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October 10th, 2014

Videogame apocalypses

What am I doing right now?

I just, finally, wrapped up the level I was working on during the previous update. We took quite a detour with that one, honestly. Between now and then I've been working on new enemies, plethora of missing sound effects, made a cinematic sequence and dabbled in test coding for alternate streaming methods. And then I returned to adding those finishing touches.

While this may sound bad – not making progress on a certain front and instead focusing on something completely different – it's actually the contrary. This is in fact the strength of two-man-developer approach; The moment you feel burned out about one part of the development, you can always drop it and work on something else! You'll never get bored, as there's always something else you could be working on. And what you work on really doesn't matter on the longer run – whatever it is, progress is being made.

Any way, that level is now complete. I have to return to it later and add all the InfoCOMP entries once I've finished writing them, but otherwise it's battle ready. I've already moved onto the next level, which will be quite a challenge. It's literary something I've never done before and every piece of artwork within it has to be custom made. I'm not going to say any more, as this is one of those 'special plot-twist' levels that is supposed to come out of left field. But rest assured, it'll make you go 'oh this is new in TAGAP!'.

I'm I too much of a tease? Sorry, I just hate spoilers with passion, myself. Speaking of...

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

After Final Fantasy XIII-2 comes the last part of this grand trilogy, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Since I've covered the previous two games in detail, let's wrap things up proper. Now, Final Fantasy being as story driven as it is, I can't really write about Part III without spoiling Part II.

So, if you don't want the XIII-2 spoilt for you, skip to the next chapter of the blog.

Still here? Okay then.

In the end of XIII-2, the time itself started to unravel and all-consuming chaos enveloped the Grand Pulse, heralding the doom for everything. With Serah dead, the whole world dying and Lightning put into crystal sleep, it was a great cliffhanger. I was certain that in the next game, seeing that Lightning was our main heroine again, we would have the classic 'let's save the world from the certain destruction' story. There would be tons of casualties, yeah, but we would save the day, right? You know what? I was completely wrong – and I'm really of glad I was.

You see, Lightning Returns is basically Rapture The Game. And by Rapture I mean the biblical one, not Bioshock. Set 500 years after XIII-2, all of time is destroyed and the world is done for good. Only Almighty Bhunivelze, the God of Gods in XIII lore, could save the day but he says 'screw this' and calls for the Apocalypse. The time is set and now Lightning, awakened from her crystal sleep as Bhunivelze's Saviour, has exactly 13 days to save enough souls to populate the New World, built from the ashes of this one.

One more catch to the proceedings is the fact that time being destroyed and the Goddess of Death killed, everyone in the world is practically undying and no-one ages. People can still die out of sickness or through violence, but no-one has aged or died of old age in 500 years. This means that even though the world has been dying for 500 years, many of the familiar faces are still around, only carrying half-a-millennium of hardships on their shoulders.

This setting came so out of left field I was pretty stunned, but after the initial shock I really liked it. I've seen the story of 'save the world from certain doom' hundreds of times, so it was really refreshing to witness a completely different take on it all. Oh, and if you have an issues with the religious themes – if you have stern beliefs of your own or oppose some other view – you should know that the religion in XIII is not equivalent to anything in our world and you can enjoy the story regardless of your beliefs. It's not pro- or anti-anything.

While the story was interesting, I found the completely re-done combat system somewhat uncomfortable. The game tries to meld the spectacle fighter with J-RPGs, but to me it felt more like the 'worst of both worlds'; Not tactical enough to pass as a proper J-RPG and way too sluggish and unresponsive for an action game. By the visuals and the direct-control-approach, your every gamer instinct demands you to start hammering out combos like in DmC or Ninja Gaiden. However, doing so drains your ATB so fast that all you can do is sit and wait for it to refill. That said, judging by the Interwebs many Final Fantasy fans seem to like it, calling it the best system so far, so try the demo out for yourself to find out which camp you fall into.

Final thoughts on the ending of the trilogy? While I found it to be the weakest of the three, it's still a great game with one of the most unique scenarios I've seen to date. And if you've played the first two games, you kind-of owe it to yourself to see the end of Grand Pulse. Heck, even if you're not a fan of the new combat system, pick the game up from the bargain bin, set it on 'Easy' and experience the story with minimal fuss.

Backlog continues

Phew, in total Final Fantasy XIII trilogy took me over 140 hours to complete. Considering I only play one story-driven game at a time – and thanks to TAGAP development I have only about two hours a day to play games – this means I haven't played anything but Final Fantasy XIII for several months now. It was a fun ride I don't regret, but I had to pick up something very different for the next game.

That game was Lost Planet: Extreme Condition. Yes, my backlog has games eight years old in it – dedicating my free time almost exclusively for TAGAP since 2003 has forced me to skip quite a few gems over the years. Lost Planet was, in many ways, the polar opposite of Final Fantasy; There is practically no story or characterisation, to the point you have to squint really hard and read between the lines in order to understand the motivations. Instead, it's the giant VS machine guns that do the talking on EDN3.

While Lost Planet had it's issues, I liked it for what it was. In more ways than one it felt like the more polished, triple-A cousin of Earth Defence Force franchise. Both involve mowing down thousands of insect aliens in a heavily armed power armours, while occasionally facing off with Godzilla-sized behemoths. The only real difference lies in the production values, as where EDF games look like budged releases they are, Lost Planet is still a stunner after all these years. Seriously, the snow storms of EDN3 still look phenomenal, to the point the only game that comes even close is the way-more-recent Dead Space 3.

Next up; Suiting up as the proto-MIB in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. It's definitely not the 'XCOM meets Bioshock' the project started out as, but closer to 'XCOM meets Mass Effect 3' with less story. I'm a couple of missions in and while I'm not sure what to think of it just yet, it does have some promise.

Doctor Who

Here in Finland we're six stories into the Series 8 now and Capaldi's 12th Doctor is taking shape. If I would have to sum him up somehow, that would be a combination of the Tenth and the Seventh Doctors; He has the care-free, daredevil-ish approach to time travel, but it seems underneath it all he is always thinking several plays ahead, weaving schemes not even his closest friends are aware of. I guess that makes The Twelfth Doctor the most dangerous of the bunch – unless you count The Valeyard, of course.

As for the stories, I've really liked them so far. I know some fans absolutely hated the surprise twist of Listen, but – though I won't spoil it for you – I found it intriguing. While it did shine light onto something we've never seen – or wished to see, for that matter – it didn't change anything, merely added to what we already knew. Time Heist was absolutely brilliant hi-concept escapade, Into the Dalek was yet another interesting character study of the Daleks and The Caretaker finally brought Danny Pink to the forefront.

Now the series has gone on a break here in Finland. And not because of the broadcaster YLE – the Finnish equivalent of UK's BBC – but because of BBC Worldwide. Apparently BBC no longer wants to send the episodes beforehand for subtitling and instead want to translate everything by themselves. I guess they made this decision in order to avoid any further pre-release leaks – none of which originated from Finland, mind you – but it still sucks, big time. As an insult to the injury I watch Doctor Who from YLE Areena (which is like BBC's iPlayer), from which I turn the subtitles off. So to me the delay is not only artificial, but stems from a subject that doesn't even concern me. Oh, well, I can still get my DW fix from Big Finish!

Okay, that was one monster-of-an-update with very little TAGAP talk. Don't worry though, next time we'll likely have something more meaningful to update you about.

Until next time,

Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin