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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 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.

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.