Posts Tagged ‘jrpg


Terra Battle Continued

Terra Battle

With only one interruption, I’ve been firing up Terra Battle on a daily basis.  I’m certain I still have a great deal of battles to go, but I’ve been enjoying collecting and building a small army of characters in my “deck.”  The game offers you a drip feed of resources to do this: each day you login results in acquisition of money, “energy”, and items.  It’s been enough to continue farming for experience points and tinker with the game’s mechanics.  The core mechanics of clearing the game board of enemies by arranging your party with a single character each turn results in quick, snappy battles that let you quickly iterate on strategies.  It’s not an incredibly deep system; you won’t be building layered strategies as you would in a game like Final Fantasy VII.  But there’s enough here to keep you engaged.  There are options to quickly power-level your characters, farm items to expand your character’s jobs, and to continue growing your ranks.

Terra Battle compels you to simply try to turn over all of its stones.  What it lacks in depth, it makes up for in breadth.  And it continues to grow as Mistwalker adds cooperative play, battle items, and more which retains the game’s audience and helps to bring new players in.  I’ve still not invested any money in the game to purchase “energy.”  It does make me wonder how Mistwalker will make money from it, but it’s not difficult for me to envision other players who are ready to play the game for longer sessions, or wish to collect characters more quickly than the game’s daily offerings allow.  It’s certainly kept me coming back, and if I were playing this game 10 or 15 years ago, I’d want to get more out of it, more quickly.  But today, I’m perfectly happy playing the game in slow motion, and continue putting my money into games that are known quantities to me, right now.  But I’m not the target audience here.  Terra Battle, for a company with a heritage reaching back into some of the biggest jRPG franchises in gaming history, is an acknowledgement of how the video game industry and community has grown more diverse.  I hope the game continues to grow and lead to more interesting future projects from Mistwalker.




I’ve been playing LISA for around a month now.  I’ve been taking my time and soaking it in.  I’ve held off on writing up my impressions of it up until now, because it’s a tough game to nail down.  It’s a game where I’ll probably have more to say, and my comments today may be somewhat brief.  I’m making my way through the final third of it, and I’ve been consistently challenged the entire way.  This isn’t a game that you chew up and consume without thinking, or else you’re not getting the full experience. It’s a game that will linger in your mind and have you rolling over what you’ve done time and again.  It’s not a game that ends when you quit out of it.  It’s uniquely the message of Austin Jorgensen, and he’s not simply repeating back to you what other games have told him.

LISA’s strongest quality is its ability to leverage the vocabulary of jRPGs to deliver its message.  On its face, you could be forgiven if you thought this might be a parody of jRPGs past, given it’s outlandish and absurd qualities.  In reality, it asks you to participate in jRPG verbs, spaces, and impressions, and then squeezes your pressure points with them.  LISA will make you contort in gaming pain, and force you acknowledge the true value of what you invest in these games by weighing it against moral choices.  It is constantly asking you to compare and contrast the value of your inventory, your party, your abilities, and your own narrative of the game.  This is not an easy game to be a good guy in.  If you make it far enough to reach some of these harrowing choices then these will not feel like artificial, or trivial dilemmas.  It’s what makes the game interesting though – you are trying to figure out how to make the best of a bad situation. It offers a conciliatory and surreal sense of humor to take some of the dismal edge off of the atmosphere surrounding these challenges.  The world is well realized and begs to be explored, and it dares you to try and explain it.

LISA has been affective in ways I’ve not seen very often.  And really, the one example that comes to mind that it reminds me of is the immediate aftermath (spoilers?) of Final Fantasy VI’s world of ruin.  LISA knows despair, and conveys it well.  It can be challenging to consume the game’s message, yet rewarding in completing it.  This may not be a game for everyone, as it includes some rather sensitive themes, but it’s one worth taking note of in any case.  And it warrants a much deeper discussion within our community.


So let me get this straight…

We’re going straight into the weeds.  So look out.  I beat Final Fantasy IX for the fourth time and I feel like I’m still just wrapping my brain around the story.  It’s kind of insane that it’s taken me that many play-throughs (I docked the score I gave it in my previous review) but it’s still an interesting story.  So if you’re interested in cutting to the chase of FFIX, or want to check my understanding of it, then go ahead and click through.  In any case, you’ve been warned.
Continue reading ‘So let me get this straight…’


Final Fantasy IX Revisited

I’ve almost entirely failed at keeping up on new games this year.  I haven’t even managed to keep up on new jRPGs this year and have instead found myself replaying Final Fantasy IX, just over two years since the last time I played it (this makes it my fourth time through the game.)  I reviewed it in early 2011, and here I am again pretending to know what I’m talking about.  It’s not like the game has changed each time I’ve rolled through Gaia.  I might have since playing the game in late 2000, but since late 2010?  Probably not.  Perhaps I just like it and I don’t need any other reason to play it, but I’ll take another shot at trying to pry out what makes the game enjoyable.


FFIX has three sets of verbs.  The first being the navigation and exploration of the game’s environments.  Much of the time, the player is represented by Zidane Tribal, a thief who belongs to the Tantalus “Theater Troupe.”  The player character can be moved about screens with the d-pad and can use an action button to initiate interactions with NPCs or to inspect the environment.

The game also has a set of management verbs which allow the player to build and customize characters, manage the inventory of items, and change each character’s equipment.  At any given point in time, the player will have control of four characters, and they are rotated in and out of the party as events progress.  This can make management of characters tedious, since your stock of equipment is limited and when a character is removed from your party, their equipment becomes inaccessible.  This is mitigated to an extent by the fact that many characters use different types of equipment.

And the final set of verbs revolve around the game’s battle mode.  The battle mode is entered at semi-regular intervals while exploring the environments.  The shift in and out of battle mode can be frustrating since there is no indication when it may occur.  And having the entire active verb-set switched so frequently detracts from the value of both.  In any case, once in battle mode, each character the player has control of will have a timer which runs down.  Once it has, they can take an action against any of the targets on screen.  This is also operated entirely through menus, which is adequate but does not serve to highlight and differentiate between your options very well.  Characters act by attacking, defending, using magic/abilities, and items.  Battles are exercises in managing your party’s health and functionality while simultaneously dispatching all targets.  The rotation of characters in and out of your party continuously tests your ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

In all honesty, verbs are probably the weakest point of Final Fantasy IX and the Final Fantasy series as a whole.  They are games that were very well designed for what is now obsolete technology and


Spaces on the other hand are where the game shines, and are the reason why Final Fantasy has embedded itself so firmly in the collective consciousness of gamers.  IX takes place in the world of Gaia, initially on the “Mist Continent,” an area with several quasi-medieval societies.  Players begin in the Kingdom of Alexandria as part of a plot for the Tantalus gang to kidnap Princess Garnet.  This sets off a series of events that have Zidane traversing the continent from kingdom to kingdom while exploring dungeons in between.

IX establishes a pacing to the game that consistently introduces new content and reinforces its systems to the player.  In each town you will have the opportunity to shop for new equipment, start side quests, learn more about the town, or participate in completely diversionary card game.  Every location offers sights and sounds that are still memorable 12 years after the game’s original release.  Backgrounds are presented as snapshots and animations of 3D renderings that, even if technologically obsolete, are artistically cohesive and interesting.  At times, playing the game can be like running through a series of paintings, set to a soundtrack by the ever-talented Nobuo Uematsu.

When the player feels ready to move the game forward, they will generally need to clear a dungeon first.  In addition to opening up more of the world map, clearing dungeons will offer opportunities to hunt for treasure and test your party’s configuration.  The game will constantly provide feedback through battles as to how you are managing characters. And as might be expected, each dungeon is generally finished with a boss fight.  While there are ways to efficiently dispatch these enemies rather than simply relying on brute-force, battles are not puzzles and are more about managing situations rather than solving problems.

Eventually the entire world is opened up and free for the player to explore for as long as one might care to before completing the game.  Gaia offers a great deal of content and challenge both inside, and outside of the core plot of the game.  And even if the verbs are lackluster, IX’s spaces more than compensate for that.  At least in my own experience, Gaia is a game world where you can just enjoy being there.


The player has a number of opportunities to make impressions in the game.  First among these opportunities being what you choose to unlock in the world.  While player’s will inevitably unlock all of the key locations on the map associated with the plot (this is satisfying in its own right), you will also be able to unlock purely optional areas as well.

Another key opportunity to make impressions in the game is by how you choose to build your characters.  IX does not have an open ended class system.  Each character is bound to a specific class, but never-the-less how each character is equipped and how their individual abilities are unlocked is up to the player.  Choosing how to invest your currency is always an interesting choice when visiting towns.  Abilities must be learned by equipping different items and then using them for a predetermined number of battles before the character memorizes the ability.  If it is unequipped any sooner than that, the ability is no longer available.  Some equipment is only available to specific characters, while some can be shared among them.  It can also be synthesized into new equipment.  In other scenarios, a more powerful item will be available to a character who is still learning the abilities offered by older equipment.  Balancing these options can be challenging and lends itself to subsequent play-throughs, but the option always remains to fight additional battles to obtain more money.  Final Fantasy IX is a linear experience, but there’s a lot of leeway granted to the players to control the pacing and revisit earlier locations.

Final Fantasy IX Concept Art

Perhaps it’s just me, but 2012 felt like an underwhelming year for games.  There have been some gems, but I get the impression that things are starting to change – be it with KickStarter, the ubiquity of mobile and free-to-play games, or that we’re at the tail end of the current generation of game consoles.  We’re in a transitional period for games, and it’s given me an opportunity to revisit some earlier favorites (even if I do have other games to catch up on still.)

I still feel that Final Fantasy IX has much to offer when it comes to fundamentals.  I would hope that someone at Square-Enix is continuing to look at games like this and trying to find ways around its 20th century limitations.  It’s re-release for the PSP and PS3 is a worthy half-step forward.  It doesn’t need to be radically updated, just re-packaged in terms of how the experience is delivered and how players interface with it.

Download at PSN or purchase at Amazon

Note: For more information on the context that I use the terms “verbs”, “spaces”, and “impressions”, please see the post titled I’m going to take the fun out of games.


Impressions: The Last Story

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally got my mitts on Hironobu Sakaguchi’s “The Last Story.”  While it’s been released in Japan for the better part of 2 years, and in Europe for the past six months, it wasn’t until Xseed Games agreed to publish the game that it was released in North America.  I’ve consistently enjoyed Sakaguchi’s games over the past 10 or so years, so I was eager to see what he had done this time around; enough to take the Operation Rainfall approach of pre-ordering/purchasing Xenoblade Chronicles to try and convince Nintendo to publish The Last Story in NA.  I suppose the strategy worked well enough, as Xseed did pick up the game and so I’ve sat on my pre-order for it since April.  Much to my dismay, I checked out Destructoid’s review of the game, which was less than favorable, but I kept my pre-order because of the otherwise positive reviews that it has garnered.

Now that I’ve been able to spend four hours in the game, I think I’ve seen enough to start forming my own opinion on it.  The first thing to strike me was that this is more along the lines of what I wanted from Final Fantasy XIII after it’s debut trailer at E3 2006.  You are part of a party of characters who, other than the protagonist, are controlled by the game.  The Last Story allows you to move about the field at will, doing lots of flashy dives and flips over characters, and otherwise chopping up targets with swords large enough to be the envy of Pyramid Head.  The game slowly introduces more complex verbs that actually affect the flow of battle, such as the gathering ability which brings all enemy targets to attack Zael, the protagonist. This is useful to take the heat off of your party’s mages who require long, uninterrupted, casting times.  Zael can also enter a first person mode to fire his crossbow, but also to identify advantages in the environment.  You continue to gain useful individual abilities, but eventually you are given the option of issuing direct commands to other party members.  This isn’t to change the game to become a real-time strategy experience, but to allow you to exploit the strengths of other party members at key times to gain an advantage in battle.  While the game follows many jRPG patterns outside of battles (levels, equipment, town exploration, etc.) the battle system is an interesting take on jRPG combat.  I haven’t seen enough of the game yet to gauge whether this continues to build in an satisfying way, or devolves into a chaotic mess.

Outside of combat, the game reminds me in some ways of Chrono Cross.  Both are aesthetically pleasing games which encourage players to just plunk themselves down and enjoy the world around them.  The primary caveat to The Last Story’s presentation would be the character outfits, where men wearing hot pants and chaps aren’t given a second look in a world that takes much inspiration from medieval Europe and Japan.  The story definitely makes use of jRPG tropes (the protagonist is an orphan whose parents died in a war, whose town was destroyed, and whose love interest is a princess) and I would have thought that would be enough to turn me off to the game, but then again I am playing a game and not reading a book, so it can be easier to overlook some of this if you’re enjoying the game itself.  The Last Story is a game that’s simultaneously novel and familiar in such a way that I don’t really mind sitting down in front of the TV to play a jRPG again.  I’m not sure how or if this translates to a more mainstream appeal, but for those out there who are still looking for jRPGs, I don’t think this will disappoint you.


New Review: Final Fantasy VII

Before I played the game, I used to think that Cloud was going to fight the Shinra building.

It’s almost time again for another re-release of Final Fantasy VII.  This time on PC.  It’s been quite a while now since I last picked up the game and I’ve wondered more than once since then if it is as good as I remember it being.  Well, after having played it again (as well as Final Fantasies VI, VIII, IX now) I can say that as far as I’m concerned, it is still one of the greatest games out there.  There were many flaws in the genre at the time of its release, but VII’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.  The coherence of it’s design makes it more than just the sum of its parts, which earns it a final score of [3/3]+.

Continue to the full review.


Impressions: Final Fantasy VII

Sometimes, in my mind, I like to pretend that Final Fantasy VII was released in North America, everyone really enjoyed it and then that was that.  The compilation of Final Fantasy VII never happens and I don’t have to be reminded of this any time I think about the game.  It wasn’t all bad.  Advent Children was fun, and Crisis Core was one of the better Final Fantasy games to come out in a while.  But none of it captured what made VII special and only served to diffuse its impact and inflate the value of inconsequential elements of the game in the name of fan service.  Even in spite of this, playing VII is like jumping into a time machine and going back to 1997 where I can remain blissfully unaware of the nonsense that followed its release.  In any case, VII has served as my petri dish of sorts to rattle around ideas about the composition of games.  It’s still easily one of my favorite games (as well as one of the best games out there) and when I get around to debating the merits of the medium in my own mind, VII is inevitably used to help me try to figure out whether or not an argument holds water.

VII sits up there in my mind with Chrono Trigger: jRPGs set to engaging science fiction plots – my favorite film genre.  I hadn’t really appreciated the initial hours of VII until recently with how it manages to simultaneously introduce you to the world of Avalanche, Shinra, and the ancients while breaking you into the materia system, one of the series most satisfying game systems.  The way it all manages to build up to the escape from Midgar, a dark, closed, and dirty city, to a wide open and green world to pursue an enemy that makes Shinra, the world’s controlling super-power, look helpless was entertaining even today.  Perhaps the monotony and inaccessibility of Final Fantasy XIII put it into perspective in my own mind.  XIII wasn’t something more complicated or intrinsically bad, but it was not a coherent experience in the same way games like VII were.  It also doesn’t hurt that I don’t have to sit down in front of a TV and play from save point to save point when I can just suspend my PSP whenever I need to and play where ever I like.  It might be a bit difficult to justify sitting down and playing a 15-year-old game, but if you want to sink your teeth into a game that helped define an era in gaming history then it’s hard to do better than Final Fantasy VII.

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