Trying to understand how games work

Category Archives: Xbox 360

It feels weird to start playing Final Fantasy XI in 2021. There’s a 20-year history to this game that’s immediately apparent from the title screen. A version number of “30210327_1” is in the corner. Pictures representing the game’s expansions are also listed here to show off the sheer amount of stuff that’s been added in since it first came out. It’s not even over as Square Enix are still adding more. I got a distinct feeling that they will never truly be finished with this.

When I started playing it was overwhelming. There were a lot of things I didn’t fully understand, so I had to do research. It’s not as easy to just pick up and play this one, which is what I’ve managed for several other Final Fantasy games. This one is more of a commitment (a commitment I abandoned after a few weeks but I’ll get to that). Even just getting this game ready to play required more effort than usual, as I had to set up an account and also change some settings to make sure the game actually ran on my PC.

It’s not surprising why many longtime Final Fantasy fans I’ve spoken to choose to write off this game entirely. The immense scope of it gives completionists plenty of anxiety, and it still continuing to require a subscription fee is off-putting. I’ve gone through this as part of a larger project to play through Final Fantasy from the start and it’s always seemed like the one that would be too much work.

So what was it actually like for me to play this? Surprisingly lonely. One thing added into the game at some point was something called “Trusts”, which are simply AI-controlled party members which you can summon to assist in battle. This gives an impression that the game can be played alone, as trusts of many different classes can be summoned to accommodate what the playable character can’t do. They were somewhat limited in how they could help, so they weren’t a full replacement for real players. Even with that caveat they helped me make a fair amount of progress.

The game’s cutscenes also emphasize a solo nature to the game. They position every player as a lone hero, which is normal for most RPGs, but strange in a game purpose built for grouping people together. I do understand that writing a videogame where you’re told that millions of people are also doing the same things to save the world is potentially difficult, but sticking to conventions here doesn’t feel quite right.

Because the main character is also a player-created silent protagonist, it brings a much different style of storytelling compared to what I was used to with the series. The protagonist of Final Fantasy XI is effectively an extension of the player. A blank slate for anyone to project their own feelings on or roleplay with. With main characters from prior games, such as Cloud, Squall, and Tidus, I was able to see how they grew over time because I spent most of the game with them. Although some of those characters started off emotionally isolated, they weren’t always lonely because the characters that followed them gave support, both emotionally and in combat. Those games were big open doors into pivotal points in their lives. To contrast, my created character would almost never speak, and the party of trusts that accompanied me didn’t say much either.

Defined characters that develop over time exist here as the NPCs but those are still limited by comparison. I only had small amounts of time with them before having to spend many hours on an adventure before I could see them again. It felt as though I was only peering in small windows into their lives. The moments I had to find out more about people were often when they were giving me missions. Short functional scenes with a bit of character flavour.

I also didn’t find many other players when I was adventuring. There were crowds of them in towns and cities, but forests, fields, and dungeons had significantly lower amounts of players hanging around.

On the day I began playing I found another player in a starting dungeon. They were killing all of the enemies before I even had a chance to, meaning that I had to wait like I was in a queue for a theme park ride. They did apologise for this, but I didn’t know the right buttons for sending messages at that moment so I just left an awkward silence. It gave a bad first impression of the game, but it turned out this would not be a common occurrence for me. 

I also encountered another player who seemed very proud that they were controlling two characters at once. It was very bold of them to tell me through the in-game chat function. They were having the second character follow them, but I wonder if they ever tried having them in two different places at the same time. 

While it might have been more convenient for me to not come across many players, as my initial anecdote suggested, these moments highlighted how much time I was spending entirely alone.

It’s an odd feeling as many of the systems seem intended to encourage cooperation. There isn’t much in the way of tutorials and the game doesn’t always pinpoint on a map where you need to go (and the version I bought on Steam doesn’t seem to come with a manual either). I would assume that this would have encouraged players to work together in order to figure some things out back in the day. 

These days it’s become more common to share information through indirect methods such as fan wikis and Reddit. These are also a small window into the communities that still exist, and the history of the game too. Sometimes I would read a comment thread complaining about something that led to people joining forces. There were also plenty of “back in my day” posts which often brought up how comparably convenient the game has become.

I looked through a fair amount of these so that I could know what I was doing and where I needed to go. This would lead to me having the game display in a smaller on-screen window so that I could have pages up on the screen while I was playing. It could have created more distance from the game but I actually felt a little more connected to it, as it meshed well with the in-game systems.

This is more of an involved game than any of the other Final Fantasies I’ve played so far. Having to do research in order to understand the game feels like preparing for an adventure. The game itself features a few systems to make it feel that way too. Maps have to be bought from vendors, many areas have to be reached on foot (or by mount), enemies can be sized up to see if they’re safe to fight, and quest items have to be handed in using the same systems used to trade with players. What’s interesting is that they are all simply options in a menu. It evokes enough to spark my imagination without the need to recreate a physical gesture within the game to seem “immersive”.

There became a point where I started to feel comfortable with Final Fantasy XI. I was gaining levels at a fast rate. Travelling around the world was much easier to do once I was able to connect more fast-travel points. With the help of the trusts I was able to get through many encounters quite easily. Until they failed me.

I was almost finished with the base game. All that was left to do was a fight with the big bad, the Shadow Lord. A boss fight that ended up becoming a brick wall. After a certain amount of time in the encounter, he becomes immune to physical attacks. My trusts had foolishly used up all of their magic points before that moment, so they just kept trying to hit him with attacks that did no damage at all. The Shadow Lord then proceeded to slowly defeat each party member one by one until the fight was over. I tried the fight multiple times with all sorts of different trusts and it just didn’t work out. There were things I could have done to become stronger, but it was so much of a grind that I decided to give up on the game.

If anything I don’t necessarily feel that this is a fault with the game. I made assumptions that I could power through a game built for multiplayer on my own. I could have taken the opportunity to engage with the community of Final Fantasy XI but it seemed unfair for me to do so, as I was only planning on being a tourist on a short stay in Vana’diel.

It really feels as though I can’t give a fair assessment on this game as a whole because I wasn’t able to break past that wall. Things I disliked could have gotten better, things I liked could have gotten worse. So much could have been different or even the same after it, but at this point I won’t know.

Maybe if I had roped some other people in before starting, I might have been able to see more of it. For now I’m going to move on to something else.


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It’s fairly common for people to overstate how difficult Dark Souls is. In the past couple of weeks I managed to finish both games in the series. They’re fantastic games, but really not as rock hard as people make them out to be. As long as you’re cautious, observant and learn how to create a decent character build, then the game gets much easier. Not to say it becomes super easy, but it becomes manageable.

There are certainly moments where I felt frustrated because I was losing a fair amount of times, but then I would slow down, and keep an eye out for what was killing me. After doing that I wasn’t dying so much. Most of my deaths were down to rushing in and over-estimating my own abilities.

I even managed to get my younger brother to sit and play the game, he mashed buttons through most of the combat and ended up losing very quickly. He didn’t enjoy it. To be fair he doesn’t play video games much.

But really, Dark Souls might just be one of the greatest video games I have played recently. Once I figured out how to handle each enemy, it became very satisfying, not because I was winning by blind luck, but because I earned those victories. It doesn’t stick you in a room full of fast enemies and expect you to deal with it quickly, Dark Souls works at your own pace. You can avoid being overwhelmed by picking off enemies one at a time. That might sound very easy but don’t let your guard down too much around a single enemy.

When I finished the game a friend said to me: “Every other game is going to feel a lot easier now.” I said not if I play Dark Souls II next, which is exactly what I did.

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For as grim as they are, the games can sometimes be remarkably pretty.

Dark Souls II is even easier, mostly because a lot of the bosses follow the same patterns as each other, healing items are in an absolute abundance, checkpoints feel closer together and your character levels up a lot faster.

There are a few points where the game feel a bit harder, but not fair. You are forced into combat situations where you have to take on multiple enemies at once, which is not suited to some of the mechanics of the game. The lock on targeting isn’t really made to deal with more than two or three enemies at a time, which is why it becomes a bit of a hassle in large combat situations where you have to take on five or more enemies at once. And when there are so many enemies, you have to wait for a lucky chance in which one of them isn’t attacking, which can sometimes take a fair bit of waiting.

Then there are moments where it just feels rougher around the edges. The hit-boxes in the game don’t feel consistent, some of them are about three times the size of what you’d think they would be. Sure you can get used to it eventually, but it’s not fun to be suddenly magnetised into an enemy’s instant-kill grab attack.

I wouldn’t say that this makes it a bad game because it’s still better than a lot of games out there. At its greatest it still has the same satisfaction you would get from besting an area in the first game, it just doesn’t feel as refined in spots.

Which is why I would seriously recommend trying these games out if you haven’t, they might not be for you, and it’s possible you could get frustrated from losing so much. But I haven’t felt as satisfied by a game recently as when I did when I took down some of the more challenging bosses.


1If you’ve played Telltale’s The Walking Dead, I think you’d sort of know what you’re in for here.

This plays just like that, it takes the adventure game format, and instead of making it about ‘item a’ in ‘slot b’ style puzzles, it gives more of a focus on narrative choices, mostly through dialogue.

Often at times you’re given a timer, and forced to make a decision that doesn’t quite have a clear cut right or wrong answer.

They’re also both released episodically, which worked great because it gave it a similar feel to a new TV show, complete with the whole dialogue of “Oh did you see that new episode”, “No man don’t spoil!”

As much as there are similarities, this does not feel the same.

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For a start it’s a much more colourful game, set during the 80s, it makes use of a bright pinks and light blues, but it’s shadowy night-time setting gives a gritty noir tone to the visuals.

The pacing feels slower, it doesn’t have the constant sense of dread that came from The Walking Dead’s apocalyptic setting.

Once I had gotten quite into the game, I stopped doing internal comparisons, and started appreciating the game for it’s own aspects.

It’s based on the comic book Fables, and has a murder mystery, peppered with aspects of class tension, all presented through fairy tale characters in a modern setting, known in-game as ‘fables’. Most of the non-human looking ones have bought ‘glamours’ a spell which allows them to appear human, however it costs money.

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And Telltale have managed to make good characters out of them. The Big Bad Wolf reformed and is now Bigby Wolf, sheriff of Fabletown, New York. Most fables see him as too strict and controlling, how he sees himself is up to you through the dialogue choices. Mr Toad has gone from the lavishness of Toad Hall to a cheap apartment where he can’t even afford a glamour to make himself look human, and is frustrated by it.

Then there is an interrogation scene, which you look around a crime scene in someone’s house, and ask them questions. Picking the right dialogue choices to catch them off guard is really cool, I wouldn’t want to spoil too much of it, but I think it’s experiencing for yourself.

But it does have it’s drawbacks, towards the beginning a few of the fight scenes feel like they lack impact, and are heavily dependant on timed button prompts. It’s a shame because at times those sorts of button prompts were used to such good effect in the Walking Dead. Also if you’re the impatient sort, you might have to tolerate some load times, but nothing crazy significant.

For now though this is a good first start, and has made me hopeful for future episodes.

The Wolf Among Us Episode 1 is available on XBLA, PSN and Steam. Steam requires you to buy all episodes at once, a season pass is available for XBLA and PSN to gain every episode when they are released.


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One of my favourite things about this game are benches.

It sounds mundane, but sitting on a bench moves the camera out to give a full view of the area, and the locations in Brothers are beautiful.

It’s great looking in general, with a lovely soundtrack to compliment it’s visuals, and despite the lack of any understandable dialogue it manages to tell a great story through sight and sound.

It opens with simple premise of two brothers journeying off to a far land to find medicine for their sick father, and builds to a very emotional conclusion.

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The control scheme can take a small amount used to, each brother is controlled with either analogue stick, and can sometimes feel like the videogame equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your belly. However there isn’t really a lot of dexterity required in playing Brothers, and the controls really serve to pack an emotional punch in certain scenes.

Following a recent trend with certain games, I managed to finish it in one sitting, about 3 hours-ish. I like that, it can give a more ‘movie-like’ pacing to these sorts of games, it also means that there’s never a dull moment in the game. I’d rather take a great 3 hour experience over a 40 hour slog.

If you have an evening, or lazy afternoon to spare, I’d recommend giving Brothers a try, especially if you like purely narrative driven games.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is available to buy on Steam, Xbox Live, and Playstation Network.


Microsoft have revealed their new console, the Xbox One.

It is going to have more emphasis on content that isn’t games, such as TV and films.

Games shown at the conference were Forza 5, multiple EA sports games, and Call of Duty: Ghosts.

The system will also have a new Kinect bundled with the system.

Microsoft did not give any indication of how much the system will cost, used games will also require a “preowned fee” to be paid.

Xbox 360 games will also not be backwards compatible with the system.

It’ll be launching in time for Christmas, is anyone intending to get one? I’m not quite sold on it myself, but we’ll see what they have to show at E3.



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