Monday, 28 February 2011

Music in the Final Fantasy Series

I recently came across an old hard drive with a lot of music that I must have "acquired" about 5-6 years ago and I've only now had a chance to properly go through it and it seems a big chunk of it is actually tracks from the various Final Fantasy games. It made me have a think about the franchise in general and I came to the conclusion that lately it sucks! Something I never thought I'd say or think possible about 10 years ago.

After I got over the shock of it all, I realized that while the direction the franchise has taken might be questionable, the one thing that rarely, if ever isn't top notch quality, is the music.

Nobuo Uematsu has been the leading man for Square pretty much since their inception back in the 80's and while he might not actually work for the company anymore he still scores for them, has produced some amazing music that was probably too good for video games and is the quality worthy of big screen movies.

I remember as a kid a lot of people turned their nose up at the Final Fantasy series because it wasn't fast paced action like most other games on the market but I think anyone who appreciates orchestrated music will find something they like in the soundtracks to these games, even if the game doesn't seem interesting to you. Square Enix really set a bar when it came to the quality expected for music in video games, something I always believed was a mechanism they used to execute the story where the graphics might not have been able to express the emotion required to really enjoy a scene in a game. This is something that isn't so apparent in games today thanks to HD graphics but it can be seen from the perspective that a lot of companies (including Square Enix themselves) believe that thanks to better graphics, they don't need solid gameplay and a good story to make a good game which is absolutely wrong but that's a different blog all together!

For those of you that might not know what Final Fantasy is(shame on you!) or have never played/heard the music I suggest you check out some tracks, for those of you that have played it I suggest you go back and listen to some old classics!

Here are a few tracks, in no particular order I suggest that can most definitely be found on YouTube.
  1. Final Fantasy X - Suteki da ne (Orchestral)
  2. Final Fantasy VI - Forever Rachel (Orchestral)
  3. Final Fantasy VIII - Eyes on Me
  4. Final Fantasy XI - Battle in the Dungeon
  5. Final Fantasy XI - Battle in the Dunegon 2
  6. Final Fantasy XI - Mhuara
  7. Entire Tour De Japon Concert
  8. Final Fantasy VII - Aeris' Theme
  9. Final Fantasy IX - Kuja's Theme
I could literally keep naming off songs but those are some of my personal favorites that come to mind straight away.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

FIFA 11 Review

Having the ability to re-release the same game with minimal updates every year and not only get away with it but top the charts every time is like a dream come true to a developer and publisher and that's how things work for EA with the FIFA series and 11 is no different.

  • The Personality+ system really makes the game feel a lot more realistic and sometimes it can feel like you're really watching that player move around in the game
  • The UI update while offering the same functionality as past games has had graphical change which is welcome. The Manager Mode UI is also much easier to navigate and isn't as slow as FIFA 09
  • Finally being able to play as a goalkeeper!
  • The music in the FIFA series hasn't been up to scratch since 98' in my opinion and this version isn't any different, I don't think I recognised one song.
  • For some reason EA decided to remove the majority of managerial duties from the Manager Mode. Pretty much all you can do now is buy and sell players.
  • A lot of the commentary has been reused from FIFA 10 which was very disappointing.
  • Penalties are now impossible, no matter what you do it sails into orbit.

3 new features have been added, rosters and jerseys have been updated and some of the old features have been tweaked which mixes things up for the hardcore fanbase who have been following the series religiously but the average gamer probably isn't going to notice any of it which is why I'd only recommend the game to newcomers. Personally I think EA should really be releasing these as DLC updates every year because at it's core, FIFA 11 is the same game as FIFA 08/09/10 with a new paint of coat over it.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Halo Reach Review

I'm a bit late getting around to writing this but better late than never eh?

The story follows Noble team who are posted on the Planet Reach who are sent to investigate a disabled communications tower and end up finding the Covenant preparing to invade the planet. The story is fairly simple from beginning to end and there aren't really any twists or surprises. One thing that really did stick out was that the story's only real focus was that it put the events of Halo: CE into action and as such, the characters aren't very deep and their only purpose was to fulfil their destiny (which it turns out, was to die for no good reason at all.)

Another glaring issue with the story is the continuity of the characters. Some of the them had already been introduced through the series of novels and their fates seem to be different to that of the game. Dr. Halsey, George and Kat are the three that spring to mind. In the books they fight off hordes of Covenant troops and get transported somewhere by the forerunners yet in the game, George dies setting off a bomb and Kat gets sniped and god knows what happens to Halsey. Maybe they're different characters to those in the books or maybe Bungie just decided to use them differently in the game which would mean the novels aren't canon. I plan on reading through the books again so I can be 100% sure, maybe I missed something but I don't think I did.

Bungie decided to revamp some of the mechanics in the gameplay, I guess to compete with the likes of Battlefield and Modern Warfare. Guns now an area reticule which means that the more you shoot in succession, the larger the spray area. This really only effects longer ranger weapons, the likes of the assault rifle or the needler don't see any difference.

They've also upgraded the HUD and UI quite a bit. They are both visually similar to previous iterations seen in Halo 3 and ODST but are streamlined now. It was nice to see Bungie using concept art as the background images of the menus instead of being wasted and never seen.

The multiplayer is where the majority of the game really is and it's what is going to keep bringing people back to play for a long time to come. Bungie completely redeveloped their ranking system this time around, you earn credits which acts as currency to buy new armour and as experience points to level up your characters rank. This effectively means that it's only a matter of time before you hit the top ranks, I've been playing all weekend now and I'm only inching up very slowly so I can only imagine what the higher ranks is going to take.

At the moment the multiplayer is fun, but there is only 9 maps on the disc, a few of which are actually remakes of Halo 2 maps. I can see myself burning out very quickly here unless Bungie (or 342 Industries) start releasing map packs. Another problem I've found is that the original maps are copy and pasted from the campaign which I think is very lazy, it doesn't look like any of the maps were specifically made for the multiplayer this time around.

Another small thing worth mentioning is the music. Marty O'Donnell never ceases to amaze me with some of the scores he puts together for the Halo games, there's always at least 1 song which blows me away. Reach wasn't any different. I just hope he continues this trend with the next franchise that they're are building with Activision.

Bungie have gone on record to say that this is their swan song to the Halo franchise and that they'll be moving on to greener pastures as an independent studio. While the game might have it's problems, anyone who is a fan of the series is going to overlook these shortcomings and enjoy the experience. Microsoft would be fools not to expand this game further with new maps, armour and game types, it won't take much to convince people to keep coming back.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Improvements I'd like to see in Borderlands 2

Borderlands is just over a year out at this stage and Gearbox have released 3 DLC packs with another one to be released in a few weeks. I originally played it on PC at launch and I got bored of it very quickly. It's only in the last few weeks that my cousin decided to buy it for the 360 and I ended up playing it with him too and for some reason I enjoyed it a lot more the second time around.

We're currently working through the Secret Armoury DLC pack and should be finished soon.

Gearbox have said that the next pack is to be the last which brings up a lot of speculations and rumours that they might be working on a sequel. As much as I'm enjoying the game it definitely does have it's faults. So what would I like to see added/removed/changed?
  • Ammo and cash should automatically be picked up if it can be used instead of having to pick up each clip individually.
  • Better collision detection for vehicles. So many times I've nudged a wall and gotten stuck in the scenery.
  • Make it easier to distinguish between gun types.
  • Instead of having set characters, let the player create their avatar and then choose a class.
  • Bigger variety and more distinct differences in classes. (Healer/Gunner/Engineer/Ranged etc)
  • Ability for players to be in different zones in the same game.
  • Better level scaling.
  • Player pets. (Claptrap, Rakk or Skag could have different pros/cons)
  • Better overall story.
  • Add an auction house or trading post system to swap equipment with different players
  • Add a crafting system.
  • Add a World Map and a personal waypoint system.
People might argue that what I'm really looking for is an MMO but I think Gearbox are really on to something with this sub-genre FPS-RPG and this would be a good way forward for them.

It probably won't be long until we find out if they truly are working on the sequel, my bets are that we will get an announcement at E3 next year at the latest (or maybe even PAX this year?) We have the next DLC to look forward to first anyway!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Final nail in the coffin for FFXIV?

The only news I seem to be hearing lately about FFXIV seems to be bad news and I think this could actually be the final nail in the coffin for the game. It seems that Square Enix in their infinite undiscovery wisdom have decided to add a limiting feature on the game. After 8 hours your character will start to earn less experience which degrades over a further 7 hours. After this your character will stop earning experience completely. To make matters worse, this "feature" is on a weekly timer which means you effectively have 8 hours a week to play the game at full capacity.

Square Enix say this is to level the playing field for those of us who aren't free to play on a full time basis. I'm in this category and I still think this is a ridiculous thing to do. They think this is going to limit the hardcore players from playing too much, what's going to end up happening is after 15 hours of levelling a week, players are going to grind for materials/reputation/items instead.

I think they could only really get away with something like this in a free to play business model but the fact that Square Enix are expecting you to pay a monthly fee and then limit the time you can actually progress in the game sounds like robbery to me and it's looking less and less likely that I'll be subscribing past the free 30 days that come in the box.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

FFXIV to suffer from same problems FFXI did? have recently added a new post telling of the current beta testers who are complaining about problems in the Final Fantasy XIV which are very familiar to a lot of problems that FFXI suffered from too. It's also disappointing that the producer of the game Hiromichi Tanaka has gone on the record to say that these complained about features are actually intended.

Players are complaining that the cooldown on Guildleves (quests) is way too long, it takes 48 hours for a quest to reappear after you've completed it which is about double the amount of time that you see in other MMO's like World of Warcraft and Star Trek Online. Tanaka says that this is the case because they don't want players to rush through the quests solo, it's expected to be a team effort. This coincides with the next problem the majority of players are upset about. The regeneration of Mana in the game is slooow. This is a problem that I felt bordered on ruining FFXI for me and it seems that XIV won't be any different. Anything that breaks up the momentum of gameplay for me is a huge no-no. Again Tanaka explains that this is intended because the player is expected to tactically use points and work as a team.

Unfortunately the more I read about the game the more I'm starting to feel that they really should have just called it FFXI-2 instead of making it another numbered entry in the franchise because it really doesn't seem to be much different from it except maybe the class system and the quest system, otherwise it really is starting to look like an graphically updated XI.

As I've said before and will most likely say again, I can't really make any lasting judgements until I've actually played the game for myself. As much as I might complain about features and decisions, I'll still be picking it up at launch and playing through the first 30 days to see how things go.

Not long now!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Impressions after using the iPhone 4 for a week

With the iPhone 4 officially released in Ireland last week I couldn't help myself and picked one up. I'm glad to say that I'm unable to recreate the "death grip" on my phone, before or after updating to iOS 4.0.1 but thats not to say that there is reception issues with the phone. Since changing to the iPhone I have noticed that the bars on my phone are a lot lower than that of my last phone (which was a HD2) I've only experienced one dropped call and that was on a train in the middle of the countryside which would have happened on any phone.

I have to say I'm really in love with the design of the phone, it's even nicer to look at in person than it is in pictures. The retina display is also a treat, best screen I've ever seen. Everything really comes out crisp and clear. Battery life is quite good too, heavy use gets you about a day. Charging is fairly quick. Looking at about 1-2 hours for a full charge.

Can't really say much about the apps since there are so many. My last phone was WinMo6 which sucked donkey balls for choice (and price) changing to a platform with so many options in the app department is great. I've spent a few hours every so often browsing the free sections of the iTunes store which has some useful stuff.

So for anyone who might have been on the fence about getting this phone, I can tell you that I haven't been disappointed and I suggest to pick it up.

Friday, 2 July 2010

iOS4 to get an update to fix reception issues?

So Apple have finally come forward to officially address the reception issues that iPhone 4 users have been complaining about and it turns out, at least according to them, that there is no issue.

Apples open letter describes that the problem is actually with the software and how it calculates how many bars to show depending on the reception in the area, they go on to explain that this was also present in older models of the iPhone because they all used the same formula. The software update will use a more precise calculation that they have obtained from AT&T.

You can read the entire letter here on Gizmodo but the gist of it really is that Apple won't admit that after extensive testing from many different reputable blogs and websites that there is a design flaw with its antenna and while this software update is going to more realistically display the reception of the phone, people who have been experiencing issues are going to continue to do so.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Final Fantasy XIV Specs and Release date announced?

It seems that the official FFXIV website has posted the release date and the requirements for the game and here they.

Release Date: September 3oth 2010


Windows XP
Intel Core 2 Duo (2.0ghz)
16GB HDD space
Geforce 9600 512RAM or equivalent

So there we have it. Personally I'll have to upgrade if I want to play it comfortably (or buy it for the PS3)

Check out the official website for more info (that is, if you can read Japanese) here

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

iPhone 4 issues

So the iPhone 4 has sold 1.7 million in 3 days probably making it the fastest selling phone ever created but this time around Apple have been getting a lot of complaints, the majority being that the phone loses reception if held in a certain way. Personally I can't imagine how a flaw as huge as that got through Apples QA processes. It's not as if you have to hold the phone in a very awkward position to replicate it, most people are going to notice the problem.

Apparently the issue is because the silver band which covers all sides of the phone is actually the antenna when it comes in contact with skin it dampens the signal, this isn't a problem in most phones because the antenna are usually on the inside of the phone.

Steve Jobs has given mixed responses to some people who've emailed him, he has supposedly said that it isn't an issue and not to hold the phone that way, most recently he said that it isn't an issue and to "stay tuned". Another "fix" is to buy a bumper case which Apple sell which covers the sides of the phone in rubber.

People speculated that this means that Apple are going to release a software update which will resolve the issue but I wonder if this is even possible? I was considering picking up the iPhone because its specs are impressive and the phones design is beautiful but until this issue is fixed or even officially addressed by Apple, there's not a chance a lot more people are going to pick it up.

For potential buyers, best case scenario; It can be fixed via software update. Worst case? Next years model will fix it. People who already own it, I would return it and demand my money back.

Another problem I've heard about is the phone shatters very easily when dropped due to the new glass that in the design. Apple have gone on record saying that it's less likely to scratch but the materials used to accomplish this actually weaken the overall integrity of the glass as a whole which means it's less likely to survive a fall than older models.

So at the end of the day, buying the bumper case which Apple are extorting $30 for seems to be required if you want the phone to work and survive which is a pity because the new design is too nice to hide.