Tag: Final Fantasy

To-Do

Games I've Bought Individually and Haven't Played Yet

  • Steamworld Dig
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X
  • Pyre
  • Pillars of Eternity
  • Hollow Knight
  • Overcooked
  • Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Ys 7
  • Grandia 2
  • Trails in the Sky 2
  • Fallout
  • System Shock 2
  • FarCry
  • Eversion
  • Zissi's Island
  • Paper Mario
  • Shenmue

Games I've Bought in Bundles and Haven't Played Yet

  • Metro 2033 Redux
  • Metro Last Light Redux
  • Crayon Physics
  • Broken Sword 5
  • Tesla Effect
  • Shadowrun: Hong Kong
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall
  • Age of Wonders 3
  • Xenonauts
  • Torment: Tides of Numenera
  • Dreamfall Chapters
  • Affordable Space Adventures
  • Gauntlet '15
  • Civilization 3
  • Civilization 4: Colonization
  • X-COM: UFO Defense
  • X-COM: Terror From the Deep
  • X-COM: Apocalypse
  • X-COM: Interceptor
  • X-COM: Enforcer
  • Pirates
  • Starships
  • Ace Patrol
  • Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies
  • Chameleon Run
  • Hitman Go
  • Dropsy
  • The Banner Saga
  • Punch Club
  • Super Stickman Golf 3
  • Ys: The Oath in Felghana
  • Ys 6
  • Ys Origin
  • This War of Mine
  • Nuclear Throne
  • Renowned Explorers
  • Nova-111
  • The Magic Circle
  • Super Avalanche
  • Tailwind Prologue
  • Strikbold
  • Shantae and the Pirate's Curse
  • A Boy and His Blob
  • Human Resource Machine
  • Retro City Rampage
  • Morrowind
  • Oblivion
  • Bioshock 2
  • Bioshock Infinite
  • Orange Box
    • Half-Life 2
    • Episode 1
    • Episode 2
    • Portal
    • Team Fortress 2
  • Dungeons & Dragons Anthology
    • Baldur's Gate
    • Baldur's Gate 2
    • Icewind Dale
    • Icewind Dale 2
    • Planescape: Torment
    • Temple of Elemental Evil
  • Aquaria
  • Gish
  • Penumbra: Overture
  • Lugaru
  • Trine 2
  • Mark of the Ninja
  • Eets Munchies
  • FTL
  • Rocketbirds
  • LIMBO
  • Shadowman
  • Penny Arcade Episode 2
  • Shank
  • Shank 2
  • The Baconing
  • Plants vs. Zombies: GOTY
  • Fist of Awesome
  • Reaper
  • Super Comboman
  • Ascendant
  • Fist of Jesus
  • SteamWorld Heist
  • Windward
  • Ziggurat
  • Kentucky Route Zero
  • Beholder
  • A Story About My Uncle
  • Neon Drive
  • Double Dragon: Neon

Games I've Bought and Haven't Finished Yet

  • Wasteland 2
  • Shadowrun Returns -- Finished 2018-03-16
  • Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap
  • Dragon Quest Builders
  • Breath of the Wild
  • Super Mario Maker
  • Mad Max -- Finished 2018-02-11
  • Shadow of Mordor
  • Tomb Raider '13 -- Finished 2017-06-13
  • Owlboy
  • Rayman Origins
  • Freedom Planet
  • Civilization 6
  • A Link Between Worlds -- Finished 2014-08-28
  • Majora's Mask
  • Fire Emblem: Awakening -- Finished 2015-03-14
  • Shin Megami Tensei 4
  • Devil Survivor Overclocked
  • Mario Kart 7 -- Finished single-player 2014-07-20
  • Super Mario 3D Land
  • Ys -- Finished 2017-02-04
  • Ys 2
  • Ys: Memories of Celceta -- Finished 2017-02-01
  • Axiom Verge -- Finished 2016-09-11
  • Stardew Valley
  • Mighty No. 9
  • Transformers: Devastation
  • Trails in the Sky
  • The Stick of Truth
  • Final Fantasy Type-0 HD
  • Shovel Knight -- Finished 2016-02-15
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown -- Finished 2016-03-17
  • Civilization 4 -- Finished a full game 2016-01-23
  • Civilization 5 -- Finished a full game 2016-02-14
  • Undertale
  • I Am Setsuna
  • Shantae: Risky's Revenge -- Finished 2016-08-07
  • Adventure of Mana
  • Witcher 3
  • Skyrim
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • Bionic Commando: Rearmed
  • Guacamelee -- Finished 2015-02-21
  • Valkyria Chronicles -- Finished 2014-12-20
  • Valkyria Chronicles 2
  • Walking Dead: 400 Days -- Finished 2014-01-05
  • The Wolf Among Us -- Finished 2014-07-18
  • Psychonauts
  • Super Mario Galaxy -- Finished 2013-06-15
  • Super Mario Galaxy 2
  • Xenoblade
  • Last Story -- Finished 2013-07-13
  • Red Dead Redemption -- Finished 2018-04-14
  • Gears of War
  • Crackdown
  • Dead Rising
  • Tactics Ogre
  • Star Ocean: First Departure
  • Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles
  • Dragon Quest 9
  • Etrian Odyssey 3
  • Retro Game Challenge
  • Mega Man ZX
  • WarioWare DIY
  • Half-Life
  • Cthulhu Saves the World
  • Bastion
  • DuckTales Remastered -- Finished 2013-08-22
  • World of Goo
  • Samorost 2
  • A Virus Named TOM
  • Fez
  • Brutal Legend
  • Ghostbusters
  • Penny Arcade Episode 1
  • Legend of Grimrock
  • Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril
  • Pier Solar
  • Metroid Prime 2
  • Persona 4
  • Mega Man X8

Games I've Received as Gifts and Haven't Finished Yet

  • Portal 2
  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Hatoful Boyfriend
  • Shower with Your Dad Simulator
  • The Walking Dead -- Finished 2013-02-17
  • Donkey Kong Country Returns
  • Kirby's Epic Yarn
  • Mega Man 10
  • Kirby's Canvas Curse
  • Dragon Quest 6

Games I've Borrowed and Haven't Finished Yet

  • Destroy All Humans -- Returned
  • Batman: Arkham City -- Finished 2012-12-02

Games I Got for Free and Haven't Finished Yet

  • AM2R
  • Spelunky
  • Batman: Arkham Knight -- Finished 2015-08-12
  • Batman: Arkham Origins
  • Game of Thrones
  • Monument Valley
  • GTA: San Andreas
  • Wario Land 2
  • Sonic 4 Episode 1
  • Ultimate NES Remix -- Finished 2015-05-24
  • New Super Mario Bros. 2 -- Finished 2015-03-18
  • Torchlight
  • Bioshock
  • Fallout 2
  • Bard's Tale (Android)
  • Mighty Gunvolt -- Finished 2014-09-11
  • Game Dev Story -- Made it to endgame 2014-03-29

Expansions I Haven't Finished Yet

  • XCOM: Enemy Within
  • Shovel Knight
    • Plague of Shadows
    • Specter of Torment
    • King of Cards

Games I've Bought and Haven't Finished Replaying Yet

  • Batman: Arkham City -- Finished 2015-01-06
  • Valkyria Chronicles
  • Mega Man Legends 2
  • Mass Effect 2
  • Sonic CD
  • Mega Man: Powered Up
  • Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X -- Finished 2015-10-12
  • Crisis Core
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Mario Land 2
  • Zelda 2 -- Finished 2013-05-05
  • Final Fantasy 6 Advance
  • DuckTales Remastered
  • Skies of Arcadia

Remakes I Haven't Finished of Games I Have Finished

  • Final Fantasy (PSP)
  • Final Fantasy 4 DS
  • Final Fantasy 5 (Android)
  • Sonic 2 (Android)
  • Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland
  • Mega Man Legacy Collection
  • Dragon Quest 7

ROMs I've Downloaded and Haven't Finished

  • Retro Game Challenge 2
  • SaGa 2 (DS)
  • Earth Bound
  • Earthbound
  • Soul Blazer
  • BS-Zelda -- Time limit ran out; unwinnable; not going to start over
  • BS-Zelda: LttP
  • Sonic 2 Delta
  • Phantasy Star Generation 1
  • Super Mario 3mix

ROMs I've Downloaded and Haven't Played

  • 7th Dragon
  • SaGa 3 (DS)
  • Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem
  • Soma Bringer
  • Tales of Innocence
  • Valkyria Chronicles 3

Games I Got for Free and Haven't Played

  • Crusader Kings 2
  • Spec Ops: The Line
  • The Darkness 2
  • Alcarys Complex
  • F1 2015
  • Lethal League
  • King of Fighters 2002
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent
  • Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
  • Carmageddon TDR 2000
  • Oxenfree
  • Layers of Fear
  • Homefront
  • Grim Fandango Remastered
  • Company of Heroes 2
  • Sanctum 2
  • MDK
  • Syberia
  • Killer is Dead
  • Rising Storm
  • Jotun
  • Shadow Warrior
  • Lost Odyssey
  • GRID
  • DiRT Showdown
  • Dungeons 2
  • Saints Row 2
  • Corporate Lifestyle Simulator
  • Huntsman: The Orphanage
  • Fantasy General
  • Batman: Arkham Origins: Blackgate
  • Tropico 4
  • Bionic Dues
  • Divine Divinity
  • Sonic 4 Episode 2
  • Gothic 2
  • Ultima 4
  • Worlds of Ultima: Savage Empire
  • Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams
  • Akalabeth
  • Shadow Warrior Classic
  • Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games
  • Wreckateer
  • Penny Arcade Episode 3
  • Star Command
  • Magrunner: Dark Pulse
  • Warlock: Master of the Arcane
  • Aliens vs. Predator Classic 2000
  • Metro 2033 -- Bought Redux; not planning to play original
  • Teleglitch
  • Mount and Blade
  • Stealth Inc 2
  • Gabriel Knight: SotF20AE
  • Dreamfall Chapters
  • SPACECOM
  • Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee
  • Outlast

Games I Got for the Multiplayer
(so finishing them isn't really the point)

  • Super Mario 3D World
  • New Super Mario Bros. U
  • New Super Luigi Bros. U
  • Super Smash Bros Wii U
  • Splatoon
  • Mario Kart 8
  • Yoshi's Woolly World
  • DKC Tropical Freeze
  • Goat Simulator
  • Rocket League
  • Pac-Man 256

Games I've Preordered that Haven't Been Released on Linux Yet

  • Rise of the Tomb Raider

Games I've Funded on Kickstarter that Don't Exist Yet

  • Project Phoenix

Busiek and Mignola's Unfinished Final Fantasy

You know, I seriously considered just calling this post "Busiek and Mignola's Final Fantasy" and then opening with a "Before you get excited..." but ultimately decided that would have just been mean. (As it is, it's already misleading to say "Busiek and Mignola", as Mignola was just doing the covers.)

Can't remember what made me think of it -- maybe it was when I was going through my searches and saw a bunch for both busiek and final fantasy -- but I recalled that Busiek had alluded to a cancelled Final Fantasy project. Now, Kurt's been damned active over on FormSpring, so I figured I'd ask him about it -- but then I figured hey, maybe I should actually do some research first.

Didn't find much, but there was a bit of discussion about it in a CBR thread called Series that Never Saw the Light of Day -- which is also where I first heard Mignola was the cover artist, and Dell Barras (who I'm not familiar with) did the interiors.

Busiek showed up in the thread and explained a bit about the series and what happened to it: it was for Hollywood Comics, a Disney imprint that "either never got launched or was killed off almost right away".

Most interestingly, he gave a short explanation as to when this was and which Final Fantasy(s) he was adapting:

This was so long ago that when I was first assigned the project, I did a story outline, and the people at Squaresoft liked it a lot, but said, "Uh, well, this is good, but we're about to do a new version of the game, can you revise it to be about FINAL FANTASY 2 instead?"

It required a top-to-toe restart, because the characters in FINAL FANTASY are footsloggers, ordinary soldiers and adventurers, while the characters in FF2 are princes and leaders and such, which makes for a whole different kind of story.

But yes, it was based on FINAL FANTASY 2, though Dell Barras's interpretation of the Japanese designs maintained basic designs but spun it into a very, very mainstream-American style.

That'd be the American FF2, of course, AKA FF4. I'm sure it would have been fun -- and featured better dialogue than the original SNES translation of the game.

Anyhow, after finding out those tidbits, I decided to ask Kurt this:

How far along was the Final Fantasy adaptation (or adaptations, since you had to switch games partway through) before being scrapped?

His response:

The first version was a detailed outline. The second was a complete script for all four issues, I think, plus lettered art for at least one and penciled art for one more. Four nice Mignola covers, too.

Niiiice.

Wonder where all that stuff went and whether anybody has it now. All I've seen is this ad, in the above-linked CBR thread (and presumably from the FF1 period):

Image: Ad for the series

I haven't been able to find anything else, even any of the Mignola covers, which is a pity -- but hell, one more thing to add to my "things so obscure you can't find them on the Internet" list. (Course, if anybody can prove me wrong, do feel free to shoot me a link...)

(Update 2015-01-04: I now have the covers to issues #2 and #4; you can see them in the post Mignola Final Fantasy Covers. I still haven't seen #1 or #3, or any interior art.)

But via Robot Mutant here's a Joseph Dellagatta FF piece homaging Mignola, anyway:

Image: FF7, Hellboy style

Final Fantasy 7, Fourteen Years Later

The thing that surprised me most, on a replay of FF7 after lo these many years was, you know, it's actually pretty good. Not the best game ever, not even the best Final Fantasy -- hell, not even the best Final Fantasy released in a six-month period --, but pretty good.

It's easy to scoff at it in hindsight, probably because it's not nearly as good as some people claim it is. And frankly I'm embarrassed by my own youthful enthusiasm for it. But, truth be told, it's a good game. And it's not really logically consistent to love 6 and hate 7, because 7 is so clearly a refinement of 6. Amnesiac hero reluctantly joins underground organization fighting an evil, technocratic Empire that is extracting the spirits of a dead, magical race into glowing stones to use for its own nefarious purposes? Yeah, that sounds pretty familiar. The leader of the Empire is killed by a psychopath who is the product of one of its magical infusion experiments gone wrong, and who then becomes the Big Bad? Check. The key to saving the world is a mysterious girl who escaped from the empire's lab and turns out to be the daughter of a human and one of the aforementioned magical race? Mhm. Even the environments and the music are awfully familiar.

Which I suppose in itself could be taken as a knock against FF7 -- it hits a lot of the same beats as its predecessor. But this is Final Fantasy we're talking about. It's not like FF6 was fresh and new -- if you squint, the above plot summary isn't too far off from FF4's, either. And truth be told, 7 does some things better than 6.

It's easy to lose sight of in a flashy, forty-hour game, but, at least in places, FF7 shows a remarkable economy of storytelling. Take President Shinra -- for the first act of the game, he's the presumptive villain, and he makes a hell of an impression. But in truth he only appears in two scenes, I can count his lines of dialogue on my hands, and then he's promptly killed, offscreen, by a character you've never seen and have only heard of in rumors.

That's a pretty far cry from Kefka and Gestahl, really. Kefka is clearly the game's villain from the get-go, and you know sooner or later he's going to take out the Emperor. As for Gestahl, he doesn't get a lot of development but he's in a few scenes and you get a decent sense of who he is.

With Shinra, by contrast, you get a sense of who he is with very minimal information. It's quite well done. And then he's killed just a few hours in, by somebody who hasn't even been introduced yet. That's a shock -- and the presentation, the darkened halls filled with blood, is pretty unexpected too.

The key difference between Shinra and Gestahl -- and the key difference between their respective empires, and arguably between the settings of the two games -- is that Gestahl is an actual head of state, while Shinra is a CEO. The Mayor of Midgar only briefly appears in the game, and makes it very clear that he's a powerless figurehead. The man who runs the reactors rules the world. Forget the motorcycles, that's the most modern thing about FF7.

Shinra's also utterly ruthless and calculating. He wipes out an entire slum and blames it on the terrorists who have been sabotaging his reactors.

(It does fall apart a bit in the Corel flashback. Barrett convinces the people of his town to sell out to Shinra -- and then Shinra burns down the town anyway? I really have no idea how that serves the plot at all. It's not even there to fill the "hero's hometown gets burned down" box on JRPG Bingo, because by that point in the game Sephiroth's already burned Nibelheim, in a different flashback.)

Rufus makes an interesting contrast to his father. For all his initial talk about ruling by fear, his death is a contrast to his father's: the elder Shinra dies after destroying Sector 7; the younger dies saving Midgar. He doesn't have to be there; he could have evacuated, and he chose not to. His deeds redeem him, even if he's still not a very nice person -- and even if Midgar ends up destroyed anyway.

But probably the best example of FF7's skill in economical storytelling is the destruction of Sector 7 and the deaths of Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie. Sure, they're the requisite Star Wars-named fodder characters (Romanized correctly here for the first time!), and no, they don't have that much screentime, but you grow to like them in that short time. You learn just enough about their hopes and their doubts -- Wedge's guilt over the civilian casualties, Jessie's nervousness about her forged ID cards -- to feel for them. And Wedge is a legitimately fantastic example of a character whose personality is communicated visually, through his model and his body language. Which of course starts to bleed into my previous post and the observation that simple, iconic images can convey a whole lot to an audience.

There's a point where the uniqueness of gaming comes into the Sector 7 collapse, too. Sure, killing a bunch of poor people and blaming it on the hero is stock Bond Villain stuff, but this is different: the first opportunity you get to do a little bit of free exploration is Sector 7. You wander around, you meet people, you slowly get introduced to the world of the game there. It's not that the villagers have gotten too much more complicated since welcoming you to Coneria and warning you that the Fire Fiend will burn everything up, but they have little stories and personalities -- hell, the building designs have more character than the people, but the bottom line is that you get a feel for Sector 7 that you don't get for most fodder locations. (Contrast with FF6: Kefka's murder of the population of Doma establishes him as a very bad man, but you're not emotionally invested in Doma or in anyone there except Cyan and his family.) In short, a couple of lines of dialogue, some atmospheric design, and the proper placement in a game's narrative and presentation can really make a minor location stand out.

Oh, and the steel beam through the playground is as subtle as a chainsaw to the face, but it's definitely a memorable image.

And while the game can get awfully overbearing in places, it has some deep themes that are presented without being harped on. Of course the whole thing revolves around Japan's complex relationship with nuclear power -- something thrown into stark relief as I replayed it a few months ago when the Fukushima meltdown was in the news -- and it makes Barrett's team the ostensible heroes, but there are shades of gray there. Barrett is well-meaning, and perhaps the character with the purest motives in the game (leave a better world for the little girl he's adopted) -- but he's also a revenge-obsessed terrorist who gets a lot of people killed, most of them innocent and some of them his own team. And he's easily the most sanctimonious character in the game -- he rants constantly about saving the planet from the monsters who are sucking its lifeblood to generate power, and the game respects our intelligence enough not to point out the irony that he's a former coal miner.

Interface

It's not just the story that feels like an update of FF6; the actual gameplay is really quite similar too. Materia's not so far off from Espers -- the main difference is that it makes the characters even more interchangeable -- and the game is similarly unbalanced. It's still trivial to produce a party that will take the last boss out in a round or two; the game ups his stats a bit if you're at level 98 or 99, but it doesn't really make for a challenge.

There are challenges, of course, for advanced characters -- Huge Materia and the Weapons -- and in this sense, the game is better-rounded than FF6. The biggest problem is that, for the most part, they suck. On my latest play-through, I probably spent about ten hours grinding on Magic Pots and Movers, and for what? Spammy, unsatisfying battles with the Weapons, and a bunch of Master Materia I didn't need.

Seriously, if I ever try to beat Ruby and Emerald on a future playthrough, or get any Master Materia (with the possible exception of yellow), just give me a quick smack in the back of the head. It's stupid and it's a waste of time. And the Arena's not much better.

...but back to the interface. If you don't bother with all the side crap, it's pretty neat! And while weapons and armor have been simplified way down from 6, they complement the Materia system nicely. Do you optimize for equipment stats, for number of Materia slots, for number of linked Materia slots, or Materia growth?

And the Blue Materia are pretty neat too. Added Effect/Hades was always a favorite, and Phoenix/Final Attack is clever if overkill.

Where FF7 runs into its biggest gameplay problems is in simply interacting with the world. It's an early 3D game, and it's obvious that the team was still trying to figure out how to realize the Final Fantasy rules in that context.

This is most apparent in the field. There is a stunning variety of detailed backgrounds in the game. The trouble is that they're low-resolution, low-color prerenders, and much of the time it's difficult to figure out simple things like where you can walk and where you can't.

Image: Train yard
Can anybody tell me where the fuck I'm supposed to go on this screen?

There's a toggle you can use to show points of interest, but it's not very useful.

And battle's not much better. In classic Final Fantasy style, it consists of your party in one line and the enemy party in another line, but, for the first time, the characters actually move across the screen when they attack each other -- and the devs thought it would be a good idea to compensate for that by adding movement tracking to the battle interface.

They were wrong.

Say I'm trying to attack a monster, and it moves across the screen while I'm trying to point at it. Well, suddenly it's not where it was a second ago, and I have to move the pointer around to get to it. And probably wind up pointing at my own party somewhere in the process. Or, the reverse -- I'm trying to heal or buff one of my party members, and she jumps across the screen. (Actually it's a pain in the ass to target your own party members even when they're standing still, because the game can't seem to decide whether they're arranged left-right or up-down.)

All of which is just needlessly complicated, seemed-like-a-good-idea naivete. Changing the graphical presentation should not have actually changed the controls! FF7's battle interface is functionally identical to the previous six games'; it should play exactly the same even though it looks different. So that monster's not actually standing in his spot when I point at it? It doesn't matter; if I point at where he was standing a half-second ago it should still target him!

Music

The music in this one is just superb; it's legitimately one of the best original soundtracks in gaming history. Can you remember the first time you heard the boss theme? I can.

If I have one complaint, it's that you can pretty clearly hear Uematsu recycling the same themes at this point in the series -- Aeris's theme sounds a lot like Celes's theme, and they both bear a more-than-passing resemblance to Fanfare for the Common Man.

On the other hand, it's hard to fault Uematsu for retreading musical themes when the game retreads so many story themes -- you can't really blame him for making the Mako Plant sound like Vector when it looks so damn much like Vector too.

Ultimately, I can't take too many points off Uematsu for experimenting with the same riffs throughout the years. Charting his career through the series, it's the story of a guy learning his craft and learning new tools as they develop -- in his chiptune days, he was a programmer as much as a composer. The very first thing you hear in the very first 16-bit Final Fantasy is an extended version of the Prelude theme from the preceding three games. The first thing you hear in 7 is that theme again, this time with harp and vocals.

The move to the PS1 hardware had almost as profound an effect on the audio of the Final Fantasy series as the video. It allowed Uematsu a wide-open world to compose in MIDI, and, in a couple of cases, to use Redbook audio as well. FF6 had already involved some long, complex pieces that went on quite awhile before looping back to the start (Terra's overworld theme being the best example), but 7 had many more. And with instrument samples, the MIDI sounded less artificial than the chiptunes of yore.

The Love Triangle

The biggest problem with the Cloud/Aeris/Tifa triangle is that it's a case of two Bettys and no Veronica. (For you kids out there, you can substitute "Betty and Veronica" with "Edward and Jacob". Probably. I don't know; I couldn't even make it all the way through Steve's summary of Twilight. And it was hilarious.)

Tifa and Aeris are too much alike. At a glance, you expect the obvious trope: the scantily-clad, well-endowed one is the sassy, liberated one, while the conservatively-dressed one is a shy girl-nextdoor type. And at first, the game seems set to go down that path -- after all, you meet Aeris in a church and Tifa in a bar. Then, it takes an interesting turn suggesting that maybe they're about to subvert the trope and reverse the roles, as Tifa turns out to be literally the girl nextdoor and Aeris fearlessly guides you through the slums where she's grown up. But that potential twist never really pays off, and ultimately Tifa and Aeris are both the shy girl nextdoor. There's not a whole lot that distinguishes them from one another, and ultimately the competition between them never really feels like there's anything at stake in it.

Of course, once Aeris gets shish kebabed the triangle is resolved while simultaneously finally achieving a real dichotomy -- Cloud never makes a choice between the two women, the choice is made for him, and the rivalry for the audience's affection is no longer between two sweet girl-nextdoor types but, instead, between the angelic figure who died tragically and the girl who survives, stands by Cloud through his breakdown, and literally follows him to the ends of the earth. That is an interesting contrast, and it's most likely why people still care about Tifa and Aeris all these years later.

And of course there's also the rudimentary romance subquest that served to define them throughout RPG's to come. You can't seriously tell me that any of BioWare's romances are substantially more complex or nuanced than choosing your date for the Gold Saucer. Hell, it's even got a same-sex option!

The Translation

My God.

I played the PC version on my recent playthrough, and the most infamous errors ("This guy are sick", "Off course!/No, way!") were fixed, but there was still a "creek in the floor", and I'm pretty sure I saw "shit" spelled with an apostrophe. And the first boss fight still begins with Cloud instructing you to "Attack while it's tail's up!" -- less notable for the misplaced apostrophe than the omission of the rather nontrivial word "Don't", pretty much guaranteeing everyone playing the game for the first time would die twenty minutes in.

There's an absolutely fantastic peek behind the curtain in The Rise of Squaresoft Localization, an article by Wesley Fenlon at 1up. To wit: the massive script of FF7 was translated by one guy, who had little or no access to the original team, had no "series bible" of common Final Fantasy names and words, and had to hack the whole thing into a foreign character set. Considering that, he did a pretty good job -- I mean, we're still talking about the damn thing, aren't we?

But on the whole it was a big step down from Ted Woolsey's FF6 translation. Sure, that one has its detractors, but I can't for the life of me figure out why. It's got mistakes ("Vicks and Wedge"), truncations ("Fenix Down", "Carbunkl"), and plenty of 1990's-era-Nintendo censorship, but not only does it exceed 7 in its adherence to the basic rules of English spelling and grammar, it's also a lot more fun.

I suspect that FF7 is more like the American FF2 writ large in that people enjoyed it because the deeper themes of its story shone through the lousy script that conveyed them.

Right Time

I think the defining characteristic of FF7 is that it is spectacularly adolescent.

That's not entirely a bad thing -- in fact, it was adolescent in a time when its medium and its audience were adolescent too. It was big, it was operatic, it was bombastic; it was obsessed with its own appearance; it treated its shallow, superficial philosophy as if it were really deep and thought-provoking; it featured awkward cursing and a busty girl nextdoor and in the end it wasn't nearly as damn important as it seemed at the time. In other words, it's pretty damn obvious where its appeal to its target audience came from.

Final Fantasy 7 and Iconic Images

I closed Part One of my Final Fantasy 7 retrospective by saying that the Phoenix Rejuvenation Project, a mod designed to replace all the super-deformed field character models in the game with more detailed and realistically-proportioned ones, was the product of a lot of hard work by a lot of talented people...but just a bad idea on principle. The reason I believe this comes down to one essential point:

Final Fantasy 7 is ridiculous.

Now, the game has a huge fanbase, most of which was captivated by its epic story, cinematic atmosphere, and shocking moments. And I think that, given those elements, people tend to forget exactly how damn silly it is.

Here's an example. You're following Sephiroth -- the man who left a trail of blood and bodies ending in a dead President, a man who burned the heroes' village to the ground -- and his trail leads to...an amusement park. After you get your fortune told by a talking stuffed cat, and optionally ride the roller coaster and play an arcade game about the mating habits of Moogles, you find another trail of blood and bodies, these cut down by machine-gun fire. It's briefly implied that your colleague Barrett is the killer, but it turns out it's actually his best friend Dyne. Dyne's gone off the deep end and just wants to burn everything down; when he hears his daughter is still alive and Barrett's adopted her, he threatens to kill her and Barrett has to kill him first.

And then you go race a Chocobo.

Seriously. That is not an exaggeration. At all. The delay between Barrett having to gun down his best friend in order to protect his daughter and Cloud becoming a jockey in a race between giant pastel-colored birds is approximately thirty seconds.

The tone of FF7 shifts so often and so wildly that if you think too hard about it your brain will get whiplash. Do I even need to get into Wall Market and Don Corneo's Mansion? Do I ever want to see a realistically-proportioned Don Corneo thrusting his hips at me? (Actually, I looked for one from the Rejuvenation Project to inflict upon you, my audience, and couldn't find one. Maybe they don't want to see it any more than we do.)

And I can't stress this enough: one of your party members is a talking stuffed cat.

Final Fantasy games, at least since the 16-bit era, are a delicate balancing act of the serious and the silly, and 7 is probably the one that shows that contrast most clearly. And key to its balancing act is its use of exaggerated, iconic character models.

In the essential Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud explores the power of simple, iconic images:

Image: Understanding Comics
Image: Understanding Comics

It doesn't just apply to comics, of course; it works for any form of cartooning. Similarly, a few years back some dumbass critic wrote a review of Monster House where he loudly proclaimed that it was the most important animated film of all time, and summarily dismissed the entire history of animation on the grounds that, prior to performance capture, cartoons couldn't truly convey emotion. I'm convinced he was just trolling, but Amid Amidi at Cartoon Brew tore him a new one across multiple blog posts, including one with this side-by-side comparison:

Image: Monster House vs. Bugs Bunny

One's got a dead-eyed Uncanny Valley face, and the other one is Bugs goddamn Bunny. Bugs is an enduring icon who is recognized the world over and has remained popular for over 70 years, whereas Monster House...well, did you even remember what Monster House was when I mentioned it?

The point is, in cartooning, you take essential elements and exaggerate them. FF7's chibis do that: little bodies, big heads, and exaggerated movements in a story that is itself bigger-than-life. The Phoenix Rejuvenation Project injects more realistically-proportioned figures into those same exaggerated movements and bigger-than-life story, and the result is a pretty clear clash:

Image: Comparison of Barrett waving his arms, original vs. Rejuvenation
Image: Comparison of Barrett shaking his fist, original vs. Rejuvenation

FF7's field models lack even the basic facial emotions of FF6; each character has only one unchanging facial expression, and emotions are conveyed through exaggerated movement. In the Phoenix Rejuvenation Project, that doesn't change -- and it's a lot easier to accept a static facial expression when it's just a couple of lines and dots than when it's more fully formed, easier to accept ridiculous arm-waving from a squat little Playmobil man than one who's more reasonably proportioned.

And even if they could somehow take all that out, give the characters emote animations that fit their new models, you'd still have the Honeybee Inn, Sephiroth tossing people around like ragdolls in Nibelheim, Yuffie leaping across the screen, and, oh yeah, a talking stuffed cat. There are large swaths of the game that simply cannot be made to fit this art style.

I'm not opposed to overhauling FF7's field graphics by any means -- but Team Avalanche has the right idea: keep them chibi, just make them smoother and more detailed chibis.

Of course, even that approach is fraught with peril; FF9 tried it and we got a leading lady who doesn't look like a detailed chibi so much as, well, a dwarf.

Image: Final Fantasy 9's Princess Garnet


Next time: An attempt at a thorough critical analysis of Final Fantasy 7, what it did right and what it did wrong. Combat! Love triangles! Japanese nuclear anxiety! Recurring themes, both literary and musical! Keep goin'? Off course!

And in the meantime, don't forget to join the discussion currently raging at Brontoforumus!

Final Fantasy 7 PC Mods

I'm not altogether sure when I first stumbled across the Final Fantasy 7 modding community. It's not surprising that it exists -- it is, after all, a popular game with a huge fan following -- but it is perhaps surprising that there are some really high-quality improvements to the game out there. High enough that I got the itch to replay the game for the first time in about a decade.

I'll talk about the experience of replaying it at 28 later. (tl;dr: it's not as good as 15-year-old Thad thought, but it's better than 18-year-old Thad thought.) For now, I'll stick with the technical.

Now, there are advantages to simply emulating the PlayStation version -- the ability to save anywhere is a biggie, and emulator-level texture smoothing is nice too. But I decided to go with the PC version because, again, it's the mods that drew me in. The major hub of mod development is the qhimm forums. And here are a few I've been using, ranked in order of importance.

The Essential

First, you'll need to get the game. Try eBay.

Then, you'll need to patch it to version 1.02.

And there's one mod that is absolutely necessary to get Final Fantasy 7 PC to run at all on a post-Win98 computer: Aali's Custom Graphics Driver. At the time of this writing it's at version 0.7.10b, but it's under active development. Make sure you jump to the end of the thread and grab the latest version; the link in the first post is version 0.1a from March 2009.

Setting it up is a simple process and described in the post that links it. You need to run both ff7config.exe and ff7.exe with full Administrator privileges, and I found that the graphics looked washed-out until I set compress_textures = no in the ff7_opengl.cfg file. It's probably a good idea to go through the troubleshooting thread if you have any other issues with it.

The Pretty Great

FMV Updates -- the PC versions of the FMV cutscenes look, inexplicably, even worse than the PlayStation versions. Modder DLPB has taken the PS1 versions and given them frame-by-frame upscaling and cleanup. The end result is, as he put it, a polished turd -- it's still kind of a mess but it's a damn sight better than what you get out of the box. Keep in mind that, after installing, you'll need to edit the videopath setting in your Windows registry.

Avalanche's Graphical Overhaul: Gorgeous but not quite finished.Team Avalanche's Graphical Overhaul (the thread links the GUI Update as well, but I'll get to that a little lower down). Many of the models in FF7 -- such as the characters, monsters, and treasure chests -- are untextured polygons. That means they upscale without loss of quality, and actually hold up pretty well even though they're not as smooth as what we're used to in this day and age. The polygons with 2D textures on top of them, on the other hand -- like, say, the world map -- look quite a lot the worse for wear upscaled to a modern resolution. The Avalanche World Map Patch adds hi-res textures, in both 720p-and-down and 1080p-and-up flavors, and it looks goddamn gorgeous. It's currently an 0.9, which means it's not quite there yet -- now and again you'll see a low-res stripe on a hi-res mountain, as in the image to your right -- but it's close, and it's well worth installing in its mostly-complete state. (YMMV on which components you want to install -- I don't use the alternate avatars or the replacement Barrett model.)

FF7Music: Okay, so the FF7 soundtrack sounds not-very-good coming out of Windows's default MIDI sequencer. It's bundled with its own Yamaha sequencer, but it's incompatible with modern versions of Windows. It's possible -- and perhaps more elegant -- to tweak your soundfont with Timidity, but FF7Music gives you the flexibility to set whatever tracks you want. The installer I linked includes the PS1 version of the music, and also a resequenced version by a guy going by the handle finalfantim -- it's not a remix as it's the exact same MIDI tracks, but he's resequenced them using high-quality instruments and, while it's a matter of taste, I find that they sound better in nearly all cases. (Except the guitar on his version of the Cosmo Canyon theme; I don't care for that and use the PS1 version.) Of course, there's also the option of customizing it with music of your choice -- I've always hated the FF7 version of the Victory Fanfare, so I've swapped it out for a nice Minibosses version instead. And if you want to edit music files so they loop properly, there's a tutorial for that, too.

(The biggest drawback for me? While the thread says FF7Music works in Wine, I've found it doesn't work very well on my system -- it'll play a track or two, the opening, maybe the overworld theme when I load my game, but it stops after a few track changes. So if I want to enjoy the benefits of FF7Music, I have to reboot to Windows proper. YMMV, though; if you want to try using it under Wine, maybe you'll have better luck than I did.)

(I should add, though, that in my experience every single other mod I list here works great under Wine.)

Haven't Decided What I Think of These Yet

Team Avalanche's GUI Overhaul -- I linked this same thread up above to praise the Graphical Overhaul, but the GUI update is a separate mod. And as the header implies, I'm not sure if I like it or not. It's added a font that looks more like the one in the PS1 version of the game, but I'm not sure it looks as good as the default Windows font; there are some spacing issues I don't care for. And it actually supercedes some of the additions in the Graphical Overhaul -- for example, the GO includes a rather nice set of color item icons by a guy named romeo14, but the custom GUI will ignore them in favor of its own grayscale versions. And while it works fine on one of the two computers I installed it on, it somehow managed to hose my installation on the other, leaving it so that the game crashes as soon as I load a menu -- and it must have overwritten a setting somewhere, because it happens even if I disable the mod.

Project Blackfan -- Okay, so we've covered overworld graphics. This is a huge attempt to replace all the field graphics. Modder yarLson is extracting every single background image and running it through a Photoshop filter. The result -- well, the biggest problem is that they're all PNGs because that's the only format Aali's driver supports; highest-quality JPEGs would have looked just as good and taken up a fraction of the space. As for how they look, that's a matter of personal perspective; all graphics filters inevitably come down to whether you prefer your upscaled lo-res images to be pixellated or blurry. These are blurry. For my money, they work absolutely wonderfully on natural environments that look like photographs (like the rocky areas in the North Crater) but aren't as good on the technological sets (like the Highwind). It's worth checking out to see what you think; since the files sit in the mods\[modpath]\field directory, they're trivial to remove if you don't like them.

Millenia's custom weapons for Cloud -- from what I've seen these look great; however, the new swords appear to have finally shattered my Cloud's fragile psyche and convinced him to join Cobra.

Image: Cloud's messed-up jaw

Keep an Eye on These

Retranslation -- this could go either way. It's sure to be more competent than the game's official translation, but it's too early to tell whether it will be any fun. Fan translations of Final Fantasy 4 and 5 back in the 1990's were fun and vastly superior to Square's initial attempts at English scripts for those games, but the fan translation of 6 met a more lukewarm reception; I'm part of the group that thinks it sucks all the charm out of Woolsey's (admittedly compromised) version. Now, this 7 fan translation could end up like 4 and 5, or it could end up like 6 -- and given that the focus seems to be on debating whether the Turks should be named Reno and Elena or Leno and Yrena, I'm sadly inclined to fear the latter. But hey, at least they know how to spell mithril.

Menu overhaul -- this is actually included in the Retranslation mod, so don't install both. (Actually, at the time of this writing neither one of them has a demo available to install at all, but...you know, keep it in mind once they're updated.) At any rate, it changes the menu font and alignment, apparently to something more closely resembling Final Fantasy 9's version. It was initially designed to accommodate the longer names of items, spells, and summons in the retranslation, but I foresee it improving aesthetics and possibly even gameplay for the existing version of the game as well.

FL's Battle Scene/World Map Enhancement -- I've covered projects to improve the world map and the field maps; this one is for the battle scenes. (And also the 2D bits of the world map, like the skyline with Meteor, though I couldn't get that bit to work -- maybe it's incompatible with Team Avalanche's world map version?) It's still early days, but it's looking good.

Project Bombing Mission -- Team Avalanche's project to replace all graphics -- battle and field, background and character -- in the opening section of the game.

Q-Gears -- an attempt to rewrite the FF7 engine from scratch. It's the equivalent of Exult, the open-source engine for Ultima 7; it would use the FF7 resource files but would provide its own executable. If this project is finished, it has potentially huge ramifications; it would mean multiplatform support for FF7 and, potentially, other PS1-era Square games like 8, 9, and Xenogears. It could make all of them easier to mod, as well as open up opportunities for people to develop their own games based on the engine.

Haven't Tried

Kranmer's Trainer -- I griped earlier about FF7 PC's lack of save-anywhere functionality. Well, nobody's grafted save states onto the thing, but this trainer purports to do the next best thing: enables the "Save" and "PHS" options any time you open the menu. I say "purports" because AVG flags the binary as a Trojan and refuses to run it, so I haven't actually tried it; I believe it's a false positive but fair warning, use it at your own risk.

AnyCD -- purportedly this removes the need to change discs/mounted disc images. It's not a nodisc crack, as you'll still need at least one game disc (or image) to play, but if it works that's two disc images you don't need to store on your hard drive. Three if you include the installation CD.

Zerox's Tifa model -- I haven't tried any replacement character models because it would be distracting to have a detailed character standing in-between two PS1-vintage ones; maybe I'll replay the game when there are high-detail models for every character. But this one looks good from the screenshots!

Not Actually a Mod

Can't really think of a better place to put this. While FF7 PC has joystick support, I couldn't get it to recognize my Rumblepad 2. I rigged up keyboard emulation using Logitech's Gaming Software. I mapped the buttons to the appropriate keys to match the PS1 button config, and additionally set up the left stick for movement and the right stick for camera rotation. (I also set it up so pushing in the left stick works as a second Run button, but it doesn't work very well.) You can import my settings or, if you don't have a Logitech controller or just don't like my settings for some reason, try rolling your own using finalfantasy7pc.com's game controls page as reference. (If you are using Logitech's Gaming Software, remember to check the inexplicably-named "FPS Style Movement" box or diagonals won't work on the D-pad. Because FPS, apparently, is the only genre where you hit two directional buttons to make a diagonal.)

Not My Cuppa

APZ Cloud -- this one's been pulled from the qhimm forums since the designer swiped the textures from somewhere else; he's working on a new version now. The existing APZ Cloud is a popular mod but I don't really like the look of it -- but YMMV. I preferred his Kingdom Hearts model, but he never released it for download; the qhimm forums have a strict policy against ripping models from other games.

Phoenix Rejuvenation Project -- an incredibly ambitious project to replace every single "chibi" field character with a more detailed, more realistically-proportioned version. I have a great deal of respect for the talent and work that's gone into the project, but I think it's a bad idea from the get-go; I'm all for more detailed models but the field models should stay chibi. In fact, I intend to devote my entire next post to the subject. Be here.


If you would rather be somewhere else, do feel free to discuss this post and general FF7age over at Brontoforumus.

Also, I finally fixed the horribly outdated worstforumsever.com link at the top of the sidebar. Just in time for my background check!

Pointless Nostalgia on an Aribtrary Date

Yeah, okay, so it's been awhile. It's been a busy year. Looks like I missed this site's tenth anniversary by a few weeks, but it was December 9, apparently.

2009. 2009, 2009, 2009. You know, the last two years were straight-up law-of-averages affairs, though in different ways. '08 was pretty mediocre all around; no real highs and no real lows. '09...well, if '08 was a flatline, '09 was a sine wave. It was like the "That's good! That's bad." bit on Simpsons. Alternating highs and lows. The best part of '09 was meeting a very nice girl and finding myself, for the first time in my adult life, in an actual relationship. The worst was losing my uncle. And there were peaks and troughs aplenty in-between.

In other nostalgia-y not-quite-news, I've gone and started another damn KateStory -- I didn't miss that anniversary. The sucker's 15 years old now. I can't believe it's already been 5 years since the 10th anniversary.

I reread all 17 previous installments in preparation. In reverse order. And you know, I learned some things.

  • Brent was right about pretty much everything. Books I-III should probably all be considered one book, VI shouldn't be in there at all, comedy is more important than strict adherence to whether or not I have replaced my watch battery, and Final Fantasy VII is not nearly as good as I thought it was when I was 15. (Chrono Trigger, on the other hand...)
  • Speaking of which, IX isn't nearly as horrifying on a reread as it was a year ago when I had to go through and excise all (well, most of) the adolescent bickering. It's actually better than X. X just fucking drags.
  • Going through the old books looking for "best lines" to reuse in the first chapter of XVIII, most of them were written by Brent. I had a pretty good number of runners-up, but there really weren't any with my name on them where I went, "Yes. That is the best line in this book." Though I threw a couple of mine in anyway for the sake of balance. (Of course, I also focused on lines that would work with the phrase "It was [year], and" prepended to them.)
  • I kinda miss the old days when chapters would cut off in mid-sentence. I should try doing more of those.
  • I've named every single book except KateStory Gaiden, which was McDohl's title. Some of them are well-named (I know Brent's a fan of "Midnight Falls. And can't get up.") and some aren't (I think the reason Book III is "Searching for a Plot" instead of "The Search for Plot" is that the latter was the title of Mad's Star Trek III parody).

I'm seeing end-of-the-decade lists pop up everywhere, but have no great urge to put up any of my own. I can't fucking believe I've got my 10-year high school reunion coming up. Feels like I don't have much to show for it, but on the other hand, I've got a pretty good life, all things considered.

Which isn't to say it can't get better. Here's hoping 2010 continues the past year's trend of wonderful things while ending its trend of terrible ones.

Happy New Year.


Reading: Jeez, haven't read a prose book in months; spending entirely too much money on comics. I just finished Fables vol 7 and Usagi Yojimbo vol 1.
Playing: New Super Mario Bros. and Dragon Age: Origins.