Vana’diel in your hands: Time to look at Final Fantasy Grandmasters!

A while back now Square-Enix finally announced the official “end” of Final Fantasy XI, and for a moment I and several other people went into a blind panic at the thought of Windurst not being just a PlayOnline portal away. Luckily for us all what they meant (and to be fair, what they said) was “Final Fantasy XI’s story is coming to an end” and that the game would continue on for as long as it remained worthwhile for them to keep the servers running. Considering Ultima flippin’ Online is still going eighteen years after it launched it’s probably safe to assume Vana’diel’s not going anywhere for the time being.

But just as one imagined disaster came and went, another popped up in its place! Square-Enix also announced two new mobile [groan] Final Fantasy XI games – one a F2P [whinge] game with cutesy SD characters [dry-heaves] and another closer to the real thing but “changed to suit the portable format.[primes fingers for baseless ranting about these unannounced changes]

Final Fantasy Grandmasters is the name of the F2P game and it’s been out in Japan for a few days now. And –so far- it’s wonderful.

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Square-Enix have been making great strides in the mobile arena in the past year or two, both in the quality of their more straightforward ports (ranging from Secret of Mana to Final Fantasy VII – heck, even Final Fantasy XIII was available via their streaming service!) and in their understanding of what makes a good fan service-y F2P title (Record Keeper, in my opinion) so it shouldn’t be any real surprise to learn that Grandmasters continues this enlightened trend of being a mobile game based on a popular IP that doesn’t try to trick you into handing over all your money while simultaneously crushing every positive memory you ever had of the game in question.

The first time you play you’re taken to a quick character select where you pick your race and then you’re dumped into a short tutorial section in San d’Oria as a warrior. Suddenly the cute style’s completely fine – you can tell it’s San d’Oria just by looking at the location and the NPCs and in a move that’s as cost-effective as it is nostalgic, all the music in the game’s ripped directly from Final Fantasy XI itself. Once this brief how-to-whack-Rabites bit’s over it’s onto the game proper, and you’re able to select any of the vanilla Final Fantasy XI starting jobs as well as re-customise the look of your character if you so wish.

There are three main varieties of quest to engage in – your bog-standard story questing is where you’ll be spending most of your time, but there are also job-specific quests as well as event quests to have a go at too. The story quests follow a linear route, gradually taking you further away from San d’Oria to familiar locations such as Valkurm Dunes and King Ranperre’s Tomb. The maps you run around on aren’t identical copies of their MMO counterparts, but do still match the general mood and mob spawns of the real thing.

The tasks your given fall into the typical MMO grinding types – kill <X> of a particular enemy type, hunt down a Notorious Monster - that sort of thing. You’re given sixty minutes and allowed two deaths to complete your task; thankfully the small areas, frequent monster respawns and handy “Your Nearest Quest Mob Here” arrow mean that they tend to last more like five to ten.

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Battles are initiated by running into any enemy you see on the area map (thankfully there’s no aggro mechanic in Grandmasters) which then whisks you off to a battle screen where other players can join in the fight in real-time simply by running up to the same enemy as you, making party creation an informal and fluid process that has people join and leave as their quest requirements get fulfilled. The rigid quest system means that everybody on the map has a fixed goal in mind and all the tools to do it as soon as they appear so everybody can just get on with the fine art of beating up Goobbue and trying to avoid Malboro’s Bad Breath attack.

This is good because while Grandmasters is no where near as punishing as its MMO parent it still expects all players to be on the ball and playing their job properly – everyone you meet in battle is another real player and they won’t be too happy to find the healer’s wasted TP (all spells/skills use TP, there’s no MP gauge) casting may-as-well-not-have-bothered attack magic like Dia and now can’t cast Curaga to save the party! Player participation is key to winning battles and also crucial in elevating Grandmasters above typical F2P fare – your personal skill in applying your abilities to the situation will decide the outcome, not raw my-numbers-are-higher-than-your-numbers shenanigans (no more so than is expected of the genre, anyway).

But having said that it is still a F2P game so there has to be a point where they try to extract some money out of you – Square-Enix weren’t put on this earth entirely for the benefit of RPG fans, y’know. Grandmasters, in a twist so strange I can’t actually believe they’ve gone and done it, has no stamina system. At all. You can play all day if you like, and you won’t have to pay a penny to continue doing so. Instead all real-world money is put into the gacha system.

As you’d expect in a F2P game, the gacha tab on your home screen is the place where the rarest and best loot can be found – for a price. That price is currently five hundred gems for a single go, with gems being obtained either through real money purchasing or after successfully completing quests. Quests grant a minimum of one hundred gems each, so while the promise of Ph4t l00tZ is a little further away from those unwilling or unable to spend on the game it does feel more like a bonus for those paying rather than a punishment for those that don’t. Another major plus point for this system is that there’s a separate gacha lottery for each job type, meaning that at the very least you’ll still end up with an item you can actually use.

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F2P games being what they are this is the honeymoon period for both the Grandmasters and the players and it’ll be a good few weeks yet before we really see how character progression works out in the long term, as well as how keen Square-Enix are to keep the game supported and updated. However from what’s available now, and looking at how Record Keeper’s remained F2P-but-fair as well as frequently updated, it would appear that Grandmasters is going to be another quality mobile game that’s designed to be Vana’diel for those of us who still love Final Fantasy XI but no longer have the time to play it. Here’s hoping the Western release turns up sooner rather than later!

The official website, including links to both the iOS and Android versions of the game (Japanese stores only) is over here -

A little look at… Xuan Yuan Jian 6

I meant to write about this latest oh-heck-it’s-been-so-long-they-made-another-one Xuan Yuan Jian game when I finished it back in June – unfortunately life has a habit of not minding its own business when you’d like it to and so here we are, at the beginning of October, finally ready to talk about this gorgeous Chinese RPG with you all.

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Before we dive in let’s have a quick recap on Xuan Yuan Jian as a whole – the release of a new game in this series is essentially the Chinese equivalent of a new Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, or Whatever’s Actually Popular with Gamers These Days - it’ll sell fantastically well while also spawning more merchandise and ever-so-slightly limited editions than any gamer knows what to do with with a possible TV adaptation due at some point in the future too. Xuan Yuan games helped to shape a nation’s image of what an RPG should look like: they’re that important.

But to some extent the past’s the past, and while the third game and its sequel are revered almost to the point of becoming legend (and deservedly so, in my opinion) gaming has changed an awful lot since the release of Xuan Yuan Jian 3 in 1999,  and Chinese RPGs are no exception to that rule.

As a post-Gu Jian, post-Xian Jian 5 RPG it contains all the features introduced in the “new wave” of Chinese RPGs that have since become standard such as a marker on the map showing you where the next plot-progressing event will be, auto save slots, battle restarts, bits of DLC and lots of other little quality-of-life conveniences that try to make sure a lengthy experience remains a tolerable one. There are a few nice little puzzle and platforming sections to break things up too, and although nobody will ever call Xuan Yuan Jian 6 the perfect fusion of multiple genres it does break things up and add some immediacy and interaction to the environments and they’re neither frequent or obnoxious enough to sour the experience even if you’re not too keen on them.

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Either way it certainly helps that all this RPG-ing is wrapped up in such a beautiful package – scenery can be breathtakingly beautiful at times, and the character designs are similarly ethereal and spectacular. There’s also the option to add a fantastic black ink effect to the landscape if a more typical “realistic” look doesn’t appeal, as well as the option to switch between two complimentary types of character menu art at will.

The plot’s a typically epic tale of “<Woman A> loves <Hero> but sworn duty to her people prevents romance but that’s OK in the end because <Destiny> means <Hero> had already sworn himself to <Woman B> as a child but forgot about it <Because Magics> and <Other Friends> have various missing/dead sibling problems”.

Obviously my paraphrasing has totally killed any sense of romance, emotion, and well… everything but that doesn’t mean the game’s devoid of touching scenes, just that we’d be here forever if I started describing it all properly - the game suffers from the “more is more” mantra that seems to plague modern Chinese RPGs (I’d say “modern RPGs in general”, but I don’t get to play enough of those to judge) which is personally not to my taste, although I say this as somebody who still must have every Chinese RPG that comes out, so I don’t really seem to mind it as much as I think I do.

The themes mentioned above might sound familiar enough to be almost interchangeable if you’ve skimmed over some other Chinese RPG posts I’ve written but they’re all still very much their own stories. It’s like all Western fantasy RPGs could be boiled down to a mix of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Arthurian legend, and a dash of European mythology - just that Chinese RPGs use a different starting set of reference points.

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If the plot’s really not to your taste then why the hell are you still playing this RP-*cough* then there’s still plenty of monster-whacking to get on with, and Xuan Yuan Jian 6’s little twist on the classic ATB system means you have to stay engaged and on your toes if you want to succeed – rather than allowing you to choose from every possible action at the start of your turn a bar charges up and at different points along it are the options to attack, use an item, or use a skill/magic. So do you do lots of quick regular attacks, or do you “save up” for the more devastating spell but give the enemy more opportunities to attack?

After playing through Xuan Yuan Jian 6 it’s clear that it’s in no danger of knocking any of the legendary Chinese RPGs from their pedestals, but then again if they were so easily matched they wouldn’t deserve to be held in such high regard in the first place. Instead it can be considered another big-budget single player RPG that’s justified the time, money, and love poured into it from both the developer and consumers in an increasingly F2P MMO-centric landscape, and all-in-all gaming’s better off for it.

Bean-based Bomberman?!

If you’re wondering about the ridiculous title up there I’ll explain:

  1. Why yes I am awful at writing headlines, how did you guess?
  2. This wonderful Bomberman LCD game is part of Bandai’s “Mame game” range, as in “豆”, as in “bean” – due to the shape of the device.

So, now you know!


In any case, according to this fantastically helpful website there were a total of thirteen games in the range covering a variety of arcade classics like Crazy Climber, Columns, and Densha de GO!, with the vast majority of them being released in 1997. As you’d probably expect they’re all in broadly similar casings and some of them appear to have the same multilayered LCD screen this Bomberman unit does, although I’m only going off photos found online for that last part.

Wait a minute – multilayered?

That’s right! This little VMU-ish sized LCD game has two screen layers, with Bomberman, the blocks, and the score/timer on the lower and enemies, bombs, and the bonus round boss on the upper. This means that multiple objects can exist in the same space, and even overlap! So unlike the (very good) Bubble Bobble LCD game that had to use clever screen layout and an adorably bug-eyed tiny Bub graphic to fit everything in, we’re instead treated to full size player and enemy graphics – and even dedicated boss graphics - with the only compromise being that enemy’s can’t face in both directions on a single tile.


As if that wasn’t impressive enough the game also flip-scrolls to allow for a larger play area than fits on the screen, with a mini-map by the timer so you always know which quadrant you’re in and half-tiles around the edge (as well as half-enemy graphics too) so you can “see” what’s ahead even when you can’t, err, actually see what’s ahead. If you see what I mean.

If you’re able to tear yourself away from a screen that can only be described as “witchcraft” for a few seconds you’ll find the unit itself feels pleasant to hold and the soft rubber keys aren’t too tall like they can sometimes be on this sort of thing so there’s no annoying wobble when pressed. Between the direction keys and the slightly larger start/bomb set button there’s a trio of useful smaller buttons to toggle sound (on/off only), pause the game and turn it on or reset your current game. The game goes to sleep after leaving it paused for a bit, and if you wake it up you’ll find it paused exactly where you left off, so you can bomb away in short bursts or long sessions as you please.

To further aid in your on-the-go destruction you’re offered two different modes at the start of the game – “Standard” and “Master”. Standard plays out much as classic Bomberman always did, with each of the sixteen stages requiring you to destroy all the wandering enemies within five minutes and then escaping through the exit hidden under a random destructible block. To breaks things up there’s a boss battle after every third stage, these clear the play field of blocks so Bomberman can kick bombs up towards the boss and hopefully hit it before the short timer runs out.

Master mode uses the same stages but allows players to to pick any one of the sixteen to play at the start and kicks you back to the mode select screen on completion, meaning you’ve got a bit of variety available even if you’ve not got the time for a full session.

The manual does say the stage counter goes all the way up to 99, but I don’t know if they’re unique or if they loop after a while – it’d be sensible to assume they loop and probably get a little harder (in this case perhaps enemies would move faster?), but that’s nothing more than a guess on my part as I’m really not good enough at the game to test this out!


There’s really nothing more you could ask of this unassuming LCD game – it looks great, has the memorable Bomberman jingles, and plays well on a device that’s practical, comfortable, and well built – perfect!

Hooray for RayCrisis!

Shmup fans were really quite spoilt for choice in the Saturn/Playstation era which sadly means a lot of perfectly good games got overlooked entirely, or in this case simply didn’t really get as much attention as I think they deserved. So here’s me waving a little flag for the final game in Taito’s Ray-series, in the hopes that I might be able to waft a little of my own enthusiasm for it in your general direction.

The game originally debuted in arcades in 1998 – the same year as Treasure’s Radiant Silvergun – but it wouldn’t hit the Playstation until two years later at that awkward stretch for the console when some people were busy playing Phantasy Star Online on their Dreamcasts and everyone else was plugging in their Playstation 2 for the first time. The game had a worldwide release and Japan/EU received a very good PC port too (supports 640x480 and works without fiddling on Windows 8, if you were wondering), so it was never all that difficult to buy, just the wrong sort of game at the wrong time on the wrong format.

But that’s enough of that! Let’s get to the exciting part – your role as a virus trying to stop a supercomputer hell bent on the destruction of all humanity that’s been helpfully visualised as a sci-fi flavoured shmup.

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The overhead-but-not perspective and the occasional (and impressive) sweeping 3D shots make for some dramatic action that help give the blocky landscapes a bit of depth that the hardware of the era wasn’t quite up to creating through sheer number of polygons, and somehow even when the action’s intense the screen’s still very easy to read and there’s none of this “But I’m sure I was out of the way!” nonsense when it comes to bullet-dodging. It’s a shame really that vertical 3D shmups reverted back to a true top-down angle after Ikaruga hit because there’s still a lot of untapped potential here.

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This subtly unique take on a well-worn genre permeates right down to the nuts-and-bolts of the game too, with original (read: “arcade”) mode allowing you to pick which three (from five) main stages you’ll tackle and in what order, and even allowing you to pick the same stage every time if that’s what you want to play. Special (“home”) mode plays out in a more traditional manner as it features all the stages in a set order, but even then RayCrisis’ “Encroachment meter” alters the difficulty of the level depending on how well you’re doing so there’s still a sense of the unexpected and of the game reacting to your actions - as opposed to some shmups that can feel like you’re there just to mess things up for the guy who made all the pretty bullet patterns.

The other thing this encroachment gauge is good for is encouraging you to do the one thing shmups really should be about – score? Heck no – blowing things up! You really want to keep your encroachment percentage as low as possible to avoid the last boss showing up early and forcing a BAD END on you, and to do that you need to destroy everything that dances in front of your ship’s (sorry, computer virus’) lock-on sights. It’s a pleasant antidote from the increasingly score-focussed nature of modern shmups without making the game feel brainless or *mock-recoils in horror* “casual”.

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So with RayCrisis you’ve got two different modes of play, dynamic difficulty per level, three ships, PocketStation support (Japan only, of course), a customisable main game, three possible endings, pretty graphics and a whole heap of fun all on a single shiny disc: Raycrisis’ only crime is being not rare enough, weird enough, or big-name enough to get noticed, meaning it doesn’t have the collector-cool of the likes of Zanac X Zanac, the outward weirdness of the excellent Harmful Park, and the general brand awareness of Gradius or R-Type. It is however one of the more affordable and easier to source shmups of the era, and well worth playing whether you’re a genre fan or just mildly interested in blowing up giant spaceships.

A little look at… MonHun Nikki: Pokapoka Airou Mura DX

I wasn’t planning on blogging about this one but seeing as I’ve been banging on about it on Twitter an awful lot it didn’t seem fair to not talk about a game that’s been eating up so much of my free time!


What we have here is basically Animal Crossing + Patapon + Monster Hunter, and it’s a testament to the strength of Monster Hunter’s setting that it can receive such an extreme makeover and yet still remain totally recognisable and faithful to the Kut Ku-bothering main series.


While there are still plenty of monsters to hunt the focus this time is on building a successful and happy airou-filled village, which in real terms means an awful lot of material farming, a bit of fetching-and-carrying, and winning the odd pugi race. It starts off a bit slow as your village is rather empty and you’re left on your own to do all the manual labour, but it really doesn’t take very long at all to bring some new cats in to help out, and then before you know it you’re building a guild, expanding your bug-catching area, and sending other airou off in their hot air balloon to grab some super-rare items for you.

As your options open up the more mundane tasks are automatically passed over to other villagers, meaning you can spend more time worrying about which outfit you’ll wear today or chasing after some of the more esoteric items than fishing or mining.


Oh, I should probably mention a bit about the hunting too! Hunting takes place on a 2D plane that scrolls from left to right, and with the exception of scroll-locked boss areas you can only ever move forwards towards the goal line, not back. Quests will sound familiar to series veterans – kill five Ranpos, collect so many mushrooms – that sort of thing, although how it’s accomplished is very different from regular Monster Hunting as your team of up to twelve cats will give you three options to choose from depending on what’s around them: If an enemy’s nearby the choices may be “Attack” “Trim” (for body parts) or “Move forward” whereas a blue mushroom will instead throw up options such as “Eat” “Harvest” or even “Throw away”. If none of the current actions are what you’re after you can make them bring up another three with a toot on your hunting horn (R button), although as you’d expect herding cats isn’t the most straightforward of tasks.

This hands-off approach sounds more than a bit woolly but it actually works very well, and the organised chaos it brings to the game suits the setting well. You can also pull off some clever combinations while hunting – throwing nitroshrooms at enemies to injure them, spotting hidden Gigi before they ambush you, bringing along a chef-type Airou to cook food before eating – there’s a lot of unexpected but very welcome depth in there to keep you thinking.


As hopefully most of you will be aware long before the 3DS “Deluxe” version I’m playing came out the game was released on the PSP in both standard and “G” editions but there’s not really much difference between them when it comes down to it – the 3DS version definitely has more stuff in it, but not so much so that the PSP version’s now redundant. There’s no real difference in the graphics either bar the 3DS version being 3D-enabled (which if you’re like me you’ll turn on for a second, go “Ooh!” then turn off because it makes your eyes feel funny). So the recommendation is this: Play whichever version you can get your paws on, because this game’s a lot of fun!