Archives for posts with tag: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy

Theatrhythm Curtain Call 3DS pouch
Today, the sequel to one of my favourite games of 2012 hits the 3DS. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call, to give it its full, unwieldy name, is the follow-up to Square-Enix’s rhythm-action Final Fantasy compendium, and it’s fit to bursting with more music, more characters, more modes and even more fanservice. I’m a sucker for pretty much anything FF, especially its music, so I was glad when Theatrhythm turned out so well. And I of course ordered the Collectors Edition of Curtain Call, which has just arrived. So let’s take a look at what you get in the box.

Theatrhythm Curtain Call collectors edition

It’s quite a large box for a 3DS game, and it’s pretty similar to the one Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn came in, with a sturdy box covered by a card slipcase. Inside is a collectors pouch for your 3DS emblazoned with the cast and logo, and unfortunately for me, it’s for a 3DS XL. I can still use it to store my launch model console, of course, but it won’t be a snug fit.

We’re also treated to five platinum CollectaCards of the kind found in the games. The pack of five contains Edgar from Final Fantasy V, Zack from Final Fantasy VII/Crisis Core, Yuna in her X-2 appearance, Final Fantasy XIV‘s Y’shtola and finally Ramza from Final Fantasy Tactics. All the cards are double-sided, with character art on the front and a short bio on the reverse side. You can see the back of Zack’s card in the gallery below.

Theatrhythm Curtain Call CollectaCards

Finally, we have two CDs to listen to. The first of these is the same five-track remix CD that also comes with the cheaper limited edition version of Curtain Call, while the second is a 20-track ‘best of’ collection, which includes untouched music from across the series. These two discs come in the same jewel case, and you can see the full tracklisting for both in the gallery.

That’s it for collectors goodies, but printed on the manual is a note stating that those who’ve played the demo (like me!) will begin the game with some characters already unlocked and ready to go.

For £45, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got here. I’m about to get started and I can’t wait to spend another 90 hours on the new game. My 3DS is pretty much sorted for the next year.

theatrhythmcharactersI’ve waxed lyrical about Theatrhythm before, Square-Enix’s curious little Final Fantasy-themed rhythm-action title that saw release on the Nintendo 3DS in 2012. I suppose part of my love for it is that it’s as unexpected a candidate for a game of the generation as I could imagine. Even as a huge fan of Final Fantasy and its music, I never thought I’d put eighty-five hours into a handheld rhythm game.

In the run-up to Theatrhythm‘s Japanese release, I had more or less ignored it – it’s exactly the kind of game I’d expect to never make it out of its home territory. So I didn’t know a great deal about it until a demo landed on the 3DS e-store. I had expected it to be a relatively lightweight affair, and the demo didn’t do a great deal to dispel that, offering a choice of two tracks to prod along to (Final Fantasy VIII‘s ‘The Man with the Machine Gun’ and Final Fantasy XIII‘s ‘Sunleth Waterscape’). But this was just a short teaser of the full game; I wasn’t about to judge the full release on a demo alone, and I’d already long-since decided to buy it – it had Final Fantasy music in it, after all.

It was lucky I did. Theatrhythm is a deep, deep game.

So, for the uninitiated, the basics: Theatrhythm first tasks you with choosing a party of four iconic Final Fantasy characters, before embarking on one of three types of music stages. In Field stages, your first character strolls through an environment made up of areas from the game that the music comes from, so during the aforementioned ‘The Man with the Machine Gun’, you’ll see such familiar landmarks as Balamb Garden and Fisherman’s Horizon scroll past as a note chart comes at you from the left. Do well enough in a specific section of the chart and you’ll summon a chocobo to speed you through the stage. Battle stages look much like a Final Fantasy battle of old, with your team of four standing along the right side of the screen, with various monsters appearing as enemies to be vanquished by your performance across four lanes of note charts. Finally, Event stages are note charts set to a montage of emotional cutscene moments. Final Fantasy X‘s ‘Suteki da ne’ is a particular favourite of mine.

Each numbered-series title up to Final Fantasy XIII has its own ‘playlist’ consisting of one of each type of stage, and you can choose to either work through a game at a time in series mode, or pick and choose single tracks to play in challenge mode. However, this being a spin-off from an RPG series, there’s more going on than simply swiping your stylus through fun songs. Each character in your party accrues XP across all modes, increasing both their level and their base stats (strength, magic, agility and luck), as well as collecting equippable skills, items and equipment to help you out in a tough situation. Every character has strengths and weaknesses, which means you need to put some thought into choosing the ideal party for the game’s real challenge: The Chaos Shrine.

This is where you’ll play Dark Notes, special pairs of songs – one field track, one battle – that can be far harder than anything in the other modes (think superfast note charts with spinning arrow notes – you’ll need to figure out which way they’ll be pointing when they reach you!), and it’s through Dark Notes that you’ll get the rare item drops needed to unlock new player characters. Each time you finish a Dark Note you’ll unlock a new one, which will often feature tracks not found in the main game. This is the part of Theatrhythm that will propel your file time into the double-, if not triple-figures. Best of all, if you allow the game access to Streetpass, you might just pick up a new Dark Note from another player – I picked up a ton of them when I took my 3DS to last year’s Eurogamer Expo.

Visually, the game is a real treat. Environments are beautifully drawn and saturated in bright colours, and landmarks and battlefields are easily recognisable from their host games; in Final Fantasy X‘s battle stage you can even spot pyreflies dancing away in the background. But it’s the character designs that are the focus here, with all your favourite Final Fantasy heroes, villains and enemy monsters reproduced in a cute super-deformed art-style. Chibi-Terra is my personal favourite. A word of warning though: this is one 3DS game that I wouldn’t recommend playing with the 3D slider on. While it offers a nice bit of depth to the backgrounds, the note prompts sit on a separate plane on top. This means two separate ‘layers’ are displayed, both moving individually, and trying to focus on one and ignore the other can really wreck your eyes. On the plus side, turning off 3D means you can play Theatrhythm for longer.

The 3DS cart comes packed with more than 70 songs to play through and Square-Enix also supported the game with weekly DLC for a fair while. In all, 52 extra tracks were added and I bought them all. What’s interesting is that they saw fit to add in songs from both Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy Versus XIII. The latter has since been shunted to next-gen and renamed Final Fantasy XV, while Type-0 remains unreleased outside of Japan. Perhaps there’s hope yet for the PSP title.

Also stuffed onto the cart is a music player containing all the tracks in the game and a movie viewer, which allows us to watch those gorgeous cutscenes in all their glory, without the distracting note charts drawn all over them. Like the secret characters these all have to be unlocked, though in these cases via ‘Rhythmia’ – an ever-increasing total that you gather by doing well in the game. Also unlockable are ‘CollectaCards‘, effectively in-game ‘trading’ cards depicting characters and enemies. These cards cannot be traded between players, but can be levelled up by getting the same card a number of times as an item drop; at level four, cards become holofoil cards, and at level 7 they turn into platinums. In Theatrhythm, you’re always either unlocking something or working towards something, and it’s a great set of collectibles that keeps you playing for hours.

It’s not all about grinding out those collectibles though. Often, it’s the determination to get a perfect score on every song that brings me back to the game, and no doubt I’ll still be trying to nail down those ultimate perfects when the sequel, Theatrhythm Curtain Call, arrives with new songs, characters and even airships sometime in the indeterminate future.

Previous entries in Games of the Generation:
Dead Space 2
Tales of Vesperia
Halo 3

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
srt
“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
tff2
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
gsl
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
grk
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
chiefcort
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!

</walloftext>

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
blops
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
tff
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
togf
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
dis
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
me3
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.

I’ve been doing weekly content updates for Square-Enix’s rhythm-action title Theatrhythm Final Fantasy for a while now, and last week I speculated that the four new songs added might be the last. Sadly I was right, as there are no new songs available to download today.

Still, 52 additional songs strikes me as a pretty good level of support for a handheld game, and a bit of quick multiplication tells me I’ve spent an additional £46.80 on the DLC… At any rate, it seems a bit of a shame if no more content is forthcoming, as there are plenty of great pieces of music still to be pulled from the Final Fantasy universe.

With this in mind, today I’m going to do something a bit different and showcase a small handful of songs that I would have liked to see in the game. And who knows, maybe we’ll see some sporadic content releases in the future – one of the positives of DLC is, after all, that so long as the host platform (in this case the 3DS) is still viable, the door is never really closed.

‘Anxious Heart’, from Final Fantasy VII

I love the atmosphere of this song, first heard in the train graveyard. There’s a feeling, certainly prevalent in the Midgar slums, that people are just plodding along; not really living, just existing. I think this piece of music perfectly captures that feeling of detached hopelessness, while the xylophone part adds a very dreamlike quality. As a very slow-paced song, I’m not sure how well it would work in Theatrhythm, but I’d love to find out.

‘Don’t Be Afraid’, from Final Fantasy VIII

Quite how this isn’t already in the game I don’t know. Final Fantasy VIII‘s battle theme shouldn’t need any introduction, and it’s obvious that this would be a fantastic addition to Theatrhythm, given both its high tempo and the number of battle tracks already present in the game. That it’s also a fan favourite makes its exclusion even harder to fathom.

‘The Price of Freedom’, from Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII

This one’s strictly down to personal preference, as I absolutely love this song. Again, it might be a bit too slow to work in Theatrhythm (at Ultimate difficulty, at least), but we’ve already had one song from a PSP spin-off that was composed by Takeharu Ishimoto in last week’s ‘We Have Arrived’, from Final Fantasy Type-0, so it wouldn’t be outside of the realms of possibility.

‘Cosmos’, from Final Fantasy Type-0

I’m slotting this one in for a couple of reasons. For one, I’ve been playing a lot of Dissidia 012 recently, so it keeps popping up. Secondly, it’s very different from the typical Final Fantasy fare, so it’d be nice to see it included.

I’d love to see more content appear for Theatrhythm, though I have already put 70 (!) hours into the game, and with stuff still left to unlock, I’ll still be playing it for many more. But it’d be great to have the tracklist refreshed every now and then. Who knows, maybe we’ll see more. But then, I’m an optimist.

We have another four songs for Theatrhythm available today, bringing us up to a post-release total of 52 extra tracks. Considering that the initial plan was for around 50 DLC songs, this may well be our final update.

Like last week, we have a track from a currently unreleased Final Fantasy title (well, unreleased outside of Japan in this case), as we have the opening theme from PSP spin-off Final Fantasy Type-0. With the PSP all but dead outside of Japan, rumours have persisted that we’ll see an enhanced port for the Vita, but with the title being absent at this year’s E3, we have to wonder if we’ll ever see the game at all. Let’s hope we do, as ‘We Have Arrived’ sounds suitably epic.

Anyway, back to the task at hand, and we also have a field theme from Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XII‘s ‘Boss Battle’, and from Final Fantasy XIII, ‘Desperate Struggle’. Videos, as always, follow below.

Final Fantasy Type-0 – We Have Arrived
BMS

Final Fantasy XI – Sarutabaruta
FMS

Final Fantasy XII – Boss Battle
BMS

Final Fantasy XIII – Desperate Struggle
BMS

The wait is finally over! Yes, ‘Somnus’ the theme song from the as-yet unreleased Final Fantasy Versus XIII is now available to download and swipe your way through! Now all we need is the game itself (I’d love to hear something from TGS in a couple of weeks, but I won’t be holding my breath).

Elsewhere, we have another battle track from Final Fantasy X (always a hit with me, as it’s one of my favourite soundtracks), with a field song and battle theme from Final Fantasies XI and XII respectively.

As always, you can check out the songs below.

Final Fantasy X – Final Battle
BMS

Final Fantasy XI – Gustaberg
FMS

Final Fantasy XII – The Battle for Freedom
BMS

Final Fantasy Versus XIII – Somnus
FMS