Sunday, October 28, 2012

General RPGs' AMVs 6

Because I just know you all love and adore these so much. I’ve decided to cut the number of AMVs in these rants down to 8. 13 strikes me as maybe being too much all at once, and 8 is the best number of all, anyway, so it all works out.

I know I sound like a broken record at this point, but please, if you watch any of these, and agree with me that they’re good, just take those few, precious seconds to hit the Thumbs Up button, or better still, leave a quick comment mentioning that you enjoyed it. With so many subpar RPG AMVs out there (like, literally thousands), finding a notably good one is exceedingly rare, and I definitely want those with the skill to make a decent video encouraged to do more.


Final Fantasy 8: Dancing in the Dark, by ChadVisionAbridged:
The music used is Dancing in the Dark, by Bruce Springsteen. This is one of those AMVs you just never see coming, but work out surprisingly well. It’s silly but enjoyable, and its coordination between the song’s lyrics and the game’s visuals and text is surprisingly accurate. There’s a cheerful, slightly tongue-in-cheek energy that ChadVisionAbridged has instilled into the game clips that bring them together with the music. I also very much appreciate that this AMV makes excellent use of actual game footage, not just FF8’s FMV sequences--a lot of the connection between the audio and visuals comes from the right application of game footage that most people wouldn’t bother with just because it’s not an FMV. Even considering how statistically rare a good Final Fantasy 8 AMV is, this one is a pleasant surprise. And I just love the end, makes me laugh aloud. Solid AMV, this one.


The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask: This is Halloween, by DemonLordChuck:
The music used is This is Halloween, from the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack. There’s not a whole lot to this AMV, but it has good editing, and frankly, the bizarre, unsettling, and sometimes downright freaky setting and visual tone of this game lend themselves perfectly to the nature and feel of the song. That vague, disturbing sense of wrongness of this game’s world just meshes very well with the song, and makes this video enjoyable and appropriate.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: United We Stand, Divided We Fall, by Enlistedman92:
The music used is United We Stand, Divided We Fall, by Two Steps From Hell, and then a tune from the TLoZSS soundtrack at the end. As epic trailers/tributes go, this is about as good as you’re gonna get. The music and game footage meld together excellently to portray the game as an epic adventure. The scenes selected are perfect, and tell the story of the game with good enough flow to be understandable, yet loosely enough that you’re having very little spoiled, as a trailer/tribute more or less should. The editing is done very well, too; I very much liked the parts where the Goddess Sword’s power-ups were put together and where the Triforce appears in parts on Link’s hand. A shame Enlistedman92 isn’t on Nintendo’s payroll, because this is better quality than most professionally-made tributes/trailers. If it weren’t for the totally pointless bit at the end that completely jars you out of the mood that the AMV created, I’d probably keep this video in my personal AMV collection, and devote an entire rant to it. Even still, though, check it out, because it’s awesome.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Kryptonite, by Gurglesnurp:
The music used is Kryptonite, by 3 Doors Down. If you can manage to sit through the half-minute intro,* you’ll find this is a very decent, solid AMV. Not perfect by any means, but overall it meshes the video to the lyrics and tune pretty well, the simple editing is done well, and it’s engaging from start to finish. Not much more to say, really, it’s simply a good AMV.


Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3: The Answer, by XcoxmoX:
The music used is To Die For, by The Birthday Massacre. First of all, ignore the length the video indicates--there’s some odd glitch of sorts on this AMV, such that after it’s done, it starts up again without sound, so the actual length of the music video is only about 5 minutes, not the 10 it says. At any rate, this AMV is not perfect, as there are times when the musical tone doesn’t seem particularly well-synchronized with the game video, and a lot of the lyrics don’t seem to hold much relevance one way or another to it. But overall, the tone of the music works well with the game’s clips, there are times when the lyrics do match up to what’s shown, and I feel that the overall feel of the song works nicely with the overall tone of the video’s progression and events as a whole.


Xenosaga 2 + 3: Breath, by ShionStrife:
The music used is Breath, by Breaking Benjamin. The subject matter of this one, pairing Shion and Jr. up, is ludicrous and dumb, of course, but surprisingly, this video’s actually a pretty solid work. I suppose it just goes to show you how far effective use of game footage and coordination with the song can really go. The scenes match up to the lyrics and the mood of the music extremely well, and are arranged in a terrific way for conveying Hell, it’s done well enough that if someone who was not at all familiar with the Xenosaga games and characters were to watch this, they would probably wholeheartedly believe that there really were some sort of romantic subplot in the game concerning Jr. and Shion.

Xenosaga Series: The Awakening, by Tabichan8:
The music used is Prometheus Ring, by Immediate Music. This one’s a KOS-MOS tribute/trailer AMV, and it’s pretty awesome. The scenes are great with the music, the quotes used are perfect for the purpose, and overall, it gets your blood pumping, it shows KOS-MOS as being awesome, and it totally psychs you up for the Xenosaga series by being pretty damn epic. You could easily believe this to be an official trailer from how well it’s done.

Xenosaga Series: The Saga Begins, by GunnerRikku75:
The music used is The Saga Begins, by Weird Al Yankovic. Given that it’s a 5+ minute joke AMV to a joke song cover to a song that is itself bad enough to also be a joke, I’m kind of surprised that this video’s actually pretty darned good. The video clips are well-timed and a good match to the Star Wars-ish lyrics, and it all winds up being a nice bit of tongue-in-cheek fun, which is just what it should be with a Weird Al song

* I feel like I want to make an entire rant devoted just to this one thing, but it’s not RPG-related enough to do so, so I’m gonna just post my complaint here. These stupid, pointless intros to people’s AMVs have got to STOP. If someone wants to quickly stick their name up at the start of the video for 1 to 5 seconds, well, that’s alright. But a ton of AMV makers have these elaborate, 30 - 45 second intro videos to their music videos! It’s distracting, it’s annoying, and frankly such flamboyant narcissism in thinking anyone cares at all makes me very disinclined to even give the actual AMV, when it finally starts, a chance. You are not an acclaimed fucking director or movie studio! You’re putting up fan music videos of video games on Youtube, you self-important twats. Get a grip, stop boring your audience, and get on with the actual AMV already.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Xenosaga 3's Boss Fights

After screwing up my courage for years after the mess that is Xenosaga 2, I finally got around to playing and beating Xenosaga 3 recently. While the phrase “narrative clusterfuck” is a tremendous understatement when describing this game’s plot and characters, and I’m fairly certain I could easily create a list of 50 mistakes Xenosaga 3 makes in its storytelling just off the top of my head, I actually did enjoy it a good deal more than Xenosaga 2, and I’d even say it has some worth and meaning in it...if you really, REALLY go diving in deep for it. But heavier discussions such as those are for another day (or maybe never; if I got started talking about the problems with Xenosaga 3’s story, I might never stop, and I’m saving my “Never Ending Discussion of Why it’s Stupid” energy for an eventual rant on the Synthesis option of Mass Effect 3’s ending). For this rant, I’m just going to pose this annoyed question, instead:

Why the hell can’t the player ever seem to actually win in this game?

I’m talking about the boss fights, specifically. Oh, sure, you get into a boss fight in this game, well, you can pretty much always actually beat the battle itself (kinda have to, or it’s Game Over). I mean...okay, look, there are, basically, 26 bosses in this game, not counting the 2 super special ultra bosses. Now, after winning the boss battle, these are the bosses who are, once the battle is over, completely gone, completely dead/destroyed, or thoroughly defeated and unable to fight more or flee: Sigdrifa, Aludra Calf, ES Nephtali, Mai and Leupold, Pellegri, the three Asura Series 27, Citrine, each of the 4 elemental thingies in Abel’s Ark, ES Gad and ES Joseph, ES Issachar (piloted by Pellegri), ES Levi (piloted by Margulis), and the final boss, Zarathustra. That’s 15 of the boss battles in this game where you actually can beat the boss. Just a little over half.

That means that almost half of the rest of the boss battles in this game end up having the enemy either being quite strong enough to escape, strong enough to keep fighting, or, most often, shrugging the whole fight off and behaving as though they were not hurt at all. The first time your characters fight Margulis in the ES Levi, he is, immediately after the boss battle, still up and ready for more. The Omega Universitas is clearly damaged by your boss fight against it, but more than capable of escaping (which seems pointless; it’s never seen again to my knowledge, so why not just have it get scrapped?). Beat Virgil and Voyager in combat, and each time they’ll obviously be totally unharmed afterwards, taunting the player’s characters about it. Yuriev is only defeated when an outside party steps in after the battle (as was the case with Virgil and Voyager, for that matter). And so on.

I mean, alright, this sort of thing is not exactly unknown to RPGs. It’d take me a while to name a full dozen RPGs in which there are no instances of the plot dictating the heroes be unable, at one point or another, to defeat an enemy. Lavos is supposed to win in the Ocean Palace in Chrono Trigger, Kefka perpetually gets away from every battle he loses in Final Fantasy 6, and and the Exile can’t manage to counter Darth Sion’s regenerative powers during their first battle on Korriban in Knights of the Old Republic 2. And those are all games of distinctive quality. Plot happens, certain individuals can’t be eliminated too early, I get that.

But 11 times in one game? And nearly always these instances occur when the Xenosaga cast is engaging in combat with anyone of any significance. I mean, most of the boss battles in Xenosaga 3 that you CAN beat are just the random filler enemies--large monster-ish things, momentarily misguided good-guy NPCs, flunkies, etc. It seems like any time you actually fight someone that matters, it’s utterly pointless; they’re either going to be totally fine after the boss battle and get away, or they’re going to be totally fine after the boss battle and require defeat through some other story-driven means. What’s the point of fighting the game’s villains at all if you’re never going to be the one to actually defeat them?

Is this a small gripe? Well, yeah. Certainly not worth even the time it’s taken to write this rant. But all the same, it DOES get annoying at a certain point, and I believe that it does lessen the narrative strength of the game (in addition to the countless flaws that already turn Xenosaga 3’s storytelling into a horrible mess, I mean). Because after a certain point of watching deus ex machina get called in for the tenth time to take care of an enemy that you just spent 20 minutes beating on, you start to wonder why the hell you’re being partnered with heroes who can’t actually accomplish their goals themselves, and question the strength of a plot which would necessitate so many of its important conflicts be rendered bogus.

Monday, October 8, 2012

General RPGs' Anime Retellings

Good lord, this was supposed to be a short rant, and just LOOK at it. I’m hopeless. Anyway...

There are a lot of animes that have been born from popular Role Playing Games. Tales of the Abyss, Final Fantasy 7, Star Ocean 2, and many other games have had animated series and/or movies created based upon them. And generally, I’m all for this idea, because 1, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing many of the games I play and enjoy continued in some way (as long as it’s done well, of course), and 2, because to create a new form of art based on a different medium is a sign that the original medium is taken seriously as a potential artform itself (yes, I’m one of the advocates for the consideration of video games as art (or at least, for having the capacity to be art; I’m sure as hell not going to pretend even 10% of them actually do qualify as such)). But what I DON’T like about this phenomenon is the fact that most of these derivative animes and movies wind up being adaptations that retell the game’s events.

Now, let me clarify something--I don’t necessarily dislike adaptations. You take something like the Nolan trilogy of Batman movies. Sure, they’re essentially just adaptations and retellings of ideas from the Batman comic books, but they’re significantly altered and adjusted, becoming different (and remarkable) stories in their own right. They share much similarity to the original source material, but the director takes the stories and characters and uses them in significantly different ways, to tell new stories and explore ideas in unique ways. That kind of adaptation, which significantly departs from the original while staying acceptably true to its ideas, aspects, and direction, that I like. But I also approve of something like the old Fox Kids X-Men cartoon, or the Hunger Games movie, because even though they’re far more literally true to the original works, the mediums are significantly different from the originals. There’s a lot of difference between a comic book or book and a cartoon or movie. You’re reliving the stories in a whole new way, through the vision of the creators of the new adaptation. It’s a significantly new experience.

But that’s not the case with RPG anime adaptations. When an anime retells an RPG’s story, you’re not really creating anything new. RPGs (the Japanese ones, at least, but those are the only ones that this so far applies to) typically have storytelling methods that are already pretty similar to those of anime as it is, and most of the RPGs whose stories have been retold in anime form have been visually advanced enough that the animated version is not really showing you anything different. It’s not like you get anime versions of old 16-bit RPGs, or at least, I’ve yet to find one. The mediums are too similar for the adaptations to be considered a new experience.

So what’s the point? Some animation studio is going to blow thousands and thousands of dollars and hours producing a story that’s already been told? Why? I don’t get it. I already played Tales of the Abyss. I already beat Xenosaga 1. I already completed Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, AND analyzed the hell out of it in my head. Why would I want to just see the same thing all over again? And if that impulse DOES strike me, couldn’t I just, y’know, play the game again?

It’s not like the anime version of a game is going to garner all that much of a new audience to generate new revenue, either. I mean, a movie adaptation of a book, well, I can certainly see the reasoning there--there are a LOT of people who just don’t generally read books, so releasing, say, the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings in movie form is going to garner a huge new audience who didn’t want to read through the original works.* But there’s not a huge divide between anime-watchers and game-players in Japan, and I imagine most of the people who are going to recognize and show significant interest in an anime based on a video game are the people who are already fans of the video game. I guess there must be SOME new people in an audience for an anime version who aren’t gamers, but given how closely the industries are culturally tied over there, I just can’t imagine it being all that many. And if a large portion of your audience are fans of the source material, why show them the same damn thing all over again?

Why not something new? That’s what I want to know. Why not something new. Look, most RPGs last a good 40 to 60 hours, and involve the creation of a whole different world full of unique individuals and histories of varied complexity. If you were a creator, and you had spent so long making the world of your RPG--even a very basic RPG world still takes a lot of time and effort to think up--wouldn’t you WANT to use it more than once? Instead of telling us the same story all over again, animes could detail momentous historical events of the RPG world they’re based on. They could focus on the back stories of the game’s characters. They could show us other perspectives of the events of the game, scenes and side-stories that occur during the game but that we didn’t get a chance to see in the original. Or, most obviously, they could create new adventures for the game’s cast to engage in, taking place some time after the game’s conclusion.**

The Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children movie and the Sakura Wars 5 anime may not have been very good (although if you already liked the silly and somewhat stupid nature of Sakura Wars 5, you probably will actually enjoy its anime sequel), but in my mind, they’re way, way better products than the anime retellings of Disgaea 1 or Tales of the Abyss, even if those had far superior stories and characters. Sure, FF7AC may be a nonsensical load of special effects and gratuitous fight scenes competing with the emo fumblings of a protagonist whose character has actually regressed to where it was partway through the game instead of basing itself on how Cloud had developed by the game’s end, but at least it was (ineptly) trying to tell us a NEW story about the characters and world that we loved, not just rehashing everything we already knew for 2 hours. Sure, Sakura Wars 5 doesn’t make good use of its cast and focuses on the stupid machinations of a reborn Egyptian Pharaoh whose only vaguely interesting quality is that he’s pretty hot for protagonist Shinjiro when Shinjiro’s in drag (and man does Shinjiro seem to dig him back), but it gave us a new adventure for the characters of the game, tried to please its fans with a new story about the characters they enjoyed. I’d still count watching each of them as having been more worthwhile experiences than viewing a single episode of the Xenosaga 1 anime, even though I liked Xenosaga 1’s story.

I also have a couple of minor pet peeves with these anime retellings of RPGs, beyond the principle of it being a waste of time to tell the same story over again in a generally similar format. First of all, the small changes. Even though an anime may just be retelling the story of a game, there are almost inevitably going to be some changes made to events and characters here and there. Not big enough that the events and characters are significantly altered, but still, there will be some slight difference between the original version’s telling and the anime’s, even though the story’s major aspects will be the same. Why do this? It’s not enough to change the anime enough to be a new story, but now I, as an obsessive fan (and don’t kid yourself, there are a LOT of people as obsessive as or more than I am, so I’m not the only one), am never going to know which version of the story’s events is real. If I want to write a fanfic about Xenosaga 1, do I consider Virgil as having died on the Woglinde star ship, as happened in the game, or later on, as happened in the anime? The animation’s change has no significant effect on the overall events of the plot, as Virgil will still die in basically the exact same way, but I’ll never know how the hell this detail was actually supposed to play out, and it’s going to bug me any time I happen to think of it. And you probably know by now just how often and much I think about RPGs.***

And don’t even get me started on the Final Fantasy 7: Last Order anime. The way they changed the scene where Cloud gets stabbed by makes me shake with fanboy rage just thinking about it. They just have Sephiroth decide to jump off the reactor platform on his own. They RUINED one of the greatest moments in Final Fantasy 7. Cloud was supposed to get stabbed, then, through sheer strength of will and heroic quality and all that awesome inspiring jazz, he was supposed to grab the sword in him, use it to lift Sephiroth (who’s too surprised to actually let go of the hilt) up into the air, and then throw his ass over the side of the reactor to what they both clearly thought would be Sephiroth’s death (and it did at least knock him off his ass for a few years, forcing him into hiding in the North Crater’s Lifestream center to heal). It was heroic, it was awesome, it was inspiring. It was a victorious turn-around on the villain who had seemed to have clearly won, then suddenly found himself utterly defeated by one of the supposedly helpless victims he’d just run through. But no, now, thanks to this goddamn anime retelling, Cloud’s amazing act of strength and will is diminished, and Sephiroth gets to give a smug little smile and hightail it outta there, which was what he wanted to do to begin with. Yeah, Cloud spooked him a little still, but ultimately Sephiroth is now the one who comes out ahead. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised, since SquareEnix is has a George Lucas-like talent for destroying its own best work, but still.

And what about when one of those small changes is just adding something in that wasn’t there in the original game? Like the Realian girl that was just added out of the blue to the Xenosaga anime. Her role changes more or less nothing important, so again, it still qualifies as us being expected to sit through the same damn story all over again, but the small alterations her presence and character provide are not in the original game, and I have to wonder--why not? Was this addition something that the creator of Xenosaga wanted in her work, in her vision of her story? Is the game that I spent 50+ hours playing NOT all that it was supposed to be? Because that really doesn’t make me very happy to consider.

And as a last little gripe, I admit to feeling childishly resentful about the time difference. I mean, look, a full season of an anime is more or less 26 episodes, right? Some animes go longer and some are shorter, but the standard is 26. If you get a video game turned into an anime, then you’re providing the same story to any newcomer who may not already know it in 13 hours’ time--26 if you get full-hour episodes, but I don’t think I’ve heard of a game anime that has episodes that long. I spent 40+ experiencing that story, as one of the original fans that made the game’s commercial success possible (I assume it wouldn’t get an anime if it weren’t successful). So now any jerk can have the experience in half that time? Less, even? I feel like an idiot for investing so much time into the original product when all I apparently had to do was wait a year or 2, and I could have more or less the same experience without the repetitive random encounters adding an extra few dozen hours on. Like I said, kind of a petty feeling, but I don’t deny it.

Pet peeves aside, though, I seriously dislike the idea that an anime made about an RPG would just be a retelling of the game’s story, and I don’t think I’m being unreasonable here. I am not a baby penguin. I do not enjoy my meals regurgitated to me. Whoever makes the decisions on these matters, take the stuff I like, the stuff enough fans liked to warrant further focus, and go forward with it.

* A sentiment which, in that particular case, I can sympathize with. Tolkien had some awesome ideas and creativity, but sweet heavens, he had a ponderous and dry writing style.

** As a note, I would like to say that a new story such as I mention should, of course, still be related to and based on the video game in some way. I’m not looking for something like the Wild Arms: Twilight Venom anime, which, as far as I could tell, had no actual connection to any Wild Arms game and only had any relation to the series through using certain basic concepts like the ARMS weapons and Crimson Noble species (and even then, many of these things seemed only loosely based on the original concepts found in the games). The anime should have some strong, solid relationship to the original games, because otherwise, why the heck name it after the game series to begin with? If you took the words “Wild Arms” out of the title of that anime, you’d sooner think of it as its own show than anything related to the game series.

*** For new readers: It’s a lot. I think about them a lot.