Video Games

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.

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

Firewatch

Firewatch is a cool game. You’re alone in the Wyoming wilderness working as a fire lookout whose only company is Delilah, another fire watcher you can speak to over the radio. Through the game you explore your surroundings using a pretty intuitive in-game map and try to solve the unfolding mystery of the forest. There is no real action or threat in the game; it's just a cool piece of interactive fiction. The Wyoming forest is absolutely gorgeous and the back and forth dialogue between Delilah and yourself keeps you invested in the narrative. It’s a little short for the price, but it's quite fun to complete in one sitting if you can.

My experience with Firewatch was going so well until I hit a game breaking bug. A core component of the game is selecting dialogue choices when responding to Delilah. There is an on screen timer and if you fail to select a reply she takes your silence as a response. Late in the game they have an argument and both characters refuse to speak to each other for a little bit of time. About five minutes later the game replayed this dialogue again by mistake, and the game got locked into thinking I didn’t want to speak with Delilah. Despite offering me responses I could no longer select any dialogue options.

Restarting both the game and the PS4 failed to fix this, so I decided to continue on, settling for the game selecting the “silence” option. This backfired very close to the conclusion of the story when I needed to speak to Delilah to advance the plot and couldn’t. I was so annoyed at this point that I ended up watching the conclusion on YouTube, as I had no desire to replay a broken game.

The conclusion itself was also fairly anticlimactic, which put an additional downer on a game I was really enjoying. Hopefully the game will be patched, but for now I would give the game a fairly hesitant recommendation.

My favourite games of 2015

It’s a new year and I’m at this blogging thing again. I know, I know. I never commit to it. But that’s what New Year's resolutions are for right? No one ever fails to keep those up. This year I’m committing myself to doing more writing, and considering it’s only February I’d say I’ve started off pretty damn well. To get this blog kick started, I thought I would compile a list of some of my favourite games from the past year.

I hear numbered lists are the in thing. Way cooler than bullet points anyway.

10. Puyo Puyo Tetris

I love me some Tetris. It’s probably the perfect puzzle game, although I am on the side that thinks infinite spin is pretty lame. I had no idea what Puyo Puyo was until I realised I had been tricked into playing it many years ago under the guise of Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine. The combination of both games, played competitively against each other makes this an incredible package, and the high spirit anime dressing gives it a lot more character than recent Tetris titles.

What I didn’t like

They never released Puyo Puyo Tetris in English, so I had to import it in Japanese. This makes the menus and the plot entirely incomprehensible.

9. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

Captain Toad is a fun reuse of a puzzle design from Super Mario 3D World. It’s a simple, short little game, but a fun distraction from 100 hour RPGs. It’s cute, colourful and the puzzles are surprisingly challenging, especially if you aim to collect everything.

What I didn’t like

I know it's a mechanic of the game, but the lack of a jump button is simply infuriating.

8. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

Theatrhythm was a great game, despite it’s ridiculous title, but there was very little to do after you had played all the songs. Curtain Call fills that void, adding a quest mode that keeps you coming back. This game might be just pure nostalgia, but the rhythm game play is incredibly solid.

What I didn't like

Compared to field and battle, there are incredibly few event levels.

7. Starbound

As a kid I loved going to the sandy beach. I would ignore all this “sea” business and dig a twelve year old sized hole straight down into the dunes. I would never get to China before we had to go home, but the sense of adventure and exploration was always there. It was also funny to imagine people falling down the hole after I left it. This is also what it was like to play Starbound for 30 hours.

What I didn’t like

You get to a point where the progression just drops off.

6. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

The small amount of Ground Zeroes that exists is probably better than any single part of Phantom Pain. The base you infiltrate is incredibly detailed and packed with character, something I feel Phantom Pain lost by trying to be so expansive and big. The opening gave me the chills of how it felt to play MGS for the first time, and there is a constant fear of being spotted by a patrolling guard.

What I didn’t like

We all know we paid for a demo.

5. Sonic Shuffle

Both the best Sonic and the best Mario Party game ever made. The added strategy of selecting from a deck of cards and the ability to hide your cards on the VMU puts it leagues ahead of the random dice rolls in Mario Party.

What I didn’t like

It only has five maps and they never made a sequel.

4. Rocket League

I played football at school. Most of the time they would put be in goal because I would be less of a nuisance there. I was still a nuisance. Rocket League adds cars to football. It’s amazingly simple, but so perfectly executed. The feeling when you score a goal is the greatest and it never goes away.

What I didn’t like

The game has a fantastic soundtrack that only plays in the menus.

3. Super Mario Maker

Super Mario Maker is the game I always wanted. Every kid wants to make his own games. I used to draw them on paper with cut out characters. The level editor in Mario Maker is ingenious, and Nintendo almost got the online stuff right. The community that has arisen around Mario Maker has been amazing to watch, and challenging your friends to complete your latest masterpiece is a blast.

What I didn’t like

Nintendo almost got the online stuff right.

2. Persona 4 Golden

I’ve been playing this game on and off for the past year and I’ve loved every minute of it. Best described as a crossover between Japanese teenage dating simulator and turn based RPG, it has a great story and a killer soundtrack. There is even an anime which is pretty darn good! The Golden remaster and a PlayStation TV are going incredibly cheap these days, so don’t miss out on this.

What I didn’t like

A lot of scenes in the core plot don’t change to reflect the relationship you’re currently in, making them a little jarring.

1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

I love so much about The Phantom Pain. Open world Metal Gear doesn’t sound like something that should work, but it really does. From a gameplay perspective, this is the perfect Metal Gear game, and it still maintains its ridiculous nature, such as cardboard boxes, fulton recovery balloons and rocket arms. I played the game for over 100 hours and could still play more if I really wanted to. It’s a gameplay loop that just never gets tiring.

What I didn’t like

The plot and pacing of Phantom Pain however, is a mess. There are some fantastic individual moments, but the entire thing doesn’t gel together as cohesively as Metal Gear has in the past. It is almost certainly the weakest story of the series, and even its most interesting new character (Quiet) is ruined by some fairly disgusting sexism.

Sonic Marathon: Shuffle Party

The Sonic Marathon might have peaked early because Sonic Shuffle is the best Sonic game ever made. Essentially a clone of Mario Party, Shuffle is a turn based board game where players move towards a goal while being punished or rewarded for the squares they land on. You also play the occasional mini-game that is always won by the person who has played the game before…

In Mario Party the number of spaces you can move on the board is dictated by a random dice roll. Shuffle is a much superior game because it replaces this random component with a deck of cards. Each player has a hand of cards that only they can see thanks to the Dreamcast VMU and in each turn they either pick from their hand or blindly from another player.

The number printed on the cards dictates how many spaces you can move. There are also bad Robotnik cards and special cards, which makes picking the best card quite strategic. You can often watch other players behaviour to determine if they have a card you might need, and when you run out of cards you have no choice but to start picking from your opponents hand. When someone is picking from your hand you even have the ability to shuffle your deck in a desperate attempt to stop them taking a card you want to keep.

It all boils down to a lot of shouting and rage as someone surprises you with a card or you take the card they needed. I played through the entire single player campaign as well as many drink fuelled nights playing multiplayer with friends, and would continue to go back to it.

Considering we’re now at the tenth iteration of Mario Party, it’s a shame Sega hasn’t returned to Shuffle even once.

Part 1: Sonic Marathon: The story so far

Sonic Marathon: The story so far

Like most kids I’ve played the original two Sonic games many times, but I never got close to completing them outside of playing Tails in Sonic 2 with my older brother (which doesn’t really count as you’re hardly playing the game). After that I dropped off the series in favour of the likes of Crash Bandicoot and didn’t actually play another Sonic title until Generations.

Which why I was probably not in the position to make the blanket statement “Sonic sucks” at University in regards to Sonic Adventure, based purely off other people's opinions. My friend Dave reacted so poorly to this remark that seven years later when he became my housemate the first thing he did was make me play through the entire series.

Talk about holding a grudge.

Right now I’m about half way through this marathon of Sonic games, so I thought I would record my thoughts on them so far.

I have the most familiarity with Sonic 1 and Sonic 2. Both are punishingly difficult by the end, which probably explains why I never beat them as a kid. In fact, I’ll admit I still had to resort to level selects after dying in the final levels of both multiple times, purely for the sake of time. Sonic 2 is certainly the superior of the two, mostly because it doesn’t feature labyrinth zone. Fuck that shit.

Sonic 3 and Knuckles is another kettle of fish altogether. It’s much longer than the previous games, and incredibly difficult. The graphics in 3 are clearly pushing the Mega Drive as far as it could go, which result in what I felt was a much messier look overall. It might be my nostalgia, but I prefer the cleaner style of Sonic 2.

Sonic CD is a weird entry in the series. It’s much easier than 3 and although the time travel mechanics and boss fights are interesting, the level design and physics all feel a little off. It’s as if it was made by a team told to make a Sonic game rather than a team who had made Sonic before. Sonic CD isn’t a bad game, it’s just unremarkable.

I’m not a big fighting game fan, but I’m certain Sonic The Fighters is the worst fighting game ever made.

It’s not the worst Sonic game however, because that award (right now) goes to Sonic 3D: Flicky’s Island. This game controls teeeeeeeerribly. It’s so clear this was their first attempt at 3D gameplay, because everything about it is awful. It’s difficult to move Sonic around and it’s hard to tell if you are level with enemies in the 3D plane. Worst of all the entire game is about finding and collecting little birds, and not getting hit or they run away and you have to collect them again. It completely misses what was good about the original games (going fast). I hated every minute of this game.

Sonic R is a pretty cool proof of concept for a running racing game. It’s sadly pretty dated and has limited content, but none of that matters because the soundtrack is incredible.

Considering the ignorant remarks I made seven years ago, it’s pretty amusing that I really enjoyed Adventure and Adventure 2. Unlike Sonic 3D, they really nailed how Sonic should play in three dimensions. Additions such as the homing attack allow you to target enemies with ease while maintaining the sense of speed. The interlinking stories of the different characters is also very clever, although I much preferred how it was presented in the first Adventure (the Gamma campaign alone makes it better). The camera controls occasionally let them down, and they both have unenjoyable parts (Big’s fishing, Rouge and Knuckles collection levels, underwater swimming at the end of Adventure 2), but overall they are really good games. Both have excellent soundtracks too.

Up next is Sonic Shuffle