Every month you can watch reviews and read our thoughts on the games we've been playing, old and new. This month we have two video reviews and a lot of little bits and pieces for you to read.
Ace Combat 7
If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago if I was excited for the new Ace Combat game I’d tell you I don’t need no new Ace Combat because I’ve got Afterburner Climax on my PS3 so I’m sorted for beautiful blue skies and screaming fighter jets on my big telly in my living room.
But then I moved my PS3 through to the spare room so I don’t really play it that often, so a new fighter jet combat fix was needed and Ace Combat 7 fits the bill perfectly.
What do you look for in a flight sim? Is it the ability to press all the wee buttons in the cockpit in the right sequence and see what they all do? Is it the challenge of taking off and landing with complete precision? Well save yourself the money and skip Ace Combat 7; it’s not for you. But if what you want in a flight sim is fun, non-stop thrills, the sheer joy of firing off endless missiles and doing barrel rolls to your heart’s content then step right up to the danger zone; this is your game.
The secret to Ace Combat’s magic is that it feels just realistic enough to have weight and majesty when you’re flying around in your super Tomcat, but it’s also peppered with just enough arcade game design to stop any boring anorak-y flight sim stuff from getting in the way of having stupid amounts of fun. This game is just full of extremely cool details that serve no other purpose than to maximise fun. Seriously, hold the missile button after you’ve launched one and you get this amazing kill cam that tracks it heading to its target, and it never gets old.
Missions in Ace Combat 7 are all about twenty minutes long; some of them are about bombing targets, some of them have dogfights, and some of them are the kind of big stupid anime set-piece that the Ace Combat series is known and loved for. In every mission, you not only have to fight against enemies, but weather and clouds and other dangers that spice things up; and the effects are all ramped up to eleven. I don’t think a real jet freezes after being in a cloud for more than five seconds, but these ones do, and it forces you to really think about if you want to use that cloud cover or not.
If you’re looking at this game and thinking “oh no I don’t think I’ll be very good at this” then don’t worry; you’re covered. There’s an easy difficulty, and also a whole other control scheme that takes care of rolling the jets automatically; I’ve not tried it because I’m an ace pilot myself but from what I hear it makes the game play a lot like Rogue Leader, and that’s no bad thing. What you might not love about Ace Combat 7, on any difficulty, is the amount of times you’ll need to retry missions. This is arcade gaming through and through, and every mission has the ability to turn sour with no notice, forcing multiple restarts until you manage to scrape through with just enough points. Your patience for this kind of game design will depend on how much you like arcade games; it’s down to personal taste, but personally I love it.
And if you do love it too, you’ll find yourself in a strange anime-like world of real jets fighting around giant sci-fi space elevators; of prisoners forced to do suicide missions and of old men with incredible names.
It can be an incredibly beautiful game; I’m on PS4 Pro, and it runs so fast and smooth that it’s a joy to play. And I don’t know how Project Aces did it, but they managed to capture the perfect shade of blue for the sky that puts even those famous Sega blue skies to the test.
Sadly, I haven’t managed to fly in those blue skies in VR yet, which is a shame because it looks to be what VR was made for. Ah well, time to save the pennies.
Look, I’ve failed you here if you’re looking for a critical, in-depth review. I love this game, this beautiful thing that’s saved me from the dreary January blues. I wish I could fly in these skies forever, shooting down baddies and watching their planes explode as I sail past them at the speed of sound into the deep, dark blue.
Tales of Vesperia
New Year, new me? More like New Year, new JRPG.
Well, kind of new. New to anyone who didn’t own an Xbox 360 anyway. Tales of Vesperia comes from a time of anarchy and lawlessness, a time when Microsoft tempted Japanese companies to release great exclusive RPGs on a console that no-one in Japan was interested in. Honestly, they only sold four Xbox 360s in Japan, and all four of those people are now in the jail.
Anyway, Tales of Vesperia has been recently spruced up and released far and wide on all the usual suspects, including the wonderful, sensual Switch, my preferred way of playing daft long games. While I have played the game before, my dalliance was all too brief, so it’s been great to finally invest some proper toilet time into this lovely, lovely game.
Let’s say you’ve never played a Tales game before and you want to know what you’ve got in store; well, fucking calm down and listen and I’ll tell you. First up, all that vitamin D that you’re missing in January, it’s going to come bursting out the screen as soon as you start to play Vesperia; it’s colourful, it’s bright and straightaway it feels like you’re starting an adventure.
Right from the off, Yuri and Repede, that’s the dug, have a brilliant chemistry that helps to tie you into the world and their quest is simple and driven by a desire to make life easier for those around them, a theme that runs throughout the entire game. It’s not really all about saving the world, it’s about healing it. All the characters are driven to improve their world in different ways, whether it’s through researching blastia, a source of great power, or simply by fighting a big bear. It helps that the characters are beautifully put together, and while they do follow the usual archetypes, there’s a depth to them that makes them feel more rounded than the JRPG protagonists from more recent games *cough Noctis Lucis Caelum*.
Throughout the game you’ll get to know the characters better through the hundreds of little skits that become available; usually these are short comedic sequences that while simple, are just bursting full of personality and have become one of the standout features of the whole series.
Thankfully for those new to the series, the combat, or battle system, is nice and simple, and although it does get a little more complicated as you play, Vesperia paces itself well and doesn’t try to overwhelm you. All fights take place in a wee encounter zone where you can move around freely, attacking whichever enemy you choose while your pals get on with battering whatever wolf or goblin you’ve bumped into. You use your basic attack to start your combo and then you can use a selection of Artes as stronger moves, inflicting different elemental or status effects. Artes unlock as you fight and are mapped to a combination of buttons and analogue sticks. It sounds complicated, but it does become second nature the longer you play.
You get new skills from using different weapons in a similar style to Final Fantasy 9 and these can increase your stats or add bonuses when you use certain weapon types and so on. Later on you’ll learn powerful finishing moves and over limit attacks, but that’s in the future and I like to live in the present.
So, if it wasn’t already obvious, I’m really enamoured with Tales of Vesperia. After taking quite a break from the series, this game has felt so fresh and exciting. It’s as close to a perfect arcade JRPG that you’re going to find, where fights are quick and fun, the story easy to follow and the characters funny and engaging. While I will admit that you will need to do a wee bit of grinding from time to time, it’s definitely small “g” grinding and not just busywork to extend the life of the game.
Anyway, you can bump the difficulty down at any time and put it back up again afterwards, I won’t tell anyone, don’t worry. If you’ve never played a games in the Tales series or even if you’ve been tempted to dip your toe into the genre but you’ve been a little hesitant, Vesperia is legitimately the game for you. After all, wasn’t your resolution for 2019 to spend more time on the toilet? I know mine was *sound of toilet flushing*
Lovely wee platformer with excellent music. Reminded me a lot of Journey, minus the multiplayer elements. Completed it just after the bells and I hope it sets the tone for 2019.
Never leave a JRPG hanging. That’s the rule, and I always break it. I’m happy to say that Persona 5 was one of the best games I played the year it came out, but I moved onto something else about half way through. Getting back into the rhythm of a Persona game has been great, but Kingdom Hearts 3 is about to take over my life so we’ll see how I get on!
Kingdom Hearts 1.5HD Remix
I’ve finally got past the “sandcastle” level and I’m really enjoying it! It definitely feels like an older game and some of the character designs, mostly the Square Enix FF characters, look a bit mince, but it’s a colourful JRPG and that makes it stand out. The story isn’t an absolute mess at this point so time will tell how I feel about the series as I go. Hoping to play 2.5 before playing Kingdom Hearts 3 at some time in the future.
Into the Breach
Everyone’s favourite game of last year and I’m finally playing it (because it was in a sale before Christmas). It’s a really cool game, but I’m dreadful at it. I hope to one day complete at least three of the islands and retire to the future, satisfied and ready to party.
Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu
I’ve always been bad at Pokemon games, but this one is simple enough for a bumbler like me to enjoy. Taking my time with it, but the combination of the traditional Pokemon formula with Pokemon Go seems to work pretty well and doesn’t get too repetitive.
Outrun 2006 Coast 2 Coast
I ditched the Switch for my morning commute the other day and brought my PSP with me, hoping for a shot of Ridge Racer 2, but I forgot I left the Outrun disc in it. What a shame that I had to fill my commuting time with one of the most beautiful, wondrous driving games ever made.