Posted 2 years ago

When you preorder a copy of Assassin’s Creed III at Gamestop, you get this limited edition tin case for free. Honestly, this is kind of worth it. The case is durable and the artwork is nicely detailed. If you really wanted to, you could just put down your five dollars, get the tin case, then cancel your preorder. Everyone wins.

On the topic of Assassin’s Creed III, it’s been already announced for an Oct 30th release date. Why so soon? In any case I look forward to it. The game is set in 1776 in the midst of the American Revolution. You assume the role of Connor, the new assassin in the third installment of this series. Believe or not, he’s apparently half native american and half British.

How the hell did Desmond’s genealogy spread from Italy to Britain to the Americas in only a few centuries? I’m pretty sure the story will sort itself out in the end.

Posted 2 years ago

At last, the Hadoken meets the God Fist. I’m a huge Street Fighter and Tekken fan, so I decided to pick this up since it fit the bill so perfectly. I work at Gamestop, so I had some money left over after discount, and we had one more limited edition left. I bought it right there and then.

The limited edition comes complete with a copy of Street Fighter x Tekken (you would hope so), an arcade cabinet piggy bank, 45 gems that complement the gem system of the game and a comic book by Udon Comics.

I’ll tell you this right now. The arcade cabinet was a b!tch to assemble. I don’t know if i was doing it wrong, but it required too much effort to piece together.

Everything else is cool though. Got my gems, my comic book and the game of course. If you have $10 extra to spare, I’d say this game is worth it for people who are into fighters/MLG.

Posted 2 years ago

Kingdoms of Amalur is a game that will entice many fans of the Western RPG genre. It’s loaded full of content, captivates with a well written storyline, and will throw you into a vast world of endless exploration. The challenge, however, is whether or not you will have the time to trek every last corner of Amalur, let alone complete most of the side-quests and tasks.

The game presents a story written by New York’s best selling author, R.A. Salvatore. Salvatore has had many years of fantasy writing under his belt, and it shows greatly in Kingdoms of Amalur. The player assumes the role of the Fateless One, a character who has been revived by a gnomish device known as the Well of Souls. You awaken amidst a heap of dead bodies, confused about your sorry existence, much less the situation that has befallen you. It turns out that a group of immortals known as the Tuatha is out to assassinate the Fateless One, for reasons that should not be spoiled.

In the grander scale of things, the Fateless One gets caught up in a conflict known as the Crystal War. The immortal Winter Fae intends to wipe out all of the mortal races in Amalur, and its up to the hero/heroine to form an alliance between the five kingdoms and put a stop to whoever is responsible. It is a simple premise, though the way in which it is presented through the characters, lore and back story make the journey worthwhile. If high fantasy tickles your interest, you will find a whole lot of it here.

The gameplay follows the framework of a “choose your own story” approach. You create a character, customize his/her appearance and choose a class that best fits your play style. From an honest perspective, the level of customization feels limited. But the the class system is where the game truly shines. Whether you prefer to play as a warrior, rogue or wizard, the player has the ability to mix and match their abilities via three separate skill trees. Each tree corresponds with each class, however, if one so chooses to allocate points to two or more of these trees, hybrid classes can be generated to suit multiple possibilities. Don’t feel like specializing? Make a warrior/mage or rogue/warrior.

As your character levels up, the player can also invest points in utility abilities, such as blacksmithing, alchemy, lockpicking, etc. You can even increase your stealth ability to lower enemy detection, or develop your persuasion techniques to talk yourself out of a tight situation. However way you look at it, Kingdom’s of Amalur takes most of this from something akin to Dungeons and Dragons, which isn’t a bad thing. In addition, if players find that their skill allocation isn’t to their satisfaction, it is possible to reset your class’ skill trees and abilities, but for a fee.

Combat in Kingdoms of Amalur is visceral and gratifying. Combos can be inflicted with a simple succession of button presses. If you equip your character with the proper arsenal of main and sub weapons, such will allow some interesting methods of taking out enemies. Stealth skills can be performed while crouched and attacking from behind, but can only be executed with daggers or faeblades. Certain weapons like staves or bows can be fired from a distance, granting an advantage to players who like to punish foes from afar.

Spells and abilities can be used via radial menu mapped on the face buttons. With each use, mana is depleted, further complemented by a cool-down time. After executing a spell, ability or combo, the Fateless One is rewarded fate points that will gradually fill up a purple gauge. Once that gauge is full, the player can unleash Reckoning Mode, ultimately slowing down time and augmenting the damage of physical or magical attacks. Once all enemies have been taken out, the player can deliver a finishing move on a remaining foe, triggering a quick time event a la God of War. Twice the amount of experience points are rewarded after each time Reckoning Mode is used, so it is advised to take advantage of this gameplay element when encountering multiple threats. It may also save your life.

The world of Amalur is large and vast, and quite frankly, intimidating. There are too many things to do in this world, but again, this isn’t a bad idea. The first thing players will notice, is that the world contains hub towns, expansive fields and dungeons that somewhat resemble instances. The reason behind this, is because the developer had initially planned to have this game made as an MMORPG. Exclamation points mark available quests, each with their own rewards of gold and experience points. Enemies and chests can be looted for green, blue or purple items and equipment, and materials can be harvested from the surrounding environment. Kingdoms of Amalur is pretty much a single player MMORPG experience, and can get quite lonely sometimes, especially in larger areas.

Crafting also seems a little tedious at times, and in most cases, not very useful. Of course you can opt to blacksmith your own weapons and armor, though throughout my whole experience, I never found the need, as I always found something better from a dungeon or a boss drop. Alchemy seems like the only useful craft, as you can make potions to regenerate health/mana or provide buffs like greater defense or more damage. Alchemy is also the most annoying since acquiring reagents and materials takes luck, and is solely dependent on how many points invested in the skill. The same logic applies to the other crafts, but not as meticulous.

On the plus side, each area in Amalur is distinct with its own environmental makeup and personality. You will explore deep forests and rocky highlands, as well as dry deserts and crystal encrusted caves. There is enough variation to the environments to provide much incentive to explore, and well, enjoy the scenery. Every city and town is filled with life, with its citizens walking and conversing in the way an established society should. The player’s dialogue choices and actions also affect how NPCs react and greet you. So if you intend to pickpocket a civilian or commit murder amongst the masses, you have the freedom to do so, but with consequences of course.

Graphically, the game looks good for what it is. Don’t expect visuals to be on par with larger games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but Kingdom’s of Amalur chooses to implement a more cartoonish feel, similar to Fable or World of Warcraft. For a game this expansive, it performs well on all platforms, especially on the consoles. There weren’t many noticeable dips in frame rate, but I did notice some bugs here and there, mostly with glitchy shaders or getting stuck in the geometry. None of the glitches stated were game breaking, so there is no need to fret.

In terms of sound, the voice work is something you’d expect from a high production level. Each actor presents a very emotional and appropriate tone for the characters they represent. If anything, the voice work is similar to what was presented in the Lord of the Rings films. The musical score invokes a sense of epicness, despair or calmness when needed, though it didn’t feel emotive as other soundtracks from other Western RPGs. The music seems to fit an MMORPG, and as stated earlier, Kingdoms of Amalur was developed with that idea in mind.

The game will last you approximately 300 hours, or so that is what the developers at 38 Studios claim. This doesn’t including collecting every piece of loot or listening to dialogue, though if the player completes every side-quest, dungeon and task, 300 hours doesn’t sound completely inaccurate. I only spent 60 hours in my experience with the game, and I didn’t complete every single diversion available. I only stuck to the main story and quests that I thought would benefit the growth of my character, and in essence, that’s all you need.

If you are in need of a Western RPG that will last you a long time, then look no further; that is if you haven’t beaten Skyrim already. The writing is well done, the gameplay is solid. But be prepared to be intimidated by the slew of content Kingdoms of Amalur has to offer.

Final Score: 9.0/10

Posted 2 years ago

According to a recent article by OXM, Halo 4 is now pushing the Xbox 360 to its limits. It’s not surprising that something like this would come to pass, though I fear to say that this is a clear sign that this generation of gaming is ending, at least for the Xbox 360 console.

Read the full article here. It’s well worth the read.

There is still a whole lot of third party titles coming out like Farcry 3, Borderlands 2, Assassin’s Creed 3, etc. However, in terms of first party titles, it seems like the only exclusives coming out for 360 are The Witcher 2, Star Wars Kinect, Fable Heroes and of course Halo 4.

There is still a significant amount of time between now and the holiday season for Microsoft to announce some hidden/unannounced titles. Though, we can pretty much expect the reveal of their next console at this years E3.

Posted 2 years ago

As of late, I’ve started taking arcade-style fighting games seriously. I typically play with a pad controller, though I’ve always felt limited in terms of performance. I understand how to do certain moves and combos, but to maintain consistent with a pad is quite difficult. So I’ve been looking to purchase a traditional fight stick so that I can finally step up my game and perform a little better (and at least stand a chance against pros online).

A few of my friends suggested a few sticks from Hori. Apparently, Hori is the best company when it comes to emulating a true arcade experience. They are known for quality and lasting longer than their Mad Catz derivatives and imitations.

The first stick that I looked at, was the V3 model for PS3. It goes at about MSRP $59.99; which isn’t particularly bad, especially for a novice like me. It’s a simple six button layout complete with a spherical joystick and square gate (a traditional design for most Japanese arcade sticks). My one concern, however, is the fact that the product is cheap. So because it’s cheap, I imagine the device would be subject to wear and tear in a shorter amount of time, or so my friends suggest.

I then opted to take a look at the Real Arcade Pro. V3 SA. It goes for about MSRP $129.99, and that is kind of steep for anyone in a tight budget, including me. Though, looking beyond the price, this stick is a top quality make, fit for tournaments and long term use. Honestly, this stick looks more desirable, and seems like it would last for quite a while, especially since I intend to invest a decent amount of time into my fighting games.

The last stick I looked at, was the Real Arcade Pro. 3 Premium. My god, this thing goes for MSRP $299.99. With that kind of money, you might as well buy yourself a home console or a bunch of games. But, for what its worth, it really topples all of the sticks I’ve talked about thus far. What really caught my eye, was the fact that you could open the cabinet for maintenance. You can even switch out the buttons and the joystick if they become too beat up. Considering the value of Real Arcade Pro. V3, I figure I might as well go all in on my very first stick. The Premium looks solid and maintainable…though it will take a few months of saving up before I pick up this bad boy.

Also, all of these sticks are sold out/out of stock at the moment. Makes sense since Street Fighter X Tekken is coming out today. Expect a review of that in the near future, as well as my impressions of Mass Effect 3.


Posted 2 years ago

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a game that will leave some with a variety of mixed feelings. It wasn’t a terrible JRPG, but neither was it a great one. On a positive note, it’s safe to say that Square-Enix does manage to refine a few elements since the last installment. But is it enough to redeem themselves?

The story takes place three years after the events of Final Fantasy XIII. Lightning has disappeared from existence and nobody seems to notice except Serah, her younger sister. It is soon discovered that Lightning has been spirited away to Valhalla, a world that exists outside the boundaries of time. The armored heroine now serves as the protector of this realm, demonstrating fealty towards Etro, the goddess of death, chaos and the afterlife.

It appears that Etro had intervened with the fate of Lightning and her companions at the conclusion of Final Fantasy XIII, choosing to relieve them of their crystal state out of pity. Because of this, Etro had altered the flow of time, causing anomalies throughout the future and past. Lightning seeks to restore and maintain the time line, however, a mysterious man by the name of Caius Ballad intends to do otherwise. For the most part, this pretty much sums up the story’s central conflict.

Realizing that the battle cannot be won on her own, Lightning employs the aid of Noel Kreiss, a young man hailing from a post-apocalyptic future. He is then sent back through time, where he meets up with Serah, whom he also recruits to the cause. As the story progresses, Serah and Noel travel through various time periods, where they unlock time gates and resolve anomalies. Aside from meeting old friends and crossing paths with Caius and the Seeress Yuel, there isn’t really much to add to the duo’s agenda.

Expect some convoluted explanations about the plot and some twists and turns here and there, though it’s certain that players will enjoy the story to some extent. It isn’t anything special, though the game succeeds in keeping things interesting throughout the whole experience. The ending, however, is subject to debate. Though sentiments of disappointment or excitement are both viable reactions.

The battle system has improved quite nicely. Instead of enemies wandering about the field, Final Fantasy XIII-2 has incorporated the use of random encounters. With use of the Mog Clock, the player has a limited amount of time to strike at a target. Depending on the situation, the player may initiate preemptive attacks or fall victim to an ambush. The latter doesn’t quite happen as often.

Combat is built off of the ATB framework of the previous game, with minor tweaks to the commands and skills. The six paradigm classes return, each serving a purpose associated with tanking, healing, buffing, debuffing, etc. Noel and Serah can shift from one paradigm to the other at any time, thus granting the upper advantage against any challenging opponent. In Final Fantasy XIII-2, the ATB gauge and paradigm shifts are significantly quicker, resulting in short but sweet encounters that last less than a minute or so (excluding boss battles of course).

As one might already notice, there is a lack of a third party member this time around. In fact, Serah and Noel are the only playable characters in the whole game (not including DLC of course, but we’ll get back to that in a moment). Instead, Final Fantasy XIII-2 has opted to utilize a monster recruitment system, in which the player can acquire monsters after combat and use them in their party. The likelihood that a monster will be recruited is dependent on its type and level, although luck seems to be the most definitive factor.

Each monster serves one paradigm role, so it is necessary to organize a pack of three monsters before battle. As Noel and Serah transition between paradigms, the trio of selected monsters will alternate with each other accordingly. Each monster also possesses a sync ability designated by a separate gauge. After the gauge has been filled, the player can unleash a monster’s ability, either dealing massive damage or healing the entire party. The usage of these sync abilities are crucial in turning the tides of battle, especially in dire situations.

Mastering the paradigm shift can allow players to “break” their enemies, or send them into a state of disarray. Once “break” is achieved, Noel and Serah can juggle their opponents or deal critical damage. Breaking was always the fundamental way of achieving victory in Final Fantasy XIII, but in XIII-2 it isn’t emphasized as much. You can win most battles without having to take advantage of the “break” system.

Some encounters, primarily with bosses, will initiate a series of quick time events during the course of the battle. These progression of these scripted events solely depends on the player’s ability to successfully input each button command at the right time. If done right, Noel and Serah will execute a series of flashy moves and inflict critical damage to the target. A perfect quick time event will also yield a larger sum of experience points and Gil.

At the conclusion of every battle, players are yet again evaluated by a five star rating system. However, this time around, the rating determines how much experience is rewarded, how much Gil is dropped, as well as how frequently items will be obtained. In other words, this system urges players to aim for a five star rating. In some instances, rarer items can only be obtained by five starring a boss. Thankfully, Final Fantasy XIII-2 allows unlimited opportunities to redo any of those battles when necessary.

Level progression also works similarly to the last game through the use of the Crystarium system. As usual, leveling up requires Crystogen Points, allowing the player to purchase status upgrades such as increased strength and defense. Final Fantasy XIII-2 substitutes the ring-like formation of the Crystarium for something a little bit more linear. The player can purchase each status upgrade in succession, switching between whichever roles that one may want to invest in. This linearity isn’t a bad thing, though because it is linear, it would’ve been easier if the developers just made leveling up automatic through exponential increases in stats.

In terms of exploration, players won’t get the chance to traverse a large and vast world like previous Final Fantasies, but rather choose a from a set of areas from a type of level selection screen. It is an unfortunate choice made by the developers, though it works in some interesting ways. For example, traveling through time from beginning to end isn’t as linear as one might think. In fact, depending on the choices the player makes, will determine which areas will be unlocked. It is even possible to complete each level in whichever order one wishes, though such will lead to the same end.

There are instances of dialogue choices and options, but they don’t really amount to anything, except for prize boxes that contain cosmetic items for your monster to wear. This was quite disappointing and could have been applied better.

While exploring a level, players will encounter anomalies, which are solved via small puzzles and mini games. Puzzles may include something as mundane as connecting the dots, though others might take some time to figure out. On the flip side, some obstacles simply require killing a certain number of enemies, advancing to the next area where a large boss awaits. The game mix and matches, which somewhat keeps things fresh and consistent. Once Noel and Serah complete their main objective in a given area, the player is thrown back into the level selection screen where the next area can be chosen.

There are more than enough side quests and diversions to keep players busy outside of the main storyline. NPCs designated by large exclamation point usually have problems that need solving or tasks to be done. Much of these tasks require the player to collect a certain amount of a particular item or kill a specific enemy. In practice, most of these side quests are kind of a drag. They don’t offer much incentive except for Gil and experience points.

Completing side quests also yield fragments, which serve as the game’s form of collectible items. After collecting a certain amount of fragments, the player can unlock fragment skills which range from increasing the probability of recruiting a monster, to lowering the frequency of enemy encounters. For those who seek to obtain every trophy/achievement in the game, collecting all of the fragments are vital in completing that feat.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 also features an amusement park known as Serendipity. Though, it appears to be an unfinished part of the game, as there are only two mini games available: the slot machines and Chocobo racing. It is a question whether or not Square-Enix plans to expand on this area with DLC, but chances are that is a large possibility. Serendipity is a thoughtful idea, though it pales in comparison to Final Fantasy VII’s Gold Saucer.

On the topic of presentation, Final Fantasy XIII-2 looks absolutely beautiful. The art style is what you would expect from a Final Fantasy game, especially the character and monster designs. Water ripples and grass parts when you walk through it; can’t really go wrong with that sort of detail. However, the one area that this game falters, is performance. Although the game pays extra attention to the quality of the environment and characters, there are slight slow downs and frame rate drops. While this does not take a whole lot from the game, it is somewhat annoying considering the last game performed significantly better throughout the whole experience.

There are towns in the game, though there isn’t much variation since the same areas and environments are reused quite frequently. The towns and areas might be presented differently (aka snowy, rainy, desert versions), though the layout is completely the same.

The musical score is surprisingly better than the last game. Square-Enix drew most of its talent from Naoshi Mizuta, the same composer who wrote material for Final Fantasy XI. His music fits well with every scene and event in Final Fantasy XIII-2, ranging from mysterious ballads to sweet, heartfelt melodies. The music is by no means on the level of Nobuo Uematsu’s work, but its satisfying enough for the type of setting the world falls into. Can’t really say much about the featured J-Pop artist though; Cherise’s Into the New World wasn’t really a fitting song, especially during the ending cut scene.

Much to my surprise, the majority of the cinematography was rendered in real time using the in-game engine. Square-Enix typically prides itself with its pre-rendered cut scenes in Final Fantasy games, though there are only two or three scenes that used this technique.

Overall, Final Fantasy XIII-2 will net players a good 50 hours of gameplay, granted they invest in collecting all the fragments and completing all of the side quests. Apart from the main ending, there are numerous other “paradox” endings that can be unlocked, depending on what conditions are met. Most of these endings aren’t cannon to the plot, though they serve as interesting “what if” scenarios.

It has already been confirmed that future DLC is planned for this game. Characters such as Lightning, Sahz and Snow will have their own segments of episodic content. There are also a variety of downloadable bosses to challenge, such as the Omega Weapon. There are DLC costumes as well, but they aren’t really worth the money, unless you are a diehard Final Fantasy fan.

With confidence, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a big improvement over XIII, albeit not a groundbreaking one. It restores some of the traditional aspects of the franchise, so fans may like what they see.

Final Score: 8.5/10