Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Final Final Fantasy?

I have a confession to make: I’m a chick and I am a gamer.

This statement does not have the same impact it would have had say, 10 – 15 years ago now that gaming has become more of a mainstream form of entertainment. Not to mention that chicks like Olivia Munn, Jessica Chobot, and even Morgan Webb have totally stolen my thunder. Though, I have to admit that I question whether or not Webb is a real chick every time I see her ghoulish visage on G4, but that’s a different matter entirely. Anyway, I picked up my first controller when I was about 3 or 4; my (asshole) brother had been given a NES while I got a stupid Cabbage Patch Kid that is probably still in my mom’s house somewhere. That’s right -- my love of gaming started back in the 8-bit era, before riveting cinematics and baby-butt-smooth controls were central to a game’s success. In my day, it was all about bleeps, blips, and hella pixelated blobs running around on simple backdrops doing simple things. 

digitallydownloaded.net
This was all we had, son!
Even though Mario and Link were pretty damn cool, it wasn’t until the days of the SNES that I really started getting into this shit. My (asshole) brother got Final Fantasy IV (which had then been released as Final Fantasy II here in the States) and, holy fuck, dude. I was totally blown away by the visuals (16-bit!!), the music, and most importantly, the story. Fucking Cecil! And Kain! Rosa! Love Triangle! And Airships! Leviathan! Tellah’s classic line about Edward being a “spoony bard!” These are all things that stuck with me, as you can see. When Final Fantasy VI was released (as FFIII in the States due to some release discrepancies and overall wackiness) my head damn near exploded. Out of every game I have ever played, man… FFVI is, to this day, my favourite of all time. It has been re-released several times for the younger generation to check out (with CG cutscenes and slightly remastered sound added because n00bs are spoiled) and I have played and beaten (the shit out of) every single one of those re-releases, despite knowing the game’s story, characters (LOCKE!!!), and battle system inside and out. Sure, the visuals are remarkably dated, and up until recently, the translation had left a lot to be desired (“Son of a submariner”? …the fuck?) but it is still one of the most amazing games that I will ever play.

Heart this guy!
So, now that you have sufficient background info, I can move on to the present… when I played Final Fantasy XIII for the first time. Cue downtrodden music, and maybe some bitter tears.

Okay, I lied; we’re going to go back to 1997 for second, when Final Fantasy VII was released on the Sony PlayStation, setting a new precedent for the franchise. Not so much with the narrative (although the rabid fanboys and girls of the world will vehemently disagree with me there), but with the visuals. A new character designer (the then unknown but now totally annoying Tetsuya Nomura) brought us some of the most recognizable characters in all of gaming: the spiky-haired protagonist  Cloud Strife, and his totally sinister (but only about a five or a six on the scale of overall evil) arch-enemy Sephiroth. The CG cutscenes brought a never before seen cinematic element to Final Fantasy, providing the masses with eye-candy that would only become more and more delicious with each new installment in the series. 

Estuans interius ira vehementi...

Now let's come back to today... in a second.

The last FF game I have played through, from start to finish, was FFX on the PlayStation2. Shame on me – I know. Even though my husband played and reviewed FFX-2, XI, and XII during his days with IGN.com, I never really got the chance to sit down and REALLY get into any of them (Actually, I take that back -- I watched every moment of X-2.). When I learned that XIII was in development it wasn’t as exciting (for me) as it should have been. Yes, it is the first Final Fantasy to hit the current-gen consoles. Yes, it is prettier than all previous iterations combined. But there was something about it that kept me from being all, “FUCK YEAH!” about its impending release. Maybe it was the fact that Nobuo Uematsu, the composer for every game up until X (with a guest-spot here and there on XI and XII) was gone for good. Or maybe it was the fact that FF-alums Yoshinori Kitase and Hironobu Sakaguchi were off of the project as well. Or maybe -- just maybe -- it had something to do with Tetsuya Nomura’s too-cool-for-school character designs, which have gone from being contemporary and imaginative to contemporary hipster with lots of zippers and furs EVERYWHERE. Also, a bazillion spin-offs were announced before the initial product was ever released; it came across as really, really excessive. (I probably sound crazy right now, especially to any non-gamers reading this, but whatever; Google is your friend.) 

Mickey Mouse from Kingdom Hearts 2. See all those zippers and buckles??
So, yeah… I had seen and heard things here and there, creating a definite prejudice toward this title. Even the names of the characters had me turned off. (Lightning? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.) I decided to check it out for myself, just a little bit, and I honestly don’t know if I could ever enjoy it because it was so bad! I don’t even know where to begin! 

Is it pretty? Yes, it is pretty as fuck. But pretty doesn’t mean enjoyable. I think I spent more time watching this game than playing it, as the whole cinematic element that has been more and more prominent in games these days was just out of control here. No, really. It wasn’t until about 20 minutes in that I finally had control of a single character in any capacity. And that control was limited only to using my directional pad to either select things or adjust the camera, and a single button during battle to execute my commands. 

A. Single. Button.
To make matters worse, even though I had up to three annoying assholes in my party, I was only ever allowed to control one. Then the game tutorial told me that if that one asshole died, it would be game over, even if my AI allies were at full health. I experienced this little slice of bullshit first-hand and I wanted to punch somebody in the face. Moving on, I will admit that the story had me a little intrigued, but it was a bit hard to get into; not because of any sort of complexity, but because of the predictable angles (stoic, mysterious ex-soldier going after something big… some kid ‘s mom dies not five minutes after saying “Moms are tough”… you know, that sort of shit.) and the aggravating people it all centered around. The characters I dealt with had some of the most ridiculous apparel and mannerisms I have ever seen. What the fuck with the boy wearing GIANT headphones… in the middle of a war zone? Why does hipster tattoo chick not have any pants on? When did the hipster culture pervade my beloved JRPGs to begin with?! Why in the hell did Nomura find it necessary to give Lightning spiky hair?! Does every protagonist have to have styling wax on hand now? Why am I controlling somebody named “Lightning” in the first place?? Why couldn’t she be called something classy, like Emma, or Cordelia, or something? Here we go with the names again, but it’s sort of a big deal. Poorly named characters can fuck your shit up – especially if said names come across as goofy and pretentious.

creativeuncut.com
Case in point: this chap is called Snow.
It goes without saying that I can’t judge this entire game after spending only a little over an hour with it, but goddamn, was I annoyed. Hell, there are things about it that annoy me that I haven’t even seen yet. When did the Eidolons (creatures that you can summon via magic) become Transformers?! Why can’t I explore any towns? 

Eugh. I’m at such a loss right now that I can’t even think of an intelligent way to end this entry. Fuck it.

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