bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Final Fantasy X HD Remaster (Vita)

Before we go any further, I’ve decided to split our review of Fial Fantasy X\X-2 HD Remaster into two seperate articles, with this one covering Final Fantasy X and a later one covering Final Fantasy X-2, this is purely because of the size of the two titles that are included as this re-release of one of Square-Enix’s classic titles. This will, unfortunately, mean a sizeable gap between the two but the cirumstances behind this release, plus those of a personal nature, pretty much limit me to doing it in this manner. Plus its nice to take a look at them at the seperate entities that they originally were.

This Vita release of Final Fantasy X is the “International” release of the game, by that I mean it doesn’t have any drawbacks that we saw with the original PAL release back in 2002. This results in a nice full screen with no borders, 50hz refresh rate and a nice crisp frame rate whilst the animations are at the full speed that they were for the American and Japanese markets instead of the floaty, slow motion animations we got originally. These are arguably only small things but it really makes the difference (I recently revisited the opening couple of hours on PS2 to remind myself of the game before I got my hands on the Vita release).

For those that are new to Final Fantasy X, and without going into too much detail, the story focuses on Tidus, a boy from Zanarkand who’s also a star “Blitzball” player (a kind of water polo game). During a Blitzball game his homeland of Zanarkand is attacked by a giant creature known as Sin, an old acquaintance, Auron, comes to his aid. However Zanarkand is destroyed and the pair are transported to a land known as Spira. Upon his arrival, Auron is nowhere to be seen and Tidus begins to learn more about Spira, its fight against Sin and the journey of the lands Summoners. It’s that latter point that leads to the progression of the story which takes in quite alot of religious symbology and how the people of Spira and Al Bhed fight against the permanent threat of their towns, cities and world being destroyed by Sin. Obviously, this being Final Fantasy, more and more is revealed as time goes on and some of the reveals within this tale are pretty brave for a game of its time, not to mention the hype that surrounded it. Whilst the series has tried to handle topics such as love, religion and sacrifice in the past, it hasn’t previously been able to do so with quite as much confidence and flair as on display here and the entire production feels like Yoshinori Kitase, Kazuhige Nojima, Daisuke Watanabe and Motomu Toriyama are all at the top of their games.

It does have its set backs though, but they’re only really massively apparent now, after over a decade since the game was originally released. The voice acting was always a bit hammy, Wakka “…Yah” at the end of a sentence can really great and Tidus’ voice actor can often swing between deadly serious and incredibly whiny within the same sentence, its often hard to tell if Lulu sounds disinterested because of the performance of her voice actor or because thats how the character is supposed to be portrayed (even though she’s far from disinterested, in fact she’s probably the most measured personality out of the bunch, and most of your understanding of what is going on comes through her explaining things to Tidus), and this is all before we mention the infamous “HAHAHA! HAHAHA!” moment in the story, which whilst done on purpose, does make you grimace a little bit at the rather over the top nature of it. However, Final Fantasy X was the first Final Fantasy to feature voice acting, and whilst the series still doesn’t really have as high a standard as some of its competitors (such as Atlus’ Persona series), its not too bad and was a bit of a relief to those that had grown tired of reading the PlayStation era’s blue boxes.

My absolute favourite element of Final Fantasy X however is its battle system, its typically traditional in appearance, with three party members on your side against whatever opponents the game throws at you, and whilst battles are random (i.e. you cant avoid on screen enemies like in the Tales, Grandia or Persona series), thats never really been an issue for me personally. The thing I do like is its fluidity, it moves at breakneak speed (for the genre) and the ability to switch characters in and out at any point allows you to switch the focus of the battle depending upon your needs, be it a need to step back and dish out buffs and healing spells whilst one party member keeps the attacking element up, or going for an all out onslaught with other options available in between. Just swapping one character for another brings a whole new element to each battle and the game toys with this a little by twisting the old Jobs system a little. Like with Final Fantasy Ix, each character has a particular job type, however here they’re not designated as “Thief”, “Warrior” etc but they’re each assigned skills and traits that, initially at least, are exclusive to them. Yuna is your healer and Summoner, whilst Lulu is your sole Black Mage at the start of the game, as you progress round the Sphere Grid (a kind of game board that you insert spheres into in order to learn new skills and gain better attributes), characters can begin to take on multiple roles. Weapons also come into play here, for example enemies with strong armour require a weapon with a Piercing ability. Most of the time this kind of enemy is best dealt with by either Auron or Kimhari, but other characters also gain weapons with such an ability, so as the game progresses, your ability to customise and taylor your characters to your playing style evolves, and the game is always giving you different options for each scenario it throws at you.

What we have here then, for PAL players, is Final Fantasy X as it was intended to be, in a handheld format thats surprisingly adept at being left on standby and alowing you to pick it up and play as and when you want. The latter is mostly thanks to this particular stories rather linear progression from a story aspect as the world doesn’t really allow for much in the way of exploration and being sidetracked like the PlayStation instalments did. If you’ve never played the series before, X marks the end of the kind of traditional JRPG gameplay that attracted so many players to it during its blockbuster era (arguably VI through to X) before the series arguably begun to decline (aside from the amazing and seemingly under-appreciated by its creators, FFXII), if you want an epic story and a rather meaty game for your Vita then Final Fantasy X HD Remaster is certainly worth adding to your collection.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Luftrausers (Vita)

Theres some kind of romance attached to the dog fighting pilots of the Second World War, lines are drawn in sand, the British were brave, tea drinking sorts who piloted their Spitfires with great skill, the Americans were incredibly patriotic and gung-ho, the Germans evil calculating and incredibly accurate whilst the Japanese would do anything to win, even if it meant losing their life. Watch any World War II movie featuring aerial dogfights and those stereotypes will make an appearance. Luftrausers kind of ties itself into that entire world, a world where men would take to the skies to protect their lands in displays of aerial ballet, albeit with a lethal edge (and in the case of Luftrausers specifically, without most of those tropes mentioned above).

In fact the game feels like it places you as part of the German Luftwaffe as a kind of test pilot for a wide range of weird and wonderful death machines, and a big part of the gameplay is reigning death upon other craft including planes, battleships and even blimps, you’ll also find yourself exploding an awful lot yourself, which suggests this particular group of German military types have managed to clone a large number of test pilots (or at least have an endless supply of willing volunteers). Theres no motive attached to any of this, and the above is purely how it all works out in my mind.

The hugely surprising thing about Luftrausers is how quickly it throws you into the action, almost immediately after launching the game from your Vita’s home screen you’re encouraged to “Press Up to Raus”, from there you find yourself zipping around the skies in a plane that handles a little like the ship from Asteroids. However, its not as simple as unleashing a hellfire of bullets upon the skies, because by shooting at things you risk taking damage yourself, this can only be repaired by taking a break from firing your guns to accelerate around the screen until your health has been replenished. Rather than filling the screen with all kinds of bars and other HUD style displays though, Luftrausers uses audio cues to tell you when you’re in any kind of danger or even when you’re out of said danger.

This isn’t the only way that it uses sound in a rather intelligent way. The game focuses around constructing different planes, so as you progress you unlock more parts, with there being three catergories in total. So thats guns, body and propulsion, each has their own positives and negatives and its all about finding what works for you, just because you unlock something a bit later on, it doesnt always mean its a better option. In order to unlock more parts you have to meet different goals for the parts you are using, which can be hitting a certain high score or taking down a set number of a particular enemy. Each time you change a part or create a new combination, your new creation gains its own name and to fit with that it also has its own soundtrack. Thus the game encourages experimentation and generally toying around, and its this element, plus the aspect of it having that “just one more go” feeling thats great for any arcadey handheld game that will keep you coming back.

Coming back to that mention of Luftrausers being “arcadey” for a moment, this isn’t meant in the way you would describe an arcade racer, what I mean by this is that with a set of earphones in and the volume turned up, the game really drags the player into the mindset of being in an old Games Arcade, as mentioned it has that “Just one more go” feel, which, tied in with its visuals and the audio, really digs into a sense of nostalgia that quite often feels like is missing from modern gaming, and its all of this tied together that makes Luftrausers a brilliantly compelling little title.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Football Manager Classic 2014 (Vita)

Sports Interactive have tried on several occassions to shift their hugely popular and ridiculously addictive Football Manager titles to systems other than the PC. They’ve seen some success in adapting the system to iDevices in recent years and now its the turn of Sony’s PlayStation Vita. On the surface it really does seem like a great match, the system is respectably powered and features touch screen controls. The systems sizable screen should also lend itself well to the interactivity of the series, plus the ability to play where ever you want means addicts never have to leave their game ever again (especially if they also own Football Manager 2014 and play the Classic mode on that as you can switch your save file between the two almost seamlessly).

And to be fair, they’ve done a really great job of cramming the entire Football Manager experience onto the system, okay those of you who like to have dozens of leagues on the go and be able to scout the furthest reaches of the globe to gather talent for your teams may feel a tinge of disappointment at the number of leagues you can have running, but I’d say its a small sacrifice to pay for the portability of Football Manager Classic 2014.

Sports Interactive have built the entire game around the Classic Mode that they introduced with Football Manager 2013, here its titled Career Mode and is the core focus of the game, those of you who know the series will know what to expect, for those of you who haven’t played Football Manager before, well, you take over a team of your choice and try to lead them to glory by playing around with formations, buying or loaning players and generally operating as you’d kind of expect a football manager to do. It’s incredibly compulsive and I personally have been known to have notebooks and spreadsheet documents full of formations, squad line ups and all sorts of other things. Hell, at one point, with Football Manager 2009, I kept a blog of a rather topsy turvy career as manager of the French Ligue 1 team Bordeaux. It’s pretty much every football fans dream, after all, we all know better than the man who is actually hired to run the football elements of the clubs we watch week in and week out every season.

The amount of detail and the number of options available in this handheld version of the game are absolutely astounding, and its very very difficult to find any differences between this and its “bigger” PC relative. The differences do start to emerge though, and its most noticeable in the games user interface. You see, Football Manager has a bit of a reputation for having menu’s within menu’s within menu’s, its rather SRPG in its nature, you can change exactly where you want a player to start a game, but also give them tailored instructions for how much you want them to press, if you want them to play as (for example) a winger, inside forward, wide play maker or any number of different things, with additional inputs available for how much you want them to push forward, mark another player, the tempo of their passing the list goes on.

This all works great on PC, its ridiculously easy, even on the stripped back “Classic Mode” (the PC version full fat mode goes into further tactical depth), however, here, crammed onto the Vita’s screen and with Sports Interactive seemingly neglecting to include the option of using the face controls as well as the touch screen, literally limiting you to the latter, filling the screen with tiny icons, text links and buttons with sluggish response times, well it all feels like a let down and turns an incredibly compulsive and addictive experience.

The thing is, this is Football Manager, to watch the game being played it looks like it should and everything is in there to make it into the experience it should be, but purely because of the design of the games various screens and interactivity options, plus the way the developer has neglected to take proper advantage of the controls on offer (one suggestion being to make the left analogue stick into a controller for a mouse pointer like the PSP releases) makes Football Manager Classic 2014 into a rather frustrating (for all the wrong reasons) experience, even if it is still as addictive as ever.

Gaming, review

Duck Souls+

Things aren’t quite what you expect them to be with Duck Souls+

If you’re judging by its title, you probably expect roguelike mechanics, clumsy control mechanics, a lot of atmosphere and punishing enemies at every turn. If you take a look at screenshots then maybe you’re thinking a cute little one screen puzzle platformer.

That last one is close to the truth, its also misleading. Yes, Duck Souls+ is cute, its brightly coloured and fun to look at, its also a one-screen puzzle platformer, but don’t let that fool you into thinking its easy as its anything but.

Unsurprisingly you play through the game as a duck, challenged with retrieving the lost duck souls or something to that effect, the plots only really referenced very early on and isn’t important to what follows. Once that little intro sequence is done with you’re plonked on a full-screen level and challenged with getting from one point to the other before being allowed to move onto the next one. As you progress more challenges are thrown in your way. You’re then given a few levels to get used to each new obstacle, first on its own and then mixed with other obstacles you’ve previously had to learn.

Thankfully Duck Souls+ realises that we’re all at differing levels of skill, with developers Green Dinosaur Games providing two difficulty levels, Normal and Hard, the main difference being the former gives you well-placed checkpoints in levels allowing the player to take a breather and figure out the next step without worrying that a mistake will see you sent right back tot he beginning of the level. However, the beautiful thing is, you can drop out and change the difficulty level at will without there being any gateway preventing you from progressing if you choose to chop and change between either of them. Add in that the levels never really outstay their welcome and you have a short sharp, entertaining little game that’s perfect for both long gaming sessions and just picking up and playing.

It’s that last point that I’d like to build on a little. I played the PSN version of the game, which is compatible with both PS4 and Vita, and whilst there’s no Cross-Save feature here, meaning you have to play through each installation individually rather than being able to switch between the two at will (a feature that the Switch version benefits from due to it being one system with two methods of playing it rather than two separate consoles). I tried it on both systems and personally found the more confined screen but smaller controls felt much more accurate than playing it on the households main TV using a Dual Shock 4, in fact, the Vita’s d-pad is absolutely perfect for this game, add in the systems sleep function and I found myself picking it up and playing it in little fits and starts rather than the more dedicated time I tend to have with the PS4.

The games price point is definitely worth a mention, at £4 on the PlayStation Store, its ridiculously cheap, the budget pricing gives the impression that its a budget game, but it genuinely feels anything but. the presentation is nice and a lot of care and thought has gone into the level design, decisions such as the interchangeable difficulty level sitting alongside this price point does make it slightly disposable, but there’s also far less pressure on the player to just “Git Gud!”

Formats: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 (version tested), Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Vita (version tested)
Release Date: September 8 2019 (Steam), April 2020 (Other Systems)
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Developer: Green Dinosaur Games

#throwbackthursday, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowbackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 26

After heading east I find several quicksand pits, so I begin to examine them and am thrown into a battle with a seriously difficult Antlion that not only packs a serious punch but also blinds my entire part. I weather the storm, having to revive Vivi and Eiko in the process. Ultimately I use Eiko’s Fenrir summon to finish the fight, I’ll admit then after that I cheated a little by checking a sandpit then restarting the game if a battle began. The very last pit I check is the one I needed to find (of course). The screen fades to black and white text appears

“Huhahaha…I knew you’d come. Everything is going according to plan…”

Cid and Zidane find themselves in a circular room, Zidane seems to have been knocked out. Neither of them have a clue where they are or where the others are. A voice then speaks to them

“So you are finally awake”

Zidane knows its Kuja

“I’m happy to see you again”

Zidane: You rat bastard! Where are my friends?”

Kuja: “My, my… Aren’y we feisty today?
No need to worry about them.
They’re in rooms not unlike yours
Oh, yes… By the way;
I should probably enlighten you as to your current situation”

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The floor opens up revealing some red mist or lava beneath it.

Kuja: “I’m sure that even your feeble mind can grasp what would happen if you were to take that plunge.
Ahahahahahahahahaha!”

Zidane: “Kuja! You’re dead!!!”

Kuja: “Oh, dear. Was it something I said?
Either way, now that you’re aware of your predicament I’d like you to do a tiny little favor for me.
I’ll let your friends live if you say yes”

Which obviously leaves Zidane with no choice but to accept whatever plans Kuja has.

Kuja: “Very good. You’ve chosen wiseley. First, step outside”

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Outside is a balcony with lots of identical doors. Zidane asks Cid to look after the others. Kuja then instructs Zidane to stand between the two Black Mages that are waiting for him, once he has done has instructed he is teleported to a poorly lit room where he finds Kuja stood by a fireplace. Kuja tells Zidane he’s sending him to a place called Oeilvert, which he tells him is sought of Seaways Canyon on the Forgotten Continent, which means as much to Zidane as it does to you or I. Kuja claims he can’t go there due to an anti-magic barrier that surrounds Oeilvert, that’s why he’s sending Zidane, he believes he”s “too stupid to use magic”.

Once there, Zidane is to retrieve the Galug Stone, he says that Zidane can choose three companions for the trip. Emotionally I want to choose Dagger, Vivi and Freya, but the anti-magic barrier would render Vivi useless. Ultimately I choose to take Dagger (who can’t cast regardless of if she goes or not and I imagine Eiko will be needed at Kuja’s palace as these things are never straight forward), Freya (for Reis’ Wind) and Steiner, leaving Vivi, Quina, Eiko and Amarant behind.

All three of my chosen party are summoned to Kuja’s quarters and all four are sent to board Hilda Garde I, and are no doubt heading into some kind of trap.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: NASCAR ’14 (PlayStation 3)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start your engines! Or so says SEGA’s Arcade classic “Daytona USA”. However, whilst this isn’t the high adrenaline cabinet racer featuring the “Sonic Turn” our story does start at the infamous circuit in California. For this I decided to dig out my old “Beer Hat”, bought from the Gadget Shop over a decade ago, pick up some cans of a popular American beer and sit down for a few extended, arse numbing days of that past-time that was created by the countries Probation era bootleggers.

NASCAR 14 takes you through the career of being a NASCAR driver. No surprises there, upon starting the game your asked to input a few details, your name, country of birth (Great Britain, not England…) plus some other things like which manufacturer you favour (from Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota) to what number you’d like to be associated with during your career (my normal picks of 34, 27, 22 or 18 weren’t available as already established real-life drivers already had those), I went with 30. From there you head to Daytona for the first of two races, thats, of course, after a few practice and qualifying sessions. This obviously allows you to get to grips with the games handling. Thankfully, the Daytona International Speedway is a traditional Tri-Oval and isn’t too challenging as there are area’s of the games handling model that leave alot to be desired. This doesn’t become apparent until you head to Phoenix for the third race of the season and you’re suddenly in need of actually using the brakes. Now I’m no NASCAR expert, hell I’ve only ever actually watched a few laps of any given race at any time but the cars must have better brakes than are available here. I found it near impossible to slow the car down enough to get through the corners at the Phoenix circuit let alone bring the car to enough of a crawl to prevent me receiving penalties when trying to enter the pits during the Daytona races. The cars also wobble a fair bit under braking, which feels incredibly odd as there really isn’t any sensation of speed or inertia apparent in the game, which gives the overall experience a really odd feeling.

But back to the career. At this point its important to note that you dont get to pick to be in one of the top teams, you’re essentially creating a brand new team, so your car is pretty basic. For the first few races of said career you’re left with the choice of either using refurbished parts for each race or buying a stock part at a time to try and push you up the field. This does make it sound like you’ll be among the back-markers, but this is NASCAR and as much as horse power is important here, so is being able to use the circuit and your opponents to your advantage. In the first race, which I set to a full race distance of 60 laps, I managed to get as high as 8th and was catching 7th when the two cars I was battling with tangled, bringing out the safety car. Now anyone who’s watched Cars or Days of Thunder knows this usually results in a rush of pitlane activity, and this time things were no different. Once out of the pits it was time to follow the safety car for the final half of the lap and this is when things went wrong for me. I accidentally overtook when you’re not supposed to do so and was trying to yield the place I’d taken, but did so too cautiously, ultimately finding the rest of the field flying past me and leaving me dead last. A few unwise choices in positioning my car within the pack led to me and a few others dropping back and it took the remainder of the race (some 20 laps) to claw my way back up to my final position of 12th.

This was actually rather enjoyable, every position felt fought for and like it was a combination of my own skill and the work of my “team”. The latter is largely thanks to all the indicators you’re given, namely the HUD icon that tells you where cars are around you and who’s drafting you, plus the vocal communication of your race engineer telling you where you’re clear, how aggressive you should or shouldn’t be or where to take your car (high, low etc) in order to work your way through the pack. There’s also added strategy involved in fuel management, tyre wear and engine temperature, all with their own HUD indicators, and despite there being so many different things on the screen to watch, it never becomes confusing or cluttered.

As you progress you’ll gain sponsorship, which grants you more cash, which can ultimately be spent on R+D for your car, plus gives you a bunch of stickers to plaster all over your machine. The appearance of your machine isn’t limited to just putting corporate brands all over it though. Theres also a fairly weighty livery mode where you can create layers and decals to make your car your own. If you’ve played any of the Forza Motorsport titles then its pretty much the same as that but isn’t half as user friendly as Turn10’s package, but it does its job.

I’ve actually been taken aback by NASCAR 14, I was expecting it to feel a little lazy, look damned ugly and be mind numbingly dull, however Eutechnyx have managed to do a comendable job with the license, and whilst there’s no escaping the pins and needles I began to feel in my right hand after going for full race distance on a few of the races (although there was no way I was doing a full distance Daytona 500 event!) thats hardly the developers fault as they’ve given a fairly accurate (from my understanding of the sport) portrayal of NASCAR racing with a few neat ideas that could be built upon for future instalments.

#throwbackthursday, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowbackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 25

I’m going to start by saying that I totally expected to have had this playthrough wrapped up by now, but taking notes and typing up has definetly added to the play time.

The hunt for the third and final ingredient that I need to create the potion needed to cure Cid, or at least Doctor Tot believes it will cure him. I ask all over the Business District but nobody seems to have a clue what Zidane is on about, eventually I make my way to the weapons shop, the guy in there suggests I speak to Alice, who just so happens to be stood outside. She stands out a mile too as she’s dressed in a beautiful gown and it just so happens the potion I’m missing is the “Beautiful Potion”. Alice claims she actually has it! She then drags Zidane around the corner and begins to search through her dress for it, once she finds it she gives it to him for free saying that “it’s too old to sell anyway”.

Before heading back to the castle I have the Synthesist craft me some more equipment. I live his workshop with a Pearl Rouge, Anklet, Reflect Ring, Extension, Fairy Earrings, Burette and Gold Choker, then I make my way to deliver the ingredients to Minister Artania and Doctor Tot.

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The Doctor mixes the three potions together and applies the mixture to Cid straight away. The potion does indeed change him, but not back into a human, instead he’s been turned from an Oglop into a Frog, Quina better not get to meet him in this state. Anyway, he’s understandably far from happy and he summons everyone to the conference room, he’s had enough of potions and medicines. He declares that they must find Kuja, Steiner reminds him they don’t have a ship, but the Regent instructs Master Artania to “ready the ship we stole in Alexandria”. Vivi is still upset about the revelation that Black Mages were aboard Kuja’s ship during the attack on Alexandria, he wants to go to the village to find out more, the rest are in agreement that this is a good idea and Cid agrees to let them go, instructing everybody to meet at the harbor.

We get a brief glimpse of where Quina’s been, s/he is currently lost in Lindblum but they seem perfectly content, especially as they get to try Lindblums local delicacy “Gysahl Pickles” which you may remember Steiner once filling a big with and hiding Dagger amongst them when he was trying to smuggle her back into Alexandria.

Once at the harbor Zidane boards the Blue Narciss and is surprised to see Quina there too (to be fair, he’s not the only one considering the little scene we’ve just had). When s/he see’s Cid for the first time s/he is almost speechless, s/he’s amazed at a talking frog and whilst they pondor whether to eat him or not, Zidane warns Cid of their love for frogs.

For the first time in ages I get to choose my party. This time I go with Zidane, Freya, Vivi and Eiko, for not at least. I’m heading for the Black Mage Village on Outer Continent. Once I disembark the Blue Narciss I come across a Ladybird who wants some Ore (rather than me fight it) which I obviously hand over.

The village appears to be deserted and Vivi races off to investigate. Zidane also takes a look around, every building is vacant, well apart from all the owls. However one Mage has stayed behind. No. 288 is at the cemetary with Vivi, he tells them everyone else bar himself and two others went with Kuja after he had promised to be able to extend their lives. 288 refuses to tell Zidane where Kuja took them as he doesn’t want to betray the others, after that he refuses to speak at all.

Vivi heads to the Chocobo Shack to speak to the other two Mages who have stayed behind. Zidane follows behind and finds Vivi banging on the door, there’s quite a while before anyone answers but eventually one of the two Mages bursts out and declare’s “It’s born!”. Inside both the Black Mages are celebrating the birth of a baby Chococbo, No. 111 tells Vivi that they were going to leave with the others, but someone needed to stay behind for the Chocobo, so they did. Vivi then find 288 stoof outside, he asks him if he’s also going to “stop” soon, but 288 can’t answer his questions. He does however reveal the location of Kuja’s “secret palace”. He says its on the eastern side of the continent, buried underneath quicksand.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: R-Type Dimensions (PlayStation 3)

I’ve got a bit of an odd relationship with scrolling shooters, be they horizontal or vertical, I genuinely enjoy playing them, but by and large I’m ridiculously rubbish at them and often find myself covering the same area over and over again with no progression and thus end up tossing them aside. This doesn’t stop me playing them however, over the years I’ve done this with a few different releases of R-Type, Ikaruga and a few releases of Tecmo Classics, plus others, and when the opportunity arises, I usually come back for more only to leave them discarded for the reasons mentioned above. Why do I do this? Its one of life’s little mysteries, and yet here I am, with a R-Type Dimensions on PlayStation 3, sat on pause whilst I type out these thoughts and opinions in order for me to stick a number on the bottom of the screen that I feel somehow matches my undoubtedly frustrated experience of ineptitude on my behalf.

If you aren’t aware then, R-Type Dimension is a “HD re-release” of the absolute stone cold classics: R-Type and R-Type II. The bundle was originally released way back in 2009 on the XBox 360 and has, for some reason, taken 5 years to head over to Sony’s equivalent console.

R-Type challenges you with the task of navigating a set of auto-scrolling levels, shooting at anything that gets in your way and dodging anything fired in return. By rights, its not a “Bullet Hell” shooter, which means that in theory its not difficult to avoid getting shot. I say in theory for a reason, because as you have probably guessed, I’m not particularly good at R-Type or R-Type II and thus I’ve been shot down a fair number of times, despite the levels being fairly short by the standards of other similar more contemporary titles. Thats not technically true, as whilst the levels don’t fill the screen with bostacles that you can only dodge (although there are always a fair number of enemies to take down), boss fights do like to throw projectiles at you, usually whilst you try and concentrate your attention on hitting a rather small weak spot, something that my ageing brain and fingers seem to be getting even worse at that they were before.

As this is a HD pack, the visuals have been updated to include non-pixelated artwork. This, in my personal opinion, is to the detriment of the gameplay experience. Now, R-Type has never been a quick shooter, but it feels much slower when being played with its updated visuals, I thought I was imagining it at first but after getting others to play it whilst I watched we were all in agreement. Its not hugely different, but it is noticeable. The sluggish-ness doesn’t display in a kind of “slowdown” manner where the frame rate chugs along, nor does it feel less responsive, and if you were coming to R-Type completely fresh then you probably wouldn’t notice it. However, when you switch to either titles “Classic Mode”, its becomes more noticeable and I found myself pretty much sticking with the old pixelated visuals for this very reason, which to me at least, kind of defies the point of such an update.

This is Dimensions’ only real issue, the core concept of the game remains in tact and everything feels incredibly faithful. The updated visuals do make things look more interesting and colourful and its nice to see a developer giving such loving attention to classics such as this, however, the drop in speed kind of hurts it and it does throw you off your game a little if you have experience of these titles from prior versions, which if its enough for me to complain about, must be more noticeable to someone who’s really into this series and wanted the exact same game they know and love just with a new lick of paint, which in theory is the kind of customer these games are marketed at. If thats you, then you’ll find dissappointment in R-Type Dimensions, however, if you want the old game, just on a platform that you can have sat under your TV in the lounge, the Classic Mode is a very faithful version of Irems classic shooter, I just find it difficult to say “yeah, go buy this” purely because, on a whole, the full title doesn’t quite meets its brief.

Gaming, review

Curious Expedition

You can’t move for retro looking Roguelikes these days. It often feels like almost every other game carries with it the mechanics of earning abilities as you progress but losing equipment and progress, having to start your playthrough essentially from scratch, but with the idea that each time you start over the game is a little easier than the last attempt. Most tie this to a Metroidvania style game, getting you to explore a large 2D environment. This is where Curious Expedition differs.

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Curious Expedition isn’t a side scrolling platform action game, no, its developers Maschinen-Mensch, style it as an “expedition” game wherein the player is tasked with becoming a notable person from the 19th Century who embarks on an expedition to find hidden pyramids, return home with treasures and become the worlds most famous explorer, this is all played out with a Civilization Revolution style map that you move your crew across, clearing fog of war, finding villagers, causing volcanic eruptions and running out of Sanity as you “progress”. Games take maybe an hour to ninety minutes to get from your first expedition to your last, provided you get that far, meaning its quite fun to just switch on and not have to really focus on what you’re doing, its fairly light as far as Roguelikes go.

The presentation its quite quirky, every discovery, trade and decision is played out using diary entries that provide the game with its character, sommetimes they really portray the seriousness of any particular predicament (I had someone break a leg and I had to decide whether to leave them or try to heal it, I had to go with the former as I didn’t have the equipment to do the latter, thus making my inventory space smaller so I had to also leave some other items behind) or adding humour at times. It’s a lovely way to portray what looks like quite a static game and each entry is really well written, which gives it the feel of those Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular in the Eighties and Nineties.

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There are a few things that confused me though, I can’t say the game doesn’t try to teach you its mechanics, maybe I just didn’t grasp things well enough. As you explore the map your Sanity meter depletes, this can be replenished by eating consumable items such as chocolate or by sleeping at any villages you find, but both of these can be hard to come by. When the meter reaches 0 you’re crew begin to make mistakes (such as the aforementioned broken leg or they drop items from your inventory, making the rest of the journey even harder) and you’re encouraged to try and make your time walking as long as possible, fewer longer trips results in less Sanity being lost than more frequent but shorter trips.

I couldn’t really grasp the battle system either, its turn based and relies upon dice rolls, but beyond that I didn’t really get on with what the games tutorial was telling me to do, these battles take place against things like wild animals that are patrolling area’s you are walking through or villagers that happened to take offence at your presence (as not everyone is always pleased to see you). It was these moments that led me to getting my Game Over’s as I just didnt have the correct members in my expedition to have the correct dice in order to fight anything off.

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The games biggest disapointment however is that, currently at least, its missing a multiplayer mode. From what I can tell the developer has been working on one, at least they have been for the PC version thats been out since 2016, but when playing it, there was no sense of competition or urgency to beat the other Explorers and I couldn’t escape the feeling that a turn based game, with players starting at different points on the same map, racing to find the pyramid first, finding ways to make progress harder for the other competitors, would have made this game an essential couch co-op title rather than a fun little distraction.

Formats: PC (Steam), XBox One (version tested), PS4 and Switch
Release Date: 2016 (PC), April 2 2020 (Consoles)
Publisher: Thunderful Publishing
Developer: Maschinen-Mensch
Code provided by Thundeful Publishing for review purposes.

#throwbackthursday, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowbackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 24

In Lindblum Cid is overseeing the reconstruction of his kingdom after Queen Brahnes attack. He’s also started building a third airship, with engineers from the Industrial District having volunteered their services. Baku interupts Cid’s conversation and asks how Zidane is doing, it seems he ahs been recovering form the events in Alexandria within the walls of Lindblums castle. Baku send Blank to visit him.

At the castle Zidane is just waking up, his immediate concern is for Dagger and Eiko, though he’s also confused to how he got to Lindblum in the first place. In a chest near to Zidanes bed is an Egosits Armlet, which teaches the Beast Killer and Level Up abilities, another chest nearby contains an Elixer. Mogki, who is also in the Guest Quarters, wants me to deliver a letter to Mudoon.

As Zidane goes to leave the bed room, Blank rushes up the stairs to ask how he is. Zidane tells him he’s okay and asks where Dagger is, Blank thinks she’s upstairs by the telescope and before the conversation can continue, Zidane barges past to see the Princess, en route a guard instructs Zidane that Cid wants to see him in the Royal Chambers, though I think I’ll try and see Garnet first.

Up on the roof of the castle Zidane does indeed find Garnet looking out over Lindblum, Zidane literally talks at her, the poor thing, but she only seems to be replying by nodding or shaking her head. He tries to play it cool, stating she loves him so much that she’s speechless that he’s okay, but he’s quietly worried that he’s done something wrong. When he outright asks her this, she still doesn’t answer. He tries to cheer her up by offering to take her out but when she still doesn’t talk to him he decides that maybe she wants to be alone.

After that Zidane heads back down to see what Cid wanted from him.

In the Royal Chamber Cid greets Zidane as a hero, he’s discovered something about the attack in Alexandria and escorts Zidane to the conference room so everyone can learn what hes found out all at the same time.

Everybody bar Dagger is waiting, Eiko runs out to fetch her, triggering an ATE which shows Dagger deep in thought, she reveals that Alexandria is gone, leaving many dead and others homeless, she blames herself for everything, if only she hadnt run away (at the beginning of the game) then none of this would have happened.

Back in the conference room, Steiner is clearly very upset, he says he gave his all but it wasn’t enough and he doesn’t know what happened to Beatrix either. Freya wonders what Kuja is trying to accomplish as he’s already suceeded in destroying the four kingdoms (Alexandria, Burmecia, Cleyra and Lindblum). Zidane doesn’t care, his emotions have gotten the better of him, he just wants to “go and get” Kuja. However, Amarant of all people, state its not that easy because Kuja’s powers are far beyond theirs.

Cid reveals he witnessed Kuja escape from Alexandria aboard the stolen Hilda Garde I and that he had Black Mages on board, though these were able to “talk normally” unlike the ones he’d previously enslaved, this upsets Vivi and he becomes concerned about the friends he made in the Black Mage Village.

Eiko interupts the meeting and tells everyone that Dagger has lost her voice (tut tut Zidane, now you should feel like a dick). Quite rightly Zidane and Doctor Tot then visit Dagger in the Guest Quarters, with Steiner also tagging along. Eiko leads the way. The three guys obviously don’t understand and all try and get Dagger to talk to them. Doctor Tot explains that the trauma and grief she has suffered has led to her losing her voice, he believes it could take months or even years to recover, though in the typical fasion of a Doctor, he speaks about Dagger like she isn’t there, directing all of this at Zidane rather than his poor patient.

Zidane immediately comes up with a plan, first he needs to cure Cid so he can build him an airship, then he’ll go and “beat the crap out of Kuja”, Tot tells him to calm down before the two of them visit Cid to discuss this plan and fill him in on Dagger’s condition. Doctor Tot also thinks he has a cure for Cid, though he’s not sure about the reliability of its source. We need to find three ingredients, mix them together and then apply them to the Regents body, the items we need to find are “Unusual Potion”, “Beautiful Potion” and “Strange Potion”, then mix them in a 5:2:3 ratio. Apparently these aren’t common items, but rather handily Zidane believes Cinna may have some Unusual Potion.

I immediately head to the cab and go and visit Cinna in the Theatre Distrct where he is busy helping repair the Tantalus hideout.

An ATE fills us in on the state of Burmecia, most of its citizens took refuge in Lindblum after the destruction of both their home and Cleyra, but they’re not sitting back and taking advantage of Lindblum’s generosity, instead they’re rallying as many of their own people together as they can and plan on rebuilding their city.

At the hideout, Zidane just out right asks Cinna if he can “borrow” the Unusual Potion, Cinna agrees, no questions asked and and its over. That’s great, thats one of the three items gained rather easily. I’ve no idea where to start with the others, and thats only if I don’t have to collect enough to fit the ratio’s mentioned previously. I start by asking around outside the cab station and head into the Artists studio. He says he’s never heard of any of these items, nor the potion we want to create, but says if I find anything in his studio I’m welcome to keep it. Thankfully I do indeed find a Strange Potion in the corner by the stairs. No one else knows anything in the Theatre District, so its off to the Business District, though as soon as I arrive there I head for the inn to save my game and give Moodon a letter:

“From Mogki to Moodon

Alexandria is in a horrible state right now…
I wonder if Kupo and Mosh are okay?

Let me know when you have more info!
I heard that Stiltzkin was also in
Alexandria! Kupo!”