Category Archives: Video Game Reviews

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016) Video Game Review

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Right, we’re now on the last game of the Nathan Drake series known as Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End.  What is entailed when it’s called a thief’s end?  So much is left up for interpretation.  But that’s for you to witness.  So here we go.

Our story starts with Nathan Drake on a boat in the middle of the ocean with another man by the name of Sam.  The sea is incredibly rough due to a huge storm, and they are being chased by a huge militia.  Their boat is basically destroyed.  Several flashbacks happen to provide us with some more backstory to Nathan, including his time at the Catholic Orphanage and his time in prison in the late 90s.  We then see where Nate is, several years after the events of Uncharted 3 – He’s now retired from adventure and living an honest life working as a diver for a Marine Salvaging company.  He’s back with Elena, and their life is nice…but a bit boring for them.  However a job offered to Nathan in Malaysia seems to provide him with some excitement…His life then changes when Sam – his older brother, whom he thought dead, has returned with a request. He broke out of jail with the help of a ruthless man, who wants a huge payout from Sam in exchange for his life, through treasure.  The treasure?  Henry Avery’s $400 million fortune from the 1695 gun heist – a huge stash that has allured the brother since they were teenagers.  Reluctant at first, then giving into temptation – Nathan lies to Elena, saying he is taking the job in Malaysia – and with the help of Sully, they head to Italy to retrieve their first clue – the St Dismas Cross (a wooden idol of the thief to whom Jesus Christ said “On this day you’ll be with me in paradise”).

Now to venture into the details:

The graphics…The graphics are absolutely amazing, as it not only surpassed what The Last Of Us had accomplished, but it managed to be easily 1 of the best looking games on the PS4.  Much like the original trilogy was on the PS3 (before it was remastered on the PS4), it flows at the cinematic frame rate of 30 frames per second (The trilogy flows at 60FPS on the PS4) which provides a nice touch…and when you consider the size and detail of the game…maybe it’s for the best at this time, unless the Playstation 5 offered a 60 frames version.

The art style is absolutely inspired!  So much variety in the scenery, so much to look at.  A truly organic looking game.  I really went all out with the game’s Photo Mode.  Adoring everything that was presented to me, and almost wishing it was real.

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This view…

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This inside joke…

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This mood…

The gameplay…if you didn’t think they could have upped the gameplay from Uncharted 2, you’re in for a surprise.  Along with Nate’s melee attacks being improved yet again, We’re also given new ways of attacking and getting around.  You now have the option of driving, whether it be by boat or by jeep (rather than just being the gunman all the time), the ability to take out hordes of soldiers using only stealth (much like Metal Gear games), and of course…the grappling hook.  Which adds more to the puzzle aspects of the exploration.  I had an incredible amount of fun with this, and didn’t feel any boredom from it.

The music for the first time in the series’ history is not done by Greg Edmundson, but rather Henry Jackman, whose CV includes Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Big Hero 6 and both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War.  To be very clear, this doesn’t stop the game from having a highly memorable score in its own right.  By not having its original theme song, it instantly suggests a change in direction or simply something new…and that something new is from being played on the next generation system.

Uncharted 4 has a bittersweetness to it when you consider that Amy Hennig, the Director and 1 of the 3 writers of the original trilogy, wasn’t involved in this game.  However, despite her absence, the story is excellent.  Really excellent in fact.  If you’ve journeyed with these characters before, then you’ll notice that this is the series’ storytelling at its most advance and well polished.  While The Golden Abyss was full of one-upmanship in dialogue – Uncharted 4 managed to make this game absolutely hilarious.  The banter between all of them, not just Nate, Sully and Sam, is fantastic.  It remembers the importance of fun, but at the same time it manages to avoid some cliches.  This game is also where you see Nate and Elena’s relationship at its most mature, as it is here we see Elena’s greatest acceptance of who Nate is and what he does, as well as Nate’s feeling that he really has something to lose.  The main villains, Rafe Adler and Nadine Ross, would in their own right be pretty scary.  Rafe is a smirking, selfish, millionaire psychopath who reminds me of pro wrestler Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, while Nadine, a paramilitary leader, is more or less a South African Melina May – You don’t get into a fist fight with her.

Would I recommend Uncharted 4?  Yes – if you’re a human being.  Uncharted 4 took what made every instalment before it great, and created what is likely the best possible outcome.  It’s refined, yet with more to see and do.  It’s possibly 1 of the funniest games I’ve ever played.  So full of life and intrigue.  If this is the last time we ever play as Nathan Drake, I don’t mind, because it might never be topped.  An absolute pleasure of a video game.

Graphics: *****

Art Style: *****

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: *****

Story: *****

Music: *****

Gameplay: *****

Overall: *****

Syberia 2 (2004/2015) Video Game Review

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We return to Syberia!  Or lets just say, our journey towards the title land continues.  If you haven’t played Syberia 1 yet, then don’t read this, as I’ll probably be spoiling some of the previous instalment.  To commemorate the recent release of Syberia 3 after 13 years of waiting, here is Syberia 2.

We begin our journey right where we left off in Syberia 1 – After deciding she wanted to help Hans Vorelberg find Syberia Island, rather than give Hans’ signed contract to pass the deed of the automaton factory to another toy company through her bosses in New York – Kate Walker continues her journey at the cost of going home to her family, friends and work.  Meanwhile, Kate’s Law Firm has sent Private Detective Nick Cantin to search for Kate and bring her home.  The Automaton Train makes a last stop in the last piece of civilisation in the area, Romansbourg.  A very small town that’s divided in 2 – On top is the higher level, for those who look down on everyone, and on the ground floor is everybody else.  Those who live in the higher levels include the Station Master and the monks in the monastery.  On the ground floor are civilians trying to get by…even to the point of craftiness and selfishness.  With Hans’ health being an issue and Oscar showing more humanity despite telling everyone he’s only designed for a particular purpose, Kate does all she can to make it to the end of the journey, and not only see if Syberia is real, but if Mammoths actually exist…Because what adventure doesn’t have hiccups?

Now to discuss details:

The art style is as good as ever, and some adjustments have been made here and there.  The grainy but quirky backdrops have been replaced with a smoother, more painterly style.  However there is a lot more snow in this game compared to last time, so that could be easily done.  The character designs and the towns are very interesting and full of life, despite how little time some of them have on screen.

The graphics are roughly the same as before – occasionally better and occasionally worse.  Much like Syberia 1 it’s very rough around the edges and clunky, with fixed backgrounds.  Occasionally it snows and there are more character animations.  But 1 or 2 animations are…not great.  One in particular comes from Kate walking up to the Monastery – There’s a bird that flies away in our direction when Kate comes into scene.  It’s a great idea.  But if Kate is running, she will actually overlap the bird!…It was never destined to look like a Naughty Dog game, even in 2004.  But rather it’s a platform for some great imagination, art and storytelling.

The gameplay animation, believe it or not, is a little worse.  This was never a strong point in the series, but dear goodness it didn’t do well here.

The cutscene animation is an improvement, with some very nicely presented cut scenes, including the Cabaret Scene, the Escape and the screen were Kate basically flies.  For 2004, they were nicely done and occasionally reminding me of Final Fantasy 8 and 9 cutscenes for the PS1 (which were designed as PS2 graphics prototype presentations).

The gameplay is around the same.  Excellent puzzles, much exploration and some tight spots that could occasionally make you feel lost.  My advice is to go everywhere and touch everything..and use your head.

The Voice Acting, depending on whether you’re playing this in english or not, is slightly worse, despite how cartoony they’re meant to be with some characters being particularly annoying.  Kate and Oscar are fine, but the ‘villains’ are a bit weird…as are the Youkol (yes, you finally meet the Youkol mentioned in Syberia 1)

The Characters serve a greater range, and even have a more long-term villain to act as a Maguffin for Kate.  I like that both Kate and Oscar are developed more, with Kate being more sarcastic and annoyed than before, as well as Oscar…I guess everyone gets to that point while on an adventure.

The story maintains the same feel as the original, but it’s also a different story altogether.  Before it was about searching for Hans Voralberg and now it’s about getting Hans to Syberia.  The roles of the train, Ivory Dealers, Bear, the Chasing Detective and Hans’ health also add a nice sense of urgency to the journey.

The music is by a different composer this time – instead of being by Dimitri Bodiansky and Nicolas Varley, it’s by Israeli-American Inon Zur.  It maintains the same charm and character as the previous chapter, but at the same time the influences used make it clear that you’re no longer in Europe and very much in Russia from here on out.  It borrows a bit from traditional Russian music, as well as Eastern Orthodoxy chants and Tribal music.  There is also a part of the game where the theme reminded me of Edward Scissorhands…which was interesting.

Would I recommend Syberia 2?  Yes I would.  It’s roughly as good as the first 1 and is a continuation of the story for those who want to know what happened after last time.  If you became a fan of the series through the first 1, then you’ll be happy to know you’re not going to be disappointed with this 1, all while maintaining its charm and good points.

Art Style: *****

Graphics: **1/2 (****1/4 in 2002)

Gameplay Animation: *1/4

Cutscene animation: ****1/4

Gameplay: ****

Voice Acting: ***3/4

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****1/2

Overall: ***3/4 (2017) **** (2004)

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (2011) Video Game Review

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We’re nearing an end here people…This is the second last Uncharted game that I’ll be covering for a while.  After this, it will be Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and when Uncharted: The Lost Legacy becomes available…well, you know the gist of it.

Released about a month or 2 after Uncharted 3 came out on the PS3, The Golden Abyss was 1 of the first games for the Playstation Vita, and 1 that stood out for utilising the Vita’s unique controls.  What’s our story?  Well, it’s a prequel to Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.  Before Nathan ever met Elena, Chloe, Charlie, Eddy Raja or Harry Flynn (or so it seems), he knew Jason Dante, a smart-mouth used-car salesman archetype who happens to be pretty rich and capable of hiring an army as part of his work as an explorer (He also reminds me of the actor Saverio Guerra).  The other is Marisa Chase, who happens to be Dante’s partner, but who also doesn’t trust him.  The game is set in some old ruins in Panama, where Chase is trying to retrace her Grandfather’s steps.  Her grandfather, Vincent Perez, had found an amulet that was connected to the site and could lead to treasure.  However it becomes clear that Dante was doing more than he let on, as he reveals his partner isn’t Chase, but rather the paranoid, power-hungry warlord known as Roberto Guerro.

Now to discuss what parts are golden and what are of the abyss…or somewhere in between:

First of all, the graphics.  This game is the definition of what it means to play a PS3 on a handheld console.  It is very, very impressive, even to this day.  We’ve come a long way from Game Boy Color.

The art style could be best determined as this:  This is a Handheld game, therefore to save space, it is sometimes better if you have less to look at.  In this case, it comes with the visual variety.  Part of the appeal to Uncharted games is that the setting and backgrounds are constantly changing, with many numerous scenarios that could act as “levels” (or Chapters).  We would be given the insides of houses, museums, city streets, ancient ruins, mansions, beaches, mountains, jungles, trains, airports, undergrounds, rain, snow, shine, day and night, from seemingly all over the globe, and they make each game very different due to the chosen locations.  What makes The Golden Abyss different to the rest of the series in this area is the fact that you get the jungle, ruins, rivers, the inside of storehouses, small villages, caves, and cutscenes of Chases’ museum-like home…and that’s it.  The other games are a wild goose chase around the globe, and feel as such.  Here, our characters know that any treasure they’re looking for is in this area, but it’s a matter of ‘where, right here’.  Some could even argue that this feels like it begins in the middle of an Uncharted game, but the fact that the 1st half or so is a flashback will say otherwise.  Is it still a pretty game?  Yes, and it looks fantastic on handheld.  But the lack of things to see  when compared to the rest of the series could make the game feel a bit long.

The characters in general are at least as good, if not better, than Uncharted 1.  But it’s not in league with 2, 3 and 4.  It’s nice to see more of Drake and Sully, but this feels like a filler episode for these characters.  If 1, 2 and 3 (and 4) were their big, big adventures, then this was 1 of their more typical heists.  Nathan and Sully’s banter was the highlight of the game’s dialogue.  Jason Dante is a good “pest/asshole villain” in the sense that you wouldn’t mind shutting him up and dislike his decision to wear endangered species on his feet.  Chase isn’t a bad female lead, and is very different to Elena and Chloe in the sense that what she is involved in is literally out of her league – Unlike Elena and Chloe, she has little experience in fighting, and is very much book-smart.  She can even come across as a bit naive and a daydreamer – at times walking the thin line of confident and stupid…Which can be argued as a quality of Nate – but Nate is a professional in the other necessary qualities.  Guerro is your typical paranoid, power hungry maniac who would be a dictator in a corrupt government on some island south of Florida or India who would plaster his image on every street corner, and fit in well as El Presidente in the Tropico game series.  Not much else to say about him.

The voice acting, despite the lack of pauses in dialogue, is actually very good.  The writer could be seen as to blame more so than the actors, but they went with what they were given and did very well with it.

The story is good, but at the same time an element of it feels…like fan fiction.  Amy Hennig, 1 of the 3 original writers, was the story consultant, but it was actually written by John Garvin, who is also the director of the game.  Nate and Sully are about 70-80% accurate when compared to the trilogy, and while banter plays a role in the series as a whole (aiding in the enjoyment factor), the banter in this game feels…forced.  Yes there’s sarcasm, tall tales, locker room jabs and deprecating humour, but here it felt like it was being thrown as fast as possible against a wall.  In ‘Fortune, ‘Thieves, ‘Deception (and ‘End…finished it recently), there is a delicate balance between the narrative dialogue and the character-developing chit-chat, but here the chit-chat is…fast…very fast.  There are few pauses in between lines and if their minds matched their mouths, they’re thinking as sharply as Doctors and improv comedians.  It doesn’t have the same weight as the main series in terms of danger, highs and lows.  But it’s a decent side-episode that follows (most) of the usual formula…minus the round-the-world chase.

The music is once again by Greg Edmundson, and most of it is recycled from the trilogy.  It’s still fantastic though.

The gameplay is good, and likes to utilise the various characteristics that the Vita brings, including the ability to either tap your jump by pressing your finger on the screen at where you want to go, or by simply using the analogue stick.  You’re also given the mini-games that include cleaning dirt off items by rotating it with the back of the vita and cleaning it by rubbing the Vita’s screen with your finger, as well as creating charcoal rubbings of the stone patterns.  You also have to swipe your finger across the screen in the right direction as part of a sequence in order to perform a successful melee attack.  Outside of simply exploring the areas and fighting the traditional way, much of these gameplay qualities come across as very gimmicky, and not necessary.

Would I recommend Uncharted: Golden Abyss?  Yes – but I don’t recommend it in the same way I would recommend the Uncharted trilogy.  Is it a good reason to get a Playstation Vita?  It’s 1 good reason – but Gravity Rush, Persona 4 Golden and several digital PSP games would make it much more worthwhile.  Is it a necessary part of the Uncharted Series?  I don’t think so.  But is it a good instalment to the Uncharted series for those who can’t get enough Uncharted?  Yes.

Graphics: ***** (For the Vita, **** in general)

Art Style: ****

Characters: ***1/4

Voice Acting: ****1/4

Gameplay: ***3/4

Story: ***

Music: *****

Overall: ****

Syberia (2002) Video Game Review

 

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In April 2017 (as of this review), after 13 years of waiting and 8 years of development hell, fans of the series finally get the third chapter to this story, and to celebrate 15 years since the release of the first chapter of the series on PC, I’ll be reviewing Syberia.

Created by Belgian comic book artist Benoit Sokal, Our story is set in the early months of 2002 and revolves around a young woman named Kate Walker.  Kate is a Lawyer from New York who is on a business trip to Valadilene, a remote village in the French Alps that’s best known for its Spring-Automaton Factory (as well as the frequent use of Automatons in the everyday life of the residents).  On the day that Kate arrives, the funeral of Anna Voralberg, the owner of the Automaton factory, was taking place.  As of her demise, a Toy Factory in America wants to buy the Voralberg business, which is why Kate is there – to try and get a signature, go home to her fiancé, Dan, and get a good pay day out of it.  However…not all is as it seemed.  It is then revealed in one of Anna’s last confessions that her younger brother, Hans Voralberg, who supposedly died decades ago, is in fact alive, well and far away, and is officially the sole heir of the factory.  Now the goal has gotten enormous – Kate must find Hans – a man whose father was ashamed of because of mental disability (from a fall that gave him a permanent mental outlook of a 12 year old)…but is also the man who invented incredible automatons everywhere he went and expressed his fetish for Mammoths on top of that.  This leads to Kate boarding what was Anna’s Automaton train (which Hans invented), and along with the Automaton Train Engineer, Oscar (Also a Hans invention), she travels east, possibly in the direction of Siberia, and stops along the way when she has to wind the train up again and gather clues of his whereabouts.

Now to discuss the various bits and pieces:

First of all, the Art Style of Syberia, and the imagination that went into it, is by far the show stealer of the entire game!  I absolutely adore this game’s world and its visuals.  Consider this; Steam Punk mixed with Art Nouveau!  It’s like a match made in heaven, and I love it!  I love the fancy, curved building styles, I love the University that has Dinosaur and Ice Age displays in their halls and a full blown Botanic garden as part of the train station.  I love the creepiness of the antagonist figure’s lair, as you can sense both the madness and loneliness of this individual.  I love the Spa Resort and its intense isolation…There isn’t a visually dull moment in this entire game

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Look at that office!

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And this entrance!

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And these houses!

The Graphics were good for their day, with Kate and Oscar being the best looking character sprites.  But today we see just how rough around the edges it is.  The characters still have their visual quirks present, but at time you’ll be reminded of Sprites that came out during the later PS1 period, more specifically, Final Fantasy VIII comes to mind in terms of occasional visual quality.  When compared to Deadly Premonition, at times, you might even suggest that they are on par in places…and those are 2 games that came out 8 years apart.

The Animation can be divided into 2 parts, the cutscenes and the in-game; the cutscene animation was really good for what was possible in 2002, and while it looks like a PS1 cutscene today, the actual visuals it presents are still mesmerising.  The gameplay animation on the other hand left a lot to be desired and is incredibly clunky, especially on the console version.  I wouldn’t call it laziness, it’s simply a lesser emphasis or a buffering transition, much like the charming but choppy Sherlock Holmes games that frogware are still making.

The Gameplay follows the formula of the Broken Sword series, and its quality sometimes depends on what platform you’re using.  As a point and click adventure game on the PC/Mac, it’s a pleasure.  But on a console level, you’ll find yourself running into a lot of invisible walls and tread-milling against furniture.  On top of this, I’ve experienced an interesting difficulty spike – 1 were out of the 4 areas you explore, the second 1 is by far the most difficult because the area comes across as so vast and you’re backtracking so much between different parts of the level.  But at the same time, it’s possible that by levels 3 and 4, the learning curve levels out a bit as you get good at the game and the unusual demands of some characters become a normal part of progress.

The Voice Acting is 2 or 3 parts good and 1 part bad.  Kate Walker, Oscar, the phone call characters, and some of the more memorable characters were well done.  The only complaint that could be made was the transitioning of the dialogue.  Other than that, it was great.  The worst voice acting?  Definitely the NPCs in the Barrockstadt.  The best is Kate herself.

The Characters could come straight out of a Jean Pierre Jeunet, Terry Gilliam or Wes Anderson film.  They’re incredibly quirky and “delightfully french”…or maybe delightfully Belgian if we’re treating Sokal like he’s Hercule Poirot.  Kate herself is a likeable character, and as the story progresses she becomes more and more sarcastic and accepting of the absurdity of her adventure.  Oscar has his C3PO moments, and part of the humour between him and Kate comes from him indicating that he isn’t designed for anything other than what he’s designed to do..and has moments of double standards.  Their relationship is very like Captain Kirk and Spock in Star Trek, which adds a nice touch.  It’s also intriguing how Kate grows while so far away from home.  Just by the phone calls from her fiancé, her co-worker, her boss and her mother, you learn a lot about her – and as it all progresses, you notice the dilemma she’s experiencing.  This 1 job is costing her home life, her relationships, and she might get fired, and at the same time she is experiencing an adventure that she didn’t think would be possible when she arrived in France…it’s pretty well executed.

The Story is that of the quest – Kate is searching for Hans after finding out that he’s alive, and is doing everything she can to finish her job (her skills as a lawyer make her a strong persuader and negotiator), which also leads her on a journey of personal discovery and development.  Throughout the trip, she experiences sacrifice – mostly in the form of her home life back in New York.  It brings up the question of whether you should take the personal decisions and accept the risks, or go through the motions of what others expect you to do (in this case, all the time).

The Music is wonderful, and memorable, and capable of setting the scene while having a whimsical aura about it.  I’m even listening to it now as I write this.

Would I recommend Syberia?…Yup!  It has its flaws, and it has aged in several different areas.  But there are other areas that make for a timeless experience, and since it’s set in 2002, we can argue that it’s more of a period piece that mixes realism with surrealism.  Highly recommended if you want something different, and also recommended if you want a very good adventure game.  Syberia 2 is proving to be as interesting and fun, so you’ll hear more about that soon.  So, if you have a PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS2, Xbox, Mac or Nintendo DS…consider a look.

Art Style: *****

Graphics: **1/2 (****1/4 in 2002)

Gameplay Animation: *1/2

Cutscene animation: ****

Gameplay: ****

Voice Acting: ****

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****1/2

Overall: ***3/4 (2017) **** (2002)

Final Fantasy XV (2016) Video Game Review

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About 10 years…that’s how long this game was in development.  In the entertainment industry, they would tell you that a game like this was in Development Hell – meaning it has taken so long that the game doesn’t look like it will see a release.  Duke Nukem Forever had it, Persona 5 and Syberia 3 are on their way to leaving it behind in April, and Kingdom Hearts 3 still has it to this day (12 years after ‘2 came out).  It was originally going to be called Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a game that would be released as a spin-off to Final Fantasy XIII, which came out worldwide in 2010 – but it got pushed back…then ‘XIII had 2 sequels, a remake of Type-0, and the MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV, pushing this project back even further.  Then on the 30th of November in 2016, this game was sent out into the world, with me acquiring the Day One Edition and almost immediately buying the Season Pass to go with it…And now to ask the question; Was it worth waiting 10 years for this?

Set in the world of Eos, our story revolves around Noctis Lucis Caelum (whose name means Night Light Heaven in Latin), the 20 year old crown prince of Lucis, as well as 3 men who are his best friends – His guardian, the large, built, and charismatic Gladiolus “Gladio” Amicitia (Surname is Latin for Friendship), who is also a skilled outdoorsman with an impressive mullet.  His advisor, the serious, dry-humoured and highly educated military-tactician-for-when-you-need-one,  Ignis “Iggy” Scientia (latin for Fire Science), who is also the group’s main driver and their chef.  And lastly, Prompto Argentum (Latin for Quicksilver), Noctis’ best friend in high school, and the guy who is photographing everything and everybody.  At the beginning of the game, Noctis is going on a road trip.  One that allows him to see the world outside the Crown City, Insomnia, before he finally boards a boat to the floating city of Altissia (Latin for Highest) in the continent of Accordo (Accord in latin) to marry Lunafreya “Luna” Nox Flueret (Moon Night Foil?…hmmmm), an Oracle, the princess of Tenebrae in Niflheim, and Noctis’ childhood friend, in an arranged marriage designed to unite both the free continent of Lucis and the Imperial-continent of Niflheim.  All looks like sunshine, rainbows, and Top Gear/Grand Tour style situation comedy…until the 4 young men receive the news while waiting for the boat to Altissia…During a peace treaty meeting between Niflheim and Lucis – Niflheim attacked.  King Regis (literally “King King”), Noctis’ father, was killed, the crystal that protected the city from enemies was stolen, and the crown city was taken over by the imperials.  With the help of his party, as well as family and friends who managed to escape the city – Noctis goes on a pilgrimage to the tombs of ancient Lucian monarchs, to receive the royal arms – a collection of spiritual weapons that only the kings of Lucis can use.  And with them, reclaim the crystal and what is now officially his throne and his empire.

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Now to write about the various slices that make a whole:

The game offers voice acting in English, French, German and Japanese (I played in english) – the voices suit the characters very well with some minor flaws here and there that are questionable.  The main 1 being Cindy, the head mechanic.  While there were already a lot of complaints about her (Mostly from people who thought she was too sexy for her job), her highly characterised Southern-USA voice can sound a bit forced…I also don’t like how Gladio says “Ingredients” in the “Improve the Cup Noodle” side quest (That’s right, the man who looks like he hasn’t eaten a carb since childhood basically loves pot noodle)…it just sounds weird.  At times the townsfolk (or more specially the vendors and some side mission folk) can sound weird as well.  But overall, it was still mostly very good with the voices more or less being perfect for the 4 party members, as well as the main villain, who sounds like an english sci-fi baddie from the ’70s/’80s.  So you can’t go wrong there!

The Characters are for the most part very strong, with more character development available in the form of the anime Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV and any future DLC.  When Noct, Iggy, Gladio and Prompto are together, they can be incredibly funny!  There’s some very well written locker room humour here, especially as Noctis and Prompto end up as the butt of numerous jokes, while at the same time, when it gets serious, it becomes no laughing matter.  I also found Ardyn Izunia (the most flamboyant older gentleman in the village) to be a very intriguing and darkly charismatic character.  As for the likes of important characters who didn’t seem to get much development, like Luna’s brother Ravus, like I said, they are developed more in other areas of the FFXV Universe – because while they have their own stories to develop, this game isn’t the right piece to see them shine.

The Story is a large piece of the Final Fantasy XV Universe Jigsaw puzzle – Not everything is known about the story within the game, but there is more than enough to make the game stand on its own and have you hungry for more in the midst of your satisfaction.  With its emphasis being on Noctis, his friends, and the roles they play in the bigger picture, rather than the world’s entire situation.  The game covers a lot of important themes, as it is not only a road story about learning through experience and an overcoming the monster story – it is a strong coming-of-age story about a 20 year old kid, who, even as a 20 year old, has a lot of growing up to do before he can accomplish the most important goal in his life.  It places emphasis on the importance of simply carrying out the task, more so than how long it takes.  It’s all about the right time.  To be ready when you’re ready, rather than too early and not ready.  Along with this you have the themes of friendship and responsibility, and in the case of some characters, an inevitability, even with the best intentions.

The Music was composed by Yoko Shimomura, whose work includes the entire Kingdom Hearts series and the criminally underrated Nintendo Wii game Xenoblade Chronicles.  Since Kingdom Hearts is Disney meeting Final Fantasy, it would be fair to say that she is probably the best person to fill the huge void that Nobuo Uematsu left behind at Square Enix (Uematsu stopped composing Final Fantasy games after FFX).  She manages to bring a hint of Kingdom Hearts into the music, while at the same time she provides phenomenal “situation music”.  Every theme is in the right place.  Some simple but effective like the night time theme.  Others reminding you of your youth (like the early morning side missions that Noct goes on with 1 of the other guys, depending on where you camp, which sounds like it was done by Oasis or The Pillows, very ’90s.).  The main Final Fantasy theme (called Crystalline Chill on the OST) was beautifully remixed by Shimomura and used as the inventory theme.  There are 2 main songs, 1 includes “Somnus” which was composed by Shimomura but sung in Latin by Aundréa L. Hopkins, a song that goes back to a Final fantasy tradition of a main song being beautifully composed and sung in Latin.  The other was Florence + The Machine covering Ben E. King’s 1962 hit “Stand By Me” – and when you consider the influence of Rob Reiner’s movie Stand By Me (and Stephen King’s book), and it being about 4 boys, much like our main characters here…it’s beautifully done.

The Gameplay is everything that Final Fantasy XII could have been and wasn’t.  Within 10 minutes, you can start to explore the world around you, and it is massive!  Though it’s not like Grand Theft Auto in the since that you could drive any car and drive them off a cliff and survive a 1km fall if you’re levelled up enough.  Such an approach would be out of character in this game, since your only vehicle is the Regalia, which is Noctis’ car and was King Regis’ car, and therefore something to connect Father and Son (Interesting note, that car would apparently cost $440,000 in real life).  Along with the main story which lasts about 15 Chapters, there are a ton of side quests to go along with it.  A little like the Yakuza series, you’re provided with a lot of extra things to do, for instance, Noctis likes to go fishing, and the fishing mini-game is very well done!  You also have the options of bounty hunting, treasure hunting, dungeon exploring (which provide you with the other royal arms), secret bosses, photography projects, invading imperial bases, finding new recipes (cooked meals have battle and exploration gameplay benefits, so do buy cook books, do eat out often to give Ignis inspiration, and do go camping as often as using a motel.  Motels for grinding and aiding in level-ups, and camping for power-ups like extra health, strength, resistance, etc).  The actual battle gameplay, like I said, is exactly the gameplay that ‘XII could have had to make it even better.  It plays more like a Kingdom Hearts game, and if you run away you’ll leave the battle.  In general, I had a ton of fun in the battles with different ways of approaching.  The party system is unique, yet similar in places to Final Fantasy X-2.  There is no large party for you to mix and match for different battles.  Your party is full from the start, and there is no real magic skills this time.  Just healing items, and the ability to create elemental spells by absorbing the elements from certain rocks found near a camp and then playing with their ratios and mixing them with items (Note: There is friendly fire in this game, and it’s hilarious).  It’s possible to obtain new abilities to make your party more effective in battle, so do apply them.  As far as roles in the group are concerned – Noctis can do anything he wants (He’s your only playable character after all), Gladio is power attacks and occasionally Noctis’ shield, Iggy is the dagger guy and secondary mage if you give him a magic flask, and Prompto is the long range fighter preferring the use of handguns.  One thing I do absolutely adore is the approach to makes to gaining experience points and saving your game.  You bank your experience points in FFXV, rather than get them right after a battle.  And you can only see your characters level up when they go to bed!  Some could argue that this breaks up the game too much.  But in reality, I see it as an excellent way to play anytime.  Life can get busy, and with the day-night cycle in FFXV, you can play the game for about 30 minutes and then stop when you save your game at a camp or motel…and when you start playing again later, you start with a new day.  It’s quite nice!

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“Dude, we should totally go back to him, like, tomorrow”

The Art Style in Final Fantasy XV maintains the services of Yoshitaka Amano in the concept art and main menu art department and Tetsuya Nomura as character designer (and director too!), but other than this, it is quite different to other games in the series because it bases much more of its world on nature, real places and real things.  Much of the continent of Lucis is a combination of African Plains and the western United States.  Altissia is based on Venice, Italy, Lestallum is modelled after Havana, Cuba with elements of Malaysia and Morocco thrown in, and though it’s not as evident in the game, but more evident in the anime Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV, the city of Insomnia (Lucis) is based on Japanese cities and towns.  Some fans of the series have expressed annoyance at this, since some of it, particularly to Japanese fans of the series, was a little too close to home, especially Insomnia.  And in some ways, perhaps they’re right.  Final Fantasy games normally take you to strange lands that are unlikely to exist in real life.  But in Final Fantasy 15, it feels like you could find these places if you decided to go on holiday abroad.  It may not be like the Yakuza series were you could literally find these places in real life.  But you could find places that provide the same look and feel that this game expressed.  Perhaps as a way to say “Look…there’s a world out there that you can explore.  These places can be found if you want to have your own road trip with a bunch of friends.  They’re real.  They exist.  Think about it.”  On top of this, the fashion choices of the characters also exist.  Luna’s wedding dress was even designed in real life specifically for the game.  To say the least, its all pretty fascinating.

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Considering this game was scheduled for the PS3, they did a fantastic job in bringing this game’s graphics up to the PS4 standard!  It’s a little rougher around the edges when compared to Metal Gear Solid 5 and Uncharted 4.  But it still looks fantastic!

Would I recommend Final Fantasy XV?  Yes!  Some would object – but in my opinion, this is the best Final Fantasy game to come out since Final Fantasy X in 2001/2002.  The main characters are all very likeable.  The gameplay was refreshing yet feels like it belongs.  The story is simple in goals, yet meaty in execution, and provides a very satisfying experience.  It also brings out the right ‘feels’ when it wants you to have them.  The main villain is excellent.  The world is beautiful to look at and asks to be explored.  The humour in this game is some of the best that I’ve come across in the whole series!  The music is the best selection since Nobuo left, and in general, it was worth the recommended retail price.  With every pre-order you take a risk, and this risk was like a jackpot.

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Voice Acting: ****1/2

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ****3/4

Music: *****

Gameplay: ****3/4

Art Style: *****

Graphics: ****3/4

Overall: ****3/4

Grim Fandango (1998/2015) Video Game Review

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Now we move onto a game with a ton of tragedy behind it…no, nobody died…okay, maybe it killed the Point-and-click adventure game for a few years, led to LucasArts, more or less disbanding with key people going on to form other companies (Double Fine Productions and Telltale Games) and this being their last project together, and is a game about a Mexican and Latin American interpretation of the After Life.  But as you can tell from the ‘2015’ in the title, there was a silver lining to this story.  When Grim Fandango was released that Halloween holiday of 1998, it was received unbelievably well – but due to it only selling a maximum of half a million units, it was a commercial flop.  about 16 years after it was released, it was announced that it was receiving a re-release on various formats, not just the PC (I played this on the PS4).  Giving video game fans who heard of the legend a chance to experience what career-critics have been referring to when it comes to ‘underrated’ and ‘quality’.  So how does Grim Fandango Remastered hold up?

Set in late October/early November (Mexico’s Day Of The Dead), our story begins in the city of El Marrow – the first place the souls of the dead go to after they croak, and centres around a travel agent named Manuel “Manny” Calavera.  Manny has terrible luck, which includes his attempts at selling tickets for the luxury sports cars, let alone the luxury cruise and of course, the big 1, the Double-N ticket for the number 9 train (letting the journey through the afterlife last 4 minutes rather than 4 years) – to people who receive what they deserve.  The better they were in life, the better (and faster) their travel choices are at travelling through the Land Of The Dead – and as you can tell, the fact that Manny is the travel agent and not doing the journey himself, suggests a lot about the man when he lived.  When Manny decides to steal a client (named Meche) directed at his competitor, Domino, and finds out that she definitely qualifies for a Double-N ticket, only for her to get the 4-year-trip anyway, Manny knows something is wrong.  When Meche disappears, Manny decides to try and find her with the help of Glottis, a demon mechanic who becomes his Chauffeur and right-hand-being (In this world, only Demons can drive cars), thus their road trip begins.

Now to talk about things that would take the journey length of the Number Nine Train to embrace:

The Graphics were very good in 1998, and today it would be acknowledged as more stylish than realistic (actually, no, to call this realistic would be daft).  With the ability to switch back and forth between the original 1998 version and the remastered edition, you’ll notice some differences.  The main 1 comes in the form of the character presentation, with cleaned up sprites and even shadows to go with them.  The backgrounds weren’t changed, and neither were the cutscenes, and in the process, it stays faithful to those who originally played it, while providing new players with a same but updated-visually experience.  With its age in consideration, it’s still looking very well.

The Voice Acting is great, consisting of Latino actors including Tony Plana as Manny, Maria Canals as Meche, as well as character actors such as Alan Blumenfeld as Glottis and Jim Ward as Hector, the main antagonist.  Tony Plana as Manny is incredibly funny and as some excellent lines.

The Characters in Grim Fandango are hilarious.  Some phenomenal dialogue comes from this game alone, highly irrevenent and deprecating.  It’s a type of humour that doesn’t rely on the times and it is universal from culture to culture, country to country, which is of great benefit.  Even the minor characters have a great quirks – to the point of laughing at how annoying they probably are to other characters.

Written by Tim Schafer as his last project with LucasArts, the Story is 1 with several layers.  On 1 layer you have the primary goal of (nearly) everyone in The Land Of The Dead, which is to go through the afterlife for 4 years until they reach the Ninth Underworld.  Then you have Manny’s goal of finding Meche, and then his goal to help LSA (Lost Souls Alliance, headed by the beret-wearing revolution-leader Salvador Limones) take down the regime that is exploiting good souls out of their golden train tickets through a rigged scandal set up by the fez-wearing Hector LeMans.  Along the way, Manny experiences several phases in his journey (he does the full 4 years), from being a travel agent to running his own club, among others, and Glottis experiences a journey as well, from being a Demon mechanic working in a basement, to something he never dreamed of.

The Art Style borrows primarily from 2 sources – Mexico’s Day Of The Dead and all of its merchandise, and Film Noir, more specifically from the likes of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.  Everything is stylised to the point of a literally timelessness beauty, and is visually lovely to look at.

The Music was scored by Peter McConnell and oooooh goodness is it awesome.  Borrowing mostly from South American folk, Big Band and Mexican music, it’s all a beautiful and colour blend of tunes that change with nearly every pre-rendered scene you’re in.

The Gameplay was originally played using Tank controls, and with the remastered version, Tank Controls are an option, while a newer, easier set of controls have taken over by default.

The Level Design does well in presenting us with different scenery as you progress – but at the same time, it becomes quite easy to get lost by Year 2, and some of the ways to progress forward can be either too abstract or they really require to think and remember everything within the limitations you’re presented in.  My advice is, if you’re stuck, explore everywhere, try to pick everything up, and then try to use everything everywhere…or be a noob and look it up, because this does have a good story.

Would I recommend Grim Fandango?  Yes.  It’s far from the easiest game to play, and each year (chapter) starts off easy, before getting the a point were you say “Huh?  What?  Why?  Why does that give me this and this does this?”.  But, it lives up to the legend, and it’s great fun.  Well worth a play, even if point-and-click adventure games aren’t your cup of tea or your sacred ceremonial bread to honour the dead.

Graphics: ***1/2

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: ****3/4

Story: ****1/2

Art Style: *****

Music: *****

Gameplay: ***1/2

Level Design: ****1/4

Overall: ****1/2

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (2011/2015) Video Game Review

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Now for the second or last stretch before we tackle the most recent instalment…and The Golden Abyss.  Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.

Our story begins in London, England (1 were the Victorian Architecture has survived and is occupied by Guy Ritchie’s Usual Suspects and the Chavs in Kingsmen: The Secret Service).  Drake and Sully come to do business with a man named Talbot, who gives them a pile of money for Drake’s ring.  When Drake and Sully notice the money’s fake, a huge brawl ensues before they get into trouble.  We are then thrown into Drake’s past, as a 15 year old thief running around Columbia meeting Sully for the 1st time, as well as Sully’s client that day – Katherine Marlowe, the main antagonist.  We then return to the present, which has Drake, Sully, Chloe (from ‘2) and Charlie Cutter (tough cockney englishman with a knowledge for history and a fear of tight spaces) go looking for what was stolen from them, and to stop it if it’s too dangerous.

Now to the chart through the characteristics:

The Graphics, up to that point, were the best looking in the series.  It was fantastic in 2011, and in the remaster it’s just as mesmerising as before.

The Art Style is…wow.  Among Thieves has a glorious presentation, and Drake’s Deception is no different in quality.  Instead of the Jungles in ‘1 and the Snowy Mountains in ‘2, our star landscape is the Arabian Desert – and without spoiling it (we’ll call it the “hard times level”), the presentation of the desert is…amazing!  Really amazing.  It was insane in 2011, and it’s still awe-inspiring today.  Excellent!  Great job!  I was taking screenshot after screenshot on my PS4 and sending it to my Facebook.  It’s 1 of my favourite things to look at in a video game, along with various other levels such as how London, the ship, the French Castle (my favourite) and the underground museum are presented.

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Hard times Bay Bay!

The Voice Acting is once again top notch.  Nobody was bad.

The Characters in Uncharted 3 are as good, sometimes even better than ‘2 and obviously better than ‘1.  I’ve found myself greatly disliking Marlowe and Talbot to the point of true hatred (something about English villains can do that in ways that Russians and Pirates can’t)…and I’ll get to another reason why their henchmen were particularly dislikable.

The Story is once again excellent – The premise is the same (Find an ancient civilisation or relic before the baddies), but she’s obviously wearing a different dress and hairstyle.  Moving on from South American treasure thieves and military-trained russians, we now take on the last Great American foe that isn’t German – the English.

The Music is, for the 3rd time, composed by Greg Edmondson, who did the music for Mike Judge’s King Of The Hill and Joss Whedon’s Firefly.  5 stars.  Moving on.

Gameplay-wise, Uncharted 3 is roughly as good as ‘2, but at the same time some of its extra features actually disturb its flow – primarily in the form of quick-time event fisticuff battles that Drake has.  It’s featured in the game’s opening since Drake and Sully walked in without guns.  But later on in the game it doesn’t have the same relevance.  Does it look good?  Yes.  But it does break it up when it didn’t need to be.  On top of this, some battles become so difficult that they reach a “troll” level (or if you’re into classic anime – think of the gun battles in Trigun), the amount of guns blazing in your direction, non-stop, and then the fact that they throw grenades at you within 30 seconds of you hiding in cover (while guns are blazing), surrounding you with gunfire when you least expect it, and of course the amount of terminator-endurance soldiers…It really makes you want to get your hands on the villains.  Some would call this an acceptable challenge to overcome – But these battles literally feel like they’re cheating as they appear to come out of the metaphorical clown car, are hard to kill, and your bullets run out faster than you would like them to (which is never).

Would I recommend Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception?  Much like Uncharted 2, definitely!  It’s not as good as Among Thieves, but it’s still a good bit better than Drake’s Fortune.  The gameplay is more inconsistent than ‘2, doesn’t flow quite as well, and is capable of being a troll in some battles.  The same goes for the story which doesn’t have as strong a flow as ‘2.  It’s a 5 star game…but it’s a lesser 5 star than Among Thieves.  Not quite as good in secondary characters, story and gameplay, but made up for with its slightly better graphics.

Graphics: ****3/4 (***** in 2011)

Art Style: *****

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: ****3/4

Story: ****1/2

Music: *****

Gameplay: ****1/2

Overall: *****