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: Dissidia Final Fantasy NT

The trilogy is now complete! The third and latest game in the Final Fantasy Dissidia series is here! After months of hype from Square Enix and Team Ninja, let’s see how this home version of the arcade sensation measures up.

As I mentioned above, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is actually a port of the Japanese arcade title “Dissidia Final Fantasy“. The arcade version drew inspiration from the previous Dissidia games for PSP, but was completely redesigned from the ground up to be a six-player competitive title. The PS4 release is essentially an enhanced port of the arcade version. It is Square Enix’s first foray into the the world of professional competitive gaming.

Like the previous Dissidia titles, NT is a fighting game. But this time, the focus is on team battles instead of one-on-one combat. For Dissidia NT, teams are made up of three players each. There are currently two modes of play available: Regular and Core Battles (which is essentially Capture the Flag). The combat itself is similar to previous Dissidia titles. Characters can execute both Bravery and Hit Point attacks against their opponents. They have special abilities at their disposal and can also collect energy that enables them to execute special summons – these summons can really turn the tide of battle in an instant. This time, characters are assigned specific roles. The options are: Vanguard (This is essentially a tank/melee fighter), Assassin (Speedy, with weak individual attacks that can combo-chain and result in significant damage), Marksman (ranged attacker), and Specialists (This is a catch all-role. Each Specialist character offers something unique to the arena – usually buff and de-buff focused.) As you continue to play and level up individual characters, new abilities are unlocked.

The roster of characters for Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is as follows:

Warrior of Light (Vanguard)  *  Garland (Vanguard)  *  Firion (Vanguard)  *  Emperor (Marksman)  *  Onion Knight (Specialist)  *  Cloud of Darkness (Vanguard)  *  Cecil (Vanguard)  *  Kain (Assassin)  *  Golbez (Marksman)  *  Bartz (Specialist)  *  Exdeath (Specialist)  *  Terra (Marksman)  *  Kefka (Marksman)  *  Cloud (Vanguard)  *  Sephiroth (Vanguard)  *  Squall (Assassin)  *  Ultimecia (Marksman)  *  Zidane (Assassin)  *  Kuja (Assassin)  *  Tidus (Assassin)  *  Jecht (Assassin)  *  Shantotto (Marksman)  *  Vaan (Specialist)  *  Lightning (Assassin)  *  Y’shtola (Marksman)  *  Noctis (Assassin)  *  Ramza (Specialist)  *  Ace (Marksman)

The main focus of this game is online multiplayer. The game does feature a single-player story mode, but this consists of nothing but a series of cutscenes that must be unlocked by spending tokens called “Memoria”. Memoria is earned whenever you level up a character. So unlocking all of the cutscenes will require quite a bit of grind. Again, in this title, the storyline really takes a backseat. The main point of the game is to participate in ranked online matches. So, if you’re the type of person that really gets into ladder rankings and eSports statistics, you’re likely to find this game much more interesting than someone who isn’t. Lore enthusiasts are still able to find an enjoyable storyline that fits in nicely with the other Dissidia titles. However, understand that this is delivered almost exclusively through cutscenes – not through gameplay.

Compared to other fighting games, and even other Dissidia titles, NT has quite a huge learning curve. The game does offer various tutorials. However, these leave a lot to be desired. The tutorials are poorly written and the screenshots included are not particularly helpful. To be honest, the only way you’re really going to understand the gist of the game is if you play. The downside is, the game will likely feel overly-chaotic and confusing to the point of frustration, especially for a new player.

The biggest issue for me was understanding the targeting system. The tutorial does a decent job of explaining how to switch between various targets. But, in practice it is not quite that simple. Often times I would find myself locked on to a particular target and I would start advancing towards them, only to have them suddenly dart across the screen. My character would continue to follow them of course, but the camera would no longer be focused on my character. On more than one occasion, I would find myself staring at the screen, clueless, trying to find myself amidst all the chaos.

Movement is also a bit of an issue. The game’s movement and camera controls are simple enough. But, due to the fast-paced nature of the combat, you’ll spend most of your time moving around at high-speed. Being a 4D battlefield, you’ll often end up chasing down a target only to find yourself suspended in mid-air unable to land a blow.  Now, obviously a lot of this is simply an issue of experience. The more I played the game, the more I was able to understand the basic concepts of battle and movement. However, the in-game tutorials do a terrible job of getting a new player ready for their first encounter. Which brings me to the next big issue….

Both the single player AI and the online matchmaking are terribly out of balance. Considering that Dissidia NT is a team-based game, skill-balance should really be a major focus. When playing single player mode, the AI versions of your teammates are nearly useless. In most cases, I felt like I was actually playing a 1-on-3 match. On the other side of the coin, the opponent AI seems slightly overpowered. This is worsened as you continue to play and the difficulty level increases. After winning a few single player matches, the difficulty spikes in a way that seems very disproportionate.

When being grouped with other players online, the game is supposed to try to match you with players of an equal skill. However, I’ve found this not to be the case. To make matters worse, the online game is currently suffering from both matchmaking errors and lag issues. These are items that simply must be corrected in short order if the game is to have any chance of success.

As far as eSports titles go, Dissidia NT does have a lot of potential. Gamers that enjoy ranked competition and who want to try their hand at a different type of fighting game may find just what they’re looking for here. Casual players are likely to be turned off by this title.

Finally, let’s look at a few other aspects of the game itself. Like many arena style games, players can earn and unlock various outfits, color schemes, and emotes to equip on their characters. These are earned via a gacha-style draw system. Thankfully, instead of being available in real-money loot boxes, treasure is earned by spending in-game points. A handful of outfits and weapons are also available in the form of DLC (currently as pre-order perks and promotional redemptions). I expect to see these available for individual purchase on PSN eventually. SE has also promised that six new playable characters will be available in the future as part of a Season Pass.

In summary, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is a game that’s designed for a very specific niche of gamers. You’re either going to love it or hate it. Personally, it’s not the type of game that I enjoy in the long term. Typically, I tend to play a game to completion before I post a review. However, due to the nature of this title I decided to share my thoughts after spending a few solid days with it. I’m not a competitive gamer. I prefer to play games to unwind. While I don’t mind the occasional grind, the reward has to be worth the time I’m putting in. In this case, I found very little in Dissidia NT to keep my interest. Grinding battle after battle for trophies is not my cup of tea and considering I have no interest in ladder rankings – there’s just not a lot that’s going to keep me playing once I’ve cleared the story mode. I’m curious to see if the eSports crowd adopts this title or if it is ultimately going to be forgotten. Regardless, it is a noble attempt from Square Enix and a pretty impressive debut into the evolving genre of professional online gaming.

Difficulty: Variable –  Being primarily an online title, you are competing against other players. Therefore, the difficulty of the battles you will encounter will vary greatly. Generally speaking, this type of game attracts players of a very competitive nature. So, if you’re a casual player, expect to find yourself pitted against those of a much greater skill level – this is true even though the game claims to match you players of an equal skill. For single player challenges, the game may feel overly difficult at first. The unusual nature of the game will provide quite a learning curve, even for players used to brawlers. However, it should generally become a bit easier as you’re able to grasp the concepts of the game and get a little more experience under your belt.

Story: This is the game’s weakest link. Dissidia NT is technically a sequel to other games in the Dissidia series. However, once again, the storyline provided is barebones at best. The game’s overall plot unfolds through a series of cutscenes that players can unlock as they grind through battles. It serves as nothing more than a loose excuse to throw a bunch of characters from various Final Fantasy games together in one title. But, considering the nature of the game itself, this is forgivable.

Originality: Fighting games are nothing new. Dissidia NT manages to stay unique by providing a 3-on-3 experience and an original battle concept. It borrows heavily from the previous Dissidia titles, but also isn’t shy about venturing off into a new direction.

Soundtrack: This game features a variety of background tracks hailing from the entire line of previous Final Fantasy games. These classic tracks have been rearranged fairly well and are fitting for the style of gameplay. The voice acting is a mixed bag. It’s great to hear Noctis and Lightning again, but some of the characters are downright annoying.

Fun: If fast-paced competitive gaming is your thing, you’ll find to find a lot of like about Dissidia NT. If you’re expecting a battle game with RPG elements like the previous Dissidia titles, prepare to be disappointed. It’s as simple as that.

Graphics: High marks here. This is a simply beautiful game. Everything from the characters to the environments are breathtakingly rendered. The battle effects are colorful and well done. This game is filled with eye candy.

Playcontrol:  This will be an issue for many players. While the controls are responsive and well thought out, they are unusual. Mastering the controls will take practice. Thankfully, they are customizable. The chase camera needs some work. But there’s always manual camera controls if needed.

Downloadable Content: YES – At the time of this writing, DLC is restricted to pre-order, and promotional codes for vanity items. A season pass will also be available and currently promises six additional playable characters. Price to be announced.

Mature Content: Skimpy outfits on some characters. Online interactions.

Value:  The game currently retails for the premier price of $60.00. This is likely to decrease in the months to come. If you’re the type of player that enjoys these style of games, the full price might very well be worth it. However, if you’re on the fence it might be best to wait a while.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – I wanted to like this game. But, in the end I decided that it’s just not for me. That alone doesn’t sink the title. But when combined with a poor tutorial, connection issues, and the current unbalanced play. I have to call a spade a spade. Dissidia NT has a lot of potential. Thankfully, in the world we live in now, games can be patched and refined. I hope to see many of my concerns addressed in the months to come. If you’re a Final Fantasy RPG fan who wants a little fighting action, perhaps Dissidia 012 on the PSP will be more your speed. However, if you’re a hardcore MOBA gamer who’s in the mood for something unique, Dissdia NT might be exactly what you’re looking for

Available on: PS4

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

Check Up: No Man’s Sky (1.3 Atlas Rises Update)

It’s been a while since I did a check-in on No Man’s Sky. My last post for this game was made back in January for the “Foundation Update“. Since that time there have been a few incremental patches made to the game but all of these pale in comparison to the newest updated: Atlas Rises.

This is the patch that everyone was waiting for. With the introduction of 1.3, No Man’s Sky now has a proper storyline, side quests, and even limited player interaction! Gameplay elements added by previous patches are all integrated into the game’s new narrative, so simply playing through the storyline will ensure players can experience things like bases and exocrafts. No longer do players have to simply stumble upon abandoned structures to claim a base. This resolves a major pain point that players have been screaming about since the game’s inception.

Second on the list of big complaints by fans is; multiplayer. Even after it was promised by the game developers – the game has thus far, failed to deliver. Now, even with the Atlas Rises patch, we don’t have true multiplayer capability. But finally, players will be able to detect when they within the vicinity of each other and even engage in VOIP chat with another traveler. The developers have hinted that they will continue to expand multiplayer functionality in future updates.  – We’ll see.

For me, this patch addresses a lot of what was wrong with the initial game. While there was a certain charm to the mystery that was No Man’s Sky, having an actual storyline that sheds some light on things is more welcome than not. My biggest complaint seems to be with performance issues after the update.  I’m playing on a PS4 Pro, I do have the latest 1.31 patch yet I often suffer from temporary lock ups, stuttering and even occasional crashes.  Also, after experimenting with the new “Terrain Editor” weapon, I ended up falling through the world and getting stuck in some invisible water and dying on more than one occasion. Other’s have also complained about the performance, so I hope to see this addressed in the near future. This is the only game on my PS4 that suffers like this.

All in all, the Atlas Rises patch is a very welcome and much needed fix for No Man’s Sky. I hope to continue to see these types of enhancements in the future.

DLC Review: Final Fantasy XV – Assassin’s Festival

July brought a new update to Final Fantasy XV and trailing just behind the update was a surprise bit of free downloadable content: The Assassin’s Festival! The festival is actually a special cross-over event with the Assassin’s Creed game franchise. It contains a full playable chapter complete with unlockable items that carry over to the main game.

Players who completed the previous Moogle/Chocobo festival were rewarded with a special “Dream Egg” item. Upon launching the Assassin’s Festival DLC, this item will hatch – unlocking a permanent costume for Noctis in the main game.  In case you missed the carnival event, SE has reactivated it for a limited time, to allow for the full “Holiday Pack” experience. So, this means you can partake in the carnival, get your egg, and then proceed right into the Assassin’s Festival event.  But be warned, this event is only active for a limited time. It ends on January 31st, 2018.

For me, this event seemed to come out of nowhere. It was released during my July-August hiatus from gaming, so perhaps I simply missed the announcement. Plus, it seems a bit odd to cross-over two completely unrelated game franchises like this, but – it actually works well! The DLC takes concepts from the Assassin’s Creed franchise and blends them perfectly into the main storyline of Final Fantasy XV. The gist of the event is simple;  in the world of FFXV, Assassin’s Creed is an extremely popular video game… But one that’s apparently rooted in “real life” mythology. So, every year they celebrate the Assassin’s Festival. Noctis and his crew arrive in town just in time for the festivities and must conceal themselves in costumes to sneak through town and thwart an imperial plot.  It sounds a bit strange, but to be honest it’s actually very well done. The scenarios and new gameplay mechanics are fun and for the pricetag of FREE, who can complain?

Aside from completing the quests included in the DLC, participating in the side content will provide you with medals that can be spent to purchase unlockables for the main game. (camera filters, frames, car decals, etc). So, there’s quite a bit replayability here.

Aside from the festival itself, the July Update also includes a number of other free downloadable costumes as well as some new features for the main game. This includes new quests, trophies and even a “chapter select” option from the main menu. All in all, this update/DLC pack is filled with goodies – all at no charge.  I suppose I’ll have to spent a few hours checking out some of the additions to the main game and seeing if I can manage to round out my trophy collection.

Overall Impression:  Free DLC is always good.  The amount of content included here is impressive. Even if shoehorning an advertisement for another game into Final Fantasy seems a bit awkward – the presentation is well done.

Value: Freebie! Aside from 800 MB of space you have nothing to lose!

Main Game:  Final Fantasy XV Review

Review: Final Fantasy XV – A King’s Tale

For those of you that pre-ordered your copy of Final Fantasy XV from Gamestop, you may have noticed a download code on your receipt for a bonus game. (If you didn’t notice this code, go fish your receipt out of the trash, quick! The code is for something called A King’s Tale. A King’s Tale is a mini, 16-bit style beat-em-up based on characters and monsters from Final Fantasy XV.  It’s a simple little game, and one that’s nothing at all like the actual Final Fantasy XV. But, for a price tag of $0.00,  you can’t beat it.

The premise of the title is simple, in A King’s Tale, Prince Noctis is still a child. One night his father, King Regis, tells him a fantastic bedtime story about an epic battle against legions of monsters. The “bedtime story” makes up the actual gameplay. Once you have completed the main story, Prince Noctis finally goes to sleep. This unlocks a slew of optional Dream Battles.

The gameplay is best described as an old arcade-style brawler. IE: Double Dragon. But much more fast paced. To start, King Regis only has limited abilities but as you continue to play and progress through the stages, more and more attack options become unlocked. As you play, you’ll find that certain monsters are weak to certain types of attacks. So you learn to tailor your strategy to match whatever you’re fighting. The tricky part is that you’re often attacked by multiple enemies at once, so you have to learn to switch up your assault on the fly.

Once you completed the main scenario, you unlock what are known as Dream Battles. These are short rounds of combat that also include an optional goal. To complete the battle properly (and earn a gold star), you need to achieve whatever the objective is – for example, complete the battle without using magic.

On the surface, A King’s Tale seems like a very simple little freebie. But, there’s actually a surprising amount of thought that’s gone into the game. The game comes complete with it’s own chiptune style soundtrack and even has achievements/trophies.

The worst thing about the game is that it is not available to the general public. Currently, only players that pre-ordered the game from specific retailers have access. I hope that after some time goes by, this decision is reversed.  Until that day arrives, if you’re one of the lucky bunch of players who can get your hands on A King’s Tale, it’s certainly worth a look. My only complaint about the title is a lack of multiplayer. This would be the perfect game for some co-op, even it was only local with a second controller.

 

Difficulty: Hard –  Looking like a retro title isn’t the only thing “old school” about A King’s Tale. The game also has a “Nintendo-Hard” level of difficulty.  This is especially true for the final battle and several of the Dream Battles. Progress is saved from stage to stage, but occasionally, the battles themselves can get very frantic. Those who are easily frustrated or not familiar with this type of game may not find this to their liking.

Story: This game could loosely be considered a prequel to Final Fantasy XV, as it takes place when Noctis is a young boy. But, the storyline here is not critical to the XV universe at large. Regardless, it’s cute and does provide a bit of nice window-dressing to the already large FFXV universe.

Originality: Years ago, games like this were a dime a dozen, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen a title like this so it was quite a refreshing experience. I’ve certainly never played a Final Fantasy title in this genre.

Soundtrack: Classic retro era chiptunes! The music here sounds like something right out of Double Dragon. It’s simply amazing!

Fun: I used to enjoy these games immensely when I was young.  So, I personally had a blast. But I can imagine that fans attracted to Final Fantasy titles as a whole may not appreciate this type of game. The difficulty level can also result in some frowns from younger players, I imagine.

Graphics: The graphics here are on par with a title you might find on the old SNES or in a retro arcade. Cartoonish, 16-bit sprites. But, the game is tweaked for modern consoles and looks great in HD.

Playcontrol: The controls are easy to grasp and very responsive. No real issues.

Downloadable Content:  N/A

Mature Content: Cartoon violence

Value:  This title is provided for free as a preorder perk for Final Fantasy XV. It doesn’t get any better than free!

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – For a free title, it’s difficult to be picky. I suppose my biggest complaint would be a lack of local multiplayer. The difficulty level may turn off some modern players, but just like any retro title; practice makes perfect.

Available on: PSN and Xbox Live (DLC code only)

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: No Man’s Sky

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When I first saw No Man’s Sky presented at E3 in 2015, I was enthralled. The developer showcased the title as a space exploration game, one that took place in a universe of nearly endless proportions. Over eighteen-quintilian planets, all randomly generated. The planets were literally “planet-sized”, teeming with undocumented life. The first player to discover a particular planet could name it, and their name would forever be recorded as the “founder” of said world.  I mean, it was a concept unlike any other.  As a child, I was fascinated with deep space. The idea of an infinite universe filled with potential tugged at me then, as it still does now.  When the promise of No Man’s Sky was sold to the gaming world, I knew this was going to be a day one purchase for me.

So, here we are. No Man’s Sky has finally been released. And as I promised on the RetroSensei Podcast last year, I stopped everything and dedicated all my free time to playing it. I explored it, I learned its secrets, I experimented with it, and I ended up returning empty handed.  Allow me to explain…

First, let’s discuss what No Man’s Sky is supposed to be. As mentioned above, the game was sold to players as a deep-space exploration experience. The game is played through the eyes of an unnamed space traveler who wakes up on an alien world. As the traveler, you find yourself next to a broken spaceship. Not far from the ship is a strange artifact of alien origin. As you inspect the artifact, a strange voice invades your brain – you are given the option to follow the voice’s instructions and meet your destiny or ignore it and make your own way in the universe. Regardless of which path you may choose, you must first scour the planet for the resources needed to fix your ship and ensure your survival.

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Each player starting No Man’s Sky begins on a planet all their own. Your starting world is a world unseen by any other player. All planets, moons, and systems in the game are given randomly generated names, but as the founder of that world, you have the right to rename it if you wish. This is also true for the flora and fauna or special points of interest that you discover. The name you select, as well as the details of your discovery will be uploaded to the game’s server to be shared with anyone else who may eventually stumble across your world. At least…. that’s what the game promises. In truth, players have discovered that  (at time of this writing), discovery details are wiped after two weeks*… *** UPDATE- This is confirmed to be the result of a server error and not by design***

Anyways, back to the game itself. The first goal of the game is to harvest the materials needed to fix and upgrade your ship. This is done by seeking out ore or other raw elements and collecting them using a handheld multi-tool. While doing this, you will also quickly realize that aside from repair materials, you will need to collect resources to keep up your life support systems and even fuel for the multi-tool itself.  This quickly becomes a problem due the small amount of inventory space you start the game with. Luckily, as you proceed throughout No Man’s Sky, you will find frequent, albeit expensive, opportunities to upgrade your inventory slots. No Man’s Sky is very much a resource/survival game.

As you explore your starting world, you will likely encounter alien animals. Most are docile, but some are hostile. You will also eventually encounter “sentinels”. These are robotic probes that seem to appear whenever you seem to harvest materials in large number. If you’re greedy and continue to reap the land of its resources, these sentinels wills attack.

Once you’ve repaired your ship, you can use it to either travel around your starting planet with ease, or use it escape the atmosphere and head into space. Once you reach space, you’re likely to discover a few more planets and also a space station.  Now you’re into the meat of the game.

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Every solar system in No Man’s Sky features a Space Station. So you’ll encounter these often. Here, you will find at least one alien lifeform. (There are four intelligent races in the game). At first, communication with these creatures will be difficult. But as you continue to travel from world to world, and system to system, you will uncover artifacts and computer terminals that will teach you bits of their language. Learning to communicate is important because many of the conversations or puzzles you will encounter in the game will often reward you with a prize, assuming you understand enough of the language to make the right decisions.

My starting world was rocky and barren. There wasn’t much to look at so I was anxious to move on and see what might await me on a new world. The next planet was different, but after spending an hour or so exploring it. I found that on the whole, it was really not much better. In fact, that might be the biggest problem with No Man’s Sky. Aside from the view, all the planets in game feature the same few points of interest: trading posts, communication towers, ruins/monoliths, and science stations. The purpose of these locations is either to learn new alien words, obtain blueprints for new technology, or buy and sell resources.  Occasionally, you may also encounter a shipwreck. But these are fairly rare. On top of that, nine out of ten times the wrecked ship is no better than your current one.

Spaceflight is even less exciting than planet exploration. It serves mainly as a path between worlds. Yes, you can mine minerals from asteroids and occasionally, you’ll encounter a fleet of ships in orbit around a world. But if you linger too long in open space you’re likely to become a target for pirates and combat is space is rather cumbersome, to be honest.

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The “goal” in No Man’s Sky is travel to the center of galaxy. To do so, you will need to craft a warp drive for your ship. (Players who pre-ordered the game actually receive a special ship that can warp from the start). However, you’ll soon find that warping through space is not really that efficient. Even with a fully upgraded drive, it will take hundreds upon hundreds of jumps to reach the center. Each jump requiring you to harvest and craft fuel. You can also take advantage of black-holes. These are supposedly short-cuts towards the center but they cause massive damage to your ship.  Now, I don’t usually post spoilers in my reviews, but I’m going to make an exception here. Reaching the center of the galaxy is not all it’s cracked up to be. Simply doing so treats you to a long and unskippable cutscene that sheds no light whatsoever onto the purpose or storyline of the game, and then essentially starts the game over again from the beginning. That’s right. The screen flashes and you wake up again on a new world, but this time in a different galaxy.

If you actually followed the game’s “storyline” and collected a number of special items through your travels, the ending is given is a tad bit more interesting, but the end result remains the same.

You’ll notice that as I summarized the game, I didn’t mention any interactions with other players. No Man’s Sky was described as being a multi-player experience, and even the box contains a notice of online play. But, in reality, you will never encounter another player. The game developer would have you believe that this is simply due to the large-scale size of the universe. But in truth, that is not the case. Two players were indeed able to organize a rendezvous in No Man’s Sky only to discover that the game clients do not talk to each other. You cannot encounter other players. Aside from seeing names people have given worlds and other discoveries, there simply is no multiplayer in No Man’s Sky whatsoever.

Now, it’s obvious that I’m quite unhappy that No Man’s Sky is not the really the experience promised to me by developers. I know that sometimes a player’s expectation will not line up with the end experience in a game. But No Man’s Sky is a unique case in that the developers outright lied and fabricated facts about the game. Setting these unfulfilled expectations aside and looking at the game itself, how is No Man’s Sky? Well, that’s a bit tricky. Initially, the game was crashy upon release and did indeed have a number of annoying bugs and glitches. But to be fair, a large number of these were swiftly fixed and corrected in a series of patches.  So, as I write this, both the PS4 and the PC version of game are pretty much stable. The game itself is gorgeous. The graphics are well done and at times breathtaking. The game actually does manage to capture a sense of wonder and mystique. The vast scale of the game was not oversold, it’s nearly endless. But sadly, most of what you will find is not always all that interesting. It’s different planets with the same contents. Over and over and over and over. The grind does exist, but for some reason I kept feeling the pull to play more and check out that one undiscovered world, because… maybe something interesting would be there. Even if it never was.

To me, if you approach No Man’s Sky with the mindset that it is an open-ended experiment, or a piece of art (and make no mistake, it is that), you will likely not be disappointed. This game is essentially a large sandbox, but one with very strict rules. However, if you come to the game expecting deep gameplay or a satisfying story, you will likely be disappointed.

In many ways, I imagine being a lost spacefaring traveler would actually be very much like the experience provided No Man’s Sky. A silent, lonely journey from one world to the next, in hopes that eventually you will find something that  gives your journey meaning. Only to know in the back of your mind that the only thing that waits for you out there is the vast nothingness, the likes of which you have already encountered.

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Difficulty: Easy –  No Man’s Sky is not a punishing game. If your character perishes, you will respawn at the point in which your game was last saved. You can find and locate your grave and restore any inventory that was lost. Most of the danger in this game exists in open space, courtesy of pirates. But occasionally, you will encounter a planet where the sentinels are hostile and attack on sight. These encounters can be deadly, fast. But as I mentioned, there’s no real penalty. No Man’s Sky is a fairly relaxing and stress free.

Story: The backstory of the game is minimal. It revolves around something called “The Atlas”, which is essentially a phantom alien consciousness. By following the path of the Atlas, the player can be ensured they will eventually obtain everything needed to reach the center of the galaxy, thus serving the will of the Atlas itself. – This scenario is actually quite well done, but it goes over the heads of most players. Essentially, the player is slave to an unseen force, one who’s intentions are not made clear. There’s hope of an ultimate end, but one that never seems to come.  – As I said in the review itself. No Man’s Sky is ultimately an experimental piece of playable art.

Originality: Love it or hate it, No Man’s Sky is certainly original. There’s never been a game where every piece of a shared universe is proceduraly generated. The game itself and the very concept of it is uncharted territory.

Soundtrack: The game soundtrack is fitting and perfect. From spacey ambient music while exploring the alien landscape, to pulse thumping beats when being attacked by sentinels. There’s no top-ten hits to be found here, but the score and overall game sound effects serve their purpose well.

Fun: In the beginning the game is interesting and entertaining. But sadly, it gets old pretty fast. What starts out seeming to be a universe filled with endless possibilities quickly fades into the realization that it is really nothing more than endless, re-skinned, repetitiveness.

Graphics: If No Man’s Sky is anything, it is pretty. Even the barren lifeless planets that you encounter more often than not, are well rendered and breathtaking to look at. The game largely has the overall look of an Issac Asmiov book cover. Which I found to be interesting and refreshing.

Playcontrol: The default controls are efficient, but a bit clunky at first. Thankfully, they can be remapped but in reality it doesn’t help much. For the most part, the stiff controls are not big issue, but on the uncommon occasion when combat occurs, it can often be difficult to navigate.

Downloadable Content: Free DLC Planned – Hello Games has promised free DLC that will “expand and change that scope of the game”. What this means exactly, is still anyone’s guess. If later content does in fact change the game in a big way, be assured I will update this review with those details.

***   Foundation Update Review    *** Atlas Rises Update Review

Mature Content: None

Value:  This game currently sells for a top-tier price of $60. In my opinion, this is too much for what you get. It won’t be long before this title is on sale. I cannot recommend a purchase at a $60 pricetag.  Knowing what you’re getting into, I’d feel more comfortable at or around $20.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 (original rating)  **3 (After Atlas Rises Update)** – No Man’s Sky is interesting. It’s not currently the game we were promised. But it’s not really as bad as some report indicate. If you like sci-fi, outer space and the thrill of the unknown, then you might like like No Man’s Sky. If you like peaceful, cerebral, open world games then you might like No Man’s Sky. But, if you’re goal-oriented, want an epic sci-fi storyline or exciting interactions with other players, you might want to sit this one out.

***(I have updated the score from a 2 to a 3 after the fixes and enhancements introduced in the 1.3 patch)

Available on: PS4 and PC (Steam)

Review: Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

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This post concludes the “Final Fantasy Initiative” project that I started in December of 2014. Since that time, I have played through and reviewed every title in the main Final Fantasy series. During the course of this project, I have even managed to check off a number of the side-games as well. Technically, Final Fantasy Type-0 is one of those. Meaning, it is not a numbered Final Fantasy game. However, considering it is a part of a Fabula Nova Chrystallis  subseries, I decided to include in my project as it ties in directly with XIII and the upcoming XV.

To start, let’s talk a bit about the history behind Final Fantasy Type-0.  When Square Enix originally announced the release of Final Fantasy XIII, they stated that it would be part of a subseries of games. As mentioned above, these games are grouped into what is commonly known as Fabula Nova Chrystallis. Final Fantasy XIII was to be the more traditional RPG entry, while a game called Final Fantasy Agito XIII was to be an action oriented spin-off. A third game called Final Fantasy Versus XIII was also announced. All games in the Fabula Nova Chrystallis series were to share a common mythos. Not necessarily set in the same gameworld, but all tied by common themes.

As time went on, the name Agito XIII was changed to Type-0 and Versus XIII was later re-branded as the upcoming Final Fantasy XV. As you probably know, the XIII game world became quite popular and XIII spawned two direct sequels. All this attention for XIII and XV, pushed Type-0 to be a sort of redheaded step child. For a while, it seemed like the US would miss out on this game. Luckily, that was not the case. Originally released in Japan for the PSP, Type-0 was finally brought to the west as an HD remake. This is the version that I will be reviewing.

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I purchased Type-0 HD on the day it was released (interestingly enough a year ago from the date this review was posted), but due to my backlog I didn’t get around to playing it until recently. I purposefully avoided reading much about the game itself because I tend to enjoy experiencing a game with fresh eyes. So, it’s safe to say I had no idea what to expect.

If I have to sum up my first impression of Type-0 in one word, I would pick: confusion. The game starts with two extremely long and very wordy cutscenes.  A lot of proper nouns are being tossed around in the opening scenes that make no sense to a first time player. These are presented in a way that makes you feel like you’re already supposed to be familiar with the place and things being referenced. When in truth, you have no idea what is going on. While visually stunning, these cutscenes didn’t do much to really get my head into the game itself. In fact, it wasn’t until I was about a quarter of the way through the game before I finally had a firm grasp on what this game was even about.

To sum it up, the basic premise of the game is this: Type-0 takes place in a world known as Orience. This world is divided in to four nation-states. Each nation is guided by and protects a sentient crystal. Each crystal represents a certain power  (Magic, Science, etc. These crystals can bestow an individual with special powers by making them a l’Cie – much like in FFXIII). At the start of this game, the industrial nation of Milites is engaged in a conquest to control the crystals of the other three nations. Their goal has brought them the nation of Rubrum, a dominion that specializes in Magic. Using a newly constructed magic-jamming device, Milites attempts to invade Rubrum. This is shown in the opening cutscene of the game.

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During the game itself, you play as any one of the cadets in Rubrum’s military academy. Specifically, you are a member of the mysterious “Class Zero”. A group of youths with rather mysterious origins. The game is divided into chapters, each chapter mostly focusing on a specific mission that Class Zero must complete. Most of these involve defending  the dominion from invasion, or overtaking enemy territory. During these missions, you can form parties from the class roster and switch between characters as needed. Each cadet specializes in a different form of combat, so a big part of the game learning which characters to use in which situations. As you play through the game, more details unfold that help to shed some light on rather obscure storyline.

In the downtime between operations, you are free to explore the school, participate in sidequests and optional tasks, attend classes (to increase stats). Every one of these things takes time and will deduct hours from the “freetime clock”. Eventually, it will be mission day – which means it’s off to your next assignment. One of the first things I noticed is that there are simply not enough hours in the game to complete all of the optional tasks available. That is because, Type-0 is actually designed with the expectation that you will play through it more than once. Upon beating the game, you have the ability to start over with your developed characters. (More on this later).

Back to missions for a moment, when engaged in a mission, you have the option to accept special goals. For example, you might receive optional orders that say “Take no damage for 3 minutes”. If you accept, you will receive a reward upon completion. If you fail, your main character dies and is unplayable until the end of the operation. I found this to be a very interesting concept, something I had never seen in a game before. Also, when embarking on an operation, you can also elect to accept support from computer controlled NPCs. Choosing to do so, can often make the mission easier, but you receive less of a reward. You see, everything that happens during an operation is graded. Upon successful completion, you will be presented with a scorecard – rating your overall performance.

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As you can probably already tell, Type-0 is a very different type of Final Fantasy game. Yes, almost all aspects of Final Fantasy are represented here in one way or another, but it’s very much an action-based RPG. The combat system is fast-paced, and a little hard to grasp at first. But once I got the hang of it, I found that I liked it quite a bit. Occasionally though, certain parts of the game will revert to an overhead (almost RTS style) view. During these phases of the game, you are often in charge of large-scale military operations: invading an occupied city, issuing orders to soldiers, etc. These are infrequent, but when they occur they seemed to me to be an odd change of pace in a game that is largely filled with fast-paced action.

Overall, I found Type-0 to be hard to get into initially. But, once I got my head in the game, I was hooked. In a lot of ways, it is obvious that this was once a handheld game. It’s structure and design reminded me a lot of Final Fantasy Crisis Core at times, but I think SE did a brilliant job moving the title to the console.

Finally, let me mention again that this is a title that is meant to played through more than once. Without spoiling anything, I will say that upon completing the game the first time, you may be left scratching your head at the ending. But if you pay close attention to the backstory throughout the course of the game, you will be able to understand exactly what’s happening. Completing the game a second time unlocks an optional ending.  Also, on your second trip through, you have the opportunity to make some interesting choices, that deviate from original playthrough. This helps make the second time through a lot more interesting and not too repetitive.

All in all, I have to say Type-0 is a solid, good game. But if you’re a traditional Final Fantasy fan, prepare to come out of your comfort zone just a bit. But don’t worry too much. There’s plenty of moogles, chocobos and an INSANELY difficult optional boss. I’m proud to say I did not shy away from this challenge, but I admit it took me until my second playthrough before I was able to step up to the plate on this one. So, yes. It’s Final Fantasy, but presented with a much different flair.

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Difficulty: Variable –  There are multiple difficulty settings to choose from. Upon the first completion of the game, a “hardcore” mode is also unlocked. I found the difficulty options to be pretty appropriate. Choosing a difficulty setting does not affect the game’s storyline in any way.

Story: Very confusing at first, but fleshes out after a while. Type-o actually has a very deep and complex story. One that I found to be quite intriguing. The whole game is actually presented almost like a record of events. Very compelling stuff.

Originality: A lot of what’s seen in Type-0 has been done before in one way or another. But what makes this game very unique is the way all of these ideas are mixed together and presented. There’s a lot of different stuff going on here, but SE really managed to make Type-0 seem like something fresh and new.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack for this title is absolutely outstanding. Everything from the composition to the audio quality is mind blowing. Many FF favorites are included here in one way or another, but there’s tons of new original songs as well. All of them are simply amazing.

Fun: I have to say, when I first started this game I had no idea what was going on and as a result, I just wasn’t into it. For a while I honestly had little motivation to play. But after giving the game a little time, it REALLY started to grow on me. By the time I had completed it, I was actually eager to start it over for a second playthrough.

Graphics: Despite being an HD port of a portable title, Type-0 HD looks wonderful. SE did a fine job with this remake. The overworld portions of the game are a little iffy… but most of the game is in third-person 3D and looks stunning.

Playcontrol: Overall, no issues. Combat takes a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, all is well. Occasionally ran into issues with the game camera not focusing on what I needed to see during fights, but this most often occurred when I was up against a wall or backed into a corner.

Downloadable Content: NO– The original JP version of the game had some DLC-ish costume unlockables, but these are all integrated into the main game now.

Mature Content: War time violence, graphic bloody imagery. A very sexy cutscenes.  As far as I know, this is the only FF game with a mature rating.

Value:  Originally released a premium price, the game is now often available for around $20 new. At this price, it is well worth the purchase, in my opinion.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – This game does have some flaws that prevent it from getting a perfect score, but at the same time there’s a lot of great gameplay here. Many fans of the series may be turned off at first, but if you can manage to stick with, Type-0 can really be a rewarding experience.

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, 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 X-2

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The Final Fantasy playthrough initiative continues! Next up on my list is the original black sheep of the series, Final Fantasy X-2. That’s right, Final Fantasy 10, part 2. Confused? Well, so were lots of people. Until the release of this game, no entry in the Final Fantasy series ever had a direct sequel. Of course, now that is not really the case. XIII has three different entries, with a few spin off games and we’ve since see a number of side games to the ever-popular Final Fantasy VII. To make things even more confusing, this game (10 part 2) was actually released a few months AFTER Final Fantasy XI, but that’s another story… I purchased this game on PS2 back when it was originally released, but I admit, I never got more than a quarter of the way through it until now.

Now, let me state up front that since this game is a sequel to Final Fantasy X, some plot points I’ll be discussing in this game might be considered spoilers to the original. So If you have not played FFX and don’t want the story ruined, you may wish to skip this review for now.

This game picks up about two years after the end of Final Fantasy X. Sin has been destroyed and the people of Spira are left picking up the pieces of their shattered day-to-day lives. Yuna has left behind her summoner ways and has teamed up with Rikku and a new partner named Paine. The trio have become Sphere Hunters; a team that scours the world looking for rare and valuable movie spheres. Yuna’s team calls themselves the Gullwings, and along with the help of a few other companions they have developed a unique invention called the Dress Sphere. Dress Spheres are special items that allow the user to adopt skills and abilities of certain roles. For example, there’s a Black Mage sphere, a Dark Knight sphere, etc. Each job offers a unique combat style and when combined with another mechanic in the game; the Garment Grid, make things extremely customizable.

At the start of the game, it is explained that Yuna decided to join the Gullwings after coming across a sphere that appears to show someone bearing a strong resemblance to Tidus. The young man in this sphere is imprisoned and screams out something about a summoner. Naturally, this ignites a small spark inside Yuna that perhaps Tidus is somehow still alive and out there in Spira somewhere. Hence, her desire to seeks out more sphere in search of clues. The story of the game focuses on Yuna seeking out clues on the origins of the sphere and as time passes, she becomes entangled in the events behind this mystery sphere.

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So now that we’ve laid the groundwork for the game, let’s talk a bit about it. FFX-2 was originally released on the Playstation 2. Now, it is also available as part of the Final Fantasy X HD Remaster. This is the version I played for this review. The Remaster contains the entire original game, with updated graphics plus all of the exclusive content previously only available in the International Version of the game. PLUS, the disc also contains a short follow-up game called Final Fantasy X-2: Last Mission.

I mentioned at the beginning that this game is often labeled as a “black sheep”, if you talk to Final Fantasy purists, many will be quick to tell you how terrible this game is. A few more will even refuse to acknowledge its existence. Well, to be fair, this game is quite odd. It’s a radical departure from most other games in the series and a VERY DIFFERENT game than the original FFX. To start with, aside from the three lead characters, nearly every other character in the game seems a bit ridiculous. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part you feel like the only sane person is a world of cartoon characters. Not to mention the overall tone of the game is a radical departure from what we’ve seen before. Final Fantasy X had a very mystical feel about it, whereas this game, actually starts with a stadium sized pop concert… seriously. If you need your daily dose of J-Pop, you’ve found it.

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All of that aside, the game itself doesn’t feel much like a Final Fantasy game. At least, at first. The combat is very different than anything seen before and it takes quite a bit of getting used to. Once you get your mind around it, the Garment Grid and Dress Sphere system is actually quite ingenious, but the presentation is overly complicated. Next thing worth mentioning is the game soundtrack. This is not the type of music fans of the series are used to. You’re fooled at first by the wonderful piano melody at the title screen, but after that you’re smacked upside the face by a song by Japanese pop-artist, Koda Kumi. This is followed by the quirkiest disco/techno/jazz music you’ve ever heard. This gripe aside, the game does feature some really good tracks that are on par with anything from FFX, but you don’t hear them often enough.

The next thing that makes this game feel a bit out of place is way you play through the main story. Most of the games in the series are either very open or very linear in their progression. This game handles things a bit differently. Once you have completed the introduction to the game, you are given immediate control of an airship with a list of possible destinations. You can visit any of these places in any order that you wish. Essentially, each location provides you with a mission or task to complete. Eventually, completing one of these will progress you to the next chapter. But be wary, each time you move into a new chapter, the missions available at each location also change. Some very valuable items are only available by completing certain missions. So it is important to try to clear every mission for every location before moving on the next chapter. As I said, this is very different from the other games so far, but it’s not really a bad thing at all. In fact, once I got used to it, I thought this was actually kind of neat. Seeing as much content as possible is also crucial because as you play the game keeps a percentage of how much story you’ve experienced. If you can manage to 100% of the game, you will unlock the true ending.

The final thing that really makes X-2 feel a bit out of place is the number of mini-games scattered throughout the title. Many of the missions mentioned above actually up being mini-games of sorts. Some of these are straight forward and well done, others just seem… strange. For example, there’s actually a mini-game for massaging someone’s back. Ummm… What? It really feel likes the dev team had a handful of previously rejected ideas from other games and decided to just dump them all here.

In a nutshell, the radical difference between this and other FF games chased many fans away. Even I felt put off the first time I played this game. But, this changes once you reach the half-way point. If you can manage to reach this portion of the game, you’ll soon realize that this game is very much a Final Fantasy title. Its just presented in a very different wrapper. The regional missions become addictive and “sphere hunting” becomes an actual obsession as you manage to obtain every dress sphere in the game. Not to mention the story makes a huge 180 and all the silly J-pop and nonsense dissolves into the background as you uncover the true epic lore behind the game itself. During my playthrough, I managed to achieve the 100%, unlock all of the dress spheres and even conquer the optional Mega Boss. Although, note that some of this content is only available in the HD Remaster or the Japanese International Version.

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While I started off feeling really cold about the title, I warmed up quite a bit by the time I was finished. I think if fans of the series would be willing to approach this game with an open mind and a bit of patience they will be pleasantly surprised.

Final thing worth mentioning, if you do happen to play the new HD version of the game, there’s also an extra side game included that takes place after the events of X-2. This game, The Last Mission is an even stranger entry. In this game, the girls are reunited again after each receiving a letter inviting them to explore an ancient tower. They are teased with a wonderful reward if they are able to make to the top. Last Mission is very different than X-2. Essentially, it’s a linear dungeon crawl starring Yuna, Rikku and Paine. It’s shown in an overhead view and features turned based combat. It takes a little getting used to, and it’s not for everyone. But it is 80 levels of dungeon crawling fun that builds off the FFX/FFX-2 mythos. The game also serves as a vehicle to expand on the relationship of the characters and to place a capstone on the overall Final Fantasy X/X-2 story. I played and enjoyed this entry very much, but I have always been partial to dungeon delves.

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Difficulty: Medium –  The bulk of this game is on par with the majority of the series in terms of difficulty. In some places, you could say it is a bit easier but there are quite a few spots that really require a strong understanding of the Dress Sphere/Garment Grid system. A lot of the optional content and secret bosses require near perfect mastery and lots of patience.

Story: At first the storyline seems to be nothing more than a weak attempt to expand upon the original game, but as you delve deeper you soon uncover quite an epic tale that actually expands on the lore presented in Final Fantasy X. Naysayers shouldn’t be quick to dismiss this game as rubbish.

Originality: Well, we were certainly don’t have any loss of original content. Everything from the battle system to the progression of the game itself is new and rehashed. If that wasn’t enough, the International/HD version of the game also features a whole new Creature capture/training element. Yes, you can train up and include monsters in your party.

Soundtrack: Here’s where we have some problems. First, I should note this is the first game in the series with no music by composer Nobuo Uetmatsu, and it shows. If you’ve ever played Final Fantasy XI, the music in this game sounds a lot like the tunes that play in the XI game launcher. The music is odd, but not necessarily bad. It just doesn’t seem fitting for the most part. Thankfully, there are a handful of tunes that sound really wonderful, but they are few and far between.

Fun: First starting out, the game is a confusing mess. But I soldiered through it and it paid off. The game actually became quite enjoyable but it’s shame that you have to work at it.

Graphics: The original game is about what you’d expect from a PS 2 title. Overall well done, but lots of jagged polys. The HD version is much sharper and better looking.

Playcontrol: I couldn’t find any real issues with the overall control scheme. The game play feels natural and is responsive

Mature Content: No Concerns 

Value:  These days, the only new option available for purchase is the HD remaster. This can typically be found new for $20.00 or less for PS3/Vita. At this price, this is an amazing deal. Expect to pay more for the PS4 version when it is finally released.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Final Fantasy X-2 is just an odd game. But it is a good game if you give it the chance. This title should in no way represent the series, but when judging it on its own merits it actually a quite a good little bundle. This score of 3 is based on the International/HD version. The extra content included in that version of the game really adds what was missing from the original release. Without these additions, I’d have to give the vanilla release a 2.

Currently available – PS3, Vita, PS4

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 X

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It’s been almost two months since my last Final Fantasy review, but finally it is here. Final Fantasy X. This is one of the more popular entries in the series, and also the first game in the franchise released on the PlayStation 2. These days, an HD remake of the game is available on PS3, Vita, and coming soon to the PS4. For this review, I played the PS3 remake. This version of the game contains enhanced graphics and a remixed soundtrack. It  also features all of the content found in the Final Fantasy X International version (a Japanese exclusive). That being said, this makes the HD Remake the definitive version of the game. **note all screenshots included in this review are of the HD Remake.

The story of Final Fantasy X focuses around the character of Tidus. Tidus is a star Blitzball player from the city of Zanarkand. One day, during a match, the city falls under attack from a giant kaiju-style monster called; Sin. Admist all the chaos, Tidus is rescued by a mysterious man named Auron. During their escape attempt, Tidus blacks out. When he awakens, he finds himself washed up on a foreign beach. Confused and disoriented, he is taken in by the natives. He soon learns that he is in a place called Spira. To the locals, his home of Zanarakand is nothing but a legend. A city destroyed one thousand years ago by the monster, Sin. Sin is a terror which still haunts the people of Spira today. Through a series of events, Tidus joins up with a band of adventurers escorting a summoner, Yuna, on her religious pilgrimage. A journey that will hopefully result with the defeat of Sin itself. The majority of the game consists of this journey with hopes the Tidus can unravel the connection between this world and his own.

This game is major step in evolution from the previous entries in the series. First and foremost, FFX features full voice acting. All cutscenes and conversations includes an audible track. Each character is voiced by a different actor, which certainly helps to gives each character a personality of their own in a way not possible in the previous games. For the most part, the voice acting is pretty well done. Although, I do have to admit that the voice of Tidus has a tendency to be whiny and annoying.

Graphically, FFX is leaps and bounds better than anything seen in the series so far. The HD remake improves upon this even more. Although, I find the character faces in the HD version to seem a little wooden and in some ways not as expressive as they were in the original game. Musically, the game is fantastic. So many good background tracks here. This is true for both the original version and the remake. Personally, I prefer the remixed soundtrack over the original. The instruments sounds a bit more organic to me and overall just better.

Gameplay-wise, Final Fantasy X is a mix of both old and new. While they are not specifically defined, each character sort of takes up one or more of the standard Final Fantasy job roles. There’s black magic, white magic, summons, melee, you name it. It’s all represented here in one way or the other. Unlike many of the other games in the series, characters do not earn traditional levels. Instead, each character has a place on a large “Sphere Grid”. Think of this as a big like a giant Chinese Checker board. Each marble (sphere) on the board represents an attribute. For example, Hit Points, Magic Points, Speed, Specific Abilities, etc. As the characters participate in combat, they earn points and spheres. The points determine how many spots the can progress along the sphere grid. As they progress, they can spend spheres to unlock the new skills and traits mentioned above. As a result, they get stronger as the game goes on. When playing the remaster, you can choose between the traditional version of the sphere grid or a new expert version. (Overall, they seem mostly the same, although the expert grid does make it a bit easier to deviate from the standard path, thus opens the characters up for more customization).

In terms of storyline, Final Fantasy X does not disappoint. A large portion of the game consists of cutscenes and storyline. For the most part this is very well done, and even though there’s hours of scenes to view in the game, they move at a good pace and go by pretty quick. Like most Final Fantasy games, your hand is held pretty firmly in the beginning, but over time you get a little more freedom. By the end of the game, you pretty much have free reign to go anywhere and do anything that you please. That’s a good thing, because there is a ton of sidequests and optional content.

Fans of mini games will have a field day with FFX. There’s monster hunting, chocobo mini-games, and of course Blitzball.  When it comes to Blitzball you either love it or you hate it. Blitzball is a sport played by characters in Final Fantasy X. It’s a bit like hockey/soccer, but played inside a giant orb of water. You are only required to complete one game as part of the storyline, but of course to obtain one of the character’s ultimate weapons, you will need play and win many more. For me, I played it a bit and managed to win a tournament match, but it simply didn’t hold my interest enough to keep me playing long enough to reach the ultimate prize. If Blitzball is your cup of tea, there’s plenty to do. You can recruit NPCs throughout the world to join your team. Levels them up, teach them new Blitz-related skills, etc. It’s really a game within a game.

As mentioned briefly above, each character in the game can obtain an “ultimate weapon”. The difficulty in doing so varies greatly. During my playthrough, I did manage to obtain a few, but there are some that quite frankly just didn’t seem worth the time and effort. For example, Wakka’s weapon requires much more Blitzball than had the stomach for. Tidus’s weapon also requires completion of an insane chocobo riding minigame. To be honest, I fully planned on getting all the weapons when I started this playthrough but after spending almost three days on dodging lightning bolts just to obtain part of Lulu’s, my will was spent. Luckily for me, I’m not THAT achievement hungry and my desire to complete the game in a reasonable time beat out my OCD. YES. The HD remake does feature trophies… and yes the most annoying/grindy aspects of the game all feature trophies as well. Boo Hiss.

Despite not obtaining every ultimate weapon in the game, I did make sure to unlock all of the optional summons and defeat all of the optional bosses in this version of the game. There’s actually two here: Nemesis and Penance. The first is unlocked by completing the monster-arena side quest. Which is enjoyed anyway. The latter, by defeating all of the International Version’s Dark Aeons. This was new for me, as until this release of the game, I had only even played the standard American version of FFX. Let me just say, these new bosses are INSANE. But as often in these games, there’s always a trick to beating them, if you’re dedicated and prepared.

In a nutshell, there’s a lot of game to digest here. For many, FFX makes the perfect entry point into the series. Its a good mix of old and new with the polish of a modern game. Not to mention, it was the first Final Fantasy game ever to spawn a direct sequel… but more on that in the next review.

Final note – The HD Remake also contains a watchable featurette called The Eternal Calm. This is a mini-movie to help bridge FFX and FFX2 together. Certainly worth a watch.

Difficulty: Medium –  The majority of the game is pretty easy going. Eventually, you will encounter one or two boss fights that present quite a challenge (even for an experienced player). This can be somewhat overcome by a little level grinding, but ultimately, you will need to focus on strategy to get past a few of the encounters. Overall, this balances out to what I would call  medium level of difficulty for the game itself. The sidequests and optional content are another story. As usual, clearing a lot of this content requires a lot of work and dedication. The optional bosses exceed anything the series has had to offer so far (in my opinion) when fought normally. I do admit to finally resorting to a cheap method of defeating Penance (thanks to a little help from the Yojimbo aeon). Shh.

Story: The story presented here is fantastic and the ending has a twist that I honestly didn’t expect the first time I played it. I really enjoyed the opportunity to seeing it all unfold again thanks to my playthough of the new HD version. The tale of Spira and Zanarkand ranks right up there as one of the greatest video game stories ever told

Originality: Ten games in and still staying fresh. It’s not an easy feat, but one that Final Fantasy X manages to accomplish. New ideas like the Sphere Grid, and Blitzball certainly help make this game stand out from its predecessors.

Soundtrack: Nothing but good things here. The entire game soundtrack makes for an amazing experience. I listen to it when working occasionally. It’s great background music. Again, even though the original and HD soundtracks feature different recordings, either one is perfectly enjoyable, with a slight edge going to the new version. The voice acting  in the game is pretty well done, but a bit odd at times.

Fun: I had blast playing FFX again. There’s really a little for everybody in this game. Hardcore RPG players will enjoy all the optional content. Anime fans have an excellent story to follow. Even fans of sports games may enjoy the season of Blitzball that’s playable.

Graphics: By today’s standards, the original game looks a bit dated, but at the time of release it was simply fantastic. It was leagues above anything seen in the series so far. For the most part, the new HD remaster is an fantastic upgrade, although still a few steps down from most other modern games.

Playcontrol: I couldn’t find any real issues with the overall control scheme. Some of the optional content in the game does seem to feel a little wonky (chocobo racing, lightning dodging). Many people blame these gripes on the normally un-noticeable delay of modern day flatscreens. Who knows. Overall, no real issues to complain about.

Mature Content: No Concerns – Minor language/cursing, big focus on mythical religions.

Value:  These days, the only new option available for purchase is the HD remaster. This can typically be found new for $20.00 or less for PS3/Vita. At this price, this is an amazing deal. Expect to pay more for the PS4 version when it is finally released.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Final Fantasy X is one of staples in the series and really set the bar for modern day RPGs. Along with Final Fantasy VII, this title is a must have for almost any gamer.

Currently available – PS3, Vita , PS4

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: Destiny

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Today, I’m going to share my review for the vanilla version of Destiny. Last month, I spent the time between my Halloween playthroughs with this title. Several of my friends were on the Destiny bandwagon, and I decided to take the plunge myself and see what all the hype was about.

Destiny, is an interesting sort of game. For the most part, it is a first-person shooter. However, unlike many of the FPS games I’ve enjoyed before, this game is only available on a console system. There is no PC version of Destiny. I need to admit that I’m not very good at FPS games when using a controller. I usually prefer a mouse and keyboard for these types of games. So there was immediately a bit of a learning curve for me here. But all in all, it did not take me very long to get the hang of things.

The storyline for Destiny is still a bit of mystery. It is expected that more details will emerge as expansions are released in the future. In a nutshell, the game takes place many centuries in the future. Mankind has long since traveled throughout the solar system. At some point, there is a major cataclysm that destroys nearly everything. The only survivors that still remain on Earth live in a city called The Tower. Above this city floats a mysterious white sphere called “The Traveler”. You play as a Guardian; a human/humanoid granted special powers by The Traveler. Your goal is help mankind reclaim their former colonies from a number of hostile alien species. Your journey takes to various planets like Mars, Venus, etc.

As I said, Destiny is pretty much an FPS. But, it also features some MMO elements as well. For example, when you create your character, you choose a race and a class. Your choice can affect your character’s abilities and playstyle. Your character earns experience points and levels up over time. Your character can also find/purchase equipment upgrades that increase their overall status. While the in-game action is presented as a duck and cover shooter, you are often tasked with carrying out missions and objectives. You unlock new areas as you progress through the game story. These can be revisited at will. Many missions and side quests involve completing objectives in various locales.

The game requires an internet connection, even if you decide to play solo. However, multiplayer is a big part of Destiny. As you explore the game, you will see other players undertaking their own missions. It is not unusual for strangers to team up and help clear out a large mass of enemies together. Of course, friends who have the game on the same console, list can invite you to join them in their game or vice verse.

As far as multiplayer goes, Xbox users will need a Gold subscription to participate in most of the online content. The same goes for PS4 users. PS3 players, are lucky in this regard – no special subscription is required for them. Aside from co-operative play. There is a large PVP system in place as well. Most of the standard modes of FPS-PVP are available here:  Defense, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, etc.

As you play the game, your are accompanied by a small floating AI companion called a Ghost. Your Ghost will often talk to you, giving you details on the mission at hand. The Ghost can also perform various tasks that are often required as part of the mission your currently undertaking.

I should also note, that aside from upgrading your weapons and armor, your character also eventually has access to both a speeder (called a Sparrow) and a spaceship. These can also be upgraded and customized throughout the game. Players who preordered the game, or purchased the collectors edition will automatically have some special skins for their Ghost, Ship and Sparrow.

This would be a good time to address a little controversy with the title. It seems that PlayStation 4 version of the game is quietly considered to be the definitive version of Destiny. I say this because  the PS4 version of the game includes some multiplayer content that is not available on other systems. This raised quite a stink in the community at large. And of course the Xbox community was very vocal about this exclusion. So, if you own multiple systems, and the PS4 is one of them, you may want to consider picking up Destiny for the PS4 so that you get a little more for your money. This ongoing trend of vendor exclusive pre-order perks and console exclusive content is really spiraling out of control and Destiny is a major example of this issue.

At the time of this writing, there are two announced DLC expansions for the game, with more expected in the future. This has also drawn a bit of ire from gamers, as several players have managed to actually access certain areas in the game that are not supposed to be available until the DLC is released. While there’s nothing to actually do in these locations at this time, the fact that they are already in the game suggests that the developers were working on this content before the game’s release and are now going to be charging players more money to unlock content that they have already partially acquired with their original purchase. This “on disc DLC” is another major point of contention for many gamers.

As far as the game itself goes, I found the title to be fairly enjoyable. Admittedly, I did not play the game to completion. I grew tired with it before even reaching level 20 on my character. I reached a point in the game where the next missions assigned to me were too difficult to undertake on my own. So I would either need to wait for help from friends or I had grind bounties and missions in order to increase my level. After about three days of trying that, I was burned out. As a veteran MMO player, grind is nothing new to me. But at least in MMOs, there’s a bit of storyline to help things along. This was sorely lacking in Destiny.

To be fair, the developers have done pretty good at providing special in game events and seasonal content. But most of this content comes in the form of grindy raids and repeating the same missions over and over. To me, it seemed like all of the work of an MMO, without the same social experience or reward. Endgame in Destiny is very much gear based. The goal of many players eventually becomes one of having the best, most powerful gear. That’s nice, but it’s something that does not appeal to me personally.

If competitive FPS games are your thing, this might very be the game you are looking for. For me, it left a little to be desired. Destiny is beautiful and definitely worth a look, but there are a few rough edges that are hard to ignore. The biggest thing to know before going in to this game: it is best played with friends.

 

Difficulty: Variable –  The difficulty in this game is a mixed bag. Early on in the game, it is quite easy for a solo player to handle. However, later levels and content to require help of friends. If you don’t have any real life friends that are playing, the game does a good job of pairing with you random people. However, depending on your system – you may need a premium subscription to access some of these features.

Story: The storyline really has potential, but it seems a little shallow. It is expected that this will be fleshed out a bit as time goes on, but right now there’s only a skeleton of a story to be seen.

Originality: Most of the concepts in this game have all been seen before. But personally, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them all together in a single game. When I fired up Destiny for the first time, I really did feel like I was playing something new and fresh. This is good.

Soundtrack: The music in the game is very well done. It has a cosmic feel to it that fits the game perfectly. The score is dynamic and ramps up as you come under attack then fades back after the event is over. The voice acting in the game is excellent, although it can get a little repetitive at times.

Fun: Fans of multiplayer FPS games will probably get more from this title than others. The key to maximizing the enjoyment of this game, is playing with a group of friends. However, since the game is not cross-platform, you have the challenge of getting everyone on the same system. This can be difficult. I found the game enjoyable. But I wished it was geared to be a bit more solo-player friendly.

Graphics: Regardless of the system you play it on, Destiny is a gorgeous game. The PS4 version seems to win out just a hair over the Xbox One, but honestly its negligible. Everything in the game from the environment to the character models are amazing.

Playcontrol: Destiny is a controller-based game. For most players these days, that’s no big deal. For me, it took a little getting used to. I’m still a bit old school when it comes to FPS game. I like a mouse and keyboard. But I managed to get the hang of things. There are different types of weapons in the game, and each type handles a bit differently. I like this. At first, this aspect can make controlling the game a bit challenging, but you get used to it overtime. My experiences with PVP were quick to tell me that I was by no means a master as handling myself with this type of control scheme. But the game got much easier for me to handle the longer I played it.

Mature Content: Sci-Fi Violence

Value:  Destiny is a premium priced game. If you want the collectors editions, be prepared to shell out even more. The upcoming expansions cost even more on top of that. If you want to  experience most of the online content, you may need to pay even MORE for a PSN or Xbox subscription. Luckily, there no subscription fee for the game itself, and the developers continually release new content. But it still feels very lopsided for what you end up getting

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – I enjoyed my time with Destiny. But it was not a game that held my interest for long. The problem here for me, is that there is really no clear cut end-objective. The game has an MMO feel to it, without a lot of the same rewards. It’s rare for me not to finish a game that I review. But Destiny was just not a game made for me. That being said, it’s a great game and I know there are players out there who will absolutely love it. (I know a few). To me, if I want to play an FPS, there are other choices out there that are more suited to my liking.

Currently available on:  Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4

Other Reviews In This Series:

Destiny –   (  The Dark Below   –  The Taken King  –  Rise of Iron   )

Destiny 2 –  ( Curse of Osiris   –   Warmind    –    Forsaken    )