Review: Deus Ex

This is a review that has been a long time coming. In reality, I should have discussed this game quite some time ago. Deus Ex was released in 2000, before some of the other titles I’ve already featured on this site. But, as I wrap up my turn-of-the-century playthroughs, I find myself filling in some of the gaps in my backlog that I missed the first time around. This game is a fine example of that. Deus Ex is one of those PC titles that always appears on the “greatest games of all time” lists, and with good reason. This game is so good it’s ridiculous. On the surface, it appears to be just another first-person shooter, but in reality it is so much more than that. While presented in the first-person, Deus Ex also incorporates RPG and stealth elements. It manages to successfully merge these different styles in a way that’s rarely done successfully. For this reason, it cemented itself as a classic in hearts and minds of many gamers, myself included.

Before I get into the meat of the game, I want to take a moment to discuss some technical details. Deus Ex is built with a modified version of the original Unreal-Engine. This means that it is generally compatible with today’s PCs, but lacks some of the modern conveniences such as widescreen support and higher resolutions. To resolve this, players have a couple of options. (All unofficial fixes) First, for purists, there’s “Kentie’s Launcher“. This is a replacement executable that offers higher resolutions and FOV fixes without changing any of the original textures or artwork. (This is what I used for my playthrough/screenshots). The second option is “GMDX” which is actually more of a total-conversion mod than a simple fix. This mod upgrades the game’s graphics and mechanics resulting in a much more modern and polished experience, without detracting from the intended feel of the game’s developers. In all honestly, the GMDX mod is probably what I would recommend to most players who are just trying Deus Ex for the first time, as long as they don’t mind playing the game with fan-sourced textures.

The story of Deus Ex is an interesting mixture of both political intrigue and science fiction. The game takes place in a futuristic setting where society is on a downward spiral fueled by terrorist attacks, a world-wide plague, and political turmoil. As a result, most of the world is now under the control of a division of the United Nations called UNATCO (United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition). In Deus Ex, players control the character of JC Denton, a recent UNATCO recruit. Denton is an experimental agent who has been physically enhanced with various cybernetic implants. For his first mission, Denton is tasked with resolving a terrorist occupation at New York’s Liberty Island. It is there that he learns the true motive behind the terrorist’s activities, and it starts him down a path that will ultimately force him to decide where his loyalties lie.

The creators of Deus Ex mix some of the best late-90’s sci-fi concepts with nearly every crypto/conspiracy theory you can think of, resulting in a compelling and thrilling story. Throughout the course of the game, players will be taken from the streets of Hell’s Kitchen NYC and the Hong Kong underworld to the catacombs of Paris and beyond. At several points in the game, players will be faced with various decisions that will impact the storyline of the game itself. This adds a level of replayability that makes Deus Ex a game that players can enjoy over and over again.

Excellent story aside, the big secret to Deus Ex‘s success is in the game design itself. Despite looking like just another shooter, players can determine exactly how they want to control their character. Yes, Denton can end up blowing through his enemies like a guns blazing “Rambo”, but more often it’s better to be more subtle. Players can sneak around in shadows and try to avoid enemies entirely. Instead of obtaining keys from the bodies of slain soldiers, they can instead pick locks and hack computer terminals, allowing them to infiltrate enemy territory and continue with their mission. As you progress through the game and complete objectives, you are awarded skill points than can be spent on increasing certain abilities. For example, when it comes to combat, you can choose to master light weapons or explosives as opposed to rifles and hand guns. This system allows players to create a character that matches with the style of play they want to experience.

While the main focus of Deus Ex is the single player story, multiplayer capabilities were added to the game shortly after its release. However, these days, players who wish to experience online play will have quite a bit of work cut out for them. Initially, the multiplayer browser found in the game served as a front-end for the now defunct Gamespy service. Since Gamespy no longer exists, players will need to either enjoy multiplayer on a LAN or edit the game’s configuration files to allow for play using other third-party services (such as Master Server), but even then active matches can be hard to come by.

In the end, the Deus Ex experience is truly a work of art. It is a title that every PC gamer should have in their library. It was released at a time in the industry when the focus was shifting from single player to online experiences. In a way, its release marks the end of a era in PC gaming.

Difficulty: Variable –  Deus Ex offers several difficulty options. However, even at the easiest setting, the game can be brutal at times. Players would be wise to save their game often and try to “out-think” the problem in front them. Often times when confronted with what seems like a hopeless scenario, players can find a solution by approaching their goal from a completely different angle. This is just one of the many things that makes this game shine.

Story: You’d be hard pressed to find a better and more in-depth storyline in a PC title at the time Deus Ex was released. This game ranks right up there with Fallout and Max Payne in terms of compelling storytelling. The plot is certainly one of the best aspects of this game.

Originality: In a time when first-person shooters were a dime a dozen, Deus Ex flipped the script by adding stealth mechanics and RPG elements. Sure, stealth-based first-person games like Thief has already seen the light of day, but Deus Ex allowed players to choose what style of play was suited for them. This brought a dynamic that had never really been seen before.

Soundtrack: Filled with futuristic tunes and funky Asian-flaired hip-hop, Deus Ex features a catchy soundtrack that fits the game perfectly. The game also boasts voice acting that was above-average at the time.

Fun: At first, this game can seems a bit overwhelming. But once I managed to sink my teeth into it, I found myself having a complete blast. This is a game that I enjoyed immensely at the time it was released. Playing through it now, I found that it still managed to capture my attention just like it did back in the day.

Graphics: By today’s standards, Deus Ex will appear a bit dated. Of course, at the time it was released it was top-of-the-line. Modern players can improve the visuals using third party mods and patches.

Playcontrol: Fairly standard first person PC controls. Deus Ex uses the common WSAD keyboard layout for first-person PC games. No major issues.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: YES. Language, violence.

Value:  At the time of this writing, the Game of the Year edition of Deus Ex tends to sell for around $7.00. At this price, the game is certainly worth every penny. It is not uncommon to see the game for sale as low as $1.00 during Steam sales.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Deus Ex stands as a high watermark for classic PC gaming. It’s difficult to fully describe just how great this game is without sounding like a fanboy. But it really is that good. This is one of those rare games that reaches across multiple genres and appeals to nearly everyone. If you consider yourself to be a PC gamer, you owe it yourself to experience this game at least once.

Available on: Steam and GOG

Other Games in this Series:

Deus Ex     –    Invisible War    –    Human Revolution    –    The Fall    –    Mankind Divided

Review: Bloodstained – Curse of the Moon

It’s been three years since Koji Igarashi (or IGA, as he tends to be called) unveiled his plans for “Sword or Whip?” – the spiritual successor for the Castlevania franchise. Since that time, the game has been given a proper name; Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. The game itself is still in development with a release date scheduled for later this year. So, to hold players over, IGA has released a small spin-off title called Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon.  

As many know, Bloodstained is a game born from the ashes of the Castlevania series. For many years, IGA was in charge of the franchise while he was employed at Konami.  Ritual of the Night is viewed by many to be the modern continuation of the gothic-horror/platformer genre.  So if RotN is the future, what is CotM? This amazing little game is essentially a retro-clone. It’s presented in the classic 8-bit style that so many Castlevania fans will be familiar with. And yes, it serves as a prequel to the upcoming Ritual of the Night. As such, it is a delightful nod to the old-school roots that serve as the foundation for what IGA is about unveil.

The storyline for this title is surprisingly well done and it sets up the events leading into Ritual of the Night.  In a nutshell, the story goes like this: In the 18th century, science is on the verge of overtaking the long-practiced arts of magic and alchemy. In attempt to maintain their grip in the modern world, a group of alchemists conduct experiments on innocent people, implanting dark crystals into their bodies in hopes of summoning a demon. The experiment is successful, but instead of controlling the entity, the demon breaks free of the alchemists’ control and opens a portal to hell itself. Monsters and demons pour from the portal and overtake the countryside. Enter hero: Zangetsu – a blade-wielding demon-hunter. His only goal is to hunt down and destroy the source of the demonic infestation. During his journey he encounters the following other adventurers:

Miriam: A young girl who was taken as a child by a mad alchemist. Subject to the experiments mentioned above, her body was fused with cursed crystals – giving her demonic powers. Freed by Zangetsu, she seeks to hunt down the demonic entities with her enchanted whip.

Alfred: One of the alchemists responsible for unleashing the demonic threat. Fueled by his search for an ancient text, he will let nothing stand his way, be it human or demon.

Gebel:  Also a victim of the alchemist’s experiments, Gebel somehow managed to survive the ritual. However, his body continues to slowly be consumed by demonic energy. He seeks revenge against humanity by embracing the darkness that now consumes him.

When the game starts, players are in control of Zangetsu. As they continue to clear levels in the game, they will unlock the other playable characters. The player can switch between characters on the fly. Each character offers a slightly different style of play, with benefits and drawbacks of their own.

The game itself is VERY reminiscent of the NES-era Castlevania games, Castlevania III especially. The graphics, sound, level design, and overall presentation make this feel like a long-lost entry in that series. Everything that there was to love in those games can be found here, but with some more modern concepts thrown in as well. This makes Curse of the Moon feel like an evolution of those retro games instead of just a carbon-copy clone.

The game itself offers two difficulty levels from the start. Casual Mode offers unlimited lives and disables the knock-back that is experienced when a player takes damage. The Veteran Mode provides a more retro experience. Lives are finite and losing them all will result in players having to redo the entire level over again. Regardless of the mode selected, the game is not quite as difficult as the original Castlevania titles it is based on.

Upon completion of the game, Nightmare Mode is unlocked. This allows players to replay the game from the beginning with the additional characters already available. There’s also a Boss Rush mode that can be unlocked as well.

In the end, Curse of the Moon is both an excellent tip-of-the-hat to the games of yesteryear, as well as a clever set up for things to come. Everything about the game from the graphics to the enemy design is there to remind you of those classic Castlevania titles. But other aspects such as the depth of the storytelling to the well-designed boss battles, give players a hint that Bloodstained is going to be so much more.

I was blown away by this game. My level of excitement for Bloodstained has increased tenfold. This is a game worth a look.

Difficulty: Medium –  When stacked against the platformers of the past, Curse of the Moon is considerably easier. Even in Veteran Mode, this game is nowhere near as difficult as say, Castlevania or Castlevania III. The boss fights are probably the hardest part of the game, but the battles all contain patterns that are easy enough to learn and master. This is true even for the secret hidden boss available in the game’s alternate mode.

Story: The backstory for this game is surprisingly well done. It is presented at the start of the game and through readable in-game dialogue. This whole title actually seems to serve as a set up for the upcoming Ritual of the Night. I’m glad to see there’s actually some interesting lore for this new franchise. I’d hate for RotN to end up as nothing more than a poorly constructed style-clone.

Originality: Despite paying homage to retro Castlevania titles, Curse of the Moon manages to somehow feel fresh and exciting.  Maybe it’s because it’s been a while since we’ve seen anything like this. I’m not sure. But I do know that playing this game didn’t feel like a tired slog through memory lane. Instead, it felt like the start of something new and exciting.

Soundtrack: Classic retro bit-tunes. The soundtrack really took me back to the days of my youth. Most of the music was catchy and appropriate, but it honestly doesn’t hold a candle to some of the great jams we were treated with in the old Castlevania games.

Fun: This game took me by surprise. I was expecting to simply get a nostalgic smile or two out of it. But, instead I was floored by how good it was. The intricacies of the characters and the polish of the game design are simply brilliant. This little downloadable title is way better than it has any right to be.

Graphics: This game was designed to mimic the classic 8-bit NES era. With that in mind, it does a perfect job. By today’s standards it is not going to blow anyone away. But then again, it isn’t supposed to.

Playcontrol: If there’s any major improvement over the original Castlevania titles, it is this. The controls are responsive and accurate. No sluggish movement, no lag, No complaints whatsoever.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: YES – Religious and paranormal themes.

Value:  Backers of the Bloodstained Kickstarter can download this game for free on the platform of their choice. All others can purchase it for $9.99. In my opinion, this is a more than fair price for a game of this quality.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Despite being a retro-inspired game, Curse of the Moon is a quality product. I love the way the developers used the 8-bit era to create a prequel for their upcoming title. It let’s the players know the source of the developer’s inspiration, while setting the stage for the next era. This title is a love letter to older gamers like myself, but I really feel that even younger players who grew up with their PS3’s and Xbox 360’s will find enjoyment in this title.

Available on: Steam, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS

Review: Wario Land 3

It is so easy to get hung up on RPGs and other complex games that it’s possible to forget about some of the more simpler titles out there. I recently wound up my review for Xenogears, a game that took me several months to complete. By the time I was finished, I knew I wanted my next playthrough to be something a little more relaxed. So I took a look at my backlog and as soon as I saw Wario Land 3 on the list, I knew that would be my next game.

I reviewed Wario Land 2 nearly two years ago. So, it has been a while since I stepped into the quirky world of Wario. Wario Land 3 is a game that I never played in my younger days. It debuted on the Game Boy Color back in 2000. And, like so many titles of the era, it was released during a time in my life where gaming was not a priority for me. As a result, it flew under my radar at the time.

Like most titles in the series, the storyline here is fairly simple. Wario is going for a casual cruise in his cropduster when the engine fails and he crash lands on a mysterious island. After exploring the island for a bit, he comes upon a cave that contains a strange music box. As he gazes at the music box, he suddenly finds himself trapped inside of it! As it turns out, there’s a whole little world inside the cursed box and Wario is not alone; the maker of the box is also trapped inside with him. To escape, Wario must search the land inside this little prison for five other magical music boxes. Once they have all been collected, he will be able to return home with any riches he is also able to uncover along the way. – Yep… sounds like a typical Wario game.

If you’ve ever played either of the first two Wario Land titles, then you pretty much know what to expect in terms of gameplay. Just like Wario Land 2, Wario is invincible in this game as well. He cannot be killed by either his environment or by enemies. However, that is not to say that enemy attacks do not affect him. When attacked by some monsters, Wario will be inflicted with various effects. For example, if he comes in contact with a fire-based attack, he will burst into flames like a torch and run around wildly. If stung by a bee, he will swell up and float through the air, etc. These status ailments, while annoying at times, are actually the key to playing the game. Players will learn how to use them to navigate the levels and solve puzzles. For example, getting stung will enable him to float to an otherwise unreachable platform. This is the essentially the same mechanic that was introduced in Wario Land 2, but it is expanded and a little polished in this outing.

This time, each level contains a number of keys. As Wario collects keys of a certain color, he can use them to unlock the corresponding chest that’s also hidden in the level. Chests contain items that either unlock new areas on the overworld map or give Wario new abilities. Once a chest is unlocked, the level is over. This means that Wario will need to move back and forth between worlds, upgrading his abilities and revisiting previously played levels in order to reach previously inaccessible areas. It is actually quite clever. It is not necessary for players to unlock every chest to complete the game, but completionists will certainly find the extra challenge welcome. This design actually makes for quite a bit of a content. I took me just under nine hours to conquer this title. That’s a quite a bit of time for a handheld platformer.

One interesting aspect to this game are the inclusion of the “mini-golf” levels. Occasionally, progress through the game is halted by a roadbloack. These roadblocks are removed by participating in (and winning) a series of golf-based mini-games. To be honest, this mini-game is largely pointless and occasionally annoying. But somehow they seem to fit the weird and quirkiness of the rest of the game. Leave it to Nintendo to be both annoying and entertaining at the same time…

The Wario Land series shows that developers of platform games do not have to be afraid to deviate from the standard formula. This title is a great example of how to both build off an proven method, but still add new ideas and concepts into the mix. For me, I find these games to be a blast. The puzzles make you think outside of the box. And even though Wario cannot die, the game is still challenging in its own way.

Difficulty: Hard –  When you hear that this is a platform title in which the player cannot die, you might think that makes for a pretty easy experience. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In a way, Wario’s invincibility only makes certain parts of the game even more frustrating. You work hard to scale your way to the very top of a level, your goal in sight – only be to zapped by some random enemy and sent tumbling back down to the very start… Infuriating. To be honest, the main scenario of the game is probably on par with most other Nintendo-era platform titles. But players who want to get the most out of the game and collect all 100 treasures will be in for quite a challenge.

Story: Games like these are not very story-centric. Nor do they need to be. The gameplay is the focus here. But, this title includes a cute little set up with an interesting twist at the end. The background story here is on par with what is found in other platform games.

Originality: Somehow Nintendo has again managed to keep this game from feeling stale. Non-linear, replayable levels with unlockable areas help keep this platformer title feeling like something new. Quite a feat.

Soundtrack: Silly/oddly appropriate music. But nothing spectacular. Honestly, probably the least interesting part of the game.

Fun: This game ended up providing me with much more entertainment than I expected. Just when I thought I knew what expect from this genre, Nintendo tosses in something to keep things fun and fresh. The difficulty felt a little extreme at times and I can imagine that some younger players would get a bit turned off by it. But considering Wario cannot die, it is only a matter of willpower.

Graphics: This game will look pretty dated by today’s standards. But at the time, it featured top-tier visuals for a mobile game. This title is a prime example of what the Game Boy Color was capable of.

Playcontrol: The controls are responsive and accurate. No complaints whatsoever.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: None.

Value:  Original copies of this game typically go on Ebay for $20 or less. But, the game is available digitally through the 3DS eShop for only $4.99. At that price, you shouldn’t pass it up. There’s hours of content in the game. Plus, players willing to collect every treasure are treated with a special unlockable “time attack mode” that only makes the game even more replayable.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Ridiculously good. This game is better than it has any right to be. Despite not being a title you hear about often, Wario Land 3 is packed full of fun. It’s extremely well put together and even almost twenty years later, it still holds up. I highly recommend this to anyone with a 3DS that enjoys retro games.

Available on: 3DS Virtual Console

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

SMB   –   SMB Lost Levels  –  SMB 2  –  SMB 3  –  SM World – SM World 2-  SM Land  –  SM Land 2  – SM Land 3 –  Mario 64 – Mario Sunshine – New SMB – Galaxy – Galaxy 2 – New SMB Wii – Mario 3D Land – New SMB 2 – New SMB U – SMB 3D World

Paper Mario – Thousand Year Door – Super Paper Mario – Sticker Star

Wario Land 2 – Wario Land 3 – Wario Land 4 – Master of Disguise – Wario Land Shake It

Luigi’s Mansion – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Super Princess Peach

Review: Xenogears

This review has been a long time coming. Xenogears is considered by many to be one of the greatest RPGs of all time. Despite this, it is a game that I never had the chance to sit down with until now. I was a big fan of the Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii when it came out a few years back. So I was really excited to see what the earliest game in the “Xeno” franchise was all about. I started this title at the the first of the year and I expected to be done with it sometime around late March. But, boy was I wrong about that. I was anticipating this game to contain somewhere between forty to sixty hours of playtime (like most other RPGs of the era). Instead, I ended up spending a little over one hundred hours on this monster! Which is really mind-blowing considering the last half of the game was rushed for release and large portions of content were cut from the title. (More on this later).

So what is Xenogears exactly? Xenogears is the brainchild of Japanese game developer Tetsuya Takahashi, an employee of Squaresoft. It was originally pitched as a contender for the Final Fantasy series. When rejected, it ended up becoming something else entirely. Much time was spent on the lore and storyline for this game. The story of Xenogears was originally intended to be the fifth out of six chapters in what would be part of a vast story-arc. The idea was to tell the complete tale through various media; manga, anime, and of course, games. This grand vision never materialized, however. As such, Xenogears has remained the only chapter of this story to be told. Japanese fans were eventually treated to a special artbook called Xenogears Perfect Works. This book contained several pages outlining all six chapters of the intended original saga. While it is certainly a shame that fans may never see an official Xenogears anime, or read the untold tales in the pages of a comic book, the game itself does contain several anime-style cutscenes that provide a taste of what might have been.

The story of Xenogears focuses on the character of Fei Fong Wong. A young amnesiac who was brought to a remote village as a child by a mysterious man. Fei has grown up living a simple life, completely unaware of his origins. One day, Fei’s village becomes caught in the crossfire between two warring nations. During the attack, Fei climbs into a Gear, (one of the giant robots used in the war) in attempt to defend his village. Mysteriously, he finds that he has the innate ability to pilot the machine. But in the end, his actions in the Gear result in further damage to village. Disgraced and banished from his home, Fei and his mentor Citan leave the village together. From there, they encounter one of the soldiers involved in the attack, a woman named Elly. Before long, Fei learns that the attack on his village was no coincidence… He was the real target. This revelation prompts him to seek out the answers to his mysterious origins. Over the span of the game’s storyline, not only will Fei learn about his true nature, but will find himself as a major player in a war for the very fate of mankind. The secrets of human origin, as well as the true nature of divinity all play a part in this fantastic tale.

To say the storyline for Xenogears is epic would be an understatement. While many JRPGs often blur the lines between fantasy and sci-fi, this game took things to the next level. The lore of this game perfectly integrates high technology and religious mythology in a way that had not yet been explored in gaming. To make things even more interesting, it borrows a number of themes and terms found in Judaeo-Christian theology, giving the lore behind the game a familiar tone. In fact, this served as a strong point of controversy at the time the game was released. Personally, I found the plot to be very deep and philosophical. I was delighted by thought put into it.

When it comes to gameplay, Xenogears will be familiar territory for longtime RPG fans. It plays like most classic SNES-era RPGs, with an overhead view and menu-driven system. Unlike many of those classic games, it is also rendered in 2.5-D, meaning that even though it’s presented from the bird’s-eye-view, the camera can be rotated 360-degrees to allow viewing at all angles. This took me a little getting used to at first, and it’s important to remember, as sometimes chests and important environmental objects may not be visible until the camera is rotated. Occasionally, I found this to be quite an annoyance. My only other major gripe with the game comes in the form of UI delay when bringing up the menu and especially with save file management. This title seems to suffer from some annoying lag.

When it comes to combat, Xenogears builds from the classic Active Time Battle structure that most RPG players are already familiar with. But it actually manages to evolve that model in a meaningful way. Like with most games of this type, players can elect to execute a melee attack, select skills/magic, or  use an item. There’s also options to defend or attempt to flee battle. If a player uses a physical attack, they can then chose between a light, medium or strong attack. The more powerful the attack, the less accurate the attack will be. If successfully landed, the player earns an Action Point. Action Points can then be spent on special moves called “Death Blows”, players can also bank up their Action Points to chain various Death Blows together for even more damage.

Aside from hand-to-hand combat, players will often do battle while piloting Gears (mechs). Gear combat is very similar to standard combat, but instead of attack points a Gear’s “Attack Level” increases as they continue to damage an enemy. Higher Attack Levels mean stronger Death Blows, etc.

All in all, I found the battle system to be very well done. It was just different enough from what had been seen thus far to require a little getting used to. Other RPGs of the era tried tinkering with the standard ATB combat formula and failed. Xenogears is one of the few that was able to succeed.

Combat aside, the game plays very much like any other JRPG. There’s open world exploration, dungeons, boss fights, etc. The game is separated into two discs, with the majority of the gameplay being found on Disc 1. By the time I reached the second disc, I was already about seventy hours into the game. The contents of the second disc are vastly different from that of the first. At this point, the game shifts from standard RPG-play, to being more narrative driven. Instead of actually playing through storyline at this point, the game provides you with a summary of events accompanied by still pictures and cutscenes. This ongoing narrative is broken up occasionally with prompts to save and short dungeons. There’s a number of successive boss fights tossed in the mix as well. It certainly has an unusual feel when compared with the first half of the game.

It has since become known that the pacing of the second disc occurred due to time constraints put on the development team.  In order to meet the release date deadline, they were forced to cut hours of playable content from the game itself. This led to them having to stitch what had been developed together with bits of exposition and pre-rendered cutscenes. This is certainly a shame, as I can only imagine just how epic in scale this game might have been if it were released according to plan. But honestly, having all of this extra content would have probably doubled the length of what was already a long game. So, I’m in no way saying players should feel ripped off. There’s still tons of content in this title. But the patchwork that is the second disc does end up making the game feel rushed and disjointed to an extent.

Flaws and all, Xenogears is an amazing game. It certainly earned its status as one of the greatest RPGs of all time. That being said, the game is not perfect. Camera issues and UI lag are present, and don’t get me started on the awkwardness of the second half. All that aside, it still shines. This is without a doubt a must play for fans of the JRPG genre. If any game deserves a modern remake, Xenogears should certainly be a contender.

Difficulty: Medium –  As far as RPGs go, Xenogears is standard fare when it comes to difficulty. Most random encounters and boss fights are balanced pretty well. Any player who hasn’t simply rushed their way through the game should encounter only a moderate challenge. Players who are willing to take their time to grind and/or do sidequests should have no issue.  Many of the bosses often have mechanics that can be exploited either through action or by equipping characters/Gears with certain items.

Story: This is where the game shines. The depth and richness of the storyline is unrivaled even to this day. In fact, when considering how unfinished the game feels at times, it is almost a shame that a tale of this scope was told via game that feels so incomplete at times. It is a story that certainly deserved better. Deep, dark, and powerful.

Originality: By 1998 the formula for JRPGs had been well established. Xenogears manages to keep things fresh by providing a unique setting, re-envisioned combat, and a bold storyline. Every time the game started to feel like something I had seen before I was quickly proven wrong. Amazing work by Squaresoft.

Soundtrack: This is probably the second best part of the game. The soundtrack and score are nothing short of breathtaking. My only complaint is that there wasn’t more. For a game as long as Xenogears, the soundtrack seems to be somewhat lacking in content. Lots of music in the game is reused in places where a new theme seems appropriate. Again, perhaps it was due to budgeting or time constraints, but I feel like the soundtrack should be more diverse. That is a bit of a shame. But when judging the soundtrack we were given, it is hard to find a single thing to dislike.

Fun: This is a game that took me by surprise. At this point in my gaming career, I really thought I had seen everything there was to see when it comes to RPGs. Xenogears proved to me that a good developer can always manage to surprise you. I had a blast with this game. I went in knowing nothing at all about the game itself, and what a ride it was.

Graphics: At time of its release, Xenogears looked as good as a game could. It featured 16-bit style sprites, but in a semi-3D environment.  Today, the game does show its age. But it is still a pleasure to view.

Playcontrol: To claim Xenogears is flawless would be difficult. If any part of the game needs improvement it would be the play control. Laggy UI and quirky camera controls are a major issue at times. On top of that, several parts of the game actually include platforming puzzles – for example, climbing a building or a mountain. This requires players to run and jump from spot to spot. One wrong move and you have to start over. It can be extremely frustrating at times. Especially since the game doesn’t feel like it was designed with this type of play in mind. This, combined with a dicey camera makes for some rage-worthy moments.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: YES. Minor language, blasphemous themes.

Value:  Xenogears is available digitally on the Playstation Network for $9.99. At this price the game is a no-brainer. Used physical copes can range anywhere from $20-$100 on ebay depending on the quality. If you’re a collector, I’d be comfortable paying up to $50.00 for a game like this. It is worth every penny.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Even with some obvious flaws, Xenogears manages to take a top rating. It has been a while since I had such a good experience with an older game. Just when I thought I had seen everything, Xenogears popped up to remind me that there’s always something new to discover. Despite being twenty years old, the bold direction of this game still manages to hold up and feel new. If you’re a fan of JRPGs, this is a must-play.

Available on: PSN

 

Everquest

As many readers of this site will know, I’m a huge fan of fantasy role playing games. Both traditional pen and paper games and video games. When it comes to video game RPGs, my first taste of the genre came in the form of Wizardry, an old school PC game. From there, I moved on to Ultima and eventually to Final Fantasy. For many years, these three franchises continued to flourish and I would hop from one game to the other. Eventually, the Wizardry series fizzled into obscurity and the makers of Ultima had turned their attention to Online gaming. My initial experience with Ultima Online was not that promising, so for me, Ultima was now dead in the water. I enjoyed Final Fantasy, but I knew deep down in my soul that I wanted a gaming experience that captured that classic medieval Dungeons & Dragons genre of fantasy that I had originally found with Wizardry. Just when I thought all hope was lost, some friends of mine introduced me to a game called Everquest.

It was early 2000 and Everquest was the hottest online game in existence. It was not the first true MMO, that honor probably goes to Ultima Online  (or some would argue, Tibia). But, it was the first true 3D massive multiplayer online roleplaying game. I had several friends who had been raving about the game since it was initially announced. Then, upon its release in 1999, several of the them took whole weeks off of work just to dive in and play this new game. At that time in my life, gaming had been downgraded to a casual way to pass time. It was not a full time hobby of mine. So, for almost a year I avoided the Everquest craze. Then finally, a friend of mine showed up on my doorstep with a copy of Everquest: The Ruins of Kunark. The box contained both the original game as well as the new Ruins of Kunark Expansion. I was given the game as a gift on the condition that I would play with him and his friends for one month.

At first, I was completely enchanted with the game. The graphics reminded me of some of the later titles in the Wizardry series, only better. The music was delightful and awe-inspiring. The game even had an atmosphere that matched exactly what I was looking for. My only initial complaint was with the complexity of the user interface. I had spent a little time with Ultima Online, so the vast array of menus and options were not new to me, but Everquest had more windows and widgets than anything I had encountered thus far.

I remember enjoying my first few days in the land of Norrath. I was captivated by it. The world was large and full of mystery. Absent was the hand-holding that is often found in modern games. You were thrown right into a living, breathing world that was populated with other players. Your only guide was an instruction manual included in the box (which offered little more than basic instructions). To REALLY learn how to play, you had to rely on other people. In fact, it didn’t take long understand that it was actually the interactions with other players that really kept you hooked. Sadly, in my case, that’s also what led me to abandon the game after only a month in.

My friends played on a PvP server. As a result, you could be challenged by other players whenever you’d venture far enough into the world. It seemed that every time I’d step outside of the confines of my starting area, I would be bum-rushed by a hostile player. It got so bad that I eventually lost interest in playing. By the time my initial thirty days was over, I uninstalled the game and swore off of MMOs. My experiences with PvP in both Ultima Online and Everquest had sealed the deal as far as I was concerned. In fact, I wouldn’t touch another MMO until the release of Final Fantasy XI, three years later.

I tasted just enough Everquest in its early days to learn what it was and how it worked. I could see the charm that enrapt so many players, but I had become so frustrated with being ganked that I became disgusted. In truth, had I been playing on a non-PvP server, it is very possible that the game would have hooked me. If that had happened, I very well may have played it for years to come. Today, Everquest is nineteen years old. It’s still online and has a jaw-dropping twenty four expansions under its belt. The base game is now Free-to-Play with an optional subscription model. For me, the thought of getting back into a game when I’ve missed so much of its history was largely unthinkable.

Recently, I started participating in a special “progression” version of another MMO, RIFT. I found myself enjoying this “fresh start” version of RIFT so much, that I decided to take a look and see what other MMOs were currently offering something similar. To my surprise, I found that Everquest has just launched a new Progression server of their own. So as you might guess… I decided to go ahead and dip in a toe just to see how things felt.

Next thing I knew, I found myself back in the world of Norrath. Of course, I spent so little time there originally and it had been so long since I last played that I remembered nothing. I was completely lost. But, for the most part, this “vanilla” version of the game was just like I remembered. Yes, the graphics were a little more detailed and the the UI was a tad more modernized, but this version of the game is very much like I remembered. The biggest exception has to be with HP and MP regeneration. I seem to remember having to rest and heal HP between encounters originally. But now, they recover automatically.

Being a “progression server”, new content and expansions are added to the game every twelve weeks. At the end of the cycle, the content in the game will match what everyone else is playing on the live servers. After spending a week in this time-locked version of the game, I decided to take a peek at what the current version of the game is like. Needless to say, the modern version of Everquest is very different.

In the live version of the game, there’s enhanced graphics, a better tutorial, and a slew of additional races and classes to play. The Planes of Power expansion makes it easy for players to travel across the world in an instant, whereas the original version of the game makes traveling difficult and time consuming. The live version of the game also features an in-game store that allows players to buy items, gear, etc. (Something I generally disagree with unless these purchases are restricted to vanity items only).

I enjoy retro games. So for me, the fun in this little walk down memory lane has more to do with the look-and-feel of the game than with the content. It’s simply too late for me to become emotionally invested in a title as vast as Everquest at this point. I don’t see myself continuing to pay $15 a month or investing the time to reach the end of this progression server experience. But, I’ll enjoy it for a while. I simply owed it to myself to take another look back at a game that served as the inspiration for Final Fantasy XI, arguably my favorite game of all time.

If you’re a fan of any modern MMO, be it World of Warcraft, RIFT, Final Fantasy XIV, etc – all of these games owe a debt to Everquest. This is the game that made them all possible. These days, EQ is almost unrecognizable from what it once was. Add-ons and changes have taken a lot out of what once made the original game magical for so many. But, perhaps it is still worth a look for those fantasy online gamers who want to explore their roots.

Review: Parasite Eve II

It took longer than expected, but my review for Parasite Eve II is finally here! Two years after the release of the original game, Square followed up with the second entry in the series.  I really enjoyed the first Parasite Eve game and I was very excited to experience the next chapter.

This game picks up three years after the events of the original. After what is now known as the “New York Incident”, Aya was recruited into a secret unit of the FBI called M.I.S.T. Her job is to hunt down and eliminate any remaining Neo-Mitochondria Creatures (NMCs).  The game begins when she is deployed to Los Angeles to help put down a sudden burst of NMC activity. While completing her mission she has an encounter with what appears to be a humanoid NMC. The creature escapes but Aya is persistent in learning more about this unusual being.

Her next assignment brings her to a rural town in the middle of the Mojave desert. The area is infested with NMCs and Aya investigates a lead hinting at their point of origin. It is during this investigation that she unravels a shocking conspiracy. One in which she has unknowingly been a participant in.

While the storyline builds off of the original game, the actual gameplay is considerably different. The first Parasite Eve was an interesting mix of RPG and survival horror action. This time around, nearly all RPG elements have been stripped away. This leaves the game as strictly an action-based survival horror title. In fact, it looks and feels very much like a Resident Evil game. Parasite Eve II has even adapted the familiar and irritating “tank-style” playcontrol scheme, as well as other aspects that have become synonymous with the Resident Evil franchise.

To be honest, the changes from the original game are a mixed bag. The combat no longer relies on meters and timers and it’s not locked into a specified battle area. This allows for much more freedom during combat. Aya is able to run around unfettered and even change zones while engaging an enemy. This is a good thing. Sadly, the movement controls really make navigating problematic during combat, especially early on in the game. Thankfully, Parasite Eve II has a targeting system that does a lot to help with the pain-point caused the crummy playcontrol.

Aya also does not level up in the traditional sense. Combat still yields EXP. However, EXP in this game is reserved for strengthening and unlocking her Parasite Abilities. Aide from experience, Aya also earns Bounty Points with each monster she eliminates. These points can be exchanged for weapons and items. So it’s beneficial to take out any NMCs that you encounter, even if fleeing is an option.

Despite taking a step back in the areas of playcontrol and originality, Parasite Eve II offers some very stunning visuals. The backgrounds are prerendered, yes. But the sprites in the game itself and the cinematic sequences are very well done. This game provides the best of the what original Playstation could offer.

So, praise and gripes aside – how does it play? Parasite Eve II is solid and has hours of content. I personally found the middle section of the game to be a bit repetitive and at times, boring. But, the action picks up again towards the end. As a survival horror, the game excels. The atmosphere is there, and it is very well done. I just wish it would have kept more of the unique elements from the first game, instead of of settling in to what has now become a cookie-cutter format.

The game does feature multiple endings depending on certain choices made during your playthrough. Getting the best ending on your first time through is unlikely unless you have a guide. Thankfully, you can replay the game over upon completion. So it’s very possible to enjoy everything the game has offer even if you missed it the first time around.

 

Difficulty: Variable –  Parasite Eve II offers a single difficulty level for first time players. The biggest challenges here are not found in tough boss mechanics or random encounters. But rather, I found the toughest aspect of the game to be the mastery of the game controls (ie: working through the stiff and stubborn playcontrol). After an hour of two of playtime, you tend to get the feel for things and the game gets a lot easier. Once you’ve completed the game the first time, you do unlock two additional modes of play. Replay Mode (an easier, New Game + style experience) and Bounty Mode (this is essentially Hard Mode). Finally, after reaching a certain rank in either Replay or Bounty mode, you can unlock Scavenger Mode. This ratchets up the difficulty by another notch. But wait… there’s more! Completing the game on Scavenger Mode presents you with a final option: Nightmare Mode. This is mode of play is similar to Bounty Mode, but much more brutal.

Story: This game takes the fundamental story provided by Parasite Eve and gives it an X-Files/Conspiracy twist. This is not necessarily a bad thing, per se. But, I feel like by doing so it really takes some of the more unique lore elements away from the game. All that aside, the in-game story is well done and captivating even if it loses some of itself.

Originality: This game really took a huge step backwards when it comes to being unique and original. It seems that Square panicked at some of the minor criticism they received from PE1 battle system and just decided to scrap it and follow the Resident Evil formula in hopes that no-one noticed. Everything that made the first game unique has been watered down. This is true for both the storyline and the gameplay itself.

Soundtrack: The game scores high here. The music is atmospherics and catchy. The game soundtrack is an excellent companion to the adventure. It is comprised of everything from lo-fi jazz to industrial. It helps build tension and excitement. It is everything you’d want from a survival horror score.

Fun: Despite a number of complaints, this actually a very entertaining game. Fans of the survival horror genre will find a lot to like. The replayability of the title means there are many potential long nights filled spooky fun. The storyline, even if it is not original, hooks you. The characters are soulful and engaging. I had a great time exploring the depths of this game.

Graphics: Like many PS1 titles, this game shows it’s age. However, it stands up better than most Playstation titles from the same era. The prerendered backgrounds are well done and the character sprites were top of the line for their day. The cinematics are as good as they get and are a pleasure to watch.

Playcontrol: No no no. This is the my biggest issue with the game. The playcontrol in this title is several steps down from the original Parasite Eve. It follows the familiar but frustrating scheme found in other survival horror games of the day. Turn-and-walk style controls are the bane of my existence when it comes to action games. Thankfully, we do have a targeting system that helps ease the pain. Without it, this game would be a nightmare to control.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: YES. Graphic violence, gore. Some minor language.

Value:  Despite a number of complaints, this game can still be very much worth your time. It is available digitally on the Playstation Network for $5.99. Physical copies can be found on eBay for $10 or less usually. Considering the vast amount of content and replayability, it is well worth that price even with all of its faults.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – This is a tough one, because despite its flaws, Parasite Eve II is still a really good game. I enjoyed it immensely. But, when stacked up against its own prequel and other games of a similar nature, it just doesn’t have what it takes to stand out. If you are fan of the original Parasite Eve or if you’re a hardcore survival horror nut, then this game is definitely worth your time. If not, it might be a little hard to recommend this one. To give this game a score of 2 seems a bit unfair. But, it’s not quite where it needs to be to get a solid 3.

Available on: PSN

Other Reviews In This Series:

Parasite Eve (Novel) –  Parasite Eve  –  Parasite Eve II   –  The 3rd Birthday

Review: Deep Space Waifu

It’s Valentine’s Day! And I’ve decided to start a new tradition on this blog. A few years back, I posted a Valentine’s Day review of a flirty little game called Hunie Pop. I did this as sort of a one-off joke. But due to the recent upswing in indie H-games on Steam and the fact that all of my friends insist on gifting me with embarrassing purchases just so they can point to my game library and laugh, I’ve decided to embrace it and review these ridiculous games on Valentine’s day.

When it comes to “questionable” games, I really didn’t know where to start. As mentioned above, I already reviewed Hunie Pop. Which, despite it’s lewd nature, actually featured some pretty solid gameplay. Then back in the summer of last year, I shared a review of the dumpster fire that is Dragonia. Yeah… Let’s not even talk about that. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to top Dragonia. So for this review, I decided to go with a game that had the most absurd title possible. I wanted to find something both descriptive and cringeworthy. Well, I didn’t have to look hard. As soon as I saw the name “Deep Space Waifu“, I knew this would be the game for 2018.

Deep Space Waifu is technically a schmup. Some might even call it a bullet-hell style game. But, I’m not sure it quite fits that description. The gameplay will certainly be familiar to fans of the genre. But it includes the added mechanic of having to also destroy certain “environmental” features along with just enemies. (And by environmental features I mean, blasting the clothes off of crudely drawn anime girls).

You see, in this game, you play a character known as “King Bear”. King Bear hooks up with random girls that he meets on Space Tinder. He then takes that girl on a date. The goal of the game is to have as successful of a date as possible. But every date is sabotaged by random aliens. Completing a date means that you have to blast aliens from the back of your flying motorcycle until a Boss shows up, then you blow the Boss to smithereens. The success level of your date is determined by the percentage of “environmental damage” you have done… Upon completing a date with a rating of 100%, you then unlock what is essentially Easy Mode for that level… (you’ll see what I mean if you play).  As you progress through the stages, you will unlock new special weapons and attacks.  It’s really quite simple.

When this game was first released, it was pretty rough. The artwork was cheap looking, and the controls were pretty wonky. However, the title has received numerous updates since it debuted on Steam. Each of them improving nearly every aspect of the game. At this point, it’s actually a very polished product. The game can be played using either a keyboard, mouse-only or with a controller. But, having tried all three, I highly recommend the mouse-only mode. There’s really no reason to try anything else. Being a mature title, the Steam version of the game is censored. But the developer has released a patch that restores the game to its original form for users who are ambitious enough to go looking for it.

The main game is pretty short and can easily be completed in under an hour. At the time of this writing, there are two forms of DLC for the game. The first is called the Academy Expansion. This bit of DLC adds some additional dates with sports-themed girls to the main game. There’s also a standalone expansion (basically a separate game) called Flat Justice. Add them all together, and you end up with a decent sized game.

The Flat Justice expansion is actually more like a sequel than a piece of downloadable content. In this version, we learn that King Bear is actually a cop. He is tasked with rooting out corruption in the police force. To do so, he must go undercover and date several suspects from among his own unit until he finds the mole that is working with the enemy.  This version of the game actually attempts to craft some form of a plotline by adding cutscenes in between levels and tacking on insanely inappropriate names and art designs for end bosses.

To say that this is a niche-game is an understatement. On it’s surface it seems only to appeal to lonely weeabos. But fans of shoot-em ups may actually get a bit a fun out of it too. I certainly received way more entertainment from this game than I expected to. The gameplay is very well done, the graphics are colorful, and the humor is over-the-top. This is a game that doesn’t take itself very seriously. The whole thing is really one big joke. It’s a bit like renting a really bad horror movie – It’s terrible but in a good way.

I’m ashamed to admit that I gave this game and its expansions as much attention as I did. I’m even more ashamed to admit that if the developer releases an future content updates, I’m likely to add them to my library as well.

So, if you ARE a lonely otaku looking for your waifu… perhaps you should consider one of the deep space variety.

Difficulty: Easy –  Even though this could be considered a “bullet-hell” game. It is EXTREMELY casual. It is very possible for most players to fly through this game and it’s expansions with relative ease. The difficulty does increase a bit as your progress through the different levels. But not by much. The real challenge lies in playing the game in “Gentlemen Mode”. With this option enabled, you want to avoid to any environmental damage at all… but even with this added challenge, the game is still pretty simplistic.

Story: Yeah… you’re a space bear trying to hook up with space chicks. Then, suddenly you’re a cop doing the same thing in the name of justice… If a thought provoking plotline is what you’re looking for, you won’t find it in a game called Deep Space Waifu.

Originality: This is a tough call. While overhead schumps have been done to death, this game adds a pervy twist with a retro/anime feel. It’s an odd combination that somehow manages to keep this game feeling like something you’ve never seen before.

Soundtrack: High praises here! The soundtrack is arguably the best thing about this game. This is especially true for the Flat Justice expansion. Nearly the entire game features music by an artist called Funny Death. This is a musical artist I had never heard of until I played this game. But I have since purchased their entire discography. The music is best described as retro/synth-pop with a bit of a foreign flair. It’s absolutely phenomenal and it fits in well with this quirky game.

Fun: As much as I hate to admit this, Deep Space Waifu is a fun game. It’s not because of the risque art, but the game itself is just downright entertaining. And the silly aspect of the whole thing only adds to the level of enjoyment.

Graphics: When this game first hit the scene, it looked pretty bad, to be honest. But it has since received an overhaul and it’s actually a good looking title these days. Much of the art work is hand-drawn, the rest are rendered in a retro-style that sparks nostalgia and overall good vibes.

Playcontrol: As mentioned in the above review, Mouse-only mode is the way to go. Playing this game with a controller is probably your second best option. But on more than one occasion, I’ve found some issues with responsiveness when using that method. Playing with a keyboard is possible, but not recommended.

Downloadable Content: YES– This game currently features two add-ons. One is a proper expansion, the second is a stand-alone title.

Mature Content: YES. This is a game that focuses on adult situations and inappropriate humor. Enemy names are puns for various body parts, etc. Even though the Steam version of the game is censored, it is still at it’s core pornographic in nature. This is not one for children.

Value:  The main game and the Flat Justice expansion are $2.00 each. The Academy DLC is sold for $0.69. So, you can obtain the entire collection for under $3.00. That is simply a steal. The game is also often found on sale for even cheaper than that.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Deep Space Waifu is a playable joke. It’s not meant to be taken seriously at all. With that in mind and considering the price point, I have to admit that most players will get a good amount of entertainment from this title. However, the adult nature of the game will limit its audience. This is a bit of a shame, as the game itself does have some really good qualities.

Available on: Steam

Review: Mobius Final Fantasy

Last but not least in my Final Fantasy mobile game backlog, I have a real oddball; Mobius Final Fantasy. This game is unlike any other mobile RPG I have ever played. It was designed to provide a full-sized RPG experience, but on a device that can fit in your pocket. As a result, it’s a weird hybrid of mobile gaming, but with a console look and feel.

The main character of the game is simply known as “Warrior of Light” or Wol. The game begins when he wakes up and finds himself in a strange land called Palamecia. He soon learns that an evil force has conquered this world. Many nameless heroes just like himself, have awakened to find themselves brought here. These heroes are known as “blanks”.  An ancient prophecy foretells that that one of these blanks will defeat the darkness and free the world of Palamecia from it’s grip forever.  Naturally, the goal of the game is to prove yourself as the real Warrior of Light.

When I started playing Mobius Final Fantasy, I initially played on my mobile phone. Since that time, the game has also been released for PC via Steam. I now prefer the PC port of the game simply due to the expanded screen real estate. (The game is gorgeous!) Regardless of the device you choose, the game experience is largely the same. That being said, I would offer a word of warning to anyone getting started with this title. Mobius Final Fantasy is a HUGE game. It is much more complex than any other mobile game I’ve encountered. It features a very in-depth combat system integrated with the Job System that is found in other Final Fantasy games. These two concepts work in tandem. Together, the end result is a rich, but admittedly complicated gameplay experience. Therefore, I highly suggest taking the time to participate in the in-game tutorials before diving right in. Understanding these systems fully is crucial to being able to master the game itself.

Aside from these elements, the rest of the game is fairly standard when it comes to mobile titles. Your character earns experience through battle and unlocks new points of interest on the map as he progresses. The game frequently receives content updates that include new areas, special events and time-limited challenges. Jobs, abilities and power-ups are either won by progression or obtained through a “gacha” style draw system. The game also features an interesting “subscription” option. If enabled, you will be granted with daily bonuses for as long as your subscription is active. This option is purchased using an in-game currency that is earned automatically over time. Once you’re earned a certain amount, you can either spend it, or bank it to save up.

For me, this game exceeds any expectations I had when it comes to mobile gaming. The amount of content is mind-boggling and both the graphics and sound are breathtaking. It’s really no surprise to me that this game was ported over to the regular PC. Fans of the Final Fantasy series will feel right at home. The game features cameos from throughout the franchise, but still manages to be unique in it’s own way.

Of all the mobile Final Fantasy titles out there, Mobius manages to feel the most like a real RPG game. But make no mistake, it still follows the infamous cash-grabbing mobile model. That being said, Square Enix has always managed to avoid making cash transactions feel like a requirement. This game is no exception.

Difficulty: Medium –  The sheer complexity of this game makes it a bit more challenging to master than other mobile titles. The main scenario of the game is easy enough to complete, but as is the usual case with games of this type, optional content and special events do tend to ramp up the challenge.

Story: For a mobile title, Mobius Final Fantasy really delivers. The storyline is not as rich and detailed as a full fledged RPG, but it outshines nearly any other mobile title.

Originality: When compared to other mobile phone games, the developers were not afraid to take some risks. Even though this title follows a familiar profit-model, the overall gameplay is bold and unique. Much more than one would expect from this type of game.

Soundtrack: This is an area that I cannot praise enough. This game features a score that will knock your socks off. The music is fully orchestrated and is nothing short of spectacular. I personally own the two-disc soundtrack – it’s that good.

Fun: Mobile games are usually best enjoyed in short spurts. This game is really no exception to that rule. It’s very possible to blow through the content relatively quickly – but I’ve found the most enjoyment from this game will be had if played casually. Some parts of the game can be repetitive, and some battles seem longer than they need to be. But as far as mobile games go, this is one of the more enjoyable.

Graphics: The graphics on this title are also top-tier. In fact, older phones are likely to suffer from performance issues as a result. The PC version looks just as pretty, if not more so.

Playcontrol: No real issues here. This is a simple tap-based interface. Purchases require confirmation, everything is clear and concise.

Downloadable Content: YES– In-game currency can be purchased with real money. The game receives regular free updates and features special limited time events.

Mature Content: None

Value:  The game itself is available for free. Optional purchases can vary in price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Mobius Final Fantasy is an odd bird. It rides the line between a mobile phone game and a more serious RPG. As a result, if you go in expecting either you’re likely to be in for a surprise. This is a prime example of “it is what it is” – with that in mind, it’s actually quite an exceptional little title. But, be warned; this is certainly not a game for everyone. However, considering you can try it out for free, there’s really nothing to lose.

Available on: Apple App Store, Google Play, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

Main Series:

I – II – III – IV – V – VI – VII – VIII – IX – X – X2 – XI – XII – XIII – XIII 2 – XIII Lightning Returns – XIV – XV 

IV: After Years – VII: Dirge of Cerberus – VII: Crisis Core – VII: Advent Children (Movie) – XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s Tale – XV: Brotherhood (Anime) – XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

Misc Titles:

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics:

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia:

Dissidia – Dissidia 012 – Dissidia NT

Crystal Chronicles:

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Mobile Titles:

Dimensions – Dimensions 2 – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight  – Dissida Final Fantasy Opera Omnia

Review: Final Fantasy Record Keeper

Recently, I posted a review for the Final Fantasy Dissidia mobile game. When doing so, I realized that there are still a handful of mobile Final Fantasy titles that I’ve not posted reviews for. I’ve had several of these sitting in my drafts folder for a while now, so it’s high time that I do a little housecleaning! Next up is a review for the very first mobile-style Final Fantasy game: Record Keeper.

In terms of mobile games, this is an oldie. Final Fantasy Record Keeper was originally released back in 2015. I’ve been playing it off and on since its debut, so I feel pretty bad about neglecting to mention it sooner. Record Keeper is a strange little game. It features a new character by the name of Tyro. Tyro an assistant in a cosmic art gallery that archives all of the events from across the Final Fantasy series. Recently, several records have become tainted and Tyro is tasked with entering the paintings and restoring them to their former glory. In doing so, he relives various events and battles throughout the Final Fantasy universe.

The actual gameplay is similar to other mobile style RPGs. Players can spend stamina to undertake expeditions into various dungeons and events. Once your stamina is expended, you must wait for it to recharge or you can pay real money to replenish it. The main point of the game is to collect and upgrade characters to use in your party. You can then continue to explore new and more challenging areas. The game receives regular content updates that add new scenarios and characters often. There are also special limited-time events that offer rare and exotic prizes.

The lead character, Tyro, is unique in that he can equip all items and abilities. While other characters do come with restrictions on gear. Items are rewarded as you clear stages and also via a “gacha” draw system. Again, players have the option to pay real money for draws. Some characters are more suited than other for particular levels, so it’s always important to keep a variety of secondary characters equipped and leveled up.

Record Keeper was SE’s first foray in the whole micro-transaction based mobile game environment. As a result, the game does show it’s age when compared with SE’s more modern mobile offerings. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a look. As far as mobile games go, Record Keeper is pretty standard. It follows a tried-and-true profit model without being overly predatory like some mobile titles.

The main focus of the game is turn-based combat. It is very reminiscent of early Final Fantasy titles. So, the game will most likely appeal to fans of the Final Fantasy series, but even someone who has no experience with the franchise can enjoy this title. More than anything, this game is one big nostalgia trip. It’s a fun way to revisit classic Final Fantasy games on the go.

Finally, mobile phone users who play games like these often run into the situation of data loss. This can happen is you have to perform a factory reset on your device, or if you upgrade your phone, etc. Record Keeper offers a few solutions for data backup. First, if you’re an Android user – have no fear! Your game data is automatically linked to your Google Play Games account. iPhone users can link the game to a social media account for backup if they choose. There’s also a data transfer option for the fearless, if you want to jump between devices.

Difficulty: Easy –  As is true for most mobile RPGs, the base game and storyline quests do not provide much of a challenge. Special events and hard mode areas, however, are pretty tough. For me, the overall difficulty feels balance and appropriate.

Story: The main focus of this game is nostalgia, not lore. The game features a very bare-bones storyline that sets up an excuse for our new hero to visit classic Final Fantasy locales and characters. But other than serving as a vehicle for that, there’s not much in terms of actually story.

Originality: Being the first real mobile title in the Final Fantasy series, Record Keeper took the framework that has been applied to previous successful mobile games and brought it home for fans to enjoy. In that regard, Record Keeper was welcome and fresh upon it’s release. These days, it’s easy to lose it among a sea of other similar titles.

Soundtrack: The game scores high marks here. It features an original soundtrack as well as music ripped straight out of the main series. There’s plenty of variety and it’s all very well done.

Fun: Of all the mobile Final Fantasy titles, this one is probably my least favorite. But, it’s still very entertaining and I wouldn’t think of removing it from my device. It’s very easy to lose yourself in the game for long stretches. But the game also does just as well when played in short spurts.

Graphics: This game mixes cartoon-style art with retro-sprite graphics and it does it well. The art direction of the game is one of my favorite aspects. The game looks sharp and colorful on any mobile device regardless of screen size.

Playcontrol: No real issues here. This is a simple tap-based interface. Purchases require confirmation, everything is clear and concise.

Downloadable Content: YES– In-game currency can be purchased with real money. The game receives regular free updates and features special limited time events.

Mature Content: None

Value:  The game itself is available for free. Optional purchases can vary in price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – Record Keeper is an original and interesting mobile title, but one that relies almost exclusively on nostalgia to stay afloat. Still, fans of the series can find a lot to love about this little game. That being said, it’s unlikely to appeal to anyone who is not already emotionally invested in the series.

Available on: Apple App Store and Google Play

Other Reviews In This Series:

Main Series:

I – II – III – IV – V – VI – VII – VIII – IX – X – X2 – XI – XII – XIII – XIII 2 – XIII Lightning Returns – XIV – XV 

IV: After Years – VII: Dirge of Cerberus – VII: Crisis Core – VII: Advent Children (Movie) – XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s Tale – XV: Brotherhood (Anime) – XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

Misc Titles:

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics:

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia:

Dissidia – Dissidia 012 – Dissidia NT

Crystal Chronicles:

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Mobile Titles:

Dimensions – Dimensions 2 – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight  – Dissida Final Fantasy Opera Omnia

Review: Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia

Fresh on the heels of my Dissidia NT review, I’m going to take a moment to discuss the mobile spin-off; Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia.  Wow! What a mouthful! This is a free-to-play mobile game that is available on iPhone and Android devices. It features more traditional RPG combat, but also incorporates certain elements found in Dissidia. The end result is a unique mobile gaming experience.

This mobile game was released to coincide with the Dissidia NT launch. In fact, players who purchase a copy of NT at release, will receive a special code that unlocks a starter pack in Opera Omnia. (Normally available for purchase with real money). These two games very much compliment each other. Dissidia NT is action and battle focused, while Opera Omnia helps to round out the storyline and features a much more laid-back battle system.

The basic premise of this game is to participate in a number of battles using a roster of characters from across the Final Fantasy franchise. Characters can earn experience and level up. You can equip various arms and armor on your characters. This equipment is earned through a “gacha” style draw system. The game also features special events, daily quests, and rewards. In-game currency can be earned by playing through the contents of the game or can also be purchased for real money. Pretty standard fare.

The main plot of the game is simple. Heroes from different Final Fantasy games are brought together to help defeat monsters. The roster of playable characters is pretty impressive. All of the usual elements for mobile RPGs will be found in this title.  To be completely honest, there’s little aside from the Final Fantasy theme to set this game apart from a multitude of others out there. But, fans of the series are not likely to care. The gameplay is well done and the script is entertaining. When looking at the big picture, there’s little to complain about.

The basic version of the game is pretty accessible regardless of the player’s skill level. In fact, the game even offers an automatic battle option. So it can literally play itself. However, if you want to max out the rewards that you receive at the end of each battle, you will need to play manually. Once you’ve cleared a chapter, you also unlock a “hard mode” of that area. Hard mode is no cake walk. This is where the game’s real challenge comes into fruition.

These days, the mobile gaming market is pretty stable. Free to Play titles that are supported by microtransactions are fairly commonplace. In this regard, Opera Omnia is a pretty standard operation. The game itself is free and receives frequent content updates that are also free of charge. The option also exists for players to spend real money on virtual currency that can enhance their characters and expand storage. The trick to enjoying games like this without breaking the bank is patience. Games of this type always offers freebies and bonuses from time to time. Opera Omnia actually feels to be very unoffensive in this regard. Many mobile games are designed to be exploitative. Very often, games like these eventually reach a point where the player feels compelled to spend real money in order to progress. So far, I’ve not encountered this type of issue with Opera Ominia.

My biggest complaint is that in order to back up your game data, you are required to link a Facebook account. Other mobile Final Fantasy games also have this requirement. As someone who no longer keeps a personal Facebook profile, I find this to be annoying. Other games have successfully used alternate methods of backup that work just fine. King’s Knight is a prime example of data backup done right.

All in all, Dissidia Opera Omnia is a welcome addition to the lineup of mobile Final Fantasy titles. It’s simple to grasp and offers a fun way to kill some time. It’s not as engrossing and does not require as much commitment as some mobile titles. But, that’s ok. Sometimes you just need a little something to kill a few minutes of downtime. Opera Omnia provides just that.

Difficulty: Easy –  The base game and storyline quests do not provide much of a challenge. Special events and hard mode areas, however, are pretty tough. Overall, this makes the game feel appropriately balanced.

Story: Opera Omnia provides the story that Dissidia NT neglected. We get to see how our heroes initially came together and there’s lots of fun dialog to boot.

Originality: This game follows a fairly standard mobile model. In large part, it’s nothing that we haven’t seen before. But, the incorporation of the Dissidia battle model does give this game a bit a of a unique feel.

Soundtrack: The music in this title is phenomenal. It features a number of classic Final Fantasy scores, including music from the Dissidia sub-series. Well done and enjoyable.

Fun: I enjoy this game for what it is; a simple, entertaining way to kill time. In my opinion, this is what mobile games should aim for. There’s plenty of content without a huge time investment.

Graphics: This game takes a cartoonish approach to it’s graphical rendering. But, it’s well done and beautiful.  It’s looks good on both smaller smartphones and “phablets”.

Playcontrol: No real issues here. This is a simple tap-based interface. Purchases require confirmation, so there’s no concern about accidentally spending real money due to fat fingers.

Downloadable Content: YES– In-game currency can be purchased with real money. The game receives regular free updates and features special limited time events.

Mature Content: None

Value:  The game itself is available for free. Optional purchases can vary in price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – A story-heavy gacha game for mobile devices. This title doesn’t seem to rely on cash-transactions as heavily as others. Fans of the old PSP Dissidia titles who are turned off by the fast-paced combat in Dissidia NT, may find what they are looking for in this little game. That aside, there’s very little that sets this apart from other similar titles.

Available on: Apple App Store and Google Play

Other Reviews In This Series:

Main Series:

I – II – III – IV – V – VI – VII – VIII – IX – X – X2 – XI – XII – XIII – XIII 2 – XIII Lightning Returns – XIV – XV 

IV: After Years – VII: Dirge of Cerberus – VII: Crisis Core – VII: Advent Children (Movie) – XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s Tale – XV: Brotherhood (Anime) – XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

Misc Titles:

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics:

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia:

Dissidia – Dissidia 012 – Dissidia NT

Crystal Chronicles:

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Mobile Titles:

Dimensions – Dimensions 2 – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight  – Dissida Final Fantasy Opera Omnia