Archives for posts with tag: Tales of Graces f

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It’s time to take another guilty look at my absurd backlog, and today I’m focusing on Namco-Bandai’s Tales of Graces f. An enhanced port of a 2009 Wii title, this PlayStation 3 version added a ten-hour epilogue (hence the ‘f’, for ‘future’), and finally made its way here last August.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while (first off, thanks!), then you may remember that I made an unboxing video of the Day One edition that Namco-Bandai put out at Graces f‘s release back in August. And a very generous set it was too, comprising a gorgeous, full-colour (albeit paperback) artbook, a behind the scenes DVD and a soundtrack disc. I was very excited for the game; I was quite new to the Tales of series at the time, having played Tales of the Abyss on 3DS and (most of) Tales of Vesperia on my 360, but I became a big fan of the series right from the start.

I knew I wouldn’t be jumping straight into Graces f, as I was knee-deep in something else at the time (I can’t remember what though…), so I had intended for it to inhabit The Shelf for a while. But recently, a couple of things have really tempted me to get stuck in. First of all, I’m currently playing another beautiful, colourful Namco-Bandai RPG – Ni No Kuni. I’m now about 16 hours into Level-5’s collaboration with anime house Studio Ghibli, and loving (almost) every second of it. It really is a beautiful game, and genuinely looks like a Ghibli anime. It’s quite an achievement; we’ve seen cartoon-y games before, but the sumptuous colours and bright, clean shading really elevates Ni No Kuni‘s art-style above other aesthetically-similar games. Visually, it reminds me of the couple of Tales of games I’ve played so far (Abyss and Vesperia), as they’re also very colourful and possessed of stark, clean lines and use of flat colours and cartoon-y shading. Playing Ni No Kuni has reminded me that Tales of Graces f sits unloved on my shelf, and also that I still need to finish Tales of Vesperia (a game so good I bought it twice!).

Speaking of Vesperia, that game is another reason for my sudden desire to play Graces f. I recently watched the anime prequel Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike, and it reminded me how much I loved the game’s characters – Yuri Lowell might well be my favourite jRPG protagonist ever, and young mage Rita Mordio is fantastic, possessed of the kind of attitude that usually only inflicts one who is too good, too young – but I never finished the game. I reached the final dungeon (The Tower of Tarqaron) a few months back, and then decided to ‘take a break’. I absolutely loved my time with Vesperia (I might even call it the best jRPG I’ve played this gen), but there was one difficulty spike that took me close to ten hours to overcome (and also took me perilously close to crying real man-tears). When I reached Tarqaron, I worried that I might find the final boss insurmountable, decided to leave it for a few days… and then never went back.

As I’ve been getting strong Tales of cravings recently, I’ve decided to go back and finish it off soon – maybe even today. But I only have a few hours of the game left to me, and I really want to experience a full-on Tales of journey, so it’s handy that I have Tales of Graces f, which hasn’t even graced my PS3’s disc drive yet, to scratch that itch. The only problem is that it’s calling to me so strongly right now that I’m tempted to play it concurrently with Ni No Kuni, and this I must resist! I don’t think I can handle two massive RPGs at the same time (and I’m still dipping into The Witcher on my PC every few days). So, provided I can hold out, I’m pencilling in Tales of Graces f as the next title in my backlog that I aim to tackle. And I know I’m in for a good time; PSG’s own Dan Bushell put the colourful jRPG in at number three on his top five games of the year list, and if Dan loved it, I’m sure I will too.

Welcome back to the second and final part of Push Start’s Games of the Year feature! A few days ago my good friend Dan gave us his top five picks, as well as a handful of this year’s games that he hopes to catch up with in 2013. I’ll be doing the same, and I’ll also be throwing in an honourable mention or two before I get down to my own personal top five. So let’s start off with those that I need to catch up on.

FarCry 3
I’m actually playing this one at the moment, but I’ve not played enough to really give it an honest appraisal. Like Dan, I checked out the demo at September’s Eurogamer Expo, and found it fairly similar to its predecessor – in general, this is a good thing, as I loved and hated FarCry 2 in equal measure. I loved the world, the gunplay and the way fire spread outward to consume the unwary; I hated the respawning checkpoints, the enemies that could see you hiding in the long grass from a mile away and snipe you with a rusty AK47, and bloody weapon jamming!

A fifteen minute demo was too short a time to see if these problems and issues had been excised, but after a few hours with the game, it seems to be the case. Detection is now made clearer by a bar showing how close you are to being spotted, taking an enemy encampment now means you keep it (hooray!) and weapon jamming is gone, seemingly in favour of a paucity of ammo. The result is that FarCry 3 is more or less the game I always knew FarCry 2 could be, but it’s also been weighed down with scavenging, hunting, crafting, and an XP/skills system, and I’m not entirely sure these mechanics are to the game’s benefit. It makes it feel like Skyrim with guns at times, which might sound amazing, but I’ve found that, for me, all this detracts somewhat from the main thrust of the game. I’m also yet to find any sidequests which don’t just boil down to fetch quests, and I wish there wasn’t any forced stealth in it – I like being a sneaky git, but it should be an option, not an instant fail if you’re spotted. Still, it’s early days yet, and it’s as easy to lose hours in this game as it is to do so in Skyrim.

Dishonoured
Like FarCry 3, I also played the demo of this at EGX, though I didn’t really enjoy it. I liked the idea of it, but it’s just not a game that demos well in a public setting, I think. For a start, you’re dropped into a mission without much explanation of what you’re doing and what your abilities are for, which does leave you free to experiment, but I didn’t really feel able to mess about considering it was a public demo in a gaming con. Perhaps playing the demo at home would’ve allowed me to get into it at my own pace.

As I said, though, I liked the idea of the game, I liked the art direction, and I did enjoy what I played – I just felt a bit out of my depth. A good friend was kind enough to get it for me for Christmas, so I will be playing it. I’m sure I’ll love it when I can play it at my own pace.

The Last Story
I really, really want to play this. I can’t say for sure why I’ve not yet done so, as I was massively looking forward to this, the latest console jRPG from one of the grand masters of the genre, Hironobu Sakaguchi – the man known as the Father of Final Fantasy. It should be apparent by now that I’m a massive fan of Final Fantasy, and of Sakaguchi (Lost Odyssey, created by his Mistwalker team, is one of this generation’s best jRPGs), and I of course pre-ordered the limited edition version of The Last Story, which came with a gorgeous, richly-coloured artbook and a lovely soundtrack CD composed by fellow Final Fantasy stalwart Nobuo Uematsu – which I wrote a Musical Mondays piece on a while back. It’s a beautiful set, complete with a golden steelbook case, and I confess I pick it up and look at it every now and then.

So why haven’t I played it yet? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because I played a lot of RPGs last year and needed a break from the genre. Yet here I am, knee deep in The Witcher, and planning to play through a slew of other RPGs afterward. Maybe I should bump The Last Story up to the top of the list?

Tales of Graces f
I’m a bit of a latecomer to the Tales of series – a good friend recommended Tales of Symphonia to me back on the GameCube, and he tried again when Vesperia came out on the 360. To my eternal shame, I didn’t take on board his suggestions, but I did make sure to grab a copy of the 3DS remake of Tales of the Abyss, and I absolutely loved it. I then made sure to hunt down a copy of Tales of Vesperia and loved that too… well, I’ve not quite finished it yet, which is why Tales of Graces f still sits unloved on my gaming shelf.

I pre-ordered ToGf on the strength of those other two Tales of games, and ended up with the lovely Day One edition that Namco-Bandai put out (of which I posted an unboxing video here on Push Start), and I am really looking forward to playing it eventually… But with Ni No Kuni coming along in the next few weeks, I think it’ll have to wait a little longer.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
I’d heard great things about both of the Witcher games since each was released, and bought the Xbox 360 version of the second, Assassins of Kings, intending to check out the main narrative beats of the original title on Youtube.

Instead, I ended up buying The Witcher on Steam, despite my PC only having integrated graphics. So I bought a new PC and I am currently playing The Witcher: Enhanced Edition, and will then get around to The Witcher 2… Hopefully. As I hinted at above, I’m also getting massive urges to play a ton of RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, Planescape: Torment and Knights of the Old Republic… Maybe I should put it to a vote!

Oh, and I also missed Assassin’s Creed 3 this year, but as I’m yet to play Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, I’m not too fussed about that…

Honourable mentions:
I want to give a quick shout to Resident Evil: Revelations, a 3DS exclusive that I loved a lot more than the more recent Resident Evil 6. It looked so good that it deadened the impact that Uncharted: Golden Abyss had on me when I got that shortly after, and it played beautifully with the Circle Pad Pro. I enjoyed the slower place of play and the scanning mechanic reminded me of Metroid Prime to a degree. Sure, the story was overblown hokum, but again it turned out better than Resident Evil 6 in that regard.

One more shout out before we get to my top five: Final Fantasy XIII-2. While I’m one of the five people that really enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII, it cannot be argued that it was stripped back to the bone in gameplay terms. Spreading the party out into groups of two and shifting between them every now and then helped mitigate the relentless forward momentum, and an excellent battle system kept the pace up. Its sequel did some things better, and some things worse. Firstly, it was decidedly less linear, thanks to both larger environments with occasional branching paths and a time-traveling mechanic that meant you could go back to previous areas whenever you wanted.

However, your main characters were a duo consisting of a bit part player from the first game and a total newcomer – Lightning, the previous game’s stern heroine is curiously absent for much of the game. The story was also weaker than the first part, and the battle system has been somewhat compromised, making the stagger mechanic, the beating heart of XIII‘s combat, almost worthless outside of boss battles. With Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII now in development, I’m hoping Square Enix can take the best of both, add some new stuff and give us something really great

And so, here we are: Push Start Gaming’s Top Five Games of the Year:

5: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
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“A Sonic title in a list of the year’s best games?? Surely not,” I hear you cry. Well, yes. I can understand your scepticism. The old blue chap hasn’t had the best of times since bursting out into the third dimension in the late nineties, but his more recent games have been getting steadily better. The Wii exclusive Sonic Colours was a very good start (even if at times it resembled a high-energy rollercoaster), while last year’s Sonic Generations was a perfect evolution of the Colours formula and served up an excellent 2.5/3D Sonic adventure that offered a good, hearty helping of nostalgia for the errant Sega fan, and became one of my favourite games of 2011 as a result.

This form has continued into Transformed, a sequel to 2010’s well-received fan-service racer. This time, some characters have been excised (no more Ryo Hazuki!) and others have been added to the star-studded roster, which now features the likes of NiGHTs, Jet Set Radio‘s Gum and Skies of Arcadia‘s Vyse. The big gameplay hook this time is rather obvious from the title; as you race around beautiful racecourses inspired by various Sega games (some of which are utterly, brilliantly mental), both course and vehicles transform, allowing you to drive, sail and fly around the environments.

Handling is uniformly excellent across all three modes (to be expected from Sumo Digital, of Outrun 2 fame), though if I have one complaint about the transforming aspect, it’s that boating feels a bit too slow. Karting absolutely flies by comparison, especially if you nail the drifting mechanic, which allows you to build up a boost of up to three levels should you hold a long enough drift. And trust me, you’ll need it, as this is a tough game even on ‘normal’ difficulty. It’s probably worth your while to start out on ‘easy’ and work your way up once you know the tracks.

And know the tracks you will, given the generous amount of modes on offer. You have five cups consisting of four races each, reminiscent of Mario Kart‘s GP mode, as well as a world tour mode that throws standard racing at you along with specific challenges, such as drift zones (I’m sure I remember one of the PGR games doing this years ago, but it’s still great fun here). The requisite single race and time attack modes are also catered for, as is a multiplayer matchmaking mode that I’m yet to try out.

All this stuffed in, and yet the game was released at a lower than usual price. As far as I’m concerned, it’s at least up there with recent entries in the Mario Kart series, and I’ve no doubt I’ll be getting more out of it than last year’s MK7. Put simply, if you like kart racers, you owe it to yourself to get this one.

4: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
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If you checked out Dan’s list the other day, you’ll notice some cross-over here. That’s because I all but forced him to buy this game (it’s not as sinister as it sounds; I knew he’d love it, so it was for his own good, really!). I’d had my eye on this Final Fantasy-themed rhythm-action game for quite some time before release, and expected it to be a somewhat limited, yet fun little curio. If you’d have told me before release that I’d end up putting 80 (yes, eighty) hours into it and naming it as one of my favourite games of the year… well, I doubt I’d have believed you.

Theatrhythm is, as I said above, a Final Fantasy-themed rhythm-action game. On the top screen of your 3DS, you’ll see your note chart, characters or backdrop (depending on the type of music playing), and you’ll furiously swipe along on the bottom screen with your stylus. Very furiously, if you’re playing some of the harder songs on Ultimate difficulty (damn you, ‘Battle with the Four Fiends’!). There are three types of track to play along to: battle themes see a party of four characters of your choosing arranged alongside the right, with enemies on the left like Final Fantasy of old, and four lanes of notes rushing toward you; field themes are your world map traversal analogue, where one character at a time walks along in time to your swipes and slides; event themes are played to the backdrop of cutscenes or gameplay segments, and can occasionally catch you out as you stare at the pretty pictures instead of watching the note chart.

Each of the numbered series titles has a playlist, consisting of one of each type of theme, and there are a number of unlockable songs that can be played singly in challenge mode, which is also where you’ll find any of the DLC tracks you might choose to add to your game. Other collectables and unlockables include upgradable ‘trading’ cards, options for your personalised profile card, songs and videos for the two media players, and items and equipment that you can use in gameplay.

These last two come in very handy if you’re trying to tackle the game’s challenging Dark Notes or find the crystal shards that unlock additional characters, as they add modifiers to your character’s base abilities, level them up faster or increase the likelihood of rare item drops. It’s a lot deeper than you’d expect, given its genre, and even after 80-odd hours, I’ve not unlocked everything. It’s certainly not exactly the game I was expecting, and this is all to the good. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is the perfect companion for someone who loves the music of the venerable jRPG series

3: Mass Effect 3
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Sometimes the internet makes me wish I had Asura’s extra arms, so that I might be able to act out the world’s most over-the-top facepalm.

Now, I understand some people were disappointed with Mass Effect 3’s ending. I get that. I was somewhat indifferent to it myself (which I guess is damning it with the faintest of praise, considering it was the ending to a galaxy-spanning trilogy), but by no means did I hate it. I understand that people disliked that the final few moments did away with your party and that the ending itself came down to a choice of three seemingly interchangeable decisions. Even though I felt like the entire game was in itself an extended ending (and that, for me, the final cutscene left it open for the player to imagine the state you leave the universe in for generations to come), I get why that would annoy people.

What irritated me was the ridiculous escalation that then took place. First, it was “Mass Effect 3’s ending sucks!”. Then it became “Mass Effect 3 and BioWare suck!”. Not long after that, I began to notice comments popping up all over the ‘net proclaiming that the entire series sucks and always has. I understand that the internet seems to foster a culture of rampant (frequently idiotic) one-upmanship, but man, it’s so depressing at times.

But anyway, I’m not here to lambast the internet-at-large, this is supposed to be a celebration of my favourite games of the year. Mass Effect 3 is certainly one of these. I confess, I find it the weakest of the trilogy (I had hoped some of the RPG mechanics would find their way back in in the style of ME1, rather than the more streamlined mechanics of ME2 – though at least they did away with those horrid post-mission result screens!), but even so, some of the series’ most emotional moments are to be found in Mass Effect 3, and it’s down to that feeling I mentioned earlier – that the game as a whole feels like an ending. Who can forget (SPOILERS!) Mordin’s heroic sacrifice; Thane saying a final prayer, not for himself but for you; shooting the breeze and shooting cans with your best buddy Garrus high above the Presidium (oh and just for the record: Shepard doesn’t miss). Who can forget ordering Grunt to stay behind and hold off the Rachni/Reaper assault, and being sure that you’d lost him, only for him to come swaggering out of that cave, covered in gore. Who can forget the relief? Every other mission, it felt like you might lose someone, and that made every survival all the sweeter, every death a grand tragedy.

Mass Effect 3 also has some of the series’ greatest moments of spectacle, such as the opening on Earth as Reaper forces invade, laying waste to all before them, or the assault on the moon of Palaven, with gigantic Reapers hanging in your peripheral vision, in orbit over the turian homeworld. That’s without even mentioning the galactic showdown near the game’s end, except that I did just mention it.

The game does have some missteps, of course. There is, of course that ending, which at it’s best is a touch unsatisfying (though I’ve not yet tried out the extended ending DLC that appeared post-release, as I’m waiting to do a second, all-DLC playthrough), and the journal bugged a few of my sidequests to the point that I couldn’t finish them, while others disappeared entirely, leaving me to wonder if they were time-sensitive. N7 quests were few and far between, and the less said about Galactic Readiness being tied to multiplayer, the better.

Still, some things, such as skill-trees, were improved from ME2 (though still not as granular as ME1’s system), and the level of graphical and presentational polish was higher than before, and coupled with those earlier-mentioned moments of emotion and grand scale, combined to create a trilogy closer that kept me enthralled throughout, determined to keep everyone alive, before realising that it was never going to happen, that this was what they had all joined me for, this fight. It wasn’t do or die; it was do and maybe die anyway. I had to accept that, in order to complete my mission, losses were inevitable, and that epiphany had two effects: it freed me up to do what I had to do, and it filled me with a sad sense of finality – just the atmosphere a final chapter needs, in my opinion.

Production has recently begun on a Mass Effect 4, but I really don’t know where they might take the series. A game based on the human-turian First Contact War would be too limited in scope after saving the galaxy from annihilation, and any sequel would surely have to be far enough in the future that it may as well be a new IP. I love the Mass Effect series (I have all three collectors editions, after all), but I think it should remain a trilogy. And it’s a trilogy I know I’ll be playing for years to come.

2: Gravity Rush
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I knew this was going to one of my favourite games of the year from the first time I fired up the demo. As far as I’m concerned, Gravity Rush is the Vita’s best game, and worth buying the handheld for alone. But then, I am absolutely in love with the game.

Like Theatrhythm, before release I had thought this might end up as perhaps an enjoyable curio. The resulting game is as close as you’re likely to get to playing through a Ghibli film (at least until Ni No Kuni arrives next month) – a mostly light-hearted journey of discovery and inner strength. The game’s protagonist Kat is one of my favourite characters of the year; at once cheeky, cheerful and petulant. She doesn’t spend vast swathes of the game feeling sorry for herself for having lost her memory (which she never even regains over the course of the game), she just gets on with the business of saving the world, and genuinely enjoys the powers her sparkly feline sidekick ‘Dusty’ thrusts upon her.

It’s also an absolute joy to control Kat, flinging her around the gorgeous island cities that make up the game’s mostly open world, especially when you’ve powered up her abilities enough that you rarely have to touch the ground. Many open world games offer you a large square-footage of ground to run around in; Gravity Rush gives you the same, but allows you all that space above and below to explore as well, meaning you can spend hours just searching out the gems you need to upgrade Kat’s powers. These are often hidden underneath the floating islands, leading you on extended scavenger hunts as you run along the underside of the world. Combat is just as fun, with Kat drawing nearby objects into her own gravitational pull and flinging them at the gelatinous Navi that are threatening Hekseville.

It’s an absolutely beautiful game as well, the draw distance masked by a lovely painterly effect that gradually resolves more detail as you get closer, and the cities each have their own distinct flavour, with great music helping distinguish one from another – even now, months after I finished the game, the music from the first area pops into my head every few days and makes me smile. There is a little room for improvement, though; Kat’s gravity slide ability is unwieldy, meaning I rarely used it, and the cities could do with a bit more to do in them than just story missions, challenges and gem harvesting. Some things for a sequel to address, perhaps

Speaking of a sequel, it certainly seems to be on the cards: the story, while fairly easy-going, does make you pause for thought at times, and towards the end you might find yourself questioning whether the events taking place are real or someone’s beautiful fever-dream. Though much is left unsaid, and many questions remain unanswered, it’s a very satisfying tale that has me really praying for a continuation – not just to clear things up, but also because I loved the game so damn much. I truly hope SCE Japan Studio will get around to it sooner rather than later, and in the meantime, I’m looking forward to their next handheld title Soul Sacrifice.

1: Halo 4
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Since its unveiling at last year’s E3. I had been hoping that this would be my Game of the Year for 2012. However, with series creators Bungie stepping aside to build a new universe from scratch, and Microsoft putting together a hand-picked team of the industry’s best to continue their blockbuster sci-fi series, I had genuine concerns that 343 industries might not be able to match that trademark Halo feel, that “thirty seconds of fun, over and over again” mantra that has been at the core of the games since 2001.

When I finally had the game in my hands however, all my fears evaporated. 343 know their Halo, that’s for sure. Right from the off, it’s reassuringly familiar, as Cortana wakes the Master Chief from his power nap to deal with a Covenant boarding party that have overrun what’s left of the Pillar of Dawn. The new team have gone to town in ramping up the epic scope and scale, and this is, again, immediately obvious; towards the end of that first mission, you’re out in space, on the hull of a starship fighting Covenant as an enormous Forerunner planet looms above, threatening to swallow your almost insignificant conflict whole. And it just gets bigger and bolder from there.

Story takes a more central role in Halo 4 than it has in previous instalments, which has led to criticism that the game is too reliant on knowledge of the lore, particularly from the extended universe. I suppose it’s a valid criticism, but the story stands well enough on its own merits, while bundling in a ton of fan-service for those (like me) who’ve scoured the series for clues, read all the books and trawled Halopedia for hours on end. That’s not to say that the narrative ever overpowers the gameplay though, and this latest entry gives us a whole new class of enemy in the Prometheans: small, dog-like crawlers that clamber all over the environments and seek to overwhelm you with sheer numbers; watchers, the aerial power of these Forerunner constructs, with the ability to catch your grenades before flinging them back at you, shield comrades and even resurrect them; and a whole slew of massive Promethean Knights that tower over both the Chief and Covenant Elites, teleporting about the battlefield to cut you down with their arm-mounted hardlight swords.

Fighting the Covenant is as enjoyable as ever, and allows you to fall back on years of hard-won battle tactics, but the Prometheans will punish you if you go in expecting those same strategies to work. I play Halo on Heroic difficulty (it really shouldn’t be any lower if you plan on truly appreciating it), and in my first few encounters with the Prometheans, I got utterly annihilated. It’s not uncommon to feel out of your depth, perhaps a little hard-done-by, but it soon becomes apparent that you need to prioritise targets more ruthlessly than you might with the Covenant, and once you figure out your strategies for this new class of antagonists, they slot nicely into place.

Over on the multiplayer side, fans were even more worried. Everything 343 announced about the new modes seemed to lean towards a more Call of Duty-style XP ranking system, and that is not what Halo fans want. One of the main reasons that Halo‘s MP playerbase keeps coming back is because it’s always a level playing field – no matter whether you play every day or once a month, it’s always a level playing field. Ranking up is the very antithesis of this, a mechanic intended to keep people playing, which is all well and good, but we already have that in Call of Duty. That series also already has perks. No Halo fans wanted these features implemented. Thankfully, the way 343 have inserted these mechanics hasn’t impacted the game much at all – ranking up offers you more load-out options, but doesn’t affect base health or damage output (and at any rate, most players seem to favour DMR/pistol load-outs), and ordnance, Halo 4‘s perk system, tend to be either limited-ammo power weapons or very short-term buffs like a constantly-draining overshield or speed boost. All of these give you an edge, provided you know what you’re doing, but none of them allow you to dominate for more than a handful of seconds.

Another impressive aspect of Halo 4 is that, on its first try, a brand new studio has created possibly the best-looking game on the 360 to date. If it’s not the best, it’s certainly up there with the rest of them, and the hi-tech Forerunner world of Requiem is swathed in impressive lighting effects that further add to the game’s graphical potency. Some have complained that all this eye candy is at the expense of Halo‘s trademark expansive battlefields, and I don’t really agree. Some areas are as vast as those in any other Halo, and though there are plenty of indoor environments, those too can often be cavernous. If there is a trade-off (which I’m not so sure there is), I think it’s worth it as a showcase of what the seven-year-old Xbox 360 is still capable of. I cannot wait to see what 343 industries will be able to do with Halo 5 on next-gen hardware, and I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.

So there you have my favourite games of the year. Leave me a comment, let me know what you think of the games I’ve listed and let me know what your favourites of 2012 were. In the next few days, I’ll be writing about what I’m looking forward to in 2013, so make sure to look out for that. For now, I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and hours of happy gaming!

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With the year all but at an end (and the world apparently still in one piece), it’s time to cast a critical eye over the last twelve months in gaming. It may seem a little egotistical for a small blog with perhaps a handful of transient readers to publish GOTY lists, but screw it – we’re going to do it anyway. Because it’s fun.

First of all, this piece will serve as an introduction to Mr Dan “The Marathon Man” Bushell, a good friend of mine who will hopefully be contributing to the blog a lot more in the coming year. Anyone who has watched my ‘Unboxing The Sky: The Art of Final Fantasy’ video should already be somewhat familiar with him, and this list of his favourite games of the year should give you a better insight into the man and his gaming habits. I’ll be publishing my list in a couple of days, and I encourage any readers to leave a comment and let us know if you agree or disagree, or even give us your list.

So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Mr Bushell to detail his games of the year:

So here we are, the end of the year, and it’s time to reflect back on some of the gold the gaming industry has given to us in 2012. Unfortunately I don’t have huge amounts of money with which to buy every title I wanted, so first off I’d like to mention a couple of games that I think would stand a chance at making my list had I been able to get my hands on them, both of which I managed to get my hands on when I went to this year’s Eurogamer Expo at Earls Court.

FarCry 3
I only managed to get a fifteen minute demo of what looks to be a much improved game from FarCry 2. Straight off the bat, it gave the feeling of freedom and there appeared to be a lot to explore. It handled very well and felt like I knew the controls from the start – it’s been a while, but they seemed to be much the same as the previous game. It was hard to get an overall impression from such a short demo, but it certainly gave me enough to want more – imagine playing a fifteen minute demo of, say, Skyrim – it couldn’t hope to do any justice to how big the game really is, and this is the impression FarCry 3 gave me. It’s a huge game this year and looks like it’s doing very well for publisher Ubisoft.

Assassin’s Creed III
I was also lucky enough to play the demo of AC3. I am a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed series and am looking forward to spending some quality time with the new release. With a new character and new surroundings I hope this will give the series a bit of much-needed freshness – by the time I finished Revelations, it felt like I had already played it a couple of times before. This didn’t stop me from loving the stealthy series, but I’m hoping that with a new start, Assassin’s Creed 3 will have greater impact.

There’s also a couple of other games that I am eager to play and add to my collection, most notably Borderlands 2 and The Last Story. In the case of Mistwalker’s The Last Story (which, being a massive Final Fantasy fan, I really must get my hands on), this one came out fairly early in the year, but a combination of lack of funds or other games that I have had a higher craving for mean I am a bit behind the release schedule. Which leads me nicely onto my top five games of 2012. Strap yourself in, people!

Dan “The Marathon Man” Bushell’s top five games of the year!

5: Call of Duty: Black Ops II
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Truth be told, before release I was hoping this would not make my top five. I have something of a love/hate relationship with the CoD series, as recent releases haven’t been that great. Don’t get me wrong, they have all been well made games but they just haven’t really done much for me. It never takes long before people start hacking the game and using lag switches, making the experience… well, not much of an experience at all.

Then Black Ops II arrived. I wasn’t very excited about this sequel, but jumped on the band-wagon as I knew the majority of my online friends would be playing. Happily, Black Ops II is a very well-made game. I was honestly a little shocked when I first loaded up what I thought was just going to be another CoD. I was wrong! It plays extremely well, and the excellent maps help the game flow at a good pace. I have found myself lost, playing for hours at a time, and losing huge portions of the day. For this reason, it’s propping up my top five.

4: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
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Ah, Final Fantasy, the famous game series that made me the gamer I am today. This of course is not a standard Final Fantasy game, but Theatrhythm gives you the joy of reliving all the greatest pieces of music (and some of the visuals!) that the main ‘numbered series’ titles have given us from the franchise’s early days up to the recent Final Fantasy XIII. I have been a huge fan of all the music from over the series, and could not ignore this title. I have lost entire days on this game, playing songs to try and beat my previous score, or even just to hear some of the fantastic music featured on the cart. There’s also a huge amount to unlock, from playing cards, to songs for the music player or even videos, so it’s safe to say you get your money’s worth with this beautifully-made game, and the hours you can spend on it can easily stretch into dozens.

3: Tales of Graces f
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I mentioned above that Final Fantasy has had a massive influence on my gaming habits, so you’ve no doubt guessed that I’m a huge jRPG fan. Tales of Graces f, a PS3-exclusive title from Namco-Bandai, is my first experience with a Tales of game, and with the impact it had on me, I couldn’t exclude it from my list. With solid characters that all are very different in personality, and an extremely fun combat system this game is a must for fans of the genre. It offers you laughs, tears and much, much more besides. I am already massively looking forward to next year’s release of Tales Of Xillia.

2: Dishonored
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Right from the announcement of this game all the way up to its release I was pretty much glued to it and it turns out my anticipation was well-rewarded. Dishonored offers so much, in gameplay terms – if, like me, you enjoy being sneaky and stealthy in a game then Arkane’s latest is pure gold. With so many different options for making your way through the game, from liberating heads from bodies all over the shop, to not killing any one at all and sneaking through unseen, you’re spoilt for choice in developing your own play-style. The story is as solid as the gameplay, and you can certainly get a lot out of Dishonored –  I’ve already played through it twice and am now contemplating a third playthrough. Few games have grabbed me to the extent that I’ve restarted it as soon as the credits have rolled, and this is a good sign that, for me, Dishonored is one of the year’s best games.

Aaaand, drum roll please…

1: Mass Effect 3
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Yes, my game of the year is Mass Effect 3. Even with its controversial ending I don’t think this game could have done much wrong. I do have to admit that it’s not the strongest of the trilogy, but it’s still an absolutely fantastic game. I was a bit late in coming to the Mass Effect games (I had never played any of them before this year) so playing them all for the first time one after the other, I felt I got the full emotional effect from the trilogy-closing Mass Effect 3. Like the previous two games in the trilogy it offers much in terms of gameplay, and the story has to be one of my favourites of all time, be it from games, books or film.  There are so many moments that can choke you up in this game, and with the knowledge that everything is coming to an end, you realise even more how powerful the characters and their relationships are, and how amazingly-written the story is. For anyone who hasn’t played the Mass Effect trilogy, I demand you to stop what you’re doing and start it now! It’s even easier now, as BioWare and EA have recently released a trilogy boxset for those that are a little behind the curve. Go get it!

So those are my top five games of 2012! It’s been a great year for games, and next year is already looking to be a whopper. With titles like The Last of Us, Ni No Kuni,  Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider reboot, a new Splinter Cell, Beyond: Two Souls and many more, next year’s list may wind up being more of a challenge than this year’s! Until then happy gaming!

Dan Bushell

Thanks Dan! I’ll have my list up in a couple of days, and we’ll be seeing more of Mr Bushell in the new year. Please feel free to leave a comment below and let us know what you think of Dan’s selections, and be sure to tell us what you’ve been playing this year.

Tales of Graces f for PS3 releases here tomorrow, and thanks to the magic of pre-ordering, my copy arrived on my doormat this morning. So, I thought, why not take to the interwebs and show people what comes in the box? The result is Push Start Gaming’s very first video!

Let me know what you think in the comments below!


Namco-Bandai Games has today confirmed that the latest installment in the much-loved Tales of jRPG series will see release in Europe next year.

Tales of Xillia, a PS3 exclusive, was released last year in Japan to coincide with the series’ 15th anniversary, and a sequel has already been announced for Japan. Fans have been wondering for a while if the first game would make it’s way west, as the Tales of series has typically been a little spotty for releases outside of Japan.

However, Namco-Bandai seems to be increasingly interested in making sure their flagship RPG series reaches a wider audience. First we had the 3DS port of the wonderful Tales of the Abyss (which unfortunately released in rather limited numbers and can still be a little hard to find) and then the lavish, recently-announced Day One edition for Tales of Graces f. I said at the time that that announcement was a good sign that Xillia would make it over here.

Tales of Xillia will launch in Europe some time next year, and while that may seem far off, keep in mind that Tales of Graces f is mere weeks away now, as it will release at the end of August. I almost feel greedy in hoping we see the Vita game Tales of Innocence R, but hey, the more the merrier!

If you’ve never played a Tales of game and feel a bit let down with the jRPGs we’ve received this gen, I urge you to try out one of Namco-Bandai’s titles. You may well rediscover something you thought was lost.

As I wait for the August launch of Tales of Graces f, I’ve been thinking back to my time with Tales of the Abyss. Often, some of the in-town music will pop into my head and rattle around for a few days, reminding me of the wonderful time I spent in the game’s company, and it’s also made me consider the way music is used in games; specifically in Tales of the Abyss to create a separation between the towns and world map, and the feeling of entering a town to rest and gain some respite from the larger conflict.

Have a listen to this piece, which plays on the world map after a story milestone:

It’s dramatic, hinting at an epic confrontation to come, and it has a real driving feel that helps to communicate that you’re pushing on to your next objective in your goal of saving the world.

Now listen to this in-town piece that plays when you enter the snowy wonderland of Keterburg:

This piece of music is pretty representative of the rest of the game’s in-town music. It’s disarmingly cheerful, despite the conflict that is ravaging the world outside of the town. In an RPG, you enter a town to rest and recharge, stock up, and maybe seek out a handful of sidequests, and it’s this aspect that often feels a little incongruous; why am I helping someone find their missing sheep while outside the walls the world is burning? Of course, a large part of gaming is the suspension of disbelief, but for me, this separation in musical themes and moods often helps me to actually forget the main quest exists for a short while while I potter about doing random things in a new town.

I’ve often seen the Tales of series referred to as ‘jRPG comfort food’, and given their traditional nature, it’s hard to argue. And I think the music can often play a large part in this feeling of comfort, subconsciously allowing you time off from the pressing engagement of saving the world.


The May 2012 MCM Expo (or London Comic Con, as the organisers seem intent on rebranding it lately) has come and gone, so I thought I should get some thoughts down before I forget it all.

I attended on the Sunday, and there were only a few things I wanted to do – I mostly go for the atmosphere, you see; it’s a day out, with lots to see and I always feel like queuing for stuff is time better spent exploring the hall.

Unfortunately, I was unable to do two of the things that I really wanted to…

Meet Ali Hillis
The actress behind the voices of Final Fantasy XIII/XIII-2‘s Lightning, Mass Effect‘s Liara T’Soni and many others was scheduled to appear at the Summer Expo, and I had intended to get her signature on my FFXIII-2 Limited Edition box, to nicely compliment my signed XIII LE.

Unfortunately, due to personal reasons she had to postpone her appearance until the October show, so I’ll try again then. Given that Raphael Sbarge (voice of Mass Effect‘s Kaidan Alenko and KotOR‘s Carth Onasi) was also at the show, I could have taken one of my three Mass Effect LEs to cover both bases. Hindsight, and all that.

To make up for Ms Hillis’ non-appearance, Kimberly Brooks (Mass Effect‘s Ashley Williams) and Nick Boulton (Hawke in Dragon Age 2, Major Coats in Mass Effect 3) were drafted in to give free signings. I spoke to the lovely Kimberley Brooks for a few minutes about subjects such as voice acting in general (“It’s so much fun!”, she told me), the UK videogame scene, and Irish accents, and got a glossy, signed pic of Ash. I can’t stress enough how genuinely lovely she was to talk to, and it was a pleasure to meet her.

Play Theatrhythm

I had also hoped to get my hands on Square-Enix’s Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. I knew Square-Enix would be represented at the Expo, but had no idea of the games that would be on display. I had hoped Theatrhythm would be playable, considering its release date is pretty close, and it was! But, unfortunately for me, it was crowded all day.

The picture above was taken less than five minutes before the show closed. And it was still being played. Now, as I said before, I hate to queue at the Expo – there’s a lot to see, and only a finite amount of time to get around it all. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m frothing at the mouth for this title, being as I’m a huge fan of Final Fantasy and the series’ music (and I’m also quite partial to the odd rhythm-action game), so it was a little disappointing not to get a few minutes with the game. Still, it’ll be in my hands in about six weeks, and there were other things that would cheer me up…

Bamco saves the day!
I knew Namco-Bandai would be present at the Expo, so I had hoped to see Tales of Graces f on display. Before the weekend, Bamco had announced, via their Facebook page, that they would be presenting the jRPG on the GameSpot stage, and giving out double sided Tales of Graces f/Ni No Kuni posters… on the Saturday. I was disappointed, seeing as I had tickets for the following day, but hoped there would be at least some presence there. Imagine my surprise when I looked at the schedule in my program to find a “Tales of Graces f presentation” on the GameSpot stage at 4pm!

The GameSpot stage in all its glory!

The presentation was hosted by Namco-Bandai’s Hollie Bennett, while her colleague (whose name I unfortunately cannot remember!) played the game. But first, we were treated to Graces’ intro movie.

Our presenters chose to start right at the beginning of the game, giving us an idea of what we’ll be doing when we first fire it up, rather than showing out-of-context moments from further on in the story and risking spoilers. We saw the main character, Asbel Lhant (who begins the game as a cock-sure eleven-year-old) arguing with his younger brother Hubert about exploring Lhant Hill – a place they aren’t supposed to go, but which young Asbel is keen to explore. We were treated to some world-map exploration, battling and animated cutscenes in our short demo, and I have to say, the game looks gorgeous, proving that good art-design and heaps of character can trump technical ability. It often looks like a cartoon, especially in engine-driven cutscenes, such is the vibrancy of the colours and the cleanliness of the visuals on display.

You’ll have to excuse the blurriness – digital zoom sucks!

Hollie also mentioned the recently-announced Day One edition (that I commented on on May 17th), and confirmed that it will be the only edition of Tales of Graces f available at launch. So all the more reason to get those pre-orders in, people!

Before the Tales of presentation started, we were told that, time-permitting, we might also see some of Level 5 and Studio Ghibli collaboration Ni No Kuni! This, I most definitely did not expect! Being a massive Ghibli fan, Ni No Kuni has been on my radar since it was first revealed something like four years ago. The opportunity to see it in person was certainly an unexpected treat, and we were shown two separate demos from the game.

Ni No Kuni’s demo select screen, ravaged by digital zoom.

The first demo, First steps in a far-away Kingdom, introduced us to the character of Oliver and his little doll-come-to-life friend, Drippy, who sounded not unlike Rhod Gilbert to me. As her colleague wandered around a beautiful overworld getting into battles, Hollie talked about the localization efforts going into the Western version of the game, pointing out that where characters in the Japanese release had regional accents, the same would be true of our version – hence Drippy’s throaty Welsh accent. In keeping with Ghibli’s dvd efforts, the localization seems to have had a lot of effort poured into it, though only some cutscenes were voiced. Hopefully by the time the game is in our hands, all dialogue will be fully-voiced.

If I thought Tales of Graces f looked like a cartoon, Ni No Kuni was something else; it looked like a Ghibli production through-and-through, especially the beautiful, vibrant overworld. However, as they were ten-minute timed demos (and time on the stage was running short), our hosts decided to jump straight into the next one – a steampunk-y town named Hamelin, and more specifically, to the Palace of the Porcine Prince. As you could expect given the name, Hamelin is populated by a race of Gamorrean guard-like pig people. Our heroes are seen wandering about the place, before buildings suddenly rise from their foundations and begin moving on rails, creating a long corridor with cheering crowds on either side. This then leads to a boss battle against a piggy-themed tank with a special move called the “Gammon Cannon”. Yup, that one will stay with me for some time…

As the Bamco rep attempted to defeat the tank before the timer ran down, we managed to get a better look at the battle system. It seems you can either fight as a party character, or call out a smaller, magic wielding creature (like Oliver’s Drippy) to take action for you. It looked like an ATB-style system, with party members taking action when a timer bar fills, and it appears to be possible to switch members on the fly.

Hollie likened the small creatures to Pokemon, suggesting there would be hundreds to collect in-game, offering up the possibility of a battle system that is both easy to get to grips with, but offers plenty of depth and tactical options. Coupled with Ghibli’s trademark humour and charm, and some utterly gorgeous visuals, Ni No Kuni is definitely looking like something to get excited about, if you aren’t already.

I even managed to nab some of those posters!

Aside from the games, the Expo is also a great place to see cosplayers. I know some people can be down on cosplay, but I think it’s great that people are passionate enough about videogames, anime and other pop-cultural references to do it, and it’s one of the reasons for the fantastic atmosphere the Expo enjoys – everyone is there to celebrate the same things and have a good time, and you’re in a huge hall with hundreds of people that share your interests.

With that said, I felt the cosplay was a little less diverse than usual (though it was my first Sunday Expo; I usually attend on a Saturday, so perhaps that’s why): I must have seen about fifteen Links for example, which I’m sure would please Nintendo. Final Fantasy XIII has been popular among cosplayers at the Expo the last couple of years, and this year was no different, with a couple of Lightnings, Snows and the odd Vanille doing the rounds. FFXIII-2 was also represented, with a few of those versions of Lightning and Serah dotted about. And of course, it wouldn’t be a summer Expo without a Rikku!

There were some unexpected characters in attendance.

Now that the Expo has come and gone, I again find myself in the position of eagerly awaiting the next one in October. With E3 just around the corner, who knows what we’ll be seeing at the ExCel Centre in five months time? One thing’s for sure: I’m getting that Ali Hillis signature!

The latest European release in Namco-Bandai’s Tales of series has finally received a release date.

Originally slated for a vague “summer” launch, Tales of Graces f has now been dated for release on August 31st. An enhanced PS3 port of the original Wii title, f includes an additional epilogue set six months after the main scenario. Titled “Lineage and Legacies”, this extra ten-hour mode is said to wrap up the remaining mysteries and unanswered questions.

That’s not the end of the good news, however, as Namco-Bandai have also announced that there will be a special, bonus-packed ‘Day One’ edition of the game.  I’m assuming it’ll be much the same situation as with the publisher’s 2011 release of Dark Souls, where every pre-order was upgraded to the ‘Day One’ edition at no extra charge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the lovely presentation box you can see above will be the game (of course), along with a hardcover art book, an original soundtrack disc, a third disc containing making of videos and a code for some bonus DLC – exclusive Tales of themes for the XMB and some extra character costumes taken from PS2 title Tales of Destiny 2. You can see all the goodies below.

I have to say, it’s pretty refreshing to be getting a special edition of a Tales of game over here. The releases outside of Japan have been spotty to say the least, and even when we do get them, it’s in limited numbers. So it’s good to see the games even making it over here, let alone as a special edition for the price of a standard game. This also bodes well for a European release of the latest title in the series, Tales of Xillia. Hopefully we’ll hear something about that, and maybe Tales of Innocence R for the Vita, at E3.