(Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 02--"Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII" available for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for $59.99. Rated "T" for Teen.
I'll be honest -- I didn't play "Lighting Returns" to the end. That makes it only the second "Final Fantasy" game I've left unfinished over the past 20 years.
I really wanted to like it, and saw plenty of reasons I should, even in the opening hours. Aside from a few nasty texture problems and low-resolution secondary characters, the graphics are absolutely gorgeous, especially for a PlayStation 3 game. The mix of whacked-out art design and off-kilter fantasy locations is perfect for a "Final Fantasy" game. The revamped battle system that requires your sole playable character to switch between multiple jobs is a fresh take on the stagnant Japanese role-playing genre. I even found myself becoming engrossed in the poorly written story, which is bonkers enough (in a Japanese way) to be fairly riveting. Though this is officially a sequel to a sequel, it feels more like fan fiction.
It was the quest structure that ruined "Lightning Returns" for me. Unlike most other RPGs, which weave action and plot into varied settings such as forests and dungeons, "Lightning Returns" is an entirely town-driven experience. And the only way you can complete quests is by talking to as many random townies as possible.
It's annoying enough to drive a patient gamer like me absolutely batty. Back when I played my first RPG in 1993, talking to every character I could find was a treat -- a way to flesh out the fantasy world I was living in. In "Lightning Returns," it just feels like mindless filler -- useless, nonsensical padding used to prop up an engaging game engine that deserves much better than the mindless nattering of NPCs (non-playable characters).
At least the surreal plot makes a modicum of sense. Lightning, the main protagonist of the first "Final Fantasy XIII" game and a key character in the second, awakes from a self-imposed hibernation 13 days before the world's end, and is given the task of saving the people of the dying world, including former friends and allies who had developed heavy emotional burdens. The only way to ease those burdens (and progress in the game) is through talking, and talking, and more talking.
Before "Final Fantasy" fans start labeling me as a traitor, it's important to note that I almost fell in love with this game. But "almost" is equivalent to the dust-off line, "Let's just be friends."
In this case, "Lightning Returns" is a friend I would prefer not to hear from for a couple of years.
Two out of Four Stars
"The Last of Us: Left Behind" available for download exclusively on the PlayStation 3 for $14.99. Rated "M" for Mature
If you haven't heard about the new downloadable episode for "The Last of Us" (one of the best games of 2013), don't freak and run to the store looking for a $15 sequel. Despite the 5.2-gigabyte download size, I was able to blow through this story expansion in a few hours.
But don't go mistaking run time for quality. Despite its brevity, "Left Behind" is one of the best downloadable add-ons to hit the market, outperforming every next-generation game I've played so far.
For those who need a refresher, "The Last of Us" is an action-oriented survival-horror game that takes place decades after a zombie-like infection ravages the world. While the main game mostly was focused on a man who is tasked with escorting the only girl in the world immune to the disease, this extra content has you playing as the immune girl herself, Ellie. Played by "Growing Pains" alum Ashley Johnson, I've often said Ellie is the most fascinating video game character in the history of the medium.
While part of the story takes place during the third act of the main game, the majority acts as a prequel, giving you a glimpse of a slightly more innocent Ellie before she suffered the ravages of the road. Since this little morsel of downloadable content is far more dependent on story and dialogue rather than action, revealing any more of the plot would be a disservice.
Some fans have complained the add-on relies too heavily on the nattering of pre-teen girls, but this is the kind of nattering I don't mind -- totally unlike the boorish nonsense found in "Lightning Returns."
I don't know if I've ever used the word "sweet" to compliment a game, but in this case, there's no other way to put it. It made me feel all syrupy inside.
Three-and-a-half out of Four Stars
"Jazzpunk" available exclusively for download on the PC for $14.99. Not Rated.
Absurdist humor isn't for everyone. Before you plunk down $15 on this three-hour game, take a look at YouTube and watch a few minutes of someone else playing "Jazzpunk." If you're not laughing within five seconds, your $15 will be wasted.
I've described plenty of other games as goofball comedies, but never have I played a title solely devoted to telling cheesy jokes. Every side quest is a punch line, and nearly every conversation ends in a cringe-worthy pun. Even the main story, which reminds me vaguely of "Austin Powers: Man of Mystery," is nothing more than an elaborate joke.
That's what makes "Jazzpunk" so special. Though the core mechanics of this first-person game are adventure-based (find an item, combine the object with something in the game field), that's just a thinly veiled subterfuge to make you laugh. There is no sense of progression or battles to be had. Just a surreal, acid-induced mind trip that puts you in the role of a bumbling spy who lives in a pop-up, storybook world inhabited by goofy archetypes who look like Fisher-Price toys.
Check out a screenshot online if you don't believe me. I hardly can believe this is a game myself. And quite a good one at that.
Three out of Four Stars
"Republique: Episode One" available exclusively for iOS platform for $4.99. Not Rated
Since this delightful iPad (and iPhone) game came out late last year, I won't spend a lot of time on it. But I would remiss in not mentioning the joy I found in my first tablet game.
Combining elements of stealth action with survival horror, "Republique" puts you in command of a surveillance camera system designed to keep an eye on citizens who live in an Orwellian future. Turns out, one of those citizens isn't too happy with Big Brother controlling her life, and it's your job to guide her to safety while distracting the guards in her path.
This kind of indirect game play always has fascinated me, but I haven't seen it done this well since the obscure 2004 PlayStation 2 game "Lifeline," which required you to give commands to the protagonist via a microphone.
"Republique" is a passion project for longtime "Metal Gear Solid" programmer Ryan Payton, and it certainly shows. This is one of the best-looking iPad games I've seen, providing the first real competition for console and PC gaming.
If Payton keeps pumping out games like this, I might have to stop borrowing my wife's iPad and get one of my own.
Three-and-a-half out of Four Stars
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