Previously I’ve discussed my excitement for Final Fantasy 15. I had a lot of hope for what the game could be as potential overflowed from various trailers and news points scattered over it’s 9+ year development cycle. As it traveled from being Final Fantasy Versus 13 into it’s final form broken into a film, episodes of an anime, and finally a video game my excitement grew. Before any of that really became a thing to me, my initial interest of this game began back in 2012 on my birthday when Theatrhythm Final Fantasy received a DLC song for an unreleased FF Versus 13, Somnus. The song was gorgeous and the mood was tonally different from anything I knew of Final Fantasy.

That was the turning point where it went from something that I didn’t even bother watching trailers for, to digging up as much as I could via Google notifications. The game was pretty much assumed to be dead at one point as the news was sporadic at best while Final Fantasy 13’s series continued to disappoint at Square. It was out of sight and out of mind until the E3 2013 trailer when it rebranded as the 15th entry of the mainline titles, breaking away from the baggage of Lightning’s saga. Yes, it got a fancy roman numeral all of it’s own as “XV“. Either way that trailer captured my imagination as Square games all tend to do eventually. Later on they’d eventually pair a demo titled Episode Duscae in with their HD port of a previously Japan exclusive PSP game, FF Type-O, and I totally spent $60 on it to get an early poke at what FF15 might be. It’s been two years and I’ve still only put in about 6 hours into Type-0. Really, I could have paid just $60 for that 3-4 hours of content in the FF15 demo and be satisfied. Everything I loved about open world fantasy games (Dragon Age for example) was wrapped up in this actiony, exploration driven Japanese RPG ready for consumption. Super emo characters, party system, myriads of weapons, dungeons to explore, side quests, ridiculously spikey hair styles, and brutally cheesy themes like friendship conquers all. Everything I want from my JRPGs was on parade in a gorgeous seamless world to breath it all in with. This was the Final Fantasy I’d been dying for since 1999’s adventures with Squall & co. I loved it so much I went ahead and wrote an entire blog just about the demo.

Continue reading


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.

Continue reading

ff7 logo

Over a decade of excitement leads here.

A bit of history for those that don’t hold this PS1 era JRPG close to their hearts:

  • Back at E3 2005 Square-Enix provided a tech demo for Final Fantasy VII to showcase the PlayStation 3’s power. Then promptly put a boot to the face of every fan by stating it could never be remade to look like that, it was only a tech demo.
  • An epic-tier trolling occurs the first PlayStation Experience event in 2014 where they announced a PS4 port of FF7 no one expected it would be announced. We all thought it was an HD remake being announced, but alas… We’re doomed to suffer Popeye-arms Cloud & crew still.
  • E3 2015 rolled around the usual rumors and speculation were making the rounds that Sony would have a trailer for a Final Fantasy VII Remake.  Then The general consensus at this point was the game would be vaporware or release on PlayStation 5. In their own words, the promise made real as the trailer played. It was finally happening.
  • PlayStation Experience 2015 surprised everyone by opening with intercut gameplay and cinematic trailer rendered in-game of the now officially titled Final Fantasy VII: Remake

So in a nutshell, a full decade has passed of excitement for this. Hype train is in full effect as this is not only becoming a reality, but is expected to come to non-PlayStation platforms as well. Even rumors of Nintendo’s Wii U successor, the NX, are suggesting it will land there as well. PC and X1 are expected to support it too. Everyone gets to experience this massive undertaking so we should all be rejoicing… Then about 32 hours after that trailer Square-Enix drops a bomb on all the excited fans sending my Twitter bubble into either utter disbelief or complete rage.

Continue reading

As mentioned last week, going to make a go of doing this every Friday. I’m not looking to make the most definitive list of anything. Just highlighting five awesome examples of whatever the topic is for the week. This time I wanted to dive into some video game music!

Unfortunately with the nature of technology of video games, decades of games relied on midi tracks ran through the internal soundboard to make game music. Sometimes this could result in some truly great tunes to jam out to while gaming. Other times you’re left with high pitched beeps and boops that left you nauseated within 15 minutes of suffering through it. Yet it wasn’t until the original PlayStation that home consoles could start including high fidelity tracks complete with vocals. Sure, sometimes this resulted in the absolute worst kind of ear assault. A lot of the time though this let the sound director for the game to put in exactly what they wanted without compromise to great effect. So here I want to give props to these five songs for creating that beautiful moment of game. Listening to these puts me right back into the worlds they came from.

5) Persona 4 Golden, “Heaven”

Persona was a game I ignored for a long time, and then after I owned it shied away from playing for a long time. The cult following, writing it off as another JRPG, and time to complete all filled me with trepidation. When I finally managed to boot it up for the first time I was blasted with colorful splashes and a poppy upbeat song with lyrics; completely atypical from the RPGs I’m used to playing. The soundtrack kept on with really strong vocal tracks for it’s entirety. Every dungeon or location there was a new theme song to associate with it that was intricately woven into the game. Playing it  you can just recognize it was made in tandem with the level, not just some tune that was pulled from a musical archive. Of all the wonderful tracks though, I found myself favoring Heaven the most. It comes at a pivotal point in the story. Events occurred that caused me to be fully invested on clearing the dungeon as fast as humanly possible. It’s sullen, lilting opening reinforces the heartbreak you were just hit with, but then picks it up with a hopeful beat to keep you fighting. The song completely reaches in for the sadness and anger you tried to bury beneath your cool exterior, forcing them to the forefront of your mind. As with all the songs on this list I’ve listened to this track for hours of my life without regret. I love it.

Continue reading

I had two posts I was working on before this happened. The first was a growing disdain for Final Fantasy Record Keeper. In a nutshell I feel like it was devaluing the characters and worlds I loved. Final Fantasy was becoming a mundane thing as I chipped away daily at a game with no story or end. The second, I was writing up a full recap of the major E3 2015 briefings to share my take on it, and I was working on it through the unveilings. Then something happened it all stopped. Rumors had swirled earlier that day just as I had every other day of a Final Fantasy 7 remake being announced that night… again, like every other E3 since that PS3 tech demo was shown. Only this time, it actually happened. At that moment I lost any desire to write about anything else.

Continue reading

FF Record Keeper

Prelude of Thought:

I’m a fairly engaged Final Fantasy fan. I enjoyed the FF13 series, I’ve played nearly all the series to completion (save for FF2 and FFX-2), and I think FF7 is possibly the best example of what JRPGs can be. The mash-ups offered for the series such as Dissidia and Theatrhythm have been preferred portable experiences. I should love this game… So why don’t I?

When FF Record Keeper was announced I was cautiously excited. When Square put out their last mobile offering, All The Bravest, it was miserable. All you did was tap tap tap endlessly, the only variation was when you activated your ultimate attack of “Fever Mode”. Even removing how offensive the random lotto draw of new characters via In App Purchases were, the game was a complete slog.

After the initial launch trailer I really didn’t hear anything. No previews or impressions anywhere. The week Record Keeper launched I was given an older Samsung tablet that I was eager to put to use. Yet with the stealth launch of it onto iOS and Android stores, somehow my expectations managed to sink even lower. Either way it’s free though, all I have to lose is a bit of time so why not dig right in and see for myself?

Continue reading

The Nutshell version: It feels like a Dragon Age inspired Final Fantasy experience. While it’s easy to say it’s a response to western RPGs that have forced JRPGs into the shadows, it really seems like the natural progression from Final Fantasy XII. I started off hating the characters. I had a bunch of amazing moments that made my jaw drop in awe of the game. I felt combat was wildly chaotic and fun. I started coming around to like the characters. Game still needs some polish, but it delivers in a big bad way on the promise of what XV will be.

A Small Bit Before Play… 

I started the day excited more to play the FFXV demo than running my usual Destiny raid, or even to boot up the game I paid for to get my hands on Episode Duscae, Final Fantasy Type-0. That got soured a bit after being unable to download it to my PS4 remotely, and then getting home and waiting about two and a half hours to play the demo. I just mention this to point out at this point the shiny new “yay” of a new game had worn off. Dubious, skeptical, I booted it up and was ready to see what was going on here. I had been blind to all the trailers up to this point, and have only seen a few screenshots so it was really starting with a blank slate.

The boot screen felt sharp with a somewhat familiar melody. The opening music felt eerie and epic. I’m pretty sure it’s an alternate form of Somnus, a song that was made available on Theatrhythm via DLC. It gave me the chill I get when booting up FF7 after a long period and hearing The Prelude, or Dearly Beloved with Kingdom Hearts. Might sound small, but the feeling really centers me on the game. We are playing fantasy games to be absorbed into a different world after all, right?

Continue reading

Mordin Solus

The very model of a scientist Salarian, Mordin Solus (Mass Effect 2)

I kind of want to talk about game appreciation for a moment… In particular, why fantasy games often help me understand my own humanity more than most other stories. Might sound odd at the first consideration, “how can a witch from the future compressing time have anything to do with the real world?!”. It doesn’t, and that’s why it works. I’ve always believed in order to see the impact or relationship between two things you need to examine the most extreme cases… At that point the relationship is proven or broken. Through isolation you can distill something down to it’s purest form and work from there.

I’ll go over some examples in a minute and you’ll understand. On the subject of understanding though…

Contrived plots shouldn’t need to be understood in order for a game to have merit. As in the real world, you can’t understand everything. Not everything makes sense to you as an individual, even when there’s reason behind it. For the life of me could not explain to you how electronic pulses can create music that is then delivered then through a set of headphones. I get the concept and that’s enough for me to enjoy and find use in an MP3 player though. So left with a world of confusion, making those connections of what you do understand is what matters. Meaning if you’ve played all thirty-seven Kingdom Hearts spin-off titles and need a diagram to make any sense of the plot, just let it go. You’re missing the point.

Continue reading

As usual, a conversation with folks on Twitter got me thinking further into the topic after virtually walking away. Nearly all games have gone in the direction of adding one in some form. Some thank RPGs for the incorporation of this leveling, while personally I think it’s just a natural evolution of games. I mean if you’re going to dump dozens of hours into an experience, the idea of losing everything at the end of your session just isn’t appealing. The depth being added to the experience creates layers of skill for advanced play while still being accessible when you first sit down. Imagine trying to sort through all the guns and mods in Call of Duty if out of the box you were able to select what you’d want. You won’t have a basis for what’s going on or be able to gradually grow into your play style. Are you a sniper by default, or more of a run and gun infantry player? There’s beauty in a progression systems let you slowly build into what you want from the game. The end result is a win for consumers and developers alike. As a player you get what feels like a tailored experience, and for developers you can widen your net of appeal to welcome new gamers into your world.

With progression systems abound though, what makes them stand out from one another? Just having a system doesn’t mean it’s going to improve the game. Personally the addition of advancement in the Halo series multiplayer starting with Halo: Reach actually turned me off from the series. The idea of prestige in Call of Duty terrifies me from playing; a reset button to completely wipe all your progress to gain a shiny star next to your emblem. Really they can come in a myriad of forms good or bad, but here’s a few notable experiences where the progression system really drew me into the game.

Continue reading