Sunday, 20 April 2014

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft


I was never particularly fond of «World of Warcraft», but have greatly enjoyed the other games set in the «Warcraft» universe. For instance, once when I was a young but poor student, I survived through a whole Easter vacation with nothing but water, bread baked from edible stuff I found in a cupboard and «Warcraft II» as my only sustenance.

The newest branch on the «Warcraft» family tree is «Hearthstone», a digital collectible card-game which has been out for Mac and PC for a while now and just had its worldwide iPad release.

Unlike most attempts at translating card-games into a digital format - which sometimes work, but usually just makes you yearn to play with real cards - «Hearthstone» was designed for the screen from the get-go.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Square Enix recently relaunched «Final Fantasy XIV», in an effort to grab a bigger piece of the lucrative MMORPG pie. This marks their third throw of the gauntlet into this arena, but despite being the preeminent maker of traditional RPGs, their online offerings have so far been met with only moderate enthusiasm by fans of the genre.

Their first attempts were orchestrated by Squaresoft veteran Hiromichi Tanaka, perhaps best known as the producer of classics like «Secret of Mana» and «Chrono Cross».

After playing «EverQuest» in the late 90s, he was inspired to make a «Final Fantasy» which focused primarily on player interactions.

This resulted in «Final Fantasy XI Online», which was released in Japan on May 16, 2002. It was released across the pond in the US the following year, and in Europe the year after that.

It was however quickly eclipsed by «World of Warcraft» which was released shortly afterwards.

The main reason for this was likely that «Final Fantasy XI» was very much an "old-school" MMORPG, where teamwork was mandatory in order to advance. It was also a little bit too reminiscent of «EverQuest» for its own good. But It was not without merit, and has so far been the biggest financial success in the Square Enix portfolio, due to its dedicated and sufficiently large player base providing steady income from subscription fees.

However, it never quite reached the astronomical heights as the more popular and player friendly «World of Warcraft». «Final Fantasy XIV» was meant to change that, and was originally released on september 22, 2010 in order to beat «World of Warcraft: Cataclysm» to market. This was likely too soon, as the release was an incoherent and unfinished mess, almost universally reviled by critics and fans alike.

Due to its less than stellar reception, the reigns of the project was yanked from Tanaka's hands and given to the somewhat younger Naoki Yoshida before the year was over. Yoshida and his team have since been working hard to turn the game into something worthy of the «Final Fantasy» name, and have practically rebuilt the game from scratch. The result is «Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn».

Friday, 13 September 2013

Tales of Xillia

Tales of Xillia © Namco Bandai 2011, 2013
Namco Bandai's «Tales» series of games may not be as well known in the West as the «Final Fantasy» series from Square Enix, but have since «Tales of Symphonia» for the Gamecube been quite popular among fans of Japanese RPGs. «Tales of Xillia» is the thirteenth chapter in this series.

The story takes place on «Rieze Maxia», a place where humans and spirits live in a symbiotic relationship with each other. Humans may use magic by invoking the spirit world's inhabitants, and the spirits are sustained by the human expenditure of mana. However, one of its kingdoms have combined magic and technology to construct machines which drain the life from spirits to fuel powerful weapons.

Your task is to guide a party of teenagers, spirits incarnate, heroes and talking plushies on a quest to kick evil royal butt, destroy doomsday devices and bring peace, harmony and friendship to the universe.

As in most RPGs, your quest entails fighting tons of monsters, finding treasure and leveling up the main characters into mighty warriors and wizards. What separates the «Tales» series from other games in the same genre, is a battle system which flows extremely well. In «Tales of Xillia» this manifests as a hybrid between the team oriented elements from a traditional RPG and the dynamism of a fighting game like «Soul Calibur».

Friday, 3 May 2013

Purple Haze

«Farcry 3 Blood Dragon» cover by James White
Newly released «Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon» serves up VHS-era nostalgia by the bucket for those of us who remember the 80s as a vaguely purple neon haze.

«Farcry 3 Blood Dragon» is the first game I have seen fit to pre-order solely on account of the pure awesomeness of its cover art design.

This is a game which definitively doesn't take itself too seriously. It might be appropriate to call it a spoof on 80s action B-movies like «Eliminators», but based on the amount of readily apparent enthusiasm and care which has been channeled into the project, I am rather leaning towards tribute.

Ubisoft even convinced Michael Biehn, co-star of «Aliens» and «The Terminator» to voice the main character. Also, it has 16-Bit era pixel-art cut-scenes and fluorescent dinosaurs who shoot LASERS! What's not to like :)

Of special note is the soundtrack, composed by Australian duo Power Glove who has managed to create a truly inspired synth-based soundtrack of the kind you rarely find anymore.

The tracks generally have a thematic resemblance to compositions from legendary movie composer Vangelis. Particularly the main theme has a strong «Blade Runner» vibe to it. Other tracks like «Blood Dragon Theme (Reprise)» invoke the sonic imagery of Harold Faltermeyer with a slight dash of Jean Michel Jarre. Brilliant stuff.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Realism in gaming, a counterpoint

I had an epiphany early on in the current console generation. I discovered I was no longer particularly fond of video games. This was surprising, as I had loved gaming ever since the early eighties and games had up to this point kept getting better as the industry evolved.

At the time, I had a big, somewhat noisy, first iteration Playstation 3: The one which was still backwards compatible with older Playstation titles, and found that instead of enjoying new games on it, I primarily used it to watch movies or replay Playstation 2 games.

I initially figured that this probably meant I was getting too old to be a gamer. I had often suspected the day would come, eventually...

As it turned out though, I was just playing the wrong games.