Review: Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

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

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

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

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

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

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

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 The original version of Final Fantasy XIV was taken offline on November 10, 2012.  Fans would have to wait until August of 2013 to get their hands on the new version of the game. The stakes were high. MMOs had failed before. But never had the company behind the game promised to completely remake and relaunch the title, all while keeping player data intact. To be honest, even I had doubts that SE would be able to pull it off.  They were promising the moon with this new version of Final Fantasy XIV. But as months went by, it slowly began to look like they just might be able to make good on their promise.

Eventually, the beta for Final Fantasy XIV 2.0 (now called A Realm Reborn) was available to play. Legacy players were able to take the first peek…. and it was glorious. From what little we were able to glimpse during the beta test, it seemed like SE was able to achieve their goal.

Upon the general release of A Realm Reborn, the interest in the game had reached an unexpected high. The servers were full of both old veterans and new curious players. The reviews for the game were shining and positive. SE had done the unthinkable. They are saved the sinking ship that was FFXIV and set it out to sail with the very best of the competition.

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This version of the game, starts five years after the events that took place in Final Fantasy XIV 1.0. For legacy players, the story goes like this: During the climax of the final battle against the Empire, just as the terrible dragon Bahamut erupted from inside the red moon of Dalamud, the legacy players were teleported away from the impending destruction. They were sent through time to five years in the future. They find themselves in an Eorzea that has been radically changed, but one that has mostly recovered the Calamity of that day. The threat of the Empire still looms on the horizon, but now there are newer, more mysterious threats as well. This is the world in which both legacy and new players find themselves.

All of the original 1.x races and classes are available in A Realm Reborn. In fact, this time around players could even create female versions of Hyur Highlanders and Roegadyn. Male versions of the popular Miqo’te race are now also playable. Also new in this version is a new starting class: Arcanist. This can later evolve into one of two jobs: Summoner and Scholar.

As a returning player, I got to experience the original 2.0 story just a bit differently than new players. Some of my introductory cutscenes and dialogue were slightly different. I retained my levels, skills, and most of my items from 1.0. So several things that normally needed to be “unlocked” during the course of the main scenario were already available to me. I learned pretty quickly, that I’d be wasting experience points by playing through all the new content with my max level Dragoon. So, I switched to a class I never bothered to level in 1.0 and enjoyed the content from the ground up until I got my feet wet.  I founded a Free Company (guild) with several players that I knew from 1.0. Together, we plowed through the main scenario content together.

A Realm Reborn was a very different beast than the original FFXIV. Everything about the game seemed more polished and refined. Many of the unique features of FFXIV were still intact; the job system, levequests,  behest (now known as guildhests). But there were aspects from other popular MMOs brought in as well. The handling of sidequests was now much more like other MMO games. Instanced dungeons and an endgame raid was added, along with a “dutyfinder” to help reduce wait times while searching for players to team up with. There was a new “FATE” system (dynamic open world battles). The market system was revamped. The list goes on and on.  Personally, I found the new direction of the game to be everything I had hoped for.

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As time went on, SE continued to consider player feedback and adjust/add new features. Each new major patch continued to expand the game greatly. New dungeons and raids were added. New boss battles, quests, storyline, even a new class/job combo was added to the game for free. A PVP system was put in place, player-owned housing was added as was a casino-style game area. In my opinion, SE had gone above and beyond to create a great game that would appeal to players of all types. Of course, among the game community, there’s always a vocal minority of players full of nonconstructive criticism (especially when it comes to the housing feature). But overall, I found most of the players to be satisfied and content with this new version of Final Fantasy XIV.

SE seems to have adopted a three-month content cycle. This means that approximately every three months there is a new patch that includes, along with the usual fixes and adjustments, new game content. All of the added features above (PVP, Casino, Rogue/Ninja, etc) were added during these content patches.

If I have one complaint about the game, it is not with the game itself but with a small chunk of the playerbase. Really, I guess in a small way, I can blame this on SE. But it’s not REALLY their fault.  You see, until the release of A Realm Reborn, both of SE’s MMOs had non-regional servers. US, European, and Asian players all shared the gameworlds. To me, this was a positive experience. I enjoyed playing with people from Japan or Australia. Generally speaking, Japanese gamers tend to play more my style: Slow and a calculated. They are not in a hurry and there is no real “race to the finish”. Whereas, a sizable chunk of US MMO players are often immature and in a rush. For the release of A Realm Reborn, SE decided to make regional servers (for the purpose of performance). Now, there was nothing stopping me from playing on a Japanese server. But since 95% of all English speaking players would choose a US-based server, communication would definitely be an issue. So the point of my contention is this: I was now pretty much forced to play only with other US players. This should not be an issue. Seriously. But I have a really hard time dealing with belligerence. Due to the popularity of the game, a whole new demographic of players had appeared. I began to see traits creeping into FFXIV, from other games that I had always managed to avoid: elitism, stat parsers, immature/mindless public chat. Seeing this in the game that I had come to love was disappointing to me. But, I guess it was a bit of a necessary evil. In truth, these days, you’re going get that kind of thing in any MMO. I make liberal use of the blacklist feature and move on.

Overall, A Realm Reborn managed to deliver on every level, at least for me. It didn’t manage to capture that “magic” that I found with my time in FFXI. But it comes close. If you ask me today, “what’s a good MMO to play?” My first answer will be: Final Fantasy XIV.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is available on –  PC,  PS3 and PS4

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FFXIV Hub

** Final Fantasy XIV  (1.x)  –    A Realm Reborn  –    Heavensward **

Hub Post: Final Fantasy XIV

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Finally, we are brought to the most recent entry in the numbered Final  Fantasy series: Final Fantasy XIV. This is the second MMO in the series and one filled with both controversy and success. I’ve been an avid player of this game since it’s release and  I’ve written a little bit about this game before, so for those interested, you can read my initial thoughts here: “A Look Back: Original Release”   –  “A Realm Reborn Beta Test”  – “The Rebirth of Final Fantasy XIV” — But, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the game in the posts to come. Just like with my FFXI hub, this post will serve as a Table of Contents for any future posts regarding Final Fantasy XIV and it’s expansions.

** Final Fantasy XIV  (1.x)  –    A Realm Reborn  –    Heavensward **

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 

First Thoughts: Triad Wars – Closed Beta

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With the NDA finally being lifted, I’m now able to share my thoughts on Square Enix’s upcoming online multiplayer game, Triad Wars. Set in the same universe as their 2012 hit, Sleeping Dogs – Triad Wars had my attention from the day it was announced. Being a huge fan of Sleeping Dogs, I was sure to apply for the beta the first day SE started accepting registrations. Luckily, I was accepted and now I’m finally able to share my thoughts.

First, let’s talk about what Triad Wars is. This game is a free to play social/multiplayer title set in Sleeping Dogs world. The game takes place after the events of Sleeping Dogs, right in good old Hong Hong. Players of Sleeping Dogs will feel right at home. The overall workings and play style is pretty much identical to SD. Your character can walk/drive the streets of Hong Kong, start fights, engage in general criminal activity, etc. It’s once again, pretty much an open world. What makes this game different from SD is the fact that it is a multiplayer game. In Triad Wars, you design a character, known in game as an Enforcer, who is destined to become a crime boss in a Chinese Triad (gang). The goal is to build your crime syndicate by establishing various rackets, raiding other rival triads, shaking down citizens, etc. The character creation is currently pretty lacking. Only male Enforcers can be made at this time, and there’s very little customization from the start.

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When the game starts, you go through a brief tutorial that explains how all this works. The tutorial is very bare bones and extremely brief,  then you are thrust right in to the meat of the game. To be honest, I was quite confused when first starting out. Essentially, by the end of the tutorial you are awarded with some very basic “Turf”. The goal here is to expand your turf by raising money and starting/improving various crime rackets. For example; drug manufacturing, knock-off electronics, things like that.

To earn enough money to get these things off the ground, you can engage in various activities. Some of these I’ve mentioned above, but the most profitable and currently what seems to be the core of the game is raiding other players. You see, while this is a multiplayer title, you don’t actually play the game with others in real time. You’ll never see another player live in the game, but your in game map will be populated with the locations of their turf, which you can raid. Other players at or around your level are pulled from some database and thrown into your map. Once you’ve raided a particular area on the map, there’s a cooldown timer before that area is repopulated with another player’s turf.

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When you raid another player’s turf, you essentially have to fight your way through their HQ and defeat a CPU controlled version of that other player in combat. To make your raid more profitable, you can also hit their various rackets during the raid. Each racket is guarded by a certain number of thugs. Defeat all the thugs in the area, and you have cleared that particular racket. Combat itself is relatively easy, but what makes this difficult is you only have a certain amount of time to complete the entire raid or you fail. So if you get pinned down, it’s easy to run out the clock.

Ahhh but of course, there’s a solution to that. There’s a little something in Triad Wars called “Favors”. These are consumable boons that grant your Enforcer a number various perks. There’s favors that add time to your raid clock, increase the speed in which you recover life, there’s even favors that give your character weapons they can use during a raid to make defeating enemies easier.

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Favors can be found or awarded in the game, but they are sparse and after a while tend to be pretty useless. The best favors are available for real money in the Triad Wars store. Yes… here we have it. The beginning of the slippery slope known as “Pay to Win”. The Triad Wars store works like many Cash Shop style games these days. You purchase things from the shop using a virtual currency. In this case, Gold Bars. When you start the game as a beta tester, you are granted a certain number of gold bars to start with, but if you want more you need to break out that wallet – and they are not cheap. Items in the store range from blind, grab-bag style favor packs to vehicles and character customization. Maybe that is why character creation seemed so limited? If you want that fancy handlebar mustache, you’re gonna pay for it!

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Not only that, but Square Enix has really played up this whole cash shop angle by having some limited edition items. For example, the motorbike in the screenshot above shows that only 265 bikes are left in stock. Once they’re gone they’re gone. This automatically ensures that a certain percentage of players will feel compelled to whip out their wallets to buy an item that they don’t really need, just because its limited.

In this game, more than any other, buying a vehicle really has no foreseeable advantage. Number one, you are given a vehicle from the start. Plus, you can go up to any car on the street and jack it – for free. To be honest, I’m not really feeling the love from this shop. It feels greasy and the cash grab from SE here is obvious and unapologetic. But then again, the game is “free” – so it is what it is.

Aside from the shop, my biggest complaint here is the fact that there’s really no motivating reason to play this game. At least for me. There’s no real story to hook you. The only goal in the game right now is to level up and be a bigger badass than the other people playing the game. And let’s face it, most of us will NEVER be the biggest badass in a game like this. There’s always that handful of mysterious players at the top of the list that have everything maxed out from day one and never get overthrown. Maybe they’re millionaires who spend thousands of dollars in the in-game store, or maybe they’re fake bots controlled by SE to give us all a goal to shoot for. Who knows. For me, I find more fun in the sadistic act of mowing down pedestrians and running from the Hong Kong PD than I do in actually worrying about my global ranking on the leaderboard. Honestly, the main reason I currently have for logging in is to drive around a virtual Hong Kong and listen to radio.

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In a nutshell, I’m not really sure how well this game is going to work out once it is released. There’s not much to do so far in the game itself, and there’s really no real reward for doing what little there is to do in the first place. SE has a long way to go if they expect people to spend real money here. At this point, Triad Wars feels like a real pretty looking, 3D Facebook game that reminds you all the time how much easier it would be if only you’d slap down that credit card.

Granted, the game is still in a closed-beta test. So we have quite a ways to go before this thing goes public. But at this point, I’m sadly disappointed in what I’m seeing. A game based off Sleeping Dogs deserves better.

Hey, at least I got my sweet ass sports car that has “Closed Beta Tester” painted on the side. They’ll never be able to take that away from me.

 

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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: 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

final-fantasy-8-box

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: Bravely Default – The Fairy Flies

bravely-default-box

Wow. This review has been a long time coming. I purchased this game when it was released in February and I’ve been slowly grinding away at it ever since. Now, after almost 70 hours of game time I have finally finished this beast. Here are my thoughts.

First, let’s talk about what Bravely Default is; here we have a classic JRPG style game by none other than the legends of the genre, Square Enix. I should state that this game is the “spiritual successor” to the previously released DS title “Final Fantasy: Four Heroes of Light”. While it is not a direct sequel, there are apparently a few throwback easter eggs scattered about this game for fans to discover. (Note: I have not played Four Heroes, but it is now on my to-do list). That being said, this game is pretty much a pure Final Fantasy title in all but name. It’s very Final Fantasy-like in terms of storytelling and gameplay. Several classic Final Fantasy character classes and artwork are present in the game as well. One small element of controversy worth mentioning is censorship. The western release of the game included some censorship in terms of the character’s ages (to avoid teenage romance) and a few adjustments to character costumes to make them a bit toned down (less sexy). Personally, I find this overall silly. I’ve seen the uncensored images from the Japanese game, there’s very little difference. Don’t feel like you’re missing anything important.

The game revolves around four young heroes on their journey to save the world from chaos. To do this, they must restore light to four dimmed elemental crystals. The stars of title are:

Tiz – A young orphan who’s hometown and brother we’re swallowed up by a massive chasm that was caused by troubled Earth Crystal.

Agnès – The young Wind Vestal (priestess), who along with her fairy companion intends to restore the failing crystals to their former glory.

Ringabel – A mysterious ladies man with no recollection of his past. He carries with him an unusual journal that seems to predict the future of our heroes.

Edea – Daughter of the Templar of Eternia, the nation currently terrorizing the homeland of the other three heroes. Disgusted with the actions of her own kingdom, she has joined the others.

As the game progresses and our heroes continue to awaken the crystals they inch deeper into the web of ancients secrets that make up their very existence. The game is very rich on storyline and it’s much better to experience it firsthand than to read a summary of it here. But the info above should be enough to give you the basic idea.

 

First off, let me start by saying that this game takes full advantage of the 3DS platform. Moreso than any other game I’ve played. Naturally, the game itself is available in 3D. There are also pre-game and post-game movies that feature augmented reality. Meaning, the movies are seen through your eyes, and you can move the 3DS in a 360 degree range of motion to change the perspective of the action.

In many titles, the Streetpass feature of the 3DS is either ignored or poorly implemented. Not in this game. You see, early in the game, Tiz sets out on a mission to rebuild his hometown. To do so, you must collect residents. This is accomplished through  the Streetpass feature. Every time you tag another Bravely Default player, you get another resident for your village. As your population increases, you can assign villagers to clean up the area and rebuild shops. The ultimate goal here is to have the town completely restored. Thus, unlocking exclusive items and equipment for sale.

Aside from the village mini-game, other players that you encounter can also be summoned to help in battle. Likewise, you have the ability to send special moves and tactics out to help your friends as well. If you don’t have very many real-life friends that play the game, the Nintendo Network will send four players to you daily. So no matter what, you’ll be able to use the online features to participate in this functionality.

 

Aside from this, there’s also one other online feature worth mentioning: Nemesis monsters. Also included with your daily Nintendo Network transmissions are special optional monster battles. These beasts invade your town and you can battle them at will. These creatures are actually modeled after boss monsters from the Final Fantasy: Four Heroes of Light game. Defeating them will often grant you rewards that increase character stats. Upon receiving a Nemesis in your town, you can choose to lock it in place to fight later, or send it back out into the wild to be caught by another player.

All of this player summoning and Nemesis monster business may not seem to make much sense at first. But as you approach the end of the game storyline, you come to realize that it all does tie in well with the story of the game.

Important note: there is a free demo of the game available for download from the 3DS shop. The demo really serves mostly as a tutorial for the game’s unique combat system. But by completing the demo, you can also unlock some nice little bonuses in the retail game. None of these are exclusive in any way. So there’s no need to feel obliged to play the demo first if you’re ready to jump right in.

So, you might be asking yourself; What up with that name, “Bravely Default”. What does that even mean? This is reference to the combat system. For the most part, combat in this game is handled just like you’d expect from a JRPG title. Turn based combat; you can choose to either use a physical attack, cast a spell, or use a recovery item, etc. The difference here is, you can also choose between two additional options: Brave or Default.

Brave allows you to add an extra move to your turn. You can choose to use up to 4 Braves at a time. So in theory, you could make 5 attacks in a single round. The downside to this is if you blow all your moves in one round, you will be defenseless until you have earned those moves back. So, spend 5 moves now, you have to wait four more turns before that character can move again.

Default is just the opposite, you forego a move for one turn. Doing so raises your defense, but also adds an extra move to your bank. So using these methods you can expend and reserve extra turns per combat round. I seems confusing at first, but you figure it out pretty quick. Learning how to master the Brave and Default system is a big part of the game. Good players will learn to make the most of these options to overcome challenging boss monsters.

Another important mechanic of this game is the Job System. This will be familiar to fans of Final Fantasy. As you play through the game, you will have the ability to unlock new jobs (classes) to equip on your characters. All the classics are represented here, Black Mage, White Mage, Thief, Ninja, Summoner, etc. Each job features certain abilities and weapon specialization. As you progress through the game, your characters earn both Experience Points and Job points. Your character and jobs level independently of each other. As your job levels up, your character will learn unique abilities that can be used even if you switch to another job later on. For example, you can be a Pirate who can also use White Magic (assuming that character learned the ability previously). Mastering the job system and learning to mix and match abilities is just another secret to overcoming all the obstacles that the game will throw at you.

I know that’s quite a lot to digest, but I feel it’s important to touch on what makes this game unique. Bravely Default is quite an interesting title. It’s presented in a classic JRPG style, with a new twist on time-tested game mechanics. Graphically, the game is beautiful. I’m not a big fan of the 3D option so I don’t use it for daily play, but from what I saw – this game implements the 3D feature elegantly.

When it comes to audio, Bravely Default also earns high marks here. The game is almost completely voice acted, and very well done at that. The music is simply stellar. So much so that I went out and found a imported copy of the soundtrack.

If I have any complaints about the game at all, it would have to be with the length of the title. As I mentioned earlier, I completed the game at right around 70 hours. Now, of course I took the time to unlock every job, level everything to the max and explore every dungeon. The game has two endings and I made sure to experience both. But even so, the game feels a bit drawn out. I thought that I was coming close to the end about 40 hours in. Only to find out – nope. Not even close. – You see, it’s hard for me to explain the problem without spoiling the story somewhat. But you get a point in the game, where you find yourself forced to repeat the same process over and over and over. For a total of four times. Now while this does factor into the game story, it feels a bit excessive. Regardless, it’s safe to say that you certainly get your money’s worth.

Overall, Bravely Default is nothing short of a masterpiece. If you’re a fan of the genre and you own a 3DS, there’s no reason not to own this title. It’s a no-brainer.

 

Difficulty: Variable–  The game features a number of ways to customize the difficulty. There are general Easy, Normal and Hard modes. Additionally, you can disable certain features of the game such as quest indicators. You also have the ability to control the monster encounter rate. Making random battles more frequent or eliminating them all together.

Story: This is real reason you will want to play the game. The storyline here is nothing short of epic. All the elements you’d expect from a JRPG are present here: otherworldly evil, magical crystals, ancient sages and young heroes. It’s all here and it’s done just as brilliantly as ever.

Originality: Square Enix has done a great job of taking a time-tested formula and giving it a new life. This accomplished both due to some fresh ideas and due to the unique features of the 3DS.

Soundtrack: The music and voice acting in the game are superb. I cant praise the soundtrack enough. It sounds excellent through 3DS speakers, but even better if you’re able to use headphones. Seriously, it’s that good.

Fun: I really enjoyed this game a lot. I do admit, that about halfway through some fatigue started to set in. I feel like the game is a bit long in the tooth. But once you manage to get past that hump, it’s back to having fun again. Despite the long hours invested into the game, I was still wanting more when it was all over.

Graphics: The graphics are very well done. The environments are excellent and the spell effects really awe inspiring. I’m not a big fan of the 3D capabilities, but as I said in the review, they are implemented quite well in this game. So if that’s your cup of tea, you’ll be sure to be pleased.

Playcontrol: No problems here at all. The game controls feel natural and I did not experience any issues here at all.

Mature Content: No Concern – Fantasy violence, some occult-inspired monster names, suggestive themes are few and far between and would likely be overlooked by young players.

Value:  At the time of this writing, the game retails for $30. Well worth the price. Especially when you take the time to consider the number of hours of entertainment this game provides.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – A game this perfect doesn’t come along often. When the only complaint I can think of is that there’s too much game to play, you know that the developers have scored a win. That being said, this is really a title designed for the hardcore JRPG player. Casual players will probably find the game too big and too complex. Be warned going in.Currently available on: Nintendo 3DS

Other Reviews In This Series:

Bravely Default  –   Bravely Second

Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light