LTTP: Final Fantasy VI (SNES)

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I started Final Fantasy VI at least three times now. I started it a couple of times via PC SNES emulators of the late 1990s and early 2000s, but it was the third time on the SNES Classic where I finally saw credits. It took me about 35 hours to conclude that it was “okay”.

The game started very strong and maintained a great pace until the World of Ruin. I loved meeting the new characters, seeing the new places, and the escalating absurdity of Ultros. The soundtrack was on point from the very first minute and was the timeless highlight of the entire game. It far outstripped the visuals which I found a bit dodgy in spots. Mode 7 was all the rage back then, but it did not age well at all. The same could be said with a lot of the more realistic looking backgrounds.

Chrono Trigger is the gold standard for JRPGs from the SNES era for me — especially from the visuals standpoint which I found to be very cohesive. The characters, the enemies, and the backgrounds all fit well in that classic. By comparison, Final Fantasy VI looked like they had three different artists with three divergent styles creating the backgrounds, enemies, and heroes. When they decided to mash them together, the results were inconsistent at best.

I decided to play the game with a revised translation by the Final Fantasy VI Relocalization Project because I wanted minimize the dated nature of this game. The translation patch also included bug fixes (and introduced a minor text based one) along with small rebalances, but I still found many of the characters hugely overpowered and too useful to not use. Edgar, Celes, Sabin, and Cyan were my A squad. They took down Kefka. I only used other characters because there were situations where I was forced to manage three squads of characters in epic battles or to solve environment puzzles. 

Relm, Gau, Setzer, and Strago were effectively useless without magic spells so I invested time rotating characters and assigning them different Espers so they could become viable in combat. I ended up with a well rounded team where everyone can heal or revive. They weren’t all as effective as Celes, but being able to have anyone cast Arise was a bit broken.

Unfortunately, like I have done so with many JRPGs, I found myself fairly under-leveled during my run up to Kefka. I was able to fell just about every boss encounter with ease except for him. I remedied that with a couple of hours of farming, but it wasn’t fun. 

I also found the idea behind Active Time Battle’s Active mode silly and stuck with Wait mode. Trying to navigate a poorly organized list of spells isn’t my idea of fun. Inputting fighting game motions in a JRPG? That was fun. I still found the idea behind Sabin’s Blitz commands to be the highlight mechanic of the game. He was a powerful or risky character to pick depending on your own proficiency with command inputs which is not something we saw much of after Final Fantasy VIII. Even then, the commands in that game didn’t ask players to pull off half circle or 270 degree motions. Oh, and they didn’t explain how input those commands so there was a lot of early trial and error.

I haven’t relied on an FAQ or walkthrough for just playing a game in ages, but Final Fantasy VI brought that back in a major way. There are things that just aren’t explained well even when you read through thick manual. Speaking of manual, the one included in Final Fantasy VI reads more like a mini-walkthrough than a manual. It even spoils a bit of the story.

Despite its shortcomings towards the latter act of the game, I’m glad I finally finished Final Fantasy VI. I was happy to have finally experienced its wonderful soundtrack in context. I enjoyed many of the battle scenarios; they made good use of the large cast of characters that many other games in this genre do not. I liked the idea of the World of Ruin, but it quickly felt like someone threw a carefully arranged deck of cards and then the game made me play 52-card pick up. It had a few bright spots, but that final chunk of the game felt like a depressing slog which is kind of fitting considering what happened.

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Call of Duty: World at War

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I had no interest in Call of Duty: World at War back in 2008. After the excellent Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, I did not feel the desire to go back to yet another World War II first person shooter. No offence to Treyarch, but this was before they found their footing with the Black Ops sub-franchise. I had little to no faith in their ability to deliver something that was comparable to Modern Warfare. And now, many years later, I finally played it and I was right.

I dusted off the PlayStation 3 Slim, grabbed our copy of Call of Duty: World at War and finished the campaign on Veteran difficulty for the very first time. It didn’t age well. The portrayal of the Japanese, the way the campaign was structured, and the over-reliance on numbers to build intensity made for a dated game. It felt older than Modern Warfare even though it debuted a year later. 

Kiefer Sutherland lent his voice Corporal Roebuck, a plot armor wearing grizzled soldier who didn’t even feel the need to wear a helmet. I found the American half the campaign ran out of steam very early. There’s only so many ways to say “The Japanese were fierce fighters who fought dirty”. I also had my fill of mowing down Japanese infantry as they charged at me while screaming “Bonzai!”. It got old. 

The Russian campaign against the Germans felt like it was most influenced by Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare campaign. There were moments of intrigue, and tension built as Reznov lead me through the war torn streets of Stalingrad. There was even a named villain. Reznov kept things relatively interesting with his speeches imploring his fellow Russians to continue the fight against the Germans.

Call of Duty: World at War was a very ugly game. The relatively high framerate made it playable, but it’s just a very unpleasant game to look at with its grimy textures and sub-720p resolution. Treyarch’s decidedly more gruesome take on Call of Duty resulted in a lot more blood and gore than other Call of Duty titles before and after it. While the techniques used to convey the violence of war was primitive, I found it somewhat effective. The combination of  gross visuals, death screams, and the discordant soundtracks worked to successfully deliver an uneasy sensation towards war. 

There was not much “fun” to be had with Call of Duty: World at War. Playing it on Veteran difficulty may have forced me to suffer through some excruciating gameplay segments for longer than I cared to admit, but outside of the one “Vendetta” mission, I struggle to recall other moments that I would describe as “neat” or “interesting”. At least this game had some redeeming qualities compared to the otherwise stale rendition delivered by Call of Duty: WW2. While WW2 was more playable and more appealing to modern tastes, it failed to deliver on the brutality of the war experience on a moment to moment basis; it didn’t evoke dread like I felt while playing through World at War. I wouldn’t recommend either, but if I had to choose one, it would be this one. 

Verdict:
I didn’t like it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Call of Duty: WW2 Campaign

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I liked Sledgehammer Games’ Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. It was a very good first outing that only raised my expectations for their 2017 title, Call of Duty: WW2. The return to World War II was not an automatic win for me as someone who played through the many World War II first person shooters of the early 2000’s. Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, the original Call of Duty and its subsequent sequels. I was skeptical. I didn’t have confidence that this game would bring anything that I haven’t seen before. As a result, I put it on the back burner. 

It turns out the only way to get me to play this game was to give it away via PlayStation Plus’ Instant Game Collection. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t find it very entertaining. It was trite.

Telling an original WW2 story isn’t easy. There have been countless stories from that tragic war spanning all sorts of mediums including books, TV shows, movies, and other video games. Call of Duty: WW2 opted to tell a Band of Brothers styled story that followed the a group of soldiers throughout the major events of the war on the Western front. All the hallmarks were there including the Normandy beach landing, the liberation of France, the brutal winters in the forests of Belgium, and then culminating with the horrible camps in Germany. 

The game unfolded like a soulless knock off. I see what they’re trying to do, but I wasn’t onboard with any of it. I played through four missions and wanted to bail out, but kept going in hopes of something redeeming. There were interesting missions such as the liberation of Paris, but everything else fell short.  

The sense of scale and bombast was something that I was especially disappointed with. I’m replaying Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 again and it’s surprising how off WW2 felt in this area. Call of Duty: WW2 felt claustrophobic and cramped compared to Infinity Ward’s 11 year old game. I recall having to drag a soldier to safety in the middle of a raging gunfight. I thought I was dragging them to cover, but it was actually a nearby triage area with medics. I could have spat and hit the Nazis from this triage area. It made more sense for me to clear off the enemy and have a medic walk over to save him. 

I reacted similarly throughout countless outdoor firefights. It felt like they were trying to portray epic moments without the appropriate scale. Imagine trying to portray Ronald Speirs epic run down the road in Band of Brothers, but instead of him running for three blocks, it was him just running across a two lane road. It just didn’t work.

I got to know the characters in Call of Duty: WW2 through their mechanical uses and not their stories. There was the ammo guy, the health pack guy, and grenades guy. I cannot tell you their names a week removed from finishing the game, but I remember their functions very well. The problem with tying mechanics to characters is that I never felt any of them were in any real danger. The existence of certain Trophies ensured some of them would be sticking around for the long haul. 

Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and Call of Duty came at a time where Saving Private Ryan served as the benchmark. Call of Duty: WW2 arrived where countless games, movies, and shows have already saturated the market. The crux of the game needed to be more than World War II story told through the lens of a brotherhood of soldiers. This story was told better elsewhere. What I felt they should have done was to update the approach those classic WWII shooters of the early 2000s did. Try to recreate the magnitude and scale of that horrific war for a new generation.

Verdict:
I don’t like it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (X1)

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I admire Ninja Theory for their efforts in bringing awareness to mental illnesses like psychosis. I empathized with Senua; it would certainly be maddening to constantly hear differing voices doubting and prodding me constantly. I found the use of binaural audio to give players a sample of that experience effective. Watching someone struggle to maintain her reality wasn’t unique to Hellblade but it was one of the better uses of world bending imagery. I just wished they didn’t use live actors and full motion videos. They were jarring. 

Hellblade didn’t run well on my PC so I flipped over to the Xbox One X version and played it with “Enriched Visual Mode” which produced a good looking Unreal Engine 4.0 game. I wish I could have ran it at 4K and 60 FPS but there’s only so much this console can do. I eventually acclimatized to the performance but I never got used to the eerie uncanny valley. Senua’s eyes conveyed so much human emotion and was effective at highlighting her struggles without words. Unfortunately, her mouth and the way they rendered it was consistently distracting to me  — and there were a lot of close ups of her. I found her ghoulish from the beginning which may not have been Ninja Theory’s intention. Did they want me to view this warrior as a member of the undead army? 

What’s the answer to overcoming the uncanny valley? It’s not mixing live action and computer generated graphics, that’s for sure. Every live action clip that I saw conjured a chuckle out of me; they all looked silly. No matter how they tried to integrate it into the game, I found them goofy like the ones found in a Remedy Entertainment game. I don’t think that was their intention, was it? 

The Nordic mythology and over-the-shoulder third person camera bore unavoidable comparisons to God of War. They were unfair and unfavorable comparisons but I couldn’t help it. In every respect, Santa Monica Studio did it better.  

I enjoy “walking” simulators. I don’t have issue with slowly moving around in a space. But I do have issue with movement speed when there’s so little to see between points of interest. Senua walks incredibly slow and her run speed (which I recommend people bind as a toggle) is not drastically faster either. She can move faster in combat which makes it so frustrating to have her move at snail’s pace. I know what I need to do during these “puzzle” moments; they’re not difficult. They’re just time consuming because Senua cannot be bothered to move about the environment quickly.  

I wished I liked Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice more. I found its pacing add odds with my expectations and many of the developer’s intentions falling short of hitting the marks they sought. I wasn’t supposed to giggle at what were supposed to be emotional moments either but I did. When Hellbade works, it works well. But when it doesn’t? It can make you feel like an outsider. 

Verdict: 
I don’t like it

Ratings Guide

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