Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Final Fantasy XV Review

This is a game I never planned on buying.

I saw it being demoed at E3 a few times. The more recent demos they had were a bit glitchy, and the premise wasn't too clear. I only tried that one demo they had, the Platinum demo, and it completely turned me off on buying this game. 

I've been burned before by Final Fantasy. Full disclosure, Final Fantasy VI and VII are some of my favorite games of-all-time. From that point onwards, the series has been having a steep decline in terms of relevance. At some point the games just become way too Japanese in their strangeness and it can be hard to relate with a few of the later titles.

Yeah, I even gave Final Fantasy XIII a shot. I never finished it because it just didn't pull me in. At that point, I realized that maybe Final Fantasy can never realize its past glory. It just didn't have that shot of inspiration which the older Final Fantasy games had. The series was just behind in terms of technology, storytelling and gameplay when compared to other games from western developers. 

What convinced me to give FFXV a try was that CG movie they released, Kingsglaive. I had a chance to see it and it was really nice to see an all new Final Fantasy world with interesting modern elements and epic battles. The feel of the movie was actually quite Western and this made me think that maybe the game is worth trying. Also, there was tons of hype being generated by people who already had the game. 

So against my better judgment I bought this game. It was a good mistake to make. 

The first thing I did was to go through the tutorial. There was a huge improvement in their implementation of the real-time combat, which was really bad in the Platinum demo. In the full game, combat really feels fleshed out, and after 46+ hours of gameplay I can honestly say it could probably compete with something like God of War or Devil May Cry -- if they sort out the camera issues. It is a really good system, and it feels like it belongs in a true action game instead of an RPG game. The action gameplay actually made it fun to fire up this game, or to mess with random mobs of enemies. It just felt really good in the full game...in the demo there was a lack of sensation when you hit something, but in the full game, each hit lands with a satisfying spark effect or a rumble effect in your hands, which feels great and makes combat worth doing over and over. Even after having finished the game, one of the things I remember the most is the satisfying action gameplay. 

The other thing that caught my attention about 4-5 hours in, is the open world. Square Enix went above and beyond their usual conventions with this open world. While it is true it still has a few invisible walls, generally there are quite a few big, open spaces with a lot of things to see and do. Open world areas are not just flat and peppered with trees like some of their previous attempts. They have some interesting geography which makes traveling by foot quite pleasant. Monster variety is pretty good and there are occasionally some huge monsters roaming around the open world which are worth fighting. 

The thing that almost made this the greatest FF game of all time is the characters. Everyone's first impression of these guys is 'hey, it's the Backstreet boys', and it's unfortunate that some may be turned off by this from trying out the game. The truth is, Square couldn't get away (probably) from making characters with practical role-playing game outfits like knights armor or things like that....without the ridiculous hairstyles or outfits, would the game still be truly a Square Enix game? I guess I could personally justify it as a branding issue if they didn't make the cast look the way they do now. If they just up and followed every other Western RPG trope, would Final Fantasy still be Final Fantasy?

(I'm just happy they don't look like Tidus or Vaan, thank God)

These characters are really well fleshed out and they have a good friendship demonstrated throughout the course of the entire game. You could make an entire game out of them just having humorous conversations with each other and it would still be an awesome game...it's just that good. Whoever did the writing for the game's characters needs to be given a medal....they've approximated some good, modern day characters with these, and they don't have too much of the teenage angst that is usually in Japanese RPGs. 

The story in the game is very straightforward, until you get to the end where it gets a bit vague. I really enjoyed the story until the ending which, quite frankly, was a bit of a letdown. The last battle you get just isn't as epic as some of the others that you have in the game. I was expecting some huge monstrosity laying waste to everything, but that wasn't what I got. 

There's also a feeling that the game isn't complete. Square Enix recently mentioned that they're updating the game, adding events, sidequests, storyline bits and more....but having completed the game now, I have this nagging feeling that they cut out a LOT of content just to make the deadline. Some events in the game 'just happen' and there is that distinct feeling that there would have been some major events that the player would have experienced, but maybe there was just not enough time to put them in. Final Fantasy XV feels awesome and delivers on a lot of fronts, but after you finish it, you get the feeling that there was more game that was supposed to be in there...they just ran out of time.

Now don't get me wrong -- I think the game is still very good. In fact, Final Fantasy XV is the closest ANY Japanese developer has ever gotten to making something as huge and relevant as Mass Effect, Skyrim, or Dragon Age Inquisition, or Witcher 3. FFXV can hang with those games in terms of its systems and open world. Just be forewarned that after you complete it you will get that feeling that it isn't a complete product. Later on Square Enix talked about their Season Pass and how it will have the storylines of the other characters --- you know, things that were in the previous games by default. For this game, you have to shell out $25 or more to experience the rest of it.

It's hard to fault Square Enix because the game you do get is really, really huge and there are some really great moments in the game that are memorable on their own. At the same time, I hope that Square realizes how close they were to topping FF6/7 with this game....they were so close and it is a little disappointing that they don't reach those heights. Despite this, I still think FFXV is a monumental achievement for Square Enix. I really hope the additional content they're working on is going to flesh out the storyline more, maybe give you a better 'final battle' or just make the whole product more cohesive.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Titanfall 2 Review

"Press LB to time travel".

I'll never forget seeing that on my screen the first time. I was half expecting the usual FPS level (abandoned science lab....search for ancient artifact...). But I didn't see enough previews of Titanfall 2 to even expect THAT from the game when i was playing it.

Titanfall 2. Where to begin. I don't really have a great relationship with this particular game in the beginning. The developers of the game, Respawn Entertainment, had conducted a 'tech test' a few months back. While I enjoyed the first game, Titanfall 1....trying out the tech test had given me immense doubts on whether the developers understand what made the first game so good.

A few days after T2 got released, there was a lot of buzz on the internet about its campaign and its multiplayer mode. Initially I brushed these off as the usual paid shills on the internet doing marketing for the game....but eventually the opportunity arose to try it again, and I don't regret taking it to this day. If there's anything I do regret, it's playing on the tech test. This was really supposed to be a Day One purchase for me, and I missed out on that first day experience.

Titanfall 2 is a phenomenal game. The single player is really well paced, with creative level designs which you don't expect from something which appears to be a sci-fi military shooter. A lot of comparison has been made with games like Half-life and Portal, and you'd only understand this comparison after playing the game. It wouldn't be fair to just write on every single interesting tidbit from the single player game and spoil it all....I would just recommend this game highly and advise you to trust me, it's really as good as everyone says it is.

Multiplayer - I've been playing it for weeks now and it is far removed from the tech test experience i had previously. The action is back to its chaotic, frenetic pacing from the first game. Some things were revised like the way rodeo-ing a Titan is handled, or how your Titan doesn't get a shield by default...but after more play sessions I can see why they did it that way. They did give your Titan a way to 'repair' itself in this version of Titanfall, and that's why they introduced the new mechanics (you can get a battery to add a shield to your titan, or increase its health a bit). Overall I really, really like how fast this game is, and I ABSOLUTELY love the network code. It's the shining crown jewel of this game and I can attest to it. At almost 200-250ms ping here in the Philippines, on Xbox One, I can get first, second, or third on the scoreboard in Attrition. I can't manage that in other shooters but in Titanfall 1 and in Titanfall 2, the netcode is just so good that even with my very slow third world connection (5 mbps down, 0.5 mbps up) i can do really well on the scoreboard. It's just a really smooth online game, and I haven't played many other games that feel as great as this one.

Overall - this game is one of the games of this year, just one of the best, and i think great work like this should be supported by other players. Buy this game!

Forza Horizon 3 Review

As a father of two who has to balance spending time with the family and also occasionally gaming, Forza Horizon 3 really fits the bill by respecting your time, letting you enjoy its various systems at your own pace. You can customize various aspects of your experience such as the driving difficulty, AI difficulty, etc, so you will have an experience that fits your skill level.

There's also a lot of diversity in the environments. The game features Australia, which has a wide variety of locales like beaches, deserts and rainforests. It almost feels like an old Sega arcade racing game at times with all the amazing scenery you'd be whizzing past in whichever fantastic sports car you can pick from over 350 in the available stable. 

Eventually you will complete the game but even the ending acknowledges that there's really no end to it....the game is meant to be enjoyed just like that. Feel like a quick race or two? Fire it up and just spend 30 minutes or so on a leisurely drive, or compete with a pack of racers which you can customize in various ways. You can't design race courses (unfortunately), except for the Bucket List Challenge blueprint mode, where you can definitely invent some interesting challenges for other players. 

Netcode in this game is superb, just as good (if not better) than Forza Horizon 2's. I haven't spent too much time with coop mode but the one time i did use it, it had a bit of lagginess. Maybe it's been patched out but I haven't gotten to try it since after launch. 

Overall, Forza Horizon 3 is the type of game that you just HAVE to buy for your Xbox One. You might not play racing games, but this one will definitely give you a lot of fun things to do even if you don't enjoy the genre. For guys like me who've played so many racing games already, Forza Horizon 3 is a phenomenal experience. It's just a beautiful game that's fun to play, it never runs out of things for you to do, and racing against AI or even other players just never gets old in this one.