• Kyrios
    Let's talk about modding. No, I don't mean stuff like Skyrim or New Vegas mods, I mean the kind of stuff we host here on NGPlus: modified versions of your favorite old school games. Modding isn't simple, but it's not impossible either, as the downloads section shows. I've been seeing a lot of threads pop up lately, each with their own misconceptions about how modding is done, so I figured now would be a good time to talk about it.
    Before I go any farther, this is something that has to be said. No one will make your mod for you. All of us who mod or hack these games do so because we love the game in question. Most games are pretty simple nowadays, and others have a few imperfections, but if polished could have shined like a diamond. We do what we do in order to shine these games to something closer to perfection. We do not do it for attention, or for recognition.
    First and foremost, you need to figure out the scope of your mod. You need to figure out what kind of mod you want. You have to have some kind of vision. Do you want a difficulty mod? Do you want to rebalance the game and get rid of that one ability (or bring it more in line with the others) that makes everything really easy? You need to be able to answer these questions. You may not know exactly what kind of mod when you start. This is okay, just keep in mind that the lack of a vision will spell death for your project in the long run. Scope Creep is a very real concern, and something you always need to be aware of.
    This next one is possibly the most important thing to understand: Time. Modding a game is a huge time commitment; it's not something that will be finished quickly. Any good mod has months, sometimes years of work put into it. Taking breaks is fine; no one will fault you for that, but this is something that needs to be understood. As a result, burn outs are a very real concern. Take breaks.
    Alright, now that we have that out of the way, let's get into how you're actually going to mod your game. I'm going to list off the different tools you can use to accomplish this from the simplest to the most complex.
    Editors
    Thankfully, we have a wide range of tools at our disposal. The simplest and most popular of these are game editors. These are not universal, as no two games have exactly the same code. The quickest way to find one would probably be to use Google. For your benefit, I'll list off some popular games that we know to have functioning editors.
    Final Fantasy Tactics Final Fantasy [I-VII] Chrono Trigger Golden Sun Golden Sun: The Lost Age Dragon Warrior [1-4] Megaman [1-6] Ghosts n' Goblins Pokemon [Various] Fire Emblem [8] – The Sacred Stones Super Mario World Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars There are, of course, more than I've listed here, but you can do some research and find them rather easily. Zophar's Domain has a ton of them.
    There are, however, times when a game does not have an editor. What do you do then? Well, at this point it's a lot more difficult if your game doesn't have documentation. Either way, at this point you need to rely on a few other tools.
    Hex Editors
    Hex Editors are basically what you're going to be hacking the game with. It basically opens the ROM or ISO and allows you to go in and edit the bytes of data (displayed in hexadecimal form) contained within. I won't go into this too much, as there are many, many resources available to you via Google. My preferred hex editor is HxD, if you're curious.
    Tile Molester
    Tile Molester is more for palette editing than tweaking the actual game. It essentially converts hex values to a color map. Each hex value corresponds to a different color. You can import palettes to make it easier. I'll be the first to say that editing color palettes via Tile Molester is a massive pain, as some of our modders can attest to.

    See how that has "Patch" and "X" to the left and right of the usual title? That's done with Tile Molester.
    Another thing to note is that you cannot load an ISO itself into Tile Molester, only ROMs. You can, however, extract files from the ISO and load them in Tile Molester. That's how you edit item icons or World Map Ramza in Final Fantasy Tactics.
    Disassemblers
    Let me just say right now that disassemblers are currently out of my league. I don't use them, because I don't know Assembly, the language that these games are coded in. If you don't know Assembly, you're not gonna get anything out these. Essentially, a disassembler allows you to track the data being called by the game so that you can find the bytes you're looking for easier. They're highly advanced.
    I'd like to also add that if your game doesn't have an editor or extensive documentation, a disassembler is really your only option, because unless you know what bytes to change in a hex editor, you're not going to be modding anything.
    As you can see, modding isn't something you can get done in five minutes with no effort. It's a process. You will never know everything when you begin; you will learn more modding your game than you ever could by playing it. Anyone who has a mod on here will tell you that.
    Modding is fun, though. It's like breathing new life into a piece of your childhood to share with others. Always remember that no one here started modding knowing exactly what to do. We all started from the same place: with that one desire to make a clouded diamond shine.
    Kyrios
    We've talked about what modding a game involves, but another huge misconception I find is what constitutes a good mod. For the sake of this article, we're going to be restricting this largely to difficulty mods, for obvious reasons.
    To create a good difficulty mod, you have to look at the following:
    Difficulty Curve Difficulty Type Content Tedium Technical Limitations Each of these must be managed and/or worked around appropriately in order to make a good mod, and to be honest, these are largely applicable to any type of mod, not just difficulty mods.
    Difficulty Curve
    First and foremost, a difficulty curve is absolutely essential to any kind of mod, hardtype or not.
    A mod that is really tough from the get go will quickly reach the point where strategical difficulty becomes statistical difficulty, or in other words, your well thought out strategies will become simply a numbers game. Or, failing that, will reach a point where the player simply isn't enjoying themselves anymore. A huge offender of this is Phantasy Star IV: Purgatory Mode. The difficulty is very high at the beginning (characters being one shot in the first dungeon) and does not let up.
    It's also very possible for your mod to be too easy as well. Ideally, you want a difficulty curve that challenges the player to step up their game, but you don't want the game to beat them into submission either.
    Difficulty Type
    Just as important as the difficulty curve is the type of difficulty. Difficulty is something that, in RPGs, needs to be present at all times in some way, shape, or form. How much is comfortable both depends on the mod, and the player. I'm not going to say that any one type of difficulty is superior to another, because to be quite honest it's all subjective. What you find fun may not be what another person finds fun.
    Most RPG mods try to have a heavy emphasis on what I call strategical difficulty. The term is self-explanatory; the difficulty comes from the strategies you employ rather than your overall stats. Golden Sun 2: Risen Star and Final Fantasy VI: Brave New World are two mods that do this very well. This is generally a very fun type of difficulty that a lot of people who enjoy RPGs enjoy.
    Some people find enjoyment in the type of statistical difficulty I mentioned before, and there's nothing wrong with that. If your mod is targeting that crowd of people, have at it, just don't expect those outside of that group to find it very fun or entertaining.
    There's another type of difficulty that you generally won't see emphasized too much outside of action games: reaction-based difficulty. A really good example of this is our Megaman X Hardtype created by Hart-Hunt. The emphasis on your reaction time is displayed quite clearly in the very first level and sets the tone for the rest of the mod.
    Then there are certain mods that combine all three of these: strategy, statistical, and reaction time. In this case, the statistical part of the formula is most often done through equipment choices and, if applicable, the game's job/class system.
    As a side note, a concept regarding difficulty that is something of a golden rule is to never break an established "law" without telling the player. If the player has gotten used to playing a certain way (most of the time different from the original), you don't simply change that completely without giving the player some kind of clue. Teaching the player to use different strategies is well and good, but don't do something like emphasize highly aggressive play in the first 75% of the game and then completely nullify that playstyle in the last 25%. You know who you are.
    Content
    Content in a mod is many things. It is the number of viable equipment and abilities, the new stuff you add to the game, and, to add onto the first, builds.
    The best poster child for content I've seen has got to be, without a doubt, Brave New World. BTB and Synchysi have added a lot of things to the game, and in doing so made practically everything viable. Every piece of equipment and every ability is useful, niche or not. Every character is viable and has multiple builds, each of them with different strengths and weaknesses. This adds a lot of replayability to the mod as a result.
    Something to always be cautious of, however, is overbalancing. Ideally, you want to make as many things viable as you can, but also give the player the freedom to experiment. Pigeon-holing the player into using that one ability for a given fight over all others (not to be confused with an intelligent choice of abilities for a fight) is not a good thing.
    Tedium
    Tedium goes hand in hand with the first two points about difficulty curve and type. If you want grinding to be a necessity, that's fine. Just don't expect a lot of people to be a huge fan of your mod, because let's face it, people generally don't like tedious, arbitrary, repetitive tasks.
    The key word there is "arbitrary." I'll use Final Fantasy Tactics 1.3 as an example: everything in the Deep Dungeon is level 99, but the Deep Dungeon is optional. You can complete the game without ever grinding a single point of exp or JP. However, it is not uncommon to feel like in order to compete later on in the game, you need to poach items. Poaching is exactly that: a tedious, arbitrary, repetitive task that very few people find even remotely interesting.
    Brave New World (most mods that we host, really) does a very good job of this. If you fight every battle you get into, then you won't have to grind at all. If you run from battles, there's obviously going to come a point where you need to do a little grinding to keep pace.
    It's always good to see that a modder has put up safeguards to deter the brute force (beating a fight with levels, not strategy) approach to a given boss fight. as well. For example, I had a situation where a mod I was designing was going through one of its first betas, and a certain tester brute forced his way past the first boss. To curb that urge, I made the ability (that he was grinding for) do significantly less damage. You can also spin this another way, and make a boss counter a particular ability with an attack that almost wipes out your entire party.
    That said, you also don't want to create a situation where you're countering everything, because then it's just not fun anymore. You're just beating them into submission, which is bad, remember? Speaking on modders for a moment, there is also something to be said about how you, as a modder, try to balance around what the player may or may not do. It is a mistake to try and have complete control over what the player will do, because that stymies creativity and interesting mechanics.
    "The hand of the developer should be invisible and gentle, not gigantic and shoved up your ass." - BTB, Co-creator of Brave New World
    Technical Limitations
    Ah, technical limitations, the bane of a modder. Anyone who has ever modded something knows all too well what these roadblocks feel like. However, all is not lost; these roadblocks are expected. As a modder, you have to find a way to work around them, as we all do.
    Sometimes you work around them with mechanics, sometimes you cut to the root of the problem and change it with an Assembly hack, but regardless, you still have to get past it or your project is doomed.
    Do not be afraid to ask for help. That's what we're here for.
    Kyrios
    BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma is the third installment in the BlazBlue series, following Calamity Trigger and Contimuum Shift.
    BlazBlue is the spiritual successor to the Guilty Gear franchise, and, as such, is also developed by Aksys Games (also known as Arc System Works in Japan).
    As a fighting game, Phantasma is in a class all its own. I don't mean it's the best fighting game out there, but I do think you'd be hard pressed to find one that could stand toe to toe with it besides Street Fighter. BlazBlue fills the void that Guilty Gear left in its wake.
    Before I begin, I'd like to state that the reason I clarify that I'm reviewing the Vita version isn't because of extenuating issues with the Vita version (like with my Battle Royale review), but rather because the Vita version is awesome, and the console version has a bit -- not much, but some -- more content.
    So let's check it out, shall we?
    Characters
    Oh, man. Where do I begin? You start out with 23 playable characters, one character unlockable by clearing Story Mode, and currently an additional four via DLC.
    Each character has a distinctive battle style, there are no clone characters. The closest thing to clone characters are Relius and Carl Clover who do use the same fighting style, but they're also Father and Son. It can be argued that Hazama and Terumi have similar styles as well, but they're effectively the same person.
    This doesn't just extend to how the character plays as far as commands go, some even have their own mechanics, but I'll get into that later.
    Story
    This is probably one of the last things you'd expect to see in a fighting game review, but make no mistake, this game has an absolutely amazing story. The story mode of Phantasma plays out in a Visual Novel style format with some fights spread out here and there, and a few choices.
    There are three different storylines, all of which are connected, and they all kept me absolutely enthralled from start to finish. Every character makes an appearance, everyone is very memorable, and the storyline itself is very, very intricate.
    As a newcomer to the series I was able to dive right in and pick up most things by just following the story of Phantasma, relying on the wikia to fill in the few blanks I had left once I was done. I know I'm gushing, but I fucking loved the story.
    Mechanics
    The mechanics of Phantasma at its core are very similar to Guilty Gear and other fighting games, so I'm gonna skip the basic ones and cut to the chase.
    The differing mechanics I mentioned earlier usually involve some variant of the Heat Gauge, sometimes completely replacing it. Not all characters do this, but I'm not going to talk about all of them that do. Just enough to give you sort of an idea on how it changes.
    Hakumen has what's called the Magatama Meter instead of the Heat Gauge. You have up to eight Magatama, with one being generated each time the meter fills. The meter fills (slowly) by doing absolutely nothing, but of course fills faster when you're fighting. The Magatama are spent with certain attacks, all of which have a visual cue on screen. This alone drastically alters how he plays, as Magatama management becomes important.
    Another example is a character that I main, Izayoi. Izayoi has two modes, her normal mode, which has a defensive playstyle, and her Gain Art mode. In her normal mode, you build Zero-Type stocks, and in Gain Art, you spend them to perform special abilities while in that mode. A lot of the special moves you spend stocks to perform in Gain Art mode you can do in normal mode, so what's the point?
    Well, the point is that in Gain Art mode, a lot of your moves change and your dash is greatly enhanced, making her play very differently; it switches her from a defensive playstyle to a highly aggressive playstyle with the push of a button.
    Going back to the default Heat Gauge though, it primarily serves two functions: your Distortion Drives and your Astral Heat.
    Distortion Drives are your bread and butter special moves. All Distortion Drives use up 50% of your Heat Gauge to activate, and some of them change when you're in Overdrive, but I'll get to that in a minute.
    Astral Heat is, basically, your fatality. Astral Heats have three conditions for activation: it must be a match-deciding round (both you and your opponent have won one round, and it's two rounds to win, for example), the enemy must have less than 35% health, and you need a full Heat Gauge. When all of these conditions are met, your character's portrait will begin to pulse, letting you know you can use your Astral Heat.
    Astral Heats are instant kill moves, but more to the point they're like this game's teabag. You're not going to have a full Heat Gauge very often, and almost never under those conditions unless you're trying for it. And even if you do, it's usually more practical to fire off a combo, unless it's something like Noel's Valkyrie Veil; a counter.
    Overdrive is a new mechanic in Phantasma. When activated, it increases the damage you dish out, and grants access to new moves unique to the character. Normally, this lasts around 5 seconds, with the duration increasing the lower your health is. Your Overdrive will fill up over time, so it's no longer set as in previous games.
    If you're getting comboed pretty heavily and need an escape, however, you can sacrifice your Overdrive and instead use a Burst to get rid of some of that offensive pressure and knock your opponent back. Baiting Bursts is a very good strategy, since you're more susceptible to combos until it recharges.
    Stylish Mode is a new addition to the game. Basically, Stylish Mode is an alternate playing style that's tailor made for people who've never played a fighting game or just outright suck at them. It makes pulling off those awesome combos much, much easier. It's for the kind of player who just wants to jump right in and have fun instead of going through the process of learning (or if you're thinking of trying out a new character; even I use Stylish from time to time).
    I personally think it's a really great addition, as when it comes to multiplayer, Stylish puts you at more of a disadvantage because you're very predictable. There's really nothing bad I can say about it.
    As a sidenote, the in-game tutorial is really very good, it explains all of this and much more very, very clearly.
    Visuals
    I think this is the first time I've had a section of my review be specifically for talking about the visuals, but this game deserves it. Phantasma is an absolutely gorgeous game.
    From the high-definition sprites to the vibrant, hand-drawn stages, it really makes this game stand out in comparison to contemporary 3D fighters on 2D fields.
    The visuals in this game are stunning.
    Game Modes
    Phantasma definitely has no shortage of game modes, that's for sure.
    In addition to your staple Arcade and V.S. Mode, there's Score Attack, but the ones I want to touch on are the Unlimited Mars, Abyss, Highlander Assault, and Challenge modes.
    Unlimited Mars mode is.. well... the insane mode of this game. I started it up before writing this section just to see how it plays, and I got absolutely dominated with Noel, the character who I probably have the most time on. I'm convinced that EVO players train with a combination of this and online play.
    To put it more simply, Unlimited Mars pits you against ten extremely intelligent opponents where you try to get a high score. If you're connected to PSN, you can post your scores.
    Abyss Mode is something I think is pretty cool. It's basically a survival mode with RPG elements thrown in. You have four different stats -- Attack, Defense, Speed, and Heat -- that you can raise as you travel through different floors. There are several different "dungeons" to choose from. The beginning ones are ~10 fights deep, but they can go into the hundreds (possibly even the thousands).
    One interesting thing is that randomly during fights, you'll be interrupted by a new challenger, in a way not altogether different from Smash Bros. When you defeat this new challenger (who has increased stats, by the way) you restore more HP than you usually would and choose from four prizes.
    If you don't make it to the end of your dungeon, you only keep half the cash you gained while down there, but if you finish it, you get the full take.
    Challenge Mode is pretty much what you'd expect. They're 30 missions per character with increasing difficulty levels. I wish more games would do stuff like this, because it's something that I personally really enjoy.
    I know that I said I'd talk about Highlander Assault mode, but due to its spoiler nature, I'll just say that it's a fun little mode where you can fight the last boss in the story mode over and over again. It is, of course, unlocked upon completion of story mode.
    As an addendum, the Network mode seems to be pretty solid as well. The Vita doesn't have a lot of players (most are on the PS3) but the netcode is done rather well; I wasn't getting much lag at all.
    Unlockables
    This game definitely has no shortage of unlockables. There's one character -- Kagura Mutsuki -- to unlock, but I really do love all of the artwork that's unlockable, and especially the character palettes. There are 24 palettes for each character; 1-6 are unlocked by default, 7-16 are unlocked by buying them in the gallery, and everything past that is DLC, though 23 and 24 are free of charge.
    Difficulty
    I really enjoy the difficulty of this game. The skill floor is low, so it's easy to get started, and the skill ceiling is really, really high, as evidenced by my crucifixion at the hands of Unlimited Mars mode.
    The difficulty primarily stems from knowledge of inputs and how your opponent plays, along with execution. The inputs are precise, however not so precise that yours truly can't do it. If I can do it, anyone should be able to. I suck at fighting games.
    The Bottom Line
    I've looked, and looked, and looked, but I just can't find anything negative to say about this game. It's absolutely phenomenal. I always say that no game is perfect, so I never give a perfect score, but I have been proven wrong. I can't find any grievance with this game, no matter how small.
    Metacritic Rating: 8.6
    NGPlua Rating: 10/10
    Kyrios
    Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale (henceforth referred to as "Battle Royale" for obvious reasons), a game made by SuperBot Entertainment in conjunction with SCE Santa Monica Studio, is constantly being compared to Nintendo's hit franchise Super Smash Bros, and for good reason -- it's inspired by it.
    Most of the reviews out there that I've read for this game either compare it to Smash or complain that it should be judged on its own merits. Well, the result is the same either way in my eyes, so let's take a look at it, shall we?
    Characters
    Battle Royale starts you out with twenty characters, with an additional four available via DLC. Some people who own a PS3 might recognize more of these characters than I did, but most of them were rather obscure to me, and even after looking them all up, I still saw a few from series I'd never even heard of.
    The first one that jumped out at me personally was Raiden, followed by reboot Dante and Kratos. The rest were just kinda meh to me, but that's a rather minor nail in the coffin of this game, so let's move on.
    Items
    On its own or in the realm of relativity, this game doesn't really deliver in this department. There are twenty-one items in the game, more than enough to give it some flavor and depth, but it doesn't really do anything with them. The items are more of an afterthought than anything, and don't really add any depth to the game itself, which is due in part to the gameplay mechanics, which I'll cover later.
    Stages
    The stages really aren't that bad. honestly. One thing I find really interesting is that after a certain amount of time, a stage from one franchise will be invaded by elements of another franchise, changing the level up a bit.
    Let's take the stage Metropolis, for instance. Metropolis is based on Ratchet and Clank, with a conveyor belt, moving platforms, and some spikey deathtraps, but after a certain amount of time, the Hydra from God of War makes an appearance, adding a new environmental hazard as it can attack characters by smashing the stage with its heads and jaws.
    Unlockables
    Battle Royale has some pretty cool aesthetic unlockables, however they are sadly limited to alternate costumes. Most of these are unlocked upon reaching a certain rank (you rank up as you play games; it's not just an online thing), while some others are DLC. It was pleasing to me to play as Raiden from the first level of Metal Gear Rising before losing his right eye and one of his arms.
    Gameplay
    And now we come down to the biggest disappointment of this game, the final nail in the coffin, the gameplay. The gameplay of this game on its own is mediocre, but compared to a Smash title it's abysmal.
    The first thing that jumped out at me was that the game itself feels stiff. When you're doing air combos, you don't get the feeling that you're really suspended in the air. The only thing that really feels as it should are ground combos. Dodging isn't really all that bad, nor is blocking, but the former could use a bit of work.
    But there are two real reasons why I just can't play this game in addition to the stiff movement. One of them is the fact that you cannot kill someone without doing a super attack. This, in and of itself, makes this game unplayable for me. I'm told that something similar is done in Dissidia, but I've never played it so I can't really make a valid comparison in that regard.
    What this single factor amounts to is me flailing around the screen, all of my attacks doing absolutely nothing except for building my super gauge, and then killing them off with my super attack. If my super attack misses or is interrupted, this process repeats itself. There is literally nothing that attacking your opponent does besides make them stagger or rag doll (obviously) and build your super gauge. It wouldn't be as bad (though nowhere near optimal) if your gauge filled more quickly the more damage they've taken.
    The second factor I don't think would be anywhere near as bad on the PS3, and that's camera control. When you're on one side of the level, and someone else is on the other, the camera zooms out so far that I lose track of my character. This often culminates with seeing my marker fly across the screen because I can't see what I'm doing, and is incredibly frustrating.
    Difficulty
    This game's difficulty -- assuming you're talking about the actual difficulty setting and not the flaws in the gameplay -- isn't all that bad. I wouldn't compare it to Smash simply because in Smash it's the gameplay and the way the AI utilizes it that makes it fun, while in Battle Royale that's not really the case, but to be honest this is the least of my complaints, as you can see.
    Metacritic Rating: 7.7/10
    NGPlus Rating: 4.5/10
    Kyrios
    FUSE is a tactical third person shooter developed by Insomniac Games for both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. It's rather new; it just came out last month. I'd heard a lot about it from my friends, and the demo wasn't too bad, so I figured why not? FUSE isn't amazing, but it's not piss poor either. Let's take a deeper look at the title.
    Gameplay Mechanics
    Movement, as most people know, in particular is a big thing in a shooter, especially a third person shooter because generally being able to move in, out of, and around cover comfortably is everything. FUSE has rather fluid movement for a TPS -- I was impressed with it. It's definitely much more fluid than the likes of Gears of War or Mass Effect.
    You can run over cover or climb up walls by holding down a single button as opposed to tapping it once you hit cover like in the aforementioned titles. While in cover you can also do a takedown on an enemy on the other side of the cover or coming around the side. These takedowns are silent, and thus it's possible to clear some rooms completely with stealth. This doesn't happen very often, and even then is highly unlikely if you're not playing with friends.
    You can also do a takedown by making an enemy stagger -- usually with a melee attack -- and pressing the Y (or Triangle, I assume) button when prompted.
    The AI in FUSE isn't bad by any means; in fact I was actually kind of impressed with it. Your teammates use all of their abilities -- even Fusion, your God-mode ability that revives you and your teammates, makes you invulnerable, and gives you infinite Fuse energy for a limited amount of time.
    The only downfall of it from what I've experienced is something that I'd expect from an AI: when you're doing an objective-type wave in Echelon, Dalton -- your tank of sorts -- won't put his stationary shield down in front of what you're protecting; he'll protect you and your allies with it instead. This could go either way -- it could be good or bad. Chances are that it's not very preferable though, as the enemies will make a beeline for the Fuse cell that you're protecting and shoot it unless you engage them directly.
    This brings us to our next mechanic, the Leap feature. At any time, you can switch to another Overstrike agent that is not being controlled by a player. Generally when I'm playing Echelon, I'll switch to Dalton, put up the shield, then switch back if I want. The game constantly reminds you that if you bottom out on ammo, you can switch to another character who has ammo to stay in the fight. This isn't very necessary, and to be honest I for one am glad that they didn't build this game around the Leap feature.
    Leap isn't exactly very fluid, and it's one of the only aspects of the game that strikes me as clunky. You press a button, a menu appears, you press another button that corresponds to the character you're switching to, and it jerks your PoV to that character. Chances are, when you do it, that your character is going to be out in the open firing at an enemy, meaning you'll probably go down soon and be unable to switch until someone picks you back up.
    Weaponry
    The weaponry in FUSE isn't exactly a broad selection, but each serves a rather clear cut purpose.
    As far as Xenotech -- the weapon that serves as the differentiating feature between agents -- goes, this is no different.
    Naya uses the Warp Rifle -- an assault rifle that creates a wormhole when you shoot an enemy enough with it which you can chain to take down a group of enemies at once. The sad thing is that this becomes nigh-useless in higher difficulties because it just doesn't do enough damage.
    The Warp Rifle also gives her the ability to cloak and go behind enemy lines. When she's cloaked, her CQC specialist status shines, because she can do instant takedowns due to the enemy not being aware of her presence.
    Isabelle -- Izzy -- has the Shattergun, an assault rifle-type weapon which turns enemies into crystal statues when you shoot them enough with it, allowing them to be shattered by further arms fire, a melee attack, or a grenade.
    Her secondary ability is to throw out a Med Beacon to heal and revive teammates. This is incredibly useful, and as you can imagine sticks Izzy into the textbook Medic role. The Med Beacon can be upgraded to give a damage buff to agents that are inside the beacon as well.
    Jacob Kimble has the absolutely terrifying and borderline broken Arcshot crossbow. This is hands down my favorite weapon in the game, and it excels in almost any situation. The Arcshot functions as a Sniper Rifle of sorts, with the delicious trait of sticking enemies to the wall if you kill them with it. A headshot results in an instant kill, and ends up sticking them to the wall by their head.
    That's not what makes this weapon borderline broken, though. What makes this weapon so ridiculously powerful is Jacob's ability to ignite the Arcshot bolts after firing them at the cost of zero Fuse energy. This doesn't sound very impressive, so let me elaborate.
    You're facing a group of Riot Troopers who are invulnerable to attacks from the front (with the exception of the Shattergun), so what do you do? You shoot a single bolt into the ground, wait for them to walk over it, then ignite it, setting one enemy on fire and chaining that fire to the other Riot Troopers, stunning them and allowing you to throw a grenade and eliminate them all in one fell swoop. I've massacred entire squads with minimal effort using this weapon.
    You can also just pop a shot into an enemy that's in a group and ignite it to render the entire group helpless for a few moments. Like I said, the Arcshot is awesome.
    Dalton has the most interesting Xenotech weapon, however, in the form of the Magshield. What this does is create a semi-clear shield of fluid in front of you that catches enemy projectiles, and when you get close you can pull the trigger and send a blast of energy back at the enemy. This blast can and will kill an entire group of enemies in one shot if you've absorbed enough ammo. You can also catch grenades and throw them right back, which is always amusing.
    The Magshield's secondary ability is to throw down a stationary shield to protect your allies or an objective while keeping you mobile. This is really useful in objective games or when you're pinned down by enemy fire. The Magshield is pretty boss, but its biggest downside by far is that it runs out of Fuse really quickly. A single blast takes up between twenty or thirty Fuse energy out of the Magshield's max of 100, so it has to be used sparingly.
    Dalton's Fusion is the most powerful I think I've encountered -- especially at close range. In addition to the infinite Fuse energy that all Fusions give, Dalton's cuts the cooldown of his Magblast to around 1/4 of what it normally is, allowing you to spam it to your heart's content. I've destroyed entire waves of grunts by using this, and it's ridiculously satisfying.
    That said, two of the four of these seem too... cut and pasted, for lack of a better term, along with the skill trees. There doesn't seem to be a lot of imagination in them. Dalton's Magshield is by far the most unique of the weapons. The Shattershot and the Warp Rifle don't feel very unique at all. They both function in the same way (the guns not the secondary abilities) with the only differences being the way in which they eliminate enemies, and the fact that Naya's Warp Rifle can overheat when she's not in Fusion.
    Difficulty
    I was originally going to put Content and Difficulty in separate sections, but they really kind of go together. I'll just come right out and say it: the game is -- so far -- lacking in content and difficulty.
    Echelon -- the game's survival mode -- is easily cleared. I've cleared all difficulty modes in both Campaign and Echelon -- which doesn't have a difficulty setting, sadly -- with two friends in one sitting per (one for Campaign, and one for Echelon).
    As far as difficulty, I found FUSE to be lacking. Two of my friends and myself cleared it -- as I said, without a fourth person -- rather quickly. The difficulty in Campaign manifested itself in increased damage to players, which I don't think is such a bad thing in a shooter game.
    The Bottom Line
    FUSE was described by a friend of mine as an "above average third person shooter," and I'm inclined to agree with him. The game isn't bad, but it's not amazing either. I think Insomniac has only begun to scratch the potential of this franchise, however, and am pleased to hear that they're "just getting started" with FUSE.
    I'm hopeful that they'll add a difficulty setting to Echelon and possibly introduce a plethora of DLC, because as I said, this game has so much untapped potential.
    Metacritic Rating: 6.4/10
    NGPlus Rating: 7/10
    Kyrios
    It's time for another review, this time for a game that I've gone back to multiple times, which is odd. Usually I'll play a game for a while, maybe beat it, then move on to another one whenever time permits itself, but there's something about this one that kept pulling me back to it.
    Metal Gear Rising is a spinoff of the Metal Gear Solid series -- developed as a hack and slash action game by Platinum -- a company I have much love for. It focuses on Raiden, a child soldier you play as in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I'm not going to get too much into the storyline though for obvious reasons, so let's kick this off and dive straight into the mechanics.

    Battle Mechanics
    I'll say first off that Metal Gear Rising is one of the best action games I've ever played. Everyone has their own definition of best, but what I'm talking about mainly is the fun factor.
    This game -- like the other Platinum games (Vanquish, Bayonetta) I've played -- is fast paced. You have to be able to react on your feet to a number of threats. There are times that you will be overwhelmed; you can't just charge everything head on and swing your sword around. This doesn't happen too much in the earlier difficulties, but I'll get more into the difficulty of this game later on. I'm going to hit on a few mechanics here one by one.
    Similar to other action games (God of War, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow) when you do enough damage to an enemy, you'll get a button prompt to perform a devastating combo that (usually) sets them up for Zandatsu. This happens with bosses generally when you're switching phases.
    Parrying is something you'll be doing quite a bit, especially in the later difficulties. Most attacks you can parry, so it's usually a reliable form of damage mitigation. When you parry a strike at the last second, you parry and then perform a rather devastating Counter that often times stuns the enemy to set them up for a finishing combo (you'll get a button prompt for these) or Zandatsu.
    Dodging is generally superior to parrying because not only do you do a light attack during it, but you get a few invincibility frames. In the later difficulties you will be using these to your advantage quite a bit.

    Blade Mode
    This really deserves a section of its own, as it's the unique mechanic of Metal Gear Rising. By pressing either L1 or LT -- depending on your console -- you can enter Blade Mode, the manual slicing mode of Metal Gear Rising. You can pretty much cut most anything with Raiden's sword, but Blade Mode is mainly used for three things: certain boss phases, cutting off the left arm of an officer, and Zandatsu.
    Cutting off the left arm of an officer -- the left arm is where their combat data is stored -- is mainly for collectible purposes, so I'm not gonna really expand on it here.
    Zandatsu, however, is an invaluable -- and rather awesome -- tool you'll use throughout the game. I've mentioned it a few times now, so you're probably wondering: "What the hell is Zandatsu?"
    Zandatsu is when you cut the sweet spot -- usually the center -- of your enemy in Blade Mode, opening up a button prompt in which you take the electrolytes from their body and crush them in your hand, completely refilling your Health and Fuel Cell energy -- used for Blade Mode and Ripper Mode which we'll get into in a minute.
    You're not just limited to one enemy per Zandatsu; you can chain them together. If you slice through the sweet spot -- marked by a red box when in Blade Mode -- of more than one enemy without exiting Blade Mode, you can take the electrolytes from multiple enemies at once. This really serves no purpose other than eliminating multiple enemies at once and looking pretty badass while doing so. There's actually an achievement for disemboweling four enemies in a single swing.
    Ripper Mode is something you get after a certain storyline event that essentially puts you into Blade Mode when you're actively fighting. Normal strikes can and will disembowel enemies. The only drawbacks are that it constantly drains your Fuel Cell energy, you cannot activate it if your Fuel Cell energy is not full, and you cannot Zandatsu while in Ripper Mode. Ripper Mode does not -- I repeat, does not -- increase either your attack or your defense. It allows you to cut through weaker enemies much quicker. If you're a Metal Gear Solid fan and have played through the other games, you'll be able to figure out what Ripper Mode is from the name itself.
    Something that's kind of a side note that I found really cool was that when you cut off certain parts of an enemy, their behavior changes. For example, if you cut off an arm of a Mastiff -- a gorrila-like UG (Unmanned Gear) -- they can't charge at you and grab you, so they swing their other arm at you. If you then cut the other arm off, they do nothing but try and drop kick you again and again. If you cut one of their legs off at that point, they explode and die.
    The gameplay really does mold itself to your actions for a rather large number of experiences in that way.

    Story
    I won't be delving into this too much because of obvious spoilers, but what I will say is that while the story is not amazing, it's not piss poor either.
    The storyline of Metal Gear Rising does not deviate from the Metal Gear Solid series at all from what I can tell. Someone more familiar with it can correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears to stick to the established story rather well.
    The plot is rife with psychological concepts and warfare along with idealism. There's a lot of inner conflict in the plot, which is something right down my alley. That said, I didn't pick Metal Gear Rising up for its plot, but rather its gameplay which I've already covered.

    Replay Value
    This game has quite a bit of replay value, if I do say so myself. There's a plethora of things to unlock, such as different swords (these are mostly preorder bonuses, sadly), different costumes and wigs (the latter of which offer either infinite sub-weapons or infinite Fuel Cell energy), not to mention difficulty levels.
    Add to that the fact that you can get a different experience (simply because of how adaptive the AI is to your actions) each time, and you've got.. well.. a sizable amount of replay value.

    Difficulty
    I'll just come right out and say it: I absolutely love the difficulty of this game.
    There are five difficulty modes: Easy, Normal, Hard, Very Hard, and Revengeance.
    I have not touched Easy. Normal and Hard seemed pretty similar. However, that's where it ends: Very Hard has a rather steep jump in difficulty, but it's how that difficulty presents itself that makes me love it.
    Most games I've played just increase the stats on enemies for the higher difficulties. Generally I find stuff like that to be boring. Metal Gear Rising introduces new AI scripts, causing some enemies to do entirely different things, but more than anything how aggressive they are. The first thing I noticed on Hard was how much more aggressive the enemies were in comparison to Normal.
    After conquering Hard mode and switching to Very Hard, I was blown away. Not only did their AI scripts change, but they changed the enemy setup as well! In the first level -- before you get your upgrades -- I saw Fenrirs -- enemies from towards the end of the game! The very first encounter kicked my ass multiple times because they threw in two Gekkos -- a miniature Metal Gear -- along with the normal enemies.
    I only finished Very Hard mode a few hours ago and will probably attempt to tackle Revengeance mode before too long, but if the first encounter of the game is any indication, it shows no signs of stopping the trend of AI and enemy-changing, which is awesome.
    A lot of the difficulty of the game comes from watching for attack cues as well, similar to other action games like Dark Souls and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. If you see your enemy's eye shine red when they attack, you can counter it. If they glow yellow, you'd better move because it's unblockable.
    The sheer necessity for this shows itself in Hard mode and up, especially when you have several enemies with RPGs shooting at you; if you don't pay attention for that laser sight, you're going to die. Even if you do see the laser sight, if you dodge too early or too late, you're gonna get hit. Certain attacks like RPGs you have to dodge at just the right moment or you'll get hit.
    I'll take this opportunity to expand on a point I made earlier: you can't just hack and slash your way through the game at higher difficulties, if you try, you're gonna have a bad time. It's not so much that there's too many enemies, but that they're too aggressive. Even three enemies against you can be a rather tall order -- depending on the enemies -- on the higher difficulties.
    When I was playing on Very Hard I found myself using stealth far more than I thought I would for that very reason. Often times if you run into a room with three to five enemies on Very Hard or Revengeance, you're going to spend so much time parrying and dodging that you won't be able to do much -- if anything -- else, and even then you won't be able to avoid everything, because each one of those enemies is attacking you constantly.

    The Bottom Line
    To sum it all up: this is a really great game. If you enjoy action games -- especially fast paced and/or futuristic ones -- you will not be disappointed with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
    The difficulty can accommodate all skill levels, from noob to master, and it's one of those games that's simple to learn but difficult to master.
    I'm giving this game a 9/10. It's awesome. Go play it.
    Kyrios
    Some time ago there was some talk on the forums about doing game reviews for the front page, so I figure I'll kick it off with a game I've been rather enthralled with lately: Fire Emblem: Awakening, otherwise known as Fire Emblem 13.
    We're gonna be doing this feature by feature, so let's get started, shall we?
    Classes
    Let's get this out of the way right now. The classes in this game are awesome, and a huge improvement over the other installments.
    The first thing you'll probably notice once you start your first battle, is Tactician: the class that the Avatar -- your created character -- starts out as. Being able to use both Swords and Tomes, it's already well established offensively, but once you promote into Grandmaster, your abilities really soar -- especially with the two skills you get.
    The Avatar aside, once I got into promoted classes, something I realized immediately (aside from the fact that you don't need class-specific items to promote anymore; it's one item now, the Master's Seal) was the sheer amount of versatility you can have in your team.
    There are three classes in particular which stand out in this regard: the Falcon Knight, the War Cleric/War Priest, and the Trickster. The Falcon Knight uses Lances and Staves, the War Cleric/War Priest, Axes and Staves, while the Trickster.. you guessed it, Swords and Staves. The ability to swap out between attacking and healing on a whim is really nice, and although it's seen in previous incarnations of the franchise, it's nice to see melee/healer hybrids become more prevalent (Valkyries in Genealogy of the Holy War, Thracia 776, Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn) in the mainstream titles.
    That said, there's a couple of changes to the way classes are meant to be used as well. One of these that I found interesting was the change to the Dark Mage/Shaman trees of the previous games: in Awakening, they're essentially defensive Mages -- they have high defense. This gives them a different role, as well as more possibilities since you can actually send them into combat and have them not be squishy.
    Another change in usage that I thought was brilliant was giving Dancers the ability to use Swords. The complete and utter inability for a Dancer to ever do something other than.. dance has always bugged the hell out of me and prevented me from using them, but in Awakening that problem has been solved rather nicely.
    Something else that's more of a personal quality of life change, is that Manaketes are no longer the God-unit they used to be. Instead, they're treated like a normal unit. After clearing a certain battle, you're able to actually buy Dragonstones. It was something that always bugged me in the previous games, not only because of their God-like status, but because once you used up your Dragonstone, the unit was useless unless you glitched the game and gave them a monster weapon.
    Reclassing
    This really deserves a section of its own, as it is the defining trait of Awakening -- the mechanic that sets it apart from the others.
    At any time once reaching level 10, you can use a Second Seal to change your class. The classes you can change to are limited -- each character has a static array of class trees they have at their disposal. The Avatar's bloodline have by far the largest pool, as the only classes they are forbidden from changing to are unique (Lord) and gender specific (Fighter/Barbarian, Pegasus Knight/Troubadour) class trees.
    When reclassing, you retain some of your stats as well, allowing you to even make a really bad unit into something that's very usable. For instance, I turned Olivia -- the Dancer -- into an amazing Falcon Knight; she's one of my most powerful units.
    Reclassing also allows you to get a number of different skills, but I'll get into that later.
    The main issue I have with reclassing is that it really has a huge potential to break the game, at least on Hard mode -- I haven't played on Lunacy or Lunacy+ just yet. I could have easily cleared -- not completed, cleared, as in killed every single enemy on the field -- the final battle with just a single paired unit as a result of the stat gains from reclassing, which is ridiculous. That said, there are several optional battles that can challenge you, namely the Prologues and some of the teams you can summon via the Bonus Box, but I'll get to that later.
    Skills
    As someone who never got the opportunity to play Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, the skill system in Awakening was something fresh and new to me. That being said, I'm told that there are new skills in Awakening, so it's not like they were all recycled from the previous games.
    You learn new skills generally by reclassing around. Prepromotes learn them at 1 and 10, and promoted units at 5 and 15. You can do some pretty wicked stuff with them; I'll list a couple of my favorite setups to give an idea.
    Supreme Tank: Lifetaker, Renewal, Pavise, Aegis/Armsthrift, Sol.
    This setup is really overkill, but it drives the impenetrable wall point home. At no point should this character probably ever die, because ideally you should cap out your HP with every player phase due to Lifetaker, Renewal, Sol, and Pavise/Aegis.
    Some skills are pretty broken, while some aren't. The game loves to throw superior numbers at you like nobody's business, which is when skills such as Galeforce and/or Rally Spectrum enter the fray.
    The skill system only adds to the versatility you're offered, which is awesome in my opinion.
    Pair Up
    This is a new mechanic found in Awakening that is essentially a replacement for the Rescue system seen in previous incarnations of the series. You can choose two units to Pair Up into a group, giving them statistical bonuses, and helping each other out in combat. When one attacks, the other has a chance to attack the enemy at the same time, for a -- skills excluded -- chance of four attacks each turn.
    Similarly, when you are attacked, either on the player phase or the enemy phase, your partner has a chance to step in and negate any and all damage done. Yes, you can have a level 1 Mage step in and negate all damage from a level 20 Berserker if you choose to.
    There's really no reason not to Pair Up your units, except for in one single battle in the entire game, in which you have to form an impenetrable wall around a certain unit you're trying to protect against waves of enemies. That being said, the game has a tendency to give you an uneven number of units you can send into battle, meaning that you can potentially have one unpaired unit if you wish. Sometimes you get a new unit in these battles though, so it all pans out.
    This system can be somewhat broken, not only because of the complete damage mitigation, but rather the chance for it. The extent of these bonuses -- how much of a statistical increase, the chance for a double attack/guard -- is dependent on your support level with your partner, and their stats. If the Avatar has support level S with Chrom, he's going to get significantly better bonuses than if the Avatar had support level C with him.
    This brings us to the next section.
    Support
    Supports are a little different than they are in previous incarnations of the series, albeit not by much. You can still only have support level S with one person, but the difference here lies in what happens when you hit that point.
    Usually you'd get a certain ending with that person -- which still happens -- but what's different is that at support level S, you marry that person. This enables special dialogue in certain cutscenes involving the two -- which I thought was great, because it's always nice to see developers go that extra mile.
    This also brings me to the next section.
    Offspring
    This is a system that was first seen in Genealogy of the Holy War for the Super Famicom, but has found its way back here in Awakening, albeit slightly altered. In Genealogy of the Holy War, if two people had enough lover points, at the end of a certain chapter they'd pass on their skills and weapons to their offspring.
    The system in Awakening is similar, except they pass on some of their class set, growths, and their newest skill to their offspring. There's only one offspring that you meet during the main storyline; all the others are met during Paralogues -- side missions of sorts. This allows you to create them (mostly) at your leisure, being able to take the time to learn a skill that you might want them to inherit (if possible, Galeforce for men would probably be on this list).
    Since class pools transfer over as well, that means that the Avatar's offspring will also be able to reclass into almost anything in the game as well. Second generation units cannot have children of their own, so there is obviously a limit to this system. Nonetheless, it is very versatile and allows you quite a bit of customization previously not seen in the series -- at least to me since as previously mentioned I never got the chance to play Path of Radiance or Radiant Dawn.
    Wireless
    Admittedly, I haven't dabbled in the Wireless function too much outside of the Bonus Box and Renown awards.
    However, for those curious, I'll leave a link where you can see some information on Double Duel here.
    One thing I can say is that the DLC prices are ridiculous. Through the Outrealm Gate, you can purchase and play DLC maps. Some of these award you with new possible characters, some even with new classes (Bride and Dread Fighter). Most of the single maps range between $3.00 and $3.50, with 3-map packs hovering around $6.50. I personally might shell out some cash for them at some point, but that's still rather steep for a few maps on a 3DS game, or at least that's how I see it.
    However, these aren't something that you by any means need; you can complete and enjoy the game perfectly well and have fun with friends without them.
    Difficulty
    Last but definitely not least, difficulty. We can't very well have a game review on Insane Difficulty without taking its difficulty into account, now can we?
    Overall, I think the difficulty stacks up fairly well. There's a steady increase during the main storyline; once you start getting a few <strong class='bbc'>Master's Seal</strong> items is around the time you start to see promoted units pop up on the enemy's side as well, which is nice.
    It's worth noting that I've only played the game on Hard Classic thus far, and I found it decently difficult -- until I got grind-happy, that is. Then again I didn't use Rally Spectrum either, which I've heard (and based on the description, it really is. You're essentially getting four perfect RNG levels, minus the HP) is highly broken.
    The game itself has four difficulty modes, with two game modes. You have Normal, Hard, Lunatic, and Lunatic+, and a choice of Classic or Casual.
    In Lunatic, there are more enemies, they have higher stats, stronger weapons, stronger Weapon Rank bonuses, and have earlier access to skills.
    Lunatic+ mode is pretty much the same as Lunatic, only the enemy has access to exclusive skills that are more powerful versions of the skills you can get. For example, you will only encounter enemies with the Hawkeye and Luna+ skills in Lunatic+ mode.
    Classic and Casual are a slight change, similar to the Ironman and Normal difficulty modes of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Classic is what you've come to expect out of a Fire Emblem game: when your unit falls in battle, that's it. Goodbye. On Casual mode, however, when your unit falls in battle, you get them back in the next battle. I can see Casual mode allowing for more strategies on higher difficulties -- baiting the enemy with a low HP unit, then destroying him with your glass cannon of sorts.
    It's important to note that Lunatic+ is not unlocked initially -- you have to beat the game on Lunatic first. Similarly, if you beat the game on Lunatic Casual, only Lunatic+ Casual will be unlocked for you. You have to beat the game on Lunatic Classic and Casual to unlock both modes of Lunatic+.
    When you clear the game, it saves your Renown, so once you get access to Wireless functionality in your next playthrough, it leaves a wealth of items for you which is a much-welcomed assist in most cases if you're playing on the higher difficulties.
    The Bottom Line
    There are a few features I didn't mention -- the Barracks, and the removal of the Magic Triangle -- though they're pretty minor.
    I'll say this: I've clocked (between two saves; I restarted once to change my Avatar) roughly between 50-70 hours of game time on Awakening, and if you know my gaming habits, it's exceedingly rare that something keeps my attention for so long.
    This game enthralled me from the moment I picked it up, and I still have plans to play through it again on Lunatic and maybe even Lunatic+.
    The plot is pretty good -- not God-tier, but it kept me entertained, in particular a really nice plot twist near the end of the game -- and the level of customization is really nice. I loved being able to create my own character who does not suffer from Silent Protagonist Syndrome, and who actually feels like a real character in the game, not just someone who's thrown in there and is pretty much an afterthought for the entire game. Yes, I'm looking at you, Rekka no Ken.
    Even on Hard mode, I died my share of times and had to reset, so unless you grind your face off it's not piss easy.
    All in all, I'd give this game an 8/10, and definitely recommend it to anyone who's a fan of SRPGs, and especially any fans of the Fire Emblem franchise.
    Kyrios
    This idea has been bouncing around in my head for a while now, and I decided the other day to make an article out of it. First off, I will warn everyone that this is a review, thus a lot of the content of this article will be heavily opinion-based. Now, that being said, this isn't going to be your typical game review; I'm going to be focusing more on the theme of the game in question. These are games from my childhood that hold a special place in my heart.
    First off, we have Legend of Dragoon, a masterpiece of a game if I do say so myself. That being said, it's not a game that has aged very well, which is part of the reason I chose to focus on the overall theme and setting here.
    Legend of Dragoon can really be summed up in one word: dragons. The theme, the plot, the background, the setting, everything revolves in one way or another around dragons. If you take dragons out of this game, the game literally would not exist as anything more than a shell. This is but one reason why I love this game so much, because dragons are something that have always fascinated me, and I think Legend of Dragoon just pulls it off so amazingly well.
    As an example, look at a game like... well, let's pluck one from the ether here, the Dragon Age series. There's obviously a pretty significant gap in when these two games were released (Legend of Dragoon being for the PSX, and Dragon Age: Origins being for the Xbox 360) but let's look at the theme. DA:O -- as its name implies -- is a game that involves dragons, but they are nowhere near as central to the game's identity as they are in Legend of Dragoon.
    In the Dragon Age games, you fight a dragon every now and again (the final boss of Origins in particular), but they are not central to the plot. If you take them out, the game is still Dragon Age, they can be replaced with another creature rather easily. However, the same cannot be said of Legend of Dragoon. Dragons permeate every inch of that game, from the lore to the characters to the setting, and the gameplay as well. If you took them out, you would have to completely redesign the entire world of the game, not to mention the vast majority of the plot.
    I enjoyed the love story in LoD as well. It's kind of traditional if you want to call it that, yes, but I for one really enjoyed it. It was one of the things that pulled me in. That element was one of the many parts of the game that made me feel things. Like when Shana didn't know what she was, why she had certain powers; when the White Silver Dragoon Spirit rejected her and instead chose that tool Miranda; and especially when Zieg (I think it was Zieg; it's been a while) took Shana away in order to make her into the God of Destruction.
    One of the fights that really always kind of instilled me with a feeling of dread was when you had to fight what can only be described as a flying, six-winged specter of death, the King of Dragons, the Divine Dragon. The fight itself I don't think was too difficult (I'm sure if I did it now, I'd breeze through it), but just the whole build up to that fight with the story, getting the Dragon Block Staff and whatnot really made it powerful. It wasn't a hollow experience; you could feel just how powerful and feared this ancient being of destruction actually was from dialogue within the game.
    There's certain parts of the story (the Black Monster in particular; if you've played it you know exactly what I'm talking about) -- plot twists -- that, at least when the game was new to me, felt really powerful and done well. It wasn't just something sprung on you at the last minute, there was a constant build up to it. The characters were also very memorable too; they weren't just characters in a video game, they were like actual people. One part that really kind of pulled at my heartstrings was when Lavitz was killed. :okay:
    I thought the lore between the Winglies, Humans, and Dragons was pretty interesting as well, but I'm at the point where I'm almost ranting, so let's move on to a different game.

    Final Fantasy VIII. I'm well aware that the majority of these boards hates Final Fantasy VIII, but this was another reason I am not focusing on the gameplay. I thought the setting of Final Fantasy VIII was pretty nice; I liked the way they blended medieval elements with modern (and even futuristic, in some cases) technology.
    The story, admittedly, was... let's say less than ideal. However, one thing that to me was very powerful about the story was the romance between Squall and Rinoa. To name some particular parts, when he broke her out of that... prison, I suppose? When she was essentially being locked up because she was a Sorceress. The main part, however -- and I cannot stress this enough -- was when she was floating out in space, running out of oxygen, and you had to get to her to rescue her. That, to me, was probably the most powerful moment throughout the entire game. It really hit me hard.

    I'll talk a little bit about Breath of Fire IV, because some of its theme it shares with Legend of Dragoon. Oddly enough, the series does revolve around dragons, but to me it doesn't feel that the concept of dragons is as deeply intertwined with it as it is with LoD. None the less, it's still a big part of its identity.
    A lot of people prefer the third installment to the fourth, but this is just my personal preference. I haven't exactly beaten BoFIII all the way through, I will admit. One of the things I really liked (aside from its art style, which I really loved) is how the main character was literally a God. Or rather, half of one. Breath of Fire IV, to me, had a lot less serious feel to it than the other two games I mentioned, but it's still one that I do enjoy playing even to this day.
    Again, I will state that this is heavily opinion based. This isn't exactly an article written with the intent to spark a debate, it's just something that's been spinning around in my head for a little while and wanted to share.
    Kyrios
    It's been a little over fourteen years since that fated day, April 1, 2003, when Squaresoft merged with Enix to become SquareEnix. The million dollar question is this: Are they better now than they were nine years ago? It's not something you can accurately pinpoint with static evidence, because it's really a highly subjective question and thus has a highly subjective answer.
    I believe there was a conversation on ID a while back that basically made the case that sales do in no way transfer to quality, or how enjoyable a game or product is. I happen to be of this mentality; I do not believe that sales equates to quality. That being said, let's get this started.
    Squaresoft, good old Squaresoft. The company that made your dreams come true. Or at least, they did if you have ever touched an RPG on the Playstation (Legend of Dragoon and a few others exempt from this). I personally do believe that Squaresoft made better games than SquareEnix does, but let's look at this somewhat objectively, shall we? Nothing good ever comes from looking at something out of rose-colored (or nostalgia, in this case) glasses.
    I use the word "somewhat" because quality is subjective. Now, while we're talking about SS vs SE, a lot of you can probably read a little deeper into this and say Sakaguchi (and to a somewhat lesser extent, Uematsu) vs Matsumoto.
    Squaresoft's claim to fame can be summed up in two words: Final Fantasy, which then also equates to two other words: Hironobu Sakaguchi. While Nobuo Uematsu's music came to define the Final Fantasy series as well and attributed to its greatness, let's look at the gameplay perspective first. For me, the series started to go downhill after IX.
    The Father of Final Fantasy had a role in the creation of all Final Fantasy games up to IX. His final role as as game producer at Squaresoft, was that of Final Fantasy IX. I'm not going to ramble on and on about his achievements; that's what wikipedia is for. But do you see a trend here? After the last game he produced, the series started to go downhill.
    I won't lie; I thought Final Fantasy X was a really good game, however in comparison to its predecessors, I found it a bit lacking.
    Then it took a nosedive. Hard.
    Final Fantasy XI. It is.. pretty bad. However, I'll cut them a little slack and call it an experiment in MMOs.
    I hated Final Fantasy XII. I still do hate it. It is the only Final Fantasy game that I have literally been unable to finish not because of lack of interest, but because it is painful. I am sure that even if you are a fan, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
    You know that tower that I think you get locked in or something, and you have to I believe fight your way to the top, or to the exit, or whatever? Yeah. It became so painful that I could not bare to play it anymore. I had been pushing myself to play it before that point since I mean, it's Final Fantasy. Surely at some point it gets better than this, right? Unfortunately not.
    Final Fantasy XIII.. I have mixed feelings about this. Motomu Toriyama, the effective successor to Sakaguchi, had a hand in Final Fantasy X, but this was really when I started hearing his name. I loved XIII's story, setting, and to some extent, the gameplay, but -- and I'm sure you know what I'm about to say -- it was waytoo linear. That's not how a Final Fantasy game is supposed to be, and I'll even go as far as to say it almost if not outright violates a part of the spirit of the game. Final Fantasy is about.. well.. just that; a fantasy. Freedom and not being pigeon-holed into always continuing with the story has been a big theme in how the game plays since the original Final Fantasy.
    If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not covering the sequels and spinoff titles, but not because they're just downright bad (which they aren't.) It's because they're not relevant to this article. And with that, I'm going to go in reverse and talk a little bit about the games leading up to and including Final Fantasy IX. However, for the sake of relevance I'm only going to list a few key points, and list the more.. modern ones.
    Admittedly, there are a few of the older titles I haven't played through for various reasons. I'm just going to cover VII, VIII, and IX.
    Final Fantasy VII. The game that countless gamers used to -- and many of them still to this day -- worship. It is seen as the Holy Grail of RPGs. It set the bar. It was the first 3D Final Fantasy game.
    I won't go too much in depth on the story, because honestly, I am in the minority that didn't really like it too much. I did, however, love the gameplay. I remember the first time I saw this game, never having ever heard of the name "Final Fantasy" in my entire life. I believe I was.. well, pretty young. I went over to my friend's house, and I saw a huge six-winged silver dragon on the screen that I would come to know as Bahamut ZERO. I was like "Wow, that's awesome" and watch him play for a bit. Later on I loaded his file and used Omnislash on Ruby WEAPON for 0 damage each hit.
    But I digress, when I finally got the game, I was absolutely blown away by the cinematics and gameplay, because at that time it was completely new, and thoroughly awesome. It still is one of my favorite RPGs to this day, but not because of the story. We won't get into that though.
    Final Fantasy VIII. I must admit, I'm a real sucker for love stories, so this one holds a special place in my heart. I loved the setting too, it was awesome to me how they blended modern and medieval elements just right. There are FAR too many games nowadays that try to do that and fail oh-so-terribly-hard at it. It's not an easy thing to do, and I think FFVIII did it brilliantly.
    The mechanics were innovative to me, but I still think they should've been fleshed out more, and in some cases nerfed. Yes, Duel, I am looking at you.
    Final Fantasy IX I can admittedly say I didn't think much of the first time I saw it. After being sucked into FFVII by my friend I'd become hooked on Final Fantasy. However, being the naive and biased child I was, I couldn't accept FFIX's unique art style, so I passed on it.
    I picked it up a few years later, and it was glorious. Different mechanics yet again, and ones that to me where new and epic. I still to this day love the equipment ability system that itself is limited by the number of abilities you can equip. It prevents you from grinding like mad to become OP (Vanilla Final Fantasy Tactics, I'm looking at you this time.)
    I loved the story, and the gameplay the farther I got. I will also have to come clean and say that I had never actually beaten the game until about a year ago. FFIX also holds a special place in my heart. I love you, Sarah. <3
    There is another game that is far more recent with Sakaguchi's name all over it, so one might be able to tie it to this argument. No, it's not The Last Story. I can't comment on that since my Wii is broken. It is Lost Odyssey.
    When I first saw videos I was skeptical, but when it received the glowing endorsement from one of my friends (the same guy that got me hooked on FF) and I believe it was Vanish Mantle, I decided to give it a try.
    I went in expecting a Final Fantasy clone.
    Boy, was I in for a surprise.
    It was turn based, as I knew, but it was addicting, and fun. It was the first next-gen console turn-based RPG (I'm talking old school not FFXIII) that I enjoyed. It had innovative mechanics once again like Composite Magic -- combining two spells to devastating effect -- and Elemental Mines that function as an elemental counterattack to physical attacks. I think the story is definitely different, but not bad at all.
    Now, let it be known that I do not detest Toriyama for taking the series in a different direction. I mean hell, the Tales series does that in every single release and it works out pretty well.
    However, to me Squaresoft just put out better games than SquareEnix does with the title "Final Fantasy" or "RPG."
    This brings up an interesting point. I am not alone in the belief that if certain games had been named differently, they would have been better received.
    Example:
    Final Fantasy XII -> Fortress
    Final Fantasy XIII -> Lightning Saga
    For clarity, I mean to drop the Final Fantasy title off of their name. Stop slapping a label on it for publicity, because all it does is cheapen the brand, not to mention the company. If I hate apple juice and someone hands me a can of apple juice that is labeled as orange juice, I am obviously going to find out that it is, in fact, not orange juice. It's just stupid.
    This also to an extent plays into a conversation I had with my buddy the other day. We were talking about basically this same thing about slapping the label "Final Fantasy" on a bad game (CRYSTAL CHRONICLES I AM LOOKING AT YOU ) so it'll sell well.
    SquareEnix will never, ever do a Final Fantasy VII remake because they would mess it up, and wouldn't be able to milk it any longer. They actually made the excuse of "it would be too massive" which I could only laugh at. Do they really think we're that stupid? Don't answer that.
    Anywho, case in point, it is my belief that Squaresoft released better quality games than SquareEnix does. This is merely my own opinion, and you are more than free to disagree with it. This entire article was actually spawned from a conversation that I had with Vanish Mantle on his Facebook page.
    Feel free to weigh in on the comments if you'd like.