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Impressions: Nier: Automata

For months and months, I have been reading praise of Nier: Automata across Reddit and Steam forums with extreme skepticism. How good could this game be, really? So when the game finally hit 50% off on Steam recently, I bought it with an implicit goal of “getting the facts straight.”

Based on 5 hours thus far, I can safely conclude this: it’s pretty damn good.


Looks pretty damn good too.

It’s still extremely early, but part of that goodness is wrapped up in how incredibly bold the game is in its own style. The starting section of the game is you piloting a ship like in an old-school, top-down shooter, including dodging slow-moving energy spheres. Then your ship “goes mobile” and things turn into a twin-stick shooter. Then you finally dismount and start attacking enemies in a 3rd-person action game ala Devil May Cry. But then there is a section where you’re running along a metal walkway, and the camera pulls out so you can face enemies in a side-scrolling style. Minutes later, there’s another section where you do the same thing with the camera directly overhead.

Any particular one of these camera tricks would be a gimmick. But, somehow, doing all of them… works. The expectation is now set that the game style will change to fit the scenario, and I’m either on board with it or I can leave. The game feels… confident, in an unapologetic JRPG kind of way.


Oh, of course.

The unapologetic-ness is really a reoccurring theme, actually. I checked out the forums before I started playing, because I had heard that the game is non-functional without the fan-created FAR mod, which fixes framerate issues. For the record, the game runs perfectly fine for me out of the box. One of the threads mentioned the fact that if you die in the hour-long opening sequence of the game… you have to redo the entire thing all over again. There are no checkpoints, there are no quick saves. As someone who has been playing Dark Souls-esque games lately, this is familiar territory.


OK, yeah, I got it.

That said, by default 2B is equipped with a “plug-in chip” that will automatically consume a potion when damaged below 30% HP, and enemies certainly don’t one-shot you as they can in other games, so it’s not too punishing. Plus, if you change the Difficulty to Easy, you can equip additional chips that will even automatically Dodge attacks for you. I’m actually not quite sure how that works, as I’m playing on Normal, but at least there’s an option.

One thing I did want to mention in this initial post too was the music. Wow. I just got to the second area and there is already music with actual lyrics just playing casually. Running around the ruined city nearby produced a track that heavily reminded me of Xenogears. Which, by the way, was probably the moment I felt myself just relax and settle into my chair, in a sort of metaphysical way.

Plus, you can fish. Androids fishing up mechanical fish in a post-apocalyptic Earth, to sell for cash to buy healing potions. Because Japan. It’s great.

So count me converted on Nier: Automata already. I’m in it for the long run.


Metal Final Gear Fantasy Solid

Has anyone else gotten a chance to watch that latest FF15 gameplay video? You know, this one:

It looks cool as shit… but I’m trying to imagine an alternate scenario in which it was just an untitled mystery video. And there wasn’t that demo released last year. Would anyone have believed it was the next Final Fantasy game?

Or perhaps more to the point: does it even need to be a Final Fantasy game?

I stopped playing the series after FFX-2 – not because of FFX-2, but simply because I transitioned away from console gaming in general – so perhaps it’s a natural evolution post-FF13 or whatever. I seem to remember FF12 having some kind of real-time combat system where characters basically attacked by themselves or something? Never played that one more than a hot minute, myself.

Ah well. We’re getting a FF7 remake, so Square can do what it wants.

More Final Fantasy 7 Remakes

It has been an interesting weekend.

In case you missed it, Sony released a gameplay trailer of the upcoming FF7 Remake:

People are saying that the combat system looks pulled from FF15, but I never played the demo, so I wouldn’t know. What I do know is that it looks a lot more Action and a whole lot less classical Squaresoft. Which is probably to be expected, given how Squaresoft hasn’t been Squaresoft since 2003.

What wasn’t expected, at least not by those without hearts crafted out of solid jade, was this part (emphasis added):

LOS ANGELES (Dec. 6, 2015) – During this past weekend’s PlayStation Experience in San Francisco, SQUARE ENIX® debuted a new trailer for FINAL FANTASY® VII REMAKE, the full remake of the award-winning role-playing game, FINAL FANTASY VII. The new trailer features the first CG scenes as well as gameplay footage. FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE will be told across a multi-part series, with each entry providing its own unique experience.

It’s difficult for me to even know how I feel at this point. A year ago, I said:

In Scenario B, Square Enix remakes FF7’s graphics and then essentially changes the entire game with a new battle system or whatever. I agree that such an outcome would be bad, but that is because the scenario itself is dumb. That is no longer a remake, it is an entirely new game with the same characters. Which at this point I would probably play, but nevermind.

Six months later, I was a gushing fanboy again. Now? I don’t know what to believe.

The explanation that has been given is that in the process of remaking FF7, the game simply became too big for a single title. Which, to an extent, I can see. Part of what blew my mind 18 years ago (…Christ) was when you defeated those Shinra guys during the highway chase and finally reached the outskirts of Midgar. And… the game kept going. Every single thing that you had been doing up to that point – the grandeur of Midgar, the assaults, the Section 7 destruction, Sephiroth, all of it – was just one town on the world map. I fully expected Midgar to be the only city in the game, and thus I can see Square Enix doing something exactly like that in the Remake.

But, man, there are so many different ways to fuck this up.

When they say “episodic,” do they mean dividing the base game up into individual pieces? Some have suggested Disc 1 would be Episode 1, etc, although that makes Disc 3 rather sparse. Or would they go with the scenario I outlined above, and have the first episode take place entirely in Midgar? I could see that happening, but they would have to change quite a bit to make a full game out of it. Or maybe they wouldn’t, and just leave it as a 10-20 hours or whatever. But what do they mean by “each entry providing its own unique experience?” Different viewpoint characters? Will progression be reset inbetween? Doesn’t this imply that sections of the world will be cut off either way?

I dunno. As I mentioned last time around, a rather large part of me is happy that this Remake is a thing in the first place, even if they screw it up royally. Of course, I would actually like this to be amazing. As they say though: “Wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which one fills up faster.”

Still, I want to believe.

The Collector

[Blaugust Day 14]

In a roundabout way, Sony almost pushed me back into a life of piracy with their latest PSN Square-Enix sale. Not sure how long it’s going to last, but some of the games include:

  • Tactics Ogre – $9.99
  • Final Fantasy IX – $4.99
  • Final Fantasy VIII – $4.99
  • Final Fantasy Tactics – $4.99
  • Legend of Mana – $2.99
  • Vagrant Story – $2.99

When I saw this list, my first thought was “gimmie gimmie gimmie.”

My second thought was “What? No, that’s silly. And $10 for Tactics Ogre? Yeah right.” What was pulling on my strings a bit at this point was that all of these games were cross-play with the PSP and Vita. I don’t actually own a Vita, and fully expect the handheld to go under in the next few years or less, but I do own a rather inordinate amount of Vita games by virtue of my PS+ subscription. So despite the fact that I own physical copies of at least three of those games, my inclination was purchase digital copies “for the future.” You know, one in which I move again and don’t need to lug the discs around.

Then I started to think about why I own a PSP and not a Vita in the first place. Then I remembered that post I wrote last year. And then I went to Amazon to reaffirm the insanity:

Abandon all logic, ye who games here.

Abandon all logic, ye who games here.

Yeah, fuck you, Sony.

So there I sat, fuming, fingers ready to raise the black flag out of spite. Seriously guys, Sony’s proprietary bullshit is over five times more expensive than a microSD card! No matter how cheap a deal I could get on a Vita, that memory card would just erase all of the gains by itself. What would the price of one of those be even in a Toys-R-Us fire sale? $40? $30?!


Then I remembered that the last time I touched my PSP was six months ago. And the likelihood of me actually playing those games again are even smaller. If I lived in a city first-world country that actually had a working commuter rail system, things might be different. Alas, I am in the United States, and can’t even settle for a busing system that could get me 10 miles to work in less than 2 hours.

Oh well.

On FF7 Remakes

As you may or may not have heard, Sony trolled their fanbase pretty hard during the Playstation Experience event a little over a week ago. Basically, the big announcement was Final Fantasy 7… being ported to the PS4. No HD remake, no enhanced graphics, just the Steam port. Good job, guys, way to be. If Sony spent half as much time on IT security as it does teasing FF7 fans, perhaps their executives would still have access to email.

One of the articles that popped up on Kotaku amidst the memes though, was basically making the argument that a FF7 remake shouldn’t happen. The argument goes that there are essentially two scenarios, A and B. In Scenario A, Square Enix updates the graphics and leaves everything else alone. This is bad because… the game is so good that we all already played it. No, really:

In other words…we’ve done this all already. Many of us, several times. A remake that overhauled the graphics but kept everything else the same-that’s what most people want. But as we’ve all journeyed through this world many, many times already-and in fact, revisited it through things like Crisis Core, Dirge of Cerberus, and Advent Children, a graphical-but-otherwise-identical remake would initially wow us…but we’d end up feeling empty afterward. Where would the excitement be? Every one of us can recite the story by heart. Every one of us knows how to breed a Gold Chocobo, how to beat Emerald Weapon, and we all have the high score on G-Bike.

So, I ask you: what does a remake really offer? There’s nothing new there.

I find this to be a highly bizarre argument, especially since it seems to apply to all remakes everywhere. You know, like the FFX/FFX-2 HD one. Or any of the earlier FF games.

In Scenario B, Square Enix remakes FF7’s graphics and then essentially changes the entire game with a new battle system or whatever. I agree that such an outcome would be bad, but that is because the scenario itself is dumb. That is no longer a remake, it is an entirely new game with the same characters. Which at this point I would probably play, but nevermind.

In the comments for these sort of articles, there is inevitably one or more individuals who feel to the need to express the sentiment that FF7 is overrated. Perhaps you even share that sentiment. In which case I feel the need to punch you in the face suggest you are objectively wrong. The game came out 17 years ago and it still consistently appears at the top of Most Wanted Remakes surveys in Japan. It has remained the best-selling Final Fantasy game ever released to this day. It was only ever outsold by Gran Turismo on the original Playstation. Just think about that for a minute: the second-most popular game for the entire life of a console system was a JRPG. One that outsold Halo, Resident Evil, GoldenEye, and similar (gaming) cultural touchstones of the era. If that is still considered overrated, I have to ask what you would consider “rated,” e.g. a game that matches its critical reception and/or reputation.

All that being said, I admit there would be issues. I haven’t played the game in decades (!) but I am not sure how an HD version of the Honey Bee Inn sequence and similar goofiness would translate. The general structure of the game means the artists would have to generate entirely new 3D environments pretty much the whole way through. And perhaps archaic mechanics such as random battles and limited save points would start to grate a bit on the newer (or even older) generation of gamers.

Nevertheless, I still feel like it is one of those things that just needs to happen. I don’t sit around believing that it will, but it should.

Review: Tomb Raider

Game: Tomb Raider
Recommended price: $10
Metacritic Score: 86
Completion Time: ~14 hours
Buy If You Like: 3D puzzle platformers, slick Deus Ex-like visuals

When it finally came time to play Tomb Raider, the reboot of a 1997 game, it had been sitting in my Steam library untouched for over a year. I delayed playing this version because I felt as though I might get more out of the experience if I played through some of the original games; I think I got as far as the underwater portion of the very first one, back in the day. Once it became clear that that was not likely to ever happen, I sat down and booted up Tomb Raider.

Holy shit, you guys. This game is slick.

See how even the tutorial message box is inside the screen? Awesome.

See how even the tutorial message box is inside the screen? Awesome.

Although the Eidos Montreal team seems to have only worked on the multiplayer portion, the very first thing I thought of while playing Tomb Raider was “this feels like Deus Ex: Human Revolution.” My gaming rig is starting to get long in the tooth (GTX 560ti), but this is easily the best-looking computer game to ever grace my screen. The whole thing may as well have been an extended cutscene for how good it looks. And not just visually, but conceptually as well – even the UI when camping seems downright cinematic.

After some early exposition, you take control of an inexperienced Lara Croft who very quickly faces some life-and-death situations. While there were some early news articles alleging the game is torture-porn, I felt it did a rather brilliant job at portraying a more “realistic” sense of action. Lara is not the invincible action hero she eventually becomes in the older games – she gets smacked around, thrown by explosions, impaled by rebar, covered in cuts, dirt, and blood. “I hate tombs,” she quips in an early section of the game. While some later scenes clearly get pretty fantastical, I nevertheless remained fully immersed by the utterly reasonable way Lara walked around, hid behind waist-high obstructions, and later became the hardered tomb raider of destiny.

I will say though, that the brutality of failing the numerous quick-time events almost makes you want to fail them on purpose just to see how awful a death the designers scripted in. Spoiler: they’re harsh.

Yeah... ouch.

Yeah… ouch.

In terms of what you actually do while playing, the game is essentially a 3D puzzle platformer with some extended shooting sequences. The game is divided into discrete areas to explore and solve, but the edges are pretty seamlessly integrated into the whole. Indeed, it wasn’t until about the 5th or so cave before I realized that Lara squeezing through a narrow gap and slowing walking with a torch outstretched was basically a playable loading screen. Sure beats all those elevators in Mass Effect. In any case, the puzzles themselves aren’t particularly difficult and Lara will generally talk her way through them the longer you stay stumped in the same area.

It is sort of difficult to coming up with more words to describe what the experience of playing this game is like. I suppose it is exactly that: an experience. Tomb Raider is a 15-hour movie that could have easily been a satisfying 7 or 10 hour one, but goes that little extra mile and I am glad for it. You will not likely be blown away by the dialog or particularly innovative gameplay experience, but you will be having too much fun looking around and doing things to care.

Seriously, guys, it's like this all the time.

Seriously, guys, it’s like this all the time.

I definitely recommend playing Tomb Raider if you get the chance.


In the midterm period inbetween steady access to the internet, I decided now was as good a time as any to actually get around to playing some of the PlayStation games I own but never bothered turn on. My first choice? As the title suggests: Final Fantasy XII.

All I can say is… yikes.

To say that I was a Squaresoft fanboy growing up is an understatement of the decade(s). Indeed, Final Fantasy 7 remains my #2 game of all time – and that is despite having first played FF6 on the SNES when it came out. While the “back to the roots” FF9 nearly derailed my fanboism outright, FFX quickly set things back on the right track. Sadly, when I heard that FFXI was going to be an online-only MMO, I pretty much cut ties with the company; I stayed long enough to pick up FFX-2, but that had the dubious distinction of being the only FF game I ever sold back to a video game shop for store credit (after beating it, of course). Looking back, I think my lack of engagement with the series had more to do with college and life changes than feelings of “betrayal,” but regardless FFX-2 was the last FF game I played.

Now, I’m not saying anything necessarily about the gameplay of FFXII. To be honest, in the 30 minutes I’ve been “playing” I haven’t seen all that much of it. And if I recall correctly, FFXII was widely criticized as being non-interactive. But a more pressing concern right now is how awful the game looks on my TV. The default view is double-letterboxed such that it easily loses 15″ off the TV screen. And even then the pixelation is horrendous.

I technically bought FF7 on a Steam sale a while back (because, you know, FF7) and it’s entirely possible I will encounter similar graphical issues. But to an extent I almost see this as an existential threat to older games. Or, rather, older games that were straddling the cutting-edge for their time. Things that seemed ground-breaking for its time in comparison to more sprite-based games have looped around into barely-playable nonsense graphics in less than 10 years.

It kinda makes you wonder though, whether or not this will be a recurring issue as time goes by or if it was a specific moment in computer graphics history. Personally, I’m leaning towards the latter. After all, the original Crysis has held up exceptionally well and even the original Far Cry wasn’t that bad. But have you tried playing KotOR lately? I muscled through that a few years ago, and it left me sore with the effort. It wasn’t even the graphics really, but little things like not being able to pan the camera upwards. It’s Star Wars and you got huge alien cities and you can’t look much farther than the main character’s low-polygon ass.

Maybe Too Much Verisimilitude

So, I guess the devs from FFXIV just released the prices for in-game housing and no one is happy. The pushback from the devs was phrased this way from Massively:

Yoshida said that the high cost in intended to prevent wealthy players from snapping up all of the plots and that all players will be earning more money with patch 2.1. “I understand that, in taking these measures to ensure even distribution of land, we are asking for considerable patience from those players who are eager to enjoy housing right away,” he said. “While I sympathize with players concerns, we believe that this is in the best long-term interests of the game.”

In other words, the concern was that the wealthy players would go around and snatch up all the land before the average player/guild could do so, Monopoly-style. Considering that the housing area is already going to be instanced away from the game world, which is itself already segregated into identical servers, this seems like an Extraordinarily Dumb Problem to Have.

In fairness, I have never thought that “in the world” player housing was ever a good idea, in any game. I’m sure that it “worked” (for very narrow definitions of the word) in various games, but the whole thing strikes me as a kind of bizarre pyramid scheme. What’s the content? Where’s the gameplay? If you are first in line, congratulations, you have an exclusive advantage on into perpetuity and everyone behind you is screwed all in the name of… what? Some vague sense of permanent ownership in a virtual world? Don’t get me wrong, I fully support player housing in general. I just don’t see the point in finite plots of land in a game ostensibly being played by hundreds of thousands of players. This sort of nonsense is why I never got into playing multiplayer Minecraft – where is the fun in traveling to the shit ends of the world because all the prime real estate is taken?

But hey, Square Enix, good job with that heavy, capitalistic dose of realism in your escapist fantasy MMO. Maybe you could add some adjustable-rate mortgages in the next patch, or just allow the rich players to become landlords and rent out property.