What lies within the Dark Orb?
I've been using Gamespot since 2005 and this is where I write game related thoughts that I think are worth reading. I hope you enjoy and leave me a comment if you have anything to say about an entry. If you comment on a blog post that is not on the front page of my profile please start your comment with @dark_orb so I notice it. I generally try to respond to any comments people leave me. If you comment on my blogs I'll try to do the same. I hope you find something you enjoy and thank you for reading.
I don't have much to say of late so instead of not posting anything I'll post a link to somebody else who is saying something I think is worth hearing. I've enjoyed Jim Sterling's show The Jimquisition for a while now and while I certainly don't agree with everything he says I think a lot of it is worth listening to; if for nothing else but to generate thought and discussion. While unnecessarily vulgar at times his show fills a void created when I stopped watching The Game Overthinker after Moviebob made it practically unwatchible. If you haven't already seen todays episode you can watch it here. In it he talks about what the game industry, and people that play games, lose through the obsession of replicating the success of Call of Duty. It's very much a counter piece to an episode he did earlier this year in which he took shots at companies for "innovating" just for the sake of innovation.
So Sony recently announced, to our collective non-surprise, that there will be a PS4 and it's coming soon. They did so at a two hour press conference in New York that did nothing for me but solidify my lack of interest in the future of console gaming. It very much felt like Sony was trying to get the jump on Microsoft and held their little party long before they were ready to do so. We didn't see the hardware itself, just the controller that we already knew about. We only caught a glimpse of what the user interface might look like. We found out that it won't be backwards compatible with anything except the Playstation Move controllers that most of us want nothing to do with. We noticed that thus far pretty much every launch title will be available for PS3 if not being cross platform with the 360 or the nextbox. What we saw a bunch of trailers and little footage of actual play. We listened to a bunch of people try to sell us the idea that is the PS4 and tell us to look forward to E3. I, for one, am not impressed and I can't say I find myself particularly excited or interested.
A lot of my thoughts on the PS4 announcement are summed up nicely in this video which you should watch if you are interested in the subject and have a few minutes.
To date I own two Super Nintendo Entertainment Systems, a Playstation, a PSOne, a PS2 (slim), a Gamecube, a DS Lite, a PSP (3000 model), and a PS3 (slim). Assuming it gets games I actually want to play I see my getting a Vita as an eventual possibility but I have no interest in a PS4. Some of that sentiment comes from my experiences with the PS3, of which I am on my second. I've owned a SNES since the mid 90s but to date my fat PS3, which I bought new in 2008, is the only console I own that has died on me. It gave me the yellow light of death in spite of the open area it was kept in and the dusting it periodically received. The funny thing is that I played more PS2 games on that fat PS3 then I did PS3 games. I've enjoyed a number of great games for PS3 though; with titles like Eternal Sonata, Valkyria Chronicles, FF XIII, and inFamous being some of my favorites to date. But I've never much cared for the machine that is the PS3. It used to get at least one firmware update a month that did took five to ten minutes which did absolutely nothing from a user standpoint (except wasting my time), the internet browser is terrible to the point of being practically unusable, it infrequently freezes up on the menu bar, and the few times the power has gone out while in use it freaks out and runs a hard disk check on restart.
That's where some of my lack of interest in future console gaming comes from. But the lions share comes from something more depressing; the realization that I'm getting too old to keep up with the times. I don't want a game to connect to my non existant Facebook page or post updates to twitter. I assume this is a popular thing because it crops up more and more but at the same time I only hear people complaining about how lame it is. I've yet to hear somebody actually say I really love games that connect with my facebook/twitter accounts. I have no interest in a console that records what I'm doing so I can upload footage of me playing games (badly) to Youtube. Goodness knows there are already tons of people doing that. I don't like how every time I start playing a PS3 game I have to install to the HD and then download an update patch before I can think about actually starting to play. I hate being caught up in a game, watching a tense cutscene, and having my immersion broken by a little bling sound and a message that I've unlocked a new trophy appear in the corner. I don't like DLC and I don't like multiplayer being shoved into games that don't need it. I want to go back to a time when buying a game it meant that I had the full experience in my hand. I want to go back to a time when all I had to do before enjoying myself was to put the media in the machine and turn it on. I want to go back to a time when a game console did one thing, play games. I want that because when consoles did just one thing they did that one thing well and they certainly didn't do anything to get in between the user and the games that justified the existence of the machine.
But maybe that's just me and I'm not hip enough to enjoy what the kids these days are into.
I don't celebrate X-mas. I don't buy gifts for anybody and nobody gives me anything over the holidays. So every year I buy myself something for my birthday to offset that fact. I usually use it to acquire an older/rare game that I've been meaning to play for ages and just haven't been able to justify it's expense. I started doing this in 2010 when I got myself Lunar: Silver Star Story, in 2011 I finally invested in a copy of Xenogears and last year it was Digital Devil Saga part I and part II (which were actually quite the disappointment). This year, however, I have bought myself a game that has taken it's place as one of the crown jewels of my collection.
Yes, that is a near mint copy of Suikoden II which is one of the rarest Playstation games you can own. I have played it before; but that was almost fifteen years ago when I borrowed it from somebody. I remember it being a fantastic game and I'm absolutely psyched to play it. So while I was waiting for it to arrive this month I decided to prepare myself for it by re-replaying the original Suikoden. I had already played Suikoden twice but I had a great time with it on this second replay, which goes to show how great it is. There are only a few games in my collection that I've played three or more times; those games being FF VI/VII/VIII/Tactics, Half Life, Resident Evil 3, Parasite Eve, and Star Ocean: The second Story. It's something I wish I did more often as I really enjoy replaying a fantastic game. It's my opinion that most games are at their most enjoyable the second time around which is why I'm a big fan on new game + features. You remember how to play the game, the ins and outs of it's mechanics, and when to prepare for a spike in difficulty. You also don't have any periods of wandering aimlessly wondering where to go and/or what to do. Unfortunately my backlog always encourages me to move forward and play something new rather than fire up something old. That said, replaying Suikoden was a fantastic way to start my gaming year and I took the time this morning to write up a review for it. Since it is a birthday present and my birthday isn't till next month I'll hold off playing Suikoden II for a couple weeks but I'm very much looking forward to it.
In gaming news; Microsoft and Sony will be announcing new consoles very soon and people have noticed that their Wii U's are already collecting dust as they fall into the same pattern of use that plagued the Wii. Personally I really couldn't care less about the Xbox 720 or the PS4 as I'm pretty much done with modern consoles. If enough good games get released for it I may invest in a PS Vita a few years down the line but that's about it. I'm sick of firmware updates, consoles that give you a light of death after a few years, installing to HD, in game trophy/achievement pop ups, friend lists, patches for console titles, DLC in general but especially on disc DLC, and games that want to connect to Facebook and Twitter. I'm tired of the hardware getting in the way of what I bought it to do and what I want it to do most, play games. I want to buy and play single player games with no BS around my being able to access and enjoy that content. I want a machine that either just plays games well or does everything I expect a real PC to do. That said, I am interested in whatever Valve decide to unleash on the masses and the OUYA certainly has my attention. Consoles as we know them are dieing a slow painful death. No, that's not true, it's more accurate to say that consoles are slowly and painfully evolving into branded PCs. What we are seeing now is the grotesque process of an animal that has grown functional gills sputter and cough up it's old lungs. Things like the upcoming Steambox are the future and sony will have to do something more dramatic than putting a touch screen in the PS4 controller to keep the idea of a video game centric home console relevant in the coming years. If Valve releases a moderately priced box that I can hook up to my TV which lets me access and play the entire Steam library why would I want whatever bloated, firmware update happy, device Sony is working on?
Somewhere along the lines this reasonably cheerful blog devolved into a rant. I'm not sure how that happened. Also, I seem to be at least temporarily getting back into writing so I might try to comment and offer my thoughts on gaming news.
Thanks for reading.
Hello all, long time no see. It's been the better part of a year since I last posted and I don't see myself posting much in 2013. I have made attempts at writing over 2012 but I lack to motivation to finish what I start writing. I have popped in from time to time to check news and keep my collection up to date and I've read a couple blog posts from people here and there.
Aside from saying hello I wanted to post my yearly "year in review" blog post.
(GC) Animal Crossing (7.5)
(PSP) Final Fantasy II (7.5)
(PS3) Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (7.5)
(PC) Myst V: End of Ages (7.0)
(PSP) Dissidia 012: Duodecim (8.5)
(PS3) Catherine (8.5)
(PC) Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal (9.0)
(PS3) God of War III (9.0)
(PS2) Digital Devil Saga (7.0)
(PS2) Digital Devil Saga 2 (7.5)
(DS) Final Fantasy III (7.5)
(PSP) Locoroco 2 (7.0)
(PSP) Final Fantasy (7.0)
(PS2) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (8.5)
(PSP) Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops (7.5)
(PSP) Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (9.0)
(PS2) Metal Gear (6.5)
(PS2) Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (7.0)
(GC) Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (8.5)
(PS2) Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty (8.0)
(PS3) Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (9.0)
(GC) Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean (7.5)
(PS3) Final Fantasy XIII-2 (7.5)
(PC) Darkstar One (7.5)
(PS3) Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (7.5)
Surprisingly my PSP got the most use this year with me playing six games on it. 2012 was also the year I finally broke down and picked up a DS so I could play Final Fantasy III. To date FF III is the only game I've played for DS but I do have a number of other games purchased that I'll likely hit up sometime this year. I'd say my favorite game of 2012 was Dissidia 012, which is likely why I've sunk over a hundred and fifty hours into the game since I got it in February. Other highlights of 2012 would be my playing the entire Metal Gear saga in chronological order of events. It took me the better part of two months but it was a great experience as the only Metal Gear game I'd played prior was Metal Gear Solid for PS. On the other side of things I'd say the worst game I played last year, I'd have to go with Myst V. I love Myst, and Riven is a fantastic sequel but Myst V just showed that the series really needed to be over. Perhaps the biggest disappointment 2012 had for me was Digital Devil Saga. The two games have a fantastic premise and some solid game mechanics but the story is spread too thinly. That and the random encounter rate is obnoxious to say the least.
Now that I've broken my silence it might be easier to post things in the future. I hope those that have taken the time to read this have had a good 2012 and that you have a better 2013.
I've been rather busy the past few weeks and will continue to be for much of the summer. So much so that I've had a hard time finding time to play games, let alone write about playing games. Between my shrinking free time and the fact that I haven't enjoyed writing for a little while now I've ecided I'm going to be leaving Gamespot for a while. If I can find a better site I'll likely abandon the site all together. Unfortunately Gamespot still seems to be the most well rounded gaming site on the internet dispite it's recent decline. IGN is close but it suffers from the same problems as Gamespot. Namely that user content like reviews are buried under ads and "professional" content. Screwattack is a great site for user generated contend but it doesn't have a database of games and game information like Gamespot, IGN, or Giant Bomb.
If things here at Gamespot turn around and I don't settle into another site I'll likely start writing and posting things here again. But I'm done here for a few months at least. If any of you want to keep in touch with me feel free to add me over at:
The backloggery: http://www.backloggery.com/thedarkorb
or Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/thedarkorb
I also have a personal blog that is updated very infrequently (every couple of months).
I'd like to extend my thanks to those of you that have taken the time to read my blog posts and reviews and doubly so for those of you that have taken the time to comment on what I've had to say. Take care.
A few thoughts.
Consideration 1: Blizzard are an extremely successful company whose games are considered among the best PC gaming has to offer. Anything and everything Blizzard will ever release will have a great deal of public interest.
Consideration 2: The Diablo series is the golden standard for any dungeon crawler RPG. Both previous games won numerous game of the year awards and there are still millions of people playing Diablo II over ten years after its release.
Consideration 3: Diablo III has been hyped through extensive advertising across all major gaming websites.
Consideration 4: Diablo III has been extensively beta tested by the public. There was a public open beta weekend a month prior to launch where anybody with a battle.net account to play the game.
With these four things in mind I find it amazing that Blizzard suffered "higher than expected" server load. Jim Sterling brought up a number of points in his show this past monday that strike at the heart of this experience. I don't buy new games but I can imagine there are more than a few people that pre-ordered the game and took time off work in order to play Diablo III at launch and couldn't even enjoy a single player experience.
It's things like this that leave me more and more wary of the direction of the medium. It also further cements my policy of not buying games on or near launch.
What are your thoughts?
Hello and thanks for reading. If you haven't already read it I would encourage you to read the first part of this multi entry blog post.
I know this makes me sound like a big Sony fanboy but I'd say that Sony has come out on top the past two console generations and I think in the long run it will be remembered as the top console this generation as well. It didn't have the sales of the Wii at first but it does have the third party support Nintendo doesn't, it has a variety of titles Microsoft doesn't, and solid first party exclusives. Its been slow going but I think history will be kind to the PS3. Perhaps the biggest reason Sony has been on top for so long is because of the RPG. Think back to the SNES and look at any top SNES games list. Go to the legacy platforms board, check out a top SNES games list and what do you see? Chrono Trigger, FF II/III, Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Earthbound will all be on the list if not dominating the top of it. The exodus of third party developers to the Playstation left the N64, the Gamecube, and now the Wii virtually starved of an entire genre. If you look at Zelda games as action adventure titles rather than RPGs then those three systems really only have a handful of titles you could call RPGs. That's likely why people made such a fuss about Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story; they will be for the Wii what Tales of Symphonia and Skies of Arcadia: Legends were for the Gamecube. They will be the great games that collectors look for in five to ten years and reasons to own a Wii; both now and in the future. But I've gotten off track, I'm supposed to be talking about Sony here, not Nintendo. Sony has succeeded by offering an open platform that is easy to develop for with few to no restrictions. Want to make a 2d game, sure; what to make something more adult or with religious themes, sure. Want to use our gimmicky Sixaxis or Move controller? No? That's ok. These are things developers didn't or couldn't do on the N64 and it's the main reason the Playstation has been successful as a game platform since the original. You can say what you want about the decline and stagnation of the JRPG but it's still an easy place to find a great adventure and the best place to find an emotionally involving story. Since the original Playstation Sony's platform has been the place to go if you want to play a great RPG and it's only now that this has started to slip away from Sony. This is a bad thing because really, the biggest thing the Playstation platform has going for it is it's legacy and a lot of great third party software. If your into Call of Duty, or Madden, or even games like Skyrim the only thing the PS3 has going for it is that it can double up as a blu-ray player. If the next Microsoft console has a blu-ray player what card(s) does that leave in Sony's hand? Aside from some great exclusive franchises it doesn't leave Sony with any real trump card. If Microsoft releases something resembling the WinBox I detailed previously above the Playstation, and dedicated gaming devices in general, are quite simply done for.
It's only this console generation that things have started to move out of Sony's favour. A lot of that has come from business decisions made by people in suits that look at video games as a product, not a medium, and they have hurt the brand. While it makes business sense and saves money to drop PS2 support from the PS3 it also upset the user base and limits the use of the console. Even worse, they have started releasing PS2 games via the Playstation store which shows they can work on the system, but you have to buy a digital copy to play them again. Legacy support was the greatest thing the PS2 had in the early days before it got a decent library of games under its belt. The fact that you could pop in a PS1 game and memory card was an amazing feature that Sony should have kept going with the PS3. Since it's release they have removed support for PS2 games and the ability to install Linux, but they still market it saying "it only does everything". Other things Sony is doing wrong would include getting in the way of me enjoying the game I paid money for. I recently played Catherine, a single player game. After installing to the HD it offered me the choice to sign into the PSN (or is is SEN now?) to see leaderboards. When I said yes I was told that I'm not using the latest firmware version and I had to exit the game to download and install it. Contrast that with a Wii or PS2 game which involved putting the disc in the system and *gasp* playing the game. Speaking of updates, they happen way too often on the PS3. Microsoft has the right idea by doing them quarterly and, as far as I know, Nintendo doesn't have anything to do with this foolishness at all. To make things worse I don't think I've ever felt that my console was better as a result of an update. If they wanted to impress me they could start with the internet browser which is still as broken and buggy as it was in 2008. I've never felt that the system ran better or that my user experience had improved by a firmware update but they still roll in at least once a month. It's annoying and coupled with the slowly increasing yellow lights of death it does a lot to harm the generations of goodwill Sony has built up. The yellow light of death is going to become more of a problem in the long run as it's only a matter of time before a given unit gets one. It may take much longer than a 360 but it will happen to most owners eventually. That's not necessarily Sony's fault as it wasn't something they could have figured out before releasing the hardware to the masses. But it is up to Sony to learn from the reasons behind the YLOD and to address them in future hardware releases. The system isn't poorly designed, it just needs a better cooling solution and a way to address the solder cracking on the GPU/CPU which is the main cause of the YLOD.
What can Sony do to keep themselves relevant and/or dominant in the video game industry? They can do everything I said Microsoft can do. But Sony isn't going to make a PC that runs a Microsoft OS, that wouldn't make any sense from a business standpoint. So what does that leave them with? I see three options here: 1) they can hop into bed with Apple and release a gaming box that runs Mac OS, 2) they can latch onto a Linux distribution like Ubuntu, Debian, Gentoo, or Fedora, or 3) they can make a custom Linux OS in the vein of Android. Of those options I'd say number one is extremely unlikely (bordering laughable the more I think about it), two is quite possible, and three is the most likely/realistic. A version of Linux would be a good fit as Linux distributions are functional, flexible operating systems that don't require Sony designing them from scratch. It was possible to install Ubuntu linux on a Playstation 3 until Sony decided to remove that functionality from the machine for reasons unknown. Personally I'd like to see a Playstation 4 running a custom Ubuntu distribution (maybe called Playbuntu), that comes bundled with a bluetooth keyboard, mouse, and a Dualshock 3. Just like the Winbox it runs on standardized hardware with an upgradable hard drive and does everything a PC does. Browse the internet, check and manage e-mail, compose text documents, edit photo/video, watch movies, play your music library, manage your mp3 player, download and play Uncharted 5 from the PSN. A device that can do all these things is what analysts would likely call a "game changer". If they wanted to make a positive effort they could embrace the Playstation legacy and find a way to make this new machine compatible with PS, PS2, and PS3 games both disc based and through digital downloads. If this happened it would pay off really well to approach Valve and get them to release a Linux version of Steam through the Playbuntu software centre which would go a long way towards making the platform more viable as a gaming PC. It would also open up Valve and Steam to the console market in ways that would benefit all parties and the user. Presumably this Playstation 4 PC would be able access a Playstation store for movies, DLC, games, and patches for PS3/PS4 titles. A Linux based Playstation PC would work on a number of fronts. The easiest way to install a program on Linux distributions is through a software centre that is exactly like an app store. Which makes sure what your installing to your computer isn't actually a virus; you can't just download any .exe file somebody sends you from your inbox and run it, Linux doesn't work like that. Using a Linux OS would allow Sony to make a fully functional PC that doesn't feature a lot of the pitfalls of Windows. Also, Linux is free and if Sony were to offer Canological (the makers of Ubuntu) a modest wad of cash and the hardware it would make the venture a lot cheaper for Sony.
This general direction is the only way I see video games (and computer use in general) going. Whoever wins the console PC battle would achieve a monopoly on the gaming medium and bring us to the one console future you hear analysts talk about from time to time. Whoever loses that battle will become to the victor what SEGA is to Nintendo. I don't mean that we'll end up with trash like Mario VS. Sonic VS. Master Chief VS. Nathan Drake at the 2050 Olympic games. I mean that whoever loses will make ends meat by publishing their catalogue of games on the winners system. What I mean is The uncharted Collection, now available for WinBox PC. Or Super Mario All Stars+, now available for PS PC.
Like I said in part one, the Wii U is somewhere around the corner and it likely won't be long after till Microsoft and Sony announce whatever new console their respective R&D departments have been cooking up. Nobody knows what Microsoft or Sony are going to do to compete but the more I think about it the more obvious it becomes that this is the future looks like this. Your TV will be your monitor and houses will have no need for a dedicated corner in the living room or den for a family PC. Everything will centre around one device that really does everything. Even further down the line we find ourselves in cloud computing territory where the only device in the home is the screen itself and some kind of standardized controller. This is the future, it's only a matter of who does it first and/or who does it best. Regardless of what company achieves this first I like to believe that gaming will be more a more enjoyable pastime once this happens. Once companies have their act together and stop weighing their products with DRM or charging us money to unlock content on a disc we already paid full price for. I like to believe that somewhere in the distant future we'll play our games in some kind of reality simulator like the holodecks seen in Star Trek. Either that or our descendants will sit around communal fires, in bombed out city ruins, and tell of how frivolous and care free life was before the apocalypse. How there was a time when the struggle to survive wasn't all consuming and we had time for things like "art" and "recreation".
I've been gaming for close to twenty years and it's only this console generation that I can say I've been an active and informed participant. I got my first ps3 in the beginning of 2008 and have played a number of titles for it since. Not a huge number mind you, but a lot of great games none the less. I missed out on the PS2 generation as I was late to the party getting my PS3 in 2003 and I spent a good chunk of that console generation living in England as a dedicated PC gamer. It was only after my return to North America in 2007 that I really got into PS2 games. It was during this time in England that I really got into reading reviews and editorials in my spare time. This served me well as I was working in video game retail at the time, but I did it because I was genuinely interested. I still follow gaming news and read/watch reviews for a lot of games, even ones I have no interest in playing. In this way I consider myself well informed, despite not being the kind of gamer that plays the latest releases. I would be a more active participant in this console generation but I have a lot of funny ideas that may have a lot to do with both my Genesis, SNES, and PS gaming roots, as well as time spent as a dedicated PC gamer. Funny ideas like $60 dollars being too high an asking for a new game of any length, that it's better to wait for a version that bundles in all the DLC rather than buying the original release, and that the single player narrative is the best part of any game. Even stranger is the belief that buying pre-owned doesn't take money away from the developer, rather it makes the original sale count since I won't trade it in
With the Wii U around the corner responses from Sony and Microsoft are likely deep in development by now. It's certainly not over by any means but we are working towards the end of this console generation. It has brought gamers a lot of fantastic games and more than a few headaches. Mistakes have been made and success has comes from places nobody could have guessed. I'm going to spend this post to offer my thoughts on the big three console makers. More specifically what I think they have done and are still doing wrong and what I think they can do to make things better. I will state for the record that I have never owned a Wii or a 360. All my thoughts on the current Nintendo and Microsoft platforms has been gained over the years through observations of people I know who own the systems, watching reviews, reading editorials/news, and general observations of their respective fan bases. None of this is in any way a definitive analysis of any platform, these are just my observations and thoughts.
Where, oh where, do I to begin? Of all the big three I'd say I see the most wrong with Nintendo, both in terms of hardware but also general business practices. More irksome is that in Nintendo's case it's not just mistakes but incredible potential and public good will going to waste. Nintendo seems to have painted themselves into a corner on a number of fronts. For one they have chosen to release all their consoles, hand held or otherwise, based around a gimmick of sorts. It worked, for the most part, with the DS and developers found ways that used it in meaningful and/or fun ways. But then they released the Wii and while the initial sales and publicity blitz must have been fantastic, it's long over and the Wii is a joke. Well, maybe not so much a joke as it is a barren wasteland of a platform filled with shovelware, mini game collections, and kids software. When I say kids software I mean games that you play(ed) as a kid but realize to be garbage once you play something on another platform. You know, the kind of things they are releasing as Kinect titles these days. Dotted about this barren landscape there are a number of refuges, a smattering of great games. But if you were to take away first party games (which I'll talk about shortly) what are you left with? No More Heroes, Madworld, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Xenoblade, The Last Story, and a couple others. It's not much but they are there and they are all fantastic games; the problem is that they are few and far between. No matter what I or anybody else can say about the Wii from a hardware standpoint it's main issue is that if your not a fan of Mario, Zelda, Metroid, or any other core Nintendo franchise, the software lineup isn't worth owning the system for. Everybody I know that owns a Wii loved it at first but found themselves having to dust it off whenever they got an actual game for it down the line. I'm not just talking about adults looking for a linear FPS or a generic JRPG, I'm talking about the kids and the seniors who made the system a smash hit upon release. Most popular game for the Wii is still Wii Sports which comes with the system. This is a problem that Nintendo should have done something about. But they aren't doing anything about this; instead they are releasing a new console based around another gimmick. I find it interesting to note that Nintendo seems dead set on pushing the norm (aka: taking a gamble) on new technology or ideas with every system they release but they've propped them all up with the same franchises they have been using since the NES.
The weak game library is a continuation of a problem that started with the N64, continued with the Gamecube, and came to a point here with the Wii. Back in the late 90s Nintendo wouldn't allow 2D games to be made for the 64 which alienated developers that wanted to make that kind of game for aesthetic, or stylistic reasons. That, along with several other bad decisions and polices, drove many developers to abandon Nintendo and run to the open arms of Sony and their crazy CD based Playstation console. There are a lot of great games available for the N64 but a lot of them are first party titles and almost all of them are platformers. This bad blood between Nintendo and various developers continued through the Gamecubes lifespan though it certainly wasn't as pronounced as the N64. I would go so far as saying that the Gamecube is best Nintendo home console since the SNES. So much so that I think the backwards compatibility function on the Wii is one of that systems greatest assets. Something I'd like to draw your attention towards is the lack of RPGs on both the N64 as well the Gamecube and that the trend continued with the Wii. So much so that when a decent RPG was actually released fans got together and begged Nintendo for an English localization. There are tons of great RPGs released in Japan on Playstation consoles but you don't see North American owners of Sony consoles banding together to get them localized. I feel that this is mostly because there are tons of great RPGs, and great games in general, available for Playstation systems in North America. Playstaion and 360 owners aren't starved for good third party games.
What Nintendo has done about this is to play to their strengths. Their strengths being the powerful nostalgia attached to growing up in the late 80s to the mid 90s when Nintendo really was on top of the world. They've done this through Wii ware and having lots of c lassic games up for download, and by releasing lots of first party titles that play on nostalgic memories of Mario or Link while being great games on their own. Nintendo can and will prop up any future hardware, no matter how bad it is, by releasing first party games that the Nintendo-core have to own. They don't mind that (aside from Metroid) that the core mechanics of any Nintendo franchise hasn't really changed since the 90s. They will buy it because it's a Mario game, or a Zelda title, or because it involves Pokemon. Charging full price for a slightly upgraded or tweaked version of what you already spent good money for; Nintendo is becoming the Apple of the gaming world. The key difference is that Apple products do more than one thing while Nintendo is still making dedicated gaming devices. Both Sony and Microsoft know that users want to do more than play games so their consoles can do things like play music and movies. Nintendo's growing problem is that they are making dedicated gaming devices that will only be bought by a limited demographic. This is likely the biggest problem with Nintendo because the casual market will buy the system and maybe one or two games and then let it collect dust. The Nintendo-core will buy anything that lets them play another Mario game but in reality they are a very vocal minority in the gaming world. Finally, the kids will love it at first but it's only a matter of time before they abandon it for richer or more mature games on a more diverse platform made by the competition. This demographic is not large or stable enough to build a competitive business model on and it's for similar reasons that SEGA chose to stop developing hardware in favour of developing software.
Regardless of what I've said about it's software problems and the fact that the system is based on an interesting but failed gimmick, the Wii hardware has some sound ideas behind it. It wasn't designed to offer cutting edge graphics, but that made it infinitely more affordable in comparison to the competition for the first few years. That same low spec design should have a) shifted developer focus from "gritty realism" to all forms of artistic stylization, and b) made it easier to design games for. This would have quite possibly been the case for developers had the motion controls been optional. But the decision was made for motion controls to be a must and there were only a handful of studios outside Nintendo that actually made use of the unique control scheme in ways that weren't annoying in the long run. Think about it, how often have you read something along the lines of "plays best if you use the c lassic controller" or "sadly there is no option to use the c lassic controller" in reviews for Wii titles? Perhaps the greatest thing I can say about the hardware itself aside from it's fantastic backwards compatibility is that it doesn't feature issues with reliability. That last one is actually quite important and likely tied to it's modest system specs. The Wii is the only console this cycle that doesn't have problem with heat and isn't giving uses a light of death after X number of years.
So, what can Nintendo do to "get back in the game"? They can release a new console that uses a controller identical to the Gamecube but is also compatible with the Wiimote+. This system should have modest specs to keep it cheap, should be easy to develop games for, and not require developers to use motion controls in any way unless they want to. This console should have some kind of internal storage that allows it to download c lassic titles from an online Nintendo store that extend back to the NES and stop with the gamecube. This console should have a free network similar to the PSN that offers online play without something like a friend code. To top things off Nintendo should activly go after indie game designers and offer to publish their low spec/high concept games through this nintendo network/store. If Nintendo can do that and get third parties to make great games, preferably exclusives, they would havea winner of a console after a few years.
Unlike recent Nintendo consoles, the Xbox platform has always had lots of games actually worth playing on it. The biggest problem Microsoft has is that almost all of those great games are also available on other platforms, which made and makes investing in the hardware less than worthwhile for some of us. Think about it, what exclusive Xbox games are actually worth playing? Well Halo ODST and 3 spring to mind, Gears of War 2 and 3 are also there, Crackdown, and then there is Fable II. That's about it, so if you don't care about any of those titles there really isn't much point in picking up a 360 and the original Xbox had the exact same problem. Back when the Xbox was competing with the PS2 you could argue that games looked better on Xbox but it probably wasn't worth it for most gamers to plunk down a few hundred dollars so they could play a slightly prettier version of GTA: San Andreas. Microsoft has also paid for supporting the failed HDDVD format with their expensive add on drive. Newer versions of the console haven't featured a blu-ray drive and I think that's largely a pride thing. I get that as blu-ray is a Sony idea and it wouldn't look good for Microsoft to start using Sony's disc format. But using the blu-ray format would extend the life of the system and allow developers to do more with the console. Casting off the limitations of DVD space would make room for visually richer experiences and since blu-ray drives are fully compatible with DVDs there shouldn't be a problem playing the current library of 360 titles. That's pretty much all I can say about the Xbox platform in general. Aside from the high failure rate the hardware is sound, offers access to a lot of great games, and if you want to pony up the cash you get a slick online experience. It's a good platform, it just doesn't offer anything meaningful that Sony or your windows PC is offering outside the handful of aforementioned exclusives.
What can Microsoft do to keep themselves relevant? Well aside from releasing Halo games they can marry the Xbox to the PC to make something wonderful. The big problem with portable gaming right now is the question of "why am I paying $40 for a game that runs on a device that only plays games when I can buy a fun game for $0.99 on my phone"? This is an important question and Microsoft can take advantage of this. They can release a line of PCs, running Windows OS, that play console games as well. Basically a WindowsBox PC or something like that. This WinBox should be manufactured by Microsoft, use standardized hardware, and should feature a blu-ray drive. It should come with a wireless mouse, keyboard, and controller in the box and the Live service should be fused with the OS. Xbox Live and Windows Live should be spliced together to form a new Live service that works a lot like Steam. The most important thing for the WinBox would be to ensure that it doesn't have the hardware reliability issues that have plagued the 360. If the user gums everything up by downloading toolbars from porn sites that is their fault. But the hardware itself should be sound and not give users a light of death after a few years of regular use. This would do for home console gaming what Android and iOS are doing to portable gaming. Hardware standardization would eliminate hardware compatibility issues that trouble PC gamers and a console that is also a PC would sell because while a gaming console is a luxury, everybody needs a PC in this day and age. Why would I drop hundreds of dollars on a Playstation 4 that only plays movies, music, and games when I can spend a little more on a WinBox that does all that and anything else a PC can. I can install Steam on my Winbox and get access to everything that service has to offer. My WinBox is also compatible with decades of PC gaming history. I can play Halo 6, Baldur's Gate, Gears of War 4, Command & Conquer 2, the pc or 360 version of the Mass Effect trilogy, Call of Duty 9, and Fallout 2 all on the same machine. It's brilliant and it should happen, because it would be the future, and because I would buy it without hesitation.
Thanks for reading this far and if you're interested and your eyes aren't bleeding yet I've posted part two. I'd link directly to it but Gamespot won't allow me to do so at the moment.
My apologies to any of you that were waiting for this one. Life just gets in the way sometimes and once I got out of the writing groove it was hard to get back into. I picked at this entry for a while now and I'm still not satisfied with it but I don't think I could ever do justice to the greatest game I've ever played.
Original release: 1994 on SNES (Final Fantasy III in North America)
Thoughts/Comments: Final Fantasy VI is to me what FF VII is to most fans of the series. It's the game that got me into the series and into the genre. My earliest memories of FF VI are me watching other people I knew play it and being enraptured by the experience despite not really understanding what was going on. The first time I played it properly involved me renting it from a local video store for several weeks in a row. I finally got a copy to call my own one x-mas after my parents lucked out and found it in a bargain bin at a pawn shop a few weeks prior to x-mas. FF VI represents everything I love about the genre and stands as the greatest game I have had the pleasure of playing since I started playing video games (almost twenty years ago). Over the years it has collected more than enough sentimental and nostalgia value to ensure that it will likely keep this position for the rest of my days. My attachment to this game runs so deep that I cannot hear this or this without being hit by a tidal wave of emotions and if it's been a while they actually bring a tear to my eye.
Despite my attachment to FF VI I know it isn't perfect but it does so many things so right it should be easy for most gamers to look past its flaws. The story strikes a perfect balance between the c lassic adventure of good people vs. Evil and a modern complexity in narrative and character. It's simple enough to be charming but complex enough to be both compelling and moving. It's a balance that is rarely seen in video game storytelling and the only other good example of it that I can think of was a little game you may have heard of called Chrono Trigger. I can't explain how this balance is struck or how it could be duplicated as its' something ethereal, something a writer could work towards for years but never truly capture. From the moment you start playing FF VI it's obvious your playing something special as you watching the snow fall around Terra, Wedge, and Biggs' mech as they lumber towards the town of Narche during the opening credits. The opening sets the tone and exudes a quiet confidence about itself and it's narrative, it's not pretentious or melodramatic, it's just fantastic and it knows it.
So what does FF VI do right? Well as I've already said the narrative is nothing but fantastic at any given point in time. But it does so through a huge cast of characters, each of which are unique both in character and what they bring to battle. Every character has the same basic commands but every one has a unique talent. Edgar uses various tools (which you buy/find) to inflict massive damage while his brother Sabin executes devastating martial arts techniques that require you to input specific street fighter s tyle commands in order to execute. Celes has a runic blade that allows her to absorb any and all magic attacks until her next turn, and Stezer can spin the reels on a slot machine that result in various effects (some deadly to the party). In total there were twelve main characters, two secret characters, about six guest characters, and each of them were unique in some way. No other FF game since FF VI has had as a cast as large or as diverse.
Even from a visual standpoint FF VI strikes a balance. While it's still a 2D game it looks better than any of the previous FF titles but most surprising is that it's held up much better than the early 3D FF games. As a result FF VI is one of, if not the best, looking SNES game available. Then there is the score which is still amongst the strongest ever composed for a video game, edged out just barely by Uematsu's score for FF VII. FF VI has a score that will stick with you long after you play it.
There is a moment in FF VI where everything comes together to form a moment of perfection. Visuals, gameplay, and music combine in an opera house for one of the most touching moments in video game history in ways that made and make me feel more than Areiths death ever did. If i had to come up with a list of favourite video game moments the FF VI's opera sequence would easily top everything.
But what does FF VI do wrong? Well a few of these unique characters aren't particularly useful in battle *coughcoughGaucoughcough*. Also the character of Mog just feels kind tacked on as he doesn't get much in the way of character development, nor does he contribute anything to the story. This feels like a wasted opportunity as Mog was the first (and last to date) moogle to become a true party member. Then there is the magic system. For the first third or so of the game only Terra and Celes can cast magic but once you start getting your hands on magicite you can teach every party member any spell which detracts from their uniqueness. But these things are just me nit picking at a game that anybody who likes FF VII or VIII should be able to get into and enjoy. Even if your not fond of older RPGs that use gameplay elements like random encounters you should be able to get into FF VI if you have an open mind.
That's it, I'm finished. If you want to learn some more about FF VI I highly recommend this video over at Gametrailers. It does a great job summing up the game but it is filled with plot spoilers. My apologies again about the wait. I'll look into compiling and editing all ten into one editorial blog post at some point, sooner rather than later. I've got another large (or three part) post already underway which I'll look into finishing up for sometime this coming week. I'm kind of diving into system war territory with it but I'm hoping that's what might make it an interesting read.
I'd like to thank those of you that have taken the time to read this list and doubly thank those of you that took the time to comment. You guys are awesome.
Original release: 1998 on Playstation
Re-relases: 2007 on PSP, 2012 on iPad
Thoughts/Comments: This and my number one FF game are not only my favourite FF games but the two greatest games I have played in my twenty years of gaming. From a purely gameplay standpoint Final Fantasy Tactics is the best game I have ever played. It has the greatest battle system I've ever seen in a game and the best iteration of the FF job system in the series history. FF Tactics is a game where random battles take around half an hour to forty five minutes each and I've still re-played it several times over, investing over a hundred hours into the game each time. It's that good and if you haven't played it you've seriously missed out.
I suppose the best place to start gushing is with the battle system. If you've played games like Disgaea or better yet, the recent PSP version of Tactics Ogre you know what to expect. The battle system is actually an evolution of the one seen in Tactics Ogre and is actually made by the same team and has the same writer for the story. FF Tactics took everything Tactics Ogre did right, took it to the next step, and then blended the FF job system into it. There are twenty c lasses available to everybody with another thirteen character specific to keep things interesting. The system is perfect in that everybody can become anything but nobody can be good at everything. You see, as a character gains levels you get stat bonuses based on whatever c lass they are and after a short period of time it becomes unwise to switch from physically orientated c lasses to magically orientated ones. To add further depth every character has two stats (brave and faith) which predispose them to one or the other. A character with high brave will deal more physical damage, generally have higher defence, and better chances of dodging. A character with high faith will both be more effective at casting magic but will also be damaged much more by magic at the same time. On the other side characters with low brave deal less damage and physical attacks will hurt more. While if you have low faith you will take less damage from spells but you'll also be healed less by spells and have as much resistance to buffs like protect and haste as you do poison or slow. This is just one example of how deep the combat system is and illustrates how a FF game can have the job system and not feature "jack of all trades" characters. It is, for lack of a better word, nearly perfect.
I say nearly perfect because there is one thing I can honestly say is wrong with Final Fantasy Tactics. That one thing is that it is as punishingly hard as it is unforgiving. To top that off, it's not that FF Tactics gets hard after a while, it gets hard right away. I borrowed and played Tactics to death when I was rather young so I never realized how hard it was until I saw somebody who I had recommended the game to play it for the first time. It was then that I realized that it is very possible and likely to lose, repeatedly, from the second fight of the game onwards. FF Tactics is a game with incredible depth but if you don't learn it you will lose over and over until you do. You've got to learn the ins and outs of the system and be smart down to picking the starting positions of your party. You have to use the terrain to your advantage, have a diverse combat unit, and make use of secondary c lass skills to the fullest just to increase your chance at victory.
What's your reward for getting good at the game? Progression in the most complex, multi-layered tale the series has had to date. The tale requires multiple plays to understand it's finer points but it's actually a fantastic story that deals with themes of the nature of loyalty (both to ones country and to ones family), social c lass and religious social manipulation. All with political conspiracy that features layers you peel back like an onion. To further the story the lead character of Ramza isn't some angst ridden teenager, nor is he some noble vagrant, he's a soldier who does what he feels right when he sees that things are terribly wrong with his government. When this goes wrong and people die for his beliefs he tries to run from this and lives as a mercenary before being sucked back into a political conspiracy that sees no regard for human life. It's good stuff but, as I said above, most players won't get it until the second play through at the earliest. I think I didn't really grasp the finer points of the narrative until my third replay of FF Tactics. To add further depth of the plot you can easily miss out on important character development depending on who you take into battle with you and on how fast you finish battles. If you grind up your party and mop up in story missions you miss out on dialogue that only occurs between certain characters and at certain points in particular battles. You can get by just fine not seeing these exchanges but doing so allows for character development which in turn helps you to better understand the plot and/or peoples motivations for following you into battle.
FF Tactics also has a ton of side content and several optional characters to recruit. Some of these side quests require you to already have other optional character in your party. If you play your cards right and make the right decisions (starting with buying a flower from a peasant girl) you can end up face to face with Cloud.
Aside from the learning curve the only other noticable area where FF Tactics can't compare to other games in the series would be where music is concerned. Were I to compose a list of favorite FF music there wouldn't be a single piece from Tactics. That's not to say that the score is bad, it's actually quite plesant and has a distinct sound. The problem with it is that it isn't memorable in any way. To it's credit though I would say that composing battle music that doesn't get old or annoying after forty five minutes is an accomplishment in itself.
With is punishing difficulty and rabbit hole complexity (both in combat and plot) FF Tactics isn't for everybody but it's #2 for me, both in terms of the Final Fantasy series and video games in general. If your wanting to give it a try I highly recommend the 2007 PSP version over the original as it features an updated translation of the script and anime cut scenes among other new features. The only video game I feel is any better than Final Fantasy Tactics will be my next entry. If you can't guess what it is for some reason I'll make it obvious.
Thanks for reading.
Original release: 1997 on Playstation
Thoughts/Comments: It's rather cliche to have FF VII near the top of any "top RPG" list because that's what everybody does. But if you've played FF VII you know that everybody does it for good reasons. FF VII is the game that got a lot of us into both the series as well as the JRPG genre and it holds a powerful nostalgic sway over the majority of FF fans (myself included). I first played FF VII about twelve years ago and I replayed FF VII last year. It got replayed both to follow up Crisis Core but also so I could judge if it was as good as I remember it. The answer to that question was a resounding yes. Despite it failings, of which there are a number, it's still one of the best games in the series on a number of fronts. There is something wrong and/or hasn't aged well with many aspects of FF VII yet it remains one of the most involving games the genre has ever seen and as a result it deserves all the praise that gets heaped on it.
The characters need no introduction and that tale is familiar, if not held dear, to virtually every fan of the series. Perhaps it was so compelling on release due to it's complexity, something about it compelled you to keep playing even if you had no idea of the why things were happening. It starts off pretty black and white with Cloud working for Avalanche against the Shinra Electric Power Company. But once Sephiroth gets introduced the bottom drops out and you tumble helplessly into events epic, touching, and confusing. A quagmire of questions surrounding Cloud's true identity ensure that the finer points of the narrative are generally best appreciated on a replay. For me the question of who Cloud really was wasn't answered until I played Crisis Core last year and having played that prequel my appreciation of the FF VIIs narrative has only deepened. Going back to Sephiroth, he is easily the greatest villain in the history of video games to date. He is calm, calculated, ruthless, and yet totally mad at the same time. This is most noticeably seen in his relationship with Cloud; the way he almost goes out of his way to torment the boy who killed him. No other game in the series, even the ones I'm putting higher on this list, have villains as awe inspiring, or truly frightening as Sephiroth. This is likely why he's the hardest boss in both Kingdom Hearts games and why he seems more challenging than most of the other opponents in the Dissidia titles.
That's not to say that Sephiroth carries the whole story on his own. Cloud is certainly one of the most interesting characters the series has seen as well. Brooding but not to the childish excess of Squall, constantly doubting but not in a pathetic way like Yuna. He was a mystery, but perhaps most importantly for me he wasn't made of gold. Up till FF VII the series was dominated by characters that always did the right thing because deep down they were just good people. Firion, Cecil, Bartz, and the core cast of FF VI were all great characters but none of them were as emotionally complicated as Cloud, Tifa, Barret, or even Cid. FF VII's characters were flawed, petty, selfish, tormented by their pasts, and all took center stage at various points to have their past and their motivations revealed.
Anyway, moving on to something other than the story. The main area where FF VII hasn't aged well would be the visual department. It was the first game in the series to use CG cut scenes but by today's standards they look terrible. The pre-rendered backgrounds still look great but the character models used outside of combat look absolutely terrible. The combat character models are more detailed but unfortunately they aren't used outside of battles. This is especially unfortunate considering virtually all the story telling is done with the blockey field models waving around their stumps as they progress the narrative through text boxes. Even worse is the way they tend to either move towards the camera or have the view already close so you can see just how awful they look. Unlike any of the 2D FF games before it or the games after, FF VII is easily the title in the series that would most benefit from a visual update. It falls into that early PS/N64 phase where 3D games were new; a short period where many of the games released fall deep into the uncanny valley.
My other big gripe with the game lies with the materia system. On one side it's a great system that lets you customize your party in all kinds of fun ways and gives you rewards for engaging in combat. On the other side it takes all these interesting characters and makes them virtually identical in combat. Any party member can have any ability or cast any spell as long as they have the right materia equipped. Most players just lumped similar materia onto their favourite characters (Cloud: summoning, Vincent: magic, Tifa: healing and support for me) but I found that aspect of the system bothered me none the less. While I complain about the materia system I will say that it's definitely superior to the junction system used in FF VIII or the licence board in FF XII. None the less it's a "jack of all trades" system that I feel enhances the game at the expense of the characters.
The only area that stands out as much as the narrative of FF VII would be it's score. Maybe it's the nostalgia factor but I would go as far as saying that it's the best score in the entire series to date. FF VI and VIII come close but in the end the sheer number of memorable tracks put FF VII on top where my ears are concerned.
Two more to go. I'll warn those of you that are have been reading these that the next two games are two of the greatest games I've ever had the pleasure of playing so I'm just going to gush all over them. I appreciate the feedback in the last post and I think I will compile them into one massive editorial post. Thanks for reading.
Original release: 2009 on PS3 and 360
Thoughts/Comments: Yeah, I'm sure at least some of you are scratching your head and wondering if I'm crazy. I've actually tried to write this post a few times already but I kept throwing it out halfway through. I've come to realize that where FF XIII is concerned I tend to become something of a fanboy. I see this in the way I have the urge or feel the need to defend the game from it's critics. Like any form of fanboy nature this is completely unnecessary and I will do my best to keep it in check. If you hated FF XIII that's fine, but this is my top ten list and I loved this game to pieces.
Perhaps part of why I liked FF XIII so much was due to my disappointment with the characters and plot for XII (which didn't make this list). It's not that FF XII didn't have piles of potential it's just that it was wasted and we got little snippets of story and character development in between what felt like a constant slogging grind. FF XIII was a game totally in service to it's story. Everything was designed to centre around advancing and/or enhancing it's narrative. Those of you that frequently read my posts know that I play my games for story first and for the game second so you could say that FF XIII was a game after my heart from the get go. I'd say that the plot bears the most resemblance to FF X in that it's complex and character driven with some good twists; but straightforward enough to be enjoyed on the first play if you pay attention. While I love FF VII and VIII I was only able to really grasp and appreciate their respective plots on a replay which isn't actually a good thing. In my opinion a good story should be complex, compelling, and feature characters with emotional depth/complexity. But a story should not be complex to the point where it's finer points are lost amidst player confusion, nor should it be convoluted to the point where the player only understands events once they have seen the finale. Final Fantasy XIII walks this line gracefully and tells a character based tale that is as compelling as it is complex. To top that off Lightning is one of the greatest female characters in the video game history to date.
Unfortunately shifting the focus towards storytelling almost always causes a game to suffer in other departments. FF XIII is a very linear experience for much of the time you spend playing it. It compensates for this by making the linear nature as well as it's omission of conventional shops/towns explainable within the context of the story. Lightning and her crew couldn't just wander into towns because they were wanted criminals and would likely be shot on sight. Personally I prefer the linear nature of FF XIII to games like FF IV where you'd trek across the world map and enter a dungeon only to turn around halfway through so you could go back to town to heal up and restock. What FF XIII has done is remove the need to grind in order to make progress. Egoraptor said it best while contrasting Castlevania I and II when he pointed out that grinding is something game developers put in games to elongate a game and make you feel like you were accomplishing more than you are. Somehow this relic of the genre stuck around into the modern generation and that's mostly because grinding becomes a zen thing if your in the right mood. Performing a repetitive action over and over is relaxing and makes the game easier at the same time. You could strategize and play well, cast some buffs, exploit the game mechanics to your favour , or you could grind for a few hours and just kill the boss by hitting it in the face. I liked grinding because dumping more time into the game allows me to think less about advanced strategy and more about the story, which is why I'm playing a Final Fantasy game in the first place. But FF XIII let me play the game and made grinding available and completely optional at a point that made sense within the narrative.
This was further reinforced in the battle system which forced you to do things like pay attention even though it was almost completely automated. You only had direct control of the lead character and you input a series of commands which were executed in sequence after. This allowed you do enjoy watching combat which was flashy and generally a joy to watch as your party danced around enemies. At the same time you had to keep an eye on how the battle was flowing and change up your job roles according to combinations you preset. If you didn't do this battles often took sharp turns into defeat in short spaces of time. So here we have a battle system that both requires you to pay close attention to what is going on but also allows you to sit back and watch the cinematic action on screen. I don't know about you but in my opinion this is absolutely brilliant and should be the way forward for JRPGs.
Even from a technical standpoint FF XIII is well put together. In a console generation that has you waiting for fifteen minutes while a game installs to the hard drive FF XIII is a breath of nostalgic air. You simply put the disc in, and you play it. It looks fantastic at any given point in time and doesn't feature much in the way noticeable slowdown or load time. It's both a pleasant reminder of how playing a game is supposed to be and highlights how Square seems to be able to make use of hardware in ways that most other developers can only dream of.
There are a couple of things I don't like about FF XIII but the only real complaint I have is the lack of iconic music that has become the staple of the series. While the original score is mostly good, with the battle music standing out, the lack of things like the victory fanfare or the ending theme is unfortunate. That's it, that is the only real gripe I have with the game. Anything else I could complain about is simply crushed under the weight of how much I enjoyed FF XIII.
There, I said it. Final Fantasy XIII is better than FF XII, X, X-2, IX, VIII, Crisis Core, V, IV, II, and I. Realize that it's brought out or bred some fanboy tendencies in me is good to know because knowing that I can keep it in check. Because really, I don't need to defend this game. Thanks for reading. I've only got three more entries to go. Also, do any of you think I should compile this list into one post and submit it as an editorial when I'm done?
Sorry for the wait . . .
Original release: 1991 on SNES (Final Fantasy II in North America)
Thoughts/Comments: A lot of people played FF IV as FF II when it came out in 1991 but I played it for the the first time only a couple years ago. As a result I must be one of the few FF fans that don't have a crazy nostalgic attachment to FF IV. Maybe it's because I went in with low expectations when I first played it but I was completely blown away by the experience. FF IV is everything a c lassic console RPG should be in every way. For starters the story is basic enough to be easily understood and have that retro charm but complex enough to be engaging. It's got a great cast of characters and despite the lead role sporting the name of Cecil he has a depth to him that must have put FF IV in a league of its own at release. Even the score is fantastic, so much so that some parts of it have become part of the curriculum in Japanese schools.
Perhaps one of the things I liked the most about FF IV was the fact that not only was the cast of characters memorable in their own right but that they were all truly unique within the game. Every character represented a specific character c lass and nobody else can truly do what they can do. Rydia is the only summoner you get in the game. That's it, you can't teach summoning to anybody else let alone everybody else, and that made her unique both in character and in what she brought to combat. The only other FF game that truly did this was FF IX and thinking about that I really do need to give that game a replay sometime sooner rather than later. The fact that your party lineup kept changing as you progressed through the story made the traditional random encounter combat less of a chore. This was because each new party member brought something new to the grind and unlike other FF games you never got the chance to swap out party members. Thinking about that I think FF V was the last FF game that made you play with every character in the game. From VI on you almost always have the option of swapping out one character for another you like better. People who have played the game enough can likely tell you where you are in the plot just by glancing at your party lineup.
I think the fact that I liked FF IV so much is why I was so disappointed with FF V when I played it sometime shortly after. While the job system is fun, FF V just felt like an inferior game in every respect. The characters weren't nearly as memorable and the story just couldn't compete with the opus of FF IV's narrative. Perhaps this is why (or at least part of why) the original SNES version of FF V didn't see a North American release.
While I haven't picked it up yet I'd imagine the PSP version of FF IV is the most definitive version of the game released to date. It runs on the same engine as the PSP port of FF I and II and just the facelift alone would have been enough but Square also threw in The After Years saga as well as an all new bridging chapter. All of which are a pale shadow of the game they are based on but it's a nice gesture none the less. What I don't understand is why they didn't port Final Fantasy III to this engine because I would have bought that in a heartbeat.
I got (among other things) a copy of Dissidia 012 for my birthday last week which has dominated my free time. It's not going on this list due to it being a joyous fan service spin off game. But if I were to consider it I think it would easily fall somewhere in the top five. It's just a fantastic game in every sense of the word. I'll likely tear myself away from it so I can do the next entry sometime this weekend.
Thanks for reading.
Original release: 1999 on PS1
Thoughts/Comments: FF VIII was the first PS1 game I actually owned. When I got my PS early in the summer of 1999 it came with a copy of Final Fantasy VIII. While I had borrowed a Playstation before and played FF VII I actually beat FF VIII before I was able to play FF VII to completion. So you could say I have something of a personal bias where this game is concerned. The game looked amazing when compared with the blocky character models of VII and to this day it still has one of the best opening cinematics in all of video games history. Seriously, if you haven't played FF VIII then you need to click this link and watch the intro and you'll know what I'm talking about.
Despite my nostalgic attachment to it Final Fantasy VIII does a lot of things wrong. For starters the story, while epic, is quite complicated. Thinking back, it's a lot like FF VII in that it really only makes sense when you play it the second time. People complained a lot about FF XIII not making sense but in general I'd say it's less crazy to understand than FF VIII. While I'm picking at the story I'll also say that the lead character of Squall doesn't make a lot of sense either. Sure, he does the aloof angst ridden young man in black well but it's never really covered why he is that way. Maybe he's just a jerk by nature but his motivations, at least in the early game, are far from clear. It's a stark contrast with FF XII where you understood the lead character in the early portions of the game but towards the end you just had to wonder "why are you here?". Anyway, once you understand what's going on, it's a fantastic story with a ton of very memorable moments. Seifer makes a great rival and you know his relationship with Squall is going to be one of the more interesting threads from the into cinematic onwards. Interestingly enough the love story took center stage in FF VIII and it was very well done in my opinion. Rinoa is easily my favourite character here and the way her relationship with Squall slowly thaws him out and makes him more likable is a pleasure to watch.
The big shake up in game mechanics was the junction system where you attached summons and magic to your party members to boost stats. Personally I hate the system for a number of reasons. 1) It made me not want to cast magic unless I was drawing it directly from my opponent because doing so meant I was dropping whatever stats that my magic was junctioned to. 2) It left me with "jack of all trades" characters, which made party member choices mostly a moot point. 3) Grinding is generally tedious enough so I didn't need the added task of finding monsters that have magic I don't and spending time drawing it until everybody had maxed it out. The more I think about it I realize that I really don't have anything I liked about the junction system at all. FF VIII also did away with most of your equipment leaving you to forge new weapons out of components and then only if you found the proper recipes during your travels. The summons were a gorgeous feast for the eyes the first few times you saw them but by the end of the game you got sick of watching the entire animation over and over. At least you could teach your summons the boost ability which gave you something to do while things played out.
Moving back to what FF VIII did right, I'd like to talk about a not so little side game. Triple Triad is easily the most addicting side game I've ever encountered in my time playing RPGs. It's simple enough that it's easy to learn but complex enough to never get boring. Sure some really obnoxious rules get introduced late in the game but if you really hate a particular rule you can just seek out the card queen and use her to ban certain rules (like random cards at start). If collecting cards wasn't enough to you then there was the fact that you could mod the cards into real world items with the rare cards netting you some crazy stuff.
So I know I've blasted this game for a number of reasons but in the end it's still dear to me for it's epic story, great side content, and personal nostalgia factor. I wouldn't say it's "the" PS1 Final Fantasy to play if your getting into the series but you certainly shouldn't be calling yourself a FF fan if you haven't played it.
A couple days ago I was looking a the metacritic pages for a bunch of FF games and I was plesantly surprised by a few things. The main one being that FF XIII has a very respectable average score based on professional and user scores. Despite all the whining and moaning that's been directed at it since it's release I think time will be very kind to FF XIII in the end. This makes me happy since I feel that most of the criticisms levied against aren't really as bad as people make them out to be. It's a lot like Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace in that regard. Fans of Star Wars had their expectation so high for Ep. I that it would have been impossible for George Lucas to make a movie that delivered. Is it as good as the original movies? No, certainly not. But it's still a fun movie that doesn't deserve the criticism that's been thrown at it by people desperately clinging on to their idealized youth. Just because FF XIII isn't as good as your memories of FF VI or VII doesn't mean that it's not a fantastic game in its own right. In fact had it not been called Final Fantasy XIII it wouldn't have gotten half the flak it got on release. Anyway, I've got a busy week ahead of me so I'm not sure when I'll follow this up with the next entry. Hopefully I'll get it done up for sometime this weekend.
Thanks for reading.
I would have gotten this written up earlier but I've spent the past couple days playing Myst V. Props to AzelKosMos for predicting this one (am I really that obvious?).
Original release: 2001 on PS2
Thoughts/Comments: FF IX is the only game on this top ten that I haven't played in over a decade but FF X comes pretty close. I think it's was the second PS2 game I played somewhere around the summer of 2003. I would say that it's the last "well rounded" game the series has seen. I say this because FF XII had fantastic gameplay but weak characters and story while FF XIII had a fantastic story with some great characters but was admittedly weak in terms of side content or general variety. FF X was the first game in the series to ditch the overworld map which I personally didn't miss at all. It was also the first FF to feature voice acting which was (mostly) a treat as it made the story much more immersive than reading text boxes. Square also replaced the card games found in FF VIII and IX with blitzball which I actually rather enjoyed. Well, I enjoyed blitzball itself and leveling up my players but not necessarily the scouting players bit. Come to think of it I'd say that Square could make a quick cash grab by releasing a flashy multiplayer blitzball game over the PSN. The game mechanics are already there and programed and there isn't any need for story. All they would need to do is throw together a few snazzy CG cutscenes, come up with a stable net code, and make everything looks up to current gen standards. I'm not saying I'd buy it mind you, I just think it would be a cool idea.
When I last played it I thought FF X was a good game but in retrospect I've come to think of it as a great game. The story has depth without having being confusing or overly melodramatic and the ending packed some serious emotional punch. Perhaps most importantly the characters all brought personality and played an actual role in the story which was a step up from a lot of other FF games. When you think about it a lot of FF characters don't need to be there. I'm not saying that people aren't justified for loving Mog, Yuffie, Selphie, Quina *snicker*, or Panello but each of the previously mentioned characters serves to contribute little or nothing to their respective narratives. In the case of Quina it's only purpose is to unnecessarily pad the game out with an "eat everything" sidequest.
Anyway, moving on to more of what FF X did right. The sphere grid was a fantastic character leveling system which gave the individual characters specific combat roles. Generally you had to choose carefully whose area of the sphere grid you were going to break into once you finished your area and you could only have "jack of all trades" characters if you really put in a lot of grind time. Speaking of grinding, I'm of the opinion that FF X has the second best turn based battle system of any RPG I've played. The best would be FF Tactics but more on that game further up this list. The way limit breaks are handled, the visible turn order, the summon system, it's all just fantastic. It's easy to see why Square chose to milk it for the first direct sequel in the series history and it's a shame that FF X-2 was so lousy in comparison.
Between writing this list and approaching my two hundredth hour in Dissidia I've been reminiscing about FF games a lot lately. I find thinking I really should go back and replay FF IX and X sometime in the next year or two. Both because I've only played them once and because it was a long time ago in both cases. My birthday is coming up next week and if I'm not given it I might just go out and pick up a copy of FF XIII-2. I was really excited about it but after reading/watching some reviews I'd done the wise thing and curbed my enthusiasm. I don't think I'll start playing anything new before my birthday to make sure I'm free for whatever I get, so I'll likely have the next entry on this list posted sometime this weeked.
Thanks for reading.
Continuing on with my top ten Final Fantasy games we have the only game on this list that is a spin off of a core game. I would have posted this earlier but I'm still playing around with the order of this list as I go. It's hard to rank these games as they are all fantastic and many of them hold some serious nostalgia over me.
Original release: 2008 on PSP
Thoughts/Comments: Crisis Core is a fantastic game in it's own right but the biggest feather in it's cap is the fact that it makes Final Fantasy VII (a game higher on this list) more enjoyable. One thing you can't deny about FF VII is that the plot is very confusing for anybody that hasn't played it at least once prior. Perhaps most of the FF VII plot confusion is centered around the question of "who is Cloud really?" and playing Crisis Core clears a lot of this up and makes playing FF VII a more enjoyable experience. If you haven't played FF VII it's still a great story with Zack being a very well written lead role. Even ignoring it's great prequel story Crisis Core is a great game on it's own. The mission structure works well for a hand held system and there is plenty of bonus content outside the core story missions. The Crisis Core take on the materia system was also a lot of fun to play around with with you leveling up materia and then fusing it to form more powerful or new types of materia much like personas in the SMT: Persona series.
It's not perfect; if you play the side missions you'll notice environments and enemy types are both limited and heavily recycled and there are some camera issues from time to time. These are minor blemishes though and are all but completely crushed under the weight of everything Crisis Core does right. If you think FF VII is the best story you've ever played then I would say that Crisis Core is a game worth picking up a PSP for if you don't own one. Yes, it's that good.
Thanks for reading. Also for those of you that are interested I've written a review for the PSP version of Final Fantasy II which was my #10 game on my top ten list. I noticed this morning that Gamespot is doing a bit of a rundown of the series. The intention is nice but my opinion is that it doesn't do the series nearly the justice it deserves and if you want a real overview of the series you shoul look into the Final Fantasy retrospective over at Gametrailers as it's very through and well put together.
Oh my goodness, two posts in a week, this is madness. Following up on my last post here is the next Final Fantasy game on my top ten list. Appropriately number nine goes to . . .
Original release: 2000 on Playstation
Thoughts/Comments: Interestingly enough Final Fantasy IX is the only game on my top FF list that I haven't played in over ten years. Every other game on the list has seen play or replay within the past few years. The thing FF IX did that makes me like it more than a lot of other FF games was the way it made every character truly unique. What I mean is that Vivi is your only black mage, you can't teach Zidane or Steiner black magic so if you want to cast elemental spells you have to have Vivi in your line up. This made your general combat strategy different depending on your party preferences which was awesome. Too many FF games (II, III, V, VII, VIII, XII, and XIII) allow every character to fill any combat role which detracts from their character in that it makes them less unique and/or memorable. You grow attached to characters not just for their place in the story but for what they bring to your battle lineup which makes any of them twice as memorable as Red XIII with his materia placement or Selphie with her junction setup.
Anyway, that little rant aside the game was mostly fantastic. I say mostly because it was still all about the random battles, the card game wasn't anywhere nearly as good as FF VIIIs Triple Triad, and the very final boss comes out of nowhere leaving you wondering "who was that?". These things land it at the number nine spot but FF IX has a number of great story moments and a few great plot twists to boot. It also looked fantastic on the PS1 and had a lot of gorgeous CG cut scenes.
The other thing that struck me about FF IX when I first played it was it's return to a medieval fantasy setting. Prior to IX the only FF games I'd played were VI, VII, VIII, and Tactics so I associated Final Fantasy games with a sci-fi fantasy or steampunk kind of setting. For a lot of people it was a return to form for the series but for people who hadn't played the earlier entries in the series it was an interesting change of aesthetic. It's a shame Square hasn't really gone back to it since as a high fantasy adventure would make for a welcome break from the stories they've been telling for the past decade. Who knows, maybe FF XV will be just that.
Thanks for reading again and I'll keep the list going in a few days. If you are wondering what games didn't make the cut they are Final Fantasy I, III (since I haven't played it), V, X-2, and XII.
I've been wanting to write more for a while now so I thought I'd try to get back into things with a good old fashioned top ten list. Thinking about it I know it's cliche as every video game blog features top ten lists on a regular basis but why not? It's a bit of fun and I take things too seriously more often than not. Also, a while back I did a run down of my favorite FF characters by game (pt 1, pt 2, pt3, pt 4, pt 5) and I thought if I'm going to do a list I should make one based around something I know and care about. You all know dark_orb loves himself some Final Fantasy so without further adieu:
Original release: 1998 on NES (Japan only)
Thoughts/Comments: Most people outside of Japan didn't get to play Final Fantasy II until it was released for Playstation in Final Fantasy Origins. Having played both the Playstation and the enhanced PSP version I really believe that it is the most underrated game in the series. It had a unique character growth system based on need and use much like the one used in The Elder Scrolls games. Attacking monsters raised your strength, casting spells raised your intelligence, taking damage raised your HP and stamina. It's the only game in the entire series that features this kind of character growth system which is a shame as it feel more organic than "kill things, get exp, level up, be stronger, repeat". This system changed the nature of grinding as instead of engaging in random battles for hours you spend fewer battles with your characters casting spells and attacking themselves to raise stats and proficiencies.
Final Fantasy II also featured a much more engaging story than it's predecessor. Despite it being a tale about a group of youths fighting an evil empire it had an actual cast of characters several of which adventured with you for a while. It's all very basic stuff now but back then it was a tale much more complex than any other video game you could be playing.
For these two reasons Final Fantasy II is on this list beating out several FF games released since. If you haven't played it yet I highly recommend either the PSP or the iPhone/iPad versions of the game.
Thanks for reading; with any luck I'll have #9 poseted sometime this weekend.
Extra Credits has always been a fantastic show about the gaming medium and if you've never watched it before I'd encourage you to check it out. This week they've taken the time to assemble a message that I feel is worth listening to and supporting.
Watch the episode in question here (runs 2:57).
It would make me happy if Gamespot followed suit and didn't cover E3 this year for the reasons they stated. It would make me happier if several companies pulled out of E3 to show their opposition for SOPA and PIPA.
We the little people can make give our opinion on this by something as simple as not reading any content regarding E3 this year. I call on Gamespot to do the right thing and lend their voice to this cause. If you feel the same way I would encourage you to write an editorial encouraging Gamespot to do just that. If a major gaming website like Gamespot didn't cover E3 it would go a long way to sending the right message to the ESA. Also if one site like Gamespot took this stance there is a good chance others like IGN, Giant Bomb, and Gametrailers would at least seriously consider doing the same.
Thank you for reading.
Edit: if your not familiar with the whole SOPA/PIPA thing you can get a brief explanation here.
2011 is over and I'm taking some time to reflect back at the year in gaming much like I did last year. I've been absent from Gamespot more often than not for several months now. This is mostly due to the usual combination of personal problems, work, and spending my free time actually playing games rather than writing about playing them. When I have had free time I've spent it playing:
(PC) The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay & Assault on Dark Athena (7.5)
(PS2) Soul Nomad & The World Eaters (replay) (9.0)
(PS) Xenogears (8.5)
(PSP) Dissidia Final Fantasy (8.0)
(PSP) Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (9.0)
(PS) Final Fantasy VII
(PS) Final Fantasy VII (9.0)
(PS2) Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII (7.5)
(PS3) Super Stardust HD (7.5)
(PS3) Wipeout HD Fury (8.0)
(PSP) Patapon (7.0)
(PC) Star Wars: Republic Commando (replay) (7.5)
(PSP) Star Ocean: First Departure (7.5)
(PS3) Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (6.5)
(PC) DOOM II (8.0)
(GC) Killer7 (8.5)
(PS3) Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium (7.5)
(PS2) Devil May Cry 2 (6.5)
(PC) Baldur's Gate (replay)(9.5)
(PS3) Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (7.5)
(PC) Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
(PC) Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (9.0)
I would have gotten this blog post done up sooner but I wanted to actually finish Baldur's Gate II first. Of the games I played in 2011 I'd have to say that Baldur's Gate is by far the best. It simply amazed me how I could get so into a game on my third play through. The game I've played the most is likely Dissidia: Final Fantasy with me clocking in at almost a hundred and fifty hours so far. It's racked up those hours mostly because it's become my go game when I'm at work or in a waiting room. The game that has taken the longest to complete was Baldur's Gate II which I just finished last night, almost two months after I started it. The best story I played was probably Xenogears though Crisis Core gives it a run for it's money. I'd also like to give Killer7 a shout out for being not only the weirdest thing I've played this year but probably being one of the strangest games I've ever played. My biggest disappointment was Patapon for PSP. It was well reviewed and had a solid concept but I found that it just became tedious and frustrating once the novelty wore off. I would have said the biggest disappointment was Devil May Cry 2 but I knew that game was bad going into it where I expected good things from Patapon.
Looking back I've just noticed I only wrote up two reviews last year which is something I wish I had done more of. Part of me really enjoys writing reviews but I guess I just haven't been compelled enough to invest the time most of the year. Perhaps that's something I can do better with in 2012 but I don't imagine myself having more time and motivation to write anytime soon.
As for 2012, my only big plan is to play through the entire Metal Gear saga. First I have to acquire a couple of titles, namely Peacewalker, Portable Ops, and the gamecube remake of Metal Gear Solid. I plan to play them in chronological order of game events which means MGS3, Peacewalker, Portable Ops, Metal Gear, Metal Gear II, MGS, MGS II, and finally MGS IV. I'm not sure what I'll be playing next, but it will likely be something short and simple. After which I'll move back to Baldur's Gate II to play through the Throne of Bhaal expansion. Part of me wants to play Throne of Bhaal now but I know that after two months I need a break to play something different so I can better enjoy the epic conclusion of the Bhaalspan saga.
I want to thank those of you that took the time to read my posts in 2011 and I hope I can give you something worth reading in 2012. Happy new year to you all and I hope this year finds you well and grants you the opportunity to play some fantastic games.