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Bravely Default: Thoughts

Once again, I decided to brave myself through another RPG. I do apologise already for the pun there. Bravely Default is a really good classic RPG that was released on the Nintendo 3DS in 2012. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of the series until very recently when Bravely Default II was released for the Nintendo Switch in late February this year. My partner already played and owned Bravely Default and after seeing him play Bravely Default II, I thought this was a game that looked right up my street. You play as four Warriors of Light and the world you play in has been set in balance by the four elemental crystals which are Wind, Water, Fire and Earth. The game is also heavily focused on use of an extensive job system. Hmm, I wonder where I have heard all these before…

The story is set in the world of Luxendarc. The four main characters in this story are Agnès Oblige who is a vestal of the Wind Crystal and is accompanied by the Cryst-Fairy Airy, Tiz Arrior who’s hometown of Norende has been destroyed, Ringabel who is a self-professed womaniser suffering from amnesia and Edea Lee, the defector of the Eternian Sky Knights and daughter of the Grand Marshal of Eternia. You meet all four early on so the characters and their dynamic are quickly established. You first see Tiz’s village being destroyed in the opening sequence which results in the loss of his brother so you feel like he is going to be the central character but the plot quickly becomes about Agnès and her duty to reawaken the four crystals. It is very much a classic RPG premise with a world map and airships but it is all with a modern twist. I also like little additions like how you go from day to night and this can also affect what enemies appear in battle. There are lots of voice acted cutscenes in this but there is also an optional Party Chat where the characters can make conversation while on their journey. The characters have plenty of personality from Edea’s ‘Mrgrgr’ to Agnès’s ‘Unacceptable’.

The game is familiar visually with the characters designs by Akihiko Yoshida who also designed the characters for the Final Fantasy III remake on the DS but these characters have a lot more dialogue and personality. Their chibi in game graphics translate well with the official artworks of them too as reference. Overall, the characterisations and voices really do enhance the story in comparison to older RPGs. Agnès in particular really comes into her own as the story continues. Despite limitations of it being a 3DS game I was impressed at the amount of emotion that came through in her voice, one notable scene is where Olivia, the water vestal and Agnès’s friend is killed by the Witch Victoria. It also has some funny parts too. One amusing bit was where Agnès needs a garment for Florem’s beauty contest. There’s one point where they are all talking about a sexy garment and I honestly never expected to hear the word sexy so many times in a game like this. The interactions between them are entertaining too, I like Ringabel’s and Edea’s constant quarrelling with his one-track mind and her calling him out on it.

The battle system is all in the name of the title. Two key mechanics are Brave and Default and for these you have Brave Points which depending on what you choose will either be plus or minus. Brave allows you to use up to four commands at a time, however you also cannot use any commands for the same amount of time so your brave points would be at a minus until a certain amount of time has passed. Default is where you defend and you also gain an extra turn, so for example if you were to default for a few turns, then you can use several attacks/commands without going into negative Brave Points. This allows for a whole new strategy, sometimes it could be wise to frontload your attacks – for example, I had a boss battle with Alternis Dim on the Grandship in Chapter 4 and towards the end he unleashes some serious attacks on your party. I was so close to beating him so I decided to risk it and used Brave to hit him up to four times rather than defaulting and being more cautious. This actually did pay off, so it is all about the risk-reward ethos.

The job system is a big part of the gameplay as well. I really like a good extensive job system where the game encourages you to try different jobs and this is done here. You can also customise your abilities so for example if you have levelled up your White Mage then you could change your job to Knight but also apply the White Mage ability so you can still use all your spells as before. Your default job is a Freelancer and you gain other jobs through defeating bosses and completing side quests that are marked in blue on the world map. For doing this you gain something called an Asterisk, a small gem in which contains a job. The side quests are worth doing too as they add a bit of extra story – for example to get the Red Mage ability you have to go to Florem at night where you see a mysterious man dressed in red with a lady, Ringabel will try to follow the man and Edea is used as bait and soon disappears to which the group has to look for the man in red to confront him. I switched jobs quite a few times throughout which kept the gameplay engaging.

Visually this game is really nice and there are a lot of aesthetically pleasing towns with lots of detail that you will come across such as Caldisla, the town where you begin your journey, Ancheim, the desert town and Florem, the floral town which is full of vain women trying to keep up with the latest beauty trends. I like how the camera is zoomed out to give you a good overall view of your surroundings and once you start moving the camera zooms in. I also really like how this game lets you play how you want. One thing that always discouraged me from exploring dungeons extensively in games is the number of random encounters, but here you can toggle how often you want to have encounters so you can either whack it right up to grind or turn it down so you don’t run into anything. Of course, this is at your own risk – by no means completely turn them off because then you won’t gain levels. I personally kept on encounters anyway but it was just for some dungeon areas where I would briefly turn the encounters off as it did make exploration and navigation easier. You can also speed up battles and have your characters auto battle if you want to do a bit of grinding which is very useful.

Now, this is where I get into spoiler territory. My partner kept telling me the whole time that there was a twist to come and that there’s a way to end the game early or to carry on. I was intrigued the whole time as to what it could be and now, I finally understand. Between Chapters 1-4, the story in this game is fairly standard as you seek to reawaken the crystals, or so you think that’s all. The twist is that from Chapter 5 the game basically repeats itself as there are parallel worlds. The crystals need to be reawakened in these other worlds. All four. Several times up until Chapter 8. However, there is a foreshadowing where you are told to have the courage to disobey by Sage Yulyana. Basically, if you disobey, that refers to destroying the crystal when you go to awaken it again. Usually when Agnès does the ritual, she has Airy with her and you press X until it is done. When you go to do it again you can continue to press X against Airy’s wishes. This will destroy the crystal and it reveals that Airy had been deceiving the group this whole time and had them awakening the crystals for her benefit.

It turns out although you thought you were doing the right thing by awakening the crystals and you thought the people trying to stop you were bad such as Edea’s father, Braev Lee, it actually turns out that they had been right to try and stop you. You then face the final dungeon and defeat Airy. This is the alternate ending and the one I decided to take, although I did reawaken all the crystals in Chapter 5. Once you load up the game again the tag line of ‘Where the fairy flies’ fades out only to reveal ‘Airy Lies’. Love that reveal! The true ending is gained if you reawaken the crystals each time as instructed and you face an additional foe at the end, Ouroboros who is the true final boss. I think it is so interesting that you can essentially end the game if you choose to go against the path the game sets you on. It’s a little controversial making the player essentially repeat parts of the game over and over but it at least gives you a choice over it.

Bravely Default is a brilliant RPG that has the essence of a traditional RPG that many know and love but it adds in new exciting elements with the brave and default system. The characters are also a lot more memorable than what you may have seen in early RPG games. Due to the twist, it certainly means that if you were to play the game a second time you wouldn’t see the story and characters quite the same. To be honest at first, I didn’t really connect with them but surely enough they quickly grew on me a lot. I had a great time playing this over the two weeks it took and I really like how it takes the traditional RPG story of gaining the four crystals but turns it on its head as you end up questioning why this is done. It’s also not something I have mentioned so far, but the soundtrack by Revo in this game is really good. Fighting to the End as a boss battle theme is really fun to listen to but there’s so many different tracks which stick in my head, even after having finished the game. If you are an RPG fan, particularly a JRPG fan then it is definitely worth playing Bravely Default.

Bravely Default II: First Impressions

As a little bonus and after having just finished the first Bravely Default, I thought I would go into the second main numbered entry in the series. As mentioned earlier, this was only released in February 2021 so there is quite a gap between releases. Having said that, Bravely Second was released in 2016 and this was a direct sequel to the original Bravely Default. Bravely Default II however, is its own standalone game with its own world and cast of characters. I played through over 5 hours of this to get a feel for the game. This took me from the prologue up to the start of Chapter 1 and the town of Savalon where afterwards you go to the ruins to fight Orpheus.

First impressions were that the title screen music was very recognisable as it is the same tune as from the first game. Revo is also back as the composer. Our main character winds up on the shore after being involved in a shipwreck and is rescued by an old man and woman who take him to the nearby town of Halcyonia. It is clear that our main character is now in a world he doesn’t know. He is called Seth – however, you are given the option of naming him which is fairly unusual in RPGs these days though it was very common before the days of voice acting. There’s plenty of voice acting in this so I guess they must have to avoid saying his name at all costs! I stuck with Seth anyway.

We are then quickly introduced to our second key character, Princess Gloria. Her original kingdom was destroyed and she is in search of the four crystals in order to keep order and balance in the world. Interestingly she is voiced by Charlotte Ritchie who I have seen in a few shows in the UK such as Fresh Meat and Dead Pixels so as soon as I knew it was her I couldn’t unhear the fact that it was her. In a good way, mind you. During Seth’s first battle, two characters named Elvis and Adelle join you and after Gloria is kidnapped for the Wind Crystal and rescued a bit later on all four main characters are together.

In terms of battle mechanics, Brave and Default are back and work the same as before. The day and night feature is back too. Enemies are now visible rather than random encounters, most of the times enemies will try to chase you, some may run away from you and if you run into them, you can also get a head start in battle. The Party Chat between the characters is here again which is nice because it gives the characters chance to interact without it needing to necessarily progress the story. I also really like the fact that you can use Tents in this game to restore HP/MP – this was something I was sorely missing in the first Bravely Default. Graphics are naturally improved as well with the combination of time and improved hardware given that it’s on the Switch.

Seth is confronted by the Wind Crystal and goes into the light and gains the blessing of the wind crystal so now he can perform special abilities as a Hero of Light. It also seems that you may get different guest characters join your party throughout. For my 5-hour experience so far, we were mostly joined by a man named Sir Sloan and once he ahem leaves the party that is when you finally get the opening credits, the Bravely Default II logo appears and you’re now into Chapter 1.

Initial impressions are the game seems pretty solid; I didn’t want to commit to another RPG right away but curiosity got the better of me. Naturally I connect far more with the story and characters of the first Bravely Default however I have spent a lot more time with it so it’s not currently a fair comparison. My partner has played through both and prefers the first Bravely Default but then I’ve seen YouTube reviews where they prefer this one so it seems like opinions are mixed as to which is ‘the best’ one. I’ll probably carry on with it at some point (RPGs are a commitment you know?). This has been a good chance to get a feel for the game anyway, especially after having only just finishing the first one but I may move onto Bravely Second first.

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Final Fantasy XV: Episode Prompto and Episode Ignis: Thoughts

Spoilers ahead…

In March I played through Final Fantasy XV again after first finishing it three years ago because after playing all the others last year it seemed to make sense to revisit this one. Back in 2018 I wrote a review on it and having just read it back my feelings still stand. Three years on and I still feel Noctis deserved a happy ending, but I also appreciate that it is a story about coming to terms with one’s fate and it wouldn’t have had the same impact otherwise. After all, it was meant to be a fantasy based on reality and reality isn’t always kind. I really like this game though and I appreciate it’s not perfect but it has a lot of heart because of the friendships of Noctis, Ignis, Prompto and Gladiolus.

It’s also different to other entries in that the cast are already established friends rather than a group of people who meet by circumstance, but I think that’s what works so well and draws people to the game and its characters. I don’t think I did this the first time I played it, but I love the fact that you can play music from all the different Final Fantasy games while you drive about in the Regalia and I can now appreciate it a lot more too, especially with music from the earlier games that I was less familiar with before. Sometimes I didn’t want to get out of the car because I was enjoying cruising along with the music.

I also finished it in a fraction of the time compared to the first time as I used New Game + which carries over your levels and items and last time I spent a lot of time on side quests. But anyway, playing it again wasn’t enough as I delved into the DLC which is there to give more story content for the other characters. I had already played Episode Ignis which details his role when Altissia is under attack and how he became blinded, but my memory of it was rusty. Prompto as a character intrigued me so I decided to download and play his DLC which follows what happened to him after he is pushed off the train by Noctis.

There is also Episode Gladiolus and Episode Ardyn, but I haven’t played these. Each episode is around 2 hours long and costs £3.99 if bought at full price, I got Episode Prompto for £1.99 in the sale. I may play these in future but I’m not currently in a rush to, particularly with Episode Gladiolus. I will admit he is easily my least favourite out of the lads and I haven’t heard great things about his DLC, but as I haven’t played it, I don’t think I can comment too much. There was also meant to be additional DLC centred around Noctis, Luna and Aranea but this was cancelled. Instead, we have a novel named Final Fantasy XV: The Dawn of the Future. This is absolutely on my to do list as I do own the book and I will read it… soon, hopefully!

Episode Prompto

This episode made me appreciate Prompto as a character much more after playing. I always liked his snap-happy and happy-go-lucky attitude but I knew that he had his insecurities deep down and this episode delves into that side of him more. It follows on from the scene in Chapter 11 where an enraged Noctis chases ‘Ardyn’ who is actually Prompto down the train carriage and this leads up to him pushing him off the top of the train. Quickly it is apparent that it’s Ardyn disguised as Prompto. I didn’t actually realise that even in the initial chase scene that it was Prompto, although when you watch it back you can tell from the dialogue. Prompto is frightened and thinks his hidden past has been found out and that’s why Noctis is angry. It’s a scene that is much harsher in hindsight.

We start the episode by seeing a freezing cold Prompto out in the snow and struggling through the blizzard. He also has a new outfit here with a woolly hat and winter coat combo known as the Tundra Attire which can be unlocked in the main game after finishing this. I actually prefer this outfit to his main game one. We soon see a scene where Prompto looks back on his life as a young child who was obese and friendless, now he has friends he is fearful that they do not really want to have him around. Given what had just happened with Noctis on the train, he is clearly feeling this even more. Prompto already suffered from imposter syndrome as he is from a lower-class family in comparison to the other three’s more aristocratic backgrounds. Poor Prompto.

In terms of gameplay, Prompto already uses a gun in the main game but here he can use a variety of guns. In a lot of ways, it doesn’t really feel like you’re playing Final Fantasy as it works as a third person shooter. At first it felt strange playing a shooter game as they are really not my forte but I started quickly getting used to it and more into it. He also has his own special attacks including the very apt Selfie Shot. It is actually really good and it deviates away from the main game enough for it to feel like its own little stand-alone piece. The environments switch between being in a dark, dingy Magitek Facility and being outside with some beautiful snow scenery that you can enjoy, so the brightness of this makes a nice contrast. You can also ride a snowmobile in this. Yay! On a side note, I also love the main theme for this episode – ‘Home Sweet Home’.

Aranea also joins Prompto during this episode and fights alongside him. During this episode, Prompto is confronted with his true identity which is rather reminiscent of FFVII and its array of mad scientists experimenting on people, not to mention the reveal in FFVII takes place in a town named Nibelheim. Quite familiar. Prompto is a clone created by Verstael Besithia who is his biological father and he was produced for military warfare by the Niflheim Empire. Prompto grew up away from this in Insomnia with his barely there adoptive parents. This is where Noctis, Ignis and Gladiolus are also from. At one point he is alone at the campfire and horrified by his branding on his wrist he looks to burn his wrist as an attempt of getting rid of it. Interestingly, when the game gives you the choice of between burning his wrist and giving up it says ‘Out. Damn’d spot’ which is a reference to Macbeth when Lady Macbeth is washing the invisible blood from her hands.

Aranea turns up again in good time and gives him some home truths as Prompto is plagued with self-doubt and is worried about what the others will think about him regarding his true origins. She tells him “You worry so much about what other people want from you that you don’t even know what you want anymore”. I think this is so relatable, honestly. The dynamic between them really is reminiscent of Lightning and Hope from FFXIII with the older more worldly female and the lost younger male. The moral here is that if you get too wrapped up worrying about what other people think then aren’t really living your life for yourself. Eventually this all leads up to when Prompto is captured by Ardyn and is being held in Gralea, although this happens off screen. The credits show that he is tied up in captivity, so not exactly a happy ending! But rest assured, he does get rescued by Noctis and the others in Chapter 12.

This episode for me was really enjoyable as it offered up new ways of playing, new environments and of course Prompto as a character was expanded upon. During the main game itself we only really see Prompto’s cheerful persona and if I recall correctly the only time his true feelings are addressed at any length is during an optional scene where he opens up to Noctis one evening while they are staying at a particular hotel. This episode does a good job of showing the vulnerable layers to Prompto’s character and as much as I love Noctis himself, I think Prompto is easily my favourite character alongside him now.

Episode Ignis

Episode Ignis was the first DLC I played after playing the main game because at the time he was the most interesting character to me other than Noctis. In fairness, he is still a very interesting character!  Now three years later I have revisited the DLC of our favourite chef. This one is set during the battle against Leviathan in the Venice inspired city of Altissia. Unlike Episode Prompto where it details a journey away from the main story, this one is right in the thick of it, but from a different perspective. It is very much all go right from the start. Ignis has been separated from Gladiolus and Prompto and Ignis’ goal is to get to Noctis as quickly as possible.

The gameplay is fun with some very swift battle mechanics and use of a grappling hook to zip you across the rooftops of Altissia which allows for a quick and engaging pace as you go across the city. Ignis has three elemental daggers which are useful depending on what you are fighting. Fire is great for one-on-one encounters, Ice can hit multiple enemies and Lightning allows Ignis to zip between enemies at varying distances. Ignis also has a special ability called Total Clarity, and given Ignis’ sensible nature, this is quite fitting. You have to fight a lot of enemies during this sequence and you have to retake areas occupied by Niflheim who are the enemy. Like how Aranea fights with you for part of Episode Prompto, this time we are joined by Ravus, Lunafreya’s brother.

Eventually, Ignis gets to Noctis at the altar, who is knocked out alongside Lunafreya who is now dead and had fulfilled her calling as the Oracle. Ignis and an enraged Ravus engage in a battle. Ravus is upset and blames Noctis for what has happened. Ignis and Ravus throughout the battle both engage in conversation and as expected, Ignis stands up for Noctis and emphasises that he never wanted to become king, rather he was ordained by the Crystal and how Noctis has also lost those that he loves. Once the battle is over, a pained Ravus says his goodbyes to Lunafreya. I think it was good to include this scene as it shows the impact of Luna’s death in the moment. In the main game the only thing we really get is Noctis being told of Luna’s passing once he awakens but this is after events have occurred. This is unless you count the dream like sequence after she dies.

After this, once again, Ardyn turns up to cause trouble. Ardyn gives Ignis a choice of following him instead of protecting Noctis, these two options of fighting back or playing along will affect the end sequence depending on what you choose. If Ignis refuses, then he puts on the Ring of the Lucii and gains the power of the kings but loses his vision. If Ignis joins Ardyn then he is taken to Zegnautus Keep which also appears in Chapter 13 in the main game. Here, the empire is imprisoned by the Crystal. Ignis finds this Crystal and is confronted by Ardyn. To have a chance of defeating Ardyn, Ignis then puts on the Ring of Lucii and here he doesn’t sacrifice his vision as he has sacrificed his life instead. He is then found after by Noctis, Gladiolus and Prompto. Noctis asks for the Crystal’s power to save Ignis. In this version of events, Prompto is never captured and Noctis survives and becomes the true king in an alternate ending with Ignis at his side. Very interesting!

Throughout this, Ignis’ dedication towards protecting Noctis is very apparent. It’s clear in the main game, but it is drummed in even more here and we see a bit more emotion from Ignis. He’s usually very stiff upper lip and he is the level headed one of the boys but here we see his dedication shine through. It’s very telling how with Episode Prompto we learn of Prompto’s past, but with Ignis everything revolves around Noctis – we don’t really learn any more about Ignis himself. We also see that he had visions of what would happen to Noctis at the end of the game, something we wouldn’t know from the main game. He knew at this point that Noctis’ destiny would be to give up his life in order to save the world. Given that we see the alternate ending, I am glad I didn’t play this until finishing the main game. Overall, I think this is absolutely worth playing as once again it gives further context to the main game itself.

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Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time: Thoughts

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time was released in October 2020 and it is the official sequel to Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped which was released back in 1998. This was given to me as a Christmas present and I started playing it on Boxing Day, so it was a nice way to spend the few days that I had off. My love for the series goes back a long way, as far back as to when I was around 7 years old. I remember going to my friend’s house and seeing the original Crash Bandicoot on her PlayStation. I was captivated by the colourful looking platformer and it made me want to get a PlayStation myself. The day me and my mother went to GAME and I got my own PlayStation was so exciting, it would then be one of my favourite consoles of all time.

I played the whole trilogy on the PlayStation back in the day as well as Crash Team Racing and even Crash Bash. Many hours were spent playing these over the years and along with Spyro the Dragon, they were the games of my childhood. The original trilogy was remastered on the PS4 back in 2017, known as the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Crash Team Racing also received similar treatment and was remastered as Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled in 2019. Of course, I bought both and these easily do the originals justice. So naturally with the success of these, it would be a good time to create a proper sequel. It is funny how they are almost erasing a lot of the subsequent Crash games by doing this, but many of these were subpar so I suppose it’s about time for a fresh start (I’ll get my coat…). More importantly, Crash is back.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time as established, has a double meaning. Of course, it has been a long time since its predecessor Crash 3, but the story also includes time travel. The story follows Crash and his sister Coco as well as being aided by Dingodile and an alternate version of Tawna (who is Crash’s girlfriend from the very first game). Together they recover the Quantum Masks (which all provide different abilities in game such as phasing different items in and out of reality, an extended spin which allows you to soar through the air, a time mask to slow things down and lastly a gravity mask) to defeat Dr Neo Cortex and Dr N Tropy from enslaving the multiverse. Overall you can play as five characters here; Crash, Coco, Dingodile, Tawna and Cortex and these all have their own style of play. Tawna is a stand out to play as with her grappling hook and badass demeanour. This alternate timeline version of her is a far cry from the pin up look she had in the original game.

This is easily the biggest Crash game in the main series, not only do you have your normal levels (and there are 43 of them), but there are also Flashback Tape levels and N-Verted stages. The Flashback Tapes are retrieved by getting so far into a level without dying and the N-Verted stages are inverted versions of the normal levels. There are also different gems to get for each level by hitting different criteria such as breaking all the boxes and these allow you to unlock different skins for your characters which also translate into the cutscenes which is a nice touch. The animations and character expressions are spot on, at times when you are watching the cutscenes it is like watching a CG animated film. Your adventure begins from the first level Rude Awakening which offers a throwback to N. Sanity Beach and even has a TV where you can spin into it and it presents the title screens from the first three games. There is also a hub world for all the levels which is akin to the layout of the original Crash Bandicoot. The music in my mind wasn’t as memorable as the previous instalments, but the music for Dingodile’s levels and the Circus levels stood out the most.

This is also one of the more challenging Crash games, but luckily there is a modern mode which enables you to have unlimited lives which is just as well – because you will die a lot here! Much of it, especially on your first playthrough is just pure trial and error. The graphics in this game are very vibrant and there are many vast landscapes in the levels, sometimes depth perception is not always the best and you are not always able to see some obstacles clearly. Some of the gems you have to collect are hidden within the level and some of these I ended up finding by complete accident. For example, I found one by falling off a ledge in one of Cortex’s space levels. Cortex Castle is easily one of the harder levels in the game, there is an end sequence that requires such precision and use of the different Quantum Masks to get right. It’s rather akin to a puzzle, it is clever though I will grant you that and rewarding once you do it. The Quantum Masks are such a good addition to the gameplay and they never feel too gimmicky.

To fully complete this game is notoriously difficult to do and I have watched a few YouTube videos on this, including Caddicarus’ who is a seasoned Crash Bandicoot player and it still took him nearly 60 hours to fully complete. For me, it has been a more casual experience and even that still took me around 10-11 hours which is still a long time for a platformer. There is a lot here in this game and there is a lot of replay value, there’s no doubt about it but from what I have seen, the people who have played it to absolute completion have not said it was worth it overall. I guess it depends on how much of a completionist you are. Even checking out my trophies on my PS4 profile, I can see that only 16% of people have defeated Cortex at the end of the game at the time of writing. This suggests to me even casual players struggle with the main challenge this game presents.

Overall this game is absolutely a worthy successor to the trilogy that preceded it. I think it may be a bit difficult for the more casual or younger player, but the unlimited lives allow you to process the trial and error required. You will get frustrated at times, but it never feels unfair as such. It’s very much like you need to put the work in to crack it. I certainly imagine the next time I play through it that it will take less time to complete anyway. The levels are varied from snow levels to city-based levels and depending on how determined you are to collect things then there is so much replay value here. For long-time fans, this is such a treat and I’m sure it is an entry that will bring a lot of new people into the series too.

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Final Fantasy Series, From I-XV: What to Play

Last year, as detailed on my blog, I played through the mainline Final Fantasy series except for XI and XIV (the MMO titles) and wrote about each one of them. To many who have never played the series, it may look daunting to get into especially as we now have XVI on the horizon for the PS5 whether it will be coming out this year or next year, more than likely to be next year in all honesty. However, the great thing about the series is that you don’t need to play each one – each entry has its own story and cast of characters. Of course, there are similar threads and elements between them, but otherwise they are very much their own standalone thing.

I’ve been reflecting on the series as a whole and which ones I would recommend to others. In case you wondered, my personal top 3 are FFVII, FFX and FFVIII. Overall, I would say if you wanted a rounded experience of the series then I would go FFIV, FFVI, FFVII, FFIX and FFX. I would say if you’ve never played a Final Fantasy game before then going in with FFX as your first would be a good idea. But these are my very general thoughts/overviews…

NES Era – Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III

These are the very first three in the series, dating from 1987 to 1990. The good news is that these have been re-released numerous times so they’re accessible today. I played Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II on the PSP and Final Fantasy III on the DS. These games are ones to play if you want to see where it all started and if you’re feeling brave enough to tackle some old school RPGs. For Final Fantasy itself, I had to use an online guide for much of it as to me it didn’t always seem obvious as to where you should be going next. I did like being able to pick what jobs my characters would have and I think it does offer replay value if you want to switch the character jobs for next time or even do a self-imposed challenge with it (you could have four white mages if you really wanted to…).

FFII introduces more of a story and a cast of characters but a point of contention for many is that you level up each ability individually rather than doing it through traditional level ups. But for me personally, in terms of difficulty it was the easiest game out of the first three and I didn’t think it was as bad as some people said. The dungeon designs are not the best though and sometimes the game is just unfair to the player, for example I was in one dungeon and immediately in battle my team was petrified meaning I had an instant game over despite not having any time to react. The Emperor who is the final boss was amazingly easy if you can equip yourself with the Blood Sword. In the PSP versions of FF/FFII you can also save anywhere which is a massive plus.

FFIII retrospectively adds a cast of characters for the DS remake and it has the most extensive job system at this point as you can switch jobs throughout the game. However, the game is rather challenging. It may be a shock if you’re not used to it so expect to spend a lot of time grinding otherwise it will be a struggle. In particular, the final dungeon the Crystal Tower can take up to about 2 hours to do and you have no save points – not even in the DS remake. I spent a good few hours grinding as I knew I only wanted to tackle the final battle once and it did pay off, but it is not an easy game. I may sound a little harsh on these first three, but I would only recommend them if you want to see where it started or if you’re into old school RPGs. For me, it was enough to play through them once – but I do appreciate these games for what they are. Perhaps they are just a bit before my time. If you’re a casual player, then I’d say to go straight ahead to IV as that’s where it really starts to get good.

SNES Era – Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VI

FFIV is where the series is brought much further forward with a game that has an extensive cast of characters, deeper plot and way more dialogue. It is the first game in the series where the music is a lot more memorable. Each character has a job which is tied into who they are as a character which is a nice way of linking the gameplay and story. Everything has been improved compared to the first three games. In terms of the earlier FF games, this could be a very good starting point if you’re into classic RPGs as the game has been re-released many times, but of course which version is the best is up for debate. If you’re after a more classic look, then the PSP version is good. My personal favourite is the 3D remake on the Nintendo DS which also includes voice acting, but it is up to your preferences as to which style you want to play it in. If you’re playing casually but want to start chronologically then I’d recommend this first.

FFV was the game I knew the least about out of all the ones that I played. In fact, I hadn’t even played it at all beforehand. The best way to describe it is that is a bit less story focused though you do have a decent cast of characters and plot, but the focus is all about the jobs system. I really enjoyed this game and I do believe that it is a hidden gem out of these earlier games. The job system is really at its best here and the customisation that you can do makes this game really fun. I would easily recommend this if you’re more gameplay focused and enjoy being able to combine different job traits in battle. It gives the game serious replay value as you could play through it again with entirely different jobs and combinations of skills. It is also a lot more light-hearted in story compared to both FFIV and FFVI. In that sense it feels the most different out of this era.

Then, the game that is a lot of people’s number one is FFVI. Even now I think it easily has the best title screen out of any FF game. That might sound random but once you hear the daunting music and the lightning striking out of the murky clouds you know you’re in for a dark tale. This game is also the first to have a female protagonist, Terra. I personally think it is very good, however I do prefer the first half as I find it overall to be more engaging in story and gameplay than later on. Maybe it is just me but once you get to the World of Ruin to recruit the rest of the cast back technically most of that is optional as you can actually beat Kefka with just Celes, Edgar and Setzer which gives the feel of a lack of structure in the run up to the end as you don’t actually have to do everything. That’s just me though. It’s still an excellent game and many hail it as being the best game in the entire franchise, so it’s definitely a must play.

PS1 Era – Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX

This is by far my favourite era of games. FFVII was the first FF game I had ever played and it still remains to be my favourite. Although we now have the first part of the Final Fantasy VII Remake out, I would recommend anyone who has played that to play the original FFVII too. It has a great story, soundtrack, characters, gameplay and it would be the first 3D game in the series. Cloud Strife is also easily my favourite protagonist in the series. I have finished this game at least 4 times and played it numerous other times. I certainly look forward to the next time I play it, though I will try and leave it a while as I don’t want to ruin it by having each bit memorised. The downside is that for many the graphics haven’t aged well and really it is just the character models that are jarring as the pre-rendered backgrounds still look pretty good and detailed. If you can get past that then I would also recommend this game as a potential starting point.

FFVIII has mixed views with people due to the Junction system, but I absolutely love it. It ranks highly for me, but sadly it is because of the Junction system that I can’t recommend it to people who are looking for an overall experience of a few Final Fantasy titles. Because of this system you have to do things such as draw magic, which means you don’t learn spells or have MP – you just have to draw it from enemies and from draw points, so you only have as much as you have stocked. The magic you have you can junction to your character and their stats. The game visually is above what we have seen in FFVII. The character models resemble humans and not deformed anime characters. The appearance of the characters in the FMV sequences are also miles above so it is very impressive given FFVIII came two years later. I really enjoyed the story and the soundtrack is absolutely stellar, but I appreciate for the gameplay it may not be for everyone.

After FFVII, FFIX has an incredibly popular following. The game goes back to the medieval settings of the first five games. I must admit I was one of those who wasn’t so sure about the character designs as some of them are just outright strange (I’m looking at Quina and Amarant), but you know what it’s not a deal breaker at all. If anything, I think I have softened to it and just generally embrace the charm of it all. I suppose the change in style is quite a jump if you have only played FFVII and FFVIII before it which is why classic fans probably would be less likely to take issue. This game is one of the most popular in the entire series and if you like the older style of games but a little bit more refined then this is definitely a good game to play and it certainly makes my list of ones that I would recommend to play. The gameplay mechanics are more straightforward than FFVIII which is another big plus for many. Personally, I am looking forward to playing it again perhaps sometime this year.

These games are super accessible today and I do like the updated versions for the PS4 and Switch. You can toggle the speed of the game, you can avoid random encounters and have your limit breaks always set (for FFVII/FFVIII) or 9999 damage guaranteed (for FFIX). I have played all three on the original PS1 and they all took around 35-40 hours, but it is amazing how quickly you can cut the time down by speeding up battles etc. This makes it easier to go back to for when you don’t have as much time to sit down and play RPG games. I do love RPGs, but the time commitment required doesn’t always make them easy to play. These three games for me are the most re-playable as it’s such a strong era and the newer added mechanics make it even more easy to play.

PS2 Era – Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XII

FFX is my favourite in the series after FFVII. This is also the most common starting point recommended for the series and it is easy to see why. It was the first game to have voice acting, the story is not convoluted, the characters are likeable, the world it is set in is gorgeous and so is the music. The music is very atmospheric in parts and recently I been having it on in the background while I’ve been studying Japanese. The game holds up very well today and out of all of these that I’m talking about I would recommend starting with this if you have never played a Final Fantasy game before. It is a game where it is so easy to become immersed in the story and atmosphere, it is beautiful. I remember even after finishing it, I was still thinking about it for a while afterwards. If you get the HD remaster for the PS4 then you can also get the sequel FFX-2 included which is a light-hearted venture in comparison.

FFXII is one of those games that I think people have appreciated more over time. The Zodiac Age edition on PS4 is the best version to play due to the new features which even includes a speed mode which I was surprised to see in a later game. I was one of those who didn’t really get it when I played the original version on the PS2 due to the single player MMO battle system but playing it again on the PS4 was a different experience. I really had fun with the battle system this time round. The thing I took away from it however is that while it is very good, it doesn’t feel like a lot of other Final Fantasy games in terms of the style, character designs, gameplay and music. I see it as a bit of a black sheep but not in a bad way at all. It is just different – you can tell there are different composers and designers working on it. The new game plus feature definitely makes me want to give it another go in the future. I’d probably recommend this if you’ve played a few of the others first.

PS3/PS4 Era – Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XV

This is a divisive era for many. I think FFXIII has a lot of positives about it – it has gorgeous music and the cast look more like a Final Fantasy cast compared to FFXII. We also have a strong female protagonist known as Lightning which was nice to see. But it isn’t without its issues. For me, it was easily the most challenging game of the lot. Bosses from around the half way mark were incredibly difficult. Sure, the older games were harder but as long as you grinded to a decent level then you would be ok. With this your progress would be capped depending on where you are in the story with the Crystarium which is the system where you upgrade your stats and abilities. I thought there was something up when the final boss was a hell of a lot easier than a lot of the bosses that preceded it, no lie. It is very linear too and so is FFX but FFX was a bit cleverer about the presentation of it. The story is also incredibly convoluted to attempt to completely comprehend. I didn’t hate the game and as I say there were positives but do not go into this as one of your first ones.

FFXV has also suffered criticisms but for different reasons – it was mostly because there was a lot of additional DLC which suggested the main game itself wasn’t entirely finished despite 10 years in development. I will admit once you get to Altissia it does feel like a bit of a race towards the end and to me that’s where it noticeably seems rushed. Now, I personally had a lot more enjoyment out of this than FFXIII and I do genuinely think it’s a very good game. I love the bits of realism in the game such as the road trip element, camping out, making food and taking photos. I mean really, you think these characters would go on these vast adventures and not even take a single photo on their travels? The difficulty is a lot more balanced and I love how the characters have more natural interactions with each other. I played the Pocket Edition last year which is fine too, but for the full experience absolutely go for the PS4 version.

diary entry, Uncategorized

December Diary: A Reflection on 2020

Today’s unexpected snow!

2020. A year to be remembered by all. I think this year has been absolute proof that you cannot plan for anything in life. This time last year, I and many other people felt very optimistic about 2020. It would be a new decade and a new start. The virus has hung over everyone this year and life hasn’t been quite the same. So much of this year has felt the similar and yet so different. I’ve said myself with the amount of times I’ve walked around the local area it has felt like a real-life time lapse of all seasons as seen through my eyes. And now we are at the end of the year. It is mind boggling how fast the year has gone, despite everything that has happened. Oh, and I looked at my 2020 planner recently and laughed. I think I wrote about one thing in it. It’ll do for scrap paper at least…

For myself personally, things seemed bright at the start of the year as me and my partner were in the process of buying a house, something we hoped would have been completed in January 2020. By February due to issues with the house itself, we reached an impasse and the house fell through. In early March we saw another house come up literally on the next road from where we going to buy the previous house. Lockdown happened so nothing moved until June and then in September that eventually fell through too. To be honest, I had been desperate to move from where we currently are and as of writing we are no closer than where we were in October 2019 when we put the offer on the first house, just with less money in our pockets thanks to surveys and solicitors’ fees. I have no idea where we will look to next as in all honesty we are put off looking in the area we were going for. It’s that whole thing of ‘maybe the universe is trying to tell us something’. But maybe something will come up next year. I sure hope so.

20th March would be my last day at my old job. I had been put on furlough and then in June I got ‘the phone call’. I was being made redundant because of coronavirus with four weeks notice. To be honest I did see it coming so it wasn’t a surprise although it was very worrying as the jobs market has been terrible. Thankfully, I had one interview for a purchasing role in early July with a well-known logistics company and I got the job! I started on the 20th July marking exactly four months since being furloughed and I’ve really enjoyed being there. In all honesty, my last job had a very toxic environment which had been noted by several of us. I had been wanting to leave but stayed for the sole purpose of getting a house sale through (which is not a good reason to stay in a job, by the way). It did work out well in the end though as I am a lot happier where I am now and I know others who have also left and are now far happier. This is one example where when one door closes another one opens and I realise I am lucky here.

This year I’ve also tried to be more minimal where possible. When I knew I was being made redundant, I cancelled my subscription to Netflix. It’s not expensive by any means but I wanted to save any money I could with the uncertainty. And I realised I didn’t really miss it. I loved Netflix at the start and you feel like a kid in a sweet shop, but then I found myself scrolling aimlessly through different things. It was like there was too much choice. Actually, this year I’ve found myself watching YouTube a lot and got into lots of channels that I’d never watched before. A few of these are; Abroad in Japan (technically I got into his channel right at the end of 2019), Sharmeleon, SomecallmeJohnny, Caddicarus, ProJared, MilkyBokiTan and Beard Meats Food. Honestly, I love YouTube and the absolute breadth of things you can find on it. Physically speaking, I turned out a lot of my stuff during lockdown (mainly clothes) and sold a lot on eBay (clothes, books, games etc.). I’m still working on clearing stuff out, but I’m proud of what I’ve done so far.

The big thing this year and what got me through lockdown was videogames which of course has been written about on my blog. Particularly, I somehow ended up playing through all the mainline Final Fantasy games except for XI and XIV. Technically XV too but I have played through it before and this time I played the Pocket Edition, so I played it in some form. Though I plan on replaying the original version sometime next year. I love the genuinely shocked reactions of some people when I told them, because it is no short feat. I would say a lot of these games average on at least 30 hours of play. And when I worked out very roughly how many hours it took, well let’s say it took about 2 weeks of real time and in a general time scale I was doing it from around April to October. And I regret nothing. Though I don’t think I would do it again. It’s not just been Final Fantasy that I blitzed through though. This year I watched all 11 Star Wars films, watched the entirety of Benidorm and all series of Only Fools and Horses to give a few examples. None of these series are short by any means.

Another memorable point was quitting social media for my mental health back in June. I deleted the apps for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and I will admit more at the start sometimes I would log in on the browser just for a moment mainly to check notifications rather than to scroll. I re-downloaded Instagram at the start of September and posted a picture just to check in, I thought maybe I might have been ok after a break. But no, I regressed back to how I was with mindlessly scrolling, not being present and I didn’t feel any better for it, so after one evening the app went again. Social media is not real and the longer you are off from it the more you don’t feel like you constantly need to be doing something or comparing. When you take a step back you realise how narcissistic some of these people on these platforms can be and how their attitudes can slowly warp young people aspiring to be like them. I hate the word ‘influencer’ and it can get in the bin. That’s not to say everyone is like that, there are a lot of positive people too and if we could get more of them then social media would be a better place. Who knows, maybe I will return one day, but not for now.

Travelling this year is another thing! Well, the lack of it. Of course, it’s a minor thing in the grand scheme of what is going on but it is disappointing not being able to go far. At the start of the year, me and my partner were coming up with ideas for where to go, we decided on going to Germany as we had such fun there when we went to Berlin in 2017. But of course, the virus happened so that idea was quickly canned. This is the first year since around 2008 that I haven’t been abroad once and our last trip abroad was Prague in October 2019. We went to the Peak District in October which was lovely and hopefully we can do another staycation next year, going abroad would be great but I won’t hold my breath just in case. I also did a day trip to London at the start of January 2020 and I’m really glad I did. I usually go to London at least a few times a year and it’s weird to think I’ve not been there in nearly a year now.

I’ve also been getting back into language learning this year, namely French and Japanese. I did French back in school from the age of 11 and went up to GCSE level but I wasn’t as interested back then so I wasn’t amazing at it. Japanese was the opposite, I took it upon myself to take evening classes and I did so from the age of 16 in 2008. I then did three years of classes and sat the GCSE for it and gained an A*. It had been very on and off (mostly off) since then and I think I lost motivation because I have only been to Japan once so it’s not like I can really use it much. I don’t want to lose what I’ve learned but I am also recognising my limits. I had the three volumes of the Japanese for Busy People textbooks which I recently sold as I’ve decided I just want to focus on the first book to recap a lot of what I would have done in class. Annoyingly I had the Romanised edition of the first book so I sold that too and bought the Kana edition which is far more useful if you have existing knowledge of Japanese so I am currently going through that.

I’ve only been to France once too but at least it is a lot closer to the UK for holidays etc. Now that I’m older I have a greater appreciation for the French language and as I already have a basis I thought I would study it again. Plus, I like the sound of the culture and the way the language sounds, even if I do find it harder than Japanese when it comes to pronunciation. Again, I want to recognise my limits as I want to make language learning fun and not putting too much pressure on myself which easily happens. I’m doing it as a hobby so I want to enjoy it. Realistically if you want to be fluent in a language then you have to live in the country. I hope I can spend more time in France in the future but I probably wouldn’t be moving there, so my aim is to simply get a decent understanding of the language. I may also brush up on my Mandarin as I studied that at university as an extra module – I’d study no more than the basics though. I downloaded Duolingo back in January to do French and Japanese, though I would not recommend this to be your only resource. Nothing beats a good book for learning and these days there are more resources than ever.

Around November time I finally decided to weigh myself. I would avoid the scales like the plague so I really am not sure what I would have been at the start of the year but I wasn’t happy with what I saw. I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life. My weight has been gradually creeping up since September 2016 as that was when I started my first office role. From the end of November, I have changed up my diet somewhat and started moving more – getting in 10,000 steps a day minimum, usually I try to go beyond it. And so far, it does seem to be working which I’m pleased to say. I’m not one for diets as I would not find them sustainable, but I’ve just been making changes to my diet and trying to limit snacking. I’ve been tracking my weight twice a week so I can see if I am going in the right direction. Naturally I did put a couple of pounds on over Christmas which was to be expected but so far I have lost nearly a stone so I’m really pleased about that. It is absolutely something I will be carrying on with.

I’ve not really felt Christmassy this year, even with listening to Christmas music on the radio, having the tree out and the cards and presents. Because we have a small Christmas tree for the flat, it was pretty much a case of finding it in the back room and moving it into the living room, with all the decorations intact from last year. The one thing I get excited about every year without fail however are the Christmas Costa hot chocolates. This year I’ve tried two of the new ones for this year. One is a Quality Street one and the other is an After Eight one. Both were really nice in their own ways, the Quality Street one was like a normal hot chocolate but sweeter and the After Eight one was basically a mint hot chocolate. It was kind of refreshing but not in a disgusting way like when you eat something after brushing your teeth. You also get a Quality Street sweet or an After Eight to have with it. The other new one was a Terry’s Chocolate Orange edition but I didn’t get round to trying it. To be honest I’m not generally crazy about chocolate orange so I think I picked the best two.

Christmas Day itself was low key but nice. Then again, my Christmases generally are very low key so I didn’t feel as restricted as some might have. I decided for one day only I would definitely get into the spirit though, so I painted my nails red and green on Christmas Eve while watching the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special from last year. On the day, I put on my new Christmas jumper and spent the day with my partner, dad, aunt and uncle. It was chilled but really nice and we had the music channel on the background all day playing Christmas music. I was also designated driver which meant I was on the Nosecco, which was absolutely fine by me! The rest of my time off was pretty chilled as due to the restrictions you could only go round to someone’s house on Christmas day so the rest of the time was spent chilling in the flat watching numerous Christmas specials of comedies and watching A Christmas Gift From Bob – which is a sequel to the film A Street Cat Named Bob. If you’ve not seen it, I recommend it.

I’ve already touched upon this, but it is interesting to read back on my goals for 2020 which I described in a post from New Year’s Day. One was general mental health improvement and self-care, a big part of this was quitting social media and I think for the most part I have been in a reasonable place mentally. The second one was career development, well I lost my job and then I got a new job at a bigger and better company. The third one was personal development, fitness and studying French. I quit the gym in February but I am getting back on track now with my weight loss and as for French I have been learning bits throughout the year and nearly filled out my exercise book with notes. The last one was taking a minimalist approach. I got rid of a lot of stuff this year and I’m trying to minimise what I have where I can. I think for each one I have achieved these to varying degrees so I’m pretty happy with that to be honest. This is why I wanted to call these goals and not resolutions as goals are not as absolute and are more likely to be achieved. For next year I think I will just carry on with these goals.

I am cautiously optimistic about 2021. I feel that surely it cannot be as bad, the virus is still rampant but we are equipped with a lot more knowledge about it than we did a year ago. That, and generally the more time has passed so hopefully we are further down the line with it. I hope anyway. I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos (as always) and many have been reflecting on the year and saying how bad 2020 is and that there is hope for next year. Never in my life have I seen anything where we are all so collectively affected by anything. I’d be more shocked if somebody said they actually had a good year. But, there have still been things to be thankful for – I think we are generally more grateful for what we have and the moments we share with others. As things improve I’m sure we will all take that much less for granted. Hope everyone stays safe and wishing you all a brighter 2021 because everyone deserves it – certainly the fantastic people that I know.

On a final note, it had randomly started snowing today which has put a smile on people’s faces. It seems to have calmed down now but it was nice while it lasted…

gaming post, review, Uncategorized

Pokémon Sword: Thoughts

I am a year late to the party, but I have finally played Pokémon Sword! Pokémon Sword and Shield are the 8th generation of games that were released in November 2019 for the Nintendo Switch. The Pokémon franchise was a massive part of my life growing up and I played the first three generations of games far too much. Once Diamond and Pearl (4th generation) had come out, it felt much of the same and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t quite have the same impact as before. I played later games such as White and Moon, but I don’t remember much about them. This time I decided to start anew and get into Pokémon Sword after having not played a Pokémon game extensively for a long time. Generally, the premise is similar to most Pokémon games in story and gameplay, but this game introduces the Dynamax ability where Pokémon can undergo transformations and become giant versions of themselves, have new attacks and increase their HP for three turns.

This entry is set in the world of Galar, a region which is based on the United Kingdom. As somebody from the UK, I did appreciate this as I played the game and recognised similarities in towns and cities. I also like how they incorporated this into the dialogue too. Because you are so used to games having an American localisation, it is really strange to see words like ‘mate’ and many other British terms crop up several times. But it makes a nice change in a generally Americanised world. The main objective as with every other Pokémon game is to catch different kinds of Pokémon, face off against your rival, beat the 8 Gym Leaders and then beat the Pokémon League Champion, who in this game is named Leon and is the brother of Hop, your rival from your hometown of Postwick. Your starter Pokémon this time are Grookey (grass), Scorbunny (fire) and Sobble (water). I opted for Scorbunny for my playthrough – he is so cute. My main team was Cinderace, Drednaw, Tsareena, Morpeko, Gallade and my last slot rotated between Corviknight and Sneasel. The legendary Pokémon you see on the cover is Zacian who you can catch in the Slumbering Weald post-game after defeating Leon.

Gameplay-wise there are a lot of open areas to explore in with varying weather and graphically the game looks nice. You can now see Pokémon roaming in the grass, so you have more power over the random encounters you face. Sometimes they may even chase or run away from the player which adds a sense of realism, like with wild animals. Having mentioned the UK aspect of the game, some areas are very obviously inspired by specific places in the UK, such as Wyndon very obviously looking like London with a big wheel like the London Eye, a very tall building like the Shard and a clock tower representing Big Ben. Graphically, Ballonlea where the Fairy-type gym resides is absolutely the prettiest town in the game. The game may feel dumbed down for veteran players as once you face a certain Pokémon once in battle, the game will tell you which attacks have greater effect on it. Your party Pokémon all also gain EXP without them actually having to be in battle. This eliminates any need for grinding (not that Pokémon games are especially grindy anyway) but the downside is that it may not always encourage you to switch out your team in battle. Your rival also surprisingly picks the starter Pokémon that is weak to yours.

I enjoyed this game because it felt like coming home after a long time. It didn’t do anything revolutionary compared to the previous games, but it is absolutely an easy to pick up and play RPG. And let’s face it, after playing through nearly all the mainline Final Fantasy games this year, this was a welcome change of pace personally. Pokémon is pretty much the perfect first RPG to get into as it is engaging but not too complicated and it was my first RPG too. The general consensus of these games is that they are good, but they don’t go far enough in terms of pushing the hardware of the Switch for which I would agree. Even though this game is only a year old, there is still no voice acting which is surprising given the game is from 2019 and is on Nintendo’s main console. Still, if Pokémon was a big part of your childhood like mine then I would absolutely say to give it a go – it may not be ground-breaking, but it sure is a fun way to spend 20 or so hours. Plus, now there is DLC content which gives even more reason to keep playing.

gaming post, review, Uncategorized

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII: Thoughts

“Men cry not for themselves, but for their comrades”

Crisis Core is a prequel to one of the most popular Final Fantasy games in the franchise – Final Fantasy VII. It was released in 2008 in the West on the PSP. Despite playing through all single player mainline Final Fantasy games, I decided with the Remake having come out this year I would play through Crisis Core again. I was given this as a gift back in 2008 and I have the special edition which includes an art book detailing official and concept art. It was and is easily my favourite game on the PSP. Crisis Core is part of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII and a very popular entry at that. Looking now, this game stands up well today in terms of graphics, music and gameplay. With playing it again, I could see all my various save files dating from 2008, 2009, 2011, 2015 and now 2020. Yep, I’ve come back to it a few times over the years. Of course, playing this game leads into many inevitabilities for the plot of FFVII so there will be spoilers ahead…

Crisis Core is set seven years prior to the events of Final Fantasy VII and the story spans over several years, taking you right up to before the events of FFVII by the end. The story centres around the charismatic Zack Fair, who is working for Shinra as a SOLDIER 2nd Class. I mentioned in my review of FFVII that Zack is an important character in the background even though he would already be dead by the time of the events of FFVII. The opening begins with Zack on a training mission, epically defeating Wutai soldiers disguised as Shinra infantrymen on top of a train going into Midgar. As soon as the intro hits you with the opening music from FFVII, you know you’re in familiar territory. Soon after the training, Zack and his mentor Angeal learn that Angeal’s childhood friend and fellow SOLDIER 1st Class named Genesis has deserted Shinra and taken off with other SOLDIER members. Genesis Rhapsodos is the main antagonist of this story and he is one of the three legendary members of SOLDIER. The other two are Angeal and Sephiroth and the three of them had been firm friends for a long time until the desertion.

Genesis’ motivations are that he is suffering from something known as degradation which means his cells are dying. This is a result of Shinra’s experiments done on him, Angeal and Sephiroth before they were even born. Genesis is the first of these experiments and considered a failure, therefore his body is degrading which means he wants to cure himself through any means possible. He defects from Shinra and has the ability to copy his own cells onto others, so he can create Genesis copies to attack. The knowledge of the experiments leads the three of them to think of themselves as monsters which has a big impact in their mental state and actions. Angeal also abandons Shinra and later becomes a monster named Angeal Penance. When this happens, he implores Zack to defeat him in a showdown. Afterwards, as he lays dying, Angeal entrusts the Buster Sword to Zack that eventually Cloud would inherit. Sephiroth is seen at the start as a reasonable, well-respected SOLDIER and clearly cares for others as he wants to help Genesis with a transfusion after his injury which starts the degradation. However, his realisation with the experiments leads to the Nibelheim Incident and his descent into evil.

Zack is the only playable character in this game and the gameplay mechanics differ to many other Final Fantasy games. It is an action-based battle system and you have freedom to move around the screen, for me personally I find this battle system very enjoyable. Another feature of the battle system is the Digital Mind Wave (DMW) which works as a slot machine and includes headshots of characters that you’ve met. Different combinations of characters and numbers can level up Zack (777), power up Materia or be able to perform special attacks and summons. Sometimes there will be little flashback scenes involving which character you have three of which provides extra story context. You get materia like in FFVII and here you can use the Materia Fusion function which allows you to combine materia and items to customise your magic. You also have missions that you can undertake when at a save point and I absolutely recommend them to gain experience and items. Some of these missions can get repetitive but it’s the rewards and the break in gameplay that kept me coming back.

I think Zack is a fantastic character and is absolutely deserving of his own story. He starts off as a young and naïve SOLDIER 2nd Class with his dream of becoming a hero. His character progresses as he gets further into his career as a SOLDIER and he soon gets promoted to SOLDIER 1st Class. At the beginning he is known as Zack the Puppy due to his excitability and after going through many events he has realised that being a SOLDIER isn’t as glamourous as he may have first thought, but he carries out his duties and retains great mental strength to cope with the situations he is in. He has his doubts, for example when Zack and Cloud are at the inn in Nibelheim, Zack finds himself torn about SOLDIER and what to do, but as a mentor to Cloud he regains his composure as his remembers some of Angeal’s words. When Angeal died, there was a scene afterwards of a crying Zack who is comforted by Aerith. It is clear he meant a lot to Zack. At the start, Zack has spiky black hair and after Angeal’s death he changes his hair to a more slicked back style to symbolise a new chapter in his life. Even though Zack is the only playable character, they have ensured that his relationships play a great part in the story and are also included in the DMW, so even though they are not physically in battle, they still assist Zack.

There are plenty of throwbacks and references to the original Final Fantasy VII. For one, you see many of the characters that you see in the original. Cloud, Sephiroth, Aerith, Tseng, Tifa and Yuffie to name a few. Another part of the story is fleshing out the relationship between Zack and his girlfriend Aerith. Like in Cloud in FFVII, Zack meets Aerith by falling through the roof of the church where she tends to the flowers. Zack offers her one date as a thank you for her help and this is echoed in FFVII where Aerith asks Cloud to be her bodyguard with the payment of one date. Aerith is more naïve in this prequel, so it is clear how much of her confidence came from being with Zack. He is also the one who encourages her to sell her flowers which leads to a mini game where you get all the parts to build a wagon for the flowers. Zack is also the one who buys her the pink bow for her hair when they’re at a market as a token of their one-day friendship at the start. This may seem a bit shoehorned in for some people, but I think they are nice references and show Zack’s positive influence on Aerith. You also see areas in the original like Midgar, Nibelheim, and Costa del Sol as well as new places like Banora and Modeoheim. The music that plays in the credits known as Fulfilled Desire is a medley of FFVII tracks, old and new.

The ending is the inevitable and sad part of the story. If you have played FFVII then you know that Zack doesn’t get out alive. Once you get to Nibelheim on that fateful mission, it is then you know that Zack and Cloud’s fate is sealed. I mentioned the Nibelheim Incident in my FFVII review and Crisis Core covers this from Zack’s point of view but also includes how it was Genesis that tipped Sephiroth even further over the edge with his malicious words, reinforcing the fear that Sephiroth has about being a monster. Following the incident, Zack and Cloud manage to escape after they’re taken away to Hojo’s lab to be used as human experiments. They proceed to go on the run towards Midgar. Crisis Core shows you the journey they take and how Zack takes care of Cloud who is suffering from mako poisoning because of the experiments. This inevitably slows Zack down, but he refuses to leave his friend behind. After defeating Genesis a final time, Shinra are increasingly hot on their heels which leads to a pivotal scene known as Zack’s Last Stand as he faces his final fight for freedom against Shinra’s army.

You cannot win the final fight and believe me, despite knowing what’s going to happen you still try anyway. I kept going until it got the point where the game stopped me, which in fairness wasn’t that long. The very final battle afterwards with the few infrantrymen is awful because you see a beaten Zack struggling to walk and only able to drag the Buster Sword. Eventually he cannot fight no more and is gunned down by the Shinra infrantrymen. You even get to see this from the perspective from Zack looking up from the ground at the infrantrymen who are about to shoot at him and hearing his laboured breath as he anticipates what is to come. The DMW creates fragmented memories of Aerith and her voice – showing that as he is facing death, she is one of the last things he is thinking of. He wanted to see her in Midgar again and he got so close to doing so… It’s sad because in the original game Aerith, Tifa and Zack’s parents are not sure what has happened to him.

This leads to the ending cutscene; you see Aerith look up towards the sky as it rains and seemingly sensing something, the scene then cuts to the face of a bloodied Zack, lying on the ground in his own blood with the rain pelting down on him. Cloud in his awakened state, manages to drag himself over to Zack as he lays dying and it is then he inherits the Buster Sword and Zack tells him to live for the both of them before he quietly passes away. Right before the credits, you hear Zack’s voice and the line “Hey, would you say I became a hero?”. That line sticks out to be every time because of course he became a hero. Perhaps not in the superhero sense that he anticipated at the start as an excitable young SOLDIER, but a hero in the real sense that he saved Cloud’s life. Many heroes in life are not typical superheroes, rather they are the brave people who do what they can for the greater good. Cloud would be damaged mentally because of the mako poisoning and trauma, meaning he doesn’t remember Zack for much of FFVII and he transfers Zack’s memories into his own, believing that he became a SOLDIER 1st Class which is teased in a little scene after the credits where the opening of FFVII is recreated.

Crisis Core is a fantastic game and I am glad that we can experience Zack’s story. He became a very popular character after this game and some people even prefer him to Cloud. It’s hard not to like him, he is very admirable as a character and that makes the end even more of a gut punch as you know he didn’t deserve to go out like that. If you do play this game, I would still recommend playing the original Final Fantasy VII first as I think you’ll be able to appreciate and understand the prequel better. The only downside is that Crisis Core has never been released on anything other than the PSP, so it isn’t the most accessible of games to play. The other alternative is to read up on the story and watch some of the more important cutscenes. If you’ve played the Remake and you want something related to play in the meantime, then Crisis Core will do nicely if you can get hold of it.

diary entry, travel experience, Uncategorized

Trip to the Peak District

October was the month I had my first trip away this year. This is no real surprise considering the current pandemic. Understandably, it was a much-needed trip to get a change of scenery. The Peak District is only roughly around 60 miles away from Birmingham, so it wasn’t too far to travel, making it perfect for the first staycation. It is a beautiful place that I’ve been to so many times throughout the years and as I’ve got older, the more I have come to appreciate it. With the current lockdown tiers and changes currently going on I am glad we went when we did.

Getting there we went through the town of Ashbourne. Ashbourne is what I see as the gateway to the Peak District if you’re coming from the south. It is a good place to stop if you need to get a few things or have a rest break before continuing your journey. We then carried on to Dovedale, which is famous for its stepping stones. The weather was great when we first got there although it did begin to rain after a while and we did have to take refuge in the car at one point. We last came to Dovedale around two and a half years ago and I honestly don’t know where the time goes. It was still the same as ever and despite it being midday Wednesday there were still plenty of walkers about. I also got both of my feet wet trying to cross the stepping stones over the river– funnily enough you worry more about falling in when the stones are wet! I can confirm I managed to get over unscathed, apart from my feet of course.

We then carried on to where we would be staying – in a cottage in Middleton by Wirksworth. We had booked this on Airbnb and this is my second Airbnb experience, my first one was staying in a B&B in Barry, Wales for a hen party last year. When I was younger I used to go on many trips around the UK and we would stay in cottages so it was nice to stay in one again. The cottage itself was very nice and once we put the heating on it felt very cosy. I absolutely loved the kettle there, it was in the shape of a teapot and had matching cups. Oh, the little things. The TV had Netflix so I took the opportunity to watch The Social Experiment (a very eye opening watch) and various episodes of Only Fools and Horses. There was a nice country pub called The Rising Sun which was opposite too. We went in there one evening and had fish and chips which was really nice. Other than that, we made use of the kitchen and cooked meals ourselves.

Local country pub.

The next day we went to the gardens at Chatsworth House. I’d been before with my dad back around June 2015, but I was really looking forward to seeing it in the Autumn. I’m a big fan of autumn colours and the gardens didn’t disappoint. The weather that day was the best it had been for our whole stay so we timed that very well because at the moment you can only pre-book tickets due to the coronavirus. We spent a good few hours walking around and while much of it looked familiar such as the outside of the house and the cascade, I found things I didn’t see the first-time round. What I like about the gardens is that it’s not all on one level, which gives opportunities to look at things from an elevated view. My favourite was a view from a little deck above a big pond, the autumn colours look gorgeous and you can even see the hills behind.

Autumnal colours at Chatsworth.

Afterwards we went into Bakewell, which as you can guess – it is famous for the Bakewell tart. The town was very busy for a weekday afternoon and we went into The Lavender Tea Rooms for a sweet lunch, I had a cream tea and my partner had a Bakewell tart and tea. I also bought some traditional Bakewell tarts to take back while I was there. It is really nice but I’m not a big fan of the almond topping so I end up taking them off, much like how I take off the cherry on a normal Bakewell tart. Believe it or not, I’m not usually that fussy when it comes to food. Bakewell is a nice place, but it didn’t feel as if there was much to see other than the shops.

We drove back and took a wrong turning so briefly ended up in Youlgrave. I’ve been to Youlgrave many times before and I’m very familiar with it. It is a really nice place with places to walk down the bottom of the hill. The only thing I’m not a big fan of is how narrow everything feels there, it is definitely not a place designed to take much traffic which gave me a slight claustrophobic feeling when getting around. We were finding our way out and there was a car in front with a trailer behind it, at first it wasn’t moving but then it began to turn right… and the trailer ended up hitting a parked car where a couple was sat inside. First it shut the wing mirror, then proceeded to scratch all the way down the side and I’m fairly certain it took the back light out. I felt so bad for the couple, they probably came for a day out and didn’t expect it to end with their car taking a beating.

The next day we went to Matlock Bath. Matlock Bath is an interesting place as it sets itself up as a place almost like a seaside resort with arcades and fish and chip shops but without the seaside. We went up the Lovers’ Walk and made through the wooded area to the cliffs above which lets you see over Matlock Bath from a height and lets you see over to Gulliver’s Kingdom and the cable cars for the Heights of Abraham. It’s quite interesting as you see all that on the one side and then level fields to the other side. Later on, we walked from the cottage to the High Peak Trail which is a 17-mile trail. It’s ideal for cyclists, but as we were just walking we didn’t do the whole lot. We walked from Middleton Top to the Black Rocks, near Cromford.

On our last full day, we went to Birchen Edge. I’d never been there before, but I saw it was a popular with walkers and novice climbers. Unfortunately, I misread it as for novice walkers. We started walking and I decided it would be a good idea to try and walk up to the top via a shortcut. Especially because it had begun to drizzle, I was starting to feel a bit more fearful the further up as the route and the little rocks became more vertical, but we made it! There are great views of the surrounding fields and areas from the top and the plants were all brown which added to the autumnal feel. Eventually we got towards the gritstone edge, where we saw a number of rock climbers. We also found Nelson’s Monument and three big rocks known as the Three Ships with the names of three of Nelson’s ships.

View from Birchen Edge.

Later that afternoon we went to Carsington Water which is a reservoir close to Middleton and is several miles long, so if you’re prepared to do the whole reservoir it will easily take a few hours. We didn’t walk the whole way as we were beginning to flag and the rain didn’t help. In fairness, this has probably been the first time nearly all year we have been busy with things several days on the bounce. I was really impressed with the reservoir though, it is the biggest one I’ve seen and it even appeared to have island-like diversions within it. As the rain got a little heavier, the view looked very misty the further out you looked. I really liked the aesthetic of it, it looked a bit mysterious.

Looking over the reservoir at Carsington Water.

I’m so glad we went on this trip to the Peak District now, given things seem more and more uncertain regarding the pandemic in the UK. It’s done me the world of good getting a change of scenery and some fresh air. Staycations are only going to become more and more popular until we have a bit more certainty back. I really want to go away again already, although realistically it won’t be happening again until next year. I have a continual dilemma as to when to use the remainder of my annual leave as I know I won’t be doing much with it, but if I don’t use them then I lose it. Next time I visit the Peak District I want to go more to the upper end where places like Mam Tor are as I’m less familiar with that side, although as for another staycation something like the Cotswolds would be nice. But who knows what will happen in the meantime.

gaming post, review, Uncategorized

Final Fantasy X and X-2: Thoughts

Final Fantasy X

Final Fantasy X was first released in 2001 on the PlayStation 2 and it would prove to be one of the most revered titles in the entire series. It was also the first in the series to feature voice acting. I have spent many hours on this game over the years and had later bought the HD remaster for the PS4 which includes the sequel Final Fantasy X-2. I had started playing this again a while ago, but I had stopped. I restarted this playthrough at the start of lockdown this year at the Bevelle Cloister of Trials which according to my PSN trophies took two years to get to as I was so inconsistent with playing it and I got as far as fighting Yunalesca (which is fairly close to the end) and then, well… Final Fantasy VII Remake turned up which meant FFX was put on the backburner once again. Once I came back to the game I decided to start over completely as so much time had passed and I think I was under levelled anyway. I’m glad I did though as I got to experience everything fully and consistently.

Final Fantasy X is set in the world of Spira and centres around the stories of Tidus and Yuna. One of Tidus’ iconic lines is ‘this is my story’ which you will hear a few times throughout, although their stories soon become intertwined. Tidus is a Blitzball player who is taken to the world of Spira 1000 years into the future and Yuna is a summoner on a quest with her guardians to defeat Sin, a recurring being that threatens to destroy lives in Spira. Even though Tidus is the main character, the story soon becomes focused on Yuna and her pilgrimage with Tidus hoping to be able to return to his home of Zanarkand while taking on the role as Yuna’s guardian. However, as time goes on, the prospect of returning to Zanarkand becomes less and less likely. The main playable characters are Tidus, Yuna, Wakka, Lulu, Kimarhi, Auron and Rikku. Eventually all these characters become Yuna’s guardians and all work together to defeat Sin, who Yuna’s father Lord Braska had defeated 10 years prior.

Poor Tidus is a fish out of water in Spira so he follows much the same journey as us as he learns about Spira and their religion Yevon, the true nature of Sin and the truth of Yuna’s pilgrimage. It also turns out that Tidus has a close connection with Sin through his estranged father, Jecht as he learns from Auron that Jecht is Sin. Tidus has a complicated relationship with his father as he was subjected to constant put downs by him as a child which still affects him. Tidus gets some flack as a character, people accusing him of being whiny but I’m quite fond of him. He’s in a tough situation not knowing if he can ever go home and he copes relatively well considering. I think I’d be a bit upset at times too if I was suddenly taken away from everything I knew. Much like Zidane in FFIX, he is generally a more upbeat character than protagonists like Cloud and Squall. As Tidus is so unfamiliar with everything, it means it is easy for him to overstep the mark without meaning to. A good example is that Zanarkand is now a holy place, meaning it isn’t the best thing for Tidus to mention that he is from there as it would offend people. So naturally, in a slight face palm moment, he soon mentions this without thinking – much to the dismay of the locals.

The gameplay has been changed up again from previous entries as this time you don’t have a levelling system. This time you gain ability points and spheres which allows you to use the Sphere Grid. This is a grid which allows your characters learn certain attributes such as spells, gain HP/MP, improve stats and other abilities. I personally prefer the more traditional levelling system because it’s easier to see where you are at with a character, but the Sphere Grid has plenty of interesting features such as the Friend Sphere, which allows you to go across the grid and learn attributes that other characters could only normally learn. The battle system is turn based and I do like how you can change your characters within the same battle which makes grinding a little easier. This time, limit breaks are known as Overdrives and like in FFVIII, some may require timing puzzles to execute.

An aspect that really draws me in are the tropical environments which you don’t see in a lot of Final Fantasy games. If I recall correctly, many environments were based off places like Thailand and Bali which you can really see in areas like Besaid and Kilika. I would honestly love to travel to somewhere like Besaid. They also undertake Okinawan themes such as Tidus and Yuna’s names, which mean Sun and Moon respectively. This makes this entry in the series more unique stylistically as a lot of the series has a more Western look rather than the Asian influence here. Even the NPCs all have very distinctive clothing to represent the place and culture. Because of this and many other aspects, I will always have fond memories of this from playing the original PS2 version. Even when it was to dive for the remote to mute it because my parents were around during the infamous laughing scene. Silly, but a funny memory. I love how it became such a meme years later and James Arnold Taylor who voices Tidus has even put up a YouTube video explaining the scene and how it was intentional as the laughter is always taken out of context.

This time the soundtrack was done not just by Nobuo Uematsu but also Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano. By this point after doing the soundtrack by himself for the previous nine games, Uematsu needed assistance. The three all work very well together and while you can tell that some tracks weren’t done by Uematsu they are still amazing pieces and all fit in with the exotic theme. To Zanarkand was composed by Uematsu and it is one of the most iconic tracks and it is truly beautiful to hear orchestrated. Hamauzu is very good at creating very atmospheric tracks such as Wandering Flame, it’s very calm and yet haunting. I love the theme for Luca by Nakano, it makes me feel like I’m on a sunny holiday. My other favourites are Besaid Island, Calm Before the Storm, The Splendid Performance, Someday the Dream Will End and Seymour’s Battle Theme. Much like FFVIII and FFIX, FFX also has a vocal track which is called Suteki da Ne by Rikki, it is most known for playing during the scene where Tidus and Yuna share a kiss in the Macalania Lake.

A key theme is Spira’s religion and its teachings. The main religion is the Yevon faith. Nearly everyone in Spira follows this religion, but as time goes on you see how the religion is corrupt. The biggest example being the pilgrimage that Yuna undertakes, along with many summoners before her which results in their death. The rivals of Yevon are the Al Bhed, who are a tribe of technologists and use machina – something the Yevon faith forbids. To emphasise their difference, they also speak a different language and you can pick up various Al Bhed Primers on your journey, so the subtitles gradually translate more and more. This is an interesting touch to show their differences and I think this particularly works well at the start when Tidus is first trapped in Spira and he is picked up by an Al Bhed boat. He cannot understand anything they say which makes him feel even isolated from what he knows. It is also later revealed that Yuna is half Al Bhed. We know from the start her cousin Rikku is full Al Bhed and she often acts as a translator. Wakka is a staunch believer in Yevon and has many prejudices against the Al Bhed, but after time he becomes more understanding and tolerant to other people and views as well as finally accepting that Yevon is a corrupt religion.

The ending of this game is one of the more heart-breaking endings in the series. Once you defeat the Final Aeon (Jecht) and Yu Yevon within the core of Sin, Tidus disappears because he is a dream of the fayth which means his Zanarkand is just a dream. He doesn’t learn this until quite far into the story and so he tries to hide it from everyone else in the run up to defeating Sin. He knows that defeating Sin will mean he will disappear because the fayth will stop dreaming, but he goes ahead with it anyway. Initially the big reveal earlier on was that Yuna would die once the Final Aeon was summoned, although she was aware of this and had accepted it as this was the fate of her father Braska. Tidus is then driven to find a way to defeat Sin without Yuna dying, meaning he sacrifices himself once Sin is defeated. The part where Tidus begins to fade away and Yuna tries to run towards him, only to run right through him and fall to the floor is so sad. Tidus and Yuna’s love story is a fan favourite among players and is commonly seen as one of the best tales of love in gaming.

Playing it again from the start was a completely different experience. It took about a week and I was playing for around 6 hours each day. I also did a lot more grinding which really paid off as well as getting the extra Aeons such as Anima and Yojimbo; the latter really saved me during the final boss fight. It was an intense week of playing, but I really enjoyed it and was truly immersed in the story. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the game when I played it before, far from it, but I’ve been quite bad with keeping up with games in the past, something I have got much better at this year. This really has been an all or nothing thing for me, but I’m pleased I finished it. I think it’s a game that impacted many people, believe it or not I used to work with someone who named her son after Auron! Final Fantasy X is easily my favourite FF title behind FFVII and it’s the sort of game that gets you thinking about it even after you’ve finished it.

Final Fantasy X-2

This game is part of the Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, but until now I hadn’t delved into the X-2 side of it. This was also originally released for the PlayStation 2 back in 2003 and would be the first direct sequel in the entire series. This sequel to FFX takes things down a more light-hearted path, which is by no means a bad thing as it makes a change compared to some of the more serious predecessors which includes FFX itself.

This adventure is set two years after FFX and is centred around Yuna, Rikku and Paine who are part of the sphere hunting group known as the Gullwings. Yuna’s motivation for hunting these spheres is to gather clues about a man who looks just like Tidus which she has seen in one of these spheres. It then later transpires to be Shuyin, a young man from the past who is angry about the death of his lover Lenne.

The game is mission based as you use an airship to go from place to place and spans across five chapters. There are also a lot of side quests that you may or may not want to undertake. I would definitely recommend at least doing a few. The gameplay is actually a bit of a throwback to the job system as you use Garment Grids which means your characters can switch garments and therefore change abilities and stats in battle. You also see the classic job classes such as White Mage, Warrior, Thief etc.

There’s a lot of familiarity with this game as the majority of locations are ones that you would have already visited in FFX and you see many characters from before such as Wakka and Lulu who now have a child on the way. Music is important in this game as Yuna performs a few times throughout to lift the spirits of Spira and even the opening scene is set in a concert arena. In particular, I loved the scene where Yuna performs the song 1000 Words with Lenne and we get to see the relationship with Lenne and Shuyin explained during this without actually saying anything. It’s actually a really great scene.

This is a good game if you’re looking for something that’s a little more light hearted. The actual story is shorter than FFX so it’s easy enough to play through casually. Of course, that depends on how many of the side quests you want to do which will determine how long you will be playing, so on the plus side there is a lot of content. There is also a different ending if you 100% the entire game and you see Tidus and Yuna reunited which is really sweet. I personally did not do this and got the regular ending as you literally have to do every little thing to achieve this good ending, so I checked it out on YouTube. Ah, thank god for YouTube.

gaming post, review, Uncategorized

Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX, The PlayStation Era: Thoughts

When I first started writing about the Final Fantasy series and other games in my ‘What I’ve Been Playing’ blog from when I was on furlough, I had no idea I would end up going through the whole series. It was just one of those cases where the more I played, the more I pushed a little more and therefore I nicknamed it my ‘accidental marathon’. Because I had written about the other Final Fantasy games in their own individual blog posts, I thought it would make sense to update my reviews from a few months ago and categorise them into their own individual post and I’ll be doing the same for FFX/FFX-2.

The PlayStation era of Final Fantasy games are ones I never fail to look back fondly on, they have such meaning for me past and present – particularly these ones and FFX. For these three games, I played the updated versions which you can find on the PlayStation store.

Please be warned, as with this and my other reviews, there will be spoilers – I write these from my own personal experiences rather than write these as a standard review, meaning I do go into spoiler territory a lot.

Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII was first released in 1997 on the PlayStation and paved the way for JRPGs in the West. I had wanted to replay this after all the excitement with the remake and after replaying FFVIII and FFIX, I started to get the itch again to replay another of the PS1 classics. It is a good reminder of where it all started by playing the original game, especially after playing the first part of the remake. I first finished the game in 2007 when I was 15 and have gone back to it a few times, but sometimes I’d trail off about half way which is why I recall the first half this game a lot more than the second. I have to say, the speed up feature on these re-releases is a godsend. A game that took me 40 hours to finish back in the day now took around 10-11 hours because I could toggle the fast forward and avoid random encounters.

Once again, I delved into the adventure of Cloud Strife, a mercenary who assists eco-terrorist group Avalanche in their mission to take down mega-corporation Shinra for their damage to the planet, which eventually leads to pursuing Sephiroth, who quickly becomes the bigger threat. The other main playable characters are Barret Wallace, Tifa Lockhart, Aerith Gainsborough, Red XIII, Cait Sith, Cid Highwind and two optional characters, Yuffie Kisaragi and Vincent Valentine, both of which I make sure I get every time I play. I think these are a very strong cast of characters and usually in RPGs with a sizeable cast, there may be one or two characters you dislike but here I don’t really hear this. The only one I would possibly give that award to is Cait Sith as he is literally just a toy cat who rides a Moogle being controlled by Reeve Tuesti at Shinra to act as a spy. Generally, most of the characters get good exposure and character development. The main ones you tend to see represent the game are Cloud, Barret, Tifa and Aerith.

The game gives you the reins to make decisions that can affect the story in one way or another. The one that most people think of is the love triangle between Cloud, Tifa and Aerith where depending on your responses your affections will be higher with either Tifa or Aerith. Even over 20 years later, people still hotly debate which girl is the one for Cloud. Personally, I think it is Tifa who is the one for Cloud, but I can see the arguments for Aerith and these may get even stronger as the remake continues. This approach is very interesting as most fiction tends to give you a concrete answer. Here, you are actively encouraged to draw your own conclusions and I suppose it also similar to real life; you probably won’t just meet one person who you love and that’s that, it may be your second love or you find the one who has been there the whole time. Cloud quite clearly had feelings for Tifa back in the day, but then he meets Aerith which potentially sways him.

The game starts off set in the sprawling city of Midgar where Shinra reign supreme. The wealthy live very good lives and the poor live in the slums. It’s an accurate representation of many cities in the world. Once you leave Midgar around 6ish hours into the game (this is based on when I played the original without any speed ups), the world opens up and you are placed on the world map, also known as the world of Gaia. This is where many people say the game gets even better, and I would agree but the Midgar part is also really memorable – and not just because of the scene where Cloud cross-dresses to save Tifa! FFVII has some of the most memorable scenes in the series, most notably around half way through where Aerith is killed by Sephiroth right in front of Cloud at the Forgotten City. I cannot imagine how it must have been for players to have seen that scene without it being spoiled. Overall there are several darker scenes compared to what we would have seen in the Nintendo days of Final Fantasy. One scene is at the Temple of the Ancients not long before Aerith is killed. Sephiroth takes over Cloud’s mind and exploits his vulnerable state which leads him to physically attack Aerith, completely unprovoked.

The gameplay is based on Active Time Battle system and once you take enough damage you can fill your gauge which allows you to use Limit Breaks. There are many unique Limit Breaks each character can have and different levels of them. Other than that, you can use Materia which lets you use magic and summons. Different weapons and accessories can allow more or less Materia slots, so obviously you want to maximise the slots and your power if you can. Overall, it is a very good system, but like in FFVI with its Esper system, many may say it can homogenise the characters and their abilities. Personally, it’s not something that bothers me and you can customise your characters as you want.

Cloud himself is probably one of the most complex characters I have ever seen in a videogame. Because of the things he has been through, he is a damaged person psychologically and therefore he is the unreliable narrator in this story. There are hints to the player that all may not be right with Cloud mentally, but the revelation doesn’t come until nearer to the end. The scene where he and Tifa go through his subconscious and piece him and the story together is one of the best scenes I’ve seen in a game. It’s also very interesting to think that the main character isn’t really himself until you get towards the end. We are shown throughout the story that Cloud is a former SOLDIER 1st Class, and it turns out he was nothing more than an infantryman. He never did achieve his dreams and with the combination of trauma and mental illness, he conjured up the idea he was one, but it was really his friend Zack Fair who was the SOLDIER 1st Class.

This comes from a chain of events starting from the Nibelheim Incident. This is where Sephiroth learns about what he believes to be his true origins – that he is a descendent of the Ancients and learns more about his ‘mother’ Jenova (also known as the calamity from the skies). Spending hours locked away reading research notes, he descends into madness as he believes he is a monster. This leads him to burn down the town of Nibelheim which kills many residents, one of which is Cloud’s mother. Zack and Tifa attempt to confront Sephiroth but are both left incapacitated and this leads an enraged Cloud to stab Sephiroth. A weakened Sephiroth stumbles from Jenova’s chamber and impales Cloud on his sword. Cloud, using his adrenaline-fuelled strength, manages to balance himself on the sword in such a way he throws Sephiroth into the Mako pit below where he is consumed by the Lifestream. Zack and Cloud are then taken away by Professor Hojo from the Shinra Science Research Division and are used as experiments until they are finally able to escape.

Final Fantasy VII is very influential and it later spawned a Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. The main titles are Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII which is a prequel, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children which is a feature length film sequel about Cloud and his fight with an illness called Geostigma and Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII which is a spin off sequel that focuses on Vincent Valentine and his relationships with Lucrecia Crescent and Professor Hojo – Sephiroth’s real parents. Most relevant to the story of FFVII itself is Crisis Core. It tells the story of Zack, the SOLDIER that Cloud imprinted his false memories on to make his own false personality, while forgetting Zack’s existence. You also see Sephiroth as he was before the Nibelheim Incident and you see a younger Cloud, Tifa and Aerith. Aerith was Zack’s girlfriend and their relationship is expanded upon in the prequel. Zack is such an important character for Cloud and his story even if he isn’t physically present in FFVII itself, apart from one flashback showing how he protects Cloud while on the run from the Shinra army and sadly loses his life as he gets gunned down.

One of the very last things I remember about FFVII is the very final shot at the end before the credits roll where you see Aerith’s face one last time. It never fails to give me chills and this playthrough was no exception; the viewpoint of her mirrors the scene from the opening scene of the game when you see her. It’ll be a while until we see all these aspects I’ve discussed in the remake, but I look forward to experiencing the full story again. It’s just such a magical game for me and it always will be. It’s no secret that it is my favourite game in the entire series. Even if it is not your favourite, there’s no denying it is at least the most influential in the series because it came at a real turning point for the series and it set the Final Fantasy series on a great path to being recognised in the West. It’s probably the game that most people think of when generally thinking of Final Fantasy and if you haven’t played it, I recommend this out of any of them to play at least once.

Final Fantasy VIII

The remastered version of Final Fantasy VIII was available, so I went and bought it on the PSN store. About two days later it went down to half price… ah well, can’t win them all. This game was originally released back in 1999 and marked the 8th instalment in the series. The story follows lone wolf Squall Leonhart, a cadet at a military academy called Balamb Garden. He soon graduates and becomes a SeeD which is part of their mercenary force. Squall and his comrades who he leads end up in conflict with a sorceress from the future named Ultimecia. The other main playable characters are Rinoa Heartilly, Quistis Trepe, Zell Dincht, Selphie Tilmitt and Irvine Kinneas. There are also dream sequences where the characters you play are Laguna Loire, Kiros Seagill and Ward Zabac. Eventually all these characters come together in person later in the story.

I first played this game on the PS1 when I was about 15 years old, so I have happy memories of this game. I understand for a lot of people this game was a bit of a mixed bag due to the GF (summons) and Junction system as well as the main plot twist that they all grew up in the same orphanage (with the exception of Rinoa) but conveniently forgot because the GF causes memory loss and that Irvine is the only one who remembers out of any of them. I personally liked the game a lot though, despite the ridiculous plot twist. I still am really impressed with how much the FMV sequences improved between this and FFVII despite being on the same console. I think it didn’t help that it came straight after FFVII, which meant it had a lot of live up to, so I don’t think FFVIII has always had a fair time of it. I like the real world inspirations for some of the places, one example is that Deling is quite clearly based off Paris with the Arc de Triomphe.

I really like Squall as a character, despite people like SpoonyOne dubbing him Emo Git back in his hilarious 2007 review. His whole character development is based around him being withdrawn and taciturn because he felt he was abandoned in the past after he thinks his ‘Sis’ Ellone had left him as a child when they lived together in an orphanage, which much later down the lines he realises wasn’t the case. He eventually comes to realise that he isn’t alone and slowly begins to open up through falling in love with Rinoa and having his friendships with his comrades. He realises that he cannot be fully self-sufficient in life. As he internalises a lot of his feelings, you see a lot of his thoughts through his inner monologues which is a nice touch and adds to his character. Some of his thoughts can be quite profound such as the line ‘Right and wrong are not what separate us and our enemies. It’s our different standpoints, our perspectives that separate us.’.

Overall, I think the game has a strong cast of characters and there are plenty of contrasts to Squall. Zell and Selphie are more upbeat, Rinoa encourages Squall to express himself and arch rival Seifer is his foil as they are more similar than they would probably admit to, despite their different ways of going about things. Laguna is a very big contrast to Squall in terms of personality as he is very optimistic and outgoing. Later we see a deeper connection between Squall and Laguna as it is heavily implied that Laguna is Squall’s father. This all leads into Squall’s character development. Squall shows his leadership skills early on during the assassination attempt of Sorceress Edea when sharpshooter Irvine falters and panics. Squall is then later promoted to Commander. Early in the story when Quistis, who starts off as Squall’s mentor, tries to open up to him and he responds by telling her to talk to a wall. Later in the story when Rinoa is in a coma and doesn’t respond, an anguished Squall comments that it is like talking to a wall. Squall’s relationships with these characters are crucial for his character development. Of course, other characters in the story develop too, but Squall undeniably has the biggest progression throughout.

We also see that Laguna and Rinoa’s mother Julia almost became a couple when they were younger but became separated so met other people, Raine for Laguna and General Caraway for Julia which resulted in Squall and Rinoa, respectively. Squall and Rinoa’s eventual romance essentially ties up the romance between their parents that couldn’t happen. There’s a scene in the dream sequence where Laguna meets Julia in the hotel in Deling and we first see his interest in her. I remember playing with my mum watching and she then became interested in whether they got together or not. It’s little memories like that which add to the experience. As she is a piano player, Julia writes the main theme Eyes on Me for Laguna, so even though it is the song you associate with Squall and Rinoa, it is actually far more fitting for Julia and Laguna, who’s romance isn’t even able to get off the ground due to circumstance.

The soundtrack is top notch with tracks like Eyes on Me being prominent throughout with leitmotifs. The piece Liberi Fatali which plays at the start was the first orchestral piece in the series, accompanied with Latin chorus, much like in One Winged Angel in FFVII. It is such an epic way to kick off the game as well as the imagery that accompanies it such as Squall and his rival Seifer’s sparring which shows how they inflict each other with opposite facial scars. It is one of the best soundtracks in the series, quite easily. Other memorable tracks are Fisherman’s Horizon, The Salt Flats and The Oath. I’m also a big of Maybe I’m a Lion which plays during the final battle with Ultimecia, Squall throughout has varying lion motifs such as the symbols of Griever which is the name of the lion’s head crest which is on Squall’s chain necklace, ring and on his gunblade, which is his weapon of choice.

Another point to make is that this game has the enemies level up with you, which eliminates any need for grinding and also makes this game different to its predecessors. If you cannot beat a boss then it’s more likely you have to change up your strategy. The only part where I was tearing my hair out was the final battle with Ultimecia. You have to fight her in four forms and if you lose, you go back to where you last saved. About three times I got her final form and would lose as she would KO my team. This is made worse by the fact that I spent about 20 odd minutes of real time to get to that point. Then, there was a point where I seemed to be on track to defeating her at the final part… and the PS4 crashed. Argh! It’s okay, I dusted myself off and eventually defeated her to get to the ending but jeez! It was worth it though and definitely not because I would get a PSN trophy for finishing the game…

Many people have mixed views about this game because it can be seen as a bit of a black sheep because of the Junction System and the way you gain magic is through drawing it from enemies or finding draw points. I get that it wasn’t implemented perfectly, but for me the general gameplay and story more than makes up for it. My only real complaint about the remastered version in particular is that they’ve made Squall’s face look kind of pretty whereas really he’s quite gruff. Generally, I see people place FFVII and FFIX above FFVIII out of the three PS1 games, but I would say that I would place FFVIII above FFIX. That’s not to say I dislike FFIX, I like it a lot and it is high in my estimations, but I think FFVIII is underrated and I would recommend giving it a go. Imagine Hogwarts but for young mercenaries instead.

Final Fantasy IX

Now because of this aforementioned sale, it did push me into getting Final Fantasy IX for the PS4 too, because why not. This game was originally released back in 2000 and would be the final mainline game on the PlayStation. This is another game that I played as a teenager, I think the last time I properly played this through I was about 15 or 16 years old. Once again, many good memories from the story, to the characters and the soundtrack. Unlike FFVII and FFVIII, we are back to the classic medieval theme which FFI-FFV was set in. I believe FFIX takes the best elements of these previous games and places it into a more modern and more accessible setting. I was pretty impressed with how much I remembered with this game, as well as understandably not remembering other parts as much – but that’s all part of the fun of replaying. It’s more fun when you don’t remember every little thing.

This time the story is about a thief named Zidane Tribal, who is involved in a scheme to kidnap Garnet, princess of Alexandria. In a twist, Garnet actually wants to be kidnapped. They then join together and others on a quest to defeat Garnet’s mother, Queen Brahne, who has waged war on the other kingdoms. Later emerges a bigger threat in the form of Kuja who shares a history with Zidane which gets properly explored in the last part of the game. The main playable characters other than Zidane are Vivi Ornitier, Adelbert Steiner, Garnet Til Alexandros XVII (also known as Dagger), Amarant Coral, Freya Crescent, Quina Quen and Eiko Carol. It is a varied cast and characters like Vivi are very popular with fans. Vivi is a Black Mage which is another throwback and the Black Mages become an important part of the story. Steiner is another key character and is assigned to protect Princess Garnet, he dislikes Zidane for much of the story before coming round to him.

Even though I had already played it, before this playthrough I was slightly apprehensive because of the more childlike design of the characters as I’ve been used to playing the other FF games which have more lifelike characters and therefore come off as more relatable at first glance. But as soon as I got into it, I didn’t even really think about it and loved it all the same. Although I would say the characters are more of a mixed bag for me. I didn’t really care much for Quina or Amarant in all honesty. I did like Zidane though and I found his outgoing, enthusiastic and charming demeanour is also a departure from the sullen Cloud and Squall that we had seen previously. As much as I like Cloud and Squall, it is refreshing to see a new type of character lead the story. My only criticism is that Zidane and Vivi seem to have a similar character arc, which is about identity. I think as time has gone on, I have appreciated this game even more and it has gone up in my estimations. The way I would best describe this game is charming. The characters, environments, themes and music are all very charming.

The soundtrack also features the second vocal theme in the series after Eyes on Me in FFVIII by Faye Wong. FFIX’s theme is called Melodies of Life by Emiko Shiratori (with both English and Japanese versions) and it is a very charming song. It is very much about the romance between Zidane and Dagger. The soundtrack is once again a stellar effort from Nobuo Uematsu. Interestingly, they had moved the development studios to Hawaii but given that FFIX’s setting is more medieval Europe, Uematsu was lacking inspiration so he was sent on a two-week trip around Europe to look at castles to gain inspiration. You’re Not Alone is one of the other standout pieces on the soundtrack and is played when Zidane tries to push away his friends when he is plagued with self-doubt about his existence, a different side we see compared to the happy-go-lucky character we had seen up until that point. Character development is another thing that FFIX does well, another example is Dagger cutting her hair as symbolism of letting go of the past following her mother’s death.

Like FFVII and FFVIII on the PS4 version, FFIX has the speed up feature, no encounters, but this time instead of guaranteed limit breaks, there is a mode where 9,999 damage for every hit is guaranteed. I liked the speed up mode but not where it speeds up the cutscenes too, that could be really annoying at points as you couldn’t change it once the cutscene started. FFVIII and FFVII had it right where you could speed the gameplay up, but it wouldn’t affect the cutscenes. Generally, because of these added features you can exploit the game a bit. For example, early on you have the Grand Dragon by Gizamaluke’s Grotto and you are not supposed to be able to defeat that early in the game, however you can if you knock it with 9,999 damage each turn then you can defeat it easily for many experience points. I swear I must have levelled up about 20 levels instantaneously; it was great. Things like this make the game more accessible to play when you’re a bit older, have less time and just want to be able to enjoy the story.

Final Fantasy IX is a great throwback and very accessible for new players to come into the series with. It’s very much a love letter to those who have stuck through the series. The gameplay is back to a more traditional stance compared to FFVIII which I think overall was a welcome addition. This game is ideal if you like a bit of old school pre-FFVI Final Fantasy as it returns to the medieval style the earlier entries were known for. I do believe that this is Final Fantasy’s creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s favourite FF title as it takes what he envisioned early on with the series and makes it into something even better. On a complete side note, there are also more Moogles in this game compared to FFVII and FFVIII, mostly in the name of save points and in which you have the ability to annoy if you needlessly call them on the world map to save without doing so and you can even exchange letters between Moogles. More Moogles is always a plus, kupo!