Final Fantasy XIII: staying focused

Over the past six months, I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in a few game-swaps with other bloggers. We’ll decide on a theme together, send each other a video game which matches the requirements, and then play the title received and share our thoughts on them.

Luke from Hundstrasse sent me a copy of Whiplash for ‘bizarre retro titles’, a PlayStation 2 platformer which caused some controversy when it was released. Then followed all the cutscenes and craziness that came with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty after sharing ‘favourite series’ with Athena from AmbiGaming. The most recent game-swap is with Nathan from Gaming Omnivore, and Pete and I are currently playing through Banjo-Kazooie for ‘genres we’re not experienced with’.

I’ve also been playing Final Fantasy XIII since the middle of August for a swap with Ellen from Ace Asunder. Anyone who knows this lovely lady will be aware just how much the title’s pink-haired protagonist means to her. In a post entitled Lightning Will Not Leave Me published on her blog last month, she wrote: “Lightning’s story taught me about myself, the person I know the least about, and that’s a precious gift I never thought a series of video games could give me.”

It’s therefore easy to assume that the basis of our game-swap was ‘favourite games’ or maybe even ‘most-loved protagonists’, but it was something completely different. This collaboration was going to one which challenged us to play releases which make use of mechanics we don’t usually enjoy. I’ve never hidden how much I dislike turn-based combat, having written about the subject in the past and discussed it several times while streaming, and so I wasn’t surprised when a copy of FFXII appeared in my Steam library one day.

So why don’t I like turn-based titles? My biggest problem is that it feels so far removed from what would really happen in a fight. When you come face-to-face with a huge monster, you’re not going to politely wait while it takes it’s turn to strike – you’re going to get stuck in and hit it with everything you’ve got to prevent the beast from doing damage to you at the start. There’s no way I could see myself saying, ‘Oh no, I couldn’t possibly attack you first, that would be far too selfish! After you, good sir.’

This explains why I initially had some doubts about streaming Ellen’s gift. I knew how much this game and its follow-ups meant to my blogger-friend and so I was concerned I’d say or do something to spoil it for her. Would I be able to play it for long enough to be able to see what she found so special about it? Would that be what I needed to keep me going when the gameplay wasn’t to my taste or became tough? And would I even be able to pick up the mechanics in the first place, without throwing down the controller in frustration?

Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy XIII, video game, female, Lightning Farron, pink hair

I must admit that I don’t dislike the combat as much as I expected thanks to FFXIII’s Command Synergy Battle (CBS) system. Instead of controlling every character in your party and taking turns in a battle, the player focuses on the leader only and can perform actions as soon as the segments on their Active Dimension Battle (ADB) gauge is filled. Other party-members are controlled by the game’s artificial intelligence (AI) although you can switch between Paradigms to have them fulfil a different role.

It also helps that Ellen agreed I could play on easy mode and I’m making use of the Auto-Battle feature. This selects commands automatically for the player during fights depending on factors such as the party’s health and the enemy you’re trying to beat. I can totally understand why experienced turn-based fans would avoid it at all costs because it does take away some of the more tactical elements of the game – but for a complete novice like me, I found it invaluable. I’m not sure I’d have had the patience to continue without it.

The thing I don’t like though is the Battle Rating system, as I don’t feel the need to be graded on every single fight because all I care about it making it out alive and getting back to the gameplay. And I know it’s a fundamental part of turn-based RPGs but I don’t like having to keep switching between characters either. As I’ve written before, I much prefer sticking with one protagonist so I can get to know their backstory, personality and skills fully rather than having to jump between several of them.

Pete and I have found that the people joining us on Twitch while we’re streaming FFXIII have been firmly in one of two camps: they either adore the game or it’s their least-favourite entry in the series. There doesn’t seem to be any in-between and the more frequent complaint is the game’s linearity. On one hand, I can see what they mean. You’re essentially travelling down a long corridor which is interspersed with fights at regular intervals and, although we’ve been told it opens up later on, we haven’t reached that point yet.

Final Fantasy XIII, video game, battle, fight, Lightning

Personally I don’t have a problem with this. Sometimes I like being able to sit back and enjoy the journey the developer wants to take me on, rather than having to deal with the pressure of choice. My issue is more with the number of battles in each corridor. I understand these are needed to gain Crystogen Points (CP) to level up your characters but the enemies are often the same in an area and it feels a little repetitive. Maybe I’d have a different opinion on this if the game was entirely an action RPG and used mechanics that come more natural to me.

Speaking of the characters, I’m warming far more to the female protagonists than the male ones right now. Hope is growing on me a little since toughening up but at first, I groaned each time he appeared onscreen thanks to his downbeat nature (we renamed him ‘Mope’). I’m not sure I’m ever going to like Snow though. Anyone who calls themselves ‘The Hero’ has got to be an idiot and as Lightening says herself, he’s ‘arrogant and chummy from the get-go and thinks he’s everyone’s pal’.

Playing FFXIII has taught me two things. The first lesson is that I can manage turn-based combat if I put my mind to it, even though I may not enjoy it anywhere near as much as other mechanics. The second and more important lesson is that it’s important to remember that everyone has a special game which is unique to them. We might not always understand their choices or see what they see in a certain title, but there’s something in it which spoke to them and possibly helped them through a tough time.

For example, that game for me is Fable. It will always have a special place in my heart because it was the one which brought me back to gaming after stepping away from it for several years and I might not be here writing this post today if it wasn’t for Peter Molyneux’s project. But I’m well aware it’s very much a game of its time and feels awfully clunky to play nowadays, having picked it back up again myself after watching Athena play it on her stream. It therefore won’t be something that everybody enjoys or finds as special as I do.

It’s therefore important to be aware of other opinions about a title and take them into account – but as discussed last month, it’s also vital to be honest when it comes to sharing your own views. You just need to make sure you explain your viewpoint so readers can understand where you’re coming from. Everyone is going to have their own perception of a game because of their unique backgrounds and experience, and that’s ok: the gaming world would be a pretty boring one if we all liked the same kind of releases.

The great thing about game-swaps is that they’ve encouraged me to try genres I wouldn’t normally play. If it hadn’t been for these collaborations with other bloggers, I’d never have found out about the uproar caused by a weird release back in 2004; my feelings about the representation of certain characters in Hideo Kojima titles; or just how terrible my spacial awareness is when it comes to 3D-platformers. Every swap has been an experience which has broadened my gaming horizons and I’m grateful for that.

I’m about 16 hours into FFXII and I’m going to keep playing for now. I don’t know whether I’m going to be able to finish it; at the time of writing, I’m a little stuck on a particular boss and have failed numerous times. But I’m going to keep trying for a few more sessions and see how I get on. To quote Lightning again: “We can win if we stay focused!”

Games of their time: still something special

Have you ever felt like replaying a game you haven’t touched in years, and then felt slightly disappointed when you do? There’s an image of it in your mind and you remember what it like the first time you played – but are let down when what you’re playing now doesn’t match up.

I’ve had the opportunity to take part in several game-swaps with other bloggers this year and this has given me the chance to try some older releases I’ve not experienced before. First up was Luke from Hundstrasse, who sent me Whiplash for my PlayStation 2 after we decided to find the most bizarre retro titles we could. Next was Athena from AmbiGaming with whom I swapped favourite games, and you can find out what I made of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty in last Wednesday’s post.

In return, Athena bravely challenged herself to play Fable on her Twitch channel every week until she’d completed it. Work conference calls sometimes got in the way but I tuned in as often as I could and, watching her experience the title that had me back into gaming in my early 20s, I remembered a lot of fond memories and found myself wanting to play it again myself. That weekend I turned on our Xbox One, tracked down Fable Anniversary on Game Pass, hit the install button and waited eagerly with the controller in hand.

I’ll always love this series. I understand why it gets a lot of criticism in certain respects, one of them being that it never lived up to the expectations that the proclamations of designer Peter Molyneux set for it, but I can see past that. To me he was someone who was pushing the boundaries, being inventive, taking risks instead of churning out cardboard-copy titles and I can admire him for that; and there’s a chance that without Fable, I wouldn’t be a gamer today or be sitting here writing about my hobby.

Playing through the start of Fable Anniversary reminded me of how much the original title had pulled me in back in 2004. It was something to do with the land of Albion, its real-but-fantasy setting which felt like something out of a fairytale and made you believe the protagonist was destined for great things. It was the world’s inhabitants too: perhaps my favourite thing about them is the humour, and anyone who enjoys a Monty-Python-style of comedy is sure to find something here which appeals to them.

But damn, the controls were bad. Like, really bad. I didn’t remember it being like this before and had no trouble picking up the title all those years ago. But now the buttons felt as though they were back to front and I was behaving like an uncoordinated mess (more so than usual). Accessing the menus felt counter-intuitive, the items on the D-pad changed continuously and the camera never stayed where I wanted it to. No wonder Athena had remarked about the control scheme on a few occasions during her streams.

She also made a comment about certain releases being ‘games of their time’ during her next session on Twitch the following week and this really struck a chord with me. It completely hit the nail on the head when it came to the original Fable. Its story and humour were still current enough and the graphics didn’t let it down too much, plus it had been positively received when it had been released 16-years ago. But the controls had aged terribly and made playing the title sluggish, giving it a heavy and dated feeling.

I feel the same way whenever I turn on my PlayStation 2 nowadays. The console may have had some great releases but I dislike the controller immensely now, mainly because the jump button never seems like it’s in the right place. I had to hand it over to my other-half while playing Whiplash for my game-swap with Luke because there were certain bits I just couldn’t get to grips with; and I made the decision to play MGS2 on our Xbox for my collaboration with Athena, thinking it may be easier with a modern controller.

It didn’t help much though. I struggled with the way the protagonist insisted on sticking to walls whenever I got too close to them and he wouldn’t do certain actions unless I removed his weapon first. I may had had a few issues with my first Kojima game but as several people in the Twitch chat said to us: there was nothing on the market back in 2001 which was as cinematic or ambitious in what it was trying to deliver, so I can imagine it was something truly spectacular for players at the time.

I guess that’s what ‘games of their time’ are. They may feel old and outdated to us but, when you look back on what they managed to achieve when they we released, it’s clear there was something special about them. Without these titles we may not be where we are today in terms of narrative strength, innovative mechanics or impressive visuals and you can see their influence in many of today’s titles. We might not get the same feeling from playing them now but we’ve still got a lot to thank them for.

The next game-swap lined up is with Ellen from Ace Asunder. She was rather put off of full-motion video (FMV) after watching us play the strange Dark Nights with Poe and Munro in May so I’ve sent her copies of Her Story and The Madness of Doctor Dekker to prove that there are some good entries in the genre. In return she has gifted me Final Fantasy XIII to help me get over my aversion to turn-based combat, so we’ll see if we manage to convince each other to come around to the others’ way of thinking and open our eyes to new genres.

FFXIII was released in 2009 so it’s a little newer than the other titles I’ve played for game-swaps so far, relatively speaking. I’m curious to find out if it turns out to be another game of its time, and whether I’ll see what it is that makes it special for Ellen.

Big series I’ve given a miss

Some series are considered classics that every gamer should play. It’s therefore a surprise when you meet someone who hasn’t completed at least one entry from them. For example, how many people do you know who haven’t finished at least one The Legend of Zelda release?

I have to hold my hand up here. Yes, I have fond memories of playing Ocarina of Time with my brother when we were kids and The Wind Waker with my stepson more recently, but that doesn’t mean we completed them. In fact, there are a number of well-known series where I’ve either not finished a game or haven’t tried one at all, because they’ve just not appealed to me or I’ve been distracted by other titles. Here are eight more franchises in addition to The Legend of Zelda that I still need to get my teeth into.

Assassin’s Creed

My brother gave me his copy of the first Assassin’s Creed game to try out over a decade ago and I do remember finding the first couple of hours enjoyable. I liked the contrast of the different story elements and the visuals were rather pretty. But my overall feeling was one of boredom: the missions were a rinse-and-repeat mix and I just couldn’t be bothered to complete any more of them. I put down the controller then, and that has made it hard to go back to the series since – although a lot of people have told me the later releases do get better.

Borderlands

I’ve never understood the fuss about Borderlands. Although I have friends who rave about the series, it’s not one which has ever appealed to me and I haven’t played any of the games. In fact the only dealing I’ve had with the franchise is briefly participating in a tabletop-RPG based on its world perhaps eight or so years ago. Dan over at nowisgames.com is a big fan and I’m sure he’s going to tell me I need to rectify my lack of experience; but after hearing his thoughts about Borderlands 3, it doesn’t sound like something I need to worry about too much right now.

Fallout

My stepson has been obsessed with its post-apocalyptic world for years; several blogger friends have told me I really need to play the series; and I previously promised a stream to Rob from Bandicoot Warrior. So why haven’t I started Fallout yet? After getting over the hype-train and subsequent shouting about Fallout 76 last year, I tried to install the original game on my PC and just couldn’t seem to get it working due to resolution issues. I’ve written before that I can’t play a franchise without starting at the first release so Fallout will have to wait until I spend some time on fixing them.

Final Fantasy

I used to watch a group of male friends play after school when we were teenagers, although I couldn’t tell you which Final Fantasy game it was. I also briefly tried to play Final Fantasy X over a decade ago. But as revealed in a post last month: give me a release which makes use of turn-based combat and you’ll be lucky if I even click on the start button. In some ways it’s a shame, because I’ve heard so many good things about the Final Fantasy storylines and I think I’d probably enjoy them. I just don’t want to have to sit through rounds of turn-based matches to get to the narrative.

Metal Gear

My dad was into technology when my brother and I were growing up so we had access to a number of consoles, handheld devices and PCs during the 1980s and 1990s. But I don’t ever remember playing or even coming across a Metal Gear game in all that time, so the franchise has completely passed me by. It does intrigue me now though and Athena from AmbiGaming encouraged me to try it; but if I’d want to go right back to the beginning if I was to do so. With over 20 titles in the series so far, that’s a whole lot of games to get through.

Pokémon

My younger brother loved the cartoon when we were kids and I’d often get roped into watching it with him. That explains why I was intrigued when a friend showed me his copy of the original Pokèmon game on his Game Boy (I can’t remember if it was Red or Blue). I borrowed the cartridge once he’d completed it and spent a few weekends chasing after the creatures; but ultimately, ‘collecting’ games and turn-based combat just isn’t for me. The nearest I’ve come to a release since was traipsing around my old town after my stepson and Pokèmon Go! until it rained.

Red Dead Redemption

I almost completed the first Red Dead Redemption title. I must have made it to only a few hours away from the end when I got distracted by another game (I can’t remember which now) and didn’t bother going back to finish it off. At some point I’d have liked to reunite with John Marston and fulfill his journey before moving on to Red Dead Redemption 2, but the hype surrounding it before its release late last year totally put me off. It eventually got to the point where I didn’t want to open the WordPress reader for fear of seeing yet another post about it.

The Witcher

My other-half was obsessed with this series when we first met. It wasn’t one I’d played or ever been interested in but he was keen for me to give it a go, as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt had recently released and he thought it might be something we could play together. One day he left me with his copy of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and told me to try it – but a few hours later, I grew bored and realised I’d much rather play something else. Although he was a little disappointed, he admitted it was kind of cool seeing his new girlfriend finishing Diablo III the next time he came over.



I’ve come to realise that the more hype there is surrounding the series, the less likely I am to play it. Perhaps that’s through fear of being disappointed – or because there are so many news articles I can read about the same franchise! I’m not the only one who still needs to get to grips with some big games though. While drafting this post last month, Will from Geek Sleep Rinse Repeat published his own article about the best titles he hasn’t completed so head over to find out what’s on his list.

Who knows, some of the entries on my own may soon be knocked off. Our upcoming 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 seems like the perfect time to get some of them crossed off the backlog.

Turn-based? Turn-off!

Last month, Nathan from Gaming Omnivore nominated Later Levels for a Sunshine Blogger Award. I loved the questions he posed to his nominees because they encouraged us to think about the current state of gaming and could each inspire an individual post all on their own. That’s why I’ve chosen to focus on one today and give a full response.

What would it take for you to refuse to play a video game? Would it be a multitude of bugs that caused you to frequently lose progress and keep having to repeat the same sections? Or perhaps it would be a storyline which simply doesn’t make sense, featuring leaps in logic which actually aren’t very logical at all. Maybe it’s bad characters that would put you off and there’s no way you’d play a title if it contained a protagonist you couldn’t warm to. Or it could be a mechanic that you just can’t seem to get to grips with.

It’s always been the latter for me. Give me a release which makes use of turn-based combat or strategy and you’ll be lucky if I even click on the start button. My aversion to this type of gameplay means I have very limited experience of certain famous franchises; I’ve never completed a Pokémon game for example, and not even played any of the Civilisation or Fire Emblem entries. They’re not the series that’s likely to draw the biggest gasps of shock from readers however; that one is Final Fantasy.

I can see the stunned look on your face right now. Final Fantasy is adored by so many people here in the blogging community so I’m in the minority. Norton from The Well-Red Mage coordinated an entire collaboration around the franchise last year in which plenty of writers took part. The awesome Ellen from Livid Lightning is possibly the biggest fan of Lightning Farron ever. And one of the highlights at gamescom 2019 for my Blaugust partner-in-crime Phil was getting to play the Final Fantasy VII remake.

It’s not that I’ve never played a title from the series – but I certainly haven’t finished one. I can remember watching a group of male friends play during the evenings after school when we were teenagers, although I couldn’t tell you which Final Fantasy game it actually was. I also tried to play Final Fantasy X over a decade ago but didn’t get more than a few hours in before it ended up being put to one side. Not only did most of the characters start to grate on me, I found the gameplay repetitive, dull and unrealistic.

That’s probably the biggest reason why turn-based combat is a complete turn-off for me. I mean, it’s hardly representative of what’s going to happen in a fight, is it? When you come face-to-face with a huge monster, you’re not going to politely wait while it takes its turn to strike; you’re going to get stuck in and hit it with everything you’ve got to prevent it from doing damage to you first. Can you really see yourself saying, “Oh no, I couldn’t possibly attack, that would be far too selfish! After you, good sir.”

This probably says a lot about my personality. In her post about video games for each star-sign back in July, Michelle from A Geek Girl’s Guide wrote that people born under Aries were ‘ambitious’ and our ‘determination is unmatched when it comes to getting what we want’. While I don’t believe in astrology, I can’t deny this is a pretty accurate description of me if you forget the fact that Aries are supposed to be competitive. I can take control, jump in with both feet impulsively and be downright stubborn.

As such, I just don’t have patience for turn-based combat or strategy. I want to get stuck into the action, run in screaming at the top of my lungs and brandishing a sword. This probably explains why I don’t ever play ranged characters in RPGs, and why I’ve taken so well to being the tank in The Elder Scrolls Online after the role being suggested by Tim over at GeekOut UK. I want to feel as though I’m part of the battle and helping to turn it in my team’s favour, not standing metres away from it or waiting for my turn to strike.

In some ways it’s a shame, because I’ve heard so many good things about the Final Fantasy storylines and I think I’d probably enjoy them. I just don’t want to have to sit through rounds of turn-based matches to get to the narrative. Pete from MoeGamer suggested I give XII or XV a go as their use of a different type of combat may mean I enjoy them more than X. Perhaps one day I will; but right now, there are so many other series calling for my attention that I don’t feel as though I’m missing out.

The weirdest thing about this whole situation isn’t the fact I’ve never completed a Final Fantasy title. It’s just how many Twitter conversations I get tagged in about the franchise, when I’m probably the worst person to include! Thanks once again to Nathan for the Sunshine Blogger Award nomination – it’s been great to get my turn-based turn-off off my chest.

gamescom 2019: Final Fantasy VII Remake

Final Fantasy VII was a killer title for the PlayStation in 1997 – except I didn’t buy it straight away, or was even vaguely aware of it. I only picked it up when my mum took my brother and me to a car-boot sale one weekend and we saw the title selling for cheap.

I remember her parking in the Tesco nearby to buy food while I remained in the car with my brother in the pouring rain, reading the manual to get a head-start as soon as we got home. Does anyone else remember games coming in cases with a full booklet? Perhaps that’s a little bit of development time saved for something else more significant.

It’s a strange memory to have but I feel it’s an important one I’ve always remembered because we fell in love with Final Fantasy VII almost straight away. I wasn’t used to playing RPGs or Japanese releases, so the turn-based gameplay was alien at first but the plot didn’t fail to draw us in. Joining Cloud on his journey from amnesia, to terrorism, and finally on the way to saving the world had us gripped. When a particular character died, it hit me hard emotionally as I hadn’t experienced such loss in a video game before. That’s because we didn’t play anything with as much depth in the story.

One last point to make on the original was that we didn’t actually finished the title the first time around. In the last moments of freedom before heading for the final area, I spent hours and hours levelling the characters, aiming for the maximum stats possible. This was futile; it would take hundreds of hours to do but that didn’t stop me constantly running around in circles in the forest at Mideel to trigger the random encounters. I did manage to complete it for the first time many years later once I convinced myself to finish it regardless, OCD-levelling be damned.

Fast forward over 20 years to today, when we’ve patiently waited for the promised remake to appear and meet our lofty expectations. No other entry in the Final Fantasy series has come close to VIII except Final Fantasy X as it introduced voiced characters, but still lacked the grit of the PlayStation original. We’ve also moved to a more active combat system instead of the original turn-based experience, which is a welcome change. I do miss the strategy of the older system where planning ahead was crucial but I understand the free-moving combat is much more accessible.

After queuing for two hours at gamescom, we finally got our hands on the remake and played from the middle of the opening sequence up to the Guard Scorpion boss battle. The demo is voiced in Japanese but subtitled in German and we were able to change it to English to understand what was going on. Cloud and Barret were playable throughout with the ability to switch between them in combat but only controlling Cloud out of battle, just like the original. The active combat was very much a button-basher using attack and block buttons until pausing the battle to use the combat menu.

The same options for abilities, magic or items return but with the addition of the action meter from XIV, which builds with basic attacks and spent on the use of abilities. The demo included a tutorial on staggering enemies by building a bar with repeated attacks which, when full, would stun them after landing a magic attack. Once in this state, the enemies take increased damage which is crucial for this boss battle as it would have taken much longer to defeat without it.

Those encountered in the run-up differed by whether they were a close-quarter or ranged attacker. The latter was inaccessible by Cloud and so Barret with his Gatling gun comes into play, with pressing up on the directional pad switches characters. While fighting you can issue commands to the other characters to help the battle flow without the need to switch between them continuously. It will be interesting to see how this works out with more than two, assuming four is the standard as in the original.

Sadly it wasn’t possible to play with the levelling system or Materia in the demo, but I did notice in the video while queueing that you can see the Materia slotted in the weapon in-game which is a nice touch. Some additional details regarding how the system will work in the remake are available online should you want to know more.

What I liked about the demo was finally seeing Cloud and Barret back in action again. Their characters are very detailed in the remake and now voiced, which is what you would expect from a recent release. It felt very much like Final Fantasy XIV in exploring the environment, looting chests and seamlessly battling enemies unlike the original. It’ll be good to hear the English speaking voiceovers which will no doubt add a bit more character than the voiceless protagonists of the late 1990s, especially Barret with his no bullcrap attitude.

I may have been playing the title wrong, but I didn’t quite enjoy the button-mashing basic attacks needed to build the ability and stagger bars. However, I mustn’t let nostalgia get in the way and should remind myself that the original game also included the need to spam the attack command over and over in some situations. Limit Breaks have returned and are as flashy as ever, with a variety of special attacks that are impressive to watch. Overall I was pleased with what I saw but won’t let expectations run too high as the attempt to modernise the gameplay will likely conflict with my memories.

Please leave a comment below if you’ve seen or played the Final Fantasy VII Remake demo and let me know what you thought. I’ve tried to not get too far into the details until I’ve got my hands on the finished version. Look out for my post tomorrow on another game I got my grubby mitts on at gamescom: Borderlands 3.

gamescom 2019: a round-up

I’m writing this halfway through the last day of gamescom 2019 after finally having been able to get my hands on some games. The past few days have been both amazing and challenging at the same time due to it being my first time at the event.

If you’re someone who loves being part of a crowd then you may well disagree, but I’m not alone in thinking the organisers may have attempted a new visitor record. Moving around within the halls wasn’t too bad unless you were in a rush, but there were a few choke points in the corridors between halls with crowd-control. The queue length for most games was up-to two hours, although some were visibly deceiving and moved faster. However, there was no instant gratification to be had at this event.

gamescom 2019, Borderlands, Borderlands 3

I’ve always enjoyed the Borderlands series and, even though the third installment is due out in just over two weeks, I wanted to have a go. A Reddit for Gamescom revealed details about the queue for this particular game and that it was much quicker than other queues of its length. So I jumped in first thing on the last day and was able to play roughly an hour later. Once I was inside the play area, it was obvious why: there must have been 50 or more stations.

My longest queuing experience was for Final Fantasy VII Remake in the PlayStation section. I saw that the queue at the Square Enix stand was massive and thought that for Sony’s area would be shorter. I finally made it to the front over two hours later even though they had 24 stations set up, and my thoughts on the game will be posted tomorrow. Thankfully I had a book to read but I almost forgot what I was queueing for by the time I got to my destination.

gamescom, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy VII Remake

The PlayStation section became my favourite due to it being a welcoming space with plenty of things to do. A stage hosting frequent live-streams had lots of seating space and there was plenty to play, with quick access to titles such as Dreams and Medievil as well as the longest queues for Death Stranding and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The Experience PlayStation app provides digital queueing but I found the spaces were quickly taken. It was a case of spamming the RSVP button at 08:59 to grab a booking when they became available at 09:00 – although that would have been for one game only so the other slots were gone immediately.

Another reason I enjoyed Sony’s area so much was the PlayStation Plus lounge exclusively for subscribers which I really appreciated. They served free drinks and had a balcony overlooking the show floor where I spent an hour taking photos and recording time-lapses. It was a great feeling to be there and watch everyone else moving around, glancing up and likely feeling envious. The lounge wasn’t completely obvious so you could forgive attendees for not realising it was there. They also had a playable version of Erica but again, there was a queue so I skipped it. It’s now available anyway and was already on my to-buy list!

gamescom, PlayStation

The PlayStation app also has a reward system for scanning QR codes after playing each game, with a dynamic theme as a reward for scanning all of them. It was a fun side-mission to collect these even though the staff were quite happy to share them regardless of having played the specific title or not. I don’t know if Microsoft or Nintendo had an equivalent because I sadly didn’t spend any time in their areas. There was a general digital queue for any participating stands but I wasn’t impressed with the offerings: DOOM Eternal, Dragon Ball Z Kakarot, Wasteland 3 and The Witcher 3. It didn’t appear there were many companies taking part in this service, which is a shame and I hope they improve on it next year.

I’ve learnt a few things from my gamescom experience that I would like to share for those that visit next year.

Wristbands can be obtained inside the venue

Upon arrival I followed the masses from the nearby train station through a very long route snaking around the venue. It was confusing as most people were continuously moving forward to tents scattered along the path. These were issuing colour-coded wristbands indicating your age group and I jumped into a queue, which took half an hour before I received my red 18+ identification. These tents are also inside the venue with much shorter queues and so they can easily be obtained any time. They’re designed to last so unless you cut it off, the wristband will last all four days.

Research digital queues before the event

As mentioned earlier, PlayStation had their own digital queuing via the Experience PlayStation app and Linistry provided queues for other games. This is apparently a new feature this year and will no doubt be improved upon in 2020. It gives you the freedom to roam the event while waiting for your time slot, before heading over to the fast track of the particular title you’re after.

BYOS: Bring Your Own Stool

If digital queues aren’t your thing and you prefer good old fashioned queuing, then bring something to sit on! I noticed recyclable cardboard stools were given out by three companies if you played their demos so be sure to make that a priority. Some visitors had brought their own foldable camping chairs showing their gamescom knowledge. The longest queues are two to three hours, if you can wait that long.

Try the currywurst mit pommes

I was actually quite surprised by the number of food stalls compared those at UK gaming events. I can’t speak for pricing as I’m not used to the Euro and the British Pound is weaker than ever, but you can’t beat currywurst mit pommes. Seating is a problem unless you walk your food over to a chill-out zone (not recommended) so I had to sit on a curb because I didn’t bring my own stool.

Getting around the venue

The Koelnmesse venue is massive and well air-conditioned, but there were areas crammed with people all trying to move in opposite directions. Find the side-routes between halls and avoid the main corridors when it’s busy as crowd-control can really slow everyone down and cause frustration. For halls that run parallel with each other, there’s usually a route between them outside and I recommend taking them. I found that because Germans drive on the right-hand side, the flow of people around the individual halls stick to this format.

Stuff I can’t comment on

There were a few things I wasn’t so interested in seeing and so can’t comment on: anything eSports related, the various streamers broadcasting live, Google Stadia, Facebook Gaming, FIFA 20, Call of Duty, and sadly the Ubisoft section as it was mostly Tom Clancy titles. If you did attend these sections or play the games, please do leave your thoughts in the comments below in case I missed something special!

gamescom 2019, crowds, queues

Cologne itself was a wonderful experience, and the architecture is eclectic to say the least. The tram service I used from where I stayed in Marsdorf was fast and efficient. I felt terrible for not speaking any German but that didn’t cause any issues as everyone I talked to was quite happy to converse in English. At the time of writing, I still have one last day in the city where I’ll be visiting the chocolate museum overlooking the river Rhine followed by general sightseeing.

I’m not sure whether I’ll attend gamescom next year at this point but I will certainly miss the city – including one particular potato restaurant that has changed my life – so watch this space!