Final Fantasy VIII: A Subdued Junction

The Final Fantasy series is known for its great music. The memorable scores brought out in the main games by Nobuo Uematsu have created iconic themes like One-Winged Angel and Dancing Mad. Music from the various Final Fantasy side series have also been thrilling, if not distinct samples of musical prowess. Hitoshi Sakamoto and Masaharu Iwata’s work on Final Fantasy Tactics and its related games were rollicking and grand tunes that reflected the medieval-themed hierarchical world the games took place in. Kumi Tanioka’s whimsical, nostalgic tracks carved a place in the Final Fantasy franchise for the Crystal Chronicles series. There’s so much care and talent put into arranging music for these games that it’s no wonder that covers and remixes continue to be made.

Although I definitely think the composers for the side games deserve way more praise, today I want to talk about a soundtrack from the main series. It’s a game that, despite its popularity, is divisive, with some seeing the game as innovative, with a compelling and provocative storyline, and others deriding it as a sappy game with unlikable characters and broken mechanics. Without going into the merits or faults of the gameplay, I want to talk about what I consider to be one of the most  understated, unique soundtracks in the series. I’m talking, of course, of the off-beat, subdued music of Final Fantasy VIII.

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Looks Good On Paper: Video Game Originals and Sequels

It’s often said that the sequel never holds up to the original. I tend to think that video games have a better track record than movies, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some major let downs. What helps is the difference in understanding of what a series of games are and what a series of films are. A sequel will not only be compared to its predecessors, but be inextricably bound to them. Games, on the other hand, have a little more leniency when it comes to comparisons. Sure, the vitriol for gameplay changes and stylistic evolution is intense, but usually a game that follows will be allowed to stand on its own.

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Remember the sequel this was supposed to have?

Many movie franchises are sunk, or at least drastically scaled back when something fails badly. We likely (thankfully) will never see The Last Airbender 2, but we still have Metroid games after the atrocity that was Other M.

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Some may say the mother is the original, and the baby is the sequel. The baby. The baby.

However different the mediums may be, the argument for original vs. sequel is still largely the same. “They changed it, now it sucks.” Even if gamers are willing to come back to a series that promises its learned its lesson, there are still games that get ignored or unfairly derided because they can’t shake the stigma.

One example of this is the Paper Mario series. Now, I love those games. Paper Mario was great fun, and The Thousand Year Door continues to be one of my all time favorite games. This opinion is shared by a large group of fans. The next two games, however, tend to rank pretty low on people’s lists, with Super Paper Mario gaining a small following after being met with a tepid response, and Sticker Star continuing to be derided. The reason? People were mad that they moved away from the turn-based, partner-aided battle system. The fact that they haven’t returned to what fans felt made the original formula so great seems to have alienated some.

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The original Paper Mario games? HI-TECHNICAAAAAAAAL!!!

When it was first revealed that Color Splash would move forward with Sticker Star-like mechanics, people were frustrated. So much so, someone actually started a petition to get the game cancelled.  Although it seems that the tide has turned a little, since it turns out since it turns out the game is actually pretty good, thus proving further that a game sequel can survive fan disappointment and thrive, the fact still remains that people out there feel something is missing.

At this point, I typically draw some sort of conclusion about gaming culture or wrap up my thoughts (at times unceremoniously.) Today, however, I’m interested in leaving the conversation open. I will say that I would love to see one more Paper Mario/Thousand Year Door style movie, but I don’t hate Super Paper Mario or Sticker Star. I’m actually really excited to try out Color Splash. I sort of feel like hating the changes made to the series is unfair. I also think that what people really want would be a remaster of the original games. But what do you think?

Do you think that being so averse to change is a futile act of stubbornness? Or maybe that developers should consider fans more when designing things? Is there compromise in a scenario like this? Also, can you think of any game series you like that had games that divided fans and sparked outrage? Share your thoughts if you would like. If you don’t, my comment section will be… a little thin.

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Get it? Thin! Like paper! Okay, I’ll cut it out…


Paper Mario images from The Mario Wiki and Wikipedia.

Other M image also from Wikipedia.

The Last Airbender image from RogerEbert.com.

Careful… Careful…

Every gamer knows those tense moments in video games where you need to try to be careful. Sometimes that means getting up to the very edge of a tricky platform. Other times it means stocking your items and conserving your spells. Other times still, it could be taking aim with great precision. All of these situations become even more nerve-wracking when time becomes a component. Having to be careful and quick really teach us a lot about crisis management when we succeed – and patience when we fail.

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Everyone loves platforming in a turn-based RPG! (source, also note the title of that update is “The Goddamn Babel Tower Level”)

I admit that when it comes to these tasks, I have not always been the most patient person. As a kid, I would run away from random encounters in RPGs and try to kill bosses with the strongest attacks I had before they killed me. I also had a terrible habit of just throwing myself through platforming levels when I hit a mechanic I couldn’t grasp. For some reason, gliding on my cape in Super Mario World was something child me just couldn’t manage.

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Sorry, Mario. I just used Blue Yoshi. (source)

While some of my bad habits did build in me a tenacity that has seen me through many difficult gaming moments, it wasn’t until much later that I developed the patience needed to be more careful. This change is most evident when I’m playing Pokemon. As a kid, like many, I let my starter become super-powered, and had maybe one other Pokemon (Kadabra) 20 levels higher than anyone else. Now, though, I obsessively level them evenly, making sure I have a fairly balanced party, even being sure to try those I’ve never raised before.

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This Redditor gets me!

When a game adds time to the mix, however, even with patience, being careful can be hard. Consider the stairs in Castlevania, in my case especially Castlevania III. They’re already a pain to navigate, what with only one button allowing you to go up, and several, more intuitive buttons leading to your imminent demise. You have to consider pitfalls like this while avoiding aggravating enemies and making sure you’re going fast enough to avoid exhausting the timer. Then there are screens that will move upwards automatically, causing you to die if you are at the bottom when it makes the jump. Even if you managed to be careful through the rest of the game, it’s next to impossible to keep that cool head and execute the precise jumps and movements when every second counts.

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I doubt these stairs are OSHA compliant. (source)

Our patience is often tested in video games, and though our carefulness is often rewarded with success, there are many occasions where the controls and physics of a game are so bad that the only feeling overcoming an obstacle provides is continued frustration. If your jumps are so floaty that you can’t adequately guide your character to safety, your set-up so reliant on one specific line of action that only one specific precision movement can assure success, then no amount of patience is going to make a game fun, or make you care about beating it.

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I’ve been trying to find an appropriate way to review this game. It’s truly atrocious and represents everything I just brought up.

Bad games aside, though, the patience and methodical problem-solving one learns from being careful in video games are truly assets that contribute to success. For every inventory screen one has organized, the easier workplace inventories and databases become to interact with. Each arduous task builds a patience that can be translated to conflict resolution in day-to-day life. Learning to be careful in a video game is a skill like any other, honed through practice, trial-and-error, and games that are unrepentant in their difficulty. Although, sometimes it takes more to make a person take care, and the results for such a person may be less resolve and more broken possessions.

 

Let’s Play! Ferrum Secrets: Where is Grandpa? Part 1

I thought I’d start something a little different. I have been considering reviewing a handful of jarring, unimpressive puzzle games that I got on Steam for less than a dollar (total), but not much really stood out about them that you couldn’t tell from their descriptions and screenshots. I pressed on, however, intent on finding something interesting. This led me to “Ferrum Secrets Where Is Grandpa?” or as my Steam menu says “Ferrum’s Secrets: where is grandpa?” I think it was the oddly sinister title, what with its foreboding secrets about lovable old grandpa, that drew me to this one in particular. After a bit of play, however, I felt like a review wouldn’t be enough. So instead I decided to play through the whole game. I’m just not sure I could express how odd this game is without accidentally enticing someone to waste their money. I suppose I couldn’t stop you either way, but I hope you’ll find this to be enough. Also, bear with me. It gets progressively more… strange as you play.

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A Quick Update

Hey, everyone! Your ol’ pal Shell here!

This past week I’ve been moving and starting a new job, so I haven’t had much time to write really. However, that’s all settling down so I should be coming back shortly. My goal is to have a new post by Saturday.

I’ll also take this time to thank everyone who is following me. It really does mean a lot that you find me interesting enough to keep tabs. 🙂

Hope everyone out there is doing great. See you again soon!