Weekend Recap: a kick in the balls

Goddamn, that USA/Portugal game was rough.

As for video games:

I rented Lego Movie: The Videogame because we finally saw the movie last week, and the movie is as awesome as I’d heard, and I figured the game would be more of the same.  It is, though it’s also very padded (as Lego games generally are), and it’s also a bit tiresome in that regard.  It’s one thing if a Lego game is covering 3-4 movies at once, like LOTR or Star Wars or Harry Potter; it’s quite another if the source material in question is less than 2 hours long.  The game feels, at times, like an extended cut of the movie with all the deleted scenes thrown in, and then the outtakes of those deleted scenes, and etc.  The PSN Trophy list says there are 15 levels; I’ve finished 9.  It’s fine as far as Lego games go; occasional glitches and platforming frustration, but still fun.  I’m tempted to go back once I’m finished to try and 100% it, which is more than I can say for Lego Marvel.

Steam Sale:  Haven’t done that much damage, fortunately.  I already own so much stuff as it is, so almost none of the daily deals mean anything to me.  This year I also instituted a rule for myself – I’m only buying something if (a) it’s already on my wishlist, and (b) it’s over 50% off.  As it happens, I did buy a few things already that met that criteria – Baldur’s Gate 2 (which I’ve never played; thought about the iPad version, but figured I’d rather eventually experience it on the PC); Jade Empire (which I loved on the Xbox and missed dearly and have been thinking about a lot lately, and also which is totally fucked on PC; need to figure out how to get it to work); Sudeki (which is kind of a shitty Xbox action RPG that I have a weird fondness for; it’s super-janky and dated by today’s standards); and Vertiginous Golf (an early access steampunk mini-golf game; need to figure out why I can’t use my 360 controller).  At this point, I’m really only hoping for big discounts on Goat Simulator, NaissanceE, Story about my Uncle, Escape Goat 2, and Banner Saga.

Side note:  I’ve reached that point in my PC’s life where it’s not the best place to play new games, which is why I’m mainly focused on older/indie titles that it can still run well.

Vita:  I’m really getting into Tearaway, finally, which I picked up in this current PS+ sale.  I’d rented it earlier this year when my first Vita showed up; when that Vita broke, I returned Tearaway, not knowing if I’d ever pick it up again.  Anyway.  I can’t think of a better showcase for what the Vita is capable of; it’s charming as hell and while I’m not terribly big on customization (mostly because I can’t draw), it’s lovely to see my hastily scribbled snowflakes and pumpkins and decorations actually in the world.  And I can’t help but make funny faces every time I see myself as the sun, which is why I’m not playing it on the subway.

Also:  tell me which of these I should play.  I’ve only played the first 10 hours of 7 (which I wrote about earlier) before getting stuck, and I did maybe the first 2 of 10 earlier this year before not being sure if I cared or not.  Haven’t touched the rest; I bought them a year or two ago on PS3 during a weird retail therapy splurge, but never touched ’em.

Vita_FF

 

FFXIII-2: the first hour

It occurs to me that there are quite a few reasons why I feel pathologically compelled to play as many new games as possible these days.  Certainly there’s a desire to be able to “take part in the conversation”, as it were.   It also gives me something to talk about here, and I’ve not kept it hidden that I’d like to turn my experience in blogging here into something more professional (although I recognize that (a) I’ve got a long way to go as far as that’s concerned, and (b) it’s not like professional gaming journalism is a hot racket).

But I think there’s a more fundamental reason at work here, and it’s that while I’ve always been a huge fan of videogames, I also had a rather gigantic gap in my playing resume.  I started with an Atari 2600, but never had any of the Nintendo machines of the 80s.  My little brother – 6.5 years younger than me – had a Sega Genesis, and we both played the hell out of that, but after that I was totally out of the loop.  I never owned a PS1 or a PS2, nor did I own an N64 or Gamecube.  After I graduated college, one of my best friends bought a PS1, and we spent a lot of time playing the Oddworld games and Crash Bandicoot, and I suppose it was at that point that I caught the bug again.  My girlfriend (at the time) bought me a Dreamcast, and after that I started turning into the man you see before you.

[I feel like I’ve said all this before.   I probably have.  I’m too lazy to search the archives.  I’m in a reflective mood today; indulge me.]

Anyway, I bring this up because I’m playing Final Fantasy XIII-2, and I feel bad about it.

You’ve gotta understand – I never played the early, “classic” FF games.   As I said the other day, I’ve downloaded FF7, 8,  and 9 on PSN out of obligation (and I’ll probably download 6 at some point, too), but with the exception of the 10-15 hours I put into FF7 for a blog feature that never quite went anywhere, I’ve not touched them.  I bought the PSP-only FF7: Crisis Core, but didn’t get more than a few hours in without putting it down.  And I think I put a few hours into the remakes of the early titles on the DS, but – again – I couldn’t really stick with it.

I came to FFXIII as a noob, ultimately.  But the point is:  I showed up for it.  I deliberately played the PS3 version, because I wanted the best experience.  I wanted something gigantic and epic for my PS3, too, since I hardly ever use it for gaming, and I’d figured that the first HD FF experience would be something special.

I was wrong.

FFXIII had a fun combat system and gorgeous visuals, absolutely.  It was also relentlessly linear – which I didn’t necessarily mind, because I was overwhelmed by the incredibly annoying cast of characters and the utterly nonsensical story, a story that could generously be called “convoluted”.   I finished the game, eventually, because I wanted to be able to say that I finished a Final Fantasy game, but it certainly wasn’t a pleasurable experience.  At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was because I’d finally fallen out of love with JRPGs, or if it was simply that FFXIII was just a shitty one.  But the general consensus from FF fans was that FFXIII was a shitty game, and that made me feel a bit better.   [I still sometimes feel like if I’ve had a bad time with a game, it’s somehow my fault.  I genuinely thought that I was somehow to blame for not understanding how to play the infamously awful “E.T.” on the 2600.]

Point being, SquareEnix knew that FFXIII was a disappointment, and supposedly FFXIII-2 is a direct response to what everybody hated about the original; it’s more open-ended, it refines an already great combat system into something even  better, it adds dialogue trees (sort of) – it’s catering to what it thinks the West wants.  The problem is that these characters are still annoying, and this story is still stupid.

An hour isn’t enough time to form a valid opinion – I know that.   It took me 40 hours of FFXIII before I started having “fun”, and your guess is as good as mine as to why I felt compelled to spend 40 hours playing something that wasn’t (besides the aforementioned compulsion to finish a Final Fantasy game).  But an hour is enough time for the developer to introduce the story and the characters and get the player acclimated to what’s about to happen, and HOLY SHIT I don’t care.  The dialogue is awful, and I genuinely feel bad for the voice actors, most of whom do a really good job with truly terrible lines.  The characters are ridiculous.  There’s really no other way to put it.  I don’t like any of them, and it’s certainly not because they’re emoting at every single moment.  (Seriously – do they need to insert every grunt and gasp and voiced utterance?  It’s bizarre.  Not even movies include that much sonic detail; it’s terribly distracting.)

And yet, after all this, I’m sure I’m going to keep playing through the weekend (except for the Superbowl, of course – go Giants!), and probably right up until next week’s Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning, which I am legitimately looking forward to.  I am a whore.

winter doldrums

These are lean times for a non-profit game blogger; there’s not a tremendous amount to discuss.

I’ve mostly been playing Old Republic, because what else is there.  I finished Act 1 last Thursday, and was going to write up a post here about it, but work got in the way.  At the time I was going to write it, I’d power-leveled from 32 to 35, but after this weekend my dude is up to level 37.   I’m itching to get the hell off of the planet Taris, which is dreary and dank and not all that much fun to romp around in.  The game hasn’t changed all that much since I finished Act 1’s story; it should feel a bit more open-ended from a story perspective, but I’m still basically staying on one planet until I’m powerful enough to handle my class quest without too much trouble, and then moving on – which is, more or less, what I’d been doing previously.  I am enjoying it as a time-filler, and I’m appreciative that there’s tons of content that I can access without having to rely on strangers, but I must admit that I’m not terribly engrossed in it any more.

Also: lots and lots of new iPhone content.  Most recently, I’ve come under the hypnotic spell of TripleTown (iOS), which is basically a reverse match-3 game crossed with Grow.  You are presented with an 8×8 grid filled with bushes and rocks and such, and your objective is to turn all that stuff into a city:  3 grass squares = 1 bush; 3 bushes = 1 tree; 3 trees = 1 house, etc.  It gets tricky because you need to plan ahead in terms of where your combination will take place; if you put 3 bushes together, you’ll get a tree but only on the square that you touched.  It’s very easy to build the wrong way, in other words.  There are other complications but it’s easier to explain if you just download it for yourself – it’s a free download, actually, although it only comes with around 1500 “turns”.  You’ll quickly get hooked, though, and you won’t have much choice in forking over $4 for unlimited play.  The whole thing is very charming and quirky and ferociously addictive.

My rental copy of Final Fantasy XIII-2 should arrive by Thursday, and I guess I’m looking forward to it inasmuch as it’s something new.  I was of mixed opinions regarding FF13.  (To date it’s still the only FF game I’ve played from beginning to end, and I know that’s kind of a blasphemous thing to admit.  If it makes you feel any better, I’ve downloaded FF7, FF8, and FF9 from PSN, and I’ll probably download FF6 at some point, too – and maybe, if you can play PS1 games on a Vita, maybe I’ll end up with a Vita.)  The battle system in FF13 was pretty great, and it certainly looked nice, but it was also completely nonsensical, and while there’s a certain amount of utter nonsense I’m willing to put up with (i.e., MGS4), FF13 required a time investment that was a bit ridiculous.  All the reviews seem to indicate that FF13-2 is a massive apology that fixes everything that was wrong with the first game, plus it’s a bit shorter and maybe not as graphically impressive, and, well, yeah.  As noted above, I’m playing it because it’ll be something new, although I won’t feel guilty if I don’t finish it.

Finally – there will really, honestly, truly be some SFTC podcasts happening up in here soon-ish.  I’ve got theme music picked out and everything, and as soon as I tweak the things that need tweaking and get some schedules squared away, there will be some SFTC in your ears as well as your eyes.  All in time for the apocalypse.

>Splinter Cell / FF13

>Two things to talk about today:

1. I finished Splinter Cell Conviction, and
2. I finally got excited about Final Fantasy 13.

The most recent Joystiq podcast touches on both of these games, which made this morning’s commute more fun as I was already well versed in both. And as an added bonus, for the incredibly small subset of people who listened to that podcast and also read this blog, what I’m about to say will hopefully not sound redundant.

_________________________

It’s funny. I was somewhat indifferent about the first Assassin’s Creed, and so I wasn’t really looking forward to Assassin’s Creed 2, and in spite of the marketing crush I’d almost managed to forget about it, and it ended up being one of my favorite games of last year. Whereas, back in the day I used to be a huge Splinter Cell fan/apologist, and actively hated Metal Gear Solid and other stealth games, and now that I’ve played Conviction, I’m kinda hoping they kill the franchise (or else reboot it from scratch).

Conviction suffers from a wide variety of flaws, but the one that seems the most jarring to me is the same one that afflicts the rest of the Tom Clancy’s games – the storytelling is just dreadful. Conviction takes great strides towards giving you a real motivation for doing the things you end up doing, but the characters are so broad and bland and the villains are so generic and dull and the conspiracy hardly makes sense, and I found myself in location after location unsure of where I was, why I was there, and what I was supposed to be doing beyond following the objective marker and clearing out room after room. I’d almost rather play the game as a series of training missions; at least they could just drop the pretense and concentrate on interesting level design.

The game is better at combat, which means that there’s a lot more of it. Which is unfortunate. I still prefer to sneak around and silently dispatch guards, or avoid contact entirely, and there were a number of areas where that simply wasn’t an option; you have to kill everyone in front of you – or, alternately, you find a path and run through it until you get to the next checkpoint, which is what I ended up doing more than a few times when I simply couldn’t handle the odds.

Ultimately, though, I’m just done with these characters and the fiction; they were never particularly interesting to begin with, and I’d rather they just scrap the whole thing and start from scratch.

_________________________

As for FF13.

I feel like I’ve talked about Chapter 11 at great length, which is appropriate given that I’ve probably spent as much time in Chapter 11 as I have for the first 10. But the game has finally clicked into place for me. As I’m probably at least 50 hours into it by now, that shouldn’t be just happening, but it is; I saved my game last night and turned it off and couldn’t wait to get back in and start again, which is maybe the first time I’ve felt that way since I first unwrapped it.

Let me explain why that’s so weird.

As I think I mentioned before, I had originally started Chapter 11 without really understanding what I was supposed to do – to be more specific, I didn’t understand the map. Chapter 11 is where the game stops being so ridiculously linear; you stop going in a straight line and you start picking up side quests in this absolutely gigantic landscape. When I first started it, I had picked up a side quest and assumed that the map in the upper right hand corner was leading me to the side quest’s location; I didn’t realize that the map was still leading me towards the main story’s objective. And so it led me into these caverns where I was just getting my ass kicked repeatedly, and I was getting incredibly frustrated and annoyed, and then I realized that I must’ve missed something, or perhaps I just needed to grind a bit more, and so I restarted Chapter 11 and figured out what I’d done wrong.

And so I’d spent the next 20 hours doing all the side missions I could find, and grinding like crazy in between each side mission, and (surprise!) that was beginning to get tedious as well. I wanted to get back to the story; I wanted to see if I could finally handle those caverns that had dispatched me so effortlessly. I’d finished mission 16, couldn’t find where mission 17 was, and decided that was probably a sign that I should just get on with it.

And wouldn’t you know – I kicked ass in those caverns. And – lo and behold – mission 17 was in those caverns. And when I got to Vanille’s big summon battle, which had utterly destroyed me originally – well, it still destroyed me, but I eventually managed to beat it. And now the game is leading me along a somewhat more linear path again, which is a refreshing change of pace, and when I decided to call it a night last night I’d saved right after picking up mission 18, which meant that I was in the right place after all. It’s as if the game read my mind.

I’m still a bit shocked that I’ve devoted this much time and effort into a game that I’ve been so apathetic about, but I guess this is the payoff; I’m now fully on board and can’t wait to get back.

>evil / genius

>I am just over 40 hours into Final Fantasy 13, but that’s not quite specific enough; I am roughly 15 hours into the absurdly epic Chapter 11. I’ve gotta hand it to the developers; if nothing else, they’ve got some serious gold-plated balls to make a game like this. You spend 20 hours running along tightly controlled paths, always and only moving from point A to point B, and then suddenly you are in a wide-open expanse, free to do whatever you want.

Well, let’s clarify that a bit. There is still definitely a Point B to get to, but if you are foolhardy enough to jump right in, you will most certainly get your ass kicked. This means that you need to grind a bit. Fortunately, Chapter 11 comes with a number of Missions which you can do – these are really just regular battles, against specific enemies. I’ve done the first 15 so far, but even that number is somewhat misleading, because I’ve spent 15 hours building my way up towards being powerful enough to handle some of those missions. Which is to say, I’ve killed a LOT of monsters. Basically, I’ve been grinding endlessly so that I can grind more effectively, if that makes sense.

It’s a little ridiculous that the game is asking me to do this. Actually, let me rephrase that – it’s downright jaw-dropping to realize that this is the game’s intention, and that there is an audience out there that wants this.

And yet, here I am, 15 hours in and still invested. At the conclusion of Mission 14, I got myself a chocobo; that was my primary motivation for all this grinding, even if the end result is extremely underwhelming. (Hooray, I can go from one end of this endless prairie to the other a little bit faster.) And now that I’m here, I’ve started to figure out the evil genius at work.

See, one of the first things you’ll see when you start Chapter 11 are these absolutely gigantic creatures – similar to those titanic elephant monsters in the LOTR movies. Like so:



You can’t see how big that monster is – it’s bigger than THIS BLOG. If you were to go after that fucker right off the bat, you’d get stomped before the battle even began. Hell, if I were to go after it right now – and remember, I’m 15 hours in on this chapter alone – I’d be lucky to get one hit in before my whole party got wiped. But I know that if I were to keep grinding and finish all of these “purely optional” Missions, I’d eventually get powerful enough to take one down. And I kinda want to be able to do that, at least once.

This is why I’m glad that the release calendar is still a bit dry; this is going to take quite a bit more time.

>end radio silence

>Apologies for the recent radio silence; there hasn’t been a tremendous amount to report here from SFTC headquarters. But here’s what I’ve been playing of late:

1. Final Fantasy 13: I’m on Chapter 11, which is where the game supposedly starts getting interesting – or, at least, stops being so rigidly linear. I can absolutely attest to that last point – I basically had to restart the entire chapter because I misunderstood the map. No longer am I walking down a narrow corridor; I am wandering a gigantic expanse filled with monsters as far as the eye can see. If you so choose (and you should), you can do “missions”, which are basically side quests, where you have to seek and destroy one particular monster. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize that the location of your mission’s objective had a different map icon from the main story objective; and so, after I finished Mission 1 and started Mission 2, I found myself in the middle of these weird caves, getting my ass kicked over and over and over again, not really understanding what I’d apparently done wrong. Fortunately I had a save file from the beginning of Chapter 11, and now I understand what’s going on.

I’m not quite sure how much I’m enjoying it, but I don’t really see myself playing much of anything else for the next little stretch of time; I’m not really as excited about the new Splinter Cell as I thought I’d be, and if my GameFly Q is to be believed, I’m not going to get excited about anything until mid-May, when Red Dead Redemption, Alan Wake and Blur come out. Speaking of which…

2. The Blur multiplayer beta is out, and I gave it a whirl last night, and HOLY SHIT it’s awesome. It’s basically Mario Kart + Project Gotham Racing + CoD’s XP system, and that means I am fully on board.

3. Played some of the recent Mass Effect 2 DLC. The Firewalker stuff is OK – someone else described it as a tutorial for something you’ll start using full-time in ME3, which sounds about right. And then last night I did the Kasumi DLC, which was a pleasant enough diversion for the 60-90 minutes it took me to finish. I guess the coolest thing about it is the new section of the Normandy that’s now finally opened up.

4. I cooled off a little on GTA4 PC, but only because I’ve been using my computer for other stuff of late. I’m considering buying Dragon Age for it, though, if Steam ever puts it on sale. I didn’t like the 360 version and it’s basically just taking up space – my PC can run it, and that’s supposedly the version to get anyway…

So, that’s what’s been happening over here. There may yet be more actual content soon to come – another fake podcast transcript, perhaps.

>FF13: the next 12 hours

>I am roughly 12 hours in to FF13, which means that I am right at the point, according to most of the reviews I’ve read, where it starts getting interesting. (The OXM review specifically mentions the area that I am currently in.) Honestly, I can’t really say I’ve noticed that much of a difference, other than that my parties are split up into new configurations, and that the whole paradigm concept finally has some meaning.

The story still doesn’t make any sense; I do not really understand what a fal’Cie is, or why it’s bad to be a l’Cie, or what Pulse is, or Eden, or why the map is pointing me in a certain direction (especially when every map really only offers one direction to travel in). Vanille is one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever seen, in spite of her usefulness in combat; the rest of the main characters aren’t necessarily annoying, but they aren’t terribly interesting, either.

The thing that gets me the most, though, is that I remain confused as to why I’m still compelled to keep going. The combat system has become pretty intriguing, I think; it’s become less rock/paper/scissors and more strategic in nature, and understanding the “stagger” concept is crucial in terms of ending a battle quickly. In any event, the combat isn’t tedious… yet.

Certainly the environments are gorgeous; they are as compelling a reason to keep moving forward as anything else the game might offer.

I’m compiling a list of grievances, though, which I’ll post once I get near the end.

>FF13: The first 2 hours

>The subtitle of this post should be: “or, Why I Didn’t Finish Heavy Rain.”

I didn’t finish Heavy Rain, nor am I sure I ever will. To be fair, though, it’s not entirely HR’s fault; I moved to Brooklyn last week, and even though we’ve been settled in for the better part of a week, I still haven’t really had that much free time. That said, the free time I did have was time I didn’t really feel like spending playing HR. HR kinda needs to be played in a long, uninterrupted stretch, or else it loses its rhythm, which is what happened to me. Also, it falls into the uncanny valley way too often, it needs an actual English-speaking voice cast, and the script very much needed to be touched up by an English-speaking writer. That’s really what hit the uncanny valley for me – not the graphics, but the stiff, stilted dialogue delivered by people who don’t quite know how to pronounce certain words. Also, it felt almost a little too derivative of “Se7en.”

Anyway. Final Fantasy 13 arrived in the mail yesterday, and God of War 3 will arrive next week, and so I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to finishing HR anytime soon.

As for FF13. I should probably start by saying that I’m not really all that familiar with the Final Fantasy series. I tried (and failed) to document my playtime with FF7 last year (1, 2, 3); I also downloaded FF8 from the Playstation Network, although I don’t think I’ve even installed it. And I played about an hour or two of FF3 (?) on the DS, and a little bit of FF7-Crisis Core on the PSP. But that’s really the extent of it.

I understand, though, that FF13 is somewhat of a radical departure from its previous versions, at least in terms of its combat system and how relentlessly linear it is. So there’s that.

Here’s what I can say about FF13, now that I’m a few hours in and the combat system is starting to get a bit more expansive:

1. It’s gorgeous. I’m playing the PS3 version, for whatever that’s worth.

2. People weren’t kidding around when they said it’s linear. It’s not just that you move in a straight line – it’s that the straight line you move along is very, very narrow. I can appreciate that this very conscious design choice might make the game a little less intimidating for the FF noob; but just because I’ve never really played a FF game doesn’t mean I’ve never played any game.

3. The combat system sounds a lot more complex than it actually is. At least at this stage.

4. Almost any Japanese-developed game has this weird idiosyncratic thing where every character has to be constantly voicing something, even if it’s just grunting. And almost every female character’s grunts and moans sound alarmingly sexual in nature, even if they aren’t at all sexual in context.

5. It is basically the polar opposite of Mass Effect 2, which I am holding up as the gold standard for Western RPGs. (Whether that’s true or not is not really the point; it’s an amazing game, and it’s still fresh in my mind.)

Most reviews have indicated that FF13 starts slow and doesn’t really get going until 12-15 hours in. Which is a lot of hours that I might not necessarily have before GOW3 arrives. But I must admit that I’m kinda enjoying it so far. I have almost zero idea what’s going on (and if I weren’t playing the game with subtitles, I’d have absolutely no idea what a “fal’Cie” or “l’Cie” is; at least I know how they’re spelled). But I’m intrigued. I think the last truly engrossing JRPG I played was Lost Odyssey; I’m hoping this will be somewhere near that ballpark.

>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!