Review: Final Fantasy IX

Today, I give you my review of Final Fantasy IX. The last title in the series released for the original Sony PlayStation, and the largest game in the franchise yet. My first encounter with this game was seeing a large cardboard display for it at the local Babbages store. I went inside and inspected a copy of the game. I remember examining the characters on the front and thinking how marvelous this game must be. But at the time, I did not own a PlayStation and I wouldn’t for several years. In fact, I didn’t finally get my hands on this title until around 2004. At which time, I played it to completion. This review marks only my second time playing this title from beginning to end.

This game focuses on the story of Princess Garnet and a swashbuckling bandit named Zidane. Garnet is the princess of the Kingdom of Alexandria. At the beginning of the game, Zidane and his roguish band of troubadours are visiting the kingdom to perform a famous play. However, they have an ulterior motive;  kidnap the princess and hold her for random. Surprisingly, the princess ends up being a willing participant as she secretly wishes to escape the walls of the castle. Chaos ensues as Zidane and Princess are pursued by one of Alexandria’s knight’s; Steiner. Through a series of misadventures, our heroes and their companions soon learn that Garnet’s mother, Queen Brahne is not the benevolent ruler they all believed her to be. In fact, the Queen is embarking on a violent conquest of neighboring kingdoms. As the game progresses, the heroes will uncover the truth behind the Queen’s motives and a shocking secret of epic proportions – told in the style that only a Final Fantasy game can deliver.

To start, let say that this game represents the best looking entry in the series so far. What started out a little rough in VII, and cleaned up a bit more in VIII, we now have an example of what the PlayStation hardware is really capable of. The overall graphics here are much improved over any other the other PS titles in the series so far. Yes, there’s still pixels, but that’s to be expected considering the generation of the game. The character models are clearer than ever before, the background graphics are detailed, and the FMV cutscenes are wonderfully rendered.

As far as gameplay is concerned, one of the first things I noticed about this title is that, with the exception of combat, Final Fantasy IX is very different than any of its predecessors. First of all, There’s all sorts of unusual pointers and icons that appear on the screen from time to time. These are there to help focus your attention on various things. For example, one I found particularly annoying is the “hand pointer”. This icon will appear above the head of your character at random, just in case… you forgot who you are playing. Thankfully, this can be disabled. Also, unlike other entries in the series, there’s items and things scattered all over the place. So as you play, you will constantly want to poke around every corner waiting to the a “?” bubble appear over your character’s head, as this indicates they have found something of interest. Regardless of this pop-up, it’s very easy to skip over an important item or clue.

Skills also work very different in this game. Unlike other games, where character skills are learned by leveling or through some other means, in this title, abilities are tied to specific items. For example, a “Plumed Hat” might teach your character a certain ability or spell. As long as the item is equipped, your character has access to the ability, and the longer they wear it during combat, they will slowly learn it for themselves. Once an ability is learned, your character will always remember it, even without the original item equipped. While I found this very interesting in concept, in practice it ended up being very annoying. Often times in the game, I would have better, more efficient equipment at my disposal that I was hesitant to use, because I was still trying to learn abilities tied to older, worse equipment.

Other than these odd deviations, Final Fantasy IX will seem familiar to any fan of the series. All the regular easter eggs and expected themes are present. Moogles, Chocobos, Summons, etc. In fact, in many ways, Final Fantasy IX is a bit of a fan service game. This title leans away from the futuristic setting taken by some of the more recent games in the series. Instead, it’s very much a fairy-tale style fantasy. Many of the character’s names and even a large portion of the musical score harken back to earlier entries in the series.

Speaking of similarities, just like in Final Fantasy VIII, we have another playable trading card-based mini game here. Tetra Master. Just like in FF8, you can acquire cards throughout the game and challenge NPCS to card matches. However, unlike Triple Triad from VIII, Tetra Master seemed largely uninspired and a bit more confusing. Also, the rewards for actually playing the mini-game are minimal. In my opinion, Triple Triad is a big dud.

With so many lackluster notes on the review thus far, you may wonder if Final Fantasy IX is worth your time when there are so many other brilliant games in the series. Well, the answer is yes. Despite it’s many shortcomings, Final Fantasy IX features one of the most epic storylines in the series to date (in my opinion) and it is masterfully told. Moreso than ever before, every character in the game has a tale worth telling. Plus this time around, you can dive much deeper into the background of the game. Throughout your time in IX, you will be prompted to view Active Time Events. These can be skipped, but if you choose to watch them, you will be treated to a short behind-the-scenes scenario or two that helps flesh out the details behind the current plot.

As expected, there’s also a lot of optional content in the game as well. Collection-based quests, mini-puzzles, and of course…. delivering mail for moogles. If you enjoy these types of things, you’ll get out what you put in to it. In a nutshell, if you’re a fan of Final Fantasy, this is a must play game. If not, or if you’re new to JRPGs, there are better games to play to get your feet wet. I could certainly classify this as a game for the semi-hardcore RPG player.

Difficulty: Medium –  In the early stages of the game, there’s actually several challenging encounters, but as time goes on, things get much, much easier.  If you’re a completionist like me, and take the time to do all of the optional side quests, the rewards you receive will end up making this game a piece of cake. If not, expect a mild challenge.

Story: Final Fantasy IX features an incredibility good storyline. From the opening scene of the game until the extremely emotional ending, the plot will suck you in. Everything that makes the Final Fantasy series so renown is represented here.

Originality: When you’ve reach nine entries into a series, it can difficult to keep things original without losing sight of made the franchise so great. FF9 manages to toe a very fine line in this regard. The game feels familiar, but also oddly out of place at times, and not always in a good way. Some of the game mechanics, while original, seem cumbersome or somewhat forced.

Soundtrack: Sadly, Final Fantasy IX features probably some of the least memorable music in the series thus far. To be clear, there are some real winners here. “Melodies of Life” is probably one of the greatest Final Fantasy compositions yet. But a large majority of the soundtrack seems a bit dull and uninspired. Not to mention, a fair bit of it borrows from previous games in the series. I understand the idea behind this is to spark a bit of nostalgia, but in this case, it just wasn’t very effective. Despite my complaints, the quality of the game sound is spectacular. Overall, it just doesn’t live up to the reputation earned by other games in the series.

Fun: I had a bit of a love hate relationship with the game this time around. I was sucked in at the very beginning, but around the second disc I just didn’t have much motivation to play. Happily, the game really picks up towards the end and features a conclusion that’s nothing short of fantastic. But there was a “fun lull” in the middle of the game that I cannot ignore.

Graphics: This game really shows just what the original PlayStation is capable of and also just how much Square was able to master the system in terms of graphic capability. Nothing but praise here.

Playcontrol: I found the playcontrol in FF9 to be much improved over the other PS games in the series. No real complaints whatsoever. Everything feels natural and responsive.

Mature Content: No Concerns – Minor language/cursing.

Value:  In terms of content, FF9 is the biggest entry yet. My playthrough reached well over 50 hours. So there’s plenty to do here. In fact, the only way I was able to complete this game in a month’s time was due to a weeklong staycation I had in the middle of the month. Considering this title usually goes for $10 digitally, or can be found used for as low as $5, you’ll more than get your money’s worth.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Final Fantasy IX is a solid example of the series thus far, but it is not perfect. While complete and well worth your attention, it is easily overshadowed by other entries in the series, as well as other RPG games of the age. Despite whatever shortcomings it may have, it still have the honor of being an exceptional game in its own right and one every RPG fan should experience at least once.

Currently available – PSN

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 VIII

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As stated in the previous post, I’ve started my quest of playing through the remaining Final Fantasy games in order to catch up as quickly as possible. With new games just around the corner, I want to experience them while they are still hot and fresh.

Next up on the list is another PlayStation title and one of the more obscure entries in the series, Final Fantasy VIII. This game was released in 1999 and I originally received it as a gift in the PC format. I didn’t tinker with the PC version very long before life managed to turn my attention to more adult things. A few years later, I ended up snagging a PlayStation copy. I have fond memories of playing through this game around the time of 2003-2004, when my son was still an infant. I used to sit in my armchair and play FF8 while he slept soundly in his crib. This play session is the first time I have touched the game since then. So this was only my second time playing FF8 to completion.

Final Fantasy VIII is quite a bit different than the previous games in the series. This game focuses on the character of Squall. Squall is a young man and a member of a mercenary academy called Balamb Garden. The goal of each student is to graduate and become a “SeeD”. When the game first starts, Squall and his companions are preparing to take their final exams. Upon graduating, Squall and his teammates are assigned a mission to assist a small group of revolutionaries. During this mission, he finds himself involved in a massive effort to save the world from an evil sorceress. We’ll stop there in efforts to remain spoiler free. But needless to say, the storyline to this title is another epic masterpiece from the storytellers at Squaresoft. There’s something here for everyone; fantasy, science fiction, romance, camaraderie, and betrayal.

The graphics in this game as quite different from those in Final Fantasy VII. Instead of being blocky and cartoonish, the art direction in this game is much more realistic. However, as a result, the characters and monsters are more pixelated in appearance. The background and environmental art seems to be a small step up in quality when compared with FF7. Personally, I’ll take the pixels when compared to the odd Fisher-Price looking character models from the previous game. Also, like VII, this game has a number of FMV style cutscenes. These also seem to be a step up in quality from the previous game.

When it comes to the soundtrack, Final Fantasy VIII is fantastic. The music in the game in wonderful. There are few random duds, but the majority of the game score is phenomenal. Final Fantasy VIII also has the honor of being the first game in the series with a fully vocalized main theme song. The track “Eyes on Me” is performed by Chinese artist Faye Wong and has since become one of the most beloved themes among franchise fans. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to attend a Final Fantasy orchestrated concert. My biggest excitement came from hearing several songs from this title performed live. It’s really that good.

 

So with an epic storyline, and wonderful score, you might wonder why you don’t hear much about Final Fantasy VIII these days. Well, the honest answer is: gameplay. The mechanics in this game are really different than anything we’ve seen in the series before. First of all, character levels are pretty much pointless in this title. As your characters level up, so do the monsters they battle. So no matter what level you are, you’re almost always on par with whatever you’re fighting. Character stats are not directly related to their level. Instead, vital statistics are increased by junctioning magical spells to your characters. For example, having Fire spells junctioned to your characters Hit Points will cause your HP to increase. Having 99 spells junctioned will  cause a greater increase than having a mere 10 spells.

Since the stock of spells has direct relation to your character’s stats, spells are a little harder to come by in this game than in others. In Final Fantasy VIII spells are not purchased or learned. Instead, magic is most often “drawn” from monsters during combat. Instead of attacking, you can spend your turn using the DRAW command to increase your spell arsenal. Different monsters hold different spells. Naturally, some of the most powerful spells are very rare.

 

In terms of storyline, this works because characters can choose to bond with supernatural beings known as Guardian Forces. These GFs are responsible for making junctioning possible. GFs also level up over time and can learn new skills and abilities. These perks are then passed on to the character. GFs also have another function. They can be summoned into battle. As general rule, GF attacks are some of the most powerful in the game. Most of the classic Final Fantasy summons are represented here in the form of GFs: Ifrit, Shiva, Bahamut, Cactuar, etc.

All in all, this new system is quite complex and can seem daunting to new players. Once you understand it, it really makes for some interesting gameplay. The possibilities are endless. But even I do feel that it is a bit overly complicated. Unnecessarily so.

One last unique feature in Final Fantasy VIII is the mini-game, Triple Triad. This is an optional card game that you can play with various NPCs. It’s very similar to many real-world collectible card games. The ultimate goal here is to defeat opponents and win rare cards. This does have a purpose as cards can be converted into items. Some of which are very rare and powerful. Triple Triad also ties into a few side quests later in the game. A version of this game actually planned for future release in the online title: Final Fantasy XIV. So fans of both games have something to look forward to.

Overall, Final Fantasy VIII is a great game, but it does have its quirks. Patience is important for this title but the outcome is a very rewarding experience.

 

Difficulty: Hard –  In my opinion, Final Fantasy VIII is the hardest game in the series so far (from 1-7). Even completing the main scenario requires a bit of planning and near mastery of the game’s complex rules. As usual, this title contains side quests and optional content that is even harder or more time consuming to complete, but the rewards for doing them are great indeed. Like many other games in the series, FF8 does feature an optional mega-boss. I didn’t beat him the first time I played, but I did manage to conquer it this time around. It was quite an accomplishment.

Story: This game features a very detailed storyline. On par with anything in the series thus far. There’s also a very romantic theme between two of the lead characters that’s on par with any of the popular girly movies of the modern day. At the beginning, certain elements of the plot are confusing and bit fuzzy, but by the end of the game you can see just how artfully everything has managed to fit together.

Originality: If the goal was to make a new Final Fantasy that was unlike anything seen before, the developers accomplished their mission with flying colors. FF8 is a very unique beast. The GF and junction system mentioned in the review above are unlike anything they’ve sprung on us yet. While I praise the originality here, sadly this is also the reason the game is shunned by many die hard fans. In a way I can understand the complaints. But then again, everyone always says they want something new and different. Yet, once it is given to them, they are quick to complain.

Soundtrack: I daresay, this might be the best so far overall in the series. It’s very difficult to make that claim when there are some truly classic tunes from FF7 alone. But in terms of dynamics and composition, the music presented here is truly a work of art.

Fun: I personally enjoy this game very much. Perhaps for me, I am bit influenced by nostalgia. I don’t know. Playing this game is much like curling up with a favorite winter blanket. It’s emotional and familiar. I do feel that some parts of the game are bit annoying and overly complicated, but overall everything works well. I like it the way it is.

Graphics: This game marks another step up in quality for Final Fantasy. Each game seems to making a pace towards photo-realism. And while we still have a way to go, we are another step in the right direction. The FMV scenes were amazing for the time, and even though the main game itself is littered with pixels galore, it is still pretty easy on the eyes.

Playcontrol: This is a big issue for me with this game. Moving the characters around seemed to be very stiff and unintuitive. Often times, it is difficult to understand where on the pre-rendered background you are supposed to go. Also, later in the game when you are able to control sea-faring vessels and flying ships, the control scheme used to navigate them are odd and difficult to grasp.

Mature Content: No Concerns – Fantasy violence, minor language.

Value:  There’s a lot of game packed into these four discs. During this playthrough I made sure to take the time to complete every side quest in the game: chocobos, optional Guardian Forces, secret bosses, you name it. When I completed the game I had just over 60 hours of playtime. Even at full new price, I feel that the game is well worth a purchase. Today, the game is available for around $10 digitally. You can’t beat that.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – I’m a fan of this game, but it is certainly not the perfect example of what Final Fantasy represents. All of the classic elements are here in one way or another, but the game is quite a deviation from other titles in the series. In its own right, Final Fantasy VIII is an amazing game, but does seem to burdened a bit by its own complexity and does feel a bit out of place. Regardless, I do recommend the game to anyone who is a fan of JPRGs and it’s a must play for any major fan of the series.

Currently available – PSN, 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 VII – Dirge of Cerberus

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Next up and last on the list of Final Fantasy VII titles is the obscure, Dirge of Cerberus. This title is again another spin off from Final Fantasy VII and takes place last in the timeline for this subseries. The majority of this title takes place three years after the events of Advent Children and focuses mostly the character of Vincent Valentine.

The game explores a bit about Vincent’s past. In fact during the tutorial you even get to see Vincent as he was when he was a member of the TURKS (prior to the original FFVII). The main focus of the game, features Vincent as he teams up with a group known as the World Regenesis Organization. As learned very early in the game, during his years as a test subject for Shinra, Vincent’s body was fused with a special Protomateria. Now, an offshoot of Shinra wants to reclaim it for their own nefarious purposes. The mystery between the WRO and this “Deepground” Shinra offshoot continues to unfold as your progress through the game. The plot is revelaed through cutscenes that take place both during the game itself as wells as pre-rendered videos between levels. Fans of the FFVII storyline will be pleased to learn that many old faces do eventually make an appearance. In fact, I was very surprised to see one particular individual in the final ending cutscene… But you’ve got to be very thorough during the game to be able to unlock it.

 

Storyline aside, this game is quite an odd beast. In fact, I’m not really sure how to really describe it. First thing, it’s NOT an RPG. Let’s be clear about that. Dirge of Cerberus is very much an action game. But not really one of any particular genre. The game is played from a third-person perspective, but it’s very much a shooter. Vincent can run, jump, shoot and also attack with his hands. Potions and other power-ups can be consumed on the fly to recover health or activate other special moves. For example, the Limit Breaker item allows Vincent to transform to a werewolf-like creature for a limit amount of time.

The game is very linear, moving from one chapter to the next. At the end of each level, you are awarded with points. These can be used to either level up and make Vincent stronger, or they can be converted to money which can then be used to purchase new items or upgrades for Vincent’s firearm. Learning how to customize the guns in this game is quite a crucial skill to acquire. For most of the game I kept a short range pistol, a long range rifle, and then a second rifle customized with a sniper scope. I found this to be the best “go-to” mix. As far as using the experience points earned, I found it best to alternate from one level to the next – exp, money, exp, money, etc.

 

The game controls are very unusual at first, and to me, did not feel very natural. But, I did eventually get the hang on them. The third-person camera seems pretty accurate, but my biggest complaint was with the targeting system. Switching between targets is a bit of pain. This is even more true when you are trying to run around and avoid enemy attacks. The targeting system is a customizable a bit, but still either way you slice it, it’s not a good experience.

The combat system here is both the game’s best and worst feature in my opinion. It’s certainly unique and very bold for a game that bears the Final Fantasy title. But I feel like it is a bit unrefined and it just feels like it was not ready for prime time. The storyline is what really drove me to see the game all the way to completion. Had this not been a Final Fantasy game with great cinematics, I doubt I would have bothered to finish it.

Despite my complaints above, there are some really good aspects to the game. The visuals and audio are fantastic. And even though I feel it is flawed in it’s execution, the overall concept of the game is interesting and has potential. I doubt it would ever happen, but I think I’d really like to see a more modern version of this game on newer hardware. I think maybe where this game fell short for me is due to it being a bit ahead of it’s time.  There are many games these days with a similar play style that seem to do a much better job at the “third person, action RPG” concept.

 

Difficulty: Variable –  There are several difficulty settings to choose from. More after completing the game. These seems to be balanced pretty well. I do recommend playing on the easiest setting if it’s your first time experiencing the game. Once you have a handle on the controls and the basics of the game, it may be safe to kick it up a notch for a bit of a challenge.

Story: The storyline here is phenomenal. It’s actually much more elaborate than I expected. To be honest, I sort of assumed that the game would be pretty shallow in terms of lore. Having a husk of an outline so that there was a reason to play a shoot-em-up as Vincent Valentine. I was happily mistaken. This game does a fantastic job at shedding some light on one of the more mysterious characters from the Final Fantasy VII roster. As well, as casting new light on some already familiar events

Originality: This game was published in 2006 and at the time, was quite unique. The title tries to merge third-person action with RPG elements and to an extent actually succeeds. My complaints were more with the overall execution. Learning how to customize your weapons is key to mastering the game. This aspect is certainly interesting and unique. Dirge is certainly a very different experience.

Soundtrack: Overall the game soundtrack is very well done. There’s some really nice background music, but there’s also a few snoozers. The title contains a really good J-Rock tune by Japanese musician Gackt. The voice acting in the game is a mixed bag, but not particularly bad.

Fun: Dirge of Cerberus certainly has its moments. The action can be exciting, but sometimes repetitive. I found the levels to be somewhat boring and uninspired. But they were diverse enough to keep the game moving along at a decent pace.

Graphics: Overall, the graphics are very well rendered for a PS2 title. The game has a very somber tone, and I feel that the art direction intended to convey that. But as a result it’s very dark and gray. Sometimes it’s difficult to see enemies between the haze and pixels. Due to this, I experienced more than a couple deaths. The pre-rendered scenes were very well done.

Playcontrol: Probably my biggest gripe here. The camera and targeting system are adequate, but feel very un-optimized. So much so that I feel the game suffers as a result.

Mature Content: No Concerns – Fantasy violence.

Value:  The game itself is fairly short. I finished it in about ten hours. There are some unlockable and collectables that may make the game worth playing again for some people. In Japan, there was a multiplayer aspect to the game. Here in the US, that was cut so the single-player portion of the game could be polished up a bit more. At least that’s what the claim is. If it’s true, I’d dread seeing the original Japanese release. Having some multiplayer features would have certainly made this game more interesting. I can imagine enjoying this title much more with some form of PVP combat. But of course network play did not really take off on the PS2.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – This one of those games that you either play or skip. It’s really up to you. If you’re a big fan of the Final Fantasy VII universe, it may be worth your time. If you’re looking for a good third-person shooter, there are much better options out there. Again, despite my complaints, I do think that a more modern version of the game would be much better received. Sadly, I don’t see that happening.

Currently not available – PlayStation 2

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 

My Thoughts on the P.T. demo

 

In the last few days, a mysterious demo appeared for download on PS4. Known only as P.T. – this interactive “Playable Teaser” ended up taking the Internet by storm. Curious about all the hype surrounding it, I decided to check it out for myself.

What we actually have hear is a short little teaser for an upcoming Silent Hill game. This incarnation is manned by none other that Hideo Kojima, the man famous for bringing us Metal Gear. Now, I have admittedly never played a single Silent Hill game, but I know of them by reputation. Silent Hill is a series of popular survival horror games. They are notoriously spooky. After experiencing this demo, I’ve made certain to add them to my list of “to-play Halloween games”.

P.T. is played from a first-person perspective. It begins as you wake up in a dank, roach-infested room with a door. Walking through the door brings you to a hallway. There’s flickering lights and the ambient sound of a radio. As you round the corner, you see another door at the end of the hallway. Entering it brings you right back into the beginning of the first hall… this loops continues for the majority of the game. However, each time you start over things get creepier and creepier.

I’m not going to go into detail and spoil the experience for you. If you have a ps4 and enjoy these types of games at all, then stop reading NOW, turn off all the lights and go play it. The less you know about the game going in, the better the experience.

We’ve established the fact that this demo is very frightening. But let’s look at it from a technical standpoint for a second. This P.T. teaser really shows off the assets of Kojima’s new Fox Engine. The realism presented here is simply breathtaking. The textures are superb and combined with the lighting effects I don’t think I’ve ever seen such realism in a console game before.

The demo itself also shows just how much emotion and atmosphere can be generated with only lighting and audio. There’s not a vast area to explore here, it’s all psychological and it’s extremely well done. When the final version of whatever this is finally comes out… I want to be there. I recommend this demo to anyone who enjoys horror games. Just be warned, it is frightening especially for children.

Well played, Kojima. I hope this method of “demoing” takes off. I would love to see more downloadable experiences like this for future games.

Review: Final Fantasy VII

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I now take on the challenge of reviewing one of the most beloved RPGs of all time; Final Fantasy VII. These days, there’s no right way to review this game. Anything and everything that can ever be said about this title has been said before. Admittedly, there’s a thousand other reviews of this game that are probably better than anything I can cobble together, so I’m going to take a very personal approach with this review.

Final Fantasy VII was the first game in the series to be released on a non-Nintendo platform. This title found its home on the Sony PlayStation. As I have mentioned on this site before, I did not own a PlayStation during its initial run. At that point in my life, my attention had drifted away from console gaming for the most part. But I was fully aware of the game’s release and very intrigued by it. My roommate had a copy and I observed him playing it from time to time. About a year after FFVII first came out on the PS, it was ported to the PC. I took that opportunity to purchase and play through the game. So yes, my original introduction to this legendary game was through the infamous “crappy pc version”. Of course over the years since, I have since played this title a number of times on what I consider to be the proper medium (a PlayStation console). In recent years, the old PC version has resurfaced on Steam and boasts a slightly higher resolution and even Steam-based achievements. I briefly considered playing this version for my review (if only to rack up the achievements), but I found the keyboard controls to be very clunky and not intuitive at all. I tried using my trusty Xbox 360 controller as an alternative, but even that seemed to suffer from poor playcontrol. I barely made it a few hours into the Steam release before firing up my PS3 and playing through the game there.

Final Fantasy VII takes everything that has made the series great thus far, and cranks up a notch. This game features rich storytelling, loveable characters, an unforgettable soundtrack, and (for the time) wonderful graphics.

The game focuses mainly on a character by the name of Cloud. When the game begins, Cloud has recently joined up as a mercenary with a band of environmental activists called Avalanche. Until recently, Cloud was a member of an elite combat unit known as SOLDIER. This group was employed directly by the powerful Shinra Electric company; a corporation that’s grown so powerful over the years that they’ve actually become a sort of de-facto government entity. It is soon revealed that Shinra draws their power by tapping into the very lifesource of the planet itself. As a result, the world is slowly dying. Avalanche makes it their goal to prevent the destruction of the world by exposing Shinra’s deeds and launching terrorist-style attacks on the company’s reactor sites. As the game story progresses, it becomes apparent that there are even stranger projects being undertaken at Shinra. As you play through the game, more and more backstory is revealed. I’ll stop here to prevent any spoilers, but let’s just say there’s a reason Final Fantasy VII is considered to be one of the greatest RPGS of all time. The story found within this title is arguably one of the greatest in video game history.

For the most part, this game will feel familiar to anyone who’s experienced other titles in the series thus far. You control a team of characters as they explore the world, battle monsters, find and equip new items and treasure, and uncover the main plot of the game.

Combat in this game will feel pretty familiar to existing fans. But there is much more here than the simple turn-based battles we’ve seen before. Aside the regular options we’ve seen thus far, battle in Final Fantasy VII also features something called the “Limit Break” system. Essentially, as you battle and take damage, there is a meter that slowly fills up over time. Once the meter is full, that character can unleash a devastating attack called a Limit Break. There are a number of limit breaks available to each character and these are unlocked over time.

The most unique thing about combat in this title compared to other FF games is the Materia System. Spells and magic are not purchased or learned in this game like they are in some of the other titles. Instead, there are various magic stones that can be equipped in on your weapons and armor. Each stone, when equipped, grants that character the ability to use a spell, summons a monster for battle, or offers some other type of enhancing effect. Materia can level up overtime and a result, the effects can be enhanced. In some instances, materia can be linked together to create new effects as well. Learning how this system works is a key element to the game. Luckily, the game includes a number of tutorials, making understanding how this system works very simple.

When it comes to graphics, Final Fantasy VII is an odd beast. Much the game’s background environment actually consists of pre-rendered artwork. I equate it to moving characters around on a matte painting. The characters are rendered in a very ugly blocky way for a large part of the game. I’m not really sure why this was done. When engaged in combat, the characters take on a much more realistic look as shown in the screenshot above. I suppose this difference has something to do with hardware limitations or something technical like that. But when I first started playing I found it to seem very odd. But it’s something that you get used to pretty quick. Occasionally, there’s also a few pre-rendered cutscenes that occur. These look dated by today’s standards, but for the time were top of the line.

Musically, the game is a masterpiece. Uetmatsu has once again provided a simply breathtaking score that really enhances the game. To this day many of the pieces of music found within this game are performed in symphonic concerts all over the world. The music, combined with a truly epic story and excellent character development, are the secret the this game’s legendary status.

As far as RPGS go, Final Fantasy VII is truly the legend that many claim it to be. There’s hours and hours of gameplay just in the main story alone. Not to mention tons of mini-games and optional bosses to challenge. One aspect of the game I’ve always glossed over until now was the ability to breed chocobos. For this playthrough I actually took the time to dive into this content and obtain the ever-coveted Gold Chocobo. This animal is needed in order to find one of the rarest materia pieces. I’ve always felt a little empty claiming to be a big fan of Final Fantasy and never having conquered this aspect of the game, now I can rest easy.

My biggest gripe here has not to do with the game itself, but rather with a somewhat poor localization. For the most part, the game is very well translated. The big issue here has to do with the name of a particular character. “Aeris”. Aeris is one of the main characters that you will meet very early on. Ok. Her name is Aeris. We all know that “Aeris” is simply an Americanized version of whatever her name was in Japan. This is typical. All is right with the world…. well, that was until later stories in the FFVII universe started to be released. You see, Final Fantasy VII is popular. As a result, there have been movies and games released that focus on the backstory and aftermath of this particular title. In all of those, her name has been retconned as “Aerith” – which in my opinion is a much better name. Obviously, SE is not going to go back and edit the default character name for digital releases of FFVII (but players are given the option to change it manually). But my question is, why not just keep her name as “Aeris” for the sake of continuity? I suppose because “Aerith” is a more proper translation. – Whatever. I’m ranting. — My point is, if you’re an OCD nut like me that cares about this kind of stuff, take that opportunity early in the game to correct the spelling of her name so your nerves can rest easy.

Difficulty: Medium–  Like most RPGs, this game features a few challenging battles and puzzles. But with patience, you can grind through and out-level most things. Completing the game certainly has it’s share of challenges, but it is the optional battles with the WEAPON bosses that offer the biggest difficulty in the game.

Story: There’s more story in this game than you can shake a stick it. But it can admittedly be a bit confusing at times. I don’t think I really understood some of the finer details to Cloud’s backstory until I played through the game two or three times to be honest. But as far at the main plot is concerned, it’s told very well and a real gripping tale.

Originality: Many RPGs tend to feel very cookie-cutter. Final Fantasy VII really managed to stay fresh in part to it’s unique art design, and wonderful character development. The Materia system also helps to add a new dynamic to the standard level-based character design.

Soundtrack: Final Fantasy VII boasts an enormous soundtrack that actually spans four CDs. The music for this game is very fitting most of the time. There are a few really odd, funky pieces that seem slightly out of place at times, but 99% of the time – the soundtrack compliments the game flawlessly. Stand out tracks are the character-based leitmotifs, as well as the ever popular One-Winged Angel (final boss theme)

Fun: If you like Japanese style RPGS, Final Fantasy VII is a must-play. It is considered by many to be required playing for anyone with a PlayStation. The game is engaging, emotional, and hours of fun.

Graphics: As I mentioned earlier, the graphics here are bit strange. We jump from unusual looking “lego models” to fairly detailed, but pixelated player characters. The 2D pre-rendered backgrounds are pretty, but they are in a fairly low resolution and there’s rarely any movement to them at all. To be fair, FFVII was Square’s first foray on the PlayStation. Later games in the series did seem to improve quite a bit. When it comes to the PC version, the game is available at a much sharper resolution and tends to be overall more attractive than the original release.

Playcontrol: No concerns here. The game controls are intuitive and play without issue on the native hardware. PC players on the other hand have a very awkward time ahead of them.

Mature Content: Mild – Fantasy violence, some veiled references to sex, prostitution and homosexuality.

Value:  At the time of this writing, the game sells digitally on PSN for around $5.00. The game is usually listed on Steam for around $10-12, but goes on sale frequently. Honestly, any of these prices are more than great for this game. Even today, with as dated as this title is, I would have no problem spending $15 or more.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – This game is the subject of much hype but it does truly live up to it. FFVII is the perfect launching point for someone just getting into the series. Almost every defining aspect that the series has become is represented here in one way or another. From the storyline to the music, Final Fantasy VII is an experience every gamer should undertake. I recommend it even to those who are not RPG fans.

Currently available on: PSN and 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: Wolfenstein – The New Order

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I don’t always get the chance to review games when they are brand new. But I knew that Wolfenstein would be an exception. After playing it, I’m glad that I put everything else on the back burner for a bit. The game was better than I expected.

The New Order continues the story that started with Return to Castle Wolfenstein. The war is coming to a close and BJ and his team are pushing deep into Nazi territory in attempts to raid Deathshead’s fortress and exterminate the Nazi leader. First part of the game focuses on this raid and also serves as a bit of a tutorial. However, things don’t go as planned and our hero suffers an injury that takes him out of commission for a quite a well. When he finally wakes up, he finds himself in an asylum. The world has gone to hell. The Nazi’s won WWII and control a world-wide police state. The focus of the game from this point is to locate the resistance movement and do whatever is possible to strike back at the Nazi regime in hopes of sparking a revolution.

It’s difficult for me to go into too much detail without spoiling a bit of the game. But from very early on in the title it’s obvious that this is not your typical FPS. The graphics are superb, the voice acting in the game is probably the best I’ve ever encountered, and the story is nothing short of fantastic. This game takes you on a journey from the trenches of WWII to a Nazi controlled dystopia that’s nothing short of terrifying. From prison camps to a Nazi Moon Base, this game is certainly a ride to hell and back.

In a lot of way this game does play like a typical FPS. You acquire, and can switch between, an arsenal of weapons; Handguns, Machine Guns, Sniper Rifles, Grenades, etc. These change over time and some can be upgraded throughout the game. There are alternate fire modes, and zoom-in options, etc. Pretty standard fare. A knife can also be used to sneak up behind enemies for stealthy take-downs. There’s also heavy weaponry that is available from time to time, such as mounted chain guns.  There’s a lot of duck and cover in this game as well. There’s actually a lot of variety when it comes to combat. Strategies range from trying to traverse the level without being seen, to all-out bullet hell.

Aside from being a simple shooter, this game is very story focused. There are a number of objectives presented during the course of the game. These help to drive the game scenario and break up the routine a bit. Throughout the game you will also come across collectible items. These are viewable in the main menu and some of them help to unlock additional modes of play. Also worthy of mention, early in the game you will be prompted to make a very important decision.  Your choice has a huge impact on the game going forward and you can’t take it back. So, to fully experience all the game has to offer, you have to play through it at lest twice. For me, this was not a problem. I enjoyed the title so much, that I was happy to do just that.

In a somewhat unusual move for a modern FPS, there is no multiplayer option. Wolfenstein: The New Order is strictly a single-player title. For me that is fine, but it does seem a little difficult to justify the premium price tag.

Graphically, the game is stellar. I was able to run it fine on my GeForce GTX 660 using medium to high settings. It does seem to be somewhat un-optimized and very fickle when it comes to some driver settings. I had to disable V-sync completely to avoid strange screen artifacts. If you’re unsure if your PC can handle the game, it may be better to go with one of the console versions that are available.

 

Difficulty: Variable–  There are multiple difficulty levels available to choose from. From my testing, these seem to be very well done and appropriate. I played the game on the default setting and found it to be very balanced.

Story: This game shines in term of storyline. The alternate 1960 presented here is both well done and horrifying. While there are some “occult tech” elements in the game, it’s not ridiculous like it was in the previous entry of the series. Almost everything here is quite believable. Everything from the plot, to character interaction is fantastic.

Originality: I found this title to be refreshing. And that’s something that’s often difficult for FPS games. The unique plot setting combined with excellent storytelling really made the game stand out to me. For once we get some deep insight into the main character of the series.

Soundtrack: The in-game soundtrack is unusual. Most of the music in the game comes in the form of ambient/distortion style mood music with a few exceptions. Among the collectable items in the game are record albums featuring songs by familiar real life bands, but done in a German style. (IE: What would the Beatles have sounded like if the Nazi’s won the war).  This is a really nice touch.

Fun: Despite some initial frustrations with graphical issues, and some minor annoyance with the default controls, I had a blast with this game. So much so that I immediately played through it second time to experience the alternate storyline. That’s a good sign!

Graphics: By today’s standards, the graphics are about as good as you can get. I played the game using less than maximum settings and I was still awed at how good things looked. Everything from the textures to motion/lighting effects are superb. — That being said, the game has been reported to have odd issues with some ATI hardware. So it may require some tweaking.

Playcontrol: The default PC controls are pretty standard. There’s a few combo moves, for sliding and running that seemed a bit difficult for me to master at first, and this cost me more than one death in the game. It kind of felt like my fingers were on a twister mat. But other than that, no real complaint. Plus, all the keys can be reassigned.

Mature Content: Yes – Extreme violence, gruesome imagery, language, sex and nudity.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I purchased this game out my love for the Wolfenstein series and my curiosity to see a Nazi-controlled setting. I was very impressed with the game as a whole. I went with the PC version simply because, to me, Wolfenstein is a PC game. But I have heard feedback from others that the game is better experienced on the console. Regardless, I was blown away by the title and I recommend it almost anyone.

Currently available on: PC (Steam and Retail) , PS4, PS3,  Xbox 360 and Xbox One

 

 

Other Reviews In This Series: Wolf3DRtCW – Wolf ETWolfenstein New Order – The Old Blood

 

Review: Metal Gear Solid

For my delve into the world of Playstation, I wanted to start off with a game that I didn’t play the first time around but one I knew I would enjoy. Being a fan of Metal Gear, the choice was simple: the classic Metal Gear Solid. Yes, believe it or not, until recently, I had never played this game. It was just one of those that slipped me by. Of course, the hype around this game is legendary so I went in expecting great things.

That being said, I’m going to shock a lot of people by saying that I didn’t find the game to be everything I expected. I think perhaps the hype overshadowed the actual game a bit. Or maybe it is just an example of a title that has not aged well. Or, it could just be me. Who knows. But here’s the rundown of my experience with Metal Gear Solid.

First off, it’s important to note there are two version of the game. The original version and the enhanced “Twin Snakes” version. Twin Snakes was an exclusive edition for the Nintendo Gamecube. The game features better graphics and a more modern control scheme. But purists claim that the enhancements are actually game breaking and take away from the challenge. For this review, I played the original PlayStation version.

First off, let me begin by saying that I am a huge fan of the original Metal Gear. I also enjoyed the sequel. Metal Gear Solid is the third entry in the series. Again, you assume the role of Solid Snake. In this game, Snake is sent to infiltrate a remote base in Alaska that is being occupied by terrorists. The group has kidnapped two VIPs and are holding them hostage in exchange for the remains of Big Boss (the bad guy from the first games). As you proceed thru the game, more plot details become clear and an absolutely fantastic story unfold that would make Tom Clancy jealous. I stop now before I ruin it.

The storyline is a major focus of the game. Moreso than even the first two installments of the series. In fact, I daresay that a slight majority of the game is spent watching cutscenes rather than actually playing. Personally, I don’t mind that at all. I love games that feel like interactive stories. But I can imagine some really action-focused players might be turned off by this.

I was surprised to see just how much like Metal Gear 2 this game was. MGS is an example of a “3D” game. Unlike the first two entries in the series, the camera is not fixed overhead, but instead adjusts according to the situation. Sometimes you see things at a birds-eye view. Other times, action is viewed from the side or at an angle. But aside from this change, the game is very much like it’s predecessor. The mini-map is again present. This allows you to view enemy patrols so as to avoid being detected as you sneak around the base. Sometimes, everything on the map is not always displayed on the screen and personally, I find that somewhat difficult to work with. I had this problem with MG2 as well.

For the most part, the camera works well. But there are several spots in the game where it just didn’t seem to focus on the things when I needed it to. For example, there’s an area in the game where you are navigating a series of caverns, and at one point you need to crouch and crawl thru a passage. I knew the passage was there, but multiple times during my playthrough I had a hard time finding it because the camera would not reveal it.

My other gripe with the game is the playcontrol. Sometimes, things feel very loose. Other times, Snake feels like he’s walking around with a steelrod stuffed up his butt. It certainly struck me as odd. I feel like the shifty playcontrol caused me a lot of unnecessary deaths in this game. And I died A LOT.  I found the game to be quite difficult. I’ve seen people online talk about how simple the game is and how completing it in one sitting with no deaths is not that uncommon… Well, I can’t say I share their level of skill. Even on the easy setting, I found the game quite challenging.

Ok, but enough of the bad stuff. Aside from my camera gripes and my issues with the controls, the game is really good. As I said, the story is simply top notch. The sound and graphics are also very well done. A lot of things in the game look blocky and pixelated, but that’s way these software-rendered 3D titles looked. All things considered, the art in the game is superb.

Players familiar with the old Metal Gear games will feel right at home. Just like before, the goal is infiltrate without being detected. Picking up gear and weapons on the way. If you’re detected, enemies will swarm you. Your only choice is fight and run. If manage to elude them and stay hidden for long enough, they will give up and sound the All Clear. Throughout the game there are various Boss Fights. Each of these is unique and feature their own set of challenges. Upon defeating a boss, Solid Snake levels up and gets stronger.

Konami has littered the game with easter eggs too. There are references to other popular titles as well as cute use of the PlayStation hardware. For example, there’s one part of the game where you receive a massage – you are instructed to hold the controller to your arm. The controller then vibrates. Crazy little things like that. I found these to be a nice touch. Upon completion of the game, you can play again. The game features different endings depending on what actions you take. The ending also affects how you are able to replay the game. This “new game plus” scenario was very much ahead of it’s time.

Despite my initial complaints, I do have to hold the game in high regard. Overall, this game is fantastic. It’s worthy successor to the original games and hint of what’s to come with the series. The story is second to none and I cannot wait to see what happens in the future installments. (I know they have a reputation for being stellar). So if you’re fan of stealth games, military scenarios, or the original Metal Gear titles, this game is a worth a look. Of course, that assumes there are others like me who slept under a rock and missed out on this the first time it came out.

For those that can’t get enough Metal Gear, there’s also a separate title featuring Virtual Reality simulations for Solid Snake. I played them and they were entertaining, but I’m not sure they would be worth a separate purchase.

Difficulty: Varies –  There are two options for difficulty in MGS. I personally found the game to be a lot harder than I expected. So for first time players, I would certainly recommend the Easy setting to start. I’m not sure if my problems were due to actual difficulty of the game itself or if they were caused by the camera/playcontrol issues. But regardless, things did get easier for me as I continued to play the title.

Story: The story in this game is fantastic. Even before starting the game itself, there’s almost a half an hour or more of introductory movies and a synopsis of the first two games. These do a fantastic job of setting up the game itself. The game is filled with cutscenes and are fully voice acted. The story is also developed through conversations in the Codec Transmitter that has become a staple of Metal Gear.

Originality: While MGS is somewhat of a rehash of the previous games in terms of style, the migration to the PlayStation enables the game to stand on its own.

Soundtrack:  CD quality audio is here. The music in the game sounds great and is appropriate for the title.

Fun: Aside from the mild frustrations I expressed above, I really enjoyed the game. It felt both new and familiar and really took me back into those days of playing the original Metal Gear on the NES.

Graphics:  3D games without hardware rendering are a mixed bag. Konami did a pretty good job of keeping things look good. The game looks as good as can expected considering its age.

Playcontrol: Herein lies my biggest gripe with the game. And it must just be me because I have not had much luck finding others who share my frustration. But to me, the camera and playcontrol for the title was really bad. I got better as time went on, but I feel it was due to me learning how to circumvent the game’s quirks and not because the control scheme started making sense.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3- I know the general consensus is that Metal Gear Solid is one of the greatest PlayStation games of all time. And make no mistake, it is a GREAT game. I recommend it to everyone. But I cannot give it a perfect score simply due to my frustration with the game’s control mechanics. Then again, as I ‘ve said, I seem to be largely alone in this complaint. So maybe it’s best to try it for yourself and see.

 Available on: PSN

Other Reviews In This Series:

MGMG2MGS – MGS2 – MGS3 – Portable Ops – MGS4 – Peace Walker -MG Rising: Revengeance-  MGS5 Ground Zeros- MGS5 Phantom PainGhost Babel – Acid – Acid 2

Remembering the Playstation

From the 80s to the early 90s, Nintendo was the undisputed king of the home console market. The NES and Super NES were household names, but times were changing fast. In order to keep up with new technology, rumor has it that Nintendo and Sony were working on a joint project that would add CD-ROM  functionality to the Super Nintendo. For whatever reason, Nintendo bailed. Instead of cutting their losses in R&D, Sony decided to take the technology and develop their own system. Thus, the Sony PlayStation was born. Almost right away, developers jumped on board. Even many of Nintendo’s prized partners, Capcom, SquareSoft, and Konami began to develop for the PlayStation, leaving the SNES in the dust. Times were changing.

As I’ve mentioned before on this site, there was a span of time in the mid to late 90s that I virtually ignored home console game. The PlayStation era was such a time. As a result, I missed out on a number of great games. Over the years, I’ve caught up on a few, but there’s still quite a number of legendary titles that slipped through my fingers.  Naturally, I’ve played the Final Fantasy games, and I’ve already posted reviews for the Castlevania  titles on the blog. But there are so many more.

In the coming weeks I’ll be playing and reviewing a number of games from this era. Some of them I’ve played in the years after their release, others I managed to miss altogether. So unlike all the other “retro reviews” I’ve posted, we’re reaching a phase on this blog where I’ll be experiencing some truly legendary games for the first time. Please look forward to it!

Review: Thief (2014)

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This review took a bit longer to put together than I anticipated. My total playtime through the newest entry in the Thief franchise was just over 35 hours. Despite many of the dismal reviews out there on the net, I am glad to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the game.

As you may know, I enjoyed the original Thief back when it was released. I admittedly have not had any experience with either of the two original sequels (I plan on fixing that soon), so when I heard SE had purchased rights to the franchise and were rebooting the series I decided to go ahead and pre-order it and jump right in on day one. That’s exactly what I did.

Without spoiling anything, I do want to mention that after playing through this new game, the lines between reboot and sequel have become a bit blurred. It seems that this game does take place in the same universe as the original three Thief titles. Aside from several interesting similarities, in this game you play a different “Garrett”. Garrett still lives and operates in The City but it seems that several generations have passed since the original series and his connection to the original character, if any, are unclear.

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The game begins with Garrett and his companion Erin, sneaking about the town doing what they do best. The pair fall into a sticky situation and Erin seemingly falls to her death as Garrett passes out. When he awakens, he learns that he has been missing for nearly a year. During that time, A strange sickness has began to spread through The City and things are near boiling point among the local and various political factions. Garrett is determined to figure out what happened to his missing time and uncover and further details about the fate of Erin. This is where the game begins.

The main game is divided into 8 chapters. At the end of each chapter, Garrett returns to his hidden base in The City’s clocktower. In between the chapters Garrett has full roam of the city and can undertake various thievery jobs or sidequests. Once a chapter has been completed, it can also be repeated. The bulk of the story is unfolded by completing the main chapter scenarios, but there’s a ton of background lore and subplots that can be discovered by taking on sidequests and just exploring and looting various locations within The City. During my play, I complete the game and all of the sidequests, but fell short of finding all unique items and secrets. I plan to revisit the game later when the mood strikes me.

The focus of the game is to follow the story missions and help Garrett complete his objective. However, a big part of the game is finding and stealing various treasures and trinkets. Once an item is stolen, it’s value goes directly into Garrett’s pocket. This gold can be spent to purchase weapons and various thief tools. The game does not feature an experience point system, but throughout the game Garrett will earn Focus Points. These can be used to improve skills and unlock abilities.

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There’s a lot of similarities in this game to the original series. As Garrett sneaks about the city, shadows are your friend. You are virtually invisible when shrouded in darkness and motionless. Most enemies can detect you by both sight and sound. So staying out of sight is important, but so is treading lightly. Running and walking on uneven surfaces can alert others to your presence. Famous tools such as Water Arrows make a return in this game, enabling Garrett to extinguish torches from a distance. But even a suddenly extinguished torch can raise suspicions. The game also features a Focus Mode that Garrett can use to help detect lootable items or traps. Once activated, the focus meter will begin to drain. If empty, Focus Mode is no longer available to use. Focus can also slow time down to make pickpocketing and combat a bit easier, so use it wisely.

As I mentioned earlier, Garrett can also find and acquire unique items. Unique items are displayed at Garrett’s hideout in the clocktower. Aside from being a challenge to locate, looking pretty and unlocking achievements, unique loot has no other value in the game.

Graphically, the game looks amazing. Thief uses the Unreal engine and everything is very well designed. I was really impressed with the visuals of the game. But performance-wise, the game is hit or miss. At first, I thought maybe my machine was unable to handle the game on high settings – so I lowered things a bit and it only seemed to make them worse. This leads me to believe that the game is poorly optimized. About halfway through my time with the game, a patch was released, upping the game to version 1.2. This did seem to improve things a bit, but I still experienced some stuttering and other weird performance issues. I expect these to be addressed over time, but I was a little disappointed to see how glitchy the game seemed at launch.

Also, while large parts of the game play seamlessly, there are quite a number of load screens when navigating around The City. This can sometimes be a bit annoying when hunting down sidequests or simply trying to move between several areas. This is also a good place to note that there are no real shortcuts in Thief. No warps, no waypoints, nothing. If you want to get from the south side of the city to the north side. You’ll have to navigate it all on foot. You will likely spend about 10 minutes and encounter 3 or 4 loading screens in the process.

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Aside from some of these technical annoyances, I found the game to be superb. Atmospherically, the game is fantastic. The City is brought to life and really feels like a living, breathing location. Of course the more memorable locations are presented during the story missions. During the game you will explore a mansion, a brothel, and a haunted asylum to name a few. I should also note that this game has a Mature rating for a reason. There’s a some pretty rough language and even bits of nudity. Also, the asylum is not for the faint of heart. That level is probably one of the creepiest things I have ever seen in a video game. Hats off to the developers here. Fantastic job.

People who pre-ordered the game also have access to a special in-game mission called The Bank Heist. I expect this is be available to all as downloadable content in the near future. — Note: It is quite obvious that this mission was included as part of the normal design. It feels like it was simply locked out for all but those who preordered the title. This is a practice that I have come to despise in modern games. Boo.

Once you have completed the main scenario, you are able to explore the city and replay chapters as you wish in attempt to find any unique loot that you may have uncovered. There’s also a Challenge Mode, that allows you to revisit several locations from the game. Challenge mode pits you against a clock or gives you certain objectives to conquer. There is an online leaderboard for this mode of play, and it seems that future DLC will focus around the challenge mode and not the single player experience. I’m interested to see I’m wrong on this. Time will tell.

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Difficulty: Variable–  Thief offers three basic difficulty levels. I actually recommend playing on the middle (default) setting. The easy setting actually seems to be a bit too simple. While the hardest setting will feel a little more comfortable for players of the original franchise. There’s also a custom difficulty option that allows you to tweak almost every aspect of the game’s challenges. The game also analyzes your play-style and provides you with one of three styles of play at the end of each mission, so trying to complete the game in different ways also adds some additional fun.

Story: The story behind the game is very rich and well done. If you’re fan of the original series, you may actually take away a bit more from the plot than a new player. The ending of the game seems a bit lacking unless you pay really close attention… so keep that in mind. If you blink you’ll miss it.

Originality: The game borrows heavily from the original franchise, while also integrating several elements seen in other recent Square Enix titles (optional objectives like those in Sleeping Dogs, and Player Upgrades like those from Tomb Raider). I’ve also seen several comparisons to Dishonored, but this is a game I’ve never played, so I cannot speak on this.

Soundtrack: The game for the most part focuses on realistic ambient noise. Music only plays when Garrett is detected or during other high intensity places in the game. I found the use of the game music to be quite effective and appropriate. Excellent stuff here.

Fun: A lot of people on the net have had some pretty negative things to say about the game, but I had quite a bit of fun with this title. Despite putting in nearly 40 hours in a single playthrough, I found myself wanting a more. This is always a good sign.

Graphics: This game is a good example of what the modern Unreal engine is capable of. The game has a very gritty and dark feel to it, design-wise. I found it to be very well done. Lighting and fog effects are used appropriately and look really great. Thief is a shining example of what moderns games are capable of.

Playcontrol: I played the PC version of this game, and I feel the default PC controls were very well done. I ultimately decided to use an Xbox 360 controller because of the good experience I had with it during both Tomb Raider and Sleeping Dogs. The gamepad controls were intuitive and felt natural.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Thief is a really good game but it’s far from perfect. If you’re a fan of the series, I think it might be worth paying full price for it. If not, it may be better to wait a few months for the price to drop a bit. Even if you’ve never played any of the original titles in the series, this game is a starting point and is pretty accessible to nearly anyone. Fans of stealth and exploration game will really find it especially enjoyable. If you’re going to play it, go all out – turn off the lights, light a candle and wear a hoodie. Chapter 4 is one heck of a ride.

Currently Available: Steam, PS3, PS4, 360 and Xbox OneOther Reviews In This Series:

Original Trilogy:

Thief: The Dark Project  –  Thief 2: The Metal Age  – Thief: Deadly Shadows

Reboot:

Thief

Review: Final Fantasy VI

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Here we are with the third and last Final Fantasy title in the 16-bit era. Final Fantasy VI. This game also marks the end of the “number confusion”. Originally released in the US as Final Fantasy III, this was the west’s second taste of 16-bit FF glory.

These days, there’s a few options for the people looking to play the game. The original FF3 version is available on the Wii virtual console. The playstation network sports another, better rendition of the game, complete with the correct title and an improved translation. However, the latest release is Final Fantasy VI advance for the GBA. This version features updated visuals, improved translation as well as some additional content (spells, espers and optional dungeon). Having never played this version before, I chose the GBA version for this playthrough.

The game begins with two Imperial soldiers escorting a mysterious girl into a town. The three of them are piloting walking war-machines (aka Magi-Tech Armor). It is revealed that they have been sent to capture a frozen beast, known as an Esper, that was recently uncovered on the outskirts of town. The three of them encounter resistance from the locals and it is revealed that girl is under some sort of mind control. The Esper reacts to the attack and fights back, in the scuffle, the mind control over the girl is broken. But she is suffering from a case of amnesia. She is taken in by a local who recruits her into a secret group of rebels. The story unfolds from here…

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Like it’s predecessors, Final Fantasy VI features a lush and brilliantly crafted storyline. It is often considered to be one of the best in the series. The game features a cast of characters that are impossible to forget, each with their own background and personality. While this has become a staple of the series, it really shines here. This game also features one of the most sadistic and insane arch-villains in video game history. I’m not going to spoil anything, but even in the old days where Nintendo censored just about everything, the wartime tactics of Kefka were jaw-dropping.

As if the story wasn’t enough, it’s made even more potent due to the amazing game soundtrack. Again, I’m tempted to say it is also, best in the series. I’ve been told that some selections of the score are even taught in Japanese schools beside other classical music masterpieces.

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The graphics are certainly a step up from FFIV and V. These are slightly improved again in the GBA version. Detail on the character sprites are done pretty well, but most gorgeous art in the game comes from the scenery and monster art.

Much like Final Fantasy IV, there are no pre-set character jobs, but each character has their own role and set of skills. In early parts of the game, your hand is held a bit when it comes to party formation, but later on in the title you have the ability to create a group using the entire roster. This is where personal preference and deep understanding of each character and their abilities really shines.

Having played this time a number of times over the years, I was excited to see what changes the GBA version brought. There are four new Espers available to Terra as wells a several spells and a new dungeon. The dungeon features an optional and ultimate boss, the Kaiser Dragon. This boss is legendary among fans because it was discovered to have been coded into the original game, but there was no way to encounter it. Apparently cut out of the title at the last minute, it is finally available for those wanting a real challenge.

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Difficulty: Medium  – This game is on par with the rest of the series. The patient will survive. Players can grind their way to ease if they really feel so inclined. But the real trick to the game is learning each character and their abilities and then applying them to overcome obstacles. The new optional content in the GBA is quite difficult and is really included for veteran players.

Story: Final Fantasy VI features what can arguably be called one of the greatest RPG storylines of all time, and I’m not exaggerating. It’s that good. My summary above covers about the first five minutes of the game, if I were to try to summarize this entire plot, we’d be here for hours. And the kicker is, there’s never a dull moment. This was the title that showed the world why Final Fantasy would become synonymous with RPG genre as a whole.

Originality: In reality, there’s not a lot of new ideas brought to the table. Everything in this title, storyline aside, has been seen elsewhere in the series. However, the biggest difference here is that everything has now been polished to perfection.

Soundtrack: One of Uematsu’s best works, and arguably one of the best game soundtracks to date. I literally have three different version of the game soundtrack in my personal library. Everything about the music in this game is sheer perfection. It’s truly art.

Fun: This is one game that never leaves me disappointed. It’s very fun and addictive title. So much so that it is often the title I recommend to those looking for a starting point in the series. The story sucks you in and the gameplay makes sure you don’t let go until the very end.

Graphics: Again, an improvement of the previous entry in the series. This game pretty much set the bar for RPGs in terms of what to expect visually. As I mentioned above, the monster art and scenery are amazing. The Mystic Forest area of the game was, at it’s time, breathtaking.

Playcontrol: As with most RPGs, control is not an issue. All works as it should with one exception. The character Sabin features some special abilities that rely on fighting-style button combos to execute. While these are fairly easy to input on Nintendo style gamepads, I’ve found them to be a bit trickier on Sony hardware. Nothing major, but worthy of mention.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – For many players, myself included, this game *IS* Final Fantasy. I am a fan of the entire series, but for me, VI represents everything that made the series great. The storyline, the music, the art – it’s all here. If you are looking to escape reality, or if you’re curious what all the hype is about, this is the game to play.

Currently available on:  Wii Virtual Console and PSN.

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