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11:33 PM on 06.01.2010

The Great Escape - Saving the world

An aspect of myself I have not yet shared with the Destructoid community, and will remain farily tight lipped about is my occupation. It stirs people up. Lots of people have opinions about us, and lots have had bad experiences with us. Of course, lots of people have had good experiences with us too. Its the nature of my work. I'm a Police Officer.

The hardest part of the job, apart from the obvious, but thankfully infrequent, dead child, fatal car accident, or massive human trauma of another kind, is the unending repetition of it all. Sure all the callouts you get are varied, but they maintain a very common element - aggressive, emotionally stunted, violent and hopeless people.

A brief description:

The most satisfying thought about my work is that I help to keep the crooks away from the good people, so they don't effect your lives too much. There really are people (a LOT of people) out there who cannot walk past a parked car without trying the door handle to see if they can steal something from the centre console. There are people who cannot restrain themselves from getting on the meth every day and wandering into the middle of the road and hijacking a car in a drug fuelled rage. People who can't use their words to solve problems, and have to smash things and hit people. A lot of my work involves knowing and interacting with these hopeless souls, dissuading them from committing more offences, and trying to solve their problems - problems a normal member of society wouldn't get themselves into in the first place. For example: Inviting 50 strangers to come over and get drunk, only to find now they're stealing everything and fighting each other!

There you have it. My days are sometimes entirely uneventful and mundane (Doing bail checks on people who have court imposed curfews because they rob service stations at night) or frantic (get to work, immediately get a callout to a car accident where its gone up in flames and burnt its occupants to death). And you never know what kind of day you'll get until you get there.

To survive this sort of job, you often put on a bit of a mask of confidence and self assurance. Its the only way to deal with life and death situations, as well as people who have survived by being devious, who will exploit any weakness they sense.

Taking this mask off is a different story. To do this, I play Final Fantasy.

Yep.

The appeal of the huge gameworld and epic, involving story is strong for me, because unlike the real world, its problems are easily solved. Teamwork amongst your party of friends will triumph over any big, evil adversary.

In the real world, there is no big evil adversary. People are their own worst enemies, and their problems cannot just be triumphed over with a battle or a motivational speech - they last a lifetime.

Or, you can have all the best teamwork in the world, but if people are already dead when you get there, all even the greatest team can do is pick up the peices.

I have a wonderful wife, two dogs, and a kid on the way. These are great distractions too. But in a way, seeing all the evil in the world firsthand so often can make them feel like an extra risk to worry about.

Some people get drunk to forget.
But I play epic videogames, where people take heroic stands and they work.
I play epic videogames where the terror and uncertainty in the world are compacted into one figure, or one evil empire.
I play epic videogames where teamwork and heroism actually topples these evils.

And its incredibly refreshing.

After a long and horrible day, there is no better way to put a period at the end of it all than by immersing myself in an entirely different world, and saving its ass.

Sorry there was no pictures. I don't really know of many that went well!   read


6:16 AM on 05.20.2010

Dog Blog (NVGR)

First up, I'm going to establish a (very tenuous) link to videogames, for what is about to follow.

Games with Dogs in them:

Nintendogs
Fable 2
Fallout 3
Duck Hunt

And now, because I feel like sharing, some photos of my dogs, Cedric and Ada.

This is my husky Ada when she was a puppy.



I recently took her and Cedric to the lake nearby. Cedric is a golden retriever, as evidenced below. Cedric is named after the lead singer of The Mars Volta.



Here is a nice shot of the three of us (Ada all grown up now) afterwards, having a bit of a think.



And me and Ada having a lie down when we got home.




I couldn't imagine a life lived without a dog. These guys have helped me and wife through a lot, even though they don't realize. Questions, queries, comments?   read


12:47 PM on 05.15.2010

It was a slow weekend. A pie chart picture blog.

Also with addition pie charts for in depth analysis.



















Thank you and goodnight from Australia.   read


1:40 AM on 05.13.2010

Runs In The Family: Scattered memories

In my pre-teen years, I had a Master System, Mega Drive (Genesis), SNES, and (to accompany me through puberty) a Sega Saturn and a Nintendo 64. I had oodles of games for each. As probably about 60% of my time was spent sitting cross legged, one meter away from the TV, I associate certain games with certain big events in my family life. Prepare to get candid.

Tetris Attack
For as long as I could remember up until I was 10 years old, my cat mittens had always been around. She wasn't a particularly nice cat. In fact, she was the kind of cat that could sense you wanted to pat her and would position hersulf under a table or a chair. When I'd get down on my knees, and crawl around trying to pat her, she'd move to another spot. I'd get up, walk around the table to try again (not realising I was an annoying little kid with sticky icy pole fingers) and she'd have magically disappeared. She was also morbidly obese, weighing in at about 7 kilograms, which is a lot for a cat. She had scars all over her nose from the sun and other cats. When you'd manage to catch her and pick her up, she'd curl into a ball and growl and fuss until you put her down.

Some people think that cats sort of have a feeling when their number is up. I remember sitting cross legged on the floor, a meter away from the TV, playing Tetris Attack on the Super Game Boy, when Mitty (Mittens) came up and plopped herself right on my lap. Not wanting to jinx this incredibly unusal display, I barely acknowledged her and played for a couple of hours. I then leant forward to pop another cartridge in, and Mittys lifeless body plopped forwards out of my lap. I carried her out into the backyard, dug a (huge) hole, and buried her. Now whenever I hear the Gargantua Blarg stage music, I feel quite moved.


Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Out of all the games I have ever played, Sonic 2 has without doubt received the most playtime. On evening, whist sitting cross legged a meter away from the telly, Chemical plant zones pipe system blasting my little Sonic sprite across the screen, I heard the sound of glass breaking upstairs. I hadn't any concept of who was home at the time, I was totally lost in the game. Assuming it was my sister, I wandered upstairs, expecting to see my then newly teenage sister crying, maybe having broken something in a girly fit of anger. She was prone to these at the time. Instead, a loud masculine cough caused me to freeze about halfway across the house. I turned and ran back toward my Megadrive.

A short time later, my dad and my sister arrived home from netball practice with me standing outside in my school uniform with a policeman, holding my Mega Drive in both hands which I had 'rescued' from the house. The crook only took a VCR and a couple of tape recorders from the other side of the house, and they never caught him as far as I know. From that point, every time I was home alone and lost in mhy games, Chemical Plant Zone would remind me to check the locks,


Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time

Being synonymous with my first love lost. Sigh.

I was thirteen, and I had been sending love letters to an fro at school, with one of the girls. When my dad and sister would go to netball practice on Wednesday and Friday nights, we would talk for the whole time on the phone, with me hastily hanging up when I heard the car in the driveway. I don't remember what the fear was - I just don't think I wanted my sister to rip on me about having a girlfriend.

Anyway, I never really had much to talk about, so Lia would talk and talk and I would listen, just rapt with the idea that the pretty girl at school who I loved, was talking to me and loved me back. You remember how it is, right? Gonna be together forever, gonna get married. All that crap that teens feel for the first person they have the hots for. Anyway, as I was mostly just listening to her talking, I would often multitask with a bit of Ocarina of time.

It was probably conversation 12 or so, about a month in to this eternal love that will last for eternity. I was playing through the spirit temple. I remember being hit with the double rush of Twinrova forming, and hearing the words 'so thats why I'm not allowed to talk to you anymore'.

Wha...? It turns out I had sort of tuned out a pretty decent part of the conversation, what with all the mirror reflecting and wing boots getting that was happening on the screen. Turns out her dad had decided the whole family were going to be devout jehovas witnesses, and our once cute relationship was now an unwholesome distraction for his virginal angel of a daughter. She explained to me how she was changing schools and was only allowed to hang out with Jehovas Witness boys.

I don't know what happened in her dads life for him to suddenly decide to 'save' himself and his whole family, but they stuck with it and I only saw her once after that and it was awkward and horrible.

I remember putting Zelda on a few night later and then crying into my pillow. True story.


Warioland

I was seven, and playing Warioland on the gameboy in the car, on a trip to the Riverland with my grandparents when my grandmother said she felt really nauseous. I remember playing it while Grampa was driving after an ambulance containing Gran, and I remember playing it a lot over the next few weeks, waiting around in hospital foyers while everyone else was being really quiet and weird.

It was a great distraction from having to look at everyones sad faces. I remember not wanting to go in and see Gran, because she had gone yellow and really sick from a pretty aggressive hit of cancer. My dad got really mad and grabbed my gameboy, telling me "get that out of your face for five seconds" and throwing it in a hospital bin. We went into the room and Gran had heard Dad get upset. She said to him 'Goodness James, don't burn your bridges with Pete [me] on my behalf!, and they had a chuckle, probably at a very melodramatic look on my face. After she died, dad took me and got me a new Gameboy.


Games are awesome. I have loads of great memories playing games too, obviously. But as with most things, its the crappy stuff that really sticks in your head.   read


1:52 AM on 04.07.2010

My 5 favorite videogame media

Over the last couple years, theres been what I can only describe as a fantastic surge in gamers beginning to take their hobby - often a solitary, lone wolf type experience, and turn it into shows, comics and podcasts. Usually completely self funded, and aiming at us - the fluent gamers sitting in our wonderful niche. Whether you love or hate the next few examples, you have to admit, these guys are furthering our hobby. Giving us something to do when the games in our systems run dry, and something to aspire to and talk about. You may be familiar with most or all of them, you may disagree. You may have a totally different five.


5. Screwattack - Video Game Vault

The VGV is a look back at an old game you may not have thought about in years. Likely a big reason for midnight ROM downloads, the vault will sometimes be a miss, but more often, focus on the game you loved as a kid but swore nobody else played, like Ristar. I was a Ristar addict. None of my friends ever played Ristar, and boy did it bug me. Ristar.

Its really interesting too, when they talk about a game that you weren't aware of, either bagging it or lathering it with love. Or sometimes just ending on a bizarre note of college boy humor.

See it:http://screwattack.com/shows/Video-GameVault/


4. Destructoid - Hey Ash, Watcha Playin?

This is the thing that lead me from Gametrailers to Destructoid a year or so ago. I often notice a resounding dislike for the show. I don't understand how people can be toxic towards a show that
A: Is free to watch and
B: Is made by the very people watching it; people who love videogames and
C: Can either be odd, profound, or just hilarious.
I'm all for two people finally putting all the kooky jokes we think of while playing games to film. Its brilliant.

I'd like a tab to it somewhere easily visible on the site, which then leads to an easy list so I can watch them in order, without having to go to the madness of Gametrailers any longer.

See it: http://www.destructoid.com/hey-ash-whatcha-playin-episode-four-91987.phtml/


3. Destructoid - Once Upon A Pixel / Mega 64

Once Upon A Pixel - This is something that started a bit iffy for me, but has gotten better and better as it has progressed. The latest Animal Crossing ep hits the nail on the head. Ashley Davis' narration and artwork will likely see her snared up by a bigger entity somewhere in the future, but hopefully this one sticks around for a long time. A complete original, and totally worth a watch.

See it: http://www.gametrailers.com/video/chu-chu-once-upon-a/62485/

Mega 64 is at the opposite end of the scale. Completely unfocused and crazy, these guys take random videogame humor and throw it in the faces of an often confused public. Some sketches fail, but the ratio is far higher on the win side of things. Browse the site and check them out.

http://mega64.com/

2. Penny Arcade

I have loved Penny Arcade since I have been on the internet. Very few strips are unfunny, and its amazing to go back to the first frame ever and see how these guys have evolved into not only a top class web comic, but a veritable franchise of Penny Arcade games, conventions, and merchandise. Living the outgoing gamers dream, by making a good living out of our hobby, Gabe and Tycho are people who must have an army of geeks seething with jealousy. But in essence, when a comic is this funny, a bit of monopoly is easily forgiven.

http://www.penny-arcade.com/

1. Cinemassacre - Angry Video Game Nerd

This is easily what I hang out for the most - when a new AVGN goes live. James Rolfe knows his stuff too. In fact, some of the best episodes are the ones where he just - for lack of a less cheesy expression - elightens the viewer about an awesome forgotten tale of gaming lore. The Sword Quest video in particular has some really cool history in it. The videos he does in the character of 'The Nerd' need to be taken with a grain of salt. His strings of increasingly creative expletives might grate on those without the certain sense of humor required (toilet sense!), but his thick Jersey accent makes him both funny, and interesting to listen to.

His entire cinemassacre site is completely worth scouring, and his non-game related videos are just as essential. I find his views on cinema and movies match my own. I've become exposed to all sorts of things because of AVGN, such as The Twighlight Zone, Tales From The Crypt, Godzilla movies. Its a vast untapped resouce of geekdom, and completely brilliant.

See AVGN - http://www.gametrailers.com/video/angry-video-screwattack/61988/

See Main Site - http://www.cinemassacre.com/

Another hope for this blog, though, was to admit that I am frankly underexposed to these sorts of things, and would love a recommendation in the form of a link to something you think I or other readers might enjoy that hasn't already been listed.

Do you know of a better webcomic than penny arcade or a funnier show that HAWP? Maybe a more informative one that AVGN? Fire it at me.   read


8:46 PM on 04.06.2010

E for Effort: First Person Shooters

I envy people who can play and enjoy first person shooter games. See, for me, I've been corrupted by the RPG, to the point that if a game doesn't have RPG elements (and I mean it not in the loose 'Playing a Role' sense, I mean in the sense that every action I do must give a tangible reward in to form of XP, Money, Abilities, etc.)

I fail to see the benefit in playing a game if I'm not levelling up. I'll be playing as Space Marine/WWII Soldier/Hit Man character, and every time I kill something, feel a twinge of dissapointment as the game keeps soldiering on and throws another guy at me. Wheres the victory fanfare? Wheres the little +4122 exerience caption popping up over the dead guys corpse?

This is, most certainly, a personal flaw on my behalf, as I also frequently observe that todays FPS games are often the pinnacle of storytelling, presentation, and gameplay. Its just my stupid teenage years spent on nothing but games starting with 'Dragon', 'Final', 'Breath of', 'Tales of', 'Xeno-', 'Shin Megami' etc, have rendered me a stats-whore. And FPS games, with only a few exceptions, bypass this for more of a momentum based rewards system.

FPS games make the player feel cool, fast, and powerful every time you fire your gun. RPGs make the player feel cool, fast and powerful every time you spend 3 hours killing stong enemies and then go back and use your overlevelled party to demolish the last chapters enemies. I know which I SHOULD prefer, but I just can't reprogram myself, dammit.

Not to say that FPS games don't still reward skill and progression. Now weapons, armors, and abilities are often prizes for exploration. On top of this, trophies and acheivments do speak a lot to RPG nerds like me, appealing to the 'Grind away at one particular enemy/section for small but tangible reward'.

I see myself as a breed of gamer becoming increasingly left behind by what are clearly superior storytelling styles that I just can't warm to. Telling the story to the player amidst the action is definitely more enthralling than presenting them with a non interactive cutscene.

Often RPG and strategy gamers see FPS games as the dumb jocks of the medium. I don't see this at all. I see them as highly accomplished, next generation experiences, filled with variety, color, and awesome set pieces. I just have a brain stuck in the mid 90's, before shooters evolved with Half Life and Deus Ex, and RPGs were the storytelling kings.

I look forward to them one day making the ultimate game, with a Modern Warfare 2 sense of scale and excitement, but with Final Fantasy length, outlandish story and constant improvements to the character with every challenge I overcome. Borderlands was a step in the right direction, maybe Deus Ex 3 will have enough to make me a convert. Perhaps the next Final Fantasy could be an action game, where progression is triggered by actions and choices, rather than preset scripted seqences.

Well, I'm off to grind some more Vagrant Story. Peace!   read


4:30 AM on 04.06.2010

The 5 Best and Worst Final Fantasy Weapons

These are the best and worst weapons in the Final Fantasy universe. It pretty much explains itself from here.

5. WORST - Hand Bombs - Final Fantasy XII



What. The. Hell. Why would they make something that sounds so cool so useless? Not only is it nestled up on the 'lame zone' of the Licence board, the hand bomb curses its user with random damage, long use times, and a basic functional question mark. To elaborate: When I go into a weapon shop, and choose to purchase, say, the Hornito model of hand bomb, WHAT EXACTLY AM I BUYING? See, a Hand Bomb also needs ammunition. That makes sense, because they explode on contact and are therefore gone. So I buy ammo in the form of Onion Bombs. If its a 'hand bomb', isn't ammo all that I really need? Its like if I was to buy a grenade. The grenade is what I buy and what I throw. Instead, the Ivalice Hand Bomb company makes you buy what surely must be a peice of magic which changes the appearance of the ammo, from the weapon list, which must then magically (or by way of Nanotechnology) alter the sturcture of the ammunition bombs (bought from the ammo list), causing different effects. Its needlessly complex and can therefore go and jump off a bridge.

5. BEST - Giant Shurkien - Various


Not only does it look cool and utterly defy physics, the giant shuriken is surely incredibly dangerous to use. They also pose all sorts of cool questions. Case in point. I am controllong a party containing Yuffie. Taken a sub to the bottom of the ocean to fight the emerald weapon. Yuffie belts her conformer toward the hulking mammoth. Damage is dealt and - BAM - straight back in her hand.

Step 1: Arm giant shuriken
Step 2: Throw giant shuriken
Step 3: Pain
Step 4: ????
Step 5: Back in Yuffies hand

What happens in step 3? Does the shuriken fly with such force it digs a hole straight through Emmy Weapon, completes its boomerang syle arc to return to Yuffie? Does it graze across his/her body, with the HP loss coming from a nasty laceration? Does Yuffie carry hundreds of the bastards, and if one was to dissect Emerald post battle, would they find thousands of Conformers buried in his thick green hide?

I also enjoy the single use versions combined with the throw command, especially in the older games, which tended to be as big as the user. Brilliant.

4. WORST - Rod - Final Fantasy IX



Way to make the white mage good at nothing but healing and buffing. If the white mage was a changeable class or had offensive ability (which wasn't holy, which didn't rear its white glittery head until the end of the game anyway), then I wouldn't have an issue. I'm talking about when your party is set in stone. You have Dagger on board. You are fighting a group of enemies that will only take a few rounds to beat, and don't do much damage. Do you heal? Nope, everyones full health. Do you buff? Nope, these enemies suck. Its Daggers turn! Think fast! At this point, the game has a massive laugh at your expense as you choose attack and Dagger trots forward and swings her rod. 24 damage and an embarrassing hollow 'thunk' sound later, her turn is over, and someone at Square Enix just got a boner.

They got it right in Final Fantasy IV, giving Rosa a bow. Therefore I don't blame White Mages for being largely useless in standard, non boss related combat. I blame the rod. The rod can go and die. And so can the staff.

4. BEST - Tiny Attacking Automaton - Final Fantasy X



What. The. Hell. Not that you'd ever need Lulu to attack anyway, as shes an awesome Black Mage, but this is getting on the list because someone at Square decided that maybe they would be a bit inventive and not give her a stupid wooden stick like every other Mage ever. Not only did they not give her a stick, they gave her a little magic toy thing that cutely toddles towards the enemies and *boof!* - tiny damage!

I know, given the argument I just put against Rods and all those who make them, to pick a useless weapon as a BEST right after might seem a bit backwards. BUT the difference here is that Black Mages don't need physical weapons. They can make gravity wells and shit with their minds, man! Because of this, ALL black mages should have a comical weapon, to use for shits and giggles. Next game, why not a fishing rod? Or a cage full of bouncy balls? The possibilites are endless.


3. WORST - Nerf Style Boomerang - Final Fantasy XIII



Hope was already a big ask for me to accept. And when I don't have much love for this mopey and tropey character, his faults are all to easy to pick. And I tell you what, I had a field day when he first pulled his 9th birthday present out of his pants to do battle. I know they were putting a futuristic slant on this game, but damn, what a crap looking weapon. It looks like a mean cross wind would send it plopping innocently to the ground. If, weather permitting, it does travel the void from Hopes girly arm to the carapace of the Adamantoise or whatever, I can just imagine it going 'boink' and falling harmlessly to the ground. Which would be great if it was a comical eidolon move ala Tonberry in FFVIII. But given the SUPER SERIOUS nature of all things that occur in FFXIII, its about as far from cool as, well, the rest of the things Hope does in the game.


3. BEST - The Humble Sword - All of them



Or, as is often the case, The Rather Elaborate and Multi faceted Sword. Sure, there have been variations, but theres a reason this is always the standard equip. The satisfaction of hitting someone with a sword is awesome. FFVIII experimented with this, by putting the satisfaction of firing a gun in there too, for double satisfying results. Swords are great in Final Fantasy because they always beat every other weapon. Even guns! This brilliant suspension of reality is so strong, that I think most hardened RPG players would probably pick the sword in real life too (forgetting the nature of modern war, and ultimately lasting a very short time).

The best thing about a sword is that all it needs to techically remain a sword is to have a handle.The designer can then choose to put anything on that handle at all. Cock sword? Sure! Cheese wedge sword? No worries! PVC pipe wrapped in barbed wire sword? Make this now!

Fun fact: In Final Fantasy XII, with all the options given by an at times ridiculous weapon selection (see items 5... and 1...) the best party uses three people with one handed sword and sheild. Triple awesome.

2. WORST - The Harp - Final Fantasy IV



What were they thinking. A bard can still be a bard without actually using a harp in COMBAT. You fools! In fact, the western RPG world envisions a bard as a sneaky, charismatic backstabber, and that is far more awesome than anything Square have presented to us. A harp. Really? How does it attack? Oh, of course, by shooting a stream of musical notes! For low damage and a useless status effect! If number 1 wasn't so ridicullously impractical, this would defnitely take out worst in show. Thankfully, Edawrd only infects the battle team for a short time in Final Fantasy IV. And from that hour or so, he is legendary for being the most useless party member ever! A harp! Seriously guys, you suck.

2. BEST - Balls - Final Fantasy X



I actually enjoyed using Wakka and his bouncy balls of doom. Even moreso once his sphere grid actually made it do damage! Really, its a pretty decent idea, adapting the Archer class to the FFX world, in which Blitzball is the most awesome thing going. And some of the later balls you get look rather formidable, like the metal ones. Covered with poisonous spikes! The ball wins second spot for not only being decent to use in the game, but actually possible to make in real life! Seriously, kids, go out and wrap some railroad spikes around your favorite basketball and throw it at your teacher! And you'll be cool like Wakka. Ya? YA!


1. WORST - Measures - Final Fantasy XII

Okay, so the critical flaw in measures relates to their implementation in the game. I'll split it into two points, ten points to the first to spot the FAIL.

1) Measures embue POSITIVE status to those attacked with them.
2) FFXII runs on a gambit system in which every character WILL automatically attack ENEMIES in battle,

Luckily, you can modify you gambits. This means to use a measure, you need to go into the person you are giving measures to (if you are that way inclined, which nobody is), and modify their gambits to attack party members. This works a treat once you realise that measures are not good at all, even when used correctly. You'll no doubt switch back to a decent weapon, like... well anything else in comparison, even Hand Bombs. Then watch with glee as the ex-measure user throws handbombs all over the party until you figure out you still have the gambits set backwards.

On the plus side, they usually sell for pretty good prices!


1. BEST - The Spear - All of them



I just love spears. They are not used in real life nearly as much as they should be. Sure, you might get the odd nutter rob a 7-11 with a samurai sword. Those guys always get totally foiled by the cops, or even the attendant. If those guys re-assessed and walked in with a damn TRIDENT, I daresay things would go a bit better. I wouldn't say no to a trident, would you? I'd be in that register doling out my nights takings. You know why? Because I dont want to be SPEARED.

In the FF universe, all the coolest cats have spears. And they also have this great effect of making an uncool character cool, simply by them holding a spear. I gave Penelo a spear and she was awesome. It almost gave her a personality for a while! I would give Hope a spear if FFXIII allowed me to. What a test of spear coolness that would be!

Coupled with the jump ability, you have a truly scary prospect. Both in-game, and in real life. Imagine someone jumping twelve feet into the air, right above you, with a spear pointing facewards. Before your death, you could only remark at the awesome nature of your impending demise, and hope they leave the obelisk intact and alter your coffin to accommodate it.

Spears are the coolest. They even make Kimahri cool.   read


1:03 AM on 04.03.2010

Review: Final Fantasy XIII



Broken down into easy to digest portions. This is written with the assumption you have read other reviews and seen or played the game. I don't explain the nitty gritty, just give my opinion.

Gameplay

You know by now what is common knowledge - no world map, not many diversions from the set path, battle system with heaps of stuff flying everywhere, enemies with only one or two specific ways to beat them.. heres what I thought.

I didn't really mind any of these things, none are gamebreakers. However, the battle system seems like a step back from FFXII in terms of freedom though. I don't like how they took the trouble to take out random encounters, giving the player the idea encounters can be avoided, etc, only to put a group of enemies in the middle of a really tight path. This essentially takes out the choice. It may as well be a triggered battle scene when the player characted reaches this certain point.

The linearity.. well I wouldn't mind it if the story was so amazing you were gagging to find out what was going to happen. More on the story later, but it isn't.

I think Square should take note though, that pretty much everyones favorite part of this game is getting to Gran Pulse and being able to travel more directions than forwards or backwards. And this part is awesome. Its the first and last part of the game where you feel like you are in a virtual world. Theres lots of things going on in the distance.. wolves running in packs, behemoths fighting other giant hyenas, its just awe inspiring when coupled with what is clearly a powerful game engine. If only Dragon Age looked this good.

This area is sorely missed once you realise you are back on the path. It was great getting to come back in the postgame, but then there wasn't really a sense of purpose, so it then felt a little less exciting.

The battle system itself is certianly a new direction. With its multiple stage atbs, a nifty paradigm system, and strong focus on defense and preparation, its certainly as tactical as Final Fantasy has been. Standard enemy encounters can be really long and tough if you walk in with the wrong paradigms set up. I actually liked this. I disagree with those who say it plays itself. Its got a more 'managerial' sense to it, and if you aren't watching your partys stats, your enemies stats, and learning what attacks are about to hit you, and furiously switching paradigms accordingly, you wont last very long. I'm fine with this. The difference between this and other Final Fantasies is that its less about quickly choosing the right spell/attack/command each turn than it is about changing the demeanor of your whole party to adapt to whats going on.

But, for the love of god Square, NEVER do the 'lead character dies = game over' rule again. ESPECIALLY if you plan on giving some enemies instant KO spells. Its a glaring flaw that is excessively punishing.

Griding really doesn't need to happen to complete the main quest. This is a pretty cool idea, meaning that you realy have to have stuffed up your characters and wasted Crystal Points to not have a chance against the last boss.

Story

This whole streamlined approach to combat and navigation would be absolutlely dandy if it was propelling a story that you couldn't wait to get to the bottom of. However, I found the story largely obtuse and fairly difficult to follow. They really did gamble on everyobody reading every single press release and wikipedia update prior to playing the game. Trouble is, I did, and I still wasn't following the specifics of what was happening. I knew that the characters had been cursed, and I liked the idea of everyone being repulsed by the party, who didn't want this destiny they had been branded with. Thats a cool idea. But its told using severe, game specific babble which I often found incomprehensible. Its one thing looking forward to the next scene for a reveal or an explanation - but I found myself hoping in vain for a talking head sequence that pretty much said "A fal'cie is THIS, and l'Cie is THIS, and THIS is what is going on with your party".

I could tell it all makes perfect sense to the writers, and they certainly seemed keen to make a new mythology and world, but its like they assume everybody playing was sitting in on the brainstorms they were having whilst the game was being written.

The character development was also hindered by this incomprehensibility. I found that some members of the party had endearing personality traits, but like the major plot, their individual arcs were way too complex. Even finishing the game, I still couldn't figure out what caused the fight between Lighting and Serah. Their stories didn't seem complete.

Perhaps another playthough would shed more light, but a combination of story and gameplay make this idea seem really unappealing. Having to go through the first 15 hours where the party is largely split up into inflexible pairs, with many abilities sealed off, is hard to imagine. They might have done well to have a new game plus mode where you can do everything from the beginning and just take in the story.

Some brief notes on my impressions of the characters:

Lightning: Really well voice acted, little to no cringe factor at her lines. I like the basic traits, like her unpredicatbility, bravery, and hard headedness. She'd be a great character to put in any other better FF plots. I liked her interactions with Snow, there was a reasonable amount of development on a basic level.

Snow: I didn't hate him like others seem to. He's a bit of a cliche. His insistance of saying he was the Hero of the game seemed like Square trying to emulate the success of Balthier from 12, with his 'Leading man' assertions. Snow really doesn't do that much in the story, though. His backstory with operation NORA isn't elaborated enough.

Hope: I am sick of this character type. I have no interest in any 'Youth grows up in the face of adversity' arcs. Thats really all there was to Hope.

Fang: Fangs background isn't really gone into, which is funny and it seems so instrumental to the plot. The scenes that did attempt to explain who she was were hard to decipher. She has reasonable dialogue, but doesn't really stand out.

Sazh: Didn't mind Sazh. That ultra dramatic scene where he gets his eidolon at Nautilus was just bizzarely paced, a problem that follows many of the characters stories. His voice acting is reasonable, and the scenes involving his son certainly could have been worse. Hes probably the second most fleshed out personality to me. I could see a fairly decent bond with Vanille. I though his actualy design was a bit drab though.

Vanille: I am also very sick of this character type. I agree with everyone elses problems with Vanille. Also, her voice acting is supremely irritating. She can't jump over a log without making a vaguely pornographic grunt. She spends every scene in a state of 'Oooh! Ahhh! Look at that!". Her narration was reasonable, but too overly cheery. She certainly didn't add enough to the plot for the level of irritation she caused me.

Presentation

This is a pretty easy one. Everything has been really well designed. For such an incomprehensible world, it sure does look good. Some of the scenes are a little busy, and some a little claustrophobic and repetitive. The first couple chapters, especially the one in the junkyard and the pulse 'ark' were a bit drab. But everything else was really well done. Gran Pulse looked like such an accomplished gameworld, they really could set another full game there. I liked it way more than the look of Cocoon. I think they were going for the FFVII idea of starting in the complex metropolis, and then going out into the wide world. As was with Midgar and the world map, the contrasts here are sharp. Just a shame you don't get to spend even a third as much time in the nature of Pulse as you do in the machinations of Cocoon.

Voice acting is as good as it is. I'm still not a fan of mandatory vocals in any game. I always preferred to read text, and imagine my own voices, but oh well, its the way of the RPG now, isnt it. Sounds are fine, the music isn't as signature as in the previous games, especially those before FFX. I think lately Final Fantasy music has become more about being a background ambience than each area having its theme song. Its not terrible, but not too memorable. Really like the battle theme though.

Presentation is great. Hopefully now that they've got this established engine, they can re-use it for the next one player FF and focus on expanding those gameworlds and freeing up the player.

Overall

I think, like everyone else seems to, that the main feature of this game was intended to be this brilliant lookign and immersive gameworld and characters. The first part of that sentence was an utter success, but in terms of immersion - you need a good story to put into this fabulously designed world. It may have been good on paper, but in execution, it fell down flat for me. And really, what good is a Final Fantasy without a story. I enjoyed the battles themselves, liked playing as Lightning, but never felt like I was going anywhere. Overall, I don't regret buying and playing it, but I really hope the next one has a really good story and a bit more freedom.

7/10   read


2:49 AM on 03.30.2010

Something about sex - The filthy mushroom kingdom.

Submitted for your approval, the sordid secret lives of our most beloved mascots.



Poor old Mario. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Apart from the substatial problem of rarely keeping the girl of his dreams out of Koopa custody for more that thirty minutes, I just get the feeling that when he does finally steal her back... very little is happening.

Not to say that Peach is a first timer. There is a reason Peach is so often being abducted. A dirty, filthy secret that taints the Mushroom Kingdoms upper echelon of secret keepers and loremasters.

Two words: Rape. Fantasy.

You see, when Bowser swoops down in his little Bowser hovercraft, he sees Peach waiting in a prone position on top of her castle. Or perhaps shes in bed, writhing around in preparation of whats to come. He swoops in, and she offers a relenting resistance. Its all part of the bizarre game. She is silent, struggling against the iron claws of Bowser. When he has her far enough to thwart an instant and misunderstood rescue, THEN and only then will she cry out for Mario. This is where the next sick stage of her erotic fetish begins. The damsel in distress. Its all part of the act, you see. As she is crying out to Mario to save her, she is getting off on the risks invovled. "Maybe this time Mario will catch us!" she thinks, as Bowser ravenously tears off her dress on route to whatever the first destination is.

Next we enter another level of depravity.

The Princess is in another castle!

Yes toad, she may be now, but she wasn't five minutes ago, when she had her skirt hitched over her head, being pummelled by Iggy, or Ziggy, or any other of Bowsers bizarro friends. You see, Peach is somewhat of a villians bicycle. Bowser systematically takes her from keep to keep, sharing her like last nights dried up bowl of lollies. And she loves it. And as Mario is pounding each minion into the ground, Peach is being pounded into the wall of the shower by whichever anthropomorphic turtle has won the daily sex raffle.

Mario, all the while unknowingly playing his part in the greatest sexual conspiracy is videogame history, soldiers on. Finally he catches up to Bowser. He fights what is often an easily won battle. As he carries Peach back to her castle, she is spent. She catches her breath and draws up plans for next time.


She wanders downstairs, the Unic citizens of the mushroom kingdom offer her now joy, hollow smiles and three cheers for what they see as a successful rescue. Mario has become one of those guys who is 'like a brother' to her. The initial thrill of being saved has worn off, and she is left wanting for the next abduction to go longer, be spread over more castles, or more planets. When she sees Mario, she is so repulsed by him physically, these days the only reward she can muster for her hero is a peice of cake. Unfulfilled, Mario walks home and has another long, cold shower. He wakes up the next day, and just sits on the edge of the bed. A strange sadness creeping in on him. His constant rejection causes him to seethe, and in a horny rage, he breaks all the equipment he collected on his last adventure, swearing to never bother rescuing the princess again.

And then, out of the window, with a raging boner, he sees a familiar character and sees.. an outlet.




TO BE CONTINUED   read


5:39 AM on 02.19.2010

Good times with Final Fantasy

In preparation for FFXIII, as I do with every imminent Final Fantasy release, I have replayed all the prior games, either as far in as I can be bothered or in the case of my favorites, all the way through. One could say I am utterly gay for Final Fantasy. I don't know what it is about this series, but I'll be damned if the combination of storyline, characterization, music and sheer scale doesn't get my hairs standing on end. Heres my 5 favorites after re-playing over the past few months.


5: You have percieved the resonance... - Final Fantasy VIII

I remember playing through the game for the first time, waiting for the GF Bahumat to be bestowed upon my characters during the course of the story as he usually is. Getting towards the endgame, jumping on the Ragnarok and exploring all the little bits and bobs on the (relatively sparse) world map, I came across the abandoned military base right down in the corner.

Your party enters a chamber with a very Zordon-from-Power-Rangers feel to it, and begin to approach the central neon cylinder. It took me about ten goes to not move while the light was on (I'm always too jumpy, just like how I always get carried away boosting GFs and get thrown back to shameful 75..).
FInally arriving, my illequipped party faces two red dragons, having chosen the most correct sounding dialogue choices an otherworldy voice asks of you. Then a third. So I choose the other. Then a fourth. Choosing the secret third dialogue choice? Did psycho mantis program this part or what.

The screen fades to black and the creepy space harp music dies down. Cut to battle scene and a particularly gnarly peice of music starts playing, unique only to this battle and a couple of 'action' areas of the storyline. Bahumat lowers himself down and fells Quistis with a single claw strike, about 1100 hp worth of damage. In desperation, I had Squall attack Zell, putting him in yellow digits, and beat rush/booya'd as quickly as I could, stuffing them into each second on the Duel clock.

After losing count of totals and hoping I've sealed the deal, Bahumat takes aim at Squall, reducing him to yellow digits too. Cerberus/Meltdown/Shell/Protect/Haste, as Zell is KO'd by a Thundaga spell. I mash on Triangle, trying to get the limit to pop up on Squalls solitary menu. It seems to be takign too long, and in my haste I jump straight past a few eager rightward pointing arrows. I hit attack, Squall lands a slash and R1 shot and Bahumat concedes defeat. Hadn't saved since before Lunar Cry. Heart attack. High fives all around if I had a relative who could stomach watching someone play a turn based game.


4. Brother!

Referring to the entire Basch story arc of Final Fantasy XII. I always liked how they set out this game. I see it as a ensemble tale shown through Vaan's eyes. I think thats why theres a lot of Vaan hate out there. They say he's not much of a main character,l and they're right - he isn't! I think the plights of Basch and Ashe really rule this tale, and Basch has the stongest scenes of them all. Its Solid and Liquid all over again, as Basch and Gabranth collide numerous times. My favorite scene in the game is when an almost defeated Gabranth stands up, raising his sword in a manner mimicking his silhouette on the logo on the front of the game. Sure Vayne was a decent last boss (until he went all werewolf on us, at least) but this battle was the one I had been looking forward to all day. Might I also add that along with Balthier and Fran, Bash/Gabranth have the strongest voice acting I've heard in a game. Intelligent, wordy, slightly shakespearian. Brilliant.


3. All I can do is go and sit with them

Has there been more tragic characters than the poor old black mages in Final Fantasy IX. The way they develop from the robotic soldiers lead by the screw-loose black waltzes in the first disc, to their awakenings in the second and third, and their growing awareness of their all too soon expiry dates. The scenes in which the black mages learn of life (via a baby chocobo being born) and death - a series of very sad discussions with their pint sized compatriot Vivi - are the emotional core of this game. When they begin to 'stop' after such a brief lifespan, and start to put their deceased friends in the ground, Kuja re-enlists his awoken creations by selling false hope of extended lifespan. It speaks volumes of the things people will believe simply to make themselves feel better about their impending and inevitable death.

The ultimate kick in the teeth comes after defeating Zorn and Thorn. A downtrodden Vivi trudges over to Zidane and reveals that Kuja, in a callous gesture, dashed all his returned followers hopes for longer life and abandoned them yet again. At this point the player begins to wonder what sort of lifespan our new favorite character Vivi is going to have. Its masterful storytelling.

2. FIRE3! Oh Em Gee..

Although it is an often used RPG plot device, actually fighting as Sephiroth in the flashback scenes of Final Fantasy VII was really effective at making you fear your newly reveled enemy. At the players point in the story, Cloud may have scored a butterfly edge, perhaps getting up to 120 or so damage per swing. Enter the flashback sequence in the Kalm Inn. Young Cloud Jr..(Zack.. whatever), with his big buster sword can barely get a hit in edgeways, whilst Sephiroth is chucking level three spells about or simply hitting things for 3-4 thousand damage.

I know Final Fantasy has been doing it for years, since the Party in FF2 gets wiped out early in the game, but this was a great method of putting actual fear of this guy into the player - and knowing that if you are to come across Sephiroth in a direct fight anytime soon, it will definitely be one of those unwinnable 'story progression' sequences. Sephiroth was such a good villian before they elaborated with all the guest appearances and Advent Childrens and whatnot..

[b]1. So many CG films [/b[

Call them linear, I don't care. The movies in the Final Fantasy games are bloody awesome. The opener of Final Fantasy 7, the Time Compression brainfart in FF8, The Al-Bhed having a dig at Sin with their lighting cannons only to be completely vaporised in FF10. There are so many brilliant moments.
My favorite would have to be Bahumat completely shitting on the entire navy at the close of Disc 2 in FF9, and the suprisingly upsetting aftermath as narrated by Vivi. Followed closely by Alexander trying in vain to protect his town from a Garland-influences Bahumat later in Disc 3. FF9 is where its at for the great CG.
Now that they are getting older, I find its really just the story rather than the gameplay mechanics that bring me back to these games. I do enjoy the quainter side of the earlier games like 4 and 5 (going to the moon... FuSoYa... Faris is a girl (duh)) but they really cant compare to the excellent writing shown in FF6 onwards.
I do like all the commonly referenced scenes, like the Paladin change in FF4, the opera in FF6, the intro to FF8, Aurons side story in FFX, but they all get enough mileage. I hope I've stirred up some nostaliga in anyone reading. Cheers!   read


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