So, I've been playing Final Fantasy XIII lately. I got the game at launch, played to about 20 hours in, encountered a fight I couldn't win within two attempts, stop playing, then just never got back to it. Fast forward three years, and I have completely forgotten pretty much everything about the game: the characters, the story, and how the battle system even works.

So I started again, from the beginning. And it made me want to watch Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children again. There's a joke in there about FFXIII's story-to-gameplay ratio, but I'm not going to make it.

Just so we're clear, for the most part in this post I'm going to be talking about Advent Children Complete, the director's cut of the movie that was released on Blu-Ray in 2009, not the original release from 2005. It boasts about 30 minutes of brand new footage over the original, as well about 1,000 edited scenes overall, apparently. It's definitely the version of the movie to watch, as the new content helps to flesh out some of the issues with the somewhat hard-to-follow plot, which was a sticking-point for many people.

There is one problem with the new content though: it's almost too good. I'm not talking about the deep and nuanced intricacies of the plot they show, or the fantastically crafted, well-rounded characters. I mean the actual fidelity of the CG. It looks great. The new scenes are all super-sharp and amazing to watch. Unfortunately, it's a fairly stark contrast to some of the material from the original cut of the movie. Now, don't get me wrong, that CG was nothing short of genuinely amazing back in 2005, and it still holds up really well, but it just looks... grimy compared to the newly rendered scenes. There are a lot of moments in the movie where it'll transition from sharp, great looking visuals, to something that is clearly just upscaled SD. Considering the entire movie is like, 75% fight-scenes, you don't really notice it too much amidst all the fast-moving badassery that's going on for the majority of the film, but it's something that is disappointingly noticeable during the slower-paced, more character driven moments. It's a bummer.

Being a CG movie, even the original DVD release would have almost certainly have been originally rendered at resolutions possibly well exceeding 1080p, so quite why Square decided for its "complete" HD version of the film to include scenes upscaled from DVD resolutions is beyond me. It makes no sense. Unless Square are complete idiots (which, let's be fair, isn't completely out of the question), they would almost certainly have high-resolution versions of the original scenes sitting on workstations and hard-drives somewhere.

But enough about that, let's talk about the film itself. Advent Children is duuumb. It is a dumb movie. But it's dumb in a way that I can usually get behind. It's two hours of gooey fanservice. It's 10% characters talking about often the hard-to-follow, sometimes inconsequential plot stuff, and 99% characters you know and love doing wicked-awesome shit. I mean seriously, the animators themselves acknowledged that the rule of cool was the only rule they followed when making the fight scenes.

Angst Inc. CEO, Cloud Strife

Angst Inc. CEO, Cloud Strife

The film takes place two years after the end of Final Fantasy VII, and although there is a small sort-of-recap at the start of the film, you're generally not going to have a fucking clue what is going on or who anybody is if you haven't played through the original game before. Thankfully, one of the special features on the DVD and Blu-Ray is just that: a full recap of the events of the game. Having not watched it though, I can't attest to it's usefulness. Myself being a huge fan of the 1997 PlayStation classic though, that was never an issue for me going in.

So anyway, two years after FFVII. Humanity is trying to get it's shit back together after Sephiroth almost destroyed the planet by summoning a giant meteor at the end of the original game. The primary setting is a town built on the edge of the now completely ruined Midgar, appropriately named, "Edge". Cloud, who now operates a delivery service with Tifa (as well as holding majority shares in Angst Incorporated) is spending his days being alone and not really talking to anyone and riding around on his sweet motorcycle.

Meanwhile, there's a strange sickness going around, dubbed "Geostigma". It manifests as a strange, black, rash-like appearance somewhere on the body. It's depicted as being occasionally pretty painful and kills you by... making you... sort of, melt? I dunno. That part's never really explained. Eventually it's revealed that OH NO, Cloud has the stigma as well! And he doesn't consider himself fit to help anyone else, let alone himself, which is why he spends the first half of the movie living out his days in angst-town. It should be noted that Cloud was never that angsty to begin with in the original game, and for as little as he was, he pretty much got over it by the end. So why is he so angsty now? Because the fandom had overblown that characteristic so much, that the designers felt people wouldn't recognise him any other way.

I'm fucking serious.

Nope. Don't remind me of anyone. Not at all.

Nope. Don't remind me of anyone. Not at all.

Meanwhile, there are a group of three men with silver hair running around generally causing mischief for Cloud and what remains of Shinra and the Turks. Two of those three silver-haired men are also pretty-boys, and the three of them are going around looking for their "Mother". Gee, does that remind you of anyone? Hmm, I wonder if Sephiroth is gonna show up at some poiOH WAIT he totally does because he's depicted on the fucking cover of both the original DVD and the Complete Blu-Ray release.

So anyway, a bunch of plot happens, and Kadaj (the leader of the silver-haired dudes) finally gets what he's been searching for the entire movie. He then transforms into Sephiroth, a new version of One-Winged Angel starts playing the background, Sephiroth soliloquises for a bit, then he and Cloud proceed to have a big fight scene which consists of Sephiroth taunting Cloud a lot and Cloud using his badass sword-that's made-up-of-a-bunch-of-other-swords to cut through entire skyscrapers. Rule of cool, so you know, petty things like the laws of gravity and physical momentum don't apply here. The fight-scene culminates with Sephiroth impaling Cloud on his huge, 12-foot long katana, then repeatedly stabbing him in the air, like fifty times, in a scene not present in the original film. That original cut of the movie was almost completely bloodless, but Cloud is a fucking bloody mess at the end of the fight in this version.

But Cloud eventually defeats Sephiroth, because that's how these stories work, right? Sephiroth disappears, Kadaj returns to the livestream, then the other two silver-haired dudes show up and Cloud is almost killed in a massive explosion, but managed to survive because of the POWER OF FRIENDSHIP. Or something.

Anyway, Cloud sold all his shares in Angst Incorporated and all the kids with Geostigma get cured in a weird baptism scene. Roll credits.

Now, among anime fans, there's a sub-group of people who prefer to watch their stuff with the original Japanese VO. Almost to the point of utter elitism. I always thought of that as the dumbest shit ever (the elitism, not the watching in Japanese part), but having watched Advent Children's English dub quite a few times now, I can almost see why people could get like that. Almost. Let's just say that Advent Children's English dub is... well, a little hokey in spots.

Now, I believe I've said somewhere before, either here or on Twitter, that I'm not much of an anime fan, so I can't say this definitively, but the bad English dub in this, as well as presumably other anime seems to be (to me, anyway) due to the static nature of the medium. With anime, movies, etc, when dubbing into other languages, you're pretty limited by the movements of the characters' mouths. So not only does the localised dialogue have to be written in such a way to accommodate this, it then has to be read in a way that accommodates it, which is where all the dialogue with flat reads and weird cadences seems to stem from. When localising a video game, you can just edit the movement of the characters' mouths to match the new dialogue. Better yet, if it's a 2D game, you theoretically don't have that problem at all.

Of course, you could just ignore that and record dialogue regardless, but for Advent Children's English dub, Square seem to have opted to try and get the voices matching the mouths as closely as possible, which results in some just really, really terrible reads on some of those lines. I'd almost want to watch the film with it's original Japanese VO, not because I think it's necessarily better, but because it means simply not having to listen to some of the cringe-worthy stuff that comes out of the characters' mouths in the English version.

Part of me wants to hate Advent Children. The story is kinda bad, the characters aren't really fleshed out too well (and in some cases flanderised to the point where they're completely one-dimensional), and the second half of the movie is one big fight-scene. But then there's the other part of me, the part that looks at Final Fantasy VII with rose-tinted glasses that have six-inch thick lenses. The part of me that of me that was only 15 when this movie originally came out, a movie I had excitedly followed the development for from pretty much the moment it was announced.

There are parts of the film that are bad. There are parts that are downright terrible. But then there are parts that super dumb, but in a way I almost can't help but like. It's no Final Fantasy VII, but then again, nothing else is.

So, I've been playing some Persona 4 Arena the past couple of weeks. It finally released over here in the UK and the rest of Europe after a fairly agonising nine-month wait. That in itself is something that may or may not be worthy as a separate little ranty post on its own. Atlus are somewhat... incompetent when it comes to getting their games released in Europe. I sort of understand the logistical problems they face, but having virtually ALL of their games releasing in Europe so late after the rest of the world in this day and age is... well, a little annoying to say the least. In P4A's case, it was also region-locked, so importing a copy wasn't even an option.

But alas, Persona 4 Arena is out now. And it's a video game-ass video game, so I'm going to attempt to articulate how I feel about it, as well as just fighting games in general.

Persona 4 Arena is a rather... interesting package. It's a sequel to Persona 4. That game, however, was a PS2 JRPG that released in 2008 ('09 in Europe). I'm not sure anyone was quite expecting a sequel to one of the most beloved JRPGs in recent memory to be a... fighting game. And it's a fighting game-ass fighting game. It's basically BlazBlue, but with characters from Persona 4 and 3. Hell, it's even developed for the most part by the same people.

So what you have is a game that appeals to two very specific audiences: people who enjoyed Persona 4 and want more from those characters and that world, and those who enjoy ArcSys's specific brand of somewhat mechanically-complex fighting games, two groups where you would think there wouldn't be a whole lot of overlap. At least that's how I see it. And while I can't speak with much authority on the latter, there's more than enough Persona in here to satisfy those who fall into that corner.

The bulk of my 36 hours in the game thus far (according to Raptr) has been spent with the story mode. Of the two groups mentioned above, I fall into the Persona 4 group. There was a time where I was (and arguably still am) borderline-obsessed with that game. As you should know by now, I love a game that tells a good story, and Persona 4 tells a pretty damn good story. So, I'll happily take more of that in any form I can get it, even if that form happens to be a reasonably complex fighter that I will never be particularly great at playing.

Sound advice there, from Akihiko-san,

Sound advice there, from Akihiko-san,

Fortunately, for those that are only here because of the Persona hook, you don't need to be good at (or even like) fighting games to get everything the game's story mode has to offer. It's essentially a visual novel, with a few very easy, single-round fights strewn throughout, which you play from the perspective of each character separately. So, lots of voiced dialogue, a whole lot of reading, and not much actual gameplay. But for people that really enjoyed the original game, that's not really a detriment. Initially, you only start out with a couple of characters as options, but as you play through more character's stories, other characters are opened up. As I said, you play each story from a particular character's perspective, as if that character was the main protagonist, which left me wondering how they'll treat the canonicity of the story come the next time we eventually hear from these characters again. The plot of the game plays out the same regardless of what character you play as, with only some minor differences throughout, so it'll be interesting (though not a particularly wild guess) who's story will be canon. Or maybe if they make Persona 4 Arena 2, and structure it the same way, they won't have to deal with that. As you could expect from a fighting game, the scope of the story obviously isn't quite on par with it's 60+ hour RPG big brother, but there's more than enough here to keep fans satisfied for the time being.

I won't say much else about the story, since I feel you can't really do much justice talking about it in depth without talking about some of the details of Persona 4's story. And Persona 4's story is one well worth experiencing, in my opinion. Not your typical JRPG fare, but for the most part plays out like something more akin to a Scooby-Doo adventure. It's a nice change of pace from the sort of stuff you'd find from the likes of Final Fantasy and its ilk.

The rest of the modes featured in the game are the standard affair you'd expect to find in a fighting game. Arcade mode, all fighting with a (heavily) condensed version of each character's story; Score attack mode, where you're pitted up against ridiculously hard, souped-up versions of the characters: score attack's difficulty is one higher than the highest selectable difficulty in the options menu and the AI fighters have some insane buffs applied to them; Challenge mode, where you have to pull off a bunch of combos for each character; Practice mode, which is exactly that, and some fairly standard modes for online play. Everything that a fighting game fan would reasonably expect, it's in there. I'm not great at fighting games, but the Persona hook is enough to keep me wanting to play and try and get a little bit better, even if I'll never be at any real competitive level. And if nothing else, it's that much more satisfying on the rare occasions where I actually do manage to come out on top against another human being.

If nothing else, it's certainly a flash game.

If nothing else, it's certainly a flashy game.

And that sort of leads me nicely into the part where I wanted to talk a bit about fighting games in general. More specifically, the one major issue that I have with the genre in general. I'm not good at fighting games. In fact, I'm downright terrible at them. And while I haven't played every fighting game ever made, I think I've played enough to get to the point where I feel comfortable enough to say what I'm about to say.

Fighting games do an awful job of teaching new players. A godawful job. No fighting game that I have played has made any reasonable attempt to help a new player get better at the game outside of teaching them the very basics. They are inherently inaccessible games.

Persona 4 Arena has a lesson mode, wherein it teaches you all of the mechanics of the game. This is all well and good, except it only gives you a brief description of each mechanic, shows you how to do it (the button combo) and then has you perform it a couple of times, before swiftly moving on to the next one. For someone who's well versed in fighting games, yeah, that's more than enough. But for new players? Almost useless if you ever want to compete at anything above the most basic level. Simply giving examples of the sort of scenarios and situations in which you should or should not use these mechanics would go a very long way in helping new players actually understand them.

There's also a challenge mode, similar to Street Fighter 4, or most other modern fighting games, where the game presents you with a list of different combos to pull off. The game will give you a practice dummy, show the moves (and their commands) you need to perform on the left of the screen, and you have to bust out that combo. Persona 4 Arena goes further (I believe, might be wrong here) than other games that share this mode, in that it'll highlight each part of the combo as you're performing it, and should you mess up, it'll tell you which part of the combo you messed up on. But for me, that's not enough, I want to know HOW I messed up. Did I try the next move two early, too late? Hell, even if I fumbled button presses or stick movements, tell me that as well! This is the sort of information that actually TEACHES the player and helps them to improve. Just saying "nope, try again" doesn't do that.

Timing is everything with combos in a fighting game, anyone who's ever played one can tell you that. And especially in the very fast-paced fighters ArcSys is known for making, those timings can be particularly brutal. There's a particular combo challenge that I can't quite get down. I can perform all the moves that make up the combo, one after another, but my timing on the very last move isn't quite right. And by that, I mean I'm mere milliseconds too early or too late. Which? I'll never know. And because I don't know that, I'm not able to adjust what I'm doing, meaning I'm just floundering about hoping I'll maybe get lucky and pull it off by accident, rather than actually LEARNING how to achieve it.

And sure, to play devil's advocate, all that sort of information is out there on the internet, provided by fans and other players who know the game inside out. But therein lies my issues: the game itself doesn't provide that information. I'm all for a game teaching you how to play through its gameplay: you gain knowledge of the maps and weapons by simply playing a first-person shooter, you gain knowledge of strategies, build-orders and the like through playing online in an RTS, but for intricate, yet absolutely integral things such as combo timings in a fighting game? You're for the most part not going to learn that through simply playing the game. A game should never require you to access external resources in order to learn anything above the absolute basics of the game.

And of course, the fighting game community is often seen as a harsh, toxic environment that doesn't welcome newcomers and while that is far from the truth, it can still be daunting as someone with no fighting game experience who wants in on the fun.

Note: This review contains spoilers for the 2007 game, BioShock.


It's almost six whole years since Irrational Games came out with the fairly ground-breaking BioShock, way back in August of 2007. That game, billed as a spiritual sequel to Irrational's PC classic System Shock 2, took somewhat of a step back in the RPG department, but for console gamers, there wasn't anything quite like it at the time. Skipping over the wholly unnecessary sequel developed by 2K Marin, and it seems fitting that Irrational will be closing out this console generation similar to how they opened it.

You play as Booker DeWitt, an actual voiced and developed character, unlike the previous game's blank slate, Jack. The underwater city of Rapture is swapped out for the floating city of Columbia, where you are seemingly tasked to "bring back the girl, and wipe away the debt." Gameplay-wise, it's business as usual; if you've played BioShock before, you'll feel right at home, though there have been a few significant changes to the way the combat works in Infinite. There are a standard array of weapons, which all fall into the typical shooter archetypes: a pistol, machine gun, carbine, shotgun, etc. However, this time around, you can only hold two weapons at once, meaning you might want to think more carefully about how you enter an engagement, and be mindful of your ammo counts a bit more often than you necessarily would be in the first game.

It's pretty in Columbia.

It's pretty in Columbia.

The magical powers, called "vigors" this time around (which require salt, as opposed to EVE), are pretty similar, with the biggest change being able to hold down the button to make a trap version of most of them. Traps were their own specific plasmids in the original BioShock, so being able to easily create traps with the regular fire and lightning vigors in Infinite lead me to using traps a hell of a lot more than in the previous game. There's some decent variety in the vigors available, though I found myself sticking to a core few more often than not. The lightning vigor, or "Shock Jockey" is always useful, and the Bucking Bronco vigor lets you easily hit and briefly incapacitate large groups of enemies quickly, and with a few exceptions here and there, I didn't find myself deviating from this all too often.

Combat is as interesting as always.

Combat is as interesting as always.

Gone are the gene tonics from before, with character buffs coming in the form of gear, pieces of loot that you can find that provide a variety of random effects. Having a 70% chance to ignite enemies with a meleé attack, receiving brief invulnerability whenever you use a health recovery item, or your weapon having a 40% chance to instantly have its magazine refill without reloading are some of the effects which can definitely help you out of a sticky situation. Using the Charge vigor to instantly lunge into an enemy from a good distance away, then have him explode into flames upon impact never ceases to be incredibly satisfying. Also, available to buff yourself are Infusions, which are usually found a off the beaten path and each one allows you to increase your shield,  health or salt capacity, giving you a little more option for your character than in the older games. You could be like me and try and evenly spread them across each stat, or you could min-max your character and raise your shields super high, at the expense of your health and salt reserves.

The only thing I found to be disappointing about the combat in Infinite was the weapon upgrades. Each weapon has a number of upgrades available to them that can be bought freely from vending machines throughout the game, but the only upgrades available for any of the weapons are standard damage, magazine-size, reload and recoil buffs. Compared to some of the more interesting upgrades in the previous games, as well as the fact the appearance of your weapons don't change after each upgrade, there's no real feeling of progression here. It's only a minor gripe, however, and the combat in Infinite is as fun as ever. It's interesting and there's enough breaks throughout the game that it never starts to feel overwhelming or repetitive.

The story is absolutely where BioShock Infinite shines, however. I obviously can't delve too much into details without encroaching on spoiler territory, but if you go through Infinite expecting a massive plot twist (this is a Ken Levine game, after all), you're not going to have that one particular "would you kindly?" moment from the first game. Although there is a particular twist that stands out, it's a combination of a number of things that come together to create a fantastic and absolutely satisfying conclusion to the story. The game is also absolutely littered with references and foreshadowing, which can make a subsequent playthrough an almost equally great experience.

Elizabeth is one of the best companions in video games. Ever.

Elizabeth is one of the best companions in video games. Ever.

The characterisation is also top-tier, with Elizabeth being one of the best and most realised video games companions of... well, ever. After first meeting her about an hour or so into the game, she remains by your side for the majority of the rest of your 10-12 hour experience. Outside of combat, she will occasionally find and give you money, and can also be used to lockpick various safes and doors that lead to hidden areas. The game will often remind you that in-combat, you won't have to deal with her as she can "take care of herself". This is because the enemy AI simply ignores her, which can lead to somewhat of a disconnect with that game, but it's something I managed to get over fairly quickly. She will often find and throw you health, salt and ammo in battle, and her special ability lets her use "tears" to call in objects from... somewhere. Again, spoilers. These can range from turrets and cover as well as just general supplies like ammo or med kits. As useful as she in combat though, she's also just a joy to be around. Irrational have very successfully crafted a character that you grow attached to and care about throughout the course of the game.

Irrational Games have created absolute masterclass in video game storytelling with fantastically crafted character arcs that leave you wanting so, so much more. This alongside gameplay that is as competent as ever means that BioShock Infinite is not only going to be one of, if not the best game this year, but one of the best games this entire generation.