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    )

Review: Castlevania – Lords of Shadow 2

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Better late than never! I originally hoped to finish this game in time for Halloween, but I missed it by a few days. Regardless, I have finally finished my playthrough of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. Here’s how it went…

This game follows the new “reboot continuity” in the Castlevania series. It is a direct sequel to Lords of Shadow and Mirror of Fate. In this title, you can again play as Gabriel Belmont. However, this time around, in the aftermath of the first game, he is now known simply as; Dracula. After a brief tutorial, the game begins with Dracula awakening in the modern era. Weak and confused, Dracula leaves the confines of his sanctuary and wanders the streets in search of answers. It is not long before Dracula encounters his previous nemesis, Zobek. Zobek explains that a wicked cult is on the verge of summoning Satan to the physical world. He offers Dracula the secret to a true death in exchange for infiltrating the Satanic cult and preventing the dark lord’s return.

When the game begins, Dracula is in a fairly weakened state. Of course, as you progress through the game he recovers more and more of his former power and ability. The gameplay itself is very similar to the original Lords of Shadow. This is especially true when it comes to combat and skills. However, unlike the original game, the world is much more open. The chapter system from the previous game is replaced with a completely open world.

For the most part, you are free to come and go through previously uncovered areas as needed. Eventually, you reach a point in the game, where Dracula is able to “shift realities” and see the world as it used to be. This adds a whole other world to explore, as you can explore both the modern city as well as in ancient times.

In theory, this concept sounds quite interesting. But personally, it actually seemed a bit confusing to me in practice. On more than one occasion I became lost and had to backtrack quite a bit to get my bearings again. In the beginning of the game, I was often very confused about where I was supposed to go next. Yes, there’s an on-screen map with an indicator, but at the same time it isn’t very intuitive and it does not make your intended destination obvious. The gameworld itself also seemed a bit glitchy for me at times. On two separate occasions, I became stuck in the game due to glitches and had to lose my progress and start back from a previous checkpoint. The first time, because I ended up in an area that should have been inaccessible and could not progress further (fell from a great height near a pit that sound have insta-killed me, but managed to find footing at the last second), and second while playing the DLC scenario (a door that was supposed to be open, did not open).

It would have been very easy for me to get frustrated with the confusing environments if it wasn’t for the engaging storyline. The plot to this title, although a little hard to follow at first (with all the timeline hopping), is excellent. It’s even better if you actually played the Mirror of Fate title that bridges this game with is prequel.

The best thing about this game, aside from the storyline, is the combat system. While very similar to the first Lords of Shadow game, the action in this title has a very polished feel to it. Battles are fast paced and the boss fights especially were much more interesting than they were in the previous game.

While the combat may seem like a bit of a rehash, there are plenty of new features in the game that keep things interesting. Keep in mind, that this time around you are playing Gabriel as Dracula. Thus, he has vampric abilities. Dracula has the ability to possess certain NPCs and use them to his advantage. For example, he can possess the body of a security guard to gain access to restricted areas. Dracula can also summon bats to distract enemies, or even transform himself into a swarm of rats to sneak past guards or explore tight spaces. Sadly, while this sounds good in theory – there’s actually only a handful of places in the game where these abilities come in handy. For the most part, I didn’t even give them a second thought.

Visually, the game is amazing. The environment and characters are beautifully rendered. The transition from cutscene to action is nearly seemless.

All in all, the game is enjoyable and I feel like I got my money’s worth. The initial confusion and frustrations had mostly passed by the time I hit the game’s midpoint. But still, for the price, I can’t help but say I expected more.

Lords of Shadow 2 does feature an additional downloadable chapter called “Revelations“. This DLC is not free, and costs about $9.00. In this chapter, you get to play as Dracula’s son Alucard and experience some “behind the scenes” events that occurred prior to the start of the main scenario.

Playing as Alucard sounds pretty interesting at first. But there’s really nothing new here. Combat works the same. Alucard does has a unique set of abilities. In truth, the DLC is only three levels long, and most of these are actually annoying puzzles and timer-dependent events. Compared to the main game, there’s very little combat in the DLC scenario. I think I finished Revelations in about three hours. The amount of content didn’t really seem on par with the price of the DLC.

 

Difficulty: Variable –  There are several difficulty modes. These options are pretty accurate. Choosing the easy mode not only seems to make combat slightly easier, but it also removes the cutscene/button-mashing requirements from the boss fights. Making these battles 10x simpler than they are in other modes of play.

Story: The storyline seems pretty shallow at first, if you’re a legacy Castlevania fan. But as you progress through the game you begins to understand more the details behind the plotline. I run the risk of spoiling things here, but the end of the game does a great job of shedding some light on Dracula’s true nature and motivations. Very well done.

Originality: There are several new features in this game that helps it stand out from the previous game. However, there are more similarities than new features.

Soundtrack: The music here is fitting. But I felt it was largely uninspired. The quality of the soundtrack is superb, but aside the little piano ditty you hear on the title screen, I can’t think of a single stand-out track. The voice acting on the other hand is phenomenal.

Fun: If you enjoyed the first game, there’s plenty here as well. Overall, I good time playing this game. But at times it felt a little dry and somewhat wooden.

Graphics: This game really shines visually. The artwork here is as good as ever. The gothic nature of Castlevania is superbly presented here. Everything from the levels to the characters are wonderfully designed and rendered.

Playcontrol: Overall, I have no real complaints here. The controls felt natural and the game responds well. Some of the timer puzzles (especially in the DLC) tend to be a bit cumbersome due to some targeting issues, but overall I have no real complaints

Mature Content: YES- Gruesome violence. Nudity. Occult references. Language.

Value:  Console version of the game will run anywhere from $30-$60 depending on the retailer. At the time of this writing the Steam version sells for $40. The optional DLC scenario will put you out another $8.00. – If you’re a big Castlevania fan and you loved the first Lords of Shadow, this price might be worth it. For everyone else, I say wait a while and pick the came on sale/clearance.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – I love the Castlevania series, and all things considered, this is a decent game. But to me, this title didn’t have the magic that I really have come to expect from the franchise. I have a feeling this game fell victim to Konami’s desire to cash in a sequel more than anything else.

Currently available on: PS3, Xbox 360, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

My Thoughts on the P.T. demo

 

In the last few days, a mysterious demo appeared for download on PS4. Known only as P.T. – this interactive “Playable Teaser” ended up taking the Internet by storm. Curious about all the hype surrounding it, I decided to check it out for myself.

What we actually have hear is a short little teaser for an upcoming Silent Hill game. This incarnation is manned by none other that Hideo Kojima, the man famous for bringing us Metal Gear. Now, I have admittedly never played a single Silent Hill game, but I know of them by reputation. Silent Hill is a series of popular survival horror games. They are notoriously spooky. After experiencing this demo, I’ve made certain to add them to my list of “to-play Halloween games”.

P.T. is played from a first-person perspective. It begins as you wake up in a dank, roach-infested room with a door. Walking through the door brings you to a hallway. There’s flickering lights and the ambient sound of a radio. As you round the corner, you see another door at the end of the hallway. Entering it brings you right back into the beginning of the first hall… this loops continues for the majority of the game. However, each time you start over things get creepier and creepier.

I’m not going to go into detail and spoil the experience for you. If you have a PS4 and enjoy these types of games at all, then stop reading NOW, turn off all the lights and go play it. The less you know about the game going in, the better the experience.

We’ve established the fact that this demo is very frightening. But let’s look at it from a technical standpoint for a second. This P.T. teaser really shows off the assets of Kojima’s new Fox Engine. The realism presented here is simply breathtaking. The textures are superb and combined with the lighting effects I don’t think I’ve ever seen such realism in a console game before.

The demo itself also shows just how much emotion and atmosphere can be generated with only lighting and audio. There’s not a vast area to explore here, it’s all psychological and it’s extremely well done. When the final version of whatever this is finally comes out… I want to be there. I recommend this demo to anyone who enjoys horror games. Just be warned, it is frightening especially for children.

Well played, Kojima. I hope this method of “demoing” takes off. I would love to see more downloadable experiences like this for future games.

Review: Tomb Raider (2013)

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If I’ve been a little quiet lately it’s because I’ve been busy playing the recently released Tomb Raider game.  I know that traditionally I’ve focused mainly on retro games when writing on the blog. However, it is my intention to cover just about any type of game that interests me. My recent experience with Sleeping Dogs showed me just how much fun a lot of modern games can be. So, once I heard that Square Enix’s reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise was about to be released, I decided to make it my next purchase. I have not been disappointed.

I owned and played the first three classic Tomb Raider games back when I was in high school and college. I had them on the PC, and enjoyed them. But I always felt the controls were a little awkward and determined that perhaps I should have been playing them on a console to really get the best experience. So I naturally assumed that this new reboot would be the same. I decided a while back that this was going to be a game I was going to play, I just had to determine which would be the better purchase – Xbox or PS3? Then, I saw the game being advertised on Steam with a load of valuable pre-order content (multiplayer maps and an optional tomb), so I decided to take an extra look at the PC version. What I learned was quite interesting. The PC version features many graphical enhancements not present on either console system. The game engine takes advantage of modern DirectX 11 hardware in way never seen before. If you have a PC that can support it, new technologies like TressFX and Tessellation really bump up the visuals to a jaw dropping level. That coupled with the good PC experience I had on Sleeping Dogs, I ultimately went with the PC route for my purchase.

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Being a reboot, this game is a complete re-imagining of the Tomb Raider mythology. Long gone are the days of Lara Croft’s H-cup boobs, and her “I can do anything attitude”. Now we are introduced to a fragile, young Lara. Who is more a victim of circumstance than a swashbuckling heroine. The opening movie does a good job of establishing who Lara is and it did a quite effective job or getting me emotionally invested in the character.

In this game, Lara is a member of a expedition/documentary film crew who is search of the long lost island of Yamatai. During the journey, their ship is wrecked in a freak storm and Lara and her companions find themselves on an uncharted island. Not long after their arrival it becomes painfully obvious that they are not alone. Lara awakes, bound and hanging upside down from the ceiling of a bone-littered cavern. This is where the game begins. From here, it’s a non-stop thrill ride while Lara tries to escape the clutches of her captors, find her friends, unravel the secrets of the island and ultimately, makes her escape.  Due to the recent release of the game, I don’t wish to spoil any plot elements so I’ll stop there.

I found myself feeling almost protective of poor Lara. The thrilling atmosphere of the game, combined with the fact that danger and death can lurk around almost any corner really kept me on the edge of my seat. The death scenes in the game are often shocking and gruesome. As I said earlier… SE did a fantastic job of making me “care” about our heroine.

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At first, the game seems to have a very “on-rails” feel to it. Many early parts of the game rely on button pressing combos to navigate through action sequences, but it’s not long before you are given complete control. Once this happens, the focus turns to exploration and survival. The island is occupied with hostiles, and Lara must either sneak her way through the environment or fight her way to safety. Throughout the game, Lara will acquire gear and weapons which can be upgraded using salvage materials scattered throughout the maps. Lara also earns experience points by hunting animals, killing opponents, or discovering lost treasures/items. Once she levels up, she can learn new skills and abilities.

True to its name, Tomb Raider also features optional tombs for the player to explore. These tombs are fairly short and feature a bit of a break from the rest of the game. Exploration of tombs often require solving various environmental puzzles to reach the large treasure cache at the end.

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Initially at release, I had quite a time tweaking the graphical settings to get the game to run properly. I found this to be quite frustrating as I have a beast of a video card that should be more than capable of running this game even on its highest settings with all the bells and whistles. As it turns out, there were some issues with both the game code and the drivers provided by Nvidia that were causing a problem. Luckily, both SE and Nvidia released fixes to alleviate this problem and I am happy to report that things are going smooth now.

I completed the single-player game last night and I found the whole thing to be quite a good experience. I certainly felt like I got my money’s worth with it alone. But there’s also a multi-player mode available as well to add a little more value. (Something I toyed with, but did not find all that interesting). I’m sure that this title will spawn a slew of DLC in the coming months (multiplayer maps have already been released), so I look forward to checking it all out when the time comes. All in all, I certainly recommend this title to anyone. Old Tomb Raider fans may not appreciate the “New Lara”, but personally, I was beyond impressed.

Pre-ordering the “Survival Edition” from Steam offered the following additional content:

Guerilla Outfit – (Pointless change of clothes for Lara.)
Shanty Town Multiplayer Map
Tomb of the Lost Adventurer (Additional optional tomb to explore)

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Difficulty: Variable – The game offers three difficulty settings which apply to combat only.  As usual, I played the game on the default/normal setting and found it to be a fairly easy playthrough. There were a few situations in the game that required me to make several attempts at victory, but nothing very challenging at this setting. I found most of the puzzles in the game to be fairly straightforward, only requiring some basic out of the box thinking. I’m hoping for some more challenging tombs to raid in future DLC releases.

Story: Once again Square Enix delivers a breathtaking story. This game does a fantastic job of transitioning between cinematics and gameplay. The background story for the game is actually based on real mythology and is quite fascinating. I found it to be a perfect setting for the game.

Originality: I’ve heard many in the media compare this game to Uncharted (a title I have never played), so I can’t really be sure just how fresh many of the concepts presented here actually are. To me, I found the game to be a nice departure from anything I had played before. From the platforming angle, it is very similar to the old Tomb Raider titles of yesteryear. However, the collecting and item upgrade system are something entirely new to this title.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack is mainly ambient. Often times the music serves as a warning to impending danger. Nothing really captivating, but certainly fitting and very well done for the game.

Fun: Personally, I had a blast with the title. It was a purchase I made on a whim and was not disappointed.

Graphics: Here we go. Depending on your platform and set up, the graphic quality can vary greatly. PC users with high-end systems definitely get the better deal here. The game takes advantage of some really cutting edge tech. Video cards able to handle TressFX are treated to a Lara Croft with almost photorealistic hair, for example. That doesn’t mean that PS3 and 360 users are left out in the cold… the game looks marvelous on any system.

Playcontrol: Despite playing on the PC, I made sure to pull out out my trusty wired Xbox 360 controller. The game identified it immediately and even the onscreen tutorial reflected the correct button icons. This is a game that was designed for controllers and while there is native PC keyboard support, I think the a controller is defiantly the way to go. I experienced no real issues at all with controlling the game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I think SE has delivered a great title. While some old school gamers fond of the original series will certainly gripe about the radical departure this game represents. I found it to be quite well done. I’m not usually a big fan of reboots, but in this case, Tomb Raider 2013 has really injected new life into a series that (while good in the beginning) grew more stale as the years went by.

Other Reviews In This Series:

TR – TR2 – TR3 – Last Revelation – Chronicles – Angel of Darkness

Legends – Anniversary – Underworld – Guardian of Light
Tomb Raider (2013)    –  Rise of the Tomb Raider

Playstation 4 Announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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