Q:Sorry about my possibly late response. I actually have not played the full game yet however I have been a thorough fan and was on top of all news as it was released. I also watched streams of the full game (I spoiled sooo much haha) and learned a lot of things that will answer most of your concerns :) So I say yeah sit back and enjoy the ride. You may find a couple things you dont like but this game wraps up the trilogy very nicely and I mean no game is absolutely perfect anyways :D
Hm. I’ve been avoiding spoilers plot, so my view of the full game is limited. I’ll give it a shot. Thanks for your advice.
Q:You can switch the other garbs into your main three. I think down the bottom it just says press triangle or something to swap one of your other ones to the ones you have set into your Main three.
1/25: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Demo, and Why I’ve Had It up To Here
(Note: This reaction may be a bit harsh, but it was my honest, raw reaction after playing this demo.)
I liked Final Fantasy XIII, I did. But I really, really, really disliked Final Fantasy XIII-2. Playing that sequel was like playing a totally different series that included the same characters: it didn’t continue the story of FFXIII, it put you in the shoes of new characters instead of the main characters we spent hours and hours and hours getting to know in the first game, and the time travel mechanic didn’t relate to anything we’d seen in the previous game. It really was its own game, it just happened to take place in the same general world with some of the same people in it. (I wrote out my thoughts on FFXIII here, and some more here.)
And the ending of XIII-2 didn’t seem to resolve anything, and it ended on a “to be continued.” Infuriating. I did like Yeul, though I don’t think they did enough with her. (I complained about FFXIII-2 here.)
Now there’s Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Yup, it is certainly not “Final Fantasy XIII-3,” because that would imply that the plot would make sense when going into the game after playing XIII-2. Judging by the demo, LR:FFXIII is very much its own game as well. The demo picks up at a place that feels fairly far in: Lightning gets into an altercation with Snow and has to chase him while fighting random battles along the way.
Things I Didn’t Like:
- This is a poor place to start a demo. I have no idea what time period this takes place in. Apparently, Snow has been alive for centuries (what?). I assume the full game will explain, but why throw something like that into the demo and not explain it? It doesn’t compel me to play the game to find out more, it just annoys me for raising a very big question and not even hinting at an answer.
- Hey, JRPG developers: it’s 2014. Can we please stop with the in-battle one-liners that repeat when you attack?
- The dialog is hokey (and that goes for all three games). A lot of what’s said out loud by the characters would probably be okay when read in a speech bubble/text box, but when spoken out loud it sounds lame and hokey and awkward, like a poorly written anime or live-action comic book movie.
- People referring to there being “too much chaos” in an area (dark energy that clouds a room) sounds awkward.
- Talking over a radio to Hope about how Snow has lost his hope is awkward.
- Why are Lightning and Hope and Snow talking to each other like they haven’t known each other for two 30+ hour games?
- Does Lightning need to pose at the end of every single battle? It interrupts the flow of the game. Also, why is Lightning flipping her hair at the end of a battle when in the black mage outfit? This fundamentally goes against her character, which has been developed as being stoic, guarded, dignified, and never girlie.
- Job classes are called “schematas.” Did we need a fancy name for job classes? Did we need a term that differs from the previous two games in the series (it was previously called a “paradigm”).
- This series does a lot of explaining about how things work within its world, so I really hope the full game explains how Lightning can switch clothing on the fly. This is under the “didn’t like” list because I somehow doubt they do, other than explaining it away with “Lightning is a goddess.”
- Lightning is a goddess, referred to as “the Savior,” and serves God.
No, not a mythical god-like being like Cosmos (see Final Fantasy Dissidia), but God God. You know, the one from the Bible and whatnot.*Edit: I’ve been told that it’s made more clear in the full game that the god being referred to is not what I thought, and is indeed mythical.*
- The third entry in a series should not introduce a new battle system; it should improve on the system that appeared in the previous two games. It took me about 6 battles before I realized that the multiple meters on the screen were actually the ATB meters that were unique to each job class I could switch to on the fly, and were not used by all job classes. For example, the blue meter only shows how many for black mage actions you can take, but the yellow meter shows how many savior actions you can take, and they refill over time, even if you’re not using that job class. This was not explained well in the demo.
- The menus feel heavy and overcomplicated, especially since the demo does not give you much information.
- The demo menu lists your three job classes that you can switch between during battle, and also three sub-classes. But there’s no explanation as to how to use the sub-classes, or what they’re for. I wanted to be a red mage, dammit!
- The stagger system has changed since the previous two games, just enough that I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing. This is especially disappointing since I was a pro at the previous stagger system.
- Guarding an attack depletes some of the ATB gauge, so if you’ve attacked too much with one schemata, you won’t be able to guard. I can see this becoming not only annoying, but very dangerous and frustrating during an important battle.
Things I Did Like:
- The opening cinematic reminded me of the opening cinematic of Final Fantasy VII, in which the camera pans over the city and zooms in onto the people.
- Being able to run outside of battle helps keep the fast pace of the game. Attacking an enemy in the field in order to gain a pre-emptive bonus.
- The new battle system is OK, I guess. I like being able to move around during battle (though the Tales series does this much better), and it’s satisfying to have your attacks happen live.
- I still like Lightning. I hope the whole goddess stuff is fully explained in the full game.
- The graphics look nice enough.
But let’s get real for a moment: There are 13 days until the end of the world, and Lightning has to stop it. Psh, come on, guys: Link managed to do it in only 3 (see Majora’s Mask)! Again, these are just my thoughts on the demo. The full game may very well address some of my annoyances.
1/23: Steam In-Home Streaming
I finally made it into the Steam In-Home Streaming beta yesterday. The setup was easy: the Steam beta client autoupdated and now has an “In-Home Streaming” menu within the settings menu. To start streaming, you have to set your host computer to Big Picture mode, and then open Big Picture mode on your receiving computer.
i5 quad-core processor (overclocked to 4 ghz)
8 gb of RAM
AMD 7870 graphics card
MacBook 4,1 (OS X Lion)
2.1 ghz Core 2 Duo
2 gb RAM
Intel GMA X3100 using 144 MB RAM
I attached an ethernet cable to the MacBook, though it didn’t seem to make a difference (maybe because I didn’t turn off my airport card?). I attached my PS3 controller to the MacBook’s Bluetooth, and that worked fine.
Overall, it worked, though it was a bit laggy. I was able to stream Skyrim on high graphics to the Macbook, but the framerate was low and there was a minor input lag. I might have been able to improve the stream by lowering the graphics level of *Skyrim*, but I haven’t tried this yet. I did have to make sure the game’s resolution was set to that of my MacBook’s monitor. Before I did, the game wouldn’t run at all.
Rayman Origins was actually slower than Skyrim, somehow. I’d be surprised if it was running higher than 15 fps. It was pretty difficult to play.
Guacameleé ran OK, but the framerate dipped often, probably to 20-25 fps (at a guess). It was playable.
The end-goal of streaming to my MacBook would be to connect the MacBook to my 51” TV, making playing Steam games on my TV less of a hassle than having to move my PC back and forth between the living room and my study and reconnect all the cables. Unfortunately, after I’d set up the stream to the MacBook, I realized I didn’t have the Mini Display Port to HDMI adapter I would need for the TV, so that experiment will have to wait.
I have to figure out what it is that is causing the slowdown. My guess is it’s a combination of the low amount of RAM and processing power (or is it the video card RAM?). I’ll have to experiment more to determine if In-Home Streaming using my current equipment makes sense for me.
1/9/14: Setting Up a Wii U, & Wind Waker HD
With the help of gift cards I’d received as holiday gifts, my last major purchase of 2013 was a Wii U. This wasn’t an impulse buy: I had much of the price already covered and had been considering buying a Wii U since its release. (I’ve believed in the console from the beginning but other expenses kept pulling me further away from the purchase.)
It was “off-TV” play that appealed most (being able to play the game on the GamePad only, away from the TV), combined with the fact it will play the Nintendo franchises I love as well as many of the third-party games I would typically buy for my PS3 (with off-screen play included on many Of those titles). I could have simply purchased a Playstation Vita for (some) cross-save compatibility with my PS3, or a Vita & a PS4 for off-screen play via the Vita, however, a Vita + PS3 meant not having access to Nintendo games and GamePad integration (which some Wii U games use very well), and a Vita + PS4 meant the same thing with the added problem of having to pay a lot more money that I’m not yet ready to spend. So I went with the Wii U, and I’m happy with that decision so far.
I bought the Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD Wii U bundle. Wind Waker comes as a digital download, and I was worried the download time would be too much of a delay in my being able to actually play a game on the system, but it downloaded surprisingly quickly—especially when compared to a Playstation Network download. This is partly due to the size of the game (2+ gb, as opposed to PSN’s approximately 5–20 gb full games) and Nintendo’s network (which has less active users at the moment). I didn’t know it yet, but I could have downloaded it with the system off. Instead, I left the download status bar screen on the Wii U GamePad and checked on it here and there until it was done. Had I shut the system off, what’s normally a red “off” light would have been yellow to indicate it was downloading or updating in the background.
I should backtrack, though; before I downloaded Wind Waker I had to go through the mandatory new console setup: this included putting in my wifi network password, setting up a Mii to go with my user login, and doing a system update before it was allowed to go online. (In retrospect, I like that last bit since it ensures you are fully updated before you do anything besides play a disc-based game. This is good because early instances of people transferring their Wii data to their Wii U caused some problems—sometimes irreversible—and being fully updated ensures that whatever bug fixes that are available are also fixed on your system.) I was able to transfer my Mii from my 3DS (though you could always create a temporary Mii and link a different Mii to your account later) and, after the system update, link my account to the NintendoID I had recently created for my 3DS.
It was all pretty easy.
The GamePad controller turned out to be much more comfortable than I’d imagined. It’s lighter than an iPad (probably because the actual processing power is happening on the console itself), has a rechargeable battery (something the Wii never included on controllers by default), and functions much the way you would expect an iPad Mini with a controller attachment to function. In many ways it feels like an enhanced DS, and in my opinion, that’s why it works. It’s a way of playing—moving your attention between two screens—that many current Nintendo fans are familiar with via the DS and 3DS, so bringing that same idea to a more powerful at-home console just makes sense. Plus, the ability to send many games to the GamePad screen so you can play in another room, away from the TV, is a sweet enhancement. But I digress.
You can add friends to your friends list, post screenshots to Miiverse (Nintendo’s GameFAQS-lite-style per-game forum), access an Opera-based browser that moves pretty quickly, and visit the eShop all via the home screen. (For those who have never used a Wii U or 3DS: the home screen is a system menu that suspends the game you’re playing and allows you to quit out of it or access certain other apps that can run at the same time.)
And all this was fine and expected—I’d done my research; I’d used a friend’s system a couple of times. But it wasn’t until I loaded Wind Waker HD that I realized just how much I’m going to enjoy the Wii U. I’d played Wind Waker on GameCube, and it became one of my top Zelda games, but I’d never replayed it. The game is the right balance of story, humor, and exploration, and the HD version improves on it: it looks incredible, and the menus have been relegated to the GamePad screen so you don’t have to pause and cycle through the once-clunky menus to find the item or song notes you want to play. You can still pause to check those things (and you need to if you’re playing on the GamePad instead of the TV), but you can also switch items on the fly or leave your map open for an easy glance down to the GamePad if you need to get your bearings. You can also aim your items using the accelerometer in the GamePad—much like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword allowed—though if you don’t orient the GamePad properly before selecting the item, your aim can get massively screwy.
I won’t go into detail about the game’s charm, vivid color scheme, and once-controversial art design—it’s all been talked about to death—but I will say that the game is even better than I remember, and I’m glad Nintendo brought the game back into circulation for players who have never experienced it.
I also played a few demos: ZombiU makes good use of the GamePad by integrating it as a device your character also has. It includes a live, digital map, lets you organize your inventory, and you can hold it up and move it around to scan the in-game environment. The Sonic Lost World demo was kind of fun, but it mostly felt like a stiffer Super Mario Galaxy. The GamePad integration seemed minimal from what the demo showed, though it does let you play off-screen and your progress carries over to the main game (I love when demos work that way).
All in all, I’m happy with my Wii U purchase and I can’t wait to play highly rated games on it like Super Mario 3D World, New Super Mario Bros U, Pikmin 3, Rayman Legends, The Wonderful 101, and maybe Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (I haven’t decided which system to get it on). I’m excited for the gaming that lies ahead.
11/14: Constants and Variables
Wednesday was all Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea (Episode 1)—but not without trouble. I sat down to play on Steam in Big Picture mode on my TV, and found that the game opened in the background, so I had to use my keyboard to switch to the game; the purpose of Big Picture is defeated if you can’t use a controller the whole way through. (I can’t remember this happening before getting the DLC, but I can’t say for sure.) Fine, I switched, and I got into the game.
Elizabeth walks into Booker’s office in Rapture and starts talking about a missing girl. The other room can’t be interacted with here, which is disappointing given the importance the main plot gave that room.
But came a major problem: when I stepped outside of Booker’s office and into the Rapture hallways and immediately tried to take a screenshot, the game froze. And my PC froze. And after hitting several button combinations, my PC rebooted itself.
When it booted back up (I had it set to automatically skip the Windows 8 Start screen and load Steam Big Picture mode at startup since it was connected to my TV), Steam started updating—and then my PC rebooted again in the middle of the update. My wife heard a lot of cursing coming out of my face and instinctively shook her head at Windows. The game started me from the beginnig, and I lost my precious 5 minutes of play time on top of all the time lost to crashes and reboots. But it seemed to be the game rather than Windows, because 40 minutes in, when I reached the next loading screen, the TV turned into a block of bright red and my PC rebooted itself again. I lost about 10 minutes of progress. (I’d like to note that I never had crashes happen when I played the main story.)
The game seemed OK once I set Steam to not boot up on startup, but that could be a coincidence.
Technical issues aside, I really enjoyed exploring Rapture with Elizabeth and Booker. The characters and voice actors have such great chemistry, and everything looked so good—I took a lot of screenshots out of awe (see below). The citizens were believable, chatting about Fontaine and Andrew Ryan and philosophy, and generally acting like people hanging out in a public area. There were little callbacks to the main game, and many elements and references to Bioshock 1 that I’d forgotten about. I spent so much time just observing (and taking in-game photos).
And I love Elizabeth’s character here. She’s just the right balance of knowledgeable and unknowledgeable, with some mysteriousness thrown in.
And yes, she was wearing the same choker I selected for her in Bioshock: Infinite proper.
It’s hard to say much more without spoiling the story, so I’d better stop here. I didn’t have a problem with its length: it took me about 3 hours (with medium-light exploration). It frames a story from beginning to end, and I’m not sure more gameplay time would have served it any better. I’m excited to see what Episode 2 holds.
I leave you with some “in-game photography” I took.
The Mini Boss Diaries, October
It’s hard enough to balance a full-time job and a time-consuming hobby, but when that time-consuming hobby is gaming—an activity that has a predetermined minimum amount of time that can be put in per game—even having fun can get tiring.
I previously tried to balance working and gaming and writing full-length reviews of what I completed. The problem, though, is that my game-completion rate is currently much slower than it ever was: I used to beat 60-hour Final Fantasy games in two weeks or less, but as an adult, I’m lucky to see the ending of a 10-hour Ratchet and Clank game in that same amount of time.
So, rather than continuing to very slowly write full reviews, I plan to live up to my blog’s name and create an ongoing gaming journal: The Mini Boss Diaries. Let’s start with a catch-up entry.
October, 2013 Last month was a slow burn of GTA V missions and catching Pokemon in Pokemon Y, but I took a break from those games to tackle the sure-to-be-short Beyond: Two Souls.
I attended the Beyond presentation at the Tribeca Film Festival this past summer (and wrote about the event), and became very excited for its mid-October release. It had all the promise of Heavy Rain plus the acting abilities of Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page. After following the game for so long, I felt connected to it, but I knew from the first few minutes that it wasn’t going to be what I’d expected. It was being told out-of-sequence and, for me, it gave me less of a connection to the characters than I would’ve had if the story was told chronologically. Following Jodie’s childhood into adulthood would have been more interesting, as we’d get to see her life with an entity attached to her unfold. Instead, the story is told as if her whole life is happening at once, jumping back and forth through her timeline like vaguely connected flashbacks. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it’s jarring. Over all, the story was interesting, but it wasn’t nearly as powerful as it could have been.
Then there’s the gameplay issue, in that there was very little of it. For most of the 10-ish hours the game lasts, you’re watching cutscenes and walking Jodi around. Sometimes you control Aiden, though the controls aren’t great, and you are always, always on a predetermined path. You’ll get dialogue choices, but no matter what you do, the major plot points will happen in the same way and you never will feel like you made a difference. The game can go on without you, and does: if you take too long to choose a dialogue option, the game will choose one for you and keep the scene moving. There are also quick-time events, which are implemented similarly to Heavy Rain, except they are few and far between. Heavy Rain’s controls were far superior in that when an action needed to be done, the controller prompts attempted to emulate the real life action. Beyond’s controls are more simplified, and you’ll feel more like you’re pressing on a controller than performing real world actions. And then there’s the fact that even if you botch the button-pressing scenes (in a fight or a burning building), Jodie will survive and the game will go on. She’ll show cuts and bruises, sure, but you can set the controller down for (most of) the 10 hours and the game will go from beginning to end without a “game over” screen.
Beyond: Two Souls would have been more at home as an anime. I guess I didn’t enjoy it as a game, but I kind of enjoyed it as a miniseries. There are crazy things that happen, there are human connections, there’s character development…but I wasn’t playing. The most input I had on the game was making on-the-fly decisions that affected what trophies I received, and a couple of final choices that showed me one of several endings. This is why it’s labeled as an “interactive experience;” this is what “interactive cinema” is. I greatly preferred Heavy Rain’s dark consequences, sense of peril and lack of time, and storytelling, even if I had to hear “ori-geh-mi killer” mispronounced over and over again. But at least Beyond only took me a week to finish.
Fire Emblem: Awakening Review: The Series Gains a Fan
It was at the Longfort—Chapter 3—that I lost Sully. I became overconfident and let her health slip too low, opening her up to a decisive blow from a Feroxi guard—despite her being paired up with another Shepherd from my group. “Huff, huff… Damn my eyes,” she whispered with her last breath beside her downed horse. “I was foolish… and careless…”
Outside of battle, Sully had recently been fending off Virion’s flirtatious advances, and I was hoping to see a relationship develop between them; but on that day, I held a moment of silence to mourn our lost comrade-in-arms and the relationship that would never be.
Such is the way of Classic Mode in Fire Emblem: Awakening on the 3DS, which employs a permadeath system for your non-plot-related characters (plot-centric characters merely “retreat,” never to return to the battlefield). A casual mode is also available, which has your units revive after battle, but Classic Mode brings the danger of the battlefield to the palms of your hands, keeps true to the series’ difficulty for Fire Emblem veterans, and provides a challenge for experienced tactical RPG players.
The world of The Last Story is a place of magic, monsters, friendship and betrayal, and it unfortunately played out as derivative and full of clichés as that sounds.
The game revolves around a ragtag group of mercenaries with hearts of gold who aspire (under the leadership of play-it-cool Dagran) to be knights. But in typical JRPG fashion, you play as Zael: the unconfident sword-wielding type who has things to learn and room to grow and is never feigning his innocence.
The gist of the plot is that Zael and his mercenary comrades pass through some ruins and a legendary entity bestows upon Zael a powerful, oft sought-after magic. We see in a few cutscenes what it can do, but in battle it’s only moderately useful. The ability can be switched on to draw the attention of enemies while Zael’s party members do damage unhindered. And later on, he can use the ability to absorb some damage while defending, and then blast that stored up energy back at his foes. But that’s really it. Any other showing off of his powers happens outside of the player’s control. Enter “Lisa,” a runaway bride who too quickly falls for Zael, despite her upcoming arranged marriage to a right arse. She is quickly revealed to be Lady Calista of the noble Arganan bloodline, and is betrothed to the count’s son: an unbearable nobleman named Jirall. She must eventually return to the castle and appear by Jirall’s side for the sake of peace between nations. But, though she decides to suck it up for the greater good, she is soon kidnapped by Zangurak, the Gurak king who greatly resembles’s Gannondorf from The Legend of Zelda’s Wind Waker. He happens to be after this power, and Zael happens to stand in his way.
And The Last Story seems to borrow from a handful of works. There are several Final Fantasy-inspired subplots woven in, characters that, in the back of your head, will remind you of Square Enix characters, and some very interesting ideas that never quite reach greatness. There’s a sort of Final Fantasy VII-esque planet energy, for example. And at one point, Zael and his band of murderous do-gooders are thrown into a prison cell. During this section of the game my memory flashed back to the prison break portion of Final Fantasy VIII, which I’ve always fondly remembered as intriguing, challenging, and a great plot point. However, Zael & co.’s time in prison never reached even shades of that FFVIII scenario. They are thrown into a cell with an archaeologist who gets them access to an underground passage in hopes they can all escape. The passage is full of monsters, and Zael’s party fends them off—their weapons were never taken away from them. And after completing that part they end up back in the cell. The whole thing was just filler while your party is negotiated for off-screen. Even more frustrating: As Zael is led out of the cell and to the court to be tried, he passes a level of cells full of monsters. Instead of taking this opportunity to explore the origin of these monsters or any portion of their existence as both creatures and a core component of the game, or to find deeper moral ambiguity within the kingdom, you simply get a passing comment.
Battles are fun, at least—that is, until you stop learning new moves and each battle becomes similar to the last. Each fight is predetermined, as in there are no random encounters. However, after clearing certain areas a rune circle will appear where Zael can summon new monsters to fight for XP. It’s a cruel idea, summoning something just to end its life, but it does give the player a way to level up outside of the main story (though it’s usually not necessary to do so).
The player controls Zael in nearly all battles. He can indefinitely aggro the enemies and can use a tactics menu that lets him tell the other party members to use certain special moves. But throughout the game you will only have 2-4 special moves to choose from per player (they cannot be changed later on), and once you get your strategy down you will end up using the same tactics over and over again. Later on, some plot-based scenarios require you to control another party member, which tends to feel alien after controlling one character for most of the game, and does not give you much time to get used to controlling that character. Thankfully, these portions are brief.
I went into The Last Story expecting something similar to the well-written emotional journey of Lost Odyssey—also by Mistwalker Studios. But while The Last Story appeared to aspire to greatness, it falls short, never quite reaching the heights of a truly great RPG.