LTTP: The Last of Us Remastered

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The Last of Us: Part II released weeks ago, but I’m not repeating the same “mistake” that I made back in 2013 with The Last of Us; I’m waiting for the PlayStation 5 and its inevitable enhanced version. To pass the time, I decided to revisit The Last of Us via its PlayStation 4 remaster and finally play the Left Behind expansion. 

7 years is a long time in games and despite the remastering effort and the PlayStation 4 Pro enhancements, this game shows its age. What was once a graphical powerhouse is now a dated, but respectable rendition on a PlayStation 3 classic. After consulting the experts at Digital Foundry, I played it with the 4K 60FPS mode. 

While I didn’t have complaints with the performance or picture quality, I did find one glaring distraction; the reflections. It wasn’t the textures or animations that stood out to me, it was the reflections in puddles and other reflective surfaces which I found to be pristine to the point of distraction. It’s a silly thing to get hung up on, but when we’re deep in the hype cycle of a new generation of consoles and its ray traced reflections, it’s hard to ignore.

It was also difficult to ignore the bugs. Fire effects went missing a couple of times and Joel’s character model inexplicably warped randomly during a few transitions from cinematic to game. I’ve always had good luck with Naughty Dog’s games; they were near flawless experiences for me. With that in mind and the fact that remasters tend not to falter, experiencing an imperfect walk through memory lane was a bit of a downer.

The opening of the game is still one of the more powerful openers in video games. It sets the tone so well and continued to resonate in 2020. Playing this game during a pandemic was a bit cathartic. Things could be a whole lot worse and desperate for us; human stupidity can quickly transition to human cruelty and the latter is not something I want to experience first hand.

I replayed the game at the hard difficulty. It took a bit of time to get used to the flow of the game again. I had to convince myself not to take out everything in sight via stealth because it just wasn’t fun that way. The instant-death Clicker grabs were especially annoying until I allowed myself the use of guns, Molotovs, and other weapons. Active foraging and exploration ensured I had the tools to solve the combat scenarios, I placed my trust in the game to not screw me over. As long as I wasn’t too liberal with my use of those tools, I made it through with plenty of resources at my disposal.

Revisiting The Last of Us was just as impactful as my initial play through — I would even say it was more impactful the second time around. I disagreed with Joel’s decision the first time, but I really developed a disdain for him leading up to that selfish act in the end. On the flip side, I grew to like Ellie more after playing the Left Behind DLC where I got to see how life was for a teenager who was born into life in the quarantine zone. 

Bugs and dated aspects aside, I found that The Last of Us Remastered held up in 2020. There have been refinements in game developments since its debut in 2013, but its core qualities still resonate today. I’m ready for The Last of Us: Part II. I’m ready to see what happens with Ellie and Joel. I’m curious if she discovers the truth and what she does with that knowledge. I’m ready for the inevitable departure of Joel and I’m ready to discover what the bottom pit of humanity looks like.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

Final Fantasy VII Remake Review

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Can you believe it? After tantalizing PlayStation 3 technical demoa surprise announcement in 2014, and six years of waiting: Square Enix finally remade (a part of) Final Fantasy VII. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original, but my appreciation for the game and its world grew over time. I found myself enjoying Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII immensely. I found Advent Children to be a fun watch. Before I realized it, I was looking forward to Final Fantasy VII Remake.

My primary reason for wanting a Final Fantasy VII remake was to establish visual coherence. The limitations of the PlayStation hardware dictated what was possible in 1996. The mish-mash of pre-rendered backgrounds, CGI movies, realistic, and unrealistic proportioned characters made it tough for me lend gravity to the events that transpired. 

The Final Fantasy VII Remake achieved much of what I hoped for with its presentation. It’s not flawless due to some awful texture loading issues and garish pre-rendered skyboxes, but as a whole, I felt they successfully recreated the look and feel of Midgar in real-time. Despite all the advancements, the characters still ended up being standouts with impressive attention to detail and graphical budget dedicated to them. They looked too good in some scenes which gave me flashbacks to the original PlayStation classic and how its polygonal characters stood out from the backgrounds.

I’m not certain if it was a coincidence or intentional, but the wealthier sides of Midgar were both technologically and aesthetically more pleasing than the slums. The texture issues were isolated to the poorer areas of Midgar whereas Shinra’s HQ and other plate dwellings were spared such technical issues. Square Enix really wanted to hammer home those themes of inequality, huh?

This instalment of Final Fantasy VII Remake was about steeping in the game’s themes and messages. I spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with Midgar and its people. I experienced Midgar slum life. I spent a bit of time in the quiet Midgar suburbs. And I even visited the Shinra Power Electric Company’s HQ and loved how swanky that was. Square Enix made it abundantly clear who the haves and have nots were.

Some will describe the errands and side quests as meaningless fetch quests. I didn’t mind them because I enjoyed the opportunities to interact and see more of Midgar. My familiarity and affinity with the sectors 5 and 7 slums grew with each passing hour. It takes time form an affinity to a place and even though the side content could have been more meaningful, I felt they achieved something worthwhile by asking me to go on wild Chocobo chases.

It also took a bit of time to grasp the combat. It was an evolution of the ideas presented in Final Fantasy XIII where the key to success was to build pressure and stagger enemies to inflict more damage. They layered those concepts on top of real time combat while allowing me to indefinitely slow down time to issue commands. I found it a bit cumbersome at first, but after reading ability lists and exploiting enemy weaknesses, I grew to really enjoy the systems implemented. My only complaint was the threat management which was too easy to exploit. If I didn’t want a character to fall in battle, all I had to do was to avoid direct control of them.

I found the action so enjoyable that I toyed with the idea of going for the Platinum trophy. Maybe I will revisit that idea when the next instalment nears. But ow long of a wait is that? I have no idea and that’s a point of contention for some. I understand that this remake is marching at a snail’s pace compared to the original but at the same time, I cannot describe it as a legitimate remake. They’ve diverged from the source material in numerous ways and introduced elements that make this take on Final Fantasy VII look like a sequel. I’ve seen comparisons to the 2009 Star Trek movie and the way it plays with established events and there’s enough hints to say that Square Enix was and will be toying with our expectations. 

Square Enix have always been excellent with their soundtracks. I expected faithful modernizations of the classics and I wasn’t disappointed. There was a lot of music in this game but not all of it was found in places in the usual places. For thematic reasons, they shoved the goofier tracks like the Chocobo theme in jukeboxes which can be found in 7th Heaven and other relevant places. 

Finding places to ground the goofiness without entirely ignoring it was a concern on many people’s minds. How would they handle all the mini-games? The bike combat sequences were easy enough to integrate, but what about the squat competitions? They had no troubles with that one. In fact, they went all in on the mini-games by increasing complexity while keeping the spirit of them alive. They even embraced the cross dressing Cloud and I was all for it. The flip flopping nature of the game reminded me of Sega’s Yakuza games. We have this serious matter to tend to but first we have to find some missing cats. It worked for Sega and Square Enix made it work with Final Fantasy VII Remake.

Final Fantasy VII was never going to be an easy game to remake. How faithful is too faithful? Will these new ideas diverge too much? I believe Square Enix struck an excellent balance. They managed to acknowledge the original while walking their own path. If they simply made a like-for-like remake, we wouldn’t have gotten to know Jessie, Biggs, or Wedge like we did. In fact, Final Fantasy VII Remake is making me look at the original more fondly. Some remakes supplant the original while some do them a disservice. Final Fantasy VII Remake is one of the first ones that compliments it.

Verdict:
I love it

Ratings Guide

Final Fantasy VII Remake Demo Impressions

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Final Fantasy VII was a fine game. I didn’t love it or hate but it didn’t resonate with me like it did for so many other people. I recognize the game’s significance though and I totally understand why there were so many spin-offs and eventually a remake. The Final Fantasy VII Remake demo was very impressive. It’s the most polished Final Fantasy game that I’ve seen since Final Fantasy XIII on the PlayStation 3. There’s a refinement to the presentation that exudes confidence. Based on what I’ve played in the demo, I think that confidence was warranted. 

The opening bombing of the Mako Reactor 1 is iconic. I’m certain it’s one of the most memorable and familiar openings in all of JRPGs. I’ve only ever played Final Fantasy VII once and I still remember the major beats of that opening. Fighting Shinra soldiers, running along side Avalanche gang, and wondering why Barrett is so intense; they reinterpreted all of that for 2020 and it holds up. The drama, the dialog, and the mood is decidedly from 1997 but it’s not a shot for shot remake. The characters were expanded upon. They were given more lines of dialog but they still retained their essence which was important. 

The biggest departure was the combat. By default, the combat is action packed with character switching and the ability to cast spells via a menu. It reminded me of Kingdom Hearts. I haven’t played Kingdom Hearts III but I felt Square Enix have made some strides on the action RPG front. I thought it felt good enough but it certainly wasn’t going to stack up to the likes of a Platinum Games’ lead effort like Nier: Automata’s combat. The one knock I have against the default combat is the amount of time it takes to take down an enemy. I was exploiting weaknesses and staggering the Scorpion tank but I felt the fight dragged on for a tad too long. Perhaps those fight times will reduce with practice and familiarity though. 

It was a looker and certainly a step above the likes of Final Fantasy XV. I was equally impressed with the level of performance as well. I didn’t notice any significant drops in framerate and the image was pristine and stable on the PlayStation 4 Pro. It’s certainly one of the most impressive Unreal Engine 4.0 games to date. My only nitpick of a concern are the cutscenes which are not real time and showed noticeable visual artifacts. It’s a lot to ask for realtime cutscenes, so I’m just hoping the final game has higher bitrate videos. 

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by how good the Final Fantasy VII Remake’s demo was. I had no idea what to expect and came away with mostly positive impressions. It’s been a good long while since I played a Final Fantasy game (I still haven’t played FFXV), so what better way to get back into it by revisiting a beloved classic by way of a promising remake? 

LTTP: Overcooked (PS4)

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Ghost Town Games’ Overcooked was a good time for 2 players. It may be a great time for 3 or 4 players but I didn’t round up a group of that size. Not that I would want to considering how inconsistent the performance and controller response was on the PlayStation 4 Pro. The experience was so poor that I wrote off getting the sequel on consoles.

My fiancee and I had a great time three starring the early stages but as soon as precision was required, we were grinding against the sluggish controls during some of the trickier and flashier stages. We eventually figured it all out but not without a bit of frustration.

My fiancee loved the frantic pace while I enjoyed trying to dissect, distill, and optimize our workflows to solve each level. After perfecting all the base game’s levels, we tried out the versus mode which didn’t appear to have a 1 vs. 1 option whatsoever. Even if it did, I think it 2 vs. 2 would have been preferable. Playing solo seems to be antithetical to what Overcooked was all about.

We loved the idea of Overcooked and we would gladly play more of it. Thankfully, we still have the free holiday DLC and a sequel to play through. Unfortunately the PlayStation 4 release carried some technical flaws. I may have gotten this game as part of my PlayStation Plus membership but I would gladly pay for a more performant release.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

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