2012 is almost over and I must say that gamers around the world were treated with a plethora of amazing video games this year. My personal favorites include titles as Mass Effect 3, Darksiders 2, Transformers Fall of Cybertron, He-Man The Most Powerful Game in the Universe and last but certainly not least, Gearbox Software’s explosive and fun Borderlands 2. Last weekend at the VGA’s The Walking Dead surpriseingly walked out of the building with the prestigious Game of the Year edition. Something I still can’t really grasp. How can a game that wins “Best Shooter”, “Best Multiplayer Game”, “Best Human Male Performance – … as Handsome Jack and “Character of the Year – CL4P TP” not even be nominated for “Game of the Year”? Borderlands 2 is my 2012 GotY and let me explain to you why!
An aspect that I find important in most games is a well written story. Most shooter fans don’t even bother playing campaigns and jump right into the multiplayer. (Call of Duty anyone?) Borderlands 2 might not have the greatest story ever written for a videogame but it’s fun. Gearbox Software focuses on the originality of characters, clever and often hilarious dialogues and a large diverse environment where the story takes place. I’ve never found it a choir to replay the story twice with all five classes to obtain the best possible loot. The game just kept pulling me in and left me aching for more…videogames must be addictive.
The gameplay in Borderlands 2 is simplistic, but again very fun! You have the main story missions and heaps of side missions guaranteeing hours upon hours of gaming pleasure. There are even rare random enemy spawns that yield some of the strongest gear in the game. This leads me to weapons and gear, there are lterally bazillions of different guns to find on the hostile planet of Pandora. Farming the weapons is very time consuming and often based on shear luck, but the rewards are truly magnificent. The loot game really starts at level 50 because that’s where all the good stuff is found. One of the best aspects of Borderlands 2 is the ability to play up to four player co-op online and offline. Running trough the game with a couple of friends is loads of fun and very well executed. To be honest, I haven’t had this much co-op fun since Gears of War 3. Therefor “Best Multiplayer Game” is a well deserved VGA award if you ask me.
Another great thing about the gameplay is the fact that Gearbox Software releases new content on a regular basis. some might argue that dlc is released way too fast, but for most hardcore gamers more content equals more replay value. First, most of us (the ones wise enough to place a preorder) were rewarded with a free fifth character class, Gaige the Mechromancer who was very well received by the community. Soon after that Gearbox treated us with the hilarious Captain Scarlett and her Pirate’s Booty downloadable content that offered even more loot, fun and new invincible raid bosses. What more could a Vault Hunter ask for? How about an explosive second campaign dlc named Mister Torque’s Campaign of Carnage? All I know is that Gearbox Software delivers! There are still two unreleased dlc’s and the current level cap has not been increased yet though. Gearbox also stated that another new class is also a possibility for an additional non-campaign related dlc. Who knows what the master minds at Gearbox have in store for us next. It will potentially only get better!
In an era where next-gen graphics are becoming more important bythe minute Borderlands 2 isn’t anything special. But if you look at it from an “outside of the box” perspective you must realize that the Borderlands series would be just another fps if it didn’t have it’s original layered textures graphical style. (It isn’t cell shading remember, Gearbox Software PR doesn’t like it when the press calls it that.) In the end it will surely come down to personal taste, but I like my Borderlands games just as they are!
Great dialogues and charisma.
Like I mentioned earlier Borderlands 2 has some awesome characters. The main bad guy, or good guy if you would see things from his perspective is the masked Handsome Jack. Jack, a character most players will love to hate is only one of the many characters with great dialogues and charisma. Tiny Tina being one of my absolute favorites. A game without interesting characters and dialogues to relate to is boring. Gearbox really did an excellent job here and were ofcourse handsomely rewarded. (pun intended)
Another thing I love about Borderlands 2 is the huge community. You can visit the official Gearbox Software forums to meet thousands of fans that share stories, tips, builds and more. Most players I’ve met were very friendly, helpful and social. Not like some of the elitest jerks that play games as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Diablo 3 to name but a few. Another cool thing about Gearbox Software is that they use social media to reward the community with in-game goodies known as Golden Keys. These keys open a special golden loot chest in the floating city of Santuary The chest rewards players with rare and often very powerful weapons. Gearbox cares about the fans and they show it plenty.
I have been playing Borderlands 2 since it’s European release on September 19th and have clocked hundreds of hours on al five classes that are all level 50 characters equipped with some of the most powerful endgame gear that is currently available. It’s still addictive, fun and I just can’t get enough of it. Let’s just hope that Borderlands 3 is twice as good as it’s predecessor and goes home with the Game of the Year title at the 2015 VGA’s.
So to conclude my rant, why is Borderlands 2 my Game of the Year? (short version)
- fun story
- awesome characters
- great dialogues
- great music
- great sound effects
- bazillions of guns
- non-conventional graphical style in a generic market
- great replay value
- great downloadable content
- great community
- great support
- excellent game, period!
“Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted.” The contradictory maxim of the Assassins Order’s creed; I will try to give you everything that, I believe is the truth about the Series in my eyes. But there will be things that contradict what I say. That is what the Assassin’s Creed Series embodies through and through. The series burst onto the gaming scene as one of the few video game franchises to gain renown outside of just video games. It encompasses the area of complete franchise with clothing, comics, books, and eventually a movie. Only a few other franchises have done any of this, those being Halo and Gears of War. The franchise has managed multiple stories bound around the ongoing struggle between the Assassin’s and that free will and thinking for humanity against the Templars and that free will should be subjugated and humanity guided behind a veil.
The franchise started in 2007 and introduced us to a pissant of a main character Desmond Miles voiced by the ever so everywhere, Nathan Drake, I mean Nolan North. As he is monitored by Doctor Warren VIdic voiced by Phil Proctor and his assistant, Lucy Stillman, voiced by the amazingly beautiful Kristen Bell. As Abstergo Industries, the modern day Templars, try to find the McGuffins, the Pieces of Eden, that’ll allow them to dominate the World, even though they do already as a Worldwide Enterprise. And the Assassins are smaller, and are trying to prevent them from doing so, with Desmond’s ancestors, Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, and Ratonhnhaké:ton aka Connor, as the other main characters showing the path to them.
A quick, recap of all five of the main games in the Assassin’s Creed series. Assassin’s Creed is the first, introducing you to the modern protagonist Desmond Miles, and his ancestor via the Animus, Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad. Altair is disgraced during a mission and busted back down to beginner in the Order, and is tasked with taking down various enemies to humanity. Uncovering the truth leads to both Altair and Desmond further into the conflict of Assassin and Templar. Continuing on, Desmond escaping with the help of Lucy and being united with fellow Assassin’s Rebecca and Shaun. As they dive back into the Animus, you are introduced to another ancestor, hot-head and ladies’ man, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, and his goal of revenge against Rodrigo Borgia, which takes him all over Italy battling the Templars and meeting amazing people who are instrumental to the Order. As Ezio is tempered over his journey of revenge, he gains revenge by stealing the Apple from Rodrigo and leaving him broken, and sparking the Assassin’s on the hunt to prevent the World’s destruction from the warnings of Minerva, in the real World.
Continues with Ezio and the next chapter of the story with the destruction of the Order in Monteriggioni by Pope Alexander VI aka Rodrigo, and his war driven son, Cesare. Ezio survives after witnessing his Uncle dying, and takes the fight to Rome, taking on the Pope and his armies. As you uncover more, the deeper Desmond goes, as Ezio dismantles the Borgia family. As Desmond and company reach the piece seen by Ezio, Desmond is forced to do something unthinkable, kill one of his own, as he falls into a coma afterwards. Additionally, it’s the first game to introduce a well done multiplayer. Revelations ends the trilogy of Ezio, with him older, and much wiser, this time, taking him to Istanbul at the behest of events at the Assassin’s Ancient home of Masyaf. This game serves as bookends for Altair and Ezio stories. As you gain more information on the Doomsday event, with Ezio discovering what Altair wanted to teach those who could reach his vault, and speaking directly to the now awake Desmond. The newest entry of the Assassin’s Creed, starring Ratonhnhaké:ton aka Connor, who begins to be an Assassin for reasons of protecting his people, but is quickly swallowed into the Revolutionary War, where the lines of friend and enemy are blurred. As Desmond and company race to find a way to stop the doomsday clock from striking true, with the help of the First Civilization’s crypt ruins in Upstate New York. This game follows, Connor’s entire life from the start of his mother and father to him being an old man.
But as Desmond unlocks their extensive memories, he uncovers the world ending doomsday, of a massive solar flare that will wipe out all of humanity on December 21, 2012. And the Assassin’s now race to both prevent the end of the World, with the help of First Civilization, and Abstergo at the same time. As the story continues to unfold with the most recent release, Assassin’s Creed III. Additionally, check out the review of it here Assassin’s Creed III, at Real Otaku Gamer.
As for the good that comes from the Assassin’s Creed franchise, its the amazingly well done story. Each game, comic, Facebook game, and book, being necessary and well weaved together
for the whole. Each game is fantastically paced, albeit the first Assassin’s Creed was a little slow, but that was to be expected, with an entirely new IP. Each main character, from Altiar to Ezio to Connor to Desmond, each is developed thoroughly, giving you a look into their past, to see how they changed over time to their present day selves. The games follow the stealth
The bad can range from multiple and heavy to miniscule. I’ll start with the gameplay holes, like the stealth in the series is very very not there. It’s not on the level of fellow Ubisoft game, Splinter Cell, where the shadows are your friends, but more so like Tenchu, get seen in the wrong areas, and start looking for an exit strategy. Additionally, the actual fighting can get repetitive and you can easily from game to game, spam the counter button and never be touched, unless, the story says so. The graphics and draw distances are amazing, but the game will slowly but surely, blur into just a set of color schemes, repeated NPCs, and multiple, non-landmark buildings looking the same. Each game in the series, improves on the last but still fails in what it attempts in the first place. Another gripe about the game is, after about the first day or so of playing any AC game. It turns into a repetitive play, get your hands dirty, dry, and repeat. From the fetch all the feathers, to find all the other random collectibles, fun at first, but it will surely drain you in the long run.action genre, but I would more so call it, stalking action, which fits well for what happens in the story and the gameplay mechanics. Stalk your prey from on high; close behind or within the crowd, to blend in. Speaking of gameplay, the combat is rewarding and visceral, each counter and combo, dealing more death to quickly dispatching multiple opponents and fade back into the crowd. Additionally, the voice acting from the top to the bottom is amazing and well done. Even though at some points, they can seem a little stilted.
Assassin’s Creed is a well done franchise of media, which can come at gamers, in many different forms, each with its own distinct personality. Even though the game on the grand scale is amazing, it does fall short on some of the many things it does in each game. Assassin’s Creed as a franchise, is amazing, and surely will continue on for some time, depending on how Assassin’s Creed III will end and the story of Desmond will play out. But from the looks of it, and the way they merchandise, the Assassins and the Templars will forever be locked in a secret war that humanity will rarely ever see, or hear about
As I enter part 2, this focuses more on the characters and the short fall of the game as a whole. Even though I pick on one particular installment, Suikoden IV, doesn’t mean I still don’t love the series as a whole. But a story for a game of this nature, wouldn’t be good or even great, if it didn’t have the necessary characters being in from start to finish or just to move the story along.
Out of the five main games, with a roster of playable and non-playable characters, it totals out at 513 out of the 540 characters. I eliminated the returning characters throughout the lengthy series. Those numbers are just astounding, and that’s not even including the enemy factions and their peons and generals.
Having so many characters in a single game, 108, it tends to be a gift and a curse. Allowing the player, for those that are playable, a plethora of options, changing the battle lines with favorites and new characters you want to give a whirl. But, the downside is that as the game progresses, you get stuck with a couple characters you rely on heavily, unless the story dictates that you bring along certain people. But you never get to use all of them, due to the constraints of wanting to beat the game, and the story overall.
I get to drone on about my favorite characters from the series as a whole, except for Suikoden IV. Which I’ll explain why, it, to me was the worse of the series later in the article. Also, I’ll only mention those who appear on the Stone Tablet of Stars. Tir (S1), he’s the hero from tragedy and serious betrayal and potential death, that would cause a serious breakdown, he continued for those who believed in him. Cleo (S1), she may be the mother figure to Tir, but she’ll nail someone with her throwing knives with pinpoint accuracy. Riou (S2), as the successor to S1’s hero, and is a close expy of him, but still great. Shu (S2), cold, calculating, and knows what has to be done for victory. He’s a strategist that goes above the call each time. Flik (S2), as a young head strong member of the Liberation Army in the first, but being more mature and tempered in the second, as well as letting loose and also taking care of Viktor. Chris Lightfellow (S3), a very hard, duty driven, and father issued woman, but after she meets Nash on her mission to find him, and she gains her acceptance. Nash Latkje (S3), this is due to his pedigree from the Gaiden and amazing backstory. But he’s just a cool mutha *beep*.
But one of the few that gets an Honorable mention, Luca Blight villain from Suikoden II
Futch (S3), full grown from his time in S1 & 2, being older, mature, carrying a big sword, and taking care of Sharon, he’s just the “I’m cool, but I don’t know it.” Georg Prime (S5), he’s just simply a Badass on the level of Chuck Norris in the Suikoden World. Name feared and respected throughout the world, and always at the pinnacle of swordsmanship wherever he fights. Fredjadour Falenas (S5), the silent hero of the fifth game, and wields the Tri-nunchaku, and just a balanced character, and although thrust into the leadership role, he takes it seriously, to rescue the Queendom and his sister. Miakis (S5), the faithful bodyguard and Queen’s Knight for the princess, she is essentially Lymsleia sister, and the stereotypical bodyguard turned friend to the Princess.
Suikoden IV was just hogwash of a game in the series. I’ll quickly go over why. The story was flat, the characters not believable, in the sense of what had to be accomplished. And the main villain’s drive to be bearer of the Rune of Punishment again, after certain circumstances, and that was laughable. Seriously, you fight a Giant Tree as the final boss! The story did fit into the continuity for the whole, and giving more back story to various characters, but the game was badly done, and overall, just a letdown. I could go on for days, explaining every intricacy of why the game didn’t meet the standards for Suikoden. As for the other four entries, they all contribute to continuity as well, and explore the depths of the main silent hero with the actions that occurred during each of their stories.
Many ups and downs for them, and in some, you could choose to not take up arms against the corrupt, and the story would illustrate what could happen because you never stepped towards your Destiny. Each character, in Suikoden I, II, III, and V, had some kind of personal issue with the current situation at hand and wanting to change it. Admittedly, IV did have a few characters with an invested interest in the situation, but the total cast seemed to be just there. And this has been a negative for the games, each having so many characters, and showing they all have a vested interest for change brought on by Destiny and Time.
Some may consider Suikoden series as whole a relic, others, such as myself, and thousands others want Konami to stop making handheld version of the game and slapping the Suikoden name on it. And those never really being Suikoden games beyond name and 108 Stars of Destiny. But the game takes you on a ride, with political intrigue, war, double crosses, death, sacrifice, and so much more, and it delivers 4 out of 5 times. And that those bullet points are the reasons and many more, are why I love Suikoden. And I’ll leave you with the best opening for a Suikoden game.
A story written based off the Chinese classic, “Outlaws of the Water Marsh” by Shi Nai’an & Luo Guanzhong. The story revolves around a brotherhood and the circumstances that destine them to become heroes for the people in the most extraneous circumstances. When corrupt governments foul the land, and bandits rove the countryside terrorizing the people, and government officials skimming off the top while others starve. The Brotherhood of the Outlaws of the Marsh will respond with Justice. It’s a great book; read it however you can get your hands on it.
Suikoden is loosely based off the novel mentioned above, but it takes the best elements of the story and turned it into an amazing story, with colorful characters, back story of the more important ones, fleshed out history and simply, just amazing writing. The basis of the Suikoden series: The main hero, being thrust into circumstances out of his/her control and their destiny, pushing them towards the final confrontation with the overarching Big Bad of the story. The game has produced many installments in the series, albeit, in a weird chronological order, but they all have their place. And here is the timeline for the main 5: Suikoden IV (143 years before Suikoden V & 150 years before Suikoden) ? Suikoden V (6 years before Suikoden) ? Suikoden (3 years before Suikoden II) ? Suikoden II (15 years before Suikoden III) ? Suikoden III. I’ll be primarily focusing on the main Suikoden titles mentioned in the timeline.
The story does follow a pattern, which I realized as I was writing this. The unlikely hero, has a traumatic event sparked by the all encompassing, all-powerful True Rune. And the True Rune is the catalysis for the Big Bad’s organization or their anger, to allow the government to be toppled or supplanted with their own. And during that time of consolidation or advancement by the Big Bad, the hero and his crew are forced into exile, to regroup and to take the fight back to the Big Bad. But it’s never an easy road, riddled with the deaths of loved ones, betrayal, sacrifice, and more. Each of these events in the game’s story is never seen coming, and simply just well written and timing, pinpoint. But all the troubles of the World, come down to the True Runes, and them controlling inadvertently and sometimes, on purpose the World’s events. But in the end, the Hero emerges victories, changing the country for the better.
You know how there are hidden gems on each system, no matter the generation. And how everybody has their own hidden gems that they still own, even though they don’t have the system anymore. Mine is the Suikoden Series along with a slew of others. Which, hopefully I’ll get to talk about, eventually. But Suikoden II was the first one I played, but I played them out of order. But the story of Suikoden II, drew me in. It wasn’t the graphics even though, it was during the PlayStation era. Sadly, as I was approaching the conflict with the Matilda Knightdom, my game disc froze. Never to be played again, and couldn’t do anything. But then Christmas rolled around and I got Suikoden. And I’ve been a fan since that day and even though Konami has broken up the developing team, it’d be amazing if they did make another main series Suikoden title, instead of side stories.
As I mentioned before, the game isn’t built on amazing graphics and over the top visuals. The backbone of the game is its story and colorful cast of 108 characters and even the villains, depending on the game, you begin to feel for them, and slightly want them to survive, but then they do something that screws the hero over. But the graphics that it uses, for the first 2 games on the PS1 and the next 3 on the PS2, make sense and even with the dip in 3 and 4, and upping the ante in 5, it still made each game worth playing and permanently on my shelf. For instance, in Suikoden, they have almost cheesie, 8-bit graphics, but not exactly there. But it worked, and it made the game more about the story and the loss, than oooo shiny.
The graphics didn’t take away from the gameplay and it being your six party members with varying ranges they attack from. Like Flik, the Blue Lightning, is a short range attacker, while Tir, the Hero, is a medium range. This allows Flik to be in the front rank and Tir to occupy the front or back rank. Combinations come into with new, pre-existing or old relationships within the story. It gives it an added sense of strategy in the battles. Moving along with battles, you’re also fighting in a war, and as you have these major battles, and in each, they are unique, with a rock-paper-scissors feel. Within the first, Charge loses to Defend, Attack loses to Charge, and Defend loses to Attack. But it’s never a set pattern and no two times are alike, which gave the game a great randomness to the battles in the war, even though you can just save before the battle and redo it. But just as the story is the filling, the characters are the pie crust.
This title is so great to us, it has to be put in to categories, Best Game Ever and Games You Slept On.
Luffy only wishes he had girls like this following him around.
During its brief lifespan, the Sega Dreamcast was hardly known as a system for RPG enthusiasts. And yet, it managed to bring to the table one of the most satisfying RPG experiences of the era, a mix of solid gameplay, colorful characters, harmonious music and pirates. The game in question: Skies of Arcadia. And while it never achieved the status of super-hit, it did influence a generation of gamers and games who continue to recall it with fond memories (and the occasional cosplay).
Skies of Arcadia was something of a dark horse game on a dark horse system. It was one of only three “real” RPGs on the Dreamcast (the other being the grind-fest “Evolution” and the landmark “Grandia II”). And yet, it managed to set itself apart from the others through a series of twists and turns that were unique at the time, but which would lay the groundwork for many subsequent games.
The story revolved around three characters: Sky-Pirate Vyse; his best friend, the bubbly Aika; and mysterious magical girl Fina. Their relationship was developed strongly over the 40 plus hours of gameplay. It never went down the romance path (at least not as much as many other games would have), and was focused more on the idea that three people could save the world if they tried hard enough.
Drachma. Fun fact: his name means "money" in Greek.
Well, more like four people. During the course of the game, the fourth character slot revolved between two more colorful folk: the grizzled “sea captain” Drachma and the urbane Prince Enrique, of the Valua Empire. Unlike the “main three,” these two additions were more cookie cutter: Drachma, a cross between Ahab and Cid Highwind, “swore” a lot and obsessed over a whale he needed to hunt, while Enrique was the stereotypical disillusioned son of a despotic tyrant who joined the Pirates because he loved the freedom, and hated the hypocrisy. While both played roles in the story, and indeed were necessary for progressing forward, they never exactly enjoyed the same amount of exposition as the “big three.”
The plot focused on the efforts of the Valuan Empire to revive these things known as “Gigas,” which were collossi of the ancient world that had great destructive power, yada yada yada. Fina was the last survivor of an ancient race sworn to protect the gigas from being used by vile…etc, etc etc. You’ve heard it before. Evil empire seeks great power, small band of rebels resist them. The small band has the “heart” to succeed, and they topple their foe, save the world, get the girl, happily ever after. The story itself was fairly straightforward, with few side quests, and was nothing really new. What made Skies of Arcadia such a wonderful game was what you could DO in the world while you were progressing along the main story. The world was a character, and it made the experience so much more validating in the end.
First off, it should be noted that Skies of Arcadia was one of the most beautiful RPGs ever made (and not just at the time). The developers put painstaking attention in crafting a flawless, visually stunning world that almost leapt off the screen at the player. Vivid colors, subtle sounds, intricately designed dungeons and towns, these all contributed to making the game lovely to look at. The “bestiary” was just as unique and varied, with nary a copy of anything to be found. Enemies were unique to their own worlds, and reflected the designs therein. The Pirates of the Blue Rogues were colorful and rough, the empire was silver, stoic and sharp. Despite being technologically “inferior” to the Playstation 2, the graphics on the Dreamcast were among the best gaming had to offer. Skies put to shame just about any game the Playstation had out from a visual standpoint. Just witness the first scene of the Gigas rising out of the forest, and you will see how much attention was paid to detail and execution.
Go for the legs, it's you only chance of stopping it!
But graphics are only part of the picture. Where Skies of Arcadia shone even more was in the gameplay. It was, in a word, simple. Simple, but also refined to a point where simplicity didn’t mean easy. Skies could best be described as very “stripped down” mechanics wise. No tactical placement needed, magic consumed only 1 MP each cast (2 if it was a powerful spell), combat was a seamless platform of attack, defend, item, retreat. But it also required the player to think. Blitzing all out for the victory might work sometimes, but at others, strategic uses of defense would ultimately make more sense. Each character had “charge” attacks that required the accumulation of turns building up a meter that could then be unleashed to devastating effect. Later in the game, this also allowed for full party special attacks that could end combat in a turn, provided the player was willing (or able) to endure turn after turn of pounding before the combo could be unleashed.
And combat was a big part of the game. Skies had such a high rate of random encounter that it was feasible to enter battle every 4-5 steps. Yes, steps. Fortunately, the Dreamcast gave us a bit of warning, in the form of the disc suddenly stopping, then speeding up rapidly, announcing that we were about to get into it yet again. This high rate of battle was a bit annoying in dungeons, especially if time was a factor, but it also led to a lot of XP, money and drops that would benefit the players later on.
In addition to complex dungeons and unique zones, Skies of Arcadia also showed us that the sky truly was the limit. The world the game takes place on was more a collection of floating islands, joined together by sky ships that were necessary to traverse the immense expanse. Flying through the world, both above and below the clouds, introduced two wonderful new features to the game: exploration and sky battles.
Sky battles were one of the ways Skies managed to distinguish itself from other RPGs of similar style. You would encounter a ship while flying across the expanse, and suddenly it was on, with cannons firing, harpoons launching and magic being throw from bow to stern. These battles were a good deal more technical than the ground fights. Maneuvering was an issue, you had to keep within range or risk missing your shot. And since the ship’s weapons were so powerful, missing a shot then being hit in turn was a devastating blow, especially early on. Of course, you could just harpoon the enemy ship and drag it close, but then it turned into a battle of attrition, with each side punishing the other until one sank.
But sky battles were often necessary to upgrade your ship, earn gold and weapons, and prepare for battles later against bigger, more powerful craft. And of course, against the Gigas. Every single Gigas battle in the game was ship combat, with the first being downright scary to behold. They required you to think instead of blitz, and the careful execution of strategy would be rewarded in the end. All this led up to the final battle against…well, no spoiling here, but the first half of the fight was a giant sky battle that tested every skill the player had acquired up to that point.
The other joy of flying the “Skies” came in the form of exploring for hidden relics and monuments. While I can’t list all of them here, they represented “bragging” rights both in and out of game, and helped you recruit more members for your Pirate crew. Fly above the clouds, fly below them, scan the islands that appeared empty, who knows what you might find. And these discoveries even had an impact on gameplay: certain potential crew members required you to have found certain things or they wouldn’t join with you. Oh did, I not mention you get a pirate crew? Hmmm, perhaps I should rectify…
Over the course of the game, you obtain a small island of your own, which eventually turns into your base. At first, its little more than a lake, cave and some wood for building a house. But remember how I said you get a crew? Well, as you add more and more crew members to your ship, your little island gets bigger and bigger, with more buildings, shops and other facilities that you can use to further enhance your party. The joy of getting more crew parallels the joy of finding more relics, and by the end of the game…well, let’s just say a large crew can inflict a lot of damage in certain situations, where they might be called on to save their captain’s skin.
Uh, can I trade Aika for the girl with the purple hair?
While this game came and went on the short-lived Dreamcast, it was also one of the few that managed to get a second life on the Gamecube a few years later. Skies of Arcadia Legends, a full port of the original game, managed to “correct” a few of the “flaws” in the original game, through a stripping down of the random encounter rate, additions of even more crew and monuments, and wanted battles, which tested your resolve with extremely challenging fights against wicked pirates, imperial spies…and yourselves. That’s right, at one point you get to fight your own “clones” in a knock down, drag out brawl that ends with you being rewarded with…a fish? Yes, it was indeed a fish. But one hell of a fish.
Seeing that both the Dreamcast and Gamecube have faded away into the sunset, finding a copy of this game might be a slight challenge, but it is a worthy addition to the collections of any RPG enthusiast. In an era when Final Fantasy was the standard bearer for what an RPG should be, Skies of Arcadia was something fresh and new, not a copy of what had come before. With freedom to explore, a colorful cast and varied encounters, it gave an experience that has yet to be matched by any contemporary game.
My tastes in games have changed many times over the years. There are times when I obsessively play fighting games. At other times, I will want to dig into an RPG. And still other times, a hack-and-slash game is just what I need to get my gaming fix.
But throughout the years, since 1997 there has been one constant: my all time favorite video game, Final Fantasy VII.
There is no game out there which has meant more to me than Final Fantasy VII, not by a long shot. I have spent more time, on this one game, by far, than on any other game I’ve ever played, exploring its secrets inside and out. There is no game which has so profoundly influenced my identity as a gamer. There is no other game that immersed me so fully in its world and the characters that inhabit it.
Final Fantasy VII has been one of the most polarizing games ever made. No other video game has been so fiercely debated in magazine articles and on Internet forms. Its supporters, myself included, love the very same things its detractors hated about it.
Final Fantasy VII truly defined me as a gamer. Final Fantasy VII was not the first RPG I’d ever played, nor was it the first JRPG I’d ever played. It was not even the first Final Fantasy game I’d ever played (that was Final Fantasy VI, three years earlier). But Final Fantasy VII represented a paradigm shift in my gaming habits, getting me hooked on not just RPGs, but SRPGs and even survival horror as well.
That I even bought a PS1 at all was itself a profound change of direction for me. Although I also played arcade and PC games, ever since the mid-80′s I’d always accepted Nintendo’s iron grip on video gaming without question, even though I disliked Nintendo of America’s “we know best” attitude towards gamers enough to pass on the Super NES until 1994, when Nintendo finally stopped bowdlerizing SNES games.
I got a Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64 for Christmas in 1996. Super Mario 64 was the most impressive game I’d ever seen at that time, and I played the hell out of it. Unfortunately, it became clear that the N64 was essentially a TV plug-in for Super Mario 64 that just happened to have a few other games, most of them terrible. Even Rare wasn’t doing it for me. Meanwhile, FFVII looked better and better with every passing month, and Nintendo’s attempts to prop up the N64′s anemic library looked more and more hollow. Sony’s over-the-top ads for FFVII, ran in magazines and on TV shows where video games had never before appeared, only piqued my interest further.
I admired the sheer ambition and scope of Final Fantasy VII. From the very beginning, Mr. Sakaguchi, Mr, Kitase, and Mr. Nomura had big dreams for Final Fantasy VII. They wanted to create the greatest spectacle ever seen in a video game, and one which would be remembered long after the initial glow of its release had faded. But Nintendo’s decision to stick with cartridges left them cold. They did not want FFVII fettered by the computational and memory limitations of the Nintendo 64… or by Nintendo’s heavy-handed paternalism. It is for these reasons that Square severed its long-time relationship with Nintendo in favor of Sony, which promised better support and greater artistic freedom for everyone, even going so far as to close down their original US office in Washington and moving to California, where SCEA is headquartered.
The environment that created Final Fantasy VII was a developer’s dream, combining a bottomless budget with a relatively liberal creative environment. The sky was the limit, and FFVII’s developers threw everything but the kitchen sink into FFVII, both creatively and artistically. You journeyed through glitzy cities, squalid yet festive slums, quaint villages and through savage, beautiful forests, caves, and snowy mountains. You visited an amusement park which was almost a video game in itself. FFVII’s ambitious design is summed up by iconic images of the game’s first location, the vast, sprawling city of Midgar. The battle effects were exaggerated and spectacular, and the summons were impressive, nor were they overly long as in later games. Beyond the traditional RPG, Square offered simple arcade-style minigames. I could tell the designers had a lot of fun making this game, and it showed.
With Final Fantasy VII, Square succeeded where Sega, Atari, SNK, NEC, and other competitors had failed: they broke Nintendo’s iron grip on the video game industry. Nintendo’s stock plunged the day Square announced Final Fantasy VII’s platform as the PS1. Until then, Sony had been struggling just to compete against the Saturn, despite offering more developer support and better royalties than either Nintendo or Sega. However, the Saturn, even though it was leading in Japan at that time, was still not selling well enough to prove itself an adequate alternative to the Nintendo 64 for most companies, and the Saturn’s weak US sales further deterred developers. Shortly after Square made the PS1 FFVII announcement, its rival Enix likewise moved development of Dragon Quest VII to the PS1 from the Super Famicom. Sales of the PS1 rose rapidly after this announcement, and the PS1 suddenly became a viable, attractive alternative to Nintendo, which had angered developers by choosing to stick with expensive, low-capacity cartridges over the cheaper, higher-capacity CD-ROM format. As a result, Nintendo spent the 5th generation largely alienated from the rest of the industry.
Final Fantasy VII was an expression of the anxieties of the times. In place of all the medieval kingdoms trying to conquer the world typical of traditional fantasy RPGs, Final Fantasy VII offered something that was quite new at the time for an antagonist organization: the Shinra Electric Power Company. On the surface, Shinra was yet another “evil empire”, but an examination of the times that produced Shinra showed that the corporation was very much a commentary on the economic environment in both Japan and the United States.
At the time Final Fantasy VII was being made, the Japanese economy, after thirty years of robust growth, had gone bust thanks to the price asset bubble that at its peak had for one day in 1995 made Japan’s economy larger than the American economy for the first time since the 1870s. The ensuing market correction resulted in a period of economic stagnation known in Japan as the “Lost Decade.”
The Japanese economy, and to a large degree its political system, are dominated by massive business consortiums known as keiretsu, although Americans popularly call them by their pre-WWII term, zaibatsu. A legacy of the Tokugawa shogunate, the keiretsu have huge operations in multiple industries and control all the means of production and distribution of their products. These business operations are financed by huge banks – and even today, many of the world’s largest banks are Japanese banks. Examples of keiretsu are Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Sumitomo, and Sony. Because of the size of the banks funding them, almost nothing was out of reach for a keiretsu, including exerting a remarkable degree of control over the Japanese government. One of the most telling signs of how pervasive corporate culture is in Japanese society is in Japan’s professional baseball league. Japanese baseball teams are usually named not after their host cities, but their corporate owners, such as the Yomiuri (Japan’s largest newspaper) Giants in Tokyo, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, and others. Think about having sports teams in the USA like the Microsoft Seahawks, Nintendo Mariners, Kraft Patriots, or Turner Braves!
In the US, anxiety over certain large corporations was growing as well. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, was becoming notorious for moving into rural American communities, driving out local competitors, and then closing up shop due to poor sales, leaving whole counties economically devastated. Microsoft’s near-absolute control of the PC market, illustrated by the battle between Netscape and MS’s Internet Explorer, was subjecting it to scrutiny from the US Department of Justice and European regulators, culminating in United States vs. Microsoft Corporation.Prior to this was the specter of high-profile industrial disasters like Three Mile Island and Love Canal. Corporations have created powerful lobbies to ensure continued cooperation from Congress, often over the will of the voting public.
President Shinra – the villain behind the villain
By using a cheap, easily exploited source of energy, Mako energy, Shinra had become so pervasive in the lives of the people that conventional governments had ceased to exist. Shinra took over all functions of government, including legislation, finance, as well as police and military operations. All of this came at terrible cost to the environment, as Shinra’s Mako energy was the very life force of all creation, and Shinra was in reality burning human souls in order to create electrical power. Shinra also carried out unethical scientific and social experiments on the populace, showing no regard for human life, including the Jenove Project that ultimately produced Sephiroth. Despite this, Shinra’s power was largely unchallenged. Mako energy had made people’s lives very easy, giving the contented population little reason to go against their perceived benefactor. Dissenters like AVALANCHE were swiftly punished by Shinra’s police and military services, and portrayed in the Shinra-owned media as terrorists to ensure public support for Shinra.
Shinra was probably most closely modeled on the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO – the same company which operates the Fukushima nuclear power complex damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which is known to have wide influence in the Japanese government. Several of Final Fantasy VII’s cities, including Corel and Gongaga, were laid to waste by explosions at Shinra’s Mako reactors. It’s also possible that Shinra was a jab at Nintendo, which was experiencing a huge backlash from the Japanese development community over its decision to use cartridges as well as years of heavy-handed policies towards third parties.
I loved the Materia system. Though not everyone liked it, I felt like it added a lot to the game experience. It let me customize my characters any way I wanted, plus unlocking the high-end spells and abilities was rewarding. It felt like a real treasure hunt. One of the recent trends in RPGs I have never cared for is the ongoing trend towards vendor trash collect-a-thons, and it gets frustrating constantly trying to scavenge ten lizard skins and eight dragon hearts from random drops in battle.
The Materia system was designed for old-school players and beginners alike. The broad customization and ability to mix and match abilities with the Command materia was designed for the Japanese fanbase, for whom FFV was much more popular than FFVI. Since abilities beyond physical attacks and limit breaks were keyed to the Materia instead of to the characters, you could experiment with different combinations to see what you liked. The “linking” Materia system seemed underutilized at first, with only the “All” materia available during the first couple of chapters in the game, but later on, if you understood how to use blue materia, you could create some very effective gambits in battle that would be godsends against the game’s tougher enemies.
Furthermore, the Materia system was set up in such a way as to make power come with a price. The materia, weapons, and armor all tended to be double-edged swords, as Cloud himself says. Magic and summon materia gave you a lot of spells, but also carried penalties to the user’s HP and strength – and the more powerful the materia, the heavier the stat penalty. Stat penalties also stacked. A character loaded down with magic and summons would become a “glass cannon” – able to deal a lot of damage but unable to withstand a lot of damage. The materia system also caused me to rethink my approach to upgrading weapons and armor. Simply upgrading attack and defense is not always the surest path to success. A weapon or armor might be weak stat-wise but give double or triple bonuses for any AP received to any materia placed in its slots. A piece of equipment might have more materia slots, but none of them linked so as to disable support materia. A seemingly powerful weapon could be crippled by having no AP growth for any materia placed in it. A weapon or armor that would have been a great find in any other Final Fantasy game might be rendered worthless by not having any materia slots at all, severely limiting the character’s magic and command capabilities. The game’s most powerful weapons all offered eight linked slots in addition to their attack abilities (which were modified by various visible and hidden states), but zero materia growth, while double- and triple-growth weapons tended to have fewer slots and fewer linked slots.
Final Fantasy VII’s difficulty and rewards were very well-balanced. Prior to FFVII, Square had struggled to find the right balance of challenge and reward for Final Fantasy. For the first five games, they tended to err on the side of challenge. However, this resulted in punishing bosses as well as sharp spikes in difficulty, where inadvertently journeying into a new area of the world map could result in the party being wiped out by random monsters which were too powerful. This was most infamously evident in FFII with its unusual system of leveling and the fact that it was impossible to escape from more powerful random enemies, but was present in all of the first five games to a degree. Japanese fans liked this level of challenge, but Americans were frustrated by some of the harder fights as well as the grinding required to get up to speed. In Japan, FFIV released in a “hardtype” for series veterans and a heavily stripped-down “easytype” for children. The US version was a port of the “easytype” version. Final Fantasy VI, by contrast, was a bit too easy, with heavily overpowered player characters, gold given so generously as to be as worthless as Monopoly money, and powerful spells and weapons being given out very early. Japanese FF fans were displeased by FFVI’s difficulty.
With Final Fantasy VII, Square aimed to reconcile the story/cinematic approach that Americans liked with the degree of challenge and customizability that the Japanese wanted. The difficulty curve was reasonable, with the monsters growing in power proportionate to your party’s expected progress and none of the sudden difficulty spikes that plagued pre-VI games. Materia and more powerful weapons were parcelled out at a reasonable pace; monsters yielded enough gold to ensure you could buy basic staples, but not so much as to make money seem worthless. AP was doled out at a rate which allowed your materia to grow powerful enough to match your enemies. The game was reasonably challenging, yet no grinding is necessary unless you’re like me and absolutely have to unlock every possible spell and special ability in the game. For the real masochists, FFVII also offered two optional super-bosses with a million HP, a bonus that was initially offered only to Americans before being added to an “International” version released in Japan a year or so later.
The battle system still entertains me after all this time. Square decided to show off their newfound technological prowess in Final Fantasy VII’s battles, and at the time, FFVII battles were among the best pieces of video game technology around. This showed to greatest effect in summons and limit breaks. While Square would be criticized for making spell and summon animations too long in later games, particularly FFVIII, FFVII’s spells and summons were just of the right length to be impressive without being annoying, and the game didn’t rely on summons and limit breaks as heavily as later games did. But it wasn’t just the summons that were awesome. The game also had more subtle touches like enemies that would just make threatening gestures at party members, which was something not seen in a lot of games of that time.
Final Fantasy VII’s soundtrack brought international recognition to composer Nobuo Uematsu. Mr. Uematu’s compositions were as much a part of Final Fantasy VII’s narrative as the visuals and the dialogue. He intimately understood how his music helped set the mood for every scene in the game. FFVII’s soundtrack is a major departure from Uematsu’s traditional, high-fantasy RPG soundtracks inspired by Dragon Quest composer Koichi Sugiyama. He chose to infuse many modern musical influences into FFVII’s soundtrack, including rock and roll and jazz, to fit with the game’s more contemporary theme compared to the medieval settings of the first six games. Uematsu’s single most famous composition is “One-Winged Angel”, the song that, complete with vocals, plays during the final battle with Sephiroth.
Final Fantasy VII had some of the most memorable heroes and villains in video gaming history. As with other aspects of this game, FFVII’s main characters tended to polarize gamers. But whether you loved them or hated them, there is no doubt of the impact the main FFVII cast had not only on video games, but on popular culture in both Japan and the United States.
FFVII is often credited, somewhat unfairly, for starting a trend in RPGs for super-powered teenagers and leather clothes with too many zippers. FFVII had neither of these things. All of its main characters were save for Yuffie (and maybe Red-XIII, if you believe Bugenhagen’s assessment of relative ages) were adults old enough to drink legally. All of them were either former military or police officers, or were street fighters hardened by life on the mean streets of Midgar.
Cloud, with his oversized Buster Sword, striking blue eyes, and wild, unmanageable hair – a trait specifically designed into him by illustrator Tetsuya Nomura for the technology available to Square at the time – was a memorable hero. Seemingly uncaring about anything except his next paycheck, Cloud is deeply conflicted inside, and this internal conflict is masterfully played by Sephiroth in order to weaken Cloud’s will and make him a willing slave of Sephiroth. As he comes to terms with the conflict within him, between the cocky, aloof persona he projects to the outside world and the scared boy longing for acceptance within him, Cloud becomes a much stronger person and a great leader for AVALANCHE as they battle Sephiroth and Shinra.
Tifa is one of the best-known video game heroines ever, both for her strong personality and her status as a video gaming sex symbol. She is the biggest badass in the game, kind of like the female equivalent of Chuck Norris. She demolishes her enemies with 7-hit chain combos. She threatens to neuter the local pimp. She’s not afraid to get up in anyone’s face. Even in a rare moment of vulnerability, she’s still Cloud’s rock of solidarity, believing in him when everyone else has pegged him as a lost cause.
Barrett, the series’ first black main character, was probably the most complex character in the game. His characterization by FFVII localization specialist Richard Honeywood is the fore-runner of that of Augustus “Cole Train” Cole from Gears of War. He is a capable leader of AVALANCHE and a loving father to Marlene. Barrett believes in the cause he’s fighting for, even though he is aware of his grudge against Shinra for the loss of his family. Towards the end, however, Barrett also realizes the potential consequences of his sometimes rash actions on people and that Shinra, whatever its faults, has also done a lot of good for people. He also reminds me fondly of one of my oldest and closest friends.
Red XIII, real name Nanaki, is a wolf-like creature with flaming red fur who serves as a source of knowledge about the workings of the planet’s spiritual energy owing to his tribe’s intimate connection with the planet. Although he is the oldest of the party members and is very quiet and thoughtful, due to the longevity of his tribe, he is still considered an adolescent and has much growing up to do, physically and emotionally.
Cait Sith, a Puss-n-Boots doll riding atop a giant stuffed Moogle, was a somewhat baffling choice of character… until you played though a lot of the story. It turns out he’s a spy for Shinra, but seeing Cloud, Tifa, Barrett, and Aerith risk their lives to help a population that will never see them as heroes makes him question his already shaken faith in his employer. Eventually, the player will learn exactly what Cait Sith’s role in Shinra is and how it relates to them.
Cid Highwind, the series’ Cid, was probably one of the more controversial aspects of the game. Like all FF games, he is an airship pilot. Embittered by Shinra closing down its space program after an aborted launch, which would have made Cid the first human in space, he swears and drinks to excess. Shera, the engineer whom he blames for the failure of his maiden space voyage, seeks penance by devoting her life to Cid, but he treats her like dirt, until he discovers that she probably saved him from being killed in an explosion in space. He was one of the first real attempts at making a less-than-perfect video game hero.
Yuffie serves as the party’s comic relief, a young materia-stealing ninja (or so she claims), who eventually robs the party blind of all of its materia. The reason she wants the materia, it turns out, is so she can restore her homeland of Wutai to its former glory after the town was devastated in a war with SOLDIER (detailed in FF: Crisis Core on PSP). One of the running gags of the series is her tendency to get motion sickness on ships and aircraft. Along with Vincent, she is one of the game’s two optional “secret” characters, one who will not automatically join the party by following the story.
Vincent, a former member of the Turks, FF7′s recurrent “Team Rocket” bad guys, has sealed himself from the outside world, torturing himself of memories of the woman he loved, whom he believes (mistakenly) that he sacrificed to Shinra’s Jenova Project that ultimately produced Sephiroth. Though he was a secret character, he became one of the most popular characters in the series, enough to warrant his own game. His limit breaks allow him to transform into monsters who are callbacks to the previous games in the Final Fantasy series, including Chaos, the villain of the very first Final Fantasy game.
Aerith, the heroine of the game. Cloud meets her at the outset while she is selling flowers in the slums of Midgar, and fate brings him together with her later on. Aerith seems to have a rather frivolous nature, and her attentions to Cloud inflame the jealousy of Tifa. It turns out her flighty nature masks her anxieties over a mission that she knows will almost certainly cost her her life, yet is a sacrifice she must make for the good of humanity, similar to a later FF heroine, Yuna.
Sephiroth… a devil with very human motivations
And finally, the villain of the piece, Sephiroth. A product of Shinra’s twisted genetic engineering, Sephiroth is as much a victim as a villain. He went into SOLDIER with the best of intentions, but fell victim to the influence of the blood of Jenova coursing in his veins, causing him to do terrible things. Sephiroth is my favorite villain of all time, not just because of who he is, but because of the way Square presented him. Every time he showed up, you knew bad things were about to happen. He was portrayed as a malevolent supernatural force with very human, if very twisted, motivations. As a game player, I felt fully the psychological torture Sephiroth inflicted upon Cloud, to the point where he made Cloud doubt his very humanity. Among the best moments in the game are Sephiroth walking through the flames of Nibelheim, which he burned to the ground in a fit of insanity, and of course, the famous scene of Aerith’s death. To me, that was the single most powerful scene I’ve ever seen in a video game – the cinematography, music, and sounds were perfect. I wouldn’t even want this scene remade in HD.
The distinctive looks of the heroes and villains made them iconic video game characters. Not only that, but their popularity transcended both shores of the Pacific. There are few among American and Japanese gamers from the 1990′s who do not recognize Cloud Strife, his famous Buster Sword, or the silver-haired, green-eyed Sephiroth. For all intents and purposes, Cloud was the true mascot of Sony’s upstart PlayStation game console.
A more personal reason why Final Fantasy VII is my favorite video game of all time: Now that I think of it, this part reads a lot like Tifa restoring Cloud’s memories midway through Disc 2. But I digress.
I’ve suffered from anxiety disorders for a long time, and still do. When I was a teenager, I was pretty unsocial because of this. The only time I felt at ease around people other than family was at the video arcade, in fact. My anxiety problems even led me to drop out of school. My folks didn’t know how to help me, and I sure didn’t know how to help myself. I made money doing odd jobs but was otherwise stuck without any clear sense of direction or purpose.
When Final Fantasy VII came out, I saw the TV ads and the store demos and I was hooked. Only problem was, I had no PlayStation to play it on. I bought the game anyway. This provided me with some much needed motivation and direction.
I went out and secured a job at Wendy’s. I promised myself that if I stuck it out, the first thing I’d buy with my first paycheck would be a PlayStation to play FFVII on. Two weeks later I had my brand-new PS1 in hand and was driving home so fast I’m surprised I wasn’t leaving flaming tire marks on Interstate 35. Never had I enjoyed opening up a new video game console so much. For the next couple of weeks, I would come into work very sleepy. I deemed sleep a necessary sacrifice for the greater good of exploring all of Final Fantasy VII’s secrets late into the night.
I’d made it. I held onto my job even once I had my PS1, and spent the next year amassing a very fine collection of PS1 games I still own now while failing to accumulate any kind of significant savings secondary to said PS1 collection. Eventually, I went to college (starting my freshman year with what was technically a ninth grade education!), became a nurse, got married, and started writing about gaming. Someday, I will hopefully be able to build my own big, beautiful RPG. All of this because I wanted to experience an adventure that “could never be done in a major motion picture,” to quote one of Sony’s overly enthusiatic ads for FFVII.
Don’t get me wrong. Even without this little bit of emotional attachment, Final Fantasy VII would still be my favorite game, for all the reasons I listed above. This is the one game I will pull out and play once a year. I’ll still have just as much fun with it as I did way back whem, and ever once in awhile, I’ll manage to find something new, that I haven’t seen before. Final Fantasy VII’s place on this list, and in my heart, was secured before I recalled these memories of playing a video game I earned for myself all those years ago.
So there you have it. After nearly a year, my list of all-time video game favorites is completed with Square’s 1997 masterpiece. I doubt that there will ever be a game that comes close to Final Fantasy VII in the sheer enjoyment I’ve gotten (and still get) from this title, let alone a game that surpasses it. I replay FFVII once a year, and for 2 weeks of every year, I become the fresh-faced kid I was back then, lost in the wonder and spectacle that Square spent three years and millions’ of dollars making. I also look at the little blurb from GameFan magazine that is printed on FFVII’s back cover, as enthusiastic and bombastic as everything else Sony did to promote FFVII.
“Quite possibly the greatest game ever made.” For me, it still is.
Portal 2 has finally landed on the doorsteps of many avid fans of Aperture Science and the folks at Valve. The game is finally a standalone and not part of a collection like the previous Portal game with a much more fleshed out story and gameplay mechanics then the predecessor. Another offering that is given to players is Online and splitscreen offline co-op that extends the gameplay and provides two unique ways to play. The sound is great, not many games can top Portal 2′s wit and it does look good to boot.
The most important part of Portal 2 is the gameplay. The core mechanics involve firing two portals that are linked to each other in different locations on special surfaces to solve puzzles that are presented by either the environment or A.I. These puzzles start out fairly simple and work their way into complex, mind bending and seemingly impossible puzzles. To everyone that has played the original game, the first half of the game should be straightforward and easy to solve but it is definitely not boring. As the game progresses you enter an area that will be very unfamiliar to past Portal enthusiasts and the puzzles get more mind bending. You will come across repulsion gel which lets you bounce, attraction gel which lets you move quickly and at one point you will be able to make your own portal surfaces. Along with all these gels there are always deadly lasers, turrets, bridges made of light and light tunnels. Within all these puzzles there are many secret rooms that are a great fan service to those who played the original and have seen the rat man lairs before as well as a few new secrets to discover about GLaDOS.
The graphics in this game are not as good as some of the heavy hitters that have surfaced in the last few months but they are not horrible either. At first they seem very conservative like the first portal but a bit aged with a little mess. As the rooms open up the scale becomes apparent and the vast improvements can be seen from the first game. Apart from the scale and the enhanced lighting the environment moves sometimes as you walk into it and the attention to detail is astonishing, all the little things that happen in the background really do make the world come alive. The final scene on the other hand looks so realistic that I at first thought it was a real video until the camera was turned around.
The spotlight of Portal 2 is definitely the writing and the audio. The witty comments made by GLAdOS and the hilarious remarks by Wheatley really stand out. You will be laughing quite a bit between puzzles and most likely want to hear more and more. The sounds are all done by location, so if you move away from the source it will go quiet even though you are in a training facility. There is some music at particular scenes, especially intense chases but there are a lot of quiet moments. By far my favourite sound effect is when using the “airial faith plates” or jump pads because it is very unexpected when the room is silent. The sound design is really well done and Valve had done a great job at writing something that has many twists and great lines of dialogue that aren’t even found on some sitcoms on TV.
The multiplayer is an extension of the single player and doubles the available playtime. The puzzles are not just the same ones as the single player repackaged for two players, they are completely new and twisted. The first few puzzles may be solved alone or using two controllers but very soon the puzzles will require timing and precision that can only be achieved with two people. The available multiplayer options are splitscreen which is great if you have friends over and online friends only so people with no friends won’t be able to see these mind bending puzzles since there is no matchmaking. The fact that there is no match making is a bit of a blessing because you can do gestures to your co-op buddy that may be annoying to the other player and without proper communication Portal 2 on co-op could possibly be the most miserable multiplayer experience ever but also one of the best around if you are good at conveying what needs to be done to the other person. For all those playing online voice communication is a must, I tried without a mic and the results were less then acceptable to be playable.
Portal 2 is a great puzzle game that doesn’t feel like a puzzle game and appeals to many players. Fans of the original will definitely get lost in the world and want more but new players can get just as engrossed. With good visuals and some of the wittiest story written for a video game it is easy to see why this game shines. The polish of the game is unmatched by almost any game that has been released in the last few months, there are no bugs that I have encountered while playing and no patches have been released on the first day. When Valve makes a game they give it 110% and it shows with every product they release especially Portal 2. The only complaint anyone can find about this game is that it isn’t long enough but only because you will want to keep playing, between the single player and co-op there are many hours of gameplay to be enjoyed but will fly right by because it is so much fun. So if you like a good puzzle game or like witty comments then definitely pick this up, if you don’t like a good puzzle game and witty comments then you should still pick this up.
On February 17, 2009, Capcom gave us something that not many people at the time thought was possible beforehand. A brand new fighting game built with the classic 2D fighting game formula that everyone knows and loves, mixed with sleek 3D graphics. That game was Street Fighter 4 (SF4). Years in development, many long time fighting game fan’s had their prayers answered when Capcom finally released the next iteration of their premier fighting game franchise. With a total of 25 playable characters, both classic and new-school, and new online capabilities; Street Fighter 4 brought back the popularity and flare of the classic fighting game scene to a new generation of players.
3D Models Fighting on a 2D Plane
Enter Super Street Fighter 4 (SSF4). A brand new expansion to the original Street Fighter 4 that adds new features, characters, backgrounds, soundtrack, and game play modes that were not included before. Of all the changes, players will first notice the overhaul to the game’s menus and sounds throughout the game as they navigate different screens and choose any of the game modes available. It should be noted that the game’s main theme from SF4 was removed and instead replaced with a different theme. The over-all look of everything is similar to the ink painting scheme that was present in the original SF4. This look blends well together with the over-the-top shots of different fighters for each menu. Each screen is a beautiful shot of many of the characters featured in SSF4’s roster of fighters, including the main menu being a shot of Ryu and Ken battling it out with each other. Every time a player selects an option or changes a screen, they are greeted with a variety of sounds, some varying from epic punching sounds and the games main theme playing in the background.
Beautiful backgrounds behind the action
In game, SSF4 does not disappoint in the visuals department. The fighters themselves each exhibit massive amounts of personality in both the clothes they wear and moves they make. Each character retains his/her special moves from previous Street Fighter games and maintain their iconic looks that has resonated with fans for so many years. Players have the choice of using American or Japanese voices for characters as they fight their way to victory, both tracks are great in their own rights. The environments in SSF4 are rendered in 3D and given a lot of detail, while the game play remains on a 2D playing field. Each stage players fight on have a personality of their own, including some events and easter eggs players might not notice the first time around.
What makes the Street Fighter franchise so popular is the game play. The original SF4 stayed true to the classic 2D style game play, very similar to older Capcom games like Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo and Street Fighter 3 Third Strike. SSF4 retains this ground work and adds both new characters and rebalanced elements to the game play, this includes damage outputs and frame data changes. There are 10 new characters added, bringing the total roster amount to 35 different fighters for players to choose from. This adds a huge amount of variety of matches and outcomes that will keep any hardcore fighting game fan busy learning match-ups for a long time. Much like original SF4, SSF4 allows players the ability to utilize short-cuts for special move inputs. This is made to allow new players to jump into the game easily and have fun fighting each other, without the worry of trying to pull off advanced moves and combos. While some may feel this dumbs down the necessary skill to play a Street Fighter game, SSF4 still has plenty of complex moves and combos available to discover that will challenge anyone who is willing to attempt to execute them. This is part of Capcom’s attempt to try to bring together new players and long time fans into harmony, so that way everyone can enjoy playing the game, a blend of simplicity and complexity together.
The Replay Channel Viewer
There are plenty of modes available in SSF4 that are both old and new features to fans of original SF4. Online play is expanded upon with the addition of Endless Battle lobby, where up to eight players can play each other in an arcade style of king of the hill. Also available is both Ranked matches, where players compete for battle points and achieve a ranking, and Tournament Mode, where brackets can be set up in a tournament style single round elimination set up. What is probably the feature that many will utilize the most is the Replay Editor, this is where matches can be recorded, saved, reviewed, and uploaded many times over. It is a very useful tool for anyone who wants to try and improve their skills and reach a desired competitive level. Players can view replays of matches they or others have been a part of, and be able to see the inputs of both contestants displayed on the side of the screen.
Super Street Fighter 4 has a lot of new content that is well worth anyone’s dollar. It is far from the same game of which it is derived from, and is a new game that is definitely worthy of any fighting game fans time. With all the new additions that Capcom has provide it’s fans, it is real easy to see why Street Fighter is such a premier franchise within the gaming community and industry. And the fun does not stop there, downloadable content is available over Xbox Live and Playstation Network, which includes new costumes for all of the game’s roster of fighters, each costume being different for each fighter. This is a game that will played over and over again by many gamers, old and new, for years to come. All of this and more offered definitely shows everyone in the gaming world why Super Street Fighter 4 lives up to it’s legacy, and why Street Fighter is indeed gaming’s World Warrior.
It was the winter of the year 2000, going into 2001, the Sega Dreamcast had dominated that year. ThePS2 Launch in America, coupled with the fact that the systems games where being pirated, made its future seem very bleak before the system completely dying off in 2002.
My 1st Games where NFL 2k and Sonic Adventure. I was placed on punishment not because of grades but because of a fight that broke out in class just two days before X-mas break. I waited and waited and finally earned my Dreamcast back and had played Sonic Adventure to Death. I could only beat the first 5 campaigns Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy and E 102, but not Big The Cat. The fishing Rasta of a Feline drove me up a wall. So I waited and right before Sonic Adventure 2 came out, I dove back in and beat that campaign and beat it, but when I finished the Super Sonic Story Opened up. The story of the entire game was Sonic and the gang trying to stop Eggman “ahem” I mean Dr. Robotnik from taking over the world with the mythical creature Chaos. The Beast used the power of a series stable the Chaos Emeralds to become Perfect Chaos. The Final Battle is a huge one and it showcased the beauty and power of the Dreamcast and It was one I’ll never forget. (SPOILER ALERT) When all hope was lost Sonic managed to succeed. With the help of the Chaos (little mythic pet creatures that were made at the same time Chaos and the emeralds were) to re-power the Emeralds to defeat Chaos and send him into the waters in which he came.
Given the general trend of today’s games emphasizing style and image over substance, it’s not exactly surprising that a lot of “old” gamers have found themselves going back to some of the gems of yesteryear. Some have even just plain forgotten that there was once a time when games had powerful stories, imagery and emotional depth that set them apart from flashier fare. Unfortunately, as graphics processors increased in complexity and character models became more intricate, games started moving away from their old standards and embracing newer fare.
Take a journey back ten years, to the end of the road for the Sony PlayStation, and there you will a find a game that might have been one of the last to truly mix a compelling story, relate-able and interesting characters, and just enough image to make it a true representation for what gaming could accomplish. Now, a full decade after its release, the game can still stand up against the best of what the modern generation has to offer, with excellent replay value and a lighthearted experience.
And did I mention, it was released by Square?
Final Fantasy IX could have been the biggest thing ever to grace the Playstation and was certainly highly anticipated. Coming off the best selling Final Fantasy VIII (still one of the most played titles in the series), and following several of the best-selling games in RPG history, Final Fantasy IX had all the makings of another instant classic. Yet, when you ask the general gaming public about the game, most are unaware of it, or have simply not bothered to play it. Those that have, speak highly of what they took away from it, but it never had the impact or reach of its predecessors. However, it touched many of those who played it, and many of those players count it as the most repeatable of all the Final Fantasy games.
If someone turned the Globe Theatre into a ship, it’d look like this.
When it was released, Final Fantasy IX was heralded as “a return to the fantasy that made the series so popular.” Whereas some of the more recent entries had gone further and further down the road of science fiction, with big weapons, space travel, and heavy scientific themes, Final Fantasy IX was a fantasy game in the truest sense of the word. At a time when very few of the gaming public knew what “steampunk” was, Final Fantasy IX was using it to tell a compelling story set in a colorful, deep world populated my the types of interesting races and nations that had once graced all their games. Steam powered airships flew in the skies, rolling hills and vast oceans graced the world below, blades and magic replaced guns and rockets, and music was quaint and fitting. Exploration was a huge part of the game, and a very real sense of awe seemed to permeate the places even the Mist could not.
Don’t let the sword fool you, he only uses it to “remind himself how to feel,” and chop the occasional hot dog.
One of the biggest complaints about the previous game (or two, depending on how you viewed Final Fantasy VII) was its heavy reliance on graphics and Full Motion Video over story, which was one of the leading aspects that set the Final Fantasy series apart from others. Indeed, much of Final Fantasy VIII centered around crafting some of the best video sequences of any game at the time, and truly made the graphics stand out. Unfortunately, at the same time, all those fancy pictures lacked a solid story to connect them. There was little to no character development, the main actors were all stereotypical (especially the “emo protagonist” Squall Leonheart, who seemed to lack all emotion whatsoever), and the exact identity of the villain was murky most of the way through. Despite being built as a game centered around “an epic story of love,” most of the time the game suffered from horrible cliches, idealized characters and stark contrasts between good and bad.
Final Fantasy IX was an almost complete reversal of this trend. Not to say that the graphics were sub-par. Quite the contrary, the graphics were amazing. But this go around, each character was given time in the spotlight, their motivations were complex and individually motivated, and each one seemed to have a solidly scripted personality, dialogue, ‘voice’ and actions. The world the characters lived in was equally as varied, as different nations existed on multiple continents, sometimes tenuously side by side, and they each had their own traditions, taboos and histories. There was still the general idea of conquest floating around, but this time international relations and politics actually appeared. Each nation had it’s views regarding other nations, had its own perceptions of the world, and those who inhabited it with them. And when it came to exploring the frontiers, there was a definite dichotomy between what was clearly urban, and what was not.
Adding to the flavor of the game were the insertions of random cutscenes called “RTE” or “Real Time Events,” which often showed what other members of the party were doing at that point. Since much of the first half of the game was split into two parties traveling along two separate geographical and story-based routes at the same time, it was interesting to see able to see what the others were doing, and emphasized that these were important characters, and not just “meat shields”. There were also plenty of “hidden” RTE events that had to be unlocked, uncovered, or were themselves Easter Eggs dropping references to previous games in the series (as with the early-on insertion of the ship’s band playing the Shinra March from Final Fantasy VII to help “liven the mood”).
It also gave Mecha wings, but we’re not going into that.
The world was truly large, and truly magnificent. I remember saying once to a friend that Final Fantasy IX gave us back our World Map, and it did. Not since Final Fantasy VI was a world map so fully developed, and not since VI was it so necessary to traverse it. Random encounters were welcomed, as enemies changed from zone to zone. Rivers, mountains and fields were all unique (there’s that word again), and varied from region to region. There were dedicated grinding zones, powerful rare monsters, and even noncombat encounters like the “Ragtime Man”, who quizzed you for gold, and the “cute monsters,” who asked for ore/gold/whatever in exchange for massive experience. Leveling was a joy no longer reserved for dungeon or town zones, and it was appreciated, and undertaken greatly.
Part of the appeal of leveling lay with the dynamic of “Crystal Skills,” which were specific abilities assigned to your character that could be activated by inserting “crystals” into the skill slots. Each one offered a different bonus: Jelly, for example, prevented “Stone” status, “Clear-Headed” prevented Berserk and “LoudMouth” warded Silence, but there were also skills like “Auto-Regen” which kept health up. While some of the skills were restricted to armor at first, over time they could be learned by the characters and became part of a permanent inventory. And believe me, these skills were necessary in later levels. (One of the truly great “swindles” in the game itself came at the end boss, who could wipe the entire party with incredible ease, simply because the wrong skills were equipped going in. This was incredibly frustrating, and not obvious either, as I needed a guide just to handle him.) So, of course, the grind to obtain levels and gain new crystals became more and more important, especially when the action shifted, and the secondary party came onto the scene with sufficiently lower levels than the party you were just using.
The Tantalus Players: this is what unlimited wardrobe budgeting can get you.
Mechanics aside, I mentioned earlier how the story of the game set it apart from previous outings into the Final Fantasy world. Well, for the first time in a long time, we were introduced to not one, not two, but three main characters who guided us through the game. Zidane Tribal, the monkey-tailed rogue who we first see in the opening sequence plotting a kidnapping, was one of the truly great Final Fantasy protagonists, and not just because he wasn’t the silent type with a bad memory. No, Zidane was funny, mischievous (he grabs the Princess’ rear at one point early on with the remark “Ooh, soft!”), noble, loyal and humble. Yes, he also didn’t know too much about who he was, but he truly didn’t care (well, he sort of did, but there were more important things to do than dwell on the past). He wanted adventure, but he also didn’t forget his family and friends. And the one point in the game where he does succumb to an assault of self-doubt, he needs not only the support of his friends, but the power of his own will and drive to push forward and protect what he loves, to break the curse and continue on. A radical departure from previous “flawed” heroes who fought because they had nothing better to do, or because they were forced to “by the story.”
For her part, Princess Garnet til Alexandros (or Dagger, as we know her throughout the game…or as her REAL name, which requires an event to unlock), is yet another strong willed female lead, but this time she actually leads, instead of fawning over the male lead and following him everywhere. Early on she’s in charge of her own life and has her own needs, and she’s not afraid to run off to get what she wants. Her own story, one of a false family, broken memories and a mother totally given over to the acquisition of power, drives more of the story than most female leads do in these games- she’s not a secondary character by any means. And when she falls in love with Zidane, you feel like she truly has, and indeed knows what love is, rather than some wayward girl. She is developed, intricate and willful, and not to a fault.
Then there’s the strange case of Vivi the Black Mage. He is the first character you get to control, he acts like a child, is innocent and curious, and his own search for who and what he is in many ways influences the journeys taken by both Dagger and Zidane throughout the game. He’s far more cautious than either of them, far wiser at times, and possesses a great power that he fears to use. He looks up to those he sees as stronger than him, and respects his friends greatly. Vivi’s quest leads him to confront one of the most primal of human fears- mortality- and, though he has some slip-ups along the way, he faces his fears and comes out the stronger.
Adalbert Steiner: Dutiful, loyal, selfless…and in need of new armor.
The supporting cast of the game may not receive the same degree of treatment when it comes to story development, but they certainly are not ignored (something Final Fantasy VIII did frequently to anyone who wasn’t named Loire), and each gets at least one scene devoted to their backstory. The sole exceptions: the knight Steiner, who serves as Dagger’s guardian, and the bounty hunter Amarant. But in their cases, this is more than acceptable. Steiner doesn’t need any exposition as to why he serves Dagger, because it is plain from his actions that he both takes his duty seriously, and that service to the crown was a lifelong dream. And what he trades off in backstory, he makes up for in interactions with General Beatrix later on. As for Amarant…his is a story best left unanswered. It makes him more mysterious that way.
But what would a game be without a little heavy material? In fact, a good deal of Squaresoft games were often defined, an remembered fondly, for their often more “heady” attributes. Would Final Fantasy VI have been so widely acclaimed if Kefka hadn’t been so insane? Hell, Sephiroth stole an entire concept from Jewish Mysticism and made it the defining quality of his character. And I think Chrono Trigger did more to warn again the dangers of time travel than H.G. Wells (or for that matter, Doctor Who) could have imagined. But after the glory days of the SNES had long ended, these kinds of heady themes seemed to die off. That is, until one of the developers of Final Fantasy IX decided to get philosophical and read some Nietzsche (or at least some Camus).
Anyone else want to criticize our “pyntie-hets?”
I point often, when I discuss the game, to a certain scene that I think makes Final Fantasy IX such a memorable game. After the parties have managed to reunite and escape from the main continent, already embroiled in war as it was, they find themselves lost int he middle of a forest, surrounded by a colony of the same Black Mage dolls they had been fighting all along. And little Vivi, as impressionable as ever, finds his way to the town’s makeshift cemetery. And this was where the game takes a turn down a road that both sets it apart from all the other games in the series, but also shapes the rest of the story, right up until the final battle.
Ian Malcolm: “Life finds a way…to kill you.”
See, the Black Mages were made as weapons. Given nearly limitless power and unleashed on the world by Square’s second best mentally-unstable megalomaniac “advisor” Kuja, they were never meant to be sentient. But of course, as Ian Malcolm put so well, “life finds a way” and they manage to come to their senses in time to run away from bloodshed and try to create simple lives for themselves. And then they start dying. They don’t really understand what death is, just that they “stop moving,” at which point they need to be “put in the ground.” Watching these killing machines try to contemplate the concept of death, often with about as much clarity and understanding as a five year old, puts the rest of the game into perspective. And it also gets you to start thinking. Death is one of those ideas that makes even grown adults tremble with some primal fear, and now we see it through the eyes of the truly uninitiated. It can be very haunting at times, and sobering at others, depending on the player’s views of the unknown.
As the rest of the game unfolds, mortality (and more precisely, the fear of it) begins to play a much larger role. We find out that Kuja himself is afraid to die, we see the Black Mages (and even Vivi) switch sides simply to gain a few more years of functionality. We see the characters confront death in their own lives, be it parents or friends, or even their own impending fate. Destruction on a wide scale is unleashed, in the name of survival or simply “if I can’t live, then nobody else can either.” They fight through the fortress of Pandemonium, surrounded by chaos itself. And dragons, one of the original monsters of human mythology, make an attempt to halt progress with a display of power (an numbers) in what is easily the most cinematically satisfying cutscene Final Fantasy has ever produced.
Final Form Trance Kuja: Still the least threatening Final Fantasy villain of all time.
Still not deterred by their foes, the characters enter into the primordial memories of the planet itself in pursuit of the obsessed Kuja. They even find their way into the eternal hearth of life itself, the Crystal World from where all things came and return.There they find Kuja, consumed by his anger and fear, ready to destroy the crystal. They manage to defeat him, but not before he throws a temper tantrum and smites them all with his “Ultima” spell. And it winds its way down to a final battle against, all things, Death itself (embodied in the idea of the Necron, said boss who can wipe you if you’re unprepared). It is here we find what might be the best scene in the entire game: the four party members you are NOT using for the final battle give their own lives to revive the four members who are active, based entirely on who they have the strongest relationship to, in essence sacrificing themselves so their friends can push forward and save the universe. And after all is said and done, Zidane’s answer to the question of “All beings are born to die, so why do you fight the inevitable?”: “Because we can.” How very simple, hopeful, and not just a little bit existential- fighting against death because life, however fragile, is still life, and the memories and relationships we create while we live define who we are and how we are remembered. Cue the violins, break out the champagne and enjoy the last fifteen minutes of exposition. (Die hard gamers will also spend repeated views trying to find the Easter Egg for two previous Final Fantasy titles. Tip: pay close attention to the soliloquy during “I Want to be Your Canary.” )
Maybe I’m reading too much into the game, but that scene, the culmination of four discs of interactions and relationships between eight almost completely unrelated characters, hammered home something important: life goes on, best we can do is go with the flow and enjoy the ride. The message resonated so strongly (not to mention the compelling actions of those playing the story out) that it got me to play through the game far more times than any other RPG I own, and I still play it at least once a year to remind myself of how enjoyable the game actually was.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Final Fantasy IX was a game you slept on, or missed. It generated enough buzz to become a Greatest Hit, after all, and even today I bump into cosplayers at cons who appreciate the characters of Kuja, Zidane and Dagger. But it still sold fewer copies than any of the other Playstation Final Fantasy titles, and it’s resale value today lags far behind the juggernaut of Final Fantasy VII. Still, it gathered some of the highest ratings of any Final Fantasy, and left those who did play it generally pleased. Throwbacks to previous titles in the series, interesting characters, deep storylines, fun and memorable music and a simplified battle system (simplified, but not simple) helped the game become something truly enjoyable in the long run.
It’s not a hard game to find, even now. So if you haven’t played this one, do yourself a favor and do so. I still do. Each and every year.