A Glorious Fantasy: Hyper-Realism and Time Travel


Abbreviated boilerplate! Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through Lightning Returns, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’. This list continues to undergo revision, and I seriously considered removing Final Fantasy 9 from it for personal reasons. In addition, no MMO titles will be played. Sorry, folks?

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research. Let’s move on!

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Why not start with some music?

Version Played: Steam-client PC port, with largely unnoticed upscaled resolutions!

Final Fantasy VIII, notable for its awesome FMVs and its mixed reviews, received a lot of hype. A lot of hype. Coming off of the cultural sensation that was Final Fantasy VII, how could it not? Unfortunately, the truth is, Final Fantasy VIII was disappointing for a lot of people. More than enough people for it to be considered a disappointment overall. Even I, who have always loved FF8, have no choice but to admit its faults. We’ll get to those in a minute.

To my mind, that FF8 fell victim to its own hype machine is a shame. Because as a kid, there were very few games that I enjoyed as much or as completely as I enjoyed Final Fantasy VIII. And this is going to lead to my most controversial opinion about this game (well, maybe not, we’ll see). But it’s also an opinion that needs to just get out there. Let’s talk about it. Leave some feedback in the comments. Let’s talk about the protagonist, Squall Leonheart.

Squall is one hell of  a fighter. But what the hell is his problem?

Squall is one hell of a fighter. But what the hell is his problem?

Ultimately, Squall isn’t that likable. I recognize that now. But I’ve always identified with him on some level. It’s important to remember that the characters in this game are all intended to be teenagers. Teenagers with teenager problems. Squall is misunderstood in his own mind. In everyone else’s, he can’t communicate, so they can’t get to know him, so they misunderstand him. In a lot of ways, he’s a very realistic character. He’s devoted himself to his studies, but he’s awkward around everyone, because he never considered that he might need social or leadership skills, because his childhood taught him not to rely on other people for anything. His arc, over the course of the game, is coming to terms with the fact that people aren’t islands. Everyone needs help sometimes, and together, we can be greater than the sum of our parts. I believe his arc, so I like Squall.

Oh, and there’s a love story with Rinoa.

This is the first Final Fantasy game which has a focus upon a love story of any kind. We’ve seen the theme of love before; Cecil and Rosa create a love triangle of despair with Kain in Final Fantasy IV. Locke sees the love of his life come again in Celes in Final Fantasy VI. Cloud was totally oblivious to the various beautiful women hitting on him in Final Fantasy VII. It’s not until Final Fantasy VIII where we actually explore a love story as a central idea in the plot. Squall and Rinoa meet early in the game, get off to a great start, then fall apart when they get to know each other a little. Only to come all the way back around once they get to know each other a lot. The sequence I personally associate most with their relationship is best captured on video. It can (and probably should!) be argued that this is not only not the most important sequence, but doesn’t even make the top five. Among other highlights, Squall carries a comatose Rinoa on his back across like, literally, half the world, along some train tracks in a probably-futile effort to save her. Later, he attacks head-on a garrison of the most technologically sophisticated troops in the world with uhh… with his steel balls, mostly. Oh, and probably the 255 STR you’ll have Junctioned by then, as it’s very nearly the last bit of the game.

The rest of the characters are kind of incidental to this process. Quistis doesn’t become jilted when she realizes that Squall’s just not that into her. Zell, Selphie, and Irvine don’t grow up. None of them gets an especially deep treatment. Quistis and Zell get to have a little more fun since they’re around early in the game, but there’s just not much for us to know about most of these characters. They’re mercenaries. They’re time-travelers. They’re hyper-realistic.

The hyper-realistic style of FFVIII was another significant departure for the game when it first launched. Obviously, the later technology of the PS2, and the XBox 360 rendered this distinction irrelevant, but it was a big deal at the time, and the relatively lukewarm reception that the realistic character models got informed the design choices in FF9, which ultimately became all about going back to the ‘roots’ of the series. Squall and his friends have realistic proportions, and while on my HD monitor they looked pixelated and kinda crappy… they looked that way on the PSX too. The technology didn’t really exist to bring them to life. While some sequences show off the realistic motion of the characters (Quistis and Rinoa both speak in a lot of subtle gestures), the motions of Squall and Zell – particularly Zell – are often hugely exaggerated, and not really at home with the character models themselves. Luckily, the monsters and Guardian Forces don’t suffer from this same issue – they’re as grand as ever.

I probably mentioned a couple times about the time-travel. I assume at this point everyone has played FF8, but a reminder is always helpful, yes? The basic plot of Final Fantasy VIII is this: In the world, there exists a succession of powerful, female, spellcasters. They are called, creatively enough, Sorceresses. This condition is not genetic, but it is inherited, with the Sorceress either voluntarily relinquishing her powers to another, or when that Sorceress is very near death, they pass on by default. Of the four Sorceresses we meet in Final Fantasy VIII, one is a power-hungry madwoman, one is a time-traveling psychopath, and the other two are possessed by a time-traveling psychopath. Fortunately, since this is a world that knows Sorceresses could go crazy at any time, a man named Cid Kramer established a military academy at Balamb. Balamb Garden, as it is called, trains SeeD, an elite force. To finance Balamb Garden, SeeD undertakes military operations all over the world. SeeD’s true purpose, however, are to be warriors ready to contend with these Sorceresses. That much all seems pretty grounded. Now let’s take a magic carpet ride. All of the party members but Rinoa – but including major Plot MacGuffin Ellone – were raised together in an orphanage. Only none of them remember that because the Guardian Forces (the game’s summons, and the beating heart of the Junction system) steal memories in order to function. The sacrifice for becoming powerful soldiers is a loss of memories, starting with early childhood. Only Irvine actually does remember, he just doesn’t tell anyone, until everyone figures it out. Huh.

Ellone, meanwhile, has the very special power to send people’s consciousnesses back in time. She uses this ability on Squall and his friends repeatedly, sending them back into the bodies of deuteragonist Laguna Loire and his friends Kiros and Ward, who had their own misadventures 20 years earlier. Because time travel, Laguna and his friends survived many battles with the super-powerful SeeDs from the future dumping rocket fuel into their minds. Ellone just wanted to change the past for her own selfish – if understandable – reasons. She failed. But her powers are also very much desired by the time-traveling psychopath Sorceress from the future – Ultimecia – who is trying to cast a spell from three different time periods called Time Compression that does… eh, let’s actually not worry about what it does. We don’t know what it does. “Time Compression” doesn’t sound good for us though. In fact, it’s only good for Ultimecia. That’s all we know. So in order to stop that, we hatch an elaborate plan to let it happen, only, before it finishes, Squall and the gang will go rough Ultimecia up. She has a spooky castle, it has a superboss in it, and Ultimecia herself has got roughly five forms. And some great battle music. She’s also actually pretty hard if you cut a lot of corners on the way to her, and get unlucky during the battle.

So that’s the story of FF8. Only, what may or may not be interesting is that the game isn’t really about most of that stuff at all. It would be disingenuous to say that Laguna Loire’s story doesn’t matter, because you spend a fair amount of time playing as him… but the rest? That’s just stuff that’s going on while Squall tries to grow as a person, he and Rinoa fall in love, and he eventually does a series of very brave and very stupid things in order to rescue her. Then, in the end, she saves him when he’s lost in the vagaries of time travel. Time travel!

Final Fantasy VIII’s take on the battle system is also controversial. What can I say? It’s a controversial game. The Junction system works like this: You have an “inventory” of Magic, up to 100 copies of each spell, rather than using MP or spells per day or whatever else. In general, these spells never get cast, because they are “Junctioned” to your stats, like strength and defense, or your defenses. 100 Firagas to your elemental defense, for example, will put you at about 25% “absorb” on all incoming fire damage. The better the magic, the stronger the effect. Ultima junctions well to just about everything, and if you’re patient enough to accumulate 100 of them, it will raise any stat as high as it can go. So, it’s very customizable, you can basically do whatever with the characters you like best. As with FF7, the specific differences between characters are primarily in Limit Break techniques, although in FF8, Squall’s is so powerful it’s virtually required to defeat the superboss Omega Weapon. So if you’re not familiar with the game, the question you should be asking right now is “how do you get this magic?” Well, the game has a sophisticated system for refining items into spells, said items both being won from battle and from playing the (incredibly addictive) card mini-game, Triple Triad. Oh, how do you get magic before you have the right item? Or if you can’t find the right item? Well… unfortunately… you ‘draw’ it from enemies. As a command in battle. Very slowly.

Oh.

Yep. This is why people hate the Junction system. The first few hours of FF8 – assuming you already know where the right monsters are to draw from – are spent largely of sucking enemies dry of their magic to power yourself up. This process is occasionally helpful through the rest of the game, as if you know where to look, you can get early access to very powerful spells. Bosses often have good spells as well, and there are also several Guardian Forces you must ‘draw’ from bosses throughout the game. Unfortunately, unless your – I think? – Magic stat is pretty good… you’ll draw spells at a rate of 0-5 with each use of the command. You really need 100 of your spells, as the quantity affects the power of the Junction. So drawing sucks. This is where one feature of the Steam version is quite handy; the magic booster! With this turned on, all your party members receive 100 of a bunch of core spells. None of the best stuff, mind you, but some solid spells so that there is NO time lost drawing early in the game. Since the later drawing is entirely optional – everything can be obtained from items, often more easily – the Junction system’s worst feature can just be switched off. All other versions will have to go through the grind.

But FF8 isn’t about the Junction system. Junction is just something you have to deal with. And if you can get past it, you might appreciate the game a little. It’s by no means a bad entry in the series. Its plot is full of holes. Most of its characters are pretty shallow. But there’s some really good stuff at the core of FF8, and it certainly has its place in the development of the franchise as well. I think it deserves a little bit of our love.

And now I shall leave you with another one of FF8′s beautiful cutscenes. Good day.

AMV of the Day: Iwatobi Weather Service (Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club & Attack On Titan)


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This latest “AMV of the Day” was entered in this month’s AMV Contest at Anime Expo 2014. It’s definitely one of the more unique looking videos I’ve profiled for this series.

For one thing “Iwatobi Weather Service” by NekoKitkat25hug is a fanservice video. In the past, when I posted an AMV that was all about and celebrating fanservice it was usually focused on the female characters. I don’t think I ever picked one where it was the other way around. I must admit that I’ve never watched many anime that was a reverse of the typical harem-type story. The closest reverse harem anime I’ve watched would be Ouran highschool Host Club. That one didn’t even concentrate on the fanservice trope, but more on the romantic-comedy angle. With this video’s use of the swimming anime Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club it definitely focuses on fanservice.

Not my type of fanservice but I must admit that it’s quite the hilarious video (I’m sure appealing to those who have enjoyed this anime). The video also was helped by the use of The Weather Girls’ classic song, “It’s Raining Men”, which takes on a darkly humorous twist in the final minute when it’s literally raining men.

Anime: Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club and Attack On Titan

Song: “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls

Creator: NekoKitkat25hug

Past AMVs of the Day

Guardians of the Galaxy 5-minute Extended Clip


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“Hold on…what’s a racoon?”

With just a little over a week before Marvel Studios releases it’s latest comic book film with Guardians of the Galaxy it looks like the Disney marketing machine is in full swing.

Last week saw them give a 17-minute preview on IMAX screens which was well-received by those who actually went and watched it. Then just over the weekend a select number (200 or so) film journos were invited to the Disney lot to watch an advance screening of the full film. From the reaction by those who saw this screening over on Twitter it looks like Marvel has another hit in their hands which should feed the hype machine leading up to next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

I’ve already bought and reserved my seat for the early Thursday night screening next week in San Francisco’s IMAX @ the Metreon. The year-long anticipation is almost over, but for now here’s the latest offering from the Marvel and Disney marketing machine.

Trailer: Big Hero 6 (Official)


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Walt Disney Animation has always lagged behind it’s more lauded older sibling Pixar Animation. Yet, in the last couple years it’s more than held it’s own with it’s two most recent releases with Wreck-It-Ralph and Frozen. Will third time be the charm as the studio is set to release the first CG-animated feature that was greenlit after Walt Disney bought Marvel Comics over 6 years ago.

Big Hero 6 is loosely-based on the same comic book title from Marvel Comics. It tells the story of one Hiro Hamada and his sidekick balloon man….robot who must team up with an eclectic group of other would-be heroes to save the fictional city of San Fransokyo from a mysterious villain.

Big Hero 6 is set for a November 7, 2014 release date.

Trailer: The Imitation Game


Benedict Cumberbatch seems like one of those actors who is destined to eventually get at least one or two Oscar nominations over the course of his career.  Last year, a lot of people thought he might end up getting nominated for The Fifth Estate but then the film came out and promptly bombed.  In 12 Years A Slave, his supporting performance was overshadowed by Michael Fassbender’s more traditionally villainous turn.  If they awarded an Oscar for voice over work (and they really should), then Cumberbatch would have probably picked up the award for bringing Smaug to life in The Hobbit.  

So, Cumberbatch still awaits his first nomination but he might not have to wait too much longer.  In the upcoming Imitation Game, Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, who was responsible for cracking Germany’s secret code during World War II.  After the war, Turing was prosecuted under the UK’s anti-gay laws.  This is one of those true stores that would seem to be the right film at the right time to be a potential Oscar contender.

A trailer — which focuses on Turing’s work during World War II and only hints at the persecution that would define the rest of his life — was released earlier today.  And you can watch it below!

Artist Profile: Pino Daeni (1939–2010)


A Flame Run Wild

Pino Daeni was born in Bari, Italy and, because his father did not originally support his artistic interests, was originally a self-taught artist.  Eventually, Pino did enroll in the Art Institute of Bari and then the Academy of Brera in Milan.  After his paintings won several awards in Italy, he moved to New York.  In the U.S., his work caught the attention of both Dell and Zebra Book Publishers and he was soon one of the most active and highest book illustrators in the business.  Over the course of his career, he created over 3,000 book covers, movie posters, and magazine illustrations.  A small sampling of his work can be found below.

Autumn Rose Beloved Viking Starlit Ecstasy Texas Temptation Wild Magnolia 1 2 3 4 5 Restful 6 Contemplation 7 Sevile In My Heart 8 Let's Go Home

Maximum Regression: DotP 2015


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Let me ask you, dear readers, a question.

What happens when you fundamentally misunderstand your audience? When you think you know what people want… and you’re… just wrong? Or is it not a lack of understanding, but a lack of interest? Is it just that you know one way you can make some money, and you don’t really care what quality your product turns out to be?

Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 answers pretty much all of these questions, by being one of the fundamentally worst games published yet this year. While I might have spent some energy making fun of Diablo, I didn’t understand how cynical, how shitty, and how worthless a moneygrab could be…. apparently… until I played Magic DotP 2015.

This is ten steps backward – in virtually every way – compared to even DotP 2014, a game which I did not have as much fun with as I would have hoped.

Duels of the Planeswalkers was touted for years as a beginners’ introduction to Magic. Obviously, Wizards would prefer for serious players of its CCG to get invested in Magic The Gathering: Online, instead… if they’re not going to play paper Magic. Speaking from experience, I can say that MTG:O has its own ups and downs. Its interface is shockingly primitive. At the time I last played a Draft tournament on MTG:O (admittedly, at least a year and a half ago), it was more primitive than free, user-generated programs to play cards on the internet. Not exactly a glowing endorsement. I preferred (greatly) to simply log into Xbox Live and fire up a game of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013.

Nowadays, I’d rather play neither. Regardless of how MTGO might have improved itself, this isn’t an economic climate in which I want to spend money to stay competitive in Standard format Magic; nor is it a format where I would like to regularly pay for draft cards. This makes it all the more egregious, then, when my annual bill of roughly $10 US for Duels of the Planeswalkers is compromised by a ridiculous new microtransaction element. Most of the rare cards available in the game’s card pool are now, quite literally, unavailable unless you’re willing to shell out cash for additional “booster packs” full of rare cards.

Are you serious, Wizards?

Can I get my initial $10 back?

And none of this even addresses the fundamental problems in gameplay. Instead of the (already incredibly grind-y) card unlocking process from previous games, you now must take a limited starter – one you are locked in to! – against fully comprised enemy decks in order to unlock random boosters of around 3 cards – sans the aforementioned rares – which may or may not even improve your deck in any functional way. Hooray?

Beyond that, where are all of the modes? Multiplayer boasts 1v1… and that’s it? Where is 2HG? Where is … anything else? Remember how people complained that 2014 didn’t have cool mutliplayer modes? One of my most favourite things about DotP is the ease of running some low-maintenance 2HG with my friends. Now that’s gone, too? Why did I buy this game? It’s pretty much horse shit. I know that they already have my money, but hopefully I can save you from spending yours.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s basically nothing to like here. This game is a waste of your money, and you should exercise your power as a consumer by not spending it. Don’t fall into the same trap that I did.