Organized Rambling is a monthly column that details all the games I’ve played in a given month, even if they’re old. Generally, I’ll talk about whatever comes to mind while dropping some fun factoids that you won’t normally find in reviews… because this isn’t a review, it’s Organized Rambling.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 (The retail version this time) (PS3): I am, in many ways, very conflicted as to what to think about Final Fantasy XIII-2. On the one hand, it’s an improvement over the original in nearly every single way. On the other, it seems to have no idea what made Final Fantasy XIII bad in the first place. The end result is that Square Enix failed once again to create a captivating and connected world in which it’s possible to care about the inhabitants. The scripting is awful in much the same way as an old cartoon from the ’80s. A friend of mine wanted me to watch an episode of the old Transformers cartoon, and although I’m probably stepping into blasphemous territory by saying this, I found it completely intolerable. The episode he had me watch was about a small lightning creature named Kremzeek that could inhabit electronic devices and fuck with them. Obviously, since the Transformers are all robots, this is bad news for them. Here’s a transcript of what happened in the first few minutes after Kremzeek arrives at the good guys’ (Autobots) base, completely ignoring that the bad guys who created the creature apparently know where the Autobots are living and could easily just drop a nuke or something on them:
A random guy in a hardhat, carrying what appears to be a cross between a fire extinguisher and a Shop-vac, runs up.
The random guy proceeds to hose Optimus Prime with the fire extinguisher/Shop-vac.
Optimus Prime is poorly animated as he wipes off the windshields that make up his robotic man-tits. The Fire Extinguisher stuff magically disappears from the rest of his body.
Optimus says this as he forces open the door (the one that was opening and closing fine less than a minute ago), putting emphasis on the word “WORKS” when he forces the door open, despite the fact he’s a machine and therefore the exertion would be separate from any speech banks, since both exertion and speech require the movement of air in humans, but not in machines.
That may seem like it has little to do with Final Fantasy XIII-2, but sadly, the awful writing present in Square Enix’s latest entry in the franchise is just as facepalm-inducing. The two main characters, Serah and Noel, are absolute buffoons — but the manner in which Square Enix presents their dialogue is apparently supposed to make us pat these idiotss backs because they’ve figured out that the distortion in the particular time period they’re visiting is being caused by a paradox. Just like the 47 other times they figured out that a paradox was causing distortions in other time periods. After about the third instance, don’t you think they’d be able to just walk out of the little time gate that they use to jump around from era to era and just flat-out say “Dude, where’s my Paradox!?”
When the game’s not busy trying to force-feed you an awful plot, Final Fantasy XIII-2′s busy trying to convince you that you’re playing a game that’s faster-paced and more difficult than it really is. One of my biggest problems with the original FFXIII was that I could just smash on the X button and occasionally glance at the screen to make sure none of my characters were dying. The good news is that Square Enix handled that issue in Final Fantasy XIII-2. The bad news is that they handled the issue by making the battles so easy that you never need to glance at the screen to make sure none of the characters are dying; they’re not. With the exception of a few endgame foes, you’ll never need to worry about death in the world of XIII-2.
Speaking of that world, I hate it. Gran Pulse and Cocoon would be interesting places to explore, and the huge, beautiful maps are admittedly a thrill to run around in . . . but I still have no idea how any of these places tie together to form a cohesive geography. I know I’m running north because the map tells me I’m running north, but where am I in comparison to, say, the starting town of New Bodhum when I’m running around in the Yachas Massif? The storyline offers no hints whatsoever. To make things even worse, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is primed to be peppered with DLC. The first few pieces were some downloadable costumes and weapons that came with my copy of the game, while a DLC pack released a coliseum that allowed you to fight against Serah’s sister Lightning and some man from the original game who I’m apparently supposed to fondly remember. I don’t remember him. The latest DLC announced (and probably released by the time you’re reading this) is a skimpy bikini for Serah. When you’re suffering through the mindnumbing story, you’ll at least be able to stare at her barely legal breasts.
It seems like no matter how I try to look at Final Fantasy XIII-2, I keep focusing on the awful story. There was once an old saying that if you had a million monkeys and gave them each a typewriter, you’d eventually end up with the work of Shakespeare. I wonder how many monkeys Square Enix hired to write this drivel, and how much longer it’s going to take them before they finally end up with something Shakespearean. They’ve already got one in the barrel since the producer of Final Fantasy XIII-2, Yoshinori Kitase, looks a little bit like an ape.
Shit, Kitase Kong would be such a great game. It could be a business management simulator in the same vein as SeGaGaGa, only with a Square Enix theme instead of a SEGA one. As a young new hire for the struggling company, you’d have to use development resources to choose which aspects of each game need the most focus, creating whatever balance (or lack thereof) that would come as a result of your choices. As the game starts to come together, you’d see how balanced its stats are, and could tweak your directorial vision to enhance various aspects, but major changes mid-development could set your progress back and ultimately cost more money. It’d require strategy and planning in order to do well, and who knows? Maybe the “final boss” of Kitase Kong could be to make a Final Fantasy XIII episode that’s actually good.
The 3rd Birthday (PSP): Since the departure of Square Enix’s biggest names coincided with the company’s fall from grace in the eyes of gamers everywhere, it’s pretty apparent that those names were the ones keeping Square Enix afloat . . . and not their useless CEO Yoichi Wada, whose brilliant business decisions include forcing Final Fantasy XIV to be released a good year or so before it was ready for the public in an attempt to curb sales of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. Look how well that turned out!
Anyway, I’m thrilled to announce that there’s at least one exception to this “Square Enix is full of hacks” rule: Hajime Tabata. He seems to be relatively new to Square Enix’s roster, his first credits being as the director of Square’s Japan-only mobile phone prequel to Final Fantasy VII (Before Crisis). After that, he’s been working on one PSP game after another, making one of my favorite PSP titles as well as the only title in the expanded FFVII universe to be considered “good,” Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. Between those two games, he released The 3rd Birthday, a PSP title that acts as a pseudo-sequel to the two Parasite Eve games. A lot of people hated The 3rd Birthday, perhaps because the main protagonist of the series, a hard-as-nails badass blonde bombshell named Aya Brea, went from being a sarcastic badass in the PlayStation entries to a confused, helpless damsel in distress on PSP. That change didn’t faze me; The 3rd Birthday’s story was already every bit as stupid as most of Square Enix’s games these days. Instead, I found Tabata’s game to be rather fantastic because of some great third-person shooter/RPG hybrid action.
The big gimmick this time around seems to be the “Overdive” system. That’s not overdrive like I thought it was before finally hearing it voiceacted for the first time. Using Overdive allows Aya’s spirit to jump through time and inhabit the bodies of people who were there. When she does, the appearance of the person she inhabits becomes her appearance, at least to the player. The other characters still respond and interact with her as if she’s the person she’s meant to be. It can be a little disorienting at first, but it makes for a cool effect in several of the game’s over-the-top cutscenes.
Unlike many games of this nature, there are no healing items, healthpacks, or anything like that. Instead, your party members constantly change throughout each mission as reinforcements come and go, giving you fresh, unharmed bodies to enhabit, but there’s also a twist! Since they’re following you around and fighting alongside you, keeping them safe is also a priority. After all, they’re essentially additional health bars for you, so you don’t want them to run off and kill themselves. Thankfully, the AI is pretty decent at keeping them alive, but it’s still a good idea to keep them covered.
So, despite the inane story, The 3rd Birthday itself is a hell of a lot of fun to play. The controls were a little weird at first, but one of the control options made the control scheme almost identical to Type-0′s, which I had just finished playing. I’ve noticed that Tabata likes to add a lot of reasons to replay his games, with things such as repeatable missions, New Game + options, and unlockable costumes, and The 3rd Birthday is certainly no exception in this regard. it may lack a little bit of Type-0‘s polish, but it definitely shows Tabata’s pedigree, and it has me convinced that he’s the only director left at Square Enix that’s worth a damn. His PSP games have made me a fan of his, and I’m looking forward to what his next project will be. I, for one, can’t wait.
Playstation Vita: It’s not every day (or every year!) that a new gaming platform is released, and since I’m a pretty big fan of portable games, you can rest assured I had one of these babies preordered on Amazon the second they were taking them.
I then got to stare at my PS Vita’s memory card and my copy of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift EXTEND for a week because the accessories and games came out before the handheld’s official release date. Temptation!
It finally arrived though, and I love my Vita, but there’s a few things that bug me about it. The PS Vita is a handheld of extremes. For one, it’s big. Freakishly big. People kept saying how big it was, and I didn’t believe them because it doesn’t look that big in pictures. When it arrived and I pulled it out of the box, I finally realized what kind of monster I was holding in my hands. I held it up to my closed-up Nintendo 3DS to get a comparison.. Only to find that the latter was roughly the size of the Vita’s screen. On the other hand, the media is tiny. The games come on these thin cards that make the 3DS cards look bulky by comparison, and the memory cards are about the same size as the fingernail on my pinky. I had to make sure I left the card in its packaging before my Vita arrived so I wouldn’t accidentally lose it somewhere. I’m sure a lot of people have already written reviews about how the hardware looks and feels and all that, so you can look there if you want that sort of information. With the Vita, I’m going to talk about something else.
I’m going to talk about water.
From a design standpoint, everything about the Vita screams “water.” Its retail packaging consists of a stock photo of the handheld against a backdrop of various shades of blue, in the shape of a bubble within a bubble, or perhaps even ripples. It’s an evocative image, and it works well when you look at the handheld’s user interface. See that little white strip in the image on the right? It moves about, bobbing and weaving like a wave, and the buttons you tap to open up the various apps look suspiciously like bubbles. Despite the cool design decisions Sony made about the PS Vita, though, I can’t help but absolutely hate the user interface they chose. For one, it’s cluttered and unorganized, requiring you to swap between various pages of “apps” as if you’re on an Android or iPhone. Sure, you can rearrange the icons however you see fit, but the XMB used in the PSP and PS3 kept everything nice and organized in an intuitive menu that was clearly labeled and quick to find what you need.
On top of that, Sony’s attempts to force its users to use the Vita’s touchscreen is an odd choice, especially considering how much shit they were talking about touchscreens during the DS vs. PSP era. Sure, a touchscreen is nice to have, and it’s nice to have the option to use it to navigate my way through the Vita’s UI, but why can’t I move my analog stick and/or D-pad to control a little cursor to select an app or page that way? The answer is simple: The Vita is trying to pretend that it’s a smartphone. A simple look at the UI will tell you that, starting with the fact that you have to slide your finger along the touchscreen to “unlock” the system and access the UI proper, just like the “slide to unlock” feature seen in iPhone and Android. Even the graphical elements, like the little battery icon in the upper-right corner of the screen with running apps along the top-center and status icons such as wireless and (if it applies) 3G connectivity in the upper-left, the Vita’s UI just screams “smartphone with the screen installed sideways.” And I hate it.
That sort of stuff may bug you less than it bugs me though, The games are what define a system, not its UI, and thankfully, the Vita has those in spades. There’s a strong lineup of launch titles, with some original entries and some ports, some retail games and some that are PSN-only. While most hardware launches have one or two standout titles at best, the Vita has a good 7-8 titles of noteworthy quality, spread across practically every genre. Regardless of your gaming tastes, there’s probably something out on the Vita right now that you’d enjoy playing, and for a hardware that just launched, that impresses the hell out of me. Really, it only leaves one question left to be answered.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift EXTEND (PS Vita): I have this strange habit when it comes to buying new hardware. Despite the fact that I’m mediocre (at best) when it comes to fighting games, whenever I buy a new system, the first thing I get is a fighting game. The habit started back on the Dreamcast, when I picked SoulCalibur over a game like Sonic Adventure, followed by getting a Playstation 2 (a bundle that came with a copy of Gran Turismo 3) and a copy of Tekken Tag Tournament. When I finally got around to getting a Gamecube and an Xbox, you can bet your ass that they were purchased along with Super Smash Bros. Melee and Dead or Alive 3. My Xbox 360 was purchased with Perfect Dark Zero, but only because Dead or Alive 4 wasn’t out until a few days after its launch. I picked it up the day it was available though. Even my Nintendo 3DS came with a copy of Super Street Fighter 4 3D Edition, so apparently, I just really like to start out with fighting games. That said, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that, with the Vita’s launch having not one, but two fighters in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and BlazBlue: Continuum Shift EXTEND, that I’d ultimately gravitate towards one of those two titles. I made my decision, and it was glorious.
BlazBlue, for the few of you not in the know, was made by the same fine folks that brought us Guilty Gear, and in a perfect world, that would be all the recommendation I’d ever need to give you. But this isn’t a perfect world, so I’m going to tell you why BlazBlue is a fantastic game. One of the first things I noticed when I started up BlazBlue was, unsurprisingly, the music. Daisuke Ishiwatari has penned an absolutely stellar soundtrack that rivals the best songs from Guilty Gear, if not surpassing them altogether. Add that to the fact that it’s a superbly well-balanced fighter that eases you into the gameplay but has a shocking level of depth (once again, unsurprising, given its pedigree), a storyline that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but is lightyears beyond the stories told in other games, and is a handheld port of a game released on consoles, while capable of matching every single feature its console counterparts has (INCLUDING lag-free online multiplayer), and you have a game that’s set to define what made the Vita’s launch so great. There’s also a varied and versatile cast of characters, each of which have their own abilities and gimmicks. In BlazBlue, there’s the normal Weak, Medium, Strong hierarchy of attacks common in fighters, but there’s also a fourth attack called a Drive attack. Drive attacks are unique to each character, with Ragna The Bloodedge’s vicious sword Drive attacks able to absorb health from its victim, while the diminutive puppeteer Carl Clover’s Drive attacks allow him to control a large automaton that follows him into battle. As for myself, I was a big fan of the half-girl/half-squirrel hybrid Makoto Nanaya, whose ability to charge up her special attacks gave her the unique aspect of adding proper timing into properly inputting combos and anticipating the enemy’s attacks, developing another layer of strategy on top of an already robust fighting engine.