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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Final Fantasy XV Demo - My thoughts and impressions

Final Fantasy XV, man, it's kind of hard to believe it's been so long since the original game's announcement. This thing was first brought up back in 2006 -- almost 9 years ago, and we are just now finally getting our first look at it. So much time has passed by since then, and I can't help but remember all of the times I sat here hoping for more news to come. Events would pass by, and time after time Square-Enix would say something like "oh, we'll have more news next time!" Or, "more news will be coming soon!" After awhile the started changing their story to "we do not have any news to share at this time," and they would just walk off the stage. Yep, fun times. This is a trend that continued for years, up until they finally showed off new gameplay, and we learned that our April Fool's day post here at NGR was right -- Final Fantasy Versus XIII had in fact become Final Fantasy XV, and it was being released on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

So, it's been a couple of years since then and now a demo is out. Finally after the long wait we actually get a chance to play the thing, and that's the whole reason I'm even making this post today. I know that other people have shared video (including us, as we have live streamed it) and their own impressions, but I wanted to share mine as well. The simple fact is, everyone is going to have different opinions of this demo, and mine is one that actually changed greatly as I played it. I really wasn't expecting this to be this way, but yeah... Anyway, let's get on with this!

When I first started up Final Fantasy XV's Demo, I was excited. I couldn't wait to finally play this game I had waited so long for, but it wasn't something I could just jump right into. First thing that stopped me was a long loading screen, and then the second thing was none other than a mini cutscene where the characters woke up, and slowly walked out into the world in order to find a way to make cash to repair their busted car (yes, no car in this demo). It was an okay cutscene that did show off some of the character models up close, but for once I actually didn't care -- I just wanted to get a chance to play. Yeah, the game continued to stop me even after that... Besides the cutscene, the demo makes you listen to the characters a bit more, and it slowly tells you which buttons to press to pull off different actions (ones as simple as moving the camera and walking). Never have I been so impatient during a game's intro, but once it finally ended I was ecstatic! Finally I could run around, I could try to figure out how to jump, and I -- could sit through a weapon and combat tutorial. Of course I had to do this, I had no idea how to play, but this is also where my initial disappointment started.

Up until now I had only really heard about the game's changes, how it went from a Kingdom Hearts style game to more of a Final Fantasy Type-0 game, but videos and interviews didn't really cut it. None of these things actually showed just how different the game would be, and that is something I had a hard time overcoming at first. As the tutorial explained to me, combat was done by either holding or tapping the button (tapping you seem to have more control), and you defended by holding L1 (PS4 version) and watching your character auto dodge. During this state you can also parry attacks after a dodge by pressing attack, and there's also a manual dodge which the game didn't even bother to explain how to do (pressing jump). The tutorial also explained how you can hide behind rocks and what not to recover MP, and that you can also warp to warp points high up on tall objects to do the same. There's also a teleport attack you can do by locking on and pressing X, but that's really about all there is too it. Weapon attacks are set in a menu you can open at any time, and depending on where you place each of your weapons your attack combos will be different. For example I have the standard short sword set for normal auto combos, my lance is set to the air attack spot, and the great sword to the heavy strike/finishing attack spot. It's a system that actually took me awhile to understand, but to be fair, everything confused me at first.

The thing is about this combat system, it's not really full on action like I had assumed it would be. The simple fact is, it's basically a turn based battle, that plays out with more control in real time. Basically it is all about switching between attack mode and defensive mode, and watching the enemy movements as you plan out your attack. The MP bar controls how much you can dodge, warp, and even the special attacks that are selected with a menu and used by pressing Triangle (it is basically the command system first seen in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, but with attacks tied to your weapons rather than having the option of switching them out freely). The game has quite a bit of waiting involved, and at first it just felt very clunky to me. I didn't know what I was doing, enemies were running from me, I was having issues hitting the wolf things, and the enemy soldiers that fly in from overhead (this game's version of a random battle as it seems) were just destroying me. Of course you can be revived by your party members, but each time your max hp lowers up until you run out and need to rest at an inn or camp. Still, this combat system was a challenge for me, and I didn't really care for it at first. Then, I started giving it a chance.

As I played the game more, I started to see just how much detail and character they put into this. Even with a framerate that drops from time to time (remember it's just a demo), and with it running only in 900P, the game itself looks pretty amazing. It's not really a bright and shiny game, but instead it uses light in a more realistic way which causes some things to look a bit darker, and more like how you would expect things to be in real life. At first it may not look all that impressive, but as you start to look around and actually see the things that they've done, and just how detailed the textures really are up close, you begin to see how good it actually is. First glance is a dull dusty world, but a deeper look shows off something much more real. That's not really what I found impressive though, but rather it's something I expected. We knew this game would look good, but what did catch me off guard is how much they actually put into the world itself to make it feel alive.

The monsters in this game are the wildlife, and they act just as a wild animal should. Some of the dangerous ones will attack you on sight, but others will only attack if you upset them, or harm them first. The area in this demo is basically an open field with a small forest area, a lake, and cliffs, and the animals (monsters) in it really seem to fit the setting. It's not something you notice at first, but when you realize this place is their home, and that they aren't just randomly spawning enemies, it is actually pretty nice to see what Square has done. For example as you try to walk through the brush (which will obstruct your camera, and make it hard to walk), sometimes enemies will be hiding in wait for you and attack you when you least expect it. It gives you the sense of danger, and causes you to always be on guard just as you would if you were walking through such areas in real life. You never know what is out there that might get you, or you never know who's nest you might trample through by mistake. Typically enemies in these type of games are just there, but in Final Fantasy XV, it really does make sense -- something I personally would like to see more games do, at least, I'd like to see them do it more on this level.

Although the enemy placement is nice and all, the thing that really stood out to me in this demo while I was exploring was the characters themselves. They interact with the world in a way I wasn't expecting, and they also talk among themselves as they explore. Rather than discussing the story's events as you get closer to your goals (like we see in most games), the characters in Final Fantasy XV bring up a wide verity of subjects, and it's more based on location than your progress. Sure they'll mention something about needing to fix their car from time to time, but for the most part everyone is more interested in what is in front of them. If they see something they are interested in they may call you over, but at other times they may see something and wonder just what it actually is -- such as the old abandoned building not too far from the game's gas station. It's pretty impressive to see just how much dialogue there is though, despite this being such a short demo. One really nice touch of detail though, actually comes from the gas station itself. As strange as it may be to stand in a 50s style gas station with cars driving by and parking out front, it actually was one of the highlights of the demo for me. The gas station itself had so much character, and walking around listening to what people had to say was nice. You can even stay in the trailer next to it for a small fee, and when you wake up in the morning you'll find your party members out doing their own thing. Walking into the gas station you'll find one talking to the guy behind the counter (who will then wish Noct a good morning), while the others will be out doing whatever it is they want to do. Each one will realize Noctis has just woken up, and even Noct himself will say "morning" to them from time to time. After being used to staying at inns just to heal, and the game not even realizing it, seeing this small detail make it in really threw me off, and it is easily one of my favorite moments I've come across so far (with the chocobo ranch playing the chocobo theme being a close second).

Originally when I started exploring this world, I felt a little bored. I didn't know what to do, combat was not what I wanted or expected, and I was having trouble finding things to even do. It took me awhile to realize there were side quests allover the place, and it wasn't until later that I realized there was even a dungeon and tons of hidden things to find and collect. I was just running around, doing nothing, wishing the game was something else. But then, as I started to really pay attention to the world around me, and started to see just how interactive it was and how much the party members and enemies were involved with it, it all began to change for me. The exploration went from being a running simulator, to a world I was being pulled into, and the entire game just started to click. Even the combat that felt like such a let down to me initially was something I began to understand! I started dodging, I started countering, I began pulling off crazy fast combos, I used my special attacks to clear mobs, I helped my fallen teammates, I warped high up onto towers and attacked the enemies from the air, I learned how to warp to and chase down them stupid wolves that were giving me problems, and I began leveling up and becoming stronger. I'm really not sure what changed, but the more I fought, the more I actually understood about the game, and before long I found myself having a lot of fun. It went from being something that annoyed me for not being what I wanted, to a combat system that I personally cannot wait to see more of.

Really, Final Fantasy XV's demo isn't something you can just judge by looking at it. It's a massive open world filled with life, and features a combat system that is basically an action version of a turn based battle. It still requires a lot of planning, but you're just in control of when you move and attack, It's fast and fun, but at the same time it isn't a button masher where you can hammer away and hope for the best. It's something you really have to experience for yourself to judge it, and even then it's something you need to spend more than five minutes with. As for the car, although I couldn't drive it, I quickly saw just how important it was. Of course the car's something you'll use more on the highway (I seriously doubt you'd be able to drive it through the forest and what not), but this demo makes it clear just how important it will be. Sure, you can walk, but trust me when I say that you don't want to. Although the demo is just a small confined area (which is actually pretty massive on it's own), more of the game is in this than what exists within the mountains and invisible walls blocking your path. By throwing myself into an oncoming car (as I did during our live stream), you can push yourself past that wall, and enter the unfinished outside. Here you'll find VERY long highways, massive hills, and tons of filed for you to trek through. After running for about 20 minutes or so, up until the game realized I had activated a glitch and gave me a game over, I quickly found myself wishing I could drive as getting anywhere in this massive world will take forever. It is simply huge. (Just imagine walking from one end of the map to the other in a game like Just Cause 2...)

So yeah, after who knows how many hours with the demo, I've come to realize that Final Fantasy XV is something I MUST play. At first I was let down, but now all that demo did was make the wait for the full game even longer. I had a lot of fun just running around, fighting, and exploring in that small area, and I can't wait to see the massive world in the full game... Darn you game over screen, if only you would have let me continue on past them barriers...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Three heavy hitters out now!

Today is March 17th, and you know what that means? Yes, it is St. Patrick's Day, but besides that... It's the day when three heavy hitters come out, and a VERY much anticipated demo! After a VERY LONG wait, Final Fantasy Type-0 has finally been released outside of Japan, the Final Fantasy XV (which used to be Final Fantasy Versus XIII) demo is out for those who buy it, and we also have Battlefield Hardline and the full disc release of Resident Evil Revelations 2. But, what's so special about these games you might ask? Well, let's get into them a little bit more and find out.

Final Fantasy Type-0:

If you're a fan of JRPGs, Final Fantasy Type-0 may be the PS4 or Xbox One game you've been waiting for. Originally released on the PSP back in 2011, this was a Japanese exclusive that really changed the way players looked at the Final Fantasy series. Unlike others which follow your band of heroes as they travel the world, Type-0 has you taking control of different members from "Class Zero" at a military academy. The game has no true "main" character, and it focuses more on the school life of these characters, as well as the war they are caught up in. While inbetween missions, the game plays out in an almost Persona-like way, with you choosing which events to take part in, and advancing the time in game as well. Characters build relationships, take part in optional events, take care of chocobo, and do just about whatever else it is you want them to do. You're in control of these character's lives during this time, but once a story mission happens you are thrown out into the world map (which is rarely seen in Final Fantasy games now days) and forced to fight for your survival. While the world map has random encounters, during missions all enemies appear on the field, and battles play out in real time. Players are asked to pick three characters to make up a party, and they are given the option to switch between all three to pull off strategic attacks. The game also has a huge focus on dodging and timing attacks, but planning is pretty important, and key if you plan on staying alive.

Although Type-0 isn't your standard turn based Final Fantasy, it's a game with a much darker story (first Final Fantasy to receive an M rating in the US), unique gameplay, and a ton of content to keep you busy for some time. It's also a game that's meant to be replayed time and time again, and because of that each playthrough will allow you to see different events, and play the game differently in general. It's a massive title that used to be PSP exclusive, but now it's here in the west in remastered HD.

Final Fantasy XV Demo:

As an added bonus, anyone who preordered Type-0 will receive the demo for Final Fantasy XV. This is something fans have been waiting for, for many years, and now for the first time they can experience a small part of it for themselves. The demo includes a large open area for you to explore, enemies to fight, and it gives you a small taste of what the final product will be like. While it may be just a demo, this one is huge and may have even got people to buy Type=0 just for it.

Battlefield Hardline:

The latest entry in the Battlefield series, and a step away from the norm. Rather than taking place in some war zone, Hardline takes to the city streets and focuses on the life of cops and robbers. While the game's single player plays out like a TV Crime Drama, the online multiplayer takes the Battlefield many of us know and love, and throws in some new twists to make this title stand out from the others. Sure your standard game modes are there (such as conquest), but there's also new modes such as one where robbers try to steal, and cops try to defend. Unlike in other Battlefields, this one also has a bit more of a focus on using standard cars and other vehicles to your advantage, and it also makes some improvements to the overall Battlefield formula. Sure this one may not be developed by DICE, but from what we've seen in the beta, it's a game worth looking into. (Of course we understand if you're a bit iffy towards it as well -- especially after what happened with Battlefield 4's launch.)

Resident Evil Revelations 2:

This one isn't really a "new" game, but it's coming out today none the less. Originally released over the past few weeks in episodic parts, Revelations 2 is a semi-sequel to Resident Evil Revelations, which originally launched as a 3DS exclusive. While the game isn't a direct follow up, it takes the Revelations formula, improves upon it, and throws us into a new story in a new location following two new groups of characters -- one of which is lead by Claire, and the other being lead by series fan favorite Barry. Just like Revelations before it, the game has a focus on both shooting and survival, and this time around stealth elements are thrown in as well. Characters can now sneak up on enemies to instantly kill them, and "support" characters (whom you can switch to at any time) can back up Claire/Barry by either blinding the enemy, or by seeing where they are through walls. The two character set up is also used to solve some light puzzles (similar to Resident Evil Zero, or the co-op in Resident Evil 5 and 6), but these moments are very few and far between. On top of that, Raid mode from Revelations 1 returns as well, which has you playing as your favorite character as you slaughter enemies, gain experience, level up, unlock weapons, and level up said weapon's skills to take on bigger and badder enemies. It's a fun extra mode, and one you can easily spend hundreds of hours on -- especially if you want to level every character up, and unlock all medals. It's also great for co-op.


Well, that about does it. For those of you who plan on getting any of the above games (or all three), all I can say is... Have fun! (I know I will!)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Bait and Switch in Gaming - Is it a good or bad thing?

Today I wanted to talk about something a little bit different--a topic which may actually anger some of some of you. What is this topic you may ask? Well it is none other than what one might call "Bait and Switch." Now before I continue on, keep in mind that this can actually refer to different things. While Bait and Switch can refer to an illegal act, in this post what I'll be discussing is when developers make a game to appear to be one thing (or have one specific feature), but then do a complete 180 and possibly shock and maybe even anger you. One famous example is none other than Metal Gear Solid 2, and that's where I'm going to start this.

In the year 1998 the very first entry in the Metal Gear Solid series was released. This game took what had been set in the original Metal Gear series, updated it for the PlayStation's new advanced hardware, and it took stealth and storytelling to a whole new level. The game became insanely popular, and before long fans began their long wait for the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 2. As time went on, the game was finally announced to be a PlayStation 2 release, and a demo was even included with another game by the name of Zone of the Enders. After seeing this demo, which featured everyone's favorite hero Solid Snake, and seeing many pre-release trailers, fans simply couldn't wait anymore for the real thing. From what was shown, it looked flat out amazing. Everything that had been done in Metal Gear Solid 1 had been expanded on, what little players knew about the story excited them, and just about everything in general excited fans. They couldn't wait to get their hands on it, and they were sure it would be the "best game ever." So, what happened? Outrage... That's what...

When the game finally came out and people jumped into it, players were soon shocked. After a roughly one hour long intro (depending how fast or slow you play it) something very strange happened, and fans didn't know what they were in for. Solid Snake vanishes, and a new guy with long hair sticking out from under a mask is seen being called Snake instead. Shortly after this scene the guy actually removes the mask, we see his face for the first time, and he is given the new name of "Raiden." Just who was this guy? None other than the new main character, that's who.

(Raiden would later go on to become
a pretty cool Cyborg Ninja, but at first
many MGS fans flat out hated him.
In fact, some still do...)
Yes, that's right. After waiting years for a sequel, the game finally comes out and fans find out they have been lied to. Solid Snake isn't the main character like the demo and trailers lead them to believe, but instead they are greeted with this "rookie" who looks like a girl, and seems completely single-handedly stripped away many fan's excitement. As said before, outrage soon followed, and Metal Gear Solid 2 became known as one of the most hated games in the series--for some that is. The moment I saw this I too didn't know what to think. A friend had brought a copy of the game over, and when I saw Raiden I remember saying "where is Snake?" At the time I wasn't a fan, but I still knew enough about MGS1 to know that this wasn't right, and that alone semi turned me off from it. Of course I would later go on to play it and actually greatly enjoy it, but back then it even sort of ticked me off. So, was this a good move, or should something like this never happen? Well... That's actually really hard to say.

The thing is, although Bait and Switch such as MGS2's case can really upset fans, it also adds uncertainty to the game. Sometimes shocks like this can really make a game stand out above all others, but when it is people's only reason for buying the thing that is changed that's when things can become really bad. With MGS2 a lot of fans were buying it simply to play as Snake, but when they learned Snake wasn't in the game playable (at last not in the original release) it really damaged it for them; meanwhile the people who really didn't care who they played as may have actually been in for a very pleasant surprise. Sure not many people out there will admit they were happy to see Snake being replaced, but there's a handful who may have thought just that. Really though, in general, this is something I feel game developers shouldn't do. No one should be lead to believe a game is something it isn't, only to start it up and see they had been lied to. It's not much different than buying a "New" Nintendo 3DS online, only to receive an original unopened 3DS. While the picture the webpage shows you may be of the New 3DS, what you got is something different and unusable if you wanted that C-Stick, or the ability to play exclusive New 3DS games. Really it's no wonder who this sort of thing angers people, but what if it isn't such an extreme case? Well, I hate to tell you guys but some of you out there may find yourself facing what MGS fans did many years ago very soon.

Without saying the name, or going into too much detail (I'm not going to spoil this for you guys), but there is an upcoming game which does this yet again. It's a game I am really looking forward to, and have been following since a handful of domain names were registered for it (that's another hint, if you really want to know you can find the answer here at NGR), but it is also one that tricks fans--but to a lesser extent. In this game one of the main characters was heavily advertised, and many fans out there may still expect to be able to play as this character. While he/she may not be a deciding factor in the game overall, they are someone you expect to see throughout the course of the story. Well, that doesn't happen. Shortly after the first part of the game, this character leaves the cast (due to the storyline), and a new character completely replaces them--one who many fans thought nothing of, and passed off as an unimportant side character (and possibly NPC) at that. This switch has already angered many fans who have bought the game in other regions (yes, it's not out in the US yet), and it continues to be a hot topic in the game's fan community. Still, was this switch really that bad? Personally, I don't think it was. While I am a bit saddened that I wasn't able to use this character (I actually liked them as well), I also have no issues with the character that game in their place--in fact I may even like them better. As for the character leaving/why they leave, that is actually pretty shocking and one fans did not see coming. Just as I mentioned above, things like this can really help games stand out, and it will keep people talking as the years go on. Of course there's always some who may have been completely turned off from the game due to this, but in this case it wasn't the main character. The developers of this game never really lied to us about how the game would be, they just changed it slightly. Outside of that, the game still plays the same, the story is still the same, and as an added bonus the removed character does actually have their own story mode which can be bought as DLC. Sure this also angered fans, but at least it's something. Really though, this is the type of thing I personally like to see in games. Yes it gives people a valid reason to be upset, but smaller shocks like this do not truly ruin the game.

So, going back to the main topic... Is this a good or bad thing? Personally I'd say that it really depends on the person. I can't give you a solid answer as everyone will react different to what these games do. Some of you may welcome these shocks with open arms, and you may actually like these changes a lot better than the original game; meanwhile the rest of you may actually flat out hate the game, and refuse to play it because of said change. It all comes down to what you personally like, and just how the game pulls off this "Bait and Switch." It's never right to flat out lie to someone, and make them buy a game by telling them it is something it's not, but making smaller changes or changing things due to the plot is a completely different story. Heck even Resident Evil Revelations 2 may upset some, but that's all I'm going to say about that. In general though, when it comes to things like Metal Gear Solid 2, that's the sort of thing fans really should know ahead of time--as it may directly impact their decision to buy it or not. I'm sure if the new "Super Mario" game removed Mario after the first stage and replaced him with a new original character fans would freak out over that as well... Now let's watch Nintendo do it! (It wouldn't be the first time they lied to us... After all, Metroid: Other M was not a Super Metroid style game, but rather Metroid Fusion reborn.)

Now, what do you guys think about this whole issue? Does Bait and Switch annoy you? Has it ever turned you off from a game? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Vagrant & CodeCross - Two Indies that need your help

If you've been following NGR over the years and you've seen my posts personally, then you may know that I like to support people who are out there trying to do their own thing. I guess I just sort of relate to them. Most of the projects I've been involved with were ones that started alone, but slowly over time friends began to lend a helping hand, and others got involved as well. I know what it's like to have friends, and I know what it is like to have the support of others in general. Even the smallest thing can go a long way, and that's why from time to time I'll spread the word of indie games that are still trying to make the first step. Sometimes the developers contact us here at NGR, but other times it's friends or you (the reader) who bring these games to our attention, and this is exactly one of those times. When Cheerfuljochan (whom used to be a writer here at NGR) showed me the following two games and asked me to spread the word, I couldn't say no. So with that being said, let's get on with what this is really about.

Today I'd like to take a little time to show off two indie games that are trying to get funded, with the first one being a game called "The Vagrant." While you can find out more information over at the game's official Kickstarter page (which includes concept art, trailers, and more), the basics of this game is that it is a hack and slash. Drawing inspiration from games like Dragon's Crown, the game uses a unique art style with fast pace arcade style hack and slash action. The game has a handful of characters/classes for you to choose from, each with their own skills and abilities, and what appears to be some challenging end stage boss battles (as one may expect from one of these arcade style beat em ups). Really if you're a fan of Dragon's Crown, or beat em ups in general, this may be something you'll want to look into. It's interesting, and it would be nice to see if it got funded.

The second, and final game Cheerful showed me, is one called CrossCode which also has it's very own crowed unding page. This one, well, it's an RPG Maker game... But that's not a bad thing. I personally have experience with the program and have done quite a few things with it, and I know better than anyone that it really comes down to how creative you can be with your games. There's a lot of great RPG Maker games out there, and this one does do some creative things of its own. It's a fast paced action game for one, and it has some pretty deep customization elements as well (from what they've shown off so far at least). The game is basically a sci-fi top down action RPG similar to PC classics such as Ys, so if you're a fan of that sort of thing you may want to look into this as well.

Well, that about covers it. Two more indie games you guys might like to try -- if they get funded that is. Maybe you can help these developers make their dreams come true?

Metal Gear Solid V - Release Date Announced!

After a very long wait Kojima has finally announced when the latest entry of the Metal Gear Solid series will be released, and it is sooner than you might think! While we have known for some time that the game would be released sometime in 2015, many assumed it would be released near the end of the year. Well, that is not the case! It turns out the game will be released world wide on 9/1/2015. Yes that's right, only six months away!

Although it's still a half a year away, now that we finally know when the game will be out it makes the wait seem much shorter than before. We now know exactly how long it'll be before we can finally jump into Big Boss' shoes once again, and see what happens after the ending of last year's Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes prequel. Of course the good news is MGSV isn't the only major release coming out from now until then, so I'm sure many of you out there will find something to hold you over. Battlefield Hardline, Resident Evil Revelations 2, or Final Fantasy Type-0 maybe? Well, you can pick your own poison. Whatever helps make time fly by!

Well, until next time guys!