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August 31st, 2014

Time Travel August

What am I doing right now?

Right now I'm crafting a series of humongous billboards for the level that leads to the space penguin church I've mentioned several times in the past. Spending much time on these might seem trivial, but it's not; These are actually an important part of the level and the narrative. Not to mention that this segment being one of the most linear so far, the least I can do is to make look really interesting!

I know I'm being really vague again, but as always I'm trying to avoid spoilers. Perhaps I'll be lifting the veil on this subject when we get to introducing the enigmatic religious leader of Pluto.

On the programming side I've been ironing out the few remaining kinks in the animation system and adding some new features to it while I'm at it. For example, in addition to engine-generated parametric animations occurring during attacks and the like, you can now create custom, scripted ones as well. While majority of the game still works on the automatically generated ones – like a melee-enemy swinging whatever it's holding in its hands – you can now create completely custom poses for that added extra flare.

Final Fantasy XIII-2

So, yeah, I liked Final Fantasy XIII so much I went straight to XIII-2.

I'm a sucker for time travel stories and when it comes to video games, this is likely the most well thought out I've seen to date. While many games have touched upon the subject, from Timesplitters to Bioshock Infinite, FF XIII-2 lets you play Time Lord proper, solving paradoxes, creating new timelines, the works! You can even rewind the pockets of time you've visited for replaying events for alternative results.

Also, this being time travel tale, you get to see the masterfully crafted universe introduced in XIII grow and – as is the way of things – decay across the centuries. Make no mistake; You'll have no business in playing XIII-2 if you haven't played XIII as great deal of the game's charm comes from seeing how the world evolves and what impact your actions have across the timelines.

While the time travel mechanics and writing are nothing short of brilliant, XIII-2 falters a bit when it comes to gameplay design. What I liked the most about XIII was the way it discarded all the pointless fluff, most of which were relics from the JRPG genre past; Stuff that really had no place in modern game design. However, XIII-2 back-pedals quite a bit and brings back multitude of these elements. While some of them work quite well – like the whole monster raising bit – some of them are just ugly reminders how unnecessary they are.

The biggest offender of this is, without a doubt, the return of the invisible random encounters. After XIII's brilliantly crafted gameplay with visible monsters you could avoid and/or plan for, XIII-2 goes back to NES age and spawns them at your feet on random. Sure, some monsters you can avoid, but that doesn't change the fact that in some areas you are hit with an encounter after encounter, at random, with barely a couple of seconds of travel progress in the between.

This becomes a real issue later in the game when you have to search for hidden items in order to progress. Yes, you got that right; Invisible artefacts required to progress. You seek them out with your Mog the moogle, who senses when you are getting close to them – and this would've been okay in the XIII's world and mechanics. However, this is XIII-2 with its large, sometimes confusing-to-navigate maps... filled with those goddamned random encounters.

Still, in the end I'd say Final Fantasy XIII-2 was well worth the trip. It may have its, some of them quite severe, but JRPGs are all about storytelling. In that sense, XIII-2 just might be the crown jewel of the genre. I've already started the final chapter in the trilogy, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII and that one is a very different beast – so different I don't know what to make of it just yet. More on that once I've completed it, eh?

Doctor Who

Well, we couldn't avoid this topic, now could we? For the first time in the history of the show the Finnish equivalent of BBC, YLE, is showing the series on time. This means that where in the past I didn't see the stuff until the DVDs were released in the UK, now the episodes are airing only a day after the BBC début. Thus I can actually already comment on the arrival of Peter Capaldi, the 12th Doctor (who actually is 13th, but for sake of simplicity, let's call him 12th).

What did I think of Mr. Capaldi? He was exactly as brilliant as I anticipated him to be. Unlike with his predecessor Matt Smith, I was sold on him being the Doctor almost the moment the casting was announced. Don't get me wrong, after I saw Mr. Smith's performance I was 100% on board, but prior to that I was really unsure where he would go with it. Capaldi's performance turned out to be equally intriguing to that of Smith, only with a very different kind of energy.

And for those lamenting for The Doctor being an older gent, it for sure isn't slowing him down. In fact when he kicks into action gear he is even more energetic than Smith or even Tennant! But Capaldi's age does play into things, as when he stops to dialogue with the villains, his performance has more gravitas and authority. Combine that with the certain aura his performance has, The 12th Doctor has already earned his place as another unique take on the everlasting time traveller.

Now, about the episode itself, Deep Breath. I've seen a lot of negative reactions towards the episode and I have to disagree with most of the comments. I do admit it isn't the best episode ever to introduce a new Doctor, but in this case that really wasn't necessary. As I mentioned earlier, I had doubts about Matt Smith prior to seeing him in the role. However, his introduction episode, The Eleventh Hour, is one of the series' all time highlights. And it really needed to be just that; It had to introduce Smith's Doctor in such a way no-one would ever doubt either the actor or the character ever again.

With Deep Breath, the point was less about assuring the audience and more about just introducing the character. In this respect it really reminded me of Robot, the story that introduced Tom Baker. In all honesty that episode was, much like Deep Breath, ridiculously cheesy and bonkers compilation of Doctor themes past and present. The point was simply to show how this new guy reacts to these classic situations – and much like with Robot, I'm totally confident 'this new guy' will lead the series into another great, new era.

Until next time,

Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin