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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.

18th April 2020: Horizon Zero Done?

I've found some time over the last fortnight or so to start playing Horizon Zero Dawn. This game's been out a few years now and is widely regarded to be one of the best PS4 games ever made. The game is set in the far future, many years after the collapse of civilisation as we know it, and humanity has again become tribal and superstitious.
You play as Aloy, a woman who has been cast out of her tribe, who then finds her life taking an interesting turn when she stumbles upon some ancient technology in some ruins.

Trying out a KX

Trying out a KX

Wow, I really want to like this, but there are two enormous problems that are keeping me from really getting into it. The first one, is how I've got to use a controller in a shooter game. This is a problem I've always had, and it's never going to change. I just hate controllers for these types of games. I've gotten away with it in other games like Ghostbusters, but in this, the combat is so fast paced, and the machines give my aging brain and spaghetti thumbs so little time to aim, that it really spoils my enjoyment.

Of course, I foresaw this issue, so decided to buy something called a KX adapter. This little gadget lets you plug in a keyboard and mouse and make the console think you are using a controller. There's no way to rebind the keys, which was a stumbling block, but I got around that somewhat using the PS4's own button allocations. However, I've still had to go back to using the controller, as using the mouse to emulate the right stick turned out to be unplayable. It wasn't as bad as when I tried something similar in Dirge Of Cerberus, but it was still pretty bad.
Oh well.

The other problem is all the stealth. Pretty much every fight, other than the ones against more simple enemies, is set up to be a big stealth set piece.

Other than that, I like what the game has to offer. I like its story so far, and the characters are pretty cool. I also like the world, and there's a shit ton of things to do beyond the main story.

The other cool thing I like is the photo mode. I'm always thinking about screenshots when I'm playing games, so it was nice to find this little bit of kit to help me out, and I've managed to grab a few pics to use as backdrops for the forseeable future.

Here's a few screenies so far:

My first attempt using photo mode

My first attempt using photo mode

This dance looks like one Dave and I would have made up in the late 90s

This dance looks like one Dave and I would have made up in the late 90s

Photo mode is cool

Photo mode is cool

An epic duel in the dark

An epic duel in the dark

Preparing to fire

Preparing to fire

Get off my metal horse John

Get off my metal horse John

Pitting the Sawtooths against each other

Pitting the Sawtooths against each other

It's up in the air whether I'll come back to this. I just hate having to use a controller to aim with so much.

Not that I'm really thinking about HZD much right now, when this beast is currently installing...

Time to see what some old friends are up to...

Time to see what some old friends are up to...

23rd December 2019: Stebloke-Man, Stebloke-Man, Does Whatever A Stebloke Can

So just got done swinging, punching and zipping my way through my first ever PS4 game, in the shape of Spider-Man. I was pretty sure I was going to get at least some enjoyment from this game, considering how much inspiration it takes from the Batman Arkham series, and how much I liked the first two of those games.

For the most part, this turned out to be true, though my early tactics spoiled the game for me a little bit and I found my attention waining towards the end. See, my initial intention was to 100% the game, and do every little thing all over the map. So every time I saw something new on the map I would go and do it before moving on with the story. This quickly became old, and I got fed up with hunting for bags, or doing research challenges and the like.
So I then changed tactics and decided to only do things on the map if they were on the way to my next story mission. This was ok for a time, but at one point in the story, just like in Arkham Origins, a load of people populate the map with guns and sniper rifles, all waiting to shoot your ass out of the sky as you swing by. This pissed me off back then, and pissed me off this time.
So in the end, I ignored the many, many things on the map that I hadn't done yet, and just straight lined the campaign, and I've got to say, this was the way to go. I just wish I'd done that from the start.

Flash kicking the Kingpin

Flash kicking the Kingpin

Yep, that dude's dead

Yep, that dude's dead

The game is not without its physics bugs

The game is not without its physics bugs

Shut yo mouth!

Shut yo mouth!

The Ste'n'Ste suit was the one I wore the most

The Ste'n'Ste suit was the one I wore the most

Spidey's still not figured out how to stuff someone into a trunk

Spidey's still not figured out how to stuff someone into a trunk

As mentioned before, the combat is definitely influenced by the Arkham games, but with some big differences that took me a little while to get used to. For starters, I kept pressing triangle to counter like in the Batman games, whereas in this one you have to press circle to dodge instead. My muscle memory, even these years later, just kept kicking in. Took me a while to shake that behaviour for some reason.
Also, the timing of the dodges was key. At first, I would try and dodge as soon as I got the warning, but I quickly found out that dodging too early just gives the attacker time to change the direction of their attack and they end up smacking you anyway. To get the best out of the combat in this game, dodging at the last second is required. Once I got used to it, and opened up a few more skills, I really quite enjoyed dropping into a big group of goons and beating the snot out of them.

Some things that annoyed me about the Arkham games also popped up here, like stealth missions, silly little puzzles, and missions where Spidey has been poisoned and you have to trudge through hallucinations. Thankfully, these elements were greatly reduced in this game, and took a lot less time to get through.

The story was pretty good, but there was nothing ground-breaking here, especially if you know anything about Spider-Man and his rogues' gallery. There was just one thing that happened at the end that I was a little surprised by.

Overall, well worth the play through, though I wish I'd not spent so much time swinging around the city trying to do all the pointless little stuff before just getting on with it.

Spidey falls through the world to his death

Spidey falls through the world to his death

The puzzles were very hit and miss

The puzzles were very hit and miss

Two cops diligently guard two very unconscious criminals

Two cops diligently guard two very unconscious criminals

No foreshadowing here or anything

No foreshadowing here or anything

Hallucination missions. Sigh.

Hallucination missions. Sigh.

Finishing off Mr. Negative

Finishing off Mr. Negative