Kenley Kristofferson

Composer.

Tag: gaming

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)

Final-Fantasy-XIII-2-Screenshots-01-620x300

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!

Final_Fantasy_Logos3

Until next time!
Kenley

VGM Wednesday – “Fiddler’s Green” from Uncharted Waters, Special Edition

“Fiddler’s Green” from Uncharted Waters: New Horizons, by Yoko Kanno
Arrangement from the album “Uncharted Waters: Special Edition”.

I write this from the seafaring island of Cape Breton on the Canadian eastern shore.  My wife and I are on our honeymoon until the end of the month and we’ve been spending our two weeks here frolicking through the long grass, eating seafood, touring the rolling hills and valleys and listening to some killer East Coast fiddle music in pubs throughout the island.  Life is good 🙂

The fiddle is a really big deal here on the island, it’s as though everyone plays it and knows all of the tunes.  I know that’s not really true, but when you go to a jam session and there are six fiddlers getting in the circle, calling out tunes and shredding up a storm, it sure seems like it.  It’s culture in the truest sense.  It’s not manufactured for tourists and there aren’t parties planned to make a summer schedule, it’s simply what the people do and we get to be part of it.

For this week’s VGM Wednesday, I decided to pick a fiddle tune from a reasonably obscure game.  I’ve presented another tune from this game called “Close to Home” a few months back, but in keeping with the spirit of “VGM-inspired tunes” this August, I chose an arrangement.

The arrangement album, “Uncharted Waters: Special Edition,” is really the definitive way to listen to this soundtrack.  The OST feels limited in what the SNES and Genesis/Megadrive can do, but this disc is a real tour-de-force of the music that exists inside the score.

It maintains the head of the tune with fiddle and guitar, then goes into the feel of a jazz-feel solo section.  The violin and guitar call-and-response harkens back to the time of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli and it’s really fitting for the pub feel of the tune (which is where the music plays in the game).

At 2:31, the guitarist sounds like he’s quoting “Jingle Bells” (though, of course, he’s not) and plays the wrong third of the chord and it drives me bananas every time.

Anyway, enjoy!
Kenley

PS: The photo in the picture is from a jam session at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou, NS, which is on the island and about a 30 minute drive from our cottage.

VGM Wednesday – “Forever Rachel” Transcription for Live Instruments

“Forever Rachel” from Final Fantasy VI, by Nobuo Uematsu
Transcribed for live instruments by Eiko Ishiwata.

I’ve really been trying to limit my posting of Final Fantasy music since starting this blog.  Even though I have so much history with the franchise and I know this music better than any other VGM game or series, there is so much great game music out there and I want to explore as much of it as I can – both old and new.

There are so many Final Fantasy remixes and arrangements out there.  That being said, there are very few transcriptions.

What’s the difference?

An arrangement is the setting of pre-existing musical material and changing it to fit a new style, form, or ensemble.  Any remix that you’ve heard is, almost certainly, an arrangement of some kind.  A transcription uses the precise source material (with no edits or changes) and presents it as is.

That sounds like it’s just the song, though.  Well, it is, but not always in the way that you expect.

Eiko Ishiwata has transcribed “Forever Rachel” and had it performed, note for note, by the same instruments that Uematsu used in his score.  The difference lies in the character of the sound, not the notes on the page.

I have to digress for a moment here, because if you didn’t grow up in the 8- and 16-bit era of video games, you and I may interpret synthesized instruments differently (or maybe not, right?).  When I hear music from the SNES or Genesis/Megadrive, there’s a part in my head that’s already converting the flute synth to real flute, or the string synth to a real orchestral string section.  But, there’s another simultaneous part that’s appreciating the tone colour for what it is and just welcoming the 90s SNES sound into my head.  The two parts of the brain are working in tandem.  It’s a very strange sensation, but I’d be interested to see how others listen to VGM from that era.  Feel free to tell me in the comments section 🙂

Anyway! This transcription is what I’ve been hearing in my head since I was ten years old, so I’m happy that someone made it happen.

If you’re unsure of what the theme means (especially to the arrogant treasure hunter, Locke), the Final Fantasy Wikia article describes the tale and is dripping in spoilers.

The player is introduced to Rachel as Locke’s girlfriend from Kohlingen. One day, Locke took Rachel to Mt. Kolts, supposedly looking for what would become her engagement ring. Upon crossing a rickety bridge, it began to collapse with Locke on it, before Rachel pushed him out of the way just in time. In doing so Rachel took the fall for him. Locke saved her and brought her back to Kohlingen, but due to the fall, she had lost her memory. Her father blamed it on Locke, and he kicked him out of their house.

Rachel agreed to her father’s decision because she had no memory of Locke, and only saw him as someone who was upsetting her parents. The residents of Kohlingen were also angry at him, leading him to leave the town. Rachel was killed one year later in a raid by the Empire, but her memory was also restored right before her death. Her last words were: “If a man called Locke should ever return, please tell him that I love him”.

Locke eventually heard about the attack, and came back to Kohlingen only to find he was too late. Determined to do something for her, he took her to an herbologist living in Kohlingen, who preserved her body in its youthful state using herbs. After that, Locke searched for a way to bring her back to life. His feelings of guilt continued to haunt him, causing him to try to protect every woman he came across in need. He searched far and wide for a way, but he does not find it until the world is destroyed. He hears of the legendary esper, Phoenix, that can revive the dead.

He immediately goes searching for it, and finds it right when the player party shows up. When he gets to Kohlingen, he uses the Phoenix esper on Rachel, but the cracked magicite shard could only revive her for a few moments. She helps Locke overcome his guilt, tells him to “give his love to the one who now dwells in his heart” and dies again but not before her spirit merges with the Phoenix magicite and restores the magicite to it’s original splendor. Thus allowing Locke to finally make peace with his torrid past.

Ah, young love.

Have a great week!
Kenley

VGM Wednesdays – “Still Alive” from Portal

“Still Alive” from Portal, by Jonathan Coulton and released in 2008.

Talk about being late for the party! So, after four years, I’ve finally played/beaten Portal.  I use those two words in the same sentence because I beat it in one sitting.

I just couldn’t stop 😐

I thought that the 19 test chambers were some sort of “teaching the game” sections of the game.  And then, they took a really long time.  See, I thought “wow, this is a really long opening, I wonder what could possibly be after this.” And then it’s “over…”

… (except, of course, that it’s not over, but it’s not exactly “just beginning.”)

Kind of confusing, which is why I never knew how much game was left.  After I finished the 19th test chamber, my fiancee wanted to watch a movie and I kept saying “I think that I’m near the end, just another half an hour!”

Three hours later, I finally reached GLaDOS and that was that.

I really loved it.  I mean, I really loved it and totally get why everyone was all about it in 2008.  When it came out, I just didn’t get it.  Well, that all changed on Sunday.

What really pulled me in (REALLY) was the writing on the wall.  I really wanted them to develop that further (and maybe they do in sequels or extras) because that really enhanced the whole universe.  I mean, it would have been a whole different game, but then what happens to the guy/girl?

Also, when you first see the cake is a lie on the wall, you can’t really stop your forward momentum – you need to play through the story.  It’s like the mid-point in BioShock when you finally meet Andrew Ryan – I won’t ruin the moment for you, but you really can’t help but continue on.  I felt powerless to stop the momentum of the story, which was so interesting emotionally, like continue to follow the signs into the dark forest, you know?

Anyway, do you have any good memories of Portal?

Until next time,
Kenley