The comma (and bracket) filled thoughts of Sam Coleman.

Monthly Archives: March 2015

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

Forget everything you once knew about Final Fantasy – Type-0 immediately throws everything out the window. The very first scene of the game depicts a bloodied soldier, caught in a warzone, collapsing against his equally bloody Chocobo mate and tearing up about his swiftly-approaching death – it’s raw, shocking and powerful.

Mercifully, Type-0 eases up on the Chocobo deaths but the war motif is used heavily throughout. The player controls the 14 students of Class Zero, members of a magic academy who are charged with aiding a rebellion to save their home country Rubrum. It’s fairly intriguing stuff but the game detracts from this with a tendency to throw complex terms around without really explaining them – those who paid little attention to Final Fantasy XIII might spend most of the game wondering what exactly a l’Cie is, for example.

There’s an odd contrast which needs to be discussed too. Yes, Type-0 (rather ambitiously) seeks to create a tale about the brutal realities of war and conflict but it’s also a game which features cartoony Moogles who end every line with ‘kupo!’. It’s really quite jarring at times (though it never fully detracts from the experience), almost as if Square wanted to completely start fresh with the series but had to keep certain elements intact for the fans.

This can also be seen through the excellent but underutilised soundtrack. Hefty, dramatic themes are placed alongside classic remixes from across the series, creating a score which evokes nostalgia but also seems to want to push forward in a different direction. These conflicting themes and ideas aren’t really bad, they’re just slightly odd – Square were clearly in two minds when making Type-0 originally.

It’s the fourteen main characters which really stand out and pull the game together though. Rather than handpick a couple of characters for the game to revolve around, Square created something of an ensemble cast – every character has their own role to play and they’re all equally important to the narrative (something which ties in really well to the gameplay). This is especially notable in the sections between missions where the player is free to wander the Academy – building relationships and chatting with classmates might not be as vital as it is in Persona 4 but it’s still an interesting way to learn more about Class Zero and their various personalities.

Class Zero’s differences really shine in battle though. Each character has their own unique weapon and set of skills, offering a whole bunch of different playstyles to choose from. The game actively encourages the player to switch characters regularly to keep everybody’s levels balanced but you won’t really need prompting – trying out each character, getting to grips with their unique talents and unleashing them on foes is terrific fun.

Type-0’s focus on war and combat needed a strong gameplay system to match and happily, Square didn’t disappoint. Borrowing the ATB system from Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII was a great move (there’s definitely a dash of Kingdom Hearts in the mix too) and the quick pace of the game encourages players to constantly be on the move; dodging attacks and maneuvering around the battlefield is essential for survival in Type-0.

The game layers tactical elements on top of this too – enemies will be vulnerable at certain moments (usually after attacking) and the player can capitalise on this for massive effect. Landing an attack on an enemy while they’re surrounded by a yellow circle will result in a massively damaging critical hit; attacking while the circle is red will kill the enemy instantly. It’s a neat way of preventing the player from simply spamming attacks and hoping for the best – pausing and waiting for the opportune moment in the heat of battle is tricky but rewarding. It’s a battle system which tends to favour ranged characters (they’re less vulnerable and they’re able to target weaknesses far easier) but melee characters are far more fun to use, thanks to the fast, skill-driven dodging and combo attacks. It’s a fine balance and it works really, really well.

But what about the HD tag in the game’s name? Unfortunately, this is generally where problems arise. Type-0 for Xbox One and PS4 is a high-def remaster of a PSP game, released in Japan in 2011, and the limitations of that portable console are still on show here. The game’s mission-based structure breaks the action down into small, bite-size pieces; those who want to push on with the story might be aggrieved at the constant breaks.

The PSP’s limited hardware has left some areas poorly textured, something which would look awful in high-definition, were it not for the quality of the art design – the remastered cutscenes make up for this somewhat though. Another constant source of trouble is the atrocious camera; a slight nudge to the right stick results in the angle violently swinging around, making it hard to accurately point the camera where it needs to be facing. The motion blur effects which accompany a change in angle are fairly unwelcome too.

Don’t allow yourself to be put off by these factors though. After all, it is a port rather than a fully-fleshed next-gen title – there was bound to be some rough edges. Persevere through the game’s cutscene-heavy intro and you’ll be rewarded with something special. The diverse, thrilling combat is reason enough for Final Fantasy fans to buy into this remaster and the mature re-imagining of a classic series is certainly intriguing, to say the least. It even brings back the world map, a lost RPG staple; if that doesn’t get the hardcore Final Fantasy crowd interested, absolutely nothing will.


(So I’ve been looking for a series to create for a while and this suddenly clicked with me last night. Hopefully, when I actually cough up the dough to buy a capture card, I’ll be able to pair writing and video together to make an interesting series. For now, enjoy these baby steps.)

Thanks to the intense, crushing boss battles found in Dark Souls, YOU DEFEATED has become a phrase synonymous with success. Everytime a boss falls in From Software’s masterpiece, those two words flash up on screen as a reward for the player’s success; in our minds, it should be accompanied by the Victory Fanfare from Final Fantasy VII.

What makes a boss battle great though? Is it the gameplay? The setting? The soundtrack? With this series, I’m going to break down some of my favourite boss battles of all time, looking at the finer details and savoring the moments which need to be appreciated.

As always, feedback is massively appreciated – hit me up in the comments on here or on Twitter (@colemansa).


Vergil (DMC)

The rebirth of Devil May Cry may have upset many but those who looked past the stylistic changes and gameplay rework found a great game – it was a little rough around the edges but very few titles can match the stylistic, fluid, combo-driven gameplay found here.

There’s some exceptional boss battles to enjoy too; ridiculously over-the-top confrontations which provide constant highlights – slapping the digital face of Bob Barbas around or laying the smackdown on a giant demon slug-like baby (still attached to it’s mother’s umbilical cord, by the way) are inexplicable joys.

Sometimes it’s the quieter moments that linger in the mind longest though; DmC strips away the flair and extravagance for its final battle, instead crafting a one-on-one encounter which genuinely feels like a battle for the ages.

Destruction (DMC)

Dante’s sibling rivalry with Vergil was well documented in Devil May Cry 3 so unsurprisingly, despite co-operating for the majority of the game to defeat Mundus, the two brothers face-off with the fate of humanity on the line.

The setup is extraordinarily well done. Vergil’s sudden declaration that “the path is clear for us to rule” is a neat little plot twist which suddenly reveals Vergil’s real motivations for battling Mundus – he envisions himself (and Dante, presumably on a minor scale) as humanity’s master. When Dante compares his brother to Mundus, Vergil simply laughs, remarking “we’ll respect our subjects, not enslave them!” Not particularly reassuring.

Set within the ruins of Limbo City, the atmospheric surroundings of the battle’s arena is remarkably well done too. Mundus’ destroyed tower can be seen off in the distance and the destruction caused by Dante’s battle with the demon god is clear for all to see. It’s a really effective way of showcasing just how much damage demon overlords can inflict on humans, making it all the more vital that the player stops Vergil in this climatic showdown.

Dante Vs Vergil (DMC)

As the battle continues, the sky gradually darkens and creates a spectacle that’s simply incredible. Vergil’s immense power seems to dictate the weather patterns somewhat too as when Dante lands a blow on him, lightning cracks across the sky – another effective way of showing the supernatural powers that the two brothers possess.

From a gameplay standpoint, the fight is relatively simple, though on the harder difficulties it still provides ample challenge. The player must dodge Vergil’s moves and then counter with a quick combo – it’s very similar to Dante’s encounters with Drekavac, a ninja enemy who requires quick dodging reflexes and short but damaging combos to defeat.

Vergil's Doppelganger (DMC)

The real fight begins when Vergil is near death. Here, he uses his Devil Trigger to produce a doppelganger, aping his moves and giving Dante two foes to combat at once. Despite Vergil’s low health, the fight grows in intensity as the player has to dodge twice as many attacks, making opportunities to counter scarcer too. Ultimately though, Vergil’s encounter is only really excruciatingly difficult on Hell And Hell difficulty – old school Devil May Cry fans might be disappointed in this aspect.

However, the build-up and glorious setting of this fight is where the magic really lies and thankfully, the encounter is left wide open for a sequel to revisit. Vergil’s final departing line – “I loved you, brother” – might have created a number of creepy fan fiction stories (seriously, look it up… or don’t, actually) but it’s also a great line to end Vergil’s role in the game – despite Dante’s betrayal, Vergil still bitterly wants the best for him. It’s a story arc that desperately needs revisiting in a sequel – get on it Ninja Theory.

Dante Devil Trigger (DMC)


Chappie

The pitfalls, dangers and misadventures of creating artificial intelligence have been common themes in film for years – for this reason, perhaps, Chappie completely forgoes those perils and decides to look at the positives instead. Witnessing the birth of an AI and watching it learn, develop and grow (both in intellect and character) is utterly fascinating – this basic concept provides some great groundwork for Neill Blomkamp’s latest sci-fi blockbuster.

At the heart of it is the titular hero – the innocent and almost painfully cute Chappie. Undoubtedly, some will find the robot’s childlike mindset annoying (or maybe even frustrating?) but there’s no denying the appeal – seeing Chappie copy He-Man’s sword wielding exploits is unashamedly heartwarming. Sharlto Copley’s skill in bringing the character to life will probably be overlooked by many (he provided voice and motion capture for Chappie); it really shouldn’t be.

Built around the character is a plot which rarely thrills or offends – it’s fairly standard sci-fi fare. Deon Wilson’s (Dev Patel) fleet of police robots has helped restore order to the crime-ridden streets of Johannesburg and his employers Tetravaal are experiencing phenomenal growth as a result. Rather than complain about the fact he doesn’t have his own office though, Deon simply goes home everyday to work on his AI project; not long into the movie, he succeeds and bids to insert his finished experiment into one of his police droids.

On the way though, he’s kidnapped by the band Die Antwoord, who apparently enjoy indulging in criminal activities when off tour – that might sound like a joke but bizarrely, they really do seem to be playing fictionalised versions of themselves. Anyway, they need money so they plan to steal some money but they need to shut the police robots off first so they can steal the money and so they kidnap the guy who made the robots and so it goes on; the pair have their moments but for the most part, their side of the story is impressively uninteresting.

Hugh Jackman’s role in the film is spectacularly disappointing too. As Vincent, he’s the main villain of the piece (hardly surprising – have you seen the mullet he’s rocking?) but he’s awfully one-dimensional and rather petulant too; much of his anger towards Deon simply stems from his robot being inferior to the police scouts. The film gives no background to the character and there seems to be little reason for his deep loathing towards Deon and his prized AI; it vaguely states that Vincent used to be a soldier at one point, like that’s an excuse to be a complete arsehole.

The plot’s a bit thin then but it does convey some great messages and themes. Blomkamp’s District 9 was highly acclaimed for its depiction of xenophobia and social segregation and some of those themes are lurking in the background of Chappie too. The film never directly confronts them (perhaps for the best) but it frequently dives into the murky crime underworld of Johannesburg, offering glimpses of the struggles people face in the city.

Violence is used beautifully by the film to illustrate just how unwelcoming this world can be. Chappie’s police scout body gets him into a spot of trouble with a gang of youths and Blomkamp effectively utilises slow-motion to really shock the viewer – the audience might view Chappie as an innocent, loveable child but the people of Johannesburg definitely don’t.

This also ties into the visual pleasures that the film provides; the Vodacom-advertising Ponte City Apartments (already a popular filming spot) provide several interesting scenes and Ninja’s hideout is awash with neon colour – Die Antwoord’s influence on the film must have been an inspiration here.

Unfortunately, in the final half an hour or so, the film falls apart. It stumbles from one far-fetched event to the next, throwing every loose plot thread into the mix in a vague hope that the end result will satisfy all; sadly, it fails. Most disappointing of all, though, is Blomkamp’s decision to suddenly allow ultra-violent influences to creep in; the film hypocritically begins to revel in the bloody violence that it seemingly condemned earlier, as though it desperately needs something exciting to keep the action movie fans happy. Even putting aside the divisive final plot events, the ending is a bitter disappointment.

Thankfully, the earlier, more intriguing moments of Chappie are strong enough to prevent the movie from turning into a total dud. There’s a real heart to the film and a lot can be excused as a result – the ending really does push that to the test though. It’ll be interesting to see if the same applies for Blomkamp’s next project – the forthcoming fifth installment in the Alien franchise.


Nightcrawler (2014)

Lou Bloom is not a nice man – the very first scene of Nightcrawler (which depicts Lou attempting to steal from a construction site, attacking a security guard and stealing his watch) tells us this fairly bluntly. Yet somehow, there’s an oddly engaging and charismatic appeal to the character – an intangible sort of quality which sets the tone for the dark but appealing Nightcrawler well.

Lou’s journey into the murky, brutal and competitive world of crime journalism is far more exciting than it really has any right to be, thanks to a great script and an acting masterclass from Jake Gyllenhaal. Slimy, eccentric and downright weird, in the hands of many actors, the conflicting appeal of Lou Bloom would have been lost. Happily though, Gyllenhaal dives right in to inject a thrilling mixture of dark amusement and terrifying fervour into an increasingly bleak world.

Lou’s antics are unforgivable (stealing a racing bike then trading it at a pawn shop for film equipment, all while mischievously riding around the shop) yet the purpose behind his grisly actions is kept at the forefront by a tightly written script which rarely wastes a line, let alone an entire scene.

Gyllenhaal is obviously the stand-out then but Nightcrawler features some great break-out performances from the supporting cast too. Riz Ahmed (probably most recognisable from cult comedy Four Lions) definitely deserves a mention for his role as Rick, Lou’s somewhat reluctant assistant. He serves as a balancing act to the whole thing – as Lou’s actions grow increasingly disturbing, Rick acts as the ignored shoulder angel; watching him dig his heels in as the narrative rolls on is immensely engrossing.

All this serves as a platform to build an enthralling tale about the growing dearth of ethics in TV journalism – the exploration of these elements is almost satirical. Lou’s commissioning editor Nina Romina (Rene Russo) sums it up neatly – “to capture the spirit of what we air, think of our news cast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut”. This underlying scrutiny of seedy television production is immensely thought-provoking and it constantly finds new layers to confront.

All of this would be impressive for an experienced, well-versed director – the fact that Nightcrawler serves as the directorial debut for Dan Gilroy is staggering. The slick neo-noir elements suit the film’s content well with the subtle, mystical, synth-driven soundtrack perfectly capturing the mood. Light and shadow are used beautifully throughout, effectively conveying or contrasting the increasingly erratic swings of Lou’s mind; fans of top quality cinematography will find plenty to pour over here.

A tense, exhilarating thriller which manages to be effortlessly dark and disturbing, Nightcrawler is an absolute must-watch on several levels – Gyllenhaal’s performance will rightfully be lauded for years to come but it’s the more subtle elements which really impress. The script is engaging, conflicting and sprinkles humorous lines in at the opportune moments, allowing Gilroy to craft a film that will undoubtedly be tagged as a cult classic soon enough.