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by Ethos

Sunday Soapbox: Everyone’s Fantasy

Sunday, April 11th, 2010
Final Fantasy

Thanks to whoever made this. It wasn't me.

Ah, Final Fantasy. There aren’t many other franchises that foster such an emotional connection with its fanbase. Everyone has a favorite Final Fantasy game that they’re willing to defend to the bitter end – and, usually, a Final Fantasy game that they hate with a fierce passion.  From whimsical tales of swords and sorcery to gritty sci-fi epics, the series has been everywhere – and, as fans, we’ve been there for every high and low. It’s hard to describe, and it doubtless has something to do with the mere longevity of the franchise, but Final Fantasy has this remarkable way of forming a very special bond with gamers in a way that no other franchise really can.

What do I mean? Ah… well, let’s try it this way.

My first Final Fantasy game was actually Final Fantasy X. Yes, I was very late to the show.  But, hey, I certainly could have picked a worse place to start. I loved (and continue to love) Final Fantasy X. Turn-based battling wasn’t entirely new to me, but Final Fantasy X was the first time I fell in love with it. I felt like I was employing some form of strategy to take down my enemies – a sensation that was new to me at the time, since my (rather short) gaming track record at the time was diluted with (usually rather crappy) action games.

I loved the game’s storyline. Final Fantasy X was the first videogame I’d ever played that actually had an immersive story that I could sink my teeth into. I loved the characters with real personalities, I loved the melodrama, and I loved the epic moments. To be fair, if I played Final Fantasy X for the first time today, I doubt it would would be quite as impactful. But nine years ago, it was pretty much the greatest thing I’d ever experienced.

Final Fantasy VII came next. Eager to explore the series further, I ordered it off of Amazon (or something) a few short days after finishing X. And within a few short hours of playing, my ongoing love affair with Final Fantasy was sealed. I remember loving the fact that many of the conventions in X were present in VII – y’know, like potions, phoenix downs, summons, chocobos, and all the usual staples. If that sounds like a silly thing to glee over, that’s probably because it is – but hey, all I can do is tell it like it is. Meeting Cait Sith for the first time and realizing that he looked just like one of the dolls that Lulu used in Final Fantasy X made me unbelievably happy. Probably too happy.

I think I played Final Fantasy VIII next. By this time I had a pretty firm grasp on the gist of the series, and I was intrigued by the rather unique that Final Fantasy VIII took. It was around then that I started to appreciate the series not just for its traditions, but also for differences between the individual games. We all have our preferences, yes, but I think most of us will agree that if Final Fantasy was the same game every time, a lot of the charm would be lost. Take Final Fantasy VIII for example: the game made some odd decisions, and a lot of people don’t exactly appreciate them. But regardless of that, Final Fantasy VIII has carved out an immortal spot among the hearts of gamers, be it a place of hatred or adoration. What if the game had never existed? The people who love it for its oddities (like myself) would have one less game to love, and all of the haters wouldn’t have the opportunity to tell the fans why they’re stupid for liking it. The karmic balance would be thrown off, and everything would just… be wrong.

I know I’m talking nonsense now, but all I’m really trying to do is convey something that’s very difficult to put into words. For a lot of people – like myself – Final Fantasy is more than just another videogame franchise. It is, for lack of a less cliched way to put it, a part of us. Its high points are our high points. And, similarly, its low points tend to be low points for us.

Like, say, Final Fantasy XIII. Obviously I can’t speak for everyone here, but I can certainly speak for myself: Final Fantasy XIII is more than just a massive disappointment; it’s almost a betrayal. Now, I’m not going into another anti-FFXIII tirade (the internet has plenty of those) but it’s an example of just how personal the series is. Well, to me at least. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so angry at a game as I am at Final Fantasy XIII, and that’s because I love the series so damn much.

Some 847 words later, I’m still unsure if I’ve managed to convey… anything. Hopefully I’ve managed to explain my own love for Final Fantasy, if nothing else. If you thought today’s soapbox was an unorganized, poorly-structured mess just blame Ethos. He was supposed to write part of it, and pulled the rug out from under me at the last minute so he could go help  his mom move. Or something stupid like that.

But that’s enough from me. Why do you guys love Final Fantasy?

The Final Fantasy Awards: Best Game – Ethos

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

ffixEthos’ Pick: Final Fantasy IX

Well, no surprise here either.

Final Fantasy VII may have got me into the series, but Final Fantasy IX was the first I ever played all the way through, and for good reason. IX has perpetual charm, the best music in any video game, the most addicting PSX-era ability, weapon, and synthesis systems, and the most human characters of any Final Fantasy.

Riddles often counters my argument of IX’s light-hearted tone lending to its credibility by stating that the game is just as melodramatic as the rest. And I’ll agree that it absolutely can be, but it’s the fact that the default tone is that of self-mockery and innocence which gives the game such an uncanny human depth that makes the dramatic moments more believable. I’ll admit that VII is the only other Final Fantasy in my books to also have this ability, but IX extends it further so that each character and locale is dripping with character.

Kuja isn’t a fantastic villain, but he is a fantastic character. He’s scared, feminine, narcissist, and people still make fun of him to this day about it. But the great thing about IX is that it already makes fun of him. The game is so self-aware, that I think its ability to laugh at itself is perhaps its most impressive and engrossing feat.

Now I’ve talked Final Fantasy IX’s character arcs to death, so instead I’ll make my final praise about the cohesive world. Only X has come close to creating such a thoroughly connected universe. While VII can make each area feel unique and full of mood, IX does the same, yet makes sure each area is aware of its place, both geographically and politically. The story returns to familiar locales, but it feels different every time because of the journey the characters have gone since their last visit, replicating yet another emotional phenomenon from everyday life better than any other game I have played.

I entirely understand Riddles’ choice of FFVII as I agree with many of his points and I adore the game myself, but ultimately IX just makes more sense to me as a gamer and as a person.

Runner Up: Final Fantasy XII

Wow, really? Yup. This game didn’t even get so much as a second place during all my awards this week, but it just beat out FFVII for my number two spot overall. And for my reasons, just look to Riddles’ post. Not since FFIX have I been so into the game mechanics themselves. I loved the marks, the massive world, the weapons, and the gambits. I even got some enjoyment out of the – admittedly – incredibly bland License Board. If XII had more than Balthier to buff up its cast, and a legitimate villain and story, the game could have been mindblowing. As it stands, it’s the Final Fantasy I have the most fun with directly after IX.

Although, it is worth mentioning that I haven’t beat IV, V, or VI, and I quite enjoy what I’ve played of V, and I have a feeling I’m going to like VI a lot more this playthrough. We’ll take a look next time we divvy out these awards…

Dishonourable Mention: Final Fantasy III

There are a scary number of contenders here. II is pretty dumb, but has its charm, XIII has a horrendously designed tunnel, but also contains the undeniably amazing Pulse that will happily drain way more hours than the main quest did, and VIII has its soundtrack, art direction, and opening hours to defend itself with. Still, III is the most boring piece of donkey shit I’ve ever forced myself to beat. What a piece of garbage. The positive from all this is that even with the disappointment of XIII, remembering that the greatness of X, X-2, and XII came before it is encouraging. Perhaps XIII is yet another III or VIII. Wait…I’m noticing a pattern here. CONSPIRACY!

…okay I need sleep.

I hate Final Fantasy III.

The Final Fantasy Awards: Best Game – Riddles

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

FFVIIboxartRiddles’ Pick: Final Fantasy VII

Surprise, surprise. Scoring all but one of my awards, Final Fantasy VII almost had a clean sweep.

I don’t gush about Final Fantasy VII as much as, say, Ethos does about Final Fantasy IX. But, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I love the game – it remains my second-favorite videogame of all time behind Ocarina of Time.

Final Fantasy VII is a complete package. The game mechanics are more than solid; standard ATB fare mixed with the delightfully customizable Materia system fit the bill quite nicely. Sure, the battle system is nothing revolutionary, but the diversity of the Materia system makes it the deepest of the three PSX-era Final Fantasies.

We’ve already talked plenty about the game’s iconic characters and storyline. There are few other fictional characters that are as close to my heart as the cast of Final Fantasy VII. As I’ve stated in detail before, Cloud, Tifa, Barret and the gang are simply the greatest group of misfits ever to be seen in an RPG.

Similarly, Final Fantasy VII’s storyline is one of the greatest ever crafted for a videogame. The intensity of the characters, the pacing of the events, and the effectively conveyed themes all come together to form near-perfection. After all of these years, it’s still incredibly powerful – and, has even become more so with the release of games such as Crisis Core.

The artistic vision behind the world that Final Fantasy VII takes place in is unrivalled. From Nomura’s classic character designs to the gritty alleyways of Midgar, Final Fantasy VII is a literal artistic triumph – it’s almost a sin that it’s conveyed in such a pixelated format.

And finally, Nobuo Uematsu’s infamous soundtrack seals the deal. As I write this, the sad theme that accompanies the death of Aeris is playing. And… it’s all I need to go back to that moment.

Final Fantasy VII is so close to perfect that it almost defies belief. Never before, and never again has such a combination of strengths been poured into a videogame – much less a Japanese RPG.

And a word to all you Final Fantasy VII haters: you’re more annoying than we ever were.

Runner Up: Final Fantasy XII

Final Fantasy XII, if you recall, won the first award of the week from me. So, it shouldn’t come as a total surprise that it won my second choice, even if it didn’t score another mention from me. But while the cast and characters are weak, and the music doesn’t quite match up with the top contenders, Final Fantasy XII triumphs in the department of gameplay, immersion, and exploration. Final Fantasy XII was such a joy to play, that I completed nearly every sidequest the game had to offer. Every hunt, every treasure, every secret area. No other game, RPG or otherwise, has had the same effect on me. And few other RPGs are as rich, robust, and immersive as Final Fantasy XII.

Dishonorable Mention: Final Fantasy III

I can’t give X-2 this award, because it partially redeems itself with a fun battle system. I can’t give it to XIII, because it does the same thing. Final Fantasy III, for me at least, is the least enjoyable game in the series. I did not have fun while playing it. I spent most of my playtime hating everything about it, actually. The sad thing is that I actually finished it. How sad is that? The thing is, I might not have hated Final Fantasy III as much if I’d been given the chance to play it in its original 2D format. But, I never got that chance, and instead had to suffer through the awful 3D remake. Who ever thought those ugly things were a good idea?

Hey! Look! Listen!

Friday, April 9th, 2010

HeyLookListenLogo1

OLIVER MOTOK IS WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING, ALWAYS.

Didn’t we just agree on the last award? Yes. Yes we did. I just wanted to start this off the same way he did. So Riddles and I are thinking about starting to officially split this feature. What do you guys think? Don’t worry, he’ll never get control of Scatter Storming again.

Anyhoo, a decent splooge of news on this fine Friday, and I’m pretty busy, so let’s get to it.

Heavy Rain Sells Over a Million

Woo.

I don’t really care, to be honest. I know Riddles and a bunch of people loved this game, but that “gameplay” really didn’t do it for me. Cool, intense, well-directed stuff, but I’m lukewarm on the – probably soon to be – series. Quantic Dream seemed surprised at the numbers, though. Founder David Cage admitted that he expected the Playstation exclusive to sell closer to 300 000 units at best, so all those Quantic Dream people are probably having a bunch o’ parties right about now.
(IGN)

Portal 2 on the PS3?

Now here’s some surprise PS3 news I can sink my teeth into.

It’s a surprise, of course, because Valve isn’t really known for giving the consoles – and Sony in particular – much love. The Orange Box was the worst on the PS3 and Valve didn’t really seem to care. But more importantly, when Portal 2 was announced in early March, only Xbox 360 and PC versions were mentioned. Now, this is still just a rumour because Valve still hasn’t commented, but UK Playstation gaming magazine, PSM3 has a cover story that reads “36 Must-Play PS3 Game” and as you can see below, Portal 2 is listed. This would be fantastic news as Portal – short as it may be – is easily one of my favourite games this generation, and Valve hasn’t been secretive in mentioning that they are loving the way the sequel is shaping up.
portal2
(IGN)

Pokémon Generation V Named. RACIST?!?!

Bah-ha ha ha.
Obviously not racist, but the newest games have been revealed to be titled “Black” and “White”, so I thought I’d try to stir up some controversy. No other details out yet, but the official site says that the wait won’t be long. Until April 15th to be exact.

I’m not sure if Nintendo was running out of ridiculous ways to name their games, or if Black and White are trying to indicate some sort of “back to the basics” mentality. Which wouldn’t make any sense because other than expected upgrades alongside handheld progression, the games haven’t changed at all. Oh well, we’ll see.
(IGN)

Gears of War 3 Announced. Oops.

Good ol’ 360 Dashboard. I don’t think this is the first time details about a major game have shown up there before they were supposed to. Anyway, while it’s down now, there was an announcement up for a time on the 360 Dashboard revealing an April 2011 release for Gears of War 3.

Now, I’m a mild fan of these games, but the timing of that date in conjunction with Natal’s holiday release, and the weird comments about RPG elements entering the gameplay that have drifted from Microsoft have turned me off a bit since polishing off Gears 2. Also, the match-making really sucked. So much for Gold subscription costs going to a unified, stable, and reliable online service. Anyway, now that the cover is blown, I’m sure we’ll hear more about this game very soon.
(IGN)

Hells yes

Hells yes

Because I Can – Green Day: Rock Band Track Listing Revealed.

I fucking love Green Day. Another one of those rare things that unifies Riddles and I is our shared love for this band that seems to split audiences into being a rabid fan or an extreme hater.

Whatever the case, I like the direction they’re taking with Green Day: Rock Band by including (almost) three full albums right off the bat. I say almost because all of Dookie and American Idiot will be available right from the get-go, whereas a third of 21st Century Breakdown will be day one DLC. Which actually makes a bit of sense because most of those tracks are already available for download, and knowing the way Rock Band works, you’ll likely be able to carry those tracks over to play with the new disc seamlessly if you already own them.

There’s more DLC planned, and a few other tracks from other albums so head over to IGN if you’re interested in perusing the entire track listing. I’m excited, I haven’t played music games in ages, and I kinda miss them.

Well! There you go! Do I do the job well enough? I have a billion other things to do today, so there won’t be much of an outro.

Out!

The Final Fantasy Awards: Best Storyline – Ethos

Friday, April 9th, 2010

FFVIIboxartEthos’ Pick: Final Fantasy VII

Buhh?! Not Final Fantasy IX again? The difference here, kids, is that the award is for best storyline not just best story. I like FFIX’s plot well enough, but it’s the arc and themes of the characters themselves tied into the tale that really sells it for me.

But about VII. What can I say that Riddles didn’t? Information is released at such a great pace in Final Fantasy VII that the insane number of plot points and twists rarely feel all that confusing unless you try to explain the story to someone else. The motivations and premise all fit, and maybe it’s because I first played it when I was so young, but it’s rare for me to feel so much like I’m in a story instead of just watching it. I remember feeling personally betrayed by Sephiroth, and letting Cloud’s obsession with him slowly become my own.

Final Fantasy games will always have insane theatrics near the end, but VII is forgiven a bit because all the things that happen are justified in the lore and mythologies talked about throughout the game. Like the mood and music support, FFVII is a melancholy tale that has this odd injection of determination and hope that so many JRPGs try to replicate and only FFVII has done so well.

Runner Up: Final Fantasy IX

X gets an honourable mention here, because despite my personal distaste for the characters, I actually generally like the storyline. Still, IX wins runner-up for being the first and only Final Fantasy to have depth to the characters and a completely not convoluted plot. There’s a twist or two, but the simplicity of the tale left room to focus on the diverse cast of characters, and gave a chance for the player to become invested through the personalities instead of plot gimmicks. I’m not a huge fan of all the over-the-top events near the ending, but the ending proper makes up for it. Sap is a very difficult thing to do well, and IX nails it. It’s a well-deserved happy ending, and an extremely solid non-gimmicky ride there.

Dishonourable Mention: Final Fantasy III

Again, if this was less about plot and more about story, I’d agree with Riddles here too. But I’m a sap, and it’s no secret that I didn’t personally connect with X, so I’m fine with the way X-2 “shat all over X” to appease my sappy side. The story-telling and the sexist vapid filler was awful, but I liked the plot proper.
Soooo, instead I want to finally give FFIII a proper dishonourable mention because I hate that game.

The Final Fantasy Awards: Best Story – Riddles

Friday, April 9th, 2010

FFVIIboxartRiddles’ Pick: Final Fantasy VII

Hey, look who won again! But yet again, there was no way I could give this award to any other game. Final Fantasy VII tells the most complex, character-driven story of the entire series. There are many different reasons why I think it’s the best, and I’ll do my best to explain a few of them here.

First and foremost, I’d like to point out that Final Fantasy VII features the greatest villain of the series. I know my partner Ethos in particular will disagree with me, but allow me to explain: In no other game is the emotional connection between the villain and protagonist established as strongly as it is in VII. Through various flashbacks, we see Sephiroth before his dark days begin. We see flashbacks of his relationship with Cloud, and the tragedy that befalls them both. Sure, Cloud mucks up the memories pretty badly – but the point is that Sephiroth is extremely important to the game as both a character, and as a concept – the goal that keeps Cloud moving, desperate to uncover the truth behind his past and himself. And, as we all know, he ends up being quite a bit “closer” to Sephiroth than he figured.

The relationships between the characters of Final Fantasy VII all have an air of tragedy to them; Sephiroth is only a singular example. Take Cloud and Tifa, for example: until the truth is finally revealed by Sephiroth at Gaea’s Cliff, she spends the game in utter confusion as her childhood friend Cloud talks about his past as one of Shinra’s SOLDIERS – a past she knows never happened. But, due to her own confusion over the tragic Nibelheim events, and out of a misguided desire to protect Cloud perhaps, she says nothing.

Perhaps the most tragic of all, though, is Cloud’s connection to Zack, the man who’s identity Cloud stole. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is the only product in the “Compilation of Final Fantasy VII” that offers a strong narrative supplement to the main game. Advent Children was more visual spectacle than anything else, and Dirge of Cerberus was a mess that should have never existed  - but Crisis Core tells a prequel story that not only enhances the Final Fantasy VII experience in every way, but stands on its own as an emotionally gripping tale. In this, the story of Zack Fair is finally told in full – and we finally see firsthand the tragic events that culminate in the burning of Nibelheim, and finally, Zack’s death.

Characters aren’t the only reason this game’s narrative is so enjoyable, though. Final Fantasy VII just a hell of a ride. The opening bombing mission instantly draws the player into the struggle, and unlike Final Fantasy XIII, is a GOOD example of how to utilize In Media Res. The Shinra Building break-in is where things really take off, and the motorcycle escape sequence – while gimmicky – will always be pure awesome in my eyes. The flashback sequence in Kalm, when Cloud first recounts his “past” with Sephiroth, is absolutely chilling, and remains one of my favorite story sequences of any RPG. (If I recall correctly, back in the day I actually recorded the entire thing on a VHS tape so I could watch it again and again.)

I could continue this shameless nerdgasming for hours. But in all fanboyism aside, Final Fantasy VII is simply a strongly-told story. The characters are strong, their goals are compelling. Strong themes of identity struggle and self-loathing are prevalent throughout.  There are enough bombastic, thrilling plot twists to satisfy, but the game never loses sight of the real struggle – which is between the characters, and in some cases, in the minds of the characters.

Runner Up: Final Fantasy X

Final Fantasy X is the only Final Fantasy that approaches the narrative depth of VII, in my opinion – and, to be sure, it’s a fantastic tale. Every character is a strong one, and their connections to eachother are beautifully developed over the course of the game. Yuna and Tidus were almost a fantastic love story – but as we’ve been over before, they didn’t quite make it there. The whole Evil Villain Father thing has been overdone, sure, but it works pretty well in Final Fantasy X. The same can be said about the Big Evil Religion, but again, Final Fantasy X manages to execute these fairly cliched concepts with grace. That’s a testament to how strong the characters are, and how effectively the game draws you into the world of Spira.

Dishonorable Mention: Final Fantasy X-2

Aaaand, a few short years later, along came Final Fantasy X-2 to take a massive shit on everything Final Fantasy X was, and everything it stood for. One of the strongest themes of Final Fantasy X was that, simply, of sacrifice – in fact, this theme was so prevalent that even during the game’s emotionally charged ending, not everyone was left entirely happy. But then, a few years later, Yuna embarks on (essentially) a quest to have her cake and eat it too. There are no strong themes in Final Fantasy X-2, unless you count “Girl Power.” There are no good characters, unless you count mildly degrading Japanese female stereotypes. Oh, and the plot makes no fucking sense at all. Let me get this straight: Shuyin and Lenne are two ancient people who just… look… like Tidus and Yuna? WHO GIVES A FUCK?!

The Final Fantasy Awards: Best Music – Ethos

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

ffixEthos’ Pick: Final Fantasy IX

As FFVII begins to sweep Riddles’ awards, IX is starting to do the same for me. Although VII is still winning overall on account of all the 2nd places I’m awarding it.

Anyway, while this is an easy choice for me, it needs saying that I adore Uematsu’s work from FFVI through IX. In fact, somewhat ironically, my top three Nobuo tracks are probably One Winged Angel, Terra’s Theme, and Vincent’s Theme, and by far my favourite piano collection is the one from Final Fantasy VIII. Still, when it comes to the entire soundtrack, IX is the irrevocable winner.

Not only is Final Fantasy IX Nobuo’s favourite and most ambitious soundtrack, but it is his most varied and musically impressive. While VIII suffered from too much repetition of really strong tracks, and FFVII doesn’t finish with the same strength that it started with, Final Fantasy IX is bursting with track after track of mood and history. Drawing from his impressive work with VII and VIII, Uematsu added a certain rich charm that isn’t really similar to any of his other work except occasionally VI. In fact, one of the soundtrack’s rare pitfalls is that there is almost too much music. One of my favourite pieces is long, complex and beautiful, but it’s easy to miss half of the entire cue just by playing at a normal pace. And then Zidane – the main character, mind you – only has his theme song played once as well throughout the entire experience.

Still, there is bombastic stuff that would make John Williams jealous, melancholy moments that could make Philip Glass weep, and impeccably suitable and memorable tracks at every single turn. As a music lover and piano player, nothing is more inspiring and mind-blowingly impressive as Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy farewell. He would still go on to write some decent stuff for FFX, but he left his heart with IX, and it’s incredibly obvious.

Runner Up: Final Fantasy VII
While VIII has some of the series’ most beautiful tracks, the OST doesn’t extend beyond what you can hear on the Piano Collections, and that’s simply not true for the other PSX titles. If Final Fantasy VII continued to be as strong throughout as it started, there’s a good chance I’d be agreeing with Riddles for the number one spot too. The first few hours in Midgar are stunning. Somehow the music manages to mix dark and gritty with innocent hope, reflecting the mood of the city perfectly. And while I agree with Riddles that the OST doesn’t have any duds, per se, it doesn’t continue in that flawless form until One Winged Angel explodes onto the speakers much later on. While I believe that Uematsu used VI as a leaping point to start hitting his stride, I don’t think VII was able to use themes as effectively, be as emotionally varied or as musically impressive as IX. Still it remains an absolutely outstanding soundtrack.

Dishonourable Mention: Final Fantasy X-2

I want to call out FFIII here, but I could never knock an Uematsu soundtrack like that. XII was too epic and XIII had some huge duds, but I’m with Riddles on this too. I actually found a lot of X-2 catchy, but it was never good, and it’s definitely the worst of the series overall. Plus, just…just watch that opening cutscene…

The Final Fantasy Awards: Best Music – Riddles

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

FFVIIboxartRiddles’ Pick: Final Fantasy VII

Huh boy, here comes the sweep.

It was frankly difficult to decide between VII and VIII in this case, but again, VII edges it out for being the stronger overall package. Final Fantasy VII’s soundtrack is packed with not simply good, but excellent pieces. And, there are very few stinkers – if any – to offset them. The most impressive aspect of the soundtrack, though, is how incredibly well – suited it is to the events, tone, and atmosphere of the game. There’s not a single track out of place. Every environment theme is spot-on. Every character theme fits them with perfection. Every special boss theme, be it Jenova or the One-Winged Angel himself, sets the tone of the struggle expertly. I’m hardly a musical critic, but I can call a strong videogame soundtrack when I hear one – and Final Fantasy VII’s is one of the strongest.

Runner Up: Final Fantasy VIII

The reason why I love Final Fantasy VIII’s music so much is because Uematsu took the somber tones of Final Fantasy VII and mellowed them out. The result is one of the more ambient Final Fantasy soundtracks in existence, as well as one of the most peaceful. It’s not quite as atmospheric as Final Fantasy VII’s soundtrack was, but it still shines in many areas – Compression of Time is one of the moodiest environment themes in the series, and The Extreme one of the greatest final boss themes. Uematsu himself may think that Final Fantasy IX epitomizes his work, but I must respectfully disagree.

Dishonorable Mention: Final Fantasy X-2

Jesus, where do I even begin on this one? I suppose I’ll write something positive: Final Fantasy X-2 has a few excellent tracks. There are some pretty piano themes, and I’ll admit to liking the lyrical song 1000 Words. But, aside from those few gems, the soundtrack is almost complete shit. Overly-poppy and upbeat, with no memorable melodies, just a bunch of nonsensical noises and effects that sound more fit for a porno than a videogame.

The Final Fantasy Awards: Best Cast – Ethos

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

ffixEthos’ Pick: Final Fantasy IX

Finally I can start mentioning this game in these awards! The game for which I am known for loving to death just wasn’t even in the running for the last two awards. Then technical difficulties had to push my gushing for yet another day. Anyway, on to said gushing.

This actually wasn’t an easy choice for me, initially. Final Fantasy has a number of fantastic characters and some extremely memorable casts. Still, while Amarant may be a bit of a dud, Final Fantasy IX sports the strongest overall and supporting cast in my books.

There may not be one stand out hero like Balthier or timeless villains like Sephiroth or Kefka, but all of IX’s varied characters react to and learn from each other like no other game I’ve seen. Quina – although s/he’s often hilarious – is the only gimmick character. Steiner is a bumbling, annoying tart, but he reacts realistically within the game’s world until he finally has to face his own stubbornness and blind faith. Zidane is a sappy lost boy who hides his vulnerabilities behind inflated confidence. Freya attempts to cling onto her heritage and lost love while actually moving away from both. I could go on to list – character by character – how each has to come to terms with very difficult things about themselves, but that’s not the only reason why FFIX has the best cast.

Even the supporting cast overflows with personality. Baku and Blank, Zorn and Thorn, the Black Mage Village, the list goes on. It’s not just that they’re great minor characters, it’s that they get a bigger chance to be in the spotlight than in any other game in the series. You get to watch Cinna and Marcus going to save Blank, you get to see Kuja fall even more in love with his melodramatic self, and Disc 2 even starts with a Shakespearean-style aside with two comic relief character with very little bearing on the story itself.

All in all, Final Fantasy IX has a depth in its cast that spans from great individual characterizations to countless entertaining and believable interactions with a huge and likable variety of personalities.

Runner Up: Final Fantasy VII

I’m with Riddles on this. Excepting FFIX, Final Fantasy VII is the only game in the series with a proper sense of humour. I didn’t mention this is the blurb above, but it’s so much easier to buy into melodrama when it’s offset by a legitimate sense of humour. Other than that point, Riddles said it all. Final Fantasy VII was the game to get me into the series, so Tifa, Cloud, and Sephiroth will always have a place in my heart. Not really Aeris though. Sorry.

Dishonourable Mention: Final Fantasy VIII

Dear god, so many options. FFXIII is really, really bad. FFX-2 has more Brother (was that his name?), the creepy incest-maniac, FFX has the insufferable Rikku and Yuna, FFXII is bland as shit, and I really hate FFIII. Still, no cast has such a collection of either idiots or forgettables as Final Fantasy VIII. There is literally not a single redeeming character for me in this game. Rinoa comes the closest to someone likable but she ruins that by liking Squall the tard, and then every single character following that is either a gimmick with a catch-phrase, entirely forgettable or both. At least Sazh was cool a lot of the time and Lightning punched Snow in the face repeatedly.

The Final Fantasy Awards: Best Cast – Riddles

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

FFVIIboxartRiddles’s Pick: Final Fantasy VII

I get the feeling that Final Fantasy VII might be winning a lot of the remaining awards for the week. Hrm. Oh well.

Final Fantasy VII’s cast of characters is still my favorite of any videogame I’ve ever played. Cloud, Tifa and the gang are all like old friends to me. Sure, a lot of it’s nostalgia, but the reason why Final Fantasy VII’s cast is so excellent is because of the complex relationships between the characters. Cloud’s connection to Sephiroth, for example, or the mysterious Vincent’s connection to Shinra’s Professor Hojo. Every character, even supporting characters like Reno and Rude of the Turks, plays a part in the game’s heavily character-driven story, and that’s what makes them all so very memorable.

My personal favorite scene from Final Fantasy VII is when a sick, wheelchair-bound cloud falls into the lifestream. There, with the help of his childhood friend Tifa, he attempts to piece together his shattered past, and finally determine who he really is. Powerfully character-driven sequences like this are what really sets this game apart from the crowd, even to this day. Or, at least, in my mind it does.

Runner Up: Final Fantasy VI

Final Fantasy VI has the largest cast ever featured in a Final Fantasy game. However, it’s not numbers alone that make this cast so good – aside from a few incidental additions to the party, every one of these characters manages to have a distinct, memorable personality, as well as a unique role in the game’s fantastic story. Truth be told, VI and VII are practically neck-to-neck in my book.

Dishonorable Mention: Final Fantasy X-2

When considering who to shame for this category, I considered games like Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy V, and even Final Fantasy XII. But the former two are much older games, so they’re easily forgiven. And Final Fantasy XII’s characters may be somewhat flat, but at least (for the most part) they have good personalities – which is more than I can say for X-2. Air-headed females, senseless villains, and random people from the past compose the players of Final Fantasy X-2. And it’s pretty much as a bad as it sounds.