Thursday, June 26, 2014

Half Minute Hero

A game that looks like an RPG but plays like a time management puzzle.  That's what you're in for if you pick up Half Minute Hero.

I feel as if I'm on the verge of starting Final Fantasy VIII.  I've had a good break since finishing FFVII, but I'm still playing around with other games in the meantime.  Half Minute Hero has been one of them.

Despite that title image up there, this is actually a pixel-fest when it comes to graphics.  It has an old-school RPG charm to it that initially drew me in.

The best part of Half Minute Hero is the premise behind the game.  You have 30 seconds to save the world.  Your character always starts at level 1 and levels up by defeating enemies.  There are ways to reset the clock while keeping your progress, but even so, one round of the game typically lasts less than 5 minutes.  Every level is like playing one bite sized RPG.

I picked it up on sale via PSN, but I know this game is out on most platforms.  It's an older game too, so it tends to be cheap.  Take a look at it if you're a RPG or puzzle game fan.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Final Fantasy VII Honest Trailer

I don't often embed videos on this blog, but I found this hilarious after just finishing Final Fantasy VII.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Evergreen Gaming

Once again I find myself between Final Fantasy games.  That means it's time for some evergreen games before I dive into the next entry in the series.  For me evergreen games are those that have self-contained play sessions and no real "end" to the game.

First up is Mario Kart 8.   Even though it's not much of a change from Mario Kart 7 it's a lot of fun and I'm enjoying my time with it.  The biggest improvements are HD graphics and better online play.  It's Mario Kart.  If you like Mario Kart you will love Mario Kart 8.  If you don't like Mario Kart you should skip it.  You basically know what you're getting.

Hearthstone has gotten a ton of my time.  Now that it's on iPad it's perfect to play while watching TV on the couch or laying in bed before falling asleep.  I love that the games usually run somewhere in the 5-15 minute range.  I know I can sit down and play without having to commit to long play sessions.  It's easily the best digital card game out there on the market and it has the customary Blizzard level of polish.  Once this comes out on smartphones I know it's going to get even more playtime from me.

Heroes of the Storm is another Blizzard game that has my attention.  I got into the Alpha for it last week and I'm enjoying the changes they've made to the traditional MOBA playstyle.  They've simplified parts of the genre that I hated.  There are no items to buy.  There is no micromanaging attacks against creeps.  There are no individual levels.  This means no one can ever mess up their build or get left behind as their teammates level up.  It encourages teamwork and experimenting with different hero setups.  Another thing I love is getting to pick my hero before queuing up.  No longer can you get complained at by 4 other people because they wanted you to pick something different during the hero select screen.  I've only had a couple days with it, but I really like Heros of the Storm so far.

And (kind of) lastly, is Attack of the Friday Monsters.  It's an exploration game set based around the idea of 60s/70s era Japenese monster shows.  It's weird.  I like it.  It's been mostly about exploring the world and interacting with other characters while slowly revealing more about them and the giant monsters that show up in the real world every Friday night.  I love the feeling of the town and the exploration.  There's a card mini-game tacked on too, but it's nothing special, the real star is the world they've created.

I've also played Super Mario 3D World, Luftrasers, and Mario Golf in the past few days but I don't have much new to say about them.  They're good and they're fun.  Maybe I'll dig into them more later.

Expect me to cruise along on these games for a week or two before I jump into Final Fantasy VIII.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Final Fantasy VII: Final Thoughts

I finished!  I had a lot of fun revisiting this game for the first time in more than ten years.  I'm glad I got to see it again and from a new viewpoint.  I also don't think I'll be replaying Final Fantasy VII again.  I don't see that happening in my future unless it gets a full remake.

I almost feel guilty.  I didn't enjoy Final Fantasy VII as much as I thought I would.  It's the game that got me into the Final Fantasy series.  It brought JRPGs to an entirely new level.  It paved the way with it's 3D graphics and Full Motion Videos.  It was groundbreaking... but it doesn't hold up that well.  Time has diminished it's accomplishments.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad game.  It's a GOOD game in fact.  The problem is that I'm revisiting it and nostalgia had blinded me to it's shortcomings.  This is still a fantastic Final Fantasy game.  Out of the seven that I've played in the course of this project it's still the best.  It's going at the top of my list for now.  It's just not as good as I remember.

It's also a game that I would never recommend to newcomers to the series.  It's not a good place to start.  There are too many things that could turn people away from the series forever.  Mostly it's game conventions that have been updated and streamlined over the years.  Going back to Final Fantasy VII feels a bit clunky.

My impressions were so-so up through the beginning of disc 2 (of 3).  The game really picks up after that.  There are big set pieces and really cool action sequences.  Escaping Junon, the confrontation at under the city of the ancients, parachuting into Midgar, the final battle with Sephiroth.  They're all really good.  The second half of disc 2 and all of disc 3 had me hooked.  Once I hit that point I spent every spare gaming moment on pushing forward to the end.  I can definitely say the last fourth of the game is excellent.

I also enjoyed the character specific sidequests for Yuffie and Vincent.  They're both fairly short, but they help flesh out the characters a little bit.  I wish the game had more character specific activities and sidequests for the other characters, but it doesn't.  Character specific sidequests are typically a highlight for me.  I hope the next couple games keep expanding on this.

I did a bunch of optional activities and exploration.  I collected a handful of ultimate weapons and final limit breaks.  I ended up having a lot of fun exploring the world while improving my characters.  I never had to grind, although I explored a lot so my characters were decently leveled.

Final Fantasy VII is a classic.  It was groundbreaking at the time it was released.  It redefined the genre.  It's a good game.  Even though it didn't live up to my memories it's still going at the top of my rankings.  But, like I said earlier, it would take a remake or remaster of this game to get me to play it again.

Final Fantasy Ranking
1. VII
2. VI
3. IV
4. V
5. II
6. I
7. III

Total Completion Time:
30 hrs 27 mins

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Final Fantasy VII: Optional Characters

Let's talk about Yuffie and Vincent, the optional characters in Final Fantasy VII.  I decided to use Yuffie as part of my core team in this playthrough.  I found her early and she's been in my party as much as possible since then.  I've never used her this much before and it's interesting to see the dialog she adds to scenes.  I really like her.

It often feels like she's outside the main story, but in an interesting way.  She has off-handed comments about the choices characters are making.  Although she doesn't directly break the fourth wall I feel myself relating to her because of these asides.

Her motivations aren't as complicated as the other characters, and it makes her easy to like.  She doesn't have angst or conflicting memories and emotions.  She wants Materia and she'll do whatever she needs to do to get it.  Maybe I just like her because I'm also on the hunt for Materia and I want to collect it all!  She's also the closest thing to a ninja in the FFVII universe, so that's cool.

On the other hand, Vincent is a little too serious for me.  He's very brooding and doesn't have a lighthearted bone in his body.  His story is more directly related to the main story than Yuffie's is, so he definitely has to be more serious.  I just didn't find him as enjoyable to have in my main party.  He gets to wait on the sidelines.

There are a few times that specific characters need to be in the party for quests.  Whenever that isn't the case my main party is now Cloud, Tifa, and Yuffie.  I'm probably going to keep it that way until the end of the game.

I'm now sitting at 20 hours of play time and I'm on disc 2 out of 3.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Final Fantasy VII: Open Worlds and Shining Systems

I got out of Midgar and took a metaphorical breath of fresh air.  Finally!  The open world lay before me and I was going to explore it.  And explore it I have.

Compared to the last time I posted I'm having so much more fun with Final Fantasy VII.  I love the feel of an open world to explore in a JRPG.  It's a different feeling from an open world game from the west like GTA, Assassin's Creed, or Skyrim.  It's more abstracted and not as detailed, but it has it's unique charm.

I've been having fun wandering the overworld map and battling random enemies.  I've actually started hunting for enemy skills to acquire, which is something I don't typically do in Final Fantasy games.  Blue magic typically seems boring to me, but I'm interested since it's contained in a Materia this time.  I haven't really been grinding so much as exploring more than I strictly need to.  I just want to take in the world and poke at it's boundaries.

I also feel like this gives the story a better pace.  No longer am I constantly getting exposition info dumps from the characters.  The story is growing more organically and the overworld portions break it up nicely.

The most fun I've had so far is really getting a chance to play with the battle/materia system.  The battle system is a fairly standard ATB system from other Final Fantasy games.  Three characters are in your party and they each get to take an action when their ATB meter fills up.  They also have Limit Breaks, which are super powerful abilities that charge up each time the character takes damage.

In the open world, with random battles, there's some room to experiment and the Materia system starts to shine.

Materia is the unique aspect of FFVII.  Attack, Defend, and Item are always available to each character.  To use any other ability or Magic that character needs to equip Materia.  Each weapon and piece of armor comes with a number of slots that will hold Materia for that character.  Materia comes in the form of spheres that each have a unique ability.  For example, each spell type is its own Materia.  If you equip Lightning Materia on Cloud he will be able to cast the magic spell Bolt.  If that Materia goes through enough battles it will gain experience and level up.  At that point Cloud will be able to cast Bolt and also Bolt2, a powered up version of the first spell.

The interesting part of Materia is that it's independent of characters.  I can level up a set of Materia on Cloud and then move it all to Tifa and she will have the exact same skillset and abilities that he used to have.  It makes for a lot of customization options.  It also encourages playing around with different set ups since you don't have to permanently commit Materia to one person.

I've been switching Materia and characters a lot up to this point.  I'm not sure who my core team is going to be yet.  Cloud is obvious.  I'm leaning toward Tifa as my second.  In past playthroughs I've used Barret as my third, but he's not as appealing to me this time around.  Maybe I'll try one of the optional characters in that spot because I never have before.

Overall my opinion is much improved over my first post.  I don't know when I'll chime in next, but I'll definitely have more thoughts on FFVII for you later.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Final Fantasy VII Initial Impressions: Midgar

I'm currently about 8 hours into my playthrough of Final Fantasy VII and my feelings are mixed.  This is the third time I've played this game, and it will be the second time I've played it all the way to the end.  The last time I played was over ten years ago on the original Playstation.  This time I'm playing that same version, but through the PS1 classic option on my Playstation Vita.  I still have memories of all the major characters and plot points, but the nitty gritty details are slowly coming back to me as I play.

My first reaction with the intro sequence was, "Wow! Here we go!"  I love the very beginning of the game where Cloud leaps off a train and charges directly into a raid on a Mako reactor.  What a way to start!  Get the player engaged with no downtime or preamble.  This is done extremely well.

My second reaction, after the Mako reactor raid, was one of surprised frustration.  I had forgotten how linear and scripted Midgar is.  Midgar, for those who don't know, is the megacity in the world of FFVII and it's where you spend the first portion of the game.  There is basically only one way forward, it's explicitly spelled out, and it's full of exposition.  My god, the exposition.  It's a huge info dump early in the game and it definitely hurts the pacing.

Very quickly I started looking forward to leaving Midgar and getting to the open world.  Unfortunately, I forgot just how long Midgar takes to play through.  It's easily the first 6 hours of the game.  And that's for someone who has played through it before and knows what to do.

Now don't get me wrong, Midgar is an interesting setting.  The energy-sucking megacity is imposing and impressive.  The set pieces and backgrounds are beautiful and still hold up today.  They are extremely detailed because the game has a fixed camera position, which means each background can be hand drawn with great precision.  It looks great!  But, essentially, it's a straight path.  It actually made me think of the endless corridors of FFXIII even though it wasn't quite that linear.

My other initial letdown was with the character models.  In my mind's eye, with nostalgia in full-force, the characters were expressive and unique.  In reality, they are blocky polygons with hooves for hands.  You can barely see their eyes most of the time, much less their facial expressions.  I know there are some mods out for the PC version that helps this out but since I'm playing the PS1 classic version on my Vita it doesn't help me.

So, what's to like?  The characters are deeper and more developed than any other Final Fantasy game up to this point.  The battle system and materia system are interesting, but at this point in the game they haven't had quite enough time to become fun.  The set-pieces and setting are well done and memorable.  The story is epic in scope.

At 8 hours in I still feel like I'm just getting to some of the main story hooks.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just a change from previous games.

My initial impressions with FFVII weren't great.  This is basically how I felt for the first 6 hours of the game.  But now I'm a few hours past Midgar and I'm having a lot more fun with the game.  Expect more thoughts on that in the next post, once I've had more time to explore the open world.