Tag Archives: Square Enix

Final Fantasy Explorers forces the player to endure

At the beginning of 2018, I was real close to getting Monster Hunter: World. In fact, it’s now the beginning of 2019, and I’m still thinking about biting the bullet. It’s a genre I’ve always been intrigued by, but terrified to get into due to what seems like a massive amount of complexity and menus and history to learn. However, this newest iteration, which jumps from the realm of handhelds to big boy consoles, seems to be somewhat more friendly to people like me. Or what kids back in the day referred to as n00bz. Side note: if you know what kids refer to people like me nowadays, please let me know ASAP. However, instead of getting this, I dug through my Nintendo 3DS collection and found something similar called Final Fantasy Explorers. It both compares and does not compare.

Final Fantasy Explorers is an MMO-lite that revolves around the titular group of explorers from the rural town of Libertas who hunt the world for crystals, objects which are the source of life and civilization for the world. The most major source of crystals is the new island of Amostra, but they are guarded by fearsome beasts that the explorers must fight. So yeah, surprise, surprise–it’s another Final Fantasy game dealing with crystals as the magical MacGuffin, but then again I wasn’t expecting much in terms of story from a Monster Hunter-like game. They generally are about fighting big monsters and crafting cool gear from their dead, shredded body parts. Also: cats cooking.

For the most part, the combat, which is the bulk of what you do in Final Fantasy Explorers other than stare in horror at confusing menu after confusing menu, is pretty solid, even though one of the shoulder buttons on my Nintendo 3DS is not working properly. It’s a bit hack and slash, with some spells and special abilities thrown in for good measure. To start with, Final Fantasy’s signature job system is here, which adds variety to the battles by letting you equip a mishmash of weapons and abilities tied to your chosen profession while in town. Spells and skills can be tweaked and tailored however you want using special mutations learned in battle, which can make them much more effective, so there is plenty of customization to work with. Personally, from my three-ish hours so far, I’ve been sticking with the Freelancer job, which is kind of your all-around job, capable of both casting basic spells and also wielding decent weapons for physical attacks. Alas, I’m currently stuck trying to beat the legendary flame djinn known as Ifrit.

Let me get more detailed. By default, you have a simple, quick attack that you can mash; however, squeezing the left or right bumpers grants you access to one of eight hand-picked abilities–some magical, some physical, and some related to your current job and weapon. The best strategy is to chain all these abilities together to begin building up something called Resonance. Once you have enough, you can squeeze both bumpers simultaneously and select one of four crystal surges, which supercharge all your abilities for a limited time. This is wisest done during boss battles, as most of the generic enemies you fight along the way are easily dispatched with simpler attacks.

Like Monster Hunter, Final Fantasy Explorers is probably meant to be played with other real-life people in your party. I don’t have access to those kinds of friends; I’ve only ever played online on my Nintendo 3DS with Animal Crossing: New Leaf and some cooperative multiplayer thingy for Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. Thankfully, solo players get the ability to gather essence from some downed monsters and create your own monstrous allies, who will wander after you and join you in combat. Unfortunately, their path-finding is terrible, but you can fuse them other monsters and materials to up their level or unlock perks. I currently only have one monster following me, a level 8 goblin that carries a large cleaver. What’s nice about this is that you can basically recruit your favorite Final Fantasy monsters, such as Cactuar, TonBerry, or Chocobo, like they are Pokemon. Fine by me.

Look, I haven’t played a whole ton of Final Fantasy Explorers yet, and I plan to give it a few more hours, but I can already begin to see the grind here. The real hook for me is seeing all the things from various Final Fantasy games on display, such as summons, characters, spell names, etc., plus the option to basically dress up your avatar as, say, Sephiroth or Tina. If this ultimately doesn’t do it for me though…there’s always Monster Hunter: World.

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An abridged version of Final Fantasy XV that I cannot actually fit in my pocket

For a good chunk of my young adult life, I played every new Final Fantasy game that came out, starting naturally with Final Fantasy VII, then the underappreciated Final Fantasy VIII, and next to Final Fantasy IX, a game I only came around to seeing its conclusion a couple years back. I dabbled in a borrowed copy of Final Fantasy X from a friend in my sophomore year of college, but actually was more focused on schoolwork, dating, and being social than playing videogames. Shocking.

And so it went on, with me skipping out on Final Fantasy X-2 and the online-only Final Fantasy XI. I eventually returned to these hallowed grounds after graduating college, moving into a tiny studio apartment near New York City, and not setting up cable or Internet for a couple months because money was an issue. Thankfully, two games kept me quite busy–Final Fantasy XII and Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. This is a lot of preamble just to say that the last recent Final Fantasy game I’ve played was Final Fantasy XII back in 2006-ish and that weird side-scrolling beat-em-up…until now.

Yup, move aside official release Final Fantasy XV, with your mega realistic graphics, hours-long epic plotline, and detailed character models and pictures of food that convince you this world and its inhabitants are worth believing in. Because I’m playing Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition, which takes a 50-hour console JRPG and re-imagines it as a 10ish-hour mobile game. Except I’ll add one more wrinkle to the mix–I’m playing this on my laptop, not my cell phone. For this to happen, Square Enix naturally had to murder its darlings, cutting back on story, controls, and graphics to deliver a more shortened and laid-back telling of Prince Noctis’s journey to become king. It actually works though, surprise surprise.

Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition follows the same plot as the original game, as far as I can tell, but eliminates the open world aspect and many sidequests for a more focused experience. Exploration and combat have now been shifted from a behind-the-back view to an isometric overhead perspective with simplified controls more suitable for playing on a touchscreen…or using a mouse and keyboard, as I am doing. Music and voice acting was mostly kept intact, while the graphics were given a makeover with “chibified” character designs. The game is divided into ten chapters; the first chapter is available for free, hooray, and the remaining nine can be purchased individually or as a whole with discounted pricing.

The combat in Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition is more friendly and forgiving though maybe a little uninteresting. When the party enters a fight–no random battles here–the player takes control of Noctis only while his companions do their own thing. Noctis will auto-attack whatever enemy is nearest to him or whatever one you personally select, with opportunities to parry and dodge presented as timed button prompts. As the party gains EXP, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladio gain the same sort of special combat abilities they do in the core version, and there’s a skill tree to unlock other perks, such as using magic or enhancing how much damage your weapon does. Noctis himself has a very special ability called warp, jumping from one enemy to another by clicking on that enemy and holding down the mouse button, getting the drop on the unaware. You can also do this outside of combat, to reach certain areas.

Honestly, I enjoyed my free time in Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition‘s first chapter, but I’m not hooked enough to drop any bucks on it and see the remainder of the young prince’s plight. The combat feels inconsequential currently, though perhaps it gets more involved later on once magic and summoning show up. Still, it’ll always be a watered down version, and for some, that is ideal, and others not. I still find the idea of a boys’ roadtrip to be entertaining, even if it eventually does the Final Fantasy thing and end up being about saving the world from plunging into eternal darkness.

Get to ghostly work in Murdered: Soul Suspect

You might not have ever guessed it considering I’ve never really said a word about it, but Murdered: Soul Suspect is a game I’ve been genuinely curious about since its release. Which, um, was way back in 2014. Y’know, when cars began to fly, entire meals were in a pill, and aliens visited us peacefully to share all the knowledge of every galaxy ever. I remember it well. It’s got all the trappings that I often enjoy in my digital entertainment–ghosts, a murder mystery, lots of collectibles, an emphasis on exploration and not combat, and playing detective. It’s kind of like the Blackwell series of point-and-click adventure games on a bigger budget.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is all about once-criminal, now-cop Ronan O’Connor, who is killed off immediately at the start of the game–major spoiler alert!–as he hunts down the elusive serial killer known as “The Bell Killer”. The game takes place in a fictionalized version of the American town Salem, which is famous for its seaport and burning witches. Anyways, for some reason, Ronan returns as a ghost. His long-dead wife, Julia, also in spirit form, says that the only way he can join her on the other side is by solving the Bell Killer mystery. Sure, sweetie. Will do. I mean, that’s what I was trying to do before I died so I might as well keep on keeping on. Also, I might want to see what is up with that creepy ghost girl.

The gameplay in Murdered: Soul Suspect is both simple and linear though there is some room to explore at your leisure, but that’s only if you want to find all the collectibles, which I totally did. You navigate ghost Ronan around town, and since he is physically body-less, you can pass through walls and other solid objects, so long as they aren’t blessed. There’s also some contrived reasons that Ronan can’t enter buildings with doors that are closed, but I don’t remember the exact phrasing. Your search to unravel the Bell Killer mystery will take you to a church, an apartment building, a graveyard, a mental hospital, and so on. More or less, you walk around an environment, looking for clearly identified clues, and Ronan has some ghostly abilities up his see-through sleeve to help in this endeavor, such as teleportation and possession. Each area has a specific number of clues to collect to progress through the level and the story, and they are found and put together in a way similar to L.A. Noire‘s investigation sequences, except you are not trying to catch people in a lie or hopping to and fro various locations.

The story is entertaining enough, but fairly straightforward, and that’s including the twists, which are not difficult to see coming. Ronan befriends a young, troubled girl called Joy, who is a medium and able to interact with ghosts, and she is, without a doubt, the best part of all of Murdered: Soul Suspect. Eventually, you’ll learn about why the Bell Killer is targeting his victims and how Salem’s history fits into everything. Much like an episode of Criminal Minds or Law & Order, the game steers you towards a specific person as your suspect right until the very end.

There’s been some talk recently about playing detective in games and what ways work and what ways don’t. For sure, Murdered: Soul Suspect does not work, but I’m not mad about it. I didn’t come to it for that one aspect. Still, honestly, the game constantly felt worried that I wouldn’t get the answer right, which occasionally lead to me overthinking things. Take for instance one of the earlier optional “Unfinished Business” cases in which Ronan helps a young female ghost figure out how she was killed and what happened to her body. I scoured the apartment of a cranky old couple until I found all the clues I could, but two of the clues needed to be drawn directly from the old man and woman, respectively, and to do that, you needed to select a clue you already found to influence their train of thought. I assumed the “gardening tools” or “newspaper clipping” would have sufficed, but all both needed was the initial inquiry about a missing girl that started this whole thing off. It felt strange and wrong and that all my years of watching police procedures was for naught.

Some other quibbles because I’m me. First, while I can’t resist picking up every single collectible shining on the ground, I do wish many of the item’s descriptions had voice-over work so that I could continue to explore my surroundings while learning about what I picked up. Instead, you have to read a small, somewhat uninteresting paragraph of text for each one, and I eventually stopped doing this altogether. Second, the game gives you a lot of tools, but not the freedom to do much with them, such as using poltergeist to affect tangible objects, but only when needed to distract a guard in one specific sequence. You can also possess a cat, but only when possessing a cat is vital to getting somewhere high up. Lastly, I too suffered from the “Investigate the War Room” bug, which stayed as my current objective until the end of the game, but thankfully I was able to remember where to go next as I basically played through Murdered: Soul Suspect in a few multi-hour bursts and it’s not too difficult to figure out where to go next.

I enjoyed Murdered: Soul Suspect quite a bunch even though it is far from perfect, but it does sadden me to know that Airtight Games is no more and so a sequel, a chance to improve on the lackluster detective work or zero-fun combat scenarios with demons. The only other game from Airtight Games that I’ve played is Quantum Conundrum, though I walked away from it once the puzzles became too complicated. Oh well. Not everything can be as easy as a ghost going into someone’s body, peeking at their computer screen, and then manipulating their thoughts based on this information to have them do exactly what you want to move the case forward.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #90 – Murdered: Soul Suspect

Solve your own murder
Salem is brimming with ghosts
Collectibles too

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #62 – Hitman (2016): Prologue

Assassinations
Are easy, just follow prompts
47 knows

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Dragon Quest VIII’s photography sidequest is pretty goo

dragon-quest-8-on-3ds-gd-impressions

I’m not fooling when I say that it beyond insane that, in 2017, I am playing Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King…on my Nintendo 3DS. Like, we’ve always known that Nintendo’s portable game console could run games from the PlayStation 2 era, such as Tales of the Abyss and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, but I never thought we’d get something as great and massive as Level-5’s magnificent showpiece. In my opinion, Dragon Quest VIII was a shining, blinding star in the JRPG night sky from 2004-2005, and the handheld version is mostly on par with that definitive claim, with some additions that I like and subtractions I dislike.

You’ll surely remember that I tried to go back to my Dragon Quest VIII PS2 save some years back. My return to the kingdom of Trodain didn’t last long. I had already put in over 80 hours because, at the time that I got the game, in my first studio apartment in Clifton, NJ, I declined getting Internet/TV services for a few months to save money. Thus, I was left with entertaining myself in the evenings, and that ended up being a lot of reading, some drawing, and, well, Dragon Questing. It was hard going back and remembering where I left off and what to do next. I certainly never beat the game, but couldn’t find the main path again to focus on, instead spending a few hours in the casino or chasing after monsters to capture for the fighting arena. I’m hoping to make a more direct run to the credits in the 3DS version and save some of the bonus side stuff for later, if possible.

A plot reminder, because these games have plots, even if they are somewhat convoluted: the game begins with Dhoulmagus, the court jester of the kingdom of Trodain, stealing an ancient scepter. He then casts a spell on Trodain castle, which turns King Trode into a tiny troll-like thing and Princess Medea into a horse. Unfortunately, everyone else in the castle becomes plants. That is, except you. Yup, the nameless, voiceless Trodain guard–lucky devil. Together, the three of you set out on a quest to find Dhoulmagus and reverse his spell. Along the way, you join up with some colorful characters: Yangus, a bandit who owes his life to the protagonist (I named him Pauly this time instead of Taurust_), Jessica, a scantily clad mage looking to avenge her murdered brother, and Angelo, a Templar Knight that likes to flirt and gamble.

Let’s just get to it and talk about the differences in the 3DS version of Dragon Quest VIII, as there are several. All right, in we go.

Evidently, you get two new playable characters–Red the bandit queen and Morrie, the owner and operator of the monster battling arena–but I’ve read you don’t gain access to them until late in the game, both entering your party at level 35. Not sure how I feel about that, as there’s a comfort and familiarity to the initial team of four, especially after you figure out how each character works best and spec them in that way (Angelo = healing, Yangus = tank, etc.). Being able to see monsters on the world map and avoid them at your discretion is great and something I look for in nearly every new RPG. The alchemy pot–always a staple in Level-5 joints–is no longer on an unseen timer and simply creates what you want when you want it, as well as provides suggestions for items you can mix with one another. Lastly, at least for small changes, as you gain skill points and upgrade your party members, you can now see when each one will unlock a new ability or buff; before, it was all guesswork unless you had a walkthrough guide at your side.

Cameron Obscura’s photography challenge is one of the larger additions and is quite enjoyable. You encounter this man fairly early in the game, at Port Prospect. He requests that you take some specific photos, each one earning you a different number of stamps. As you complete stamp boards, you earn special items. Simple enough…yet extremely addicting. Some photo requests require you to capture an enemy in the wild doing something silly or find a hidden golden slime statue in town. They vary in difficulty. Taking a picture is as easy as pressing start to enter photo mode; from there, you can zoom in, add or take away party members, and switch the main hero’s pose. Looks like there are over 140 challenges to complete, but you are limited to only 100 photos in your album, which means deleting some later down the road–not a huge inconvenience, but seems unnecessary. However, I wish getting to Cameron’s Codex–this is where you find the list of potential challenges that updates as you progress in the story–wasn’t hidden away in the “Misc” option menu; I’d have liked it to be in the drop-down menu on the touchscreen, where you can quickly access other constantly used things like “Zoom” and “Alchemy”.

Okay, now on to the issues I’m not a fan of. None of these are deal-breakers as Dragon Quest VIII remains a strong classic JRPG that does stray from its successful mold of yore, but I’m still bummed.

First, there’s the soundtrack or lack thereof–the original orchestrated soundtrack was removed for the 3DS version. What’s there is fine, but no longer as sweeping. The game’s cel-shaded cartoon visuals still look pretty good, but there’s a lot of draw-in when wandering around, which can make it look like nothing is at the end of some monster-ridden hallway, but there’s actually a red treasure chest there and the only way you’d know that is to walk closer towards it. Speaking of visuals, the menus, once full of icons, tabs, and visual indicators, and looking like this, have been replaced with perfunctory text that, yes, still gets the job done, but loses a lot of personality. The in-game camera continues to be an issue, especially in tight spots, and I have to use the shoulder buttons to swing it around for a better view as I, like many, prefer seeing where I’m going.

Lastly, there’s Jessica, who uses her sexuality to charm monsters into not attacking. I remember being weirded out by this some twelve years back, and it hasn’t gotten better with age. Initially, she’s dressed quite conservatively, but the minute she joins your party her attire changes to be extremely less so, and there’s even some needless boob bouncing. Sorry, Akira Toriyama, but it’s gross. I’m currently trying to specialize her in the opposite direction so as to never see the puff-puff spell in action. Maybe Red will replace her, but who knows.

All right, that’s enough Dragon Quest VIII talk for now. Evidently I can really go on about this game, as well as Dragon Quest IX. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I see both the later game content and stuff that pops up after credits roll. Until next slime, everyone.

The name of the game I could never remember is Swagman

swagman-ps1-gd-final-find

It’s a weekend afternoon, over at least a decade ago, and I’m in a bookstore. I don’t have anything in particular in mind, but I’m the sort that loves to wander aimlessly in these kinds of spaces, to tilt my head and read titles quietly to myself and touch a few spines, maybe even pull a whole book off the shelf and read the back-cover blurbage. I’m near the café section, where coffee and scones reign supreme, myself eating up a FoxTrot treasury or something like that when a song comes on overhead. It’s soft, safe, reassuring. There’s light guitar strumming and piano–and a man’s voice. I don’t remember any of the words or how the tune ultimately went. I know that I liked it. I have never heard that song again since.

I’ve had this happen a few times in my life. There are tunes or pieces of writing or drawings that live in my brain, fuzzily, right on the fringe of my consciousness, waiting to be rediscovered. I can recall them, but not fully. Clearly, they had an impact on me. Alas, I can only remember limited details about them to the point of frustration. It’s not like now when you have a mini computer in your coat’s pocket and can look up anything you want and create a historical record as a future reminder. I continue to live each day with a quiet hope that all these mysteries will reveal themselves before I buy the farm.

With all that said, there’s been a videogame from my teenager-era past that I know I have been unable to recall–for years. I’ve actively tried looking it up, but unfortunately was unable to figure out its name, even with all that Internet out there. It’s not even a game I regret trading in because I think I only rented it for a few days and didn’t like it very much, but the fact that I can’t confirm what it was confidently is more irritating than anything else.

Right. Okay, try to play along, even if I already spoiled the reveal in this blog’s title. Here’s everything that I knew about the mystery game:

  • It was on the original PlayStation
  • It had a top-down perspective, like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Its heroes were children
  • It began in a bedroom

That’s all, folks. Make your guess, and show your work.

Turns out, after clicking around on Grouvee today, which is where I’m working on organizing my unstoppable collection, that game was called Swagman. Uhh. For the longest time, I was convinced it was Okage: Shadow King, but no, especially when you realize that one is an entire console generation later. Anyways, when I saw the name Swagman, it did not immediately ring a bell, but I thought to check nonetheless and dropped it into a Google image search, only to be greeted with screenshots that instantly took hold of me to confirm that, yes, this odd, lesser-known critter from Eidos Interactive in 1997 is the game I played back in high school for a weekend and then never again.

I can’t believe I didn’t remember the specifics of Swagman. Here’s a plot summary: Using a substance called Dreammash to force everyone sleeping in Paradise Falls to suffer from constant nightmares, the Swagman and his army of Night Terrors are planning a deadly takeover. They have also captured and imprisoned the twelve Dreamflight fairies in order to begin a deadly invasion of the real world. That is, unless Zack and his sister Hannah can figure out a way to rescue them and destroy the Swagman for good. Otherwise, it’s nightmares on top of nightmares on top of more nightmares–for infinity.

In terms of gameplay, Swagman is a puzzle adventure thing with some light action and platforming. I guess “mixed bag” would actually be used correctly here. While in the “real world” sections, the game has Zack and Hannah–who both can be controlled–finding items like bugs and/or keys to solve puzzles or unlock certain doors. When in “dream” areas, called Territories and accessed via magical mirrors, the game becomes more action-focused, with you sometimes transforming into a monstrous beast that can spew flames from its mouth. Yup. There’s an on-screen inventory for some of the items you’ve collected, such as the Fantastic Frisbee, Super Sneakers, and Cherry Bombs. Your best weapon against the Swagman’s loyal minions seems to be a flashlight or general avoidance, and because Zack and Hannah share a collective lifebar, there’s danger in taking on too much by yourself.

I honestly don’t remember ever getting out of the real world section, but maybe I did and only have a strong recollection for the opening area. I don’t know. Looking back at it and watching some playthroughs on YouTube, I’m not overly impressed or interested in getting a copy for myself, even as a collector. Again, this wasn’t a lost treasured gem from my past, but rather something pestering me for years. I’m glad the issue is resolved.

Swagman is the game I could never remember, and now I’ll never forget it. Next up–whatever that bookstore store was hopefully.