Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age Review

Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age

The Final Fantasy series has always been about reinvention, and the twelfth incarnation embodies this to such an extreme, that you might catch yourself wondering if this is a really a game from the long-running RPG franchise at all. Not only is it deserving of the name, but it’s an RPG through and through, where monster hunting and exploration of spacious locales effectively feed into its stat-based progression within an ensemble cast of colorful personalities. Like its predecessors, Final Fantasy 12 puts its own spin on how chocobos, summons, and characters named Cid play into its epic journey. With its long awaited remaster ready for release, Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age puts its best foot forward with a wealth of improvements and changes, delivering a fresh experience even if you’ve memorized the path from The Phon Coast to The Tomb of Raithwall.

For those who thoroughly enjoyed the PS2 version of Final Fantasy 12, The Zodiac Age is not only a remaster, but also a remix. Keen eyes will notice subtle tweaks to enemy locations and even changes to the selection of merchant goods. Some of these modifications are in service to the character-enhancing License Board, which itself has been overhauled from the original game in order to give each party member more distinctive jobs and abilities. Along with the inclusion of a Japanese voice track and improved loading times, the option to toggle between the original and reorchestrated versions of Hitoshi Sakimoto’s exquisite soundtrack is a welcome feature. Lastly, the improved high definition visuals brings out a fetching painterly look to the characters’ faces. As a PlayStation 4 exclusive, The Zodiac Age stands out as a feature-rich rerelease on a platform with a bountiful selection of lesser remasters.

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Even if it were an untouched port, Final Fantasy 12 would stand out for its distinct handling of familiar elements. For instance, there’s a thriving society centered around hunting, a gig economy where skilled fighters of many races vanquish the game world’s most hostile creatures. Being recognized and awarded for taking down bounties effectively weaves a part of FF12’s story with any player motivation to complete the bestiary. Equally notable is the emphasis on thievery, which is also narratively tied to the resourceful nature of Vaan, one of the playable characters. You won’t go far if you relied solely on money from defeated monsters and treasure chests. Riches instead come from the sales of loot you acquire from the creatures you take down. Much like Final Fantasy 9’s Zidane, Vaan’s stealing skills helps players develop an appreciation for the series’ long line of talented but sometimes overlooked thieves.

Further driving the distinctiveness of Final Fantasy 12 is its setting of Ivalice, an established universe with its origins outside of the core series. And like other games based in Ivalice, specifically Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy Tactics, 12’s plot often feels like a middle chapter of a grander tale yet to be told. It’s so rich in backstory that keeping track of names and places during the initial hours can feel overwhelming, though the further you play, the easier it is to get a handle of the intricacies of the lore. What you really need to know at the start is two small kingdoms, Dalmasca and Nabradia, are caught in the crossfire of two larger warring empires, Rozarria and Archadia. Of the countless individuals affected by this period of upheaval, six characters–all of whom come from vastly different backgrounds– form your party, uniting for a common cause to de-escalate this continent-wide conflict.

Perpetuating this middle episode vibe are the playable characters themselves, who have been appropriately compared to the cast of Star Wars: A New Hope. As examples, Ashe is the captured princess and Basch is the former general in hiding. Balthier is the self-serving pirate with a price on his head and his partner, Fran, has been described as Sexy Chewbacca. Their intertwined backstories and resulting encounters allow for chemistry and conflict as the often engaging narrative unfolds.

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Reinforcing Final Fantasy 12’s timelessness, The Zodiac Age brings in an enhanced Gambit battle system, which itself felt ahead of its time upon its first release. By stringing together a prioritized series of if/then commands for each character, battles unfold with a semi-automated flow where you can vanquish beasts without pressing a button for minutes on end. The immensely user friendly interface fittingly looks and feels like a Fisher-Price styled introduction to programming, where each player-chosen behavior is simply assigned a specific target, whether it be an ally, themselves, or a single enemy.

No Caption Provided Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10 One would think that the hands-free aspects of The Gambit System would deprive you of agency and engagement but it in fact creates the opposite result. Since you’re still responsible for every character’s actions, the thrill of seeing your handiwork unfold and emerging victorious never gets old. It allows for experimentation and risk-taking but The Gambit System truly shines when you stick to sensible and tried-and-true RPG battle tactics. Remember all those times you died in battle because you ignored a status ailment and thought you could get one last attack in instead? This system removes all manner of impulsiveness and for many, offers a glimpse of the RPG combatant one aspires to be, free of impetuous behaviors.

You don’t get your hands on this system in earnest until three hours in, which is one hour too many. Yet this onboarding period is notably improved over the original game thanks to the option to double or even quadruple the speed of play. This is just one of the many new features that makes The Zodiac Age ever more engrossing. In a game that features respawning enemies, every hostile area becomes more inviting. You’re motivated by growing your party’s stats at an accelerated pace even after you’ve explored every corner and opened every treasure chest in a given region.

While its enhancements do not translate into a brand new game for existing fans, The Zodiac Age is nonetheless invigorating. For an experience that can last over a hundred hours, the subtle tweaks therein go a long way in showcasing Final Fantasy 12’s grand trek in a new light. Its epic, lore-abundant story and its time-tested Gambit System should also appeal to those who missed out on the mainline series’ trip to Ivalice the first time around. And thanks in part to the new audio and speed options, The Zodiac Age is an ideal definitive edition: one that improves the game over its original version across the board.

Ever Oasis 3DS Review

Ever Oasis Review

Ever Oasis is a cute hybrid RPG that attempts to mix Animal Crossing-like town building with an adventure along the lines of The Legend of Zelda. Its compound formula is appealing on paper, but for a while, Ever Oasis falls short of its potential. Its simplistic narrative, cutesy visuals, and basic town-building mechanics test your patience in the beginning. But when its principal ideas are given a chance to take root, it sprouts into a surprisingly absorbing adventure that consistently rewards your time and efforts.

Set in a hostile desert world, you play as a young creature called a Seedling, who with the help of a water spirit, is capable of creating a magical safe haven known as an Oasis. Your adventure begins in ruin as your brother’s Oasis is attacked by Chaos, an evil force that seeks to devastate and corrupt all living things. It lays waste to the area and its inhabitants, but before Chaos can harm you, your brother teleports you to safety in the hopes that you may survive to create a new Oasis and gather up the strength to defeat Chaos.

Ever Oasis’ main story never stretches too far outside its basic premise, rarely expanding upon its rudimentary good-versus-evil dynamic. Despite the stakes set by its grim introduction, it predominantly maintains a happy-go-lucky attitude in the face of conflict, and you seldom get a sense of how Chaos has gripped the land or its people. There are a couple moments where it’s expanded upon, like the plight of the Lagora, a race of squirrel-cats who once cultivated a lush forest to produce water, only for it to be consumed by Chaos. Details like this offer valuable insight into the game’s world, but they’re too few and far between.

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It’s satisfying to build up your Oasis and see it steadily grow more vibrant and lush.

As a result, it isn’t the narrative that pulls you into Ever Oasis. Rather, it’s the slow process of building up your personal desert refuge that proves to be the game’s most rewarding element. You expand your Oasis by convincing travelers to live there. This can be done by fulfilling their requests, which typically range from fetch quests to escort missions. Successfully convincing travelers to become residents of your Oasis feeds into Bloom Booths, which are shops they can run that sell specific wares, such as juice, books, or fabric. Once a booth is built, you supply it with items the owner needs to stock their goods. This in turn attracts visitors who come to your Oasis to shop, racking up money for you to purchase seeds to grow crops, materials for equipment synthesis, or additional Bloom Booths. It takes time to learn these tenets, mostly due to the game’s slow and incessant tutorials, but once you’re given the reins, the loop is quickly rewarding. The wider variety of Bloom Booths your Oasis contains, the more people that come to visit; and the more people that live in your Oasis, the higher its level, thus increasing its size and real-estate space. Your thoughts are always locked on what you can do to maximize your profits and upgrade your Oasis, or how you can entice a specific traveler into visiting. There’s great joy in sorting through and accomplishing the various odd jobs you’re given, but what’s most fulfilling is seeing your Oasis take on new life as it levels up, sprouting lush greenery, paving wider roads, and erecting stone monuments.

While you spend much of your time developing your Oasis, there are occasions when you must venture into the game’s overworld–often to seek out residents or explore nearby caves for materials. Most of the game’s locales are wide-open desert landscapes, which sounds dull aesthetically but is actually pleasing to the eye thanks to the way the game’s day/night cycle changes the world’s color palette. The environments are not as dense as they could be, sometimes coming across as small sandboxes more so than lived-in spaces, but they sport a sense of interconnectedness that remains satisfying to explore.

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The ability to customize a party offers a welcome dose of strategy to combat.

In your trek across the game’s arid deserts, you often fight creatures tainted by Chaos’ presence. Like much of Ever Oasis, combat is rudimentary and tedious at first, boiling down to dodging an attack at the right moment and counterattacking accordingly. But as you obtain more advanced maneuvers and abilities, fights start to become more exciting affairs, especially when you form a party of three of your Oasis’ most formidable residents to accompany you. The ability to customize a party offers a welcome dose of strategy to combat, as utilizing the unique strengths of various characters becomes paramount to your success in the late game’s more difficult fights. While combat can be fulfilling, inconsistent party AI frequently leads to moments of frustration. It’s common to see your companions running headfirst into a brutal attack, and other times skillfully dodging out of harm’s way. The issue is minor, but you’re liable to adopt the habit of bringing extra healing items to accommodate your allies’ sporadic incompetence.

A major highlight of the overworld is its dungeons. Each contains a varied mix of puzzles to solve and enemies to fight. The myriad puzzles you encounter are elaborate, requiring you to utilize the unique abilities of your party. Some characters can, for example, shapeshift. This particular ability comes in handy when you need one ally to become a ball and another to form a wall for the first character to ricochet off of. While none of the ordeals you face are particularly difficult, they’re diverse enough to keep you consistently engaged. However, an issue that detracts from the pacing of dungeons is the constant need to return to your Oasis to change your party members to overcome specific puzzles. Fast-travel alleviates this annoyance to some degree, but the number of times you’re forced to go back and forth breaks up the flow of dungeons, reducing the enjoyment of exploring and overcoming these trials.

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While Ever Oasis is rough in spots, it helps that the game maintains a consistent level of wonder, introducing new types of challenges in step with your acquisition of new tools and abilities. Small quality-of-life adjustments, such as the ability to send out resource-gathering parties and bulk Bloom Booth restocking, are introduced to alleviate the demands of your routine as the game’s scope increases and you’re forced to spend more time exploring. It understands your struggles the moment you experience them, smartly streamlining your ability to accomplish tasks before they can become problematic. But building up your Oasis demands patience, and that can be the most challenging aspect of all. While it’s easy to initially write off the game based on its rudimentary narrative and overtly vibrant visuals, what becomes compelling as you play more is the sense of ownership you start to feel for your Oasis and the bonds you create with your allies.

Ever Oasis’ tight blend of mechanics and activities are bound to keep you coming back for more well after completing it, if only to see what else you can do to develop your desert sanctuary. While the game’s story isn’t particularly moving, the consistent gratification of its incisive design makes it a satisfying adventure. Ever Oasis takes time to grow, but the return is well worth the wait.

Tekken 7 PC Reviews

Tekken 7 Reviews

The Tekken series has a long-standing reputation in arcades, but for many players it was the console ports that left a lasting impression. These versions often introduced offbeat, dramatic story campaigns, as well as more extensive additions such as delightfully odd beat-’em-up and sport modes. And in recent years, the goal of unlocking and customizing outfits for the game’s large cast rounded out the most rewarding objective of all: getting good. Tekken 7 keeps most of these traditions alive and once again delivers the tight, hard-hitting action for which the series is known. The game has some server-stability issues at launch, but it’s otherwise a great sequel that confidently claims its position among the best fighting games today.

Similar to other 3D Fighters like Dead or Alive and Virtua Fighter, Tekken 7 focuses on utilizing space and lateral movement during combat. By and large this is a game of inches; most fighters punch, kick, and grapple up close to one another and there’s little margin for error. A moment of indecision or a sloppy move against a more skilled player can lead to a string of pummeling strikes and a hasty defeat, courtesy of the game’s long combo strings. Though Tekken 7 can be punishing, its fighting system isn’t as difficult to get into as it lets on. With an intuitive control scheme that assigns one button to each limb, you can learn how to attack and retaliate, step by step. The long-term trick is putting in the time to dissect and memorize your favorite character’s moveset to hone your reflexes and diversify your tactics.

The biggest complaint you can lob at Tekken 7 is that it doesn’t do a good job of explaining the intricacies of its mechanics, let alone how you should approach learning your character of choice. The move lists for each character often hover around 100 entries, serving as a mix of one-off special attacks and combos. Save for a few icons–which represent attack properties that the game also fails to thoroughly explain–lists are disorganized, with no categories or hierarchy to speak of. The best you can do is hop into training mode and shift from one move to the next. Thankfully, you can scroll through attack hints live, during practice, and without repeatedly entering menus.

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None of this is to say that Tekken 7 is too deep, which would be a ridiculous complaint–the depth of its roster and fighting styles is to your benefit. The point is that new players will have very little help learning anything beyond the basics once they jump into battle. This is disappointing, given that other fighting games have demonstrated that the best way to retain new players is by giving them a fighting chance, and the lack of instruction is odd for Tekken, which only one game prior (Tekken Tag Tournament 2) gave players Fight Lab mode–a place to study how mechanics and different types of attacks can dictate the flow of a match.

But if this isn’t your first King of Iron Fist tournament and you’ve kept up with Tekken over its more than 20-year tenure, you’ll find that Tekken 7 delivers the same great combat you know and love with a hefty batch of new characters–and a few new mechanics. The game includes notable new supermoves that can be triggered when a character’s health is dangerously low, which is also the right time to unleash a rage drive–a powered-up standard combo attack. The most important new addition is the power crush attack attribute: Relevant attacks can absorb incoming hits mid-animation, allowing you to risk a little health to increase your chances of landing a critical blow, which injects Tekken’s otherwise familiar fights with a renewed element of surprise.

With more than 30 playable characters, Tekken 7 offers plenty of fighters and opponents to study. Impressively, nearly a quarter of the roster is brand new. The most conspicuous Tekken freshman must be Akuma, the red-haired bad guy of Street Fighter fame. The introduction of fireballs and hurricane kicks might seem like an odd fit for Tekken, but they don’t feel overpowered in light of the fact that every character comes with their own advantages. And when it comes to facing down Akuma’s projectiles specifically, they can be easily sidestepped given the game’s 3D movement. Street Fighter fans will appreciate how easy it is to fight as Akuma, since many of his traditional moves and inputs are present and accounted for. Even Street Fighter’s meter-based mechanics have been carried over for his Tekken debut.

Interestingly, Akuma also plays a pivotal role in the main story mode. Hailed as the final chapter in the series’ long-running story of martial-arts papa Heihachi Mishima and his quarrelling family, Tekken 7’s narrative will delight Tekken veterans, especially when the oft-referenced-but-never-before-seen Kazumi Mishima breaks onto the stage. The only major downfall here is the robotic and stale narrator, a reporter covering the Mishima family. His delivery is too shallow to take seriously and not witty enough to make his deadpan cadance funny. You may also notice that some fights seem arbitrarily difficult along the way, but thanks to the gift of shortcut commands for powerful attacks–a system referred to as Story Assist–they’re more of a temporary annoyance than a barrier.

Beyond the two to three hours spent on the main story, every character not present therein gets their own brief chapter, limited to a short text intro, a single fight, and a unique ending cutscene. Not all are created equal, but there are gems to find that are purposefully awkward and light-hearted–the perfect complement to Tekken’s pervasive melodrama. Fans of the alien samurai Yoshimitsu will, for example, appreciate how he’s initially humanized and made vulnerable, only to be subsequently kneed in the groin by the object of his affection.

Tekken 7 lives up to the series’ penchant for tongue-in-cheek shenanigans and generously gives you access to the series’ entire back catalog of cutscenes, from the very first Tekken’s low-res clips all the way to background movies made specifically for Japanese pachinko machines. There’s a lot of Tekken history to unlock, and the collection is a wonderful trip down memory lane.

Using Fight Money earned by playing the game’s various modes you can purchase both cutscenes and cosmetic items for characters. Tekken 7 offers a lot of basic variations of hairstyles or glasses to buy, and an equal amount of stranger outfits and accessories–including neon butterfly wings, a floating clownfish companion, and automatic rifles, to name a few. While you certainly don’t need to dress fighters up in ridiculous outfits, doing so will give you a new appreciation for how comfortable Tekken 7 is in its own skin. It’s a hardcore, demanding fighting game, but it’s also happy to be the butt of its own jokes.

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Items–so-called “treasure”–can also be unlocked rather than purchased within the Treasure Battle mode, which puts you in a series of fights with increasing rewards and challenges. There’s also training mode and an arcade mode where you can practice your moves, but Treasure Battle is easily the most attractive way to spend your off-time in Tekken 7. If you’re going to practice before hopping online to fight, you might as well have something to show for it.

A few days after launch, Tekken 7’s online modes are experiencing a few issues across all platforms, and while these are mostly isolated to ranked matches, it’s not uncommon to lose connections in casual matches, either. It’s an issue that publisher Bandai Namco is aware of and plans to patch, but at the moment, it’s not always easy to get into a match unless you’re willing to hammer attempts for minutes on end. When you’re eventually able to get into a match, pray that it’s over a better-than-average connection; Tekken 7 becomes a slide show online under lesser conditions.

Notwithstanding that ranked matches are currently a crapshoot, Tekken 7 remains an easy game to recommend. Its diverse roster is packed with a wide range of personalities and fighting styles, bolstered by a raucous attitude that begs to be taken seriously while simultaneously mocking its more peculiar whims in the process. Tekken fans will find their next favorite game–one that’s the product of decade’s worth of refinement. And while some of this depth will be lost or out of reach for newcomers, there’s enough fun to be had outside of hardcore competition to keep players from all walks of gaming thoroughly entertained.

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Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy for PS4 Review

When Crash Bandicoot hit the scene in the ’90s, it didn’t take long for him to become the de facto PlayStation mascot. He didn’t reach the same level of popularity as Mario or Sonic, but the original Crash games were charming platformers that resonated with audiences thanks to expressive characters and diverse environments. And unlike his peers, Crash was born in 3D; Mario and Sonic merely adopted it.

With the arrival of the N. Sane Trilogy collection, we now have the chance to revisit the first three Crash games in style, and while they look better than ever, they’re otherwise direct replicas of the original games. Developed by Vicarious Visions, the N. Sane Trilogy collection features remastered versions of Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and Crash Bandicoot: Warped. Gone are the rudimentary character models in favor of more realistic-looking creatures and environments, and a new lighting system bakes a measure of realism into the otherwise cartoonish world, giving the games a quality similar to 3D cartoons from the likes of Pixar or Dreamworks.

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While it’s easy to look at these games and appreciate the care that’s gone into their presentation, actually playing them stirs up conflicting emotions. There’s no way around it: they remain dated despite their fresh look. Enemies rarely react to you, preferring instead to follow pre-determined paths and animation loops. And many obstacles are needlessly discouraging; Razor-thin tolerances for success and one-hit deaths make for a frustrating pairing. You can control Crash using an analog stick now, but smoother pivots and jumps don’t alleviate the otherwise stiff gameplay lurking behind Crash’s goofy exterior.

Not all levels are out to get you, however, and for the most part the N. Sane Trilogy offers a modest challenge that’s perfectly suited for casual enjoyment. The ease at which you can fly through some stages allows you to experience a wide range of scenarios as well: you will carefully navigate the electrified waters of an eel infested sewer one minute and ride on the back of a tiger through a gauntlet of angry locals atop the Great Wall of China the next. There are also a handful of levels that allow you to reenact the famous boulder sequence from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, though you may be running from a massive polar bear instead of a boulder depending on the particular game in question.

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This is all to say that Crash is what it’s always been: a charming collection of platforming challenges that shift gears from one stage to the next. By putting three games next to each other, the N. Sane Trilogy overflows with nostalgia. The warm and fuzzy feeling you get from seeing familiar Crash levels presented in a way that mirrors what you held in your imagination is undeniable. But so too is the reality that Crash games aren’t timeless. No amount of lighting or funny animations can make up for the rudimentary 3D platforming on display. You could even say that the look of these games belies their true nature.

The culprit behind Crash’s dated feel is the passage of time. Vicarious Visions, for its part, succeeded in revitalizing Crash from an artistic perspective while preserving the charm that made him appealing when he first showed up, but years have passed since the original PlayStation was relevant, and we are well past the formative years of 3D gaming. It’s easy to imagine how a dyed-in-the-wool Crash fan will fall in love all over again via the N. Sane Trilogy, but if you’re experiencing Crash for the first time–or the first time in a while–it might pain you to realize that Crash’s original adventures aren’t as inventive or surprising as they were 20 years ago.