Kenley Kristofferson

Composer. Teacher. Writer. Voice Actor.

Tag: final fantasy

BEAT ALL THE FINAL FANTASIES – FFX

Final_Fantasy_LogosI’m trying to remember exactly when I was playing Final Fantasy X  for the first time.  It came out when I was in Grade 10, though I first saw it when my cousin showed it to me at my grandmother’s house in Gimli, the town where I grew up.  But even still, I don’t think I started really playing it until I was university, which was about three years after its release.

Anyway, I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said, but let’s get down to it:

Final Fantasy X HD Remake (PS3)

Pros:

The customization was more fun than I remember, particularly making new weapons and the sphere grid.  Whenever I got a new weapon, I’d think “aw yeah!” except that all of the weapons were really the same, you’d just need to assign a few different abilities (though some had more slots, so okay, I get that).  It was really fun to just customize everyone infinitely, then compounding that with the real-time customization during battle and it became really fun.  The in-game subbing of people felt more strategic than before, which both a pro and a con, but more on that later.

This might be heresy to say, but I really liked the updated OST for the HD Remake, but I liked it because it wasn’t that different (which, in itself, is a heretical comment).  Honestly, so much of it felt like updated the samples and/or playing things live; in short, it’s not as different as purists would want you to believe.  There are some tracks like Besaid, which are pretty different between the original and the remake, but most of the music in the remake is just cleaner with better samples and recordings.  Seriously, it really, really holds up.

Cons:

Some of the magic was gone this time, and I don’t know what it was.  There was something about the storyline and the world that just didn’t hold up like I remember, which was upsetting.  Not that it was a bad game, it just wasn’t as magical as I remember.  Again, not to say it isn’t good, but something was different this time.  Maybe it’s because I’m older or I have a different understanding of the intersection of plot and design, but something resonated with me differently this time.  I cared less about the characters and the journey.  Maybe it was because I knew what was coming and how it was all going to end, but I don’t know.

I still liked the experience, but I’m not sure if I would go through it again, which contrasts my excitement for the FFVII remake that I can’t wait to explore.

Anyway, only four more FFs left now…

-K

BEAT ALL THE FINAL FANTASIES: IX

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[Some spoilers, but come on, the game came out fifteen years ago!]

I’ve really put this on the backburner, but I’m still slowly working through one of the most important series of my life.  I’ve put a lot of time and love into these stories, and it’s quite a bit different revisiting them as an adult – not better or worse, just different.

I was never really invested Final Fantasy IX, not like the other ones anyway.  It came out when I was in Grade 9, but I didn’t actually get around to it until the middle-to-end of Grade 12.  Rather than camping out in my room playing PlayStation (a friend’s PlayStation, actually), I was out with friends and all that.

That being said, I remember that I still enjoyed the experience of playing.  That’s not the same as just “enjoying the game,” though.  There are some games that I enjoyed being inside than actually getting through the narrative – Dragon Quest VIII, Shadow of the Colossus, Super Mario Galaxy, etc.

The experience was different this time – not better or worse, just different.  The Black Mage plot that dominates the first half of the game was more interesting and darker than I’d remembered.  Vivi’s identity crisis felt more real too; in fact, that was the most interesting part of the game to me.  I appreciated that Square changed gears from the angsty protagonists with the exuberant Zidane, but Vivi’s struggle for purpose and meaning was far more interesting than any of the other stories.

That being said, I was more aware of the writers’ efforts to give everyone a substantial story.  Steiner’s betrayal by Queen Brahne and his need to do right, Vivi’s identity quest, Garnet/Dagger to find herself away from labels and expectations… There was real planning there.

For me, the story really falls off the rails once Garland gets into the picture.  I appreciate the throwback (all of them in this game, actually), but the narrative really loses its focus.  Two worlds and clones and souls and… ugh.  Just too much.  The game is at its best when the story is focused and, in our case, that’s the beginning of the game.

As much as I’m ragging on it, there are many great elements.  The Ability system is really fun and is a dynamic way to buff up your characters.  All of the characters fight in a radically different way, like an early FF game and I love that.  I love the twists on the original classes too – put a racket on Dagger and she can actually do some damage, the Eiko/Dagger double summoner party is pretty great, extra magic on a Freya as a dragoon, Sword Magic between Steiner and Vivi… and the list goes on.

I also liked the soundtrack better this time around.  I wasn’t crazy about the renaissance flare of the game’s aesthetic on my first playthrough, but I really liked it now.  Even some of the smaller pieces that we only hear once stand on their own better than I remember, like “Border Village Dali”

I also appreciate how Uematsu builds thematically on character themes, which isn’t something that he always did.  For example, “Steiner’s Theme” and “Steiner’s Stealth” use his thematic material, even though he’s not the main protagonist, or “Vivi’s Theme” and “Fleeting Life” for Vivi.  Even all of the Freya/Burmecia thematic material shares the three-against-two ostinato – there’s just such care given to thematic material in the game.   Strangely, “Zidane’s Theme” in the OST isn’t really one that I equate with him, but more with exciting situations.  The narrative doesn’t do a great job of linking them together.

Particular favourites:

“Ambush Attack” (often with Black Waltzes; 4/4 + 5/4 never sounded so good!)

“Assault of the Silver Dragons” (really, only because it’s the FF8 sound library, which it very clearly and jarringly is)

“The Dark Messenger” (final boss theme, the fifth of Kuja’s thematic pieces in the score)

My cousin’s husband summed it up best when we were talking about this a few months back.  He said “I enjoyed FFVIII more than I remember, and FFIX less” and I feel about the same.  It was still a good experience, but I was quite done with it near the end.  Definitely worth the playthrough, maybe not a second one, though.

(What now? Do I finally have to beat FFII? I just don’t want to…)

-K

BEAT ALL THE FINAL FANTASIES: I + VIII + XIII-2

Well, it’s been busy, but I’ve been trying to find an hour or two every couple of days to work through this project.  After beating XIII, I took my copy of FFVIII to get cleaned up and, while the scratches were still there, at least the FMVs didn’t freeze up and I could beat the game.  Then, I went all the way back to the beginning and took out FFI.

These are hardly reviews, but I want to talk a little bit about the experience.  They aren’t reviews because – and I say this with kindness – this process isn’t about other people, just me.  It’s an effort to dig into the stories that were a part of my development through childhood, adolescence and even into adulthood.  The music from the series changed my life and influenced my decision to learn about music, write music, and become a composer in my own right.

I owe a lot to the series, now it’s time to relive the stories.  First FFVIII!

Final Fantasy VIII (PSX version)

rinoa_and_angelo

General: Hit and miss, up and down.  It might be better if it were more consistent.

Pros: The Junction system grew on me again.  I really don’t like the Draw part of it, but I love crafting the perfect warriors with Flare/Aura/Haste/Curaga/Full-Life, etc… I would spend hours just finding the right spell for the right stat.  And then getting the GFs learning their new abilities… oh my.  The world was interesting too and had some great environments.  The Trabia bombing, Edea’s parade, Fisherman’s Horizon… many cool places.

The scenes that I didn’t really like when I was younger are the scenes that I loved as an adult.  I loved Timber and that whole sequence where we really meet Rinoa and the Owls.  And the Fisherman’s Horizon sequence was really touching, maybe because I adore “Love Grows,” which is the FH theme.

Cons: The end felt very, very rushed.  Esthar, Space, Time Compression? I wanted more build-up.  Also, Time Compression is a bit ridiculous to me.  Also, Ultimecia comes out of nowhere and I feel like her delivery was very rushed.  I didn’t like that, but I wasn’t really involved emotionally with many of the characters (except Rinoa, I really liked her).

Can we talk about the dialogue? What a trainwreck.  So much unnecessary dialogue and too many scenes dragged on.  Oh, and one exclamation mark is plenty, thanks.

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Final Fantasy I (PSP Version)

So many memories with this game.  This was the first strategy guide that I’d ever seen.  I have been six or seven years old and I have clear memories about this game in my cousins’ living room with their old NES.  This and Mega Man 2.  Memories are funny things…

General:  Nostalgia really got me through this game.  Not that it was a bad game, but its gameplay mechanics really showed their age.  The PSP update is nice and reliving some of those iconic moments in higher resolution was really nice.  Ah yes, the Bahamut Quest, fighting the four fiends, the Mirage Tower, and Provoka (Bikke the Pirate!).

Pros: There was so much that I’d forgotten.  The giant that eats rubies, the vampire and Melmond, the whole Levistone quest and the desert caravan… it was nice to play through that again.  Thankfully, the game isn’t very long (I can’t dump 60+ hours into that!) and it moves quickly.  Seeing the circle of elders, beating the four fiends, and getting the airship for the first time were all very nostalgic.  Nostalgia! Nostalgia! Nostalgia!

Also, I would live in every town in this game (except Melmond).

Elfheim

Elfheim

Crescent Lake

Crescent_Lake

Lufenia

Lufenia (1)

Cons: Everything that’s ever been said about this almost-30 year old game.  No characters, dated gameplay, all that stuff.  But you know, it was still pretty cool 🙂

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Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3)

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I know that I said I wasn’t going to tackle any of the sequels, but I just couldn’t resist.  The more time I spent away from the world of XIII, the more I wanted to go back.  Even when I listen to the soundtrack or look at fan art… I want to go back.  Fortunately, my brother-in-law bought my FFXIII-2 for Christmas last year, so I thought I’d dive into the universe again.  To be honest, I’m glad I did.

General: I love that universe.  I love the environments, especially.  The weather-affected Archylte Steppe, Academia, the Dying World, Oerba… all of it.  Serah made a great protagonist, though I didn’t love Noel, or even Caius as a villain, though I loved Serah.  Let’s address that.

Pros: Crikey, Serah was a great protagonist.  What I loved the most about it was the conscious effort not to make her a damsel.  She was soft, but tough (whereas Lightning was just tough).  She wanted to find her sister and that was her raison d’etre, not finding a husband or swooning for some guy.  Yes, Snow was there, but he was such a subordinate role and, to be honest, that was a really great decision by the writers.  The story is really about Serah, Noel, and Caius (and arguably Yeul) and it stays that way.  There are some nice cameos by Sazh and Lightning, but they don’t confuse the mission of each character.

And that brings to be to another real pro of the character development: All of the characters believe that their actions are for the right reasons, especially Caius.  Sometimes, stories fall into the trap of writing the “evilest evil enemy of evil” whose motivation is weak, contrived and trite.  Caius is actually acting from inside and is trying to do what he thinks is best for Yeul, who he deeply cares about.  Even though I didn’t really love Caius as a villain, I appreciated him as a character, and that says something too.

Honestly, one of my very favourite elements of this game is the trivia game in Academia because it establishes the universe so well.  It addresses the best parts of the culture.  Here are some of the questions:

  • Around 150 AF, what accessory inspired by Cocoon’s pillar was worn by people everywhere as a symbol of friendship? Cocoon charm bracelet. 
  • As the population on Gran Pulse increased, what business took off? Private military companies. 
  • Chocobo riding used to be mandatory at all private schools. However, it was cancelled indefinitely due to what kind of complaint from the parents? The chocobo smell would rub off on the students. 
  • The tonberry parent became a social phenomenon in 300 AF. What kind of parents doe sthe phrase refer to? Those who wield knives when talking to teachers. (my personal favourite)

Just great commentary on the culture of the universe.  Amazing.

The game’s music is really excellent… to be continued.

Element-wise, it’s great.  The battle system, the visuals, all that stuff.

Cons: The time travel plotline feels a bit contrived for a sequel.  Very open… too open.  If only you could find a middle ground between the linearity of XIII and the openness of XIII-2, you’d have a really great game.  Actually, you’d have most other Final Fantasies.  Somewhere between the two extremes of these games, you have a middle ground that almost every FF has done so well.

The music in this game is really excellent, but I only contextually, I feel.  It doesn’t stand as well on its own, but it’s wonderful as you’re playing the game.  There are some really, really great tracks though.

I feel like I’ve covered most of it.  I really enjoyed the experience and, let’s be honest: I’m psyched for XIII-3.  I know that a lot people rag on the XIII series-within-a-series, but it’s really well-assembled.  Or at least I think so, and that’s good enough for me 🙂

So, where are we in the “Beat all of the Final Fantasies?”

COMPLETED: I, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, XIII

INCOMPLETE: II, III, IX, X, XII

Over halfway there! Five more!

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Until next time!
Kenley

BEAT ALL THE FINAL FANTASIES: Almost Halfway!

So, about two years ago, I began a mission to beat all of the numbered, original canon Final Fantasy games.  No Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core (though I’ve beaten it and it’s wonderful), no Final Fantasy X-2 – just the original, numbered games.

Since then, I’ve beaten 4, 5, 6, 7, and 13 (which I just finished tonight).

Final_Fantasy_LogosAlso, I’m not beating 11 because it’s online.  I know, not really a good reason…

Anyway, I was scared that some of the games wouldn’t hold up to my childhood memory, kind of like the way that Thundercats doesn’t anymore.  But, strangely, the opposite has mostly been true.  Here is my current rundown:

Final Fantasy IV (DS version)

General:
SUCH A GOOD GAME!

Pros:
The characters, the plot, the trip to the moon, the new localization… YES! I remembered a lot of the game, so I was tentative to try it again.  I played for a while, then stopped for some reason, then picked it up again.  Oh right, I saved inside the giant and couldn’t get out.  Then I did, bought some items and level grinded (ground?) for a while and then was hooked until the end.  The scoring of the OST was really nice too.

Cons:
The DS version is painfully unbalanced.  I would trounce the enemies for 20 random battles in a row, then die on a usually-useless enemy.  That’s a common criticism, so I’m not too beat up on it.  Oh, and how does Yang come back in the end? And Palom and Porom? It appears that I overlooked some plot holes in my youth…

Final Fantasy V (GBA version)

General:
Exceedingly better than I remember.

Pros:
I first played FFV when I was in high school, but it hadn’t been released in North America yet, so I was playing it on ZSNES with a fan translation patch on my sketchy HP.  The battles were choppy, there was a click delay between the game and keyboard… oh, and I was playing it WASD and I really wasn’t interested.  I got to the Big Bridge and stopped.  When I picked it up on GBA about 10 years later, it was a wonderful experience.  Great localization, some very under-represented music (in the franchise, I mean), iconic moments, the introduction of Gilgamesh.  Oh, and a KILLER update on the job system from FFIII.  The versatility built into the party was amazing.  I really enjoyed the experience.  Also, the Phantom Village was really creepy… like, really creepy, especially when you encounter it in the Void in the end AFTER seeing it trapped in time during the second world.

Cons:
Other than Galuf, I wasn’t terribly interested in any of the characters.  I mean, I wanted Lenna to find her dad and all, but the game really became about getting Exdeath in the end and less about the characters.  I also didn’t really like Exdeath very much as a villain (though, I did like how he came from a tree).  There was something quite unconvincing about him.   They did a better job of him in Dissidia than in the actual game.

Final Fantasy VI (GBA Version)

General:
It’s my favourite game of all-time and it still holds up.

Pros:
I was scared that this game would just be my youth again and it might actually be terrible when I tackled it in my late-20s.  Thankfully, I was wrong.  I could pick this up and play it again today.  The storytelling, the characters, the sequences, the battle mechanics, the Espers, the magic, the customization… and, of course, the music.  While I don’t like the music in the GBA version as much as the original, the structure of the OST (as in “all of the songs working together as a unit”) is remarkably strong.  I care about all of the characters, their stories, their struggles, their backgrounds… It is almost the perfect game (second only to Super Metroid, which is a perfect game).

Cons:
Critics over the years have slammed the customization in the game because it’s so easy to make your characters god-like.  Level them up, give them all Ultima, equip them with the myriad of amazing weapons/armour/accessories in the game and… it’s over? Actually, there’s some truth to that.  I found that I got too strong too quickly and the challenge of the game was compromised.  Granted, it was still a wonderful experience, but it’s nice to die once in a while 🙂

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Final Fantasy VII (PSP port)

General:
Strangely, better than I remember.

Pros:
Yeah, it was great.  While I don’t love this game as much as VI, it still has a place in my heart.  What I really noticed this time around was how fast the battles actually are.  I mean, the earlier games are engaging, but VII’s battle system moves so quickly that I really had to stay on it all the time.  The music is classic and hearing it all in context again – well, most of it.  The story actually made more sense this time too, which is always nice.

Cons:
While I’m very patient with graphics, this pill was a bit tough to swallow.  Great 2D will trump bad 3D anytime (does anyone remember Earthbound 64 before it became Mother 3?) and FFVII hasn’t aged very well.  Graphics aren’t nearly as important to me as they are to the rest of the world, but it’s worth saying.  Also, “One-Winged Angel” has been played, arranged, orchestrated, remixed and performed to death, so it was an anti-climactic final battle.  I know that it’s a crowd pleaser, but there is so much other amazing music in that game, like the Main Theme, J-E-N-O-V-A and all of Red XIII’s music.  Work those more, please!

Final Fantasy XIII (PS3)

General:
Mixed, but generally good.

Pros:
After playing VII and VIII (scratched Disc 3, so we’re on a break), XIII is an incredibly beautiful game visually.  The voice acting is beautiful, Masashi Hamauzu did a lovely job with the music, the battles are fast… it’s quite good.  I beat the game tonight and I really enjoyed it.  I cared about the characters too: I loved Lightning and Fang, I enjoyed Sazh and Snow and Fang, and I grew to love Hope and Vanille.  I loved both the worlds of Cocoon and Gran Pulse too!

Cons:
The unravelling of the story was terribly awkward.  I didn’t get what was going on through the first half, though I eventually put it together just before I got to Pulse.  The Datalog was handy for that, but I shouldn’t have had to check it, just write the game better! Also, the positioning of the villain was poor – who am I fighting against anyway? Dysley? Orphan? The Cavalry? Raines? I felt like I just wanted to beat the clock before my brand turned us into l’Cie.  Also, Final Fantasy, you need to stop invented so many goddamn words: l’Cie, fal’Cie, Primarch, Crystarium, Cie’th… Seriously, too damn much.

Also, your locations are SO beautiful, why not introduce them organically.  I’m walking and then, all of a sudden, I’m in this beautiful place for no reason, or Taejin’s Tower, or whatever.  Can a character just say “We’re almost at Oerba, but if we have to go this way, we’ll have to go through Taejin’s Tower.  Legend has it that *yadda yadda yadda*”  That way, the audience at least knows that it’s coming and that it’s a normal part of the environment!

(I still did get emotional in the end, so it’s okay.)

Next stop, beating Final Fantasy VIII! I’m on the 3rd disc, but it’s too scratched to continue, so I’m off on an adventure of my own now…

Until next time!
Kenley

 

VGM Wednesday – Ending Theme (Orchestrated) from Final Fantasy VI

“Ending Theme” from Final Fantasy VI, by Nobuo Uematsu and released in 1994.

I know that I’ve posted this before, but this version is different and it celebrates the completion of a project that I’ve been working on for quuuuuuuuite some time.  But first the music…

I’ve heard just about every FF6 live performance/arrangement/orchestration on the web and I was SO happy to finally find this.  I’ve listened to the Ending Theme more times than I can count and I never ever thought that I’d find a live recording of it.  This comes from the “Final Fantasy VI: Littlejack Orchestra” concert at Yokohama Minato Mirai Hall in August 2009, according to the video uploader.

I found this version after months of research on the Japanese web. I had previouslyheard of a concert devoted exclusively to FINAL FANTASY VI: “LittlejackOrchestra” at Yokohama Minato Mirai Hall in August 2009. Being unable to attend,I had to find a single record, and my efforts were rewarded by putting the hand (or click …) on the video repeatedly. Far from perfect despite my edits, I grant you!

I think that he did an okay job editing but, to be honest, the recording isn’t the only thing far from perfect.  The performance is okay, but a lot of sections are out of balance and out of tune (especially in the upper woodwinds).  It’s still very impressive, don’t get me wrong, but if we’re going to do it, let’s really do it.  Symphonic Odysseys and Symphonic Fantasies come to mind… now those are performances!

To be fair, they are an amateur orchestra and they really played their heart out.  Their set was also incredibly long, which may have been to their detriment.  A solid article at “Original Sound Version” was written by someone who attended the show and is really worth the read.

Now, for the project.

Earlier this month, one of my students was talking about how much she loves the Harry Potter series.  She’s read all of the books a jillion times, had movie marathons, owns all of the wands, and more.  I must say, I was a bit jealous that she loved a universe that much and I wish that I did too.  Granted, I did at one point: The Final Fantasy VI universe.  I decided that it was time to revisit this place where my heart once belonged and see if there was still a place for it inside.

Thankfully, there was  🙂

This one in particular pays tribute to a game that was such a huge part of my musical (and gaming) upbringing.  I decided to make the cast of the game in perler beads (beads on grid, iron them down into a pattern) and it really enabled me to rediscover what I love about the game.

My fiancee would ask about the dog, for example, I could explain that the dog was the companion of the detached and dark ninja, Shadow and the canine’s name was Interceptor.  He was the village dog in Thamasa, but had a particular affinity for Shadow back when he was a robber named Clyde.  You know, Thamasa is a pretty interesting village… (and then go on from there).

Another time, she asked about the man in the life jacket (Cid) and I recounted the Solitary Island part to her, especially with Celes and her complicated personal struggle.

Even now, the real beauty of the game is the complexity of story and backstory in each character.  I mean, the plot is interesting, but it really just enables the characters to deal with their struggles and overcome their own personal demons.  The game has a loose story, but the best narrative is the 16 parallel stories going on inside the characters.

I still love it and still think it’s beautiful 🙂

Kenley