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Bravely Default: Flying Fairy Trailer [GO/ER]
Sep 25th, 2012 by Dan

Dumb name: check.
Fantasy setting: check.
Final Fantasy wrapper: …Wait a minute…

Here’s the thing about Squeenix: They’ve been in something of a creative rut. Other RPG devs are just running circles around them (see Atlus’ Persona games for reference) and they need to do something. Perhaps publishing another studio’s game is the right idea. It’s got a job system, which is always intriguing, but we’ll see how this shakes out and whether or not it even makes it to the states. Can you imagine trying to sell a game with that title?

E3 2012 – Agni’s Philosophy: A Final Fantasy Tech Demo [GO/ER]
Jun 7th, 2012 by Dan

Check out Squeenix’s new graphics engine. Very pretty. Now if only they could start producing popular, modern RPGs again…

Another Tomb Raider Trailer [GO/ER]
Jun 4th, 2012 by Dan

It’s clear that Eidos/Squeenix is taking a TON of inspiration from the Uncharted series, but this trailer does feature a distressing amount of violence toward women. It’s kind of grimy feeling to watch, but this game could be very interesting to play.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 Impressions [GO]
Feb 21st, 2012 by Dan

Final Fantasy XIII-2

The enjoyable paradigm system returns for the sequel. (Photo courtesy 289chjl)

Man, oh man…If I asked you which Final Fantasy game you were most hoping for a sequel to, would you have said XIII? No, of course not. I wrote quite the lengthy post about how Squeenix should have allowed the complete destruction of mankind in the ending of XIII and I also gave them far more credit than most did as to the story and themes of the game. Since they didn’t kill everyone, they had the chance to make a sequel and…I’m not annoyed by it. I like the way that the story is handling time travel, even if it seems disconnected and/or sometimes characters say contradicting things in back-to-back lines.

Like it or not, I’m invested in the silly world they built for FF XIII and I like seeing how it changes from present to future. The overarching story makes zero sense, mind you, mostly because the plot coupons make no sense. We need artefacts (their spelling, not mine. I know it’s spelled wrong) to travel through time, but the artefacts have no real connection to anything. They’re just hunks of crystal. Shouldn’t they be anachronistic items that make sense instead of anachronistic hunks of rock?

Anyway, my impressions are below. I need to get those out before I get too crazy about the lore of XIII-2. Typing that sentence made my head hurt…

Show, don’t tell! You have the most advanced cinematics ever seen with photo-realistic faces and you have to tell us that Lightning is confused or wondering “What’s he up to?” SHOW! Anyone who actually talked during battle as much as she does would be insanely annoying.

– Was anyone saying, “You know what FF XIII was missing? Quick Time Events!” I’m pretty sure they were saying that the interface is insanely cluttered already and adding in button prompts on top of the in-engine visuals will make them hard to see. People are prescient like that. Seriously though, we didn’t need these. They don’t add anything to the game.

– I still like the paradigm system, but I wish I didn’t have to start from scratch. Luckily it gets to speed relatively quickly.

– I like the “Here’s what you missed on FF XIII-2″ segments when you load a game. Helps catch you up when your story is ridiculous/makes no sense.

– Noel looks too much like Sora for me to take him seriously

Wisdom Form

Exhibit A (Photo courtesy Pendragon94)

Noel Kreiss

Exhibit B (Photo courtesy MaidenKari)

– I said it before, but it bears repeating. The spelling of artefact is obnoxious

– The Mog voice is terrible and sounds like it doesn’t fit in the mix.

– The in-engine camera angles are stupid. They don’t properly frame anything. I feel like my laziness in setting up shots before I talk to people makes for ugly scenes where a person is occupying the corner and a wall is occupying the rest of the shot. It looks bad.

– I know I said I kind of like this game, but I’m not really highlighting anything other than the paradigm system. Seeing all the old characters get old(er) has been pretty cool.

-I’m also interested in seeing how this resolves. Time travel stories are, like, my thing, haha. I want to know more about this Valhalla place and how one gets there. Finding out how it ties in with the l’Cie narrative would be neat too, considering how perfect a metaphor for video games and their characters it is.

– The way that the Pulse fal’Cie are ambivalent gods is my favorite part of them. They’re so arbitrary and mean. It’s brutal the way they manipulate humanity

– Tied in with that, the running narrative about human independence is pretty neat.

– Restricting the game to a two-person narrative shows incredible restraint. It’s a story best told with only two people, for sure.

– The monster system is ok. Not sure I dig it yet.

New Game + For Pokemon [GO]
Nov 1st, 2011 by Dan

Chrono Trigger DS Case

The first game I ever saw New Game + in and my favorite one too!

I was thinking about Pokemon this morning (like I usually do) and I was lamenting the fact that the campaigns, while fun, are hardly difficult. The hardest battles you ever face are gym leaders and the Elite Four. In later versions of the game they added in bonus bosses or battles that were more difficult and challenge rooms, but it’s all post-game stuff and it doesn’t have a real narrative tied to it (most of the time).

I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, but how much cooler would it be if they added a New Game + option with better AI on every trainer, not just gym leaders, coupled with better battle teams. It would be so much more fun if you didn’t face a guy with six Magicarp that he thinks are so awesome. How are those battles even fun, anyway?

Squeenix had it all figured out with Chrono Trigger. Beat the game once, get your standard ending and all that, but come back in NG+ with all your equipment and levels and take on a harder boss or challenge yourself to beat the game at weird times. I know for a fact that RPG devs worry about used game sales on their titles, so they feel like they have to pad them out with all kinds of cruft. Why not just include a NG+ option instead and add in a few optional bosses? Some games just add in optional bosses that require near maximum levels. The problem there is that you’re stuck grinding levels out in the endgame with no real distraction. I loved grinding out levels in Chrono Trigger by playing the campaign. It gave me something else to think about other than walking around in circles killing the same monsters over and over again.

May: You’ve Been Cheated [Fukubukuro 2010]
Jan 6th, 2011 by Dan

In their last show as a band, the Sex Pistols played one song and left the stage. Before leaving the stage, Johnny Rotten quipped, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

The thing is, I don’t feel this way for the reasons everyone else might think I might. I suppose we’ll go after the biggest point of contention first.

Linearity

“Final Fantasy XIII is The Worst Final Fantasy Ever (TM) because all the dungeons are straight lines and there are no towns.” Guess what. The non-linearity of those Final Fantasy games you all hold so dear is an illusion. Final Fantasy XIII draws so much ire because it has the gall to tell you what you already know.

I mean, really, you might be able to wander around the world man, but that doesn’t mean you get to pick what you do. The plot only advances when you go to specific places in a particular sequence (also known as a linear progression) and locations on the map are artificially locked from transit by story gates.

In fact, non-linearity is a joke across almost every video game. The main fun of any GTA game may not stem from following the story, but when you do decide to start on it, you will never be able to sequence break or do anything but follow it linearly to its conclusion. You might be able to pick which order you complete mission paths, but, with the exception of GTA IV, every event has a pre-determined outcome. If that’s not linearity, I don’t know what is.

I applaud a game that doesn’t try to conceal its story behind a veneer of faux choice. Final Fantasy games have only ever allowed choices once: The World of Ruin in FF VI. There are countless story details and sidequests to experience, but once you get Setzer, Edgar, and Sabin, you don’t have to see any of them. You’re free to grind and face Kefka at any point.

Bonus points really should be awarded to FF XIII for having the guts to let its story carry the momentum, but they are immediately lost on their failed attempt to make anything remotely interesting happen.

Foremost in my annoyance with the game is Hope’s subplot. In the first hour or so of gameplay, Snow, a big, earnest, stupid guy in the tradition of anime big, earnest, stupid guys, manages to get most of his ragtag squad killed, including Hope’s mother, standing up against the world’s government. Naturally, this infuriates Hope, who now desires revenge.

Hypothetical: A man seems directly responsible for the death of your mother. Do you:

1. Stutter and stammer every time you see him
2. Stew silently while enjoying revenge fantasies every time you see him
3. Figure out some way to confront him (in rage or otherwise) the first chance you get.

Maybe I’m being presumptuous here, but unless you’ve got some sort of emotional disorder, option three seems like the healthiest and most logical choice. Hope is all about the first two options because he is a gigantic pain in the ass.

I don’t think this is the result of some kind of cultural difference. I mean, hey, I’m not the most emotionally open person. I don’t really go around sharing my feelings with everyone I know, but I’m pretty sure that if a man were responsible for killing my mom, he’d know about it ASAP. It’s got to be a contrivance (and an annoying one). Why are characters in media so unable to just open their mouths and talk? If writers think this is an effective way to build narrative tension, then I’ve got news for them. As a rule, if your characters are forced to behave like they’ve never interacted with another human being for your plot devices to work, said devices are cripplingly contrived.

Honestly, it’s just lazy writing and it removes me from the narrative. Maybe Hope has a Deep Dark Secret that makes him act so stupidly, but we never learn about it. The game goes out of its way to say that Hope has father issues to hand-wave away his social idiocy, but when we meet Papa Hope, we’re confronted with a loving father who seems to care very deeply about his son. Did I miss something somewhere? Someone seems to have dropped the ball.

You know what, I think I know why this happened. Somewhere along the way the story gurus at Square Enix decided that many young men, their prime and target demographic, seem to have issues with their domineering fathers. Some of them wrote this detail on his character sheet. Somewhere else the scenario writers were coming up with how half of the player characters would unite and escape. They decided they’d meet at Hope’s mansion and Hope’s awesome dad would help them out. When you’ve got a game this massive and important, you’d think that these two teams would discuss these idiosyncrasies, right? How does such a glaring contradiction make it into the final build?

One of my other big “WTF?” moments comes at the end of a sequence at an amusement park. Sazh struggles with whether or not to kill the traveling companion who has betrayed him. Pretty soon after that starts, the physical manifestation of his emotional conflict attacks him. For most characters, fighting their eidolons, as they are called, brings them emotional peace allowing them to understand their path. In this case in results in Sazh deciding to commit suicide. What. The. Fuck.

Repeating this same emotional pattern six times (one for each main character!) seems like it would get old fast. It does. Suicide does not freshen the experience. It makes no sense. We all know he’s not really dead because we just unlocked his summon!

It’s a shame to see so many missteps in such a promising premise. Roll with me here. In the world of FF XIII there are two primary sentient beings: Humans and Fal’Cie (ignore the stupid name of the second species (typical Squeenix pretentious nonsense)). The FC, as I will now call them, are magical creatures specializing in producing food, power, or other more advanced functions. Unfortunately, the FC are split into two warring factions, Cocoon and Pulse. FC also have the terrifying ability to brand humans, saddling them with cryptic quests. Failing to complete these quests turns the human into a mindless monster cursed to wander the earth slowly solidifying until he finally petrifies and can no longer move. If they magage to succeed in their quest, they are transformed into crystals for eternity. Those in “crystal sleep” are not dead, but they are also not alive.

It’s the perfect deconstruction of video game protagonists. Each character has a singular purpose. Failing will result in a fate worse than death and succeeding will result in the end of the narrative, dooming the characters to non-existence. The much maligned linear nature of the game represents their inability to turn away, especially when you learn that the antagonists have been helping you the whole time. The big bad wants the characters to kill him. For once the game realizes that its point is to be defeated by the player.

If Squeenix hadn’t gone and relied on a deus ex machina ending like they had, the world would have ended with mankind and the FC extinct. It would have been brilliant.

Here’s another idea for the writers out there. If we have no idea (and no hint) a character can do something until you dramatically reveal it in the penultimate cutscene, it will feel cheap when you make the ending rely on that skill. Not to mention, of course, that the physics of arresting the momentum of a giant biome falling thousands of feet through the atmosphere would probably result in the deaths of nearly every inhabitant.

This is all stacked upon the naive and bullheaded solution that our heroes come up with to counter the manipulative FC. Get this, their plan is to just keep going along the path hoping that something will save them from dooming themselves (ok, so it does, but that’s because of narrative bullshit). It makes my brain hurt in ways I cannot fathom. It’s idiotic.

Now we’re going to take a moment for a quick aside into my personal life that will invariably lead back into the game.

I don’t know what university was like for non-math-type majors, but for my ECE degree I was forced to read and watch tons of mathematical proofs. Invariably (math pun! (so lonely)) we’d reach a point where the professor would skip to the end of the proof and tell us students “I’ll leave the rest of this proof as an academic exercise for you students”. When you’re the professor, you don’t have to waste your time doing the grunt work.

That was quick, back to the game:

Why are we forced to load the battle engine against enemies who are drastically weaker than the player’s party? What’s the point of that? The only time I’ve ever seen this problem intelligently avoided was when I played Earthbound. Once Ness is sufficiently more powerful than a given enemy, enemy encounters result in an instant KO. The battle engine isn’t loaded and XP and items are awarded as appropriate. The game surrenders a battle whose result is a foregone conclusion, saving you from wasting unnecessary time.

Shouldn’t more games do this? Why do I have to load up the battle engine to complete a fight that lasts five to ten seconds? What does the game gain by forcing me to sit through this? It’s not like we’re strategically managing resources in this game (unlike, say, a Persona or Shin Megami Tensei game); the entire party is fully healed after every battle. So why not? Does Squeenix think that if we don’t sit through a five second battle while pushing ‘X’ once we will be livid that the game is playing itself?

Of course, this makes even less sense when you think about the way the battle system works in FF XIII. There are two ways that you can fight: Auto-Attack and Abilities. If you select Auto, the AI will select a series of commands faster than you could based on the knowledge it has about the enemy you are facing. All you have to do is set the roles (Tank, DPS, Healer, Buffer/Debuffer) and the game will pick the most prudent course of action. It’s also streamlined to such a degree that if you die, all you’ve got to do is pick retry and you are respawned just outside the battle you just lost. It’s that easy.

Final Fantasy XIII wants so badly to be a well-oiled machine, like a Disney ride pushing you toward the goal, that these time sinks become way more pronounced. Fighting with auto, like almost every player does, with your only responsibility being character roles can still be strategic and fun, but at a certain point I start to think, “Why do I have to select auto every single round? Why can’t I just toggle it off when I need to change my tactics?” It’s like the game asks me every turn if I still want it to play the game for me.

Don’t get me wrong here, XIII is not a bad game…or maybe it is. Perhaps FF XIII is a better experience than it is a game. You’ve got stunning cutscenes and top-notch voice acting combined with a game that mostly plays itself along a straight line. Almost sounds like a movie to me.

Lightning cosplay at Otakon 2010

2010 in Video Games [GO]
Jan 5th, 2011 by Dan

The Super Potato Exterior in Akihabara

Super Potato in Akihabara

As is typical of me, I played a ton of video games this year. Here’s a listing of what I played along with a few short (or long) words on each game. For the most part, this list is restricted to games released in 2010 unless I did not play them until this year. It’s also mostly in chronological order, with some skips here and there.

Mother 3: Definitely did not come out in 2010. I reviewed it already, but let me say that there is significant beauty to this game. Affecting and heartwrenching, this is easily among the best games I played this year. Do not play this on an emulator because the music-timing of the battles is deliciously fun and the time lag of emulation makes that impossible to experience.

Mass Effect 2: The first AAA game of the year. My review trended toward disappointing, mostly due to the way that story was handled in this iteration compared to part 1. Still, an undeniably great game whose heist-story mechanics and plot are unique and interesting in the gaming landscape. I can’t wait for part three in November.

Heavy Rain: Almost as exciting as actually doing the chores your imaginary wife forces you to do in real life. The execution just missed with this one and its plot twist was asinine and felt cheap. If you’re allowed to hear the thoughts of the protagonists, but you fail to provide a logical reason as to why that person is lying to us (himself?), you’ve lost me.

Pro Yakyu Spirits 2010 (Professional Baseball Spirits 2010): My baseball game of the year. I love taking the Carp to the Japan Series each year. I spent countless hours developing my franchise. This game was worth every dollar I spent importing it.

Final Fantasy XIII: Thoroughly disappointing. Expect more from me on this (edits from the future!), but SqueEnix really dropped the ball something fierce here. A game that suffered from complete lack of creative direction. Final Fantasy XIII is the head of the snake eating its own tail that has become SqueEnix.

Yakuza (1, 2, )3: Did not put that much time into this one, but I did play its prequels to completion. Fiercely Japanese in design, I just haven’t found the time to get deep into this gem. I’m sure it’s actually pretty great.

Mega Man 10: It lacked some of MM9’s magic (partially by being easier), but still a razor sharp example of why the Blue Bomber captured our hearts in the first place. Pump Man’s power, while heavily reminiscent of Leaf Man, is deliciously fun to play with. Using it again Solar Man was also tons of fun for me.

Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilve: It was fun to go back to the best two games in the series. The Pokewalker was stupid, but I have high hopes for Black & White. These games are easily dismissed as rehashes, but they’re still white-hot proof that JRPG design doesn’t have to be needlessly complex to be addictive and elegant.

Alien Swarm: Valve gave me this game for free. I played it maybe twice. Decent fun, but I’d rather play Left 4 Dead 2.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey: Never beat this game. SMT continues to be ridiculously tough and legitimately mature in their presentation of mankind’s eternal struggles against its darker tendencies. Maybe it’s the first-person dungeon crawling, but something about this game prevents me from ever picking it up most days.

Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse: I’m lumping all five episodes into one entity. I find TellTale adventure games to be workmanlike in quality. With the exception of the last two or three episodes of Tales of Monkey Island, they lack the extra oomph that could make them truly great. That said, The Devil’s Playhouse was the most hilarious Sam & Max iteration yet. From Sam & Max’s insistence on pronouncing General Skun’kape as skunk-ape to their episode-wide fight over what to call the menacing Sam clones (Samulacra or Doggleganger?), these games were absolute riots. Now if only TellTale could figure out how to make them great games as well…

Monster Hunter Tri: One gaming session. The sword swipes pack so much friction it’s beautiful. Despite this, never picked it up again. Got a sick black classic controller out of it. Now if only I played Wii more often…

Super Street Fighter IV: Played the hell out of last year’s iteration. Opted to play other games since it was structurally similar to vanilla Street Fighter IV. Kind of wish I’d played it a lot more this year.

Green Day: Rock Band: Played it once, exported the tracks to Rock Band 2/3, never felt the need to boot it up again. Despite only 1 hour of playtime, unlocked an achievement. Fixing the ‘D’ rank that came as a result on Giant Bomb is the only reason I will ever boot this up again.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies: Practically perfect in almost every way that a JRPG should be. I understand why the story was left more generic than years past, but the lack of an interesting narrative is what kept me from finishing.

DeathSpank: Played the demo once. Bought it on PC to support Ron Gilbert. Might actually play it one day. It seemed funny.

Comic Jumper: Hilarious in a juvenile way, I slogged through the repetitive, mediocre gameplay just to see more of this game. I think Min “played” this the right way. He watched me beat it and got to enjoy the presentation without having to touch a controller.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty: Am I the only person who hates what they did at the end of this story? Sure, it has legitimately far-reaching consequences for the sequel, but I think they’re also legitimately less interesting. Still, as perfectly constructed a game as they come. I fell out of playing it, but it definitely feels like I could pick it up at any time and have fun with it.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game: A loving tribute to River City Ransom wrapped up in a franchise that I really enjoy. Sounds like a recipe for success to me. Loads of fun, but, like most middling brawlers, starts to wear on you toward the end as there’s not enough variety introduced in later levels.

Worms: Reloaded: Love Worms. Loaded this up once and never did it again. I’ve hated all Worms interfaces since Worms 2, mostly because they obfuscate and hide customization options more and more as they transition toward console friendliness. I wish they’d put more effort into their PC version.

Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, Dead Rising 2, and Dead Rising 2: Case West: I’ll lump these all together since they are mostly the same game spread out into chunks. The prologue and epilogue (Zero and West, respectively) are just small and feature-gimped enough that they lack the oomph of the full retail release. Dead Rising 2 itself was everything I wanted it to be. A more robust co-op system would be all it needed to be top tier, but I still had loads of fun with it. As a bonus, Min and Dead Rising 2 taught me how to play Texas Hold ‘Em this year.

Civilization V: You probably saw my review where I hated on the terrible AI. I haven’t played since they patched/fixed it, but if they did it right, this game could totally fall back within my good graces. I do sincerely love this game, it’s just not what I hoped it would be and, in its present form, not as good as IV.

Rock Band 3: Harmonix went and made a perfect Rock Band game. Now all I’ve got to do is get my hands on a pro-guitar and I might actually learn something practical from a game that lets me indulge in all my favorite music.

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale: Ever wanted to run a JRPG item shop? This indie game translated from Japan is charming and fun, but I haven’t had the time to devote myself to it yet in 2010.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West: So good until the end. Can a stupid ending mar an otherwise good game? Yeah, kinda. I still loved it for the great acting (weird to say, right?), but stupid ending + sub-Uncharted 2 traversal-style gameplay mires this one in the mediocre bin. The fighting system could also have used a little less frame-lock in its animations (is that what this is called?). Can’t count how many times I died because I was stuck in a seconds-long super attack aimed at the air.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn: Unparalleled artistic vision ties this game together. I haven’t put too much time in, but it seems super easy. I want to play with a friend to get the most out of this. What do you say, Min?

Super Meat Boy: Juxtaposing Kirby and Super Meat Boy is wrong on so many levels. One is like chamber music. Beautiful, complex, but not so complex it’s tough to listen to. The other is kick-you-in-the-teeth, bite off a squirrel head, make you a man heavy metal. Super Meat Boy is so deliciously crunchy in every way that it might be the best game game on this list. Where Starcraft II is perfect with a Beatles-type polish, Super Meat Boy is The Clash; unabashedly punk rock. I love this game. It’s so addictive and fun.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX: Did I say Super Meat Boy was perfect? Pac-Man CE DX (PMCEDX) is video gaming distilled to its primal essence. Eat a whole train of 30 ghosts and I dare you not to feel primitive fun stir deep within you. Words cannot express how great this game is in bite-sized chunks.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge: Is it cheating to count a re-release? This is probably the greatest adventure game ever now with a commentary track recorded by the big three: Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman, and Tim Schafer.

Poker Night at the Inventory: Strong Bad is unbelievably annoying, but banter between Max, Heavy Weapons Guy, and Tycho are always a joy. The second half of this year’s poker lessons were learned here. Now if only I could get straight flush and four-of-a-kind hands so that I can 100% the achievements in this game!

Back to the Future: The Game: The voice acting and atmosphere in this game are both spot on. Unfortunately I hit a game breaking bug and had to start over. That sucked.

Limbo: First played this on 31 December, so it still counts. Deeply atmospheric, but darkly disturbing and difficult for me to stomach more than once a day. I want to go more into that in another post. Unfortunately for the game, I think the controls are a touch floaty, which I mostly find frustrating because I need to beat it dying fewer than 5 times for an achievement.

And that was 2010 in video games (for me). I missed some huge ones (Super Mario Galaxy 2, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Call of Duty: Black Ops), but I think I got a good spread in there. Here’s to another great year in gaming for 2011.

Dragon Questing V: Conclusion [Game Overview]
Jun 4th, 2010 by Dan

Dragon Quest Slime

Dragon Quest is inexorably tied to the Japanese video game space. The series was the first big hit RPG and its core qualities, simplicity, relative ease, and lightheartedness touched that first generation and continue to bring the same degree of fondness with each installment. It is unquestionably the premiere mega-franchise of Japan. Somehow it just never caught on in the states. In the states we play Final Fantasy.

Until Chrono Trigger, I’d never played an RPG with Enix’s stamp on it. The difference is unmistakable. Final Fantasy’s most iconic figure is an angsty blond teen with a huge sword. Dragon Quest’s most famous character is a smiling ball of slime. The difference speaks volumes. I think the most hilarious part about it is that Dragon Quest V, for all its puns and lighthearted humor, feels way more mature than any self-serious Final Fantasy I’ve ever played.

There was a period of time shortly after I left home for university that I had a somewhat contentious relationship with my family. Like many 18-year-old kids, I needed my independence and I went about grabbing it in the most contentious, painful way possible. I’m not proud of it, but it happened and it left a hole in my relationship with my parents that needed patching. The inflection point came, not coincidentally, as I started to mature and grow as an adult. Over the course of the four years I was at school and the few after I started to realize that I needed my family more than I cared to admit and I did my best to begin repairing the damage I had done.

I grew up in a family that valued family. It’s not out of the ordinary for a movie or game to awaken the memories of my upbringing and cause me to get emotional. Both Secondhand Lions and Mother 3 made me want to call my brothers. Dragon Quest V made me call my dad and tell him how much he meant to me. Sure, it feels a little silly to say that playing a video game caused me to feel guilt about my stupid actions as a kid, but that’s exactly the point. What I’d done was stupid and immature. This game, with its smiling slimes and stupid puns, recognizes the truth about family. It knows that there is nothing more important than the bonds we make with each other. It knows that life is beautiful and fun. It also knows that life is cruel, random, and unfair.

The angsty, loner teens with huge swords may learn by the end of the game that they need their friends, but the Hero knows that he needs his family from the moment the game is turned on. Everything about Dragon Quest’s systems point to family building. There’s more maturity in this one game than the entire Final Fantasy series combined (save one or two of the thirteen). I don’t mean to bash Final Fantasy here; I just want to emphasize that Yuji Horii is doing something different here.

Shigesato Itoi started the Mother series because of Dragon Quest. Mother games carry the unmistakable sign of Itoi’s authorship. The games are highly personal to him and every detail, from the dialog to the art, is a reflection of one man’s vision. I would be seriously shocked if Itoi ever consulted a focus group to help him design even one character in his games. I have a strong belief that Yuji Horii has similar creative control over his Dragon Quest games (or at least over V). Recent Final Fantasy games reek of audience pandering. Everyone loved Cloud, so Nomura has been designing endless rehashes of the same idea since then. Squall, Tidus, and Lightning are all iterations on the same theme. Every other cast member is expressly designed to cover some kind of anime trope. It seems like their designs are festooned with endless amounts of nonsense for the express purpose of selling replica jewelry.

Maybe I’m getting a little too conspiracy theory here, but it feels too purposeful. It feels like they are trying too hard. It feels like they are creating sequels to make sales rather than to tell new stories. I sound like a hippie artist and I realize that. Square Enix’s job is to make money, not write the next Homeric epic. For some reason, Dragon Quest just feels beyond that. I need more experience with the series, but I wonder if the merger will bring a tonal shift in the series.

It’s hard to not talk about Final Fantasy when I talk about Dragon Quest, especially since I just beat XIII last night, but I’m going to do my best for the rest of this post. Dragon Quest V did more than I ever expected an 18-year-old game to do. It was equal parts touching, funny, and gut-wrenchingly depressing and I enjoyed every minute of it that I played. I’m looking forward to experiencing more games in the series.

The Heroes of Final Fantasy Week 2 [Game Overview]
Feb 11th, 2010 by Dan

One of the first major features on this blog was a Villains of Final Fantasy series that ran for 13 weeks covering the main enemies of every numbered Final Fantasy game from I to XII including X-2. With Final Fantasy XIII launching in the states in just over a month, I figured it’s high time to give some recognition to the teams who are actually responsible for bringing those villains to justice and saving the world. I bring you the Heroes of Final Fantasy.

Week 1 – Final Fantasy I

The first real Final Fantasy story features four main characters in your party of heroes.

Firion

Amano's artwork really is gorgeous. Nomura's got nothing on him.

After witnessing the murder of his adoptive parents by the ruthless Empire, Firion did what any kid in these games would do and headed to join the Wild Rose Rebellion where he was uncharacteristically turned away for being too young. After proving himself to be worthy by slaying some beast or another, Firion and his pals are finally allowed into the Rebellion. Despite being the main character and the party leader, this game is arguably more about Leon in the same way that the Star Wars movies were ultimately about Darth Vader and not Luke.

Maria

I have no idea how the gravity-defying left side of this outfit is supposed to stay on.

Leon’s sister whose parents were also murdered at the start of the game. Throughout the story Maria is teamed up with Guy and Firion searching for Leon and opposing the Empire. Not much else to say beyond that.

Guy/Gus

This guy is kind of pudgy and gross-looking. Makes sense for a guy raised in the wilderness.

With even less backstory than everyone else, Gus is kind of a mystery aside from the fact that he and Firion are close friends. Oh yeah, he can also talk to beavers. No joke.

No, seriously, he can talk to these guys. Makes no sense to me either.

Leon

Would you be able to take Darth Vader seriously if he had a face on his belt buckle? I didn't think so.


Despite spending most of the game as the Dark Knight and opposing the heroes, Leon is technically one of the good guys. When the Emperor is finally killed, Leon steps in to try and take over and he’s only stopped when the forces of hell depose him. Not too shabby.

Coolness:

Despite mostly being Star Wars ripoffs, these guys get points in my book for being cool enough to get invited into the Wild Rose Rebellion, which also has a pretty sweet name. Leon also has a Darth Vader thing going for most of the game, which is trite, but not too bad. Finally, Guy can talk to beavers. That’s worth at least 2 points there.

7/10

Hero Quotient:

Toppling an Empire is pretty big stuff, but that’s nothing compared to fighting said Emperor after he returns from Hell to destroy the world. Plus: what kind of hero team doesn’t talk to beavers? Still, it’s not too much beyond standard fare for these adventuring groups, so they only get average marks here.

6/10

The Heroes of Final Fantasy Week 1 [Game Overview]
Jan 26th, 2010 by Dan

One of the first major features on this blog was a Villains of Final Fantasy series that ran for 13 weeks covering the main enemies of every numbered Final Fantasy game from I to XII including X-2. With Final Fantasy XIII launching in the states in just over a month, I figured it’s high time to give some recognition to the teams who are actually responsible for bringing those villains to justice and saving the world. I bring you the Heroes of Final Fantasy.

Not to kill the momentum of this first iteration of the series, but the first Final Fantasy was too traditional RPG to actually have any characters. Instead you just pick classes and name your four characters and that’s that. I’ll do something a little different (how can it be different when it’s the first time?) this week and just show all of the classes that comprise the Four Warriors of Light.

Warrior

The original Warrior

He looks so cute, but he's also scowling. Mixed messages there.

A generic, beefy tank class who relies on expensive equipment to be effective. The Warrior is not exciting, but it’s not his job to be. Surprisingly enough, this boring dude was selected as the representative for Dissidia. My guess: they had an unused 3D model of him floating around and decided to finally put it to use.

Monk

Final Fantasy I Monk

Kind of reminds me of Ryu

Known as Black Belt in the original translation to avoid religious connotations, the monk fights with his fists and wears light to no armor.

Thief

Final Fantasy I Thief

Really reminds me of Link. It's almost theft.

Surprisingly unable to steal anything in this first iteration of the series, the Thief’s main skill is being able to run away easily and reliably. He also has high agility.

Black Mage

Final Fantasy I Black Mage

The most famous of the bunch. I bet it's because he has no face.

With an iconic design that has held from Final Fantasy I all the way to throwbacks in modern iterations, the Black Mage casts black magic, AKA offensive spells.

White Mage

Final Fantasy I White Mage

Typically portrayed as a woman.

Another design that has remained relatively unchanged, the White Mage and his/her iconic white robe casts white magic, which is mostly curative, but also holy.

Red Mage

Final Fantasy I Red Mage

Looks more like a rogue-ish character than a mage.

A jack-of-all-mages class that can cast white and black magic spells, but specializes in neither. The top level spells are unavailable to him, but he is versatile.

Coolness:

Lame. These guys are all ciphers. No personality, no motivation, and no story. My pet rock has more personality.

1/10

Hero Quotient:

Saving the world is kind of the status quo for these heroic parties, so they won’t be getting bonus points for that. Eliminating the guardians of all the elements and deciphering the nonsensical plot centered around a time paradox does earn them some bonus points in their score.

3/10

As a bonus, you can check out Brian Clevinger’s webcomic, 8-Bit Theater, to see the personalities that he feels these heroes should have.

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