Monthly Archives: January 2012

Gaming Review #2 – Prince of Persia (2008)

My second review is for the game simply known as Prince of Persia (2008) – yes the cell shaded one.  Published by Ubisoft, this version is for the Xbox 360.

 

Prince ofPersiais a successful action/plarformer franchise; rebooted back into popularity after a successful trilogy of games on previous generation consoles (PS2, Gamecube and original Xbox).  It has been so successful that Disney picked up the rights to make a movie, starring none other than Ben Kingsley and Jake Gyllenhaal – perhaps a somewhat questionable decision but none the less I admittedly enjoyed the film…more so because I liked watching Jake Gyllenhaal.

 

However, today I discuss Prince of Persia (2008), a game that moves away from the main story line of the series with a brand new prince, a decision some fans have not liked.  In retrospect, this is an issue that doesn’t particularly bother me.  I’d also like to fore warn people, this article will contain major spoilers.

 

You start the game off as the prince (though he’s not really a prince, but some thief or mercenary – I can’t remember exactly what) who’s lost in the dessert looking for his donkey laden with his valuable items, when he comes across Princess Elika who is running from guards.  It turns out, Elika’s father has released the god, Ahriman, who is determined to corrupt the world, turning it into a dark, dank and inhabitable cesspit.  It is up to the Prince and Elika to stop this.

 

While playing this game, I was really impressed with the cell shaded graphics and background music.  Good graphics and music I find really adds to the atmosphere of games.  As you explore corrupted parts of the landscape you have a real feel of eeriness and foreboding; likewise when you explore areas that are free of corruption you see beautiful Middle Eastern landscapes accompanied with Arabian music that adds a touch of authenticity to the scene.  It really was a pleasure to immerse myself into the game’s world.

 

I also really enjoyed the platforming elements of the game.  The controls were easy to use, responsive and it felt very fluid when you travelled from A-B; pretty much what you want from a platformer.  The levels were also well constructed for platforming, making them fun and interesting to do.

 

Another aspect I enjoyed was the battle system.  Again it was easy to use with responsive controls.  It basically consisted of you battling your enemies and combining chains of move combinations.  It works very well and is very satisfying when you rack up high hit combinations (there’s even an achievement available if you can produce a move with over 200 hits).  The only problem is, as well as this system works, you hardly have to use it, as enemies are few and far between.  With so few enemies, there were boss battles that allowed you to utilise the battle system more, but…the boss battles were somewhat underwhelming. 

 

Normally when fighting boss battles, they’re bigger and tougher than your standard enemy and regular moves just isn’t going to work.  For example: if you’re fighting a monster with a great big, all seeing eye and multiple limbs to hit you with, a standard tactic would be to blind the eye and hack at the limbs while the boss creature cannot see you.  Another example: if you’re fighting a huge fire demon, encased in ability enhancing flames, what one would do is to extinguish the fire and beat your enemy while it is weak.  In Prince orPersia(2008), no such tactics are needed; when all you have to do is to keep hacking at the beast with the standard battle system for a prolonged period of time.

 

I can’t help wanting something more from my boss battles, and Prince of Persia left me feeling very unchallenged in this aspect.  There were times when the boss’s auras changed, allowing you to use only certain types of attack on them for a duration of time; but then again, this wasn’t something that was predominantly available to boss battles only, and such tactics were used in standard enemy fights.  In light of the situation, boss battles were extended goon fights. 

 

There was one boss fight where you had to alter your tactics of battle, causing him to rush into parts of the scenery or off a cliff.  However, considering there were five bosses in total, which you faced on 3-4 separate occasions (with little or no change to their battle strategies), it really wasn’t enough of a challenge to be considered a good boss fight.   In fact, I strolled through the boss fights with relative ease.

 

Talking about ease, the game its self is really, and truly…easy!  It has been a rising issue among gamers that games are getting easier and provide the player with little challenge.  Prince ofPersia really takes the biscuit in this issue, because you cannot seem to die! 

 

This is because Elika saves you’re big, fat behind time and time again!  There will be no miscalculated leaps causing you plummet to your death; because Elika will use her powers to catch you and return you to the point just before you jump.  There will be no monster trying to bite off your head; because Elika will use her powers to push the monster back, giving you time to regroup and slay the beast.  Yes it’s a fact, you cannot die in this game.  But is this a good fact?

 

Well…no.  It takes away any element of challenge or danger from the game.  There will be no regrouping on reverting to plan B as you retry a level or approach a boss from a different angle.  Of course, this does eliminate the frustrated hissy fit of when you can’t get passed a certain level…but…it does make a boring game. 

 

I suppose this feature was installed because in previous games you could use the sands of time.  A feature that allowed you to reverse time to correct any mistakes you may have made.  The difference with this feature compared to Elika constantly saving you, was that you could only use the sands if you had substantial amount of sand, and you chose when it was activated.  Unlike Elika’s life saving skills, the sands of time added something to the game instead of detracting from it.

 

Moving on from the fact that the game is easy, I now want to look at the storyline of the game.  The story its self is a tried and tested plot we have seen in many different variations before; and within such a short game it is done relatively well.  The real bonus of the story however, is the interaction and rapport between Elika and the Prince.  During the game we watch them bicker, banter, get to know one another and even flirt with each other; and throughout all of this as you watch their relationship grow you can’t help wanting a happily ever after ending for the pair…at least the romantic in me wanted that.

 

However, here’s the bombshell in the story (spoiler alert), Elika tragically dies, sacrificing herself to seal Ahriman away in his prison.  NOOOOOOOOOO, how could they do that, after everything they’ve been through together!  Distraught rant put aside, at least the story has a concluded, if but sad, ending.  Wrong!

 

Before the game is properly over, the last thing you have to do with the Prince is cut down all the seals Elika painstakingly put in place to keep Ahriman locked away, then take the light energy to revive Elika, and ultimately end up freeing Ahriman to reap destruction upon the world.  Then we reach the end, with the Prince carrying Elika in his arms as they flee the raging chaos of Ahriman escaping and the words ‘to be continued’ flash upon our screen.

 

After seeing that, one would expect that there is to be a sequel; well, as far as I can gather, no there isn’t, and nor is there one planed.  However, there is some DLC (Downloadable Content) available – Yippee!  Finally we’ll get a conclusion to the story.

 

The gameplay for the DLC is pretty much the same as what you have already been playing, with top quality platforming and more of a puzzle element to it.  Unfortunately, the DLC also has all the issues that the main game has; lack of battles, unchallenging boss battles, lack of being able to die and very short; but at least we have a conclusion to the story…right? 

 

Unfortunately not.  Throughout the DLC Elika spends her time being pissed off at the Prince because he undid all her hard work and freed Ahriman; while the Prince tries to reason with her that he couldn’t let her die and Ahriman was just going to find another way out.  When the pair eventually escape the ruined city, Elika decides she’s going to search for her people to find an end to Ahriman, thus abandoning the prince, and we’re left with another ‘to be continued’. 

 

We are now stuck with even more unanswered question than what we had with the original ending.  Does Elika forgive the Prince?  Does she find her people?  Do Elika and the Prince reunite?  Is Ahriman ever going to be defeated?  (Am I expected to fork out more money for another lot of DLC just to get another to be continued?)  AND DO WE GET THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER ENDING BETWEEN ELIKA AND THE PRINCE?!?!?! 

 

Sadly I have no answers to these questions, as there is no further DLC to tie these loose ends up, nor is there any planed to be released.  I suspect this is because of dissatisfied players having spent money on the game and then DLC, yet still received no resolution to the actual story and no promise that we’re going to get one!  It is with these facts that the player can’t help feeling cheated, at least I certainly did.

 

At the end of it, Prince of Persia (2008) is a good game providing the price is right.  The game is short, and with the gameplay issues and inconclusive story line your certainly don’t want to pay full whack for it.  If you see it for £5 then it would be worth getting for the few hours of fun gameplay it provides, though you might want to skip on spending money on the DLC as it adds nothing to the original game.

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Game Review #1 – Final Fantasy VII

To all new and previous readers of my work, I would just like to point out this is my first non-fiction piece of work, and I just want to give a brief description of what I plan for this blog to be before I get down to the nitty-gritty.  I call this blog, Roux’s Reviews (a play on my online moniker), and shall consist mainly of…you guessed it, reviews. 

I shall mainly be reviewing video games as this is a media format I greatly enjoy; however, I will also occasionally cover film, television and literature – and possibly the odd rant or two if I’m honest.  I in no way claim to be a professional critic, I merely just what to expand on a format of writing, and maybe my insight can aid readers on whether or not to purchase a game or not.  So…lets begin.

I start this blog with a review of Final Fantasy VII.  Just to explain, as a gamer, my favourite format of games is RPGs.  A genre that seems to split the gaming community like marmite; I however, love them instead of hate them.  I was hooked after playing my first RPG, Baten Kaitos, on the Gamecube; but due to the lack of RPGs on the Gamecube I was forced to buy a PS2 to get my RPG fix.  It was there I played a game called Final Fantasy XII (a game I will review later in this blog) and fell in love with Final Fantasy, thus I wanted to play the others in the series.

Final Fantasy VII is a major game, whether people like to admit it or not.  It was a major turning point in the Final Fantasy series, and in some respects, the RPG genre too.  Final Fantasy VII was the first 3D Final Fantasy and the first to have a futuristic feel to the game, things that had never been seen in the series before. 

Final Fantasy VII was released in 1997 for the PS1 and has received much love over the years including several spin offs – on various different media formats – and has even been given the title of the Greatest Game Ever (a claim I always take with a pinch of salt as gaming technology is forever moving forward, and you are always guaranteed to have someone dislike a game because it is impossible to please everybody).

As I review this game, I try and keep in mind that this game was released over 10 years ago and cannot be held to the same standard as modern day games, and it is with that knowledge in mind I try to keep this review fair (as I will with all my reviews).  I also want to point out that this review will have major plot spoilers for the story, if you have yet to play this game then I strongly advise you to take heed of this warning. 

I shall start with the graphics, which in my opinion, are very poor.  Now I know I said in the previous paragraph that I understand this is an older game and cannot be held to the same graphical standard of today’s game, and nor do I do that; in fact, I even credit the game for its graphical achievements.  In some places the FMV sequences are absolutely stunning for a PS1 game of its age; however, in some places they are very poorly designed making navigating very difficult.

There was one time in the game where I spent two days trying to find my way out of a junkyard – I went up and down cranes & poles, in and out of nooks & crannies that lead absolutely nowhere trying to find my path that led to the city.  I eventually found my way out of the junkyard by accidentally walking into a pile of junk and discovering I could walk through it to continue my journey from A – B.  For some reason I didn’t think to do this, maybe it was because the pile of junk looked like a solid object and as you know, it is physically impossible to walk through solid objects – unless you have an intangible form – and I would only attempt to walk through such an object if I saw an opening I could physically squeeze through – which of course I did not due to poor graphical design. 

Another instance was when I was exploring a mystical and ruined city.  My path continued on top of a cliff path which I had to reach by climbing a shell and jumping down from the connecting branch.  I climbed the shell, walked across the branch closest to the path and then found…I was stuck.  Back and forth I went, all with no luck as the logical conclusion to my navigational problem was not going to work.  Instead, I had to climb to the very top of the shell – way beyond the path I had to carry on walking along – and walk across the highest branch of the shell – which wouldn’t physically be able to support the weight of my character – and jump down from there to reach my path – a jump that in real life would no doubt be very dangerous and cause physical injury. 

It was with many instances like the ones explained above that I found the game infuriating.  I understand not wanting the game to be easy, but this was down right ridiculous.  I was not walking off the beaten track to find a hidden, and optional, treasure chest or secret area.  I was travelling from A – B, a mandatory part of the game if you wanted to complete it; I should have been able to navigate my way from point to point. 

Then there was the world map, which was also a nightmare to navigate, what with its bland and generic surroundings, coupled with vague clues on where to go next, E.G: ‘To reach the next town you must walk through the forest’ – ‘What forest?  The one in front of me?  Or the one behind me?  Maybe it’s the one to the left or right of me?  In fact, scrap that; I’ll just use the tried and tested, and tedious, technique of running round in circles and happen upon chance to come across the town I need to go to next.’

Most of this I put down to poor graphical design, being unable to recognise or find my way, and thus affecting the game play.  Factors to which in my opinion make bad graphics, even if it does have some pretty FMVs.

Another problem I faced was the speed you travelled at on foot, which was painstakingly slow!  You crept millimetre by millimetre to get to your next point and often ended up screaming at the television screen for your character to hurry up.  After two weeks I discovered you could move faster by holding the X button down – yippee!  This does however, raise an issue I hate. 

When Final Fantasy VII was released on PS1, the console used a controller that only had a D-pad.  Unlike an anolog stick, where you can control your speed by how much pressure you apply, you can only move at a default setting when using the D-pad buttons.  In some cases you can change your speed setting with a single press of a button, or going into a game menu, in other cases, you have to hold down a button…continuously!  Game developers please take note: THIS FEATURE IS ANNOYING! 

I do not like having to continuously press a button down, alongside using the D-pad, to travel at my desired pace.  When playing games you normally want to get stuck in, and often go charging in at full throttle like an over excited puppy and generally do not want to tip toe about the place.  In some instances you need to sneak about and a slower pace is required to do that, but these situations are often few and far between.  In fact, there was only one time in Final Fantasy VII that I needed to walk slowly, and really and truly, it was more of a case of avoiding a squeaky floor board than walking slow and sneaking about.  The faster travelling speed on foot should have been the default setting for the D-pad instead of forcing me to hold down the X button all the time…grrr!

Another annoying feature of this game was random battles.  Battling is an important part of RPGs for developing and levelling up your characters; however, random battles are absolutely horrible, and I thank the heavens a majority of modern day RPGs no longer use them…oh thank you great creator!  Regardless, Final Fantasy is famed for its random battles, and it is only in resent instalments of the game that they have started to move away from this.  If you want to play the earlier games, you’re just going to have to grin a bare this fact of random battles. 

However, this is also a negative point of the game, even though it is standard for a game of this genre and age.  It is quite alarming just how much you are bombarded with these battles; and often upon my lips was the phrase ‘What…another one!’.  This problem becomes worse if you are travelling at a snail’s pace.  There are just sometimes when playing RPGs where you don’t want to battle and just want to travel from place to place without being bothered by unwanted battles – more often than not with this game it will be when you are trying to find an almost impossible to see exit thanks to the poor graphical design.  Yet with random battles, the opportunity to fight when you want is taken away from you.

Going into further detail with the battle system, it uses turn based game play based on probability (a feature that divides people into a love and hate of RPGs).  It’s a fairly simple system to use and easy to master, however, it can be somewhat boring.  Thankfully the menus aren’t overwhelmingly too long as you scroll down the lists of available commands; this is thanks to the materia system of character development.

Character development of this game is relatively simple, only having to upgrade one armament and weapon.  Each piece of armour and weaponry has slots to contain materia, equipping your character with certain abilities.  The more powerful your weapon or piece of armour, the more materia you can upgrade it with, however this doesn’t become too excessive to become confusing. 

Materia can also be levelled up with regular use, EG: a level 1 cure material will only heal a small amount of your health, level it up to level 4 and it will cure a large amount of health.  It also becomes important to equip your character with appropriate materia to make sure you have diversity of abilities.  However, as you gain items which hold more materia and your character reaches the higher levels, this no longer becomes necessary as your characters become excellent all rounders and become good at pretty much everything, taking away the tactical intrigue of battle.  Also, some veteran players of RPGs can be left feeling unsatisfied with the simplistic character development.

Another aspect of character development is their development in the story.  RPGs are lengthy games; intriguing stories and engaging characters are important to keep you in for the long haul.  The three main characters however, are somewhat annoying and boring.  Cloud Strife is a brooding whinge bag, Tifa Lockhart is plain boring and Aerith Gainsborough is a shit stirring bitch!  Yes I said it, Aerith is a bitch – I’d say worse about her, but I fear it would be censored.  It really is the other characters who are more interesting – except Yuffie, she’s annoying – but you are forced to watch a pointless love triangle between the three main characters, which results in no romantic conclusion!

The three main characters I didn’t care about, and nor could I understand their tales to tell, it was all beyond my intellectual capabilities.  I spent most of my time wishing Cloud would stop being so pathetic and whining; and grinding my teeth whenever the shit stirring devil in disguise, Aerith, was given screen time.  The best moment in the game really and truly was when Sephiroth impaled Aerith on his big, long sword – no pun intended – and put that she devil to death – it was the only time I did the happy dance in the entire game! 

I would go into detail about the ridiculously complicated and mind boggling story, but it is far too long winded.  If you really want to know what happens, I suggest looking it up on wikipedia, you’ll no doubt get a clearer explanation than playing the game.  I’ve played this game through, and I’m still none the wiser with what was going on and feel un-concluded with certain things that happened.  In all honesty, I wasn’t really concerned about what happens in the story; it’s long winded, confusing, implausible and I don’t care what happens to half of the characters anyway. 

For the most part, I have been pretty negative in this review, and that was because playing this game really wasn’t an enjoyable experience.  There were a couple of moments I did enjoy, with some puzzling game play or interesting action, but they were few and far between.  The game was a chore to play, what with being bombarded with random battles, having to continuously press the X button, frequently getting lost through no fault of my own, using a simplistic but uninspiring battle system and being force fed a story that had me saying ‘What the fuck…you can’t be serious’ repeatedly, coupled with characters that I hated really did prove to be a game I wasted my life with.  If I am honest, had Final Fantasy VII been my first RPG, I probably wouldn’t be the fan of RPGs that I am today.

Personally, I’ll probably be trading this game in, one play through was more than enough, perhaps too much.  Even though people may want to cry that it was the game of its generation, I struggle to see how.  The issues I have highlighted would not only be relevant today, but also over a decade ago when it was released.  Were it not for the fact I was so stubborn to complete this game I would have turned it off and changed it for a more enjoyable game, and I would have had those feelings if I had played the game when originally released.

The game really isn’t worth the hype it gets, certainly not now, and certainly not when originally released.  Though I acknowledge the huge leap SQUARE (now SQUARE Enix) made with the first 3D Final Fantasy, it is clearly obvious they have moved on greatly from Final Fantasy VII.  The game has issues that make the game un-enjoyable to play, issues that are hard to overlook because they are so infuriating.  Do not be fooled by the hype, this game is mediocre at best, if you can get passed the hindering issues it has.