In remembrance of 2011, I thought I’d compile a list of what I thought were the ten best games I played this year. Considering that I don’t play a ton of recent releases, a lot of this list will be older games. As anyone who reads this blog will note, that’s in line with what I actually play. Rather than ranking these games, I’ll simply alphabetize the list.
Animal Crossing: City Folk – This game is up there with Skyrim in the amount of time I devote to it. It’s awfully familiar to previous games in the series but I still find it as addictive as ever. I also had fun getting my friend into it and playing with him.
Batman: Arkham City– What a game! I loved Arkham Asylum and this game upped the ante in so many ways. Such a large environment with so much to do!
Mass Effect 2 – I had so much fun discussing this game with others, more importantly though, I had so much fun playing this. The gameplay was much improved over the first game and even though there were a lot of things taken out, the options I had were still astounding.
Mansion of Hidden Souls – An unusual pick for sure but this game turned my friend and I onto an unfamiliar genre and we’ve had a lot of fun solving puzzles in similar games since playing this.
Vanquish– Platinum Games took the usually slow moving military third-person shooter and blended it with Japanese quirks. A fantastical futuristic setting, a story with some ridiculous moments, a lot of great set pieces, and super fun and fast-paced gameplay.
You Don’t Know Jack – A stellar mulitplayer game that received a ton of rotation at my house. A great value.
Besides the standard version of Final Fantasy XII, Square Enix released a collector’s edition of the game, exclusively to GameStop and EB Games in the United States. This version included the game and the same manual, of course, but it also came in a SteelBook package, along with a DVD containing a few special features.
Many games have since been released in these SteelBook packages, but I think Final Fantasy XII has one of the best ones. The front cover is simple, while the art on the inside of the case is intricate and detailed. It looks nice as a display piece on a shelf; otherwise it slips nicely in with the rest of a video game library being the typical DVD size case.
Included on the DVD are developer interviews, a history of Final Fantasy featurette, an art gallery, and trailers for the game.
There are quite a few developer interviews, twelve exactly, and they offer insights into different aspects of the game, from the director and what he was in charge of to what went into the translation. They’re all under five minutes, but there’s actually a lot of content to take in, and I always like hearing about what went into making a game.
The history of Final Fantasy featurette is a great way for people unfamiliar with the mainline Final Fantasy catalogue to get up to speed. The narrator discusses similar concepts with each game, and it would’ve been nice if he delved a little deeper into each game, but at thirty minutes, it’s a great primer to the series.
Viewing an art gallery on a DVD is about the last thing I want to do, but to its credit, there is a bunch of art included and it’s all tucked away in categories to aid in finding something specific. I feel the same way about the trailers. They’re put together very nicely, but I’m not learning anything new from them.
The collector’s edition of Final Fantasy XII is a nice package. The developer interviews were insightful, the history of Final Fantasy featurette was informative, but the art gallery and the trailers didn’t interest me too much. At this point it appears to sell complete for about ten dollars, comparable to the standard edition so if you’re in the market for the game, I’d recommend the collector’s edition.
I’m glad I finally finished my article on Final Fantasy XII. With it I tried to think of three, or four takeaways from the game, basically what it did the best. It’s the longest article I’ve written for the site thus far.
I suppose what I write are reviews, I am halfway judging games after all, or expressing what I thought they did the best, but most of the games I write about are old and reviews aren’t necessary. I guess what I’m doing is writing about what I’ve been playing and say if the game is worth checking out still.
So what have I been doing since beating Final Fantasy XII? Well a few weeks ago a friend and I played this game called Truth or Lies. It’s available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii, but we played on the Xbox 360. I bought it a few weeks ago at Target for five dollars. We played through one match and the game was decent, but a little iffy. I’ve written something about the game so expect that sometime.
And last week I completed The Legend of Zelda for the NES. I did some mapmaking as I played through it and those are completed. I have a giant map of the over world (8 pages long and four pages high) as well as maps for each dungeon. That game was very difficult in the second half and I’d say the maps were almost necessary. I’ve also written something about that so that’ll be up soon as well.
But before I post either of those articles I’ll post a review I did for Universal Studios Theme Park Adventure for the GameCube. I wrote it in December of 2009 and never posted it anywhere, so I’ll finally get around to that.
And like last time I did one of these, I’ve been playing Animal Crossing: City Folk a ton; I have played it for a little everyday since I purchased it. Needless to say I love the game. I also started Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber a few days ago. I’m not the biggest fan of tactical role-playing games, I like them but never seem to finish them, but so far I’m enjoying it. The game’s battle system is much different from anything I’ve played, but we’ll see if I finish it.
So expect a Universal Studios Theme Park Adventure review soon, as well as a Truth or Lies review and a review for The Legend of Zelda.
I’ve completed another Final Fantasy, this time a more modern one, Final Fantasy XII. While I am knowledgeable about the series, I haven’t played a ton of them, but this is easily my favorite. I spent a month and a half playing through Final Fantasy XII in bits and pieces when I had the time and I’ve thought a lot about the game in the weeks since I beat it, what I’ve written are the my biggest takeaways from the game. I’ll talk about the world at large in Final Fantasy XII, Ivalice, the characters that form the party, the story very briefly, and the battle system. In general I feel Final Fantasy XII is a staple in the collection of anyone who enjoys role-playing games, and worth a look even for those don’t.
Final Fantasy XII takes place in Ivalice, a familiar environment for the series, home to the Final Fantasy Tactics games, as well as Vagrant Story. Ivalice spans many geographical regions, including many deserts, but it’s also home to snow covered mountains, tropical beaches, thick rainforests and more. Passing through these regions, I enjoyed not only the battles that took place in them, but marveling at the amount of work that went into making each location as detailed as they turned out.
Smack dab in the center of Ivalice is Dalmasca, home to Rabanastre, the city where much of the game takes place. Rabanastre is large, the largest city I’ve ever seen in a role-playing game, or any video game for that matter. Walking through its many areas, I viewed the beautiful architecture that it was composed of, reminiscent of a Europe of ages past. But Rabanastre isn’t the only large city in the game, there are others, but there is diversity in Final Fantasy XII; more common are the small gatherings of people, forming makeshift hubs, or villages in the heart of the wilderness, composed of foreign races.
After reading that the developers had visited Turkey and took an interest in European, Middle Eastern, and Asian cultures for the game, it’s easy to see that the influence has found a place in the game, specifically, much of Ivalice is set in a warmer climate, with Rabanastre being surrounded by deserts on all sides.
The vocabulary the characters often spoke with prompted me to look at some words’ meaning more than once and I’m not digging the game for it; I enjoyed hearing seemingly archaic words, broadening my own vocabulary; it’s something that helped reel me into the setting. Even though the game has an antique vibe, technology is everywhere. One of the first cut scenes in the game shows a battle raging with foot soldiers on the ground dressed in armor and swinging swords at each other; one side attempting to defend a castle-like structure with the other side attempting to capture it, meanwhile an aerial dogfight is going on between futuristic flying crafts, zipping about. This blend of swords and soldiers and futuristic sci-fi was an interesting juxtaposition of aesthetics.
Ivalice is a world built on the foundations of magicite; a magical crystal substance that holds power, power that inevitably will end up in the wrong hands. Long ago the Dynast-King Raithwall united all of Ivalice under his rule, with the help of magicite, bestowed to him by the mysterious Occuria, undying, god-like beings. The time of the Dynast-King Raithwall was thousands of years ago and current day Ivalice is on the brink of war.
The battle I mentioned earlier was between the Dalmascans, protecting Nabradia, the border between them and their attackers from the east, the Archadians. Archadia is a large kingdom, perhaps the most powerful at this time in Ivalice and they want Dalmasca. Why? Perhaps they want Dalmasca to allow them easy passage to a third kingdom, Rozarria in the far west. During the final moments of this battle, the king of Dalmasca has agreed to sign a treaty with Archadia, but he is assassinated directly after.
A couple of years after this, we are introduced to Vaan and Penelo, two orphans living in Rabanastre who both lost their parents in the war, as well as Vaan’s brother, who fought at Nabradia. Vaan has much disdain for the empire, after all the war took his whole family. Vaan doesn’t have much direction in life, he spends his days running errands for a shopkeeper along with other orphans of the war, but much of his time is spent stealing from others. His only real goal is to become a sky pirate and be able to live freely, going wherever he wants. Penelo seems to be the angel on Vaan’s shoulders, leading him out of trouble and attempting to prevent him from getting into any more. While Vaan has his goal of becoming a sky pirate, all it seems Penelo wants is to remain at Vaan’s side, and not lose anyone else.
Rabanastre is soon paid a visit by a member of the Archadian royal family, and the newest overseer of Rabanastre, Vayne Solidor, the son of the Archadian king. He is a charismatic person; as he begins speaking to the crowd of Rabanastrans, it’s apparent they don’t want what he’s selling, but Vayne is able to whip the crowd into frenzy and get behind his rule, at least somewhat, with a charming presence and an intelligent tone; he seems peculiar though. Vayne is tall, with long black hair, and a smile that seems… off, he just looks like an antagonist. After Vayne’s speech, Vaan decides to break into the royal tomb and steal something back from the empire and it’s during this escapade that he meets Balthier and Fran.
Balthier has a cool personality about him, he always appears to be in control of the situation; basically he’s the dashing pirate. His partner Fran is a viera, a woman with rabbit like features, including long ears and hair that practically flows to the ground. Like Balthier she also has a cool personality, never coming off as nervous. She definitely shows her smarts throughout the game, offering practical advice and necessary knowledge of magicite. As the game progresses Balthier comes to view himself as the leading man, and why not, being a sky pirate he has the airship that eventually transports the party, he shows an altruistic side later on and all in all, he’s just a fun character. And from the events that unfold, his past is brought to light and wow!
As they make their way out of the royal tomb, they soon stumble into a rebel group, headed by an unassuming beauty, who is later found out to be the princess of Dalmasca, Ashe. She is a strong-willed fighter who wants nothing more but to restore Dalmasca to the kingdom it was before Archadia took over. As the story progresses she has to find the strength within herself to do what she must; even though she is strong-willed, she has doubts about what she has to do, and whether she can pull off what must be done. At times she seems distant from the rest of the party members, almost focusing solely on what lies ahead for her, but with what lies ahead for her, who wouldn’t be focusing on that, after all, Ivalice’s future is practically on her shoulders.
Last, but not least, there is Basch, a former leader in the Dalmascan army, but now an outcast, as he has been charged with assassinating the king. The party finds him in prison, and while they know what he has done, they know they need him. But Basch does not have the demeanor or the attitude of a royal assassin; it becomes instantly apparent that this cannot be the man who murdered a king. He is a soldier through and through, showing respect for the rest of the party, and pledging allegiance to Ashe in particular.
There was a lot going on in the narrative of Final Fantasy XII, at times I felt overwhelmed, but I managed to sift through the dense amount of information and enjoyed the payoff. In the last ten or so hours of the game, all these story threads were coming to a close, and I didn’t want to stop playing; I was the most hooked to the game at the very end. I clocked in under 80 hours when I finally beat the game, and I still had plenty to do. I aim to replay Final Fantasy XII at some point, and I left plenty of side quests for that play through but I did an ample amount regardless. Final Fantasy XII is simply a massive game, with a massive amount of content.
I guess the only thing I haven’t talked about is the actual gameplay and the systems Final Fantasy XII employs. With each Final Fantasy, Square Enix implements a new battle system, or tweaks aspects of a previous one and Final Fantasy XII is no different.
Many role-playing games have plenty of areas to explore, and they’re usually broken up into towns, a world map that the party traverses, and dungeons. Typical of many RPGs, especially those from Japan are random battles. For instance, as I’m moving my party around the world map or a dungeon I see no enemies, but I’m randomly attacked and whisked off into a battle scene in which I choose the actions I want to take, and once I’ve won, I’m back to the world map or dungeon. Instead of random battles, when I wouldn’t know when I’d be attacked, Final Fantasy XII shows enemies while I’m traversing dangerous areas. This isn’t the biggest change however.
Just as random battles are common in role-playing games from Japan, so are turn-based battles, battles where everyone is allotted a turn, including the enemies. In games like this I would pick an action, my character would do that, and then the enemy would do the same. Instead of being whisked off to a battle scene in Final Fantasy XII, the party members begin attacking enemies whenever they’re in range, never being taken into a separate scene. Direct control was never taken away from me, I could move about and select the actions I wanted and when the battle was done, the party relinquished their weaponry and I continued exploring the area. This “Active Dimension Battle” system as Square Enix calls it requires real-time selection of actions, and as such, I didn’t wait for the enemy to have his turn and then take mine. I’d select an action for a party member to take, and then a bar would fill up and they would do that action, there are still elements of taking turns, but never losing direct control of my team went a long way in making me not feel limited.
Rather than entering in actions for each party member, I could assign “gambits” to them. Gambits tell the AI to “do this, if that.” There are hundreds of separate gambits and when paired up, they’ll tell an AI-controlled party member to do something. For instance, I could have Vaan use a potion on a party member when their health falls below a certain percentage, or attack only flying enemies. Each character can have twelve gambits assigned to them maximum, and they’ll follow them according to their priority. I felt as though I could pair gambits up for any occasion, even though I used fairly simple combinations, I knew I could get very creative with them. For the first twenty or so hours I assigned gambits to the two AI-controlled members of my party and chose every action for my main character, but I eventually had everyone using gambits. Instead of being a player on the field, I was more of a referee, changing actions when I thought something would work better or just healing somebody because I hadn’t told an AI member to watch out for a certain adverse affect.
With Final Fantasy XII, Square Enix developed Ivalice into one of the biggest and most detailed game worlds I’ve played through; introduced me to well-developed characters who did not seem like the played out caricatures I’m used to in role-playing games; showcased an interesting story, one that harkened back to the roots of Final Fantasy, with crystal-powered life, all the while, weaving an interesting mature tale of corruption and complex relationships. Lastly, I experienced gameplay systems that brought new elements to a genre I spend so much time with. For these things, and many smaller elements, Final Fantasy XII will be a game I gauge all others by.
Bored. Thought I’d post something, but don’t have anything ready to go up yet, actually that’s not true, I have a review of Universal Studios Theme Park Adventure for the GameCube ready, but whatever. I finished Final Fantasy XII earlier in the week and need to begin writing about that. It’s daunting trying to think where to start, but I know that once I do it’ll just flow out.
Since completing that I began playing Animal Crossing: City Folk for the Wii, just this morning in fact! So far I’m grooving on it, but then again I spent an inordinate amount of time with Animal Crossing and a little less with Animal Crossing: Wild World, needless to say Animal Crossing is one of my favorite games. I’m also playing through The Legend of Zelda on the Nintendo Entertainment System. I’m making a graph paper map of the entire game, so it’ll take much longer than if I just played through it normally. Fairly recently I got the urge to make encyclopedias for the The Legend of Zelda and Metroid series’ containing plot synopses, maps, bestiaries, etc. So yeah.
I also played Gun.Smoke on the NES after completing Final Fantasy XII, but could only get to the third stage. I’d like to play it again and try to complete it, but it is a rather difficult game. And lastly, a friend came over and besides playing You Don’t Know Jack, we played The Typing of the Dead cooperatively on the Dreamcast. We were able to make it the final boss but were unable to beat the game. I really enjoy that game, I find it very funny with its terribly cheesy story and funny word prompts to type, besides the humor though, it’s a genuinely fun title to play.