>Everything Old is New Again: Uncharted

>I’m resurrecting the “Everything Old is New Again” feature, and we’re changing the ground rules a little bit. As you no doubt surely recall, EOiNA was originally intended to be an ongoing series wherein we’d play classic games for the first time, and I started it off with a few entries regarding my very first playthrough of Final Fantasy 7. As it happens, I got stuck about 10 hours into the game (couldn’t seem to get a chocobo, iirc), and then my 360 got back from the repair shop, and I returned my borrowed copy of FF7 to its rightful owner. (As FF7 is now available on the PSN, and my save files still work, I do expect to return to it at some point.)

That said, I’m resurrecting EOiNA because I’ve been (re)playing Uncharted for the last few days, and as it happens, I’ve got quite a few things I’ve gotta say about it. But let me set the scene first:

1. The wife and I have recently gotten sucked into Firefly, which we recently Netflix’d. We’d caught Serenity on some movie channel a little while ago and liked it very much and figured we ought to give the series a shot. And so while it’s true that Captain Malcolm Reynolds has quite a bit in common with, say, Han Solo, he also bears more than a passing resemblance to good old Nathan Drake. So much so, in fact, that I double-checked Nathan Fillion’s IMDB page to make sure he wasn’t Drake’s voice-actor. (I do not remember him being in Jade Empire, and I played that game twice.)

2. I haven’t really done that much gaming on the ol’ PS3 these days. Yes, I recently finished (and enjoyed) InFamous, but aside from the very occasional Trash Panic session, there really just hasn’t been all that much to do. So I’ve been feeling neglectful.

3. Going into E3 this year, I had most of my attention squarely focused on a few selected titles, specifically Mass Effect 2, Brutal Legend, and The Beatles: Rock Band. (My affection for the original notwithstanding, my hopes were not very high for Bioshock 2, and that hasn’t changed much.) And sure, the new Splinter Cell footage was pretty encouraging, and Assassin’s Creed 2 turned a lot of heads. But when all was said and done, I came away from E3 2009 with Uncharted 2 at the very top of my wishlist. Even without the multiplayer, which I probably won’t play very much of anyway, the single-player footage looked absolutely amazing, and reminded me of how much I enjoyed the first one.

And so here we are, in the doldrums of the summer release calendar. A perfect opportunity to revisit the original Uncharted, one of the brightest spots in the PS3’s launch.

For the most part, the game is still excellent. The graphics are still lush and colorful, the environments are nicely varied, the platforming controls are still tight and intuitive, the pacing is just right, the story is engaging and remarkably well-written, with one of the better all-around voice cast ensemble performances of this (or any) generation…

…And, of course, the enemies are still relentless and bulletproof. For what at first glance appeared to be a prettied-up Tomb Raider clone, the game’s ratio of combat-to-platforming is about 80:20, and it can get wearying at times, even on the Easy difficulty setting. You can pepper an enemy in the upper torso 3 or 4 times and they’ll simply stagger about – headshots are the only way to really keep a guy down, and even then they don’t always work. This was my single biggest complaint the first time around, and it hasn’t changed this time, either – it’s not uncommon to feel like you must be doing something wrong, that the rest of the game is so incredibly polished and so it must be that you’re not shooting the bad guys in the head hard enough. It’s great that the enemies are smart – they flank you and throw grenades and considering that you’re heavily outnumbered, it’s not a surprise that you die so often. I just wish the weapons felt a bit more powerful.

I wish I could say that it’s worth a 2nd playthrough for the Trophies, but I don’t really give a shit about the PS3’s Trophy system. It’s nice that I’m getting them, I guess, but the PS3’s Trophy system is arcane and impossible to quantify. It’s an added bonus if you care about it; I do not. It’s to the game’s immense credit, though, that it does not matter one bit.

>EOiNA: FF7: golden shiny wires of hope

>I’ve logged roughly 10 hours in Final Fantasy VII; I finished Shinra HQ, made it out of Midgard and am now in the Inn at Kalm, about halfway through Cloud’s story of his experiences with Sephiroth.

With the release calendar suddenly starting to get interesting (especially with SF4 and GTA4 DLC hitting tomorrow) I wonder how much time I’m going to be able to invest in FF7… but even if I stopped now, I feel like I totally understand why this game is considered a classic. The story is remarkably sophisticated and, well, adult, far more than I expected, especially out of a JRPG released in 1997. I am especially impressed with how much personality there is in each crudely-rendered polygonal character; it’s impossible to make out anything beyond the most basic human forms, and yet they’re all expressive and animated with an unmistakable clarity. I have absolutely no idea where the story is going, but I feel pretty invested with these characters already (even though I’m pretty sure there’s no way anybody could get away with making a character like Barret anymore).

Here’s the thing: I’m pretty neurotic about hanging on to borrowed goods. This game belongs to a colleague at my office and I can’t just hold on to it indefinitely, and my understanding is that FF7 could easily take 100 hours to get through; with all the new games coming out, it’s pretty likely that I could be idle in this borrowed copy of FF7 for some time, and that would just drive me crazy. But buying my own copy of 7 looks to be a pretty expensive proposition; the cheapest it’s going for on Amazon is around $60-70, whereas I could get a new, unopened copy of FF8 or FF9 for under $20. If any FF veterans happen to be reading this: how are 8 and 9? (My PS3 will not play PS2 games, so FFX is out for the time being.)

>EOiNA: FF7 initial impressions

>Before I get started, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the statute of limitations on Final Fantasy 7 spoilers expired at least 10 years ago; the game came out in 1997 on the PS1, which was two generations ago. That said, the whole point of this feature is that I’m playing this game for the very first time, and so I certainly wouldn’t want anything spoiled for me. So, then: I’m not going to put any spoiler alerts in my posts, but I would also ask that nobody puts any spoilers in the comments.

Here’s my current status: I was able to play for about 30 minutes or so last night. I blew up the first tower (out of 8, I presume) and am currently at the first save point after getting off the train.

My initial impressions are, to be honest, much better than I’d anticipated. I’m not even really sure what I was anticipating, actually, but I was thinking it would be a bit more stereotypically JRPG-esque – something a bit more anime and cutesy and twee, like a young boy on a farm, hoping to see the world, golly gee.

Instead, the game starts with a literal bang, without really telling you who you are except that some of the people on your team think you’re a bad ass, but the large sassy black man on your team doesn’t trust you at all and thinks you might be a traitor, but in any event you and your crack squad are hell-bent on destroying this energy tower which is somehow evil.

I was pleased to recognize this opening level as something I’d played in FF7:Crisis Core on the PSP, and I figured out the battle system almost as quickly, as something I’d played in both Chrono Trigger on the DS and the Penny Arcade Adventures on XBLA; it’s quasi-turn-based, except you have to wait between actions. (This initially confused me to no end in both PAA and CT, but I figured it out almost immediately here.)

There’s no question that graphics have come a long way since 1997, and yet the game’s art direction and sense of style do a fantastic job of obscuring how primitive it looks; I can only imagine how impressive it must have looked in its proper context. And the FMV cut-scenes – my God, even though they look horrifically compressed now, they still fill you with awe and wonder. Which is what cut-scenes are supposed to do, really. Back in the late 90s, cut-scenes felt like rewards for finishing a level; they featured incredible production values and were something to look forward to. Whereas now, everything’s done in the same engine, so it’s more like you’re taking a quick break and you’re more often than not inclined to skip ahead; this is why we praise games like Portal and Left 4 Dead where there are no cutscenes and the story is told contextually. Up until FF7, I was convinced that the original Oddworld games did this cut-scene-as-tasty-carrot-on-a-stick better than anybody – and yet after only 30 minutes, I’m already fully appreciative of FF7’s staggering FMV prowess.

That said, the game is definitely antiquated in certain respects. The game uses the d-pad to control movement, which is crazy because there’s 2 perfectly good analog sticks sitting right there not being used, and you need to press the X button in order to run – and because the default movement speed is ridiciulously slow, I found myself running all over the place, and you should never have to push more than one button in order to move at a satisfactory speed. And maybe it’s because the PS3’s emulation isn’t perfect, but I found some strange glitches here and there, specifically in battle – selecting an enemy to attack felt a little clunky, and the arrow that points to your target didn’t always show up. I think the biggest thing for me to get used to, though, is that the game uses the O button as the default action/confirm button, as opposed to the X button. (Of course, everything about the PS controller still confuses me, as I’m used to the Xbox’s color-coded ABXY.)

I am totally on board, though, and I’m definitely looking forward to diving back in. I do indeed see what the fuss is all about.

And I should also confess that I’ve already come up with more game ideas for this EOiNA feature, and that I’m maybe a little embarassed about it because there’s quite a lot. I’m gonna lose all my street cred!

>Everything Old is New Again, Part 1: FFVII

>Again, sorry for the lack of posts lately; I’ve been pretty busy with some music stuff over the last week or so, and there hasn’t been much to play.

That will soon change, however. Today I’m announcing a new, hopefully recurring feature called EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN, wherein I (and Gred, if he so chooses) play classic games for the first time. This feature is especially timely because when I get home from work today I’m charging up my long-dead PS3 controller to play a borrowed copy of Final Fantasy VII, which (as you may have guessed) I’ve never played.

I’m doing this because I’m starting to get excited about next year’s FFXIII for reasons I’m not sure I can explain – especially since my experience with FF games is strictly limited to a few hours with III and IV on the DS. For one thing, I’ve been getting a little burnt out on turn-based RPGs, especially since so many of them end up being quite similar. I haven’t even necessarily played that many,* but I’ve played enough to spot an annoying cliche from a mile away. I would imagine that my experience playing FFVII for the first time, in 2009, is going to be quite different than everyone else’s, especially with regard to annoying cliches, but since everyone insists the story is one of the greatest of all time, I’ll do my best to keep everything in the right context.

…It occurs to me that I might not be able to play tonight after all, being that Lost is on (and then my wife will want to watch Top Chef). Hmm…

*JRPGs (and other turn-based non-strategy RPGs) I have played (that I can remember off the top of my head):

  • Skies of Arcadia, Dreamcast (adored it)
  • LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth, Xbox (hated it – the computer cheated all the goddamned time)
  • Blue Dragon, 360 (didn’t finish it, meh)
  • Lost Odyssey, 360 (finished it, was quite impressed)
  • Eternal Sonata, 360 (liked it, but didn’t finish)
  • Eternal Arms, 360 (wanted to like it, but lost interest)
  • Final Fantasy III, DS (didn’t finish… got the general idea and got bored)
  • Final Fantasy IV, DS (see FFIII)
  • Chrono Trigger, DS (still technically playing, although I’m stuck)
  • Star Ocean something, PSP (got insanely bored in about 10 minutes, which probably isn’t fair)