Tag: Nostalgia

Duchess the Orangutan, RIP

The other day I posted that Duchess, the Phoenix Zoo's orangutan matriarch, had been diagnosed with lymphatic cancer.

I've just read that they euthanized her this morning. It's a relief to hear that she didn't suffer.

[Phoenix Zoo spokeswoman Linda] Hardwich said the decision to euthanize the orangutan matriarch was to give her some peace and preserve her dignity in her final days.

Duchess has been at the zoo since 1962. She was the oldest living Bornean orangutan in North America.

Duchess was born in the Borneo jungle where she was orphaned at about the age of two. She had seven offspring, six grandchildren and a great-grandchild who live at various zoos around the country. A daughter, Bess, and granddaughter, Kasih, lived with her.

Duchess' 50th birthday in 2010 was marked by presents, an ice "cake" to lick, a card signed by zoo guests and a chorus of "Happy Birthday" sung by zoo visitors.

I haven't been out to the zoo in a year or two, and the last time I was there the orangutan habitat was closed down for renovations. So I haven't seen Duchess in years. But she's been there since before my mother was born and I'll miss her.

Inca Roads

Another damn headache today. I haven't gotten them this frequently since high school; going to need to see a doctor about it.

So, just a Zappa post today. I guess technically that makes two in a row (though again, that RU Sirius one barely had anything to do with Zappa), but what're you gonna do?

This is Inca Roads by Zappa Plays Zappa, in two parts. Looks to be the same tour as the Camarillo Brillo video I posted the other week but probably not the same show, as Napoleon Murphy Brock is wearing a different red shirt.


I love his work on the flute. The flute was my first instrument largely because it can sound like that, but high school band arrangements give you little opportunity but to play high-pitched trilly things and get called a fag by the other kids. Eventually I switched to sax -- more over the former than the latter; if I were worried about people indulging in conjecture about my sexuality I wouldn't have photos on the Internet of me performing in Rocky Horror -- but haven't played it since graduating.

Duchess

It may seem odd, to somebody from out of town, for me to say that the news that Duchess the orangutan has cancer hit me like a punch in the gut.

It may seem odder still that that was the top story this morning on azcentral.com.

But for those of us who grew up here, Duchess is like a neighbor and an old friend. She's been at the Phoenix Zoo since 1962 -- and for a bit of comparison, my mom was born in 1963.

We lost Hazel the gorilla some years back (cancer as well), and Ruby the painting elephant not long after (complications giving birth). I suppose that, by contrast, Duchess has lived a long life. But still, it sucks.

Monkeys Aren't Donkeys

Something that always bothered me:

Okay. So Cranky Kong is supposed to be the original Donkey Kong, right? Except now he's old and cantankerous and has a long white beard.

Except here's the problem: Donkey Kong was released in 1981. Donkey Kong Country was released in 1994.

Now, I'm no expert on anthropomorphic video game gorilla physiology. But it seems to me that thirteen years is a bit of a short time to shrivel up and grow a long white beard. (And that's without even considering DK's appearance in the 1994 Donkey Kong remake just months earlier, looking perfectly healthy.)

I guess that, of all the places to draw a line in the sand for suspension of disbelief in a game about anthropomorphic, barrel-hucking gorillas, "How did that one get so old so fast?" seems rather an arbitrary place for it. But dammit, it bugged me.

And it gets worse: Donkey Kong Country Returns, released in 2010, a full 16 years after the original DKC (and 14 after DKC3) -- nobody has visibly aged. Donkey Kong, Cranky Kong, and all the rest look exactly the same as they did in 1994. 1981-1994: dramatic visible aging. 1994-2010: no aging whatsoever.

Unless -- and here's my theory -- the original Donkey Kong died of old age, the Cranky Kong in DKCR is actually the 16-bit Donkey Kong now old and decrepit, and the Donkey Kong you're playing as is actually...a now-fully-grown Kiddy Kong.

Course, then you still have to explain Diddy, Funky, and the rest of the Kong family.

Anyway. Here's the trailer for Wreck-It Ralph. Which, while not technically a movie about Donkey Kong, appears to be a much-better-thought-out story of Donkey Kong's journey from villain to hero than the Donkey Kong Country series.

HUT! HUT!

Tonight we are taking a break from Frank Zappa to honor what would have been Waylon Jennings's 75th birthday.

Waylon had a long, storied, and illustrious career, but I'll always remember him from the very first thing I saw him in, when I was just about three years old:

For any locals reading this, there's a tribute show this Sunday at the Yucca Tap Room; local great Hans Olson will be playing, among others. I'll try and be there, but, you know, I might not, so hey Internet please don't take this as an opportunity to rob my house while I'm gone.

Migraine

Stayed home from work today with a migraine. One of the worst of my damn life -- no nausea with this one, fortunately, at least, not at first, but just this awful skull-crushing agony as if a thousand Thetans were pounding at the inside of my skull trying to ec-scape.

Woke me up at about 3:15 AM, too, which to the best of my recollection is a first. I've often woken up in the morning with a migraine, but seldom in the middle of the night. I was covered in sweat, too; don't know if that's some new and exciting feature of the migraine, or if I was running a fever, or just because I live in Tempe, Arizona and it is June and our lows are around 80 degrees this time of year.

Got up at 6, called in, popped a prescription migraine pill (with codeine!), and went back to bed for a fitful in-and-out-of-consciousness "sleep" until about 11 AM.

(Tangentially: I had a job, a couple of years ago, where some middle-management fuckwit had the bright idea of combining the sick line with the help desk. One day I called in and, hours later, got a call from work asking where the hell I was -- I explained that I'd called in, but apparently the help desk hadn't gotten around to my ticket yet. I came in the next day to discover that my ticket had finally been submitted at 4:45 PM, which, as you might suppose, is not the optimal time to let an office know that a worker will not be coming in today. Like, I think by 4:45, they've probably worked that out.

Best of all, I was then randomly selected to fill out a survey about how satisfied I was with my interaction with the help desk.

I made a point of not raking the tech over the coals -- I noted that help desk techs have a lot on their plate and often poor mechanisms for prioritizing their tickets; if you've ever worked help desk I don't need to tell you that nobody ever submits a ticket as low- or medium-priority -- and said that trying to combine the sick line with the help desk line was a fundamentally bad idea.)

Anyway. Ate some instant ramen, washed another codeine down with a few cups of coffee, and that managed to knock the headache down from "I can barely move" to "dull, ever-present throbbing". And I don't know if it was the codeine, the caffeine, or the pain, but by this point my coordination was completely shot.

Then I fired up the ol' Nintendo.

There's something I learned, around the age of 12 or 13: playing video games helps with the pain.

My mom and my grandparents didn't really buy that, and I suppose under the circumstances I can't blame them -- I was, after all, saying I had a migraine, and then staying home from school and playing video games all day.

But now there's research backing what I understood intuitively as a child: video games have an anesthetic effect. In recent years there have been studies in distraction therapy suggesting that video games have a real and measurable impact on pain management. (For one example: Applications of virtual reality for pain management in burn-injured patients, via the NIH, 2009. There have been other studies besides.)

I find that quieter games tend to be a bit better. And games that don't have a lot of text, because reading makes my head hurt.

I also tend to gravitate toward the familiar, stuff from when I was a kid -- Super Mario World and the like -- and I suspect there's a "comfort food" aspect to this. Though, on the other hand, SMW requires twitch reflexes, and when my reflexes are scrambled by codeine and caffeine it can be a much more frustrating game -- which doesn't help with pain.

Knowing that, today I started with Xenoblade. It's not too heavy on the text, I'm over-leveled enough that it's pretty low-key and not difficult or frustrating, and it doesn't require much in the way of hand-eye coordination or precise movements. (Well, most of it doesn't. Fuck you, Valak Mountain.)

But what it does have is big, vertigo-inducing vistas. Fuck. I was about three minutes in before I started getting nauseous and had to turn it off. Don't know if that's the migraine or the codeine, but I popped a motion sickness pill and decided to try Super Mario World after all.

I picked up my save from the last time I had a migraine and worked my way through Twin Bridges. So I guess my reflexes weren't completely shot.

Then I had a hot bath.

Now here's a question: what the fuck is up with bathtubs?

The standard American bathtub is a rectangle, and it's, what, four and a half, five feet long? And its deepest point is where your fucking feet go.

Who came up with that shit?

I'm actually kinda curious: were bathtubs designed this way because of the belief that baths are for children and teeny-tiny elfin women, or is it that only children and teeny-tiny elfin women take baths because no average-sized human adult can fucking fit in one comfortably?

Decided not to shave afterward. Still jittery. Just because I have the wherewithal to abandon Yoshi to a tragic fate on my way to Soda Lake doesn't mean I trust myself to run sharp objects across my face.

Anyhow. Guess my point is, "staying home playing video games" isn't always as much fun as it sounds. Sometimes it doesn't mean you're slacking. Sometimes it means you're doing everything you can to deal with excruciating pain.

All things considered I'd much rather have gone to work. Because aside from the "excruciating pain" thing, I don't get sick pay, and I'll spend tomorrow playing catchup.

So it goes, I guess.

Even Superer

You know what would be great?

A version of Super Mario World that added all the cool shit from the Advance version (different physics for Luigi, randomly-colored Yoshis throughout the game) without any of the bullshit (voices, completely game-breaking extra point of damage).

Wonder if there's a hack out there.

Selling Out

It's interesting -- those last two posts have actually gotten a couple of people to tell me I should post more. A friend I hadn't talked to in a few months, somebody from the messageboard, and, to my pleasant surprise, a stranger. (Or possibly someone pulling a surprisingly elaborate hoax, which I suppose is still flattering in its own way.)

Partly because of the feedback, I'm going to try and write more here.

I've fucked around on the backend a bit; you've probably noticed posts have tags at the bottom now. I've gone through all the way back to when I first started using blogging software in '06, and tagged all of them. I'm half-tempted to go through the older ones, from when I entered everything by hand, perhaps for no other reason but to tally up how many posts each I've devoted to Mike Allred and Kurt Busiek, but that sounds suspiciously like a lot of work for very little payoff. The reason I switched to blogging software in the first place was because I found myself spending a really inordinate amount of time cutting-and-pasting from one page to another.

Speaking of which, I've also updated the KateStory page, fixed broken links, summarized Book XVIII, and added some new character entries, which is exactly the kind of irritating bookkeeping that drives me to go play Nintendo instead of updating the site. Wonder if it'd be worth it to set up a DB so I don't have to manage every character's list of appearances manually. Then again, we haven't done one of these in nearly two years.

And speaking of old crap that seemed like a good idea at the time, I've renamed the "My Personal Life" category, because that was always a pretty stupid name for "What book I am reading/What game I am playing" but which I kept for a dozen years due to a combination of inertia and mild amusement that I could refer to my categories with the shorthand "Life/Stream".

I've changed it to the more boring but more accurate "Status Updates". That still doesn't seem like a very good name, so if anybody's got a better idea I'm open to suggestions.


I ever tell you why this site is called corporate-sellout.com?

I was chatting with an old friend of mine. Girl I went to high school with; we were in drama together, and I went to my junior prom with her.

By this point we were in college. I was a freshman or a sophomore, thereabouts, and she would have been a year ahead of me.

We were still in touch but pretty testy with each other -- you know that age, where you're out on your own but still kinda stressed-out and pissed-off about everything.

Plus, I was still getting over a bad breakup. With her roommate.

Anyhow, we were talking about our majors. She'd picked creative writing and I pooh-poohed it a bit.

Not because I don't believe in writing, of course. She and I are both storytellers, at heart.

But for other reasons. I thought of college as a means to an end, a financial investment for a financial reward. And, well, I was lucky enough that I really enjoyed something that also was, unlike a creative writing, a lucrative degree. (That'd be CompSci, for those who haven't been keeping score.)

She responded, rather angrily, with "Well, it sounds like I'm studying to be an artist, and you're studying to be a corporate sellout."

It wasn't the worst thing she called me in that conversation (it was followed shortly by "asshole"), but it stuck with me.

Mostly because I make a terrible corporate sellout.

Up to that point in my life, I'd never even worked in private industry; all my work had either been for my family or for the government.

I've worked a few corporate jobs in the years since, but I'm still a bottom-rung IT temp. If I were going to sell out, it would have been for a lot more money than what I'm making.

Funny thing is, last I heard she was doing much the same work I am -- she's probably a bit higher up in the chain, actually, because a few years back she took an entry-level phone support job that I refused.

I can't say I regret refusing that job, because seriously, entry-level phone support sucks and I thank the all-powerful Atheismo every day that I no longer work in a phone bank, but I will say that the job I took instead because I thought it'd pay better and give me more room for advancement was...a miscalculation.

So it goes, I suppose. But I'm still a storyteller at heart.

I enjoy the hell out of writing. And I never really stopped doing it -- I just cut way back on doing it here.

I'm pretty damn prolific over on the forums, and I spend more time arguing with idiots in the ComicsAlliance comments section than I'd care to admit. I think I'm much better off trying to redirect at least some of that effort back this way.

I've probably got a pretty good backlog of standalone posts over at Brontoforumus (and maybe even Pyoko, if I feel like slogging through Wayback pages) that I could just copy-paste up here. I expect I'll do a bit of that, in addition to original posts.

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!