Persona 5 PS4 Review

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From the very first introduction and menu,Persona 5 leaps onto the screen with style and confidence that is for the most part held throughout the lengthy 80+hour experience. Not relying on mere flashy aesthetics, Persona 5 possesses a substantial and compelling narrative and an excellent turn based combat system, and a surprisingly interesting social life simulator element.

Without spoiling or going into excessive detail about the narrative that is the cornerstone of this lengthy JRPG experience, the basic premise of Persona 5 is the following: you play as a transfer student with a criminal record based on a false accusation that gets transferred to a Tokyo school called Shujin Academy. However, you become imbued with a strange and mystical power that allows you to access the Metaverse, which is an alternate, physical dimension of people’s subconsciousness,  either as a collective unconsciousness in the case of Mementos, a procedurally generated dungeon, or Palaces, which are for individuals with deeply distorted desires, moreso than the small fry in mementos.  Once your merry band of Phantom Thieves is formed, you set about stealing people’s hearts in this realm in the hope of reforming society. It’s a wonderful premise that has a rebellious, idealistic edge yet balances this with drama, positivity and doesn’t shy away from the implications of it’s own premise. There are also plenty of moments of levity and comic relief, which hit more often than they miss and rarely feels inappropriate or as if it’s trying to convey a sense of ironic detachment. The utter sincerity of the whole thing is part of what makes it such a joy to experience.

What makes the story work as well as it does is the characters. From Ryuji,a former track team member with an impulsive and rebellious attitude, or Ann who is a kind hearted beauty,Futaba the shut in, or Makoto the honour student and Yusuke the slightly pretentious artist. These are just some of the characters in your party and they all have excellent chemistry, which is helped by quality, believable voice acting.  All these characters are more than they initially seem and their individual storylines are all worthwhile. There are also non party member confidants, such as Tae Takemi, the punk town doctor, Sojiro your legal guardian, Kawakami the homeroom teacher, Ohya the alcoholic journalist, Mishima the fanboy or Yoshida the washed up politician to name a few. You will want to try and experience as much of these substories as you can too as they offer substantial bonuses for combat abilities, Personas and generally increasing your power.

This ties into the social life simulator aspect, which is more than mere interludes and are important to the storytelling and overall flow of the game. You can also increase five social stats through certain activities, such as knowledge through studying or answering questions in class correctly. These are necessary, as a skill check, in order to progress certain confidant substories. Everything feeds into each other in this core loop, and while this all might sound mundane, as part of the overall experience, it elevates the narrative and dungeon crawling. The main negative of the social stats for me is the interface as the progression between level one and level two of a particular stat is not terribly clear.

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Most of the female confidants also have romance options that can be taken at the conclusion of their substory, and while it possible to have multiple options with no consequence (unless you do new game+), I went with only Makoto and found that to be grounded, satisfying and heartwarming. Although it doesn’t directly have impact on the main story as far as I can notice, it is still presented in such a way that adds extra weight to proceedings. It is deftly handled and not clumsy like many popular western action RPGs that include romance options, or a checkbox element like in many Hollywood action films.

The writing overall, then, is of a high quality. But there are two substantial irritations that hold it back somewhat. The first is that it can be incredibly exposition heavy, especially in the first 10 hours, which can cause certain scenes to drag on just a little bit. The second issue is that when entering a Palace for the first time, a party member will comment on what the Palace represents even though in the lead up, and from the visual of the Palace itself, it is blindingly obvious what it represents. This kind of exposition feels clumsy and unnecessary. As I hinted at previously, the game also possesses it’s fair share of anime cliches (there’s even a section that is pretty much a beach episode) but none of it feels like filler, nor does it feel cringeworthy or rote.

In regards to the combat, it is pretty traditional turn based JRPG fare but with a few tweaks of it’s own that keep it from feeling slow or tedious. For one, exploiting elemental weaknesses of enemies provides more than just a damage bonus, but also enables you to have an extra turn and these can be chained when facing multiple enemies. Once all enemies are downed, you enemies are held up and you have multiple options: an all out attack for massive damage, or you can mug them for cash or items or you can acquire them as a pokemon Persona of your own. There is a gigantic roster of Personas, ranging from small scale supernatural beings, such as faeries, succubi, jack frost, slimes to penis monsters, a risque Lilith and even deities such as Dionysus, Kali, Thor and Anubis. All of these can be combined in some way to create more powerful pokemon Personas. Visually, all the mythical entities the game represents are all strikingly presented in ways you would expect but also in ways that are unexpected and they range from cute, to monstrous, threatening and sometimes even a bit arousing. In fact, sexual imagery and themes are very prominent here, but even with things such as obvious penis monsters, fetish-looking catsuits and a persona that channels a bit of femdom, it never feels excessive or juvenile.

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Aside from this, you will be using your usual buffs, debuffs, guns and regular attacks to defeat enemies as you would in any other JRPG. The combat interface is also bold and stylish without sacrificing user friendliness and responsiveness. The overall feel is slick and fast paced. You can also give your party members automated tactics to fit them into tank/healer, etc roles in combat but I stuck with direct commands, so I am unsure of how good the party AI is when left to their own devices.

There are also a total of five difficulty levels and I played on normal, which I feel offered a fair challenge the vast majority of the game, but on the whole it wasn’t terribly difficult most of the time. But I didn’t feel under-levelled, nor did I feel the need to compulsively grind and over-level on this difficulty setting which for me is a plus in any JRPG, especially long ones. I imagine on Hard and above this would become a necessity. There is also Easy mode, and an even easier mode called Safe mode, which I imagine would deprive the game of any challenge to the point where you might as well not even be playing the game. If you just want to experience the story, there’s an ongoing anime adaptation for that.

Palaces themselves are increasingly complex dungeon crawls, all with varied themes and striking visuals from a medieval looking castle, an appropriately garish museum or an Egyptian pyramid with a digital touch, everything feels well designed. However, there is also a “stealth” element which is just hiding behind bits of obvious cover. This can be used to slip past enemies, but only sometimes since corridors are quite tight and their patrol routes and AI are very basic. Usually it’s best to use for ambushing enemies, which gives you a leg up by guaranteeing your party the first turn. Trying to slip past enemies can feel a bit clunky and on more than one occasion resulted in me getting ambushed by enemies instead.

The overall look and feel of Persona 5, while not technically impressive, looks stunning nevertheless due to it’s bold,anime-inspired art direction that makes the fantastical worlds a marvel to experience and even the more mundane areas of Shujin Academy or Shibuya are pleasant to look at.  The only downer is parts of the procedural generated Mementos levels since they can look quite dull at first, although each area does look slightly different and becomes a bit more interesting to look at towards the end. Cutscenes are excellent too, especially the 2D anime cutscenes, which exhibit excellent production value and are always a joy to watch on the occasion they show up.

The music is similarly excellent, with funky, upbeat and high energy battle music, especially during the final stretch of a Palace dungeon. All the other music is on point as well at utilised very well to match the tone of a particular scene. However I do wish there was a little more variety in the score, especially in battles, mainly because of the game’s length but also more unique boss themes, at least for those in the main story, would be appreciated.

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To wrap this review up, Persona 5 stands as simply one of the best JRPGs around and shows that the turn based combat typical to the genre is not dated, boring or slow at all. Plus, the narrative and characters are compelling and worth the emotional and time investment. I laughed, I cheered and I even almost shed a tear or two at certain points.  The storytelling is mature but also sincere and uplifting, while never being shy of embracing it’s darker aspects. My heart has been captured by this band of Phantom Thieves.

9/10

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God of War (2018) PS4 Review

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At first I was skeptical about the new God of War. On one hand, all the previews made it look like a boring cinematic The Last of Us rip off. But on the other hand, I’m a sucker for anything with a viking or Norse mythology theme so I thought I would give this one a spin. And with the many hours I have spent with this, it has been an utterly compelling experience.

There are two major changes in this soft reboot. The first is the change in camera from a fixed, pulled back camera to a much tighter third person over the shoulder view. I wouldn’t say this change is necessarily ‘better’ than previous entries, just different. However, the biggest problem with this is that the field of view is just a bit too tight, which means some fights, especially against enemies like revenants, can become very irritating because of their fast movement and teleportation that makes you have to wrestle with the camera and lock on to catch them. This tightness also makes it difficult to see enemies behind you,but this is compensated with by a threat indicator. However, despite being tight, at least the field of view never brought me to the precipice of nausea like the PS4 version of The Evil Within 2 did where I had to acclimatize.

Speaking of camera, in the transition from game to cinematic sequences and in fact, throughout the entire experience, the game utilizes a single shot camera style. This is a risky move, as if it doesn’t work well, it comes across as showing off and distracting. Here, it is superbly implemented and does an incredible job of involving the player in every aspect and is a perfect fit for the series.

In terms of the overall design, the game offers isn’t pure linear hallways, but more of an explorable world with many hidden areas and set pieces that reminded me a lot of Rise of the Tomb Raider or Arkham Asylum. This world of Midgard, and some of the other realms too, such as Alfheim, are truly sights to behold and make the game world a joy to explore. Seeing new worlds and artistry, especially since the game makes heavy use of angular stone monuments, runestones and even just tapestries on walls in certain areas are wonderful. Since the world is not too large and each area is varied in look and design, no area becomes boring in the slightest. The realm of Midgard (an other realms) as presented here is awe inspiring in its artistry and production value.

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The second biggest change for the series, apart from camera, is the tone. The best way to illustrate this is to compare the opening for this one and God of War 3. God of War 3 opens with Kratos climbing Gaia, a Titan, and fighting loads of dudes while also fighting the Titan as well. Here, the game opens with Kratos felling a tree and taking it back home to use as wood for the funeral pyre of his recently deceased wife. The driving thread of the journey is fulfilling the wish of the deceased wife of scattering her ashes on the highest peak of all the realms. Kratos here is also accompanied by his son, Atreus and they have an interesting dynamic and a believable relationship that is well developed. Kratos here is also different in character and, while he still is angry almost all the time (although there are moments where even Kratos shows some humour), his anger is better contained and not compelled to mere blood lust. There is a wonderful supporting cast too, such as the witch, the dwarven smiths that are brothers (the surly Brok and germaphobic Sindri) and Mimir. The journey of Kratos and his son, however, are complicated by Baldur knocking on their door and thrusting them into the affairs of the Thulean gods along their journey. It is a very well told and touching story, with brilliant vocal performances but once certain things are established in the plot, many of its twists are predictable if you have a decent knowledge of Norse mythology and religion.

In regards to how the game actually plays, the game is divided into combat, light puzzles and downtime which is mostly just traversing by boat, which is a relaxing palate cleanser where you can hear Kratos tell fables in the most dry, matter of fact way which is quite funny. Combat is a weighty affair with a visceral feel owed to amazing animation work and quality sound effects. The control scheme for combat is mildly reminiscent of Bloodborne, with the shoulder buttons being used for attacks as opposed to square and triangle like most games in the genre traditionally use. It is a quite simple system, but the series has never been known for having deep combat.

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Here it has just enough depth to be fun and offer decent challenge, but it still doesn’t match up to the genre greats. Also, much like the Souls games, or The Witcher 2, rolling away and then hitting after the attack pattern is a very useful strategy. There is a simplified form of juggling here too, which is effective and looks cool but doesn’t feel quite as satisfying to pull off as it does in something like Devil May Cry 3 or Tekken.  There are also certain moves that can be switched out and are unlocked as loot, but they are on cool downs, which keeps things simple but lessens the skill ceiling of combat compared to if they were all available for use but required more complex inputs. Your axe can also be thrown and recalled, which is not only for the light puzzles but is very useful in combat and setting up combos. Square, or the BOI button, is used to tell your son to shoot arrows at dudes or to read runes on walls and occasionally assist in solving puzzles. I still miss the jump button for combat. There are also light RPG mechanics, where your gear determines your level, which means some fights can be less about player skill and more about how good your stats are. It works well enough in this game, but might annoy genre purists.

Even though the combat is not as complex as I would like and there are lots of slow walking bits, everything from combat to light puzzles, exploration and everything in between is so well paced that there is hardly ever a dull moment

What of the gore, sex and spectacle, you might be asking? The gore is present an abundant, but not as much as in previous entries which is a bit of a shame and he finishing kills often feel less brutal being primarily against draugr instead of flesh and blood most creatures most of the time. There is a lack of the kind of excessive, gratuitous violence, such as ripping off the head of Helios from the previous mainline game, which some might see as making the game more ‘mature’, but I see it more as missed opportunity at best and glaring omission at worst. In terms of sex, having it in this particular entry would not have fit but it was always handled in such a juvenile PG-13 way in the old games that it is not missed here. I wouldn’t be surprised if future entries had more sexual activity, but presented in a more explicit, yet tasteful, fashion. In terms of spectacle, that is present in abundance here from the very first fight with Baldur to the last.However, considering the sequel bait ending and the inability to enter Asgard, Vanaheim or Svartalheim, I can’t shake the feeling that the developers are still holding many cards close to their chests in this regard.  There is also a lack of enemy variety, which is most obvious by the fact that most of the boss monsters in the game, both visual and in combat design, are reskinned trolls, which is quite annoying. The best, most challenging bosses are the Valkyries, but this is late/post game content.

What is my summary, then? The new God of War departs from its roots in many ways yet still retains many essential characteristics. It has superb production quality and artistry, with brilliant storytelling and a setting I enjoy immensely. While the combat and spectacle factor has a few missed opportunities, I still found myself utterly engrossed in the entire experience and as such, the game is very easy to recommend to anyone with a PS4.

8.5/10

Yakuza 0 (2017)PS4 Review

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Getting a copy of this game was a hassle. I intended to buy it the week it came out, but by the time I went to my local stores, it was sold out. I had to wait at least two weeks before I could find a copy, but when I eventually saw it in the shop, my eyes beamed and I bought it instantly,finally able to play the incredible game within.

Yakuza 0, a prequel to the long running Yakuza series, which is highly popular in Japan and East Asia more generally, but rather niche in the West, has finally graced our consoles with a localised version this year. Being a prequel and requiring little familiarity with the prior games in the series, this is the perfect entry point for those that yet to experience it.

The story in this game focuses around the two playable characters, Kazuma Kiryu, who starts off as just a low level yakuza doing debt collecting jobs and Goro Majima, an exile of the yakuza who wants to get back in, but is forced as being a money maker for his boss in the late 1980s. After Kiryu is framed for a murder in the Empty Lot in Kamurocho (a fictionalised version of the Kabuchiko district in Tokyo) and Majima is tasked with assassinating someone by the name of Makoto Makimura, they find themselves embroiled in different groups fighting and infighting over this tiny patch of land and punch,kick and stomp their way through and making their mark in the Tojo Clan.

The main storyline of Yakuza 0 is a gritty and compelling crime drama that is well written and the performances, whilst I cannot understand Japanese, are full of emotion so in my view they are as a whole, quite good.

There is another side to the writing Yakuza 0 and those are the wacky and often genuinely funny side quests. There is one where you have to assist a dominatrix in learning how to berate her clients better or another where you accidentally agree to buy a young kid a porno magazine, which turns it into a mini stealth mission. Or another where you pretend to be a producer or someone’s girlfriend, there is plenty of variety in the narratives of the side quests,which provide a nice counterbalance to the furrowed brows and tense stand offs in the main story.

As far as the actual mechanics of the game goes, there are two pillars: combat and mini games.

The combat here is of a more traditional brawler style, different to the current trend of making variations of Arkham Asylum combat. This means that you’ll usually have to counter manually, block using L1, strike with square and triangle, grab, pick up weapons or guard break with circle and dodge with x. There are also brutal special moves called HEAT moves that range from curb stomping someone’s face, ripping their teeth out with pliers,suplexing people on rails and pouring boiling water on the faces of goons, delinquents, yakuza and anyone else who gets wide with you. Generally trash mobs are quite easy, although later in the game they tend to have bigger health bars, draw weapons more often and get a few more moves under their belt but the biggest challenges tend to come from some exciting boss fights. It’s not at all a difficult system to get used to but it does have two issues worth noting. At times, it can feel a bit like I’m just button mashing as opposed to games with more finesse, like Devil May Cry 3 or Metal Gear Rising, but in spite of this it’s still lots of fun. The other is that the way lock on works is pure shit. You have to hold R1 to lock on, but most of the time, except for certain moves that require it, it’s pretty useless and not helpful when fighting large packs of guys seeing as there’s no reticle placed on your target, so who you’re actually targeting can be very vague and moving around in time can become a hassle.

There are also three fighting styles per character (4 if you do what’s required to unlock the last one). They are Brawler/Thug, Rush/Breaker and Beast/Slugger, being medium, fast and heavy respectively and you can switch between them in the middle of battle. As Kiryu, I mostly used the brawler and rush styles in combat, whereas with Majima, I tended to use his styles more evenly,as Kiryu’s beast style is best only in tight areas with lots of weapon pick ups, which are not always around. Majima’s breaker style is also very effective crowd control as he spins and kicks while woohooing as if he’s Mario. Each style also has it’s own upgrade tree that while they look like sphere grids, they function as regular old ability trees. You upgrade by ‘investing in yourself’ through Yen, which is the single currency used for everything in the game, from buying food and items, upgrading yourself, buying real estate, gambling and so on.

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There are a shitload of side activities in Yakuza 0. You can play Sega arcade classics, such as Space Harrier and Outrun, use the claw machine, go bowling, play pool, darts, mahjong and more. You can play shogi, which is like a Japanese version of chess that I am absolutely terrible at due to how it deviates from chess throwing me off entirely. There are rhythm games, such as karaoke that are lots of fun although I wish it had more songs.The dancing minigame is quite interesting as it takes a unique spin on rhythm games. There is a grid on the on the screen and each button press will appear at a square on the grid and you must traverse the grids to be able to press it in time, whilst traversing as many squares to get there in order to maximise your score. It’s counter intuitive at first, but once you get the hang of it, can be quite fun. You can also use the telephone club to hook up with girls and watch erotic soft-core videos for a bit of titillation and to recharge your heat bar. There are lots of others that I did not mention and you can easily spend a shit load of time on these, especially if you’re a completionist type. On that note, the game took me just under 61 hours to finish at ~45% total completion.

The other two major mini-games, which have their own quest-lines attached to them are the real estate management and cabaret club; both of which are necessary if you want to be able to upgrade all your fighting styles fully.

How the real estate management works is you use your money to buy property in an area to gain a greater share and run out the billionaire that monopolises it. Then, you get managers (which you obtain through the completion of substories usually) and security guards that you assign to an area when starting collection to maximize profit in addition to using advisors to upgrade the rank of each property. Then you wait, collect the profit.Sometimes you will have to do a money battle, which amounts to mindlessly mashing X, take on the area boss in a bet over 10% area share in a mini game and after you have 90% share, you take them on in combat. Rinse and repeat 5 times. It can feel quite tedious, to say the least, considering how you can only invest in upgrading a property once per collection round.

Majima’s mini game questline follows a similar premise of taking over turf to beat rivals, but it is far more engaging than real estate. The cabaret club has you manage hostesses by preparing the business for opening by choosing which girls you are going to have on per session, which area’s fans you are targeting and customizing the clothes, hair, facial features and accessories of your platinum rank hostesses, as well as training them through karaoke or disco dates and customer service training, which is a dialogue that helps you level them up. These dialogues are actually quite engaging as the lip syncing, voices and back stories of the girls all feel believable. Then when you open up, you must keep customers happy by assigning girls to guests trying to make as much profit as possible, and assisting the girls by reading their hand signs to know if they’re ordering a drink or want the menu or whatever. It’s a rather simple mini game but surprisingly addictive and the grind feels much less tedious than the real estate mini game.

Aesthetically, the late 80s rendition of Kamurocho and Sotenbori, with their neon lit streets and plenty of detail,rendered at full 1080p 60fps and despite some low quality texture and low poly models here and there, the game generally looks quite nice. Cutscenes look even better running in real time but 30FPS. The soundtrack is also varied and generally quite enjoyable too. However, there are many elements of the game that demonstrate it’s limitations as being developed with the PS3 in mind, like the difference in lighting models between certain cutscenes and dialogues (you will know when you see it) and how there is loading times between interiors and the overworld. Thankfully, these load times are quite short.

Yakuza 0 is a game that juggles so many elements, especially tonally, and manages to do it very, very well. You will laugh, cheer, feel hype, tense , sad and sometimes a little fuzzy and much more and just have a generally good time punching guys in the face.  If you’re the type of person who refuses to watch a foreign film out of stubborn refusal to read subtitles, then this is not the game for you, but for everyone else, definitely give it a look, for it is sure to please long time fans and newcomers alike.

8.5/10

 

The Last Guardian (2016) PS4 Review

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In 2016, the impossible was made possible. An outsider political candidate won an election with all odds stacked against him. The Doom reboot actually ended up being pretty awesome. The long awaited Final Fantasy XV (and ended up being pretty good) actually came out and so did The Last Guardian, just in the nick of time after being announced for the PS3 many years ago and suffering a troubled development. So did The Last Guardian turn out to be good? Let’s find out.

Coming from gen Design and Sony’s Japan Studio, The Last Guardian comes as the successor to Fumito Ueda’s PS2 classics Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, which I played and deeply enjoyed a few years back playing on the remastered editions for the PS3. This game is a mixture of both titles to some extent, although leaning heavily towards Ico.

The game starts out with you, a nameless boy finding himself with strange markings and inside a cavern with a chained beast named Trico, who looks like a mixture of a dog and a cat. With Trico laden with spears, the boy decides to remove them and unchain the beast, which begins a growing friendship between the two as they navigate these massive ancient ruins. So the premise is simple: the boy and the beast work together to escape this seemingly insurmountable prison. The story is very simple, but wonderfully presented with minimal dialogue of the sort of fictional but vaguely Japanese sounding language found in this game’s predecessors. It also features narration from the boy grown up and the overall presentation of the story is simple and manages to be very touching, working in tandem with the core mechanics and design of the game.

Most of what you will be doing throughout the game is solving platforming puzzles and other rather simple spatial puzzles sometimes by yourself and sometimes with the aid of Trico. This game does not hold your hand nor do you hold its. There’s no HUD (except for the occasional pop up early on reminding you of the controls in certain contexts) and hints are rare and occasionally a little bit opaque. Instead of holding Yorda’s hand and taking her to where you need to go, here you command Trico with R1 and pointing in a direction. You can also pet him, which gives him the extra go ahead. However, like any untrained animal, Trico will at times fail to heed your commands and just kind of stare at you confused. This helps sell the idea that Trico is an independent creature, but it can also lead to frustration in the course of playing the game. That said, Trico does get better, especially later in the game at knowing what to do in certain circumstances. He also does follow your commands most of the time but he doesn’t always do so instantly. I would say that this is all worth it for it is part of the emotional connection forged with the beast, but whether or not it will be worth it for you will depend on your patience for this sort of thing.

The way Trico looks is also absolutely incredible, the way the light shines through his many feathers and the purple like hues of his furry ears. The way he moves, the way his body gets soaked and many other little details are incredible to behold. Trico, whilst clearly a fictional creature, looks and behaves like something that could or could have at one time or another actually existed; as if the developers of the game had privileged access to a hitherto secret creature and observed it with many sharp eyes.

As for combat, well, there isn’t any. Sometimes you have a shield that you can aim and a lightning type bolt will explode and take out wooden platforms and such (this is of course also used in puzzle solving). Additionally, there are enemies that look kind of like teracotta samurai which function similarly to the shades that try to drag Yorda down to darkness in Ico. You can’t fight them, but you can wriggle free of their clutches and you can shove them. To take them out, you need Trico to be there and he tends to tends to go wild and really smash these animated suits of armour.

Visually, you wouldn’t think this game originated as a PS3 title. Whilst the textures aren’t always the highest res and the environments might seem repetitive looking to some, through excellent animation, cohesive and highly appealing art direction, combined with the incredible lighting and use of colour, the game manages to very frequently look quite stunning.

With all this praise, I must address the elephants in the room for this game because while I did enjoy the overall experience, these are technical issues I cannot ignore. First is the controls. Whilst the control scheme is fine, the controls were often quite fiddly, especially when climbing on and off Trico (which you will do a lot of) and dropping down didn’t always work the way I expected. There is also, even after patch 1.03, some very noticeable input latency on the camera.

The camera can also be a hassle. Sometimes you have to wrestle with it, especially in certain corners and it can spaz out and become quite the annoyance, especially combined with the input latency.

Perhaps the biggest technical issue with the game is the frame rate. The Last Guardian targets 30 fps and while it’s around there most of the time, the frame rate drops can be quite severe. One section, which was a collapsing bridge, the frame rate dropped tremendously. Even in less strenuous circumstances it could drop rather noticeably. This isn’t some minor 1 or 2 fps drops here and there. While not constant, these drops to levels that are Blighttown in Dark Souls level of slideshow or even more comparably, the 15 fps average during battles on the PS2 version of Shadow of the Colossus. It’s a very serious problem that might definitely be a deal breaker to some. It got so bad that at one point my eyes were feeling strained and I had to put stop playing that session.

After a long wait, The Last Guardian turned out to be a very simple game with wonderful visuals and storytelling that can be frustrating at times.For anyone who has enjoyed Ico or Shadow of the Colossus or both in the past, this is a must play and the type of game that rarely comes out from major publishers these days. It’s just a shame that it has serious technical issues that diminish it’s excellence.

8/10

Final Fantasy XV (2016) PS4 Review

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Final Fantasy XV had a long road getting here, originally being announced as Versus XIII and supposed to come out on the PS3, the game has had a troubled development. At one point, then game director Nomura even considered making the game a musical. There was plenty scepticism going around before the release of this game and there was every possibility of it being a disaster. I am pleased to report that after finishing the story mode, the game is far from a disaster.

The latest entry in this long running franchise has you playing as Prince Noctis who is on a road trip to get married to his betrothed, the Lady Lunafreya, as part of a peace deal. So he sets out with his retinue and friends. Prompto, Noctis’ happy go lucky and energetic school friend who is also the photographer of the group, the baritone voiced Gladiolus who is stern muscle and Ignis, who is the straight and narrow intellectual type. Noctis himself is also quite moody at times, but he is not without a sarcastic sense of humour.

Once you first get control in the game, it has Noctis and his party pushing down their broken down car and the crew are having banter and joking about it. Then, a Florence and the Machine cover of Stand By Me is played. It is a rather strange way to start the game, but an endearing one. Of course, things soon go awry and Noctis with the help of his friends are on an adventure that involves riding chocobos, hunting monsters and gaining the blessings of the deities so that Noctis can defeat Niflheim and reclaim his throne. This main plot, without spoiling anything isn’t terribly original but it is more often than not, incredibly well told and with it’s core cast of characters, aided by very good performances are elevated and the emotional payoff is tremendously executed. The pacing of the narrative is also quite tight as I completed it, without any real rushing, in about 26 and a half hours. This alleviates the typical bloatedness of campaign length that traditional JRPGs have a reputation for, but this by no means means I’ve done everything. There is plenty of post game content of difficult dungeons and bosses in typical Final Fantasy fashion.

As to the game itself, this is the first mainline entry to the series which has not used a turn based or pseudo turn based combat system. Instead, this is a real time hack n slash type system that includes a tactical menu for potions and issuing of commands for Noctis’ friends to perform special attacks that are unlocked through the levelling system called the Ascension grid. This grid is separated into multiple categories, such as exploration, combat, teamwork and so forth, so there is plenty of ways to choose how to build the party.

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Back to the combat itself, I have seen some reviewers compare this game’s combat to the Devil May Cry series. And whilst this game’s combat certainly is comparably flashy in appearance, it does not have the same depth. Landing attacks amounts to essentially locking on to and enemy and holding circle to combo and pressing triangle to warp strike, whilst also changing weapons with the d pad, holding R2 to open up the tactical menu to access potions or to command special moves from the party. You can also press square to dodge or block attacks. So it is much more simplistic and doesn’t have terribly much depth in terms of the mechanical mastery of combos and the like, but the game is presented and balanced in such a way that it somehow remains engaging and often challenging. Still, I would’ve preferred just a bit more depth to the combat and making it a bit more like Devil May Cry by opening up opportunities for juggles and other moves. Boss fights, especially towards the end are all parts challenging and lengthy, but never frustrating and feel constantly exciting and epic.

Each character also has their own speciality. Noctis, for example, has a rather simple but relaxing fishing minigame, Prompto acts as an automatic posed screenshotter for you, Gladio is a survivalist whose level is increased by resting at camp fires and levelling this up allows increased loot pick ups in the field. Ignis is the chef of the group, whose cooking from ingredients found (such as fish caught by Noctis) or bought create dishes which act as buffs. Characters also only level up once you find a place to rest.

As for the exploration, the game takes an open world approach, but not in a sandbox Grand Theft Auto kind of way. The first comparison that comes to my mind is The Witcher 3. You can go wherever you want when you want, but the open world acts as more of a framework and connective tissue for the narrative. Still, it is a very impressive world, with a tremendous sense of scale, such as the fight against the Hydraen or being in the centre of the Disc of Cauthess. However, the driving mechanic is rather on rails and restrictive, but the piloting of chocobos are fun.The day night cycle also plays into the game too, with night time giving rise to the daemons, which are more powerful monsters, so you don’t want to be too far from a rest location in the wilderness.

As to the side quests, most of them that I have done have fallen into either the categories of monster hunting, which are usually fun and a good challenge or fetch quests, which are usually quite routine. There are some that are base infiltration or optional high level dungeon crawls. These side quests aren’t terribly impressive and don’t typically have much in the way of narrative drama, so they don’t run the risk of overshadowing the main story like what occurs in some contemporary western action RPGs these days.

As for the aesthetics of the game, well this game is beautiful. The original soundtrack is excellent as always and while cruising in the regalia,you can play the music from old Final Fantasy games, which is an added bonus. The visuals are also quite tremendous in motion too, with excellent lighting at at all times, the glowing of the meteor and the gigantic geological arches in Duscae, the wetlands of the Vesperpool or the Venetian inspired Altissia and much more locations, the game has a nice variety of environments. It has an art direction that has an eclectic array of influences fused with the creatures and overall style of the Final Fantasy series, as well as being technically impressive too. On the technical side, there are aliasing issues sometimes and the texture filtering and LOD is not always the best. The game also runs at 30FPS, which is stable most of the time and never drops to a level that is persistently detrimental to the experience. On the whole, it is a pleasure to look at and I’d love to see how much further an eventual PC release could take it.

Every time you boot the game, a screen comes up saying ‘A Final Fantasy for fans and first timers.’ With this series, I would not consider myself either of those. But even with this game’s quirks and flaws, the legacy of it’s troubled development and the expectations that come from such a release; Final Fantasy XV is an absolute joy to experience and comes highly recommended.

9/10

A King’s Tale: Final Fantasy XV (2016) PS4 Review

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This short little beat em, which is an exclusive bonus to people who buy Final Fantasy XV from particular stores, such as EB Games/Gamestop, surprised me with it’s quality. The experience is framed around Regis from the main game telling a young Noctis a bed time story based on events from his younger days.

The visuals are in retro beat em up style, think Streets of Rage and they have high quality sprites and animations, as well as audio. While the environments look excellent, there are only a few of them, but considering the short length of the main story, they avoid being repetitive.

The mechanics have a surprising amount of depth as well. Instead of just having basic quick attack and strong attack, there are on the ground combos, launches and air combos, dodge rolls and shield attacks, as well as summoning team mates by having unbroken combo chains. Certain monsters, such as the skeletons for example, require their own special tactics, like stunning them with a shield mid combo, otherwise they will break your combo chain with a block. The combat, while to some extent a button mashing affair at times still requires a decent amount of skill in chaining combos and dodging to be effective. The combat can also become very fast, especially as enemies fill the screen. Also the most difficult enemy is the cactuar. Seriously. A King’s Tale: Final Fantasy XV then, is a great little bonus with the main game and is a good way to spend some of the time waiting for Final Fantasy XV to install and update.

8/10

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016) PS4 Review

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Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune Remastered review

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Remastered Review

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception Remastered Review

This review is based on the single player portion of the game.

The final chapter of Nathan Drake’s story is an incredible ride. From an thrilling boat chase prologue, to prison escapes from a Panamanian jail or climbing a clocktower in Madagascar, the set pieces here are all incredible and one up the previous entries in the game. The story starts has Nathan Drake, who was hitherto living a drab domestic life with now wife Elena Fisher, set out on a new adventure looking for the lost treasure of infamous pirate Henry Avery, with his previously believed to be dead brother, Sam.

The storytelling here is Naughty Dog at their finest. There are no supernatural aspects at play here, the story is more focused on the relationships between the characters, mainly that of Nathan and Sam, as well as Nathan and Elena. While I won’t go too much into the details of the story as I don’t want to spoil the experience, but I will say here that the story hits a high emotional register through what is essentially a swashbuckling treasure hunt story, that also works through memory of previous entries in the series and a score that is as rousing as ever that never feels saccharine or cheesy. It’s well written and heart felt and provides a definitive and satisfactory conclusion to Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher’s story.

Before I talk about the mechanics of the game, I’d also like to sing the high praises of this game’s visuals. They are simply incredible, from Nathan Drake’s house, to the streets and marketplace in Madagascar, to the St. Dismas cathedral area and an auction at an Italian mansion every area impresses and are breathtaking. On show here is some of the finest visual artistry I have seen in a game. In fact, I’d say it is one of the best looking games currently available not only on the PS4, but anywhere. However, it does only run at 30fps with rare drops, but it is still highly responsive.A motion blur slider also exists, which allows you to control the intensity, which is nice for people who feel sick from it There’s also many unlockable render modes that you can obtain post game, which can add some novel visual experiences for repeat playthroughs. Other details also impress, such as the authentic,albeit stereotypical South African accents of the mercenary enemies that speak in believable mannerisms and lingo.

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One setpiece highlights just how incredible this game is. You’re in a jeep in Madagascar with your old pal Sully and you’re being chased by an APC firing at you and you go downhill through winding city streets, which all possess an amazing amount of detail. Then you jump off and use your rope attached to the crane of a convoy and pull yourself up and holding on, you slide in the mud meanwhile being fired at. You can shoot while sliding around or pull yourself up to in the truck and hop between vehicles. When back in the jeep, enemies will try and jump on your vehicle and you can shake them off by slamming through a shack. There are other aspects of this sequence that I am omitting but suffice it it to say that it is stunning.

Back in 2007, it was all about the conspicuously placed chest high walls. In 2016, it’s all about the conspicuously placed tall grass or bushes.  A Thief’s End makes a number of welcome improvements to the Uncharted formula. For one, whilst sneaking around and thinning out lots of enemies through melee attacks was often possible in previous entries into the series, it could often be vague and difficult to tell how close to detection you are. This fixes that by placing a detection meter that fills up and changes colour above enemies heads when you’re in their line of sight. Climbing sections also have multiple paths, which is good for speedrunners and those who like trying to find the most effective path up.

The biggest new feature is the appropriately swashbuckling rope, which is use effectively in platforming, adding a layer of skill to the admittedly simplistic platforming elements of the series, which is greatly appreciated. They’re also often put in some of  the well designed and varied combat sections allowing you to get between different areas quick whilst firing on your enemies or is even helpful in stealth. In one section late in the game, I was almost detected by a guard, but I swung around to the right of the cliff and hung off the edge, avoiding detection, only to climb up and take him out unawares after him turning around. It was highly satisfying. This rope mechanic on top of an already strong and mobile third person cover based shooter foundation makes this the peak of combat for the series.

I will close my review with saying this: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is Naughty Dog at their best and they have created a game that is thoroughly enjoyable to play from start to finish and is a definite must play for all PS4 owners.

9.5/10