Review: Baldur’s Gate II (Enhanced Edition)

Finally, I bring you my review of the final chapter in the Baldur’s Gate series. For those that are interested, and might have missed it, I reviewed the enhanced edition of the Original Baldur’s Gate back in September. This was followed with a review of Beamdog’s official DLC: Siege of Dragonspear in January of this year. Now, after what seems like eons of time spent in the Forgotten Realms, I’m proud to share my thoughts on this remastered, classic CRPG.

First, a bit of a history lesson. Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, is the sequel to the extremely popular PC game, Baldur’s Gate. It was released two years after the original and closely follows the formula that made Baldur’s Gate such a smashing success. The sequel used the same game engine, with some additional polish and refinements. Baldur’s Gate II continues the story of the original title. In fact, players of the first game are even able to carry over saved data to the sequel. A year after the original Baldur’s Gate II was released, an expansion pack; “Throne of Bhaal” was also made available. This expansion extended the storyline of the original game, and added a new optional area.   In 2013, Beamdog Studios gave Baldur’s Gate II the “Enhanced Edition” treatment as well.  This update combined both “Shadows of Amn” and “Throne of Bhaal” into one package. It also includes a new third scenario “The Black Pits II” (which itself is a sequel to the additional scenario found in the first Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition).  The Enhanced Edition also modernizes the game for today’s computer systems. It adds widescreen support, updated multiplayer functionality, and cross-platform compatibility. Also worthy of note, just like with the initial release, players can import saved data from both Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition and Siege of Dragonspear into Baldur’s Gate II Enhanced Edition.  –  Being the most accessible version of the game, it is the enhanced edition that I’ve spent the last several months playing for this review.

While there many enhancements and differences between the original Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II,  the differences between the two Enhanced Edition are much less obvious. Both games actually run on a modified version of the BG2 engine. So the actual changes from one EE game to the other are mostly cosmetic.

The story of Baldur’s Gate II, starts shortly after the events of the first game. If you’ve played Siege of Dragonspear, the events of that game actually fill in the gap between BG1 and BG2. When the game starts, the main hero and his companions find themselves being held prisoner by a mysterious magician. The first goal in the game is to get your bearings and escape from captivity. Shortly after doing so, one of the lead characters is “arrested” by an order of powerful wizards. The focus of the game then turns to finding a way to rescue this individual. This thrusts the players into the middle of some major political intrigue. Naturally, things are not as simple as they seem at first. As you continue to play and explore the world of Baldur’s Gate II, you will find yourself immersed in the rich and vibrant world that is Forgotten Realms.

Fans of Dungeons & Dragons will feel right at home. This game, just like the original Baldur’s Gate is based on the core Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition rules. Also, the Forgotten Realms setting is a D&D mainstay. Just like with the first game, players can create and will encounter characters based on classic D&D races and classes. Also, much like a real game of D&D, players are able to explore and do as they please. The main scenario of the game is ever present in the background, but there are endless quests and side-stories for players to pursue and enjoy.

The game is filled with classic D&D tropes and cameos. From things as mundane as talking swords to legendary magical items, fans of D&D will be sure to finds references to some of their favorite places and characters

Like the first Enhanced Edition game, this one features a number of difficulty levels. All of the original options are included, as well as the new Story Mode (super easy) and Legacy of Bhaal (insanely difficult). Being nearly identical to BG:EE,  this modern version of Baldur’s Gate II also suffers from some of the same strange issues. In the 70+ hours I sunk into this game, I observed a number of odd glitches and behavior. For example, the party AI is often troublesome. Characters do not stay in the selected formation, they wander off in odd directions, and sometimes during battle, even when selected, they just stand there doing nothing instead of executing the actions requested of them. I even encountered one serious game-breaking issue towards the end of the title that caused me to have to reload a saved game and redo over an hour of play. To be specific, upon a defeat, an NPC did not yield an item needed to progress in the game… serious glitch. Also, the Steam version of the game seems to have some issues activating achievements correctly all of the time. But, when considering the absolute vast scope of the title, it would be nearly impossible to squash every potential bug. Despite encountering a few glitches, the game is overall very stable and enjoyable.

For my playthrough, I enjoyed the game in a single-player setting. But, it is important to note there is a multiplayer option. This is certainly welcome and in fact, can be a very rewarding way to play. The only downside is that a game of this size would require some serious organization and commitment between friends in order to really make the most out of this option.

In a nutshell, fans of the original game will certainly find themselves right at home with Baldur’s Gate II. As will fans of D&D and other CRPGs of the era. For younger and modern gamers, a title such as this can seem rather daunting and perhaps even a bit overwhelming.  As with many older games, there’s little to no handholding. And, with a game of this size and complexity, that can only make things seem even more challenging.

That being said, if you like western-style RPGS, and open-world games like Fallout, Skyrim, etc – this might be a series that you should consider. Baldur’s Gate II not only continues the story of the original title, but the Throne of Bhaal chapters even put a final end to story as a whole. Playing these games through to completion is very challenging, but also extremely satisfying.  Having only dabbled with the original game back during it’s release, I am proud to have finally played both entries to their completion. Both games are simply works of art. Now, with the Enhanced Editions available, these gems can once again be enjoyed by retro gamers like myself, as well as new players who may be unearthing them for the first time.

Difficulty: Variable–  Baldur’s Gate 2 features a number of options when it comes to difficulty.  Easy, Normal, Core Rules, Hard, and Insane. The Enhanced Edition also adds options for “Story Mode” and “Legacy of Bhaal”. The latter options making you either invincible or cranking up the difficulty to a point that makes the game nearly impossible.  I’m proud of being able to have completed the original game on this new insane difficulty, but I must admit that I was unable to even get through the first half of BG2 on “Legacy of Bhaal”. With the increased characters levels, seemed to come even more challenging opponents. “Core Rules” was my go to on this title.

Story: As one might expect with a Dungeons & Dragons title, the storyline is everything here. BG 2 extends the lore and storyline of the original game and brings it to it’s ultimate conclusion. Main scenario aside, this game is filled with side quests, background lore, and even character romances.

Originality: Being both a remake and a direct sequel to another game, certainly costs any title a little bit in the “originality” department. But BG manages to keep a fresh feel by presenting the player with totally new areas and cultures to explore. The storyline is also engaging enough to keep things from getting stale.

Soundtrack: Just like with the original Baldur’s Gate, the music in the game is overall very well done. It has a classic western RPG feel to it. It does lack a bit in diversity. The voice acting is also a mixed bag. Some of the characters are spot on, while others just sound silly and out of place. Again, this game suffers a bit from when I call Repetitive Sound Syndrome. NPCS and party members have a habit to repeating the same phrases over and over to the point of being annoying.

Fun: If you’re a fan of CRPGS and/or Dungeons & Dragons, you’re going to have a blast with this game. However, many players many simply not have the patience for the old-school style found here.

Graphics: At time it was released, Baldur’s Gate was top of the line. Today, even though a lot of work was put into modernizing the Enhanced Edition it looks quite dated. Yes, the new textures are beautiful, but the character sprites suffer a bit.

Playcontrol:  While most point-and-click games are pretty simple to control, Baldur’s Gate suffers from terrible AI. It is not uncommon for NPCs to get stuck on terrain, walk the wrong way, etc. I also frequently struggled with being unable to enter buildings due to all of my characters crowding around the entry way. Also, the new edition  of the game is not without it’s share of bugs that can interfere with your progress. These are largely the same complaints I had with the original Baldur’s Gate EE.

Downloadable Content:  No – At the time of this writing, no DLC has been announced for BG2 EE. The game comes complete with both BG2 and it’s original expansion.  It also contains a new third-scenario “The Black Pits 2”.  Which, is really a continuation of the “The Black Pits” chapter found in the first BG:EE.  Overall it’s a pointless little add-on, but still worthy of a look.

Mature Content: Fantasy Violence, Mature Themes

Value:  This game currently sells for $20. Considering the amount of content packed into the title, it’s a steal at that price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Baldur’s Gate 2 Enhanced Edition is a must-have for both fans of the original game and for fans of CRPGs as a whole. It’s a classic game packed with tons of content. Even with some of the glitches and faults of the remake, the redeeming qualities of the game outshine any faults it might have. For some of the reasons outlined above, I can’t claim to give it a perfect score, but it comes damn close.

Available on: PC (Steam and GOG)

Review: Baldur’s Gate (Enhanced Edition)

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Getting back to my late 90’s game reviews, I step away from the PS and N64 consoles for a moment to talk about a classic PC title. Baldur’s Gate is almost universally regarded as one of the greatest western RPGs of all time. Originally released in 1998, Baldur’s Gate is a birds-eye-view role playing game based on Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition rules. The game takes place in the ever popular Forgotten Realms campaign setting and takes on the mammoth task of incorporating as many aspect of the D&D ruleset as possible and applying them to a real-time video game setting.

The original Baldur’s Gate proved to be extremely popular with fans. A year after it’s release, an expansion, Tales of the Sword Coast was made available. This add-on integrates seamlessly into the main game, adding new areas to explore, quests and storyline. The legacy left behind by Baldur’s Gate was so great that it was inevitable that someone would one day want to resurrect it. This occurred in 2012 when Beamdog Studios announced Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition.

I owned both the original game and the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion, but admittedly never completed them. Recently, I saw the Enhanced Edition on sale and decided there was no better time to revisit this classic.

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For the record, let me state that for the most part – the Enhanced Edition is a faithful remake of the original Baldur’s Gate. It features the original story, original score and voice acting, but many of the textures and graphics are replaced or highly modernized.  One thing I noticed right away, is that the original opening video has been replaced with hand-painted still images. I’m not sure why the new developers chose to do this. Granted, the original video is very dated by today’s standards. But why replace it with still images and not a new video? Regardless, the new into movie is fitting and  admittedly beautiful. Plus, it doesn’t detract from the experience at all in my opinion. Also important to mention; the new version includes both the original game and its expansion, out of the box. It also features a new arena-based add-on called The Black Pits. (More on this later). As far as additional content, the remake adds a handful of new playable NPCs and a few additional quests that provide backstories to these characters.

In Baldur’s Gate, the player creates a hero from scratch. Character creation follows standard AD&D 2nd edition rules.  Players can choose to create a character of any of the following races:  Human, Elf, Half-Elf. Gnome, Halfling, Dwarf, and Half-Orc. (The Half-Orc is a new addition to the original game). The following classes are available to players: Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Cleric, Druid, Monk, Mage, Illusionist, Sorcerer, Thief, Bard, and Shaman. These classes can be specialized even further using “class kits”. (Barbarian, Wild Mage, etc). Just like in real D&D2E, players also have the option to dual-class and multiclass.

The game story revolves around your custom character. In a nutshell, you are the foster child of a wise sage named Gorion. The two of you live in a quiet sanctuary of Candlekeep, a place best known as a center of learning and home to one of the best libraries in the realm. One day, a frantic Gorion requests you to pack your belongs and purchase supplies for an impromptu journey. The game begins here, amidst the confusion of his sudden request. As you make your way through town, you encounter more than one nefarious character that seem to be hell-bent on seeing you dead. Eventually, as the game presses on, Gorion meets a terrible fate that leaves you alone in the wilderness, confused, and with little go on besides a handful of cryptic clues and request from Gorion to meet some trusted friends at a nearby tavern. You are hunted and alone, with no real explanation.

From this point forward, the entire game is open-ended and you can do as you please. You can elect to follow the path you were set on, or you can explore as you see fit. Throughout your journey, you will encounter characters that wish to join you on your quest. Each have their own motives and values. As you travel together, your actions will either enhance the bond you have with your companions or drive them away.

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Baldur’s Gate is played from a birds-eye-view. You click on objects or points of interest to interact with them. To move, you click on the characters you wish to advance, then click on their destination and they will walk to it. Clicking on individual character portraits provides with some additional options. For example, let’s say you click on a door to open it, only to find the door is locked. Well, if you have a thief in your party, you can click on that character to bring up a list of skills, then click on Pick Locks, finally you can click on the door again to apply that skill. The same is true for combat. During the melee action, you can choose individual actions for each character. This includes simple physical attacks, using items, casting spells, etc.

All of this may seem like a lot to take in, and to be honest, the game is very daunting at first. My first experience with Baldur’s Gate was back in ’98 when it was first released. At the time, I was admittedly overwhelmed. I suppose I played about a quarter of the way through it before shelving it. Now, playing through the Enhanced Edition many  years later, I find that had I stuck with just a bit longer, it would have started to fall into place. A little patience and a quick read through the manual help tremendously. Plus, the new edition of the game also comes with a tutorial mode. (Which I highly recommend for new players).

Interestingly enough, there is a multiplayer option. But in reality, it is rarely used. In multiplayer, one person is the host. This means they control the lead character. Any additional players control party-member characters. The sheer length of the game makes it difficult for this type of multiplayer to be viable option.

Finally, I want to mention the additional scenarios. Included for free with the Enhanced Edition is a short, arena-combat prologue to the game called The Black Pits. This scenario is aimed a veterans to the game and features a party of characters that fight battle after battle in a gladiator-type setting. With each victory they earn riches that can be used in-between fights to purchase new armor and weapons. Each battles get progressively more difficult. The final few battles require some serious preparation and commitment. In truth, this whole add-on seems to serve as nothing more than an introduction for one the new NPCs add to the Enhanced Edition. But it is included free, so no complaints there.

This new version of the game does also offer a brand new paid-DLC scenario called Siege of Dragonspear. This chapter serves as a bridge between the events of Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II. However, due to the sheer size of this expansion – I have decided to review it separately.

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Difficulty: Variable–  Baldur’s Gate features a number of options when it comes to difficulty.  Easy, Normal, Core Rules, Hard, and Insane. The Enhanced Edition also adds options for “Story Mode” and Legacy of Bhaal”. The latter options making you either invincible or cranking up the difficulty to a point that makes the game nearly impossible.  (I gloat in being able to claim I completed the game on Bhaal difficulty…   not that I’m bragging or anything.)

Story: As one might expect with a Dungeons & Dragons title, the storyline is everything here. The game features a massive, rich main storyline. Not to mention it is peppered with a number of sideplots and quests. All of these are very well done.

Originality: Baldur’s Gate was a breath of life into what was a fading genre in the late 90s. It was fresh and new upon it’s original release. Now, with the new edition, it still manages to feel new by taking an old classic, polishing it up and releasing it into a sea of games that began to grow stagnant with unoriginal ideas. It’s the new black, as they say.

Soundtrack: The music in the game is well done. It has a classic western RPG feel to it. Sadly, there’s not much diversity in it. The voice acting is also a mixed bag. Some of the characters are very well done, while others just sound silly and out of place. The voice acting for the new characters added to the game also don’t seem to fit in well with the original cast. Also worthy of mentioning, this game suffers a bit from when I call Repetitive Sound Syndrome. Simply giving orders to your character usually results in some type of feedback statement. Usually it’s one of three, and you get tired of hearing them really quick. Thankfully, there is a setting that allows you to control the frequency at which you hear these. Finally, this game seems to have an issue with volume management. Often times during the game, NPC will be speaking only to be drowned out by a swelling background score. Adjusting individual volume levels did not seem to help alleviate the problem.

Fun: If you’re a fan of CRPGS and/or Dungeons & Dragons, you’re going to have a blast with this game. However, many players many simply not have the patience for the old-school style found here.

Graphics: At time it was released, Baldur’s Gate was top of the line. Today, even though a lot of work was put into modernizing the Enhanced Edition it looks quite dated. Yes, the new textures are beautiful, but the character sprites suffer a bit.

Playcontrol: Here we come to my biggest gripe. While most point-and-click games are pretty simple to control, Baldur’s Gate suffers from terrible AI. It is not uncommon for NPCs to get stuck on terrain, walk the wrong way, etc. I also frequently struggled with being unable to enter buildings due to all of my characters crowding around the entry way. Also, the new edition  of the game is not without it’s share of bugs that can interfere with your progress.

Downloadable Content: YES – A paid DLC Scenario called Siege of Dragonspear is available for purchase. This is a completely new original adventure available for the Enhanced Edition only. This currently sells for $20, so it’s a little on the steep side, but it claims to provide about 30 hours of content. So, that’s not really a bad price. I plan to make a separate review of it in the coming days.

–      ***UPDATE: Review here:  Siege of Dragonspear

Mature Content: Fantasy Violence, Mature Themes

Value:  This game currently sells for $20. Considering the amount of content packed into the title, it’s a steal at that price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition is a must-have for fans of the fantasy genre. It’s a classic game packed with tons of content. Even with some of the glitches and faults of the remake, the redeeming qualities of the game outshine any faults it might have. For some of the reasons outlined above, I can’t claim to give it a perfect score, but it comes damn close.

Available on: PC (Steam and GOG)

Review: The Legend of Dragoon

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When I announced last month that I was going to resume my PS1 playthrough reviews, I knew I had a number of options to choose from. There are so many classic games for ps1 that I never played when I was younger. I didn’t know where to start. So, I asked a friend for some suggestions. The first thing out of his mouth was “Legend of Dragoon”. This was a game I’d heard of in passing, but didn’t really know that much about. So I was excited to see what was in store for me.

To start this review, let me say that I really had no idea what I was expecting. I knew this game was going to be an RPG of sorts, but the fine details were completely unknown to me. To start, the first thing I noticed about Legend of Dragoon were the similarities to Final Fantasy VII. The pre-rendered backgrounds looked like something ripped directly from FFVII. The battle screen also, is very reminiscent to PS1 era Final Fantasy titles. But that’s where the similarities stop. Before getting much more into the technical details of the game, let’s talk a bit about the story.

The Legend of Dragoon is a fantasy RPG from Sony. It is set in the world called Endiness. The hero of the game, is a young named named Dart. At the beginning of the game, Dart is finally returning home from a five-year search for a terrible monster that destroyed his childhood home town.  As he approaches the outskirts of his homeland, Dart is attacked by a giant green Dragon. He is nearly killed, but saved by a mysterious armored woman who vanishes just as quickly as she appears. Upon arrival in his hometown, Dart learns that the night before his arrival, the town was ransacked by a neighboring Empire and his childhood friend Shanna was taken captive. Dart decides to sneak into the Empire’s prison to rescue his friend. This is the set up for a long and epic adventure.

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Naturally, as the game progresses the the details around the events at the beginning of the title begin to fall into place. And what we’re left with is a storyline that certainly rivals any other RPG you can throw at it. This is a thankful fact, because aside from the flawless plot, this game has some massive shortcomings. So much so, that I daresay if it wasn’t for the in-game story, I may not have finished this title.

 To start, let’s talk about the combat system. On the surface, the combat in this game appears to be similar to other Final Fantasy style RPGs. However, Sony included a new mechanic that at first, seems very refreshing, but quickly becomes cumbersome and annoying. The feature in question involves a moving on-screen graphic. Specifically, a little rotating hitbox. The point is to smash a button on the controller precisely as the ghost image, lines up with the static hit box. Doing so one, or sometimes multiple times will increase your damage output and cause a combo chain type of effect. Seems good right? Well, for different special moves, the speed and timing of each button push is different. For this reason, combat requires your absolute attention in order to be effective. I suppose, that is, after all, the idea. But the flaw here is that combat in this game simply takes too long. Between the fade in and fade out, and all the various combat animations,  the typical battle will last several minutes. Boss fights, can sometimes last 20-30 minutes. Now, that’s to be expected for major or final bosses, but while playing this game, it seemed like every single boss battle took about half an hour. To me, that’s just too long. Plus, random encounters seemed to occur a little too frequently. This combined with the length of the fights themselves, annoyed me greatly.

Another aspect of the combat system is the ability to transform in Dragoon mode. This, in theory, gives your character stronger attack power and access to magic abilities. The magic system is fairly straightforward, but melee attacks as a Dragoon, once again involve a twitch-timer/hotbox type system. Also, spell animations in Dragoon mode seem to be unnecessarily long. (This can be adjusted in the game’s settings, but even so, they still feel longer than they should).

This animation delay, doesn’t just extend to battles. But loading times overall for this game seemed much longer than they should be, and I was actually playing a downloaded PSN copy. I can only imagine how long they must have been on an actual disc.

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Another complaint, is the terrible translation this game has been given. Sony certainly seemed to opt for cost-cutting here. The quality of the translation is on par with the NES version of Metal Gear. But, admittedly, the poor translation does actually manage to give some of the characters a unique sense of personality.

When it comes to sound, LotD is a bit of a mixed bag. The musical score is very well done, and some of the songs are absolutely amazing. But others (like the main combat theme) seem to feel a bit out of place.  There are minor bits of voice acting in cutscenes and during combat, the quality of the voice acting is less than desireable. But again, somehow seems to add to the charm of the game.

Overall, I have a hard time recommending this title to casual gamers, but hardcore RPG fans will find a lot to enjoy here.

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Difficulty: Hard –  Understanding the core concepts of the game itself is easy. The difficulty here lies mainly due to the cumbersome combat system, the frequency of random encounters and the lack of available save points. Taking time to grind levels certainly makes this game a lot easier.

Story: The story here is really the game’s saving grace in my opinion. The tale starts off basic, but over time becomes more and more complex. Yet, somehow never really runs the risk of being too complicated to follow. Very high marks here.

Originality: A lot of things in this game will seem familiar to fans of the JRPG genre. Credit to Sony for trying to introduce new concepts and elements even if they fall flat more often than not.

Soundtrack: The quality of the in-game soundtrack is superb, even if some of the track seem out of place. There are some real gems here.

Fun: For me, the game starting of very well, but by the midpoint I realized that I was forcing myself to play it only to see the finale of the storyline. Plus, the game is looooooong. My playthrough was in excess of sixty hours. This blunted the fun factor for me greatly.

Graphics: For a late-system PS1 title, the graphics are acceptable, but I really feel they could have been better. Character sprites are jaggy and there not much attention to detail. Yes, this was a complaint of FF7 as well, but SE really seemed to be able to overcome this, improving the graphics presentation with each new entry. LotD seems to go the other way. That being said, the pre-rendered backgrounds and FMV cutscenes are very nice.

Playcontrol: Poor. The hitbox/twitch combat feels flawed to me. Yes, I was able to figure it out and get the hang of it, but- I’m still not sure how I did… The animation on the screen doesn’t seem to match the in-game tutorial. Aside from that, the overall controls seem loose and sloppy. I would often have trouble lining up with ladders or navigating around object in the pre-rendered environments.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: None.

Value:  Despite all the bad things I have to say about this game, for the prince it’s going for on PSN, in comparison with the vast amount of content the game has to offer, there’s quite a bit of a deal to be had here.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – This game does have some good qualities. But the overall experience can be summed up as frustrating and unpolished. I can only recommend Legend of the Dragoon for the most hardcore RPG gamers out there. And even then, chances are there’s a better example of the genre available to play. This is a game that I would actually love to see remade and refined. There’s some GREAT ideas here, but to me, they are poorly executed.

Available on: PSN

Review: Final Fantasy XII – Revenant Wings

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Bouncing right back from my playthrough of Final Fantasy XII, I dove right into the sequel: Final Fantasy XII – Revenant Wings. This is a very unique title in the Final Fantasy series for a number of reasons. First,at the time of release, this game was only the second title in the series to be a sequel to a previous Final Fantasy game. Second, when compared to its predecessor it’s a radically different game. This title was released on the Nintendo DS system only. As a result, it plays very differently than standard games. The game takes full advantage of the two screen experience and while some DS games do not really require playing with a stylus, this game does seem to function much better with one.

Revenant Wings takes place where FFXII left off. Vaan has acquired his own ship and has become somewhat of a sky pirate. The game begins as Vaan finds his airship has been reclaimed by its previous owner, Balthier. Following instructions left for him, Vaan and Penelo meet up with Bathier to hunt for a bit of a treasure. This is followed by a series of events that ultimately lead Vaan and several of his friends, both of old and new, into another epic adventure.

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This game is a very strange mix of RTS elements and overhead dungeon crawling. The game itself is divided into chapters, each containing a number of missions. These are very short and the game can be saved after each mission. Typically, each mission will have a particular goal. Once this is accomplished the mission ends. Gameplay consists of mainly walking and combat. Characters you control tend to specialize in certain forms of combat. Be it melee, magic, or ranged attacks. The key is knowing which character to use against certain types of enemies. That being said, you characters do not have to fight alone. This game focuses very heavily on the ability to summon monsters which in turn, fight side by side with your characters.

The key to the whole game really is knowing which monsters to summon based on the enemy you are encountering. Sometimes other minor strategies come into play as well. For example, its often wise not to venture too far from a summoning portal so in the event that your characters get pinned down, they don’t end up being unable to call for reinforcements.

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As new summons are unlocked, players have the ability to choose which summons will be available in advance of the next mission. So there is a bit of planning involved as well. This can often make the difference between success and failure.  All in all, this makes for a pretty interesting experience. For me, however, it doesn’t really do much. I’m not a fan of RTS games, and while I wouldn’t call this title a pure RTS, there’s enough of the element present to turn me off. But, that’s just me and my preference.

Despite not really being my cup of tea, it was nice to see Vaan and the other characters from XII make one more appearance.

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Difficulty: Medium –  Interestingly enough, the US version of this game is actually more difficult than the original Japanese release. If you take your time and really pay attention to the tutorials that pop up at the beginning of the game, you’ll have a much easier time than someone who speeds through all the text. But, overall, I’d say the same tends to be middle of the road in terms of difficulty.

Story: The story in Revenant Wings is pretty good, but is very self contained. There’s bits of lore presented that serve to enrich the overall world of Ivalice, but the game itself does little to expand on the story presented in the original Final Fantasy XII.

Originality: Despite being a sequel, Revenant Wings is a beast all its own. The unique playcontrol brought by the DS as well and the overall difference in gameplay really make this title an experience all its own. High praise to SE for this.

Soundtrack: The music is in this title is mostly a rehash of tunes found in FFXII. What’s amazing is just how good and true to the original they sound considering the vastly different hardware. The music in Final Fantasy XII was CD quality audio, while the majority of music in this game is digitally created. Also, most of the music here is dynamic. It comes and goes depending on the events that are taking place in a game. Pretty neat stuff.

Fun: I’m somewhat infamous in my dislike of RTS games so it would be easy to let that influence by review. But casting that aside, this game still managed to be quite enjoyable for me. For someone that really enjoys that style of game, Revenant Wings offers a lot of enjoyment.

Graphics: Being a DS title, the in-game graphics are about what you’d expect. The overhead view has a sort of 16bit pixel feel to it, but its fitting and well done. The character art has a more anime-style feel to it. Surprisingly, the game also contains some pretty amazing cutscenes that are on par with what you’d expect from a Final Fantasy console game.

Playcontrol: Being a DS title, the playcontrol here is interesting, but not as bad as many games on that platform. For most of the game, the top screen serves as a map. The bottom/touch screen is where the action takes place. Characters are selected by tapping on them, or from a tab at the top of the screen. Actions are menu driven, so a stylus is highly recommended. Overall, it takes a bit of getting used to but once you have the hang of it, it’s a piece of cake.

Mature Content: No Concerns

Value:  This game is out of print and often sells for over $50 on Amazon in new condition. At that price, I find it hard to recommend considering the amount of content in the game. But if you came manage to find this for under $30 or less, you will certainly get your money’s worth.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Even though I’m not  fan of these types of games, its not hard to see that this is a very well put together title. Fans of Ivalice and FFXII should certainly give this game a look. Players who strictly enjoy RPGs may have a harder time with this title. But that being said, the quality of the game is undeniable.

Currently not available.

Other Reviews In This 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)

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

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

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

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

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 any plot points 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  — Coming Soon PS4

Other Reviews In This 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)

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

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

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

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

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 voice acting. All cutscenes and conversations includes an audible track. In which each character is voiced by a different actor. This certainly helps to gives each character a personality of their own in a way not possible in 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 looking 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 3 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 Trophys… and yes the most annoying/grindy aspects of the game all features 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 spheregrid, 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:

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)

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

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

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

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

Dungeons & Dragons: Monster Manual 5E

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A brief update here on D&D related things. I’m still attending and enjoying the D&D Encounters at my local games store. I’ve found that buying the “grab bag” boxes of miniatures can be quite addicting… So far I’ve managed to acquire a few neat pieces though.

Recently, I got my hands on the new version of the Monster Manual and I have to say, I’m very impressed with this book. Back in the 1e days, Monster Manuals were very thin and contained only black and white artwork. I enjoyed the old 1e books regardless. By the time the 2nd edition came out, the developer had the terrible idea to release loose-leaf pages of monsters. The plan was for players to create their own monster compendiums using a big white binder, but for me, the pages always got torn or fell out, etc. It was a big pain.

This book on the other hand, is very well put together and feature absolutely breathtaking artwork for each monster. I found the contents of the book itself to cover quite a bit of ground. I see things here that I remember seeing in the old Fiend Folio. I’m very excited to see what might lie in the future monster indexes. So far, I’ve been VERY impressed with this version of D&D.

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition Products:

Starter Set    –   Character Sheets   –  Dungeon Master’s Screens

Core Books:  

Player’s Handbook   –   Dungeon Master’s Guide   –   Monster Manual

Supplements:

Volo’s Guide to Monsters    –   Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide  – Xanthar’s Guide to Everything

Adventures:

Hoard of the Dragon Queen   –  Rise of Tiamat    – Princes of the Apocalypse  –  Out of the Abyss  –   Storm King’s Thunder  – Curse of Strahd   –  Tales from the Yawning Portal

Review: Bravely Default – The Fairy Flies

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Wow. This review has been a long time coming. I purchased this game when it was released in February and I’ve been slowly grinding away at it ever since. Now, after almost 70 hours of game time I have finally finished this beast. Here are my thoughts.

First, let’s talk about what Bravely Default is; here we have a classic JRPG style game by none other than the legends of the genre, Square Enix. I should state that this game is the “spiritual successor” to the previously released DS title “Final Fantasy: Four Heroes of Light”. While it is not a direct sequel, there are apparently a few throwback easter eggs scattered about this game for fans to discover. (Note: I have not played Four Heroes, but it is now on my to-do list). That being said, this game is pretty much a pure Final Fantasy title in all but name. It’s very Final Fantasy-like in terms of storytelling and gameplay. Several classic Final Fantasy character classes and artwork are present in the game as well. One small element of controversy worth mentioning is censorship. The western release of the game included some censorship in terms of the character’s ages (to avoid teenage romance) and a few adjustments to character costumes to make them a bit toned down (less sexy). Personally, I find this overall silly. I’ve seen the uncensored images from the Japanese game, there’s very little difference. Don’t feel like you’re missing anything important.

The game revolves around four young heroes on their journey to save the world from chaos. To do this, they must restore light to four dimmed elemental crystals. The stars of title are:

Tiz – A young orphan who’s hometown and brother we’re swallowed up by a massive chasm that was caused by troubled Earth Crystal.

Agnès – The young Wind Vestal (priestess), who along with her fairy companion intends to restore the failing crystals to their former glory.

Ringabel – A mysterious ladies man with no recollection of his past. He carries with him an unusual journal that seems to predict the future of our heroes.

Edea – Daughter of the Templar of Eternia, the nation currently terrorizing the homeland of the other three heroes. Disgusted with the actions of her own kingdom, she has joined the others.

As the game progresses and our heroes continue to awaken the crystals they inch deeper into the web of ancients secrets that make up their very existence. The game is very rich on storyline and it’s much better to experience it firsthand than to read a summary of it here. But the info above should be enough to give you the basic idea.

 

First off, let me start by saying that this game takes full advantage of the 3DS platform. Moreso than any other game I’ve played. Naturally, the game itself is available in 3D. There are also pre-game and post-game movies that feature augmented reality. Meaning, the movies are seen through your eyes, and you can move the 3DS in a 360 degree range of motion to change the perspective of the action.

In many titles, the Streetpass feature of the 3DS is either ignored or poorly implemented. Not in this game. You see, early in the game, Tiz sets out on a mission to rebuild his hometown. To do so, you must collect residents. This is accomplished through  the Streetpass feature. Every time you tag another Bravely Default player, you get another resident for your village. As your population increases, you can assign villagers to clean up the area and rebuild shops. The ultimate goal here is to have the town completely restored. Thus, unlocking exclusive items and equipment for sale.

Aside from the village mini-game, other players that you encounter can also be summoned to help in battle. Likewise, you have the ability to send special moves and tactics out to help your friends as well. If you don’t have very many real-life friends that play the game, the Nintendo Network will send four players to you daily. So no matter what, you’ll be able to use the online features to participate in this functionality.

 

Aside from this, there’s also one other online feature worth mentioning: Nemesis monsters. Also included with your daily Nintendo Network transmissions are special optional monster battles. These beasts invade your town and you can battle them at will. These creatures are actually modeled after boss monsters from the Final Fantasy: Four Heroes of Light game. Defeating them will often grant you rewards that increase character stats. Upon receiving a Nemesis in your town, you can choose to lock it in place to fight later, or send it back out into the wild to be caught by another player.

All of this player summoning and Nemesis monster business may not seem to make much sense at first. But as you approach the end of the game storyline, you come to realize that it all does tie in well with the story of the game.

Important note: there is a free demo of the game available for download from the 3DS shop. The demo really serves mostly as a tutorial for the game’s unique combat system. But by completing the demo, you can also unlock some nice little bonuses in the retail game. None of these are exclusive in any way. So there’s no need to feel obliged to play the demo first if you’re ready to jump right in.

So, you might be asking yourself; What up with that name, “Bravely Default”. What does that even mean? This is reference to the combat system. For the most part, combat in this game is handled just like you’d expect from a JRPG title. Turn based combat; you can choose to either use a physical attack, cast a spell, or use a recovery item, etc. The difference here is, you can also choose between two additional options: Brave or Default.

Brave allows you to add an extra move to your turn. You can choose to use up to 4 Braves at a time. So in theory, you could make 5 attacks in a single round. The downside to this is if you blow all your moves in one round, you will be defenseless until you have earned those moves back. So, spend 5 moves now, you have to wait four more turns before that character can move again.

Default is just the opposite, you forego a move for one turn. Doing so raises your defense, but also adds an extra move to your bank. So using these methods you can expend and reserve extra turns per combat round. I seems confusing at first, but you figure it out pretty quick. Learning how to master the Brave and Default system is a big part of the game. Good players will learn to make the most of these options to overcome challenging boss monsters.

Another important mechanic of this game is the Job System. This will be familiar to fans of Final Fantasy. As you play through the game, you will have the ability to unlock new jobs (classes) to equip on your characters. All the classics are represented here, Black Mage, White Mage, Thief, Ninja, Summoner, etc. Each job features certain abilities and weapon specialization. As you progress through the game, your characters earn both Experience Points and Job points. Your character and jobs level independently of each other. As your job levels up, your character will learn unique abilities that can be used even if you switch to another job later on. For example, you can be a Pirate who can also use White Magic (assuming that character learned the ability previously). Mastering the job system and learning to mix and match abilities is just another secret to overcoming all the obstacles that the game will throw at you.

I know that’s quite a lot to digest, but I feel it’s important to touch on what makes this game unique. Bravely Default is quite an interesting title. It’s presented in a classic JRPG style, with a new twist on time-tested game mechanics. Graphically, the game is beautiful. I’m not a big fan of the 3D option so I don’t use it for daily play, but from what I saw – this game implements the 3D feature elegantly.

When it comes to audio, Bravely Default also earns high marks here. The game is almost completely voice acted, and very well done at that. The music is simply stellar. So much so that I went out and found a imported copy of the soundtrack.

If I have any complaints about the game at all, it would have to be with the length of the title. As I mentioned earlier, I completed the game at right around 70 hours. Now, of course I took the time to unlock every job, level everything to the max and explore every dungeon. The game has two endings and I made sure to experience both. But even so, the game feels a bit drawn out. I thought that I was coming close to the end about 40 hours in. Only to find out – nope. Not even close. – You see, it’s hard for me to explain the problem without spoiling the story somewhat. But you get a point in the game, where you find yourself forced to repeat the same process over and over and over. For a total of four times. Now while this does factor into the game story, it feels a bit excessive. Regardless, it’s safe to say that you certainly get your money’s worth.

Overall, Bravely Default is nothing short of a masterpiece. If you’re a fan of the genre and you own a 3DS, there’s no reason not to own this title. It’s a no-brainer.

 

Difficulty: Variable–  The game features a number of ways to customize the difficulty. There are general Easy, Normal and Hard modes. Additionally, you can disable certain features of the game such as quest indicators. You also have the ability to control the monster encounter rate. Making random battles more frequent or eliminating them all together.

Story: This is real reason you will want to play the game. The storyline here is nothing short of epic. All the elements you’d expect from a JRPG are present here: otherworldly evil, magical crystals, ancient sages and young heroes. It’s all here and it’s done just as brilliantly as ever.

Originality: Square Enix has done a great job of taking a time-tested formula and giving it a new life. This accomplished both due to some fresh ideas and due to the unique features of the 3DS.

Soundtrack: The music and voice acting in the game are superb. I cant praise the soundtrack enough. It sounds excellent through 3DS speakers, but even better if you’re able to use headphones. Seriously, it’s that good.

Fun: I really enjoyed this game a lot. I do admit, that about halfway through some fatigue started to set in. I feel like the game is a bit long in the tooth. But once you manage to get past that hump, it’s back to having fun again. Despite the long hours invested into the game, I was still wanting more when it was all over.

Graphics: The graphics are very well done. The environments are excellent and the spell effects really awe inspiring. I’m not a big fan of the 3D capabilities, but as I said in the review, they are implemented quite well in this game. So if that’s your cup of tea, you’ll be sure to be pleased.

Playcontrol: No problems here at all. The game controls feel natural and I did not experience any issues here at all.

Mature Content: No Concern – Fantasy violence, some occult-inspired monster names, suggestive themes are few and far between and would likely be overlooked by young players.

Value:  At the time of this writing, the game retails for $30. Well worth the price. Especially when you take the time to consider the number of hours of entertainment this game provides.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – A game this perfect doesn’t come along often. When the only complaint I can think of is that there’s too much game to play, you know that the developers have scored a win. That being said, this is really a title designed for the hardcore JRPG player. Casual players will probably find the game too big and too complex. Be warned going in.Currently available on: Nintendo 3DS

Other Reviews In This Series:

Bravely Default  –   Bravely Second

Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is here

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Updates have been slow lately because I’ve been grinding away at some pretty big games. So in the meantime, I’ll take a quick break from the video games to talk about the new D&D. That’s right, it’s finally here: Dungeons & Dragons 5E!

Initially, when I discussed D&D I expressed some concern over pricing. It’s true the that new core rulebooks will carry a hefty pricetag, but thankfully Wizards did something I never expected. They have announced that the basic version of the game will be available for FREE.

That’s right, all you have to do to mozy on down to www.wizards.com/dnd to download a free PDF version of the basic D&D rules. This covers character creation, magic rules, combat rules, and a little bit more. It’s certainly enough to teach the very basic mechanics and get a character prepared.

In just a few days, an inexpensive Starter Box Set will also be available for purchase in most book stores. For $20.00 you will get a printed and slightly expanded version of the rules, a set of game dice and a few other trinkets and tokens. This package is meant for new players or anyone who wants to get their hands dirty a bit before the full rule books are released in the coming months. However, to be clear, Wizards is stating that the free PDF is all a PLAYER will need to actually enjoy the game.

So what am I taking away from all this? Well, I think the move of making a free version of the game is a good idea. But I get the feeling that Wizards is trying to steer people into the direction of playing their “live hobby store events” instead of focusing on the classic “play at home” players. What I mean by this is simply this: Wizards of the Coast wants you to download the PDF, create a character and then take your character to your nearest authorized retailer where you will then join other players in an officially sponsored event. Participation gets you a certificate and the whole nine yards. If I understand thing correctly, your character can be used at ANY officially sponsored event regardless of location. Now I guess that’s cool. But I’m not used to playing D&D that way.

Of course, people can still play their own campaigns at home. And they most certainly will. But I worry that allure of playing an “official” campaign combined with the potential roadblocks of finding an open seat, and locating a shop to play in may also turn some players off. Thus, making the ranks of D&D players dwindle rather than swell.

Personally for me, the nearest WotC sponsored game is over 40 miles away. That makes it difficult.

Ok enough ranting. I’m impressed by what I’ve seen with the 5E rules. It is most certainly a new and fresh take on the game mechanics. Yet, it manages to have a touch of that old school 1E feel that I love. I have high hopes for this edition.

I will certainly be buying the starter set. Once I do, I’m going to start keeping my eyes peeled for a game. Be it some local people or one of these official events. I WANT TO PLAY.

Review: The Last Story

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Tonight I finished my playthrough of one of the infamous Operation Rainfall games, The Last Story. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it took me so long to get around to playing this game. I had it pre-ordered and received it in the mail upon release, but I had so many other things to play it got lost in the shuffle.

Regardless, I started playing the game about 2 1/2 weeks ago and finally finished it and I have to say, I was very impressed. Created by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the original founder of Final Fantasy, this game is very story-driven. It focuses on the tale of a young mercenary named Zael and his companions.

The group takes a job on the prestigious Lazulis Island doing some grunt work for the royal Count Arganan, hoping to wiggle their way into his good graces. It is the dream of both Zael and his best friend Dagran to one day become knights, thus leaving behind the dangerous life of mercenary work. During the course of the game, Zael has a romantic encounter with count’s niece and is bestowed with a legendary power that sends his world into a whirlwind of epic confusion.

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When I first sat down to play this game, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that I was in store for a somewhat typical JRPG story, but I had heard whispers that the gameplay was somewhat action-oriented. Right from the start, this was made apparent. At first,  I found the combat to feel awkward and confusing. But it’s actually quite straightforward and not really that complicated once you get the hang of it. As the game progresses, the combat system becomes more and more detailed and complex. Eventually, you gain the ability to provoke enemies at will using Zael’s abilities, thus controlling who they are focusing their attack on. Later you can also issue commands to all the characters on your team and this allows you to create various strategies to overcome whatever the game throws at you. I found it to unfold at quite a good pace and by the time you’ve reach the latter parts of the game, it’s really a lot of fun. Mastering the combat system is pretty much the key to whole game.

Combat aside, the game also features a somewhat simple system of item customization. There’s not a whole lot of mystical treasures to find, but rather simple weapons and armor can be upgraded and made very powerful. Weapons are a bit of exception to this rule. Many bosses later in the game do drop some rare and powerful weapons, but regular weapons can actually be upgraded to be nearly as useful.

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If I’m going to be truthful, I have to admit that the game is very linear. For the most part, you’re boxed in by the storyline, there’s not a lot of open world exploration. At various points in the game, there are periods where you’re allowed to roam free and partake in sidequests and optional chapters, but not to the extent of other Japanese style RPGs.  Interestingly enough, I don’t really feel this to be a weakness. The game does a great job of hiding this.

The Last Story also features an interesting multiplayer option. It contains options for both co-operative play and player-vs-player combat. This optional mode does not factor into the game’s main scenario, but items acquired in multi-player mode are kept on the single-player file. I dabbled with this option, but did not get much out of it.

All in all, I was apprehensive about playing this game because I heard mixed opinions going in. My fears were quickly dispelled and I found myself enjoying this game way more than I expected to.

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Difficulty: Medium  – The main scenario of the game is not especially challenging. The key is taking the time to read the tutorials and actually learn and comprehend the art of combat. Once you have this down, you’ll be in good shape. Most areas before hard bosses contain both a place to save the game as well a “summoning circle” you can use to summons monsters for a little grinding. Upon completion of the game, you can start over with a New Game Plus, which features a few new challenges.

Story: Simple fantastic. The storyline in this game rivals anything in the Final Fantasy series. Of the 30 hours I spent playing the game, I imagine quite a bit of it was spent viewing storyline and cutscenes. But, I didn’t mind at all, it was fantastic.

Originality: What I expected to be a typical RPG turned out to be much more. There’s so much about this game really gave me a breath of fresh air. The unique combat mechanics to the item system, it was really a new experience.

Soundtrack: This game is scored by the legendary Uematsu (main composer of Final Fantasy) and it is simply lovely. The voice acting in the game is also surprisingly good. Top shelf stuff here.

Fun: It took me a couple hours before I started to get a firm grasp on how this game works. At first I was confused and a bit overwhelmed. But once I found my groove, I ended up having a blast.

Graphics: This game pretty much represents the best the Wii is capable of. It is by far the best looking game I have seen on the Wii. The level of detail is breathtaking. The effects and in-game rendering are amazing. I really looks more like a PS3 game, how the developers managed to pull this off is beyond me.

Playcontrol: We have a couple options here, you can play with either the Wii Remote and Nunchuck (which I did) or the Classic Controller. I tried both, and I found the Classic Controller to feel a bit awkward. The Remote and Nunchuck combo seems to feel more natural. The camera is user-controlled, but at times, it still seems to get away from you especially during intense combat.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – For about the first half of the game, I was really leaning towards a Three-Star rating. I was having fun, and enjoyed the game, but I felt that combat system and overall weirdness of the game design was bit of a turn off. However, once I was able to break out of my preconceived notions on what a RPG game should be, everything just clicked and I found myself really enamored with the title. I found myself loving everything about the game. The characters, the visuals, the storyline and even the way the game played. The Last Story is a fantastic title.

Currently available on: Wii