A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “Final Fantasy VII

Post-Apocalyptic Beginnings – Fallout 3

So yesterday I finally knuckled under and purchased Fallout 3 on Steam. I’d previously played and beaten Fallout and Fallout 2 (although I much prefer Fallout since I know that game pretty darn well) and I’d forgotten one thing: the moment I leave the comfort of the starting zone, I’m totally and completely lost. Like, seriously lost. If it wasn’t for the compass on the bottom left of the screen, I would’ve probably died to sunstroke or something before finding a settlement. Okay, that’s an exaggeration since I’m better at games than I like to think I am.

Considering Fallout 3 has been out a while, I’m going to guess that no one minds a few spoilers, so here we go. I found the intro to the game to be pretty robust. I enjoyed the kind of on-the-rails gameplay in the Vault because it really did help to introduce me to the world and get familiar with the controls. I’m still struggling with first-person perspective, so I bounce between 3rd person and first a lot. Yay motion sickness!

Upon exiting the Vault my first time, I didn’t really notice the compass, so I just made my way out to the scenic outlook sign and took in the scenery, trying to figure out where this town called Megaton that’d I’d read about in the Overseer’s notes was. Eventually I made my way down to the road and hung a left, walking my way between the skeletal forms of single family homes and past a former gas station and being serenaded by a floating robot with speakers that talked with Malcom McDowell’s voice. Immediately I’m suspicious because, well, Admiral Tolwyn encourages such a thing from me.

Eventually I found signs pointing my way to Megaton and upon entering I stopped playing. It’s hard to not feel overwhelmed by the game. It’s the same sensation I got when playing Final Fantasy VII and I just left Midgard or Baldur’s Gate and I’d just left Candlekeep and Gorion was killed. There are plenty of fish-out-of-water situations, but the D.C. Area Wasteland is simultaneously covered in enemies and moderately familiar to me. It’s hard to tell which is dangerous: the enemies or my potentially useless area knowledge.

Anyway, in every fight thus far (not many) I’ve thanked God for the VATS system since I’m typically a horrible shot. More or less. Here’s hoping I don’t get in too much trouble as I play more.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Question 1; A frenzied vault scientist runs up to you and yells I’m gonna put my Quantum Harmoniser in your Photonic Resonation Chamber. What’s your response?” – Mr. Brotch during the G.O.A.T. test.

Thoughts Caused by Music – Video Games Live

An early post! Maybe I’ll post another one on Monday to stay with my schedule… in the meantime, I was inspired and had to get this down. I recently had the good fortune to attend the Video Games Live concert near me and close to the end I had a sort of epiphany. Let me explain…

I was sitting next to one of my friends and just as the orchestra was starting into a piece on World of Warcraft and he made some kind of comment about the game that I interpreted as kind of disparaging toward the game and anyone who played it. Later in the set, the orchestra played Aerith’s theme from Final Fantasy VII and another Final Fantasy piece and I found myself commenting on how Aerith’s theme has been done to death… and then I heard them play it.

I came to a realization at that point. I’m no longer going to encourage, entertain, commiserate, or even allow anyone around me to speak ill of anyone for their gaming preferences. If you want to play World of Warcraft, good on you, I hope you have a great time. If you’re really a huge fan of Final Fantasy VII and think Sephiroth is the coolest bad guy and so on, I’m happy you’ve found something you’re really into. I’m genuinely happy that there’s a franchise that you can dive into and truly feel connected and entertained.

I realized at that moment, listening to the amazing performance and feeling the notes of beautifully rendered music wash over me, that I’ve played these games and whereas they don’t really do it for me, they did reach me somehow and they were entertaining to me. When I saw the death of Arthas as the Lich King (they were playing footage on the screen behind the orchestra) and felt the power of the moment through the music, I felt pity for the guy (yeah, I know, he wasn’t really smart picking up that evil sword, but it was a pretty awesome sword). I knew him in Warcraft III and that connection was all I needed. When I heard Aerith’s theme done in person, I felt the emotions when I first witnessed her death and I realized that my scoffing at the performance initially was short sighted and foolish. Aerith was my friend for however long I knew her. The developers did an amazing thing (heartbreaking) killing her so early in the game and she is quite the tragic figure. I will never look at Warcraft or Final Fantasy VII quite the same way again.

I hope I can carry this “live and let live” attitude into other portions of my life. Like with television shows or books that people like to read but I find to be nothing but drivel… if someone enjoys that material then it has served its purpose and has entertained. I shall not continue to disparage things just because I’m squeamish or reluctant to take part in them.

I’ll say it again though… listening to that music, I remembered that I genuinely cared for the characters of Arthas and Aerith to some degree, even after all these years. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to them then and I still strangely have hopes for them today. I understand getting connected to a franchise, to a character, to a series of stories and I understand how emotionally powerful that can be. When a game reaches you and makes you gasp, cry out, tear up, laugh, scream in frustration, that’s the story, music, art, and design playing your heartstrings like a harp. I know that feeling and I can identify with anyone and everyone who has ever experienced such a thing, regardless of the medium. I invite everyone with similar experiences to look upon your fellow game players and book readers and show watchers and movie goers and to say, “I’ve been there. Tell me of your experiences and I’ll share mine.” We are a community of humans and, whereas we don’t always get along, our similarities far outweigh any differences.

Be good to each other and share your experiences. Telling stories about our friends (fictional or not) to people we don’t know is one way of making new and potentially lasting friends.

Until next time.

– Elorfin

P.S. “Music exalts each joy, allays each grief, expels diseases, softens every pain, subdues the rage of poison, and the plague.” – John Armstrong, The Art of Preserving Health (1744, Book IV, Line 512).

What makes a great game? – Part 1: Music

Hi everyone! This is part one of my 435 part series, Better Know a… wait… wrong! This is the first part of some kind of series that will be however many parts I feel it will be until I’ve nailed down my perspective a bit.

I want to tackle what makes games great for me (specifically) and to touch on what makes them great for everyone else (generally). Obviously, my perspective is limited to what I like and that’s what this little project is all about so, well, deal with it. For context, I’ve provided links to some of the references I make.

Anyways, I was watching some clips on YouTube that contained some orchestrated video game music and I was wondering why I want to see my game music presented in such a fashion and why I enjoy it when it hits the big music halls. I think I might have an answer to that: I want my favorite moments to be presented in a format that is obviously and without question HIGH CLASS. Orchestrated music is always high class to me. The performers take it very seriously and the audience treats whatever they perform as a serious thing. This probably stems from the classical pieces they typically play which are by definition today culturally serious and historically important. Orchestrated music is the highest form of presentation that any music can achieve to be (my opinion, so nyah). The pure music just washing over you, letting it fill the room and flow in and around you, yeah, the orchestra is the best medium for this.

When I experience an event and it has music associated, I find it easier to recall said event. Music is a very powerful device that conveys emotion and thought and when associated with events that are powerful and poignant on their own, well, it’s a complete presentation.

In my past, I’ve played a great number of games. The games that I feel have incredible soundtracks weren’t the games I started on: Sim City, Civilization, F-19 Stealth Fighter, Starflight, Star Fleet, Empire, or any of a dozen other games. The earliest memory of a game with a fantastic soundtrack that still impacts me today comes from (well, there’s two) Final Fantasy VI (it was III back then) and Chrono Trigger, both on the Super Nintendo. When playing those games, I immediately feel the joy inherent in living through something that I experienced positively back then. When listening to the soundtracks, I remember every event that happened. When I want to relive the games without playing them, I listen to the music.

Off the top of my head, if I listen to the Phantom Forest track from Final Fantasy VI, I remember finding my way to the Ghost Train that carries the deceased away from our world to the next and Cyan watching his wife and son leave. If I listen to the Bombing Mission track from Final Fantasy VII, I remember riding on the train at the beginning of the game, wondering who the hell this spiky haired guy was and further wondering what this mission had in store for me (and what in the world was I getting into?). When listening to Frog’s Theme from Chrono Trigger, I see in my mind the mountain opening before Frog as he wields the Masamune and vows to defeat Magus. Music in video games is a powerful device…

…but it’s not restricted to video games. In Star Wars, when I hear the Binary Sunset track, I can envision a young Luke Skywalker standing and watching the suns of Tatoo I and Tatoo II set, wondering where his future is going. In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the Concerning Hobbits piece makes me think of the Hobbits going about their business in preparation of Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday. So, when I want to experience a movie without watching the movie, I listen to the soundtrack.

It’s also not just memories of scenes. It’s the emotional connections that those scenes have for me. When hearing the Battle with Magus Theme from Chrono Trigger, I remember fighting him and feeling like the fight could go either way at any time as I struggled to keep my trio alive through the onslaught of spells Magus frequently dropped. When hearing the piece from Final Fantasy XIII called Blinded by Light, I feel excitement regarding the battle that MUST be going on right now. Every time I hear Chrono Cross’ Scars of Time (aka Time Scar), I remember the investment I made in that game and all the incredible experiences that went along with it as well as the successful strategies and terrible defeats I suffered while playing. For the record, the final boss fight in Chronopolis was a real pain. *shakes fist* Curse you, Miguel!

Growing up, PC games typically didn’t have great soundtracks. X-COM had a decent one that kept me excited or scared depending on what was going on. Wing Commander III was one of my earliest quality PC soundtrack experiences that sticks in my head. I didn’t experience the awesomeness that was The Secret of Monkey Island until later on (but chronologically, that’s years before WCIII), but that soundtrack is awesome and the theme for the game is nearly iconic for adventure games. So, yeah, they were there, but decent PC soundtracks didn’t come along until later (with Warcraft II and such and yes, I acknowledge that my game timeline might be a little off).

I suppose part of my want to hear orchestrated soundtracks of my games stems from a desire to hear my passions and pastimes validated in a public forum where a large number of people voluntarily pay to experience what I once experienced on a much more emotionally invested level. I want people to look at this music and wonder where such notes came from and then to seek out the original source with the curiosity borne of a desire to experience the emotions that the music provokes. When I hear music, it takes me places that I’ve been before. When I hear the Imperial March, I was there with Vader as he condemned the Rebellion. When I hear Forth Eorlingas, I was there as the Rohirrim rode to the rescue. When I hear Clash on the Big Bridge, I was there to fight Gilgamesh! Um, for that last one, yes in Final Fantasy V and later again in Final Fantasy XII when Gilgamesh is an optional hunt (they remixed the original song for the latter one).

I want to go there. I want to be there. Music is my vehicle that takes me where I want to go and helps me feel the emotions tied to those places and doing those things. For the record, Lost Odyssey has an awesome soundtrack, but it’s very sad (especially A Sign of Hope and Parting Forever). The thing is… well, orchestrated music speaks to me WAYYYYY more than the regular stuff we hear on the radio. Songs with words touch me, but not like A Sign of Hope does. The Indiana Jones theme speaks more of adventure to me than any song with lyrics that was in [insert recent action movie here].

A moving and powerful soundtrack is a must for a good game. The longer I play games, the more I find that I love a good soundtrack. When Final Fantasy XIII was still on its way out here in the U.S., I pre-ordered the soundtrack for myself. It’s awesome and the more I play the game, the more the soundtrack gains relevance and power with me. If the music is good, I suppose I’m more tolerant of the shortcomings of the game.

A great piece sends a tingle up my spine. It makes me go “wow” and compels me to listen to it all the way through. It makes me feel like I’m in the presence of something important or powerful or incredible or whatever. When I hear Frog’s Theme (look above for the link) performed amazingly well, it literally sends chills down my spine. THAT is powerful music. I have a theory that it’s the trumpets and/or the entire brass section, but I’m also a fan of the strings… so yeah, I think I’ll just claim it’s the orchestral nature and leave it at that.

Oh, the clips that spawned this link-heavy presentation of mine were of a Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross medley done this past September in Germany. Here’s part one and here’s part two.

Until next time, let the music move you!

– Elorfin

P.S. Because I played the PC version of FFVII, I must admit that I heard/saw the intro far more than the rest of the game while I tried different sound card settings. Eventually I got it right, after experiencing the same intro cutscene at least six times.

P.P.S. A quick timeline of the release dates of the discussed objects in this particular post (this doesn’t mean I saw Star Wars in 1977 since I wasn’t born until several years later):

  • Star Wars – 1977
  • Star Wars Imperial March – 1980
  • Indiana Jones – 1981
  • Star Fleet I: The War Begins – 1985 (DOS)
  • Starflight – 1986 (DOS)
  • Empire: Wargame of the Century – 1987 (DOS)
  • F-19 Stealth Fighter – 1988 (DOS)
  • Sim City – 1989 (DOS)
  • The Secret of Monkey Island – 1990 (DOS)
  • Civilization – 1991 (DOS)
  • Final Fantasy V – 1992 (Japan Only)
  • Final Fantasy VI – 1994 (SNES)
  • Wing Commander III – 1994 (PC)
  • Chrono Trigger – 1995 (SNES)
  • Warcraft II – 1995 (PC)
  • Final Fantasy VII – 1998 (PC)
  • Chrono Cross – 2000 (US Release)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – 2002
  • Final Fantasy XII – 2006 (US Release)
  • Lost Odyssey – 2008 (US Release)
  • Final Fantasy XIII – 2010 (XBOX 360)

P.P.P.S. I forgot to mention Lunar! Gah! I fail!

Final Fantasy XIII – In Progress, Part 1

Pardon me while I gush about the latest installment in the Final Fantasy series…

Dear God, this is an incredible game! I’m really enjoying the experience overall and I have complained very little and in only the most appropriate points (typically when I die, I grumble, but that’s not uncommon).

I love the cutscenes, the character development, the graphics, the epic music, the character designs (stereotypically Japanese RPG style, but I’m cool with it), the battle system, and how much I’m actually connecting with the characters. I can sympathize with Snow, I understand what Hope’s going through, I feel terrible for the situation that Sazh is in and I’m rooting for him (he’s like Lando Calrissian and I love that… and yes, that’s an awesome and adorable chocobo chick in his ‘fro), I think Fang is a really cool character, Vanille is a much deeper character than I thought she was initially (and that was a very pleasant surprise) and Lightning is my favorite heroine in a video game (because she’s freaking cool!).

Combat flows smoothly with an “Auto” function that is far smarter than I originally expected. What happens is it collects information as the combat proceeds and if certain attacks are resisted or more damaging, it adjusts accordingly. The auto-hinder function for the Saboteur combat role doesn’t keep trying to poison something that’s immune to poison. The auto-heal function defaults to healing the most critical of targets. The friendly AI is actually clever in this game (it was in FFXII as well).

The game is linear thus far (I’m in chapter 10 after 23 hours and 20 minutes of game play and 108 saves) but it’s starting to open up now that I can finally pick my own party members out of the six available.

I’m LOVING my experience. For the record, I’m playing the XBox 360 version of the game on a high-def tv at a friend’s house with surround sound and a comfy chair. Many thanks to one of the best damn friends in the world for putting up with my gaming in his basement!

The strategy guide is very well written (which I appreciate after the FFVII PC strategy guide burned me oh so bad back then). Yes, I use a strategy guide, but only because I’m mildly obsessive about getting all the treasure as I go… and most FF games are devoid of a New Game + mode (which keeps me coming back to Chrono Trigger) so I’d like to be a near-completionist the first time through. The guide keeps the spoilers to a bare minimum with world class advice (like which Paradigms I should prepare so that I don’t get owned in fights) and when I should bother to grind CP (effectively experience points) so that I get the biggest bang for my time spent. I appreciate all the work that went into such a tome and I look forward to plumbing its depths as I approach the conclusion of the game.

Overall, I’m thrilled to be finally playing Final Fantasy XIII. 13’s my lucky number and this has definitely been an amazing ride for the last week. It plays like an interactive movie and the music combined with the story keeps me emotionally invested in the characters plight. I WANT to help them with their task and THAT is what a good role playing game is all about: a desire to BE invested.

To all my close friends who’ve been suffering this last week thanks to my obsession with this shiny new game: thanks for putting up with me, but according to the guide, I’m definitely not done yet! Hang in there folks!

I’ll resume the regularly scheduled programming this week sometime (I hope). Don’t forget to be awesome!

– Elorfin