Tag Archives: Square Enix

Best of 2013 #4: Tomb Raider

Tomb RaiderPossibly my surprise of the year. What a hopeless PR campaign led me to suspect would be a QTE-laden Uncharted knock-off instead was a thoroughly enjoyable open-world adventure that I felt, in its platforming and exploration, actually outdid its inspiration. But I was right about it being QTE-laden.

It’s funny because the talk before launch was about its narrative ambitions, and that part of the game turned out to be complete guff. Bland stereotypes posing as characters and a big helping of that good old ludonarrative dissonance weren’t enough to overcome some cool enemies and interesting setting. The mix of angry pirates, supernatural Japanese cults and World War II infrastructure had great potential but ultimately was little more than a fun place to climb around.

But I’m always inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to disappointing storytelling when it’s supporting solid gameplay – otherwise you might as well just watch a movie – and I loved the time spent with this new Lara Croft. Exploration, hunting, combat and the Metroidvania-style push to return to past areas with new abilities were superbly designed, and that was enough for me.

Best of 2013 #10: Bravely Default

Bravely DefaultA lot’s been written about how JRPGs in general and Final Fantasy in particular have gone off the rails in recent years, but it frequently seems to escape the notice of such editorials that portable RPGs have thrived. While Final Fantasy stuttered on consoles, minor classics like Radiant Historia, The World Ends With You, Jeanne D’Arc and innumerable Shin Megami Tensei games have shone on the last two handheld generations. Dragon Quest saw where the action was, and now Final Fantasy does. Kind of.

Square Enix got cold feet, instead making this the spiritual successor to a minor Final Fantasy spin-off, but it doesn’t take long to see where its roots lie. Familiar enemies, items and tropes show up in a world that blends Final Fantasy IX – an easy way into my heart – with the style of the DS Final Fantasy remakes.

Some late subversion of various RPG stereotypes aside, it’s disappointingly conservative – more old-fashioned than nostalgic. But as a fan of classic JRPGs, I had a great time with it. It makes some clever use of StreetPass; it’s beautiful, making subtle use of 3D to add depth to its watercolour environments; and the return of the job system is welcome, since it’s one of my favourite character development systems that got left by the wayside for some reason.

JRPGs as big budget entertainment burned brightly but lasted only two generations. The likes of this show where the real talent has gone.

Best of 2012 #7: Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping DogsChalk this up as the year’s biggest surprise, for sure. A troubled development and ambitious designs on a genre that few developers are talented enough to pull off rarely equals anything worth shouting about, and I don’t think any tears were shed when it was dropped by Activision and looked to be destined for a life spent filling retrospective articles about what might have been.

Frankly it would have been a surprise if Sleeping Dogs had come out at all, so the fact that it appeared and was as good as it turned out was shocking. It also subverted the received wisdom that urban crime games have to be set in the US to be a success, topping charts around the world.

It deserved it too. It was polished, the city made a nice change from New York or LA again, and both the hand-to-hand combat and gunplay took a dump on GTA’s routinely flaky equivalents. Really, if GTA comes out and is content to recycle the mediocre-at-best shooting of previous instalments – and there’s no excuse considering that its immediate predecessor in the Rockstar oeuvre is Max Payne 3 – it’ll deserve every negative comparison to Sleeping Dogs it gets.

United Front’s invention and love of genre film is continuing with the DLC – Asian horror and classic kung fu respectively – and hopefully this series will continue where its original home, Activision’s True Crime, looks to be left to die. There’s a joke in there about exploitation cinema somewhere.

Best of 2012 #8: Hitman: Absolution

Hitman: AbsolutionFor its failures as a Hitman game, Absolution still tickled me as a stealth game. Splinter Cell – one of my favourite franchises of last generation – has made a habit of disappointing fans with ill-advised re-imaginings, Metal Gear hasn’t been about the stealth for a while now, and the late 90s fad for the genre had faded, leaving stealth fans as high and dry as hardcore Hitman fans must be now.

I wouldn’t class myself as one of them, having only played the superb Blood Money, so perhaps I was detached enough to enjoy Absolution for what it was rather than what I wanted it to be. It nailed the compulsive pursuit or perfection that I loved from classic Splinter Cell and threw in a handful – but only a handful – of the murder puzzles of previous Hitman games.

Credit is deserved as well for going against the disappointing trend of six-hour single-player campaigns with no replay value. Over 20 hours first time through is practically unheard of these days, and this genuinely does boast multiple solutions that are worth experiencing for the wealth of Easter eggs and humorous conversations to overhear. And you don’t even have to pay for DLC to get it all. Bravo, IO.

Even so, let’s have a proper Hitman game next time, though, eh?

Hitman: Absolution

I adored Hitman: Blood Money. That it took this long to get a follow-up when the series hit so frequently last generation has made the wait almost painful, and the occasionally mismanaged PR campaign that only recently actually, you know, started showing something resembling Hitman, has sometimes twisted the knife.

Now that I’ve finished it, I can say that it’s not a very good Hitman game.

Hitman: Absolution

That said, it’s still an excellent game. In a generation when two other previously prolific stealth series, Metal Gear and Splinter Cell, have been frustratingly quiet, this is one of the best examples of that genre in ages.

In response to criticism that Absolution didn’t look like Hitman, IO released demos of two levels: King of Chinatown and Streets of Hope. These raised expectations because they genuinely looked like proper Hitman, and when you play them you’ll see that they are. You have targets, a small area to run around in, and countless ways to improvise murders – the archetypical ‘murder puzzle’ that have enraptured so many fans. They’re brilliant.

However, they also pretty much represent half of the traditional Hitman levels in the whole game. Every other one has you being hunted by police, mercenaries or, yes, sexy nuns. Some don’t involve killing at all unless you’re playing it wrong. One starts off with you having free run of the level and having to find creative ways into a restricted area – so far, so good – after which you’ll have to sneak your way around crowds of corrupt police before mercenaries arrive and you spend the rest of the sequence fighting or avoiding them.

The way certain enemies can see through them leads to ludicrous spells of spinning on the spot to break line of sight from all directions. On one level, enemy mercenaries will see through your armour with a full face mask unless you burn instinct to blend in, but in another you can nick the clothes of the defendant in court and impersonate him, with the police, judge and clerks oblivious to the fact that a guy who they’re evidently familiar with completely changed appearance in the five-minute toilet break. Being kitted out like one of hundreds of mercenaries will be seen through as soon as you run out of instinct, but dressing as a scarecrow and hanging yourself from a cross is an apparently impenetrable ruse. It’s frustratingly inconsistent.

But like I said, it’s a great stealth game, and if that sounds appealing you’ll have a great time. After all, if your objective is to hide from enemies and disguises are reduced to a last resort, it ceases to be much of a problem. IO also deserves credit in this time of £40 six-hour epics for crafting a game with a huge amount of content, with a campaign that took me over 20 hours on hard, a ton of levels, ridiculous quantities of Easter eggs and incidental dialogue that are frequently genuinely funny, and all without even touching the promising Contracts mode. A meaty single-player game without shoehorned-in multiplayer? Whatever next?

I just hope that now that IO has the need to tell this story out of its system, the next one will be content to plonk Agent 47 in an interesting situation and tell him who to kill.

Revisiting Chrono Trigger

Being neither a new game nor a new port, Chrono Trigger for the DS may be an odd one to talk about, but when I found myself plumbing my backlog for a fix when my 360 popped its clogs a while back, this is one of the unplayed gems that I found myself returning to, even after the big black monster was back.

I adore Chrono Trigger, and have ever since I first played it when it remained the holy grail of what a UK gamer could find only on the import ‘grey market’. Indeed, the DS version, released 14 years after its original release, was the first time it was actually available in PAL territories without braving inflated eBay prices or less legal routes.

Chrono Trigger

I’ve owned and played all three versions, but I’ve never actually finished the game, which made it an even easier choice. Classic RPGs and portable systems just go together in my book – this complementary relationship was how I finally got the Final Fantasy VII monkey off my back – so if I was ever going to do it, this would be it. Throw in the fact that this is the best version of the game – the largely issue-free SNES version lacked the extras and animated scenes of the PSX, while that one suffered from unforgivable slowdown and crippling load times for a SNES port, and this one takes the best from both – and I was set to be a happy, mildly obsessed chap.

First, though, that new translation, because it’s probably the most contentious change. Cleaning up old translations generally gets the thumbs up from me because, let’s face it, most translation work from the 16-bit days could, at best, be described as ‘charming’, but it’s hard to ignore one particular tweak in this one. Some of the changes make sense, like ‘Antiquity’ is a better and more fitting name for the ancient magical realm than ‘Dark Ages’, and taking advantage of the fact that names no longer have to be limited by cartridge space is a no-brainer, but did they really have to drop Frog’s Shakespearean ‘ye olde’ dialect?

Cheesy it may have been, but it was cute and fit the character, and I think it’s a good reason – this is the other reason – why Frog is such a fondly remembered character. Even if it wasn’t in the original Japanese, there are other quirks that didn’t make it in, so staying true to the original wasn’t top of the agenda. It’s no big deal and Frog is still a great character, but he’s lost something.

That’s really my only complaint, though. In short, Chrono Trigger is still one of the best RPGs ever made. It has it all: timelessly beautiful art; a great, multilayered story; memorable characters; a classic – in many ways – soundtrack; no random battles; tons of totally optional side quests that add to the characters… Hell, it popularised if not invented the New Game+ concept and had 14 different endings when most games could barely manage one. They really don’t make them like this any more.

And that’s another unfinished classic RPG off my list. Next stop: Persona 4… maybe.