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Lo, thy skull shall I smash forthwith!

By Tania on June 19th, 2009 under PSP, SRPG,

As my second playthrough of Final Fantasy Tactics: the War of the Lions draws to a close, I can’t help thinking again just how right this game has got its stuff. Perhaps it’s because I’ve only played the original PSX version once, and thus don’t have any particular fondness for the old, botched translation (“this is the way!”), but this is one remake that I must definitely recommend over the original. As well as being a great success in its own right.

The murky depths of the heavily politicized and very dark storyline (parricide, fratricide, child abuse, demonic possession, etc.), the compellingly ambiguous hero-villain, Delita, the excellent, well-oiled job system, the thorough medieval feel of both language and atmosphere, the tragic ending…It all forms a cohesive whole of the highest quality, and shows a willingness to take risks. You could poke at weaknesses in the edifice, of course. Characters who join the team usually forfeit further development, due to the casualty system (if you don’t revive a fallen comrade during a given lapse of time, they’re gone forever), the in-game graphics are simplistic, the learning curve is steep, and there is quite a bit of grinding involved. But all of this ceases to matter after a while, as you strive to figure out who will be the next in line to get backstabbed (if it’s your first time through), or shake your head as the familiar threads of betrayal and ambition unravel in front of your eyes.

Thunder God Cid
Despite the casualty problem, the cast is still a great one. Every generic soldier has something to say (usually a funny comment to the effect of “I hate toads!” or “A Piscodaemon ate my fiancé”), and trying to kick them off the team will often result in a heartwrenching plea to let them stay. As for the actual characters, the lineup includes two monuments of girl power that would give FFX-2 Yuna a run for her money, despite their lack of hotpants—Agrias, the stern Lady knight, and Meliadoul, the vengeful daughter—, a Cid that puts all other Cids in the series to shame on the battlefield, star-crossed lovers Beowulf and Reis, Mustadio, a lovable and easygoing descendant of FFXII’s Balthier, and even an ancient robot who can bust-a-groove. And if that wasn’t enough, the PSP version develops some of their backstories with additional sidequests. I must commend both Agrias’ birthday quest, which shows a lighter side to an otherwise strict character, and the sizeable chunk added to the Beowulf-Reis storyline, which was already one of my favourite parts of the game.

The only character-related peeve I have is the cameo overload. Cloud of FFVII fame made an appearance in the original game, which already didn’t make much sense, but the remake throws in both Balthier and Luso (from FFTA2) as well, with no more explanation than Cloud. At least both of them belong in Ivalice, which Cloud doesn’t. I understand that it’s a nudge to the fanbase, but it still feels somewhat awkward. The short fetch quests you perform as bar propositions are also chock-full of winks at previous FF games that also make no sense in the context of Ivalice, but somehow, it’s not as invasive as actual characters. Still, it’s more of a nitpick than a bad flaw.

You did WHAT?!
Another aspect which deserves praise is the game’s resistance to the sirens of shiny CG cutscenes. The original artwork was markedly different from the rest of the FF series, and the developers made the bold choice of keeping it. The cutscenes are not very frequent, but each is introduced with a lovely effect of colour appearing on a sepia drawing. It doesn’t matter that the characters have no noses and bulky limbs, it all works perfectly, and is beautifully drawn. My only regret would be that the final scene didn’t get one of those sequences.

Muffin and Snuffles
As a final point, I must commend the pet system, even though it flavours suspiciously of Pokemon. Considering that the main storyline is so dark, the humorous moments that intersperse the game are very welcome. The pet system is just one of them. The Orator job allows you to invite monsters to your team. Those then become regular, deployable units, and even supply their own heartwrenching reactions if you should ever kick them out (eg. “Its eyes are full of sadness”). They’ll also lay eggs every once in a while…Yes, even the ones that look like they should be mammals. And it only takes one monster of a species to lay an egg, independently of gender. But I digress. The newborn monsters can be better than their parents, and can be poached for rare equipment. I have a particular fondness for Pigs—of which I usually keep one and call Snuffles—and the Tiamat (the strongest version of a three-headed dragon) which I never fail to recruit: I call him Muffin, and I can’t help but go “aww” at watching him tear up the battlefield.

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Duffman gives the people what they want!

By Joshie on June 6th, 2009 under X360, PS3, Wii, PSP,

As the week comes to a close we shut the door on Electronic Three 2009 (or E3 as the kids like to call it). The last year and a recession (you mean the “economic downturn” right?) has certainly taken its toll on the industry, and while we returned to all the glamour, glitz and big breasted booth babes, the sour undertone of the show is a feeling that gamers didn’t vote with their wallets to support new IPs like Mirrors Edge and Dead Space. Instead this year’s announcements and reveals were a conga line of less risky sequels that tread well-known grounds.

I say this because I know we are all part of the problem. I thought the two Metal Gear games, two Halo games and three Mario games looked great and will almost certainly buy them all. That’s not to say I don’t wish for more innovation in gaming, but as long as sequels are well produced and provide something new, I’m more than happy to hand over my (cough) hard earned cash.

In my opinion Sony had their best E3 conferences in years, showing of some hard hitters like God of War 3, Uncharted 2, White Knight Chronicles, Heavy Rain and The Last Guardian. I was equally impressed by their large lineup of PSP titles such as Dissidia, echochrono, PixelJunk Monsters, Peace Walker, MotorStorm and Fat Princess, which along with the announcement that they would finally sort their shit out and release decent PSone games for download (Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid included!) has me hyped for PSP for the first time in years. While I’m certainly not going to buy their atrociously priced “PSP Go” for $250 (you can buy an Xbox for less than that), it did make me buy a larger memory stick from Amazon (those things are pretty cheap now ya know?) to enjoy the new digital era.

Project NatalWhat has me less excited is everyone’s desire to jump on the motion control bandwagon, driving with no hands as they barrel down the street. Microsoft’s “Project Natal” may have blown away some, but except for “Mr Fables’” Milo which is almost certainly a pedophiles wet dream, most of what they showed was a lot of shiny marketing talk with no true real world application. You all laughed when Nintendo announced the WiiWheel a few years ago? Why does anyone think holding your hands and pretending to drive with an invisible wheel is going to be an improvement? Equally, everyone is going to find controlling the dashboard in classic Minority Report fashion entertaining for five seconds before they realize the controller is just far easier. I would even consider Sony’s disastrous tech demo presentation involving coloured wands and N64 animations a better proof of concept than Microsoft’s, as at least they showed us some real application for the control input which looked much closer to what people wanted the Wii to be when it was first announced.

The issue with both these projects however is with neither the concept nor the implementation; it’s convincing people to buy an add on that doesn’t come with the system. Microsoft will no doubt be pissing off everyone who brought a Vision camera in good faith, while Sony will have to sell people both an overpriced EyeToy and a Wiimote knockoff.

Fortunately its more than possible to ignore these announcements and dribble open mouthed at the spiffy graphics in Modern Warfare II, Crackdown II, Halo 3: ODST and Alan Wake. Yes, I’m the problem. But if the future is having to make small talk with my Xbox during the loading screens, then I’m more than happy to stay it.

I’m sure the irony of announcing a camera where YOU ARE THE CONTROLLER, and demoing a “virtual” skateboarding game was not lost on Tony Hawk who revealed his rather less-virtual skateboard controller just moments earlier either.

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