Life Is Strange 2 - Episode 1: Roads Review

Life Is Strange 2, Episode 1: ‘Roads’ Review [PS4] – We’re Going On An Adventure!

It’s been 3 years since the very first season of Life is Strange came out – and it gave us so much in terms of storytelling, where they explored how to deal with sensitive issues through the eyes of a teenager.

In the meantime, we were served Life is Strange: Before The Storm and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. In my opinion, they’ve only gotten better at it.

If you played the approximately 2 hour long adventures of young Chris Eriksen and his alter ego Captain Spirit (which is 100% worth your time by the way), then the decisions you made there will somehow carry over in Life Is Strange 2. I probably should have made a review on Captain Spirit, because that was truly an unforgettable experience. As usual, my final verdict for the series will be given at the very last episode.

Now, Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix are back with Life Is Strange 2 – with brand new characters, location, and storyline. We meet Sean and Daniel Diaz from Seattle in Washington, age 16 and 9 respectively. They are seemingly normal boys – Sean has a crush on a girl which he plans to hit on at an upcoming party, and Daniel is a boy who loves candy and to play with his toys.

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Playful big brother Sean.

That is, of course, before everything is destined to go down the drain in a fashionable Life is Strange-style. A supernatural occurrence takes place in their home, forcing the two brothers to escape, and wandering on the United States’ roads on their way to Puerto Lobos, a place in Mexico their father once called paradise. The boys live in a community where their background sadly plays a factor – which is evidently why they are on the run. The news reports them missing, and the cops are looking for them.

Based on the small amount of money they carry – it is not going to take long before they run out. This, eventually, leads to them having to beg other people for food.

Gameplay has improved, and the game looks much smoother now than it has before. As always, the soundtrack of the game is an experience in itself. You can always expect the Life Is Strange-series to contain excellent music that adds to the widely immersive world.

A theme that turns out to become an important aspect of the game is racial discrimination. Even though they have, from their father, clear roots in Mexico, they still identify themselves as Americans. However, when they start to feel exiled from the States, they cling to their Mexican roots. One thing is witnessing it on a general basis – another is witnessing it happening to these young boys. Defenceless and innocent, they become the victims of violence, both verbally and physically.

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Brotherly love.

To put it mildly, these incidents are hard to watch. It’s a bold move from the developers, but at the same time, I feel like they are doing the right thing. As a consequence of the tragic event, Sean has to take on a parenting role for Daniel. As a 16-year old, he is still too young to be Daniel’s substitute parent, but it’s what they have.

Taking on this parenting role is of course not fitting for Sean. He has to keep his mask on for Daniel all the way until they finally meet a kind soul who sees them for what they are; kids just trying to survive. This stranger briefly becomes a guardian for the two boys, giving them what they need to keep on going. We, as adults, take on the role of a child in crisis. It’s an unfair and difficult situation, but I think it is an important subject to discuss. A 16-year old is never supposed to be set in that position. Sadly, that is the reality of many.

Life is Strange 2 takes on a more serious note than the other seasons. I’m predicting that this season will be an adventure like no other. We watch them as they grow up, joining them on their ups and downs. Because there will be plenty of them. As usual, Life is Strange creates a moving story about these two boys that I felt an instant connection to. I’m looking forward to seeing where this is going.

Life Is Strange 2 is available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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New Gameplay Footage Shows Off 19 Minutes Of Life Is Strange 2: Episode 1

Life is Strange has been embedded in video game history as a piece of – somewhat niche – memorable storytelling that weighs heavily on the player, no matter if you’ve played it once or a dozen times. Dontnod Entertainment is bringing back the highly acclaimed series with their upcoming sequel, Life is Strange 2.

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After the surreal events following Max Caulfield and Chloe Price, fans will return to the sobering universe as Sean Diaz, accompanied by his little brother, Daniel. As Devastating events occur involving the brothers, they are forced to outrun the Seattle Police and hitchhike their way to their home of Puerto Lobos, Mexico.

Check out the 19-minute long official gameplay “Seattle” trailer below:

Returning to the Life is Strange universe, fans of the series will be delighted to find the same atmosphere, mysterious powers and musical stylings are returning to the sequel.

Those who have experienced The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit earlier this summer will find that their decisions made in the demo will carry over to Life is Strange 2.

Episode (one) out of five of Life is Strange 2 is set to release on September 27th, 2018 for the PS4, Xbox One and PC. There is currently no official release date for the other episodes in the sequel.

Life Is Strange: Before The Storm Review

Life Is Strange: Before The Storm Review [PS4] – Episode 3: ‘Hell Is Empty’

“You’re the only one in the world I can trust.”

Ladies and gentlemen, here we are. Each ending requires collecting the loose threads.

We have experienced the quandaries of teenage life with Chloe and Rachel, and now the time has come to end an amazing journey. Before you continue reading, I should mention that this review probably contains some spoilers, because I feel it would be difficult to express my opinions to the fullest without mentioning some important factors in the game. However, I will try and keep the spoilers to a minimum. Also, this will be a longer review, as I will comment on the final episode, as well as the entire season as a whole. Are you ready?

Life Is Strange: Before The Storm Review

The third and final episode, titled “Hell is Empty,” picks right up where it left off in the previous episode “Brave New World, where we learn that the wife of Rachel’s father is not, in fact, her real mother. As my jaw dropped, the episode ended, so I was more than eager to continue on the final episode. The story of Rachel’s mother is long, dark, and sad – but in short, she got involved with drugs, and continually making bad decisions in life evidently leads to her losing custody over Rachel. Bad parenting is a reoccurring factor in the Life Is Strange-series, and their choices as parents clearly reflect the choices of the teenagers. Chloe and Rachel’s parents have made some bad choices in life, and making amends might be harder than one might think. We get to see several sides of the story as we learn about Rachel’s rough past.

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Sometimes you have to lie in order to protect someone you love.

The episode starts out in confusion, sadness and anger. As a consequence of the reveal of her biological mother, Rachel becomes obsessed with the idea of meeting her. After playing detective, Chloe finds out that this is not necessarily a good idea… But because she is a good (girl)friend, she wants to support Rachel in her decisions; whether they are good or bad. At the end of the road, you are faced with a solid dilemma, where you have to decide what is best for Rachel, and how you can do your best to protect her. The “power” that Chloe has – using words to persuade others in her favor – becomes even more important in this episode, as the outcome of these “verbal battles” decide whether we have to take the easy or the hard way to achieve what we want. Talking about things that one might go great lengths to avoid, is also an important aspect of this universe. Perhaps we might learn a thing or two from Chloe?

I’ve come to learn that when life gets hard for other people, you can count on Chloe to be there for you. Chloe is many things, but she is a damn good friend. Yet sometimes, a good friend can be taken advantage of. Slowly but surely, the player is made aware of all the things Chloe keeps doing for Rachel, without receiving anything in return. As such, the relationship between Chloe and Rachel is, in my opinion, highly romanticized. It doesn’t feel 100% believable, but it is nevertheless a beautiful and strong relationship that I guess everyone would aspire to have. The worst part of it is that it breaks my heart to see them now because I know how the relationship – unwillingly – comes to an end. The beauty of friendship and love seeps through the cracks of the dull and dismal surface, making the hard stuff a little easier to deal with, which I can appreciate. It doesn’t make the issues too heavy, just heavy enough to make the right amount of impact on the player.

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“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality…”

Doing and dealing drugs are some of the issues that our teenagers encounter – which often include violence, and this time around is unfortunately no exception. However, as the drama escalates quickly in this episode, we can always rely on a whole new round of Dungeons & Dragons as a nice change of pace. This sequence is even longer now than it was in the first episode, but you’re not going to see me complain about it. This scene made Chloe forget all the grief, despair, and anger that she was going through, if only just for a few moments. And realizing that she had more friends than she thought might have given her the shove she needed.

And one simply cannot make A Life Is Strange review without commenting on the soundtrack. For this season, the developers chose to cooperate with the London trio neo-folk band Daughter to compose the music for this season. They even released an individual album with the songs on their Spotify. The sound of the music has a lot of character that blends beautifully in with the theme of the game, and I have found myself coming back to it repeatedly – the band truly did a great job with the soundtrack, so kudos to them. And if you have only played the first season of Life Is Strange, and you, for some reason, find yourself reading this review, I can promise you that the music aspect of the game will not disappoint you.

Even though this journey is a fulfilling one, I cannot help but feel a little disappointed. The game decided to give me a happy-ever-after ending, which I feel was unsatisfactory. Rachel’s fate is far from happy, and I think that the ending of this episode should have reflected that more than it did. I do sometimes enjoy when games give us the opportunity to create theories about what happens, but “Hell Is Empty” rather gave us too much to be interpreted.

The game left a gap storywise between the end of season 2 and season 1, whereas I hoped that the gap would be much smaller. When does Rachel meet the teacher that will inevitably murder her? What happens between Chloe and Rachel in between these events? All we know is what we learn from the first game, which is just bits and pieces told from a broken Chloe. Even though if you wait until after the credits have rolled, you do get to see a disturbing nod towards Rachel’s terrible fate. I just think it wasn’t enough. The second episode was by far the best one, because it had a fantastic build-up, with an amazing plot twist at the end. This was a fairly short episode of approximately 2-3 hours, whereas the previous episode was about 4 hours long.

I also found it interesting that the first half of the series is more about Chloe, but then the spotlight shifts to Rachel. All in all, I love this series, and if you are a fan of narrative-heavy games, I will highly recommend that you play this game. Just remember to play the other one, too.

Square Enix partners with GlobalGiving to host charity auction for hurricane relief

Square Enix, known for their Final Fantasy series, of course, and GlobalGiving have come together to host the 30th annual Final Fantasy: A Legacy of Art charity auction for hurricane relief.

The charity auction allows fans to bid on select artwork from the exhibition from now until December 9th and all proceeds from the auction, as you can see above, will be given to GlobalGiving, who will aid those affected by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria.

Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary: A Legacy of Art runs until January 7th, 2018. Check out the link below to get involved.

Fans can bid to own a piece of Final Fantasy history here.

Life Is Strange: Before the Storm

Life Is Strange: Before The Storm Episode 1 Review (PS4)

As a prequel to Life Is Strange that came out in 2015, Life Is Strange: Before The Storm tells the story of the 16-year old Chloe Price, Max Caulfield’s best friend in the first game. Which, in certain circumstances, I guess they still are. Chloe is a rebel, who forms a relationship with Rachel Amber, the popular girl at school, who is beautiful and is destined for success. However, we already know Rachel’s fate: it is a sad and unfair one. But now she is here: alive and kicking. After playing a whole game searching for her, it is nice to finally be able to meet her. This time around, we get to learn even more about this lost girl. We know she has a secret that will strengthen her relationship with Chloe, that takes their friendship to a new level. Because this is not just a story about Chloe, it is also the story of Rachel. Together, they will overcome their demons in Life Is Strange: Before The Storm.

The time has come for us to return to Arcadia Bay. I choose to believe that many of us have mixed feelings about this. In light of Max’s ability, we rewind time and are now in an Arcadia Bay where Max is in Seattle to go to school and has not moved back to start at Blackwell yet. Chloe tries to get in contact with her (judging from the information on her phone) but is replied with silence and rejection.

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New adventures ahead!

One cannot talk about the Life Is Strange games without mentioning the fantastic soundtrack – and how the music is used to match the protagonist’s personality. I love how they have adapted the music to fit Chloe’s personality better. Ranging from hard rock to indie, it reflects her mood – even though it fluctuates like the bounce of a ping-pong ball.

While speaking of our protagonist, let me just address the elephant in the room right away. The biggest problem had nothing to do with the game itself – but rather the stuff that happened in the making of it: Chloe’s voice. If you don’t know about this, let me explain: because of the long strike in the Screen Actors Guild, Chloe’s voice from the first game, Ashley Burch (who also gave her voice to Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn and Tiny Tina in Borderlands 2), had to make a heartbreaking sacrifice because of this strike:

“I broke off a little piece of my soul when I did the first Life Is Strange and put it in Chloe”, she says to Kotaku.

Rhianna DeVries is the voice actress who has now given her voice to the 16-year old version of Chloe, and I’ve got to admit… I hear the difference, and I sadly have to say that I’m not a fan. There is something off about the way Chloe says things. And it may just be me that’s being real sensitive about the whole thing – because I really liked Chloe in Life Is Strange. Either way, this is a discussion with a lot of different stories to it and is not something I will discuss further here. There were big shoes to fill, and I guess that the outcome is better than no game at all. Because so far, this is a good game.

Unlike the first game, which had 5 episodes, Life Is Strange: Before The Storm has 3. But in return, they are longer. The game is as beautiful as it always has been. For example, you’ll notice how the main menu changes after you’ve played the first episode! I like little details such as that. Speaking of details, the last game had a butterfly (representing the never-ending cycle of life, and also represents the mind and our ability to change it when necessary) as the autosave symbol. Now, it’s a bird: the symbol of freedom and perspective. Which describes Chloe pretty nicely. While those might be only tiny details – they are interesting changes, and worth paying attention to, I think.

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Rebel Yell.

There is also a new important feature to the game, which replaces Max’s ability. This was highly discussed among fans when Square Enix announced the release of Before The Storm – Max’s ability was such a big part of the game, so what would they replace that with? Well, instead of rewinding time, Chloe’s ability is pretty obvious if you just think about it: her mouth. Yup. The Backtalk Challenge occurs either when you get in a fight, persuade them, etc. Sometimes, the person with the best argument wins. And other times, the more the comment hurts, the better. The more you explore the scenery, the more information you have to talk about. Gather information from what the other person is saying, only to turn it around and use it against them. It almost felt like a psychology session, where I learned about how humans use language as a weapon against each other.

This episode is a very promising start to a new adventure with Chloe. Life Is Strange is about teenage life, and all the love, hurt, rebellion, conflict, and drama that follows it. Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is no different. They are games about life experiences. Even though I was sceptical at first, it has already managed to pull me back into its universe – I am really excited to see what’s next, and how the story of these two girls unfold. Obviously, we know how it turns out, but I am excited to see more of the road that it leads up to!

Just a friendly tip: If someone asks you to play dungeons and dragons with them… say yes.

FF XII

Viewpoint: 5 Reasons Why You Should Play Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age’s Remaster

If there is one Final Fantasy title that has divided its fanbase, then it’s Final Fantasy XII. Originally released for the good ol’ PlayStation 2 in 2006, the game squeezed out the true capabilities of the aforementioned console’s graphical power, but split players due to its unique battle system and political storyline.

It was a Final Fantasy of a different flavour than previous instalments, that was for sure. But there is no denying that the game has its fair share of fans who regard it as one of the best JRPGs in existence. To such people, the upcoming HD remaster, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, will no doubt be a good excuse to crack out the gambits and Espers once again.

But to those who didn’t have a chance to experience it the first time around? Playing The Zodiac Age is a pastime you likely won’t regret. Thus, without further ado, let us count down the key reasons why you should be playing this in July when the game finally hits the shelves.

1) The Stunning In-game Universe

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FFXII is set within the fictional world of Ivalice, which is where previous Square Enix titles such as the Final Fantasy Tactics games and Vagrant Story were set. In a similar way that Vagrant Story used the full power of the PS1, this game’s original release did the same with the PS2. Here, however, the visuals will be given a current-gen revamp, with the nooks and crannies of Ivalice looking sweeter than ever before. You will immerse yourself in a diverse and unique setting, from the Arabian-esque kingdom of Rabanastre to the wet and horrible Giza Plains to the relatively high-tech kingdom of Archadia. A world filled with anthropomorphic lizardfolk, rabbit-eared humanoids and high-tech airships (but public toilets haven’t been invented here yet, sorry!), your visit to Ivalice will unlikely to be one you forget in a hurry.

2) The Amount of Content

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Final Fantasy XII has a stunning amount of content and will have you hooked well outside the bounds of its main storyline. No better is this demonstrated than with the game’s ‘Hunts’. These missions have you join up with a clan led by the lovable Moogle, Montblanc, where you will receive ‘hunts’ and are given a special ‘mark’ to kill. In return for killing these special monsters, you will be justly rewarded with spoils and also gradual increases in rank within your clan. Anyone who has played the original can vouch for how much time the Hunts – and other sidequests – take up. As the old saying goes, you’re getting a whole lot of bang for your buck here.

3) The Unique Battle System

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FFXII really divided the fanbase with its battle system. Gone was the traditional turn-based mechanics of previous titles (well, except the MMO FFXI, of course) and in came a real-time experience. No separate battle screens here – enemies were dotted throughout the landscape and your team would draw their weapons upon contact. The interesting thing here though is the ‘Gambit’ mechanic which allows you to tinker with your team’s AI, controlling how they act in battle. Want Vaan to cast Cure on the team once they are all under 40% HP? You can do that. Want Ashe to use an antidote on allies who are poisoned? You can do that too, and much, much more. The Gambit system enables players to act strategically and make their party the way they want it to be. It adds a layer of depth and flexibility that is often absent in other JRPGs.

4) The Characters (Balthier)

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If you ask a FFXII fan about their favourite characters from the game, Balthier is sure to pop up. The witty British-accented charmer is a Sky Pirate, the ‘Han Solo’ of the game’s story, if you will. Together, alongside his sparsely-worded Viera partner, Fran, they act as Vaan’s mentors early on in the game. But, where cutscenes are concerned, Balthier has some of the most memorable dialogue in FF history, often referring to himself as a ‘leading man’. While that claim is no doubt questionable, this charming sky pirate will be on your mind long after the game has ended. Yes, the other characters have their merits, from the ambitious teenager Vaan to the jaded, aging soldier, Basch, but Balthier will always be the leading man in the eyes of many players – even if the game denies him this honour.

5) A Remastered Soundtrack

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Final Fantasy XII‘s soundtrack is truly underrated amongst the series’ long history of musical genius – and, much like the FFX re-release, it’s getting a remaster. Mostly composed by Final Fantasy Tactics composer, Hitoshi Sakimoto, the soundtrack manages to capture a unique atmosphere from the moments exploring the Dalmasca Estersunds to the epic Esper boss battles. Some favourite moments include the imperial majesty of the city of Rabanastre and the beautiful strings of the Ozmone Plains. If you thought that the original, synthesized music was underwhelming for a game of such high visual scope, then the new, fully orchestrated versions will more than make up for that. They will literally give Ivalice a whole new lease of life than ever before.

Will you be buying the remaster of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age? Let us know in the comments below!

Viewpoint: Dragon Quest: The Most Underappreciated JRPG in the West

We all know who the kings of the JRPG throne are. Final Fantasy, Tales, Pokémon, they’re all at the tip of the tongue. However, when you ask someone what’s the greatest JRPG series of all time, they’ll seldom mention Dragon Quest. This is for good reason – after all, the series only made the international jump outside of Japan and the US in its eighth main installment in 2005. Since then, Square-Enix has been remaking the titles for Nintendo’s handheld consoles, the Nintendo DS and 3DS, introducing the games to a whole new generation in Japan and overseas. Yet, still, DQ hasn’t attained the same international success as their contemporaries. The original Dragon Quest – known as Dragon Warrior in America – was one of the stalwarts of its genre and even somewhat inspired the Final Fantasy series.

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The main premise of the Dragon Quest games mirrors that of many other JRPG videogames. You play as a designated hero who must save the world from some superpowered threat with the help of a ragtag bunch of party members. Usually, the hero is a mute, and his/her name is decided by the player, not the game script. But another thing that is unique to DQ is its cartoony, anime look.

In fact, that may be the source of its lack of popularity in the West, says Square-Enix’s Yu Miyake in a 2016 interview: “Mature gamers look at it and feel like it’s a kids game. When you actually play the game, it’s a little complicated for children to play, but it’s kind of been a hurdle for grown ups to get into it.” As likely as this is, it’s also a big shame since the series’ cartoony visuals – brought into existence by Dragon Ball artists Akira Toriyama – are actually a large part of what gives the games their signature charm. Toriyama’s art give Dragon Quest a unique, colourful identity, while bringing to the table stories that are relatively mature in nature.

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To many of those who have played Final Fantasy, the battle system in DQ can seem rudimentary in comparison. No limit breaks or summon spells to be found here, you have ‘Attack’, ‘Magic’ and the ‘Psyche Up’ option to buff up the damage of your attacks. There’s no waiting on the ATB bar – there is just the traditional turn-taking commonly associated with the genre. But the real element that the series thrives upon is strategy in these battles. Much of the battling relies on the teamwork of your characters, knowing when to attack, when to buffer your teammates’ attacks and how to work your team effectively overall.

As the game stories progress, the battles do indeed become more complex to play and this is aided, in part, by an ever-increasing difficulty. Perhaps not a turn-on for some gamers. But the mature stories, ranging from ‘childhood to adulthood’ to ‘corruption’, as well as the unique monsters and memorable characters draw many more in, especially in Japan.

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Another key cause of Dragon Quest’s lack of popularity in the West is Square’s lack of effort in localizing the games. The long-running games company only started localizing the series in Europe with Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King which was released in 2006, 2005 in the US. This meant that many players missed the first eight games in the series. While the US did receive the first four games for the NES, they did not receive the DQ games released for the Super Nintendo, skipping an entire console generation – which meant that finding dedicated fans for the series would be hard.

The SNES was also the console generation where the US received FFII (IV in Japan) and III (IV in Japan), which meant that JRPG lovers had found their home with Final Fantasy. Then there was the series stalwart that was FFVII, which received a release in Europe as well as the US, and proved to be a critical and commercial success in those territories. This release as well as its successors stabilised the franchise, making it a household name in the West, putting it to the top alongside franchises such as Pokémon and Mario. The continued success of Final Fantasy, often bearing a relatively mature visual style to DQ, has ensured its popularity and has more than likely overshadowed DQ, even as the remakes and new games cross over to our shores. Simply put, Dragon Quest hasn’t had much time to establish itself.

Given the series’ questionable success in the West, who knows whether the next game in the series, Dragon Quest XI, will receive a Western release. The fact remains that Dragon Quest is a highly overlooked franchise and deserves more attention than it does. As with any truly great JRPG series, the games are fun and engaging with rich storytelling and diverse mature themes that far defy the series’ cutesy art style. If you haven’t checked out a Dragon Quest game yet, then you would be wise to do so. You won’t regret it.

Tokyo RPG Factory’s Lost Sphear Announced for PS4, Switch and PC

Meet Lost Sphear, a JRPG from the creators of I Am Setsuna that’s coming to PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam in early 2018.

Tokyo RPG Factory’s new game takes place in a world where people are inexplicably vanishing. Loved ones are no longer there. The flowers are fading, and the world is turning cold. What’s causing this? That’s where you, a young boy named Kanata, come in.

Sounds intriguing enough to this writer. Check out the trailer below and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age trailer shows off prettier visuals and the Zodiac Job System

Square Enix has released a new trailer for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age that shows the world of Ivalice, but with some prettier visuals this time around.

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Fancy splashing out?

Zodiac Age is a high-definition remaster that introduces several modern advancements, and will be the first time for western audiences to experience the ‘Zodiac Job System’.

It’s coming to PS4 on 11th July, 2017. Are you excited for this remaster, or is it one too many?