Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bloggy XMAS Day 10: Old Friends and Children



When Syl first mentioned writing about community and games for the Bloggy XMAS Calendar I really wanted to participate but I had nothing to write about.  I don't have time for MMOs these days and I don't play a single online game consistently enough to be part of it's community.  How would I write about games and community?

But then I had a meeting with an old friend.  We hadn't seen each other in a couple years and we were meeting about a potential business project that we could work on together.  Surprisingly, we jumped right back into our old habits of discussing gaming.

I mean, yes, we did talk about business stuff later, but first we talked about the Gamecube hooked up to his TV.  He just moved into a new apartment and it's the only console hooked up so far.  And then, while playing Smash Bros Melee on said Gamecube, we talked about how he's been playing classic EverQuest on a private EQ server.  I mentioned my trials and tribulations with playing the entire Final Fantasy series.  We had a great time!

I haven't talked to this guy much in the past few years and it just floors me how much gaming helped us instantly relate to each other again.  We still love to talk about games and play games even though we're in our late twenties now.  I know a lot of people who used to be gamers that have since dropped the hobby.  It was a genuine pleasure to reconnect with a friend over gaming.

Gaming with friends is amazing.

You know what other kind of gaming is amazing?  Gaming with family.

My daughter is four years old now.  She's been playing iOS games on iPods, iPhones, and iPads since before her first birthday.  Now, finally, she's starting to get into console gaming with me.  We've been playing Wii U together for the past six months or so.  I taught her how to play Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, and Smash Bros.

I can't even express how proud I was the day I came home from work and she was set up on the couch playing Super Mario 3D World on her own.  It was a sense of pride, joy, surprise, and nostalgia.  Some of my earliest memories are gaming at day care when I was her age.  I realized that some of her first memories might be gaming with me.  I almost cried.

And now I get the awesome side-effect of being the parent of a little gamer.  Randomly I get asked, "Daddy, can we play Smash Bros together?"  Of course the answer is yes.

Does she take ten minutes to pick out a character for each player in the color of her choice?  Yes.  Is it worth it to sit and watch her do ten minutes of set-up for two minutes of game?  Absolutely.  She's interacting with the game on her own terms.  But, most importantly, she's having fun!

Her two-year-old brother is already nipping at her heels.  He's been a touch device wiz just like her.  Now he's interested in gaming controllers and he can even do an art game on the Wii U gamepad!  Pretty soon he'll join us and I'll have two constant gaming companions.  I'm so excited for that day!

Until then, I'm happy making friends online to discuss gaming.  The blogging community is amazing and helps me stay connected to other people who have the same interests as me.

And they tend to be active on twitter too!  It's great for staying in touch and quick conversations about topics.  I'm always thrilled when someone strikes up a chat with me on twitter about gaming.  If you're looking for more gamers to talk to, feel free to reach out to me @grnmushroom.

This holiday season I find myself thankful for gamers of all kinds.  From old friends, to my kids, and my random online friends.  Thank you everyone.  Keep being awesome!


This post is part of the Bloggy XMAS Calendar.  Make sure to go check it out!

Thanks to Syl for organizing this great event!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Final Fantasy XIII: Initial Impressions



Even with my Final Fantasy XIII baggage I dove into the game this week.  I'm playing the PC version via Steam.

My first reaction to Final Fantasy XIII was, "It's so pretty!"  I forgot how beautiful this game looks.  Final Fantasy developers are always trying to push the envelope in graphics and it shows the most when they jump between console generations.  Final Fantasy XIII was the first Final Fantasy for Xbox 360 and PS3.  It looks so much better than Final Fantasy XII did.

The only downside to the graphics is that they're locked to 720p on PC.  Supposedly there is a patch coming soon to allow for higher resolutions, but it's not out yet.

Music is much improved over Final Fantasy XII.  It's still no Nobuo Uematsu but it's so much better than the last game.  It actually has one of my favorite battle themes in all of Final Fantasy.  It gets stuck in my head and I'm totally ok with that.

It's especially amazing when the violin kicks in around the 1 minute mark

But not all the sound design is great.  Lightning's footsteps are already bugging me.  They are extremely loud and monotonous.  I remember these footsteps being something that drove me crazy by the time I finished Final Fantasy XIII the first time.

One thing I hated about this game during my first playthrough was the linearity of it.  It's basically long corridors with no exploration.  Surprisingly, this time I appreciate the linearity after just finishing the open world grind fest that is Final Fantasy XII.  Playing the games in order like this is giving me a fresh perspective on the series.  Hopefully I can keep this new-found appreciation for the linearity throughout my entire time with Final Fantasy XIII.

I'm a few hours in and so far battles feel quick and fluid.  Not much of the modified ATB system is being shown off yet, but it does look nice.  But while it looks nice and is smooth, it's not challenging so far.  I know that most of the battle system is still hidden behind tutorials that I haven't reached.  At this point the battles are basically "hit A to win with autobattle."  I'll follow up later after I actually get full access to battle options.

Along those lines, there's no progression system in sight.  Again, I know this is just around the corner and I'm not there yet.

The story of Final Fantasy XIII starts mid-action.  I think it works for this game.  After that there is a lot of character set up mixed in with action and battle sequences.  The pacing is working for me so far.  From what I remember, pacing really struggles later in the game, but I have no complaints yet.

I'm actually enjoying the story more this time because I don't have to try to figure out all their stupid terms.  I mostly remember it from my first playthrough of the game.  They really need to do a better job explaining to new players what all the unique terms in the game mean but at least it's not an issue this time around.  I do want to note that it was frustrating to no end the first time I played.

One thing I'm extremely grateful for are the plentiful checkpoints.  Rarely do I have to go more than ten minutes without getting the chance to save.  As I've said before, being able to save anywhere or suspend/resume a game is a huge feature for me these days.  Final Fantasy XIII doesn't quite have that, but the checkpoints aren't spaced out as far as they used to be in old Final Fantasy games.  I appreciate it.

Overall, I'm about 3 hours in and I'm still having fun.  It's a good sign and I hope it holds true throughout the game!


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sampling Games on PSN



I absolutely love trying new games!  If you're a PS Plus subscriber on Playstation Network you get to try a lot of them.

Every month they give PS Plus subscribers access to a new set of six free games.  Two each for PS4, PS Vita, and PS3.  I always make sure to "purchase" (for free) all of them through their online portal even if I don't want to download them right away.  That way I can play them any time I want in the future, as long as my PSN account is active.

It's a great way to sample games I wouldn't normally try.  Sometimes they fall flat, but they're free games so who am I to complain?

On top of that, occasionally they'll just give away free games to anyone on PSN.  This weekend you can snag Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare on PS4, Need for Speed Most Wanted on PS Vita, and Mirror's Edge on PS3.  All of them are free.  You just need to jump onto PSN and claim your copies before the weekend is over even if you don't have PS Plus.

The PSN games for the month came out a few days ago as well.  Last night I tried Titan Attacks, Secret Ponchos, and Injustice: Gods Among Us.  Titan Attacks was one that fell flat.  It's a bad space invaders clone.  Secret Ponchos was initially intriguing but after a few rounds I knew it wasn't a game for me.  Although, if you're into multiplayer twin stick shooters you might want to give it a chance.  The real surprise was Injustice: Gods Among Us.

I'm usually not a fan of fighting games except for Smash Bros.  Injustice: Gods Among Us is a straight up DC superhero fighting game and not something I would typically even look at.  It feels a lot like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat.  Usually I'll play a fighting game like that for about fifteen minutes, get bored, and never come back to it.  But last night I played Injustice: Gods Among Us for a good three or four hours after I put my kids to bed.  It's incredibly polished for a fighting game.


Mostly it was a ton of fun to make superheroes wail on each other.  And the interactive environments let you do sweet things like pick up a car and throw it at your opponent.

Like most fighting games, I'm sure I'll be done with it for good in the next day or two.  But that's ok.

The awesome thing is that I got this game for free and I'm having fun with it.  It's a game I never would have picked up on my own, but I found it thanks to PS Plus.

I wish there were more ways to explore fun games for free.  I'm always looking for a new experience.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dragon Age Inquisition: Tactical Hack and Slash?


If I were playing this game on PC I would be tactical.  I would be pausing all the time to issue orders and micro-manage my characters.  I would basically be playing this the same way I played Dragon Age Origins.

But I picked it up on PS4.  It feels great to run into a battle swinging away.  I charge in, activate some abilities, destroy my enemies, and move on with my day.  It's quick and satisfying.

It's all because of the input device.  With a console controller in my hand it feels great to tear through enemies.  With a mouse and keyboard it's nice to take my time and plan out every move for every character.  It's amazing how much the input device can change the feel of a game.

I got a few hours into Dragon Age Inquisition and noticed something weird about normal difficultly.  It's not fun for either playstyle.  The enemies are too easy to stop and be tactical with my approach.  But they're slightly too hard to demolish without thinking.  I made the executive decision to stick with my no-holds-barred real-time battles so I turned the difficulty down to casual.

I used to think of casual difficultly as a bad thing.  But these days I don't have time to waste fighting battles over and over again.  I want an interesting world with an enthralling plot and great characters.  I've decided to not care too much about the combat in Dragon Age Inquisition, and I'm ok with that.  I'm in it for the rest of the experience.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Final Fantasy XIII: Baggage


I'm coming into Final Fantasy XIII with some baggage.  Way back when I started this blog in 2010 I wrote about Final Fantasy XIII as I was playing it for the first time.  It was in the third month of this blog's existence and I was still finding my way.

I'm going to replay it now in the context of The Final Fantasy Project but... it's interesting to take a look at what I originally thought of the game during my first playthrough.

My initial impressions were mixed but in my final impressions I ripped the game apart.  Apparently I was completely sick of it by the end.  After I had some time to cool down I wrote a follow-up post talking about a few redeeming features I enjoyed about the game, but even that article had some negatives in it.

So, that's where I'm coming from with this game.  You can look back at exactly how I felt during my first playthrough.

I'm really hoping that this time I enjoy it more.  Now I have the context of the entire series and I think I understand the story of FFXIII more than I did the first time.  We'll see what comes of it.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Bloggy XMAS Calendar



Syl of MMO Gypsy fame has organized a fantastic event this year!  It's the Bloggy XMAS Calendar!

It's based on the idea of an advent calendar and will feature posts from different bloggers every day until Christmas.  I'll be participating on my day, December 10th, but I wanted you to start checking it out since it's launching today.

Don't delay!  Check out this awesome homepage for the calendar!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Final Fantasy XII: Review


This has been hard to write for me.  I've spent over 50 hours with Final Fantasy XII and for most of that I felt like I didn't really "get" it.  I never connected with the story or the characters and that's definitely not a good thing.  I wanted the game to "click" after the first few hours so I could write some impressions... but it never really did.  So, I waited until I finished to write a full review.  Let's get to it.

The story is set on a grand scale.  The first half hour is a giant cutscene full of lots of politics and war.  The grand scale continues throughout the storyline of the game.  It ends up dwarfing the main cast of characters.  It's so grand that it feels removed from the actions of your characters most of the time.  The last few hours tie the political events to three of the six characters, but it takes way too long for that to finally happen.

Final Fantasy games always invent their own terms but this is the first Final Fantasy where it feels overdone.  If I remember correctly, this is a trend that carries through to Final Fantasy XIII too.  There are terms that are never directly explained but which are obviously important to the plot.  Magicite, Nethecite, Day-Affected Nethecite.  Not to mention the various and confusing names of different countries and rulers of those countries.  The characters seem very impressed by these terms but I didn't care for most of the game because they were never explained to me.  I eventually figured it out, but once again it took too long to get there.

The scale is grand, the stakes are high, but the main characters don't actually change or grow that much.  Final Fantasy XII does not have a character driven story.

The main character, Vaan, isn't actually the protagonist of the story.  He doesn't really do anything.  Things just sort of happen to him or around him.  He's never that important.  It's really disheartening to see this character that I have to use for the entire game be so unimportant to the plot.  The creators of Final Fantasy XII have even said that Basch and Ashe were originally the main characters and that Vaan and Penelo were added very late in development because they were afraid teenagers wouldn't be able to connect with the more mature characters in the game.  It's sad.  I think I would have liked this game much more if Basch or Ashe was the main character.


While the characters barely develop and the plot is grand and plodding at least the world is well done.  Final Fantasy XII is set in Ivalice which is one of the few worlds that actually gets used across a number of games.  The Final Fantasy Tactics series is all set in Ivalice as well as a non Final Fantasy game by the same developer, Vagrant Story.  The world has different species with complex interactions.  It has many regions, cities, empires, and political factions.  Although they aren't used to great effect in Final Fantasy XII, they are well realized.  It actually makes me really excited to get around to the Final Fantasy Tactics games again.  I would love to spend more time in Ivalice if it were used better as a setting (which it is in other games).

The way Ivalice is used in Final Fantasy XII is to create a large open world.  That sounds great when I write it down, but in fact, this game feels like a single-player MMO with all of the drawbacks of MMOs but none of the benefits of playing with other people.  Wandering the open world is novel at first but once you get some decent Gambits set up it becomes a complete grind.  And that trend continues for the rest of the game.


That's the main problem with the Gambit system.  If you're even semi-intelligent with your Gambit set-up the game ends up playing itself during battle.  It lets you program your characters to react in intelligent ways based on certain conditions.  Boss fights in this game became snack breaks for me.  My Gambits were solid and Bosses have a ton of health.  I would put my controller down, make a snack, and eat that snack while the battle played itself out.  I'm not lying, this is literally what I did for every boss in the last three fourths of the game.

While the Gambit system ends up playing itself, at least the License Board progression system is interesting for awhile.  Basically, characters gain License Points by killing enemies.  These can be spent to acquire Licenses for gear, magic, or abilities on the License Board.  You still need to purchase the gear, magic, or ability but to actually be able to use it you must have the License for it.  For the first half of the game it's really fun.  You have to figure out which way to grow each character and balance the different abilities and gear.


Unfortunately, in the second half of Final Fantasy XII everyone basically becomes a Red Mage.  If you're unfamiliar with the term, Red Mages in the Final Fantasy series can use magic and really good melee weapons and generally are able to use most of the armor in a game.  They are the jack of all trades in the Final Fantasy universe.  This is what happens once your characters progress far enough in the License Board.  Everyone knows every spell, every ability, and can equip every weapon, armor, and accessory.  At that point in the game the License Board becomes useless as a progression system.

The complexity of the Gambit and License Board systems adds up to a very slow start for this game.  The first three to six hours feel like you're still in a tutorial and don't have access to everything you need.  It's really frustrating.


But it's not just the first six hours that feel slow.  The pacing in Final Fantasy XII is bad throughout the whole game.  There are long sections of necessary grinding and spending time in the wilderness followed by super long info-dump cutscenes which often run longer than fifteen minutes.  Most of the time I could make a snack during a cutscene too.  They were that long and un-engaging.

I would be remiss to not mention the music in a Final Fantasy game.  Sadly, Nobuo Uematsu only composed the title theme for Final Fantasy XII and it shows.  The rest of the music is lackluster and unmemorable.  The music of Final Fantasy defined the series up to this point, but with the loss of Nobuo Uematsu the Final Fantasy series takes a serious blow in the music department.  I turned down the audio for most of the game and listened to podcasts instead.  I can't believe I did that with a Final Fantasy game, but the music just wasn't good.

So where do I sit with Final Fantasy XII?  It has tons of potential and it just doesn't live up to it.  I wanted this game to be so much more than it was.  It tries to do new and interesting things.  It has such high production values.  I thought it would be near the the top in my Final Fantasy Ranking... but it won't be.  I didn't enjoy most of my time with the game.  There is no way I would have finished it if it didn't have the Final Fantasy name attached.  The only way I'll ever replay this is if they do a complete remaster and fix the grind and the pacing.  Take that as you will.

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

Total Completion Time: 50 hrs 35 mins