Category Archives: Games Reviews

5 Delightfully Obscure Easter Eggs You Missed In Portal 2

Valve’s 2007 first person puzzle game Portal was a surprise hit for everyone. The game acted and felt like a first person shooter but you just didn’t go around killing anyone. Instead you solved puzzles based on some simple – and some not so simple – physics problems. Introducing us to GLaDOS – one of the most maniacal robots in Science Fiction since the IG 88 assassin droid – and Chell, a “silent partner” whom the player took control of and completed a series of puzzles without any real indication as to how or why, Portal was a revolution in gaming.

Portal 2 exposed Portal as the prototype it was always meant to be, however, introducing new characters and completely expanding, redesigning and reintroducing us to the story. Despite being set thousands of years after the first game it might as well have been the next day for character Chell, as she made her way through the very history of Aperture Science and you were given a history lesson nobody was likely to forget. But just what did we learn throughout the game’s mysterious second act?

As Chell advances deeper through the history of the company – from the profitable 50’s to the bankrupt 80’s – there’s hardly any time travel at all. Instead we’re given clues and hints to the past and forced – mostly due to the silence of our character – to figure a lot out for ourselves and consistently break down that fourth wall. This is just one of the most enjoyable reasons that you should play this game because Valve have created a way to keep you thinking about this game hours after you’ve completed playing it.

You’ll go back and attempt missions just to check hidden corners and cracks for that secret plaque – not because you have too – but because you’ll want too. Of course you’re also welcome to review this list and have a tiny bit of help getting you started in the right direction. Naturally, there will be spoilers!

5. One of the most entertaining parts of Portal 2 is undoubtedly the voice of ‘Cave Johnson’ (played by the legendary J.K. Simmons) as he directs you through the ruins of Aperture Science’s testing areas. Although you neither travel through space or time there’s an adventure through three decades of Aperture history as Johnson’s narration gives a lot of the insight into the particular companies history during these periods and pieces together a lot of cryptic answers to questions that allow the gamer to ‘break the fourth wall’ and better understand why certain things are in certain places.

When you first encounter GLaDOS (short for Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) she isn’t happy – probably because your character is responsible for her death in the first Portal game – or probably because you are then responsible for her disconnection and resurrection as a potato-battery. In chapter 7, hidden between the first and second orange gel test spheres, is an office with a portrait hanging on the wall. Its a portrait of Johnson, and we’ve seen lots of photos of the man but this is the only one in which he’s joined by his assistant Caroline.

Upon encountering this photo GLaDOS exclaims that these people look so familiar and if you’ve managed to put the pieces together by this point you notice you’re looking at something far more significant, GLaDOS as a human, before she was uploaded into a robot. There are a lot of theories pointing to Chell’s parents being Cave and Caroline and this portrait is a solid piece of photographic evidence showing a distinctive likeness between the trio.

4. Did anyone else think it was just slightly odd that there was a ‘Bring Your Daughter to Work Day’ included in Portal 2? The remnants of this rather bizarre event include what appears to be a Science fair featuring a number of alternative ways to harness power. As we progress through the room we’re shocked at the discovery of a potato which has seemingly been allowed to grow over the millions of years since it was first placed there and subsequently has large roots going into the ceiling. But if you take a look at the board next to this item you’ll see something quite shocking right in the corner. The project appears to have been designed by a girl named Chell.

Consider for a moment that this project is indeed the work of a young Chell. It meets with the requirements that her parents worked for Aperture (as hinted by GLaDOS) and is even more shocking when you think that their names apparently also began with the letter “C” – I’m not going to put this all together for you but if you’ve even been paying the slightest attention to what I’ve been writing then you should see the significance straight away. What’s even more unusual is that this suggests Chell is responsible for the design which essentially saves GLaDOS programme from deletion for a large portion of the game. It’s all a bit creepy isn’t it?

3. Valve created Half Life and later created Portal 2. In a statement early on the developers made clear that Portal 2 would definitely have some reference and insider knowledge for fans of Half Life. And they didn’t disappoint. Aperture Science proudly displays that on three occasions (in 1949, 1952 and 1954) they received the runner up award in a contractor of the year competition.

When we first encounter the earliest examples of Aperture they’re talking about the invitations extended to Scientist’s and Astronaut’s who have come to test with the program. In the next area Aperture has aged about 15 years, with Johnson mentioning they may be known to the homeless people who have volunteered to test because of the 1968 senate hearings into missing astronauts, hinting at the fact that this is part of the reason the company has run into difficulty. There’s also a photo of Johnson, looking significantly older than in his photo with Caroline, hanging in the lobby of the foyer in this area. Whats perhaps more significant is that while observing this Johnson makes a direct reference to ‘Black Mesa’ saying they can “kiss my bankrupt…” before being cut off by his assistant, Caroline. He alludes that his disgust is due to companies who have managed to steal ideas that he created. Black Mesa using Aperture technology? You never know…

2. Despite being an all powerful super computer GLaDOS obviously weakness appears to be Ornithophobia. There are many unanswered questions about the appearance of this solitary bird in Portal 2 such as how it got that deep into Aperture labs, how it survived, whether this proves the existence of intelligent life above ground and why the only living creature (asides from Chell) to be featured in Portal 2 is this solitary bird. At one point in the game it appears that the bird is looking over a nest although whether he – or she – is protecting eggs was left completely unexplained until the DLC at which point GLaDOS interacts with some baby birds in Art Therapy.

This in itself poses a more fundamentally important question as to where the birds’ mate is? The Caroline portrait and the possibilities of it’s meaning come back to us at this point. It also leads to a different theory which is perhaps even more fascinating: the many, many connections between Portal 2 and the Greek legend of Prometheus, who was “punished by the gods for giving the gift of knowledge to man…cast to the bowels of the earth and pecked by birds.” Many cultures have different superstitions regarding birds in the house. In traditional Irish culture, for example, if a bird flew into the house, it was a portent of death. Interesting that GLaDOS is being pecked by birds as Chell awakes from her fall into the bowels of Aperture science. Maybe you’re both already dead by this point? In fact, perhaps the whole game is a mythology based around death, which just sees Chell on a journey to the afterlife.

1. This reference takes the top spot on this list because of it’s ability to cross the boundaries between games and reality. Anybody whose ever picked up a personal turret from the likes of Forbidden Planet (or any other good alternative retailer) can attest to that. In the game you see turret’s being assembled and packed for shipment which almost seems pointless given the collapse of civilization (or so you’d assume) in the years previous. You might even wonder where the finished turrets actually go and if there are nothing but warehouses and warehouses of finished and packed turret’s ready to be shipped?

You see the turret box at various points throughout the game, but the side of the packaging with the most surprising information is only visible in the room where Wheatley tries to kill you with a circle of faulty turrets. According to this illustration sentry turrets were designed – or at least marketed – with the intention of nursery protectors. That might explain their soft voices and gentle tones. I also want to give full credit to the makers of the official ‘Turret Sentry’ action figure which features the same – identical – artwork upon it’s side. Full credit for detail. Personally I’m only disappointed you can’t get a real life sized turret to guard your nursery.

Life sized turrets have been made by fans and are available through certain custom outlets, but without those soft tones and the ability to attack intruders its just not the same.

Handball 16 (PS Vita)

Handball is a team sport consisting of teams of seven players. The rules for the game were first drawn up, officially, in Germany in 1917 so its no surprise that physical copies of PSVita’s ‘Handball 16’ were available over the counter in Europe far more readily than they were in the United Kingdom.

In fact, I’d be surprised if you were ever likely to find a copy of this game in your local CEX or Grainger Games, as it has fast become one of the rarer titles available on the format. Somewhat of a holy grail for UK and US collectors in its physical format, there have been times when I’ve seen this game command upwards of one hundred pound on online auction sites.  The game has two cover variations, one with three players (which seems to have been released in France) and one with a single player (released in Germany) both of which command different levels of attention and spending.

I myself spotted the game only once, in a French game store in Marmande, there was only a single copy left and I was on vacation – so elected to save my Euro’s. It would be a full year before I’d actually manage to get a copy of the title at a reasonable price. 

Developed by EKO Software and published through Big Ben Interactive (both French companies) the game features three European leagues and 68 professional Handball teams.  If you’re a fan of the sport, there is a lot to choose from, with the likelihood that your knowledge would extend far beyond mine and you’ll have the same appreciation I do for the little touches of including teams the equivalent of Shamrock Rovers in EA Sports FIFA 17.

There’s not a massive variety in game-play options, with online play possible (though highly unlikely) and the choice of a local match against the computer and a career. To be fair, this isn’t WWE 2K16, it’s a sport with far less commercial interest and beyond the inclusion of Lidl sponsoring the court you’re unlikely to see product placement, gimmicks and flashing lights. Commentary is included, even in English, but falls far short of the professional commentary we’ve come to expect in similar titles; both commentators have less than 10 generic phrases and after about three matches you’ll probably have heard the full range. Yet, I’m happier its included than not, since playing the game in silence would be somewhat painstaking.

Graphically, there’s not much to write home about either, though teams have their full livery and courts look splendid the pixel ridden engine makes me feel like I’m playing PS2 graphics from my VITA screen. And given games like Rayman Legends and Need for Speed have shown just how lovely the console can look, this is unforgivable. I’ve played this title on PS3 and PS4 (through PSN store) and can attest there’s no improvement of comparable quality in either. The back of the VITA box gives an indication of slick PS4 type graphics therein and you’ll be sorely disappointed if you judge a book by its cover.

While admittedly there is a certain amount of bitterness due to my inability to win a single game, the title does lack in some basic areas, given its unique premise and the ability to draw new fans into what could be a compelling and fast paced sport. The career mode, where you can “create a player” and then engage in his journey through the ranks is to be commended, there’s a good choice for the character and I was intrigued to pick up and play the game every now and again to try and win my next match.  It’s an addition which fleshes out the title and brings you back for more, customized options remove some of the more bizarre handball rules (such as, what I assume, is their version of an NBA back court violation) and ultimately make things a lot more friendly for new players.

If you’re a handball fan, you’re going to buy this game because it offers a virtual window into a sport you love, and if you’re a VITA fan you’ll most likely buy this game so that you can add it to your physical collection. Anyone else would be encouraged to buy it for something different on the platform though you should all be encouraged not to pay more than twenty or thirty pound.

Jurassic Park The Game (PC, Telltale Games)

Telltale Games have really been having some fun lately. Not content with bringing us the re-imaging of perhaps their greatest ever creation, in Tales from Monkey Island some years back, they’ve also been busy at work bringing our Movie and TV idols to life – with titles such as Back to the Future, Law and Order, Wallace and Gromit and even The Walking Dead. But they’ve also turned their attention to another, perhaps criminally overlooked franchise, which hasn’t had a decent video game in at least…well, ever! I’m talking, of course, about Jurassic Park.

When a Telltale Developer was talking about BTTF, he mentioned that a lot of those working on it considered it ‘their Star Wars’ and I could see what they meant, but in the same way I’d consider Jurassic Park to be my Star Wars! Because, despite being 9 years of age, I can still remember with clarity where I was and what I was doing (and even what day of the week it was) when I first saw Jurassic Park in 1993. Thus, in preparation for reviewing this game, I didn’t need much convincing to re-watch the original movie (and that wasn’t to jog my memory, as I’d seen it’s return to cinema just a few months back for the Digital Remaster). I’ve even read the original novel a few times in the past decade, so I know all about the alternative storyline and uses for the different characters, and how the film drastically altered that.

It’s at this point I should talk about the game, and introduce Gerry Harding, the Chief Veterinarian of Jurassic Park who serves as one of the games main characters. A little fun fact here, Gerry had a much bigger part in the novel then he did in the film, in the latter he only appeared on screen for a brief scene and was played by Jurassic Park’s producer Gerard Molen. Harding’s hard at work struggling between this and the visit of his estranged daughter Sara. After a mysterious prologue (spoiler alert) we’re then introduced to the main catalyst for the story, and finally discover what happened to the Embryo’s that Dennis Nedry was attempting to steal in the first film. The plots move quick and fast over four Episodic features and you’re tossed from conspiracy to confusion in an attempt to save yourself from an island overrun with Dinosaurs. The plot works so fast, at times, that you might find characters disappear off screen with little to no explanation as to why – and you’re left wondering if it wouldn’t have been a little better if they’d survived and the scriptwriter wasn’t so trigger happy (or should that be Dino happy).

Graphically, this game looks incredible, and the attention to detail (and fan service) meant my Flash Drive has never worked harder bringing it all to life. I can only speculate, but I imagine the developers must have really looked closely at those little extras in the film (the East Dock road sign, the colour of the InGen jacket, the DNA cartoon from the Tour film) in order to faithfully recreate them all here. Dialogue and voice acting is very smooth, with the characters gelling well and arguing where appropriate, and those doing the English voice work sounding as powerful and charismatic in the role as you’d expect. Dinosaurs like Raptors and T Rex are created beautifully – my personal favourite being the Dilophosauras – as we’re also introduced to a brand new Dinosaur. But that would be telling. Suffice to say, they play a big part in the plot, and you’d be wise to pay attention.

The game is split into four Episodes, each of which bring you about an hour of game-play, with the whole thing taking me less than five hours to play on my first run through. Looking at previous Telltale efforts it’s incredibly short, but there’s so much action going on, it’s an absorbing experience. Then you’ve also got a new feature, which means you could die at certain points in the game, unless actions are performed fast enough or accurately enough (or sometimes both) to get you through. In these cases you’re awarded a specific rank or medal after the task has been completed, and if you’ve not managed to get Gold, you have the option to replay the specific scenarios at a later stage. Some scenarios are harder, faster, longer, shorter and more puzzling then others – and there doesn’t seem to be any difficulty rate or progression as you move through the game – with everything at the same level for the casual gamer. Some puzzles in Episode 4, for example, will be easier then those in Episode 1.

Control wise I wouldn’t recommend a Gamepad for the PC version of this title, mainly because you won’t need it, and you certainly shouldn’t seek one out purposely to play it. Mouse controls do a perfect job, using just a few buttons, helping you navigate with ease. There are no options to turn difficulty up or down, but if you are struggling at certain points, the game will (after a few chances) lower the difficulty for you significantly. With that being said, the ending of the game doesn’t bring any great reward, there’s no ranking system – alternative ending for doing better or worse or making a different decision – and while it’s easy to draw comparisons between this game and Heavy Rain for PS3 I think this game has even less interactivity. When you want to move your character to a different viewpoint, for example, you have to actually change the camera angle and the AI moves him for you. Your not going to find a scene where, should you replay the game a second time, something different happens – and if you do the right thing in the right situation on the first run through it can cut out a lot of dialogue that you might want to hear.

Given that in Telltales previous movie tie in, Back to the Future, you could easily control either Marty or Doc depending on where you went and what you did I find this a personally bizarre way to control the character. Having also experienced the console version of this title I know it’s not just a framerate or PC exclusive issue and I’m baffled as to why the game seems to lack such basic character control.

In short, Telltale Games have developed a rather great “Director’s Cut” to the original Jurassic Park film, and although there are a lot of elements of puzzle solving, map quest, action and reaction there just isn’t enough here to justify it being called a game. This title is more like an interactive movie, with gamers doing very little to impact the storyline of the characters their controlling, and with just too short of a game to justify this full price release. I would implore Telltale to also consider releasing another title, in the form of an extra Chapter or a “Director’s Cut” for this game itself where they considering putting some more content in and bulking up the length of the story. That being said, for fans of CSI and Law and Order type point and click adventures, this is a game you’ll want to get a hold of.

Summary:

Pros: For Jurassic Park fans this game is a must, as it’s story alone fills in some gaps from the franchise, and lets you once again revisit the scene of the first film. Graphically this looks and runs amazingly. A good game for those who love CSI point and click adventures.

Cons: Criminally short and extremely non-interactive – with little incitement to replay once you’ve completed it the first time. Given the hype of this title and the success of their previous franchise this is, sadly, a let down. Content needs to be bulked up while the story could have been just a little bit longer.

 

The Last Story (Wii)

In an episode of Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper recounts to a policeman the series of games that had been robbed from his apartment, making special mention of Final Fantasy 1 through 9 (and nothing after). I can personally relate, since the original Final Fantasy is my favourite game of all time, and Final Fantasy 7 was arguably the most pivotal game I’ve ever played (sorry Scott). Once Final Fantasy 9 had drawn it’s credits to a close I doubted they would ever repeat past glories. I mention this because when the man who created Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi, and it’s iconic orchestral scores, Nobuo Uematsu, reunited for an original title on Wii I knew it was going to be something special – The Last Story is just that!

The game begins on the seemingly innocent setting of Lazulis Island, shortly after a period of Civil War, that has seen their Empire on unsteady ground. Enter a group of Mercenaries hired at the bequest of Count Arganan (the ruler of the region) to clean up some monsters in the area. Jumping right into the action it’s here we begin our quest, as you control Zeal (Elza in the Japanese version), one of the Mercenaries in this rag tag collection of friends. They hope that their unique service to the Court will eventually make them Knights and they plan on gaining honour, prestige, treasure and alcohol along the way. The characters are all as unique as you’d expect, and although you only play the majority of the game as Zeal, you will come to know each of them in their own special way. Whether or not the title refers to a hidden text that Sakaguchi had submitted, or had rejected, for a previous Final Fantasy remains the subject of conjecture – either way – this is a powerful and emotive script. Without taking too much from the major plot points, this story isn’t the most original thing you’ll see, doubtless this matters however, as it’s still a compelling and intimate adventure. No far reaching wilderness or majestic roaming of the Globe contained herein.

Those familiar with Final Fantasy will really enjoy the mechanics of combat in this game. There’s a little magic but you don’t need to worry about equipping the latest Materia to everyone and it’s generally easy to understand. For more novice players there’s a handy auto equip function that allows you to suit everyone up with the best you’ve got in your kit at the time – kind of like a Football Manager AI picking the best players for the team – and this is a really nice touch. It could be most likened to combat in FF7 Crisis Core, which is free flowing, and which gamers simply engage in battle in real time and then a small levelling up ceremony neuterers the end of that particular session.

Because this is a Wii title, and not something overly common on the format, you’ll also find battling is pretty easy – series bosses will have particular quirks to help you beat them – and generally you’ll find yourself progressing throughout the story without a major problem. Some of the harder bosses are contained in Optional Missions, that can extend the main storyline for a few hours at least, and don’t really give you anything of consequence you can’t already purchase in the market. That being said, you really should level up as much as you can, and take every available opportunity to grow in stature, equip more powerful weapons and take advantage of upgrades. This is because, after all, this is a Final Fantasy title (albeit unofficially) and staying one step ahead of the game is what battle mechanics are all about. While playing this game I used a Walkthrough Guide, unofficial mind, from a Japanese player who’d translated the guide into English. At some points I noticed that certain obstacles just didn’t exist and there have been theories online that the game has removed a few of the harder enemies (although nothing you’ll miss) to make the game more PAL friendly.

Graphically, and keeping in mind that this game only runs on a 60Hz television, this is the finest looking game I’ve ever seen on Wii. You’ll have a few frame rate issues through the faster paced scenes but it’s nothing that should dissuade you from the fact this is a clean, crisp and well rounded looking game, with everything from the deck of a ship to Market Stalls being recreated with fantastic and vivid imagination. As Zeal runs through town for example, bustling over the bridges and crawling through back alleys, you’ll really soak up the atmosphere of this game in more ways then you can imagine. And, to add to that, Uematsu has once again created an iconic score on par with the his best work of Final Fantasy, Crisis Core and Lord of Arcana. It’s deep, it’s rich, it’s powerful and adds to the game on a whole new level – especially during the meteor shower scenes which are reminiscent of Cloud and Tifa’s meeting in Niblehiem all those years ago at the beginning of FF7 (again, Scott, I’m sorry). Another connection to FF7 means the games length takes on a life of its own, and at the point where most titles are ending this one just keeps going – the single player alone clocks up near 20+ hours even for the most experienced of players.
As you progress throughout this game you’ll encounter a number of different regions and area’s throughout which to traverse. These include the decks of ships, underground passageways, cobbled streets, a Castle Courtyard and a lavish Ballroom. All of them allow you to play a different type of game, with underground passages providing little light, and the cobbled streets being overrun with people. It’s a great touch that really makes for expansive and long lasting play – just because you’re good in one area doesn’t mean you’ll be good in another (or even traverse it with such ease) – and the cut scenes provide for an engaging storyline that allows you to soak up the dialogue with pleasure. The voice acting can, at times, seem a little wooden – although the more powerful characters really bring their roles to life.

While this game has a lot of replay value, you do also get Multiplayer, which adds to proceedings a life of it’s own and becomes a game within itself. Thankfully, there are still a good amount of people left online playing this game, as you participate in team battles in either “Deathmatch” or “Co Op” environments and fight amongst a collection of arena’s which – although smaller, then say, Transformers Cybertron Multiplayer, do provide some good ground for beating the unholy hell out of your buddies. Another good reason for MP is the ability to play as characters from the game, and not just the original collection of Mercenaries, as you get to choose from a healthy collection of Major and Minor characters that appear throughout the story. Its not a Deathmatch MP party unless you’re playing as General Astar!

If there’s one particular flaw with The Last Story, and it’s hard to find, then it perhaps lies with its familiarity that we’ve already mentioned. At certain points throughout the plot (like when one character discovers the secrets of his dead father) you have a certain sense of deja vu from previous titles of a similar nature. That’s not necessarily a setback, but you do have to wonder just how original this title can be, given the rich tapestry and history of its principal creator and director. I speak from the point of view of an advanced gamer with a lengthy experience, but if you’re anywhere near new to the idea of playing JRPG’s (Japanese Role Play Games) then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about, or if familiarity is something you want to experience then all should be good. That being said, what idea doesn’t rip off another idea in the process, and can a game truly be as unique as it might have been a decade ago. More powerful gameplay mechanics have demanded that games are a lot more than just blocks falling at random intervals – and gamers are starting to demand more (especially in the wake of FF7 & FF8) – if a game says its RPG, then prove it.

In summary, I find a game like this a lot more accessible then the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles or (what I’ve seen) of the upcoming Pandora’s Tower. Of the three, and none of them are connected, it’s seems the most intimate and interactive that a JRPG can be – and even though it sticks to the usual unfrequented love and depressing misery – it takes a lot of humour and change from the criticisms that were launched at Xenoblade. For one, there’s a lot more Welsh and Irish voice actors, and the cast seems to have been plucked from all over the United Kingdom as opposed to just London. It’s also a shame that a game like this has come at the end of the Wii’s lifespan (although with consoles retailing second hand in the UK currently at £40 you can’t be beaten) because you could have so much more to build on if the Wii wasn’t departing for Retro pastures. This is a really great game and more people need to play it. Now.

Final Fantasy 7 (PS1)

First, some facts; FF7 was produced using over 120 artists and designers. It was the most expensive game of it’s time, undertaken by a company who only a decade before had just escaped bankruptcy, and which now controlled a budget (for this game alone) of $45 million. Because of the graphics being used in this game at the time and the programmes, such as Power Animator and Soft Image 3D, this went far beyond what the seasoned animators at Square had been exposed to before. They themselves were in awe at what was being created. They were coding a classic and they knew it. Plus, on top of all this, Sony levelled a $100 million advertising campaign (yes, you read that right) in order to create hype and anticipation about the title. In 1998 Eidos paid a cool $1 million just for the rights to port the game onto PC. On a new console, with graphics that had never been seen before, and giving long time fans an unfamiliar concept to what they were used too – Square found themselves in familiar waters – FF7 would either propel the company to success or would spell Square’s ultimate end. If the entrance scene of the game is any indicator on success, then I’d say Square nailed it, gaming history was about to be made.

There’s been an awful lot said about this title in the past decade. So much so, in fact, there are websites and blogs dedicated to pages and pages of random comments and theories, designs and ideas, about this game. A lot of people are wholly convinced they know more about FF7 then those who developed it. Before this game came along, I was a different person, since all gaming ever represented to me was getting from level to level, powering up, and finishing the quest. Capcom’s Resident Evil the year previous had shown me what it was like to think about a game’s story, but between solving puzzles and being scared fruitless by zombies, I wasn’t eager to play as much of it as I would. When I look back at my time spent with Final Fantasy 7 however, the original time spent on my PSX in 1997, it’s hard to imagine that I’m the same gamer or even person I was then – so influential and impacting is this software’s effect on me.

Now, given the amount of rubbish that exists online about this game, that’s a bold statement to make. But you need to remember that when Final Fantasy 7 first hit Europe it was far beyond anything that Square had done before. For a start, it was on PlayStation (having already had too much power for both SNES and N64), importantly moving away from both Nintendo (a relationship that would remain fractured for years as a result) and the cartridge. That might not seem like a lot, but given Square wanted VII to be the game where they moved into 3D, having it on the processor speed of a PSOne made that dream come true. If it had been possible to put this game over several cartridges then Nintendo would now be the world’s leading games entertainer. That’s a fact.

In actuality, the game was released on three discs, which made it more economically cost effective to produce, sold more copies and allowed Square to think about marketing Final Fantasy to the European Market. Final Fantasy might be a household name now, but in 1997 and prior to FF7, only one or two Final Fantasy titles had made it as far as Europe – and they were both imports – with FF4 released to the North American market as FF2. There’s a lot of reasons for this but the main one could be that the complexities of some FF titles didn’t appeal to the gaming public en mass until FF7 broke that mould and made it more acceptable for gamers to enjoy harder, longer and more challenging titles. So if gamers had heard of this “Final Fantasy” they certainly wondered why it was on it’s 7th instalment and what the hell it was all about. Little knowing that no Final Fantasy is interconnected in any way, aside from some creepy fan-boy rubbish, or some demented Japanese Easter Eggs.

In the same way of “dumbing down” the story by changing pivotal game play to suit more casual gamers, FF7 also greatly reduced the complexity of the fighting systems from previous titles, allowing players to only equip one item and one piece of armour per character. Also, the Materia (or Spirit Magic) system is – quite frankly – genius, and allows you to pick and choose what attacks to best use with what character. For example, should Aerith be the group healer, should Cid hold the power of Thunder, and so forth. It’s a basic concept that applied to all kinds of online role playing games these days as well, such as World of Warcraft and Warhammer, and while I won’t be so bold to say that FF7 inspired all these games how to fight I will say that the fighting system in FF7 made it a lot easier for newer gamers to grasp the complexities of previous Final Fantasy titles, whether they’d played them or not.

To look at the complex story, let’s start at the start, in the City of Midgar. This is the fictional city in which our story begins and in which you’re introduced to the character you’re going to spend at least a few months playing as, Cloud Strife, a former member of the organisation Shinra whose about to turn whistle-blower (in a manner of speaking) and assist in the destruction of one of their nuclear reactors (he might have just sent a letter but the Buster Sword tells us he means business). Cloud’s joined Avalanche, a group of mercenaries set on protecting the planet, and led by the one “gun-armed” Barrett. As much as Cloud insists he’s just there for the money you can see there’s more too it then that, thrown into a world of adventure we cared little about before it began, but which we will never forget nor want to leave again. Just as the characters grow, you’ll grow too, taking on a number of new members to your group (as well as loosing a few) and then leaving the City for the Countryside, Countryside to Harbour, Harbour to Boat, Boat to New Continent – and before you know it you’re traversing the Globe and saving the entire Planet. Of course where most games will have ended by the time you reach the Midgar climax (Shinra’s President dead, the company in shambles, an image torn down…) FF7 just keeps going, giving you probably the best value for your money of any game you will EVER play.

Characters are instantly recognizable, unique and loveable, with Tifa (Cloud’s best friend) and Aerith (a flower girl from the Slums and so much more) complementing the more hard fought like Barrett (the leader of Avalanche with a secret in his past), Red 13 (the last of his kind, wise and yet not infallible), Cid (an airship pilot who dreams of going to Space) and Yuffie (a young girl with the heart of a Ninja). There’s also the more stupid characters, like Cat Sith, who I’ve always retained a soft spot for even if he was a Shinra Spy. In fact, so compelling are some of the stories for FF7 (such as Red XIII discovering what really happened to his father) they’ve been copied, years later. Then there’s Sephiroth, a man who in reality should have an article just about himself, probably the most legendary bad guy in video game history. Even the mere mention of his name will make grown men cry, remembering the moment when he shoved a sword through a young girl’s heart, and ended a romance that could have blossomed throughout the ages. President Shinra, Reno, Hojo, Rufus, Hed’gar and Reeve are all very well and good…but it’s Sephiroth who becomes your main obsession – as Cloud struggles to remember why he faced the most legendary swordsman in history…and lived. The first few hours of game play are almost meaningless (I don’t really mean that though), only when you wake up with your cell door open and a trail of blood leading upstairs, do you fully understand just what you’re playing and where your going.

The music of this game (produced by Nobuo Uematsu) adds another depth and layer to the game all by itself. This magic is still being recreated today (check out my review in this issue for The Last Story) but in 1997 it was unheard of that a Final Fantasy game would have such a deep, rich, compelling and lengthy soundtrack (the official soundtrack from Japan is itself spread across three discs). Sony, being masters of audio, obviously made PlayStation the best sounding console they could as well as it graphically outdoing everything on the market. This sound was rarely utilised as much then by those brandishing Final Fantasy in their name. Tracks like ‘The Turks’ and ‘The Golden Saucer’ are perhaps as about iconic as they come and provide just as much of a nostalgic transportation back to your original playthrough and locations as playing the game does now.

The 3D effects aren’t the kind you’ll find on 3DS, but do get the job done, with excellent backdrops and beautiful layouts as you traverse across mountain ranges, deserts and city slums. Graphically, this wasn’t the best game for it’s time, but that doesn’t matter when you think about how deep and compelling the storyline is. Also, and unlike previous Final Fantasy titles, this game didn’t start in the deep end with little introduction. There’s a gradual (and completely UN-Japanese like) cooling off period as you come to learn and know your characters. Asian gamers might never have experienced this before (the original Final Fantasy has us first fight the main protagonist within 10 minutes or less of the game starting), but it was a stroke of genius on the part of Square, who couldn’t have foreseen how easily agreeable the plot was with Western gaming.

Even the game’s sequel (in number only), Final Fantasy 8 (reviewed in our last Game On Issue), had criticisms from people who said the story was too far detached from real world events and didn’t gently break the players in. These are people who just don’t get the Final Fantasy series, but unless every nerd bought 15 copies, FF7 couldn’t (and wouldn’t) have sold in the numbers it did without appealing to those who just weren’t RPG fans (for the record, as of May 2010, that number is 10 million copies). FF7 broke a lot of sacred code and convention when it came to JRPG games, but the gamble paid off, and a game spanning over three discs was the glorious result.

Of course, to play devils advocate, there are a lot of legitimate reasons why people would hate FF7 – not because of what it is – but what it did to gaming culture in general. Before 7, virtually nobody in Europe had ever heard the term, and few people in North America had legitimately purchased Final Fantasy. VII created a vacuum in time and space that needed to be filled with everything FF including remakes, spin offs, development titles and ports. In fact, since 1997, we’ve had 110 Final Fantasy games released across 15+ different platforms. And in this case, due to the phenomenal success of FF7, this is mostly all down to Cloud and his friends.

Plus, FF7 attracted a lot of fans, including the kind of cos play and Anime porn fans who felt it would be somehow interesting (and erotic) to dress as members of the game for conventions. The internet is littered with graphic artwork of the female characters of FF7 and rarely has a video game produced this kind of need. If the legacy of Final Fantasy 7 is bad movies, ports of games only four people in the world will ever want to play on their IOS (one of them works for Game On) and really bad porn then we’re in trouble. No, there are a lot of reasons to hate Final Fantasy 7, once you turn the game off and go out into the real world. That’s if you find the time after playing for months on end and trying to succeed in the ultimate quest.

This all sounds like a lot of gaming though, and it is, we know at least one reporter here who (with all the proper medicines and magic to make sure he wouldn’t be stuck too long) attempted to play a run through of the game in one sitting (extreme health warning) having traversed the land before. It took him just under 37 hours to do so. On top of that he ignored several “optional” quests and never spent any of the wasteful nights we spent in the late nineties betting on Chocobo Races. Actually, I should correct myself, I still do that now!

If you want to see what we nearly ended up with on NES, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hC-ervoOpAM and thank yourself very, very lucky. Although it still looks iconic there too.

The point to this waste of Ink is that it’s a very long game (and this has been a very long review), and you’ll really want to play it, with a few hours on the occasional evening you get to use the TV or PC (in-between Dancing On Ice and Coronation Street no doubt) meaning you might be finished by Christmas if you start right now. And, when you’re finished, you’ll feel sadness actually having to say goodbye to a collection of friends. Lets hope Square make good with their promises, hinted in 2010, of actually exploring a sequel.

In short, play it now, and find the Promised Land.