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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 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?

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 Art Direction – Riddles

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

FFVIIboxartRiddles’ Pick: Final Fantasy VII

Ahhh, Final Fantasy VII. How I love you.  I might shower more praise on this game than it deserves, but regardless of my fanboyism, I feel perfectly justified in awarding it Best Art Direction.

One word I’d use to describe Final Fantasy VII’s art style is “gritty.” And that’s gritty in a good way. To this day, Midgar remains one of the greatest virtual cities ever created for any videogame, of any genre, of any generation. The city oozes of a beautifully oppressive, industrial atmosphere that simply hasn’t been matched. Lots of games combine magic with technology. Final Fantasy VII wasn’t even the first game to do it, really; but Final Fantasy VII is still the greatest showcase of this particular match-up. Final Fantasy XIII took aim at it, yes; but in the end, it failed to provide the same palpable atmosphere that literally drips from Final Fantasy VII’s environments.

Midgar is certainly the paragon example, but it’s not the lone star. Final Fantasy VII is packed with more memorable locales than any other game in the series. What’s fantastic about it, though, is that they all manage to be incredibly distinct, yet they all feel like a crucial part of the world as a whole. From the aptly-named Kalm, to the delightfully organic Cosmo Canyon, to the eerily gorgeous paths of The Forgotten City, Final Fantasy VII is an atmospheric rollercoaster ride unlike any other.

And let’s give some credit to Nomura’s character designs. Final Fantasy VII was the first game to feature his patented character designs, and in my opinion, it’s still his best work. Maybe it’s just because the characters themselves are so iconic; but then again, without his artistic vision, they probably wouldn’t be.

The game may look like complete shit on a technical level, but the powerful artistic vision behind Final Fantasy VII still manages to cut through the pixels, even to this day. And that, my friends, is an accomplishment.

Runner Up: Final Fantasy XIII

Maybe it’s just because I dig the technology/magic schtick so much. Maybe it’s because I feel like supporting Ethos in his (perfectly justified) decision to give the Art Direction award to XIII. Or, maybe it’s just because Final Fantasy XIII features some of the most inspired art direction of this generation. If any one department wasn’t slacking during XIII’s development, it was the artists. See Ethos’ award post for my thoughts.

Dishonorable Mention: Final Fantasy III

I’d almost give this to Final Fantasy X-2, since hardly any of the artwork in that game is original. But then I realized that I literally can’t clearly recall a single town, dungeon, or environment from Final Fantasy III. And that’s probably because the art direction, like everything else about the game, was pretty mundane. Also, I just hate Final Fantasy III.

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.