Happy New Year, all. This year we're going to mix it up by updating on the 8s of the month instead of the 5s, because 8 is clearly the best number.
Ever since the era of the Playstation 1, Full Motion Videos have been a major component of console RPGs (and a few PC ones) and their storytelling process. They're not as big a thing as they used to be, as more and more games reach a level of visual prowess that makes the game's regular graphics close enough to an FMV's quality that the cinema just isn't really worth it. But they're still around, and still important.
Back on the PS1, FMVs were, for quite a while, a really big deal. Eventually we got used to them, and by the PS2 era they were the status quo. But on the PS1, FMVs were new and exciting. They were also more attention-grabbing than nowadays for their contrast--even the lower-quality FMVs were so much of a jump from the visuals of the game proper that they seemed incredible by comparison. FMVs come, past and present, in a couple varieties, most commonly your standard CGI stuff, like you find in Chrono Cross or Final Fantasy 7, or anime cut scenes, such as those you see in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and 4, for example. Sometimes they'll be showing scenes of action, battle, and destruction, like many of the ones you find in Final Fantasy 10. At other times, they'll be used to show a scene deemed especially important to the plot's course or the development of characters, such as the dancing scene from Final Fantasy 8, or the majority of Lunar 1 and 2's cut scenes. Of course, you'll often have FMVs made for the intro to the game, and for the game's ending, cuz, y'know, that stuff's important.
And then there are the rather pointless, boring mini-FMVs that several older RPGs are fond of using to show new places when you reach them, like some of the ones in Planescape: Torment. I've never really seen the point of using CGI to introduce a new location. It's a new place, big freaking deal. Instead of blowing their budget and disc space on scenic shots of some stupid mountain or town or such that you're going to be spending hours familiarizing yourself with anyway as you wander around it, why didn't the developers give us scenes of things happening, characters doing plot stuff, things that will actually hold our interest in some way? It feels like some idiot tourist's vacation video. With all the cool shit and memorable moments of character interactions in the classic Grandia 1, for example, did we really need to use a minute of the game's limited FMV time on a sky overview of the Garlyle Base? It's a base with tanks and machinery and so on; there's absolutely nothing in this FMV that couldn't have been depicted equally effectively with the game's normal graphics. We get a cut scene of that, but none for the heartbreaking scene of Sue's farewell, or Gadwin and Justin's fight to test determination and growth? No FMV for the powerful, triumphant moment where Justin and his friends stand atop the purported End of the World and see the limitless potential hidden behind it? The hell is up with that?*
It just seems like a waste, you know? It's only in the recent age of video games that FMV has become relatively easier to insert into games. During the 1990s, space on game discs was precious, and CGI was, I think, more work to create and program in, being a newer idea and practice. The idea of the FMV cut scene has always been, to my understanding, a way to add in visual enhancement to emphasize something to the player, grab their attention and make some part of the game really memorable. So whose stupid idea was it to waste time, money, and game space on showing off some fucking buildings, or a forest, or such? They couldn't have used those resources to make FMV that we might actually care about? Why the hell, for example, does Baldur's Gate 2 have a cut scene for the sun setting or rising over a town when you're there for the changing of evening to day and vice-versa? Is it supposed to impress us? Because it doesn't impress me. It just makes me wonder why the time of day gets its own FMV sequence, but nearly nothing else in the game does. Why not instead an FMV scene when you first meet a potential party member? Or even just for a couple of the really important ones? Even a brief rendering of Minsc and Jaheira in their cages at the game's beginning, or Viconia surrounded by an angry mob when you first rediscover her, would have been better than being expected to ooh and ahh over going from day to night.
The really annoying kind of FMV, though, way worse than the vacation video brand I just mentioned, is the Legend FMV. The Legend FMV is a cut scene which, for reasons far beyond my comprehension, chooses to blow multiple minutes' worth of disc space and game budget on a fully rendered depiction of scrolls, hieroglyphics, runes, wall carvings, tapestries, texts, and the like being read (always in a serious, learned voice) to establish the game world's nonsensical yet plot-essential religious hokum. Sometimes important scenes or characters in the legend will be depicted in some boring single frame, if you're lucky. Best case scenario, you might get some narration over a scene of some ancient civilization's everyday life with all their technological whatsits, like in Grandia 1's example of this FMV style...which just makes it a vacation video from the strangely more advanced past.
Thankfully, the Legend FMV isn't and hasn't ever been all over the place, but there are a good amount of games that have one, or more. The Legend of Dragoon, for example, just seemed to have one Legend FMV after another. Sometimes the stupid mural would be the whole FMV, other times it would take up part of the cut scene and then the player would get some real CGI action once it was out of the way. But overall, The Legend of Dragoon spent a good several minutes' worth of FMV on hearing people talk while looking at boring, stupid cave paintings and such, and that's just so damn annoying to me. There are some people who find cinematic cut scenes to be boring anyway, but even an FMV enthusiast like me just wants to get back to the game while these things are going. It's even worse when you consider how awesome some of The Legend of Dragoon's other FMV sequences are; just thinking of the lost potential makes me scrunch my face up in bitterness.
Like I said, there are thankfully not too many Legend FMVs to contend with (hell, there's even a couple good ones--going back to Grandia 1, its Legend FMVs actually were kind of acceptable, largely because they actually showed the ancient civilization they were talking about rather than just a bunch of smudges on some scroll or something). Still, with all the great moments of danger and excitement, emotion and intrigue, and grandeur and creativity that you can find in RPGs, it's just disappointing that so many FMVs in the genre focus on uninteresting stuff like scenery and wall carvings. It's always seemed like a tremendous waste; if you're gonna spend the time and money on CGI to make your game flashier, make it COUNT for something.
* I should note, in defense of this personal favorite RPG of mine, that Grandia 1 DID later on include many big moments rendered in CGI, and overall was not wasteful of its limited FMV time, when you compare it to several other RPGs of the same time period. But I do feel it's still a good example, because with a game like Grandia 1, that's chock full of classic moments, even a little FMV time wasted instead of devoted to portraying these moments is a damn shame.