Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Initial Impressions


I'm playing the Final Fantasy X HD Remaster on my Vita and I'm loving it.  The remaster is also available on PS3 or you can grab the original game on PS2.  Final Fantasy X is such a great game in the series.  It's another leap forward in console generations since it's the first Final Fantasy game on PS2.  I always knew that Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy X were some of my favorites and this playthrough of Final Fantasy X is reaffirming that.

The setting is a technologically repressed world where a giant monster called Sin runs rampant.  Sin kills and destroys for no apparently reason.  An entire religion had been built around Sin and it's effects.  One of the outcomes of the religion is a group known as Summoners.  They can call on powerful mystical creatures known as Aeons to help them.  Summoners must journey throughout the world on a pilgrimage to gather all the Aeons.  Once they have done so, they can conduct a final summoning to banish Sin for a number of years.

The main characters of the story are a Summoner, Yuna, and the guardians that travel with her on her pilgrimage.  Tidus is the player controlled character, but all of the characters play a major role and are very fleshed out.

I think this Final Fantasy game has some of the most unique characters in the series.  There's a great variety to them.  Wakka is a religious technophobe with a love of Blitzball, the worldwide sport.  Lulu is a thoughtful black mage who was going to marry Wakka's younger brother before he was killed.  Kimari is an outcast from a race known as the Ronso and has been Yuna's guardian since she was a child.  Rikku is a thief from a group of people who ignore the religious teachings and work with machines.  And Auron, a mysterious figure from both Yuna and Tidus' past.  He has already completed a pilgrimage and has reappeared to help again.


Not to mention Yuna and Tidus.  Yuna is the most interesting character.  Her father was a summoner who completed the final summoning and died in the process, but managed to banish Sin for a time.  She is driven to follow in his footsteps and finds a lot of strength and courage along the way.  Tidus is surprisingly flat compared to the other characters, but it's probably so that you, as the player, can pour some of yourself into him.  He's a Blitzball player from an unkown place who was abandoned by his father at a young age.  Everything beyond that is basically Tidus just trying to figure out how this world works in comparison to his own.


The story and characters are really the stars of the show here.  With the leap forward from the PSX era to the PS2 era the developer was finally able to get characters to feel like humans.  They're all realistically proportioned, well animated, and are fully voiced.  Not to mention the graphics are so much better than the PSX era games.  Finally, our characters don't look blocky or misproportioned.

This is one of the first RPGs with a lot of voice acting.  Occasionally, you may run into an NPC with one line of dialogue that isn't important and they won't be voice acted.  But all the main characters and re-occurring side characters are voiced at all times.  The voice acting alone gives Final Fantasy X a different feel compared to every other game in the series.  Up until now, all of the emotion and inflection from characters has been done in our heads via text that we read.  Now the characters add emotion and variety on their own.

To it's credit, it usually succeeds.  There are a few cringeworthy lines and situations, but for the most part the voice acting works well.

And that's just one of the huge differences between console generations.  The other immediately noticeable change is the 3D world.  The 2D hand-painted backgrounds of the PSX era are gone and in their place is a 3D rendered world to explore.

The world is tied together by a beautifully crafted soundtrack.  In my opinion, this is the best overall soundtrack in any Final Fantasy game.  It perfectly compliments the world and adds a sense of depth to it.  While some individual tracks from other Final Fantasy games are better, there is no better soundtrack when taken as a whole.

Let's talk battle and progression.  The battle system finally moved away from the ATB system that has been in place since Final Fantasy IV.  That's six games in a row with essentially the same turn-order mechanic.  In Final Fantasy X we have returned to a purely turn-based system.  There are no timers running and turn order is clearly displayed on the right side of the screen.  Personally, I love this.  It gives me plenty of time to think about what I want to do and execute the best action.  No need to feel rushed or pressured.  It also means that, if I know what to do, battles can go very quickly because I don't have to wait for an ATB gauge to fill.  I don't know why they stayed away from turn-based combat for so long.


While only three party members are active in battle they can be switched at any time.  It's great to be able to leave your white mage out of battle until you need her, swap her in for a couple turns to heal everyone up, and then replace her with another damage dealer.

In the last few games I felt like I had a core team that I would always take into battle.  Some characters got a ton of play time from me and some basically got left out.  In Final Fantasy X it truly feels like your party is working together.  Each member of the party can help in every battle.  Why not have everyone contribute?  It makes a lot more sense than sending a few characters into battle while everyone else stands around twiddling their thumbs... I'm looking at you Final Fantasy VI through IX.

Battles give points which upgrade sphere levels.  Sphere levels are a little weird at first.  They're basically movements points on a giant progression board called the Sphere Grid.  You can choose where to move around the Sphere Grid and which nodes to activate.  Every activated node gives an increase in stats or unlocks a new ability.


It's interesting.  It's unique.  I don't really like it.  While you are given the "freedom" to move around as you see fit, there is really only one correct path for each character (except Kimari, he's weird).  Each character starts in a different area of the Sphere Grid and they are basically forced along an optimal path for much of the game.  It really comes down to being an overly complicated way to level up.  It's a cool idea, but I think it falls a little flat.

While I don't have much negativity about the game, I should mention the linearity.  I didn't remember from my original play through but Final Fantasy X is very linear.  Paths twist and turn but generally there is a single corridor that you're ushered down.  There's no open world map to explore.  You're kind of railroaded to the next plot point.  At least there are towns along the way to break up the linear corridor feeling to the game.  And there are still side activities like Blitzball and other mini games.  But while playing through the main story it's basically one path to follow.

All of this being said, I think that Final Fantasy X is the perfect game for a newcomer to the Final Fantasy series.  This is where I always recommend that new players start.  It's not too hard, it has a lot of modern gaming conveniences, it's fully voice acted, has relatable characters, and you won't get lost along the way.  Since it's available on PS2, PS3, and Vita it's also very accessible.  If someone asks you where to start, point them at Final Fantasy X.

This has been much more extensive than my previous initial impression posts.  Currently I'm about 6 hours into the game but Final Fantasy X just has so much to talk about.  I'll definitely write a wrap up when I'm finished, but I may do a few one off posts in between.  We'll see.  For now, I'm just going to play and keep enjoying the game.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Terra Battle Impressions

Mistwalker studios was founded by the creator of Final Fantasy, so I always keep an eye on what they do.  I don't always end up enjoying their games, but I like to give them a shot.

That brings us to Terra Battle.  It's a new game by Mistwalker studios and I've been playing it for the last couple days.  Terra Battle is a puzzle RPG game on iOS and Android.  For reference, I've been playing it on my iPhone.

It has some basic free-to-play mechanics.  There's a stamina system that slowly refills over time.  It costs a couple stamina to start a battle.  That hasn't actually limited my playtime at all.  I've never run out of stamina to the point where I couldn't do another battle.  It recharges really fast.  They also have a shop where you can buy heroes and items for real world money.  I haven't spent anything and I don't plan to.

The basic mechanics of the game are really interesting.  Use two or more units to flank an enemy and they will attack together.  Any other units that are in straight line of sight with the two units who are launching the attack they will also add their attacks to the battle.  It takes some basic positional thinking, but it's not too complicated.



The weird (and interesting) part is what actually happens during a turn.  You can move your unit an unlimited number of spaces by dragging them around but you're limited by time.  You have about five seconds to move your unit.  If you move your unit through another friendly unit it will cause that friendly unit to shift position.  Although your unit drag time is limited, your thinking time between drags is infinite.

What this means is that if you're fast enough and think ahead you can include every unit in every attack on every single turn.  Now, this will almost never happen but it's a fun goal to aim for.  Do you think you're fast enough to nudge every unit into position with the unit you're dragging?  It's a gamble, but a fun one.  If you misjudge, the character you're dragging will end up totally out of position.  It's all part of the risk/reward trade-off present on every turn.

I could see this game being a great game to play for a few minutes here and there every day.  I only have one problem with it.  The battles are a bit too long.  For a game that does so much right on mobile I'm surprised by how long the battles are.

Each battle is divided into five different phases.  Any given phase doesn't feel too long but put together the whole battle can get up to fifteen minutes.  I think if there were two or three phases per battle it would fit into my schedule much better.  I often have five minutes to give to a game but I don't always have fifteen.

This is completely a personal preference.  If you don't have two kids and a full-time job like me you probably have more free time.  If fifteen minute gameplay sessions fit into your schedule then you owe it to yourself to give this game a shot.  After all, it is free.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Open World Creed

I finished Shadow of Mordor recently so I started looking ahead at other fall releases on my calendar.  I realized Assassin's Creed Unity is out soon and I hadn't finished Assassin's Creed: Black Flag.  I was still in the mood for some open world antics so I jumped back into my AC: Black Flag playthrough and picked it up where I left off.


Unfortunately, the main campaign of AC: Black Flag is really weak.  Looking through my archive, it doesn't seem like I even mentioned the game when I was playing it last year.  I have it for Wii U (because it was my only living console at the time) and I had put in over 30 hours.

I don't regret any of those hours I sunk into the game, because it's the best pirate simulator out there.  The open world exploration and pirating is so extremely fun.  I never got tired of seizing ships and stealing their goods.  The naval combat engine is fantastic and the feeling of being a pirate is just a ton of fun.


This time I was in it to finish the game, not to mess around in the open world, and that revealed how weak the story actually is.  I had played more than 30 hours and was only on Chapter 4 of the story out of 12 total Chapters.  I marathoned the rest of the game by doing story mission after story mission.  Even after finishing the game I never truly cared about the characters, they just weren't relatable in the same way they have been in past Assassin's Creed games.

But, I finished the game!  I flipped back over to my PS4 to see if there was anything else I wanted to check out before I dive into FFX HD and I noticed Assassin's Creed: Freedom Cry was on sale.  It's a stand alone expansion for Assassin's Creed: Black Flag.  I quickly looked up some reviews and they said it was a quick adventure with a better story than the main game it was based on.

So I played it.

It could just as easily be called Assassin's Creed: Slave Liberator.  It's all about the slave trade in the Carribean during the mid 1700s.  It actually has a compelling story with a main character that seems to have more personality than the main character from Black Flag.  It's a quick 4 hour game and I finished it in one playthrough.  I really enjoyed my time with it, much more than I enjoyed the campaign in Black Flag.  There's not problem with a 4 hour game.  I actually appreciate it these days when a game doesn't overstay it's welcome.

Now I'm mentally ready for Assassin's Creed Unity.

Would I recommend Black Flag or Freedom Cry?  Yeah.  Black Flag is the best pirate simulator you can find.  If that interests you, definitely pick it up.  If you want an engaging, but quick, Assassin's Creed narrative you're much better off with Freedom Cry.  It depends what you're looking for, but they're both good games.

But, to see something new and interesting in an open world setting I still think your best bet is Shadow of Mordor.  Playing these three games back-to-back put that into perspective.  Right now, if I were going to play around in an open world I would jump back into Shadow of Mordor.  The Nemesis system is just really cool.  I love messing with the orc army and having enemies emerge organically.  I felt more connected to some of my enemies in Shadow of Mordor than I felt toward the main character of AC: Black Flag.  I might just go back to Mordor and mess with the orcs again soon.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Shadow of Mordor: You Can Just Walk In



Shadow of Mordor is so fun.  I haven't had a game grab me so quickly for a long time.  I finished the main story campaign in only three play sessions, but my play time was over 12 hours.  That's an average of over 4 hours for each play session which is crazy for me these days.   I liked the game so much that after I finished it I went back to just play around in the world.  I never do that.

Shadow of Mordor is basically a great blend of the Assassin's Creed and Batman Arkham series.... set in Middle Earth.  The stealth gameplay and assassinations are modeled after the Assassin's Creed format and the combat system is directly taken from the Batman Arkham games.  It makes for such a fun mix.  All the gameplay element are solid and the basic moment to moment gameplay is very fun.

The coolest part of the game is the Nemesis System.  The orcs have a hierarchy that is constantly in flux.  They challenge each other, gain in power, get killed, get replaced, and overall just jockey for position.  The cool part is that every orc with a rank of Captain or higher gets an individual name, personality, and traits.  One orc may be a drunk that's vulnerable to melee combat and scared of ghuls.  Another may be a battle master who is immune to all melee and ranged combat but is vulnerable to stealth.  They really feel like individuals.

When you encounter one of these high ranked orcs they taunt you and try to kill you.  If they succeed or escape they will gain in power and their traits may change.  You truly get to know these orcs as time goes on.

Early in the game I was in the middle of a big melee brawl.  I was low on health but holding my own against the horde around me.  But then an anonymous orc killed me with a lucky arrow from a nearby tower.  That orc was promoted to captain and hounded me off-and-on for the rest of the game.  In one fight I had him extremely low on health and he tried to escape.  I couldn't catch him but I took a couple pot shots with my bow while he ran off and one hit him in the eye.  The next time I encountered him he had a makeshift canvas eyepatch over that eye.  The time after that he had metal grafted over what used to be his eye.  By the end of the game he had a very distinct face because he continually improved his metal headgear as he moved up the ranks.

All of this happened organically, and that's the best part.  The story campaign is fine but the real meat of the game is messing around with the orc army in the open world.  That's where the true magic of Shadow of Mordor shows itself.

In the second half of the game you can even use your character's powers to bend orcs to your will.  I had a ton of fun turning Captains to my side and then slowly helping them work their way up through the orc hierarchy all the way to Warchief.

I anticipate Shadow of Mordor to be a game I go back to casually for quite awhile.  It's a great world to play around in and explore.  If messing with an orc army sounds like your cup of tea this is easily the best game for the job.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Put Destiny on Hold



I enjoyed the time I spent with Destiny.  I played it consistently for the first couple weeks and then off and on in the third week.  Now I haven't touched it for over a week and I can tell I'm done with it.

It's not a bad game.  But, like I pointed out in my impressions, it has some big flaws.

Since then I've progressed my character up to level 26 through light gear.  Occasionally it was fun, but mostly it was a grind.  I spent a lot of time doing the same content over and over again to gain reputation and marks that I needed to purchase higher level gear.

I also did a bunch of multiplayer to see if it would hook me.  It was entertaining for a day, but these days I'm not much of a fan of competitive FPS multiplayer.

I'm sure I played through the entire story campaign content and strike missions at least twice.  It was probably closer to three times.

I saw everything Destiny had to offer except the endgame raid.  I don't have the time to organize and participate in a raid, so that was never a big draw for me in the first place.  But, besides that raid, I can honestly say I saw every other piece of content in the game.

Even though I spent hours with the content I never once saw a legendary or exotic weapon drop.  The random number generator gods shunned me.  I saw lots of my friends get really cool gear to drop, but not me.  I got mine through pure grinding.  That's when I knew I was no longer having fun.

I wish Destiny was more than it is.  It still holds a lot of promise.  I hope they deliver on that promise in the expansions.  I'll probably end up checking them out when they release.  For now, Destiny can sit on my hard drive and wait for more content to come.  I'm putting it on hold until I see what Bungie decides to do with it next.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Final Fantasy Project: Sidequests

All through my mainline playthrough of the Final Fantasy series I've been thinking about what I'll do when I reach the end.  I decided I would like to start playing Final Fantasy games that aren't part of the main series.  A lot of Final Fantasy spin-off games sound like they would be a great fit for me.

I've played a handful of the spin-offs in the past.  I finished FFX-2, FFTA, and probably a couple other minor games.  I've dabbled in FFTA2, Theatrhythm, All The Bravest, Crystal Defenders, Crystal Chronicles, and many more without completing them.

If you can't tell by now, I love Final Fantasy.  It's one of the only series that I've had a consistent passion for over the years.

I plan on starting to get into these spinoff titles soon.  So if you see a post with "The Final Fantasy Project Sidequests" in the title you'll know what to expect.  I want to play around with as many spin-offs as I can.  Since I know they're very hit-or-miss I don't plan on completing them all, but I would like to get a taste of as many as I can get my hands on.  I mean, look how many there are.

Click to embiggen this fantastic flowchart

Let me know if you have any particular suggestions for my Final Fantasy spin-offs exploration.  You can tweet at me @grnmushroom or, as always, you can leave a comment below.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

PS4 and Vita Remote Play



I picked up a PS4 a couple weeks ago.  It was partially in anticipation of Destiny, but mostly because I knew I would be getting one eventually and the money worked out for it.

The big games I picked up are Infamous: Second Son and Destiny.  Infamous is pretty but there's nothing to it that I haven't already seen in an open world game.  Destiny is lots of fun but I don't know if it has staying power.  If you want to know more about that I wrote about it here.

Along with these, I also have all the free indie games I've gotten through PS Plus.  Super Motherload is one of my favorite indie games on the system, it's simple yet addicting.  Towerfall is intriguing too, although I haven't gotten people over to play it multiplayer yet.  Sony has promised to keep releasing at least two games per month on PS Plus for the PS4 so I'm excited to see what I get to try in the future.

I'm still just getting a feel for the system and the UI.  At this point I've had enough time with it to get a general impression of the console.  I really like it.  It's a solid system.  Time will tell if it was a worthwhile investment but I think it will be.  It's a console that should have many years ahead.

My favorite feature of the PS4 is actually a feature of my PS Vita.  Remote play!  I can play my PS4 from my Vita anywhere I have a stable internet connection.  Every PS4 game has to support remote play which means that any game you can play on PS4 you can now play on PS Vita.  It's amazing.

Destiny, in particular, is a fantastic remote play experience.  It has custom controls when being played on the Vita, which feel great.  They're slightly different from the controls on a PS4 controller but they completely make sense because of the Vita form factor (no L2 or R2 triggers).  I've regularly been playing a little bit of Destiny in bed each night as I wind down before sleeping.  It's a full console experience in the palm of my hand and I love it.


I've used remote play from my living room when others are using the TV.  I've played it from my upstairs bedroom.  I've played from my parent's house (miles away).  It's been a consistently good experience.  I still need to try it out at a coffee shop one of these days since I find the idea of playing my PS4 from Starbucks hilarious.  When I do, I'll make sure to report back.

At this point, I wouldn't recommend PS4 to most people unless there is an amazing exclusive game you want to play.  I think it's a really good console but you should probably wait for a bundle or price drop that appeals to you.

In the future I think the biggest feature of the PS4 is going to be remote play.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Sony talk that up more and more as time goes on.  It makes me wonder if a PS4 + Vita bundle would sell a lot of systems with the right marketing push behind it.