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Not so Final Fantasy – Final Fantasy XV: a Game of Two Halves



Not so Final Fantasy is a tri-weekly column dedicated to all things Final Fantasy; from specific aspects of specific titles, to the universal features that set Square Enix’s inimitable JRPG series apart from the rest.

It’s common knowledge that, in the roughly ten years Square Enix took to make the game, Final Fantasy XV underwent numerous changes.

This unusually prolonged development cycle wasn’t a mark of the Square’s desperation to recapture the series’ golden age, however, nor was it the calling card of a fastidious director who steadfastly refused to release his work to the general public until it met his own lofty standards. Rather, it’s emblematic of the much loved JRPG franchise’s loss of direction and identity in the recent past.

What that meant for the finished article was that, after a tremendously impressive beginning that suggested maybe, just maybe, Square had finally perfected the formula for blending the series’ traditional JRPG elements with the faster-paced combat demanded (apparently) by modern gamers, XV begins a swift decline into mediocrity. Undoing all that earlier good work and resulting in yet another ‘what if’ moment for the once greats series.

Before we begin, please be aware that what follows is heavily laden with spoilers. Continue at your own peril.

Final Fantasy XV Shows Plenty of Early Promise…

Final Fantasy XV big bad Ardyn Izunia

Having watched the tie-in CG movie Kingsglaive (starring Aaron Paul, Lena Headey, and Sean Bean), the accompanying anime, and played both Episode Duscae and the Platinum Demo prior to launch, I was chomping at the bit to begin my journey through the world of Eos when a shiny new copy of the game dropped through my letter box on a chilly November morning in 2016.

I still wasn’t sure about the characters, mind you; terrible names and Gladiolus’ horrendous tattoos aside, I was slightly put off by the whole itinerant boy band dynamic the quartet seemed to represent. Nevertheless, I was impressed by the apparent richness of the world itself, while the main narrative seemed complex and, for the first time in a long while for a Final Fantasy game, genuinely interesting.

In particular, the ongoing conflict between Lucis and Niflheim, reminiscent of the political tensions between Balamb and Galbadia Garden in FFVIII or the Returners and the Gestahlian Empire in FFVI, provided a solid foundation on which to build the rest of the story, with plenty of potential for intertwining sub-plots and numerous opportunities for expanding on the lore of Eos along the way only adding to the sense of depth. There were even signs XV might do something new and exciting with that most traditional of Final Fantasy tropes: magical crystals.

And, after a while, the legitimately touching, almost fraternal bond that held together the game’s quartet of heroes more than made up for their individual failings; putting to bed many of my earlier concerns.

There was plenty of promise visible in other areas, too. Whether fighting a mob of low-level grunts or a powerful new mark, combat was fast-paced and fun, placing a heavy emphasis on teamwork that fit snuggly within the wider themes of camaraderie Final Fantasy XV works so hard to cultivate. True, it wasn’t the deliberate, tactical, turn-based system I’ve been craving for the last fifteen or so years, but it wasn’t as jarring as I’d anticipated: it kind of felt like a light version Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, but with a Final Fantasy veneer.

Together with the unfailingly beautiful setting that offered a similar mixture of high fantasy and futuristic technology as FFVII, VIII, or XIII, but in a way that was unlike anything else Square Enix had created before, it was hard to envisage a time when exploring the picturesque landscapes of Eos, with your loyal friends by your side, would ever lose its allure. And I simply couldn’t wait to discover how these various narrative threads and mechanics would come together in this visually captivating world.

…But Ultimately Fails to Deliver

A typical Final Fantasy XV encounter

Yet, Final Fantasy XV simply fails to live up to its true potential.

The story all but falls apart as it picks up momentum, the writing staff and director unable to stitch together the disparate narrative threads that must have emerged over the ten-year development cycle into any kind of coherent, meaningful whole. In the end, amidst incongruous moments of gameplay (the entirety of the original chapter 13, for instance) we’re left with another formulaic tale of the unassuming hero fated to save the world from a nefarious force – in this case Ardyn Izunia: a villain whose motivations are only poorly defined over the course of the adventure.

Worse, the touching brotherly bond that united Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus in the first few chapters is disrupted by a handful of eleventh-hour attempts on the part of Square Enix to give each individual character a darker edge. Illustrated in completely unnecessary moments of conflict between Noctis and Gladiolus following the events of Chapter 9, for example; or the ludicrously ill-explained, almost comical, backstory forced on Prompto as the game draws towards its disappointing climax.

Flashes of inconsistency that heavily imply the writing staff, as well as having to try and reconcile a decade’s-worth of competing ideas and plot points, were working to an unfeasible deadline that gave them only enough time to polish the first half/two-thirds of the game. Any resulting discrepancies were an unfortunate consequence that would be dealt with post-launch.

As disappointing as this narrative drop-off is, however, the mechanical issues that emerge as the player delves deeper into the game are more systemic. For all its visual splendour, it doesn’t take long for the player to realise that, at its heart, Final Fantasy XV’s combat and progression systems are actually pretty basic.

Victory, in the majority of cases, is as simple as mashing the attack button until the enemy’s no longer breathing, warping out of battle for a few seconds every now and again to replenish Noctis’ HP gauge or switch to a slightly more effective weapon. Magic and summons being largely superfluous, reduced to little more than spectacular set-pieces the purpose of which is to mask this inherent lack of depth.

Progressions is similarly rudimentary, restricted to a handful of passive and active abilities that don’t really alter the way fights play out beyond the obvious: i.e. larger HP pools for each character or additional accessory slots. While there’s also a decided lack of quest variety beyond an interminably long list of hunting contracts and hackneyed fetch quests in which the biggest decision the player has to make is ‘which classic Final Fantasy soundtrack should I listen to between objectives?’

Even exploration loses its appeal after a while, as this fundamental lack of variety rears its ugly head once again in the topography of Eos itself.

Though it’s many times the size of VI, VII, VIII, and IX in terms of square mileage, these worlds felt diverse and lived-in. Complete. As if there were centuries of history and secrets lying just below the surface, waiting to be discovered by eagle-eyed adventurers. Eos, on the other hand, is empty in every sense of the word: its settlements separated by an endless expanse of sand-coloured wilderness and tedious random encounters; it’s attempts at world building a collection of vaguely established events that almost seem separate from the people the player interacts with as the story progresses.

To be honest, the only thing that doesn’t suffer a noticeable downturn in quality over the course of the adventure is Yoko Shimomura’s superb soundtrack.

The best way to explore the world of Eos has to be on the back of your faithful Chocobo companion - Final Fantasy XV

Apologies to any fans if this article comes across as a mite harsh – I assure you, it’s not borne out of prejudice or hatred. For all its drawbacks, Final Fantasy XV certainly isn’t an awful game and I certainly wouldn’t be averse to playing it again at some point in the not-too-distant future. I’m simply disappointed and more than a little frustrated at witnessing so much wasted promise first-hand.

If it had been utterly forgettable from start to finish, I probably wouldn’t have been quite so critical; writing it off as another misstep before looking ahead to the next installment in the hopes that FFXVI will be the modern Final Fantasy we deserve.

As it is, XV promises so much in the beginning, only to let us down once again. Establishing it as the latest in an increasingly long line of missed opportunies that no amount of post-launch patches and DLC expansions will ever truly rectify.

Counting Final Fantasy VII, The Last of Us, the original Mass Effect trilogy, and The Witcher 3 amongst his favourite games, John enjoys anything that promises to take up an absurdly large amount of his free time. When he’s not gaming, chances are you’ll find him engrossed in a science fiction or fantasy novel; basically, John’s happiest when his attention is as far from the real world as possible.

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Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019



Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

Awesome Mixtape Vol. 5

It’s that time once again in which I bring to you my awesome mixtape featuring the best tracks from the best video game soundtracks of the year. Last year, my mixtape featured tracks from Triple-A titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and indie darlings like Celeste. In 2017, my picks for best soundtracks included tracks from some of my favorite games including Cuphead, Breath of the Wild and Into the Woods, to name just a few. Well, 2019 has been another banner year for the industry and as always, the games were blessed with an astounding selection of musical scores— some would argue the soundtracks were even better than the actual games at times. As always, it wasn’t easy deciding which songs to include and what to leave out— and as always, I’ve also mixed in some audio clips from various cut scenes while trying to keep it spoiler-free. Feel free to share this link and let me know if you think I’ve missed any great soundtracks in the comments below.

Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019 Playlist

Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding
: Low Roar – “I’ll Keep Coming”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Life is Strange 2: Seyr – “Colour To Colour”
Life is Strange 2: Jonathan Morali – “Into the Woods”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Sayonara Wild Heart”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Wild Hearts Never Die”
Death Stranding: CHVRCHES – “Death Stranding”
Afterparty clip
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “Title and Credits”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Hades Gonna Hate”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Schoolyard Strangler”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Main Theme
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Cyrus the Scholar
Kingdom Hearts 3 clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Main Theme”
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Blue Skies and a Battle”
Devil May Cry 5 clip
Devil May Cry 5: Kota Suzuki – “Urizen Boss Battle Music”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
FAR: Lone Sails: Joel Schoch – “Colored Engine”
Days Gone: Nathan Whitehead— “Soldier’s Eye”
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Metro Exodus: Alexey Omelchuk – “Main Theme”
Resident Evil 2 Remake clip
Resident Evil 2 Remake: Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama, Shun Nishigaki – “Mr.X Theme Music (T-103)”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Begin Again”
Life is Strange 2: Lincoln Grounds, Pat Reyford – “Morning Good Morning”
Life is Strange 2: Sufjan Stevens – “Death With Dignity”
Luigi’s Mansion 3 clip
Luigi’s Mansion 3: Koji Kondo – “Main Theme”
Ape Out: Matt Boch – “Intro”
Deltarune: Toby Fox – “Field of Hopes and Dreams”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “Loose Cargo”
“Star Wars: Imperial March” Hip Hop Remix
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra
Death Stranding: Silent Poets – “Asylum for The Feeling”
Catherine: Full Body: Shoji Meguro – “Tomorrow”
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening: Koji Kondo – “Marin’s Ballad of the Windfish”
Metro Exodus – Alexey Omelchuk: “Teardrops”
Sekiro: Yuka Kitamura – “Ashina Reservoir”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “The Doom”
Medley: Eye of Death / Wild Hearts Never Die / Dragon Heart / Clair De Lune

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Game Reviews

‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming



Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.



max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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