Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn – Thoughts on the Beta Test

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Well, the fourth and final test phase of the new Final Fantasy XIV beta test is now complete. I spent the entire weekend putting the game through it’s paces. Overall, I had a very positive experience. Launching an MMO game is much more difficult than most people realize. It’s certainly more challenging than releasing a single player game. Knowing this, also take time to consider that data had to be imported from the old version. This makes for an even trickier launch.

The beta started out great for most, but by the second day error messages started to crop up for a large number of players preventing them from logging on. After more than twenty-four hours of this issue, SE was finally able to identify the root cause and issue a fix. The beta was extended by a few hours as a result. While I heard about the glitch, I did not experience it myself.

As I said, I really put the game through it’s paces. I completed a good chunk of the main scenario story, a few of the class quests, several levequests and guildhests, I even participated in an instanced raid and founded a Free Company (guild).

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Personally, I feel that game is ready for launch assuming SE has, in fact, sorted out their server issues. I think the test as a whole was an overall success. No launch is without its problems, and considering that this weekend was actually still a phase in the beta test, I am assuming in good faith that SE now has whatever data they need to ensure a successful launch day. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

I enjoyed this game enough to declare without hesitation that FFXIV is certainly going to be my new full time MMO of choice.

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The Rebirth of Final Fantasy XIV

In just a few hours the fourth and final beta phase of Final Fantasy XIV 2.0 goes live. This phase is significant because all content and progression will carry over to the actual release of the game. Nerds everywhere are quivering with anticipation. I am no exception. I haven’t talked about it too much on this blog, because I was waiting to discuss Final Fantasy XIV after I had a chance to review the other games in the series. Of course, at the rate my playthroughs are going, that may take a quite a while.

So, allow me to introduce Kijimuna…

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Kiji is my Final Fantasy XIV character. I have not had a chance to spend any quality time with him since the original version of the game went offline back in November. I wrote about this briefly at the time. You can view that original article here:

A Look Back at Final Fantasy XIV 1.0

In a nutshell, the original version of Final Fantasy XIV was poorly received. It suffered from major issues at release. Everything from lack of content to massive server lag cause players to quit the game in droves. Reviews of the title were brutal. Even many hardcore fans, such as myself, had to admit that the game was a complete bomb.

Things got so bad, that most of the original development team was fired or assigned to other projects. A new producer was promoted and after a long hard look at the current game, he declared that the current implementation of the game was simply unfixable. His solution was a complete redesign, starting with the very game engine itself. Never before had such a massive task been proposed. Many players expected Square Enix to simply pull the plug on the title and cut their losses. Luckily, the corporation threw their support behind the idea and now, almost three years later, we are on cusp of the long awaited Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

To usher in the change, the original game continued to be patched and improved on while the new version was being developed. Many of the original issues that plagued the game were fixed but a good number of them, such as server lag and UI complaints remained until the very last day of service. To keep players interested, special storyline content was added to the game. This once-in-a-lifetime content was only available to players who continued to subscribe while the new version was under development. Perks like exclusive titles and equipment were made available during this time. Also, players who subscribed for more than 90 days during the original run also had their game accounts flagged with a special “Legacy” tag. Legacy Accounts are treated to special pricing as well as some in-game perks when the new version is finally released. I’m proud to say I was a supporter through both the good times and bad. I was there for early access, and I was there until the very minute the servers were shut off.

Even though the official release is still just under two weeks away. For many of us, Phase 4 represents the start of 2.0.

I imagine I will post a brief update after a couple weeks, but I’ll save my big review of the game for later. In the meantime, those of you interested are welcome to read my in-character XIV blog located at the address below:

Dear Friends – In-Character FFXIV Blog

Operation Rainfall: What’s Next

Now that I have played and completed all three games involved in the original Operation Rainfall. I’m left wondering what new Japanese Style RPG should be next on my list? Those of you that think Op Rainfall has closed up shop now that their original goal has been met, you are mistaken. Aside from a victorious ending, the campaign also served as a reminder that many great games never see the light of day in the US.

If we had something like Operation Rainfall years ago, we may not have had to wait over ten years to get a North American release of Final Fantasy II, III and V. We’d have official English versions of games like Mother 3. The Sa-Ga series would be complete. So would the Mana series. There’s a slew of great games out there that many players simply don’t even know exist. (Wizardry is another fine example.)

For more information of current projects at Operation Rainfall, please bookmark the link below:

Op Rainfall Campaign Hub

The games involved in Op Rainfall represent a genre that’s dear to my heart. Japanese Style RPGs. So what will be next for me? While not an Op Rainfall title, the next modern JRPG that I’m planning to sit down with will be Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. It may take some time for me to start this, and there’s a lot of great games coming out in the near future, as well and a backlog of classic titles that I still want to review. So stay tuned.

Steam Summer Sale 2013

Just a friendly reminder to all the PC gamers out there that the Steam Summer Sale is on! It’s like Christmas for gamers. This is the one time of year where Steam slashes prices on games in crazy amounts. Sometimes 75-90% off.

Lots of good deals have been had so far this year. The sale runs until the 22nd, so keep your eyes peeled for any good deals that might entice you.

Of course, my Steam ID is: RetroSensei

Xbox One – Revealed

Just a few days ago, Microsoft revealed the successor to the popular Xbox 360 console. The Xbox One. As a result, have now been introduced to all three of the “next-gen” consoles.

The Xbox One in many ways is a standard upgrade. More processing power, better graphics capability. The software is a 64-bit Windows 8 based OS. The Kinect is now built in to the base package and features voice commands that can control the console. Additionally, the system now features Blu-Ray support instead of standard DVDs.

Microsoft seems to pushing this system as more of an entertainment center than a game console. It will feature a television pass-thru that allows interaction with standard Television programming. This is also something that Nintendo has done with the Wii U.

I watched the keynote, and personally, much like the PS4 reveal, I didn’t see anything that floored me. Of course we still have E3 to receive more info on both products, but so far I don’t see any clear breakaway winner between the two. In fact, I don’t see anything in particular that makes me want to run out and grab either one, to be honest.

This is going to be a situation of “time will tell”. The Xbox doesn’t typically have any exclusive titles (beyond Halo). And if the Playstation does acquire some exclusive releases, Microsoft might be in for a bad time.

We’ll have to see how this all plays out in the coming months.

Playstation 4 Announcement

So just the other day Sony had a big press conference to announce the upcoming release of the Playstation 4. While we’ve seen no picture of the console itself, several details including an image or two of the controller have been presented.

Based on the picture alone, the controller hasn’t changed a whole lot. The biggest difference appears to be a small touch pad in the center of the device. Exactly what functions this touchpad can perform are still unclear, but I worry that this may be a bit gimmicky. The start and select buttons are gone, replaced by and Options and Share button. The option button seems like a good idea, it’s sort of an all-in-one menu button. Press it and you’re brought to an options menu in the PS4 OS. I’ve long felt that the days of needing a “start” and “select” have been long gone, so this is a welcome change. The Share button is an obvious clue that the PS4 is going to linked in to social media. In fact, Sony has stated that this connectivity is a core focus of the device.

Some other really good tidbits about the PS4: Sony claims the device will have a near instantaneous power on and off time. They state that it will be able to download games in the background regardless of what else is going on, and will even have network functionality when turned off. This is a good thing for patches, etc.

The system specs and abilities seem to be on par with what one might expect for a next-gen console. But here’s where we get to the part that worries me. There will be no hardware backwards compatibility. That’s right, the PS4 cannot read discs from any previous generation console. Instead, Sony is pushing something they call “Cloud Play”. This is essentially a streaming service. Let’s say you want to play a PS2 era game. You will have to “purchase” the game online. The game is not downloaded or installed on your PS4, instead, the game is hosted on a server somewhere at Sony and you interact with the server online. Your button presses are sent over the internet, performed at Sony and a video stream of the game is sent back to your home. So basically, you’re playing a game remotely. If this works, I think could be a brilliant solution. However, I feel there is a lot of potential for lag and other issues that could really degrade the performance. Of course, only time will tell if this is going to work as expected. Of course another downside to this is that all those PS1, 2 and 3 discs you have are worthless if you want to play on the PS4.

For me, I’m not really all that excited about the announcement. As you know, I have a first generation PS3 (fully backwards compatible) and I recently had to do a home refurbish. I worry that my existing console may be on its last legs, but I don’t see myself rushing out on day one to get a shiny new PS4. Instead, I’m going to sit back and let the media and other gamers pick it apart. I’m going to see what the verdict is on the cloud gaming and then make my decision.

Also, these days many developers are starting to really embrace cross-platform gaming. Final Fantasy XIII was released on both PS3 and Xbox360. The days of PS Exclusive titles seems to be waning. So it may even be safe to say that unless the PS4 has some really tempting exclusives, I may consider skipping it altogether. Time will tell.

 

Update: Operation Rainfall

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Last year, I talked about an ongoing movement known as Operation Rainfall. For those that missed it, Operation Rainfall was a fan-led initiave to help bring three of the top-rated RPGs for the Wii to the USA.

The first two games, Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story were brought over back in the spring and summer of 2012. For the longest time, it looked like the final game; Pandora’s Tower was not going to see the light of day here in the west.

Today, I received an email from Xseed Games, announcing the spring 2013 release of Pandora’s Tower for the Wii! Ladies and gentlemen, we did it!!!

Congrats to all who participated and donated to OpRainfall. It was gamers and fans like us who made this possible!

Wizardry Online – Beta Test Opinion

I’ve been putting off this article for some time. If you’ve been following the blog, you may remember my excitement for the upcoming North American release of Wizardry Online. Being a lifelong fan of the Wizardry games, I was extremely excited to finally get a chance to play this long awaited MMO.

Several years ago, I hosted a fan-page dedicated to the Wizardry series. It was one of the few on the net at the time and quickly became one of the biggest Wiz sites out there. I prided myself on being such a big player in the community, that I decided to launch a podcast in preparation for the English release of Wizardry Online. So, in July 2012, the Gilgamesh’s Tavern podcast was born.

To help lend some credibility to the cast, I launched the first episode by interviewing one of the founders of the series itself; Robert Woodhead. As the podcast progressed, I spent some time discussing all of the various games in the series, both western and Japanese titles. Finally, as the details regarding the game started trickling in, things got hectic.

I was accepted in the closed beta, and around the same time I was contacted by SOE and provided with several beta keys to distribute. Suddenly, my podcast subscriptions went from single digits to triple digits overnight. It was everything an aspiring podcaster could ask for. There was just one problem… My experience with the closed beta was… well… awful.

Being under NDA, I couldn’t express my concerns publicly. Several localization issues about the game irked me and the user interface and game controls boggled my mind, and I was not alone. Many users in the beta forums echoed my sentiments. Other aspects of the game seemed severely flawed as well. I was left to wonder, was the current Japanese version of the game so… crappy? Or was SOE giving us some type of modification of the original vanilla JP release?

With the end of the closed beta, and the launch of the open test. The game received a much needed patch. Several of my complaints seemed to have been addressed. But, something about the game still felt… broken. It’s very hard for me to get into specifics because, I can’t really place my finger on it. There are many things about Wizardry Online that are indeed very “Wizardry-like”. However, there are so many other aspects that seem completely out of place. The things in the game that do seem to honor the roots of the series, such as randomly assigned skill points at character creation, seem out of place for an MMO. While, things from the old series that would thrive, such as advanced classes (Samurai, Lord, Ninja, Bishop) are absent.

Needless to say, I was disappointed to the point where I could no longer offer my support for the game by hosting a community podcast. Rather than make a big scene about it, I just quietly retired the podcast and vanished into the night, as some might say.

Many of my real-life friends who were also jazzed for the game have also expressed their discontent of the title. I am very sad to have to admit it, but my disappointment with the title has been vast.

Now, I realize the game is still in beta. But I would be extremely (and pleasantly) surprised if the title receives enough polish between now and release to win me back.

On a side note, before ending this rant. I do want to point out that one thing the game really seems to get right is ATMOSPHERE. The dungeons and even the town create a very good sense of adventure and danger. However, the combat mechanics, user interface, and clunky controls just overshadow everything else.

Being a Free-to-Play title, I certainly have no plans of uninstalling the game and I do expect to give an honest chance upon release. But I’d be lying if I said that I don’t think this is going to be a very profitable title for SOE. The worst thing about that is, if this game fails, the chances of any other JP Wizardry titles being brought to the US drop significantly.

Operation Rainfall – Why It Is Important

It is August 22nd, 2012. Yesterday, I received in the mail, my copy of The Last Story. I couldn’t be happier.

The Last Story is a Wii title that was released in Japan some time ago, but is only just now seeing the light of day here in the United States. This wouldn’t have happened without an online movement known as Operation Rainfall.

A while back, three great games were introduced in Japan. These games are: Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower.  Later, these games were introduced to the European audience. However, Nintendo of America showed little to no interest in bringing these games to the American audience. All these of these titles have received rave reviews and many gamers in the US eagerly awaited their release.

Initially, Nintendo made it clear that for a variety of reasons they had no intention of localizing these titles. Once it became obvious that their minds would not be easily swayed, the Operation Rainfall movement was born. What started a group of IGN forum users soon became a much bigger phenomenon. Operation Rainfall began a social media blitz, that is still ongoing to this day.

OP Rainfall had it’s first success with the announcement that Xenoblade Chronicles would in fact be released in the US as a Gamestop-exclusive title. Finally, after almost two years the American audience received what is considered by many to be one of the best RPGs in a decade. The game rocketed to the top of the charts. Outselling even the expectations of its fanbase. Pre-orders for the title came with a breathtaking book of original artwork for the game.

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I purchased Xenoblade upon it’s release and I have been nothing but pleased. This game has sucked me in completely. Everything from the environment, to the characters have me hooked. The music composed for the title is some of the best I’ve heard. I listen to it on my iPod when I’m at work. It’s magical. I’ve been playing it almost exclusively since its release and there is so much content packed into this title that I’m still only about 3/4ths of the way through.

Not long after Xenoblade’s success, it was announced that Xseed Software would distribute the North American release of The Last Story. This is a title that holds a special place in my heart. It was created by the original inventor a Final Fantasy, a series that I have cherished for more than half of my life. I have high hopes for it, and once I’ve finished my time with Xenoblade, this will be my next focus. Like Xenoblade, the first run of this title comes with an artbook and a limited edition game soundtrack. My only complaint is the soundtrack only features seven tracks, it is not the complete game score.

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That brings up to Pandora’s Tower. As of today there is still no official North American release planned for this game. Operation Rainfall is preparing a final-effort pitch to Nintendo of America. Beginning on August 31st, a three-day blitz with be launched. Supporters are urged to email, message and call Nintendo to politely ask that this title be brought to the USA. With sales of the previous two titles doing better than expected, it is our hope that Nintendo will finally see the light and give gamers what they are asking for.

This campaign is important because aside from these three titles, there are a number of great games that may never see the light of day in the US for a variety of reasons. I’ve recently reviewed Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, this is a prime example of a game that was held back because it was assumed American audiences would not find it favorable. For many years, North American gamers went without Final Fantasy II and III for the same reasons.

As a fan of the Wizardry series, I would love nothing more than to sink my teeth into those mysterious Wizardry Gaiden and Neo Wizardry titles that have so far been exclusive to Japan.

I would urge you to read the following post from Operation Rainfall and participate. I’ll be all three days. If the campaign is sucessfull, Op Rainfall will distribute a special collectors sleeve designed to hold all three titles.

Operation Rainfall: The Final Push

 

Retro Flashback: Super Mario Bros.

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, my love for gaming went mainstream on the Chrismas morning I unwrapped my first Nintendo Entertainment System. I received two games that morning, Super Mario Bros. and Metroid.

Anyone who owned an NES in the 80’s and 90’s had a copy of Super Mario. It came with virtually every NES sold. As such, it was an instant ice-breaker for kids my age. It didn’t matter who you were, you knew how to play SMB. You could sit down next to another kid, even if you’ve never met before, and there was an instant bond

Everything about SMB was fascinating to a young kid such as myself. Chicken turtles, man-eating plants, smiling clouds, a plumber that can “spit” fireballs. It was just mind blowing at the time. There was nothing else like it.

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When I look back now, I can really appreciate just how much of a game-changer this title was. The wizards at Nintendo exhibited sheer genius. Not only in design, but also in marketing. I read once that sometime in the late 90’s, a poll was conducted and it found that more children worldwide recognized Mario than recognized Mickey Mouse. I believe it. The marketing machine was in full swing as a result of it’s popularity: There were cartoons, breakfast cereals, toys, etc. Not only did this game spawn a plethora of sequels, but it has been re-released over and over. (I personally have bought this game no less than 5 times).

I have owned this title on the NES, I bought the enhanced remake (Super Mario All Stars) for the SNES, I purchased it again for the Gameboy Color, again on the Wii virtual console, and yet again, with the Wii Mario Anniversary edition. Nintendo got my money time and time again, all on one single game.

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When my oldest son approached at the age of four and said, “Daddy, I think I would like try playing one of your video games now.” The first thing I grabbed for him was Super Mario.

Here’s to a classic title that has truly withstood the test of time. I plan to introduce a segment in the blog where I play through old classics and offer a “Retro Review”. I imagine that this title may be the first. Stay Tuned!

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