Thoughts on Final Fantasy XV 'Episode Gladiolus' and 'Chapter 13 Verse 2'

Episode Gladiolus brings the first substantial DLC to Final Fantasy XV (let's not discuss the Moogle Chocobo Carnival) and the game’s first paid add-on. It’s essentially an hour long boss rush where you fight through a series of rooms of ever harder foes with limited healing items in your quest to defeat the legendary Blademaster Gilgamesh. It’s a fun challenge, but what makes the episode particularly interesting is the revised combat system for the titular beefcake.

Gladio is a much more ponderous character than Noctis, who had the ability to warp around the battlefield on command. Instead you need to focus on dodges, blocks and counterattacks in a combat system that feels more like a brawler. Gladio has a rage meter that strengthens his attacks and powerful AOE attacks that can be unleashed once charged. It took some time to get the hang off, but by the final fight I felt right at home.

The add-on also has a fantastic remix of Clash on the Big Bridge from Final Fantasy V.

Final Fantasy V:

Final Fantasy XV (no spoilers):

Final Fantasy XV has also received an update to the controversial Chapter 13. This section was criticised at release for taking away all your weapons and party members and made you slowly progress through a labyrinth which felt unfinished and lacked any interesting content. The plot revelations in this section mostly happen off screen and fail to explain character motivations. If you’ve completed the original game I encourage you to read the Wikia article on Ravus and tell me how much of that you got from the game.

Chapter 13 Verse 2 is designed to fix these issues by showing what was happening from the perspective of Gladio and Ignis. You can play this section from the main menu which is a nice convenience for players that have already completed the main story, however this extra 40 minutes of gameplay doesn’t achieve very much. You play as Gladio using the combat system from Episode Gladiolus, however the chapter provides no challenge to enjoy and no progression that can be carried forward, making a second jaunt through the least interesting environment in the game incredibly unappealing.

The additions to the story are incredibly minor and of no real consequence, and the final challenge was made a joke by the fact the enemy AI decided to concentrate entirely on Ignis, who is completely invincible. It probably didn’t help that I experienced this chapter months after the original game, but overall it was incredibly disappointing.

But hey, there is always Episode Prompto.

Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV (in its previous guise as Final Fantasy Versus XIII) was announced in 2006, back when I was a wee lad who vaguely resembled his passport photo. After a decade of troubled development and seven years since the last numbered entry in the series it has a lot to live up to, and remarkably it does… kinda.

There is so much I love about this game. The quirky bro camping trip is such a refreshing setting and each of the four main characters are uniquely memorable and charming, with one of them being obsessed with photography that both captures awkward selfies and epic battles. The open world is an utter delight to roam and explore at your leisure, in search of hidden dungeons and monsters off the beaten path and it might just have the best chocobo riding of the entire series. That’s without even mentioning how you can collect soundtracks from previous games and listen to them while you marvel the views from within your customisable automobile or how incredible every summon is.

The battle system just makes you feel like you’re doing cool shit all the time. The ability to warp around the battlefield makes the entire thing feel incredibly fluid and fighting some of the larger beasts is a sight to be seen, paired with some of the most epic music. With the transition to a real time combat system some depth has been lost however, with status effects and weaknesses being much less of a concern than simply dealing high DPS and avoiding hits. One of the game's more unique twists is to make maximum HP a mechanic by weakening your characters over time so that they can’t fully heal themselves without resting or using an expensive Elixir. The looser, more free form combat system won’t be for every series veteran, but I had tons of fun with it and while the main plot line steers towards the easy side, the optional hunts provide a lot of the challenge missing from the story.

Unfortunately there is also a lot not to love. There is no question that even after a decade of development Final Fantasy XV was released unfinished. The entire second half of the game, which throws away the expansive open world in favor of a much more linear path towards the end, feels like it was the best they could do in the time they had left. The story, while solid in retrospect, was confusing and difficult to understand as I was playing the game and would have been completely unfathomable if I hadn’t watched the film and anime. These are both required viewing as the film is effectively the missing two hour opening cut scene to the story and the anime provides context to characters who simply aren’t naturally introduced by the game itself.

There are a lot of building blocks and moments in this game which are fantastic individually, but they were simply never assembled into a cohesive finished product, which is an utter shame. The battle system also falters in small, enclosed environments where the camera doesn’t know what to do and too much of the open world is full of potato quests (quests where you literally have to collect potatoes and other useless baubles for people you don’t care about).

Despite these complaints I played the game to completion in seventy hours, spending the majority of my time exploring the open world and hunting down great beasts while riding a chocobo, which is where the game utterly shines. Final Fantasy XV is a brilliant game. I just really wish it could have been a phenomenal one.

Ignition 0.5

This update to Ignition gives some much needed love to the blog; adding paging, draft posts, publish date and time, a Markdown editor and a UI refresh of the admin interface. In addition to a couple of other bug fixes, this release blocks .ru and 163.com email addresses from registering. This change may seem heavy handed, but the number of spam entries in my database say otherwise and I would rather do this than force all users to deal with a stupid captcha. If you are a legitimate user in Russia there are many free email address providers.

Changelog:

  • Feature: Added paging to the blog. #24
  • Feature: Added draft blog posts and the ability to publish at a date/time. #17
  • Feature: Added Markdown editor to blog admin panel. #21
  • Change: Redesigned blog admin panel. #23
  • Change: Blocked .ru and 163.com email addresses at registration, due to the number of spam accounts. #18
  • Bug Fix: Sessions no longer expire. #16
  • Bug Fix: No error was returned when a blog post image failed to upload. #12
  • Bug Fix: Large images added to a blog post in Markdown would overflow. #11

Download from GitHub.

This update is also available for Gaming with Lemons as version 0.4.6.

Sonic Marathon: Sonic Heroes is a bad video game

Sonic Marathon: Sonic Heroes is a bad video game

I started playing Sonic Heroes in March 2015. As speed bumps in the road go, this was a 489 day one for the Sonic Marathon. The problem with Heroes is I disliked it so immensely that I simply didn’t want to play it. I previously said I hated every minute of Sonic 3D, but at least that nightmare was over in a day. Sonic Heroes clocked in at 27 hours of game time, and that’s excluding the many, many hours lost to game overs that don’t count towards the clock.

On the outset Heroes even tricks you into thinking it know what is good about Sonic (it’s the part where you go fast if that wasn’t clear), only for you to realise that as soon as you need precision the game feels like you’re controlling it with chopsticks. The camera is always facing the wrong way, it’s incredibly buggy, switching character can cause you to die and that staple of the Sonic series, speed, more often than not causes you to overshoot into one of the game's many bottomless pits. Eventually I worked out that the best way to not immediately die was to go much slower, which takes away a lot of what I want from Sonic.

What you’re left with is a mediocre 3D platformer with a bad camera. Heroes signature feature is the ability to switch between the three playable characters. Sonic goes fast, Knuckles breaks things and Tails can fly. Sonic is awful at fighting almost all enemies and his speed was only a hindrance to the platforming, so I ended up playing the majority of the game as the other two characters. If the game doesn’t already sound monotonous, you’ll be glad to hear there are four campaigns that offer slight alterations on the formula, but are otherwise completely identical. The campaigns are actually supposed to function as varying levels difficulty, but no where in the game does it explain this and to see the entire story you have to play them all.

As a palate cleanser I completed Mirror's Edge Catalyst.

Everything Heroes gets wrong, Mirror’s Edge gets right. It’s the Sonic game you should all play. The feeling of speed and momentum in this game is absolutely spot on and most importantly, you feel in complete control the entire time. The art style is also absolutely beautiful. They even fixed everyone's major gripe with the first game by removing the gun combat and replacing it with a serviceable combat system.

My only disappointment with Catalyst is it doesn’t really move the needle forward from the original. While they fixed the combat, the addition of an open world doesn’t really add to the game and all the side missions are dull and completely skippable. By the end of the game the open world is just a nuisance that needs to be navigated.

One step forward, one step back.

You should still check it out though, because Sega certainly aren’t going to make a game this good anytime soon.

Part 1: Sonic Marathon: The story so far

Part 2: Sonic Marathon: Shuffle Party

Two years

A couple of days ago Gaming with Lemons celebrated its second birthday. Happy birthday open source project!

Since the last major release in October I have been focused on re-architecting the site to resolve the problems that caused us significant downtime in 2015. With the last few minor releases this work has been completed and I'm happy to say the site is now more stable than ever.

When GWL was originally designed the majority of the site relied on live requests to Giant Bomb's API and caching game data was an afterthought that came about when I had to build the collection interface. This turned out to be a mistake for many reasons, the biggest being what happens when the API goes down. The introduction of rate limiting also caused some major concerns, especially when bots like Google would crawl GWL causing hundreds of API requests.

With the changes I've made over the last couple of weeks GWL now uses its cache as the primary data source and retrieves data from the API when it can't find it. To keep this cache fresh I built an incredibly light API crawler. Giant Bomb rate limits at 200 requests per hour per resource, and the GWL crawler only makes 288 requests per day! This means as you use the site you should almost never trigger an external API request. Search is an exception to this rule, as it still uses Giant Bomb currently.

You can read more about how this all works over on the wiki. Everyone loves a graph, so here is a graph of API requests per day. The large spikes are bots crawling the website.

Now that the site is stable I can focus my attention on the more exciting user facing features as we head towards something resembling a 1.0 release. The most highly requested feature is Steam integration, so look forward to that coming soon.

As always, if you have an idea, feedback or criticism you can send it to me via the social networks (Facebook, Twitter or Google+) or via a GitHub issue.