Let me start off by saying that this doesn’t have to do with the specifics of the Xbox One. It also doesn’t have to do with Final Fantasy IX in particular.
For me, this is more a post about the direction that gaming has gone in the past decade or so, culminating (so far) in the unveiling of the Xbox One.
There are a lot of great things that have happened in the past decade of gaming – Hardware technology has increased to an insane degree, giving us almost-real graphics (FFVII and FFXIII were released only 13 years apart; 13 years before VII, the best-selling game was Duck Hunt), and eliminating the need for memory cards (Can I emphasize how awesome this is for a moment? I remember I had SIX memory cards for my PlayStation at one point. Six. Being the messy person I am, a mini-“ohmygodwherethehellaremymemorycardsshitshitshit”-heart attack was pretty much a given every time I wanted to go back to a game I hadn’t played in a while). Thanks to the meteoric rise of the Internet, multiplayer gaming has reached nearly everyone with access to a game console (I’m a Vermonter with shitty DSL, so for me, it’s not quite there yet, but most other people are fine). Technologically speaking, gaming has never been more advanced, and the community has never been tighter (I could talk forever about the evolution of the community, but I don’t have time at the moment, so I’ll sum it up in five words: Steam. Xbox Live. PlayStation Network).
However, there’s something to be said for the simpler technology of the days of, say, the PlayStation. Everything was so simple; you bought the game, brought it home, popped the disc in the tray, and turned the system on. It was done; you were playing. You didn’t have to connect to the internet, sign up for an account, or enter an activation code. Obviously, systems can do more now, and the Home and Menu screens allow us to do other cool stuff, like watch movies and surf the web. I’m just wondering at what price this stuff comes.
I’m going to stop before this turns into one of those “Back in the good ol’ days” posts. It isn’t meant to be that. However, it was definitely on my mind when I saw the Xbox One released.
On a side note, that system looks tragic. Almost as tragic as Nintendo not going to E3 this year. Idiots.
One of my friends posted something very interesting to my Facebook the other day: a link to some “lost” Final Fantasy IX artwork. I’ve owned The Art of Final Fantasy IX for years, so when I saw the link, my first thought was “yeah, okay, but I’ve definitely seen this before”.
My jaw dropped. There were about 100 pictures here that I had never seen before, all in a resolution about three times what the original PlayStation disc could handle. As Mama Robotnik, the author of the above forum post, said, “The ‘lost art’ referenced in the thread title isn’t meant to describe this content as having been lost and found – it refers to the art details that were lost when the graphics were downconverted to a limited 32-bit console”.
Needless to say, I was amazed. After purely enjoying the artwork for a while, a thought popped into my head: if they’ve got these really high-resolution backgrounds already, that must make it easier to craft a remake, should they choose to do so. They’ve already got a bunch of great work already set up for them, for cryin’ out loud! So why won’t they do it?
At first, I was against a remake of FFIX; I thought that the original was perfect, and that they needn’t do anything else. However, when I watched Yu Yu Hakusho, my favorite anime, in 1080p Blu Ray, I realized that making things look prettier given newer technology could, if not increase my enjoyment, give me another, more detailed look at exactly what the artists were going for when they created the work.
Against: Final Fantasy VII Fans are Mad Enough
Seriously, though. They thought they were getting a PS3 makeover for the franchise’s most popular game years ago. Square Enix has said that they won’t remake it until they make a new title that surpasses the original, both in sales and in quality (see this GameSpot article, if you haven’t heard this already).
Look, Square Enix: it’s just not going to happen.
It’s a vicious cycle: basically, they’re trying to make a game that is so good that it will make people forget about VII as being considered “the best”. However, people can’t get the idea of a VII remake out of their heads. They won’t give Square Enix a chance until it’s done. Look, Square Enix, it’s not all your fault that you won’t make a game that’s better; it’s equally the fault of the gaming community for being really bad at looking at new games in the same nostalgic light of the old classics that they hold so dear. That’s just a part of human nature, though, I think – there’s a reason they’re called “the good old days”. Part of business is learning when to stretch for something new, and when to shut up and give your diehard fans the content they have waited so patiently for. I don’t think Square Enix has learned that yet.
So yeah, they won’t remake VII… But they’re remaking FFX in HD, which was already made with quite-sexy PS2 graphics. Way sexier than “the-first-PS1-FF” graphics, for sure. They’ve remade I and II for the GBA, and III and IV for the DS. I just get the feeling that if they remake any more Final Fantasy titles before FFVII, there will be pitchforks sharpened and torches lit. Even I, who thinks that FFIX is one of the greatest pieces of media ever created, far more philosophically and artistically intriguing than VII, am waiting impatiently for Square Enix to remove their craniums from their posteriors.
I think I can sum up most everyone’s opinion on this with three simple words:
God dammit, Squeenix. (Cute nickname, right?)
For: It Will Remind Square Enix About What Squaresoft was Doing Right
This may be a bit of a radical opinion, but I honestly think that if the next FF were released without the use of voice actors, the overall opinion on the quality of the game would rise. I’m not going to spend much time on defending myself here; just check out Ian’s blog post, “Hearing Voices”, and you’ll basically have an idea of what my argument is behind this.
I think that, recently, Final Fantasy has gone the way of most game companies, focusing more and more on realism – real-looking people, dynamically-rendered, interactive worlds, and the like.
Realism. When the title of the game is Final Fantasy.
I feel like they’ll get the idea when they’re in the middle of an HD makeover for, say, Hippaul.
Final Fantasy IX, like most of the great Final Fantasy titles before it, has an expansive, colorful world. There were many different, non-human races that looked distinctly fantastical (again, Hippaul). Even the main characters aren’t supposed to look real; they’re chibi to the max, and I love it. There was always something new to discover, to explore. By the third disc, you’re basically let loose, able to take care of most side quests, etc. in the game. No more rails. The game designers had enough faith in your intelligence to let you go do your own thing, make your own mistakes and get out of them. This is getting ever rarer in the big-name game companies, and it’s something that they could take a lesson in if they look at their old games.
Against: Square Enix Has to Let People Know that They Can Craft Good Games
Personally, I enjoyed FFX:2 (I will understand if you stop reading now). FFXII was a solid game, to the point of MetaCritic giving it a 92 out of 100, which is equal to FFVII’s score. However, it was nowhere near as popular as VII was (to the chagrin of many a XII fan). There was one thing that VII had more of than most other FF titles: a giant North American marketing campaign. I don’t ever remember seeing any pre-release brouhaha for XII. While it proves that Squeenix can make a solid game, they need to promote it more. A remake of FFIX now could create the image that all they’re good for is remaking the games of their predecessors, basically admitting defeat and saying they can’t surpass the classics.
My Opinion: If You’re Gonna Use It, Keep It; If Not, Give It to Someone Who Will
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that characters from FFIX have been used only a handful of times since its release (Zidane/Kuja in Dissidia; Zidane in Theatrhythm; Vivi in KH2 are the ones I can think of immediately). Because VII is still making money off of its spin-offs and movies and such, keep those rights; however, if you’re not gonna use the characters, art, etc. from other franchises… why not give these to the public? FFIX may not be popular enough to make much money off of anymore, but from my experience, it has a cult-like following of rabidly dedicated players who would love to sink their teeth into community-made remakes/sequels/etc. While unrealistic, I think that would be a great thing for Squeenix to do. Even if it’s just the engine. Look what happened when Valve released Source SDK: it spawned some of the best games of the past decade.
Like the people waiting for a VII remake, however, I won’t hold my breath.
Questions? Comments? Opinions? Put ’em in the comments!
The following post is from Ross, our newest contributor. Yay Ross! Thanks for contributing!
Oh, to be ten again, sliding that first black-bottomed disc into the tray and staring agape at the vast, panning shots of sky kingdoms and wild lands, all overlayed with a sepia map in scrawled letters. This wasn’t the world of Midgar or Balamb, this was Final Fantasy IX. For the first time on the Playstation, Final Fantasy actually felt like fantasy. Now, why should that matter, you might ask (if you like asking boring questions). Gladius or gunblade, black mage or medic, what’s the diff? Well, we don’t need to know how swords and spells work in order to believe in them, we don’t need a schematic or manual attached to every item in the weapon store. We just accept them. In the long tradition of theatre, Final Fantasy IX asks us to take its props and scenery on faith so that it can spend time convincing us the characters are real. And that’s a task I envy less than fighting Ozma with a Butterfly Sword. With characters like the androgynous swamp chef Quina and the knight sporting enough eye liner to shame Johnny Depp, the game has no interest in identifying with the player superficially. No, like old Will Shakespeare, Final Fantasy IX makes us understand its characters by adopting their perspectives and suffering their hardships as we do our own.
The game opens (more or less) on a stage, with our would-be hero Zidane and his theatre troupe pulling off their daring princess caper by way of a ham-fisted performance. Now, maybe their play doesn’t “catch the conscience of the king,” but it gets the job done, and it sets the game’s tone immediately. From the very first curtain raised to the final on-stage reunion between Zidane and Garnet,Final Fantasy IX is marked all over with the trappings of theatre. Our world is Elizabethan and then some, with flourishing merchant districts, regal fanfares, and mannerisms that polite company dictates I call “courtly.” Magic rules this world, but like Shakespeare’s Prospero, we catch glimpses of a modern future in the airships of Alexandria and in our dear Vivi, a mage by desire, but machine by design. And like the Elizabethan custom of men playing women or the Bard’s further fondness for cross-dressing plots, Final Fantasy IX changes wardrobes faster than Superman. Regent Cid takes an early turn as a frog, Princess Garnet trades in her precious name for a more jagged title as the runaway Dagger, Steiner and Freya join up as soldiers-cum-infidels, and even General Beatrix fights our heroes fiercely before joining them.
Alright, that’s a lot, I know, but there’s a reason the game earns more recognition than every other JRPG with a character list longer than its credit roll, and it’s the same reason Shakespeare’s characters survive so long after their creation.
Among the more curious talents of English literature’s golden child is his so-called “negative capability,” his quality of understanding perspectives different from his own and making them relatable (which is no small feat, as any victim of Metroid: Other M can attest). To write in such a way that the audience or players can sympathize with a character, even when they’re wrong, or ignorant, or downright silly is a rare skill, and it depends on subjectivity to be successful.Romeo and Juliet can swing from heartbreaking tragedy to cutting satire depending on how an actor reads his lines. And in this, Ian’s point on voice acting proves true: without audible dialogue, players can interpret words anyway they so choose. Shakespeare and Final Fantasy IX live not in their plots — which often trade in winding stories and stereotypes — but in their characters. Our heroes don’t fight an evil corporation or a corrupt religious order; the game’s greatest foe is Zidane’s genetic twin, essentially his own prototype. The struggles of Final Fintasy IX are timeless because they’re our own struggles, and we only realize this after playing each character, after becoming the Shakespeare of the TV screen. So don’t fret the next time you get weepy at the scene in Black Mage Village or find yourself thinking in Quina’s philosophy of “things you can eat and things you cannot eat.” It just means you’re playing the game right.
When I was a kid, before I had ever heard of Final Fantasy, there was another franchise that sucked up most of my free time: Star Wars. I would watch those movies day and night, over and over (The Empire Strikes Back was always my favorite). When we weren’t watching the VHS (which was normally when our mom shut it off and forced us to go outside), my brother and I would pretend to be Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. I was that little kid who always thought he was a badass, so of course I chose Vader every time. He was my favorite. I liked his drive, his ambition, his willingness to make sacrifices for ever greater power. Not saying I wanted to be the same way, necessarily, but I admired the effort he put in.
I had a discussion with Tom the other day, and he brought up a very interesting point: Queen Brahne is the Darth Vader of FFIX.
Brahne, like Anakin Skywalker, started out just and benevolent. At the end of disc 2, Tot brings a wreath to Brahne’s grave that was made by the people of Alexandria, saying that although “Queen Brahne had been acting quite erratic before her death… but the people are still very fond of her, as you can see”. This shows us a layer of Brahne that we had never seen before in the game – by the time the game starts, she is already consumed with greed. [This packs a heavier emotional punch at this point, as we are learning about the non-villain side of Brahne after she’s already been killed.] Like Anakin, she did not start out as the twisted, misguidedly heartless villain that she became.
For both Queen Brahne and Anakin Skywalker, the main catalyst for their defection to the “Dark Side” was the loss of a loved one. In Star Wars, Padme, with whom Anakin was in love, died while giving birth to Luke and Leia. She is brokenhearted at the atrocities that have come from a terrible decision by Anakin, and it is implied that she dies because she loses the will to live. Upon hearing this, Anakin is emotionally destroyed – the feeling of helplessness that arises when he is unable to save Padme’s life is too much for him to bear. His biggest fear has been realized, and he doesn’t ever want to have to suffer the same way again; thus, he begins his mad grab for all the power he can, which ultimately leads him to the Dark Side and the loss of all benevolence. Queen Brahne goes through a similar progression; while the reasons behind his death are unknown, her husband, the King of Alexandria, dies, and this is when the queen goes from a benevolent ruler to one that is bitter and cruel. While it’s never explicitly stated, the evidence provided in the game suggests that she has a similar thought process to Darth Vader: she was put through pain so profound that she will do anything not to feel it again; she loses her humanity in her quest for ever-increasing strength; this leads to both her becoming evil and her ultimate demise.
Want for power isn’t enough to gain power, however; both Anakin and Brahne needed help to achieve their goals. In both of their cases, a mentor figure appears, tempting the emotionally exhausted characters with promises of power, and, while power is granted, the mentors use their subjects as puppets to serve their own ends. In the case of Anakin, it is Emperor Palpatine who appears to him, telling him that, using the power of the Dark Side, they would be able to find a way to cheat death itself. Upon hearing this, Anakin, desperate for a way to save his wife, agrees to turn to the Dark Side. When Padme dies, Anakin blames himself not only for the death of Padme, but for the countless Jedi that he permitted to be slaughtered by allowing “Order 66” to come to fruition. Instead of taking responsibility for these atrocities, he externalized his hatred to the Jedi who survived Order 66 (specifically Obi-Wan, who was closest to him, and Palpatine, the one who had promised him the power to overcome death), convincing himself that he was in the right. He continued down the path of the Dark Side, increasing his strength until the day he would be able to take misguided revenge on his perceived wrongdoers. (No, it doesn’t make much sense to me either. But the dude just let a bunch of his old homies get slaughtered. Can’t pretend I know how that feels, really.) Once again, Brahne’s situation is similar. In her moment of weakness, Kuja comes to her, promising the strength that would allow her to prevent her overwhelming pain from happening again. Kuja provides Brahne with the black mages, giving her an army unlike any other on Gaia. Kuja becomes a trusted advisor to the queen, filling her with doubt and mistrust of the other nations on the Mist Continent. Brahne took the mistrust and ran with it, laying Burmecia to waste. After she takes care of Burmecia with ease, the lust for power only grows; she is now willing to risk the life of her daughter to gain the power of the eidolons, which give her enough power to destroy both Cleyra and Lindblum with a single summoning. Thinking that Kuja has given her all the power he can, she turns on him, thinking of him as the last obstacle to total domination. However, the damage is already done; in extracting the eidolons from Garnet, Kuja’s goal is complete. When Brahne summons Bahamut to destroy Kuja, Kuja uses the power of the Invincible to take control of the Dragon King, turning it on its caster and ultimately killing Brahne. Without their manipulating mentors transforming their pain into fear and hatred, it’s probable that both Anakin and Brahne would have found alternative ways to deal with their grief, which likely would have set their lives on very different paths.
In the end, both Queen Brahne and Darth Vader realize the error of their ways before their impending death. When Luke, Vader’s son, is being killed by Emperor Palpatine, Vader has an epiphany: his son was more important to him than Palpatine, and, by extension, the Dark Side of the force. Seeing his son dying in front of him caused him to think over and accept responsibility for the monstrous acts that he had committed; while there was no way for him to undo what he had done, the least he could do was stop himself from continuing on this path. He started his penance by killing Palpatine, apologizing for what he had done, and accepting his death. While it’s impossible for Vader to be fully forgiven of all his horrible deeds, at least he fixed as much as he could once he realized what he had become. Brahne didn’t have time to fix anything she did; she got blown up by Bahamut and died soon after. She did have time to apologize to her daughter, whom she had extracted power from and nearly put to death. Despite Brahne being nothing but evil throughout the game, even Vivi, who had only known Brahne as an obstacle to be overcome, was upset when she died. He says that he had wanted her to die the entire game, but he felt like crying as she died, especially when Dagger started crying. Dagger, easily the most betrayed out of anyone by Brahne, still loved her mother, and knew that there was good in her. It was Brahne’s fear that handcuffed her to the need for power that ultimately led to her demise.
In the end, it all comes back to that famous Yoda quote: “Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering”. With some help from manipulators promising the impossible, Darth Vader and Queen Brahne attempted to run away from their own pain, with disastrous results for their respective worlds. They externalized their pain, blaming it on others, and in so doing they perpetuated a sociopathic disregard for anyone’s life but their own, concerned only with absolving themselves through the accumulation of external might, when the only way for them to truly end the cycle would be to take responsibility for their actions, deal with the pain, and move on without fear. Both of them realized this eventually, but tragically, it was not soon enough to save their lives.
TL;DR the reason Vader and Brahne were such dicks to others were because they couldn’t man (or woman, in Brahne’s case) up, accept their pain, and move on with their lives. Instead, they believed these assholes who promised them the power to never feel pain again. Obviously, this didn’t work, and Brahne and Vader got fucked over. I can see why they did what they did, and they did too, but not before they were total dongs to everyone they cared about.
I would LOVE for people to give some input on this! I had an absolute blast writing it, and I hope it’s interesting for y’all as well ^^
Another guest post from a different contributor (Ian)! How exciting! Enjoy, everybody!
Where to even begin? I’ve been an avid gamer since I could hold a controller, and much like Casey and Tom, Final Fantasy IX represents the absolute most amazing gaming experience I’ve ever had. I first played it at the tender and impressionable age of 13, and the themes and lessons it taught me remain with me to this day. The story, the characters, the music, the art; all are unmatched in my eyes by any other Final Fantasy, or any other game for that matter. But enough gushing about it. The topic I want to discuss in this post is voice-acting, and how without it, a story and its characters become infinitely more relatable.
As Casey and I played through the first few hours of the game’s introduction, I had a realization of-sorts: there were no voices anywhere in the game. I’d become so accustomed to hearing the characters in my games speak, that when they were absent, it took me by surprise. All of the dialogue and in-game conversation is read by the player, and even in the cut scenes, none of the characters speak. I found this to be particularly interesting. Nowadays, voice acting has become a staple of modern games, something we’ve simply come to expect. But is it something that actually enhances a game? That’s the question I began to ask myself.
I remember popping Final Fantasy X into my Playstation 2, excited to embark on yet another epic quest in a new Final Fantasy world. To my knowledge, this was one of the first times I’d ever heard characters actually speak in an RPG. I have to admit, it was off-putting at first; I found the voices alienating and annoying, the voice actors unable to capture what I thought the characters should sound like. Tidus sounded boyish and whiny. Yuna’s voice was too soft and whispery. For me, their voices detracted from the game’s experience and its ability to immerse me. Because of this, I posit that just because you’re technologically able to add voices to a game, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.
RPG’s are all about story, narrative, and immersion. Afterall, a ROLE-Playing game is one where you assume a role. When I played Final Fantasy IX, and the earlier games in the series, I felt a strong connection with all of the characters. I put myself in their head, felt their emotions, and discovered the world through their eyes. I couldn’t hear Zidane’s voice, or Steiner’s, or Amarant’s. I imagined them. And this, I would argue, means that a player can develop more empathy with the characters they’re playing.
In regards to the game’s cutscenes, where the characters still remain silent, the lack of voice-acting becomes even more obvious. It’s here that story-telling without voices or text can be challenging. How do you make the player understand how the characters are reacting, thinking, and feeling if they’re unable to say anything? Simple. It’s on their faces. In any given cutscene, the player is conveyed everything they need to know about a character by their expression and their actions. It’s not necessary for Zidane to tell Garnet he loves her in the ending cutscene. You see it on his face. And in that way, it becomes more powerful.
So, after some deep thinking, I’ve come to find that for me, a character almost seems to possess more of a distinct “voice” when they don’t have one. Their voice becomes whatever you think it should be, whatever what you want to hear. Put any inclination, accent, or tone you want on it. Make it yours, because in the end, it’s your character and your story.
Powerful stuff. Go Ian! I’m writing up responses to this and Tom’s post as we speak. If anyone out there has anything to add/debate, hit me up!
I really like our first guest blog post. Tom’s a great friend of mine, and he’s the one who introduced me to FFIX all those years ago. He’s got some great insight to the game. He wrote this after listening to our audio (yes, we recorded ourselves playing FFIX; if you want the audio, I can provide it), so if you’re confused by the few times he says “Like you guys said”, etc., that’s what he’s talking about.
Besides some minor grammatical editions, the following is straight from him.
Final Fantasy 9 Blog
1: Intro – Dark Forest
The game itself is kind of like an enlightenment game, both figuratively and literally. It brings up many themes from older games. I mean the originals; it’s coming off of the two most industrial and modern Final Fantasies, but FFIX is instead bringing us back to those ones we love so much. X and XII follow this theme as well to some extent. And I agree with most of what you guys said though those two games I mentioned aren’t that bad and even though they change some aspects they still follow the heart of the series.
Commonalities: Vivi’s look is a bring back to what is probably the most common look of a black mage, not knowing who the main character is in the beginning, like the originals, Vivi starts out with ???? Just like the original FF, then we also are introduced to the cinematic with Garnet and Zidane, so we really have no idea who we are going to play as. Which is great because it allows the fluidity that comes up later where we play through others as they go through their own choices? Though unlike what you said Zidane is clearly 100% the hero, the story lives and dies with his choices, the others have their own hero moments, even taken Zidane out of that role, but overall it’s him.
This game in my eyes is a two act play. With discs 1 and 2 being act 1, and discs 3 and 4 being act 2. It just flows more like a play than it does a movie.
The world is very elaborate and strange, where just about every person is something new; even the main characters have a wide variety to them, which again makes this game something special. It’s not building off of an existing world; it’s making something completely strange and unique.
Music, another just so much win, though to echo your point about it being actually around in the game rather than it just being on top of it. Again this is an echo to earlier games, with FF3/6’s Overture and Wedding, where the songs actually change pace to reflect different voices that were singing or talking. But again, I love the music so much, but that’s the whole series. On the Cinematics, I agree with you again, for the time period they are very well done even now, you can see the emotions of every character, they are fluid, smooth, just great, and we have only seen a couple of them at this point in time…. Ugh they get so good.
Where are we now, love the play, which in turn is a play within a play and also mirrors the first act of the game, and it’s even used later on in the game, another reason I say the game is a play because it’s cyclical, not linear. Love the swordfight scene, and I have gotten 100/100 as well I think I got it first too but we don’t need to get in to that. Now on to Steiner, we know he is important, because we get to name him, though we could see him as goofy and bumbling, he is the picture of zeal and virtue, innocent even, blindly following orders because they must be right. And you say he is so over exaggerated and yes he is but in Alexandria it seems that men are second class, so he kind of has to be to even stand a chance at being on the same level of Beatrix, which no one is since she is amazing. So we go through boss fights which are really jokes and you know it, just stealing battles. Blah blah, Garnet joins which I a bit of a twist since you don’t name her, and she is a princess that kidnaps herself.
Oh and about Brahne. Well, FF games are notorious for having characters parents being dead or going to die, with that we know that the Queen and Princess aren’t really related, at least it’s implied with the opening cinematic. So anyway she is a very evil character, no not nearly as bad as Kuja but moving on, she fires on a ship that has her daughter, it’s clear she doesn’t really care about Garnet at this point, and really is more worried about the pendant being taken. And with Zorn and Thorn and even how she talks to Beatrix, it’s clear that she isn’t right in the head, and with Garnet suddenly wanting to leave I agree that before the game we would see Brahne and the king being well normal. Saving spoilers and what not for later where we can discuss other reasons, but you guys have spoiled enough already.
Then we have the cinematic with the unusually coincidental, harpoon and bomb firing cannons that are all facing where the theatre ship is, guess that’s to defend against Lindblum or whatever but anyway, this finally brings us into the darkness, literally as the ship crashes into the Dark Forest, another common theme of FF games, evil forests, it’s a nice play at something that is normally good, being nature and like the first real boss flowers, and turning it over to show you just how bad this “Mist” you have been hearing about really is, you are safe nowhere, and who knows what is going to happen next. Such a great start to this amazing game.
Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear them!
Wanna write your own guest post? Feel free to hit me up at the email address to the left and we can make that happen 🙂