Friday, 27 November 2015

Review: Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core - A Fan Novelization by TeamWingless


Final Fantasy VII is deep in the hearts of many gamers. For a lot of gamers, it's something that marked an important period of video game stories and visuals, making people demand a remake for a long time. If you've owned a PSP or were a fan of the series, you also probably know of (and have maybe even played) Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, which acts as the highly regarded prequel to the beloved Final Fantasy VII game.

My many articles about various Final Fantasy games show that my love for the series, although unlike most fans, my experience with VII is kind of low. Crisis Core was the game that got me back into portable gaming, which involved me being convinced into borrowing my friend's PSP to play half of it because as a Final Fantasy fan, he thought I needed to play it. Playing Final Fantasy VII has been on my gaming 'to play' list (and in my Steam library) for a long time, although I have seen the movie, albeit a long time ago. With these facts, it seems unlikely that I would review a fan novelization of a Final Fantasy VII game. However, as a fan of Final Fantasy, reading and the promise of an alternative ending that possibly wouldn't the real ending, when I was asked if I wanted to review Team Wingless' novelization of the game, I decided it could be an interesting ride.

Team Wingless' Crisis Core novel delves deeper into the story of the Crisis Core game than I remember. The novel's version of the story was inspired by the writer's feelings towards the PSP game's ending, but it takes on more than just the ending. The story adds depth to many of the characters and adds emotional details that weren't explored. Although the story follows it's source material, the new layer of exploration and character developed allowed in the novel world gives the story a new depth. Partnered with the polished writing, the novel reminded me of other game's novelizations that I read and really took the original story to a new place.

Like the game, the story revolves predominately around the game's protagonist, Zack Fair. Well known by his mentor Angeal and his teammates at SOLDIER to be as enthusiastic as a small puppy, his main goal is to become a hero. He begins at SOLDIER as a 2nd Class SOLDIER, but his goal is always to get to the top, like a hero. The story doesn't just cover his journey to reach his goals though, as Zack's journey is littered with hardships, romance and moments that will force him to grow, as both a SOLDIER and as a person.

The universe of the Crisis Core novel is as players of the game would remembered: it's based around the same area and universe, with locations and certain key story events being easily recognizable. The world, however, feels different thanks to the effort put into fleshing out each character's perception of all parts of the story - of relationships, of locations, of SOLDIER, everything. The story's world just feels deeper now that gameplay time has been replaced with character and world developing moments. These include priceless moments of Zack interacting with his teammates, getting to know important characters like Angeal and Sephiroth more deeply through private conversations and getting to know Aerith on a much more personal level.


On the topic of the story's deep characterizations and additional story elements, because there is more time to develop side characters and romances, I was surprised by the changes to some characters. On one hand, there is Zack who is portrayed very much as boy his age and the fun personality that is shown in the game is explored much further, but he still feels like the Zack I played as in the game.

On the other hand, I didn't expect myself to feel a dislike towards certain important characters in the story, including Aerith. Her innocence and gentle personality initially was what I perceived her as from the game, however the way her character evolves seems to be a little more selfish, unable to understand Zack's position and job properly for some reason. This is coming from someone who hasn't played Final Fantasy VII but I was definitely surprised at quite a few of her reactions to Zack's life and decisions and because this side of her was shown more, I couldn't understand her, let alone Zack's feelings of unconditional love towards her at times. In contrast to this, characters that were more faithfully followed like Angeal and even Sephiroth helped heighten the story's important points and reading about Zack's feelings towards them as his superiors were some of the emotional highlights of the story.

One of the things the writer of the story excels at is giving great descriptions of feelings, action scenes and subtle character traits. The reason the world feels so deep is the way the weight of each Zack's emotion is portrayed. For Zack in particular, we feel the weight of his joys, of his heartbreak and of his loss through his emotively written internal monologues, which makes it easy to follow his development as a character and the decisions affecting the world around him. In the game, his feeling's were mostly displayed in dialogue or visuals, but in the fan-novel, feeling his heartbreak colours the world with his thoughts and emotions, adding to the rich feeling of the story's world.

A small thing that did sometimes take me out of my immersion in the world's feelings and developments however, was the decision to include of real world media and brand. This included the mention of Zack enjoying bands and mentioning songs, brands and music from the real world. While such a small thing like this doesn't affect my overall opinion of the story, after all the great world building made by the story's internal monologues and time spent on fleshing out events, the mention of things from outside of the world of Final Fantasy VII was sometimes guilty of taking me out of the story. It's a small thing, but I felt it affect me in multiple chapters.


Above all an enjoyable read, Team Wingless' novel's take on Crisis Core is as much as it's own story as it is faithful to the original PSP game. The exploration of the close relationships between characters heightens each of the moments players will remembers and adds an interested take on the world with it's additional moments. While this novel works very well as a novel, Team Wingless' fanfiction.net profile suggests interest in turning this into an RPGmaker style game. I definitely support this idea, as if done well the world building events partnered with gameplay elements would make for a strong, story driven experience. But for now, for those who's interest was taken by the idea of an alternative and deep version of the Crisis Core universe, I recommend giving it a try.

Score: 7.8/10
A nicely written new take on the original Crisis Core game. The time the novel spends growing the world and the characters is definitely well spent and benefits the depth of the story. (Even if I didn't agree with all of the character developments.)

You can read the first two chapters of Team Wingless' Final Fantasy 7 Crisis Core: The Novel at the Team Wingless website or the full version at fanfiction.net.

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Are you interested in revisiting the Crisis Core world?
Leave it in the comments below and start a discussion!

Thanks for stopping by and make sure to follow @JRPGJungle on Twitter for updates on content and random, shorter musings on JRPG news and games!

Note: In the interest of transparency, this novel was asked to be reviewed. However, all thoughts and views expressed here are entirely my own and not influenced by the creators or any other outside parties or incentives. Honesty all the way!
Photo note: all photos are not my own in this post! They are sourced from the wikia page for Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core and are art or screenshots from or based around the original Square Enix game.

Friday, 20 November 2015

All-Star Cringes and Star Children: Conception II Review


My battle team wins a challenging battle and everyone rejoices as one of the island's threats is destroyed. A scientist makes a joke about getting drunk with high school kids and some boy love shower jokes are made. Then, of course, there is some talk about a character's breast size and after that, a new dungeon opens. But what more can be expected of a 60-hour playthrough of a game about high school students classmating to make children to fight with them in labyrinths? Obviously I didn't expect a sophisticated RPG, but when the game's shallow dialogue is placed next to it's fun, well-thoughtout dungeons, the experience feels a little disconnected to say the least.


Conception II is half Dungeon Crawler JRPG and half Dating Sim. At first glance, this combination sounds like a lot, but the Dating Sim elements are linked surprisingly well with the RPG elements. Star Children, the mystical beings created to fight with you and your chosen heroine, are at the centre of the experience and are the bridge between Conception II's social and combat elements. During the dating sim part of the game, you can strengthen your bond with your chosen heroine (or multiple heroines, if that's how you roll) by treating her how she wants to be treated and showing her basic polite courtesy. This effects her mood, which plays an important part in the strength of the children you get from 'classmating' with her. In battle, these Star Children are your pint-sized teammates and strong ones are needed to beat the challenging dungeons that only get tougher throughout the journey through the multiple floors of each individual dungeon.

Surrounding the dungeons, classmating and the world of Aterra is Conception II's story. In-game cutscenes are used to progress the main story and hanging out with characters individually is done to progress the dating sim portion of the game. The main story of the game is fairly straight forward: the world has been over run by monsters coming out of Dusk Labyrinths (Conception II's dungeons) and people are in danger. Luckily, the protagonist has a rarely high Ether amount, which gives him the ability of a guaranteed conception rate during classmating and earns him the title of 'God's Gift' among adults and students in Aterra. This power also means he is the best person to enter the dungeons, as his Ether can surround him and his team and keep them safe from the dangerous Dusk Energy found in Labyrinths.


This is most of what we know about God's Gift. He's given one of those 'blank slate' personalities that are common in dating sims so the player can imagine themselves in his position, which makes it very hard to feel any connection with him. Throughout the story, we're introduced to the story and dating sim's heroines and some other side characters, like the puberty-charged Chlotz and the class rival Alec, who had the most interesting story in the game. Sprinkled around this are important adults in society and high school students making easy, blatant 'naughty' jokes about body parts and Classmating, so much so that the story only remembers to flesh itself just a little out towards the end.

The dating sim portion of Conception II is just as guilty when it comes to a lacking plot. The high school girls that you can befriend and flirt with follow many typical anime tropes, such as Narika, the shy but big breasted girl, the spunky tsundere character Serina and the airheaded Torri, whose slow talking I couldn't stand listening to. Some of these tropes are done better than others thanks to good voice acting and actual background stories. Other characters I felt like I almost got to understand, but then the game skipped over anything pertaining to giving them a personality or backstory, usually in turn for a joke about sex, boobs or panties, leaving some stories feeling shallow. Most of the key events in the dating sim portion are based around seeing slightly raunchy looking anime pictures of the girls or putting the girls in awkward, risque situations rather than spending time giving them character development. I'm not against fan service at all, but sitting through pointless fluff dialogue instead of character stories felt strange and like a forced grind. The worst part is that if you want the strongest Star Children, a few of the game's later mechanics require you to sit through multiple girls dialogues, which was especially frustrating for some characters.


Making Conception II unique is it's Classmating mechanic, which acts as a bridge between the battle and the story part of the game and is the way Star Children are made and classes are chosen. It is said that God's Gift and a heroine both perform some sort of mating ritual involving holding hands and thinking deeply about each other and thus, a Star Child is born. This sounds way more innocent then the sexualised silhouettes shown, but hey, at least they're consistent with the attempted titillating feeling of the whole game. After watching (or skipping) the ritual, you are presented with many different Classes to choose from. It was fun thinking of which one would benefit my party most and Conception II gives plenty of selection, with more standard RPG classes like Swordis and Magician being available next to unique Diva and Merchant classes based around special abilities inspired by their namesakes. A small thing I would've liked if there was a way during the class choosing process to see which Star Children classes I already had in my party so I could make a better decision when choosing, but the process of class selection was otherwise enjoyable.

Conception II's dungeons, called Labyrinths, are one of the better parts of the game. Each dungeon is randomly generated and filled with monsters, treasure and traps to keep you entertained while travelling through it's depths. Battles with monsters involve using directional attacks to either deal the most damage or to increase the chain gauge most, which has the potential to consequently delay the enemies attack. Fighting against these monsters are you, your chosen heroine and a legion of up to 9 Star Children. With 11 people in battle, I thought battles would be easy because of my party's sheer numbers, but each Labyrinth's floor increases significantly enough in difficulty to require a lot of grinding and the strongest Star Children possible. I found myself using a combination of grinding in the Labyrinths and the Training area depending what rewards I wanted - if I needed money for better equipment, the more difficult Training area was a great second option to just grinding in the regular Labyrinth.

Despite each floor and enemies looking very similar, each Labyrinth is kept interesting thanks to enemies that increase in power and health floor-by-floor and dungeon traps. I found that just as the dungeons started to become repetitive, a cutscene, a powerful enemy or a trap would appear before me and change my progression. Battles also provide variety to the more typical turn-based system, with using limited Bond Points earned during the dating sim portion to speed up your party or being able to combine one team of Star Children into an OP mech. Whether it was in the form of skipping a floor or not being able to use my skills, because the combat was fun, the Labyrinth felt like a well deserved break from the awkward dialogue choices.


Conception II's dungeons and class systems are good fun, but in the end and after 60 hours, I had to ask myself if they were fun enough to sit through the hollow feeling story. While I enjoyed my time in the RPG based parts, there are definitely other dungeon crawlers with the same amount of grinding and difficulty that boast a more interesting story and use more interesting enemies. In the end, while Conception II is a fun dungeon crawler, but I can't say I enjoyed it trying to seduce me into thinking it may have a deeper plot somewhere and then just giving me panty photo. There are enough dungeon crawlers around for me to be sure there's something with mechanics just as good and a much better story, but I wish this one worked out.

Score: 5.9/10
Good dungeon mechanics, but there are better games with real stories and dungeons just as good. Too many attempts at being risque and some wasted character ideas thanks to a severe lack of real plot.

If you want to check it out for yourself, you can pick up Conception II from Play-Asia.com.

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Do you know a dungeon crawler with better character development? Leave it in the comments below and start a discussion!
Thanks for stopping by and make sure to follow @JRPGJungle on Twitter for updates on content and random, shorter musings on JRPG news and games!

Note: This article does contain an affiliate links to Play-Asia to help support this site. You can read our Affiliate Link Policy here.

Note 2: I did some editing on this recently (2016) to fix some errors and add some better word choices. Opinions are still exactly the same, the writing style is almost identical and no scores were changed!

Friday, 13 November 2015

JRPG Appreciation Post: Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grid


Revisiting old games definitely has it's perks. Not only do you get that cool, video game nostalgia feeling, but you also get to remember why you loved that game in the first place. There are always things that stand out as what we appreciated most about the game and revisiting them can almost feel like being with an old friend again. For me, as I take myself on another Platinum trophy journey, Final Fantasy X HD is being that game for me once again.

Final Fantasy X was a notable change in Final Fantasy's direction, with areas and visuals being beautifully upgraded when compared to it's predecessors and voice acting being added for the first time. I loved the game's story, but with this game being my first 'big kid' JRPG (when compared to something like Pokemon that I played as a kid), the Sphere Grid system was a breath of fresh air from the grind and level up formula I was so used to. Many years and many JPRGs later, I know it's not the only skill tree type leveling system around, but these are a few reasons why it remains one of my favourite leveling mechanics of all time.

It's Linear, Yet You Have Control

For the most part, once the sphere grid is completed, you'll end up with the same stat increases across all your characters, just at a different pace due to the different starting points of the sphere grid. But even though you're bound to the same skills and stats, you do have control over the order you get them. Thanks to Level spheres, you can break the locks that make the standard sphere grid so linear as soon as you get one. This allows you to turn Auron into a mage for awhile or make Yuna a combat beast early on in the game and can make for a very different gameplay experience to the easy path set out. This welcome choice makes leveling much more interesting and creates an importance in choosing the right stats for the right point in the game. I usually find myself following the main path (the one not closed off by locks), but I love that point after finishing the main story of breaking into another characters grid and sharing their abilities with another character.

It's Huge and The Whole Process Is Kinda Intricate

With all the level blocks, ability and character placements around the board, completing the Sphere Grid isn't a small feat. And beyond that, limit break (that awesome ability that allows you to deal over 9999 damage) isn't even on the board, adding an important extra step! Even if you goal isn't to complete the Sphere Grid, the sheer size of the sphere grid is just enough to show the amount of stats on the board and it's long journey encourages much grinding and strategy to get as much EXP as possible and as many sphere levels as possible. Then there's going back and filling in the empty nodes with even more stats by using Teleport spheres!


Even Though It Takes Forever, It's Still Fun To Watch The Characters Progress

Each unlocked node or stat shows you exactly what has been upgraded to your character. I love unlocking a stat and noticing the effect immediately in battle. A little bit of extra strength can go a long way, as can an ability or a little HP. Other game's leveling mechanics just show you a quick summary of your characters improves but in the sphere grid, because you unlock it yourself, you're way more involved and it's awesome.
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Feel like a trip down memory lane but in beautiful HD? You can buy Final Fantasy X HD from Play-Asia.com!

What's your favourite JRPG levelling system? Leave it in the comments below, I may just play with it!
Did you this type of post? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter and I'll do more of them!
Thanks for stopping by and make sure to follow @JRPGJungle on Twitter for updates on content and random, shorter musings on JRPG news and games!

Note: This article does contain an affiliate links to Play-Asia to help support this site. You can read our Affiliate Link Policy here.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Six JRPGs With Great Music (Volume One!)

JRPGs have unique gameplay, brilliant stories and lovable characters. Most of them also have music that brings these experiences to new heights in the form of catchy emotive tunes and pumping battle melodies. Some of the best, most unique pieces of music can be found in JRPGs and luckily there are many games full of them. Here are six of my current favourite JRPG tracks from JRPGs full of great music.

Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star

I love the music in the 'nosurge' games. The interesting mix of melodic and tribal vocal styles against a complimentary mix of orchestra and electronic sounds is like nothing I've ever heard before. One of the best parts of Ar nosurge's soundtrack is that each track is significant to the game's story because the game revolves around the power of Song Magic, making music and singing a big part of Ar nosurge's story.

There are so many tracks I could have put here (special shoutout to the beautiful Russian vocal track 'em-pyei-n vari-fen jang;'), but the soundtrack's standout track has to be CLASS::Exsphere nosurge. It's featured in multiple important parts of the story as powerful song magic and there's enough variation in the tune to notice something different every listen. I love the experimental feel and use of white noise to show the feeling of the song's user and the track's many changes make it sound like an epic, destructive journey. Honestly one of my favourite video game tracks ever.

CLASS::Exsphere nosurge - Composed by Morrigan


Kingdom Hearts

All of the Kingdom Hearts games have brilliant soundtracks, with a perfect a mix of songs from famous Disney franchises and new original songs that capture the magic of Disney while creating the right mood for Kingdom Hearts' story. The soundtrack creates a great feeling of nostalgia mixed with playfulness and also throws in a pumping battle theme.

Out of all of the versions of this song (including Utada Hikaru's original version, the dance remix and the orchestra version above), the orchestra theme to Kingdom Hearts' trailer is my favourite. Whereas the Ar nosurge track perfectly fit it's scene, Hikari is a reflection of Kingdom Hearts' journey - gentle and sweet at times, but strong and powerful, with a hint of magic. This song is brought to life by the incredible orchestra and is one of my favourite video game themes of all time.

Hikari - Composed by Yoko Shimomura (based off Utada Hikaru's song for the game)



Persona 4 Golden

Spanning many genres and moods, Persona 4 Golden expands upon an already great soundtrack for Persona 4. Each track is filled with emotions that reflect the characters feelings, which is fitting for the rich story and characters. Most songs are fun and upbeat, mixing jazz and rock sounds with beautiful melodic themes, and give the game a youthful feeling. With all the fun tracks, it's no wonder the series now has it's own rhythm game.

-Reincarnation- I'll Face Myself features some of the best music from Persona 4 Golden, specifically the battle themes mixed with some of the more emotive themes. The opening melody gave me chills the first time I heard it and the scene it's featured in feels 100% more epic, thanks to the feeling of nostalgia created by using many tracks from the game and the pumping, rock orchestra.

I'll Face Myself (-Battle-) - Composed by Shoji Meguro



Final Fantasy X

Nobuo Uematsu, the mastermind behind most Final Fantasy soundtracks, created a diverse soundtrack for Final Fantasy X. With his unique melodies, the mood of Final Fantasy is set with a mix of ambient, melodic music and heavy rock tracks (such as the awesome 'Otherworld'). The soundtrack's music also plays a big part in the games famous scenes. I hear 'Suteki da ne' in my head everytime I see a photo of the famous Tidus and Yuna scene and the below, slightly gloomy track To Zanarkand is a great opening theme to the game that captures the story's theme of longing.

To Zanarkand - Composed by Nobuo Uematsu

Child of Light

As French singer/songwriter Coeur de Pirate's first video game composition, her piano based tracks and beautiful melodies are a perfect match with the feeling of the magical, unique world of Child of Light. Feeling of loneliness and strength are heightened with each track thanks to the unique melodies.

Boss Battle Theme 2 (great name) is a great example of the strong orchestra pieces in the game. Coeur de Pirate steps outside her signature lighter piano sound and adds a booming orchestra to heighten the tensity of the battle. When I was playing Child of Light and this track came on, I felt like I was concurring the world in the most epic way possible.

Boss Battle Theme 2 (With Chorus) - Composed by Coeur de Pirate


Disgaea 5

LieZe Rock - Tenpei Sato

Spoiler alert - I haven't played Disgaea 5 past the first cutscene in the demo. I put this track here mostly as a reminder to myself. Whenever I'm visiting my family, my brother is playing really cool video game music most of the time and he's a big Disgaea fan. Everytime I hear the epic-to-a-ridiculous-extent music, it reminds me that I want to play the game, if not for it's crazy opera rock, theatrical sounds.


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Credit/shoutout to the composers of these tracks and the people who uploaded them to Youtube!

I love finding new music (and games of course), so comment below with some of your favourite music pieces from the JRPGs above or your own favourites!
Thanks for stopping by and make sure to follow @JRPGJungle on Twitter for updates on content and random, shorter musings on JRPG news and games!