video games

Final Fantasy: Record Keeper review

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My goodness I have used a lot of parenthesis (brackets) in this review!

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The Final Fantasy series is one from my youth. Beginning properly with Final Fantasy IX (after a failed attempt at VI), I have worked my way through the majority of these brilliant JRPGs. True, in recent years, the FuhFuh name has taken a bit of a sting, what with some iffy releases and angry fanboys, but with the hype surrounded Final Fantasy XV, Type-0 and Kingdom Hearts’ recent releases, the series seems to be slowly but surely climbing its way back up into the hearts of fans. Sure, FF definitely isn’t for everyone – but most of the tribulations come with the wacky JPRG genre…crazy hair, cliched yet somehow convoluted stories, anime physics and so on. But that’s what makes it so great!

Thanks, Dr. Mog. You're so helpful and special!
Thanks, Dr. Mog. You’re so helpful and special!

Now, Squeenix have released several mobile games before, including re-releases of games and the somewhat underwhelming All The Bravest, which pretty much consisted of you furiously swiping your phone in a blind rage to kill enemies. But Final Fantasy: Record Keeper is different. The premise: in a quaint little world exists a museum that holds depictions of various key events across various Final Fantasy games (excluding the MMOs). Outta nowhere, a strange darkness (obviously) begins to corrupt the pictures. It is up to protagonist Tyro (who is basically your starter Pokémon that you instantly deposit and never play with) to save the day by entering the pictures and DESTROY THE EVIL! The game itself is split up into a series of game-related rooms (world) which can be completed in a semi-linear order. When you enter a room, you then enter a painting (dungeon). Once you have entered the dungeon, you choose a level. So, game -> dungeon -> level. Once you’ve entered a level, you fight against various FF enemies inspired by that particular game in a turn based Active Time Battle (ATB)  style combat system, much like Final Fantasy games of old. Essentially, that’s all the game is…and the fighting can become a tad stale, buuut, as with most mobile games, it’s a fun pastime to dip in and out of. Each level requires you to pay stamina. You have a finite amount, but it recharges every three minutes or so, so unless you’re quickly blitzing through the game, this shouldn’t really be an issue. There are RPG elements too – you can combine/assign abilities and upgrade various weapons in true JRPG-over-complicated fashion, but I’ve made it a fair way through the game without really bothering with any of this, apart from equipping different weapons and armour. You build up a team of five characters – characters taken from various Final Fantasy games. They all pretty much do the same thing, though some can only have can only have specific weapons, armour and abilities equipped. That, and they have their own unique ‘soul break’ (this game’s variation of limit/trance/overdrive etc.). But it’s fun to build up a team of characters that you know and love so well from different worlds, working happily together to vanquish evil. Which leads me on to my next point – weapons and armour are taken from the FuhFuh games that inhabit Record Keeper, which is cool. However, some are crazily unbalanced and overpowered. Cloud was hitting for about 300 damage with one weapon, whilst Tidus was going for 150. Now, yes, we all love Cloud #FFVIIFanBoyLeetGamer and so on (jokes, IX is the best), but srsly. Levelling up is also a bit of an issue, because when new characters join your party they start at level 1 it seems. You can use irl money to level them up quicker, but who has that kind of cash? Fortunately, though, Record Keepers is not a particularly pay-to-win game, which we see so much now with moby games. It does, however, require a constant internet connection for whatever reason, so play via WiFi when available…

I don't know what I don't have enough of. But it's something.
I don’t know what I don’t have enough of. But it’s something.

Each Record Keeper world comes with its own enemies and music directly from its origin game. For example, the Final Fantasy X world begins with you fighting your way through the streets of Zanarkand, in the same was as X begins. Whilst each world only has about five or so different monsters, you do fight unique bosses from that area of the game – so at the end of this Zanarkand section, you fight the Sinspawn boss that serves as a tutorial in X. It’s pretty rad. It’s also lovely to hear the brilliant scores from the various FF games as you’re playing. It can become a little grindy, what with you seemingly either being mega over- or under- (but never appropriately) levelled for dungeons, but that’s just a weeny factor.

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From VI’s world.

As it stands, this game has only been released outside of Japan for a couple o’ weeks, so here’s hoping we get some more updates soon; currently, you can only play as about ten or so different characters, whereas Japan’s version has close to 50 from Final Fantasy I to XIII (not including XI). Combat can be a bit tedious, and the permanent internet connection does mean that this isn’t a great play-on-the-go kind of game, but all in all it’s a wonderful nostalgia experience for any fan of the series – as I said, the true joy comes from fighting bosses that you know with a smorgasbord of characters you love. For a free game, this is pretty darn good. Yes, there are microtransactions available for you millionaires out there, if you want to get the better equipment, and there is even an auto-battle feature if you enjoy playing games by not playing them! All in all, Record Keepers is a fun, harmless little addition to the series. Well done, Square Enix. Oh, it’s also been developed by a company called DeNA, who have recently teamed up with Nintendo to create mobile games for them, so there’s that!

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Evoland review

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Evoland is currently on sale on Steam for another 24 hours or so, so I thought this would be a perfect time to write a quick review for this historical adventure. This is truly an innovative game that will appeal to anyone from RPG lovers, to games history buffs, to even (and I loathe using this term) ‘casual gamers’. I feel dirty.

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You start out in a silent black and white pixelated world, in which your only option is to move right. As you progress, you begin to unlock more and more game elements that we generally take for granted, such as the ability to move in any direction, or save points (which are nowadays quite rarely used). Evoland starts out as an adventure through video game history. The graphics update from 2D to 3D, the sound from 8 to 16-bit to symphonic, the textures from standard to high definition. It’s very interesting to see this progression right in front of your eyes as you progress through the game. You almost feel like you’re going from playing a NES game to a Playstation 2 game. It’s an original concept, and one that makes Evoland stand out from the rest of the crowd.

233470_screenshots_2014-07-03_00005Near the beginning of the game, you unlock the story. You’re playing as Clink, an obvious hybrid of The Legend of Zelda’s Link and Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud. The world is about to be plunged into darkness blah blah blah cliché fantasy plot blah blah. You’re eventually joined by a healer named Kaeris (no prizes for guessing what happens to her in the story, amirite?) It’s safe to say that whilst this game is honouring older RPGs, it’s also parodying them. The developers, Shiro Games, have definitely done their research, and often play on the ridiculous, now outdated attributes that older games of this genre used to portray, such as bonsai jungles, impassable rocks, or NPCs that run around in an endless circle. It features Easter eggs referencing games such as the aforementioned Zelda series, Final Fantasy VI and VIII, Dragon Quest and as such is truly a love letter to these games of yore. It even features a fella called Cid.

233470_screenshots_2014-07-03_00004As the game evolves, its play style also changes. At some points you will find yourself faced with Final Fantasy style turn based combat, complete with random encounters. Certain forests and dungeons have you playing in a style reminiscent of both older and newer Zelda games, and one dungeon even features some Diablo-esque gameplay, with useless loot to equip ‘n’all.

233470_screenshots_2014-07-03_00003As a nice little bonus, the game features a card game called Double Twin, an obvious allusion to Final Fantasy VIII’s own Triple Triad minigame. It plays very similar to both that and Triple Triad’s spiritual successor, Tetra Master from Final Fantasy IX. Along with Super Mario style stars spread throughout the world, this adds a collectable element to the game. Despite this, apart from earning an achievement, I saw no real reason to be hunting down stars, and only found a handful of people who played Double Twin, despite there being over 20 cards to collect.

2013-04-06_00015Sadly, Evoland’s innovativeness is also its downfall. About two thirds of the way through the game, you stop unlocking the ‘evolution’, and as such the game just becomes a basic PS2-era RPG. This is fine, but seeing as the story is extremely clichéd, and the references begin to wane, I found myself getting a tad bored and just wanting to complete it. It was still enjoyable, but nowhere near as much as it had been a few hours before at the beginning of the game. It kind of got to the point where it was reminding me of old Zelda or Final Fantasy that all I really wanted to do was just go and play them instead…

233470_screenshots_2014-07-03_00001At time of writing, Evoland is a mere £1.74 on Steam, reduced from £6.99.  It’s definitely an enjoyable, accessible experience, with tons of throwbacks and nostalgia for older RPGs, but once that’s all said and done it kind of just becomes an average game in itself with no real replay value aside from just experiencing it again. Towards the end it gets a bit meh, and could easily be classed as a bad Final Fantasy or Zelda clone, but luckily the game is just long enough that it doesn’t overstay its welcome; it stays for one more cup of tea than it should have done, but you didn’t have any other plans so it’s ok. To complete the game once, you’re probably looking at around 5 hours or so, depending on how much stuff you collect, explore or grind. That said, when Evoland shines, it really shines. £1.74 is definitely worth it I would recommend this game if you got the cash cash money laying around, especially if you’re a sucker for this genre and grew up with some of the games that I have mentioned.

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Late Review – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

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I’m so into pirates right now. Like, seriously. Also, I haven’t tried multiplayer yet, so this review is for the single player campaign only.

Ahaaa!
Ahaaa!

If we’re not going to get an Assassin’s Creed game set in Victorian England, then I guess playing as pirates is the next best thing. A prequel of sorts to Assassin’s Creed III, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag has you playing as AssCred III protagonist Conor’s grandfather, Edward Kenway – a Welsh eighteenth century sexy pirate who finds himself caught up in the ongoing Assassin/Templar War. The game opens with the ship that Kenway is on being attacked. After being marooned on an island, he ends up chasing down and killing an Assassin – thus, Kenway’s induction into the Assassin club is a lot less…traditional than previous protagonists, including Conor’s. Despite this chance encounter with an Assassin, Kenway is still an ancestor of dull Desmond, and is therefore related to Ezio and Altair too. So, even though he just happened to stumble on to becoming an Assassin, which I think is kind of cool, it was always in his blood. Perhaps that accounts for his unexplained super agility, skill with weapons, dashing good looks, parkour skills and Eagle Vision, like all the other members of the Desmond bloodline? Perhaps…

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If you have played an Assassin’s Creed game before, which you should have, you’ll know what to expect from Black Flag. The game is actually a reconstruction of Kenward’s memories, thanks to the Animus. At any point in the game, you can get out of the Animus and explore the ‘real world’ (to an extent). In this scenario, you play first person as a faceless, nameless Abstergo employee, aiding the company in creating the ultimate entertainment experience after the success of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation (yeah, it gets pretty meta.) But this is Abstergo, so I don’t trust them for a second and assume they’re actually trying to take over the world.

And this annoying woman.
And this annoying woman.

Back playing Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll spend most of your time climbing up buildings, towers, ships and trees with little-to-no difficulty. You’ll dive from ridiculous heights into conveniently placed hay bails without so much of a scratch. And you’ll kill so many guards in the name of JUSTICE that any morals you had before will be thrown out the window. You’ll also, obviously, see how many ‘innocents’ you can accidentally-on-purposley kill before you are desynchronised. Yes, Black Flag follows the same formula as previous AssCred games, but adds entirely new elements in its open world exploration. Previous Assassin’s Creed titles have had large open maps, but Black Flag’s world is set in the West Indies, and as such about 75% of the map is water, speckled with numerous little islands. This may sound like a boring waste of space, but Black Flag’s naval exploration is where the game really stands out. A couple of hours or so into the game, you gain command of your own ship, the Jackdaw, which can be upgraded with new weapons, armour, figureheads, steering wheels and sails throughout the game, enabling you to create the ship o’ your dreams! Controlling the Jackdaw is a welcome change from the clunky controls that burden Kenward on dry land – you can alter between different speeds, face wind residence, currents and must think quite tactically about how you steel, lest you end up ramming into a small island. There’s no real consequence for this (the ship only takes a small amount of damage from rock-ramming) it does add a few seconds onto your travel time. So if you’re busy and important like me, you’re going to want to steer quite clear. The naval combat is also superior to its land counterpart. Not much has changed in the latter since the last AssCred game – you still pretty much just have to stand there until someone attacks you, then counter it, then win. It gets very stale. But out on the deep blue sea, naval combat demands a whole different pace. The Jackdaw can be equipped with numerous weapons including cannons, fire barrels and giant bolas which must be used systematically to incapacity your watery foe. Weapons have a recharge time, so you can’t just fire them willy-nilly, and you and your enemy are pretty much constantly moving and circling around each other, so timing is very important. Not to mention that they are probably trying to ram and shoot you too. It’s just very satisfying, and weirdly doesn’t get that repetitive. The weather also poses another challenge, and changes dramatically: one minute you might be enjoying a tan on the deck, and the next you’re confronted with an angry maelstrom that’s throwing rouge waves and tornado at you. It’s very atmospheric! And you feel pretty epic navigating your ship through tidal waves and probable death.

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Going back to the map, there is a large number of places to explore. From big towns like Havana, to tiny islands hiding a treasure chest, the world has an awful lot to offer. Too much…some might say. I mean, it’s great, but there are so many tiny islands scattered around with Animus Fragments or chests on that getting them is definitely going to take some time, if you’re a completionist. There are also dive spots that are unlocked further on in the game, allowing Kenward to dive into ruins of sunken ships and underwater caves huntin’ fer treasure. These side missions are an interesting change of pace and scenery, although I have to applaud Edward’s talent to be attacked by sharks, jellyfish, eels and sea urchins all whilst retaining his gigantic lung capacity. It gets a bit silly but I’m sure that can all just be put down to Animus trickery! Also, from the beginning of the game, you can find pretty much all of the collectibles, which is weird when they are then introduced in the story in sequence 3 or 4. It just seems a little bit like the story writers didn’t correspond much with the collectable planners. Additionally, (and this is just a little peeve) at the very beginning of the game you can go around freeing captured pirates, who ‘thank ya, Captain’…but you’re not a captain yet! You’re just a nobody with a hood! But, ah, details…

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The story itself is quite compelling, and I am interested to see where it goes (at point of writing I haven’t actually completed the game yet…). I’m also curious to explore the ‘real world’ and see what the aforementioned Abstergo are actually planning. The characters throughout the story are quite fleshed out, with Edward being a lot more likeable than Conor, even if he is a morally gray scallywag. Like previous Assassin’s Creed titles, and one of the things that draws me to the series, Black Flag‘s alternate history features many real life historical figures, including infamous pirates such as Blackbeard and Charles Vane. But I tend to spend most of my time pursuing the side missions and the dynamic quest system. As well as the aforementioned collectables, there are also Assassin contracts, Templar hunts, whaling (which I always feel very bad about), naval contracts and a few mini games to privilege yourself with. The story and side missions themselves mostly follow the basic Assassin’s Creed principles: following someone, eavesdropping, chasing someone, assassinating someone, infiltrating a restricted area etc. Unfortunately these do become a tad tedious, and whilst many of the missions encourage a stealthy approach in their optional objectives, there is no real consequence if you’re seen; you don’t desynchronise, and as I said the combat itself is pretty easy so you can easily fight off a horde of enemies quite quickly. Also, there are some missions that require you to ‘stealthily’ follow another ship…which is stupid because on the open sea I’m pretty a fat off pirate ship isn’t the most inconspicuous.

Colourful characters indeed!
Colourful characters indeed!

One thing that the Assassin’s Creed games do well is create an atmospheric environment, and Black Flag is no different. The rain and water graphics look amazing, and it’s great to go from running around a tropical island to a busy port town. The weather is brilliant, and on numerous occasions I have found chills running down my spine as I’m chased through foggy waters by a ghostly looking ship. Black Flag is definitely a welcome addition to what is generally a great series. It corrects what Revelations and AC: III did wrong and is definitely up there with AC: II and Brotherhood in my humble opinion. There’s lots to do in a beautiful world, and it just highlights the fact that there really aren’t enough pirate games out there!

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I was wanted. A Hunter emerges from the fog…

Oh, and as it’s Ubisoft, you’re forced to play via uPlay. “What’s your uPlay name?” said no one ever. Gah! Though, I must say, it’s nice that achievements and accomplishments can actually be used to enhance your experience of the game. You have that going for you, uPlay. Well done. But that’s it!

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Lego Marvel Super Heroes Review

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Amazing! Fantastic! Incredible! Mighty! Um…Invincible! Spectacular! Ermm…Superior! Uncanny! Ultimate! It’s LEGO MARVEL SUPERHEROES! I don’t actually know if ‘Super Heroes’ is one word or two – so I’m just going to play it safe and alternate. Anyway, off we go. The Lego games in general set a high standard in family gaming fun. Back in the day, we had the immortal Lego Island 2, Rock Raiders and Lego Racers, to name a few. In the last few years, however, Lego have been focusing on licenced properties– from Star Wars to Harry Potter, Indiana Jones to Batman. Lego Marvel Super Heroes marks the franchise’s first bite into the thick, creamy, sometimes nutty, Marvel universe. And what a great job they do. The game features an original story which, whilst it isn’t going to be the subject of deep discussions on internet forums, does provide a good few hours of entertainment. The story is pretty straightforward – Silver Surfer gets shot out of the sky and drops all of his lovely cosmic bricks. Loki, Doctor Doom, Magneto and various other villains band together to use these bricks for EVIL. Meanwhile, Galactus is heading to earth for a lunch date. It’s simple, sweet and somewhat silly, but it works.  Gameplay follows your standard Lego game procedure – break EVERYTHING. If you have played any of the other franchised games, you’ll know how this works – proceed through the Story Mode, destroying what you can as you go, before returning to each level on Free Play with unlocked characters to cause havoc. Find minikits, collect studs, and rescue Stan Lees in Peril. The story is spread across 15 levels that vary in length, but generally take about 20 – 30 minutes or so to complete, depending on how speedy you are.  Each story mission is pretty diverse, with every level offering a new, interesting environment to play in. There are also 11 side missions which, whilst pretty short, are enjoyable and result in a number of unique character unlocks, shining a light on lesser known characters such as Dormammu and Howard the Duck. Goddamn Howard the Duck… In between missions, you’ll be thrust into the Manhattan hub. Similar to the Gotham City or Middle-Earth hubs that we saw in Lego Batman 2 and Lego Lord of the Rings respectively (though imagine if they were mixed up. There’s some A* fan-fiction right there), this large map holds the keys to unlocking secret characters, missions and vehicles. You’ll probably spend more time here than in the actual story levels, as there is plenty to do – with more content being added as you complete more of the Story Mode.Lego Marvel - characters

The number of characters in Lego Marvel Superheroes is very impressive. The roster – which includes over 140 characters, as well as various alternate costumes – is made up of your standard all-stars such as Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, Spider-Man etc., but it also quite wonderfully includes a menagerie of less mainstream characters like Black Bolt, Union Jack, Silver Samurai and Ronin. So, if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy getting your figurative (I hope) hipster hat on and running around screaming at things (see: Black Bolt). Each character comes with his or her own set of helpful, interesting special abilities: Mr Fantastic can stretch himself into a number of funky objects, Captain America can unlock special ‘shield’ locks, Mystique can shape-shift to bypass security doors, and Hulk…can smash. Of course, some characters share the same powers, but they all play differently, making them feel unique and important in their own special way. Apart from Aunt May. And Mary Jane. And Howard the Duck. Goddamn Howard the Duck…  As well as characters, you can also unlock a large number of boats, cars and planes. But many of these seem redundant – flying characters eliminate the need for boats and planes, and the races that require cars are so easy that you might as well just highjack a standard taxi.

H.E.R.B.I.E is irrelevant too...
H.E.R.B.I.E is irrelevant too…

As with all Lego games since Lego Batman 2, Marvel Superheroes features full voice acting throughout. Overall, it’s very good, with big names like Troy Baker, John DiMaggio and Nolan North make appearances.  Oh, and Clark Gregg is in it playing Phil Coulson. Obviously. Why would you even ask? Despite the great cast line-up, some of the voices are a little…underdeveloped…in comparison to others. Take Loki, for example: Troy Baker does what can only be described as an amazing Tom Hiddleston impression, giving the character a lot of depth and realism. And then, starring opposite him as one of the main antagonists, is Doctor Doom, whose voice sounds like he is talking through a blender. You have Tony Stark, who has great clarity and eloquence. Then you have Magneto, who’s voice seems to alternate between pseudo German and English accents. Come on Nolan North, you can do better than that! At least in Marvel Superheroes his voicing of Deadpool was a lot more traditional, and not like it was in the hugely average Deadpool game – all gruff and rough.

One slight criticism with this game is its level of ease. I know the primary audience for this games is younger children, but have you seen some of the things that kids these days build on Minecraft? Give them some credit! ‘Big’ characters such as Hulk, Thing and Abomination  easily dominate when it comes to any form of combat, and Tony Stark has a suit for every occasion, meaning that if you find yourself stuck in a rut, you probably need to change to some incarnation of Iron Man and use his special ability to continue. This all makes sense, I guess, but there is just no real challenge. Some of the trademark mini kits in Free Play are a little tricky, but they can all be solved if you just think logically. As mentioned, the street races are all very easy, which your opponents accelerating ridiculously quick before slowing down, allowing you to casually drift passed whilst taking in the lovely slights of half-Lego Manhattan. The flying races were a challenge at first – these require you to navigate a flying character (probably Iron Man) through a series of pesky loops – but once you actually figure out that pressing A means ascend and B means descend, you’ve pretty much got it in the bag.

Stan Lee, on the other hand, is quite frankly the best character in the game.
Stan Lee, on the other hand, is quite frankly the best character in the game.

All in all, Lego Marvel Superheroes is a welcome addition to the Lego games family. It’s fun, whacky and full of Marvel comic and film Easter eggs and references. Whilst the Story Mode is relatively easy and not mega long, the real joy comes in Free Play, unlocking characters and just going around destroying shiz. Unlocking 100% will probably take you around 30 hours, and as with all Lego games, it features a drop-in drop-out coop mode, so find some friends and go nuts. With the *SLIGHT SPOILER* Guardians of the Galaxy appearing at the end of the game, warning of an imminent threat, one can only assume that a second Lego Marvel Superheroes can will be on the way soon, and by gosh, it will be greatly anticipated!