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7:54 AM on 05.08.2010

In Defense of Final Fantasy Spin-Offs

Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy franchise is arguably the best series in the JRPG genre. The series is known for its long and deep stories, unforgettable characters, and breathtaking graphics. The side stories and spin-offs are fun, from Crystal Chronicles to Tactics, but most fans would agree that the main, numbered series are the ones worth the most attention. It might be fun to strategize with Ramza and Luso, but the real action is with Cecil and Zidane. Usually.

I’m here to say that the spin-offs can be better! Personally, I would say that I enjoyed Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and A-2 better than the entire numbered series, but that’s just me. This is my subjective analysis of the series. However, it can be “proven” by looking at the game mechanics of a particular game that a spin-off is superior than a numbered game. As such, I would like to direct your attention to Final Fantasy XIII, and the prequel to Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core.

The absolute most important aspect of any RPG is the story. With Final Fantasy XIII, the basic premise of the games is a tale of 6 “l’Cie,” mind slaves of pseudo gods called “fal’Cie,” attempting to save the world from not only said fal’Cie, but themselves as well. Should they fail, they will be turned into zombie like creatures called Cie’th, and the world will get screwed. Should they succeed, they get frozen into crystals, and there’s no guarantee that the world will be saved. My reaction to this? What. The. Hell. The story makes almost no sense whatsoever unless you make a very strenuous attempt to attempt to try to understand it. Also, unless you’re one of those poor souls who actually enjoys the standard “we’re gonna win because we’re friends” speech in games, every 20 minutes or so, you will hate this game merely out of principle. There is, dare I say it, too much character development (pushing into stereotypes). Even with that development, it still feels like the same game throughout the miserable 60 hours of torturous pseudo gameplay. It’s really that bad.

Crisis Core is more straightforward. It follows the tale of would be SOLDIER 1st Class Zack Fair as he goes on missions, gains the respect of his superiors, and ultimately becomes a mentor himself. Even without tying Crisis Core to Final Fantasy VII, the story is excellent in its own right. There is an excellent amount of character development, very powerful themes, and the story itself is reasonably paced. The only better description you’ll get of Crisis Core’s story is the one you’ll come up with yourself after playing it.

I wouldn’t have a problem with Lightning’s overdone badassery, Snow’s annoying “heroics,” Hope’s, well, hopefulness, Vanille’s cheer, Sazh’s pessimism, and Fang’s…being herself if it weren’t for the god awful voice acting in FFXIII.

That aside, Lightning is presented as a badass soldier chick out for revenge. She’s a pretty cool girl, until she takes on an emo streak and loses all her appeal. Snow is kinda the same way. He seems to be the indomitable optimistic, wannabe hero type character who is standard in most games, but he loses the little cool points he had to begin with when he starts to question his motives. Hope, for the first half of the game, makes you want to punch him repeatedly as you yell “OMGWTFSNOWDIDNTMEANIT” in his face. (Play the game to know why). The second half, he makes you want to punch him repeatedly as you yell “OMGWTHSTOPBEINGSODAMNOPTIMISTIC” in his face. Yup. That’s about right. Vanille..Vanille… Surely, if you’ve any knowledge at all of FFXIII, you already know how annoying she is and why. Sazh has a kickass baby chocobo and seems to be the only one with a truly legitimate reason to be doing anything in this game.

Like I said before, one of Crisis Core’s major themes is the way Zack develops. He starts out as a rash kid, and ultimately becomes a respectable leader. If you’ve played FFVII or have seen Advent Children, then you already know all about Cloud and Sephiroth. However, their respective back-stories are made infinitely more interesting in Crisis Core. In addition, the addition of Angeal, and more importantly, Genesis (can be identified, technically, as the main villain) serve as Zack’s role models, but aren’t quite the saintly type. If I mentioned any part of Crisis Core’s story, it would be a huge, game breaking spoiler. Please, just play it.

Final Fantasy games are known for their quality of graphics. Both Final Fantasy XIII and Crisis Core are no exceptions. On their respective platforms, both games have arguably the best visuals to date. But wait, Crisis Core is a portable, while FFXIII is for HD can Crisis Core hope to compete?

My answer? Cutscenes.

FFXIII is gorgeous. I will never deny that fact. However, look at the cutscenes. FFXIII, on the PS3, runs at a full 1080p, and it is absolutely breathtaking. Crisis Core runs on a measly little SD screen, on a significantly weaker platform, and the cutscenes look –almost as good- as FFXIII’s.
Interpret that for yourself.

Battle System:
FFXIII’s battle system was meant to be an innovative, more easily adaptable version of FFXII’s battle setup. It replaces “gambits” with “paradigms.” Both allow you to predetermine the AI of your party. The difference between gambits and paradigms is quite simple. Gambits allow you to control your characters, while paradigms marginalize that control to little beyond merely changing said paradigms. Essentially on FFXIII, all you have to do is cast libra on a target, buff your characters/debuff the opponent(s), and simply verify the computer’s plan of action (which, I might add, is very rarely wrong). There aren’t even magic points! What a joke.

In Crisis Core, when a battle starts, you are given more options. You run around with total control over Zack. You can physically attack with your sword, dodge, block, use items, or materia (magical/special techniques, costing mp and ap, respectively). The most interesting part of the battle system is the “digital mind wave,” or DMW. The DMW is like a slot machine, and it governs when you can do special moves (limit breaks) or summon. It sounds crazy, but it’s implemented quite well in battle, and it often gives you little tidbits about the story through memories. Again, sounds crazy, but it works really well. Oh yes, and winning battles in Crisis Core also gets you money. Final Fantasy XIII doesn’t do that.

Lots of people criticize FFXIII for its lack of options in regards to gameplay/exploration. The game usually directs you down a narrow path into your next goal/boss battle. It isn’t until near the end of the game (disc 3 for 360 players, I believe) that you get a degree of exploration. You are dumped into an open world..with nothing but monsters who wish to eat your face off. Said monsters are, at first, ridiculously overpowered in relation to your characters. As if the boss before getting placed here wasn’t difficult enough, it’s almost as if the game actually starts again just before it ends, considering the steep curve in difficulty. There are no towns to speak of, also. Finally, the only real reason to be even given this new area is for the mission system. Basically, you find little statues all around the giant field, you kill the monster it tells you to kill, and then you find the next one. Zzzz

Crisis Core isn’t too dissimilar in this regard. However, the missions in Crisis Core actually have a place in the story. Being an operative in a “military” organization, its only natural that you get assignments. These missions aren’t randomly dumped on you like they are in FFXIII, either. They are given to you from the beginning. Some are unlocked by clearing missions, some are unlocked via story events. It, at the very least, makes the missions appear to be more than just an afterthought meant to tack on an extra 10 hours to a game.

Endings of the games, in ascii faces:

Wtf really? I mean REALLY? That wasn’t entirely predictable, but it was just stupid. Everyone turns to crystal, and then bam. A “miracle” happens and everyone’s okay..lolwut? (Looked awesome though, I’ll give them that much)

Crisis Core: T___T
They used the DMW’s story telling feature to take what would have been a really predictable ending (especially for people who’ve played FFVII, of course) and –made- you care about what happened. Even if you despised VII (which I have come to do, after playing other Final Fantasy’s) the way Zack’s death was presented will be one of the hallmark moments in the PSP’s and Final Fantasy’s lifetimes. I have yet to see a more moving moment in any video game.

Place in the series (conclusion):
FFXIII is crap. Enough said. The story makes little sense, the characters are annoying, and it is ultimately just an interactive movie. It befouls the entire franchise. I only hope that Versus XIII and Agito can redeem the Fabula crysta…whatever the hell it’s called.

As for Crisis Core, it’s definitely in my top 5 favorite games of all time. It looks, sounds, and plays well. I don’t have to try to understand it, and honestly, I think it’s better than FFXIII in all the ways that FFXIII tried to sell itself. In fact, I would go so far to say that Crisis Core is better than the original FFVII.

Okay, so most of it’s my opinion, but if you’ve played both games, you’ll probably agree.

Thanks for reading!   read

5:10 AM on 04.24.2010

Why Avatar Is Not The Best Movie.

Some people seem to be of the persuasion that Avatar is the best movie. Ever. I call BS. I simply think it's just hype, and I hope that it dies soon. It's like any great media or politician. Lots of hype and promise, disappointment, or rather in Avatar's case, disillusionment.

Did you take a gander at that picture? Do you like it? I hope so! The pics were shamelessly stolen from around the internet! (Please don't prosecute me! I beg you!!) The sole purpose of this picture is to refute a certain component of the "pro-Avatar" argument: Sales.

Sales alone do not make a various item, game, movie, or otherwise, the best of its kind. Such a claim is absurd. Let's examine my image, shall we? Sure, Avatar has raked in the most Benjamins of any movie, but film buffs, myself included, would never, ever insinuate that it tops such movies as say, Scarface. This isn't to say that Scarface is the best movie ever, but it is probably one of the movies that comes to mind when you think of the BEST MOVIE EVAAAAAR, no? That said, did Scarface make as much as Avatar? Not even close.

The reason why I have references to Modern Warfare 2 and Zelda Ocarina of Time is quite obvious, given the above. Modern Warfare 2 is the top selling game of all time: Fact. However, it is agreed by the average gamer that such work as Zelda Ocarina of Time or say, Final Fantasy VII, is the greatest video game ever. Personally, I don't think that Ocarina of Time and FFVII are the best, even within their own respective series, but for the sake of arguement, assume that they are the pinnicle of gaming perfection, okay? Sure, MW2 has sold a ton more, but look at Ocarina of Time and FFVII for their achievements! Ocarina of Time introduced many gameplay mechanics that are standard in modern games. FFVII is lauded for its story dynamic. (Personally, I don't quite get why, but hey, to each his own.) That said, I have played Ocarina multiple times, and I haven't played MW2 since the javelin days. The game is broken, because people cheat. It is in constant need of repair, and Infinity Ward has even released a special crap (map) pack for a ridiculous price. Still not enough to fix a bad experience; proof positive that Ocarina of Time and FFVII (dare I say it) are perfect in their own right without any additional crap tacked on to it. (Did you read that Square?)

Now what does expensive add-on content have to do with Avatar? Simple. Suppose you go out with friends or family to see the movie. You see it, and you hate it and leave. Another friend sees it, enjoys, but doesn't watch it again (at least not in the theater) A third friend sees it, then goes to see it in 3-D, then goes and sees it upside down, then goes to see it backwards, upside-down in 3-D....Essentially that person bought the MW2 map pack. An unnecessary supplement to an already mediocre to good experience. He or she was suckered into purchasing a gimmick which adds no "practical" merit to the product. Sure, you can brag that you saw Avatar in 3-D, or you can admit (not brag) that you bought the MW2 pack, but does anyone really care?

Personally, I thought Avatar was a good movie, but I couldn't help shake the fact that it wasn't original.

What do you think?   read

1:15 AM on 02.25.2010

My Top 10 Games/Series of the Last Decade

The last ten years have brought us many great things. Among those is the concept of a video game being an "art form." That said, here is a list of the 10 best video games or video game series that I played in the last 10 years:

1. The Golden Sun series.
Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age are my favorite games of all time. They were the games that got me into RPG's and with the coming of Golden Sun DS later this year, will continue to keep me a fan of the genre. The two GBA Golden Sun games weren't anything unique or innovative, but they were unbelievably fun. The graphics were very good for the system it was on, the storytelling was epic, and the battle system was solid. Not to mention the way you change classes. Throughout the game, the player finds creatures called Djinni from one of four elements, wind,water, fire, and earth, which augment your abilities and change your class. Depending on what element the Djinn you put on your character, your class changes. I cannot wait for the third installment to take me back to Weyard and experience RPG perfection once more.

2. Monster Hunter Freedom 2 and Unite
Gaming perfection, these two games have wasted away many hours from the lives of my friends and myself. Monster Hunter's title says it all. You hunt monsters. Simple? No. It's much deeper than that. In any other game, the amount of customization that Monster Hunter provides would be daunting to say the least. However, Monster Hunter is unforgivably difficult to beginners, but in a way that challenges you to keep coming back and unlocking that next weapon, or making your armor stronger. Maybe you just want that guild card title that you've been working for? Maybe you want a solid multiplayer game to almost get fired from your job for playing too.... you get the idea.

3. Pokemon HeartGold/Pokemon SoulSilver
Do you hear that sound? That's the nostalgia train, here to pick you up! Pokemon Gold and Silver were arguably the best in the series. They offered a ton of innovation and to the series, while keeping to its perfected mechanics. Such a high bar has not been met until now. HeartGold and SoulSilver meet and exceed that bar. The graphics have been modernized, the areas and sounds "remixed." Those new to the series will have no trouble picking these games up. Pokemon Vets, such as myself, are willing to buy the Japanese game, and then buy it again when it's released in English. It's just that good.

4. Ace Attorney Series.
Most people wouldn't put these games in their top 10's, or even top 50's. However, I did, and here's why: The majority of DS games are crap. Accesible crap, but crap nonetheless. Ace Attorney takes the touchscreen and goes crazy with it. Being remakes of GBA games, the graphics are a little outdated on the first three games, but it makes no difference. Even without updated graphics or touch screen control, the great stories and character designs are more than enough to keep someone hooked and screaming "OBJECTION!!" into their DS, making any situation awkward for passersby.

5. Legend Of Zelda: Wind Waker.
I have to admit, when I first saw Wind Waker, I thought it looked stupid. Too cartoony I told myself. This won't match up to Ocarina of Time's depth and angst. If you have played Ocarina of Time, once you beat the Tower of the God's you will know why Wind Waker is one of the best games in the Zelda series, if not one of the best games of all time.

6. Star Wars Battlefront 2.
I love Star Wars. I love shooters. It doesn't get better than this. Locations? Check. Starships? Check. Faithful to source? Check. A perfect game.

7. Fire Emblem Series.
I can't get enough of this game. Personally, I think the first Fire Emblem to be released in America was the best, because there was so much to do. Sure, you could just play the story (which was awesome, I might add) but why not raise up a team and compete against other people who have it? I challenge anyone who thinks that their team is better than mine!

8. Super Smash Bros. Melee.
This game speaks for itself. If you've played, you understand. If you haven't, go buy it. You aren't a gamer until you've played this game.

9. Luigi's Mansion.
I loved this game, if for nothing else but it's humor. It's about time Luigi had a game of his own, and personally, I reaped more enjoyment from Luigi's scaredy cat ways than I have ever from Mario's Turtle Terrorism.

10. LittleBigPlanet.
When games tell you that you can customize stuff, and they aren't LittleBigPlanet, they're lying.

Honorable Mention:

Fat Princess.
The craziest capture the flag type game anyone will ever play! "A E I OWNED YOU!"

I love WWII stuff. I love alternate WWII stuff. I love stuff about alien invasions and global pandemics. Therefore, I love Resistance.

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
I always thought "hmm.. if they ever made a sequel to Ocarina of Time, it would have to be the same graphics style, but much better. There would have to be free roaming of Hyrule field again on Epona, but you can use more weapons. Ganondorf and Zelda would have to be back too, of course" Twilight Princess has all of that. Unfortunately, it had dumb aspects too, like spirits, a cheesy dark realm, and a midget that loves to crawl up your butt every time you transform.   read

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