Category Archives: Personal and Opinion

Most posts fit in here. Things where I write from the heart about all manner of subjects. As is the norm on personal websites these days, I remind you once again that everything I say here is my own opinion and doesn’t reflect the opinion of my employers — past, present or future.

1988: The End of Ascalon

Finished the Heavensward main story quest today. WOW.

Spoilers ahead!

I was pleased that the team went all-out and gave us a full-on Final Fantasy finale. The final dungeon, the Aetherochemical Research Facility, gradually gets weirder and weirder as you progress through it, until you eventually reach what is clearly The Final Boss Room, in which you’re set upon by not one but two Ascians, the dark-robed ne’er-do-wells whose evil machinations have been behind most of the Bad Things happening in Eorzea throughout the Final Fantasy XIV narrative.

Delightfully, this battle against the Ascians even does the typical Final Fantasy thing of unfolding across multiple forms, with the “merged” form of the two Ascians creating “Ascian Prime” and battering you with some of the most spectacular attacks in the entire game. Lest you thought that Final Fantasy XIV would lose some of the series’ trademark spectacle owing to the fact that its multiplayer nature makes cinematic camera angles and lengthy spell sequences impractical, this confrontation very much dispels that notion.

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That’s not the end, though. The battle against Ascian Prime — the conclusion of which finally sees recurring villain Lahabrea apparently dealt with once and for all — is followed up by an eight-player Trial in the research facility’s Singularity Reactor, in which you face off against Ishgard’s Archibishop, Heavensward’s main villain.

This being Final Fantasy, however, you don’t just fight a doddering old man with an obscene amount of hit points. No; shortly before your battle with him, he draws upon the power of the Eyes of Nidhogg to channel the spirit of Ishgard’s legendary king Thorden — he who, with his knights twelve, originally laid Nidhogg low and took the great wyrm’s eyes — and become a Primal incarnation of the ancient king. Naturally, this involves him growing to approximately ten storeys in height in the process, and his bodyguards, the twelve knights of the Heaven’s Ward (do you see what they did there) undergo similar transformations prior to your final battle against the whole sorry lot of them.

The actual battle against Thorden and the knights is amazing. Final Fantasy veterans will doubtless recognise this setup as an excuse to bring in the notorious summon “Knights of the Round”, and indeed the final boss battle is effectively you fighting Knights of the Round, complete with ridiculously overblown attack animations — including, at one point, the reactor in which you’re fighting seemingly floating up into space, then your entire screen shattering to bring you back to reality. (This animation is pretty much a direct reference to Knights of the Round’s appearance in Final Fantasy VII, whose attack animation “Ultimate End” was the most powerful ability you could equip your characters with in the whole game.)

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It’s a fitting end for Heavensward’s story, which has overall been a great addition to the ranks of Final Fantasy narratives throughout history. And it leaves some nice open teaser threads at the end ready for future content patches and the continuation of the story — most notably the character Estinien’s possession by the spirit of Nidhogg, the latter of whom is understandably pissed off at the world for numerous reasons, not least of which being the fact that he had his eyes scooped out, and some thousand years later, was killed by some young upstart claiming to represent the spirit of the planet itself.

Anyway. It was good stuff, and sets the scene nicely for the launch of the new raid dungeon Alexander, which must be due pretty soon now. (Indeed, the ending cutscene shows Alexander rising out of the water in the Dravanian Hinterlands, though it is as yet impossible to enter the great iron giant.)

I’m glad I beat the story (and the two “post-ending” dungeons Neverreap and The Fractal Continuum, both of which are a lot of fun — and pleasingly challenging) and am looking forward to seeing what’s next. In the meantime, I have an official full-on review of the expansion to write for Gamespot, so watch out for that soon.

1987: At the Gates of Heaven

Back to “reality” for Andie and I now, and we’re both closing in on the finale of the main story quest in Heavensward. It’s been a pretty spectacular journey up until this point, which I shall endeavour not to spoil to a significant degree in this post, largely because I don’t yet know how it all ends.

Heavensward has achieved that which I wasn’t sure it would be able to do: it’s surpassed A Realm Reborn in almost every possible way, but particularly when it comes to the main story. While A Realm Reborn had a solid narrative that chronicled your character’s humble beginnings up to their awakening as the Warrior of Light and beyond, taking in their victories over the fierce Primals of Eorzea and the Empire’s ultimate weapon in the process, I found the Final Fantasy XII-style political manoeuvring that made up a significant part of the plot to be less interesting than something a bit more, for want of a better word, “JRPG”.

Heavensward, meanwhile, feels more like a “Final Fantasy“. This isn’t to say that A Realm Reborn didn’t feel like Final Fantasy at all — I described it as one of the best new Final Fantasies in recent years back when I reviewed it for USgamer, after all — but Heavensward feels more like a traditional Final Fantasy.

It achieves this in a number of different ways. For one, it tones down the political machinations that gradually built up over the course of A Realm Reborn, and which came to a rather shocking climax at the end of patch 2.55, Before the Fall, which acted as a prelude to Heavensward. These narrative threads are picked up and explored further — though some look as if they’re going to remain unresolved until a later content patch — but for the most part Heavensward is an all-original story.

For another, the narrative feels more like an epic journey. In A Realm Reborn, you spent a lot of your time going back and forth between the three main areas, and, aside from the initial quest where you leave your starting city to go and visit the other two, it didn’t really feel like the typical JRPG journey of gradually getting further and further away from your starting point, with more and more outlandish things happening as you go. Heavensward, meanwhile, does adopt this style of journey, beginning in the familiar snowy wastes of Coerthas, some of which we had the opportunity to explore in A Realm Reborn, but before long giving way to the lush forests and rocky mountains of the Dravanian Forelands, the otherworldly floating islands of the Churning Mists and the Sea of Clouds, the mysterious abandoned city of the Dravanian Hinterlands — an important location to Final Fantasy XIV lore as a whole, as it turns out — and, ultimately, a final region which doesn’t feel at all like a typical MMO field, instead very much feeling like an authentic JRPG The Very Definitely Final Dungeon.

The journey you undertake throughout the narrative is emphasised by some lovely narration from David Warner upon your first entry to each area. A Realm Reborn had plenty of florid prose, but Heavensward refines this with some almost poetic writing that gives the game a very distinctive voice and tone throughout. It feels strange to compliment the writing in an MMO, a type of game not particularly known for stellar storytelling (Hi, World of Warcraft!) but Heavensward really doesn’t skimp on this front, and it’s all the stronger for it.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how the story ends — and, of course, getting involved with what comes after that. It can’t be long now until the launch of the new raid dungeon Alexander, and I’m very intrigued to see how all that fits in with the overall lore. Previous raid The Binding Coil of Bahamut turned out to be extremely relevant to the original game’s lore — and even more relevant to Heavensward, as it happens — so I’m looking forward to experiencing Alexander’s encounters and story to see what happens.

For now, though, I’m still flagging a bit after all the excitement of the weekend, so I think it’s time to get some sleep.

1986: The Day After

I am absolutely exhausted. I was fine for most of today — presumably still riding high on the nerves/stress/adrenaline from yesterday — but in the last half hour or so I’ve started a real slump and I am now extremely ready to go to bed and sleep for about a week.

It’s back to relative normality tomorrow, though, as I have a bunch of work to do this week; that said, we are heading off to go and visit my parents later in the week, so that will be nice to have a change of scenery for a couple of days.

I talk about nerves, stress and adrenaline, but yesterday really wasn’t all that majorly stressful in the end. I know that weddings can be complicated and stressful affairs when you have lots of moving parts involved, but we deliberately decided to keep things very simple. Specifically, we identified all the parts of weddings that we both hated (spending hours over photographs, obnoxious DJs, shoehorned-in “entertainment”, poncy food) and eliminated those from the equation altogether, leaving us with a fairly bare-bones ceremony and reception, but one at which most people seemed to enjoy themselves a great deal. After all, if we hate those aspects of weddings, it’s entirely possible that other people do too!

But it’s all over now, and it kind of doesn’t quite feel like it was real. I’m sure it’ll sink in eventually — particularly as I’m now quite conscious of the ring on my finger — but for now, it’s probably the tiredness talking, but I’m enjoying the gently euphoric sense of knowing that it’s all over and done with and we can both now look forward to whatever the future holds.

Now, I know this has been a short entry, but I am knackered. And as such I will bid you all a good night.

1985: MAWWIAGE

Andie and I got married today. It’s now half past midnight and we’re both very much ready to sleep after a very long day that absolutely flew by. Kind of doesn’t quite feel real in some ways.

I’m going to keep this brief because I’m knackered, but I wanted to say thanks to everyone who showed up to celebrate with us.

A particular thanks to our parents for helping with organisation, decoration and, y’know, paying for shit.

Thanks to my best man Tim for a lovely speech that summed up our friendship nicely.

Thanks to those who came a long way to celebrate with us, like my brother and Andie’s extended family.

Thanks to Rob for helping with sound.

Thanks to Woody for getting drunk enough to pour milk on his cake and then attempt to convince me that he fully intended to do that and did not, in fact, mistake milk for cream.

And thanks to my lovely new wife for sticking by me through the good times and the bad — much as I’ve done for her in return — and for agreeing to do this marriage thing and take the next step in our life together. Next stop: cat.

Time to sleep.

1984: [Insert Wedding-Related Lyric Of Your Choice Here]

I am, as they say, getting married in the… wait, no, it’s tomorrow afternoon. 3pm, to be precise.

Today was the ceremony rehearsal, which was rather more informal than I was expecting. Although I’ve been married before, my previous marriage was a civil ceremony in a hotel and as such was a little less dependent on tradition, ceremony and symbolism. Tomorrow’s wedding — which will hopefully be my last — is a church wedding, however, which is altogether more “formal”. The rehearsal, meanwhile, was pretty much just a runthrough of what is going to happen when and who needs to stand where.

We’re having a pretty simple and straightforward ceremony. Neither Andie or I are particularly religious, but given Andie’s family’s ties to the clergy (her late father was a member of the clergy in the church we’re getting married in tomorrow) it felt entirely appropriate to have a church wedding. We did, however, decide to put our respective feet down a little and not have any hymns or traditional organ music, because frankly, both of those things are far too sombre and dirge-like for our liking. Instead, we’re coming in to the same music that introduced our in-game wedding in Final Fantasy XIV, our signing of the register is accompanied by two tracks from the Ar Tonelico series, and we’re leaving the church accompanied by EXEC_COSMOFLIPS/. from Ar Tonelico Qoga. They’re all strikingly powerful pieces of music that will hopefully leave something of an impression on those who hear them, even if they’re unfamiliar with the original context.

Over the last few days, I’ve spent some time assembling the music playlists for the reception afterwards. In keeping with our desire to keep things simple and personal, we’ve opted to not have a DJ or disco, and are instead having music from my tablet pumped through a PA system. That way people who want to get up and dance can do, and those who just want to chill out, talk with people and enjoy socialising can do without some braying idiot bellowing exhortations to gyrate wildly at them. (I loathe wedding DJs, particularly those of the breed that believe everyone should be dancing at all times, otherwise they are somehow a failure.)

There’s another reason for doing things this way, though; taking a DJ out of the equation means that we have control over the music, and as such the playlists I’ve been assembling — a slower-paced one for during the meal and a more energetic one for when everyone’s finished — are made up of a… somewhat eclectic selection of tracks, to say the least, but by doing that I feel that we’ve managed to capture our respective personalities and histories quite nicely. There’s a mix of stuff from our respective youths, some modern stuff that we like the sound of, and some stuff that will only mean something to a few people in the room — bits of the Final Fantasy XIV soundtrack, songs from Love Live!, music from the Ace Attorney series. There’s also Babymetal, because Babymetal, and I think there’s at least one Taylor Swift track in there, if only to placate our Taylor Swift-obsessed guildmate. (He isn’t at the wedding, but he probably appreciates the thought.)

I’ve written my speech and have some ideas on how to ad lib in a few places so I’m not just reading off a card. The venue is pretty much set up, with only a few minor bits and bobs to take care of in the morning. I remembered to bring my suit with me, and my shoes. We have the rings with us.

I think we’re ready to go!

Barring any last-minute anxious posting tomorrow morning — which is entirely possible, as I still feel rather calm right now, which I think is freaking people out a bit — the next time I speak with you all, dear readers, I will be a married man. Hooray!

1983: Drifting Along

Wedding in a couple of days (well, technically tomorrow at the time of writing), but there’s not a lot to say about it right now other than “it’s happening on Saturday”. So in an effort to write about something else — and spare you Heavensward gushing for another day or two, at least until I finish the main storyline — I thought I’d talk a little more about Drift Girls, a mobile game I discovered a short while back and have been playing at least a little bit every day ever since.

Drift Girls, lest you forget — or are unfamiliar — is an iOS and Android game by Korean developer NHN BlackPick, localised and brought to the West by a company called Toast. It’s a curious little game in many ways — in some respects, it’s similar to the “gacha” collectible card games that are a particular popular product of the Asian mobile development market, but in others it’s entirely its own beast. Either way, it’s a genuinely great, enjoyable game that I’ve been having a whole lot of fun with.

It’s kind of a driving game, and it’s kind of a dating sim. Both of those elements are intertwined, however; the girls you woo in the dating sim part of the game become passengers while you race, and different girls provide different bonuses to your car’s performance. There are also other benefits to dating, too; reach the maximum affection with a girl and you have the opportunity to whisk her away for an “overnight date” with everything that implies, which makes you “feel better” and improve your vehicle’s performance by a significant amount for the following day.

One of the interesting things about the game, though, is the fact that each and every one of the girls in the cast feels like they’ve had some effort put into their writing — not just in an attempt to show that they have a personality, but to make them feel like they’re all part of the game world. As you get to know each of the girls, it becomes apparent that some of them know one another, and you’ll often get to know several sides of what initially appeared to be a fairly simple story. Later in the game, too, as the overarching main scenario storyline starts to pick up speed with international smuggling, the Mafia and all manner of other silliness, you get the opportunity for another perspective on events by building up a relationship with the lead detective and prosecutor on the case.

The fact that there’s an ongoing narrative and each of the girls clearly has their own little mini-story to work through makes the dating aspect of the game far more than a simple grind to get the girl who provides the biggest bonuses as quickly as possible. Aside from that, too, a system for “exceeding the girl’s limits” by completing challenges allows you to boost their stats considerably as well as uncover a bit more of their personality and story.

But what of the driving bit? Well, it’s very simple, and I’m actually pretty glad of that. Full-on driving games on touchscreens suck beyond belief, so I’m extremely grateful to NHN BlackPick for taking a greatly simplified approach: all you have to do is rev your engine to get a good start, then time your drifts left or right as you enter a corner, then occasionally set off an nitro boost to go a bit faster. In many ways, it has more in common with a rhythm game than a driving game, but it manages to be genuinely exciting, with some lovely graphics, cinematic camera angles and cheesy but entirely appropriate throbbing dance music in the background.

The metagame is fun, too. While there is a “gacha” mechanic for drawing new cars and parts to attach to them, where I’ve found the most fun is in taking the car I started with — a “one-star” Mini-equivalent — and gradually building it up to remain competitive as the opponents in the game get stronger and stronger. So far I’ve successfully upgraded it to “four-star” standard, which is enough for story missions now, but I’m starting to run into a few situations where it’s not quite enough to beat tough opponents.

I compared this type of mobile game to a more traditional MMO a while back, and having spent probably more time with Drift Girls than any other mobile game of its type — along with my hefty experience with Final Fantasy XIV — I stand by that statement. The gradual creep of power; the joy of getting to a point where you can afford a new piece of equipment or get lucky with an item drop; the feeling of progression; the necessity to keep on the “gear treadmill” to continue to progress — all of these things are typical MMO characteristics that are very much present in Drift Girls, and they make for a compelling, addictive experience that has stuck around in my consciousness a lot longer than I thought it would after the initial “haha, wtf is this” appeal wore off.

Turns out it’s actually a really good game. So I think I might just sneak in a quick race or two before I go to sleep tonight…

1982: Below the Threshold

Slimming World tonight, and this week I lost a pleasing 3.5lb. I’m particularly pleased about this because of the impending celebrations at the weekend, which will doubtless involve eating lots of things I “shouldn’t”.

But I’m not going to worry about it. I’m going to enjoy the weekend to the fullest, then make sure I get back on plan once the weekend is over, and going by past experience, that should minimise the damage.

Tonight’s result was pleasing for another reason, though: not only did it mark my crossing the “4 stone lost” threshold, I now find myself in a stone bracket that I can’t remember the last time I was in. In other words, I’m the lightest I’ve been for quite some time. I still have a long way to go, but things are still going nicely in the right direction, which is very motivating.

I find myself wondering if my weight loss is going to continue, since there are some people in the group who really seem to struggle from week to week. At the moment, though, I’m not having too much difficulty keeping to the plan, and I’m seeing fairly consistent results. So in theory, if I just keep doing what I’m doing, things should continue the way they have been — at least until I eventually reach my target.

I don’t know when that will be but after several years of despairing about my weight gain, I do now feel like I’ll be able to reach it. It might take months or even years, but I have faith I’ll get there.