Archives for posts with tag: Retro

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.

Dancin' to tha Beat
I don’t remember the first time I saw Jet Set Radio, but I certainly remember my reaction: “Holy crap, that looks cool.”

It was probably a feature in the dearly-departed Dreamcast Magazine, some time after the game’s TGS ’99 reveal, and from the moment I saw it, I knew I had to play Jet Set Radio. From the incredible cel-shaded art-style that exuded that street-punk attitude that serves as its thematic foundation, to the central conceit of the game – namely, tagging graffiti to mark your gang’s territory – to the saturated colours of the Tokyo streets against that trademark Sega blue sky. Everything about this game arrested my attention. I couldn’t wait to play it.

And then, months later, thanks to a demo disc attached to the cover of the aforementioned publication, I got my chance. And I hated it. I couldn’t get my head around the controls for a start, which meant I had trouble getting around the environment, which meant I couldn’t escape the rampaging police, which meant I couldn’t find the time to paint. And on the off-chance that I actually managed to get to a tag site, I couldn’t seem to get to grips with the graffiti mechanics, either. But I had been so looking forward to the game that I decided I had to try it again. And again. And again and again. And all of a sudden, it just clicked. Everything came into sharp focus; I knew what the game expected of me, and I understood how to make it happen. Get some speed behind you, grind that rail, make that jump, ride that wall. The floor is lava.

Smilebit’s 2000 Dreamcast title has since become a cult classic, leading to Sega and BlitWorks releasing an excellent HD version on literally everything back in 2012. Jet Set Radio presents a colourful, stylised representation of Tokyo, including iconic areas like the Shibuya bus terminal, and stars a cast of punky inline skaters out to grab territory for their respective street gangs. How do you go about this? By tagging the crap out of everything you see, of course! You’ll mark your territory on buses, cop cars, advertising hoardings and storefronts as you claim turf from rival gangs the Love Shockers, Noise Tanks and Poison Jam. Naturally, the police, led by the hard-boiled Captain Onishima and backed by the shadowy Rokkaku Group, don’t take kindly to your urban artwork. These crazy keisatsu will do anything, including calling in helicopter gunships, to put an end to your adolescent fun.

Gum taggin'

Right from the off, Jet Set Radio demands that you get good. Just as the controls take a little time to puzzle out, so do the level layouts; very early on, you’ll learn to prioritise the larger, more time-consuming tags before the police escalate their presence, bringing in tear gas troopers, assassins armed with electric whips and black-suited knife-wielding goons, all of whom make it a very bad idea to stand still and tag. You’ll soon realise it’s best to leave the simple, one-hit tags ’til the very end of the level so that you can grind, trick and race past your aggressors, tagging as you go. This means that you’ll ideally spend the first minute or so just skating around, getting the lay of the land and collecting spray paint cans, before launching your carefully-planned graffiti assault on the streets of Tokyo-to.

Let’s look at the funk

The first thing you’ll notice – and indeed, the thing the game is probably still best known for – are those striking, pioneering cel-shaded graphics that make Jet Set Radio look like a Gainax anime come to life. We see the technique a fair bit these days, and 2002’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker arguably brought it to more mainstream attention, but back in 2000 it was absolutely state of the art; really, it had only been seen in the character models of Fear Effect, which came out only months before Jet Set Radio. Chief graphics designer Ryuta Ueda wanted to create a snapshot of what he saw as Tokyo’s youth culture at the time, something that reflected the eclectic, high-energy, vibrantly colourful scene he saw around him.

It’s not just about those beautiful, flat, shaded polygons though. The game is brought to life by all the little incidental details; the fact that Garam’s necklace looks like it just might be Sonic’s skull, Tab poking his tongue out at you every now and then for no good reason, DJ Professor K’s funky hair that pulses in time to the beat, and the fact that nobody ever stands still. Every character is in constant motion – even leaving your skater idle causes them to dance to their own rhythm, like a way cooler version of Spaced‘s Tires. Touches like this create a tangible, kinetic connection between gameplay and presentation, tying them together with the audio in such a way that every element comes together to create a solid, cohesive whole where every little touch just feels right.

These guys mean business

The visual presentation is beautifully mirrored by an eclectic, borderline-manic soundtrack from Hideki Naganuma that remains one of the best in gaming. Representing every facet of Ueda’s vision of late-nineties Tokyo street culture, Naganuma’s work takes in hip hop, funk and even acid jazz, interspersing it with odd looped samples (“Will you stop playing with that radio of yours? I’m trying to get to sleep!”). Meanwhile the varied licensed tracklist mixes in the kooky rock of Guitar Vader, the alternative hip hop of Jurassic 5, and even finds space for a track from fellow Sega veteran Richard Jacques (yes, the man behind the indisputably awesome Sonic R soundtrack contributed to Jet Set Radio).

Understand, understand

While Jet Set Radio didn’t exactly set sales alight, a sequel of sorts was released for the Xbox in 2002. Jet Set Radio Future, as the name suggests, transposed the GGs and their rivals to a near-future vision of Tokyo-to. Characters were redesigned, the plot was shuffled about a bit, and the colour palette was more muted, but the biggest differences were in how the game played. Conventional wisdom holds that you either like one game or the other, and you can’t possibly like both. While this isn’t really true at all, Jet Set Radio Future did do a fair bit to put off fans of the previous game.

Future exists almost as a reimagining of the concept, simplifying some things while expanding others. The most immediate changes are the removal of the time limit in each level and a ‘streamlining’ of the way you execute graffiti; whereas you’d copy analogue stick movements in Jet Set Radio, corresponding to broad strokes of paint, in Future you simply pull the trigger as you race past and it all just happens for you. I absolutely hated these changes at the time. Coming from a challenging game where it’s vital to set your priorities and then create the space needed to get things done in the allotted time, Future just felt like it lacked pace, challenge and focus.

The differences weren’t all for the bad, however, and the removal of these mechanics makes a lot of sense when you look at what Jet Set Radio Future is, rather than what it isn’t. The size, scale and complexity of the environments have been massively enlarged, with multiple large, vertical spaces leading to and from one another; a time limit would have been a real drag in levels this huge, and its absence lends Future a much more exploratory feel than the original. The level design is also pushed to its limits to accommodate this expanded sense of freedom: larger spaces mean far more routes over, under, through and around the game’s crazed urban landscapes. Where Jet Set Radio was a tight, focussed time-attack game as its heart, Future is more like a playground for you to jump, grind, trick and tag through.

Jet Set Radio may have been absent for over a decade now, but its influence can still occasionally be felt. Insomniac’s Ted Price has spoken about how the Sega classic informed Sunset Overdrive‘s traversal system, and that game also has a knack of making you feel like a sucker if you so much as deign to touch the ground. Meanwhile, the recent Splatoon will give gamers of a certain age serious JSR vibes, as, like Sunset Overdrive, the game’s visual presentation clearly owes a debt to Jet Set‘s colourful, anarchic sense of fun. How fitting that a project led by a new generation of talent at Nintendo’s famed EAD division should echo a game that looked to celebrate Tokyo’s youth culture in the final days of the 1990s.

And what of the team that brought JSR into the world? Well, sadly, we all know about Sega’s troubles since going third-party in the aftermath of the Dreamcast’s premature death, an upheaval that led to internal teams being reshuffled, reorganized and renamed, as well as something of a talent exodus. Both Ryuta Ueda and director Masayoshi Kikuchi went on to work on the Ryu Ga Gotoku series (where they even managed to include a short cameo for JSR bad guy Rokkaku Gouji, later joking that this meant the games existed in the same universe). Ueda has since left the company, along with Hideki Naganuma, who recently suggested that Sega has no interest in reviving the series.

Still, with new Sega Games CEO Haruki Satomi recently indicating that Sega want to win back their fanbase, perhaps we will see something done with all those classic IP that are just sitting in a vault somewhere in Tokyo, gathering dust. At the very least, perhaps we can hope for Sega to give us some more of the HD remasters they were offering just a few short years ago, and make Future available for a new audience. Perhaps things are looking up, after all.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD limited edition
Nine years after it was unveiled at E3 2006 and four years after it saw a Japanese release, Final Fantasy Type-0 is finally available outside of the Land of the Rising Sun. Fans have been clamouring for the PSP spin-off, originally called Final Fantasy Agito XIII and conceived as part of Square-Enix’s Fabula Nova Crystallis mythos, ever since it became available for Sony’s PSP in Japan, and for a while it seemed as if it might never come. The PSP was pretty much dead in the west by 2011, and with the Vita stumbling out of the gate, it seemed almost a certainty that the handheld title would never escape its homeland.

Thankfully, Square-Enix thought up another plan: release the game on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One as an HD re-release. This may seem a cynical choice, using a much-anticipated handheld title as a means to ensure a decent-sized audience for the real big hitter, Final Fantasy XV – even more so when you consider the free demo of XV that comes with first print copies of Type-0 HD. For my part, I’m just happy we’re getting a game I’ve been thinking about playing for nigh on a decade.

And so, I pre-ordered the limited edition. Because of course I did. The limited edition comes housed in a hard box adorned with gorgeous artwork from series’ veteran Yoshitaka Amano, with a slipcover displaying the game’s logo. So what’s in that box? Well, if you’ve paid any attention to the image at the top of this piece, you’ll have a good idea. There’s a hardbound artbook with tons of colourful art and renders – some of which look a little spoilery, so beware if you’re grabbing a copy this weekend. We also have a 200-page manga, with the first few pages in full colour – again, this looks like it might be a bit spoilery, so it’s going to be set aside until I’ve finished my first run through the game.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD manga

We also have a handful of Ace’s weaponised tarot cards, with art depicting some of the game’s eidolons. These are bigger than your average cards, with a glossy finish to them, and you can see them all in the gallery at the bottom. Last but not least, there’s a beautiful golden steelbook covered in that same Amano artwork that adorns the presentation box. I think it’s probably the nicest steelbook I own, next to the one from the limited edition of The Last Story, and houses both the game and soundtrack selection discs (as well as, of course, a download code for Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae). The latter is reasonably generous for a selection disc, holding fourteen tracks from Takeharu Ishimoto’s remastered soundtrack for Type-0 HD, including the suitably epic new theme, ‘Utakata’. I own the original, three-disc soundtrack, so it’ll be interesting to see how the remastered version stacks up.

I’m pretty chuffed with this limited edition, even if I feel like I have to steer clear of some aspects of it for the time being – I’ve managed to stay relatively spoiler-free with regards to the story of Class Zero, so now would be a bad time to ruin it for myself. So now, all that remains is to get stuck in and play the game. Especially as my Episode Duscae code doesn’t yet work. And if you’re interested in that, come back in a few days, as I’ll have some thoughts (and video!) discussing it.

For more images of the Final Fantasy Type-0 HD limited edition, check out the gallery below.

2014-03-23-015933Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster is finally (finally) with us. After a wait of almost two-and-a-half years, I finally have one of the games that convinced me to pre-order a Vita in my hands. Actually, I have two copies (erm…), as I also grabbed a copy of the PS3 limited edition, which comes with a gorgeous little hardback artbook, complete with notations for much of the included full-colour art.

But it’s the Vita version which has most impressed me, despite the reduction in resolution from its big screen brother. It looks every bit as sharp and clean as the PS3 version (bar some artifacting in some FMV scenes – disappointingly, one of my favourite scenes in the entire game is quite macroblocked), and those lovely bright colours that drench the beaches and jungles of Besaid really pop out of the handheld’s OLED screen.

2014-03-23-022504

I’m constantly stopping in-game to pick out detail that you could barely identify in the original PS2 release, like the Besaid ruins in the shot above, or the ornate flooring of the island’s Temple of the Fayth. It’s far from the best-looking title on the system (you can probably look to Killzone: Mercenary for that), but it’s been impressing me at every turn; I know the game very well, so it’s almost like seeing a long-held favourite in a new light.

What I’m less sure of so far is the remastered music. Some of it is unquestionably better in my opinion (like Besaid’s theme), while others I’m less sure about, such as ‘Calm Before the Storm’. It’s only subtly different, but for the worse in my opinion. The original always had a somewhat otherworldly feel that the new arrangement doesn’t quite manage to elicit.

The gameplay though? It’s as good as it ever was, and it’s actually surprised me just how good. Final Fantasy X is a game I’ve played twice. Well, almost twice; I never quite finished it the first time (at launch – I had a lot going on, okay?), so I went back about three-or-so years ago (yep, just before they announced this remaster…) and played it from start to end. By the time I reached the climactic hours of Tidus and Yuna’s adventure, I was massively overpowered. Not because I’d purposely set out to be so, but I just had so much fun battling with the game’s enemies and exploiting its systems.

Replaying the Vita version these last few days, I’ve been reminded of just how inviting and engaging the game is. In conversation with a friend, a fellow Final Fantasy X fan, the word that kept coming up was ‘frictionless’. The game doesn’t put many obstacles between the player and their enjoyment, and when it does, it’s actually fun to overcome them. Take grinding for instance, that constant jRPG companion that so many have come to loathe (and I say this as someone who’s been stuck on a single boss in Tales of Eternia for weeks). For me, battling in Final Fantasy X is not only enjoyable, but compelling. I want to do it, and I want to do it because the battle system puts everything in your hands and just says ‘have fun!’

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The game is probably one of the easier instalments in the series, but it’s kept engaging by making everyone useful in some way: Tidus is fast, so his turns come around often enough to use him as a backup healer; Yuna has her white magic and summons; Rikku can steal and combine items, and one-shot mechanical enemies; Kimahri can learn abilities from his enemies; and so on. So you’ve got a relatively straight-forward take on the traditional Final Fantasy job system, but what keeps X engaging is the ability to switch any party member in or out of battle at will to meet your needs. Up against an enemy with high physical resistance but weak to magic? Switch in Lulu and deal some massive damage. His buddy’s armoured, you say? Auron, you’re up!

This immediacy is further reinforced by such design decisions as giving your white mage Esuna right off the bat. Generally, you’d have to work for such a useful spell, spending your initial hours throwing away precious items to cure your party of status effects. Here, you just sub someone else out for Yuna, cure the afflicted, and then get back to your gameplan. Save points in the world will replenish your health and magic, making level grinding more appealing as you no longer need to travel to an inn each time you reach your lowest ebb, and levelling and skill acquisition also benefit, offering to make the process as simple or involved as you like; I’m using the expert sphere grid for the first time, and enjoying the initially-overwhelming scope to develop my party as I see fit, but players that just want to follow a straight path can do just that with the normal grid, letting the game shape their characters’ growth for them.

If this all sounds like it makes the game easy, well… it can do. But in adding an extra layer of both strategy and, crucially, possibility, what it ends up doing is replacing a system that often boils down to using the same three characters and mashing ‘X’ to spam physical attacks in an effort to speed through encounters, with one that not only encourages you to experience more of what the game offers, but makes it enjoyable to do so. In Final Fantasy X you’ll use everybody. Not just once in a while, but often in every fight. It gives you the tools to do what you need and want to do, and it’s eminently satisfying when you do it.

Final Fantasy X is looked at as the point where the series began to streamline somewhat, the logical conclusion thereof being 2010’s Final Fantasy XIII (indeed, there are many parallels you could draw between the two games, not least their linearity). But when I talk of the frictionless nature of Final Fantasy X, I don’t mean streamlining. I mean the ways in which the developers have taken fairly complex systems and made them easy to understand and manipulate; the way they’ve taken often-frustrating game mechanics like grinding and made them enjoyable and compelling. I mean the ways in which they’ve sanded down the barriers between what the player wants to do and what the game allows you to do, making it possible to have fun no matter what you’re doing in the world of Spira.

Except Blitzball. No one likes Blitzball.

It’s been a long long time coming, but finally we have a European release date for the HD remaster of Final Fantasy X and its direct sequel X-2. The collection will hit store shelves on March 21st next year, a whole three months after the Japanese release.

Below you can see a massively spoilerific trailer in celebration of the announcement. These games are over a decade old now, but if you haven’t yet played them and want to go in fresh, I would strongly advise you not to watch. Or maybe mute the audio.

The trailer also takes time to point out some of the extras we’ll be getting our mitts on in this package. First up is ‘Eternal Calm’, a fifteen-minute in-engine chapter that bridges the two games, providing the impetus for Yuna’s quest in Final Fantasy X-2. We’ll also finally be able to play ‘Last Mission’, an additional, multi-level dungeon run that takes place three months after the end of the sequel.

The pair of games looks absolutely gorgeous, and watching the emotional scenes play out to a backdrop of ‘Suteki da ne’ really got the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. I can’t wait to adventure through Spira again, although it’s curious to note that the trailer makes no mention of my preferred format, the Vita.

As far as I’m aware it’s still coming (it’s confirmed for release alongside the home console version in Japan, at least), but the end of the trailer, when we first see the confirmed release date, only mentions the PS3 version. I really hope the Vita version hasn’t been canned. Releasing it on a handheld in Japan makes perfect sense given how common they are, but I wonder if Square-Enix has decided it’s not worth it outside of their home territory. I’m hoping I’m just being overly cynical and we see the game launch on Sony’s handheld alongside the PS3 version – I already have that beautiful special edition pre-ordered, so I’m hoping for cross-saves!

Last week, I wrote about the announcement of a special collectors edition for upcoming PS3 exclusive Tales of Symphonia: Chronicles. The announcement, made at New York Comic Con, was specifically for the U.S. release of the box set, and I hoped at the time that we would shortly hear that Europe would also see the collection; considering the U.S. release was announced at NYCC, I wondered if we’d get confirmation at this weekend’s MCM Comic Con in London – Tales of series producer Hideo Baba will be in attendance, after all.

Today, the official Tales of Twitter account has proven me wrong, confirming that we will indeed be seeing the collectors edition in Europe, as well as announcing that the game will be out in just a few short months: Tales of Symphonia: Chronicles will hit shop shelves on February the 28th 2014!

symphchronCEEUThe collectors edition, shown above, will include all the same goodies as the U.S. version (which was almost identical to the Japanese LaLaBit Market edition before it). In a large box decorated with gorgeous ufotable art, we’ll get five mini figures (Lloyd, Collette, Emil, Marta and Tenebrae), a novel describing the events between the two games (previously unreleased in English) and a multi-disc soundtrack. It seems “multi” means two in this instance.

So far, the collectors edition doesn’t seem to be available to pre-order anywhere, though I suspect that, like the Tales of Xillia collectors edition before it, it will be exclusively available through Namco-Bandai’s online store. It will also be limited to ten thousand copies Europe-wide (a third less than the U.S.’s 15,000 copies), so as soon as it becomes available, I’ll be throwing down a pre-order. Well, so long as it doesn’t cost as much as that Titanfall special edition