Updated info regarding the release of "Final Fantasy XIII" serves as an extraordinary reminder of just how slowly major game publishers have gotten into this console generation. Read More...

Video games have a large presence than ever before at Comic Con 2008, but I didn't expect to learn more (if only a little) about Square Enix's largest in-development RPGs. Yet, the publisher unveiled to wandering fans figures for "Final Fantasy XIII," "Star Ocean," and "The Last Remnant" to be sold later this year and beyond.

More pics of Square Enix figures after the jump...

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At E3 last week I talked to PlayStation marketing man Peter Dille about a range of topics, the first of which, naturally, had to be the announcement by Microsoft that the formerly PS3-exclusive "Final Fantasy XIII" was also going to debut on the Xbox 360.

Did the announcement hurt Sony? I asked, and he said...

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The Microsoft media briefing ended with a bang this morning by showing a new trailer from "Final Fantasy XIII."

Immediately following the briefing, Square Enix held a press conference about the game, where "FFXIII" producer Yoshinori Kitase and Square Enix exec Shinji Hashimoto answered all the questions they could in 45 minutes.

Here's a round-up of the facts so far from the brief Q&A session: Read More...

Rogue GalaxySince the last entry..

*I got to the bottom of my new-game stack and reached into my old-games-I-need-to-mess-around-with pile. In there I found "Silent Hill 4," "Rogue Galaxy," and "Final Fantasy XII" all for the PS2.

I tried them each but don't plan on finishing any of them unless any reader of this diary can change my mind.

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The World Ends With YouSince the last entry I...

*Brought the hot hail of Internet rage down upon my head by not just playing 10 hours of "Grand Theft Auto IV" by daring to admit that, periodically throughout the weekend, I felt the urge to stop playing the excellent game in order to satisfy a craving for "Super Mario Galaxy."

I know how to bring more abuse upon me!

Make another comparison to another Nintendo game. Here goes: 10 hours in, "GTA IV" is reminding me of "The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess." How so? The first major chunks of both games are all about showing better way of presenting familiar franchise tropes, but not about adding many new things. The "Zelda" game doles out the best boomerang, iron boots and horse in the series yet. "GTA IV" presents the best wanted system, mission structure, and handling of taxi and police missions yet. As a result, both "GTA IV" and "Twilight Princess" are instantly the best games in the series to recommend to newcomers. But they both require veteran players of the franchise to re-experience a lot of familiar stuff before getting to content that feels radically new.

Speaking of new stuff, I have high hopes for how Rockstar has re-invented the cop cars and vigilante missions. It's something I plan to dig more into the next time I play the game.

*Finished "Super Mario Galaxy." Or at least got as far as I'm going to go. My favorite power-up was the last one in the game. My favorite boss battle was the one at the finale. My favorite galaxy, though, was Buoy Base, which appeared halfway into the game. Final star count for me: 106.

*Just started "The World Ends With You" and already noticing some neat parallels to another game set based in a real city and making heavy use of a cell phone as a design element-- you know, "GTA IV."

*Played a little bit more of "Crisis Core," but that was Friday and I don't remember much of what I did.

Next: More "GTA IV" of course. I want to go to Algonquin!

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VIISince the last entry…

*Four and a half hours in, "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII" has been making me grouchy again because of:

The writing

And I paraphrase:
Zack [angrily to Genesis]: That's no way to use a summons! What happened to dreams and ideals?
Genesis [calmly to Zack]: We are monsters.
Genesis: Monsters don't dream.

The main character's peculiar values

And I summarize (this is a really small SPOILER):
On Thursday morning, while I was playing on the subway, I had the main character Zack wandering through his home base, the Shinra HQ. Zack finds a low-level fellow soldier who is afraid he will be fired if he messes up one more time. The guy is terrified. Zack steps in to offer some advice -- and volunteers to do the soldier's next mission for him. What's up with that? The solution to one's problems is getting someone else to fix them?

The developers' low estimation of the player's intelligence

And I summarize (another very small SPOILER coming):
After a mission in Genesis' home town, the game transmits two e-mails to Zack's cell phone from the game-world's news service. Both e-mails praise senior soldier Sephiroth for actions in the Genesis mission, even though it was my character, Zack, who did the hard work. Seconds later, I find some non-player characters who have mention that Sephiroth is getting the glory. And seconds after that, the developers still feel the need to cue up a scene involving Zack and some other soldiers in which they discuss how Zack Is Not Getting Credit For His Heroism. Hey, I think I just got steamrolled by all that subtlety. How about a single coherent explanation of the DMW instead?

Bottom Line For Now: The story missions in this game are bumming me out. The side-missions are an entertaining quick-fix grind. Yes, an entertaining grind. I just wish the storytelling in the main game held up better. Who is impressed with this kind of writing, plot and character development?

Next: A weekend in which "Super Mario Galaxy" may be completed. As long as it doesn't get super-hard at the end.

Mario Kart WiiSince the last entry, I….

*Raced a few races in "Mario Kart Wii." And. I. Enjoyed. It. This was a shocker. I thought I was immune to "Mario Kart"'s charms. I never had the SNES version. I played the 64 edition a lot (but almost only in single-player). I dabbled with the GCN and DS games and thought my life's quota of "Kart" was complete before this Wii one came out.

But I discovered last night that the surprisingly smooth online service for "Mario Kart Wii" might make me a fan yet. Matchmaking with non-Friend competitors in Australia, Japan, and Germany (all for the same race) happened in the blink of an eye. A pre-race globe showing each competitor's Mii standing atop their region offered a welcome sense of identity to otherwise anonymous and voiceless opponents. The races themselves went off with nary a hitch. I even came in third once, despite having no "Kart" skills. (I'm already down to 4760 skill points, after starting at 5000).

The "Kart" users seem evenly split about the Wii Wheel. I raced six or seven races last night, and about half of the competitors in any race were using the packed-in wheel shell. I didn't notice any advantage among Wheel users or non-users yet, but I'll keep watching.

Another positive: the ghost system works great, briskly downloading ghost after ghost to my Wii for me to compete against, all generated by Europeans who have had the game already.

I also really like the idea of Wii games that download channels to the system. You wind up with a stripped-down version of the game, basically a stat-checking app that feels similar to things like a Bungie.net or a Facebook application. It's a great way to keep a gamer thinking about a game even when they have another disc in the drive.

*Claimed a few more stars in "Super Mario Galaxy." I'm now at 87. I have to say, King Kaliente is a pushover. And, what do you know, the game still is able to surprise me, even though I thought everything had been spoiled. Red stars. Who knew?

*Played a little more "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII" and am still wondering if anyone out there knows what determines the level of Limit Break attacks. Why do I do Octoslash Level 1 sometimes and Octoslash Level 4 other times?

Next: They wouldn't send me "GTA IV" to play on a Thursday night, would they? Probably not. I think Thursday night is a "Galaxy" night.

cc2.jpgSince the last entry, I....

*Played still more "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy" and figured out even more about the DMW system.

Crazy terms I finally understand in this the sixth "Final Fantasy" game I've ever played (including spin-offs):

  • Limit Break
  • Limit Verge

Yes, it only took me six games to catch on. I bet there are plenty of "FF" terms that befuddle others, so I'm not embarrassed.

Also notable: I got my character killed in the game yesterday. Only the second time that happened in three hours of play. Perversely, I consider it a good thing. It means the game won't be a cakewalk. Only in gaming do we seek and relish momentary failure.

I failed. Yay! Twisted, no?

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VIISince my last entry I…

*Started to change my mind about "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy."

What's this?

  • The protagonist stopped whining!
  • The flow of the game has been streamlined, probably for commuters, but ultimately to any gamer who wants the fat to be trimmed and for action to be immediate.
  • I am slowly but surely beginning to understand the nutty DMW feature (though I don't understand it completely just yet -- isn't part of it supposed to turn red according to the tutorial?).
  • The  game is actually forcing me to use strategy during battles, requiring me to do a little bit of real-time cue-ing of attacks and magic, a la  "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic."

I think I might end up liking this game, after all. But I am still less than three hours in. I could change my mind many, many more times.

Also, I'm still not sure about the difficulty level. Sometimes the game seems too easy, but I did reach a few missions that were tough. I think "normal" might be right for me. If it proves too easy, though, do I just continue paying the price for not choosing "hard" for the rest of the game? You should be able to ratchet up difficulty levels if you want.

*Played three demos on my "PSP" over the weekend:

  • I downloaded the three from the wonderful new PlayStation 3 store (which previously did not allow the downloading of PSP-only content).  I tried a puzzle game that I can't remember the name too and didn't like.
  • Tried "R-Type Command," which merges a side-scrolling shooter with "Advance Wars" in a way that at least makes for a really fun demo.
  • I discovered that Sony Japan made an original "Ape Escape" role-playing game for PSP, released it in January and somehow I never found out about it until now. It's called "Ape Quest," and it's first hour is free. Interesting game with an interesting multi-chapter pricing model. I need to play more.

Next: More "Crisis Core" ... but will it trigger a smile or a frown?

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