Saturday, May 22, 2010

Final Fantasy 9 AMV: Porcelain

Basic Fact of Life: If it's a Final Fantasy and it has Full Motion Video, there are dozens, even hundreds, of AMVs featuring it. If it weren't for Kingdom Hearts, the FF series would easily have the most AMVs made for it out there on Youtube and and personal sites and wherever else you can find an AMV.

Addendum to that Fact: None of them are worth watching.

Okay, yes, that's a little extreme, but it's close enough to the truth--after watching every Final Fantasy AMV I could stomach for the FFs I've played through, I'd say that 3%, maybe less, of them are worth actually sitting through. The rest range from predictable to lame to messy crap. Lord, if I have to sit through one more Final Fantasy 8 AMV about the horribly-written romance between Squall and Rinoa to annoying, sappy love music...

Anyway, of the few FF AMVs out there worth the watching, I've only found 1 thus far that was worthy of a rant. But it's a damn nice one--an old classic back from nearly a decade ago, made by a talented AMV-maker known as AnimePROPHECY.

Final Fantasy 9: Porcelain:

Poetry in Motion: Visual quality's good throughout. Final Fantasy 9's FMVs were visually stunning in a fairly time-transcending way, so even though they come from a Playstation 1 game, all you need is a decent-quality representation of FF9's cut scenes to have a really lovely AMV to watch.

The visual artistry on the part of AnimePROPHECY here is simple, but effectively so. Many quick fades from one scene to another are used, but they correspond perfectly to the song's pitch and changes, becoming impressive just from their placement. The song is elegantly simple, so these simple tricks, coordinated elegantly, match it quite well. There are also occasionally some fades not from one scene to the next, but from one scene into a blank screen, then to the next scene, again arranged to perfectly compliment the song's rhythm. The beginning of the AMV's an excellent example of this, although it continues on to the very end just as well.

That's most all there is to find for cinematic tricks that AnimePROPHECY uses, but that's really all there should be--the visuals of Final Fantasy 9 really do grab attention and speak for themselves; adding any more complex visual artistry to the mix than simple fades would distract from the natural visuals that the game provides to the AMV, and be overall detrimental to the AMV because of it. The aim of the visual aspect of this AMV is to show the game in all its beauty and wonder, and that's exactly what the AMV achieves.

I Gotta Have More Cowbell: This AMV uses the song Porcelain by Moby. I would normally say in an AMV like this that the song is the greatest strength to it, as it's the focal point that the rest of the AMV is arranged around, and it works damn well in that capacity, but honestly, the other aspects of the AMV are also so strong and attention-grabbing that the music, though the heart and soul of this AMV, is no more or less important than its video component nor its purpose and meaning.

The scene selection to accompany the song's lyrics is quite good. Examples: the line starting at 1:22 talks of a "kaleidoscopic mind," to a scene of characters falling through rushing, circular lights and colors, looking quite like a kaleidoscope, with the camera going for a close-up on the reflection of them all in Zidane's eye--kind of like seeing his mind reflecting the kaleidoscope of colors, the line at 1:44 saying that "this is goodbye" to the scene of Zidane seeing off Dagger and his friends at the end of the game, and the line at 2:53 which talks about waking and "going out of my mind" to an opening, mad-looking eye, a twisted landscape, and crazy main villain Kuja.

However, the lyrics to this song are, ultimately, really not too important to it--the song's focus and memorable trait is its melody, the lovely, upbeat yet ethereal quality of its tune. And the AMV definitely reflects this quality, and uses it to its utmost. The FMVs of Final Fantasy 9, loaded with bright mysticism, colorful magic, awesome events, and eye-catching settings, often perfectly match to the song's tone of wonder, beauty, and the magical unknown, often matching the scene shown to the slightest shifts of instrument and tone in the song. The most easily notable example is how perfectly the scene changes are timed to the music's shifts, but that's really only the beginning of the synchronization of video to the song's mood. It's honestly very difficult for me to put into words, this intangible coordination of soothing wonder between song and video, but it really is there, as I'm sure you can see.

Guy, You Explain: This is another AMV whose purpose is simple, like the last one I did, Fallout 3: Mad World--to summarize and glorify the game, to bare its heart to you and show you or make you remember how great it is.

Does it succeed? Oh yes. The beauty of the Final Fantasy 9 fantasy world and its epic plot are portrayed wonderfully in its cinemas, and the merging of Moby's Porcelain sums it up perfectly, covering the captivating events, grand sense of adventure, soft and poignant love story between Dagger and Zidane, great characters, and general majesty of Final Fantasy 9 with the same grandiose, yet so very subtle beauty that makes the game such a great RPG. This AMV's goal is to invoke within its audience the moving emotion and wonder that the game should be remembered with, and to that end, AnimePROPHECY succeeds brilliantly.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

General RPGs' Minigames 7: Torneko's Weapon Shop Employment

It has been a long time since I did a Minigames Rant, folks. And I was okay with that. I was okay with that, because it meant that I had not encountered or remembered any particularly terrible minigame in an RPG since that latest Minigame Rant. And the fewer notable minigames in my life, the happier I am. But alas, all good things must end.

So I was playing Dragon Quest 4, finally. I've kinda had it on the back-burner for a year or two now, but other games just kept distracting me, as each of them had the attention-grabbing virtue known as not-being-a-Dragon-Quest-game. But I finally did get around to it.

So. Chapter 3 of Dragon Quest 4. You're in control of an aspiring merchant, Torneko, who works in a local weapon store, with the hopes of opening his own and becoming a legend in the business. Well hey, that's fairly different, right? There's some creative potential there. You find yourself, against all odds, becoming ever so slightly interested in a Dragon Quest game. So you send Torneko over to his job, and get ready to make some cash.

And that's basically where the fun stops, clutches its heart, and collapses, never to rise again. For the next 5 or 10 minutes, however long the working day is in the game, you stand behind a desk, and when a customer comes in, you either sell them a weapon they ask for, or you buy a weapon they're selling. Then they leave, and you sit there until the next one comes in and does the same thing. Occasionally the customer will realize they don't have the money or inventory space for the item they want, and leave without making a purchase. If this process does not sound very interesting to you, then congratulations, you have more game development sense than DQ4's makers.

And even though the very concept of this minigame is boring and annoying, it isn't even as interesting as it should have been. Customers will make a note that they can't use the item they're about the buy if they're not the right job class or something, but as far as I can tell, that actually makes absolutely no difference--as far as I can tell, you don't get penalized if you're pushy and sell it to them anyway, nor do you get rewarded if you don't try to sell them the item, so there's really no thought or skill involved with this beyond hitting the "Yes" option over and over. And you can try to haggle the price, sort of, but the process for doing so usually involves you refusing to sell the item for its marked price, the customer assuming you're joking, and then the customer attempting to buy it again for that price. You have to repeat the cycle for half a dozen times before the customer offers to pay a tiny, tiny bit more for it, making it a waste of time--not to mention that you run the risk of having the customer just leave after all. So what tiny variations are available to you just make this game a greater waste of time than ever.

So after turning all sense of self-awareness off for 10 minutes so you can properly appreciate "Wait for People and then Hit the A Button: The Minigame," the day ends and Torneko's boss comes up to pay him his commission on what's been sold. And how much is that reward? For a full day, it's usually around 100 Gold. Now, there are a few RPGs out there in which 100 (insert appropriate currency here) is a significant chunk of change. Dragon Age Origins, for example--100 Gold Sovereigns would be a tremendous reward for a minigame, or really anything else. But in most RPGs, 100 Gold is more or less nothing. And Dragon Quest 4 is in this majority.

Reeling at the fact that Torneko makes the worst commission in the history of mankind, I hopped online to see whether there was something I was missing to all this, whether there was some secret reward beyond the pocket change required to buy a small handful of bottom-tier healing items. And hey, turns out there is--the customers seeking to sell a weapon will, on rare occasions, have a Cautery sword for sale, which is massively more powerful than every other weapon available to Torneko for the rest of the chapter. You can apparently have the store buy the Cautery Sword, then leave and come back to buy it yourself--as long as you can manage to get the hell out of the place before another customer walks in, wants it, and you get stuck telling them No three dozen times before they finally get the hint and leave. So hey, there's SOME reason to keep doing this, at least, so I figured I'd stick it out and get that sword.

Here's an idea of the time this will take to do.

First of all, of any given customer that walks in, I'm gonna say there's only a 1/4 chance that he/she will want to sell instead of buy. Once you've got a seller, there are 6 possible weapons they can choose from to sell, 3 that are in the store and 3 that the store doesn't normally carry, of which the Cautery Sword is one. But the chances of them selling any of the 3 that the store doesn't carry is only about...1/3, I'd say. Rough guess. And of those 3, based on how often I saw each come up as an option, I'd say there's only a 1/4 chance, at best, that it'll be the Cautery Sword they've got. Again, rough estimate.

So. 1/4 x 1/3 x 1/4 = roughly 0.02083, with the 3 repeating after that. So at any given time, the chances that the next customer to walk into the shop will sell the Cautery sword is about 2%. I don't know the actual values in the game, so maybe the odds are actually better, but based on how long I was sitting there bored out of my mind, I'd say this is a fairly accurate number. So chances are that you're going to be bored by this nonsense for a good, long time if you're playing it for the only reason there is to play it at all.

I really don't know what the hell they were thinking when they made this thing. I mean, minigames are stupid wastes of time in general, but this is just incredible in how terrible it is. I mean, just plain wow. This minigame is so mind-numbingly dull...I don't know if I can even properly describe it. It's like Enix wanted to give you a break from the normal boredom that comes of playing Dragon Quest so that you could do something MORE boring. "They might not be bored enough after 2 chapters of no character development, a vague plot, bland music, and endless, boring random encounters--let's give them a REAL treat and crank up the monotony!" the developers said. This minigame is so terrible and dull that it makes me actually wish I were back at my REAL retail job. The act of brushing your teeth is a more exciting venture than playing this minigame. It's so boring, I'm surprised it didn't come from Suikoden 4--and THAT game is so dull that it feels like someone took enough Novocaine to numb an elephant and injected it straight into your brain's pleasure center. Ugh.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Shin Megami Tensei Series's Demon Fusion

Although not present in all of its games, the Shin Megami Tensei series typically contains a merchant-type service in each game with which you can sacrifice two or more of the creatures following you at that moment in order to create a significantly more powerful entity to help you. These new monsters often have techniques and defenses that will help you to stay a step ahead of, or at least to keep up with, the game's challenges, which is important in an SMT game, let me tell you. Besides the fact that it opens up options for party-member creatures that probably can't be recruited just yet otherwise, Demon Fusion is also handy in that the demons you make will often have slightly boosted stats over what the same monster would have if you just recruited it in combat (or, in the SMT Persona games, get an experience boost that may raise its level), may have some kind of bonus item to give you, and will inherit some of the skills of the monsters you sacrifice for it.

This latter component, however, is the reason that I FUCKING HATE DEMON FUSION WITH ALL THE BITTER, BLACKENED LUMP OF ANIMOSITY THAT IS MY SOUL. You see, it's like this. Before each Fusion actually occurs, you get to see a preview of the monster that will be created. You can see which creature it is, the stats, and the skills, both the inherent ones and the one's it's getting from its parents of sorts. The inherited skills are mostly randomized--unless there's a skill in the parents' set that can't be used by this type of creature, or a skill that can ONLY be used by that sacrificed creature, then any and all of the predecessors' skills are up for grabs via random selection. If you don't see the skill(s) you want, you just nix the Fusion, then try it again.

And again. And again and again and again...simulating this process in text will be boring, so let us instead say: (And Again) x N, where N = any positive whole number less than or equal to 500.

It's not so terrible in the beginning. In the early stages of the games, the monsters you fuse don't have all that many really noteworthy skills to pass on (in fact, they don't even have that many skills, period, so there's less for the random process to choose from), so the most you'll probably want is for the new monster to have one or two varied elemental attack spells. That's not a real problem; you might even get an acceptable spell for the new creature on your first try. It'll surely take you no more than 10 attempts. No problem.

It's later in the games where this process becomes more annoying than the stupidest minigame you've ever played. You'll be sacrificing 2 or more creatures that each have probably 5 - 8 different skills for the inheriting process to randomly choose from, and you'll almost certainly have at least 2 you'll adamantly want your new beast to inherit. I think that the best way to properly describe exactly what makes this whole thing horrible is to run through how it usually goes for me.

BEGINNING: "Oooh! Look at that awesome demonI can create! It's got great resistances, and its only weakness is Fire...but one of the monsters I'm sacrificing has Null Fire, so that'll fix that and make it an ideal front-lines tank! Let's see...I'd also like to see Sacrificial Monster 1's all-healing spell and Resist Physical skills on the new one, and Monster 2's got the same all-healing spell and the ultimate Wind spell, which would be handy. The new monster's going to inherit 3 skills. I know I HAVE to have Null Fire, and I'll be happy with any combination of the other 3 skills I like for the others."

AFTER SETTING THE FUSION UP, SEEING WHAT WILL RESULT, CANCELING IT, AND TRYING AGAIN 50 TIMES: "Okay, this is getting tedious. Damn that randomizer! Fine, I won't be greedy. I'll just insist on having Null Fire and 1 of the other 3 skills I wanted. But of them, Resist Physical and the Wind spell are better, so it'll have to be 1 of them; I'll just give up on the healing spell. And whatever the last slot's filled with will just have to work for me."

AFTER 50 MORE TRIES: "Oh my GOD, how is it possible that random chance wouldn't EVER give me a skill combination I want? Fuck it, I am NOT compromising on this; I want Null Fire AND Resist Physical or the Wind spell. Sooner or later it has got to happen."

AFTER 75 MORE TRIES: "N...No...gotta...gotta stay's gotta happen some time..."

AFTER 50 MORE TRIES: "FINE! I'll accept the healing spell for the second must-have skill. Just so long as Null Fire's with it. That betters my chances for something acceptable, right?"

AFTER 75 MORE TRIES: "Oh Jesus I give up. Just Null Fire. I'll just give up on anything else I want. Just the one damn skill. Anything to get on with things."

AFTER 50 MORE TRIES: "GRRAAAGGHH! Why won't Null Fire even come UP any more? Can this game HEAR me?"

And finally, after a few more tries during which I am screaming, slamming my fist down on my desk, and generally carrying on, I'll get a Fusion possibility that has the Null Fire in it, and I'll tearfully just accept this meager, disappointing offering, now a broken and disturbed man.

What is the POINT of this idiocy? What are they THINKING by randomizing the thing? By letting the gamer know what skills are inherited ahead of time, the SMT makers are basically encouraging the gamer to set the Fusion up over and over again to get at least SOME skill they want, so if the intention of randomizing it is to leave whether you get good skills or not entirely up to chance, the makers have failed, because the gamer has the opportunity to make sure that at least some of the skills they want are certain to be there. Why not just make a Demon Fusion process where you pick and choose a skill or two that you want to keep? I don't even care if they'd have to lessen the number of inherited skills possible down to just 1 or 2; that's really all the preferred skills I'm ever getting anyway, and it'd still save me all the time it takes to get them otherwise.

And yeah, you can try to say that it could be worse, that the creators could just not show you anything ahead of time and let you get whatever skills the game decides AFTER the Fusion, when it's too late to change anything, but I actually think that would STILL be less annoying. At least in that circumstance, you're limited by your money and monsters in the game as to how many times you can redo the Demon Fusion to get the abilities you want out of it. You would have to just accept it and move on; you wouldn't have the choice of setting up and canceling out of the Fusion 1000 times to get it just like you want it. Sure, it would still be a pain in the ass and make things more difficult...but it wouldn't be so aggravatingly monotonous. How can these games be created with such attentive care to detail in all the other aspects of game play, but keep recycling this poorly-conceived nightmare over and over?