The Most Underrated Final Fantasy Characters of All Time

Amano_Vana'diel

After browsing through IGN’s “Most Popular Final Fantasy Characters of All Time" (as voted on by the IGN readers) I couldn’t help but think of all of those wonderful characters that didn’t make the cut. And not just the ones left out of this survey, but those who are routinely overlooked and forgotten. What follows then is a quick shout out to all of those wonderful Final Fantasy characters that rarely get their due, despite their unconventional flare and unique sophistication.

Infamous: Second Son is Visually Brilliant but Narratively Shallow

infamous-second-son-walkthrough

Whether you’re a long time fan of the series or coming to the third installment fresh without any expectations, Infamous: Second Son is a game worth picking up and perhaps the first to truly make the PS4 worth owning.

The Infamous games have always been competent open-world superhero power-trips. But as Vince Ingenito notes in IGN’s review of the game, Second Son sheds many of the comic book conventions that Infamous 1 and 2 clung to with such gusto. In some ways this helps the game, as it strives to be more than just a morality play centered around a protagonist most loved for the cinematic ease with which he can dispatch rogue gangs and totalitarian goon squads. At the same time though, every time Second Son eschews its comic-booky roots, the game reveals itself to be punching above its weight. The game is gorgeous and handles like a charm, but every so often its forced gravitas overstays its welcome, ruining the overall tone by pretending to be more sophisticated than it is.

Examples of Bravely Default’s Thoughtless Design

image

I’m about half way through Bravely Default and, try as I might, the list of things I don’t like about the game has grown far faster than the one of things I do.

On the surface, Square Enix’s spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light looks like the second coming of classic Square JRPGs. Its turn-based combat is relatively fast-paced and littered with seemingly exotic attacks, abilities, and magics, each the result of a job system that resembles the much revered ones of Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy Tactics

Furthermore, the world the player inhabits is riddled with tried and true JRPG hero archetypes and idiosyncratic JRPG villains, as well as a host of elementally themed towns and instantly familiar dungeon types, including but not limited to: “the maze,” “the dark forest,” and the always much beloved “generic cave #9.”

image

However, the deeper one plunges into the seductive nostalgia plastered ever so invitingly across the majority of Bravely Default's world, the more one struggles to see how each of these elements is supposed to meaningfully fit together, or why any of them were chosen in the first place.

Unsung Story Still Struggling to Meet Its Kickstarter Goal

Unsung-Story1

Though not the most prolific game designer, Yasumi Matsuno is still one of the most critically acclaimed. And deservedly so, given his central creative role in classic titles like Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant story.

Now Matsuno is developing a new role-playing game called Unsung Story: Tale of the Guardians. Already set to release on iOS and Android tablet devices, Playdek, the studio behind the game, launched a Kickstarter campaign last month in order to raise the funds necessary to port Unsung Story to other platforms, including PCs, consoles, and handhelds.

rpg kickstarters

To the surprise of many (including myself), the campaign has yet to hit its $600,000 pledge objective, let alone any of its $1 million plus stretch goals, despite having less than 30 hours left to go in the funding drive. While other Kickstarted RPG projects like Double Fine’s Massive Chalice and Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity had little trouble attracting financial support, Playdek’s Unsung Story has struggled.

Why the PS Vita’s Market Performance Doesn’t Do it Justice

2427914-dsc00529

Last Friday, Sony announced that the new PS Vita Slim (previously available only in Japan) will now be heading to Europe as well. Though there’s still no word on when the sleek, more energy efficient re-design will hit the states, it’s probably a good bet that we’ll be hearing something on that front in the not to distant future.

It’s also worth noting that rather than produce both models side-by-side, Sony plans on phasing out the original OLED model as current inventory is depleted. Not a surprising decision given how weakly the device has performed outside of Japan so far, but something to keep in mind all the same for those looking to purchase a Vita sometime in 2014.

As Fergal Gara explained to IGN UK’s Daniel Krupa in a recent interview, “There was a 163% uplift in PS Vita sales post PS4 launch. A significant number of PS Vita purchasers in the UK indicated that Remote Play was their reason for purchase, and we are subsequently seeing lots of these new PS Vita users connecting to PS4 with this feature.”

Are Publishers and Console Manufacturers Really at the Mercy of GameStop?

image

Ben Kuchera’s recent post on Gamestop and Tomb Raider is labeled as an “Opinion” piece, though the argument it’s trying to make isn’t obvious at first blush. Rather than stake out a clear position and then go on to defend it, the article relies on leading suggestions and pejorative descriptors in order to get its point across.

Kuchera argues that the competition between brick and mortar retail and online digital platforms remains “unfair.” What exactly he means by this, however, is never quite made explicit.

Using the example of how GameStop handled PC copies of Deus Ex: Human Revolution (opening them, removing a coupon, and then repackaging for sale as new), as well as the retailer’s recent early sale of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, Kuchera paints the portrait of a malevolent merchant throwing its weight around in order to satisfy its own narrow interests. By bullying the video game market into acquiescing to its selfish demands, everyone from publishers and developers to console manufacturers and consumers suffer as a result (or so it’s implied).

On The Lightning Returns Demo

I had a chance to sprint through the short demo for Lightning Returns that Square Enix released last week. While there’s not a whole lot to it, the hour spent playing left me reassured about what the final game is offering.

I wrote just over a year ago about why the game sounded so appealing, given what was revealed in previews and trailers at the time. Between the flamboyant art direction, eccentric plot premise, and the turn-based/third-person action combat hybrid it seemed like Lightning Returns would have a lot to offer despite the flawed framework in which it’s situated.

The demo basically confirms that. I analyzed it in detail with Tom Auxier at Pixels or Death (which will be posted soon), but in short

I had a lot of questions going into the demo, and while not all of them were answered (and many more cropped up along the way), overall I feel a lot more confident in what earlier previews, interviews, and trailers for the game have all been promising. It’s not going to “redeem” the Final Fantasy brand for those who feel it’s been sullied over the last console generation, nor would I recommend it to casual players without a prior interest in role-playing games. But at a time when so many new releases in the genre are either trending toward the space-marine formula or falling back on the usual menagerie  of medieval fantasy tropes, Lighting Returns is offering something unique and different with the production value and conviction to back it up.”

Bravely Default Puts A Bandage On Bad Design Rather Than Fixing It

image

Random encounters began as a way to design around the limitations of past hardware. Old games couldn’t waste memory actually showing enemies on world or area maps, so instead a player’s traveling party was simply ambushed every so many steps while a screen change indicated a “random encounter” with local enemies was about to ensue.

And even as the hardware that role-playing games were designed for became more capable, and enemies could be rendered anywhere and everywhere (and not just on the battle screen), random encounters became something of a genre convention—just one in a number of peculiar idiosyncrasies fans of RPGs were accustomed to, and in some cases, even lovingly adored. 

But the visual context surrounding an enemy encounter is not nearly as important as its substance. The truth is that just because I can see the monsters waiting for me on-screen doesn’t mean it’s any more fun to battle. Especially in turn-based systems, most random encounters are a chore not because they occur without any warning, but because they are designed with little care or intention, playing out more like a trip to the laundry mat than a fight for survival.

The Allure of Completing the Incompletable

 

World of Warcraft is just a more complex version of Zeno of Elea. On the level of interface, what we’re actually experiencing, it seems like it is never complete — the edge of a “full experience” is right beyond our grasp, and maybe if we leave the window open long enough, we will get it.” — This Cage is Worms, @ckunzelman

World of Warcraft, and games like it, take an exceedingly incrementalist approach to progression. “How far you’ve gotten” is literally measured in terms of stats, gold, and items, rather than spatially (what area did you get to) or narratively (what’s the last thing that happened).

Cameron’s interested (I think) in how something that’s forever unfolding can create a complete, discrete experience, despite the fact that a necessary condition of its “wholeness” is the fact that it’s still essentially unfinished (and always will be).

What strikes me about the comparison is what it says about certain games which are designed that way (like World of Warcraft) and the people they most resonate with, especially as the idea of being able to “complete” a game or not becomes one of its defining features (e.g. Cookie Clicker and Rust vs. GTAV and The Last of Us).

How Much Will Users Be Willing To Pay for Playstation Now?

ps now

I’m as excited as anyone about the prospect of being able to play PS3 content on my PS4. Never having owned Sony’s last-gen console myself, there are a number of exclusive titles I’d love to get my hands on, including The Last of Us and Journey.

I can’t help but greet Sony’s Playstation Now announcement at this year’s CES with a healthy dose of skepticism though.

In his “Hands-on Impressions,” Scott Lowe summarizes the upcoming streaming service’s appeal, “For the unfamiliar, PlayStation Now, provides backwards compatibility to the PS4, but also extends PS3 games to the PS Vita and even devices not even intended for gaming, such as smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs.”

the-last-of-us-sunset

Basically, the PS3’s great library will become available to just about anyone with access to a higher-end gadget. Since all of the energy-intensive computing will be taking place at Gaikai centers far away, the problem of having devices natively emulate disappears. Still, one big issue remains: latency.

Nintendo spent a lot of time and money simply trying to reduce latency between the Wii U and GamePad, and it shows in the price of both. While Lowe notes that with Playstation Now, “Latency was also surprisingly low,” he’s quick to add that he’s still “curious to see how the system fairs with more precision-demanding games.”

Journey-Screen

This is especially significant since Sony claims that Playstation Now will allow players to play online matches with with one another across different platforms. While this is a great feature, its true value hangs on whether or not Gaikai has found a way to minimize latency while doing so. Even a split-second delay in a something like The Last of Us’ multiplayer can lead to it being, for all intents and purposes, unplayable.

Mostly though, it comes down to price. It’s possible that Sony has found a way to stream PS3 content to various platforms with truly minimal latency. In that case though it’s likely that Playstation Now will require users to pay a premium. I could easily see a monthly subscription costing upwards of $30, while individual rentals are something like $5 per day.

That’s not to say that the value won’t be there—$5 to $10 for forty eight hours with The Last of Us sounds like a great value proposition to me. It just might be a service which, depending on how limited the library that’s available to stream is, may or may not be something feasible for me personally to subscribe to over the long haul. Between Netflix, Hulu, Xbox Live and Playstation Plus, not to mention my Internet and wireless subscriptions, the bill start to pile up fast.

11468822844_3749e57a2d_z

Either way though, once the service is finally available, what I’m most interested to see is how it ultimately jives with Sony’s current Playstation Plus initiative. It’s possible that both services could be maintained at the same time, complimenting one another and reinforcing the breadth and quality of Sony’s Playstation ecosystem. At the same time however, I feel like a service that allows users to pay a flat monthly fee to stream a library of content necessarily cuts against the discounts and freebies that have currently been flooding the store thanks to Playstation Plus. Why bother with actually buying games when I can just as easily rent them, beat them, and then move on?

Hopefully Sony will release more details prior to the service’s roll-out this summer. For now we’ll just have to wait and see.