It's not exactly current news, but has anyone out there developed an addiction to everything that is Mass Effect related? I seriously haven't played a series of games so gratifying since I became addicted to being startled and compulsively played the boardgame Operation for 6 months straight.
For those of you not in the know (which, at this point, if I keep getting my friends to play Mass Effects 1 and 2, will be no one), Mass Effect is a sci-fi RPG with varying degrees of action and shooter elements. It's very reliant on character development, story, and atmosphere. By the way, the locations are beautiful:
Combining these three things in a game almost always spells boredom for the casual player (i.e. my wife) unless you have an immense amount of customization of any one of the three aforementioned elements for the player to manipulate. And, lo, Mass Effects 1 and 2 (there's a third one on the way to complete the experience) deliver on the story front in spades (I never wanted to use that phrase, but nothing else sounded any better, so there).
You start out with the option of customizing your character's face and race, but not much else. The atmosphere (setting, design, and world layout) is mostly set so there's not much out-of-bounds going on. Cities are big and worlds are bigger and you get to explore both to your heart's content so far as it goes. Interplanetary travel is done with a rover-styled vehicle and you basically uncover ancient artifacts on uncharted planets with the odd space worm battle or secret base full of pirates. But ultimately, the characters, races, and story are where it's at.
Every single conversation can branch off and go in directions unheard of in choice-heavy games of yore. And almost anything you say and do can either help or hurt your chances of successful character interactions and relations (even the bedroom kind) later on in the game. And character interactions and alien relations (even the bedroom ki....well, you'll see) abound!
Whatever you did in the first game gets imported into the sequel and opens up tons of new options depending on whether you were a Paragon (a good character who lives by morally good standards) or a Renegade (a jar-head douchebag; sometimes being a jerk is the only way to accomplish a task, however). And not to be limited solely to the choices you made in the first game, whatever you do in Mass Effect 2 can actually have dire ramifications throughout the rest of the trilogy.
You gain new crewmembers in 2, and if you don't help them in ways that earn their loyalty, they won't perform to the best of their abilities for you at the end of the game resulting in a single, multiple deaths. Including you, the main character! If your character dies in Mass Effect 2, it's a permanent death. In Mass Effect 3, you'll have to create a new character and carry out a secondary story line to fill shoes made by the main character (Commander Shepherd) from both Mass Effects prior. If you live, you get to import the same character into 3 and carry on the mission.
Oh, and the music? Bleepin' AMAZING!
I've said all of that to say this: I'm obsessed with these games and give them all the thumbs up I have to give. All 9999 of 'em.
Hey, remember that amazing show Lost that wowed us all with 5 seasons of metaphysical and scientific amazingness and characters that were deep enough to drown unaccustomed viewers?
I really can't recommend it to anyone now. Which is strange because my M.O. in life at one point was to get the world united under a banner of Lost. Now, I can't do that because, guess what, you won't be gratified by the final season!
It's the old switcheroo with Lost, I'm afraid. The creators of the show built it up to be equal parts story, mystery, characters, and science, then, for some reason or 'nother, dropped all but the character aspect of it out of season 6! What gives?
Here's the thing: I honestly loved the final episode. Loved it. All the characters (minus some odds and ends) got what they wanted which is closure and the feeling of something found. Which is fine if all I cared about were the characters. But what about the other 90 bajillion questions asked by every viewer of Lost the world over? Oops! Sorry, you don't get anything but the excuse that it was all Red Herrings and prompters to get you to watch the show longer than you probably would have if it had been only about the characters all along!
But it wasn't about the characters solely. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that they got their itches scratched, but man, what about MY itches?!
Season six, ultimately, was a throwaway season with only a very few decent episodes and only one truly good one.
Wanna know how I feel about the show now?
I can't say that I'm a fan of games without saying that I'm a fan of the Final Fantasy series. Or, rather, I was once a huge fan and now my loyalty is dwindling.
I had insane, massive hopes for Final Fantasy XIII. I was expecting this complex game with great characters, layered stories, a dynamic new battle system, and a free-form way to upgrade my character statistics. I think I can sum up the entire game with this detailed image of the combined area maps from the first 5 hours of the game:
Now compare that to the maps of the game before it, FFXII:
Pret-ty big drop off if you ask me.
So, besides the maps, what other stifles does this game present to the once proud Final Fantasy lineage? Tons actually. And here's the thing, nothing in this game is awful. Nothing's great either (except for the graphics and music, which are both beautiful, no doubt), but everything is almost uniformly blah. The characters, while interesting enough, offer nothing to the player with which to empathize. The weapons are yawn. The story is not only told in segments, but in random and hard to place flashbacks. The battle system, while fun and vigorous, gets old quick. It's the equivalent of being really hungry for pancakes, getting some for breakfast, and instead of sides and something to drink, they give you mini pancakes and a maple syrup shake. It's too much all the time.
Now I won't criticize the fact that you only technically control just the main character in battle. That's nothing bad. What's bad is that they give every single character a special ability (that is only attainable near the friggin' end of the game!) and a special Eidolon or summon monster. These summon monsters are weak at best, but they do have pretty neat special abilities of their own. Only, to use them, you have to have a specific character as the lead in your party at that time. So, is there some easy way to switch out your character with the press of a single button or going to a sub-menu? Nope. You have to wait until the battle is over, switch characters and their battle paradigms (more on them in a sec) and find another enemy to maul just so you can utilize said Eidolon's unique power. This is just over indulgent. I know making things complex is the Final Fantasy trademark, but complex and complicated are two different things. This one falls under the latter.
As for the fast paced and frustrating battle system... you have preset paradigms that determine how your character acts towards enemies and allies. I won't list all set paradigms, but suffice it to say there's plenty enough to keep you busy and you have to swap them out at will in battle....ALL THE TIME! There's no breathing room, ever. And here's the kick in the teeth: they give you the option to choose your attacks and defensive moves, but you'll spend 99.99% of the game hitting "Auto Battle" from the battle menu. And if all this sounds confusing, here's a video of the battle system in action. Note: every time the characters have a strange color swirl surrounding them, they're changing paradigms. Also, all that rad moving and slicing and dodging you're seeing? Yeah, the game does that on its own. You just press a single button over and over and hope that it looks pretty on the receiving end.
Here's some sample dialogue:
And that's about it. I would offer more comparisons to other, better games in the series, but to do that, I'd need thousands of hours and tons more resources than I'm willing to muster just to prove that FFXIII is just not very good. Take my word for it, Final Fantasies 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 12 are well worth the time and money, with the sixth installment being the greatest.