Tag Archives: Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy Explorers Review

FFE Final Fantasy Explorers (Available exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Genre: Action
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Racjin & Square-Enix

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Final Fantasy Explorers E10+, for everyone over 10 years of age. The content warning includes alcohol references, fantasy violence, and mild suggestive themes. Honestly I wouldn’t worry about the content whatsoever. If someone can understand the class system, and how quests work, they should be able to enjoy everything this game has to offer. There is a lot of information this game throws at you, and children younger than ten may find it hard to come to terms with everything.

Plays Like: Imagine if you took the gameplay from the Monster Hunter series and infused it with Final Fantasy fan-service, and that’s what Final Fantasy Explorers is. You take on quests from a central hub, head out into the wild and hunt down a wide variety of classic Final Fantasy enemies, summons, and more. You can even purchase skins so that your avatar looks like key characters from the series such as Cloud, Squall, and others.

Review Basis: I played up to twenty hours before I had experienced everything this game has to offer. While the core game remains unfinished, I’m at the point where I feel comfortable awarding the game a score.

If you’re a huge fan of the Monster Hunter series, but absolutely love Final Fantasy, this may very well be your dream come true. While it would be unfair to say this is just a simple Monster Hunter clone, it’s close enough. What separates the two is that this game is clearly aimed at the hardcore Final Fantasy fan, the one who wears FF PJs, has played through all 13 of the core games and can tell you exactly how to acquire a Golden Chocobo in Final Fantasy VII. We’re talking about the rabid fans. I’ve only played a few games in my life that have had this much fan-service, so if you love this universe, this may very well be the game for you.

FFE1The Great:

Hands-down the best aspect of Final Fantasy Explorers is the fan service. You can purchase armor that will make you look like Cloud, Squall, Lightning, and countless other characters from the Final Fantasy universe. You can trap classic summoning creatures and use their abilities in combat, and all of the enemies and monsters you fight are based on existing creatures from the popular series. There are surprises everywhere here from items and weapons you can acquire, to surprise characters you will meet on your journey. If you have ever enjoyed a Final Fantasy game before, and you like the gameplay from the Monster Hunter series, you’re going to love this game.

FFE2The Good:

  • The core gameplay is quite solid. The concept is extremely simple, you accept quests from a central hub area, head out into the wild and complete the quest. Simple enough, no? Quests include taking down powerful summoning creatures like Shiva, Ifrit, Odin, and more, all the way to locating key items, or taking out a group of enemies.
  • Job classes are deep, varied, and rich. New classes unlock as you progress through the main storyline, but can only be switched out in the main hub. This isn’t a bad thing per say, but you’ll have to keep it in mind as you progress. Every class has access to different weapons armor sets, but it’s their unique abilities that really separate them from one another. Some classes will level up to the point where they can perform incredible magical attacks, whereas others focus on physical strength. Weapons are also highly dependent on specific classes. Several classes may be able to use swords, for example, but depending on the class your abilities with this weapon vary greatly.

  • The breakdown in classes works something like an MMO, where you have a tank or defensive character, damage dealers, and support classes like mages. You can switch to new classes without penalty, which encourages you to try new ones until you find a set of skills you really like playing with. Thankfully you can save presets so you can switch back and forth with ease. The best news of all is that you don’t start back at level 1 once you switch to a new class, meaning there’s very little reason not to try out multiple classes.

  • While there are a wide variety of abilities, you can only use eight of them at any given time, with four of them being mapped to the face button while holding down the L button and the other four mapped to the same face buttons while holding down the R button. Each ability eats up Action Points, which are represented by a yellow meter. These points are also used for running, which is important as you’ll be running a lot while in battle with larger creatures. In order to replenish Action Points you either have to manually attack an enemy, or wait for the meter to refill. There are also special abilities that you can use periodically which directly impact your future abilities as these abilities are mutations of your core abilities. That’s a mouthful to say that if you use a generic ice attack, eventually you may unlock a special ability where your ice spell adds an additional factor such as potentially a decrease in magic defense. These abilities can then be purchased for Crystal Points, which are one of the two currencies in the game.

  • The party system can be extremely overpowering, but it remains fun. You can have up to three partner monster characters join your party if you happen to locate their amalith, which is to say their spirit. These somewhat rare drops only occur once and a while, and you can use these amaliths to revive fallen monsters and have them join your party. The thing is that they can become insanely powerful after you level them up high enough. In the later portions of the game it’s not uncommon to have your monster partners be significantly stronger than you.

  • The absolute best way to experience Final Fantasy Explorers is with a friend, or three friends to be precise. There is something to be said about screaming at your buddies to help protect you. That’s something else that’s important to mention, each player should take on a specific class, so one or two can be damage dealers, one a tank, and one a healer. When you play online it’s often very difficult to set roles or get people to actually follow each other. The other little caveat is that you can only participate in quests completed by the weakest member. In other words if your party has four players, but one player hasn’t progressed very far, you have to start on those extremely low quests.

The So-So:

+/- The narrative is alright, but nowhere near as deep as something you would find in say a core Final Fantasy RPG. The focus here is on the Grand Crystal and how it powers civilization. Your mission is to establish new pathways to this crystal and ensure civilization can carry on. Like I said, the focus here isn’t on storytelling, but more on getting you out in the wild and hunting down new creatures.

FFE3The Bad:

  • Within a few hours of playing you will have experienced everything the game has to offer in terms of quests. While the difficulty increases over time from one star to ten star ranking, the core quests are always the same. Go hunt down creature X, or collect a certain number of item Y. It all gets extremely repetitive very, very quickly.
  • Forging new equipment often requires you to farm key items that only drop from specific enemies, or are quest rewards meaning you could have to repeat the exact same quest ten times in a row in order to make that fancy new piece of gear you’ve been eyeing.

  • All quests and sub-quests you pick up are tied to the currencies, both Crystal Points and Gil. If you don’t have enough of one type, you can’t take on the quest. This can become quite annoying in the early portions of the game since Gil can be a bit hard to come by at first.

  • The Lowdown:

    Final Fantasy Explorers is an extremely fun game to play for die-hard fans of the Monster Hunter series, or those that eat up everything Final Fantasy related. The problem is that the game is extremely repetitive, and if you’re not into grind-based game, chances are you’ll tire of this one very quickly. The absolute best way to enjoy the game is with a group of friends with each taking on a key role and just having a blast together. These days though it may prove difficult to find four people with the game, which is where online play should have saved the game, but given the somewhat basic feature-set, that’s not really what happens.

    Final Score: 7/10

    E3 2012 – Welcome to the Next Generation (Trailer)

    This is what will be possible on the next Xbox and PlayStation.

    Square-Enix is demonstrating the Agni’s Philosophy: Final Fantasy Realtime Tech Demo At E3 and are officially saying this is what the next-gen consoles will be able to pull off in real-time.  The Luminous Studio engine itself will be a cross platform engine designed for PC, consoles and even mobile devices.  We expect to hear and see a lot more of the Luminous Studio engine in the coming months.

    Final Fantasy Brand “Damaged” According to Wada-san

    Square-Enix President Yoichi Wada spoke to the gaming press and said flat out that “The Final Fantasy brand was damaged” thanks to Final Fantasy XIV.  I personally think it has a lot to do with the disappointment that was FF XIII and then the complete disaster that XIV turned into.  Combined I’d say the FF series as a whole has been greatly damaged.  The question is whether or not it can come back.

    Investors and the gaming press are both very concerned now that Dragon Quest X has been announced as an online game.  Will the same problems that plagued FF XIV show up in this game as well?  Wada-san said they are doing everything in their power to fix FF XIV and ensure that nothing like this happens with DQ X.  He also confirmed that both series would continue to have online and offline iterations moving forward.

    How do you feel about the Final Fantasy series now compared to last gen and the generations before?  Do you feel the series has been damaged?  Do you find the series relevant anymore?  Sound off, we want to hear you.

    Kingdom Hearts Re:coded Review

    Kingdom Hearts Re: coded (Available only on Nintendo DS)
    ESRB Rating: E10+
    Players: 1
    Genre: Action RPG
    Publisher: Square Enix
    Developer: h.a.n.d.
    Release Date: January 11th, 2011

    Parent Talk: Most teenagers and children are likely familiar with Kingdom Hearts, the popular series that combines Final Fantasy and Disney characters with original personalities like Sora, Riku, and more.  The PS2 games were extremely popular, inspiring spin-offs such as this one.  Sora fights “Heartless” and other colorful foes in this lighthearted adventure with cartoon/fantasy violence.

    Kingdom Hearts is extremely popular, though its canon is convoluted and complex.  It all started with the simple, yet crazy idea: combine Final Fantasy with Disney.  It has worked extraordinarily well, spawning sequels and several spin-offs.  Re:coded is one of the more interesting releases, acting as a side-story and somewhat re-telling of the first game.  Fans have demanded a western localization ever since it hit Japanese cell phones, and by a stroke of luck, Square-Enix acquiesced.  Thankfully it’s an addictive and fun game, managing to be more appealing than previous handheld outings.

    The Great:

    Familiar, but fresh.  Kingdom Hearts Re:coded succeeds where other KH handheld games have failed.  It retains original game’s personality and mechanics, while offering something new and different.  The concept focuses on Jimminy’s journal, which has been corrupted by “glitches.”  Essentially, the data regarding the first game is messed up, and Sora must fix it to restore proper order.  h.a.n.d. managed to integrate the idea into the gameplay too, so this spin-off isn’t just a re-tread.

    Each world from KH returns, but is “glitched.”  In one world, this affects the fundamental gameplay, shifting things from action RPG to a turn-based battle game, a side-scrolling platformer, or a scrolling shooter.  The new angles are interesting, making the game unique.  Worlds also deploy hidden “back doors” that can be investigated.  Passing through them not only fixes some “glitches”, but open fresh challenges.

    The Good:

    + Extra content.  The main campaign spans about 20 hours, which is great for a handheld RPG.  It can be finished briskly, since fetch quests and lengthy scenes don’t bog things down.  Even after finishing, there’s plenty to return to and explore.  Olympus Coliseum offers brand-new bosses and areas to explore, while other worlds contain additional “back doors” to examine.

    + Sora is back.  The plot is tough to follow, but Re:coded is yet endearing, and for fans especially.  The big payoff comes at the conclusion.  Non-fans could easily enjoy the game regardless, but only the series vets can fully appreciate it.  358/2 Days and Birth By Sleep focus on other characters in the universe, but they’re frankly not as likable or iconic as Sora.

    + Gameplay tweaks. Re:coded follows the original game well.  Sora visits a world, explores, speaks with characters, fights with his key blade, etc.  However, h.a.n.d. implemented clever changes to emphasize the data system theme.  The “stat matrix” allows you to upgrade Sora in a way similar to the “Sphere Grid” from Final Fantasy X.  Attach plates to a grid for attribute boots such as Level Up +1 or Magic +2.  By completing sections, new abilities and features [like “cheat” and “dual processing”] are accessible.  Dual processing occurs when enough plates are installed to connect two “CPU” pieces.  When that happens, all the pieces receive a bonus modifier.  It makes grinding more interesting.  Cheat abilities manipulate the mechanics in fascinating ways.  You can choose to lower Sora’s maximum HP in exchange for increasing items’ drop rates.  It’s an all-new dynamic.

    + Tight control.  Kingdom Hearts started on PS2, and so the control was designed with the platform’s capabilities in mind.  The Nintendo DS obviously lacks a DualShock 2’s input, thus playing a 3D adventure such as Kingdom Hearts is likely more difficult.  However, by consolidating commands, Re:coded is a joy to play.  Attacking is set to A, while magic and special commands are relegated to X.  The L trigger is designed to cycle through other commands and special abilities, so other buttons aren’t used.  This makes using successive skills easier.  The camera is handled with the R button, and while there is stiffness, it’s an all-around solid translation on DS.

    + Awesome presentation.  Re:coded simply looks slick…not significantly better than 358/2 Days, but the character models and animation are superb.  Select cutscenes are fully voiced, making them resemble the PS2 games.  Common dialog is shown with simple text boxes and character portraits, like the other handheld releases.  The music is reminiscent of previous KHs as well, and there are many repeated tracks, like the obligatory “Dearly Beloved” title theme.  There are unique scores too, and some reflect the sort of “techno” motif of the story, like the “System Bug Battle.”

    The Bad:

    – Stiff platforming.  Jumping and camera control are awkward.  It’s difficult to have Sora face forward in some situations, despite being able to ‘snap’ the view.

    – Simple story.  It’s great that the spotlight is back on Sora, and the concept is neat, but the plot is more bizarre than intriguing.  Chain of Memories wasn’t as fun, but it at least contributed more canon-wise.  Re:coded is a very fun, but only diehard fans will see the long-term value.

    – Same worlds, different day.  Re:coded does change the worlds significantly, but frankly fans have already seen Wonderland and Olympus Coliseum many times before.  It’s tiring after a while.  It makes sense here because the events are technically taken from the first game, but casual fans may be turned off at this point.

    The Lowdown:

    Re:coded is solid, addictive, and its gameplay is a step up from previous Nintendo handheld KH games..  Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days contributed much more to the overall plot, but Re:coded instead offers more compelling gameplay and clever design concepts.

    Commercial Flashback #3: The Day Square Lost Their Minds

    A fairly lengthy write-up accompanied last week’s Commercial Flashback. This entry, however, will be pointedly brief. Why is that? Because… well, just watch the video:

    …what the f**k is that?! Upon revisiting this commercial I realize there is nothing I can write about it that can be grounded to logic. Are you disturbed? Will you be able to sleep tonight? Let me know what you think, because I’m speechless. All I can say is that this is the only time I’ve seen a game pitched to consumers via maniacal laughter and ostriches, and it’s both truly original and truly terrifying. Is it a marketing mishap or are you going to rush back in time and purchase Final Fantasy IV simply because of how AWESOME this ad is?

    Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift Review

    Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift [Nintendo DS]
    ESRB Rating: E10+
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Strategy RPG|
    Publisher: Square Enix
    Developer: Square Enix
    Release Date: June 24th, 2008

    Final Fantasy Tactics is a classic PlayStation strategy RPG. Though far from being the first to execute the genre’s formula, it was a critically acclaimed adventure that fans loved, and it’s often referred to during SRPG discussions.  Despite the initial bad localization, FFT had a compelling story, great gameplay, and cool visuals. Years later, Square-Enix delivered something in the same vein as FFT, but instead for Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance handheld: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. The great strategy gameplay remained, but new races were thrown in, the story was childish and the controversial law system turned many fans off.  It was more a love-it-or-hate-it experience.

    Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift is its successor, but instead available on the Nintendo DS. How’s that for a confusing name? Anyway, the traditional SRPG engine is in place; all the races and jobs from the previous game return; the story finds a middle ground between the first and second entries, and the law concept is completely reworked.  Should fans that hated the GBA title pass on this one? My answer is no: Grimoire does what the GBA game sought to do.  Square-Enix appropriately handled all the previous flaws.

    The story and pacing of FFTA2 are unconventional, but that’s largely due to everything being up to the player.  There’s no linearity to be found here. The narrative isn’t compelling, or as dark as the PS1’s tale, but ups the ante from the “kiddish” nature of the first AdvanceA2 opts for the “alternate world” idea from last time, with the main character being pulled into a fantasy land via a journal, which records your actions and adventures. The writing is surprisingly well-done, and the characters easy to like, increasing the game’s enjoyment factor.  There are a lot of cutscenes, and their content variety (drama, intense action, casual conversation, humor, etc.) keeps the presentation fresh.

    The story is decent and builds to a solid climax. The classic PS1 game has it beat, but quality character development and heart helps it stand on its own. Dialogue is handled with text boxes and character portraits, but it’s attractive and charming at least.  The developers played conservative, yet the end result is clean and streamlined.  Not all the cutscenes are essential to understanding the goings-on, and most conversations can be skimmed quickly without hurting the experience. Keep in mind that some missions can be replayed several times, and the dialogue follows in suit.  Most scenes are short though, so spanning the dialogue never feels like a chore. The game moves smoothly and lets the player dive right back into the action.

    The gameplay involves battle and non-battle sequences, While on the main map, players can visit different locations: [towns] to buy and sell items, [the Bazaar] to craft items (which are then available to buy at the shop), the auction house, the pub to collect information, engage in Clan Trials, accept quests, and if the chance arises, take on a special event or non-mission battle. The auction house doesn’t offer item-bidding, but territory control instead.   Sometimes owning land nets certain bonuses if the player enters it.  Breaching enemy territory might conversely have problems. Prizes can be won at the auction house as well via a simple token system. Characters wage on areas by using tokens of different value, which can be purchased or obtained by meeting certain conditions.  It’s a fun distraction, and the rewards are well-integrated.

    The Bazaar allows you to mold previously unusable “loot” into new weapons and gear.  Also, since each equipment lets different races and job classes learn unique skills, it’s vital to keep an eye on what becomes available and what can be made. Some dialogue path-finding is necessary on occasion, but gathering information is quick and rarely requires much effort. Certain events appear on the map given a specific date/item though.  FFA2 operates on a fixed schedule, with a 20-day calendar system. Traveling between areas spans one day and missions can burn any number of days. You can also pick missions or clan trials, which are usually conditional battles such as “protect this character” or “defeat all enemies.”

    Grimoire can be played with either button or stylus control, but the latter isn’t recommended because it just doesn’t work with the viewpoint. Battlefields are layered, so spaces can be ‘hidden’ behind others based on the perspective, making selecting them difficult with a stylus. Even then, it feels tacked on and clunky. It’s ok for menu navigation, but even the options therein are small and were noticeably implemented with the button input in mind.

    Battles are turn-based on a grid. The location determines the terrain, as you encounter forested grottos and snowy villages. You deploy units to the board, move and attack — standard stuff. The race and job variety also makes fighting diverse, as the options to build a team are endless.  Many jobs are race-exclusive, though a few are shared.  Each job class can be expanded with new skills, and those mastered can be equipped whenever…even if said character switches. It’s a great mix-and-match system. The law system is also radically changed. In the GBA FFTA, the player had to adhere to laws or face a strict punishment (i.e. character jailings). Now it can be viewed as more of a reward system. Judges watch over all fights, and having his favor wins your party protection, meaning members can be revived and that your clan may receive special privileges like bonus experience or increased speed. Completing Clan Trials grant additional perks. Sticking to the rules and following the judge also amounts to item rewards at the end of battle.

    Disobeying the rules causes the judge to leave, and he takes all those nice helpers with him.  Even so, you can still easily win with this handicap via a smart strategy and strong party.  In the event you have to redo a mission and just want to finish, not worrying about rules, it’s no big deal. Some examples of laws are “don’t use long range weapons” or “don’t use Bangaa units.” This way battles never feel restrictive or boring. Adhering to the rules gives the player a definite advantage.  With the right team, any challenge can be overcome. That’s what makes FFTA2 more accessible than the GBA game.  Battles become more intense as the adventure continues. Completing missions turns addictive, because clearing one leads to the availability of more missions, areas, more things to do, jobs to use and skills to master. Achieving victory may be on the easy side, resulting in most gamers breezing through the game, but the difficulty does ramp up.

    Visually, A2 is quite nice.  The field maps are colorful and detailed, and the sprites are great. Everything moves fluidly and looks nice, and the effects when summoning a Scion are extravagant and fun to see. The cutscenes use the in-game engine, so you look at the same presentation across the board: no CG sequences or the like. The style is attractive though, so it’s not much of a loss.  It’s nice that the cutscenes don’t overstay their welcome and intrude on the gameplay. This is a well-crafted 2D game—full of color and vibrancy. The sound also enjoys an array of epic songs that bring to mind the other Tactics games. The soundtrack isn’t as memorable, but has charm, and carries battle sequences well.

    There is high value for the price of admission here. With some 400 quests to conquer, lots of character customization and jobs to master, playing FFTA2 can push dozens of hours.  There’s a lot to see and it’s easy to get into. Players can even link up locally to obtain tickets, which can be exchanged for items and prizes. Now to compare… yes, this is a wonderful game, but on a different level than the original PlayStation Tactics game, which prioritized a difficult challenge. It also featured memorable characters, tons of locations, a dark and compelling story, and so on. Fans will endlessly refer to it.  This game isn’t quite the same.  It is an SRPG, but with a different kind of story, more accessibility, races/jobs, a tweaked gameplay system, and a different sense of progression. Both are wonderful, so liking Grimoire of the Rifts is no disrespect to the original, like some gamers might insinuate. While it is a bit easy, it’s also balanced, fun, and addictive, making it an ideal SRPG to take on the go.

    Scoreboard:

    Story: 8/10

    Gameplay: 9/10

    Control: 8/10

    Graphics: 8.5/10

    Sound: 8.5/10

    Value: 9/10

    Overall (Not an average): 9/10

    Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days Review

    Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days [Nintendo DS]
    ESRB Rating: E10+
    Number of Players: 1 to 4
    Genre: Action RPG
    Publisher: Square Enix
    Developer: h.a.n.d.
    Release Date: September 29th, 2009

    Kingdom Hearts was an amazing novelty upon being introduced.  The first installment won over skeptics that doubted it, presenting an experience that combined famous Disney characters and locations with famous Final Fantasy trademarks, along with a new cast in an original plot.  KH was a massive hit for the PS2 RPG market, creating a huge fan base that remains today; Sora and Co. have become quite the feather in Square-Enix’s collective cap.  What else lets you fight monsters at the Beast’s castle with Donald and Goofy, and confront Sephiroth all in the same game?  The series then began to focus on more unique characters and story, presenting an intricately-woven timeline that fans spend hours and hours dissecting.  Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories for the GBA was the direct sequel to the first game, and showed the events that led up to the successive Kingdom Hearts II.  Now, rather than continuing the lore, we have a semi-prequel to further fill in the gap between KH and KHIIKingdom Hearts 358/2 Days for the Nintendo DS.

    Unless you’re a die-hard, keeping track of all the series’ events may be a bit confusing.  Many of the characters are involved in complex relationships that aren’t effectively explained, requiring you to have knowledge of the other games.  The games can be enjoyed independently and still remain fun and cohesive, but many subtleties are lost if you do not follow the other games.  358/2 Days literally follows the 358 days that Roxas spends with Organization XIII.  Sora, the main character of the series, briefly turns into a Heartless in the first game.  This creates a “Nobody,” resulting in the birth of Roxas.  Roxas works with Organization XIII, a group of other Nobodies led under Xemnas, who wants to give them hearts.  The game also details Roxas’ ties to Xion, the 14th member of Organization XIII.  Her presence is the highlight of the story, as the plot slowly reveals just who she is, how she came to be, and what her role means for Roxas and the others.  It also takes a while to understand Roxas’ relationship with other Organization XIII members, especially his best friend Axel.  358/2 expects fans to know the other games, as this one fits as a semi-sequel to Chain of Memories, as many events even overlap.  The game does dwell much on CoM, so you better memorize it.

    Kingdom Hearts has always thrived on pulling gamers into an intricate story.  The pacing is just right, offering cut scenes that continue to satisfying, and not overwhelm.  This DS game, however, suffers from too little action.  The abundance of cut scenes cause the plot to move at a snail pace.  It focuses for a long time on the character relationships, and while the effort to make it all relevant is obvious, it just drags on.  The characters sit down to ice cream after every mission, and there are in-game scenes for over a dozen instances of this.  I have to ask, why?  To be fair, you can simply play the story missions to more quickly advance the plot, but  even then, they contains less substance than the other games and don’t grab your attention as fast.

    Another issue is that everything visited is…familiar.  Nostalgia isn’t necessarily bad, but we could be exploring a lot more of this universe.  The Disney characters have extremely little presence this time, and most of the time they don’t interact with the protagonists whatsoever (except for Phil, mostly).  Final Fantasy is absent too.  Instead of revisiting worlds, why not incorporate some new ones?  If not in the main game, at least as bonus levels?  Square-Enix and Disney could bring a lot more to the table, Final Fantasy (I-V), the worlds of the Pixar films, or even the Studio Ghibli films (which Disney has distribution rights to in the US at least).  The PS2 installments offered far more to prod gamers along.  The first introduced the characters and novelty of interacting with different worlds, and the second game on the new characters and the events set in motion from the first game.  There is a surprising amount of voiced CGI cutscenes in this one, another reason for fans to jump aboard.  The  drawback is that these sequences are brutally compressed and sometimes look fuzzy.  It’s more noticeable in some of the sequences than others.  The animation and models are still well done and the presentation is fantastic for a Nintendo DS RPG.  The writing and dialogue stays true to the series.  It does drag, but when things pick up, it’s hard to put the game down.  It’s presented well enough so it’s easy to accept as part of the series cannon, even though before it didn’t feel necessary.  It’s enjoyable, but only fans would gain something meaningful out of it.

    The gameplay is akin to the PS2 installments, which may have many find 358/2 more accessible than Chain of Memories.  CoM, though a legitimate Kingdom Hearts game, turned people off with its unconventional card system.  This time, players explore familiar worlds in 3D, fight enemies with a system similar to the main games, and so on.  The biggest difference comes in the level presentation.  In the PS2 games, you explored a world and either pursued the story or messed around, while the DS title divides the action into individual missions.  Missions usually take only a few minutes to complete, which is more fitting for the portable scene.  There is no emphasis to explore; in fact, non-essential areas are blocked off, which can be annoying.  Missions take place in places familiar to fans, like Agrabah, Halloween Town, and Neverland…but expect to revisit the same areas over and over.  Scenarios repeat as well, like “collect hearts” (defeat enemies) and “investigate suspicious things.”  The majority of missions have two checkpoints: barely completing it, and fully completing it.  Reaching full completion nets more rewards, giving you more items, synthesis materials, and so on.  However, this structure is one of the main failings; repetition rears its head quickly.  The worlds are repeats of the previous games, and missions tend to feel like one long tutorial.  This is what prevents 358/2 from becoming a classic as the others.

    More important gameplay changes include the “Panel” system, which replaces the item and equipment management process.  Every ability, spell, item, and power-up (i.e. level-up panels) is regulated by panels.  You have to arrange panels onto a grid to pick and choose how Roxas performs.  Want Roxas to be magic-oriented?  Pick a magic-powered Keyblade, some spells and spell links.  Some abilities can be linked to become more effective, or function at all.  For example, Keyblades can combine with power-up panels to become stronger.  Also, an ability called Triple Cast gives the player three casts of any magic spell joined with it.  As you progress, more panels open up, either by completing missions or obtaining rewards.  This doesn’t change anything fundamentally, so I’m not sure of its intended purpose.  It’s a neat idea though, and gives you more options to manage Roxas’ performance in battle.  Perhaps the developers wanted to increase the game’s depth.  One of the game’s more appealing aspects is multiplayer.  After playing through missions and collecting badges, you can unlock additional changes and the multiplayer option for that level.  The game supports local multicard play for up to four people.  This is especially appealing because all the Organization XIII members then become playable, but there are other secret party members too.  Completing missions in multiplayer can shell out crowns, which net more rewards in the single player campaign (i.e. items, slot release, spells, etc).  The only drawback is that slowdown might happen when it gets hectic.

    Combat is a lot of fun, and should be familiar to fans.  It’s accessible, there are lots of missions to finish, and the controls are mapped well on the DS.  The directional pad isn’t the perfect substitute for the analog stick, but it works.  The problem is the input assignment for the shoulder buttons.  It handles the quick menu, lock-on, and shifting the camera.  This is because the DS doesn’t mirror the DualShock 2’s layout, so it’s physically incapable of recreating the main games’ scheme.  It takes practice, and can be a bit annoying, but the developers pulled it off.  The most aggravating flaw is the targeting system.  Managing character movement with the D-pad can be stiff, but sometimes the screen fills with enemies, and it’s difficult to manipulate the camera and focus on the enemies you intend to hit.  Sometimes it locks on the enemy behind you rather than the one you’re facing, or it’s interrupted altogether.

    The gameplay is still appealing though.  One of the main problems is repetition, especially if you want to earn all the secrets.  Many missions are repeated as a result, and there are also challenge missions (harder versions of the same missions in single player) and multiplayer missions (multiplayer versions of the same missions in single player).  On the other hand, this equates to a lot of depth; there’s always something to do, and the multiplayer hook makes it especially tempting.  Also, missions can be completed in short bursts, complementing the handheld scene; it’s easier to finish a short mission and put the game away rather than save multiple times in the middle of one big level.  It just depends on how much you like Kingdom Hearts.

    The graphics are a wonder on the DS.  Remember that Kingdom Hearts is originally 3D-born on a more powerful system, so being replicated as it has on the DS is impressive.  The character models, while not as detailed or fluid as their PS2 counterparts, feel true to their original designs and are animated well.  Sometimes there’s stiff movement and jaggie, but overall the sheer amount of content represented is great; the levels and characters are familiar and look good on DS.  It would’ve been cool for there to be new locations to show something different though.  Unfortunately, slowdown is especially noticeable in multiplayer, and there are several instances of choppy animation in single player mode.  Yet most of the time the game runs smoothly and looks very appealing.  There are tons of in-game and CGI cutscenes that all look great, but the compression makes them look fuzzy.  The sound quality is also good, and it’s impressive that the CGI sequences have voice work.  The in-game cutscenes only have simple grunts, yells, and laughs to accompany the text boxes though.  The music selection is great, with tunes culled from the previous games in the series, but it’s disappointing that there isn’t anything new.

    Fans would likely accept Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days with ease.  Non-fans can also enjoy it, as it’s accessible, fun, pretty, and has a lot of depth—though the story won’t make much sense.  The character customization and multiplayer options (playing as a wide assortment of characters) make it even more tempting.  You might think that because of all my complaints that this game is bad.  This is not the case, just what you call nitpicking, and the game remains great fun despite the issues.  The series continues to prove it’s here to stay.  We just want to make sure they grow in quality, but fans can’t go wrong with this DS entry.

    Scoreboard:

    Story: 7.5/10

    Gameplay: 8/10

    Controls: 7/10

    Graphics: 8.5/10

    Sound: 8/10

    Value: 8.5/10

    Overall (Not an average): 8/10

    First Printing of FFXIII to Include ‘Campaign Code’ For FFXIV

    According to our good friends over at Andriasang the latest issue of Jump Magazine has revealed some rather unusual news.  Apparently the first print run of Final Fantasy XIII will include a ‘campaign code’ for Final Fantasy XIV.  They don’t reveal any other information other than that.  Given we’ve FF XIII pre-ordered for some time now, we’re hoping we get that lovely campaign code so eventually we’ll know exactly what it’s all about.  If this turns out to be some kind of beta for the next online FF, that would sure be a big score for the site.

    We’ll keep you posted as we near the December 17th release of FF XIII.

    Dissidia Final Fantasy Detailed Impressions: Gaming Log Compilation Zero-IV!

    For the past 25 days, I’ve written about Dissidia Final Fantasy in the form of “Gaming Logs”. I hope everyone enjoyed these detailed impressions. As usual, the log will stop for now but expect a full-fledged COE review soon. Also, expect a log or two after the review since this is one big game.

    Gaming Log 0: Unboxing + Pictures

    Gaming Log I: First Impressions

    Gaming Log II: Story Mode Gameplay Details

    Gaming Log III: More Story Mode

    Gaming Log IV: Pre-review Wrap-Up

    Dissidia Final Fantasy Training Log IV: Fighter or RPG?

    Overall Playtime: 26 Hours

    Modes Played: Story Mode

    Remaining Characters to Try: Terra, Warrior of Light, Bartz

    As I suggested in my previous entry, I tried out Shade Impulse. It basically has the same progression only it’s harder and you can pick any character you like. Apparently, Shade Impulse is divided into multiple chapters as well…I only finished the first one. So in the end, this is one hell of a long game to experience. I’m hearing that there’s an additional mode after beating Shade Impulse and unlocking the final two hidden characters. Wow.

    The repetitiveness of the game is starting to take its toll on me. Fighters shouldn’t be this long. Then again, here’s where I figured that Square-Enix didn’t exactly balance out the Fighter and RPG mechanics of the game. Yep, I think this game is more of an RPG, and in turn the fighter elements sort of struggle to shine as much as role-playing. I would’ve been pretty satisfied if the game were shorter since it is a fighter in heart after all…but this is overkill.

    Final thoughts on the plot for now. Good narrative, but not for everyone. There’s a lot of vagueness since the game mostly deals with abstracts such as light and darkness.

    Expect a full-fledged review soon. Also, since this is a lengthy game expect additional log entries after the review has been written. I’ll try putting in some game time as much as I can.

    Dissidia Final Fantasy Training Log III: More of the Same

    Overall Playtime: 10 hours

    Modes Played: Story Mode, Arcade Mode

    Characters Used: Squall, Zidane, Firion, Tidus

    The reason why I haven’t update this log in a week is because that things has been more of the same since my last write-up. The Story Mode’s only change-up in terms of progression is how grids get harder depending on the character. Multiple pathways, hidden enemies, and the like. I enjoyed my first playthroughs with Squall and Zidane. Both represent their games well and their voice actors are pretty good. Squall is a bit on the nasal side compared to his Kingdom Hearts actor, don’t you think? I especially like Zidane’s lines…one he says that I recall from the original game revolves around “not needing a reason to help people”.

    There’s an additional mode within the story mode called “Shade Impulse” that has been unlocked in my game since I finished playing with one character. I think I’ll be able to use villains if I go through that mode or something. One long game indeed. I won’t deny that repetitiveness is starting to drag in, but seeing how I’m a fan of Final Fantasy I find myself enjoying certain characters.

    I also tried the Arcade Mode today. Used Onion Knight. Such a fun character to play with because of his speed. His EX Mode is hilarious as well. Basically, the mode is straight-forward…beating 5 characters by turn and you’re done.

    I think I’m just about ready for the full review, don’t you? I’ll try out Shade Impulse and see how it goes. One or two more log entries are more than enough for a full outlook of the game.

    Dissidia Final Fantasy Training Log II: The Rules of the Game!

    Overall Playtime: 8 hours

    Modes Played: Story Mode

    Characters Used: Cloud, Cecil, Tidus, Firion

    This game is getting addicting.

    I’m absolutely loving the Story Mode. Basically, you get to pick one hero out of the 10 available. Each hero has a different difficulty level measured by the number of stars in the select screen. I’m going through the heroes from easiest to hardest right now…which is recommended  for everyone because the storyline actually flows better and you won’t have to deal with hair-raising opponents early on. Also, as I explained in the previous log, playing through the story mode is almost like chess…as each hero has different “map grids” to go through (4 to 5 different maps per hero). The easiest ones are pretty basic in terms of progression, while harder ones start throwing in multiple pathways, traps, and whatnot. I like the fact that there’s no right way to play through these maps because of how unique these “chess rules” are. Just recently I completely understood the flow of things. Not that the rules are confusing or anything. There’s just a lot to put into account.

    I’ll try to explain the rules as best as I can. “Chess” pieces include your character, enemies, treasures/items, and the final piece that completes the level. Everything sets up in grids. Thankfully, it’s not a turn-based strategy-type progression (thus far) so it’s not like you’re waiting for the enemies’ turns. You’re free to do as you please and move to any grid as much as you want. Nothing will restrict you. Just keep in mind that every action you take costs you “Destiny Points”….actions meaning engaging other pieces or using one of your skills. Engaging an enemy piece, opening a chest, using a potion — each costs one destiny point. The game interprets these actions a bit different though. You see, you start off from a default “home point” in the map…as soon as you move from there, one destiny point is taken away from you. No matter how many grids you move, it’s still one destiny point as movement is “free-form”. It’s where you stop that counts. After engaging an enemy piece or opening a chest elsewhere, your new “home point” will be set adjacent to there and one destiny point will be taken away from you as soon as you move (again). In short, your home point as mobile and sets up where you stop…and moving from there costs one destiny point.

    I’m sure you’re wondering why are destiny points important despite the ability to abuse your actions and even playing through maps with “negative points”. The answer is simple: these points are part of your evaluation at the end of each map. The number of successful engagements, not retrying battles, remaining health, remaining destiny points — those are part of your evaluation per map. Getting a good evaluation changes up these maps a bit should you opt for multiple play-throughs of the same hero. Bonuses include harder enemies, unlocked grids, unlocked areas, and more treasure. The better the evaluation overall, the more bonuses you unlock. Interesting, eh? Another cool thing I just figured out is the more destiny points you have, the better the “bonus” you obtain when completing a level. Having two or three destiny points usually reward you with gil…you’ll start to get powerful equipment with 4 destiny points or more.

    I like the fact that there are certain twists that allow you to preserve destiny points. Positioning yourself between two or more perpendicular enemies grants you a chain reaction…you’re forced to engage them in succession, but in the end you’re only losing one destiny point. Furthermore, certain enemies actually grant you destiny points should you successfully win via set stipulations…basic stuff like winning without taking damage or sapping all of the enemy’s bravery within 10 seconds.

    Speaking of stipulations, there are ones that apply to a very cool in-game item creation system. I definitely didn’t expect that. Your menu displays a list of accessories and how you “create” them in battle. Again, stuff like breaking environments or taking away bravery create certain items. The twist here is that there are exclusive ones per hero.

    That’s not the only thing you’ll see in your menu, though. RPGs veterans will be familiar navigating through here yet fighter fans will be overwhelmed. Equipment (level-restricted), assigning abilities and attacks (point-restricted), accessories, achievements (think Xbox 360), shop, and a “chocobo pathway” that randomly grants you bonuses. Indeed, your characters are extremely customizable.

    So far, I’ve played with Cloud thrice, Cecil twice, Tidus once, and currently going through Firion. Loving the cutscenes, voice acting, dialogue, and individual stories that crossover. Those who hate cryptic and vague storytelling will definitely find the pace to be boring. However, the heroes’ likenesses will keep you hooked if you’re familiar with them. Tidus’ playthrough was especially good because Final Fantasy X’s vibe has been channeled really well here. James Arnold Taylor (Tidus’ voice actor) and his self-narration dialogue bring back some good memories. Definitely struck a chord with me. Firion’s voice is also surprisingly good…very distinctive. Can’t wait to check out Squall and Terra.

    Dissidia Final Fantasy Training Log I: Learning the Ropes!

    Playtime: 4 Hours

    Modes tried: Story Mode

    Characters Played: Cloud, Cecil

    Sorry for the delay, everyone. I should’ve written my first impressions sooner but “things” kept getting in the way of my playtime and logging into the blog.

    The first thing you’ll notice with Dissidia is the game’s identity crisis. The question you’ll always keep asking yourself when playing is, “so is this game a fighter or an RPG?” Fighter veterans will often refer to Soul Calibur IV as an example of a pure fighter with RPG elements. In that game, you’re able to equip each fighter with lots of stuff in order to boost various stats. Dissidia has the same idea going on (more expansive obviously), yet it controls sort of like Smash Brothers; very straight-forward and simple button presses to execute your commands. To compare even better, imagine Dissidia as a 1-on-1 Kingdom Hearts in terms of gameplay, but more fleshed out and more realized it almost plays like “Advent Children”. There’s no sense of gravity whatsoever as you rush towards your opponent midair or even dodge their attacks. So, yeah, it’s more of an action/RPG and less of a fighter…but everything still blends together well nonetheless. Fighter veterans will be extremely weirded-out, not to mention overwhelmed by the amount of customization you have over these characters. Unlike Soul Calibur IV, in Dissidia you’re forced to use equipment and whatnot when you’re going through its story mode. This may appeal to some fighter fans who want more than a straight-forward “Arcade Mode”, which is in the game by the way.

    The biggest twist in Dissidia’s fighting elements is how you inflict damage on your opponents. It’s not your typical “just attack until the damage bar is zero”. You must use both types of attacks available in order to be on top of things…and of course two types of attacks means there are two sets of stats you need to follow. “Bravery Attacks” are executed by using the Circle button in combination with your directional pad/analog nub…these attacks take away “Bravery Points” from your opponent instead of damaging his health bar. The more Bravery Points you have, the more damage you’ll inflict on your opponent when you use your regular set of attacks via the Square button. Using your regular attacks also steal away Bravery Points of your own, which is why you’re forced to balance between the two. Having no Bravery Points puts you in a dangerous situation of MASSIVE DAMAGE. All in all, this is a very creative mechanic. Just one fatal flaw; numbers and fast-paced games do not mix. I don’t like the fact that “Bravery Points” are shown in numbers here instead of a bar like your health. It’s just plain confusing to keep track of Bravery with numbers all over the place while you’re in an intense fight. This is where Square-Enix’s “RPG bias” and “fighter inexperience” start to show.

    The content of this game is through the roof. Trust me when I say you’ve never experienced a fighter that’s as big as this before. The amount of unlockables and bonuses this game throws at you is insane! The game even tracks your calendar and gives you stuff depending on when you log on…I’m betting for some interesting content in holidays. Let’s not forget the fan-service, which is why this game exists after all. One hero and villain from each Final Fantasy installment crossing over for the ultimate battle…it doesn’t get any more epic than that. Obviously, this setting occurs in the “story mode”, which is the only one I experienced thus far. I played through with Cloud twice and am now going through Cecil. There’s an interesting chess-like progression with each character…instead of just going through battles one after the other, you move your part through various “grids” and engage other parts. It’s not free-form movement, either. There’s a complete set of rules that you must abide to, all of which are very creative. Experimenting with equipment, movesets, abilities, and even summons are quite fun. Difficulty is sort of a pushover thus far, but playing through a character again will unlock aggressive opponents.

    The storyline itself is intriguing and somewhat original, but nothing amazing so far. The fact that you’re seeing Cloud interacting with Tidus or Terra with Onion Knight is pretty cool. Characters from installments such as IV, VII, VIII, and X won’t surprise you in terms of models, voiceovers, and personalities since we’ve all experienced them in updated forms before. The interaction between Cloud and Sephiroth isn’t anything new to me, with phrases such as “you’re a puppet” and “why am I fighting?” being thrown in like crazy. However, most other installments are fully voiced and “3D-ized” for the first time. I like the fact that Warrior of Light from Final Fantasy I acts like the unofficial leader of the pack, and he looks and sounds the part, too. Terra and Kefka from Final Fantasy VI are really cool in my opinion…VI is possibly my favorite installment so it’s nice to see these characters represented well. You’ll notice that certain attacks and “Limit Break forms” are also full of fan-service.

    Audiovisual production values are top-notch stuff as usual, nothing surprising from Square-Enix. It looks like this game is running on the Crisis Core engine which is why it’s flashy and flows perfectly with no framerate hiccups. Perhaps the only detail that isn’t up to par with Crisis Core is the lip-syncing. Moreover, Dissidia’s composer, Mr. Ishimoto, worked on Crisis Core so you’re getting an outstanding soundtrack. Remixes from previous FF games sound great and the original work and main theme motif are addicting.

    More impressions coming later. I keep seeing the word “online” a lot in this game, a mode I didn’t expect to be here. Keep it locked.

    The Crystal Bearers Acknowledged by Square Enix USA

    Square-Enix sent us nice a e-mail today containing the official North American site of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers. Luckily, it’s more than meets the eye. The recent official Japanese trailer has been repackaged in the site, removing 99% of the original voice overs from the cutscenes, yet adding a couple more gameplay scenes. Additionally, there are about a dozen never-before-seen short “gameplay” videos that give you a glimpse of what’s coming. From the look of things, this is an atypical approach to the Action/RPG scene. The main character seems to have a gravity-based telekinesis power that entraps enemies in orbs, in turn allowing you to throw them around.  Also, the gameplay videos hint that there are multiple methods of interacting with enemies and NPCs. Colorful icons, on top of enemies and NPCs indicate their “mood”, which obviously changes depending on how you interact with them. I was sort of taken back by enemies interacting with each other, too. Interesting stuff.

    Let’s hope this site launch means that the game is slated for a late 2009 release in all regions. As one of the first games announced for the Nintendo Wii, it’s been delayed and inactive for way too long. E3 should provide us with more information. For now, keep checking out the official site from time to time for updates. I’m sure you’ll enjoy details on the storyline, main characters, and videos. One thing I find interesting is that Crystal Bearers takes place one thousand years after the original for GameCube.

    Source: The Crystal Bearers Official Site