Review: Xenogears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: YES. Minor language, blasphemous themes.

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

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

Available on: PSN

 

Review: Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy

The release date for Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is just around the corner. So today, I present my look back at the biggest Dissidia title thus far; Dissidia 012.

This game is very similar to its predecessor.  In fact, it’s actually somewhat of a retelling and expansion of the first game. In the first title, the story revolves around an epic final battle between the gods Cosmos and Chaos. That decisive conflict is actually the thirteenth cycle of what has been an ongoing war between the two deities. Dissidia 012 actually starts during the twelfth cycle – so it serves as prequel. But then the game continues and actually retells the events of the original Dissidia. In this way, it can be argued that Dissidia 012 acts as a retcon to the original game.

Personally, that’s sort of the way I see it. The game itself is largely identical to the original, but with improvements, added characters, and newer features. Having played both, I feel that Dissidia 012 essentially makes the original title irrelevant.

 

With that in mind, I’m going to focus this review on what is new and different. I’d rather do this than rehash nearly identical elements between the two games. So if you have not already done so, you may wish to check out my review on the original game here: Dissidia Final Fantasy.

As I mentioned, this title is largely a refinement. All of the features from the original Dissidia are present here; Mognet, Play Plans, Friend Cards, etc. All of the characters from the original game are also still present and playable. However, we do now have some additional characters to enjoy:

Kain (FF4)   *  Gilgamesh (FF5)  *  Tifa (FF7)  *  Laguna (FF8)  *  Yuna (FF10)  *  Prishe (FF11)  *  Vaan (FF12)  *  Lightning (FF13)  *  Feral Chaos (Unlockable New Character)

Combat works in Dissidia 012 just like it did in the original title. However, some characters now have new special moves in their arsenal. Also, Dissdia 012 also offers a new “assist” option. This allows you to occasionally summon a second character to the battlefield to aid you in combat. I should stop here and mention that there’s also a special demo version of the game available for free on PSN (Dissidia 012 Prologus) . This demo is actually a prequel chapter to the main game. Completing the demo unlocks an additional Assist-Only character, Aerith from Final Fantasy VII and allows her to be imported to the retail game itself. Playing the demo can also unlock various items that can be imported to the main game. With this in mind, I consider playing the demo to crucial to the Dissdia 012 experience.

Despite cloning most elements from it’s predecessor. Dissdia 012 also introduces two big changes. The first being the addition of a World Map to the single player campaign. During the story mode, you can move around on an open world and interact with NPCs, hunt down random encounters or move to different battlefields. For me, this is a welcome change. It is reminiscent of older games in the Final Fantasy series, which is something that is near and dear to my heart. Second, this game also introduces an alternate mode of combat. Instead of controlling every move your character makes during battle, you can instead opt to play in “RPG mode”. With this mode enabled, your character acts on their own. However, you control what type of actions they will be performing using a menu. For example, you can choose to have them “Fight” which is equal to a Bravery Attack. You switch your heroes’ mode of attack at will. So you can move from Bravery Attacks to Finishers, or from Flee to Defend, etc. Special moves, summons and assists must still be manually executed. This mode of play is designed for players who do not have much experience with action based fighting games.

The other major change is the renaming of the Duel Colosseum that was present in the original Dissidia. In this game, this mode of play is called Labyrinth. It’s essentially a refined version of the Colosseum with a more RPG-based focus. Again, this mode of play is only available after completing the main storyline.

All in all, this game is basically Dissidia Final Fantasy version 2.0. If you’re curious about these titles but you have to choose one of the two, Dissidia 012 is a no brainer. The biggest issue you will face is that this is a very multiplayer focused title and it’s age means it will difficult to find others still interested in playing. This is a problem that is only going to compound with the release of Dissidia NT. Thankfully, the single player mode will always be there for those who want to experience the actual story itself.

Difficulty: Variable –  Just like with Dissidia Final Fantasy, the story mode difficulty will vary depending on your actions. As you play through the story you can make choices that render your journey either easier or harder. Enemies do get more difficult as the game progresses, but you can always grind and level up to make things a bit easier. Optional battles are more difficult, but can be avoided. Of course, when playing multiplayer against other gamers, the difficultly is will vary.

Story: The storyline here is a retelling and expansion of the original Dissidia. The cutscenes and script are compelling, but when compared with other Final Fantasy titles, it does come off as very shallow. On the other side of the coin, when compared with other fighting games, the storyline is superb. So, there’s that.

Originality: A large portion of what is found in this game is an exact clone of the previous Dissidia. However, new features and refinements make this game an acceptable revamp.

Soundtrack: Again, one of the high points of the game. Dissidia 012 brings back a number of classic Final Fantasy scores and renders them in new and fresh arrangements. The voice acting is spot-on and very well done.

Fun: Fans of brawlers will find a lot to enjoy here. This time, even RPG fans have something to look forward too. The best time will be had by those with friends who can engage in the multiplayer aspects of the game.

Graphics: Dissidia 012 is an amazingly rendered game. Perhaps one of the best titles graphically on the PSP.

Playcontrol:  I’m happy to announce that some headway was made between this and the first Dissidia game. The camera is not nearly as annoying and the controls offer more customization.

Downloadable Content: YES – This title offers vanity costumes for playable characters and add-on soundtrack packs for sale via PSN.  There’s also a free “Demo” that actually serves as a prequel to the events in the game.

Mature Content:  No Concerns – Minor language. 

Value:  Finding a physical copy of this game may be difficult and pricing on physical copies can vary. The game is available for purchase digitally on PSN for $10. For the amount of content in the title, this price is worth it.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – This is the game that the first Dissidia title should have been. It’s the perfect mix between a fighting game and an RPG. The storyline is improved, the visuals and soundtrack are superb. The nagging play control issues that plagued the first game are nearly non-existent. If you’re a fan of Final Fantasy and you also enjoy brawler style games, this one is worth is a look.

Available on: PSN, PSP,

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 Tactics – The War of the Lions

This is a review that has been a long time coming. Occasionally, I get emails or twitter messages asking me to review or discuss a particular game. Of all the messages I get, by far the most requested retro review is for Final Fantasy Tactics. As a lifelong fan of the Final Fantasy series, I’m ashamed to admit that Tactics is a game that I’ve actually never set aside the time to play. First of all, it came out during a time in my life when my mind was on things other than gaming. Also, it’s a not a traditional RPG like most other Final Fantasy titles. Instead, it is a more of a tactical/strategy game with lots of RPG influence. In case you’re not aware – I generally do not enjoy tactical style games. In my opinion, most games of this type tend to progress just a little too slowly for my tastes. With this in mind, I think I’ve always been hesitant to dive into Final Fantasy Tactics. But, that time is over.

Before we get into the details, I want to start by mentioning that there are two versions of the game. The original release is simply known as “Final Fantasy Tactics“. It was released on the Sony Playstation in 1998 and is also currently available for purchase on the Playstation Network for PS3 and PSP users. The game was later re-released in 2007 for the Playstation Portable under the name “Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions“. This is considered to be the definitive version of the game. It includes graphical enhancements, new cutscenes, an improved translation, a more balanced difficulty, as well as the inclusion of two new playable jobs (more on that later). This remake is also available on both iOS and Android devices. For the sake of this review, I played the PSP version of War of the Lions.

It’s also worth mentioning that Final Fantasy Tactics is the first FF game to be set in the world of Ivalice. When Final Fantasy XII was released, that game brought the world of Ivalice into the main series – it has since become the favorite setting for many fans.

The story of the game is absolutely magical. It’s even been compared to the works Shakespeare by some. Yes. It’s that good. The game takes place during an age when the world is recovering from the aftermath of a 50-year war. The story focuses on a young knight-errant named Ramza, an unsung hero of history. Despite being a sellsword, Ramza is from a noble bloodline. Ivalice is a world where heritage and caste is held in the highest regard.  As the game progresses, Ramza comes to learn of a nefarious plot by the Church in which his family serves. As a result, he must choose between honoring his family or placing his trust in an old friend. Of course, the actual plot is much more intricate than can be summarized into a simple paragraph. In fact, I daresay it might be the most well written storyline in the entire Final Fantasy series.

Despite having similar themes and a rich story, Final Fantasy Tactics is very different from other games in the main series. Instead of being an open-world game with short turn-based combat, the game is essentially a series of RTS overhead battles. During combat, the player controls a team of various units (characters) on a grid-like battlefield. You move your units into position, then execute attacks or abilities. Once you’ve defeated all of the enemies on the grid, the battle is over. Generally speaking, the story scenes take place between battles and advance the plot.

Units earns experience and job points during battle. As you might expect, experience points level your units up. Job points are used to unlock new job-specific skills for your units. Each unit can be equipped with weapons and equipment and even abilities, many of which are earned by leveling various jobs. At the beginning of the game, only a handful of jobs are available. However, new and more advanced jobs will soon become obtainable as your characters continue to level and grow.

The job system found in Final Fantasy Tactics is similar to what was seen in Final Fantasy III and V. However, the representation in Tactics is widely considered to be the best implementation of the system thus far. Many of the jobs introduced in this game have since been seen in other titles in the series, namely Final Fantasy XI and XIV. Mastery of the Job System is really the key to success in the game. On it’s surface, Final Fantasy Tactics appears to be brutally difficult. In fact, the first few battles players will encounter can often be some of the hardest and most punishing. But, if you’re willing to spend the time to understand the game’s mechanics, it’s quite possible to exploit the job system to your advantage. In this way, the game can actually become ridiculously unbalanced and easy. Certain job and equipment combinations can essentially render your party nearly invulnerable.

Even though the game suffers from balance issues, it’s hard to claim that FFT is anything short of an absolute masterpiece. That being said, I  have to admit that it is not a game that I could really get into. It’s not that it’s a bad game, it’s just not the type of game that I personally find enjoyable. I am just not a strategy/tactical game fan. While I loved the story and the mechanics of the game, the combat was just too slow-paced and lengthy for me. In most Final Fantasy titles, combat is resolved relatively quickly – with the exception of boss battles. But in FFT, most battles take anywhere from 10-15 minutes on average. You can to watch each unit move into place in real time. Then you face them a certain direction, then execute an action, etc. Then, if you mess up and lose a character you will likely want to reload your save and try again. And there are A LOT of battles in the game, even more so if you intend to grind out levels and job points. My other complaint has to do with the grid-based battle system. I found having to rotate the 3D grid just to get a good vantage point to be overly cumbersome. But that’s a flaw that’s easy enough to ignore on it’s own. I just don’t care for this type of game.  It’s not the game…. it’s me. I can admit that. For those that love tactical games like this, FFT is by far the crown jewel.

Even with my dislike for this type of game, the storyline was addictive. I felt compelled to play the game to completion and I’m glad I did.  It’s truly a memorable experience. For me, small quality of life changes such as having an option to speed through some battle animations, and slight playcontrol enhancements would likely change my mind.

Difficulty: Mixed –  On the surface, FFT is a brutally difficult game. However, as I mentioned in the main review above, players willing to really dive into the deep mechanics of the job system, and do a little grinding will be able to make the game a complete piece of cake. It just takes a little dedication. Players who intend to play the game “normally”, will find quite a challenge ahead of them.

Story: The storyline is the main selling point of the game for me. It’s truly a work of art. If you’re playing for the storyline, I do recommend the War of the Lions version of the game. The new translation is exceptional, whereas the original localization does leave a lot to be desired. Plus, the cutscenes are extremely well done.

Originality: In terms of other games in the Final Fantasy series at the time of it’s release, FFT was very original. However, it was certainly not the first tactical role playing game. But, by combing a rich story, a unique job system, and other Final Fantasy elements, we are left we a completely original title that is unlike any other.

Soundtrack: The score for the game is also exceptional. It’s fully orchestrated and absolutely stunning. Since experiencing this game, I’ve also purchased an official copy of the soundtrack and added it to my collection.

Fun: If real time strategy or tactical combat games are your cup of tea, this game will undoubtedly be a favorite of yours. Fans who are more RPG oriented, like me, may find this game a little sluggish and a bit of an ill fit. That being said, the game can still be very enjoyable. It’s just not a one-size-fits-all experience.

Graphics: Regardless of which version you play, Final Fantasy Tactics shows it’s age. I do recommend the updated version for the best graphical experience. The cutscenes are hand-drawn animation and absolutely stunning.

Playcontrol:  This is my biggest area of complaint. While the functional controls for the game are of no issue, the camera controls and battlefield screen rotation are annoying. Also, since many of the sprites look alike, it’s easy in the beginning of the title to tell the difference between friends and enemies without actually hovering over individual units. Ironically, the best play control experience comes not on PS1 or PSP, but rather the mobile port of the game. The mobile version actually seems to alleviate many of these playcontrol headaches.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content:  No Concerns- Minor language. 

Value:  Both the original and remake are available on the Playstation Network for $9.99. So if you have a PSP or a Vita, the War of the Lions version is a no brainer. The price is more than fair for the amount of gameplay in the title. Prices vary for mobile users, but I’ve seen the game as low as $4.99 on the Google Play store.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – I know that many gamers would crucify me for giving this game anything less than a perfect score. But to me, I had just enough complaints to knock this down from four to three stars. The storyline and soundtrack are second to none. But some of the gameplay elements and camera issues just really bothered me. I will say that Final Fantasy Tactics, in any form, is a stellar game. But it’s not a game that I can recommend to all players. If RTS or tactical RPGs are your thing, this will certainly be one of the best titles you might ever play. If you’re like me, you may not find this to be as enjoyable.

Available on: PSN, PSP, iOS, Android

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: Parasite Eve

One of the more popular arguments at my house around Christmas time: is Die Hard a Christmas movie? I’m a firm believer that it is. It takes place at Christmastime, various scenes in the film are decorated for the season, and there’s even a few utterances of “Merry Christmas”. Following that same logic, one could make an argument that Parasite Eve is a Christmas game. So, it’s very fitting that I post this review today, Christmas 2017.

This review has a been a long time coming. Parasite Eve is a classic Playstation title, but one that I’ve never had the chance to enjoy until now. Originally released in 1998, this game is actually the follow-up to a Japanese horror novel. (One I reviewed on this site, just a few months ago). The game was huge success for Squaresoft at the time of it’s release, and maintains a strong cult following. This is one that I’ve always wanted to play, but never got around to. I’m happy to declare that this has finally changed.

The premise of the game is this: Mitochondria, the powerhouse of the human cell are not all that they seem. In fact, they are actually parasites that have laid dormant in the body of each human since the early days of civilization. The consciousness that lives in every mitochondria calls itself “Eve”. Eve has been patiently waiting for human civilization to reach a point of advancement so that it can take over and become the ruling sentient species. That time is now. Eve is able to make humans spontaneously combust and can evolve people and other animals into horrifying mutant creatures. Thankfully, the hero of this game, an NYPD officer named Aya Brea – is actually immune to the effects of her rebellious mitochondria. Aya catches wind of this mysterious plot and sets out to put an end to Eve’s plans before it is too late. Pretty weird, huh?

Having never played this game before, I was a little unsure what to expect. Visually, the game looks a lot Final Fantasy VIII. Which makes sense as it was developed by the same company and around the same time. Both the in-game graphics and cinematic cutscenes are similar. For it’s day and age, the game looked pretty impressive. Parasite Eve also has some of the RPG aspects that one would expect to find in a Squaresoft title. The main character can equip various weapons and armor, she earns EXP through battle and can level up, she also has the ability to use magic (called Parasitic Energy in this game). Your progress can be saved at various locations in the game (at telephones), so players used to “save points” will feel right at home. However, unlike most RPGs, battles are a mixture of both turn-based combat and live action.

When fighting enemies in Parasite Eve, you need to wait for your “Attack Meter” to fill up before you can execute an attack, cast a spell, or use an item. During the downtime between actions, you can run around the battlefield openly. This allows you to chase enemies, dodge attacks, etc. When attacking, you can direct your attack at multiple enemies. So, if you are firing a pistol, for example, you can aim a few shots at Monster A and a few at Monster B – all in one turn.  I found this blend of turned-based/action combat to be both refreshing and engaging. Being a longtime fan of RPGs, it was a new twist that I wasn’t expecting. I really enjoyed this model of combat. High marks to battle designer on this title.

Parasite Eve is a very story-driven game. The game is broken up into several chapters (or Days). Most of these days are focused on a single task and introduce the player to new locations or characters. After a certain point, the gameworld opens up and the player is able to visit various locations in New York City at will. Later in the game, players can use this freedom to their advantage. It allows them to grind monsters for experience, collect loot to customize weapons and armor, etc. The main scenario itself is rather short for an RPG. I believe I cleared it in about 8 hours.

Upon completing the game the players will receive a rather ambiguous ending. But, this unlocks “Ex Mode” – essentially a New Game Plus option that allows players to play through the entire game again, with their current level and items. This can be done as many times as the player likes. During these subsequent playthroughs, a new area is available. This new level features 77 randomly generated floors. On the last floor is an ultimate boss. Completing this hidden dungeon in Ex Mode will allow you to view the real ending for the game.

All of this makes Parasite Eve a very interesting game. Despite being a classic title, in many ways it was very ahead of it’s time. The “New Game Plus” is an option found in most modern RPG titles. So are multiple endings. But it’s not something you saw very often in 1998. – I enjoyed this game tremendously. It felt both familiar and new at the same time. I was pleased to see many new and risky concepts unseen in previous popular RPGs. I’m curious to see what the next entries in series bring to the table.

If you like Square’s RPGs and you’re looking for something different, this is certainly a game worthy of your attention.

Difficulty: Medium –  Parasite Eve does not feature multiple levels of difficulty. The game is very different from other RPGs and as a result can seem a little complex at first. New players are advised to review the Tutorial option from the main menu before playing to make things a bit easier. The game starts off fairly easy, but the difficulty does ramp up in later chapters. It is possible to grind your way to higher levels, thus making the game a piece of cake. However, regardless of your level, completing the optional dungeon and defeating the hidden boss will require a bit of effort.

Story: This title is very story driven – and is actually probably the best part of the game. The plot unfolds through both in-game narratives and video cutscenes. The storyline is riveting and very well told. Players wanting even more can seek out a copy of the Parasite Eve novel, which actually serves as a prequel to the game itself.

Originality: Despite being labelled as an RPG, Parasite Eve is a refreshing take on the genre. First, it takes place in the real world – in New York City to be exact. Instead of knights and dragons, we have cops and monsters. The combat is a mixture of turn-based and live-action – very unique for a game of it’s time. In many ways, it also incorporates some survival horror elements.

Soundtrack: The game soundtrack is catchy and groovy. There’s not really a wide variety of music in the game, but despite being a bit repetitive at times, it’s well done and pleasant.

Fun: If you enjoy games with a heavy plot and unique RPG elements, Parasite Eve is worth a look. I enjoyed this title very much – and for different reasons than I expected to.

Graphics: The pixelated graphics and FMV movies are very dated by today’s standards. But at the time of the release, they were considered very well done. To be fair, many of the creature transformation scenes are so shocking and grotesque that even with their aged looked, they still retain a blood-curdling effect on the watcher. (At least they did with me.)

Playcontrol:  The game controls are a bit antiquated by today’s standards, but overall are well implemented and intuitive. The combat takes a bit to get used to at first and sometimes feels a bit boxed in – but after a few hours it becomes second nature.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: YES – Graphic violence and gore, adult themes (medical reproduction). 

Value:  This game is available as a PS One Classic on the Playstation Network for $5.99. At this price, the game is a steal. Parasite Eve also features a decent level of replayability due to it’s “EX Mode” and randomly generated optional dungeon.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I found this title to be a delightful change of pace from other 64-bit era role playing games. The real-world setting and strange pseudo-scientific flare made for a really unique experience. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me almost twenty years to experience this title. I recommend it to anyone who enjoy both role playing games and survival horror titles from the late 90s.

Available on: PSN

Other Reviews In This Series:

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

Review: Resident Evil 2

Back in November I reviewed the original Resident Evil game. Today, I’m going to take a look at the sequel. As most gamers are aware, the first Resident Evil proved to be an extremely successful game.  It spawned a slew of sequels, remakes, and even films. The original game has gone down in history as a classic. So, you might wonder how the successor of such an iconic game might stand up…  let’s find out.

First, let’s discuss the version of the game I played for this review. For this playthrough, I used Resident Evil 2 (Dualshock Version). This is the only edition of the game available on the US Playstation Store. It features the original release with added rumble controller support.  This version also includes two additional unlockable modes of play. The Dualshock Version is widely considered to be the definitive version of the game.  Is important to note that there was a Nintendo 64 port of the game. The N64 version did include some interesting additions such as alternate costumes, etc. But excludes some of the features from the Dualshock Version.  Finally, there was a release for the GameCube as well. However, this version is nothing more than a direct port of Dualshock edition on a GameCube disc.

This game takes place about two months after the end of the first title. (If you’ve not played the first game, it’s highly recommend that you do before jumping into Resident Evil 2 – the game will make little sense if you don’t.) By this time, the T-Virus has spread like wildfire and Raccoon City is teeming with zombies.  The game follows the stories of two individuals; Claire Redfield  (sister of Chris Redfield from the original game) and a Raccoon City police officer – Leon Kennedy.  Claire has come to Raccoon City in hopes of finding her brother, unaware of the virus and the current state of affairs. It doesn’t take her long to realize that something is terribly wrong. After a nearly fatal encounter with a zombie, she is rescued by Leon. Together the two of them head towards the police station hoping to find both shelter and answers. However, a tragic accident causes the two to become separated.  Split up and alone, Claire and Leon must explore the seemingly abandoned police station in search of answers. Assuming of course, they can manage to survive…

In many ways, Resident Evil 2 is very similar to the original game. The controls, the graphics, and the overall presentation are nearly identical. Like the first game, players can choose between three difficulty levels. There’s also an arranged (Rookie) version of the game as well.  Also, like the first game, players can choose which character to play (Leon or Claire). The main difference here is that the experience for one character can change slightly depending on choices made when playing the other character. For example, if you choose to play as Leon, you can either take of leave some items that you come across during your playthrough. If you decide to leave them, then once you complete the game – you can play again from Claire’s perspective. During this second playthrough, the item that Leon left behind will be available for Claire to find and use.  To get the full experience of Resident Evil 2, you will want to play through the game with each character.

The game originally came on two different discs. A Leon disc and a Claire disc. When starting the game for the first time, you can choose to start with either character. So, this really gives you a total of four different scenarios in which to enjoy the game;  Leon’s story followed by Claire’s, or Claire’s Story followed by Leon’s.  The gameplay does changes slightly depending on which order you decide to go with. – Completing all four will unlock a little mini game-mode called “Extreme Battle”. There’s also a special unlockable chapter called “The 4th Survivor” – This mini-game is available if you manage to score a certain number of hidden “points” while playing through the game itself.

From a lore perspective, Resident Evil 2 does a fantastic job of taking the storyline from the original game and expanding on it. In the first game, the backstory was interesting, but seemed a bit shallow at times.  In Resident Evil 2, more behind the scenes info is revealed. Suddenly, I found myself hooked on the lore behind the game.  The storytelling is told through a combination of exposition, cutscenes, and in-game breadcrumbs. So, the more you explore, the more easter eggs and details you can manage to discover. It’s all masterfully done.

Just like the original, Resident Evil 2 does a good job of building tension in attempts to scare the crap out of players. The spooky environments, ambient noises and jump scares are all very well done. In some ways, even more so than in the original. The voice acting in this title also seems to be a tad better than that of the original game, but… not by much.

My biggest fault with the title is again, the clumsy controls. This game works just like it’s predecessor. Again, are stuck with a stiff, tank-style movement scheme. Which, at the time, was pretty standard. But these days, the playcontrol is cumbersome and archaic. Despite this issue, I found the game to very enjoyable. The good certainly outweighs the bad.

Difficulty: Variable –  The Dualshock version features three levels of difficulty: Easy, Normal and Arranged. Just like with the original game, the easy option reduces the difficulty of the game considerably. Monsters are weaker, and ammunition is more plentiful than in Normal mode. The Arranged version here is different than “the arranged version” found in the first game. Here, “Arranged” (AKA: Rookie Mode) starts you off with access to some very powerful weapons and infinite ammo.  – Regardless of which version you play, I found the game only gets easier as it goes along. The first few moments of the game can be very intense and you’re often being swarmed. But as you play and manage to secure areas and increase your arsenal – things get a lot easier.

Story: This came continues the story laid out in the original game. More details are provided that help to clarify some of the more mundane aspects and to really flesh things out. Despite introducing us to some new characters, the connections to the first game are clear and very well done.

Originality: In many ways, there’s a lot about this game is very familiar to the first title. But, Capcom managed to keep things feeling fresh with a change of scenery and a few new enhancements. Having multiple/concurrent character scenarios is quite an original idea that really sets this game apart as well. While Resident Evil 2 is very much a sequel to the original, it manages to stand on it’s own.

Soundtrack: Just like with the first game, the soundtrack is very minimal. The music is sparse and often used as a tool to build tension. But, when there is music to hear, I found it to be an improvement over that found in the original game. RE2 also uses ambient sounds to help set a spooky tone. All of it is very well done. The only complaint I have here are some minor gripes with the voice acting. But to be honest, I’ve heard worse.

Fun: Resident Evil 2 is a fun, entertaining successor to the first title. Again, it would be the perfect game to play on a dreary stormy afternoon or late in the evening with all the lights off.

Graphics: The pixelated graphics and the low resolution FMV movies are very dated by today’s standards. But at the time of the release, they were considered very well done. Just like with Resident Evil, RE2 still manages to capture the spooky atmosphere it needs to unnerve it’s fans. 

Playcontrol:  Again, this is one the weakest point of the game for me. The characters in the game is controlled using the old, clunky “compass rose tank” style of movement. Players used to modern 360 degree movement will need some time to get adjusted. Overall the controls feel stiff and antiquated. But in the long run, they are manageable with a little practice.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: YES – Extreme violence and gore. 

Value:  This game is available as a PS One Classic on the Playstation Network for $9.99. Even today, this price is well worth it.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I have to give this game a four star review, but for slightly different reasons than the original. Whereas the first game scored some major points with atmosphere, this game beats it on storyline. Plus, being able to experience it from multiple scenarios and actually have them inter-lap to some extend is brilliant. At the time, it was a brand new experience.

Available on: PSN

 

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Resident Evil  –  Resident Evil 2  –  Resident Evil 3: Nemesis  –  Resident Evil: Code Veronica  –   Resident Evil Zero  –  Resident Evil 4  –  Resident Evil 5   –   Resident Evil: Revelations   –  Resident Evil 6  –  Resident Evil: Revelations 2   –   Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Resident Evil HD Remake

The Umbrella Chronicles   –  The Darkside Chronicles

Umbrella Corps

Review: Resident Evil (Director’s Cut)

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Proceeding with both my PS1 era and creepy Autumn game initiative, I now present a review of the Playstation classic: Resident Evil. This is a title that is heralded among gamers as one of the greatest survival horror titles of all time. Without a doubt, this is the game that really launched the genre into the mainstream. My very first experience with Resident Evil was the enhanced remake of this game back on the Nintendo Gamecube, but for this review I wanted to go back to the roots of the series. So I chose to play through the Director’s Cut edition of game.

That being stated, let’s go ahead and take a moment to clear up any confusion regarding the different retail versions of Resident Evil that exist.

First, there is the original release: This is the game in it’s purist form. The US version of the original game came under heavy criticism for being censored. For whatever reason, Capcom decided to remove references to smoking and also some of the more violent imagery was cut from these opening scenes as well. Regardless, the game still received a Mature rating. So, to me and many others, the decision to censor the game made little sense.

Second, The Director’s Cut: Originally marketed as being uncensored, but later found to contain the same edits as the vanilla release (apparently due to an error). This version of the game features some basic enhancements to the playcontrol, as well as a new Beginner Mode and “Arranged Mode” (sort of a remix for item and monster placement). A second version of the Director’s Cut also added controller vibration support. For many, this is considered to be definitive PlayStation version of the game – and this is the version I’m focusing on for this review.

Third, The remake: In 2002, a remake of the original game was released exclusively on the Nintendo Gamecube. This was the first version of the game that I experienced. This version includes revamped graphics and sound, a higher degree of difficulty, and some other major and minor changes.  Recently, an enhanced HD version of the remake was released. I have decided to review this new version separately at a later time. So for now… on the the review.

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The set up for Resident Evil is simple; the game takes place in the fictional locale of Raccoon City. Recently a number of bizarre murders have occurred on the outskirts of the area. An elite group of police officers known as STARS were sent to investigate. When this group did not return, a second team was dispatched to investigate the situation. The game begins when this second crew locates the crashed helicopter of the original team. While investigating the crash, the team is attacked by a pack of enraged, monstrous dogs. Unable to combat them effectively, the STARS officers run to a nearby mansion for shelter. Inevitably, the team gets split up in the chaos. The goal of the game is locate your missing companion(s) and explore the mansion for clues regarding the whereabouts of the former STARS team members. As the player, you can choose to control either STARS’ member Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield. Each character has their own set pros and cons, and the flow of the story will change slightly depending on which you choose. Regardless, the overall plot is the same.

It doesn’t take long for the hero to realize that things at the mansion and surrounding area are far from normal. The place is crawling with… zombies! As you continue to play and explore, the story-line that unfolds is one of classic B-movie horror.

The basic premise of the game is to explore the mansion and locate your fellow STARs members so that you can escape the nightmare in which you find yourself. Initially, a large part of the mansion is closed off, but as you explore and obtains keys and other items of interest, you are able to continually probe deeper and deeper into the mysteries that lie before you.

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As each new area is unlocked, each step into the unknown is wrought with danger. As you play, you’ll soon learn that the comfort of trekking through familiar territory is quickly replaced with dread each time you set foot into a new unexplored wing of the mansion. You never know what type of horror may be lurking around the corner. To make matters worse, weapons and ammunition are scarce and a valuable commodity.  This is made even more so by a very limited inventory space. Your character can only hold so many items. So often, you will find yourself stumbling upon something of value, with no way to hold it. Luckily, there are special storage boxes located at various locales in the game. These can be used to store your valuables and free up precious inventory slots.

Resident Evil does a masterful job of keeping the tension at a fever pitch. Everything from the creepy atmospheres, to the music, to the gruesome monsters is masterfully crafted. The game does lack in a few crucial areas however. The first, being the play control. This game controls very similarly to many of the early third-person 3D games of the era, which I’ve always found to be somewhat problematic. Your character moves in a tank-like fashion. You point them in a specific direction and then move them forward. This makes for some rather stiff and clunky navigation. Combine this with turning the corner into a room full of zombies and it can make for a easy death – simply due to the difficulty of trying to navigate away from danger. As I mentioned, other games of the time had the same control scheme (Tomb Raider, Silent Hill, etc). Second, the voice acting is simply horrid. I mean, it’s REALLY bad. But I’m able to overlook it by imagining the whole thing is a spoof of a terrible B-movie. (Sadly, I don’t think that was the actual intention of the developers.) Finally, the whole inventory system is overly cumbersome. I understand how space-management can be an important aspect for some games, but in the case of Resident Evil, I feel it’s largely unnecessary.  For example, to even save your game you are required to keep “Ink Ribbons”. These are a consumable item that can be used at typewriters you may find scattered around. Using a ribbon in a typewriter will allow you to save your progress. So yes… you can technically blow all of your saves by running out of ribbons and find yourself in a heap of trouble late in the game.

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Despite these annoyances, the game is a masterpiece. It’s certainly worthy of the hype it receives. On top of the excellent storytelling and tension that you get from the game itself. Having two characters to choose from adds a good level of replay-ability to the game. While the background story for both Jill and Chris are the same, each characters sees the scenario unfold differently. Plus, there are differences when it comes to playing the two characters. For example, Chris is a bit tougher and can seem to take more of a beating. But Jill can hold more gear and is able to pick locks, this allows here access to more of the mansion right from the beginning. And if that’s not enough, the Arranged Mode featured in the Director’s Cut mixes things up even more, giving even veteran players a new experience.

All in all, I recommend Resident Evil for nearly anyone who loves retro gaming. For fans of the survival horror genre, this is a must-play. I know that the new HD Remake of the game is shiny and tempting, but there’s really something charming about the original PS1 version that is also deserving of your attention.

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Difficulty: Variable –  The Director’s Cut version features three levels of difficulty: Beginner, Original and Arranged. The Beginner option reduces the difficulty of the game dramatically. Monsters are weaker, ammunition is more plentiful, and there seem to be fewer monsters overall. Original difficulty matches that of the game during it’s original release. Arranged is a bit of a different bag. Arranged Made changes the location of items and monsters, making the game completely different for players that already know their way around. – Generally speaking – I do recommend the Original mode of difficulty for most players. But gamers that simply want to enjoy the storyline may find Beginner mode more suited to their tastes.

Story: The story line behind Resident Evil is surprisingly complex. It’s starts out simple, but slowly builds as layer upon layer is uncovered by the player as they proceed through the game. Much of the plot reminds me of what you might find in a cheesy B-grade horror flick, which is fine by me. It works well here. I have not played any other games in the series yet, but I think it’s safe to assume that the plot will only expand in later games. I’m interested to see what’s to come.

Originality: For many, Resident Evil is the original survival horror title. It may not technically be the first in the genre, but it certainly paved the way. A lot of the game design elements seen in Resident Evil come from other games, but it’s combined here in a way and in an atmosphere that makes it all unique and memorable.

Soundtrack: This game features a very minimalist soundtrack, which works very well. Music is used to queue up tension, or in some cases even relief. (Anyone exploring the mansion who opens an unknown door – only to hear the “Storage Room Music” knows exactly what I mean.) Sadly, the game suffers from some pretty terrible voice acting.

Fun: Resident Evil is the perfect game for late Autumn nights. This is one to play in a quiet house with the lights off. I had a blast with this game. Admittedly, more than I expected to.

Graphics: The pixelated graphics and the low resolution FMV movies are very dated by today’s standards. But at the time of the release, they were considered very well done. Despite the dated look, Resident Evil still manages to capture the spooky atmosphere it needs to succeed. 

Playcontrol: This is one of the weaker points for the game. The character in the game is controlled using the old, clunky “compass rose tank” style of movement. Players used to modern 360 degree movement will need some time to get adjusted. Overall the controls feel stiff and antiquated. But in the long run, they are manageable.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: YES – Extreme violence and gore. Some language. 

Value:  This game is available as a PS One Classic on the Playstation Network for $9.99. Even today, this price is well worth it.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – If you’re curious to see what the hype is all about, or if you’re interested in the seeing the origins of the survival horror genre, this is the game for you. In fact, as long as you’re not completely adverse to games that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up… I recommend Resident Evil to nearly anyone old enough to play it. It’s a real classic.

Available on: PSN

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Resident Evil  –  Resident Evil 2  –  Resident Evil 3: Nemesis  –  Resident Evil: Code Veronica  –   Resident Evil Zero  –  Resident Evil 4  –  Resident Evil 5   –   Resident Evil: Revelations   –  Resident Evil 6  –  Resident Evil: Revelations 2   –   Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Resident Evil HD Remake

The Umbrella Chronicles   –  The Darkside Chronicles

Umbrella Corps

 

Review: Silent Hill

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Happy Halloween! I’m keeping with my tradition and reviewing a spooky game for the month of October. It’s always my goal to try to do as many as possible but sometimes due to work and other schedule demands, I’m not always able to accommodate more than one title. But fear not! With so many PS-era titles to choose from, I’m going to keep the horror game reviews coming into the month of November.

For my actual Halloween review, I played through the PS1 classic, Silent Hill. This is a title that I bought many years ago when I first purchased my PS2, but no sooner did I acquire it, I found myself as a new parent and in the middle of a hectic move. As a result, the game sat on my shelf. Well, I’ve finally dusted it off and played it from start to finish. I’m here to share my thoughts on this legendary title.

If I had to classify it, Silent Hill is a survival-horror game. But in truth, it’s also very much a mystery game. In Silent Hill, you play the character of Harry Mason. The game begins when Harry and his daughter Cheryl arrive in the small resort town of Silent Hill for vacation. Their trip takes an unexpected turn when Harry veers from the road to avoid striking a woman with his car. Harry wakes up to find himself in his wrecked car with Cheryl nowhere in sight.  The game involves Harry searching for his missing daughter in the mysterious ghost town of Silent Hill. It doesn’t take long to realize that things in Silent Hill are very far from normal.

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Something strange is afoot in the small town of Silent Hill. A thick fog descends over the town, as does an endless flurry of snow. The town is largely abandoned with the exception of horrific creatures and few other survivors that you will encounter along the way. As if that isn’t frightening enough, as you play you’ll find yourself phasing in an out of a strange mirror dimension filled with even more horrific sights.

The game is very atmospheric. The creepy foggy or dim-light areas work well to build tension with the player. As does the camera angle and ambient sounds. You see, Silent Hill is a third-person game but unlike many, it does not feature a user-controlled camera. Instead, the game relies on an automatic camera that will adjust itself as needed, but often works to a dramatic effect.  The soundtrack in the game is dynamic with creepy music that fades in rarely, but at very appropriate times. For the most part, there is very little music in the game. The game instead relies on ambient sounds to invoke fear. For example, Harry carries a pocket radio with him that emits static whenever there is danger near. You may be walking along fat, dumb and happy when suddenly the radio kicks it – causing you to draw your weapon and proceed with caution.

I’ve read that the real reason for the fog and low lighting was to lessen the memory burden for the game. At the time this game was released, 3D titles on the console were still in their infancy and rendering them could bring consoles to their knees. So developers often relied on little tricks to try to limit draw distances, etc. But whatever the reason, it works very well here. In fact, the thick fog has become one of the game’s most memorable features.

Silent Hill takes players through some classic creepy environments; An abandoned school, a hospital, and even the city sewers. Playing the game is a bit akin to watching and episode of Ghost Adventures, but with an interactive element.

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What’s also great about the game is the strange and unusual story. What starts out as a simple plot device (find your missing daughter), but soon unravels into a dark and complex tale. Players who are willing to take their time and explore the city and read all of the clues presented to them will certainly get more out of the game than those that try to speed through it. Aside from exploration, the game does feature a few puzzles and riddles that players must solve to proceed.

All in all, I found Silent Hill to be the perfect game to play on a late October night with the lights off.

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Difficulty: Variable  Silent Hill offers three levels of difficulty. I experimented with all three and found them to be quite appropriate. For most players, I would recommend the middle setting. But for those players who are veteran survival horror gamers, the more difficult setting may be more your speed.

Story: The set up for the game is simple, but as you play and uncover the backstory of Silent Hill things do tend to get muddled and a bit confusing. The backstory is very cerebral and can be a bit difficult to follow if you’re not paying attention. The game itself has multiple endings depending on certain actions taken in the game.

Originality: Released in 1999, the game is certainly not the first in the Survival Horror genre. But I chose it for my playthrough due to the psychological elements that it leans on. Up to this point, most other horror games relied on jump scares and gory imagery to frighten players. While there are bits of both in Silent Hill, the majority of “scary” atmosphere found in this game is in the mind of the player – put in place by the wonderful visual and auditory elements by the game’s designers.

Soundtrack: Aside the intro and ending music, there’s little in terms of an actual musical soundtrack. The game instead relies on ambient thumps, creaks, moans, and of course the ever trusty radio static to scare the living daylights out of players.

Fun: If you like spooky/horror games, this is a classic. As far as games go, it’s a bit slow-paced. This is fine with me, but I can imagine that some players may find it boring. It’s certainly a game designed for a specific audience, but to those target players it’s going to be very appealing.

Graphics: For it’s time, Silent Hill was top of the line. It features a mix of pre-rendered video with blocky 3D textures. By today’s standards, it’s certainly dated and aged. But at the time of release, this was as good as it got for consoles.

Playcontrol: The controls are a bit stiff and clunky. As mentioned in the review, there’s no manual camera control. So it takes a few minutes to get the hang of things. You soon learn how to rotate the character, instead of the camera – before moving in the desired direction. By today’s standards, the playcontrol does seem antiquated and slightly inefficient.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: Violent and grotesque imagery. Occult references and an overall horrific atmosphere.

Value:  These days, Silent Hill is available on PSN for about $6.00. For this price, the game is a steal.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – If you’re a fan of survival horror or even mystery games, Silent Hill is a must-play. I can’t believe I waited so long to play this classic title. Aside from some minor frustration with the play control, I found this to be the perfect title for a spooky, late-night playthrough.

Available on: PSN

Review: Slender – The Arrival

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Next up on the spooky game list is a title that I’ve had sitting in my Steam library for awhile. Slender – The Arrival. Now, before playing this game I actually knew very little about the “Slenderman” phenomena. I knew that the character of Slenderman was born from some creepy Internet meme,  but I was completely ignorant regarding the background story or mythology behind the character. I think my lack of knowledge actually made the game seem even weirder and creepier than it would have been otherwise.

First off, I should mention that the day before this review was posted, a major update to the game was released. This update is quite literally, a game changer. The 2.0 updated added new levels, better performance, and many needed quality of life improvements. I was almost done with my playthrough of this game when the patch hit and it actually made me start all over so that I could re-experience the game from the ground up.

So let’s get started. Slender – The Arrival is your typical survival horror game. In this game, you start off playing a girl named Lauren who is on her way to visit an old childhood friend at her home. On the way there, the road leading to her house is blocked by a fallen tree and you’re forced to walk the last mile or so on foot. As you approach her home, it suddenly grows unusually dark. Once entering the house, you are quick to realize that some strange has happened. The house is in shambles and there’s weird scribbles all over the wall. You find a flashlight and begin to search the house for clues. Eventually, you hear a scream from outside the window and proceed to investigate. This is where the game really begins.

Apparently, your friend Kate has become obsessed with a supernatural entity known as Slenderman. A faceless being that is rumored to chase and abduct children. Throughout your search for Kate, you are relentlessly pursued by Slenderman and some of his other creepy friends. For some reason, I never really understood, your character carries a video camera with her at all times. The game experienced through the eyes of the camera. The picture will jump or distort if Slender draws near. So it serves as a bit of a warning device. At the end of the game, it seems to become clear that you, the player, are watching the recorded footage – so there’s that. But again…. why is this girl video taping everything?

As you proceed through the game, more details regarding the backstory begin to emerge. Some levels are actually played through the perspective of other characters in the game. All in all, as the plot thickens, the game manages to actually get even creepier.

The gameplay itself is quite basic. There’s no combat. Most levels have a series of objectives that need to be completed to move on to the next stage. However, each time you complete an objective, Slenderman appears more often and begins to pursue you relentlessly. If you get caught by him, it is game over.

As far as games go, there’s not a lot of content here really. Even with the new levels brought in by the update, the game can easily be completed in a couple of hours if you’ve got the hang of things. To me, the experience provided by this game is more focused on scaring you than actually timesinking content. This game has moments that are downright chilling. Everything from the level design, to the atmosphere created within the game is frightening. There were times while playing, where I was so close to completing the level only to see the screen start to distort and hear the swelling of the background music – I’d get goosebumps knowing that just around the corner I was going to see that pale white face, in the dark suit staring blankly in my direction. Fantastic.

In a lot of way, the environments and atmosphere created by game designers are often freakier than the protagonists. If you’re looking for something to put a little fright into you on a dark night, this game is worth a look.

Difficulty: Moderate –  There are two difficulty settings. Normal and Hardcore. The later is only available after beating the game on the original difficulty setting. Overall, the game is pretty middle of the road. Early on, I died a lot. But once I got a feel for the game’s mechanics, it did become a little easier. Hardcore mode is just that. In this mode, there are often additional steps required to complete a level as well as a big increase in the aggression of Slender Man.
Story: For such an inexpensive title, there is a surprising amount of storyline here. However, it is not spoon-fed to you. The story behind the game is uncovered as you play. If you take the time to pay attention and actually read many of the news-clippings and notes that you find throughout the game, much of the background begins to become very clear.
Originality: These days, survival horror games are nothing new. But Slender manages to keep things unique with it’s unusual presentation and rich character-based storyline.
Soundtrack: The score for this game is subtle, but overall I found it to be well done. The music is dynamic and does a great job at setting the tone for the game as well as adding to the suspense.
Fun: If you enjoy horror/survival games this is certainly a title that worth your time. It’s spooky, anxiety-laden, and keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Graphics: The new “2.0” version of the game is a big improvement over the original edition. If you’re new to this title, this is version that is now available on Steam as well as PSN and Xbox Arcade. So no matter what platform, you’re sure to get the latest version. The graphics were always well rendered but now include motion blur effects, and better lighting enhancements as well. Not to mention the overall graphics performance has been tweaked big time.
Playcontrol: This title is playable both on the keyboard and with a gamepad. Either way seemed both fitting and natural.
Mature Content: YES- Gruesome violence. Language. Horror elements.
Value:  For $10, this game offers quite a bit of bang for your buck. It is somewhat short, yes. But I feel that it is very much worth the experience. — If you played this game when it first came out, the new version included new levels integrated into the game itself. So veterans might want to take a second look.
Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – This game may seem a little unusual to casual players. But fans of the survival horror genre have a lot to appreciate here. However, even for a casual gamer, the $10.00 pricetag certainly makes Slender a purchase to consider. This game offers a true horror experience at a budget price.
Currently available on: Steam, PSN, Xbox Arcade

Review: Final Fantasy VI

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Here we are with the third and last Final Fantasy title in the 16-bit era, Final Fantasy VI. This game also marks the end of the “number confusion” debacle. Originally released in the US as “Final Fantasy III“, this was the west’s second taste of 16-bit FF glory.

These days, there’s a few options for the people looking to play the game. The original FF3 version is available on the Wii virtual console. The Playstation Network sports another, better rendition of the game – complete with the correct title and an improved translation. However, the latest release is Final Fantasy VI Advance for the GBA. This version features updated visuals, an improved translation, as well as some additional content (spells, espers and optional dungeon). Having never played this version before, I chose the GBA version for this playthrough.

The game begins with two Imperial soldiers escorting a mysterious girl into a town. The three of them are piloting walking war-machines (aka Magi-Tech Armor). It is revealed that they have been sent to capture a frozen beast, known as an Esper, that was recently uncovered on the outskirts of town. The three of them encounter resistance from the locals and it is revealed that girl is under some sort of mind control. The Esper reacts to the attack and fights back, in the scuffle, the mind control over the girl is broken. But she is left suffering from a case of amnesia. She is taken in by a local who recruits her into a secret group of rebels. The story unfolds from here…

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Like it’s predecessors, Final Fantasy VI features a lush and brilliantly crafted storyline. It is often considered to be one of the best in the series. The game features a cast of characters that are impossible to forget, each with their own background and personality. While this has become a staple of the series, it really shines here. This game also features one of the most sadistic and insane arch-villains in video game history. I’m not going to spoil anything, but even in the old days where Nintendo censored just about everything, the wartime tactics of Kefka were jaw-dropping.

As if the story wasn’t enough, it’s made even more potent due to the amazing game soundtrack. Again, I’m tempted to say it is also, best in the series. I’ve been told that some selections of the score are even taught in Japanese schools beside other classical music masterpieces. (I have no idea if that is true, but that’s what I’ve heard…)


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The graphics are certainly a step up from FFIV and FFV. They are slightly improved again in the GBA version. Detail on the character sprites are done pretty well, but most gorgeous art in the game comes from the scenery and monster design.

Much like Final Fantasy IV, there are no pre-set character jobs, but each character has their own role and set of skills. In early parts of the game, your hand is held a bit when it comes to party formation, but later on in the title you have the ability to create a group using the entire roster. This is where personal preference and deep understanding of each character and their abilities really shines.

Having played this time a number of times over the years, I was excited to see what changes the GBA version brought. There are four new Espers available to Terra as wells a several spells and a new dungeon. The dungeon features an optional and ultimate boss, the Kaiser Dragon. This boss is legendary among fans because it was discovered to have been coded into the original game, but there was no way to encounter it. Apparently cut out of the title at the last minute, it is finally available for those wanting a real challenge.

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Difficulty: Medium  – This game is on par with the rest of the series. The patient will survive. Players can grind their way to ease if they really feel so inclined. But the real trick to the game is learning each character and their abilities and then applying them to overcome obstacles. The new optional content in the GBA is quite difficult and is really included for veteran players.

Story: Final Fantasy VI features what can arguably be called one of the greatest RPG storylines of all time, and I’m not exaggerating. It’s that good. My summary above covers about the first five minutes of the game, if I were to try to summarize this entire plot, we’d be here for hours. And the kicker is, there’s never a dull moment. This was the title that showed the world why Final Fantasy would become synonymous with RPG genre as a whole.

Originality: In reality, there’s not a lot of new ideas brought to the table. Everything in this title, storyline aside, has been seen elsewhere in the series. However, the biggest difference here is that everything has now been polished to perfection.

Soundtrack: One of Uematsu’s best works, and arguably one of the best game soundtracks to date. I literally have three different version of the game soundtrack in my personal library. Everything about the music in this game is sheer perfection. It’s truly art.

Fun: This is one game that never leaves me disappointed. It’s very fun and addictive title. So much so that it is often the title I recommend to those looking for a starting point in the series. The story sucks you in and the gameplay makes sure you don’t let go until the very end.

Graphics: Again, an improvement of the previous entry in the series. This game pretty much set the bar for RPGs in terms of what to expect visually. As I mentioned above, the monster art and scenery are amazing. The Mystic Forest area of the game was, at it’s time, breathtaking.

Playcontrol: As with most RPGs, control is not an issue. All works as it should with one exception. The character Sabin features some special abilities that rely on fighting-style button combos to execute. While these are fairly easy to input on Nintendo style gamepads, I’ve found them to be a bit trickier on Sony hardware. Nothing major, but worthy of mention.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – For many players, myself included, this game *IS* Final Fantasy. I am a fan of the entire series, but for me, VI represents everything that made the series great. The storyline, the music, the art – it’s all here. If you are looking to escape reality, or if you’re curious what all the hype is about, this is the game to play.

Currently available on:  Wii Virtual Console and PSN.

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 V

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Onward with the 16-bit Final Fantasy playthrough, we have one of the more obscure entries in the early series, Final Fantasy V. Again, this is another title that was not available in the US upon its original release. Released in 1992, North American players did not get a taste of the game until 1999 when the title was bundled together with Final Fantasy VI for a Playstation compilation called the Final Fantasy Anthology. This collection was my first taste of the game.

Sadly, I can’t claim it was a very enjoyable experience. I never owned an original Playstation. My first Sony system was the Playstation 2. Final Fantasy V and the PS2 didn’t get along very well. There was a terrible graphical corruption bug that would rear its ugly head 90% of the time you tried to save or load your game in FFV. This only occurred on the PS2. Determined not to let that hold me back, I eventually memorized the layout of the save screen and was able to navigate the corrupted menus blindly.

Luckily, this issue was eliminated with a later release for the Game Boy Advance. For the sake of this playthrough (and my sanity), I used the GBA version. Like many of the other re-releases in the series, the remake contains some content not found in the original game. Aside from a much improved translation, the GBA version also includes four new jobs (more on this later) and as usual, an optional dungeon.

Before continuing, I will note that while I consider the GBA remake to be the definitive version of the game, there is actually a newer version of FFV released on iOS. Personally, I don’t consider iPhones or iPads to be viable gaming devices. I play and enjoy iOS games, but I feel like playing something like Final Fantasy on a touch-screen is far from ideal. That being said, the iOS version features improved graphics. There has also been talk of a 3DS version, but at the time of this writing, nothing has materialized.

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Final Fantasy V focuses very heavily on story. This playthrough took me over 40 hours, the longest so far. The game focuses mainly on a young man named Bartz and his pet chocobo. Bartz witnesses the crash of a meteor in a nearby forest and decides to investigate. There he meets a strange old man who is seemingly suffering from amnesia. The two travel together to a nearby kingdom where their adventure begins. Throughout the game’s story, more heroes join the fold and team learns that a magical seal that has long kept an evil warrior at bane has been shattered. As one might imagine, there’s a lot more to it than that, and like all the other games in the series, the story should be experienced firsthand and not read.

One interesting element this game brings back is the Job System from FFIII. Throughout the game new lobs are unlocked and can be assigned to characters at will. Over time, skills from the job equipped can be permanently learned by that character. The original release of the game contained 22 jobs, while the GBA version has 26.

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Graphically, the game is on par with FFIV. The GBA version does feature slightly smoother graphics, but nothing too noticeable. When it comes to music, the game has some very interesting pieces. Overall, the soundtrack is fitting and very well done, but I do feel it pales in comparison to the wonderful score of Final Fantasy IV.

With me, typically, my favorite part of playing a Final Fantasy game is the story and the atmosphere. This game, is an odd exception. My favorite part about FFV is actually the gameplay. The Job System is very well done and lots of fun. Grinding away to unlock abilities might be part of what made my playthrough so long. The storyline of FFV is great, don’t misunderstand. There’s plenty of twists and turns to keep you interested, but overall, it is probably my least favorite in the series. Many people may disagree, but that’s just my opinion. It’s hard to follow up a game like Final Fantasy IV, and I feel like it shows with this title.

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Difficulty: Medium  – The same rules apply here as with the rest of the series, patience is key. Mastering the Job System is the trick to the whole game. In today’s world of digital hand-holding, I wonder how that will sit with many younger players. For this reason, I feel that FFV is a little harder than other entries in the early series. But still, overall much easier to master than some of the twitchy platformers of the 16-bit era.

Story: Final Fantasy V features a very rich and detailed story. It’s excellent, but just not as good as I expected. Don’t get me wrong, even the worst Final Fantasy storyline beats most other RPGs hands down. It just didn’t light the same fire in me as other titles in the series. Regardless, the game does have some very memorable characters. Lenna always puts a smile on my face.

Originality: A lot of this game is borrowed from other titles, and that’s ok. The job system is revamped enough from FFIII to seem original. But other elements of the game do tend to fall into the “standard Final Fantasy experience”.

Soundtrack: Good score, but not great. Not my favorite that’s for sure.

Fun: As I stated earlier, the job system can be a lot of fun even if the rest of the game drags a bit. I did enjoy my time playing the game, but I felt like it was a little too long

Graphics: The graphics are about what you’d expect. The GBA provide a nice little boost and of course the iOS version is beautiful. It’s a mixed bag depending on the version you’re playing. I do feel that the original developers could have been able to squeeze a little more “pretty” out of the game if they tried harder. But, the art is certainly acceptable.

Playcontrol: As with most RPGs, control is not an issue. All works as it should.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – As I mentioned, FFV is a good game. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s certainly worthy of playing. Personally, I don’t feel it reflects the best the series has to offer. Even though it is currently out of print, if you can get your hands on the GBA version, this is the one I recommend. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a more modern remake.

Currently available on:  PSN, 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