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            Can you handle it?
by Ethos

Hey! Look! Listen!

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010


…ahh. So. He DID write a review. Or, so it would appear, at least.

Of course, the only reason I haven’t done so as well is because I can’t spare the time for a decidedly mediocre game like Final Fantasy XIII. Ethos, on the other hand, is consistently thrilled and amazed by all the mediocre things of the world. So good for him.

Anyway, I’m your host Oliver “Riddles” Motok, and for some odd reason, I’ve been playing a lot of Modern Warfare 2. I’m actually decent at it now, which is probably why I’m enjoying it so much. I’d totally buy the recently-released “Stimulus Package” DLC, if it was a) available for PS3 and b) cost less than $15. Seriously, fifteen bucks? Really, Activision? I know you’re a soulless machine that eats money (and children) to survive, but still. Fifteen bucks?

With that, let us proceed to the topics of interest.

First Dead Space 2 Footage Emerges from PAX East

Woo! I’m excited. I love Dead Space. I even loved Dead Space Extraction for the Wii. So, needless to say, I’m excited to see how the story will continue with Dead Space 2. The footage below was first demonstrated at PAX East, and GamerVision managed to catch it on camera. The quality is shitty, yes, but it’s the best thing we have so far, and the actual gameplay shown looks intriguing, if not mind-blowing. Jet boots do make everything better, though. It’s important to remember that.

gamestopSome Idiot Sues GameStop over Dragon Age DLC

Perhaps you’ve purchased BioWare’s self-proclaimed dark fantasy epic, Dragon Age? If so, you recall that the retail copy comes with a code for a free piece of DLC called “The Fury of Shale.” It’s a one-time redeemable code, meaning if you buy the game used, you likely won’t be able to redeem it yourself.

However, on the back of the box, it still says “Includes downloadable character and quest – $15 value.”  OMG FALSE ADVERTISINGGGGG

Ahem. Long story short, James Collins found this out for himself, got pissed, tried to return the game for his money back, and was refused because it had been over seven days. The logical response? No, not go home and enjoy the massiveness of Dragon Age even without the stupid little piece of DLC. You dummy. Obviously, SUE GAMESTOP. From the suit:

“GameStop, who makes more than 20% of its revenue and nearly $2 billion from the sale of used video games, is aware of this issue, and continues to fail to alert customers that this content is not available on used games,” the suit states. “As a result, GameStop tricks consumers into paying more for a used game than they would if they purchased the same game and content new.”

Don’t believe me? Check out the full suit in PDF format here. (IGN)

So Who Else is Interested in Enslaved?

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is the next project from Ninja Theory, the developer behind the ill-fated PS3 exclusive, Heavenly Sword.

Now, from what I understand, Heavenly Sword wasn’t bad at all – I never played more than the demo, but I remember liking it, and I remember the game being fairly well-received. However, the game wasn’t profitable – at least, not to Ninja Theory. Co-founder Tameem Antoniades said so himself.

Unlike Heavenly Sword, Enslaved will be released on the PS3 and the Xbox 360. It’s set in a strangely beautiful post-apocalyptic world, and it features talent such as Andy Serkis of Lord of the Rings, and Alex Garland, the screenwriter for 28 Days Later. (aka, the only zombie movie in the world that Riddles likes.) Some pretty new screens were just released; click the sample below to visit Kotaku’s gallery.


Be Very Afraid: Ubisoft Trademarks “Horse Gaga.”


Unless this is somehow the work of the nefarious Nate Liles, it looks like Ubisoft has finally, officially lost it. First draconian DRM measures, and now trademarks that make absolutely no sense. On March 23, everyone’s favorite French publisher trademarked “Horse Gaga” for videogame titles. Furthermore, the next day, they registered the HorseGaga.com domain name.

What can come of this? Nothing good, that’s what. Nothing. Good. (Kotaku)

I Knew There Was a Reason I Avoid Used Electronics

I don’t buy secondhand electronics. That goes for consoles, portables, TVs, DVD players, PCs – anything you plug in, essentially, I do not buy used. Ever. I’ve had a few bad experiences in the past. Or, at least, I think I have – I can’t remember what they were, exactly. The point is that I only buy new electronics, and this story out of Evanston, Illinois justifies this habit.

Some poor fuck found a PS3 Slim on Craigslist for $250. He met the seller in the parking lot of a local Best Buy. The seller then proceeded to take his money, get back in the car, and drive away. No violence, no threats. Just a good, old-fashioned case of complete suckery.

There are two things about this that I find particularly hilarious. First, for fifty dollars more, he could have bought a brand-new PS3, complete with warranties, the assurance that you won’t get forcibly scammed. And, secondly, the irony is compounded by the fact that he could have purchased said PS3 at the Best Buy where he met the crooked seller. (Kotaku)

Hot Coffee“Hot Coffee” Payout Checks Are Being Sent

God, this brings back memories. It also stands as a testament to how very, very slow our litigous processes can be. I remember reading about the Hot Coffee scandal back in the day. It was one hell of a story for the game industry; one that really hasn’t been matched in terms of relevance or scale since.

Maybe some of you remember it, and maybe you don’t; essentially, a modder discovered a sex mini-game hidden in the code of the PC version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. People flipped a shit, lawsuits flew, and Hilary Clinton used the controversy as an opportunity to begin the dark trend of politicians attempting to make names for themselves by attacking videogames.

Anyway. Nobody really cares about it anymore, if they ever actually cared about it then. But, in an attempt to “voluntarily fulfill all properly-submitted claims,” GTA publisher Take-Two has begun sending out payout checks with the amount of $5-$35. A sample golden ticket is shown below. (Kotaku)

I've got a golden tickeeetttt...

Well, that’s that. While I was typing this up, it looks like my jackass of a partner has written more defamatory bullshit about me. I guess that’s fairly typical, though; while I sit here doing actual work, he’s sitting in his pathetic little corner trying to bring me down to his level so he can feel better about himself.

Such a sad, sad man.

A Bit Too Far

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

He's not making a face here...

He's not making a face here...

Now I’m well aware that a big part of Riddlethos in general is the back-and-forth bickering between me and Riddles. I wrote the “Why Riddles Sucks” Sunday Soapbox in good fun, so it makes sense that Riddles should retaliate. However, at least some of my article was based in fact. While maybe very few people here care about Pokémon, at least I contributed consistent and relevant content throughout the week. Riddles – at best – starts strong then fizzles out, and that’s way better than he did during God of War III Week in which I provided the most relevant content in a timely manner to which he responds in a jealous rage trying to cover up the fact that I had a day one review of the game.

Oh, and he claims that he wrote two full HLLs last week? Good for him! He finally fulfilled the standard again for the first time in weeks and weeks. Hell, maybe Scatter Storming is stupid, but I’ve only missed one week, and I gave notice. I’ve written Hey! Look! Listen! for him on a number of occasions, and they were some of the best ones in existence.

See, here’s the secret, Riddles’ only claim to fame on this site is that he’s the “professional” one. But who is more consistent? Who has got the insider media and early reviews and previews? Me. Ethos. Methos. The “three” reviews he bragged about last week? One he had already written years ago, the other was literally a paraphrased version of a review I wrote for RPGamer.com (look it up), and the third was a carbon copy of my God of War III review, but with a higher score. Just like he gave Bioshock 2 a bloody EIGHT POINT FIVE! I’m sorry, but that game is the churned-out, personality-less action-fest that he feared it would be except it has a shittier ending than anybody expected. It also looks like garbage, which Riddles refuses to admit. But he didn’t want to sully his beloved franchise, so he hiked up the score because now you can DUAL-WIELD! OOoOOoo!

Now I realize that nothing is fully objective, but Riddles could at least make an attempt especially when he claims to be the professional one, but I’ve already uncovered that bullshit.

Yeah, you quit your job, but pull yourself together. I’m the girl, remember?

See, I can take things too far too, asshole.

Final Fantasy XIII Review – Lost Focus

Monday, March 29th, 2010

-The inventive, fast, challenging, and satisfying battle system.
-Absolutely beautiful fantasy visuals
-When the menu and upgrading systems open up, they are the best in the series

-The fact that those good things open really far into the game
-Horrible writing
-Practically zero opportunity to connect to the primary world
-Apart from the battle system, very unfocused and practically automatic gameplay takes the front seat for most of the game

Note: I rarely go into detail explaining mechanics or story elements in this review. If you’re very unfamiliar with the title, our Final Fantasy XIII Week in the Riddlethos archives has a wealth of details.

Final Fantasy XIII. Like all the other iterations in this heavily and emotionally debated series, this one has the fans divided. I strangely stand somewhere on both sides. I enjoyed my 60 hours with the game and have a lot of high praise for the game in some areas, however I cannot deny some tremendous design flaws and missed opportunities that weigh down all the highlights at every turn.

This is the most bizarre sub-category to both score and talk about. That’s because it can range from either the very best or the very worst I’ve experienced in a very long time.

I’ll start with the good stuff. Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system is top-notch. The focus on individual battle strategy finally let me go all out and use spells and strategies that I would flat out ignore in other iterations. The pay-off is huge. Planning paradigm combinations and successfully navigating a challenging battle to the finish is incredibly satisfying. Experimentation begets powerful strategies for boss fights, and a hard-fought win has never been such a good feeling in a JRPG before. Mass Effect 2’s combat seems like filler after this. To supplement this system, Final Fantasy XIII almost does a lot of things right, and this is when it gets difficult to write about.

All style, no substance

All style, no substance

Like almost every single thing in Final Fantasy XIII, the Crystarium powering-up system is either a non-interactive tunnel with the illusion of choice at best, or a fantastic and open system representing a high-point of the series. It’s truly a staggering difference. In the “tunnel” portion of the game – that lasts around 30 hours, no joke – the system might as well not exist but function automatically. Once the game and system opens up, however, it becomes interesting and important strategy to decide if characters are going to learn another role at a very high price and abandon buffed stats, or favour more powerful characters instead of extremely helpful choice in battle. And there are many more micro-decisions within those major choices. It’s like night and day.

But that’s the issue present in all the gameplay except the battle system proper. Upgrading weapons is fantastic, but weighted such that nothing significant can really be done until late in the game, and same goes for complete customization of the party. There is no reason for it. The game becomes even more difficult at the end, so the hand-holding gives a false impression to newbies and frustrates veterans. In fact, the game only fully opens up after completing it. It’s as if the game wanted to hide all of its fantastic gameplay elements away.

And the “tunnel” I speak of really is that bad. It takes place any time you’re in Cocoon and it very rarely is anything except for a straight line that your character runs down. You can’t go off the beaten path to find your own perspective of the world and feel like you discovered Cocoon because there is no Cocoon to discover. The world is explicitly presented to you, and the personality and depth suffers greatly for it.

As a final complaint, Final Fantasy XIII seems to make things worse by occasionally showing a hint of how it could have done more in the tunnel. One location allows you to explore just a tiny bit so that you can overhear conversations with regular non-distressed citizens, while another section takes place in a flashback in which you can actually talk to a few characters at your own pace. But both of these examples literally only happen once a piece, so they are more frustrating than refreshing on account of their rarity. And all of this wouldn’t be so hard to bear if the story was well told…

The bike's too cool for him

The bike's too cool for him

Final Fantasy XIII has a horribly told story. Sure, the scene direction is fine, but even Final Fantasy X – a title I consistently bash for mediocre characters, melodramatic dialogue, and poor scene direction – had me emotionally invested in the ending. There is some great character design in Final Fantasy XIII (some of my favourite) and solid voice work, but the writing steps on all the potential. There are some interesting set-ups for character arcs, but every climax is handled either in a forgettable or terrible manner, placing preference on gimmicks and melodrama before respecting the characters. The premise and many of the plot points are incredibly intriguing, but one of the game’s rare consistencies was in missing these opportunities. Also, even with all the dud or absentee villains of VIII, X, and XII, XIII trumps them all with the most bland, one-dimensional villain in Final Fantasy history.

I beat the game yesterday, and I remembering thinking to myself during the final scene, “if this was a well-told story, this ending may have been beautiful,” but as it was, I was just excited that I finally reached the post-game and thus the final level of the Crystarium.

What an incredible waste of a gorgeous world and intriguing premise.

Speaking of gorgeous world, if nothing else Final Fantasy XIII is jaw-dropping. While not technically the best, it is my favourite looking game of all time. There are a few dud animations, but the environments, character and enemy design, and unbelievably beautiful CG scenes are just some of the reasons why Final Fantasy XIII is a perpetual joy to look at. The PS3 has very rare frame-rate hiccoughs, but it never seemed to affect the silky-smooth and blazing-fast battles for a moment. The only other small complaint is some enemy pop-in once you’re out of the tunnel. The landscape is unbelievable, but a massive creature quickly fading into view on occasion ruins the magic a bit.

The music is a mixed bag. There were some very great moments in the soundtrack when I was happy to see risks pay off to create a unique and fitting soundscape. Other tracks, however, were distracting and out of place. Other tracks still would surprisingly loop very awkwardly as if they weren’t written for a video game. The rest of the aural experience, however, is very pleasing. Context sensitive quips from party members are generally better dialogue than what the cut-scenes have to offer, and sounds from the environment often offer the only connection to the surrounding world.

Final Thoughts
Final Fantasy XIII may have some outstanding and even unparalleled gameplay, but waiting for 30 hours to access a lot of it is way too much to ask of newcomers and veterans alike. If the tunnel had better writing, it would have been more forgivable, but the fact is that it doesn’t and so it just comes across as unfocused and simply bad design. It’s deceptive, inconsistent, and devoid of the sort of rewarding exploration that Final Fantasy is known for. Cocoon could have been an amazing world to explore and get to know, but instead nobody got the chance and Final Fantasy XIII has all its gems –and believe me, they are truly gems – in the menus and battle system in late and even post-game. You have to really love the battle system to get to where FFXIII truly shines. For me, that worked just fine, but for many it will be too little too late.

Final Fantasy XIII - 6.5/10

Review Outline