Category: video games

Retro Game Review-Final Fantasy VI by Joe Pro

Hey guys, we have a special treat here, the first guest column on the site, written by longtime friend, even longer time gamer, Joe Pro.    Here he’s going to talk about what makes Final Fantasy VI such a classic video game.   Without further adieu, here we go…!

Final Fantasy VI: A Review

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Growing up in the 1990’s was a completely different time.  There weren’t any “freemium” games, there was no paid DLC…there weren’t any free games at all, really.  And, if your family didn’t have a lot of money, you had to make the most of the games that you did have.  You may have only gotten a new game a couple of times a year, a birthday, Christmas as well if you’re lucky.

One game that really stands out for me from my childhood is Final Fantasy VI, on the Super Nintendo, (called Final Fantasy III here in America, but for the sake of this review, I’ll call it Final Fantasy VI, since it was the sixth game in the series. )

It’s hard to know where to start a review of a game of this epic magnitude, but let’s start from the beginning. The game opens up with a scene depicting the aftermath of the War of the Magi, which had happened a thousand years prior to the opening of the game.  Magic had once been in abundance in this world, but it was no more, or so it seemed.  I’ll try to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, because there are plot twists in this game unlike any I had ever seen before, or since.  If you’re into good, story driven games, this one is definitely for you.

You wouldn’t expect to find good graphics on a 16-bit Super Nintendo game from the early 90’s, but don’t discount this one just yet.  Squaresoft took their time with this game, and it really shows.  I’ve seen newer games that opt for a “retro” feel, that couldn’t even begin to compare to the beauty that is Final Fantasy VI.  Sprite based characters or not, this game is downright beautiful.  Whether it’s the hand drawn backgrounds, or the feeling of actually flying in the airship, there is something quite astonishing about the way this game looks.   Unlike other RPG’s of the time, there is no shortage of special effects in this game, from the battle sequences, to the characters showing emotions by flying all over the screen, they made this game truly unique.  2-D or not, this game is stunning in it’s delivery.

 

 

I couldn’t easily talk about the graphics of a game, without mentioning the soundtrack.  Longtime Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu handles the scoring duties in this game once again, and, like John Williams composing Star Wars themes, he does not disappoint.  Many have said this is his masterwork, and I am one in that camp.  Every single tune he composed is packed full of emotions, meant to draw the players into the world of the characters they are playing.    Whether it’s the feeling of despair at the death of a friend, or the energy that comes with piloting an aircraft for the first time, the music in this game will hit you hard, and those feelings will stick with you for the rest of your life.

It truly is unforgettable, and even as I’m writing this review now I’m listening to “Kids Run Through The City Corner”, and in my mind, I’m immediately transported to a peaceful town with a river flowing through it, on my way to buy potions.  Even if you never play this game, I strongly encourage you to listen to the soundtrack.  There could have been no better fitting music for this game, in my opinion.

 

Many recent games have moved away from the active time battle combat system, in favor of a more real-time based system.  Now, I’ll admit, a real-time combat system may be more realistic than turn based combat, but there are things that you sacrifice in the name of “realism” though.  The combat system in the game encourages you to use your brains, not just your brawn.

There are many strategies needed throughout the game, to be successful against the myriad of enemies that they throw at you on your quest.  Simply running into a battle, Leroy Jenkins style, will quickly land you on the game over screen.  This is as much a tactical game as it is a role playing game.  Yet, it doesn’t pad the game’s length by adding unnecessary battles.  There are just enough battles along the way to level up your characters to the point where you can advance through the game, and if you’re looking to grind in this game, you have to go out of your way to do so.

The pace of the game is set so that it will keep your attention throughout the entire game, with the few heavy moments padded with levity.  Now, it’s not to say that you won’t get frustrated during your time with it.  There may be a few times when you want to  set the controller down, walk away, and pick the game up at some future point in time.  However, even during the hardest portions of the game, getting past the challenges set before you always feels rewarding.

As I said, I wanted to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, so I’m going to try to refrain from talking about the characters as much as possible.  However, I will say that in doing so, I’m omitting one of the strongest portions of the game.  There is a large cast of characters in this game, and, although they are only 2-D sprites onscreen, the writing in this game is so superb that you will become attached to those 2-D sprites.  You’ll laugh with them, you’ll cry with them, and it will tear you apart when you reach the end, and realize you’ll never see them again.

 

To try and sum up my review would indeed be a challenge.  This game, in my opinion, is a must play for any gamer looking to broaden their horizons.  If you’re into story rich games, Final Fantasy VI is a must own.  The biggest flaw I’ll say the game has is that it’s too short.  I was able to beat it in under 100 hours, and as a then 8 year old boy with almost nothing else to play,that seemed too short for me.  This game is the one I always point to when I hear friends say that video games can’t be art.  For all these reasons, and more, this is why I chose to review Final Fantasy VI first.  If you’ve never played it before, I hope I have convinced you to check it out.  If you don’t happen to have a Super Nintendo handy, you can also pick it up on Game Boy Advance, the Nintendo Virtual Store, PS1, PSN, or even on your mobile device on iOS/Android.   My final rating for FFVI is  ***** out of 5 Stars.

 

You can find Joe Pro on Twitter at @Joepro8778

 

Gamer Geek Review: Batman-The Telltale Series

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Growing up, I loved the old Choose Your Own Adventure series.  If you’re not as old as me, they were a book series that put you, the reader, as the main character of whatever story you were reading, and they put you in these extraordinary situations, from time travel, to a post apocalyptic world to anything in between.    And, as you’re reading this book, you get to make decisions that affect the course of the story.  It’d say something like “To open the treasure chest turn to page 35, or  to ignore the chest and move on turn to page 42”  and sometimes there were bad outcomes, and you would die a horrible death, but others there weren’t.  There was no wrong way to read one of these books, except perhaps in chronological order.

The games that Telltale makes are the Choose Your Own Adventures for a new era.  I got hooked on them really a couple years ago, when at Christmastime they had a sale on the Telltale collection on the Xbox store.  $50 for all the major releases they’d put out til this point all 2.5 series of The Walking Dead game,  The Wolf Among Us, Tales From The Borderlands and Game of Thrones.

And that was where the majority of my holiday break was spent that year getting absorbed into these worlds, playing these characters and feeling like I know them, getting into playing a character like you’ve never been able to before, by actually playing them, not by pushing a button to make them jump or punch, but getting in their head.  It’s an ingenious method of storytelling that sets them apart from any other gaming company out there.

I longed for the day when they would come out with a superhero game, something from Marvel or DC, that would change the game for superhero stories in video games.  And then, they announced that they would be doing a Batman game in 2016.  I got really excited at this point.  Batman to me has always been a favorite character, since the Superfriends days, into the darker Tim Burton one that I saw opening day when I was 9.   There have been some great Batman games over the years, namely the Arkham series, and those games you truly felt what it was like to be Batman, and punching the crap out of bad guys is amazing, but you don’t get to really feel what it’s like to be Bruce Wayne/Batman until you play this game.

By this point in your life you should already know what type of gamer you are, if you like story based stuff, or is it more about the game play.  If you’re looking for great game play this isn’t the game for you, nor are anything that Telltale does really.  But if you’re like me, and you love to play and watch great stories, then this is something you should look into.  Especially as a Batman fan.

This game is set early on in Batman’s career, Jim Gordon is still a Detective on the force, and Gotham isn’t quite sure what to make of this Bat-Man that’s prowling the streets at night. Along the way you encounter such familiar Batman characters such as Harvey Dent, here still an optimistic District Attorney who’s running for Mayor,  his new girlfriend Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman)  and more, along with some new characters such as Lady Arkham, who really makes an impact in this game.  But I don’t want to talk too much on the plot, and just let you figure that out for yourself.

One of the elements about the game I like the most is, it lets you figure out what  type of Batman you are, and what type of Bruce you are will determine how the rest of the story goes.  The writers here pull from all eras of The Dark Knight here.  Are you the borderline psychotic Batman of the DC Cinematic Murder-verse, or are you the stoic defender of Gotham?    And anything in between.  Same goes for Bruce Wayne, you decide which one is the real mask basically.

I can tell you on my playthrough I alternated back and forth, just playing the Batman that I like, a mix of the two, but you can do it your way.   The writing team here on this game crafts some great story and dialogue choices for you, led by a great voice acting cast including Troy Baker as Bruce Wayne/Batman, who may just be the first voice actor to ever portray both Batman and The Joker in two different franchises.  Baker was the voice of the Clown Prince of Crime in the (underrated in my opinion) Arkham Origins game.

The game isn’t without it’s technical faults however though, there are portions of the game, each episode early on that are choppy as hell, and in my opinion, borderline unplayable, but thankfully the glitches smooth themselves out before the first action scenes are up, it does get annoying though and I really wish Telltale developers would fix that in future games.

This game is, in my opinion, right up there with the Arkham series as far as a definitive video game of the character, but a different side.  One where you actually can show off the World’s Greatest Detective title forreal, and not just world’s greatest puncher of faces.   I look forward to seeing what they do with the Guardians of the Galaxy series when that comes out in a few months.    Nor can I wait for them to announce the second season of this game, which I hope it gets.  Still waiting on a Wolf Among Us season 2.  But we’ll see where this story goes.

 

 

Reel Geek Review: Batman from Telltale Games Episode 1

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I’ve been a huge fan of Telltale Games output since they dropped the first episode of their game set in the world of The Walking Dead comic book a few years ago for free, then I went back and played the whole game and was just sucked into that world.    And as far as being a Batman fan, well that goes back years to the time when Scooby Doo and the gang met Batman and Robin, so I’m no Robin come lately to the Dark Knight either, so I know what I’m talking about when I say that this is one of the best explorations of the character in any medium.   Not to discount the Arkham series, which was phenomenal (I even liked the non Rocksteady produced Arkham Origins, mainly for the inclusion of The Joker, and the performance that Troy Baker did there, whom here takes his turn in the opposite side of that coin as Bruce Wayne/Batman.

If you haven’t played one of their games before, it’s not your typical video game.  It’s similar to the old point and click adventure games such as Maniac Mansion or Sam and Max that were popular on PC’s in the 1990s,  it’s story driven, and you choose the dialogue your character says at integral times in the game, and the choices you make affect how the story plays out, who lives, who dies, who tells your story in some cases, to quote the Hamilton soundtrack.

In previous Batman games we’ve felt what it’s like to be Batman as being badass Batman, and we get that here too, but we also get the sense even moreso of being Batman as a person, as the focus is on Bruce Wayne here, both in and out of the suit.    It’s set early on in Batman’s career, like around his second year on the job or so, and Harvey Dent (Travis Willingham) is running for Mayor opposite the corrupt present mayor Hamilton Hill.  And there are also this Batman’s first encounter with Catwoman (Laura Bailey) and perennial early career Batman foe mobster Carmine Falcone (Richard Mcgonagle).  I don’t want to spoil too much of the story as that’s what the game is built up around, but it’s an intriguing take.

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One of the aspects I loved most about the gameplay is with the different dialogue options you can play Batman/Bruce Wayne however you like,  whether you want to be the dark and violent Dark Knight style Batman, or if you want to be the more superheroic Batman, the choice is yours.  I myself like to mix the two up a bit throughout the game, as I’m playing it like he’s still early on in his career, so there’s no Robin yet to lighten his mood up just yet.  And much like Christian Bale’s take on the character in the Nolan movies, you really get the sense of the character that millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne is the real mask, and Batman is his true self.

The graphics are the same cel shaded graphics that we’ve gotten in previous games, that really feel as though you’re playing a comic book come to life, and the game play is fast and fun as well, with a few quick time events in the action scenes which never feel overplayed or distracting from the game itself, which is nice.

It’s only the first episode, but I’m already hooked and waiting to see how the rest of the series plays out.   And if you haven’t played any of the other games yet I highly reccomend you do so, especially The Walking Dead games and The Wolf Among Us (their take on the amazing graphic novel series, Fables) .    Til next time, be sure to keep it Reel.  ***** Five out of five stars.

 

Reel Geek Review Time: Quantum Break

 

Greetings fellow geeks, this past weekend I finished up the new video game Quantum Break, from the makers of Max Payne 1-2 and Alan Wake, and figured I’d share my thoughts on the experience.  No spoilers, for those of you that haven’t played.   So, without further adieu, here we go.

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So, since Alan Wake, Remedy’s last game, the studio has really been influenced with the episodic nature of genre shows,  that cliffhanger, binge worthy nature that good television has, and this game takes that combined with an innovative, albeit, short action thriller.

The plot of Quantum Break gets a little convoluted, but it’s nothing that people familiar with time travel shows or movies won’t be able to follow.   It starts out with Jack Joyce played by Shawn Ashmore (X-Men, The Following) returning to his hometown after some years away to visit his friend Paul Serene, (played by Aiden Gillen of Game of Thrones fame) who’s had a breakthrough in his latest experiment, well his and Jack’s brother William (Dominic Monaghan from Lost and Lord of the Rings) have completed a time machine.

After testing the time machine on himself, Paul Serene emerges but 17 years older, grayer, a bit more evil than he was prior to the machine, and from there all hell breaks loose.   As it turns out, the machine’s turn on started a fracture in the fabric of time which will eventually end all of time itself.  Some goons with guns burst in, and Jack and Will are on the run.  It turns out also that this same experiment also gave Jack special abilities to manipulate time, rewinding some aspects of it, freezing time, and essentially super speed not too dissimilar from the Quicksilver scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

And along the way some allies are met, and some alliances formed, and the game play is fun, fast, and only a little bit frustrating at times.     The game is divided up into Five episodes, with each episode of game play taking roughly about an hour or so.  After each episode is complete, well the first four at least, you’re presented with a section where you play as Paul Serene, and using his own time abilities, you’re given a choice as to what Monarch (the evil company that Paul runs)  is to do next, which affects how the game’s story plays out, and then once that choice is made, we’re presented with a short live action segment, a mini episode of Quantum Break:the series, where some of the ramifications to the action in the video game portion, and your choices as Paul come to light, and that part of the game is just as entertaining as the video game part.

Lance Reddick of The Wire and Fringe frame plays the mysterious Martin Hatch in both the show and the game, Paul’s colleague who may be more than he seems.   The other actors in the show portion aren’t any name actors, but they all deliver great performances, the show is just as binge worthy as anything else you’d find on Netflix.

And that’s about all I’ll say on what the game is, it’s best left for you to see for yourself.  As far as my judgement goes, it’s an overall, fun, albeit short game, maybe 12 hours max, but it has a lot of replay value, to see what different choices do to the story, and to hopefully answer some questions that for me were still unanswered when I finished the game yesterday.       The controls are smooth, graphics are fantastic, especially in the cut scenes, had some uncanny valley stuff going on there for a few seconds.  Only thing I really didn’t like about the game was that plot wise it left some things unanswered, and could really have benefited from a fifth episode of the show wrapping things up rather than the ending the game presented me with. Some minor plot holes towards the end as well, and unanswered questions that I’m not sure are the result of JJ Abrams style writing (leaving things unanswered for a later season, or in this case game) or just that I need to play it through again to get these questions answered.  Overall though I’ll give Quantum Break an 8/10.  In a world of clones of the same thing over and over again, it’s nice to see something refreshing hit the game market, albeit a flawed one.