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by Ethos

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 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 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 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 Art Direction – Ethos

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

wht_PS3_keyart_22_r04-80.inddEthos’ Pick: Final Fantasy XIII

What the hell, man? Even I’m pissed off that this game has got the first two awards on this list from me. But don’t worry, everybody, if FFXIII gets another nod from me this week it’ll be in the dishonourable mention category.

But if you read my review, this pick shouldn’t really come as a surprise either. The two things I praised the highest were the battle system and the visuals, and the visuals are spectacular for more reasons than just being in HD for the first time. While nothing was done in the gameplay to connect anybody to Cocoon, the world was designed in intricate detail. Architecture and clothing to subtle plant growth, even the tunnel of Cocoon was beautiful to behold. So much so, actually, that it made the game a little worse to think of how incredible the connection to the gorgeous surroundings could have been.

But Cocoon is only the beginning. Pulse is a wild, sprawling paradise with ruins that whisper its history, caverns swarming with wildlife and mystique, and huge fields dominated by truly massive beasts. Speaking of, FFXIII has my favourite enemy design of any Final Fantasy, and that’s saying a lot since both X and XII had great enemy design as well. In fact, all the characters are well designed. The main cast – although idiots that should never open their mouths – are my favourite character designs in the series. Ridiculous, yes, but Cloud’s hair was ridiculous, and so was Zidane’s tail although they at least had good personalities.

Still, the visuals may have made the overall game bittersweet, but judging them purely on their merit, I’d say Final Fantasy XIII has the best art design of the series that I’ve seen, which is quite a feat. Granted, I haven’t beat every game, so I might sing a different tune after finally completing VI, but as it stands, this is an easy choice.

Runner Up: Final Fantasy VII

Again, I almost wanted to say VI here, but I don’t feel educated enough in the game to choose it.

I realized that people might have an incorrect perception of my opinion of FFVII when Riddles was in Toronto and he was surprised I loved the soundtrack so much. Because my love for FFIX is so great, I suppose it overshadows the special place FFVII has in my heart. Anyway, I love the way this game looks. All the PSX Final Fantasies have beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds and I miss the style a lot, to be honest. Final Fantasy VII started it off beautifully with detailed and varied environments that really drew you into the world and made it the beloved classic that it still is.

Dishonourable Mention: Final Fantasy III

There is no real loser here because every Final Fantasy looked great for its time, I just really hate FFIII.

The Final Fantasy Awards: Best Battle System – Ethos

Monday, April 5th, 2010

wht_PS3_keyart_22_r04-80.inddEthos’ Pick: Final Fantasy XIII

Hey! Whaddya know? FFXIII cashed in on one of its very rare chances to win one of these awards. It has one other chance, but I’m not crossing my fingers.

I obviously feel differently about FFXIII’s battle system than Riddles, but that’s the joy of this series and these awards. While I agree with scattered complaints about the system – namely that the AI doesn’t always quite do exactly what you want – I still maintain that it’s an incredibly crafted system. It’s the only RPG (not just Final Fantasy) that fully draws me into all facets of its mechanics. While the action is super-flashy and fast-paced, I actually felt like a commander in the battles. Sitting up high and directing the flow of battle. Never before has quick victories or defeats felt so deserved. Excepting some really fucking stupid instant death spells that very few late game enemies have, every twist and turn is directly in my hands. The added pressure of fast completion times force quick strategic thinking and adaptability. In other games, I can just level-grind and plow through anything, but while this is marginally the case in FFXIII, stronger weapons enforce quicker completion times (not scaling enemies, thankfully), and thus a non-stop need to win battles as quickly as possible. And yes, the ranking is that important. TP skills are very useful, and rare loot drops are even more useful, and a high ranking is essential to both.

But even dismissing the satisfying sense of urgency and post-battle rewards, balancing the need to enhance, defend, or heal your party with the need to sabotage, attack, or distract your enemy combined with the vast benefits of raising and maintaining the chain gauge make for a perpetually satisfying user-powered experience. Fighting the same enemies over and over will even help to reveal new strategies for different fights.

Final Fantasy XIII is the best organization of all the skills and strategies of the past Final Fantasy games placed into a single near-flawless battle system. It is the one saving grace of nearly the entire main story portion of the misguided game, and I hope it’s not the only time such a system is implemented.

Runner Up: Final Fantasy X-2

While I agree with pretty much everything Riddles said about Final Fantasy X’s system (though not with his assessment of FFVII, none of the PSX games challenge the top systems at all in my book), the game’s controversial sequel edges it out in this category for me. Much like FFXIII, X-2 is a game with a lot of brilliant ideas surrounded by a “what the fuck?” casing. I suppose this should come as no surprise as my runner up since it’s the closest the ATB system could get to FFXIII’s system. The battle system alone is the biggest reason I’ve played through this ridiculous weirdness of a game almost twice total. Tied with its predecessor.

Dishonourable Mention: Final Fantasy II

I’d like to call out III here just because I hate that game, but it doesn’t have the worst battle system. I actually kinda like Final Fantasy II, and I found its stupid battle system amusing (I didn’t know the talk about it, I figured out how to attack myself on my onesies), but there’s no denying that it IS stupid. It was a kinda cool thought that turned out horribly, horribly stupid. Did I mention it’s stupid? A little dumb too.

The One That Got Away 2009 – Ethos

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Halo_3_ODST_Box_ArtHalo 3: ODST

Fuck off, okay? I thought this game looked awesome. I’ve never owned or even cared about a single Halo game, but after watching hours of Halo 3 played online, I started to understand the appeal. Add that onto a campaign that actually looked well put together, the lack of that stupid overpowered, crappy-named, Master Chief, and you had a game that actually piqued my interest.

But since this is the year I got a website, I ended up buying, playing, and even finishing more games than ever. Mario & Luigi, Kingdom Hearts: Dumb Name, Suikoden Tierkreis, Forza 3, Dragon Age: Origins, Arkham Asylum, Brutal Legend, Spirit Tracks. I just didn’t have the time or budget to throw in another title that I couldn’t bet would please me. Still, ever since I admitted to myself that I wanted to play it, I’ve felt a twinge of regret that I never even tried it.

Oh, and I hear NHL 10 is the shit, and I’m sorry I missed that too. But not as much, since I bought 09 for $15 and I can bet it’s close to the same thing. Runner up for you, hockey!

Runner Up: NHL 10

Biggest Letdown 2009 – Ethos

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

brutallegendboxart Brutal Legend

I’m with Riddles on this one. I enjoy Brutal Legend quite a bit, actually, but I had a very different idea about it. I’ve never really been so hyped about a game that I knew so little about before. I’m a fan of Jack Black at his best (See: Mr. Show, Kung Fu Panda, School of Rock), and although I’m not big into metal or Tim Shafer, this game seemed like it was going to be a hilarious, unique romp.

I was kinda right. The game can be very funny – especially at the beginning – and it’s absolutely unique. And like Riddles stated, that’s the problem. Brutal Legend has fun fighting and driving mechanics and a fantastic art style and strangely beautiful world. So there was no need to bring in so many extra elements. It just diluted the experience.

But everything has been said in the post below. Time for me to go out New Years Eve-ing. Happy New Year, everyone!

Runner Up: N/A

Most Surprising Game 2009 – Ethos

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

The Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks - LogoThe Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Yup. The trailer that we all laughed at turned into one of the best games the DS has to offer and the strongest Zelda title in a long while. Nothing looked stupider than Link in his crappy conductor costume, but luckily he quickly lost the clothes and started exploring the best cel-shaded Zelda adventure yet with the strongest music in the series in ages.

While Arkham Asylum was a huge surprise for me too, there was always a bit of hype surrounding it. I never thought it would suck, I just never expected to like a batman game. With Spirit Tracks, I truly thought it would be the first Zelda game I would legitimately dislike, but it ended up being one of my favourite titles of the year. I wrote an epic review on the game, so I don’t have that much more to say except that this was a great year of surprises in gaming, and to have a Zelda game top that list is the most pleasant surprise out of all of them.

Runner Up: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Best Atmospheric Experience 2009 – Ethos

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

flower-game-screenshot-1 Flower

Man, even I’m getting sick of talking about Flower at this point. But the bottom line is that Flower has more atmosphere than most games I’ve played this decade, forget 2009. Every detail is exact. The individually rendered blades of grass reacting to the wind. The game only has to begin its first minutes for a player to feel like they’ve had a glimpse into what heaven might look like if such a place were to exist. Typically nothing can bring on or satisfy a mood faster than music, but Flower is the one game with an atmosphere powerful enough to rival a great album. And you know it’s a feat if Flower beat out my favourite Zelda game since Majora’s Mask.

Runner Up: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks