bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Serious Sam 2 (XBox)

The title of the game is a bit misleading, don’t misunderstand this game, in fact the back of the box spells out exactly what this game is like “Bigger Guns! Weirder Enemies! Pick up where Sam “Serious” Stone left off as he battles the hordes of minions of Mental, the biggest, most evil guy in the Universe. Get ready to grab a gun and blow $#!%up…..again!” So how is the games title misleading? Well Serious Sam 2 is far from being a serious game.

Heck in the opening of the game it makes a joke of itself when Sam notices NETRISKA (a computer implant in his head) suddenly has a voice, to which it responds “We have a bigger gaming budget now” But not only does it have a dig itself but at other games too. In one particular section early on, a tribe leader refers to Sam as Samus, which appears to annoy big Sam a little.

The game itself is very on rails, aside from a few small secrets, it really is how the original Doom would be gameplay wise if it was released this generation, well minus the Mars setting and hellspawn. Theres no thinking about your surroundings, you don’t have to worry too much about ammo, theres not much chance that you’ll get lost or come across a dead end in any of the levels. Croteam have made Serious Sam 2 as simple as a modern day FPS can be in order to make it fun, and its this simplicity that is also Serious Sam 2’s downfall.

You see, because Croteam have made the game so simple, Serious Sam 2 becomes very repetitive very quickly, all it involves is moving from one location to another shooting everything in site as fast as you can, sometimes you get to use turrets or vehicles but its the same idea still and its only the games weirdly ingenious creature designs that keep you entertained. You find yourself working through each area just to see what new weird looking thing will attack you next, but even this wears thin.

Overall if your looking for something thats not as serious as Half Life 2 or Quake 4 and more macho than Master Chief (amazingly thats actually possible!) then Serious Sam is for you.

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Gaming, General, Mental Health, Music, TV

Mind Games: Men, Gaming and Mental Health

I’ve been sitting on this post since around the time I started writing regularly, but its something I’ve been struggling to put together, there’s been alot of self doubt in regards to me actually writing this as I’m really, really concerned that my writing ability isn’t at a level that I feel I can do this justice. It’s a topic that I find particularly challenging.

So, a little background, I’m 35 now, I have three children, all girls, one of whom is 15. I was exactly four weeks to the day off turning 20 when she was born. Two years prior to that I was diagnosed with depression and put onto anti-depressants. Around a year after moving away from home and before my eldest daughter was born I decided I felt much better within myself, I was working and despite being young I was looking forward to becoming a Dad. I decided I was “better” and stopped taking my medication. I’ve never been particularly out going, I’ve always preferred being in my own company or with an individual than big parties and the like, so spending the next few years with just my partner, myself and our daughter, but playing on XBox Live reguarly was absolutely fine. I wasn’t well though, and the pressure of adding two more children to the mix, being made redundant twice and taking on a job where I was very much out of my comfort zone and meant alot of changes at home left me in a really dark place and things became really bad for my whole family, for which I still hold myself responsible. I had to seek help and am now back on medication, its a low dose, but its helping. I’ve started to socialise a little in recent months, its only once a month at a book club, but its just enough and once the kids are back at school I’m looking at other things I can do that will keep me healthy.

However, its very easy to close myself off, seal everything away and bottle it all up, its what my Dad’s always done so its a learnt behaviour. Thing is, this has all come back to mind in recent weeks, especially after being reminded that the world lost Chester Bennington two years ago. Now I used to love Linkin Park, I adored their first album, they weren’t my favourite band (during that era it was Feeder, but it came as a shock when the news broke about his death and the circumstances around it. Like Kurt Cobain, its easy to look back and point to their lyrics and say “oh this was them asking for help” or whatever, and its easy for people close to them to wonder if there was anything they could have done to help them, you only have to listen to Feeder’s “Comfort in Sound” and “Pushing the Senses” albums to hear the grief and torture our loved ones put themselves through after such events (for those that aren’t aware, on the back of Feeder really hitting it off with their Echo Park album plus singles Buck Rogers, Seven Days in the Sun and Just A Day, drummer Jon Lee took his own life, he tried to call Grant Nicholas, lead singer and guitarist of the band, shortly before he did so but Grant didn’t take the call and was full of guilt afterwards, something he has spoken openly about in interviews and his lyrics ever since). Its not just Chester though, look at the list of high profile suicides.  Chester Bennington, Anthony Bourdain, Chris Cornell, Robert Enke, Keith Flint, Dave Mirra, Gary Speed, Robin Williams. Both that list and the names mentioned are only a small proportion of reported suicides, both Male and Female.

However, suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. An despite campaigns from the NHS, Mind and movements like Movember, we men seem to not be doing anything about it. We still bottle things up, despite knowing better, I still do it from time to time. We still won’t talk openly about it and we still don’t do much, if at all, to look after ourselves. There’s been great movement in recent years in most people looking after their physical health in a much better manner, gyms are everywhere you look, Instagram is full of people showing off their bodies, both the Google Play and Apple App stores are chock full of free apps that are designed to get you active, and thats great, personally speaking its something that I need to do for myself. However, how many of us take the time out to really work on our mental health? When people who we think have it all, like Bennington, decide to take their own life, then building a social media profile counts for nothing when you aren’t even comfortable in your own mind. When you’re full of self doubt, its exhausting.

I mentioned up post about the book club I’m a part of, I’d be lying if I said I found it easy. The whole group are lovely, but I purposely walk the 40 minutes to each meeting with my earphones in listening to my favourite music in order to deal with my own anxiety before walking through the door of my comic shop, saying “hi” to every body and then finding the courage to voice my opinions on the book we’re discussing at that particular meeting. I have other systems in place too, although they’ve slipped in recent weeks and I’m finding getting into the habit again particularly difficult. Each night I had a handful of apps I’d work through:

Brain Yoga
Lumosity
Woebot
Daylio
Drops

I’d spend 15-20 minutes an evening working through these apps, then take the dog for a walk before taking my medication and vitamins, then getting into bed (with my phone out of reach and all the apps locked down) and reading my book. I used to be a poor sleeper but this routine has really helped over the past twelve months.

It’s not the only positive thing I want to mention here. Last summer the BBC broadcast a new TV show, it was on BBC2 and was called “Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing“. The premise of the show was that both Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse (who for those who don’t know are both comedians who were really rather famous in Britain in the 90’s) have, in recent years, had heart operations. Paul Whitehouse has always gone fishing and he decided that he’d take Bob Mortimer along with him to get him out of the house and try and stop him feeling sorry for himself. It’s literally two blokes, in some beautiful locations, fishing. But that does it a disservice (not that theres anything wrong with that as a TV show, even as a non-angler its a nice relaxing watch), because its more than the sum of its parts. The two guys talk, they talk about their operations, they joke and compete about the changes its had on their lifestyles, Bob cooks “heart-healthy” meals for the pair of them and its a show that does away with all the bravado that you would expect of these two men. To bring it to some coherent conclusion, its two men doing what two men should be doing, taking an interest in each other beyond “bants”.

You may be wondering what this all has to do with gaming, and you’d be right for wondering that. As I write, this post has become essentially what I thought it might become, a bit of a ramble about mental health, coping measures and the like. But I think I touched on gaming and mental health a little a while back in my The Toxicity of Gaming Culture and my review of Drowning.

I think gamers are awful at looking after one another and I’m not finger pointing here, we’re talking about a past time here thats so heavily focused on competing with one another that there’s that element of not showing any weakness. The absolute biggest games of most era’s are competetive, you can see it when you read stuff that alludes to gaming and gamers such as Ready Player One, we even turn single player games into a competetive environment, what with speed runs and score attacks. This isn’t everyone, I’d never say that, but its hard to ignore. When you have communities surrounding certain games that rather than passing on tips and advice you’re simply told to “Git Gud”, how is that constructive or making a community accessible to all? As a community we spent decades being told we were a certain way, then our past time becomes hugely popular and the most vocal types begin to lash out or we turn on each other, abuse each other and generally act like shit.

I regularly play Gran Turismo Sport with the same group of people, within our group there’s people of all levels, we have people who cant commit to playing as regularly and we even get people from outside our little community who get invited to join in. Everybody is friendly and even when things on track there’s something happening on track, it never develops into animosity. In fact its probably the opposite. There’s something about racing that, in my opinion, differs it to other competetive games. For the most part its all about driving your own race, focusing on your own performance, and then when you are in a battle with somebody else, having the ability and confidence to watch somebody else, learn where you’re stronger than they are and take advantage of that as cleanly as possible and as a gaming experience I find it both tiring but therapeutic. Thats not to say a Call of Duty, Street Fighter, Fortnite or FIFA player doesn’t find their experience of those games to offer them the same, if thats what works for them then thats great, and thats what this is all about.

There’s some much more I want to say on this subject, and its something I may have to return to in future posts. I still don’t feel I’ve done the subject matter the justice it deserves and I’m not entirely sure if I’ve got my message across in a manner thats actually coherent. It’s such a big subject that I’ve given it it’s own catergory which you’ll now found amongst my top menu. I think as I through my own journey with my own personal mental health I’ll be able to provide more insight into my thoughts on the matter, but for now I’ve literally scrambled my brown throwing this all down into a post thats as much for me as it is for you, and I think this is one of the few times I’ve put a large chunk of me down for others to read it.

Lastly, I’d like to say, if you are struggling with your own mental health in any way, please, please get in touch with Mind by calling them on 0300 123 3393 or texting them at 86493. For any readers in the US, if you’d like to leave a suggestion of whom to contact for help then please do so, I’ll be adding details in my side bar so they’re always visible.

Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 4

Last week we left the story in Lindblum, Zidane and Princess Garnet/Dagger had had a heart to heart of sorts whilst we also saw other characters in and around Lindblum itself. We pick up the plot during preperations for the Festival of the Hunt.

Current Play Time: 14:57
Current Location: Gizamalukes Grotto

Whilst still on the rooftop of Lindblum Castle Zidane asks Garnet about an airship date he’d apparently planned, however it seems that she wasn’t the girl he’d actually invited on this date and Garnet appears to be upset by this. Zidane tries to style it out and declares that if he wins the Festival of the Hunt then he’ll take her out on a date.

The following day is the morning of the Festival of the Hunt. It seems the goal is to fight as many of the beasts that have been let loose in Lindblum as possible within the alloted time,

“The bigger the catch the higher the score!”

 

“Festival of the Hunt.

The time limit is 12 minutes.
Use air cabs to go to other districts.
Once you lose in a battle you will be forced to retire.

The winner will be crowned Master Hunter and receive the hunter’s reward.
Who will come out on top!?

Participants get to choose their reward, Zidane opts (unsurprisingly) for Gil, Freya says she’d like an “add-on” (an accessory) and Vivi, who wasn’t even aware he was entering but Zidane had put his name forward, chooses to receive a card in the event that he wins. Zidane also promises him a date with Garnet if he wins, although Garnet isn’t aware of this as its kept hush-hush between the pair. Each has a different starting point, as Zidane I start in the Theatre District. As it all kicks off, Garnet and Steiner cheer Vivi on.

ixm3.jpg

I optimize Zidanes gear so battles are over quicker, although they’re still agonisingly slow when you’re sat there watching the clock tick, you lose time to the game loading between screens and the ATB gauge always takes ages to fill up and there’s very little you can do about it. After clearing the Theatre District, I head to the Business District. I see Vivi being chased across the square and then on the next screen Zidane and Freya team up to take down a Zaghnol thats a little more than the organisers expected, however the timer runs out before we can finish it off. Ultimately Freya wins the Hunt and is awarded with a Coral Ring.

During the ceremony a Burmecian soldier staggers into the Throne Room, interupting proceedings, he’s severely injured. He has grave news from the King of Burmecia, their Kingdom has been attacked and the Burmecian soldiers are no match for whomever it is conducting the attack, the King requests reinforcements. Though from what the soldier says the enemy forces are comprised of Black Mages. Cid wants to recall one of his aerial divisions but is reminded that would mean they can no longer monitor Alexander. Garnet wonders if her Mother is somehow involved in the attack on Burmecia.

Freya decided she needs to head home to Burmecia immediately and Zidane opts to go too, though Freya initially refuses his help Zidane manages to persuade her otherwise. Vivi and Garnet want to go to, Vivi wants to find out more about the Black Mages whilst Garnet thinks she can talk to and stop her Mother if she is involved. However, Steiner tells her she can’t go and much to her surprise Cid agrees, she turns to Zidane for support but he too believes its too dangerous for her to go and so she is resigned to staying behind in Lindblum where she can be better protected. Cid invites the group to finish the celebration of Freya winning the Festival, despite all of this news, and as it will take some time for Dragons Gate to open, allowing them a route to Burmecia, the rest of the group agree’s to join him in the traditional feast.

During the feast Steiner notices Garnet isn’t eating, so she begins to pick at her food. Shortly afterwards everybody, aside from Garnet and Steiner, collapses. Steiner starts shouting in a panic, believing everybody has been poisoned and falls to the floor clutching his throat. Garnet looks at him, surprised, and tells him she didn’t put anything in his food, then tells him she put Sleep Weed, that she got off Zidane, in everybody elses food. She tells Steiner that she needs to escape Lindblum and head back to Alexandria to talk to her Mother. He tries to explain to her that its safer for her there in Lindblum, despite his earlier attempts to return her to Alexandria, but soon submits and obeys his Princess’ demands.

When the rest awake, they soon cotton on to whats happened, though it seems they believe Garnet is heading for Burmecia and decide they can hold on no longer and depart as soon as possible. Freya suggests heading to Gizamalukes Grotto in order to go under the mountains and get to Burmecia.

Before heading to the Dragon’s Gate, I return Zidanes equipment back to its pre-Festival state so he can continue to learn the abilities that were tied to that gear. I also take the cable trolley in the opposite direction and head to Serpent Gate first, which leads to Lindblums Harbour, which is barely used now because of the Mist and the airships.

At Dragon’s Gate Moonte has a letter from Stiltzkin:

From Stitlzkin to Moonte

I left Lindblum and headed north,
I walked through the Mist and Gizamalukes Grotto to reach Burmecia for the very first time.
It’s raining, as expected.
I’m going to look for shelter now…

On the World Map I find my way to Gizamaluke’s Grotto by following roots growing out of the ground. However, before entering I decide to explore my surroundings a little more. i move Freya into the front row for battles, her Jump move is good, but its not really needed in most random battles and I’m better served having her at the front of the party alongside Zidane where she can do more damage. If I need to play more defensively I can always move her back at any point. There’s Chocobo tracks, but I cant use them just yet.

images (2)

Whilst wandering around the World Map, I happen upon Qu’s Marsh where I bump into Mogster and his brother from the games tutorials, he doesn’t have anything new to teach me/his brother yet. There’s also a strange, large blue creature with a large tongue, chefs hat and a red/pink cardigan. It tell’s Zidane that it’s hungry, so when Zidane catches a frog it asks Zidane if he can eat it. It then introduces itself as Quina. Another of these creatures appears and lambastes Quina for not being able to catch food for itself, and then sends Quina off into the World with Zidane in order for it to experience different food (and frogs, which are apparently this species’ favourite) from the rest of the World.

As we leave Quales hut something appears to be bothering Vivi, he tells Zidane that Quale looked alot like his Grandpa and wonders if he knows him. We go back into the hut to question Quale, who tries to make out like he didn’t know Quan (Vivi’s Grandpa) but gives us just enough information that its clear that he does. He calls Quan a bigot and spills that they are from the same clan. Quale also refers to Quina as “S/he” but also as “him”. What a confusing bunch this lot are.

Back at the pond  where we met Quina I play a mini-game that involves catching frogs, I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of the game is, its one of those games where you have to wait for the right moment to strike to catch your prey and in all honesty I’m not very good at it.

Back out on the World Map, I enter random battles and I should mention at this point that Quina is a Blue Mage (Freya is a Dragoon/Dragon Knight), and in order for Quina to learn new abilities, Quina has to eat enemies, which means I have to weaken them sufficiently first, which is easier said than done. Even so Quina manages to learn three new abilities:

  • Pumpkin Head
  • Aqua Breath
  • Mighty Guard

I suddenly remember that when Zidane and Garnet were talking on the roof of Lindblum Castle the pair took some time to look through a large telescope and that I spotted various locations through it. So, again, before I head to Gizamaluke’s Grotto I check the map to see what I can access now and see Chocobo Forest on there. Once there I meet Mene the “Master of this forest” and he introduces me to his friend Choco the Chocobo. He tries to convince Choco to let me ride him but Choco runs away, Mene then gives me some Gysahl Greens, a Chocobo’s favourite food, that will allow me to summon Choco on the World Map, thus allowing me to travel faster and avoid random battles, he tells me that when I return he’ll tell me a secret. So I leave the forest, head to the nearest set of tracks, summon Choco and go straight back in.

The secret is another mini-game, Chocobo Hot and Cold, where I get Choco to run around the forest pecking the ground in the hope of finding hidden treasures, again, I’m not particularly good at this sort of mini game, mostly as I lack the patience for it.

Outside Gizamaluke’s Grotto two guards lay dead at the entrance. Freya demands to know who the Black Mage’s are, seemingly directing her question at Vivi, but runs ahead as she becomes ever more worried that the King is in danger. Inside there’s a door with a bell design carved into it, pushing the door wont open it, so there must be another way. We find another injured Burmecian soldier who, just before he dies, gives Zidane a bell and tells the group to go to Burmecia. We ring the bell outside the door we couldn’t open previously and the door begins to chime too, then once the bell in Zidane’s hand shatters, it opens and allows us through, I’ll be needing a bell for each door I find in the Grotto.

images (3)

Through the door Black Mage’s are killing Burmecian soldiers. Zorn & Thorn notice Zidane and the rest and are unsure if they recognise the group or not. They send a pair of Black Mages to kill them anyway, but I deal with them easily, which leads to Zorn & Thorn running away.

In one room within the Grotto, there is a Moogle frantically running around a large bell, it appears it has fallen and trapped her husband inside. Her name is Mogmi and she’s desperate for some help, its then that she notices something about Vivi, and after giving him a good sniff she realises he’s carrying a Kupo Nut. Vivi hands over the nut and she approaches the bell with it, which excites her husband enough that he finds the strength to tip the bell over, thus freeing himself. The couple are called Mogmi (the female Moogle) and Moguta (her husband). Mogmi also happens to have a letter from Moodon

From Moodon to Mogmi

This years Festival of the Hunt was sooo exciting! Kupo!
The highest score was 132 points!
A woman named Freya won the title!

Last years winner, Belma, only got 88 points!
Oh, it was so much fun!!!

In a room that is filled with water another soldier warns Freya to be careful, something is wrong with “Master Gizamaluke” and at that moment the party is attacked by a large serpent, the aforementioned Gizamaluke. This is the first challenging battle I’ve experienced in the game thus far, the Black Waltz No. 3 fight threw a bit of a curve ball, but in this I had to revive party members using Phoenix Downs quite regularly, even so, the beast is felled. Freya declares that they must hurry due to the king being in danger and, before I can explore the Grotto any further, the scene changes and we are now with Steiner who is carrying a large bag over his shoulder.

#ThrowBackThursday – Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 1

#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX Playthrough Part 2

#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 3

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Ridge Racer 6 (XBox 360)

Ah, Ridge Racer, how I loved thee! Well up until the slightly average PS2 launch title Ridge Racer V that is. Mind you, I still play Ridge Racer Type 4 today. This is the opinion of many gamers that played Ridge Racer and the rest of the series on the PlayStations and in the arcades. It’s always been a bit of a light-hearted fun, and the series has appeared on 4 brand spanking new consoles, including the most recent on the XBox 360, over its 10 year history.

A lot can happen in 10 years and a lot can change, and Ridge Racer has been no exception. After the disappointment that was Ridge Racer V, Namco seemingly wanted to distance itself from the series with R:Racing Evolution, a strange Gran Turismo/ Ridge Racer hybrid that didn’t really work due to its difficult handling. Then Son’y PSP launched with the game that has seemingly brought the series back on form.

But enough of the history lesson, and back to the present, Ridge Racer 6 is only the second game from the series to not appear on a Sony console and Microsoft seem to be hoping that Namco’s racer will bring them the same sort of success that Sony has achieved in the console market for their second system. Although from whats available here, although great fun, Microsoft have a much better game in Project Gotham Racing 3. Thats not knocking Ridge Racer 6 in anyway however, as it is indeed a very well made game with plenty to do, and its a nice option from EA and Namco to offer.

Unsurprisingly it handles just like its handheld cousin, and even includes the nitrous that appears in Ridge Racers. This is a very good thing as it makes Ridge Racer 6 accessible to everyone, but also leaves plenty of scope for you to become a master and hold your own when you take the game online. And as usual sliding your car perfectly round the track brings with it a adrenaline rush that has only been replicated in the Burnout series and OutRun 2. Although one advantage it has over the most recent Burnout is the absence of the stopping and starting due to Takedowns.

Ridge Racer 6’s only problem lies in the fact it just doesn’t feela s ast as other games in the series, or indeed the entire genre until you use your nitrous that is. Then the game really speeds up and feels like Ridge Racer should. You have to earn your nitrous by power sliding round corners, and the more nitrous you earn, the faster you can go and the more successful in the race you will be, obviously depending on how well you control the car you are driving.

The problem with the Ridge Racer series is, it was always rather shallow in terms of variety, including Ridge Racer Type 4 with its 300+ cars to unlock, and while RR6 tries to change this a little wihr a few different varieties of races, although its all more or less the same thing. But this is fine, Ridge Racer has never been a game for you to sit down and spend hours and hours playing the game, it has always been designed for you to switch on, have a couple of blasts of a few races and put something else on, and this is exactly why you should own Ridge Racer 6, in between playing Quake 4, Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo and the rest of the 360 line-up which takes it self far too seriously, its a simple solution to stick Ridge 6 on, chill out and have some fun.

Its nice to see something as light-hearted and fun on a console not created by Nintendo and for this Ridge Racer 6 deserves to be in anyones collection. It might not be as great as the first 4 titles in the series and feel a lot like the PSP title of a similar name, but it is the ying to PGR3’s yang in 360’s garage.

Anime, Movies

Thank fuck the Hollywood Akira is on hold again

Hah! I think that title says it all doesn’t it?

For a bit of background, Akira is one of my favourite films of all time, I have a rough top 10 of all time affair, and alot of them move around, but there are two films that are definetly at the top of that table but it’s difficult to pick between them, one is Blade Runner, the other is Akira. Besides, if you didn’t know already, this blog is named after a location in both the manga and the movie, whilst my header image is taken from the movie itself.

The Manga collection is also one of my favourite books of all time. Now that thats out of the way lets get on with this.

Thank fuck the Hollywood Akira is on hold again!

There, I said it again. But why? Because quite clearly Hollywood doesn’t understand movies not of American origin and it goes all the way back to Magnificent Seven, which isn’t a bad film, but its not a patch on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, mostly because it doesn’t really understand that films intricacies. However, it, at least, tried to be its own thing and went with a totally different name. So for a fairer comparison, look at Ghost in the Shell. Now I didn’t mind Scarlett Johansson taking on the role of Major Kusanagi, I understand the white washing criticsms but I didn’t really feel like the Kusanagi in either the original movies or the Stand Alone Complex was particularly Japanese in appearance, plus she has a cybernetic body so the original Kusanagi could have picked any physical appearance they wished. I’ve only read through the Manga on one occassion so I can’t really make comparisons there.

Onto Akira then, why am I glad its being shelved? Firstly, because it doesn’t need to be made. Go and watch Akira after reading this, it hasn’t aged at all, it still stands up today, it still feels relevant, it still blows most major animated movies, be they Ghibli, Disney Production IG, Akira stands high amongt their very best work. It. Doesn’t. Need. Remaking. Re-mastering? Maybe, I’m certainly not going to complain about Katsuhiro Otomo returning to it to do a 4k Remaster (not that I have a 4k TV and I can hardly see either of the two cinema’s in my town ever showing it). Is there stuff that can be made better? Sure, there’s loads of stuff that was important to the Manga that wasn’t in the film, mostly because Otomo hadn’t finished work on the Manga when he started and finished the movie, and I’m hoping that the new animated series he’s going to be making will address things and finally give us a completed adaptation of the Manga.

Secondly, the film would be heavily Americanised, I mean they were going to take it out of its Japan setting and set it in Neo-Manhatten. Just, No. Thats a total misunderstanding of what Akira is actually about. They’ve got the basic plot

Set in a future city environment called New Manhattan, the sci-fi epic follows the leader of a bike gang who must save his best friend, who has been experimented on by the government causing him to develop dangerous and destructive psychokinetic powers.

So, ignoring the setting, okay, thats how you’d describe Akira to someone who hadn’t seen or read it, but thats not what its actually about. The whole thing is about Japan, about its rebuild after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were rebuilt, about the American occupation and how Japanese kids were being influenced by US media and forming Bosozuku. It’s about civil unrest, politics and a country thats coming to terms with both its dark past and it being thrown into the modern world (the Edo period had only ended around 120 years before Akira’s release), its position of using nuclear power as a large source of its national energy and the difficulties the populace had with accepting that only a few decades after such power had been used against them.

I’ll admit the film doesn’t outright address these, it takes repeated viewings, reading the Manga and learning more about Otomo and his idea’s to learn all of this. But once you do know elements of this you can see it within the film (notice Tetsuo’s pattern being the same as the explosion Akira causes at the start of the film and how the latter in itself is similar to that of a nuclear explosion). Thing is, I did kind of start to come around to the idea when it was announced that Taika Watiti would be involved, and in actual face they’ve not scrapped the whole thing entirely, but I’ll be incredibly surprised if it see’s the light of day let alone if its any good. Just give me that animated series, let me keep the 1988 movie and, lastly, leave me alone to re-read my Dark Horse Manga collection.

Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 3

I’ve now spent three weeks with Final Fantasy IX and progress has been slow, but thats because I dont want to speed through it, plus taking notes adds to the play time and lastly I don’t want to include too much in one post. As things stand theres alot going on in this first disc of the game and this post, just judging by my notes, is going to be even longer than the last one which was rather lengthy. So, lets get on with it shall we?

Current Play Time: 11:05
Current Location: Lindlbum

Last week I left things in the Village of Dali, we’d discovered a hatch in the windmill and upon opening it Zidane and Dagger headed down the ladder which takes the two into what initially appears to be a Mine. We progress through the tunnel ahead and come out in an open area with a shed like structure tucked away in a corner and next to it is a pen with a Chocobo in. As Zidane tries to walk past the shed we hear voices from inside so Dagger and Zidane hide behind a nearby barrel. The voices seem to be discussing the Innkeeper and his discovery, the dispute between the Innkeeper and his brother and how this could mean the Innkeeper is joining the rest of the village in whatever it is they’re up to, that once they’ve dealt with this shipment then its up to the castle to deal with, and with that the leave the shed, with Vivi following them. It is then that Dagger notices the pattern printed onto the barrel they’ve been hidden behind, she recognises it and believes she’s seen similar barrels at Alexandria Castle, she tell’s Zidane that their must be a link between Alexandria and whatever it is that is happening in Dali. Zidane wants to go and rescue Vivi, but Dagger makes him promise to wait before he causes any trouble so she can try and find out more about whats going on, Zidane makes the promise but with the caveat that if he thinks Vivi is in danger (isn’t he already?) then he’ll be putting Vivi’s rescue first.

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I remember to equip Dagger and Zidane with the Feather Hat’s I bought in the village shop earlier on, Dagger only gets a small increase in her Spirit and Magic Defence stats, Zidane gets the same increase but can also learn Bright Eyes and Add Status.

As we make our way through this underground area Zidane notices loads of boxes scattered around that also happen to look a bit like coffins. Kumop the Moogle is hiding in a nearby barrel, he has a letter that needs to be delivered to Mogki. There’s also a treasure chest suspended in the air in the background which I manage to access by kicking an old rusted up winch, allowing the chest to drop to the ground, it’s only got a potion inside. There’s another chest I have to climb to too, which rewards me with an Ether. Further chests in this underground area result in me getting a new Iron Helm for Steiner and a Leather Wrist that allows Zidane to learn “Beast Killer”.

Dagger and Zidane find Vivi stuffed into one of the coffin’s, once freed Zidane tries to give Vivi some advice about standing up for himself and fighting off anyone who tries to harm him in future, I’m not entirely sure Vivi takes it all in though but with Vivi safe the group decide to investigate further. In this same room there’s a door with Mist pouring through the gap beneath it and theres also some machinery pumping out egg like things onto a conveyor belt. I open the door and defeat the pair of Ghosts that I’m thrown into battle against. Through the door is a cave like entrance leading to the surface but Mist is pouring in through it and being sucked in by another machine that seems to be sending it to the egg machine in the previous room. I head back and follow the route the conveyor belt is taking the “eggs”, along this route is another Chocobo whom is being used to power the conveyor belt by being forced to run in an oversized hamster wheel, maybe the other Chocobo we saw was being rested? The eggs are disappearing into yet another Mist powered mechanicsm, it seems as though this one is used to hatch them in some way. Horribly, coming out of the otherside on claws, are Black Mages. Zidane notes (to himself) that they look alot like Vivi, there are differences: they’re larger and dressed in different colours. Vivi is visibly disturbed by what he is seeing, and who can blame him? Dagger’s also concerned and questions her Mothers involvement. Zidane hears someone approaching and drags the other two into another machine in order to hide, it sounds like its almost time for the cargo ship to collect its shipment, which it now seems will also include Dagger, Vivi and Zidane as they are boxed up by the machine they were hiding in.

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Whilst all of this has been happening Steiner has gone back to the Observation Mountain to visit Morrid who is uncooperative with Steiners demands by ultimately tells him the Cargo Ship has already arrived. Back on the outskirts of the village, near the vegetable patch, Steiner watches as a trap door opens and barrels are loaded out of it nearby to the airship. Whilst inspecting one of the barrels it begins to move and tip over followed by the other three all pouring out of it. Zidane asks Steiner if he knows where the ship is going to, Steiner lies and tells them its going to Lindlblum, however, before they can climb aboard the airship they are attacked by Black Waltz No.2, who reveals it has been sent by Queen Brahne.

My power, magic and speed make me far superior to No.1!
Resistance is futile!”

However, the battle is fairly easy, Zidane faced No.1 alone, this time he has Vivi providing his black magic, Steiner’s strength and Dagger’s white magic, and thus the fight doesn’t really last very long. Upon victory we decide to rest back at the Inn before we depart for “Lindblum”, the Innkeeper seems surprised to see Vivi, although Zidane inteprets his staring as being him gawping at Dagger and Zidane tells him off for this. Unfortunately I’ve done everything I think I can do in Dali for now, theres the chests in the mill I couldn’t reach and finding the Mayor’s Key but I can’t seem to do anything about either of those right now, so we head off to the cargo ship.

Dagger and Zidane think they know what Steiner is up to, they definetly know the ship is heading for Alexandria rather than Lindblum, but Zidane has a plan and asks Dagger to trust him. Vivi finally manages to speak up about what they have seen in Dali and asks if Zidane thinks the mages they saw really look like him, Zidane thinks they do but lies to Vivi and says they’re just dolls (as they had no life in them). Suddenly the airships engine starts up and Zidane, Dagger and Vivi have to rush to get on board, Dagger is hesitant as she doesn’t want to go back to Alexandria and Zidane tells her he doesn’t have time to explain and that she needs to trust him. He doesn’t really help matters by grabbing her backside as they climb the ladder to board the ship, he claims its an accident but I’m certain Dagger doesn’t believe him. But he promises to get her to Lindblum.

Onboard, the ship appears to be manned entirely by Black Mages, Vivi keeps trying to get their attention but his attempts are unsuccesful. Zidane inspects the engine and wonders where and how Alexandria got the technology they saw underground in Dali as Mist engines are built in Lindlum and Alexandria isn’t a technologically advanced kingdom. He also wonders if the remaining members of Tantalus (minus himself and Blank) managed to escape the Evil Forest, then heads up onto the deck where he finds Steiner who is on his knee’s cursing himself, seemingly unaware that Dagger is onboard the ship after all, and is thus surprised to hear Zidanes voice accusing him of almost leaving them all behind, he angrily tells Zidane his plan to return the Princess to the Castle. Zidane heads over to the cabin with the ships controls in and takes over and the Black Mages pen him into the cabin, before they can do anything Black Waltz No.3 lands on the ships deck, attacks Vivi and laughs at him, labeling him a small child. But before it can finish Vivi off, the Black Mages rally together and stand between Black Waltz No.3 and Vivi. Black Waltz No.3 attacks and kills them instead, damaging the ship in the process, allowing Zidane and Steiner to come to Vivi’s aid and the three take on the creature, leaving Dagger in control of the ship and the decision of whether to change course and head to Lindblum or carry on and head back to Alexandria.

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As the battle begins Vivi enters Trance, which allows him to cast his magic twice per turn. This battle changes things up slightly as Black Waltz No.3 takes off at times which renders physical attacks useless, during these spells Steiner uses his Sword Magic (getting Vivi to cast magic onto his sword before attacking their opponent), Vivi continues with his Black Magic and Zidane is relegated to using items to heal the party. I also managed to get Zidane to steal a Linen Cuirass and, unlike the previous Waltz’s, Black Waltz No. 3 retreats from the battle. Zorn and Thorn have been watching this battle from afar, like they did with the fight against Black Waltz No.1, however, instead of retreating fully, Black Waltz No.3 goes rogue, attacks the pair and steals their ship to give chase to the Zidane and company, Dagger has turned to head towards South Gate and onto Lindblum, and during the chase Black Waltz No.3 manages to set fire to the craft its commandeered and crashes into South Gate with the Cargo Ship just about squeezing through as the gates shut. Somehow, despite everything, Dagger has managed to finally make it to Lindblum!

Upon arrival Dagger immediately demands to see Regent Cid, not knowing who she is the gurards refuse this but Minister Artanis arrives and recognises Garnet and her Falcon Claw necklace and asks the party to follow him. Whilst in the lift to Cid’s throne room, Zidane asks Garnet what Cid is like, as despite living in Lindblum for a long time, he’s never seen him. Dagger states that whilst he’s very wise, he can come across as a little odd, but thats because he’s always thinking ahead of everybody else. As they disembark the elevator Garnet finds that the throne room is mostly empty, theres an Oglop with a huge moustache sat where Cid should be seated. The creature tries to approach the Princess so Steiner punches it and sends it flying just as Zidane walks into the room. It is as this point that the Oglop introduces itself as Cid Fabool, Regend of Lindblum. Minister Artanis fills everybody in, telling them that six months ago somebody snuck into Regent Cid’s quarters attacking him and turning him into an Oglop, they then abudcted his wife, Lady Hilda. Cid also hints that he knows why Garnet needs to speak with him, but says that they all need some rest and discussions can wait till tomorrow.

Zidane decides he doesn’t want to stay and eat at the Castle and heads to a pub within the city of Lindblum, after trying to chat up the barmaid he’s scolded by another woman at the bar whom he then very nearly picks a fight with. She seems to know who he is but he pretends he cant recall her name, eventually he gives in and addresses her as Freya, and it seems she’s in Lindblum to take part in the Festival of the Hunt.

The following day Garnet tells Cid of her concerns for her Mother, shes been behaving erratically ever since her husband passed, she’s also been seeing a strange man around the Castle. Garnet is worried that she’s planning something terrible but everyone she has raised her concerns to so far hasn’t listened. She believes Queen Brahne would listen to Cid and tells him of how she arrived in Lindblum, Tantalus’ attempt to kidnap her and what they witnessed in Dali. Cid reveals that he had hired Tantalus to kidnap Garnet, he had promised her Father he would protect her should anything happen and he’d been watching Alexandria’s actions from afar, but felt that direct action would lead to war which he would ideally avoid. He takes Garnet down to Airship Dock 1 where Lindblum develop and research new airship technology. The latest model they’d constructed doesn’t require Mist to run, but was stolen by whomever it was that attacked Cid six months prior, or so Garnet thought. Actually, what had happened, according to Cid, is that he had met another woman in a pub shortly before all of this, Hilda had discovered this and used her magic to turn Cid into an Oglop, she then ran away in his new airship which he’d named the Hilda Garde.

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In a Inn in Lindlum Zidane is given a letter by Moodon, its from Ruby who is still in Alexandria:

From Ruby to Zidane

Ain’t y’all comin’ back to Alexandria?
I’m so lonely!

Just kiddin’! I’m openin’ up a l’il theatre in an alley here.

(A bartender pal o’mine is quittin’ the saloon and gettin’ into showbiz. He asked me to help.)

Zidane asks Vivi if he wants him to show him around Lindblum but Vivi declines and heads off to explore on his own, in a shop, the shop keeper gifts him a Kupo Nut, which she says is the Moogles’ favourite food.

As Zidane explores Lindblum there’s alot of excitement around the Festival of the Hunt starting, from what I can gather Lindblum was originally a settlement of hunters and its first Regent, Cid I, started the Festival. I pop in and out of whatever buildings I can access, in the church I find a Leather Plate, whilst in the weapons shop Zidane looks at a wall of swords

“I remember a guy with spiky hair who carried something like this”

In the shop I buy a Mythril Dagger for Zidane, Glass Armlets and Steepled Hats for Zidane, Vivi and Dagger and Silver Gloves for Steiner. I also visit the Synthesist and create a pair of Desert Boots. Whilst visiting the Tantalus Hideout Zidane notes that the troupe haven’t made it back to Lindblum yet but an ATE shows that they’ve found their way out of Evil Forest. Baku and Marcus discuss Blank’s petrification and they plan ot try and find a way to cure him without doing the same for Evil Forest.

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After exploring Lindblum and its three districts: Theatre, Business and Industrial, and playing everybody I can in Tetra Master (In 15 games I only won 6, drew 1 and lost 8, earning me 3 Zombie card, 1 Bomb card, 1 Cerberus card and 1 Lizard Man card and bringing my stats to P22 W10 D1 L11), Zidane heads back to the Castle to visit Garnet, but when she arrives she is no longer in her quarters, only Steiner is there. Unsurprisingly he blames Zidane for her latest disappearance, he then leaves to search for her. In Garnets quarters are two chests, one contains a Glass Armlet, the other an Ether. There;s also a Moogle called Mogki, I happen to have a letter for him from Kumop.

“From Kumop to Mogki

Stiltzkin visited me!
Kupo!

He said he found a place that seemed interesting, and then he left.

I wish he stayed longer, kupo.
Where did he go, anyway?
Let me know when you find out! Kupo!”

Whilst conducting his own search for Garnet, Zidane hears the song he heard back in Dali. It sounds like it’s being sung by the same person so it must be Garnet, she’s upstairs, but the guard wont allow Zidane through as he’s not “authorised personel”. I remember seeing a guard sleeping nearby and approach him, Zidane wakes him by saying he saw someone suspicious heading upstairs and instructs the guard to follow him, leading him to Garnets quarters where Zidane knocks him out and steals his uniform. Now in disguise Zidane can board the lift, once its in motion he changes out of the uniform then heads for the roof where he does indeed find Garnet singing, she seem’s unhappy. She asks Zidane if he helped her because he was told to do so, but he tells her how once they’d crashed in Evil Forest he chose to help her, that Baku didn’t agree with his plan so he left Tantalus. When she asks what Tantalus’ plan was to kidnap her entailed, he tells of how they were going to use Sleep Weed to knock her out. Garnet asks for some Sleep Weed as “she’s been having trouble sleeping lately”, Zidane doesn’t think her using it is such a good idea as he’s worried she could become addicted to it and offers to keep her company at night instead. She brushes off his advances so Zidane asks her to sing again and whilst she does we get to see brief snippets from other characters we’ve met along the way. Steiner is looking at armour and gets angry at a comment another customer makes about Queen Brahne. Vivi finds some toys left behind by some bickering children and wonders again about the Black Mages and Dali, we also get very brief moments with Freya on the roofs of Lindblum and Cid in Dock 1 trying to get his latest design to work.

 

Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 1

Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 2

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All (Nintendo DS)

All last year you couldn’t go on an internet forum without reading someone raving about Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney, or posting “Objection” pictures, while the latter was amusing to those who had played the game, I was left a little confused, I got that it was from Phoenix Wright, how could you not?, but I didn’t understand why everyone was going mad for it, now I do, the Phoenix Wright games are bloody excellent.

The game is basically a cross between your old fashioned text adventures (minus you having to input actual text), a DS based short novel and the dying Point-and-Click adventure genre. It sounds like a bit of a mish mash and confused but its not at all, it works incredibly well. The basic gameplay elements are thus: A murder happens, you turn up at the crime-scene to gather interrogate people by using the “Talk” option, asking questions and such, building up your “Court Record”, you can use the “Examine” option to check out locations, using the stylus to point to on-screen objects to try and find clues, some of which you can present to witnesses to try and gather more information. Once this is all complete its time to go to court and defend the murder suspect, which is basically done by questioning witnesses brought forward by the prosecution.

Those who played the original Phoenix Wright will immediatly feel at home as the core gameplay remains the same, as do the cast, many might complain that its not a big step forward from the original, but when that was so well received does it really matter. There has been one small change, and thats the addition of “Psyche-Locks”. These are little puzzles that require you to have enough evidence and ideas to pull apart a witness,or sometimes the suspect, in order to reveal a secret they are obviously hiding.

It all pulls together well to form an interesting and challenging experience, you’ll grow to love every single character from Phoenix Wright himself to Detective Gumshoe and finally Franziska Von Karma, daughter of Manfred von Karma, whom players of the original Phoenix Wright will remember. Sometimes its pretty easy for you to figure out who the actual culprit is, Case 2 in particular I found incredibly easy to see who it was, but the challenge is in getting to that result, something that actually proved harder than I was expecting, especially after you are more or less walked through your first case.

So, is Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney Justice For All worthy of a purchase? Well, I’m really enjoying it as my first Phoenix Wright, and as the first game of this variety that I’ve played, gamers who were really big fans of the original will probably love this, but I don’t think it is likely to persuade anyone who was indifferent over whether Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney was any good or not. Will it bring the series to a wide audience would be a good question, I’m pretty sure it would, I could personally see my Step Mum getting some enjoyment out of it, and Nintendo had a TV advertising campaign which seemed to be successful, we’ll have to wait till the next game to see if its become more of a cult hit though. As it stands, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice For All has been immensly enjoyable, and Capcom have earned themselves another fan of the games.

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Real Neat Blog Award

Looks I’ve been nominated for a “Real Neat Blog Award” by Emily at MonsterLadysDiary, this is the second community event I’ve gotten involved in, the first being my long article about Shadow of the Colossus, this one is a little more personal and its come at a time when I’ve been wondering if my readers my want to know a little more about me. So without further ado, I’ll go ahead and answer the questions Emily has requested of the people she’s nominated.

1. Do you like your media digital or physical?

It’s not something I’ve really ever given any in-depth thought to. I have a ridiculous amount of games that I used to keep in a filing cabinet in my living room, but it looked horrible and alot of them I’d not returned to, likewise the consoles were stored in there with the cables being a right old mess. I’ve since moved nearly everything up to the loft and am in the process of sorting it all out into individual storage boxes, sorted per system, and realising I have far more stuff than I realised. Having three children in a small house means space is limited so I only keep out what I’m making use of, I have a small collection (less than 30) PlayStation 4 games on a shelf and (thanks to PS+) even more available digitally, but I honestly don’t mind. Other media? I got rid of my CD collection years ago and stick to my Spotify Family Premium account these days, films I also got rid of loads of DVD’s. We had a massive clear out of stuff we hadn’t watched in a long long time and just kept the stuff we really liked but books I’ve always prefered reading paperbacks over both hardbacks and ereader formats and have an occassional clearout where I’ll take stuff to a charity shop if its something I’m not going to revisit, someone else in the house isn’t going to read or a family member or friend isnt interested in.

2. If you could learn any kind of dance, what would it be?

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I’ve never really been interested in dance, obviously break-dancing looks really cool and old-skool Rock n Roll dancing, but I’ve never really been interested in dancing beyond watching Strictly Come Dancing with my other half and eldest daughter.

3. What do you love most about being a geek?

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It’s took me a long time to come to terms with being a geek, I was horribly bullied at school, initially at the first Secondary School I went to for loving to read (it was a rough school) and then when I changed to a much better school it was for how much I liked videogames. But I love that, as a Geek Dad, I can share my passions with my kids.

4. What’s the latest game you’ve got into?

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I recently finished Yakuza 0 and have a bit of a backlog on the PS4 but I’ve not started anything since aside from Final Fantasy IX which I’ve been blogging about, I’ve been playing alot of Final Fantasy XIV though. I’ve not quite finished the original game and content and have the first expansion waiting for me, but theres two more expansions after that, one of which came out recently. I also play Gran Turismo Sport most Mondays with the same group of people plus a few special guests. I’m not very good, I’m usually at the back every race, but I’m seeing gradual improvements. For instance the last meeting we had we had a special guest who’s involved in real life motorsport in some regard and I managed to finish on the same lap as everybody else.

5. If you’re a Netflix user, what original series are you most looking forward to?

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I am a Netflix user! I’m not sure what I’m looking forward to though, I’m an eternal “Add to List” person, I always add stuff to watch later and never get round to it. I’ve recently finished watching Stranger Things 3 with my eldest daughter (my other two are far too young for it), am nearing the end of watching Neon Genesis Evangelion having not watched it all the way through for a number of years and I’m part way through season 1 of One Punch Man. A few members of my book club keep telling the rest of us to watch Dark so that was recently added to my List.

6. If you could have one thing only from your favourite movie(s) what would it be?

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Kaneda’s bike? the Millenium Falcon? a Spinner from Blade Runner? All of the above!

7. What’s your favourite hobby that doesn’t involve a screen?

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Hmm, I love to read both books and comics. I’ve never been the fastest of readers so normally set myself a target of 10 books a year but I’ve very nearly doubled that already this year. I read a wide range of stuff too, from Super Hero comics to Sci-Fi novels to sporting biographies (mostly motorsport stars) plus a few historical books thrown in there too.

Now to think of some questions and nominate some people, this is something I really struggle with to be honest. I’m new to the whole community aspect of blogging and struggle to think of things people will have fun answering and I worry that I’ll be annoying somebody by tagging them (especially as Emily appears to have nominated a few people I’d considered nominating myself!)

  1. What are your earliest gaming memories?
  2. What TV shows helped form you as a person?
  3. Any popular books you’ve tried and not enjoyed and what are they?
  4. If you could be good at any sport, what would it be, or if you are good at sport what sport is it and why do you enjoy it?
  5. Any skills you would love to have?
  6. Where would you love to go on holiday?
  7. What cuisine is your favourite to eat and which is your favourite to cook?

My nominations are

Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX Playthrough Part 2

Current Play Time: 06:35
Current Location: Village of Dali

Whats Been Happening:

After camping out outside of Evil Forest, Zidane tells the group (Garnet, Vivi and Steiner) that North and South Gates are closed and the only way out of where they are is to head through a cavern that Blank marked on the map he threw to Zidane before he was Petrified. Rather than heading south I decide to have a bit of an explore of the portion of the World Map I can access. It’s mostly empty, a few small wooded area’s are around, but to the West set against the cliff wall is an arch way. When we approach Zidane says this is Melda Arch, a footpath entrance for North Gate, but again, its closed. Steiner notes there is smoke coming from behind the gates and that the Alexandrian War Banner is flying above which angers him. Zidane knocks on the gate and a womans voice is heard, she cant let the party through but she can sell us Potions. After topping my hoard of Potions up to 40 we retreat and I spend a little time grinding to get the party up to level 5 before heading into Ice Cavern.

As we enter Vivi tell’s the group that his Grandpa told him about Ice Cavern:

“He said the Cavern takes travellers to the top of the Mist”

Garnet remarks how beautiful it is and how she’s so pleased she can see it with her own eyes as all she’s ever had available to her are books. This is the first time there’s any puzzle element to any of the locations. Zidane notices some of the walls look different to others and persuades Vivi to us his Fire magic to melt them, revealing chests behind each time. What amuses me is that every time Vivi does this Zidance jumps back and shouts “Whoa!” in surprise, never seemingly getting used to it. It’s through this that Zidane finally gets his Mage Masher (which you may remember I tried to steal from Baku last week with no success). There’s also small pockets of Mist that flow and thens top, then begin flowing again, the point is to avoid them as if they touch you you are automatically thrown into a battle, there’s still random battles but no point making things harder for ourselves right?

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As we progress through the Ice Cavern we reach a point where there’s an incredibly strong blizzard, the group are already incredibly cold, and one by one they collapse and fall asleep. Zidane is the last to fall and first to awaken, doing so by being alerted by the sound of a jingling bell. He stumbles through the blizzard in the direction of the noise and discovers Black Waltz No.1 (a much larger Black Mage like Vivi) who doesn’t understand why Zidane is awake. Immediately the boss battle music starts and Black Waltz No.1 summons his Icelion to help him fight Zidane. I focus my attacks on Black Waltz No.1 until Zidane’s Trance is activated allowing me to hit both enemies at once and the pair fall quickly. As he vanishes a voice is heard, Black Waltz No.1’s attempt to retrieve Garnet was unsucessful, but there are still two more Waltz’s who will succeed. Zidane heads back to check on the others and the camera pans to reveal Zorn and Thorn watching from a ledge above, theres more to both of those than their appearance suggests.

As Zidane approaches the rest of the group awakes, Steiner accuses Zidane of trying to touch Garnet who in turn tells Steiner to stop as Zidane’s already told them nothing happened (he didn’t mention the the Black Waltz) and the group head out of Ice Cavern. As they emerge into the sunlight, they spot a village in the distance and decide thats where they should head next. Zidane tells Garnet that she needs to be more inconspicuous, once again Zidane angers Steiner (although the fact Zidane is still breathing probably angers Steiner) who wants Garnet to return to Alexandria. As he pushes Zidane the latter drops his weapon which Garnet picks up, she asks what its called and is informed its a dagger (whilst Steiner shouts that she should put it down before she harms herself). After thinking on this Garnet decides she wants to change her name (at which point the player can name her anything they want, I’ve stuck with the default) and chooses Dagger as her new title. In order to help her hide a little better Zidane suggests she speaks a little more like himself or Vivi and she promises to try. We then head off toward the village.

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Before doing so however, we’re again on a part of the World Map and situated along the coast before we reach the village is a small “mountain”, this Observatory Mountain is an airship port allowing for deliveries for the village to be dropped off and other supplies collected. The only habitant is an old man by the name of Morrid, who just so happens to love his coffee. Zidane spots a model airship, similar to one a friend used to own, and the old man offers to trade it if Zidane can get him three types of coffee: Moccha, Kirman and Burman.

After leaving the Observatory, Zidane and co. head to the nearby Village of Dali. Before we go ahead I have to say this place has one of my favourite pieces of music from the Final Fantasy franchise, its just a really nice peaceful tune that perfectly suits what appears to be a rather dreamy little village, have a listen:

As we enter Vivi notices a windmill and is rather excited to see it, however the rest of the group think it best they rest first, and then come up with a plan before they look around the village. As they head into the local Inn, they speak to the Innkeeper about hiring a room, there’s only one available, which Dagger is a little uncomfortable with, but there’s little choice. The Innkeeper appears to be staring at Dagger, does he recognise her?

Once in the room the conversation turns to why Dagger wanted to leave Alexandria Castle, she says she wanted to escape to Lindblum, which is where the Theatre ship Tarturus would have gone next if it hadn’t have crashed. However, thats all she’s willing to divulge at this point in time. Steiner still doesn’t trust Zidane and tells Dagger she must do the same as he and goes as far as to accusing Zidane of exposing her to danger, particularly in Evil Forest, and requests she returns to the castle with him, seemingly ignoring what she’s already tried to tell everyone, but Steiner still doesn’t have a plan as to how to get back to Alexandria. To his credit, Zidane admits to screwing up in Evil Forest and swears to protect Dagger with his life from this point onwards. As the conversation dies down, the group decide to get some sleep.

The next morning Zidane is awoken by the noise of a woman singing a song, he notices that everyone has left already, and once searching the room for any items, leaves and the attention switches to a series of ATE’s. The first of which show’s Vivi meeting the village children who seem both afraid and excited about his appearance. Dagger is trying to blend in, and finds herself at a small vegetable patch where she wonders to herself if her mother had gone too far in attacking the Tartarus ship. Her thoughts are interrupted by an old lady who appears to tend to the patch and kill the bugs, Oglops, infesting it. She’s surprised to see Dagger isn’t scared of them, but then, in an attempt to try and blend in, Dagger feigns being scared, throws the Oglop into the air and screams.

Back to Zidane, I head to the Moogle in the corner, his name is Gumo, and he has a letter from Mois who was in the Ice Cavern, Gumo doesn’t like Mois. The letter reads:

“From Mois to Gumo

Yo! Man, I got totally iced up by some dude with wings on his back!

Stitlzkin passed by me without doin’ anything! Is he rude or what?

Of course I couldn’t say nothin’ ’cause I was trapped inside the ice!”

We go back to Dagger, who is now in a shop listening in on a conversation between the shopkeeper and one of the local kids, nothing is particularly said as the scene is cut short and we’re back in control of Zidane again who heads out of the Inn. Another ATE focuses on the Innkeeper talking to his cat, he tells the feline that he’s feeling under pressure from his brother, but he doesn’t say why, and that, unlike the rest of the village, he isn’t making any money. He decides to tell “them” about Zidane and the others. He doesn’t say this, but perhaps he’s hoping for some kind of reward for finding Princess Garnet.

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Zidane finds Dagger in the shop still, she’s looking at something on the wall and takes a while to notice him. He praises her on her attempts to blend in, but also says she was “good at faking it” when she had to act out “I Want to be your Canary” which she’s insulted by. Zidane asks her to head back to the Inn whilst he looks for Vivi and Steiner, she agrees and heads off. I look at the wall she was studying prior and theres some information about equipping items and abilities, and then a theory about Tetra Master:

“Do you play cards?

My theory is that the first number written on the card represents the card/s attack power.

The third and fourth numbers are probably defence power. I still don’t know what the second character means.

Please press [] to play a game with me

by Eve Subboard”

I’ve not actually played any Tetra Master since those opening moments in Alexandria prior to meeting Rat Boy, its a game I quite like, I definitely preferred it at the time to Final Fantasy VIII’s offering Triple Triad, although I’ve grown to like the latter in Final Fantasy XIV. Now seem’s as good a time as any to have a go, so I challenge the shopkeeper, the aforementioned Eve, which I easily win (although I only win one card from her, not the full set), and then I buy a new Iron Sword for Steiner and a Feather Hat each for the others. Outside the shop, Zidane peaks through the window of the room at the Inn at Dagger, who is practicing how she should be speaking whilst on the run from Alexandria Castle. I explore the village a little more, there’s a well in the centre, and I head into the second building on the left of the main path through the village. Inside a man introduces himself as Mayor Kapu and asks who Zidane is, Zidane merely shakes his head and Mayor Kapu demands he leaves. Outside again, I speak to the two kids who are running around:

“I wonder if he’s one of them?”
“He’s definitely one of ’em”

We find Vivi seemingly staring at an empty plot of land, he tells Zidane he’s been thinking and Zidane asks him if its about a girl. Vivi says he doesn’t’ really think about things like that and Zidane admits to think about girls all the time then boasts that he’s popular with “ALL the girls in Lindblum”. Zidane asks Vivi to head back to the Inn whilst he searches for Steiner. Before they seperate Vivi tells Zidane he heard a

“sound like ‘kweh'”

Zidane says thats the noise a Chocobo makes, but Vivi’s never seen a Chocobo and wonders what they are, Zidane heads off but before Vivi can make his way back to the Inn someone runs, grabs him and runs away again. Zidane turns around briefly and wonders what just happened, but heads back to Dagger at the Inn.

Another ATE shows the Innkeeper acting a bit suspicious, he seem’s really pleased with himself, it sounds like he may have had something to do with whatever has just happened to Vivi. As Zidane enters the Innkeeper is asleep (well, pretending to be), and Zidane heads to the room to wait with Dagger for Vivi. Whilst waiting the pair discuss the village, Dagger has noticed that despite there being kids running around, there doesn’t seem to be many adults, Zidane remembers he used to see the adults working the farm but this confused Dagger as the only farmland she’s seen is the tiny vegetable patch the old woman was tending to. They  both agree that something is going on in the village of Dali, but Zidane quickly moves on to reveal he has a plan to get the party, minus Steiner, through South Gate.

Speaking of Steiner, it appears he’s been helping out at the local pub, doing chores for the young girl who is working there. It seems he’s doing this in order for her to put him in contact with the adults of the village, but she tells him that they’re all away working and wont be back till the evening. He reveals who he, Aldebert Steiner, Commander of the Knights of Pluto from Alexandria blah blah, and says he needs transportation to take somebody back to the castle (he doesn’t tell her its the Princess). The girl informs him that he’d be best served speaking to Morrid at the Observation Tower we visited previously as he looks after the cargo ship.

Back at the Inn and Zidane and Dagger have begun to worry about Vivi and decide to go look for him. The local kids  deny seeing him, so the pair head to the spot Zidane last saw him. The spot where Vivi had been thinking and had heard the Chocobo. Zidane notices he can hear crying, its coming from a small pipe leading underground and the pair soon find its Vivi who is crying, he’s been told not to move from where he is and he tells Zidane he’s not hurt. Zidane promises to get him out of wherever he is, and we head off to investigate the village. The first place I try is the well in the centre of the village, but its too small for Zidane to go down.

I head off to inspect the rest of the village, starting with the pub, then the village patch, Inn, shop and the Mayor’s house, again he tells us to go away, this time I notice there’s somebody laying on his sofa, I can’t recall if they were there the first time I went in though. Somehow I’ve missed exploring the building directly next to the patch Vivi went missing from, its the windmill Vivi wanted to look at. Once in I try the door at the north of the mill, but its locked and requires the “Mayors Key” to open, which I don’t have. Near to the door I find an item called “Aries”, which goes straight into my Key Items section of my inventory. It’s description reads:

“Aries

The story of 12 Zodiacs.
The 11 Zodiqas pondered.
How best to catch Virgo’s heart?
Aries headed east.

-Stellazio Story-

Which I think reads like a Haiku?

Up a ladder are two treasure chests that I can’t access right now as the mill is working. Back down the ladder and I get to the very obvious hatch over in the bottom corner (Zidane even comments on how obvious it looks), open it up and head down.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Phantasy Star Universe (PlayStation 2)

In the past couple of years, its seemed as though the online role playing game is the sure fire way to make some cash, this is unsurprising, considering the following these things receive, and the opportunity to have potential players buying a subscription to play your title. A lot of these are released purely for the PC and tend to be extremely life consuming affairs that require a lot of time and patience for you to reap any benefit for playing the game. With this in mind, Phantasy Star Online has always been a mildly popular title. Its an Online Role Playing Game for those that don’t have the time to spend many many hours reaching the next level increase. Its a simple, Diablo 2-like area explorer, where there’s always plenty of items to pick up and do what you want with, and the latest release, Phantasy Star Universe is no different to this basic set up.

There’s a lot thats been changed between the many versions of PSO and the newly released PSU. The action no longer takes place on Ragol, which was the setting for all 4 episodes of Phantasy Star Online. Universe instead takes place in the Gaharl system, a universe made up of 3 planets and a space colony. Another major change is also how the game is separated now, PSO allowed you to make a character and use it in both an offline mode and an online mode, this led to alot of cheating problems, plus a lack of direction for anyone wanting to play single player. With PSU, Sonic Team have included a completely separate story mode, it still uses the same controls, but has pre-determined characters and scripted events.

This gives the game a feel of having two games for the price of one, which is a good thing, and the Story Modes only draw back is average voice acting and uninteresting characters. The story is interestingly set out into chapters, which are played out like a television serialisation. With each one being roughly an hour to an hour and a half to play through, there are 12 missions in all, and you’re gradually introduced to new characters and locations, as well as being able to do all the other stuff you would normally do online, such as partake in none story missions, buying, selling and synthesising weapons, armour and items, aswell as dressing Ethan in clothes bought from the stores on each planet, the same also applies to your room on the Space Colony.

This is one of the best parts about the online mode, the sheer customisation, depending on whats available at the time. You see, as things stand at the time of writing, there has been one update, released a week before the games European launch, this allowed you to play on the Beat planet of Moatoob and also unlocked some new missions for the other 3 areas. But SEGA have promised an update each month, and that seems to be the case in Japan where they are, I think, on their third update.

Enjoyment of any online game will come from the company you keep, and the problem with Phantasy Star Universe is that it doesn’t seem to have taken off in Europe, meaning unless your willing to wait up until silly times of the day, theres not going to be a lot of people to party with. Plus with the series’ history of cheating, its difficult to trust anyone you run into in the games lobbies and cities, even though online cheating hasn’t been properly accomplished yet.

Here’s the part of the review where you need to have played a fair bit of Phantasy Star Online to read. This is because it involves a lot of technical changes over the older titles in the series. You see, theres a lot of more complicated item stuff this time, weapons have to be approached differently, as does your class and MAG’s are no more. But I’ll go through these things in the order I’ve listed them.

With weapons, you buy your basic weapon, and then add something called a Photon Art to it, this is going on the example of a Ranger class character, so, for example, if you buy the long ranged gun type Rifle, from there you can buy various elemental Photon Arts such as Plasma Shot, which you then use as a normal item to learn and then link to your weapon, this gives your Rifle an elemental bullet made of lightning which can also shock and creatures you shoot with it, temporarily disabling their attacking abilities. You’re also limited in how much you can use these (think of TP in PSO and you’re pretty much there) but you can level them by using them as much as possible. This adds an element of strategy to the game, leaving you to learn what Photon Art would be best in each given situation and switching between them as and when you can.

Classes are still split into the old Hunter, Ranger and Force types of old, except now any species can take one of those jobs, but obviously some are better than others at each one. Also, you can also change your class at any point, for a small fee, and as you complete missions you receive Job Points which gradually raise the level of your job. Later on, when your jobs reach certain levels, you will be able to choose an advanced job, making your role in a party more specific.

Finally on this technical review of the new parts of the game, as said previously, MAG’s are no more, they have now been replaced by something called a Partner Machine. Unlike with MAG’s your Partner Machine is limited to staying in your room, storing your items, synthesising new weapons and items you have found boards and synth ingredients for feeding. Yes, you still feed them. This time round, you don’t feed it 3 times every five minutes or whatever it used to be, but you can feed them up to 100 times every 12 hours. Also, the stats which you level up determine the PM’s strengths in synthing certain item types, for example, if you raise your PM’s Striking stat, it will have more success at synthing Hunter type weapons. Also, once your Partner Machines level reaches level 80, it takes on a humanoid form and can be brought into a party in place of a human controlled character, so long as you are the party leader. This is good for when you really need that extra body to draw away some of the attention from the various creatures in the game, but it was an irritating mistake on Sonic Team’s part to give them the ability to shout out random sentences every couple of minutes.

Now we have all that out of the way, I’d like to say this, Phantasy Star Universe will no doubt be a disappointment to those who were expecting something as big as Phantasy Star Online was the first time it was released on Dreamcast, but approach it as a fan wanting more of the same but slightly different, and you will be extremely pleased. It still has that life sucking ability to draw you in and not let you go that the Dreamcast, and to a lesser extent, Gamecube, XBox and PC versions of Phantasy Star Online had, and is still incredibly enjoyable for those that may have tired of the ways of the older games. Its not a revolution, but its certainly an evolution, and that, in my eyes is a good thing.