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            Can you handle it?
by Ethos

1/30/2011 – I’m Hungry and Poor

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

But mostly hungry. Yesterday, I consumed nothing except energy drinks, cake, pie, and ice cream. No, I am not kidding. I went to work at 1PM CST, and grabbed two Amp energy drinks on the way. I drank one on the way, and one a few hours later to make it through the rush. It worked rather nicely, actually; I was pleasantly alert and energized for nine straight hours. Which is good, because we were fucking busy, as that place tends to be.

Around 10pm or so, I realized that I hadn’t eaten a thing all day. I realized this as someone was offering me a third of a Key Lime pie. I love Key Lime pie, but I wasn’t sure how wise it would be to eat lime-gelatin when I had nothing but sugary energy drinks in my system already. What to do, then? Well, eat it of course.

Not all of it, just a slice or so. But that was enough to give me the most intense sugar rush I’ve ever experienced, ever. To the point of discomfort, really; for about 15 minutes I felt like I’d just railed a bunch of fucking mephedrone. But oh, it gets worse.

At around Midnight, when I was finally almost done, a few of my fellow employees were munching on a massive slice of white cake. I had no choice but to partake, because I was still hungry, and I love cake. Plus the sugar high had worn off a little, and I didn’t want to crash quite yet. The cake was alright, but it had that nasty-ass decorative icing on it that tastes like silicon. Mostly because it is silicon. Made of sugar. The point being, it was disgusting.

I finally left and returned to my apartment, where I was able to relax a bit – though I still had no food. So, what to do? Drink some beer and watch Planet Terror, of course. After approximately 20 minutes, I’d forgotten I was ever hungry.

And on a side note, Planet Terror is awesome. Utter ridiculous fun, I can’t believe I’d never watched it before.

After the movie ended, I was still starving. So, what to do? Kill the Ice Cream in my freezer, of course. Why? Because I’m an idiot.  I then attempted sleep. It did not go very well. I was wired, once again. Although, at the least, I had temporarily satisfied my hunger. Eventually I managed to catch a wink or two. And then I woke up starving. And I’m still starving.

I could go get some food, but I have very little money, and it would be more financially prudent to wait until I go to work and eat something there. Something other than Key Lime pie. A Sunday evening should be more laid back, giving me the time to do so.

The point of all this, I suppose, is to illustrate how awful my eating habits are. And they are indeed awful. It’s a wonder I haven’t wasted away and died. Or contracted diabetes. The latter is actually fairly likely as an eventual possibility.

*DEAD SPACE 2 PLOT SPOILERS*

In other news, Dead Space 2 is still awesome. Except for the part where it pulled another bait-and-switch in the plot. Y’know, like the way it did 783 times in the original game? It took longer this time, but that actually makes it worse. I know the game has to, y’know, go on, but it’s still a slap in the dick when a game is like “oh, hey, that objective you’ve been working towards for the last five hours or so? It’s been rendered utterly moot, move on please.” Come on, writers, it can’t be too difficult to construct a plot that facilitates a 12-hour game that doesn’t go like this:

“Isaac! Activate this thing so you can go to that place!”

“Oh fuck, you need this thing to activate that thing! Go all the way over here now!”

“Oh fuck, I’m dead now so I can’t give you further directions! Listen to this guy now!

Ad nauseam.

Note, the above is not meant to be a plot summary of any kind. Just an example of how ridiculous this sort of plot structure becomes, especially after two games. I mean, come on, Isaac can talk now; can’t he make his own decisions as to where he should go? Why does he feel the need to trust and obey every disembodied voice that gives him an order? I don’t understand.

I also don’t understand the purpose of the air ducts. Or whatever they are. At certain points in the game, you have to yank a plate off the wall and crawl through a claustrophobic maze that has the appearance of a futuristic air duct. Sounds like a good opportunity for some scares, right? Claustrophobic necromorph combat and whatnot? Not happening. You crawl from point A to point B, come out the other side, and resume play. It adds nothing aside from an alternate means of traveling from one room to another. It makes no sense. I mean, iunno, maybe it will at some point. But right now it does not.

But all of that makes it sound like I hate the game, which I do not. I really, really like it, actually – it’s the best game I’ve played since Mass Effect 2. To end on a positive note, I love the jetpack for the Zero-G segments. Moving around zero gravity in three dimensions, with a fully rotational camera, is honestly mind-blowing. It feels amazingly elegant, and creates some gorgeously cinematic camera angles for the action. Even with that being said, it’s difficult to explain why the jetpack is so much fucking fun – you’ll just have to try it yourself.

But, I do still miss the controlled jumps. Because they looked cool too. And they made for good evasive maneuvers in combat. Not sure why Visceral didn’t include both as means of transportation.

Work in 24 minutes. Good thing I live 15 minutes away. Before I go, I have to ask: where has Final Fantasy X been for the last eight years of my life, and why have I never attempted a replay until now? That game is fucking awesome, even if the voice acting sucks. And shit, XIII’s voice acting was worse, for that matter.

~Riddles

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 Battle System – Riddles

Monday, April 5th, 2010

FFXIIboxartRiddles’ Pick: Final Fantasy XII

I can feel the flames already, but I frankly don’t care. Final Fantasy XII is one of my all-time favorite RPGs, and one of the main reasons for that is its battle system.

Final Fantasy XII marked the first time in the series that encounters weren’t random. Enemies are clearly visible on-screen, and engaging in battle doesn’t take you out of exploration mode – it’s all seamless, and all beautiful. People compared it to Final Fantasy XI and other MMO battle systems, which is fairly justified, although it’s hardly “FFXI Offline.” Rather, it’s just a seamless, more streamlined version of the same ATB system we’ve enjoyed for years.

The reason why I love Final Fantasy XII’s battle system so much is because it removes all the clunkiness of a turn-based system, but retains all of the strategy. The Gambit system is still the best example of player-programming ever featured in a game; individual character strategies can be programmed in-depth, to the point where many normal encounters can be overcome by simply sitting back and watching the slaughter. Sound shallow? Well. Hardly more shallow than pressing the X button every couple of seconds, wouldn’t you say? Also, the fact that Gambits can be accessed and modified at any time – even during intense boss battles – makes them that much versatile.

But Final Fantasy XII’s battles also maintained this crucial aspect: the ability to issue commands to any character, at any time. If you don’t like how the tide of the battle is turning, not only can you adjust your gambits – you can step in and issue manual commands. And it’s an immediate override – anything you command takes precedence over gambits.  This is exactly what Final Fantasy XIII failed to implement in its super-streamlined, super-flashy encounters. Final Fantasy XII’s battle system is, and remains, the best of the series.

Runner Up: Final Fantasy X

I’m tempted to give this to Final Fantasy VII, but X barely outdoes it, in my opinion. The new ability to switch characters in and out on the fly, coupled with the heavy focus on specific battle roles resulted in some of the most rewarding, strategy-intensive I’ve ever fought. Without a doubt, the greatest take on the traditional turn-based model.

Dishonorable Mention: Final Fantasy XIII

I hate to seemingly strip Final Fantasy XIII of the one honor it has, but unfortunately, I only do what I must. Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system is extremely well-designed, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s very good at what it sets out to be, and it’s certainly not an entirely mindless affair. But despite that, it’s undeniably more shallow than its predecessors. The Paradigm system is cool, yes, but it’s just a very simplified version of Gambits. The inability to issue manual commands is sorely missed. Oh, and the fact that you can’t control who’s in your party for the first 30 hours or so doesn’t help its cause. Is it mindless? No. But it is very watered down.

Fireside Games Countdown #4 – Final Fantasy X

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

ffxboxartEthos’ Fireside Games are games that he can pull out at any moment and it will soothe his fruity soul in one way or another. It is the perfect mix of nostalgia and comfort. It is a game that gives the same feeling it did the first time he played it. It’s the sort of game that can create the most unique distinct cravings that only the game itself can satisfy. Ethos is counting down his top #5 all week.

#4 Fireside Game – Final Fantasy X
Bloo-ya! Bet you didn’t see that coming! Yup, although Final Fantasy X comes after IX and XII and VII and maybe V on my list of overall favourites, it’s actually the Final Fantasy I get the most distinct cravings for. The unique world, quick battle system, and addicting sphere grid hit the spot for me if I just need to play an RPG that’s familiar and fun without feeling the need to play the entire game. It also took me a while to get a PS2, so finally being able to play a new Final Fantasy on my own system was a big joy. Like any good comfort game, Final Fantasy X represents that blend of nostalgia and hitting the exact spot of a good game craving. It probably also helps that it takes quicker to go up a Sphere Level than it would a traditional level for that feeling for quick satisfaction.

So why choose X over IX? Sure, IX is a comfort for me too, and of course it has oodles of nostalgia as well, but if I’m going to play IX, I want to start from the beginning and I want to do everything. I want to collect every item and learn every ability. In X, I don’t care where I start. I’ll enjoy the locales, the music, and the battle system without feeling the need to do more or less than I want to. Maybe I’ll play for 5 minutes, or maybe I’ll play for 4 hours. Either way, Final Fantasy X is a comfort, my go-to fix for a lazy day made for playing (semi) modern RPGs, and well deserving of the #4 spot.

“Wrong Hole, Darling” – Love Story Misses Countdown #4

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Okay, well Ethan’s had his fun. It’s MY turn to weigh in on the best and worst of videogame romances. You might be asking, “how is Riddles qualified in the least to speak on romances, virtual or otherwise?” My answer to you is: how is anyone?

That aside, let’s discuss one of the more tragic romantic blunders in gaming.

So romantic.

So romantic.

#4 Worst Video Game Romance: Tidus and Yuna

Oh, this one hurts. Final Fantasy X tells a fantastic story, and the romance between Tidus and Yuna had such potential. Unlike many others, I actually liked both Tidus and Yuna as characters. Tidus was portrayed perfectly as the rich-kid sports star who suddenly found himself in a completely different world. And while many people found Yuna boring, I thought her subdued determination was both touching and sincere.

For the first half of the game, the romantic buildup was done very well. The first scene where the two of them spoke in front of the bonfire was a perfect beginning. The infamous “haha” scene is extremely painful, yes, but still heartfelt and sincere in an extremely goofy way. Tidus’ increasing devotion to protecting Yuna and seeing her quest to the end is very believable, as is the increasing attraction that develops between the two youngsters.

Finally, we reach the infamous scene in the spring. After a tense, subdued, and slightly saddening conversation, the romantic buildup reaches its breaking point. We’re treated to a beautiful (though admittedly rather odd) love scene, in which the two of them spin around in the water and suck face. Khimari, sick fuck that he is, witnesses the entire thing.

And then… NOTHING.

For the remainder of the game, Tidus and Yuna’s romance is not explored in any way, at all. It practically falls off the face of the map, and leaves the player wondering if they missed some sort of serious discussion in which the two mutually agreed to keep their pants zipped and their eyes on the prize.

It’s something of a disappointment, to say the least.

In fact, it’s a damned disappointment. The ending to Final Fantasy X is a beautiful, emotionally charged experience, and to this day it remains one of my all-time favorite endings. However, it still feels like too little too late when it comes to Tidus and Yuna.

Of course, then Final Fantasy X-2 came along and just ruined EVERYTHING, but that’s a rant for another day. I have a feeling that a lot of you might disagree with what I’ve said here, and if that’s the case, let the comments rip below. But in my firm opinion, Final Fantasy X’s romantic subplot is one of the biggest dropped balls in gaming.