Saturday, January 29, 2011

Final Fantasy I First Impressions

It's funny to think that a cutting edge game released just after I was born can now fit in the palm of my hand.  The future is truly amazing.  The real question is, has the game aged well?

Overall the answer is yes.  This is Final Fantasy without the frills and advancements of the modern gaming scene, but that's not a bad thing.  There are random battles, no side quests, and just enough story to keep the adventure going.

At the start of the game I got to create my own party, something fairly novel for a Final Fantasy game.  I think every other Final Fantasy has set names and ability paths for characters.  I wanted the traditional Final Fantasy experience so I made my party with a Warrior, Thief, White Mage, and Black Mage.  After a few minutes with the character creator the adventure of Bashy, Stealy, Healy, and Blasty began.  I'm awesome at naming, I know.

There is no hand-holding tutorial to speak of.  There are a few NPCs with advice inside the first inn, but their information is easily missed and not actually that helpful.  For the most part the game was just thrown at me and I had to figure it out.  I kind of liked it this way.  The battle system isn't confusing to the point where I actually needed a step-by-step walkthrough anyway.

Nothing breaks from typical RPG conventions in Final Fantasy I.  No doubt this is because Final Fantasy I was the game to pioneer many of these conventions.  It's interesting playing the game that helped found an entire genre.  Character classes, health, mana, magic, attacks, equipment slots, turn based battles, levels, stats, different modes of transportation, exploration, dungeons, and an overworld map are all present.

The music is wonderful.  Only so much could be done with music in the 8-bit era, but Nobuo Uematsu is a fantastic composer that always seems to get the most out of whatever the game system can provide.  He was the composer for all Final Fantasy games up to Final Fantasy X.  His compositions from the Final Fantasy series have been burned into the collective memory of RPG veterans like myself.  In my mind he's the best composer to ever be a part of the gaming world.

I'm finding the magic system to be intriguing.  At every magic level there are four possible spells to purchase but only three slots to fill.  I usually want all four spells, so I have to make an interesting choice when deciding which to buy.  And isn't that what games are all about, interesting choices?

I'm playing the ipod touch/iphone version of Final Fantasy I and that comes with some benefits.  Not only is it portable but I have to say I love the graphics.  The blocky 8-bit sprites are gone.  In their place are crisp and detailed sprites that still retain the feel of the original artwork.  The typical battle menu that needs to be arrowed through is gone because the ipod is a touch sensitive device.  All of the battle options (Attack, Magic, Defend, Item, Equip, and Flee) are given space in a touch sensitive hotbar at the bottom of the screen.  It's a good design choice for the platform which makes selecting actions easy.

My general impression of Final Fantasy so far is that it's a "typical" RPG but it's put together extremely well and is still fun to play after 24 years.  It's actually more fun than a lot of RPGs I've tried lately.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Final Fantasy Project

 Image Credit Conclave27

Thinking about old school RPGs reminded me of something I've always wanted to do.  I want to be able to legitimately say I have beaten every Final Fantasy game.  It's time for me to start towards that goal.

First of all I'd like to lay down some ground rules.  I'm only going to count the "main" Final Fantasy series.  That means Final Fantasy I through XIII count but not Tactics, X-2, Chocobo Dungeon, or that sort of thing.  I also don't count the MMO Final Fantasy games which are XI and XIV.  I tried them and hated them.  They seem more like a gimmick than an actual attempt at a Final Fantasy game.  With these rules I have 12 Final Fantasy games to beat.

As of today I've already beaten Final Fantasy VII and everything above it.  That brings the number of games I have to beat down to 6.  That's a lot of hours, but not totally unmanageable especially because I don't intend to play them all back to back.  This is a long term goal for me, but it is something I truly want to do.

I started playing Final Fantasy I this week and am really enjoying it.  Expect to see some impressions soon.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Gaming Industry Lull

Usually there's a period of time after Christmas when new releases take a break.  It generally doesn't last long, but it gives everyone a chance to enjoy their brand new Christmas games and dig into their backlog.  This year things are looking a little different.

While it may be a fluke, I think the problem is World of Warcraft.  Specifically the new Cataclysm expansion that launched in early December.  It seems like everyone is playing it, new players and old alike.  WoW is sucking in the gaming community and keeping it captive.

It even distracted me from other games for the last month or so, as I'm sure you could tell from my posts.  I'm basically done with the expansion at this point.  I'm just waiting for my subscription to expire.

Since I've mentally checked out of the World of Warcraft and started looking for other games to play I started noticing the very empty release schedule.  Apparently everyone is waiting until March to launch their high profile games and hardware.

But who can really blame them?  No one wants to compete against the World of Warcraft.  For now I'm just going to play my old standbys.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

World Builder

I don't usually do a post devoted entirely to one video, but this one blew me away.  It's a short (10 min) film about virtual world building.  Watch it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Nintendo 3DS News

I was getting pretty pumped for the 3DS launch in the Spring, but new announcements just landed and took some of the wind of out my sails.  In a nutshell:
  • The 3DS releases March 27th in North America
  • It will cost $250
  • It acts as a pedometer which earns "Game Coins" for steps
  • About 30 games in the "launch window" have been announced
A few things worry me about this particular news release.  First, $250 is a lot of money for a handheld system ($50 and I can buy a PS3). Second, the term "launch window" means not all the games will be out on day 1. Third, the launch games don't look all that exciting.

If I buy a video game system it's so I can play games on it.  Looking at the list of launch window games I'm only interested in 2, Pilot Wings Resort and Street Fighter IV 3D.  Interested, but probably not enough to buy either game.  Further down the list are the first-party (Nintendo) games in the works which include a new Mario Kart, Paper Mario, StarFox 64 3D, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D.  If those all came out on day one I would be a thousand times more interested.

Looking at the launch lineup I'm positive I won't buy a 3DS on launch day.  At this rate it looks like the 3DS might be a good Christmas present for me next year.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

That Old School RPG Itch

After recently seeing Video Games Live with my brother I've had a crazy itch to play an old school RPG.  I want to play something that I look back on with fond memories or have heard great things about.  I'd really like to play something with good music too.

I know it's sort of ironic because one of the reasons I'm bored of WoW is the grind.  The difference in my mind is that old school RPGs reward grind with story where WoW rewards grind with gear.  I absolutely love a good story and that makes the overall feel of the game different.

Final Fantasy is tempting because I've always loved FFVII, FFVIII, and FFIX.  They are my top 3 Final Fantasy games ever.  I've heard fantastic reviews of FFVI but have never actually played it, so that's definitely an option.  Two games in my backlog are copies of FFIII and FFVI to play on my DS.  FFVI is actually GBA but it'll play on the DS anyway.  A few months ago I also impulse bought FFI and FFII on my ipod touch.  That's a lot of Final Fantasy to choose from.

 One of the most memorable RPGs I've ever played.

The other option, which I'm really leaning toward, is Chrono Cross.  Chrono Cross is right up there with FFVII for my favorite video game music of all time.  Just listen to some of the musical pieces in Chrono Cross and you'll be impressed.  I've only played through Chrono Cross once, but that music is forever locked in my mind, it's fantastic.  I don't particularly want to dig out my copy (somewhere deep in my parent's basement) or my old PS1 (also somewhere in said basement).  I wouldn't feel bad grabbing the ROM and playing it on my computer with an Xbox 360 controller because I've already purchased the game in the past.

Despite all these choices I think I'm going to end up buying a copy of Chrono Trigger for the DS.  It's only $15 on Amazon because the DS version released in 2008.  It's a game that I hear about constantly but I've never played more then a few minutes.  It might deserve my attention since it's the predecessor of Chrono Cross and is supposedly one of Squaresoft's best games ever.

So readers, are there any other good old school RPGs out there that are worth my time to investigate?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Endgame Time Commitment

Heroics in WoW take too long.  I love the challenge, I love the difficulty, but I hate the time commitment it takes to run 5-man dungeons.  I need 2+ hours to successfully clear a heroic dungeon, but that's hard to come by when you're a parent, work for a living, and have WoW crash constantly.  2 hours is a lot of time to ask of someone who plays casually.

I can feel my interest in the game waning, and the time associated with endgame content is a big reason.  I want to be able to jump online and have an exciting adventure in 20-40 minutes.  That's not an unreasonable request.  I can get exactly that from games like League of Legends and Team Fortress 2.  At the moment in WoW it takes around 40 minutes in the queue as a DPS and then 2+ hours to clear a heroic.  Even when I run with guildies and have no queue wait time I still usually end up leaving before we complete the dungeon.

I feel I'm in a weird spot.  I want the difficulty to remain high, but I don't want heroic dungeons to take so long.  Besides completely getting rid of trash mobs I don't know how they could solve this problem.  Maybe I'll be happy when they nerf the bosses and make runs quicker, but honestly I'll probably be unsubscribed by that point.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Video Game Culture in Schools

This is an amazing TED talk about the way schools (and teachers) have failed to engage with gamer kids and how it can change their outlook on education.  It mainly applies to boys, but I think that all gamers can take something from this.

Monday, January 10, 2011

World of Warcraft Crashing

I've been writing about my thoughts and impressions from Cataclysm a lot.  What I haven't been writing about are the constant black screen crashes that WoW has been giving me.

When I play WoW this is what my typical night looks like.  Start WoW, play until WoW glitches my computer, hard restart because I have no other option, play WoW again until crash, hard restart, give up, do another activity.  The whole process usually takes less then 2 hours.  A few nights I've gotten lucky and gone for 3+ hours without the glitch, but that's rare.

I know it's not a hardware defect.  I have a great system that is extreme overkill for a game like WoW.  I don't have glitches in any other games that I play which are more graphically intense either.  It has to be the way WoW is interacting with my graphics card or graphics drivers.  It seems like a lot of people posting with the problem have a 200 series Nvidia graphics card.  The sad part is WoW works fine on my crappy laptop, but I'm not going to play on that at home when I have an awesome desktop (which plays other games perfectly).

I didn't want to mention it until now because I thought tech support would help me out.  After scouring the forums and e-mailing blizzard tech support I'm basically at the point where they've given up on my issue.

If this gets fixed in a patch soon I'll keep playing, but I'm really sick of it.  I'm about ready to give up on the game, not because of the gameplay, but because it continually crashes my system.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

No Melee Love

 An example of Recount, a typical damage meter.

I've been running a lot of dungeons and heroics in WoW with my main, which is a melee class.  Last week Spinks pointed out how much harder it is to be a melee DPS in Cataclysm compared to ranged.  I had never really thought about it before, so I started paying attention.

I was surprised by how we get royally screwed.  Trying to stay behind enemies while the tank keeps moving them, paying attention to boss AOE abilities, dodging lots of bad stuff that shows up on the ground, having to run around to adds when they spawn, dodging AOE melee attacks from trash, and keeping up my damage ability rotation at the same time.  I always just assumed these things were part of the job as DPS, but then I started looking at the ranged guys and realized they don't have to deal with most of it.  They just stand back and watch the show while hitting the same sequence of buttons over and over.

I'm not giving up my character or changing my spec, but tales like this make my interest in raiding extremely low.  I wasn't that excited about raiding in the first place but now I'm probably not even going to try it in this expansion.

On a positive note, I'm really enjoying tanking in Cataclysm.  It's the most fun thing for me to do in WoW at the moment.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Favorite Reading of 2010

I just saw Syp do a post on his top 10 books of 2010 and thought I would do something similar.  Not to steal his thunder, but just because I love to read and I don't write about it on this blog as much as I would like to.  So here are my favorite books that I read in the past year.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi
An amazing take on space marines and unlike most of the science fiction I've read before.  Reading this and then immediately going back to read Starship Troopers (one of my Heinlein favorites) showed me how the same topic can be covered in completely different ways.  Scalzi is one of my new favorites and his sarcasm keeps me coming back for more.

The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks
This gritty take on an assassin's world is simply amazing.  Parts of The Night Angel Trilogy are brutal and actually made me cringe or have to take a break from reading which is a new experience for me.  The lows experienced by the characters and the harsh realities that happen to them make the highs that much better.  I had never heard of Brent Weeks before reading this series but he now holds a treasured place on my bookshelf.

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
A fabulous start to a new series by the same authors as The Night Angel Trilogy.  I love the magic system the author introduces and I'm excited to see where it leads in the next book.

Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
The pacing in the Mistborn Trilogy is sometimes a little bit off but the world building that Sanderson does is phenomenal.  The Mistborn Trilogy will do a lot for you if you're tired of cliche fantasy worlds so often found in the genre.

Changes by Jim Butcher
Butcher has fast become my favorite author of all time.  Changes is the latest entry in The Dresden Files series and by the end of the book almost everything I had come to expect from the series had been turned on it's head.  Pick this up if you're a Dresden fan. 

If you've never heard of The Dresden Files I highly endorse it and would suggest starting with the first book, Storm Front.  The entire series is about a wizard in modern day Chicago dealing with the paranormal in a world where people no longer believe in it.  As a private investigator and police consultant he gets ample opportunity to use his abilities as a wizard, but that's just a part of who he is, it doesn't necessarily define him.  I really enjoy the modern setting and the characters that Butcher brings to life.

Fate of the Jedi Series
All geeks know of Star Wars but one of my secrets is that I've read almost every Star Wars book written.  I guess it's not a secret now that it's on my blog, but so be it.  Anyway, Fate of the Jedi is the latest series in the Star Wars universe and I've had a great time reading it.  It deals with the Jedi trying to find a place for themselves in a galaxy that doesn't really want them.  Luke Skywalker takes a break from being head of the order and travels the galaxy with his son while seeking out new ways of looking at the force.  The series starts with Outcast and different books in the series are written by different authors.

Hopefully I've inspired you to read something you've never heard of before.  I always like getting people hooked on books.  Drop me a line in the comments if you have any favorite books that you think I should check out.