Friday, September 28, 2012

General RPG Lists: Worst Endings

Never actually intended to do a companion to my Best Endings list rant, but (at the risk of spoiling the below content) Bioware’s works in the last year and a half or so have inspired this compilation.

I explored what made a good ending in the other list. But what makes a bad ending, really? Sure, poor writing, stupid ideas, plot holes, these are part of it, but to me, the greatest crime an ending can commit is to disappoint. There are a lot of lousy endings to games out there. The ending to Suikoden 4, for example, is amazingly boring, and provides no particular satisfaction beyond a reassurance that the torment of playing Suikoden 4 is finally over. Yet you won’t see it listed below. Why? Well, it’s not that it’s of better quality than those below, necessarily. It’s that Suikoden 4 is already an insanely boring and unlikable game. You get a lousy ending to a lousy game, you’re not surprised. It’s no worse pain to experience than the rest of the game was until that point. Sure, Final Fantasy 8’s ending makes no goddamn sense at all, but neither did anything else in the game. Its ending is stupid and nonsensical, but not unexpected, so there’s not much reason for disappointment. It’s when you have a bad ending whose effects are felt upon a game whose quality was better, that the ending truly becomes terrible.

The other major problem I think an ending can have is a lack of closure. Now, I’m not saying that every single detail needs to be wrapped up in a game’s ending. I’m not even necessarily saying most of them have to be. But if you don’t have some feeling of satisfaction, of completeness, after seeing an ending, then that ending has failed utterly. An ending must END a game in at least some significant capacity; it must reflect a closing of the story, or at least, a closing to this part of a story. I don’t necessarily mind an ending that is a transition, such as the ending of Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1. The SMTDDS games are 2 parts of a whole story, and the second picks up where the first left off. But the ending of SMTDDS1 still provides all the closure the gamer needs to enjoy it. Even if it’s not the end of the story (in some ways, it’s just the beginning), it’s still the end of the first major part of the characters’ journey, a turning point in their tale of great significance. It provides closure for how far the characters have come, even as it promises that there will be more trials for them ahead. If a game has no closure in its ending, then it has no true ending, just a poorly executed stopping point.

Lastly, just as an ending needs to have comparable (or even superior) quality to the product it’s concluding, an ending should also be thematically consistent to everything that’s led to it. You don’t end a standard whimsical Pokemon game with a gritty, blood-soaked gorefest as the Pokemon Champion fights to the violent death against overwhelming odds, for example. A developer should have an ending kept consistent with the ideas, tone, and traits of the product. Otherwise you just get a mess. You’d think this would be patently obvious, but plenty of writers are so obsessed with having their work be edgy, unpredictable, and/or some gross misunderstanding of the word “deep” that they’ll throw such a curveball at the player that said ball loops full circle and winds up hitting them in the ass.

Anyway, that about covers the most major reasons an ending can be bad, at least for me. So let’s see which RPGs have the worst ones, which games trip and fall right at the finish line.

One note: at times, the last part of the game itself is fairly inseparable from the actual ending, so some of these picks may be more a case of the finale being terrible, not strictly just the ending. I doubt the non-distinction really matters to you, but all the same, just gonna explain that in advance.

Other note: Spoilers. Duh.


5. Final Fantasy 7

Ah, yes, the classically indeterminate ending to Final Fantasy 7. Prior to SquareEnix going sequel-and-spinoff crazy with FF7, we were all just kind of left to scratch our heads in confusion about the ending’s ambiguity. While most of the ending is pretty decent, with the escape from the North Crater, the impending doom from Meteor, and Aeris rallying the Lifestream to bolster the strength of Holy to stop Meteor’s descent, the end result is incredibly vague. We cut from the climactic struggle between Meteor and the combined power of Holy and the Lifestream, to a scene hundreds of years later in which party member Red XIII leads some little cat-lion-wolf (whatever he is) kids along some cliffs, to finally reach a good viewpoint of Midgar, now a ruin covered in vegetation. And that’s it. What the hell does that mean? What happened? Did Holy win, but, as was suggested as possible earlier in the game, eradicate all humans in its purge of that which is evil from the planet? Maybe Red XIII’s kind are the only sentient life forms left alive, and he’s showing his kids (we think they’re his kids, that is, though really they could be anyone’s cubs) the ruins of the long-dead human race? Or maybe humans are just fine in this future, and we just don’t see them. Impossible to say, but frankly, leaving your audience unsure of whether an apocalypse happened or not is not exactly a great way to close your story.

And if humans did survive, what’s the reason Midgar was abandoned? Too much collateral damage from Meteor’s near impact? Abandoned due to the inevitable collapse of the Shinra Corporation due to the deaths of its leaders* and tremendous losses in personnel, equipment, and holdings thanks to the actions of Cloud’s group, Sephiroth, and the WEAPONs? Some other reason entirely unrelated to the game’s events? No explanations are given for what we see of the city’s state in the future, nor whether it’s indicative of all human civilization or just isolated to Midgar. Not as important as knowing whether the entire human race is extinct, I suppose, but still an aspect of confusion and lack of closure.

And lastly, aside from knowing that Red XIII survived and presumably got a little nookie at some point, the ending tells us nothing of what happened to the cast that we’ve (presumably) become emotionally invested in during our 60-hour journey. Did they die during the Meteor incident? Were they fine? If they didn’t die, what did they do with themselves? Until you see FF7: Advent Children, you have no idea what happens to Cloud and company,** and frankly, a game’s ending shouldn’t require an entirely separate product to provide its answers. Especially when that separate product only comes into existence 10 years after the game’s release. We’re given no closure at all for almost every important character in the entire game, and even seeing the 1 character shown, Red XIII, doesn’t really tell us all that much about what happened with him.

Granted, a lot of this was cleared up a decade later when SquareEnix decided to start capitalizing on FF7’s legacy with the trite garbage they call sequels for it. But in the context of just the game, which is all you can reasonably judge it by, it’s...not good. Ambiguous in every important way, providing questions without answers in place of any closure or satisfaction, Final Fantasy 7 has a legendarily perplexing and lousy ending.


4. Wild Arms 4

Now how is it, after all that yakking I did earlier about a bad ending needing to disappoint to be truly bad, that Wild Arms 4’s ending can be on this list? Surely if there is any game terrible enough that its ending cannot possibly disappoint, it is Wild Arms 4. Well, you would think that, logically, but WA4 is the worst RPG in existence for a reason, folks--it manages at every turn to confound your expectations and get worse. As unparalleled as its shittiness may be, WA4 still manages to find a curveball to throw at you with its ending to piss you off.

Basically, this ending is not just wretched in the ways you would expect, given the game. It is even wretched by the game’s own wretched standards. Throughout this shithole of a game, the repulsive little irritation that serves as its protagonist has never, not once, shut his yap about how grownups should be more like kids because kids trust each other and work together and grownups only destroy and blah blah blah SHUT UP JUDE JUST SHUT UP. He has reassured his friends time and time again how they will totally be BFFF (Best Friends Forever Forever) and how unbreakable their bonds of friendship are and so on and so forth. They make pacts to always be friends, to meet up together after the game’s events, to help each other always, and on and ON. It’s safe to say that a major theme of this game by the time of the ending has been that if you are friends with someone then you should HOLD THEIR HAND FOREVER AND NEVER LET GO EVER, NOT EVEN IF ONE OF YOU HAS TO GO TO THE BATHROOM, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND GUYS THE GROWNUPS MIGHT GET YOU IN THE LAVATORY AND MAKE YOU EVIL LIKE THEM USING THE DIABOLICAL MIND-CONTROL MAGIC THAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TURN 21.

So what does Mr. Codependent Friendship is Forever end up doing in the ending? Why, he becomes a forest ranger, living a life of solitude in which he never sees his friends again.

What.

So...so you’re telling me that the game that would not stop harping on the immeasurable value of positive, lasting human connections of childlike innocence and solidarity from start to finish for 50+ hours...has its theme’s poster child become a fucking HERMIT!? Why...what the...how...but...

The.

This game’s ending is not only crappy from the player’s perspective, but it’s completely inconsistent and totally opposed to every annoying, unexamined value the game has held! Jude’s ending throws his character, his outspoken never-shuts-up character, completely out the window! You literally could not have an ending more opposite to everything the game has been trying, in its terrible and idiotic way, to say. Just...words cannot describe how completely unfathomable this decision by the development team is.

Hell.

Also, I hate the ending of WA4 for the fact that, after having had the game more or less promise to the gamer that Racquel, the one shining light of great characterization and innovation in the whole game, would live, it kills Racquel off, off-screen, using the same method (her illness) to do so as was explicitly stated would be prevented. Thanks a lot, WA4, and fuck you, too.

Wild Arms 4’s ending: it flips you off with one hand, and flips itself off with the other.


3. Mass Effect 3

Originally, Mass Effect 3 had, no exaggeration, the worst ending I had ever seen or conceived of, in any media form. I wasn’t alone in this belief, not by a long shot, and so Bioware released an addendum DLC package to the ending, altering it somewhat to improve it. You can read all about it in the 2 rants I did about it, but in short, they succeeded in improving it, by a LOT, and addressed each of the biggest problems I had with the ending, the ones that made it unacceptably horrible.

Bioware’s additions sure as hell didn’t make it GOOD, though.

As it stands now, ME3’s ending is not the absolute worst I’ve ever seen, but it’s disappointing, stupid, out of place (feels like someone shoving a poor imitation of Isaac Asimov into Star Wars), and makes it impossible to achieve a victory that stays true to the ideals of the series and its protagonist. ME3’s ending basically gives you 4 options:

Destroy: You sacrifice an entire race of life, along with a cherished companion and friend of Shepard (the protagonist). Needless to say, this is unacceptable to anyone who ever played a good guy Shepard, who has, on multiple occasions, spoken out against any mindset that sacrifices innocents for a cause.

Control: Everyone but Shepard lives, but only by taking the action endorsed by the game’s main villain. In addition to making the game’s focus on opposing the villain largely meaningless, this option directly opposes a running theme of the Mass Effect series, which is the danger of finding and using advanced technology that your culture is not ready for yet. Major characters in the series like Legion, ones we’re obviously supposed to take seriously, warn against this. Events in the history of the series, like the shortsighted uplift of the Krogan people, warn against this. Hell, using technology that one’s society has not earned through its own discovery is how the bad guys of the series set their trap against the galaxy’s people to begin with! Sovereign, the main bad guy of ME1, says himself that by leaving ultra-advanced technology behind for people to discover, those people’s technological advancement follows the paths that the bad guys want it to. Sorry to go into too much detail, but I want to make my point clear--as attractively death-free as Control is, it is VERY much against this major theme of the Mass Effect universe.

Synthesis: The option that Bioware obviously likes the best and wants us to pick is quite definitely the worst. It’s morally repulsive (Shepard basically violates every sentient being in the galaxy’s right to bodily self-determination, and it implies that the best way to guarantee peace is to make sure everyone is the same), it completely disregards some important character development (Legion’s Geth and Javik would be philosophically and morally opposed to this, EDI claimed to have felt alive through Shepard’s influence in the game, yet in this ending acts as if it’s a new concept to her, and more), and it’s ridiculous and makes no sense in countless ways. It also doesn’t seem to solve the problem it aims to address, since the conflict of the created rising against their creators can be easily recreated by any of the surviving people in this ending who happen to want to build new machines. It also incorporates a very similar instance of the galaxy's people suddenly gaining access to technologies and knowledge they have not yet earned themselves, so it contains the same violation of series themes that Control did. And lastly, if the Reaper-ized beings regain consciousness, as the ending seems to imply in its cinematics, it’s just creepy and horrible--they live now as twisted, sad, freakish abominations. No thanks.

Refusal: This is the only option that allows Shepard to stay true to himself and that upholds the spirit and themes of the Mass Effect series. Unfortunately...everyone dies in it. Fucking hooray.

If there was ever a perfect embodiment of the concept of tripping at the finish line, it’s the finale of Mass Effect 3.


2. Dragon Age 2

Dragon Age 2’s finale is the one that put the thought of a list of Worst Endings in my head to start with. Whether or not you liked DA2 (a lot of people did, a lot of people didn’t), the game’s finale is terrible through and through. And I mean, perfectly. If you want a perfect example of how to make a lousy finale to your story, Dragon Age 2’s conclusion is a great guide. I may find Mass Effect 3’s ending to be far more disappointing and a greater betrayal of its game and audience, but objectively speaking, even I have to admit DA2’s ending is a greater storytelling catastrophe. Describing how bad, how utterly inept it is in detail would be a rant in itself. Which is why I already made a rant about it. Go read that if you want the details.


1. Valkyrie Profile 2

I’ve mentioned this one a couple of times, but man. This is so awful as to almost be inconceivable. And yet, it is no difficult matter to explain it. Valkyrie Profile 1 is a legendary game, one of the most remembered RPGs and arguably the biggest feather in SquareEnix’s cap. On a system remembered for some truly groundbreaking and legendary RPGs, Valkyrie Profile 1 is one of the Playstation 1’s finest, and its original copies are some of the rarest, most sought-after RPGs out there, right up there with Suikoden 1 and 2, or an original copy of The Legend of Zelda. So, what did SquareEnix do in the long-awaited sequel?

Use the finale to kill off half the cast, including Lenneth, the unforgettable protagonist of the 1st game, and then make it so the original beloved, legendary, monumentally artistic piece of gaming history never happened. The ending of VP2 is slash-and-burn storytelling at its worst, its worst, not just eliminating most of the major cast of this game, but even rewriting the history of the VP world to prevent the possibility of the original game’s events from ever happening. Valkyrie Profile 1 was, from an artistic standpoint, one of the proudest moments of the combined history of SquareEnix, and they decided to not just disrespect it with a poor sequel, like they did with Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy 10--they actually decided to erase it altogether. Even Mass Effect 3’s ending only destroyed the intangibles of the ME series, the themes and spirit of its predecessors. This one does all that and more...this ending is not just a lousy ending to Valkyrie Profile 2, it’s also an active murder of Valkyrie Profile 1.


Dishonorable Mention: Fallout 3

There was a bit of a stir about the ending of Fallout 3 originally, in that its key event, the death of the protagonist or Sarah Lyons, was completely unnecessary and illogical--to sum it up quickly, the protagonist or Sarah has to go in a chamber filled with immediately lethal radiation to flip a switch, but there are 3 potential party members in Fallout 3 who would be fully able to do this task, AND are completely safe from just about any amount of radiation, meaning the fact that the ending forced someone to die was completely needless and stupid. I did a rant about it.

And then I had to retract the rant, because Bethesda had the intelligence to listen to its fanbase and, through the downloadable content package Broken Steel, adjusted the ending so that the obviously completely avoidable sacrifice became, whaddayaknow, obviously completely avoidable. Good on Bethesda for that one. It’s quite easy to be a bunch of stubborn jackasses and refuse to fix what is obviously completely broken, but Bethesda rose above that, apparently having the basic intelligence that Bioware lacks on this point.

Granted, the rest of Fallout 3’s conclusion is fairly unsatisfying and inappropriately brief, especially when compared to previous Fallout games’, and the post-ending content doesn’t really have an end of its own, but the major stupidity of it was rectified, and that’s what saves it from being on the main list here. Nonetheless, it IS worthy of some note for this list, so, Dishonorable Mention it gets.














* According to the game, Rufus died. Just because FF7: Advent Children later shows him to have inexplicably survived, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s dead from the perspective of the game only.

** Hell, you still don’t really have any idea what happens to half of his group in that movie anyways, since Barret, Cid, Yuffie, Vincent, and Cait Sith are all reduced to little more than cameo roles.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Mother Series's Auto-Kills

Earthbound (the second game in the Mother series) has many fine features as an RPG, but very few of them related to its ponderous, uninteresting, and slightly awkward gameplay. The game’s interface gets the job done, I suppose, but always just a little slower and less fluidly than it should. Not that that’s important, of course--what’s important is Earthbound’s fun and uniquely bizarre brand of storytelling, and that’s what makes the game a solidly good RPG. But the actual act of playing it to see this storytelling is, I’d have to say, more of a chore than it usually is in the genre. Mother 3 is much the same as its predecessor in this regard, only more so--the storytelling elements of Mother 3 are even better, while the gameplay elements are somewhat worse with the damned timed hit system.

There is, however, one aspect of Earthbound and Mother 3’s gameplay that is excellent--inspired!--and that I really, REALLY wish had caught on with other RPGs: the Auto-Kill encounter. Basically, when your party runs into an enemy in Earthbound and Mother 3, a quick calculation is done by the game, and, as I understand it, if your party’s members were fast and strong enough that they could defeat the enemy party in 1 round before the enemies could take their turns, then the game wouldn’t even bother to initiate the battle. Instead, the game would just tell you that you won, list out the spoils of the combat, and send you along your merry way. As a side benefit, once your party’s strong enough to do this auto-kill on an enemy, that enemy no longer even attempts to initiate combat in the field--sensibly, it runs for its life away from your party when they approach.

I feel like I don’t even need to explain why this is a good thing. Rather than have the player engage endlessly in the excessive tedium of enemy encounters against powerless foes that require no greater strategy to defeat than hitting the A Button 4 times, Earthbound and Mother 3 save you the boredom of fighting enemies that no longer pose any sort of threat (and usually reward no significant experience any longer). This also saves you a bit of time that you can devote to something slightly more important (which would basically be just about anything you could possibly think of to do) than beating on underpowered EXP fodder. How much time, I’m not really sure, but even if it doesn’t add up to much altogether, it at least SEEMS like the system’s saving you a lot of time, probably because of how annoying that time would have been to spend going through the round of combat. Even someone who actually enjoys turn-based RPG menu battles (definitely not me) would be crazy not to appreciate this--if your characters are strong enough to kill the enemy party without once taking a hit, then whatever supposedly enjoyable challenge of the enemy encounter isn’t there to begin with. How long can even the greatest fan of RPG gameplay maintain his enthusiasm with a screen change, introductory line of text, 4 button presses, and the words “You Win!”? That’s really all that these auto-kill encounters would amount to. You get more variety in repetitive motions from a job on an assembly line. And the added bonus that you don’t even have to put up with auto-killable enemies trying to bother you is another time-saving convenience. And for those who want the free experience, the enemies don’t run all that fast, so it’s easy to still catch up and auto-kill them, so there’s really no downside.

Earthbound was, to my knowledge, the first RPG to come up with this auto-kill encounter idea.* What annoys me greatly is that almost none of the hundreds of menu combat RPGs to come from Japan since then have bothered to take advantage of this excellent and yet remarkably simple idea. And certainly those few that have a similar system in place don’t do it as well. The Mario and Luigi games, for example, allow an automatic hit against enemies that Mario or Luigi jumps on in the field, so any enemy weak enough to be killed with a single hit essentially becomes an auto-kill. Very handy, and I much appreciate it--but it still lacks compared to the Mother series, since you still have to go into the battle screen to see it happen, which is still repetitive, and not much more convenient than just going through the battle normally.

Now, I do realize that the auto-kill only really works in this form when you’ve got a game where you see enemies on the field, and battles happen when they touch you. But it seems to me that the system wouldn’t require a whole lot of ingenuity to adapt to random encounters, too. Just have a message come up (like a scrolling ticker or something, not one that interrupts your control) that announces an auto-kill battle victory and lists the spoils. To avoid people taking advantage of this by just running around in circles for an hour racking up the experience points and cash, auto-kill encounters could only give out a fraction of the experience points and money of regular encounters. And to avoid people getting butthurt about being forced to take lesser rewards after a point when they’re level-grinding, there could be an option in the game that allowed the auto-kill system to be turned on and off. See? Not difficult. Hell, some RPGs, like the Suikoden series, already automatically adjust how much experience points characters receive from battles depending on the levels of the characters and the levels of the enemies, so they would employ this idea even more easily. Imagine the hours--DAYS--of an RPG fan’s life that could be saved if every menu-based RPG had an auto-kill feature for all those many low-level enemy encounters one comes upon when revisiting dungeons from earlier in the game. If even half of the menu-combat RPGs I’ve played since Earthbound’s release had such a system, they probably would have, by now, saved me over a week’s worth of time, at least. Think of all the extra gaming I could get in, the TV shows I could watch, the rants I could avoid writing with that extra time!

Yeah, okay, obviously I waste my free time anyway, but even my meaningless hobbies are better ways to while away hours than thousands of mindlessly repetitive enemy encounters. For the love of God, RPG makers of the world, please take a page from the Mother series on this one.













* It should be noted that the Fire Emblem series has had something somewhat similar for just as long if not longer, though. With at least most (possibly all, I’m not sure) FE games, you can turn off battle animations, essentially meaning that when one unit attacks another, you just see the little field units move against each other while their hit points lessen accordingly, instead of going into the longer battle visuals of how the fight takes place. Since it just reduces the time and scope of the conflict whether or not it’s a one-hit-kill scenario and rather than skipping the battle altogether, it’s not really the same as Earthbound’s auto-kill system. But I thought I should mention it so any Fire Emblem fan who one day manages to stumble onto this blog doesn’t yell at me for claiming Earthbound was the first to do anything like this.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Final Fantasy 10 AMV: Monster

Well! It’s been a good while since I encountered an RPG Anime Music Video good enough that it deserves an entire rant by itself. The last one was over a year ago, in fact. Quality’s a hard thing to come by sometimes. Luckily, the long gaps are balanced out by the greatness of the quality works when they do finally come along.

Today we have an AMV made by YuniX2, the first FF10 AMV to get its own spotlight here. With a warning that there will be major spoilers both in the video and the rant, let’s dig right in.


Final Fantasy 10: Monster: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMTfbceGNOo


For the Last Time Zoidberg, Look with Your Eyes, Not Your Claws!: The visuals’ quality here is basically as good as if you were watching the game itself (so long as you’re watching this in the highest available Youtube quality). The game’s visuals in general are very good, and even the actual in-game clips have good visual quality and definition, so it looks fine.

The visual artistry* here is nothing major, but YuniX2 does use some tricks that rather nicely add emphasis to the video. As she has told me, she tried to make good use of transitions, make them interesting, and I’d say she definitely succeeds on that point. Aside from effective use of fading one scene into the next, there are some really good moments of transition in this, such as the one at 0:16. The transition here blurs the first scene into the second, making it seem watery, like ripples disrupting a reflected image. This is an effective transition to use because the scene it’s going into IS water, while the lyrics are speaking of water. Not just that, but specifically they’re speaking of something previously solid that has become like water, which is sort of what the scene change shows--a scene of reasonably solid things liquefying into a scene of the sea below surface. That right there is a case of using special effects to create some great synergy. And the visual artistry is present until right up to the end, too, showing up in a great way at 2:49 to 2:55, where a collection of scenes of sadness, what’s been lost, pain, and destruction all flash in succession and then zoom out in a cool fiery effect into the evil Yu Yevon spirit that’s caused them all. Just as good as the water transition at the beginning of the AMV, I’d say, possibly better. There’s all kinds of cinematography bells and whistles here and there in the video like that. They’re employed when they’re called for without being excessive, quick and attention-grabbing without being distracting, and they coordinate well with the current pitch and emotion of the song. You can see the creator’s hand in the video helping bring it all together, but not being overbearing.

An interesting thing I would like to note about this AMV is that a significant number of the scenes it uses are regular game scenes, not from its FMV stock. This is something I really wish more AMV creators would attempt, at least with games in the same or a greater visual league as FF10. The fact of the matter is, every RPG has got limited FMV. You watch 5 AMVs of any given Japanese RPG, and you’ll have most likely seen every CG cutscene the game has to offer at least once, and most of them you’ll probably have seen at least 4 times. There is only so much content a game’s FMVs can offer. Even with a game like Xenosaga 3, which boasted 8 hours total of FMV, every scene quickly becomes very familiar to a regular AMV viewer. Taking visual content from the regular gameplay to supplement the FMV video is great for the viewer, because we’re going to get to see something new and different for a music video, and it’s great for the one making it, because it’s giving the creator many, many more scenes to work with, more options for exploring the music and the ideas the video is meant to convey. And that’s exactly what’s happened here--the non-FMV scenes allow YuniX2 to fully develop her ideas for this AMV, capturing the music’s lyrics and mood far better because the scenes are better suited to do so than the limited number of FMV scenes. I daresay that this music video wouldn’t just be worse without these non-cinematic scenes, it wouldn’t exist to begin with. Good on YuniX2 for taking a step beyond convention in order to do her project right.

Your Music’s Bad and You Should Feel Bad!: This AMV uses the song Monster, by Paramore. Can’t say I have any strong feelings on the song one way or another. Don’t really like it, but I don’t really think it’s bad, either. It sure works great here, though.

So basically, this AMV is, in terms of its musical component, as excellently orchestrated as the Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 and 2 AMV I talked about a while back, Sera’s Holding Out for a Hero. The tune itself is followed and emphasized more or less perfectly from start to finish, starting as early as 0:10 (where Yuna begins to fall just as the music begins to drop to set up the first lyrics) and just going through to the end of the video. When the music becomes powerful and erratic at 0:35, so do the video’s images, just as the scenes become more slow and thoughtful at 0:58, when the music returns to a somewhat more tranquil pace. It goes this way for the whole video, with YuniX2 expertly following the music’s twists and turns, accelerations and descents, covering the full emotional gamut that the song offers through the visuals that FF10 can provide.

Of course, just as impressive as the video’s meshing with the actual music of the song is its synchronizing with the song’s lyrics. The video is paired well to the words of the music, very often mirroring the ideas and key words conveyed by the singer, such as at 0:18, when, while the lyrics talk of water and drowning, several of FF10’s many underwater images play, or the parts of the song where the singer talks of wondering, with the clips showing a character looking thoughtful, curious, or apprehensive (0:50 and 2:40 are good examples of this). There’s even a bit at 0:29 when the clips of Yuna appear to be lip-synching to the song, which is amusing, and done surprisingly well.

More than these instances where the lyrics are shown in a literal fashion, I’m impressed with how often meaning and knowledge of the game comes into play with coordinating with the song. This isn’t just an appropriation of visually-fitting scenes to work with the song--this is using the heart of the game’s content to resonate with the music. A lot of scenes work on a symbolic level more than a literal one. You take a moment early on, at 0:12, when the singer talks of someone who was her conscience, and the scene shown is of the Grand Maester Mika surrounded by practitioners of the Teachings of Yevon religion. Mika is the highest authority of the faith, and it was the Teachings of Yevon that orchestrated the cycle of Summoners’ Pilgrimages in Spira. It’s primarily the dogma of Yevon that provides moral guidance to Spirans, particularly to Summoners like Yuna, so in essence, Grand Maester Mika is a very effective symbol of something that was, early on, Yuna’s conscience. If you’re not looking any deeper than surface-level, that scene in the AMV might not seem to fit, but a little understanding of the game and simple thoughtful interpretation makes that moment in the video excellent. And it’s far from the only one. The chorus talking about stopping the whole world from turning into a monster, for example, ingeniously shows scenes of Sin and Anima. Now, in the literal sense, this works, since they’re both obviously monsters, but it works on a much deeper level superbly. Sin is a recurring monster of Spira that is destroyed by the sacrificial act of the Summoner, but this “destruction” is more a transfer--one of the Summoner’s companions is used to destroy Sin, but that person then, after a period during which the world has a break from Sin’s destruction, becomes Sin him or herself. Thus you have the “turning into a monster” bit of the song covered. Anima also works, because Anima is an Aeon (FF10 version of Summoned Monster) created by Seymour’s mother, who died to become an Aeon with the intention of being the Sin-destroying and then Sin-becoming sacrifice--again, “turning into a monster.” This stuff is just peppered through the AMV. The part at 1:19 when the song talks of not being a villain despite another’s accusations, being put to a scene of Yuna’s trial before the Maesters, 2:18 when Seymour transforms into his RPG True Villain Form to taunts that he’s “going to lose it,” and especially the part from 2:49 to 2:55 that I mentioned above, the one that shows scenes depicting the sadness, loss, pain, and destruction of Spira caused by Sin, which culminates with another pledge by the chorus to stop the world from turning into a monster just as Yu Yevon is shown...these are just some of the great examples of this deeper level of video-lyric coordination.

Guy, You Explain: With some great AMVs, the visual component, the game’s scenes, are clearly the most important and compelling aspect of the video, that which the AMV ultimately is centered around and created for. This was the case with the Final Fantasy 9 Porcelain AMV I ranted about a while back, I think. The music was a wonderful way to emphasize the visuals of Final Fantasy 9, conveying the beauty and majesty of the game. With some other great AMVs, the music is end-all be-all of the video, with the visual aspects, the game’s content, being more there to expertly support and embellish the music and the lyrics. Such was the case with the Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 and 2 AMV, Sera’s Holding Out for a Hero, which flawlessly employed the game’s footage to show and support the song. But this AMV is more than that--this is one of those rarest of AMVs, one where everything comes together as a whole in equal parts, to convey a story, theme, message, or simple idea that unifies both the song and the game’s content together in total harmony.

The purpose of this video is to tell the story of Yuna. This AMV links the personal journey and character of Yuna to the ideas that the music sings about, and...well, I was going to say that it melds them together, but that doesn’t seem right, because it implies that they weren’t one and the same to begin with. YuniX2’s combination of Monster and Yuna feels more like recognizing a duality than creating it. If you look at the lyrics,** and think about how Yuna would fit into them, the connection between them practically writes itself. Through this song, YuniX2 tells of Yuna’s rejection of the lies of the Teachings of Yevon and their denouncing her, of Yuna’s emotional fall, from which she is picked up by Tidus’s love and support, of her hearing the true wishes of the Fayth to break this cycle of sacrifice, of her standing against Seymour’s machinations, and most importantly, of her resolve to save the people of the world from the vicious sacrifices of Sin’s death and rebirth and of the fact that it’s only after those who fought for and against a better world (Auron, Seymour, the Maesters, and Tidus) that the world can theirs. It’s all there in the song, really, but it takes the skillful touch of the AMV maker to bring out this meaning, these ideas, this story, through game scenes that emphasize and remind us of the truth that Yuna is embodied by this song. The potential is there, and YuniX2 works that potential to its absolute fullest.

This music video is absolutely fantastic. This AMV puts to music a summary of half the awesome ideas, themes, and story components that I love about FF10, and it does so with meaning and skill. This AMV is a real treat to watch, and I really hope that if you do check it out and enjoy it (which I assume, this being the end of the rant, that you have, if you’re reading this), you’ll give the video a Like, and leave a comment about it, because this level of quality deserves recognition.













* I’d like to remind the reader once again, as it’s been a while since the last AMV rant, that my understanding of technical terms for cinematography and such is extremely lacking, so you’ll hopefully forgive me and bear with me if I name something incorrectly here.

** I didn’t want to post’em in the middle of the actual rant, but if you’re wondering, these are the lyrics:

“You were my conscience
So solid, now you're like water
And we started drowning
Not like we'd sink any farther
But I let my heart go
It's somewhere down at the bottom
But I'll get a new one
And come back for the hope that you've stolen

I'll stop the whole world, I'll stop the whole world
From turning into a monster, eating us alive
Don't you ever wonder how we survive?
Well, now that you're gone, the world is ours

I'm only human
I've got a skeleton in me
But I'm not the villain
Despite what you're always preaching
Call me a traitor
I'm just collecting your victims
And they're getting stronger
I hear them calling
(Calling, calling)

I'll stop the whole world, I'll stop the whole world
From turning into a monster, eating us alive
Don't you ever wonder how we survive?
Well, now that you're gone, the world is ours

Well, you thought of strength and solutions
But I like the tension
And not always knowing the answers
But you're gonna lose it
You're gonna lose it

I'll stop the whole world, I'll stop the whole world
From turning into a monster, eating us alive
Don't you ever wonder how we survive?
Well, now that you're gone the world

I'll stop the whole world, I'll stop the whole world
From turning into a monster, eating us alive
Don't you ever wonder how we survive?
Well, now that you're gone, the world is ours”

Y'know, looking at them all together, I'm not actually sure what the hell this song is supposed to be saying when not applied to Yuna.