Final Fantasy Record Keeper

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Dr. Mog better crack the whip on this kid!

I used to be able to proudly say I’ve never been caught in the throes of a mobile free to play game. The only ones I had on my phone were mainly for my son that he plays solo or we play together.

Until Final Fantasy Record Keeper became a thing.

Now I can’t stop playing. It’s like Square-Enix wrote us longtime Final Fantasy fans an apology letter that says, “We realize every Final Fantasy game that we’ve put out in the last 10 years has sucked balls. Here, have a kick in the ass with this nostalgia boot.”

Here’s the concept: An annoying new child character who you will remove from the party at the earliest opportunity works in the Royal Archives as a keeper of the paintings that preserve the stories of what we know as Final Fantasies I-XIII. Then bad things happen for reasons unknown, and you get to delve into the paintings to restore the stories and recruit the characters to help you in your quest!

As of writing this blog post, we are now able to relive parts of Final Fantasy I, II, IV, V, VI, VII, and X in North America, with many more to follow. Diving into these paintings to do the missions as they unlock are  basically the main story quests. These are great trips down memory lane, as we get to fight enemies from their corresponding games in 8-bit, with the music we all remember and the characters we know and love. After clearing a dungeon you get a ranking (Mastery awards you with extra loot) and a screenshot accentuating a recap of what is going on in that realm. On top of earning more loot to go towards upgrading your gear and creating/honing abilities, mastering a stage unlocks its elite counterpart. As of right now I don’t think I’ve even cleared half of them yet. Yes, they’re that hard and require that much grinding.

And that’s not all! Record Keeper also incorporates daily dungeons where you can earn extra EXP, Gil, or materials depending on the day of the week. Daily dungeons are offered in easy, normal, or hard difficulties so anyone can partake in them.

But the most exciting features of all are the events. Periodically, events are released that typically allow players to recruit new characters and get useful items. There are two events active as of this writing: Countdown to Sector 7, where you recruit Aerith and grind for magicite shards to turn into Dr. Mog for goodies, and Monster in the Lethe, a trip down FFVI memory lane where we get to recruit Terra! These are timed events, usually around for 1-2 weeks, so you gotta get them while the gettin’s good. If not, you will most likely lose out on your chance to recruit these characters for quite a while.

All F2P games have a gimmick that encourages the player to spend real currency to get ahead in the game. FFRK is no exception, I’ll admit, but at least it doesn’t feel as problematic as, say, Panda Pop. Nor do you have to pay money to get rid of frustrating ads that spam your screen in other F2P games. One highly-sought after item in FFRK is Mythril, It has multiple purposes, but the main thing I use it for is to do rare relic pulls. If you acquire 5 Mythril, you can use them for a shot at acquiring super rare character specific weapons.  So far I only have Wakka’s 5-star weapon, but it immediately transformed him from a punk to a pro. And I haven’t even leveled it up yet! Needless to say, if you’re impatient to get more Mythril (or, like me, frustrated with all the crap you’ve been getting) you can spend real money to gamble some more. I spent $9.99 to get 3 relic pulls, and it got me Wakka’s weapon and a Genji Shield. Totally enough to satiate me… for now.

So, not only is Record Keeper the first F2P game I’ve become addicted to, it’s also the first I’ve spent real money on.

I honestly don’t know how anyone growing up playing these games could NOT like it. Record Keeper is definitely the most addicting FF game I’ve played in years. It has the endearing 8-bit music and sprites, the turn-based system that I miss, and a steady stream of content and grinding that keeps me coming back for more. I can guarantee that as long as DeNa and SquareEnix keep supporting this game, I’ll keep playing it.

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My Ten Favorite Video Games

Here it is, ladies, gents, and everyone in between. My Top Ten! I had a hard enough time choosing ten games to name above all the others that I’ve played, so I did not give them set rankings. Games, like all other art mediums, cannot always be fairly compared to each other due to their stark differences. A critic worth their salt isn’t going to rate an oil painting with the same criteria as an ice sculpture. Therefore, I surely can’t say an action game is better than a puzzle game because the bases for comparison are vastly different, except for the basic fun and immersion factors. What this means for my list is that I tried to get a comprehensive collection from different genres. I could easily (and maybe later do) a 10 favorite RPGs list because that is the genre I play the most of. But I think a more varied list appreciating other game genres is appropriate and more reflective of my gaming experiences. So, without further adieu…

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Super Mario Brothers 2

I love me some old school Mario games, and none so much as this title. It’s a Doki Doki Panic revamp, making it a black sheep in the Mario-verse, but I love it. Whenever I get a hankering to play an old Mario title, it’s almost always SMB2. You get to play as Princess Toadstool, and not the joke Princess Peach in Super Princess Peach who makes the feminazi in me rage. No, Princess Toadstool gets down and dirty with the boys in this game, throwing enemies around and kicking butt without a stupid parasol and PMS freakouts. Oh, and did I mention she can hover? If you cheat with a Game Genie (and oh, cheat I did), you can enter a code which makes her fly for entire levels if you so desire. Ideally, you would choose the most suitable character for each level I guess. But screw that, I only play as Princess!

After all these years, I can still do many levels with my eyes closed (like that level in world 4 where all the Beezos are flying at you, and if you don’t want to get hit you need to do a well executed series of jumps, ducks, and ducking while jumping), and I still remember where all the warp “pots” are. I liked not being on a timer in this game. It gives the player more time to explore and learn the areas. I mean, who didn’t try digging up every single square of sand? Or seeing how long they could bait the Phanto with a key before getting hit? As quirky as the enemy designs were, for the most part I think they’re pretty cool and unique.

I will also never forget my reaction when the Eagle-mouth-doorway-thingy dislodged itself and started trying to attack me! I almost shat myself. It was such a great moment, I only have one other old school game moment that compares, so I guess I’ll do that game next.

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Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

I like my old school 2D Link adventures. Another black sheep I guess, since it’s pretty much an alternate reality experience with some Super Mario nods thrown in. Its charming in a strange way and a nice change in pace from saving Zelda, Hyrule, and collecting triforce pieces. Instead, Link is stranded on Koholint Island and must traverse 8 dungeons and collect special instruments to escape (Play 8 magical instruments to awaken the Wind Fish? Huh?). How does he know this? A wise owl told him, of course.

So about that ‘young me almost shat myself experience.’ I may have shop lifted, say, a couple of times, from that shopkeeper in the starting town. I don’t suggest you do it. If you do, he KILLS YOU with a LASER next time you go in! Second grade me freaked out and did not play this game again for months. Literally. I could not believe it. What a morality lesson! It didn’t stop me from stealing in real life, but hey, actual WalMart cashiers don’t come at you with laser beam guns. I haven’t tried shoplifting in a Zelda game since, so I don’t know if you get capital punishment for this crime or not in other entries.

Upgrading the wallet, which I always thought was kinda dumb, is absent from this game. I like the weapon and special item selections as well. Collecting seashells was cool and I wanted to get every single one. I definitely ran that poor shovel into the ground. Running into a tree could make rupees or a seashell come out… Oh boy. I definitely ran into every tree too. And, if you poke the sword into a wall and hear a hollow “tink,” then it’ll open up a passageway if you drop a bomb in front of it. I definitely poked every wall possible, too. Thinking back on it, I definitely got my mileage out of that poor Game Boy.

In order to navigate the final dungeon (I.E.- tunnels in the wind fish’s egg) you first needed to use the magnifying glass on the mysterious book in the village’s library that you couldn’t read before. It reveals a series of arrows. So if you get all the way to the final dungeon you’re screwed if you didn’t look at the book and write down the arrows or commit them to memory. I remember carrying around a little slip of paper in my Game Boy travel case with the directional sequence written on it for months. Ah, good times.

If you like the old 2D LoZ games but haven’t played this one, you absolutely need to. It is a very strong entry in the series and shouldn’t be dismissed just because it was on a portable system. To my knowledge, it has been released on Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and you can now download it onto a 3DS via the Nintendo EStore!

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Mega Man VI

I just had to put a Mega Man game on here, and VI is the entry that stole a lot of my childhood (and sanity) from me. Anyone who has played a NES Mega Man title knows the frustrating (and satisfying) feeling of trudging through one of these games. It really can be equated to self-induced torture sometimes. The memorization (which takes lots of repetition for someone like me) and flawless execution required to master some of the levels and bosses in these games is just crazy. And NOTHING matches the feeling of being this close to killing a robot master before dying and having no more lives left. On the plus side, no one will make fun of you for jumping up off the couch and doing a victory dance after finally killing your first Robot Master.

Everything about Megaman VI makes it tower over the other NES entries for me. The levels, the bosses, the music, the weapons, the awesome RUSH goodies. I also love all things Ancient Greek and Greek Mythology. Therefore, Centaur Man is the man. I’m a total dork and still listen to the soundtrack to this game. None of the other Mega Man games can say they’ve earned that level of nostalgia. MMVI is the basis of comparison for all other Mega Man games. You’ll quite often hear me say “That reminds me of such-and-such from VI.” I know I don’t make much sense, since Mega Man VI came after I-V and was criticized as being redundant and lacking originality (a robot master tournament with robots programmed to take over the world? Sounds original to me in a laughable sort of way). I find that criticism a moot point because ALL the Mega Man games up to that point were just rehashing the first game. They all have themed stages with a boss, who, upon defeat, gives up a new weapon that = KILL MODE to a certain boss,  and have final stages you need to traverse after killing all the robot masters. They all have ridiculous excuses for story lines and bosses. And that’s how it should be.

Thanks to the internet and a host of dedicated gamers, replaying Mega Man oldies is less frustrating than the good old days. Robot Master weakness charts are all over the internet. Outside of memorizing frustrating one-hit kills in levels and Robot Master fighting patterns (jump, jump, JUMP ON TOP OF MEGA MAN) the rest of your time is spent playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” trying to figure out what each boss’ weakness is. Without the trial and error, you can usually make a chump out of a boss on the first or second attempt… And usually by then you’ll have the level committed to memory like the back of your hand. I realize a lot of gamers would probably pick Megaman II over this one, but it just doesn’t stick with me like VI does. It is harder, not more fun. Besides, charging the Mega Buster is where it’s at.

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Dance Dance Revolution: Max 2

Go on, laugh it up.  Before you totally throw my credibility out the window, let me clarify something here. On my hidden Top Ten agenda, I asked myself “How many times have I or would I replay this game?” If a game can get me to keep coming back for more, it definitely has to be one of my personal favorites. Based on that criteria alone, DDR certainly makes the cut. I have been playing DDR games on and off for over a decade, and I STILL have not mastered every song. I’d say that earns it a metric ton of replayability points. DDR was innovative and creative for its time. And, say what you will about the series, these games got lazy gamers like me off of our arses and sweating like pigs.

The DDR games have changed a little over the years, though the core game play remains the same: Step on the arrows when they reach the top of the screen. Trust me, the execution is more difficult than the concept alludes. However, each entry in the series has different game modes in which you unlock more songs, play modes, or background dancer designs/outfits. I was awfully let down with the PS3 Dance Dance Revolution when I saw it did not have the background dancers. Sure they were silly, but I loved watching Naoki get down with his bad self. There was NO way I was gonna put an EyeCam on top of my TV and stare at my gross, sweaty self. That’s such a teeny bopper “I’m skinny and popular and I’m gonna dance to Britney Spears” marketing gimmick. The DDR games have had to start selling themselves to the mainstream, but I try not to let it bother me too much. I understand they need to sell a certain number of copies to justify making more. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the popular American songs are also the easiest and therefore appealing more to the casual DDR player. But as long as they still include my J-pop and trance beats I shall remain satiated.

I chose Max 2 because it has my favorite song selection (aside from missing “Sakura”), the workout mode works exactly like it should (don’t know why they changed it in the PS3 DDR) and it has some of the most whacked-out fluctuating background designs ever. When I got good enough at “Drifting Away” to start paying attention to what was going on in the background I definitely did a triple-take. It’s trippy, to say the least.

Getting started in the DDR-verse is cheaper than ever nowadays. If you love video games, dance music, and don’t want to go to the gym or track where other people can SEE you trying to sweat off some pounds, buy a copy of the game and a dance pad so you can shake your money maker in the privacy of your own home without a monthly subscription!

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Dead Island

I’ve always loved killing zombies. In the last couple of years I’ve opened up to open exploration games as well. When I explain Dead Island to someone, it is simple: Killing zombies meets open-world exploration RPG, what’s not to love? And there is very little to not love in this game. The developers were jerks and threw in sequences where you have to kill post-apocalyptic gangster opportunists (and I would definitely rank these sections as the game’s weak points) but other than that, and some minor glitches I am hoping will be absent from the sequel, I really have few faults to find with this game. It is absolutely freakin’ awesome. I already wrote a lengthy blog post praising this game, so I won’t bore you with what I’ve already said. All I have to add is that April 23 cannot come soon enough.

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God of War

As I mentioned in my Mega Man VI blurb, I love all things Ancient Greek/Greek Mythology. I also happen to thoroughly enjoy action games and gratuitous violence. The God of War series fits the formula to be considered in my top ten games, and is a shining example of great console exclusives. I have played every God of War release, and am eagerly anticipating the next entry in the series. I’ve partaken in the multiplayer beta for Ascension, which I was skeptical about at first. After spending a couple of nights in the Hercules forum I can say they have done a great job incorporating the GoW battle system and atmosphere in a multiplayer setting.

In these games you play as Kratos, my favorite anti-hero. He is a former Spartan soldier who strives to get revenge on Ares, and later, all of Mount Olympus, and he doesn’t care what he has to do or who he has to kill to achieve his goal. Really, more video games need characters like this. After killing your first handful of innocent civilians you’ll be asking yourself, “Wait, am I the good guy here?” If memory serves, you actually receive red orbs (ability/weapon upgrade currency) for killing them in certain sections.

The pacing in GoW is practically perfect. I don’t like it when games dump fifty abilities on you at the beginning of the game and expect you to be able to learn and execute all of them at once. Nor do I appreciate feeling powerless the entire game, either. In GoW, you will gradually upgrade your magic and life bars via items found in treasure chests (Phoenix Feathers and Gorgon Eyes, respectively) and upgrade your weapons to unlock new abilities for them by opening chests and doing lots of killing! The weapon upgrades make sense and the abilities are usually easy enough to pull off at will. Extra skill is needed for timed parrying, blocking, dodging and counters. Kratos’ chain blades are also one of the coolest weapons ever. Even basic attacks manage to look stylish, and it cuts down on boring running over to the enemy time. There are other weapons besides the chain blades, but they’re hardly worth using until they get significantly beefed up in GoW3.

For all my praising of this series, I will admit I’m not crazy about the super arbitrary puzzles, especially in the first game. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself asking the television, “Who the heck would think to do that?” because I definitely did a couple of times. I also believe, in terms of storyline, the series has run its course. GoW3 was supposed to be the end (and that was after two PSP entries were tacked on) and now there is a new title, Ascension slated for release on March 12. I can’t help but wonder what’s the point… besides milking more money out of consumers, anyway.

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Bayonetta

It was a toss-up between this and Lollipop Chainsaw, but Bayonetta won out due to the superior in-depth battle mechanics and wealth of unlockable goodies that’ll certainly keep gamers coming back for more. Plus, I honestly think Bayonetta paved the way for LC. Aside from having a female protagonist, sexually-laden humor and lots of stylized action sequences, they’re very different so check them both out! While LC deals with a high school girl killing zombies, Bayonetta is, well, a witch who kills angels.

If you like the stylized demon killing in Devil May Cry, you’ll be impressed with the fighting. The games share the same director, Hideki Kamiya, and it shows. But while Dante tries being edgy and hot with his one-liners and falls short, Bayonetta picks up his slack. I laughed out loud all throughout playing this game. The ridiculousness is funny and over the top. If you take all your games with uber seriousness, this gem wasn’t meant for you. I was disappointed near the end when the writers started trying to take themselves seriously. It started loosing credibility to me at that point. The ‘plot’ got ridiculous and didn’t make much sense to me. Hopefully Bayonetta 2 will ride on all the great aspects of the first game: goofy characters, outlandish and fast-paced action, raunchy humor, and awesome enemy designs and take the whole package to the next level.

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Parasite Eve

Reading is another one of my hobbies. When I discovered Squaresoft developed a video game based on an award winning Japanese sci-fi novel, I had to check it out. And, as an added bonus, the main character is a woman– a common theme in my top ten list, you’ll notice before I’m done. If my memory serves, Parasite Eve may even be the first mature-rated game I ever played, but I can’t say for sure. I purchased it at GameStop when I was in high school… way back before they figured out mature movies and video games made us all violent, twisted individuals.

I have to say I really like what Squaresoft did with it. Translating books directly into video games wasn’t as common as it is nowadays and Squaresoft totally pulled it off. The game managed to hold onto the B-movie sci-fi atmosphere while incorporating role-playing and survival game elements. The ongoing tension between the main character, Aya Brea, and the antagonist “Eve,” totally had me reeled in until the game finally explained the precarious bond between them. The “take me seriously” dialogue still sings to my quirky sci-fi loving side. The music is catchy and I still listen to the soundtrack from time to time.

The sexuality rating is largely credited to the “naked” (though she doesn’t have any nipples) and pregnant Eve you fight near the end of the game in an awesome showdown located at the fallen Statue of Liberty. Then, spoilers be damned, you get license to kill her baby. Dead Space and Dante’s Inferno have crossed that bar as well, but PE was definitely my first mutant-baby destroying experience. The Ultimate Being, Eve’s artificially inseminated offspring, is a great example of what a final boss fight should be like in a RPG. He basically morphs… and morphs… and morphs… and morphs again… and even after you dish out a world of pain, he can still one-hit-kill you in the final chase sequence. It’ll have you bashing your head against the wall if you take a wrong turn when the pile of green slime is coming after you, but it is so worth it.

I also love Parasite Eve because it is a solid, rewarding RPG experience that can be completed in less than ten hours. I don’t have all the gaming time I used to have, so this is a great bonus. Plus, if you’re interested in devoting the time, there’s a New Game+ mode so you can keep beefing up your choice gun and armor and tackle the 99 story Chrysler Tower–and earn yourself an alternate boss fight and ending to boot!

In terms of the Parasite Eve fandom, I’ve read the English translation of the novel, watched the subtitled version of the Japanese movie, and played the games. Don’t even waste your time with Parasite Eve 2 and 3. Like a lot of sequels I have gripes with, they tried turning the series into something it wasn’t meant to be. First with PE2 it was trying too hard to be Resident Evil. Then with PE3 it was trying too hard to be, I don’t even know, a fast-paced action game. Or just a bad game, really.

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Xenosaga III: Also Spoke Zarathustra

I’m still a little sore that the Xenosaga series got slashed from the projected five installments down to three. I blame Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose, for turning off the core fan base with the absolutely terrible battle system. Which is a pity, because Xenosaga’s strength has always been the story, and Episode II did well in that regard… It was just painful getting from point A to point B.

I’ll admit, the Xeno series isn’t for everyone. The first game in the trilogy, Der Wille Zur Macht, was criticized for the overly generous portions of exposition. Gamers like myself, who played the predecessor Xenogears, knew what we were getting ourselves in for though. For those of you who don’t know what you’re getting yourselves into, try imagining the content of, say, a science fiction fantasy book series that’s about a dozen novels long, each book averaging 700 pages. These books would be overflowing with vast environments, well-written and believable characters. And the plot would be something like showcasing humanity’s struggle to survive alongside cyborgs, realians and clones, all trying to fight off an ‘alien’ threat killing them from another plane of existence.  And none of that includes the even more complicated ‘grander scheme’ going on as well. Throw all of that into a turn-based RPG and you might have a better idea of what Xenosaga is all about.

I really cannot begin to explain the epicness that is the Xenosaga plot. All I can say is that, at times, it seems like you need advanced degrees in religion and philosophy to truly appreciate what these games are doing to your mind. The episode titles are in German, due to heavy borrowing from the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (obviously). There is even a character named Wilhelm in the series, who, well, certainly earns his namesake.

I chose Also Sprach Zarathustra because I found it a harmonious blend of the previous installments. The battle system took the best elements of the first two and created its own beast. Episode III starts off confusing due to the writers trying to wrap up plot points in games cut from production (Namco released a flash video with original scores and dialogue prepared for the cut games in Japanese, and there is a fansub available online titled “The Missing Years,” for anyone interested…) but once it picks up you won’t regret all the time you invested in the series. By the end of Xenogears and the Xenosaga trilogy, the writers had me seriously contemplating pretty much every mystery of the human experience: death, love, religion, sexuality, morality, humanity…. There really are few video games or movies or television shows that I can say the same for. Aside from my last Top Ten entry, this is the only video game that had me bawling once everything was said and done.

Oh, and the musical score is… Wow. The music in all the Xeno games rank high with me, but the soundtrack in Episode III is remarkable.  Yuki Kajiura truly outdid herself with this one.

If I’ve peaked your interest, you can download Xenogears on the Playstation Network for around $10, I believe. It is the Playstation game that inspired the Xenosaga trilogy, and if you like it, you should definitely continue on in the adventure. I’m hard pressed to recommend Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose, because the gameplay is tedious and boring. The only thing that got me through were the characters and story: both of which you can read about in Episode III thanks to the Xeno-bible the developers were kind enough to throw in there. Personally, I’m thinking about starting an online petition to get them to make an episode 2.5 so we get to see everything we missed!

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Final Fantasy X

I could have loaded this post with mostly Final Fantasy games, but hundreds of better reviewers have already written everything there is to write about the series. Not to mention that would be pretty boring and best saved for a “Favorite RPGs” post. After a lot of soul-searching I’ve decided upon this pinnacle in the Final Fantasy franchise. In my opinion, FF games rate as either “Before FFX” or “After FFX.” The “Before” games represent the best JRPGs have ever had to offer. “The After,” well, let’s just say something in the magical formula has been missing for quite some time. Final Fantasy X puts the “Final” in Final Fantasy for me.

Final Fantasy X was released when I was in high school. I hadn’t yet saved up the money to buy a PS2, so one of my friends let me borrow his PS2, copy of FFX, and a memory card. I was absolutely hooked. I don’t think my family saw me for two weeks. If I wasn’t at school or work, I was in front of the small TV in my room playing. Completely consumed, I raced through the game because I needed to know what happened next. And when the grand finale came, I cried like a baby; not only because the ending was everything a RPG should have, but because my life now felt empty. I remember collecting myself and aimlessly wandering around the house afterward, unsure of what to do with myself. The empty feeling of returning to reality after completing an exceptional video game or finishing an epic fantasy series always leaves an empty pit in my stomach and tightness in my chest. Final Fantasy X does it to me every time, no matter how often I play it.

It is hard to find many faults in this game. Not only does it feature excellently written characters and dialogue (for the most part), it has an innovative battle system, unique character customization, and a great storyline. Freely swapping characters in and out of battle whenever I want? Yessir! I used to make sure everyone performed an action during each fight to ensure they leveled up equally. It changed everything for me. Turn-based RPGs really should have picked up on it. Staple Fantasy-RPG classes are here as well: White Mage, Thief, Black Mage, etc., but if you put in enough time you can make any character good at anything. Want Auron to pick up the pace? Take him for a trip down Riku’s sphere grid path. Need a backup healer? Throw Lulu down Yuna’s path so she’ll learn some White Magic and get an even higher magic stat!

Final Fantasy X also has Blitzball. Blitzball is the only mini-game (‘mini’ is only an expression at this point) that I fell in love with. FFVII had the Gold Saucer, which I only went back to for the unlockables. FFVIII had Triple Triad (again, only played for the goodies) and FFIX had Tetra Master, which was pointless. Blitzball was rewarding, but it was also FUN. I found myself turning on my PS2 only to play Blitzball. And never did I complain about spending four hours playing just to get a certain item. It was also as customizable as your characters.

Aside from Xenosaga, I don’t think any games match up to Final Fantasy X‘s storyline in my eyes. While I appreciate Kefka (and I’ve been saying it’s about time for another megalomaniac villain), Sephiroth, and FFVIII‘s sorceresses, none of their “save the world from this villain” plots spoke to me like in FFX. In FFX, you are disillusioned throughout most of the game, believing as the rest of Spira believes. Mankind’s punishment is Sin, and the only brief restitution comes in 10 year periods known as “The Calm” after a summoner sacrifices their life for the greater good. However, you eventually learn that it is all an impressively constructed lie. As it turns out, “Sin” itself isn’t the true enemy, ‘god’ is, and the entire system was developed as a means of controlling the populace through false hope and lies– Hey, whaddya know? I just summarized my opinion on organized religion.

In all seriousness, experiencing this turn of events and the ensuing heartbreak between Yuna (who lost her father to said falsehoods and had devoted her entire life to the cause and was prepared to become a martyr for it) and Tidus (we won’t get into his entire story right now) really tied the knot for me and no other Final Fantasy tale quite matches it. It was a close call between this and Final Fantasy VII, but saving mankind from the shackles of their religion won out over saving the world from a demented biological experiment baby with mommy issues in the end. Saving ‘the world’ is done all the time, it was nice doing something different for a change.

And there you have it everyone, let the trolling wars begin! (Heyyy… look at all the great PS2 exclusives in this list~)

Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy

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I really enjoy music.

I’m no musician by any means. I played the flute for about a decade, so I can read sheet music and I performed in school concert band. Admittedly, my knowledge is limited, but I can still appreciate instrumental music. I also spend a lot of time listening to music. My commute to work is about 45 minutes three days a week, and an hour and a half two days a week. That’s a lot of idle time to fill with nothing but driving and sound. I have a 16 gig iPod, and while it isn’t full yet, it does harbor an impressive array of sound files. I’m sure I don’t rival many out there, but my music library has reached over 8,000 files and it is daunting when I don’t know what sort of music I’m in the mood to listen to.

Out of those 8,000 plus songs, a great portion of them are instrumental; mostly soundtracks to my favorite video games, television shows, and movies. I have plenty of Japanese composers whose names reappear on my playlists: Yasunori Mitsuda, Yoko Kanno, and Yoko Shimomura to name a few, yet none come close to trumping Nobuo Uematsu. The Final Fantasy games, and his accompanying compositions, fill me with happy nostalgia. As the games have been around for 25 years, and I discovered them while in junior high, I associate them with my tumultuous adolescence. Video games are still a great method of escapism for me, but you know how it is, everything is multiplied by twenty-fold when you’re an awkward teenager in a demanding world. Nowadays, when I listen to Nobuo’s music highlighting JRPGs at their finest I am brought back to lovable characters, immersive fantasy worlds, turn-based boss battles, and ending credit scores. When I saw online that the Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy orchestra was playing only an hour and a half away from my house, and that the man himself would be in attendance, I knew I absolutely had to go.
By the time I was ready to purchase the tickets, the VIP ones were sold out. They include meet-and-greets with Uematsu. At $150 a pop, they weren’t really in my budget, anyway. It’ll give me something to look forward to for next time. I had mezzanine seats in a sold-out theater. Sitting away from the stage did not detract at all from the experience. We had a perfect view of the stage, and the quality of the sound was just as crisp. Plus, the enormous interactive screen couldn’t be missed a mile away.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Distant Worlds tour, it is considered an interactive Final Fantasy experience. While the orchestra plays memorable songs from a variety of Final Fantasy soundtracks, slideshows and videos representing said games play on a gigantic screen behind them. All in all, I felt like I was in gamer heaven.

Given that my show was on December 8th, my ‘spend money on me’ bank was running low thanks to the holidays. I had to be more frugal at the merchandise counter than I wanted. I opted for a T-shirt because I don’t have any Final Fantasy related shirts right now and I always need clothes. I didn’t buy a program, so I am going by memory with the set list here. This is the list of songs, not in order, that I had the pleasure of witnessing live:

Final Fantasy I, II & III: Medley including the Final Fantasy Prelude and Overture
Final Fantasy IV: Theme of Love
Final Fantasy V: Dear Friends
Final Fantasy VI: Opera & Terra’s Theme
Final Fantasy VII: Opening-Bombing Mission, Aeris’ Theme, and One-Winged Angel
Final Fantasy VIII: The Man With a Machine Gun
Final Fantasy IX: Vamo Alla Flamenco, A Place I’ll Return To Someday & Melodies of Life medley
Final Fantasy X: To Zanarkand (orchestrated), Suteki Da Ne
Final Fantasy XI: Ronfaure
Final Fantasy XII: Kiss Me Goodbye
Final Fantasy XIII: Blinded By Light
Final Fantasy Series: Chocobo Medley

With a few glaring exceptions, I enjoy listening to most of Uematsu’s work. And while I don’t particularly dislike any of the songs they chose to play, I think a few of their selections are songs that definitely could have been replaced by more memorable tracks. I’m sure all Final Fantasy fans in attendance had their own ideal set list in mind while making the trek to the theater and waiting in line. I tried to keep my mind open, because there is a huge music library to select from, and they can only play so many songs during one show and their selections also depend on what is available to them. For example; they performed Dear Friends (the most underwhelming part of the show, in my opinion) and Vamo Alla Flamenco because there was a guitarist in attendance. Their guest vocalist for the ballads was Susan Calloway. I really liked her voice. In fact, I definitely liked her singing better than the artist who originally performed Suteki Da Ne (I think Riki’s voice is too high-pitched). The English translation wasn’t too awkward and I thought it was done well. My main gripe is song selection: I’m still dumbfounded they did not perform Eyes On Me with her, but did the boring ballad from Final Fantasy XII. Okay, I’ll admit my bias on this one because XII definitely ranks on the bottom of the favorite Final Fantasy meter for me, but still.

The operatic vocalists performed well, too. The Opera section of the concert was lengthy and fun. The audience burst into fits of laughter as multiple videos played on the screen, all in HD SNES graphics of sprites dancing. I’m sure we were all thinking the same thing: Man, those old-school graphics sure look ridiculous now, but they were the bee’s knees and new games just… don’t match up. Watching the evolution of gaming design and graphics on the enormous screen paired with timeless music tickled my nostalgic-gamer-self.

All in all, the guest performers were great and performed the music well. The lack of a choir was the biggest letdown. This cut out a lot of my potential favorites from being performed, like Liberi Fatali, Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec, Esper Battle (FFXII), to name a few. One-Winged Angel was an audience participation number. They fooled us by running the credits while performing the closing piece, Terra. Arnie Roth said it was their closing number, the orchestra and vocalists took their bows, and we were all ready to go. Then in his closing speech, he was like, “Well, in this sold-out venue I bet we could pull this off, so let’s practice. We’re going to put the lyrics up on the screen, but you only really need to know one word, right?” and the orchestra began playing. It was fun, but I still want to hear it performed by a choir. After browsing the program highlights beforehand I anticipated not getting to hear Liberi Fatali or One-Winged Angel performed properly. Something else to look forward to for next time. They must’ve known they needed to play One-Winged Angel if they didn’t want to face an angry mob after the show.

I would have liked to hear more upbeat songs thrown into the mix. Including One-Winged Angel, there were only three battle themes. I found that to be a bit of a pity, because boss and battle theme songs tend to be the most memorable. Blinded By Light was wonderful. Man With a Machine Gun, not so much, especially considering that there are so many other wonderful songs from Final Fantasy VIII they could have played. It was my first Final Fantasy experience and I am partial to it. But for every slight disappointment, I was doubly impressed. The orchestrated Final Fantasy X songs brought tears to my eyes, and the Final Fantasy VII opening playing with the game’s FMV was incredible.

I don’t want to give too much away in case you’re reading this and considering going. The solidarity and enjoyment saturating a room full of like-minded gamers, hopefully sprinkled with some outgoing cosplayers (we saw some Galbadian soldiers, Reno, Terra, Prishe and a moogle) adds to the experience. I had a really great time, and can’t wait to go to another. If you’re a Final Fantasy fanboy or fangirl, it’s more than worth the ticket price to be in the same room as Nobuo Uematsu and reliving your life one Final Fantasy game at a time.