Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Final Fantasy VIII Finito

So I just finished playing through Final Fantasy 8 for the 2nd time, SO much better than I remembered. Story made a lot more sense, as did the combat system which, as I explained last post, is very strange.

My final battle was always very dramatic because I had forgotten that when you start your battle with the final boss the party is randomly selected. So my carefully honed party of three had an ill-prepared member thrown into the mix and sudenly found itself in dire straits. Needless to say it went down hill from there, though I made a valient last stand as main charcter Squall dealt a finishing blow to the 2nd of 4 forms you must combat, only to succumb to the irremovable Doom status at the beginning of the 3rd form. Tragic, and yet Epic. Of course I then spent 30 mintes re-Junctioning the various GFs to different supplementary characters (Irvine, Zell and Selphie, also known as the comic relief team) only to enter the final battle a second time with all thee of my best best characters. I was happy yet slightly frustrated that my beautiful re-Junctioning was for naught. The first form passed quikly as I dealt a punishing blow with the ultimate GF "Eden" and a few deft blows from Squall's nigh ultimate Gunblade quickly dispatched the minor menace. Then it was onto Griever, a GF under Ultimecia's control that has a fortunate weakness to Holy (And I a fortunate surplus of Holy spells to Triple cast, along with the use of the GF "Alexander") So before too long he curled up into a little ball, but then Ultimecia is all like "I'm gonna combine my power with his" and she does, so I'm all "Yeah, well, eat Eden!" So, I started to summon Eden, but got interdimensionally pimp slapped and she took out Eden in a single attack! I wasn't taking that, and after a little thinking I determined "Aura time..." So I slapped Aura on Quistis and tried a few things til I discovered that Aqua Breath was doing 9999 damage. So basically, I beat her down with a giant squirt gun. I felt vindicated. But.... The fight was not yet over. The true form of Ultimecia arose from the darkness of a Space-Time void to confront my party. Changing tactics yet again, I stuck Aura on Squall and Rinoa while leaving Quistis to Triple Cast Curaga. Why? Because Ulti had this nasty little move called Hell's Judgment that knocks everyone down to 1 HP. Didn't do me no trouble though, just kept whaling on her with Squall's Renzokuken (Multi-Gunblade hit combo with a powerful finisher on a perfect, which ain't hard to get) and Rinoa's attack combo with... Her dog (Don't ask me why, all I know is that she's got this move "Wishing Star" that has run out of bubble gum if you take my meaning, and she conveniently did it ALOT.) So this poor defenseless final boss basically had no chance, though I was a little disappointed that she didn't last at least long enough to finish her little mid-battle speech. She ended on "And..." So I'm left wondering "And what? And remember to brush your teeth? And remember to be excellent to each other?" The world may never know.... Unless they just google it.

So yeah, lots of flashy explosions and escaping from compressed time, happy ending finale. Now I'm going to play through Final Fantasy IX. I've actually already started and am remembering all sorts of stuff I'd forgotten about it. Maybe the identity of the Final Boss will make more sense this time....

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Long time no post.

So, I haven't posted anything in almost two weeks, so I thought I should. This is probably largely due to the fact that I still can't really move back into my room entirely because that would simply mean moving stuff back out again once its decided when and whether we're getting my room refloored. Its not really a big problem since I can still use my bed, its just inconvenient. But, thats what happens when the power goes out after its been raining for a day and a half, thus making the sub-pump inoperable, and then your basement doesn't really flood, but just enough to totally ruin the carpet. *Sigh* Oh well.

I've been re-playing Final Fantasy VIII recently because I haven't played in about, oh, 8 years. I definitely understand its system better this go around, but its still a pretty odd system. Basically its such an odd system that it turned off a lot of Final Fantasy fans and most will say to this day "Its great in the graphics and music, and I like the story, but what were they thinking with the game mechanics?" Too explain the strangeness of the system to those not familiar with the series, imagine if normally your character could attack, cast spells that he learned or bought with a set number of magic points, summon magnificant creatures to devestate your foes, and you could choose which spells and such you had equiped along with weapons, armor and accessories. Y'know, normal gameplay. In Final Fantasy 8 unless you equip yourself with one of those summonable creatures, all you can do is a normal attack, which quite frankly is a really weak attack. You don't learn spells, you draw them out of enemies and little magical fountains that replenish after awhile, and then you very rarely use said spells in combat aside from healing spells, and really the main purpose of the spells is to use an incredibly strange system in which you equip various spells through your creature (or creatures) to boost your character's stats. Also this generally takes the place of any purchasing of armor or accessories you might do, especially considering that you can't purchase any armor or accessories. You also don't purchase new weapons, instead you collect random junk that's dropped by or stolen from enemies and take it to a shop where they "Remodel" your weapon. So yeah, really weird right? I mean, as a fan of innovative gameplay I appreciate it nowadays, but I totally understand why fans were unhappy after coming off of 7 games before that had kept largely the same system in place. The story, music and graphics are still outstanding for the time though.

Anyway, I'm off to Austin Grill for dinner and then the midnight showing of Indiana Jones later.

Ja ne.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The long overdue Mass Effect Review

I don't know why I've waited so long to review this game: I bought Mass Effect when it first came out, played through it at least four times, and generally enjoyed even the replays as repetitive as they became. Even having not played it in a couple months now I can still remember how excellent it is.

Dramatic Posing

The game starts by either choosing a prefabricated character (Boo..) or customizing yourself a character from fairly extensive character creation tools (Do it!). I personally believe that the voice actress for the female Cmdr. Shepherd is superior to the voice actor for the male version, and thus would recommend having a female character. Also, unlike some games where character customization is a useless chore (I'm looking at you Oblivion!) in this game your character will actually be getting a lot of face time, so make sure you like their looks. The other options for your character aside from look is their class, of which there are 6 with varying levels of proficincy between the Soldier, Engineer and Adept skills. You also get to choose your character's backstory which comes into play through various conversations and even some optional missions. Getting back to the classes, perhaps one of the biggest factors in play when choosing between classes for a new player to the game is that only classes that are in some way Soldier class influenced can use weapons other than a pistol and equip armor above Light. While for a more advanced player the skills you receive from an Engineer or Adept can more than make up for these, as you are still learning and especially if you come from an FPS background, it is in your best interest to choose a character with some soldier influence or you may not enjoy the game entirely.

The radial conversation selection gets the dialogue to flow quickly while still allowing the player to control the direction of things.

The next aspect of the game you will come in contact with is the generally very good music and voice acting in the game. Sure some of the background music for common areas can get repetitive, but none of it is grating. And the voice acting for all the main characters is quite good. Captain Anderson is voiced by the fellow who voiced the Arbiter from Halo 2 & 3, and the aforementioned female lead has numerous voice credits including Naomi Hunter and Emma Emmerich from the Metal Gear Solid series (Also Prier from La Pucelle, but fortunately not too many people know about that game...). Seth Green is even in the cast as the smart mouthed pilot. Connected to voice acting is the innovative conversation system. Those who have played Knights of the Old Republic or Jade Empire may be familiar with the variety of conversation options that Bioware generally presents the player and their ramifications upon the game's morality meter. In Mass Effect there are two meters reflecting your personality: Paragon or Renegade. These fill based upon your actions, and the increase of the meters will open the ability to purchase associated abilities which grant advantages in dealings with merchants and open options in conversations to turn difficult situations too your advantage (Though, perhaps it makes some situations to easy?). The game also features rather smooth flow of conversation and a radial selection menu for your answers which sure beats the menu selection style of previous titles. Oh, and something else interesting is that the conversation option isn't exactly what your character says, but more the attitude they will be taking towards the remark or situation.

The Alien races of Mass Effect + Humans

The graphics are both good and sometimes a let down. To be sure the character animations and appearance is top notch as are many environments. However, I often felt the areas tended to feel somewhat desolate or lacking in fine details. Also there is a tendency to be some texture issues alla Halo 2. They usually fix themselves in a second or two and may simply be an attempt to bring up scenes more quickly, but when the rest of the game looks good, even small problems are off-putting. Perhaps the greatest flaw in the game is the understandable, yet regrettable repetitiveness of optional mission environments and their general lack of satisfying conclusions. For example, there is one optional quest involving a corrupt secret organization, but after you reach the end you don't really learn that much, nor does it seem to have much effect on anything. But since BioWare is thusfar living up to promises for Downloadable Content, I will hope for expansions on this and other stories... But I was talking about graphics. Not the best on the console, but the characters really do shine (And not because of over abudance of lightbloom!).

Taking out sentient machines has never been easier thanks to Armor Piercing Rounds!

So what about the meat of the game? I think some people complain about the combat, but I personally find it very usable and fun (Biotic power lift is awesome fun). If it was meant to be purely a Shooter then I would say it has problems, but given that it is an RPG with shooter style combat I say it works well given the real time nature and the easy integation of Biotic and Mechanical powers. Oh, in case you're scratching your head, Biotics are sort of like the Force, but they don't harness the fabric of the universe. Another aspect of the game is the travel to other systems and planets which is one of the most interesting aspects. Travel to a new system, survey most of the planets to earn money and experience points and then land on the one or two planets that have some sort of a mission on them and roam around in your awesome land roaver which CAN take damage and you can engage enemy forces in. Some pretty epic battles against your main foes, the Geth, take place in this vehicle. My only complaint about the roaver is you can't upgrade or customize it. Its firepower and armor seem to upgade as your characters level up and its radar range increases, but besides that its pretty much the same vehicle you start with. Speaking of leveling up, the ability system is pretty versitile. Early in the game you get a lot of points with each level up allowing you to spread between some options and experiment and therefore letting you decide where you want to focus later when you get fewer points. For example, if you're a soldier maybe early on you aren't sure if you want to specialize in Assault Rifle, Sniper Rifle or a Shotgun so you spread points betwen the three. Later on you realize that you're using the Sniper Rifle less often, delegating the task to a team mate who specializes in the combat form, and so you put more points in Assault Rifle and Shotgun. You also control ability point allocation for your team mates... Or you can just do the auto level up, but thats rather boring isn't it? As is standard for an RPG, you control the equipment of your party, altering and upgrading weapons and armor. However with this game you can modify you equipment with, well mods. Things like armor piercing damage to really hit the robotic enemies, or adding additional force to the shot to increase the chances of knocking an enemy down (Which is more useful than it sounds). You can also obtain implants to boost your Biotic or Mechanical skillz. This video clip shows a good idea of the Vanguard class, a combination of Soldier and Adept:

My Renegade Commander: Totel

Finally, the story is just awesome. There hasn't been a Sci-Fi movie with a story this good in a daggon while, and while I can't really speak for the literary community, I'm guessing the narrative would pique their interest. The universe itself is vast and rich with data files on the different races in the game that are well worth the read (Though, I'm a setting nut, so I really dig background info). Unfortunately I don't want to give away to much story so I can't tell you too much except to say that the game starts you on a mission to test your abilities as a candidate for an elite group and you experience something on that mission that sets you on your path to save the galactic civilization as you know it. So its not really a cliched "Farmer to Hero" story, you start as a skilled officer who would likely be a hero or, depending on the background you choose, may be considered one already. And hey, no amnesia plot device so thats a plus right? Aside from the main story, which is rather flexible in how you unravel it, there are a number of side stories that you encounter along the way, the best being on planets where main plot stories take place of course, but even on my fourth time playing through I managed to find a new way to take one of the flexible mini-storylines. Another BioWare staple is interaction with your team mates between missions. These conversations are well done and, if nothing else, help further flesh out the interesying universe. Also you can pursue romance with certain character, though to save some readers the trouble, I was diasappointed that no romance can be pursued with Tali (Ah my beuatiful cyborg looking woman, why is our love not meant to be?). One of my main wonderings about the story is the promised carry over to Mass Effect 2, and I wonder if the romance will carry over or not. Obviously things like "Were you Renegade or Paragon at the end?" will matter, and other key elements I won't disclose.... But what about those little things? Will the developers care whether I retrieved Wrex's familiy armor or not (And more subtley, whether he was there when I got it back or not)? We'll find out I suppose.

If you own an Xbox 360 you should buy this game just to have it in your library if for no other reason, and its also available for PC now and I've heard they made some enhancements to make it work better with the PC. Obviously I think you should enjoy it. The only complaint I can lay against it aside from the few I have already is the dang slow elevator ride inside your ship. Sure its a realistic lift elevator, but still... Really tedious. Its not like it has interesting conversations or news casts running like in the Citadel elevators.

So, final tally:

+Great voice acting
+Great textures on the characters
++Storyline is awesome
+Enjoyable character customization
+The female commander
+Lift Biotic is awesome

-Some texture loading issues
-The story loses something after you've played through once and alternative options can feel hollow
-Repetitive optional mission environments
-No romance with Tali
-Frickin' slow elevator on the ship

=Combat system that some people complain about, but I think works well.
=New Game+ characters can't earn achievements.
=Music great in some places, but very forgettable in most common areas.