Review: Lighting Returns Final Fantasy XIII — A Majora’s Mask

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/ by Jason Rose

Lightning. Connotation suggests that the character of the same description elicits a definite response with gamers. Empowering, beautiful, strong, or just bland, shallow, and style over substance, all have been used to describe the titular matriarch. This is Lightning’s game and after fans claimed there wasn’t enough of her in the previous sequel, the star returns to play dress up, wield god like power and save our souls.

Blamed for the downfall of a series, its death even, the third game in the Fabula Nova Chrystallis saga heralds the conclusion to the most controversial chapter in Final Fantasy’s legendary history. Amidst all the hurt feelings, betrayals and perceived sacrileges against the franchise, has the trilogy finally succeeded in validating its creators original vision? That depends on who you ask and by turning an already divisive formula on its head, Lightning Returns alters yet again what we know as an RPG today.
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Review: Goodbye Deponia

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/ by Jamie Ward

After two previous adventures, Deponia (2012) and Chaos on Deponia (2012), Goodbye Deponia is the last of a trilogy by Daedalus Entertainment, so is this game better than its predecessors or worse? Short answer: this is the best of the bunch.

Goodbye Deponia picks up where Chaos on Deponia left off. You control an anti-hero named Rufus, an imaginative and, quite frankly, reckless inventor. You’re still trying to save the world of Deponia from destruction while impressing your possible, maybe girlfriend, Goal, a young woman from the floating city far above the planet surface, Elysium. Their ultimate goal is now within reaching distance: finding a way to Goal’s hometown and saving Deponia from an almost certain destruction.

This is essentially the same goal as the previous two games, which is a little disappointing. You would think that, after two other games, the goal might be different (Lord of the Rings doesn’t apply to this thought process) but alas, this at least means that each game genuinely ties in with each other rather than going from one thing to another without nothing in between.

The graphics in Goodbye Deponia haven’t changed since the first game and this is not a bad thing; it still looks amazing, cartoon-like and brilliantly animated. Each screen is wonderfully detailed with objects pushing up against the foreground and pushed back all the way in the background. Little details, such as birds moving on roofs in the distance, create liveliness to each place you visit and makes sure that the environment is not a completely static image that you can move around on.

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The gameplay also has not been tampered with, providing a fairly standard point-and-click mechanic akin to something like Broken Sword. Left mouse moves Rufus around and lets him perform actions, such as in one scene where he interacts with a baby’s outfit on a clothesline in order to trick a grandmother and grandfather in to making them give you a lollipop. Clicking the right mouse lets you examine things so you know what they are or can do before you interact with them. Again, it’s a fairly standard point-and-click mechanic, but it works just as well here as it does on the best point-and-click games.

Moving the mouse wheel lets you open your inventory, in which you can right-click on an object to examine it or left-click to hold it and try to use this object in the current scene to progress further in the game. Pressing the spacebar shows you all the hot spots in the current scene you can interact with and examine and, while I found this to be somewhat cheating, it certainly would be helpful to those who might need it. It’s all fairly standard stuff and most players would just be able to jump straight in and understand the gameplay, but I would recommend watching the tutorial, anyway, just because it’s so funny and breaks the fourth wall more than once.

Goodbye Deponia includes a mixture of inventory-based puzzles — like the aforementioned left-click option to utilize an item — and mini-games, where you have to move things around to achieve a goal in order to progress. There are a few puzzles that can be a little bit far-fetched sometimes and these are the ones I struggled with the most. Luckily, these puzzles are not frequent enough to ruin the experience and they, for the most part, are wonderfully executed. The mini-games are usually fun; they involve things like helping Rufus distracting security cameras, so they’re looking at Rufus instead of Goal, thus allowing Goal to hack into some computer consoles. They are also better presented here than they were in the earlier games. They even have some instructions, but if you do have any trouble, you’re given the option to skip them completely.

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For the most part, you’re allowed to visit numerous places at any given point and the game can throw lots of different puzzles at you to tackle in whatever order you want. Goodbye Deponia is not a linear game and it benefits from this; you’re given a wide range of options most of the time, so if you are stuck on one particular puzzle, you can choose to go after another puzzle instead. It helps keep you interested. If you do get stuck and start trying to combine random items together or put items in a wrong hot spot, the game often makes genuinely funny comments that’ll make you laugh, despite being stuck. Sometimes, I found myself just doing this on purpose to see what the game would say.

Conclusion:

My verdict is that I had a ton of fun playing Goodbye Deponia. It looks gorgeous, it’s challenging, and its one of the funniest games I have ever played. If you thought the other two games in the series were funny, you haven’t seen anything yet. Each of the voice actors do a really good job in making each character unique and you can get a sense of their personalities that text alone does not give you. In the inevitable sequel, I would like to see Daedalus create a totally different story. For now, though, if you enjoy point-and-click and adventure games, I probably couldn’t recommend any other game more than the Deponia series right now. It is one of the best titles and series in this category we’ve seen in the past ten years.

Low Score – 7.5

A few puzzles are a bit silly
Story is still the same after 3 games

High score – 8.5

Genuinely funny
Makes you really think about the puzzles
Looks beautiful, sounds amazing

Final Score – 8

The Last of Us Review

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/ by Thom Edwards

Most games come in and out of our lives fairly quickly without leaving any real impression. Sure we enjoy them at the time but, soon enough, the next big game is upon us, and we move on. Every so often though, the stars align and something truly special comes along. Years can pass between these special games but after you play them they will stay with you forever. Referring to games like Journey, Metal Gear Solid and The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as just “games” is doing them a disservice, the fact is, they’re not just games…they’re art. They’re wonderful pieces of art that will cause you to ponder them long after the credits have rolled and will leave a legacy that will endure long after the console they were released on has become outdated. These pedigree games leave a mark on you that will last a lifetime. The Last of Us firmly belongs amongst these illustrious games. It’s not only one the best Playstation 3 games I’ve ever played, it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. Period. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Last of Us review.

During the run up to The Last of Us I wasn’t especially hyped. If I’ve learnt anything over a decade of gaming it’s that over-hyping a game is the best way to ruin it. Sure it was being developed by Naughty Dog, the creators of hits like Crash Bandicoot and the more recent Uncharted series, but nonetheless, I was determined not to get caught up in it all. Consequently, as I inserted The Last Of Us into my PS3, I really didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I’d seen a couple of trailers, but I knew almost nothing about the game’s plot, or its characters. Within the first 10 minutes of playing, it was as if Naughty Dog had grabbed me by the by the collar, pulled me into the game and taken me on an incredible journey that didn’t let up for a second, until the credits rolled. It took me just over 12 hours to complete the lengthy single player story, and I had to tear myself away from it whenever annoying things like the need to eat or sleep got in the way. Creating an engaging story within a video game is hard enough, but creating one that at no point lags, or gets stale, for over 12 hours is an achievement that Naughty Dog should be damn proud of. Just when I thought I knew where the plot was going it would do a U-turn and give me something even better.

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Twenty years into the future, a strange Fungi has started infecting earth’s population, turning people into crazed zombie-like monsters who will brutally attack humans on sight. Players take control of Joel as he climbs, swims, sneaks and fights his way across a post apocalyptic America. You’ve been tasked with smuggling 14 year old Ellie away from the government controlled quarantine zone and deliver her safely to a group of rebels/terrorists known as the Fireflies. Unlike Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, Joel is a far deeper and more sympathetic character. He’s capable of extreme acts of brutality towards enemies and at times he certainly blurs the line between good and bad guy, but he does what he does to survive and you can always see his point of view, whether you agree with it or not. As great a character as Joel is, for me, Ellie was the star of the show. Despite only being a child she is bursting with character and is fearless in the face of danger. Although she’s well aware of the brutality of the world, her youth gives her a certain innocence and enthusiasm which balances perfectly with the middle-aged Joel’s tired and jaded outlook. Their moments of banter in between the action are superbly written and I always went out of my way to interact with Ellie, before moving on to the next stage. Along the way you’ll meet other survivors, good and bad and all are memorable in their own way, whether it be the foul mouthed and slightly unhinged mechanic Bill, or Henry and his 13 year old brother Sam. These encounters serve not only to show how other survivors are coping with the crisis but also help flesh out Joel and Ellie by giving them other characters to interact with. A memorable and enjoyable scene between Ellie and Bill showed that Ellie wasn’t going to let herself be intimidated by a guy twice her height, weight and age. You will find yourself genuinely caring about Joel and Ellie and will be sad when they part with other survivors that you’ve become attached to. Hidden collectibles also add to the emersion as you discover someone’s journal or find a broken picture of a once happy family.

The Infected aren’t the only danger along the way however. Groups of people known as Hunters have formed their own brutal communities where they hunt and kill outsiders partly for loot, partly for sport. In this world, it’s survival of the fittest and The Last of Us doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to showing you what humans are capable of. Bullets are scarce, and although you may find the occasional clip of ammo, it’s makeshift weapons you’ll be using the most. By combining scrap like broken scissors, rusty nails and lighter fluid, Joel can create rudimentary weapons like shivs, nail bombs and Molotov cocktails to defend himself from enemies. Because of the rudimentary nature of these weapons, the violent encounters are often brutal. At a glance, some might say that the graphic violence of The Last of Us could feel at odds with the tender moments that shed some light on this dark world, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Ordinarily I would agree that taking down an enemy with a baseball bat covered in nails is excessive, but ordinarily a player has a gun at hand, and the writing makes you care so much for these characters, that it allows such violence to be depicted without it seeming cheap or gratuitous. You understand that Joel and Ellie must do whatever it takes to survive and keep each other safe. A lot of video games depict violence as something cool and done with skill. The Last of Us depicts it realistically. There’s no glory in it and you sure as hell don’t feel like it’s something you’d want to be a part of.   

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That brings us on to the combat. Before the apocalypse, Joel was just a regular guy with a normal job and a normal life. He can’t clear out a room of bad guys in seconds and he certainly can’t take more than a few hits before getting killed. The Last of Us strongly suggests you take down enemies using stealth, cunning and patience. Charging headlong into a group of Hunters, will only end in your death, and whilst the Infected may not use weapons, they’re tough, fast and travel mostly in groups, which can easily overwhelm you. Some people may expect combat to be like Uncharted, where you could shoot down hundreds of bad guys like a one man army, but it’s far more realistic than that. The best way to clear a room of hostiles is to take your time, distract enemies by throwing empty bottles and take them down silently one by one.

This brings me to the one and only flaw I noticed whilst playing The Last of Us. Enemies only become alerted when you, the player, get in their field of vision or make a noise, but not when an NPC does. For the most part NPC’s stay back until the enemies are taken care of, but once or twice I saw Ellie walk right in front of a guy without him noticing her. I can’t help feeling I’m being very nit-picky here, because I realise that the alternative would be a lot worse. Imagine you were constantly being spotted because fellow survivors kept blowing your cover. I assume Naughty Dog purposely had enemies ignore your allies to avoid that very frustration. That said, it only happened about three times in my entire playthrough, and some players may have finished the entire game without ever noticing this.  Of course, the wisest option is to get past them without engaging them at all, but this isn’t always possible. The game plays like a mix of Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid. When enemies are near, stealth is your greatest ally, but in open areas you can climb, swim and crawl as you explore ruined buildings in search of ammo, scrap and collectibles. Speaking of which, The Last of Us is built for multiple playthroughs. Not only is there New Game+ but you won’t be able to fully upgrade Joel’s weapons and abilities in one game, so there’s plenty of reasons to keep coming back.

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They say that graphics don’t make the game, but they certainly don’t hurt it either. The Last of Us is without doubt one of the best looking games to date. These days, looking pretty isn’t in itself much of an achievement, but credit should be given to the fact that this game constantly looks fantastic, without ever suffering from pop-in textures or long load times. You find yourself in pretty much every type of terrain at various points in the game, from crumbling cities to snowy forests and they all look superb. The Last of Us really shows off just how far the PS3 has come in its lifetime.

As if a stellar single player campaign wasn’t enough, The Last of Us also comes with a multiplayer mode. At first I assumed it was just tacked on as another selling point, but I’ve found myself getting hooked. At a glance, it seems the multiplayer is just your classic 3rd person shooter, dressed up to look like something from the world of The Last of Us, but after playing a few games, I realised it’s a lot deeper than that. The first thing you’ll do is decide which faction you’ll join, Hunters or Fireflies.

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After that you’ll be given a small clan made up of little dots that represent survivors in your clan. To expand your clan you’ll need to provide them with food and medicine that you collect by winning multiplayer matches. If you play well, your clan will grow and thrive, but if you lose too often your clan will suffer and eventually die, forcing you to start again. There are two game modes, Supply Raid and Survivor. Both are team death matches, but in Supply Raid, players have unlimited respawns, whereas in Survivor you have none.

At first you may be tempted to go in all guns blazing, but after getting your ass kicked a few times, you’ll realise that combat is designed to play out like that in the single player. You have limited ammo, but you can search the map for scraps to make health kits and traps, which will give you the edge against the enemy. Making a lot of noise will give away your position, and not making use of cover is a sure way to get sniped. Most players choose to stick close to their team mates, creating small squads that can cover each other in a fire fight, and heal anyone who gets downed. However, you can choose to be a lone wolf and use stealth to go into enemy territory to dispatch your foes one by one. The latter is a lot harder but is so damn satisfying. After each game, depending on how well you played, you’ll earn a certain amount of supplies which feed, heal and expand your clan. Although the single player is certainly the best part of The Last of Us, multiplayer is very competent and most importantly fun. Unlockable weapons and character customisations mean there’s plenty of reason to keep playing and, if Naughty Dog play their cards right, the community could still be thriving for a long time.

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Last but not least I want to touch on how great The Last of Us sounds. The voice acting is top notch and weapons sound true to life, whether it’s the thud of a baseball bat against an enemy or the crack of a rifle off in the distance. The infected too are particularly well voiced. They can’t talk but rather communicate in guttural gurgles and spine tingling shrieks. Because of this they’re far more haunting than your average moaning zombie and you just can’t shake off that feeling there’s still something human inside them. The real audio star however is the soundtrack by two time Oscar winner Gustavo Santaolalla. Every song is a treat for the ears and the music fits perfectly with what’s happening on screen. There’s a particularly emotional cutscene where the character’s audio is faded down, and a melancholy score plays, which will tug at the heart strings of even the most hardcore gamers. Those who pre ordered the game got a code to download the soundtrack for free. If you didn’t pre order,  I urge you to go out and buy it. You won’t be disappointed.    

Conclusion
As I said earlier, every few years a game comes along and changes things completely. The Last of Us is a perfect send off for the PS3 and has raised the bar in almost every aspect, proving what a fantastic medium video games can be. It reminded this jaded gamer what it is that makes games so special, and how they are capable of so much more than the mindless shooters we’re bombarded with. For that I give The Last of Us a perfect 10. This title belongs on the shelf of every gamer worth their salt.

 By Thom Edwards

The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav Review

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/ by Toddziak

Dark Eye Chains of Satinav Review

Publishers: Daedalic Entertainment
Developers: Daedalic Entertainment
Release Date: Jun 22, 2012
System: PC


If you ever happen to visit Germany and meet there an RPG fan – no matter if they like computer games or traditional pen and paper ones – don’t forget to ask about the series The Dark Eye (or in the local dialect: Das Schwarze Auge). Most likely you’ll be flooded with exuberant praises for this franchise, since it’s held in great esteem westward from the Oder river and a few gaming adaptations for the PC only add to the overall popularity. Now The Dark Eye aims to win over also adventure games fans with The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav, a game developed by well-known and liked studio Daedalic Entertainment. Does it succeed in capturing gamers’ hearts? Generally yes, but the proverbial blindness of love shouldn’t conceal some major flaws from us.

The protagonist of Chains of Satinav is a young bird catcher named Geron. He had it quite rough in his life from the early age. Thirteen years ago sinister Seer, just before he was burned at the stake, hailed the boy as the bringer of doom. That’s why the whole city treats Geron as a pariah and a bad luck. What’s more, he can use magic to break fragile objects, which obviously makes the townsfolk even more suspicious towards him. However, our hero finally gets a chance to prove himself – he wins the competition announced by the king and during a special audience the monarch gives Geron a quest. He needs to get rid of the crows in the castle, since they became a real plague in Andergast. It may seem that such task will be a piece of cake to a bird catcher, but in adventure games nothing is ever simple. Geron gets entangled in a dark intrigue involving the apparently not-so-dead Seer, where the fate of the whole world is on the line. Fortunately he’s not alone in carrying this burden. He’s accompanied by Nuri, a fairy who is sweet, naïve and a bit dopey, as well as the talking raven, very creatively called the Raven.

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Chains of Satinav begins like a clichéd and quite childish fantasy story, but don’t let the first impression fool you. Very soon dark and grim tones begin to creep into the plot. Murders, betrayals and omnipresent decay, especially visible in the latter part of the game, may have a depressing effect on the player. So did we get something of Game of Thrones proportion? No, certainly not, it’s a completely different league. The beginning is rather tedious and tiresome, the main heroes could use more depth, the villain is plain boring and the game itself can be unbearably waffly. Despite these flaws, which are not deadly sins in fact, I’ve been following the story eagerly throughout all five chapters. And why not? We can witness how the relationship between Geron and Nuri unfolds, we visit many interesting and exotic places and even though many of the NPCs we encounter don’t have overwhelming personalities, there are some exceptions. The honest merchant Harm is a dead ringer for Juan Borgia from the Borgias tv series! The ending could, however, be longer and resolve more issues, but we shouldn’t complain too much. It’s still a better love story than Twilight and has a better ending than a certain game had before the Extended Cut DLC.

As is the case with most point’n'click games, Chains of Satinav has very basic controls, but still the tutorial explains everything – just in case. Left mouse button allows us to interact with the world and move Geron around, whereas the right button is responsible for examining an item further, which usually exposes some additional information helpful in the game. Space bar highlights all the hotspots in a given location, so we won’t miss anything of importance. Our inventory appears at the bottom of the screen and it obviously contains all the junk that we gather during the story, but it also has a different function, namely it gives us access to magic. As was previously stated, Geron can smash objects and Nuri has a magical talent of a opposite kind – she can fix broken items. We often use both spells to push the plot forward, but fortunately magic is not overused.

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Most puzzles are rather standard inventory based challenges following the same pattern: find, take, use in a proper place, yay! The difficulty level in Chains of Satinav is not really high, considering that we only have access to a few locations at time, so it’s not particularly hard to sweep through them and use anything on everything in times of desperation. However, occasionally we encounter peaks of abstraction when the puzzles touch upon the laws of magic. For instance why should we just lit the fire to illuminate the room, when we can equally well use a fluorescent butterfly for this very purpose? That’s just one of the least sophisticated examples, but trust me: there will be more hardcore stuff to do in the forth chapter. Brain boiling guaranteed!

Other types of puzzles presented in Chains of Satinav, including cracking some codes or pressing the buttons in order, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Actually it’s an advantage for me, since excess of such challenges have a disastrous effect on game’s pace, which eventually results in the boredom of the player. But it’s a matter of personal preference really. Preferences, however, have nothing to do with many conversations that we’ll be having throughout the whole story. Often these dialogues sound rather artificial, but we can attribute it to the requirements of the genre. After all a bit of pathos and overacting never killed anybody, right?

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Here we can venture to talk about the worst flaws of the game. First thing: voice-acting. It’s very erratic, unfortunately with the predominant poor part. Many characters just recite their lines in a monotonous voice, not even trying to bring some emotions into the role. I think I liked the actress who played Nuri the most. At least she had some spunk. The second big flaw is very bad animation. It’s broken, stiff and putting it simply: god-awful. We can see it the most during conversations when camera shows the heroes in the close-up. Talking individuals looks completely petrified and his/hers face is the only thing animated (badly, mind you), which in itself is rather a pathetic sight. Of course the synchronisation between the lips movement and the spoken line is non-existent. Animation is by far the worst element in Chains of Satinav. It totally ruins all good impression we might have from the game.

It’s a double pity, since the graphics are gorgeous. The backgrounds are breathtaking and so beautiful that you have the urge to put them on your desktop just to gaze at them over and over again. The amount of details, the colours and the aesthetics of the world can make you feel giddy. Upon entering every new location, it’s always worth to take a minute and just admire the view. The sepia-toned cut-scenes are also very atmospheric and above all don’t make you flinch at their animation, which is a big accomplishment. Couldn’t you do the same in the game, dear developers? The music which plays during our adventures is pleasant and gives a proper climate to the story. The game could use more tracks, though, since the soundtrack is rather short.

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So what is the final conclusion? Is The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav a good adventure game? Yes, it is, but it could have been a lot better. The plot is gripping, puzzles interesting, backgrounds just amazing, but they cannot overshadow all what is bad in the game. If you just want to spend around 12 hours on an adventure and simply have fun, it is worth to take a try with Chains of Satinav. The game includes many achievements and to get it all we need to play it at least twice; That’s always boosting the replayability value. But take my advice – refrain from buying it for now and wait till some kind of big gaming sale. Chains of Satinav is not worth 40 Euro, but if you can get it for half the price don’t hesitate even for a moment. You’ll thank me later.

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Pros:

- The plot is interesting enough to keep us going
- Amazing backgrounds
- Creative and well-thought puzzles
- You can play it for hours and more than once

Cons:

- Awful animation
- Erratic voice-acting
- Too expensive

7/10