Until recently, there was one big hole in my personal Final Fantasy history – the one game from the entries before the series went online that I hadn’t beaten. Final Fantasy VIII was the successor to VII that I knew didn’t live up to the magic of VII at all. I knew about how Squall was a lame protagonist in comparison to Cloud, about the stupid-as-hell “plot twist,” I’d heard of the “Rinoa = Ultimecia” theory. I’d even started the game several years ago, and played the first 2 hours or so, but then gave up, deciding to invest my time into something I’d like more. Now, with the ability to play it on the PSP, I finally went back to this game and filled that gap.
Game: Final Fantasy VIII
Platforms: PlayStation, PC; PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita (PSOne Classics)
Original release: 1999
I should say that Final Fantasy VIII entirely lived up to the expectations – nowhere near VII’s league, but nothing incredibly horrendous like its biggest haters would claim. The story and characters are pretty uninspired as a whole (except from a couple of exceptions I’ll mention later), but it makes some interesting gameplay experiments, which ultimately make it easily abusable, but I wouldn’t write them off as bad. It also offers some interesting locations, as most FF games do, and a relatively epic final stretch. After a promising beginning, there are some incredibly ridiculous moments in the story later on, which harm the game’s overall quality big time.
The screenshots in the review have been taken by me.
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I’ve been a Final Fantasy fan for many years now, and, despite the less-than-stellar entries in the last 10 years or so, the series remains dear to me. Games like Final Fantasy VI, VII and Tactics are among the best I’ve ever played, and not even Square’s recent problems can take away from their greatness. It is undoubted that Final Fantasy has plenty of awesome characters, but it’s usually the male ones that get all the attention, with some small exceptions. In this list, I have decided to give some credit to the great female characters in the series. Admittedly, there aren’t as many of them, but they still add a great amount of quality to their games. One of them is even my favourite video game character of all time, and you’ll see her on top of this list.
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Already since the first game, I felt that the Mass Effect series was the grandest undertaking of the current console generation. And now, having finished the trilogy, I am absolutely certain of it. While none of the individual games are perfect, this is one of those cases where the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. The vast, detailed universe (actually, that is just the Milky Way galaxy) BioWare have created, with all the different intelligent species, with hundreds of planets, with complex political relationships, is beautiful. Just beautiful. I can only think of a handful of cases in the history of gaming where comparable amounts of effort have been put into crafting a game/series’ universe. And Mass Effect may actually be THE most complex one of all.
Since I first played the game quite a few months after it came out, I couldn’t help expecting a mess of an ending, as that was the almost unanimous opinion among gamers on the internet. However, I can now safely say that those claims are incorrect. Mass Effect 3 provides a very fascinating conclusion, staying true to the principles of the series. It’s natural that there are people who don’t like it, but, given the size of the saga, there is no possible ending that couldn’t have ticked someone off. So fear not, BioWare did NOT mess up with Mass Effect’s ending. It’s a fitting conclusion to the saga.
Game: Mass Effect 3
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360; Wii U
Original release: 2012
The third game in the series is another solid entry. Like the second one, it improves on some things in the predecessor, but is then weaker in other aspects. The thrilling struggle against the Reapers and the brilliant finale have Mass Effect easily leapfrog the second game in terms of overall story. Sadly, it doesn’t hold up as far as conversations/development of your teammates goes (even though we are already familiar with a great part of them). Annoying gameplay features from the second game like streamlined stats distribution as opposed to precise, point-by-point growth, and thermal clips (ammo), sadly remain here. Neat things like hacking are completely gone. It was clearly important for BioWare to keep the game tuned for the average gamer and maximise its sales. But those issues still do not detract much from the overall excellence of Mass Effect 3.
Seeing as I played the game on PC, this is another review where I provide my own screenshots.
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I recently played and reviewed Valkyrie Profile, a game that’s not that well-known, but is truly among the best PlayStation RPGs. In the review, I chose the beautiful song “Behave Irrationally”, which describes the mood of the game very, very well. But there are a few other songs I liked quite a bit, and I’m sharing one of them with you today. It’s called “Blameless Thoughts” and plays after you defeat the boss in a dungeon, while you’re collecting the loot and then making your way out.
Composer: Motoi Sakuraba
Game: Valkyrie Profile
Song: Blameless Thoughts
In the recent days, I was extremely excited to find out that Tales of Game’s, the creators of the magnificent PC RPG Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa wanted to work on a sequel. For this purpose, they set up a Kickstarter page, and it’s not only underway, but it exceeded its initial goal of $35,000 in under a day! I must shamefully admit that I haven’t even beaten the first game… I’ve played like an hour of it and postponed it until later times that are apparently yet to come. But it is such a fun concept, the story setting is absolutely brilliant, and it stars the likes of Barkley and Jordan in a cyberpunk world! I highly recommend it, furthermore, it’s free! Visit the above link to download it.
And, if you’ve got some money to support the Kickstarter for the sequel, please do so. It has reached its initial goal, but the developers said that the more money they raise, the more time they’ll put into the project and the more ideas they’ll be able to realise. I’m sure that even just reading the Kickstarter page will assure you that we’re talking guys with very good sense of humour here.
Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden 2 Kickstarter page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/talesofgames/barkley-2-an-rpg-sequel-to-barkley-shut-up-and-jam
SEGA’s last console, the Dreamcast, unfortunately didn’t last very long. But it had several hits that a ton of people like and are considered among the best games ever created even today. This week, I’ve gotta give it to Grandia II, an amazing RPG by Game Arts, and undoubtedly the best in the genre on the system, especially if you don’t count the online pioneer (get it?) Phantasy Star Online.
Many RPGs have boring normal battle themes, not Grandia II, though. Its is quite stellar. And it’s written by none other than Noriyuki Iwadare, who we’ve already had on this series with his Phoenix Wright 3 work.
Composer: Noriyuki Iwadare
Game: Grandia II
Song: FIGHT!! Version #1
Valkyrie Profile is one of the most nontraditional games I’ve played recently. As with most anticipated games on my backlog, I went in with almost no knowledge, I’d only heard it was an action-style RPG, like Tales or Star Ocean. Of course, I also knew that it had some Norse mythology references, that the main character was a goddess, and I’d actually watched the bizarre opening scene some 7 years ago. As gameplay started, I was quite surprised to find out that it was a kind of side-scrolling RPG with a very unique battle system that’s not quite action-style, but not a traditional turn-based one, either. Furthermore, Valkyrie’s mission is to gather the souls of dead humans, not before the player witnessing their respective ends… Making it also a quite depressing game, even if Valkyrie is giving them “a second chance” – in reality, that is simply using their skills in the war between Aesir and Vanir, the war of the gods.
Game: Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Release: 2006 (PSP remake)
Original release: 1999 (PlayStation)
Valkyrie Profile is a strange game, but with numerous merits. There is a good main storyline within it, but sadly it is a bit too well-hidden. Much as I hate needing to use a guide to beat a game I’m playing, I must thank Erunion from Backloggery who warned me that playing the game normally would merely earn me the “second best,” and non-canon ending. The particular sequence of actions required to get on the path to the best ending could only be discovered by a first-time player by pure chance, so I have to recommend that anyone starting this game consults a guide in order to see the best storyline. It is a story of gods, but not the almighty, flawless beings humans see, but rather ones who, much like humans themselves, would wage war between each other, not afraid to put even the whole world at risk in their quest for ultimate power. Aside from the story, Valkyrie Profile’s gameplay is also a great deal of fun, even if it takes some getting used to, as it’s so unlike any other RPG.
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While playing through the Uncharted series and trying to finally reach level 60 in Diablo III, I still do some retro gaming on the side, mostly on my PSP. In 2011, I had started a legendary RPG series in Dragon Quest, and I played the first three in succession before a year-long break. But the fourth game just had to be played, I had to at least finish the NES entries, though I do not know when, if ever, I’ll go on with the SNES ones. The first game is indeed quite important to the industry as a whole, but just not a very good game – I thought the second and especially the third one were nice improvements. So I expected the fourth one to be at least on the level of its really fun predecessor. And, at the end, I’ve got to say there were certainly some things it did better, but I also sorely missed others.
Game: Dragon Quest IV
Original release: 1990
Territories: Japan, North America (as Dragon Warrior IV)
Dragon Quest IV is the first in the series that tries harder to establish a few memorable characters, and even the villain is rather interesting. The main story, as a whole, is still rather generic, but at least the various characters and the villain’s roles in it put it a step above the first three games. It’s an achievement for the series. Gameplay-wise, the game is split into chapters (the recent DS remake even carries the subtitle “Chapters of the Chosen”). Once you reach the main part of the game, you are forced to rely on AI-controlled allies more than you normally feel comfortable. But fortunately, they are adequate most of the time.
The screenshots in this review are my own.
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Still in a PSO mood, this week I’ve decided to share PSO2′s take on “A Whole New World” with you. PSO fans will instantly recognise it. It’s enjoyable and shows promise for the PSO2 soundtrack as a whole. Of course, I do not hope for a soundtrack as amazing as Phantasy Star Online’s, that would be too much to ask. But I’ll be happy enough if PSO2′s comes close to its quality. Yes, the game is already out in Japan and I could listen to the music even now, but I prefer to wait until I get to play it myself in 2013.
Composer: Hideaki Kobayashi
Game: Phantasy Star Online 2
Song: A Whole New World – PSO2 Arrangement
I’ve been a Captain Tsubasa fan ever since I first came across the anime on the Italia 1 channel when I was 10… It’s a manga and anime series about young Japanese football/soccer players, with the main character Tsubasa being a rising Japanese football star. I’m a big fan of the sport, and I like anime quite a bit – you can see why the combination captivated me easily. A great part of it is the matches themselves, with so much drama in the close ones, with special shots and acrobatic goalkeepers. But the relationships between the players on and off the pitch are also nicely depicted.
Needless to say, coming across my first Captain Tsubasa game – the second installment of Tecmo’s Captain Tsubasa series on the NES, brought me much delight. Especially considering it was not a mere football simulation game – it was a football RPG, one worthy of the flashiness and the emphasised importance of a team’s best player in the anime. The closest mainstream gaming has come to Tecmo’s Captain Tsubasa series’ unique style is the Blitzball mini-game in Final Fantasy X – and believe me, Blitzball is a really watered-down version of the Captain Tsubasa games. Anyway, Captain Tsubasa II is still my favourite game of all time, one I could play at any time and never get bored, despite having beaten it so many times I’ve lost count and having done all kinds of special runs. Unfortunately, the game I will review here is just not in the same league…
Game: Captain Tsubasa: New Kick Off
Original release: 2010
Territories: Japan, Europe
Captain Tsubasa: New Kick Off (Gekitou no Kiseki in Japan) is Konami’s first attempt at returning the Tsubasa games to the genre that proved to suit them best – RPG. The license over the franchise has changed hands multiple times – first it was Tecmo’s, then Bandai’s, now Konami’s. Only Tecmo did it right, the other two simply failed to match the quality of the Tecmo Tsubasa games. A big reason for that was that Tecmo’s games were RPGs with very particular gameplay – you hold the ball and move through the field, at any time you can stop and take your time to choose what to do next – shoot, pass, or go on forward. Similarly, in defence, you pick a player to chase the opponent with, if you get close, you choose whether to tackle, try to intercept a pass or block a shot. If you manage to predict the opponent’s action, you have a higher chance of taking the ball away. That just worked great for a franchise like Tsubasa because it’s all about the tactics, the special shots and conserving your energy to do them at the right time. Trying more action-y games just never worked out very well. And the RPG approach is the one Konami took here. When I learned that to be the case, I was overjoyed, I had waited a long time to play a new Tsubasa RPG…
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