Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 7

Last week Dagger, Marcus and Steiner were exploring the Dark City of Treno, home to the Noble Men and Ladies of the world Final Fantasy IX takes place in. The trio were trying to locate an item called Supersoft so that Marcus could head back to Evil Forest and cure Blank who has been petrified since the early stages of the game. Baku, leader of the theatre troupe (and party of thieves) Tantalus, has discovered where it is and its upto Marcus to break into the location in question and steal it. Dagger decides she’s going along too and Baku leads them to a boat that will take Marcus, Dagger and Steiner to where they need to be.

The boat moves slowly through the water, Steiner is stood on the bow before the screen fades to black again and we’re given an insight to the knights inner thoughts

“What in the world
am I doing?

I’m assisting thieves
I’m commiting a crime…

No…
I must be patient

Protect the princess
Escort her back to the castle.

Focus on your duties…

Trust the queen…
She would never commit an atrocity

There must be a good reason.

No thoughts of my own?

Nonsense

How can I, a lowly knight,
understand the queens thinking?

I need not worry about
the ramblings of a criminal.

Just think about
Escorting the princess home.

I’ll probably never see him again

He was the culprit”

followed by Dagger’s

“It was your fault Zidiane
If you hadn’t treated me
like a child…

…I wouldn’t be here
hunting after Supersoft to save
one of your friends.

Why am I doing this…?

Because Blank saved me?
Yes, he saved me.

He saved my life.
The least I can do is
return the favour…

But I never thought about
things like this before…

maxresdefault (11)

The trio arrive at the back area of the Synthesist’s shop. Marcus instructs the others to search the boxes for the Supersoft, but before they can get properly started they hear footsteps coming down the stairs. A “Scholarly Man” is making his way to the store to search for some ink, Dagger dashes out when she recognises him and calls out to Doctor Tot, leaving Marcus and Steiner unable to prevent her doing so (this seems to be a recurring theme with the princess). It seems Doctor Tot was once the princess’ tutor, she tells them they are searching for Supersoft but before she can answer why, a voice calls down the stairs, its the storekeeper. Tot tells the group to leave the store and meet him at his Observation Tower where he will give them the Supersoft, then, once they are gone, calls up to the storekeeper to tell him that he’s just looking for some ink.

Marcus fills Baku in on the new plan, but Baku’s not happy about it, though he readily admits they have very little choice to trust this “Toot” fella. Marcus is also a little annoyed at having to “babysit the princess” (though Steiner reqiures just as much babysitting if you ask me). Anyway, Baku advises we rest up before going to the observation tower, but I decide to definetly make sure I’ve done all I can in Treno first. I remember a water fountain near the city entrance, I’d thrown some Gil in there before, but nothing much happened (other than it made me “happier”), but after throwing a few more in I’m rewarded with “Gemini”.

“Gemini

Gemini thought by the river
‘I will sing her a song’
He didn’t know where
she was, but he hoped
his song would reach her

=Stellazzio Story=

I also visit Queen Stella who wants me to bring her the Stellazzio’s I’ve been finding, in return she says she will reward me, but doesn’t tell me what with. I have three so far, and going by their titles I assume there are twelve to collect, but I choose not to give her the ones I currently have, I’ll come back later when I have more of them. I then visit the synthesist and craft some new equipment, I have him make The Ogre, a Cotton Robe, Yellow Scarf, Glass Buckle, Cachuscha and a Gold Choker, with that all done I head to Tot’s observation tower after resting at the inn.

Doctor Tot tells Garnet that he set up home in Treno after finding a sponsor to help fund his research after he’d left Alexandria, then directs her to where he’s stored the Supersoft, which Marcus takes without saying thanks, unsurprisingly (and actually quite understandably) this pisses Steiner off.

Behind Tot is a giant globe that he’s turned into his observation area, the globe represents Gaia, the planet that Final Fantasy IX takes place on, at this point we get a flashback of Tot studying in Alexandria and his time spent tutoring an eight year old Princess Garnet. We learn that the rules of Alexandria have passed down a pendant through generations and that its believed that within this pendant is stored the power of the Eidolons, we are also told there is a relationship between the stars and these Eidolons. Back in the present Garnet fills Tot in on her mothers activities, which don’t seem to surprise Tot. He promises to make sure she returns to Alexandria safely so that she can confront her mother and reveals he’s been maintaining an ancient transportation system between Treno and Alexandria “just in case of an emergency”.

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Tot takes the group down a hatch to Gargan Roo. There’s a moogle down here called Mochos, I’m not sure how long he’s been here, but I don’t have a letter for him at this time and he doesn’t have anything for me to deliver elsewhere either.

Gargan Roo, it turns out, is like the London Underground, but instead of trains, it has giant bugs called Gargants that carry a basket beneath them as they run along vines on the ceiling. We spend a few minutes running around activating switches to get the whole system up and running, then before we depart Tot asks Steiner to take care of the princess and pleads with him to think for himself, Steiner typically replies with something about following orders or not being worthy enough to deny those in charge, which Tot challenges and asks if thats an honest answer, he tells him that his way of thinking and behaving may endanger the princess. The group then board the Gargant’s basket and it sets off on its way to Alexandria (with Tot pulling a switch to make sure it can progress along the correct route).

However, before we can get very far, the Gargant stops and refuses to budge, it seem’s its scared. Obviously Dagger jumps out of the basket to investigate, with Marcus and Steiner chasing after her again. There’s a giant worm like creature (and by worm, I mean some disgusting tape worm like creature, not an earthworm) called Ralvurahva blocking the way, which then attacks the group. Again, this isn’t a particularly difficult fight, its attacks are weak and the only trouble it causes is that it manages to cast Slow on Marcus and thus makes the battle take a little longer than I’d have liked, it soon squirms off before I can properly defeat it though and with everybody back on board, the Gargant carries on along its route to get to Alexandria.

When we arrive, we’re in an underground part of the city that Steiner doesn’t recognise (surely the leader of the Knights of Pluto should know every nook and cranny of the castle? Just shows how inept they all are and why the queen relies on Beatrix’s troops instead). Garnet recognises it from Trots teachings and believes its an area that was designed to stop invaders getting into the castle from Gargan Roo. Steiner belittles her and tells her its not time for stories whilst Marcus agrees they must make haste in order to get the Supersoft to Blank sooner rather than later. However, before they can progress a large gate rises quickly from the ground in front of them with another appearing behind. Zorn and Thorn then appear, Garnet insists that they take her to her mother, to which they inform her they were going to do so anyway as her, Steiner and Marcus are all under arrest and they were issued with the order to capture her and bring her back to Alexandria.

#ThrowBackThursday – Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 1
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX Playthrough Part 2
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 3
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 4
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 5
#ThrowBack Thursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 6

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bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Fast and the Furious (PlayStation 2)

In the past four years, games stores shelves have been saturated with identikit games, namely football, first-person shooters, sandbox crime titles (aka “GTA Clones”) and “street” racers of the Need for Speed variety, and here, for review, is yet another.

The Fast and the Furious is an identikit street racer, it has plenty of cars to choose from that you’d normally expect to see on the streets, it has loads of combinations of set ups, and is yet another title to lift Forza Motorsports decal editor, allowing you to create your own look on your car. If you recently purchased Need For Speed Carbon, then The Fast and the Furious is near on the same game, although its set on Tokyo’s highways.

However, Need For Speed Carbon was a good game, not great, or by any stretch a must buy, but it was probably the second best street racing game, with Midnight Club 3 DUB Edition being the best. Fast and the Furious doesn’t even come close to that quality. Sure it looks nice, once again NAMCO have created a nice looking game, hardly a surprise there if you’ve ever played the Soul Calibur titles. But thats where the niceties seem to end.

The first thing you expect from a driving game is for it to handle well, this is something that the Fast and the Furious doesn’t do, a slight touch of the analogue stick sends you swerving across the road, its stupidly sensitive, and don’t get me started on braking. In most games you release the accelerator briefly, brake, turn than accelerate through the corner, in simulators, depending on your approaching speed and how soon your turn this can either take you through the corner sensibly or kick the back end out a tiny bit (I prefer the latter), in arcade racing games this will result in a controllable slide round the corner, however in the Fast and the Furious, a slight touch of the break will result in your car being completely sideways but carrying on heading in the direction of the nose of the car. Resulting in you smacking the inside wall of a corner near on every time, this isn’t on and makes races with corners that require braking to navigate a really big pain in the backside. The games other big problem lies in its title, its neither fast, nor is it furious, races tend to be decided by who has the most powerful car, most nitrous and when you use it with hardly any jostling for position.

Now the mention of nitrous immediately brings to mind speed, but the cars travel sluggishly before you press the required button to activate the boost and just above sluggish while you are accelerating via the use of boost, travelling at 160mph for example feels like you’ve only just hit 60mph.

However, there are some nice touches to Fast and the Furious, and these are, sadly, in the car customisation area of the game and aren’t even there to improve the performance of your vehicle, they only act to make it look good. The things that I’m talking about is the inclusion of other NAMCO IP’s, namely in the form of Tekken and Soul Calibur characters appearing as vinyls for your car and Katamari and Pac-Man being included as “Drift Charms” to hang off your rear bumper and swing around as you drive your car around Tokyo. But thats really is the best thing about The Fast and the Furious.

Movies

Jurassic Park

Back in June I turned 35, one of the gifts I was given was a posters featuring 100 must see movies and each movie features a scratch off panel with some artwork behind. It’s not proclaiming to be a list of the 100 best movies of all time but its a pretty good list, although it cheats on two occasions: the Star Wars Trilogy (the Original Trilogy) is listed as one movie as is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are some films on there that I’d switch for others (an example that immediately springs to mind is Spirited Away, I love that movie but of Miyazaki’s movies it comes third to Princess Mononoke and My Neighbour Totoro). Now, I’ve already seen over 60 of the movies listed before already but my better half has decreed I cant scratch those off until I’ve rewatched each of them, and so with me seeing The Matrix at the cinema a couple of weeks back, I got to scratch off one panel, we’ve since re-watched Jurassic Park.

First things first, my eldest daughter and my other half/her Mother, both love the Jurassic Park movies, even Jurassic Park 3 and Jurassic World: Fall Kingdom, but to me the series has blown cold with each instalment, aside from that very first one.

From the off it still stands tall as an excellent bit of film making, the characters all feel grounded and, if not relatable, at least realistic and the decisions they make throughout aren’t outside of the realms of possibility.  The core three, Dr Ian Malcolm, Dr Ellie Sattler and Dr Alan Grant all shine throughout and even the kids have some really excellent moments and don’t ever get as annoying as kids in films often do, they’re squabbling feels like that of a brother and sister whilst it also feels like there’s genuine familial love between the two.

It’s funny, you can a film, dozens and dozens of times but sometimes you still spot things you don’t remember before, a case in point during this rewatch of Jurassic Park was during the sequence where Malcolm, Grant and Sattler are in the electric Explorer together prior to the energy going on out and Malcolm is teaching (and flirting with) Ellie about Chaos Theory, then Grant jumps out of the car and Malcolm says that Grants actions prove Chaos Theory as no one could have predicted he’d do that (or words to that effect). Sattler follows and Malcolm is left alone in the car and continues his speech about Chaos Theory, even showing how he himself has a part to play in it, but its that particular moment that had completely passed me by and shows alot of who Ian Malcolm is as a person, he loves to talk and loves to theorise and if somebody happens to be listening or remotely paying him attention, then thats just the icing on the cake.

This leads us into the films big centre piece, its most famous scene (well, apart from the bit following that with Jeff Goldblum’s shirt open), the Tyrannosaurus Rex attack. It’s utterly amazing that it still stands the test of time, the film is twenty six years old and yet that T-Rex looks and feels more real to the viewer than any of the offerings they’ve used since, even the latest two movies the T-Rex looked and felt CG, and while I know they blended the two with 1993’s Jurassic Park, doing so enabled the cast to really play out and act as terrified as they appear to be during that particular moment of the film.

It also feels like its of a time when family films were allowed to have genuine peril in, now big blockbusters that everyone watches, the heroes always get through and the danger never feels genuine (I’ll say now I’ve not seen End Game so I’m not going all in on defending that comment, as Infinity War was definetly a “Part One” movie). the moment when Timmy, Alan and Lex are climbing the electric fence, not knowing that Ellie and Robert Muldoon have worked their way through the jungle to get to the generators and bring power back to the park after Dennis Nedry had shut it all down, there’s an incredible amount tension for both groups, on the one hand you want Alan and the kids to get over the fence safely, but on the other the power needs to come back on, with Ellie and Robert having the major issue of the Velociraptors being loose, it ends up being a close call for Sattler but we/the park loses its Games Keeper.

The Raptors are an almost every present threat, from their introduction during the films opening moments when one of the workers is dragged into their pen, through to the scene in the kitchen with Lex and Timmy trying to sneak their way around and avoid them, a scene that has been aped elsewhere, such as in the last season of Game of Thrones. Even at the end of the movie, their the bigger threat to the group prior to them managing to escape the island, and its only through the actions of the T-Rex picking a fight with the raptors that they are all able to escape from the visitors centre.

It was always going to be difficult for any follow up films to be as good as Jurassic Park was, we’ve seen this problem before in other franchises, and unlike, say Alien/Aliens and The Terminator/Terminator 2: Judgement Day, taking a completely left field approach would have been a very difficult sell. I don’t mind The Lost World, but its not a patch on Jurassic Park, and the final third of Jurassic Park 3 had the most potential out of the entirety of that film, but as with the westernised versions of Godzilla, it would have been a little more problematic to make into a full film, especially when the western Godzilla movies (not including 2018’s King of Monsters, which I’ve also not seen yet) pretty much miss the entire message that Kaiju movies have tried to carry in their home land (though the first Pacific Rim did manage to hit those notes to some degree).

Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowBack Thursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 6

Last week we finished off Disc 1. Zidane, Vivi, Freya and new companion Quina were defeated in battle by Alexandrian General Beatrix, and the trio of Queen Brahne, Kuja and Beatrix had stated they were to move on to Cleyra in pursuit of the Burmecian King.

As Disc 2 starts we are once again outside Bohden Gate, the two guards that searched Steiner’s bag of pickles are discussing the rumours surrounding recent events. The Short Guard is frustrated at being on guard duty and wants to join the front lines in war, his colleague however doesn’t understand why anyone would want to go to war, and with that we join Steiner and Dagger aboard the Cable Car.

Steiner has his doubts around everything they’ve heard about Queen Brahne and doesn’t believe she is capable of starting a war, however, he decides his duty is to protect the Princess whatever it takes. It seems the cable car only goes so far on its journey to Alexandria, and stops half way there, this is because the journey is split into two with a cable car for each half of the journey, as one reaches the station in the middle, the other reaches either Lindblum (the cable car Dagger and Steiner are aboard) or the station that leads to Treno within the kingdom of Alexandria.

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Whilst the pair wait for the Alexandrian cable car to arrive Dagger hears a familiar voice, Cinna and Marcus have arrived at the station from Evil Forest, just missing the cable car to Lindblum (because Cinna wanted to eat Bundt Cake), they head into the rest area and bump into Steiner who is far from pleased to see them. He accuses them of being there to try and kidnap the Princess again. Nazna the Moogle sits in the corner of the rest area and I have a letter for her (I don’t know why I assume Nazna is female, I guess the name sounds more feminine?)

From Grimo to Nazna

I feel so sad whenever I see
Mary, that part-time worker.

Have you ever fallen in love?
I’ve never fallen in love before, kupo.
If watching someone else in love
is so difficult, I wonder how difficult
it is to actually fall in love myself?

Nazna gives Dagger a Kupo Nut as thanks for delivering the letter. From the shop here I buy Dagger an Air Racket, Mythril Rod, Glass Armlet and a Magus Hat, for Steiner I purchase Mythril Gloves and a Barbut.

Every time Dagger tries to speak to Cinna and Marcus, Steiner interupts and tells her not to interact with them, she ultimately has to put him in his place, asks why she can’t talk to her friends, which leaves him essentially speechless, seems Garnet is becoming less the Princess he expects her to be and more the Dagger that Zidane has tried to teach her to be. At that there’s a rumble and the Station Attendant announces that the cable car to Alexandria has arrived. It turns out that whilst Cinna was heading to Lindblum (and missed his cable car), Marcus actually wants to go to Treno. Marcus reveals to Dagger that the reason he is heading to Treno is because he is trying to locate an item called Supersoft that he can use to cure Blanks petrification. Dagger offers to help but Marcus refuses, and before she can make her claim for why her help could be useful, the Cable Car comes to a sudden halt. The Conductor thinks the reason could be engine related and leaves the cable car to investigate, but quickly re-enters saying that there’s a “demon with a pointy hat outside” Dagger, Steiner and Marcus all rush out to see whats going on and are confronted by an injured Black Waltz No.3 blocking the tracks.

This battle is literally just Marcus and Steiner smacking the thing with Dagger on healing duties, Black Waltz No. 3 wont hurt her either, so its fairly easy to keep the other two on their feet and the fight is over in four or five turns.

Back on board the Cable Car, Marcus comes to the conclusion that Dagger knows what going on with her Mother and Alexandria in Burmecia, though none of them know whats really gone down there just yet, the pair also understand that Steiner is in denial about it all. Marcus guesses that he will be unable to stop Dagger helping him find the Supersoft and notes that she’s changed (albeit it that there’s still some of Princess Garnet still there when she talks about the Nobles of Treno).

On the World Map I encounter a Ghost, the music is different in this battle, and rather than attack me the Ghost says it “could really go for some Ore” so rather than attack it I throw some Ore from my inventory to it, the battle ends with the Ghost saying “Give my regards to Ladybird”. After this I spend some time levelling up as Steiner and Dagger are only level 7 compared to the group in Burmecia all being at level 11 or thereabouts. Whilst levelling I come across Quan’s Dwelling, I find three Ethers and “Scorpio”

Scorpio

Scorpio was very timid.
He always looked at his
shadow, until one day,
he decided to look away.
He walked up a hill.
=Stellazzio Story=

I also found some markings on a wall

“Six months since I adopted Vivi. Still too small to eat?”

In Treno Marcus and Steiner argue about how to obtain the Supersoft, Marcus plans to find it and steal it. Steiner won’t allow him to do that and goes off on one, whilst his back is turned, Dagger wanders off.

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A series of ATE’s follow Dagger as she explores Treno. In the first a thief pick pockets her, stealing 500 gil, you can prevent this but my timing was off. the following ATE has her attempt to chase the thief, but he manages to hide and she turns down a different path. The thief decides its about time he left town. She then asks an old man about the Supersoft, but he’s partially deaf and confused and talks about his deceased wife before telling Dagger that she’s still young and not to give up, lastly she finds her way to the Auction house and spots a man that she recognises up on the balcony (it’s Kuja but she doesn’t know of him properly yet, though I assume its the man she referred to back in Dali that she had seen around Alexandria Castle).

I explore Treno as Steiner and come across the Pick Pocket, Steiner asks him if he’s seen a pretty girl with long hair, which the Pick Pocket tries to deny but keeps blurting out information about her, that he stole nothing from her, then he gives Steiner a Power Belt (that he bought with the 500 Gil) before running away. The Power Belt allows Steiner to learn MP Attack and Counter, it can also teach Fira, but Steiner can’t learn that particular ability. From the auction room below, Steiner overhears two Noble’s discussing the nights auction and how the main attraction is a Reflect Ring.

Marcus also has a series of ATE’s. In his he heads to an Inn and meets Baku downstairs. Baku has discovered where they can get the Supersoft they’ve been searching for, it’s in a Nobleman’s home and its up to Marcus to break in and steal it. Baku tells Marcus that he’s got “two liabilities coming along”, I think he’s referring to Steiner and Dagger.

Treno’s resident Moogle is Mogrich and I have a letter for him

From Stitzkin to Mogrich

There’s trouble in this rainy city.
The guys I saw were heading
towards Vube Desert, west of Burmecia.

They’ll only find sandstorms.
What could the possibly want?

I’m gonna follow them and see…”

In the item shop the floor is like a huge cage, there’s a monster beneath it that the clerk says belongs to the store owner who likes to get people to battle it. From the shop I buy a Mythril Sword, Flame Staff, Ice Staff, Bone Wrist, a Bandanna and some Chain Mail.

When Steiner finally reaches the auction house, he also finds Dagger there who lambasts him

“How can I find the Supersoft when I keep having to listen to your complaints?”

Steiner is visibly deflated, she asks him where Marcus is but Steiner doesn’t know. Dagger decides shes going to go and try and find him and see if he’s found the Supersoft, she tells Steiner she’s going with or without him, ever dutiful, Steiner follows after her. Before leaving though I join in with the auction, I am outbid on everything bar a Mini-Cid, which is the only thing to go for less than 10,000 Gil, maybe I shouldn’t have bought all that equipment before.

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As expected I find Marcus at the Inn, he informs Dagger he knows where the Supersoft is and he is ready to depart when she is. He leads her to Baku at the Dock, Steiner pleads with her for her to listen to his counsel and turn back, agreeing takes us back to the Inn and gives us another opportunity to prepare for whatever lies ahead, but I think I’ve done all I can in Treno for now and have taken an absolute hiding at Tetra Master, losing nine battles, drawing one and only winning three. And whilst I found a Yeti card and won a Sand Golem card (plus a Goblin and a Flan) I also manage to lose both those cards, plus my Cerberus, Ironite and Mimic plus others that I happened to have multiple of, leaving my collection pretty weak now. Baku asks if Dagger understands that breaking and entering is a crime but Dagger merely informs him that shes coming along as she needs to make sure that they don’t steal anything else.

Meanwhile, Kuja is talking to the auctioneer. The music during this scene is oddly reminiscent of the Shinra music from Final Fantasy VII,. Kuja reports that things went well in Burmecia, though it would have been better if he hadn’t seen “those vermin and the ugly elephant-lady”, the auctioneer is instructed to prepare something ahead of Kuja’s appearance in Cleyra and is then asked if a “pretty lady was in the crowd today?”. He talks about how the canary has flown into his cage willingly and bigs her to fly home to her Mother. I can only assume he is talking about Garnet. The screen fades to black with the text:

“I, too, will welcome
you home with open arms”

#ThrowBackThursday – Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 1
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX Playthrough Part 2
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 3
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 4
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 5

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Tak and the Great Juju Challenege (PlayStation 2)

Tak and the Great Juju Challenge is the third and final installment in the Tak series, in the previous two titles Tak had to defend his Pupanunu people from evil enemy Tlaloc, This installment see’s you competing in a tournament with four tribes competing to earn the protection of the godly Moon Juju for the next 60 years. The game starts up with friends Tak and Lok attempting to take a feather from a phoenix in order for their tribe to enter the tournament. This is basically your tutorial level, and feels a little like Rayman 2: The Great Escape., which is probably one of the standards modern platform titles follow. Unlike previous installments, the player can now switch between Tak and Lok at anytime they wish to, making The Great Juju Challenge the first title in which Lok is playable.

The heroes of the game must compete against two representatives from each of the other 3 tribes, the JibbaJabbas, the Grammazons and the Black Mist. The character diversity makes the Great Juju Challenge stand out against most of todays platform based games. As is the norm these days, as the story advances you are treated to numerous animated cut scenes where you get to learn more about the characters and their backgrounds, so far, so painting by numbers.

The great Juju challenge tries to be humorous, but after being released during a similar time frame to Psychonauts and Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel without a Pulse, both from THQ owned publishers, it just doesn’t cut it and feels quite immature at times. Also the double team comedy capers were done much better a few years back in the original Jak and Daxter title, surely if anything, they’re the Laurel and Hardy of the gaming world, not these cavemen. The games level design isn’t entirely different to the rest of the series, and while this is to be expected it would of been nice to have seen some experimentation from the developer, rather than them taken the safely safely approach that they seem to have.

Challenges within the tournament see you racing through the levels in order to light to beacons in order to open a portal that leads to one of three sub levels. These beacons are lit via fiery auras that come from the feathers of phoenix’s that Tak and Lok have plucked into their hair. Activation of the beacons and the like is completed via the normal methods of clearing an area of enemies or solving a puzzle.

Overall, Tak and The Great Juju Challenge is an entertaining romp if your into the platformer genre, but it feels so unoriginal and by the numbers that people that aren’t fans of the genre would easily get bored. If its a humorous game of a similar style that your looking for, I’d personally recommend Psychonauts, proof, if it was needed, that Tim Schafer is a comedy genius when it comes to games. But if you enjoy titles like Jak and Daxter, Ratchett and Clank and all those other platforming double teams, then you may just want to pick this up as it is right down your street, and is a much better offering than the previous attempts by both of those series.

Gaming

The Demonisation of Videogames

Last weekend in America 34 people lost their lives in three seperate mass shootings. The powers that be in America were, once again, very quick to distance gun laws from what happened, instead the rhetoric is now that videogames and mental health issues are to blame. Shortly after I watched this video from IGN

My reponse immediately after watching said video:

We’ve also since seen ESPN delay an Apex Legends competition they were planning to broadcast citing that their decision was made in “respect to the victims” .

Not since Jack Thompson was active in 2004-2008 have videogames come under such strong spotlight, but the biggest difference here is that Thompson was lobbying based upon him not really understanding the medium he was demonising.

Trump, his advisors, supporters and the media establishments that back him are doing so in order to project the spotlight on anything that will detract from the financial sources that back them and, seemingly, decide US laws. I’m not massively savvy on US politics, but I struggle to recall a President that was so blatantly looking after his own bank balance rather than address his countries problems. My own country, and indeed the town I reside in, have huge problems of their own (Bedfordshire has the third highest rate of knife crime in East Anglia, and it could be higher as their are suspicions of under-reporting).

Unfortunately, it seems that media are more powerful than ever, and Trump is incredibly savvy at using the media that are friendly to him and shutting out the media that aren’t, providing perfect little sound bites from his public appearances and from his Twitter account that are spread by more neutral media in an attempt to appear unbiased.

But its not like the video games industry hasn’t been here before, from Columbine to the murder of Stefan Pakeerah, Doom to Manhunt, its a storm that developers, publishers and players have weathered time and time again from people who are unwilling, not unable, to understand the hobby, oftentimes these people have a seperate agenda and see videogames as something easy to attack, even more so in these more politically heightened times where, as I’ve discussed before, gaming as a community is more fragmented than its ever been before.

There was an interesting anecdote on Manhunt on a podcast I was listening to a few months ago, though I forget who made it, but the guest on this podcast happened to have been sat in on the trial between the BBFC and Rockstar in regards to the banning of Manhunt 2. The BBFC came forward with a list of 10 reasons they felt it undeserving of receiving certification and their list read something like:

  1. It has violence in it
  2.  The player uses weapons
  3. It’s bleak
  4. It has no sense of humour
  5. There is no reward system

There were 5 more points but the podcast went to lengths to say the reasons were remarkably similar throughout, and the point is, that Manhunt 2 eventually got a release in 2007 and quite frankly we’ve not really made any further steps forwards since then. Politicians and non-specialist media are still at pains to dismiss videogames, it doesn’t matter how big the industry is or how much money it makes, until we see our own generation, and indeed the generations below ours, able to make a proper political impact videogames will still be used as a scapegoat for societies ills.

Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 5

Last week we took a break from this playthrough of Final Fantasy IX to focus on July’s Retro Games Club game – Parodius (well, Sexy Parodius, the version I played), but now we return to Final Fantasy IX and when we last played Zidane, Freya, Quina and Vivi had just defeated Gizamaluke in Gizamaluke’s Grotto and the action then switched to Steiner carrying a bag outside on of the foot gates to South Gate, namely Bohden’s Gate.

We’re now in Alexandrian territory, at least according to Steiner. As Steiner approaches the gates he is stopped by two guards who are looking for a “middle aged man with a young girl”, which Steiner certainly fits the description of, though Garnet isn’t with him, Steiner pretends he is a labourer looking for work (though how the guards fall for that considering he’s wearing a full suit of armour I don’t know), this pleases the guards qas South Gate is still in a state of disrepair after Black Waltz No.3’s attack. One of the guards questions Steiner whilst the other (“Short Guard”) investigates his bag, but only discovers it to be full of Gysahl Pickles (much to “Short Guard”‘s disgust). Steiner is allowed through and it is then we discover Garnet is also in the bag, somehow hidden among all the pickles. So, we need to find a place to hide so she can get out of the bag, but there’s a guy and a girl near to the only suitable spot, an alleyway. Turns out the guy is Chief Engineer on the rebuild of this particular area, and it seems his apprentice isn’t doing his job properly (instead of repairing one of the gateways, he’s merely polishing it). Informing the Engineer of this sends him on his way to go sort the apprentice out.

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There’s also a shop keeper who has gone out of business, turns out the girl knows him and is worried for him, Steiner persuades her to help the shop keeper out, which leaves the alleyway clear for Garnet to climb out of Steiners bag, once out she tells Steiner he must call her Dagger, at least until they reach Treno.

Through the alleyway is Bohden Station, with a tram car available to climb the hill, Grimo asks me to deliver a letter to Nazna. After restocking on Potions and Phoenix Downs, Steiner and Garnet board the tram and depart from the station. Steiner praises Dagger for her strength and intelligence, saying they wouldn’t have gotten this far if it weren’t for her abilities as a White Mage nor her plan to hide in a bag of pickles, he then resorts to his favourite past-time, ranting about Zidane and his lack of manners.

Speaking of Zidane, we now go back to the group in Gizamaluke’s Grotto. Freya swears to protect Burmecia and leaves the grotto with the rest following behind her, however I’ve not done exploring so send everybody back in. Within the Grotto the one creature I’ve had trouble with in battles is the Lamia’s, so I spend a bit of time fighting these over and again in order to raise the party’s levels. Unfortunately the other doors in Gizamaluke’s Grotto are still locked and I can’t get any more bells to unlock them, I must have done things in the wrong order before, so I decide to leave and head for Burmecia.

Before we continue, I’d like to take a moment to discuss FFIX’s Trance system, this is the games equivalent of the Limit Break. A bar under your characters HP and MP gradually fills up by being hit by an enemy, there are other times where Trance is triggered, usually during a heightened emotional state within the story, and once the bar is full it auto-triggers itself increasing the party members damage output and unlocking special moves (for example Vivi can cast two lots of magic per turn whilst in Trance), the system itself isn’t bad but you can’t save it up and use it when needed and there have been a few occassions where its triggered right at the end of a fight but that character has been unable to take their turn and then the bar is depleted at the start of the next battle. It’s a sometimes frustrating design choice, and whilst I’m sure there’s ways to play the system and work it to your advantage, such as maybe taking a party member out of the group when you have the numbers to do so and then putting them back in if you know theres a boss coming up, but as I’m playing this sans walkthrough and pretty much relying on my memory from playing FFIX properly nearly 20 years ago, I’m not likely to be able to do that. I’m surprised by how much of it I actually remember so far, but there’s been a few bits that have been a surprise too (I’d completely forgotten about Gizamaluke’s Grotto being before Burmecia for example).

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Once I finally arrive at Burmecia, it’s clear all is not okay, even the weather is depressing, Stiltzkin was right when he mentioned it raining in one of his letters! Barrels of fruit lay upturned, their contents spilling onto the wet cobble stones with no concious citizens in sight. Freya reveals she has been away from he homeland for five years. As we walk through the streets, the party is attacked by some Magic Vices that have a particularly horrible attack that takes almost all of a characters MP, thus rendering Vivi pretty much useless as I know that Ether’s are hard to come by in this game.

As I approach one building, Zorn and Thorn appear on a balcony above, their Yoda like manner of talking is wearing incredibly thin really fast. Once again, they set their Black Mages on us, but as usual these are easily dispatched, Zorn & Thorn then threaten me with the “General” who is apparently “very scary” when mad, I suppose I’ll find out who their referring to later as they then flee, again.

Burmecia has other enemies other than the Magic Vice’s that are annoying, Basilisk’s can petrify party members, though this takes 10 turns to take effect and their easily dispatched in 2 or at the most 3, and some of the treasure chests that are left for you to open in the hope of finding an item are actually Mimics. Though I think the offending chests are a slightly darker shade of brown compared to the normal chests, but that could be my imagination and me remembering where the Mimics were (and still fighting them).

After exploring any open buildings I gain a “Protection Bell” which opens a gateway leading to the Palace and works in the same way as the bells in Gizamaluke’s Grotto. Inside the Palace gates “Burmecian Soldier Dan” challenges us, he believes Zidane and co are in league with the Black Mages, mostly because of Vivi’s presence. Fortunately Freya steps forward and he backs down, he instructs us to flee because of the number of enemy forces, but we must press on.

Zidane saves an injured male Burmecian who was trying to persuade his pregnant wife to leave him behind, a large altar collapses and Zidane manages to drag him out of the way in time. Another Burmecian appears to see what the noise was and Zidane tells the three to head to Lindblum where Regent Cid will provide them with refuge. The pregnant Burmecian tells Zidane he must visit them once all of this is over with and that their child should be born by then.

Atla wants me to deliver a letter to Monev. Before I leave Atla, Stiltzkin appears and sells me a Soft, Hi-Potion and Ether for 333 Gil, I also buy a Needle Fork for Quina, a couple of Magus Hats, a Barbut for Freya and an additional Bronze Vest from the shot Atla has set up, I also stock up on Potions again before using a Tent and saving. In the armoury nearby Freya finds a Mythril Spear that also allows her to learn her first Dragon Knight ability: Reis’s Wind, then we head to the Palace itself.

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Hidden amongst the shadows cast by some suits of armour, Zidane and Freya watch Queen Brahne talking to General Beatrix, whom Zorn & Thorn must have been referring to earlier on. But the story quickly cuts to Freya having a flashback talking to another Burmecian, revealed to be Sir Fratley, who has decided to leave Burmecia in order to grow stronger in order to protect his homeland, spefically citing strong warriors such as Beatrix as his reason for believing he can grow stronger. The news leaves Freya devastated, she loves Sir Fratley. She later hears rumours of his death, and being unable to accept the news, leaves Burmecia herself to search for him. When we return to her in the Palace with Zidane, its clear shes been unable to verify these rumours.

He thoughts, however, are distracted by the entrance of a man neither Zidane nor Freya recognise. Queen Brahne refers to him as Kuja and praises his Black Mages, though it seems neither Brahne, Kuja nor Beatrix know the whereabouts of the Burmecian King, whom she wants rid of. Kuja says “Rats often look for new homes when they sense an earthquake. They probably moved to the sandy treehouse by now”, this is probably a reference to Cleyra, or at least thats how Freya and Brahne both interpret it. Apparently Cleyra is protected by a huge sandstorm, rendering it impossible to attack, though it seems Kuja believes otherwise and asks Beatrix to gather her troops nearby.

Freya tells Zidane a little about Cleyra, she says that its people were once Burmecians, but they severed ties with Burmicia over a “trivial conflict”, but the kingdom is at peace and shielded by a sandstorm. At that moment a Burmecian soldier storms in and makes a move to attack the Queen, before he does Freya and Zidane launch to his aid, Vivi and Quina also finally catch up and join them, and we’re thrown into a battle with the formidable General Beatrix.

This particular battle is essentially one of survival, knocking down the turns until Beatrix unleashes an attack that leaves the party struggling on the floor, at which point her and Brahne leave to ready the Alexandrian troops for the attack on Cleyra. Before leaving Kuja stops to examine the group, he seems concerned that one of the group could cause a problem, I assume he’s talking about Vivi as he looks alot like the Black Mages Kuja and Brahne have been creating and using, he then climbs on to an Ironite and departs into the sky.

End of Disc One.

#ThrowBackThursday – Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 1
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX Playthrough Part 2
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 3
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 4

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

Neuromancer – William Gibson

Yay, its book clum meeting time.

July’s book was William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, I book that I’d heard was a big part of the initial cyberpunk movement, a genre that I’ve not read any fiction from but am a huge fan of films such as Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner and The Matrix. Alot of distopian literature released since its original publication can be linked back to it too I suppose.

So Neuromancer, for those that haven’t read it, is all about a hacker named Chase, who has turned to a life of hustling in Chiba City, Japan, in order to make enough money to eat and spend the night in a “coffin hotel” which, to me, sound alot like the capsule/pod hotel’s that you can find in Japan, but with a few more bells and whistles like magnetic locks and some sort of computer terminal. Chase isn’t able to access the Global Computer Network due to a microtoxyn that he was implanted with after a job went bad, so is now unable to hack. However, he is approached to do a job, with the reward being that he’ll have the microtoxyn removed (thus allowing him to do the job in the first place). A woman called Molly is also employed to do certain aspects of the job, those being more physical oriented in contrast to Chase’s work in Cyberspace, and their employer is a man called Armitage. However, Chase and Molly don’t really know what Armitage is up to, but they begin to suspect something, and as such the book becomes not just a tale of this heist like job they’ve been employed to do, but also their investigation into who Armitage is and what he really wants.

Now, all that there, sounds excellent, but if I’m honest, I really struggled with Neuromancer. I found its language difficult to penetrate and there was so many different terms, characters and locations and everything moves at such a break neck pace that I found myself scrabbling to remember what had happened, to whom and where, and its not really until the final chapters that I felt the whole picture began to click. It was also difficult to escape the influences its had elsewhere, there’s the obvious names such when they discuss Cyberspace or The Matrix, which are both terms that have been adopted elsewhere in our culture, but also with how events pan out it felt like I was watching a few different films all at once, with drug references, computer terminology and military speak all being thrown around, it came as a surprise, but also a relief that when Chase and Molly team up with a Rastafarian pilot, that I began to understand things a little better, and I think as whole the story would have been easier to follow if the central character wasn’t so deeply entangled within the world of being a “Console Cowboy” and being a part of that underworld as the language being used was so far away from what most people used it, as I’ve said, often got confusing.

Thats not to say I didn’t enjoy Neuromancer, I absolutely loved it, and I can actually see me reading through it again at some point in the future (which I rarely manage to do with books) with a better understanding of what the cast are talking about. I think if I did do that I may pick up on some of its more deeper themes.

What did stand out strongly though is the American view of Japan. Now, I’m writing this after reading the first of four volumes of Shigeru Mizuki’s “Showa” which details Japan’s history from the early 20th Century and eventually finishes in the late 1980s, though the volume I’ve finishes reading finishes just before the Second World War. Anyway, theres this view that Japan went from being the nation who was responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour, who it was felt were still in a feudal period, to suddenly, in the 1980s being this tech supergiant, suddenly everything worth having was coming from an Japanese electronics company and that seems to have skewed the American view of Japan somewhat, so when you read through Neuromancer, its difficult not to read the names and places being used, but see a more grimey, American style setting too, much like that we see in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

There’s a very modern, multi-cultural feel to Neuromancer too, which isn’t just brought about by the racial differences in the characters but by the products they use. Items aren’t really referred to by their object name, instead Gibson prefers to use their brand name, much like we do now, so rather than describing a car, we’re told the characters are in a Citroen or a Mercedes, which are obviously devices that will generate specific types of cars in the readers mind, likewise cigarettes are named by their brand, I think one of the brands mentioned is Gauloises, I may be wrong, but it shows the capitalist world the characters inhabit and ties in to the belief from the 20th Century that you could tell a man by what he drank or smoked.

This sort of thing carries on throughout, and its difficult at times to know what was a real world brand and what wasn’t, especially roughly 35 years on from its original publication.

So, to close, I adored my time with Neuromancer, it felt like work at times, but that not necessarily a bad thing, some times a book requires some effort on the readers part for it to really get under the readers skin, and it gave me a hankering to watch Akira, Ghost in the Shell, both Blade Runner movies and The Matrix again

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Taito Legends 2

Retro Compilations are the in thing at the moment, it seems your not a legendary developer/publisher if you haven’t got a bunch of games to shove onto a disc and release on one of the modern consoles. But, as both Namco and SEGA have shown, if not done with due care and love, you end up with a complete mess. In this case, Taito are the leading light, our reviewer didn’t score their last compilation too well, but that was more down to memories and a few poor controls although the compilation did feature 29 games.

Taito Legends 2 then, takes this number and adds even more! With quite a few of these games not even originally being released on these shores, on offer there are 39 games for you to choose from, including games such as Elevator Action Returns, Liquid Kids, Puzzle Bobble 2 and many many shoot’em-ups.

To make this game easier to review, I’ve decided to select a few games rather than pick apart all 39 titles.

With this being Taito, there were always going to be plenty of Bubble Bobble clones, with Chack ‘N’ Po being the highlight of these, featuring the same familiar gameplay mechanics as the classic featuring the lovable dinosaurs Bub and Bob. It feels like an odd hybrid of Bomberman (before Bombermans release though), Bubble Bobble and Donkey Kong, the game entails you rescuing a heart and legging it to the exit of the level while placing bombs near enemies to aid your escape.

The Fairyland Story was release a year before the Bubble Bobble games, and is a lot of fun, although it does lack a two player co-op mode. In this you play a character called Ptolemy, who you use to cast spells into enemies, turning them into cakes, from there you keep zapping them to get rid of them. Bronze Adventure is a bit like Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins and is definitely worth checking out if your a fan of Capcom’s classic.

The best platforming title by far though is Liquid Kids, released in 1991, you control Hipopo. As Hipopo you have to thrown water bombs at enemies in a visually great platformer that bares more than a nod to Bubble Bobble.

Puzzle titles will always appear on these retro compilations, and Taito Legends 2 is no exception, except that it features some of the best Puzzle titles ever made. One of which is Puzzle Bobble 2 (a.k.a. Bust-A-Move 2), a game that hasn’t aged at all and is still the basic formula for all the bust A Move titles released now.

Also of note is Crazy Balloon, similar in theory to the Kururin games, you have to guide a balloon to an exit while avoiding thorns, which results in an incredibly challenging and fun experience.

Another genre that makes up a huge chunk of Taito Legends 2 is the Shoot’em-up genre. Featuring numerous versions of Space Invaders, Space Invaders ’91 is easily the best on offer, although Space Invaders is equally as good.

If vertical and side-scrolling shooters are your thing, theres plenty to choose from, with the package offering an interesting insight into how the genre developed during the 80’s and 90’s, but its a shame that many of them come across as generic, me too titles. There are a few highlights in there worthy of playing though, the long-forgotten Metal Black being one of them, giving you access to mammoth power-ups, zillions of enemies on screen at any one time and impressive visuals for their era. Also included are Darius Gaiden and G-Darius, two of the stand out titles in the genre.

As an overall package, theres only a small amount of genuine must-play titles among the 39 games on offer, that isn’t to say that many of the others wont bring you enjoyment. The presentation of the package is much better than the previous release, with games being organised into chronological order. If your looking for a Retro compilation that is worthy of playing, look no further than either of Taito’s efforts, if its famous names you want, the first is the one to go for, but if your looking for some experiences you may have missed out on, Taito Legends 2 is a definite must have, and is certainly better than Namco’s effort.

Movies, Uncategorized

The Matrix, a 20th anniversary viewing

People who follow me on Instagram will know that on Monday 29th July I went to a late night showing of The Matrix to mark 20 years since its original release, now that was actually 6 weeks later than its actual anniversary, as it was released on 11 June 1999. I didnt see it until it came out on VHS and my Step-Uncle brought it round and showed us the first scene with Trinity, now he and my Step-Dad were gawping over Carrie Ann Moss in that outfit, I on the other hand, was transfixed by what Lana and Lilly Wachowski were doing with their cinema work.

I’ve watched it many times since, I even spent one summer shortly after the sequels were released diving down a rabbit hole of plot theory, figuring out what each and every scene was going on about, and maybe giving the Wachowski’s writing more credit than it possibly deserved. There’s no doubt they had high idea’s for their story but ultimately its hard to see exactly what they were trying to say. Besides, alot of that has now been consigned to long lost memories and I’d struggle to go further into its lore without spending many more hours digging through the internet, Neo style, trying to find answers.

So, we go back to the original movie, I’ve seen it on VHS, I’d seen it on DVD, I’d never seen it at the cinema before so was very excited to do so.

There were a few problems with the showing though. Vue’s website says it was 4k and whilst I’ve never seen anything in 4k before (that I’m aware of anyway. I don’t have the home set up for it and the last film I saw at the cinema was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at Milton Keynes, which I’ve no idea whether it was a 4k showing or not), there were times I was seriously unimpressed with the picture. The stand-out moment was during the scene where Smith and his cronies have Thomas Anderson in the interrogation room, when Smith mutters the line “what is the point of a phone call if you are unable to speak?” (or words to that effect) the picture of Keanu Reeves, his mouth sealed up, struggling to fight off the Agents, was really quite blurry. Likewise the scene with Trinity I mentioned early didn’t look as sharp and clean as it was in my mind.

These moments didnt detract from the overall experience though, the shift from Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” into Neo’s alarm is still a really cool scene switch that still leaves the viewer questioning whether Neo was dreaming about his meeting with Trinity, the visit to The Oracle is still as mind-bending and funny as it always was “Don’t worry about the Vase” etc, and everything from Cypher’s betrayal to Neo’s resurrection (and his position as a Christ-like figure within the world created by the Wachowski’s) is still seriously fucking awesome.

Obviously the technology on show has dated, the phones and computers we use now compared to what we see within the Matrix (both the machines program and the film itself) are ridiculously more advanced, whilst the technology used to create its visual impact has also aged and been used to death. The costumes have, again, been used to death to make someone stand out as being “cool”, which wasn’t the intention of the costume designer, instead her intention was to create a clear difference between ones appearance in The Matrix and in the real world.

And that aesthetic, and the films theme, still stands true today, maybe even more so as the internet has become a place that one can very easily create an entirely new persona for themselves, only showing the rest of the world, through their social media platforms, what they want the world to see. We live in a world of “influencers” and more than even in the 80’s what you wear and how you portray yourself is the be all and end all. One mis-judged social media post, be it something something untoward on Twitter, or wearing something on a new picture of Instagram that upsets enough people, and that image falls to pieces.

Okay, thats not the central theme of The Matrix, which is about humans becoming an energy source for the very things they created, but there’s not a huge difference.

So, 20 years after the Wachowski’s amazed the world with their visionary masterpiece, does The Matrix still stand up today? You better fucking believe it does.