Saturday, December 02, 2006

Tis the Season: For Video Games

Let’s just say finals are really hard to focus on this time of year. There are a ton of great video games being released for the holiday push. Not only on the “older” consoles (PS2, Xbox, and GameCube) but the new systems (Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360) as well. What follows are mini-reviews of the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Final Fantasy XII. If you want to avoid those (I understand) just read the following two paragraphs for general thoughts about the Wii.

I will start this off bluntly: The Wii is amazing. Not just "really fun" amazing (which it is) but possibly "world changing" awesome. This really may be the machine that finally brings video games to the masses. The motion sensing capabilities on Nintendo's machine surpassed all expectations. It is easy, responsive, rewarding, and downright enjoyable to use. Whether you are swinging the Wiimote as a baseball bat or golf club, slicing with a sword or surgeons knife, or shooting a Nazi, the controller does a lot to immerse you in the game. Plus it does a whole lot to quell the stereotype of the zombie-like gamer by forcing you to get up and be active while gaming.

A lot of people have argued that video games have gotten too serious for their own good and forgot about being fun. I am not saying Halo 2, World of Warcraft, Resident Evil 4, and the other "hardcore" games aren't fun, because they are. But the bottom line is they aren't for everyone. Fifteen button controls, blood and gore, and hours of time devotion are daunting to a lot of people. The Wii changes all that. Anyone and I mean anyone, can pick up and play this thing in a matter of minutes. My dad, who hasn't played a video game since the golden days of NES, not only learned Wii bowling, but beat me. He was the one who wanted to play "one more round." We stayed up until about 12:30 the night I came home for Thanksgiving playing Wii Sports. It was truly something I never thought would ever happen, even when I heard about the Wii. Nintendo wasn't lying, from kids to grandparents to girlfriends; the Wii really is for everyone.

Along with the Wii I also purchased The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Or as I like to call it The Legend of Zelda: Why I Failed all my Finals. I can't seem to stop playing it. The Wii's killer app, TP may be the best Zelda to date. Originally slated for the GameCube, TP was delayed a few times. Most recently (and probably intelligently) to coincide with the release of the Wii. The wait was worth it. TP is everything Zelda fans love: puzzle solving, swordplay, horseback riding, quirky mini-games, and epic boss battles. The graphics are very nice, although not that much improved from the GameCube era. But really, it's Zelda; graphics have never been of the utmost importance. Game play has always been number one, and TP does not disappoint.

*Minor spoiler warning*
All the familiar items are present: the lamp, bombs, bow and arrow, and the iron boots. They all have new twists on them (to steal from G4: iron boots + magnetic rock = awesome) and are fun to use in figuring out puzzles and finding enemy weaknesses. Much like the previous Zelda installments Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, there is a twist in Twilight Princess. At certain points in the game you turn into a wolf form to solve certain puzzles and dungeons. The wolf parts of the game are interesting if not as good as the Link parts. You use your canine abilities to sniff out clues, dig under buildings, and talk to other animals.

I cannot recommend Twilight Princess enough, and I am not even done with it yet. There is just so much to do in this game and all of it is enjoyable. The fishing mini-game could be a game by itself it is so in depth. Long-time fan of the series or not, Twilight Princess is the must have Wii game and one of the best games of not only 2006, but may be the best Zelda game ever.

Before Twilight Princess stole my soul I was playing a little indie game called Final Fantasy XII. Some of you may have heard of it (end stupid sarcasm). Most who know me know I love the Final Fantasy series. I fell in love with FFVIII (best game ever, in my opinion) and thanks to re-releases own every game from FF3-FFXII. Final Fantasy XII has been in the making for quite some time and is a revolution of sorts in the series.

Without getting any more hyper-dorky than I already have, traditionally Final Fantasy games have been turned based. You input commands, and then the AI does. But in FFXII it is quasi-real time, a lot like your MMORPG’s. Like most people I was doubtful at first, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But the Gambit system (you program your party members’ actions and set them in priority) is deep, rewarding, and user-friendly.

But what sets the FF franchise aside from other games is high production value and sweeping storyline. The game is almost a vehicle to advance the story, not the other way around. I won’t give away any details but the story is very political in nature involving: murder, suicide, betrayal, and war. The story unfolds in gorgeous cutscenes that really are the last hurrah for the PS2. Characters are interesting, well voiced, and believable. Graphically the game is a wonder and probably the best on the PS2.

Any fan of RPG’s owes it to themselves to play FFXII; it is the best RPG available on the PS2 and is in the top 5 best Final Fantasy games ever. Which is quite the statement.

Between FFXII and Zelda it is going to be tough to focus on unimportant things like “school work”, “grades”, “sleeping”, “eating”, and “bathing properly”.

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