Turning Over a New Leaf – Weekly Recommendations 03/01 – 09/01

Every week I give three gaming recommendations (very) loosely tied to something topical. These recommendations span platform, generation and genre and are all games that I have played, enjoyed and highly recommend. As always, comments are very welcome so please do chime in with any recommendations of your own. Check back each Monday for a new set, and click here for past entries.

Aside from eating and drinking too much, and of course watching Jools Holland on TV, New Years is good for making a change and turning over a new leaf. So in the spirit of the season here are three games that made a resolution to break away from the established formula of their respective franchises, striking out and succeeding with something a bit different.

1. Red Faction Guerilla – PS3, Xbox360 and PC (2009)

Red Faction Guerilla is a third person shooter set on a “sandbox” Mars, a departure from the series’ previous two installments which were FPSs. It continues the narrative and themes of the series and retains and greatly expands upon the destructible environments that made its predecessors so appealing. Taking the role of Alec Mason, a mining engineer with a penchant for violence, you must lead an uprising of Mars’ subjugated workers by destroying everything in sight.

Red Faction Guerilla is at its best when tasking the player to take apart Mars’ infrastructure in the most imaginative ways possible. Fortunately, other less enjoyable elements of the game rarely get in the way of this rampant destruction. You can take apart a building piece by piece with your trusty sledgehammer or use a well placed charge to destroy a load bearing wall to bring it all crashing down in one fell swoop. Or if you prefer all out mayhem, you can crash an explosive laden vehicle into your target, hopefully leaving yourself enough time to make your escape through a hail of bullets before all hell breaks loose.

Although it was overlooked in many Best of 2009 lists, RFG was one of the best multi-platform titles of 2009 and can be picked-up very cheaply online.

2. Final Fantasy Tactics – PlayStation (1997-8)

Lost in the shuffle of higher profile games, being as it were sandwiched between the release of FFVII and VIII, Fantasy Tactics has since become somewhat of a cult classic and is one of my favourite all-time games. Gameplay differs from the standard FF fare, as Tactics opted for an isometric, three dimensional battle field that added a degree of strategy and tactics lifted wholesale from Ogre Battle and Tactics Ogre (much of the FFT development team had worked on the Ogre series, including creator Yasumi Matsuno). Its deep character class system is a more nuanced version of the Job system in FFV, allowing the player to choose from and upgrade a number of roles, all with different abilities, strengths and weaknesses.

The story of Ramza and Delita shares many common elements with the FF series (creatures, weapons, spells etc) yet features more mature plotlines than its brethren, concerning class, the role of organized religion and murder as a means of maintaining peace. It also took a cutthroat approach to your band of companions, as fallen comrades would perish for good if not revived hastily, with the exception of a handful of central characters.

The medieval kingdom of Ivalice has remained popular, spawning a spin-off series (Final Fantasy Tactics Advance) and providing the setting for Vagrant Story and FFXII. It also enjoyed an update on the PSP with FFT: War of the Lions adding some enchanting cel-shaded CGI cutscenes and new characters. War of the Lions is how I would most recommend experiencing this masterpiece today.

3. Panzer Dragoon Saga – Saturn (1998)

The third true entry in the critically acclaimed Panzer Dragoon series, Panzer Dragoon Saga (Azel in Japan) is a deep and arresting RPG. Moving away from the on-rails style of its predecessors, it was released in relatively small quantities in the West at the tail-end of the Saturn’s short shelf life and now commands a hefty price amongst Saturn enthusiasts, though the Japanese version is a little easier on the wallet. Back in 1998, the UK Official Sega Saturn Magazine were giving away the entire first disc with purchases of the £4.99 mag, a pretty good deal considering the scarcity of the full game at retail.

I must admit that, despite having played Panzer Dragoon and Panzer Dragoon Zwei, I have only experienced a very small portion of Panzer Dragoon Saga. My copy was a cheap pick-up from a “junk” bin in Akihabara and cooperated just long enough for me to a get a feel for the game. From what I saw and have heard from others, Panzer Dragoon Saga pushed the Saturn to its limits, boasting a fluid battle system and one of the most compelling stories of its era. I think I had better start saving for a full copy!


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