HAPPY BIRTHDAY FINALFANTASYIX.COM! HERE’S A RANT

For FINALFANTASYIX.COM’S SIXTH BIRTHDAY, I thought I’d put together a nice lil’ post for y’all!  Friend of the blog, Anneke, gave me this idea, and I decided to run with it. It’s all about the identity of each of the main characters, and how there are specific pairings of characters who have opposite ways of deriving their sense of meaning/identity in the context of the group.  Hope you enjoy, and feel free to comment below if you’ve got ideas, too!

HAPPY SIXTH BIRTHDAY FINALFANTASYIX.COM!!!

Garnet vs. Zidane

Princess Garnet is assigned a role at birth; she is the princess of a nation. She is expected to act like a princess, be educated like a princess, and one day take over her mother’s role as queen. Before the events of the game, and specifically before Queen Brahne’s husband died, this appeared to suit her just fine; she only attempted to leave the castle after Brahne began acting strangely, and Garnet felt it necessary to warn her uncle Cid, Regent of Lindblum, of what she had noticed about her mother. Her role was fixed, specific; and had her life not been turned upside down by her mother’s corruption, it very well may have remained that way.

Garnet had to find out who she really was when this role was ripped from her. Even up to the moment that her mother ordered her execution, Garnet was clinging to that role. She was raised as the future queen of Alexandria; everything she had done to that point was to serve that end, and to reach that point someday.

Garnet’s also unique in that her identity changes multiple times throughout the course of the game: from princess, to adventurer, to feeling like a guilt-ridden and powerless burden after her mother’s death, and finally to the queen she always expected to become. (Oh, and less we forget, a badass-af summoner.)

Zidane is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum: he didn’t even know where he was born or where he came from, much less what role he was to play in the world of Final Fantasy IX. He fell in with a band of thieves, and adopted that as his identity. They were kind to him and nurtured him as a child, and that was all Zidane needed to find his identity within the group. They were his found family.

Again, Zidane’s conflict is when the opposite of what he expects happens: not only does he find out where he’s from, but he finds out that he’s had a very specific role to play this entire time: namely, the key player in the destruction of Gaia, his home world. I’ve always been intrigued by how quickly he gives into the idea that he is Gaia’s “angel of death”; one minute he’s a snarky punk, mouthing off to his very creator, and the next he’s in Pandemonium, slumped in a metal-as-hell throne, completely resigned to his fate and willing to dump all his friends? (To be honest, I find this to be one of the weirder, more jarring transitions throughout the game. I wish it were fleshed out a bit more.)

Anyway, Zidane’s identity goes through a bit of a back and forth, but eventually, like Garnet, he realizes the fate that he always had for himself: not having a specific identity tied to his own identity, but realizing his fate through his friends, those he deemed to need help, and his own moral compass. (And by the end of the game it looks like he’s gonna be the king of Alexandria woop woooooooop GET IT ON Y’ALL)

Freya vs. Quina

The second pairing that is interesting to examine is Freya and Quina. Freya traverses the world, searching endlessly for her long-lost lover. She never loses hope, but at the same time, she seems pretty damn miserable throughout her journey. She’s always holding two conflicting feelings in her head: absolute conviction that she’ll find Fratley one day, and gnawing dread that she may never see him again. Every time she just misses him, every time she hears rumors of where he might be, it fuels both of these feelings: he’s right around the corner, and at the same time he’s nowhere to be found. I don’t care how full of conviction or determination you are, that’s gonna get draining after a while, and she’s been at this for years.

We’ll never know how Freya may have felt if she had gone another few years without finding Fratley, but I’d guess she’d never give up the search, slowly be drained of all life and hope, never able to let go of the cognitive dissonance of knowing she’ll find someone who’ll never be found. As Fratley was turned into a husk of his former self from the inside out by losing his memory, Freya would be hollowed from the outside in, hopelessness pressing in on all sides and eventually seeping through. (Jeez, that’s depressing… what happened in the game still sucked for Freya, but it’s a hell of a lot better than this….)

Quina…… Oh, Quina. Every year that goes by, I appreciate Quina more.  S/he really is the best, and it’s her polar opposition to Freya that makes her so.  There’s something romantic about doggedly pursuing your long-lost lover, being tied to someone (or the idea of someone, I suppose) so steadfastly.

Romantic?  Maybe. You know what it’s not?  Fun.

Quina essentially gets kicked out of their marsh by Quale, who tells them to go experience the world.  You might think, “man, Quina, this is a bummer for you. You’ve gotta leave this marsh, the only place you’ve ever called home, and find what’s waiting for you in this big scary world. How are you gonna deal with that?”

You know how Quina deals with it?  By being SUPER AMPED when Quale tells her that there’s better foods than frogs out there. After that, Quina is 100% in. That’s all s/he needed to get pumped, and that’s all s/he needs throughout the entirety of the game.  If a place has dope food, that place rules; if not, that place sucks. Either way, though, it doesn’t color Quina’s entire experience; s/he doesn’t have some overarching hope that she’s striving for, or conflict that she’s struggling against.  Nope, just finding awesome food and eating it. Experiencing experience for experience’s sake, and having a positive outlook on it regardless of how great or terrible it is.

As a serial brooder myself, there’s a lot I could learn from Quina.  I think we could all take a page out of their book.

Eiko vs. Amarant

Tiny, blue-haired girl versus giant, red-haired man; total chatterbox versus the strong, silent type; barely any chin at all versus one of the most intimidating chins on the Playstation. Y’all ain’t gonna find many character pairs in gaming that are more polar opposite than Eiko and Amarant.  The difference we’re gonna focus on today, however, is possibly the most stark of all: the difference between how they handle group dynamics in relation to their identity.

Eiko’s last summoner relative, her grandpa, died before the events of the game.  While she’s still got the moogles to look after her, her loneliness is still obvious from the jump.  She starts off bratty and a bit standoffish, but it doesn’t take long before she’s talking everyone’s ear off (especially Zidane’s (who can blame her, Zidane is bae)) and asking to join them on their adventures.  Hell, before you even meet her in-game, if you wait for the character panels to appear at the New Game/Continue menu, you can see her signature phrase:

“I don’t want to be alone anymore.”

This loneliness is consuming her, and the appearance of the party is a social lifeline that she quickly grabs hold of.  She needs the party for one simple reason: she needs human connection.

AMARANT, on the other hand… man, Amarant is weird.  I still have trouble figuring out exactly what he wants with the rest of the party.  Clearly, he’s fascinated by the concept of teamwork, but also appears pretty solidly against it until the very end.  For the first disc or two after he appears, he basically follows the party, complaining and talking about how much teamwork sucks… while also thinking “damn, Zidane is cool as hell” to himself.

Anyway, it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t put any stock in “being part of the team” as being part of his identity.  He’s a proud loner, and is convinced that “my way or the highway” is the way to get results in this world. This view changes over the course of the game, when he sees Zidane use teamwork and connection to accomplish things that’d be impossible on his own, but it seems like Amarant is much more interested in learning how (and why) other people think/act the way they do than he is in learning about how (and why) he thinks and acts.  He appears to have all the meaning/identity he needs just by existing and learning from others, even if he doesn’t necessarily need the group to form an identity for himself.

Steiner vs. Vivi

MY GUYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYS

One of the reasons that Steiner and Vivi work so fucking well together is because of how totally fucking different they are. The way they derive their identity is EXACTLY OPPOSITE and also THE EXACT SAME, and that’s what makes it so AWESOME.

Okay, look, so Steiner is a knight.  Tremendous knight. Best knight. (Trivia, in case you don’t know: he beat Beatrix in a duel once.  He’s THAT good.) He became the best knight because he derived all identity and self-worth out of WORKING HIS ASS OFF TO BE THE BEST KNIGHT.  He had a singular purpose, and every action he took (before the events of the game, through about disc 2) was to further his goal (and cement his identity) as Alexandria’s greatest knight.  His power comes from his steadfast ability to focus on a singular goal, and doggedly pursue it, no matter what.

Now, when the party comes along, and his most-dearly-held views, things he’s known his entire life, are challenged – and eventually shattered, when he finally realizes how crazy Brahne has gone – it completely upends his sense of self.  “If everything I’ve done so far has been in pursuance of this corrupted goal, then what the hell have I been doing? What do I do now?”, etc…… which puts him in the exact same position as Vivi.  Which we will get to now.

Vivi, bless his little Black Mage heart, never had a purpose.  He basically woke up one day in a foreign world, no one to really tell him what to do or how to live (besides Quan, I guess), and was essentially told to figure it out.  He didn’t have the comfort that Steiner’s dogged determination gave him; he didn’t even have the comfort that is given by being an automaton, like the other black mages. He had to start off with a completely blank slate.  He was cursed with a perfect storm of consciousness, and a total lack of direction. He started from the point Steiner got to when Steiner realized that everything he had worked for was corrupted. A state of total confusion.

That said, this state of confusion made him mentally resilient and open to experience.  He potentially has the most depressing story in all of FFIX, and, while he definitely freaks out a few times, he learns how to roll with the punches, examine his experiences, and come up with his own reason for being.  The party doesn’t give him a reason for being like it does for Eiko; like Steiner, his reason is external to himself.  But, though his reason is external, it’s also completely self-derived, and that is what makes him and Steiner so different.  No one’s telling Vivi how to act, how to live; he’s figuring it out as he goes along, which gives him the ability to change his views when contradictory evidence is presented.  This is what makes him so different from Steiner: instead of spending so much time resisting that his views on being are being upended, he simply changes his outlook.

*****

WHEW.  THIS FELT GOOD. Sorry it’s been so long!  Life’s been kinda crazy, but I got the email that finalfantasyix.com is SIX YEARS OLD TODAY, and I felt inspired to blurt out a post! It’s a first draft, and I reserve the right to edit it later, but I wanted to get it out today, beccause birthdays only come along once a year 😀

Happy sixth birthday to finalfantasyix.com!! And a huge thanks to Anneke for the idea for this post 🙂

How’s everybody doing?  How’s life? Agree with my post?  Think it’s dumber’n hell? Comment below and let’s discuss!

Hope to see you soon <3

Gaming Inspirations X: Character Profile: Zidane Tribal

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Gaming Inspirations I: Personal Party Composition
Gaming Inspirations II: Character Profile: Adelbert Steiner
Gaming Inspirations III: Character Profile: Vivi Orunitia
Gaming Inspirations IV: Character Profile: Amarant Coral
Gaming Inspirations V: Interview with Joe Zieja
Gaming Inspirations VI: Character Profile: Garnet til Alexandros XVII
Gaming Inspirations VII: Character Profile: Eiko Carol
Gaming Inspirations VIII: Character Profile: Quina Quen
Gaming Inspirations IX: Character Profile: Freya Crescent

Absolutely incredible. Check out Midorisa’s other art at midorisa.deviantart.com!

Well, here we are.  The final Gaming Inspirations Character Profile. Honestly, I can’t believe I’ve made it this far – I’m not known for finishing things I start. I guess that’s what happens when you really care about a project you’re undertaking, though; it’s a lot less work and a lot more fun when you actually give a hoot!

Naturally, I saved the best for last: my favorite character in media, the cheeky rogue, the monkey-tailed thief and protagonist of the greatest game of all time, Zidane Tribal.

The reason Zidane is the absolute goddamn best is simple: he’s the linchpin, without whom everything falls apart. This is common in terms of plot: having an event in the beginning of the story that unifies the main players isn’t exactly an innovation. Zidane unifies much more than that: the story, the party, the entire FFIX universe rides on the existence of this one character. He is the messiah of the game, the only piece of the puzzle that, if removed, utterly dooms the universe and, if included, ensures the triumph of existence over nothingness.

Continue reading “Gaming Inspirations X: Character Profile: Zidane Tribal”

Gaming Inspirations VII: Character Profile: Eiko Carol

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Gaming Inspirations I: Personal Party Composition
Gaming Inspirations II: Character Profile: Adelbert Steiner
Gaming Inspirations III: Character Profile: Vivi Orunitia
Gaming Inspirations IV: Character Profile: Amarant Coral
Gaming Inspirations V: Interview with Joe Zieja
Gaming Inspirations VI: Character Profile: Garnet til Alexandros XVII

Thanks to Kikane (kikane.deviantart.com) for letting me use this in this post! Check out more of their stuff!

Hello, friends, and welcome to the fifth Character Profile of the Gaming Inspirations series!  “Gaming Inspirations” is a series of blog posts that puts into words how gaming has inspired me to shed my anxiety and its negative effects on my life.  Final Fantasy IX has provided incredible amounts of inspiration (probably because it’s the greatest game of all time), so I’m creating a profile for each of the main characters.  Each profile will examine their unique qualities and I will detail how, through physical action, I’m going to help myself lead the life I want to lead by incorporating those qualities.

Today we’re going to talk about the sweetest little kid-summoner in the whole wide world (of Gaia), Eiko Carol!

CHARACTER SUMMARY

Eiko Carol is the lone survivor of a Summoner tribe in the village of Madain Sari (OR IS SHE?!?!?! Spoiler: she’s not).  She lives with a bunch of moogles (the cutest darn things on the planet) and apparently cooks horrendous food.

Her life gets turned on its head when she meets up with Zidane and the rest of the gang, joining them in their adventures and learning what it’s like to interact with others like her for the first time since she was very young.  At the end of the game, after suffering the crippling loneliness of being the last of her kind, she finally feels at home once again.  Yay!

CHARACTER QUALITIES

At first, writing up a Character Profile for Eiko seemed near-impossible: her demographic (6 years old, a lady, plays the flute, horn on her head, magical) seemed so distant from mine (25, dude, utter lack of horns, magic, and musical talent) that I thought there wouldn’t be much to talk about.

Boy, was I wrong.

Throughout Final Fantasy IX, Eiko brings up a major human conflict, one that all of us struggle with: loneliness.

I’m not talking about your average, garden-variety, “All-my-friends-are-gone-for-the-summer-what-am-I-to-do” loneliness, either: I’m talking about isolation.  Sure, she’s got a lot of moogles to talk to, and this is no slight on them, but… she’s different from the moogles.  No matter how nice or comforting they try to be, their core difference from Eiko prevent them from fully filling the void caused by lack of real empathy from someone who knows your struggle.

I’d be willing to bet pretty much everyone has felt this “but they don’t understand what I’m going through!  They haven’t experienced what I’ve experienced!  How could they possibly understand how I’m feeling?” loneliness before.  Hell, I know I have.  A lot.  My experience is different, unique from anyone else’s; it seems natural to assume that, since they haven’t experienced what I’ve experienced, it’d be impossible to understand the depth or intricacies of how I’m feeling.

The “They Don’t Understand” feeling is amplified when the situations or events are completely out of your control, and when is your life more out of your control than when you’re a kid?  Eiko didn’t choose to be born in Madain Sari.  She didn’t choose for her family to be slaughtered.  Hell, she couldn’t even choose who she wanted to hang out with!  When these sorts of things are chosen for you and you’re powerless to change them, it’s easier to slip into a lonely, fatalistic sort of despair.

Let me tell you why this idea is irrelevant and should be discarded.

HOW TO INCORPORATE (or, in this case, dis-incorporate (is that a word?  I don’t think that’s a word.  Whatever)) THESE QUALITIES

This “They Don’t Understand” delusion doesn’t do anyone any good: it’s isolating for the person feeling it, and it makes the people trying to help feel powerless.  But, in the moment when you’re feeling it, it’s very difficult to avoid: how could they possibly understand?  How are you supposed to trick yourself into thinking that they do?

There’s only one thing you can do.  There’s one phrase you have to integrate into your vocabulary, the only thing that will help when you’re feeling lonely and misunderstood:

Control what you can control.

There are going to be events in your life that make you feel like poop and are totally beyond your control.  It happens to everyone, and it sucks no small amount of ass.

Wait.  Did you read that?

“It happens to everyone”.

This is hard to remember when you’re in the throes of despair, but you need to realize that, when your friends are doing what they can to help you, it’s because they have felt pain, too.  No, it’s not the exact same pain.  No, it’s not the exact same situation.  But in the immortal words of Westley from The Princess Bride: “Life is pain, princess.  Anyone who says otherwise is selling something”.  Everyone knows pain, and friends are those who help (or try, at least) to take the pain away.

In these situations, when you’re at your worst, looking at what you can control and taking control of them is a must.  One major thing that you control (when you’re an adult, at least) is who you choose to spend your time with.  Spend time with people who make you happy, and trust that those people will empathize with you and help you in any way they can.  Whether they’ve felt exactly how you feel is irrelevant; what’s important is that they are willing to try and shoulder some of that burden with you.

When Eiko meets Zidane and the gang, she sees that she doesn’t need to be alone anymore.

You don’t, either.

All it takes is a little trust, concentrating on what you can control, and getting by with a little help from your friends.

Gaming Inspirations VIII: Quina Quen

FFIXBlog Presents: FFIXSwag

photo

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 😀

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.

“Yeah, the less said about Necron, the better,”  he said.  “He was definitely just thrown in there.”

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

“Wait, what?  What are you talking about?”  I sputtered, and we proceeded to have a heated debate about Necron’s purpose for a few minutes.

After these few minutes, my friend said, “y’know, I think this would make a great blog post.”

SO HERE I AM!  😀

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?

Image

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:

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

–  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… somethingright?

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.

Arguments For And Against A Remake of Final Fantasy IX

For:  The Artwork Can Only Get Better

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”.

Boy, was I wrong.

(Before I go any further, I’ll give y’all the link:  http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=551612).

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”.

Ruby's Mini Theater Never Looked So Good.
Ruby’s Mini Theater Never Looked So Good.

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 realismreal-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.

Poor Squeenix.

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!

All the Game’s a Stage (Published 2/25/2013)

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.

The Dark Side of the Force: How and Why Queen Brahne of Final Fantasy IX Met a Similar Fate as one of the Most Famous Villains in Cinema (Published 2/24/2013)

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 ^^