A Little, More Often #3

Crazy to think it's already been two weeks since I last penned one of these, but here I am sketching out a third edition of A Little, More Often - a series of brief blogs intended to get me back into the habit of writing at length. I'll keep this introductory segment short, so I can get on with talking about what really matters - them video games.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

80s Florida is still as inspired a setting now as it was ten years ago

This time last year I decided to revisit Grand Theft Auto III, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its release. At the time I toyed with the idea of doing the same thing for Vice City and San Andreas in 2012 and 2014 respectively. Now, as the year draws to a close, I've been playing the second in Rockstar North's celebrated open-world triumvirate, and do you know what? It's still a damn awesome game, and one that's aged even better than its older brother.

I'm struggling to put my finger on exactly why that is. Vice City suffers from a lot of the same drawbacks as GTAIII - graphics that are functional rather than fancy, an infuriating lack of third person camera control, and pretty weak gunplay. There must be something else in the package, then, that makes those inconveniences seem trivial. Perhaps it's the inspired locale - a sun-drenched, pastel-shaded re-imagining of 1980s Florida with an astounding amount of attention to detail. Maybe it's the inclusion of a fleshed-out, interesting protagonist in Tommy Vercetti, bolstered by a memorable supporting cast of NPCs. It could be the variety and scope of the game's missions, no two of which ever feel too similar. Most likely it's a combination of all of these things, held together by the game's incredible sense of focus (something that was lacking in San Andreas, I feel). What I do know is that even now, ten years after its initial release, Vice City is still one of the greatest examples of how to do open-world games right. I've sunk sixteen hours into Vice City in just over a week, and I'm currently flitting around the city buying up real estate and completing missions. I anticipate I'll have finished it within the next few days, allowing me to free up some more time to devote to other games.

FIFA 12

My love/hate relationship with football games continues

Seeing all the hubbub around the recent release of FIFA 13 left me itching to play a football game, but unwilling to part with the £45 a brand new instalment of the EA Sports franchise demands every year. My solution to this was to pop into a local second-hand game store and buy a copy of last year's FIFA 12 for a much lower £6. Given that I don't follow real-world kicky-bally, playing with last year's rosters isn't something that I'm going to lose sleep over, so it seemed like a sensible course of action. Overall, I'm having a pretty good time with it. The game options are a little limited if, like me, you're coming into it as an offline single-player, but the gameplay itself is a lot of fun. Everything feels fluid, dynamic and natural, and on the Professional difficulty at least, the pace of play has a nice ebb and flow to it, with games feeling closely matched and poised on a knife-edge. It took me a while to adjust to the new tackling controls, but they're definitely an improvement and make defending just as involving as building an attack. I'm spending most of my time in the Player Career mode, where my Virtual Pro has signed for Exeter City, and I'm sure I'll be playing matches in-and-out until the end of the year.

The JRPG Progress Report

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is proving to be a great distraction during my lunch breaks at work

Alongside the two games above, I now have three lengthy Japanese role-playing games on the go. Rather than give each its own header though, I figured it would be more economical to bring them all together under the premise of a progress report. My current main time-sink is Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, the mechanics of which continue to hold me captivated. I've clocked up around thirty hours since starting it about three weeks ago, and covered maybe a third of the game's dedicated story missions. I've started unlocking some of the more interesting jobs now, and while a lot of the coolest abilities are still out of my reach, it's enabling me to craft some pretty cool units already. Because of its handheld nature, the game is also proving to be a great time-filler when I'm on my lunch breaks at work. I anticipate being kept busy by FFTA right up until year's end, so I'll be sure to keep you posted with my progress.

My sister and I are continuing to push through Persona 4 as well, whenever we both have a spare evening to spend inside the TV. What with all my overtime at work and her returning to University this month, things have been a little quieter on that front than before, but we're still steadily pacing our way through the lengthy adventure. If memory serves me, we've just hit the month of July, and are trying to save Rise from inside the TV. The masterful blend of dungeon-crawling and Social-Linking continues to keep me captivated, and my sister seems to be enjoying it a lot too. Hopefully once both our schedules ease off a little, we can up the frequency of our visits to Inaba.

And of course, there's Final Fantasy VII. If you'd like to know how that's going, then why not check out the latest instalment of my Enduring Final Fantasy VII series of blogs? It's a good'un, promise.

That's Yer Lot

I guess that'll do for another edition of A Little, More Often. Before I wrap things up completely, I just want to give some praise to all of those who took part in the Extra Life fundraising yesterday. It's an incredibly worthy cause to support, and your dedication will make a big difference to kids in need. Well done to all of you. I was completely in the dark about the drive until this Wednesday, and by the time I'd learned anything about it, it was a little too late to get involved. The whole thing has inspired me, though, and I'm thinking of attempting something similar to raise money for charity in the near future. Should I decide on anything, I'll be sure to share the details here. In the meantime, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PS2)

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Posted by dankempster

Crazy to think it's already been two weeks since I last penned one of these, but here I am sketching out a third edition of A Little, More Often - a series of brief blogs intended to get me back into the habit of writing at length. I'll keep this introductory segment short, so I can get on with talking about what really matters - them video games.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

80s Florida is still as inspired a setting now as it was ten years ago

This time last year I decided to revisit Grand Theft Auto III, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its release. At the time I toyed with the idea of doing the same thing for Vice City and San Andreas in 2012 and 2014 respectively. Now, as the year draws to a close, I've been playing the second in Rockstar North's celebrated open-world triumvirate, and do you know what? It's still a damn awesome game, and one that's aged even better than its older brother.

I'm struggling to put my finger on exactly why that is. Vice City suffers from a lot of the same drawbacks as GTAIII - graphics that are functional rather than fancy, an infuriating lack of third person camera control, and pretty weak gunplay. There must be something else in the package, then, that makes those inconveniences seem trivial. Perhaps it's the inspired locale - a sun-drenched, pastel-shaded re-imagining of 1980s Florida with an astounding amount of attention to detail. Maybe it's the inclusion of a fleshed-out, interesting protagonist in Tommy Vercetti, bolstered by a memorable supporting cast of NPCs. It could be the variety and scope of the game's missions, no two of which ever feel too similar. Most likely it's a combination of all of these things, held together by the game's incredible sense of focus (something that was lacking in San Andreas, I feel). What I do know is that even now, ten years after its initial release, Vice City is still one of the greatest examples of how to do open-world games right. I've sunk sixteen hours into Vice City in just over a week, and I'm currently flitting around the city buying up real estate and completing missions. I anticipate I'll have finished it within the next few days, allowing me to free up some more time to devote to other games.

FIFA 12

My love/hate relationship with football games continues

Seeing all the hubbub around the recent release of FIFA 13 left me itching to play a football game, but unwilling to part with the £45 a brand new instalment of the EA Sports franchise demands every year. My solution to this was to pop into a local second-hand game store and buy a copy of last year's FIFA 12 for a much lower £6. Given that I don't follow real-world kicky-bally, playing with last year's rosters isn't something that I'm going to lose sleep over, so it seemed like a sensible course of action. Overall, I'm having a pretty good time with it. The game options are a little limited if, like me, you're coming into it as an offline single-player, but the gameplay itself is a lot of fun. Everything feels fluid, dynamic and natural, and on the Professional difficulty at least, the pace of play has a nice ebb and flow to it, with games feeling closely matched and poised on a knife-edge. It took me a while to adjust to the new tackling controls, but they're definitely an improvement and make defending just as involving as building an attack. I'm spending most of my time in the Player Career mode, where my Virtual Pro has signed for Exeter City, and I'm sure I'll be playing matches in-and-out until the end of the year.

The JRPG Progress Report

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is proving to be a great distraction during my lunch breaks at work

Alongside the two games above, I now have three lengthy Japanese role-playing games on the go. Rather than give each its own header though, I figured it would be more economical to bring them all together under the premise of a progress report. My current main time-sink is Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, the mechanics of which continue to hold me captivated. I've clocked up around thirty hours since starting it about three weeks ago, and covered maybe a third of the game's dedicated story missions. I've started unlocking some of the more interesting jobs now, and while a lot of the coolest abilities are still out of my reach, it's enabling me to craft some pretty cool units already. Because of its handheld nature, the game is also proving to be a great time-filler when I'm on my lunch breaks at work. I anticipate being kept busy by FFTA right up until year's end, so I'll be sure to keep you posted with my progress.

My sister and I are continuing to push through Persona 4 as well, whenever we both have a spare evening to spend inside the TV. What with all my overtime at work and her returning to University this month, things have been a little quieter on that front than before, but we're still steadily pacing our way through the lengthy adventure. If memory serves me, we've just hit the month of July, and are trying to save Rise from inside the TV. The masterful blend of dungeon-crawling and Social-Linking continues to keep me captivated, and my sister seems to be enjoying it a lot too. Hopefully once both our schedules ease off a little, we can up the frequency of our visits to Inaba.

And of course, there's Final Fantasy VII. If you'd like to know how that's going, then why not check out the latest instalment of my Enduring Final Fantasy VII series of blogs? It's a good'un, promise.

That's Yer Lot

I guess that'll do for another edition of A Little, More Often. Before I wrap things up completely, I just want to give some praise to all of those who took part in the Extra Life fundraising yesterday. It's an incredibly worthy cause to support, and your dedication will make a big difference to kids in need. Well done to all of you. I was completely in the dark about the drive until this Wednesday, and by the time I'd learned anything about it, it was a little too late to get involved. The whole thing has inspired me, though, and I'm thinking of attempting something similar to raise money for charity in the near future. Should I decide on anything, I'll be sure to share the details here. In the meantime, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PS2)

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

I've always sort of wanted to get into a soccer video game, but I've always been a bit intimidated by EA Sports' version. I suspect that if there's ever a return of the Street franchises, I'll try it. But I know nothing about the rules of soccer, let alone how to play a game based on it. I don't even think I've been on a soccer field since I was.... shit.... eight? Twenty two years. Wow. Now I feel old.

I miss Rockstar's big, over-the-top characters like Tommy Vercetti. True, I wouldn't sacrifice the characters in games like LA Noir and Red Dead Redemption for the world, but I do really miss the larger than life guys and gals like Tommy Vercetti, CJ, and Officer Tenpenny. I guess that's why I'm glad we have games like Saint's Row, to pick up where Rockstar left off. All of this is now leaving me with a hankering to find out more about GTA V.

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Posted by ArbitraryWater

@Sparky_Buzzsaw said:

I've always sort of wanted to get into a soccer video game

Well then sir, I have good news for you. For the price of "Whatever the hell you want it to be" you too can purchase the Interplay masterpiece that is VR Soccer '96, a game so awesome that it doesn't have a page on this site as far as I can tell. Also hits such as Kingdom: The Far Reaches and Shattered Steel! Sure, you could pay more money for other Interplay games, but most of them blow anyways and you already own a copy of Fallout, so just go for the minimum.

I'm not going to lie when I say that I am super tempted to do that and write about those things. You know, since you can hide the undesirable games in your library.

I have to ask, since this seems rather prudent: Have you played the original FFT? Because my general impression is that fans of the original look down upon Tactics Advance (and A2) because of their more simplistic stories and the law system, at least in FFTA.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@ArbitraryWater: I like Final Fantasy Tactics more, but it's mostly because of my fondness for the graphics, music, and stylings of that game, not necessarily the gameplay. And while the early story in Final Fantasy Tactics is pretty good, anyone who compares the two based on story is just bonkers. One's incomprehensible, the other's a bit simplistic. Neither one of 'em is particularly great in that regard. But I think if you were rating them based on gameplay, FFTA2 has got the original licked.

Moderator
Posted by ArbitraryWater

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: I will have to keep that in mind if I ever when I get back to FFT, though I am playing the PSP version and thus have the benefit of a competent ye olde englishe localizatione to go along with all that delicious slowdown. Maybe that makes the plot make more sense? Either way, it seems clear to me that Tactics Ogre is clearly the best of all of the Squeenix SRPGs to have been made. Then again, I haven't played Bahamut Lagoon, and VGK says it's pretty rad.

Posted by dankempster

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Like I said in the blog, I'm not a fan of real-world football, but I do enjoy dabbling with the video game version of the sport. I think it's because there's a parallel to be drawn with the career modes of those games and RPGs - you're essentially starting out with a band of no-name weaklings and, over the course of dozens of hours, transforming them into superstars. Admittedly, that transformation comes from on-pitch encounters and player transfers rather than random battles and experience points, but the principle is the same, and I think that's what I find captivating about it. I don't know if you've still got a PS2 wired up, but if so, it might be worth checking out one of the older Winning Eleven games (known as Pro Evolution Soccer here in the UK). Those games were really accessible, had great training options that served to introduce non-followers like myself to the sport, and would have the added benefit of being incredibly cheap by this point. My personal favourite was always PES4 (or World Soccer: Winning Eleven 8 International to you guys across the pond), but any of the older games would serve just as well.

I think the great thing about Vice City's characters is that they're so unapologetically psychotic and wealth-obsessed. Tommy Vercetti doesn't ever 'pull a Niko' and try and shy away from the fact he's a homicidal maniac - he embraces it. The same is true of a lot of the mission-givers in the game, too - they seldom try to justify whatever they're asking Tommy to do with deeply personal reasons, they just say straight out they're asking him to do this because money, or power, or both. As much as I love GTAIV for its story, it is nice to return to a time when the series was a bit less bogged down by melodrama. Although it's still two years off, I'm already looking forward to revisiting San Andreas to celebrate its tenth anniversary.

@ArbitraryWater: I've played a significant portion of the PSP port of Final Fantasy Tactics, although I never got around to finishing it, and I do agree that it's a better game overall, but I've never found myself 'looking down' on FFTA at any point. The story is very simplistic by comparison, and battles don't feel quite as strategic due to the simpler battlefield layouts, but it's still a lot of fun to play. I can forgive the story because it's a game clearly made with a younger audience in mind, and while it may not be jam-packed with political tension and religious rebellion, it's still perfectly serviceable in its own right. Ultimately though, I think I came to the Tactics series for the core gameplay - the turn-based tactical battles, and the desire to build a killer team of characters with some wicked combinations of abilities across different jobs. In that respect, FFTA delivers in spades.

Posted by eccentrix

As if I didn't already have enough games to play, now I want to play Vice City again.