As Jeff Goldblum said in “Jurassic Park,” “Life always finds a way to interfere with your plans to play more video games.” (OK, maybe I’m paraphrasing.)
Though really, I’ve been playing games. I just haven’t had the chance to talk about them as I wanted. Starting today that changes! I have part 1 of 2 in a catching up series. I won’t go as in-depth with my first impressions, but at least you know I haven’t been slacking off. Today I focus on the RPGs that I’ve been catching up on, starting with…
Game One – “Final Fantasy Type-0 HD”
I was looking forward to this game ever since it was first announced for the PSP, yet when it finally released I put it aside in favor of the demo of Final Fantasy XV that was included. Until now.
For starters, this game is very obviously a portable game played on a big screen. That’s not always a bad thing, except for when the seams and limitations are blown up to a larger screen. Textures are almost painfully low-res, NPC characters are low-poly (which is all the worse when compared with the remodeled player characters), and the levels where the in-game missions play out are separated into almost painfully small areas.
And yet the real-time, fast paced combat manages to shine through. Unlike the “Hold X to win” feel of combat in “Episode Duscae,” you now have the option of holding X and occasionally pressing Square, Triangle, and Circle. Wow!
I kid, I kid. Though the combat starts out feeling very basic it soon displays little wrinkles that you can use, which can give you a major advantage in battle. For example, you’ll get (seemingly) random chances to deal bonus damage – if not a one-hit kill – when you’re locked on to an enemy. Dubbed the “Break Sight” and “Kill Sight,” respectively, more than a few times these moves helped me overcome enemies I was handily outleveled by. Even more appreciated, this definitely adds a bit of incentive to pay attention.
There’s also a nice level of thought added to the random battles. In many cases you’re given the option to tackle subsequent enemies without a break, where the enemies get stronger each round and the rewards get even larger. It’s a nice risk/reward payoff which gives you a chance to practice the aforementioned “Sights,” which will help you out immensely. Plus it reminds me of “The World Ends With You,” which is one of my all-time favorite games. (In case my avatar didn’t tip you off to that.)
The story and characters, unfortunately, seem forgettable at best so far. There’s some kind of political backsplash going on, characters’ magical abilities are renewed by harvesting the life force of enemies (though I’m not sure if this was directly addressed yet, it seems pretty obvious), and there’s a pretty large amount of school-life styled anime tropes, but even after a few hours I’m not sure that I could guess just what is going on or had even happened so far. Honestly, I may even look up a plot synopsis to get a better idea of what’s going on in this world.
Yet, I’m fine with that for now. I’m having enough fun leveling all of my characters (evenly, of course, to satisfy my OCD tendencies) and mastering the battle system. I’m definitely looking forward to my return to Orience.
First impressions score – 4/5: Much like the classic “Ys,” the story is a bore but the gameplay still shines through. I’m looking forward to more, and I do hope the story picks up.
(This impression is based on about 3 hours of gameplay – 3 times my standard first impressions length. This is not a review of the game but rather an arbitrary measure of how much I’m looking forward to playing more based on my limited time so far.)
Game Two: “Rogue Galaxy”
Considered by many to be a late-classic of the PS2 – releasing just a year before the PS3 – this game seemed to have everything that I wanted when it originally launched. It’s a JRPG with real time battles! It has rather good cel shaded graphics! It has that guy who voiced Spike from “Cowboy Bebop” playing a space pirate! And yet, it somehow escaped my grasp until the recent PS4 re-release.
Starting out, I felt a pretty strong similarity to “Kingdom Hearts” with the battle system. That quickly faded, though, since this doesn’t feel quite as refined to me. It also has a pretty nasty difficulty curve, with practically all of the bosses so far destroying me at least once on my first attempt. The virtually brain-dead companion AI certainly doesn’t help matters there, either.
I don’t give up that easily though, and I’m glad I stuck through that initial irritation. Once you get a few special moves under your belt and you pay attention to your teammates’ prompts to “approve their actions,” so to speak, basic battles become enjoyable. Too bad about those bosses, though. From what I’ve played I can almost guarantee you’ll spend plenty of items to revive your downed teammates, no matter what you tell them to do.
Fortunately the story and especially the characters fill in the gaps left by the sometimes frustrating combat. Voice acting is well done overall (not that we’d expect less from Steve Blum) and the characters have personalities. This certainly feels like a trademark quality of developer Level 5, and has most of my attention so far.
Unlocking skills is certainly unique as well. It’s sort of like a cross between “Final Fantasy XII’s” Licenses and “Final Fantasy X’s” Sphere Grid, where you place various items into slots to fill up sections. Otherwise this game seems to be a pretty linear affair for an RPG. If I were being flippant I’d say “Final Fantasy XIII” copied that aspect of this game and took it to its extreme, but I don’t think I want to act that way right now.
Oddly enough, I don’t feel like I have a lot to talk about with this game. Most of it is very well done, yet sort of generic at the same time. I think that rather than talking about it, I’d prefer to just play it.
First impressions score – 4/5: Despite its shortcomings I’m having fun playing this game. And that’s what really counts. Right? Right.
(This impression is based on about 5 hours of gameplay – 5 times my standard first impressions length. This is not a review of the game but rather an arbitrary measure of how much I’m looking forward to playing more based on my limited time so far.)
Game Three: “Xenoblade Chronicles X”
Hoooo boy, I saved a doozy for last. I can’t think of any other games where after spending 10 hours playing I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.
Starting out, one of the first things that struck me is that this game is enormous. I even got lost in the city that acts as this game’s main hub multiple times, even after hours of gameplay.
It’s also somewhat obtuse. There are multiple mechanics in play that practically require you to pull up the game’s manual multiple times in order to understand just what’s going on.
And on top of that, it’s merciless. Even near the outset there are monstrous, towering enemies that are dozens of levels above you just waiting for the chance to squash you underneath their pinky toe.
And I’ve loved every minute.
From the moment you’re given control you are painfully aware of one thing – you are on an alien world that doesn’t care whether you survive or not. There’s no hand-holding. There’s often little direction to go on. You’re constantly teased by the prospect of getting your own “Skell” (read – giant robots) even from the beginning – almost a cruel tease considering how long it takes to get into one.
The combat may be off-putting for some since you don’t have direct control over your standard attacks, though you do get the chance to act on specific prompts to turn the tide of battle in your favor. The world may be too huge – even for those who enjoy it – to the point that it’s almost disrespectful of your time to get from A to B. The shortcuts and concessions needed to reach this graphical level on the Wii U may sometimes detract from the incredible visuals of the game as a whole (relatively minor pop-in and enemy bodies disappearing quickly after defeat). The overall story and characters are pretty bland and forgettable, and on occasion actively annoying.
Yet somehow, as a whole, this is a wonderful example of story and gameplay working hand in hand to create a cohesive atmosphere – that of actually being on a hostile alien planet that you need to explore to survive. Every time I started playing, I’d only stop because the Wii U’s GamePad battery died.
If that’s not a sure sign of having a good time I don’t know what is.
First impressions score – 5/5: I’m completely enthralled with the experience so far, even though there are less-than-stellar aspects. Knowing that I still have so much left to explore makes it appropriately intimidating and exciting.
(This impression is based on about 12 hours of gameplay – 12 times my standard first impressions length. This is not a review of the game but rather an arbitrary measure of how much I’m looking forward to playing more based on my limited time so far.)