Listen to my Story: How I Came to Play and Love Final Fantasy X

When I first heard the glorious music, sound effects, and yes, voice acting of Final Fantasy X, it was on my brother’s Playstation 2, which was most definitely his and not ours and we were not to even think about touching it without his permission. Anyway, I heard him begin the game, and at first was, believe it or not, unimpressed. The voice acting was cool, sure, but I knew from the second that first full motion video played that the game had to be ridiculously short. It just had to be. That was always the tradeoff with games that used FMV, right?

Obviously, I was very, very wrong. I was used to the way things used to be, and Final Fantasy X, though not a launch title, was fairly early in the PS2 era. I quickly learned that the game was actually quite long indeed, and get this, it had a bunch of those little FMV’s too! Now I was officially impressed, but I still kind of dismissed it. After all, I had never been able to play a full RPG before, so why should I be able to now? Even with voice acting, it just wouldn’t be enough, would it?

I remember that I actually tried the demo first. Back in the days of demo discs, I used to receive one per month, and would always mess around with them. I had success with the demo, but even then, I thought it was just a one off. The demo is fairly short, and mostly just demonstrates combat with very little to worry about otherwise. I wasn’t quite there yet.

It was actually my brother, the very person who got me into video games in the first place, who suggested that I try Final Fantasy X. “You should start your own game!” he said one day after a particularly difficult battle. I scoffed at the idea, but by this point in my life I had already done some pretty cool stuff in games, so I figured I’d at least try. And so, one fine morning, I started playing Final Fantasy X, and did not stop for many, many hours. Turns out it was pretty playable after all.

Make no mistake. Final Fantasy X requires a lot of patience if you’re blind. In the first many, many hour session I played, I didn’t get as far as a sighted person might in the same amount of hours. The facts are that the game isn’t designed with us in mind, so we have to take some things into account. We still can’t actually see where we’re going, so we have to be willing to wander a bit until we can find our destination. We also can’t see items or people in the world, so it behooves us to basically mash the X button as we wander in order to find people or items and interact with them. It’s kind of a silly system, but ultimately it works.

The good news for us is that there is no jumping of any sort. This means that there is never a platform we need to jump to, and thus we know that, wherever our destination is, it’s on the ground we’re standing on. It’s hard to explain why this is important, but consider this. If the option to jump even exists, it’s reasonable to expect that you have to use it in some circumstances. If, like us, you cannot see the platform you must jump to in order to proceed, how would you know when to jump? Even if you just jumped around the whole time, you may not even realize you’re on a new level than you were before, and may keep jumping right off of it. In short, with games that aren’t designed to be played by the blind, the less jumping the better.

Here’s another piece of good news. Combat menus in Final Fantasy X don’t wrap. This means they can be memorized, and even used to determine whose turn it currently is. For example, when the game begins, Tiad the main character only has 2 options in his combat menu: attack and item. Aurin, however, has 3 options, because he possesses a magical ability called armor break. Using this small difference, we can tell if it’s Tidas’s turn, or Aurin’s. The combat menus of all characters will grow as they level up and gain new abilities, but that just means we need to pay attention to when our party members learn new tricks. It’s pretty awesome, and enables us to use essentially the same strategies anyone else would in combat.

Speaking of leveling, though, that’s one of the problem areas of Final Fantasy X. Yes, the game can be played if you’re blind, but with 2 exceptions. One is the leveling system called the sphere grid, and the other is certain sections of the game called the cloisters of trials, which are unskippable and in some cases quite complex.

Back to leveling, though. The way the sphere grid works seems simple enough. As you fight, you gain sphere levels, which enable you to move an equal number of squares on the sphere grid. You also earn spheres, which are used to unlock sphere grid nodes, which ar what actually increase your stats. You might be thinking, “well, can’t you just muddle your way through it and level up a bunch of stuff?” And sadly, the answer is no. You see, as long as you have the sphere levels for it, you are not limited in movement. What I mean by this is that you’re just as able to move backwards as forward, and if you cross certain paths, you will end up in the abilities of your other party members. This latter can be useful in the late game, but is certainly not ideal when you’re just starting out. And, because the sphere grid is full of complex pathways, we couldn’t reliably know which way we’re going, which nodes we’re heading to, or whether we’re just going backwards.

The cloisters are trouble for a different reason. They are all puzzles involving the removal of certain spheres, (notice a theme?) from one spot, and placing them in the correct other spot. We can certainly remove and slot these spheres, but remember we don’t actually have a reference for where we’re going. We could remove a sphere, wander around for a bit, find an empty sphere slot and slap it in, only to then realize we placed it right back in the slot we took it from. And that’s only one problem. We also have no idea which sphere we removed, as there are several different types, some unique to the particular cloister you’re in. Think I’m done? Nope. You also sometimes have to push pedestals into very specific locations, or away from locations they’re blocking, and so on. It’s kind of a nightmare for a blind person.

Aside from that, though, the game is quite playable. We are even helped out by the roads in the game, which are essentially straight in most cases. Crazy, right? There’s another unplayable bit called Blitzball, but it is fortunately not necessary to succeed at Blitzball to complete the game. It is necessary to play it once, but you don’t actually have to win. Certainly I would like to be able to play Blitzball, but part of playing games like this, games that nobody expected a blind person to play in the first place, is acceptance of an inability to do certain things in those games. Always, always try hard, but be ready to accept that some things just might not work.

I’m sure there are some little things I forgot. The playability of that game is kind of like the playability of Diablo 3. So many little things combine to allow us to play it as much as we can. I am proud to say I have beaten the game, and I have my brother to thank once again for steering me toward something great. The funny thing about that particular incident, though, is that he never did that before or since. Aside from that and the practical joke that got me started, he has never tried to get me to try something. It sort of makes me wonder what inspired him that time. In any case, I hope this has enlightened some of you fine folks. I am of course willing to answer any questions I can, so please discuss and ask and share. Thanks for reading, and continue to be awesome!

E3 Fallout: WWE2K15: I was Right

Ladies and gentlemen, it makes me feel great that I was right about one particular video game. That game, as the title of this blog says, is WWE2K15. I said last year to anyone who would listen that, as good as WWE2K14 surely would be, and was, it was not the game you should really look forward to. I said that with the emerging next-gen, now current-gen consoles, along with the likelihood that 2K would help with the game’s development, WWE2K15 was the one to wait for. I was right.
It was recently announced that 2K is indeed helping with development, and that this help is changing things for the better in every aspect of the game. Character models are now being built with NBA2K14 tech, and that game, as I have been told, has some of the best-looking character models ever seen. The final lockdown period for content has also been pushed forward several months, so WWE characters and stories will actually be close to current events in the WWE, rather than giant leaps behind. And third, most important of all to myself and other blind people, but probably pretty important to everyone else who has played the WWE2K series, 2K is helping to completely overhaul the commentary! The announcers will finally record all their lines together, like you know, actual sports announcers do, and each announcer will be recording over 30 hours of commentary! Now, I don’t know how many of you have heard the commentary in NBA2K14, but it’s good. It’s really good. And well, if you’ve heard commentary from the previous 2K games, you know it’s needed improvement for a very long time. It’s being done, and it’s being done right. I for one cannot wait until WWE2K15 hits shelves. Is it what you might call truly next gen? No, as it will likely be available on previous gen platforms. However, it is one giant step in that direction, and one that this fan longs to take.

Introducing Mainstream Console Gaming to the Blind Podcast!

Greetings, folks,
What follows is something I forgot to link to when it initially came out. It’s a podcast I was a part of along with Orin and John Moore, and the topic of discussion is mainstream console gaming. The target audience, though, is not existing console gamers, but blind people wishing to break into the console gaming scene. We explain how this can be done, make a few recommendations, and give a few examples of playable games. Below is a link that will take you directly to the podcast’s page on the Blind Geek Zone. Enjoy!
http://www.blind-geek-zone.net/an-introduction-to-mainstream-gaming-for-the-blind/

E3 Day 2 Updates

Alrighty then! What I consider E3 day 2, which by the way is considered Day 1 by the general public, is over. A few interesting tidbits came out today that I want to share with you, some of which is new information, some of which is corrections to other information.

The biggest news is this. This was actually something I heard Jack Trenton say during the Sony Press Conference, but I wasn’t sure enough that I interpreted it correctly to make it news. Now it has been confirmed. Playstation Plus is now required for online play on the PS4. Now I can hear you all getting negative, but let me add to this a bit, and clarify things. Yes, it is required, you do have to pay for online play now, but it’s still a better deal than Xbox Live Gold. First, it’s $50 rather than $60 per year, second you still get all the PS+ benefits, including bunches of free games. Third, even if you don’t pay for Playstation Plus, you retain access to all your media services on the PS3 like Netflix and Amazon video and all that, whereas all those things require Xbox Live gold with Microsoft. Now, if you’re still going “But, but, but you have to pay to play online and that sucks!” I still understand, I still get where you’re coming from, but consider this. You may very well get what you pay for. Almost all online games on the PS3, not all, but almost all, are plagued by lag. With this new model, that may no longer be the case. So it can be considered a negative, but I urge you to try not to do so, at least not too much.

Secondly, a couple of interesting corrections. Both Final Fantasy 15, and Kingdom hearts 3 are apparently not PS4 exclusive. This strikes me as slightly weird, as it will be the first time a Kingdom Hearts game is on Xbox anything, but so be it, I guess. Me, I’m gonna get that one for the PS4. That’s where it started, that’s where we’ll conclude it. Otherwise I don’t mind much.

Here’s a funny one, though. Elder Scrolls Online is also going to be on Xbox One, so I do have to concede that little point I made about the PS3 taking in all the MMO’s. Ah well. Once again, that’s fine. Remember, we got solid numbers for PS4 exclusives, even if we haven’t necessarily seen them all yet. 40 within the first year of release. That’s still awesome.

A couple of quick additions regarding specific games. First, Killer Instinct is going to be a Free to Play game that will give you 1 character, namely Jago, and allow you to play as him in every way. You can play the full single player, you can take him online, all that with no additional charge. Then, if you like him, or just the game in general, you can buy additional characters of your choosing. Alternatively, they are going to release a complete edition that you pay for up front and all things will be unlocked. Killer Instinct also has some new mechanics, including something called Instinct Mode, which you can use as a combo cancel, even on an ultra. In the example, the player did a combo, transitioned into an ultra, canceled into Instinct mode, hit another basic combo, and went right into another Ultra. If I understood correctly, all this became one giant combo. Ah, Killer Instinct, I do love thee.

Additionally, a little more information on Titanfall. Apparently not every character in every scenario is controlled by a person. There are AI pilots and AI titans, (humans and mechs), to fill out the battlefield so you always have the challenge of a team battle. The match itself, in terms of the number of player-controlled characters in the demo during the conference, was a 7 on 7 match. So still not bad at all. Figured that’d be worth mentioning to make sure an awesome concept like Titanfall is as clear as it can be.

There were other things shown off today, including Watchdogs and Beyond, but I don’t feel there was any truly significant information besides the fact that I was right about what I suggested in one of my Audioboo posts, which was that the mobile companion for Watchdogs is not Smartglass, it’s its own app. This allows it to work with any version of the game, which I agree with. You can use it to both help your friends, and if you want to, hinder them, and even try to hack into them to totally ruin their day. I kid actually, they want to keep it fun. Any death caused by another player is just reversed, and you’re put back into your story without any kind of penalty. It’s kinda a competition between players that can happen at any time.

What else happened today? Well, the Nintendo Direct video played today, but there wasn’t much to it. Apparently only about 9 games are coming out for the Wii You within the next year, and most of them put out by Nintendo. There was a new Bayoneta 2 trailer, which we expected, a trailer for the new Smash Brothers game, which we also expected, Mario 3D Land, Mario Cart 8, Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, the HD remake of Windwaker, a game just called X, a game called XY something or other, and one more. It was also announced that Megaman would be in Smash Brothers, but if you’re curious, there was nothing else about Smash Brothers. Nothing about newly added mechanics, just Megaman. And that was it. Absolutely the expected from Nintendo, and nothing more. They were right not to hold a press conference, because they just didn’t stack up, not even to Microsoft. Just a bit more proof that the Wii You is going down.

And that was pretty much the day. I will keep combing around tomorrow and Thursday, watching footage and whatnot, and bringing you more of this if there continues to be more to bring. See ya then!