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By Charles On 11 Nov, 2011 At 04:33 PM | Categorized As Editorials, Featured, Xbox 360/Xbox One | With 0 Comments

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Last night I completed my 17th hour in Final Fantasy XIII. This on its own isn’t exactly noteworthy, especially in a 70 hour game. But the reason this struck me as significant is because I logged this hour a full 6 weeks after buying the game. 17 hours of story in over 42 days- for me this is something of a record. Final Fantasy XIII is the slowest progress I’ve ever made in an RPG.

Thanatos, I choose you!

Now before I come off as sounding either elitist or lazy, I need to clarify two points: while I’ve been playing XIII, I’ve also been playing Persona 3 on my PSP, a game that I just recently passed the 60 hour point in.  These games rarely compete for play time, one being portable and the other being console, and are often indulged at different times during the day. Of course there is some overlap, but generally I manage to log time in both games in the same 24 hour period. So it’s not that I don’t devote the time to progression. But when I’m playing XIII, I frequently find myself staring at the clock, whereas with P3, I often forget what time it actually is.

Second, I don’t dislike Final Fantasy XIII either. I know the game has come under a lot of fire from long-standing fans of the series (which I am, I started with 1 and went down the line), but I do not share their views. The game is hardly perfect, but it does hold my attention more than XII did. It is a beautiful game to wander around in. I like the battle system, though it did take some getting used to. And unlike many, I do not mind the linear nature of the early chapters, as it keeps me focused on a tangible goal. It’s hardly perfect, but then again what is?

So why then, have I managed to progress so far in one game, and so not far in the other? Well, it comes down to one major point: Final Fantasy XIII gives me no motivation to proceed.

Worst Cliffhanger Ever.

Let me favor you with a story. About 11 years ago, I came back from a brief stint in Ireland with a strong desire to play Final Fantasy VII. I had purchased the game for the PC, and low and behold, I received one of the infamous “bugged” copies, that crashed at the crater each and every time. And, being in Ireland, where apparently Final Fantasy VII didn’t exist at the time, I had built up a fairly rabid desire to pound Sephiroth into submission, presumably for making me wait so long to see where all this was going. So there I was, not even a week back home, and I ran out to Target with a wad of cash and one single goal: get a Playstation and finish the game.

I beat Final Fantasy VII in 10 days, give or take. That first day, I think I logged 9 hours easy, and settled in around 4 a night until I was done. But it still only took 10 days to complete the story. I moved on to Final Fantasy VIII, and finished that in about 20 days, if not a bit less. Final Fantasy IX took me a month, but I was taking my time on that one. Notice a trend here? All three of the PSX era titles took me less time to finish than I’ve currently spent playing XIII.

So why was I able to blast through them so quickly, while I’m currently taking my sweet time with XIII? Let’s look at some of the often-cited reasons.

Sazh Katzroy: Inventor of the Choco-fro

1: I don’t care about the characters or story. This is an unfair assertion to make. No, XIII does not have the best character development. Snow annoys the hell out of me. So does Hope, whom I’ve taken to calling “Jr. Tidus.” I’m neutral with regards to Vanille, because Im fairly certain there’s more to her than I’m currently seeing. But those three aside, I genuinely like Lightning, Fang and especially Sazh. I like those three characters more than any in a recent FF game. Not perfect, but definitely a step up from Squall’s sulky little emoverse, or Vaan’s protagonist-identity crisis

Same goes for story. XIII doesn’t have a story on par with, say, VI, but then again, no other game in the series does. VI, often heralded as the high point in narrative of the series, was one game, released over a decade and a half ago, when Square was top of the RPG market, but still not a world power. It was a dense, woven tapestry of conflicting personal stories mixed in with a madman villain and spread out over two worlds, one of which was created when the heroes failed to save it. In contrast, the story of Cocoon and Pulse seems lacking, or just lurks outside of range, almost like filler to the nice graphics. But that doesn’t mean its terrible, just inferior to a game that redefined the RPG genre. Which, in all honesty, is not a fair comparison to make.

2: The system sucks. Also, not a fair comparison to make. Mechanically speaking, I’ve had more fun playing XIII than I did playing most of the series. Yes it did take some getting used to, and I found the paradigms annoying at first, but once I started treating boss fights like raid encounters in World of Warcraft, they got infinitely easier. And while the system is punishing to mistakes in paradigm shifts, it’s certainly not impossible, and allows me to use those raid skills I developed in the past 2 years for something other than chatting while healing. I’ve been told the game gets a lot harder after Chapter 11 (I’m on 9 right now), but I welcome the chance. At least I get to keep myself busy paying attention instead of just entering commands.

Plus I love, and I mean LOVE, the Crystarium. Best progression system since the Sphere Grid.

By night, he plays in the goth band "Ancient Mother."

3: It’s all style, no substance. Yes, this is true, but so were VII, VIII and X. Any time there’s a huge graphics upgrade, substance in storytelling is sacrificed for flashy graphics. As fondly recalled as VII is, it got a huge amount of that love from NOT being 2D sprites on a world map. The story is good, and extremely well known, mixing mythology and politics together into a grand narrative of a dying world and the personal motivations of a greedy megacorporation. But how many people remember that versus seeing that train scene in the opening? Or watching Sephiroth walk through the flames of the town he destroyed? Or seeing WEAPON get blown apart by the Sister Ray? Final Fantasy VII staked it’s claim on being a visual experience, and that visual experience is what gives it charm. And did I forget to mention Sephiroth? Because he had a lot to do with it.

So yes, XIII does place priority on being bigger and better, and flashier, than any other game in the series. But that’s been the rule since it moved from Nintendo to SONY, so I’m not exactly citing that as the main reason.

4: It’s not a Final Fantasy/JRPG/what I expected. Honestly, I don’t even know what constitutes a JRPG anymore. Originally it was the turn-based system vs the more action-oriented fare released by US developers. Then it was the depth of storytelling. Then it was the incessant need to grind levels/skills/whatever. Personally, I don’t think the term JRPG matters anymore, because such designations have become irrelevant. Games evolve. The world globalizes and gets smaller. The hallmarks of the RPG are levels and experience. That’s about it. XIII has both.

As for the remark that it’s not a Final Fantasy: well, given that there isn’t supposed to  be any continuity between the games, and each has it’s own self-contained story, then really none of them are. Final Fantasy is a brand name, not a genre.

Okay, now that’s out of the way. None of those reasons are why I find myself inching along in a game that by all means I should have devoured and put away already. So I’m back at Square one: why is it that this game hasn’t motivated me to blast through it like I did with previous installments?

Look Ma, we're retro!

Maybe I’m just getting old. No, were that the case I wouldn’t be able to log hours in any game, not just this one, and I’ve already mentioned addictions to WoW and stacked up progress in Persona. Could I just be getting disillusioned with Final Fantasy as a series? No, because I popped in V last week for the long car ride to Nekocon, and have already managed to log 7 hours in that. So what is it that’s holding me back?

I guess in the end, that’s the real point. Final Fantasy XIII isn’t a bad game, but it’s not a stellar one either. Unlike Persona 3, which uses an alternating system of classic JRPG dungeon grinding and item fusion with a day-to-day school sim style of plot progression, XIII just seems common. Unlike V, which requires WoW level character maintainence, and thrives on grinding to acquire new skills and jobs, the leveling system of XIII feels too much like what’s come before, flashy clothes notwithstanding. Yes, the battle system is nice, especially when compared to other entries in the series, but fighting always gets tedious after a while. And unfortunately, while I don’t hate the story, what it does give us hardly has the same hooks as the narratives in IV, VI, VII or IX. Final Fantasy XIII isn’t bad, it’s just completely ordinary, which unfortunately is the exact opposite of the main reason why Square started making games in the first place- to not be ordinary.

So in the end, it’s not that I dislike XIII, it just lacks anything that jumps out and screams “Play Me!” Which is also why I haven’t been feeling the overwhelming need to.

No GravatarThis is a look into the music for one of the greatest and longest running franchises in Video Game History.

Nobuo Uematsu and the Grand Rapids Symphony


You never forget your first Fantasy. Turning on the game, to hear the now immortal Crystal theme, before being thrown into a wild ride of story, monsters, magic and the triumph of good over evil. I felt it way back in the late 80s when I received a copy of Final Fantasy for Christmas, and I played that game so many times…For over 20 years, Final Fantasy has been a huge part of the RPG gamer’s experience, and has ushered in some of the most important developments in game play, storytelling, characterization and, above all, visual beauty.



Nobuo Uematsu, The Man Behind many a great Final Fantasy Soundtrack


One of the integral parts of the gaming experience has always been the music. From humble beeps and bops on the NES to the sweeping scores of the later games, Final Fantasy has delivered some of the best in-game musical experiences ever. It would be hard to find a fan of the JRPG genre who does not own at least one soundtrack, or one of the bevy of associated orchestrated, piano or even celtic revival discs released since the late 1990s. Given life by composer Nobuo Uematsu, some of the songs and themes from the series have transcended their origins and become contemporary classics in their own right.



Distant Worlds Logo


So it is little wonder that Uematsu decided to take this show on the road. Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy, a world tour featuring a full philharmonic playing the most beloved songs from the series, crossed the country, finally stopping in New York on April 1st and 2nd, for a two part event that would bring these distant worlds that much closer to the fans who have devoured them over the years. Held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Gilman Opera House, the event drew in over 2000 people each night, some in costume, some not, but all fans of the sweeping arrangements that Final Fantasy has become famous for having. I had the chance to attend the second night only, which was fine by me in the end, as it had a lot of the music I was anticipating. I missed out on “Liberi Fatali” and “Fisherman’s Horizon,” two of the standout songs from Final Fantasy VIII, but that just gives me an excuse to attend the next tour.



Final Fantasy VIII Squall


After an introduction that featured Uematsu himself receiving the first of several standing ovations of the night, the music immediately took off, greeting listeners to a sight and sound trip into the Bombing Run that opened Final Fantasy VII. See, this was more than just a concert- accompanying each song were selected images and movies from the adjoining games, broadcast on a huge screen directly over the orchestra. (This screen would later also be used for the largest karaoke event in history, but that was a ways off.) Attendees were given a chance to revisit some of the classic games in the series, and perhaps be exposed to new ones.


The music continued on To Zanarkand, followed by the oft repeated message Don’t Be Afraid, before welcoming guest vocalist Susan Calloway to remind us to cherish our Memories of Life, which might have been the most poignant moment of the evening, with nary a dry eye around. (Although Aerith’s Theme, a personal favorite of Uematsu, came close.) But just in case it wasn’t “manly” enough, we were once more introduced to that Man With the Machine Gun as he blasted his way through the Lunatic Pandora.



Final Fantasy VI


As the evening progressed, there were tributes to each and every other game in the series- a medley of pieces from the first 3 Final Fantasies, numerous variations on the now-classic Chocobo theme, two-part delves into the recent Final Fantasy XIII and XIV, a rousing rendition of “Battle on the Big Bridge” from Final Fantasy V, the quirky “Vama allo Flamenco” from Final Fantasy IX, and even a quick play of the immortal tune-turned-perpetual-ringtone Victory Fanfare (all 7 seconds of it).  But the highlights of the evening were certainly the staging of “Aria di Mezzo” from Final Fantasy VI and quite possibly the best known theme from any Final Fantasy, “One Winged Angel.”



The One Winged Angel


Since the show was held in an Opera House, it made perfect sense to stage the opera there. Three powerful singers gave life to what might be the most powerful sequence in the entire game, while the screen showed what the other party members would have been doing during the performance. For 12 minutes, the audience was transported out of Brooklyn and into the game itself, culminating with a three vocal harmony that closed out the “show.” But that was far from the end. Conductor Arnie Roth revisited the game with “Terra’s Theme” while the “opening credits” rolled and drew big applause from the gathered fans.



Classic Final Fantasy Warrior of Light


Then, when everyone thought it was over, Uematsu himself came out to get the audience ready for the true closer. But since there was no choir that night, as there had been the previous, we were informed that we would be providing the now-infamous choral accompaniment of latin phrasing and “Sephiroths.” This was the moment most of the audience had been waiting for, judging from the cheers, because who wouldn’t want to hear the descent of the “One Winged Angel” played out in full, orchestrated glory? And while the 2000 strong “chorus” might not have been in perfect harmony, Uematsu ran from one side of the stage to the other, cuing voices and granting yet another moment for the fans to join together in communal harmony and celebration.



Final Fantasy 13 Cutscene Plays Behind the Symphony


I had been waiting for something like this to come my way for years. As a long time fan of the games (and owner of just about every soundtrack, plus more than a few orchestrated collections), this was a chance to realize a dream, and be part of something larger than my own life. In some ways, Final Fantasy might be more remembered for its classic themes and scores, which have outlived the games themselves in many regards, and have certainly surpassed their initial purpose.


I can only hope there will be more chances like this in the near future.






By otakuman5000 On 22 Mar, 2011 At 03:00 PM | Categorized As Featured, PlayStation Portable, Portable/Mobile Gaming, Reviews, Reviews | With 2 Comments

No GravatarThe first Dissidia Final Fantasy on the PSP was one of the best games to come to the platform. Square Enix really gave fans of the Final Fantasy series a love letter to their continued support for the franchise. Besides sporting some of the best looking rendered cut-scenes no the PSP, but the game also featured some of the most features available to use, giving gamers the most for their money. Now this time around, Dissidia gets a sequel that not only delivers some of the best points from it’s predecessor, but a whole lot more on top of that. Dissidia Duodecim in one of the best PSP games on the platform to date.


Cloud and Sephiroth Fighting Together


In similar fashion, the game opens up with a sort of prologue to the events that will transpire over the course of the story. Fans who purchased Dissidia Prologus got a taste of some back story to what this sequel will be about. The story can be a little mediocre and cheesy at times, but is still good quality for a fighting game /RPG hybrid. The time frame in which this game takes place is before the first Dissidia Final Fantasy, during the time when the war between Cosmos and Chaos is still raging on. This time however, a slew of new faces step into the ring and take sides between the two deities.


Cloud and Tifa Together Again


Some of the new characters making their way into Dissidia are Lightning from FF13, Kain from FF4, Vann from FF12, Laguna from FF8, Tifa from FF7, and Yuna from FF10. Playing thoroughly through the game however, players are greeted with two more extra characters in the form of newcomer Prishe from FF11, and fan favorite Gilgamesh from FF5. To add more fan service to the whole mix, those who purchased Dissidia Prologus from the PSN store and completed the story mode automatically receive FF7’s Areith as an assist character to use in battle, the fan service is just piled up with different outfits, tracks, and more as a huge plus for anyone who is a fan of Final Fantasy. Each one of these new characters play differently from both the new and original cast, offering a ton of unique ways to fight in battles.


Enter the Man of Many Swords


The fighting itself is pretty much the same as in the first Dissidia, with the exception of the newest addition of Assist Characters. As a player attacks an opponent with Brave attacks, they build up an Assist Meter that can charge up to two levels. Once one level is full, an ally can be summoned to attack with a Brave Attack that can be used to combo into or extend Brave combos. If two meters are full, the assist character can attack with an HP attack instead to deal HP damage to a foe. As an added plus, Assist characters can save players from taking damage but coming to their aid as a human shield, at the cost having the assist meter locked up for a short period of time. Knowing how to use assists to their full extent can be key to winning more of the tougher battles in both Story mode and Multiplayer.


Assist Characters are Key to Winning Battles


The different game modes available are the meet of what Dissidia Duodecim has to offer. The story mode now plays like a classic Final Fantasy RPG, where characters can roam around a large map, which looks like a world similar to that of classic 2D Final Fantasy games, and engaged enemies as well as collect items to use in battle. The board game aspects from the first Dissidia are here as well, but they are incorporated into the roaming story mode, where certain gates transport your character to different boards to engage Chaos Stigmas, enemies, and find different items.


The World Map


The multiplayer for Dissidia Duodecim is very similar to the original Dissidia, with some added goodies. Battle replays are still present and accounted for, allowing players to save some great moments on their PSP, and still allow the ability to convert the videos to a format for uploading on to sites like Youtube and BlipTV. The player cards have the same concept, only this time now there are different icons to use, as well as themes and party setups, where a player can choose a selection of characters as their main “party” of characters to use in battle. There is still ghost transferring between players, one of the best features from the first game, that now has added options for customization for different characters. There is even a Quest Creation mode, in which players can now create their own scenarios with their own written dialogue and set battles. The depth of the creation can only stretch as far as up to five battles and written text, but it is a step in the right direction, and it would be amazing to see this expanded upon in another installment of the series.


Multiplayer is Awesome


Dissidia Duodecim is a phenomenal PSP game, that really offers so much to people who purchase it. There is so much content available that gamers will be spending much more time playing it then they might have with the first Dissidia game. And to only add more to the Final Fantasy goodness, Square Enix made it possible to play the entire Original Dissidia Story Campaign after completing Duodecim’s main story. That means not only that you get the new game’s story with all the new features, but you get the entire first game campaign upgraded with all of the extras. This game is a serious love letter to every fan of Final Fantasy. There is something here for everyone no matter what game you feel is the best out of the series, all the heroes and villains from every game are given the spotlight. But more importantly, this is one of the very few games that pushes the PSP to it’s limit and still is able to offer an awesome quality experience to it’s players. Hands down, this is one of the Best PSP Game to come out this year.


The Man with the Machine Gun