Adz Plays... Final Fantasy IV

Another Final Fantasy done and dusted. Final Fantasy IV is only the second FF game that I've conquered, so it's been a pretty eventful year for me. So, what did I make of it? Read on and find out...

(For reference, I played through the Playstation version that came in the European Edition of Final Fantasy Anthology, so it's faithful to the original SNES game. No extra dungeons or mechanics. It was the only version I had on me at the time. I've used a few GBA screenshots in this blog, as the selection wasn't great for the SNES version.)

Story

The main character is a dark knight by the name of Cecil. Right at the beginning, he questions whether he should be killing innocent people in order to capture crystals for the king. After a particularly bad event, he decides enough is enough and quits being a dark knight. The rest of the game focusses on Cecil's journey around the world and teaming up with various characters for the greater good. There's only so much I can say without spoilers, so I'll stop there.

For me, the characters really shined through. This was something that I didn't think FFV had, so it's a bit odd for the predecessor to succeed with it. Even with the simple 16-bit graphics, it's clear to imagine how the characters are reacting in certain scenes. In fact, I preferred the story overall. It goes in some very interesting directions. Maybe a bit cliched, but it doesn't really harm the story.

As with most (all?) of the early FF games, a lot of the plot revolves around protecting crystals. As far as I'm aware, this stopped beyond FFV. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what ultimately happens to the crystals. This isn't really a complaint, but it's something to be aware of.

Gameplay

The core gameplay is the very definition of Japanese role-playing games. There isn't any unique features in FFIV such as the job system. It really is a simple case of levelling your characters in battle to make them stronger. You don't even need to buy magic. It just appears whenever your characters hit a specific level. This makes levelling a pretty straight forward task, as you don't need to worry about other systems. Perhaps not as fun as FFV's job system, but certainly easier.

The version I played had a limited inventory. There was a total of 40 slots for items. While identical items can stack (except equipment), you cannot have more than 40 different items at one time. Thankfully, you can store items in a Fat Chocobo. Fat Chocobo's can be found within Chocobo Forests. You only require a Gysahl Green to call it (which are very inexpensive). You'll definitely need to store items from time to time. Selling old equipment helps, but there are plenty of items you'll want to keep hold of for later. It's worth noting that newer versions of FFIV either provide more space for items or eliminate the need for item storage entirely.

As with most FFs, you'll need to do some grinding at some point. Having played other FF games, I did a lot of voluntary levelling to make things easier for myself. This certainly helped for a lot of the game. Only two or three bosses proved to be challenging. You might get more of a challenge by levelling naturally, but I think that would only get you so far. However, unless you level ridiculously high, the final boss will always be a stern test. It really lives up to other bosses in the series.

Throughout the game, you'll often find yourself with different party members. I found it to be a pretty interesting way of doing things, as it kept me guessing as to who would join next. You may find some characters a bit underlevelled at first, but you'll also get some who are overlevelled from the get-go, so it balances out. However, you're not given the choice to switch characters at any point. You've got to go with whatever the game gives you at certain points in the story. There's one particular character I would have liked to have used more (Yang), but he didn't feature in the final party.

Like my experience with FFV, it's not always obvious what to do next. You'll get the occasional shove in the right direction, but it can be very unclear at times. For example, there was a part where I had to use a certain item at a location that was a bit of the way. Unless I missed it, there's no in-game indication of this. Had I not checked a walkthrough, I'd have never worked it out. Didn't really ruin my overall experience, but it was a problem from time to time.

Presentation

It was the first FF game of the SNES era, but you wouldn't know it from looking at the graphics. While it perhaps shows its age elsewhere, it's pretty much on par with V and VI visually. Like the later SNES games, it makes use of Mode 7 for the overhead scenes. All the sprites are nicely done, too. They certainly evoke a lot of character with their simple, but effective movements.

The music is nothing short of what you'd expect from the series. Unlike FFV's soundtrack, there's no real lowpoints I can think of. It's all wonderfully composed by Nobuo and the rest of the music team. There's definitely some tracks that I'll listen to outside the game.

As the Playstation version has loading whenever you want to return to your save, they've added some humourous animations to make the wait more bearable. On load times, they're not as bad as you may think. I certainly remember them being a big issue whenever I played some old FFs on the PS2, but it wasn't really noticable this time round. Either the PS3 fixes it somewhat or this particular version of FF4 didn't have the problem to start with. I can't say for sure.

Conclusion

I think FFIV deserves to be regarded as one of the premier Final Fantasy games. While there's nothing particularly special about the gameplay, the story definitely makes up for it. It has a pretty diverse storyline with some interesting twists. Definitely worth checking out if you're a keen JRPG player.

As I mentioned, I played the Playstation version, but there a lot of other versions. Other than the SNES, it also came out on the GBA, PSP and DS. All three of these versions offer extra content and updated graphics. While I have no idea which one is superior, it might be worth looking at those versions if you ever want to play the game yourself. The PSP version apparently came with FFIV: After Years, but I couldn't really tell you anything about it (other than it was originally a mobile game).

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Other Stuff

The next game I'll be playing is To The Moon. As it's only a short game, I'll be making some time to play it in one go. Heard a lot of great things about it, so I have high hopes. Due to the nature of the game, I won't be blogging about it. I may comment on it in a status update, but that's about it. It seems like the kind of game that would be spoiled by talking about it. If I like it, I'll certainly recommend it.

After that, I'll be tackling Persona 3 Portable. This will be my first experience with Persona 3, as I never played any of the PS2 versions. I'll be going with the female route, as I've heard it's the best for social links. It's a feature I really liked in Persona 4. As the game is on the very long side, I may end up playing another game in tandem. I'll be fully focussing on P3P to start with, then I'll see how I feel over time. At any rate, I'll be playing it into the new year.

And Finally...

This will probably be the last 'Adz Plays...' of the year, so I'd like to take this opportunity to say thanks to everyone who's read my blogs this year. It's really helped me to stick with it. My format has changed a bit since of the start of the year. I'm still open to more changes in the future, but I think this format is going well so far.

I've already got some games lined up for next year. What will I end up playing? Who knows...

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Adz Plays... LA Noire

Story

The game takes place in late-1940s Los Angeles. You play as Cole Phelps, a police officer with World War 2 experience. He starts off as a patrolman, but it doesn't take long for him to be promoted to Detective. While you initially work in the 'Traffic' department, you get switched to other departments when the time is right.

The story is broken up into cases. Along with focusing on the case at hand, you also get to learn about a bit more about Cole, his partner and the other characters involved with the case. All the characters feel human. This is down to a mixture of good writing and the face-tracking hardware they decided to use. Between cases, you'll also get filled in with Cole's past during World War 2. Each intermission shows a short flashback from his time in the army, which eventually creates a bigger picture. They're worth paying attention to.

The game deals with a lot of subjects that most games would be scared of even touching, which I applaud them for. I really liked the boundaries they pushed. I'll leave you to find out what I mean by that...

Gameplay

The game is set in an open world, much like Rockstar's other big hits. You're able to explore a slightly changed version of 1940s Los Angeles. While the map is apparently very accurate to LA at the time, some of the names have been changed. It doesn't have the interactivity of GTA or Red Dead, but it doesn't fall short of the detail you'd expect. If driving around isn't your thing, you can ask your partner to drive to locations of interest (and you won't miss any conversations).

As mentioned before, the game is split up into cases. At the start of each case, you'll need to investigate the evidence at the scene. New clues are pointed out with a sound effect and the controller rumbling. Not everything in the scene pertains to the case, but it's clear which items are whenever you discover them. You'll also need to acquire some information via telephone. It's in your best interest to find as many clues as possible. Some clues are very important, as they can be later used against a suspect.

Yep, it's Parkman from Heroes

Another key part of the game is interviewing witnesses and suspects. This is where facial expressions and body language come into play. You can ask people certain questions that relate to the investigation. Once they've given their answer, you can decide to take it as the truth or push them for a truthful answer. You can also accuse them of outright lying, but you'll need solid evidence. If you annoy the interviewee too much, they'll refuse to talk to you any further. It's all a case of looking at them, then making a decision based on their movements. Some people are very easy to read, while others require a bit more effort. I had a lot of trouble with it, I won't lie. I had to really think hard when it came to that part. Still, it was pretty satisfying whenever I got the correct answer.

Some investigations require more elaborate puzzle solving. An early case sees you assembling a device together, for example. I enjoyed the puzzles like that, as they provided a bit of variety from the standard investigation routine.

Aside from investigating, you'll often be required to deal with situations typical of the GTA games. These include gunfights, chasing down a suspect on foot or in a car, brawling and tailing a suspect. They add a nice element of action to the game and makes it feel like a crime thriller of the era.

While you're doing a case, you'll also get a chance to respond to dispatch calls. These are little extra missions made up of gameplay you'll encounter during the main cases. For example, you may be expected to chase down a criminal or neutralise a gunfight. Admittedly, I only did two of them during my playthrough, but they seem alright if you want to get a bit extra out of the game.

In some ways, LA Noire is a bit like Heavy Rain. While the gameplay is a lot more involved, it's possible to carry on with the story if you mess up with parts of the investigation. Of course, it's ideal to pick up all the clues and get as much as you can from interviews, but you can still go forward. You only have to restart a segment if you lose a fistfight, get shot down, fail to catch a suspect on the run or fail to escape a dangerous situation. While your decisions have an effect on the case at hand, don't expect them to change the overall story.

Presentation

The attention to detail is pretty much what you'd expect from Rockstar's pedigree. The world is well-realised and the accompanying soundtrack suits the era to a tee. It's obvious they did a great amount of research into the era and material based around it.

The game makes spectacular use of face-tracking hardware. While it's not photo-realistic, it definitely adds an extra layer of depth that most games don't have. The facial expressions look extremely convincing. Upon completing the game, I looked up the cast and I was able to say 'Oh! He was that guy!' just by looking at their stock photo. Can't wait to see what the next-generation of consoles has in store for the techology...

As much the game focuses on believability, the AI sometimes reminds you that it's just a game. During a chase scene, the suspect kept bumping into people and falling to the ground. Due to it being scripted, I was unable to apprehend him even though he had clearly stopped. Sure enough, he was able to run further. Your partner also tends to crash the car whenever you ask him to drive, which looks a bit silly while you're discussing the case with him. It's unfortunate, but understandable.

Perhaps my only general complaint about the presentation is the lack of noir-style narration. This is actually present early in the game, but it doesn't last very long. It would have been nice if they threw in a bit more. Just a minor complaint, though.

Conclusion

I'd been meaning to play LA Noire for a while...and it didn't disappoint. Rockstar really know how to put games together. I really hope there's a follow up to it. Seeing how well-received it was, I'd be very surprised if there isn't. If you're a fan of crime-solving fiction or you're just curious about the unique gameplay features, LA Noire is well worth your time.

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Other Stuff

As promised, my next game will be Timeshift. Not expecting fireworks from it, but we'll see. From what little I've played so far, it's playable. It also has some nice graphics. The time control stuff seems a bit fiddly, but it's pretty cool. Maybe I'll get used to it in time (no pun intended).

I SHOULD be able to start FFIV if I complete Timeshift in a reasonable amount of time (again, no pun intended...). I'm supposed to be visiting my brother around Xmas, so I'm not sure how much time I'd have for it up there. He's not a big RPG fan, so I'd rather just play stuff we'd both be interested in (mainly action titles). My last FF game, V, took around a month to complete, so I'm pretty hopeful about getting it out of the way before then. I'll keep you posted on the situation.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it. Can't see it being too long before the next entry.

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Adz Plays... Stranglehold

My blogs have been appearing thick and fast lately. There WILL be a bigger break between this and my next one (due to the game I'll be playing).

Story

The game acts a sequel to Hard Boiled, John Woo's action film from 1992. You play as Tequila (Chow Yun Fat), a renegade cop in Hong Kong. The game starts with Tequila knowingly walking into a trap. He hopes to save a police officer, but it doesn't take long for him to find out he's already been executed. He then walks further out of line by deciding to take down some drug labs without official permission. However, things quickly start to get a lot more personal...

The story is pretty typical of an action film (John Woo seemed to have a lot of input with it). It's not particularly sophisticated, but it does the job. However, I feel it suffers because of the slow pacing early in the game. I found it very hard to get into the story due to the gaps between cut-scenes. I'll explain why in the 'gameplay' section. Also, a lot of the early scenes seemed a bit of all over the place. At any rate, the story was never going to win any awards.

I'm not sure if watching Hard Boiled would have helped me to get into the story more. I'd like to watch it at some point, as I hear it's pretty good (even had some special effects later used in The Matrix).

Gameplay

Stranglehold is a 3rd Person Shooter. If you're familiar with Max Payne, it plays a lot like that. As well as normally shooting people, you can also slow down time to take down enemies in style. There are plenty of objects in the environments to pull off some very stylish kills. You get a variety of weapons throughout the game, such as assault rifles, shotguns and submachine guns.

Unfortunately, the 'bullet-time' (or Tequila-time, as it's known in the game) doesn't always work as you'd like it to. Time usually slows down automatically when you dive while targeting an enemy, but it sometimes fails to activate (even if the meter is still full). This usually occurs with enemies who are slightly hidden behind cover. 'Tequila-time' can be activated manually with the RB button, but it's still frustrating when you get shot to pieces because of it not behaving like it should.

In addition to slowing down time, you also get 'Tequila bombs', which are abilities you can activate with the D-Pad. The Tequila bomb meter fills up as you kill enemies. It fills up quicker if you chain a lot of stylish kills. You can also replenish it a bit with paper cranes that appear throughout the stages. Not all of the abilities are unlocked at the start, but they all appear pretty early in the game. The first ability gives you a little bit of health. The second is 'Precision Aim', which allows you to one-shot kill enemies from a distance. The third is 'Barrage', which gives you unlimited ammo for a short period of time. You're also invulnerable for the duration of it. The last is 'Spin Attack', which kills all of the enemies around you (as well as making doves appear, which is a reference to a scene in 'Hard Boiled').

Early in the game, the level design isn't great. I spent a lot of time going back and forth not knowing how to advance. This is down to the game not being terribly clear about things. In one of the stages, I got really frustrated with it. I eventually found out I had to shoot a very obscured barrel to create a path. Shootable objects are usually marked with a glint...but even the glint was barely visible! As a result of things like this, I think the pacing of the game suffered. Thankfully, the level design gets a lot better as the game goes on. It makes you wonder if they just got to grips on things later in development and didn't make any tweaks to the early stages.

Presentation

Graphically, it's a bit mixed. I seem to remember it looking pretty good when it originally came out. However, it hasn't aged particularly well. Don't get me wrong; some of the scenes look fine. There's a nice moody scene with rain that looks really nice. While the characters models are alright most of the time, the faces look a bit weird in some parts. I'm not sure if it's just a case of the textures loading (it's the Unreal 3 Engine, after all).

Conclusion

Stranglehold doesn't really have anything special going for it. I would say it's worth it if you're looking for a cheap game to kill some time with, but it's hard to recommend when better games are around the same price now. It's not terrible, but it's not great either. If there wasn't some degree of fun to it, I would have just stopped playing.

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What's next?

I recently managed to get hold of LA Noire and Timeshift for about £12 together. I'll be playing LA Noire first, as I've been meaning to play it for a while. I've seen and heard great things. As for Timeshift, I'm curious about it. It seems to have mixed reviews, but I remember it being recommended in my 'Time Travel' blog a while back. At £3, I won't have too much of a problem if it's not that great.

After those two, DEPENDING on how I feel....I might go for another JRPG. Strongly considering Final Fantasy IV at the moment. I'll see...

...and if you've been looking at my profile lately, you would have seen that I've played a bit of Sleeping Dogs. My brother is down for a visit, so we've been playing a bit of that together. I'm not likely to complete it before he goes back, but I plan to borrow it off him in January, so I'll be covering it early next year.

Other Plans

Towards the end of the year, I'll probably do a special blog where I'll look back on the games I've completed. I'll also talk about the games I'll want to get my hands on in 2013 (upcoming releases and old). I might throw in some 'awards', too. It could turn out to be a pretty lengthy blog.

As always, thanks for reading. Another blog in a few weeks or so, I reckon.

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Adz Plays... Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

...told you it wouldn't be too long. XD I must admit, I wasn't quite expecting to finish Enslaved only a day after my Yakuza 4 blog. I had no trouble getting back into Enslaved and I managed to complete the remainder of the game within three and a half hours. I had a good time doing so.

Story

You play Monkey, who gets 'enslaved' by a woman called Trip. Using a slave headband, she forces Monkey to take her back to her hometown. He cannot kill her or wander too far from her, as it would result in his death. As you would expect, it's not something he's initially happy about. He begrudgingly helps her out.

The story is loosely based on 'Journey to the West', the old Chinese novel ('loosely' being the key word). It is set in post-apocalyptic Earth. The ruins of once flourishing cities are full with over-grown vegetation. Robots are all over the place. Unfortunately, none of them are friendly. This is apparently the result of a huge war. In addition, the remaining humans are being enslaved.

Overall, I found the story very enjoyable. The constant banter between the characters was pretty amusing and the pacing is nicely done. However, the ending felt a bit incomplete. It wasn't terrible, but it could have been better. It's almost as if they had further plans for it. For those of you who have already played it, I've included my full thoughts on it...

I thought the ending provided a nice little twist, with the AI offering an enjoyable life for the 'slaves' (albeit at the cost of destroying the real world). It was a little odd with Andy Serkis on the main screen, but the collectable masks hinted at something like that. The reason why it felt a bit unfinished was because it ended after Trip said 'Have I done the right thing?' without any answers. There also wasn't any real closure to Monkey and Trip's relationship, which seemed to be going somewhere midway through the game. It's a pity, but it didn't ruin my overall enjoyment of the game.

Gameplay

The exploration in the game is very similar to that of the Uncharted games. Monkey often needs to traverse across beams and climb up precarious walls. Like Uncharted, it's handled very fluidly. It's clear where you need to jump to next and it feels satisfying.

Trip cannot fend for herself, so you'll often need to clear out areas before she can advance. Her only form of defense is an EMP blast, which temporarily disables her attackers. You'll need to be quick to defeat them after that, though. You'll also need to throw her up to or across other platforms if the distance is too much for her. Despite being unable to fight, she offers assistance in the form of making mines visible, creating a decoy and providing upgrades to Monkey's stats and weapons.

Speaking of upgrades, the currency comes in the form of glowing orange orbs, so it's a good idea to collect as much as you can while you explore the areas. Upgrades include increased health, faster health regeneration, shield improvements and improvements to your weaponry. Upgrades are initially quite cheap, but they escalate quickly as you improve things.

The close-quarters combat seems to have a lot of depth. I personally didn't take advantage of the more advanced moves (such as countering), but it was easy enough for me to get by. I also didn't have any problems with the staff's projectile weapon (which has 'Plasma' or 'Stun' ammo). Not all enemies can simply be whacked to death, however. If they have a shield, you'll need to attack them from the rear or stun them. Some enemies even require 'takedowns', which is usually just a button press after dealing enough damage to them. Doing this may also give you advantage against other enemies nearby. It's possible to avoid combat entirely in some stealth sections of the game, but most of the time you'll have to deal with the threat head-on.

Later in the game, you'll also be introduced to the 'cloud', an electronic device that allows Monkey to travel across water or across land at a faster pace (I personally like this take on Journey to the West's cloud). You can only use it at certain locations. It also appears during the chase scenes.

Presentation

The graphics in the game are pretty stunning. The landscapes are beautifully rendered. Easily one of the best-looking games this generation. It is occasionally let down by the textures loading (a common feature of games using the Unreal 3 Engine), but it's not too much of a problem.

Monkey is voiced by Andy Serkis (Gollum in Lord of the Rings, as well as some other game roles), who does a great job. Lindsey Shaw (Trip's voice actress) is perhaps less known, but she still manages a convincing performance. Both of them also provided motion-capture data, which only helps the storytelling.

Conclusion

Enslaved is a great game. I can't think of many flaws (and the flaws it does have are pretty minor). As I've said many times before, I'm not a huge of fan of games with a lot of combat, but I had no problems with Enslaved's offering. If you do choose to play it, you'll be rewarded with a rich storyline full of action and some great acting.

As always, thanks for reading. I'll be covering another game fairly soon.

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Adz Plays... Yakuza 4

While waiting for the 360 to arrive, I decided to have a good shot at Yakuza 4. I bought it a while ago and even played a little bit, but something else came up. This time, I have seen it through to completion....and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a real ride.

Story

The story takes place in the fictional district of Kamurocho, which is roughly based on Kabukicho in Shinjuku, Japan. You initially play as Shun Akiyama, a loaner with some pretty unique conditions. Instead of repayment, he only expects his clients to pass a test of his making. If they pass, they get the money. Simple as.

You will play as various characters as the story progresses (which is pretty much apparent from the intro). Each 'part' (split up with 'chapters') has their own character. Each character has their own story to tell, but they're all somehow involved with the overarching storyline. All the stories weave together nicely and form the overall picture.

I really enjoyed the story. Some of it was predictable, while other scenes took me by surprise. There's more twists than a plate of fusilli pasta. I really don't want to say too much about the storyline. All I will say is that some big stuff goes down between various Yakuza clans. As you might expect, they don't like to mess around...

Gameplay

Yakuza 4 is a brawler set in an open world environment. A lot of the time, you're going to be fighting off enemies in direct combat. There are projectile weapons occasionally, but you'll be mainly fighting either with your fists or anything that's lying around. I'm not a huge fan of repetitive fighting games, but the combat in this game feels very satisfying. Even when I was fighting wave after wave of enemies, I didn't get bored. For me, that's really something.

Each character has their own fighting-style. They also have various abilities to unlock as they level up. You get to choose which abilities they learn by spending soul points, which you get 3 of each time you level up. Some unlock completely new abilities, while others improve existing ones. There isn't a great deal of difference between the fighting styles, so you shouldn't have too much trouble getting to grips with them. I'm not exactly a seasoned fighter, but I got on alright. I played the game on 'Normal'. I found it challenging enough for me (especially some of the boss battles). I'm glad I didn't play it on 'Hard', as I think I would have been too frustrated to have fun.

As well as combat, there's scenes where you have to chase down or evade your enemies. They work well enough, but they're not the best parts of the game. You're also encouraged to seek things out at various points in the story. These parts are mainly linear (you'll get pointed in the right direction if you wander off too much), but one or two of them are a bit more involved.

While the game presents an open world, it is a lot smaller than anything you'll see in games like GTA or Red Dead Redemption. The game also lacks driveable vehicles, but they aren't exactly needed. What you do get is a variety of locations to shop, play games and eat. It's worth having a look around (very few of the activities are touched upon in the story missions). A lot of the activities are surprisingly polished. I even managed to find a golf course at one point, which had a very playable golf game. That said, side-activities have been a feature of the Yakuza games since the very first title, so maybe their quality shouldn't be too much of a shock.

Worst moment of the game? I'll put it in a spoiler field...

The bit where you have to chase down the crooked cop in a speedboat. Whilst it only took three tries, I didn't find that bit fun at all. The speedboat didn't control well. Having to shoot at the same time didn't help matters. It had the potential to be one of the best scenes in the game, but it came off as janky.

Presentation

Graphics-wise, they've put the PS3 to good use. All the character animations do the job nicely in cut-scenes. It really helps you to get involved with the storyline. The game world also benefits greatly from the highly-detailed graphics.

The game often switches from voice-acted scenes to just text, then back to voice-acting. While I understand it wouldn't be cost-effective to do all the scenes with voice-acting, it seems a bit of an odd way to do it. I think a more sensible solution would be to have a bit with voice-acting, then the rest of it in text (before going back to gameplay). As for the quality of said voice-acting, it's top notch. All the voices suit their respective characters. You can definitely tell they're professionals, unlike some games I've played (I'm looking at you, Grandia and Shadow Hearts...) All the voice acting is in Japanese with subtitles, which I feel was the correct way to go about it.

While the game is mainly serious, there is some comic relief here and there. For example, when you first learn 'revelations' with Akiyama, you're presented with a very unusual scene. It seems a little out of place from the rest of the game (my reaction was 'Ok, wasn't expecting that...), but I didn't have a problem with it. After all, it is a Japanese game. I guess you've always got to expect a level of craziness. A lot of the fight scenes are awesomely ridiculous, too.

The game world is very authentic. Having been to Japan twice, I can say first-hand that it really feels like the streets of Tokyo. As mentioned before, the district it's set in is fictional, but it's very similar to the real-life counterpart. They also licensed some items and locations (such as C.C. Lemon and Club Sega), which really helps.

Conclusion

If you're looking for a good brawler with a great storyline and equally great characters, Yakuza 4 fits the bill. Even if you're not particularly into these types of games, it might be worth a shot. A combat-heavy game must be special when even I can enjoy it.

...oh, one thing I should note is the lengthy install time when you first play the game. Like Metal Solid Gear 4, it's mandatory. While it's happening, you might want to do something else. Might be a good idea to mute the TV, too. Whilst there's nothing particularly wrong with the song that plays, it might grate on you after hearing it for the umpteenth time.

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Other Stuff

As you may seen in a status update, I now have a 360 again. That means the next game I cover WILL be Enslaved (no messing this time). As I've already played a good chunk of it, the next blog shouldn't be far away at all. I just hope I can cope with it after not playing for so long. I'm not worried about the story (I still remember it), but the gameplay could be an issue. Anyway, I'll see how it goes...

No idea what I'll be covering after Enslaved. I'll need to have a think about it. It'll probably be something I already own. As for recent games that have peaked my interest, I definitely want to check out 'Dishonored' (yes, I will put it in quotation marks), as I've seen and heard good things. I also want to check out the controversial Resident Evil 6 at some point. From what I played of the demo, it doesn't look as terrible as some people have been saying. Even the quick look seemed a bit harsh. I guess I'll find out for sure when I play the full game. That's still a way off, though.

Thanks for reading and expect another blog fairly soon.

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Adz Plays... Grandia

10 years ago, I picked up Grandia on a whim from a dedicated games shop. I hadn't heard of it before, but I was in the mood for an RPG and the cover/back did enough to sell it to me. I also remember it being £7, so I couldn't really go wrong. I ended up being really pleased with my purchase. I thought it was a fun RPG with a nice storyline. However, as my attitude towards finishing games left a lot to be desired back then, I eventually snubbed it in for favour for another game. I managed to get pretty far with it, too...

...fast-forward 10 years later and I've finally managed to complete it. Given it was so long ago, I naturally had to start from scratch with this playthrough, but that was probably for the best anyway. My opinion on the game has changed slightly compared to my 16 year-old self. While I still think its a very enjoyable game, it's by no means perfect.

Story

The story revolves around Justin, a teenager with the ambition to become a great adventurer (following in his dad's footsteps). He is always followed by Sue, a young girl with a strange creature named Puffy. Justin isn't the brightest Crayon in the pack, but he's very determined. Ironically, Sue is probably the most grown-up out of the two. Early in the game, Justin's curiosity is peaked by the Spirit Stone, a memento of his father. He decides to set off on an adventure to find the secrets of the Angelou civilisation, who mysteriously disappeared long before the events of the game.

The game world is vast and full of variety. While there's no overworld (you can only select set locations on a map once you exit a town/dungeon), it's a really interesting world to explore. You'll come across small tribal villages, bustling towns and ancient ruins. Most of the machines in the world are steampunk-ish, but electronics can be found in certain locations.

One of the things I really like about the story is the sense of adventure it exudes. While the story isn't groundbreaking by any means, it does enough to push you forward. A journey through a location at a certain part of the game feels as epic as you're lead to believe it is.

Gameplay

The combat system is both fun and rewarding. Both your characters and enemies turns are determined by a bar at the bottom of the screen. Once a character reaches the notch, you can select an action. You then have to wait for the icon to reach the end of the bar before the action is performed (although this could be instant, depending on the action). You can delay or even cancel attacks outright by hitting the enemy, but they're able to do the same to you. When you select 'defend', you can choose to endure or evade (i.e. move to another location on the combat field). As you may have guessed by now, the combat system allows for a lot of tactical manoeuvres. While it's not necessarily needed early in the game, it's definitely worth bearing in mind for the later stages.

Levelling for characters, magic and weapon types are all separate. Characters can only equip certain weapons. For example, Justin can only equip swords, maces and axes, while Sue can only equip maces and bows. Once you've equipped to a weapon to a character, they will start levelling with that type of weapon. Different weapons open up different abilities, so it's definitely something to think about (believe me, it's in your best interest!). Not far into the game, you're given the opportunity to buy magic with items called Mana Eggs. There's Earth, Wind, Water and Fire. All the elements have a base spell, but more spells are unlocked as you level them. Some spells require multiple types of magic, making it worthwhile to have as many kinds of magic as you can.

Dungeons are handled in a similar style to Chrono Trigger or Lunar (more so the latter, as Grandia shares its developer). All the enemies are visible while you explore the dungeon. You can choose to approach them or avoid them. However, once a group of enemies are alerted, they will pursue you. If you they catch you with your back to them, you will be 'Ambushed', resulting in the enemies starting closer to the end of the combat bar. Conversely, if you approach them while they're not alert, you will gain the initiative. While this is generally a good system, it can become frustrating when it comes to backtracking or exploring the area for hidden secrets. There are also some areas where avoiding enemies is pretty much impossible, so you're better off approaching them in those cases. Thankfully, enemies don't respawn unless you leave the area completely. You'll also find save spots now and again, where you can recover your characters.

As for items, each character can only hold 12 items at once (you have a maximum of four characters at any time, so 48 items). In addition, items can only be used by a character in battle if they're carrying it. This forces you to think about who should carry what, as a character having the right items could mean the difference between life and death. At certain points (normally in inns), you can put items away in a 'stashing place'. This allows you to store items and pick them up at a later stage in the game. If you're nowhere near a stashing place and everyone has used up their item capacity, you must discard any items you find or choose to discard something that's already in your inventory (or use it on the spot, if applicable). As long as you're smart about storing items, the item limit isn't really a problem.

Presentation

The presentation has a very 90s feel to it. The style and music are pretty typical of the decade. The Playstation version (the version I played) came out in 1999, but it originally appeared on the Sega Saturn in 1997 (albeit only in Japan), so maybe it's not too surprising. A bad thing? Certainly not, in my opinion. I like a bit of old-skool.

As the cover suggests, the game is done in an anime-style. The characters portraits, sprites and even their appearances in certain cut-scenes stay true to it. A lot of the humour wouldn't look out of place in anime, either. Despite the sprites, the world is polygonal (as are a lot of the cutscenes), which can look a bit odd in parts. It's unnoticeable for most of the game, however.

The music is pretty great, in general. It was handled by Noriyuki Iwadare, who also composed the music for the Lunar games and a variety of other RPGs. There are some really nice pieces, particularly the incidental scores. However, a lot of the locations have short looping music, which don't sound as good as the bigger tracks. Only a small complaint, mind. I'd like to say it was a technical limit from the Sega Saturn version (no changes were made to the Playstation, as as far as I know), but I don't know enough about the console to really comment.

The game is often let down by the terrible voice acting. While it's acceptable in parts, the cast really ends up ruining some of the more dramatic moments. Some of the lines are delivered in monotone, which shatters the believability instantly. The two worst offenders, in my opinion, was one of the antagonists and a playable character who joins later in the game ('Come back with reinforce-ments!'). While RPGs were niche back then (more so than today) and bad anime dubs were commonplace, I think it's still fair to consider it a flaw.

Conclusion

I personally enjoyed Grandia a lot. I had fun with the combat and the story has a lot going for it. If you're looking for something a bit different (and you're willing to ignore the voice acting), Grandia might just be the game you're looking for. For your convenience, it's available on PSN for pretty much peanuts. A physical copy goes for a little bit more these days, but it's certainly affordable if you really insist on it.

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What happened to Xenogears?

As you might remember, I said that I was going to tackle Xenogears. However, things didn't go to plan when I tried to play it. The top of the screen was cut off and appears at the bottom of the screen. I tried messing with the screen settings, but they were locked in. I then tried to play with my NTSC PS2's internal screen setting, but still no luck. For the sake of argument, I tried another of my NTSC PS1 games...which resulted in exactly the same problem. From what I gather, it's an issue with my TV, as the channel name also appears at the bottom rather than the top. Short of trying another TV, I don't think I'll be solve the problem. My NTSC PS2 games run fine (that's how I played Dark Cloud), so it's a bit strange.

I'll give you an update on the situation once it changes. I hope it ends up being something stupidly simple...

New 360

As I've said, I'm now taking a break from JRPGs. I don't want to burn myself out on the genre. I'll be ordering a replacement 360 unit very soon, so I'll finally be able to tackle a good portion of my games library again. Once it arrives, I'll probably jump back to Enslaved. I'd say I was about half-way through the game when I left it, so it shouldn't be too long before the next blog.

Other Stuff

Later this week, I should have my hands on FIFA 13. If you're not already aware, I'm a big footy fan and my favourite team is Everton. I haven't bought a FIFA game since the World Cup release in 2010, but I've played a lot of FIFA 12 whenever I visit a friend of mine. Decided to go for 13 because I want to give the career mode a whirl and I'll be able to play some of my friends online. I won't be mentioning it in my blogs, as I can't imagine a lot of you are interested in football...but if you are, please speak up and I might throw something together. I'd happily cover FIFA if the interest is there.

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Decided to do something of a remix special this time. There's a lot of great remixes of game tracks out there, so I want to share a few of my favourites.

Chrono Trigger Theme - Brink of Time Remix

A nice jazzy take on the classic theme. 'The Brink of Time' is a whole album full of reimagined versions of music from Chrono Trigger. I recommend checking it out. There's a variety of styles.

Jazzy NYC Remix #2 (Street Fighter) - DJ Fernando

I randomly managed to find this track one day. I had no idea about the original before I found this, but upon listening to it, I'd say it's an improvement on the source material. Kind of reminds me of 'Summer Madness' by Kool and the Gang in parts.

Those Who Fight Further (Final Fantasy 7) - The Black Mages

I imagine a lot of you are already familiar with the Black Mages, but I thought they were worth a mention. Square-Enix should definitely grab hold of these guys if they ever get round to a remake of FF7.

That's all for now. Thanks for reading and I hope you like new format I've gone for.

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Adz's Blog: Wild Arms 3...done!

...well, it’s been a while. I really underestimated how long it would take me to complete Wild Arms 3. Any regrets? None at all. I know I’ve said this before, but the 360 suddenly becoming useless might have been the best thing that’s happened to me for a while. If it didn’t, I may have never played the real of gem of a game that Wild Arms 3 is. It really surpassed my expectations going into it.

Pros

The dungeon exploration is a lot of fun. The vast majority of the dungeons have some puzzles to solve or obstacles to overcome. Most of these require the unique tools that every character has. Each of the characters have one tool each at the start, but they eventually get two more later in the game. They range from a doll that freezes things, special jumping boots and a grapple hook. Some puzzles have a plaque with a riddle, but most of the time you have to solve it yourself. Some of the puzzles are bit vague, but when you figure out something, it’s pretty satisfying.

Like some of the other games I’ve covered, the battle system is pretty unique (check my first blog about Wild Arms 3 for more details). The presentation of the battles is also great. If you’re on horseback while entering a battle, you’ll see the characters on horses while the enemies are running on the side. I thought that was a nice touch. There are two other modes of transport (which I’ll keep a secret). If you enter a battle with them, they have their own unique twist on the battle system.

As for the story, it definitely had a lot of surprises. It’s not your typical Wild West game. I really don’t want to say too much about it. All I can say is that it gets pretty cool. Some of the classic tropes are present, but you’d be hard pushed to find any piece of fiction that doesn’t use them these days. The four main characters are great. While they initially don’t get along that well, they eventually bond and share their stories. It kind of has a ‘bounty hunter anime’ feel about it.

For a 10-year-old game, it still looks pretty nice on the graphics front. It has a cel-shaded style very similar to what was used in Valkyria Chronicles (judging by the screens I’ve seen of it...yeah, haven’t played it...). The world itself is also nicely done. As you might expect from a Wild West-themed game, a lot of the game takes place in barren environments, but there are plenty of different settings as the game goes on. All done pretty well, too.

I really enjoyed the music in the game. Most of it fits really well. Mysterious dungeons have mysterious music and intense moments have intense music. A lot of the music is very Old West-style, but there’s some variety thrown in here and there. Again, I don’t want to say too much...

There's plenty of side stuff to do in the game. You can be rewarded with experience points, money and helpful items. The world becomes very open later in the game. It's definitely worth looking around.

Cons

The main problem I had with the game, and why I took so long to finish it, is that exploring can get pretty tedious. It’s not so much knowing where to go...it’s getting there. Battles can be avoided to a certain extent, thanks to the ‘migrant seal’ system in the game. However, once you run out of points, you can no longer skip battles (unless you have some white crystals around). This can be a problem if you’ve got a long way to travel. Healing items are pretty finite for a good portion of the game, so it’s not ideal to having to keep on using them. Combined with it happening inside dungeons, it resulted in me getting pretty fatigued with it after only an hour or so at a time. Later in the game, as long as you’ve collected more migrant seals, this becomes less of a problem. As a result, I played it a lot more near the end. To be fair, I think I did the best they could with the system (infinite skips would be madness), but I thought it was a flaw worth mentioning.

The game lacks any descriptions for items or arcana. While most of them are pretty self-explanatory, the only way to find out what a certain item or arcana does is to use it. Personally, I looked them up on the net. Whilst it's easy enough, I found it a bit strange how it just wasn't in the game.

Conclusion

If you're an RPG fan and you're looking for something a little bit different, I can't recommend it enough. It was a joy to play. Great story, great music, great gameplay. I'll probably check out more Wild Arms games in the future.

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Current Plans

The 360 you’ve heard so much about is currently being looked at by my sister’s boyfriend. He’s going to attempt to fix it. Not sure what he has planned exactly, but I gave him permission to do anything to it. It’s been out of warranty for a long time and I don’t exactly have anything to lose with it being useless to me as it is. If it gets fixed, I probably won’t risk going online with it again. An offline 360 is better than nothing.

So, here’s the plan. I’m going to wait and see if my 360 can be resurrected. If it can, I’ll probably take a little break from my RPG madness and play one of my many 360 games. Strongly considering going back to Enslaved, but it’s not definite. Whilst I still remember the storyline up to the point I played, I might be a bit rusty with the gameplay stuff after five months. I’ll wait and see how I feel.

...if the 360 is still as dead as a dodo, I’ll probably press on with what I’ve been doing. Really tempted by Xenogears, but I wouldn’t rule out a Final Fantasy title. I should be able to burn through whatever I select a lot quicker than Wild Arms 3 (due to the previously mentioned issue I had), so I’m not too worried about that.

...or, hey, I could even play Metroid Prime like I suggested to myself a while back. Forgot all about that...

Blog Future

As I said a while back, I'm going to rebrand my blog. I won't necessarily be blogging every week, so the old name doesn't exactly fit. Hopefully I'll be able to come up with something before the next blog (along with a new banner).

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To celebrate finishing Wild Arms 3, I thought I'd post three of my favourite tracks from the game. I hope you like them as much as I do.

A Person's Warmth (Music used in some towns)

Fate Breaker (Incidental/Dungeon)

There's Only One Family Named Shrodinger (Battle)

I would choose more, but three seems like a good number to stop at. Really liked the music in it.

Anyway, that's all for now. Thanks for reading and I'll be back with more in the near future. Not 3 months. I promise!

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Adz's Blog - Still Here Edition

Just thought I'd give all my followers a brief update. I don't have much to say (hence why I haven't bothered posting this in the forums), but I thought it'd be better than nothing for a few months.

I'm about 20 hours into Wild Arms 3 now. From what I can tell, there's still quite a bit to go. During Euro 2012, I didn't really play it that much, but I've made a bit more time for it lately. I only play it for around an hour at a time, though. Whilst I enjoy it, it's the not kind of game I can play for a while (I'll explain why in a bit). With this in mind, I have no idea when I'll complete it. My next true blog might still be a while off. That said, if I can think of a game to start that wouldn't interrupt with Wild Arms too much, I might post a blog or two about it.

Despite me neglecting it so much, I'm really enjoying Wild Arms 3. The story has really gone into a direction I didn't expect it to. Not entirely original, but certainly unexpected. I've also got a lot more of the tools I mentioned in a previous entry, which makes dungeon crawling pretty cool. The exploration can get a bit tiring, though. It's not on the same level as my problems with Final Fantasy V, as you can at least get some hints on where to go next, but it can still be pretty laborious at times. The random battles don't help. While there's a way to avoid battles to a degree, it becomes frustrating when that isn't an option to you. That's pretty much the reason why I only play it for an hour each time. I have played it for longer stints, but very rarely. Other than that, I'm more than happy to carry on playing it.

That's all for now. I'd like to start blogging properly again. I enjoyed typing my previous blog entries. If I can think of something to talk about regularly, I'll certainly give it another try. Fingers crossed, that'll be sooner rather than later.

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A Week of Gaming - 3-6-12

This week, I've been thinking about the weekly format of the blog. While it worked pretty well when I was playing shorter games, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense for RPGs. There's only so much I can say about a game, so it becomes a struggle when I play a game for several weeks. As a result, I've decided to stop the weekly blogs in favour of more of a 'start/complete a game' blog format. That means I can post a blog whenever I need to. It could even happen during the week, rather than the weekend. As you might expect, I'll be changing to the name of the blog to something more suitable. Not quite sure what yet, but I'm sure I'll work something out...

At any rate, I have no plans to quit writing blogs. I have a lot of fun writing them and it's nice being able to share what I think about certain games. The new format doesn't mean I'll be tackling RPGs forever, either. In fact, I'm tempted to tackle Metroid Prime after Wild Arms 3. Bit limited with how I can mix things up at the moment, but I can try.

Hope everyone understands the change and I'll continue to do my best when typing out my blogs. :D

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Yep, it's that time of the year where we stayed glued to our monitors in the hope of some crazy news from the Electronic Entertainment Expo. This year looks as though it will be a fairly tame one, but I don't know if we'll be thinking that once everything has been revealed. I'm sure there'll be some nice surprises here and there.

Even though I'm not the biggest Nintendo fan (to be clear, I don't hate them), I'm looking forward to their conference the most. I'm curious to see what they'll bring to the table. For me, they'll need to show that the Wii U will have the same games that the other two will. If they're going to rely on their first party stuff again, I'm not interested. I also don't see that going well for them. They've already said that Darksiders II will be a Wii U game, but they'll need more games along that line.

For fun, here is the E3 Bingo chart I filled out...

My predictions are a mixture of 'Yeah, that could happen...' and 'that probably won't happen, but what the hell...'. I struggled with the M$ conference, if I'm honest, but I don't think I did much better with Sony's. However, I'm fairly sure my dubstep prediction will come true...

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The Vestige - Final Fantasy XII

I didn't get particularly far with Final Fantasy XIII (should get back to it one day), but I was pretty impressed with the music. This track in particular is my favourite out of the ones I heard. I think it has good use of voices. It sounds very ominous and full of gravity.

Chinese - Timesplitters

I used to play a lot split-screen Timesplitters 2 with one of my brothers. One of the best maps to play on was the Chinese stage. As a result, I heard a lot of this track...which isn't a bad thing.

Late Goodbye - Max Payne 2

For me, this was a great song to end Max Payne 2 with. It fits the theme of the game perfectly. Poets of the Fall also appeared in another Remedy game (Alan Wake), so we may hear more from them in a future release.

That's all for this blog. The next blog will likely appear when I complete Wild Arms 3 (which is still a while away), but I may do an E3 blog if enough stuff that interests me occurs. Thanks for reading.

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A Week of Gaming - 26/5/12

Pumping this out slightly earlier than usual, but I thought as I may as well. I have enough stuff to type about and it's not going to change by tomorrow, so...

After ditching Dark Cloud last week, I moved onto Wild Arms 3. As you may know, it came 2nd in the poll I did. Do I regret my decision to go with it? Not at all. I've been pleasantly surprised with what the game has to offer. I only played it briefly when I originally bought it (early 00s), but little did I know it was one of the most interesting RPGs out there.

All four of the main characters are introduced via their own playable prologues. They also act as tutorial stages to explain some of the mechanics. While it's not the first or last game to do something like that, I think it works really well. The four characters are Virginia (a young woman who was taught how to dual-wield guns by her father), Gallows (a reluctant priest-in-training with a native American background), Jet (a mysterious young man who seems to throw into danger for the money) and Clive (a good-natured bounty hunter). After a fateful meet-up on a train, they join forces to find their own path. The group eventually form a camaraderie similar to the cast of Cowboy Bebop or Outlaw Star. They may not always agree with each other, but they get things done nonetheless.

When exploring dungeons, each character has their own unique 'tools'. For example, Gallows has a freeze doll, which can be used to put out fires or freeze objects. Meanwhile, Clive can drop bombs to destroy weak walls or blockades. Some dungeons require a mixture of these tools, so you'll need to switch between characters quite often. This is done by a simple button press. From what I've played, I gather the characters will gain more tools as the game goes on, as I picked up an additional tool for Gallows in a recent dungeon.

In battle, there's some cool features. All battles are turn-based. Magic and other special abilities are governed by FP (Force Points). From my experience, you gain more FP from successfully hitting someone or dodging an attack (although you also get a small amount whenever you get hit). Each spell (or 'Arcana') requires a certain amount of FP. However, using a spell does not use your FP, so as long as you maintain your FP, you can cast that spell as much you want. The only things that use up FP are the Skills and Summons. Skills bolster actions in some way (e.g. using one item for the entire party or double attack damage), while Summons conjures up a beast to deal a lot of damage. The spells and summons depend on which 'Mediums' you have equipped (a maximum of three for each character). As for regular attacks, everyone has their own weapon (ARM). When an ARM runs out of bullet, you have to 'block' to reload it.

The battles are well-presented, in my opinion. All the characters/enemies are running around, which gives the battles a more dynamic feel. If you happen to be on horseback when going into a battle, they'll take place with the characters on horses while the enemies are running in front of you. I think it's a nice touch.

The game setting is pretty cool. Because of the anime-style cel-shaded graphics, the game has aged pretty well visually (the images I've included don't do it justice). It wouldn't look amiss if it was released nowadays. As you can imagine, they've taken some liberties with the Wild West setting, but it's all believable in the context of the game. The music certainly fits. The story also takes some pretty interesting turns. I'm not going to spoil them...

I have other stuff to mention, but I'll leave it there for this week. I'll go over stuff in a future blog (most likely in my final thoughts, which is still quite a while away). Needless to say, I'm very impressed with it so far. I hope it keeps up.

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Village of Inoa - Alundra

I played Alundra briefly last year. While I didn't hate it, it wasn't what I was looking for at the time. I certainly don't rule out going back to it one day. At any rate, one thing I really liked about it was the music. Pretty much all the tracks have an old-skool feel to them. My favourite up to the point I played was this track. I think it's a pretty good representation of the rest of the music.

Save Room - Resident Evil 2

For me, this track gives off an 80s Horror film vibe (perhaps even 80s Sci-Fi). It was a nice piece of music to hear whenever I needed to save the game. It's also relaxing compared to some of the more foreboding tracks in the game. It's nice to have a bit of contrast.

Main Theme - Space Harrier

I played this in the arcade when I was little. I used to be really amused by the 'ARRGGGGGGH!' sound effect whenever I lost a life. That's probably the main reason I kept on playing it. I was easily entertained back then, clearly. If I ever see a cabinet again, I'll definitely play it for old time's sake.

That's all for this week. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to make any suggestions about the form my blog should take in future entries. I'm open to ideas.

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