FyFYI Episode 133: Launch Halo

 

Mostly Vita talk with Battlefield 3 patch discussion, James’ friend’s girlfriend’s cleavage, Mass Effect 3 demo (avoid if you don’t want demo spoilers) and some weird Microsoft Word game that JAMES IS AWESOME AT all mixed in.

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2 months of hype, 12 hours of Vita

This morning as I was driving from New York City to the medium sized suburb in Connecticut I live in (Branford, if you want to find me on Near) I was trying to reasonably extract what my expectations were for the Vita out of the completely insane hype i’ve had for it in my head, on my twitter, on the podcast and across various forums over the last few months.  That sentence is a mouthful, and so was the process.  I guess the first thing I needed to do was figure out why, exactly, I was hyped in the first place.

The Vita, since it was first announced, has been an impressive concept.  It basically takes everything that’s happening in the handheld space and puts together in a way that doesn’t feel like anything is tacked on(certain games will take care of the tacked on feeling).  In a time where the 3DS has a frankenstick to make certain game types work and the iphone has about 9000 controllers competing because no one on earth likes a virtual dpad, Sony designed something that doesn’t have any drawbacks.  It has two sticks, it has a touch screen, it has GPS, it has 3G and wifi (if you want 3g, that is), it has motion sensing, it has front and back cameras and, unlike Apple gadgets, it has a port out to expand if needed and it allows you to pick your memory size.  Though I guess that does lead into a drawback – all of this costs a lot of money.

So that’s the reality of it.  But I’m not exactly sure why that is why i was hyped.  I think in a lot of way we put our hopes into these gadgets because we want our lives to be better.  I know that’s a fucking crazy statement, but I think there is some truth to it.  You see a phone coming out and you are just so fucking excited for it because it does all this cool shit and that cool shit is going to make you happy.  And that’s what we want, right?  Happiness?

The device will never truly make you happy though.  I mean, it will in the short term, but eventually you will lust after some new piece of tech, because it will be so fun to play with that.  That’s not to say that all things die in a matter of weeks.  That’s where the winners and losers are created.  And I can’t speak to that yet, because as the title states, im only 12 hours into this with the Vita.  I know with the Nintendo Wii the first two weeks I had it I thought it was the greatest shit ever and then I played it maybe 5 hours over the next 4 years.  But, with the iPad I thought it was the best shit ever and two years later I still think my first gen iPad is the best shit ever and not a day goes by where it doesn’t get atleast an hour of use.  There’s no way for me to know if the Vita is the Wii or the iPad so I’m not even going to try, but I do know that’s it’s an inspired piece of hardware.

So let’s get the obvious shit out of the way.  The unit is insanely well constructed.  This does not feel like a toy, it feels like some sort of futuristic device.  And after seeing the 5″ OLED screen for several hours straight my iphone seemed quaint in comparison.  The analog sticks are the best in class, which isn’t hard since handheld analog has been a clusterfuck of terrible so far, but it is worth noting that they obviously don’t compare with sticks on a real controller.  In fact the first few hours with the device I was barely lukewarm on the sticks, but like anything else (including the terrible nub on the PSP before it) you adjust and it’s just fine.

The touch screen is very responsive.  The back touch also is and I think once developers start wraping their brains around it (and the escape plan devs already have) it will be a huge addition to touch gaming.  Because I do like touch gaming, but I hate that I can’t see the fucking screen.  Back touch.  Brilliant.  How did it take this long?

The buttons are smaller than I assumed but feel fine.  The right stick is very close to them and I was bumping it with my thumb for a while but that passed.  I was also hitting the back touch screen for a while but after messing up enough in FIFA I trained myself to hold it properly.  The triggers feel better than they did on the PSP and (3)DS, but also don’t feel as wonderful as their big brothers.  The back touch screen is much more intuitive than I assumed, helped by visual prompts in most of the software.

Graphically it’s basically a PS3.  If you are a pixel counter you will likely disagree with this sentiment, but to my eyes FIFA and Virtua Tennis especially look like PS3 games.  I know the resolution is lower, but the screen is also smaller.  Call it an optical illusion, I don’t care, but the bottom line is the graphics are fucking nuts.  Rayman, for instance, will be out for the PC soon and will likely look amazing in 1080p, but I know on my $300 monitor it won’t look as amazing as it does on my Vita.  That screen is just amazing, i’ve never seen colors on any screen – no matter the size – like the colors that Rayman Vita has.  It really is that good.

So other than some small issues the hardware has delivered on the promise of a console experience in a handheld.  Cool.  So how does the software stack up?  Honestly, I can’t say yet.  I know that I’m very, very happy playing everything I have.  But part of the launch day mania, especially when you get a bunch of games with it, is you can’t concentrate on anything.  Rayman seems amazing, though obviously you can go play that basically anywhere else.  Stardust is a worthy sequel to an amazing game.  FIFA is FIFA, though the gameplay is the 2011 game not the 2012 game and you can kinda feel that.  Escape Plan is visually stunning and very fun and uses the back touch in smart ways making it feel like a game you can’t play anywhere else.  Lumines is Lumines, but on the best screen ever.  Little Deviants was talked so down over the last few weeks that it’s actually emerged as underrated to me because i expected shit.  The demo to uncharted was impressive in parts, and felt forced and kinda terrible in parts.  I will play through it, but it’s hardly a top tier game for me.

But each of those games i played about 4 times a piece for 15 minutes at a time because I have new hardware fever, so i’m not trying to dish out full fledged reviews here.  I think once the dust settles the launch lineup will be one of the better ones ever in terms of quality but pretty average in terms of originality.  I know a lot of people don’t give a shit about the launch lineup at all, because they never liked these series in the first place.  If you fall into that camp I don’t think these versions will change your mind.  But they all certainly live up to their PS3 counterparts.

So that’s the nuts and bolts of this thing and it all comes off in the early going as extremely positive.  Like I said earlier I can’t say whether this is a flash in the pan for me or something long term, and I’m certainly not going to jump into the shitstorm of whether handhelds are even needed in the age of smartphones.  Because, really, they are if you want one and they aren’t if you don’t.  It’s that fucking simple.

What has me excited going forward, however, is the operating system – of all things.  The second most striking feature of the Vita (after the godlike screen) is that the operating system leaves the rest of gaming – console or handheld – in the dust.  The live area is basically Facebook but instead of bitching about your boss it’s about shit we care about – trophies, high scores, game purchases, etc.  It will tell me that my friend bought Lumines and unlocked a certain trophy.  I can then go in and comment “You bought that for $36 you’re nuts!” and then when he looks at that he will notice that i bought it for myself 5 minutes later.  I’ve just been going around giving thumbs up to everyone’s trophies.  Why?  Because it’s fucking funny.

But this level of social interaction is fantastic.  After playing my first (horrible) round of Stardust a box popped up and said “You are in last place on your friends leaderboard for Arcade mode.”   Well ain’t that a bitch!?!  Social interactions in videogames are the next logical step after achievements.  99% of the reason that Bejeweled Blitz is so popular on Facebook and Google+ is because of the leaderboard.  Leaderboards obviously aren’t new, but the more they are built into the OS of the system the better.

And then you add to that the rather brilliant Near app.  On a basic level it just shows people within about 15 miles or so (for me atleast, maybe the size increases/decreases depending on population density) that have been online with their vitas.  Right now, the day of the First Edition Bundle, there are 12 people in my town that have a Vita.  I can see their game lists (if they chose to make that public) and look up their trophy lists and whatnot.  It’s neat because this works as another way of creating rivalries.  First and foremost I want to beat my friends, but I also want to beat dudes in my town.  I want kids in high school talking about “Did you see Famousmortimer’s score on Little Deviants?”  They don’t need to know im a fat 34 year old, but they need to know I can roll a fucking ball around with the best of them.  The more games that take advantage of this in the future the better.  This is a feature that just isn’t available on the ps3 or 360 and it really is awesome.

It’s these things that are keeping my hype moving forward.  Today, I figured, was the end of the hype and start of the reality.  And it was a big dose of reality, which thankfully was very positive… but I feel like the Vita is running at about 80% right now.  Once developers wrap their heads around features like the live area, Near, the back touch and other functions I think the Vita can be absolutely amazing.  As it stands now it’s a very exciting platform, but more importantly it feels new.  Even in all of my hype I didn’t really expect that.

 

 

 

FyFYI Episode 131: Tv Talk Two Thousand Twelve

 

It’s not all TV talk, but we start with a dash of Kitchen Nightmares UK, Todler’s and Tiara’s, Final Destination 5 3D, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Kingdoms of Amular: Reckoning… and some PS Vita predictions so we can look foolish at the end of the year.

 

Stream here people.

You can also grab it off of iTunes.

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Reach us at:  FYIFeedback@gmail.com

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Pete’s Twitter

James’ Twitter

(a)Final Fantasy XIII-2(review)

A Six Movement Symphony.

Before purchasing Final Fantasy XIII-2 there are a litany of questions you need to answer. Unlike the JRPG golden age the roleplaying landscape has shifted incontrovertibly towards a more action (and western) oriented fare that is lighter on story but deeper in the worlds they create. Even in Japan and greater Asia the more popular games like Monster Hunter  have moved along this paradigm. It’s not uncommon in conversations with friends or folks on the internet to hear “Well, I used to love JRPGs but ever since I played Elder Scrolls they just seem silly.” While I can certainly understand this mindset, a mindset my sexually deviant co-host shares, I think it’s short-sighted.

The bottom line, however, is that before you even walk into the store you need to ask yourself a few questions.  Are ok with turn based battles? Are you ok operating in a world that isn’t one giant, open continent? Can you handle characters that are probably younger than you (and act as such)? Will heavy-handed writing make you want to turn off your PS3 forever? If you can’t get past those, don’t bother. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a fine game but it’s not going to bring in a new audience. The trappings that have sent many running away from JRPGS are on full display here.

But that is also a reason to rejoice if you’re a fan such as myself. Final Fantasy XIII splintered even the hardcore Final Fantasy fans with a list of sins that don’t need repeating here, but the first thing you will notice is right off the bat is that most of these problems are remedied. The worlds are opened up for exploration and you are never restricted to parties of certain classes, so you can ease up those shoulders a bit. And, in fact, the story starts off quite strong. I will admit up front that the story in japanese games are rarely the draw for me. In fact it’s something I deal with just to experience the rest of the game. Minimalist efforts out of Japan like Ico or Demon’s Souls are what I prefer, once they go for something larger, be it Catherine or some sweeping madness like Valkyrie Chronicles I just grit my teeth and try to not to let it bring me too far down.

XIII-2 didn’t even require much teeth gritting for the first third or so. The main characters are neither whiny or cocky, seemingly a first in a JRPG. The concept of time travel is neat, especially for us western geeks that grew up on sci-fi fodder like Star Trek: TNG. Once things get going it starts to fall apart though. The time travel rules seem inconsistent at best and completely nonsensical at worst. And then the characters start to question their own motives and that’s when the melodrama comes on HARRRDDDDDDDDD. There is a two hour stretch of the game that is basically japanese teenagers having a meltdown. Luckily it was visually interesting which prevented me from throwing the disc out the window, but the story I once liked had turned back into that which I despised. Also the ending is bound to cause a lot of controversy. I fall on the side that thought it was awesome.  However, this side seems to be in the minority. So, yeah, you should know that most people who finish this game are then pissed off.

Other offenses in the game include dialogue that delves into the seriously corny. “We have to save the future!” must have been yelled at least 300 times in my 30 hours making it through the main story. Character interactions start off strong but become weaker as the story goes on as it seems like old faces are being ushered into the scene by an overcaffeinated stage hand. There are some interesting surprises here though and I won’t ruin them. But the concept of time travel does mean you get to see some interesting things and Square didn’t miss the opportunities here. As the story starts to build you say “I hope I get to see that” even though it’s scheduled for 100s of years in the future… and chances are you do. So that’s pretty rad.

And really, the rest of the game is pretty rad. My reservations with the game begin and end with the story. There are a few niggling problems here or there, but overall this is a well made game. The combat system from XIII is back with some smart revisions that make it flow very smoothly. If most turn based combat is akin to you playing chess as you lay out moves for each piece to make, the combat in XIII-2 is more like a symphony and you are the conductor. You don’t get to pick up each individual instrument but the level of control you have over the totality of the song (err fight) is unparalleled. As you slide between paradigms trying to counter what each boss is throwing back at you, the give and take is fast and furious, something rarely felt in turn based combat. It may not make purists happy but the combat, to me, is a giant step forward for the genre. Now, don’t get me wrong, I hope to play some JRPGs this year that also take steps back to the glory days, but at least in moving forward Square has hit the ball out of the park.

The world itself is generally a wonderful place to be. The game is split up into hubs that you travel between time to. Each has a theme, be it jungle or ruins or snow or cities. A couple of the zones, specifically the ruins that are featured in the demo, are fairly uninteresting looking. But there are some areas of the game that literally had my jaw drop on the floor. Literally! Like I don’t have a jaw anymore. It fell off. It’s on the floor! I shit you not.

The music that accompanies these vistas is equally as strong. There are some interesting choices mixed in, like one fight was heavy metal with screaming vocals for reasons I still don’t understand (other than the nod to FFX?). There are also shades of Baiyon’s efforts in the Pixel Junk games and quite a few pieces that owe a bit of debt to the Phantasy Star Online soundtrack. I’m not complaining about any of these selections, mind you, the music is fantastic – except for the occasional adult contemporary pop song complete with singing.

The sound, visuals and combat combine to create a truly sublime experience. When this game is at its best there is nothing like it. And, it must be said, this game is polished to a blinding shine… a wonderful departure from the buggy offerings that have dominated the western releases from Bethesda, Bioware and others. Everything in this game from the menus to static 2d art is amazingly crafted.  And in my 30 hours I didn’t run into a single bug.

This game offers the best and the worst of the modern JRPG.  I have a hard time listening to a couple of teenagers tell each other, and me, over and over that they need to save the future.  Also the story gets crushed under its own grandiosity.  But, there is something refreshing about that.  Skyrim, for how amazing it is, is a story of a dude that can kill dragons that then goes and kills dragons.  The story that Square is attempting to tell is complex, it has a million players with obscure names like Etro and locations like the Yaschas Massif that will test your memory and your patience.  But if you can tune it all out and just conduct the symphony of atmosphere and combat you aren’t likely to find a more compelling experience anywhere.

4/5