Category Archives: Journalism

Lockdown, Right Down, with Emotion…

My fiancée purchased me a Ramones T Shirt for my birthday at the end of March. I’ve never been a huge Ramones fan, but I fell in love with the shirts design (the bands classic logo in a multi colour haze) with tour dates from an American leg back in the late 70’s reprinted lovingly on the back. Excusing the fact the shirt was actually in my size, and within the UK for accessible shipping, it just made sense for me to pick this up. Even if the most Ramones music I’ve listened too is Metallica covering ’53rd and 3rd’ and the B Side’s to the St Anger single in 2003.

But my crimes against music, namely wearing a T Shirt to “support” a band I’ve never really listened too before aside, what happened after she purchased my gift has been far more interesting.

My birthday fell on March 30th, not long after the Government put in place measures to restrict the potential spread of Covid-19 within the UK. Non essential shops, workplaces were closed and my own workplace migrated from an office environment to working at home from my spare room. Suddenly I found my routine changed in an incredible way; there were no weekend trips to the record store, no working from the office and no charity store browsing. By the time the shirt had arrived, although it didn’t take long, I was already working from home and decided to leave the item within it’s plastic packaging; in a dresser drawer.

In the first days of the lockdown, Lord Wolfson (the owner of high street clothing chain NEXT) was quoted on BBC News as having said that “People do not buy a new outfit to stay at home” when speaking about this own companies significant losses in the wake of the (then new) restrictions. In reality, my shirt remained in that dresser drawer, since working from home meant I had neither nowhere to go to wear it nor reason to put it on. To help myself as much as possible, and protect our family against the spread of this deadly virus, our weekly shopping is delivered to our home, pharmacy prescriptions are collected by post, our online shopping for non essential items has also decreased. As such, unless it was for our daily Government exercise, nobody was leaving or entering the house.

To help ourselves even further, although I admit probably partially unnecessarily, we also routinely changed our clothes when returning from daily walks and exercise; so normally aimed not to wear the newest T Shirts understanding that these garments would probably get covered in sweat. As such, I can certainly empathise with Lord Wolfson, as there was absolutely no emphasis whatsoever for me to wear my new T Shirt – I mean, what would be the point?

My father used to say I was a slave to fashion. He’d still tell me this now, but I haven’t lived with him since 2008; and given that his main concern throughout this national crisis has been getting a haircut once it’s all over, I can certainly see where I get it from. Granted, as I have mentioned previously, I only purchased the shirt based on the design and the theme and not due to the specific artist. But I still bought it because I thought it looked good, and in line with the reason everyone purchases clothes (beyond practical no nonsense purchases like work outfits) I bought it because I wanted other people to see me in it.

I’m vain enough to admit that I buy clothes that my intention is to spark interest in. A shirt with a logo or design from a popular TV series, for example, is no doubt bound to create conversation with a random stranger – and has, on occasion (to the ultimate annoyance of my fiancee) been the reason why I’ve been stood at a bus stop chatting to random for 15 minutes. It only happens to me, I’ve one of those faces; apparently.

Taking the bins out in style….

Others must have thought of this too, I wasn’t the only one, as social media platform Tik Tok began encouraging people – or they began encouraging each other, I’m still not sure how that starts – to take out the bin in style. Women got glamoured up in evening wear, children dressed as superheroes and others even wore nothing but tin foil in order to take out the bin – ultimately, the one big event of the week whilst the world was under lock down. If you’re reading this article about 30 years in the future, I’m curious as to what you actually think of all this, and whether my career as a writer managed to flourish in the way I’d hoped.

Ultimately, without routine, we all start to go a little crazy – and that’s obvious from the devolution of the office, where a lot of employers now say that even when restrictions are lifted they’d rather invest money in employees over real estate; with many seeing this as an end to chats by the water cooler and trips to the copier.

But if office culture is removed entirely, this also removes the chance to socialise, to mix with colleagues and form long lasting relationships. Much like School or University, offices create a natural place for either single one night encounters too marriage; as well as sports teams, quiz nights and decade long friendships. On the other hand the office can also create some pretty hateful relationships, with vicious bullying, rumours and awkward politics – and maybe those people would prefer to stay at home, so long as they’ve got their own social network already established; otherwise they’re going to live a lonely life of solitude.

Our entire sitcom culture is based on the idea of office politics, everything from ‘Scrubs’ to ‘Friends’ and – of course, even ‘The Office’ is routed in the idea of shared experience in triumph, success, disappointment and grief. Few successful comedies have ever been based on the idea of solitude and separation. Even ‘Porridge’ let them out of their cells.

Ultimately, by removing the workplace from a number of people’s lives, I suspect many will have even less inclination to do the work they should have been doing in the first place. Since the boss can’t see you working hard, there’s no chance at promotion or brown nosing, so what’s the point – why not make less of an effort? Since you can’t be seen to be at work, do certain social norms and workplace etiquette still exist. Should you even worry as much about breaking the rules, when it’s unlikely discipline action can be enforced. In one case I know someone facing redundancy, but only once furlough ends, in a sort of strange Schrodinger’s cat situation where they both have a job, but also don’t.

And as well as an informal suspension on firing policies, there’s also a sort of informal freeze on hiring policies, unlikely to be rescinded or disappear completely until much later on after the lock down is completely ended. So any possibility of future career advancement or job changing (that ‘shooting for the moon’) might be something you really will need to work much much much harder at obtaining.

In the future, I wonder if I’ll even have a chance to wear that T Shirt? Surely I will, in the street, or in the shops; maybe a stranger will even comment on it and I’ll feel somewhat elated by the compliment. Perhaps I’ll just attempt to take the bins out, and post a picture of me doing so on Instagram, with the hashtag #HeyHoLetsGo – who knows what might happen.

But I do know, that during this lock down, I have actually started listening to the Ramones; feeling I now know them a little better then when I first saw this shirt.

Physical vs. Digital Gaming

A few months ago now, I convinced my partner that purchasing a new Xbox One was the right move to make, and although I’d had Xbox consoles in the past, this one would be the first “all digital” console I’d ever owned.

For many years now, I have had a love hate relationship with gaming, in that although I find it an enjoyable pastime, I am also driven to frustration by it.

Unlock-able levels, progression through games, the achievement of trophies and much more besides means that – at times – gaming has left me in equal parts elated and enraged. And although I fully recognise the general price of new release games haven’t risen that much in the past 20 years, in comparison perhaps to other entertainment mediums, I still feel rather upset if I purchase a title for £50 only to later find I can’t get past Level 1.

This is actually something of a shared experience I’ve inherited from my father. In 1991, he purchased a copy of ‘Terminator 2; Judgement Day’ published by Ocean on Commodore 64. I still have firm memories of the family gathering around to play the game at the time – I can’t have been more than 6 or 7 – and haunted by the lack of progression past Level 2, as John is chased by the T1000 into a storm drain. It never prevented me from (much) later enjoying the film, granted, but it was an early example of how sometimes a pastime can be the most frustrating thing in the world.

So, what has all that got to do with Digital Gaming?

Well, my Dad was a member of a social gaming network, and they frequently met to trade games or discuss titles between themselves. Long before the Internet, this kind of gathering was very much in the first person and a monthly basis in a local marketplace. But the format has not changed at all, since members often traded games with each other, sold the games they could not finish to other members and swapped solutions and cheat codes with each other. In the mid-90s, when PlayStation started to control the gaming stratosphere, rental titles at your local Blockbuster made it possible to enjoy a game for the weekend – and if you didn’t like it or couldn’t play it – you’d paid much less than you might to own it outright.

But, with the advent of the internet and the development of modern technology at the turn of the millennium, console giants began to create more complex and large-scale projects whilst traditional gaming mediums in the “real world” retreated. As the creation and licensing of big budget games became more expensive, studios and developers began looking at ways to save money. In truth, the production and manufacturing of games and their accessories (manuals, boxes etc.) and its subsequent shipping was a huge additional cost which, economically, it made financial sense to attempt to eradicate.

The first step was to digitise components of the game, and so you’d find that certain titles were released without a manual, or if they were – it was abridged – to use less paper and for it to weigh less (adding up each game and each box, that’s a substantial saving per thousand unit) and you’d often find this manual was included – in full – as part of the game on your system.

Thereafter, companies like Sony and Microsoft fixed their attention towards digital content, which could either add to a game, improve it after release (to fix bugs and tweaks) or which allowed a gamer to purchase a title in full without ever leaving the screen. Indeed, with modern upgrades and technology, it is entirely possible to begin packaging and shipping a game for release into the world whilst still working on the latest upgrade to solve the problem before anyone even receives it.

Whilst in the early 90’s the size of the add on contents file might have been more than sufficient to create 10 new Commodore 64 titles on floppy disc, this digital medium meant that hard drive spaces needed to increase exponentially to cope with demand. And where we would normally boot up the Commodore before dinner, with it ready to go when we had finished 20 minutes later, gamers began to express impatience if they needed to wait even a few seconds – Loading Screens and wait times becoming a new enemy.

Sony first attempted a digital only platform in 2009, with the PSP Go, which was a UMD less version of their popular handheld. Given the vast catalogue of games available to purchase on the store at that time – through PS3 and PSP – gamers were able to download and play a wealth of titles through the format. The Xbox 360, which had launched in Nov 2005, was arguably the first console after PC to bring digital gaming to the consumer in a big way – and Sony’s handheld was perhaps a trial run at how a digital only system would be consumed in the marketplace.

Fans reacted positively to the PSP Go, but negatively to the idea of losing their accumulated catalogues of PSP titles, ones which – like Final Fantasy 7 Crisis Core – were purchased physically and could only be played on UMD. Around this time, I bought my first digital content, a copy of Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid, the PS1 games I had loved so much, through PSN. Despite having a copy of both games on PS1, and the means to play them, their digital purchase meant I could play them portable on the system of my choice and that I could also use them with a more modern television. That purchase would, ultimately, also inspire me to sell a number of pieces of my collection – which were otherwise taking up space, when I later emigrated from Ireland to Scotland.

Now, back in 1991, my Dad would often – albeit frowned upon – purchase copies of games created ‘at a discount’. This made economic sense, and it was practical too, since (if you were not very good at a game) it took the sting out of a full price purchase. Modern technology means that gaming piracy has, to a large extent, been all but eradicated. And digital content has certainly helped with this. Developer sales and discounts, incentives online which avoid needing to include a retailer, mean digital content can often be more affordable than its physical counterpart beyond a certain point in the release cycle.

If gamers are saving money, that’s good news for gamers and good news for developers, with many indie composers relying solely on a digital platform – being unable to afford to create a physical product (at least initially) and hoping consumers will purchase their titles at a reduced or discounted price.

In the days of the ZX Spectrum it was often not uncommon for a game to have been developed by just one person using a home brew format, and digital content allows small development teams and lone individuals the chance – once again – to create truly great games that can be released in a mass market forum. One example of these titles is Rocket League, which itself is a sequel, released originally as Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars on PlayStation 3 in 2008. What began as a small development team slowly grew – to the point that Rocket League itself received more pre orders than any other title when initially released on digital format – and is still being ported and having content developed for it today, over 5 years after its original release.

Personally, I’m not that fond of paying £50 for a digital copy of Resident Evil 3 (which I did recently) only to realise I’m unable to trade the title once completed, maybe helping me to purchase another game or make some money back. Capcom, the developers of the Resident Evil series, have been some of the most outspoken developers against second hand sales – going so far as to include a bug within games (see Resident Evil ‘The Mercenaries’ 3DS) preventing the deletion of save data. Although then Capcom VP Christian Svenson went on record to say this was not a business decision, many at the time felt it was a way to attempt to curb this kind of trade. Regardless of the reasoning, and probably because of the controversy, Capcom have not since repeated this move.

Jill really regretted lending Kendo her copy of ‘Sensible Soccer’ just prior to the outbreak in Raccoon City

On the opposite side of my own argument, however, I can acknowledge that digital gaming has done me an immense favour. Titles like ‘Resident Evil 3’, ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ and ‘Batman Arkham Knight’ on Xbox One’s digital console may not physically be on my shelf but will remain with me whenever I need them. And my original Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid purchases from 2008/9 remain – to this day – on my PSN account, whenever I need to re download them. Circumstances over time have meant that there have often been occasions when I’ve needed to sell a console or material to pay essential bills; and having that digital account preserved for future use has been huge relief, not just on my wallet!

I could therefore argue that I have owned these titles for 12 years, far longer than any other physical game I still have today. I was upset about having to repurchase ‘Final Fantasy VII’ on the Xbox One (the 2019 port of the game) to play the same title I loved on another system – but this was my choice, and allowed me to once again experience an improved functionality and timings added with the latest revision.

The second-hand marketplace, however, very much has its place. Being able to browse titles in a store like CEX allows for me to discover, in much the same way as another gamer might browse the sale section of the digital shop; what is new to me and worth a cheap purchase.

In 2018 I bought a copy of the ‘Arkham Collection’ on Xbox One and needed to return it, owing to a broken disc – another unfortunate side effect of physical titles – but as CEX themselves do not take any account for the codes or digital content that might available in the box of your purchase, I had already attempted to redeem these, finding to my surprise that they were all valid. Subsequently, I had returned a title worth £20 to me for a full refund, but the codes earned from this experience were valued at £36. Proving it always pays to check the codes.

And whilst some may also argue the high street itself is dying, and this could be argued to be true, the advent of Internet shopping in its place means that gamers are still very much given the choice between physical and digital gaming. It does not necessarily have to be on the shelves of your local gaming store (provided you even have one) to be purchased in a physical format.

In recent years, physical gaming has fought back, with companies like Play Asia and Limited Run Games producing physical copies of titles in specific numbers as their USP – allowing those who want to purchase the game physically to do so – but not limiting the games scope or fanbase.

Additionally, by producing games in such limited numbers, it generates hype around a title, sells for a concentrated period at a fixed price (to a largely committed and dedicated audience) and saves on the immense shipping costs otherwise associated with producing so many more titles for the manufacturer and online retailers. Limited Run Games fluctuate in price, as you would expect, and second-hand sale and trade is by no means discouraged either, meaning there’s always a market for those titles.

Ultimately, I love and accept my new Xbox and I really like the convenience and the ease of digital gaming, particularly with current world events. But I will never rely solely on digital titles, as physical gaming represents such a huge part of my gaming memories, from those days on the Commodore, to current respite with my PS Vita.

Whilst I suspect I already know the answer, I’d be curious as to whether a younger generation of gamer, without those physical memories and limitations; will still have such a nostalgia and place such importance on physical gaming. It is always going to be cheaper to avoid a bricks and mortar store, and it is always going to be cheaper to buy digital content.

But in my mind, a healthly mix, of both physical and digital, is enough to ensure even the most casual gamer can make the most of their favourite pastime.

The Last Story (Wii)

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!

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 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!