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Solo Game Vacation: Stick a Masamune in me, I’m Done

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Cloud shares my feelings

Well, time trudges on and games get played.  And I have finally finished Final Fantasy VII and put it back on my metaphorical shelf to sit.  You know, I don’t know what I can say at this juncture that won’t invoke the ire of many internet dwelling denizens.  Final Fantasy VII has taken on this mythic larger than life position that has rendered it untouchable by so many, like Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Mario 64.  And part of my really gets why that is.  It’s solid from a game play standpoint, even if the materia gets a bit grindy toward the end.  The minigames are fun, and reminds me so often how much I’d LOVE a Gold Saucer style area in an MMO with racing, PvE arena battles with handicaps, little arcade minigames, etc to win prizes and have fun.  And for the time, the technology was indeed a huge leap forward in the genre and it is really easy to see how it would endear itself to a generation of gamers both as a jump forward and as a first glimpse into the Final Fantasy series.  I mean, the Playstation was how many people’s first console?  FF7 was how many people’s first Final Fantasy?  Yea.  There’s a nostalgia factor and it’s not hard to see why.

I suppose all this complimentary stuff is being dumped up front because I am trying to build a shield with it.  You see, after completing the game. Doing everything I could save for the Ruby and Emerald Weapon and mastering 100% of the materia, I can honestly say that I found the story to be ATROCIOUSLY LACKING.

Did I get your blood boiling? Good. I’ve just gotten started.  I talked about this with some people on Twitter yesterday, but I keep coming back to it as the greatest single problem with Final Fantasy VII.  The gameplay, solid. The music, beautiful. The technology, amazing for its time. The story? OH MY GOD WHY?!  Not only is the plot so complicated to Evangelion proportions (Starting to see why this one is so popular with anime fans), it is told is the most sideways methods that David Lynch would stop the game to say “Wait. What?” with buckets of exposition tossed on you combined with misinformation that has some fans of the games stunned when I mention the bit that Jenova ISN’T a bloody Cetra.

Worse yet, the way the story is conveyed is usually via the party talking, which means you spend most of the time with the characters trying to figure out the story instead of getting to know these character’s personalities.  Combine that with the fact that so little time is spent with their individual stories save for usually one town on Disc One that serves as that character’s “backstory town” and then you move on and never bother with them again.  Red XIII does a complete heel turn about his father.  Any and all resentment is just dropped and now he is the proudest frickin’ lion dog thing ever to be the son of Soto.  If it was that damn easy, why didn’t Bugen just tell him that crap years ago?  “My dad sucks.” “Your dad was a hero.” “I love my dad!” “Good, now heal the party and don’t be relevant till disc 3.”

I know I’m really harping on this, but come on people.  With the exception of Cloud, Tifa and maybe Barrett, these aren’t characters.  They’re cardboard cut outs that can cast spells.  Even Aeris falls victim to this, hence why I had no emotional weight to her death (Spoiler warning for a 15 year old game by the way).  She was cheerful?  And she offered Cloud a date in exchange for protection?  And then she was a Cetra.  And she summoned holy.  And she’s dead now.  Sure, you get a bit more time with her if you do the Gold Saucer date, but by that point I didn’t give a damn about her and was much more interested in the childhood friend who clearly knows something isn’t right with her friend and shares an emotional tragedy with the loss of their mutual hometown and their parents.  And you know that much about them by the time you get your first chocobo.  Aeris’ backstory is…  she’s a Cetra. She dated Zach. Her mom died… somehow? And she’s a Cetra.

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Wait… I’m WHERE?

Not convinced?  How about Cid?  Cid who becomes the de facto leader when Tifa stays with Cloud at the hospital for a few missions on Disc 2.  Captain of the airship in the game.  Clearly an important figure.  Why does he join this mission to save Planet?  Well,  in his own words:  My time in that town is over, and my business with Shinra is through…  So yea, why not?  Why not indeed.  Why not join a bunch of terrorists?  Got nothing else to do.  And it’s true.  He has no reason to get involved, but he does because the plot says so.

It just drove me nuts.  I’d take a simple plot with great characters over a complex plot with bland characters.  I mean, if I can have both, sure. But this ain’t it.

So I’m glad I played it.  I enjoyed the game.  But I wish the story were handled better.  It wasn’t a bad story. Just… not told well.  I remember the problem being similar in Final Fantasy 8 – another on my list to revisit someday – but right now we’re going back to a game I know I love that I’ve been wanting to replay forever.

A game beneath cerulean skies

Oh! I suppose I should note in terms of offline gaming, my fiance and I picked up Age of Empires III on sale and decided to give it a try.  First impressions were…   mixed?  I guess it’s like an historical warcraft game essentially?  I think we were both hoping for something more like a more realtime active Civilization, but hey at least it’s on the cheap. And it fulfills that “Lets blow up the other country!” feeling.

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Solo Game Vacation: Week One

So as I said before in my previous posts, I had decided to take some time off of the hustle and bustle of the non-stop worlds of MMOs and what not and get in touch with my roots of single player games.  Single player games are actually my preferred form of story, outranking movies, books, and comics.  There’s something just satisfying about playing a story to its completion and feeling like you actually changed things in the world.  That’s something MMOs have always sorely lacked for me.  Even if SWTOR, where choices can affect a great deal, you are ultimately on a straight path that has a clear and set beginning and end with a few dashes of flavor.  The events of the Imperial Agents chapter two always occur, though not necessarily for always the same reasons.  In the end, whether you are a cut throat bounty hunter, or a member of the fricking Dark Council, you still get called on to work the front lines of Makeb.

So when I feel in the mood for games where the story actually can change and alter the world around me as I play through them, I enjoy these breaks to come back to my roots and dig in with some games I may have put on the shelf, haven’t gotten to yet, or want to revisit from yesteryear.  Hence, Chrono Trigger.

Chrono Trigger

There’s not much I can say about Chrono Trigger that hasn’t already been said a thousand times across these worlds wide web.  The game is still fantastic.  It’s solid, tells a good story, and is fun.  However, there is a lot of things I didn’t notice when I first played it.  Which admittedly was like… middle school age I think.  So around 12?  Anyway, first and foremost that this game is actually incredibly simple.  I mean compared to Squaresoft’s other offerings at the time. The older Final Fantasy games can seriously kick my butt still at times to this day, especially in the extra boss or final boss sense.  Chrono Trigger?  There’s always a trick, always some weakness, that once you know it, reduces a fight to mere child’s play and this includes the final boss.  The final form of Lavos can be quite simply boiled down to: don’t attack the thing you THINK is the boss, kill the little thing to the right of it.  Bam. Done. Many bosses have a weakness in the form of some kind of magic that nullifies their defenses.  Really, the hardest boss fight in the whole thing was probably Magus because it’s a) early on b) the trick isn’t obvious and c) he has a wide range of heavily damaging and/or party wide attacks.  The whole thing in retrospect feels like a beginners RPG.  One to introduce people to the genre before graduating up to things like Final Fantasy.

The other thing I should note on my replay is that the game is really short.  I completed the whole story the long way, completed all the optional side missions, collected every little doodad, unlocked every tech, and did quite a bit of grinding and the whole thing still took only about 23 hours to do.  Now admittedly, if I was being honest about completion I’d have to include the X hours it would take to do a New Game+ and get all 15 other endings. But for a strict single playthrough that was surprisingly short for an RPG.  Right? Or is it just me?  Still, if you want an amazing old school RPG that isn’t gonna devour all your time, here ya go.  The same however cannot be said for its sibling.

Chrono Cross

Well, I finished up Chrono Trigger, and I said, “What shall I play next?” and my game shelf answered “How about the sequel?” which was odd because my shelf usually recommends that I play Mega Man every time I ask it.  Chrono Cross is one of those games that I played once, enjoyed it tremendously, and never picked it up again.  The reasons being twofold.  The first is that the plot is insanely confusing and requires a great deal of thinking to wrap your head around the combinations and consequences of time and dimensional travel presented, and second that the only way to get the “good ending” is complete bullcensored.  Having to toss the correct color combo of magic (magic and attacks have colors in this game. Don’t ask me why.) and then smack with a special magic.  That’s all well and good but the boss ALSO is tossing out color magic and it messes up the whole thing.  TEDIOUS.  So why did I start replaying it? (Still haven’t finished)  Well, unlike when I was 16 (a literal half a lifetime ago now), I didn’t have access to things like FAQs on the internet.  So that helps immensely with the ending.  And I’m older and wiser now.  Kind of.  Stop giggling.  So the convoluted plot so be a bit easier to follow. I hope.

As I said, I haven’t finished this one yet but I am enjoying it.  The combat system is not nearly as frustrating despite  five different components and resources to keep track of (Hit chance, Tech points, Tech color, Field Color, and Stamina), it becomes a fairly intuitive dance after a while.  Hit to generate tech points, spend tech points to use techs, and keep in mind your colors to maximize damage.  The story is also pretty cool and seems designed with the intent of multiple playthroughs.  For instance, early on you can take 3 different paths to get to the next objective. Each path requires different things, and recruits a different party member.  I don’t know if you can still get the other party members later in the game, or you need to grab them in a new game+ set up to recruit them all.  Not too worried since this game hosts a multitude of companions (It’s in the double digits at least).  But that’s kind of a cool mechanic you don’t see very often.  Three paths that lock you out of the other two when you pick one?  Bold and interesting choice.  I didn’t even realize it was there until I accidentally locked myself out of one of the other paths.

However, if Chrono Trigger is a beginner RPG then Cross feels like a fricking Advanced Placement class. There is so much here in terms of plot, collectibles, recruitable characters, and mechanics that I can’t imagine jumping into this one right after Trigger without playing some other RPGs in between.  Luckily there were YEARS between the two games when they first came out.  I still look forwarding to playing this one some more and seeing how the rest of it holds up.

FINAL FANTASY VII

Okay.  Alright.  Confession time, readers.  I…  never finished FF7 before.  Yes, you may laugh, jeer, throw things, etc.  But I never did.  I got to the point where Aerith dies and then I was done.  Not because I was heart broken by the loss. Oh heck no.  I NEVER liked Aerith.  She always came off to me as a cheerleader mixed with a purity sue that continuously got shoved in my face because “LOOK! IT’S A TRAGIC ROMANCE!”  No.  It’s that by that point in the game, I had utterly stopped giving a damn about the greater plot that confused me worse than Chrono Cross, and I decided to just walk away.  To give you a time frame, I bought FF7 when it was just given its greatest hits release.

Now, I can’t click anything Final Fantasy related on the internet without hearing about how no game in the entirety of the Final Fantasy series could hope to hold a candle to the MAJESTY that is Final Fantasy VII.  Alright, internet.  Here’s your chance to prove me wrong.  I got the game again. This time on Steam.  I’m playing it. I won’t stop until it’s done.  And if this thing doesn’t blow me out of the water, we are having words.  And I’m not going to declare this whole thing moot before then, but I have played a while so far and I am less than impressed.  I mean, I get the nostalgia factor.  I get the technical WOW! factor with the cutscenes and music.  But that’s not what people rave to me about, they say “Vry, the characters! Vry, the story!”  and I’ve only just gotten to Junon but thus far the story is pretty simple: Help the terrorists win.  Yea, there’s a lot more going on with Sephiroth and the Ancients, and the Planet, but that stuff has only been set up for what I assume is coming later.  Right now, I’m helping the terrorists win.  I’m blowing up buildings, cutting power to innocent civilians, and doing so in the name of the Planet.  Also I’m cross dressing to save my friend from a fat slum lord pimp. (Is there any actual reason for the Don Corneo stuff beyond padding and some frighteningly inappropriate rape-y dialogue?)

However, if anything has been enlightening so far it’s that the characters are so very much NOT the characters the fandom and the movie portray.  Cloud is not a brooding whiny emo, he’s a snarky jerk who delights in ticking Barrett off.  Sephiroth is not the cold noble warrior, he’s psychotic and obsessed and not in the entertaining Kefka/Joker way.  Aerith is not the kind gentle soul, she’s a cheerleader crossed with a purity sue.  Wait.  Didn’t I? Lemme scroll up.  Huh.  Looks like I remember the annoying flower girl correctly.  I also didn’t remember Tifa being as ‘teenager with a crush’-y around Cloud.  Barrett and Yuffie are one note characters that can’t be incorrectly portayed.   And Red XIII (who is not named Nanaki in my game.  His name is “NotNanaki”) hasn’t had a ton of dialogue so far so I have no clue.  Far as I know, he’s Clifford in a weird crossover.

The gameplay is standard Final Fantasy fare.  You can’t make me Oooo Aaaah at pretty summons.  I accidentally killed a whole village of Summoners in Final Fantasy IV.  This is old hat.  Although the developers seemed a but full of themselves with this new fangled CGI animation stuff.  Airbuster, one of the earliest bosses you face, has animations that are so slow that you can take three turns in the time it takes it to do one.  Annoying.

And please, don’t jump on me because I’m being snarky.  I’m gonna play the whole game.  I’m going to think about the whole game.  And I get that I’m barely into Disc One of a three disc game so I can’t expect the story to be leaping off the page yet.  They are doing a great job at establishing a mystery with the whole Sephiroth and Jenova thing.  The Ancients are wonderfully under-explained despite apparently everyone knowing what they are already.  Though the biggest problem I have so far with the game is that I have NO clue what AVALANCHE stands for and I have no clue how they know without the text boxes when someone is referring to SOLDIER (All caps) or soldier (no caps) – one being a military organization and the other being well… a soldier.  Can the characters read the text boxes in game? Is that how they know?

5 Endings I Hate More Than ME3

For the record, I don’t have a single issue with the Mass Effect 3 ending.  I really liked it.  Maybe it was because I was really to please.  Maybe it was because I was expected something truly god awful based on what people were saying on Twitter. Or maybe it’s because I’ve seen much MUCH worse.  Here’s a handful of endings that pissed me off in ways that Mass Effect 3 never could.

Battlestar Galactica: If there is way one to quickly push my buttons it’s a cheap cop-out ending.  It was all a dream? Bite me.  But one that gets going even more so?  God did it.  And that’s what we get at the end of the new BSG re-imagining.  No real explanation.  Just ‘God did it and that’s why it all works.’  You have got to be kidding me.  No.  You don’t just get to wave that wand around because you have some pseudo-religious themes in your show.  You have to EARN ‘God did it’.  There has to be reasons.  There has to be motives.  God doesn’t get a free pass because it’s God.  It doesn’t work that way.  

So unless you can actual give me an explanation as to why ‘God’ decides to wipe out the Cylons, sends them to a mysterious planet that they dub new ‘Earth’, destroy all their technology and jump start humanity.  Cause as it stands there is NO REASON for them to do most of that other than to cram in a stupid message that technology is bad and God is good and they are somehow mutually exclusive.

Ranma 1/2: What’s worse than a bad ending?  Well, how about a non-ending?  Ranma 1/2 wrapped up after hundreds of pages of manga with a complete and utter non-event.  The two closest things we have to main characters in a cast of dozens seem to be about to be married – something that was a LOOOONG time coming, and then POW! The whole wedding gets ruined by the baker’s dozen of other potential suitors and the massive series ends with a still shot of the two NOT married teens running off to school like they always do.  No real conclusion.  The end message is: put the last few volumes on a loop and read until the end of time. Thanks.  Fabulous.

Teen Titans: Things. F-ing. Change.  The biggest middle finger to the fans I can possible think off.  Let’s bring back a very important character that was thought gone for good a few seasons back, make it super ambigous about whether its a look alike/clone/etc by giving them amnesia and a bunch of other weird hints, and then don’t resolve it giving one of the main cast a nice heaping helping of woobie angst in the process. Oh, and by the way: SERIES FINALE.  This episode never existed as far as I’m concerned.

Neon Genesis EvangelionOkay, so you spend 24 episodes of a 26 episode series building up some horrific apocalyptic ‘Third Impact’ event that will wipe out everything.  So how do you start episode 25?  Oh, with a text screen that proudly announces that the apocalypse already happened and the following two episodes take place AFTER that.

Beyond the fact that the last two episodes are entirely philosophical debates that take place within the main character’s head, there is never any explanation as to how or what the apocalypse was.  You actually get the feeling at the end of Episode 24 that they just stopped the last risk that could have triggered it!

Luckily, we get a movie that explains what happened.  Or maybe it’s a ‘what if’ alternate universe thing.  No one is really sure if they are supposed to be in the same continuity.  I always assumed they did.  But the movie is just as whack-a-doo as the show or more so in some cases.  And as a giant middle finger to the audience they made an even MORE non-sensical ending.  Complete with utterly irrelevant imagery, vague dialogue and little to no context crammed in for the last minute.

Chrono CrossSo you’ve spent dozens of hours hacking your way through a plot more dense than Akira meets the Kingdom Hearts franchsie, and defeated the final boss.  Finally we have a chance for some clarity as that last piece slides into place and puts all of this in some kind of conte-  Who is that?  Why is there some random live action girl wandering around live action Tokyo? Why does she have the magic pendant?

The ending of Chrono Cross requires more work in trying to decipher what it is supposed to be than the entirety of the rest of the game.  And in a game that involves alternate universes, time travel, body swapping, conspiracies within conspiracies within conspiracies…  that is saying A LOT.  To be honest, I have no clue how anyone figured out what’s going on here without some kind of supplemental material.  Which considering Square Enix’s fondness for companion books may have been the case.  Anyway, it confused the heck out of me in an already confusing game.

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