Chapter 2 of Final Fantasy Tactics: The Plot Thickens

It seems like only a few hours ago I was guiding the young Ramza Beoulve through his first military campaign to defeat and scatter the Death Corps (in reality it was last week). Now, the renegade high born, less naïve but no less idealistic, has just encountered his first extra-dimensional demigod, Cuchulainn, the Impure.

It’s worth noting just how well Final Fantasy Tactics tackles the obligation of “boss fights” despite being a turn-based tactical RPG. Unlike other battles that build up more slowly with stat buffing and strategic positioning, boss fights against the Lucavi are usually closer to bar fight brawls. Fast paced and extremely messy, my usual plan is to throw everything I’ve got at Cuchulainn as quickly as possible. Whoever isn’t instantly knocked out by his Bio spell is shoved into the fray: my lancer jumps and my wizard targets flare while Ramza launches a blistering frontal assault. It’s intense, and requires some luck, but the result is satisfying, even in the handful of times the battle doesn’t go my way.

Of course, difficult encounters like these always brings back the issue of choosing guest characters over generic ones. I have the same fondness for the random warriors I’ve been cultivating across countless battlefields that I do for the Pokemon I caught and raised myself (as opposed to the Legendary ones which were prepared for me by the game’s developers). Agrias, named after a type of butterfly, is one of the game’s most compelling characters (not least of all because she’s a woman knight who is more capable than the main protagonist), but also arguably its second most overpowered. Developing her “Holy Sword” abilities makes her into a deadly failsafe in any encounter, but it also takes the edge of what might otherwise be tense and challenging affairs.

This is less the case with Mustadio, whose sniping is a support ability, and thus pairs with other weapons and skill sets (like the Knight’s “Break”) in interesting ways. I’ve never been one to enjoy playing a game while actively going out of my way to hold one hand behind my back, which is why using Agrias but just not letting her utilize her most deadly attacks simply doesn’t feel like a solution to me. Nevertheless, with the additional content in the War of the Lions remake, I’m looking forward to being able to unleash guest characters like her on more difficult foes in later side quests.

As for my three main generics, Gwayne, Isabella, and Rosalind, I’m currently at a bit of a loss with what to do with them. Rosalind is going to be my face-to-face combat expert, but there are any number of ways for that to manifest itself. The Monk’s “Hamedo” counter is high up on my list. Though people complain about its reaction rate, it’s always come through for me in big ways in the past. Few things in the game are as satisfying as teleporting a Knight or Ninja into a swath of enemies and see each one pummeled as they try to land physical attacks in vain.

I’m less sure of what to do with Gwayne. He just got Flare and Magic Attack Up, and while I could have him waste time getting every black magic spell, elemental attacks in Tactics are mostly beside the point, making only one spell (fire/ice/thunder) of each level necessary. So what’s next for him? In the past I’ve always been in the habit of segregating physical attacks from magic. If one character was going to have black magic, they were also going to be in charge of summons and time magic as well (though never white magic because Final Fantasy has long since conditioned be to think of those two things as anathema to one another).

But now I’m realizing how inefficient that is. Clearly it’s better to spread the magical wealth, even if that means having to manage unwieldy equipment loadouts (Knights wearing robes and magic gauntlets, Summoners toting around swords, etc.). Hopefully things begin to take a more precise shape as I progress through Chapter 3. For now I’m left to ponder Final Fantasy Tactics various escoteric trade-offs: “Blade Grasp” or “Full Restore,” “Cyclops” or “Meteor,” Mustadio or Agrias?

One last thing though before heading back into the breach. I don’t like many of the “improvements” Square attempted to make to Matsuno’s masterpiece with the War of the Lion’s edition. As others have noted, the animated cutscenes are cheap and over-performed. Tactics’ melodrama succeeds when delivered by understated sprites rather than five cent impressions of Shakespeare. 

In addition, the limitations of the technology and the localization budget of the original game, while certainly hindrances in certain areas, also helped the game in others. Less flowery and more direct dialogue gave the game a certain kind of earnestness, while the hazy subtext helped to add complexity to the drama, rather than shine a light on its more shallow parts. Whatever additions might have helped the original game, none of them included in-between scenes that redundantly overstate character motivations and transformations. I did not need to see Wiegraf actually joining the Knights Templar, or Ovelia realizing that she has nowhere else to turn when a number of Large’s men try to jump her and Delita as he escorts Ovelia to Lord Goltana. Less isn’t always more, but in these cases it was.

Chapter 1 of Final Fantasy Tactics: New Recruits and Old Veterans

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There is no other video game I’ve gone back to more in my twenty years of playing them than Final Fantasy Tactics. When I heard that USgamer had chosen it for their first virtual video game club meeting, I took it as an excuse to dive back into the world of Ivalice myself.

In an era of Xbox Gold give-aways, Steam sales, and big console and handheld releases almost weekly (at least up until recently) I thought something in me would be more resistant to toiling over my PSP and investing untold hours into a 32-bit epic whose every minor detail I could probably recite from memory. But returning to Ivalice is like re-living a dream, something only half remembered that feels so real and natural in the moment.

And there have been a lot of those moments, both in the past and now more recently. The first fight is a tutorial stage that’s fail-proof, but the musical scoring still sends chills down my back: bombastic horns overlaid with menacing drum beats before rival knights throw down on the steps outside of an austere monastery. By the second fight it’s time to get down to business, picking and choosing among your party of random generic cadets according to their starting stats. Tactics is about min-maxing, both thematically, with characters vying for power, and mechanically, with a job system that lets players mix and match an array of different abilities, equipment, and classes to create an unstoppable five-person army.

With that in mind I usually dismiss half my squad or more after the first battle, selling off their equipment and using the sum total of my war chest to purchase new recruits with higher Brave and Faith values. As tedious as cycling through random cadets at the recruiters office can be, something in this mundane Darwinism encapsulates the essential contradiction within Tactics, a game about breaking free from the strictures of class and religion where the only way to do so is to be stronger than those who would keep you in shackles and leave them inertly crystallized on the battlefield.

Then, as Mike Williams noted, the first thing to do is train everyone up so that they all have the Squire class’s “Accumulate” and “JP Boost” skills, which together make grinding a breeze. This means telling Delita at the plains that killing the Death Corps is priority number one (since doing otherwise will make keeping Algus alive a win condition, and my lord that AI…), and then killing both of the AI controlled guests before they can kill the last enemy and end the battle. The remaining time is filled with self-inflicted sword wounds and potions a plenty until each character has their 550 JP.

From here on out, the sky’s the limit. Monks are offensively brutal but easily killed, while Knights are tanky but extremely boring to use. I’ve decided to start my primary attacker as an Archer this time, something I’ve never done before because of how tragically underpowered the class is, which is surprising considering how well balanced it is in the game’s spiritual predecessor, Tactics Ogre. Since most battles start with Ramza & Co. trying to take the high ground, bows are nearly useless. In addition, arrows do exceptionally little damage despite their high miss rate on anyone with a shield or mantel. But even if the “Charge” ability is something of a joke (so little extra damage for such a long cast time), the Archer’s role as a stepping stone to classes like Lancer and Ninja make it a worthwhile investment.

As for the story missions of Chapter 1, they pass by breezily enough, though with one notable exception. The Dorter Slums encounter is a good indication of what’s to come in terms of Tactic’s cruel difficulty spikes. On this playthrough I died a number of times, over eager as I was to simply get beyond it without first paying my respects. Like most games in the genre, Tactics look to punish anyone who pushes their troops into combat too quickly. Shift Ramza a few spaces too close to the knight across from him and a combination of arrows and fire spells will find him dead before his next turn. Assuming a minimal amount of grinding up to this point, the key is to have Ramza & Co. spam “Accumulate” to boost their attack while using potions to recover any hit points lost in the initial onslaught. Once the enemy has moved into position, a swift counter attack around turn 20 will make short work of them.

One of the beauties of Tactics is that this kind of cynical strategizing plays directly into the game’s larger narrative arc. Ramza is learning to become a high born knight worthy of his father’s namesake, which in the beginning means the calculated slaughter of impoverished, low-born war veterans. Later Ramza is confronted by Miluda and her brother, Wiegraf. Noble idealists and dangerous radicals both, the duo offers an interesting point of comparison for both Ramza and Alma, as well as Delita and Teta. It’s cutting but subtle commentary on class privilege that, of the three, only Ramza’s sister survives. Tactics has no lack of sympathy for the morally righteous, but it cuts them down all the same, again and again.

Turn-based, tactical RPGs aren’t always the most accessible, and, especially for someone new to the genre, or even just new to Final Fantasy Tactics, the managerial responsibilities and space for strategic maneuvering can be overwhelming in the beginning. But as the prologue to a game which visits so many different people and places, and spans so many battles, betrayals, and political conspiracies, Chapter 1 (titled “The Meager”) forms a tight, self-contained introduction that successfully integrates gameplay and narrative in a way that few other games at the time did (and I would argue, still don’t). The story doesn’t just bookend the battles, or yield a superficial premise under which to otherwise enjoy leveling up characters and creating an elite squad of exotic fighters, it lives and breathes in the very moments when sprites are exchanging blows, chanting incantations, and speaking their operatic lines in-between swigs of potions and swirls of phoenix downs.

Nintendo’s E3 Digital Event: Staying the Course

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I’ve been genuinely surprised by how warmly Nintendo’s E3 offering was received today, if fans and critics in my Twitter feed are any indication. We learned that Nintendo is pretty much doing what it always does, except in ways that are a little more on the mark than usual.

The Zelda slated to arrive in 2015 will apparently be a semi-seamless open-world game that takes the core premise from the original game and re-animates it in a lush, fully-realized, 3D environment. Judging by the little Nintendo showed of it, this is the Zelda game people have wanted since before Skyward Sword. Getting it just over four years later, and nearly three since the Wii U first released, is apparently good enough.

Sony’s E3 Press Briefing: the future of gaming is social

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Sony outlined its priorities for gaming at the very start of the show: being connected, visual quality, choice, and community. In what’s become something of a theme for this E3, social gaming has become the unofficial holy grail for console manufacturers looking to increase player engagement and loyalty. When I bought my Xbox 360, it wasn’t for any other reason than that it’s what my friends had. I wanted to play Call of Duty, Borderlands and Portal with them, so bought into the platform they were already part of.

Sony’s announcement that PS4 users will soon be able to upload video content directly to their YouTube channels is part of a campaign (that so far seems to be working) to reverse last-gen trends. The (relative) ease of capturing and editing gameplay on the PS4 before exporting it to social media certainly helps make the platform more inviting, even if people like me are there primarily for the games, and services like PlayStation Plus. As frivolous as social media connectivity might have seemed a year ago,

Microsoft’s E3 Press Briefing: Lots of Games but No Specifics

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On the one hand, it’s kind of surprising just how satisfying one of these E3 press conferences can go when the company focuses on showing rather than telling. Microsoft didn’t try to let market-tested messaging get in the way of the actual games it wanted to show off. While still awash in meaningless vanilla descriptors like “unique,” “innovative,” and “dramatic, all of Microsoft’s on-stage presenters made a point of not tripping themselves up with convoluted details and buzzwords.

On the other hand though, this meant the press conference was also extremely light on details or commitments. Microsoft’s future plans for the Kinect remain nebulous and there’s still no word on how precisely cloud computing will help deepen the user experience with Xbox One games.

A New Book on the 1990s ‘Console War’ Sounds Less than Groundbreaking

The New Republic, not usually known for its video game coverage, has an absolutely abysmal interview with Blake J. Harris about the latter’s “entertaining new book”: Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation.

The magazine’s Liel Leibovitz describes the book, ”like the best in the behind-the-scenes-of-epic-business-enterprises genre,” as a “celebration of big bucks, big risks, and big personalities.”

One of the bigger boss fights from the first half of the game.

Q

silentmelodyinfamous asked:

Thankfully Wolfenstein was available to download before midnight here in Vegas, but at 50GB I'm pretty sure me picking it up in the morning would have been faster. I wonder how long til every release is pre-downloaded and available at midnight.

A

I would hope soon. Pre-loading for titles that big especially would be nice. It’s a small inconvenience, but with work and busy schedules, sometimes those couple hours matter.

Transistor: Gesturing in Every Direction but at Nothing in Particular

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Transistor is gorgeous. Not in the, “Hey, look at these awesome particle effects.” but in a more traditional, primal way. A particular swirl of colors grips you, an easily forgotten detail distracts you—the thing just looks…weird, and intimate, and like every cooler place you’d ever day dreamed of going to while a far off voice droned on about cellular mitosis.

No matter what else people loved about Bastion, the art direction was the game’s selling point. Folded up into the playful, saturated watercolors was the only pitch Supergiant Games ever needed to catch people’s attention and close the sale. A single image grabbed the imagination while thirty seconds of gameplay made it abundantly clear: something awesome is going on here.

Why Digital on PlayStation is Good but Not Great

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It’s just after midnight on May 20th, 2014, the day that Transistor is set to release on PC and PlayStation 4. I “pre-ordered” indie developer Supergiant Games’ latest an hour earlier with an eye to downloading it and having it ready to go once the clock struck twelve. But nothing. So used to the convenience of services like HBO Go and Amazon Prime, the thought that Transistor might not be available immediately on launch day didn’t immediately even occur to me.

Sony has been toying with pre-loading for the PS4 for some time now, but sill no real progress has been made. While most core Sony titles are certain to take advantage of the feature, it’s still left up to the individual publisher whether or not to give consumers that option. Thus a smaller indie title like Transistor, despite being a (at least for the time being) PS4 console exclusive, can get by without doing so. Though I don’t hold it against Supergiant in particular, the way PSN and other digital gaming platforms have dragged their feet on the subject is extremely unfortunate.