#throwbackthursday, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowbackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 20

I took a week off last week, I just didn’t get much opportunity to actually play and didn’t want to just upload a couple of hundred words. So, two weeks ago, we were in Alexandria, awaiting Princess Garnet’s coronation, though none of the gang had spoken to her since she had arrived back home, well other than those that were also in her employ such as Doctor Tot, Steiner and Beatrix. The others had decided they should go and visit her though, and that’s where we left things.

Zidane, Vivi, Amarant and Freya all arrive at the Castle docks and explore the grounds. We use the Neptune statue to go to the harbour, though there’s currently nothing to see, the Alexandrian soldier on guard there tells Zidane that the Ruby Rose can’t fly now due to there being no Mist. Everything else on the castle grounds is locked down. Before we enter the castle itself, we come across Steiner manhandling Eiko, he threatens to throw her into the dungeons, but Zidane intervenes. Steiner hasn’t met Eiko before, nor has Freya, and whilst Eiko is introducing herself to the dragon knight Steiner loses his rag. He’s definitely not pleased to see them all, well, apart from Vivi that is, who explains why they’re all at the castle. Steiner agrees to arrange a meeting, purely because it was at Vivi’s request.

Steiner tells the group to wait at the foot of the stairs and trots off to tell Garnet they are there. She stands on the balcony above them, thanking them for her visit, everyone compliments her on how she looks, and everything is conducted very formally, although Zidane never speaks. After a very brief amount of time, Steiner tells her that she must go. Eiko rushes up the stairs, asking if its the last time they’ll see each other. Garnet claims it won’t be, she says she won’t be able to journey around the world with them anymore, but she’ll never forget the time she did. Garnet then trades two of her jewels for two of Eiko’s before bidding her goodbye.

Vivi and Freya demand to know why Zidane didn’t say anything. He says he had a whole speech prepared but he just couldn’t say anything, he wanted to say “Good luck Dagger! I’ll be watching you from afar”. But he says it would have just been a lie because that’s not how he feels at all.

This upsets Eiko, because she now realises that Zidane is besotted with Garnet. She wishes that she never wrote her letter, not knowing it never reached Zidane and has instead been mistaken for a letter from Steiner to Beatrix. So, whilst sat at the dock and expecting Zidane’s arrival, she decides to hide before he does to save her embarrassment. Whilst hiding, she hears someone coming, its not Zidane though, its actually Marcus and Blank. The latter has also gotten hold of the letter and thinks it’s for him, Marcus has just tagged along for the LOLs, but when they hear someone coming, they also hide.

This time it’s Steiner, who is merely patrolling the grounds. He now finds the letter on the floor, as Blank had dropped, and when he reads it he convinces himself that someone must have dropped it knowing that he would pick it up. Beatrix arrives next, he thinks its from her (and as we already know, she’s previously read the letter and thinks its from him). Eiko, Marcus and Blank are all listening in, but before anything can happen Baku appears and lets off a huge sneeze.

At the bar, Freya, Amarant and Vivi are all wondering where Zidane has gone. Vivi decides to go search for him, but before he can leave Eiko bursts in and the two bump into each other. She’s in a bad move as she thinks Zidane stood her up and tells Vivi to keep out of her way. Tot then enters the bar, he’s searching for Eiko. He wants to talk to her about Madain Sari. She agrees to tell him about her home but only if she can go to his home, though that’s all the way in Treno. She thinks visiting Treno is a great idea as she “enjoys sight-seeing”. Zidane finally shows his face and says that he’s planning on going to Treno anyway, there’s a card tournament on that he wants to enter and head to the Gargant station to make their way there.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo (PlayStation 4)

I’ve not paid attention to the world of Rally driving for a fair old while, actually not since Richard Burns sadly passed away have I actually followed it, thats probably more to do with its television rights issues than anything else. Still, the class has always made for excellent videogames of varying approaches, from the infamous SEGA Rally through to Codemasters more recent efforts and many more besides. Also, despite not following the discipline for a long while, I’m still aware of a few of its personalities, highest of which is definitely Sebastien Loeb, so it comes as no surprise that he’s got this particular game attached to his name.

First off, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo isn’t particularly light on content, racers will find they have over 300km of track available to them over 8 different rally locations plus 5 Rallycross tracks plus the most famous Time Trial event of them all, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Theres also around 50 cars from various power categories and era’s at your disposal, all of which have their own handling attributes. It’s a decent specification list for a racing game thats only really focused on one discipline, there’s also a couple of different game modes, including a career mode that has you working your way up to becoming the number 1 driver in the world as the titular Loeb’s prot�g� and a mode that both introduces you to Sebastien’s own career and challenges you with taking on the same events he partook in to get to where he has, minus a few elements that don’t fit in with the games discipline such as his involvement with the LeMans 24 Hours or World Touring Car Championship.

Whilst content is important, its nothing if a racing game is a pain in the arse to play. This is where things get muddy as Rally Evo’s handling model is incredibly off putting at first, its incredibly twitchy and feels far too responsive when at speed, it also feels far too easy to clip a bit of scenery and roll the car causing you to lose an incredible amount of time. Fortunately this can be undone by the games inclusion of a rewind mode, for which you get 6 tokens per race. Back to the games handling model, yet its twitchy, incredibly so initially, but I found the best approach was to use the bumper camera and make lots and lots of tiny constant adjustments on the steering, acceleration and even the braking, it feels much like you’d imagine from any in-car footage you’d find on YouTube. It takes some getting used to too, but once you do, the feeling of speed is exhilarating, and in actual fact the way in which the cars are so twitchy and the environments deadly reminds me of the original V-Rally and how challenging that was to handle back in the day but again, how rewarding it was as a speed freak once it all began to click.

Even once you’ve gotten used to the handling model, Rally Evo is still a challenge, obviously different cars with different set ups will require different approaches to this technique, this mostly comes down to the games various stages with different terrain also providing you with a challenge. Its much more difficult to throw the car around hairpin bends sideways, for example, on tarmac than in almost any other driving game that I recall playing, whilst the twitchiness is exaggerated further by the snow covered events. Getting the start right is also key in some of these events as you can find yourself spinning up the tyres for too long at the start if you apply too many revs.

Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo isn’t a must-have racing game, its certainly not either platforms strongest driving experience either, but it is rather enjoyable and really gets the adrenaline pumping as you throw your car around desert courses, kicking up sand behind you and launching all four wheels off a bump in the road before trying desperately to slow down for a 2 Right Hairpin Turn.

Movies

“It is what it is” – The Irishman

This week I finally got around to watching Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman”, I’d be putting it off until after the school holidays had ended, purely because at three and a half hours long it wasn’t a film I’d want to watch once they’d gone to bed and I’m certainly not going to watch it whilst they were around.

For this Scorsese has dragged his old pal Robert De Niro back into the fold after spending the past decade or so working with Leonardo Di Caprio, he’s also got Al Pacino in there, Harvey Keitel and has managed to persuade Joe Pesci out of retirement, its no surprise then that this is a gangster movie that uses every single trope that you’d expect.

For his latest Mafia tale, Scorsese has taken a book entitled “I heard you paint houses” by Charles Brandt, telling the tale of truck driver turned Mob hitman Frank Sheeran and his relationships within the mafia but also with those who deal with them, especially labour union leader Frank Hoffa. The Irishman (and the book it’s based on) uses real people and real events, though it uses the theories and allegations aimed at Sheeran in the years since Hoffa’s death (his body has never been found).

We’re told the story in a rather reflective manner. Our first introduction to De Niro’s Sheeran and Pesci’s Russel Bufalino is when they’re much older, they’re driving to a wedding that is also acting as a peace treaty with Al Pacino’s Hoffa. As they make their journey we’re taking back to key events that eventually build-up to the relationship between the labour unionist and his “friends” in the mafia souring, though I don’t really want to say any more than I already have done on the plot.

It’s a lovingly created piece of art, every single scene is given time to breathe, the characters are well fleshed out and it feels very, very intimate at times. Performances are mostly high, De Niro is the best we’ve seen him for a long time and Pacino is allowed to chew up every scene he’s in and be a crazy, unhinged tour de force. Though really, this is what these two actors have spent their careers doing, it’s still great to see them perform at this level as we’ve had quite a few years of them being in rather below par movies. Keitel knocks it out of the park when he’s on-screen too, though he’s not in this quite as much as you’d expect. Stephen Graham, as antagonist Tony Pro is also very, very good. However, it’s Joe Pesci that absolutely steals the show.

Now, that’s not really much of a surprise. I’ve always felt he’s been the lesser appreciated of these actors, he got very easily typecast as the fast-talking, bad-tempered, foul-mouthed bloke with the little guy complex. He does this to great effect in Goodfella’s, My Cousin Vinny and Home Alone, probably his three most famous roles (especially that first one), though nobody came out of the god-awful Lethal Weapon 3 and 4 particularly rosie.

Here, though, he’s different. Here he literally steals every single scene he’s in, even opposite the excellent Pacino. I’ll admit though, I was waiting for him to blow up, start flipping tables, spitting obscenities in peoples faces, but it never came, and I’m really glad it didn’t. Instead, Scorsese seems to play with that typecast, the viewer is waiting for it to happen but he keeps Pesci on a short leash, giving him just enough spit and venom behind his tinted glasses for him to be really menacing. Every word he utters is either a disguised instruction, left for the recipient (and viewer) to interpret themselves, or is on the very cusp of telling whomever that he is not to be fucked with, that he’s the one in control here, and its totally believable.

This is Pesci’s movie.

The subtlety applied to Pesci’s character doesn’t stop there though, the script is littered with this stuff, no one says exactly what it is they’re after. There’s the idea or implication that they know they’re all being watched or that the authorities are trying to infiltrate their ranks, so any discussion, be it crime-related or otherwise, is disguised. Whoever may be listening in may know what they mean, but if any recordings of those conversations made it into court, then well, it could be anything. It is what it is as Russ tells Frank to tell Hoffa.

That’s not to say that its always that way. There’s one interaction, maybe halfway through the film? Hoffa and Pacino have gone to LA to meet with Graham’s Tony Pro, Hoffa and Pro had been in prison at the same time and had gotten into a fight over the latter’s union pension. Anyway, plot details again, Tony Pro (or The Little Guy as they all call him behind his back) is 15 minutes late, Hoffa doesn’t like people being late and wants an apology from Tony, Tony wants an apology for their fight in prison. Frank is looking on, trying not to laugh at the ridiculousness of things but also trying to find a way to calm things down, and well, it is what it is, its quite a funny scene (funny how?), it was played really straight, but it genuinely felt like everyone involved knew the interaction was funny and kept on with the ridiculousness of it, especially De Niro trying to be the sensible guy “12 and a half” indeed!

It’s not perfect though is it? It’s not Scorsese’s best work either, though I don’t think its faults are especially down to him. Due to the age of the cast and the way we keep switching through time as we are told this story, Scorsese opted to use de-ageing technology. I’ve read he didn’t want to use the same method as Marvel use, where they stick balls to the actor’s faces for computers to track. Instead, ILM had to come back with a different tech, which they did and it was used here. Thing is, they all still look really old throughout and the only way I could genuinely tell what time period we were supposed to be in (and thus at what stage of the characters lives) is by using a combination of their wardrobes (though they’re nearly always in suits), the set dressing and the cars they’re using.

De Niro, who the film focuses on the most (and is the titular Irishman), is the biggest issue here, even ignoring the de-ageing tech on his face, he just cannot convincingly perform like a man that is around 30-40 years younger than he actually is, he moves like a man in his 70’s and this is the most obvious in one particular scene where he beats up a shopkeeper. It doesn’t stop the film being enjoyable, and I respect Scorsese’s decision to stick with this cast of actors rather than split things and have a young Frank, Russ etc played by younger actors then the periods where the characters are much older have them be played by Pesci, De Niro and co. Especially as if he had taken that route, we wouldn’t have had this performance from Pesci and if you only watch this film for that, then you’re in for an amazing treat.

People will be put off by that run-time though, but you have to remember, big-budget Hollywood blockbusters like Avengers Endgame have a run time that’s fairly similar, and in all honesty I find that film to be exhausting as it doesn’t let itself breath let alone the audience. The Irishman is totally different, it wants you to be a part of this world, it wants you to be one of the lower-ranked guys looking on as the big guys play their poker game. It reminds me of the scenes in The Soprano’s where Tony, Paulie and Silvio would say around outside a cafe, bitching about everybody else, gossiping and plotting, which is no bad thing, it might have been provoked by me having a pizza whilst watching it (only a Domino’s, I should have bought a frozen Goodfella’s!).

I genuinely enjoyed the experience of sitting down and spending so much time with these characters, it’s rare that I make it through something this length without falling asleep, but I managed it with this so make of that what you will, though I also got to the end wishing we had got a one-off series of ten one hour episodes so we could have had more time with not only Joe Pesci but also the likes of Tony Pro.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

A Storm of Swords 2: Blood and Gold – George R R Martin

Somehow, over a busy and stressful Christmas period, I managed to read the second part of George R R Martin’s A Storm of Swords. I came away from the first part feeling deflated, I liked the “ending” with all the stuff surrounding Bran and Jon, though the two didn’t meet, Jon seemed to feel something was going on. However, the book as a whole certainly did feel like it was building up to something more, however I fully admit reading these two books as the single volume they were originally released as would have been far too daunting for me.

This is the book where everybody dies, or it feels like that anyway, we lose Joffrey, Robb (and pretty much his entire army), Catelyn, Shae and Tywin. By the end of the book we only have Stannis and Danaerys left who have been vocal about their claim to the Iron Throne, Tommen is to be crowned as King but now theres no Hand to take control of things whilst he matures.

One of my favourite moments in this book is the passage that takes us from Jaime trying to redeem himself to his brother Tyrion, though his revelation surrounding the truth of Tyrion’s marriage to Tysha, where we find out that Tyrion’s relationship was genuine and that Jaime had been forced by his father to make Tyrion believe she was a whore. Jaime was obviously hoping that his confession would heal some of Tyrion’s pain and hopefully heal and bitterness between the two of them, though there has always been some warmness in their relationship, this particular event has always been an (understandable) sticking point for Tyrion. It doesn’t have the required effect though, in fact its the total opposite, which again, I find perfectly understandable when Jaime had defied his father by joining the Kingsguard in order to try and (secretly) be with Cersei, Tyrion, having kind of kept his siblings secret, evidently feels betrayed. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that Tywin is killed whilst trying to deal with a rather stubborn bowel movement. The guy was so up himself that his shit was packed in there too.

I’ve said in previous A Song of Ice and Fire posts that I’m not much of a fan of Sansa, I think I began to warm to her in the first half of A Storm of Swords, but I do think we see so much more growth here. She’s still a typical princess, but she’s also beginning to become far less trustful than those around her, and with good reason. There’s a genuine sense of caution in her dealings with Ser Dontos during her escape from Kings Landing, particularly prior to her having to climb down the cliff face. But she’s also wary of Littlefinger, there’s no obvious signs, but I always felt she seemed uncomfortable when in his company. You could argue she’s silly in trusting Lysa, but despite not knowing her aunt, she’s always been raised to believe that bloodties matter, and she isn’t really aware quite how mad her mothers sister has become.

There are two things I want to address before I finish up. The handling of Jon becoming Commander of the Night Watch was well handled but fairly predictable, I’d say it was predictable even if you hadn’t watched the show. However, we definetly get to see the reason why so many people look up to him and why the old guard fear him so much when he’s handled control of the Wall during the battle with the Wildlings. Every single man commits to his instructions, but not only does he apply sound commands that work, he seems to have a natural flair for looking after his men, allowing them to make wagers that keep morale up but keeping himself seperate enough that there cant be any sense of betrayal (and that part in particular reminds me of the Bastogne episode of Band of Brothers). He also acknowledges when certain men, and indeed himself, need to step away from the action for a while.

Lastly, onto the Epilogue, I had to Google this after reading, its the first time that I’m certainly aware of that something that happened in these books wasn’t translated to the screen. I understand there’s fan theories around whether Catelyn does indeed come back in the TV show, but its only rumour and speculation and I’m not getting into that. Do I like the idea? Why not, if they can bring Gregor Clegayne back (in the show, thats not happened in the books yet) as a giant zombie, then Thoros bringing Catelyn back and the repercussions for the Frey’s from that is definetly something I’m looking forward to.

In a way, its a shame that there’s going to be a months break between this book and the next one in the series, I genuinely really enjoyed this one, I’d say it was my favourite so far and I’m itching to see where it goes next (especially as alot of what happened in the show is foggy in my mind). I’m also happy for the break and reading whatever is nominated next as I don’t want to burn myself out on them when there’s still a few (three?) books to go.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Legend of Legacy (3DS)

It often feels to me that despite the current love for all things retro (especially graphically!) there’s a distinct lack of old-school JRPG’s missing from the market. I’ve said this to others and have been told that Bravely Default is what I’m looking for, I’ll have to admit I’ve still not got around to grabbing a copy of that. However, for all intents and purposes Atlus’ Legends of Legacy looks like it could be the plug for that hole. Or is it?

Things are a bit odd in Legends of Legacy, it definitely ticks the boxes for being old-school. It encourages exploration, has a fantastic looking land to explore, feels traditional and has an excellent turn based battle system (more on that in a moment). However, developer FuRyu have made some notable alterations to that familiar formula. There’s very little in the form of structure, you’re given the basic outline of a story and then left to your own devices to go and explore, you don’t acquire additional party members, the entire troupe is available to use within the first couple of hours and levelling up has now been assigned to the battle systems formation system. It makes for an odd but interesting experience.

That battle system is the games focal point, you’ll head off to a new location intent on exploring and opening up the entire map (which can then be sold), battling rather bland enemies as you go. Aside from the beasts, which mostly appear as a variety of shadowy blobs, the game looks utterly gorgeous, so the lack of imagination in the appearance of enemies when you’re battling is a huge let down for an area you’re going to be spending a lot of time in for a couple of reasons. The first is that its actually rather interesting, even if its not really explained particularly well by the game itself. Your party members can occupy one of 3 places in battle which then defines how the battle goes. You can change the formation at the start of each turn and experience is applied to your character’s stance within that formation once the battle has finished. This in turn enables you to acquire move sets for each weapon you’re wielding which also allows you to balance some of the more traditional style jobs for the genre (which aren’t named within the game but its pretty obvious once you’re beginning to progress that you’re developing a tank, a healer etc. based upon your approach to each and every battle). The battle system is most definitely Legend of Legacy’s saving grace, if it weren’t for the fact that you will definitely find yourself having to be in battles far too often just to be able to be strong enough to head to new areas then it’d be almost reason enough to stick at the game.

Unfortunately, as mentioned, its been applied to a game that doesn’t really want you to progress. There’s a decent script with some very basic but likeable characters here, but they the lack of any thorough plot or hook just leaves any potential that they or the games stunning world have utterly wasted. Its one thing to have an excellent battle system, after all its the one part of these types of games you always have control over, but there’s nothing here to really tie it to. Which is an utter shame, there’s the building blocks of something really promising here, and FuRyu should be commended for trying something different whilst trying to appeal to traditionalists but Legends of Legacy is, sadly, a failed experiment where I cant help feel like the creators lacked a bit of direction and just maybe needed to be reeled in just a little in order to tie the whole thing together.

Gaming

“Playing” Akira (Mega Drive prototype)

Over Christmas 2019 the videogame preservation website The Hidden Place uploaded a ROM dump of a prototype for SEGA’s Mega Drive of an unreleased Akira tie-in, regular readers and those who know me are well aware of my love for Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga and movie, so it comes as no surprise that I had to have a go at this.

It’s worth saying before I go ahead though that this appears to be a very early prototype, in fact, Hidden Place believe this is from before a demonstration at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show in 1994, a kind of precursor to E3 (Wikipedia suggests Mega Man X was shown to the public for the first time at the 1993 show, and the first E3 didn’t take place until 1995 when SEGA famously launched their Saturn console). I didn’t even know this existed, I didn’t get properly into videogames (buying magazines, looking forward to future releases etc) until I got a PlayStation, prior to that I’d literally just be playing whatever I fell into my lap.

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What we have here in this prototype is very bare-bones, but its a real good look at what Black Pearl Software were working on (the studio are probably better known for working on Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi on the SNES and Jungle Strike on the Mega Drive) and it would seem that THQ were to publish the game as Black Pearl Software are listed during the intro’s as a “THQ subsidiary”.

First impressions are quite positive, the attract sequence looks and sounds the part, with the camera panning across the shot of Kaneda that we’re used to from the covers of VHS and DVD copies of the film from over the years. Going into options lets you play with the background music, which was a regular thing that used to happen in games, it’s particularly the work the sound design has done to capture the sound and feel of the movie, there are noticeable elements of the score here and where the composer has had to be creative they mostly hit all the right notes. The level select looks pretty cool too, with a map of Neo-Tokyo and icons telling you who’ll you be playing as and what the gameplay will entail.  There’s no level progression at this stage though, you can select any of them to play at will and a press of the Mega Drives start button (or emulation equivalent) whilst in a level brings you back to this screen.

So the front end is excellent, playing is a bit hit and miss though. Black Pearl has decided to go down the route of using a variety of 16-bit era gaming archetypes to play out key moments from the movies, there’s on bike levels that play like Super Hang-On but clearly use Road Rash as inspiration as you can (playing as either Tetsuo or Kaneda) kick and punch as you ride along. There’s no enemies or traffic to avoid, nor can you hit any of the signs that are along the side of the road. The viewpoint is a little low too, with Kaneda’s bike, in particular, obscuring the player’s view. Whilst the sprites are pretty cool (and the background work of Neo-Tokyo in the distance being particularly impressive) they’re clearly unfinished as turning animations are more than ropey.

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There are four other gameplay styles that the developers have experimented with, to varying levels of success, Kaneda’s levels involve exploring and escaping from the sewers beneath the Olympic Stadium, first on foot and then on a flying platform, on the latter I came across a doorway that I could enter, taking me behind the scenery and beyond a wall, but I couldn’t enter out the other side so my progress was halted, and on the latter, there wasn’t any route through the level. There were pickups available on both, drugs heal and I picked up a gun for Kaneda, whilst on the flying platform level I picked up ammunition, there were also enemies to kill.

Tetsuo’s levels feel like that had the most potential but were probably the least playable. These are played out from a first-person perspective, exploring a map in the manner of an early first-person shooter, though here you don’t have a collection of guns to use, as you have access to Tetsuo’s telekinetic powers. The third level for Tetsuo is played out from an isometric point of view as he walks across a bridge towards groups of soldiers, this level began to glitch quite heavily with the screen tiling rather than scrolling and enemies not dying when hit with a blast from Tetsuo’s powers.

The very last level doesn’t work at all, once you move from the level select screen you’re presented with a background of the Olympic Stadium with sprites of Tetsuo and Kaneda facing each other. I can only guess that this would be a beat-em-up like experience or maybe like the bosses at the end of side-scrolling action games where Kaneda would be tasked with avoiding Tetsuo’s attacks and either kicking and punching him or maybe using the laser from the end of the film to defeat him. However, before you can play, the whole game freezes and crashes forcing you to restart the console/emulator in order to try out the other levels further.

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Hidden Place actually put out a video showing off a lot more content than I managed to see, though I’ll readily admit I didn’t spend much time in each of the levels, usually quitting out once I’d gotten an idea of what was going on. I do intend on spending more time with it and seeing what else I can find (I’ve not watched all of the video as I wanted to see some of this stuff for myself).

There have been a few Akira games released since the movie came out in 1988, though they’re all apparently rather poor (or haven’t even been released outside of Japan), so despite the fact, this isn’t even a game, the experimentation on display from Black Pearl Studio’s at least suggests that we could have had a pretty good game on our hands with a fair bit of variety and some excellent polish, the little video’s introducing each segment are brilliantly done.

#throwbackthursday, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowbackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 19

Before we get underway with part 19 of my Final Fantasy IX playthrough I’d like to say Happy New Year to you all. 2019 was the year I threw myself back into my writing after stopping towards the end of 2016 on my previous website, and, well, the fact I’m still at it is a big positive, that I still enjoy it is an even bigger plus and that as far as statistics go, I’ve had a far better reception than I ever thought I’d have, personal feedback has been positive too, so thank you to everyone that reads my stuff, thank you to everyone who comments and clicks that Like button and thank you to those of you who also follow me on my social media platforms. I’d do this stuff anyway, but you make it all worth it. 

I do have one more thing to add before we go onto the game stuff, normally the first #ThrowbackThursday of the month is used to talk about the Retro Game Club game that I’d been playing prior to that month, but as December is such a busy time (for everybody), I just didn’t have the time nor energy to join in with that, so that feature should be back at the start of February.

Onto Final Fantasy IX then.

Back in December, prior to Christmas and prior to my Albums of the Year countdown, I’d literally just finished Disc Two, an excellent place to end the year. Zidane, Vivi, Eiko, Amarant and Dagger had gone to the Iifa Tree to take on Kuja, though before they could select the battle music, Brahne appeared with a navy, she unleashed Bahamut, but Kuja turned the eidolon back on her fleet resulting in the death of the Queen of Alexandria.

Disc three opens with Beatrix, Doctor Tot, Steiner and Garnet arriving at Alexandria Castle by boat/ The Princess hasn’t yet been crowned, her coronation will be in three days time.

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Elsewhere Zidane has managed to meet up with Cinna, Marcus, Ruby and Blank, though he’s hardly in a talkative mood. They decided to leave Zidane to it and go visit Ruby’s theatre. En route Blank bumps into Vivi and the two quickly fill each other in on what they’d been doing since Garnet had been freed from her imprisonment at the castle. Marcus tells Blanbk to hurry up as Ruby hates them being late, so he bids farewell and follows after his Tantalus companion.

Vivi heads into the bar but Zidane still doesn’t want to talk, I have a couple of quick games of cards with the other people there and lose both, though I pull things back in games elsewhere in Alexandria, ultimately playing 6, winning 3 and losing 3.

Out on the streets, there’s a bit of excitement building surrounding Garnets coronation, one little girl declares she wants to grow up to be as strong as the soon to be crowned princess.

An ATE shows Eiko visiting the castle, she meets the kitchen staff who realise shes rather hungry, but then declare that to be “too bad” and head back to their kitchen.

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Hippolady tells Vivi that her son, Hippaul, plays too many card games and asks Vivi to have a race against him, which Vivi agrees to do. The race requires me to hammer the square and circle buttons alternately, like in the old Track & Field games from the arcades (and home consoles), this isn’t the easiest thing to do on the Vita as its face buttons are rather small but still, I beat Hippaul rather easily, though Vivi doesn’t receive anything for his troubles. I do the race again and purposely lose, but again, Vivi doesn’t get any reward. Hippaul does have “(Level 5)” next to his name so there’s probably more to it than just running it a couple of times, but I decide to move on. After all, Hippaul doesn’t even like running.

After exploring Alexandria for a while, Blank encourages Vivi to enter Ruby’s theatre, he’s not dared to go in so far as he knows Ruby will be angry at him being late, indeed, when Vivi descends the stairs Ruby begins to tell him off, thinking he’s Blank and Marcus but is surprised when she turns around and see’s Vivi there. Not knowing him she calls him “kind strange” but before long Cinna arrives and introduces the two to each other properly and Ruby invites him to see her play.

Back in the castle, Garnet wants Steiner to find Zidane, he tries to tell her she has more important matters to attend to and that she lives in a different world now. Tot and Beatrix arrive and tell the princess it is time that she got changed, with Tot handing her stones of Opal, Topaz and Amethyst, which contain the power that Brahne (and Kuja) had removed from her. Steiner and Tot then excuse themselves, leaving Garnet with Beatrix. She asks the General to see Zidane but Beatrix also denies this request.

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Eiko is still walking around the castle and she’s still intent on “winning” Zidane, she believes that Garnet is now out of the picture as she’s to become queen and see’s this as the perfect chance to write him “the most romantic letter ever”. She spies Doctor Tot coming down the stairs from Garnets quarters, though she doesn’t know who he is, she decides he must be intelligent of his “big beard, nerdy hat and thick glasses”, she asks him if he’s a writer, which he confirms, and enlists him in writing her letter. As she leads the way to where she wants to do this he notices her horn.

This triggers a memory of a ship washing up in Alexandria after a storm, inside were a woman and a baby girl. Unfortunately, the woman was dead, but when he looked at the baby’s face he was surprised to see she looked exactly like Princess Garnet, who had just passed away. However, this child had a horn. When the baby was presented to the king he ordered for the horn to be removed, then he and Queen Brahne raised the child as Princess Garnet (and nobody asked any questions or raised any objections!?)

After getting into her coronation dress, Garnet reveals to Beatrix that Brahne wasn’t her real mother. However Beatrix had already been told this by Doctor Tot, Beatrix tells Garnet that he allegiance will remain to her rule and she will continue to serve the new ruler of Alexandria.

Eiko finishes her letter (well, Doctor Tot writes it all), and runs off to give it to Zidane. Unfortunately, she somehow bumps into Baku on the balcony above the main staircase in the castle, this throws her over the side of the balcony and she gets caught on something, leaving her hanging in the air and dropping her letter. For some reason, Baku can’t help her down, but he agrees to deliver the letter to Zidane instead.

Baku then stumbles across Steiner who tells him to leave the castle as thieves do not belong there. Baku reminds him that “one of his boys” saved the kingdom, which Steiner reluctantly agrees with (he still doesn’t like Zidane) but he believes once a thief, always a thief and he can’t possibly let “their kind” roam about the castle, before leaving though, Baku somehow drops Eiko’s letter.

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Trying to figure out what all the commotion is, Beatrix also arrives at the docks, though this is just after Baku and Steiner leave. She realises that was all Steiner though. Thinking to herself she acknowledges that Alexandria is at peace again, though she wonders why it is that she still feels sorrow in her heart, it is then she spots Eiko’s letter on the ground and assumes it was Steiner who dropped it, she picks it up and reads it:

“When the night sky wears the moon as it’s pendant, I shall await you at the dock.”

She thinks that Steiner has written her a love letter.

Back at the bar, Zidane is pining for Garnet. Ruby, Marcus, Blank and Cinna all burst in and start shouting things like “you can do it” though exactly what they think he can do is unclear. When Baku arrives Zidane begs him to allow him back into Tantalus. Baku refuses by saying “A Tantalus always gets what he sets his eyes on.” “If you can’t even capture a canary, you ain’t got what it takes to join Tantalus!” Vivi also arrives and asks if they can go to see Dagger. Zidane agrees to go, saying they could go cheer her on before she becomes queen.

We’re really getting to see all the main cast now (Quina’s classed as an optional character I believe). Freya is by the docks, staring at the water complaining Zidane hasn’t visited her to say hello, as she turns to leave Amarant is walking towards her, she stops (having not met him before) to ask him what he’s staring at, Amarant takes this as a challenge and the two warriors square up to each other until the Alexandrian soldiers keeping watch over the docks threaten to arrest them. Zidane and Vivi arrive, with Freya trying to leave. Zidane tells her to stop being mad, this irritates Freya and she tells him that he is the reason she is mad because he’s been off wandering around, avoiding Dagger and probably hasn’t found anything else out about Kuja (and Freya is the first person since Brahne died to even mention Kuja!)

She believes Kuja will attack again, he’s already taken Garnets eidolons once (or coerced Brahne to do so) and has now killed the queen, so there must be more to come. Zidane gets all that, but he can’t even talk to Garnet and doesn’t know if he can protect her, plus now she’s becoming queen, she’ll have all the guards she needs. Vivi clearly disagrees with Zidane, and rather bravely for the little guy, tells Zidane he thinks Garnet will want to see him and then encourages him to take to the boat to the castle.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: LEGO Marvel Avengers (PlayStation 4)

Since 2005 we have seen the release of 21 LEGO themed video games from Travellers Tales, ranging from the original LEGO Star Wars through a variety of popular licenses including Harry Potter and Batman. We’ve already had one Marvel themed game from the studio, but that was its own set adventure, this time out the focus is quite squarely aimed at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With this in mind, you’ll find yourself playing through elements of most of the movies released from Captain America: The First Avenger up until and including Avengers: Age of Ultron.

That’s a lot of ground to cover, the Harry Potter franchise was split into two separate games. It’s also a rather large number of characters, over 100 in fact, although 13 of those are different suits for Iron Man alone. Unfortunately it also means the omission of a bunch of fan favourites, notably the FOX and Sony movie characters, so Spider-Man, the X-Men and (thankfully) the Fantastic Four (I really disliked using them in Marvel Super Heroes.

The formula is the same as ever, work through each level beating the crap out of everyone and everything to release a whole bunch of LEGO studs and solve simple puzzles using the different characters abilities to progress through the level and unlock more content. I find it all to be kind of fun in small doses but I’ve never been one for games that put a lot of focus on collecting things, although the chance to play a game as using Ms Marvel, Wasp, Captain Britain or Squirrel Girl (all of whom aren’t MCU characters but are unlockable here) is enough to keep me chipping away.

LEGO Marvel Avengers features a handful of over-worlds, the biggest of which is once again Manhattan, here you can take on extra mini-quests and even be involved in solving random crimes that happen whilst you’re running around, it makes the game feel surprisingly lived-in, although getting around is a bit of a ball-ache as the vehicles are horrible to control. That’s one of the many problems I’ve always had with the series and the other two key ones that irritate are still here and have been for as long as I remember. The way the split-screen works has always been an issue for me.. The fixed vertical split leaves very little room for being able to see what’s going on whilst the reactive split-screen, where the split moves with the character, feels sporadic and far too intrusive and in my humble opinion the entire franchise would work better if bothy were dropped and you both had to stay within the confines of the screen, its not like you’re allowed a lot of freedom to go off wandering when in the structured levels, although the hubs they’ve introduced in more recent titles would definitely be affected.

The other thing that gripes is the games checkpointing. It often feels sporadic, and in a franchise that feels like its aimed at family members who want to play together, it leaves something to be desired that you may have to abandon the game at times that the game doesn’t want you to forcing you to replay whole chapters, which grates when you’ll find yourself having to return to every section of the game later on anyway in order to unlock everything. As I say, these are all issues that have been apparent for a long, long time now and with the schedule being roughly two titles per year or thereabouts, plus with Dimensions being a thing, it’d be nice to see them being addressed rather than each and every game feeling like a re-skin. I recently went back to the original LEGO Star Wars and whilst there’s been a lot of stuff added over the years, there’s still a hell of a lot of things that felt broken then that feel broken in Marvel Avengers, which considering the 11 years or thereabouts between them, is a ridiculous situation to be in.

That’s not to say that there isn’t fun to be had with this release, as per usual, if you’re a fan of the subject that’s being covered you’ll find plenty of content to keep you happy and the little jokes are as amusing as ever. But its just annoying to be criticising a series for the same thing again and again,

Albums of the Year 2019, Music

My Top Ten Albums 2019: #1 End of Suffering – Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes

Politics and mental health have been a recurring theme of my top ten albums this year (and were prevalent themes of last years too), and both feature heavily on Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes latest, especially mental health, as Carter continues to battle with the ball of fire that’s been in his belly since he was part of Gallows (and if you haven’t checked their early albums out, fucking do that now!). End of Suffering is a very different album into 2017’s Modern Ruin, in that Carter came across as a very angry man, something he’s made a career of, here he’s more mellow, more self-reflective and challenging his historical views and the effects its had on the health of those around him as well as himself, especially in songs that will become life performance anthems such as Anxiety.

It’s also worth checking out some of the remixes they’ve created from tracks on this album.

Albums of the Year 2019, Music

My Top Ten Album 2019: #2 Cut & Stitch – Petrol Girls

Petrol Girls need to be so so much bigger than they currently are and I hope they grow and fulfil their potential. They’re a band that I keep trying to expose my daughters to listen to as they discuss so many issues that affect women everywhere whilst tying it all into some absolutely fucking amazing punk music, just listen to Big Mouth, what a fucking track. The whole album feels extremely experimental and yet awesomely polished, this group know exactly what they’re doing, they don’t want you to be comfortable, they’re here to absolutely smash the patriarchy and if you don’t like that then they’re more than happy to tell you “up yours”. Petrol Girls are our this generations The Slits.