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Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Amidst the sea of sequels, prequels, remakes, and rehashes, Enslaved is a breath of fresh air. Being a new IP from Ninja Theory, the guys behind Heavenly Sword, this Action-Adventure title flew right under the radar and has been a pleasant surprise. The game takes place in the distant future where the land is overrun with Mechs and humans are hunted and enslaved. You play the role of Monkey, a loner with an obscene amount of hair spray surviving on his own, who has been equipped with a slave headband by Trip, a fellow survivor of a slave ship crash. She commands you to escort her back to her village, and Monkey begrudgingly complies. The journey that ensues is one of the more memorable ones in recent history.

The narrative is interesting, the character interaction is entertaining and the flow is well paced. The voice acting and dialogue is well done and the relationships are believable, but it makes you wish it was fleshed out just a bit more. The graphics are great, and the art direction is strikingly unique featuring a vibrant color pallete and distinct character designs. It does suffer from some technical issues, graphic stuttering and the FPS drops dramatically in certain situations.  The gameplay itself  is a mix of a Prince of Persia/Uncharted style traversal and climbing, with Arkham Asylum style combat, and even some third person shooter elements. It’s a mish-mash of a lot of different styles and the result is an extremely satisfying experience.

★★★★☆

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Final Fantasy XIV: Follow-up

A leap of faith

Today marks the official release of Final Fantasy XIV, with the standard edition players finally able to get in the game. The servers have been up for 8 days now for those that purchased the Collector’s Edition, so the game is out there, people are playing, rabbits are being slaughtered, and basement dwelling neckbeards are trying but failing to resist the charms of fellow neckbeards’ catgirls. We’re in full swing now, but how does the retail version compare to the beta? What’s the reception been like? Well, let’s examine briefly.

-UI lag is considerably less, but no changes have no been made to the structure of it. It’s still clunky, it’s still annoying, it’s still worse than the 8-year-old UI they created for XI.

-Still no Auction House, retainers still remain the games answer for economic structure. More and more players however, are just foregoing the retainers altogether and reverting to XI-style bazaars in the cities, and this works well enough. The market wards are still just not worth the headache, at all.

-Player search function is still completely useless.

-Only a handful of missions, no quests. There’s a general lack of content beyond leveling and ranking up.

Needless to say, the player reception is still fairly mixed at this point. Playing now is more of an investment in the future, fingers and tails crossed hoping SE will eventually right this ship. They’re making progress, but instead of the hulking Roegadyn strides we were expecting, we’re getting the pitter-patter of Lalafell steps.

Opening Cinematic

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Final Fantasy XIV

Open Beta Impressions

Initial Alpha testing for Square Enix’s newest MMO has been going on since April now, and finally just weeks before the games September 22nd release, the general populous has been invited to take part in an open beta test. General reaction around the globe so far has been somewhat mixed, amongst both FFXI veterans and newcomers alike. I fall into the former group so the majority of my beta impressions thus far are in direct comparison to the standards I’ve come to expect from their prior MMO efffort.

Positives

+ The graphics are great, and the art direction is beautiful. Featuring sprawling environments, gorgeous vistas, and a rich color pallette, it’s one of the best looking MMOs to date.

+ Nobuo Uematsu returns to compose the entire soundtrack; the first Final Fantasy for which he has done  in 10 years, and it’s fantastic. The quality here is just something that you will not see in any other MMO.

+ Character creation is much deeper this time around, and the probability of running into another player out there with the same exact model on your server, or in just in general is highly unlikely.

+ What very little there is to see of any story thus far is very well crafted and extremely cinematic. Each of the 3 starting city-states have unique and engaging  opening segments. This is something ultimately set XI apart from it’s competitors, and all indications point to this being a strong point this time as well.


The Moggles, they do nothing!

+ The Armory class change system is a very nice addition. You can change your class at will by changing your equipped weapon, which is incredibly convenient. The ability to customize your current class with abilities that you have earned from other classes is also an interesting twist on XI’s subjob system.

Negatives

– The biggest problem with the game as it is now is the user interface, and its a major issue. Menu navigation is slow and laggy, and the layout is nonsensical. Doing things as simple as changing your equipment, or setting up macros is much more of a hassle than it needs to be. This is baffling considering how easy FFXI’s UI was to use.

– The Auction House is non-existent at this point, and its unclear whether or not one will be added for retail release. Instead of the auction house they’ve added something called the retainer system. You can hire NPCs to set up personal shops and sell your items for you, even while you are offline. This is a good concept, but as the main means of commerce it is just a waste of time. Instead of browsing a simple to use Auction House, you’re reduced to going into these wards areas which are filled with players shops to browse, you’re forced to browse every shop until you find what you’re looking for, and if you hope to have a price comparison you’ll just have to keep browsing everyone’s separate shops. It’s a complete mess. It’s more efficient to simply shop at NPC vendors even if you end up paying more. Again it’s a nice way to set up player shops, but an Auction House without unnecessary tax would work infinitely better.

– Targeting is clunky and frustrating. With the lack of an auto-attack, dealing with multiple enemies usually ends up with you awkwardly trying to target the next enemy after defeating one, losing precious time in the process.

– The Search function isn’t where it needs to be. Again this is something that in comparison to XI is just a huge step back.

Now, it’s important to remember that this is still a beta, the game will definitely be patched many times in the coming weeks and theoretically all these issues could be addressed for retail release. At this point, this isn’t a recommendation or condemnation. I’m still excited, and it is still addicting, but it remains to be seen what kind of longevity it can have.

Open Beta Application

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Game of the Decade: #4

BioShock

One of the more recent entries to this countdown, 2k Boston’s 2007 hit BioShock sent shock waves through the industry and set a new standard for horror games. It stands as one of the few games I can honestly recommend to anyone, gamer or not. If I were to introduce someone to the medium, I would sit them down in front of a TV, put a controller in their hand, boot up BioShock, offer no other guidance, and leave them alone for an hour. I guarantee when I walk back in the room they’ll have experienced a completely unexpected emotional response.

The game follows plane crash survivor Jack, who discovers the underwater city of ‘Rapture’ in his attempt to reach safety. The game sucks you into the narrative from the get go, and you won’t want to stop until you’ve uncovered all of Raptures dark secrets. What ensues on your welcome is one of the most engaging experiences you’ll find in any game, and quite possibly the best intro sequence to date.

Look Mr. Bubbles, it's an angel...

You’re greeted by the city’s creator, Andrew Ryan, whom explains his Ayn Rand-esque motives for creating a city under the sea. The story that unfolds on your journey through Rapture is compelling and unpredictable. It admittedly peaks quite early, with a less than satisfying ending, but its peak is as high as it gets.

The combat for the most part is standard FPS fare with a few new twists. Early on, Jack is introduced to Rapture’s most unique feature, gene-splicing. You’re given access to an assortment of tonics that can grant you a wide array of plasmid powers. These plasmids can be used in conjunction with your traditional weaponry to strategically take out masses of enemies. Firing a lightning bolt into a water flooded room of enemies, or freezing an adversary and smashing them into bits with a melee attack are just 2 examples of what your plasmids can do. This spin on the genre keeps the action fresh long enough to not hamper the storytelling.

The setting and atmosphere of Rapture is what truly makes BioShock standout as an instant classic. From its spliced-out maniacal populous, to its now iconic Big Daddy, Rapture is a gloriously horrifying stage for its fantastic act. It’s one of those games I wish I could just erase all memory of so I can experience it for the first time again.

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Latest on the ‘BioShock’ movie

Game of the Decade: #5

Dark Cloud 2

Sequels! Ah yes, more delicious sequels. Dark Cloud 2, released as Dark Chronicle in everywhere but the States, was a bit of a sleeper hit back in 03′. Level-5 was a newly formed developer when it first released the original Dark Cloud at the turn of the century, and it was met with a mixed reception, both critically and commercially. Thankfully their second effort turned out much better. Dark Cloud 2 put Level-5 on the map as a AAA developer and was the precursor to a number of  successful franchises.

The basis of the game has you traverse dungeons, fighting enemies, and collecting georama pieces to restore destroyed villages. The Georama is probably the most unique feature in the game, allows you to place houses, people, and other environmental elements to bring life back to these villages. The ability of your characters to time travel then allows you to see how your actions, and strategy in the past have affected the Georama in the future. This is ultimately a very rewarding game-within-the-game that defines what Dark Cloud is all about.

hay guiz hows it goin

At its core  it’s a simple Action-RPG with randomly generated dungeons, but it’s style, uniqueness, and depth are what set it apart and really make it stand out. The combat would seem to be standard hack and slash fare at first sight, but early on you learn that defense is just as important as your offense. Tie together the snappy gameplay with a highly addictive weapon upgrade system and you have a winning formula. The dungeons never get dull, and the ability to switch characters at any point between, Max, who wields a wrench and has a giant robot he can ride, and Monica, who wields a sword and magic, always keep the action fresh.

Lastly, its visuals are breathtaking. The cel-shaded graphics have never looked so good, and it still stands today as arguably the best use of them in a game to date. It makes you wish more developers would take the risk and go with the cel-shaded style more often.

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Game of the Decade: #6

Chrono Cross

Barely qualifying for this list, released in November of 99′ in Japan, but August 00′ in the states, the highly anticipated sequel to Chrono Trigger was met with universal critical acclaim. Rather than simply taking what was perfected with their previous effort and cashing in on a Trigger 2, Misato Kato and his team at Square aimed to take the series into a different direction and keep the ties to its predecessor rather loose.

You play as Serge, who you learn as the story unfolds is at the center of  a dimension-tearing, time-travelling struggle. The plot, though convoluted at first, is well crafted and thoughtfully written. It does a great job of taking the story of Trigger and grounding it in reality,  bringing to light that every action has a reaction, and consequences. By the end you might still be a little in the dark as far as what you actually just witnessed, but a second play through and attentive play should help cement the details of this profound story. It’s worth noting that the foundation of the story is actually based on a text-based game made by square a few years prior called, Radical Dreamers.

The battle system is vastly different from its predecessor, almost taking a complete 180 in terms of design. Where Trigger focused on fast-paced, easy to use technique based battles, Cross takes a slow, methodical approach to its combat. The results are mixed, but ultimately make for one of the more unique systems allowing for a high level of strategy.

Where Cross really shines though, is in its aesthetics. They made the decision to take the art in a completely different direction, and the world they created is vibrant and enthralling. The character designs are striking and the environments are colorful and enticing. The visuals are tied together with possibly the greatest original soundtrack created for an intellectual work of any medium. The score was done by famed composer Yasunori Mitsuda who also worked on Trigger. It’s whimsical, beautiful, and each track captures the emotion of  it’s scene, setting, and characters. It’s full of  sweeping strings and celtic-inspired arrangements. It ultimately leaves you wishing more games put this much effort into crafting its soundtrack, this being a prime example of how much it can add to your overall experience.

Fans of the original sometimes dismiss Cross based purely on the fact that it didn’t turn out the way they wanted, more specifically that it wasn’t Chrono Trigger 2. There’s no denying however, that based purely on its own merits, that Chrono Cross was one of the best RPGs of the Playstation era, and perhaps of all time. It still stands today as the one of the series with the most fans clamoring for a sequel, and even though the likelihood of its happening lowers as every day passes, theres still that glimmer of hope. Square had actually registered a trademark for Chrono Break, an alleged third in the series, but the title never came to fruition and the trademark was dropped in 2005.

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Lingering

I haven’t grown tired of this yet, there will be some more stuff here, eventually. At this point I’m just trying to come up with a different name, theme, and design. It’s not easy to come up with a name for a gaming blog that doesn’t involve the word “game” or “gamerz” like the countless others out there. This won’t be a “Gaming haven” or a “Game zone” or even a “Kewl Gamez” blog, it is just not going down like that. Class has kept me pretty busy the last few months, not to mention some RPG that just came out recently, I hear its a big deal or something. So there hasn’t been much time for the creative juices to start flowing. Although I did just have 10 days off with nothing to do… Ooh shiny! ah, what was I saying again?

Oh, right. This blog. Yeah.

Game of the Decade: #7

Shadow of the Colossus

Following the trend, Shadow came out in 2005 as the followup to the critically acclaimed and oft-overlooked ICO. It’s a bit of a departure from its predecessor, but the one thing that stands out with both is how distinctly unique they play and feel.

Never has a game had such a strong narrative and plot-driven story without ever really speaking a word. You are Wander and all you know when you step into this world is that you’ve brung this girl to an ominous temple in an attempt to revive her.  Your goal is to travel to the far reaches of this desolate, empty world and single-handedly take down the colossi who inhabit it.  The sheer scope and scale of the battles are horrifying and exciting.

Ultimately all the colossi battles are big puzzles. You approach a towering giant with just a sword and bow on horseback, how can you possibly take it down? Well, all the colossi are different but they all consist of you waiting for your chance to climb up them, find their weak point and exploit it.  They can be pretty tough, but in the end if you trial and error enough you’ll figure it out. After each battle you absorb the colossi’s soul, pass out and appear back at the temple noticeably worn out. Witnessing the process take it’s toll on Wander throughout the game really drives home the yearning nature of his plight. Not only with Wander, but in a strange way the game eventually makes you start to feel bad for the colossi aswell.

Get off my plains...

Finally, the soundtrack perfectly captures the  atmospheric adventure of standing toe to toe with the impossible and taking it head on. If there’s any one game to throw out there in any argument on whether or not games can be ‘art’ this is it.

Reviews

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The upcoming sequel, The Last Guardian



Game of the Decade: #8

Fallout 3

I’ve put off this post because there’s really nothing to be said about this game that hasn’t already been said.  Bethesda took Oblivion’s first person RPG system and added the fallout universe around it. “Oblivion with guns” as it was deemed early on by skeptics is not far from the truth, however that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The core gameplay is unchanged and the shooting is solid.

The V.A.T.S. system reinforces the fact that even though you’re carrying a shotgun and blowing people’s brains out, it is still an RPG through and through. V.A.T.S. lets you pause combat at anytime and select a target, a body part on the target  you want to attack, and have your character carry out the action automatically. Each action taken uses up AP,  and AP is restored gradually over time.

The story and characters are bland but the interaction and freedom you are given is unparralleled. You can approach every situation however you like, allowing complete freedom of morality . Talking your way out of a fight, or persuading a foe to stand down is just as satisfying as unloading a clip in his chest. The world oozes atmosphere, and captures the desperate feeling of the wasteland perfectly.

War...war never changes.

Even after its initial release, there was plenty of wasteland action to be had for almost a year after.  Featuring probably the best use of DLC in a game to date.  All 5 expansions released were fleshed out, fully realized adventures, though some of them admittedly less than stellar in comparison to the others.

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Game of the Decade: #9

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4

Hot off the success of Persona 3, Atlus went right back to the well to deliver Persona 4.  Taking everything that made its predecessor a sleeper hit and improving upon it in every way,  Persona 4 left it’s mark as one of the most engaging and unique RPGs/sims of recent memory.

The battle system was streamlined and less unforgiving this time around, and also gave you full control over your party members. Personas, which are demons that each character is able to summon forth in battle, are more varied and their weaknesses are less likely to end up leading to untimely deaths. The persona fusion and social link syetms are there and better than ever, and this is where the sim elements factors in. As a high school student you attend class, make friends and form relationships. The power of your relationships, or social links, determines the power of your Personas.

The plot is highly original, following a group of high school students as they try to solve the mystery behind, and prevent murders that are taking place in their town. They venture forth into the ‘Midnight channel’ to explore the victims’ psyche and try to uncover the shadow lurking within. They uncover a few twists before reaching an ultimately satisfying ending.

With our powers combined...

Last but not least, the soundtrack stands out as one of the best in recent memory. Featuring a combination of J-pop, rock,  jazz, hip hop and classical, it hits all the right chords. It incorporates vocals particularly well into most of the tracks, never feeling like it takes you out of the moment. It’s subtlety allows it to blend  in with the rest of the BGM.

Reviews

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