Just a game of cards
May 24
Posted by Duane at 15:42

Thanks to the remote play functionality that exists on the Sony hardware I've found myself returning to Square-Enix's Final Fantasy XIV. I found GAME selling both A Realm Reborn and Heavensward cheap on PS4 and as I'd missed the chance to upgrade my PS3 ARR for free I took the chance to snap it up.

The problem I've mostly been having though is that my other half is sinking just as much time into the MMO that she plays, Lord of the Rings Online, that I have been FFXIV, but because hers is strictly tied to the PC I've been, as mentioned, using my Vita to go to Eorzea thanks to Remote Play.

I'm not actually all that fussed about this as, surprisingly enough, FFXIV features a hell of alot of single player content, its mostly fetch quests and the like but they're pleasent enough to play through on the handheld and the controls are mapped really rather well.

Where the game has sunk its teeth in most though is its version of Final Fantasy VII's Golden Saucer. Each day you can enter the "Mini Cactpot" lottery, essentially a scratch card. You can purchase 3 a day and this resets at 4pm, so I'll go over to the Golden Saucer, try and win a few extra MGP (which can only be spend at the Golden Saucer) via playing this and then maybe partake in a couple of the events that pop up and definetly get some Triple Triad going, the music to which I have engraved on my brain.

Its gotten to a point now that I have a seperate costume on my hotbar just for my trips to the Golden Saucer, its a cool tuxedo affair, minus the bottoms, which you can see in the image above.
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May 17
Posted by James at 16:26

Unlike Mark, I haven’t really been playing anything that feels particularly substantial lately, instead just picking up whatever device I come across and settling for whichever game I feel like playing. But hey, that makes for a more unexpected opportunity to look at something different, as one of the games I found myself playing the most happened to be the smartphone port of Dragon Quest V of all things.

It’s easy to write off console-to-smartphone ports on the basis of a few developers that have got it horribly wrong. Take Final Fantasy VII for example. Rather than rethink the game for touch, the developers plonked a bunch of transparent on-screen virtual buttons over the screen to replace the inputs of a PlayStation controller. It's a terrible substitute.

Dragon Quest V, on the other hand, gets it right. Its heritage as a port of the DS remake of the PS2 remake of the Super Famicom original makes it an easy transition to the smartphone format. Where the DS game tried using both screens to create a single towering image, on a single display the gap in between is eliminated.

What results is a natural fit: Just like how you interact with the majority of smartphone apps - phone held in portrait orientation, one thumb over the screen - this game is just a hand's clutch away.

So you can play Dragon Quest V one-handed now. Better still, there are no virtual controller buttons littering this game's interface. Instead, the developers have designed and programmed what I like to call “smart buttons” – iconographic buttons that don’t substitute for buttons to drive a controller-driven interface. Rather they accept direct input that's translated directly into the game itself.

For instance, moving your character is as easy as sliding your thumb about the screen wherever you like. A single tap performs context sensitive actions like starting conversations with locals in towns and advancing text in battle.

We spend a lot of time navigating menus in RPGs, making it something that needs to be as frictionless as possible, particularly so when it comes to a shift in interface paradigms. Previous versions of Dragon Quest V had you use the controller to move a cursor between different menu options, listed within windows.

Rather than utilise on-screen controller buttons to navigate the same aforementioned button-driven interface, Arte Piazza have taken a touch-first approach to navigating the traditional Dragon Quest RPG menu.

Here, every selectable option is displayed as a large button, making up a grid of four or so options at a time. Like the navigation controls, it’s all accessible to a single thumb, so it’s just a case of tapping the option you want, then tapping what you want to do with it. Think of it like the bottom screen in the DS Pokémon games, only it extends from battle to every facet of micromanagement within the game.

The title to this piece is a big giveaway for what I'm about to write here, but Arte Piazza's reworking of controls and interface really do make this 24-year old RPG effortlessly easy to play on a small slab of metal and glass in 2016.

No doubt part of the game's success will be down to how the DS version from which it was based is such a natural fit. In addition to the vertical orientation of the graphics, your thumb only ever needs reach the “bottom” half the screen, ensuring it doesn't obscure the action.

But to point to the DS remake would be to belittle this version’s achievements. After all, the DS version didn’t support touch input, or carry a touch-friendly interface at all outside of a single minigame.

With Dragon Quest V on the smartphone, Arte Piazza have created an adaptation that should be applauded, an adaptation of a traditional console role playing game that can be effortlessly played with one hand on a device nearly everyone owns today.
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EXP Edition

May 10
Posted by at 17:20

The first game up this week is Stranger of Sword City on xBox One.

A dungeon crawler, functionally identical to Etrian Odyssey and its ilk, but a little more po-faced and much less generous with its drops.

Justifying the latter, it has an interesting mechanic, of 'Hiding', which you can activate in specially-marked areas of the map. When you do that, a team of monsters show up with a chest of stuff, and if you can defeat the leader of the gang before they flee, you get the chest's contents.

I did stream the opening 45 minutes, then another quarter of an hour a bit later, wrapping up the first main quest. Unfortunately Twitch ate the first video, but the second escaped its maze just fine:

Show/hide video

A few years ago, we reported on Tree of Saviour Online, an MMO from the creative team behind Ragnarok Online, which launched its English server properly today, only giving me enough time to power through the tutorial area.

It looks like it wants to be a very action-based game, although as ever in this context lag threatens to ruin that, as I found myself frequently jumping back to where I was stood a few seconds ago as the game and the server fail to agree on where I've been.

This hasn't yet posed any major problem, although as mentioned I'm very much in the tutorial area, and given the grinding-driven nature of Korean MMOs and F2P in general, it feels like it's going to cause the game to suffer very quickly.

Last, and a bit more familar to Bitparade Veterans, I've been making my way through Valkyria Chronicles on PC.

Not a huge amount to say on this one that Ben didn't cover in his review at the time, although there are a few kinks the game could have done with ironing out- the 'Chapter' system of pregressing through the story, will frequently finish a cutscene and kick you back to a menu to start the next cutscene, which feels like a strange thing to do.
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Posted by Ben at 16:34
My turn the What We're Playing always seems to coincide with everything I've been playing being plastered all over the site. This week is no different, with my Aegis of Earth review right under this post

I don't want to go in to too much detail here because there is a review and a video on the site. What I will say though is that Aegis of Earth isn't a bad game, the core idea is sound, it just drags on way too long. What I did leave out of the review though, because it's needlessly harsh, is I do wonder who exactly it's for? Who needs that game in their life, decent as it is, who needs a 30 hour tower defence game? Who even wants a £30 retail tower defence game.

It's a problem with reviewing games sometimes, you have to judge games on their own merit, but they don't exist in a bubble, you have to wonder why someone would play, say, the 3rd best football management game, a so-so fighting game

Anyway, I also played the greatest game ever made, Streets of Rage 2 and live streamed it. I was aiming for a no-death run, I didn't manage it. I'll be posting the video tomorrow with a bit of a write up, but that's pretty much all I've played this week
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Get Me A Cuppa
Apr 26
Posted by Duane at 01:56

My gaming time over the past seven days has been a bit sporadic, even so I've mostly been giving my playthrough of Final Fantasy VII my attention. I hadn't touched it in a couple of weeks but have now returned and have been streaming my progress (yes thats 3 seperate links.

Im refusing to revert to using any kind of guide for this, I do actually own the original Brady Games guide and having played through the majority on the PlayStation more than once, I've decided to see how much I can remember, its surprising the information the brain can retain, especially mine with all the background chaos thats normally going on whilst I play games. So remembering which notes to press to play Tifa's piano in Nibelheim or the locations of the clues for the safe in Shinra Mansion came as a complete shock. Still didnt stop me forgetting to add Yuffie to my party, and in one of those videos you will see me spend some time in a forest in the hope that she will appear.
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Mode 7
Apr 18
Posted by James at 17:37

Ah, Mode 7. Arguably the defining feature of SNES-era visuals.

This party trick of sorts involves scaling and rotating an image, and was used in increasingly inventive ways throughout the course of the console's lifespan, from creating the tilting rooms in Super Castlevania IV, to bringing a slanted, angular viewpoint to many a role playing game’s overworld.

Environments created using Mode 7 all had one thing in common though: As detailed as they were, they all basically amounted to a flat plane on the ground. And so developers needed to be creative in bringing them to life. In Super Mario Kart, the driving physics made it feel like those tracks (which were basically part of a single image!) were real, your tyres convincingly skidding and sliding over the mud in Donut Plains.

That’s all timeless design – Super Mario Kart has certainly not aged because it’s all been skilfully designed around Mode 7 constraints – but one of the more interesting applications of Mode 7 comes from a launch title.

I've been playing Pilotwings recently, an arcade-y flight game, and I've come away impressed with how Nintendo EAD have used the effect.

Where other games used it to map out a world on the ground, Pilotwings uses it to take you to the sky, to create the illusion of flight, and hope you never realise the trickery behind it all.

Despite the earth below amounting to what is basically a flat, single image, Pilotwings does a great job at succeeding at this very aim. Most of Pilotwings' missions involve you completing tasks in mid-air before landing your plane/parachute/rocket belt/helicopter/hang glider, and this is how it gives you a feel of flying around in 3D space, above and beyond a rotating Mode 7 world below you.

For example, you might have to steer your craft through a few floating rings, or underneath a narrow arch, or follow a landing trail. And these markers are comprised of individual sprites that position themselves appropriately in 3D space, depending on where you’re flying.

Combine this with the ability to swap camera angles when you’re strapped into the rocket belt, and Pilotwings often makes you feel like you’re actually flying about, that you’re actually gaining altitude above and beyond what the heads-up-display is telling you.

The illusion is maintained by some characteristic physics – much like Super Mario Kart – but also some other clever tricks, like a shadow when you’re flying low, or how the horizon tilts when you’re turning the light plane around.

While the original Pilotwings isn’t exactly delivering any resemblance of a realistic flight simulation 25 years after release, it remains a great example of how a game can still deliver a convincing world to play around in, despite being designed around the constraints of Mode 7.
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Maiden Of
Purple Hair Edition
Apr 12
Posted by Mark at 15:55

I reached the end of Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water, and gave its postgame some attention.

The main game spends a lot of its time swapping between characters, but this isn't particularly well-explored in gameplay terms- it's more that you approach the same story from different angles. The closest it gets in this regard is Ren's levels, but that's only really confining the plot to a small location rather than materially affecting interaction.

The postgame is a separate but connected story where Ayane- her off Dead Or Alive- finds herself in the same area where the main game takes place.

Not armed with a Camera Obscura like the rest of the cast, she's equipped with a 'Spirit Stone Flashlight', which can only stun the ghosts, rather than (re-)kill them.

While the Flashlight is used in the same way as the Camera, to the point where using it still displays 'SPIRIT PHOTOGRAPH' on-screen, Ayane is expected to use its stunning power to sneak past the ghosts, something demonstrated further by the presence of an awareness meter.

The move from an action game to a stealth game is an interesting change of pace. It's just a little disappointing that it's all hidden at the end, as scattering these levels throughout the game would have added a little more flavour and probably allowed the mechanic to be explored a little better.
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Posted by Ben at 17:15
A Link Between Worlds is a game I played in preview form years ago at a convention, but only actually got around to playing this past week... and it wasn't worth the wait

People love it, I get that, I really enjoyed my time with the preview. The dungeons are fine, fun even, but the rest of it not so much. It's turned in to a frustrating game of not being able to get where I'm going, bouncing between worlds to not get anywhere.

Shame really, I was really in the mood for it.

For review I've been playing Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel, I can't really say too much about it before the embargo is up, but it's far from a bad fighting game. Don't read too much in to that... or this, embargo and all that
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Healing Wind
Mar 30
Posted by Duane at 07:16

As this is a little late (we normally publish on Tuesdays, but who the hell reads this? amirite?) it comes as no surprise that its supposed to be me updating this week. Truth be told, it was the last thing on my mind, could do with a bit of Aeris/Aerith's (delete depending upon which side of that coin you allign with) Healing Wind myself, but I think I'm past the point in life where shes around.

Which brings me nicely to what I'm currently playing. Aside from the weekly Driveclub stuff I'm involved in I've only really sunk any actual time into two games, one is Republique, which I shall be posting a review of at some point, the latter is a bit of a nostalgia trip as I've re-purchased Final Fantasy VII for PlayStation 4.

I've been mixing my time between playing on the console itself and using remote play to play it on Vita and its been absolutely perfect for this. The game itself has held up well and I've mostly ignored some of the mode tweaks that SQUEENIX have applied (i.e. x3 speed, Instant Limit Breaks and No Random Battles, the latter of which goes against everything that makes these games imo). Its surpsiing that it feels more polished in some respects than alot of other JRPG's do now. I've increasingly found that the writers of many modern JRPG's spend far, far too long telling you about the games world and its characters, Final Fantasy VII, whilst obviously text heavy anyway, gets this absolutely right. You're thrown right into the action with the attack on the Mako Reactor and drip feeds you just enough information to keep you going whilst making you want to know more.

Final Fantasy VII was never my favourite instalment in the franchise after the PlayStation era, in fact I didn't get on with it at all when I first played it and sold it on to a friend who adored it and convinced me to return to it once Final Fantasy IX (my favourite one) had sumk its claws in. I'm now hoping SQUEENIX perform similar PS4 ports of both VIII and IX.
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Mar 22
Posted by James at 18:42

I’ve been playing Miitomo lately, Nintendo’s first foray into making a game for mobile devices with online services company DeNA.

And it’s proven itself to both feel surprisingly fresh and reassuringly familiar at the same time, while also showing that Nintendo has the right mindset when it comes to tackling mobile – for both good and bad reasons.

It’s familiar in the sense that it’s feels like a quasi-followup to Tomodachi Life. So you add these Miis to a virtual world to represent you or your friends as a starting point. But where things diverge is in how Miitomo creates its entertainment.

Where things differ in how the two games create social situations between you and your Mii friends. While Tomodachi Life dreamed these up for the player, making you feel very much like an onlooker into an alternate reality, Miitomo takes a much more personal approach.

Miitomo is very much more hands-on in that any socialising comes from user input – the main meat and potatoes of the app comes from answering questions from your Mii self, about yourself, which are then relayed to your friends. Questions like “What food do you hate so much, you’ll never eat again?” or “What do you think is Mark’s celebrity lookalike?”

This sounds really dull on paper, but it isn’t, due to the way it’s all presented. Your Mii self will often visit other Miis’ houses and have chats with them – only it’s actually gone to ask them more personal questions about you, which it’ll relay back to you in whimsical ways. Or maybe your friends’ Miis have visited, in which case you’ll be doing the answering and they’ll be relaying those answers back the other way.

All answers then form the basis of a social network post, which can then be liked or commented upon. And thus a simple question becomes a surprisingly effective conversation starter – perhaps too effective when you consider the gamification involved (more on that later...)

So that’s really where the freshness comes in. Miitomo feels very much aware of social media and our impulse to share experiences with friends. There’s deep integration with services like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LINE, for example, for building a list of friends who also use the app and sharing Miifotos.

It’s absolutely what Nintendo should have made for the smartphone, since it embraces what makes those platforms unique as communications devices. Though what’s somewhat upsetting are some of the conventions that Nintendo has had to embrace to make the app a possibility.

Its methods of monetisation are far from intrusive, though any scenarios where a user is going to spend money are mostly going to be coming from whales. Exclusive items of clothing for your Mii, for example, appear in a pachinko game often without an option to buy the item outright.

It’s also saddening to see Nintendo having to utilise Skinner Box mechanics. There’s a very obvious compulsion loop in Miitomo, whereby you are rewarded with coins for answering questions, then coins for getting comments on your answers, and then these coins can be ploughed back into clothes, and so on.

This is further cemented by the way Nintendo's new loyalty system, My Nintendo, integrates with the game. By rewarding players with My Nintendo points for completing certain tasks (“Answer three questions in one day”), it's hard not to feel uncomfortable that Nintendo has been taking notes and has moved towards "gamifying" some of its experiences, training its players to return for more for reasons which aren't particularly compelling on their own.

These are the realities of Nintendo having to use mobile as an avenue to create user engagement with their brand again. Still, I’d wager they aren’t realities Nintendo ever wanted to embrace on their own accord. And of course, partnering with DeNA probably explains the Pachinko mini-game, given what they wanted as part of their side of the relationship.

That said, Miitomo works, and it works well, even if sometimes you wish you were using it because you really do want to learn more about your friends, not because you want your daily My Nintendo reward or a bonus coin payout. Hm…
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