Category Archives: Games Reviews

Final Fantasy VII (PS1)

This review was written in 2012, when I was working with a charity and writing pieces for a gaming magazine, that was released digitally that year. As a result it will more reflect the situation of that time and will not take into account what has changed since then. Please Enjoy!

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, one 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 too 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 PS1 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, not least due to Nintendo’s shunting in the PlayStation’s own development history) and, of course, the traditional cartridge. That might not seem like a lot upfront, but given Square wanted FFVII to be the game where they moved into 3D, having it on the processor speed of a PlayStation made that dream come true. If it had been financially possible to put this game over several cartridges and maintain the same the same level of quality then Nintendo would now be the world’s leading games entertainer. But it wasn’t.

In actuality, the game was released on three compact discs, which made it more economically cost effective to produce than cartridge, sold more copies per market 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 a combination of 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 was 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 are also the more stupid characters, like Cat Sith, which 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 became 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 you’re 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 play through 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. Let’s 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.

Resident Evil 3 2020 (XBox One, PS4)

As with most gamers my age who owned a PlayStation, it’s fair to say that the console had more than a few titles which captured my interest, and the original inception of the console is the dearest to my heart. Indeed, titles like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid became integral to my DNA as a gamer and remain with me to this day (I am even currently replaying the former on Xbox One after its 2019 port).

The Original Nemesis, about to party like it’s 1999

Resident Evil is certainly a franchise I am more than a little familiar about, and whether it was through my Dad or my brother, the game did arrive in my household in the late 90s. But for whatever reason, it was Resident Evil 3 (released in 1999, when I was 14) that I have the clearest memories of. I have always preferred Resident Evil 2 – going to great lengths in obtaining versions of the game through the ensuing years – but RE3 was without question my first. And, as they say, you never forget your first.

Storyline wise the game picks up as a prequel to the second installation, telling us what Jill Valentine (a protagonist from the first game) did during the 24 hours – or so – prior to the events of the second game. Cinematically, therefore, it ties in with the established cannons and you are never likely to struggle with that. Whilst attempting to escape Raccoon City, Jill is pursued by Nemesis – a creature developed by Umbrella to eradicate the members of her STARS Unit – witnesses to the events in the first game. Nemesis is similar in size to the dreaded ‘Mr X’ of the second installation, but this particular foe is a tyrant in more than just appearance and takes a considerable amount of killing – repeatedly killing – to actually stop.

When I played the original game it’s use of cinematic storytelling and multiple choice options, puzzle solving and framerate made me feel this was one of the best things ever made. Graphically, gamers simply expect more these days, unless they are purposefully looking for an 8-bit indie title – but in 1999 this game was the height of technology and testament to the awesome power of PlayStation. So, we should not underestimate it.

When I had played the remake of Resident Evil 2 in January 2019 I was blown away. This game was, and still is, a masterpiece. Graphically, it looks amazing, and it also tells a tale once told exceptionally well. Whether you are a thirty-year veteran, or this is the first survival horror game you will ever play, Resident Evil 2 is an essential purchase. What I didn’t know, in 1999, was that the third instalment was something of an afterthought, created by Capcom to satisfy a contractual agreement with Sony for an additional title – using the framework and templates already created to build another game. Developers Capcom were able to add enough new features into the third title that it was not immediately evident, certainly not to this impressionable pimple faced gamer.

When I’d heard Capcom planned to release a remake of the third game, after the success of the second’s remastered glories, I assumed enough time had passed for their development team to be working on making the game slightly more unique than previous. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Now, with this game being set in the same location as the second – namely Raccoon City – and using at least one of the same locations, that’s not exactly going to be possible; and I get this, but Resident Evil 3’s remaster suffers from the fault of looking brilliant, but having little or nothing to say which distinguishes it from RE2 DLC.

Let us examine some features, for fear that I am being too harsh, starting with the games opening. This takes place just prior to the outbreak of Racoon City. Now, I felt this was a really good idea, because it separates itself from the original game which started later – after the outbreak had occurred – and gave virtually no establishment. So, credit where due, this was a strong possibility. Also, as I’m a huge fan of 90’s FMV style gaming, it was incredible to see real actors performing roles in the opening moments – adding to the feeling that this was a real story about a real place.

Sadly, the game hit a stumbling block almost immediately, as it’s first ten minutes are both glorious – owing to the scenery, the backdrops, the actions, the little Easter eggs; but also feels rushed, the player moved from one place to the next in an effort to escape Nemesis. You are introduced to Brad Vickers, the helicopter pilot from the first game, which is a great plus – only to have the character quickly and meaninglessly written out in what feels like seconds.

In the Resident Evil 2 remaster, the player has the large section at the start of the original PS1 game removed, there’s no interaction at the gun shop (Leon gets that later) and no running through the basketball court (that happens for Claire, in her orphanage side quest), so you almost immediately stumble upon the Police Station within the first three to four minutes. In RE3, this felt exactly the same, since no sooner am I taking my seat to get into the game we’ve met Carlos, Brad is most probably dead, Nemesis has killed a lot of people and you’re crashing off a parking lot in a Buick.

As soon as Carlos is introduced, UCBS becomes a thing, and what took an hour of PS1 gaming to reach in the original has happened in 15 – at most. I was also disappointed at Nemesis, mainly as Jill battles him about four/five times in this game, and with the exception of the Police Station and the Hospital (just) there is little to no time in order for soaking in the moment and exploring. But then maybe I am being a little too critical, this is not Grand Theft Auto or Sleeping Dogs, this is Resident Evil 3 and the action is always moving forward.

Tyrell’s character is expanded upon greatly in the storyline, and this was a treat, though I’m not sure whether that happened because the developers wanted it too or because it was a lot more PC to have African American, Russian and Latino characters playing heroes whilst the protagonist is a female. Either way, the characters that do feature in Resident Evil 3 (even the cameos) are excellent, and there are some ties in with events in Resident Evil 2 remastered as well.

Puzzle wise the codes remain from Resident Evil 2 in some areas, which is a nice nod, whilst in others it is the bolt cutters and the lockpick which ultimately become your best friends. I found the early portions of the game to be the most satisfying, breaking into locked stores, wandering through the streets of Raccoon City, and generally appreciating the setting. The second portion of the game, after the Police Station in particular, felt like it was also winding up too fast. Whether I am just being a bit of a moaning Michael or not, there was shortened bursts of gameplay that would have benefited massively from being dragged out.

Even without a guide or walk through, taking the wrong path did not lead to a diversion, as you either found an empty section of corridor or a locked area. Considering the story line actually encourages faster playthroughs (and you’re rewarded trophies for doing so) it seems like Capcom weren’t that fussed about additional content.

While it was a nice attempt, and does take a few shots at fan service, the pay offs just aren’t worth it – then again, maybe that’s why Eagles from Street Fighter opened a Pet Store there!

Resident Evil 3 (PS1)

With the remake having recently hit shelves (physically and digitally, mind); this past week seemed like a perfect chance to go back and tackle the Survival Horror of the original Resident Evil 3; Nemesis on PlayStation 1.

With its sequel, Resident Evil 2, having partially revolutionised the gaming market upon release in January 1998 it might come as quite the surprise to learn RE3 was something of an afterthought. Wishing to release the games official sequel (which would later become Code Veronica) a contractual obligation to Sony meant a prequel built upon the same graphics engine was required.

Thankfully, nobody was complaining, and it fell to Jill Valentine (a protagonist in the first film) to help the player navigate the twenty four hours (or so) prior to Leon and Claire’s arrival in Raccoon City. Very much post Outbreak, the game did manage to focus a little heavier on FMV and story driven sequences than its predecessors, with the multiple-choice options at various locations of the game adding both immediate replay value and some surprising twists.

The game is not lacking in content and you won’t be disappointed. Despite its 20 year plus age, this title remains both challenging and narratively complex. Playing it on the PSVita, with the lights off and curtains drawn, is particularly special.

Hue (PS Vita)

Looking a bit Green?

With a delightful retro edge, Fiddlesticks present the tale of Hue, a platform adventure about the eponymously named title character searching for his mother. In a black and white world, Hue’s mother has created a ring which allows the user to alter the fabric of time through the perception of colour. And don’t worry, that’s about as confusing as things will get, since the sinister Dr Grey has now stolen the ring and it is discarded into several pieces.

The player must now traverse this terrain, which quickly leads him to a hidden civilisation in an underground world, using blues, purples and reds too unlock previously unexplored areas, continuing the quest to locate all the fragments and save his mother.

It’s a fantastically quaint title and almost perfect for portable pick up and go play. Though, even on a home console like Xbox One, the game looses nothing as you move from cave to cave, room to room, the puzzles always slightly more deceptive than before; but with a gradual curve that gives even casual gamers a pleasant journey.

If you get stuck, you’ll find plenty of walkthroughs and solutions online, but you might not need them for a good portion of the game – and it’s a relaxing way to unwind after a busy day’s hard graft. When you finally discover the truth behind Dr Grey it may just turn your world from grey-scale to multi colour; since I couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to end this review.

Dear Esther, Landmark Edition (PS4)


Dear Esther, and so begins the letter of a lifetime, as you’re immersed in a world you’ve always known but hardly seen.

Originally released as free to play modication, the game was entirely redeveloped for a commercial release in 2012. Featuring a relatively new gameplay model at the time, the game was later mockingly referred to as a ‘Walking Simulator’ due to its minimalist player involvement – ultimately the only physical thing for the player to do is explore a Scottish island.

Having always wished to travel to an uninhabited Hebridean island this game provided me with the chance to do just that. It’s tranquil peace and the history the island preserves, either through basic settlements, shipwrecks or geology, is immense and is created here in painstaking detail. As you wander throughout the game the character’s voice sporadically gives you information as to the nature of his recently departed wife, as he recounts instances which led to her sudden death and also comments on the nature and history of this island.

I found that the game is certainly endemic of mental health and mental illness. The character, player unnamed, is certainly suffering from grief and this has led – over time – to illness and despair. In his grief he has essentially come to the most remote place he can find; and his intentions, although morbid, are incredible to watch. As you join him on what is his last journey there’s a sense of hope and exploration, an understanding of your own life and a peace you simply don’t get from Black Ops.

Originally developed as a research project through The University of Portsmouth the game is the creation of The Chinese Room, responsible for such other BAFTA nominated masterpieces as Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture and Amnesia; A Machine For Pigs. But it’s Dear Esther which never fails to capture me, despite how many times I’ve replayed this game, and its entire journey would take you just 90 minutes – something that you can do in an evening, drawing the curtains and submersing yourself in gaming.

Accompanying the game is an incredible soundtrack from Jessica Curry, which is nothing short of immense, and has also been released on Vinyl and CD so popular is the demand. I regret deeply missing the opportunity to see an orchestra tour the UK performing this soundtrack while a gamer engaged in playing this game on a big screen.

One particular scene, perhaps my favourite in the game, involves walking uphill towards an abandoned bothy built by a long since departed Sheppard. As you climb you can realistically feel the strength in the effort it takes, the game adjusting for the end pushing against you. One can only imagine what might happen if this was ever developed into 3D, and despite the harsh weather conditions, it’s possibly one of the most hopeful moments in the entire game. There’s a real sense of achievement as you finally manage to reach the bothy’s door and enter its tiny space.

Eagle eyed fans should also note the original game soundtrack is also available as a free download online from the developer, and you’d be best advised to take advantage of this while it still stands. In August 2018 Sumo Group, the parent company of Sumo Digital, acquired The Chinese Room for GB£2.2 million and thus downsized it to a fourth UK based production under Sumo Group. One can imagine both the “end of an era” but also the developers and founders of the group taking some time to consolidate their achievements while playing Dear Esther.

Walking Simulators may face criticism because you can, of course, always just leave the house and walk yourself – but the additional location of this game, its unique perspective and narration make it quite frankly unmissable. Now I’m off to hunt down a sealed physical copy on eBay. To replay once more.