Monday, February 27, 2006

The Final Fantasy Series as Women

EDIT FROM YEARS IN THE FUTURE: Wow, this rant is so non-PC it makes me wince...and a lot of it doesn't even make all that much sense, even. I guess I'll leave it up because, well, it IS pretty funny at times, but my rants have gone in a much, much better direction since this early time, so...please don't judge me too harshly for it? Although you can if you want to; I can't really deny this doesn't paint me in a particularly intelligent light.

I have come up with a new way of describing the FF games all together, everyone! One which is not exactly child-appropriate at parts!

1 is your first kiss. It was awkward, new, and time seemed to fold in on itself as it happened.

2 is the girl you saw in the hallways during High School, but never could get the time to ask out. Years later, you ran into her again, and you finally had the chance to take her out on a few dates.

3 is the bitch who totally stood you up.

4 is the girl you lost your virginity to. It was a wonderful, new experience, even if all but one of her little deaths turned out to be fake.

5 is that one chick too obsessed with her multiple crummy jobs to talk about anything interesting over dinner. Then she got drunk and took turns pretending to be a princess and a pirate, and eventually you just called the cab to take her home while she vomited on your shoes.

6 was a double date, possibly the greatest ever, because the buddy you were with was too busy brooding over his ex to respect his date, so after having a great time between the sheets with your date and having her go home to relieve her babysitter, the other chick jumped you as well.

Mystic Quest was the one whose idea of a good time was to take a crap on you. There was no second date.

7 turned out to be a drag queen, and you found out at a very inopportune time.

8 was the vapid airhead you laid just to prove that you could. Afterwards she kept yapping about love and marriage and getting you to join her little magic wiccan guild or some such shit and you were all like, "Ho, please. Fill that mouth again or get the hell out."

9 was the sweety who reminded you of 1 and 4. Everything seemed old and new at once. And it was fabulous.

Tactics was your hot professor who taught both your Quantum Physics and your Political Sciences courses. Sure, you didn't understand a goddamn thing she was saying while she was explaining the game plan, but oh man was it good in practice.

The Spirits Within was that prissy bitch that you spent all night impressing at that expensive restaurant only to have her say she had a headache and go home. Total waste of time and a week's paycheck.

10 was your true love, who died soon after you hooked up.

7AC was the girl your friend set you up with who you barely noticed staring at your pants because you were still too obsessed with the one who died.

10-2 was the night you went out and bought 3 hookers at the same time because one of them vaguely resembled your dead love and you thought maybe it would reconcile you to her death a little. All it did was give you herpes, though. And then all 3 of them took turns kicking you in the groin and laughing, while you willingly paid them to do it.

11 was not a girl so much as it was several girls that you whored naked pictures of yourself out to online in a desperate attempt to feel loved.

Before Crisis was when, still trying to lose yourself in something to forget your long-lost love, you accepted an invitation from some friends to participate in an orgy with some of their old friends from college.

Tactics Advance is your friend who gave you a pity-fuck and then told you to just get your fucking life together and deal with your shit.

Dirge of Cerberus was when Gackt raped you.

Friday, February 24, 2006

General RPGs as Seen by EGM

12/28/2009: This rant is, of course, no longer relevant given that EGM has long since ceased publishing. Still, here it is--after all, a lot of game reviewers for RPGs make the same stupid errors in judging the genre's offerings, so it's not totally out of date. Also, towards the end, I mention a person named Trippy--he's this annoying little attention-craving fellow I've known for far longer than I like whose opinions on games (and most other things) tend to be the exact opposite of those held by a rational human being. This blog originally started on a site which both he and I frequented.

Electronic Gaming Monthly never ceases to amaze me in their remarkable ability to not know shit about RPGs.

Don't get me wrong. As a game magazine, they're good. They have a good handle on just about all other game genres, and they've got plenty of funny stuff to spice up the usual gaming news, such as the Seanbaby columns and the Hsu and Chan comic. I like EGM plenty as a game magazine. But they are complete and utter idiots when it comes to RPGs.

Besides a general impression I get of this each and every time the subject comes up in their magazines, there are two very glaring examples of this. The first would be in a recent issue, where they stated that Final Fantasy 9 is the most overrated RPG ever.

Now, I'm going to put my personal feelings on FF9 aside for one moment. Forget my actual opinion on this. The simple FACT is that they have no idea what the hell they're talking about. If you ask any large group of FF-playing individuals what games in the series they've played, almost all of them will have played 7, 8, 10, and/or 10-2. A fair number of them will be familiar with Tactics Advance, 11, Crystal Chronicles, 1, 2, and 4, the latter three being largely thanks to Square's re-releasing them recently. But the ones who get the least recognition are going to invariably include 9, and even of those who HAVE given it a chance, a great many don't like it, largely because it's not shallowly trying to pander to their teen interests like 8, 10, 10-2, and to a lesser extent 7.

In short, the game cannot be overrated because it is largely ignored, and often disliked when acknowledged.

That, added to my opinion that it's the best of the FF series, with only Tactics really coming close, adds up to EGM not having the slightest clue of what they're talking about.

But there's an even more recent example that is even more telling of their ignorance. As many people who pay any attention to me will know, I have lately been playing Grandia 3 quite a bit, and being wholly dissatisfied with what is basically a stunningly unimpressive and lackluster compilation of cliches forcing its way into what WAS the greatest RPG series to date. Well, EGM reviewed Grandia 3 lately, and gave it scores of 8.0, 8.5, and 8.0 out of a possible 10. My personal feelings that they're idiots aside, the first reviewers words just made me laugh.

I don't have the magazine before me at the moment, so I can't give you a direct quote, but what he basically did was expound on how it's a great RPG, give it an 8.0, and then hastily add in that plot and characters were terrible.

Now, I know not everyone sees RPGs my way. I know there are people who count graphics, music, voice acting, and gameplay a lot higher in what makes a good RPG than I do. My basic thought of the matter is that the above things don't count for shit, and it's the plot and characters that make an RPG good or bad. FF10-2 might be decently fun to actually play, but it's a shitty RPG, where Okage: Shadow King may be a horrifically tortuous gaming experience at many times, but is in my opinion a beautifully crafted work of gaming art.

And seriously, anyone who enjoys Earthbound despite its boring and repetitive battle system must be able to see where I'm coming from at least a little here.

But even considering that not everyone is in agreement with my thoughts on the matter, I'm willing to assume that most of us accept that plot and characters in RPGs are still very important aspects. I mean, these are RPGs we're talking about. So it REALLY says something to me about EGM's incompetence when not one, but 3 reviewers all give an RPG an 8 score while at the same time all nodding in agreement that its most significant and important characteristics are badly created.

I thankfully don't have to rely on EGM all that much for my RPG-playing, being involved in an RPG website of people whose opinions are trustworthy, besides Trippy's, but it would be NICE to see someone on the staff there who's not a total idiot when it comes to the genre.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The 7th Saga's List

Things I Suspect Would Be More Fun To Do Than Playing The 7th Saga:

Jump off a 5-story building onto a bicycle with no seat.
Bathe in honey, then slowly walk through a zoo's grizzly bear exhibit.
Listen to TATU.
Pour hydrochloric acid in my eyes.
Snort itching powder.
Play jumprope with barbed wire.
Pull off my own thumbnails.
Get caught in a bear trap and gnaw my own leg off to escape.
Be sacrificed.
Be beaten to death with my own arm.
Punch a hornet's nest.
Watch The Batman...but only for a few minutes.
Eat a box of Christmas tree ornament hooks.
Read's entire Final Fantasy 8 section.
Read's entire Final Fantasy 8 section.
Experiment with the concept of using a cattle prod as a dildo.
Play with mercury.
Sever my ears.
Pull out each and every hair on my head, one at a time.
Remove a significant portion of the skin on my leg, then pour lemon juice, salt, and angry fire ants on it.
See Hilary Clinton or Jeb Bush become president.
Lick a bar of iron seconds after it comes out of a forge.
Perform acupuncture on myself using thumbtacks.
Talk to George W. Bush for an hour.
Kiss a coprophile vulture who has the flu.
Consume mayonnaise.
Read 8-Bit Theater's entire archive.
Go quail-hunting with Dick Cheney.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Skies of Arcadia Legends's City of Valua

So, I figured I'd mix it up today by ranting on an RPG element that I really enjoyed. I mean, making fun of stuff can be fun and humorous, but there's nothing wrong with APPRECIATING things, too.

I'm very impressed with the city of Valua in Skies of Arcadia. It sets a mood of despair and meaningless existence better than any RPG I've encountered to date. It frankly shocked me when I played through the game last year to find that Overworks had constructed such a dark, gloomy, depressed city that I myself felt an enormous pity for the people who lived there.

It's not that the hopeless, dirty city of citizens leading meaningless, trapped lives hasn't been done before. There've been a few very unhappy and pitiable cities in RPGs, most notably FF7's Midgar slums. People living in shacks in the midst of ruin and disorder, with various meager mutant monsters roaming around outside of the small sections where people live in unhappiness and filth...Midgar's tough competition for Valua.

The lowest section of Taris in Knights of the Old Republic 1's tough competition, too. Again, dirty, disheveled slums living beneath a richer city's shadow, eking out a pathetic existence where even 5 credits seems like a fantastic treasure. And don't forget the Rakghouls that prey upon any who leave the confines of the camp--monsters who, if they don't get you and eat you when they attack, can infect you and turn you into one of them.

But oh man. It's dark. It's crowded--not necessarily with people; I mean the slums of the city you walk through are built in a crowded and disorganized way. The music is a beautiful mood-setter. It's dark and low, and it even sounds like there's an element of long, drawn-out misery to it, but it doesn't ever become overbearing. It's a subtle thing; it enhances but doesn't define the melancholy. What defines it are the people. They're miserable, they talk of the upper-class part of the city as though it were heaven itself. The thing that really puts Valua as being the most miserable city I've seen in an RPG is that the people there just have no hope or life to them, whatsoever. In Midgar, people are tough and hopeful. In the lowest part of Taris, people still keep hope in them. Valua's citizens, though, they've just had hope and life beaten out of them by the city. You encounter a man in a bar whose long day of hard labor makes him almost too exhausted even to drown himself in Loqua (booze) before sleeping so he can repeat the meaningless daily cycle. It's him that makes Valua stick to my mind.

Valua is, simply put, a masterful representation of hopeless misery and unbreakable despair.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Final Fantasy 8's Characters

If you're gonna ridicule stuff in RPGs, sooner or later you've got to to cover FF8, I think. Whether you like the game or not, you can't really deny that there's plenty there to poke fun at. So today, I'm gonna cover why its cast is the most idiotic ensemble in all RPG-dom, as long as you don't count Star Ocean 2 or FF5 or FFMQ or Phantasy Star 3 or FF10-2 or the Dragon Ball Z RPG or...well, okay, so it's not even close to the MOST idiotic. But it's got a lot of special moments.

Squall: Basically, Square wanted to create a badass protagonist who wasn't a nice guy even while he did nice things. To this purpose, they decided that the only way to do this was to create a character whose apathy towards people who care for him and whose general irritation at life itself is so great that he alienates any player not immediately swooning over his bishy-dishy profile. To fix this problem, halfway through the game they have him immediately, no warning whatever, fall completely and totally for a girl who up until that very second annoyed the piss out of him. It's the ultimate high school romance story.

Of course he still acts like an asshole to all his other friends, except when he needs their help to go rescue the dumb bimbo again (the frequency of her need to be rescued, of course, DOES mean that his illusion of niceness is maintained with remarkable consistency).

Rinoa: "Look look Squall look at me Squall look Squall look at me I'm doing something hey Squall look look Squall did you see me do that Squall?"

Angelo: This dog is the most powerful warrior in the world, thanks to battle tips it gets straight from a pet magazine.

Quistis: Quistis is kind of unique, actually, in that after losing Squall to Rinoa (no big loss there), she doesn't mope and moan or find a replacement immediately, but rather just takes the loss in stride, realizes her feelings weren't romantic love anyway, and continue to be her own character.

Of course, since that kind of originality isn't easy to write, Square has her shut up for the most part after 1/4th of the game is through.

Selphie: Selphie is character evolution in action. Square started with the energetic, cheerful, not incredibly bright Yuffie in FF7. Then, they removed half her brain mass and replaced what they had taken with glitter and sugar to create Selphie. The next step after her will be to remove half of what brain mass remains and replace it with Lisa Frank stationary to create Rikku, then later take out the last bits of brain and replace them with a Britney Spears album to create FF10-2 Rikku.

Irvine: He's a cowboy sniper playboy who can't actually shoot his target. The sad thing is that this all adds up to one of the more interesting characters in all this.

Edea: People sometimes wonder why Edea is married to videogaming's very own Robin Williams, Cid Kramer. The answer seems simple enough to me once you look at what she wears. She's obviously into the whole dominatrix thing. And who in that game could POSSIBLY be a more attractive husband for her than the Grand Master at grovelling, Cid? I mean, the man can rebelliously grovel. That takes talent.


Zell: Frankly, I'm of the opinion that there cannot be too many jokes about his obsession with putting long, tubular meat in his mouth. I mean, usually, jokes like that are overdone, but half his dialogue in the entire game seems to revolve around wanting hot dogs, and in the ending, he's stuffing them in with a gusto that I don't think even Futurama's Hedonism Bot could keep up with.

Laguna: What the hell is a deep and interesting character doing here?

Kiros: Also known as Lando.

Ward: If Ward could talk, he'd say he needs more characterization than interpretive blinking.

Ultimecia: "Today's Sesame Street has been brought to you by the letter K."

Monday, February 6, 2006

General RPGs' Rare Item Drops

Phantom Brave has been beaten for nearly a month, and now I'm working on its endgame challenges. It's kinda fun, in that repetitive level-up sort of way. Which is to say that it's not actually all that fun. But all the same, I'm a completionist, so I continue to levelwhore. At the moment, I'm trying to get an encounter where I can steal a Divine Sword, the best weapon in the game, and the chance of my running into such an encounter after a few hours of randomly-generated dungeon-crawling to get to it is about 5-10%, based on multiple strategy guides' estimations.

Why exactly DO RPG creators do this to the players? Put the BEST SUPER ULTRA HYPER PEANUT BUTTER CRUNCH ULTIMATE weapon or armor or whatever into an encounter or drop-rate of the rarest type, meaning you have to pace around looking for enemies or whatever for hours and hours and hours? Who was the clever genius who decided that players would think it "fun" to wander in a room in a moon for days to get a Pink Tail item from a 1/64 chance encounter with an enemy who drops it at a rate of 1/64? That means that at any given time while you're traipsing around FF4's Lunarian Pink Puff room, you have a 1/4096 chance that your next battle will give it to you. And that's just the Pink Tail--FF4's LITTERED with 1/64 chance items, from secret summons to excellent armor and weapons, all only moderately less annoying to get than the damn Pink Tail.

Same deal with the King Sword for Poo in Earthbound. I spent hours and hours beating the crap out of Starmen in one single area until it was dropped. I mean, it's not even like the FF4 stuff where you got new and better equipment, that you could just pass up if you wanted because it was completely possible to beat the game without it. This thing was the ONLY possible weapon you could get for Poo. If you wanted to put a weapon on him, you had to go through this rare-drop idiocy.

I don't mind having to make an effort and work for the best stuff in an RPG. You tell me that there's a ton of great items and armor in some big, over-powered-enemy-filled Cave of Trials with several immensely tough bosses in a game that's none too easy to even start with, and hell, I'll go send my cast of flat stereotypes in to get it all. You make an ultimate weapon that I have to beat the toughest boss in the game to get and therefore make it obsolete the moment I lay hands on it, and I will totally be there. Bring on the bosses, the long dungeons, and the oxymoronically idiotic logic puzzles involving pushing crates. I'll take'em all. But seriously, what is the POINT of making the ultimate reward come to you only after you've wasted a solid week walking back and forth killing the exact same enemies over and over again?

Friday, February 3, 2006

Xenosaga 2's Space Motorcycle

The Xenosaga series is good, but I understand it's not perfect. Certain characters are annoying, there are quite a few points where the plot seems to get confused by itself or just get kind of stupidly random (living up to its predecessor, Xenogears, quite well). And the second in the series had a flashback to sum up a month's worth of plot in a couple scenes and 5 minutes of dialogue (again, flashbacks to Xenogears...fuck that goddamn chair). But overall I like it, and overall, I can accept or at least forgive most of its occasional badly-contrived plot twists.


But that one scene with the space motorcycle I really, really hate.

I mean, for starters, it's a fucking motorcycle. In space. Now I know that you can make nonsensical combinations of cool things that become Cool x 10 when combined. It's an internet standard, and usually involves Russian Communists. But it does not always work. And this is one place where it does not. It is just mind-bogglingly stupid. I am no fan of Xenogears by any stretch of imagination, but I readily admit that none of its many outright ridiculous plot devices and twists even compare to this. KOSMOS's space bike is just a monument to idiocy, a shining, reeking statue carved from mistaken originality, radiantly glimmering in its message of "It Seemed Like A Good Idea When I Was Writing The Script Last Night After The Bartender Told Me I'd Had Enough," and "I Liked The Part In The Movie Where Utena Turned Into A Car."

But it's not the sheer stupidity that really gets me about it. I've suffered almost as badly contrived ideas in FF8 and Chrono Cross and not developed a sheer hatred for either game (dislike, yes, but not hatred). It's the fact that it destroys what could have easily been the most deep and touching moment in the entire game. Shion's gotten herself in trouble half a galaxy away, is desperately calling for someone to help her. Back at the HQ, countless miles away, KOSMOS suddenly turns on, and states that Shion needs her. This intense, inspiring devotion she feels is enough that she can hear it and answer its call from across the universe, even when she's disassembled to the point that she shouldn't even be capable of activation. Shion needs her, and she'll find a way to protect her even if it means breaking possibility. It's a loyalty and determination that is, as I noted before, inspiring.

And it was completely wiped from my mind for months because to go rescue Shion, KOSMOS conjures up, from the deep recesses of Plot Needs It, a motorcycle. For SPACE. It is so laughably idiotic that I didn't even remember how good the scene was up to that point for months.

This rant brought to you by my friend CyberlogicX, whose showing me a recent toy of Darth Vader riding a motorcycle (which is possibly even MORE stupid than KOSMOS doing it) reminded me of this scene.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Phantasy Star 3

So, I guess I'm gonna be at school a lot of the time this semester anyway, and I need SOMETHING to do around here besides flame those silly denizens of, and BU has this odd policy of "No" to AIM and such. So maybe I be updating this thing more than previously thought.

So, I have been playing the Phantasy Star series lately, thanks to Anga, who rocks. I was very impressed with the first game's extremely novel basis and plot (I mean, considering how old-school it is...Alis is probably like the first woman protagonist in an RPG ever, and even now she STILL doesn't have much canonical company beyond Terra, Celes, Yuna, Virginia, and Marona). The second game had its moments (I am prone these days to randomly IMing Anga just to scream "NEIIIIIIIII!"). And the fourth one was really great. PSO I have yet to try, and I probably won't be interested in doing so for a while (Grandia 3, FF12, KH2, KotOR3, the new Zelda, and Xenosaga 3 all RPGs on the horizon, after all). So now I'm playing through Phantasy Star 3. I'm not close to finished yet, so I might be totally wrong on some things here, but...I don't think so, really. So anyways, yes, I'm playing Phantasy Star 3 now.

And I'm in What The Hell status. Like, this particular mode of What The Hell is almost as strong as the one I got while watching The Batman for one episode. This is possibly like the What The Hell that Stalin experienced when Hitler used their treaty as toilet paper.

This game sucks. Like, it sucks. It's not just a bad RPG. FF Mystic Quest is a bad RPG. Chrono Cross was a bad RPG. This is on the level of Final Fantasy 5. This game is on the level of Quest 64. This game is trying--failing, of course, for nothing can succeed, but trying--to compete with 7th Saga.

The graphics are awful. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I really don't care about graphics in an RPG. That's just stupid. But these are just shocking. They look less refined than the first game's, and that was on the fucking MASTER SYSTEM.

The I won't call it that. This does not qualify as music. This game's tracks are random sounds being strung together with all the fluidity and skill of a 4-year-old making a popcorn garland out of stale popcorn which he has already carefully chewed. This game cannot be played with the sound on. That is just how it is.

The battle system is pretty bad, although easily the least horrible thing about it. It's badly put together and boring. But for the first time in RPG history, it is badly constructed in the PLAYER'S favor. Levels are gained reasonably quickly, and you can reasonably easily get away with using inferior equipment for a good while before upgrading at a shop several towns down the line, which means the issue of money is not as big a problem as the stingy monsters would try to make it. But it's still boring and stupid. And fugly as anything. Not to mention that the backgrounds sometimes seem to move in physically unsound ways which kinda hurts my eyes if I pay attention to them.

Now, the important stuff in an RPG: Plot and characters. I really can't adequately describe how nonsensical the nearly nonexistant plot is. So instead I will describe a scene from the first 5 minutes of the game. Spoilers, I guess, though not really since it's part of the opening scene: You, the prince Rhys, are about to marry some girl you found on a beach or something. She doesn't know who the hell she is, and you don't seem to care. So, in the throne room of a castle which, incidentally, doesn't believe in having doors to cover the gaping holes in the wall that you use to walk in and out of it, you're all set to get married, when a demon flies in, tells you in the name of Laya that you can't marry her, and makes off with your would-be bride-to-be. Naturally, you are pissed, and vow to get her back by making war with the Layans for her. The king, who is your father, tells you no, because war is bad, so you switch tactics and say that you don't care and you'll go find her anyway, implying that it's okay if the military doesn't back you up.

Your father has you, heir to his throne and prince of the country, thrown in the dungeon. Which, incidentally, is where he keeps treasure chests containing 100 meseta (currency), and a knife.

I think that pretty accurately shows the brilliance of the story's writing.

The game is not TOTALLY off, I should note. I mean, I kinda enjoy having Wren in the party, even if he's not actually the same Wren from PS4, even if he looks just like him and has the same name and is an android. And I DO like the idea of the story taking place over multiple generations, like with Dragon Quest 5 or Fire Emblem 4. I'm in control of Rhys's son now (who, incidentally, looks so much cooler than Rhys that I'm almost shocked that he's in this game), which is kinda neat, or it would be if things weren't continuing to suck so terribly.

But anyways, back to my main point. And that, I think, was that I am a stupid masochist sometimes when it comes to finishing RPGs.

Next time on Arpy's oddly-named blog: I rant about a different game! Or the same one. Maybe. I'm not sure.