Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (

After finding the city of Ambrosia, Professor Layton receives a letter from an old friend to come to Monte d’Or.  It turns out a man called the Masked Gentleman has been using an artifact known as the Mask of Chaos to cause incidents all over the town.  Now Professor Layton must face his past in order to save the future of himself and those closest to him.

The game alternates between playing in the past and playing in the present.  In the past story line, we discover how Layton became interested in archaeology in the first place.  That and Layton has one screwed up past.  I don’t want to give anything away but can you imagine forever living with the knowledge that if you had agreed to leave a dangerous place, your friend would still be alive?  However, I will admit that his friend, Randall, does seem a bit self-absorbed.  He constantly tries to get Layton interested in archaeology despite his repeated claims that he has absolutely no interest in it.  Yes, I am aware that Layton does get an interest in it later on, but the fact remains that Randall tries to push his interests on other people.  He also wants to go on a dangerous mission despite his girlfriend, Angela’s, concern for him.  I’m not saying that he deserved what happened to him.  I’m just saying that if you want to go on adventures you can’t have a family that’s constantly worried for your safety waiting for you at home.  In the present, Layton travels the city with Luke and Emmy looking for information about the Masked Gentleman and trying to discover the secrets behind his dark miracles.  Again, I don’t want to give anything away but I felt that Professor Layton forgave the Masked Gentleman way too easily.

The game play is the same as any other in the series.  You travel around the city solving puzzles.  Each one you solve awards you with a point system called picarats.  The more you collect the more bonuses you can unlock.  You also have to complete three mini-games in order to unlock more puzzles in the bonus section.  Oh, and you can participate in a horse racing mini-game which I actually enjoyed even though it had no point.  There are also these puzzles in the past where Layton and Randall explore the ruins of an ancient civilization while avoiding mummies and giant boulders.  This was my favorite part of the game because we truly get to see Layton in his natural habitat.  Yes, I am well aware that archaeologists in real life don’t avoid mummies and run away from giant boulders but for once, the game came across as less like Sherlock Holmes and more like Indiana Jones.

This game is exciting and challenging.  I give it 7 out of 10; despite a few plot issues, I truly enjoyed it.

Awakening: The Sunhook Spire (

After finding her parents in a cursed sleep, Queen Sophia sets out to find the Enchantress for a cure.  Along the way, she encounters treacherous mercenaries and must find her way through Sunhook Spire.

The plot is simple, Sophia has to navigate a treacherous land and save the Sunhook Spire from an evil wizard.  One thing I did like about this game is that instead of leaving Sophia as a princess with the excuse that since her parents are in a deep sleep she hasn’t truly earned the right to rule, they just promote her to queen.  The reason I liked this development is because too often when a franchise has royalty as the leader, there’s always an excuse about why they’re still a princess.

The game play is not all that different from the last games in the series.  You go around collecting items to add in your inventory.  Some items will require you to participate in hidden object scenes.  If you’re stuck, use a hint in the form of Sophia’s owl companion.  The collector’s edition includes extra bonus footage.

This game is beautiful yet boring.  I give it 3 out of 10; I wasn’t in a hidden object mood when I was playing it.

Death Pages: Ghost Library (

When three teenagers make a trip to the library to study for a big test, the former owner kidnaps their souls and plants them into one of Shakespeare’s classics, Romeo and Juliet.  Now you must save their lives by changing the story’s tragic outcomes.

The plot is actually far more simplistic than you might think.  The main reason being that the plot of Romeo and Juliet in the game doesn’t stick to the actual story.  In the play, Paris, Juliet’s suitor, is portrayed as the more stable match for Juliet as opposed to Romeo.  In the game, Paris is portrayed as an evil man with only his own interests at heart.  In one scene, your job is to show this to Juliet’s father.  I’d hate to give away spoilers but despite the fact that you give Juliet’s father evidence that Paris wants to kill him, he still forces Juliet to marry Paris.  I don’t know about you, but I’m calling way too dumb to live.

The game play is hidden object with one unusual twist.  Instead of collecting random objects from a list, you put objects back together.  You still collect inventory items and can use the hint button when you get stuck.  Believe me, you will be stuck very often.  Did I mention that you get a list of tasks that you have to accomplish instead of a journal that details your adventure?

The Collector’s Edition comes with wallpapers, concept art and added game play.  This time, you explore Dorian Gray’s mansion while still gathering items from the library and Verona.  The story is that Juliet’s trapped in Dorian Gray’s mansion while you have to help Romeo rescue her.  Anyone who’s read The Picture of Dorian Gray will appreciate the irony.

This game was more disappointing than it was horrible, just like Star Wars Episode 3.  I give it 3 out of 10; an interesting premise that was executed poorly.

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva (

When Professor Layton’s former student, Janice Quatlane, invites him and his apprentice, Luke, to watch her opera, they end up trapped in an elaborate game.  The rules, solve each puzzle before time runs out and win eternal life, or suffer instant death.

You’re probably wondering when you missed this installment in the Layton games and you actually didn’t because it’s a movie.  Now you’re wondering why I’m reviewing it if it’s not a video game and the answer is simple, I’m expanding my repertoire to include books, movies and so on but there’s a catch.  It has to be based off of a video game because that is my area of concern.  Now you’re probably thinking that since it’s a movie based off of a video game it must suck and you couldn’t be more wrong.

The main problem with video game movies is that during the adaptation process, they tend to remove what it was that made the video game great.  This one only removed the elements of the games that were unnecessary, such as the mini-games and the random people giving you puzzles out on the street, and stays true to the essence of the series, the puzzles.  They are numbered in the exact same way that they are in the games and the timer is the puzzle music that plays in the games.  Just like in the games, they show pictured credits of what happened to the characters and if you’re patient enough to sit through it all, you get to watch the true ending.  Oh, and since this is a flashback, expect to see cameos of all of your favorite characters.

The plot revolves around the game at the Crown Petone Opera House that Layton and Luke find themselves trapped in while Emmy gathers clues on land.  Another element of the movie is a legend about the lost city of Ambrosia where its people await the return of their queen.  I can’t give away too much so all I can say is that the ending wraps everything up in true Professor Layton style.

This movie is a must see for fans of the Professor Layton games.  I give it 8 out of 10; not sure if you’d enjoy it as much if you don’t like the games.

Family Tales: The Sisters (

You return to your family home only to discover that your sister, Anna, has been part of a ruthless experiment to bring the Dark Lord into our world.  Now you must go to the world he resides in and save your sister.

Trust me, much more boring than it sounds.  You’d think it wouldn’t be with the alternate dimensions and a dark lord but the only part of the game I was looking forward to was when the game would end.  It just goes to show no matter how interesting your plot sounds, if you can’t deliver it right it’s going to suck.

The game play was probably what ruined it for me.  You go from room to room collecting objects and using them in various locations.  Some require you to partake in hidden object scenes. 

You can use a hint when you’re stuck and believe me you’ll be using it quite often.

This game had potential that was quickly shattered.  I give it 0 out of 10; any game where the only part you’re excited about is the end credits is an instant failure.

Final Fantasy VII (

When Cloud Strife returns to Midgar, Avalanche pays him to help them destroy a MAKO reactor built by a company called Shinra.  Unfortunately, Cloud’s past is starting to catch up with him.  Can Avalanche save the Planet from Shinra and help Cloud face the demons from his past?

First things first, for those of you who haven’t played the game, there will be spoilers in this review.  I finally beat this game and it only took me years, literally.  When I was younger, I had a short attention span and I had a tendency to start the game over when it became too difficult.  The only reason I returned to it is because I wanted to start the whole Kingdom Hearts series from scratch so I decided to watch the Disney movies and play the Final Fantasy games associated with each one.  At first, I was just going through the scenes I’ve watched over a hundred times when I was a kid and just completing it for the sake of Kingdom Hearts.  Then I got to one powerful scene and I was immediately hooked.

When we first play the game, we’re introduced to Cloud, the man who helps commit an act of terrorism for money.  At first, he seems like the kind of guy we imagine ourselves to be, an ex-member of an elite army and a no-nonsense type of guy who can wield a huge sword without breaking a sweat. 

Then we continue playing and we discover that Cloud can be summed up in one word, failure.  When he was a kid, he bragged about how he was going to be in SOLDIER and instead was turned down because his body didn’t react well to the process.  Not only that, but he’s also a clone that the scientists of Shinra labeled as a failure.  While this might make Cloud out to be a liar, he actually believed everything he said.  What happened was that the cloning process went wrong and his memories were fused with Zack’s, a man who is everything Cloud wanted to be.  Even when Cloud and Zack escape, the Shinra guards only kill the latter and leave the former alive because he’s not important.  To me, when Cloud started to question his views of reality, that was when I started playing the game not as research for Kingdom Hearts but just to see what would happen later on.  Cloud went from being the person we want to be to the one that we actually are.  That doesn’t mean that Cloud isn’t a heroic character because in the end he decides that none of that matters and continues to lead the group on the quest.

Two other characters are Tifa and Aeris, both possible love interests for Cloud.  Tifa is the bartender with a skill for martial arts and an optimistic attitude yet has trouble admitting her feelings for Cloud.  Aeris is the flirtatious flower girl with a strong spirit and the last surviving member of a race called The Ancients.  When I was a kid, I was constantly getting into fights with a friend on Quizilla about who was better between Aeris and Tifa.  She argued Aeris because she’s strong-willed and determined to beat Sephiroth.  I argued Tifa because she can kick the bad guys’ asses.  I also hated that the childhood friend was ignored while the new girl came out of nowhere.  Now that I play the game, I see that it wasn’t that Cloud didn’t notice Tifa, he just wasn’t sure she liked him while Aeris he was absolutely sure about.  Not to mention that while Tifa might know martial arts, she has a seriously co-dependent personality regarding Cloud.  She wants him to live up to a promise he made years ago and is more concerned about his well-being than she is about the group.  While Aeris does like Cloud, she puts the regard of The Planet above him and is willing to put her life on the line to save it.  Though her death wasn’t very powerful for me because I had a habit of looking ahead to see spoilers and I knew it was coming. 

Plus, I never really got past Disc 1 when I was a kid.

I’ve mentioned Avalanche destroying MAKO reactors that Shinra creates but I haven’t really explained why.  According to Barrett, their leader, MAKO is the energy used by Shinra and it’s killing The Planet.  So his group blows them up to save it.  This is an act of environmental terrorism and the game admits this in the form of Cait Sith, who calls Barrett out on this at the end of the game.  It turns out Barrett’s reasons were solely for revenge and saying that he’s saving The Planet was his way of justifying all the innocent lives he’s taken.

Speaking of Cait Sith, when he first appeared I’ll admit that I didn’t really like him.  I thought the whole concept of a robotic cat on a stuffed moogle while the owner is safely at Shinra Headquarters was absolutely ridiculous.  They even got to the scene where he has to recite the spell to turn the Ancient’s Temple into Black Materia and everyone acts like it’s some heroic sacrifice while all that’s getting crushed is a glorified cell phone that could easily be replaced.  It wasn’t until he calls Barrett out on his terrorism that I actually started to see Cait Sith as part of the cast.

Another character I thought was ridiculous at first was Red XIII, though he didn’t take as long to grow on me.  When we’re introduced to him, he’s a big four-legged cat and one of the Shinra scientist’s, Hojo’s, project.  At first, he seems like something to show how sick Hojo is by trying to force Red XIII and Aeris to mate on the grounds that they are both endangered species.  At first, they only show Aeris’s disgust but when Red XIII knocks Hojo out, he’s just as much of a victim because he doesn’t like humanoid species, well not in that way.  Then we go to his hometown and discover the origin of his species.  So I didn’t really think of him as a talking animal as much as I did an alien race.

Just like in every Final Fantasy game since the second one, this one also has an appearance by the famous Cid.  Only in this one, he’s a playable character with his own hopes and dreams.  He wants to go into space and his dream was destroyed by Shinra.  He blames a worker of his for destroying his dream due to the fact that she stayed behind to continue the repairs.  It’s not until near the end that he has to acknowledge that she was right.

In addition to these characters, you can also unlock two secret ones named Yuffie and Vincent.  The former being a materia hunting ninja and the latter being a former member of Shinra.  Both of them come with side quests that help you discover more about their pasts.

Of course, no story is complete without a great villain and this one is no exception. 

The main one is not Shinra but a former member of SOLDIER named Sephiroth.  At first, he seems like the standard villain but as you get deeper and deeper into the game you realize that he is another experiment of Hojo’s gone wrong.  When he learned the truth behind his origins, he hates Shinra and the rest of The Planet.  Some of Sephiroth’s appeal is that he has a long black cape and comes with his own theme song.

The game play is every bit as amazing as the story.  You travel throughout the world going to various locations in order to complete the game.  During this, you unlock random battles with a system where you can attack when the bar for each character fills up. 

You can equip your characters with the best weapons and armor available for them and can also fill the slots on your equipment with materia.  Materia is an item that gives you special abilities for each character, such as magic and summoning spells.  As you complete each battle, you can level up your characters.  There is another bar for each character that fills up depending on how much damage you take.  When the bar’s full, you can use a special attack that allows you to make your battles easier.  You can also visit towns in order to buy items, equipment and materia to suit your needs.  Oh, and you can also rest up at an inn and save your game at the world map and at a save point.  Also, the game is so long that they had to separate it into three discs.

As I said earlier, this game does come with side quests.  Some help you delve further into the story, others allow you to obtain the most powerful limit breaks for your characters and the rest are just there for bragging rights.  Two of my favorite side quests are the chocobo breeding and the battle square.  At first, I wasn’t going to participate in the latter but I decided to get Cloud’s final limit break, which I’m glad I did. 

The chocobo one I just like because of my fondness for animals and having something that could travel anywhere with no limits whatsoever seemed pretty cool.

This game is addictive and intriguing.  I give it 9 out of 10; an oldie but goodie.

Stray Souls: Stolen Memories (

A young wife and mother goes to a creepy town to save her husband and daughter.  The only guide she has is a doll that needs to be restored to full power in order to defeat the evil of the town she explores.

This plot is exactly like the first one except for the addition of a daughter and having to restore the doll to full power with a sword, shield and cape.  In other words, not a whole lot to say about it.

The game play is exactly the same as the first one.  You go from location to location collecting objects to advance through the story.  If you’re stuck, use a hint.  You also can buy additional footage that allows you to see how the whole mess started in the first place.

This game is creepy and addictive.   I give it 6 out of 10; not a bad waste of your time.