Tag Archives: Retrospective

Reflections From the Animus: The Truth is Written in Memories

My God Assassin’s Creed 2 was a good game. Am I right? Who’s with me? This game was, by far one of the best titles in the Assassin’s Creed series and it holds a very prominent place in my heart, but not necessarily for the reasons that you might think. Sure, it had a great story, fantastic music, engaging gameplay and introduced us to Ezio, one of the coolest heroes in the series. But, on a personal note, it ended up being so much more than just a great game. It became a personal conduit through which memories can flow. It became a catalyst to enable me to reach far back into my mind and remember a very special and happy time in my life. It became so cemented and intertwined with my thoughts and feelings, that even now, upon hearing a few lines of music or seeing an image of the game, I am immediately transported back to 2009. For that split second, I am taken back to my little apartment on Bayport Street, sitting on my comfy couch, PS3 controller in hand and living in a moment that is now gone forever.

In these memories, I am still happily married. My wife (now ex wife) is in the other room watching a DVD and working on her laptop. The light from a nearby lamp bathes the room in the most exquisite, pale, golden glow. It’s early December, probably around 8 p.m. or so and the sun has gone down, allowing the evening chill to settle in.  I’ve cooked a big pot of hearty Lentil soup, so both of us are well feed and snug in our humble home. I am content, warm and cozy, just lounging after a long day at work. If I truly focus hard enough, I can even hear the *click *click *click *click of my wife’s keyboard, as she furiously types away on one of her many projects, her faint laughter sounding in the background, as she watches King of Queen’s on DVD.

In the game, I’m running across the rooftops of Venice, exploring crowded marketplaces, looking for flags and feathers, and causing general mayhem in a bustling, virtual city.  It is the perfect cacophony of sight and sound and I am transfixed by it all. The game stirs something deep down inside of me; feelings of freedom and independence, tempered with a nervous excitement at the thought of unknown exploration. It is one of those pristine moments in time that remains so vivid and powerful, even after so many years, games and friends have come and gone. I can see all of this in my mind’s eye, like it was yesterday. A flip-book of memories, a cascade of moving pictures, flashing before my eyes, all linked to this one particular game and this one particular moment in time.

As I remember these things, I can’t help but feel a sadness rise within me. Some days, I move through it, relatively untouched by the sorrow these memories hold. Other days, I still shed a tear or two, but I never cry for the game or for the characters, even though the game does tug a bit at the old heartstrings. No, I cry for entirely different reasons: I cry for all the friends and family I have lost in my life, I cry for those moments and memories that have long passed, I cry for the loss of personal innocence, I cry for the end of my marriage and the death of a dream that was never fully realized. All of this triggered by one simple game, one brief moment in time. What a strange and peculiar set of circumstances.

As the years have trudged on, these memories and emotions have formed a symbiotic relationship with Assassin’s Creed 2 and in my brain it would seem that one cannot exist without the other. I am forever caught in an emotional limbo; not able to go back and relive those lost years, but also not being able to recreate those special moments. They are uniquely and unequivocally locked away forever, doomed to remain in the past.

You would think that I would hate AC2, seeing as it brings up such powerfully charged emotions but, strangely, I harbor no ill will towards this game or the memories it conjures. It still stands as one of my favorite of PS3 titles. The hours that I spent playing this game, were some of my most fondest gaming moments and I wouldn’t trade those for the world.

Assassin’s Creed 2 reminds me that in the blink of an eye, life can change, dreams can die, families can splinter, love can be lost, but life goes on. Happy memories can still linger, even within our darkest days. Yes, AC2 may have come and gone and the days of Ezio pushed far back into the past, but as silly as it might sound, this game is still very important to me and remains prominent in my mind. It is an anchor that binds me to some very beautiful memories and it helps to reconnect me to those long lost nights. With all of the uneasiness that consumes our world, it is nice to remember a simpler time and it’s even better to feel connected to those beautiful moments. Assassin’s Creed 2 preforms that necessity extremely well. Sure, some of my memories will fade and drift into hushed obscurity and newer and more pressing matters will take their place. But, I am positive that these few moments, these warm memories will forever be linked to this unassuming, simple, little game and as long as I can listen to the soundtrack or walk the streets of Venice once again, these memories will always burn brightly. They will continue to give comfort, respite and some much needed warmth in a cold, uncaring and tumultuous world. This, I am sure of. Long live Assassin’s Creed 2 and long live all our warm and happy memories. Happy gaming!

~GB

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Final Fantasy 7 REMAKE! … My Thoughts

final-fantasy-7-logoWell, well, well….. It is really happening. SQUARE is remaking Final Fantasy 7. After teasing fans for years and years and years, they have finally rewarded our patience with a remake of this classic RPG. Once again, we will return to the streets of Midgar, fight the evil Shina Corporation, witness the silliness of the Gold Saucer, fight the Ruby Weapon and cast Knights of the Round, all in glorious, redesigned HD graphics. What an amazing development to come out of  Sony’s E3 conference this year. So in the spirit of that excitement, let’s talk about it.

The Never Ending Fantasy…Just Keeps Going and Going….

My experience and connection with FF7 is drastically different then that of most of my friends. Unlike the majority of fans out there, I have only ever played this game once and not even to full completion. Now, before you have me tied to a Chocobo and run out of town, let me assure you that I have, in fact seen EVERYTHING in this game, multiple times over. I have witnessed and participated in 6-8 hour farming sessions. I have cried over the tragic death of Aerith more times than I want to admit. I have bred and raced Chocobos. I have been on the edge of my seat while fighting Ruby Weapon and completely exhausted after barely winning. I may not have always been holding the controller, but I was right there witnessing and being swept away by the sheer epic craziness of this game.

What does that all mean? Well, in the late 90s, Final Fantasy 7 was all the rage and everyone I knew was completely obsessed with that game. Rightly so, since it was a fantastic game. Of course, as soon as FF7 hit the shelves, everyone I knew became obsessed. Every friend I had, played FF7 almost exclusively for months and months on end. The desire to play this game was all consuming and it swept through my friends like wildfire.

Unfortunately, I was not in a financial position to buy my own physical copy of the game. That wouldn’t happen till much later. Instead, I was relegated to the sidelines, waiting until one of my friends would allow me to borrow their copy. As one can imagine, since all of my friends were playing this game, guess who was usually sitting on a couch, right next to them, during their gaming sessions? You guessed it…. ME. I witnessed each of my friend’s individual runs, almost in their entirety. By the time I got around to actually getting my own copy, I was simply burned out. I had seen everything, from beginning to end. There were just no surprises left in the game for me and I didn’t feel any great urgency to play it, yet again. However, that does NOT lessen my love for the game and it sure doesn’t make me any less excited for the remake. I just experienced it a little differently then most fans.

tc0ofwda5zek2mfaiivtRegarding Remakes

Since SQUARE’s announcement of the remake of Final Fantasy 7, the world is rejoicing at the news. The internet and discussion forums are all a buzz with speculations and opinions. Excitement is flowing freely. People love FF7, that is obviously clear. However, despite my excitement at this shocking and exciting turn of events, I can’t help but think, am I going to like this game when it hits shelves? The original game had such a HUGE impact on me and every single one of my friends, how can any game live up to that level of importance? I am very hopeful sure, but also fairly skeptical.

Not only is Final Fantasy 7 known as one of the best RPGs of all time, it STILL has a gigantic, very dedicated fan base. If SQUARE changes too much of the game, they run the risk of alienating the diehard fans. If they keep the game completely stock, they might be accused of just trying to cash in on the FF7 legacy. This is not an easy position for them to be in and we won’t know how it’ll play out, until it is in full swing.

So that begs the question, can a remake be as powerful or as influential as the original game once was? Or in this case, is SQUARE somehow damaging the legacy and power of FF7 by remaking a game that literally shaped a generation of gamers. Sure, most of us fans are pretty excited at the idea of seeing such iconic characters as Cloud, Tifa and Sephiroth in HD, but can this remake recapture the love of so many old school fans? Can it rekindle those same feelings of amazement and awe that we felt as we were greeted with our very first FMV? Chances are, no it can’t. No matter how much time and effort SQUARE puts into this project, it will never be exactly as it was. That would be impossible. When this game first came out, it was a different world. It was a moment in time that has long passed and as Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You can’t go home again….”

ff7headerimg599px1512512Final Thoughts…

As the months go by and we hear more and more about this upcoming remake, all eyes will be on SQUARE-ENIX. They are tinkering with a classic and that is a very daring and scary move. Truth be told, this game is going to set a precedence for all other Final Fantasy remakes. If any of us ever want to see remakes of FF6, FF1 or even Tactics, we had best hope that FF7 does extraordinarily well. Unfortunately, I guarantee that before the final game is released, at some point fans will be outraged at the decisions that SQUARE has made. We will read things like “How dare SQUARE do this to this game!” and “I hate them! They have ruined my childhood!” Like Sephiroth’s Super Nova, the drama will seem to go on and on and on. Until we play the final build, people will speculate, trash talk and condemn, but sink or swim, I believe that SQUARE will give us our remake. However, only time will tell if THIS remake is the one that we’ve always wanted. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that it is. I for one, will see you in Midgar.

~GB

My Trouble with Destiny… aka…What the Crap Bungie?

Destiny-LogoAh Destiny, what can I say about this game that hasn’t already been said a hundred times over? To be honest, not much.  Regardless, this post has been a longtime coming, but up until now, I just haven’t felt that I had enough practical experience to judge this game fairly. Well, things have changed and I have been playing a lot more of Destiny. I now feel that I am more experienced with the game and can give my honest opinions. Unfortunately, I am afraid that those opinions are not favorable.

In my experience, when someone asks “Hey, how’s Destiny?” answers seem to vary. Some say that is is the greatest game ever made, others say that it is the worst game ever made. Like most game reviews, the truth lies somewhere in between. My typical short answer is “It’s OK. The graphics are great and the game looks really pretty, but something feels like it is missing.” That is actually what I tend to tell people and it is how I truly feel. Something is missing in Destiny. Now, if you want the long answer to that question….. just keep reading.

Personally, I didn’t want to spend $60 on a game that was just “OK.” I wanted an epic game, about magical, space-traveling warriors, wearing cool outfits and carrying crazy, futuristic weapons! I wanted to see distant, imaginary worlds and pilot my own space craft across star systems. I wanted to hangout with friends and fight the evils that dwell deep in the blackness of space. That’s what I wanted and in the early trailers and developer videos, it looked like that’s what we were going to get. Destiny was supposed to be HUGE and I was ready to be swept away by all of it.

So the question is, how did a game with such visually stunning graphics and loads of potential, turn into an over-hyped, repetitive, lackluster experience with shallow characters, an unsatisfyingly short story and a frustrating loot/rewards system? How did it all go wrong? What happened? Why is it that the Destiny I saw back in 2013 looked and sounded so much cooler then what I am currently playing? I just don’t get it. It is baffling. But, since I am all fired up and in the mood to write, let’s take a look at Destiny.

Things I Like….

Destiny may not have been the epic FPS MMO that we were all wishing for, but never-the-less there are a few areas in the game that I honestly do like:

First off, the visuals are stunning and the game looks absolutely amazing. The art style, the textures and overall look of the game is really beautiful. Yes, the environments are sometimes barren and desolate, but in most cases, they match what I would envision a particular planet to look like. Also, most of your gear and weapons are very nicely detailed. As a fan of detail, I can appreciate that.

Secondly, the ship designs are pretty cool to look at. You might not have as much free roaming ability with them, but they are nicely designed and look good against the backdrops of space and high altitude clouds. I would have wished for more customization and maybe the ability to pilot them myself, instead of them just being background filler for loading sequences, but we got what we got. Also, cruising around on your Sparrow (or “glorified speeder bike” as I like to call it) is absolutely a blast. It does get a bit repetitive, especially when you have to traverse the same ground over and over again, but it is still entertaining.

Thirdly, I love co-op and the co-op in this game IS pretty fun. Strategizing with friends, taking out a huge boss together or just getting into team firefights with hordes of baddies is all pretty enjoyable. That is the ONLY reason I’m still playing Destiny. If it weren’t for my friends, I would have given up on this game during the first month of its release.

Lastly, the music is very nice, although you will get tired of the same tracks over and over again. Truth be told, I have since turned off the music and now I just run with the game sounds and the sounds of voice chatting with friends, but the music is top notch.

Unfortunately, that is it. Those are all of the elements that I LIKE in the game, so now it is time that we get on with what I don’t like about Destiny and there is quite a lot. Remember, this is just my honest opinion. Some players are very much in love with Destiny  and I’m not trying to anger them or make anyone defensive. If people like it, then they like it. It is up to the player to decide whether a game is worth their time and money. What follows is just how I personally feel about the game. No offense to anyone out there.

eceb470ea2d0556ab1619d367e091591b5aad5172a4e54c014b2948e48805647_largeThings I Don’t Like….The Story

So, for those of us who followed Destiny during the early development and release of the game, you might remember the tagline “Become Legend.” It was all over the internet, the game box, heck, there was even a live-action trailer by the same name (and that trailer was pretty awesome). In terms of taglines, how epic does that sound? I thought, “Become Legend! Heck YEAH! I want to become a legend!”

Well to live-up to a tagline like that, you have GOT to have a story that is an amazing piece of storytelling. The player has to feel engaged in the world around them. They have to feel like their actions and the actions of others, have some profound repercussions on the world as they know it. What player would not want to feel like they are shaping the very narrative of a game? I had supper high hopes that this was going to be amazing.

Instead, Destiny‘s story wasn’t an amazing piece of storytelling, it didn’t make me feel like a legend and it was disappointingly short. I don’t mean to be harsh, but I think that most gamers would agree with me on those points.

If only the story was better executed, we could have all actually “Become Legend”, and it would have been a fun and rewarding experience. This game could have told a brilliant narrative. Just look at the art design or read some of the vague plot points for the game. It is clear that Destiny had some major potential, but the game turned out as a lackluster experience that felt hollow and unfinished. The story didn’t grab me, it didn’t make me care about anything that was going on in the world and the repetitive game play just killed my interest in experiencing more of the game.  How could a title with such a beautiful world, be so utterly hollow in it’s storyline? It is all just so disappointing.

Let’s talk a bit about Grimoire cards. Yes, I know there are cards that you can unlock that teach you more about the world and lore of Destiny, but they feel like an afterthought. Plus, as far as I know, they are only accessible through the internet and not in-game.  I’m not going to take time out of my day to go online and read a bunch of cards, just to try and fill in all of the gaps and holes that this story has. If Bungie wasn’t willing to put that amount of time and effort in putting this information in the game, why should I put that much time and effort in to reading and studying cards on a totally separate device?  There are better, more immersive ways to do this. For example, I’ve always thought, why not add a physical library to the Tower (the player social hub area)? Add an awesome looking, in-game library were players can go and read up on areas and lore that interests them. That would have been far more engaging than a handful of cards on a website.

Things I Don’t Like….NPC Characters

Not only were we NOT given much in the way of a narrative, we were also not given any meaningful NPC characters. No one really stands out or even seems to matter. They are all fairly bland, unimpressive, forgettable and generic NPCs. I was constantly getting confused as to who was who and why I was talking to anyone. This is really disappointing as there are some topflight voice talent in this game. For example, this is a list that I found online for the Voice Actors of Destiny:

  • Peter Dinklage
  • Bill Nighy
  • Lauren Cohan
  • Gina Torres
  • Lance Reddick
  • Nathan Fillion
  • Lennie James
  • Shohreh Aghdashloo
  • Peter Stormare
  • James Remar
  • Erick Avari

Even if you didn’t recognize every name, trust me, there are some very iconic actors mentioned here: like Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres, both from Firefly and Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones. Why the heck did Bungie bring in so many talented actors, if they were just going to create such lifeless and bland dialogue for NPCs? That money could have been better spent in other areas of the game. How about use it to write more story!?

Things I Don’t Like…. Leveling and Looting

One of my biggest complaints about Destiny is the way in which you level up your character. I absolutely hate their system of leveling. At first, the game plays out as any normal RPG would: kill stuff… gain experience…level up….repeat. However, once you reach level 20, things change and not for the better.

Level 20 is the maximum level that you can attain by the usual methods. Once you reach level 20, if you want to continue to level up, you have to start collecting armor that has a “Light Rating.” This “Light Rating” artificially raises your level pass the cap. By simply equipping certain pieces of armor like a helmet, chest plate, gloves and boots, you will add more “Light” and eventually you will go up in levels. Of course this means that you are constantly needing to find better and better armor and this means killing tons and tons of enemies. In order to get the good drops you have to grind, grind grind…that’s all you get to do. The more you play, the more chances you have of maxing out your character with the best stuff. What a deal, right?

Wrong! This system feels artificial and forced. Why not just have the cap be at the higher level? Why make us jump through so many hoops? I have spent a bit of time playing my lvl 20 Hunter and so far I have only reached level 22. The majority of drops that enemies tend to give are all crappy weapons and equipment that I do not need. It is so frustrating and feels like a total waste of time.

So the big question is WHY? Why do this to players? I’m sure there are a few different reasons, but in my honest opinion,  this system seems like a perfect way to insure a lasting player base. It artificially extends the life of a mediocre and lackluster title. It’s the never ending loot hunt. I think, if Bungie keeps adding loot and raising the artificial level cap, players will be more likely to continue playing. They will always want the latest gear, so everyone has to keep playing….more and more and more. Unfortunately, this system makes me feel like the game is taking away my power as a player. It is forcing me to bend to the will of a random, loot generating equation. As a gamer, I hate that. Let me earn my cool chest piece by working for it, not by just killing the same enemies or doing the same repetitive missions over and over again, until it randomly drops.

Things I Don’t Like…. Pay Walls

In this day-and-age, most gamers will agree that DLC is nothing new. You buy a game and a few months down the line, you get DLC. Heck, most of the games I have played over the last 4 years have all had some form of Downloadable Content. I’ve always assumed that DLC was meant to extend the life of a certain game, by adding more content and freshening up a stale title. However, more and more companies are using DLC as a way to pilfer additional money from us gamers, by locking parts of their games away behind pay walls and releasing the unlock code as DLC. Destiny seems to be no different.

So often with games now-a-days, you buy something for $60, only to find out that it is essentially an incomplete experience. Then there is a Season Pass that runs upwards of $30 to give you access to all the DLC, which is basically the rest of the game. That means that your new game is actually going to cost you $90 (assuming the Season Pass is $30). WTF! Game developers are notorious for this and I absolutely hate this practice! I’m sure other gamers will agree.

Destiny has released two DLCs for their broken experience of a game, and it would appear that both were already included in the original copy of the game. When I purchased the season pass, it didn’t download anything substantial and all of a sudden I had access to both DLCs. that means, the content was simply placed behind a pay wall. Every time that happens, I just end up feeling cheated and betrayed.

But wait, Bungie has announced that there is more Destiny on it’s way. Coming in September, Destiny  fans can purchase the first true expansion for the game, called The Taken King.  It promises to be a whole new experience! Yeah right…get ready for more grinding. To be fair, this is an entirely new edition, with added gear and a new class, but it will not be accessible to current Season Pass holders. You will have to purchase The Taken King separately, I believe anywhere from $40-$80. Great, just great! Thanks, Bungie.

Final Thoughts

Let’s face it, in this gaming industry, it is all about money. AAA game studios spend a huge amount of cash developing and creating ideas that they think will be profitable. Once they settle on a title, they create the game for millions of dollars and then try and desperately recoup their losses. How do they do this? Well, by cutting out story and game play elements and locking them behind pay walls, releasing them in DLC, or maybe they include micro transactions into their game. They try and find any way that they can to drain our hard earned cash and continue draining us for months and months after the game’s initial release. They do this until they have squeaked out a modest profit and then, they do it all again with another title. It is a sad state of affairs and a pretty rotten business model.

Destiny is a good example of everything that I hate about this current gaming market and it is an excellent case study of how greedy and pervasive this business model can be. It has been reported that Destiny cost approximately $500 million dollars to develop and promote. That is an amazing amount of money. It is no wonder that both Activision and Bungie have made certain decisions regarding DLCs, Season Passes and Expansions. They have to recoup their losses and they are going to take it from the only source that they can… us, the fans. They are going to squeeze every last Glimmer out of us and I for one, do not appreciate that.

And $500 million dollars later, we get a game that is nothing to be that excited over. A bland, hollow experience, that I really don’t find that fun or immersive. In fact, I can honestly say that I find more enjoyment in $15 PSN games like Helldivers and Shovel Knight, than I do a $60 AAA game like Destiny. Not only did I have more fun with both of those titles, their story lines were vastly more engaging then Destiny‘s and I actually felt like playing past the initial play through. What a strange turn of events.

Artistically, Destiny is a beautiful experience, but as a game, I find it lackluster, repetitive, tedious and boring. I wanted so much to love this game, to be swept away by the sheer expansiveness of its world. But, I was let down and truthfully, I am not really that surprised. It seems like Bungie tried to make a game that would appeal to a ton of different types of players. They tried to make a game that encompassed elements that MMO players would enjoy, FPS players would find familiar and that co-op players would appreciate. Instead we got a game that has hints of really awesome stuff, but ultimately falls short of being an amazing game. Maybe they bit off more than they could chew, or maybe Activision forced a bit of their Call of Duty mentality onto Bungie’s vision. Who knows. All I know is that we have not heard the last of Destiny and it will be interesting to see how all of this unfolds.

~GB

Dark Souls 2: To Live and Die in Drangleic

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Recently, I have been playing Dark Souls 2 for the PS3 and I will admit, I have been thoroughly enjoying myself. Even though I’ve struggled a bit and have only just last night, finished the main game, I thought I would take this opportunity to give you all, my most recent thoughts and opinions on this latest entry into the Souls series. Keep in mind, even though I have been an ardent fan of From Software games, since the mid 90’s (see my King’s Field Retrospective for a bit more info on that series) it doesn’t mean that I will blindly give this game a free pass.  So, let’s take a look at Dark Souls 2 and explore my thoughts on this new world of Drangleic.

A Brief History of the Souls Series

Before we get started on Dark Souls 2, let’s take a brief look at the history of the Souls games. Don’t worry, I’ll try and make this quick as I can.

demons_souls

The Souls series began with Demon’s Souls, published in 2009 and released in Japan, the United States and Europe. As a PS3 exclusive game, it was labeled as the “spiritual successor” to the King’s Field series, which had been released some fifteen years earlier, for the PSX. Released in the U.S. by Atlus, the game gradually gathered a strong cult following, made up of dedicated, hardcore, challenge seeking gamers.

From the control scheme and game mechanics, to the games brutal difficulty, Demon’s Souls laid the ground work for what we now know as a Souls game. It also re-energized the From Software brand, propelling them out of obscurity. I spent hours and hours on this game, exploring the world, learning spells and fighting along side my fellow PSN friends. That was one of the key reasons why I liked Demon’s Souls so much, it had a fantastic multiplayer setup, combining a thrilling system of co-op PvE and intense PvP. It was like nothing I had ever played before. It was absolutely fantastic.

468px-Dark-souls-logo-tops-mainDark Souls

Similar in design, play style and visuals to that of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls was said to be its spiritual successor(From Software really likes to use that term ‘spiritual successor’, don’t they?) It was released for both the PS3 and the XBOX 360 in 2011 and finally for the PC in 2012.  This time it was Namco Bandai, who took the publishing reigns, releasing the game in both the United States and Europe, while From Software handled the Japanese release.

Dark Souls built upon the success of it’s predecessor, keeping alive the Demon’s Souls style of brutal game play, while adding a few new game elements into the mix. Now, depending on your play style, not all of these changes were seen as a good thing, for example Namco Bandai decided not to use a dedicated server and instead went with a Peer to Peer type player connection. If you wanted to play with a particular friend, it was very difficult to accomplish this with 100% accuracy and many players found that annoying. On the plus side, this method allowed you to play with anyone from around the world, but many of my friends had no interest playing with random players.

dark-souls-II-logoNow on with Dark Souls II….

Dark Souls II was released on  March 11, 2014, for both the PS3 and the XBOX 360. While it has been stated that this game is NOT a direct sequel to Dark Souls, there are obvious connections spread throughout the game, linking both these storylines together. Of course, the entire story has yet to be fully flushed out by the online community, but they have made huge steps in that direction.

So far, this game plays very much like the other games in the Souls series. The graphics are slightly improved and the storyline seems to be far more cryptic, but all of the core elements that made the Souls franchise, are still intact. What are those core elements you ask? Well let’s take a look…

Gameplay Difficulty

So far, all of the Souls games have been brutally difficult and extremely challenging. They don’t pull any punches or coddle the player in any way. They force you to focus and to think about each move you make. Diving headfirst into a fight and not being aware of your surroundings WILL get the player killed. Being rash is not a good mindset to have with any Souls game. Remember, in these games, everything wants you dead and your enemies are willing to sneak up on you, overwhelm you, shoot you from a distance, set you on fire, push you off of ledges, drown you, eat you, poison you… the list can go on and on.

Yes, Dark Souls II is punishing and unforgiving, but that isn’t a detriment to the franchise.  The game wouldn’t be a Souls game if it wasn’t difficult. That might sound strange, but it is true. In fact, most of the fans that I know, crave its brutal nature and the challenge and frustration that these games bring. It has become a staple of the series and a major selling point.

Of course, since these games are very difficult, you are far more prone to killing off your character and losing progress. We fans have come to expect this facet from a Souls game, but it can be a rude awaking for the more casual gamer.

With that being said, death in Dark Souls II doesn’t feel empty or meaningless, like in some games. As long as you are paying attention, each and every death teaches you a valuable lesson. To illustrate this, what follows is a small list of ideas that I have personally discovered, while playing the Souls series and DkS2:

  • Always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Don’t assume anything.
  • Never think that you are safe from death, even in the early parts of the game.
  • If an enemy looks like it can kill you, it probably will.
  • If an enemy looks like a pushover, he’s probably going to kill you.
  • Never be rash.
  • Never drain all of your stamina, if you can help it.
  • Take your time. Never try and rush through an area or try and speed things up.
  • If you get stuck, try thinking out of the box, try new approaches.
  • And never, EVER carry large amounts of souls on your person. Especially if you are going into an uncharted area or new boss room.

I’ve learned all of those things (and much, much more), just by playing the game, by trying new things, testing my limits, exploring my surroundings and watching others play. The game didn’t hold my hand. It didn’t coddle me. It tossed me into the fray, into the cold and unforgiving world. Sink or swim, it is all up to the player. I love that; being left up to my own devices, going at my own pace and doing things my way. It is quite empowering!

Storyline

I have always found it fascinating how FROM Software can tell us a story, without really telling us anything. Sure we might be given the bare minimum of basic world information, but everything else, the rest of the puzzle is discovered entirely through lore, item descriptions, dialogue and visuals. Players aren’t generally given much more than basic world information,  but that is just enough to get you to want more. Players tend to discover and stumble upon the story, rather than be slapped in the face with it.

If you doubt the extensiveness of FROM Software’s storyline in DkS2, just look at all the work the online communities have done. They have collaboratively pieced together an epic and fascinating story, connecting plot lines and story points across the entire game.  Also, they have done all of this with only the smallest bits and pieces of lore, spread throughout and around the new Kingdom of Drangleic. That is pretty impressive.

Personalizing and Identifying with Your Character

The Souls games have always had a great, fully customizable character creation system that allows the player to chose and adjust a host of features. You can tweak almost everything about your person: gender, body type, hair style, hair color, eye shape, cheek shape, check color, skin color…. If you can name it, you can probably adjust it. It is as in-depth and as powerful as you could ever want.

Now, if you are anything like me, you might spend far to much time on this part of the game. Don’t feel bad, the last time I built a character, I spent almost an hour playing with different settings. Why did I spend so much time on her? Simply put, I like to feel connected to my character. I feel more in tune with an avatar that I have painstakingly created, then I ever do with those average, generic, stock creations. It keeps me rooted in the game and get’s me invested in my choices. Since I never want anything bad to befall my character, I find that I am more careful and deliberate with my actions. That means less deaths and more fun. Maybe that’s just me, but either way I usually have fun with the whole process.

white-sign-soapstone Online / Co-op Play

Like the other entries in the Sous series, DkS2 has a very in-depth system of online play.  For me, its main appeal is co-op PvE, but there is a strong sense of competitive PvP as well. Starting with Demon’s Souls, the Souls series has had some of the most heart pounding multiplayer that I have ever experienced. If you have never played it, let me try and give you an idea of what it is like.

Imagine this, you are going about your business, killing monsters and exploring the dark corners of the world, when out of no where, you are invaded by another player. This is called a Black Phantom. He is there for one reason, and one reason only….to kill you! What do you do? Do you run? Do you fight? Do you hide and hope he won’t find you? What do you do?

Then you see him. A ghostly figure, shrouded in a red and black mist. He is looking for a fight and you have no choice but to defend yourself.

bp-satsuki-large-rearBeing jarred out of your quiet, solo experience is one thing, but to have another player, violently hunt you for sport, is a totally different story. An invasion always got my heart pounding.

DkS1 had a very similar feel to that of Demon’s Souls , but with a greater emphasis placed on online interactions. They instituted the idea of player covenants, added different types of invading phantoms and gave PvP players a variety of ways to battle other PvP’ers. They also made an attempt to legitimize invasions, by creating a covenant reward system that added a reason for these types of interactions.

Covenants were designed to enhance and add depth to the online invasion system, but I’m not sure how well it really worked. It did introduce some very interesting ideas, but the system was not as easy to utilize, as it should have been. I ended up hardly participating in multiplayer for Dark Souls 1, due mainly to the very limiting P2P server set up, that Namco Bandai had instituted. Plus with the increase in lag and connection instability, multiplayer became just plain frustrating.

In Dark Souls 2, multiplayer is back in full force and it has taken a lot of the ideas from Dark Souls 1 and placed an even greater emphasis on elements like PvP, covenants and dueling. Fortunately, with Namco’s decision to utilize dedicated, region based servers, multiplayer actually works! Summonings have been greatly increased, invasions are more frequent and there are even a number of items to increase the ease of joining your friends! There seems to have been a great attempt by the publisher and developer to appeal to as many types of players as they can, giving everyone something that they can enjoy about the game’s multiplayer system.

Overall Thoughts

Over all, I’m pleased with FROM’s latest entry into the Souls game and I plan on playing this one, for a long time. That is not to say that this game isn’t without some minor issues. For example, the auto-target system is very twitchy, sometimes jumping from enemy to enemy, at the worst possible time. Camera angles will sometimes move erratically, disorientating the player. Some bosses seem to have inconsistent AOE attacks, that end up dealing damage to the player, at unexpected times. Controller input can sometimes lag slightly, causing you to panic-press the same button and end up swinging or rolling, WAY more than you intended. But, despite these issues, the game is very well done and it is a lot of fun to play. If you haven’t played it or were still on the fence about it’s worth, I would recommend giving this one a shot. Now, if you will excuse me, I have souls to collect….

I’ll see you in Drangleic.

~GB

The King’s Field Retrospective: Part Two – King’s Field (North America)

King's Field - Front CoverKing’s Field (North America)

As I mentioned in the first part of this retrospective, our King’s Field was not the first game in the King’s Field series, a fact that many of us North American gamers did not learn, until late into the 90s. It was actually the 2nd installment, following closely to the Japanese only  game, with the same title. As you can imagine, I was pretty surprised when I found this out.

The fact that we never got the original King’s Field is unfortunate, since the Japanese game introduced a huge amount of lore, characters, items and game play elements that were to become staples throughout the entire series. Names like John Alfred Forester, the Dragon Gods, the Moonlight Sword, Dragon Crystals, Earth Herbs, Antidotes, Verdite, Moon Stone, Blood Stone, the Truth Glass… all of it originated here, in King’s Field (JP). Our first King’s Field, usually called King’s Field (North America) or King’s Field (NA) was actually the 2nd game in the series. 

Like all of the King’s Field games, King’s Field (NA) was developed by a relatively unknown and obscure, Japanese game development studio called From Software. You might recognize that name, because of the success of the recent Souls series: Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2. Much like their predecessors, these are fantastic games, renown for their difficulty, challenging game play and unforgiving brutality. These games are often known as the spiritual successors to the King’s Field legacy.

It Begins….

King’s Field (NA) was released here in the U.S. on February 15, 1996. That gives this game the honor of being one of the first role-playing games ever released, for the PlayStation, here in the west. I will admit that King’s Field (North America) was not my first taste of the King’s Field series. I was actually introduced through the U.S. King’s Field 2, (actually King’s Field 3 in Japan), but after just a few minutes behind its controls and a handful of deaths, I was hooked. I wanted to know all I could about the world of King’s Field, uncover all of it’s secrets and watch its story unfold. However, I did not want to start from King’s Field 2, I wanted to start from the very beginning of the series. I thought, ‘Hey, if there is a King’s Field 2, then there has to be a King’s Field 1.’  So, that weekend, I went down to the local gaming store, found a copy of King‘s Field (NA) and bought it. That was such an awesome day!

The Story Unfolds….

King’s Field (NA) can be classified as a first person, dark fantasy, hack and slash, roll playing game. Taking place on a mysterious island called Melanant, you assumed control of a knight named Alexander, who had just washed up on the island’s rocky shore line. You are the only survivor of a powerful expeditionary force, sent by King Forester, to find and retrieve the stolen, legendary, Moonlight Sword. Of course, having lost all of your supplies in a powerful storm, you have nothing, save for the clothes on your back and your trusty dagger.

King’s Field (NA) was a very difficult and unforgiving game.  The enemies were relentless, the environments allowed for very few mistakes, and the buttons stand as some of the most complicated controls I have ever mastered on a console. I racked up so many deaths within my first few hours of game play, it was staggering.

However, despite all of that, the game compelled me to push on, to fulfill Alexander’s duty and to retrieve the Moonlight Sword.  For me, it was the lure of the unknown, the challenge of exploring the winding and claustrophobic interiors of the island and discovering the bits and pieces of lore, spread throughout Melanant. The entire experience was epic.

As you progress through the game, you begin to uncover a myriad of terrible secrets. You learn about the dark history of the island, the fall of ancient kingdoms and the rise of a mysterious warrior calling himself Necron.

You eventually discover that Necron controls Melanant and has enveloped the island in a powerful darkness. We also find out that he serves the dragon demi-god, Guyra and has obtained powers that allow him to summon monsters and control the undead. Greed, despair, and death, seem to permeate the interior tunnels, passageways and halls of Melanant and its inhabitants are doomed to a miserable existence, toiling in the underground crystal caves, trapped, having to relying on the island’s healing water, to keep them alive.

Playing King’s Field can be a very solitary and lonely experience. There are only a few small villages, homes, and communities dotted around Melanant and most of these locations are empty and deserted. Of course, you do find a few NPCs along your travels, but most of them have been driven half mad by the islands dark energy and trusting them can sometimes be a dangerous proposition. It is a good idea though, to talk to everyone you meet and to gather as much information as possible. Otherwise, you will have no idea what you are supposed to do. (Don’t worry, they do tend to let a few trustworthy tidbits slip out, from time to time.

Like most RPGs, you can find a few shops and merchants, littered around some of the villages, but they all seem to have an insatiable lust for riches and charge WAY to much gold, for even the simplest of items. It is my experience that most of the good weapons and armor available in the shops, can be found for free throughout your travels, so leave them in the shops.

Melanant is a dangerous place and it punishes you at almost every turn. The island is littered with secret tunnels, mining complexes, ancient shrines and the ruins of once mighty kingdoms. Unfortunately, most places are now teeming with vengeful monsters, the undead and restless spirits, so you must tread lightly.

Eventually, you face off against Necron, who you learn has become a pawn of Guyra, the Black Dragon. Once Necron falls to your blade, Guyra awaits, guarding the fabled Moonlight Sword, the very sword you were tasked with retrieving. Only after defeating him, can you reclaim the sword and rid the island of all darkness and evil.

Final Thoughts…

King’s Field (NA) stands as one of my most treasured games and I spent well over 150 hours playing the game (that was a lot of hours back then). Exploring the island’s vast network of tunnels and ruins was extremely addictive and the game was amazing for it’s time. Being in a fully explorable, 3D world, surrounded by the unknown was something that I had yet to experience in a console game. Everything about King’s Field (NA), held me spellbound, even after countless deaths and game overs. The environments, the music, the characters, the enemies… it was all pretty awesome.

Even though I loved King’s Field (NA), I have to admit, this game was not without it issues. Graphically, the game was filled with strange visual anomalies. Surface textures had the annoying habit of distorting and tearing, draw distance for faraway objects seemed to fluctuate wildly and the graphics were not really the prettiest to look at. The game also suffered from inconsistent frame rates and massive slowdown, all of which could get you killed… very easily.

Never-the-less, I adored King’s Field (NA) and I still consider it a classic. It is amongst my favorite RPGs of all time. Aside from Final Fantasy Tactics, this game stands out as my 2nd most played game of the 90s. I have such found memories tied up with this game and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good old-school RPG, as long as you can get passed the outdated graphics. If you haven’t played it, you really should. If nothing else, at least watch a Let’s Play over on YouTube! It is quite a game.

Up next, we will spend some time taking a look at the awesome sequel, King’s Field II. So stay tuned.

~GB

GentleBen’s Favorite Games of All Time (PlayStation)

PlayStation (PSX)

Let me start off by saying, I love the PlayStation! For me, Sony’s entire line of PlayStation gaming consoles have been superb. I have been an ardent PS fan since 1995 and have purchased every iteration of the console, all the way up to the present day PS3. I even pre-ordered the PS4, displaying an unprecedented level of faith in the Sony brand. (Please don’t let me down Sony!) That probably makes me a Sony Fan Boy, but I am OK with that. Heck, I’ve been called much worse.

I first caught a glimpse of the PlayStation in 1995, at my friend Wellang’s house. I can remember thinking “Man what a game changer!” Not only did it use a CD instead of a cartridge, you could save your game on detachable memory cards, the controllers were loaded with buttons and you could even play your music CDs through the  gaming console! It was an amazing little system and I have been a big fan ever since.

Back in the day, it seemed like PlayStation had all the games that I wanted to play. For the PSX, they had games like Final Fantasy 7, King’s Field, Xenogears, Lunar, Colony Wars, Wild Arms, Mega Man X4, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 2 and Gran Turismo. When the PS2 came out, it was a similar story. Games like King’s Field: The Ancient City, Devil May Cry, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Resident Evil 4, Gran Turismo 3 & 4 and God of War were so much fun. Even the PS3 has its fair share of great games: Call of Duty World at War, Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, Bioshock, Boarderlands and Grand Turismo 5.

PlayStation consoles were everywhere in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Lots of gamers ended up owning all three systems, including me. There was a huge amount of Sony brand loyalty. It just goes to show you, the PlayStation has treated us pretty well.

Now many PS fans will admit, Sony lost a substantial chunk of the gamer population with their less than favorable launch for the PS3. However, I think the PS4 will re-claim a lot of their former glory. I’m very excited and can hardly wait to see what PlayStation 4 brings us. That being said, I wanted to take another stroll down memory lane and look back at my top 5 favorite games on the PlayStation 1 (PSX). Hope you enjoy.

#5: Command and Conquer

Now before you start, I know that Command and Conquer (also known as C&C) was NOT originally a PlayStation 1 game. I know, I know……. it was a PC game that was just ported to the PSX. And yes, I know that it was less than a perfect port. Sure it had clumsy controls, lacked the ability to save in the middle of missions, was missing a few musical tracks, had lower resolution graphics and did not have any form of multiplayer… I understand all of that. BUT never-the-less, C&C was one of the main reason’s why I first purchased a PlayStation 1. Let me explain…

Back in the early 90s, I had been watching my friend Arkalius, play through C&C on his PC and I had absolutely loved the entire concept of the game. Being able to control vast armies of troops, vehicles, tanks and aircraft, all while designing a base, building up an army and crushing my enemies, seemed like good times to me! We would sit there in front of his computer for hours, Arkalius playing and me watching. I would vicariously play out the missions, plan attacks, offer suggestions and share in the experience as much as I could. Most of which fell on deaf ears.

Unfortunately, my friend was not the most sharing of individuals and I seldom got a chance to put my well-planned strategies to the test. So, when I heard that C&C was due out on the PlayStation, I thought “AT LAST! Now I can play my OWN copy of the game!” My only other option was to buy a PC, but that was WAY more of an expense then simply picking up a PSX plus the game.

I spent hours upon hours playing C&C, going over each and every level, building epic bases, designing different layouts for defense and planning detailed and sometimes overly complex battle plans. Sometimes I’d win, other times I’d loose, but it was always a blast.

My favorite level in C&C was one of the last stages on the GDI disc and I played it over and over, to the point of exhaustion. It was soooo much fun! I still remember the password for that level too: GTJ2PV460. Usually, I would setup a series of fortified walls, Advanced Guard Towers and Machine Gun Towers that would chop the enemy to pieces. I would also capture the main tiberium field and keep NOD’s harvesters blocked. No tiberium = no money. I also loved using coordinated attacks to push through the enemy’s forward base, distract their obelisk towers and use an APC filled with engineers to capture their 2nd construction yard. It was in the far southwest of the map, right across a small river so it was easy to defend and nicely out of the way. That would open up the ability to build NOD weapons and add their tanks, troops and gun turrets to the mix.

Today, even thought I have the classic C&C for my PC, I still love to play the old PSX version. There are so many awesome memories wrapped up with that game and such a huge amount of nostalgia, I can’t help but love it. Plus, it sure made a huge impact on me, opening up the flood gates on a ton of other RTS games.

#4: Tomb Raider

When it comes to puzzle solving, adventure games, it doesn’t get much better than Tomb Raider. This game blew my mind when I first saw it. The graphics, the music, the freedom of movement, it was all spectacular.

Not only could you walk, run and jump, but Lara could perform a host of other varied and complex interactions within her environment. Lara could side-step, dodge, perform a handstand, climb across ledges, hang off cliffs, roll, dive, and even swim. It was the most realistic movement any of us had yet to see, in a video game.

You searched for clues, solved puzzles, discovered treasure and uncovered lost civilizations. You faced off with wild beasts, poachers, and even a few fellow treasure hunters. You spent a good deal of time escaping death from a multitude of disastrous traps and environmental elements. It was a fight for Lara’s very survival and you felt extremely connected to it all.

Of course,  Lara was far from defenseless. She could really handle herself in combat, usually carrying her two trusty pistols, but also using shotguns, magnums and even dual wielding Uzis. It was all great fun and really stands out in my mind as one of the most well known games of the 90s.

One element that I remember most in Tomb Raider was the puzzle solving.  My friend Wellang and I would always work together on the trickiest puzzles, coming up with ideas, trying things out and making suggestions. We both felt connected to the whole experience. It was as if our very survival depended entirely on our wits. Sometimes we succeeded, sometimes we failed, but each time it was a blast.

I also remember the deaths in Tomb Raider being pretty gruesome for its time: plummeting to my death, burning alive, drowning, being electrocuted, becoming impaled on spikes, getting killed by human enemies, and even being eaten alive by wild creatures. To this day, I can still remember the last boss picking me up like a rag doll and slamming me into the ground, over and over again until I was dead. What a horrifying moment.

Despite the graphics not aging very well, this game is still a lot of fun to play. I recommend that anyone who has not played it, to give it a try. Even to this day, I would still this one pick and relive a few wonderfully brutal, Tomb Raider moments.

#3: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (SoTN)

When Castlevania fans talk about their favorite Castlevania games, a large majority of them will rank Symphony of the Night as one of the best in the franchise. They would be correct in doing so. Everything about the game just clicked together so well, that many fans and gaming publications still rank it as one of the best games on the PlayStation 1. I still own the original Symphony of the Night and it is definitely one of my favorite Castlevania games of all time.

SOtN was actually a direct sequel to a Japanese only title called Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, for the PC-Engine.  To us North American fans, who had no prior knowledge of this fact, Symphony of the Night seemed like an entirely new type of Castlevania adventure, with maybe a slight connection to Dracula X on the SNES.

SOtN was quite a departure from the older NES and SNES Castlevania games. Sure, it was still a very action oriented, side-scrolling game, but many of the similarities stopped there. First off, it no longer starred a Blemont, you now played as Alucard, the half-human-half-vampire son of the infamous Count Dracula.  Because of his lineage, Alucard was extremely powerful and very skilled. He could equip a ton of different main weapons, sub-weapons, armors, capes and accessories. He could use a wide variety of items, cast magic, use familiars and even transform into a wolf, a bat or a cloud of mist. Compared to the members of the Belmont Clan, Alucard was vastly out of their league. You felt unstoppable.

Also, SOtN was not your typical level based linear game, either. It was geared more towards an open world environment, with elements of exploration and discovery. It still took place in Dracula’s castle, but instead of your standard 8 or 9 levels, the game gave you the entire castle to explore.  This allowed the player to move from area to area seamlessly and to explore each and every dark recess of the Castle.

Each area was connected by a short, creepy, transitional hallway, completely devoid of any background music, that served both as a loading screen and safe haven from the Gothic horrors that surrounded you. A bit of respite in a brutally savage game.

SOtN was a great game, but it was so much more than that. Not only did it utilize the classic, action oriented, side scrolling style of game play, but it introduced a number of RPG elements and game mechanics that I had never seen before in a Castlevania game. It kept it’s dark Gothic atmosphere and included a ton of visual enhancements, control improvements and a killer soundtrack that was nothing short of epic. It also spawned an entire line of hand-held  SOtN style games and has even been included in the PSP release of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. It has spawned a legacy all of its own and I count it as one of the all time greats.

#2: The King’s Field Series

Any one who knows me, knows that I am a big fan of FROM Software.  In fact, I have been a fan for some time now. More recent gamers might know FROM Software from their recent work on the Soul’s games: Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, but they have been around since November 1986 and have developed their fair share of awesome games. I could bot choose between the two games, released here in the U.S., so I’ve grouped them together.

In the mid 1990’s and early 2000’s, they released an obscure, first person, action RPG series called King’s Field and it quickly became one of my favorite RPG series of all time. Why did I like it so much? Well, for me it was a combination of the game’s atmosphere, level design, music, story line, characters, and fully immersive, 360 degree environments. It was revolutionary for its time, and it had everything that I enjoyed in video games: swords, sorcery, knights, monsters and an engaging fantasy mythos. The entire series was awesome!

It was my friend Wellang, who first introduced me to King’s Field by renting King’s Field 2 and giving me the opportunity to spend a few hours behind the controls. Right from the start, King’s Field 2 was NOT an easy game. It didn’t have very a intuitive control scheme, your attack speed was painfully slow, enemy attacks were brutally devastating, the environments were unpredictable and you were given very little instruction or direction. The first time playing King’s Field 2, I was promptly killed only 2 mins into the game. In fact, it took me about an hour of playtime before I had even a BASIC grasp on the controls. Even then, in the heat of battle I would often hit the wrong button. It was a rough introduction, but oh so much fun. It was so much fun in fact, I went out a few weeks later and picked up the first game in the series, simply called King’s Field.

Unlike most other mid 90’s RPG’s both, King’s Field 1 & 2 took place entirely in a 3 dimensional, fully-explorable world. It was also in real-time and you controlled every aspect of your character’s actions. You could look up, down, left and right, you could circle strafe, you could aim in all directions, you could attack with swords, magic or ranged attacks…. I fell in love with both games. King’s Field also gave me a reason to buy a PlayStation 2, since King’s Field: The Ancient City was only available on PS2.

FROM Software created such an interesting world, with a great story line, mysterious characters and an engaging battle system. I couldn’t help but be wrapped up in their epic journey. Wondering and fighting through an unfamiliar landscape, surrounded by powerful enemies, all while discovering a rich collection of lore, really made me feel like I was an intricate part of that world’s fate.  It was an awesome experience and a great adventure. If you haven’t played either of them by now, I recommend you go out and give them a try. If nothing else, at least watch one of the rare Long Plays over on YouTube. I guarantee, it is well worth it.

#1: Final Fantasy Tactics

What?! Final Fantasy Tactics? Where is Final Fantasy 7?!!! Now, calm down, let me explain.

For any die-hard Final Fantasy fan, the 90s were probably some of the best years for that franchise. Final Fantasy 3/6, Final Fantasy 7 and even Final Fantasy 8 were all solid games with great music, wonderful characters and awesome story lines. I know for a fact that many of us spent hours upon hours of our time, exploring their respective worlds, leveling up and falling in love with each game.  Everyone I knew  was hooked the moment they put those games in their systems.

In the 90s, one of the most popular games to take over my small group of gaming friends was Final Fantasy 7 and everyone I knew was completely obsessed with that game. Why not, right? It was a fantastic game. Not only is it known as one of the best RPGs of all time, it STILL has a gigantic, very dedicated fan base. This is very impressive considering it has been some 16 years since it’s release date.

Now, even though Final Fantasy 7 WAS a great game, it never held my full attention. By the time I got a hold of the game, I had already witnessed all of the most pivotal moments. I had seen Aeris’ death multiple times, I had witnessed the destruction of the Emerald Weapon and Ruby Weapon, even spent hours farming and racing chocobos. My friends had all beaten the game countless times and I had seen that ending more times then I had ever wanted to. There was just no surprises left in the game for me and I didn’t feel any great urge to play it further. Since my friend Wellang had first purchased it, FF7 had been passed around my entire group of friends and I had been with each of them, through most of their individual runs. I was simply burned out.

Besides, I wanted a game that was new, fresh and all mine. A game that hadn’t been played by all of my friends. A game that required skillful planning and surgical execution. Something similar to Command and Conquer. For me, Final Fantasy Tactics was that game.

FFT was not your typical Final Fantasy game. It was a turn-based, tactical RPG with a strong emphasis on character creation and proper utilization of very specific, strategic elements. Concepts such as elevation, line of sight, terrain and weather all played key rolls in your victories and in your defeats.

FFT utilized a system of fully customizable characters, specializing in various jobs and class skills. It was like nothing that I, nor any of my friends had ever seen before. Each and every character could become any one of twenty distinct character classes. This allowed players to customize their party with a host of character classes such as: Summoner, Wizard, Priest, Monk, Lancer, Thief, Samurai, Ninja, Mime, Bard, Dancer, Squire, Chemist, Orator, Archer, Calculator, Knight, Geomancer, Time Mage and a Mediator.

Also, each character was given a zodiac sign and each sign had a certain level of affinity with other zodiac symbols. It was a complicated relationship that could moderately alter certain battle actions like the amount of damage you inflicted on certain opposing signs, the amount of HP you could restore with healing spells, casting battle magic, hitting with a critical strike and a host of other in-game elements. In reality, I rarely took into account my character’s zodiac signs in my battle strategies, but I was aware of their existence and they did come in handy from time to time.

Instead of a fully open world, like the one found in FF7, FFT used a static map of towns, cities, forts and battle points all connected by predefined travel paths. Journeying from one of these points to another point, equaled one day of travel. After a while, weeks, months even years of in-game time would just slip by.

Random battles, story battles and even cut scenes would all occur on certain, pre-set locations. After you had activated a random encounter, set your 5 person team and set your battle formation, you would be placed on a 3D, isometric, rotatable playing field. Then, based on your character’s speed rating, and the speed rating of your enemies, you would all go in turn until you were either defeated or victorious.

The storyline in FFT was a thing of beauty, but far too massive to retell here.  The basic idea is that you control a young noble named Ramza as he grows and matures in a world filled with political intrigue, internal power struggles, murder, love, hate and disillusionment and a host of various trials and tribulations. The game made quite an impression on me and I loved every moment of it.

FFT was a wonderful game that combined my love of strategy games with the vibrant and powerful world of Final Fantasy. I became a master at this game, learning how to make the best use of terrain, status effects, character speed, elevation, magic, summons,  and a host of other powerful job skills. It was the first Final Fantasy game that I ever beat entirely by myself and it was my very first game where I broke over 250 hours of game play! (Even though the counter on the save slots stopped at 99hrs’ 99mins’ 99secs’, the in-game counter told a different story.) I rank Final Fantasy Tactics as one of the best Final Fantasy RPGs out there. It is also my favorite PSX game of all time. Final Fantasy 7 is good, but for me, Final Fantasy Tactics is superior. It just doesn’t get much better then this one.

Final Thoughts:

During the late 90s, I had the privilege of hanging out with some of the best gamers that I have ever known. They were dedicated, proficient and amazingly talented. From PCs to consoles, I used to aspire to game more like they did, but I never quite made it.

One of their favorite gaming consoles was the awesome PlayStation 1 and we all put a huge number of hours behind that little grey box. It had such a great lineup of games, it was difficult to come up with just 5 of my favorite titles. Those days were some of the best days of my early gaming life and it is so much fun to remember the “Good ‘Ol Days”. This is just a short list of games, but for me, these are some of the most significant titles I have ever played. I am hoping that the PS4 will continue to provide such wonderful content, but only time will tell.

Thanks for reading,

We’ll see ya soon…

The King’s Field Retrospective: King’s Field Part One (A Brief Introduction)

King's Field

In my humble opinion, the 1990s were a GREAT decade for gaming. We witnessed the birth and the death of some of the most legendary gaming systems: Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, Atari Jaguar and even the vaulted PlayStation 1. It was the heyday of many of our “classic” video games. The 90s gave us Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990 in the U.S.), Super Mario World, Act Raiser, Super Castlevaina 4, Super Metroid, Mega Man X, Final Fantasy 3/6, Star Fox, Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy Tactics, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Golden Eye 64, Doom, Doom II, Command and Conquer, Unreal Tournament, Half Life…the list can go on and on.  In those 10 years, we saw massive changes come to the industry. Games made huge strides in the area of graphics and game design, levels became more intricate and environments began to be fully rendered, 3 dimensional landscapes. It’s safe to say that the 90s blew our collective gaming minds.

However, there is one particular series of games, born out of this gaming renaissance that are often forgotten and overlooked by mainstream gamers. Personally, I always include at least one of them in any list of my all-time favorite games; an obscure, 1st person, action RPG series called King’s Field.

Combining gloomy and foreboding elements of dark fantasy with knights, swords, sorcery, dragons, gods and even demons, King’s Field was an engrossing, multifaceted world with a rich and captivating storyline. It was truly a unique experience and one that forever changed how I played video games.

Created by FROM Software, the King’s Field series was groundbreaking amongst RPGs of the time. Utilizing a first person view and a fully 3 Dimensional environment, the first installment of the series helped to launch the original Japanese PlayStation system, in 1994. King’s Field showcased the system’s rather impressive capabilities and was one of the original launch titles for the new console, but only in Japan. Unfortunately, we in the U.S. would never see the first King’s Field as an official disc based release. This game, which is unofficially referred to as King’s Field Japan, can only be found through fan translated ROMs running on PlayStation emulators. Of course, these are notoriously difficult to get working, but they are the only way to play the original title in English.

In Japan, FROM Software created a total of six King’s Field games, however here in the U.S. we only received the 2nd, 3rd and 4th installments. Since King’s Field Japan gathered a dedicated fan base throughout Japan, it spawned two direct sequels for the original PlayStation, one title on the PlayStation 2 and eventually two titles on the PlayStation Portable. The King’s Field series also helped to create other games such as Eternal Ring, Shadow Tower and even today’s Souls series (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2). I’d consider that a pretty impressive set of credentials wouldn’t you?

Most of the King’s Field games shared common ground with one another. They all used a good deal of the same weaponry, armor, items and magic spells, while pulling from and building upon the same pool of characters and lore. Weapons like the Moonlight Sword or items like Earth Herbs or Antidotes are perfect examples, popping up throughout all of the King’s Field games. Some of these elements even managed to make their way into the current Souls games, giving us King’s Field fans, a much needed sense of nostalgia. Also, the brutal and unforgiving nature of the original King’s Fields have continued right down to the present day, becoming a major selling point for both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. (We’ll explore these two games later on, as I have very strong feelings for both.)

In the King’s Field series, players were left up to their own devices. There was NO hand holding here. If the player was going to survive, THEY had to uncover all the items, weapons, secrets and lore. Since the game’s NPCs gave little help, this was always a challenge. At the start of each game the player was stranded in a strange landscape, with little to no equipment. Which way you went and how you developed your playing style was up to you. That was a freedom of game play that, back then I had yet to experience.

When I first played the American King’s Field, I fell in love with it and I became an instant fan. It was the perfect combination of 3D visuals, creepy and engrossing sound, brutal difficulty, catchy music, underlying fear and a profound sense of anticipation for the huge journey that lay ahead. It set the benchmark for every other action RPG that I played and in my head… few live up to the comparison. Over the next few posts, I plan on diving in and exploring each individual game, as I remember them. I am only going to refer to the American releases to try and limit confusion, but I do plan on eventually doing a separate post to give information on the Japan only titles. Up next, we will take a look back at the American King’s Field, as seen through my eyes and my controller. I hope to see you there.

GentleBen94