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 

Review: Final Fantasy X-2

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The Final Fantasy playthrough initiative continues! Next up on my list is the original black sheep of the series, Final Fantasy X-2. That’s right, Final Fantasy 10, part 2. Confused? Well, so were lots of people. Until the release of this game, no entry in the Final Fantasy series ever had a direct sequel. Of course, now that is not really the case. XIII has three different entries, with a few spin off games and we’ve since see a number of side games to the ever-popular Final Fantasy VII. To make things even more confusing, this game (10 part 2) was actually released a few months AFTER Final Fantasy XI, but that’s another story… I purchased this game on PS2 back when it was originally released, but I admit, I never got more than a quarter of the way through it until now.

Now, let me state up front that since this game is a sequel to Final Fantasy X, some plot points I’ll be discussing in this game might be considered spoilers to the original. So If you have not played FFX and don’t want any plot points ruined, you may wish to skip this review for now.

This game picks up about two years after the end of Final Fantasy X. Sin has been destroyed and the people of Spira are left picking up the pieces of their shattered day to day lives. Yuna has left behind her summoner ways and has teamed up with Rikku and a new partner named Paine. The trio have become Sphere Hunters; a team that scours the world looking for rare and valuable movie spheres. Yuna’s team calls themselves the Gullwings, and along with the help of a few other companions they have developed a unique invention called the Dress Sphere. Dress Spheres are special items that allow the user to adopt skills and abilities of certain roles. For example, there’s a Black Mage sphere, a Dark Knight sphere, etc. Each job offers a unique combat style and when combined with another mechanic in the game; the Garment Grid, make things extremely customizable.

At the start of the game, it is explained that Yuna decided to join the Gullwings after coming across a sphere that appears to show someone bearing a strong resemblance to Tidus. The young man in this sphere is imprisoned and screams out something about a summoner. Naturally, this ignites a small spark inside Yuna that perhaps Tidus is somehow still alive and out there in Spira somewhere. Hence, her desire to seeks out more sphere in search of clues. The story of the game focuses on Yuna seeking out clues on the origins of the sphere and as time passes, she becomes entangled in the events behind this mystery sphere.

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So now that we’ve laid the groundwork for the game, let’s talk a bit about it. FFX-2 was originally released on the Playstation 2. Now, it is also available as part of the Final Fantasy X HD Remaster. This is the version I played for this review. The Remaster contains the entire original game, with updated graphics plus all of the exclusive content previously only available in the International Version of the game. PLUS, the disc also contains a short follow-up game called Final Fantasy X-2: Last Mission.

I mentioned at the beginning that this game is often labeled as a “black sheep”, if you talk to Final Fantasy purists, many will be quick to tell you how terrible this game is. A few more will even refuse to acknowledge its existence. Well, to be fair, this game is quite odd. It’s a radical departure from most other games in the series and a VERY DIFFERENT game than the original FFX. To start with, aside from the three lead characters, nearly every other character in the game seems a bit ridiculous. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part you feel like the only sane person is a world of cartoon characters. Not to mention the overall tone of the game is a radical departure from what we’ve seen before. Final Fantasy X had a very mystical feel about it, whereas this game, actually starts with a stadium sized pop concert… seriously. If you need your daily dose of J-Pop, you’ve found it.

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All of that aside, the game itself doesn’t feel much like a Final Fantasy game. At least, at first. The combat is very different than anything seen before and it takes quite a bit of getting used to. Once you get your mind around it, the Garment Grid and Dress Sphere system is actually quite ingenious, but the presentation is overly complicated. Next thing worth mentioning is the game soundtrack. This is not the type of music fans of the series are used to. You’re fooled at first by the wonderful piano melody at the title screen, but after that you’re smacked upside the face by a song by Japanese pop-artist, Koda Kumi. This is followed by the quirkiest disco/techno/jazz music you’ve ever heard. This gripe aside, the game does feature some really good tracks that are on par with anything from FFX, but you don’t hear them often enough.

The next thing that makes this game feel a bit out of place is way you play through the main story. Most of the games in the series are either very open or very linear in their progression. This game handles things a bit differently. Once you have completed the introduction to the game, you are given immediate control of an airship with a list of possible destinations. You can visit any of these places in any order that you wish. Essentially, each location provides you with a mission or task to complete. Eventually, completing one of these will progress you to the next chapter. But be wary, each time you move into a new chapter, the missions available at each location also change. Some very valuable items are only available by completing certain missions. So it is important to try to clear every mission for every location before moving on the next chapter. As I said, this is very different from the other games so far, but it’s not really a bad thing at all. In fact, once I got used to it, I thought this was actually kind of neat. Seeing as much content as possible is also crucial because as you play the game keeps a percentage of how much story you’ve experienced. If you can manage to 100% of the game, you will unlock the true ending.

The final thing that really makes X-2 feel a bit out of place is the number of mini-games scattered throughout the title. Many of the missions mentioned above actually up being mini-games of sorts. Some of these are straight forward and well done, others just seem… strange. For example, there’s actually a mini-game for massaging someone’s back. Ummm… What? It really feel likes the dev team had a handful of previously rejected ideas from other games and decided to just dump them all here.

In a nutshell, the radical difference between this and other FF games chased many fans away. Even I felt put off the first time I played this game. But, this changes once you reach the half-way point. If you can manage to reach this portion of the game, you’ll soon realize that this game is very much a Final Fantasy title. Its just presented in a very different wrapper. The regional missions become addictive and “sphere hunting” becomes an actual obsession as you manage to obtain every dress sphere in the game. Not to mention the story makes a huge 180 and all the silly J-pop and nonsense dissolves into the background as you uncover the true epic lore behind the game itself. During my playthrough, I managed to achieve the 100%, unlock all of the dress spheres and even conquer the optional Mega Boss. Although, note that some of this content is only available in the HD Remaster or the Japanese International Version.

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While I started off feeling really cold about the title, I warmed up quite a bit by the time I was finished. I think if fans of the series would be willing to approach this game with an open mind and a bit of patience they will be pleasantly surprised.

Final thing worth mentioning, if you do happen to play the new HD version of the game, there’s also an extra side game included that takes place after the events of X-2. This game, The Last Mission is an even stranger entry. In this game, the girls are reunited again after each receiving a letter inviting them to explore an ancient tower. They are teased with a wonderful reward if they are able to make to the top. Last Mission is very different than X-2. Essentially, it’s a linear dungeon crawl starring Yuna, Rikku and Paine. It’s shown in an overhead view and features turned based combat. It takes a little getting used to, and it’s not for everyone. But it is 80 levels of dungeon crawling fun that builds off the FFX/FFX-2 mythos. The game also serves as a vehicle to expand on the relationship of the characters and to place a capstone on the overall Final Fantasy X/X-2 story. I played and enjoyed this entry very much, but I have always been partial to dungeon delves.

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Difficulty: Medium –  The bulk of this game is on par with the majority of the series in terms of difficulty. In some places, you could say it is a bit easier but there are quite a few spots that really require a strong understanding of the Dress Sphere/Garment Grid system. A lot of the optional content and secret bosses require near perfect mastery and lots of patience.

Story: At first the storyline seems to be nothing more than a weak attempt to expand upon the original game, but as you delve deeper you soon uncover quite an epic tale that actually expands on the lore presented in Final Fantasy X. Naysayers shouldn’t be quick to dismiss this game as rubbish.

Originality: Well, we were certainly don’t have any loss of original content. Everything from the battle system to the progression of the game itself is new and rehashed. If that wasn’t enough, the International/HD version of the game also features a whole new Creature capture/training element. Yes, you can train up and include monsters in your party.

Soundtrack: Here’s where we have some problems. First, I should note this is the first game in the series with no music by composer Nobuo Uetmatsu, and it shows. If you’ve ever played Final Fantasy XI, the music in this game sounds a lot like the tunes that play in the XI game launcher. The music is odd, but not necessarily bad. It just doesn’t seem fitting for the most part. Thankfully, there are a handful of tunes that sound really wonderful, but they are few and far between.

Fun: First starting out, the game is a confusing mess. But I soldiered through it and it paid off. The game actually became quite enjoyable but it’s shame that you have to work at it.

Graphics: The original game is about what you’d expect from a PS 2 title. Overall well done, but lots of jagged polys. The HD version is much sharper and better looking.

Playcontrol: I couldn’t find any real issues with the overall control scheme. The game play feels natural and is responsive

Mature Content: No Concerns 

Value:  These days, the only new option available for purchase is the HD remaster. This can typically be found new for $20.00 or less for ps3/Vita. At this price, this is an amazing deal. Expect to pay more for the PS4 version when it is finally released.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Final Fantasy X-2 is just an odd game. But it is a good game if you give it the chance. This title should in no way represent the series, but when judging it on its own merits it actually a quite a good little bundle. This score of 3 is based on the International/HD version. The extra content included in that version of the game really adds what was missing from the original release. Without these additions, I’d have to give the vanilla release a 2.

Currently available – PS3, Vita  — Coming Soon PS4

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 X

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It’s been almost two months since my last Final Fantasy review, but finally it is here. Final Fantasy X. This is one of the more popular entries in the series, and also the first game in the franchise released on the PlayStation 2. These days, an HD remake of the game is available on PS3, Vita, and coming soon to the PS4. For this review, I played the PS3 remake. This version of the game contains enhanced graphics and a remixed soundtrack. It  also features all of the content found in the Final Fantasy X International version (a Japanese exclusive). That being said, this makes the HD Remake the definitive version of the game. **note all screenshots included in this review are of the HD Remake.

The story of Final Fantasy X focuses around the character of Tidus. Tidus is a star Blitzball player from the city of Zanarkand. One day, during a match, the city falls under attack from a giant kaiju-style monster called; Sin. Admist all the chaos, Tidus is rescued by a mysterious man named Auron. During their escape attempt, Tidus blacks out. When he awakens, he finds himself washed up on a foreign beach. Confused and disoriented, he is taken in by the natives. He soon learns that he is in a place called Spira. To the locals, his home of Zanarakand is nothing but a legend. A city destroyed one thousand years ago by the monster Sin. Sin is a terror which still haunts the people of Spira today. Through a series of events, Tidus joins up with a band of adventurers escorting a summoner, Yuna, on her religious pilgrimage. A journey that will hopefully result with the defeat of Sin itself. The majority of the game consists of this journey with hopes the Tidus can unravel the connection between this world and his own.

This game is major step in evolution from the previous entries in the series. First and foremost, FFX features voice acting. All cutscenes and conversations includes an audible track. In which each character is voiced by a different actor. This certainly helps to gives each character a personality of their own in a way not possible in previous games. For the most part, the voice acting is pretty well done. Although, I do have to admit that the voice of Tidus has a tendency to be whiny and annoying.

Graphically, FFX is leaps and bounds better than anything seen in the series so far. The HD remake improves upon this even more. Although, I find the character faces in the HD version to seem a little wooden and in some ways not as expressive as they were in the original game. Musically, the game is fantastic. So many good background tracks here. This is true for both the original version and the remake. Personally, I prefer the remixed soundtrack over the original. The instruments sounds a bit more organic to me and overall just better.

Gameplay-wise, Final Fantasy X is a mix of both old and new. While they are not specifically defined, each character sort of takes up one or more of the standard Final Fantasy job roles. There’s black magic, white magic, summons, melee, you name it. It’s all represented here in one way or the other. Unlike many of the other games in the series, characters do not earn traditional levels. Instead, each character has a place on a large “Sphere Grid”. Think of this as looking a big like a giant Chinese Checker board. Each marble (sphere) on the board represents an attribute. For example, Hit Points, Magic Points, Speed, Specific Abilities, etc. As the characters participate in combat, they earn points and spheres. The points determine how many spots the can progress along the sphere grid. As they progress, they can spend spheres to unlock the new skills and traits mentioned above. As a result, they get stronger as the game goes on. When playing the remaster, you can choose between the traditional version of the sphere grid or a new expert version. (Overall, they seem mostly the same, although the expert grid does make it a bit easier to deviate from the standard path, thus opens the characters up for more customization).

In terms of storyline, Final Fantasy X does not disappoint. A large portion of the game consists of cutscenes and storyline. For the most part this is very well done, and even though there’s hours of scenes to view in the game, they move at a good pace and go by pretty quick. Like most Final Fantasy games, your hand is held pretty firmly in the beginning, but over time you get a little more freedom. By the end of the game, you pretty much have free reign to go anywhere and do anything that you please. That’s a good thing, because there is a ton of sidequests and optional content.

Fans of mini games will have a field day with FFX. There’s monster hunting, chocobo mini-games, and of course Blitzball.  When it comes to Blitzball you either love it or you hate it. Blitzball is a sport played by characters in Final Fantasy X. It’s a bit like hockey/soccer, but played inside a giant orb of water. You are only required to complete one game as part of the storyline, but of course to obtain one of the character’s ultimate weapons, you will need play and win many more. For me, I played it a bit and managed to win a tournament match, but it simply didn’t hold my interest enough to keep me playing long enough to reach the ultimate prize. If Blitzball is your cup of tea, there’s plenty to do. You can recruit NPCs throughout the world to join your team. Levels them up, teach them new Blitz-related skills, etc. It’s really a game within a game.

As mentioned briefly above, each character in the game can obtain an “ultimate weapon”. The difficulty in doing so varies greatly. During my playthrough, I did manage to obtain a few, but there are some that quite frankly just didn’t seem worth the time and effort. For example, Wakka’s weapon requires much more Blitzball than had the stomach for. Tidus’s weapon also requires completion of an insane chocobo riding minigame. To be honest, I fully planned on getting all the weapons when I started this playthrough but after spending almost 3 days on dodging lightning bolts just to obtain part of Lulu’s, my will was spent. Luckily for me, I’m not THAT achievement hungry and my desire to complete the game in a reasonable time beat out my OCD. YES. The HD remake does feature Trophys… and yes the most annoying/grindy aspects of the game all features trophies as well. Boo Hiss.

Despite not obtaining every ultimate weapon in the game, I did make sure to unlock all of the optional summons and defeat all of the optional bosses in this version of the game. There’s actually two here: Nemesis and Penance. The first is unlocked by completing the monster-arena side quest. Which is enjoyed anyway. The latter, by defeating all of the International Version’s Dark Aeons. This was new for me, as until this release of the game, I had only even played the standard American version of FFX. Let me just say, these new bosses are INSANE. But as often in these games, there’s always a trick to beating them, if you’re dedicated and prepared.

In a nutshell, there’s a lot of game to digest here. For many, FFX makes the perfect entry point into the series. Its a good mix of old and new with the polish of a modern game. Not to mention, it was the first Final Fantasy game ever to spawn a direct sequel… but more on that in the next review.

Final note – The HD Remake also contains a watchable featurette called “The Eternal Calm”. This is a mini-movie to help bridge FFX and FFX2 together. Certainly worth a watch.

Difficulty: Medium –  The majority of the game is pretty easy going. Eventually, you will encounter one or two boss fights that present quite a challenge (even for an experienced player). This can be somewhat overcome by a little level grinding, but ultimately, you will need to focus on strategy to get past a few of the encounters. Overall, this balances out to what I would call  medium level of difficulty for the game itself. The sidequests and optional content are another story. As usual, clearing a lot of this content requires a lot of work and dedication. The optional bosses exceed anything the series has had to offer so far (in my opinion) when fought normally. I do admit to finally resorting to a cheap method of defeating Penance (thanks to a little help from the Yojimbo aeon). Shh.

Story: The story presented here is fantastic and the ending has a twist that I honestly didn’t expect the first time I played it. I really enjoyed the opportunity to seeing it all unfold again thanks to my playthough of the new HD version. The tale of Spira and Zanarkand ranks right up there as one of the greatest video game stories ever told

Originality: Ten games in and still staying fresh. It’s not an easy feat, but one that Final Fantasy X manages to accomplish. New ideas like the spheregrid, and Blitzball certainly help make this game stand out from its predecessors.

Soundtrack: Nothing but good things here. The entire game soundtrack makes for an amazing experience. I listen to it when working occasionally. It’s great background music. Again, even though the original and HD soundtracks feature different recordings, either one is perfectly enjoyable, with a slight edge going to the new version. The voice acting  in the game is pretty well done, but a bit odd at times.

Fun: I had blast playing FFX again. There’s really a little for everybody in this game. Hardcore RPG players will enjoy all the optional content. Anime fans have an excellent story to follow. Even fans of sports games may enjoy the season of Blitzball that’s playable.

Graphics: By today’s standards, the original game looks a bit dated, but at the time of release it was simply fantastic. It was leagues above anything seen in the series so far. For the most part, the new HD remaster is an fantastic upgrade, although still a few steps down from most other modern games.

Playcontrol: I couldn’t find any real issues with the overall control scheme. Some of the optional content in the game does seem to feel a little wonky (chocobo racing, lightning dodging). Many people blame these gripes on the normally un-noticeable delay of modern day flatscreens. Who knows. Overall, no real issues to complain about.

Mature Content: No Concerns – Minor language/cursing, big focus on mythical religions.

Value:  These days, the only new option available for purchase is the HD remaster. This can typically be found new for $20.00 or less for ps3/Vita. At this price, this is an amazing deal. Expect to pay more for the PS4 version when it is finally released.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Final Fantasy X is one of staples in the series and really set the bar for modern day RPGs. Along with Final Fantasy VII, this title is a must have for almost any gamer.

Currently available – PS3, Vita , PS4

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: Bayonetta

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I know October has come and gone, but I’m still working on my Spooky Autumn game list with a review of Bayonetta. Granted, there’s pretty much nothing spooky about this game, but it is about witches! (Very sexy witches)…. I figure that’s close enough to count.

For this review, I played the new Wii U version of Bayonetta. This game was original available on PS3 and Xbox 360, but I never managed to find the time to check it out during its original release. Recently, Nintendo landed a Wii U exclusive with Bayonetta 2. All first printing copies of that game come with an On-Disc version of the original. The game is also available for sale digitally from the Nintendo eShop.

For the most part, there is very little different between the Wii U version and the original. The graphics are a bit sharper, but nothing that is too noticeable. The biggest difference here seems to the inclusion of a few cosmetic (Nintendo-themed) costumes for the character, and a new control scheme that takes advantage of the Wii U gamepad.

 

In this game, you play a witch known as Bayonetta who has recently been awakened from a 500 year slumber. Bayonetta has very little memory of her former self but still has all of her magical abilities. Bayonetta is able to slip between the material world and a sort of Astral Plane. This allows her to interact with angels and demons and see things that the mortal eye is unable to detect. The beginning of the game finds Bayonetta working as a paranormal bounty hunter of sorts, while trying to piece together her past. Her search takes her to a luxurious European city of Vigrid, a place that teeters on the brink between both the normal world and heaven itself. From here, Bayonetta will slowly unravel the secrets of her past.

Bayonetta is action game unlike any other that I have every played. Although, I understand that it is not the first of its kind, this is the first time I have ever experienced a game with combat of this sort. In a nutshell, I would define this title as “non-stop action fighting”. You control Bayonetta as she fights wave after wave of angelic and demonic monsters. Combos are the name of the game here. Various attacks can be chained together to unleash powerful assaults. Occasionally, you will be able to use a “torture” move on your opponents. This includes a special cinematic followed by rapid button mashing.

The better you perform in combat, the greater the rewards. The game uses a form of currency known as Halos. From time to time, Bayonetta can visit a shady bar on the outskirts of hell to cash these halos in for new weapons or abilities. There’s also a number of collectible and consumable items to be found throughout the game.

Regular enemies actually seem to be somewhat rare. Most battles are quite unique and tend to have an almost “boss-like” feel to them. Once an encounter is over, your performance is scored and there’s a little exploration before the next big encounter pops up.

From time to time, the action shifts to almost mini-game like events: racing down the highway on a motorcycle, combat while surfing, riding rockets as they rip through the sky. There’s never a dull moment. There’s even a shooting-gallery style mini-game after each level that can allow you to earn power-ups and consumables.

When I first popped this game in, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I purposefully stayed away from spoilers and I have to admit I was quite impressed. If you’re a fan of fast-paced action games, this is certainly a title that should be on your list. Just be aware that it’s very mature.

 

Difficulty: Variable –  Bayonetta features multiple difficulty levels that suit just about all types of players. It’s important to note that both the Very Easy and Easy mode of the game REALLY simplify things. These settings make executing combos automatic and really reduces the amount of skill required to complete the game. For most players, I would recommend playing at least in Normal mode to get the most out of your experience. There’s also secret levels and secret bosses that can be uncovered by meeting certain requirements in the game. I found these to be much more challenging than anything in the main scenario.

Story: The storyline has a lot of potential to be interesting, but I found it over all to be a bit confusing. There’s very little set up to game, so at the beginning things are very chaotic. As you play through the game more and more pieces start to fit together and eventually the whole scenario is all but handed to you. But even at the end of the title, I was still left scratching my head a bit. The presentation needed a bit of polish.

Originality: I understand that in many ways the gameplay here is a homage to Devil May Cry. This is a game that I have actually never played, so to me, Bayonetta was a very unique experience. However, I’ve heard from others that even if the formula is similar, Bayonetta really refined and enhanced the combat action of DMC. Taking it into a level all its own.

Soundtrack: This game has a very quirky soundtrack. A recurring song in this title is the classic “Fly Me To The Moon”, but performed with an almost J-Pop style twist. The whole score has a very over-the-top feel to it, but for some reason it actually manages to suit the game instead of seeming ridiculous. The voice acting is very well done and adds quite a bit to the characters.

Fun: I had a total blast with this game. It was much more fun that I actually expected. Usually, I’m not all that good at these beat-em-up type of titles. And this one certainly had its share of challenges. But I never once felt stuck or frustrated. All in all, Bayonetta was a very enjoyable experience.

Graphics: Regardless of which system you may play this game on, the graphics are going to look great. Wii U players may notice a slight bit of clarity here, but it’s really nothing worthy of mention. This game is gloriously beautiful. I love angel/demon type fantasy art. This game has plenty.

Playcontrol: I can only speak for the Wii U version here, as I have not actually played it on any other system. But I can tell that either PS3 or Xbox will probably feel just a tad more natural that the Wii U port. The Wii U gamepad is quite a large device, and not really suited for this type of game. That being said, I played this title on the Gamepad and really have no complaints. The game is playable using either the traditional buttons or with the touch screen. Also, Wii U users are welcome to use either Wii or Wii U classic gamepad. I did find using the classic controller to feel a bit more natural and comfortable. But all in all, there’s not much difference here. The game plays great using any of the control schemes I tried.

Mature Content: Yes – Strong language, occult references, partial nudity, sexually suggestive content.

Value:  If you act fast, and can manage to a get first-run copy of Bayonetta 2, you can get this game for free with your purchase. Alternately, Wii U owners can snag this title for full price from the eShop. If you’re not interested in in the Wii U version, finding a used copy of either PS3 or 360 version is the way to go here. There’s not really anything of value offered by the Wii U version that just screams “gotta have it”. The main game is just short of about 10 hours of play, but you can get a lot more out of it if you’re going for some of the hidden levels, etc.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – As fan of unusual games, this is certainly one that caught my eye. I had been meaning to check out this title for years and this recent re-release was the perfect reason to finally take the plunge. Bayonetta makes no bones about what it is: an over-the-top, action packed, fighting game. If that is your thing, then by all means grab a copy of this game. I had a great time with it. I did feel that the main scenario was a little short, and the story was rather odd and unsatisfying. But the Bayonetta more than made up for these shortcomings with it’s exciting gameplay.

Currently available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U (eShop)

Review: Castlevania – Curse of Darkness

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This one took me a while. Curse of Darkness is Konami’s attempt at another 3D style Castlevania. In many ways it is very similar to Lament of Innocence. In fact, it is built using the same game engine. So anyone familiar with that title will feel right at home here. The camera controls actually seem to be a bit improved too, which is a big plus.

While this game is very much like the previous 3D title, it is also tinged with a touch of “castleroid” flavor. This time, instead of the levels being hub-based (as they were in LoI), the game is open-world like many of the GBA titles. There are warp rooms that allow you to backtrack to older areas. This helps you find hidden treasures or secret areas that may have previously inaccessible on your first trek through.

The game is a spiritual sequel to Castlevania III, it is set in the year 1479; three years after the adventures of Trevor Belmont. Despite his victory against Dracula, the evil vampire curse still brings a fog of death and evil over the surrounding countryside. The star of this game is Hector, the Devil-Forgemaster. Hector was once a minion of Dracula himself, employed to summon-forth (or forge) many of the terrible monsters in Dracula’s army of evil. At some point during the course of Castlevania III, Hector disavowed his evil ways and left the employ of Dracula to live in peace among other humans.

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When the game begins, we learn that Hector’s beloved, Rosaly, has recently accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake for her “sins”. As it turns out, the charges were trumped up by another Devil Forgemaster known as Isaac. Having once worked together for Dracula, Isaac has made it his goal to get revenge for Hector’s betrayal.

The game is made up largely of Hector chasing Isaac through the countryside and eventually back into the newly re-appeared Castlevania. All the while, Hector  must re-acquire the skills that he lost after turning his back on Dracula. A big part of the game, and the secret to success is the new system of “devil-forging”. As enemies are defeated, Hector will acquire items that allow him to give birth to new monster-companions. Knowing which companions to use at various points in the game are on of the major gameplay factors.

During the game, Hector encounters various characters that help flesh out the unfolding storyline. Several game cutscenes include Trevor Belmont, Isaac, a strange -yet sinister man known as Zead, and the odd and quirky time traveler St. Germain.

As the plot unfolds, it becomes apparent that Isaac has been warped by the curse of Dracula. Zead is revealed to be Death in disguise and the whole thing is nothing more than an elaborate plot to trick Hector into becoming the new body-vessel for Dracula. When Hector does not succumb to the dark temptations, Isaac’s body is used instead and Dracula is reborn once more. As you might assume, at this point, Hector battles Dracula in the climax of the game.

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An interesting point to note here, Curse of Darkness stands as the last “regular” console release in the original Castlevania series. In the epilogue for the title, the time traveler St. Germain gives an interesting speech about the various battles with Dracula over the years. He seems to elude that the greatest battle, the one that finally destroys Dracula for good (the same battle talked about in DoS and AoS, between Julius and Dracula in 1999), has yet to be told. He drops the hint that perhaps we will soon hear that story once and for all. Yet, in same breath he also mentions as a side note “or perhaps the tale will begin anew…”

I found that statement interesting. As someone finishing this game for the first time in 2012, it is not obvious that Castlevania series has been rebooted. I have to wonder, was this the plan all along? Did they know at the time CoD was released that a reboot of the series was pending. Hmm… Regardless, here’s my breakdown:

1094: Castlevania: Lament of Innocence – Leon Belmont vs. Walter & Death

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.

1479: Castlevanis: Curse of Darkness – Hector vs. Dracula

1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula

1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula

1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania, Chronicles – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula

1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula

1748: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – Juste Belmont vs. Dracula

1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula

1797: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Alucard vs. Dracula

1830: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon – Nathan Graves vs Dracula

1844/1852: Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness – Cornell, Henry, Reinhardt, & Carrie vs. Dracula

1897: Dracula the novel

1917: Castlevania: Bloodlines – Jonathan Morris and Eric Lecarde vs. Dracula

2035: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – Soma Cruz vs. Castlevania

2036: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow – Soma Cruz vs. Dark Lord Candidates & Menace

 

Difficulty: Medium Most of the game is pretty much a cake walk. A few of the boss fights are challenging. However, if you take your time to unlock all of the devils and seek out many of the hidden items. Things get much easier. Sometimes, it is easy to forget to go back and save. On more than one occasions, my progress was stunted by an untimely death that resulted in having to start back at an older save spot and replay nearly an hour or two of content. Frustrating.

Story: Very good storytelling in this title. The whole “Devil forgemaster” thing is interesting, but struck me as bit out of left-field. It was nice to see Trevor again, however.

Originality: Konami tried to make this title the best of both worlds. Good 3d graphics, which the open world feel of the recent side-scrolling games. However, I’m not sure the recipe worked.

Soundtrack: Not bad, but sub-par compared to many of the games in the series. Not much to say here.

Fun: While not a bad game at all, I found myself a bit bored by this title after a while. Aside the from the cool cutscenes, there was really nothing that drove me to keep playing. I’m not really sure  what exactly went wrong here, but the game just didn’t grab me like some of the others did.

Graphics: On par with LoI, but yet I found the visual to be a bit drab. Everything is dark. LoI used much better lighting in my opinion. Also, and this might just be my imagination, but it seems to be that this game is not quite as “sharp” as LoI.

Playcontrol: This has been the best 3D CV so far. The camera controls are much improved. Occasionally, things get a little haywire, especially during big battles. But it’s a big step up.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – Not my favorite game in the series by any means. If I had to recommend one PS2 title from the series, it would have to be Lament of Innocence over this title. Who knows, perhaps I’m suffering from a bit of Castlvania burnout. But I just felt indifferent about this game.

Currently not available. (PS2, Xbox)

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania – Lament of Innocence

castlevania-lament-of-innocence-cover-5B1-5DFinally we have a change of pace in the Castlevania series. Once again making an attempt a 3D Castlevania, Konami released Lament on Innocence on the PS2. Chronologically the first Castlevania title, this game show’s the earliest Belmont ancestor and explains the origins of Dracula all in wonderful 3D style graphics.

The game does boast impressive graphics for the time, voice acting, and a fully orchestrated soundtrack. At the time of release, the in-game rendering and the CG cutscenes were top notch.

The backstory of the game is extremely detailed, it features two Knights of the Crusade; Leon Belmont and Mathias Cronqvist. The game follows the story of these two knights and their mission to save their homeland from the invasion of a power vampire, Walter and his horrific minions.

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Playing as Leon, you finally see the origin of the legendary Vampire Killer whip and learn that to defeat Walter, you must first slay the various guardians of Walter’s mystical castle. During the journey there are many twists and turns in the plotline. We finally get to learn the very origin of Count Dracula himself!

But all storytelling aside, the game itself if quite good. It is very atmospheric, the mood and visuals are spot on for this type of title. It is a perfect mix of “church-gothic”. As Leon defeats bosses and overcomes obstacles in the castle, he is able to progress deeper and strengthen his power. Aside from fast paced battles, the castle also contains various traps and timed puzzles you must clear in order to proceed.

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My biggest grip with the game is the clunky controls. After a few hours of gameplay you do tend to get used to them, but over all they are not very intuitive. Several times thru the came I died not because of my ability, but rather because of trying to get the game to do when I was telling it to. The menus and item selection are a bit burdensome, and well as trying to get you character and whip to actually go the direction you are moving your control stick.. This was a major pain point of mine in the final fight.

Aside from this gripe, I thoroughly enjoyed the game. I do recommend it, if for nothing more than the excellent story and atmosphere. It’s place in the timeline and my breakdown is as follows:

1094: Castlevania: Lament of Innocence – Leon Belmont vs Walter & Death

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.

1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula

1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula

1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania, Chronicles – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula

1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula

1748: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – Juste Belmont vs. Dracula

1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula

1797: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Alucard vs. Dracula

1830: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon – Nathan Graves vs Dracula

1844/1852: Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness – Cornell, Henry, Reinhardt, & Carrie vs. Dracula

1897: Dracula the novel

1917: Castlevania: Bloodlines – Jonathan Morris and Eric Lecarde vs. Dracula

2035: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – Soma Cruz vs. Castlevania

Difficulty: Medium A little bit of a challenge was brought back to the mix with this title. After a while the monsters don’t pose so much of a difficulty, but some of the jumping puzzles do. Also, if you are a completionist, finding every last nook and cranny poses a bit of difficulty.

Story: The best so far in the series. Many long-time questions are answered. We finally get to the see origin of both Dracula and the Belmont clan. Not to mention what makes the Vampire Killer whip so powerful. Excellent stuff here.

Originality: The 3D design, and hub-style level system is definitely something new. I think it works well. I found the game to be a nice change of pace from the 2d titles that have come before it.

Soundtrack: Good CD quality audio. Some of the synthetic instruments did sound just a TAD bit cheesy, but overall a very good and fitting soundtrack.

Fun: I found this title to be very enjoyable. No real complaints, although by the end I was ready for it to be over. Some of the game does feel a little repetitive at times.

Graphics: This game really shows what the ps2 is capable of. The lighting, and graphical design are nothing short of lovely. Most beautiful CV game in the series so far.

Playcontrol: I did have some issues here. Not as bad as LoD (the first 3d game in the series), but still not as good a many modern titles. Many of my complaints were overcome after learning how the game’s camera “thinks”. But it was a rough start.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – This is definitely a title that I recommend for a number of reasons. It’s a staple in the CV storyline, not to mention the first generally accepted 3d game in the series. Despite it’s few flaws, it’s overall a wonderful game.

Not currently available (PS2)

Other Reviews In This Series

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II