Tag Archives: Must Play

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.

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.