Angry Robot

Tested: FF7 Crisis Core – A New Beginning

Prequels CAN be interesting. But the idea of what comes before isn’t relegated to just movies. Video games can also be expanded on in this manner, and that is the idea behind Square’s latest FF installment… Final Fantasy: Crisis Core for the PSP.

For those not familiar, Crisis Core is a prequel to Square’s epic and most popular role playing game, Final Fantasy 7. In this game you take control of Zack to fight as a 1st class member of Soldier and act as mentor to Cloud, FF7’s main hero. The game features cameos from younger versions of FF7 characters, but what really makes the game shine is the way they connect this new game to a game they created 11 years ago. I remember playing FF7 and think that Cloud and Zack were the result of some kind of cloning experiment. They seemed so similar back then. But now smart storytelling in Crisis Core helps to give Zack’s character some much-needed dimension.

The combat system is also something new. Square seems like one of those companies that liked to hold on to the old turn based style of RPG play – after all, they built an empire out of it. Crisis Core shows that this sentiment is slowly changing. The game operates more like an action RPG with you controlling only Zack in a combat environment with free movement. Materia works much in the same way it did in FF7, but now there is also a new addition in the form of a lottery slot system called Digital Mind Wave. The DMW looks very much like a futuristic casino slot machine with key characters from the story rotating in three slots. Aligning these characters can initiate special attacks but they can also implement status changes like strength and health. Though this new system is different, it kinda becomes a double edge sword. Nobody likes to fight bosses based on the luck of a slot machine to get special attacks or summon magic.

Compared to previous Final Fantasy chapters, this game was surprisingly easy. I suspect they did this because of the casual gaming nature of the PSP audience, but for those familiar with the FF series this chapter will be a quick read.

Square’s venture into feature filmmaking with Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children can also be felt in this game. FMVs look like deleted scenes from the DVD, giving the game some great eye candy to match some great game play.

Fans of the series will find this a nice side story to Final Fantasy 7, and newbies to the series will find this a great place to jump on board and experience FF7 at its true beginning.

Cat Fight!!!!

I can’t help it… Buffy and Faith… Ripley and The Alien Queen… Beatrix “The Bride” Kiddo vs California Mountain Snake…

The girl fights of geekdom can bring some “Fatality” type viciousness…and that’s why THEY ROCK!!!!!!

So when a friend of mine passed me the link to this fanvid, I couldn’t help but be share the SMACKDOWN!

P.S. My money is on Tifa.

The Devil's Due

The series started originally on the PS2 back in 2001. At the time I owned a first gen Xbox, and I was kinda a one system man. What can I say? I was loyal back then (aka cheap). DMC (as its commonly abbreviated) was one of the few games on the PS that actually had me considering switching sides. But thankfully, this year Capcom made that decision for me and released the fourth DMC for both Playstation 3 and the 360.

Despite new moves and weapons, Dante is not the center of attention this time around. The game’s lead character is another Devil-armed upstart named Nero. Nero is on a quest to find Dante, but he also uncovers many secrets about the other characters he thought were his allies.

People looking for strong connections to the previous DMCs may be disappointed here. It seems that opening the title to the 360 has encouraged Capcom to take things in a different direction.

It goes without saying that any title that makes a jump for previous systems to current gen is gonna look like a game from the gods, and DMC is no exception. The visuals are clean and the animation is pretty smooth – but all this stuff is to be expected. Where DMC 4 really takes it up a notch is in the fighting system. Starting off with Nero you get a pretty sweet set of offensive weapons: a gasoline powered sword called the Red Queen, a chargeable six shooter called the Blue Rose, and your trusty Devil arm. All the weapons are upgradeable and can be used to create a variety of combos that would make any fighting game fan green with envy.

If it’s possible to get tired of Nero’s abilities, you can switch characters to become DMC mainstay Dante. Dante still has his trusty sword Rebellion and his two sidearms Ebony & Ivory. This time around he also returns with a sawed off shotgun called Coyote-A, and over the course of his part of the game you gain a variety of new weapons that give the word ‘combo’ a new definition.

Devil May Cry 4 has four levels of difficulty and some power–ups that can’t be achieved even after the second play though (thanks to a sneaky raise in prices every time you buy something). So DMC definitely stakes it claim on replayability, which is good because after taking control of Dante the game seems like a rush to the finish. That’s one of my few problems with this game. It’s the gaming equivalent to a giant slide – climbing up the ladder as Nero only to slide back down quickly as Dante. I wished they had given you more time and different levels to play Dante. He has a lot more variety in his fighting style, but the time you spend with him seems inadequate.

My only other problem with this game is the music. Even classic role-playing games manage to switch up the battle music once in a while, but that is a rarity where DMC 4 is concerned. The game has a variety of enemies, but because of the constant repetition of the music it makes the battles themselves seem repetitive. I just hate it when little things can actually pull down the effectiveness of other aspects in a game.

As a whole, DMC 4 is a great addition not only to the series but also to the action genre. Team Ninja may still hold the title for action games with Ninja Gaiden, but it’s nice to see that an upstart named Nero has brought Devil May Cry 4 closer to challenging Gaiden’s supremacy.

You Don't Play it You Watch it

I won’t bore you with the “Great blah blah, Awesome blah blah . By now you can probably tell I can get on their jock pretty quick when I’m ready. But in reading other reviews, I have to agree that the number ratings kinda don’t work for this game. The sum of it’s parts create a strong cinematic effect.
There are so many video games that try to attain this. Why not? It’s the reason why games like Halo 3 end up making more bread than most box office blockbusters. The most obvious way for a game to create this effect is with ever present, but often misused “cutscene”. Gameplay will always be the “make or break” for a title, but if game play were a cake, cutscenes would definitely be the sugary, trans-fatty ulcer inducing, icing.
(God, I love icing)

Some developers use cut scenes as a way to sweep dead carcasses (ahem).. I mean under developed games under a rug of slick FMV sweetness. Like false advertising, there should be a be a law against this.

How many games used their cutscenes to create a whirlpool of buzz only to settle into a dead calm of horrible gameplay. . But when it’s done right a cutscence can suck you in, make you care and invest in a game. Here are few that did that for me…

Final Fantasy 7

Who can forget the time and effort spent leveling up and equiping Aeris.
Who can forget all the diolauge choices you had to make so she would be the love interest for the games protaganist Cloud. All that only to have her get the business end of Sephiroth’s sword halfway through the game. Throw in some tear jerking music and you got one crazy climatic moment.

Halo

You can never beat the first one and this is one of the reasons why. Despite its sci-fi roots, the introduction for the flood in original Halo created a suspensful thriller moment that would give any Resedent Evil game a run for its money.

Star Wars KOTOR

There are many examples why the first Knights Of The Old Republic is held in the same caliber as the better half of the movies. For me the perfect example of this was the opening. Of course I know Its hard to screw up a text crawl, but it’s what comes after that puts you in the vain of what you loved about the movies while also setting you up for something new and unknown.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance

Loki is one of my favorite comic villians so to see him and his army of troll tear into Asgard was just a guilty pleasure for me.

That's No Couch, That's an F-16!

Chris brought some Super Deluxe Limited edition of the game, so it came with even more goodies:

An Ace Combat 360 faceplate…

…nd the Ace Edge: two jet fighter style controllers

The controllers add to the immersion in the game, but they don’t do much for co-pilots. Chris kept telling me to get out of his F-16!

You get a variety of jets fighters to choose from, starting with this one.

At the begining you start of defending the capital city “Gracemeria” from the Estovakiaian air force. According to gaming gossip, they had to change the names of countries and cites so that consumers couldn’t live out their dreams of international terrorism on digital replicas.

I found controlling the plane to be a little difficult at first, so I saw a lot of this screen you see here.

Missile locks help a lot when fighting a multiple squadrons of fighter jets

You can even dog fight in between the buildings if your feeling like a true “Top Gun”.

You can’t hear it but all the chatter between pilots also adds to the feel on the game

The game by itself wouldn’t have sold me, but the Edge controllers make Ace Combat 6 pretty enjoyable. I’m not really into the military style games, but playing with friends really takes the edge off and makes it more fun. Try it out if you get the chance.

Hope For The Future

This will probably sound like heresy to some Halo fans, but ‘Knights’ was THE reason I bought my Xbox. Even before its release date, KOTOR was my game. I carefully followed its development in the Bioware forums and upon its release I was completely satisfied with what I got. An all-encompassing Star Wars experience in ONE game… (can we get a moment of silence for awesome gaming goodness………..annnnd we’re done)

A sequel was an undeniable must, but Bioware turned down the offer due to the quick turn around that Lucasarts wanted. In the end the job was passed to Obsidian entertainment. On December 2004, Knights of The Old Republic: Sith Lords was released. Yes, it still got high marks and yes, even many game of the year awards. Financially it was a success, but for me it was barley playable.

First off was the story. It’s not that it was bad… it’s just that it wasn’t Star Wars (to me at least). From the opening text crawl to that non-ending at the end of the game, Sith Lords never really created any of the Star Wars moments for me. That was the key to the original’s success The worst was near the end of the game when a main character theorizes about how all the current and past Sith Lords like Darth Malak might be just pretenders and the real Sith live somewhere beyond the galaxy (WHAT THE $@#!%???!!! Did Lucas co-sign this!!?).

My second problem was with the good ole spit and polish. In layman’s terms, the game was rushed. Missing planets, unresolved characters and plotlines – even the graphics seemed toned down in comparison to the original Kotor. Many reviewers and starwars fans have commented on these problems since the game’s release. And even Obsidian has gone on record about how the deadline affected the finale product.

Why would Lucasarts allow such a great game to be rushed? Well it wouldn’t have surprised me if they wanted it out by Christmas 2004. This way it wouldn’t cannibalize the sales of their own “Revenge of the Sith” game, which released simultaneously with the movie in 2005. It’s a move that may have gotten them more profit, but it tarnished what could have been another classic title. Another game looked upon with more admiration then even some of the prequel trilogy of films.

So now that the original Kotor collaborators are back together I know that whatever they put out is guaranteed to be impressive. But I hope they would show appreciation to their gamers and gaming quality and allow developers enough time deliver the best.

Castlevania: Back To The Future

The treat comes in the form of a compilation made up of three games. The original “Dracula X: Rondo of Blood”, a 2007 remake of Rondo, and Rondo’s natural sequel, “Symphony of Night”. These titles are hallmarks of the series and a must have for any Castlevania or old-school gaming fan. Here is where the trick comes in. Rondo of Blood was never released outside of Japan, so clearly this game is geared for the Japanese fandom that played the original.

The 2007 remake of Rondo sports re-vamped (no pun intended) music, voice overs and 3D visuals, but the pains of the old game also follow suit. Richter is achingly slow, and the mechanics of jumping and walking up stairs could drive some gamers to feed this to the dogs.

Besides that, Dracula X Chronicles is a fun homage to old-school gaming. Still, my initial thought was: why sideline Symphony of Night as mere unlockable content? This is the game that topped many critics “Greatest Game of All Time” lists and developed a serious cult following both in and outside of Japan.

The game’s music is considered the best in the series (if not gaming music on the whole), and its RPG elements took Castlevania off the well-beaten path and into new and greater territory. The fact that SoN is now available on every current-gen game system (minus the DS) makes me wonder why it didn’t get a fancy new re-do similar to Rondo Of Blood.

While Belmonts abound on the handheld, the future of Castlevania on home consoles is still uncertain. With so many ‘Vania titles marginalized to the handheld systems, many fans wonder if and when Koji Igarashi will make a Castlevania plunge on the PS3, 360 or Wii. Is he discouraged by the lack of 2-D appeal on next-gen systems? or is the niche of Demon Hunter games slowly being taken over by other franchise titles like Devil May Cry? Rumours continue circulating, but let’s hope the future of Castlevania is just as bright…or rather as dark as its past.

PSP & ME

Unlike a new home console, a new phone, or a new anything, the reason for my admirations of the PSP is not just the mere fact that I was one of the first people to have one. Home consoles you can only play at home, new phones you can only display when you practically need use a phone. But more than the others, the PSP made me a poster child for new technology. It played music, video, and games on a screen that was beautiful sized for a mobile device. Playing with it was fun, but playing with it the day after its release was …empowering. I’m serious. At that time few knew what it was or that it had been released, so people looked at you like you like you came back from the future to give them faster than light travel or something. It was awesome!

Even though the “Newness” has worn off, Sony has created a system that is forward thinking and can receive updates like a PC or the next-gen home consoles. Most of these updates have been lame attempts to stop hackers, but some of them have added some interesting new features to the PSP adding both functionality (like the web browser) and individualistic style to each system (like themes and wallpapers).

The games for the PSP haven’t been AS revolutionary as its dual-screened competition. But they definitely have been fun, with a wide variety of genres as well as adaptations of home console and arcade games. Here are some of the titles kept me playin…

Ridge Racer

Although it was a launch title, there has yet to be a racing game on the PSP that beats Ridge Racer’s “middle of the road” goodness. It made good use of the system’s best qualities, creating a driving system that was fun for both advanced and first time players, while at the same time combining all the best cars and tracks of previous Ridge Racers.

Tekken 5

Now I am not really a big Tekken fan but I have to acknowledge how well the arcade translation worked on the PSP. Fighting games translated to the PSP usually have a problem with performance, but the controls perform smoothly and the graphics seem as if they were hardly “dumbed down” in the PSP adaptation. Tekken 5 is definitely the best of the best in the fighting genre.

Syphon Filter

With all the Sam Fishers and Solid Snakes of the world, one would think that there isn’t room for more. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The PSP installment, “Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror”, helped to revitalize this underrated franchise. Its easy to use “snap to” targeting system, graphics and engrossing story made this a must have for any PSP owner.

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories

Another great translation on the PSP. Both graphics control and gameplay are shrunk down PSP-size without losing any of what made the game so iconic and fun. My only complaint would be that unlike the home console version, you can’t swap the game music for your own. This would have been a nice touch.

Lumines

The puzzle genre may be run by the Nintendo DS now, but at the launch of the PSP, Lumines wowed many gamers into siding with Sony. With its simple concept mixed with an elaborate presentation and its entrancing soundtrack, Lumines took the popularity of past puzzle games like Tetris and brought it into the new millennium.

Endangered Species

It happened in Bridgetown the capital city of Barbados.
In the center of city they have a large arcade. Actually, in selling beer and smokes it was kinda like a bar too. The best way to describe it would be the “Mos Isley Cantina” out of “Star Wars”.
Wretched hive?
Check.
Scum and villainy?
Check.
Play some of the best old school arcade games ever created.
Triple check.

So, now that my friend was here in Toronto I thought I would give him a taste of the Canadian Arcade experience. We swung over to Toronto’s arcade headquarters, The Funland Arcade at Younge & Dundas. Upon entering, I noticed the difference almost immediately.

A quarter of the arcade had been transformed into a Mamma’s Pizza and an Internet Café. But even that change was small compared to what awaited us deeper within.

Past the rows of “Initial D” racing games and the seizure inducing lightshow of the numerous “Dance, Dance Revolutions” we came at last to the genre that was once king.

The Fighting Game Section.

Memories of high school came flooding back to me. A time when you couldn’t walk into an arcade or convenience store without seeing a line up of kids and hearing the bellows of “Hadoken” or “Shoryuken” coming from the machine.

There is no doubt that “Street Fighter II” galvanized its own genre. It spawned many other emulating titles, like my coveted “King Of Fighters”, but it also helped to exhilarate the arcade industry as a whole. With this in mind it was kinda of sad to see this “King Of The Arcade”, put out to pasture like a boxer who got too many blows to the head. Still things aren’t all bad. Many of the genre’s titles exist in some home console form or another, but the experience of playing online pales in comparison to the camaraderie of playing amongst like-minded strangers and friends.

As my friend and I continued to play I wondered how long it would be before even these few titles were also gone. Something’s gotta be done people! I mean saving whales, seals and penguins is all well and good, but let’s see any of them critters pull off a 50 hit SUPER COMBO!

We remained in the back of the arcade and kicked electronic ass until we were K.O.’d of quarters. As we left I looked knowingly at group of kids dancing away on the arcades newest craze. “Keep on dancing guys”, I thought to myself. “It won’t be long before your favorite game also becomes and endangered species.”