Thursday, April 25, 2019

Final Fantasy XV

So, a while back I saw Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition in the $10 bin at Wal-Mart, and figured, hey, why not.  This is the version that includes all of the expansion pass goodies, plus a bunch of new additions unique to that version of the game, including expanded final dungeons and boss fights etc.  I made a post about how I felt I'd gotten my money's worth out of the game.  It was okay, not great.  Very light on story, heavy focus on side quests and open world exploration.  Plus it had all of the story DLC (that had been released at the time) included.  I played it for a bit, got my $10 bucks worth, and lost interest, moving on to other things without finishing it.

I don't know what made me go back to the game with the intent to finish it, but I did.  The first half of hte game is a bit of a mindlessly enjoyable open world game.  But the second half is much more involved, story-wise, and removes the open world aspect almost completely.  I enjoyed the second half of the game a heck of a lot more than I did the first half, and finished the game from where I'd left off at in just a couple of days.

So here are some final thoughts on the game before I get to my rant on the DLC.  The characters are a bit flat.  So much so that Square-Enix actuall made a short anime series just to give the characters development and back story that was completely absent from the game.  You know, the things that motivate characters to do the things that they do?  Yeah, you have to watch an anime series on youtube to get those.  They're not in the game.  And that, right there, is the biggest problem with this game.  So many vital story and character elements are just not there.  Would it have killed them to put these anime scenes into the game as flashbacks at camps or something?  And then there's the Kingsglaive movie, which, again is vital to understanding the plot and how everything comes together, but was not included in the game, because SE wanted to rake in some more cash on a theatrical release, which they did, it was a pretty high grossing movie in Japan, if nowhere else in the world.  I really enjoyed it.  It's a pretty good movie.  And there are SO MANY Breaking Bad jokes to be made throughout its runtime.  But, again, it was story elements cut from the game, that you're kind of lost not knowing.  This is the problem. I can forgive flat, or ridiculous characters.  I can forgive outrageous plot threads, and plot holes you can drive a medium sized moon through.  These are staples of the Final Fantasy series.  Don't believe me, go replay Final Fantasy VII.  I'll wait.  You back?  Yeah, now you see what I mean, right?  I can forgive those, because they're part of the charm of the series.  What I can't forgive is vital story and character information being left out of the game and only available from outside sources.  This is not how good storytelling works, folks.  Imagine playing through the fall of Insomnia as Regis, or Nyx, or hell, even Lunafreya, instead of having to watch a movie to find out what happened off screen while the Bro-Force was asleep in Galden Quay.  This was also a huge problem in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, except there was no anime series or movie you could go watch, you had to read all of the lore and character information in datalogs that you actually have to hunt down through a maze of menus to even find.  It's a step up on XIII, but still not great.

Anyway, the story does get good about halfway through, and the end of the game is decent, if feeling a little rushed.  Again, I only paid $10 for it, so I got my money's worth.

I also played through the story DLC.  I don't mind supplemental story being added to a game after the completion of its story.  Sometimes I'll even actually pay for it, but usually not, because I've discovered something wondrous, ladies and gentlemen.  If you wait long enough, eventually there will be a complete or game of the year or whatever version of the game that includes it all, and usually for a reduced price.  But then there's games like Final Fantasy XV, where vital sections of the story are removed from the game to be sold later.  This, I do not, and cannot support.  Let's take a look at Final Fantasy XV's season pass compared to another game I bought the season pass for, Xenoblade Chronicles 2.  The season pass for FFXV was $15, with with you got a few weapons, an online multiplayer mode, and 3 story DLCs ranging from 1 hr to 2hrs in length each.  The season pass for XBC2 was $30 and you got all kinds of free goodies, a challenge battle mode, the ability to alter character appearances in the main game, a new game + that allows you to set your level for the difficulty you want in a replay, more rare blades to summon, and an expansion to the game that took me almost 30 hours to complete.  the story DLCs for FFXV were blatantly cut out of the main storyline of the game and sold separately as additional content.  the story in XBC2 is complete in itself, and the story DLC there is like a completely new and separate game that takes place in the same world to delve deeper into the back story.  Even at twice the price, I felt the XBC2 season pass waswell worth the money.  If I hadn't had the expansion pass included in the Royal Edition of FFXV I wouldn't have bothered.

So, there are 4 story DLCs for FFXV

Episode Gladiolus
Episode Prompto
Episode Ignis
Eisode Ardyn

Episode Ardyn is not included in the royal edition or the season pass.  There are also the canceled Episode Lunafreya and Episode Aranea, which are being rumored to be getting made after all, but probably not.

Episode Gladiolus is the most blatantly cut out of the game, dude randomly says hey guys, I'm out for a bit, catch ya later, then comes back and never says where he went or what he did.  This is probably the least enjoyable of the 4 in my opinion, because it just wasn't very interesting, and I found the combat difficult and clunky.  It was just a series of boss battles without much in the way of story.

Episode Prompto was much better, and it shows some very vital story elements for Prompto that really needed to be in the main game.  His motivations as a character are all laid out, and he's given a lot more depth than he otherwise has.  I had trouble playing through this one, becuase it's a combo of stealth sections and shooter sections, and I absoltely despise stealth games with the fiery intensity of a million George Foreman grills, and I don't really care for shooters either.  Story is great, and the character development is necessary, and really needed to be added into the main game.

Episode Ignis is by far the best of the original 3 season pass DLCs, and it is aboslutely vital to the the story of the main game.  If you do not play this, there are large elements of plot and character motivations that make absolutely no sense whatsoever without.  Ravus' random side change?  Yeah, that's explained.  Ignis' complete personality shift in the second half of the game.  That's explained too.  I WOULD say to play this immediately after fighting Leviathan, except for one HUGE problem.  IT SPOILS THE FREAKING END OF THE GAME!!!!  They remove a vital section of the story, on that elements of the ending of the game make no sense without, and put it behind a paywall to get, and you can't even play it where it needs to be played because it spoils the end of the game!  The story was good, the character moments were great, and Ignis' combat is really fun to play.

Episode Ignis was the best of the 3 season pass DLCs, but Episode Ardyn is far and away the absolute best of the four.  It gives so much back story and motivation to the game's main villain that was just completely missing from the main game.  where the other three DLCs were blatantly removed from the game, this one looks like it was made because the creators felt they needed to explain more about Ardyn's character.  This is more in line with the type of DLC I'm more supportive of.  Supplemental material that either adds more past the ending of the story, or clarifies parts of the story that were maybe a bit vague.  The combat is really fun, and Ardyn is just so gleefully evil that he is a hell of a lot of fun to play as.  You have an entire city to run around and just destroy and murder to your heart's content, all while he makes wisecracks and sarcastic comments.  It's probably the most fun I've had with Final Fantasy XV, period.  BUT at $9.99 for a 2 hour story DLC, it is ridiculously overpriced.  But, again, I only paid $10 for the main game and other DLCs, so I figure $20 altogether I still got my money's worth.  I loved this one, I only wish it had been a bit longer.  My advice would be to wait another 6 months or so until they release the super mega royal edition, which includes Episode Ardyn, or periodically check out the PSN/Xbox/Steam/Whatever store for a sale on a bundle of the royal edition and episode Ardyn.

So, in the end, I enjoyed the game.  I was suffering from a sever case of lowered expectations after all of the marketing and initial reviews of the vanilla game, but Final Fantasy XV today seems to have had a lot of the problems fixed, a lot of the holes filled in, and if the DLC is blatantly removed from teh main story, you can get it included in the royal edition.  The Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV anime, and the Prelude to Episode Ardyn anime are both free to watch on the official Final Fantasy XV youtube account, and the Kingsglaive movie can be rented and streamed from Amazon for $0.99, it's definitely worth a buck to watch.  Episode Ardyn was probably my favorite part of the entire game, but, again, it is RIDICULOUSLY overpriced.  If you can find the royal edition of the game for cheap like I did, I definitely recomend it.  While I don't feel the game was really worth full price, I do feel I got my money's worth and more for the price I paid.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

What I've been doing lately.

Okay, so, I got to a point in my first draft of Shadows of What Might have Been, sequel to Memories of What Never Was, and said to myself, yikes dude, you need to put this on the shelf and do a bit more brainstorming before you finish.  So I set that on the shelf, and am working out a few scenes that I need to add to the portion I've already written to make the ending I have planned actually make sense.

So what have I been working on in the mean time?  My final draft of Spires of Infinity.  Coming back to it after a few months off has given me some fresh eyes for finding problems that need to be fixed, things that need to be changed, and things that need to be added/removed.  I'm nearly halfway through, and have made some small, yet pretty significant changes.  Most of them having to do with Gabriel and Sam's characters.  I've added one scene of significant length, reshuffled a few into what I felt like was a better order, and made some minor tweaks here and there.  Mostly I feel that the changes help the story flow along better, and give a bit of a deeper connection to the characters.  So, I just have half of this book to go on editing, and then maybe a quick read through to make sure everything works and then I can start the really hard part, trying to sell it.

I'll admit that I haven't been doing a whole lot of work writing this year.  I'm still feeling pretty burnt out from Christmas at work.  In my 16 years of working at the post office I have NEVER seen a Christmas that bad.  I was working 7 days a week 12-15 hours a day because my complete moron of a boss doesn't realize the need for hiring to replace substitute carriers that quit, and we were horiffically understaffed and insanely overburdened.  I mean, really, Christmas comes at the exact same time every year.  You CAN prepare for it before hand if you're not a complete idiot.  It was a very long, very hard, very draining six weeks.  It just drained out all of my will to do anything productive.  I took a break back in January, but it wasn't long enough, and I already have the rest of my vacation time allocated this year so I can't take another break now and try to recover.  On top of that, I've been working on losing weight, and I'm kind of burning out on that too.  It is HARD work.  I've lost 50 lbs so far, and my goal is to lose 20 more, but it requires a pretty strict diet, and 90-120 mins of exercise every day.  It kind of wears you down.  With how much work and effort it has taken to lose the weight I am SO never letting myself get that fat ever again.  This has been a nightmare.  And it also cuts into my writing time, because it's very hard to maintain a pace on an exercise bike while also reading/editing/typing on a laptop, and completely impossible while out jogging.  Also, I've been working on paying off my car as quickly as possible to clear up some room in my budget, and looking at buying a house, which bring their own piles of stress with them.

Anyway, so that's what I've been doing the last few months since Christmas ended.  It's been a rough few months for me, and I still feel burnt out, but I've been making myself work on Spires of Infinity for at least an hour or so every day.  I am going to finish this thing, dammit!  And once I do, I'm going to finish Memories of What Never Was.  That one only needs one more draft too, I think.  I'm just about finished with both of these projects, and having them so close to being done while not doing anything to finish them has been nagging at me.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Xenoblade Chronicles X - This time with 100% lowered expectations

Way back when the Wii-U was a thing, I bought one because a new Xenoblade game was announced for it.  I thought the console was a little weird and clunky, and Xenoblade seemed to be the only game coming out for it that I cared for, but it was new, and there would probably be more games, right?  RIGHT?  Well, the Wii-U kind of flopped, and the only other games I ended up getting for it were remasters of a couple of Zelda Games.  It is fully backwards compatible with Wii games, though, and all of my virtual console stuff transferred over to the new system.  It also isn't region locked like the Wii was, so you can play EU games on it, both Wii and Wii-U.  So it wasn't a complete waste, buying the system.  I basically just replaced my Wii with it, and gave the Wii to my brother.  I don't regret buying it for one single game that I never actually finished, because it did offer that backwards compatibility.

The Xenoblade series, is BY FAR my favorite current series being made today.  They offer very deep and expansive stories, in huge and immersive worlds, with excellent characters.  So when I heard that there was a new game coming out, I didn't hesitate to preorder it, and buy myself the console it would be coming out for.  When it finally arrived, I was somewhat disappointed with it.  I enjoyed the gameplay.  The graphics were pretty stellar considering the Wii-U hardware limitations.  The music was pretty hit and miss.  For me, the music is always part of the experience in a video game.  That's why I always mention it.  There are some really good tracks, but the majority of it is either awful, or extremely irritating.  And the characters were kind of flat and shallow.  The character you control is an avatar that you create, never has his or her name spoken in any dialog, and never speaks in any of the story scenes.  I have ALWAYS hated silent protagonists in video games.  It's supposed to bring you more into the story by allowing you to choose a character's every response and action, but in my opinion it does nothing but take you OUT of the story when you're constantly being prompted for dialog responses that are never spoken aloud by your character.  You go from Shulk, a very deep and emotional character in Xenoblade Chronicles to Cross, a completely silent automaton in Xenoblade Chronicles X.  It kind of stung more than a little for me, with how much expectation I had coming into this game.  The original Xenoblade game set a VERY high bar, and X just didn't quite clear it.   The story was pretty weak, the characters were pretty weak, and though the world is beautiful and fun to explore, it's just so empty.  There's like, nothing in it.  You have all these places to go and nothing to do in them.  I got to a point in the game where, in order to progress to the next part of the story, I had to go out and do mandatory exploration, something I very much dislike, and several side quests, which I also very much dislike, and level up, which I find boring and tedious, and I also had to go level up affinity for characters I never use, and then gear up and use those characters for affinity missions.  I looked at all of that mountain of crap I had to do in order to continue the story and said NOPE!!!

Well, anyway, since I finished Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and it's expansion Torna: The Golden Country (definitely worth the expansion pass pricetag, if you're wondering.  I got a good 30 hrs of gameplay out of it, and didn't even come close to 100%ing it.) I've been having this nagging feeling of wanting to go back and finish Xenoblade Chronicle's X.  I spent all that money on the game and the system to play it on, and I never even finished the game.  So, I tried to pick up where I left off.  Yeah, no, that game is WAY to complicated to play to just pick up in the middle and go back to what you were doing.  So, I started over from the beginning.  This time, with 100% lowered expectations.  I knew it was going to be a slogging grindfest of lvling up, forced exploration, and forced sidequests.  I knew the story and characters were going to be lackluster.  And I knew I didn't have a very good time the first time around. 

So, I sucked it up and plowed through.  I'm not a fan of games that say, look, and open world, go have fun.  I don't really play games for that.  I like having a strong story with strong characters.  Exploring huge worlds is okay, but just so long as there's characters I like, and exploring it is part of the story.  Xenoblade X doesn't really have that.  It's just exploration for the sake of explorations.  There's a pretty weak story reason for it, but mostly it's just exploration for exploration's sake.  But I was determined to finish this game, so I could say that I have played all of the games in the Xeno series to the end.  With such low expectations, I kind of had fun with it.  Like I said, the game is fun to play.  It has pretty cool controls and combat.  The story and characters are weak, especially when you compare it to the other two Xenoblade games, but this time around I knew what to expect, and I found myself enjoying them.  I never got far enough to get to control giant robots the first time around, so I didn't know this at the time I started over, but as soon as you have access to them, the game goes into overdrive on the grindyness.  I finished with just over 120 hrs of gameplay, I would say that at least 100 hours of that was spent grinding out money for giant robots and giant robot weaponry.  This game is literally 80% grinding out money to pay for the things you cannot finish the game without due to a pretty steep difficulty curve at the end.

So, in the end, was it a bad game?  No.   It really wasn't.  Did I treat it unfairly when it was released?  Yeah, I probably did.  Is it worth shelling out the cash for a Wii-U to be able to play today?  Probably not.  I mean, if you can find a really cheap console in good condition, yeah, go for it, but I wouldn't say it's really worth it if you have to shell out more than $50 for console+game combined.  If you enjoy the open world sort of games, you may enjoy it more than I did, but, again, the game is ONLY available on Wii-U.  Rumors of a Switch port have been debunked by Monolith Soft.  They said they thought about it, then realized that because of the Wii-U dual screen functionality, literally half of the game's code would have to be rewritten, and as they are a very small developer they just can't spare the manpower for it. 

This game deserved better, in my opinion.  It feels like what it is.  A game that reached for grand ideas, but fell short of them because Nintendo stripped away almost half of the dev team and put them to work on Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  It feels like an unfinished game, because it kind of is.  I've been reading up on what was planned for it and had to be cut because they just didn't have the manpower to get it done.  This game was gutted to give only the most bare bones of what it could and should have been, because Nintendo felt Breath of the Wild would be more lucrative.  You can really tell that there were a lot of people stripped out of the dev team.  Usually a game like this has end credits that go on over 10 mins.  The end credits for this game were less than 3.  That's how few people they had left to work on it, and because of that, the vision of what it was meant to be had to be trimmed away into what they could do with the people that they had.  Which is sad, but an unfortunate fact of the gaming industry of today.  I can see the game it might have been in the game that it is, and I can appreciate it for what it is, and what it aimed to be.  I'm glad I took the time to finish it.  And I hope that, with the overwhelming success Monolith has had with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Nintendo will never do that to them again in the future.