Archives for category: RPGs


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.

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I’m a little more than a fortnight into my new Eorzean adventure, so I thought I’d post a little update on my progress.

In the time since my last post, I’ve joined a Free Company, run the first three ‘beginner’ dungeons of Sastasha Seagrot, The Tam Tara Deepcroft and the Copperbell Mines with a mix of fellow guildies and randoms – god bless the Duty Finder, which immediately put myself and a tanking friend into a couple of instances – and progressed past level 30. Having joined the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, I’m now heading towards a showdown with the Primal Ifrit, and reeeaaally looking forward to getting my chocobo soon. Because sod running about everywhere.

Upon hitting level 30, I was given a million gil and fifteen extra days of game time, which is very handy as I wouldn’t have been able to re-sub until the end of the month. And while waiting for FC members to run Sastasha, I also decided to try out some other classes; on my previous character I was a level 33 Bard, 17 Conjurer, 15 Pugilist and level 9 Weaver, so I decided to try a couple of different classes this time, just to see how they felt. So I’m now a level 31 Conjurer, 11 Thaumaturge and a level 6 Arcanist. If anything, trying these classes out has just reaffirmed that I want to continue on with my Conjurer until she’s ready to progress to White Mage.

Hanging out at Aleport, waiting for a Sastasha run

I’ve also since grabbed the Stormblood expansion, which included Heavensward, from CDKeys for just £15, so I guess I’m in for the long haul now. I’m still really enjoying my time with Final Fantasy XIV, and though I’m still a fair way away from where I was before (I was waiting to run Haukke Manor with members of my old Odin FC at the time), once I get there, I’ve got a hell of a lot of new content in front of me. Of course, it’s been a bit of a different experience anyway, seeing as I’m maining a healer this time rather than ranged DPS – I had played Conjurer to level 17 on my old character, but I don’t think I actually ran any dungeons on that class – and it certainly felt fresh, creeping through Sastasha while keeping tabs on a group’s HP (who am I kidding, I was basically the tank’s pocket healer!).

I’ve got some work to do before I can become a White Mage, however. It used to be that you needed a second class at level 15 to progress to a full job – in the case of White Mage, you needed Conjurer at 30 and Arcanist at 15 – but things have changed while I’ve been away from the game. I’m actually not sure how I progress now, but I know I have to be at least level 30 and to have completed a certain main scenario quest – I think it was a quest to do with the Sylph tribe, and all I can remember about them is endless dancing… /dance

Hopefully I can make White Mage before poor Khroma dances herself to death.

In other news, I’ve also been playing the recently-released Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, which I just couldn’t get into back on the PS2. I played for about 12 hours, made it to the Imperial Dreadnought after a meeting with Marquis Ondore, and just left it there. Whether it was the story, the characters or the gameplay, FFXII just didn’t grab me back in 2006, yet this time I’m absolutely loving it. I think the fact that it was so different from Final Fantasy X put me off a bit, and the perception that it was an ‘offline MMO’ didn’t help things much. Having actually played an MMO in the intervening years, however, they really don’t have many similarities in my opinion. If anything, FFXII‘s ‘Active Dimension Battle’ system makes me think more of realtime with pause systems seen in western RPGs. I had wondered quite how I’d manage, playing both Final Fantasys XII and XIV at the same time, but I needn’t have worried – it actually feels fantastic to be playing two expansive fantasy-based instalments with plenty of lovely Akihiko Yoshida design work informing the look and feel of both worlds.

Square Enix have done a great job with this remaster.

The Zodiac Age features a ‘speed mode’ option, which allows you to speed up the action by either two or four times, and using that to zoom through the more mundane sections of Final Fantasy XII – like dungeon combat against trash mobs – means that I made it back to the Dreadnought in around seven hours, rather than my previous 12 or so, and I’ve even been taking my time to more thoroughly explore towns and other environments this time out. It’s a fantastic quality of life improvement that has helped me to genuinely fall in love with Final Fantasy XII – something I never thought would happen, and certainly not 11 years after its initial release. I thought at best that I’d feel more favourably toward this most idiosyncratic episode in one of my favourite series, so the fact that I feel this positive about it is an absolutely wonderful thing; having played so little of XII in the past, it may as well be a new Final Fantasy game to me.

One thing that’s still a bit of a mystery to me is the Gambit system. I thought I had my head around it in the early hours, but upon arriving at Bhujerba, hoping to rescue Penelo in the Lhusu Mines, I happened to stop in a Gambit shop and dear god, the options I saw in there. There must have been hundreds of them! I’m going to have to do my homework and figure out more than just useful early-game Gambits, because that shop made my head spin at the potential intricacies of the system. My next stop is King Raithwall’s Tomb, but I think I’ll need to do a bit of housekeeping before I set out, and try to properly wrap my loaf around Gambits. It feels exciting though, rather than a chore; can I get my battle party working like a well-oiled machine without me even needing to intervene? Time will tell!

No you’re not, Vaan. Stop being a silly billy.

It feels good to be so fully immersed in the Final Fantasy series again. I was cautiously optimistic about XV in the lead-up to its release, and I did find a lot to like in the final product, but even though they’re each very distinct within the wider Final Fantasy canon, XII and XIV are giving me all kinds of nostalgic, old-school FF feelings. I’d love to see another Matsuno take on a big-budget Final Fantasy, or to see what Naoki “Yoshi-P” Yoshida could do with an offline instalment. Who knows what the future holds? With Yoshida’s MMO going from strength to strength (and with a Matsuno-penned, Ivalice-themed raid on the way!) and Final Fantasy XII finding a new audience, I’m genuinely excited for the future of Square Enix and their marquee series.

/happy
It’s been a few days now since I restarted my journey in Eorzea, and so far, so good; I’m loving the experience all over again and really wishing I hadn’t quit at all three years ago. I’m still taking my conjurer through her paces in Gridania, but progressing rapidly.

I did wonder, when selecting CNJ, if I might get a little weary of the Black Shroud; Gridania was my starting city last time after all, so I’ve spent many an hour wandering beneath its boughs. I needn’t have worried; I loved the forest then, and I love it now. Gridania had always felt like a second home to me and I missed it sorely in my time away. It feels like coming home.

I’m also really loving the pace of things. I mentioned in my previous piece that leveling seems to have been sped up dramatically – I’m getting a 100% xp bonus for everything I do – and after just ten hours, some of which I’ve just spent wandering around, soaking in the atmosphere, I’m already at level 18! I’m sure things will begin to slow down at least a little bit soon enough, now that I’m into levels that require tens of thousands of xp, but right now, I’m flying.

Everything feels much faster paced, which I appreciate having done all this before, and it means there’s much less downtime; where previously I might have needed to grind out a level or two in order to accept my next main quest, I’m now significantly ahead of the curve and free to just carry on with the story. Don’t get me wrong, there was always plenty to do to help you level up, such as taking on levequests, participating in FATEs or filling out your hunting log, but this time I’ve barely touched any of that content, relying mainly on main and side quests to shoot through the levels. I did finish off my tier one hunting log though, if only for old time’s sake.

Gridania has always been beautiful

Not everything is smooth sailing though. I’m playing the game across both PC and PS4, and each platform comes with its own set of hurdles for me to tackle. As I’m playing on a laptop, I’m finding target selection a bit of a pain thanks to the machine’s trackpad – there’s just not enough travel there for me to quickly and reliably switch targets. On console, I managed to remember that handy ‘L1+R2’ combo to switch to the next nearest enemy, but I can’t remember how to reliably target allies – a bit of a problem when you’re a healer! I suppose on the PC side I could increase my trackpad sensitivity – and it’s something I’ll probably play around with – but I think I’d be better off buying a USB mouse (seeing as i can’t seem to find one anywhere! I’m sure I had loads of the little buggers knocking about…). As for targeting allies in PS4, well… I’d better figure that out before I hit my first dungeon!

One thing that made me feel genuinely stupid happened late last night, though. I’d forgotten to log out in a sanctuary, so jumped back on for a few minutes to get my Miqo back to the Carline Canopy – she deserved a nice soft bed for the night, and I needs that sweet rested bonus. I entered the Carline Canopy and jumped on a table to dance for a minute while I checked something else (there weren’t even any sylphs around), and while I was occupied I heard a notification sound. Someone sitting at the next table over had sent me a tell. “Hello,” said a fellow adventurer called Peregrin Took. “New to the game, or coming in from another server?”

‘Well that’s pretty nice’, I thought, ‘I’ll reply!’ Now, I was on PS4 at this point, and I know it’s been almost three years since I last played this regularly, but I’m not kidding when I say it took me the better part of five awkward minutes, standing motionless on that bloody table, before I figured out how to do that. Well okay, maybe three minutes to figure that out, and another two to type a message out using the PS4’s on-screen keyboard. I mentioned before that I used to be in a fairly busy linkshell – indeed, some days I’d just sit for an hour or more talking in-game – but when I used to do that, I’d have a USB keyboard plugged into my PS3. I’m going to have to dig that out again – luckily, unlike the mouse, that hasn’t gone walkabout!

It’s all a learning process though, even if it’s mostly *re* learning stuff I once knew and have since forgotten. The important thing is that I’m back in Eorzea, and I don’t ever want to leave again.


Recently, I wrote about my return to the time-sink that is Destiny after almost two years away from the game, and it seems as if there must be something in the water; just this weekend, I returned to the realm of Eorzea more than three years after I last logged into Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

Though there are similarities here – both games are persistent worlds that require a large investment of time and a willingness to group up with others – the situations surrounding me leaving each game were quite different: where Destiny disappointed as much as it thrilled, I loved A Realm Reborn right from the get-go. I took part in phase 3 of the game’s closed beta on PlayStation 3, pre-ordered the Collector’s Edition, bought a PS4 almost solely to play the upgraded version, and even had a small series on here, called ‘Postcards from Eorzea’.

But around April 2014 – not long after I’d upgraded to the PS4 version – I just drifted away from the game. From the official launch on PS3, I’d been playing with a good friend, levelling and running dungeons together, spending hours working on our digital avatars almost daily, and eventually, that friend decided that he didn’t want to pay the sub anymore. I understood, of course: a subscription MMO is a commitment, after all, and if you’ve paid for access you feel like you have to play the game as much as possible. These games have a habit of monopolising your time.

After my friend quit, I tried to soldier on for a bit. I had a group of fellow Eurogamer forumites that I’d chat with in our Linkshell, but they were all far more hardcore than me, and so were much further ahead in the game. It just wasn’t the same. So I stopped, and I’ve honestly missed it ever since. I’d still pay attention to news from the game, I’d sometimes look back through my captured screenshots and reminisce over some of the beautiful landscapes that make up the continent of Eorzea, but I didn’t have any plans to come back. So what’s changed?

My interest in Final Fantasy XIV was reignited in a big way when noclip’s excellent three-part documentary covering the game’s development was released just last week. Most people that follow the game will know that the original iteration of Final Fantasy XIV – what Square Enix now refer to as “1.0” – was an absolute disaster, with then-CEO Yoichi Wada going so far as to claim its launch “greatly damaged” the Final Fantasy brand as a whole. Square Enix embarked on an ambitious plan to not only continue to support 1.0, but secretly make an entirely new version of the game under new director Naoki “Yoshi-P” Yoshida, dubbed A Realm Reborn. The three-part documentary from noclip is an excellent, in-depth look at the death and rebirth of Square’s latest MMO, and I’m honestly quite surprised how open members of the development team were allowed to be in their interviews. It’s well worth a watch even if you aren’t particularly interested in visiting Eorzea.

However, the main reason behind my decision to dive back in actually does relate to Destiny, in a somewhat round-about way. If you read my piece about going back to that game (and I am still playing! I’ve recently picked up Rise of Iron and am currently trying to get my hunter up to the required level to do the Wrath of the Machine raid), you’ll remember that I joined a group on the100 – a good group of chaps united under the banner of Town Called Malice. One of the players there has also dabbled in Final Fantasy XIV in the past, and had also expressed an interest in going back. So now I had someone to go adventuring with! I was heading back to Eorzea.

I considered grabbing the Starter Edition on PC, as it’s currently £7.99 in the Steam summer sale; I already have the PS4 client installed (and it took an entire evening to update!), but I quite liked the idea of splitting my play time between the two platforms. However, I remembered that I’d once bought a Square Enix mystery box which contained a Windows license that I never redeemed – I was fairly sure I wouldn’t be playing the game again, back then. So I searched my inbox, and found the email containing my keys from the Holiday Surprise box bought in December 2015. Sure enough, there was a key for A Realm Reborn, but with it being a year-and-a-half old, I wondered if it might have expired. I headed to Mog Station, redeemed the code, and was granted a Windows license and a thirty-day sub! So I’m back in the game without having to spend a single gil!

As my original character, Khroma Midgard, was a male Elezen bard on the Odin server, I decided to roll something different this time. Please welcome Khroma Moonsong, a Conjurer on Louisoix.

I created a pink-haired catgirl. Yes, I know, I’m a walking cliche.

Ahem. Anyway, on my previous character I had played Archer up until Bard (levelling Pugilist along the way to unlock the Bard job, of course), as well as playing Conjurer up to level 17 and dabbling in a bit of Weaving. This time, I want to focus more on healing, so Conjurer is going to be my main class until I can get into White Mage at level 30 (I’ll obviously have to get Arcanist up to 15 as well!). I think playing supports so much in Overwatch has conditioned me to dish out the heals rather than the DPS!

So far I’m still in Gridania, and it feels like the pace of levelling has been increased somewhat – after just a few hours I’ve already hit level 10, and though the last time I did this was almost four years ago, things do seem to be moving at a much faster pace than I remember. I’m guessing this is done to help newcomers get up to speed for the recently-released Stormblood; now that Final Fantasy XIV is two expansions deep, I suppose the dev team want to offer new players an easier ramp up to the late-game content and encourage them to get into the newer stuff.

I don’t know what’s possessed me recently and made me dive back into two games that demand so much of your time, especially when I’m struggling to get through single players games (I still need to finish Nier Automata, Mass Effect Andromeda and Breath of the Wild) and my backlog continues to grow (Oh hi Valkyria Revolution!), but right now, all I seem to want to do is wander through these populated, persistent worlds. Hopefully this time, I’ll actually be able to make it through the base 2.0 storyline, and then I can think about moving onto Heavensward! This time, I’m planning to stick with it. And who knows, maybe I’ll even revive Postcards from Eorzea!


Back before Destiny launched – about three years ago now – I wrote an excitable, detailed piece about the PS4 alpha test. Clearly I was onboard. But if you were to search my blog for more on Bungie’s shared world shooter, you’d turn up a single extra article since launch – an unboxing of the game’s limited edition.

So what happened? Did I hate the game? Did I abandon it altogether? No. I played Destiny for a while, and for a while I loved it. Then I reached the end of the story, and I fell out of love.

My issues with vanilla Destiny are manifold, and I’ll get into them later (indeed, some of them still persist, to varying degrees). But as the release of Destiny 2 looms ever nearer, I find myself getting drawn back to the game I so desperately wanted to love. And so, over the last few weeks, I’ve been revisiting it, now as different an experience as it is similar, to see if I really want to buy in to the sequel.

I’m probably going to get Destiny 2.

To be clear, this isn’t the first time I’ve returned. After walking away from the original game shortly after reaching level 20, and having killed a weird, pulsating cosmic heart that no one cared to even begin to explain, the excitement around the following year’s The Taken King piqued my interest. “It’s got a story now!” people would tell me, adding “there’s a lot more for solo players to do,” and “levelling is much better explained this time!”

They weren’t wrong, to be fair. I swallowed a mouthful of bile at having to re-buy Destiny and its first two expansions to play The Taken King and again, I had a lot of fun with it. And what do you know, it did have a story! A fairly decent one too, even if it still could have done with a touch more explanation (pipe down, Stranger).

Eventually though, I stopped playing again, and it’s at this point I should probably detail what my issues with Destiny were (are?). To begin with, it’s probably worth pointing out why I was so excited for the game; as a huge Halo campaign fan, I’m used to being a bit of a lore nerd, scrounging around for clues about the mysteries of the universe, be they from snippets of obscure dialogue, hidden terminals or even extended universe novels, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into Bungie’s next big mythic sci-fi setting. What I got was… well, a mess, quite frankly, with a campaign that almost gloried in paper thin characters sending you on inexplicable missions packed with vague objectives against inscrutable enemies. True, the Grimoire card system hinted at a deep, interesting pool of lore beyond the surface, and it’s worth pointing out that some stories are told in those cards that probably wouldn’t work in-game, but the campaign itself exposed virtually none of that storytelling to players, instead choosing to offer up a disjointed, unsatisfying attempt at a narrative that had quite clearly been chopped up and sewn back together wrong sometime prior to release – something that Kotaku’s Jason Schreier later confirmed. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but it genuinely saddened me that Destiny‘s story was such a shambles, and I don’t think it’d be unfair to call it a disaster.

Oryx: not a looker.

As mentioned, 2015’s big expansion The Taken King did much to fix that state of affairs, offering a simpler yet more engaging tale told by actual characters, rather than cardboard cut-outs. It also introduced the Books of Sorrow, which remains the best storytelling in the entire saga (even if, again, we see very little of its intriguing detail in the game itself).

Another big reason for my interest in Destiny was my love of roleplaying games as a genre. A Halo RPG, you say? Sounds like my dream game, sign me up! Unfortunately, another of Destiny‘s missteps was the arcane levelling system after you hit the soft level cap of 20, whereupon any further XP earned would be converted into Motes of Light which you then… You know what, I can’t even remember. I barely engaged with it. I briefly tried to wrap my head around it, and then walked away, rather than grind my face against the backside of RNGesus. Thankfully, The Taken King changed things so that every piece of armour you wear and weapon you wield adds to your overall Light level. Equip a better piece of gear and your Light will go up. Simple! Quite why it had to be so mind-bending in the base game, I don’t know. Still, even with these changes in place, I once more walked away from the game partway through The Taken King, just as I had with vanilla, because my main issue with the game still persisted. And honestly, it’s a complaint that isn’t even fair to level at the game.

Each time, what made me walk away from Destiny is the fact that you can only get so far as a solo player. After a while, you need to group up with others if you want to actually progress further and see everything the game has to offer.

Well d’uh, you’re probably saying, and yes, I know – like I said, it’s not really a fair criticism of the game, given that’s its fundamental nature. It’s just that it doesn’t really work for me, as a typically solitary player that happens to jump into a game whenever I have the time; it’s difficult to schedule a raid when you don’t know if you’re going to be free (or if you can even be arsed when the time slot rolls around). I also don’t really want my gaming time to feel like a commitment, like I have to do something, rather than want to, because that way resentment lies.

Yet even with all that said, Destiny has always been in the back of my mind, and I’ve long thought that I’d like to go back to it and see what the end-game is all about. It’d take a bit of effort on my part (and I had once made the effort to get in on a run through the Vault of Glass, the raid that shipped with the base game), but with Destiny 2 on the horizon, and the thought that I’d quite like to get in on the ground level with the new instalment, I managed to ingratiate myself with a group of friendly players and go raiding. And it’s been great! Having recently run through both Crota’s End and King’s Fall, I can finally see what all the fuss is about. Destiny‘s raids really are the game at its very best, and that’s even more evident when you have a good, patient, friendly group to talk you through the often opaque, dense mechanics. I’ve never had a group to play the game with before, which has always made it very easy to walk away from, and it’s really thanks to the guys over at Town Called Malice that I was even able to experience them. It’s also pretty much down to them that I’m almost certain to buy Destiny 2 now, whereas before I was just sort of interested. ONE OF US. Or, them, I guess.

Destiny has always offered some incredible vistas. Sorry this one’s a bit rubbish.

I’m not sure how well I’ll adapt to scheduling playtimes and such, as it’s probably going to take some kind of rewiring of my brain to get properly into Destiny full-time, but I definitely want to get deeper into it this time out. And as much as I’m fully on-board the hype train now (or, well, I at least have a ticket), there are some things that have given me pause lately. Last month, it emerged that Destiny 2 was doing away with the Grimoire system, with Bungie’s Steve Cotton telling Forbes, “we want to put the lore in the game. We want people to be able to find the lore.” On the face of it, this is a really good change; the Grimoire has long been a complaint for a couple of reasons, mainly that it keeps the lore outside of the game, and having more story exposed to players while they’re in-universe is very obviously a good thing. But as I noted above, the Grimoire also plays host to some excellent story content that simply couldn’t be done in the game – unless it was loaded with lengthy cutscenes and flashbacks, which people would also complain about. As a counterpoint to this, how fucking cool would it have been to discover bits of the Books of Sorrow in a mission on the Dreadnaught, where you slowly pieced together the history of the Hive and discovered the means to defeat Oryx? If this kind of storytelling is what Bungie is going for, then consider me all in. But if all the stuff that doesn’t play an active role in the current story, yet manages to provide flavour and context to the universe is gone? Well, that’s probably not great.

More worrying are the recent pieces of news taken from a couple of interviews with Design Director Luke Smith, where he suggests that seemingly important pieces of the Destiny puzzle may not make a return. First, responding to a question from PC Gamer about whether we’d see the mystery of the Exo Stranger cleared up in Destiny 2, Smith explained that “we have a bunch of characters who are interesting, but the Exo Stranger is one that always makes me chuckle a little bit. Because I feel that’s one character where we actually wrapped up the arc. She gave you a sweet gun and then dissolved, presumably off to do something else. So I feel like, of all of our characters we’ve introduced and exited, we actually exited her effectively.”

For those not familiar with the character, the Stranger was a female Exo that effectively led you by the nose through the original game’s campaign, directing you as much as, if not more than, any other character in the story. She never explained herself, her goal, or her reasons for aiding you, and was often heard talking to some unknown ally before abruptly disappearing. At the end of the game, she offered you her rifle, which is seemingly made of parts that shouldn’t yet exist, before telling the player, “all ends are beginnings. Our fight is far from over.” So to consider her story over is odd at best, and to think her arc was ended “effectively” is absolutely ridiculous. Imagine if Cortana just didn’t turn up in Halo 2! I suspect (hope?) that, given the character’s popularity and potential for future storytelling, that she will eventually wind her way back into a future game or expansion, but given Smith’s statement that her arc is done, I won’t hold my breath until I see it for myself.

I don’t even have time to explain why her story wasn’t “effectively” wrapped up.

A couple of days after the PC Gamer interview, Smith appeared on Kotaku’s podcast, where it was confirmed that The Darkness, the formless, ancient evil of the Destiny universe, would not be appearing in Destiny 2. This makes sense, as the Cabal are the main focal antagonist of the new game, and they aren’t really allied with the Darkness, certainly not in the way other races such as the Hive or Vex are. What was a bit worrying about this was Smith’s reaction to Jason Schreier’s question of whether the omission was because nobody actually knew what the Darkness was: “So, I think that at a point, just totally candidly? We had no idea what it was. Straight up. We had no clue.”

Hmm. Let’s go back to the earlier Kotaku story, which revealed that Destiny underwent massive rewrites a year out from release. We know that Joe Staten and his team of writers spent years building the narrative foundation of Destiny, and we know that the studio leadership didn’t like how it all hung together. Even if the Darkness wasn’t formally laid out, I find it difficult to believe that there weren’t at least deep hooks written into everything else that strongly suggested where the overarching tale was headed; 343 industries’ Frank O’Connor, himself a Bungie alum, has previously stated that much of the current direction of the Halo series arose from discussions at Bungie around what a potential continuation would be, as an example.

With Staten now back at Microsoft, I wonder how much of the comments surrounding the Stranger and the Darkness are about the current writing team wanting to throw out the last vestiges of the original outline, in an effort to more thoroughly put their stamp on Destiny. Smith’s elaboration perhaps supports this: “We didn’t know what it was, and we, for a period, we chose [that] we’re going to lump all the races [in together], and you see this in the tooltips in the game — ‘minions of the darkness.’ And we had taken all the races and said, ‘Ah, they’ll just be The Darkness.’ But that’s not what the IP deserves.”

That’s not what the IP deserves. That, to me, says the Darkness will return, but only when they’ve decided what the current team want their Darkness to be. I won’t say that’s necessarily a bad thing – it may even free them up to tell better stories – but I have to admit to some level of disappointment that we’ll likely never know how the universe of Destiny was originally meant to unfold. After the good work done on The Taken King, however, in both storytelling and gameplay terms, I’m certainly willing to give Smith and his team the benefit of the doubt, even if he does have a bit of a habit of inserting his foot firmly into his mouth and somehow managing to leave a bad taste for everyone.


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!


This March saw the release of NieR Automata, a pseudo-sequel to a cult favourite that I came to rather late, yet absolutely adored. An average-on-the-face-of-it game that was far more than the sum of its parts, Cavia and Yoko Taro’s action RPG immediately became one of my favourite games of its generation.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that I was incredibly excited for Automata. On paper it seemed like a dream project: here was a collaboration between Yoko Taro and Platinum Games, with Keiichi Okabe returning on soundtrack duties and Akihiko Yoshida handling the art. If I was going to assemble a team to make a new NieR game, I couldn’t hope for a better group than that. Basically, I was expecting this to be my game of the year before it was even out.

Unfortunately, I’ve been really struggling to get into it, and that genuinely makes me sad.

It’s important to note that so far I’ve only played through Route A and maybe about two-thirds of Route B, so I’ve by no means seen everything the game has to offer. Like the first, this is a game that needs to be played through a handful of times to really understand what’s going on, so it’s entirely possible that by the time I’m done I’ll adore it like I do the first. So far though, I’m not really feeling it. I’ll explain why, and while I’ll do my best to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, bear in mind some mild plot and character discussion (for both games!) follows.

The first time you play through NieR Automata, you’ll experience the story from the perspective of 2B, the wonderfully designed gothic Lolita android warrior. It’s a good thing that she looks so fantastic (thanks Yoshida!), because she comes across as a little dull in her own campaign, as does boyish sidekick 9S (I’M NEVER GOING TO CALL YOU NINES, GET OVER IT); there’s just no one here that has the impact of Kaine or Weiss, two characters that quickly became two of my favourite jRPG party members. That would be fairly forgivable if the story grabbed me but, the first time through, NieR Automata just feels like a disconnected series of events: you’ll go to a new region, something seemingly quite important will happen, and you’ll have no opportunity to process the event or what it might mean for the world and its characters. You’re simply told to go somewhere else where another apparently-important thing happens. Without any proper reflection on these events I felt like there was no cohesive thread pulling me through the story, almost as if I was playing through a succession of side-quests that didn’t feed back into the core narrative. Why should I care about all this if I’m not given a reason to?

If he’s Nines, does that make her Toobz?

Ok, fair enough, as I said above we’re supposed to play these games a handful of times to get the full picture. The first game was the same, right? Well, yes and no. In NieR‘s Route A, we had no idea what had happened to the world, or why people from 1,300 years ago were seemingly alive in the present with no memory of the past. We had no idea what our enemies, the Shades, were, we knew nothing of the Black Scrawl or the grimoires or the Shadowlord. What we did know, however, was that the protagonist’s daughter was sick and he’d do anything in the world to save her. The mysteries of the world worked because we had that personal bond to focus on, that quest to save Yonah that pulled us through the story. There is no such thing in Automata‘s Route A. There’s just stuff happening. And it’s happening to people you don’t really care about.

So I forced myself through Route A, reminding myself of how transformative the original game’s second playthrough was, and hoping – expecting – for something equally as revelatory here. So far I’ve been disappointed. The second time through, you play as 9S, who has a few extra tricks up his impeccably-tailored sleeves, like the ability to hack enemies to weaken or outright destroy them. Interestingly, this can also be used outside of combat to quite literally peak into the minds of others and find out what makes them tick. Unfortunately, this seems to be used mainly in side-quests while the story of Route B is mostly a re-tread of Route A. This is unsurprising given how much of the game 9S and 2B spend together, and I am looking forward to a later part of the story where they become separated for a time. But, while there are little insights peppered throughout such as learning the motivations of a couple of bosses (think Beepy and Kalil, but nowhere near as awesome/harrowing), it doesn’t have anywhere near the impact that Route B in the first game did, where your entire understanding of the world, your enemies and even your allies was completely turned on its head.

So far, Automata has displayed precious little of what made the original game so special; there’s none of the heart and emotion that made the first game and its characters so magnetic. That’s probably to be expected in a world inhabited solely by androids and machines of course, but it does make it a little difficult to care about. Don’t get me wrong though, I do enjoy the act of playing the game – basic combat is far more enjoyable here, thanks to Platinum’s involvement, and it’s wonderfully animated. I love the balletic movements of the characters in battle, and the perfect dodge is a thing of absolute beauty, reminiscent of Bayonetta at her acrobatic best. And then there’s the bullet hell sections, which manage to feel more distinct than they did in the original thanks to the introduction of flight units that transform the game into an actual, honest-to-god shmup for a few minutes at a time.

However, these segments also drive home how comparatively lacking Automata is in gameplay variety. Whereas the first game delighted in switching things up constantly, feeling like a Zelda clone one moment, taking inspiration from classic Resident Evil the next, and even heading into text adventure territory in a couple of places, NieR Automata is an action RPG with occasional shooter segments. It’s all good stuff, but it does leave the game feeling a touch less inventive than its predecessor. Then there’s the bosses, which are almost all impressively-screen-filling monstrosities, yet end up feeling a bit less imaginative than the original’s bizarre, otherworldy beasts like Hook or Wendy, and the pod program special attacks that just aren’t as cool as Weiss’ sealed verses.

These are all relatively minor issues, to be fair – the main source of my disappointment is with the story, world and characters, and I want to reiterate that I am genuinely saddened by this. I really don’t want to come across as if I’m trying to convince people not to like NieR Automata – I’m absolutely thrilled that more people are discovering Yoko Taro’s work, and I hope this gets him more exposure and the chance to make more weird, heartrending games that crawl under your skin and refuse to leave. Automata has been very well received, so I’m more than prepared to admit that I’m the odd one out here, and I really just want to love it as much as everyone else does.

There seems to be a general consensus that Route C is where it really starts to make an impact, and I’ve been advised by some to just rush through to that. That feels like it’s missing the point somewhat though – I’m disappointed that I’ve spent, so far, around 25 hours with the game and found none of what I loved about the first NieR. But hey, I’m still plugging away, and I’m hopeful that, once I’ve got that far, I’ll love Automata as much as I do the original. I’ll be sure to revisit this and write up some more thoughts once I properly finish the game, at which point I hope NieR Automata sits comfortably alongside the original as one of the most memorable games I’ve ever experienced.