Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mario Kart DLC



I don't usually write about DLC.  It's not typically something worthy of writing about.  I think the Mario Kart DLC is a fantastic value for the money so it deserves some talk.

There are two scheduled DLC packs for Mario Kart 8.  The first just released a few days ago.  It includes two new cups, which means eight new tracks.  Eight tracks in a cart racer is a huge amount of content.  Along with these come three new characters; Link, Tanooki Mario, and Cat Peach.  Not to mention four new vehicles.

My daughter and I have been having a blast with it.  The new tracks are fantastic and they're getting me re-engaged with the game.  I don't know if I've ever had DLC pull me back into a game like this, but new tracks in Mario Kart is seriously awesome.  My daughter has been enjoying playing with the new characters and vehicles. She loves customizing her racer and changing it every race.

This DLC has already convinced me to drop $7.99 for the next pack with a similar amount of content.  If you've grown tired of Mario Kart 8 or it has fallen off your radar... it might be time to take another look.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Games and Sick Days

I'm sick.  It sucks.  My son has been fighting off a bug for the past two weeks and in taking care of him I managed it pick it up.

But, one benefit that has come out of being sick at home all week is getting to blast through some of the new releases that have been coming out.  They're hard to keep up with.  And I got to try a mobile game that's been on my radar for awhile.  Let's go rapid fire impressions here.

Assassin's Creed: Unity
I'm playing on PS4.  I've seen tons of hate for this game online and it seems to be especially buggy.  In my experience on my console I've only had frame rate slow down a couple times in the course of over 10 hours of play.  I only hit a weird animation bug once.  Your mileage may vary.  Especially if you're playing on PC or Xbox One.  Apparently they're much worse than PS4.

I'm a huge fan of Assassin's Creed so I'm still having a lot of fun with it.  That being said, if you aren't a huge fan of the series you should avoid this one.  They've taken out a lot of cool things that were in the last few games.  There's no competitive multiplayer.  There's no ship combat.  There aren't multiple cities.  There isn't a good story.

So why am I still having fun with it?  Well, the core missions are really well designed.  Stealth finally matters in an Assassin's Creed game.  I used to be able to run in and kill and infinite number of guards because I understand the combat system.  I can't do that anymore.  The enemies are much tougher and the game is better for it.  Now, I feel like a badass when I can stealth my way through a mission.  Also, they added co-op missions which are a ton of fun.

Most people should avoid this game.  If you're a die hard fan of Assassin's Creed, like me, you might want to pick it up anyway.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
I think I'm done with Call of Duty.  I loved Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and the follow up game, Modern Warfare 2.  They were amazing.  They're some of the best shooters that have been made.  I've wanted to like the Call of Duty games they've released since then but they just don't click with me anymore.

Advanced Warfare is another Call of Duty.  Now you have mechanical exo suits to help you do things like magnetically climb walls, slow down time, go invisible, and jump really high.  They sound like cool abilities on paper, but in practice you can only do that at very specific points in the story when you are prompted it.  It was extremely disappointing for me.

I don't think there is anything wrong with the game, the problem is that it's just not a series for me anymore.  I need to stop convincing myself that I'll like the newest version of the game.  If you're a Call of Duty fan I'm sure you already know if you'll pick this one up or not.

Dragon Quest I (iOS)
I missed having a mobile RPG.  Final Fantasy I through VI spoiled me.  I got used to always having a RPG ready to go in my pocket.  While I was playing through the next few Final Fantasy games on Vita it didn't bug me, but now that I'm tackling Final Fantasy XII on PC I'm beginning to realize how much I like having a mobile RPG.

Anyway, Dragon Quest I is good.  I've never played the series before, but so far I like it.  It has a different flavor than a Final Fantasy game but the old school charm is still there.  I love the way that I never see a game over screen in Dragon Quest.  If I die I just get sent back to my home castle and I retain all my levels and items.  It's encouraging me to really explore and not worry about being under leveled the way I would in a Final Fantasy game.  The turn based combat and RPG trappings are making me very happy.  I'm going to keep picking away at this game in 5-10 minute chunks until I finish it.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Final Fantasy XII: Emulating Legally



I was worried about how I was going to play Final Fantasy XII.  Almost every Final Fantasy game has either been re-released, remastered, remade, or released on multiple systems.  Final Fantasy XII is the only mainline game that hasn't been.  It is available on PS2 and that's it.  There's a rumor that it's going to get the HD remaster treatment the same way Final Fantasy X did, but a rumor doesn't do me any good right now.

I own a PS2 and a copy of Final Fantasy XII.  They're sitting in my closet right now.  The problem is I don't have any good spot to set up the console, I don't want to view the game in low resolution via composite cables, I don't want to be tethered via a hardwired controller, and I don't want to have to get to save spots to save my game.  I've been spoiled by my iOS and Vita games.  I need the ability to suspend or save anywhere.  It helps games fit into my life so much better.  The rest are just minor inconveniences but not having save anywhere or game suspend capabilities is huge for me.

That brings us to emulation.  I usually hate emulating things.  I like to pay creators for the work they've done and emulation is usually tied up with pirating.  I will gladly buy a game multiple times if it is released on new systems.  I re-purchased Final Fantasy VII through Final Fantasy X to be able to play them on my Vita.  I appreciate that the creators made them available on a modern system, so I'll happily pay for it.  That being said, it's not an option for Final Fantasy XII.

I did a little research and found out that, generally, it's ok to emulate if you own the game and rip your own .iso file of it.  Well, I do own the game.  I paid for it.  So, I did exactly that.  I ripped my own .iso file from the game I already owned.  I mean, it was just sitting in the closet.

Next, I dug into pcsx2, which is a PS2 emulator.  It's a fully featured emulator with tons of extra plugins and options.  One of the things I love about it is that it doesn't supply you with the PS2 bios.  You have to own a PS2 and retrieve your own bios out of it in order to play games.  So, I did.

Basically I'm using my own PS2 bios and an .iso of my own copy of Final Fantasy XII in order to play the game on my PC.  This is essentially as legal as emulation gets, which is why I wanted to share.  The only thing I downloaded was the emulator itself.  Everything else came from me.

Doing this emulation research has brought something very interesting to light.  Final Fantasy XII was actually made with high resolution textures.  You could never tell while playing it on PS2 because the native resolution is somewhere around 640 by 480.  But, playing it on a computer monitor via an emulator I'm able to crank the resolution up.

This game looks so good!  It's amazing that all this detail was hidden in the game the entire time.  I feel like it would be comparatively easy to give this game an HD remaster.  Most of the work is already done, it was just hiding!  It actually lends some credence to that rumor of a remaster coming along soon.

If you want to see it in motion, here is a video that someone else put together.  The settings and appearance of the game are very close to mine.

I played a little bit of Final Fantasy XII just to make sure my setup would work correctly.  It seems to be pretty solid and un-buggy.  For reference, I'm playing the game on a high end Windows gaming PC with a Xbox 360 controller.  I need to play more before I get some real first impressions written up about the game itself.

Another item of note, Final Fantasy XII has two versions.  I'm playing the original US version of the game, because it's the one I own.  In most other parts of the world you can get the International Zodiac Job System version of the game.  I won't be playing that.  I've heard it changes the progression mechanics in an interesting way but I have no way to play it legally.  So, I won't.  I'll just play my US copy of the game.

I know this was a long post to essentially say, "Here's how I'm playing the game." but I went through a lot to figure it out, so I wanted to share it with you.  Expect some real first impressions of the game soon.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Final Fantasy XI: Not for Me



Let's talk about Final Fantasy XI and The Final Fantasy Project.  As I mentioned when I started this project, I'm not planning on including the MMO Final Fantasy games.  MMOs are living breathing worlds.  They're generally not good at telling a single player story.  But, at this point in my playthrough, I would be remiss to not mentioned a fully numbered mainline game.

My experience with Final Fantasy XI was short.  I bought it a few months after it launched and tried it out.  Based on the release date listed on Wikipedia, this would mean I was trying it out in the winter of 2004, about eleven years ago.

I didn't like the game.  I really wanted to.  I was a huge fan of Final Fantasy and MMOs by then.  I had played Final Fantasy VII through Final Fantasy X and enjoyed each one.  Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XI never clicked with me.

The biggest problem was most likely my experience with other MMOs.  By the time Final Fantasy XI came out I had already been playing Everquest for a long time.  I started playing it soon after it launched in 1999 and played EQ regularly with my friends throughout middle school and a little into high school.  This also inspired me to try out a ton of other MMOs as they launched.

EQ was my first MMO but by the time Final Fantasy XI came out I had probably already played four or five.  Compared to them, Final Fantasy XI just wasn't as good.  It already felt behind the times.

I played for less than two weeks and then gave up.  I've never gone back to it, and I don't plan to.

That's not to say it's a bad game.  It's just a game that's not for me.

I've heard from a lot of people who experienced Final Fantasy XI as their first MMO and they absolutely love it.  Some people on my twitter feed are still playing it.  I'm really glad it exists.  It engaged a whole new group of people with MMOs and Final Fantasy.  I count that as a good thing.

It's not the only Final Fantasy MMO either.  Final Fantasy XIV followed in it's footsteps.

I may be tempted to give Final Fantasy XIV a try when I finish my playthrough of the other single player mainline games.  It's a modern MMO on multiple platforms and I've heard a lot of good things about it.  It's still not a single player RPG, so no promises.  But... maybe.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Final Thoughts



I really enjoyed Final Fantasy X.  I finished the whole game in a week and a half.  That's the fastest I've finished any game in the series.  It hooked me and I was engaged enough to pick up the game every single night.

Overall, my initial impressions still stand.  This is a great game with wonder characters that interact in a well realized world.  The story is strong and drives the whole game.  It's not too difficult and very friendly for new players.  This is where I'm going to direct Final Fantasy newbies if they ask me where to start the series.

Compared to my initial impressions I did have a change of heart about the sphere grid.  I thought it was simply a gimmicky replacement for leveling up.  At low levels that's still true.  That changes when characters start to break out of their primary sphere grid path near the end of the game.  They get the option to cross over into other characters' paths or even teleport to the opposite side of the sphere grid.  It makes for some fun customization.  For example, Rikku's intended break out path is to go over to Lulu's section and start picking up black magic.  Instead, I teleported her over Auron's path and made her into a heavy hitter.  I thought it was hilarious.  She has this tiny attack animation and now it does massive damage.  I had fun with it.

Let's talk about a couple stylistic choices in the game.  These aren't objectively good or bad but they are worth noting.

In the Vita version there is a quick heal option.  Swipe the screen while walking around and a touch menu comes up with the option to heal via magic or items.  Touch the button and the game will automatically heal the party in the most efficient manner.  I love this feature.  Now I want it in every RPG ever.

There is no camera control in the game.  Even though this is the first Final Fantasy with a 3D world you are never able to look around freely.  You get to see what the game wants you to see.  It allows the developers to frame up excellent looking visuals but it does take away some agency from the player.

This game is linear.  There are a lot of corridors that obviously only lead one direction.  There are some paths that branch off and there are cities to help break up the linearity but there's no open overworld to explore.  Even after getting the airship there is still no traditional overworld.  The airship is just a menu with location names to pick.  It feels efficient, but it never truly gives a sense of scale to the world.

After getting the airship there are some optional sidequests to complete.  The problem with them is the length.  They are either too short or too long.  There are a handful that are basically go to a location and open a chest.  Those take almost no time.  There are a couple that are go to a location and kill a boss.  Those are still super short.  The other kind of quest is too long.  Things like kill ten of every monster in the game while equipped with specific weapons.  I know those long quests will appeal to some people, but they're definitely not for me.

Those are just some observations.  I have my opinions about them, but none of them are obviously bad.  Things that bugged me, like sidequest length, will appeal to other people.

Taken altogether what does this add up to?  Well, Final Fantasy X is easily the most friendly game for new players in the Final Fantasy series.  If you've always wanted to try a Final Fantasy game but you've been intimidated by the size of the series you owe it to yourself to try Final Fantasy X.  It is my number one recommendation for Final Fantasy newbies.

When it comes to personal preference it doesn't quite win top spot for me.  Final Fantasy IX still holds that place.  There is nothing I can point to and say Final Fantasy IX is better because of x, y, and z.  Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy X are such different games that they're hard to compare.  This is especially true because of the jump between console generations.  After replaying Final Fantasy X I'm sure it's the favorite game of many people, but my heart still belongs to Final Fantasy IX.

Final Fantasy Ranking
1. IX
2. X
3. VIII
4. VII
5. VI
6. IV
7. V
8. II
9. I
10.III

Total Completion Time: 34 hrs 10 mins


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.