in all, Final Fantasy XII is an excellent, albeit very different game. It’s certainly worthy of the Final Fantasy name, even if it didn’t really feel like a Final Fantasy title (at least to me). It’s not my favorite by a stretch, but I recommend it to anyone that loves RPGS.

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Difficulty: Hard –  To me, this game was one of the more difficult games in the series so far. I found this to be not so much due to the challenge of the encounters, but moreso due to the absolute need to be able to master the Gambit system as well as due to some of the difficult in-game puzzles. You certainly are left with a feeling of accomplishment when this one is over.

Story: Final Fantasy XII features a rich and detailed story. Players who can’t get enough of Ivalice only need to look to Final Fantasy Tactics for even more background into this world. There’s so many characters in the game, that keeping track of them can actually be a little confusing at the beginning.

Originality: Somehow SE always manages to keep the franchise feeling fresh. In many ways, this game reminded me a bit of Final Fantasy XI in terms of overall look and feel. It’s like an odd mix of both classic RPG elements with the randomness of an MMO. It was certainly unlike any other RPG I had ever played.

Soundtrack: This is where I have to be a little rough. The quality of the music in the game is superb. CD, redbook quality audio, but overall the composition of the music itself seemed a bit uninspired to me. Of course there are exceptions. The classic Prelude and Final Fantasy theme sound wonderful in this game. As does the music for Rabanastre. But much of the environmental music and boss themes just didn’t really strike a chord with me as they usually do in these games. That being said, I found the voice acting to be amazing.

Fun: I’ll be honest and admit that is by far not on top of my list of favorite FF games. When I first started playing, I was hooked and having a great time. But about halfway through, I found myself trudging through the game. For me, the enjoyment didn’t really pick up again until the very end of the title.

Graphics: At the time of release, this game was top of the line. These days, the graphics power of the ps2 really shows its age. I played this title on a first-gen ps3 and even at full screen with smoothing enabled, the game looked a little rough. I’m not knocking this game at all, it’s beautiful. The animations and environments are stunning, but it’s past time for a modern remake.

Playcontrol: I encountered no issues with the playcontrol of the game itself. The camera is manually controlled and precise, combat is either automated or menu driven.

Mature Content: No Concerns – Minor language/cursing.

Value:  Even at full price, players would have got their money’s worth. These days, the game can often be found used and is very inexpensive. Most of the cost would be incurred trying to get your hands on a system that can actually play the title.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – Yes, I gave this game a 2 out of 4. That does not mean it’s a bad game at all. It’s not, it’s a WONDERFUL game, but as far as these types of games go, Final Fantasy XII was definitely middle of the road for me. Not terrible, but not amazing either. Fans of the series should certainly give it a go, as should anyone who loves RPGS. People new the genre might do good to stay away. This game is no for RPG rookies.

Currently not available.

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight