Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 + 2 AMV: Sera's Holding Out for a Hero

Before starting the rant proper, let me just say that I've written a lot of this while in the grips of a rather overbearing fever, so...cut me some slack if my prose isn't up to its usual standards here.

Whenever I finish playing an RPG, I have a certain process of stuff I do before I move on to the next one. Among other things, I check to see if there are any desktop wallpapers out there about the game that I'd like, I listen to any remixes that OCR or VG Mix have for the game, I check to see if there are any videos available for download of the game's FMVs if I happened to like any (and incidentally, do any of you know a good site for this beyond Blue Laguna and Youtube? I can't find quite a lot of stuff that I'd like to have), and I look on Youtube and for any and all AMVs that have been made for the game. Since I typically play RPGs at least a year after their release, and usually much later than that, there's usually a fair bit to sort through.

When I finished the Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga series last year and began this little post-game rite, I wasn't expecting to find many AMVs for the obscure mini-series, and certainly none that would particularly interest me. I was half right--there are very few AMVs for the SMTDDS games out there. But I was also half wrong--an AMV-making individual going by Veccachan did manage to get my attention.

Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 + 2: Sera's Holding Out for a Hero:

Poetry in Motion: Visuals are admittedly the weak link to this AMV. There are parts of the AMV that look a bit blurry, and while the rest is fairly decent, it's not what I'd call sharp quality. Also, there's a discolored band right in the middle of the screen at the scenes beginning at 0:27 and 1:46 (which is particularly distracting; anyone not familiar with that scene of the game is going to have additional trouble getting an idea of what's happening), which just ain't good. There's also not much in the way of visual artistry on the part of the AMV's maker; the fades and camera work and so on are just the FMVs' own, with the only touch added by Veccachan beyond scene arrangement being pixel-blurs* for a few scene changes.

So yeah. Really can't say much for the visual aspect of this AMV. I can look past it to an extent, because I strongly suspect that an (unfortunately) obscure mini-series like SMT: Digital Devil Saga probably doesn't have dozens of fans lining up to throw high-quality FMVs up onto the web, so the AMV's maker probably didn't have many/any quality alternatives for the games' FMVs. Hell, it's actually surprising to me that she got'em at all. Nonetheless, it IS a bit of a strike against the AMV.

I Gotta Have More Cowbell: As is the case with most AMVs I really like, this one combines the games' visuals and events with the music to convey its message. This AMV uses the song "Holding Out for a Hero," originally an 80s tune sung by Bonnie Tyler. The version this AMV uses, however, is a more recent version sung done by Jennifer Saunders, featured in the largely pointless movie Shrek 2.

The musical component to this AMV is where it really shines and earns its place in my collection. That's actually a surprise from my perspective, because I frankly find this song really annoying in every version I've ever heard, with this variation annoying me the most. But what can I say? Every single moment of this AMV matches up almost flawlessly to the tone, beat, and lyrics of the song. Remember the last AMV rant I did, the Fallout 3 Land of Confusion one, where I extolled how well-constructed its timing and scene selection was, where everything fit into the song and its words excellently? Well, while lacking perhaps some of the spirit of the last AMV, SMTDDS 1 + 2 Sera's Holding Out for a Hero does it even BETTER. It's like SMTDDS 1 + 2's Full Motion Video was made specifically to fit this song. I sincerely doubt one could possibly match an RPG's FMV scenes to this tune in a better way than here. Hell, the paid professionals who orchestrated the part of Shrek 2 featuring this song didn't even do half as good a job!

Alright, some examples of what I mean. At 0:28, the song talks about the "white knight" hero the rest of the song will refer to, and the AMV gives us a zoom-in shot focusing on Serph, the SMTDDS 1 + 2 protagonist who's the "hero" the song sings about. 0:34 talks about tossing and turning late at night, and shows Sera (the damsel in distress for whom Serph is a hero) curled up asleep. At 0:43, the tone of the song changes from quiet and piano-driven, which was shown well in the AMV by simple and quiet scenes, to a more fast-paced style, which the AMV's scenes match with flashy events and action-oriented FMVs, while focusing still on Serph to keep the focus on him being the hero sung about. At 1:15, the tone becomes more tense, and the scene once again matches the song's change. It hits a crescendo at 1:21, with a scene of a demon emerging, and then immediately has the emphasized beats at 1:22 and 1:23 almost perfectly synchronized with the striking moments in the visual part. The part at 1:43, when the song talks about "rising with the heat," is matched well twice over, as you see a scene of one character changing into a demon, which kind of works with that lyric, and as the character doing this is actually named Heat. The tone of the music at 1:55 once again is reflected by the scene shown, with the music's tone suggesting marching into something unknown or epic, and the scene showing the part of SMTDDS2 in which Serph and Sera's souls are flying into the heart of the sun. At 2:13, the lyrics talk about "someone, somewhere watching me," as the AMV shows Schroedinger, the mysterious cat entity that watches Serph's progress throughout the game. 2:21 has the lyrics talking about a "storm" while focusing on a character named Gale. The part at 2:28 is particularly well done--the rising tension in the music is mirrored by the running attack of the character Heat, ending with Heat gouging his claw into Serph as the lyrics hit a climax of "there's a fire in my blood" (which is also another double-meaning scene for the AMV, given that Heat, known for his fire affinity, is putting his fist through Serph quite bloodily, hence the "fire" in "blood"). And it goes on like this--more or less every part of the song has a scene to it to match its tone and direction, and often even its lyrics. Heck, the AMV even manages to find the perfect scene and timing for the part of this Holding Out for a Hero where it gets momentarily and weirdly quiet and sweet, at 3:38. While I haven't seen any other AMVs using this song yet, I would imagine that moment in the song must be particularly confounding to an AMV-maker, as it just seems completely and totally separate both from the song itself and likely from whatever intended message an AMV to that song would have.

But what does it all mean, Basil?: The theme of the AMV is pretty simple to grasp (maybe "blatantly obvious" would be more accurate): to emphasize Serph as a hero, and more specifically, a hero to Sera. In this, the AMV does its job quite competently, focusing on Serph during his action-related FMVs from the game most of the time, and including several scenes that emphasize his heroism with regards to Sera. Nice theme, explored and portrayed pretty well.

This AMV does not have the spiritually gripping power as the As the Warlock Said AMV I looked at for Shadow Hearts 1 + 2 did, the very effective portrayal of a strong and relevant message that the Fallout 3 If You Tolerate This Your Children Will be Next AMV, or the insightful symbolism and summation of the game that the Fallout 3 Land of Confusion AMV did. It's got a decent basis and message, but not as epic or significant as the AMVs I've ranted on in the past. Nonetheless, I feel it definitely deserves attention and praise for how exceptionally well-made it is. Disregarding the lesser visual quality, this AMV's video component is nigh-flawlessly matched to the music's lyrics, tone, and message from start to finish. You don't have to have played the SMT Digital Devil Saga series to recognize the perfect timing this AMV has, and those that have played the games can appreciate the several clever extras that Veccachan has put into the video (the little things like matching the lyrics about heat and fire to the character Heat, and such). Skill and craftsmanship go a long way in the process of making a truly noteworthy RPG AMV, and Veccachan definitely demonstrates that with Sera's Holding Out for a Hero.

* This is probably not the technical term for them. Have I mentioned that I don't actually know the technical aspects of film and such? Because I don't. Hell, the little research I've done for some of these AMV rants alone has increased my knowledge of cinematography by at least 300%, and I still don't know jack shit.

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