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13th May 2020: Final Fantasy Flashback

Playing an old style Final Fantasy game is something I was trying to motivate myself to do all last year. Not only did I feel like I should play the original VII again, but I also never finished my last play through of number VIII, nor have I played number IX again since I bought it a few years ago. However, my issue was that I felt like I should play them. Not that I necessarily wanted to play them. And that held me back.

But after playing Final Fantasy VII Remake, I just couldn't stop myself from firing up the original game, just to play through the opening Midgar section as a comparison. I guess I should have played it before playing the remake, but I never found the time or determination back then.

The other thing I decided to do was to try out a few mods, to spruce up the graphics a bit. Besides, that made sense, as to get my old cd version of the game working on more modern Windows, I was going to have to install some extra stuff anyway. So, after a bit of tinkering to get the game running, I re-entered the original Midgar for the first time in 19 years. Thinking about it, that's roughly half my life ago.

Holy shit.

Gotta admit, it felt pretty bizarre playing this again after all this time. I had these weird conflicting feelings, as if I'd played it very recently, but also not played it for a lifetime. It all felt so familiar, but at the same time there were really simple things that I could not remember, like "which way was it to Aerith's house again?".

The texture mod definitely cleans things up a bit

The texture mod definitely cleans things up a bit

Cloud's got his priorities in order

Cloud's got his priorities in order

Tifa kicks Reno in the shin

Tifa kicks Reno in the shin

Nanaki clatters Hojo

Nanaki clatters Hojo

Time has not made this bit any more fun

Time has not made this bit any more fun

Well goodbye classic Midgar. Maybe forever...

Well goodbye classic Midgar. Maybe forever...

Some of the more interesting moments I had while playing this part of the old game again were the ones that had direct comparisons with the new game. I liked seeing just how they'd taken those old moments and updated them.
I also caught some things that I must have seen years ago but had forgotten all about, such as a single line from Jessie in the Avalanche basement, where she worries about whether she made the bomb correctly. That one line, and the subsequent idea that perhaps Shinra is toying with our main characters, was something I never picked up on all those years ago. I guess that's because neither that truth, nor Jessie's fear of whether she made a mistake, are mentioned again in the old game. In contrast, in the remake, they really fleshed out that part.
I wonder how many other little lines and hints I missed or have forgotten about in all these years since?

Very probably, I will never know the answer to that question, as while I didn't mind jumping into this again, I still feel no great pull to continue it. Unless something changes as I continue to grow ever older, it's likely I'll not play it ever again, to be honest. So much time has passed, and my taste in games has changed so much, that I can't commit to a full playthrough.

But if it never happens, I'll always have my very fond memories.

Here's just a few images that compare old and new:

Iconic in 1997...

Iconic in 1997...

...and still iconic in 2020

...and still iconic in 2020

We've certainly come a long way...

We've certainly come a long way...

...in the last 23 years

...in the last 23 years

Remember when they did the thing?

Remember when they did the thing?

...because they're still doing it

...because they're still doing it

26th April 2020: Living In A Fantasy World

It's been many, many years since I last bought a brand new game. In fact, the Batman games, Arkham City and Arkham Origins, were the last ones I grabbed which were even slightly new, at 4 and 3 months old respectively. I usually don't find games, especially console games, worth the massive price tag. I've also got such a massive backlog of old unplayed games that I'm never really in a rush to play new ones.

That general rule however, did not apply to this one. I had to grab this as soon as I could. For it is a modern remake of very probably my favourite game of all time: Final Fantasy VII.

Fans had wanted a remake of this 1997 game for years, and it took until 2015 for Square to finally crumble to pressure and announce they were making it. And so, nearly five years later, the wait is over and the game is out.
So, in my pointless opinion, was it all worth it?

The original is such an important game for so many people, including me, and I would imagine, the developers themselves. And it very much shows. There is no doubt that they poured their hearts and souls into making this thing.

It is because of the story, world and characters that I've always thought so fondly of the old game, and they are even better than ever here (well, except for the end, which I won't go into here). While the remake only recreates the first few hours of the original game, the part set in the city of Midgar, it does so in a massively expanded way, taking the play time from maybe 5-6 hours up to around 40-50. Most of this extra time is spent on fairly awesome, and sometimes very sweet, character moments, made all the better by decent writing and very good voice acting. The actors for Cloud, Tifa and Aerith in particular really suit their characters and do a phenomenal job.

I'm pretty sure I would struggle playing the original game these days due to its mechanics, so I was interested to try the new and updated take on combat within this version of the game's world. The way combat is performed in this game makes it an interesting beast indeed. On the surface, it's a fairly standard 3rd person hack 'n' slash with dodge and parry mechanics, but it also adds in the ATB gauge from the classic Final Fantasy games which you need to use in order to perform abilities and skills like magic and other fancy attacks. It's like you're playing two games in one. You can also take personal control of any of the members of your party, not just Cloud (Final Fantasy XIII this ain't!), and when there are a lot of enemies involved in the battle, things can get very hectic and tense as you try and keep track of it all.

The music is also very good, and a lot of the old tracks are here in new and updated versions. However, there are collectible songs in the game that you can play on jukeboxes scattered throughout the city, but for some reason these versions of the songs are all really weird, and I just never bothered taking the time to look for them all.

...and still iconic in 2020

...and still iconic in 2020

Hmm, this looks familiar

Hmm, this looks familiar

Ifrit wailing on some fools

Ifrit wailing on some fools

Tifa kicks the airbuster in the face

Tifa kicks the airbuster in the face

Chocobos ride to battle against the Hell House

Chocobos ride to battle against the Hell House

Things somehow get weirder than the original ever did. Seriously. You don't know the half of it.

Things somehow get weirder than the original ever did. Seriously. You don't know the half of it.

While there is a great deal of good about this game, it is certainly far from perfect. Some of the things I didn't like were fairly mild annoyances, like there were times when the controls during particular segments were a bit janky, or times when control of the camera was completely taken away from me for no reason at all, and I had to either wait or slowly walk to a certain spot to get control of it back.

But more importantly, especially for further playthroughs, my biggest problem was with all the slow filler that has been shoved into the game in order to make it last longer. Sure, a lot of this was the game giving the characters time to get to know each other better, which wasn't really there in the original. But if I ever play the game again, will I really want to spend 15 minutes picking flowers, or hunting for a little girl's cat? There were just segments where absolutely nothing seemed to happen, for ages. Even in fairly tense and hectic story moments, when the characters were in a rush to get somewhere, they would constantly stop to talk to each other and say things like "Our friends are in trouble! We really need to hurry up!", and then proceed to stand there for another 10 seconds staring into the distance before starting to move again.
All the time I was just bouncing up and down in my chair desperately wanting them to get on with it. I'd got bad guys to beat up after all.

I really do think a lot of fat could have been trimmed, for a shorter game at a slightly lower price. It would certainly have made the game feel a lot tighter and more enjoyable, especially for replays.

The new combat also frustrated me at times. This was partly due to the camera, and how awkward it is to look around during a fight when using a controller compared to a mouse, especially when backed up against a wall.
But mostly it was the combat mechanics themselves. Or more specifically, it was how easy it was for the enemies to interrupt your characters as they prepared their next attack, which happened so many times in some of the more intense fights. I thought I was going to start raging at some points, I really did. My old and tired brain just couldn't keep up with it all.
I also found it quite unfair how, unlike the original, the enemies do not have to abide by the same rules that the player characters do. What I mean by this is, in the old one, all of the characters had to wait for their ATB bar to fill before they could act, and spend MP to do it. Whereas in this one, your characters have to wait and spend MP, but the enemies can just continue to throw out special attack after special attack with no ATB or MP cost at all. Sucks, especially when the ATB bars fill so slowly if you are on the defensive, which some fights dictate.

Also included in this game, which does the combat no favours, is something I hated in FF XIII and continue to hate here. This is the dreaded stagger mechanic. Fucking hell that thing is a ball ache and a half. At least here it's not as bad as it was in XIII, as this game does not include that game's paradigm shifting. Because let's face it, those two things together was a combo akin to someone making you eat a shit sandwich, then forcing you to wash it down with a drink of piss.

How awesome can a cast of characters be?

How awesome can a cast of characters be?

Cloud duels with Abzu

Cloud duels with Abzu

Not the way most people try to pick up Tifa

Not the way most people try to pick up Tifa

Barrett letting rip

Barrett letting rip

Nanaki just hanging around

Nanaki just hanging around

...because they're still doing it

...because they're still doing it

So then, was it all worth it after all? Does it stand up to the legacy of the original?

To be honest, I'm very torn. In chunks, I was madly in love with the game, but at other times I was a little frustrated by what the game was forcing me to do. Then, in terms of story, there was a great deal here to appreciate, but by the end, I was quite concerned, maybe even disappointed.

Yet definitely fascinated.

I don't think I'm in any great rush to play it again, even though there are still plenty of other things for me to try and do in the game. Part of that is because I've done my share of rushing this week, madly trying to get through the game so I can watch an online discussion about it tonight.
But a big chunk of it is because I don't think there's much of a replay factor here, due to most of the new stuff being slower, story and character based content. I may in the future drop it to easy to go through it again, or use the unlocked chapter select to go back through certain chapters again. I certainly won't be pushing on to the hard mode. That sounds like hell on toast.

Overall, I'm really glad the game exists, and I'm glad I played it. But I wish I'd waited a while, and not been in such a rush to finish it myself as to not hear or read anyone else's opinions on it beforehand. It wasn't really worth the worry and energy.

10th December 2019: What A Dreadful Dirge

Oh what a journey I've been on trying to find some comfortable way of playing Dirge Of Cerberus. As stated before, I bought this old PS2 game after finding out it was playable with keyboard and mouse. Yet no matter what I did, I could not get the game to play as I wanted it to, either on the emulator or my actual PS2.

Firstly, I tried to get the emulator to work using the game's built in mouse and keyboard functionality, but it just wouldn't have it at all. I even tried other USB plug-ins, that people had reported having some success with in the past, but they wouldn't work on my machine. Maybe they were built for a different OS.

So, just to make sure keyboard and mouse actually worked, I tried the game on my PS2. Sure enough, the controls do work, but the mouse moved so slow I could barely get Vincent to turn with several sweeps across my mouse mat. My newest mouse may have had more success, as it has way more DPI than the crappy mouse I originally tried, but the PS2 would not detect that one. Typical.

So back I went to the emulator for my third attempt at trying to get mouse and keyboard to work. In this attempt, I changed the bindings that were set up for the controller, and rebound them to the keyboard and mouse. Now this way worked, to a degree, as the game assumed it was still picking up commands from a controller. However, it was still impossible to control as using the mouse motion to emulate the analog sticks was all kinds of janky, with delay and weird stuttery movements all over it.

With no choice than to play with a controller, I thought I may as well use the emulator as I could get some screenshots that way. This too caused its own issues. Using the software renderer, the game looks as it originally did, but the frame rate was unbearable, even using all kinds of speed hacks. Using the hardware renderer, I could get the game to run at its original 50fps for the most part, and could crank the graphics quality up. Though this threw up a weird problem with the skydome failing to render properly on the right half of the screen.
In addition, no matter what renderer was being used, most of the cut scenes would display in slow motion. I would understand if the emulator was killing my computer, but the CPU never went above 30%, and the graphics card usage didn't go above 70%, so I have no idea what was going on.

Still, some cut scene slow down didn't really stop me playing the game, so I soldiered on as best I could. But, as I suspected I would, I grew more and more frustrated with trying to play a shooter with a controller, and after the Shelke and Azul battle about a third of the way through the game, I decided to call it quits. I just was not enjoying it at all. The Shelke fight in particular exacerbated the problem, as she could move around way faster than I could even turn the camera, making it really hard to keep track of her.
Though I beat her first time, my shooting accuracy was shocking, and I had to use most of my healing as she could easily hit me as I tried to track the camera around to find out where she was. I just couldn't be arsed to force myself through it, especially not as I originally watched all the cut scenes on the internet a good decade ago.

Weird background graphics

Weird background graphics

Shooting the shit out of some aircraft

Shooting the shit out of some aircraft

Vincent channels his inner Chuck Norris on this Deepground soldier

Vincent channels his inner Chuck Norris on this Deepground soldier

How does he actually remote control that thing anyway?

How does he actually remote control that thing anyway?

I wonder where they got the inspiration for that weapon

I wonder where they got the inspiration for that weapon

Defeating Azul

Defeating Azul

4th July 2014: The Final Fantasy, Perhaps?

After the debacle of the Playstation Network getting hacked back in 2011 I never saw it fit to give Sony my card details. So when I wanted to buy Resident Evil 2 a couple of years back I did so using a PSN card. However this gave me extra funds in my account that I didn't really know how to spend. It was quite a while ago, May 2013 in fact, that I decided to use up the funds by grabbing Final Fantasy 6 and Final Fantasy 9, as I'd never played 6, and had never owned 9.

I've never owned any Nintendo console, so my first Final Fantasy was 7 on the PS1, which I really loved at the time. However, it's number 6 that's widely regarded to be the best Final Fantasy game ever made, and back in March I finally began my journey through its madness. I know. I don't work very fast.

Before playing this I was well aware my tastes have changed since 1998. I haven't played FF7 in well over a decade, and though I consider it my fave game of all time for its story, I have long believed I would struggle to play it again due to its mechanics and random encounters. That belief has certainly been reinforced while playing through FF6.

Very much a game of two halves, it started out very much reminding me of number 7, being fairly linear and story driven. However, unlike 7, you very quickly get to explore the places of the world, and fairly quickly gain an airship to travel around. Still, during this time, the game makes it clear where you've got to go and what you've got to do, but allows you to fly around and do your own thing if you wish.
In contrast, the second half of the game is weird. You get absolutely no story or instructions to guide you, other than it's your task to kill the final boss, Kefka. At that point in the game though, the low levels of your characters dictate that such an attempt would be pointless. It's up to you where to go, what to explore and how much to level up before going into Kefka's tower.

Instead, the game is laden with secret little things to find and do. Number 7 had a few hidden cut scenes, like when visiting the Shinra Mansion basement or Lucrecia's cave, but in this game there were loads of little scenes that flashed up out of nowhere, and entire side missions that would become available, depending on what I was doing or which characters were in my party. I can't even begin to imagine how many things I missed, and it's left me with a feeling that I learned very little about the characters, meaning I don't really care for any of them. Some people probably enjoy that there are so many things to find and do, but for me I'd rather at least all the big back story scenes be mandatory.

Sabin wants food...

Sabin wants food...

...and gets fed by a ghost?

...and gets fed by a ghost?

Then he goes and punches another ghost in the face

Then he goes and punches another ghost in the face

#suplexthetrain

#suplexthetrain

Gau annoys me

Gau annoys me

Kefka also annoys me...

Kefka also annoys me...

...so I got Edgar to shoot him with some green shit

...so I got Edgar to shoot him with some green shit

Terra turns into a pink thing and forgets how to speak

Terra turns into a pink thing and forgets how to speak

Siren is quite the cheeky esper

Siren is quite the cheeky esper

This conductor is awesome

This conductor is awesome

No Ultros, I did not

No Ultros, I did not

Gots me an airship I has

Gots me an airship I has

The lack of story and focus was not the only problem with the later sections of the game. I certainly did not enjoy the required grind to level up enough of the characters and have them learn enough magic to be useful going into the final confrontations. Number 8 had a lot of grinding in order to draw magics, but I don't remember anything of the sort necessary in 7 or 9, unless you wanted to fight the WEAPONs. Maybe it's an even number thing. It's just not something I care for.

But by far the main issues were down to the downright pathetic attempt at porting this old Nintendo game to the Playstation platform. I've seen footage of the original Nintento version on Youtube, and it has none of the issues this version has. Incredibly slow load speeds in between battles and sections, battle menu freezes, and sluggish controller response times plagued me every step of the way. Also, in the iconic opera scene, there's some very strange video/audio sync issues which made the whole section really hard to get passed as correct timing is necessary.
The other issue which also annoyed me, which was not port-related, was the fact that you can not see your character's MP or max HP when you're in a battle. I'm so glad they made that info available in later games, because there's no excuse for it not to be there.

For all its bad points though, the game was still playable. It says something about how bad 13 was if I've managed to get through this game with all its Playstation issues, when I couldn't face 13 for more than a few hours.

As far as number 9 is concerned, I struggled to get through it the first time when I borrowed it from Scoob. After this experience it's unlikely I'll play it, or any Final Fantasy, ever again.

This kid is just creepy

This kid is just creepy

Surrounded by Espers

Surrounded by Espers

Burn bitch!

Burn bitch!

Kefka decimates the world

Kefka decimates the world

Chocobo!

Chocobo!

Not so sure I wanna use that technique

Not so sure I wanna use that technique

Terra seems able to piss stars

Terra seems able to piss stars

Rise of Phoenix

Rise of Phoenix

Erm what?

Erm what?

Terra freaks out when she learns she is in Cyan's soul

Terra freaks out when she learns she is in Cyan's soul

Cyan's soul is a weird place

Cyan's soul is a weird place

Celes kicking butt

Celes kicking butt

Time to finish this

Time to finish this

Kefka is such a dick

Kefka is such a dick

Kefka's final moments

Kefka's final moments

Bad guy dead, time to take a nap

Bad guy dead, time to take a nap

29th December 2012: Recounting The Fantasies

For many months I've been meaning to waffle on about my travels through the different Final Fantasy games I've played over the years, much like I did with WoW a while ago. And finally, I've got my ass together and sorted it out. For no reason whatsoever. Don't ask how I remember all this shit.

I originally got Final Fantasy VII for Christmas 1997 from my folks. They had originally bought me Soulblade, but a few days before Christmas they discovered I'd already got that one, and FF7 was their last minute replacement on the advice of someone who worked in the store. Good on that bloke, whoever it was.
Now at the time I knew absolutely nothing about Final Fantasy. I'd never even heard the name. All previous games had been on Nintendo, and back then, much like now, I felt (somewhat irrational I'll admit) hatred towards those consoles. I always felt their marketing strategy and their games were skewed too young for me.
The first time I tried to play it I got to the first scorpion boss and got slaughtered. I had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on. A few days later when the whole Christmas stuff had stopped stuffing, I gave it another go and soon got quite into it.

In February my work mate had a week off and finished the game. When he came back he proceeded to give me loads of spoilers. Twat. Learning these spoilers did not help me at all, as my attention was already waning as I tried to get through the bloody annoying Northern continent, which I hated that first time through. I pretty much went off the game until another workmate picked it up a while later. The guy who'd finished it reckoned this other guy would finish it before me, so I got stuck back in. I finally made it passed that icy wasteland and wouldn't you know, I started liking it again. Maybe it was because Aerith was no longer in it (she annoyed me back then, even though I find her quite adorable now). Even after that, it took me quite a while to finish it. But it was ace to play, and I absolutely loved the story. Still do.

I remember it was about 2am when I first finished it. I intended to get near the end and save it, but I went a bit too far and stumbled into the very long end fight, leaving me no choice but to push through it or I'd lose a lot of work I'd already done. Was a bit tired.

In July 99 I started playing it again after buying the big strategy book. I got through it loads faster and easier and really enjoyed the game and story even more, and did loads of work on the mini games in the Gold Saucer picking up extra shite.

In Feb 2000 I ventured into my 2nd Final Fantasy game when I bought #8 for the PC. I guess like any game there were some things that were better than the one before and some things that were worse. I liked being able to junction different GFs (summons) on different characters to create different combos, but I hated having to draw magics and the boost system was a bore. Story wise it was ok, but I generally dislike anything that deals with any kind of time travel. And this game was full of it, in its own way.

I remember I got to the fight with Adel on disc 4, but couldn't beat her due to not having enough magic drawn and being a little underlevelled. So in August I started again with more determination, and finished it pretty easily in October. Really got a good feeling at the end.

In Jan 2001 I picked up FF7 again, this time for the PC. It was so much better going through it this time, with better graphics and much faster load times. Though I remember there was a weird upside-down graphics bug that needed fixing first. Odd. I was intending to really build up the characters to try a pop at one or both of the big two WEAPONs, but like a tit I missed the vital ribbon from the Temple Of The Ancients, so I never really tried the WEAPON fights and just finished it again.

I decided not to get FF9 as it was not going to be released on PC, and I had enjoyed 7 & 8 so much more on PC than on the PS1. However, in May 2002 I borrowed it from the Scoob. It took a lot of getting into and I struggled through disc 1. This game started toying with what seems to be the current trend of completely limiting what you can do in the game compared to 7 & 8. In this one, they stopped you from customising the party magics and summons the way you could before, as only certain spells and summons could be used by certain characters, and I didn't really like that. Still, it's nowhere near as restrictive as the current games.

I didn't touch it again til early 03 when I started to get into it a bit more. As I was nearing the end of this game in March I got into a chat with Mr. Krig about number 8, as he could remember all the weird names I'd called my GFs. I couldn't help but reload my #8 late game save and finish it again.

In April I finished number 9, not long after finally starting to get really into it. The ending was pretty cool and long, but I would have liked to have seen more of it fully rendered rather than with in game graphics. I did not however grasp the point of Necron's arrival out of the blue at the end. Sure, why not just throw in a big bad guy who up to that point had had absolutely no mention in the entire rest of the game? Sounds like a completely obvious plan. Not. I also didn't like how getting onto the last disc stopped you from going into all the towns around the world for some reason. Strange decisions.

At some point in late 2004 I once more started playing number 8, again with the intent of taking on the big bad WEAPON. I'd got all my junctions worked out in advance and was gonna level up to full, draw all the magics in the world, and nail that big bastard. I think I'd just got onto disc 2 when I had to reformat my computer for some reason. I don't know why, but I've never re-installed the game. I still have the saves, but just have not touched them since. I'm weird.

Over the next couple of years I borrowed number 10 from the Scoob twice, but both times I only played it for about 20 mins. I just did not like it at all for some reason.

I did not touch the franchise again until Jan 2011 when I bought number 13 dirt cheap. I played this for a while, until the point where I escaped Cocoon and made it down to the other planet. It was at this time I decided to throw the damn thing out of the window. The game up to that point had been extremely linear, and I'd been hoping the new planet would bring more freedom, exploration, and a world map or something, but I got none of that. I just didn't like it at all. Other problems were the paradigm system, which pissed me off no end, having to constantly switch just to throw a couple of heals in, and the fact you had to build up the chain bar thing, in order to stagger an enemy and do any real damage. Switching paradigms would often upset your rhythm as you tried to build that gauge, making battles last loads longer than necessary. Also, you couldn't select or even control your whole party. Fracking rediculous. It's just too far removed from the first couple of games I played and really liked.
I watched the rest of the story on the Youtubes, and pretty much gave up on the series.