The Old Republic Going F2P

BioWare announced recently that Star Wars: The Old Republic will be going free to play this Fall. Those playing for free will be able to experience everything that the game has to offer with very few limitations, while subscribers will enjoy additional content and a special currency used for redeeming premium items. Here’s a blurb from the official TOS site regarding the upcoming change. Continue reading

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Final Fantasy VII Coming to PC (Again)

Final Fantasy VII is headed to PCs. No, you’re not going crazy. Yes, this game was already relased for PC in 1998. So what’s going on? Square-Enix has decided to unleash an updated version of the game upon PC users. The game will be available for download on Square-Enix’s official website and a Steam version has also been heavily hinted at. Considering how pretty much every Square-Enix PC game ends up on Steam, it’s really not too far fetched to expect it to appear on Valve’s service.

So what is Square-Enix promising with this version and why should you buy it? Well, unless you missed out on the game when it was originally released (how?!) or are a rabid fan of the title, there isn’t much reason to really lay down the cash for it. Here’s what we know is being included:

  • Achievements: A whopping thirty six of them.
  • Character Boost: A feature for casuals that increases character stats. Isn’t this game already easy enough?
  • Cloud Saves: Must… resist urge… to make a corny joke!

I would say that HD and widescreen compatibility modes are sure definites for the game though neither have been confirmed. The original music from the Playstation version of the game will surely (and hopefully) be included. Many will probably recall that the original PC version came with an awful sounding MIDI soundtrack instead which could only be remedied through the use of various unofficial plugins.

Final Fantasy VII is expected to sell for somewhere in the range of $10 to $15. Watch for it soon!

Diablo III Beta Impressions

So, Diablo 3. It’s time to talk about that game again.

Once upon a time I was dead set against even giving this game the time of day. Everything that I had heard regarding the game, such as the inclusion of a real money auction house or the removal of stat points and skill trees, made me believe that the crew Blizzard brought in to replace the former Blizzard North developers had no idea what they were doing. I was actively discouraging people I knew from being interested in Diablo 3. Factoring in how I’m a former WoW player who now hatefully rallies against the MMORPG and, gee, it made me look like a pissed off ex-Blizzard fan. To an extent I was, even though I did buy and enjoy Starcraft 2 (I have a review of it up on here for anyone interested).

After applying for the Diablo 3 beta opt-in and not getting in since day one, I finally got a chance last week when Blizzard opened up Diablo 3’s beta to the public in order to perform a stress test. I went into the beta not expecting much, and my incredibly slow download of the beta only increased my nearly unjusitifed disdain for the game. However, after sorting out the issue causing the slow download (which was tied to Internet Explorer even though I use Firefox, go figure), I was able to hop into the world of Diablo 3 and experience a new adventure in the world of Sanctuary for the first time since 2001.

So what is my verdict of Diablo 3 after slamming it for over a year? It is fundamentally a different experience than anything Blizzard North offered up in the first two games but that hasn’t stopped the new development team from creating something really enjoyable. If the small bit of Act 1 that I’ve played is anything to go by, Diablo 3 is going to shape up to be one of Blizzard’s best titles that they have ever produced.

It’s already a known fact that a fair amount of gameplay aspects have changed dramatically since Diablo 2, but just how severe are the changes? As many are aware, stat points are gone and your statistics increase automatically as you level up. This change has been welcomed by almost everyone as just about every internet user I speak to admits that this will help cut back on the amount of “character screw ups” that occurred so often in Diablo 2. Face it, how many of us foolishly sank points into energy and vitality back in the early days of Diablo 2 only to realize that our characters ended up being unable to equip almost any new piece of gear due to low strength or couldn’t even hit monsters half the time as a result of having little dexterity? The only people who seem saddened that stat points can no longer be allocated are the people who felt that it added an extra layer of customization. Did it? No, not really. It just determined if your character was playable or just plain shit. Allocating those points didn’t do anything, they were just numbers that controlled how good your character was playing through the game the way Blizzard intended. That’s not customization!

Skill trees are also a thing of the past, which is surprising to say the least. After they proved to be remarkably popular in Diablo 2, Blizzard adopted them in World of Warcraft. However, talent trees were recently simplified in WoW and they do not appear at all in Diablo 3. So what do we have now? We automatically gain new abilities when we level up. For example, say the the sorceress from Diablo 2 was returning. At level 2 you would receive a message notifying you that you can now use fireball. At level 10, the game would indicate that firewall is now available. As you level, you will gradually unlock more and more powers to use and, since they scale with your level, you will never sink a bunch of points into one or two skills while neglecting many others. This guarantees that all skills are viable later in the game and, again, helps in preventing players from building poor or weak characters. You’ll also unlock runes as you level up that you can combine with your powers. By selecting a rune, you will change the properties of an attack and almost create something brand new. Runes can radically change the animation and performance of just about any skill, so they’re definitely worth experimenting with.

The inventory screen has also been revamped heavily. No longer will players be playing Tetris and shifting gear around to make room for more equipment. This is a fantastic change, as potions and other small items take up only one block on the invenory screen while pieces of equipment take up two. There was nothing good about having pieces of armor taking up upwards of a dozen spaces in Diablo 2 and organizing your inventory became an annoying chore because of it. Anyone who disagrees with the inventory screen revamp and prefers the old system is clearly looking back on Diablo 2 with rose tinted glasses.

Blizzard has also tried to cut back on potion spamming, which isn’t that bad of an idea. My favourite part of Diablo has always been the action and the strategy, and making several trips back to town to buy more potions for a hard boss fight in Diablo 2 was not a part of that. Potions now stack (yes!) and have only ONE slot on your action bar. You can hold as many potions as you want and, to combat potion spam, Blizzard has added a short cooldown on using potions which is also a good idea. Now, here comes something I took a serious stance against before playing the beta. Health orbs. When you’re in a big fight, there is a chance that fallen foes will drop red health orbs that will restore your life when they are touched. I thought that this sounded really gimmicky at first and wondered why an action RPG was being given platformer-esque power-ups. Well, after playing the open beta, I can definitely say that health orbs played a very small part in the overall experience. They never felt necessary to seek out and grab and, because of this, they almost became background objects to me that didn’t matter.

In terms of actual gameplay, things are actually remarkably similar to Blizzard North’s Diablo games. Aside from newer technology allowing more complex character animations and environmental effects, this is definitely the same hack and slash madness that we’ve all grown to love. This is what I was most afraid the new team would mess up, but they did an amazing job. The clickfest battles are as fun as ever, looting works the same as before, and the integrals such as town portals and waypoints are back. Town portals are perhaps my favourite improved aspect of the game since Diablo 2. No longer will we have to deal with scrolls and tomes to take up to town due to anyone being able to make a town portal whenever they wish. The ability to create a town portal is now a spell that characters learn about forty five minutes into the game, and it’s a great thing to have. Having an unlimited number of portals to call upon, in conjunction with the improved inventory screen, makes mass corpse looting a true joy rather than a frightening chore like it was in Diablo 2.

Now, how are the classes? They are wonderfully varied! My personal favourite thus far is the monk, a genius martial artist who is able to obliterate foes with some truly flashy hand to hand techniques. The monk also possesses insane survivability. Aside from being a great melee DPS character, the monk is incredibly agile and also has healing abilities as well as auras that work similarly to what the paladin had in his arsenal in Diablo 2. I can see the monk being a huge fan favourite after release, because there seems to be nothing that this class does not excel at!

Demon hunter is currently my second favourite class. This class is a lot like the amazon of the first two games, a ranged fighter with a very bow/crossbow-centric skill set. The demon hunter has all sorts of cool ranged abilities with one exciting early game ability being a sort of spread shot that fires in three directions and tears through anything in its path. Also, while most classes only have one resource pool to worry about when it comes to using abilities (mana for witch doctors, fury for barbarians, etc.), the demon hunter has two. Hatred, the red resource, governs offensive techniques meant for obliterating foes. Discipline is a blue resource and it is more defensive, allowing the demon hunter to perform acrobatic feats to put distance between him or herself and their foes.

I didn’t spend much time with other classes, but I gave them all a shot at least. The barbarian is exactly what you’d expect, though he now hits harder than ever! Don’t be surprised to see enemies go flying across the screen as you pulverize them with your Hulk-sized arms. The wizard is pretty much the sorceress from Diablo 2 but, thanks to modern technology, the class can perform moe interesting spells such as a ray of frost that will shoot anywhere your mouse goes. The witch doctor is the class I spent the least amount of time with because, even from the get go, it felt really boring to play. Your initial ability as the witch doctor is nothing more than a poison dart gun, but you’ll soon be able to summon hellhounds and such which makes the class a little more bearable.

If I were to rank the classes in order from most to least enjoyable, it would go like this: monk, demon hunter, barbarian/wizard (too close to call), and witch doctor. The monk and demon hunter feel remarkably complete and are a true joy to play as while the witch doctor feels particularly lacking in the beta.

Overall, I had a great deal of fun in the open beta after playing it for as long as my weekend schedule allowed, which was eight or nine hours. The final battle against the Skeleton King (yes, THAT Skeleton King) was insanely enjoyable and, considering that it occurs only a third of the way through Act 1, I can’t wait to see what the big end bosses are like for each of the game’s four acts. I think that we’re all in for quite a treat!

So, is Diablo 3 good? Yes, and I’m ashamed of myself for ever criticizing this game so much. It’s pretty clear that this isn’t the Diablo we played back in the 90s and at the turn of the century, but Blizzard’s new blood created an amazing impersonation of Blizzard North’s successful formula. Diablo 3 is going to be massive when May 15 hits, and I expect it to remain so for many years to come. See you all in Sanctuary in three weeks!

Final Fantasy Blackmoon Prophecy Completed

Blackmoon Prophecy is a fangame (or tribute game as I like to call this) that I began in 2004 which is based on the Final Fantasy franchise. I had abandoned it several times between 2004 and 2008 (the last time I think I worked on it before now) for various reasons. Sometimes I would mess something up that affected the entire game, or I’d simply lose motivation for one reason or another and give up. I released several demos between 2004 and 2007. Initially, not a lot of people took to Blackmoon Prophecy. There were lots of bad maps, dialogue was overly juvenile, and the overall presentation (such as battle animations) was a little disheartening. With each demo, I refined the game more and more to carry a more authentic Final Fantasy feel until it seemed that almost everybody who played the later demos at least partially enjoyed the game. Negative feedback dropped quite a lot over the three years of demo releases. It has now been a few years since my lastdemo and I can safely say that, now that the game is finished, the refinements I’ve made since then are very thorough. Many dialogue sequences and maps have been completely remade and, in some cases, areas of the game have been completely removed because I deemed them to be too amateurish. There are still a few bugs lurking in the game and a few dialogue sequences are still pretty outdated, but general reception on my hosting site (RMN) has been exceptionally positive so far. They’re also helping me out immensely by locating bugs and eventing issues, so I’m very quick to iron out any issues and upload fixed updates.

As for the story, it is meant to emulate classic Final Fantasy titles of the early 1990s. Because of that, the following description is brief.

Blackmoon Prophecy is the story of Vahn, a dragoon from the Branch Kingdom. A year has passed since the Crystal War which saw the King of Branch wage war on the worlds via crystal power. The King was defeated and the crystals returned to their rightful shrines across the world. Now, something mysterious is clearly going on. Strange happenings have been occurring at the Water Shrine, and a local dragoon named Darius has been acting peculiar and defiant in many cases. Can Vahn get to the bottom of it all?

What was it made with?
RPG Maker 2003.

Do I need to RPG Maker 2003 RTP to play?
No sir!

Can I edit the game if I find any bugs or errors that halt my progress or result in my character getting permanently stuck?
Yes, but the David patch is required due to the monsters in this game requiring more than 999 for stats and 99,999 for HP. If you are going to open this game in RPG Maker 2003, be sure that you have the David patch! It is available on Blackmoon Prophecy’s blog on RMN.

How long is the game?
This is a very good question. After two full days, I’ve had some people on RMN playing for about 10-15 hours and they’re only halfway through the game. By RPG Maker standards, it’s a decently long game. I expect that it should take most people about 20 hours, maybe more.

How big is it?
130 megabytes decompressed. Not bad for over 1200 maps and a wealth of compressed mp3s! As well, I frequently post updates which are only 1 to 2 megabytes in size.

What makes this game a tribute more than just a fangame?
I make constant references to the fourth, fifth, and sixth Final Fantasy games throughout Blackmoon Prophecy. For example, there is one location called Branford Hollow, which is home to a mysterious girl who wants magicite shards. The girl was sprited to look like Terra in the form of a miniature Final Fantasy 4 sprite. I also bring Ultros in. Many item names reference particular games in the series. As well, Mystic Mysidia is ripped straight out of Final Fantasy 4. There are other little details, but I think it’s best for the player to find them rather than having me blab about every single thing.

How does it play?
Blackmoon Prophecy is meant to emulate the older Final Fantasy games in many ways. Walk speed, locations, battle system, items, character roles, and so forth are all emulated to an extent. Basically if you don’t like how Final Fantasy 4 plays, since it is the game I emulate the most, then this may not be a game for you. However, if you enjoyed that particular game in the series, then you may like Blackmoon Prophecy.

Will powerleveling be required like in the original NES titles, or the original Japanese version of Final Fantasy 4?
Yes and no. If you skip most fights and only get by on bosses at first, you won’t have many issues due to the game starting off quite easy. However, the game will eventually punish you if you don’t make an effort to level up at least once in each new area that you visit. There are two distinct difficulty spikes in the game which make themselves known as soon as they are reached.

Minigames? Side quests?
There are hidden side quests all over the place and, in most cases, the player must really look for them. NPCs in towns who look completely unimportant may hold the key to obtaining some nice loot. There are a few minigames of sorts as well such as an arena where the player can fight and unlock treasure chests, a sheep chasing game that awards items based on how many sheep are caught, a Black Jack clone, and an auction house that functions exactly like the one in Final Fantasy 6. There are also LOTS of optional locations to visit.

Blackmoon Prophecy can be downloaded at RMN by clicking here.

Star Wars: The Old Republic Video Impressions

I decided to pass on writing another article regarding my impressions with this game to instead bring you my thoughts in video form. In the following videos I basically just show a few basic things, make comparisons to World of Warcraft, and struggle to locate a turn in point for a quest.

EVO: Search for Eden (SNES, 1993)

INFO: My “Retro Vault” reviews are not scored. Instead, I just talk about why I have fond memories of whichever game I’m writing about at the time. Generally, I won’t pick out any bad games for the Retro Vault feature, so scoring them is essentially useless anyway. Enjoy the read.

If there is one thing I did not like about the 1990s, it was that Enix-produced games on the Super Nintendo were always insanely difficult to track down in North America. Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen is a great example of this, but this little gem of a game is another… EVO: Search for Eden. In my opinion, this is one of the Super Nintendo’s absolute best games. This is a shame because it is vastly underrated and, shockingly, still a somewhat unknown game!

My first experience with EVO came around 1998 or 1999 when Super Nintendo emulators were the biggest deal on the internet for gamers. Remember all of those shady rom sites that would lead you to free porn (my, how times have changed) or infest your computer with trojans? A lot of them just had dead links. Ah yes, 1999 was certainly the golden age of Super Nintendo emulation. I had a blast playing through all of my favourite classics that my brother and I had owned on cartridges several years before. It was insanely fun to be playing Final Fantasy VI again. However, my main ambition was to try new games. I played quite a few obscure games at the time just to see what was out there. While skimming the rom list of a random website, I saw a name that seemed vaguely familiar. EVO: Seach for Eden. Very slowly, I had a flashback of reading about the game in an issue of Nintendo Power back in 1993 or 1994. I recall the magazine noting that it was a game by Enix (a developer you could always trust prior to their buyout of Squaresoft) and had a very strong emphasis on evolution. I looked at the few screenshots present in the magazine and I was pumped for the game. However, I never saw the game in any stores and it completely dropped off of my radar for several years until I saw the name appear again on that list of SNES roms. I promptly downloaded it, anxious to experience the game that I had been stoked to play as a little boy. The wait paid off and EVO was a bittersweet experience.

Like Nintendo Power said, EVO is all about evolution. You begin the game as a humble little fish with little means of defending yourself, but you will soon end up becoming quite a formidable predator of the sea thanks to the fantastic evolution system of the game which was, in my opinion, well ahead of its time. You see, you can evolve various parts of your body by spending evolution points. You will amass evolution points by killing enemies and eating the meat that they leave behind. You will be able to spend these points in several categories such as jaws, body size and type, tail, hands and feet, and more. It isn’t entirely impossible to end up with different looking creatures each time you play and, in a way, EVO is a lot like an early version of Spore… But different.

How and why does Spore compare to EVO? Well, as I said, you have freedom over what parts of your body you evolve and when. The whole point is to continue evolving to a point where you are strong and skilled enough to take down the local boss and progress to a new stage of evolution. The main difference is that, while Spore was a pretty bland sandbox simulation game, EVO happens to be a very linear platformer/RPG hybrid that focuses on action and character progression rather than… well, whatever the nonsensical focus of Spore was! As I said, EVO is like an early version of Spore, but it definitely hass less casual appeal. Those who are turned off by the idea of having to level up (via upgrading your body) may be turned off a little, though the steep difficulty in some areas will deter a lot of non-serious gamers.

EVO can be a very ruthless game, as boss fights are anything but cakewalks. I was playing EVO on my TV last night (via emulator, I hooked my laptop up to the TV) and handed the gamepad to my brother and roommate who seemed absolutely enthralled by the game, because he had never seen or heard of it before. I watched him play, and it was clear that he was really enjoying it. As a 28 year old someone who doesn’t play too many games anymore, it was really cool to watch him become briefly absorbed in a classic SNES title. It seems that folks in my age range (about 23-30) really dig playing old SNES games, and when they are presented on a television screen with a wireless gamepad? Even better! Anyway, he managed to reach the boss of the first area in the game. Up until that point, he was doing a really good job of evolving the fish creature that we were jointly playing as. He wasn’t having many difficulties playing through the underwater area, but that all changed one the shark boss made his grand appearance. The confrontation with the boss lasted a whole ten seconds, if even that! Our fish had forty five hit points, and the boss would hit for fifteen damage with every single bite. To make matters worse, he would sometimes get two consecutive hits in! We’re talking the first boss here folks. While EVO is a blast to play and might be a fun little game for casual players to get their feet wet with, they’ll definitely struggle against the tough as nails boss fights. They only get harder and harder as the game goes, and I distinctly remember getting stuck on the queen bee (?) boss many years ago and almost rage quitting!

The most enjoyable aspect of the game? Reaching new periods of time and becoming a new creature. For instance, after you beat the shark boss you evolve into an amphibian and get to crawl onto land. After a short time passes, you then become a reptilian creature that you can even turn into a dinosaur! This is easily my favourite part of the game without a doubt. The dinosaur era of EVO is simply a joy to play, and I suspect that anyone who has played the game will agree with me on that point.

Sadly, I have never beaten EVO. I recall getting stuck years ago at a floating maze-like temple in the sky inhabited by bird people or something of the sort. I don’t know exactly how far in this was, but I certainly hope to surpass it on my new playthrough, especially since I am not experiencing EVO as it was meant to be played – on a television screen. I’m glad to have my wireless Logitech gamepad and a laptop that can conveniently be plugged into my 32 inch Dynex television. I am now experiencing EVO for the first time all over again, and I couldn’t be happier.

If you have never played EVO: Search for Eden, then you are certainly missing out.