Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews on videogame titles.

Review: Saints Row The Third

There are developers that thrive to design their games to create an immersing and epic climactic piece of art. Saints Row The Third’s intention is to make the biggest, and baddest beast of a game that aims to offer non-stop over-the-top crazy action inspired by the craziness and immaturity of the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Japanese television. They do this by incorporating blow-up visuals, addicting yet simple gameplay, and a lot of eye candy. Volition continues the adrenaline-pumping action from its popular predecessor, Saints Row 2, by layering a continuing spread of excitement like butter over bread to keep you hooked to the game like a fish to a hook.
Saints Row The Third is open to any type of person to pick-up, play and just have fun. This is evident as you do not need previous knowledge of any other Saints Row games in order to understand the events that transpire in this game. You will miss out on an “inside” joke or two, but fans of the Saints Row series will know that the story is not the strength that super glues your eyes to the screen.
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Volition
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows (Reviewed)
Release Date: November 15th 2011
Rating: 18 (BBFC), 18+ (PEGI)

Starting with the story, well, the lack-of; the Street Saints gang travel from Stillwater city to Steelport after a failed bank heist where they are captured and thrown in to jail by the police. The player assumes the role of the appointed leader of your gang where you may be messing around with lots of sliders and options when you’re asked to create your own character; which is one of the most innovative and advanced aspects of the title. I feel the direction of The Third (from Volition’s point of view) is to hammer quality on top of quantity, expanding and augmenting the features that made Saints Row 2 enjoyable and, in contrast, cut or not work-on those that player feedback were mostly negative on. Sure, there are fewer activities to do in both the character creator and within elements of the game itself, but what actually exists is filled with plethora detail. Actually, one of the main reasons why I love Saints Row games is because of the level of customisation there is and the fact that you play your own character; not some clown I don’t care for.
Your time in Steelport city will be filled with completing a variety of different mission archetypes, advancing your character’s stats and abilities with the cash you earn from creating mass havoc, and meeting funny and funny (yes, Pierce, you) characters that you may or may not like. The missions here are structured differently to Saints Row 2 in that, thankfully, the Respect requirement needed to start the next mission is removed. Instead, you can freely pick your next mission at any time, and each mission acts as a progression bar until you play a storyline mission; which advances the storyline and world events. These progressive missions tend to become boring after you’ve completed them as they’re repetitive and seem to serve entirely as padding.
You can whack out a taunt, or compliment, at any time.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any fun missions either. In particular, I love when I have to storm through the city in a tank, destroying everything in your path. Everything.  Buildings, fences, trash bins, cars, people, you name it. It’s a lot of fun and it also feels very good when you hear that cha-ching sound as you receive cash at the end of the mission. This serves as a cool reminder that you’ve earned your right to enhance your character’s abilities.

What I think Volition has done right is allowing the player to advance their character through the cash they earn; it’s an almost self-balancing system where the more fun you have; the more you’re rewarded. These abilities range from allocating more health, stamina, ammunition, more homies to serve as reinforcements, vehicle drop-offs and unlocking cars and aircrafts. This allows you to specialise yourself and set a line between you and other people who you may decide to play co-op with and gives you the choice to improve in what you love doing most. Superior abilities cost more so naturally you’ll need to bugger up the city some more! Money can also be spent on what you love most: weapons, vehicle upgrades (they make a substantial return) and clothes (which unfortunately does not).
There’s a large variety of side missions that serve as a break from the madness of the story, or a diversion from it. There are outright hilarious and silly infinite tasks for you like streaking in-front of as many people as possible within a set time limit, vehicle surfing, driving through opposite traffic and performing nose-stops on bikes. Beating each of these amusing diversions will also earn you respect, and respect lets you unlock more abilities; given you have the cash for it – and you will have by the end of all these! Of course, what open world game is not without its diddles and doodles? There are, I shall say, interesting secrets to find around the world space. If you do not have prior knowledge as to what these actually are and understand the sense of humour works in Steelport, you’ll be in for a giggle or two. The power-hungry players can purchase property throughout the city in order to increase their overall revenue that gradually builds up with time; you can purchase buildings from weapons and clothing shops, to factories, to towers and even mansions. Purchased property will act as a safe haven and you may store vehicles in their corresponding garage, change clothes in the wardrobe, and if allowed, access helipads for aircraft spawning. All items and vehicles are stored globally, meaning no matter where you are wreaking havoc, you can jump in to anything and everything you’ve collected. In addition, you may wish to upgrade property to reap its benefit: mainly being that of earning more money. More benefits include being able to hire more homies, and if you have the correct ability, you can call in your customised homies as reinforcements.
Yes… revival needed.

As you might have guessed, weapons can be bought and can be upgraded in linear stages, but it’s vehicles and clothing I want to talk about for just a minute. Fully customisable options throw themselves at you when you drive your car in a garage, you’re able to change, add and re-colour many parts of the car so much that it becomes totally unique to your personal taste. Those looking for a role-play experience or like the way their avatar look may be disappointed to learn that clothing for The Third makes a weak comeback, in comparison to Saints Row 2. The quantity of items to buy have been sucked dry and you’re limited to only wearing one item per body part, for example, one type of shoes, one type of legs, one type of torso clothing; and with limited options to choose from, you may be put-off if you like to dress your character in ridiculous ways. Even the over-the-top wacky costumes do not look exceptionally dissimilar, in a strange way, they seem to “fit in” with the world and characters rather than have them “stick out” and make you wonder what kind of artist could imagine something like that up.

So, the story isn’t very well told ‘nor is it even remotely interesting to me, but there are a couple of characters that try to stick to the railroads. And I emphasise “try to”, because most of the jokes and skits become boring very fast. And even when the story is being progressed it still feels as if it’s going nowhere due to the lack of character depth and development. The game features a myriad of celebrity voice actors. It’s just unfortunate that the characters they are assigned to are as wooden as my back garden fence. Voice actors can only do so much with the script handed to them. In the end, I felt more compelled to skip the occasional cutscene to avoid falling asleep on my chair. This is much unlike Saints Row 2 which had more tolerable characters, better storytelling, and even the tiniest bit of character development. However, the story does have its moments. In particular, I enjoyed one of the two endings in the last mission which involves invading an airship with your aircraft to rescue your gang.  It’s just unfortunate that you cannot replay the good missions or cutscenes.   Otherwise, the story isn’t Saints Row The Third’s strong point, but that’s because the game focuses far more heavily on a more fun player experience within gameplay.
Playing the PC version, I must say that I’m impressed. Volition dedicated their development team to work for the Windows version of the title. This is a huge contrast to their previous lack-lustre attempt with Saints Row 2, which was a pretty poor port. Graphical options are as you’d expect from a DirectX 11.0 game. There’s a large variety of high end graphic options. Furthermore, motion blur can be switched off – a rare feature that I highly appreciate. The Third is well optimised for Windows and, in particular, ATI graphic cards. ATI cards aren’t often as well supported as Nvidia’s selection; however, I only ever experienced one crash and freeze – both of which were a result of online co-op. Saints Row is known to have a “realistic cartoony” style to its graphics: properly formed and correctly anatomically-figured people, but used in conjunction with a cartoon-style pallet. The Third continues this; Volition has made it look explosive!
Feel free to run up to any bystander and kick their teeth to the back of their throats or punch their head-in, all in the name of fun.

To sum up this bloody great game, in every meaningful output of the meaning, I can’t deny the amount of entertainment The Third offer. It sure has built-up and improved on many aspects from Saints Row 2 but the drawbacks are that of cut content that fans miss, such as the poop-shooting mini-game in which you fire poop on anything that exists to earn cash and respect. Sounds fun, right? The sense of direction I feel Volition went with their latest game is that of quality over quantity, putting the concrete between the bricks, whilst removing the loose and crumbled ones. Casual players and newcomers to the series will appreciate the attempted humour and the effort the developers put in to this beauty, but may feel disappointed if returning to Saints Row 2 to learn that that offers more on the table.

Saints Row the Third was beaten with 100% completion achieved on Normal difficulty. The Team Fortress 2 and Genki pre-order bonus were installed. For those who regard score as an important factor to a review, Saints Row the Third receives a 7/10. Whilst the game is most definitely good, it does have a number of imperfections that hold this title back.
Guru Meditation is a regular author for GamingAdvance. You may contact Guru Meditation through the email address: gurumeditation@gamingadvance.com

Review: Catherine

Hi, have you met Catherine? She’s beautiful, sexy, blue eyed and blonde. And she would give anything to be with you. What’s that, you’re already seeing someone? Oh, dear.

Catherine is the latest game developed by Atlus, developers of the Persona franchise, and is also their first game to début on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 platforms. The title is much unlike their previous titles, as it was a puzzle game rather than their usual role-playing game fare; although the game does feature some elements of role-playing in the story itself.

Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
Release Date: 10th February 2012 (EU), 26th July 2011 (US), 17th January 2011 (JP)
Platforms: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360
Rating: 15 (BBFC), M (ESRB), 18 (PEGI)



The player plays protagonist Vincent as he struggles to deal with a pretty nasty situation. You see, Vincent cheated on his beloved Katherine, with another woman named Catherine. He finds himself in quite the predicament. On one hand he’s being drawn to the new and dangerous Catherine, but on the other hand Katherine is having his child. 

While the moral obligations are pretty clear, Catherine gives leeway for a more Vincent to follow his urges into a more free path. The game features moments where the player is questioned on their beliefs in regards to relationships. These questions ultimately affect Vincent’s judgement, leading to cinematic scenes playing out differently depending on your alignment, and ultimately leads to the multiple endings. Furthermore, the alignment towards either girl can also be affected by text messages that the player may customize before sending to one of the love interests. 

Catherine, the video game, can be considered relatively deep as well. Vincent is forced to experience nightmares – the core gameplay sections. He is told that he has been entered into this nightmare realm as a result of someone wishing him there, and he must climb to the top of a tower in order to receive his freedom. Others join him in this nightmare, all of whom are perceived as sheep to hide their identity. These entire sections are completely symbolic, much as his choice between the two girls represents two completely different lifestyles. It’s an incredibly well developed story that really stands out. Unfortunately, the game chooses to point out its own symbolism and metaphors towards the end, which I honestly feel depreciates the deep themes that the title portrays.

The gameplay is predominantly a puzzle and platformer. The player must move giant blocks to build a path to their goal at the top of the tower. Each stage has a different theme and escalates in difficulty. An example of one such theme is the ice stage, where Vincent runs the risk of sliding off of the tower and to his death. While these themes bring with them new challenges, they also breed new strategies. It’s an expertly crafted game, and the quality shows in these stages. This isn’t all there is to the game; however, as the player may explore the bar to converse with other individuals who are also suffering the same dreams. These individuals have their own plot threads in which Vincent can help guide them to overcome their own problems.

As per usual with Atlus’ titles, the soundtrack is brilliant, and the visuals are stunning and stylish – so long as you don’t mind the anime-esque appearance. Catherine sounds and looks beautiful, as do the rest of the cast. The English voice acting work is handled better than past Atlus titles as well. Everything is exceptionally well handed in the audio and visual department.

The title also features multiplayer components. The player can cooperate with a friend as they must climb the tower together, or compete against each other for the higher score. The game also features side challenges for the player that are unlocked by achieving a gold trophy in each stage. These trophies aren’t to be confused with the PlayStation Network trophies, of course.

Overall, Catherine is a great title that’s worth picking up. It’s everything Atlus does well in a game, and the experience is similarly as good. I would love to see what else Atlus could come up with should they ever return to the puzzle genre.

Catherine was beaten on Normal Difficulty, following the Katherine path, and the game was played through one and a half times. For those who regard score as an important factor to a review, Catherine obtains the 9/10 score. This signifies that Catherine is an almost perfect game as it achieves what it sets out to do exceptionally well, but may be held back by very minor gripes. 

CrashScreen is a regular author of GamingAdvance, who first established the website. You may contact CrashScreen, through the email address: crashscreen@gamingadvance.com

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Ninja Gaiden 3

I have to say I have always been a fan of Tecmo Koei, but this game destroyed my faith in them.

Ninja Gaiden 3 is probably the most annoying game released by Tecmo Koei. Before I got this game, I avoided listening to any criticism that the title received and any comments from any form of sources. However, upon playing this game I came to realise I had wasted my money. Ninja Gaiden 3 is suppose to be the third game in the series and I chose my words carefully. Suppose. Are you serious? This game tried to steal ideas from what appeared to be Metal Gear Rising. This game was no longer a Ninja Gaiden game! The game that I used to love had changed. There are no weapon upgrades, there are no recovery items and there are no Nippon items.
Publisher: Team Ninja
Developer: Tecmo Koei
Platforms: PlayStation 3(Reviewed), Xbox 360
Release Date: March 23rd 2012
Rating: 18 (BBFC), 18 (PEGI)

The game is split into several days. The idea is that you have a certain number of days to save the world from destruction. The player plays through the game, slaughtering enemies with your sword as well as your bow and arrow – which I may add is the most unbalanced weapon ever. You can go through the game shooting people with the bow which explodes, allowing you to mash the shooting button without making too much of an effort. But don’t worry guys, if you need a health boost you can just use your Nippon and take out enemies. This ultimately leads to your health being restored. It’s unbalanced as the Nippon now annihilates every enemy in the area. The Ninja Gaiden game, which used to be about skill, has turned into nothing but a hack and slash, and figuring out a basic pattern with the bosses so that you can beat them easily. There’s little challenge.
The protagonist of Ninja Gaiden 3 will always have the same attitude and same personality. He hasn’t changed and will always be a likeable character. His choices and attitude makes him a good character to play and watch. However, the other characters were even more entertaining. I personally enjoyed watching some of the characters making a fool of themselves.
Oh that’s right.  A lot of this game happens to be focused around video clips. You spend a lot of time listening to mission briefs and watching Ryu struggle with a curse that he is given at the very start of the game. But the thing is this curse apparently makes him stronger? Good curse, right? Given enough time you can just press triangle to use your ultimate attack and defeat six or seven enemies. When could you ever do this on any other Ninja Gaiden games!? I’ll give them some credit though, there are some quick time events in the clips which makes you want to pay attention but even if you fail the quick time event will always be the same.
Alright let’s talk about the graphics here. I have to admit they were pretty decent. I would have to say the faces were beautiful an I loved the look of the female characters. The backgrounds were pretty decent as well, but the most annoying thing were the cars in the game. Now call me picky but these were just stupid and poorly rendered. They didn’t look like PlayStation 3 graphics at all. They looked more like they came from the Nintendo 64! The front of the war was just blurry and looked messy it ruined it.
In all fairness, I might have expected too much from this game as I have always been a fan of the Ninja Gaiden games. This game just upset me. Ninja Gaiden 3 doesn’t deserve a purchase at full price. I suggest either waiting till the game is cheap or just renting the game. It’s just not worth playing at full price.
Ninja gaiden scores 5/10. It was completed on Hard Difficulty,without any downloadable content installed.
(The review is entirely subjective and should not be considered fact. This review is the author’s opinion and nothing more. Feel free to discuss the review in the comments below, but try to keep it civil. You are also entitled to an opinion that may differ from the author, and don’t forget this!)

Review: Portal 2

You wake up in that familiar room once again, requested to do your exercises to ensure that you are in top condition. The room is inside the Aperture Science labs, deep underground. You are a test subject, but have not been awoken in years. However many years, you are unsure. This time, however, the room is a mess. The lights are out, and everything is everywhere. Someone knocks on your door. An unfamiliar voice.

It turns out to be an AI named Wheatley, who tries to help you escape. After making your way passed what remains of your enemy, GLaDOS, you accompany Wheatley down stairs to try and open up an exit. He activates her. GLaDOS awakens, and she is angry. But it’s okay. She’s going to put everything behind her, for science. You monster.

Chell and GLaDOS return in Portal 2, and GLaDOS is more antagonistic than ever. Every trial is also an attempt to kill you, but you have no choice but to move forward. Portal 2 is the sequel to Portal, a popular and famous game for its quirky, humour and unique puzzle mechanic. Unfortunately, the original was practically just a tech demo. Portal 2 is an attempt to make the title a truly complete game, and what it accomplishes is nothing short.

Publisher: Valve
Developers: Valve
Release Date: 21st April 2011
Rated: 12 (PEGI)
Platforms:  PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Windows, OSX

Upon my initial play through of Portal 2, I was instantly stunned by the incredibly structured narrative. For a sequel to a title that completely lacked it, Portal 2 is particularly impressive. Whilst the story is still essentially just Chell being put through scientific tests (for an unknown purpose) and trying to escape, the execution is incredible.

The humour is more frequent, and a lot more funny. Portal’s sense of humour can be hit-or-miss, as I know people that also severely dislike it. That being said, the numbers of people that dislike it are far and few between, but it seems to me that you either love the game’s sense of humour … or loathe it.

Not a single line of dialogue in the game is wasted, either used for the humour or for character development. The characters themselves are very strong. Chell is still rather mute and bland, but GLaDOS is still absolutely rich in personality. Accompanying the cast of the previous title is Wheatley, voiced by Stephen Merchant, who does an incredible job as the little personality core. Both GLaDOS and Wheatley have their own arcs, as well as the initial act of the game serving as to establish the characters.

Despite being AI, these characters grow and progress through-out the game as they experience situations beyond their purpose or expectations. I don’t want to spoil anything, but both characters feel very real, unique, and are, simply, just very strong characters. It is very rare to be confronted with such incredibly strong characters within a video game, with such real development.

The game is split into three acts. The first act serves as a re-establishment of the cast and setting, as well as the introduction to new characters. The second act develops the relationship between Chell and GLaDOS, GLaDOS herself, and gives closure on Aperture Science’s wacky history. The third, and final, act covers the end of Wheatley’s development, while concluding the story for both titles.

While the second act is possibly the strongest narratively, it is also the weakest for gameplay. The game has a rather repetitive formula, with Chell entering a room, successfully solving the puzzle, and then taking the elevator to the next room. The game avoids making this boring by changing things up frequently, but upon entering the second act the different trials of the game become longer and more tedious.

Each particular series of chambers focus on a specific mechanic. Upon beating these chambers, the player is tasked with solving puzzles with another mechanic. Some examples are beams of light that one can walk on (called Hard Light Surfaces), firing lasers into the appropriate place or an Excursion Funnel that beams you in one direction. Meanwhile, the second act involves the use of three different kind of gels (jumping properties, momentum increasing properties, and “stick-Portal-anywhere” properties). These gels can make the gameplay very fun, but feel very misplaced as the main focus of a test. As this also feels like the longest section, it becomes to get tedious nearer to the end of the act.

The game also features a wider variety of environments than the previous title. The facility begins in ruin and slowly gets fixed back to the clinical appearance of the original, but then things are changed as the player is forced into the underground section. The player also gets to explore more of the facility outside of the chambers as well. Graphically, the game looks better than the first too, despite using the same engine. It looks great and plays great.

Portal 2 is also an audible improvement upon the previous title. The voice acting is just as good, if not better, and the soundtrack is even more memorable. I actually spent time within one puzzle trying to stay on the red gel (for momentum) simply for the track that plays as you speed up. As per the previous title, Portal 2 also sports a humorous ending track. The track, titled “Want You Gone”, isn’t quite as quotable as the previous “Still Alive”, but it sounds and plays better.

Wheatley, voiced by Stephen Merchant, is a loveable moron new to the franchise.
With a lifespan of five to seven hours on the campaign alone, Portal 2 lasts long enough for a standard first-person campaign run; however, it also comes accompanied with a co-op mode with its own unique story and humour. Co-op stems over five different courses, each with a purpose. The co-op also contains some funny gestures for the two protagonists: P-body and Atlus (both robots). While it is about as strong, narratively, as the previous title, it makes up for this by having the more complex and challenging puzzles of the game. The standard lifespan for the co-op mode is about four hours.

Furthermore, Valve plan to continue to release new updates and maps for the game to enhance replayability even more. As an added bonus, players on the PS3 or PC edition are able to play with each other online thanks to Steam crossing over with PSN.

While Portal 2 isn’t as groundbreaking as the original, it is everything that the original should have been. It is a complete package and an unforgettable experience. The game deserves a retail purchase from anyone. This title is a great addition to anyone’s library and highly recommended; however, it is not for those who dislike  the concept of physics-based puzzles (perhaps due to the complexity involved) or for those who dislike the humour, as it would become frustrating.

As such, Portal 2 earns a solid 9/10. It’s an amazing title that should not be missed. It has been refined and polished so neatly, and is absolutely unforgettable. A brilliant experience to be had by all.

Review: Capcom’s Wrath

A lot of negative press has been surrounding Capcom as of late, particularly involving how they market their games. One of the more controversial titles in the past year was Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 — release lesss than a year after Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Then there’s the downloadable content on the disc. And of course, there’s the fact that they’ve been outsourcing their biggest franchises to western developers, which has also cause its fair share of backlash. Regardless, things are looking up this year. They may still be outsourcing their old IP’s, but this year they have two particularly good looking fresh IPs this year. These titles are Dragon’s Dogma and Asura’s Wrath. I recently got my hands on the latter.

Asura’s Wrath is probably the most unique looking game released this year so far. I know that the year is far from over, but we’re already halfway through and I consider that impressive enough. Before I got my hands on the game I tried my best to stay as uninformed as possible. I didn’t play the demo, I didn’t read very much news on the game at all, and I just steered clear from conversations involving the game. One comment did slip through my defences though. Asura’s Wrath is a Japanese anime in video game form. Knowing, at the very least, the genre in which the title belonged to, I determined that this perception of the game was a result of the over-the-top action elements and it’s graphical style. It’s a fair enough comparison, I thought, but the same can be said for ‘x game’ or ‘y game’. I just thought people were slightly exaggerating. Boy, was I wrong.

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: CyberConnect2
Platforms: PlayStation 3(Reviewed), Xbox 360
Release Date: February 24th 2012
Rating: 15 (BBFC), 16+ (PEGI)

Asura’s Wrath takes from anime beyond just the clichés, the graphical style and being very zany in a Japanese fashion. The game is split into eighteen episodes. Each episode is split into two halves, separated by eye catches. Brief credits appear on screen at the start of each episode, and there’s also a next episode preview at the end of an episode.

The story in itself is interesting and very entertaining, but it doesn’t have too much substance to it either. It focuses entirely on Asura’s rage and how it fuels his power as he tries to rescue his daughter. It was crazy entertaining though, despite being filled with clichés all over. As of such, even the characters’ personalities weren’t original – as they were essentially typical anime character archetypes. We’re not looking at something particularly deep here, but it certainly gets points for being artistic, and I mean that in as little of a pretentious manner as possible.

For the most part, the character of Asura is one in which we can empathise with. He’s relatively likeable, as much as he is defined by his anger. He’s exciting to watch, and gets your blood boiling. The intensity of the action makes the entire game just fantastic to watch. Oh, did I say watch?

The thing about this game is that it’s about one-third gameplay, and two-thirds of it are cinematic scenes. Those scenes do feature user interaction, however. This is through the use of Quick-Time Events in which the player must press the corresponding button in the manner that the game suggests. You do not fail instantly should you mess it up, and you are given leeway, but it’s quite compelling. Frankly, I looked forward to the Quick-Time Event segments of the game more than I did the actual third person action game segment!

Expect the action to be very basic, but still relatively fun. I can see why it’s just a small portion of the gameplay considering that it doesn’t have that much depth. All the same, it’s great to see how your attacks and techniques change with the story (such as when you lose or gain limbs); although, these changes are usually more cosmetic and doesn’t really impact your strategy.

Speaking of cosmetics, the graphics are beautiful. They’re very anime-esque. Whilst I can see that being a problem for some, it does make the game look magnificent. Likewise the sound is great and everyone is voice acted very well.

Honestly, there’s very little else to add about this title. It’s artistic, and whilst there are plenty of other games that rely on Quick-Time Event mechanics, Asura’s Wrath still manages to come out feeling very fresh and unique. As a title selling at full retail price, it doesn’t warrant a purchase. It’s too experimental and only lasts six hours. However, I certainly suggest giving the title a rent or buying it at a discounted price. It’s a game that really is worth playing.

Asura’s Wrath scores 7/10. It was completed on Normal Difficulty, without any downloadable content installed.

Review: Not So Final Fantasy XIII-2


Box art for Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review


Author: CrashScreen
Let’s get this out there now. Final Fantasy XIII was a pretty awful Final Fantasy game. I wrote a bloody essay on why it’s bad before. There’s just few good things to say about it. Sure, the graphics look nice and the soundtrack is great, but … that’s it. The game was extremely linear, had a pretty poor character progression mechanic, the battles were overly long and had interaction, there were no settlements and there was a lack of things to do.

Now, we’re not here to debate my opinion of Final Fantasy XIII. I’m not even here to justify it. Instead, we’ll leave that topic for another time and focus on it’s sequel. Released just a year after Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2 was an apology from Square-Enix. The purpose was to fix everything that was wrong with the previous game. Square-Enix acknowledged their mistake. But does Final Fantasy XIII-2 make everything okay again? Or should it really be the Final Fantasy?

Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Square-Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 3(Reviewed), Xbox 360
Release Date: 3rd February 2012
Rating: 12+(PEGI)

An FMV sequence of Gran Pulse at the end of Final Fantasy XIII and at the start of Final Fantasy XIII-2 for my review.

To resolve the issue of linearity, Final Fantasy XIII-2 (FFXIII-2) is not set in a specific location or time. Instead, the characters use time travel to get from place to place, time to time. This is actually an important element of the plot. Spoilers for Final Fantasy XIII ahoy!

After defeating the corrupt Fal’Cie (alien overlords who power the satellite named Cocoon in which the humans live), Lightning’s sister, and Snow’s fiancée, Serah returns from being transformed into crystal, as does Sazh’s son Dajh. This is when XIII ends; however, in XIII-2 the events transpire differently as Lightning vanishes. The humans settle on the planet named Pulse, in which Cocoon hovers above. Snow leaves on a journey to find Lightning for Serah, which leaves Serah alone for three years.

In 3AF, the village of New Bodhum in which Serah lives is attacked by monsters as a result of a time paradox. Noel, a boy from a future where he is the last human alive, comes to her rescue claiming that he was sent by Lightning, and so the two travel through time on adventure to find Lightning in the land of Valhalla – where time does not exist.

What is initially a light hearted journey, exploring the unique world of Final Fantasy XIII, the tone of FFXIII-2 becomes significantly darker towards the end of the game. So much so that this has been a relatively controversial element of the game. With consideration towards the theme of the game, and the sheer fact that the protagonists are playing with time, I actually judge the tone to be appropriate. I believe that the fun, adventurous experience of the earlier half blends very well with the intense, darker tone during the game’s conclusion. What we’re left with is a game with an intriguing plot that compels the player to persist with the main plot to uncover what happens to the cast; furthermore, the tone during the conclusion has left a massive impact on many players. Whilst many feel discontent with the conclusion, I can safely say that they will not be forgetting it any time soon. The ending is very shocking, and yet foreshadowing occurs through-out.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 Historia Crux
The Historia Crux, which is used to get from location to location.

Tone is captured fairly well in this title. A particular moment of sheer brilliance is when the player get’s to see the world in which Noel hails from. The graphics style appears different as a nice yet melancholic track is integrated with the empty and desolate world. And then you have the city of Academia, which portrays a believable and fascinating futuristic city, both in it’s darkest hour and in it’s glory. Similarly, the level designs through-out the game are well thought out and implemented. The only real disappointment is that – while there are many due to the different time zones – ultimately there exists only nine different maps. The maps themselves are a mix of slightly linear and expansive layouts. The whole nature of the game, hopping freely between different times no matter what occurs, is far less restricting than the previous game. Players can explore. There are hidden items and monsters to find. There quests dotted around the multiple maps and times. Certainly, the player can’t really complain about linearity in this title. No, instead the player could possibly complain about the quests.

Quests can be repetitive, usually amounting to fetch quests or hunting a mini-boss. This isn’t too much of an issue thanks to being able to do them at any time, but it did at one point or another become tedious. If the player leaves the quests until after they beat the game, or focuses on all available quests before continuing the story, I can see this becoming quite a boring task.

As for the characters, Serah and Noel have far more personality than the previous cast. Both protagonists have multiple layers; although Noel makes for a more interesting character. In general, the cast is far more likeable than before. Unfortunately, it feels like some of the previous protagonists have digressed in their character development from the previous outing – as shallow as the developments were. Similarly, much as there are holes in some of the previous characters, there also exists a number of plot holes in the game. I suspect this is a result of early planning of DLC. Perhaps as a result of the short one year development cycle? Or maybe they’re holding out for explanations in succeeding titles? Regardless of the case, these plot holes would have been relatively major if it weren’t for plot holes being a natural by-product of a time travel storyline. Sure enough, Square-Enix could have taken more care as to not fall into this trap.

Speaking of character development, the character progression mechanic is a far better attempt than FFXIII. The player purchases character upgrades in a network of nodes which appears similar to their weapon type. Each node of this “constellation” can be attributed to one of the six classes in the game. Every time a node is activated for a class, that class levels up and the character may obtain a new ability should they be at a specific level. They will also increase their strength, magic and/or health. Should the node be a large one, a bonus is also applied based on the class (for example, Commando gives a Strength bonus). This actually adds a nice level of control and customisation to character progression, as well as allowing the player to exert a bit of strategy into what they focus their points on. Players may also capture and raise monsters for battle in a similar fashion.

Much like any of the other numbered Final Fantasy titles, FFXIII-2 is menu driven in it’s combat. Players chain together different abilities based upon their currently selected class in an effort to “stagger” the enemy. When an enemy is staggered, they are left pretty defenceless and take a ton of extra damage. Whilst there are many different tactics that could be employed with the Paradigm Shift mechanic – in which players can fluently swap between each class which has a specific function in battle (Medic to heal, Synergist to enhance the player character attributes) – the combat focuses heavily on staggering enemies. This is an inherited issue from FFXIII. Fortunately, Square-Enix let up a bit on the focus. The result of this is that enemies no longer have ridiculous levels of health. Instead, enemies are far more balanced and are genuinely sometimes a challenge, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of thoughtless battles I participated in FFXIII.

A battle in Final Fantasy XIII-2 as the party fight a Ghast and try to stagger them.
The party – a monster included – fight a mini-boss as they build up his
stagger gauge.

Previously, I had an issue with the battle system being so overly simplified that there was little need to use anything more than auto-battle. In fact, in some battles when haste was used, it was actually often required. Of course, you could get away without using it, but that only costs you time – and time is important in this particular battle system. FFXIII-2 seems to somewhat resolve this by refining the classes more than the previous title. In all honesty, it feels like I’m selecting my ability when I shift classes, rather than when I’m actually in the class, but that works far better in this game. I’ve noticed some classes actually removed some abilities. In particular, I’ve noticed haste is no longer an ability the two protagonists can use.

I found myself using Paradigm Shift far more frequently than I did in Final Fantasy XIII, so it’s fairly evident there’s more challenge. It also means that the battles were that little bit more interactive. To ensure user interactivity, though, Square-Enix through in Quick-Time Event segments during battle. They’re unnecessary, but they can be fun to watch. Nevertheless, as a player I couldn’t help but feel that they were shallow game elements in a check list that were thrown into the game just to say, “yes, the game is more interactive now” – much like the quests themselves. There doesn’t appear to be any more thought than that reason for the QTEs, as they have little impact on the gameplay.

Much like FFXIII, the game is absolutely gorgeous. The scenery is amazing, and the FMV sequences are breathtaking. Likewise, the soundtrack complements the visuals incredibly well, although I have a few nitpicks with specific song choices here and there. Furthermore, voice acting is handled and directed very well with the title.

Personally, I found the game addictive and incredibly fun. It’s simplicity makes for an enjoyable adventure, and the plot is intriguing. Many would consider Final Fantasy XIII-2 to be a relatively “casual” game. In fact, I reckon this is one of the most prominent complaints that Final Fantasy XIII had. However, while I agree that the game isn’t very “hardcore”, I stand firm that this is a good thing. It’s nice to have a breathe of fresh air, and it’s also nice to relax.

Video games are entertainment. They’re meant to be fun first and fore-most, and Final Fantasy XIII-2 delivered. Unfortunately, the plot holes ruin what could have been an excellent story. The battles, while fun and engaging in their simplicity, strip away so much user choice that you’re simply left with “will I attack, will I build up stagger, or will I heal?” Quests are repetitive and, if not tackled correctly by the player, can be quite boring. There are times in the game where I even recall that the game had a one year development cycle, in which the impact becomes apparent.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is far from a perfect game. But, for what it’s worth, I found myself surprisingly hooked to the game. It has potential to be more, but amounts to nothing more than a game designed by a check list to resolve the previous game’s problems. Would I look forward to Final Fantasy XIII-3? I certainly would, if they announce it. This title restored my faith in Square-Enix’ Final Fantasy franchise, which FFXIII recently destroyed. Furthermore, nowadays, the game can be found at a heavily discounted price. If you’ve been a fan of any of the older games, or you’re looking for something casual to grind through, I do suggest that you give Final Fantasy XIII-2 a chance. You might, possibly, be surprised.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 scores a 7/10. It was completed on the highest difficulty (normal) and the author achieved 100% completion in the game. The title was played in its vanilla version, therefore it did not contain any of the downloadable content available on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live.

This review is entirely subjective and should not be considered fact. This review is the author’s opinion and nothing more. Feel free to discuss the review in the comments below, but try to keep it civil. You are also entitled to an opinion that differs from the author, and don’t forget it!

NeverFun: NeverDead Review

Neverdead neverfun

The first time that I learned of NeverDead, it was when I was watching the Pre-E3 Konami Conference last year. It came out of nowhere and looked pretty damn fun. We had an immortal who couldn’t die, clearly designed to have a badass attitude, and an over-the-top action game with Megadeth playing the theme music. Yeah, that was pretty sweet.

Jump to the launch of the title, and bad reviews flood the internet. I didn’t really read them, but the reception to the game was clear. Still, I stubbornly decided to give it a chance. This was meant to be a first impressions post, to be followed by a review later on during the week. However, I ended up finishing the game before I could write my impressions. Welcome to my review of NeverDead.
Publisher: Konami 
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Release Date: 3rd February 2012
Platform: PlayStation 3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
Rating: PEGI: 18, BBFC: 15
Bryce Boltzmann is an immortal, cursed by the demon king Astaroth after the demon murdered his wife. Five hundred years after the incident, Bryce now works for an organisation hunting demons with partner Arcadia. The game’s plot is fairly simple and predictable. There was not a single unforeseeable twist. This wasn’t because of any form of overshadowing or anything of the sort. No, to the contrary, the game completely lacked  any actual development. Plot twists were literally pulled out of the developer’s ass, and Bryce’s character warmed up out of nowhere. The character begins cynical and lacked compassion, and yet two cutscenes later he was a warm and compassionate character, who cared even for strangers. 
The underlying plot and characters could indeed be interesting, and in fact I found myself warming up to Bryce as a character, but they were executed poorly. It feels like the story was implemented using concepts, rather than being fleshed out in later design iterations, and that is a shame. As a whole, the story is generally warm hearted and tries to be fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously either. Falling off a building, being smashed into pieces and your head rolling over to the woman to ask if she’s okay? That’s great. Bryce becomes a character whom I feel compelled to like, but unfortunately I can’t call him a good character. The other characters? I needn’t comment, because they’re more or less background noise. 
I’m not going to lie though. Despite Bryce being of particular focus as a character, the story as a whole isn’t really the point in this title. NeverDead’s real significance lies in the immortality as a game mechanic. Unfortunately, it’s this feature which also most prominently lets the game down. 
NeverDead gameplay

As you fight waves upon seemingly endless waves, Bryce can gradually lose limbs during the onslaughts. Players can lose arms and legs, leaving the protagonist hopping around swinging his sword wildly with one arm. This feature has some very high moments, such as when fighting the third boss. During this battle, the player must throw his arm into the mouth of a giant bee(?) demon, for it to be devoured. Even though the arm has been dismembered, the player still has control over it. Here, the player shoots while his arm is inside the monster’s stomach, allowing him to reveal the weak point to shoot at with his remaining, attached, arm. I like this use of the mechanic, even if it isn’t exactly obvious and the game needs to inform the player. Unfortunately, this example is the only true moment where the mechanic shines. 

It’s safe to assume that the inability to die leads to the game becoming significantly less challenging. This is completely true to an extent. While the game rarely challenged my skill, it still challenged my patience. Fairly frequently, a monster would manage to strike Bryce leading to his head to come flying off. The player needs to roll around, avoiding the demons that vacuum your head into their stomach (leading to a game over) and try to attach himself to the body. It only ever takes one hit before you’re left searching for your body. This feature just interferes with gameplay and completely breaks up the flow of the action. It’s frustrating and it’s just tedious. Actually, tedious is an apt description for the entire game, let alone this mechanic.
NeverDead is just incredibly monotonous. Between the lack lustre music (with the exception of Megadeth’s NeverDead track which plays a whole one time during the game) and the incredibly underwhelming variety of enemies, the game just gets repetitive far too quickly. The chapters appear to drag on, and even the battles actually last longer than they should. Whenever the player appears to defeat every enemy in the area, more waves continue to spawn – and the player can’t progress without clearing that area.
Easily the best feature of the game, NeverDead does feature the best destructible environment I have ever seen in a game. Almost everything can be destroyed, and there’s a chain reaction if played right. It’s so seamlessly integrated that I never actually noticed it – despite using it to my advantage on many occasions. 
So, the game doesn’t exactly ooze style in its gameplay, being as dull as it is. Does it’s graphic style save it? No, it doesn’t, but it certainly helps it be less boring at times. The game is graphically distinctive, albeit on a subtle level. But that’s actually pretty good. 
NeverDead has the occasional redeeming quality, but it just feels like a game that went straight to the implementation stage from the very early concepts. Nothing seems fleshed out, despite some very well polished mechanics such as the destructible environments. 
For what it’s worth, NeverDead is a title that seems to have heart, but fails to deliver anything substantial or truly fun. The development team got excited by the concept and went straight into making it. What could easily have been a neat little title has, consequently, become a rather forgettable title. Unlike Bryce, the title isn’t immortal by a long shot and will probably not survive through time. I can’t say I disliked the game, despite finding it ridiculously tedious as I trudged through it; I actually liked the game. I just probably won’t remember it this time next year.
(This is not fact by a long shot. The entire review is strictly the opinion of myself. And for those who really require a score, NeverDead scores 4/10. Whilst the game could have features that make it unique, these are poorly executed. Overall, the game can’t even be considered mediocre.)