Saturday, March 31, 2007


I just started my third playthrough of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty yesterday (currently half way through the Plant Chapter). Some has lamented the inclusion of Raiden as the main playable character in the fourth Metal Gear game, but I never understood why. Many has dubbed him an annoying bugger and worse, a fag (in a derogatory sense).

Sure he has an androgynous appearance, but I think this probably highlights the cultural difference in gaming between the West and the East (well Japan and Otaku sub-culture). One has to look at Gears of Wars, Halo et. al, big budget American games with big burly grunts as heroes, to realise this. I like my video gaming characters to have a 'normal' body. And while Solid Snake is in no way like any id/Epic grunt, he does conform to the archtypical stereotyped male character of the West.

I understand why some are annoyed, because Kojima did (mis?)lead people to believe that Solid Snake would be the main character, due to the box art work (only the original Sons of Liberty Japanese cover that Raiden is featured on the cover before the Substance version is released two years later) as well as the Tanker Chapter. But I do not know why they have to get worked up with playing as Raiden. In a way, by introducing Raiden, Kojima and also introduced new moves that were only being capable of being replicated by someone more agile. In addition to that the gameplay is 99% similar to Metal Gear Solid with Solid Snake.

I like Raiden as a character. He fumbles, trips, and questions a lot, but this is the proper behaviour of an innocent rookie isn't it? Raiden is also a good playable video gaming character with a wider range of moves. In fact I look forward to him taking over from Snake from MGS4 and beyond.

Manga Impressions: Love Hina & Ikki Tousen

Without a DS Lite now (temporary I hope), I wonder what do you do when you are bored, stuck on a public transport and have no access to any entertainment that can speed up time? I guess I could play games on my PDA, but nothing good or original has been released for the past two year. I probably could read the free evening papers, but usually there is nothing there that I haven't already read on the web. And I am hopeless at reading paperbacks on moving transport.

Anyway I was sooo bored I read two mangas today (I hate TV anime). Apparently there are plenty of manga adaptations of video games now. I saw Devil May Cry and Suikoden III in Borders, but decided to get Ikki Tousen vol. 1 and Love Hina vol. 1 instead. Both features, uhm, plenty of manga nudity, but nothing reaching hentai level fortunately. So they are alright. I particularly like Love Hina 's relationship between Keitaro and Naru. It is a typical Shonen manga. Kinda like Ranma 1/2, so this is a series I will most likely follow (the whole series available in Tokyopop trade paperback English is readily available in many good book stores).

Ikki Tousen (Battle Vixen) however has plenty of action, but lack any emotional substance (at least in the first volume, although according to fans it does touch on the deep history of China, Japan, three kingdoms, whatever etc.). Consider this blurb from TOKYOPOP:
Hakufu Sonsaku, a young girl blessed with a large chest but a small brain, lives in the country with her mother. She is a Toushi, and as such she has a burning desire to beat people up, but her mother has forbidden it. Yadda yadda yadda.
Can you be more forward than that? It seems more geared towards creating a market so young people can buy quality resin figures of sexy manga half nude ladies kicking about with their panties exposed. Already I am tempted to get this, but they just had to go fudge it up by sawing a quarter of her leg out! Can't wait to see what happens in the next few volumes. ;)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

My DS Lite's nasty super crack hinge

Hello boys...

One of the stupid Internet myths regarding the of high Sony's PS2 sales numbers are people are rebuying PS2 consoles because they break down one year after purchase. Chalk up one for that myth, but for Nintendo's DS Lite this time.

I was travelling on the Tube when I decided to whip out my DS Lite to play a little bit of Advance Wars: Dual Strike. After inserting the headphone and sliding the power button, I pushed upon the top lid. Immediately I heard a crack and noticed that the right hinge has broken off. Embarrassed I quickly closed the lid, picked up the broken hinge and walked out at the next station.

After I immediately inspected the part that broke off once I reached home, I believe that there is an inherit design problem with the DS Lite's right hinge. I am not stating this as fact but based on my observation I believe it to be true.

The right hinge also happens to house the mechanism to allow the DS Lite to 'lock' in place when opened, so not many of the plastic area is connected to the main body. Actually I first started noticing a problem when I played Hotel Dusk two months ago. There weren't any cracks then (or at least none that I noticed) but the top screen when opened would not clicked properly. Having used the DS Lite hundreds of time the clicking sound did not sound right. The first (visible) crack that appeared was this tiny piece of plastic pictures below which I first blogged about here. While it did not allow the screen to completely break off it significantly increased the pressure on the right hinge as the right side of the top screen would float a little bit.

If you see this picture of the broken of bit, you will notice that this bit used to secure the right side of the top screen is only connected through the main body through three rather tiny surface. Frankly I am not surprised by this after examining the broken piece. It is shoddy quality and you do not need an engineering degree to tell you that the right hinge is weak. Unfortunately for me as this is an imported unit, it is highly likely that any plea towards Nintendo to fix this, even for a fee, would probably fall on deaf ears. Ironically enough I did send an email to Nintendo Europe a few days ago enquiring about the crack but they have yet to reply. Not even the "sorry we can't do anything" kind.

As I am pretty peeved off with Nintendo at the moment I am not much in the mood to hand in more money to them, so I will be attempting to fix this (or ask one of my engineering mates to fix it for me for free), as amazingly the device still works, albeit in a non practical manner (the top screen is being held by the LCD ribbon through the left hinge). I am sure the right hinge can be glued back with industrial glue (any recommendations?), but with the PCB exposed I am reluctant to do so. I will probably get one of those proprietary silly named tri-wing screwdriver to remove the PCB first before laying down glue and before attempting to reinforce the hinge.

I love portable gaming and most of all I love Nintendo portable games, but for this to happen, it is bloody annoying. But what can you do... whatever I do, from keeping the DS Lite in a case when not in use to cleaning it up like a baby every night, nothing can protect you from pure bad luck.


Update (01/04/07):

Jennifer's DS Lite has also suffered a DS Lite hinge crack. Fortunately it is only the "normal" left hinge crack that countless others has suffered, but as this crack is merely cosmetic and doesn't affect gameplay it should be alright. But to have two separate DS Lite suffering from cracks in the same week? What is going on Nintendo?

BTW She got the crack while playing Hotel Dusk. That game is evil.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Five exclusive PlayStation 2 games you should own

With the recent arrival of the PS3, there hasn't been a better time to get a PS2. Unlike Microsoft and Nintendo, the PS2 has yet to be abandoned, a testament to its versatility - despite it being the weakest in terms of raw power of all the last-gen consoles. New games are still being released for the PS2, such as Rogue Galaxy, Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria and Atelier Iris 3.

With many early adopters trading in their PS2 collections, pre-owned PS2 games are increasingly becoming widely available. Just yesterday I saw a guy trading in his almost mint condition copy of Shadow of the Colossus. Inspired by Richard's take on PS2 games, I decided to write this up. It's only five games though as I am just too lazy and tired (shakes angry fist at politicians who thinks British Summer Time is a great idea)!

5. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater / Subsistence
Kojima Productions, Konami (£10-£15 / £25-£40)

The thick forest setting is quite a departure from the mainly urbanised setting of previous Metal Gear games.

While Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was a great game, but if you can afford it, Subsistence is the definitive version to get. With an improved 3D camera (the same one to be used in the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 4), massive amount of additional content and other bonus stuff usually included in a "director's cut", as well as the first two games in the Metal Gear series - both based on the superior MSX 2 releases, there really isn't any point in getting the flawed (but still awesome) Snake Eater.

Snake Eater is set in Russia during the Cold War and centers on Naked Snake (Big Boss), a CIA operative sent to rescue a weapons researcher. Unlike previous Metal Gear games, Snake Eater begins with Snake infiltrating the enemies territory through the jungle, a far departure from the usual urban environment of previous Metal Gear games.

Subsistence also contain Metal Gear Online, and if online multiplayer rocks your boat then go get it. Take note however that the North American server for MGO will shut down next month. It is possible that the European servers would go before the year's end too, so beware. Regardless MGS3 is a solid 3rd person stealth shooter with an amazing plot. It also host what is arguably one of the most memorable boss fight in video gaming culture.

4. ICO
Team Ico (In-house), Sony Computer Entertainment (£15-£35)

ICO's architecture is a marvel to look at, even through the dated visuals and ugly textures.

ICO's failure as a commercial item is a sad affair. To be fair, part of the blame can be attributed to SCE's reluctance to market the game properly, but even then it isn't entirely their fault. Such risk taking can only go so far in a video game market dominated by uninspired titles. Even despite the recent reprinting, the only place to purchase this game today is eBay and online stores dealing with niche products.

At the age of twelve Ico, the game's protagonist who was born with a pair of horns, was taken in by warriors to a castle where they locked him up, offering him as a sacrificing token to keep evil at bay. The boy escapes from his casket. He soon finds Yorda, a fellow captive in the fortress, and together they work together to make way out of the massive fort, solving kindergarden easy to brain busting difficult puzzles and occasionally battling wraiths and ghouls as they progress.

It's only fault lies with the camera system, which sometimes hamper our ability to marvel at the inescapable beauty of ICO's architecture. The graphics of ICO may seem primitive by today's standard (even back then the lower polygon was somewhat against it - this was a PS1 game), but don't let that fool you as the visual design are still outstanding. The gameplay, surreal atmosphere and architecture is just as majestic as when it was when released. ICO is a beautiful game, and a highly artistic one at that, even down to the surrealist art cover.

3. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
Level-5, Square-Enix (£15-£30)

There never has been a Dragon Quest game where Akira Toriyama's character designs are blown to video game life so realistically, giving the group of protagonists much charm - something that their next-gen photo-realistic counterparts lack.

There is hardly any difference between Dragon Quest VIII when compared to the near two decade old DQ III. Apart from the graphics and plot, nothing much has changed. Battles are still very much and combats are done through the traditional turn based system. This is very much a love-hate game, and it is entirely up to the gamer whether he likes his gameplay old school or otherwise.

The plot is the simple but effective 'once upon a time' and 'they live happily ever after' kind, and can take a massive 70-80 hours to complete (and that is just for the main quest). The game begins with you, the nameless royal guard known as the hero, who has travelled to Farebury, with a mysterious companion known as Trode, hunting for a mysterious jester known as Dhoulmagus. The jester, armed with a magical sceptre, has unleashed a curse upon the kingdom, cursing everyone within including the king and the princess. Only you, the hero, remained unscathed and it is up to you to rescue the kingdom.

Where the game truly shines is the graphical overhaul, all thanks to Level-5. The cel-shaded look is stunning and the overworld is amazingly huge. It compliments the game very well.

Dragon Quest VIII features an excellent translated script as well as brilliant voice acting by European actors.

2. Final Fantasy XII (review)
In-house, Square-Enix (£25-£35)

XII is the first Final Fantasy numbered game to introduce a hybrid turn and menu based combat system. I hope they keep it.

Final Fantasy XII is the direct opposite of Dragon Quest VIII. It eschews jRPG traditions for new innovations, even more so than the pitiful Final Fantasy X-2. Unlike X-2 however, they got many of the new and old stuff right.

The plot, built over from Final Fantasy Tactics' political unrest of Ivalice (although in a different time line), is an acquired taste, as it lacks the individualism of the more popular (but in my opinion over-rated) Final Fantasy games. It is still on an epic scale, providing much relief in the overcrowded angry teens as protagonist RPG market. Final Fantasy XII highlights that there are still people within Square-Enix's internal development team intent on progressing a stale genre and introducing new gameplay ideas.

1. Shadow of the Colossus (review)
Team Ico (In-house), Sony Computer Entertainment (£15-£30)

SotC's visual design is not unlike that of Ico's, with washed out pale colours and majestic architecture.

Ignoring the lack of frame rate and the occasional camera reset, what you have here is the spiritual successor to Famitu Ueda's Ico, times ten. The plot is shamelessly simple. A young man known as the Wander (or Wanda in Europe) has travelled far with his faithful horse Agro to arrive at a temple in the middle of a barren land. In order to restore the life of a girl, he was commanded to slay 16 fabled ancient creatures. You then spend the entire game travelling, climbing, killing and repeating the process ad nauseam, minus the nausea bit.

Travelling through the desolate landscape, said to be the size of Tokyo, is a surreal experience.

Shadow of the Colossus isn't any conventional platforming game. For one the game consists of only 16 'enemies'. And second, the platforming levels are the giants themselves. There are no dungeons to traverse upon, no minions to battle through, just the pure adrenaline rush scaling the giant beasts, admiring the view from the top (and holding on), then slaying them.

You will often feel insignificant when battling any of the Colossi, but not so much after you slay each one of them.


There you go, five fantastic exclusives that I recommend you get. Five games that makes owning a PS2 worth it, even if those are the only five games you will ever play.

Other recommendations:

Yakuza (SEGA)
Suikoden III & V (Konami)
Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 & 2 (Atlus)
Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (Nippon Ichi)
God of War (SCEA)
Devil May Cry 3 (Capcom)
Okami (Clover)
God Hand (Clover)
Soul Calibur III (Namco)

Next week, five exclusive GameCube games you should own... or maybe the Dreamcast...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cycling quiz

Beeb's cycling quiz

I got 7/10. The one that I got wrong: you may cross the stop line when traffic lights are red. Apparently we mustn't. Bollocks.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Note to self: if you are planning to go cycling and then playing badminton in the early morning, do not drink sake and play OutRun until the wee hours. It won't do you any good!

OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast mini-review

OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast is just lovely. It makes no pretense to be nothing more than to emulate a perfect arcade experience in your carpeted living room. Do people even still go to arcades anymore? I remember spending countless SEGA tokens in the arcade playing Yu Suzuki's original sprite based OutRun but that was not because I was addicted, but because I was crap. Which is why console versions of this classic made so much sense, mainly because first, SEGA World is dead and second, because I am crap with steering wheels. Then I realised it was a waste of money it was buying and then spending Sonic tokens, so I started visiting this PC club where I get to play OutRun for free on old Atari ST and Amiga computers.

Apart from SEGA's own Crazy Taxi games as well as Mario Kart there never have been an arcadey driving/racing game so perfected for home consumption, at least in my opinion. So really when something like this catches your eyes because of a £5 (from £30!) sticker you know you just have to get it. If it sucks I could have just eBay'ed it for a 200% mark-up, but I decided against it, at least until I grew bored of it, but holy I doubt I would ever. Yes, I could have pirated the PC version, then bought a steering wheel, bolt it to the desk while trying to drift my way up. But I would look like a twat.

But I do love driving video games cars, even more so when it comes down to joypad-based racing video games. It's like that Will Smith bloke from MIB 2 who fitted his car with a wacky joypad. That's the future. Instead of cumbersome steering wheels, cars should be controlled by joypads fitted with an analog stick and two buttons, accelerate and brake. Motorways must have giant balls to knock over, ghosts to crash into, meteorites to avoid, blue skies to drive you on and a blonde lady to nag at you. I want to go far away, what is wrong with you! It should also be a law to make it illegal to play anything on the car's stereo other than the infectious 'Magical Sound Shower' or ‘Splash Wave’, but that would be stupid when driving under 95% of the British weather.

Sheffield based Sumo Digital did a fine job in the conversion from the arcade version of OutRun 2 SP, with bonus content and new tracks to boot. Tracks are in typical pyramid fashion, left for easy track, right for increase difficulty, with 15 from OutRun 2 and 15 new American themed tracks. Thirteen licensed Ferrari cars (though they don't differ much in terms of handling/speed) features here. Because of the death of SEGA World throughout the world (yay?), there is no excuse not to get this.

Oh gosh, I am even starting to sound like a disillusioned SEGA fanboy. Get the PSP version for Outrun goodness on the go.


Buy this from Play-Asia or Amazon UK

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Imported CDs deemed illegal

First SCEE killed off Lik-Sang, now the record industry wants to do away with CD-Wow!. Little did I know that it was apparently illegal to import original (ie. non-pirated) CD albums from outside Europe. Logically it sounds dumb, but the courts seems to think otherwise. The copyright laws are outdated and doesn't take into account the globalisation factor of Internet commerce.

From a consumer's viewpoint, it just looks like the record companies, under the direction of the British Phonographic Industries, have a secret desire to push back CD prices to the depressing times of late 90s when a typical one CD album cost £15. It is just bloody hilarious and I see no positive outcome from this ruling apart from increase in prices which in turn would drive people to pirate more, hence hurting the income of artists more. When a CD

Next-generation console games line-up

With the Euro PS3 due to launch in a couple of days I thought I would inject a little bit of non-humour on this blog by 'writing' this last night. It was meant to be funny, though I am sure it failed miserably in that area.

Super Mario Wii
Mario Universe Wii
Metroid Prime Wii
post-Metroid Prime Wii
Kirby Wii
Batallion War Wii
Mario Striker Wii
Mario Baseball Wii
Mario Tennis Wii
Mario Golf Wii
Mario Baseball Wii
Mario Ice Hockey Wii
Mario Basketball Wii
Mario Kart Wii
Brain Training Wii
More Brain Training Wii
Brain Training 2 Wii
Brain Academy Wii
Cooking Mama Wii
Pikmin Wii
Animal Crossing Wii
Zelda Wii
Smash Brother Wii
Tetris Wii
Wario Wii
Fire Emblem Wii
Wii Sport
Wii Play
Wii Concert
Wii Homework
Wii Sport 2
Wii Play 2
Wii School
Pokemon Stadium Wii
Nintendogs Wii
Another bad FarCry Wii
(Insert generic PS2 game with tacked on WiiMote fuction) Wii
Crap Sonic game

Xbox 360
Halo 3
Halo 4
Halo 5
Halo Wars
Peter Jackson's Halo Episodes
Call of Duty 3
Call of Duty 4
Call of Duty 5
Call of Duty 6
Sakaguchi RPG 1
Sakaguchi RPG 2
Sakaguchi RPG 3
Sakaguchi RPG 4
Generic WWII FPS 1
Generic WWII FPS 2
Generic WWII FPS 3
Generic WWII FPS 4
Generic WWII FPS 5
Generic WWII FPS 6
Generic WWII FPS 7
Generic WWII FPS 8
Generic WWII FPS 9
Generic Sci-Fi FPS 1
Generic Sci-Fi FPS 2
Generic Sci-Fi FPS 3
Generic Sci-Fi FPS 4
Generic Sci-Fi FPS 5
Driving Simulator 1
Driving Simulator 2
Driving Simulator 3
Driving Simulator 4
Driving Simulator 5
Driving Simulator 6
(insert previously exclusive PS3 game)
Crap Sonic game

Post-SotC game
Post-post-SotC game
God of War III
God of War IV
Final Fantasy XIII
Final Fantasy XIII side-quest 1
Final Fantasy XIII side-quest 2
Final Fantasy XIII side-quest 3
Final Fantasy XIII side-quest 4
Final Fantasy XIII side-quest 5
Final Fantasy XIII side-quest 6
GTA: (insert fictional city 1 name)
GTA: (insert fictional city 2 name)
GTA: (insert fictional city 3 name)
GTA: (insert fictional city 1 name) Stories
GTA: (insert fictional city 2 name) Stories
GTA: (insert fictional city 3 name) Stories
Generic JRPG 1
Generic JRPG 2
Generic JRPG 3
Generic JRPG 4
Generic JRPG 5
Generic JRPG 6
Generic JRPG 7
Generic JRPG 8
Generic JRPG 9 etc.
Metal Gear Solid 4
Metal Gear Solid 4: Subsistence
Metal Gear Solid 5
Metal Gear Solid 5: Subsistence
Metal Gear Solid 6
Metal Gear Solid 6: Subsistence
Generic Sci-Fi FPS 1
Generic Sci-Fi FPS 2
Generic Sci-Fi FPS 3
Generic Sci-Fi FPS 4
Generic Sci-Fi FPS 5
Driving Simulator 1
Driving Simulator 2
Driving Simulator 3
Driving Simulator 4
Driving Simulator 5
Driving Simulator 6
Singstar Pop '84
Singstar Pop '85
Singstar Pop '86
Singstar Pop '87
Singstar Pop '88
(insert previously exclusive Xbox 360 game)
Crap Sonic game

The real winner:


Really, apart from some truly great games on either systems, are there any reasons to go next-gen yet?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Weekend stuff

Yesterday we went to visit a friend of ours, Tony, in Rustington near Littlehampton. He just joined the property ladder and we were there to have a look at it. We were planning to mountain bike there but I just found that my bike's shifters and brake levers were clogged in chalk from our last bike ride so it was off to get serviced. Rustington town is nice and quiet, a far cry from merry old London. The local pub, the Windmill Inn, serves excellent pub food (I had the mixed battered fish and scampi with chips) and it was great with the local Arundel ale. The pub, a non-smoking one, has a large beer garden and staffs were brilliant.

After checking of the house (and helping out with the removing of some tacky wallpapers), he brought us to the civil parish town of Arundel. There is an impressive Norman built Arundel Castle which sits nearby a small lake. Arundel is a fairly small town and is very similar to Lewes and Windsor. Part of the South Downs Way challenge includes the 28 miles section between Brighton and Arundel so we will probably do it once I get my fitness back and the weather improves.

A little OT now, I just found a crack on my DS Lite. Not that famous hinge crack, but is a new crack between the lanyard loop and the R button. I have been noticing that the DSL when opened clicked a hell a lot rougher than my girlfriend's one especially after my play through of Hotel Dusk in January. It annoys the hell out of me, but it doesn't affect gameplay so I guess I should not complain. If it gets worst I could always gut it and replace the case with a Shock replacement case.

Sitting here typing this doesn't give me much confidence in the built quality of anything, ever again. My PC has been acting up, freezing spontaneously and crashing like hell. Fortunately I have narrowed the source of the problem to the six year old Antec SmartBlue 350W power supply. It was either that or the graphic card but an engine-style kick on the PSU's side solved the problem temporarily, so I am 99.99% sure it is the problem. It actually pisses me off even more because replacing the PSU is a more cumbersome process than replacing a GPU, even though it is 1/10th the price. Oh well, the thing is bloody noisy anyway.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What's in your bag?

Apparently there is a tag game going on where bloggers tag each other regarding the content of our bags. This is similar to the Oyster Card wallet tag from yore. Because tokyo_nights tagged me, I guess I will just play along...

A couple of stuff were not pictured. Some were for obvious reasons. Some were just forgotten (like tissues, do you really want to see those?). Notable content of my daily bag includes my DS Lite (pictured with Brain Age), some magazines (pictured is the new EDGE and WMB)as well as a couple of useless trivial stuff (like that Nintendo VIP:24 voucher). Anyway... anybody who hasn't done this consider yourself tagged.

Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 review

Megami Tensei is probably one of those under-rated series you have never heard about. Compared to the marketing budget that series like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Suikoden or even .hack can afford, the developer/publisher Atlus are very well known for producing very limited numbers of their games, in order to minimise losses (remember the E.T. scandal?) as well as recognising that the the Japanese role-playing games genre belongs to a small niche market, dominated only by a single franchise Final Fantasy, at least in the UK. Perhaps it makes sense from a marketing point of view, but it doesn't help in introducing a great series to people.

The original Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga spin-off was one of my favourite RPGs of last year, at least in terms of tactical gameplay - particularly the Press Turn combat system. It was actually the first Megami Tensei game I ever played thanks to the chance encounter at Gamestation, then a quick review check at Eurogamer. Since then I have also gone through Shin Megami Tensei III: Lucifar's Call (Nocturne Maniax in Japan), the third game in the canonical Shin Megami numbered series. The games are so fucking rare, especially in the UK, it makes me want to clutch my copy of these future collectors even harder.

Digital Devil Saga 2 is a direct sequel to Digital Devil Saga and it is probably essential to be able to play the predecessor rather than jumping straight into this game. You will also get to import the save file from Digital Devil Saga for bonuses. I won't explain any plot details here out of fear of spoilers (plus the plot is complicated enough to try to fit into a small essay, but it essentially revolves around a band of tribe called Embryon lead by this guy called Serph and their constant war with other tribes in order to ascend to Nirvana). Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 attempts to tie up any loose-ends from the first game (in which there are plenty) and providing more back story to each factions, then expanding those into a story worthy of a singular standalone game.

One of my favourite aspect of both Shin Megami Tensei III: Lucifar's Call and Digital Devil Saga are the stunning visual style of the games. As Digital Devil Saga 2 uses the same engine, Kazuma Kaneko's demonic character design is once again the highlight, as a unique visual characteristic of the game. I have always been a fan of these demonic art style ever since I started reading serious gothic style manga (not sure what those are called) during the mid-90s. The visuals are rendered in 3D (naturally) with cel-shaded look and simple textures, not unlike that of killer7. The original bleak and post-apocalyptic cyber-punk look of the original has been retained and the environment effect has been improved. There is also the distinct voice acting which surpasses anything Square-Enix has ever managed (bar Dragon Quest VIII of course).

After the fantastic but relatively easy Final Fantasy XII, I am looking forward to playing this proper, hopefully in Easter. Digital Devil Saga was awfully difficult and challenging, and it looks to be the same with Digital Devil Saga 2. It is unfortunate that such great games often goes overlooked by the public. Looking at the rather depressing UK game charts you can't blame Atlus for the lack of care when it comes to promoting this (and their other titles). The game is available at most stores for a low price of £15 (or £25 with a limited edition soundtrack), a shocking price considering it has been out for less than a month. A crying shame.


Import the NTSC version from Play-Asia or buy this Amazon UK today

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Religious monkeys

In recent weeks a mate of mine has been trying to coax me into troublesome religious debates. He knows where I stand regarding religion but he just can't stop pointing out the apparent ridiculousness of my (lack-of) beliefs. I usually counter that there isn't any proof that anything in the bible is true. It is after all a book written by dead men. When I demanded proof of Jesus's apparent divinity his counter is simply that because it is written in the bible, it is proof enough. Saddest thing is no matter how much he tries to preach about god and Jesus, he regularly fails to acknowledge other religions like Islam, often citing said religion as a 'violent' one - which I find very ironic considering how the history of his religion is riddled with blood and death, not to mention how similar the two religions are.

FFS, I don't care if you love Jesus, just stop bugging me about it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

HMV Game Boy Advance bargains

HMV has some excellent offers on a couple Game Boy Advance games. And not just pansy film tie-in ports. These are actual good quality and critically well received games at a criminally insane price of £10 each, delivered to your UK address.

For your tenner you can get one of these games:

Final Fantasy IV Advance (Square- Enix)
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (AlphaDream/Nintendo)
Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones (Intelligent Systems/Nintendo)
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (Square-Enix)
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (Jupiter/Square-Enix)
Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Brothers 3 (Nintendo)
Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (Square-Enix)
Metroid Zero Mission (Nintendo)
Mario Vs Donkey Kong (NST/Nintendo)
Golden Sun (Camelot/Nintendo)

Last I checked most of these still retail for full price. In fact just last week I saw Final Fantasy IV Advance selling for £35 at their brick store. Seven of those games listed are RPG titles, so if you are a RPG nut like I am and haven't played any of those you should probably check them out before the titles are sold out.

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories has a high production value but it is merely a retelling of the storyline presented in the PS2 game. Plus the battle system suck. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is the prequel to the excellent DS follow-up Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time. Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones and Final Fantasy Tactics are both strategy RPG. If you haven't played a Fire Emblem game, the gameplay is similar to the excellent Disgaea series on the PS2 and Advance Wars (developed by the same people).

Personally I recommend getting Final Fantasy IV Advance, Golden Sun, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones.

Monday, March 12, 2007

IBM ThinkPad X31-2672

See that ThinkPad X31 above with the lovely wallpaper of Keira and Scarlett? That is my new laptop! Five years since selling my Dell Inspiron 8100, I decided I needed a notebook after all. It isn't exactly new as this is a second hand notebook., but I did get it for £200 from a guy I know. He was planning on getting a new ThinkPad (R-series or T-series), so I guess was lucky I got this cheap! He even bought a new 6-cell battery recently (these costs around £100) and true enough the battery charge hold is almost 99% of the advertised capacity (according to PC Wizard).

Intel Pentium-M (Banias core) 1.4Ghz 1MB L2-cache
Intel i855 chipset
512MB DDR333 PC2700 SO-DIMM RAM (upgraded to 1.25GB, capable of 2GB maximum)
40GB 4200rpm 2.5" (IBM branded, not sure about the actual manufacturer as I haven't open it up yet)
ATi Radeon Mobility M6 16MB AGP 4x (enough for super old games like Red Alert)
1024x768 LCD
Ralink RT2500 Wireless mini-PCI card (I will be upgrading to an Atheros a/b/g, hopefully)
PCMCIA Cardbus type-II slot (powered by Ricoh)
Compact Flash type-II slot
2x USB 2.0, 1x Firewire 1394
D-sub, Parallel port (this may seem useless but I have a laser printer that uses parallel)
Intel PRO 10/100 Gigabeat Ethernet LAN port
Agere AC'97 Modem
IBM infrared port

As the first ultra portable I have ever own I am very pleased with the ThinkPad X31. It is small and light enough, yet gives enough performance for everyday tasks. Despite being three years old, there isn't a single crack on the laptop, only some chipped paint on the LCD screen where a security tagged used to reside. The keyboard keys are still intact and not a single key label is missing (in comparison my old Inspiron 7000 keyboard had keys popping up in the first 8 months of ownership).

I have already replaced one of the 256MB memory stick with a 1GB stick giving the notebook a total of 1.25GB RAM. Other upgrades planned (but not too soon) includes another 1GB RAM stick (bringing it to a maximum of 2GB RAM), an IBM branded Atheros wireless card (£25) and a Travelstar 7K100 hard drive (£100). The priority is to get rid of the unauthorised Ralink card (IBM disables features such as fn+F5 and the WiFi icon for unrecognised cards) as its signal is very weak (though better than my desktop's Belkin PCI card).

Because these upgrades will push the price upwards closer to £400-£500 some might be wondering why I didn't just purchase a new notebook for £700 and save all the trouble (as well as getting Vista and newer processor/RAM and screen technology). Well I like to be able to spread my cost over a period of time and getting a notebook for £200 is the perfect way to do that. I won't be upgrading everything straight away as I see this notebook as an investment that would last 2-3 years. Besides the cheapest 12" ultra portable (X60) by IBM is easily over a thousand quid, and I really couldn't care less about dual core of 64-bit. Gaming can be done on my desktop PC and my consoles.

Upgrading also tends to give me a warm fuzzy feeling.


Update: I finally purchased another 1GB stick and chuck it in. Now I never ever experience any slowdowns due to low RAM! I also installed a Ramdisk driver and allocated 400MB of my RAM as a ramdisk for Firefox cache. I also moved the pagefile there. Even though I have forced Windows to ignore the pagefile (by deleting it at first), some P2P programs always insists on using a pagefile. So there is a reason for creating a pagefile on a Ramdisk after all. With the 400MB ramdisk, Windows XP boots up leaving 1.2GB of free RAM to play with - and that is after loading ZoneAlarm Pro, avast! anti-virus scanner and Spybot S&D. Not bad.


Update: If you are wondering, this is what I have currently installed on my ThinkPad under the Windows partition:

Windows XP SP2
Office 2003
- Word 2003
- Excel 2003
- Outlook 2003
Firefox 2
Opera 9.2
Agnitum Outpost Firewall Pro (trial)
avast! 4.7 Home Edition
AVG Anti-Rootkit 1.1
Spybot Search & Destroy 1.4
O&O Defrag Pro 10 (trial)
PC-Doctor 5
Nero 7

There are other junks as well but most are too trivial to list and some are just trials for testing purposes.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


We went up to Lewes to have lunch with some friends, who will be returning to Germany soon, today. Then they drove us to Glyndebourne Farm near Glynde where the surrounding farms are filled with Atlantic alpacas and llamas. One of the farm even had domesticated pygmy goats and a camal. Because I did not bring my camera, here are some crappy mobile phone ones:

We plan to visit again one day, so I promise to bring a proper camera then.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Video Game Guide: Getting the Zodiac Spear in Final Fantasy XII PAL

This guide is for getting the most powerful weapon, the Zodiac Spear, in the PAL version of Final Fantasy XII.

Lowtown (South Sprawl)
Do not open the isolated urn found opposite the entrance to Old Dalan's home.

Rabanastre Royal Palace (Cellars)
There are two urns in the south-east side of the Cellars. Do not open the one on the south-eastern corner.

Nalbina Dungeons (The Confiscatory)
After collecting your belongings from the Confiscatory, you will find that there are three urns in the room. Do not open the urn in the middle of the room (the one directly opposite the save crystal).

*spoiler warning*

After you obtain the Dawn Shard it is possible to get the Zodiac Spear. However getting it this early would be extremely difficult and tantamount to a suicide mission for your party.

Whenever you are ready, head to the West Barbican from the Nalbina Aerodome, then head north-west to the Mosphoran Highwaste. If there is a cut scene showing the guards blocking the entrance to the Mosphoran Highwaste just hire a Chocobo and charge at them. It is probably a wise idea anyway to continue with the Chocobo for this venture if your party is too weak. Continue north-west until you reach the beautiful Salikawood.

Find the zone with the teleport crystal (there is a wandering moogle nearby), save, then head north and defeat the optional boss Bomb King. He is pretty easy if your party is fully equipped with Flame Shields. Just cast silence so he couldn't call for help, then pound it with physical or water-based Black Magick attack. He will renew his HP a couple of times but just keep on pounding. Make sure to use a handkerchief every time a party member is hit with oil. If you have Belias, summon him.

After felling the Bomb King, head westwards to the Necrohol of Nabudis and watch the cut scene (which may not appear if you come too early in the game). The Zodiac Spear is in the middle of the room at the third zone (Cloister of the Highborn). Getting there is tricky as the dungeon is fiendishly difficult to fight through at this stage of the game, and your party will most likely be wiped out after only a couple of hits. As it is likely that your party level is around the low 30s, I would recommend fleeing through the dungeon both ways (make sure you equip Libra, Protect and Float!), or just take the sensible option and ignore this whole side quest until you grind your way up to Level 50-53, like I did.

Regardless, the Zodiac Spear is in the second urn (of the cluster of 16) from the left from the direction of the room entrance. DO NOT open the urn if you are equipped with a Diamond Armlet!

x x x x
x x x x - Entrance
x x x o
x x x x

o= Open urn without Diamond Armlet equipped to receive Zodiac Spear.
x= Open once you are equipped with a Diamond Armlet, if you care to receive Dark Matter.

Congratulations, you are now in the possession of the most powerful raw physical weapon in Final Fantasy XII with its +150 attack and +8 evasion. Sadly if your party level is low, the weapon won't be of much help in physically fighting your way out. So try to flee out. If you have the chance try to visit the secret shop in the northern part of the first zone.

If you wisely chose to ignore the Zodiac Spear for now and continue with the main quest, there is another treasure urn that must not be opened:

Phon Coast (The Vaddu Strand)
Among the group of 16 treasure urns, do not open the third urn from the north-west corner.

x x o x
x x x x
x x x x
x x x x

o= DO NOT open!
x= Open once you are equipped with a Diamond Armlet, if you care to receive Dark Matter.

If you accidentally did open any of the urns, there is another chance of getting the Zodiac Spear. There is an urn in the Phase 2 Dig zone in the Henne Mines, which when opened the party leader must be equipped with a Diamond Armlet. There is a 10% probability that an item will manifest from the urn. Of that, there is only a 10% probability it will be the spear. So really you will have a 0.1% chance of getting the Zodiac Spear there. Good luck!

Credits: Necrohol of Nabidus map by Seph, NeoGAF, Coca Cola, Piggyback and Square-Enix for making a damn good game.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Meteos: Disney Magic mini-review

Meteos was one of my favourite puzzle games of last year. Created by Masahiro Sakurai (Kirby, Super Smash Brothers) and developed by Q Entertainment (Lumines), the gameplay is the typical casual gaming laced with enough challenge. It was just as addictive as Astraware's classic Bejeweled.

The best way to play it would be with a stylus (unlike Tetris which works best with the d-pad). Meteos is one of those many puzzles where you have to line up three or more similar blocks, whether vertically or horizontally. Whenever one of these blocks is created, the row of blocks will shoot upwards (into space) carrying other blocks upwards, like a rocket. Because the initial 'ignition' is usually weak, the player should quickly create another row of blocks within those unused blocks that is heading towards space so as to create a secondary 'ignition', allowing a better boost.

Q Entertainment recently released a new version of the game called Meteos: Disney Magic. The new title is basically the same as Meteos, but with some slight changes. The first apparent change, being the most significant, is the requirement to hold the DS sideways (like Brain Training or Hotel Dusk) giving a more vertical perspective. The second is the ability to drag blocks horizontally (making things much easier, although the game is still ridiculously difficult). And the third is the game is now riddled with Disney IPs. It doesn't contribute much to the gameplay, but it is a nice touch. Sadly whatever Disney content the game has, they are surprisingly under-used. Arts and additional music can be unlocked through the story mode... and that's it really! Even the quasi-Disney soundtrack isn't as good as those found in the original Meteos.

One would hope that an update to a pretty good puzzle would actually aim to be better than its elder sibling but sadly with the exclusion of WiFi support (it does support single cart local LAN mutliplayer) and the poor use of Disney IPs, makes this, for all intent and purpose, practically a re-skinned Meteos. Unless you prefer the subtle (but still significant) changes to gameplay that Meteos: Disney Magic presents, it is probably best to get the original Meteos while you still can.


Buy this from Play-Asia or Amazon UK

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

GDC: PlayStation 3 Home & LittleBigPlanet

Didn't think I would say this but I think SCE has a great idea with their PS3 Home concept. Even for someone like me who despise MySpace, I thought that the Second Life MMO style of PS3 Home has plenty of potential. This is the kind of thing Nintendo should have done with their Mii and/or Animal Crossing, but are too afraid of the Internet to actually do so (friend code anyone?). The only problem is like MySpace (and any online community or MMO game for that matter) PS3 Home when launched would soon be overrun by pre-pubescent kids.

If Sony engineers could find a way to filter through the content (basically an ignore function) and do not let the whole micro-transaction business model run wild, this could very well turn out to something similar to that AOL Web concept shown in Futurama's A Bicyclops Built for Two episode. There are of course stuff that I do not care much (particularly the marketing in disguise concept called 'achievements'), but even then showing off in-game trophies in the form of 3D avatars sounds nice.

I have to admit although I hate the concept of achievements (which Microsoft is planning to rip off PC gamers by launching a similar Xbox Live subscription model), where gamers play games they do not want to play in the first place just to inflate their 'gamerscore', I think the having a trophy room (even if it is virtual) filled with Final Fantasy summoned creatures like Bahamut or Leviathan (or even better those giants from Shadow of the Colossus), plays well in winning me over. That was something I wish I was able to install in my trophy room when I played The Sims years ago. Now if only they would quickly reduce the price of the hardware, make PS3 Home a reality and release more exclusive games and I am sold.

Update: Download the trailer here. And marvel at what could be one of the greatest 2D gameplay platforming games ever designed, LittleBigPlanet (especially with its beautiful The Go! Team soundtrack). BGB has a second video showing off the level design concept.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Tesco ain't so bad

Just had the opportunity to check out the newly opened Tesco Metro yesterday. Because our dinky part of London had no proper mid sized supermarket since Safeway/Morrisons closed shop 8 months ago, it was a relief when I found out that a tenant has finally been found to occupy the previously empty plot. No need to purchase groceries from the local but expensive Marks & Spencers any longer.

Already the cashier I found the be a lot more friendlier than the Morrisons one (the one where they harassed a scruffy twenty something guy for an ID because he looked "too young" to buy booze). Apparently they have been handing out vouchers with up to four quid off purchases, which I didn't have (nor did I know of), but she was kind enough to obtain a spare voucher and took £4 off my tiny £8 groceries, without me asking! That is what I call excellent customer service. Seeing that they also sell games, that £4 voucher would certainly come in handy.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Final Fantasy XII PAL review

Ah, Final Fantasy, Square Enix's flagship series that divides many, even those who are faithful to the series like I am. Personally I have never been a fan of post-SNES Final Fantasy games, but just saying that would draw in the wrath of Cloud and Sephiroth fanboys. Oh no (/ducks). Anyway, having bought into the hype that Square Enix's marketing gurus unleashed on us regarding the latest in the numbered series Final Fantasy XII, and then actually playing it; I find myself wondering, why did it took them so long to finally release a true masterpiece?

Before I continue I would like to complain a little bit here.

There is a terrible notion out there that Final Fantasy games are sequels. Which isn't true, at least not necessarily, but it is still a terrible myth often believed by fanboys and haters alike. The main numbered games are certainly not. Sure Final Fantasy X-2 is a direct sequel (more like a spin-off) to Final Fantasy X, but Final Fantasy X itself isn't a sequel to Final Fantasy IX. The reason why Square (and then Square Enix) named these major projects as such is pure marketing (a Final Fantasy numbered game will draw the attention of media and fans) as well as due to the common ethos (such as chocobos, moogles, orphans and airships) that binds them. Now with my pet peeve aside you can continue reading my review of Final Fantasy XII, the most controversial Final Fantasy game since, er, Final Fantasy XI.


Final Fantasy XII takes place in Ivalice, which I am sure some of you may recognise as appearing as a location in Vagrant Story, as well as serving as the main geographical location where the plot of Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (Europe, this is a ******* great game) takes place (though in a different timeline). Yasumi Matsuno, the original director of the game, happened to be the producer to Final Fantasy Tactics, so it was inevitable that Final Fantasy XII featured an intricate political plot similar to that of Tactics. Okay on surface the game appears to be a slight rip-off of Final Fantasy VI, which itself was a slight rip-off of Star Wars, but no matter, at least it does much better than George Lucas's recent efforts. Plus Princess Ashe can actually wield a sword. Can't say that for Princess Leia can you?

The Empire of Archadia and Rozarria are in a middle of a war and the innocent kingdom of Dalmasca, situated in the middle, holds a great geographical strategic importance to the Archadians. Like any good Empire they decided to lay siege on the peaceful nation, for the better good, apparently. A couple of royalty members passed away and Dalmasca soon became the property of Archadia. Princess Ashe, who was the sole hire to the Dalmascan throne appeared to have commited suicide (although we all know this to be untrue). A resistance group is soon formed by the exiled Princess who aims to liberate her Dalmasca and drive the Empire out of her nation (sounds familiar, no?).

Back in Dalmasca in the Royal City of Rabanastre lives a young kid by the name of Vaan. He is an orphan (big surprise there) who makes a living by being a thief. He does harbour the dream of taking his hobby to bigger things by commandeering his own airship while Sky Pirating around. Oh, and he plans on avenging his brother who died during the invasion of Dalmasca. What do thieves do when security is beefed up in the royal palace because of a fete? Well if you are Vaan you will consider breaking in. Which was what he did. After an interesting Metal Gear Solid'esque gameplay where Vaan runs around corridors distracting and dodging guards in order to get to the secret treasure chamber, he bumps into a couple of real life Sky Pirates called Balthier and Fran (whose characters are probably based on the Han/Chewie characters from Star Wars - although do be frank I rather ogle at the Viera bunny girl more than a Chewbacca)...

I won't spoil it for you so you will just have to play to find out more, but seriously if you are expecting enormous singular character development as found in other Final Fantasy games you will be sorely disappointed. This isn't IV or VI or even VII. If you are expecting that Final Fantasy XII would be centred around Vaan's desire for vengeance, then you are in for a big surprise. Unlike previous Final Fantasy games, the plot does not centre around any of the protagonists. The game's plot revolves around something much grander than love triangles, dead families or squabbling teenagers.


Battle director Hiroyuki Ito has basically rewritten the single player Final Fantasy rule book in terms if gameplay battle with this game, by tossing out many gameplay features normally associated with a traditional JRPG. Out are random battles, transitions between battles and exploration and (most) victory jiggle/themes. Monsters and enemies now roam on the field map and you can choose to fight them if you wish to. Any enemies wondering nearby can potentially join the battle at any time - which is why it is almost always prudent to lure enemies away, at least when your level isn't up to standard just yet. To escape from dangerous enemies your party has to literally run away by pressing the R2 shoulder button while enemies behind give chase. There is no shame in doing so, as Basch wisely offered wisdom during the short tutorial.

The battle concept was born out of Square Enix's own MMORPG Final Fantasy XI called Real Time Battle (RTB) giving Final Fantasy XII what some might argue an offline MMO feel. Melees and most actions (Magick, summoning Espers etc.) are still turn based and are governed by the ATB-like gauge (also created by Ito) introduced in Final Fantasy IV, but you can change or cancel action at any time as well as changing targets. Using items requires no charge time. In summary, the gameplay is still menu based, but in pausable real time. While the gameplay seems to have changed so dramatically, in theory it is actually pretty similar to the ATB system. So really the new system (called Active Dimension Battle) is a naturally progression from the marriage between ATB and a MMO based gameplay.

Blue lines indicates the party member's target


With up to three people in the party, selecting through the menus can get tedious, but the introduction of the Gambits system remedies that. It is sort of an auto-pilot system that defines the A.I. of the party members. It does sounds complicated and I cringed when I first read about it, but after tinkering with the system I find it indispensable. It is easier to give a couple of examples rather than delve into a lengthy explanation on computer programming and the inner working of A.I.

Here's one. You set a Gambit command on your party leader to [Foe: nearest visible -> Attack]. Basically this will tell your tank (party leader) to automatically attack any enemies wondering nearby. Another example is by fixing one of the party member's Gambit to [Ally: any -> Arise], he or she will resurrect any K.O.ed party member. Later on in the game you will be able to set more advance Gambits like [Foe: lightning-weak -> Thundaga] where enemies who are more prone to certain spells get targeted with specific Magick. You can unlock additional Gambit slots through the License Board (see below) and buy new Gambits and set different Gambit priority for each party member.

With Gambit set to the appropriate tactic, you can literally play most of the game with just one hand. It is a fun system once you get used to it, and makes levelling up and boss battles less of a chore. Another example I can think of was while roaming around Ogir-Yensa Sandsea early on in the game trying to harvest gil, I set the tank's Gambit to steal from any foe whose HP is still full (in this case trying to steal Succulent Fruits from the Alraunes). Because the tank is always leading the way, it almost always assure that he or she will steal from an enemy before the other party members kills off the enemy. The tank will then automatically steal from other nearby foes whose HPs are still full while the rest of the party members continue slaying about.

You can turn off Gambit if you are too proud an old school gamer who just wants to micro manage everything the party does.

License Board

The License Board works in a similar manner to the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, but it now looks more like a giant (and uneven) Chess board. It is where you assign new skills or abilities to your characters such as new melee weapons or Magicks. Note even if you managed to trade in License Points (which you gain by defeating enemies, most of which will only award you a single LP) to unlock a new license such as the ability to use a powerful Masamune weapon, you are still required to purchase one from the shops. There are a total of six License Board for all six characters.

It is theoretically possible to unlock the whole License Board but you will need a massive 13180 points to do so, and that not include points to unlock Espers. Early on in the game it would be wise to try to trade in LPs for +HP (up to an additional 1000 HP, Swiftness and Battle Lore (all permanent stat boost). Such augments comes real handy as with the stat boost a level 20 character has roughly the same stat as a none boosted level 30/40 character.

Personally I think that the License Board is a slight pain (on par with Dragon Quest VIII's annoying Alchemy Pot), but it is an interesting concept nonetheless in letting us chart the skills and develop each characters - although sadly without any distinct customisation. Once you unlock the whole board every party member has the exact same skills as the rest, with just the odd variation in stats. I prefer if they went for a more simplified system to developing skills, like the skill point system from Dragon Quest VIII or even the good ol' Job system. Maybe in future titles, hopefully.


Sony's PlayStation 2 is the weakest of the last generation console hardware but with extremely high quality textures and all sort of clever tricks with programming, the graphics of Final Fantasy XII is breathtaking. While it lacks anti-aliasing and proper shadowing during exploration, the game still looks impressive. Rabanastrae, with its unique Arabian and Islamic architecture, just looks brilliant. The conversion to PAL seems to have gone well with no black border issues as well as the adding of widescreen support. Sadly the game does not support progressive scan output.

As with any Final Fantasy game, cut scenes features aplenty, but thankfully they decided to cut down on those slick pre-rendered content. Pre-rendered cut scenes (or mini movies as I call them) still exists, but only reserve for very very important events (such as airship battles and stuff that the in-game engine can't possible do, or Squenix are just too lazy to do - look at what Rogue Squadron II was capable of). Most of the cut scenes are now told using the in-game engine, which looks just as wonderful as those pre-rendered once, just slightly more jaggy. I actually prefer the character models as shown through the in-game engine as a common mistake of pre-rendered scenes are they looks too clean and doll like.

In-game engine! Square Enix finally learns.

There are slight niggles with the camera as it doesn't always work the way you want it to, especially during boss fights. Final Fantasy XII bosses are massive and it makes sense to have a wide view to see what is going on. The problem is because of the way the camera pans, you rarely get to see the whole boss. An early fight with the Mimic Queen in Barheim Passage highlights the problem quite significantly. At the most all I can see are my three party members and guest Basch hacking away at its feet. This can be fixed by moving the camera closer giving a third person camera view behind the party leader, but this is hardly ideal in some cases, especially during the more chaotic battles.

Having said that the new camera system works great in the dungeons as well as the more open field map especially when the camera is pulled back giving an almost classic top-down viewpoint.


The developers has made exploring Ivalice even more memorable by introducing weather based effect. Step into the Dalmasca desert surroundings and you may or may not catch a sand storm. Weather also play an important part in side quests such as hunts. Stronger enemies as well as elemental ones would only appear in certain seasons such as the Giza Plain's rain. Previous area that were inaccessible may become accessible during certain weather conditions. Tiny details like these are very Hideo Kojima inspired, and kudos to the developers for taking on such an idea.


Final Fantasy XII is the second main Final Fantasy game to use voice acting. Thankfully Square Enix has decided to follow the successful dubbing of Dragon Quest VIII and employed a fair amount of voice actors capable of the many British and more exotic accent varieties. While there is nothing fascinating to write about the soundtrack, the music composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto sounds just as wonderful as most Final Fantasy game music. Each dungeons or areas have their specific themes and sometimes it is refreshing to play a JRPG that doesn't change themes every time you enter into a battle. It isn't as dramatic of some of Nobuo Uematsu's best work, but the soundtrack is equally as memorable. Seriously.

Victory jiggle/theme still exists but only limited to when you win major battles such as boss fights.


Doing away with the outlandish 3D Final Fantasy character design of Tetsuya Nomura, Square Enix wisely gave the job of designing characters to Akihiko Yoshido of Vagrant Story fame (he also designed those kawaii characters in the remake of Final Fantasy III). No more distinct Nomura-style moody teen-angst protagonist! The new characters design are clearly one of the better designed ones. Female characters for example, while still sexualised (at least in the way they dress - particularly Penelo and Fran), at least doesn't receive the same crass makeover that a certain Final Fantasy X-2 had.

Most would probably associate the effeminate and Aladdin like Vaan as the main protagonist, though like Terra (Tina, whatever) in Final Fantasy VI, Vaan is just a tag along, an observer if you like. The decision to sideline Despite being so similar to Final Fantasy VI, the party consists of a grand total of six characters, which is fine. Juggling around 14 playable characters during my fifth playthrough of Final Fantasy VI was just overkill. Along with Vaan and Ashe, there is Vaan's sixteen year old friend Penelo, the two Sky Pirates Balthier and Fran as well as Basch.

And seriously, Balthier (despite the rather reserved design) - coolest Final Fantasy character since Kain from Final Fantasy IV! Also a small note on the main villain Vayne. He isn't an archetypical JRPG villain, in a sense that he is absolute evil, you know, like Kefka. Rather Final Fantasy XII's villains is based on a corrupt senate (see the Star Wars reference?). As I mentioned before the plot is a political one, hence the villain being a political villain made absolute sense.

Up to a maximum number of three characters can join the main party plus the occasional NPC guest. These guests are useful early on in the game and during boss fights, but can pose more problems than usual, especially during level grinding as they are usually keen on attacking any foes (they have Gambits set to them) - even those that you may not want to engage with yet! They also steal a quarter of EXP gained during battles so it may be sensible to kill'em off while level grinding.

Developing the character, like in any RPG, is entirely. Judging by the stats (which isn't as complicated as recent RPGs), one would wisely have one of the three female characters as either a Red Mage or dedicated Magick user whereas a character like Vaan would be a tank - attracting enemies while a Damage Dealer like Basch, the strongest of the lot in terms of physical strength, pounds the enemies from the side with melee weapons. Like I already mentioned somewhere above, character developments are also governed by the License Board as well as the personal stats of each character.

Because K.O.ed characters can be swapped with other members from the reserve team it is wise to improve their stats by levelling up as well, though probably not as much.

Nothing is perfect

No doubt like any game (or anything for that matter), nothing is ever perfect. In this game there are quite a number of niggles, such as the camera issue I pointed out earlier. The License Board, while in concept seems welcoming, is an acquired taste. The main quest is also too easy (though lengthy side quests do offer much much more, such as the clan related hunts where you can earn Gils and obtain better equipments). By running around the party members can gain back MPs, liberating the use of curative spells through Gambits. K.O.ed party members can easily be exchanged with those in the reserve team making exploring the field map a piece of cake. Even then encounters with difficult foes can easily be avoided by simply fleeing! And while exploring the field map is indeed a huge improvement over previous Final Fantasy numbered titles, I kind of wished of a more Dragon Quest VIII’esque overworld, with an almost sandbox like experience of where we can take the party to (in XII, the field map’s layout is similar to dungeon layouts).

Best game(play) ever?

After a string of average Final Fantasy games starting with VII, it was about time Square Enix reinvented the numbered series, and my god they really did. Sure the plot from the characters viewpoint seems almost basic but I see nothing wrong in that. After all the story of Final Fantasy XII, is like a story told through the eyes of Vaan and his journey. The tale of Ivalice and all its politics cannot be told in a single game (a common complaint about Final Fantasy Tactics was the complicated political plot regarding Ivalice) . Lucky for us, we will find out more when the direct sequel Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings hits the DS platform. How else to tell an entire mythology? J.K. Rowling tells hers with seven books, Tolkein told his with many more and Lucas, the money maker he is, told his with 3 good films, 3 bad films, countless comics and non-canonical novels and spin-off TV shows, not to mention buggy unplayable LucasArt games.

I rarely say it but Final Fantasy XII's gameplay is close to perfection. It took six titles for them to get the 3D numbered Final Fantasy right, over two console generations just like it took them six titles to nail it with the 2D numbered games (VI), also over two console generations. Sure the new gameplay will scare the shit out of old school traditional JRPG fans, but if you read my Final Fantasy III DS remake review, you will know I am a huge fan of old school JRPG random battles with deformed characters, and somehow here I am just showering the game with so much praise. Times change and Square Enix as a development house as well as a business recognises that. But they sure know how to reinvent the wheel, even when they had to discard the whole concept and use a hyperspace drive instead.

Oh god, just look at the time. And all this time I wasted myself writing this I could have just gone off to play Final Fantasy XII.



When levelling make sure to kill off any guest member traveling with your party as they tend to steal EXPs but unable to level up themselves.

By creating a long-chain link by fighting the same enemies, they would frequently drop better loots and EXPs.

Once you have access to them, equip each member with a Golden Amulet (even those in the reserve team) and License Point obtained will be doubled.

Whenever you have a guest (like the excellent and reliable Larsa) try to finish up as many hunts for the clan soon as possible. Marks do not yield EXPs so it makes sense to have an extra hand to help fight as well as dishing out healing items.

Buy now from Play-Asia or Amazon UK

Update: A direct sequel in the form of Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings is due on the Nintendo DS soon. An improved International Zodiac Job System of Final Fantasy XII has also been released. It contains new jobs and dungeons.