Kotowari Competition: Black Materia Winner!

Today I received a package from Kotowari, featuring a signed Black Materia record and a couple of extra goodies. It was a pleasant surprise to win the competition – especially as it was shipped over from the US!

This is what I got inside, a lovely little note and a couple of tasty treats. All very appreciated! (Jetsetnick has a bad sweet tooth.)

Below is a signed copy of the album courtesy of Mega Ran and Lost Perception. For those that don’t know, Black Materia: Final Fantasy VII is a hip hop album that remixes the original soundtrack with a contemporary set of beats, effects and lyrics. It’s a whole new take on the epic story and is certainly worth checking out if you’ve played the JRPG.

The competition was used to celebrate the three year anniversary of Kotowari. He’s a great blogger and I would recommend his site to anyone with an interest in JRPGs or Western RPGs. Here’s to your future success – thanks for the prize!

(Aside: Also a big thank you to Mega Ran and Lost Perception for making the album! You can listen to it online here.)


Thoughts On Dissidia Final Fantasy

By making a game that will appeal ‘to the fans’, developers often fall into the trap of alienating newcomers to a franchise. Dissidia Final Fantasy is a classic example, as although Square Enix has created a fantastic portable fighter, you’ll get absolutely nothing out of it if you’ve never played a Final Fantasy game. The popular RPG franchise has been going for over 20 years, so it makes sense that Square has decided to make a tribute to those who are old enough to have grown up with the originals.

Take all of the heroes from the first ten games, mix them altogether and then pit them against the player’s favourite villains in an all out brawl. It’s simple, but answers most fanboy arguments that have circulated on forums for years; “Zidane was always tougher than Tidus!” or “Sephiroth is easily the best villain!” – Well now you can find out.


Tidus takes on his father Jecht from Final Fantasy X

But can Square, world renowned for creating RPGs, pull of a fighting engine that’s both robust and enjoyable? Luckily yes, although it’s like nothing I’ve ever played before. You’re not fighting on a 2D plane like a traditional beat-em-up, nor are you putting in elaborate buttons combos from contemporary fighters like Soulcalibur or Tekken. Instead you’ll be roaming freely in large 3D environments, going one on one like a multiplayer version of Kingdom Hearts. Very simple and minimal controls send dazzling visual attacks toward your foe, creating a system that’s easy to pick up and a delight t watch.

In the world of Dissidia (voiced by the cheesiest narrator I’ve ever heard) the evil god Chaos controls the villains, waging war against the struggling heroes lead by Cosmos. They’ve apparently all been summoned to protect the outcome of their respective worlds, but this is never really explained or justified. It’s just an excuse to have them all in the same place, constantly bumping into each other and provoking spontaneous battles. Crystals are involved (when are crystals NOT involved in a Final Fantasy game?!) which each hero has to find after they’ve done a bit of soul searching and self discovery. They’ll voice their favourite one liners and have some friendly banter, but it’s all pretty silly and unmotivated. If you’re looking for a compelling storyline you’ll need to look at the classic RPG’s, because there certainly isn’t one here.


The introductory CG cutscene is beautiful. The in game cutscenes... not so much.

After a wealth of tutorials, you’ll be flung into a brawl and expected to fight. It can feel a little daunting at first, with a wealth of health bars, abilities, accessories, summons and armour to try and cope with. In its purest form the battle system boils down to Bravery Points and Hit Points. Attacks with the circle button will increase your Bravery, while lowering the Bravery of your opponent. The higher your Bravery, the more damage you’ll do when you attack your enemy with square, a HP attack. If your technique connects, your bravery will be brought back to its default level and the process starts again.

The system suits Final Fantasy pretty well, as you constantly play the cat and mouse game of trying to keep the stats in your favour. This is but the basic layer to Dissidia though; characters also have an EX gauge, which fills up gradually as you play. Once its full players can enter EX mode, boosting their stats considerably and opening up the potential to perform an EX Burst Attack (which is as badass as it sounds!)

Each character has a different play style to mimic the game they came from. Fans will lap up the familiar attacks and sounds, but the casual gamer will probably not even bat an eyelid. Which is Dissidia’s greatest downfall; apart from a few character profiles in the theatre tab, the game makes no effort to explain to newcomers who these heroes are. The amount of Easter eggs in this game are phenomenal, right down to the sprites and conversational style of the help menus. Every button you press will give you a nugget of Final Fantasy nostalgia, but this does nothing for the average player looking at their PSP screen in bewilderment. I absolutely adore the Chocobo system of collecting bonus items, but after showing my friend he simply looked at me blankly and asked what a Chocobo was.


The main menu. You could get lost in this for hours.

The amount of time and polish put into this game will make you wonder how it all managed to fit on one UMD. There’s a replay editor, in-game calendar that rewards you depending on the day that you’re playing, museum filled with character profiles and sound bites, multiplayer mode and one of the largest customisation systems i’ve ever seen. You can literally create your perfect Final Fantasy hero. You could easily lose months just grinding all 10 heroes to their maximum level of 99.

If you’re a Final Fantasy veteran, chances are you have this already. If not I highly recommend this massive, entertaining crossover that is bound to stay in your PSP for a very long time. If you’ve never played a game by Square, this could still be worth checking out as a rental, if only for the fighting system. Otherwise the game will wash over you, leaving you wondering what all the fuss was about. It might not be attracting new gamers, but Dissidia is certainly one for the fans.

Dissidia Final Fantasy: Limited Edition

For a good few years Square Enix fans have been wondering why they even bothered shelling out for a PSP. They purchased Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII without hesitation, keen to lose themselves in the world of Cloud and his friends. But what happened to them when that title was exhausted? They looked elsewhere for the next dose of Squeenix goodness, only to find a copy of Tactics (though a good one at that) and not much else. Was it really worth buying a system for this?

Luckily, yes. Dissidia Final Fantasy is a game for the fans, created by developers who have grown up with the franchise and become fans themselves. The Limited Edition version has a handful of extras and I’ll be discussing what comes in the box below.

Postcards, books, soundtracks... there's a lot packed in a small PSP case.

Postcards, books, soundtracks... there's a lot packed in a small PSP case.

What you’ve probably noticed first is that the box is considerably larger than your normal PSP case. It has roughly the same height and width, but the depth of the packaging is around 2.5 UMD cases. It’s made of stiff card and has a matte like finish, which feels both durable and classy to open up. Inside is a whole wealth of material; some worthwhile and some… not so much.

Art Postcards - do people actually send these?

Art Postcards - do people actually send these?

First up are the art postcards. They’re the same size as a PSP case, featuring the cast of characters fighting for chaos and cosmos respectively. I would have preferred hand drawn concept art on these rather than CG, but that’s simply personal taste. I’ve never actually sent gaming postcards to anyone, making the practical use of these nil. However, I always like gaming memorabilia to look through when I’m bored and lets face it; a fan always loves to have something extra for pre-ordering. Even if it’s worthless.

Dissidia Final Fantasy: Original Sound Selection

Dissidia Final Fantasy: Original Sound Selection

As a music fanatic, bonus soundtracks are a big thumbs up. I’ve always said that the best compositions in gaming are the ones you don’t notice, seamlessly blending with the experience to make it even more entertaining or believable. The Mini-CD packaged here has six tracks, teasing at the full version that can be bought on iTunes. They’re all spectacular, including new takes on classic Final Fantasy tunes and some originals made specifically for the game.  The disc looks pretty and at the end of the day, saves you searching the internet for it. I probably won’t buy the full version, but this taster is more than satisfactory.

A double page spread featuring Final Fantasy X hero, Tidus

A double page spread featuring Final Fantasy X hero, Tidus

A hardback art book looks very promising. After all transforming some of the earlier classic sprites into 3D players must have needed some concept sketches somewhere, right? Unfortunately, no. As you can see from the above, on each character profile there is only one drawing and it’s fairly generic. I’m pretty sure i could find it with one Google Image search. The other three images are the various CG costumes, which look nice enough but hardly blow me away. Somehow this book has been a wasted opportunity, for what I think could have been a great insight into the character design process.

BradyGames Mini Guide

BradyGames Mini Guide

Strangely, this teaser-strategy guide has better art than the art book. It’s about 40 to 50 pages in length (they’re not numbered and I’m not going to bother counting) but it takes you through the basic controls, set up and prologue of the game. The detail is fantastic and clear, with the only improvement I can think of is it being too short. Obviously Brady want you to go out and buy the full version, but I think it would have been more worthwhile to up the game’s price and include the entire guide.


So should you be forking out the extra money for the Limited Collector’s Edition? Only if you’re a die hard Squeenix fan, who knows they’ll forever regret having the slightly lesser, normal packaging. Most of the extras here are hit and miss, with only the soundtrack really shining through. My advice would be to buy the normal verion of Dissidia and spend the saving you’ve made on the full soundtrack available on iTunes. Or not at all if you just want a good brawler.

OnLive: Gaming in the cloud?

So over the past few weeks there’s been a lot of prophesising, criticism and acclaim over the unveiling of OnLive at this year’s Game Developer’s Conference. Before I give my personal take on it, it’s probably worth noting that this service is still in development. You won’t be seeing this on store shelves during the next few weeks and only the creators know if it will stand up to millions of people logging in at once.

OnLive is an on-demand, internet gaming service. Using the cloud strategy that has become increasingly popular with Google’s mail service, the basic idea is that everything you play will be processed online through a separate server. When you play a title, everything you input into the controller will be uploaded and then played out far away through OnLive’s internal hardware. The result is then streamed through the internet and back to your screen so that you can see the results. Imagine an interactive version of Megavideo or Vimeo for gamers and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what is trying to be achieved.

Mirror's Edge being showcased on the system

Mirror's Edge being showcased on the system

The idea of having your video game played somewhere else sounds very detached to me. To combat this OnLive are boasting lag so minimal, you won’t even realise the online server is doing all the work. Every game should feel like it’s running on your own system. Rather than having to keep a hefty console by your side, the application will run on both Windows and Mac operating systems as a browser plug-in. Unlike current alternatives such as Steam, you won’t need to download anything to your hard drive. If you prefer to do home gaming through your TV set, you’ll be able to buy an OnLive ‘MicroConsole’. This is a tiny little box that hooks up using a HDMI cable and supposedly will cost less than any console currently on the market.

Intrigued? I was by this point. If OnLive can interpret, process and stream a title as fast as they claim, the only requirement for gaming will be an internet connection. Technically, you should even be able to use this cloud technology on your tiny Netbook. As long as your ISP is fast enough, titles such as Crysis and Bioshock will finally be available at their highest performance specs. For the Apple Mac users out there that have struggled to build a game library, this could be the much needed solution.

The MicroConsole will be used as an adaptor for TV sets

The MicroConsole will be used as an adaptor for TV sets

The service of OnLive is likely to be paid through a cheaper, but similar system to Microsoft’s ‘Xbox Live’. However, publishers and developers will be able to give you different ways to buy their games. You can pay just one instalment to keep the game forever, or a smaller price to rent it for a week. Currently, renting PC titles is pretty rare because pirating is relatively easy. OnLive should be able to stop this trend by holding your titles online. Once you’re logged into OnLive you’ll be able to see all of your friends, what they’re currently playing and snippets known as ‘brag clips’. Similar to trophies and achievements, at any time you can hold a key and record a ten second clip of the game you’re playing. It automatically uploads to your profile and is then published for the world to envy.

OnLive sounds almost too perfect, but there are a lot of potential snags. Although the majority of home owners have the internet, not everyone is using broadband or wireless. That means a lot of consoles are played permanently offline, and without the necessary connection speed it rules out OnLive completely. The developers argue that lag won’t be an issue, but play testing has currently only been done with about 50 machines in the room. Who knows how well the servers will handle taking on millions of users at a time. Likewise, if half of us are logged on with dial-up connections there might be a few problems.

How it all works

How it all works

The success of Steam has unfortunately attracted the eyes of hackers. One of the major concerns I have with holding everything online is that there is always a danger your account can be lost. Once someone else gains access to your profile (which has happened on Steam and Xbox Live already) it can be banned and time consuming to recover. Purchased games have to be bought again and friend lists need to be recreated. With a physical disc, at least the title and receipt are kept firmly with the user.

I’m also a big fan of second hand games. As positively as OnLive would promote renting, the concept of buying games second hand or sharing with friends would be completely lost. In our economic climate, I believe it’s also important to try and keep our video game shops alive. Buying directly through OnLive could be better for individual publishers, but it cuts out any healthy competition between stores.

A wall of brag clips?

A wall of brag clips?

OnLive could be revolutionary, but it relies on a number of factors being perfect. Nearly every publisher needs to be on board and the servers are going to need outstanding reliability. If all of this comes together though, we may just be seeing the next step in gaming. The invitational Beta service will be available this summer, with a final release date being set for later in 2009.