Announcing the latest installment
in our “Play For Today” series of video game reviews. This time out we take on Final
Fantasy XIII, MLB 10: The Show and Endless
Ocean 2: Blue World. Watch
out for those screen shots and trailers.
By Aaron Burgess
Game of the Minute: Final
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Developer / Publisher: Square
ESRB Rating: T
What’s your Fantasy? Since its modest 1987 debut
the Final Fantasy series has grown
into the biggest role-playing game on the planet. So, when news broke that Final Fantasy XIII would detour from the
franchise’s core element-the nonlinear, open-ended RPG-fans (including this
one) understandably cocked an eyebrow. The good news is that, while Final Fantasy XIII strips down the
gameplay to a linear, battle-driven style, the storytelling, sound and visual
design that’ve been Final Fantasy hallmarks remain as captivating as ever. The bad news is-well, if you stopped
at the word “detour,” you already know.
Final Fantasy XIII opens in a universe divided into two equally dazzling, if diametrically
opposed, worlds: the cloud city Cocoon, where harmony reigns supreme (at least
on the surface), and the larger terrestrial region Pulse, where-well, let’s
just say it’s not the sort of place you’d want to spend a lot of time.
Unfortunately, due to some twisted machinations among Cocoon’s leadership,
that’s just where the game ultimately takes you-although you don’t arrive in
Pulse on your own. Part of a six-character Cocoon-ite party that’s been wrongly
stigmatized as enemies of the people, you must fight your way through both
worlds to prove your valor.
While it assigns a lead role to the stealthy, pink-haired
Lightning, Final Fantasy XIII gradually puts you in control of all six characters, each of whom develops
roles and capabilities as the story progresses. (And, truth be told, it takes
several hours of play for the real action to start.) You enter battles in
control of one character at a time, but your party members’ roles prove
invaluable to your success in moving through the game. You can assign your
party up to six different combinations of three roles each (a.k.a. Paradigms)
before entering battle, and because no two enemies’ capabilities are the same,
you need to shift Paradigms to get the advantage. It’s a nice addition of
strategy into an otherwise straightforward, turn-based battle system, and it’ll
have you thinking twice before approaching a new foe.
The scaled-back gameplay gives the impression that Final Fantasy XIII is a quick play-and
for those used to the freedom of an open-ended, nonlinear world complete with
challenging mini-games, it may well be, relatively speaking. After a lengthy
warm-up period during which the story takes shape, you’ll spend a good weekend
mastering the battle and skill systems, as well as getting to know the heroes
and villains. Luckily, Final Fantasy XIII‘s
characters and story offer enough complexity that it’s easy to get lost in
their world, even with the borders the game’s developers have put around it.
MLB 10: The Show
Platform: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Sony Computer
ESRB Rating: E
The greatest player of them all. Sports gamers can be real
sticklers for detail, and as its long-running MLB: The Show franchise proves, Sony continues to stay
hyper-focused on the challenge this presents for game developers to step things
up. This year’s installment is loaded with details (did that fan just clamor
for a foul ball?) and camera work so true to life, casual viewers could easily
be fooled into thinking they’re watching a real MLB matchup.
Graphic realism, of course, isn’t the only advancement MLB 10: The Show brings to the game.
Gameplay and AI are remarkably nuanced, with neither being reinvented so much
as they’ve been dialed closer to the real thing. If you’re playing a season,
Franchise mode lets you equip, handicap and even pay players according to their
real-life counterparts in the big leagues. Want to call the game as the
catcher? You can do it in the new Catcher mode. And of course there’s the Road
to the Show mode, back again in version 4.0 with a set of interactive training
games that help you sharpen your player’s fielding and pitching skills as you
move him from the minors to the Show.
Sony has long touted MLB: The Show as “the most realistic baseball
game ever,” and there’s no disputing that claim with this year’s model.
But MLB 10: The Show is also the most
playable baseball game ever-and when
you pair that with the game’s realism, well, you’ve got another homerun.
/ Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: E10+
I can hear the
ocean’s roar… Sometimes you just want a break from the typical
challenge-based game-a need the first Endless
Ocean was happy to fill. Unfortunately for those who crave more a little
more zip with their zone-outs, the free-roaming title felt a bit too relaxed for its own good. Enter Endless Ocean 2: Blue World, which
couples the stress-reducing experience of its predecessor with simple
diversions and point-accumulating challenges.
After a brief setup to customize your character, you
literally dive into Endless Ocean 2, swimming through tranquil, wide-open
environments to find the source of a siren’s call. Of course, you can also skip
this story altogether, choosing instead to explore the sea floor while learning
about and helping the ocean fauna. You’ll find sunken treasures along the way,
too, which you can sell to pay for trinkets, and if you have a broadband
connection and a Wii Speak microphone, you can invite friends to dive with you.
(Assuming, of course, they also have the same setup.)
Simple as it may be, Endless Ocean 2: Blue
World offers significant replay value-even if the graphics are limited to
the Wii’s 480p-tops capability to eclipse reality. But for those times when you
just need to get away from it all, it’s a heck of a lot more affordable than
taking a real dive.
File Under “Extras”
Turtle Beach Ear Force PX21 Universal Gaming Headset
Compatible With: PlayStation 3, XBOX 360, PC
Beach’s latest gaming
headset won’t replace your 5.1 surround system, but if you’d like to give the
rest of the house some peace while you’re gaming into the wee hours, the Ear
Force PX21 is up to the task. The cushioned earpieces help to muffle external
noise, while the stereo-expander feature and variable bass boost let you hear
every footstep, reloading or pulled grenade pin in lifelike detail.
Independent volume controls let you balance in-game audio
with the sounds of your online chat, and the microphone features a flexible
boom that keeps ambient noise from leaking into your commands and curses. Plus,
thanks to a 16-foot cable, you can get up to take a drink without accidentally
waking up your roommates. Retail price is a hair under $80-gear up at Amazon.
Our game guru, Aaron
Burgess, lives digitally but dreams in analog down in Round Rock, Texas. Contact him at email@example.com / AIM: First2Letters.