Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an absolute spectacle, in the best possible sense of the word. Truly a touchstone amongst gamers of all ages, many of us grew up with fond memories of earlier titles in the franchise. But this latest, and best, iteration of the series has it all with a truly monumental selection of characters and tracks that offers extremely impressive replay value. 

Even if you didn’t grow up as a Nintendo kid, there is just so much to recommend here. Visually, everything just pops right off the Switch screen, with a vibrancy and colour pallet that is never too distracting, but is certainly eye catching. And as you boost and drift your way around courses full of exploding turtle shells and rogue bananas, Mario Kart never drops below it’s 60fps, and handles like a dream.

In docked mode the game renders in full 1080p resolution, but for me personally handheld mode is where this game is at it’s best. And while you take a hit to resolution (720p in handheld mode), Nintendo didn’t sacrifice frame rate for portability. This is where the potential and longevity of the game really is, at least for me. I purchased the game digitally, and will never delete it from my Switch, simply for the ability to play a couple of rounds ANYWHERE. And if you happen to be able to connect to a WiFi network, say at your house or a local cafe, this stops being a game and becomes a platform.

Lets be honest here. The AI controlled bots you will spend your time racing against offline in single player are certainly competent, and are great to mess around with. But playing Mario Kart with friends or other players online is by now a time-honoured institution, something I take deadly seriously. There is nothing quite like wiping that smug grin off your best friends face with a well timed blue shell, or the feeling of dominating international players as a brightly coloured Shy Guy. Local co op is easy to use and feels great too, you and a friend can even play online together. I haven’t played with more than two players locally yet, but that requires your switch to be in docked mode.

Mario-Kart-8-Deluxe-Shot-(5).jpg

Don’t be the guy that has to play as Link. Nobody likes that guy.

I suppose I should address the elephant in the room, even if it personally doesn’t affect me. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a re-release, a game of the year edition if you will. It was originally released for the Wii U, and is virtually the same game aside from a bunch of new characters and a revamped Battle Mode (more on that later). If you already own the game than there really isn’t a whole lot new here to draw you back in, except for the aforementioned portability. For me personally, I’m choosing to treat this like its a brand new game, because for me it is. I never owned a Wii U, and this is my first time playing Mario Kart 8. I can certainly see why some might be hesitant to essentially buy this game twice, and that’s your prerogative. But if you missed out on MK8D the first time, or like me you skipped the Wii U, this is undoubtedly the definitive version, and alongside Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an essential part of any Switch owners collection.

Now, on to some of those extras. Personally, I prefer Grand Prix to Battle Mode, but the inclusion of several new modes such as Shine Thief, Renegade Roundup and Bob-omb Blast certainly doesn’t detract from that, and is a welcome change when you want to mix things up. The inclusion of these modes only adds to MK8D’s replayability, and I’m all for that. We also have new characters such as Link and the Inklings, which are nice. In what I can only describe as a master-stroke of marketing, though, Nintendo has also included some awesome Amiibo skins for your Mii character (with the purchase of the corresponding Amiibo, of course). I’ve never really been interested in Amiibo, until now that is. I play exclusively as my Mii, and I want all of them. ALL of them.

amiibo-Mario-Kart-1--1024x576

I suppose my only real gripe with MK8D is the fact that everything is unlocked from the get go. This might seem like the most entitled, pedantic complaint ever, but here we are. I think this was Nintendo’s attempt at extending a virtual olive branch of sorts to those who had already bought Mario Kart on the Wii U, but it seems misguided. There is a sense of achievement to unlocking new courses and characters as you progress, and I would be willing to bet money that more people play MK8D on the Switch over it’s lifespan than ever did on the Wii U. Still, its a minor issue, and at least there are kart and bike upgrades to unlock. 

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is fantastic, and really showcases what Nintendo’s first party is capable of. Its gorgeous, plays like a dream and is very nearly infinitely replayable. Coupled with the ease of use of the Switch, this is a game that is just as perfect for a long flight or car trip as it is for a night in with friends. And while it’s a slightly harder sell for people that purchased the Wii U version, this is a must have title for anyone that owns a Switch.

K.

Advertisements

Yomawari: Night Alone Review

Yomawari: Night Alone reads like a demented fairy tale straight out of Japanese folklore with a modern twist. The survival horror, from creators Nippon Ichi Software, immediately sucks you into its grim, dark world within moments of booting the game up, and continues to throw twisted monstrosities at you for the several hours it will take you to complete it. From its isometric view, Yomowari seems deceptively cute, as you play as an unnamed young girl with a lovingly animated red bow in her hair. This game is anything but, however, as it deals with heavy themes such as mortality, loneliness, and the supernatural.

Right out of the gate, the player is treated to an emotional gut punch in the game’s tutorial. I wont spoil it here, but suffice to say, I don’t think a tutorial has ever invested me in a character or a world so effectively. The premise of Yomowari is simple: A young girl loses her dog, and her older sister goes out to look for it. When she never makes it home, it is up to the young heroine to venture out to save them both. And they need saving, as the surprisingly expansive town they hail from in rural Japan is inhabited by scores of demons straight from the depths of hell.

20161024204617_1

Gameplay is a fairly simple affair, and will not surprise anyone familiar with the survival horror genre. The game is broken into chapters, and each chapter sends the player to different corners of the map in search of keys and other items that will allow them to progress to the next. What makes Yomawari unique is that virtually the entire game world is open from the start, and while some areas are gated, there is a lot to see and do. You wander dark, deserted streets with nothing but a flashlight as your only protection from the evil spirits that roam the night.

And I think this is where the game really shines (pun intended). You are completely unable to protect yourself, so all you can do when confronted by an enemy is either run or hide. Some of these creatures will react (violently) to the light of your torch, and others come running at the slightest sound. You can sneak past groups of enemies, and distract them with thrown items. Its not an incredibly in-depth stealth system, but its varied enough and doesn’t wear out its welcome. Progress can be saved at Jizo statues that are spread fairly liberally across the map, and they also function as the games fast-travel points.

A flaw of this was that I never felt very punished by death. It really just meant I would be greeted by a blessedly very brief loading screen, and a short run back to where I had met my demise. Some of the games mini boss like creatures could be frustrating, though, requiring dozens of attempts, and perfect memorisation of their attack patterns. But that never took away from the genuine fear I felt after encountering some of these creatures. And I think that was because of their uniquely Japanese design. From massive tentacled beasts that would sweep entire streets with their appendages, to the souls of dead children who would attack only when you showed your back to them, the variety was quite impressive.

yoma1

But what really sold me, was realising that Yomowari has side quests, and semi unscripted events. Wandering down a particularly dark street, I came across a headless horse that galloped past me, off into the night. I would encounter the same beast again several chapters later, and while I never figured out its purpose, the horse was completely benign. I took to feeding stray cats  with some pet food I happened across, until I fed the wrong cat. After that, I swore I wouldn’t feed any animals that I encountered. I also engaged in a particularly creepy game of hide and seek with a ghostly little girl that really did just want to play. Then I came across a ringing cell phone, left abandoned in the street. What followed was probably the most chilling of my encounters, and the most memorable.

It probably took me around 5 hours to complete Yomawari, and I did it in a single sitting, but I think you could probably spend at least that long again scouring every nook and cranny. Thankfully, after rolling credits, you are able to explore the entire map (which seems to have been hand drawn by the protagonist, and suits the aesthetic perfectly) at your leisure to snap up any remaining collectables you might have missed. And you will probably miss some, as they can be fiendishly well hidden, or heavily guarded. I considered attempting the platinum trophy, it certainly seems doable, but would require a hefty amount of exploration.

yomawari-07.jpg

I’m very happy  with my time spent with the game. Its narrative is fairly open ended, and I immediately went online to see other peoples interpretations of certain events. And it has stayed with me, its the kind of game that creeps up on you. I will be keeping a very close eye on the recently announced sequel Yomawari: Midnight Shadows, as I cant wait to see what the team does next. All in all I would recommend Yomawari: Night Alone to anyone looking for something a little bit different. Its a short experience, but memorable, and it played exceptionally well on the Vita.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to double check my door is locked.

K.

 

 

Inspiration: Wednesday 26th April

I thought it might be cool to write a little post about the things that are inspiring me at the moment. Games and books, movies and social media, I constantly feel like I’m fully engaged. At the moment I am on holiday, and have nothing but time. So here are some things I’ve been into!

imjinwar

The Imjin War – by Samuel Hawley

Lately I’ve been on a real samurai kick, its kind of all consuming. And this was the book that started it all! The Imjin War is the tale of just that, the Japanese attempt to invade and conquer China and all of Asia in the 16th century. Landing in Korea, the Japanese expected the Korean’s to simply let them march on Beijing. Instead, they would fight tooth and nail, making the Japanese pay for every inch of ground they covered. Impeccably well written, Samuel Hawley tells the tale from the point of view of the three main belligerents: the invading Japanese, the Koreans, fighting for their very survival, and the Chinese, initially dismissive of the entire affair, but forced to mobilise to stave off the very real Japanese threat. Incredibly readable, with very likeable characters and deeply informative, the epilogue in particular really stays with you.

51VR15589HL

Samurai William – by Giles Milton

Samurai William is a book that had been on my to-read list for quite awhile now. I’m really glad I got to it, as its one of the better books I’ve read in recent years. William Adams was the first Englishman to reach the shores of Japan, in 1600. The two year journey itself is fascinating, but what follows is nothing short of incredible. Born into poverty outside of London, Adams was made samurai by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Shogun himself. Adams taught Ieyasu about the Western world, and in return earned his trust and respect. Adams is still remembered today in Japan, there is even a district in Tokyo named after him (Anjin-cho). Also, the video game Ni-Oh is VERY loosely based on the events of the book. Its an incredible story, and a fantastic read!

NEW_sabriel300px

Sabriel – by Garth Nix

Other than history, I really only read sci-fi/fantasy (which is something I’m trying to change). Sabriel is a book I started reading years ago, and picked it back up on a whim. I’m glad I did too, because Garth Nix creates a really interesting unique and interesting world, in which the modern meets the fantastic. The first novel in the Abhorsen trilogy, Sabriel tells the tale of the titular heroine as she comes into her birthright as the Abhorsen, a sort of holy necromancer that banishes the restless dead that wander the world. It has a really interesting magic system involving bells, and the depiction of the afterlife (that is a place the protagonists regularly travel too) is truly unique. Really looking forward to continuing the series!

ran61

Ran – Akira Kurosawa

I have a thing where I find it really difficult to watch older movies, basically anything pre original trilogy Star Wars is out of the question. I’m trying to break out of this though, and combined with the aforementioned samurai thing, I arrived at Kurosawa. Ran is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, interspersed with segments based on the legend of Sengoku era daimyo Mori Motonari. It’s a long movie, but I actually really got into it. Its a very vibrant movie, with a lot of colour being thrown around. Most of the major characters have a colour theme that is used really well throughout the course of the movie. It even has pretty impressive battle sequences, Ran having the biggest movie of any movie made in Japan at the time. I’m a fan now, and after Ran I immediately moved on to…

seven-samurai

Seven Samurai – Akira Kurosawa

A timeless classic, and of course one I hadn’t seen. Released in 1954, this movie is over 60 years old, and is surprisingly watchable! I might sound really ignorant, but I truly thought movies of this era were unwatchable. But it turns out its a fun movie, and surprisingly really funny! The action is fantastic too, and the story has been adapted countless times: villagers, rather than giving their harvest to the roving bandits that demand it from them every year, instead use it to employ samurai to defend them. The Clone Wars animated series had a really great episode that was an homage to this, but with Jedi instead. That’s all the Kurosawa I have seen so far, but will definitely be exploring his other films.

persona-4-golden-listing-thumb-01-psvita-us-27jan15.png

Persona 4 Golden

God, I love this game. Still plugging away at that platinum trophy, but I really forgot how vast this game is, and you really cant just steamroll through it. Even on normal difficulty I’m having some troubles with some boss’s, and having to grind a little. Still really enjoying this playthrough, and I’d say im a little past halfway (Void Quest dungeon). The plan is still to get a full review out, but I think I will save that until after this run, and maybe comment on the platinum process. Spoilers, its pretty difficult, and sometimes obtuse. Gotta have it done by the time I get home and start on Persona 5 though, so about two weeks left. No pressure!

2KI09V

Twitter

Kind of weird thing to be inspired by, but I’ve really been into Twitter lately! I’m trying to make a conscious effort to engage with people, write some jokes and generally get involved with the platform. And while its still early days, I’m noticing an increase in followers ever since I started making a conscious effort, which is kind of rewarding in its own way. I guess I’ve never been a big Facebook or Instagram guy, so I’m seeing the addictive nature of social media. Feel free to follow me @ https://twitter.com/KhaylAdam, its mostly jokes, Persona memes and Star Wars ramblings.

 

What are you into at the moment, got any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

K.

I am one with the Hype. The Hype is with me.

Strap in, everybody. Not only are we getting a mainline Star Wars movie this year with The Last Jedi releasing in December, but we are also getting Star Wars Battlefront 2 on November 11. This is crazy to me! I’ve been a huge fan of basically everything Star Wars for as long as I can remember, and the high quality of content the franchise has been putting out has just been incredible. Lets just take a look at some of the features of Battlefront 2, shall we?

star-wars-battlefront-II-deluxe-edition-preorder_pdp_3840x2160_en_WW

  • A single player campaign penned by Mitch Dyer (formerly of IGN, and a good dude) and Walt Williams (Spec Ops: The Line). Really excited about this in particular, as Williams’ work on Spec Ops was truly fantastic, that game made me feel a whole lot of feelings!
  • Story will follow the captain of an elite Imperial commandos known as Inferno Squad, at least initially. Looks like both Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren will be playable in the single player campaign!
  • This will be a canon story line, set just before the destruction of the second Death Star, all the way up to the events of The Force Awakens.
  • Of course, the entire multiplayer suite of the original Battlefront is looking to return, with a new class system and a stronger focus on space battles

I’m sure we will learn more about Star Wars Battlefront 2 at E3 in a couple of months, and I for one cannot wait! now if you will excuse me, I have to re-watch The Force Awakens and start watching Rebels to prepare myself. Might even pick up some of thos new canon novels, I hear Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn is quite good. I’ve included the link for the full length reveal trailer below, check it out and let me know what you think!

And may the Force be with you, always.

K.

 

My Personal Top 5 Video Games of All Time

Alright, lets do this. If I’ve learnt anything from the video game community, nothing goes down better than a biased, subjective list of video games. I thought this might be a nice way to let people know where I’m coming from, like a gaming resume of sorts. It wasn’t easy to whittle this list down to just five, so I have taken the liberty of adding some honourable mentions, in no particular order. And of course, this list is subject to change, as there are some incredible games coming out in the near future. Keep in mind, this is more of a why I love these games kind of deal, so I wont be explaining story lines or gameplay in depth, and there certainly wont be any spoilers. So without further ado, lets get into it!

Honourable Mentions

Legend-of-Heroes-Trails-of-Cold-Steel_poster

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

This game, man. So a bit of backstory on this one, I took a trip to Tokyo back in 2014, and I couldn’t turn around without seeing posters for this game (in Akihabra, at least). Known in Japanase as Eiyū Densetsu: Sen no Kiseki, everything about this game intrigued me from the get-go. The characters just seemed to pop, and from all the research I did, the battle system and adult story line told me this was my kind of game. But I don’t speak Japanese, and of course there was no English localisation at that time. So, like an idiot, I bought a copy for my Vita with that noble intention that I think all JRPG fans have at some point or another: to learn Japanese in order to play a particular game. Well, I still haven’t learnt Japanese (despite studying it at university), but luckily for me Cold Steel was released in English in January of 2016, and at long last I was able to play through this fantastic game.

Trails of Cold Steel has a lot of the cooler social aspects of Persona 4, which is something I still find novel and new. Spending time with your classmates at Thors Military Academy in between missions is a great way of mixing up the gameplay, and while admittedly it isn’t done as well as in the Persona series, its still something I appreciate. Combat, while maybe a tad too slow for such a long game, really shines. There is a lot of tactical depth in the way characters can be placed on the battlefield, and it even incorporates an upgrade system strongly reminiscent of Final Fantasy 7’s materia system, which I’m surprised we haven’t seen more games using. The story itself is right up my alley, more of a political thriller along the lines of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together than standard JRPG fare. It might take a little too long to really get going, though, and kind of overstays its welcome,. Seriously, this is a LONG game, and while I do recommend it, this one is definitely for people looking for something substantial to sink their teeth into.

the_legend_of_zelda_breath_of_the_wild_2017-HD (1).jpg

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Hey look, another “Legend of” game. But really, what more needs to be said about the new Zelda? Unless you have been living under a digital rock of some kind, you’ve heard about all the things this game does right, and read the rave reviews. Of course, this was slightly marred by the lacklustre Season Pass offerings that Nintendo pushed out, and occasional stuttering whilst playing in docked mode, at least at launch. Some people didn’t like this games approach to dungeons, or confining the more challenging puzzles to shrines. But really, these are minor quibbles when talking about a game of this calibre.

I’m admittedly not a die-hard Zelda fan, and I fell off the wagon a long time ago. Some of my favourite gaming memories, though, are of getting Ocarina of Time for Christmas for the N64, and playing it for what seemed like an eternity with my older brother. Breath of the Wild really brought those memories back to me, and I really enjoyed it in a way I find hard to describe. Definitely a nostalgic title, despite being revolutionary for the series. I think the highest praise I can heap on it, was the way it made Horizon: Zero Dawn (which I was playing simultaneously) seem empty in comparison. While I could see a world in which this game made my top 5 list, I think it is just too recent, and would feel disingenuous to give it a place so soon after playing through it. But with that being said, Breath of the Wild has truly set a new benchmark for open-world games, and I’m excited to see where the series goes next.

IMG_420820.jpg

The Last of Us

Now here is a title that I really struggled with placing. In the end, the games lower down on this list just resonated with me more personally, but I’ve got to give credit where its due. The Last of Us, a masterpiece of storytelling and gameplay from the wizards over at Naughty Dog, is an immensely important video game. When it was released, a lot of reviewers heralded it at as the title that would elevate the medium. And while a very cinematic game, TLoU is first and foremost, just that, a video game. Apparently there is a movie adaptation floating around in development hell, but I personally hope it never sees the light of day. While I could certainly see TLoU’s narrative working well as a movie, it could never do justice to the gameplay.

And gameplay truly is king here. You really feel like a survivor of this awful world. Combat, for the first time in a video game (in my experience), had a weight to it that could be sickening at times. From the incredibly gruesome death animations, to the simple act of breaking a brick over a guys head, the violence here feels dirty, visceral and a little bit too real. This was backed up by a looting and crafting loop that made you feel like a scavenger just scraping by.  Stitching together a Molotov cocktail on the fly while you run from a horde of Clickers is an incredibly tense experience, something that is helped by a truly unique world that feels like a real place. The journal entries that you come across are equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful, and are usually framed by fantastic environmental storytelling. Walking into an area and knowing something terrible has taken place is exciting, because more often than not, and with a little detective work, you really feel like you can recreate the last moments of the people that lived there. And that ending? Hot damn, I cant wait for Pt II.

7zrUXEH.jpg

#5

BioShock Infinite

And now we come to the list proper. BioShock Infinite is a game I see a lot of revisionist history for, which is ironic, given the plot of the game. And while I can certainly see how people may have problems with its gameplay, or the narrative for that matter, for me this was the pinnacle of the series, and a truly unforgettable game. Dealing with themes like American Exceptionalism and the worship of America’s Founding Fathers as religious icons, BioShock Infinite goes to some exceptionally dark places. Its melding of real-world history in this fantastic, dystopian setting was something that really appealed to me, and its characters and storyline have stayed with me ever since. It sparked in me an interest in American history that I had never really had before, and the games take on actual events like the Boxer Rebellion and the battle of Wounded Knee are riveting, especially with the propagandist twists that are everywhere in Infinite’s Columbia.

Gameplay is what we have come to expect from the BioShock series, with gunplay and Plasmid (or Tonics) use being the majority of what you spend your time doing. But its the plot here that earns Infinite its place on my list. Its anachronistic tale of alternate dimensions and timelines is far and away the most thought provoking of any game I have played. And while I will admit Infinite’s big twist could have been more meaningful with another game or two in the series, its one that still gives me goosebumps just thinking about. And again, the world building here is just phenomenal. People have told me that they find this game hard to replay,  but I personally think this game is even better on a second or third playthrough. All of the major plot points are hinted at and foreshadowed from the very beginning, and all those strange little coincidences make perfect sense with the benefit of hindsight. Plus, this game had the Luteces, who are just the best. Constants and variables, anyone?

3_Danganronpa-Trigger-Happy-Havoc.jpg

#4

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

I never would have guessed that a visual novel would make it onto this list, but here we are. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc got under my skin in a way few games have before. I played through this dark and disturbing tale in just a couple of sittings, which consisted of me cocooned amongst my blankets until the wee hours of the morning. And this mysterious, incredibly dark tale of murder, suspicion, and hope drew me in, until I just had to know how it ended.

While initially very trope-y, the cast of Danganronpa very quickly break from their cookie-cutter moulds, and take on a lot of nuance. You spend a lot of time with these characters, some you hate, and others you root for. And then of course you have too watch them die, one by one, inevitably, until the conclusion of the game. And its legitimately hard, seeing characters you’ve grown to care for being forced to kill each other, all for Monokuma’s twisted enjoyment.

And while others will level (fairly valid) criticisms at this title for the class trials and the kind of gimmicky gameplay found therein, it wasn’t really an issue for me. The writing was just so solid. The sequel too was fantastic, but repeats a couple of plot points first seen here, and so I have to give this place to Trigger Happy Havoc. If you own a Vita/PS4, and haven’t  played Danganronpa, you really owe it to yourself to try it out.

total_war_shogun_2-wide.jpg

#3

Total War: Shogun 2

Every computer I have bought in my adult life has been in preparation for the imminent release of a new Total War game. This series is, without a doubt, my most played. I have spent countless hours (although Steam does count the hours, to my eternal shame) across every title in the series, and I love them all, but Shogun 2 is special.

The time period in which it’s set ranges, across all DLC, from the Gempei war, the Sengoku Jidai, and finally the Boshin war of the Meiji restoration. It chronicles the rise, the golden era, and the fall of samurai culture in Japan. It is a period I am incredibly fascinated with, and that fascination is mostly because of this game. Hell, I’ve aced history tests because of my time with this title.

And that’s saying nothing of its infinitely re-playable campaigns. I’m playing through two separate campaigns at the time of writing, and considering another one for the future! Its multi-layered strategy, from building economies and monitoring taxation, arranging marriages for the heirs of your clan, to commanding massive formations in combat, is something I don’t think I will ever get tired of. Sometimes I’ll even catch myself humming some of the tunes from the soundtrack, which at this point is baked into my psyche. I cant wait to see what the team at Creative Assembly come up with next (Total War: Victoria, fingers crossed).

Persona 4 Computer Wallpapers Desktop Backgrounds  1920x1080  ID ....jpg

#2

Persona 4: Golden

Persona 4: Golden is the reason I love the PlayStation Vita as much as I do. It proved to me that long form gaming is not only possible on a handheld but that it is actually preferable, at least to me. P4G is a monster of a game, and the ability to pick it up and play through a week or so of in-game time lent itself perfectly to the Vita, and is largely responsible for the amount of time I have sunk into this game. Two full playthroughs and I’ve just started a third: still trying to get that platinum!

More so than narrative it’s the characters and their development over the course of this game that has earned it a place on this list. P4G’s characters really come alive in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible. Maybe it’s because of how long you have to get to know them, or that each is given their own private story arc in their respective Social Link, but Golden’s cast stand out more to me than any other. And that isn’t to say that the storyline of the game isn’t interesting, it certainly is. I love a good murder mystery and the supernatural twist that Persona games are known for really compliments it. But it’s Yosuke, Yukiko, Chie, and all the rest that really give this game its heart.

And that’s without mentioning the addictive Persona collecting and fast-paced traditional turn based gameplay which somehow doesn’t wear out its welcome despite repeated playthroughs. It will be interesting to see how I feel after playing Persona 5 as a lot of people are saying it’s an improvement in every regard. If that’s true then it would have to be an incredible game, and certainly worthy of a place on this list!

wallpaper-760514

#1

Final Fantasy VIII

And here we are, where it all began. I played a lot of video games before playing Final Fantasy VIII, but it wasn’t until I played it that I realised what their potential could be. That they could be this massive, and this immersive, was completely new to me. That they could look this good, or be this deep (I mean, for 1998) was truly eye opening. It was also the first JRPG I ever played, and there is a lot of nostalgia involved. But man, it was just so COOL to teenage me. The story, spanning multiple continents (and multiple DISCS!!!) absolutely blew me away. Witches and their Knights, floating schools for mercenaries, monsters falling from the moon. It all sounds like a fever dream. But it really made an impression on me, and that’s why it earns the #1 place on my list.

Now, I don’t have total fanboy blinders on when it comes to this game. I am aware of the criticisms, and I share some of them. The junction/draw system can be tedious, and Squall is kind of a jerk at times. But there is just something about FFVIII. It came along at the right time in my life, and introduced me to what would become my favourite genre. I appreciate that it’s not the most popular Final Fantasy title, in fact it seems downright loathed by some, but that’s never bothered me.

I replay this game fairly often and I really hope there is some kind of HD remaster for it one day. But the odds aren’t great, lets be honest, and I’d prefer Square Enix work on new titles. Still, Final Fantasy VIII is my favourite game of all time, and I doubt that will ever change.

 

So that’s it, that’s my list. Thoughts? What are your favourite video games? Let me know in the comments below, or just lambaste me for loving FFVIII, I revel in it. As always, thanks for reading!

K.

The Age-Old Question of What to Play Next

So I’m in something of a funk right now.  Currently I am in Asia, relaxing with my girlfriend. It’s been beautiful, I have no commitments and all the time in the world to play some god-damn video games….

But I cant decide what to play. It’s aggravating me beyond all reason, I’ll fire something up, and stare at the title screen for a couple of minutes. And that’s as far as it gets. I feel like the short-sighted guy in that old Twilight Zone episode.

tumblr_inline_mvx1002Ics1ra3ape

I have with me the following gaming-enabled devices:

  • 1x PlayStation Vita (Black, 1000 Series.) My faithful steed. Tried and true, packed full of games that have seen me through countless hours. Never leave home without it
  • 1x Nintendo Switch (Grey, because why would you not.) A new friend, stylish and slick. While there currently arent a lot of interesting games for the system, its fast on its way to winning my heart.
  • 1x Asus Republic of Gamers GL502VM gaming laptop, a beefy little machine that is used almost exclusively to play strategy games from the Total War series.

I suppose I’m hoping that by writing this post, inspiration will strike me and I can make some headway on my backlog. Keep in my mind, if I was home, with my PS4, this would not be a problem. Persona 5 would be destroying my life, it would be my everything. I’d also like to see what Mass Effect: Andromeda is really like, even with the recent facial animation hullabaloo and surrounding controversy. And last but certainly not least, Dark Souls 3 has quietly been putting out quality DLC, and I think I’m ready to revisit Lothric. But I’m on holiday for another month yet, so that will have to wait. In the meantime, our options are:

2340-wallpaper-shogun.jpg

Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai

Ok, so I’m a HUGE history dork, and the Total War series has always scratched that itch/fulfilled my fantasies of commanding thousands of soldiers locked in glorious combat from the comfort of my own home. And while I own every title in the series, Shogun 2 as a whole has always been something very special. I have a frankly embarrassing amount of hours logged in this game, and even joined the modding community for a brief stint, in one of the nerdiest periods of my life. Its the era, and Creative Assembly’s flawless vision for this game that keeps me coming back. Sure, the AI can make some careless mistakes, and it can be somewhat anachronistic, but this might be the perfect game for me.

But specifically, its the standalone Fall of the Samurai DLC that is calling to me lately. Ever since seeing Tom Cruise’s magnum opus, The Last Samurai, in my youth, this period of history has fascinated me (The Boshin War, leading up to the Meiji Restoration). The samurai tradition of Bushido, with all its millennia old legacy of honour and uniquely Japanese style, smashes headlong into the West’s industrial revolution, and its modern ways of war. There is just something so iconic, and tragic, about samurai with katana drawn, bravely charging into massed rifle and cannon fire. It’s the old against the new, East meets West. Its inevitable, bloody, and glorious. And its a fantastic video game.

And with all those hours I’ve sunk into this title, I’ve never completed a FotS campaign. I’ve been thinking about firing up a Satsuma campaign, and going for the Republic victory condition, where instead of fighting for the Shogun or the Emperor, you attempt to create your own government. Of course, this means all the other factions on the map turn against you, and is certainly not for the faint of heart. Still, that challenge might be just what I need.

the_legend_of_zelda_breath_of_the_wild_2017-HD.jpg

 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Sweet, sweet Zelda, you have been so good to me. These past few weeks I’ve dumped nearly 70 hours into this incredible game. Like many folks out there, it was the reason I bought a Nintendo Switch. Really, what more needs to be said about this game? I had originally intended to review this game myself, but in the end I’m glad I didn’t. This was a pure, perfect gameplay experience that I don’t think I will ever forget. While I’m sure BotW will be remembered as a modern classic, it couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I was just finishing up at my last job, I had been there for a couple of years, and was finding it hard to put in a lot of effort. You know how it is, when you know you will be quitting shortly, you kind of start to phone it in. But coming home, putting on my headphones, and just getting lost in Hyrule, really got me through it.

But, after all that time, after defeating Ganon, freeing four Divine Beasts, 60 or so shrines and God knows how many Korok seeds, I still have the urge to go back. Maybe just for the shrines, or maybe just to roam around the fields on one of my many mounts (named after notable figures from the 1800’s), and enjoy that beautiful world. Part of me knows that I shouldn’t, though, as there is DLC coming, and a hard mode that is very intriguing to me. That will mean an inevitable second playthrough, so I really should just wait. And its not like Napoleon is going anywhere, right?

NQSvYAv.jpg

Persona 4: Golden

And finally we come to my dirty secret. I have played through Persona 4 before (and at around 100 hours logged, I feel like I know it back to front), but I got the bad ending, and that has never sat well with me. Add that to the fact that I only need a couple more trophies for the platinum (even if one of them is Hardcore Risette Fan, fml) and the knowledge that once I get home its going to be P5 all day, every day, it feels like it’s now or never. Plus, its always hard to go back to older games like this after playing the newest iterations. I mean, I love P3, but P4 is just SO much more playable…

But its a commitment, you know? I love the grind, but this is a LONG game. Still, its been a couple of years, and I have nothing but time. Its probably worth it for the soundtrack alone, and of course, Dojima. I fucking love Dojima. Its not often that I feel like I really owe it to a game to see it thorough, like, to completion, 100%. Persona 4 is one of those games. If you have never played through it you really should, its something special.

maxresdefault (1).jpg

Well that’s where I’m at, a virtual crossroads of sorts. The beauty is, I can fire up all of these games at once, create a filthy den of gaming on the couch. Grind out Social Links in Persona in between Total War turns, while listening to Princess Zelda’s terrible voice acting like some kind of animal.

How about you guys, ever feel that gaming malaise? Or, do you have any suggestions for me? I’m open to ideas. Let me know below, and thanks for reading 🙂

K.

Final Fantasy VI Review

Squaresoft, 1994.

“I’ll never let go. I promise.” Locke

I love video games, I have for as long as I can remember, and reviewing them is something that I have always wanted to do. Shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Wrong. I racked my brain for days, trying to decide on the perfect title to dissect. I wanted it to be an RPG, that was obvious. It had to be something that I had enjoyed personally, and what i would consider to be a classic. Something that had a memorable cast, engaging game play, and that told a story worth telling. Actually, looking back, once I had those parameters set, it shouldn’t have been as hard as it was.

Final Fantasy VI, released as Final Fantasy III in North America, is not my favourite game in the series. That honour belongs to the much maligned, and admittedly somewhat angsty Final Fantasy VIII. No, it’s not my favourite, but I do think it’s the most important. Its strong focus on narrative, and character arcs would be aped by RPG’s for decades to come, and its more character specific take on the ATB (Active Time Battle) is something I wish the series would return too, where an individual party member is more than just a blank slate.

Final.Fantasy.VI_.full_.1359222-1024x725.jpg

VI is the story of the mysterious, amnesiac Terra. Or arguably of the turncoat Imperial commander, Celes. I’ve even heard claims that the actual protagonist is the self styled treasure hunter/thief, Locke. And while today it’s tale of a ragtag rebel outfit resisting a nefarious empire might seem overplayed, but back in ’94 it was quite fresh (at least in video games). It’s a unique Final Fantasy game in that it’s hard to decide whose story it actually is, you could argue that XII is somewhat similar in that regard, but I digress.

Our story begins in the small mining village of Narshe, where an “Esper” is unearthed. Sent to claim it for the Empire, is the aforementioned amnesiac and initially brainwashed, Terra. Mounted on the imposing Imperial Magitek armour, slogging through the driving snow, and flanked by the ill-fated Biggs and Wedge, the opening cinematic is one of VI’s most iconic image’s, and should be instantly recognisable to any true RPG fan.

gameplay01.jpg

It’s full of touching moments, too many to list. My favourite, though, would have to be the iconic ”coin” scene. Edgar, atop the battlements of Figaro castle who would, with the toss of a coin, seal his own fate and that of his twin brother Sabin… and that of an entire kingdom. It’s a scene that’s bound to tug at the heart strings of anyone with siblings, doubly so when you learn that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. And of course, the whole scene is set to a stand out tune on what is a truly extraordinary soundtrack – The Coin Song, a melancholy re-arrangement of the unforgettable Edgar & Sabin theme.

And speaking of soundtracks, Nobuo Ueamatsu’s work on VI may (in my humble opinion) just be the finest collection the great composer has ever produced. While I think other games in the series may have stronger tracks, (To Zanarkand, Those Who Fight Further, and The Man With The Machine Gun come to mind, from Final Fantasy’s X, VII and VIII, respectively) VI’s score as a cohesive whole is quite simply masterful. It feature’s rousing anthems, like the aforementioned Edgar & Sabin’s Theme and Cayenne, to more sombre piece’s like The Mystic Forest and Forever Rachel. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the games boss battle theme – The Decisive Battle. My personal favourite track, I once heard a street performer play a stripped down acoustic version on my very first visit to Akihabra, making it both a song and a day I will never forget. It never failed to get me pumped up for a boss fight, and really, what more can you ask of a boss theme?

19c7e4ae85e10cd2d541801c975132be

“The Reaper is always one step behind me” – Shadow

Gameplay is very much traditional Final Fantasy, which is to say, it utilises the ATB system, and is very story focused. For those unfamiliar, the ATB system is a turn-based combat system in which the players characters are able to attack when their action gauge is full, with some attacks/abilities taking a little longer. The speed at which a characters turn comes around is tied to their speed stat, and can be influenced with spells such as Haste. Its a tense system, as it has a feeling of randomness to it, and you cant see your foe’s gauge so you never know what attack you will be hit with next. The basic gameplay loop consists of narrative scenes and dungeon crawling with a surprising amount of side-questing, which is truly impressive considering this was released as a 16-bit game. And of course, random battles. One of my favourite aspects of VI’s battle system is that each of the games fourteen playable characters have a unique skill that makes them feel truly different, making the choice of what party members to bring alone feel less arbitrary, and more like choosing the right man (or woman, and whatever Gogo is) for the job at hand.

Like most games in the Final Fantasy series, VI is a game that needs be experienced to truly understand why it is more than just the sum of its parts. Sure, it has an engaging narrative, a cast free of the many tropes found in the genre today, and an incredible soundtrack. It has an engaging battle system and tons of replay value. Its art style is original and instantly recognisable, and it has a truly evil arch villain (Kefka) that actually achieves his goals, and the better part of the game is spent trying to deal with the consequences of that. How many games can you name where that is the case?

18bj7zej30hwrjpg.jpg

You think a minor thing like the end of the world was gonna do me in?” Sabin

Any of those qualities alone would make for a great game. But its the way these elements are woven together so effortlessly that truly makes VI such a timeless game. Its that, and its so much more. Developers are still trying to recapture VI’s magic,for the most part unsuccessfully. It has so much heart, and it’s full of real emotion. Its a story of growth, and of redemption. It’s a tale of longing, and of timeless love. Its an epic of adversity, and of friendship. It’s a fantasy based in reality….

And it’s a journey I would recommend taking.

K.