The XP Rat Race, and Why I’m Starting to Fall in Love with Single-Player Games Again

Hey Y’all, been a while! ¬†You’re looking beautiful as ever ūüėČ

Thought I’d give you a little bit of an update on¬†my gaming life: ¬†of course, as soon as I started recording FFIX LP eps, I saw that Legend of Dragoon was on the PlayStation Store. ¬†So, naturally, I abandoned the LP and started playing.

I finished last night, and I’m slowly realizing that I’m turning back into a single-player gamer again.

I’ve played a lot of WoW in my day. ¬†I’ve played 931 hours (hours. ¬†That’s almost 39¬†days) of Team Fortress 2. ¬†I’ve played almost 450 hours of Awesomenauts. ¬†And y’know what? ¬†I wouldn’t trade that time in for the world. ¬†I’ve had an awesome time playing those games, preferably with friends, but also just flying solo. ¬†For the most part, it’s been really, really fun.

However, after finishing LoD last night, I’ve figured out what has kept me going for those hundreds of hours in multiplayer games, and why I think that single-player, at least for me, is the smarter, healthier, less-time-consuming way to go.

It’s no secret that multiplayer game developers want you to¬†get addicted to their games: ¬†I’m sure most large sellers of… ¬†well, anything, are doing everything they can to manipulate human psychology into making people buy what they sell. ¬†That’s not inherently a bad thing; ¬†it’s just¬†the easiest way to sell stuff. ¬†This addiction is extremely valuable, especially in the case of multiplayer games that never end, and¬†especially¬†if there’s a monthly fee attached to a game. ¬†If the devs can keep coming up with new and exciting ways to keep you, the player, pushing the “reward” button, then bam, they’ve got what’s likely to be a loyal customer.

Recently, however, I’ve been feeling like there’s something… ¬†missing.

After one of my classic rage-uninstalls of Awesomenauts (something I’ve done countless times), I began to think ahead: ¬†what’s my end-game? ¬†What’s the¬†point of playing all these Awesomenauts matches, and being so pissy when I lose? ¬†Say I get to the top of the heap, become numero uno in the entire world. ¬†What then?

The answer?

Nothing.

There’s no point. ¬†Of course there’s no point. ¬†I’ll get to the top, probably feel really excited for a moment, drink four or five Miller High Lifes (nah, I’ll go Heady Topper. ¬†This is a special occasion), and plummet right back down the leaderboards. ¬†Even in the best-case scenario, I’ll be #1 at the end of a season, then have to start right back from square one.

I’m being needlessly negative here – of course, I love playing Awesomenauts. ¬†It’s a great game. ¬†It’s really fun, especially with my friends, and fun is¬†a totally legit reason to play any game in and of itself. ¬†If you’re enjoying it, that’s the point of the game. ¬†Good job.

I digress.  Getting back to Legend of Dragoon.

I beat it last night, and seeing that “The End” screen gave me a sense of satisfaction unlike anything I’ve experienced in Awesomenauts or TF2. ¬†My total play time was about 51 hours, and I accomplished every goal I set for myself in the game: ¬†got a bunch of super-dank weapons; ¬†leveled my party to almost-godlike proportions; ¬†kicked the final boss’ ass (and the optional superboss, to boot). ¬†I did everything I wanted to do in the game, and at the end… ¬†That was it. ¬†There are no leaderboards to climb, no rankings to compare myself to my friends. ¬†It was a personal journey, one with a beginning and an end, and now it’s over.

When I play Awesomenauts or TF2, I look at the characters less as “characters in a game, each with their own personality, and trying to accomplish a goal”, and more as stat blocks: ¬†anonymous avatars whose abilities will, hopefully, allow me to crush the opposing team’s anonymous avatars. ¬†There is nothing wrong with this. ¬†The personal connections I feel¬†to the¬†characters in single-player RPGs is certainly stronger. ¬†I root for them¬†to achieve their hopes, their dreams, their goals; ¬†I am with them through times of happiness and sorrow, and feel empathy for them. ¬†This is because I feel like we’ve been on a journey together: ¬†it’s not a 20-minute match¬†that can simply be restarted again and again. ¬†Both the characters and the player grow and learn throughout the process of playing an RPG, and when the journey is over, there’s a sense of finality that, while playing these multiplayer games, I forgot I was searching¬†for.

Of course, I have since reinstalled Awesomenauts. ¬†I fully intend to keep playing it. ¬†It’s fun as shit. ¬†But I don’t think I’m going to be quite as… intense about it. ¬†I’m out of the XP Rat Race, the endless quest for higher standing. ¬†It brings me passing, hyperactive joy, but not happiness. ¬†Not satisfaction.

I had forgotten where to find that feeling, the reason I fell in love with games in the first place. ¬†Thanks to Legend of Dragoon, I’ve found it again.

FFIXBlog Presents: FFIXSwag

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If there’s one time in my life that I take a selfie, it’s gonna be with a bitchin’ FFIX shirt on. ¬†Thanks to TeeFury for sending me this mega-sweet shirt ūüėÄ

Necron: The Really, Truly, Seriously Most Underrated Villain in All of Final Fantasy

Hi Everybody!

I was thinking about the feedback that I got from the Kuja post, and I was amazed by the response;  I’m glad I got people to look a little further into the character of Kuja, and see that he wasn’t all pomp and flair, and could actually stand on his own as a great Final Fantasy villain.

That said, I was just talking with a buddy of mine, and we were talking about the end of FFIX.  We are both huge IX fans, and the subject turned to the final boss, Necron.

‚ÄúYeah, the less said about Necron, the better,‚ÄĚ ¬†he said. ¬†‚ÄúHe was definitely just thrown in there.‚ÄĚ

Now, I think this was the first time we had truly disagreed on something FFIX-related.

‚ÄúWait, what? ¬†What are you talking about?‚ÄĚ ¬†I sputtered, and we proceeded to have a heated debate about Necron‚Äôs purpose for a few minutes.

After these few minutes, my friend said, ‚Äúy‚Äôknow, I think this would make a great blog post.‚ÄĚ

SO HERE I AM! ¬†ūüėÄ

Anyway, here goes:

Yeah. ¬†Necron. ¬†Gets shit on by pretty much everybody, right? ¬†You may think he’s one or more of the following: ¬†useless; ¬†never referenced; ¬†no purpose in the game?

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Let me begin, like I did with my Kuja post, by saying that I don’t expect to turn you into a huge Necron fan. ¬†I’m just trying to give you a bit of my perspective on why I think he’s fantastic. ¬†Maybe I’ll even get you thinking that there is a bit more to him than you previously thought. ¬†That’d be great.

From what I’ve read, it seems like Necron may be mentioned once or twice throughout the game, but these claims seem shaky at best. ¬†My question is, how is one supposed to know of the existence of an entity that exists outside of normal spacetime? ¬†This, of course, is kind of a flimsy excuse for making a final boss, but, in Pixar’s “22 Rules of Storytelling“, ¬†#19 says “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; ¬†coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.” ¬†Again, not saying that this is a great excuse to just throw a final boss into the mix, but this is the perspective with which I look at the final battle.

I’ve read that Necron is “summoned” by Kuja’s hate and fear. ¬†I have a different perspective.

kuja ultima
Kuja, right after he casts Ultima.

Now, here’s what I see in the above gif:

Р The main characters disappear.  The only time you see that in-game thus far is when someone or something dies.

Р The Crystal is no longer behind Kuja.

So, here’s what I’m thinking:

– ¬†When Kuja casts Ultima, it destroys the Crystal. ¬†The Crystal’s destruction is what prompts Necron to come start kickin’ ass, not just Kuja’s massive amounts of butthurt.

– ¬†The heroes were the first people to die after the destruction of the Crystal, which is why they’re in this weird quasi-death-realm thing.

– ¬†When Necron is defeated, the crystal is restored due to the “nothingness-vacuum” caused by his absence. ¬†Because Necron is the personification of oblivion/nothingness, when he is defeated, he’s gotta be replaced by…¬†something,¬†right?

Huh. ¬†Weird. ¬†Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that Necron made… some sort of sense existing, at least. ¬†He’s also a great foil for… ¬†well, every protagonist in the game.

These characters have been through¬†hell. ¬†Homelands have been laid to waste. ¬†Family members, loved ones, and thousands more have been slaughtered, many of which were at the hands of Garnet’s own mother, gone mad with greed. ¬†Freya’s lover, Sir Fratley, who she has been searching for for¬†years, has no memory of their past. ¬†Eiko’s family was dead or missing. ¬†Steiner and Amarant’s most long-standing philosophies, one of blind loyalty to another, and one of blind loyalty to self, that had kept them alive through the most dire of circumstances, are dissolved before their eyes; ¬†the same thing happens with Vivi and Zidane, except instead of their philosophies, they face an even more harrowing question: ¬†the status of their humanity itself.

I don’t think Necron is a useless, no-purpose final boss. ¬†Quite the contrary – I think he’s the linchpin of the game, the story, and the transcendent theme of¬†Final Fantasy IX. ¬†Without Necron, the game would cease to have the exact quality which I think makes it the greatest video game in history: ¬†the absolute, against-all-odds, blindingly-bright love of life itself that finally answers the great question that each of our protagonists face when they are staring down the seductive peace of utter oblivion: ¬†“is life worth the pain it brings?”. ¬†Each of the characters above have fan-fucking-tastic reasons to say, “Hey, nothingness sounds pretty great, compared to the shitstorm that I’ve been through!”.

Not one of them does.

After everything they’ve been through, each and every one chooses life.

I think this has a two-pronged effect. ¬†If thought of in this manner, the choice shows more starkly than ever before the fortitude of the heroes, as well as making Kuja slightly more sympathetic and less villainous. ¬†He’s just scared, guys. ¬†He’s been dealt much the same hand as Zidane, and he’s scared. ¬†He doesn’t want to die; ¬†more importantly, he doesn’t want the fear of death. ¬†Who can be blamed for trying to escape fear? ¬†Not that Kuja went about it the right way or anything, but still, he was misguided and scared, and I can’t blame him for that.

Maybe Necron could have been referenced more in-game; ¬†maybe he should have been somehow hinted at, if only for the player’s knowledge; ¬†maybe it’s not an original idea. ¬†But Necron is the character who poses, once and for all, this final question to the protagonists of¬†Final Fantasy IX, providing the single most intense experience I have ever felt from a piece of media in my life. ¬†I was 11 when I experienced this; ¬†it was the first time I had encountered such a question, and Zidane’s response left me in tears.

“I’m gonna live!”.

I can’t call that useless.

Kuja: The Most Underrated Final Fantasy Villain of All Time

Let‚Äôs face it: ¬†when you ask someone, ‚ÄúWho‚Äôs the most badass Final Fantasy villain of all time?‚ÄĚ, you‚Äôll probably get one of two answers: ¬†Kefka or, far more likely, Sephiroth. ¬†If the person you‚Äôre asking is from the Jurassic period, they may say something like Exdeath or Zemus, but most likely, even these geezers will be saying Sephiroth, as they rant about the better days of gaming, back when Pong and Missile Command ruled the arcades, when they listened to Pinball Wizard as they‚Ķ You get the idea.

This is not a ‚Äúhate-on-Sephiroth‚ÄĚ post. ¬†Far from it. ¬†I love Sephiroth, and his badassery has shaken hardened gamers to the core since they first heard ‚ÄúOne Winged Angel‚ÄĚ.

Remember this?  Yeah you do.  Everyone else does, too.  Why?  CUZ IT'S FUCKING BADASS.
Remember this? Yeah you do. Everyone else does, too. Why? Cuz it’s fucking BADASS.

All I’m saying is that Kuja doesn’t get enough credit, and I’m going to outline the reasons why I think that, even if Kuja isn’t the most badass¬†FF villain, he’s definitely the most underratedly-badass FF¬†villain.

Reason #1:  He Finishes Off the First Big Baddie that was Ever In the Series

garland-final-fantasy-nes-1280x720

(If you want an explanation for the above image, follow this link and check out a really cool site about localization of video games.)

Garland, if you remember, was the first boss that was encountered in Final Fantasy I. ¬†(There are spoilers starting in the next sentence, so if you really don’t want to see spoilers, I’d skip ahead. ¬†I’d also get going on playing FFI – it’s well over 20 years old at this point. ¬†C’mon.) ¬†You defeat him, but he manages to become immortal by creating a crazy time loop and becoming the god, Chaos. ¬†In Final Fantasy IX, he even references the events of the first game in the series, saying that he tried to assimilate Terra into Gaia by force five thousand years before, but he failed.

Pretty badass, right?

Kuja didn’t seem to think so as he KICKED HIM OFF A PLATFORM TO THE NOTHINGNESS BELOW.

Kuja_kills_garland
#NoFucksGiven

Granted, Garland had just finished fighting the heroes of the story, so Kuja didn’t exactly kill him in one-on-one combat. ¬†Still pretty cool, though.

Reason #2: ¬†He’s the only¬†Final Fantasy Villain to Successfully Annihilate a Planet (In the Scope of the Game, at least)

kuja-trance-mode
He… Doesn’t look happy.

Garland tried to take over the world and failed. ¬†Kefka gained powers of a god and shifted the World of Balance into the World of Ruin. ¬†Jenova, well, Jenova goes around annihilating planets like it’s her job, but you never see it happen in-game.

Kuja gets pissed off and decides to blow a planet up, and within minutes, it’s gone.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxgYPMN5gJ8]

Pretty intense.

Reason #3: ¬†Let’s not Forget, He was¬†this close¬†to Destroying¬†the Entire Fucking Universe (And You Could Even Argue that He Succeeds)

Not impressed yet?  Check this out:

CrystalWorld-5-ffix

See that cool-lookin’ crystal in the center of all that craziness? ¬†Yeah, that’s the Origin. ¬†You walk through Memoria, get to the Edge of Space, cross the Bridge to the Origin, and it leads… ¬†here. ¬†The first Memory. ¬†The Source of all life. ¬†The memories of every living being in the universe, when they die, return here.

Kuja uses Ultima, the most powerful black magic in the world, and blows it up, along with the entire party (I’m not sure if it’s officially true, but I’ve got a theory that the party dies after the Trance Kuja fight, which causes a lot of metaphysical craziness for the rest of the game; ¬†I’ll probably write a post about it at some point. ¬†Very interesting how they handled that part).

I hear a lot of complaints, saying that Kuja’s super emo with his whole “if I can’t live, neither can anyone else” spiel. ¬†I agree with this. ¬†You gotta admit, however, that if someone’s powerful enough to almost turn that statement into a reality… ¬†That’s pretty badass, regardless of intention.

Reason #4: ¬†Anyone Who’s Able to Fool People into Thinking that He’s a Woman for Discs at a Time Deserves a Medal

Yo girl, how you doin' tonight?  Lemme buy you a-   wait, what
Seriously, though. ¬†My girlfriend just played through the game, and she saw Kuja referred to as “he”… in Disc 3. ¬†She had no idea.

Another complaint I hear about Kuja is his effeminate, unthreatening appearance. ¬†While he certainly doesn’t have the giant-sword, brooding badassery of Sephiroth or the maniacal, creep-inducing psychosis of Kefka, I think that this complaint is more a cultural difference than an absence of a threatening appearance; ¬†it just didn’t translate very well into American audiences.

Y’see, there’s this cultural thing in Japan called bishŇćnen – it’s a cultural aesthetic that “provide[s] a non-traditional outlet for gender relations… it breaks down stereotypes surrounding feminine male characters. These are often depicted with very strong martial arts abilities, sports talent, high intelligence, or… flair”. ¬†Wikipedia goes on to add that these bishŇćnen are normally androgynous in appearance.

Sound like someone you know?

He may not have (apparent) martial arts abilities, but Kuja is an extremely powerful mage, intelligent enough to manipulate a queen into war with peaceful neighboring countries, and flair for days.

Check, check, and check.

While he may not be the normal American flavor of badass, his appearance and his mannerisms shouldn’t take away from the fact that he is, indeed, a pretty scary dude to his enemies.

I love Kuja, man.  Such a baller.  Great villain.  Great badass.  Hope this post illuminated some things for you.  Feel free to argue with me!  Thanks for reading.

And the Winner is…

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VIVI FOR VICTORY!

Vivi himself lost against Pokemon Trainer Red (which I think is quite silly), but congratulations to the artist who sent in the “Vivi for Victory” poster! ¬†It’s cute, clever, and deserving of its victory, I think.

Well done!

 

Let the “Vote For Vivi” Contest Begin (EDITED: NEW ENTRY)!

Hey Y’all,

I’ve received two entries for the “Vote for Vivi” contest. ¬†One of these two lucky contestants is going to walk away with a copy of The Art of Final Fantasy IX! ¬†To vote, simply comment either here or on the Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter pages (or email your vote to me) as to which one you like best!

Entry A:  How do you prove that you exist?

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Entry B:  Black Mage

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Entry C:  Vote Vivi  (Yeah, I added a picture past the deadline.  Sue me.)

votevivi-karina

In the interest of fairness, I will not be participating, merely counting the votes. ¬†Votes will be accepted until Vivi’s next Character Battle begins, on September 8th.

Best of luck to all contestants! ¬†Let’s get this started!

Campaign Poster Contest Update/Vivi Cosplay

Hey Y’all,

In my efforts to receive entries for the “Vivi Campaign Poster Contest”, I have received… ¬†well, no entries (as of yet). ¬†As such, I thought I’d sweeten the deal a little bit – the winner of the contest will receive a copy of “The Art of Final Fantasy IX”, a Yoshitaka Amano art book!

41P82D63W0L._SX260_
So you know, it’ll probably be used. But I’ll get a really nice used one. Cuz new, it’s $70, and I can’t afford that :p

So, that’s exciting. ¬†Email me your submissions by 11:59 pm Wednesday, 9/4 (or later, I’m not that picky), and the voting can begin! ¬†(You can also submit via Facebook or Twitter).

In other news, one of my readers sent along some great pictures of their Vivi cosplay that they did recently. ¬†Thanks for sending the pics along – the costume is great! ūüėÄ

If only there were awesome places in Vermont where I could go cosplay Vivi, that’d be awesome… ¬†Ah well, guess I gotta go to Montreal or Boston :/

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Anyway, yeah, have a super day, guys and gals!  The contest is still very much alive!

Vivi Campaign Poster Contest

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Hey Y’all,

Since yesterday’s come-from-behind, crazy-upset victory over Mario and Ganondorf in GameFAQs’ “Character Battle IX”,¬†I’ve had an idea brewing in my head. ¬†He had a great victory, but I want more. ¬†As crazy as it may sound, how great would it be for a character from Final Fantasy IX to win the ninth Character Battle?

Needless to say, chances are slim – Link is still in the running, and he’s won many of the character battles in the past, not to mention Sephiroth and the dreaded Tetris “L-Block”. ¬†If Vivi’s gonna win, he’s gonna need some help.

That’s where you come in.

For the next five days (ending at 11:59 pm on Wednesday, September 4th), I’ll be accepting submissions artwork that encourages votes for Vivi. ¬†At that time (possibly the following morning, as I have to get to work), I’ll post these pieces of art to this blog, and people will be able to vote on their favorite campaign posters for the next few days, either on this page, the Facebook profile (FFIXBlog) or on Twitter (@FFIXBlog).

When the Character Battle with Vivi in it begins (the next one is on Sunday, Sept. 8), I’ll tally the votes and declare the winner!

The winner will receive either a copy of FFIX, a FFIX poster, or anything¬†FFIX-related that they can think of (given that it’s in the $10-$30 price range… ¬†I can’t afford much more, but if people donate, the prizes can become much larger!).

Didn’t win? ¬†Don’t worry! ¬†Every time that Vivi moves into the next round, I will begin to accept submissions again, and the contest will recur until he loses. ¬†That means if he gets to the finals, there will be three chances to win!

I think this could be a lot of fun. ¬†I’d love to see some great¬†FFIX¬†artwork come out of this!

To enter, simply email your poster as an attachment to Zidane@finalfantasyix.com, with “Vote for Vivi”, along with the title of your work, in the subject line.

Artists… ¬†Start your pencils! ¬†Vote for Vivi! ¬†And, most importantly, have fun!

VIVIIIIIIII!!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EDIT: ¬†I’m running a 5-day “Vote Vivi” campaign poster contest! ¬†Check it out, draw Vivi, win free stuff!

Hey Y’all,

In case ya didn’t know, GameFAQs is running another one of their “Character Battles”, a place where video games’ greatest characters duke it out for your vote. ¬†Unfortunately, Zidane was taken down by Squirtle (pffffffft), but Vivi pulled a HUGE upset over Mario and Ganondorf the other day. ¬†Here’s the map of the vote breakdown, with blue being a Mario country, Green for Vivi, and Red for Ganondorf:

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Fuck yeah, Russia. You know what’s good.

As you can see, Europe and southeast Asia were big supporters of the Vivi cause, which is great. ¬†However, it’s not like Vivi won a landslide victory – out of about 40,000 votes cast in this character battle, Vivi beat out mario by 0.18%… or 74 votes. ¬†Intense.

Vivi had a great victory, but he’s got a long way to go before he claims that crown, and there are still some other big names (Sephiroth, Link, Pokemon Trainer Red) in the running.

But you know what? ¬†I’m feelin’ it. ¬†It’s Character Battle IX, after all; ¬†maybe it’s time that a character from the greatest game of all time stood up against the everyday, run-of-the-mill winners… and took them down.

He’s already beat Mario, one of the most iconic video game characters ever.

Let’s band together and show the world what Vivi can do.

Vivi’s next battle is on September 8th. ¬†He’ll be facing the winners of the battles between Squall, Amaterasu, Missingno, and Wario, Pok√©mon Trainer Red, Urdnot Wrex. ¬†If he wins that, he’ll be in the “Final Nine”, ¬†with only one Battle keeping him from the Final.

All right, guys. ¬†If y’all know any Vivi fans out there, let them know.

Let’s do this.