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Tales of Xillia 2: Prima Official Game Guide
Tales of Xillia 2: Prima Official Game Guide
by Howard Grossman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $28.29
44 used & new from $23.44

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Most Detailed Tales Guide I've Ever Seen, August 24, 2014
With how big and expansive the first Tales of Xillia was it was quite surprising to find that it didn't actually have a guide to go with it. With all the quests, items and secrets to behold Tales of Xillia was probably the most deserving of a guide in the Tales series. Luckily, Tales of Xillia 2, for as big and expansive at it is, does have a guide. And it's amazing in almost every way. It is quite possibly the most detailed Tales guide I've ever seen.

To compare and contrast, many a Tales guide before now had pretty much been published by Brady Games. And while some of them weren't bad (Tales of Legendia) they always lacked going that extra mile or really getting the player to master the game. Either because of missing details or just not going far enough. Guides such as their Tales of Vesperia guide or Tales of Symphonia were under detailed and (at best) mediocre. Don't be too alarmed by the price tag. As a collector's item it's worth it. As a reference for Tales of Xillia 2 it's so staggering in its information that you might find yourself suffering from information overload.

The guide wastes no time jumping into the game system. Everything about combat is here for your convenience. This is definitely where newcomers should start. For the most part the battle is familiar to the previous game that returning players needn't spend as much time here. This isn't a section that just glosses over everything, it's actually quite detailed. It goes into the different enemy "types," and really helps the player understand what kind of game they're about to play. It can feel like a bit much for a new player, but it's certainly much more helpful than some of the tutorials in the game.

Once we get beyond that we get to the characters section. In many a JRPG guide this section typically just introduces you to characters and (sometimes) tells you what they're good at. Here there's a surprisingly large amount of detail. It will tell you what the character is good at. It then provides a handy chart so that you can see their growth in stats (each one assigned with a letter) so that you can better develop and enhance their abilities. There's a bit more to it. The guide will definitely help you get the best out of each character. It provides a list of skills they can learn from their Allium Orb. It also provides a full list of artes. Yet what really helps this section stand out is that it gives a lot of tactics on how to use said character. Not a small amount of tactics either. It gives you an entire breakdown. It tells you what the character is good at in combat (giving you graphs as well) and then gives you some recommended combos and ways to utilize their artes. For anyone hoping to get the best out of a character this is certainly one way to do it. This isn't just a bio and a quick, "This is what the character is for." Rather it's actually a detailed section. Better than anything a previous Tales guide has done. Rest assured, you're not just getting the basics here.

Once we get beyond that we have the walkthrough. Just like the previous sections, this is quite detailed. There are maps aplenty. Each of them labeled with items in chests, the probablility of you finding certain items in the area during exploration. There is also a handy list of enemies you'll encounter in every area as well as basic stats. The guide doesn't ignore the difficulty settings either. Many (and I do mean MANY) strategy guides (especially for RPGs) tend to forgo explaining anything about difficulty. Here you actually get some detail. it doesn't come out in strategy, but there are charts to help you calculate every enemies stats for higher difficulty settings. This seems small at first, but it's a Godsend for those wanting to test their merits on Unknown.

The walkthrough is also written in an easy to use manner. When you look at the maps for each section you'll notice they are numbered. Where you see a number on the map simply means you find that number in the text and it'll tell you what to do at that point. There are also notes that might call out a few tips. The layout and design makes it easy to use and easy to follow. Bosses, items and other stuff. A list of skits also pops up if they're supposed to in a particular area. But perhaps the most rewarding part is that the guide shows you EVERY choice decision moment throughout the main quest. It'll also tell you how your affinity with a character will change based on it. It is, thankfully, also well organized. There are two distinct problems that can stick out with the walkthrough. The first is that... it's huge. You want this, sure, but it has no qualms about spoiling anything. If you're the type that needs the guide to get to the point quickly, this isn't that kind of guide. Likewise, there will be spoilers. Prima sometimes has a tendency to describe what you're already seeing on screen. It's no different here, but experiencing the story can be ruined in some spots because of it. This is especially true when you get into the side quests section.

The side quests and character quests section are written in pretty much the same manner as the walkthrough. Likewise, the guide also gives a pretty detailed look into the game's coliseum.

Once we get beyond all this we get into all the data. The items, accessories and shop data in particular. It seems strange that the shop data isn't included in the walkthrough at first, but when you actually see it, it isn't hard to understand why. These charts and lists are huge. It's better if they are in the back with the others as some of them would take up a lot more space and get in the way of the flow of the walkthrough.

The very end of the guide has all the list of trophies. It's a little disappointing to know it's not a full blown "Trophy Guide." It's just a list of trophies, what they are and a list of how you obtain it. But it's nothing unique and special. A full blown Trophy Guide would've been a little better.

Lastly, there is an interview with the producer of the Tales series. If you are a huge fan of the Tales games you should definitely read these interviews. It'll give you insight as to why Tales of Xillia 2 exists and why they did some of the things they did. It's a detailed interview but also somewhat short.

With so much information you're bound to get lost from time to time. There's a neat Table of Contents in the front of the guide to really help you find anything you need. But you're still bound to get lost flipping pages. This book is 400 pages and unlike so many guides out there, a lot of it isn't used and wasted space. It's full. There can be a bit of information overload, if only because there's so much info. Tales of Xillia 2 is a huge game and it's nice to see there's a guide that actually covers all of its bases.

I've yet to access the PS3 dynamic theme. However, I will say that in terms of that free eGuide... it is pretty much a waste of time. You must register to Prima's website to really use it. And while it's a free eGuide it can only be accessed online via their website. You can't download said eGuide and transfer it to a tablet or anything. You can only access it while on Prima's website. The free eGuide is nothing more than a marketing ploy. If you have the physical copy there's no real reason to access the free eGuide. While there are some things you'll get out of it, there's really nothing you can't find in the actual guide you've already put down a pretty penny for. Don't waste time on it, it's just a means for Prima to you to register to their site so that they can start sending you stuff via email.

The Tales of Xillia 2 guide is by far the most detailed Tales guide I've ever seen. There's so much information that it can feel overwhelming. If you have problems with Tales of Xillia 2 and would like a guide... this is the perfect one.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 30, 2014 4:17 AM PDT

Tales of Xillia 2 - PlayStation 3
Tales of Xillia 2 - PlayStation 3
Price: $59.96
30 used & new from $53.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's finally come stateside and it is quite a good game in and of itself, August 21, 2014
The Tales series doesn't always get a release in North America. Case in point, when Tales of Xillia was finally released in North America, Japan already had the sequel. It's finally come stateside and it is quite a good game in and of itself. Even if it feels far too familiar just a little too soon. That being said, Tales of Xillia 2 is another good game in the series.

A lot of the time when a JRPG has a sequel you can generally get away without playing the game before it. In most cases you get a whole new cast of characters, but a world that's been changed by the events of the previous outing. The story is often different and sometimes even references to the original aren't too much. Games like Lunar 2: Eternal Blue and even Chrono Cross are games where one can safely jump in without playing the previous game. Tales of Xillia 2 isn't quite like that. While you could jump in without knowledge of the first one... it's simply a bad idea to do so. Yes, the story is new, but many of the characters return and the game very much ties in with the first one. Every major character from the previous game returns and many connections are established. So while you can jump in, you'll most certainly be lost for a good chunk of the story as a result. This is not a game where you want to be lost, however. Tales games are notorious for having dense stories and a dense world. And Xillia 2's story definitely does a lot to expand on what has already been established in the first game... but isn't always willing to explain it. It pretty much assumes you know what's already happened and presses onward.

This may seem bad, but considering how good the characters are and how good the story itself is you'll wish you had played the first one anyway. The cast of characters here are well established and developed. New and old faces alike. Tales of Xillia does its best to keep things interesting and the characters are pretty much how this happens. It's darker than a lot of Tales games, but still manages to have some heart and soul. Each of the returning characters from the previous game also have their own unique story arcs and they're pretty good as well. The story and characters will keep you going, for the most part. A lot of Tales games typically tend to get bogged down in cliches that only work because the characters are so likeable, but Tales of Xillia 2, on occasion, breaks the mold of always relying on tried and true anime tropes. It doesn't do away with them completely, but it's a very nice blend of storytelling. One that will sometimes manage to pull at our heart strings. From a storytelling standpoint, Tales of Xillia 2 is better than the first game. And that's saying a lot because the first game had a pretty good story.

While the characters can be interesting, it's actually a shame that among them, the game's main character is not the most interesting. In fact, the characters from the previous game are perhaps the most interesting and noteworthy here. Ludger Kresnik is not too terribly interesting at all. He's a silent protagonist. Aside from grunts in battle or the occasional one word reply, Ludger never speaks. Instead you are given a chance to choose what he says. He never actually speaks it, but the characters respond to him as though he does. The game makes it seem like the choices are big choices at first, but the reality is that they don't really alter the story very much and is apt to make a few fans wonder what the point of keeping Ludger a silent protagonist was in the first place. It's not that the dialog choices are bad (although many of them are always saying the same thing... just with different words) it's that they often fail to have any meaning or impact in a lot of areas. They can build the affinity you have with one character or another but you'll often find that the dialog choices feel meaningless. In particular, the skits can feel really annoying with this mechanic. In the past, skits have been known to give us insight into the characters or story events (or sometimes even battle observations). They still do, but every now and then even in skits you'll have to give Ludger some dialog. It just doesn't feel like it adds anything to the game to do this. It certainly provides the illusion that you've got a huge impact on things, but that's about it.

There is also a debt that Ludger has to pay off throughout the game. As you go through the game you've got to work your way to paying off Ludger's debt. He'll set some gald aside. You'll have to make payments sometimes just to advance the story. It can feel quite annoying, actually, but after a while it's really not that big of a deal.

One nice thing that Tales has come a long way with, however, is that it is less concerned with exposition dumps the way older games have been. The pacing of the story with the two Xillia games, in particular, has been extremely good. The game keeps going but does a good balance of exposition and gameplay. In previous games there used to be long heavy-handed moments of exposition dumping and reiterating plot points the player had already seen and experienced a dozen times. Sometimes even going so far as to have you roam between areas just for dialog without battling or important events. The two Xillia games cut down on this dramatically, making things come across as more natural and dire when they need to be. For a Tales game, this is a very notable improvement from a narrative standpoint. This alone really helps Tales of Xillia 2's story out because the game is not afraid to get to the point... even in some of its slower moments. And when you do need to backtrack you don't have to roam across fields or backtrack through dungeons to do it. The game lets you easily warp between areas without any hassle.

Battling has always been a major component of the Tales series. In part because they do the action combat better than a lot of series' out there. As with a lot of things, it's instantly familiar if you've played the previous game. There aren't a ton of new additions. Some enemies are now weak to certain weapon types. And while this is well and good, only Ludger has the ability to switch between weapons on the fly. Meaning that in combat you'll mostly want to control him. Every character has their own basic attacks but they also have artes that they can use which are their special attacks. You can only control one character at a time. The rest are controlled by the AI who are often a lot more competent than you expect. If things aren't going well you can always switch between characters or customize the AI to tweak things a bit.

There isn't too much introduced to combat. Ludger can switch weapons on the fly. He has a sledgehammer, blades and guns. Unfortunately, other characters don't have this. Given how enemies are weak vs. certain types you'll probably spend time with Ludger just because he'll be your only character that can exploit all three. Ludger also has an alternate form that he can go into from time to time to really mess up the enemy. He's pretty much invincible during. The first Tales of Xillia was already easy as it is (save for perhaps a few optional bosses) but Tales of Xillia 2 somehow feels a lot easier.

The only real problem with Tales of Xillia 2 is how much of it will feel familiar. And how much is unchanged from the original. It's not a glorified expansion pack, by any means, but A LOT of things are reused from the first game. Many environments are exactly same. Pixel by pixel and even (at times) enemy placement by enemy placement. So many areas, enemies and places are the same. You're going to find yourself exploring a lot of familiar territory. It isn't so much that they've reused so much as it is that you don't always feel like they gave you enough new areas to explore. There's going to be a lot of a "been-there-done-that" feel to Xillia 2.

It goes much deeper than that. If it were just reusing environments it might avoid the nasty criticism of laziness. But instead there are parts where it's very tempting to call the developers lazy. Not only are many environments and enemies the same... but so are the NPCs some of the time. So is the background music as well. But the worst is that even the graphical hiccups... are exactly the same. The first Xillia had sprites and objects "pop in" as you walked. They wouldn't be in the distance or anything. They just'd suddenly pop up when you got close enough. The same thing happens here. The original game wasn't exactly known for its detailed environments to begin with, but here it can feel like far too much is simply recycled. In one regard, yes, the world SHOULD be familiar. It's a direct sequel and not just borrowing the namesake. On the other hand... when some NPCs haven't even changed place since the last game... or you're reusing this much of the same music it can be a little daunting. Considering how good they did with the story, it's a little disappointing to know that not more was done to enhance other aspects of the game.

That's not to say the game doesn't make up in other ways. Graphically it looks exactly the same... but at the very least in other regards it still has its charm. While Milla's voice acting is still pretty bad, the rest of the cast is certainly not. The one gift that Tales does have is the ability to really bring its characters to life. The voice acting is, for the most part, pretty good. But nothing beats the writing. Each character somehow feels distinct and natural. And there's some clever wit, emotional moments and natural charm to the characters that a lot of games can't hope to reach for. So while some bits of the game being familiar like the recycled environments can be problematic... the familiarity of the characters certainly isn't. It's like seeing getting reacquainted with old friends. And while some music is recycled as well, at least Tales of Xillia has the benefit of having a good soundtrack.

All that being said, however, the game is more than just a glorified expansion pack... but for some of the experience is certainly going to FEEL like one at times. It has a lot of good things to call its own and a very strong story. Even if a lot of it is recycled at least Tales of Xillia 2 also recycles the best of the original and still manages to stand on its own two legs, even if it's sometimes a little shaky. With that being said, fans of the first Xillia should definitely check it out and enjoy. It's a good experience overall.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 26, 2014 7:23 AM PDT

Castlevania: Lament Of Innocence   - PS3 [Digital Code]
Castlevania: Lament Of Innocence - PS3 [Digital Code]
Price: $9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Over a Decade Later and It's Still Fun, July 13, 2014
Originally released in 2003 alongside Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, Lament of Innocence was a game that received a lot of mixed reviews from fans and critics alike. It is, by and large, a fairly good game. One that's quite fun and satisfying. That being said, it is true that it had nothing on the Metroidvania games being released at the time. And more than a decade later it's safe to say that Castlevania: Lament of Innocence has not aged as well as other games. Yet it is still fun and strong in other ways.

Lament of Innocence takes place before every Castlevania game. As far as canon goes, it's the very first one (assuming you don't count the Lords of Shadow games which are supposedly a reboot of Castlevania as it is). It centers on Leon who is on the search for his beloved. He stumbles upon an old merchant named Ricardo who tells him of a mysterious castle that has appeared and that perhaps his beloved is there. He then hands Leon a whip and sends him on his way. The Castlevania series has always been up and down with its stories. There are a lot of good stories in the series (Symphony of the Night, Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow, for instance) but when they become as big of a center piece as it is in Lament of Innocence it can sometimes come across as clumbsy. Lament doesn't have a bad story, it's just that the storytelling done the way it is doesn't always suit Castlevania. There are more cutscenes that tend to explain stuff and the dialog is tinny at times. When the cutscenes start, Castlevania Lament of Innocence isn't at its highest. It's not a bad story, it's just not that well presented. I'd gladly take the storytelling ways of Metroidvania games over this.

Gameplay is where Lament of Innocence really shines because it's good a fairly good system going for it. Those who played the 2001 hit smash, Devil May Cry will definitely take note. The combat here is stylish in the way that Devil May Cry was. While it isn't as lavish it's definitely obvious that Devil May Cry was the influence. With the whip you can string together attacks. You have your basic attacks by pressing the square button and stronger attacks by hitting triangle. As you progress you'll be able to combine these button presses to perform some pretty good looking attacks that are also strong.

It may seem like Lament of Innocence forsakes exploration but nothing could be further from the truth. Granted, there are five sections of the castle that you can explore and you don't have to do them in a specific order. The main hall of the castle serves as your hub. From there you can enter five different portals to go to five different locations. These aren't small locations. And you'll find that you may have to come back to some areas later with a different item just to explore it fully. Each area always ends with a boss, but getting there can take longer than expected, especially if you decide to explore. As you gain more abilities and items you'll find that exploring is incredibly rewarding. You'll soon find hidden bosses, HP Max Ups and Heart Max ups that you'll be busy for a while.

There's not level up system like you're used to, but you do eventually get a lot of various items and health max ups that it feels like you are growing. Nothing perfects this more than the games orb system and sub weapon system. Each time you defeat a boss you'll receive an orb. Each orb makes a sub weapon behave differently. So not only do you have various sub weapons such as daggers, a crucifix, an axe or a gem just to name a few (there are more than this) but you've also got different orbs that manipulate them. This gives you a lot of variety in attacks and gives you many different ways to approach various situations and bosses. There's a lot of style to Castlevania Lament of Innocence. With so many items, subweapons and abilities at your disposal, Lament of Innocence actually proves to be a huge game in and of itself. If one were to simply rush through it you could easily go through the game in 8 hours or so. Maybe even less. But do everything Lament of Innocence has to offer, including optional bosses and exploring every nook and cranny of the Castle and its easily one of the largest Castlevania games in the franchise.

Each area is beautiful to explore as well. The game certainly isn't short on artistic creativity in the places you'll explore. Every area of the game feels distinct and unique. The only real problem with some of the areas is that they can most certainly feel repetitive at times. They look great, but there are some levels that recycle what feel like a lot of the same rooms or hallways with very little to distinguish them. This is most noticeable in the Garden Forgotten by Time. While some of the areas have branching paths or different enemies they look so similar that at times I had to pull up the map to make sure I was going the right way.

Castlevania Lament of Innocence is not an especially easy game. There's no level up system in this one and so grinding isn't something you can do. There are plenty of items to find to help you grow, but for the most part you'll find yourself struggling from time to time. Each boss fight is amazing and exploring each area is amazing, but sometimes you'll find yourself in trouble a lot. The areas are huge and sometimes you can get lost in them. There are plenty of save points scattered around but even that can't always save you from Lament of Innocence's tough moments. Though it isn't too terribly difficult, the fact that the game itself doesn't really tell you where to go all the time (which is actually a benefit for players more than a curse) and that it is always willing to throw a lot of other environmental hazards at you means that you'll always be kept on your toes. The boss battles especially can be daunting at times.

As I mentioned earlier in the review, however, some of Lament of Innocence hasn't aged very well. And in some areas it struggled even during its original release in 2003. The first, and possibly most annoying, are by far the camera angles. Lament of Innocence has a fixed camera and it isn't always the best. Sometimes it just doesn't focus right. In some instances it made some jumps needlessly difficult. Another is most certainly the control scheme. Looking back this was probably a problem before, but it feels downright archaic a decade later. Using items must be done in real time by bringing up the menu. Likewise, so is doing things like switching orbs. All in real time in a game that sometimes has far too much going on the warrant it. In the thick of battle the control scheme is sometimes so cumbersome that a loss in battle might sometimes be due to you fiddling around in the menu with very few shortcuts. And no, you can't pause it and simply use an item in your inventory if need be. This would probably not be a problem if the menu itself is was done better. Plenty of games have managed to "real time" menu just fine without really being a problem. Kingdom Hearts, for instance, makes it simple and easy to use. Lament of Innocence sometimes feels clunky and in the way. It just doesn't mix well with the action.

Some of the platforming portions in Lament of Innocence are also not very well executed. Aside from the camera angles being off, the game doesn't always make it easy to gauge a jump. In particular this happens in segments where you have to use the whip to swing from one section to another. There is never a huge penalty for failing any jumping section, but it is annoying to sometimes have to keep doing them over and over again.

Not everything has aged poorly however. Some of the progression through each area and the puzzles still remain quite clever to this day. The exploration remains fun in a way that it hasn't been in gaming for years now. Castlevania Lament of Innocence has a path to follow, but it's nice that the game isn't holding your hand and always telling you where to go. Once you're in an area, you're free to explore as you see fit. Sure some areas get blocked off without the right item, but that's part of the charm. Going back to explore certain areas a second (sometimes third time) with a new item in mind is fun. The game makes it easy by also giving you an easy way to warp back to Rinaldo's item shop just outside the castle at any time. So even if you find yourself lost deep in a dungeon, at least you'll have a means of leaving the area so that you won't always have to trek back all the way through. If there's one thing Castlevania Lament of Innocence does well without question it is the exploration. Often it's rewarding. But the best part about it is that the player is allowed to feel satisfaction at his or her discovery. There are few markers telling you where you have to go. You'll often get an idea of where a boss is or something along those lines, but the game doesn't care for explaining to you how to get there. You're left to figure it out for yourself. It's liberating. Yet the game doesn't make you feel lost either. Yes, you can explore and get lost, but the game has little ways of making sure you stay on the correct path. Sometimes they bar access because you don't have a particular item. Sometimes areas just lead back to other areas without making you back track. The fact that so many areas are populated with lots of enemies makes sure that you're also not bored out of your mind during your explorations.

Without a doubt, however, the strongest part of Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is the soundtrack. It's amazing in every way. It has tunes that perfectly compliment the area that you're playing through. The Garden Forgotten By Time for instance, sounds grandiose and amazing, but also hints of a mysterious nature--just like the Garden itself. The House of Sacred Remains sounds fantastically gothic and cryptic. The Ghostly Theatre sounds whimsical and playful while the Anti-Souls Mystery Lab gives off the aura of an experiment gone wrong. I've played through many a game with good music, but very few have I actually outright said, "Get the soundtrack because it's that good." But Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is one of them. Simply put, it has some of the best music I've ever heard in a video game. It's dark and gothic, compliments the game perfectly... but most of all, it's absolutely beautiful. Even non gamers would appreciate the strong music in Castlevania: Lament of Innocence.

While some aspects of Castlevania: Lament of Innocence haven't aged very well, the game in and of itself certainly isn't bad. Some things like it's cumbersome menu and odd camera angles might be a little annoying, but it's overall presentation is still pretty good, and the game is still pretty fun. For Castlevania fans, this is a good game. It can never reach the heights of the 2D side scrolling games, but it does a good job of bringing the Metroidvania feel to the 3D realm.

Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness - Playstation 3
Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness - Playstation 3
Offered by game-ware
Price: $26.70
40 used & new from $20.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Lot of the Same Thing, But Still Very Enjoyable, June 26, 2014
When the original Disgaea came out in 2003 on the Playstation 2, it stood out because it was just so... different. A complete satire of the genre. Instead of saving the world, your goal was to conquer it. There were exaggerated stat values, damage values and just all around absurd systems in play. Over the years Disgaea has maintained a cult status among SRPG players. But more than a decade later it's hard for Disgaea to have the same impact outside of its fanbase. It's a good game, to be sure, but Disgaea is no where near as groundbreaking or original as it used to be. Some things here feel like a by the books inclusion without taking too many steps forward to help Disgaea evolve. There isn't much that separates D2 from Disgaea 4, for instance.

D2 is a direct sequel to the first game and focuses on Laharl, Etna and Flonne. Laharl is the overlord of the underworld, but what he's soon finding out is that not everyone is actually okay with him being in charge and ruling the world. A resistance that preferred Laharl's father sets out to challenge him. More than that, a few interesting things are happening in the underworld that are just all around strange. From flowers suddenly blooming to Laharl spending a short period of time as a woman. What exactly is going on in the underworld? And who is responsible for all this turmoil?

D2 Disgaea pretty much sticks to a lot of the same tried and true conventions of other Disgaea games. The story is carried out in skits where portraits of characters face other portraits. It's peppered with the same voice acting you've always known and the same type of humor. It's a Disgaea game through and through. It also utilizes a lot of familiar tunes you've heard in just about every Disgaea game.

In terms of gameplay it's about the same. You can explore Laharl's castle, but you'll always have to select an episode to progress the story along by going through various episodes. Battling is about the same as you remember. You'll begin each battle by sending out your characters through the base panel. You can have up to ten characters sent out at a time. Your characters have their own weapons and skills they can utilize. More than that, the characters also each have what's called an "evility" that may help them out. Some have evilities that'll boost the stats of the characters around them. Others make it so they take less damage from elemental attacks. It's an interesting system, but it isn't just for show. Your enemies also have evilities and you can bet that some maps are designed for you to keep it in mind. On one map, for instance, I faced off against knights who got a 20% increase in stats for each enemy that defeated. By the time I got to them I had to plan very carefully how to go about the situation.

And generally speaking, this is what is very nice about Disgaea. These are not handholding games. Once you get past the tutorial stages, Disgaea doesn't insist on guiding you through each map. This is because every battle isn't just about making sure you are strong enough to defeat each enemy. Thanks to the returning Geo System many battles are treated like a puzzle. One where not only do the enemies matter, but so does the terrain.

For those unfamiliar with the Geo System, every map has titles that are colored as well as the normal scenery. On some titles rest a Geo Symbol. They can have various different characteristics. One may give you 50% more EXP and another might grant you an additional attack. Not all of them work for you. Sometimes you might find an Enemy Boost Geo Symbol. Whatever the case, when a Geo Symbol is on a colored title then EVERY tile of that Color grants that buff or debuff. So if an Attack+1 Geo Symbol is sitting on a red tile, then all red tiles are affected. Any character standing on a red tile is affected as well. Meaning that when they attack, they will attack twice. It's a good system, but the game utilizes it more to impact your strategy and provide another obstacle. It's very rare that the Geo Symbols are present with the task of aiding you. That's not to say you won't find moments like this. As a result there are also plenty of maps the game has that are specifically there for grinding up your level or getting more currency.

The Geo Symbols, however, can be destroyed. Any time they are, they will change the color of the panel to correspond with the geo symbol you have destroyed. But only if it isn't the same color as the tile. Thus, destroying a red geo symbol on a blue tile will then turn all the blue titles red. If, however, you destroy a red geo symbol on a red tile nothing will happen. If any geo symbols are on the same color and they get destroyed because of another one's destruction then you'll chain them together. It may seem like there is little point to destroying geo symbols and getting chains. But there is. Every map also has a bonus gauge that fills up to nine levels. Destroying Geo symbols and creating chains is the fastest way to do this. The more full your bonus gauge is, the greater your bonus. And the bonus can range from rare items to additional experience.

Disgaea has never been a game that holds your hand. In fact, it's by far one of the least hand holding SRPGs out there. Once you're past the tutorial that is it. More than that, the difficulty curve increases quite drastically. Disgaea is not a game that one can simply power through. You will find yourself having to stop and grind. This is not an SRPG you simply rush through. Luckily the game has various means of helping you grind. None of more use than the item world.

A staple in Disgaea since the very first game, the item world allows you to enter any item in your inventory and level it up. This makes your weapons and armor more powerful. It raises the potency of your healing items etc. Mostly, however, it's actually just a good way to grind. Each item is at least thirty floors deep. If it is a rare variant of the item or a legendary variant, however, you can go deeper than thirty levels. You can go down sixty for rare items or one hundred for legendary. Each floor is randomly generated and may be covered with various geo panels and symbols at random. The goal is to either fight your way through each map, or find the exit. Along the way you'll also find a lot of different random bonus rooms. Some that sell rare and legendary items. Some that might just be filled with chests. Others that might contain monsters set to challenge you. Either way, the item world has a lot of variety to it and will keep you on your toes. Obviously the more powerful the item, the more powerful the enemies are in there.

Each item also has residents that can be used to make certain stats grow faster than usual. It's interesting to play around with all of this stuff and see what you get.

There's more to Disgaea, however. You can also go into the Dark Assembly and pass laws. These laws will impact certain aspects of the game itself. At one point you might find the enemies aren't strong enough and make them stronger. Later on this opens up additional maps for you. But you'll also need the Dark Assembly to make more characters for you, reincarnate other characters (where a certain percentage of their stats carry over) and to access some neat little tricks such as the infamous Prinny Day. All that being said, there is a new type of shop introduced into D2: Disgaea called the cheat shop where you can, quite literally, tweak with the game system to your desire. You have the option to increase the amount of experience you obtain for defeating enemies for instance. You can also make enemies stronger, select to turn off geo panels and symbols in the item world or leave everything as it is. The game WILL encourage you to use this quite a bit. The further you get in the game the more options are available and the more you're allowed to tweak the system.

For those new to Disgaea all of this can feel overwhelming and incredibly complex. Some of it is. For the returning player, however, this is pretty basic DIsgaea stuff. And that may be the only real problem with D2. It's a good game, but it's so familiar that Disgaea doesn't really do anything that really stand out the way it used to. This is hardly a bad thing in the long run, but it certainly doesn't make for the same ground breaking success Disgaea was a decade ago. It hasn't quite become stale yet, but it doesn't feel like it wants to be anything different either. The humor and the heart are there for sure. No doubt, gameplay wise, it may be one of the strongest Disgaea's out there. But I still can't help but note that it doesn't do enough to separate itself from the games before it. It has a few things but not quite enough.

A lot of the sprites are pretty much the same as before. There's a nice distinct anime look to them, but many of them are just higher resolution sprites that you've already seen since the very first Disgaea game. There aren't too many new or unique designs as it is. Like so much of the gameplay a lot of the graphics and sprites you've already seen before. Some of the animations for spells and skills are different, but chances are you'll tire of seeing them over and over again and simply toggle the animations off.

Disgaea is still as strong as ever. But here's to hoping there's more of a spin put onto the formula the next time around. The series as a whole still manages to offer a lot that other SRPGs do not and for that I'm grateful. That being said, if you are a Disgaea fan there's no reason not to pick this up. Small gripes aside, Disgaea fans should really enjoy this.

Metal Gear Solid: the Official Strategy Game
Metal Gear Solid: the Official Strategy Game
by Hans Joachim Amann
Edition: Paperback
9 used & new from $29.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Quite An Amazing Guide, June 6, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Metal Gear Solid is a game that, by now, everyone knows everything about. It's been around for so long now that every secret has been unearthed, every mystery solved and every possible easter egg uncovered. There are no surprises left in Metal Gear Solid. Even then, however, I'd argue that Metal Gear Solid was a straightforward enough game that the use of strategy guides for it seems a bit ridiculous. One simply doesn't need a guide for Metal Gear Solid. But sometimes I like to get my hands on a strategy guide or two (or twelve) just so I can have them, thumb through them and enjoy the artwork, maps, screenshots and sometimes just seeing how other people went about the game. Metal Gear Solid has a ton of guides out there. Some are merely okay efforts (Bradygames and Prima are so-so) while some are excellent (the Millennium guide) and some went above and beyond my expectations (the Versus Books Metal Gear Solid guide is by far the best of the lot). Piggyback Interactive jumped into the strategy guide fray with this one. And while it isn't as good as future guides produced for the Metal Gear Solid saga, it's still a great guide nonetheless.

The guide begins with a familiar forward by Hideo Kojima. If you're importing this guide and it looks familiar... that's because it's the same foreward in the Millennium Guide. Beyond that we get into the basics of the guide. It goes over the story of the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 before jumping into the basic plot of this one (without spoilers) and then begins introducing us to the characters. For a first guide, the effort here is pretty good. After all that it jumps into telling you about hte items you'll find in your inventory and then telling you about the basics of sneaking around and combat. There's a whole walkthrough here for VR training as well.

The walkthrough itself is probably what you're most curious about. Each section begins with an overview of the area. It also shows maps that pinpoint out all the items. The maps also show where you'll start an area and where you'll finish it. Future guides by Piggyback will show you guard routes, but this one does no such thing. It is okay, however, as the routes aren't hard to memorize themselves. On the other hand, how the walkthrough is written is a little strange at first. After each overview it's written in a step by step manner. Most guides point out waypoints on the map. Putting a 1. or an A. or something and then having you find it in the text. Here they simply have a step-by-step checklist of what to do but without being in conjunction with the map. It's a little strange at first. It at least calls out when you should glance at a screenshot. It makes the walkthrough quick and easy, but doesn't really provide much depth. And by that I mean, this is before Piggyback started going above and beyond every strategy guide out there.

Meaning, that while the walkthrough is good... the strategies aren't always good. So while it leads you from one area to another and expertly calls out when changes come about... once you get to a boss fight it's a different story. It tells you what you need to do to defeat a boss, but not how to do it. Again, it's hard to penalize the guide for it because... well, it's Metal Gear Solid. The game has been around since 1998 and you know all these things. But imagine if you'd never played it and this was the guide someone gave you to get through it. You wouldn't really know much about the bosses from a strategic standpoint.

At the very least it's a well organized walkthrough. One that will get you through the game with minimum problems. That being said, it's also nice that they've covered all the secrets.

However (and this is particularly nitpicky) I have fairly high expectations when I get a hold of Piggyback Interactive guides. I love the artwork, the walkthrough, the maps and the clear screenshots and organization. But what has always separated Piggyback Interactive guides from the typical guides out there is that they usually go above and beyond the game and what we expect from it. Case in point: Guides like their Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII, Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 and Jak II are all examples of guides that were better than the guides published in America by Bradygames or Prima (Piggyback has, for a while now, actually been releasing their guides in America). The biggest reason to get a hold of Piggyback Interactive guide has generally been because they're just all around better than anything Bradygames or Prima can come out with. And I do mean ever. The reason for that is because Piggyback isn't just about getting through the game but they're about mastering it. The only guide company that comes close to also doing this (and sometimes doing a better job) is FuturePress.

I wasn't expecting that Piggyback was always like this, but seeing their future efforts sort of makes looking and flipping through this guide kind of a letdown in that respect. Their other Metal Gear Solid guides did things like... help explain the story to those who were confused in an appendice. But more than that, they offer unique trivia about things you might be able to do to guards, or in certain areas. More importantly, they also have their walkthroughs tailored to help those who know the game to actually master it. There's an explanation of what Big Boss, is for instance, but the guide doesn't provide any tips for things like... a faster time or anything. There is also no explanation of the changes within difficulty settings. As subtle as they are, those playing through the Extreme Difficulty setting ought to know what they're in for.

Like I said, though, that's just being nitpicky because every guide I've seen by Piggyback that was made after this has been designed to help novices AND experts alike. It's almost the reason you pick up a Piggyback guide in the first place. It's not a bad guide at all, it's just that I personally hold Piggyback to a higher standard because they almost set the standard. It's not actually all that fair to criticize Piggyback for it because this IS the first guide they ever did. By reading it, you can see shades of them becoming a great companion in the future. Sure they don't explain the story, but there's enough background that you see why they eventually started doing this in future Metal Gear Solid guides. Sure they don't do anything to help you in the event you go on a higher difficulty setting but you can at least see that they take their gaming pretty seriously.

That being said, the other gripes can still be annoying. The boss strategies aren't great and the walkthrough sometimes lacks a lot of depth with the step-by-step approach. Overall, it's still a pretty phenomenal guide in and of itself and pretty detailed. If you're a collector of strategy guides or of all things Metal Gear it might compliment your collection.

Kirby Triple Deluxe - Nintendo 3DS
Kirby Triple Deluxe - Nintendo 3DS
Price: $33.29
58 used & new from $24.30

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Among the Most Delightfully Creative Kirby Adventures, May 24, 2014
The Good:

+Great graphics, art design and delightful animations
+Some really creative levels
+A lot of variety in powers
+A lot of content, including two mini-games at the start and a lengthy campaign
+Good use of the 3DS technology without making it all feel tacked on

The Bad:

-It's incredibly easy
-You're not likely to spend a lot of time with the mini-games


Kirby has always been one of Nintendo's more popular characters. He's never grown to the popularity of Mario or Zelda, but he has always had a few delightful adventures. It feels like a long time since we last got a really good handheld Kirby Adventure. And Triple Deluxe may, in fact, be among the best the series has ever seen. Each level is creative, artistic and fun. There is plenty to do and a lot to explore in what may be one of Kirby's finest handheld adventures.

Triple Deluxe focuses on a beanstalk (referred to as a Dreamstalk) that grows and carries Kirby's house high off the ground. It also carries other parts of Dreamworld, including King Dedede's castle. A mysterious menace known as Taranza comes into the frey and easily dispatches Dedede's henchmen before kidnapping Dedede himself. It's up to Kirby to save Dedede and stop Taranza. As with Mario, Kirby hasn't exactly been about story. It's often been about the gameplay, level design and exploration. Kirby Triple Deluxe does that well. It's a pretty simple game in its own right but it's how so much of it blends together rather well that makes everything about it really stick out. There are various floating islands to go to. You'll start in world 1-1 which is more or less just a basic level. Unlike a lot of games (even side scrollers) Kirby doesn't waste a lot of time with a tutorial. You'll see signs that show you the basic controls, but they don't interrupt the flow of the game through the level.

Everything in Kirby is going to feel familiar to anyone who has played some of his previous outings. Kirby has the ability to suck in air and spit it out, as well as hover over his enemies. As before, Kirby can also suck up certain enemies and utilize their powers. There are tons of different enemies in the game, which make for a lot of different powers for Kirby to use. It's fun to mix and match and experiment. The game never abandons you, however. Always making sure the right enemy with the right power is close by for an upcoming mini-boss or for a difficult task at hand. Likewise, quite a few of your enemies respawn quickly should you lose your power up or lose a life. There are tons of abilities to copy throughout your adventure. Some of the best, however, come when you take in the mini-bosses. You'll be able to use whips, shoot arrows or slash with a sword in no time.

The best new addition to Triple Deluxe, however, is the Hypernova. Sometimes you'll find a special berry that lets Kirby use this fantastic technique. Utilizing it, you'll be able to suck up just about anything in your path from a long distance. The detail is fun to see, as well. Using the hypernova you might see Kirby uproot trees, suck in larger enemies he normally wouldn't be able to or even send enormous objects hurling back at enemies. There are also times when it's used to solve quick puzzles. Enormous blocks can be dragged to create paths. You'll also use this ability to defeat mini-bosses along the way.

It's the level designs in Kirby that'll delight more than anything. A lot of the levels are quite creative. And, at least for the first leg or so of your journey, every level introduces something new. But more than that, no level feels like any other level. As each one introduces something else, they also make sure to keep the utilization of those things coming in other ways. You might see a platform hanging from a rope that needs to be shot one moment with a simple arrow. The next, it's underwater and you have to find another means to cut the rope.

That's not all, there are few games that make quite as good use of the actual hardware as Kirby Triple Deluxe. The gyro controls even have some use without necessarily being annoying or feeling too tacked on. You might jump into a bowl of water and have to tilt the 3DS one way or the other to water plants or put out a fire. Even the 3D itself isn't actually bad. In many levels there are enemies in the foreground and the background. It's interesting to see enemies directly in your path trying to pummel you with attacks, but you also come across plenty in the background, throwing bombs into the foregrounds. Or even threats. In one level there's a cannon firing at you from the background. In other levels you'll see boulders rolling from the background into the foreground. This is all pretty cool stuff. And every now and then you'll find a star that allows you to go into the background and take out the enemies there. Putting on the 3D certainly helps to make some of these moments much easier to get through. Particularly in some of the games boss battles where the baddies jump to and from the background and foreground. In fact, the boss fights are some of the best things you'll see in Kirby Triple Deluxe. They are often unique battles. It might take a moment to recognize an area boss's pattern or to really gauge their attacks, but they'll certainly keep you on your toes. Some of the most exciting moments in Kirby Triple Deluxe come from the uniqueness of the boss fights. There simply aren't many moments like it on the 3DS.

The levels in Kriby Triple Deluxe are not short, either. They're actually quite lengthy, often ending with a mini-boss of some sort. But you'll want to go back into each level just the same an explore a little more. Every level has several keychains for you to find. Rare ones and common ones alike. But the real deal about each level is collecting the various sunstones. The boss of each area can't be accessed without the right amount of sunstones in your possession. If you find every sunstone in an area you'll be able to access an extra level as well. Kirby Triple Deluxe is a surprisingly lengthy game as a result if you decide you need to find everything there is to uncover.

If there was any complaints about Kirby Triple Deluxe it would be that the game itself is far too easy and simple. The game is no challenge whatsoever. Many enemies are easily dispatched and there are plenty of health restoring items everywhere. There are even some of King Dedede's minions that'll give you some food to put in your reserves so that you can restore your health at the press of a button or the tap of your bottom screen. This along makes even some of the more challenging boss fights a cakewalk. The game gets a little difficult going into the home stretch, but it's not difficult enough to be a problem. At the very least there's no Super Guide if you do happen to die too much, and Nintendo isn't throwing extra lives at you at every turn. Kirby Triple Deluxe is a really easy game, but at least Nintendo didn't opt to hold your hand with this one.

There are other things to Kirby as well. There's more than just the main campaign. There is also Kirby Fighters where many different Copy Ability Kirby's can battle. It's quite similar to Super Smash Brothers in this regard. There are even items and environmental hazards to beware. It's not quite as robust as Super Smash Brothers, however. There are only ten copy abilities to choose from and in Single Player it isn't really anything special. In multiplayer, however, it is surprisingly fun. There's also Dedede's Drum Dash. Which is like a rhythm game. You'll bounce on drums, collecting coins to get to the end of a level. It's timed and you get rewarded for finishing quickly, collecting all the coins and taking no damage. It's a surprisingly difficult game mini-game to get the hang of at first. Even though you're just bouncing from one drum to another. You'll have moments where you need to press the A button at the right time to bounce higher. The timing is a little hard to get, but once you do get it down it's a surprisingly fun little mini-game. It's short lived, however.

Graphically, Kirby has hardly looked this good on a handheld. The levels themselves (presented in 2.5D) are colorful and detailed. It's got a nice look and feel to it. The music is also just as playful sounding and fun. All told, artistically, Kirby is a great looking game. Everything also happens to animate really well. As mentioned earlier, the 3D is also quite good. It's a graphically good looking game with a great art design to accompany it. It's colorful and vibrant, easily making for one of the best looking side scrollers on the 3DS to date.

Kirby Triple Deluxe is a great game. It mashes its elements together really well and creates a nice meaty package for those interested. You probably won't spend as many time on the mini-games as you will the main campaign, but the fact that there is so much content included here makes the game worth the purchase for any Kirby fan. It may not be a difficult game, by any means, but clever and creative level design as well as lots of collecting to do is enough to keep the fun going for a long while. If you've enjoyed Kirby's previous outings then you ought to try Triple Deluxe because it's without a doubt one of his best.

Final Fantasy X-X2 HD Remaster Official Strategy Guide
Final Fantasy X-X2 HD Remaster Official Strategy Guide
by Joe Epstein
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.93
62 used & new from $10.44

38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Bad But Some Omissions Keep It From Being Great, March 18, 2014
The original Final Fantasy X guide by Bradygames was actually really good. It was a helpful guide that got you through the game with ease and clarity. The Final Fantasy X-2 guide was a bit larger and had a lot of info as well. Both guides are here in their entirety. The guides themselves are very identical to their original counterparts, just put into one big guide book. From the 367 or so pages that it is this seems like a bad thing at first. Really, the information has just been more condensed. Some things were cut or changed but it'll still be a helpful guide.

First, the Final Fantasy X section of the guide. In the past when Bradygames wrote strategy guides for games, they had this unusual tendency to leave in a lot of unused space. Case in point, the original Final Fantasy X guide by Bradygames was a whopping 272 pages. Here, it's just a little more than 160. Bradygames is often notorious for having a lot of space in their strategy guides left unused. The original Final Fantasy X guide was double spaced and also had sections where there would be enormous screenshots or artwork that sometimes covered up half a page. This is often a practice done to inflate the size of the guide itself. Sometimes it's easier to read but other times it seems like it's done so that the guide appears to be thicker. Here just about all the same info is there. Clearly, Bradygames wanted to conserve on space because everything here is condensed and compact. The font size is smaller, it's now a single spaced guide and it's in two columns. In some ways this is nice because it actually looks very well organized as a result. On the other hand, some things are also squished together. The maps (which are EXACTLY the same maps in the original guide) are somewhat smaller as a result. Likewise, there are moments where the text is really jumbled together.

There are a few major differences, however. The sections detailing characters and the Aeons is smaller. They aren't full bios. They also no longer show you each characters section of the sphere grid. These things might be okay for returning players, but not necessarily for newcomers. Likewise, the into on the Expert Sphere grid is pretty tame. They mention it and show you (although they insist on you going to their website for a larger version) but don't actually tell you much about it. Again, probably not that big of a deal, although NOT showing you where characters begin on the grid is a major issue.

The walkthrough, however, is very similar in a lot of ways. A lot of it is copied and pasted from the original guide. There are some sections that have been revised or rewritten but the basic instructions are the same. The boss strategies in particular are very identical. Some changes to the walkthrough are very present, however. For one, there is no longer a step-by-step objective list like there used to be. Likewise, the guide lists the enemies at the beginning of the area but not their stats. As I said, a lot of it is simply condensed. The bestiary in the back is exactly the same, however. So is the comprehensive look at Blitzball and all the stats for the players.

There are two major problems with the Final Fantasy X section I'm not fond of, however. The lesser of the two is that there is simply not enough coverage of the new stuff. Particularly the Dark Aeons. There's some preparation but the strategies aren't the best. The bigger of the two is that there is no mix chart for Rikku... or really anything about mixing at all. Considering how much emphasis is put on mixing for the Dark Aeons it's really surprising that we don't have anything for Rikku's mixes. Much like with the sphere grid, Bradygames tells you to go online to their website. If I'm going to pay for a strategy guide I don't want it to send me online. If that was the case I'd have already gone online.

All that said, some of the same problems are also still present. For one, the guide still has very little coverage on the monster arena. It tells you all the basics but for some of those creatures it would sure be nice to have some strategies or some guidance on what to expect.

The Final Fantasy X-2 guide is, likewise, largely the same as the original guide that's been published. Again, a lot of the text has been revised and a lot of the information has been condensed. Where as the original guide was a whopping 352 pages, it's been condensed to around 200 here. It is primarily in two columns as well with small font. There is not as much new to Final Fantasy X-2, however. If you have the original guide it'll help out just fine. Much like the Final Fantasy X section some of the same things have been done to condense it. There is no longer a list of objectives and the enemies in each area are named, but no stats are shown.

There is still a 100% completion checklist, although it's important to note that not EVERYTHING shown in that checklist is also in the walkthrough. Originally I felt this posed a problem before. And I find it still does now. The walkthrough is still somewhat disorganized. It's laid out just fine but still written in a play-as-you-go fashion. Meaning if you aren't following the walkthrough to a tee, you're going to miss something... but the problem is that you may find something on the checklist that is not actually described in the walkthrough at all.

The guide also gives you a trophy list for both games, but I find this to be somewhat useless. In my experiences with strategy guides I'd rather not be given a trophy list if it isn't going to be expanded into a trophy guide. I can open my PSN for the trophy list. Granted it also tells you the hidden trophies but the trophies that ARE hidden are trophies that you'll get through completing the story anyway. The good news is that the coverage of other trophies (such as the celestial weapons or dodging 200 bolts) are already covered in the walkthrough or in the sidequest. The point, however, is that it seems like a waste to simply list out the trophies when the player can already go to the list of trophies anyway.

If you already have the original Final Fantasy X and X-2 guides by Bradygames there isn't really much incentive to pick this one up. There isn't really a lot of information those guides wouldn't give you. Alternatively, if you managed to get a hold of the Piggyback Interactive guides for Final Fantasy X and X-2 then you won't get ANY new info at all since Piggyback would've already covered what came to be known as the "International Version."

The Bradygames guide isn't bad. It's not great either. Some of the info has been condensed but really the biggest problem is that they decided to omit things they had in there before or really condense it all down. The fact that they didn't actually cover some of the stuff they didn't cover before is also kind of a drag. If you have the original guides when they were published in 2001 and 2003 respectively you are probably better off with those guides.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 26, 2014 7:48 AM PDT

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster Special Edition
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster Special Edition
Offered by Delaware
Price: $42.99
63 used & new from $23.90

60 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Listen to My Story...", March 18, 2014
In 2001, the original Final Fantasy X came out and single-handedly brought the JRPG into the PS2 generation. It was a remarkable feat. It had a brilliant story, a good combat system and a soundtrack that was to die for. It quickly became recognized as one of the greatest JRPGs you could find on the PS2. It has had it's ardent fans and ardent haters alike. It is a game that garnered a lot of strong responses from gamers. Square-Enix is a little late at jumping on the HD bandwagon, but if there was one game in their catalog that definitely deserved one, it was Final Fantasy X. Final Fantasy X-2 is here as well, but it did not make the same splash as its predecessor. There are some things about Final Fantasy X that are still brilliant. It's nice to relive it and to experience it again. As for Final Fantasy X-2, though I would not claim it to be as memorable as the first one it had some great gameplay elements that still hold up well today.

Final Fantasy X centers on Tidus. He is a star Blitzball player, like his father before him. One night during a game a mysterious entity called Sin attacks and takes Tidus from his home and sends him into the land of Spira. There he meets Yuna, a summoner about to go on a pilgrimage to the various temples in Spira so that she can have the power to destroy Sin. Final Fantasy X has a lot to its story. It had a lot of well developed characters, but mostly it was willing to tackle a lot of themes. In particular, the large amount of time it spends looking at the fictional religion of Yu Yevon and the teachings present. It's quite a story. It is only a shame that the voice acting isn't that especially good. Final Fantasy X didn't have great voice acting in 2001 and it's certainly not better now. It's a good story but the voice acting takes some time to adapt to. Final Fantasy X-2, by comparison, does a slightly better job (although not by a whole lot).

The gameplay in Final Fantasy X still resonates quite well. There are random battles to be fought, but the battle system was quite intuitive at the time. You always know the order in which you and your enemies will take action. This allows for lots of strategy and planning as opposed to being quick on your feet. For some this made the game easy, for others it allowed for them to have more control over combat. Each character also had an overdrive gauge which was very similar to Final Fantasy VII's limit breaks. When the gauge is full you can use an overdrive attack, which is a powerful attack. Each character also has their own uses and "job" in battle. Tidus is good at hitting agile enemies, Wakka hits flying enemies with ease while others miss, Auron has piercing attacks, Lulu casts her magic, Rikku steals and disassembles machines and Kimahri can absorb abilities of his enemies and use them. But the most interesting is Yuna who can summon aeons that you'll use in battle. Each with their own set of abilities and attacks. You can also switch characters in battle at any time provided that they are not knocked out. Every character shares in experience.

The most amusing aspect of Final Fantasy X was the sphere grid. The sphere grid is Final Fantasy X's unique level up system that has certainly influenced some RPGs (most notably Tales of Xillia). Each character gains sphere levels and follows a path along the sphere grid. You activate various nodes using spheres to raise your stats and learn abilities.

In a nutshell many of these elements in Final Fantasy X still hold up. Final Fantasy X-2, on the other hand, was somewhat polarizing back in 2003. Yet, for what it's worth, over a decade later it's really not a bad game by any means. The story is not as strong and neither are some of the characters. On the other hand, it is a more open world than Final Fantasy X. In particular, the battle system is still fast paced and fun. It goes back to the ATB battle system instead. Each character has access to dress spheres where they learn various abilities to be used in battle. The jobs affect how fast they attack and this makes Final Fantasy X-2 a fun game to battle in. The system is unique. Each job plays its own role. White mages heal, thieves steal and warriors attack. Final Fantasy X-2 has such a non-linear approach it can come across as quite tough and challenging at times.

There are some moments in Final Fantasy X-2's tone that certainly clash from time to time with Final Fantasy X. Where as Final Fantasy X is quite sad in many respects and downtrodden, X-2 is a lot more upbeat. Both games are rather fun to play, but fans probably still see Final Fantasy X-2 as being a less "serious" game. Originally when I played Final Fantasy X-2, I did not care for it. Here, I'm okay with it. The battle system is fun. And while the story isn't nearly as good as the first one, it's not necessarily bad either.

The HD Remaster has quite a few things of note, however. While I would like to point out the HD visuals first, I'd rather start with the fact that this is the international version of the game. Meaning that for North American players there's a wealth of new content. First and foremost, the sphere grid. There is now a standard and expert version of the grid. The expert grid allows for slightly more flexability. Where as the standard grid kept most characters contained to their own section, the expert one lets you divert a lot sooner. This means characters may learn other characters abilities sooner rather than later. It is also a less straightforward path. The expert sphere grid will require more grinding. There are more paths that diverge. Where as the standard is a more straightforward path, the expert sphere requires you to be a lot more aware of what you're doing. You might find yourself going back one direction just to get an ability you missed. The standard sphere grid will, for the most part, take every character to every ability along their path, but the expert sphere grid is less concerned with that. It can make the game harder or easier. The reality is that you need to zero in on what you want sooner rather than later. The expert sphere grid alone can give you a totally different experience with Final Fantasy X. I would highly recommend veteran players go with it. Newcomers should stick to the standard grid.

The other big addition are the dark Aeons. In 2001 North American players completely missed out on this optional quest. These are ruthlessly challenging bosses with millions of HP, requiring the best and boldest from players. Likewise, there is another hidden boss called Penance These bits of extra content are worth your time if you're willing to invest it. But most of all, they make Final Fantasy X worth revisiting even for those who mastered it over a decade ago.

Final Fantasy X-2 doesn't really include much (if any) extra content, unfortunately. No new bosses or story elements. But the collection as a whole does include "Final Fantasy X-2" Last Mission as well as a prologue to Final Fantasy X-2. There is also an audio credits sequence. In terms of whether or not you're getting your bang for your buck it's no argument... you are getting a lot of content for the asking price.

There are some other notable changes. The visuals are actually quite noticeable. The font of the text is different, for instance. But more important, the actual look and art style is more expressive and vibrant. It looks fantastic and it runs in 1080p. Not only that, but it's just a smoother looking game. A lot of HD remakes neglect to touch up on some of the pre-rendered stuff but Final Fantasy X and X-2 certainly do. Even the prerendered scenes have no muddied textures or blotches. They're also in 16:9 like the regular game. It's clear there was a lot of care taken with this one. Lastly, the music has been rearranged. While I still remember the original soundtrack quite clearly some of the new arrangements definitely do justice to the original tunes. Final Fantasy X-2 does not have a rearranged soundtrack, however. It's a good sounding game. The voice acting on the other hand isn't that good. As I said, it wasn't that good back in 2001, but now it just sounds terribly outdated. You almost wish they had re-recorded the voices. I'm not too especially bothered by it, however. The gameplay and story trumps it and there's something deliciously nostalgic about bad voice acting and.

There are smaller things that I'm somewhat picky about. Chief among them is that Final Fantasy X spends a lot of time expressing its dialog in various cutscenes. The option to skip them isn't present. I wish Square had added that for when one decides to replay as some moments can get a little dragged out. Likewise, with the audio there are moments when the game has small hiccups or pauses before other characters begin speaking. The dialog doesn't always flow naturally because there are moments when the next line has to load. Those nitpicks aside there isn't much reason not to get this HD collection if you loved Final Fantasy X and X-2. Even if you liked one and didn't like the other, there's enough content to justify the purchase of just one game. Square-Enix included a lot of stuff here that makes it worthwhile for fans. The version I had also came with an artbook and it's gorgeous. It has an introduction by Yoshinori Kitase, the game's producer. It's a neat little artbook that comes with the Limited Edition of the game.

Overall, I'm satisfied with this HD reissue. Final Fantasy X was a fairly remarkable game to me and it still remains so. The updates and care taken to the game are worthwhile. For fans of these games, it is certainly work taking the time for that trip down memory lane.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 19, 2014 12:35 PM PDT

Yoshi's New Island - Nintendo 3DS
Yoshi's New Island - Nintendo 3DS
Price: $32.91
85 used & new from $20.92

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Everything Old is New Again, March 18, 2014
There are some Nintendo franchises that I wish they'd experiment with a little more. One of them is Yoshi's Island. The original Yoshi's Island debuted in 1995, where Yoshi was the main character while Mario took a backseat to all the action (quite literally too). It was a fun and challenging game. Nintendo doesn't experiment a lot with the Yoshi's Island series much. Case in point, the last entry came out in 2006 on the Nintendo DS. It was a great game too. Yoshi's New Island, however, feels like it's missing something. There's some good charm here and good aesthetic quality, but for the most part, Yoshi's New Island is merely just okay.

Yoshi's Island, like the many Mario games, has never really been about story. It's about the gameplay and the journey. There are six worlds to tackle in Yoshi's New Island. Each level is your basic 2D side scrolling platformer. Some levels are very well designed but there's nothing here that's quite as creative as what you saw in the original Yoshi's Island or its DS counterpart. For the most part many levels are straightforward without really providing the challenge you'd be used to from a Yoshi's Island game.

Yoshi controls as he always has. You can jump on some enemies, but for the most part you'll want to make them into eggs and throw them. For the most part, the formula hasn't changed. This can be a good or a bad thing. Yoshi's Island has a unique means by which you fail. Instead of there being a certain number of hits that Yoshi takes, what happens when he sustains damage is Baby Mario will float away in a bubble crying, while a timer counts down. If it reaches zero,Baby Mario is lost to Kamek. Yoshi's can still perish by falling on spikes or falling down pits, but for the most part as long as Mario stays on Yoshi's back, everything is fine. You can increase the timer by collecting stars. There are also still red coins to find among the yellow ones, and five flowers in each level. For those who must collect everything finding the red coins, five flowers and finishing a level with thirty stars is important. Every level has a grand total of 100 points. And you'll only get the full 100 by meeting these conditions.

There isn't a whole lot new here. Yoshi can now turn some enemies into mega eggs which can be used to destroy walls or help him sink in water when he needs to. It's not something that gets explored a whole lot, however. Other than that there really isn't that much which separates Yoshi's New Island from the previous two. It might not be a bad thing, but what makes it stand out so much is that the game's levels just aren't as clever. Every now and then you find some good memorable levels or a memorable boss fight, but for the most part the level designs aren't as unique as before. Likewise, they are also not as challenging. One of the best aspects about the Yoshi's Island games was that they were not especially easy games. In fact, they could be maddeningly hard at times to the point of frustration. Yoshi's Island DS in particular is still a fairly challenging game. Yoshi's New Island is a little too easy by comparison. There are some surprises but the game isn't going to test you very much.

The ease of the game is compounded by the fact that Nintendo still seems to have this idea that if you ARE failing too much you need a crutch to help you succeed. Fail too much in Yoshi's New Island and you'll get wings that allow you to pretty much fly all you want. If you STILL continue to die too much you'll then get a gold wing that'll let you fly around AND avoid taking damage. Yoshi's New Island is hardly challenging to need such a handholding device. More than that, as with so many of Nintendo's platformers... extra lives are plentiful. Even if you manage to fail a thousand times you'll probably never see a game over screen. It's easy to rack up far too many lives. In comparison to the two games before it, this one borders on coddling the player. If the levels weren't so simple and there was a greater challenge the need to provide several lives or a crutch to players might be somewhat justified. As it stands, however, Yoshi's New Island isn't quite like that.

But really the other truth is that after a while the game simply becomes more boring than previous games in the series. The levels have some creative spark to them but some of the best moments are few and far between. The new aspects introduced here aren't really expanded on, and at times they aren't even that necessary. We're introduced to them but the game eventually carries on without them. After such a long wait it's a shame, really, that there isn't much more given to us. Nintendo isn't beyond banking on our nostalgia, but usually there's something added to the experience to make sure you know it's about more than just childhood memories. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between didn't just bet on your memories of A Link to the Past, it went out of it's way to introduce aspects that played a key role within the game. It becomes more than just a nostalgia trip. There's nothing new here, and you won't be too compelled to go after all the points in a stage. There's a lot of nostalgia and some clever level design in some spots, but for the most part the game as a whole feels a lot more bland. The vehicle segments in particular, aren't very fun because they incorporate the 3DS gyro controls and they don't always handle so well. It feels less like a clever ploy and more like a tacked on gimmick.

The graphical presentation is charming. A lot of it looks much more like an oil painting this time around. In some regards this is fine, but the crayon style of the Super Nintendo game was most certainly more appealing. It only goes to show that aesthetics matter quite a bit. That's not to say Yoshi's Island looks bad. It most certainly doesn't. The look is charming and detailed. Although nothing here looks like it's too out of the ordinary. There are a lot of familiar enemies and objects here. It's a shame, actually, that Yoshi's New Island doesn't have a great deal of new enemies or even a lot of new design choices. There's a lot of stuff you'll see here that looks as though it were pulled form the original Super Nintendo game and simply given a polish. Other times the oil painting can make some of the game look muddied, even in spots where you don't want it to.

Let's be clear, Yoshi's New Island isn't a bad game. In fact it's actually quite good. It's just that you expect Nintendo to reach a little higher with their platformers. Especially when handling a property as important as Yoshi. When Donkey Kong Country returned there was certainly nostalgia, but there were also elements that helped make you realize it wasn't just another Donkey Kong Country game. It had elements that made it stand out in creative level design, great new mechanics and a challenge that reminded us why we loved old platformers in the first place. Yoshi's New Island doesn't quite reach that high. Given how long it's been since a new Yoshi game, it's a little disheartening that Yoshi's New Island only manages to feel like a nostalgia trip. It's a short game as well, though this was to be expected. It'll take you perhaps five or six hours to get through it. And this is where the real issue comes in. It is not that the game can be beaten in five or six hours that is the issue. The issue is that Yoshi's New Island doesn't compel you to play it again, nor will you find much incentive to try and score 100 points on every level. If there were a great deal of replay value here the five or six hours wouldn't be an issue at all.

If you've never played a Yoshi game before this certainly serves as a good introduction. If you have, however, you'll find everything you remember is here, but you'll also find that Nintendo certainly didn't take as much care and devotion with bringing Yoshi back as they could have.

Dark Souls II (Black Armor Edition) - PlayStation 3 Black Armor Edition
Dark Souls II (Black Armor Edition) - PlayStation 3 Black Armor Edition
Offered by DealTavern
Price: $53.95
56 used & new from $24.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You Will Lose Your Souls... Over and Over Again...", March 12, 2014
In 2011, the original Dark Souls hit store shelves with the slogan, "Prepare to Die." It was an unapologetic challenge and a masterpiece. One that spawned an enormous cult following. Nearly three years later fans still talk about Dark Souls. Fans of Dark Souls don't just like the game. They love it. They're passionate about it. To this day I'm still thrilled, awed and challenged by Dark Souls. Needless to say a sequel to Dark Souls has very high expectations. It's especially daunting because the original is such a huge cult classic--one that didn't need too many major refinements to begin with. Dark Souls II is definitely familiar to anyone who played the original or who played Demon's Souls. But it also has some surprises.

You play as an undead who is seeking to break the curse upon you before you go hollow. That is the story of Dark Souls II in a nutshell, but the story of Dark Souls isn't comprised to just a basic plot alone. The world you'll enter has a lot of diverse characters, lore and a lot of storytelling through more than just dialog to get you to understand what's going on. It certainly has more dialog to help you along than the first game, but the emphasis here is still on exploring your surroundings, meeting a diverse cast of characters and the lore of the land in and of itself. That's not to say the story is somehow bad or put under the bus. It is only to say that the approach to storytelling here is not like every other game out there.

As with the first one you'll begin by choosing a class and selecting a gift. Each class comes with their own set of levels and skills at first. A sorcerer, for example, begins with a little bit of magic and a boost in intelligence while a warrior begins with a boost in strength and will be able to wield better melee weapons at the start. As with the first, however, no class is restricted in any way. A sorcerer can still use swords and a warrior can still use magic. You may, however, find your stats growing differently as they start off with higher stats in certain attributes than others. There are a couple of new classes added to the mix. The swordsman, who is able to wield two swords at a time with ease. And the explorer who has some slightly more balanced stats but the real benefit is that they start off with more items than any other class. You can customize your character to look anyway you want and you have a lot of options to choose from.

Once all this is done, Dark Souls II becomes incredibly familiar with anyone who has played either Souls game before it. You've got a life gauge and you've got a stamina gauge. Each swing of your weapon drains your stamina. When depleted you can no longer attack until it replenishes. Your stamina also effects how long you can hold your guard against an enemies attacks with a shield. Combat in Dark Souls II is just as meticulous as it's ever been. Those who enjoyed the original Dark Souls, though, may have an edge up if only because some moments take a very similar approach. What is slightly different, however, is that the AI of your enemies has increased. Enemies no longer stand around watching as their allies fall to your blade. They are more willing to jump in and attack you while you're in the midst of combat. While this happened in the original, it was often easier to lure enemies away from each others and divide them. This doesn't happen as frequently in Dark Souls II. Combat also flows faster and smoother. The strategic element is still there to a large degree. You still have to be careful with your stamina and utilize dodge rolls and backsteps.

That being said, it's quite surprising that Dark Souls II doesn't quite throw you in the same way the original does. One of the hallmarks of the first Dark Souls was that it established itself as not being a very handholding type of game from the get go. Dark Souls II's tutorial area allows for more exploration and throws some relatively weak enemies at you early on. Where as the first one plunged you into a boss fight within the first five minutes, Dark Souls II takes a bit more care to let you get acquainted first. This isn't to say that Dark Souls II holds your hand. In fact, it is better described as a false sense of security. There are markers and messages telling you the controls while also presenting you with an obstacle or objective to try and apply what it is you've just learned. But it isn't as quick to throw you into a boss battle. For the enthusiast this might suggest Dark Souls II is easier than the first one, but in truth it's not long before it actually start really punishing you.

Dark Souls is a game where dying is an integral part of the experience and where learning from your deaths is also integral. And make no mistake, you will die. You will die a lot. You'll fight bosses and perish a couple of times before learning their patterns and learning how to defend against their attacks and dodge them. But the sense of accomplishment when you finally do overcome a boss is quite exhilarating. Dark Souls II is one of the few games where the sense of accomplishment is the reward. You are, however, rewarded in more than just a sense of accomplishment. Usually either with better weapons, rare items or a multitude of souls which you can use to increase the attributes of your characters, or buy some much needed weapons, armor and items. . Also make no mistake that Dark Souls II expects you to really work for those rewards. To get to a rare item or a chest often takes a lot of work. Sometimes taking some daring risk or getting past unusually powerful enemies to do so. Dark Souls II is no hand holding experience by any means and it hammers this in several times.

Death is going to happen. When you die you will lose all your souls. When you respawn from a bonfire you have a chance to get them back by running to place where you died and retrieving those souls. Of course, what killed you is usually still lurking around as well. The penalty for death is slightly more harsh than the first game, however. Each time you die now, your maximum health will also decrease. And this stacks until you are at fifty percent health. The only way to cure it is by burning an effigy, which is a fairly rare item to come by. Considering how many times you'll perish, this is an invaluable item. The game also makes another couple of tweaks. In the first Dark Souls you could keep respawning enemies and killing them to your hearts content to grind for souls. Dark Souls II takes a different approach. Eventually the enemies in the area will stop respawning, cutting off your ability to farm for souls or grind. While this seems strange at first, you do have an item that allows you to revive every enemy in the area (including bosses) and they'll all be more powerful when you do.

Dark Souls II still has a good deal of covenants to join, items to collect and deadly traps in store. Exploring the world is both a fascinating and frightening experience. It is a game where death can (literally) lurk around the next corner. As I said, you will die a lot. Gamers easily frustrated will find this is not the game for them by any means. Dark Souls II isn't always unfair about death, but you will approach several moments where you'll have to die first before you can succeed. You might stumble upon a trap that'll kill you, or find yourself encountering an enemy you weren't prepared for who will massacre you. For the purist of Dark Souls, this is the name of the game. This is what you've come to expect. For those who ignore the warnings that you'll lose your souls over and over again (or who constantly ignore the "Prepare to Die," slogan) this game is a rude awakening. It can be frustrating. Especially when you lose everything you've worked so hard to obtain, but Dark Souls II is still a rewarding experience.

One of the most rewarding aspects of Dark Souls was always the online community. Throughout the experience you'd find people who would leave messages. Some were quite helpful like warning you of a fall or a tough enemy ahead. Others were deceitful, such as tricking you into jumping off a ledge when you shouldn't have or leading you to your doom in other ways. This returns in Dark Souls II. And like before, you can rank them. A lot of the time they're helpful. Other times they can be deceptive. That being said, the community serves as a nice guide at times. Often you'll learn when new dangers are around the corner or when great rewards await. The community works for and against you, however. Soon you'll find yourself being invaded by other players. One of the other new additions to Dark Souls II is being able to use an item to make the enemies in the area notice the person invading you. This seems small, but it adds a nice layer into the experience. Dark Souls has always had a unique online experience and it continues here. You'll be invaded and you'll be able to summon an ally to help you fight off tough bosses. You can also touch bloodstains to see the final moments of another characters death.

Whenever you need a rest or need to level up or shop for wares, Dark Souls II provides you a hub area that is a lot more similar to the Nexus in Demon's Souls. It slowly becomes populated with more people who can be both your friend or your ally. Some of the NPCs carry valuable items and you can attack them at any time, although they're no slouches. They'll come back at you. But once you kill them they're gone. While some carry rare items others are necessary for you to go through your adventure.

There are also plenty of covenants abound. You can join some that add layers to the online experience. Some covenants have an emphasis on helping other players while others put an emphasis on invading them. Most of them will be, from the outset, indistinguishable from the first game, but there's a little extra layer here. There's a lot more emphasis on the online experience here. In particular, a covenant that will summon someone to your aid any time you get invaded is rather nice.

Graphically speaking, Dark Souls II looks really good. The rag doll physics aren't present here anymore. There are also fewer dips in the framerate. Every now and then there is still a hiccup but the game runs smoothly. Likewise, the game sounds magnificent. The sound effects are good, but the music score is just as haunting as it can be. There is certainly a wider range of music here than in the previous game. It's a good looking and sounding game. That's not to say some issues don't get in the way. When listening to other characters speak there are some strange pauses. The dialog and voice acting itself is quite good, but sometimes the game has to load the next line of dialog.

Dark Souls II is a huge experience. The world is enormous in all sorts of ways. There is plenty to explore, lots of characters to meet and plenty of enemies to kill and be killed by. Dark Souls II is a good game and great for those who want a challenge. It can feel unfair in its approach to difficulty sometimes. Dark Souls II doesn't hold your hand in any way, shape or form. When you explore the game will throw just about anything and everything at you without ever preparing you for what is to come next. This makes the game exciting and exhilarating, but it can also be dreadful. Players who simply rush into any situation expecting to be triumphant will be knocked down a few pegs. Dark Souls II is hard, but not for the wrong reasons. A lot of the time when you die you'll feel it is through your own doing or missteps as opposed to the game itself. The game also expects you to learn from those deaths, however. Obviously this means that Dark Souls II is not going to be a game for everyone. But it's difficulty is meticulously well designed. If you accept that several deaths are inevitable going in, Dark Souls II is apt to be a fun experience.

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