Home Upcoming Reviews About
Ethos and Riddles talk about video games...
            Can you handle it?
by Ethos

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 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 – 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 – 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.

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 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.