So You Want A Final Fantasy XIII “Growth Egg” As Early As End Of Chapter 11?! Yes You Can!

Arguably one of the most important items to obtain in Final Fantasy 13, “Growth Egg” doubles the Crystogen Points (or experience points) you earn that are needed for your character development.  Who wouldn’t want it as soon as possible?  To obtain a “Growth Egg”, you need to complete a class A mission that is opened for you at the end of chapter 11.  It is a very hard mission and I reckon it is designed as an end game activity.  But if an average gamer (me!) can do it, there is a high chance that you can too!  Here is how I made it, not without blood and sweat.  And in the mist of it, I have obtained a 5-star rating and unlocked the “Limit Breaker” trophy or achievement.  That is a 100,000+ damage in one shot!

Prerequisite

After the final boss in Chapter 11, instead of moving forward and trigger Chapter 12, move backward and obtain Mission 55 “Can’t We All Just Get Along” from the rooftop of a deserted school.  I chanced upon this because I have missed out one of the components to repair Vanille’s toy (another pretty rewarding thing to do).  If you need a guide to obtain that mission, click here.

Key Strategy

For this class A mission, you have to face a very tough boss called Neochu that can take down casters with one shot.  And it has quite a few hyperactive adds called Picochus that hit very hard, very fast.  The encounter is very much like its little brother nearby (which I hope you have tried).  Take down the boss first, and then worry about the adds later.  To do that, you will need Vanille (hence picture above!).

Battle Team Setup

Interestingly, Neochu is not immune to Death spell.  So the key is to have Vanille picking up that ability (under Saboteur role) after the expansion of Crystarium at the end of Chapter 11.  To have a better chance to pull off this debuff strategy, upgrade the Belladonna Wand to Malboro Wand.  I have upgraded the weapon level to close to 40, which may not be necessary.  I have Snow equipped with Paladin and Hope equipped with Hawkeye.  Both equipments are at star level.  By the way, all the upgrade components I have obtained from mob drops (or spoils).  It is very doable if you have been doing some side missions.

I set up Snow as the tank (Sentinel) and Hope as the healer (Medic).  As for Vanille, she switches between Saboteur (for debuff), Ravager (for damage), and Medic (for extra heal).  So in total, only 3 Paradigms are required.  To manually execute the Death spell, I have picked Vanille as the leader.

Prior to the final boss of Chapter 11, all my characters have maxed out their Crystarium for three roles (out of six, for all six characters).  After the boss fight, I choose one role to specialize and max that out.  I didn’t make any special purchase for this mission.  I suppose wearing accessories for extra health points would help in some ways.

Stage One – One-shot the Boss

Preemptive strike is out so left with the options to either use the shrouds to buff up your offense or defense before engaging the boss.  I walked into the battle with neither because I forgot (see, I am your average gamer).  In retrospect, buffing up the haste level may work better.  It may speed up the process.  The target time to finish the battle is 28 minutes.  I have earned the 5-star rating.  So I must have taken lesser time than that.

I went in with Snow tanking and Hope healing (for the entire fight).  As for Vanille, I spammed Death spell.  If Neochu hits Vanille first before Snow grabs the aggro, it is game over.  If Vanille unable to land the Death spell and one-shot the boss within 5 rounds, it is also game over.  The combined damage of Neochu and its annoying little creatures is just too much for one healer to take (before end game that is).

I read that some spent hours one-shooting the boss (only to be overwhelmed with the little ones – how sad!).  It didn’t take that long for me.  Maybe upgrading the wand helps.

Stage Two – Heal Up!

Once the boss is down (which is the easy part), it is time to survive the group of cute little Picochus.  Even with two healers and a tank, my team could barely survive.  Especially when my tank lost the aggro.  You could either fast switch Vanille between the Medic and Ravager roles to heal and to spam the area of effect spell Firaga.  Or if like me, the tank was down and soon faced an inevitable wipe, I called in the cavalry.

Stage Three – Summon the Eidolon

Some say Eidolons in Final Fantasy 13 are pretty useless.  It is quite right that these god like creatures don’t seem to be as powerful as they should be (given the fact that it is such a pain to make them yield and be your own).  As for me, Eidolons have turned the tide in the past when I faced with seemingly insurmountable battles.  And I must say, I love the over-the-top animation for these Eidolon encounters.

After Vanille summons her Eidolon, Hecatoncheir, your job is to keep both of them alive for as long as you can (which is not long).  Before Hecatoncheir gets decimated by these little adds, switch to Gestalt Mode and unload some punishment to the Picochus.  I manage to half their health points, which in retrospect, it is really not bad.  Meagre amount of damage dealt aside, the beauty of summoning an Eidolon is that when Eidolon leaves the battle, all the party members are back up with full health.  Time for round two!

Stage Four – Taking Down the Adds

This is the most nail biting moment.  I mean, I have come that far.  I really don’t want to fail here.  With Snow tanking the little mad Picochus, Hope can barely keep him alive (he is my best healer in the game).  I have to switch Vanille between Medic and Ravager mode to balance between staying alive and killing off the enemies.  It is a painfully slow process.  The good news is, as you wear down the number, it gets progressively easier.  Later on I found out that I could cast Imperil debuff on the little ones to lower the spell resistance.  That made the job done much faster.  If I am to do this again, I would cast the area of effect debuff, Imperilga, before the area of effect spell Firaga.  You may be tempted to one-shot the little ones with Death spell.  I don’t like the extra aggro on Vanille.

Some find it hard to take down the adds.  At bare minimum, if you have Snow on tanking position and both Hope and Vanille on healing, you should be able to last indefinitely.  Hope should also be able to solo heal Snow most of the time (there is some randomness in FF13 after all).  If you can’t, you may need to further develop your characters and gears with the side missions.  If you can, it is simply a matter of patience.  And “Growth Egg” is a reward you would love to have.

Heavy Rain (PS3) – Immersion Can’t Get Better Than This!

How far are you prepared to go to save someone you love? – from the theme of “Heavy Rain”

It is hard to define the genre of this critically acclaimed title “Heavy Rain”.  It is not exactly an action game, though there are some elements of action.  It is not exactly an adventure game either, though it plays like one at times.  Certainly feel like watching a self-directed movie with full fledged orchestra soundtrack – a movie of a serial killer to catch and a kid to save.  172 days of casting, 90 actors selected from 457 auditions.  You get to switch between different key players according to the key story events.  And because you as a player get to decide your course of action and to participate in the action, the story unfolds based on the decisions  and the mistakes you have made.  Believe me, if you are not an expert in using the game controller or if you are like me who tend to press the wrong buttons or move the motion sensitive controller to the wrong direction when you get nervous, you bound to make mistakes.  Making too many mistakes may lead to an alternative storyline.  Continue to make too many mistakes may lead to a character’s death.  I have learned my lesson the hard way.  I thought I could sit back on my sofa and relax, I was grossly wrong.  And because it is one continuous play-through, you have got to live with your mistakes, for better or for worse.

The characters on the screen reacts to the sequence of buttons you press as guided by the game.  Some motions also take into consideration of how fast or slow you move the game sticks or shake the controller in certain directions.  Some scenes require you to press and hold a set of buttons in a sequential order.  How tricky the combination is depends on the situation.  For timed event, you really do not want to make too many mistakes.

“Heavy Rain” runs in 720p graphic quality.  Although it seems inferior compares to 1080p games such as Final Fantasy XIII, it is by and large acceptable.  The motion sequences are realistic (due to filming using real stunt men).  My only complain is the rendering of characters.  The real actors behind the scene look so much better (I thought it should be the other way round).  The interaction between characters – like the kissing scene with the mouths not exactly locked together – has much to desire for.  Still, consider the complicity of the game based on player’s interaction and the sum of all possible paths, the game play has made up for some of these flaws.

My first play-through does not take long to complete.  Such is the characteristic of a non-linear game.  For one play-through, I have probably only seen a quarter of what the game is.  I will need to replay this game multiple times if I wish to explore different storyline, different endings.  Bonus materials are unlocked based on game progress, such as the making-of videos that are entertaining to watch.  Believe it or not, being able to play this exclusive title is one of the major reasons why I bought a Sony PS 3.  And I am very much satisfied.  I will for sure play it again but not right now.  For such a dark game (and the constant rain) – the mood, the suspense, and the sorrow, it can get a bit depressing.  Such is the beauty of immersion.

Barking Seed Is One Mobile Games Community To Look Out For

Last week, I have had the opportunity to meet with one of the Indie game developers Breakdesign through a blogger event.  Originally from South African, now based in Singapore, it is inspiring to meet the co-founder of Breakdesign Rick and his team talking about game development with so much passion.  If indeed one of their visions is to offer free mobile gaming to all parts of the world – rich and the not so rich – looking at the latest list of top countries in the battle arena, I think they have more or less achieved that.

Mobile gaming is not new.  But what is special about this Indie game developer is the mobile games community they have created – “Barking Seed”.  Imagine, each time the game is over, you are given the opportunity to upload your score to their website, perhaps add a little comment to shout to the world.  You play to be amongst the top players.  And you play to represent your country as one of the top, stand a chance to win phones and accessories.  Just how additively fun this concept is?  During the blogger event, as our scores were posted to the website in real time, none of us were talking.  We – guys and girls – were going all out to score.

I have tried out three of their games on my touchscreen phone.  These are Flash games – responsive, pretty to look at, and does not take long to play.  Good soundtracks too.  “Monsterilla” (featured above) is my favorite.  It is a colorful puzzle game that has a strong appeal to either sexes.  There is another game that you keep squishing roaches (erm … I know) until you are overwhelmed.  It does get pretty intense and Cynthia got a real shock when she accidentally looked into my screen.  So many crawling roaches!  Looking at “That Roach Game” at a philosophical level, I agree with the co-founder Rick.  You just can’t win.  The third game I have tried is “Ninjani”.  Guys would love this.  This game tests your reaction time as well as your anticipation skill.  The fact that you can get better as you play repeatedly perhaps makes “Ninjani” one of the most addictive games of the three.

I look forward to more new game releases for the community “Barking Seed”.  I have high hope for them.  Three years it has taken this small team to bring this innovative offering to the world.  I still have no clue on how they generate revenue when the games are free and come with no advertisements.  Only time will tell.  Meanwhile, if you have a Nokia phone, head to OVI Store and download these free games.  If you have not heard of OVI Store – surprisingly many friends of mine who use Nokia phones fall into that category – there are many free applications and games for grab.  Have fun with these featured Flash games and good luck in winning!  As for me, I am going to work Cynthia hard and win me some “Monsterilla” points using my login ID.  Girls are supposed to be better at this sort of cute colorful puzzle games, yes?

External Links: Barking Seed Community Site and Breakdesign Corporate Site.

Kasumi Goto From The New Mass Effect 2 DLC – A Brief Review

Does this digital game copy of the new Mass Effect 2 mini-expansion worth US$7?  Read on to find out.

I am a big fan of BioWare’s DLC (downloadable contents).  They are often of the right length (read: not too time consuming) and are rewarding to play.  Recently, BioWare has run into quality issue with the Dragon Age franchise and hence, I have stopped buying.  Not until they get their acts together and patch up the game.  Mass Effect, is another story.

“Kasumi – Stolen Memory” is the first DLC (with a file size of close to 1 GB!) outside the Cerberus Network.  The Cerberus Network licence worth US$15 in value and most retail copies I believe come with it.  Does it mean that this is the end for “free” downloads?  I don’t know.  Back to this new DLC, for the price of a movie ticket, it took me about 2 ½ hours to complete.  That includes reading the new codex, going through the conversation options, and admiring all aspects of the game including standing by the hillside looking at the breathtaking scenery of the sea.

For those who have started or planning to start a new game, Kasumi the enigmatic master thief can be a good squad member option.  Kasumi is distinctly different from the existing members because she can go in stealth and near one-shot the enemies from their backs.  Almost like a rogue class in some role playing games.  Because of that, most of the time I have no clue where she is when we are in combat and I have to pay attention to her voice cues.  My character is a Vanguard so that seems to complement the play style (up close and personal).  Too bad, I have already completed the game.  It would be fun to continue grouping with her to develop the synergy.

Half of “Kasumi – Stolen Memory” is non-combat in nature, which is a breath of fresh air from the majority of the loyalty missions.  My only slight grievance is that this DLC does not seem to be challenging enough and I have encountered a bug in the final boss fight (the boss despawned and the mission got stuck).  Also, conversations with Kasumi inside the Normandy is similar to Zaeed (from the Cerberus Network), very one-way in nature.  Other than that, “Kasumi – Stolen Memory” is a beautiful DLC – both in graphics and storyline.  And if you are like me, who are just one level under the cap, completing “Kasumi – Stolen” will shoot you all the way to the level cap of 30.

Dragon Age: Origin – What A Journey!

90 hours, I have poured into this game.  This has to go into my personal record of one of the longest enduring gaming journey in the category of anything-but-world-of-warcraft.  I seldom complete games these days.  50 odd hours into Mass Effect 2, I thought I was obsessive.  90 hours into Dragon Age: Origin, I reckon I could have read Iliad or Odyssey perhaps once.

You know how I am like when I get excited about something.  Of many whom I have talked to – strangers and friends alike – some are into role-playing games (better still, Baldur’s Gate), just like Dragon Age: Origin, waiting for that one final push to jump down the cliff.  Yes buddy, think no more.  I’ve jumped.  Now it’s your turn.  Some have no clue what this game is about.  Like my mother.  One evening she tapped onto my shoulder and asked, “Is this a game?  It looks like a movie.”  I took off my headset and replied, “Yes mom.  Computer gaming has certainly progressed since the day you and dad got me that Apple machine when I was a teen.”  Some come from the world of Mass Effect and ponder if they would too love this franchise.  And some have completed the game, like I do, and are eying on the expansion Dragon Age: Awakening, like I do.

In Short …

… Dragon Age: Origin sets in the fantasy backdrop of human and elves, dwarves and golems, dragons and dark magic.  The beauty of gaming versus reading or watching a fantasy story is that you get to shape the story the way you want it to be, within the framework provided.  You decide the beginning: a noble or a commoner.  You decide the role you want to play: front-liner or supporter.  You decide how the world should be explored, how to influence the people around you.  There are sub-plots that keep on distracting you, that you may choose to ignore.  And finally, a multitude of endings that you have to decide based on the little things you have done along your journey.  Some gamers may prefer a clinical approach in researching online prior to what is to come in order to shape an outcome that they want.  As for me, I prefer to shape my story according to my own decisions, even if there are sacrifices to be made along the way.  Bearing and living with the consequences is part of the game.

Game Play

Coming from the action role-playing game background (like Mass Effect franchise), I was apprehensive if I would find the frequent game pausing to issue commands to four party members a turn off.  Neverwinter Night turned me off.  Curiously, this game does not.  Though, when I showed it to Cynthia, she went “eeeewwww” because she swears by the real time game play of World of Warcraft.  I guess the reason is that not every encounter requires us to pause and strategize.  And if we do pause, it has to be something extraordinary that can turn the game to our advantage.

Another thing that took me a short while to get used to is that the conversation options chosen by the main character (a.k.a. you) are not read-out-loud.  Like Mass Effect.  Some say Mass Effect is an exception.  I could also loop in The Witcher (by the way, the sequel is in the making) to argue my case.  In any case, the conversation in Dragon Age: Origin has much depth and in a way, I am glad to click my options through.

The Things I Love Most

Character development is one.  It is memorable and you get to hate and love certain characters, love and even more in love with others.  Both the indoor and outdoor scenes are beautiful to look at.  The control is smooth (not sure how the console players can live with only two sticks and that many buttons on the controller though) mapped nicely to recent popular games of similar genre.  The learning curve is steep but one can persevere by trying out different strategies.  The game mechanic appears simple with three distinct classes – warrior, rogue, and mage.  But with different deployment of skill set and specialization, a rogue can play like a hunter and a mage can play like a priest or a warlock.  Lots of reading within the game of course, in the form of codex.

What’s Next?

From my research, Dragon Age: Awakening is the largest DLC (downloadable content) to date.  Despite the price tag that is comparable to the original game, it will likely to take nowhere near to 90 hours to complete.  Much faster.  But if you are already a fan, shouldn’t you dive into Awakening right now?  It turns out that for the PC gamers, you may be better off to wait for a bit due to reported game crashes caused by the latest patch 1.03 that you must apply in order to play the expansion.  Some gamers suffer more than their fellow PC gamers.  And for the console gamers, there are still in-game issues that may worth the wait to see if the developer BioWare is going to do something about them.  When in doubt, check the BioWare forums.

Personally, I wish the experience was as epic as the one with Mass Effect 2.  Unfortunately the experience was somewhat ruined due to the bad patch I have applied towards the end of the journey (if you are still playing the original game and if you could, stop at patch 1.02a).  Game modding is a powerful tool, given to the community.  But to rely on the community to fix some of the game issues using mods is just too strange for me to accept.

So what’s next?  When all fails – and if BioWare doesn’t get the game fixed – we can always look forward to Diablo 3, can’t we?