Accountability Update – Stupid, stupid May

So, how’s that accountability thing going? Let’s find out:

DIET

I think I’m like most people. When I make goals for myself, I set out earnestly to hit those goals. But once it becomes clear I am not going to hit them, not only do I stop trying, I basically take it in the opposite direction to see how spectacularly I can fail. I had 8 sodas, not 6. And while that may not seem like much, each sized soda was considerably larger than I normally get, so those 8 were more like 10 or 12. I also had two crappy Jack-in-the-Box lunches this month. Again, it’s only one more than my goal, but it’s also double my goal. I missed veggies again one day. I failed pretty hard in May. Especially when you compound my eating habits with:

WORKING OUT

…which I essentially did not do. I worked out a grand total of one time, and considering my goal was 8-10, I came up juuuuuuuuuust a bit short. I want to be able to place the blame elsewhere, but simply I got obsessed with War and Order, a handheld strategy game. Why work out when I can loot castles and kill soldiers, am I right? I hold out hope that June will be different, but it’s a flimsy sort of hope.

DISC GOLF

Here’s where things get funky. I started out my disc golf month at a one-day tournament at a new course (I’d only played once the week before at doubles). And I did what I’ve done all year, sucked. This tournament featured a) my third (3RD) sub-900 rated round this year and b) my SECOND DFL (dead f’n last) finish this year.

Apparently, the bursitis in my throwing shoulder is causing me more problems than I thought, especially when putting. So I did what any rational person would do, decided to play out the tournaments I’ve already signed up for then hang up the discs for the rest of the year to recover. I emailed my ex to change my schedule with the boys because of it. Then what happened?

Oh yeah, I started kicking ass. I won Duel at Dayton by four strokes, playing good golf the entire weekend. As a comparison, in the 9 tournament rounds before Dayton, I reached my player rating only once. Dayton featured 3 rounds in a row above my rating, something I tend not to do very much. Also, SPOILER ALERT, June started off pretty well too.

THE REST OF MY LIFE

The boys are done with school, in more ways than one. We’re moving them from their current school back to the public school they are zoned for. There are many reasons for this move, but it’s definitely the right one. It’ll be a sharp change (and for L, his third school in four years). They have mixed feelings about it, but have spent the last few days getting phone numbers for the parents of many of their friends. So there will be play dates a’plenty.

My girlfriend has had some medical issues resulting in surprise surgery (which is, as you know, the worst kind), so it’s been a pretty rough, tiring month. She’s on the mend, at least until the next, bigger surgery (less surprise, but no less sucky). We will get a nice excursion next weekend when we attend the wedding of some longtime friends of hers.

May was a weird month financially, too. Twice each year I get three paychecks (I get paid bi-weekly, not semi-monthly), and May was one of those months. Plus I got my small tax rebate. Plus my second-biggest disc golf payday ever. So I’ve been able to pocket a little money to spend on a trip later this year with the boys.

Oh, and I we interviewed for and selected my third employee! She starts on July 1 and I’m SUPER excited a) because we desperately need a third person and b) because she’s awesome.

Onto June…

Final Fantasy XIII-2

When I have reviewed these Final Fantasy games in the past, I tended to follow a strict formula. Start a game. Play it on and off for a bit. Get obsessed. Play something like 80 hours in a 1 week period. Beat the game. Beat all the sidequests I plan on beating. Write the review. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is different. I have beaten the game, not obsessively, but I’ve beaten it. Still not too far off from my given formula until you realize I first beat it years ago. And, contrary to the rest of my history, I’ve actually beaten the game twice. And suddenly we’re realizing why it is that I’m only now reviewing the game. I really wanted to like the game a whole bunch… but I just couldn’t.

FFXIII-2 is, at its heart, unmemorable. And I don’t know if there’s a better way to illustrate it than what actually happened. I started playing the game years ago, enjoying it to some degree, but feeling at some point that I was just plodding along. I kinda gave up on it. Years later (sometime in 2015) I decided to try it again, still mostly enjoying it, but WANTING to enjoy it more than I was. And when I got to the end guy, I made a painful realization; I HAD actually beaten the game years before, I’d just forgotten that I had.

And that’s the problem with FFXIII-2. There’s some nuggets of greatness mixed in with mediocrity. Nothing really stands out as bad (we’ll see in a moment if my memory disproves this statement), but nothing really stands out as exemplary either.

THE GOOD

  • The encounter system. I’ve had an issue with recent FF games where they tried to make the battle system “fresh” (by gutting it and leaving a rotting husk in its wake). I had significant issues with FFXII and the “you see your enemies before you” trope of fighting: it seemed WAY too similar to Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (which most fans will declare to be the douchebag suckass of the family). And while I enjoy the totally blind YOU GOT ATTACKED of most FF games, I think they achieved a great balance in this game. The enemies appear “blind”, but give you a chance to escape if you want to (if you can).
  • The sequel curse (and how to avoid). I had a number of issues with FFX-2, but one of the biggest I had was that FFX-2 basically had the exact same world as FFX, which (if you finish) you probably spent 60+ hours beating. You knew the damn world. You didn’t want to see it again. So how did this sequel avoid simply putting you in the same retreaded (?) world? It combined elements of FF with Chrono Trigger (a game also made by Square I believe). By combining elements of the world they created with time travel, they were able to utilize the same (basic) world structure and alter it by subtle changes in time distortions. In that respect, it kept the settings fresh and really made you feel like you were exploring new territories, even if you’d been there before.
  • The coliseum. This is more of an “in theory” good rating. I loved the throwback to the old days, and had I stuck around long enough, I probably would have enjoyed this iteration as well.

THE BAD

  • This game makes no sense. I thought this quite a bit about the plot of FFXIII itself, but I was able to do enough shoulder-shrugging to get by. I mean, that game doesn’t make much sense either, but I’m willing to overlook a little Final Fantasy mumbo jumbo. But FFXIII-2 doesn’t seem to make any sense. People randomly jumping through time zones WITHOUT the aid of portals (how does Noel randomly get transported to Valhalla at the start of the game? Final Fantasy magic?!?) And in putting this here, I’m generously ignoring the fact that people randomly get turned into giant red balls of energy at random. Because… facts. I found myself unable to give benefit of the doubt after a while – I just conceded that the plot made no discernible sense and moved on.
  • More than most FF games, I felt this void in my soul when I wasn’t completing things. I’m a perfectionist with these games, and that can be detrimental, but often times you can ignore it when you don’t know you’re not completing every bizarre, insignificant sidequest. However, here, there’s a grid (a map) that tells you exactly when you aren’t completing something. THERE’S A VACANCY, YOU MUST BE A FAILURE! It was annoying, and this is coming from someone who used walkthroughs with startling regularity during the process.
  • I felt no feeling of satisfaction when I completed the game. The final boss was admittedly harder than in most games (in my 2nd playthrough, I definitely needed two attempts to defeat the end boss), but it still felt rather pedestrian when I beat it. And to compound that, this game was just setting itself up for a 3rd game which, by everything I’ve read, doesn’t warrant actually playing. It may be the first “main” FF game I don’t play.

THE UGLY

  • Reiteration may be unseemly, but really the game was just… there. I wanted to fall in love with the game, as there were so many positives, but I left feeling just “eh”. There were too many times I really have no idea where I was supposed to go (when I was supposed to go?) that I couldn’t give it my wholehearted endorsement.
  • The ending. Games that knowingly set themselves up for sequels are doomed to have lousy endings (see Back to the Future II).

Some day I’ll reorder my FF rankings to drop FFXII way the hell down there, to raise up Alba in character rankings, and to give Dimensions the props it deserves. Until then, I need to sleep. This game was middle of the road at best.

Final Fantasy Dimensions

Having already beaten this game twice, I’m finally getting around to writing a review of it, keeping in line with me writing reviews of all the Final Fantasy games I’ve played. This one would even juggle around my Best-Of lists, but we aren’t quite there yet.

When I found out that Square had created an all new old-style RPG Final Fantasy game for the Droid, I was pretty stoked, especially since they didn’t require that you buy it in installments. I remember people complaining about the price – $19.99 I think? Maybe $25? And people were basically comparing it to other IOS games (which are between free and $10 or so). That, in my opinion, is the wrong comparison to make. You should compare it buying FFIV or FFVI when those came out – and those were between $40-$50. I don’t care that the graphics aren’t up to TODAY’S snuff – I’m playing it on a tiny screen. It was tremendous value for me as it was CHOC-FULL-O stuff!

In short, this is a fantastic game, and more than that it really is an amalgam of many Final Fantasy games – not simply the old ones either. There were enough callbacks to the next-gen games (there’s an aftergame, like FFIII had), a Gold Saucer-esque casino, super-bosses, sidequests… the list goes on. But still plenty of old-school references: warriors of light, crystals, hidden passages. Anyway, let’s get on with the Good, The Bad, and the Blue Mage.

THE GOOD

– I would be remiss to start off with anything but Alba, who has at last unseated Kain (from FFIV) as the best character in any FF game. I’m somewhat surprised that he was unseated, and more so that it was by a comedy relief character. But man, she had the best lines in any game. As a paraphrase: “You did do anything with me while I was asleep, did you? / No! / You’re no fun.” She had a couple of touching moments, but unlike in past FF games (particularly ones with poor translation), the comedy here wasn’t lame; I laughed out loud a couple of times. She rules. I just happened to google her and it looks like most people hated her. They wouldn’t know good comedy if it bit ’em on the gunblade.

– The job system. There are those that still say FFV has the best jobs system. To them I say, “I politely disagree!” This job system here is better in that allows sub-skills to be maintained WHILE learning new dominant ones. Really, it seems to me to be the logical progression from the FFV job system, and throws in the few good parts of the failed garment system from FFX2.

– It’s an item-hunters dream. There are so many good weapons that can be DROPPED (not necessarily stolen) in this game that I trained all of my characters as thieves first to allow them better steals and better drops. Then I went on to train them in various other things. Money (which isn’t too easy to come by in this came) flowed freely to me because I was selling pretty good armor that I’d stolen/grabbed from a drop by the droves.

– The numerous different ways to obtain rare treasures. In addition to drops, there was also the casino. And the tail collector. And the fang collector. And the chest guy in the desert. And the … you get the point. Sidequests are a-plenty, and they don’t have the “feel” of sidequests because many of these can be obtained as you play the regular course of the game. I think it’s through FF games that I’m finding out I’m a bit OCD.

– It’s just a fun game to play, period. The grinding never feels like grinding. The characters are diverse enough (and yet there aren’t too many, with the exception of the part-time players – see THE BAD). Alba isn’t the only cool character, although she is the coolest; there are several others.

– The references to past games. FF has often been self-referential, but in this game it’s on full display, even directly. Many of the old characters are back, mostly from FF IV and V – if not the actual characters, than their namesakes appear.

– It’s a VERY difficult game. I died many times, and not simply when trying to beat bosses I wasn’t ready for. I would die against regular guys if the right combination of moves came against me and I didn’t get the healers ready in time (or if my party wasn’t set up properly to begin with).

– The music is very much in the vein of old Nobuo classics – I don’t know who actually did it, but it was very good.

THE BAD

– The episodic nature of this game makes it very monotonous, plot-wise. You have two parties, each scouring a different world. Along the way, they meet some new character who has an exotic job. That guy/girl tags along for a while, helps you fight, and ultimately as they’re about to die off (or leave) they bestow upon you a new job. It makes sense if you’re playing the game one episode at a time, but playing it all together makes it extremely predictable.

– The after-game. I’ve never been a fan of this, particularly how there are things that you can’t POSSIBLY do until after you’ve beaten the game. Not because you’re not strong enough, but because you simply aren’t able to – it’s not unlocked. Here, in order to beat the super bosses (and obtain the best weapons in the game), you can’t do it until you are able to get enough Mog coins, and you can’t get that until you beat the game. I liked in the earlier games how you can actually do all sidequests before the game is complete, although it may be extremely difficult to do so. I imagine I know WHY they structure it like that – so you don’t get to the final boss at level 99 and utterly destroy it. But still, the idea of a post-game has always rubbed me the wrong way.

– The STUN move that resets your ATB gauge. I know why it’s there, and it does make the game harder, but man, it’s just annoying as shit having to reset all your commands, especially if the character you’re fighting does that move ALL. THE. TIME.

THE UGLY

– The jobless job. I feel like it’s a wasted opportunity. I would hope that if you took the time to master every single job, then by unequipping all jobs you’d be able to really utilize the 6 available skill slots to make uber-characters. That’s not the case though. Since your base HP/MP etc are so low, you’re using up two of your slots just to get those to usability, which is more easily and powerfully achieved by picking a job anyway.

– The drop structure. This one is nitpicky because there’s nothing really wrong with it to 99% of the people playing the game – basically those who weren’t trying something ridiculous like me. However, in looking to find a good walkthrough that deals specifically with enemy steals and drops, I couldn’t find one. So on my 2nd playthrough I set out to make my own. Now, most people do these by hacking into the code and just extracting the info, putting it in a readable chart, and moving on. I was planning on doing it the old-fashion (read: stupid) way – trial and error. It’s why I probably spent 130+ hours on it – trying to amass enough data. Two things seemed to happen that were different than EVERY other game. 1) Some enemies seemed to drop more than 2 items. In past, there’s always been a “common drop” and a “rare drop”. Here, in at least 3 different creatures I found a third drop. Without the code, that made it near impossible to figure out which one of these was more common than others. 2) It seemed the formation of the enemies was more responsible for when things were dropped than the creatures themselves. I found a creature that tended to drop this one thing in a certain configuration with other enemies, but NEVER alone. That made the trial-and-error thing moot. It’s too bad the game is so old now because I’d love someone to have enough interest to hack into it so I could see how good my research was.

 

Overall an excellent game (it’s in my top 5 for sure) that I’d recommend, especially if the price has come down and you aren’t going to be bitter about dropping more money than normal on a handheld game.

Final Fantasy XIII

Thank you to the inimitable Cyrus Chi, who loaned me not only the game but the entire gaming system, I was able to continue my quest of playing every Final Fantasy in the main series.  I’d heard plenty about this one, particularly the drawback of its linearity, but how would it hold up to the others?

Well, first off, I think this game is best described as the mutant lovechild of FFVII, FFX, and FFXII, in ways both good and bad.   It should also be noted right off the bat that this game is utterly and incomprehensibly beautiful.  At least if you have a large high-def television.  It felt on par with Avatar in some moments, not just a video game.  Of course, on my 32″ standard TV, I couldn’t read half the things and the colors were largely indistinguishable.  But I suppose the game-makers can be forgiven, since gamers more and more are moving with the decade, unlike poor me.

Also, interestingly enough, playing this game made me re-evaluate my feelings about other FF titles, most notable FFXII, which did not age well in my mind.  I had originally put it as my 4th favorite, but after playing FFXIII, which I considered a very good advancement, I’d have dropped FFXII down to maybe 6th or 7th in the overall scheme of things.

I enjoyed 13 greatly.  It was a large leap forward (perhaps diagonally if not straight forward) from past titles, and it incorporated many  ideas that were totally new to this game.  Each game tends to add one or two things, but this one created an entire existence from nothing, only vaguely borrowing from past titles.   It actually gets mired in its own ambition a bit.  The fact that a datalog had to be included to simply remember half the stuff in the game is a testament to that, even if they try to spin it off as a cool “extra”.

As for the things most people didn’t like: 1) the linearity – it never bothered me.  Actually, people seem to forget that FFX was extremely linear until you get control of the airship right at the end, and it didn’t seem to bother people then.  Now it’s a big deal.  Well, as they’ve done in their past, they over-compensated.  FFXII was SO open that I never knew what to do.  So they went in the opposite direction.  But the reason it didn’t bother me is, based on storyline, it makes sense for it to be linear.  In most FF games, you are the pursuer, trying to stop someone from doing something bad.  Here, you are the pursued.  When would you have time to randomly wander around and do side-quests, and why would you want to risk it in a storyline-sense?  You gotta keep running to stay alive.  2)  The character of Vanille.  I don’t quite get the hate of her – every FF game since 7 has a peppy, mousy character – it’s become a part of the franchise.  She is in that same ilk, but if anything, knowing that the cutesy, upbeat attitude is all a charade makes the character interesting, not annoying.  Hope, on the other hand, can go suck a gunblade.

Let’s get to the breakdown.

THE GOOD

– The characters.  The characters were probably among the richest in any recent game.  Lighting was probably the least interesting one of the pack, but compared to the other tortured-leads in FF history (Squall, Cloud, Tidus), she’s lightyears ahead, being both deep and relateable.  Then you get Sazh who, despite being saddled with the Chris Tucker black-comic-relief character, is one of the most complex and sympathetic characters in any title.   Maybe it’s the dad in me talking, but the holy-shit moment that happens halfway through the game (you know which one) was 10x more powerful than Mooncrabs Aeris dying in FFVII.  And this is even after I realized most of the characters are only slight tweaks of prior characters (Snow is Zell but less sucky, Lightning is Paine and Beatrix’s lovechild, Hope is Vann but sans any redeeming qualities, Vanille is every plucky girl character from FFVII on…)

– The world created was the richest, and the mythology to go along with it was so dense that it really would take a sequel to fully explore it (and they are planning a sequel.)

– It is stunningly beautiful to look at.  Just running around is nearly as amazing as the cutscenes.

– The difficulty – it was easily the hardest FF title I’ve played.  Not counting my adamantoise-hunting, which invariably will end with me dying half the time, I died quite often.  Of course, that also leads to one of my least favorite aspects of the game (see first “bad” example below.)

– The story.  The characters are justified, if melodramatic, in their quests.  And for a story that doesn’t really get muddled until the last chapter, it certainly follows a long tradition of complex and winding stories.

– The star-rating.  Finally, a reason to care about the drudgery of leveling up.

– Seeing Titan wandering around in the background made me genuinely frightened.  He’s a scary mother.

THE BAD

– If you die, you can just re-start?  Really?  So I don’t really have to care if I just got a rare item, I can just keep plodding along with no consequences?  That cheapened the difficult greatly.  Along those lines, auto-curing after battle?  Sure, it makes sense as cures come free (and it would just be a time-drain), but it took away much of the strategy of fighting.

– You can only control one person.  And if that person dies, you die?  Two lame things, there.

– The battle system in general.  One review I read post facto called it one of the most complex systems in the history of the game.  That’s a laughable assertion.  I’d certainly called it “nuanced”, but complex?  The problem is: once I discovered a 6-paradigm system that seemed to cover anything I’d want to do, I not only stopped juggling my paradigms, but I stopped switching characters altogether and stuck with the three girls.

– I understand why they made it possible to play AFTER you win the game, that’s a cool idea.  But to not be able to even reach your maximum levels until after you beat the game?  What the hell is that?  That’s putting the sidequests ABOVE the game, not in addition to it.  Also, I hate to break it to the company (SPOILER ALERT) but if two of your characters get turned to crystal in the ending video, you can’t then have them continue to fight adamantoises to earn money.  It doesn’t work like that.

– Eidolons were pretty useless.

THE UGLY

– The T&A in this game was as gratuitous as in FFX2.  Come on, Japanese people, not every gamer is a horny teenage boy, just most of them.

– The music.  In fairness, I often played at night and had it quite low, but the god-awful music in the beginning of Orphan’s Cradle is enough to send me into fits.  Other than that, it seemed more like generic back-ground movie score music than video game music.  Maybe that’s the point, but it seems to have lost character since Uematsu left.

– The battle cinematography has gotten to the point where it is largely unfollowable.  I don’t need the static 2D days of yore, but is there an option to have a camera not dart around like a wrestling-cameraman who is shooting a backstage brawl?

– Gil is IMPOSSIBLE to come by in this game.  I’m not sure if I feel it’s a positive or a negative, so it just goes into ugly.

WRAP-UP

This game took me 92 hours and 5 minutes to beat straight up, bringing my 14-game total to 834 hours.  I’m still playing the game, gaining gil and building up my weapons to take on extra missions – at least until Cyrus gets bored and takes the game back or Peanut is born.  So where does this one fit into my all time standings?

Well, a few side-charts get updated.  My least favorite characters list now contains Hope, listed probably around #4.  In fact, I’d probably switch around #s 3,4,5.  The new list would read, from 10-1: Gau, Cait Sith, Tidus, Paine, Edward, Hope, Quina, Relm and Squall still sucking most.  Also, my favorite characters list would also have at least one inclusion.  It would probably read: Vivi, Rydia, General Leo, Garnet, Balthier, Zidane, Sazh, Auron, Umaru and Kain, with both Snow and Fang getting notable mentions.

In terms of overall game, I think my favorite games list would also change, fairly noticeably.  I think they’d now read, from worst to best:

3, 2, 6, X-2, 1, 8, 12, 7, 5, 13, 9, 10, 4

Interesting, in all my lists FFXIII made it to 4th.  It’s just a fourth-best kind of game.  I wonder if it’ll hold up, and if Cyrus will let me borrow his PS3 again when the sequel comes out next year.

Bad Beats

I know the cardinal rule of poker is nobody wants to hear bad beat stories.  I agree with this for the most part.  But I got three in one night, so I feel I can rant.

I’m the chipleader in a live tournament last night.  I get AA.  I’m first to act, so I slowplay, hoping for a raise (the table had been raising with some regularity).  Nobody does, but I get the two blinds.  Flop is 10 8 7.  I raise, I get a re-raise, I push him all in.  OF COURSE, he hit the straight on the flop.

Even still I have plenty of chips – I’m in the high end still.  We play for a while, and I’m now pretty much in the middle of 7 people left (they paid top 4).  One of the smallstacks pushes all-in.  It’s about half my chips, but I have AQ suited.  He flips over AJ (I’m a 72% favorite to win)  He not only flops the jack, he flops two.  I’m down to 1100 chips.

TWO HANDS LATER, I have JJ.  Someone raises to 1000 before me, I push my last bit in and he calls.  He flips up 10 10  (I’m an 82% favorite to win)  The very first card turned over is a 10.

Then I get home to find out that the three major online poker sites are done, the feds took them over.  Looks like I’m out $530 that I had in there.

Good day for poker.

Speedthrough of FF II

I have beaten Final Fantasy II (Japanese IV) for the SNES probably 50 times.  There was one thing I was never able to do – beat the game in under 10 hours.

UNTIL NOW.

I had downloaded FF II for the Wii, determined to finally do this.  In past, I would get to the end guy at about 9:40 and then get thoroughly tromped.  Last night, I started the game at 9:20 and tried fighting the end guy, and I got tromped.  So I tried again, this time doing about 20 minutes of leveling up.  When I got to Zeromus, I slowed the battle speed down, hopefully giving me an edge.  And sure enough (I was timing) at 9:52 of gameplay, I heard the lightning-zaps that signified victory.

What’s next?  Beat it in under 9 hrs?  Or go to my PS and play Final Fantasy IV and finally get the Adamant Armor from those damn pink puffs?  Could go either way, really.

Final Fantasy Rankings (Part III)

All right, this is it.  The authoritative list of the best Final Fantasy titles.  This one is bound to cause some discussion, especially among people who think VI is a good game.  I’ve looked at dozens of other people’s lists across the boards, and needless to say, my opinions are not popular.  But here they are: the best and worst of the main Final Fantasy Titles.  (I say main because, of course, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest would be #1 otherwise.)

12.  Final Fantasy III

FFIII

The problems with Final Fantasy III aren’t necessarily numerous, but they are certainly glaring.  The biggest problem I have is with the characters, or the fact that there aren’t any.  It’s the quest of four people nobody knows anything about and how they try to save the world.  The story for all the early Final Fantasies (basically up until 6) aren’t exactly very diverse.  It involves good guys trying to round up crystals to beat bad guys.  So when you already have a flimsy plotline, and no interesting characters to back it up, you’re going to have a game that simply isn’t enjoyable.  Add to that the music (even ignoring its very limited NES capabilities) is downright annoying.  While there are glimmers of interesting developments (the job system is introduced, even though it is fairly useless at this point, as well as summon magic), the game isn’t worth playing if you want an enjoyable experience.

11.  Final Fantasy II

FFII

Truthfully, this game is sorta interchangeable with FFIII in terms of likability.  It’s interesting to note – when US developers were deciding which FF title to bring to the states after FFI, they had two real options – go with the actual FFII or go with FFIV, which had just come out in Japan.  They picked IV, not because it was a better game, but just because it was more recent.  I think that was probably the best decision the franchise made in its history.  II is okay, but it has its share of issues as well.  It is telling that the method of leveling up – the more you do something, the stronger at it you become – was never used in subsequent games.  It’s a weak way to level up that requires lots of mindless battles.  Also, magic in this game is totally utterly useless.  The strongest spell in the game, Ultima 9, does about 1/4 of the damage of a normal attack.  The story isn’t developed enough to note improvements over FFI, although you do see seeds of some of the later titles and the stories (notably FFIV).  The one “improvement” of having to learn and recite key phrases could have been done away with.  Pretty forgettable overall.

10.  Final Fantasy X-2

FFX2

I might be unnecessarily harsh on FFX-2.  It is a pretty enjoyable game to play on face value.  The battle system, although animated in a way that makes it very difficult to follow, isn’t laborious and I found myself enjoying the fights.  The idea of oversouling is great.  The game even contains one of the most awesome, challenging locations in the entire series (The Via Infinito).  My problems with the game, though, are immense, mainly because I am not a young teenage bisexual girl, which I am firmly convinced is the demographic they were targeting.  They essentially eliminated all that was good about FFX (interesting diverse characters, a bad guy I could understand wanting to destroy, blitzball, the music) and substituted it with costumes and hand-holding.  It is markedly dumbed down, even more than American FFII.  There isn’t even anything fresh to enjoy, as the world and nearly all the characters are rehashed from FFX.  It strikes me as they had a couple of ideas that didn’t make it into FFX, and rather than let it go, they made an entirely new game out of it that simply does not stand on its own, and it follows X very poorly.  The best thing they did was getting rid of those abhorrent Cloister of Trials.

9.  Final Fantasy VI

FFVI

That’s right, the golden boy of the series, FFVI, sitting here just barely beating out FFX-2.  How did that happen? I’ll tell you.  First off, the entire game is just shrouded in a deep depression.  There is very little uplifting in the entire game, from the characters conflicts to the music to the towns.  Then there are the characters, which are way too many in number.  If they all served a use, then fine.  But a good 1/3 of them are useless and, aside from giving “options” to the player, they more or less sit in the background, unused.  The first half of the game is an endless series of my least-favorite-sequences of the series.  The actual events they have you go through are annoying and simply not fun.  Finally, I already made my opinions of Kefka known; many fans love him, but I don’t.  In wrestling terms, he’s like X-Pac: people jeer him not because he’s good at making people hate him, but because he’s so annoying and ludicrous that you just want him off your television screen.  The game is not totally bad, though.  This was the first real departure in storyline for the franchise, and it was, if nothing else, a noble effort.  The game’s scope is also very ambitious.  Having a truly shocking change halfway through the game (which literally changes the landscape for the rest of the game) is a great idea, and it breaks up the monotony of the storyline which many FF titles fall into.  When all is said and done, though, this is simply an overrated game that I don’t actually enjoy playing.

8.  Final Fantasy

FFI

It pains me just a little to rate this game only at 8th, since it was the one that started the entire ball rolling.  The story of the creation of the game is pretty fascinating, as the company was on its last legs, so this was the final game it was creating, and they wanted it to be a fantasy game (hence the name.)  That it became some widely successful is the sole reason Square even exists today.  Ultimately, though, this game is ranked so low because the ones that came after it were so good.  The game is rough, no doubt, but when you consider what came before it, it is revolutionary in so many ways.  Sure, there are issues with plot (fairly contrived), characters (there really aren’t any), and annoying glitches (the phantom enemy swipes).  They were ironing out the way the entire genre would work.  It is a classic to this day and still enjoyable to play, and featured themes that Uematsu would incorporate into many of his later masterpieces. 

7.  Final Fantasy VIII


FFVIII

Final Fantasy 8 is probably the most polarizing game in the series (with the exception of maybe XII).  While few would put it as the best in the series, most would put it as the very worst.  The flip side is the people who would argue that it is a superior game to VII.  For a very long time (up until this project), I was one of those people.  I’ve softened my tone slightly, but still say that FFVIII is a solid game.  The bad parts are, indeed, bad.  The junctioning system is very complex and a hassle, having to draw magic to increase in strength is tedious, and the main character, as you’ll remember, ranks as the worst character in any FF game.  That being said, there are a number of plusses.  The simplest ones to see are the advances in technology – VIII really became the benchmark for CGI videos and their ability to enhance a story.  Also, the fact that enemies level up with you is a very interesting take which I wouldn’t mind seeing make a comeback as it leads to interesting replay value.  The card minigame is among the best diversions in the series, and the ending is also among the best.  I think what ultimately hurt this game is there is no one standout positive feature, but I also think the negatives are not as bad as people make them out to be.

6.  Final Fantasy V

FFV

I was a little surprised to see this game did so well on the list.  Truthfully, it could probably swap with the next game on the list, and in fact it did at least once while I was trying to order them.  I always felt that V was the “middle child” of the series, never really getting the attention it should.  Among the games with class systems (III, V and X2), this one was clearly the best of the bunch.  Admittedly, some of the jobs are useless, but they’re all fun to at least try once or twice.  The storyline is nothing fantastic, and not even something we hadn’t seen in the prior game or two, but they seemed to trim the unnecessary parts (five people is a bit much to control at once, but they still retained the interesting characters and character progression.)  If my memory serves me, this was the first time they had a main character die, although some of that novelty was lost when an exact replica character took his place.  It’s a start, though.  The game does frankly take a while to get going, but by the end, it is really a fun game.  It’s major suffering would be that it was way too sylistically close to FFIV, and while I do love IV, there wasn’t much progress made between the two of them.

5.  Final Fantasy VII

FFVII

Many like FFVII best and I think it’s because, for the most part, it was their first exposure to the franchise, as it was the first one to come out on a system other than Nintendo.  I’ve long speculated the same thing with the Evil Dead franchise – whichever you watch first will likely be your favorite (Evil Dead II for me).  As a “purist” who had played the NES and SNES ones first, I had trouble rolling with the punches for this one.  Over time, I’ve come to appreciate it for what it is, though I still stand by my assertion that it is an overrated game.  However, it is incredibly ambitious, as not only were they designing for a new system with better capabilities, they also added countless extras and expanded the idea of an RPG tenfold with this game.  Also in hindsight, I realize how lame those “awesome” graphics were.  Even the movies seemed like cheap anime.  But, there were a number of good things about this game: the death of a major character is definitely one of the biggest shocks of all games, not just this series.  Sephiroth is everything that Kefka isn’t (read: actually interesting.)  While the story is confusing, what FF title doesn’t have a convoluted plotline?  7 certainly has replay value, though not perhaps as much as some later titles.

4.  Final Fantasy XII

FFXII

 

Another game that surprised me when I saw how well it did.  Since this game is freshest in my mind, I think I tend to remember the aggravating bits more than I should.  Also, it should be noted that I played the majority of the game with no walkthroughs (unlike every other title except IX), so there was an element of aggravation in having to do things twice or trying things that didn’t work.  The experiments they made with the game were largely successful: the new battle system, while I wouldn’t want it permanently, was quite nice.  The gambit system was definitely interesting (once you acquire good enough gambits, at least.)  I had no problem with the plot whatsoever, as far as two warring nations.  My major beef was the total lack of interesting characters and character development, but I don’t know that that was their main impulse.  They never even truly assigned a main character (Vaan, who is generally accepted as the main character, is probably only 4th or 5th most important in terms of plot.)  Their concentration seemed to be on the creation of the world and the battle systems.  But the joy of the game, aside from its amazing movies, was definitely its scope.  It’s enormous.  And very free.  You can go almost anywhere off the bat, you can clearly get in over your head doing so, and it’s a pleasure trying to see what secrets you can unlock on your own.  The hunt is a great idea, and the amount of optional stuff makes the replay value of this one very great (as long as you don’t particularly have anywhere important to go for a while.)

3.  Final Fantasy IX

FFIX

I once played this game for an hour and vowed never to play it again.  I was so very wrong.  FFIX for a while was listed at #2 on this list, and only very recently got switched back to where it is.  I think having only played it once and not done “everything” bumped it up higher than it might have gotten otherwise, so I have moved it to the well-earned #3.  It is heralded as a return to the “old style” FF game, and it is that and more.  Characters that are very defined, not just in terms of personality, but ability (I got tired of anyone being able to do anything with the right equipment.)  Here, your mages were mages and your fighters were fighters.  Having a main character who was not an abomination helped.  This game is simply fun with very few minuses.  They got rid of the confusing junctioning system, didn’t try to throw a messy materia system, and nothing as complex as the later sphere grid.  You got a weapon that also assists other attributes, try it.  It seemed oddly strategy-based, especially considering it is the simplest method of leveling up in any game.  While I could have done without the “active time mode” which replaced the “meanwhile” cut scenes from earlier games, and seen a different mini-game other than the card game which was in no way an improvement over VIIIs card game, there isn’t much else I’d change.  Having one of the better endings of the games helped too.  Just a truly fun game.

2.  Final Fantasy X

FFX

Here was another difficult choice, between this one and Final Fantasy IX, and they are also primarily interchangeable.  The Cloisters of Trials, one of the worst things ever, almost single-handedly knocked this down a peg.  Aside from that, though, FFX offers almost everything else you could want.  A very deep world with plenty to do.  Characters that are vivid and diverse within the game.  A bad guy (Sin) who truly seems unbeatable, and a bad guy (Seymour) who is evil all on his own.  Hidden subquests.  An awesome, time-sucking minigame (Blitzball).  A very good score.  Excellent movies.  It’s hard not to like this game, though some say it’s too easy.  There’s always ways to make games harder (try to beat it with only one character alive, for instance.)  I do have a few issues with the game, which I touched on briefly in the worst-characters post (lookin’ at you, Tidus.)  Additionally, the voice acting was okay at best, and painful at other times.  It subsequently got better in newer games.  Also, the game was incredibly limiting, not being able to access most of the world until the last 10% of the game.  But these negatives don’t overcome the fun this game holds.  Clearly deserving of the top 3.

1.  Final Fantasy IV

FFIV

This should surprise nobody who knows me at all. Long listed as my favorite game of all time, Final Fantasy IV is truly an epic game.  On the SNES, we actually played this game so much that we wore out the memory capability of it.  When we called Square, they said they knew it could happen with FFI (whose NES system had a very limited capability for memory) but that they’d never heard of it happened on the SNES.  Why is it the best?  Well, its strength lies in its story and characters.  It’s got betrayal, it’s got moral dilemmas, it’s got a redemption story, it’s got tragic (yet meaningful) loss.  The characters as a whole are the most fleshed out of any game – while others in the series may have a good character or two, IV has an entire roster of very detailed characters with fitting backstories.  It is often overshadowed by VI for some reason, I’m guessing because there aren’t an awful lot of side-quests.  But when the story is so good, why bog it down?  The score is also, as already noted, the best of the series, with countless memorable melodies.  The main negatives are that I always felt Golbez should have been the final end guy, and the actual ending (although I appreciate how it actually gives updates on the characters) is a bit bubble-gum happy for me (the twins should have stayed dead at the very least.)

Now that I’ve completed this completely asinine quest, I might play FFIV one more time, for old time’s sake.  Or, you know, see my wife and kid.

Final Fantasy Rankings (Part II)

This will just be about my favorite and least favorite PLAYABLE characters – ones you can actually use in battle.  This is deliberately to avoid picking ten supporting characters from FFX-2.  I’ll even add some graphics to break up the monotony of the font for a moment.  As before, let me know what you think – agree or disagree.  I think this is pretty much aimed at about 4 people that I know have played most of these.

TOP 10 WORST CHARACTERS

10.  Cloud Strife (FFVII)

Cloud

While it technically started with FFVI, I always viewed Cloud as the start of the whiny emo main characters in the series.  There were times when I was hoping Sephiroth would just kill him already, because I was sick of him clutching at his head and emoting.  His name wasn’t a help either.  Cloud Strife?  Better than Humidity Angst, I suppose.


9.  Gau (FFVI)

Gau

The first of what promises to be many blue mages on my list, Gau is perhaps the least worst of them.  But in many ways, he is also more aggravating.  To achieve new skills, you have to go back to a certain area in the world and fight partially-random monsters, have him LEAP onto one of them, go missing for several fights, and then come back.  At that point, he will learn a skill that will pale in comparison to what your party is already doing.  Talk about doing a whole lot of work and getting very little in return.

8.  Cait Sith (FFVII)

Cait Sith

I’m hard pressed to think of a more annoying character in the series.  Ignoring the fact that he’s a cat riding on a robotic moogle, all being controlled by some member of Shinra, his point appears to be to show up and muck up your party a bit.  If any of this was an attempt at humor, I’d have to question it.  If it was an attempt at plot development, I’d have to question it more.  He’s a useless character whose attacks are paltry.  There’s no reason whatsoever to use him.

7. Tidus (FFX)

Tidus

I always thought of Tidus as Cloud Lite, which is saying something because Cloud himself was pretty light, if you get my drift.  Tidus spent most of the game alternating between whining about something or other and yelling that something else wasn’t right.  He made that kid on Youtube crying about Britney Spears seem pretty well adjusted.  Add to that the voice actor who portrayed him didn’t do the character any favors by doing his best slightly matured Dennis the Menace impression. 

6.  Paine (FFX-2)

Paine

In doing research about this, I read that Paine’s character was inspired by someone else who is still yet to come on my sucky character list.  Whoever thought that was a good idea ought to be dragged out into the street and then dragged around more in the street.  In my playthrough I described her as the lovechild of Auron and Lulu after having had all her personality surgically removed.  I think that’s fairly accurate.  She is as bland a character as they come.

5.  Onion Kids (FFIII)

Onion Kids

After compiling my list, I went online and found someone else did a top 10 list of worst characters.  Not only did 6 of ours overlap, I was surprised to see I wasn’t the only person to include these guys.  These are the “characters” of Final Fantasy III.  I put that in quotes because there’s no distinct personality traits, no quirks… no characters.  They didn’t even have names until they remade the game for the DS.  I’ve never not cared about a protagonist so much in my life. 

4.  Quina Quen (FFIX)

Quina

I wish I was at the meeting where this character was developed.  I could hear the pitch now.  “Let’s take the annoying aspects of Cait Sith, add the laborious uselessness of Gau, and mush them into one character.  Good.  Next, let’s not give them any distinct gender, because that’s a laugh riot.  All on board?  Great.  Finally, let’s give that character one joke – no more – for the duration of the very long game.  This character likes food.  Everything this character will do will be about food.  We can make this character optional too, but why wouldn’t anyone want to use them as much as possible?”  I’ll tell you why: Quina blows.

3. Edward Chris von Muir (FFIV)

Edward

I am unsure of who Square is trying to target when they continue to put effeminate characters and job classes into their games that are useless.  Edward the Bard is probably the prime example of such a character.  One of his actual moves – and I’m not making this up – is to hide so he doesn’t get hit.  That strikes me as pretty useless ability.  His other “attacks” involve singing songs that COULD POSSIBLY (but rarely do) inflict some type of status ailment.  He makes Zell from FFVIII seem straight.  Even Edward’s lute song sucks.

2.  Relm Arrowny (FFVI)

Relm

Utterly utterly useless.  During most playthroughs of FFVI, you could see at the end of the game that Relm had been used in exactly one battle – the one that I was obligated to use her to complete the storyline.  Her one ability, Draw, seems to work only on creatures that are so week a good cough would kill them anyway.  Against anything with any difficulty, her best ability is to get killed so I don’t have to worry about her anymore.  When I later found out that she was supposedly the daughter of Shadow, it bumped Shadow off my top-10 cool characters list simply by producing such a crappy daughter.

1. Squall Leonhart (FFVIII)

Squall

How much does Squall suck?  Let me count the ways.  1)  He is supposed to be a tortured mind.  He’s just whiny.  2)  I have no reason why anyone appoints him leader in the game – he is terrible at being a leader.  3)  What did Rinoa see in him?  Was it just a scar she liked?  There’s no way it could have been his “personality.”  4)  He was the inspiration for Paine.  5)  His name is Squall Leonhart.  I think Hailstorm Bunnybutt would have been a better name.  6)  I was rooting for Ultimecia to win. 

Honorable mentions: Bartz Klauser (FFV), Strago (FFVI), Zell Dincht (FFVIII), Adelbert Steiner (FFIX), Yuna (FFX-2)

TOP 10 BEST CHARACTERS

10.  Warrior (FFI)

Fighter

Okay, I know what you’re thinking.  How can I like the Fighter and hate on the Onion Kids?  Well, with FFI, they were breaking new ground.  It wasn’t about characters at this point, it was about storyline and gameplay, both of which were pretty revolutionary.  And even though I’ve always been a thief guy, I’ve more than anything fought fought fought through all the Final Fantasies.  As a model for all future fighters that I would use, this red-haired guy had to make the list.

9. Vivi Orunitia (FFIX)

Vivi

I have to be honest – I’m not the biggest Vivi fan in the world.  However, I have to concede that he is a very interesting character.  Constantly battling his own inner demons about his own existence and what it means to be alive vs. manufactured, as well as seeing people somehow related to him being manipulated for evil.  It’s pretty existential for these games.  He might have ranked higher if he didn’t spent the first two thirds of the game tripping over his own robes.

8.  Rydia of Mist (FFIV)

Rydia

The characters of FFIV have very deep emotional issues – more so than most games.  Cecil coming to grips with the evils he’s been forced to do in the past.  Edge overcoming the horrible disfigurement of his parents.  The Mysidian people having their inhabitants voluntarily turn themselves to stone.  But none (okay one) is more tragic than Rydia, whose mother is slain, her town is destroyed, and she is raised by summoned monsters underground.  Her having an actual transformative story arc is what puts her on the list – one of the first times in the series a character is shown overcoming a horrific past to propel her cause. 

7.  General Leo Christophe (FFVI)

General Leo

You know a game isn’t one of my favorites when the (2nd) best character in it is one who is, technically, an enemy and who dies pretty early on in the game.  But there is a reason everyone has stories of being able to revive him and use him in your party – because he’s pretty damn awesome.  One of those good guy in a bad situation stories. 

6.  Garnet til Alexandrios XVII (FFIX)

Garnet

Women don’t get a fair shake in many of the Final Fantasy games.  They are often very docile and tagalongs.  With the only exception before FFIX that I can think of being Tifa, really, the women are all just curative magic users.  Now, in battle, Garnet (also called Dagger) is very much the same.  But her actual character has her getting right in the gritty to solve the problems of her populace (she is a princess.)  Ashe would later do it in a more kick-ass, although infinitely more bland, way in FFXII.

5.  Balthier (FFXII)

Balthier

In a game where all the characters could have been plucked as small one-line bit parts of any Victorian drama, it isn’t hard to stand out.  Balthier does, and not in an anachronistic way like Vaan does.  Balthier is a cocky, smarmy sky pirate who was given the task of having discernible charisma.  It helps that he was given about 98% of all the good lines in the game.  And not in a corny comic-relief sort of way.  He was genuinely witty and made the drudgery quite a bit lighter. 

4.  Zidane Tribal (FFIX)

Zidane

Following Cloud and Squall, the producers of the game could have probably had the leading man been a jar of mayonnaise and it would have been a drastic improvement.  What they gave us instead was a very different protagonist – a lead character who was selfish, womanizing, and actually enjoyed what he was doing.  Sure, he ended up getting sucked into a whirlwind story of come-uppance and even a romance angle, but he did it all while stealing along the way.  He was sorta what Locke from FFVI was meant to be if he hadn’t got sucked into a sappy melodrama about a half-human who was all weepy about her powers. 

3.  Auron (FFX)

Auron

He is the bad-assest character in any game.  Everything, from his calm demeanor, to his Jedi-Master-like tutoring, to his just calmly saying “Farewell” before kicking the shit out of somebody… everything about him screamed awesome.  Points got taken away for him not actually being alive at any point. 

2.  Umaro (FFVI)

Umaro - Chocobo

Seen here riding on an imaginary chocobo, Umaro – better known as the YETI – is the most unique character in the series.  He is optional, but why anybody would pass him up is beyond me.  He has two specialized attacks besides swinging with an axe.  1)  He hurls himself at the enemies causing extensive damage. 2)  He picks up HIS OWN PARTY MEMBERS and THROWS THEM at the enemies for extensive damage.  He’s like a hairy suicide bomber with an acute sense of irony.  I just want to hug him. 

1.  Kain Highwind (FFIV)

Kain

Kain is a very complex character.  In addition to being a dragoon, a class of character that only begun getting any depth in this game, he is also the first (and best) example of treason.  He is a traitor and, though it is not of his own doing, he continually comes back into the scenario to cast doubt on his allegiance.  Looking at it from his perspective, it has to be a hell of a roller coaster ride, not knowing if, at any minute, you’re going to turn your lance on your best friend.  It always struck me as a very fitting ending to his story when he refused to go to his best friend’s wedding because he needed to atone for his past crimes.  It makes me wonder if this theme is explored more in his sub-chapter in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years.  Looks like I’ll have to get a Wii now.

Honorable Mentions: Cecil Harvey (FFIV), Shadow (FFVI), Yuffie Kisaragi (FFVII), Rikku (FFX, NOT FFX-2), Basch fon Rosenburg (FFXII)


Final Fantasy Breakdown (Part 1)

That’s right, with all 12 (not counting FFXI, which was an online game) Final Fantasy games complete, it’s time to start jotting down how I feel and seeing what people agree/disagree with.  I’m saving my favorite/least favorite characters as well as my favorite overall game ranking for separate entries.  This will be all supplemental lists.  For those who have played, chime in with where I rank.

TOP 5 SCORES (FOR A WHOLE GAME)

5. XII – The only score on this list not composed by Nobuo Uematsu, this one surprised me.  While I don’t know that I’d enjoy it on its own, it is all perfect background music and a nice compliment to the game.

4. V – This one sneaks in here because it is just a solid score, beginning to end.  Quite a few catchy little numbers in here.

3. IX – I can’t think of a Final Fantasy title more than IX where the entire score has a certain feel.  This one has a definite Renaissance/Medieval vibe going on.

2. VII – This surprised me, as I used to remember only the Turks theme, which I still don’t like.  But I’ll find myself humming songs from VII pretty often, like Tifa’s and Aerith’s themes.  It’s a well put-together score.

1.  IV – This one has it all: imperial themes, romance, three distinct feels (above ground, below ground, on the moon), and the only lame song is the stupid bard lute song.

TOP 10 SONGS

10. Place I’ll Return to Someday (IX) – The music that happens when you turn on the game.  Nice and bouncy.

9. The Dream Oath (VI) – The opera house scene may be long and boring, but the music is pretty epic.

8. Another Moon (IV) – Creepy and futuristic all in one.  Needs lyrics.

7. Those Who Fight Further (VII) – This makes me want to beat stuff up.  In a good way.

6. Tenderness in the Air (Town Theme) (V) – One of the catchiest songs of the whole series – hard to believe it’s just supposed to be ambiance.

5. One-Winged Angel (VII) – Pretty bad-ass theme for a character, really. If I could have this playing whenever I entered a room, I would.

4. Otherworld (X) – More heavy metal song than video game music, Nobuo channels his best wrestling theme song here.  Gets me pumped up, that’s for sure.

3. Pandemonium, The Castle Frozen in Time (IX) – I’m a sucker for pipe organ.

2. Prologue (I, IV, XII) – Although the arpeggiated crystal theme is probably the “theme” for the entire series, I always felt this one, which appears in many of them, is more defining.

1. Liberi Fatali (VIII) – Awe.  Some.

Honorable Mentions: Royal City Rabanastre (XII), Johnny C. Bad (VI), Fisherman’s Horizon (VIII)

TOP 5 BEST VILLAINS

5.  Tonberry (FF V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, X-2) – He is a recurring character, never changing all that much through his many incarnations, but he always makes your heart leap a bit.  He’s never easy in any of the games, it seems.

4.  Garland (I, IX) – I’m mainly talking about FFI Garland here.  He’s the first real boss you encounter in the franchise, and that counts for something.  He’s also the first real “recall” character, appearing both later in FFI and then his namesake being used again in FFIX.

3.  Seymour Guado (X) – While the actual character he is not altogether too different from other power-hungry villains of the series, there are two things I really liked about him: 1) he was ruthless, killing his own father to further his quest, and 2) the voice actor was perfectly creepy to pull it off.

2.  Sephiroth (VII) – Ahh, the guy who would top 95% of all other FF lists for villains, but he’s only my #2.  He’s dastardly and calculating, but ultimately, there’s one more bad guy who I felt was smoother in his ruthlessness.

1.  Kuja (IX) – After the overt evil found in the previous games, they relied on a more subtle evil with Kuja.  You KNEW he was bad and he did bad things, but he was so subliminal at times doing it, you more just looked at his devastation afterwards and said “Wow, that’s pretty f-ed up.”

Honorable Mentions: Cid (FFXII), Bahamut (many), Nemesis (X)

TOP 5 WORST VILLAINS

5. (Tie) Fuijin & Raijin (VIII) and LeBlanc (X-2) – These get lumped together because I have the same problem with both of them: you fight them 10000 times and they suck each and every time.  Even LeBlanc’s gratuitous T&A couldn’t spare her from this list.

4.  Magic Pot (V, VII, X, XII) – Sure, these guys can do some good things for you depending on the game, but really they just use up your elixirs and waste your time.

3. Ultros (VI) – Ultros is Fuijin, Raijin & LeBlanc rolled in one, but without the boobs or the charm.  Add his buddy Chupon into the mix and you can probably hear me grinding my teeth from there.

2. Vayne Solidor (XII) – You spend the entire game occasionally seeing this guy standing behind a desk, looking like someone from a romance novel cover, but really only hear from other people about how bad he is.  The first time you really even get to see him for more than a few minutes is when you’re trying to kill him at the end of the game.

1.  Kefka (VI) – He sucks.  Absolutely sucks.  His theme sucks.  His mannerisms suck.  His “comedy” sucks.  He is unrealistically cruel.  Dealing with him sucks.  Which is a shame, too, because one of his songs (Dancing Mad) is pretty frickin’ cool.

Honorable Mentions: Exdeath (V) – seriously, his name is Exdeath.

Up next, top 10 best and worst characters.

Final Fantasy XII

So it’s taken just over two years to complete, but I have now played all of the Final Fantasy games that are available for systems I can play.  This does not include any spinoff games, just the core games of the series (even X-2).  Including the 100 hours almost exactly it took me to beat FFXII, this whole process took me ~742 hours of play time, or basically one straight month (half the time Aaron guessed.)  I plan on doing a post or two about the entire series and some favorites-lists, but for now, let’s concentrate on FFXII itself.  I played mainly on my own, since I’d never beaten it before, only using walkthroughs for a) one or two points where I didn’t know what to do and b) for optional things, like hunts and gaining certain equipment.  Therefore, I probably only did about 75% of the stuff in this game, if that.  Anyway, onto the good, the bad, and the ugly.  With this game, many of these intertwine.

THE GOOD

– I thought I was going to hate doing away with the ATB system and not getting to select moves for each character.  Well, technically, I could have turned gambits off completely, but that’d be stupid.  After I got the hang of it, I actually grew to enjoy this style of play.  I could eat a sandwhich while playing the game since my characters would just do their own thing.  Of course, that is also a negative, but I was more positive about it than I thought.

– There were times when I felt like I was watching a movie.  The entire opening prologue, which every FF game seems to have, was definitely enjoyable and set a good setup for the rest of the game.  The final scenes were quite well done too.  If anything there could have been more, as they relied on the naturally good graphics o

– The world itself was very ambitious.  They added a few new races of character, and more towns and areas that you can shake a stick at.  Actually, its openness and ability to basically go wherever you want would also be one of my drawbacks.  As I said, much intertwining between the good and the bad.

– The hunts.  Cool idea, even if it boils down to an extra few dozen option bosses.  They were a good way to get some cool items early on.

– Loot.  Why would a wolf carry gold coins?  Good realism point there – creatures have other items that vendors want to buy to make items.  It’s good to know that, 13 games into the series, they realized that it never made any sense.  As a stealing/dropping nerd, it gave me a good feeling when they dropped something uber-rare.

– It was pleasantly challenging.  In the earlier games, because of screen capabilities, you’d fight a certain amount of monsters.  If it was only one on the screen, he’d usually be tough.  If it were nine creatures, they’d all be piss-weak.  But here, you could have two strong guys fight and, while you’re trying to kill them, two or three more strong guys come up.  I was killed many many times in this game because of that.  FFs aren’t usually known for their challenge.

– This is probably my favorite incarnation of Cid.  He was pretty bad-ass in this game.

– For a non-Nobuo Uemetsu game, the music was quite good.

– I know many sites say Nicole Frantl voiced the character of Fran, but I’m pretty sure it was Bjork.

THE BAD

– The characters.  I know this is the biggest beef with most people and this game, and they’re right.  It’s a whole collection of people I don’t really care about.  There’s no centralized character (it’s sort of Vaan, but not really), and all of them are sorta the same.  Aside from Balthier, nobody had any defining characteristics.  They all seemed to be stoic, rugged imperial soldiers, or young kids who want to be rugged imperial soldiers.  That’s another thing:

– The lack of plot development.  At first I got into the whole caught in the middle of a war storyline.  It was interesting and a slight deviation from other titles.  But then when I realized I was 80 hours into the game, and it was still a war between two sides and really nothing had happened, I threw my hands up in the air.  No swerves, no sympathetic situations… just two sides fighting.

– It was very ‘pedestrian’ – nearly all of your bad guys were just dudes, including the last guy, who was apparently a dude on some mega steroids.  While that makes sense with the storyline, it doesn’t do a whole lot for intrigue.  And it makes you wonder – the guys who were not dudes but freaky monsters, what did they have to do with anything?  At least in the earlier games, it was explained that the search for magic unleashed fiends or some such explanation.

– There is TOO much to do.  And your characters walk so slow.  Sure, I spent 100 hours on this game alone, but I think a good third of that was walking around the humongous areas in HOPES to do something or trying to find a mark to hunt or trying to get a chest to spawn.

– Plainly put, it got boring.  The first third was pretty exciting.  The 2nd third, I was doing some optional quests.  But from about 60 hours on, I just kinda wanted to be done.  Nothing had really happened and it was stale quickly.

THE UGLY

– Okay, I get that Viera (a race of creatures) are very home-centric and it’s considered an insult to their race when someone leaves the wood, as Fran did.  That’s fine.  But why are there SO MANY VIERA around the world?  I mean, there’s probably 5x more Viera in the world than in their home.  Surely they can’t still be pissed at Fran?

– Magic is useless until 2/3 the way through the game, and then it’s the most important thing ever.  Basically put, before certain gambits come your way, just have all of your guys attack with weapons or cure.  Then when you can target weak enemies, only use magic (and Basch with a killer weapon and Berserk).  Game over.

– Vayne, the main guy.  He was literally very ugly and quite creepy at the end there.

– Their attempts at ‘heightened language’ made me pine for the days of accidental bad Japanese translation.  Here, in an attempt to make it feel somewhat Medieval, they all spoke funny.  That made deciphering who was who even tougher, especially since everything had two names.  I felt like I needed Cliffs Notes on a few occasions.

– Do you know how long it took me to realize Larsa was a guy?  A very long time.

Overall: at the start, this had the potential to be one of my favorites of all time.  But as it went on, it lost steam.  It had some very interesting ideas, but ultimately, it became a grind to finish.  And I didn’t even try to do most of the optional stuff.  Most people love or hate this game.  I’m in between.

Final Fantasy X-2

If I thought I wasn’t looking to playing FFIX based on my past experience, I was outright dreading FFX-2.  I had been warned that it was a girly game and it didn’t live up to previous titles.  I was even told sympathetically by the guy I bought it from that I could always return it.  But finish it I did (strictly playing off a walkthrough, because I did not feel like I would enjoy trying to figure out stuff myself.)  And it was a bizarre game. I got 95% completion.  I was going for the perfect game, but the walkthrough I used wasn’t very clear about what actually needed to be done and what was just suggested.  I missed a few key points very late in the game and, by the 5th chapter, could no longer do it.

The is a sequel, which presents inherent problems.  The game takes place two years after the end of FFX, which I guess is fine, and how they managed to come up with a “story” after the main evil is gone is passable.  There are enough new characters to keep interest.  But there are continuity issues all over the place.  First, the characters are super weak.  What happened to all the power they amassed?  And if I spent all of FFX getting Al Bhed Primers so I can understand the Al Bhed language, why do I have to do it again in FFX-2?  Especially since I have not one, but TWO people in my party (of 3) who are fluent?  And seriously, how many unsents are gonna pop back up?  I figured after Sin was gonna, people were going to finally just go away.

Was it as bad as I thought it would be?  Well, yes, but not entirely.  The target audience was the worst part – they took a great game that appealed to all parts and catered its sequel to a very specific audience: 14 year old bisexual girls.  That is, of course, my opinion.  But there were some very cool aspects to the game.  Let’s break it down.

The Good

– Oversouling is a great idea.  When leveling up, it gets very monotonous fighting the exact same guys over and over again.  Oversouling not only adds challenge, but keeps it interesting when, every so often, a creature will be considerably more difficult.  Especially since bosses can also oversoul.

– The Via Infinito – possibly the coolest place in any FF game.  100 levels (yes you read that right) of fighting where you can’t skip any of them.  Great rewards to be found, but also immense difficulty.  Even at level 99 for each character, I died a few times in those lower levels, where the normal guys that wander around are harder than the actual final boss.  I would never have been able to defeat Trema, the hardest character in the game, without considerable help online.

– The return of the Berserker!  Even Ash was happy about this one.

– Variation.  There is a choice early on which affects how the rest of the game plays out.  It won’t affect the ending, but it will change how you get there.  And speaking of endings, there are actually different endings depending on how much you get complete.  And if you get 100% completion over two games (very likely), you will see an additional ending, which gives replay value a boost.  I, of course, won’t play again.  Why?  Here’s why.

The Bad

– As mentioned before, I’m not sure who this game is intended for.  With terms like “dresspheres” and “garment grid”, I would imagine not me.  It seems dumbed down, much more than any other FF game – sidequests include giving out balloons and selling tickets to a concert.  I mean, really?  A little too much dancing in this one for my tastes.

– The characters.  In starting to come up with ideas for my final wrapup of all the final fantasy games, I thought I might include a “best characters” and “worst characters” of the series.  But I am opting not to do the worst list, because of the 5 that would make it, I think 4 are from or featured in this game.  Maechen (shut up old man!), the Hypellos (they make Jar Jar Binks seem palatable), Brother (he was pretty bad ass in X, WTF happened?), Paine (it’s as if Auron and Lulu had a kid and they took all likeable traits out of her), Yuna (she’s always sucked).

– Since FFVII, there’s been way too much of a deal put into chocobo raising.  It’s always stupidly complicated and not fun.

– The music.  Okay, so I know this was the first game Nobuo Uematsu didn’t do the music for this one, and that’s fine.  While I think he rules, I don’t *need* him to do the score (I’m also a big fan of Koichi Sugiyama’s music), whoever they go to do FFX-2 was horrible.  In prior games, the music playing throughout that continually loops is usually between maybe 32-64 measures before repeating.  It seemed like in FFX-2 there were two measures and then repeating.  The music was just so so so so so bad.  I can’t stress that enough, especially in comparison to Uematsu’s typical genius.

– To be blunt, it was not a sequel to FFX in any way except storyline.  It should have been an offshoot game entirely, like “Final Fantasy Addition: Yuna’s Bored” mainly so I wouldn’t have included it in my project.

The Ugly

– The movies were unimpressive and oddly-spaced out.  There were tons in the early going of the game, and then hardly anything until the end, which was also unimpressive.  It’s hard to tie up “loose ends” when there really aren’t any.

– Was there even conflict in the movie?  Nobody was really doing anything that was terrible, and about three-quarters of the game we find out someone is going to use a very big gun against the world.  Okay… sure.  Why?  Because he felt unloved?  That’s what I got out of it.

– Can I mention the music again?

– If the costuming and camera angles of FFX were ‘burlesque’ in tone, FFX-2 was softcore porn.  Holy crap, the T&A in this game was gratuitous.  I actually got tired of staring at LaBlanc’s boobs and Dona’s crotch.  Similarly, the overt lesbian tones made Xena: Warrior Princess look very hetero.

– Too many jobs.  Like in FFV (with jobs) and in six (with sheer # of characters), there is too much to choose from, and most of it is filler.  Aside from Black Knight, White Mage, Lady Luck, Gunner, and Berserker (!!!), there was little use to any of the other jobs.  Is Trainer really going to help you win this game? On that same note,  Blue Magic is never useful ever.

So I’m happily done with this one.  I spent a modest 74 hours on this one, bringing my total up to ~642 hours.  Again, I will be taking a break so that I can actually see my wife after 7pm.  I have issues.

This really is the FINAL fantasy.

I said this to Ash the other day: “27 minutes into Final Fantasy X-2 and I’m 5% gayer.”

But then I realized, that’s not right.  That implies that homosexuals would enjoy Final Fantasy X-2.  And they wouldn’t.  It is a game who’s target demographic appears to be girls in their early teens.  And we all know how avid they are as gamers.  Gay men would not be interested.  Lesbians would probably be insulted.

This one is truly going to test my allegiance to the franchise.

Thanksgiving

It’s a year of firsts – and it was the first Thanksgiving as a family.  Of course, we spent it with Ash’s family as we would have had we not had our own child, but there was definitely something different anyway.  A potluck style meal, every aspect was delicious.  But probably most exciting was seeing Landen eat Ashley’s sweet potato soup and him nibbling on my stuffing.  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Landen in such a good mood for an entire day before.  He was smiling from wake-up to laydown.  He didn’t even cry when he got up from his naps.  Must’ve known it was a good day.

It was all slightly marred by the knowledge that I have to work tomorrow, which is assuredly an eye-brow raising proposition, as my entire job hinges on me being able to speak to attorneys, approximately .09% of them who will actually be in tomorrow.  But I’m seeing it as entirely likely I’ll be able to skip out early.  We’ll see.

I will eventually have some pics that will prove quite definitively that Landen is my son, but I don’t have them yet.  It’s late and I’m pretty tired.

Another reason why it’s time for bed?  I played five very quick poker tournaments tonight.  In these, I was either all-in or called an all-in 10 times.

My hand vs. their hand (and flop if it happened already before the all-in) – % to win – what happened

J9 vs 89 (flop 9 7 4) – 78% favorite to win – split the pot on a runner runner two pair

AK vs J10 – 59% favorite to win – lost to two pair

88 vs A9 – 57% favorite to win – lost to a runner runner flush (I had trips)

AK vs AJ – 72% favorite to win – lost to a  jack on the turn

10 10 vs AJ – 57% favorite to win – won with the pair

JJ vs 22 – 82% favorite to win – lost to trip 2s

55 vs 54 – 79% favorite to win – won with a pair

AJ vs K10 – 62% favorite to win – lost to a pair of Ks

A7 vs QQ – 28% favorite to win – lost to two pair

10 4 vs 33 – 48% favorite to win – lost to the pair

As you can see, I was ahead (in 4 cases dominating) in 8 of the 10 cases, and ended up winning only twice.  Some nights, it doesn’t matter how smart you play, you’re just bound to lose.

Final Fantasy X

So in my ongoing quest to play all the Final Fantasys (and do as much as possible in all of them), I’ve finished an old favorite of mine, the tenth installment.  How did it hold up?

First off, this is the first game I did EVERYTHING on  – every sidequest, obtained every Celestial Weapon (dodging lightning was unexpectedly simple – I found a spot on one of the boards where there is a repeating pattern of lightning – to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never heard of anyone finding such a secret out.  w00t)  I beat every creature in the monster arena, including Nemesis.  I wish I had the international version so I could have taken on the dark aeons and Penance, but I’ll settle.  It shows that I did all this, too – I spent a mind-numbing 112 hours to do all of this.

Did the game hold up to my memory (I used to rank it in my top two)?  Well, yes and no.  There’s very little bad about it, in my mind.  The problem is the bad parts are VERY bad.  Read on.

The Good

– It’s just a fun game.  There aren’t many spots that you have to labor to get through.  Many (though certainly not all) of the sidequests are pretty fun, and there aren’t too many of them to just be a distraction.  It’s not the most challenging of games, but I did die a few times early on, and had legitimate troubles with one of the bosses.

– Auron: simple the most bad-ass character in any FF game.  Screw that one list that picked a top 5 from only FFVII.  Auron could kick the crap out of Cloud with just his milk jug.

– The new technology involved in the PS2 just made it a great game.  No screen loading when you left one screen and onto another (they circumvented this by having a moving screen for almost all locations.)  It’s a bit hard when up turns into left, but you get the hang of it.

– The movies.  They are pretty awesome.  That initial movie in the blitzball arena still stands as one of the best in the series.

The bad

– The chambers of the fayth.  I know the series likes to have “thinky” parts where you have to use logic to solve little puzzles.  But these are simply annoying and cumbersome.  There’s only six or seven, but it seems like a thousand.  And I was using a walkthrough detailing every step to make.  Among the worst thing in any of the games.

– Talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk.  With the new voice-acting, they decided to give people their money’s worth.  There were huge stretches of the game that seemed like there was no fighting whatsoever, just huge scenes.  It was like a movie that doubled as a video game, only you couldn’t really change the outcome.

– The Hymn of the Fayth.  That song is as dour as FFVI’s music.

– The lead guy, who I named Tantrum (quite fitting if you know the game.)  He’s not as bad as Emo Jr. from VIII, but he’s not at all good.

The I’m Not Sure if it”s Good or Bad

(This will be a surprisingly long list)

– Blitzball.  I still probably consider this to be the most fun mini-game in any of the series.  It’s a great time, and I recall in the past playing half the time in the game playing blitzball.  However, the walkthrough said I should wait until I can assemble the perfect team before playing any games, which can’t be done until you get the airship.  So I played something like 40 or 50 games in a row at that point.  It’s not that much fun in bulk.  Speaking of which…

– WTF is up with the airship not being accessible until the LAST PLACE IN THE GAME!?  So when you’re already strong enough to win, THEN and only then do you get to do the sidequests to make you stronger.  Doesn’t make sense.

– T&A.  While I don’t mind boobs and butts, this game took it’s fancy graphics and spent 80% of them perfecting how to craft cleavage and crack.  Okay, enough alliteration.  I don’t t hink Lulu had a single shot that didn’t include her barely-concealed breasts.  Not bad, mind you, but certainly egregious.

– The voice acting.  I’m not as down on it as most people are (I happen to think Seymour is perfect in a creepy way.)  But the director must have told them “Make sure to take lots of lengthy pauses that people can’t skip through for no apparent reason.”  Maybe something got lost in translation.  And if I didn’t know otherwise, I’d have sworn they got Brian Doyle Murray to do Jecht.

– Gaping plotholes.

a)  So Yuna mentions early on that Khimari has been her guardian for 10 years on her quest to save Spira.  But when the game starts, she is just learning her first Aeon summoning.  What the hell did she do for 10 years?

b)  Auron was a guardian for Braska.  So he did the entire trek, ostensibly gaining weapons and earning experience.  When you meet him 10 years later at the start of the game, he’s worthless.  Where did all that experience go?

c)  So Tantrum is from Zanarkand, which is imaginary.  He’s a dream.  Okay, I’ll buy it, that makes sense somehow.  And there IS a Zanarkand in Spira, the overall world.  It IS the same Zanarkand – one was destroyed 1000 years in the past.  Then why has Tantrum never heard of Spira?  Earth was still called Earth back when the Ottoman Empire reigned.

d)  The ending.  I was disappointed with how short the ending sequence was, and how it didn’t really tie much together.  But I also like that it didn’t end truly happily.  Tantrum and Auron were a dream and dead, respectively.  So instead of ‘everyone lives happily ever after’, we get “oh by the way, we kinda painted ourselves into a corner, so they’re just gonna disappear and give everyone hope.”

e)  The Magus Sisters make their triumphant return, having been gone since FFIV.  So who the hell put them in insect costumes?

I am taking a long break before playing any more FFX.  I kinda got obsessed with this one in the last few weeks.  (At around 31 hours, I was ready for the final place.  It took me the remaining 81 to do all the sidequests.)  I also [begrudgingly] bought FFX-2.  That will be the next one, and it makes sense that I’m not rushing out to play it.

Total time spent on this… … … … … … … … I’d rather not say… … … … …okay, fine, it’s ~568 hours.

I’m so confused

From my StatTracker in my fantasy baseball league:

– J. Nix struck out swinging
– R. Castro flied out to right
– S. Podsednik grounded out to first, R. Castro to third
– G. Beckham struck out swinging
– End of Inning (0 Runs, 0 Hits, 0 Errors)

Four outs?  Or: I wonder if someone should tell Castro that when he flies out, he can’t stay on the bases.

Final Fantasy IX

So for the second time in three games, I will admit that I was wrong – this game is much better than I gave it credit for.  Previously, I had tried playing it once, got maybe an hour in, and never played it again because it was so terrible.  It’s not so terrible.  I remember at the time thinking it was a game geared for kids – with silly young characters and broad “comedy” that featured the same “jokes” over and over again.

Well, it is.  I can’t really argue that.  But I put it into perspective, I was a kid when I was playing Final Fantasy II (IV) on the Super Nintendo and probably didn’t mind that it was geared towards me.  FFIX is different than 7 and 8 by taking out some of the overt darkness of those and making it lighter in tone.  And actually, it did what it set out to do – it was a very good throwback to the older games.  There were inside references to them, and just had the feel of the origins of the series.  I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it became. And I kinda marked out a little when it all boils down to crystals in the end.

My team of Ratboy, Lesbia, Darkie, Sr. Oaf, Herps, JL Bait (my favorite name ever), Tubby and Twinkie finished the game in about 79 hours.  Since I hadn’t beaten it before, I didn’t want to rely on a walkthrough as I’d done with the past games.  However, I did want to try to accomplish as much as I could – so I ended up using the walkthrough to do sidequests and other miscellaneous things, but never to actually advance the game.  It worked out pretty well.

The good:

– A lead character who is not a) whiny and emo or b) a sword-carrying fighter.  He’s a thief.  That’s awesome.  Being a fan of thieves and stealing/looting/otherwise obtaining items, this was definitely a major plus.  He was a womanizer, and those are always fun characters.  Boo to having him fall in love with the lead girl, though.  That story’s getting old with the FF series.

– Making magic not totally worthless.  This is probably the first FF game where I deliberately used a magic user (who else didn’t use a moogle charm to avoid the magic-only tower in FFVI?  I know I did.  Every time.)  The black mage had spells that mattered, and the white mages (two of them!) had different spells and specialities that helped in battle.  Though the tiny girl became kinda useless later on.

– The story for the most part.  It’s a pretty linear story with defined characters and relationships, and a goal you’re constantly working towards (though really, you have to wonder why the main character is even doing it, as he has no vested interest other than trying to get some tail from the main girl – kinda weak motivation to risk your life a million times.)

– Gone is the complex junctioning system.  And the armor and weapons aren’t simply ‘this one is better than that’ . . . you need to determine what plusses you will give up for what negatives.  Levelling up isn’t entirely laborious and annoying.

– The ending.  While none of the movies in the game were anything spectactular, the ending tied together a lot of loose ends, much more so than most of the other endings.  It’s good to actually get satisfaction when beating something you’ve been working on so long.

– All the old references.  I nearly crapped myself when Lich, Krakken and Tiamat (from the original) showed up.  But why’d they get rid of Kary for an idential creature of another name?  Who knows?

– Bahamut is badass (in the movies – see below.)

– Regen kicks ass in this game.  By the end, I wasn’t even healing myself up at all.

The Bad:

– Who is the bad guy you’re supposed to fight?  I know it might be hypocritical to praise IV and mock IX for this, but really, it changes so much it’s very hard to keep track of.  “Oh wait, HE’S the bad guy now?  Let’s get him!  Oh wait, it’s THAT GUY?  Let’s get him then!”  By the end, I didn’t really care – I just slaughtered indescriminately.

– If I heard the main guy say “You guys stay here, I’ll take care of this myself” on more time, I was going to put my foot through his post-hensile tail.  Seriously, there are dudes trying to kill you – bring as many people along as you can.

– Bahamut is only a badass in the movies.  He can destroy an entire town and castle in one fell swoop, yet when you put him in battle against a medium-level monster, he only does 3000 damage points?  WTF?

– The music was unimpressive.

– The card game was just as addicting as in VIII, but it had two drawbacks: 1) it was based FAR more on luck than in VIII, and 2) IT DIDN’T GET YOU DIDDLY SQUAT.  I probably spent a good 10+ hours of my time just playing cards for the completionists aspect of it.  (Yes, I got 1 of each of the 100 cards)  And my reward was getting to bitch about it here.

– Sidequests weren’t actually very fun.

There was no The Awesome to speak of.  The game was solid, but lacked that one wow factor, like the Yeti or the Nail Bat.  They even ruined the devour ability by having some creature of unknown gender do it (and only that) through the whole game.  I swear, can you possibly have a more one-dimensional character?  Yes, we get it, you like food.  Now go away.

All in all, this was a very fun game that I’d recommend.  It does make me laugh when I read the reviews other people have written and they say “It’s the best game since 6.”  Well, it didn’t have much to compete with – 8 was pretty lousy and 7 is the most overrated in the series (I remember reading a review of the top 5 Final Fantasy characters every, and all five were from FFVII – blasphemy!)  I’d put it as the best since 5.  Maybe even 4.  Not sure – I’ll have to compare all my notes when this is done to try to assemble a list.

Total time playing this silly quest: a nauseating ~456 hours.

Onto FFX – where I *really* wish I owned the international version so I could try to defeat Penance, the toughest superboss in any game.  I guess I’ll have to settle for just doing everything in the game.