16-Bit Cloud Strife (FF Record Keeper)

16-Bit Cloud Strife (FF Record Keeper)

When Final Fantasy Record Keeper first launched, I thought it was a hoot. It gave me the opportunity to play through a Reader’s Digest version of all my favorite Final Fantasy games. At least that was the promise. I hadn’t played Final Fantasy 7 in a year or two at that point so I was intrigued on getting a quick tour of the story, world, and characters again. Mechanically it played like the SNES era titles with ATB turn-based combat yet it also brought post-SNES games back in line with cute little sprite versions of our heroes. Seeing locations recreated from settings I knew while listening to tunes from their respected games was great. As I grinded through those worlds to max out my little 16-bit inspired Cloud Strife sprite, I began to feel a small tinge of disdain for the game. For whatever reason it just didn’t feel special anymore… and not just for that game, but the worlds contained within it as well. My disinterest grew as I felt compelled to grind up in levels just to continue plowing through the missions. Eventually I’d get to just setting the game to auto-battle through encounters while I watched Unbreakable Kimmy Shmidt episodes in succession. The fun had died and once I broke from the compulsion to continue clicking character commands carelessly I uninstalled the game never to look back.

Despite It burned hot on my mobile for about a month or two I was never able to finish the story of FF7 I started in it. The chapters were broken up in an extremely non-linear fashion among the rest of the FF series, the furthest point they took me to was the raid on Shinra Tower just before leaving Midgar. Afterwards it forced me by design to travel to Final Fantasy 4, and from there to Final Fantasy 9, etc. It left me bitter towards the brand, a feeling that I hadn’t had before that. Even through Dissidia, Threatrhytm, and countless other spin-offs of the series I hadn’t felt this exhaustion towards Square or it’s IP. What the hell just happened? How did an unassuming mobile recap of some of my favorite games just turn me against them?

Musing on the experience or what I got out of it I realized the problem. It had taken one of the characters that was special to me, from a game I loved, and churned out a product that had none of the care or respect baked in. This wasn’t the first time either. “Well shit…” I thought as I went back through my head of all the games Cloud appeared in. Square has been watering him down for nearly a decade at this point. Every time they wanted to push a new product they’d shove Cloud into the code and shuffle the puppet on stage to detract from how bullshit it was. Seriously, take a list at all these games Cloud Strife has made an appearance in since the original Final Fantasy 7 back in 1997.

  • Before Crisis: FF7
  • Crisis Core: FF7
  • FF7: Advent Children
  • On the Way to a Smile: Episode Denzel
  • FF7: Dirge of Cerberus
  • Last Order: FF7
  • Ehrgeiz
  • Chocobo Racing
  • Itadaki Street Special
  • Itadaki Street Portable
  • LittleBigPlanet 2
  • Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
  • Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call
  • Final Fantasy Explorers
  • FF7: G-Bike
  • Super Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U
  • Final Fantasy Tactics / War of the Lions
  • Kingdom Hearts
  • Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
  • Kingdom Hearts 2
  • Kingdom Hearts coded
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy
  • Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy
  • Final Fantasy Record Keeper
  • Final Fantasy All the Bravest
  • World of Final Fantasy
"Remember when I was genuinely interesting, cool, damaged, and an anti-hero worth celebrating, kids?!"

“Remember when I was genuinely interesting, cool, damaged, and an anti-hero worth celebrating, kids?!”

Nice list eh? Sure you can break it down to a few core groupings like “Compilation of FF7” or “Kingdom Hearts”, but it stands that Cloud Strife is one of the most overused characters in the series. I’m sure I’ve missed something, but that list stands at a tall 27 games to date over 19 years, averaging more than one appearance per year. Hell, even from a  marketing standpoint there are multiple action figures and statues available with several depictions of his transformations through the years. With his prominence in Kingdom Hearts plus the planned Final Fantasy 7 Remake I don’t foresee his role as the brand of Final Fantasy dying any time soon either.

When Final Fantasy 7 first rolled out it was highly regarded for it’s story complexity, specifically in the case of Cloud. While the amnesia angle has become a groan-worthy trope at this point, back in 1997 upon release it wasn’t as traversed. JRPGs in general were few and far between in the US, social media at least a decade away from taking off, and critical dissent of games even further. People were excited and enthralled by this new tale to explore. Cloud’s memories were uncertain, his past recalled was an amalgamation of lived events, a dead friend’s stories, and the dreams of who he wanted to become. The level of psychosis was a curiosity most hadn’t played through in a game before. Beyond that his demeanor was uncommon in the media at the time – Rife with self-doubt, spikes of brash arrogance, distrust of himself, and most importantly deeply vulnerable at a level unbecoming of a lead role. Half of the game was spent trying to discover the truth of who he really was and going on that journey chasing Sephiroth, a complicated man who had control over Cloud.. The air of darkness and uncertainty of Cloud’s origin made his story worth remembering… or at least intriguing enough to want to get to the next disc of the game. It was special. His story was crafted in a way that Square just doesn’t write characters any more. Afterwards they tried again with the next entry in the series featuring a heavily introverted Squall Lionheart. Sure he lacked social grace but for the most part he played the role of a confident hero. The player never had any doubts on who he was or what his part was in the grand scheme of things. The mysteries just weren’t there to inspire the imagination as much. Zidane, Tidus, Vaan… None came even remotely close to the level of interest generated by Cloud. Eventually we’d lead into Lightning from FF13, designed primarily as a female version of Cloud by Tetsuya Nomura. Throughout her trilogy of games she shares a lot of similar traits as Cloud… IE; self-doubt, reluctant hero, mercenary playing a role, uncertain ties to the villain, redemptive journey, and constantly edging on the side of darkness – but Lightning walks away feeling every bit her own character thankfully. Despite ya know, even being dressed in Cloud’s garb. My point here is despite how badly Square wants to recreate a character as cherished as Cloud, even after 19 years lightning just hasn’t struck twice.

Record Keeper’s existence is a crass cash grab by Square to capitalize on the days gone by them. Final Fantasy was once a name that meant undeniable quality. It’s had it’s fair share of fair-weather fans as well as die-hards. I’m not looking to label it as a fallen franchise by any means, but it’s hard to deny that it doesn’t quite have the appeal it once did, even in it’s home country of Japan. Offerings like Record Keeper seem like a harmless jaunt through memory lane at first, yet in time it became a sour note that drains the emotions I felt for those games. Every time I see Cloud now I’m just reminded of how far he’s come from being who I remember him as. Sure the original game hasn’t changed. Like Cloud himself though the memories of who he is through all the lenses I’ve seen him through at this point has left me uncertain with what’s the real Cloud Strife anymore. He’s been so diluted and devalued it’s hard to say what we ever saw in him. Maybe my original outing was misunderstood and all these new renditions are more accurately reflecting his actual nature? An unfortunate side effect of being bombarded by his appearances is I’m just starting to not care anymore. That ping of excitement in my brain from when I see an old friend has been replaced with the unsettling familiarity of when you cross paths with Ned down from accounting, unable to dodge his gaze and are forced to greet him with a feigned smile and small talk about the weather.

Thanks Square. Keep up the good work and I hope those quarterly figures are worth the permanent loss of integrity.

Of course then there’s one shot at redemption. I was in complete denial, a blubbering idiot when E3 2015 revealed Final Fantasy 7 Remake. The trailer was cut perfectly. I was filled with so many emotions as the narrator spoke of a promise and a that unmistakable silhouette filled the screen. This is how it should feel when things are done with care. Instead of an easy write-off or disingenuous tug at my purse strings, I’m left feeling like Square actually gives a shit about doing things right again. Final Fantasy 15 is reinforcing that hope that just *MAYBE* when the FF7R releases I’ll feel like once again, Cloud Strife is something special.

FF7 Remake

“The promise has been made”

Final Fantasy is as nebulous a title as most of Square’s subtitles. I should insert a recycled joke about there being nothing final about the series, but it’s been done to death. All the games within the series fly under the same banner and share some consistencies between them still. So what exactly makes the brand of Final Fantasy, and why is it special among the endless sea of RPGs out there? In a world where the genre has lost it’s luster as it’s strongest qualities of storytelling and character growth have become commonplace among every other type of game, what do RPGs, let alone Final Fantasy really have to offer anymore?

Final Fantasy X

Sure, some this has been covered to death. None of it has quite hit the mark with me as being the core essence of Final Fantasy. By the end of those articles I’m still left wondering what the deeper connection is between them. Why can I jump from FF4 on SNES to FF8 on PS1 to FF13 on PS3… Nearly two decades later and it still instill the same feelings despite being so disconnected? Lists a plenty share the top layer points like engineers named Cid, chocobos stolen right out of Nausicaa & The Valley of the Wind, the collection of elemental crystals, and those weird cat-bear-bat things we call Moogles. Items and spells are more or less consistent between games. Heroes, worlds, villains, and anything unique to the story gets a clean slate every time despite all of that. Kind of funny when your games are known for the richness of the story tossing aside everything established before it. Up until Enix merged with Square there were never even any direct sequels so you were always left making new friends and exploring new locations. Don’t get me wrong, I was always excited to adventure through new spaces with new faces, giving chases to empowered fascists. There’s more to the product than just the assemblage of assets within the code. As words can be assembled in sonnets, books, scripture, or reference material depending on the tone and theme for their purpose, Final Fantasy assembles events and people to a greater purpose than the actions held within that single installment.

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Historically I haven’t put a lot of faith into the idea of friends and family. Often I make half-jokes about being a robot in response to my disconnected outlook. I’ve talked about it to some extent across a few different blogs on here. I’ve not been shy regarding my problems, and I’m sure most of my issues comes from my upbringing coming from “a broken home” as they conveniently sum up a usually complex aspect core to the root of your identity. From my perspective it was my father being an alcoholic and the fallout spawning from that. Constantly moving, parents divorcing, never seeing a healthy romantic relationship to learn from, and the complications of being a child trying to understand that your father puts your physical well being at risk on a near weekly basis. I have a brother, sister, and mother that went through it too. Unfortunately we all kind of struggled with it in our own ways individually, never having our own feet beneath us enough to be able to support each other. Since as far back as memory goes I’ve pretty much felt alone in the world because of all of this. I’m sure it plays a part in when I’m suffering from depression more often than I’d like to admit… and no, knowing there’s a problem doesn’t make it just disappear like movies lead you to believe. It helps you understand yourself a bit more, why you have the behavioral systems that you do, but it doesn’t let you just rewrite your code. Point and case I’m regularly effected by my social anxieties that keep me from making new friends or letting the existing ones in. I still have an incredibly small social circle offline. Even within that collection of the few precious people kind enough to consider me their friend I have an issue with barriers and giving others the opportunity to help me. Through a lack of self-worth I rather fail on my own then ask for help regardless of how steep the costs are as I don’t think others should waste their time on me.

Enter the world of the internet… Well, at least the general use of it by most people. In this beautiful age people are kept at a safe distance that I’m comfortable with. If I feel like I’m a bother I can vanish. If we’re having a good time I can stretch it out indefinitely. If someone pisses me off I can ignore them a lot easier than if I had to see them on a daily basis through school, work, or whatever gatherings we might cross paths at. It makes relationships feel safe because they seem optional, disposable, and within my control. Emphasis on seem because that’s never really the case. Even before social media really hit it’s stride with Facebook, these connections were a thing I could experience through MMOs like EverQuest. I was among others like me in those shared virtual worlds with hundreds of other players. Immediately there’s already the fact that we all have an appreciation of video games. From there you’d further reach out socially because the game demanded you team up in order to advance in the world. Like meeting coworkers and forming bonds through shared labor, EverQuest had you slaying monsters together, relying on each other to do each of our parts and creating the start of a relationship. It’s hard to explain to someone that hasn’t come up from having nothing in the form of affection or reliability in others, but that was a huge step for me into realizing not everyone in the world was a horribly wretched and selfish being. Playing as a tank in the group I needed to know the healer was going to keep me alive, the DPS was going to kill the monsters before the healer ran out of mana, and an enchanter would keep the fight from being overwhelming by stunning any additional monsters. My piece of the puzzle was to keep the monsters beating on me so everyone else could survive. I’m sure there’s some self-analysis we could do on why I decided to make that character but all that matters is everyone had a role to play, I had a place I belonged.

Edward, pondering Faye's message of belonging.

Edward, pondering Faye’s message of belonging.

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Bit of history on this one: I intentionally avoided the Souls series for a long time. A short relationship was had with Dark Souls 2 SotFS on PS4 before succumbing to the excruciating difficulty. I wandered into a zone and found myself facing off against giant knights 1v1. I could kill the first one, avoid combat with the second, and then die to the the third. This went on for about two hours before quitting. This didn’t seem far off from the general discussion around the series. Everyone is always going on about how good the series was was because of this difficulty. “The game wasn’t cheap, it just punished you for making bad decisions” or something to that effect… or “git gud” when someone wanted to be a dick to novices trying to get into the series. None of that is a desirable environment for me when I’m gaming. Having my skull crushed in for two hours while not advancing my character or the campaign just isn’t my thing. In the past with other games like Fallout 3 and Oblivion I played with the difficulty slider all the way down. I grind JRPGs for hours to get ahead so I can sidestep the challenge of combat encounters. Most recently I played through Uncharted 4 on the easy setting so I could enjoy the story without frustration. So all this praise about difficulty had me avoiding the Souls series like the plague. Yet this year it finally caved when I picked up From Software’s debut title that kicked off the series, Demon’s Souls, on PS3 as part of #4iF (Four in February, a social media driven initiative to finish 4 games from your backlog). I’m so happy I made that choice as I went on to love every damn minute of it. So what spawned the change of heart? Well, I played it wrong without regret.

Start of a new journey.

Start of a new journey, I stand before Lothric Castle.

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Just wanted to put something up so here I go. It’s partially driven by guilt of not committing to something, partially trying to get some practice writing in, and partially trying to pull myself away from playing games. I know writing about them doesn’t seem that far off but it definitely feels more productive. Life has been getting really chaotic from a work standpoint after I agreed to a new position. Constantly assured at work that the carrot dangling in front of me exists as they continue to dump more weight on me to lug. The latest and greatest development includes switching over to six day work weeks starting no later than September, managing a department I’ve not touched in over six years, constantly fluctuating schedule starting anywhere from 3am to as late as 1pm, and being a core element in the opening of a new location in Michigan… which also happens to be the largest in the state as well. In short work blows until at least January. By default in times like this when I get home I just want to veg out and scoff at any idea of being productive. Writing gets pushed to the wayside along with any other creative endeavors I have on my plate. Find myself booting up a game that I may not even be that invested in just because it’s easier than the alternative. I need something to counter that so something’s gotta give.

As this blog originated to keep me mentally well in times of depression, it looks like I’ll be leaning on the keyboard once again to see me through a patch of life that’s overwhelming. To keep myself going I need to layout some sort of schedule to motivate me instead of all the “why does it matter anyways..? no one really cares.” thoughts that creep in. I’ve got a few drafts written up that I want to finish and some that I need to toss as the time has passed on their relevancy. Looking to keep you dear readers abreast in the comings and goings in the times to come.

I’m going to share 2 new posts per month. I’m going to finish all the drafts that I have pending. I am going to start a new 7 part study that will wrap before 2016 has ended. That leaves me with 166 days or 23 weeks, however you want to spin it – To write up 12 new articles. That’s plenty of time so I’m hoping to push that number closer to 18 once I get a groove going. Hopefully once all is said and done I’ll have a few more people interested in stopping by and finding a few moments of distraction on this blog.

So what do I have planned coming up in the next six months? Here are some of the articles that are baked to some degree so far…

  • Dark Souls 3 impression
  • Questionable Value of Game Reviews
  • Always Sometimes Monsters Analysis
  • Resurrecting the Fave5 posts on a monthly basis
  • Final Fantasy series (2 unrelated articles)
  • Cultural reach of games (will have to revisit due to Pokemon GO)
  • The value of Cloud Strife
  • Depression/Anxiety Coping (in the air on posting this or not)
  • Late Console Releases
  • Players and meeting their diverse needs
  • RPG Design (7 part series)

Hopefully one or more of those core ideas will scratch an itch for you. I’m excited to finish them and share them with you.

~Chris, aka PunkrawkBbob

Me. I'm the one with real hair.

Me and Monkey, ready to take on the world.

LoZ: BotW

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been unveiled and some have criticized it with “what’s the big what” with it – A lot of the features shown are found in numerous other games for the better part of a decade now. Those thoughts are not wrong, but there’s a lot more to games now than the mechanics. We’ve gotten away from technology limitations with the assistance of beefier hardware and middleware solutions. No longer are the key identifiers of a game it’s mechanics or systems. What you know as a genre has become increasingly irrelevant in classifying a game. In short, genre is dead. What we’re left with is something with a much greater potential…

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Fair warning for anyone that hasn’t played, there will be some general spoilers ahead. After all, you can’t discuss something properly without analyzing the whole.

Domestic Drake, longing for adventure

Domestic Drake, longing for adventure

Let me preface this post with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End does a lot of things right. Gun play was dramatically improved for me as they reduced the count of weapons and upped the approaches to resolving an encounter. There’s a lot more power in stealth than previous games as you can mark enemies to better keep track of them as they follow their pathing patterns or hide in bushes. Another nice change is that if you blow your stealth you have the ability to disappear if you lose the attention of the hostiles. New to UC4 is a roping mechanic that lets you Action Jackson all over the place during a gunfight. All-in-all the arenas were a lot more fun to play through for me thanks to those seemingly minor tweaks. Visually it’s set a new standard that I’m sure all following PS4 games will be ranked against. Vistas are stunning, character animations are human, and even water pooled tarp has caused people to stop in awe. Social media was flooded with image after image taken in photo mode. I’ve even seen a few people that have decided they want to try and create a “Postcards from Uncharted” series. Acting performances were on point with Nolan North reprising Nathan Drake’s final outing and Troy Baker running wingman as Samuel Drake. Beyond those two as the leads of the game Sully, Rafe (the new villain), Nadine, and Elena’s actors all killed their roles. So what went wrong?

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#UncoveredFFXV event happened last week and it blew expectations out of the water for most. They revealed quite a bit about the project that most would have never guessed. Aside from the core game, there’s going to be a complete CG feature called Kingsglaive with some high profile names doing the voice work. It focuses on Noctis’ father, the king, before the events of the game while Noctis is still a young boy it seems. Likely in the same time we also got a demo that night dubbed Platinum Demo. The content found within it was said to be specific to the demo and wouldn’t be incorporated into the final game. While mostly a tech demo it does have settings and a bit of story tied to Noctis. Specifically it deals with him being knocked out by an outside force while everything inside the demo takes place inside his mind. The demo concludes with child Noctis transforming into his late-teens, more aligned with what we know him to be during the events of FFXV proper. There’s a bit of learning who he is and where his heart lies. Then for the third leg of announcements that night, independant of both of those stories is an additional anime mini-series with Noctis, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladio – the four heroes of li… I mean the protagonists of FFXV. Titled Brotherhood, it’s set shortly before the game takes place and gives fans an opportunity to get to know the crew and understand their relationships before the game starts. Going into Final Fantasy XV we’re expected to have a good read on the fellas. The first episode, “Before the Storm” is already available and plays out like a scene you’d find in the game. Dialog, camaraderie, camping, and gravity-defying combat. It works as a great showpiece for what the world of FFXV has in store. During the events of the first episode they recall moments of Noctis as a young boy (again) when he nearly died when his city was under siege… but why go through all this trouble with episode of anime, unique demo story, or a full CG movie? Historically with The Spirits Within and VII: Advent Children the non-gaming viability for Final Fantasy is questionable at best. Why not just focus on the game, especially after the negative response to the Final Fantasy XIII saga? Let’s go back a bit to answer that question.

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BoxArt Official

A few weeks back I was thinking of how much I miss Hack ‘n Slash games. Some of the best were on PS2 with both the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath series of games. For whatever reason those “Diablo-clones” were better than Diablo itself was for me. I really wanted to sink my teeth into a portable game again like Untold Legends PSP again. To my surprise on 3/15/16 Sony released a new game for me to go dungeon crawling with called Murasaki Mist: Akara’s Journey. Ecstatic at the chance to go on a grindy lootfest for only $8 on my Vita I jumped at it. All I could find was a trailer from E3 2014 that looked promising enough. Tack on the extra dev time between now and then and I’m sure it’s even better. It was too new and too low-key to have any reviews… but what the hell, YOLO or something, right?

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Welcome to the 1950’s. Y’know, the time of poodle skirts, drive-in movie theaters, soda fountains, and video games. Only one of those things really exists these days and we’re still calling it by the same term. Care to guess which? Over sixty years of progression for the hobby we all know and love and yet we’ve never managed to do away with the oversimplified technical term as a label. I don’t want to jump into a history lesson on video games… Plenty of other places do a well enough job with far more attention then I would have the patience to go into. Let’s just take a look at what qualified as a game back in 1958 though with “Tennis for Two”.

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Video games were conceived as a means of play using video displays. Purely a technical term in an era of discovery it was appropriate. It made sense to people uninformed without a heavy explanation. A simple definition of games has been described as follows: “a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure” . A very broad statement that could include nearly anything you do for entertainment that is dictated by rules. A crossword puzzle for example requires you to figure out intersecting words that match the clue associated with the numbered field. Ignoring the rules we could just load whatever letters we want into the blank boxes and render the game useless. The point of a game is to challenge the player mentally or physically. Without that it becomes indiscernible from just another activity. Challenges imposed by rules create what becomes a game. So where do we stand once the challenges and structures (rules) are removed from video games? I don’t mean simply being tied to what’s coded within the reality of the game. That’d be like explaining that gravity is a rule for competition in physical space. We’ve stumbled into an era where the focus of video games isn’t to be challenged anymore. Every year more and more titles are being released without any expectation of adhering to what previously defined a game. Gone Home, Dear Esther, Stanley Parable, or even some Minecraft modes are tough fits under the umbrella of video games. That isn’t meant as a slight to them at all either. Each and every one of those releases has earned a circle of respect from different communities of gamers. With the advent of Virtual Reality in 2016, writing them off “video games” is going to get more and more inapplicable to the experience held within. I’m thinking maybe it’s finally time we retired the term video game entirely and found something more relevant to today’s applications. Otherwise as long as it’s mislabeled people are going to have a disconnect between the expectation and the delivered product, as well as limiting the scope of what can and can’t be created while developers are trying to jam a square peg into a round hole.

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