Rabbids & Smartphones & Dragon Balls, Oh My!

Greets, mortals!  I hope the evening finds you well…unless, of course, I hate you, in which case I hope the evening finds you fervently wishing that I DON’T FIND YOU.  Either way, welcome back.  Tonight I’ve got a few thoughts on a lot of different things for you, which is a bit of a change from normal.  I’ve found lately that, especially when I’m alone with my feline overlord, my mood and thoughts and emotions are scattered all over the place (well, aside from the constant overwhelming seething cauldron of hate for humanity…that’s pretty consistent), and consequently, I’ve been consuming media in a similar, scattershot fashion.  The good news for all of you, though, is that now you get to hear a bit about all sorts of good (or bad) stuff!  You may prostrate yourselves now.  I’ll wait.

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It was a cliched and stormy night in Costa del Sol…

First up, we have the continuing adventures of Evil Wizard as he journeys through Eorzea in Final Fantasy XIV.  Although the new expansion, Stormblood, was released this summer, I’ve yet to venture into any of that story content.  In fact, I’ve only recently, finally powered through all of the story missions that served as the bridge between the original Realm Reborn storyline and the first expansion, Heavensward.  After having reached Ishgard, I decided to take a slight break from powering through story content to level and unlock some other jobs.  But that isn’t to say the story isn’t calling to me – truth be told, I honestly feel like Final Fantasy XIV is the best game in the main series since IX, and maybe even since VI, and that is saying an awful lot because I have a lot of love for FF XII.  But XIV has an absolutely massive amount of plot content and characters, and the overwhelming majority of them are stellar.  Honestly, I recommend this game to anyone that loves RPGs.  Not just MMOs, not just Final Fantasy – if RPGs are your thing, and you haven’t tried XIV at all, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

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It’s Mega Mario Metroid Man!

Next up, I’ve got the Switch game that up until E3 a couple months ago literally nobody knew they wanted.  Seriously, the Rabbids are the most goddamned annoying fuckers this side of the It’s A Small World ride at Disney World, and when Nintendo and Ubisoft announced  a crossover between them and the world of Mario you could hear the entire Internet give a collected groan.  Then around came E3, and with it the revelation that this would be a turn-based strategy game with some RPG elements – essentially X-COM lite but with Mario & Co. taking on Ubi’s insane vermin.  After spending several hour with it since launch and getting through the first couple of worlds, I can easily say this game is the biggest surprise of the year for me, and that’s saying something with a Mario game.  The X-COM style cover-based gameplay is fantastic, though in the early stages the difficulty seems significantly less than the sci-fi masterpiece.  This can likely be chalked up to the game being aimed at a much larger target market on the Switch than the decidedly older audience that X-COM attracts.  My understanding from friends that are much further into the game is that there is a definite difficulty spike later on, so I am greatly intrigued and thus far highly recommend Mario x Rabbids: Kingdom Battle to anyone with a Switch and a love of X-COM.

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Hooray Job Systems!

Next up, for when I’m stuck with nothing but my phone or it’d be impolite to just open a book or Vita and blatantly ignore everyone around me, I’ve found myself diving back into Final Fantasy Dimensions.  I found myself drawn back in after talking about it for a bit with intrepid Michael “FinalMacstorm” Cunningham of #TeamHandheld.  I’ve been away from it for a while and am still getting back into the plot, but since it’s heavily patterned on the 16-bit Final Fantasy’s of old, there isn’t too much complexity to worry about.  I do now remember that the slow influx of jobs is made a bit more irritating by the fact that you can’t max them out – at particular beats in the story, you are granted a small pool of points that allow you to increase the max level of whatever jobs you choose for each character.  While I don’t believe this to be a monetization of the system – I don’t think you can purchase more of the points using real money – I haven’t yet reached the point of being able to know if there will be enough of these points to max out all jobs for everyone, or if not, how many each character may be able to fully develop.  It’s tough because it doesn’t let you really know if you should be specializing particular characters or what, and a somewhat incongruent party split can exacerbate matters somewhat.  Still, it isn’t anything that can’t be overcome with a bit of grinding, and I’m a complete whore for grinding in an old-school job system RPG.  Not going to say I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone yet, but if you are older than time as I am, and love Final Fantasy V’s job system, you’ll likely find this worthwhile.

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Ka…Me…Ha…Me…

Last, but assuredly not least, I’ve also been catching up on Dragon Ball Super.  DB is one of those series that I watch in spurts – I’ll binge a couple of dozen episodes and love them, then hit a saturation point and put it away for a while.  I’ve reached the point where Goku & Friends have been confronted by Black’s Super Saiyan Rose, and I must say that one of the features I love about this show is that every once in a while they show a flashback to events that occurred in prior series such as the seminal Dragon Ball Z, and the contrast between the quality of the animation in those and the gorgeous HD animation in Super just can’t be fully described.  Akira Toriyama’s character designs are world-renowned and timeless, and for as much as I love his work in the Dragon Quest series, this is the apex in terms of the quality animation.  As for the series, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much Dragon Ball has grown up – even in a series where death is often cheapened or worked around, there has been some genuine moments of tension and loss, and I feel like the experience gained by reworking Dragon Ball Z into Dragon Ball Z Kai has helped the studio to get a better grip on balancing fights with character development.  So no more 17-episode buildups to seeing Goku throw one Spirit Bomb…and that’s a very good thing.  If you’ve ever been a fan of Dragon Ball, you should check it out.

And that’s that for tonight, kiddos.  But before I go, just a piece of advice…I guarantee that most, if not all, of you humans have someone close to you that is likely suffering from depression.  You probably don’t know it, because they probably don’t say much if anything about it – ironically enough, because they already feel like a complete burden to those around them and don’t want to make it any worse.  But while they may be able to smile or crack a joke, inside they are very, very alone.  You humans have but a short time on this earth, and in that time, almost everything costs something…but kindness is free.  It can be given away to all that you care about with no real cost to you.  And while it might seem like little or nothing to you at the time, I guarantee you it means the world to someone.  Not that I care about the happiness of you pathetic mortals. – EWE

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Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Review; and Happy Evilversary!

Greets, mortal creatures!  Can you believe it’s been an entire year already?  One year ago, while wandering very lost and alone, I came upon this small little corner of the internet, and honestly my thought process then was something akin to “well, I can kill myself, or I can start imparting my nihilistic rants and ramblings on the web for nobody to give a damn about.”  I decided to go with the latter, and much to my surprise – many of you DID in fact give a damn, and came to enjoy my modest blogging efforts.  Perhaps more importantly to me personally, you gave a damn about me, and I found not just fellow bloggers or followers, but a new circle of friends – which for someone like me, that struggles mightily to find friends at all, has been very special.  To those of you who have chosen to share this journey with me, to help me along in my efforts to find my voice in my blog, and to share in my struggles that have led me to where I am, I thank you.

EWE and Editor Anniversary

And what better way to celebrate than to also celebrate the HD revival of one of the most unsung, amazing Final Fantasy games of all time – Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.  Originally released in the dying days of the PS2, Final Fantasy XII was the poster child for a late-console-cycle video game – Square Enix squeezed every last little bit of power possible out of the aging PS2 architecture, and it showed in every aspect of that game.  The visuals were absolutely gorgeous, outshining many PS3 games – and depending on your views of art direction, even many modern games.  The gameplay systems were incredibly ahead of their time – a blending of classic single-player Final Fantasy RPGs of days past, and its MMORPG predecessor Final Fantasy XI.  Its plot returned players to the world of Ivalice, previously explored in the seminal Final Fantasy Tactics – another first, as it was the first time a Final Fantasy world – Ivalice – was home to multiple games.  But it wasn’t without its detractors – its massive world consisted of large, sometimes empty feeling zones, which could lead to long stretches of time spent simply traveling from one point to another.  Character progression was conducted via spending AP on a massive License Board, shared by all characters, which unlocked all weapons, armor, skills, and spells.  Because the entire board was open to all characters, it led to most of the party characters eventually feeling relatively indistinguishable from a gameplay perspective, as it was relatively easy to give all of them all of the “best” equipment and abilities.

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As far as the original PS2 release of the game, I come down squarely in the camp of it being one of the greatest Final Fantasy games of all time.  The story of a small band of rebels, each with their own personal motivations and brought together by circumstance, standing against the overwhelming might of an Empire bent on dominating all of Ivalice may bear more than a few similarities to Star Wars, but the plot and characters are masterfully written and developed, showing their own small part in a greater overall struggle.  For me personally, I rank it essentially 2nd/3rd all time, with it and FF IX flipping back and forth depending on my mood (VI is 1st by a mile).  But that said, I recognize the flaws in the game as described above – I remember much of the hours I spent with the game spent running all over creation, and I am guilty of turning every character into an overpowered clone of each other.  But I’m here to say that The Zodiac Age enhances everything I loved about the PS2 version, and improves every weakness.

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As with any HD remaster, SE has brought the already beautiful visuals of Ivalice up to modern PS4 standards.  Previously blurry or softened textures are sharp and crisp, and the game puts many, if not most current generation games to shame with its gorgeous art direction.  There is a fly in the ointment – some textures, in particular Vaan’s face during the in-engine cutscenes, didn’t survive the upgrade so well, and appear a bit…wonky.  But this is just nitpicking – overall, this is a stellar graphical upgrade for an already lovely game.

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SE solved the problem of the License Board some years ago, actually.  Shortly after the original PS2 release, SE release an updated PS2 version of the game entitled Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job Edition.  This version of the game never saw official release in the US; however, SE took the Zodiac Job system, improved it even more, and incorporated it into The Zodiac Age.  In this new system, the License Board has been sundered into 12 separate “jobs” – combinations of equipment, skills, spells, and stat growth that fulfill different roles within an overall RPG party.  For example, White Mage has almost all the healing magic, Black Mage gets the nukes, Archer rains physical damage from afar…you get the idea.  Each character in the party gets to choose a total of two of these Boards, thus locking them into the character roles those Jobs represent.  There is some overlap – Knights can unlock some white magic skills, Red Battlemages unlock the same heavy armors as the tank classes, etc. – so players with some foresight and planning can create complementary Job pairings for their party.  But even then, having the right roles filled at the right times against the right enemies is MUCH more prevalent in this edition of the game than it ever was in the original.  Some creatures are highly resistant to physical damage – so you’ll be swapping out your Knight and Bushi for your Black Mage and Red Battlemage.  Other fights are just wars of attrition – and you’ll be well prepared with a White Mage, and a Time Battlemage to keep the party alive and kicking while you whittle away at the opponent.  This adds an entirely new element of strategy to the game that just wasn’t present by the latter stages of the original, and it is a very welcome improvement.

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But THE improvement, the one that absolutely changes the face of RPGs, and maybe gaming as a whole, is the one that I’m sure SE thought was just a tiny afterthought, thrown in as a bone tossed to people playing through the game again after enjoying it on the PS2.  FAST.  FUCKING.  FORWARD.  With a simple press of a button, you can cause the entire game – everything – suddenly shifted to 2x or 4x speed.  I cannot possibly overstate what an incredibly goddamn fantastic feature this is.  As the combat is a hybrid real-time/turn-based system that mimics MMO combat, and traversal across large, open zones is the basic mode of gameplay, being able to double or quadruple the speed at which everything is happening is an absolute godsend, not just for returning veterans, but for anyone who is crossing the Ozmone Plains for 243rd damn time on the way to track down the next optional Hunt side-quest boss, or exploring the labyrinthine Barheim Passage, or perhaps most crucially, grinding away at trash monsters to level and accrue AP to improve your party.  The amount of time this saves is quantifiable, but the level of frustration it alleviates is not – even if a four-minute trip is only cut to two, it feels so much faster.  After playing the game with this feature, I quite honestly think that any game developer, particularly a RPG developer, that does not shamelessly rip off and incorporate this feature into all their future games is just flat not doing their job right.

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A few last things about The Zodiac Age – if you have a Vita and have ever lamented that the Remote Play feature between it and the PS4 was just kind of left on the vine to die, then first, good job owning a Vita, (#TeamHandheld); and second, this might be the title that renews your faith.  I have Spectrum broadband internet, allegedly at 70 Mbps, but in practice somewhat slower due to living in an apartment building with a LOT of conflicting signals in close proximity.  My PS4 is plugged directly into the modem/router in my living room, and in my second floor bedroom, Remote Play on my Vita is absolutely silky smooth.  The controls map perfectly, there is no discernible input lag – JRPGs and turn-based games will always be the best choices for Remote Play for those very reasons, but even in some of the more fast-paced and hectic boss battles, I experienced no issues that I would chalk up to being due to playing remotely on the Vita.  While an actual Vita release would have been GREATLY preferred, this is absolutely the next best thing!  Finally, this game has firmly convinced me that Ivalice is quite possibly my favorite setting in all of gaming.  Please go back to it, SE.  Preferably in a true Final Fantasy Tactics II.

Before I go, kiddos, I’ve been avoiding commenting on Charlottesville and the response to it by the walking clusterfuck of mental illness currently disgracing the Oval Office.  Not because I don’t have strong thoughts on it.  Not because it isn’t important.  But mostly because of this – I shouldn’t have to.  I shouldn’t fucking have to.  It is 2017 for fuck’s sake.  If I need to tell you that being a white supremacist Nazi is a BAD FUCKING THING, you serve literally no purpose on this planet, and I should save my breath, time, and sanity, and just lob a meteor at you.  – EWE

Final Fantasy VI and a Plea from EWE

Greets, fleshy water bags!  So, once again you all get to profit from a mistake I made.  You see, when I got home from work, I was really tired and mentally drained, so I sat down on the bed just to rest for a second…and woke up two hours later.  So now I can’t fall asleep, and thus, you get to hear me ramble again.  Lucky you!

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The struggle is real.
So since we are here together, and since I’ve been going back through some classic games despite having a massive backlog that I keep telling myself and everyone else that I am going to get through, I’ve decided to bring you another review of one of my favorite Final Fantasy games of all time – in fact, one of the greatest RPGS and video games in general of all time – Final Fantasy VI.

Although this was the sixth entry in the series to come out in Japan for the Super Famicom, it was only the third of those six games to be brought to the West.  Thus when it debuted on the Super Nintendo in North America, it was rechristened as Final Fantasy III, and it was only with the advent of FF VII years later on the PlayStation that the weird concept of renumbering games would be dumped and everyone would know exactly what fucking game they were playing.  Since then, FFVI has been ported to the GBA, iOS/Android phones, and most recently to Steam on PC.  Now, there have been niggling little complaints about each of these ports of the game, but I’m not going to get into those for one very simple reason – they don’t fucking matter.  Yes, the sprites in the later versions are somewhat “cleaner” and smoother than the original SNES sprites.  Whether you like them or not is a matter of stylistic choice or nostalgia.  But it has absolutely no impact on the sublime underlying game.  So this review is from my time spent most recently with the iOS and PC ports of the game – but I have owned and played every version of the game to ever be released, and when it gets a 3DS or Switch upgrade (it has to, right?  I mean, III, IV, and After Years did?!) then I’ll be first in line to play that too.

FFVI takes place in a world dominated by the Gestahl Empire and it’s Magitek technology and soldiers, which give them far superiority over the steampunk technologies employed by the other kingdoms spread across the World of Balance.  The Empire comes into possession of a young girl with the innate ability to use magic – something not seen in world since the magical creatures known as Espers sealed off their lands from the human world.  The Empire quickly places a slave crown on the girl’s head, robbing her of her memories and free will and sending her with a two man Magitek escort to subdue the village of Narshe and root out a Resistance movement there.  Our game picks up as she is on her way to that mission, tromping through the snow in her Magitek armor.

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Wooly mastadons and guys with stone axes vs. nuclear and magic powered death beam?  This’ll be quick…
Terra and her cohorts make smooth progress carving through the village until reaching a point in the mine where Terra is separated from her fellows after receiving some type of psychic distress or communication from the frozen form of an Esper trying to communicate with her.  In her confusion, she is found by Locke, a theif and adventurer, and Mog, a, uh, Moogle that breakdances, fights with a spear, and has an uncontrollable Yeti buddy  that will lend his violent insanity to your cause as well.  This rescue party is OFF THE HOOK!!  Locke and Mog find Terra wandering in the slums of the city and remove her slave crown.  Her free will is returned, but she still as questions about who she is and where she comes from.  Knowing that they can’t keep her safe in Narshe, Locke decides to sneak Terra into the neighboring kingdom of Figgaro, where he is friends with the current king, Edward.  However, the Empire pursues their taken prize, and thus a grand chase becomes an investigation into the Empire’s acquisition of magitek, and finally into their plans for the destruction  of the world of Balance.  To spoil that major climax would be a disservice to anyone that has yet to play through the game as it was intended to be played.  There are twists and turns and emotional moments all throughout the game.

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Remember when THESE twists and turns featured awesome Mode 7 rotation?! Yeah…this is better.
Special mention must be given to the sheer labor of love that was apparent by the way each and every character, villain, PC, NPC, all were written well, and all executed their roles, no matter how minimal or vast they be, and grew as characters, each and every one.  And not only does the incredibly deep cast of playable characters all undergo development, they are all useful in battle in their own way – which is good since several parts of the game require you to split up your entire group into three or four squads of adventurers to take down the same dungeon or monster simultaneously.  This adds some meta strategy to the game – do you spend the time as you go leveling up as best you can to try and keep the newer or weaker characters more caught up, or do you just hope that the powers of the top crew will be enough to carry the day?

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Not surprised you know him…more surprised he hasn’t cut off your hand yet.
As Locke and Terra are avoid Imperial troops in Narshe, it serves as a tutorial for the games battle system, which will go down in history as perhaps the greatest pure distillation of the ATB battle system first devised in FFIV.  Battles are turn based, which each individual character or enemy getting to take a turn as soon as the stamina bar is full.  Unlike in some past FF games, here, magic spells are learned by having Magicite equipped while in combat.  After combat, a percentage of AP points is applied to your account and you’re that much closer to permanently unlocking the spells that it teaches.  In this way, you can teach almost every one of the wide case of characters all of the magic in the game – and in fact this becomes a gameplay element in which weapons and physical attacks are ineffective and the only way to damage some bosses is either with magic or by draining their own MP.  It can be a bit tedious doing the necessary level of grinding to get all of your characters up to that level, but the payoff for it is tremendous!

The story, although it spans a threat to not just one, but two worlds, is actually best digested through the small side stories and personal reasons for each party member to continue on with the party.  These are  the moments that stick with you long after the closing credits have rolled, and you’ve defeated one of the greatest villains in Final Fantasy history.

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Battles always have been and remain colorful affairs.
Final Fantasy VI is a seminal entry in the world of JRPGs and RPGs in general, as well as one of the widely regarded greatest video games of all time.  There isn’t much more that can be said about it that hasn’t already been addressed.  Will absolutely everyone like it?  No, but the world will always be filled with morons that have no taste.  Just as not everyone that looks at a work of fine art can truly “get it” not everyone can appreciate the timeless quality of this game.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it is a phenomenal achievement in the art of game design that should be mandatory playing by anyone who claims to be interested in the game community.  So what are you waiting for?  Climb aboard the express!

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No they don’t – the bad puns just keep on coming!
Now, before we say goodnight, I have a special request.  As you know, I don’t care for most humans.  They treat me like garbage, and thus I don’t usually give a damn about them or their pathetic problems.  But there are exceptions: some of the best humans I have had the pleasure to interact with are Ryan McCaffrey and Alanah Pearce over at IGN.  They’re modern-day celebrities in the internet and gaming community, and yet they always take a few moments to engage me in conversation and to treat me like a friend when I need it.  I consider them my friends, and so it was with a heavy heart that I saw Alanah had created a Please Help Maggie the Boxer Campaign,  You see, Maggie the Boxer is facing multiple, expensive surgeries in order to correct an open cyst that, if left untreated, could lead her to bleed out or die of infection.  None of our furry friends should have to suffer such a fate. and Ryan can use all the help that he can get with paying for her care.  So please, go and donate as much or little as you can to Maggie the Boxer’s recovery fund.  Or…I’ll find you.  And when I do I’ll be quite sad.  And what do you consider could happen if I’m sad?

Do not make me sad.

Thank you all kindly for all of your support, both for Maggie the Boxer, and for me!  Until next time! – EWE

New Year, New Reviews, Same Old EWE

Hello once again, feeble naked apes.  I hope you all will forgive the absence of a #FrozenFoodFriday this past week.  Despite the short week due to the holidays, my workload was higher than normal and I was far too tired to do much else.  And since I’ve been making efforts not to siphon off the lifeforce of every pitiful human I encounter, I’ve been a little less lively than I normally would be.

I sincerely hope that you all had an enjoyable New Year’s Eve.  Me, you ask?  Oh, I was surrounded by everyone that enjoys me for who I am – in other words, I spent the evening alone watching anime and gaming, and texting back and forth with Malevolent Moogle.  I did attempt to enjoy the evening with another, but was literally told that doing absolutely nothing at all was preferable to doing anything with me.  Which, I suppose, should come as no surprise.  But on the plus side, I can come to you with not just one, but two new reviews for you – both an anime and a classic game.

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MAGI: Labyrinth of Magic

First up, we’ve got the treat I discovered while browsing Netflix in an effort to drown out both my obnoxious neighbors as well as the fact that I was sitting home alone.  Well, in fairness, whisky helped drown out the latter of those as well.  Plenty, plenty of whisky.  But on to the show – in this case, that show being Magi – The Labyrinth of Magic.

Magi follows the adventures of young magical boy Aladdin and his friend Alibaba, along with their ever-growing collection of friends (and enemies, and frienemies, etc).  As a shonen fantasy anime, all the action bases are covered – plenty of action scenes, swords and sorcery, the works.  But what I loved most about this show is that, unlike a lot of shonen anime, there is a decent sense of political intrigue, grey morality, and ambiguous characterization.  Not everyone is a clear-cut hero or villain – although there are clearly some of those as well.

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This is Sinbad – betcha never pictured him with purple hair before, huh?

While this show was a pleasant surprise – I hadn’t experienced any of the original manga prior to stumbling on the anime – I can’t say that everything about it was perfect.  Aladdin, the main character, goes well beyond being “good” and is just a bit too pure and naive for my taste.  That being said, he is the exception to the rule in that regard – most of the characters are well-rounded enough to be interesting, and all undergo character development as the story progresses.  I highly recommend this first season to anyone that is a fan of fantasy anime.  The second season, entitled Magi – Kingdom of Magic, is also available on Netflix, and I will bring you my thoughts on that in the near future.

But wait – there’s more!  You see, while I drowned my misery in whisky and anime, I decided to go for a hat trick and drown it in classic gaming as well.  And if you are a fan of classic JRPG mechanics, high adventure, tongue in cheek humor, and moments that tug at your heartstrings, they don’t come much better than the recently released on Steam Final Fantasy IX.

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Make no mistake – that mage in the corner is FAR kinder than EWE.

Released in 2000 for the original PlayStation, and shortly after the launch of the PS2, FF IX was an intentional departure by Square from the increasingly modern, sci-fi trappings of FF VII and FF VIII.  Knowing it would be one of the last titles released for the PS1 generation, it was essentially developed as a love letter and callback to the high fantasy settings and more classic fundamental mechanics that defined the series’ early entries.

FF IX follows a disparate band of characters, including the innocent, almost child-like Black Mage Vivi, the cocky, confident thief Zidane, the determined, headstrong Princess Garnet, the blustering, single-minded knight Steiner, and several of their friends.  What begins as a simple, innocent kidnapping scheme by Zidane and his band of thieves (yeah, this was from a time when a kidnapping of a young woman was apparently something heroes could do) quickly spirals into a globe-trotting expedition to save the entire world from total annihilation.

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If you could see what he sees under that hood, you’d say the same thing.

The plot setup and characters may seem to be cliche, but this is entirely by design.  See, nothing becomes a cliche unless it is used often, and it is only used often if it at some point is done so well that others seek to emulate it.  With FF IX, Square shows themselves to be masters of the RPG genre, taking a plot, setting, and cast that won’t surprise most anyone who has played a game or read a book, and making them endearing and memorable on the sheer force of their quality.  Although the crew is of course trying to save the world, they each have personal motivations for their journey as well.  Vivi is trying to learn about himself, his origins, and his humanity; Garnet wants to understand why her kingdom has come to threaten the rest of the world; Steiner wants to fulfill his duty to protect his princess; and Zidane…well, mostly just wants to score with Garnet for the majority of the game.  Honestly, Zidane just does right by people because it’s inherent in who he is – he does it because he feels like it.  He isn’t interested in a reward or the like, though he will take it if offered.  It’s only toward the end of the game that Zidane gains a more personal motivation in defeating the villains, but boy, is it one hell of a motivation.

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Oh yeah, my family makes a cameo torching a village or two. Hi guys!

Gameplay wise, this is one of the finest iterations of the classic ATB battle system that Square ever devised.  Combat is turn-based, with each character and enemy having a regenerating action bar that refills at varying rates based on the character’s speed.  Skills and abilities are learned from the various pieces of gear equipped by the characters, and then are set using a limited pool of gems for each character.  As characters level up, they earn more gems, allowing them to equip more skills and abilities.  In addition, each character has a predetermined character class, which imparts its own unique skills and abilities.  For example, Zidane is a thief, and as such has the classic ability to steal items from his enemies in battle.  Finally, the classic FF Limit Break system is back in the form of Trance.  Every time a character takes damage, the trance meter fills a bit, and when full, the character, uh, turns pink.  Not sure the significance of that – but it also gives them access to a new set of character-specific super moves that can cause massive damage and turn the tide of battle.

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White Mage, Summoner, Princess. I wanted to marry her when I was younger.

Being a Final Fantasy game, there are of course also a number of time-consuming minigames.  Chocobo treasure hunting can be an interesting diversion, and lead to some valuable treasure.  The Mognet mail system is a game-spanning sidequest with not much in the way of payoff, but thankfully it’s not that significant to complete.  Finally, the Tetra Master card game is another addition in the more recent tradition of deep card games in FF games, but falls a bit short of the high bar set by Triple Triad in its immediate predecessor.

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Are there airships? Oh yeah…there are airships.

While this game could have just crammed as many airships and Cids and summons as it could into it and still have been fairly well regarded, FF IX is the rare intentional nostalgia trip that actually lives up to, if not exceeds the standard set by the games it is invoking.  The story, graphics, music, characters, battle system – everything has aged tremendously well.  It’s port to the PC has upgraded the visuals slightly and added a few quality of life improvements, such as the ability to max out all abilities and damage, and turn off random encounters, for those that may wish to blow through the game.  But to truly experience this game as it should be, don’t use those.  Play through this game at least once as it was intended to be played.  Grind abilities because you only have one piece of gear with a great ability on it and you want to teach it to several characters.  Hunt down monsters for Quina to eat so it can learn their abilities.  Explore the world map until you accidentally run into a dragon that you have no chance of killing at your current level.  It’s the sense of the unknown, and of adventuring through it, that the most successful stories invoke – and Square well and truly invoked it here.  FF IX is the pure definition of a classic – not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but very, very good, and polished to a warm glow, and immune from the passing of time.  If you are a fan of Final Fantasy, or JRPGs at all, you owe it to yourself to experience this game.

And so the first entry in 2017 draws to a close.  Normally, this is the part where I mock the human race, or observe one of the many reasons why I should destroy it.  But as it is a new year, I suppose I should take a stab at being a new, friendlier EWE…BWAHAHAHAHA!  I’m sorry, I just couldn’t get all the way through it with a straight face.  What did you think I’d do, make some kind of bullshit resolution to dial back on my nihilism?  What the fuck is wrong with you?  Did you miss the part earlier when I said that I offered to share time with a human and was told that LITERALLY SITTING AT HOME DOING NOTHING was preferable?  Yeah, there will definitely be no shortage of village-burning in 2017.  (Editor’s Note: Don’t be disingenuous – you’d have torched those villages either way).  Ok, well…yeah, I probably would have.  But I’m going to enjoy it that much more now! – EWE

Final Fantasy XV Review-in-Progress; Malevolent Moogle’s Dating “Advice”

Hello, humans!  Still alive and kicking, huh?  Damn…er, uh, I mean, damn, that’s great.  Yup – look at you, all not-dead and whatnot.  Fan-fucking-tastic.  This is what I get for taking evil shopping advice from a goddamn coyote – he never even did catch that bird, useless bastard.  ACME better have a good refund policy on partially-used plagues.

Anyway, since you’re still breathing, I suppose I should at least attempt to entertain you.  So first, I guess we could delve into my thoughts as I have begun playing Square Enix’s recently released Final Fantasy XV.  This isn’t going to be a full review yet – this is a large game with a ton to do, and I simply haven’t had the time to play it thoroughly enough to give my final thoughts on it.  But I can tell you how it’s compared with my expectations going in.

tc7rtnr

Speaking of those expectations, they were…well, let’s be polite (Editor’s Note: for once) (EWE’s Note to Editor: you shut the fuck up right now) and just say that they were “low.”  Now, it isn’t as if I’m not a fan of the series – quite the opposite – but this game had raised some alarms for me.  First of all, I’m kind of old-school in my taste for RPGs.  I mean, for shit’s sake, look at me – I’m an 8-bit wizard.  My DNA is pixel-based.  Swords and sorcery, some steampunk, turn-based combat…this is the stuff I look for in an RPG.

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PUMP THIS DIRECTLY INTO MY VEINS!

But starting with FF VII, the main Final Fantasy series has started moving away from traditional settings and gameplay elements.  That isn’t to say that this has been entirely a bad thing – taking chances and changing things up is how a long-lived series keeps from getting stale.  But like any experiments with a proven formula, some alterations work…and some not so much.  FF VII was a smash hit, but FF XIII took some well deserved criticism for essentially featuring a 20-hour corridor at the beginning of the game with no real options to deviate.  So when the announced concept of FF XV was revealed to essentially be “Bro’d Trip!” I was…cautious.  When SE announced that there would be an entire universe of products revolving around XV, including anime film and series prequels, visions of the ill-fated Compilation of FF VII swam before me.  And most alarmingly, when I played through the demos of the game that were made available…I was underwhelmed.

But thus far into the release of the full game, I am happy to report that my concerns have thus far proven to be…well, not “wrong” because that’s impossible, but perhaps “addressed” is a better term.  The combat system that had felt so obtuse and unresponsive to be in the demo is in actuality one of the best systems that the franchise has had since the old ATB days.  Battles zip along and are action packed without (thus far) becoming overwhelming.  And while you can only directly control Noctis throughout, you can trigger his three besties to perform joint attacks with him.  And even on their own, the AI for your party members is adequate as far as I’ve gotten into the game.

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Yeah…I’m going to leave this guy alone for the moment.

Story wise, I have not progressed too far yet, as this is the first FF game to feature a mostly-open world with a TON of sidequests and loot scattered all over the map.  But I can say that thus far, the dynamic between the four best buds has actually been handled quite well.  Sure they’re dressed like something that should be on a catwalk in Milan, but their personalities and banter mesh well together without getting (too) cheesy.  There is still a lot of room for character development, but I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of this game based on my first impressions.

mog-final-fantasy-vi

Now as a last tidbit for you…you all remember my best friend, THE best friend, Malevolent Moogle, right?  Of course you do!  Well, MM and I had an exchange the other day that was so enlightening and life-changing, I simply had to share her wisdom with all you meatbags out there.  Here is MM offering me her, uh, we’ll call it “advice” for lack of a better term, on my personal life and dating.

MM – “Listen up.  I’ve appointed myself your datekeeper.  If you haven’t found a nice girl by my birthday, you have to go out with anybody I say.  Deal?”

EWE – “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA…HAHAHA..HAHA…Ha…oh, fuck, you’re not joking, are you?”

MM – “You didn’t say no, so, that counts as a yes.”

EWE – “Uh, we’re both lawyers, and I’m reasonably sure we both know that clearly IS NOT how ‘no’ works…”

MM – “Under this highly particular set of circumstances, and applicable only to you, it does.  Now, we can compromise – you will message any girl who has a cat with her in her profile pic.”

EWE – “Wait…how is that a compromise?  There are a lot of girls with cats…”

MM – “Cats cats cats cats cats!”

Now, for those of you who may still at this point be asking yourself “man, what is EWE’s deal?  What is wrong with that guy?”  I want you to reread that conversation, and then realize that the person I’m talking to is essentially THE SOLE VOICE OF REASON in my existence.  That should clear up any questions you may have had.

Until next time, kiddos, may you all have a merry happy whatever-the-fuck-you-celebrate – just please do it quickly, because I just honestly want it all over as soon as possible.  Thanks in advance. – EWE