Should I Buy? – Fallout New Vegas


Oh dear, Fallout has had a troubled past. After it finally got a chance to prove itself again with Fallout 3, it proved itself to be a hit and a sequel was inevitable. That arrived in the form of Fallout New Vegas, very much the Fallout 2 to Fallout 3‘s Fallout.

Yeah, it's kinda like that

OK now that’s just confusing as all hell, let me explain. The original Fallout was a dark, atmospheric yet limited game that captured a pervasive mix of both hope and despair as the player attempted to stop a singular organisation from destroying the people’s of the Wasteland. And Fallout 3 was very much that, and has one of the best atmospheres I’ve seen in a game period.

Fallout 2 on the other hand, added more locations, factions, weapons, moral ambiguity, choice and, most controversially of all, humour and bugs. This is what New Vegas has done. For the record it’s made by a studio comprised mostly of the people who made the old Fallouts, and boy did they bring back the classics.

The Mojave Wasteland is much more inhabited than the Capital Wasteland, mostly because the titular city was spared most of the destruction of the Great War by the efforts of one Mr House, now its enigmatic ruler some 200 years later. But even outside of the city, the Mojave is brimming with the local inhabitants and the presence of two invading factions.

The plot at first concerns itself with you, the Courier, being robbed of your package and left for dead. Once you track down the guy that did it, you come back into possession of the item that was stolen and your efforts have gained the attention of the three major factions, who now all want your help.

The first is Mr House, a Pre-War Industrialist who wants to make Vegas great again, damn the desires of everyone else. Then is the New Californian Republic, a state-spanning democracy dedicated to providing equality, freedom and basic living for all under its banner. Then there’s the aggressive, imperialist slave army known as Caesar’s Legion.

Who you work with is your choice, and each has their ups and downs. House is an excellent administrator, but has no interest in anything beyond Vegas’ wellbeing. The NCR are nice guys, but their bloated bureaucracy and idiot Presidents are dragging things down. Caesar’s Legion will establish order, and quickly. But they’re bloodthirsty, technology hating slavers that treat women like cattle and destroy whatever culture of beliefs you held before.

Well Vault Boy likes it

But moving on from the major players and glossing over the minor ones, what’s different in the gameplay? Well, the basics are the same. This game’s more difficult. The old school developers have made gamers fear Deathclaws and Super Mutants again. Armour works differently, Big Guns as a skill has been dropped, with each such weapon instead using a skill based on its ammo type.

And of course, there’s Hardcore Mode. This optional setting sounds great, but in practice I really think it should be handled differently. With this on, ammo has weight so you really have to pick your weapons carefully, you need to eat, drink and sleep regularly so a lot of that junk you can find has a point now, healing is much more difficult and if a companion’s health drops to zero, they’re gone. Permanently.

Now some of these options would allow for a fun, roleplaying experience. The others are just there to give you a challenge. What I want to know is why this has to be an all or nothing feature, instead of a bunch of options you can choose from.

The companions themselves are worthy of mentioning. In 3, they were rather basic. Dogmeat and Fawkes broke the game, while the rest were likely to die with varying degrees of ease. In New Vegas, the companions are instead useful for a wide variety of reasons and have interesting back stories you can explore that lead to a variety of quests. For example, Boone is a monstrously powerful shot as an ex-sniper, and you can recruit him for his skills and then help his work through his issues. Or Raul, who’ll keep your weapons in good condition and who you can convince to revive his old Vaquero skills or become a dedicated mechanic.

All this choice and depth aside, it’s still difficult for me and many others to say whether or not this is the better game. Pretty much the only subject 3 wins out on is atmosphere, but it was such a strong atmosphere that it just might be enough. New Vegas trades the broken 50’s feel for a cowboy/swingin’ Vegas aesthetic that all but vanishes when you’re not in the Mojave itself or the streets of Vegas.

But still, this is a good game. The characters are great, the factions are plentiful and interesting, the moral choices are more ambiguous, the tweaked combat and new weapons fit and all the throwbacks to old Fallout are well executed and never intrusive.

If you liked 3 you’ll like this. It’s more of the same but from a different approach. 3 showed the world broken and barren, New Vegas shows us what civilisation’s up to. I hope the future games continue this approach, I want to see the NCR and Caesar’s Legion really go to war. I want to find out about the Commonwealth. And who else is out there? An army of tribals like the Great Khans? More Enclave? More Brotherhood of Steel? How’s about bringing the Pitt into this?

My recommendation for this game is just as strong as it was for its predecessor, but for different reasons.

Price: (CEX) £10 – XBOX 360
£10 – PS3
£10 – PC

(Steam) £14.99
DLC – £7.49 each/£22.47 combined

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Guest Review – League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth


Hey guys, I’ve got another piece from Mick Deakin over at the Game Scene, so enjoy! Also, check out his blog too, here’s a link to his new piece: http://thegamescene.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/moba-and-f2p/
Well, I say “buy” but both games are free. Don’t be fooled though, they may be of the same genre and be clones of the same game, but they are very different. I will also be writing a sister post over at the game scene, so once you’ve finished reading this review, head over and check it out!

In case you don’t know what parent game I’m talking about, here’s a quick history lesson. Once upon a time, there was this little game called Warcraft 3, and people could modify it. One day, someone made a little mod called Defence of the Ancients and it became one of the most successful game mods ever. It even spawned the whole genre that is now called MOBA, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.

If you let them, these games can suck up a huge about of your time. The rules are simple, but mastery takes a lot of practice. There are 2 bases, top right and bottom left of a square map, and 3 ‘lanes’ between them, top, middle and bottom, with ‘jungle’ filling in the spaces. The goal is to destroy the main building in the enemy base but there are turrets along the lanes getting in the way. Fortunately, both bases spawn minions to help you along the way, and if you get into the enemy base there are buildings that, when destroyed, buff your minions. Your role in all of this is to control a hero or champion and deal the majority of the damage.

Each champion has their own unique abilities, strengths and weaknesses and you have to choose which one you will wreak havoc with before the game starts. Your hero earns experience, to level up through the match and acquire more of their abilities, by killing enemy heroes, enemy minions, enemy towers or neutral monsters, the beasts that call the jungle their home. Landing the killing blow on an enemy minion isn’t necessary to get experience, simply being near them when they die grants you a share of it, but it is needed if you want to get gold. Gold can then be spent on shiny items to buff your hero and get an edge over the competition. Gold is also rewarded when you kill and enemy hero or your team destroys a turret. Yeah, simple…

That’s just about where the similarities end with the two games. Heroes of Newerth (HoN) continued where DotA had left off, using the same stat system and keeping things like denial (killing allied minions to stop enemies getting gold or exp) whereas League of Legends (LoL) took a simpler approach, splitting apart the stats into more descriptive attributes and removing the gold penalties for dying. This means that LoL is a much more intuitive system for the beginner, but HoN is by no means out of reach if you’re a little more determined.

Riot games (the people who make LoL) are also releasing a new game mode soon, which should keep you entertained long after you’ve become bored of the same 3 lanes over and over again.

Lastly, one key factor I find is often missed out of reviews, is the community. HoN is on the back foot here too. Don’t play it if you don’t like being verbally abused, as it’s possibly the worst community I’ve ever had the misfortune of encountering. I have even heard of people being quite viciously labelled as “noobs” on servers which advertise as being for “noobs” only. I’m not saying LoL is only full of saintly helpful people, but you may only get an abusive moron once in 10 or more games.

Of course, Valve’s Dota* 2 is coming out soon, and if you really like LoL or HoN you may be tempted to buy it. I know I am. However, it appears to be going along the same lines of HoN and sticking to all the original mechanics. Just something to bear in mind if you really hate HoN’s way of doing things.

* Interesting Fact: Note the ‘a’ not being capitalised. Someone filed a counter patent on the words “Defence of the Ancients” so Dota 2 is technically not the sequel to DotA.

Gaming on a budget


Now the point of this site is to provide advice to those who’re, well, gaming on a budget. I have always tried to keep the games I review at under £20, and I don’t review more current games because well, I can’t afford them. I’d be no good at it, but I’ve been playing games since I was a child and I’ve never had much money. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from all that, it’s that gaming can be both cheap and rewarding.

Play Free Games
Too obvious? It goes without saying that nothing is cheaper than something with no cost, and James of Extra Credits once set himself the task of playing games with zero cost for a whole week. There are casual games like Farmtown, little Flash ones, social ones like Echo Bazaar and a wealth of demos on services like Steam and XBOX Live.

Just last night, I tried half a dozen demos from Steam, and its only by loving the demos for Tiny Bang Story and Bastion that I bought the full games.

Even more than that, there’s an increasing number of free-to-play MMO’s that you can choose to spend money on if you want, that will give you some nice extras features if you decide you want to splash out.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_free_massively_multiplayer_online_games

Team Fortress 2, one of if not the most popular online shooters, is now free-to-play and the excellent point-n-click classic Beneath A Steel Sky is available for free at gog.com And you strategy fans, try out Battle for Wesnoth, a free turn based strategy game with an open source code and strong modding community.

For that matter, are you aware of mods? People work to create custom campaigns, challenge maps or characters/factions for many PC games to increase the challenge or simply include a bunch of fun stuff. You’ll need to be a little tech-minded or willing to read a fair amount of FAQs to install one, but a good mod or two can really increase a game’s lifespan.

Own decent consoles
Not every console has a great range of games, and is it really worth buying one that’s only got half a dozen titles in its entire catalogue you care about? If you’re stuck between buying two consoles like say a PS3 and an XBOX 360, look at the exclusive titles and think about what you’re interested in and what genres you want to play.

Personally, I think the cream of the currently available crop is a decent laptop that’ll let you play stuff from Steam, a 360 (I prefer it over a PS3 because it, DVDS rather than Blu-Ray and the games are cheaper, and I prefer the 360 exclusives over the PS3 ones), a Nintendo DS and a PS2.

Between them they can cover pretty much any genre you care to mention, sometimes with the best stuff available in that genre. And hey, if you’ve got a smartphone that has access to gaming apps, there’s a cheap way to turn your phone into a console.

Buy good games
Again, this seems too obvious to be worth mentioning, but there is just so much junk out there. Whether its derivative, bland, repetitive, a multiplayer focused title disguised as a single player epic, a lazy cash grab or simply overpriced is something you can discover before you buy it.

Read reviews, ask your gamer friends, talk to the guys in the game store. And when you do these things, don’t just here what’s being said and take it at face value. If someone says they hated the timed platforming sections, don’t assume the game is bad, ask yourself whether you mind that.

Gamers might seem elitist because you’re not playing ‘classics’ or the hottest new thing, but don’t let that put you off. Some gamers will be like that, and if you’re having fun with Super Smash Bros Brawl, don’t let some insufferable jerk with no life tell you how it sucks because its more ‘casual friendly’.

Don’t get caught up in fads
The reason everybody and their dog and their dog’s grandma bought either a Wii or a DS is because it was a fad. Halo was a fad. Even my beloved Professor Layton was a fad. No matter how big these are, that doesn’t always mean they’re good or that they’re right for you. It doesn’t mean its something you should get into after the fact because its the only thing you know about.

The Wii does have some really fun games, but it suffered from poor third party support (translation: good games not made by Nintendo). And yes, fad titles like Halo or Professor Layton didn’t wholly undeserve their hype, but instead of Halo, why not try Bioshock or Fallout 3? And instead of Professor Layton, there’s always Monkey Island, Ace Attorney, Broken Sword and Ghost Trick that’re equally fun and readily available.

Look, if you want a game in a certain genre, you can buy it without breaking the bank. Don’t be afraid to take risks on strange or obscure titles if the price isn’t too high. Don’t jump to get Final Fantasy XIII, ask a few fans what they think. Consider Kingdom Hearts or Crono Trigger instead. Not because Final Fantasy XIII is a bad game, but because you should know your choices and put some thought into your purchases.

You’d be pretty pissed if you paid £15 for a terrible film or book, so don’t spend £15 on Grizzled Macho Brown Shooter 5: The Bloodening of Space Death.

Should I Buy? Hotel Dusk: Room 215


Seeing as my last review made that the highest viewed day I’ve had, I’m willing to take the self-esttem hit of reviewing a game I want to talk about but nobody else will really care about. Hotel Dusk is a Japanese visual novel for the Nintendo DS that was released way back in 2007. For those of you unfamiliar with the genre of visual novels, it’s where you read a lot and occasionally wheel the character round to another conversation, item collection or simple puzzle.

Hotel Dusk puts you in the well-worn shoes of misanthrope ex-Detective Kyle Hyde as he checks into the titular establishment to collect certain items for a client of his news boss under the guise of working as a travelling salesman. Some poking around reveals that the dark and troubled past of the hotel’s occupants is related to Hyde’s own dark and troubled past. And so you have on night to solve all the mysteries and gain some closure on just what made you leave the force.

Gameplay really does consist of a lot of talking, item collection and simple puzzles. This will probably put a lot of people off, especially seeing as it lacks the visual, auditory and story flair that Ace Attorney had. The writing is at least above par for most games, and the whole thing’s designed for drama and credibility rather than humour.

The plot takes a little while to kick in, and things don’t get properly interesting until a few hours in. To its credit once it picks up and starts to actually get into the history and motivations of the various characters the stories are fairly compelling, though never really affecting. The range of characters is nice too, given that the main character is a rugged ex-cop, you may be expecting a veritable Rogue’s Gallery of criminals, snitches and policemen but instead the hotel residents are a fairly ordinary bunch that have mostly tangential relations to the larger conspiracy.

The trouble is that the between sections tend to slow down the momentum that gets built up in these sections. And with the game being so linear, you can easily find yourself walking around for ages looking for the item you need to pickup or examine, or simply where the next conversation takes place. I hesitate to say the game has ‘puzzles’, because they’re very simple. The thing I had the most trouble with was lifting up a cabinet to get a piece of paper stuck underneath, because lifting it too far made it come crashing down.

The plot is worth it for those of you who’re looking for a storytelling experience, just don’t expect anything exceptional. If you want that, go play Ace Attorney.

The art style certainly has its charms, the music is nicely melodic if unspectacular and the whole holding the DS on its side like a book is a nice touch that allows the game to be more comfortable to play and allows the game to present itself much better than it would have otherwise.

Overall this is a C+/B- game but it’s difficult to find things in this genre outside of Japan. It’s serviceable if you really can’t get or have already played better titles like Ghost Trick, Ace Attorney and Broken Sword.

Price: (CEX) £10

Blending mechanics, aesthetics and story


My recent forays into Steam’s catalogue of indie games has given me a renewed interest in just how games work, and how developers can blend elements of the design process together to ultimately create something greater than the sum of its parts.

Although before I get started, games have got to stop ripping of Professor Layton style puzzles. Puzzle Agent gets a pass on this for actually being good, the rest of you have no excuse.

Now the narrator as a storytelling technique is hardly new, and the ‘support character over an earpiece’ is a favourite for games trying to include exposition without stopping the flow for cutscenes, and it can also allow for building character through the interaction of two or more people. This is everywhere, from Mercenaries to Mass Effect and other games that don’t start with M.

Another trick is to have the character be narrating the story to someone else, like Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones or Metroid: Other M if you want an example of this done badly.

Now, this is all perfectly serviceable in most cases, but what’s serviceable is merely what’s doing a solid yet thoroughly unspectacular job. As some of my recent purchases have shown me, narration can be used as a potent toll for immersion, storytelling and worldbuilding.

Had I mentioned this game before?


The Stanley Parable and Bastion both feature narrators who provide the sole point of exposition and we gain all we known about the game world through what they tell us. Now in the Stanley Parable the narrator was an active, omniscient presence with an agenda and an Old Testament sense of retribution.

In Bastion the narrator is a character within the world itself, and his narration is him telling the story of the Kid’s exploits while explaining what the hell actually happened to the world. This means a couple of things, the narrator is both fallible and prejudiced. Though he can tell us a great deal about the city of Caelondia and the guilds like the Brushers and Menders, while assuring us all this stuff was wonderful and amazing and fantastic he also balks at the mention of the Gods, is largely ignorant of the Ura and will comment on what actions you actually take.

These ‘dynamic narrators’ that interact with the characters and the plot, or are even integral to them, help to bridge the gap between gameplay and exposition. They also allow the developers to pick and choose the perspective you’re given on the gameworld and influence your decisions while you play.

If these examples are making you think of GlaDos from Portal, that’s probably no coincidence on the developer’s part.

It took me forever to realise I had to take the wheel from the schematics

Another technique I was impressed with was making Tiny Bang Story‘s visuals be its gameplay. This isn’t exactly unique, similar things have been done with games like Rez and Children of Eden, and really it in this case it just feels like the most logical extension of the point-n-click concept. That Roman numeral graffiti isn’t decoration, it’s something you can take to complete a clock. Need a spare wheel for that train? Take it off the diagram.

I’ll be the first to admit that Tiny Bang Story far from perfects this technique. It fails to ever really establish that we can do things like this and the lack of text or speech gives it a certain charm, but also means you have to clue into its logic without any assistance.

Another thing of note was that both Puzzle Agent games include instances where you’re lead to believe that this is a perfectly normal puzzle, only for the real world to intrude on it. One puzzle had an FBI Agent catch you as you were working it out, one had some pieces of the puzzle stolen halfway through and more than once Nelson gives up himself because he doesn’t have the information for the puzzle.

They're not kidding

To set up expectations like this and then drop them with an intrusion of logic that works with the narrative and doesn’t cheat you out of anything is not only a great storytelling method, but could also be a great method of covering up where content had to be cut if used cleverly and creatively.

Another thing designers need to start doing is relearn the old JRPG trick of having a character’s abilities be tied into who they are. Final Fantasy IV, VI, VII, IX and X all had good examples of this.

Cthulhu's here to save the day and destroy civilisations, and he's all out of civilisations

I recently saw it to some extent in Cthulhu Saves the World in a way that really left me wishing the game had done more to integrate it. Cthulhu could make enemies insane in battle, which could really help or hinder you. If only the characters had had more differentiated skills rather than just vague archetypes.

A few more things from Bastion, explaining game mechanics with an in-universe reason. To make the game more difficult, you invoke the Gods, who’re pissed at you. The Pike & Revolvers works so well in the wilderness levels because they were used by people who explored and tried to tame those areas. The reason each upgrade level offers you two mutually exclusive options is because they’re alternate forms of the same component. Giving reasons why things are there and how they work might require some extra legwork but it can really enrich what’s otherwise an age old mechanic or story trope.

El-Shaddai looks pwetty

I’ve hardly been able to play every indie game I want, but from my brief foray I can see that this is where the real experimentation is at. Nerds may run comics and Hollywood, but I have a feeling that the business suits and by-the-number developers of the gaming industry will give way to more experimental and visionary people. Look at Catherine or El Shaddai. Hell, look at Kingdom< Hearts‘ complex metaphysics and philosophical aspects.

Should I Buy? – Bastion


Yes. Now. In fact, the rest of this review is superfluous. All that matters is the first word. Do read anyway though, I worked hard on this.

Meet the Kid

Bastion is the first title from indie developer Supergiant Games, available on XBLA and Steam. It’s an isometric action-RPG that revels in the hack-n-slash rather than the number crunching. One day you, the Kid (of no relation to the Kid from ICO or I Wanna Be The Guy), wake up in your bed only to find that the world’s been basically destroyed and some guy’s narrating what you’re doing.

This narration is the sole source of exposition in the game, and its much touted ‘dynamic narrator’ feature keeps up a running commentary of your actions while also talking about the characters you encounter, the backstory of the areas you explore and the people that inhabited it and the challenges you face.

Luckily, the smooth, rich tones and effort put into giving him so many phrases avoid annoying repeats like “The Kid chose the Machete” or “Then he fell off the map”. There are some other unique features to it, like each weapon combination having a line based on its effectiveness or significance and incorporating things like deaths and falling off the map into the narration, with Rucks commenting with lines like “Lost my train of thought”.

As long as I could talk about that sexy, sexy voice, the combat is what you’ll stay for. It’s fairly simple stuff, you can have two weapons at once and a special move depending on what you’ve got equipped. Each of these is upgradeable, but when you come across a new, basic weapon chances are you’ll test it out and decide you want one of your old reliables back.

Some of them also feel a bit redundant. You’ve got the Breaker’s Bow, a single target long range weapon with high power and charge time! And the Army Carbine with etc etc etc.! Plus the Fire Bellows damn near break the game, and are only not the perfect weapon because of limited range and a recharge timer.

Another problem is that to fully upgrade each weapon, you’ll need to conquer the difficult Proving Grounds. Though just finishing it gives you an upgrade item, you have no chance to get first or probably even 2nd place without a few upgrades first.

The screen does get very clustered at time, and this can wreak merry hell with an old processor. Unless your computer is truly a relic though, I doubt this’ll be a deal breaker. This tendency towards large groups can also leave all but the most hardened player at a loss to deal with the myriad threats, reducing you to running and drinking a health tonic.

Though the levels are quite pretty and well designed, the isometric viewpoint can be finicky and confusing. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I fell of the stage simply because I was walking on a narrow ledge and pressed down instead if down-left or something equally stupid.

Speaking of the design, the colourful animesque art style is charming and serviceable, though it all feels like it was adopted more for ease of animation rather than visual charm. The music though, is exceptional. It’s a fusion of western folksy strings and more frenetic Asian music, that sounds like it comes from all over the continent. Seriously, it’s worth purchasing the soundtrack even if you don’t get the game.

This game needs posters

The replay value of this game is entirely in the combat. You probably won’t reach level 5/10 in one playthrough, and finishing the game unlocks New Game + which is the only way to access certain tonics and Prayers. Oh, and those of you who buy this through Steam, on a New Game + you get a special attack that spawns Portal turrets. Awesome.

Supporting repeat play for combat are the Proving Grounds, which quickly get monstrously difficult, the Who Knows Where, a series of dream sequences that have Rucks narrate a character’s backstory while you fight off waves of foes and the Prayers in the Shrine. See, the Pantheon are pissed at you, and by invoking they’ll help your enemies and make things harder for you. Doing so ups the challenge and the reward.

If you’re playing this on a PC or Laptop, I recommend investing in a Gamepad as the controls are a little cluttered and fiddly on PC. Though I did, and it won’t recognise it. Overall, I’d say getting this on XBOX Live Arcade is a better option, even if you do miss out on the Portal turrets.

When you’re biggest problem with a game is a specific enemy type, you know you’re onto something great. Buy Bastion now. Then we can talk about it all day long! And if the price is putting you off, it has a demo. Try it.

Price: (Steam) £11.49
Soundtrack £5.99
Game & Soundtrack £16.99

(XBLA) 1200 Microsoft Points

Should I Buy? – Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep


This was reviewed here before by a friend of mine, and you can find the original by using that pretty little search bar up there if you fancy, but there are things I want to say about this game and so here goes.

Kingdoms Hearts Birth Sleep is the sixth game in the franchise to be created but takes place first canonically. Kingdom Hearts itself at first looked like some cutesy cross between Final Fantasy and Disney but has grown into a surprisingly complex and difficult series of Action-RPGs master-minded by long time Square Enix artist turned writer/director Tetsuya Nomura.

The series has a rich internal mythology mostly concerned with the balance of light and darkness, the intangible power of the ‘heart’ as some spiritual force and the result of losing said heart. By now the series contains creatures that technically don’t exist, and one who now never existed in the first place, causality be damned. Luckily, you’re not required to know any of this to play Birth by Sleep.

The game itself takes place ten years before the first game and is basically an origins story for the series recurring protagonist told through a trio of young Keyblade Wielders, apparently the last heirs to this ancient order. Each one of these wielders gets their own playable storyline, and playing all of them is necessary to understanding what’s really going on.

First is Terra, a quiet and brooding older boy with great strength and will but troubled by darkness in his heart. Next is Ventus, a cheerful and friendly young boy with an incredibly pure heart who’d do anything for his friends. All you Kingdom Hearts fans should be picking up the obvious links by now. Finally, there’s Aqua, the blue-haired magic specialist who, unlike most girls in this franchise so far, doesn’t depend on the protection, love or approval of a man and instead kicks all kind of Unversed ass.

On the franchise’s gender politics, I never felt that there was any real sexism on the part of the developers but when your dramatis personae is drawn mainly from old animated Disney films, and the strength shown by characters like Jasmin and Belle tends to be overshadowed when Sora and Beast are tearing through hordes of Heartless. Luckily, Aqua’s here to show that the woman of this universe kick just as much ass as the men.

Those of you who’ve played a previous Kingdom Hearts game will be familiar with the basic setup here, though there’s been a lot of tweaking and stremaling to make everything faster and better balanced.

Now your menu of all your learned spells and all your items is replaced with the Command Panels. You can equip panels that you buy and find into the limited slots in your menu, and then simply move between them with the D-Pad and cast with Triangle. This may sound limiting, but it’s much more efficient. As you use these abilities, they level up and you can fuse two panels to create a new one, allowing you to explore new attacks and play styles.

Also up is your ability to Shotlock, which can make some bosses pretty much trivial. There’s also the D-Link, where you can fuse your with the memories of characters you encounter to unlock sets of Command Panels based around them and powerful Finisher moves.

Finally are the Command Styles. By using moves of a certain type, like a Fire move, you can enter a Command Style. These are themed around whatever you just used and later in the game you get the ability to use advanced Styles that can entered from a previous style. These are a great addition to the combat, allowing you to change things up on the fly and use powerful attacks to decimate even the toughest of foes. Unfortunately, a boss’ attack patterns can mean that these styles are difficult to enter or maintain just when they’d be most useful.

All of these new options (added with the fact that every single damn Command Panel, Style, Shotlock, D-Link and Finisher is really useful if used right) mean that the combat is much more varied than all the previous incarnations of the series, which is a good thing because there’s bugger all besides.

The worlds feel empty, even moreso than before. Only plot essential characters show up, and a good deal of them disappear when there’s not a cutscene for them to be in. Take Cinderella’s Ball, there’s only her, the Prince, a servant the wicked stepmother and the ugly stepsisters there. I understand that UMD isn’t the best format for large crowds, but come on Squeenix, really?

This also means a lack of sidequests. There’s exactly four minigames, one set of collectible items and once non-storyline location. And even that’s just an arena used for multiplayer. I want to forgive the game this because the plot and combat work so well, but I can’t help but feel that this game is pretty damn bare-bones. Birth By Sleep would need to include at least a special Boss fight mode for this problem to be addressed.

As for the characters themselves, a few will be familiar to fans of the franchise. Mickey, Yen Sid, Pete, Maleficent and others return. The Final Fantasy trappings have been further demoted to the character of Zack and the Moogle shopkeepers. The Disney worlds seen here are based mainly on the earlier works of Disney, and these don’t really lend themselves well to great characters. Fortunately, the original characters and returning players bring enough to cancel this out.

Terra plays as a slow moving bruiser, and is essentially the game’s easy mode as he can take most hits in his stride and his high strength means you don’t have to worry much about all the different types of magic. Ventus is the fragile speedster type, though unfortunately so much so that his basic combo can’t kill the very first enemy. Aqua’s the most difficult to use, but by far the most rewarding. Magic is incredibly useful in this game, and she outstrips everyone with it.

Oh! I forgot to mention the Command Board! This monopoly like minigame is strictly optional, and can be played against friends or the computer and lets you gain and level up all sorts of different Command Panels, including a few only found here.

I’d also like to give a special mention to the villain being played by Leonard Nimoy and your Master having Mark Hammil as an actor. That is awesome.

But ultimately, should you buy it? Yes, fans of the franchise should. If you’re looking for an entry point, this is probably your best shot outside of the original. But if you’re just looking for a really good PSP game, this certainly fits that criteria, though you might object to the price.

Price: (CEX) £18

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