Tag Archives: Final Fantasy

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

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Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix Video Game Review

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2.5, like 1.5, is an HD upgrade/remake of a trilogy within the storied world of Kingdom Hearts, and released for Christmas in 2014.  This time our menu consists of a director’s cut version of the PS2 game Kingdom Hearts 2 (known as The Final Mix, released only in Japan until now), An HD enhancement of the PSP game Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, and lastly, like 358/2 days in 1.5, an HD Movie containing the highlights of a Nintendo DS game called Kingdom Hearts re:Coded.  Which originated as a game on mobile phones, but then was released more commercially on the Nintendo DS.  So, like last time, it’s more or less 3 reviews with comparisons, so lets get right at it.

KINGDOM HEARTS 2: THE FINAL MIX

Kingdom Hearts 2 takes place where 358/2 days ends, and to the surprise of those who played Kingdom Hearts 1 and then went into Chain Of Memories or 2, we’re playing as Roxas.  Back in 2005/6, I don’t think anybody had a clue as to what was going on.  358/2 days didn’t come out until 2009, and as far as I know, there wasn’t even a manga in Japan to fill in the gaps.  To go from the ending in KH 1 or even Chain Of Memories, to this, was incredibly confusing at the time.  We all scratched our heads; “Who’s this kid?  Who’s Axel?  Why are we following this group of kids we know nothing about?  Where the hell is Sora?”  Pre-358/2 days, it was 1 of the most confusing sequel transitions ever made, and only the opening video to the game seemed to give some indication as to what was going on – primarily “Square have a lot of explaining to do”.  When we finally do start playing as Sora, Donald and Goofy again, this was where it became my favourite game in the franchise (and with the help of Chain Of Memories and 358/2 Days, the game’s prologue is actually much better than we realised).

Is the story as strong as Kingdom Hearts 1?  No, and it isn’t as focused either.  But despite this, Kingdom Hearts 2 took everything else that made ‘1 great and made it better.  The graphics remain the best in the series, and even pushing 10 years later they still look really nice! The game’s worlds are also among the best that I’ve come across.  Some worlds have returned (such as Agrabah, The Olympus Colosseum, Atlantica, Halloween Town (which featured Christmas Town this time!) and Hollow Bastion) and some new worlds appeared (or at least some were new until 358/2 days came out) such as Beast’s castle (Beauty & The Beast), The Pride Lands (The Lion King), The Land Of Dragons (Mulan) and this time Neverland (Peter Pan) has been replaced with Port Royal (Pirates Of The Caribbean) as the pirate-themed level.  There are others, but I think I’ll keep them a surprise.

Gameplay-wise, this is by far my favourite Kingdom Hearts game.  I just love playing it.  ‘Love it!  Everything works well and it all flows and responds beautifully!  I would give it 6-stars if I could, it’s simply a masterpiece in this area.

The music is great, and some tracks are downright adorable.  The themes to Twilight Town (returning from Chain Of Memories and 358/2 Days) remain some of the most nostalgic that I have ever heard.

I have friends and know of people who will call Kingdom Hearts 1 the superior game, and certainly within the context of story, introduction, and being such an amazing creation for its time, I can agree.  Kingdom Hearts 2 does require the other games in order to make sense, and because of this, some would say it’s not perfect.  But within the context of, lets say Assassin’s Creed 2 (a game that technically requires the others) It’s at least very close to perfection.  It doesn’t work as well as a standalone game, but as a game to simply play, it’s a truly wonderful experience.  It falls into the same category as Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  It requires its prequels to be understood, but in terms of what went into it, it’s a superior product.  You need the others for the character development and see where they came from, and unlike the others, Kingdom Hearts 2 features much more fleshed out characters and the humour is much, much better as well.  Sora, Donald & Goofy are a lot more like friends in this than before.

Anything else?  Yes, if you’re a Final Fantasy fan, this game has even more of their characters than before.  You might also notice that Squall (Leon) and Cloud have changed since last time, with Cloud’s character design being changed from his exclusive Kingdom Hearts appearance to that of the film Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children (Which came out several months before this game, and a movie that made fans ask Square Enix “So when will Final Fantasy 7 be remade to look like this?”), they justify this by saying Cloud is full of darkness…kind of like Riku…and there was also a long passage of time took place between 1 and 2.  So, there you go. Is there anything I don’t like about this game?  Probably the voice of Simba from The Lion King (It’s really bad!  & It’s not done by Matthew Broderick either).

BIRTH BY SLEEP

Birth By Sleep is effectively the Metal Gear Solid 3 of the Kingdom Hearts series.  It is well and truly the very first chapter of the series, and unlike the rest of the games, you get to play as 3 characters in 3 different stories that happen at the same time as each other, providing a variety of perspectives and justifications (Think of it as being like a game version of Blind Chance or Trilogy Of Terror…or if you’re a Simpsons fan, Trilogy Of Error, the 18th episode of season 12). Set about 5 years before Kingdom Hearts 1, our game stars 3 main protagonists; Terra (The Big and powerful 1), Ventus (The nimble 1) and Aqua (The Mage), who are all training to become Keyblade welders under their master, Eraqus (Voiced by Luke Skywalker and The animated Joker himself, Mark Hamill).  From the beginning, you can tell that our 3 characters have an aspect of deja vu to them. Terra struggles with the darkness inside him (much like Riku), Ventus is very friendly, rather naive, and looks a lot like Roxas, and Aqua sports a similar haircut to Kairi in KH1.  In the background, our main antagonist, Xehanort (voiced, bittersweetly, by the recently late Leonard Nimoy) has plans for all 3 (particularly Terra and Ventus), and sometimes is followed around by a man wearing the same outfit as Riku when he’s consumed by darkness (not the black cloak, the other 1).  And all 3 stories lead towards and beyond the secret ending of Kingdom Hearts 2, which I’m not going to spoil.

So how does Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep rate when compared to other games in the series?  Simple, Birth By Sleep is by far the 3rd best game in the series (after 1 and 2).  While the other spin-off games are important to the overall story, this 1 is superior to most of them in quality. So, graphics-wise.  It’s more or less the same as most others, and considering this was originally a PSP game, it looks incredibly well when upscaled and put onto the TV.  I guess the only complaint I might have, and this simply comes from it being originally on the PSP, is the lack of NPCs.  Kingdom Hearts 2 had plenty of NPCs to make rooms and areas look more alive and lived in.  But BBS doesn’t have this…which is fine, they did what they could.

The gameplay provides you with the ability to choose the skills your want to use in battle, and also the ability to mix them together to create new and more powerful attacks and spells (trust me when I say, it’s important to keep doing these science experiments, because the final bosses aren’t particularly easy…especially Terra’s final bosses.  You’ll need lots of good attacks and healing abilities).  The controls work very well, and the camera does feel a little odd, as your character looks quite big on screen and right in the middle.  It should also be noted that when your characters make friends, you can actually use a new skill set in battle based on each friend, and the more you use those skill sets in battle, the more they level up and more skills can be unlocked within them.

The worlds in Birth By Sleep are potentially hit and miss.  Each game has a “Classic Disney” world, usually either Traverse Town or Disney Castle, here it’s a new 1 called Disney Town filling the role (and it’s fine, you’re mostly there to play mini games).  Hollow Bastion (pre-fall), The Olympus Coliseum (Hercules), Neverland (Peter Pan) and Mysterious Tower (Fantasia?) all return from previous games, and the new worlds are primarily (but not entirely) belonging to Disney Princesses (who play a rather important role in Kingdom Hearts 1), so you get to explore The Castle Of Dreams (Cinderella), The Dwarf Woodlands (Snow White) and the Enchanted Dominion (Sleeping Beauty.  Since Malificent is a primary villain in the series, it had to be explored).  We’re also provided with Deep Space as a wild card (The World of Lilo and Stitch, since Stitch can fight alongside Sora…You might even say this game encouraged me to watch the movie).  Some levels are great fun, others are a bit on the bland side.  It depends on what you’re looking for.  It’s also a game that provides us with some new music to go with the new worlds, and Yoko Shimomura’s once again done a great job.

RE:CODED

For this, much like 358/2 days, I’ll be reviewing the Nintendo DS game, while also watching the HD movie to see if it’s worth playing both or choosing 1.

So…Story.  RE:Coded is set after the events of Kingdom Hearts 2 and just before the secret ending.  It involves Mickey Mouse trying to decode the information (or lack thereof) of Jiminy Cricket’s 2nd Journal (Jiminy Cricket, if you haven’t played the other games, follows Sora around and records everything that happens in his journal).  In trying to digitally mend the journal, he finds out that it’s full of bugs (glitches/computer virus/oh no, we’re going to lose all of our photographs and my half-finished Magnum Opus Novel) which prevent the diary from being read.  So, in order to cure the virus in the diary, Mickey creates a digital version of Sora (as he was in Kingdom Hearts 1, minus Hailey Joel Osmund’s unbroken voice at the time) who already has the ability to use the keyblade, to travel to different worlds in order to kill/defeat bugs and restore the diary, so that Jiminy will understand what the diary means when it says “Thank Namine”.

What’s bad about Re:Coded isn’t the graphics and animation (The primarily still-shot with written dialogue style of storytelling (similar to Persona 4 and other RPGS) looks great for the Nintendo DS and both the remastered cutscenes and new cutscenes with new voiceovers are very good on the PS3), but rather it’s very average story.  Because you’re revisiting some of the worlds from Kingdom Hearts 1 (and Chain Of Memories) again, there is a strong sense of Deja Vu, and there isn’t very much that’s new in terms of the worlds you visit or the characters you meet. However, that’s where similarities end.  What does change is the gameplay, with each level providing something different to the last.  Examples of this include Traverse Town having a 2D Beat Em Up Boss fight, Olympus Coliseum being a classic Role-Playing Game, Alice In Wonderland being a treasure-hunting Adventure Game (with a temple-run style boss fight), Agrabah being a hunting game/3D platformer of sorts, and Hollow Bastion being a live-action tactical RPG.  Although despite all of these variations, each 1 is quite primitive in itself, as the main focus in gameplay is still the Kingdom Hearts action RPG style…and in every world there are glitch boxes to be broken, and digital-dungeon worlds were you have to defeat glitched enemies to fix glitches in that world, like doorways being blocked. The level-up system in RE:Coded is like a circuit board, and in order to get anywhere in the game, you have to fill it up with Strength +1 chips, level-up chips, and so on.  When circuits connect, powers become twice as strong, and new abilities can become unlocked.  It’s actually 1 of the nicest ways to customise Sora in the series.

Nearly everything else is more or less as good as most other Kingdom Hearts games, including Yoko Shimomura’s music (which remains great), the characters (even if the story doesn’t really do much for them), and even though some of the voice actors are different in the HD version (Genie is definitely a different voice actor), they’re still well done.  It can also be noted that Re:Coded is probably the shortest Kingdom Hearts game by many hours (a rushed play through can take about 11-12 hours).

So, would I recommend the HD movie or the Nintendo DS game or both?  In truth, they’re different, but about the same in their respective qualities.  They both suffer from the same problem, which is the story.  What you already know about the characters doesn’t really get added upon, and came across more like an episode of a Disney TV Show that’s based on a popular Disney movie (much like how Aladdin and Little Mermaid had their own shows back in the ’90s).  What do I mean?  Well, it’s like saying “Here are some well developed characters, lets put them in this basic, gentle story so that people will get more of the characters”.  It can also be noted that dialogue-wise this 1 is among the corniest instalments in the series, but it also conveys quite a nice message about the pain of forgetting memories and friends.  The gameplay is unique in its constant changing and variations, but at times, you will hate the camera, and hate the enemies known as “Danger Bloxs”.  When comparing how well the story translates from a long game into a 2-3 hour movie, the ReCoded HD Movie actually did a better job than the 358/2 Days movie did for its respective game, even though ReCoded isn’t as good, or as original, as 358/2 Days.  I’d say that you might play the Nintendo DS version once, but the experience and story isn’t good enough for it to be the top choice between the 2.  Once the DS game is finished, you will probably prefer to watch the HD movie from then on in any marathon playthroughs later in life…for a very obvious reason being the secret endings.  The HD Movie version not only provides the secret ending in the DS version without the work that goes into it, but it also provides a second ending that isn’t available anywhere else…a very good reason to choose it if you ask me.

Would I recommend Kingdom Hearts 2.5?  Yes!  Especially if you’ve played 1.5 and have a PS3.  Due to the quality of both Kingdom Hearts 2 and Birth By Sleep, as well as the fact that reCoded was well captured in the HD Movie, it is an excellent buy, and also a better overall trilogy than 1.5.

KINGDOM HEARTS 2: THE FINAL MIX

Overall rating: ****3/4 (As a standalone, but ***** within context)

KINGDOM HEARTS: BIRTH BY SLEEP

Overall Rating: ****1/4

KINGDOM HEARTS: RE:CODED (NINTENDO DS) ***

KINGDOM HEARTS: RECODED (HD MOVIE) ***1/4

OVERALL RATING: ****

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix Video Game Review

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With Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix now out, I think this is the time to review its older brother, and even mention why this series is 1 of the longest journeys I have ever experienced (as far as games are concerned).

For those who are unaware of what Kingdom Hearts actually is – Imagine it like the Dr Malibu experiment (Dr Malibu being Malibu coconut rum mixed with Dr Pepper) – Kingdom Hearts was an experimental game created by Squaresoft (now known as Square Enix), who decided to make something that takes characters from the Final Fantasy series (a Squaresoft staple) and mix them up with characters from Disney.  It was a strange experiment…with very interesting and pleasant results.

We’ll start by discussing the 1st game, Kingdom Hearts 1.  Our story begins and follows a teenage boy named Sora, who lives on Destiny Island (or at least near it).  Here he plays with his friend (and rival) Riku, their friend Kairi (Who Sora takes a fancy to), and some other final fantasy characters in younger forms.  They enjoy being regular kids, who would clearly have good memories of simple times when they’re trying to pay the bills later on (not a spoiler).  One day, Riku pitches the idea of getting off the island to go exploring, and with both Sora and Kairi’s help they build a raft and collect some supplies (which, to be fair, would only last them about 2 days at most).  While searching for these supplies, Sora stumbles across a door inside a cave, and is then greeted by a cloaked figure who tells him it’s the doorway to darkness…and that he’s a fool (nice chap).  That night, the doorway to darkness was opened.  Small, black (cuddly-looking) beings called Heartless start appearing, and Sora becomes separated from his friends while their island is swallowed up by the darkness.  He eventually wakes up in a place called Traverse Town (which looks like something Disney would actually build) where he discovers that the giant key he now carries around (known as the key blade) can defeat the heartless and lock the doors of darkness in other worlds.  While exploring this nice little town, he eventually meets Disney legends, Donald (a mage) and Goofy (a guard).  They’re searching for “The King” (Take a guess who it is), who left their castle to go on a journey.  To seek answers as to why darkness is taking over this game’s universe.  In order to find Riku, Kairi and The King, and close the doors to darkness – Sora, Donald and Goofy decide to team up, which leads to events that are much bigger than they ever anticipated, and the building of a friendship that is unlikely to be broken.

Kingdom Hearts re:Chain Of Memories takes place after the events of Kingdom Hearts 1 and about a year before 2, and is set in a place called Castle Oblivion. Throughout the game, you will re-visit many of the old worlds you experienced in KH 1, only this time they  look like a collection of rooms with different paint jobs. Unlike any other game within the series, Chain Of Memories is a card game. 1 where successful attacks are based on how well you use a collection of cards in real time, with some combinations leading to special attacks, more powerful versions of a spell, and simply attacking with the highest combined number to defeat foes. It look a while to get used to the controls, and after a rather steep learning curve, the game did start to play a little like the others (with the right strategy). It is this game where we are introduced to the main antagonists of the series.  A group who wear long, black, hooded cloaks (with the zipper from the top rather than the bottom) known as Organisation XIII (Organisation 13). They’re using the castle as a tool to experiment on Sora, and the more he ascends the castle, the more he seems to lose his memories (note: Only 6 members of the Organisation appear in this, including the group’s rebel, Axel, who becomes an interesting character later on).  What becomes of Sora? You’ll have to find out.  Due to the rather evident deja vu feel of this game, and its rather complicated controls, I would say Chain Of Memories is probably the weakest instalment of this trilogy.  On top of this, the voice acting is not as fruitful this time, as the only voices are from the game’s main and original characters, while every other Disney and Final Fantasy character is reduced to speech bubbles.  When you finish the game as Sora, you can then play the game as Riku (Who, unlike Sora, chose a much darker path.  But despite this, Sora is still his friend). Riku’s story is roughly half the length of Sora’s, and the atmosphere even feels different, despite revisiting the same areas.  Unlike Sora’s journey, which has friends and laughter, Riku’s journey is a lonely 1, and in this game, it really shows.  You might even say he develops a lot more as a character due to this game, which in itself is well done.  Despite the important story elements and character development, the gameplay of Riku’s story is very disappointing.  Because unlike Sora’s gameplay, where you can create your own deck of cards, earn money and spend it – Riku’s is very striped down, with pre-set decks that change as he levels up (he levels up much more quickly) and it is a bit of a chore…but is necessary for story purposes.

Lastly, we have Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, which takes place just before Chain Of Memories begins, and it finishes just as Kingdom Hearts 2 begins, with the events of Chain Of Memories taking place in the background.  The story this time focuses on a new character named Roxas (If you play Chain Of Memories, you’ll know why), who could be best described as “like Sora, perhaps inspired, but not a complete copy”, and he’s the newest member of Organisation XIII.  Like the other Organisation members, he dawns the long black hoodie.  But unlike the other members, he can use Sora’s key blade, which they decide to use to their advantage.  Shortly after Roxas’ ‘birth’, a 14th member of the Organisation arrives, a young girl named Xion, who looks a lot like Kairi.  Despite “not having hearts”, Roxas befriends Xion, and he also befriends Axel (1 of his mentors), to the tolerance of the more serious and cold members.  After most missions, all 3 go to a place called Twilight Town, where they eat ice cream at the top of the bell tower (which becomes a rather iconic image from the game).  While KH 1 is a pure action-RPG and Chain Of Memories is a card-based action RPG, 358/2 Days is a mission-based action RPG, where the game progresses through the completion of missions.  Some of which provide extra items and experience alone, while others help drive the narrative on top of it (DS version only).  In terms of its story, this is the darkest chapter in the trilogy, which includes various themes such as identity, purpose, value, sacrifice, truth, friendship, and motive.  Not all Organisation members are bad, but sometimes their “evil” is just business.  Now to compare the movie to the game.

The HD cinematic cutscene movie is very striped down compared to the Nintendo DS version, and focuses entirely on the main story/main characters/bare bones rather than anything else going on around it.  So if you’re interested in seeing more of the Organisation members and knowing a bit more about their characters, you’re not going to see very much in the movie compared to the game.  Also if you’re interested in seeing some Disney characters, you can forget about it, they’re referred to, but not experienced (although this is the 1st game (story-wise, not release-wise) where you can visit Beast’s Castle in Beauty and The Beast).  The necessary scenes that would involve the Disney worlds are reduced to nicely presented still-images with text on top of them, explaining what happened.  Is it good?  Yes, it does a very good job squeezing about 25-30 hours of gameplay into about 2 and a half/3 hours and providing you with everything you need to know before playing Kingdom Hearts 2.  Then you have Roxas’ diary and the secret documents to fatten up the details and context (in written form).  The Movie also features new voice overs to go with the remade cutscenes, which adds a nice touch.  If you’re in a hurry to get to Kingdom Hearts 2, you might prefer the movie version best.  But for the full journey, there’s the DS version.

After playing Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 (which I’ll review later) on the PS2 back in 2006, the whole story (for me) basically stopped for a long time.  And the reason for this, was because of a strange business decision that Square Enix made.  It has taken about 10 years to get Kingdom Hearts 3 off the ground.  Chain Of Memories, was originally a Gameboy Advanced exclusive, and then in 2007 it received a PS2 remake…which was only available in Japan (now available here on 1.5).  Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days and Coded were for the Nintendo DS (Coded was also a mobile phone game long before that), Birth By Sleep was a PSP exclusive, and Dream Drop Distance (3D) is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive…do you see a pattern?  That’s right – only those who could afford to buy a variety of consoles could receive the fullest possible story earlier, and even then, the games after Kingdom Hearts 2 were a bit out of order, which would have made the experience nearly as bad as the FOX TV Premiere of Firefly.  However, today this has all changed.  With a PS3 and a 3DS, the whole story so far can now be fully experienced…until you need a PS4 to play Kingdom Hearts 3.

What can I say about 1.5?  When I heard about 1.5, I was excited.  And even though the HD enhancement wasn’t as clean as the likes of the Sly Cooper or Ratchet and Clank series, it still looks good.  I was also delighted to finally get to play Chain Of Memories, and as the owner of a 3DS, I happily played 358/2 Days side by side, comparing the DS version to the HD cutscenes movie that came with 1.5.

Kingdom Hearts 1 might be seen as a dated action RPG with its big areas divided into small areas, high-quality PS2/low-quality PS3 graphics(give it a break, there’s a difference between PS2 graphics in 2002 and 2006), a fair bit of button-bashing, a good but stiff camera, and at times what can seem a little repetitive if your focus is on physical attacks without consideration for magic, temporary companions, or special abilities (which really can change it up and become available when you level up more).  But the reality is, to this day, Kingdom Hearts 1 remains an excellent game.  It’s well paced, even if it appears slow at the beginning (that’s necessary for the story as it shows what our main characters have lost).  But 1 thing that really stands out, is the amount of Disney movies they crammed into this game.  From Alice In Wonderland to Aladdin to Nightmare Before Christmas (1 of my favourites) to Hercules, to Tarzan, Peter Pan, and others.  They even got a lot of the original voice actors from the Disney Renaissance (unfortunately, Robin Williams wasn’t among them, but they got Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson) who voices Aladdin’s Genie in everything but the 2 movies Robin did), which I consider impressive.  The boss battles vary greatly and can be a real challenge if you don’t have a strategy, and if you’re like me, you might like to revisit old worlds, as some of them have special boss fights…including 1 that features Final Fantasy VII’s main villain, Sephiroth.

1 thing that always stands out about the Kingdom Hearts series, is the music.  Yoko Shimomura is 1 of my favourite video game composers, and she does an excellent job creating the right atmosphere for each level, while also maintaining that whimsical disney-bounce in the touching moments.  I also like how she manages to keep theme songs fresh.  Because nearly every level maintains its theme when it reappears in another game, but it will usually be remixed somehow with different instruments (for example, Twilight town’s main melody is done with brass in 358/2 days and an accordion in Chain Of Memories).  On top of this, the main themes of the series are done by J-Pop legend Hikaru Utada, who did an awesome job creating the right emotion, even if J-Pop isn’t at all your thing.

Would I recommend this trilogy?  Yes!  I would even recommend it for Kingdom Hearts 1 alone.  It wasn’t just an amazing game when I first played it, but also a life-changing game.  It provided an experience similar to that bitter, cynical grown-up who sees the real Santa Claus wave at him on Christmas Eve in some movies (It was much needed if you knew the type of games I was playing at the time).  I will admit, KH1 may not be the 5-star game I remember from my younger years, but to be fair…it still holds up well today.  Chain Of Memories is very good, and necessary for the big picture, but not in the same league as 1 and 2 in terms of gameplay or production.  And lastly, 358/2 Days is a much needed prequel to Kingdom Hearts 2, the movie is good, but the game is better…even if the theme to The World That Never Was (home base) becomes a bit annoying after a while…and now onto 2.5 for a later review.

Overall Rating:

Kingdom Hearts 1: ****1/2 out of 5

Kingdom Hearts: re Chain Of Memories: ***1/4 out of 5

Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (HD Movie): ***1/2 our of 5

Kingdom HeartsL 358/2 Day (Nintendo DS): ***3/4 out of 5

Overall (Including DS version): ***3/4 out of 5

Child Of Light Game Review

There is a question that gets asked a lot when we think of video games;  “Are they art?”  or “Can they be art?”  In the end, it depends on what you look for; What is a movie?  A movie is a range of creative outlets, brought together to provide an audio visual story that lasts for a certain length of time, depending if you’re watching the 1 second film or The Longest Most Meaningless Movie In The World (Yes, they both exist under those names)).  In turn, video games are no different.  Is there a story?  If it is written, then it is art.  What about music?  If it is written, played and therefore created, then it is art.

Artistic games have existed for years.  Some are because of their high quality story.  Others because of their up-to-date visuals.  But then there are others who choose stylisation over the most realistic graphics of the time.  Such an approach has been seen in game series like The Legend Of Zelda (comparing Wind Waker to Twilight Princess, or even Skyward Sword to Twilight Princess), others would include cartoony games such as Beyond Good and Evil and the Sly Cooper series.  While others will in fact utilise a real art style, such as the use of Sum-e in the legendary and timeless game, Okami.  But onto the answer to another question;  Is Child Of Light an artistic game containing beauty, elegance, love, and passion?  Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

When I saw the trailer to Child Of Light for the 1st time, I wanted it.  It was like walking into a shop and finding something that really catches your eye.  Something that made you say “I’m not leaving until I have bought this.  I don’t know the details, and I haven’t heard reviews, but this appeals to me”, or in this case, secured a pre-order, in order to receive the item as soon as it was released.

Child Of Light is a Coming-Of-Age Story about a young girl in 1895 Austria named Aurora.  She falls into a deep sleep and wakes up in Lemuria, a land that has had the sun, the moon, and the stars stolen from it by the Dark Queen, Umbra.  In order to get home and be reunited with her Father, she must recover them with the help of her companion Igniculus the Firefly (who looks like a glowing Raindrop, but is in fact a small blue ball of fire) and a group of other characters she meets along the way, including a jester, a large, love-stuck mouse, a cowardly gnome with magic powers and a masked tribal beast.  Anybody who knows movies like Labyrinth, The Wizard Of Oz and their RPG games will be familiar with the varied and unlikely line-up with different strengths, weaknesses and goals.  They’re all pretty well developed by the time you get to the end of the game, which I consider a real plus.  Also nearly all of the dialogue is in rhyme.  At times it seems forced, but it’s also playful, poetic, and in its own right, an art.

Developed using the UbiArt Framework engine (the same 1 used to revive Ubisoft mascot Rayman with the acclaimed Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends), this game is a living, breathing collection of watercolour paintings, created by hand, scanned in, and set in place.  I was even more excited when I found out about where they were getting their influences:  Studio Ghibli?  Final Fantasy Concept Character Designer Yoshitaka Amano (Who also designed the poster that comes with the deluxe edition of the game)?  Vagrant Story?  Limbo?  Final Fantasy VIII?  I don’t know about you, but this made me a happy bunny!  And they all show themselves somehow.  It is a visually beautiful, breath-taking game, and I loved everything that appeared on the screen before me.

The music is created by French-Canadian Singer-Songwriter Coeur de pirate, whose own indie pop songs sound very different to what appears in the game.  Presumably as a way to show off her range.  Much of it is piano, strings and wood instrumentals, and it sounds absolutely magical!  Beautiful, whimsical, light-hearted, and yet you can still sense the danger, wonder, adventure and exploration that the game provides.  It fits the game’s tone perfectly.

The controls and gameplay are that of a role-playing game.  You control 2 characters at a time, and you can switch them with other party members when it’s your turn.  Igniculus can also play a vital role, and provide the player with an advantage.  He can not only heal you with his glowing power, but he can slow down an enemies turn with the same control when he hovers over them.  Strategy is key to this.  Some enemies can only be finished quickly by certain party members, while other members will have aiding powers more-so than attacks.  Your characters will also level up, providing you with skill points to build their strength and make them better in battle.  The harder your enemies are, the more points you’ll receive when levelling up.  It’s standard in RPGs, but this is nice and simple, and a pleasure to pick up.

Like other games using the UbiArt Framework engine, the level design is that of a 2-D side scroller.  Because Aurora has wings, and there’s the fast-travel ability on the world map, you can basically go anywhere that has been unlocked and discovered with ease, even up to the sky or the deepest depths, where there are lots of hidden treasures, quests, and even characters (Yes, like Final Fantasy 7, some of your party members are optional.  They need to be found in order to have them).

The game’s creators intended on creating the sort of game that could be passed onto children, and you know what, they did an awesome job.  They have officially pulled a Dr Seuss or a Winnie The Pooh.  They created a timeless game that can be universally experienced.  One I hope to keep playing again for years to come, even when I’ve collected all of the trophies.  It’s a game that put me in a good mood, and it’s up there with Brothers, Persona 4, Batman Arkham City, and The Last Of Us in terms of brilliance.

10/10 for the Art Style:  10/10 for the Music:  10/10 for the Graphics:  10/10 for the Gameplay:  10/10 for the Level Design:  10/10 for the Characters:  10/10 for the Story.  Overall: 100/100