To Play or Not to Play

The Final Fantasy franchise is one that I find both intriguing and daunting. With fourteen games in its main series, and countless sequels, spin-offs and remakes, it would surely be a task to play through every game in this vast franchise. Herein lies my predicament. As someone who has had little experience with Final Fantasy (does Kingdom Hearts count?) I have wanted to play the much hailed series for a while. However, I have no idea where to start, or even if it matters where you start. With Final Fantasy VII, praised as one of the greatest JRPG’s, receiving a remake on the PS4, I feel that it will be a must to play both the remake and the original. I’m also quite keen on trying out the Final Fantasy X-X2 HD remaster on the PS4 as from what I’ve seen it looks like a pretty fun game. I suppose my biggest question though is whether it is vital to play every Final Fantasy game to be able to truly understand and enjoy any of the game in the series. Also, just a little background on my experience with JRPG’s, the only one I can recall playing was called Blue Dragon, a game I never completed because I got so tired of it’s linearity and monotony. I’m hoping that some of the Final Fantasy games won’t be like this, however a heads up would be great dear readers!

So I ask you readers to help me in my predicament. What Final Fantasy game should I start with to finally get into the series? Does it matter about playing every game or what order? As always, thanks for reading and I will be interested to hear your thoughts on my situation, and your experiences with the Final Fantasy franchise!

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture Review

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was arguably one of the most anticipated independent releases on PS4 this summer. We have been drip fed information and praise throughout the year from the developers themselves, and gaming outlets, which amassed a lot of excitement in the gaming community for its release. Yet since its release almost a month ago, there has been much contention over this deserved praise. The latest addition to independent studio The Chinese Room’s repertoire has gained huge critical comment from both ends of the spectrum, making it somewhat difficult for a potential buyer to determine whether they will enjoy playing the game or not. On the whole I enjoyed the game, yet by identifying what I enjoyed and didn’t enjoy about the game I wonder whether I enjoyed the concept of the game rather than the game itself.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is set in a rural English town where (you guessed it) everyone has mysteriously disappeared. Yet, left behind are strange orbs of light, and impressions of the inhabitants made up of specks of light, playing out their lives and how they all disappeared. You play the role of an anonymous observer, who traverses the many areas of this town to find clues as to how this happened, being guided by the orbs of light that represent the major characters of the story. There are five main areas in the town and your aim is to uncover as much information in each to fully understand the situation that has unfolded.

The game’s story is compelling, and the way it is told through piecing it together by interacting with the world does provide an immersive experience. However, the game deals with many themes and some of these are explored quite deeply. This does aid the plot to an extent, but often times it feels like The Chinese Room are juggling both plot and theme which leads to it feeling unbalanced. This becomes evident by the end of the game when the two main characters, Kate and Stephen’s, stories seem to be rushed, and the main plot is only explained quite basically. Perhaps this is done intentionally, as the game features many hidden codes and messages that the developers included for its audience to decipher, and so perhaps they intended the plot to be analysed deeper by the player. Yet, by creating a plot that revolves around themes of religion, philosophy, and physics, and these being represented by some quite complex ideas, it becomes a task to try and piece together the meaning of the plot. The concept for the plot is definitely interesting, however in practice it isn’t accessible to all players, and can end up looking like a confusing mess.

These balls of light can be opened up to reveal character interactions using the Dualshock 4's motion controls.
These balls of light can be opened up to reveal character interactions using the Dualshock 4’s motion controls.

In terms of gameplay, this is where the game faces division amongst those who played it, as it is quite simplistic. Controlling your character through first person perspective, you traverse through each area discovering information by interacting with radios, telephones, and other electrical equipment by pressing X, and unlocking scenes of character interaction by using the motion controls on the Dualshock 4 to open up balls of light. After the novelty of using the motion controls wears off you realise this was probably implemented to detract from the mundane nature of only pressing X. However, the most irksome mechanic, in my opinion, was the speed in which you walked around the town. Only through a chance read of the Playstation blog did I find out that you could hold the R2 button to increase the speed of walking, something that is not made apparent unless you read the instructions manual webpage. Even so, the increase in speed is really not that massive, which can become tiring as the game encourages you to explore every nook and cranny of the world (which was a lot larger than I expected) and to use footpaths that can help you backtrack through each area, with the reward of a trophy for finding each of these sometimes hidden pathways. By the end of the game I was so tired of backtracking to try and find every piece of information that I just played through the main story knowing I had missed a few pieces of information which could have impacted some of the storylines. One small thing that could have been included that would have also helped avoid this annoyance would be the inclusion of a map in the pause menu. There are many maps around the different areas with ‘You are here’ markers, but it is easy to lose track after walking away from these and can become a task to try and remember where the maps are.

The graffiti you come across sadly represents Britain too well.
The graffiti you come across sadly represents Britain too well.

Despite some annoying mechanics Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture redeems itself through its beautiful environment and sound design. Using the rural British setting may create a little bias in my opinion as a Brit, but I think there is an undeniable charm to the town that has been achieved through the design, and the range of different areas to explore, including a typical British seaside caravan park, encompasses British culture down to a T. In each area, the weather and the colour of the sky differs which works well in combination with the different themes and stories that are presented in each area. There has also been a lot of attention to detail in both the sound and environment design, with simple things like graffiti in bus stops that you could swear you’ve seen in your own town, or the changing sound of the rain when walking into a caravan from outside and hearing that tinny pittering that brings back memories of seaside holidays as a child. The soundtrack to the game is excellent, being able to evoke sadness and drama in combination with certain storylines, and swiftly changing to eerie and mysterious music to bring you back to your main goal of solving the game’s mystery.

The game's environments are stunning, with different weather representing a range of themes.
The game’s environments are stunning, with different weather representing a range of themes.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is not a bad game. It has some annoying gameplay mechanics and at times the story can seem a bit messy and thin. However, the concept for the game is interesting and it does manage to evoke the sense of mystery that it aims to achieve. The beautiful landscapes and music do immerse you into the game’s setting. But for those who don’t have the patience to walk around a rural British town for 5-6 hours at a slow pace with little action, and are not too fussed on delving deep into the story’s sometimes-complex themes, then this game probably isn’t for you.

Thanks for reading! Have you played Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture? Leave a comment on your thoughts, I would love to hear them.

Batman Arkham Knight Review

Batman Arkham Knight marks the end of Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy, concluding with some of the most exciting storylines and gameplay that leaves you a little sad when finishing the game. However, with a plethora of sidequests alongside the main questline, not to mention a guarantee of six months worth of dlc to come, Arkham Knight will keep you captivated for a long time. In this review I won’t be focusing in depth on the details of the story and so will be spoiler free.

When Arkham Knight was first announced as an 18 rating, I was intrigued to see how much the series had progressed in terms of mature themes. It is obvious once played why this decision was made, with one of the most dark entries in the series. Rocksteady have exceptionally adapted the darker themes of certain Batman comics, but have added their own flair to make a unique experience. As it is a video game, it is arguable that some of the more disturbing themes that have been portrayed through the comics are potentially more disturbing through the immersion of the gaming medium. However, this takes the characterisation of Batman and characters from this world to another level, and this emotional involvement makes the gameplay even more entertaining. What is also great about the use of darker themes in Arkham Knight is that horror elements tie in through the use of typical horror tropes (jump scares), but also uses a kind of psychological horror. Without being a stark horror game, Arkham Knight is able to weave horror elements to assist crucial game moments, showing Rocksteady’s mastery of the Batman universe that they have acquired by the end of the Arkham trilogy.

In terms of gameplay, there are only a few minor issues to an otherwise flawless game. The combat system has been reinvigorated with Batman being able to be more interactive with the environment, using walls, rails etc. to add interesting dynamics to knocking out enemies. Predator scenarios have also improved, with the introduction of multi-fear takedowns to quickly sort out an area, yet this is balanced with new types of thugs that appear in each scenario, making you think more tactically than previous games. There has been a lot of gripe with the introduction of the Batmobile in this game, but I believe that it was important to have this in the game as it is a significant part of the Batman universe, and for me completes taking on the role of Batman. There was a nice balance between the driving elements and the tank elements, with tank combat making fun but sometimes challenging gameplay. However, I can agree that at times it did feel a little overused, and perhaps lessened the excitement of being able to control the Batmobile later in the game. The new mission radial menu is a simple yet effective way of keeping track of all your missions and being able to swiftly switch between any mission whenever you choose to. It will also become your best friend when you realise that to unlock the full ending to the game, you must complete every side mission 100%. I really liked this as it felt like you were getting your money’s worth by wanting to complete the game 100%, but also you could truly understand every aspect of the story, giving you a somewhat better understanding of the ambiguous ending. I was slightly disappointed with the final ending, feeling a little bit rushed to me, but with later dlc to come it may enhance the meaning of the ending; at least I’m hoping it will.

Arkham Knight’s graphics are incredible, with undoubtedly some of the most realistic character models I have seen on a next gen game. There was something so satisfying about the clarity of rain drops sliding down Batman’s cape as you soared across Gotham, and the falling raindrops surrounding you as you dived back down into the streets. The detail of the wear and tear of Batman’s outfit, as well as the Batmobile, truly made the most out of the PS4’s graphics capabilities. Although, at times the graphics would lessen and it would take a few seconds to kick in, however this was a very minor issue.

Overall, Arkham Knight is the perfect ending to Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy, using the intricate story and game mechanics that it had built in previous games, but weaving in darker themes and captivating story dynamics that encapsulates the Batman universe perfectly in video game form. I believe Rocksteady have made such an impact on the video game industry that it will be hard for any other superhero games to live up to the Arkham series, however by the end of Arkham Knight it has made me want to revisit the rest of the Arkham series once again.

Telltale’s Game of Thrones Episode Four: Sons of Winter Review

In typical Game of Thrones style á la TV, episode 4 of Telltale Games’ take on the Game of Thrones world picks up in both speed and excitement as we pass the halfway mark in its season. In this episode characters get a chance of revenge and redemption from previous adversity they have faced throughout previous episodes, leading to interesting and thought provoking choices to be made. What I enjoyed about this episode was that it refocused on the theme of family, something that is a crucial element in Game of Thrones, allowing you to take back control of the story to help the Forrester family who appeared to be in a lot of trouble in previous episodes. However, done equally as well as the TV series, sometimes the choices you make with good intention can lead to dire consequence, and this episode laid the groundwork for this to take place with a shocking cliffhanger ending. Building on my thoughts from the previous episode, I still stand by my statement of Mira being the most interesting character to take control of. Her story seems to have taken on a more political role, an element of the TV series that leads to gripping storylines that take place in King’s Landing. Mira also had a lot more options for interacting with the world around her, making it a more immersive story. Without spoiling too much Gared’s story has thankfully strayed far off a copy of Jon Snow’s story, however his part in the episode felt the slowest, more like filler. Asher’s story definitely stood out from last episode, having interactions with the mother of dragons herself, Daenerys Targaryen, and a stealthy interaction scene which was tense but enjoyable. Overall, the pace of this episode in comparison with the rest of the season has definitely picked up for the better, and maintains a healthy balance between storytelling, player interaction in the game, and the effects of your choices on the story.

My (kind of late) thoughts on E3 2015

So after coming back from a holiday that took place at the same time as E3 2015, its safe to say that I had plenty of gaming news to catch up on. Fantastic technologies and video games that were announced has, in my opinion, made this years’ E3 one of the most exciting. Owning a PS4 has never felt so good, as Sony, in my eyes, have won the exclusivity battle, with so many great games coming out so soon. There were many great games announced I would like to talk about, but I have whittled it down to a top 5 that excited me the most.

1. Horizon Zero Dawn

A great announcement of a new game from E3 was Horizon Zero Dawn. A fresh take on a dystopian story, Horizon displays the effects of our modern world overrun by nature, and most peculiarly, robot dinosaurs. Blending concepts of prehistoricity and modernity brings a fresh take on the theme of man vs machine. The environments look stunning with cities overrun by plant life, and skyscrapers merging with trees and plants. The gameplay looks really interesting as it would seem that you need to be quite tactical when entering each battle, and boss fights look very challenging, needing to utilise a range of fantastic looking weapons from bow and arrows to rocket launchers. Overall, this looks like a very exciting game.

2. Unravel

An interesting addition to the 2D puzzle-platforming genre, Unravel looks like it will be incredibly fun but equally challenging. Controlling a character who is made of yarn you must unravel yourself to progress through each level, traversing through rocky passes and forests, and using objects like kites to attach yourself to in order to solve puzzles. What I loved about the video attached is the insight into how the creative director conceived the idea for this game, and seeing his enthusiasm for the game makes me think that the finished project will be as inspiring as his words were.

3. The Last Guardian

Possibly one of the overall favourite announcements from E3 for those dedicated fans who feared the shelving of this game, The Last Guardian gameplay trailer surely did not disappoint. An absolutely stunning world that features a young boy as the protagonist who can command a large beast companion to help him traverse obstacles and solve puzzles. I love the mix of design in the game, with a cartoon-esque design of the boy, and the rest of the world, and his companion very realistic. The animation of the creature companion is very detailed, being able to display a range of emotions which makes you feel connected to the creature only through a short trailer. The gameplay looks entertaining with some very tense moments, accompanied by some fantastic music. This game looks like it could hold a lot of potential and I am excited to hear more about it.

4. Star Wars Battlefront

Immediately into this trailer you are met with classic Star Wars music playing in the background of a classic Star Wars world, controlling a Rebel troop who shoots Stormtroopers making the sound of the classic blaster. Yes this trailer completely evokes classic Star Wars, but with next gen graphics and mechanics, it has built on these classic themes and will most definitely bring one of the most immersive experiences to the Star Wars world. With the many options between playing as a standard troop, piloting many of the Star Wars world’s vehicles, and taking control of Jedi Luke Skywalker, this game looks as if it will provide countless hours of fun, with an amazing looking online multiplayer mode to boot.

5. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

Although the first game was not the most critically acclaimed, it is one of my favourite games, with its focus on free running and mix of combat, and an interesting storyline, it really appealed to me. Catalyst looks to improve significantly on these aspects, and with the removal of the use of firearms, the melee combat aspect of the game, judging by the trailer, looks like it has massively improved. The combination of next gen graphics and an open world gives Catalyst the possibility to be a fantastic game that hopefully will gain some more praise than the first game.

What were your highlights from E3? I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments section!

Hoenn is where the heart is: Pokémon Alpha Sapphire Review

So after writing a post about the demo of the game almost 8 months ago, I have finally gotten around to playing the full version of Pokémon Alpha Sapphire. Playing all three iterations of the third generation Pokémon series religiously a decade ago (obviously I still haven’t yet accepted that I am an adult!), it was great to play through one of my favourite entries in the Pokémon series that has been stunningly rendered into 3D.

If you have played the original Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald games and are looking for a nostalgia hit in the remakes then you will not be disappointed. When beginning the game a nifty take on the usual Professor introduction takes place where the original introduction is used, but then zooms out showing your character playing the original game on a Game Boy, something I found to be quite inventive. The infamous trumpet-centric original soundtrack transitions into the remastered soundtrack, equalising the feeling of nostalgia and awe at the new take on it. Game Freak have masterfully utilised 3D to provide a deeper connection with the world you are entering, using different camera angles and a lot more 3D integrated cutscenes than had been previously used in Pokémon X and Y.

The game takes you through mostly the same storyline, but with a few new characters, some updated dialogue, and new story aspects to incorporate Mega Evolutions which was introduced in the last series. This did not overtake the original story however which I had initially feared, but flowed through it quite well. Once you have finished the main story crux by defeating 8 gym leaders around the Hoenn region and then the Elite 4 and Champion, you are able to continue your adventures in the Delta Episode, a newly written story arc for the series which incorporates old and new Pokémon lore, and was a joy to play.

What was great about the third generation Pokémon games was that it introduced, in my opinion, some of the most fun mechanics in the Pokémon series, and the remakes have wonderfully adapted these to the new generation. In the original games I would spend a lot of my time searching for the perfect spot to make my secret base, exactly as it sounds a base you could make in trees, bushes, or caves which you could design with a variety of decorations. This has been greatly adapted in Alpha Sapphire, with the beautiful redesign of the original decorations you could find. And now with easier access to the internet through the Nintendo 3DS, visiting friend or strangers secret bases to exchange flags and battle has become extremely easy, and greatly increases its replay value as it is fun to seek out new bases and see what other players Pokémon teams are like. The third generation games also introduced two types of bikes, the Acro and Mach bike, which could be used in different ways to overcome certain obstacles. This mechanic has maintained its usefulness in the remake, and looks great, especially the rails that can be accessed by the Acro bike, which had minimal definition to visualize what they were in the original series.

What I loved about the 3D remaster aspect of the game is that it is the first time in the Nintendo 3DS world that we have been able to see the Japanese aspects of the game rendered so beautifully, as Pokémon X and Y was inspired by France. Going into the houses and seeing the rooms decorated in a Japanese style in 3D almost makes you feel like you are vicariously walking into a Japanese home. Using 3D has also meant that a certain flair that can be seen in the Pokémon anime can be translated to the video games, with gym leaders striking a pose before battling, characters showing a range of emotions through facial expressions, and the updated Pokémon contests which now feature a cosplay Pikachu.

The introduction of the Pokénav plus which allows you to search for a certain pokémon in your current area has increased the chances of finding elusive shiny pokémon, but also allows you to find a pokémon you want that may have a move it wouldn’t usually learn, making it a lot more fun creating a diverse pokémon party. The Buzznav app which I had originally thought would be quite interesting, turned out to be quite dull with mostly the same things repeating in its feed, and becoming even more clogged once you had connected with others through the internet. The integration of the PSS system on the bottom screen which had featured in Pokémon X and Y remains the same, but for the better as it is one of the most handy and fun additions to the latest games.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed playing Alpha Sapphire, as it was a testament to the original games, blending the nostalgia of the original story and environment with updated graphics, music, and exciting new additions to the story. It felt more like it was made for the 3DS with the integration of more 3D cutscenes and interact-able areas than had been done in Pokémon X and Y. With its updated secret base system and the integration of the popular PSS from the previous games, the game has plenty of replay value and I’m sure I will continue to play with it over the summer. My only qualm with it is that it has made me wish that a 3D remake of the first two generations of the Pokémon series will happen, a very unlikely possibility in the near future.

The Unfinished Swan Review

After finally subscribing to PS Plus a few weeks ago I was eager to try the free games up for grabs available in May. The Unfinished Swan immediately jumped out at me as something I would like to play first. I hadn’t played a proper adventure/puzzling game in a while and The Unfinished Swan really satiated that thirst.

The game’s story focuses on a young male protagonist who has recently lost his mother, a woman who loved to paint yet never finished any of her pieces of art. The young boy’s favourite painting of a swan *cue the title* mysteriously turns blank, with swan tracks leading into another painting. Here the gameplay starts as the boy enters this world of his mother’s paintings. The screen switches from its storybook like cutscene to a screen of white, with only an aiming reticule seen. You aren’t told what to do, leading me to originally think the game had froze, however by pressing every button I was met with a black blob of paint shooting out from the reticule. This starting level requires you to use strategic painting to reveal dimensions of rooms and obstacles to pass, something I have not seen in a video game before and was astounded by the simple, yet ingenious idea.

Making your way out of the first room, you emerge into a forest. A simple yet stunning style creates a sense of mystery and awe.
Making your way out of the first room, you emerge into a forest. A simple yet stunning style creates a sense of mystery and awe.

With little music, only the sounds of faint wind chimes and the occasional swan sound, this could easily have been tailored to a horror genre, tied with the fact that you cannot see what lies ahead. However, as you progress through the first level, shadows are introduced making it easier to work out where you are going and what lies ahead, and a lighter tone to the story emerges. In later levels colour is added, making it even easier to visualize your surroundings. It was a shame in my opinion that the whole game wasn’t like the beginning of the first level as I found it to be a clever concept for the game. However, with the introduction of shadows and colours, the gameplay still managed to keep me enticed and provide many aesthetically pleasing scenes.

Coming across this labyrinth was a sight to behold. Although I half expected to bump into Jareth whilst exploring it.
Coming across this labyrinth was a sight to behold. Although I half expected to bump into Jareth whilst exploring it.

Later levels use the paintball mechanic in different ways, such as changing to a water balloon to grow vines, granting access to high places. This kept the gameplay interesting, and had you on your toes trying to work out how to overcome certain obstacles. In a later level you must use your projectiles as a way of hitting lamps in a dark forest to light the way through. With the threat of spiders lurking in the dark who will attack you between these lampposts (almost giving me a heart attack when I realised I had my PS4 controller on full volume!) you again are kept thinking on the best way to traverse through the forest. The last level allows you to create 3d objects by shooting two paintballs to determine width and height. A fun idea, yet I think it was introduced too late in the game to be used to its full potential as a puzzling mechanic.

Although only a short game, The Unfinished Swan is unlike any game I have ever played before and so this made it an exciting playthrough. Its simplistic style adds to the feel of the game, with an enticing storyline that may appear simple on the surface, but will have you pondering the reality of its depth once you have completed it.