Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dissidia: Final Fantasy review

Ridiculous as it sounds, Dissidia: Final Fantasy contains an actual story. Do not worry too much about it though as the plot is basically none-canon and isn't particularly compelling. Still, as far as storyline in fighting games goes it is pretty good - though somewhat predictable (something to do about feuding gods and crystals needed to save the world - shocking!). Like any other fighting games, completing each character arc will complete the overall story arc from the different perspective of its different character. Enjoy the story for what it is and you will find yourself enjoying the game more, which I did.

Dissidia features a total of 22 characters, eleven heroes and eleven villains, one each from Final Fantasy through Final Fantasy X, plus a heroine from Final Fantasy XI and a villain from Final Fantasy XII (screw the haters, it is a great game and one I enjoyed far far more than Final Fantasy X). Quite why there isn't a hero from Final Fantasy XII is puzzling - I was looking forward to shooting bolts from sky pirate Balthier's shotgun (screw the haters - it is a lovely game). Still the line up is impressive with characters that ought to please the majority of Final Fantasy fandom, though I do wish for a bit more.

Dissidia's gameplay is pretty difficult to describe to an average JRPG fan seeing that is is basically nothing like the traditional Final Fantasy gameplay many have come to either admire or loathe. Battles are in real time and allows for free roaming, something that turn-based RPG exclusive gamers will have to get used to (not surprising considering this is an Advent Children 'simulator') and requires twitch response. Unlike most arcade fighting games, battle takes place on a fully three dimensional field map and can occasionally get very hectic and confusing as characters soar around. It may look difficult in the videos, but less than an hour into the game and I've already found the title to be very accessible. If anything at all, it is actually feels like the Dragon Ball game there never was. Bizarre that it took another franchise to get it right, but there you go.

Two types of attacks are available, one which allows you to 'steal' the opponents BP (brave points). Another is a standard attack, which you use to reduce their HP (health points). There is a catch - you need to have BP to attack and opponent, meaning you will need to chain the different attacks together. Press O to execute the Bravery attack, which steals your opponents BP, then press the square button to execute the HP attack. Before you moan, the game is a bit more complex than that and while button mashing O and square alternatively may get you through the first couple of fights, you will not be winning plenty with that sort of strategy.



One of the more advance gameplay element here is the EX Mode. This works by collecting EX Cores and EX Force to fill it. Once filled, allows the player to enter EX Mode (R + square button). This mode boost your characters stats temporarily - for example Cecil will alternate between his Dark Knight and Paladin form, Sephiroth to his one-winged angel form and Terra to her Esper form. Whilst in this mode, the character can perform EX Burst or 'super moves' as Square Enix aptly puts it (e.g. Limit Break). These are available by pressing the square button when the button appears on screen, allowing you to execute a special attacks by pressing a combination of buttons ala God of War QTE mode.

EXP (for levelling up), AP and Gils (money) can be gained from battles, one of the few Final Fantasy RPG elements that has been made available here. Each characters maintains their own EXP levels, though equipments bought or found can be shared. The equipments, armour and accessories or each characters can also be customised before each battle, though this should be expected in every modern fighting game. Items can be bought and sold via the customization menu, while PP points (gained whether you lose or win) can be used to unlock bonus items such as icons, additional characters and alternative costumes. New moves are unlocked and can be equipped to the character's skillset. These skills can be mastered with AP gained while the abilities are equipped. Completing as many battle is a necessity to unlock more characters, costumes and items, using the points gained in each battle and story mode.

The story modes are divided between the characters you play, and are also categorised in difficulty. If I remember correctly, Cloud and Cecil's story missions are the 'easiest' and Tidus and Firion's merely 'easy', so I suggest going through those first. The different characters stories are intertwined between each other and occasionally overlap, so it makes sense to play through all of them. Each story are further divided into chapters, with each chapters featuring a tiled gameboard which sort or a substitute for a world map, where limited amount of Destiny Points are set aside to progress through. Enemies and loots are littered on the map, and engaging each one will consume a DP. Bonus DP can be gained by satisfying certain criteria with select matches, for example by defeating the opponent or achieving EX Mode within a time frame.

Visually, Dissidia is stunning. Characters are modelled with a reasonably high amount polygons. Obviously the lack of geometrical detail of the arena themselves helps a lot, but with the amount of speed going around you will be hard pressed to notice. Character animations are fluid and with great overall detail. It actually looks very much like Kingdom Hearts on the PS2, which I found impressive stylistically and visually. This is easily the best looking portable Final Fantasy game yet, besting Crisis Core, and actually coming close to the fluidity and graphical quality of God of War: Chains of Olympus. My biggest complain is while the environment is destructible, they sometimes 'heal' over time. It is unnerving and I rather they have left it alone. Still the environment can be used to the player's advantage. For example knock your opponents into the war allows you to build up your Bravery points or add-on to the HP attack. Walls can also be scaled which allows for some good sneak attack.

The score is naturally based on the various Final Fantasy and their character themes. They've been rearranged and remixed obviously, but if you are a veteran Final Fantasy gamer you will recognise them immediately. Other than that, there is nothing much else to add. It would be nice if a totally new score be created from the ground up, but fan service was in needing to be served and serve well they did.

Due to the amount of customisation, available characters, unlockables, multiplayer (local only) and chapters, the replayability of this title is pretty high. I am guessing that there is close to 100 hours of gaming to be had here if you are a completest and wishes to unlock everything. Different characters have different traits, most of the time true to their personality and signature fighting style obtained in their respective canon titles. Firion, the protagonist of Final Fantasy II, works best with strategist and those who love to hide and shoot thanks to his range attacks, where as characters like Cloud or Squell works well as melee fighters. There is a good amount of variation between the different characters allowing for different style of gameplay. As a bonus, Dissidia also has support for local wireless play (ad-hoc), though not having infrastructure meant that I have no way of testing the multiplayer mode sadly (you can actually play online via the PS3 ad-hoc party but I haven't tested this).

I personally believe that Dissidia: Final Fantasy is a well defined portable title. You can pick it up and have a go for a couple of minutes, unlike say Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, which requires a delicate amount of time wasting to get things done. Like the aforementioned title, Dissidia lacks a compelling story - but that's okay because the gameplay is damn well near perfect. Sure this is more of a fan service than anything else, but if you are into mash-ups you will definitely want to check this. You will not be getting your favourite Final Fantasy remade, but here's one with for all the fanboys and fangirls (and others) on one silver polished platter - as long as you enjoy fighting games that is.

Dissidia: Final Fantasy is out now in North America. The European version will be released next week. A special edition version will also be available. Expect to see the title on the PSN store once the PSPgo is released.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker trailer

Portable Ops was one of the better PSP games I've played (and I've played some). The controls were lacking, but the RPG-like power-ups, recruitment gameplay and snack-able portable friendly missions made it a joy. As you know, a new Metal Gear Solid game is being developed again for the PSP, and with Hideo Kojima taking lead, who has at great pains declaring it as the true Metal Gear sequel, even calling it his MGS5 - I wouldn't be too worried about how it will turn up. And just to wet your appetite a little bit - check out the new nine minute trailer filled with gameplay and tank cardbox goodness:

IAAF and the mainstream media

The media circus behind the gossips of Caster Semenya is just plain spiteful. I can't imagine any sports writers (writers whom you can never take seriously anyway but that isn't the point) would stoop so low and allowed to get away with it by their editors. The IAAF on the other hand has simply been too slow to react to the initial whispers created and aided by the media. The BBC even flew someone to her village to interrogate her family and friends. It is just fucking disturbing behaviour, though hardly surprising. The British media has proven itself numerous of times to be spineless when it comes to chasing news.

I can only imagine that these people do not have children of their own. Or maybe they do but have yet to suffer the same kind of innuendo that they unleashed on Semenya.

Dexter episode 1 season 4 spoilers

Some spoilers from the first episode of season four of Dexter:

Keith Carradine is back, and he knows more than he lets on. I am sure Lundy's business in Miami isn't only to do with the Lithgow's character. Dexter better be careful there.

John Lithgow on the other hand really stole the first episode, despite only appearing for a couple of minutes. The fact that a kill of his is shown within minutes of the new season highlights the importance of the new villain. Hell, the Trinity killer may actually rival the Ice Truck Killer as Dexter's most feared ba(re)d-ass antagonist.

Angel is now boning LaGuerta over Gianna. What a waste of season 3 side-story it seems.

It seems that the writers are keen on Quinn being the new Doakes. Desmond Harrington still can't act though. Personally I hope Dexter off'ed him, and whatever happened to the sub-plot between he and Yuki?

And finally Dexter himself is very tired. I mean very very tired. It seems he isn't able to juggle the life of raising a kid and killing people without getting overtly exhausted, which I thought was kinda silly considering his new super human powers in season two. The cliffhanger at the end of the episode was brilliant though.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Even more Camera Obscura tour dates

In addition to the dates already announced, Glasgow based twee pop band Camera Obscura has today announced further dates in the US, Australia and New Zeland. Boy, this will be a busy year for them. Still better for us fans, no? And do check out their new online store.

Anyway, here's a video of Camera Obscura playing "Razzle Dazzle Rose" from Let's Get Out of this Country at Shepherd Bush this year.



SEPTEMBER

25 Leicester Musician, Leicester, UK
26 Southend Village Green Festival, Southend, UK (FREE EVENT)
28 Vera Groningen NED
29 Osnabruck Glanz & Gloria, Osnabruck, GER -
30 Loppen, Copenhagen, DEN

OCTOBER

1 Parken, Gothenburg, SWE
2 Parkteatret, Osla, NOR
3 Hornstull Strand Etablissement, Stockholm, SWE
5 Debaser, Malmo, SWE
6 Woxhall, Aarhus, DEN
7 Knust, Hamburg, GER
8 Postbahnhof, Berlin, GER
9 Prague Cross Club, CZE
10 Flex, Vienna, AUS
12 59to1, Munich, GER
13 Abart, Zurich, SWZ
14 Casa 139, Milan, ITA
16 La Maroquinerie, Paris, FRA
18 Le Grand Mix, Tourcoing, FRA
19 Ancienne Belgique, Brussels, BEL
20 Paradiso, Amsterdam, NED
22 The Waterfront, Norwich, UK
23 Komedia, Brighton, UK
24 Phoenix, Exeter, UK
25 Thelka, Bristol, UK
26 Library, Lancaster, UK
27 Cockpit, Leeds, UK
29 Barrowlands, Glasgow, UK

NOVEMBER

3 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, UK
5 Casa Del Loco, Zaragoza, SPA
6 Multiusos Sanchez Paraiso, Salamanca, SPA
7 Fair, Valladoid, SPA
8 Heineken Theatre, Madrid, SPA
9 Sala Apolo, Barcelona, SPA
18 Tipitina’s, New Orleans, LA, USA
19 Bottletree, Birmingham, AL, USA
20 Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA, USA
21 Attucks Theatre, Norfolk, VA, USA
22 Muisc Hall Of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, USA
24 Pearl Street Ballroom, Northampton, MA, USA
25 The German House, Rochester, NY, USA
26 Phoenix, Toronto, ON, USA
27 Crofoot Ballroom, Pontiac, MI, USA
28 Turner Hall, Milwaukee, WI, USA
30 Bluebird, Bloomington, IN, USA

DECEMBER

1 Off Broadway, St Louis, MO, USA
2 The Lyric Oxford, Oxford, MS, USA
3 40 Watt Club, Athens, GA, USA

JANUARY 2010

18 King’s Arms Hotel, Auckland, NZ
19 San Francisco Bathhouse, Wellington, NZ
21 Sydney Festival – Popfrenzy Party, Sydney, AUS
22 The Zoo, Brisbane, AUS
23 Corner Hotel, Melbourne, AUS
25 Amplifiers, Perth, AUS

thelondonpaper may be axed - good riddance

Brilliant. You can't imagine how happy I am to finally witness the (pending) closure of thelondonpaper, a useless peddler of crap celebrity stories in competition with Metro and The London Lite (two other papers that needs to go - but I am sure I'll toast their demise another day). You can imagine it being a relief to having one less freeshite being shoved into your face by mindless robots. Then there's the environment benefits of having 500k less newspapers automatically removed from London's circulation.

Still, shallow London residents and tourists interested in celebrity gossips (Winehouse, Doherty, Peach etc.), you will have at least the next 30 days to learn how to read the news on, oh I don't know, the fucking web. Those wondering what to do on your daily commute - just get a book, an e-book reader (which you can download news onto), a PSP, a DS Lite, a music player etc.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New slim PS3 announced, out in September

Sony has finally announced a slimline version of their flagship PlayStation 3. The console, which will be equipped with a 120GB harddrive, will be available next month worldwide. It will be 32% smaller (check the comparison picture), 36% lighter and uses 34% less power. The design will feature a matte body, similar to the PlayStation 2, something that is admitelly less 'sexy' but probably more practical and cheaper to manufacture. Personally I really like the design of the new PS3, and it will look great next to our slimline PS2 while our unloved Wii sits alone in the closet.

The Slim, which goes by the product code CECH-2000A, will be available in charcoal black. It supports all the usual PS3 features including BluRay, lossless 7.1 channel support, 256MB RAM, 256MB graphic RAM. 120GB 2.5" serial ATA, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1000BASE-T ethernet, Bluetooth 2.0 and WiFi 802.11b/g. It will play the usual PlayStation One games, though those wishing for PS2 compatibility will have to hope that Sony release a full emulator for it. The standard bundle will include a single DualShock 3 wireles controller.

As far as pricing goes, the PS3 slim will cost $299.99 in America, €299.99 in Europe, £249.99 in the UK (out 1 September) and 29980 yen in Japan, which is pretty fair me thinks. The price reduction will also apply to the original fat PS3 from tomorrow, though some retailers have already started discounting them. Amazon has started to take pre-orders for them in the UK and the US.

The PSPgo on the other hand will be available from October. The new PSP will not feature a UMD slot, instead it contains a 16GB flash ROM and M2 slot for storing games in. European PSPgo owners who register their PSPgo between 1 and 10 October will be able to download Gran Turismo PSP for free, the full version. A good deal probably, but remember it will cost much more in Britain than the US. It is available for pre-order for £229 and $249.99.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I rather trust myself with the NHS over US health care

Right wing Republicans (aka nutjobs) has set its sight against the NHS, largely as part an offensive against plans by their Obama government to improve the health service (which does not involve copying the NHS). One paper had this to say:
People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.
A quick check on the web will reveal that Stephen Hawking is very much alive, is British and still lives in Britain. In fact, he has even credited the NHS for saving his life.

For all the faults of the NHS, many people here want it improved, not privatised. Over here we value the lifes of people from all backgrounds, not just nasty people who can afford private health care. I suggest that these right wing Republicans doling out mis-informed attacks on the NHS to go fuck themselves.

Also socialist is not a dirty word. Britain isn't one, but I wouldn't mind if it became one.

Emmy The Great @ Pure Groove London

Emma and Euan played at the Pure Groove record store yesterday evening. They were simply brilliant (got my copy of First Love and Gabriel EP signed as well). The photographs from my Canon however weren't. Pretty much gave up after the first song and only took a couple of flash photography. Instead I took the chance to record some videos, which turn out better than I thought (as far as videos from a two year old camera goes). Video uploads are a lower in quality due to crappy upload speed (had to lower the bitrate). Still hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Emma and Euan playing "A Bowl Collecting Blood". This is available on the new Edward EP, only available on vinyl or digital download. Can't play vinyl? Get the re-released First Love, bonus edition. It contains the Edward EP as bonus tracks. A brilliant song this one.



"MIA" from First Love:



"Two Steps Forward" (also from the Edward EP):

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach from Pen-y-Pass

Both of us agreed that this was a brilliant and quality walk - especially in comparison with our previous walks. For one this trail is less popular - meaning a quieter walk for us to enjoy. The views of and from the Glyders, especially that of the mighty Tryfan, are truly inspiring. Apart from some mild scrambling, the walk is pretty easy though navigational skills is a requirement as the trails are often through pathless and boggy terrain. Low grade 1 scramble at most.

Our ascent began at Pen-y-Pass (left of the YHA). We were the only people arriving at Pen-y-Pass that morning who did not head up towards Snowdon, though more did come later. The ground (which is pathless) steepness gradually grows, but isn't difficult. It is a very remote trail - we only saw two other people on our way up to Glyder Fawr. Due to the less than favourable weather, the path is extremely boggy. Once at the stop navigation is simple enough, we just aimed for the peaks (including the Castell y Gwynt down the middle). At the summit plateau of Glyder Fach we found the famous Cantilever Stone. We expected a crowd there, but fortunately it wasn't busy. This was also where Jennifer recorded her video review of the E75. To the left the towering figure of Tryfan stood. Sadly it won't be our destination today, but it is on our to-do checklist. We saw more people making their way up, presumably from Ogwen.

Anyway, making our way down, a RAF Sea King rescue copter suddenly made an appearance, coming in from the mountains above us. It was a magnificent sight, but the Sea King was too fast for me to capture on camera (I've already packed it). Fortunately it made a couple more passes above us. We are not sure if it was on a training exercise or rescue mission. Regardless they do seem to know that we did not need any assistance and ignored us. The descent eventually takes us over a large boggy area that meets with the Miner's track. Descent is steep, slippery and boggy, but manageable. We eventually reached Pen-y-Gwryd where the Sherpa bus awaits.

The trail is a short 5.5 miles, but with exploration my tracklog read 7 miles with a total of 3420 feet of ascent.



























Maps: Ordnance Survey Explorer OL7, Landranger 115

Friday, August 7, 2009

Maxell DVD blanks - slow write speed

I picked up a spindle of Maxell DVD+R the other day (impulse buy from a brick shop). Boy are they slow. They are rated at up to 16X write speed, but my old Pioneer DVD writer is only capable of writing at 2.4X speed. In comparison, it is able to achieving a write speed of 8X on my Sony DVD+R and DVD-R blanks (rated at 16X) that I picked up from Tesco a couple of weeks ago. Obviously it may also be the fault of the burner itself, but a quick check on the web later reveals frustration by customers who has moaned about data deterioration and slow write speed. Oops Maxell! And I thought you were a trusted brand. I bought countless of floppy disks of you once. How much the mighty have fallen...

I'll be ordering some Sony or TDK blanks later. They have never failed (Verbatim is good too), achieves 8X write speed consistently on my burner, and does not deteriorate even after two years (I have a Sony CD-R that I burnt eight years ago and has deep scratches all over - and I am still able to pull 100% data from it). Sometimes you do have to pay premium to get some quality...

Whilst I have no real problem about write speed, the complaints about deterioration concerns me greatly. I'll be definitely be re-archiving anything I've already burnt on the Maxell blanks onto another branded DVD. These I'll just use to burn stuff that I can give away to friends and families, where data retention probably isn't as important.

Update: Well two out of two of the Maxell blanks I used today has failed the moment I removed them from the burner. For whatever reasons two seperate DVD drive I have would not read it (including a Lenovo one). Never had a problem with all my previous DVD blanks from other brands so I will chalk this up to Maxell makes crappy DVD blanks. Avoid at all cost.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Snowdon via Pyg track and Miners' track

Both Pyg track and Miners track starts from Pen-y-Pass (the car park fills up by 8am so take the Sherpa bus service instead). We decided to ascend via the Pyg track and descend via the Miners' track. The weather was pretty dull that day (no where near the BBQ summer that the Met Office predicted), and we only saw the summit less than a hundred yards from it. The Pyg track route itself is easy, and is well marked. Just be careful not to accidentally skirt left onto the Crib Goch arĂȘte at the Bwlch y Moch junction if you aren't planning to. Including the return trip via the easier Miners' track, the total height gain of around 3370 feet (at least according to my log) and involves about 7.8 miles of walking.

The summit was crawling with human traffic, and as one fellow walker commented - more crowded than Piccaddilly Circus (which is true! - even the Sherpa S1 bus we took from Llanberis is more packed than a rush hour Tube carriage). Disappointed that we couldn't see anything once we were up there, but this is great excuse to climb back up again the next time we are in this area, hopefully eventually bagging all the other routes (including the Snowdon ranger, Watkin path and Snowdon horseshoe).












Maps: Ordnance Survey Explorer OL7, Landranger 115

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Nokia E75 video review from Glyder Fach, Snowdonia

video

This is video review (part of the week four challenge) of the Nokia E75 by my partner the technophobe, on the summit plateau of Glyder Fach. We planned on doing it on the Snowdon summit, but we forgot (might as well considering the human traffic up there)! This is a first take, no draft, no script video! I thought about shooting more and editing it later to improvise, but a rough take seems more appropriate and honest.