Gaming for Grown Ups
14th December 2011 11:35:00
Posted by Lewis Brown

Essentially Square

As of the start of December Square Enix assaulted the PSP Essential range with not one, not two but nine releases. In case you have been living under the proverbial rock for a year the Essential range is the PSP’s equivalent of a Classic or Platinum range, offering classic gaming for a fraction of the price of new releases. Listed below, in no particular order, are the 2nd December releases:

    Final Fantasy
    Final Fantasy II
    Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection
    Final Fantasy Tactics: The War Of The Lions
    Dissidia: Final Fantasy
    Dissidia 012 [Duodecim]: Final Fantasy
    Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
    The 3rd Birthday
    Lord of Arcana

We were quite excited by this news – some of the games on that list are still fairly new and others are true classics. We caught up with Square Enix and they were kind enough to send us over a couple of these games so we could see whether they were worth your hard earned £7.99. Check out our thoughts below and then let us know in the comments or in the forums if you are intending to pick any of these up!

Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection

Well, what can you say about Final Fantasy IV that hasn’t been said before? This is the big one, the genre changer, the game that decided that little things such as plot and storyline should drive the series forward rather than depending on simple gameplay hooks. FFIV regularly makes appearances on lists of the greatest or most influential games and even now it only takes a short amount of time to see why.

The Complete Collection not only provides you with a remastered version of Final Fantasy IV but it also gives you Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, an episodic sequel set 17 years after the events in the main game which was initially released as mobile content in Japan. The effort Square Enix have put in to ensure that western audiences have a chance to see this content should be lauded and for true completionists outside of Japan this represents a great chance to experience everything that Square Enix have conceived for the world of Final Fantasy IV.

At this new lower price point Final Fantasy IV represents a great stocking filler for Christmas; the gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has flirted with the Final Fantasy series before and offers long terms fans an excellent way to reminisce on the roots of the series.

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Dissidia 012 [Duodecim]: Final Fantasy

Moving from the main Final Fantasy series to the amusingly named spinoff Dissidia 012 [Duodecim]: Final Fantasy. Don’t let that mouthful put you off however as this is easily one of the best games that you can pick up for the PSP. Dissidia 012 is essentially a remake and prequel to the critically acclaimed Dissidia: Final Fantasy but it is also so much more. The game features characters (both playable and bosses) from across the Final Fantasy multiverse and the excellent graphical representations and voice acting should ensure that even the most ardent of fan is happy with the depiction of their favoured characters.

The 012/Duodecim bit in the title comes from the fact that the storyline has you playing through the twelfth cycle of the eternal conflict between two gods at opposite sides of the spectrum - Cosmos and Chaos. At first glance the game is ostensibly a 2D Fighter, but it quickly becomes apparent that the underlying mechanics more closely match that of an action RPG. Out of battle Square Enix listened to feedback from the first Dissidia and now offer a full story mode, with map movement more akin to traditional Final Fantasy play.

The package becomes even harder to resist when you see that the original Dissidia has been remastered and included as an unlockable extra. Square Enix have even managed to make use of the new mechanics within this take on the original, making this particular version the definitive offering of everything Dissidia related. With compelling gameplay, a huge range of playable characters and stuffed with extras Dissidia 012 [Duodecim]: Final Fantasy already represented some of the best that the PSP had to offer – available as within the Essential range just makes this a no-brainer. Just make sure you also check out the PSN and grab the Dissidia 012 Prologus: Final Fantasy to unlock a certain fanboy favourite as an assist character...

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The 3rd Birthday

Ah, finally, the return of Aya Brea. After last gracing our Playstation screens over ten years ago in Parasite Eve 2 Aya returns in style for The 3rd Birthday – quite why they didn’t call it Parasite Eve 3 is beyond me, but the game certainly would have fitted that moniker. One of the newer games in this wave of Essential releases The 3rd Birthday only came out in Europe back in April, receiving what can only be described as average reviews. Over in Japan however the critics loved it, with Famitsu awarding a 36/40.

The 3rd Birthday is essentially a third-person shooter RPG, set in Manhattan featuring time travel, body switching and a damage mechanic that was criticised pre-launch for showing too much of Aya’s skin (if ever that was something to complain about, huff). The camera does suffer from the lack of a second analogue stick, but the addition of auto-lock functionality more than makes up for this. The rest of the mechanics are strong, with the game representing an excellent take on the shooter genre considering its handheld nature. The strategic use of the ‘Overdrive’ ability during combat is to be especially commended, offer you multiple ways to take down some of the larger monsters.

One of the criticisms of the game was aimed at its overall length; coming in at a little over four hours to play through the storyline the emphasis is very much on encouraging replayability through unlockables rather than presenting an epic tale you only experience once. It’s a curiously Western ailment in that we no longer seem to be able accept this style of game, instead complaining that the game is ‘too short’. Whatever you do, don’t let this put you off of The 3rd Birthday – Aya deserves your attention not once but many times and the game is a fitting addition to the overall Parasite Eve mythos.

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Lord of Arcana

Another game released earlier in 2011, Lord of Arcana differs from The 3rd Birthday in that its critical reception was less than positive. Unlike many of Square’s other releases the story most definitely takes a back foot in this release, the identi-plot revolving around a memory-less warrior battling monsters in the world of Horodyn in order to become the Lord of Arcana and save everything. Lord of Arcana unashamedly puts its emphasis into the combat side of the game, and it is unfortunate therefore that it doesn’t deliver well.

Combat screams that it is a Monster Hunter clone, offering you legions of beasties to slay while out questing in the wider world. A third-person hack’n’slash presentation sees you button bashing for your life, using the same tactics against the same monsters over and over again. The clichéd introduction gives you a fully powered character, only to take your skills and gear away from you when you start the games proper, and the cheated feeling that the game could be more fun if they hadn’t done that to you never really goes away.

As a budget title Lord of Arcana is made slightly more attractive, especially if you have friends that are willing to go the distance with you as the ability to play in co-op makes the adventure all the more fun. However, the other games on offer here are all far superior to Lord of Arcana so it’s worth your while to take a punt on one of them instead.

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Well, there you have it – our view on the games made accessible to us. We really aren’t exaggerating when we say that these entrants into the Essential range offer a monumental opportunity to anyone who has managed to miss them so far – from the Final Fantasy classics through to the sublime Tactics Ogre virtually every game here is one that as a PSP owner you should play, that you should have an opinion on. Let us know on the forums whether you manage to pick these up, or if you rediscover an old favourite. We’re off for another play through of Duodecim, enjoy whichever cheapie you plump for!