Archives for posts with tag: Opinion

Switch console
I’m pretty excited about the Switch. I have to admit, I like the idea of a hybrid console quite a bit; while I love my home console blockbusters as much as the next person, I have a lot of admiration for my handhelds, because they offer games that either don’t see release on home console, or that just make sense to play on a smaller screen wherever you are. Games like Danganronpa, Steins;Gate and Bravely Default, and others like Rhythm Thief, Yomawari and Etrian Odyssey make systems like the Vita and 3DS worth owning, so the prospect of a machine that gives me both my handheld fix and Nintendo’s evergreen home console titles certainly excites.

Before the unveil, when rumours of a hybrid console were still just that, Nintendo moved to consolidate its handheld and home console teams, leading many to believe that their new machine would give gamers the best of both worlds in one box, offering a steady stream of typically home console-style titles and more traditional handheld fare, all in one place. Post-reveal however, the waters were muddied somewhat when Reggie Fils-Aimé, President of Nintendo of America, stated that the Switch would not serve as a replacement for the company’s current handheld, the 3DS. This statement was further strengthened when, during a Nintendo Direct stream for the Fire Emblem series, a new handheld-only title was announced.

Of course, it’s a good thing that Nintendo are continuing to support their 65 million-strong 3DS userbase, but the only thing I could think in the aftermath of that announcement was, “why couldn’t they put that on the Switch as well?”

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, a ground-up remake of the Japan-only 1992 Famicon game Fire Emblem Gaiden, lands on the 3DS in May, just two months after the Switch itself hits store shelves supported by a pretty meagre launch line-up. Of course, by May, new Switch owners will also be able to get hold of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, a Game of the Year-style port of the Wii U kart racer, as well as, presumably, a handful of other games, such as Disgaea 5 and Puyo Puyo Tetris. And while there was also an announcement for a new, Switch-only Fire Emblem at that Direct presentation, it won’t see release until sometime next year. So it strikes me as a bit odd that Nintendo didn’t think to put Echoes out on both systems, giving gamers the choice of where (and how!) they want to play the game, while also bolstering the Switch line-up at the same time.

It seems to me that Nintendo have an opportunity here to both beef up their new console’s catalogue and transition gamers over from the 3DS, by releasing those handheld games – and I’m making the assumption here that Echoes won’t be the last ever game made for the 3DS – on the Switch too. One problem here could be price, as gamers aren’t likely to pay significantly more money for a game that they could just get on their existing 3DS, and pre-order pricing for Switch games is currently a bit out-there (Super Bomberman R for fifty quid, anyone?). What I’d like to see Nintendo do is to make the games available on the same day and, crucially, at the same price for both systems. I’d be perfectly happy to pay, say, £30 to play a Fire Emblem Echoes or a Link Between Worlds-style Zelda adventure on my Switch, filling the gaps between the likes of Splatoon 2 and Super Mario Odyssey.

Project Octopath Traveler, from the Bravely Default team, suggests we will see smaller-scale, traditionally handheld-style games on the system.

Project Octopath Traveler, from the Bravely Default team, suggests we will see smaller-scale, traditionally handheld-style games on the system.

This is a new concept for a games machine, one that can be used as either a handheld or a home console, so lets see it take advantage of that unique selling point and bring as many games into our hands as possible. Handhelds like the 3DS and Vita are overflowing with tons of little Japanese curios, visual novels, old-school jRPGs and rhythm-action games, and sadly, eventually those systems are going to be put out to pasture. I want the Switch to pick up that slack, to continue that legacy, while pushing up the minimum target spec, allowing for more technically-impressive handheld games while also bringing Nintendo’s stellar home console output right into my lap, all at the same time. I want to see Nintendo really embracing the handheld aspect of the Switch; I want to see it become a super-powered successor to the Vita and 3DS as much as it is a sequel to the Wii U, even if they do keep insisting its primarily a home console.

Because if they mean to support the Switch and the 3DS separately, we have to wonder why they ever bothered to merge their handheld and home console teams in the first place.

7t7o4av

Western Hatsune Miku fans would surely be celebrating this week, if only they could tear themselves away from the newest rhythm game in the Project DIVA series.

Released in Japan last June, those of us outside the Land of the Rising Sun never thought we’d see the game released in our territories. Thankfully Sega surprised us all late last year, announcing that Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone would be dancing its way westward in the new year. Earlier this week, it finally arrived on PS4.

If you’re familiar with the Project DIVA rhythm games that have previously graced the PlayStation 3, 4 and Vita (and prior to that, in Japan only, the PSP and arcades), then you’ll feel right at home here, as you hit notes in time while Miku and her Vocaloid pals sing and dance their digital hearts out. Future Tone itself is a port of 2013’s Japanese arcade release Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Arcade Future Tone, and can be found on the PlayStation Store as a free, base-game download with two songs, as well as two paid add-on packs – Colourful Tone and Future Sound – which each contain over a hundred songs. The packs are £24.99 a pop, or you can grab a bundle containing everything for a more than reasonable £44.99. That will net you 220 songs, as well as hundreds of modules (outfits) and accessories for all six Vocaloids.

While Future Tone is definitely a Project DIVA game, its mechanics do differ a little from the console series. First off, the positives: scratch notes are no more! I was never a fan of these, as I thought they just served to make stretches of a song a bit boring and lacking in challenge. Here, they’re replaced by directional slide notes, which would be activated via a touch panel on the arcade machine. On PS4, you can play these either via L1/R1 or tilting either stick in the displayed direction. These feel more interactive than scratch notes ever did, and come in a couple of different types – short slides that basically only require a press of a shoulder button or a flick of an analogue stick, or lengthier slides that require a hold. I prefer to use the stick for these, as they feel more tactile.

Slide notes

Hold notes are also different. In Future Tone, they have no tail to denote their length, and there’s actually no requirement to hold them at all; if you want, you can just tap them like a normal note marker and move on without fear of damaging your combo, but holding will add to your score quite substantially, especially if you can get a multi-note hold going.

Speaking of multi-note inputs, these are also different, and it’s here where Future Tone provides most of its challenge, at least to me. These new linked notes task you with tapping or holding two different inputs at once; think the arrow notes from the Project DIVA series, except in Future Tone you’ll often need to hit two different buttons – rather than, say, up and triangle, you might have to hit X and O. Sometimes you’ll have to hit three or four buttons at the same time, and these really do take some getting used to as there’s nothing like them in the previous games. You can of course (indeed, should) use d-pad inputs as well as the face buttons, but still, these are always the bits where my runs fall apart as I try to make sense of what I’m seeing on the screen in the split-second I have to respond, panic, and subsequently flub a whole section. Go me!

While the most recent title, Project DIVA X, was a bit of a letdown, Future Tone represents a massive improvement simply by pruning the fluff of past games. The Project DIVA series has long offered some light simulation/relationship elements, such as building friendships with the Vocaloids and buying gifts for them to display in their rooms, but Future Tone sweeps all of this aside in favour of simply presenting the player with over 200 songs to play, all unlocked from the start. It’s just a pure rhythm game with tons and tons of content, and it’s exactly what I wanted the next game in the series to be. If I have any complaints, it’s that while you can create custom playlists, you can’t actually play through them – the game only allows you to watch them as music videos, which is nice (and any snapshots you take here will also show up during the game’s brief loading screens), but seems oddly restrictive – and there’s no Matryoshka, though as there’s no GUMI in Future Tone, it’s an understandable omission.

mikugongetchoo

If you’ve ever been curious about these games but never jumped in, now is the perfect time. Quite honestly, Project DIVA Future Tone is the ultimate Miku game. It may not have every song, but you’ll be hard pressed to feel let down by the song list. The only question is where does the series go from here? It’d be a little disappointing to go back to smaller releases after this hefty offering, so my hope is that this game will serve as an evolving platform going forward, with Sega adding songs new and old to the game over time. And maybe even GUMI, too.

It’s also another sign that Sega might be starting to wake up to their fans outside of Japan. Releasing the best Miku game ever is a hell of a strong start to the year, a year in which we’re also going to be seeing Yakuzas 0 and Kiwami, Valkyria Revolution, a couple of new Sonic titles and more. It’s also coming hot on the heels of the news that Sega has registered websites related to HD remasters of Shenmue, so it seems there are reasons for fans to be cheerful after all.

Oops! I’ve been a bit lax with this recently, so time for an update.

As per previous updates, I’ve been trying to learn how to play Ana as a way to get back into a game I’d fallen out of love with. I began with a three step plan to figure out how to play Ana, as I wanted to get another support character under my belt, and Ana had always struck me as something of a high skill ceiling hero. So I thought it’d be a good way to remind myself why I loved Overwatch before the competitive slide started and it just became a source of frustration.

Step one was to jump into the firing range with Ana to get a decent feel for her various abilities. After that, I’d spend some time in vs AI matches to figure out how she works in a team. The final step was to take her into Quick Play and see how that goes. I mentioned in Update 2 that I’d just begun step 3, and a week or so ago I captured some of my gameplay footage, intending to write this update then. I’ve since been playing QP matches most days, using Ana where I can, and I feel like I’m pretty decent with her now.

I mentioned previously that one thing I kept forgetting about was her sleep dart. More practice has sorted that issue now, and I just can’t get enough of sleeping people. I don’t think there are many moments that can rival sleeping an ulting Genji as he lunges at you, or knocking out the enemy Reinhardt as he boosts toward you. Even better if you have team mates around to immediately melt your sleeping foe. Ana has very quickly become one of my favourite heroes in the game.

I’m pretty comfortable saying that I have another hero under my belt now, as I’ve been playing Ana quite a lot. This also fulfils the other part of the plan – to get me playing Overwatch again. I was thinking of moving my plan over to Zarya after I was happy with my Ana play, as I also really need another tank in my repertoire, but I think, with Sombra hopefully right around the corner, I’ll just continue to have fun in Quick Play until she drops for console players. Sombra looks like a really interesting hero, and I’m itching to try out an offensive utility character. I’m gonna hack all the things.

Ana AmariIt’s been about a week and a half since my last update on my attempt to get back into Overwatch. Part of the reason I’ve been so lax with my writing is that the plan seems to be working; I’ve spent a lot more time playing – and, crucially, enjoying! – the game again. I’ve spent the last ten or so days getting better with Ana, as a large part of my plan was to learn new heroes, with the support sniper being my first little project. Most of that time has been spent in step two of the plan: playing as Ana in vs AI matches, to get a reasonable feel for how she plays with a group.

It’s been a bit of a difficult learning curve in more ways than one. First of all, my most-played trio of heroes – Lucio, D.Va and Pharah – are all very agile, able to get around the map and up to higher places with relative ease, so getting used to Ana, who is pretty much planted on the ground for the entirety of a match, has been a bit of a shift for me. Additionally, it was quite hard at first to stop having my eye drawn by enemies and fighting the reflex to shoot at them, instead of focusing on healing my allies. And since I’m used to being in amongst it during a game – especially when playing as Lucio and D.Va – it’s taken a bit of time to get used to hanging back from the rest of the team to support them from a distance.

I feel like it’s all starting to come together though, and my aiming has improved a lot too – both scoped and from the hip. Really, this was one of my biggest misgivings when I started playing as Ana, as I’ve always been rubbish with sniper rifles, but the more I play, the better I get. Which sounds obvious, but hey, it keeps me coming back to the game! You can see some video of my vs AI games below, and you should be able to see a bit of improvement in those areas as the clips go on.

Over the last few days, feeling more confident, I’ve also made a start on step three by taking Ana into a handful of Quick Play games, though only on maps where I think I’d have enough space to support the team from the back. So far, it seems to be going well, obviously helped by the fact that I’m being a bit smarter about what map comes up – if I feel like I won’t be able to do a decent job with Ana, I’ll pick someone else.

This also means I’ve been delving into Quick Play a lot more recently, having almost ignored it recently in favour of my Ana practice and the Junkenstein brawl. I’ve been having a lot of fun, and seem to be back to winning a lot more than I lose. I still find myself falling back on D.Va and Lucio a lot, but that’s partly because I know them inside out and always end up doing a good job with them. And, more importantly, I just love playing as those heroes. I’ve also started to pick up a couple of heroes that I had been getting pretty decent with before taking a break from the game; I feel like my Mei skills are starting to come back a bit, but I think I’m going to have to put a lot more practice in with Junkrat to get back to where I was.

But when the option to play as Ana comes up, it’s great practice – playing against AI helps to figure out her place in a team, but it’s not so good for figuring out how she works against the enemy. Thanks to QP, I’m starting to get a good feel for when and how to use Nano Boost, and though I still occasionally forget that I even have a sleep dart, I have managed to pull it out a few times at very opportune moments; last night, in a game on Route 66, my team had just hit the second checkpoint and as we were all clustered around the payload, the gate began to open and out flew a Bastion in tank mode. I slept him almost by reflex, which felt absolutely amazing – that ultimate would have done a ton of damage to a closely-grouped team. Instead, everyone was able to focus on him when he hit the ground and take him out before he did any real damage. God, I wish I’d captured that!

Zarya

I’m getting to the point now where I’m happy enough to say that I have another hero under my belt – Ana needs a bit more work, but I’m fairly comfortable playing her more frequently in proper matches now, as I feel like I’ve got the basics down pretty well at this point. I’ll capture some Quick Play games with her for my next update, and then it’s back to step one as I repeat the process with another character. I said in my first Boot Camp post that I really wanted to learn Mercy, but I’m going to put her aside again to learn Zarya – I now have two supports I feel comfortable with, but I’ve only ever played one tank in D.Va. I need another one in my repertoire and the Russian bodybuilder is the one that interests me the most right now.

At this point, I think I can call the plan a success. The idea was to get back into a game I used to love by learning new heroes, and though I’ve so far only picked up one more character, I am absolutely back in love with Overwatch again. Let’s hope that continues as I move forward with Zarya from next week!

Mercy Witch
Well that was poorly timed! On Tuesday, I wrote about my plan to fall back in love with Overwatch by forcing myself to learn how to play heroes I’d previously neglected and, more importantly, ignoring competitive. And then that evening, Blizzard dropped the Halloween Terror event on us.

Featuring new, themed loot boxes that bring additional skins, icons, sprays and more, along with – most excitingly – a new brawl called Dr. Junkenstein’s Revenge, the update is now live on all three platforms. In a first for Overwatch, the new brawl is a co-operative PvE survival mode which pits four players against wave upon wave of fodder interspersed with a handful of boss waves that bring reskinned heroes – there’s a pumpkin-headed Reaper, Roadhog as Junkenstein’s Monster, Mercy as a Witch of the Wilds, and finally, Junkrat as the twisted Dr. Junkenstein himself.

Taking place on a portion of the Eichenwalde map, the four players – one each of Soldier 76, McCree, Hanzo and Ana – must defend the door to the castle from oncoming ‘zomnics’ that trundle endlessly to the door before exploding in an attempt to bust in, while ranged ‘zombadiers’ rain down mortars upon you. You’ll often find yourself trying to prioritise these ranged targets, accidentally letting a couple of the bumbling explodey ones sneak by, and every now and then a RIPtyre or two will come screaming toward you to divide your attention even more. The brawl is pretty tough on medium if you’re playing with randoms and have no communication going on, and even on easy you might find yourself overwhelmed now and again, though you’re obviously much more likely to pull it back from the brink.

It’s a really fun mode, and a nice palate cleanser for all the PvP madness that Overwatch is known for. I’ve always wondered what a co-op PvE mode could be like with Overwatch‘s roster and their abilities, and it turns out it’s something that I’d like to see remain in the game. Ok, so it’s heavily-themed, but maybe after the Hallowe’en period is over they could rework it somewhat to allow it to stay. Or maybe even use it as a jumping off point for something even better.

In a nice change, you can now purchase new cosmetic items with your in-game credits – something you weren’t able to do with the previous seasonal event, the Summer Games. To keep the items fairly rare, Blizzard have priced them at three times the going rate, so you’re looking at 3,000 credits for a legendary skin. Unfortunately, this does mean that I can’t afford that awesome Mercy skin, but I was able to buy Ana’s new look, which is equally fantastic. Ana isn’t even a hero I’ve played outside of the training area, but that’s something I’m looking to change, and indeed, the entire point of my plan for getting back into the game is to learn new heroes.

How cool is this!

How cool is this!

So how does this affect that plan? Well, originally I was thinking of focusing on Mercy first, as a new character to learn (and if that awesome skin drops for me, that’ll make me want to play her even more!), but given that this limited-time brawl focuses only on four characters, I’ve decided to use it as a way of getting used to those ones; I mentioned the other day that Soldier is a hero I’ve used a fair bit, but the other three are all essentially new to me. So before jumping into the brawl for a bit last night I headed into the training area to make sure I had their abilities straight in my head, as I wanted to know I’d have some idea of what to do no matter who I ended up playing as. It turns out that most players will insta-lock McCree, and that nobody wants to play Ana in this mode.

So I’ve been playing Ana. Again, she’s not a character I’ve ever really played, despite finding her abilities interesting; she seems like she’d be a pretty high skill ceiling hero, which makes me wonder if I could actually be effective with her, and I’ve always been really crap with snipers too. So it wasn’t much of a surprise to find I could barely hit anything with her at first, and I also found it difficult to get heals on team mates when they were at a medium distance and strafing a lot. Hitting them from afar is much easier, thankfully, so I took to the high ground in the back-right corner of the arena and tended to stay there, throwing out damage-over-time attacks to enemies for the most part, and then trying to pick up allies when they needed healing.

Ana also has a biotic grenade which heals allies while stopping enemies from being healed, and you’ll mostly be using it for its healing effects in this brawl; for the most part, enemies aren’t getting any healing. This changes when Mercy comes out as a boss wave with Roadhog, so this is a good time to use it on ‘Hog, to prevent Mercy from shoring him up. One thing I did find myself forgetting to use quite often is Ana’s sleep dart – in my first couple of games, I almost completely forgot that I had it, but then realised it might be a good idea to use it on Junkrat when he appears on the ramparts to rain down bombs on you. While this is happening, you’re generally dealing with a ton of adds, so it’s useful to stop Junkrat for a few seconds while you clean up.

I feel like I’m getting a good feel for how Ana handles thanks to Junkenstein’s Revenge. As I said above, since being added to the roster she’s been a bit of an intimidating character to me, so it’s nice to be able to get used to her in a (relatively) stress-free environment. One thing this doesn’t help me with is figuring out the best use for Ana’s ultimate, Nano Boost. Of course, in the brawl I only have three choices of who to stick it on, and given Hanzo’s relatively slow rate of fire, it seems like only two are actually viable to me. In a proper match, I’ll have many more options, so before long I’ll need to get out into a game and see what’s what. I think I’ll still move on to step two of the plan – playing a game vs AI – before I jump straight into Quick Play, just to make sure I know what I’m actually supposed to be doing with Ana.

So! A quicker update to my boot camp plan than I intended. I think over the next few days I’ll get some more practice in with both McCree and Hanzo against the zomnic horde, and maybe try and get into Quick Play with at least Ana. I want to spend as much time as possible on the brawl before it disappears though, and I really do wish it would stay. Overwatch could do some amazing things with a PvE mode and all of these amazing characters and abilities.

The brawl has actually had the effect of bringing me back to Overwatch when I was searching for my own way back, so in that sense it was well-timed. It’s a nice stepping stone to getting back out into the standard modes once it’s gone away, and below you can watch a quick match with me as Ana, where I start off awful and get ever-so-slightly better. I’ll be back in the coming days with another update.

OW hero banner
Like millions of other people, I fell hard for Overwatch. I must admit to not having followed it at all until the console closed beta back in April; I was vaguely aware of its existence, but didn’t know much about it at all. So it was out of sheer curiosity that I decided to try the beta on Xbox One. I jumped into a game against AI opponents to learn the ropes, and discovered that I had no idea what was happening or what I was supposed to do. Matches were over so fast that it was difficult to actually learn anything at all.

So I entered a game against fellow humans, woefully unprepared, and began to learn the hard way. Now, I’m not really one for online competitive shooters to be perfectly honest – Halo is really the only series whose multiplayer I’ve bothered to get to grips with, give or take a few dozen hours in Titanfall, because mechs and wall-running – so I only played a handful of games over the beta period. Enough to get a rough idea of what it is you do in Overwatch.

Yet after the beta ended, I found that I couldn’t get the game out of my head. There was something about it that kept firing my imagination, and I took to posting about it on forums, discussing it with friends, and then watching strategy videos on YouTube, which is when the game really started to come into focus and excite me with the possibilities: “I didn’t even try that character!” I’d think to myself. My mind ran away with all the cool things I could do with this character on that map, or even with a certain hero in a specific circumstance. I was hooked. I pre-ordered the limited edition. Blizzard had me.

So this is a thing that seems to be happening.

So this is a thing that seems to be happening.

And when the game came out, I immediately fell in love with it. I played it daily, sharing plays of the game online and with friends, uploading my own clips to YouTube, discussing my own strategies, and just plain having a ton of fun with the game.

Then came competitive, and I loved that too. I found it so much more fun than quick play, much more focused and less ‘messy’, thanks to the lack of hero stacking and players taking better account of team composition. When the season ended and I was forced back into quick play, I was a little disappointed.

So when competitive began anew with its second season, I couldn’t wait to jump in. And I was off to a flying start, winning my first four placement games on the trot. I joked to friends that I was obviously due a losing streak. I was. I lost all of the remaining placements bar one, which ended in a new-for-season 2 tie. I’d heard people complaining about ‘the slide’, and wondered if this was mine. It was, and it lasted weeks.

It was all going so well...

It was all going so well…

Yep. I didn’t win a game for almost an entire month. Of course, it’s not quite as catastrophic as that sounds; I was already playing the game less and less thanks to the streak of demoralising, one-sided losses I found myself in, managing maybe four or five games a week. But I didn’t win a single one of them, and eventually I found myself avoiding the game entirely. I’d still read and talk about Overwatch online, but my comments had a bitter edge to them. I’d still watch gameplay and strategy videos online, I’d still keep up to date with changes and new hero speculation. But when I thought about actually playing it, I’d have to force myself. I’d play for half an hour, spend the whole time getting utterly crushed, and then abandon it for another week. It went from something I loved being a part of, to something I only enjoyed at arm’s length: I still loved the game, I just didn’t want to actually play it.

All of which brings me up to today, with the game currently back in the headlines thanks to the surely-imminent Hallowe’en event and players hoping to greet a new hero in Sombra, I devised a plan. I’m going back to boot camp.

The first step to getting back in the game is avoiding competitive. Getting steamrolled in ranked matches is just too damn demoralising, so I’m going to just give it a wide berth for a bit. Secondly, I’m going to focus on heroes that I’ve neglected. At launch, my idea was to build up a base of three or four heroes that I felt really good with, and then branch out from there, and I was (and still am) very comfortable and confident with Pharah, Lucio and D.Va. I was also starting to get good with Junkrat, Mei and Soldier back when I was still playing regularly, but when the slide began and I started to drift away from the game a bit, I’d find myself falling back on my mainstays. This means I now suck with at least two of those heroes (I think I’m still kind of OK with Soldier).

It's going to be difficult not to autolock D.Va, because she's so damn awesome.

It’s going to be difficult not to autolock D.Va, because she’s so damn awesome.

So that’s why I’m going back to boot camp. I’m taking myself into an environment where I’m not so afraid to lose and I’m going to branch out, try new heroes and work at getting better. I started last night, taking my first step to getting back into the game by jumping into quick play for a few games with my established heroes, just to get my feet wet again. But over the coming days and weeks I’m going to force myself to vary my picks and get better with a wider array of heroes. To do this, I’m going back to the way I got to grips with a handful of characters right at the start, before rushing into the game and subsequently neglecting much of the cast. So I’ve given myself these three steps:

1: Jump into the training arena to get to grips with a hero I haven’t played before. Obviously I have a working understanding of every character, having played against them all at some point in my 50-odd hours with the game, but that’s not the same as actually using them. I need to learn what to do with them myself.

2. Play a few VS AI games with that new hero to see how they play in an actual match environment. I’ll go for medium AI so that the match isn’t over in seconds and thus teaches me nothing of note.

3. Take that hero into quick play and see how I get on.

I’m not sure how much more frequently I’m going to be playing Overwatch with this plan in mind, given we’re now entering video game silly season – indeed, Gears of War 4 is out today and I want to give that the time it deserves, too – but I do know I miss the game a lot and want to get back to having fun with it. So I think what I might do is set myself a loose goal of learning a new hero a week and then reporting back on a weekly basis. That also has the positive side effect of getting me to write more, which is another thing I’ve been neglecting of late.

So we’ll see how it goes. With any luck, I’ll see you back here next week with a new hero under my belt and, hopefully, some fun Overwatch stories to tell. Who knows, I might even give my Elgato a work out and get some video evidence on the go. At the very least, even if I don’t get back into competitive and find myself enjoying it again, at least I’ll have seen more of what the game has to offer.

Luna
Back in March, Square Enix’s grand event to finally, finally announce a release date for the long-in-development Final Fantasy XV came with a number of surprises. The Japanese publisher appeared to be incredibly bullish about the upcoming RPG, and unveiled a catalogue of cross-media projects to compliment it. There was a five-part anime series to give us the background on the main characters and their relationships. There was the obligatory mobile game tie-in. And then there was Kingsglaive. Easily the most exciting part of the extended media offering, here was a beautiful CG movie in the vein of Final Fantasy VII‘s Advent Children, and it came completely out of nowhere.

Of course, the game’s release date has since slipped, even as all the marketing has remained on target. And that includes Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, now available to buy on a handful of digital platforms. What was once a mouth-watering starter to the main course of Final Fantasy XV must now span a two month gap until the long-awaited title is in our hands. But does it slake our thirst for Final Fantasy or leave us unsatisfied?

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV effectively acts as a visually-spectacular two-hour cutscene intro to the full game, setting the scene for Noctis and friends’ world-spanning road trip. It introduces us to the conflict between the magical kingdom of Lucis, empowered by an enormous crystal, and the military empire of Niflheim, which uses its magitek creations and enormous ‘demons’ to conquer and subjugate other nations. King Regis of Lucis assembles a group of elite warriors empowered by the crystal, dubbed the Kingsglaive, and though they are able to wield powerful magic, they are unable to turn the tide. After years of war, the empire sends its chancellor, Ardyn Izunia, to initiate peace talks to be held in Insomnia, the capital of Lucis. Of course, there is an ulterior motive, and as both sides scheme around the talks, each takes the opportunity to end the war in their favour.

Which begs the question: why would the Lucians agree to hold the talks in their capital city, inviting their enemies right into the heart of their land? Why not a neutral location? Because Kingsglaive doesn’t really make a lot of sense, that’s why. It’s entertaining enough in its big, flashy action setpieces, and there’s a ton of fan service in here for those looking (including monsters like the behemoth, summons, and even an appearance by a curious character from Final Fantasy VI), but the thrust of the story isn’t particularly engaging thanks to implausible decisions made by literally every character in play.

regisclarus

There’s a curious subplot about immigration threaded through much of Kingsglaive‘s narrative. As Niflheim marches through Lucis, conquering the outer reaches of its territory in the process, its citizens are driven toward the capital city of Insomnia, to take shelter beyond its magical wall. It’s a thread that’s never really developed or explored beyond a few jibes and uses of the word immigrant; even our protagonist Nyx, Kingsglaive member and so-called immigrant himself, is unable to give us any real insight into what life was like for him before he came to Insomnia. And then there’s the fact that these people are still Lucians, they’re just not from the nation’s capital, which makes the whole thing feel a little forced. Perhaps ‘refugee’ would have been a better word to use, and it may have even enabled Kingsglaive to say something interesting about people fleeing conflict.

Instead, it’s used as a basic plot device to provide justification to characters who don’t quite get the development they need, despite a relatively small core cast and a two hour runtime. These are pretty digital avatars that exist to look cool and do awesome things, rather than believable people with their own needs and desires, and as such it’s hard to develop much of an attachment to them. We’re told what these people are fighting for, but never shown, so we never really get a real feel for their motivations. And when we see a character die, we’re not sad for the loss of someone we had become interested in, but rather disappointed that we likely won’t see them in the game, where we might have learned more about them and actually come to care for them.

There’s also the issue of Luna. The female lead in both the game and the film, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret is the princess of the conquered kingdom of Tenebrae, and we’ve long been assured that she’ll be a strong character – necessarily so, to balance out the all-male core cast of the game. Yet she spends almost the entirety of the film being dragged around by men who either seek to use her or need to protect her. Telling the audience, repeatedly, that she’s not afraid to die if it means accomplishing her mission doesn’t really count as strength when she repeatedly throws herself into peril that she needs to be saved from. Here’s hoping there’s more to her in the full game, rather than just being a device to enable Noctis’ destiny.

And yet for all that, Kingsglaive still manages to engage and entertain in a handful of ways. Of course, part of the attraction is the astonishing animation work on show; if you thought Advent Children Complete looked amazing, Kingsglaive is on another level altogether – it simply appears photoreal at times. The illusion is tarnished somewhat by the widespread use of ADR, but the film is just incredible to look at, whether you’re gazing at its characters, locations or flashy special effects. Fight scenes are big, brash and full of carnage, well choreographed even if the director sometimes forgets to frame the action appropriately, though the latter stages of the film can hew a little too close to Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel for comfort. And while much of the supporting cast are a little overwrought, the core trio of Sean Bean, Lena Headey and Aaron Paul turn in good, naturalistic performances – at least, as far as the material they’re given allows.

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Of course, the other big draw Kingsglaive has is that it allows us a look into that enigmatic universe that so many of us have been dying to get to know for a decade now, and that the film finally cracks open a window that we might peek inside is genuinely exciting. That fantasy based on reality is now a little closer to being real and in our hands, and Kingsglaive even has something for those that have been following every trailer since the first one back in 2006, delivering its own take on that now-iconic party/invasion scene that fans had been obsessively watching as they hung on for news, this time playing host to a meeting between Nyx and Luna, rather than Noctis and Stella.

It’s clear to see that some material excised from the game in the switch from Versus XIII to XV has been repurposed for this film, and the fact that we’ll now never experience the invasion of Insomnia in-game genuinely saddens me. As such, Kingsglaive ultimately leaves me with mixed feelings; though I’m more excited for the game having seen the film, I’m simultaneously a bit sad for what might have been. Since its re-reveal back at E3 2013, fans have been digging into every detail in an attempt to pick apart the differences between Tetsuya Nomura’s vision of Versus XIII and Hajime Tabata’s Final Fantasy XV. As a preamble to the game, Kingsglaive doesn’t give us much to go on, other than adapting the invasion of Insomnia and contriving a reason for Noctis’ absence, but there’s still the nagging sense that maybe this isn’t quite the same world we’ve spent a decade pining for, even if the nouns remain the same.

But ten years later, this is the world we’re getting, and the journey begins with Kingsglaive. As an introduction to Final Fantasy XV‘s world and lore, it works – just about – and there’s plenty for series fans to salivate over. It’s also gratifying to see just how much fantasy there actually is in this newest incarnation of the veteran series, despite the glossy modern city setting and trappings thereof. As a standalone film? Not so much. But then it was always going to be one for the fans, a gateway into Square Enix’s next grandiose adventure.