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16127173809_4b7757bd7f_cI have a terrible confession to make. Settle down because it’s a biggie. I used to be a Final Fantasy fan. I know, I know, it’s not crime of the century but throughout my teenage years I loved that damned franchise. The games of the Playstation era were, indeed still are, some of my favourites of all time. Hell, Final Fantasy was the reason I bought a PS2. Sadly I thought Final Fantasy X was a dribbling mess and it only got worse from there. Imagine my surprise when it turned out Final Fantasy XV wasn’t just an improvement, it was actually good.

Historically, the reason Final Fantasy resonated with me was the characters. VII, VIII and IX especially all had a rich cast that you could empathise and fall in love with. Sure, there was your typical angst-ridden protagonist but there was depth beyond them. I maintain that Vivi is one of the best written characters in all of gaming and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.

Somewhere along the way, Final Fantasy lost the ability to have that depth and instead forgettable main characters took up more of the game’s focus. Is anyone that surprised that Vaan wasn’t meant to be the lead in XII, but rather the far more interesting Balthier?

Where XV succeeds is that it not only has a less tedious main character in Noctis, but it limits you to only having three additional party members. Aside from the occasional guest, you only ever travel with Ignis, Gladio and Prompto. Unlike in previous instalments which have a much broader cast, limiting it to such a small number allows you to get to know these characters quicker and to a far deeper degree. They all feel like main characters.

Take Prompto for instance. Superficially, he’s an annoying character with a passion for photography and an unhealthy obsession with Chocobos. He’s also irritatingly peppy and doesn’t seem to take the situations the lads find themselves in with the seriousness it deserves. Yet his utter ignorance as to what’s going on with the political machinations and lore makes me empathise with him. For all it gets right, XV doesn’t do a great job of explaining a lot of things and you couldn’t pay me to watch the tie-in movie, Kingsglaive. In many of these situations I am Prompto.

Before I got my hands on the game, I’d heard a lot about these “beautiful boys” and written it off as a load of nonsense. Well now don’t I look like a prat because they are bloody beautiful. I’m surprisingly relieved that I get to spend dozens more hours with Noctis’ brooding, Ignis’ cooking, Prompto’s photography and Gladio looking amazing in a tank top. The memories of the beige cast of the likes of XII and XIII are finally consigned to the dustheap.

Though, that being said, if I hear Prompto singing “I want to ride my Chocobo all day…” one more time I shan’t be responsible for my actions.

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Mass Effect 3 is my favourite game of all time. I think about this far more than is perhaps normal, or indeed healthy, but with Mass Effect Andromeda in the news I can’t help it. Sadly it seems that this love isn’t shared by the majority of Mass Effect fans. Indeed, the third game is often seen as the weakest, in no small part to it’s controversial ending (more on that later).

I decided to play through the Mass Effect trilogy again earlier this year for the first time since 2012. Mass Effect 3 was my favourite at the time, but I wondered if perhaps I just got caught up in the excitement of the new. Playing through first two games again I was constantly looking forward to the third, but I couldn’t shift the feeling that perhaps I’d made a terrible mistake. Everybody and their Mum said Mass Effect 2 was the best, hands down. Playing through it I could certainly see their point. The story and gameplay were all top notch and a vast improvement over it’s predecessor. Yet something was off. I didn’t like the new crew. Sure, Mordin was great and Garrus and Tali were there from the first game, but the rest? Weaker versions of better characters. When I got to the third game that just confirmed it, it was like getting the band back together.

What set Mass Effect apart from any other series was interacting with your crew. I don’t just mean romancing them and getting up to some hanky-panky in your quarters either. Learning their life story and forming bonds was perhaps more important than whatever Reaper threat was going on in the main plot. Hell, in Mass Effect 3 those weaker characters from 2, though not part of your crew, now have stories that are interesting and humanising. Rescuing Jack and her students, dealing with Miranda’s asshole Dad, Legion’s sacrifice for the greater good, Grunt proving himself as both a leader and a Krogan. These are all missions that needed to take place in the context of Mass Effect 3, when straits are at their direst. When you throw in the Citadel DLC, which is one of the finest bits of DLC to ever be released, you’ve got a game chock full of great character moments.

Most of the criticism is reserved for the ending. I can see why, especially in the vanilla version the game released with. There’s very little resolution to your journey, the galaxy you’ve fought so hard to save seems fucked regardless of whatever choice you make and your crew just seems to abandon you. When I played through it I was pissed off as well. It felt like a betrayal of what the series was based on. Luckily most, if not all, of my criticisms were rectified when Bioware released the Extended Cut DLC. It’s a complaint that no longer holds any weight for me. Sadly no DLC patched out those damned dream sequences. It may be my favourite game, but it’s not flawless.

I see Mass Effect 3 as being a bit like Lost. Both are held up as cautionary tales of how not to do an ending, but that’s missing the point. The destination wasn’t half as important as the journey.