“Final Fantasy XIII” (rated T, $60 on PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360): After nearly five years, Square Enix’s flagship franchise finally arrives on the PS3 and 360. Plotwise, it’s the standard fare of a band of misfits teaming up to save the world, but the gameplay has been shaken up pretty radically. For one thing, the first 20 or 30 hours are pretty linear. There are no towns and little exploration. You’re basically playing a movie, although to a certain extent that’s always been true of the “Final Fantasy” series. While I have a review copy of the game, I haven’t had a lot of time to sit down with it yet. I did, however, spend a couple of hours trying out the battle system and interviewing some of the game’s developers last month in San Francisco. The game also gets bonus points for having a female lead character, a relative rarity in role-playing games.
“Deadly Premonition” (rated M, $20 on Xbox 360): This game came out a few weeks ago and flew completely under my radar, that is until I saw Destructoid gave it a 10 out of 10. In what might be my favorite video game review of all time, Jim Sterling called “Premonitions” “a virtual zoo of strangeness” featuring “(g)as mask-wearing ‘mysterious capitalists’ who only communicate through rhyming servants, creepy angel twins who speak in riddles, crossdressers, killers and half-mad war veterans.” Sterling’s review, combined with the fact that IGN gave it a 20 out of 100 and my own love for “Twin Peaks” (whose influence is all over “Premonition”), made it a must-buy. If anything is a love-it-or-hate-it game, though, it’s “Deadly Premonition,” with its PlayStation 2-quality graphics and clunky controls. If you even think you might like it after reading Sterling’s review, you might as well pick it up. It’ll only cost you a Jackson.
“Yakuza 3” (rated M, $60 on PS3): This action-adventure title about the Japanese criminal underworld took its sweet time arriving in the U.S., and it does so shorn of many of its more Japanese gameplay elements. (Minigames based on mahjong and managing a club of hostess girls were among the features publisher Sega didn’t feel would resonate with Western players.) “Yakuza 3” plays like a Japanese version of the “Grand Theft Auto” games, with elements of Japanese role-playing games thrown in for good measure.
“Mega Man 10” (rated E, $10 on PlayStation Network or WiiWare): This retro-style platform-jumping game follows on the heels of the successful “Mega Man 9” and has been slowly making its way to the three consoles’ download services. (An Xbox 360 release is set for later in the month.)
“Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II — Chaos Rising” (rated M, $30 on PC): This expansion to the popular sci-fi real-time strategy series has an obscenely convoluted title. But Videogamer.com says this title might be the best single-player RTS campaign yet created. That’s good enough for me.
“Scrap Metal” (rated E10+, $15 Xbox Live Arcade download): I tried out this top-down arcade-style racing game from the two-man team who created “N+” last month at Microsoft’s X10 event in San Francisco and came away impressed. At its best, Slick Entertainment’s power-up heavy demolition derby reminded me of playing “R.C. Pro-Am” on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Yeah, the $15 price tag might be a little steep when you consider some of the great $10 downloads out there, but if you’re at all a fan of arcade-style racing, download the demo and keep it on your radar for a possible sale-priced pickup down the road.
“Resident Evil 5” (rated M, $60 on Xbox 360 or PS3): The “Gold Edition,” out this week, becomes the definitive version of this game from last year for those who haven’t already bought the survival horror shooter, but those who already own the game should give this special edition a pass. While the package includes all the downloadable content for the game, it does it by providing codes so you can download the add-ons for free. In other words, the game disc for this special edition bundle doesn’t include anything not on the original “RE5” disc. Also, if you have an Xbox 360 Arcade unit and no hard drive, you’ll be unable to play the extra content. Consider yourself warned.
“Pokemon HeartGold” and “Pokeman SoulSilver” (rated E, $40 on DS): These remakes of the first two Game Boy Color “Pokemon” games will go over big both with younger players and older fans of the series looking to scratch that nostalgic itch. Both games come with the Pokewalker, a special pedometer that helps you level up a critter of your choice as you walk around. Cool.
“Braid” (rated E10+, $15 download on PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, $10 download on PC): What better game to play on a weekend where you lose an hour to sleep than a platform-jumping game that lets you manipulate time?
What I’m playing this weekend: This was supposed to be the weekend of writing up what I saw at last week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, as well as the weekend of catching up on some video games that have been sitting on my shelf. Instead, it’s turned into the weekend of sleeping and blowing my nose, as walking around in the rain between GDC appointments seems to have done me in. I did, however, manage to play a couple of hours of “Borderlands” on Friday night and start to catch up on “Heavy Rain” on Saturday. More “Heavy Rain” will likely follow tonight, along with perhaps a bit of “Major League Baseball 2K10” and even some “Deadly Premonition.” I expect some “Final Fantasy XIII” will be in order, too.