Archives for category: PSOne Classics

Now that Hallowe’en is over, and with it our month-long Month of Horror, we’ve started a new series over on A Game with Chums. If you’re a fan of Final Fantasy, as we are, you’ll know that 2017 marks the thirtieth anniversary of Square’s storied RPG franchise, and we couldn’t let the year go by without celebrating that in some way.

We’ve raided our game shelves to make a collection of videos showcasing the first hour of every mainline entry in the series, all the way up to last year’s Final Fantasy XV, and we’ll be putting them up on Wednesdays and Fridays, starting today with the original Final Fantasy (well, kind of the original; we played the Origins version). You can watch it below, and please leave us a comment if you enjoyed it.

We’ll be back with Final Fantasy II this Friday, and we hope you’ll come with us on this journey. If all goes to plan and the technical gremlins leave us alone for a bit, we expect the final video to go up on December 20th, which is just two days after the original Final Fantasy was released in Japan back in 1987. It’s almost like we planned it.

mgsbanOne of the things that really grabbed my interest this past E3 was Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. It looked fantastic, with some excellent music that really helped to sell a rather melancholic atmosphere. I never really got into the MGS series; despite owning a console capable of playing every instalment, I’ve only played Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, so I hadn’t been caught up in all the preceding Ground Zeroes/Phantom Pain mystery and hype. But the recent controversy over the ‘sexy’/’erotic’ design of MGS5‘s sniper Quiet reminded me that I really quite liked the look of the game’s E3 trailer.

I mentioned above that I’ve only ever played MGS2, and that was around its original release (so we’re talking over a decade ago now). I remember a friend buying Hideo Kojima’s mech combat game Zone of the Enders just for the MGS2 demo that came with it, and we both sat and played through it. As I shot a guard in the backside with a tranq dart before running to hide in a locker, I remember thinking, “This is amazing! This is the future!”

So when it was released, I rushed out and bought a copy, played through it, and though I enjoyed it, I didn’t really understand what was going on. I didn’t get as much from it as I would have had I played Metal Gear Solid first; the titles in this series strike me as being as much movie as they are game, and back in 2002 I only really got the game part.

I’ve had a copy of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection sitting on my shelf for about six months now, so I had been planning on catching up with the series for a while. Indeed, I even started playing the first game on my Vita months back, but got a bit stuck and abandoned it. Having gone a bit mad watching MGS5 trailers over the last few days, I’ve been itching to get into the series. I also came to the realisation that I’m unlikely to ever play the HD Collection on home console as all of my current screen time is going to either Final Fantasy XIV or Tales of Xillia. So I bought a second copy for the Vita (of course, this means I’ll have to keep the 360 copy for Peace Walker).

So this lengthy, possibly unnecessary framing narrative brings us to the topic of today’s piece: Metal Gear Solid. Because it’d be silly to start from the second (well, technically fourth) game, no? So how does a fifteen-year-old title hold up at the dawn of the second round of HD consoles? Surprisingly well, actually. Now, MGS may be a pretty old game at this point, but as this piece attests not everyone has played it. With that said, it goes without saying that there will be spoilers ahead.

Metal Gear Solid begins with our protagonist, codenamed Solid Snake, infiltrating a hostile base from the sea while a voiceover from his commanding officer details his mission: a renegade special forces unit, FOXHOUND, has seized control of a nuclear weapons disposal facility and made demands of the US Government, one of which is the delivery of the remains of legendary soldier Big Boss. If their demands are not met, they have threatened to launch a nuclear weapon. Snake must rescue DARPA chief Donald Anderson and Kenneth Baker, the president of defense subcontractor ArmsTech, who were both on-site at the time of the revolt, as well as stopping FOXHOUND from launching their nuke, and he has less than 24 hours to do it. Of course, things are not as they seem…

In an era where a majority of developers are focusing on creating cinematic experiences, Metal Gear Solid feels remarkably contemporaneous; indeed, it’s surely one of the games that pioneered the push for expansive, cinematic storytelling in games, and the fact that it’s often named as one of the greatest videogames of all time is testament to its influence and legacy. Despite its dated visuals, the level of polish is immediately evident: every cutscene and codec conversation (and there are plenty here) is fully voice acted, and the performances are generally of a pretty high standard. Only Cam Clarke manages to chew the scenery a little as FOXHOUND leader Liquid Snake (though I can forgive the man who voiced both Leonardo and Kaneda). Those same cutscenes are all directed with a filmic flair unexpected of a director making his first 3D game, a flair that betrays Kojima’s youthful desire to be a filmmaker, full of sweeps and pans and without exception beautifully framed.

The game is still (mostly) a joy to play as well, likely owing to the simplicity of the core sneaking action: this is a stealth game, and it is strongly advised that you remain hidden. Using your soliton radar, you can view your immediate surroundings from a top-down perspective, allowing you to see the position of nearby guards and their area of perception, a cone that describes the range and limits of their view. Stay quiet and out of your enemies’ sight and you can often get through an area completely avoiding confrontation. If you’re detected, your radar is jammed, and there’s no way to see where enemies might be coming at you from, save going into a first-person view with a tap of the triangle button which roots you to the spot. It’s a well-balanced system that only tends to frustrate if you’re careless and get spotted with no hiding place nearby.

However, this being a ‘tactical espionage action’ game, you also have a handful of gadgets at your disposal: rations to replenish your health; a range of goggles granting thermal, night vision or standard zooming capabilities; the iconic cardboard box for hiding in plain sight; anti-anxiety drugs to steady your nerves and your aim, and many others. And although direct confrontation is discouraged, Snake collects a selection of high-powered weaponry throughout his adventure on Shadow Moses, including chaff grenades to confuse electronics and even a fly-by-wire missile system.

Many of these items come in very handy during the generally excellent boss battles, and a number of these encounters stand out. First off, there’s the borderline fourth wall-breaking fight with FOXHOUND’s resident psychic Psycho Mantis. It’s a battle that really plays with the conventions of the medium, extending the game into the real world: Psycho Mantis can read your mind, he knows your every move before you’ve even made it, so you need to do something unexpected. But what? Switch to controller 2 of course! Then he won’t be able to read your movements any more! Your commanding officer even tells you as much in a codec conversation. And this after Mantis proves his power by reading what’s on your memory card and making your controller vibrate (two things which I was unable to experience playing on Vita, though Mantis did note that I saved often, calling me a “prudent man”). Such is this encounter’s infamy that I sadly knew all about these things long before playing the game, diminishing their impact somewhat, but it’s hard to look at this battle as anything over than an inspired treatment of a player’s immersion in the game world, even as it forcibly removes them from it.

A few other boss battles stand out for me: a tense, long-range shoot-out with Kurdish sharpshooter Sniper Wolf in a wide open snowfield, the slow, deliberate movement of your scope at odds with the damage dealt by the PSG-1 sniper rifle, demanding accurate tracking and shot placement or leading to curses if your bullet misses its mark; and the handful of battles against Solid Snake’s nemesis and genetic brother Liquid Snake, who is obsessed with exacting revenge on our protagonist for being the ‘better’ clone of Big Boss. We first fight Liquid on a rooftop as he hovers above in a Hind-D helicopter gunship, and here we get to use our homing Stinger missiles to bring him down. Later, we find him piloting the titular Metal Gear REX, and the resulting two-stage battle is another tense affair as Snake tries to maneuver into the hulking, heavily-armed mecha’s blind spot, confuse it’s electronics and fire a Stinger at it’s most vulnerable points. Next comes a very John Woo-style bare-chested punch-out atop the ruined hull of REX, at the climax of which Liquid, defeated, apparently falls to his death. Except of course that he doesn’t…

Metal Gear Solid‘s story also holds up against the flow of time, taking in a heady mix of ruminations on the nature of war and those that wage it, military-industrial espionage and intrigue and legacy through genetics. There are a couple of weak points: the script often taking great pains to explain simple things (I get it Otacon, the PAL key is three keys in one!) while glossing over seemingly-important points with a line or two – I actually went to the Metal Gear Wiki after finishing the game, not to figure out what the hell happened, but to shore up my own understanding of the game and make sure I had everything straight in my mind. I’ll be interested to see how much more sense MGS2 makes after having played its predecessor, but something tells me I’ll be paying the Wiki another visit.

There were a couple of mechanical annoyances playing MGS on the Vita that I feel are worthy of note. Firstly, the game uses the L2/R2 buttons on your controller to bring up item and weapons menus, which you then cycle through with the d-pad. The Vita does not have L2/R2 buttons, so these functions are instead mapped to the rear touchpad, which doesn’t appear to like static inputs; it seems fine tracking your finger’s movement, but probably about five times out of ten, placing my finger in one place led to the menus popping in and out a handful of times before finally settling and allowing me to select the item I wanted. Having this functionality mapped to the rear touchpad is a bit of a pain even when you’re not trying to use it, as it’s easy to trigger a menu when you don’t mean to just by holding the Vita and shifting your fingers, leading you to eventually effect a hideous claw-grip method to keep your digits away from the touchpad until you need it. This will eventually make your hands ache, so remember to take breaks! The face buttons can also be a bit troublesome in one section where you need to do a bit of good old-fashioned button mashing. Perhaps it’s that the buttons are small, but they don’t seem as responsive to mashing as those on a full-blown pad, and sometimes won’t register a press (for the record, my Vita’s buttons are absolutely fine – the machine is still utterly pristine). These issues are with the Vita’s control method for non-native titles rather than the game itself, but they’re worth noting in relation to Metal Gear Solid, as (at least in the case of the menu selection) you’ll be encountering them frequently.

Finishing the game took me just shy of fifteen hours, but I imagine you could probably race through it in half that once you know what you’re doing, and replay value comes in the form of different endings and different items given to you at each ending (either Meryl’s infinite ammo bandana or Otacon’s active camo stealth suit) that you carry into your next playthrough. I absolutely loved my time with MGS (even with a number of frustrating restarts, often on one of those aforementioned boss battles), but I’m not sure I’ll be playing it again. Not any time soon, at least: next up is Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and Raiden.

newvitaSony have this morning announced a new model of their current handheld, the PlayStation Vita. At 15 percent lighter and 20 per cent thinner than the current variant it is impressively svelte, and comes in a range of colours – I must say, I quite like the bright yellow. Set for release in Japan on October 10, there is currently no word whether the new model will see release outside of that territory. You can see a teaser video for it below.

Besides the reduction in dimensions, there are other changes to the system. Perhaps most importantly, the Vita’s much-lauded OLED screen has been replaced by an LCD panel, which has led some fans to decry it as inferior. This seems a bit premature to me; OLED displays are good for deep blacks and vibrant, over-saturated colours, but a good LCD is much better at accurate colour reproduction, so it’s effectively a trade-off. If there’s one thing Sony knows, it’s display technology, so I’m sure it’ll still be a fine screen. The new model’s display will retain its 5-inch size and 960×544 resolution.

Another change is onboard storage, in that the new model actually has some. While the current Vita requires a buyer to also purchase a memory card if they intend to save their games, the new model will have 1GB built in. Ok, so it’s a pretty paltry amount, but it should do for saves. Alongside this, Sony have finally announced that a 64GB memory card is incoming (again, currently Japan-only, also set for an October 10 release), though I shudder at the thought of how much it will cost; I paid around £60 for my 32GB card (which is now nearly full). Even with the recent reduction in the price of the existing cards, I’m sure the new capacity will be very expensive.

The new console also has improved battery life, which is certainly a welcome addition. Rated at six hours gameplay time, the updated Vita should keep running for an hour longer than the current model. Other than memory card prices, battery life is my one niggle with my Vita; while battery life varies depending on what you’re doing (playing a PS1 game will give you quite a lot more play time than a visually impressive Vita title), the machine can burn through a full charge alarmingly quickly. I suppose that’s the price you pay for having games like Killzone: Mercenary on the go.

In aesthetic terms, the new console looks very similar indeed to the original model, retaining the first Vita’s “super oval” design, though the edges seem to have been smoothed off and it appears to have been built with a matte plastic this time. Also worth noting is that the screen is a separate embedded panel now (as you can see in the top image), whereas on the original the entire front of the device is a single piece. I have to say I prefer the original design as it looks a little more ‘premium’ to me, but the new model is close enough to the original that many likely wouldn’t notice the difference. Factor in the slimmer, lighter design, on-board storage and better battery life, and this machine is likely to be the definitive PlayStation Vita for many.

While this announcement came as something of a surprise (no leaks? What a world we live in!), I think most people expected Sony to iterate on the Vita at some point. Less expected is Sony’s other new piece of hardware announced today, the Vita TV. It’s basically a Vita without a screen or controls, a tiny mini-console that hooks up to your TV, pairs with a DualShock 3, and allows you to play Vita, PSP and PS1 titles (via a game card slot, download or memory card) on the big screen. It also has the ability to Remote Play PS4 games, so you could, for instance, have a PS4 hooked up to your living room TV, a Vita TV in the bedroom, and simply stream gameplay from one room to the other. It also has the expected video streaming capabilities (and I’m sure we’ll see the likes of Netflix and Lovefilm on Vita TV), making it a mini-console/set top box. Here’s a video of the diminutive machine in action.

I think this is a bit of a masterstroke for Sony. It simultaneously attacks two market segments; the Apple TV/Roku Box market with it’s streaming video capabilities (and I’m sure it’ll tie into Sony’s own set of services such as Music Unlimited), and the Android console arena championed by the likes of Ouya. Only Sony’s attempt offers a large range of games from across three well-regarded platforms, with streaming gameplay from PS4 also an option. I know which of these I’d choose as a gamer. The Vita TV could serve as both a TV box and a cheap, small console – all for 9480 yen (around £60, though there will also be a 14,994¥ bundle with a DualShock 3 and 8GB card).

Furthermore, it could also lead to additional purchases – say you buy one to stream PS4 games and TV shows and then pick up a couple of Vita games for it; perhaps you’ll be impressed enough with the quality of your Vita titles to pick up a handheld so that you can continue them on the train in the morning. Or maybe you’ll buy one to play Vita games on the TV and the thought of streaming PS4 games to another room will convince you to put down the money for Sony’s new home console. Made widely available (like the new Vita, it’s also currently slated for Japan only) and priced accordingly, Sony could easily have a hit on their hands with the Vita TV. I’m certainly interested.

As we head into the next generation of home console gaming, I have to say that Sony really seem to have an excellent ecosystem coming together. It’s an exciting time to be a gamer.

drippyBy Dan Bushell
The long awaited jRPG Ni No Kuni, which was co-developed by Level-5 and anime powerhouse Studio Ghibli, has finally hit the gaming world, and it’s stormed the charts in style! Many genre fans will agree that jRPGs aren’t as popular as they once were, yet this stunning game has arrived and now sits astride the charts, occupying the top spot against such massive competition as FIFA 13, Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Far Cry 3. These titles may have released in the tail-end of 2012, but they’re still selling in high enough numbers to take the following three spots behind our colourful adventure.

I am a huge fan of the genre, so I was always going to buy this (in fact, I pre-ordered the lavish Wizard’s Edition the day it appeared on the net), but Ni No Kuni‘s chart performance has me very excited about how popular it has been, and I’ve been wondering whether it’s been down to pent-up demand from genre fans, or perhaps new fans are being drawn to jRPGs? I hope for it’s latter, and if that’s the case perhaps it’s the presence of Ghibli – often cited as Japan’s answer to Disney – that is what’s drawing new fans in?.

If it’s the former, there’s certainly pent-up demand to be had; this gen has been a bit sparse as far as Japanese role-playing goes. Sure, we’ve had a handful of excellent genre examples this gen – Mistwalker’s Lost Odyssey and The Last Story, Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade Chronicles and Namco-Bandai’s own Tales of series has furnished us with Vesperia and Graces f, and before long we’ll have Xillia to be getting on with. But I don’t think any of these titles have had a massive impact on sales, certainly not doing as well as we would’ve seen last-gen. Final Fantasy XIII sold a lot, as Final Fantasy titles tend to do, but its sequel only managed half the numbers.

As well as lesser sales, we don’t seem to get as many releases as we would have in the past. During the PS1 era, jRPGs were a powerhouse genre, thanks in large part to the success of Final Fantasy VII. The PS2 was rammed with jRPGs, the Dreamcast had the likes of Grandia II and Skies of Arcadia, and the Tales of series graced the GameCube with Symphonia. But this gen there’s not been much. Some titles just don’t seem to leave Japan anymore (even a Final Fantasy spin-off, Type-0, is MIA here); it can be frustrating when titles don’t secure a release over here due to a presumed lack of interest, and it ends up being a vicious cycle; we don’t get the titles, and so demand drops, and then we don’t get the next title, because the demand is too low.

Tying into this thought, I think back to the Eurogamer Expo in London’s Earl’s Court in September. Ni No Kuni was demoed there, but it was plain to see where most attention at the Expo was going. There were a lot of titles on show at Earl’s Court; big, highly-anticipated titles like Assassin’s Creed III, Black Ops II, Halo 4, Far Cry 3 and others. People were going crazy for these games – they’d queue for over an hour to play a game for ten minutes! Many at the Black Ops II demo seemed to be queuing for that one game over and over, all day long! Contrast this with Ni No Kuni‘s demo area, where a fraction of the number of machines were set up, and you could also walk straight up to play the game at pretty much any time of the day. Namco-Bandai had one staffer on duty from what I could see, yet you never had to wait for her to finish helping someone else before she could talk to you. It just didn’t have anywhere near the interest of other games there; nevermind CoDBlOps, the Doom 3 BFG Edition demo area was busier! And yet here, this week, sits Ni No Kuni, at number one.

Perhaps game sales are down across the board so soon after Christmas, meaning it’s easier to gain the number one spot, but I still call this a significant achievement – Black Ops II was actually top last week, proof that it’s still selling well. That Ni No Kuni has managed such a feat while many places have been struggling for stock is both impressive and disappointing – if Namco-Bandai had issued more copies, they surely would have sold more, but that’s the nature of risk/reward for you, and the company seems to have a habit of downplaying demand for their jRPGs (the Tales of series says hi!). But with Ni No Kuni topping the charts, we can certainly hope it has both pulled in a lot of older fans and a newer generation of gamers to the genre who may never have experienced such games. And we can hope, when the time comes to release Tales of Xillia, that Namco-Bandai remembers this week’s chart.

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Square-Enix’s much-loved RPG series (which was actually last year…), the Japanese publisher has teamed up with the chaps over at PlayStation Network to offer a mammoth sale on all things Final Fantasy.

Starting this Wednesday (January 23rd), the sale will run for a week and see discounts of up to 50% applied to the store’s Final Fantasy inventory, which includes almost all of the titles from the 1987 original up to 2000’s Final Fantasy IX. The only gap in the line-up is Final Fantasy III; a PSP port of the Nintendo DS remake has only recently been added to PSN (and currently costs £11.99). I’m guessing Sony didn’t want to discount a new title quite so quickly.

Also in the sale are spin-off titles Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions and Dissidia Final Fantasy, but curiously absent is the latter’s prequel, Duodecim, though it’s prologue/demo Prologus is included. The PlayStation Blog (which lists all the titles in the sale as well as their expected prices) has duplicate links for both Dissidia and Prologus, so perhaps this was a mistake and the newer game will be on sale too. You can find the sale page from the PS Blog linked at the bottom of this piece.
[EDIT – this was indeed an error, and Dissidia Duodecim is now a part of the sale at a price of £7.99]

I’m always excited when I see a Final Fantasy sale on PSN. Then I have to remind myself that I have almost all of the games on offer; the only ones I’m missing are Final Fantasies II, III, and IV Complete Collection, though I own a lovely boxed copy of the latter on PSP. I also do not own Dissidia, but seeing as I have Duodecim (both physical ‘Legacy Edition’ and digital PSN copy), there’s no need – the prequel also includes a reworked version of the original game’s story.

Still, I can’t very well jam the FFIV UMD into my Vita, so I may well grab that on Wednesday for £7.99, along with Final Fantasy II at £3.99. Click through the link below to see the full list of titles and reductions. What, if anything, will you be buying?

PlayStation Blog Final Fantasy Sale:

PSOne Classics support has finally come to our shiny new handhelds thanks to Vita Firmware 1.80. The update, available today, allows you to transfer PS1 games from your PS3, while a store update going live tomorrow will allow you to download games directly to your Vita.

A word of warning, though: if you’ve installed your PS1 games on your PS3 and subsequently deleted the installers (the game images sitting inside little bubbles), you’ll have to re-download all of them, or they won’t show up in Content Manager, as I found out to my annoyance this afternoon.

Of course, more menu items also means more screens, and those extra screens give you a nice, handy excuse to grab some lovely wallpaper images (like my awesome Final Fantasy VI wallpaper in the above image). There’s an excellent thread on NeoGAF, linked below, that has hundreds of user-created images for you to peruse, so hit the link and go nuts. But don’t get too carried away; those PSOne Classics aren’t going to play themselves.

NeoGAF wallpaper thread: