Jack Gardner

A strangely off-beat throwback to the Final Fantasy of yesteryear? A sunny journey into the heart of existential crisis? A relic outdone by its shinier successor? Final Fantasy IX is many things to many people. Only recently has the general gaming population begun to look back and notice the entry in Square Enix's long-running series that came only a year before X moved the series into a new console generation. Dan Olson from Folding Ideas joins the podcast for a two-part episode discussing Final Fantasy IX's fascinating development history and subtly powerful narrative. 
Does a PlayStation 1 title from the turn of the millennium earn a place in video game canon? Is Final Fantasy IX one of the best games period?
You can find Dan Olson on Twitter, @FoldableIdeas, or on his YouTube channel Folding Ideas.
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.

Part one focuses on our special guest, the development history of Final Fantasy IX, and our individual experiences with the title. 

Outro music: Final Fantasy IX 'Melodies of Life (Arranged)' by MkViff (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR00152)
Part two delves into an attempt at summarizing the intricate plot and some narrative dissection in an effort to get at the heart of why IX has always felt different from the rest of the franchise.

Outro music: Final Fantasy IX ''You Don't Know Me" by katethegreat19 (http://ff9.ocremix.org/)
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it!
If you want to have your opinion heard on air, follow the show on Twitter and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
Jack Gardner

The rocky road to Team Ninja’s release of Nioh meant that a lot of factors were working against the action RPG when it hit store shelves in February. It had originally been announced back in 2004 by Koei as a straight RPG adaptation of Oni, an unfinished script by famed Japanese film legend Akira Kurosawa. Over the years, it was ripped apart and stitched back together by various development teams trying desperately to make it work. Nioh became a Dynasty Warriors-esque large-scale war game after the merger of Tecmo and Koei. The multiple development teams slowly scrapped almost all of the Akira Kurosawa’s story beats from the title. It wasn’t until Team Ninja fully took control of the project in 2012 that Nioh became recognizably similar to the game that released in 2017.  
Team Ninja had a very simple elevator pitch for their vision of Nioh: What if you combined a fanciful retelling of Japan’s Sengoku jidai with Dark Souls? Nioh weaves the heavily altered story of William Adams, a sailor for the Dutch East India Company who became the first Western samurai, a top advisor to Japan’s Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and became known as Miura Anjin. Those three facts are about all that remain in Nioh of the real William’s life story. 
Nioh takes the framework of William’s journey to Japan in the 1600s at the end of one hundred years of civil war and brings it into a more fanciful setting full of spirits and monsters. William begins his tale in England, where a mysterious figure named Edward Kelley imprisons his guardian spirit. The pursuit of this creepy sorcerer takes William to the shores of Japan where evil spirits and demons have run amok, feeding off the death caused by the war. William’s becomes embroiled in the war himself after finding that the sorcerer has allied himself with the enemies of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Soon the conflict threatens to spin out of control as the sorcerer wields ever more powerful magic granted by his consumption of guardian spirits and crystalized spirit stones called Amrita. 

William, however, has his own array of abilities to combat threats both magical and mundane. One of Nioh’s draws is the ability to play with a wide selection of fighting styles. Players can choose from katana, axe, dual wielding swords, spears, and kusarigama (a sickle with a weighted chain). Each weapon has its own unique style and move set that becomes even deeper with the addition of stances. Any given weapon has three separate stances, high, mid, and low. High stance has slower, more powerful attacks, middle has a good mix between power and agility, and low stance tends to have the fastest attack and dodge speeds. Each of these stances alters the move sets and combos of their given weapon in addition to their differing benefits. On top of that, Nioh allows players to put points into ninjutsu and onmyo to gain ninja and spellcasting abilities.
The robust combat system presents a definite learning curve. Those just beginning Nioh will doubtlessly struggle with when to switch stances and the make use of the various abilities at their disposal. However, the true mechanic that every Nioh player will absolutely need to master comes down to one thing: Ki. 
In Dark Souls, players must manage a stamina gauge that depletes as various attacks are used. Nioh has a Ki meter that serves the same purpose. However, the key difference between the two systems is that timing a follow-up button press after a string of attacks restores some of the player’s lost Ki. This means that those with a good sense of timing and battle rhythm can make more attacks or dodges without becoming exhausted and vulnerable. Some abilities even give attack bonuses for players who can pull off this move. This technique becomes even more necessary when battling the demonic yokai spirits who can create areas that slow Ki regeneration unless the player can purify them with that well-timed button press. 

Nioh does a number of small, yet significant things when it comes to combat that make it feel like a fresh experience. Adding the active Ki system goes a long way toward creating more engaging combat, but so does extending the effectiveness of status impairments. Typically, status effects in games are more for the rank and file enemies. Nioh allows even the bosses to be affected by the likes of poison, fire, and paralysis. These can help give the winning edge in a particularly challenging boss fight or make an otherwise difficult enemy encounter manageable. 
Projectile weapons also go a long way toward breathing life into Nioh. Players can equip bows, matchlock rifles, or personal cannons to deal with enemies from afar. These weapons prove to be very effective and benefit from leveling stats that benefit your hand-to-hand combat abilities, so they continue to be effective into the late game. In fact, I was able to take down the final boss of Nioh with a shred of health from cover by making quick use of my fully loaded cannon to land critical headshots. 
Nioh slips up most when it comes to the level design. One of the things that worked in the favor of the Dark Souls series was the interconnected world that truly felt like a giant puzzle to be solved through exploration. Nioh has a much more linear structure governed by missions. Each mission is its own contained world that leads players toward a boss fight. The quality of these areas varies greatly. Some are perfectly serviceable, a few inch up into “good” territory, but many of them are only interesting on a visual level and only present straight-forward slogs from one combat encounter to another. The worst levels include areas where the player can easily slip off a ledge and fall to what feels like an incredibly cheap death. 

One boss fight in particular happens to encapsulate both the frustrating level and boss design. A decent slice into the game, the player is tasked with clearing out a flooded temple. Upon reaching the boss, the player becomes locked inside an arena floating on the water to do battle with a giant ooze monster. Except you can’t swim in Nioh, so a trip off the edge of the arena is an instant death. Just don’t fall off, right? Well, the boss is such a large creature, that targeting it means you can’t see anything behind you, so it becomes difficult to tell when you’re in danger of running off the edge. Okay, so don’t target the creature? Well, if you let your attention wander, you might miss the short wind up it does for a move that blasts half the arena with an insta-death energy beam. If you happen to be doing fine against this yokai hell-beast, it actually has two versions of its insta-death move. The first has a warning animation of about a second or two. The second has a split-second jiggle that’s easily missed in the heat of combat.  
Speaking of those bosses, they represent some of the most irritating encounters I’ve had in video games. Some are relatively easy to overcome while others will leave you dazed with how quickly they destroyed you. Many of the bosses present long, painful bouts of learning when to dodge, what moves will instantly kill you, and what you can or can’t block. On the other hand, a fair number of these encounters feel like truly climactic battles where the odds are stacked against you.
When everything goes right in Nioh, it feels wonderfully fluid, responsive, and challenging. The combat shines brightly as something from which future games in the action RPG genre should draw inspiration. While Dark Souls mastered slow, methodical combat and Bloodborne rewarded fast, brutal aggression, Nioh requires players to be fast and precise in order to keep abreast of the chaotic action. However, that’s a delicate balance to maintain and sometimes bosses and level design don’t quite support that balancing act. The visual designs of monsters are routinely interesting to take in and discovering new creatures adds to the fun of progression. The loot system feels unnecessary and clutters up Nioh with useless items. 
There’s a very solid core to Nioh that deserves expansion. A little more inspiration from similar games (some kind of healing reward for aggression similar to Bloodborne might have been nice), while cutting any needless complications or unfair designs could go a long way toward taking any Nioh successor to even greater acclaim in the future. 
Nioh is now available for PlayStation 4
Jack Gardner

Hamster Corporation has slowly been making a name for themselves as a company that brings old games to new consoles. The past several months have seen the company bringing a number of high profile titles to PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
The ongoing project to make these older games compatible began in 2014 with the release of Rygar to test the market and has only gained steam in subsequent years. The full list of games that will be available by the beginning of April of this year has reached over 70 titles. It's a pretty great slice of gaming history that stretches from 1980 to 2000.  
A subset of those games belong to the ACA Neo Geo series,  an effort to remaster and emulate games from the Neo Geo. Seems pretty standard, right? Well, the neat thing about the ACA Neo Geo series is that the games emulate the arcade cabinet versions of gems like King of Fighters, Metal Slug, and Fatal Fury, rather than the console version as past re-releases have done.
If you're looking to get in touch with gaming's roots, these might be the perfect place to start without having to scour eBay for expensive, old systems and games. 
Jack Gardner

I've seen a lot of strange runs through many different games, but this one ranks as one of the most bizarre. When Bethesda's Fallout 3 begins, players go through a process to create their character. While most games relegate this to playing with sliders and moving stat points around, Fallout 3 allows players to "grow up" as their character, seeing different stages of their lives as they become adults. That process ends when the player enters the wider, blasted landscape of a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. 
A couple years ago, players discovered it was possible to glitch through the baby section of Fallout 3's opening and escape from the underground Vault before events flash forward to when the player's character becomes an adult. The fact that the glitch exists is in itself is entertaining, but one player decided that they would play through the entire game as an infant. And, well... this happened. 
YouTuber Bryan Pierre walks viewers through his attempt to finish Fallout 3 as a baby. It's actually pretty fascinating to hear him talk about the details of how this works and how strange the game's implications become when the protagonist is a tiny baby. For example, the baby's hit box is much smaller than normal, so many enemies can barely hit a crawling child.
The video itself is about two years old, but it is very much still worth a watch to see just how far some people are willing to go to do obnoxiously silly things in video games. 
Jack Gardner

The future of humanity is bleak. Or rather, the future seems so in Subset Games' dark vision of it in their upcoming title Into The Breach. Far into the future, humanity struggles to survive in the wake of an apocalypse only to find themselves beset on all sides by gigantic creatures that seem to have bred beneath the earth. In an effort to save what little of humanity remains, players must pilot giant mechs and battle these monsters. 
Subset Games have gone a much different direction with the gameplay of Into The Breach, deviating from the successful design they implemented for ship-to-ship combat and randomly generated role-playing in FTL: Faster Than Light. Into The Breach is actually a turn-based strategy game, taking cues from franchises like Advanced Wars and Fire Emblem. Maps are randomly generated and terrain features like buildings, mountains, and forests take damage as players wage their battles against the bug forces. Units will gain experience as they fight, becoming more powerful the longer they stay alive. Some stages will hold bonus objectives that grant additional rewards as players progress through their frantic final war for survival. 
Of course, there are still some elements of FTL in there - Subset Games wouldn't want to make things too easy, right? Should a player fail to successfully defend the last of humanity, they have been outfitted with a time travel device to allow them to try again. Each time a player travels back in time, the world will be altered and randomly generate, which will in turn change the war against the kaiju. That means the Into The Breech is more than willing to cut players down for poor strategic decisions. 
Into The Breach is currently planned as a single-player game that will release for Windows, Mac, and Linux. No release date has been given and likely won't be revealed any time soon. Each platform will likely launch sequentially rather than all at once. 
Jack Gardner

It is easy to forget that BioWare took a bold risk when they launched their untested, original IP as an Xbox 360 exclusive back in 2007. The RPG genre had never truly veered into uncharted territory with a mainstream release as with a third-person shooter hybrid. On top of that, it was set in an unknown universe that the marketing team could easily have over-inflated to generate hype only to fall victim to the backlash (remember the cautionary tale of Advent Rising?). However, what made Mass Effect special was that it actually managed to live up to the hype. It worked. It had choices that engaged players. It was full of unique and interesting piece of universe-building and memorable characters. It delivered the sci-fi adventure some people had been waiting their entire lives to see in a video game for the first time.  
Almost a decade later with a new entry in the franchise releasing this week, does the original Mass Effect stand as not merely a good game, but one of the best games period?
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.

Outro music: Mass Effect 'Uncharted Depths' by Hy Bound (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02157)
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it!
If you want to have your opinion heard on air, follow the show on Twitter and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod 

New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
Jack Gardner

Sega made an appearance at SXSW Gaming to reveal the game they've been working on under the title of Project Sonic 2017. Now dubbed Sonic Forces, the trailers only show 40 seconds of in-game footage and a little over a minute of CG cinematics. 
We don't know much about the upcoming Sonic game, but we do know that it looks awfully similar to Sonic Generations and Sonic Adventure, though certainly darker in tone. Forces has classic Sonic teaming up with modern Sonic to kick Dr. Eggman out of a post-apocalyptic future. The gameplay trailer shows Sonic racing through a city under siege by Death Egg Robot sentinels and the cinematic introduces classic Sonic. The robot attack causes explosions and fire to spread through the city as Sonic races through streets filled with robot enemies, spike traps, and speed boosters. 
Series veteran Takashi Iizuka will be directing Sonic Forces and has confirmed that the title is a standalone entry in the franchise with no connection to Sonic Generations. 
Sonic Forces will release this holiday season for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox one, and PC. You can watch an hour long recap of Sega's time at SXSW if you're still craving more Sonic tidbits.
Jack Gardner

Recently, prolific video game composer Grant Kirkhope took time out of finishing Yooka-Laylee's music to release the uncompressed soundtrack to the 1997 N64 classic GoldenEye 007. The music he released consists of seven tracks as they have never been heard before.
When creating games back in the N64 days, composers would frequently create high quality soundtracks that were then compressed, re-sampled, and looped to fit onto an already bursting CD or cartridge. That process caused a definite loss in quality and gave the tracks a more ambient feel. However, the loss wasn't necessarily something audiences could pick up on as they had nothing to compare the lower quality soundtrack to: That's just how games sounded!
The release was accompanied by an interesting piece of trivia from Kirkhope, "Something not a lot of people know is that GoldenEye 007 wasn’t always the fantastic game it turned out to be. Nintendo actually stopped wanting it for some of its development cycle. Rare didn’t tell the team and let them keep making it, confident that Nintendo would change their minds, which of course they did in the end!"
If you're interested in learning more about GoldenEye 007, be sure to check out this podcast delving into the history and discussing the merits of the game. And if you are interested in indulging your nostalgia, why not play some of the fan-made remake of GoldenEye 007's multiplayer, GoldenEye: Source?
While the tracks have been floating around on the internet for a while (the YouTube videos of the tracks are from 2010), Grant Kirkhope has officially released some of them on his personal website along with a number of other uncompressed tracks from his composing projects. 
Jack Gardner

The strange collection of short stories told in video game form now has a solid launch locked in. Giant Sparrow, the studio behind the artistically unique Unfinished Swan, aims to humble and shock players with the mysteries and unexpected tales hidden within What Remains of Edith Finch.  
What Remains of Edith Finch focuses on the titular Edith Finch as she explores her Washington state family home. Each room in the house contains its own story and will help Edith come another step closer to uncovering why she is the last member of her family left alive. Each story varies in tone and theme, but they are each experienced in first-person and they each end in the death of one of Edith's family members.  
Giant Sparrow plans to release What Remains of Edith Finch next month on April 25 for PC and PlayStation 4.
Jack Gardner

Square Enix's Just Cause series is getting the Hollywood treatment. According to Deadline, a screenplay has already been completed by John Collee, the writer behind Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and Brad Peyton is slated to direct. Peyton has become known in recent years for his directorial work following the financial success of the Dwayne Johnson vehicle San Andreas. The Just Cause series could put those destructive chops to good use given the game franchise's penchant for exploding... well, pretty much everything. Interestingly, Peyton is also set to direct The Rock's pet video game movie project, Rampage.
Jason Momoa, the actor set to portray Aquaman later this year in Warner Bros. Justice League, has reportedly signed on to star in the Just Cause film as Rico Rodriguez. Rico has been the protagonist of the last three Just Cause titles and the film follows his adventures, reportedly taking cues from Just Cause 3. The focus of the film's story centers on a moment during one of his missions that finds Rico beginning to have doubts about whether his cause truly is just.
While video game movies tend to get a bad rap, there seems to be a surprising amount of effort and talent behind this attempt that could lead to an enjoyable (and profitable) theatrical release. There's no release window for the film as of yet. 
Jack Gardner

One of the most critically acclaimed titles of 2013, The Last of Us served as the PlayStation 3's swan song. Pushing the system to its limits, Naughty Dog's foray into a grim, apocalyptic vision of the future became a title that would be talked about for years to come for its presentation, pacing, characters, and gripping story. A film adaptation was announced following the massive success of The Last of Us. At the tail end of 2016, Sony unveiled a sequel. 

This week we take a look at the infected ruins of America as experienced by Joel and Ellie on their road trip through a world where a human life is as cheap as a bullet. Is The Last of Us one of the best games period? 

Outro music: The Last of Us 'Sarah' by nckmusic (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02995)
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! A Patreon has been created for those looking to support the show. You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod

New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
Jack Gardner

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series made some waves when adventure game developer Telltale Games teased it at the tail end of last year. We now have a narrower release window with the series set to premiere this spring on consoles, PC, Android, and iOS. 
Much like Telltale's Game of Thrones, their Guardians of the Galaxy series will tell a new story set within the universe seen in the films. Familiar characters such as Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot all return with a redesigned that aims to fit them in with the art style of Telltale's vision. The new tale follows the galactic group of reluctant heroes as they discover an artifact of immense power following a climactic encounter. Each member of the team has a competing interest in the item, but so does an enemy who represents the last of a dying race who will hunt the team to the ends of the galaxy to obtain it.

The Guardians will be traveling to a wide number of locations including Earth, the starship Milano, the hollowed out space titan skull called Knowhere, and beyond to locations not seen in the films. Borrowing from the films (and Telltale's natural affinity for including fantastic musical accompaniments to their games), the Guardians of the Galaxy series will feature a licensed soundtrack of its own to help players slip into the retro-camp fun in store for them. 
today at PAX East in Boston at 6pm in the Albatross Theater, so if you are at the show be sure to stop and give it a look. Telltale Games will be hosting a panel discussing their creative process on the title. Those who can't be there in person can check it out live on Twitch. 

Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series premiers on March 17 at SXSW in Austin, TX at the Paramount Theater. Telltale will be hosting a Crowd Play event where attendees can help decide what decisions are made on the big screen during the live gameplay via their mobile devices. In order to attend, interested people will need to obtain either an SXSW or SXSW Gaming badge and seats will be available on a first come, first serve basis. 
The voices for the Guardians of the Galaxy series won't be the same as the ones from the movies. Instead, Scott Porter (Friday Night Lights, The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series) will take on the role of Star-Lord, Emily O'Brien (Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor) tackles Gamora, Nolan North (basically all games with voice acting, Uncharted) becomes Rocket Raccoon, Brandon Paul Eells (Watch Dogs) gives life to Drax, and Adam Harrington (The Wolf Among Us, League of Legends) groots his best as Groot. 

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 releases on May 5 and with a narrower release day centered on this spring, I'd be willing to bet Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series will be releasing around that same time, possibly in late April. 
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