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5:35 PM on 04.23.2011

A "Gamer" Identity Crisis

So I finally beat Portal.

Not the second one, mind you, but the first. The one that came out over 3 years ago. The one I’d been putting off finishing for over a year now. Even though I owned a copy of the Orange Box, I just never gave it that high of a priority. Did I enjoy the game? Sure. Was it one of the better games I’ve ever played? Of course. But what was it about Portal that got it on my “I’ll finish it later” list along with Okami, Final Fantasy XIII, and a host of others?

And this all got me thinking, have I ever been a “true” gamer?

As I’ve said before in my blogs, I grew up sans a TV in the house. Additionally, my father was an ardent Apple supporter, so I did not have the slate of PC gaming available to other kid. Any gaming I did was either on my Game Boy, on which I got maybe 2 games a year, and my cousin’s house twice a year on their Super Nintendo. However, despite my lack of gaming opportunities, I did my best to keep abreast of the newest games in order to converse with my peers. Akin to my reading the TV Guide just to know what shows were popular, I religiously read Nintendo Power and other gaming magazines in order to be able to fake my way through a discussion on the subject. While I had never played Sonic the Hedgehog or Street Fighter, I could bluff my way through the subject with the best of them. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy gaming, I truly did, but my actual experience was severely limited to 3 days of playing “Donkey Kong Country” at Christmas followed by a year of replaying “Link’s Awakening.” (Which is an incredibly awesome game, I discovered. I could have done a LOT worse for “primary game of my childhood”)

As I grew older into my teens, I started to get the chance to play more games. I discovered I liked JRPGs, but not to the fervor of some of my peers. By the time I got around to playing Final Fantasy VII, for instance, I already knew Aries would die and her death didn’t affect me one iota. Besides, Tifa was a much more appealing match for Cloud. I took my time playing FFVII. An hour here, an hour there. It probably took me most of my junior year of high school to finish the game. But it didn’t bother me, I was having fun. Even Final Fantasy VI, my favorite RPG of all time, took me an entire summer of playing sporadically to complete. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy playing games, I did. It’s just that I liked other things as well. Regardless, I did my best to be knowledgeable of gaming developments, just so I could be in the know.

The closest I ever got to true “gamerdom” was with “World of Warcraft” in college. I’d never played an MMORPG before, and didn’t particularly see its appeal. However, one of my fraternity brothers got a beta key and the whole frat got into it like crazy. So of course, I played. It was fun. I liked the social aspect of it. We would have like 15+ people all in one room with cords all over the place doing Scarlet Monastery or whatever for the billionth time. It’s remarkable that during this time, I was able to keep a 4.0, a girlfriend happy, regular workouts at the gym, and a social life despite playing around 7 hours a day. Sure, I was the guy who went out on Friday nights instead of raiding Lower Black Rock Spire, but I prefer human girls to orcs. However, once summer came and we weren’t all in the same place, I lost interest. This isn’t to say I didn’t have fun by myself on WoW, but it lacked a certain esprit de corps sans the immediate proximity of other players.

As things stand now, I’m lucky to get an hour or two a week to play a game. Getting a Ph D can be busy, let alone work and the other realities of “adult” life. But gaming is still a welcome pastime in my life. Although I’ve never been on Xbox Live or PSN, and don’t really have any plans to do so, I appreciate what they’ve done for gaming. Likewise, I’ve never bought anything on Steam, but I appreciate what it’s done for digital downloads. And unless Square Enix ever gets around to making a sequel to “The World Ends With You,” I can’t see myself ever buying another game on its release date.

I suppose my thoughts on the matter can be best summarized as follows. Gaming has never been my life. It’s a hobby. Granted, it’s a hobby I greatly enjoy and like to be in the loop about, but it’s not a major element of my being. While I play games casually, I don’t consider myself a “casual gamer” and am not comfortable with the connotations of that term. I'm not a gaming novice. I know how to use a controller. I'm not afraid of "deeper" gaming concepts. While I’ll keep playing games for all of my life, I don’t think it will ever become my life. Is anyone else out there like this? You’re a fan of gaming but not a fanatic?   read


3:44 PM on 04.05.2011

Future Nostalgia: Secret of Mana



Personal Background:

I vaguely remember hearing of this game when it was first released. It made the cover of Nintendo Power and had a very interesting write up which gave hints and gameplay advice in the first person voice of the male protagonist. I also remember being quite struck by the artwork which accompanied that article. The iconic shot of the three main characters standing next to the Mana Tree was green, lush, and gorgeous and provided a since of epic scale which tantalized my 9 year old self. However, despite being intrigued by the artwork and the article’s unique writing style, I never had a chance to play the game.

Historical Context-

It is commonly known that the game known as “Secret of Mana” in the United States was actually the second game in the series. Indeed, the original game was actually released on Western shores as “Final Fantasy Adventure” for the Game Boy. It is interesting Square did not choose to keep the already established Final Fantasy franchise name for this new release, but differences in gameplay and tone definitely denote “Secret of Mana” apart from the Final Fantasy juggernaut.

“Secret of Mana” was released in the year 1993, right around when the Super Nintendo had reached the mid-point of its console life. “Project Reality” and the promise of the N-64 were still years away and existed only as teasing hints of the future for console gaming. But regardless of this development, “Secret of Mana” was a technological achievement within the limits of existing technology. Indeed, the game was initially developed as a launch title for the SNES-CD add on, which failed to materialize.

A further remarkable fact about “Secret of Mana” was that it was the last game to be programmed by Nasir Gebelli, who gained notoriety for programming the first Final Fantasy game. Although Hironobu Sakaguchi has been hailed as the creator and godfather of the Final Fantasy series, it can be argued Gebelli played an equal role in the series’ success and popularity. Additionally, Gebelli has become somewhat of a pariah in recent years, having not worked on a game since “Secret of Mana”, unlike Sakaguchi, who stayed on as producer for numerous Final Fantasy games before leaving Square to open Mistwalker studios.



Impressions-

To begin with, the game is gorgeous. The sprites are large and colorful, and entire game has a palate that is rather bright and pastel. Although the game’s plot can be bleak, it still maintains a chipper tone. This principle also applies to the music, which is especially impressive considering the game was initially designed for a CD platform. The songs in “Secret of Mana” are catchy and rather upbeat, with occasional forays into more melancholy melodies. From the richly detailed grass to the bouncing rabites, “Secret of Mana” is filled to the brim with charm and personality.

Once I got past my initial reaction of “this game is pretty”, I was struck by another: “this game is hard.” In what can best be described as a love child between Final Fantasy and Zelda, the battle system is a brutal and rather unforgiving affair that provides a great challenge. Most centrally, it is based upon a principle which must have been entirely counter-intuitive to the 1993 game playing audience: waiting. “Secret of Mana” punishes the player for blitzing into a fray and instead rewards a more patient and cautious approach.

This level of difficulty also applies to the manner by which inventory and the game as a whole is managed. While the ring system works well as an organizational device, the game makes no effort for hand holding when it comes to optimizing your party’s equipment, or even letting you know if you already own a particular piece of armor and you’d be better off saving your gold. Likewise, the weapon system can be overwhelming in its choices, but inventive in the way it rewards continued use of a particular weapon.

But as the game went on, I was dismayed by ever increasing glitches and a decided lack of polish when it comes to relative minor manners. For instance, the AI for the allies never was satisfactory for my play style, despite the tweaks I made on the AI menu. This resulted in my allies dying quite a bit, particularly the Sprite. Likewise, the limits on inventory made backtracking to grab more candy and chocolate bars while exploring a dungeon a common occurrence. Additionally, the boss battles against amazingly detailed large sprites don’t seem to climax or finish, they simply end with little to no explanation. The hit detection also seemed to be glitchy, particularly on the charged weapon attacks, which I never had much consistency and eventually abandoned altogether in favor of a 100% attack. These might be nit-picky complaints, but it’s this level of polish which prevents me from becoming a sold out fan of the series.

Would I Have Liked It When It First Came Out:

Probably not. I found RPGs boring at this age and I would have been too infuriated by the “wait for strongest attack” principle.

Do I Like It Now:

As a matter of fact, I do, but not to the level I enjoy the Final Fantasy or Zelda series, of which “Secret of Mana” appears to be a hybrid. I’d probably be interested in playing the third game in the series to see if any gameplay glitches were fixed, but I don’t foresee replaying “Secret of Mana” again and again with the same fervor I do Final Fantasy VI.

Do I Get The Nostalgia:

I think I do. It’s a gorgeous and colorful game, and its unique battle system was probably an “Ah ha!” moment in the lives of many young gamers who learned the value of patience by waiting the extra 2 seconds before unleashing a ferocious attack on an unsuspecting rabite. But how they managed to organize their party without them dying every 30 seconds is beyond me.   read


12:01 PM on 04.02.2011

Future Nostalgia: A Call for Games

Okay Destructoid Community, help me out here.

As I mentioned in my intro blog, I didn't have a television or non-portable gaming console during my childhood. As such, there are fairly large gaps in my gaming background. Although I religiously read issues of "Nintendo Power" during my elementary school days, I never played the SNES games so prominently featured. I'd like to correct this problem and I'd like your help in doing so.

What I'd like from you is suggestions of Super Nintendo games of which you have fairly strong pangs of nostalgia. In return, I'm starting a series in which I play through these classic games with a fresh set of eyes, research a little bit into their history, and provide commentary as to how they currently stand up. I think it would be an interesting juxtaposition and something which would be fun to write.

A few caveats:

1. Super Nintendo games only
2. If it's Mario, Zelda, or Final Fantasy, I've probably already played it
3. Preferably in English, but I'd be willing to play a Japanese-only game if it isn't too text heavy (i.e. I won't be slogging my way through some untranslated JRPG, but I'd be down with something Mario-esque that's not in English)

Thanks in advance for your suggestions,
Stu da Kris   read


4:25 PM on 02.10.2011

Game Mechanics as Aspects of Characterization: A Study in Final Fantasy VI



I don’t hide that my favorite Final Fantasy game of all time is VI for the SNES. There’s a whole lot that’s done right with it, from the music, to the storyline, to the memorable ensemble. I find it remarkable that Square was able to craft 14 unique playable characters with touching stories and unique game play mechanics. It is this system I will focus upon, and also touch on how it has been misused and over looked in later games.

In addition to the standard, “Attack”, “Item”, and later, “Magic”, each playable character in FFVI had an action command special to it. In addition to providing a variety of different attacks, each command had a unique method by which it was implemented, which subtlety alluded and affirmed aspects of the character’s personality. Before the introduction of the Espers system, each potential party plays incredibly different depending on the characters included.



In order to best demonstrate the link between game mechanics and a PCs characterization, I will list each party member and their unique action command, and how it links to their overall presentation in the game:

Terra- “Morph”
This power unlocks only after Terra discovers her Esper heritage. Selecting “Morph” will temporarily turn Terra into an Esper, as well as doubling her stats. However, the effects of morph are not permanent, and the player has no real control over its duration. This ties into the game’s characterization of Terra; although she recognizes the undeniable power of her Esper side, it is portrayed as uncontrollable and sporadic. Additionally, the cool down period of “Morph” in-battle mimics the exhaustion Terra suffers following her Esper transformation.

Celes- “Runic”
Celes joins the party with “Runic” already available, and it shows its potential in the battle with Tunnelarmr. Selecting “Runic” absorbs the next magic spell cast and changes it into MP for Celes. Additionally, the spell cast can be from either an enemy or ally. While this ability is useful in the fight with Tunnelarmr, since Locke does not have magic attacks at this point, it becomes a double-edged sword (pardon the pun) later in the game. Strong magic attacks meant to strike down a foe can be co-opted by Celes “Runic”. However, the ability plays into an element of Celes’ characterization, her capacity for magic suppression. The game does not hide Celes’ willing (albeit increasingly disillusioned and ultimately forced) involvement with the Empire, and her role in the experiments upon Terra. She has the ability to negate magic, regardless of its source. By not being selective in the magic she absorbs, she iterates her initial outsider status within the group. Additionally, as the game goes on, “Runic” becomes much less useful, which mirrors Celes’ growth as both a magic user, and her bonds of camaraderie with the other group members.

Locke- “Steal”
Locke is a thief…er…I mean treasure hunter, and is unapologetic for his choice in vocation. His battle command “Steal” allows Locke to eschew dealing damage for a chance to steal items from an enemy. Additionally, Locke has very high evade stats. These elements mirror the storyline’s presentation of Locke as a rather individualistic fellow, who is quite willing to avoid fights and gain plunder.

Edgar- “Tools”
Edgar is the king of Figaro, and ultimately devoted to his people’s survival. The technological advances of Figaro castle are made under the banner of self-preservation, all under the supervision of King Edgar. “Tools” are an offset of this technological development. These weapons attack without magic, and are highly effective against most enemies. Additionally, a great many tools are purchased from Figaro castle, which reiterates Edgar’s devotion to his people and unwillingness to accept their free gifts.

Sabin- “Blitz”
To be honest, this is the command which made be start formulating this article and the meta-game of the unique commands altogether. Sabin joins the party as a capable, but still learning martial arts aspect. His “Blitz” command, although based upon magic stats, are selected by unique button combinations inputted by the player. Most of these start out simple, with “Pummel” being a simple back and forth motion, and the most advanced, “Aurabolt”, being a fireball motion very recognizable to anyone familiar with fighting games. However, as Sabin grows in his capacity as a fighter, the Blitzes become more complex. No longer are they simple button presses, but force the player to remember the movements. This culminates in his final “Blitz” the “Bum Rush”. Although undeniably powerful, the command is initially a challenge to input correctly in the time allowed. However, as the player keeps practicing the motion, the attack becomes more familiar, and more likely to succeed. I will admit it took me several tries to successfully input the “Bum Rush”, and had a surge of excitement upon finally correctly getting the move off. This “training” of the player mimics Sabin’s training as a fighter, and truly demonstrates the development of Sabin throughout the game.

Shadow- “Throw”
Shadow joins the party under the promise of payment. He has no initial loyalty to the team and comes and goes rather sporadically. However, he has great physical prowess and is more than capable of holding his own in a fight. His “Throw” skill tosses a weapon at the enemy at high damage. Additionally, items thrown are permanently lost from the inventory. This mirrors Shadow’s demand for payment from the party with the player’s cost of using Shadow. In order for Shadow to be used to his maximum potential shurikens, scrolls, and other items must be purchased by the player for Shadow to throw. Since using Shadow effectly costs the player gil, there’s a correlation between the player’s and the party’s treatment of Shadow.

Gau- “Rage”
Gau is a wild boy, raised on the Veldt amongst some of the fiercest monsters in the world. Although uneducated and not used to the social mores of human interaction, he has immense potential to be force to be reckoned. His “Rage” ability places Gau outside the player’s control, mimicking Gau’s wild and unpredictable nature.

Setzer- “Slots”
A gambler and rapscallion with a flair for the dramatic; he joins the party after his initial attempt to capture the opera star Maria was foiled. However, always the wild card, he takes the failure in good humor, and decides to take a risk with the Returners. Setzer’s “Slots” skill reflects his gambler persona. It has the potential to either very powerful, or possibly kill the entire party. The risk in choosing “Slots” mirrors Setzer’s general demeanor.

Strago- “Lore”
Strago falls into the classic Final Fantasy Archetype of the Blue Mage, common in many games. Strago has spent his life studying monsters and learning their skills. His “Lore” skill straight-forwardly demonstrates his knowledge of monster spells. Additionally, the spells can only be learned once Strago “sees” them being used in battle by a monster, which verifies his skills as a monster scholar.

Relm- “Sketch”
Another rather straight-forward correlation, “Sketch” allows Relm, an aspiring artist, to draw a replica of an attacking enemy. Additionally, Relm’s young age is alluded to with some enemies being “too hard to draw” with her young skill set.

Mog- “Dance”
Mog is a moogle, an element well familiar in the Final Fantasy series. Like most moogles, he is fond of saying “Kupo!” and serving as light comic relief. He remains irreverent throughout the game, never fully acknowledging the gravity of the situation. His “Dance” technique is similar. Although the dances have great potential, they can be fickle, and the individual actions are not under the player’s control. Regardless, Mog remains a useful companion, taking to account the player’s and party’s inability to fully have him under their control.

Cyan- “Swordtech”
Cyan is an aging warrior, one who has served his kingdom for many years and has acquired great skill with his sword. His demeanor is polite to a fault, considerate, and respectful. Although not as young as the other party members, his years of experience make him a significant fighter. Selecting the “Swordtech” action brings up a timed bar. As more time passes, Cyan’s attack becomes stronger. Although enemies can hurt the party while waiting for Cyan’s bar to charge up, the patience demonstrated in holding off will ultimately serve the player and the party. The waiting until the meter rises mirror’s Cyan’s personality. He is a man who is willing to bide his time until making the ideal strike.

Additionally, as magic and the Espers system are introduced for all party members, a second level of customization comes into play. By assigning different Espers to each party member, the player controls the party member’s development. Over time, due to a player’s preference of certain characters and their mechanics over others, not only will a particular character be stronger, but it will invariably have Espers magic assigned to it by the player. In short, although two different players might like the same character, the individual character will come out unique to the player by game’s end. By coupling the Esper magic system and these unique action commands, a playing of Final Fantasy VI ultimately results in a party which is shaped not only by the character’s abilities, but also the player’s preferences and choices; in short, an ideal system.

I will now look at later games and their shortcomings in utilizing or ignoring this system:



Final Fantasy VII-
While there were some differences between the individual characters, mainly through limit breaks; their standard attacks were virtually identical. Furthermore, the limit break mechanics didn’t necessarily fit into the character. While slots made since for Cait Sith, was there any aspect of Tifa’s mastery of martial arts which would lend itself to also using a fickle slot system? Additionally, the materia magic system gave the player extra control over their parties composition, at the cost of eliminating character individuality.



Final Fantasy VIII-
There were elements of character individuality used, particularly in the limit breaks. However, the limit breaks were too rare to constitute major differences in game play. Likewise, the “Duel” command for Zell suffered in comparison to Sabin’s “Blitz” since “Duel” did not reward character and player development. Although later “Duel” uses gave both more time and complex attack commands, the system was broken by constant use of the basic “booya” and “punch rush” for the most damaging battle plan. Additionally, the draw/junction mechanics put character stat composition entirely within the player’s control, giving the character’s almost negligible individuality.



Final Fantasy IX-
It returned closest to the system put into place by VI. Parties made up of different characters do indeed play differently, and special commands are indeed prevalent. Additionally, the ability system personalized the characters to player’s usage. The only major set back with this game was the horribly broken “Trance” system. But still, the advances made in IX made it seem a return to form was possible in future installments.



Final Fantasy X-
It’s going to be hard to strongly criticize this game, since it’s my second favorite in the series. Indeed, the character swap system made the group feel like an actual “party” and not “three characters chosen to fight enemies while everyone else hangs back on the airship”. Additionally, by letting characters have marked advantages over certain enemies, it was ensured all characters would be placed in heavy rotation. The system weakens a tad when it comes to the “Overdrive” commands. Like the limit breaks of VII, a great many of the “Overdrive” inputs in X don’t feel true to the character. For instance, although Wakka is of a sunny disposition and takes things rather likely, it doesn’t necessarily translate into using slots for his most powerful attack. Likewise, would a veteran such as Auron struggle with memorizing button pressing to unleash a tornado of fire? (Which remains one of the coolest specials I’ve ever seen in any game ever) I know it sounds nitpicky, but the advantages of the characters in X don’t ring as true to their characterizations as those in VI.



Final Fantasy XII-
Pretty much a rehash of VIII’s preference of player control over character individuality. Additionally, the “Quickening” attacks of XII truly have no difference between the characters except for visuals. Although the characters of XII were characterized outside of battle rather admirably, this isn’t reflected in the battle system.



Final Fantasy XIII-
I actually liked this game, and elements of the “paradigm” mode ring true to the example set in VI. However, the differences between the characters are subtle at best. For instance, Sazh has “Haste” available much earlier in the game than other synergists and his “Blitz” attack hits for multiple times as a commando. Other than that, it’s fairly similar. Additionally, the Crystarium System was quite linear and didn’t give players much control over the character’s development.



Mass Effect 2-
I’m actually going a bit out of the JRPG genre to show how the Final Fantasy VI model of character actions reflecting their characterization can apply in other types of games. In Mass Effect 2, each member of Shepard’s crew has a distinct personality and this is reflected in the abilities available for the player’s use. Additionally, as certain characters are favored over others, and the player completes their loyalty mission, more abilities are given for their use, as well as an alternative costume. The changes in appearance and combat actions reflect both their development as a character, and the player’s preference party members. This system mirrors Final Fantasy VI’s method of coupling character individuality and player’s choice.

In all, the system implemented by Final Fantasy VI represents a template still useful for creating a game mechanic system which compliments both player preference and character individuality. One can only hope Square Enix, and other game developers will utilize this system in creating further wonderful gaming experiences.   read


12:16 PM on 01.29.2011

Go Ahead, Square Enix, Make My Life

So I noticed it's been months since I posted anything. Sadly, nothing too much has changed with my life. I'm nearing the end of the class portion of my Ph. D and will be starting on writing my dissertation in earnest. Additionally, I'll be diving head first into attempting to find employment in Academia. Other than that, I'm doing my best to consider myself a game despite playing maybe 6 hours a month, if I'm lucky.

However, there is one game which could possibly cause my gaming time to increase considerably.



It's become a nearly annual ritual for me. Firing up my emulator and starting yet another play through of this genuine classic. The game never ceases to surprise me, from interesting new party combinations to little bits of artwork. Plus, the highs of its story are still there.


Love this music

However, despite my deep and abiding love for Final Fantasy 6, I have a sad confession.

I've never purchased the game.

Don't get me wrong, I don't make it a habit to steal games, especially those I love. The company put the man-hours in making this masterpiece, and they deserve to be compensated. However, the game does not exist on a format that allows me to repay Square for creating this game. Considering all the enjoyment I've gotten out of this game, I would be happy to purchase it on nearly any platform. And speaking of platforms...

Release it for the iPhone.   read


2:31 PM on 04.10.2010

Help Destructoid, You're Not My Only Hope

I know this might not be the most traditional place to ask for advice, but hey, we're all gamers here and this relates.

I'm in the market for an HDTV. I like LEDs, but wouldn't be opposed to another type if the picture was good. I'm looking to spend about $1500 for the TV. I've heard nothing but good stuff about Samsung, with LG's being a close second. The room I'll be putting it in isn't incredibly huge, but decent sized; the chairs are probably 7-9 feet away from the screen. It's also got large windows behind the chairs, so glare might be an issue.

Anywho, here's where I'd like your input.

1. Is buying from Newegg a viable option? Is there a return policy to speak of?
2. Are the high priced HDMI cables worth it? It seems silly to pay upwards of $80 for a cable.
3. Is there any special heed that needs to be taken for hooking up my PS3, Wii and other systems? I'm sure there's none, but would using a Sony or something result in better preformance from the PS3?

Thanks y'all.   read


10:28 AM on 03.17.2010

A Suggestion to War Game Designers, Or Why Can't the Doughboys Get Some Love?

I'm a historian by trade, well a grad student 2 years away from becoming Dr. Studakris, to be exact. Regardless, I've always had an interest in historically based games. Age of Empires, the original Call, Civilization, etc. All were dang fine games, and their game mechanics aren't really up for discussion. However, in a market saturated with WWII games, I've always wondered if game companies were aware of this little tidbit.

Did you know what there was a World War before World War II? And it hold just as much, if not more, hooks for really fascinating games?

World War I is rife for games in numerous genres. You want diplomacy? Heck, there were loads alliances and counter-alliances stemming from backdoor deals between nations. An arena for FPS deathmatches? Consider trench-warfare. Nifty uniforms? We got the Kaiser in a spiked helmet. Ethical dilemmas? Use of mustard gas. Crowning moments of awesome? Occasional cavalry charges were called in the early days of the war. As in, horses in no-man's land. Sure, they were ultimately futile, but dang, would that look cool. Not awesome enough? The 369th Infantry, the "Harlem Hellfighters." Still not enough awesome for you? Frank York. Chances for America to be #1, kick butt, and give Republicans the war-fuzzies? Shoot, the war only lasted a few months once the US entered the picture. Sure, the war jaded a whole generation and caused Hemingway to waste his time at bull fights, but hey, it was one heck of a war.

With the 100th anniversary of the war's beginning only a few years away, I hope some aspiring game company decides to embrace the massive potential in a WWI game. Seriously, the doughboys need some love.   read


5:06 PM on 03.16.2010

A Rational Response to the 4.0 FFXIII Review

First, hey, everyone's entitled to their own opinion. While I don't agree with many of Mr. Sterling's points, I respect his right to have them.

But honestly, I like the game. Pretty much for the reasons he cannot stand it.

Sure, it's not perfect, but I've always found that the best Final Fantasy game is the one previous to the one just released. Whenever FFXV comes out, the internet will be whistfully remembering the greatness that was FFXIII and bemoaning the non-linear story structure and other changes that ruin the genre found in FFXV.

And I'll admit that the game starting in medias res was jarring, and I frantically had to search the menu to find out what the heck a "Fal'cie" was and why the heck should I care. But once I read and got a grasp of the story, it became engrossing again. Additionally, I've yet to hear music in the game that was bland and unforgettable, and my only disappointment comes from the traditional battle theme being scrapped.

Anyway, I could go on the usual fanboy arguments, how the battle system is fun, liking the characters, etc. But the review's final statement is the one Mr. Sterling will regret and probably retract shortly in the following days:

"It's the worst main chapter in the Final Fantasy series to date, and if this is the future of the franchise, that future is incredibly bleak indeed."

Seriously, what the heck dude? Have you forgotten II? Or III? Or IV? (Only in my humble opinion. I don't really care for IV. If you liked it, I'm happy for you. It's no VI, though) Those games were wracked with just as much, if not more, game breaking problems as XIII. Perhaps nostalgia has twisted the memories of those earlier games, but XIII stands on its own just as much as VII and X, which are among my favorites in the series. If you're not a fan of VII and X, I can see not liking XIII. As for XIII being the future of the franchise, I find it very solid, considering the leaps it's made over X and XII.

Anyway, that's my response. I'm sure I'll be drowned out by other FF fanboys calling Mr. Sterling Shamu or whatever, but know at least one fan can be sober-minded about the review.   read


6:16 PM on 03.10.2010

A Besmirch on my Gamer Cred: I Didn’t Like “Chrono Trigger”

Because of my parent’s policy on TV in the house (which was none at all), the majority of my childhood gaming was done on portable systems. Although I loved my adventures on the black and white screen, I was keenly aware of a whole universe of games I was not privy. In elementary school, I would hear classmates rave about epic sagas and mind-blowing mode 7 graphics. This inequity in gaming was compounded by my dutiful monthly reading of “Nintendo Power,” which would tease further worlds I would never know in my television-less existence. Mega Man X. Final Fantasy III. Link to the Past. Secret of Mana. Donkey Kong Country. All were SNES games I desperately wanted to play, but had no means of doing so. Undeterred, I soldiered on; awaiting the day I would finally be able to play these, and many other, desired games.

Years, and console generations, go by.

When I was in high school, my dad relented on decades of fanatical Apple devotion and purchased a mid-level Dell in order to access work documents at home. One of the first games I purchased for the PC was Final Fantasy VII. FFVII was not my first foray into RPGs, or Final Fantasies for that matter, (Pokemon and Final Fantasy Legend hold those distinctions, respectively) but it was the first RPG that really got me into the genre. After being blown away by the game, I moved on to FFVIII. Around the time I finished FFVIII and was looking for another game to satisfy my new-found appetite for RPGs, I began to hear murmurings of programs called emulators. Not wanting to get my hopes up, I rationalized that an SNES emulator couldn’t be among them, and even if it did exist, it certainly would be too grandiose to run on my father’s basic desktop. Ah, the naivety of youth. After being reassured by one of my closest and most trusted friends that our computer would certainly run an emulator, he gave me a disk full of SNES roms and that most wondrous of all programs, ZSNES.

I was in heaven.

Games previously denied to me by my parent’s forbiddance of televisions were now freely available. Within the next couple of months, I plowed through handfuls of games I could once only dream of playing. I fell in love with fan translations of FFV and Seiken Densetsu 3. I marveled at strange games such as E.V.O: The Quest for Eden and Out of This World. But most importantly, every AAA title longed over from the pages of “Nintendo Power” was reachable with only a few keystrokes. Like I said, I was in heaven.

I remember hearing accolades for “Chrono Trigger” around 4th grade. “Nintendo Power” had given it a review stating it had absolutely no weaknesses and if anything, would spoil the player from enjoying RPGs ever again. Additionally, my video game pals raved over the game, citing the music, character, battle system, etc. as being second to none. I was told on multiple occasions that they envied me for being able to play it for the first time. So with inflated, but supposedly justified expectations, I located the rom for “Chrono Trigger” and prepared to be wowed.

It’s important to note here that I didn’t hate “Chrono Trigger.” It certainly was a complete and competent game. Likewise, I don’t think my opinions were tainted by playing later RPGs first, which had taken some of “Chrono Trigger’s” innovative ideas. For instance, I loved the crap out of Final Fantasy III(VI), Seiken Densetsu 3, and the Dragon Quest games, even though I played them after their next-gen sequels. Heck, I still hold FFVI as my favorite game in the series.

But there was just something about “Chrono Trigger” that didn’t strike a chord with me. For one, I found the characters annoying. Particularly Lucca. Her swarmy, full-of-her-own-intelligence attitude grated on me. Even after finding out about her mother’s accident, I was still unsympathetic to her plight. Maybe that makes me a soulless monster, but she still was my least favorite party member. The music was okay, but it certainly wasn’t as mind-blowing or memorable as other tracks from the era. The battle system was decent, and it was a welcome break to have non-random enemy encounters, but it wasn’t much to write home about. Even the story, which many heralded as the best part of the game, couldn’t hold my interest after the first couple of hours. By the time I arrived at the End of Time, I had stopped caring about Lavos and the fate of the world, and just wanted to grind in order to finish the game. It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t the end-all, be-all SNES RPG experience.

After I had defeated Lavos, and a few times more on the new game plus in order to see some of the much-trumpeted multiple endings, I expressed my blasé attitude towards the game the same individuals who triumphed its cause. I was met with disbelief and horror. I was accused of being tainted by later RPGs, or not “getting” the story. Even though I had become relatively well-versed on SNES games, my nonchalance towards “Chrono Trigger” marked me as a permanent pariah in the eyes of “true” gamer-dom. Perhaps had I played “Chrono Trigger” when it was first released, I would have been mesmerized by its charms and become as fanatical as my peers. Perhaps their memory of the game was filtered through nostalgia lenses. In either case, my “meh” stance on “Chrono Trigger” has separated me from the ranks of “legitimate” old-school gamers.

A final note. When “Chrono Trigger” was re-released on the DS, I purchased a copy, hoping that the new content and time had made the game more favorable than I remembered it. Turns out, nope, nothing changed. I gave up on the game around the fight with Magus, traded it into for a second copy of “The World Ends With You,” and haven’t looked back since.

Thoughts? Do I now earn your distain for not liking “Chrono Trigger”? Are there any games that have nearly universal acclaim you just don’t like or understand what all the hype is about?   read


1:18 PM on 03.10.2010

One Day into Final Fantasy XIII (minor spoilers)

I suppose I should get this out into the open now, I bought my PS3 about a month ago with the implicit purpose of getting FFXIII. Sure, I’ve enjoyed playing Uncharted 2 and Valkayria Chronicles, but they were just the appetizers for the Square-Enix main dish. I’m about 4-5 hours into the game, and I have these impressions. I’ll stay away from spoilers and the like, with one minor exception.

1. Graphics-
Yeah, they’re good. Even on an older Sony Wega with no HDMI hook-up, just component cables, the game is visually stunning. Sure, it may not leave you as awe-struck as your first glimpse of Midgar, but the nuances in the details are astonishing. It’s the first game where I can really tell the difference in the fabrics of clothing.

2. Story-
A little taken aback by this one. Without going into too much detail, the game lacks true exposition. I’m all for games opening in medias res, but there was a whole bunch of major plot information that was delivered either in throw away lines or most egregiously, in the menu screen. Still, after about the first hour, I had figured out the general gist of what all was going on and the game became surprisingly gripping.
Also, yes, it is linear. And that’s not a bad thing. I’ve found my favorite parts of FF games were a bit on the linear side. The first half of VI, the Midgar section of VII, most of X. I know some people might not like the on-rails aspect, but if it bothers you so much, don’t play the game and pick up a Western RPG instead. I like it and I don’t feel betrayed by Square-Enix in the least.

3. Fighting System-
This will probably be the most talked about aspect of the game, and with good reason. It’s a heck of a lot more fun and intuitive than it looks. The battles have an ebb and flow unlike any I’ve seen in an RPG. Particularly, numbers are no longer important, and MP is a thing of the past. The removal of magic points was frankly a long time coming. In pervious FF games, I would use physical attacks almost exclusively for fear of spending all my MP and being screwed come the next big battle. Even though Vivi or whoever was more than capable of wiping the floor with a “Thunder” spell, I would always select them to thwack the enemy with their staff for a miniscule 12 damage. In FFXIII, there is no penalty or fear for using a lot of magic, since it takes the same amount of action as a regular attack. As a result, not only am I using a lot more offensive spells, but tons more buffs and debuffs. I love the tactical tension allowed by the paradigm system. In large boss fights, I find myself debating whether to keep building attacking as to cause the “stagger” status even though my characters are in need of healing, or switching to a healing paradigm, and risk losing the break meter.

4. Characters-
Each playable character feels like a mixture of previous characters from earlier in the series. For a bit of fun, I’m going to do some FFXIII character math. I know I’m barely into the story, but here’s how I see them.
Lightning=Cloud+Celes-Squall
She’s a tough chick, but she’s not as moody or sullen as other protagonists have been

Snow=Sabin+Steiner-Zell
A bare-knuckled brawler dedicated to his fiancée. He has a dark sense of humor, but no where near as peppy as other members of the party

Sahz=Cid(FFVII)+Barrett
A reluctant participant. Like Tracy Jordan said in his not hit movie Cruise Boat, He’s too getting to old for this ship.

Hope=Vaan+Rydia-Titus
The young kid, but he actually has a reason to be moody and not a peppy mess.

Vanille=Rikku+Penello
The least original character. She’s every other young girl from FF rolled into one. Plus her accent is grating

(Minor Spoiler)
Fang=Kain+Balither
She’s not in the party and has barely had 3 lines, but I can already see a dark sense of humor coming out. Plus, she’s a dragoon. Dragoons are always awesome.   read


4:26 PM on 02.23.2010

In Defense of Portable Gaming and TWEWY

When I was 6 years old, my teenaged brother received one of the greatest Christmas gifts I would ever get. It was a Game Boy. By the time the next Christmas came around, I had usurped ownership of the device from him, becoming the sole player of such classics as "Tetris" "Double Dragon" and "Mickey's Dangerous Chase" (Hey, I was 6, and Mickey Mouse was the man in my eyes). Despite my parent's anti-TV stance (They didn't buy one until I was well into college) they had no problem with the Game Boy. So for the next couple of years, Christmases and Birthdays were easy affairs. Just buy little Studakris whatever Game Boy game just came out and he'll be content for the next couple of months.

Although I knew the Game Boy was theoretically a portable device, I never used it as such. Partially because I was still in elementary school and really had no place to travel, but mainly because I was so enamored of the spot I had on the couch with the perfect lighting, that there was no reason to move. (Note: it still amazes me how much finicky who-haa we had to put up with on the Game Boy. Crummy battery life, inane bleeps and bloops for music, and always, always positioning the screen to receive adequate illumination without blinding glare) It was on this couch that I first fell in love with Mario, Link, and Kirby, among others. Although they were the portable versions, they had the same amount of game play and depth as their larger brethren. Even unto this day, I content that "Link's Awakening" is the most complete and fulfilling Zelda game.

As time when out, my faithful monochrome Game Boy was replaced by the Game Boy Pocket. Then the Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Advance SP, all the way up to my current DS Lite. And as time goes on, and video games become more and more graphically impressive, I'm still most drawn to the intimate affairs available only on the smallest screen. It's a much more personal affair, and draws the player in to an extent I can't find on traditional consoles. Sure, it's possible to produce an epic and frolicking adventure, such as the excellent "Uncharted 2". But I still prefer the quirky sense of smallness found on portable games.

I believe the potential of portable gaming as a separate and distinct entity is best served in Sqaure-Enix's over-under-appreciated work "The World Ends With You." Aside from the story, which brilliantly plays with the various tropes of JRPGs, the game mechanics are not only innovative, but also only possible on the DS. The dual screens are utilized in game to accomplish much more than the traditional map/subscreen combo. The stylus and d-pad allow for simultaneous control over the combat in a manner simply not possible on traditional consoles. But the most impressive feature of "TWEWY" is that all the innovations simply work together. Not much is game-changingly broken. The pins can be used in a myriad of fashions depending on the player's preference. There is a fair amount of balance, in defiance to most RPG's habit of providing uber-weapons by game's end. It has an element of finesse simply missing from most games.

So yeah, there you go. My love letter to our portable buddies. Whenever the DS 2 comes out, I'll be first in line to buy it. In addition, I'll continue to long for a "TWEWY" sequel, as long as they keep it far away from the Wii and other traditional consoles.   read


9:24 AM on 02.23.2010

Intro

So I guess I'm supposed to do a proper introduction to my blog. Well, here it goes.

I'm currently a grad student getting my doctorate in American History. So yeah, that right there eats up the vast majority of my time. Additionally, I'm unique from most gamers in that my parents never allowed a TV in the house, so all my childhood memories of gaming come from either the computer (which was a Mac and very limited in the way of titles) or the various incarnations of the Game Boy. Because of this, I have a much stronger affinity towards portable gaming than most.

At the moment, my gaming systems are a PS3, Wii, DS, iPhone, and a Macbook. My favorite game series ever is Final Fantasy (cliche, I know) followed by Zelda and Monkey Island. I probably have more emulated SNES roms than anyone on the internet, partially because I'm trying to relive all the games denied my childhood by not having a television. My other major gaming quirk is aside from a brief period where I played WoW with people from the dorm, I'm not a fan of online gaming. It just seems so impersonal. I'd much rather beat someone down in Third Strike or Tetris Attack in person than over the interwebs.

Well, that about covers who all I am gaming-wise. Expect posts concerning my waiting for FFXIII as well as other issues, maybe done with a historical perspective ;)   read


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