Realms of the Haunting, PC

I have to admit that, in spite of the slightly wonky graphics/cut scenes, I have a real soft spot for Gremlin Interactive‘s 1997 PC MS-DOS release, Realms of the Haunting. Mostly because I was lucky and got to visit Gremlin‘s offices in Sheffield to see the game in production, and to talk to the people who were making it. I drove all the way from Bournemouth – where I worked as a video games magazine editor – and spent an entire day there to preview the game for PC Power magazine.

Back then, Realms of the Haunting looked good. It was a Doom-type 3D engine-based survival horror game, co-programmed by Tony Crowther, and written and produced by Paul Green. It had specially-filmed cut sequences using professional actors and came on four CD-ROMs. The thing it had over Doom, though, was being able to interact with objects on-screen, by clicking a mouse cursor on them.

Now time has passed and we can use hindsight to inform us, I have to say that I still quite like Realms of the Haunting, even though it’s dated badly and the graphics look weird (especially when looking up and down – the game doesn’t have any real perspective correction, just like the original Doom). Also: I always thought the cut scenes were hokey – even back in 1997 – so watching them now doesn’t appal me. It’s not the acting in them that’s bad (it’s actually pretty good), it’s the way the cut scenes have been produced. The film “special effects” are awful; the compositing is basic at best; and the video encoding is worse than standard definition. And I’m being charitable…

Thankfully the story is quite good. You play an investigator called Adam Randall who goes into a dark house looking for clues about the mysterious death of his father. And of course he finds more than he bargained for… Again, thankfully: there are weapons to be found and used against whatever it is that is out to get him. Eventually Adam discovers that the house is in fact a portal to different universes and that he must prevent an impending apocalypse by visiting each universe and unlocking its secrets. So nothing major…

Realms of the Haunting is involving and atmospheric – even gripping in places. It’s been designed to be scary, and succeeds in places. Some of the monsters look a bit dodgy but are tough opponents to beat, and the environments are relatively simple, but overall RotH is well worth a play if you like old school survival horror games. It’s still available to buy on GOG.com and Steam, which is heartening.

More: Realms of the Haunting on Wikipedia
Steam: Realms of the Haunting on Steam
GOG.com: Realms of the Haunting on GOG.com

Final Fantasy VI Advance, Game Boy Advance

Final Fantasy VI Advance was released in Japan in 2006, and 2007 in English language territories. It’s a remake of the Super Nintendo original, developed by a Japanese company called Tose.

It has to be said: Tose did a great job with the remakes, and this final, fourth release cements that fact. The 4:3 screen ratio of the original has been replaced by the 240×160 widescreen ratio of the Game Boy Advance, which means that the graphics have been re-drawn and re-scaled to fit the new screen ratio. They’re essentially the same, though, with some colour enhancements. The story, plot, and other original elements all remain the same.

The best enhancement in Final Fantasy VI Advance is the menu system, which is fast, compact, and easy to navigate. It actually makes the original looked dated and shows you the power of good fonts and text alignment.

Again: if you want to play the early Final Fantasy games – including this one – I’d recommend the GBAAdvance” remakes over the SNES originals. Together they make a brilliant set.

Final Fantasy Advance remakes on The King of Grabs:
Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of SoulsFinal Fantasy IV AdvanceFinal Fantasy V Advance, Final Fantasy VI Advance

More: Final Fantasy VI on Wikipedia

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

Final Fantasy VI, Super Nintendo

Final Fantasy VI (six) is where the series started to move away from its ‘cute’ roots and into darker story-telling territory, foreshadowing the distant Final Fantasy VII. It was initially released on the Super Nintendo in 1994.

In part six there are fourteen playable characters, and you begin the game as a woman –  a half-human girl called Terra Branford. Terra is on a mission to chew bubblegum and to kick ass, and… to cause the ruling Empire as much trouble as possible by being a bit of a rebel. It’s epic storytelling, as you can imagine… But seriously: Final Fantasy VI goes for a character-driven, Steampunk-influenced storyline, and is much more emotional and ‘deep’ as a result. The party customisation features alone make this sixth instalment worth playing, and that’s without even touching upon the game’s many other qualities.

Graphically, Square went for a more detailed, realistic looking this time around. Whether you prefer it to the rather bright (some would say “lurid”) look of previous games or not is a matter of taste. At the time it was good to see the series go in a new direction.

Gameplay-wise, there’s little to fault in Final Fantasy VI – it is the culmination everything the developers had learnt from making the previous five games, and it of course has Chocobos in it (and Moogles!), which are worth the admission alone.

Final Fantasy VI was the first Final Fantasy game not to be directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, who had directed all the previous Final Fantasy games, instead the role of ‘Director’ on Final Fantasy VI was shared by Yoshinori Kitase and Hiroyuki Ito, who it has to be said did a sterling job.

A number of remakes of Final Fantasy VI have appeared over the years since its initial release. Of particular note is the Game Boy Advance version which I think is even better than the original. It’s also been ported to the PlayStation, to iOS, Android, and Windows.

More: Final Fantasy VI on Wikipedia

Final Fantasy V Advance, Game Boy Advance

Final Fantasy V Advance is the third Tose-developed remake for the Game Boy Advance and was first released in 2006.

Again: it uses the same refined interface and beautifully-drawn and coloured graphics of the previous two Tose remakes and somehow manages to make the Super Nintendo original look a little drab in the process.

Story-wise: all you need to know is that you play a guy called Bartz and your mission is to stop an evil sorcerer from breaking the four seals that hold her.

An extensive “job system” (as initially seen in Final Fantasy III) allows customisation of playable characters, and Final Fantasy V has been rightly praised for its customisation features – it helps keep the game interesting.

Given the choice I would play this over the SNES original, because it’s quicker, and because it looks better. And because the English translation is official, and obviously much better than the unofficial fan translations found littering the internet.

Final Fantasy Advance remakes on The King of Grabs:
Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of SoulsFinal Fantasy IV Advance, Final Fantasy V Advance, Final Fantasy VI Advance

More: Final Fantasy V Advance on Wikipedia

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

Final Fantasy V, Super Nintendo

Final Fantasy V (five) was released in Japan for the Super Nintendo in 1992 although it did not get an official English language translation until it was later re-released on the Sony PlayStation in 1999.

Which has led to a variety of fan translations appearing to fill that gap. I think the one shown here is an unofficial English translation, because the text looks a bit dodgy to me… Square wouldn’t have used such large, chunky text in an official release. It just looks unprofessional…

Unfortunately this is what you have to accept if you want to play the game in English on a Super Nintendo. Either that or you could instead play Final Fantasy V on the Game Boy Advance (which is the superior version in my humble opinion), or iOS, Android, or Windows, which I believe it’s also been converted to.

In spite of Final Fantasy V never having been released in the West, it did manage to sell over two million physical copies in Japan. Which is a pretty big middle finger to those who decided it wasn’t worth translating (“Yeah! That’ll show ’em!“).

More: Final Fantasy V on Wikipedia