A Return to Ivalice: 52 Weeks of Gaming (Week 25: June 17 – June 23)

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age: Last month, I only played the first hour of Final Fantasy 12. After playing over 7 hours of the game this week, I regret not continuing the game sooner.

When I first tried out the game at PAX, my biggest worry was the gameplay since it strayed away from the turn-based combat Final Fantasy games are known for. But after learning about the game’s mechanics, I was pleasantly surprised how deep and fun the combat is. The Gambit system allows the player to create a list of commands to be carried out automatically by the party, which makes combat simpler. I personally like to give manual commands while using gambits during battle to make it feel like I am doing something during battle. At first, I thought it was strange that you had to buy additional gambits since I thought it made more sense that I would have access to all of them. However, after seeing the wide variety of gambits, I realized that there is a lot of depth and strategy with this system.

I found the License system is very interesting since I don’t really play RPGs with job systems. For each party member, you have to choose one of 12 classes. The license board is similar to the sphere grid from Final Fantasy 10, but it is more open ended and customizable. Unlike other games, you can only equip equipment that is unlocked on the license board. I’m glad that you can change jobs in the Switch version of the game (I guess this wasn’t a thing in previous versions of Final Fantasy 12) since I wanted to change Baltheir and Fran’s jobs once Basch joined the party. I’m also glad that when you change your job, you get all the LP you spent back, which makes trying out different jobs painless.

Doing hunts in the game reminds me of side quests in Xenoblade games, although it is slightly more tedious. Getting information about it through marks on hunt boards or from Montblanc and finding the petitioner in order to officially start the hunt seemed a little bit unnecessary to me, although it felt like I was gathering pieces of information that help me pull off the hunt. At first, doing the hunts with just Vaan was near impossible to complete, but were easy to complete once I got a full party. The speed up function in this game is very useful, as it made fights go by quick, especially ones where I only do basic attacks to take down monsters.

The more I played Final Fantasy 12, the more I kept comparing the story and world to Star Wars. The Empire are the bad guys while there is an underground resistance (like the Rebels) are fighting against them. I always thought that Balthier (well-known thief) was like Han Solo (well-known bounty hunter) and Fran was like Chewbacca (tall sidekick). The scene where Baltheir and Fran take Vaan to the Strahl reminded me of the Millennium Falcon. Compared to Final Fantasy 9 and 10, the main characters aren’t as well written, but they’re still intriguing and likable. As much as I want to write about how much I enjoy the story and the game’s world building, I think I can save that for another week. For now, Final Fantasy 12 is going to be the RPG I will be working on for the next few weeks and I can’t wait to see how the story unfolds.

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled: Most gamers grew up with Mario Kart. Some grew up with Diddy Kong Racing. I grew up with Crash Team Racing, playing hours on end when I was a kid. With Nitro-Fueled released this week, not only do I get to relive one of my favorite games, but a lot more people can finally get to play this awesome kart racer.

One of the reasons why I consider Crash Team Racing as the best kart racer is because of its tight mechanics. Mario Kart, to me, is more of a party game that’s accessible to most people since you don’t need much skill to win races. With Crash Team Racing, items don’t necessarily make you go from 1st to 8th, so where you place depends more on how well you drive. Driving feels faster than Mario Kart (definitely not faster than 200cc) and the drifting mechanics are more satisfying, getting three boosts per drift.

After playing the game this week, I am glad that it felt like I was playing the original CTR. The controls felt tight and it felt like I was going fast, especially after I learned that there was a sweet spot when drifting that makes you boost faster and longer. All of the CTR tracks look very beautiful and vivid, with a lot more detail and easter eggs hidden in each stage’s background. I also like that the cutscenes are more animated in adventure mode, giving it more charm. There are some tracks and characters from Crash Nitro Kart, however I don’t have that much nostalgia for the game as I mostly played the GBA version as a kid.

Although I liked everything they brought back from the original game, there were some noticeable flaws that made my experience a bit frustrating. I played the Switch version of the game and playing online was a wacky experience, at least on launch day. Whenever I raced, all the other drivers kept popping in and out of the screen, while there were a lot of visual glitches throughout the track. Here’s a clip of the crazy shenanigans that ensued online:

While I was still able to collect coins from each race (especially with me getting first place all the time), I didn’t have fun playing. Thankfully Beenox released a patch Friday night that made online racing tolerable.

My other problem with online is that if you don’t finish a race 20 seconds after first place crosses the finish line, the race automatically finishes and you don’t receive coins for that race, even if you are in second place. It makes sense if you are coming in dead last, but I have experienced a lot of races where the first place racer pulls far ahead of the pack to the point where no one else can finish the race. I wouldn’t have that much of a problem if playing races offline would net you the same amount of coins, but that’s not the case. You earn more than double the coins online, so it gives the player incentive to play online more often. I’m okay that cosmetics can be bought with coins, but having characters locked behind in-game currency that takes time to build up sucks. Considering that Beenox already proved once that they are listening to the community with its latest patch to fix online races, I am hopeful that they can change the way coins are handled in the future and the 50 second load times between races.

My Friend Pedro: I was really looking forward to this game ever since I played the demo at PAX East this year, and My Friend Pedro delivered. At first, the control scheme felt a little weird to me, with the ZL button allowing you to lock on and use your secondary gun and the L button used for dodging. I kept on getting crossed up and at times forgot to dodge when I wanted to. The ability to slow down time was surprisingly lenient with how slow the gauge drained as I used it, so I ended up using it more often. Slowing down time made it easier for me to take my time and pull off some flashy kills.

One of my worries was that the game would feel repetitive: enter the room, kill enemies, proceed to the end. However, that is not the case. Each level of the game would introduce a new way to take out enemies, like shooting a frying pan in mid air and deflects the bullets towards enemies or throwing a basketball at one. I was also surprised of the game’s stage design, as there are good platforming puzzles in the game’s levels.

The game has an interesting ranking system, where style points and the kill multiplier are important to get a good rank. Throughout the first section of the game, I always got a C ranking in every stage. However, getting low ranks in games like this don’t really bother me, since it doesn’t have a big impact on the overall game. Right now, I would recommend anyone to play My Friend Pedro even though I haven’t played through the whole game.

This upcoming week, there are two games that are coming in that I expect to spend most of the week playing: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (it’s FINALLY HERE!) and Judgment.

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