#throwbackthursday, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 16

A new week and another update, last week we got to spend some time with Eiko and the Moogles. The little girl has been living alone (well aside from her Moogle friends) for around a year now after the passing of her Grandfather and there’s the hint that she may be able to teach Garnet a thing or two about summoning, that is if she’s not distracted by trying to avert Zidane’s attention away from the Princess.

After leaving Madain Sari we take to traversing the world map again and head back in the direction of the Conde Petie Mountain Pass in order to take the second path that leads to the Iifa Tree. We get closer to its huge mass of roots but can’t get any further as there’s an impenetrable force standing in the way, Eiko says this is the seal that her tribe placed on Iifa Tree.

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Eiko tells the others that to break the seal, she has to ask the Eidolon to “come back”, that the Summoners Horn allows “us” to communicate with eidolons and wild animals. She performs a chant and we receive a Ruby, the seal is now broken. Vivi asks if the chant was used to break the seal, but it wasn’t, Eiko just had to focus her thoughts in on her horn, the chant was just for show. I check out the Ruby we obtained and it will allow Eiko to learn Carbuncle and also teach her and Dagger Reflect.

It takes me a while to climb the Iifa Tree (which I still keep misreading is Lifa Tree, which I also think makes more sense). I mean, it’s like five or six screens just to scale its roots and get inside the tree itself and the Stropers I encounter along the way seem to have a lot of HP and so take a while to defeat. I eventually come across Mocchi and can’t help thinking that these Moogles don’t half hide out in some weird places, plus how did he get beyond the seal the Summoners placed on the entrance? Anyway, I have a letter for him:

“From Mogryo to Mocchi

A kid named Vivi came to the Black
Mage Village. His eyes were so sad…
Like he had the weight of the world on
his shoulders, kupo.

I wanted to say ‘Good luck!’ to him,
but I couldn’t… kupo.

I’m on your side, Vivi!”

Once inside the tree, Zidane touches a circle platform in the centre of the floor which begins to glow. He stands on it and it descends, so he quickly jumps off. When it comes back up again the entire party climb on it. At the bottom of the shaft is another root system, this one covered in what looks like cobwebs, we work our way down this makeshift pathway, fighting Dracozombies (undead dragons) as we go. These are tough as they can instakill the entire party and can also cast Zombie on them, which makes any healing items have the opposite effect. It occurs to me that I can use healing items on the Dracozombies to make defeating them a little easier, I have to use Magic Tag’s to remove the status effect from the inflicted part member.

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After a while, we come to another chamber with a massive vertical root going through it. There’s a leaf-like platform connected to it that when stood upon by the entire group takes them to the roots base. Mog tells Eiko he senses a lot of life beneath them, she says Moogles are Faeries and can detect life, but that he senses a lot more than normal here.

Zidane and Dagger wonder what this could all have to do with Kuja. Just then they are attacked by Zombies, like the Dracozombies, these have a weakness to healing items and magic, but I don’t want to use my items or MP up as I suspect there will be a boss fight soon.

Dagger, Eiko and Zidane begin to wonder about the Mists effect on monsters and about how it reaches Mist Continent, but there’s none on Outer Continent, then Dagger notices that Vivi is acting a little oddly. He’s lost in thought again, thinking about the Mist, he asks Zidane if he remembers the factory in Deli. Vivi remembers there was a lot of Mist inside the factory, Zidane remembers the machines were using a lot of it and Dagger reminds them of the eggs that they saw. Vivi believes there’s a connection between the Mist, Kuja and the Black Mages (though I thought this had already been established?), but before the conversation can go any further the party is attacked by a Dracozombie.

Once this has been seen off, Zidane notes he can finally see the bottom of the Iifa Tree, Dagger feels that the tree looks more like a machine than a plant, Vivi and Eiko are watching some sparkling water at the base of the tree and Vivi wonders aloud if its the origins of the Mist. Eiko invites Ziudane to watch it with her, he tries to resist but she refuses to let him go. Zidane then notices that she’s not watching the water and she tells him that she’s watching it sparkling in his eyes. Zidane thinks they may need to go deeper somehow, then Mog senses something coming their way from above.

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The walls around them begin to shake and a tree-like monster appears, though it seems to have been expecting Kuja, it tells the group that it creates the Mist as a “by-product of the refining process”, whatever that means, it says that Kuja has found another use for it as a weapon, “his Black Mages”, if we can defeat this creature, known as Soulcage, it says there will be no more Mist and “no more weapons like this puppet here”, referring to Vivi.

Now, because of how things have moved along I know I’ve gone into this fight unprepared, nobody has been healed since the last Dracozombie fight, I’ve used some of Vivi, Dagger and Eiko’s MP up too, though Vivi is close to going into Trance. I can’t really justify using Eiko or Daggers summons now either as their MP cost is too high and I’m probably going to need to heal lots and the Soulcage can cast Lv5 Death which can kill in one hit.

So I’m not surprised when Soulcage defeats me, though there is one moment where I think the tide could turn as the whole party if revived by a randomly occurring move called Rebirth Flame, which can apparently happen if you have Eiko in your party and she has the Phoenix summon. But that hope is short-lived and he defeats me fully at the second attempt. This throws me right back to the entrance of the Iifa Tree where I met Mocchi so I’m forced to make my way back down again.

On my next attempt, I decided to see if the methods I could have used on the Zombies and Dracozombies would work on Soulcage and get Dagger to cast Life on it. This is normally reserved for reviving party members, but it does indeed work and Soulcage is defeated in one move

The Iifa Tree begins to shake violently as the Mist pouring from its roots begins to dissipate, leaving clear blue skies behind. Zidane thinks the Mist on Mist Continent should be gone too and Vivi fears that this means that there will be no more Black Mages. Moco turns up unexpectedly, he tells Eiko that someone has stolen something valuable from the village so she needs to rush back.

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bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir (PlayStation 4)

Odin Sphere was one of those games that many completely missed out on right at the end of the crossover between the PlayStation 2’s generation and the Xbox 360 coming out. Even though it was a bit of an oddity even then, its fair to argue that the gaming landscape has changed somewhat and it sticks out even more now, despite Sony’s platforms (in particular the Vita which Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir has also been released on and Ben may comment on at a later date) generating a bit of a niche for �this sort of thing�. Before we go ahead tbough, I’d like to state that I won’t be comparing Leifthrasir to its predecessor. I understand this is essentially a remaster of the original game, with some gameplay tweaks here and there, and whilst I owned Odin Sphere, I did so at a time that the PS2 had been moved to a different room and thus, aside from the opening couple of hours or so, it never really got the attention that I actually wanted to give it.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is a little different from many games you will have access to on these shores, its essentially a hack and slash side scrolling RPG that looks as though every single bit of it has been hand painted. In stills its absolutely gorgeous to look at and, arguably, it stands up well to being animated too with small intricate little details like the flutter of Gwendolyn’s skirt really standing out. But its all well and good looking stunning, if you don’t have something under the hood then you’ll get found out.

Luckily Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir packs this in spades. I mentioned before that it was �hack and slash� but that really does it a diservice and strips it back to its basic combat element. You see, whilst you’ll get through chunks of the early game just bashing away at the attack button, you’ll soon figure out that you need to combine stick movements and button timings, plus throwing in abilities using the circle button and you’re inventory of alchemic potions all in order to get the better of the more difficult foes the game likes to throw at you. Thats before you consider how to counter and dodge and rack up large combo’s. The controls are incredibly responsive and you the player never ever feels like a mistake is down to the systems put in place.

Which is a very good thing, what with there being 4 characters stories to play through (the aforementioned Gwendolyn; a Valkyrie and daughter of Odin is your introduction to the game wherein you’ll also get to meet the rest of the playable cast before taking on their chapters). Each character has around 6 or 7 chapters each and they can take about an hour to an hour and a half each to play through, so despite looking limited, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir isn’t a short game by any standards.

I touched on the alchemy before, which is a key area of the game. Here you will pick up items that you need to mix with materials in order to create healing potions, antidotes and all the normal things you’d expect in order to keep yourself alive. You can also create offensive potions to use in battle (and personally speaking I generally saved these for the bosses and mid-bosses). Theres also a cookery element, which works in the same way but cant be done at any time. Instead you have to call upon a chef when you’re in Rest zone to cook the items for you and (usually, as there are a couple of exceptions) consume them right away. Almost everything you eat carries Experience too, including the fruit you grow using a combination of seeds that you find/are dropped by enemies and the life force (called Phozons) that seeps out of defeated foes as you progress. You simply plant the seed, expel the required Phozons and wait a few seconds for the fruit to grow. Some fruit give seeds back once eaten and the cycle continues. But the way in which you have to juggle creating fruit using Phozons and using said Phozons to upgrade your abilities adds just enough element of strategy to the game to make you consider what it is you are doing. Normally there is more than enough to go around and upgrades happen quickly enough for you to never feel too overwhelmed by your opponents, but there are times when one may have to suffer to work on the other.

Truthfully speaking, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir has been a breath of fresh air. It may be an old game give (quite a bit from what I understand) of spit and polish, it might be very similar to Vanillaware’s other games, but played on a big screen in the lounge its a an absolute feast and incredibly enjoyable to play.

Books, Gaming, General, Movies

On Review Scores

I’ve seen two people writing about review scores on games recently, its not an uncommon discussion. Brad at Mental Health Gaming (whom you should all keep an eye on) recently wrote about why he will never have review scores on his website. Whilst Lottie Bevan in issue 27 of Wireframe Magazine discussed the correlation between boobs being a prominent feature in a games design and that game having a higher than expected score on Steam. (Wireframe should also be a must-read, in my opinion, I subscribe to the magazine and get it through the door every fortnight, but they also allow anyone to download pdf’s of the magazine absolutely free, so there’s not much of an excuse to not check it out!).

It got me thinking, they’re an odd thing review scores, and they often lead to a lot of debate. They were one of the biggest stressors I had when I was writing reviews regularly on bitparade, because really, what makes a game a 7 out of 10 and not an 8? I did go through a spell where I tried to have them dropped from the site, and regular readers of this page may have noticed I don’t apply a score to anything. When people debate these things it can easily lead down the road of abuse, just as was mentioned by Brad on Mental Health Gaming, and this happens even more so when the game in question is from a much-loved series.

Then there’s the pressure of the writer feeling like they should maybe score higher than they were considering doing, purely to appease a publisher. To me, it always felt like something that went unsaid/unwritten, after all, no one really wants anything out there telling the world that their latest offering doesn’t cut it, but as writers we’d rather our opinion was valued more than an arbitrary number applied to the end of an 800+ word review where we go into reasons why we like or don’t like certain aspects of a game, sometimes things work, sometimes the ideas are genuinely forward-thinking but the application of those ideas just doesn’t quite cut the mustard and required more time to get them to a stage where they could have made more of a difference to the game overall.

Those things are all taken into account when writers write about games, take my review of Decay of Logos from back in September. Personally, I really, really enjoyed Amplify Creations take on the Soulslike style of action-adventure games, it had some glaring problems that more manpower, time and money could have fixed, but they tried to do things differently, they tried not to just clone FROM Software’s recipe, and apply a few other influences to boot. They didn’t quite pull everything off, there were bugs there that maybe shouldn’t have been and the game got ripped apart on social media, unfairly so in my opinion.

I’d rather talk about what I think the developer is trying to do and then whether I think they’ve succeeded in that or not, rather than write a bit about the game then go meh – 7/10 because no one gets anything from that. But if the writer has put some work into studying the games design and can get that across to the reader, who knows, it may surprise its publisher and the studio get the green light and an increased budget to make their next game more in line with what their original vision was.

When you factor in stuff surrounding bonuses based upon Metacritic scores, then that, again, puts pressure onto the reviewer to score a game favourably, because (and I’m sure I’m not speaking for myself here) the last thing any person who writes about games, be it for a professional publication or a hobbyist like myself, wants is for the creators of a game to be punished based upon a fucking number thrown at the end of a piece of writing.

Obviously, the counter to this is “well, people don’t read reviews”, well, then maybe they fucking should rather than sending death threats over Twitter because Endless Tale of Sorrow: The Word of Man only got an 89% when it clearly deserved a 90%.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

Akira Volume 1 – Katsuhiro Otomo

Way back in July I wrote about the reasons I was glad that the Hollywood movie of Akira had been put on hold (though it’s still in the works), this time out I’m taking a direct look at volume 1 of Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga as its the book we’ve discussed in “Books with Pictures” this month.

Despite Akira being one of my favourite stories, both from the collection of manga’s and the movie, I’m going to try and remain unbiased, it’ll be tough, but let’s see how it goes.

For those who have never read the manga nor watched the movie, the basic plot is as follows. Tetsuo Shima is a teenage boy, part of a biker gang in a post World War III Japan in the city of Neo-Tokyo. After being involved in an accident, Tetsuo develops psychokinetic powers and is then thrown into the centre of a political and military based human experiment. The leader of the gang Tetsuo belongs to, Kaneda, gets pulled into a political resistance group as he tries to find answers regarding what has happened to his friend.

Flicking from page to page, looking at each and every panel, its astounding the level of detail that Otomo has put into each and every image, take the second bike sequence for example. Every action in every panel is clear and concise, the energy flows through the page and you really get a sense of the chaos of the running battle between Kaneda’s gang and their opponents the Clowns. In this volume there’s not a huge amount of dialogue, at times it often feels like Otomo is story-boarding for a movie (though the movie wouldn’t be released for another six years after the first chapter of the manga was released)

I’ve read through all six volumes many times, though it’s been a few years since I returned to them. So the one thing that surprises me is just how little of the story volume 1 actually covers. Within this book we are introduced to a few members of Kaneda’s gang (Kaneda, Tetsuo and Yamagata), Tetsuo has his accident and begins to develop powers that he struggles to control, we get more time with the Clowns than we people coming from the movie will have expected, Kaneda spends some time with the resistance group though Ryu is quite distant and Kei is reluctant to be around him and lastly we have moments with Colonel Shikishima, Doctor Onishi, Takashi (#26), Masaru (#27) and Kiyoko (#25). Other characters appear but aren’t named at this point in the tale (the key ones being gang member Kaisuke and the member of parliament Nezu).

So Volume 1 is a combination of world-building, setting up the factions that will feature in coming volumes and the beginnings of Tetsuo’s story. We see that Kaneda is the leader of a biker gang, though based upon his behaviour its unclear how he has gotten to that position, and my only conclusion is the sheer amount of self-confidence he has earns him the respect of the others. Tetsuo is only a minor member of the gang, and really looks up to Kaneda, but once his powers are unlocked he begins to challenge this position and we begin to see a different side of the boy, namely his incredibly short temper which are exacerbated by the side effects that his powers bring upon him if he’s not medicated properly, he later tries to control this using a cocktail of drugs that the Clown gang get for him with the manga closing after Colonel Shikishima offers him the help to unlock his potential and keep the negative effects his powers have on his body in check.

What volume 1 does offer us though is some interesting insights. For me, this particular volume is Otomo’s response to post-war Japan that he grew up in. Due to the treaties that were signed after the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima (which are kind of referenced by the image of an atomic like explosion that started World War III in this world), the US-occupied Japan throughout the years from 1945 to 1952 (and referred to as Operation Blacklist), despite Otomo not being born until 1953 the American occupation (the only time in Japans history that it had been occupied by foreign powers) had some major impacts on Japanese culture. The youth of the country began looking to Western media and behaviours, this saw the rise of the Bosozoku movement, teenagers began purchasing motorcycles and gathering in gangs, wearing colours and patches to state which gangs they belonged to. It comes as no surprise that these gangs reached their heights around the time that Otomo began writing Akira.

There’s also elements of the human experimentation programs from around the second World War and into the sixties with Japans Unit 731 and the US’ MK Ultra programs feeling like they could have been key influences on Otomo’s writing.

Going back to Kaneda for a moment, there is one worrying aspect to his character whilst reading this in 2019 and that’s his attitude towards women. Early on it’s established, he has had a sexual relationship with the girl who works in his schools’ infirmary, she tells him she thinks she might be pregnant with her basically telling him that the baby would be his. He couldn’t be more disinterested if he tried, his only interest is in her getting his gang their next batch of drugs for him (and testing the drug he snatched after the gang’s first altercation with Colonel Shikishima). Later on, he’s constantly trying to get it on with Kei, though she brushes him off at every turn. Now, this is admittedly typical teenage boy behaviour, and in fairness, he is something like 15 or 16 in the book, but it’s still a little disconcerting seeing the lengths he’ll go to to try and get what he wants from Kei.

#throwbackthursday, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowbackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 15

Wow, Fifteen parts and I’ve still not made it to the end of disc two! Last week was the journey to Eiko’s home, which means we’ll now be arriving at Madain Sari, Village of the Summoners.

After leaving the Mountain Pass we have to traverse the World Map just a little, nestled away on the coast is the village of Madain Sari, Eiko’s home. The place looks like a complete ruin, though there appears to be a small army of Moogles living here. Mog has also arrived and after being reassured by Eiko that she’s not mad at him for running away (though to be fair, he was chased by Quina) he vanishes inside her clothing as Eiko says its safer for him there, she then sends the rest of the Moogles off to work.

Eiko tries to separate Zidane from the others, she wants him to tell her all about himself, Dagger watches on in amusement as he is bombarded with questions by the young girl. Though she then goes into a slight daze, Zidane thinks she might be jealous, but she denies this, it’s only then that they all realise that Vivi has wandered off.

Mocha arrives and tells Eiko he has finished cleaning, so Eiko announces she is going to start cooking and invites Zidane to eat at her place. Zidane accepts the invitation as he has a lot of things he wants to ask her (and hasn’t been able to get much of a word in otherwise) The group finds Vivi staring off over the sea, thinking to himself about all he had learned back at Black Mage Village, he has so many existential questions he needs answering, the most pressing of all being where he came from and where he goes when he dies.

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Zidane finds Libra at the fountain in the centre of Madain Sari

“Libra
Libgra was a perverse fellow.
He would always
walk in the opposite
direction of the sun.
Would he ever see Virgo?

=Stellazzio Story=”

Dagger seems to be giving Zidane the silent treatment, though an ATE then shows he wondering about Madain Sari and the summoners who had lived here. She says knowing she had eidolons inside her, like the summoners had, didn’t bring her any joy. But now that Brahne has taken them from her to be used as part of Kuja’s war machine, she feels like she’s lost a piece of herself. She feels that Maidain Sari feels familiar to her but doesn’t understand why.

Moco the Moogles stands guard outside a cave, he says its a restricted area, Quina arrives and complains that this place is only rocks and sand with no food, though the water looks clean, this prompts him/her to jump in for a swim.

Eiko is busy in her kitchen with a trio of Moogles, they’re preparing a meal for her “hero Zidane” who she appears to she wants to fend off Dagger for the attention of. She plans to get between the pair by cooking lots of food and showing Zidane that she’s a good homemaker. The Moogles seem to lack confidence in her cooking abilities though, which, she says, is why she’s enlisting their help. She has to decide which Moogle does which job, Momatose is sent to catch fish for the “Barbecue Fish”, Mocha goes to dig up potatoes for the “Rock Potato Stew” and Chimomo helps Eiko in the kitchen. Chimomo’s job appears to be put enough water on to boil to make enough stew for everyone. Eiko lists everybody’s names though she misses Quina, which makes 10 diners, though I instruct Chimomo to boil enough water for 11. Eiko then puts an Oglop into the water for seasoning.

Momatose snags a fish, it’s a big one, Eiko rushes to help reel it in while Chimomo continues to cook, its not a fish though, its Quina! Eiko thinks Quina is Kuja because of their white hair and strange clothes. Quina tries to correct her and tells her that Zidane is looking for Kuja and that s/he is called Quina. Eiko then remembers Quina chasing Mog, then introduces herself before whispering an instruction to Mog to never come out of hiding whenever Quina is around. Quina notices the food, commenting that it smells good, but informs Chimomo that the heat is too low on the water, s/he tells Eiko they need Vivi’s black magic to create more heat and then continues helping Eiko out in the kitchen.

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Zidane tries to enter the kitchen, but Morrison won’t let him until the food has finished cooking, and so he takes him to the Eidolon Wall. Turns out the cave that Moco was guarding wasn’t actually a cave, it’s actually an amphitheatre that contains the Eidolon Wall. Morrison instructs Moco to let them through, then tells Zidane that Eiko’s summoner tribe has protected the wall for generations, Zidane decides Dagger needs to see this and goes to fetch her.

Inside, the walls are covered in paintings of the Eidolons that the summoner tribe had discovered during their research. It’s considered a holy place for summoners and Eiko visits every day to pray to her ancestors, Dagger decides to stay here and study the mural some more, at least until Eiko has finished cooking anyhow.

Finally, the food is done and everyone sits down to enjoy the meal, Zidane comments that Eiko should open a restaurant. He then asks where all the other summoners are, Eiko replies that they’re all “sleeping the eternal sleep” and that she’s the last survivor of her tribe, she’s been living with the Moogles since her Grandpa died last year.

Ten years ago, four years before she was born, the village was hit by a “natural disaster”. The Summoners suffered a great deal. Her Mum and Dad fell in love and started a family, though they both died when she was very young. She believes she was left alone in the village to meet Zidane, her “beautiful shooting star” before she can continue though, Vivi finds the oglop in his stew, Eiko claims that they’re a Conde Petie delicacy, but everyone seems to be put off by the discovery.

Zidane helps Eiko take the dirty plates through to the kitchen, there Zidane asks Eiko if she knows anything about the Iifa Tree. She tells him they can’t get in as it’s been sealed with an eidolon. Zidane wonders if Eiko did this, she tells him it happened before she was born, the tribe sealed an eidolon they had failed to summon inside the Iifa Tree as it’s their custom to seal failed eidolons where the attempted summon had happened. Zidane wants Eiko to break the seal for them, though she refuses, calling him crazy.

That night Zidane finds Vivi alone, thinking to himself once again. He tells the little guy he should get some rest as they’re leaving tomorrow but Vivi tells him that he tried to stop worrying about things but he just can’t do it. He wants to be more like Zidane but finds it difficult. Zidane tells him that it’s simply because they’re different people and that he doesn’t have to do everything Zidane’s way.

“I want to stop…
I don’t wanna feel like this any more.” says Vivi.

Zidane tells him is boils down to two simple choices, either he does, or he doesn’t. That you’d think with all the problems in the world there would be more answers. It’s not fair, but that’s the way things are. The choice is Vivi’s, Zidane just wants to protect the people he is with, it doesn’t matter whether he can or not. That’s just what he believes in, Eiko is listening in on the pair and decide3s she “wants to go with Zidane”. Zidane then tells Vivi he has an age-old ritual that helps take a mans mind off his problems and then shows him how to urinate over the side of a cliff (or that’s what the game seems to be alluding to), its very nearly like the scene in Titanic where Jack teaches Rose how to spit over the side of the ship.

Next morning Dagger tells Zidaneshe wants to come back to Madain Sari, the Eidolon Wall scared her at first but the murals then began to soothe her. Zidane says they have to come back for Quina anyway.

#ThrowBackThursday – Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 1
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX Playthrough Part 2
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 3
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 4
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 5
#ThrowBack Thursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 6
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 7
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 8
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX Playthrough part 9
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 10
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fanatasy IX playthrough Part 11
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 12
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 13
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 14

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Prison Architect (PlayStation 4)

I’ve played a lot of Prison Architect on PC, watched it as it slowly became a fully fleshed out game throughout its Alpha and eventually be fully released. I’ve spent hours upon hours starting and restarting my own correctional facilities. So it made sense that I take on the mantle of covering the PlayStation 4 version that /Introversion recently released.

This genre is always at its best on PC, and after trying Tropico 5 on PS4 thanks to PlayStation Plus it does still seem to be pretty much the same as its always been, a controller is just too cumbersome for quick menu navigation and analogue sticks don’t lend themselves too well to adding to the landscape upon which you’re building. However, Prison Architect have gotten this right and Double Eleven (who handled this port) have done it in such a simple way too. First off, it was always going to be easier to move around the terrain and build thanks to the games 2D graphical style, it just makes life so much easier when you use such a viewpoint, allowing you to see absolutely everything. It also fits in with the tone of the game, giving you a blueprint kind of development of your prison. Everything you’d ever need to run your prison is then mapped to menu’s access via the d-pad. Building tools are accessed by pressing left, reports report etc and you can still slow down or speed up time.

This release, and bare in mind its been a while since I did boot up the PC version admittedly, feels more gamelike than its big brother. You’re still developing your prison using Grants, which give you a list of things you need to put into your prison, but the manner in which its all done feels a little more relaxed and streamlined and its far, far too easy to get lost in adding more and more to your facility and lose focus of actually running it. Thats always been Prison Architect’s biggest problem, and its one thats transferred over with this port too. You’re inmates needs and behaviours aren’t always obvious. Sure the game has the means to tell you whats wrong and what has been happening, but the means by which to address them aren’t always obvious or simple to achieve and it doesn’t really feel satisfying when you manage to overcome these obstacles.

I guess thats why its named Prison Architect as the focus does appear to be on creating a prison, selling it at a profit, then making another prison and whilst the inmates all have names and back stories (some are really rather amusing whilst others are ridiculously dark) it doesn’t really feel like you’re providing the means to rehabilitate them.

Its now, however, I’d like to bring up Remote Play, something I do regularly when I cover PS4 games that I think will translate well to being played on Vita. Prison Architect is exceptional on the Vita, I’ve no idea if Introversion or Double Eleven plan on porting it over to the handheld properly, but as it stands now the Vita is a perfect partner to playing it on a big TV in your lounge. I was more than happy to switch over and lounge around on the sofa building more elements to my prisons and the text never felt difficult to read, and its this more than anything else in this port that enforces just how much time and care Double Eleven have put into this port of Prison Architect. Its praiseworthy to them that they have not only made the game feel at home on a console, but it feels at home being played on a much smaller screen too.

General, Mental Health, Uncategorized

The Geeky Childhood Tag

I’ll be honest, I’m struggling this week, both from a writers perspective and with my own mental health, nothing untoward has happened (though there has been a few health issues for my Dad, Brother in Law and my partners Mum in recent months), but generally speaking I’ve been lacking motivation and am feeling very tired all of the time, progress on anything I’m doing is slow and jobs around the house that I wanted to get done just aren’t. As for the writing, it’s not often I do this “Tags”, I’ve nothing against them, I just feel weird joining in on them, I’m never sure who to credit with the tag and I’m certainly always uncertain on who to nominate to join in, for a variety of reasons.

I do have some stuff for the blog in the works, but they’re either time sensitive or require for me to actually finish some of the stuff I have going in order to write about them.

Anyway, on to the tag. I found this one via A Geeky Gal though she credits A Geek Girls Guide with coming up with it. However, I’m going to take the questions from A Geeky Gal’s post as thats where I read it first.

For clarification, I’m going to be assuming “kid” means prior to turning thirteen.

Where did your geek come from? Parents? Siblings? Destiny?

Absolutely no idea, a combination of lots of things I guess. My Dad’s big into his motorbikes and motorsport, so my love of those things, though not considered geeky they have very much become a part of my blog and myself, comes from all the time we spent at circuits like Donington and Mallory as a kid, then watching various motorsports on TV at home. I don’t recall my Mum having any hobbies or interests beyond her listening to music (though that was mostly chart stuff).

As for my siblings, I was always aware that my older sister enjoyed reading, though she was eighteen by the time I turned six so I don’t have many memories of her being at home. My brother played videogames throughout his youth but wasn’t as interested in them as I were, likewise I was introduced to alot of movies at a young age that I “shouldn’t” have been due to him being much older than I was.

The First Geeky Thing You Got Into

Videogames maybe? Reading? I loved to read from a young age and videogames were always available, even if I was always a generation behind (when I weren’t sneaking on my brothers games) due to my brother or a cousin passing their old consoles down to me, so maybe retro gaming was the first thing I got into before it was even a thing? I certainly remember having both a NES and a Atari 2600 when my brother had his SNES and I got a Master System II shortly after the first of those was stolen and the latter went up in a puff of blue smoke.

Favorite TV Show as a Kid

Depends on how old we’re thinking here. I used to be obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine, though Diesel gave me nightmares, then it was Thundercats and then Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (as it was called here in the UK)

Favorite Movie as a Kid

Err, again, depends on how old we’re thinking. I saw alot of films when I wasn’t necessarily ready to do so. I remember watching Mad Max on my old dial tuned black and white TV whenever it was on TV, we didn’t have a VCR on the downstairs TV at home, though my brother bought himself one when he started working and I’d watch whatever unsuitable movie he was watching whenever I could do so. I watched Terminator 2: Judgement Day when it first came out on VHS when at my sisters boyfriends house when she was taken care of us one night too (my Dad used to go to the local pub every Saturday and Sunday night for a few hours). I remember enjoying Transformers The Movie and The Nightmare Before Christmas if we’re talking about stuff thats more suited to the age range I’m discussing here.

Favorite Video Game as a Kid

For that time period? On “my” consoles it would have been Digger T. Rock on NES, Rocky on Master System and Centipede on the Atari. I also quite liked the stupidly difficult Turtles game on NES. On my brothers SNES? F-Zero.

Favorite Book as a Kid

I’m not entirely sure I had one. I read anything I could get my hands on and we visited the library an awful lot but there wasn’t anything I re-read over and over again and made an impression on me. Alot of the books I owned were given to me, like alot of my belongings, my little sister and I were the youngest kids with alot of extended family who had kids that had grown up, so bikes, Scalextric, books, games were all passed down to us.

Favorite Memory as a Kid

Holidays in Jersey or Mablethorpe, nothing from them sticks out specifically, they all kind of blur into one but we went to both places every year until I was a teenager (which is when we stopped going to Jersey and started going to Wales instead, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. I also, obviously, really enjoyed the trips out to watch the British or World Superbikes and meeting people like Ron Haslam.

A Character You Looked Up To as a Kid

I dont think I did. My heroes weren’t in fiction, not that there’s anything wrong with that, instead I idolised people like Kevin Schwantz, Carl Fogarty, Stuart Pearce and Ian Wright.

A Character That Scared You as a Kid

I’ve already mentioned Diesel from Thomas the Tank Engine, but a little later on it was Freddie Krueger from The Nightmare on Elm Street. I remember my step brother from my Mums second marriage bringing a tape over when we were both visiting our parents (I lived with my Dad, he lived with his Mum) and whilst my Mum was preparing the Sunday roast we watched Nightmare on Elm Street Part Two. I had nightmares for quite a while after, I couldn’t have been much older than eight or nine and despite watching zombie movies and things like The Lost Boys with my brother, I’d obviously never watched anything like this. My Mum didn’t think anything of it, it was just a film and we watched stuff like Total Recall, Robocop and Predator all the time. I didn’t watch a movie with Freddie Krueger in until I was 18 after that!

Well, there you have it, a bit of an insight into me, and I actually feel a little better for getting something out and onto the site and sharing myself just a tiny bit.

#throwbackthursday, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 14

It’s been a few weeks since my last update on Squaresoft/Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy IX, the past two weeks I’d taken a look at other games for #ThrowbackThursday, but we’re back now, and I’ll be honest, I’ve not made as much progress as I’d have hoped, both since I last updated and overall, I’m not quite at the end of disc 2 yet.

Last time out Dagger, Zidane, Quina and Vivi had met Eiko for the first time, she had been stealing from the village of Conde Petie and whilst being chased had gotten stuck on a branch, once freed Dagger decided that we were going to take her home.

We make our way through the mountain pass, Quina had gone chasing after Eiko’s Moogle friend Mog and so Eiko has now joined the party. Like Dagger, she has access to white magic and summons, she also has an auto-regen ability, its not very powerful but its better than nothing. On the mountain path en route to Eiko’s home I spot a stone altar, embedded into it is a red stone that I remove, it goes into my key items menu but I’m not sure what its for right now. Further along I find another altar, this one rewards me with a blue stone.

download

I find Suzuna talking to Siltzkin, (I presume Suzuna is female as she has a pink belly, I think all the others have had white bellies, but I could be wrong) she has been awaiting a letter I have for her from Mogmatt:

“From Mogmatt to Suzuna

It’s been six months since I started
living in Conde Petie…

The food here is great, and the
people are very nice. Kupo.

But… But… The only thing I can’t get used to is the ‘Rally-ho!’

I keep saying ‘Rally-kupo!'”

Stiltzkin has another bundle for sale, this time it consists of a Magic Tag, Tent and an Ether for 666 Gil, the Magic Tag cures the Zombie status effect.

I find another altar that I can place both the red and blue stones in, thought it doesn’t seem to do anything right now. Zidane notes there there’s a hole so maybe I’m missing a stone or two. We cross a bridge made of large roots and in the background is a very large tree surrounded in Mist, Zidane wonders if it’s the Sanctuary, a little further ahead the ground begins to shake and the group is attacked by Hiligigars, a giant green troll like creature.

I’ve not used either Dagger nor Eiko’s summons so far, so I guess this is as good q time as any to unleash Ramuh and Fenris. Laughably both do less damage than Zidane does with his normal attack, but it still far more than either of them would normally deal out. Whilst still in battle Dagger shows surprise that Eiko can use summon magic. The battle takes a while, enemies are starting to get a little tougher to take down, even so I don’t ever feel like I’m being tested.

download (1)

After the battle Eiko tells us the monster turns up every now and then, but she normally just runs away. Zidane compliments her on her fighting ability and Dagger asks her how it is that she can summon eidolons. Eiko’s is surprised that Dagger hasn’t always been able to do it as she has, just as her Grandpa had and “everyone else”, they all summoned eidolons “all the time”.

When asked what she means, she changes subject, they’re going the wrong way to her home, the path they’re on goes to the Iifa Tree. Apparently the Iifa Tree and the Sanctuary are one and the same. There’s another of those altars here that Zidane takes a yellow stone from before backtracking the the altar I left the red and blue stones in. Once again, though, nothing happens, but a little while later I find a green stone and when I place this into the altar, something falls out of the back of it. I retrieve the item and find its a Moonstone that can be equipped to teach Shell and Beast Killer.

#ThrowBackThursday – Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 1
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX Playthrough Part 2
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 3
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 4
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 5
#ThrowBack Thursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 6
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 7
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 8
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX Playthrough part 9
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 10
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fanatasy IX playthrough Part 11
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 12
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 13

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Can They Do No Wrong? (Editorial)

Can Nintendo do no wrong? It certainly seems that way sometimes. Why do I say this? Well, I’m a member on the message boards for GamesTM (for any non-UK readers its a gaming magazine aimed at a 20+ sort of audience, rather than the normal teenage style market gaming mags tend to appeal themselves to) and recently they, and EDGE magazine (a similar publication, albeit one who seems to aim itself a little higher) for that matter, have received criticism for awarding Mario Kart Wii a 6/10.

EDGE had the same thing happen a few years ago with Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and based on my own experience of that game, I’d say they were a little harsh with the scoring, but not too far off the mark and I’d wager the same is true for both magazines reviews of Mario Kart Wii, although I can’t comment on the main body of any of the reviews mentioned as I’ve not read any of them, nor can I make a personal opinion on the latest installment in Nintendo’s #1 racing franchise, thats not the point of this post.

The thing is, it seems that many places have an automatic score lined up for pretty much all of Nintendo’s biggest names, be it Mario, Zelda, Metroid etc etc, and its an odd thing for me to consider. Nintendo have done alot for the games industry over the years, and theres no denying that their games really do have that extra bit of polish that many third party releases on Nintendo systems seem to be missing, its also undeniable that they usually get the best out of their hardware, unsurprising considering their software development staff (Miyamoto etc) are heavily involved in the development of the machines. But not all their big games are as special as people seem to believe. The recent additions to the Zelda franchise, Twilight Princess and Phantom Hourglass are proof of this, I personally awarded Twilight Princess a 9 as upto the point where I reviewed the game (about half way), it was an enjoyable romp, but it soon become an uninteresting chore that tried to present a dark, tortured world with a sense of foreboding but ultimately failed in that attempt. Now I’m not saying it was an awful game, some parts of it were very good, but they weren’t upto the high standards Nintendo set themselves in the previous Zelda games, if it had been a new franchise it would of been perfectly enjoyable, but The Legend of Zelda brings with it a certain level of expectation, which Twilight Princess failed to live upto. Phantom Hourglass, meanwhile, was a complete travesty, no other developer would get away with the amount of repetition that game has (nor would they get away with having technically the same game for nigh-on 10 years without any change aside from the graphics, again Twilight Princess…), yet somehow this was completely overlooked and Phantom Hourglass got incredibly respectable scores across the board (both EDGE and GamesTM gave it 9/10).

Like with Twilight Princess it became a complete chore to play, in fact it was so poorly done I really couldn’t bring myself to play beyond my fourth (might have been fifth) visit to the Temple of the Ocean King, and I know I’m not the only one. I’m all for a bit of frustration and annoyance, when you overcome those kind of obstacles the sense of achievement is worth the hassle alone, but with Phantom Hourglass I found myself hoping the dungeon I was currently in would never end as I really didn’t want to go back to the Ocean King’s dwelling.

So why do we, or I although I can’t believe I’m the only one who thinks this, have this issue with Nintendo and the reviews of its must-have games? I seem to remember Jeff Gertsmann (yes that Jeff Gertsmann) received alot of flak for “only” giving Twilight Princess an 8.8 on the Wii for Gamespot. Now the fact that 8.8 might as well be a 9 makes the criticism completely ridiculous, so could it be the “Nintendo Fanboy” rising up and, sort of, scaring writers into giving a Nintendo game a higher score than they would normally do. Maybe its an inclination from the writer to give said game a higher score, after all a large portion of today’s gaming community spent a large portion of their youth playing on Nintendo systems. It’s an odd thing though, an the fanboy attacking happens with all of the top games, regardless of their developer or publisher, it just seems more apparent with Nintendo releases.

Now due to this entry, I’m fulling expecting to be called a Nintendo hater or a fanboy of one of the other machines. For the record, my current main console is the XBox 360 but I feel no bias towards it, likewise, my favourite machine is the Dreamcast, but I now have a distaste for modern day SEGA, so I feel no real alliance towards any particular videogame company whatsoever. Maybe thats why I see things in a different light?

This article was originally written back in April 2008 and doesn’t reflect my exact views on Nintendo today.

Gaming

Futurlabs and the unpublished sequel

I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time, but back in August of last year, an article went up on GamesIndustry.biz about a sequel to Futurlabs fantastic Velocity 2X. The article stated the despite millions of downloads of Velocity 2X, no publisher is willing to publish a sequel to the really rather excellent Vita, PS4 and more recently Switch game. In fact, the developer even said in tweets that a sequel being released was heavily dependent upon the Switch version of 2X doing well.

So how did Futurlabs find themselves in this state?

Let’s go way back because I’ve been a fan of the studio for years. The first Velocity, a vertical scrolling shooter with a warp mechanic allowing for some element of puzzling, was originally launched on the PSP and PS3 in 2012, I waxed lyrical to anyone who would listen about it. It apparently did well enough and the studio remastered it in the form of Velocity Ultra, which was released on the PlayStation Vita exactly a year later. Then came Velocity 2X.

Velocity 2X featured the same vertical scrolling warp drive-based puzzling as Velocity/Velocity Ultra, except now you could get out of your craft and enter into some side-scrolling, on foot sections that were just as excellent and as full of ideas as the studio has shown in the original release of Velocity. The artwork to both games was absolutely gorgeous to boot and it was all topped off with an excellent soundtrack, seriously, go buy it if you don’t have it already, you will not be disappointed.

Between these, I played Surge Deluxe, a highly entertaining Match 3 puzzle game, again with an excellent soundtrack and visuals that fit in with the aesthetic of the Velocity games. I wasn’t as enamoured with it as I was the Velocity titles but I did get a lot of enjoyment out of it still, and I’m not normally someone who gets on well with Match 3 games.

Back to Velocity 2X then, as mentioned both above and in the GamesIndustry.biz article, it was downloaded millions of times, yet its actual sales are what is putting any prospective publisher off. Why? Well, PlayStation Plus. You see the game launched as a PS Plus title, so before Futurlab could even sell it, they’d made the decision to allow Sony to give it away, for a month, as part of their subscription model. So millions of people added it to their basket and then completed the “purchase” but after that month was over? Well, I can only assume it was slim pickings.

That’s not to say Futurlabs have been idle, as mentioned, Velocity 2X has been ported to the Switch, and since its release on PS Vita and other platforms (non-Sony/Nintendo platforms have been released by Activision) Futurlab have actually been working on the third game in the series, apparently dubbed Velocity Supernova.

I’ve tried to do a little digging (a quick search on Google) and all I can come up with is that Curve may or may not be interested in publishing it, they published the Switch release of 2X, but for now I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how Futurlab do with their Peaky Blinders game that’s due for release next year.