Archives for category: Retro


Phantom Dust is now available on Xbox One and Windows 10. The game made it onto both stores late last night, after some unexpected teething problems. I decided to jump right in and play the first half-hour or so.
 
Phantom Dust kicks off with an intro cutscene that I can only describe as ‘very Futatsugi’, reminiscent as it is of the director’s more well-known Panzer Dragoon. A voice over tells us that no one knows when or why the world changed, after the surface was poisoned by a mysterious dust that brought aggressive apparitions and erased the memories of the human population. Driven underground to survive, people abandoned their cities. But some people were affected differently. To them, the dust gifted psychic powers, and these Espers now roam the surface looking for relics of the past, and clues to the world that was lost. We see two mysterious new Espers discovered in strange stone sarcophagi, and I have to admit, my mind immediately jumped back to Azel’s discovery in Panzer Dragoon Saga.
 
After that, you’re into the game proper, and cast as one of these two new amnesiacs. After choosing a name – because no one can remember theirs, of course – you set out to help the inhabitants of the world beneath the surface, working for an organisation called Vision. I played up to the end of chapter 1, where you have a short showdown with a character that is obviously going to become very important, and so far I’m having a lot of fun. It certainly seems like there’s a lot to learn, though. For the uninitiated, Phantom Dust is a third-person arena combat game where you use a variety of skills that periodically appear near your starting position. These will later be drawn from your player-defined arsenal, taking inspiration from collectible card games, though in the early stages you’re given some beginner skills just to get your head around the various mechanics in play.

There’s a fair bit to remember with these skills – it’s not just about what they do, but how they do it. For instance, range has an effect here, with certain skills being more effective at certain distances, which is denoted by your reticle colour (red for close range, yellow for mid and green for long range). As an example, Bullet of Fire will throw a flaming attack in a straight line to your enemy, but will likely miss if you aren’t at medium distance, while laser is a long-range attack that fires out in a curve, often hitting scenery if you aren’t paying enough attention to your surroundings (and dishing out some pleasing environmental destruction as something of a consolation). You quickly start to take mental notes for each skill, but so far there’s been maybe a dozen in play, and apparently the game contains over three hundred!

Hmm. I wonder what they drink in a post-apocalyptic world covered in crazy dust.

Of course, it’s not all about offense, you’ll need to try to upset your opponents attacks too. You’ll get some defense skills for this, which, if timed well, can really save your bacon. An early favourite is About Face, which captures your enemy’s attack and sends it right back at them. Firing off your own attack immediately afterwards seems like a useful early-game combo to get used to. I mentioned earlier that skills will periodically appear at your spawn location, and this is important because you can only hold a small handful of these abilities at once, with some being single-use. You can overwrite these with new skills whenever they’re available to mix up your strategy.

I really am still at the very beginning of the learning stage in Phantom Dust – Chapter 1 is basically an extended tutorial – but I can’t wait to get back to it and try out more skills and strategies. As a lifelong Panzer Dragoon fan, it feels great to finally play what was effectively a lost Yukio Futatsugi game, and for free, too! Phantom Dust may be 13 years old now, but it’s still a very striking game; the textures clean up very well indeed, giving the image a very clean presentation despite its age, and the art direction and sense of atmosphere is excellent. The music is also very distinct, taking some recognisable classical pieces and messing with them a bit so that they’re just wrong enough to make you feel a touch uneasy, and the very first sound you hear on the title screen is so Twin Peaks it immediately gets under my skin. I’m intrigued by the story – Futatsugi has always been good with the whole lost civilization/ancient knowledge thing – and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

As I said the other day when the final release was announced, it’s a fantastic idea to give this away for free and get it into people’s hands, especially as it had such a limited release in the past. Hopefully, with more people able to try it out, it’ll strengthen calls for a new entry and get Microsoft to really think about trying again. And if they do, I really hope they get Futatsugi involved.

Keep an eye on A Game with Chums, where we’ll be playing the game in the coming weeks!

Less than two weeks ago, we saw our first footage of the HD re-release of Yukio Futatsugi’s cult Xbox classic, Phantom Dust. At the time, I wondered how Microsoft might go about making the game available to players, as Creative Director Adam Isgreen hinted that fans would be very happy about the price. ‘Perhaps we might see it launch on Games with Gold in June,’ I thought.

Well, now we know, thanks to Xbox marketing head Aaron Greenberg, who dropped this little nugget of news on Twitter just minutes ago.

Well that came out of nowhere, huh!? It’s great that Microsoft is getting it out into everyone’s hands, and a good month before E3 too, so that it doesn’t get drowned out by all the news from the Expo. As this will be the first time the game will be released in Europe, I’m excited to finally get to play it, and I really hope it catches on and gives Microsoft a good reason to get the reboot back into production.

One of the original Xbox’s cult favourites is coming to Xbox One and Windows 10 soon, and, courtesy of Polygon, we now have our first look at gameplay.

A quirky mix of Arena battler and Collectible Card Game, Phantom Dust was a Japanese exclusive for Microsoft’s original big black box, made by Sega alumnus Yukio Futatsugi, creator of the excellent Panzer Dragoon series. Sadly, the game never saw release in Europe, and was not made widely available in the States either, causing many to miss out on it. Thankfully, it’s now getting a second chance.

Co-developed by retro specialists Code Mystics, Phantom Dust HD brings the game to Xbox One in full, native 1080p (with support for arbitrary resolutions on the PC side), expands the screen ratio from its original 4:3 to 16:9, and brings back multiplayer functionality over Xbox Live. Adam Isgreen, Creative Director at Microsoft Studios Publishing, is careful not to label the game a remaster, instead choosing to call it a re-release, and he notes that, with the source code for the game lost, there was a limit to what the team at Code Mystics could do to bring the game up to date. Having said that, it sounds like the new HD version is using higher resolution development assets rather than the compressed textures and FMV files found on the original retail disc, and it’s clear to see that Phantom Dust now looks better than it ever has, sporting a much cleaner presentation.

Some changes have also been made to the way players build a card deck, with some free DLC aimed at getting players straight into multiplayer without having to cut their teeth in the campaign first. To facilitate this, players will now have separate saves for both modes; while single-player unlocks will feed into your multiplayer arsenal, multiplayer-earned cards won’t be available in your campaign run. While it may be disappointing to some that Phantom Dust HD isn’t a full-on remaster, with these and some other quality of life changes in place, it’s safe to say that it’s also more than a mere port of the original.

One point of contention will surely be that the game still runs at 30 frames per second, but Isgreen notes that the original was hard-coded to that refresh rate and that the team were unable to change it. “The entire engine was built around the game running at 30 FPS,” Isgreen told fans on Neogaf. “Everything in the code and data is either frames @ 30, assumes 30, or hard-coded to expect 30 FPS.” On the plus side, Phantom Dust HD will be a Play Anywhere title, so players that have access to both Xbox One and Windows 10 will be able to buy it once and have it available on both platforms.

The route Phantom Dust has taken on its way to Xbox One has been rather circuitous. At E3 2014, Microsoft announced a reboot with a flashy CGI trailer – a CGI trailer that it later transpired developer Darkside Games had never seen. The game was put on hold in 2015, resulting in the small developer closing its doors – Kotaku covered the story from the developer’s perspective. Microsoft insisted that they still had intentions to develop the title, but nothing has been heard since.

At E3 last year, in a post-conference stream with Geoff Keighley, General Manager of Microsoft Studios Publishing Shannon Loftis announced a port of the original game, to the surprise of many. It seemed to some that this was a sop to those disappointed by the cancellation of the reboot, but it was later revealed that Loftis had funded the port with some leftover budget from another project, and had kept Head of Xbox Phil Spencer out of the loop until she had something to show him. Spencer is a big proponent of the game himself, so it seems Phantom Dust‘s XBO outing is something of a passion project for many on the Xbox team.

Quite when Phantom Dust will release is yet to be confirmed, but Spencer has previously stated the idea was to have it out before E3. Isgreen also told Polygon that fans will be happy about the price; many will already be expecting a low price point, given its mid-2000’s looks, but the Microsoft exec also suggested that the idea is to get as many people playing the game as possible, suggesting a low barrier to entry. Perhaps we’ll actually see it launch on Games with Gold in the near future?

Many will also be wondering what this means for the future of the franchise, if it indeed has one. Could this be testing the waters for another crack at a reboot, should players respond positively to it? Time will tell. But with E3 on the horizon, and an interview with Phil Spencer, where he spoke of investing in first party, still fresh in their minds, fans will surely be hoping for some good news this June. For my part, I hope that Phantom Dust and the recent Voodoo Vince re-release are the start of a renewed focus on some of Microsoft’s older IPs.

You might have noticed that I’ve been a bit absent for a while. There are a few reasons for that, the most important of which is that I’ve been working to set up a new YouTube channel with a couple of friends. Dubbed ‘A Game with Chums‘ (yes, we shamelessly ripped off A Game of Thrones because we have no imagination), our channel focuses on video game quick looks with the occasional bit of drunken banter. We aim to get new videos up every Monday and Thursday, and so far have 12 ready to watch, with today’s Catherine quick look being our newest (and possibly most drunken).

So far, we’ve just made 20-30 minute videos of random games (including plenty of OG Xbox!), but we do plan on getting some let’s plays recorded before long – it’s a bit difficult to schedule at the moment, as we all live separately and can’t meet up as often as we’d like, but we’ll make it happen.

A Game with Chums is pretty low-tech – it’s just the gameplay footage and our commentary, no fancy webcam view or picture-in-picture windows or anything. This is partly because we’re a bit poor, and so have to make do, partly because we’re still learning, and partly because we’d like the gameplay to take centre stage. We’ll get better as we go along, and I hope you’ll take a chance to check our channel out, and maybe even subscribe and follow us on social media if you enjoy what you see. We’d also welcome game suggestions on our various accounts, which I’ll link below.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram

None of this means I won’t be writing anymore, though. I appreciate that my blog has appeared to be dead for a fair while, but I do intend to get back to writing before long – that’s my main passion, after all. I hope you’ll check back soon to see what’s new, and I also hope you’ll check out our YouTube channel and like what you see.

Stay tuned for more, and thanks!

bd
Blue Dragon is now backwards compatible on Xbox One.

Announced on Twitter today by Xbox Live’s Major Nelson, Blue Dragon has been a much-desired title for the console’s legacy support program and follows hot on the heels of Mistwalker’s other Xbox 360 exclusive jRPG Lost Odyssey, which hit Xbox One back compat a little over a month ago.

Like Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon is a very traditionally-styled multi-disc Japanese RPG, though while Lost Odyssey hews closer to the Final Fantasy template, Blue Dragon feels more like that other juggernaut of the genre, Dragon Quest, right down to the designs by Akira Toriyama. Like Lost Odyssey and a few others, the game is currently disc-only as no digital version exists. Phil Spencer has commented that the BC are looking into making this possible, so we’ll have to wait and see if that happens. In the meantime, we can expect second hand prices to rise in response to the announcement.

This brings both of Mistwalker’s big Xbox exclusives to the current gen, both of which were part of Microsoft’s early push to try and make their console a success in Japan. The 360 saw a number of exclusive Japanese games in its early years, including Tales of Vesperia (which is absolutely the best jRPG of its generation and you should play it right now) and a few others, and it’s a shame that it’s a strategy that never really paid off. We’re certainly seeing the results of that now, as plenty of Japanese games are skipping the Xbox One, from smaller titles like the recently announced Danganronpa and Nonary collections all the way to larger publishers like Square Enix, who are skipping the console for games such as the upcoming NieR Automata.

No Automata :(

No Automata ;_;

I’d like to see Microsoft invest a bit more in Japanese games again – not necessarily to make inroads in Japan, because I don’t think anyone believes that’s even the remotest of possibilities now, but to diversify their line-up a bit. So far, we’ve only seen a collaboration with Yukio Futatsugi that resulted in a pale imitation of his cult favourite Panzer Dragoon series in Crimson Dragon, and the multi-team partnership that gave us ReCore, even if Keiji Inafune’s Comcept only really consulted while the US-based Armature handled development duties. Scalebound is yet to come, and I’m really looking forward to that, but I’d love to see Microsoft throw handfuls of cash at Hironobu Sakaguchi again to get something like Lost Odyssey made.

Still, one thing Microsoft do deserve massive amounts of kudos for is their support for backward compatibility. The catalogue grows every week, and in the last few months we’ve not only been given access to some big hitters, but others that weren’t performing quite so well have been updated to run even better than they did on native hardware. It feels like Team Xbox is really hitting its stride now with BC.

Sonic 25th anniversay
After much teasing and dropping of hints, Sega have finally announced what’s next for Sonic the Hedgehog in this, his 25th year. The Blue Blur will be speeding through 2017 in not one but two new games, with the retro-inspired Sonic Mania set to launch next Spring and a new main series entry, currently called Project Sonic 2017 due later in the year.

The two games were announced at Sonic’s birthday party at San Diego Comic Con, which was also streamed live on Twitch and YouTube. Unfortunately for those of us at home, the stream was a bit of a mess; it started much later than advertised, and then suffered persistent audio problems, with sound occasionally dropping out entirely. In fact, the stream was so buggy that one wondered if the surprise announcement would be a straight port of Sonic 06.

Thankfully we were spared the horror of that alternate reality. So let’s look at the first of these new games, Sonic Mania. As if to appease those fans that are constantly calling for a more classic Sonic experience, Sonic Mania looks like a lost Megadrive game, and development is being led by Christian ‘Taxman’ Whitehead, known among Sonic fandom for his work on ports of Sonics 1, 2 and CD, using his own Retro Engine. He was joined on-stage by head of Sonic Team Takashi Iizuka, who mentioned that along with all new levels (one of which, Studiopolis Zone, is shown off in the reveal trailer), classic levels will be present and remixed in the new game. Graphics, movement and momentum all look absolutely spot-on, as you’d expect from Whitehead, but beside fresh stages there’s also a new gameplay mechanic in the Drop Dash, which seems to allow you to initiate a spin dash in the air, zooming off as you hit the ground. It looks like it’ll be great for sudden changes in direction while maintaining momentum. Sonic Mania was playable at the event, so there’s already plenty of gameplay footage on YouTube, but for us mere mortals unable to attend the party itself, the new game is currently scheduled to launch on PC, PS4 and Xbox One next spring.

So we’ve got our classic, 2D Megadrive-y Sonic covered, what about Modern Sonic, I hear you cry? Well, held back until the very final moments of the party was a reveal trailer for Project Sonic 2017. Although Iizuka made a point of saying that the new game was not a sequel, but a “brand new experience”, it’s difficult not to see the game as Sonic Generations 2. Indeed, the trailer sets the scene by proclaiming, “From the team that brought you Sonic Colours and Sonic Generations” leading us to believe it’ll be a return to the successful ‘boost’ formula seen in those games, as we see Modern Sonic boosting, jumping and sliding. Moments later, he’s joined by Classic Sonic as the pair team up, just as in the hedgehog’s last anniversary game.

Fans have been hoping for a return to the playstyle of daytime-Unleashed/Colours/Generations for a good few years now, after both Lost World and spin-off Sonic Boom each failed to impress, but one thing that may give pause is the tone of the trailer. Opening on a devastated city (that looks suspiciously like the one from City Escape to me…) under attack from enormous automatons that look more than a little bit like Sonic 2‘s Death Egg Robot, the colour palette is muted, swamped in browns, and the final tagline of the trailer reads, “Join the Resistance.” Hmm. Hopefully the full game is not too self-serious, as that just doesn’t work very well for Sonic (you need only take a look at Sonic Adventure 2, Shadow the Hedgehog or the aforementioned Sonic 06 for proof of that). I don’t think we’re going to be looking at a grimdark Sonic though – the last few franchise entries, even as far back as Unleashed, have been generally breezy, ‘Saturday morning cartoon’ affairs, and it feels like the people at Sonic Team now realize this is where the franchise needs to be. Project Sonic 2017 is slated for late next year, and will hit PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo NX.

Alongside the game reveals, the party was of course a general celebration of everything Sonic. We got a brief look at both Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice for the 3DS and the character’s appearance in Lego Dimensions, as well as a short clip from Season 2 of the well-regarded Boom cartoon; the cast even came out on stage to do a script reading, but unfortunately the stream rather annoyingly cut away from this. The tone was often completely, bafflingly, bonkers, with random interjections for such mundanity as a nacho tasting session from one of the sponsors, but it opened up to a rather half-hearted, lethargic set from Hyper Potions, complete with a lifesize, very Mikudayo-looking Sonic mascot who waddled onto the stage to throw some uncomfortable-looking shapes. Sonidayo later returned to the stage alongside Hello Kitty, for possibly the most inexplicable crossover you could imagine. It did, however, allow me to gif this.


Yep. Totally worth it.

Other than the games, the highlight of the night came when legendary Sega composer and Crush 40 guitarist Jun Senoue hit the stage to play some of the band’s Sonic themes. To be honest, it felt a little weird at first to see Senoue jamming along to a backing track, but I have to admit to grinning like an absolute loon when he started to play Escape from the City, encouraging the crowd to sing along, and when he followed that up with Open Your Heart, joined onstage by Crush 40 singer Johnny Gioeli, I was not at all surprised to find myself actually singing along. Well ok, not singing, as it was about 3:30 am, but mouthing the words, at least. It was a performance that lacked a bit of the energy you’d have got from a full band playing live, but it was still a great treat for the fans, especially those that love the music of the Sonic series. It must have been fun to be there in person.

This was an event by and for Sonic fans, and by all measures it was a massive success. As a Sonic fan, I’d have loved to have been there myself. However, the series still faces struggles in the wider market; Sonic remains a big brand in gaming, but the ‘Sonic Cycle’ is still in full effect, with the last two big games undoing all the good that Colours and Generations managed to do. With a return to a proper classic style of Sonic, as well as a game that looks to be expanding on those two excellent ‘boost’ games, it certainly looks like we’re on the upswing again. The only way it could be any better is if there was also a Sonic Racing 3 on the cards. Ooh, just imagine.

[Credit for Crush 40 live clips: W10002 on YouTube.]

After months of teases and rumours, Square Enix have finally announced an HD remaster of PS2 RPG Final Fantasy XII.

First teased by conductor Arnie Roth at a Distant Worlds concert last August, and then again in a new Prima guide a month later, the Japanese publisher today confirmed the title in a two-minute trailer, below. Called Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, the new release is heading to PS4 in 2017 and will be based on the International Zodiac Job System version of the game, which has until now remained in Japan.

In addition to the changes to the license board and battle system, Square Enix is also promising a full 1080p remastering of all assets and cutscenes, a re-recorded soundtrack in 7.1 surround (including the ability to switch between the original and new soundtracks), and a host of quality of life improvements, such as auto-saves and shortened load times. We’re also promised “high definition voicing” so hopefully the slightly tinny delivery of the original release will be a thing of the past.

While the Final Fantasy fanbase is generally pretty divided when it comes to discussions around the best game in the franchise, Final Fantasy XII tends to be among the most divisive entries. Whether it’s the ‘offline MMO’ game structure, the more languid style of storytelling, or just plain old Vaan, there are plenty of series fans that just didn’t enjoy XII. Conversely, those that love the game really love it, often citing it as the best in the series. For my part, I played just 14 hours of it before giving up – I just couldn’t get into it. Because of that, I’ve been hoping for an HD remaster for a fair while so that I could give it another chance. I had really hoped for a Vita version though, and so far it looks like the game is only coming to the PS4. It’s understandable, but a touch disappointing nonetheless. Given Square’s recent PC strategy though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it arrive on that platform some time after its PlayStation 4 release.

With E3 just a week away, we’re heading strongly into video game silly season, and with announcements like this, it seems the party’s getting started early. Here’s hoping we get a closer look at Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age next week.