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Matt

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For someone anally-OCD like me, this site is Christmas.

Occupation: Writer

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About my collections

It's a collection of greatness. If you disagree, you are wrong. Think it's a matter of opinion? That was your first mistake, Subjectivity Jones.

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My Last Fantasy

Posted : 10 years, 8 months ago on 29 January 2007 07:06 (A review of Final Fantasy XII)

This is without a doubt not only the worst Final Fantasy game I’ve ever played, but one of the worst games I’ve ever played, period. I believe that if this game was called anything other than Final Fantasy, game critics would have layed down the bitch-smacking it heartily deserved.

I was a die-hard FF fan. I still consider Final Fantasy VII, the game that brought me into the series, a game I could still pick up and play with all the enjoyment I did back when it first came out in 1997. But apparently Square-Enix has no notion of its heritage beyond roman numerals and this year’s atrocious Dirge of Cerberus and now FFXII have brought the hard-death to my love of the series.

The biggest problem among the many is the lack of character development. We’re thrust into a gigantic world war with an evil empire and a small rebellion and that’s all well and good. That tends to be the set-up of these games (big guy vs. little guy), but there was always a commitment to the characters that drove the story forward. How is it that Final Fantasy VI, with its 22 characters, manages to create interesting, compelling arcs for everyone while FFXII with only six characters, has as much character growth as an ad for tampons (actually, the tampon commercials have an edge because those women manage to find a solution to dealing with their monthly visitor while this game diddled me around for fifty hours).

I kept sticking with the story wondering when it would get interesting and it never happened. The first six to ten hours are spent just trying to introduce all the characters and their motivations (The disgraced soldier wants honor! The street-kid wants Revengture! (that fun mixture of “revenge” and “adventure”) I want my time and money back!); motivations that always seem miniscule when constantly compared to the giant backdrop of the dull political and diplomatic intrigue. The game’s big bad is Vayne Solidor and despite a neat intro scene, the writers decided to just make him power-hungry and be done with it. Guys, you have to live in the shadow of Kefka and Sephiroth—Step up.

The game can’t even really choose a protagonist. It starts off with Vaan who has a voice actor that’s doing his damndest not to make the character seem like he leaped straight off the pages of Tiger Beat. All the voice acting is great and it’s a shame that we don’t get more of it in trying to develop these characters. No, the story is too busy spinning its wheels because once you get everyone together, it’s time to follow a big boring path not once but twice. I don’t know if this counts as a spoiler since nothing of consequence happens, but if you’re super-worried, then stop reading and find out how terrible the game is on your own.

So here’s what’s gonna happen: You’ll pick up a shard cut from a special crystal and handed down by the Dynast-King. You get it after spending five hours dungeon crawling and boring fights. Thanks goodness the Gambit system takes the pressure off the X-button (or at least that’s the idea; more on that later). Then, you’ll take the shard to a special elder. The elder will tell you he doesn’t know anything but gives Ashe, the game’s real protagonist and indecisive bore that you wouldn’t want to run a Hardee’s let alone a kingdom, advice about where to go next.

Okay, now do it again. Then, you’ll reach a section where everything is explained through the introduction of a mythical force that hasn’t even been mentioned in the game up to that point. Along the way, you’ll get little glimmers that make your characters more than paper-thin, but the game refuses to slow down and let you give a damn about any of them.

Final Fantasy XII takes the high-level of character gameplay customization available in MMORPGs but totally forgets that when you create a character in those games, you’re responsible for all of it and you’re really making an alter-ego. Here, the names and looks and histories of these characters already exist (half-assed as they may be) so if you want any more development, use your imagination or read some fan-fic because as far as the writers here are concerned, their work is done.

Unfortunately, the gameplay isn’t that deep and is constantly sabotaging itself. A lot of reviewers have raved about the rewarding Gambit system, but none of the ones I read mentioned that the system is completely undone by the periodic introduction of a “guest” to your party. These are characters who will lend a hand in battle, which would be great except that you have no control over them at all. This fucks things up when I want to focus my attacks on one enemy at a time and the labotomized AI wants to go off, fight another enemy, and divide my forces letting me get my ass kicked.

Yes, Final Fantasy XII does deserve credit for being difficult but it’s not always fair. It would be one thing if the game was consistent, but in the opening when you’re weak, you’ll be sure to find a couple of monsters that should you accidentally steer too close, will fuck your shit up. This would be fine except after about a third through the game, this stops happening and only “Rare Game” (part of one of the game’s many boring sidequests) has the potential to beat you outside of boss fights. I’m also hesitant to give the game credit for having battles take place in-field rather than cutting to a separate battle screen, because other games were already on top of this and I don’t think I should give FFXII credit for not being more irritating than it already is.

Speaking of more irritating, another feature is the License Point system. It’s the natural progression of FFX’s Sphere Board except since those characters had personalities, they had reasonable routes to travel. Here, every character starts at the same point and can be anything…in theory. Again, like with the Gambit system, it falls apart under simple scruitny. Sure, Basch can be a healer, but the game gave him a bit of a head start with some fighthing augmentations and he already uses a sword. Why would I push him out of his way to use a staff and healing magic?

With this idea of total customization already slightly crippled out the gate, the License Board becomes even more frustrating as it’s not simply a matter of purchasing abilities. With the exception of augmentations, everything must also be purchased. You can spend your points on whatever you want, but since you have no idea when it will be available to buy in a store, you could just be pissing away your license points. And not all items are available for purchase. You want something fancy like the ribbon or a high-grade weapon and you’ll have to do some side-questing and item-fishing to get the item out of the bazaar.

And that’s where the game’s greatest paradox comes into view: there’s A LOT to do. The problem is that none of it is any fun. For example, there’s the Clan Centurio side quest where you defeat specific monsters and rank up. This would be fine except the process must work like so:

1.) Accept hunt from clan board petition .

2.) Hunt down the petitioner and double-accept his task.

3.) Find the monster and kill it.

4.) Go back to the petitioner for the reward.

5.) Discover reward was not worth effort and curse loudly.

And while teleport stones are available in the game, you’ll still be doing a lot of walking around and fighting through non-targets before you finally reach your super-tough mark. Hope it doesn’t kill you because then you’re gonna be sent back to your save crystal which probably isn’t close by.

And the rest of the quests are either fetching stuff or the world’s most infuriating fishing game. I especially like when part of the fishing side-quest asked me to go on a fetching side-quest. And if you’re anal-retentive like me and have a need to finish what you start, you’ll be hooked but you’ll also be hating yourself. The only way I could tear myself away was through rationalizing that even if I completed everything the game had to offer, I would only be super pathetic since I still hated all of it. It also made switching the Guitar Hero controller and game in and out a bit of a bitch, and I enjoy that game waaaaay more.

Final Fantasy XII seems to highlight what other FF games did right and then do the complete opposite. The Sphere Board is now the broken License Board. Fascinating villains worth fighting is now Power-Hungry Emperor #1125. Personal storyline sidequests are now an off-handed quip or a throw-away line. Summons worth tracking down are now furstrating efforts in futility (Summons are almost entirely worthless in this game). Limit Breaks are now a dumbed-down slots game.

What pains me is that I’m sure there are better RPGs out there. Magna Carta, which I mocked earlier today, could be one of them, but I would never know because they don’t have the big Final Fantasy brand name and all the gaming-media attention it carries. And with all the positive reviews, it looks like Square-Enix now has license to continue making sub-par entries into the series. Well, it’s a good thing all those gaming journalists don’t have to pay for their PS3s or their games because I’m certainly not dropping one cent on Final Fantasy XIII. No, my money will be going to better games that don’t coast on previous successes.

Shame on gaming journalists for praising this unquestionable bore of a game. Shame on Square-Enix for bending over loyal fans and taking their money with pretty-yet-hollow games. And shame on me for spending almost seventy hours wondering if and when Final Fantasy XII would start being fun.


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Phoenix Wright 2: Trial and Error.

Posted : 10 years, 8 months ago on 29 January 2007 07:00 (A review of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All)

I would like to begin this review by describing this game with possibly one of the worst analogies ever.

Ahem.

You know when you have a girlfriend and you part ways for the summer but as you correspond you build each other up in your minds and then when you see each other at the beginning of the new school year, she's totally not as attractive as you remember? (Keep in mind, this was before MySpace and widely-available webcams and camera phones and all that noise. I'm talkin' back in the day....like 1999-2000)

Yeah, Phoenix Wright 2 is that less attractive girlfriend. She hasn't changed, but everything that used to slightly get on your nerves now makes you want to contemplate murder. Also, her stories are suddenly less interesting, her jokes less funny, and her entire demeanor more annoying.

Did that explanation seem tedious and irritating? Then I've just given you a taste of Phoenix Wright 2.

Something just doesn't work this time around. Some of the novelty has worn off, but the faults are clearer and the characters are wearing thin. The game almost seems to hate Pheonix this time around as it gives him a lame case of amenisa as a means of tutorial and then proceeds to make him out as nothing more than a hack who presses witnesses not because it's his job, but because he doesn't have a clue.

The flaws of the first game become even more apparent this time around. The first game's biggest weakness was the Game Over and being forced to struggle your way back through all the dialogue you've already read. And you'll probably do this more times with this game due to the change from five-strikes-and-you're-out to a life-meter which bends to the designers' whim. They want to raise the tension? Getting the next answer wrong will cost you your entire life bar!

This pain-in-the-ass system carries on outside the courtroom with the new psych-lock system. Want to get the big secret and get a half-lifebar's worth of health? Break the psych-locks. Thankfully, you can't get a game over but if your health drops to zero, the Psychic Lock Breaking ends and you're now at zero health. Your health, which, also stays the same throughout the entire chapter.

The sad thing is that these are both easy fixes. Why not give life for correct answers and deduct it for wrong ones? Why not always allow for fast forward like the game does when you're re-reading testitmony? Granted, you bypass the re-reading by doing a suspend-save, but then you're taken back to the title screen. Have fun doing that every time you're risking an objection, especially if you have a low life bar.

And re-reading the dialogue won't give you any new insights because this is where the game's second biggest flaw become apparent: the logic leaps. Sometimes it's just impossible to know what the game wants from you. Othertimes, the game is painfullly ignorant.

BEGIN SPOILER:

For example, in your first case, you're solving the murder of a man who died from a broken neck. In the sand, he's apparently scribbled his girlfriend's name, "Maggey". Now, anyone that has any basic knowledge of science knows that you won't be scribbling just about anything with a broken neck. So how do you object? With the autopsy report. But you'd be wrong. You actually need to object with the victim's profile because the man with the broken neck, spelled her name as "Maggey" and not as "Maggie" as it's actually spelled.

While this explanation does become important seeing as the killer heard Maggie's name but didn't know the strange spelling, the designers shouldn't have failed Human Anatomy 101: People With Broken Necks Don't Write Shit.

END SPOILER.

The biggest positive this game has is its charm, but even that wears a little thin at time. The game is clever and weaves in some fun pop culture jokes, but when you have to keep questioning a character you'd rather punch into the Ether, like Moe the Clown or the second appearances of Lotta Hart and Wendy Oldbag, then trudging through the cases becomes even more difficult. Thankfully, the charm of characters like Pearl, Detective Gumshoe, and a few others always provide a bit of relief.

Although both Phoenix Wright games are ports of GBA games that were originally only available in Japan, Phoenix Wright 2 feels lazier and it needs to be stronger now that the novelty of the first game has passed. With only four cases and no new case to take advantage of the DS' touch and microphone capabilities beyond shouting "Objection!" and searching rooms.

Fans of the should pick this up to get their Phoenix fix but will be left wanting the next game to truly take advantage of the DS' capabilities and fix the aspects of the game that make it more...

Wait for it.

TRIAL AND ERROR.

I just got aroused.


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Go Ask Claudia

Posted : 11 years ago on 4 October 2006 02:27 (A review of How to Make Money Like a Porn Star)

So I picked this up yesterday and gave it a read. In terms of art, it's pretty great. I wish it was in color, but only because Chang has such great control over tones and shadows and the black & white seems limiting at times. Still, I love the way the book plays with the frame (a moment that particularly caught my eye was when one of the characters is snorting coke in the middle of a conversation and the coke-lines are in between the panels). And I would be remiss if I didn't applaude the use of different art styles throughout the story.

But as for the story, it's a bit more difficult to swallow (aw what the hell: pun INTENDED). It's a story that's torn between bitter misogny and fun satire. It's difficult to go from a parody of a classified ad to a woman about to blow her brains out while juxtaposed with a stereotypical pornaholic enjoying a blow-job scene. How stereotypical is the character of "Tiny"? Enough that I recognized him enjoying a virtual reality rape from the brilliant animated music video for Pearl Jam's "Do The Evolution". That's not to say this is plagarism. You can't plagarize a balding, fat pervert. But the book exists in stereotypes and while I understand that stereotypes exist for a reason, the predictablity of the character leads to a predictability of story...

...that is until the end of the book where Struass finally takes this cautionary tale of woe and goes a little crazy (I don't want to spoil these twists because I believe they're the best part of the book).

I severly underestimated this book when the book mission suggested that there be book clubs. "How to Make Money..." is a schizophrenic title and understanding the intentions of Strauss and Chang could lead to some very interesting and possibly very heated discussions.


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Edit Title

Posted : 11 years ago on 3 October 2006 10:29 (A review of Jackie Brown (Two-Disc Collector's Edition))

Does anyone know how I can remove the quotes from around the title? It's throwing off the order of my titles (and yes, I know I'm anal).


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Posted: 10 years, 2 months ago at Aug 14 19:33
Hey, thanks for telling us CAGs about this place.
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Hey, thanks for telling us CAGs about this place.
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Hey, thanks for telling us CAGs about this place.
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thanx for the add, thats so sweet.

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