BONUS CONTENT: Looking Back at Final Fantasy X (PC, PS2, PS3, PS4, PSVITA, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

With the release of the new Final Fantasy XVI trailer I can’t help but think about the series as a whole as well as my favourites of the series. I struggle to pick which is my favourite, that would be like picking a favourite child. I would never be happy carving a hierarchy into stone, solemnly decreeing that this is the definitive order and so shall it be for all time. I would probably make my list out of water as like water my opinions are fluid, constantly shifting from outside influences. Sure some titles will remain in familiar territory. Using the Premier League as a metaphor, FFXIII will always fall around the back of the pack and fight against relegation, FFXV despite soiling it’s underpants in the final third does enough to hover around mid-table with the likes of FFV, FFXII & FFIX, although the latter 2 do make it high enough now and again that they could qualify for the Europa League and the top spot is usually fought over by FFVII, FFVIII & todays subject matter FFX.

Final Fantasy X tells the story of Tidus (whom I always pronounced as Tie-dus, it was years later when I watched a making of documentary that it was pronounced Tee-dus), a young blitzball player from the large city of Zanarkand. His home is attacked by the gargantuan being known as Sin. After the attack, Tidus finds himself lost hundreds of miles from home. A chance encounter with the summoner Yuna and her guardians finds Tidus a way home.

The game really made you invest in and bond with the characters which makes the stories twist and the end that much more heart wrenching. As previously mentioned the world was also full, vibrant and rich, oozing with culture and lore. This is even before I mention blitzball which I spent more time playing than I care to remember. I would have loved blitzball to have been release as a FIFA-like spin off. Graphically too, FFX was a huge step up from the previous console generation and truly showed off the capabilities of the PS2 at the time.

Final Fantasy X may be a game that fights for the top spot but that doesn’t mean that it is without it’s flaws. It was the first Final Fantasy to ditch the world map for a series of smaller locations which made the world feel small and far too linear, not to the extent that XIII did but it was still an unwelcome change to the series. Also the sphere grid levelling system meant that because everyone can learn every skill & ability each character looses their unique feel in battle later in the game, with Overdrives and Yuna’s summon ability the only unique abilities left. This is not to mention some of the cringe worthy dialogue (The laughing scene in particular).

From the outset you can tell that Final Fantasy X is a very different breed from the Final Fantasy games that came before it. The use of voice overs, mo-cap & skeletal animation & 3D backgrounds being the most noticeable. This huge evolutionary leap is due in part to the series’ jump from the Playstation to the Playstation 2. The massive increase in hardware capability gave Square that unrestricted creative freedom to take the series away from the tried and tested Final Fantasy model. Although this does mean a few classic flavours of the series get left out in the cold, this however is the price of progress and whether you like it or not it’s happening. I brought up this same point in my Final Fantasy XIII review all those years ago and although I am for the evolution of the series and it’s modernising to introduce new players to the franchise I still yearn for some of the classic characteristics to come creeping back in, mainly a full explore-able world. We’ve not had one of them since FFIX. Imagine if Final Fantasy XVI comes with a modern fully rendered 3d world to get lost in, full of secret locations and optional cities and towns? If it does I think I will genuinely loose my shit.

Advertisement

BONUS CONTENT: Looking back at Half-Life (PC, PS2)

In my Witcher 3 review I mentioned that there were people in some circles that regarded The Witcher 3 as “The greatest game of all time”. As much as I enjoyed the game I whole heatedly disagree with it being the greatest game of all time. Although this did lead me to asking myself what I thought the greatest game ever actually was. I came up with a lot of strong contenders, Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Grand Theft Auto III, Silent Hill 2, Portal, but to name a few. I came up with Half-Life quite early on during my brain storming session and with each game that followed it, the less likely it seemed that I was going to be able to top it. So there you have it, Half-Life is the best game of all time and below I shall tell you why.

The story begins with our mute protagonist, physicist Gordon Freeman arriving late for work (I assume he couldn’t call it to work to let them know on account of him being a mute in the pre-email era) at the Black Mesa Research Facility. Once he finally arrives, a routine experiment on an other worldly material goes awry and causes gateways to another dimension to open spewing forth legions of alien creatures. It is up to Gordon and the other surviving members of Black Mesa to close the portals and save the world.

To me one of the reasons for Half-Life’s legacy is not so much the story but in the way it tells it. Previous 1st person shooters of the day (Doom, Duke Nukem 3D etc.) told a story not much further than, run down a corridor and shoot the things that are shooting you. This was not so much a story, but a brief followed by the game. Half-Life in contract had the story run through with the game, the world would develop as events escalated. Events witnessed by Gordon would drive the plot forward along with narrations by and between support characters.

Half-Life has immersion leaking out of it’s eyeballs. The game world, the narrative, the realism, everything about the game seemed like it was solely designed to draw in the player into a gaming experience never experienced before. The game abandoned the idea of levels for one continuous world, this made the world feel large in scope as in doing so it preserves the flow of the game. Guns and health would not hover aimlessly in mid air waiting for the player to pick it up. Health had to be gained by interacting with certain wall consoles, while guns and ammo were found either on dead soldiers/guards or found from armouries around the game. The world was interactive in ways never seen in previous FPS’s. One memorable example being at the beginning of the game where Gordon can interact with a microwave causing a casserole inside it to explode.

Even now, almost 22 years after it’s release it’s legacy stands with all the games that have come from it’s creation, both physically with the likes of Counter Strike, Team Fortress & Portal, as well as the countless number of games since that have been influenced by Half-Life’s innovation and narrative. Half-Life was the first great trail blazer that revolutionised the First Person Shooter and paved the way for others to push the boundaries out that little bit further. It was Issac Newton that said “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. I believe that when it comes to video game innovation Half-Life is defiantly one of the giants in which the industry stands upon and because of this it is hard to deny that Half-Life is one of the greatest, if not the greatest video game of all time.

Fahrenheit (PC, PS2, XBox)

 

This week I’ll be looking back into the past at Quantic Dream’s earlier attempt of interactive story telling. Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy for you Americans).
I think I can honestly say Fahrenheit has easily taken the award for most disappointing U-turn out of every computer game I’ve played (and I’ve played alot of games). I bought Fahrenheit not too long ago, I had heard of it before and thought nothing more, it’s only when a friend of mine highly recommended it to me, and since I trust the opinions of my friend and bought myself a copy. I had heard that people have been having problems with playing Fahrenheit on anything but XP, which is funny because it rans on my Desktop without any problems (I’m running 7 for those interested).
 
The story starts with Lucas Kane, who after waking from a trance in a Dinner Toilet realises that he’s murdered someone, fleeing the scene scared and frightened. Next up we have Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles two detectives on the trail of Lucas. An interesting feature of the game is that the game is played from the perspective of all 3 characters, constantly switching between Lucas “pants-wetter” Kane, and our detective duo which in doing so gives the player a well rounded look at the development of both the story and the characters.
 
I was about half an hour in game and I could see what my friend saw in it. The story was compelling, the atmosphere crotch gripping and the characters were well defined. The use of quick-time events within the game (as much as I’m going to hate myself for saying this) were well done, although there were many of them they were usually short and didn’t consist of more than 6 or 7 button sequences. The interactive story was also something very intriguing. It actually felt like even the smallest thing I did effected the game (whether it did or not it doesn’t matter).
 
It was only when I got about half-way through the game an odd thing happened. Someone uttered the word “Mysterious Ancient Cult”, Pandora’s Box opened. Forcing all subtlety to exit via the nearest window and as such the story soils itself inside-out. All atmosphere disappeared when Lucas changes from the scared and frightened little boy we all knew to being some kind of Neo-esc “Chosen One” to which breaking the laws of physics comes as naturally as blinking, and as such the massively fight-scenes appeared, which involves you pressing A though Q whenever you are told (and you are told alot) to not die a number of times equivalent to the population of rocks in the universe for the next half an hour or so, which I not only found tiring (My fingers being left in a state residing somewhere around arthritis-ridden and rigamortis) but utterly futile. By what I could make out alot of work had gone into the fight scenes but your too busy frantically mashing buttons to really care. The once interactive story becomes nothing more than a means of driving our protagonist to the end (by this point we also lose the ability to play our other characters too).
 
As I played though all the things I loved about the game slowly fell away like layers of wet cake. It was destined for greatness but half way through U-turned and sped away. It’s like Atari moulded two completely different games together. The first one about 2 detectives on the trail of a serial killer. The other about a normal 20 something year old who must save the world from great evil. It’s kind of like Se7en (one of my favourite films) moulded with The Matrix. Not that there’s anything wrong with The Matrix, it’s just that the two don’t really have alot of overlap.
 
So in short, play the first half, as soon as someone mentions an evil mystical cult, burn it. You really don’t want to know how it ends. Trust me.

Resident Evil 4 (GameCube, PC, PS2, PS3, Wii, XBOX 360)

 

With the releases of Resident Evil 4 and Code Veronica X in HD on the PSN and XBLA this is what I have been doing with myself.
First things first. I love the Resident Evil series. It takes me back to my pre-teens, back to a time where even it’s target audience would call Justin Bieber annoying and gay. I would meet at a friends house and we would play one of 3 games, 2 of those were Final Fantasy VII and Command & Conquer, but the one I want to focus on today was Resident Evil, believe it or not those graphics used to be good. The camera angles were always horrible mind, but the one thing I most enjoyed about the series was also it’s biggest flaw, the dialogue. The dialogue was that horrible and broken that it was laughable, which made it entertaining. Like watching a film with Steven Seagal in it. You don’t enjoy it because it’s a good film, you enjoy it because it’s a horribly bad film.
As sequel after sequel were released you saw minor improvements and minor tweaks that kept the games appealing to current fans, but less appealing to people new to the series, It was like opening a novel halfway through and to start reading from there. That is until Capcom decided that the series was in dire need of a 21st century reboot. At the release of Resident Evil 4 I was comfortably set in as a Resident Evil fan boy and was outraged by Capcom taking a series I loved and remould it to make it more mainstream so they could attract a wider audience and make more money, Capcom you sell-outs. To this day I still don’t know why it’s called Resident Evil (other than the obvious that it would sell better when a well known brand is stapled to it, see Silent Hill 4 for details). It has as much relevance to the original series as Custard does to the Custard Cream. It would be like playing Pokemon as Jeremy Clarkson and calling it the Top Gear Edition.
Lets start the “review” rather than rant about nostalgia and Capcom selling out shall we? Ok. The story has no relevance to the earlier games apart from the appearance of a few old faces. Leon S Kennedy from Resident Evil 2 is back and it’s his job to rescue the Presidents daughter who has been kidnapped for some reason and rather than going along with standard American foreign policy to send in an armed force, blow up half of every city, steal a few natural resources, announce victory and claim the lives of the that country have been significantly improved. Instead it’s decided that one agent armed with a pistol and a radio with a woman inside would be sufficient. The inevitable proverbial shit hits the fan and it’s up to Leon to take down a whole bio-terrorist cell single handed and rescue the princess… I mean the presidents daughter.
The biggest step away from the franchise was to not put zombies in a game that’s series was very big on zombies. Instead we have villagers who might as well be zombies but can open doors, use weapons and engage in light conversation with each other, although sometimes big bug things can appear out of the decapitated stumps of dead enemies randomly. Another huge difference was to chuck the fixed camera and go for an over the shoulder view instead. Making aiming for head shots infinity easier but having the disadvantage of not being able to see behind you. Just like real life. Although unlike real-life when aiming Leon must stand perfectly still for reasons unknown to man. Maybe it’s one of those “Men can’t multi-task” things where if Leon were to move and aim at the same time he would have to stop breathing or something similar, but I like to think women only say that to make up for their inability to priorities.
Overall I enjoyed it. The game-play was interesting enough for me to complete it back when I first played it and memorable enough for me to buy it and complete it again when released in HD. Although I still have that niggling feeling that it probably would have been a better game if it wasn’t a Resident Evil game, if it were instead the start of a new series to replace Resident Evil instead of re-branding it for a new generation who enjoyed the films (which btw. were a series of wank sandwiches each one having more filling than the last). Then again it wouldn’t have sold as well if it was called “Secret Agent no. 65,524 vs Spaniard Villagers”, but that’s just me.
The Resident Evil series has come a long way since me and my friends took the day off school so we could go into our local Blockbusters and rent out Resident Evil 2 on the day of release. Although Resident Evil 4 is a good game it doesn’t feel like a Resident Evil. The games I fell in love with and still feel nostalgic about are not in there which personally for me spoilt it slightly.
On a final note I do recommend it, it’s worth at least a play through, just leave all expectations at the door and try to imagine that it’s just a coincidence that the protagonist’s name is the same as the cop from Resident Evil 2.
Capcom you Sell-outs.