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Hugh Likes Video Games: Final Fantasy Tactics

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Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions
Published by Square-Enix
Played on PS Vita

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The Skinny:The definitive version of the 1997 Classic that put tactical RPG’s on the map.

Final Fantasy Tactics isn’t the first isometric, turn-based tactical RPG, but it is a milestone in the sub-genre, and a breakthrough hit in The West that lead to the success of later games such as the Disgaea franchise. A stylistic follow up to developer Quest’s “Tactics Ogre,” both were directed by Yasumi Matsuno. FFT mixes the structure of Tactics Ogre with the Job System of Final Fantasy to create a highly-satisfying strategic game. And the depth of gameplay is perfectly set off by a complex, engaging fantasy story of power, betrayal, and warring houses.
Players are thrust into the boots of Ramza Beoulve, the youngest son of a minor but distinguished noble family. He gets caught up in a web of intrigue surround a set of mysterious, powerful artifacts during a civil war, forcing him to choose between protecting his family’s honor, and serving justice.
Twenty years later, Final Fantasy Tactics still holds up well. Its mix of highly-detailed 32-bit character sprites with 3D backgrounds works very well, and has a stylish quality. It doesn’t suffer from the same dated polygonal visuals the way contemporary games like Final Fantasy VII have. The original PSX release still has its flaws, though. The translation was spotty, and a few critical bugs in the game, including one that makes saved data unreadable, hamper play.
These were resolved in the 10th Anniversary PSP release, The War of the Lions. This feels like the definitive version, with a delightfully florid “Game of Thrones”-inflected translation, extra classes, new hidden characters, and animated cutscenes. The new cutscenes feel very much of their time, but the game plays and beautifully. The additions are all fun and do little to break the balance of the game. This is the most widely-available version, as the PSP port was carried over to the PS Vita store, and is available now for IOS and Android devices.
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions is the bar by which other tactical games are measured. If you haven’t played it, set aside fifty to one hundred hours of your time. It is well worth the investment.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Letter Quest Remastered

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Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered
Bacon Bandit Games
Played on PS Vita
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On the whole, I’ve never gotten into touchscreen games on the PS Vita. The functionality works for the most part, but feels imprecise and gimmicky when I have a suite of perfectly good buttons right there. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised by Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered.
An enhanced port of a computer puzzle game, Letter Quest is a riff on the Puzzle Quest formula of mixing turn-based RPG and Puzzle Game mechanics. The twist is that the game in question is Boggle rather than Bejeweled. Players have a grid of fifteen letters to arrange into words using the touch screen, which works remarkably well here. Each letter scores points which the hero, a cute cartoon death named ‘Grimm’ turns into damage against an enemy. Each level has a few enemies that have different stats and abilities in addition to attacking the hero. For example, they can change the letters on you tiles or give your tiles nasty effects like poison or spikes for a few turns. Outside of combat, players can level up their abilities or tweak the design on their scythe or tile sets.
The puzzle combat is simple and addictive, as it should be. While the ability to level up attacks and boost particular word damage can allow children or limited wordsmiths to power through, the game has a long list of bonus objectives for completionists or players looking for a greater challenge.
As for the design, the monster and character designs are cute, and the remastered scores are pleasant but repetitive, but there isn’t much here in terms of plot. What story there is gets laid out through a set of comic panels players unlock as they progress. It’s all inconsequential and breezy, and seems almost as though these were assets left over from another project, but they all work well enough. The design doesn’t feel the need to justify itself, it’s just a pleasant background to try and rack up a ten-letter SAT word against. But that’s just fine for the price.
Letter Quest Remastered is a pleasant diversion for bibliophiles of all stripes. I played it as a part of Sony’s PS Plus collection, but it, or its slightly downgraded predecessor, is available on just about every console or mobile device store.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Dragon Quest

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Dragon Quest I for Android
Created by Yuji Horii
Published by Square Enix
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Square Enix is not a company that is shy about porting its classic games to new platforms.  WIth three of the most beloved Japanese Role Playing Game brands in their stable, it’s easy to see why.  And with the ubiquity of mobile gaming, it is only good business for them to move into the tablet and phone market.  But while many of these ports have been based on early updates such as the DS or PSP ports of early Final Fantasy games, the mobile port of Dragon Quest seems to be developed for the phone.
Dragon Quest, which was called “Dragon Warrior” when it was released in North America, was a full-on phenomenon in Japan but never quite took off in the United States.  The U.S. never even saw the two Super Famicom itterations of the series until they were released for the Nintendo DS in 2009 and 2011.
The mobile version of Dragon Quest is a bit to get used to but retains all the charm of the original.  The first surprise is that it runs in portrait rather than landscape orientation.  I was put off at first, but it actually works with the game’s graphical style quite well.  DQ is arguably the first true Japanese Role Playing Game, and a lot of the tropes of the subgenre start here.  Like the original, battles take place in windows that pop up on the map rather than transitioning to their own screen.  This actually works really well in portrait mode once you get used to it.  The sprites seem to come from one of the 16-bit versions of the game, and look great, but remain simple.  The soundtrack is a gorgeous, high fidelity version that sounds great, even out of the rear speaker on my Galaxy S5.  The english translation is based on Dragon Warrior’s psuedo-Shakespearian script, which is fine, but reads oddly printed in an arial font.  Windows have the original black bubble quality, but commands are on phone buttons that look a little off.  These all felt a little distracting, but don’t get in the way of the experience.
The gameplay itself, aside from a few shortcuts from the menu, remains unchanged.  This is great, but as the origin of the JRPG, it still has some rough edges.  Be ready to spend a lot of time leveling up, and accept that sometimes the game will kill you and there will have been nothing you could have done to prevent it.  Also be prepared to wander a bit.  It’s still a fun and entertaining experience, but this game doesn’t hold your hand.
If you’re looking for a bit of a gaming history lesson, or if you’re an older gamer looking for a nostalgic refresher, Dragon Quest I for mobile platforms is a bit to get used to, but does an excellent job delivering a classic game.  You can download it from your preferred app store.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Final Fantasy Adventure

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Final Fantasy Adventure

Game Boy

Square/Sun Soft

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Today we’re traveling back in time for a classic edition of Hugh Likes Video Games.  Final Fantasy Adventure is a action RPG originally released for the Game Boy by Square.  Released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu, western fans may be more familiar with its blockbuster sequel, Super Nintendo’s “Secret of Mana.”  The game follows a escaped gladiatorial slave as he fights against the forces of the evil Glaive empire to protect a mysterious girl who may be the key to an ancient power.

A top-down action role playing game, Final Fantasy Adventure feels more like the Legend of Zelda than its command-based namesake.  In fact, the name was changed for the U.S. market to tie-in to the popular NES and SNES titles.  Over the course of the game, the hero, who the player names themselves, equips a variety of weapons, armor and magic, travels through a world that is surprisingly vast for the little handheld, and befriends a number of allies to help in his adventure.

Having recently replayed Final Fantasy Adventure, I can say that it holds up in some ways and not others.  The combat is solid fun, and the story is spare but enjoyable.  The repetitive dungeons and occasionally frustrating puzzles, which occasionally rely on luck rather than skill, are not.  Also aggravating are the town NPCs, who have completely idiotic pathfinding, and give long speeches whenever you touch them.  Getting out of town can occasionally be more of a hassle than the dungeon you just left.

Despite the antiquated elements of the game, Final Fantasy Adventure remains a hidden gem from the dawn of handheld gaming.  It is not yet available in the Nintendo Virtual Console store, but there was a rather bland remake for the game boy color called “Sword of Mana.”  Unfortunately, it didn’t hold up to the original.  If you have an old Game Boy or GBA laying around, pick up this one if you get the chance.