I loved the first Dark Souls because I was never very good at it.

I'm one of the first to herald games that don't hold you by the hand for their runtime. I feel a lot of those Call of Duty or Uncharted-type spectacle-driven escapades not only make the experience only slightly above watching a movie, but they invariably detract from the higher brain functions games can and should tap into. Give me the choice between tapping buttons to imperiously shoot things monotonously or employing the upstairs thinking machine to sort out tactics when battling homicidal skeletons, and it's not choice at all.

So even though it flayed me like a Greyjoy, I really dug Dark Souls. It was a complex, visually rich and mechanically challenging grind I was happy to consign myself to for several hours at a time. To be honest, I never possessed the masterful control over the monsters and environment many Let's Players developed through constant, blood-soaked repetition. I just liked having to think about a game in addition to simply playing it, and I liked that it was entirely possibly to completely fail and have to start again without an expansive safety net. To quote Batman Begins, sometimes we fall so we can learn to pick ourselves back up again.

But if Dark Souls was a simple rinse-and-repeat of falling and rising, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is a bunch of falling, breaking a rib, then rising again, then when you fall again you break another two ribs, then a wrist, then you lose a kidney, and the analogy starts to break down.

To put it simply, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is hard. But you probably knew that already.

The game is a repackaged and updated release of last year's Dark Souls II with all the DLC bells and whistles attached for current-generation consoles. As such, much of what I'm about to say will undoubtedly be very old news for many of you. Chances are the really hardcore Souls players are already scoffing at my neophyte approach as they carve out the buttocks of twelve caprademons at once, for the sixteenth time today.

For those of you either new to the Souls 'verse or having had just the first game as experience, let me say that Scholar of the First Sin is undeniably worth your time. A large part of that is because of, rather than in spite of, the game's intense difficulty. Let's not mince words: there are people trying to break concrete walls with toothpicks who'd have an easier time at their task than some of the players of Dark Souls II. The game is unrelentingly brutal from the word go, with each subsequent death chipping away at your maximum health and depriving you of the souls (the game's equivalent of experience points and currency) that you arduously gathered from all those slain zombies. There's also not much in the way of tutorialising, meaning you'll most likely have GameFAQs open simultaneously in order to work out how to level up or find the Estus Flasks that are your sole renewable means of health replenishment.

I say that with zero shame, by the by: there are secrets and objectives peppered throughout Dark Souls II that can only be found with a walkthrough or an insane degree of luck and/or overly-developed attention to detail. Maybe that makes me a failure as a player, but there are only so many times I can handle being stomped by a statue-sized dude in armour before I growl, "Right, so what's a way to get around this bastard?"

Remember how I said I loved the first game because I sucked at it? A lot of that love both there and in Scholar of the First Sin comes from the repetitive kill-die-recover rigmarole that, eventually, results in a victory by curb-stomp or skin of your teeth. That might not sound like a ringing endorsement by effectively saying "The game is good and you should play it because it's hard and repetitive", but trust me when I tell you the satisfaction that ensues from an inevitable victory is worth it. I spent a good three or four hours fighting a particular Dragon Rider guy, dying many times to his (compared to other bosses) basic attacks and coming back to life at a bonfire, determined to beat this guy despite the fact it was 3 in the morning and I had to leave for work in four hours. I ground scimitar-wielding ninjas and the aforementioned statue dudes over a solid night's work of slashing, dodging and countering, until I'd gathered enough souls to bolster my level and equipment to the point where the Dragon Rider fell to my blade, after probably the fifteenth or sixteenth attempt.

Let me tell you, the euphoria that follows is awesome. He wasn't even the biggest boss in the game, too.

Your enjoyment of Scholar of the First Sin, and Dark Souls in general, will live or die depending on
what you ask for in a game. If you're after something casual and easy on the thinker, look elsewhere. This is the kind of place one would come to for a challenge, undertaken by the kind of gamer who likes to emulate Klingons and nearly snaps their controller in frustration at the twenty-seventh death of their character that hour. This is a game reliant on gritting your teeth and slogging through the trenches to get to those golden, unbeatable moments where those boss guys fall, and you gain souls from their death, and you feel great.

It's also the kind of game for people who like a marriage of fine visuals and geographical exploration potential. The environment of Drangleic is expansive, full of nooks and crannies for loot and dudes
trying to kill you. Graphical gorgeousness is boosted by the shift to current-gen consoles, and the runtime is smoother than I remember the first game operating on the Xbox 360 at. It's an aesthetically stunning game with the kind of dark, brooding style taken from the very best in gothic narratives, and while you probably wouldn't want to live in its world - particularly with all those bloodthirsty skeletons I mentioned - it's very pretty to look at.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin might make you work for your sense of gratification in a way few other games do, but in my opinion the grinding slog is worth it. This is the kind of game that truly challenges, something I feel is lacking in the current gaming clime to an extent. If more games took on Dark Souls' mentality of making you put some Sisyphean effort in for your achievements - like I hear Bloodborne does - then the world would be a better, if slightly more controller-snapped, place.

- Chris



Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is available now for Xbox One and Playstation 4.

Thanks to the generous people at Entertainment One, we have 5 copies of Revenge of the Green Dragons to giveaway. Now the best bit, to win all you need to do is hit this link to our Facebook page and like the post relating to this competition. It's that easy! Winners will be announced on our Facebook page (you must live in Australia to be eligible)

REVENGE OF THE GREEN DRAGONS

From acclaimed director Andrew Lau (A Beautiful Life) and Andrew Loo, and legendary executive producer Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas), comes a brilliant mix between a Hong Kong action film and a New York City crime thriller, portraying the never-before-told true story of The Green Dragons. Available to own on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD April 15.


The Northmen DVD competition is now closed the winners are;

1. Matt D
2. Amber Boyce
3. Laurafpow
4. Karen T
5. Victoria Higgins

Congratulations guys, please send your contact details to me at stu@geekofoz.com so we can get you your winnings.

- Stu


Thanks to the fine folks at Entertainment One, we have 5 copies of Northmen to giveaway. Now the best bit, to win all you need to do is comment I WANT in the comments below. It's that easy! Winners will be announced on our Facebook page (you must live in Australia to be eligible)

A band of Vikings are stranded behind enemy lines on the coast of Alba as their longboat goes down in a dreadful storm. Their only chance of survival is to find a path to the Viking settlement, Danelag, traversing an unfamiliar and hostile land they have never known. Soon the journey becomes a race for their lives when the King of Alba sends his most feared mercenaries after them.​ Available to own on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD April 1. ​​




- Stu
NOTE: There will not be a */10 Geeks at the end of this post. Same rules as the Witcher 3 hands-on: it's not the final product, so I won't give a final grade. Those looking for a summary about whether you should play it - yes. You should definitely play it.

__________________________________________________________________________


While a release date, price point or specific comments on narrative and characters - besides some vague outlines of setting and basic plot for the latter - aren't yet known, I'm still excited for Final Fantasy XV. No, it's not solely based on what's in the demo that comes packaged with Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. It's based on what's not in that demo.

Don't get me wrong, the demo is awesome. It's a solid couple hours of combat mechanics and story driven by some interesting, if only briefly sketched, characters. As a piece of early release designed to create critical groundswell and make me want to see the finished game, Square Enix have certainly achieved that.

But what I most want to see in the finished product is the stuff that wasn't here. I want to see more of the gorgeously-rendered (at over a million polygons) world, and the cultures inhabiting it. I want to know why Noctis and co.'s car stalled all the way out in Behemoth country. I want to know why the evil empire use ships that look more like flying versions of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I want to know why Gladio feels it necessary to spend his days traipsing around the wilderness without an undershirt.

Hey, I never said the things I wanted were actually consequential.

As with the majority of Final Fantasy titles, including the recently-reviewed Type-0, the plot begins in medias res. Four young men wearing more leather than a herd of angsty cattle have their car broken down, and traverse the forest wilds to hunt down a behemoth - the unholy bastard child of Godzilla and Perseus's minotaur - in order to raise the cash to get it fixed. Along the way there are some sidequest things, and the ending...

Well, I don't want to say much more than that. It's a little difficult to critically analyse or summarise a demo when the runtime only barely outpaces a Christopher Nolan film's runtime. It's also disingenuous for me to let you know how it ends, with a hook to play the full game offered with what I imagine is the evillest, most malicious smile Square Enix could ever offer (not because they're horrible or anything, but because the ending hits you. Hard).

Suffice it to say, Episode Duscae most definitely warrants a playthrough. Whatever I say about it will ultimately change by the time XV comes out proper, but for now it's a solid, enjoyable if occasionally frustrating gameplay experience.

The foundation of Duscae lies within a fairly intuitive battle system that combines the free-form flow of Type-0 and the not-so-hot single player technical of Final Fantasy XIII. You control Noctis, the
emaciated emo-holdover with more weapons on his person than the Punisher that are all stored in some kind of warp-hyperspace-TARDIS-space thing in his belt. Combat consists of running forward and smacking the enemy with these weapons, which are all unsheathed depending on what kind of smack you're delivering or the power combo you're unleashing. You only ever control Noctis, leaving the rest of your party to run around setting things on fire or getting stuck behind trees.

Of the issues I have with the demo - keeping in mind it's a scoop of batter from the bowl to get us excited about the finished cake - the combat and, in connection, the camera take centre stage. It's clear Square Enix are adapting the intuitive, hands-on approach to battle that made Type-0 and Final Fantasy XII so much fun, but they're not quite there in terms of the handling. Constantly holding the attack button down gets a little monotonous and unchallenging after the first few kills. The button-mashing aspect of using the Warp function can mess with your direction a bit, at times overshooting the enemy you're supposed to be zooming into with sword poised for slicing. The lock-on feature also constantly messes with the camera angle when you're running from overpowered enemies. This is particularly vexing when the ticked-off behemoth you've just impaled with a sword, the same way a buffalo gets impaled by a toothpick, decides to charge with designs on your low-levelled, easily trampled body.

It's also not helped when you're trekking to an objective marker and one of your party members points out a spot of interest, the camera swiveling to focus on it and mucking up your orienteering skills. I like that camera angles these days are freer-moving than they were in the fixed-angle days of Final Fantasy X, but too much swivel and unwanted yanks away from the direction you're heading get annoying real quick. It almost makes me wonder if Noctis is like the dogs from Up when they hear the word 'SQUIRREL!'

As I said earlier, I also would've liked a little more grounding in who the characters are early on. It's clear Noctis is of some regal importance, constantly referred to as Your Highness by Ignis, but other than that the party's character attributes are reduced to usual FF archetypes. Noctis is brooding and angsty, Prompto is earnest and over-eager, Gladiolus is brutish but kind-hearted, Ignis is intelligent and British. Some further fleshing would be nice but, like I said before, this is only a taste of what's to come.


Because it's a taste, it's made me crave some more of the things that are only briefly hinted at or not even included. Like I said, I'd like to know what happened to the boys to get their car stranded out in the wilds. I'd love to see more of the cities, and see a lot more of the visual design employed in the empire's military hardware. I'd really love to see scenes of the party chilling and chatting around the campfire each night with dialogue rather than XP gain. I yearn to check out the broader world-building Final Fantasy XV constantly skirts towards over the course of Episode Duscae.

The one thing the demo accomplishes handily, at least for me, is to make me want to play the game. Given the goodwill Type-0 garnered from me, as well as the outstanding visuals in Duscae from the word go, this was practically a given. But even with the prior assumption that I'd want more when it was all over, I wasn't prepared for how much more I wanted to see afterwards. Sorry, I'm probably sounding overly-enthusiastic and salesmanlike; Square Enix aren't giving me bags of cash or holidays in Japan for plugging their demo, I swear!

Episode Duscae is not perfect. It is not as entirely a nostalgic redux the way Type-0 was, and it's clear there are still some bugs to iron out. It might not be the most original Final Fantasy game to hit
consoles when it finally does emerge from its almost-decade of secluded development, whenever that might be. It's not even the best demo I've ever played. Were I to be giving it a score like my normal reviews, it'd probably be sitting at around 6.5-7/10 or so.

But you know what? It made me remember why I used to love the simple-numbered FF titles. It, along with Type-0, gave me hope that the franchise can return after the abyss of XIII. It was streamlined, it was colourful, and it was enjoyable. It had some interesting sketches of characters and some gorgeous visual design, as well as tantalising hints at the greater world-building to come. Right now, if they released Final Fantasy XV as nothing more than the above, I'd be all over that like tomato sauce on a tailored suit.

- Chris



Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae is available now with purchases of Final Fantasy 
Type-0 HD on Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
If Final Fantasy Type-0 HD had existed a decade ago, when I first got into the series and time was not as limited as now, it's quite possible it would've claimed a good 200 hours of my weekends.

This is the game I've been waiting for since the uniqueness of Final Fantasy XII, since the salad days of Final Fantasy VIII and since the disappointment that was Final Fantasy XIII. It's the kind of game that, alongside contemporaries like Tales of Xillia 2, gives me hope that JRPGs can once again take pride of place in my favourite genres. It's at once a nostalgic return to form and an innovative exploration. If you're after the short version before I knuckle down to details, here it is: GO PLAY THIS RIGHT NOW.

The story is equal parts straightforward and fairly thin at first blush. In the world of Orience, where nations are built around crystals that grant magic powers, war has broken out. The Militesi Empire has gone on the offensive and found a way to jam the crystals' power-gifting abilities. This makes Militesi's enemies easy pickings for their army of airships and Matrix-style mechas.

Within the Rubrum Dominion, though, their jammers don't seem to work on a class of 14 elite
military students who proceed to both repel the Militesi invasion and begin a campaign that will liberate Rubrum's allies. The students are Class Zero, the elite apex of Rubrum's university with a range of weapons and personalities more varied than the ice-cream combinations at Cold Rock. Thus begins an epic journey to retake the Rubrum's land of Akademeia (I see what you did there) and, hopefully, the entirety of Orience from the oppressive rule of the Militesi Empire.

If this is sounding vaguely familiar to players of Final Fantasy VIII as a starting concept, it should. Class Zero are basically SeeD from VIII but taking the entire focus of the game, rather than in VIII where you started as SeeD before becoming freelance badasses. Rubrum's University has something of a Balamb Garden by way of USYD feel, and the music evokes the light and fluffy tones of the former. Several of the playable characters evoke designs from that and other FF games but are distinguished enough to all be discernible. Hell, there are even guns that look a little sword-ish in the opening cinematic, just for bonus points.

But that's not to say Type-0 is entirely derivative. It definitely forges its own identity; for one, it is dark. This is the kind of dark George R.R. Martin might nod with approval at. War is the central theme of the narrative, and as such it's grimmer than any previous FF game I can recall. From the moment a chocobo gets slaughtered in the opening cinematic it's pretty clear we ain't in Kansas anymore, Toto. The violence and horrors of wartime are constantly discussed and visualised, compounded by the idea that the soldiers of Rubrum are programmed to forget about their dead comrades after each battle. This leads to the concept of Knowing Tags, retrieved from deceased soldiers so that even if their comrades forget them, the graveyard will not.

Like I said, Type-0 is pretty damn dark.

However, it's not all Game of Thrones-esque doom and gloom. Characters have some witty banters during cutscenes with each other, and there are some interesting relationship dynamics on display.
The colour scheme also eschews some of the darker tone, with the party members' signature red capes and flaring hairstyles quite distinguishing against the darker-clad soldiers they fight. Some of the characters are clearly designed for comic relief, so not everyone is as depressing as characters like Ace, the blonde guy on the front of the box who resembles the poutiest of pouty FF protagonists.

If there's one big problem I have with the narrative, it's that things are not explained to a degree I'm satisfied with. In medias res is fine, and Final Fantasy has a proud tradition of throwing players directly into the action without a lot of context (and, in cases like Final Fantasy VII, can manage to pull it off well). Type-0 does have a lengthy explanation of events leading to the war with Militesi, but in terms of the character relationships and who important figures, like Class Zero's "mother", are, and why they are important, we're not given much. There is opportunity as Type-0 progresses to explore backstory scenes with characters, and the compendious log in the pause menu that updates periodically does offer a lot of material. Still, I feel like we needed a few more explicit lines of connection drawn early on. I'm fine with someone at a party telling me about what they're up to tomorrow, but I'd like to know their name first.

I'm also not sold on the length of some cutscenes. Sometimes there are long scenes outlining events, either obliquely or overly-explicitly, and I wonder if maybe Hideo Kojima was a consultant at some point in Type-0's development.

Mechanics-wise, Type-0 may have the fastest combat I've ever seen in a JRPG since the smack-and-run tactics of Tales of Xillia 2. It evokes the walkabout aspect that made Final Fantasy XII's gameplay such a breath of fresh, innovative air. You freely move, without turns, around the battlefield and beat the crap out of enemy soldiers. Battles are usually over within thirty seconds, keeping up a brisk pace that never lags due to deliberation over who's on potion duty while the ATB bar charges as in previous games. Controls are quite streamlined and helpfully displayed on-screen for each combat, and after a few goes you slip into a great smack-magic-loot rhythm that's quite enjoyable.

Connected to this is a time management system not unlike the one in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. There are certain actions taken between missions that eat up in-game time - talking to characters for backstory takes two hours, going out into the wild for level grinding takes six hours, etc - and create a variety of ways your campaign can proceed. Is it worth eschewing getting to know your fellow students in order to level up, or is it better to take a side-contract instead of talking shop with the weapons guy? It's a neat little system that both ensures a lot of choice and makes it more likely that each game run - operating on a New Game Plus system - never plays the same twice.

Type-0 also introduces an intriguing quasi-RTS mode, leading troops from Rubrum on missions to retake captured ally towns in the overworld. It takes a little getting used to, but once you're there it's an interesting little concept. A piece of advice, though; the first time you engage in this mode, don't attack enemy soldiers on the overworld directly. Otherwise, like me, you'll be shot and smeared across the landscape like a dinosaur made of butter.

There's a bit of a problem with both the visuals and the camera. The graphics are a bit more evocative of the older styles from games like Final Fantasy X, with flapping mouths and slightly blocky building textures. This isn't a deal-breaker, and since the combat and story are the main focuses it's not a huge issue, but it does at times look like some of the PS Vita graphics were taken verbatim from the original when making this port. The camera, however, is a larger problem; it swings super-fast during and after battles, so you may want to have a little motion-sickness medication on hand for the blur it makes. As great as the free-flowing combat definitely is, the effect is undermined somewhat when the camera swerves and the background resembles Luna Park from a fast-moving merry-go-round.

But these are issues that only take slight chips from an otherwise solid core of a game. If, like me, you were disappointed by Final Fantasy XIII's restrictive gameplay, lack of exposition and formulaic combat, and prefer the older schools of Final Fantasy kickassitude, Type-0 will definitely be the game you've been waiting for.

- Chris

FINAL FANTASY: TYPE-0 HD is now available on Xbox One and Playstation 4!



Not to be out done by Dendy Newtown's Cult Classic hit list, Dendy Quays is bringing back some of Hollywood's golden era in a very special line up. There's no better way to ward off the Monday blues than to gather some mates and head down to Circular Quay, grab a glass of wine and kick back with some of the funniest films of yesteryear. Click here for their full line up; including ticket prices, session times and all that jive. If you've never seen them, I can't recommend Hello, Dolly! and How to Marry a Millionaire highly enough, they are both truly spectacular films. If you see any of the films feel free to drop a line below or come over and play at our Facebook page. 

- Stu