Oh, hey there. I hear some sort of video game convention happened? Well, that’s cool. I now have a respectable handful of Playstation 3 games, none of which I have delved very deeply into since I last blogged (also I bought that God of War 5-game collection. I’ve never played a God of War game before, so hopefully I’ll like it, otherwise I just bought a 5-game paperweight) Why? Well, first of all because E3. Second because I’ve somehow managed to devote most of my game console attention towards this one game and random miscellaneous stuff, to my own doom and that of others. But first, stuff!
I haven't noticed Ryan's absence this much since Game of the Year stuff. Jeff did a damn fine job of hosting this stuff and corralling guests on his own though. Still gotta catch up on the days I missed.
Microsoft seems to be making an earnest effort to win people back, but Sony isn’t taking their spot at the lead for granted. Also I am evenly split between a PS4 and XONE for my next generation console of choice at this point. Bloodborne looks like the VanHelsingSouls game I didn’t know I’ve always wanted, but I gotta say that not much else of Sony’s exclusive lineup seems all that exciting. The Order? Eh. It looks pretty. I will willingly play another Halo, if I were to swing the other way.
The games I am most excited for in 2014 are still mostly games that weren't shown at any of those big press conferences (okay, Destiny looks like the game I wish Borderlands could be, so count me in there). At least Josh Sawyer was on the livestream to remind the rest of the world that Pillars of Eternity is a video game that is coming out this year. Also that Civ: Beyond Earth game seems hot. Now all they need to do is fix the problems I had with the AI interactions in Civ V and we will be golden!
I should actively try to get my Wii U down here at school now that games are actually coming out for it. Bayonetta 2 looks incomprehensible, which is exactly what I want out of a sequel to a game I thought was almost too crazy japanese for its own good. Mario Maker could potentially be awesome, I should maybe think about trying Skyward Sword before I decide to play another Zelda game, but A Link Between Worlds was enough for me to get excited about Zelda again.
In the end, I'm still just going to play a bunch of junk that came out 3-4 years ago on my new PS3 and this semi-broken computer this year. Divinity Original Sin comes out at the end of this month and I’m cautiously optimistic about that game. The same goes for Wasteland 2 at the end of August.
Xenonauts: UFO Homage
When I backed it two years ago, I came into Xenonauts knowing they were making a slightly updated version of the original X-COM: UFO Defense. After playing for a few hours, that is… pretty much exactly what it is. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve made meaningful changes (including categorizing weapons in a similar way to new XCOM, with shotguns, LMGs and Sniper Rifles alongside pistols and rifles), but the core gameplay is almost entirely intact. You shoot down UFOs, loot them, your soldiers’ stats improve and eventually you research better armor, weapons and vehicles. As someone who very nearly called X-COM his favorite old game of 2010 (2010? I’ve been here for a while), that is a-ok in my book, because those small changes do matter and make the game more playable in a modern context. Some of the things that soured me on OG X-COM a bit over the years (mind controlling aliens, weapon balance, various interface quirks) seem to have been alieviated or eliminated, though some of those issues I have still remain (optimally managing multiple bases of dudes, UFO interception). Even with those quibbles, after a few hours I was fully on-board with this game. I might be a little more partial to Firaxis’ interpretation of XCOM at this point (if only because it does its own thing instead of mere imitation), but if playing a slightly updated version of the Best Turn Based Strategy Game To Feature Aliens sounds up your alley, maybe you should take a look at this one.
Final Fantasy XIII
What can one say about a game that has already been discussed to death? Nothing new, I imagine. Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Final Fantasy, it’s a topic that always invites a lot of discussion on either side of the fence, regardless of which Final Fantasy game it is. FF XIII is perhaps the most divisive game in the series, assuming that it isn’t VIII or IX instead. After dealing with around 4 years worth of back and forth between the proponents and opponents of this game, I figured I should play it so I could know for myself where I stand on it. Where do I stand on it, after 40-odd hours of playing? READ ON TO FIND OUT.
It’s okay. For a game with a downright abysmal sense of pacing, Final Fantasy XIII holds itself together pretty well. In some ways, it is the utterly clueless “Square doesn’t know how to make games for a modern audience” game its detractors peg it as (of course, the game those same people claim as the redemption of modern Squeenix has its own share of problems), but I think calling it a bad game doesn’t give it enough credit. From a pure gameplay perspective, the first few hours of the game are inexcusably rotten with tutorials doled out at a snail’s pace (not obtaining experience for the first few hours seems like a poor design choice all-around), but after the first few filler-y segments it becomes tolerable. Through the entire first half of the game though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that say… cutting the number of enemy encounters in half (especially early-on when you can sort of cruise through by just mashing the A button over and over again with COM/RAV/RAV or COM/RAV) would straight up make the game better. The game immediately gives you a taste of what is possible with its combat system and 3-man paradigms before yanking that away and having you spend most of those first 20 hours in two-man teams slowly unlocking multiple abilities until finally… around the end of chapter 9, you finally, finally, finally get consistent access to 3 mans and can put whomever you want in your battle team. At around this point I started enjoying the moment-to-moment gameplay a lot more, especially when Chapter 11 rolled around and the game decided to be slightly less linear for a while and the combat started getting appreciably difficult. It’s this second half where the gameplay of FFXIII finally becomes the game it should’ve been the first 20 hours. The combat’s emphasis on macromanagment and quick paradigm shifts finally started paying off in some interesting ways and at that point I was mostly okay with playing the rest of a game I had already resigned myself into finishing. The combat is fun, flashy, maybe a little shallow, but I never got super tired of it.
“But what of the story?” you say, no doubt ready to sharpen your stake or reload your musket (I am a vampire, apparently). Unlike the gameplay, I don’t think the story necessarily gets any better or worse with the passing of time. If we want to talk Final Fantasy, the story of XIII is a very Final Fantasy story. Crystals! The fate of the world! The power of friendship! Giant faux-angelic final bosses! Cursory attempts at thematic and symbolic significance! It’s also… pretty simple, actually. It’s not the most riveting tale, but it’s functional and coherent in the way that most JRPG stories are functional and coherent, a story of cursed individuals figuring out how to deal with the burden placed upon them and their goal of destroying or saving the world. Regardless of that, I got the impression that the aim was for a more character-focused tale, and in that sense FF XIII does alright for itself, in that I thought the main characters were genuinely alright. Maybe I’m secretly a sucker for JRPG Anime melodrama, but I didn’t even mind Hope’s whining all that much. Part of that comes from the ensemble nature, not enough time is spent on any given character to expose their weaknesses, but the localization team and voice actors probably deserve some credit, given that I didn’t cringe nearly as much as I thought I would. Some of the faux-badass stuff Lightning says is a little...ehhhh, and some of the dumb hero stuff Snow says is a little… blehhh, but talent and money were clearly put into this, even if that talent can only go so far. I’ll put it this way: I haven’t played a ton of modern JRPGs that aren't Shin Megami Tensei related. I thought the story and characters in this game were more interesting than the blandtacular cast of Bravely Default.
If you’re detecting some amount of ambiguity in my tone, perhaps to figure out if I like this game or not, I’ll say the same thing I said in my Peace Walker blog: I’m not sure. Final Fantasy XIII is a game with a host of problems. Its opening chapters are inexcusably bad and it takes an offensive amount of time to exercise its full potential in a gameplay sense. But… once it does it’s alright. It’s a beautiful game, that’s certainly part of it. Not just in the sense of being expensive (which it clearly was), but it has that fantastical future/on drugs aesthetic I expect from modern FF, but I even thought the characters and story were okay. Maybe this is all a hint that I’d really like XIII-2, which I bought because I hate myself. Either way, I don’t think I’ve seen the last of Lightning and friends yet…
I’m going to die, aren’t I?