30 June 2010

Final Fantasy XIII - Final Thoughts

So, I just beat Final Fantasy XIII. (Could've done it weeks ago, but I got sidetracked by other stuff... At least this time I came back to it relatively soon, too many games still remain unbeaten.) This was, in fact, the first FF I've had the motivation to play all the way through since the days of the PS One. (Yeah, I'll still beat that FFX, and others, some day, just don't know when.)

The game's clock stood at about 75 hours. Honestly, it felt shorter, at least when compared to the likes of Final Fantasy VII. I think this was largely due to the way storytelling was handled. Although there were lots of cutscenes, the story itself, while fairly epic, was relatively short and straightforward, with very little branching, being basically limited to those cutscenes. Almost movie-like, one might say.

When I first started writing video game reviews for my website, I decided I wouldn't review Final Fantasy games. 'Cause, well, that'd be like writing a book review of The Lord of the Rings. Pointless. But I can still blog about them, of course.

All in all, Final Fantasy XIII was a game with some nice ideas, but also many flaws. The new battle system was quite fun to play. However, they'd pretty much made that the whole game. One battle after another, with very little exploration or NPC interaction. Considering the length of the game, it's not surprising that it could get somewhat monotonous at times due to this.

There were also some problems in regards to the placing of content. Once you're finally given the option to do some optional exploring by taking on 'missions', all of this content is placed in more or less one area of the game. So you can spend hours and hours doing this stuff (which is still basically just killing monsters, without a single NPC or anything in sight), while the story is essentially on hold. They could have spread this content out more, so it wouldn't affect the pacing of the story so much.

After beating the game, it's possible to return to complete more missions etc. (some of which would be very hard, if even possible, before). But honestly, once the story's done with and the credits roll, what possible motivation could I have for carrying on? I don't really see the point of accomplishing everything just for the sake of it. Not in a series like Final Fantasy, anyway, which has always to me been more about story than anything else.

The music, which for the first time had no input from Nobuo Uematsu, wasn't bad, even if there were few really memorable themes. There were some nifty ideas, though, like the use of vocals on several tracks, something I don't recall encountering before in this type of game.

The world, story and characters, as such, were fairly interesting and original. But there would have been potential for much more. Like I said, the story did feel surprisingly short for a game of this length, particularly since there were so few NPC's and little exploration involved. With a little more variety it could have been a great game. As it is, it was still pretty entertaining, but by no means a new FFVII.

So, what next? Since I'm likely to be spending a lot of time out of town during July, there's not much point starting another big game right away. Maybe something I can play on my laptop, if only I knew what...

25 June 2010

I Know This Seat

I know this seat
I've sat here before
this chair in darkness
this lonely throne

through flames I came here
through swordplay, great journeys
through laughter, delight
many shining souls

the story goes on
with or without me
yet always a parting
a nightfall, an ending

an empty vessel remaining
bittersweet melodies
to a fall into oblivion

PS. 200th blog post.

21 June 2010

One Solstice Night

It is the shortest night of the year, the summer solstice. In honour of this, I've decided to stay up till dawn, if I'm able. For company I've got a bag of liquorice (salmiak flavoured), and a bottle of 'Dry Anis' liquor, which I've never tried before, and decided to give a shot in celebration of the event. (Or rather, I'll be giving myself the shots - here I go with the bad puns already, and the night's hardly begun.)

23:00 - The sun should've set a few minutes ago in Helsinki. The first few minutes of 'night' are spent listening to Robbie Robertson's first album. I've been wondering how to spend the night. A friend at Facebook joked about working from dawn to dusk earlier, and we also chatted about vampires. Which naturally in my mind adds up to From Dusk Till Dawn!

23:40 - Tarantino plus Rodriguez... A match made in heaven! A formula for pure genius! One of my favourite movies, I might add. Also probably Clooney's best ever role. The aniseed stuff tastes, unsurprisingly, like cough sweets, or something. Probably best as shots. Mixed with the liquorice taste in my mouth, um, slightly peculiar.

00:15 - Just a couple of (angry) words about the DVD import industry... There appear to be some companies that make Scandinavian versions of DVD's really cheaply, and make a really half-assed job of it. For three reasons: a) They usually only have subtitles in the Nordic languages. In this global age English should be compulsory! b) The Finnish translations tend to be really crappy. c) For some reason a lot of these cheap imports seem to have a weird bug that makes it impossible to turn subtitling off! (And I've tried with several DVD players, so it's not a player issue.) If someone would like to donate me UK versions of this, and several other DVD's, I would not say no...

01:00 - Drinking shots in the movie! That means I'm having a shot too, of course!

02:00 - Movie's over. Sky's still a pale blue, turning to yellow near the horizon. And we're past halfway through the night, so it won't be getting any darker. A bird singing... probably a nightingale, but not 100% sure. A little tipsy, naturally.

03:00 - Watching the bonus disc documentary 'Full-Tilt Boogie'. (I've had this DVD for years, but I don't remember ever watching this before...) It's already much lighter outside than it was an hour ago.

03:55 - Documentary's over, and it's about time for sunrise. (Already? This night went faster than I expected.) And (surprisingly) it's a lot lighter than it was an hour ago! Might need to actually close the blinds if I want to get any sleep tonight... (Something I rarely do, my bedroom being on the north side of the house, and on the first floor, so neither light or privacy's rarely much of a problem.) Still a tad tipsy, but starting to sober up already. (I like to think I'm fairly good at that drinking in 'moderation' stuff. Honestly, I've only had, like, one really bad hangover in my life.) It's just... damn it, I don't feel at all sleepy now!

04:15 - OK, scratch that, I think I'm ready to crash. Good night, all!

13 June 2010

Dreams from the Fresh Kills, Pt 5

Update: Last session of Dreams from the Fresh Kills added.

The fifth session, then, seemed like the suitable point to end my latest RPG mini-campaign. Like I've said earlier, it wasn't the sort of story that could drag on forever. And it got a suitably epic end, I think. If the story write-up sounds a little confusing... well, it's supposed to. (I omitted a lot of stuff and jumbled up the rest a bit, partly in order to make the end sound more dramatic and mysterious, partly as an excuse to avoid writing too much.) This was one of those sessions again when the players pretty much did nothing I could have planned for. But that's part of the fun, isn't it?

Now I'm seriously considering D&D as my next game for this group, if only for a few sessions. I've been talking about it enough for years already, haven't I? Last time I really had the D&D bug I designed the world called Wyrmvoid. But as time goes by and plans lose momentum, I'm afraid I have a habit of sort of going off of old ideas. Right now I'm in the mood for something much more original (though still D&D'ish at heart) , and I've got one or two strange ideas I'm toying with...

8 June 2010

D&D Never Looked So... Well, Nothing Much, Really

Update: New character sheets for download in the RPG section.

Today I spent a significant part of the afternoon whipping up a little character sheet for AD&D (2nd ed.). The question I've been asking myself is: 'Why?' It doesn't look like there's much chance of a D&D game looming on the horizon. My focus is on Va'ita right now. And, as much as I love D&D, its clichéd nature tends to mean it's usually left in second place in favour of more original ideas when choosing new games to play. But I've been feeling another bout of D&D nostalgia of late, perhaps largely due to the little game we played a week ago.

Strange as it sounds, I enjoy designing character sheets. My creations aren't stunningly artistic, but I hope they're at least functional. Of course there is usually a need for a better sheet behind these acts of creation. Perfect character sheets seem to be a rare species, and I'm always finding flaws in the sheets provided by game publishers.

Although this time there was no acute need for a new sheet, as I'm not exactly planning any new D&D games, the fact remained that I didn't have sheet for AD&D that I was quite happy with. My goal was to create something a little more minimalistic than most AD&D sheets out there. I don't like my games to have too many detailed rules to remember. I don't think I'd find much use for the proficiency rules, for instance, if I ever ran a new AD&D game. And I've always been too lazy to keep track of encumbrance, so these two elements were the first to go.

I'm pretty happy with the end result, although I haven't had a chance to print a test copy yet, much less actually test it in play. I might still add modified versions for different classes in the future. But this can wait. I'm tired after a day of mostly staring at this wretched screen.

Edit: I printed out one test copy, and I think it looks pretty neat. But I'm partial, of course. Also added some class specific versions. Oh, and I forgot to mention I took some stylistic influence from a D&D ('classic' version) sheet I saw somewhere, possibly the Rules Cyclopedia, but I don't remember for sure now.

Oh, and I've also added a couple of simple character sheets for Fudge, based on a design I created for my latest game, Tales from the Teya'o Iva.

Just for the record, most of my sheets are made with Scribus.

6 June 2010

Tales from the Teya'o Iva, plus Dreams from the Fresh Kills, Pt 4

Update: Fourth session of Dreams from the Fresh Kills online, plus the beginnings of my latest campaign.

We finally got my latest RPG campaign underway. About bloody time too, we've only been planning it since February at least (I wrote about the design process in an earlier post).

The game is titled Tales from the Teya'o Iva, and is set in my fantasy world Va'ita. The player characters are crew members aboard the pirate zeppelin Teya'o Iva, who'll undoubtedly be drawn into many interesting and unforeseen adventures.

For many of my recent games I've been writing fairly detailed prose descriptions of the events. Quite frankly, I'm getting tired of it. It feels like a chore, not part of the fun of the gaming experience. The descriptions do have a function, as a reminder of past events (which is why I originally started writing them), but in most cases the essential information could be summarised in just a few lines.

This time there is even more reason for not starting to write lengthy stories. The group is somewhat larger than the other group I've mostly run games for, and the gaming sessions have a habit of being longer as well. That means there's a lot more going on, the story branching in many directions. I'd go crazy trying to sum it up in prose form. I'll still keep a record of main events on my website, for my own and the players' benefit, but it'll only be a very brief summary this time. In addition, we're using Google Wave to discuss events in a more social manner.

While many of my recent games have been modelled on TV shows, this time I've been trying to think more in video game terms, referring to individual story segments as 'quests', which don't have to progress in a certain order or be limited to a particular gaming session, and can be interrelated (as obviously there'll be storylines that keep popping up) or more independent adventures. This is largely because, the group being fairly large, it might often be difficult to find a date suitable for every player. If I've got a bunch of ready 'quests' to draw upon, it should be easier to build a session suitable for the particular group at hand, leaving the main storylines for occasions when most of us are together.

In addition to my new game's first session, I also ran a session of my other current campaign, Dreams from the Fresh Kills, this week, and for this game I'm still writing story descriptions. Some interesting plot twists there, the game is drawing towards a grand finale (and even I don't know what will happen in the next session). Designing two game sessions inside one week (plus just playing in one) was a pretty tiring experience, I may say. But perhaps I can rest for a couple of days now, before the next session's upon me...