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Love letter to JRPG golden age has great combat but retro graphics highlight the genre’s tedium • The Register



The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. 2021 continues to move slowly for the world’s biggest entertainment industry and while we did ask Square Enix for a copy of new looter-shooter Outriders, they blanked us. So instead we are picking up a style of game Square is better known for – Octopath Traveler, originally a Nintendo Switch exclusive now on PC.

The release of Final Fantasy VII in 1997 was a bit of a watershed moment for ’80s kids. The main character, Cloud Strife, gazed out moodily from the covers of various PlayStation and gaming magazines for months on end, and we all thought his ridiculous, spiky blond hair and oversized sword were cool as heck. Pretty much everyone who was lucky enough to own Sony’s first console grabbed the game, and it continues to hold a special place in the hearts of many.

If you live under a rock, Final Fantasy is pretty much the definitive JRPG (Japanese roleplaying game), a distinct take on the genre mainly characterised by turn-based squad combat, walking about pressing “A” on people and things, and reading a lot of dialogue.

Looking over Asphodel

Rogue elements: Hades and Loop Hero manage to draw on the same legacy while having very little in common


VII was a big deal because it was the first 3D game under the Final Fantasy banner. Not that we knew it at the time. In fact, the question of what happened to Final Fantasy I, II, III, IV, V, and VI was something asked retrospectively via Gameboy, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) emulators on our craptops years later.

Square – nowadays better known as Square Enix – had steadily been plying its trade since 1987 but it took VII to make 10-year-olds pay attention. More 3D titles followed: VIII and IX also on the PlayStation, X and XII on the PlayStation 2 (XI was an MMO and doesn’t count as a mainline entry), XIII on the PS3 and Xbox 360 (XIV was another MMO), right up to XV in 2016 on Xbox One, PS4, and Windows. The remake of VII also landed in 2020. This doesn’t include numerous spin-offs, sequels, and side games for various portable platforms.

At this point you might be wondering how they could keep a series going for so long, but each game featured a different setting and self-contained story, barring X and XIII‘s sequels, as well as the “Fabula Nova Crystallis” games (including XIII and XV) which claim to share a “common mythos”. However, the cliff notes were the same – heavy ladles of dialogue and story, turn-based combat, and pressing “A” a lot – with a few unique mechanics and systems thrown in each time.

But Final Fantasy wasn’t Square’s only JRPG franchise. Equal measures of nostalgia surround games like Chrono Trigger, Breath of Fire, and Secret of Mana. Even Nintendo’s Mario was given the Square treatment with Super Mario RPG on the SNES in 1996.

All the games were beautiful in their own way, particularly those on the SNES, which made the most of the 16-bit generation’s capabilities with cutesy sprites and colourful top-down-ish environments. Which brings us to Octopath Traveler and what appears to be Square Enix’s attempt to rekindle that old flame with a couple of modern twists.

A trap waits to be sprung by the thief Therion

A trap waits to be sprung by the thief Therion

Octopath originally came out as an exclusive for the Nintendo Switch in 2018. Now, I don’t own a Switch – not for lack of trying during the first lockdown – but as someone who chipped away at Square’s historic RPGs on emulators as a teen, I am very much part of the target audience. In 2019, the game finally came to PC, and this month 50 per cent was knocked off the astonishing asking price (£49.99!!!) on Steam. Since it came heavily recommended by a friend, I decided to take a look.

Primrose endures years of indignities in her search for revenge

Primrose endures years of indignities in her search for revenge

Octopath is a throwback to classic Final Fantasy in all but name. The game is set on a continent named Orsterra and the opening moments have the player choosing from one of eight characters scattered across the realm’s map. Each character fulfils a separate class or role, like mage, cleric or warrior, and each has their own origin story to play through. It doesn’t matter which one you pick as you’ll have to add each to your party as the game progresses, giving you a chance to see every playable character’s motivations, though certain choices make the first chapter a little easier.

From forest to desert to snow-capped mountains, Octopath has lots of different environments

From forest to desert to snow-capped mountains, Octopath has lots of different environments

Cyrus is a knowledge-obsessed mage who leaves his academy in pursuit of a forbidden tome that has disappeared from the archives; Ophilia is a healer-class cleric forced to embark on a pilgrimage in the place of her adoptive sister; Therion is a thief tricked into recovering long-lost treasures for a wealthy family; H’aanit is a hunter who leaves her village to rescue her mentor from a foul beast; Alfyn is an apothecary who wants to roam the world helping people like a healer who saved him as a child; Primrose is a noble disguised as a dancing girl who seeks vengeance for her father’s assassination; Olberic is a disgraced hedge knight who finds a path to redemption after the killing of his king; and Tressa is a merchant who simply wants to see more of the world outside her hometown.

Caves and dungeons often precede important battles

Caves and dungeons often precede important battles

Phew. They aren’t the most original or interesting premises ever written, but the storylines become increasingly interlinked as you plod through each chapter. This, we assume, is the titular “octopath”. Like Final Fantasy, don’t expect this to be a 20-hour job – that’s about as long as it takes to collect the full eight-man complement. With four chapters per character and an endgame hiding secret classes and bosses, Octopath could be anywhere from 50 to 100 hours long depending on your ability to grasp the combat mechanics and blend classes and abilities.

A typical boss plus minions encounter – shield shows protection levels and the squares below weaknesses

A typical boss-plus-minions encounter – shield shows protection levels and the squares below weaknesses

Although 80 per cent of the game is wandering around and spamming “A” or whatever the key binding might be through reams of frankly quite tedious exposition or dialogue, the battles are where Octopath shines – and they’re no walk in the park either.

As for those “unique mechanics” I mentioned, Octopath employs a weakness system where enemies and monsters have layers of protections vulnerable only to a handful of weapons or spells. Once these shields have been worn down, the enemy is weak to everything you throw at it, and figuring out how to exploit these flaws across multiple enemies with differing vulnerabilities at the same time is puzzle-like and exciting. There is also a cool “boost” mechanic where, if players save characters’ points each turn, they can power up attacks to do far more damage.

The '2D-HD' graphics give extra depth to each scene

The ‘2D-HD’ graphics give extra depth to each scene

Unfortunately, catering to nostalgia can only go so far. The developers refer to their neo-retro look as “HD-2D”, which is a little reminiscent of what the Valheim and Touryst (also first a Switch exclusive) teams have done – sprinkling advanced lighting and particle effects on top of some quite basic underlying graphics. The character sprites could have been lifted from Final Fantasy VI, but the environments are 3D polygonal. While pretty, the novelty wears off and soon it feels like you may as well be playing a SNES title.

There’s nothing wrong with that in itself, but if you compare Octopath Traveler with the also story-heavy Final Fantasy XV, the latter’s stunning visual fidelity makes the onerous and complex plot a lot easier to swallow. Octopath lacks any such benefits, and at many points I wanted to skip through the constant yakking and reading just so I could get to some battles or a boss fight. A lot of the dialogue is fully voiced in the game’s more dramatic scenes, but after a while characters fall back to spouting little grunts, groans or phrases, leaving you to read what they’re actually meant to be saying.

Come the second chapter, characters actually start to acknowledge each other's existence

Come the second chapter, characters actually start to acknowledge each other’s existence

And that means a lot of pressing “A” while not much is happening. That said, dedicated JRPG fanatics chasing a hit of nostalgia will have already completed Octopath Traveler years ago, but for everyone else huge doses of patience are required – otherwise the game can be rather annoying and certainly isn’t worth paying full price. ®


Rich streams on Twitch as ExcellentSword every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 8:30pm UK time. Column subjects usually end up on stream, so chuck him a follow to see how the games actually play, have a chat, or simply marvel at his luxuriant, golden beard.

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Alex Gallagher: the 10 funniest things I have ever seen (on the internet) | Comedy



There’s no way of dressing it up or making it out to be a more noble, onerous pursuit than it is: I am deeply online.

In the decade and a half that I’ve been plugged into the mainframe I’ve increasingly developed a concerning Pavlovian response to the internet, wherein joy is analogous to whatever cursed content my cyber-spelunking has managed to unearth that day.

Captivated, like the dog I am, salivating shamelessly as a faceless multinational corporation’s Twitter account posts the Bernie Sanders mittens meme, or a gang of millionaire celebrities team up to sing a John Lennon song together, or a new round of passionate Twitter discourse erupts over whether or not charcuterie boards are a tool of classism. Ring ring, the bell sounds, and my little dopamine bar is topped up. The clock resets.

Obviously, we don’t have time to process any of that in a constructive sense here and now. But, silver linings being what they are, I can at least show you some of the things that have made living on the internet for most of my adult life a less (or more, as may be the case) nightmarish journey through the abyss. Enjoy.

1. Conservative lecturer DESTROYS SJW college student

I love Jeremy Levick and Rajat Suresh, a pair of comedians and writers who make a lot of very funny, absurd content together. The crème de la crème, in my mind, is this video, which skewers the swathes of pro-conservative clips on YouTube in which we’re promised we’ll get to witness a masterly rightwing thinker obliterate a snivelling progressive worm through the power of logic. Define “special mouse”.

2. Dueling Carls

There’s a great and storied lineage of internet video built around the basic conceit that it’s funny when you make voice technology descend into fits of unintelligible screaming. Dueling Carls works on this very simple premise but has a huge and almost instantaneous payoff. You’ll probably want to turn your speakers down a little for this one.

3. Fake Tim Winton

Fake Tim Winton is a gift to Australian literature, a playful parody of the Cloudstreet author’s fondness for larrikinism, the beach, and coastal towns with terrible secrets. I think the best part about @timmwinto’s tweets are they honestly don’t require any prior knowledge of Winton’s work to be funny. All you need is to open your heart to the musings of a regular bloke who just wants to write his novels and ride his waves in a community reeling from a shocking crime that threatens to tear it apart.

4. Grimes’ pregnancy diet video

Harper’s Bazaar have a video series called Food Diaries where they get celebrities to talk about everything they eat in a day. Most of them are fairly boring – famous people trying extremely hard to be relatable and missing the mark completely. Electronic musician and genuine weirdo Grimes makes no such attempt in hers, and it’s an absolute blessing. Highlights include the revelation she ate nothing but spaghetti for two years, and the recipe for a truly cursed dish she says she invented called “sludge”.

5. Patricia Lockwood’s @parisreview tweet

Patricia Lockwood is a great poet and author whose recent book No One Is Talking About This is excellent, particularly if you are Extremely Online. You might also know Lockwood from her very popular “You kick Miette” tweet. I can understand why that’s the one that sticks with a lot people, but the simplicity of this one, from 2013, makes it for me.

6. Bin Laden has won

You may know Richard Dawkins for being a (fairly insufferable) atheist, but what you might not know is that he’s also – completely unintentionally – a master poster. Just this month he got gloriously dunked on after basically admitting he doesn’t understand the point of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis . In this 2013 tweet, we witness Dawkins’ assertion that “Bin Laden has won” because he had to throw out a jar of honey at an airport. It’s enough to make you restore your faith in a higher power.

7. Donald Trump claims to have beaten Pokémon despite not “catching them all”

Predictably, Donald Trump’s presidency prompted swaths of comedians to devise convoluted bits where they impersonated him, from Sarah Cooper’s viral videos to Alec Baldwin’s SNL character. These were almost all terrible, something I attribute to the fact there’s actually very little comedy to mine from hammering home the point that Trump’s views and policies were horrific, something so obvious it’s kind of low-hanging fruit. James Austin Johnson takes a different direction in his impersonations. Instead, here is nearly four straight minutes of the former President of the United States complaining about there being too many Pokémon.

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8. I see something Lynchian

This tweet by writer and performer Walker Caplan has stuck with me since I saw it earlier this year, and I’ve probably referenced it in conversation half a dozen times. As a painfully stubborn nightmare of a person, “[getting angry and lying]” hits me deep in my bones.


There’s no way I could write a list like this without including @dril – the OG, the king, the account that taught me I could be weird (on Twitter dot com). There are too many incredible tweets to choose from, but this gets me every single time.

10. Hannibal Buress’ Morpheus

At this point in my life I’ve seen Hannibal Buress’ Morpheus skit from The Eric Andre Show a thousand times and it still makes me laugh. There are few things one can be truly certain of in this random and perplexing hell world, but I know with total confidence that “seashells by the seashore-pheus” will live in my brain rent-free for the rest of my life.

Alex Gallagher is a writer, journalist and poet who lives on the internet. Follow them on Twitter at @lexgallagher.

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School teacher accused of pocketing $1m+ in insider trading using tips from Silicon Valley pal • The Register



A teacher who knew too much about some of Silicon Valley’s financial figures has been charged with insider dealing by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, along with five alleged accomplices.

Benjamin Wylam, a high school teacher and sports bookmaker, has been charged with participating in an insider trading ring, allegedly said on an internet message board that “insider trading is part of my investment strategy.”

Wylam, according to a complaint [PDF] filed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, is one of six men accused of making stock trades based on non-public financial information from Silicon Valley companies.

“In 2016 and 2017, Defendants Nathaniel Brown, Benjamin Wylam, Naveen Sood, Marcus Bannon, Matthew Rauch, and Naresh Ramaiya engaged in an insider trading scheme involving the securities of Infinera Corporation and Fortinet, Inc,” the complaint says. “As a result of the scheme, Defendants obtained nearly $1.7m in illegal profits and losses avoided.”

During this period, according to the SEC complaint, Wylam, a resident of San Jose, received repeated tips about the financial performance of Infinera from Brown, a friend who served as Infinera’s revenue recognition manager at the time.

Wylam, said to have made more than $1m from insider trading, allegedly passed his information to Sood, who is also alleged to have made stock trades based on the non-public data.

Sood, it’s claimed, passed on the information to Bannon, Rauch, and Ramaiya, who subsequently made stock trades based on the non-public data. According to the SEC, Sood owed Wylam a gambling debt in excess of $100,000.

Bannon, while an employee of Fortinet in October 2016, is said to have tipped Sood, Wylam, and Ramaiya to unexpected negative earnings news about his employer before the information became public.

“Using sophisticated data analysis, the SEC was able to uncover this insider trading ring and hold each of its participants accountable to ensure the integrity of our markets,” said Joseph Sansone, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Market Abuse Unit, in a statement.

The SEC did not immediately respond to a request to elaborate on its data analysis techniques.

Bannon, Rauch, and Ramaiya, without admitting or denying the SEC claims, have agreed to settle by paying civil penalties of $281,497, $128,230, and $65,780, respectively. Sood has also agreed to settle the charges by paying a civil penalty of $178,320.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California is simultaneously pursuing criminal securities fraud charges against Brown, Wylam, and Sood.

Sood, according to the USAO, pleaded guilty on March 31, 2021, and his plea, accepted by US District Judge Edward Chen, was unsealed on Tuesday.

Wylam’s legal representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment; court filings haven’t yet made Brown’s legal representative known. Both men are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. ®

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4 Galway companies to compete in global medtech competition



MedTech Innovator has selected 50 companies to take part in its annual showcase, highlighting future innovators in the medical field.

The international MedTech Innovator competition this week announced its selection of 50 leading medical device, diagnostic and digital health start-ups from nearly 1,100 applications.

Of the 50 start-ups selected for the non-profit contest, four companies are based in Galway, Ireland.

Atrian Medical, Lifelet Medical, Neurent Medical and Tympany Medical are the four Irish start-ups that will be participating. The programme, taking place virtually, commenced on Tuesday (15 June), when the leadership of the 50 chosen start-ups participated in the annual MedTech Innovator Summit.

During this online event, the selected companies collaborated with MedTech Innovator’s partners, participating in virtual networking events and interactive workshops.

A subset of 25 early-stage companies will participate in MedTech Innovator’s award-winning accelerator programme, in which medtech start-ups are matched with senior industry leaders to receive continual in-depth, customised mentorship and support, as well as being eligible to compete for scholarships and cash prizes. Atrian, Lifelet and Tympany have all been selected as participants in this accelerator.

Galway’s medtech innovators

The four Irish companies chosen by MedTech Innovator represent broad approaches to the medical field. They have been selected among start-ups from the US, the UK, France, The Netherlands, Belgium and Israel.

Atrian Medical has developed non-invasive techniques for treating atrial fibrillation. This restores the heart’s steady rhythm through targeting neuronal cells in clusters known as ganglionated plexi.

While most treatments for this heart condition involve ablation (both burning and freezing), this start-up aims to permanently disable errant signals.

Also working on the heart is Lifelet Medical. By developing a fully synthetic polymer-based material, Lifelet is working to provide new heart valve replacements. The company hopes to improve clinical outcomes, achieve increased valve durability and reduce the carbon footprint involved in the process.

In doing so, they aim to improve the lives of the millions of patients suffering from heart valve disease.

Next is Neurent Medical – a start-up that has designed the Neuromark system for addressing rhinitis.

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Rhinitis is a disease of the nose that is characterised by persistent symptoms of nasal congestion, nasal discharge (rhinorrhoea), sneezing, postnasal drainage, and numerous other symptoms that have a large impact on the patient’s overall quality of life and wellbeing.

The Neuromark system applies controlled low-power radio frequency energy to target regions of the nasal cavity. In doing so, it aims to disrupt the parasympathetic nerve signals and halt the inflammatory response, thereby eliminating core symptoms such as congestion and rhinorrhoea.

As nearly one out of four rhinitis sufferers develops new respiratory comorbidity – including new allergen sensitivity, sinusitis, and asthma – Neurent Medical researchers hope to considerably reduce the burden on the healthcare system through this innovation.

Finally, Tympany Medical is developing new sterile panoramic endoscope technology.

Endoscopes are typically long, thin tubes with a light source and camera attached to their tip. They are used to provide an internal view of the body’s structures and organs.

By considering issues in the usability and flexibility of existing devices, Tympany hopes to enable a new generation of minimally invasive ear surgery.

MedTech Innovator showcase

These four Irish companies will participate in a four-month programme that culminates in The MedTech Conference from 27 to 30 September, where all 50 companies will present in showcase panels.

During the conference, five start-ups from the accelerator cohort will compete for the Execution Award, and another five companies will advance to compete in the grand final.

An audience vote will determine the winner of the $350,000 grand prize and the title of 2021 MedTech Innovator. Additional awards will be presented, including incubator space at JLABS.

“Our goal at MedTech Innovator is to find the most promising medical innovations and make sure they actually reach the patients who need them,” said Paul Grand, CEO of MedTech Innovator.

“We are thrilled with the calibre of the start-ups participating in this year’s cohort and we look forward to providing them with the resources and mentorship they need to succeed.”

The MedTech Innovator competition is supported in its review and feedback by its partners, including Johnson & Johnson, Baxter and Olympus Medical Systems Group.

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