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.

 

Zero Time Dilemma: Deconstruction of Choice in Video Games

I apologize that I haven’t been posting much lately. I’m kind of preparing to move and being in that phase leaves me feeling rather blasé about writing. I have found time, however, to play a new game from start to finish, and since I just finished it last night, I think I’d like to discuss it here. It just so happens the game is Zero Time Dilemma (3DS), the final game in the puzzle/visual novel Zero Escape trilogy. And today’s prompt is dilemma – what are the odds? I’m likely going to slip in and out of spoiler territory, so be forewarned.

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Fashion Fades, Only Style Remains the Same

Growing up, I was desperate to find games that changed your character’s look based on their equipment. At the very least I wanted to be able to change their clothes. Sure, saving the world is important, and being stronger than your enemies is rad, but my priority was – and continues to be – being stylish.

Lucky for me, there’s a wide variety of games these day that let you customize your look so you can be as fashion-forward as you want. Often you can mix and match looks (with varying results…) but often entire gear sets are designed with a powerful form to match its powerful function.

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Riki is the most stylish heropon!

MMORPGs, such as Final Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft, even let you transfer the form of one piece of gear to another, in case you have a certain look you’re trying to go for. XIV lets you dye your clothes too, allowing cohesion in outfits that come from differently matched gearsets.

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I liked the pretty blue coat my Summoner was wearing, and thought I’d make the horn and pants look nicer by dyeing them white!

It’s nice being at the point in video games where the kind of attention to detail and level of game capability can allow for so much variety in looks. Though it’s tremendously superficial, it’s so satisfying. Honestly, it’s my top priority in any game that lets you dress up to find my favorite outfits, over anything. Heck, I wandered through Xenoblade Chronicles wearing some pretty weak armor just because I hated the way newer stuff looked. That’s pretty unreasonable to some, but I can’t help it! I just love to be stylish!

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Take Some Time to Recharge: Forced Time Limits and Gameplay

Awhile back I was working at a job that, in retrospect, made me very unhappy. Each day brought a new discomfort and the commute was kind of a pain. I would have to take the bus out to the end of the line each morning and then ride my bike an additional 15 minutes just to get there, all to do a job nobody particularly thought I was good at. Needless to say, mornings were not my favorite time of day.

At one point, however, I decided to take my 20 minute bus ride and turn it into a little “me” time each day. I accomplished this by dragging my 3DS along with me and trying to play a game that would relax me. I chose games that I could pick up or leave at any time but also had clear stopping points. The Phoenix Wright series was my go-to for awhile, until I got through them all. My other option was actually put onto my machine for me by Nintendo. Now, people don’t usually like these forced suggestions, be they games or music or what-have-you, but I’m actually not offended by something I can easily delete. The game was Pokemon Picross, and it saved my sanity a number of times.

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Plop Goes the Weasel: Gaming in a Rut

There have been far too many days in my life where I feel either so tired, anxious, or depressed that all I can do at some point is plop down and play a game. Not just any game, though. A familiar game. A game that I’ve played so many times that I probably shouldn’t derive pleasure from it anymore, but I do. This is a great way to relax, however I also notice that I fall into a slump, and that can prevent me from starting a new game or even just finishing a different game that I never finished before.

I don’t know what it is exactly, but something has gotten so daunting about playing an unfamiliar game. It isn’t that I’m afraid I won’t like it (that’s actually irrelevant to me as if I don’t like something I can just stop) it’s always some concern about time. If I haven’t played the game, then I should pay close attention and I should dedicate more time to really feeling out the game. Something about this mindset makes me equate the process with work, and that kind of bothers me.

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This, however, is totally fine and doesn’t really wear me out.

My attention span isn’t the problem, as if anything it has only improved since my youth, but the prospect of utilizing it is a deterrent to me. I’ll get around to that game on a day I can set aside strictly for playing that game. Until then though, I’ll just go back to what’s familiar. And so I do, and I never leave.

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It’s interesting that something used to procrastinate is now something I procrastinate on…

One exception I’ve found are handheld games. I adore my 3DS and have played several more titles over the years on it. I think that being able to close the system and put a game on standby is a big help, as it allows me to stop and start playing whenever I feel like. It doesn’t involve booting up my computer or turning on a console and selecting which game to put in.

Despite my reforged love for portable gaming, I still find myself frustrated that I don’t dedicate more time to titles I’m interested in. I’ve been trying to finish I Am Setsuna for ages now, and that game isn’t very long. I found out a few years ago that I actually really enjoyed playing Bayonetta but I haven’t sat down to push through more of it since that discovery. I’m not sure if this is a personal issue, an aging issue, or something felt by a lot of gamers, but it’s one I can’t seem to shake. I keep thinking it may be connected to real life organization, that maybe I don’t make my games accessible enough physically, however whenever I get things set up even just so I still hem and haw over actually turning a game on.

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One of the last big console games I finished.

And so I find myself in a rut, unable to enjoy some big new world that I would probably love, because I’m so complacent and comfortable… Of course, maybe I’m just being too hard on myself. Maybe I should just let myself enjoy gaming, no matter what game I play. But still, I would prefer to not limit myself, especially since the only thing that seems to be in my way is me.