Bravely Default: Review

I’ve been playing Bravely Default for almost 30 hours now and although I’m nowhere near the end I thought I’d write up a quick review of the game.

Elephant In The Room

I’m going to get this off my chest right from the start, Bravely Default might not carry the Final Fantasy name, but this game is more Final Fantasy than the last two major releases in the series put together. Bravely Default is old school Final Fantasy made with modern game design principles. This has more in common with Final Fantasy I through VI than Final Fantasy XII and any of Fabula Nova Crystallis FFXIII series does.

Four heroes of light reviving the four elemental crystals, you don’t get more final fantasy than that.

Combat

The combat in bravely default is fairly similar to Final Fantasy per Active Time Battle was introduced in Final Fantasy IV, you give each character commands in turn then hit go and they proceed in order of speed. This does feel like a bit of a step backwards, in that the order the characters will execute your commands isn’t immediately obvious (Unless I’m missing something) and it makes it a little difficult to chain their moves. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve had a character use a potion on the wrong character because I got the order of the Phoenix Down and the potion wrong, or at least I would have lost track had I been keeping track.

The combat system does add a novel Brave/Default element, actions take up Brave Points or BP, and you can use the “Brave” command to actually tell a character to use up to 4 BP in a round, allowing them to go into negative BP meaning they will skip turns till they hit a positive amount of BP again. This allows you to quickly pull off a series of moves, such as: a revive followed by a heal, using an ether followed by a spell, or just cast a spell up to 4 times. You can alternatively opt to “Default” which stores up the BP so you can use it in a future and turn and makes the character guard. It’s a fairly elegant system, and it adds a level of strategy as to whether you attack full pelt at the risk of not being able to do anything while the enemy gets 3-4 free turns, or guard to store up the points to attack later.

A Cast of Hundreds

Okay maybe not hundreds, there are four player main characters and there are I assume 23 “boss” characters which you have to defeat in order to get their jobs. The player character are well fleshed out and for the most part likeable despite or because of their flaws.

Tiz: Tiz has literally had the his world turned upside down, his entire village is destroyed in a cataclysm in the opening cut scene of the game. He is ever the optimist and resolves to rebuild it no matter the cost.

Agnes: The slightly naive “Air Vestal” is a priestess who has spent her entire life in a what amounts to a nunnery worshipping and maintaining the Air crystal.

Ringabel: The amnesiac womaniser with a book full of prophetic notes. Ringabel will hit on anything that moves.

Edea: Edea is the turn coat daughter of the leader of the big bad evil empire, she reminds me in a way of Celes from Final Fantasy VI in that respect. She’s compassionate and has a strong sense of right and wrong.

Bravely Brutal

The story is really dark at points, it starts with a entire village being wiped off the map and an entire order of priests dying to protect one person, and it goes on from there. Lots of people die and not in nice ways.

Some of the bad guys you meet are plain evil, and although I’ve yet to meet anyone to rival Kefka, some of them are quite sadistic and I’ve got a way to go yet. The so far the story has covered extorting people for the benefit of industry, government corruption, child labour, the use of chemical weaponry, it’s almost as if Square took a list of stuff that is wrong with the world and decided to use it as a check list.

Jobs Done Right

I’ve always had a love hate relationship with job systems in Final Fantasy games, I like the versatility of allowing my characters to change jobs, but I hate that fact that when a character first switches to a new job that character is crippled for at least half an hour of gameplay while you level up the new job, and that some characters become one trick ponies when you give them a job with an essential skill but only that essential skill.

Bravely Default solves this by allowing you to select one ability from another job the character has levelled up and have that as a secondary ability. The secondary ability is not as effective as it would be if it was your primary ability but it’s still useful and it means that when you convert your level 9 black mage to another class they can actually do something while you level the new class.

You also gain support abilities by levelling up jobs, that you can apply to a character regardless of what job they currently have, this is insanely useful for the “abate” abilities, which allow you to confer a level of resistance to certain elemental attacks, it also makes your characters much more versatile.

There are 24 jobs available, some you get through the main quest and others through side quests, some are useful others seemingly useless unless you want one of their skills. This allows for an amazing level of customization for your characters, as you can equip 576 different primary/secondary job combinations, as well as the choice of a slew of special abilities across the jobs you’ve levelled up.

Bravely Difficult

This game is not easy, but if you find it too easy you can change the difficulty level mid game, I’ve not really played around with this apart from changing the encounter rate, but that in it’s self is a god send. Sick of getting attacked every footstep by irritating enemies? Set the encounter rate to 0 and no more random encounters. Grinding for XP or Job points? Up the encounter rate to double it’s normal value. These effects normally require a special item in Final Fantasy games, but here they are just settings in the config.

You can also opt to not receive experience points, job points or money from battles to make the game a little harder.

If You Build It They Will Come

The game starts off with the town one of the characters lives in being wiped off the face of the planet by a cataclysm, you are the sole survivor of your village and you get to rebuild it through the game. Final Fantasy games usually have this kind of side quest/mini game, but rebuilding Norende is quite a good touch, you upgrade shops which in turn allow you to buy better items, the shops will also periodically give you gifts of the items they sell which is always nice.

Your city is rebuilt by an ever expanding populace which you get by Street Passing other players who are also playing bravely default, or by checking the internet once a day to get up to 4 extra people.

Social Features

Bravely Default makes use of the 3DS’ Street Pass system to populate the town of Norende, every time you Street Pass another player who’s played Bravely default you get an extra citizen in Norende, which in turn means you can rebuild the town faster.

The town is also menaced by Nemesis, which are big bad boss type monsters that are sent over from other players, which you can in turn send on or fight. I’ve been swamped with level 99 monsters for a while which is a bit irritating, but they get replaced over time as you street pass other people, and they have a chance to drop items which pump your characters’ stats, which is nice, as well as offering a generous amount of XP and Job points.

You can also link your friends characters to your own characters in something that is called AB Link, which as far as I can tell allows you to use skills that your characters don’t have, but that your friend’s version of that character does.

Lastly you can summon a friends character into battle to aid you, this is really good if you are in a pinch and your friends are higher level than you, but a bit useless otherwise, I’ve seen characters do anywhere from 3 damage to 9,999 by doing this. The other player does get to pick what moves they send you though which is nice.

Side Quests

So far each chapter I’ve played has had two side quests which you can optionally play through to gain extra jobs. Though the side quests are optional they are tied into the story and are the kind of quest in another game would have actually been part of the main story. One of them had me deposing the monarch of a nation!

The side quest locations are highlighted on the map so you don’t have to worry about missing them, although sometimes it is a case of being at the right place at the right time, for example: I’ve already run into two which are only available at night.

Graphics

I don’t normally care too much about graphics, especially not in a handheld game, so long as it’s not butt ugly I tend not to mind, that aside, the graphics in Bravely Default are nothing short of stunning. Everything is rendered in 3D and the way the camera pans in and out on the field or in cities is amazing. I’ve noticed the odd glitch or JPEG artefacts in the FMV, but for a hand held console this is more than acceptable.

Unaceptable!

There is very little I didn’t like about the game, I personally found the English voice acting a tad annoying, but I’ve switched it over to Japanese and that is much better. I’m quite happy reading subtitles, so I’m happy.

Worth it?

So far this is one of the best JRPGs I’ve played in a long time, I’m really hoping it holds up. I heartily recommend this game to anyone with a 3DS.

I leave you with this:

Sword Art Online – Season 1: Anime Review

The year is 2022 and a new virtual reality MMO has just been released called Sword Art Online, Kazuto “Kirito” Kirigaya is an introverted teenager who uses online games as a way of escaping from the real world. Only 10,000 copies of SOA and the accompanying “NERV” gear are sold, this includes the original 1000 beta testers of which Kirito was one.

Fiction set in an MMO isn’t exactly anything new, Piers Anthony did it with Killobyte in 1993, the .hack series of manga, anime and games (Which had you playing a single player game in which you were a person playing an MMO) did it extensively too, and there is even another current series called Log Horizon which plays with similar themes (I’ve not watched it but it’s on my to do list).

What sets Sword Art Online apart is that everyone is trapped in the game, all 10,000 players can’t log out, and if they die in game they die in real life.

It’s pretty dark, and a lot of the people playing the game unsurprisingly go a little nuts at the start. Although as time goes on they settle into the fact that this virtual world is their real world for now. A core group of skilled players fight on the front line trying to clear the 100th level of “The Tower” which upon completion will release all the players from the game. Other players set up shops, or just go fishing. The show explores what it might be like to live in an entirely virtual world and it does it fairly well.

The character progression is for the most part pretty good, the main two characters, Kirito and Asuna are quite strong, Asuna is even a “Strong Independent Woman“, although at times Kirito suffers from what I call Kakoii syndrome (Kakoii means cool in Japanese) where every female character he encounters falls madly in love with him.

That covers the first part of the show… This show could have, and possibly should have, ended on episode 14.

MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW

Everything was tied up, the will they wont they sub plot resolved, the game is completed and the players are freed, except some aren’t and Kirito has to venture into another MMO called ALfheim Online to rescue Asuna from a rather convoluted conspiracy.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about what actually happens because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who plans on watching it, but the show goes from being dark to being creepy. And Asuna who was a strong female lead turns into a plot device and a bit of a wet blanket. That to be honest is the saddest thing about the 2nd season, Asuna goes from being a really good and empowered female character to the stereotypical “Princess in the Castle”.

Also while the first half of the season had the odd gratuitous tits/ass shot, the second half is rife with fan service the low point of which is a shower scene with convenient obscuring steam which is just unnecessary (The shower scene is unnecessary not the steam, the steam is very necessary) especially when you consider the character and their age, I know Japan seems to be desensitized to this kind of thing but there is a line…

The second half of the season is watchable,  but it’s like watching another lower quality anime from the first half, arguably I’d probably enjoy playing the ALfheim Online more thatn Sword Art Online, because it’s more detailed and you can fly! but that wasn’t what this anime was about, it wasn’t about playing an MMO it was about being stuck in an MMO in which your life was on the line. I went through a brief phase of playing World of Warcraft, and I’m fairly sure I spent more time running towards my corpse as a ghost to reincarnate than I spent fighting monsters. To think that the first time I died would actually have killed me is terrifying.

All in all Sword Art Online is a pretty good anime series, the first half of the season is amazing the 2nd half is okay. There is a second season in production, and the manga apparently covers another two MMOs, I will probably watch it in the hopes that it goes back to being as good as the first half of season one, but I’m not entirely sure how they can do that.

You can watch Sword Art Online on CrunchyRoll or buy it on Amazon

Twilight Imperium: First Impressions

I’ve had the Twilight Imperium box sitting on my “to play” shelf for nearly six months now, it’s been taunting me: “Play me, together we will rule the galaxy as player and game.” I’ve got to admit I’ve been more than a little intimidated by this game.

The box this game comes in is the size of a small car, at least it’s the biggest boxed game that I own, and all the anecdotes I’ve heard about this game have suggested reserving an entire weekend to play it if you planned on using all the optional rules and play it with 6 players.

Last night we finally cracked it open, and with the assistance of someone who;d already played it once we got down and dirty and tried to conquer the galaxy.

It’s difficult to describe Twilight Imperium, it’s not a space combat game, it’s deeper than that. Each player takes control of a race, each of which have a number of abilities and disadvantages and the players race to get 10 victory points (or 14 in the optional rules). Victory points are gained by completing objectives, one of which is revealed every turn or so in addition to each players “Secret objective”.

Play progresses with the players selecting a strategy for that round (in a 3 player game you pick 2 strategies) which gives you a special ability you can activate and determine turn order, such as:

  1. Initiative : You go first
  2. Diplomacy: You can declare a truce preventing you and another player from attacking each other
  3. Political: Handle a political event which the players have to vote on.
  4. Logistics: Get more action tokens
  5. Trade: Get trade goods
  6. Warfare: Expand
  7. Technology: Get new Tech
  8. Imperial: 2 free Victory points

The players then take “actions” in turn until no one has anything left to do (You are limited in what actions you can do by the number of command counters and action cards you have so this isn’t going to last forever).

Your actions can be:

  • Activating your strategy allowing you to reap the rewards of it’s primary effect, and allowing other players to chose to spend a token to activate it’s secondary effect.
  • Activating a space area allowing you to move ships to it, attack ships that are there, or attempt to colonise planets.
  • Playing an action card which have various effects.
  • Passing.

Combat is relatively quick each unit has a target which they have to roll to damage or destroy a unit, there is no advantage to defending VS attacking, and the player receiving the damage can allocate it as they see fit among their fleet, two lone X wings can take out a Deathstar in a crazy suicide mission.

The ships are blatantly “Inspired” by ships from science fiction films and TV shows like Star Wars, StarTrek DS9 Battlestar Galactica etc.

Here is the cool thing YOU GET TO BUILD DEATH STARS! That’s right plural, not one but two!

Different ships have different abilities, fighters are cheap but can’t travel between systems by themselves, carriers are rubbish at combat are required to carry ground troops to invade planets, dreadnoughts can bombard ground forces from space and so on, you have to build your fleet using your space docks which do nothing more than build ships and you can’t have more ships in any one fleet than the number of tokens in your fleet pool.

It’s one of those games that looks really complicated from a distance, but once you get the hang of it it’s really simple. It took us a whopping 6 hours to play a 3 player game but we had no idea what we were doing to start with, it didn’t take long for us to get the hang of it.

So what did I think?

I really liked this game, I’ve played a lot of Risk lately due to my friends getting Risk: Legacy, Risk: God Storm and Risk: 2210, if you want it to be Twilight Imperium can be a slightly more complicated “Risk in Space”, but you are missing out on a lot and if you go full on battle crazy then you probably won’t win.

I really liked the exploration facet of the game, we played with a rule, which I think is optional, that puts face down tokens on each of the planets; these tokens are uncovered when you first land on a planet and can have good or bad effects it really gave you the feeling you were exploring the galaxy.

Twilight Imperium in a way reminds me of a game that I used to play when I was in school on my old Mac LC II called Spaceward Ho! It’s a lot more complicated than Spaceward Ho! in some ways but in others it’s simpler (You don’t really upgrade your ships that much in Twilight Imperium for example).

If you like space exploration, politics and battle, then you will love Twilight Imperium, I’m already looking forward to my next game, which I hope will be fairly soon.

Final Fantasy ATB: Possibly the Worst Game Ever Created

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If I pitched this game to you right I could see you thinking this was a game with tons of potential.
Play through a streamlined Final Fantasy game on you iPhone!
Fast paced combat featuring up to 40 characters at a time!
Unlock your favourite characters from the Final Fantasy universe!
It sounds good doesn’t it? Well it’s not… This game is a steaming pile of horse manure dressed up as a game, and the costume department is t even that good.
Final Fantasy ATB consists of battle after battle with enemies from various FF games, and you do, technically, get to control up to 40 characters… Only by control I mean furiously rub the screen with no semblance of thought or strategy.
You control an increasing number and variety of FF archetypes and presumably when you unlock them named characters from the FF universe. Tap a character to attack, and the. The character has to wait a little while to attack again. Any character who gets hit is immediately eliminated.
You might start by tapping, you’ll soon discover that you can just as easily just run your finger over the screen to achieve the same if not a more effective result. Your characters will one by one die and you’ll have wait for them to to revive which happens at a rate of one every 3 minutes.
That’s it. That is the gameplay. You essentially masturbate your phone to kill enemies.
Oh and you can spend money to get more characters. It’s like Squeenix didn’t even bother trying, they aren’t phoning in this performance, they are are making a collect call to their canvass and asking them to phone it in for them.
Do you want a particular character? Too bad the character you get when you spend money is RANDOMIZED! It’s like those gumball capsule toy vending machines.
This is extortion plain and simple, there is no game here just some animated pixel art and a means for FF fans to give Squeenjx money for nothing.
The worrying thing is that this game has over 100 five star reviews on the iTunes App Store.

Dream Journal: The Inmates Are Running the Asylum But They Don’t Know It

Quick note about a dream I had last night, the dream was set in military hospital which was run by John Cleese. The hospital had a full compliment of staff who were all military personnel who had been sent home from “The War” for some reason or other.

The thing is it became apparent towards the end of the dream that the staff at the hospital were all actually patients being treated in a mental asylum, but they didn't know it.

NaNoWriMo 2013: Doomed to Failure

writing

This isn’t an admission of defeat, I don’t think you you can admit defeat when you weren’t really planning on trying to win.

I honestly didn’t think I would have a chance in hell at winning NaNoWriMo this year, I’m way to busy with other things, but I signed up anyway just in case I suddenly had an influx of free time.

I think my word count is currently sitting at 361 words when it should be closer to 20k (18,337 by close of play today), technically I could make that up if I spent every non working hour writing, but if I’m honest I’m not likely to do that. I’m not engrossed in my idea for a story, and I don’t have the spare time to spend (I want to say waste but I don’t think that time spent doing creative pursuits can be classified as time wasted).

So my story for this year is not going to happen, I’m going to gather my notes and try and come up with something fresh so that next year I can march proudly into ranks of the winners.

An indie game where you touch the wind but you gradually turn into a monster.

Is just one suggestion made by the Game Idea Generator. There’s literally hours of fun to be had by just going through this and seeing the madness it come up with.

You might want to take notes because out of the chaos some really amazing ideas sometimes materialize.

An MMO where you must obtain collectible princes and princesses to forge the sacred sword.

 

A shooting game where you run away from farms in binary.

 

An indie game where you stop breathing if you don’t destroy baby animals in a laboratory.

 

Nintendo’s Stroke of Genius

For the past few years people have been saying that the handheld console’s days are numbered because the phones that people carry around with them are getting better and better at playing games.

The logic here is that you are already carnying around a device that you use to call and message your friends, which also gives you access to the internet and a slew of games at your fingertips whenever you want them. Why on earth would you want to also carry around a larger device that only allows you to play games, and maybe lets you access the internet on a crippled browser if you happen to be within range of a WiFi access point (Note I appreciate that Sony’s PSP Vita comes in a 3G flavour but personally I find the idea of paying for a 2nd data contract when I have a perfectly good data contract on my phone slightly repulsive).

There are a small contingent that will argue that a D-Pad or Analogue Stick and buttons are much better for playing games but if you look at the way the industry is going both Nintendo and Sony are migrating towards touch screens. Another argument is battery life, in that if you spend a few hours playing a game on your phone you probably wont be able to use it to make calls later, and although smart phone battery life is nothing like that of the mobile phones we had in days of yore it’s getting slowly better, and for the office slave it’s perfectly normal to charge your phone while in the office so it’s still usable while you are at home.

These arguments aside my personal experience with handheld consoles lately has been that I’ve had an initial honeymoon period where I carried the thing about with me all the time, and occasionally even played games on it, then bit bit bit I started to “forget” to carry it around. I found that most days I didn’t have time to play on my hand held, so I didn’t bother bringing it with me.

Then when I did have time to play games, I didn’t have the handheld on me, but I did have my phone so I amused myself with a short game of Bejewled or some other mindless puzzle game. It’s a viscous circle, sure the games I had on my phone weren’t as good as the one’s I had on my GameBoy Advance, PSP, or  DS but they were the games I had on me.

Sony has tried to make the PSP and the Vita useful in other ways, they’ve added a web browser and music and video playback, to these consoles, and although I admit to having watched a lot of Anime and TV shows on my PSP while travelling my phone and my tablet do all of that much better than the PSP ever could, I don’t know about the Vita but I also don’t see much point in carrying about two devices that do the same thing.

About three months ago I bought a 3DS XL, I’d been unimpressed by the 3DS at a Nintendo preview event and the reported battery life had put the nail in the coffin of any intention I had of buying one, but the XL fixed my issue with screen size and the battery life was better so I took the plunge.

Now when I got it and set it up I had to create an avatar or Mii and the setup process intoned to me that there would be mini games that I could play using something called Street Pass, I wasn’t really interested in this, I’d bought the console so I could finally play Ocarina of Time and see what the hype about Fire Emblem was all about.

After a few days of mainly playing indoors I took my 3DS out with me, and when I got home I noticed a flashing green light on it, when I opened the console there was a message saying that I’d met someone while I was out and that I could play games with them using the Mii Plaza.

I was curious so I opened up the Mii Plaza and got a piece of a puzzle and played a stripped down RPG. To paraphrase Mr. Bobinski from Coraline, “That was nice but not so Amazing”. Anyway I was still carrying about my 3DS because was was still in the honeymoon period and every day I noticed the little green light with more and more people added to my plaza I slowly got hooked on Street Pass Quest, and I noticed that the 3DS had a pedometer built into it, that gave you coins to spend in the games for walking about. I’m no fitness freak but I’ve always like the idea of having a pedometer to see how much I walk, just never enough to buy one. Now I had one for free, and I got points for walking!

Here is where the genius of the 3DS comes in, you don’t have to actually play it all the time to benefit from having it on you, you pick up coins, you add to people to your Mii Plaza, heck you can even get bonuses in the actual games you are playing.

The 3DS encourages you to have it on you even when you know you aren’t going to be able to use it, because you might pick up some Miis for your Mii Plaza and because you will earn coins by walking about.

I even saw a post on Reddit a few weeks back (I’ll link to it once I find it) asking if people actually started getting out of the house more just so they could get Street Pass hits, most people didn’t but a lot of people did say that they often altered their walk home to to school so that they would pass by places where they thought they would get more street pass hits.

There is even the potential to meet or in some cases seriously creep out people who you bump into on a regular basis which is quite cool and a way to meet fellow games.

What Nintendo have done with the 3DS is Genius, it’s made me carry about my console most of the time just in case I get a street pass hit and to rack up my pedometer. But in doing so it’s made me play more games on the 3DS, which will mean that I use the 3DS more and probably continue to buy games for it rather than in languishing in a drawer somewhere because I never get a chance to play games on it.