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Ending Talk: Final Fantasy XV

Now that it’s officially July, the requisite six months have passed since Final Fantasy XV’s release that I’m willing to discuss spoilers of the game freely.  I know a lot of people haven’t had a chance to play or finish the game, since 2016 and 2017 have been packed to the absolute brim with great game, and that kick ass train doesn’t appear to be stopping any time soon.  So, I will be writing about a lot of very big spoilers about everything regarding this game, other than the DLC (since I haven’t played it, and Ignis’s isn’t out yet) and this is a warning.  That said, I’m not going to get into spoilers until I put the big game cover up as an intro picture, so keep that in mind.

Now, over time, I think a few people have cooled on their approval of the game, and I can definitely see why.  Still, it was a miracle the game came out, and the fact that it was actually as good as it was, and it’s actually pretty good, that’s saying something.  Still, that ending did a lot of damage, and in a lot of different ways, so we’re going to spend the next several hundred words talking about that.  Okay, this is the last warning, unmarked spoilers like crazy coming up.

ff_xv_cover_art

Copyright Square Enix

So, Final Fantasy XV is pretty fun up until about Chapter 13.  Prompto has been knocked off of the train that the boys spend the last main chunk of the game in, and while Noctis and Gladiolus aren’t at each others throats any more, there is still a lot of tension.  It’s a shame that the Niflheim stuff isn’t open world like the Lucis stuff is, because it’s clear that all of that stuff is already made, it’s just the quests don’t work, and the map apparently isn’t done.  People glitch on to it, and there are places to drive, but there isn’t anything great.

Chapter 13, however, turns into one long, slow ass dungeon crawl, which sees the Regalia destroyed (cool), Noctis fight through a really long, solo dungeon that attempts way too many jump scares (lame) and Ignis and Gladiolus just vanish.  They apparently do their own thing, which isn’t that much cooler, but it does allow the player to skip some of the bullshit.  Then it ends with a long boss fight, some revelations, and Noctis vanishing into a crystal.  In the crystal, Bahamut tells him that he has to die to stop the Starscourge, that the Empire of Niflheim has been consumed by the Starscourge and that Ardyn is telling the truth.  Ardyn, before Noctis drops into the crystal, reveals that he’s actually related, distantly, to Noctis, and it sets up the final battle.  It also completely tears the game apart.

First, after building the Emperor up as this ruthless, unyielding bastard becomes, and I’m serious about this, a random boss fight that harries the party after they all meet up for a bit.  Seriously, he’s a boss fight that pretends to be a random enemy for a few bits of the dungeon, but is actually really tough.  It’s dumb.  Plus, thanks to the Starscourge and the daemons (along with Ardyn’s machinations) Niflheim completely falls apart and the people who had been the bad guys literally up until this moment just vanish.  It’s not the worst time that has happened (wait, Golbez is actually Cecil’s brother and we have to go to the moon and get the moon crystals, because this game is too short.  Actually, that’s not the worst, and in context, it’s kind of cool), but it’s still pretty dumb.  One of the reasons XII works so well is that the Archades Empire remains a credible threat throughout, and that since they are the bad guys.  Venat doesn’t just kill of Cidolfus or Vayne and declare himself the big bad or anything.  Hell, Vayne going rogue and merging with Venat is basically their suicide charge, since they’ve already lost and want to make sure no one wins.  It’s cool and it’s effective, and while XV does have the player follow along with Ardyn much more than with the Emperor, the game sets Ardyn up to be the Emperor’s emissary.

Sure, Ardyn is supposed to be like Kefka, and he usurps the Emperor, and that’s totally fine, but the rest of Niflheim just falls apart.  Kefka at least kills Vector when he destroys the entire World of Balance, and we, the players see all of that happen.  Ardyn and the Starscourge just basically causes the empire to fall apart before we even arrive in the city.  Worse, the whole game is sort of set up, until around Chapter 13 to be a means of taking down Niflheim.  All four of the boys have a personal stake in doing so, and while the Starsourge is cool, it’s more of a setting back drop.  It’s not important until more than halfway through the game, when Lunafreya gets offed, and it’s barely mentioned as anything before Chapter 9 as anything besides the source of the world’s monsters.  It would be if the moon in VIII suddenly became the bad guy and the source of every problem in the game, and killed Ultimecia.  Or something.  Maybe that did happen.  VIII is a weird ass game.

Anyway, most of that are just quibbles.  The real problem is the rest of the game.  Chapter 14 has Noctis wake up 10 years later, where the sun hasn’t risen since his trip into the crystal, and while it does give one great scene right before the final battle, which is one of my favorite Final Fantasy moments ever (seriously, it made me cry), it also runs into so many problems.  First, of course, it stretches suspension of disbelief, since a decade without sunlight is insane.  Especially since the sun prevents monsters from just crawling out of the ground, and the monsters we see in the World of Ruin are fucking powerful as Hell.  Level 60 and above.  Shit, Demon Wall was there.  Demon Wall is a boss.  Second, it the time difference makes the reunion feel hollow.  There are some implications that the boys knew Noctis would come back, and that they knew because of what happened in the crystal, but the way it’s set up, it’s like he’s only been gone for a few weeks.  It really seems like 10 years is only there because it being a 10 year game was one of the original promises, and to give Talcott some pay off, but Iris could have been the person to pick up Noctis.

Then, of course, we have the final battle.  It’s got a great line (get out of my chair, jester.  The King sits there), but it’s also totally alone.  The game is about the boys and their brotherhood.  It’s why they all, Noctis included, wear Kingsguard uniforms to the final battle.  Even when they fracture, it’s their mutual love and brotherhood that brings them together, and the final scene before going into Insomnia for the last time is all about how they face the final battle together, as brothers.  Also, the very opening of the game is them going up against Ifrit, at the end of the world.  It should be great, but in the end, Noctis and Ardyn have a crazy Dragon Ball Z battle through the air, then Noctis sacrifices himself to end Ardyn’s immortality, and Noctis gets to be with Lunafreya in the afterlife.

Noctis dying, weirdly, becomes the easy way out.  Instead of losing Lunafreya, instead of having to suffer alone on a throne and rebuild a kingdom out of nothing, Noctis gets to have everything.  Sure, he “dies,” but the final scene shows that he gets to be with his love and be married in the afterlife.  He doesn’t have to suffer on earth with his friends, and rebuild a broken world.  Terra doesn’t get to die in Final Fantasy VI when the magic goes away, because she has to be there to raise the children (also because you can potentially beat the game without her, you monster).  She found her place in the world, she got to have her arc, and killing her would be pointless and grim.  Here, it’s sort of the opposite.  It’s a dark game, and in this instance, Noctis gets to die instead of doing the hard work.  It’s a shame.

Still, it’s an otherwise great game.  Probably best to just ignore everything after Chapter 12, though.  Or, at least, Episode Prompto.  I hear that one is pretty good.

Number 3: Final Fantasy XV

ff_xv_cover_art

Copyright Square Enix

The past decade hasn’t been easy for me, at least as far as being a Final Fantasy fan went.  Sure, XII came out, and it was my favorite in the series across all 20 years, but that was sort of the end of the line.  I didn’t think it could get much worse than X and all of the terrible sequels to VII, but then we got XIII and those games, XIV was so bad they had to rebuild it from the ground up to salvage it, so it was hard to look at XV with the legacy Square Enix had left behind for the past ten years and think that the ten years it took to make would result in a game that was coherent, let alone good.  Now, here we are, and I can’t stop playing this game.

Real talk, it’s not the best Final Fantasy, and it has a lot of the quirks of several of the other games in the series.  The characters are a little flat, the plot doesn’t always make sense and villains don’t get enough good screen time to be enough to flesh them out and all that terrible hair (Gladiolus has a mullet, people.  A mullet).  Plus the combat is a bit dodgy and the magic system is more of a good idea than a good execution, but, honestly from the word go, none of that mattered at all, because XV works.  How it works is best illustrated in the very first scene in the game, where the car is broken down on the side of the road, in the desert, because of course, and the prince and his buddies have to push the car to the gas station and all four of them start bickering and teasing each other while pushing it.  It’s just an instantly relateable scene that transports the player right there to the world, and everything just makes sense.

This is what makes it so good.  Final Fantasy, even back on the NES, had lush, gorgeous visuals that did a good job of making it feel like the player was right there in the action, only getting better over the past 29 years, but XV does it on a whole different scale.  Whether it’s driving on the highway with Noctis and company, looking out of the side of the road to see a meteor being held up by a titan just as part of the scenery, or riding on chocobo back in across the plains to fight some monsters, or walking into an enchanted forest to find a tomb of a lost king, all of completely seamless and without transitions, it made me feel like I was there, every second I’m playing the game.  When I was on the Veldt in Final Fantasy VI, it was just a map, with some forests added in for flavor, but here, I can drive out to the forests and go right in without anything ever changing.  It makes great work of the open world.

Combat is a lot of fun, too.  Sure, it doesn’t always work right, but it doesn’t matter.  The action combat system is the way Square wants to go, and I can’t blame them.  It’s not Dark Souls (and I’m glad it’s not), but the controls are good and the way engaging monsters happens, especially the huge, multi-target monstrosities the game will let a player tackle, works so well.  It feels exactly like how I imagined Final Fantasy combat “really” looked in my head when I played them as a teenager.  Maybe I didn’t expect throwing a greatsword at someone, then teleport slamming into their chest (which is SO satisfying, and I’m glad its a central part of combat), but everything else is exactly how I imagined it, right down to the characters making fun of each other and complimenting each other in the middle of a battle.  Even some of the chatter sounds word for word what I expected Cloud and Squall (or at least their buddies) would say after scoring a really nice critical.

At the end of the day, what really works about the game is that it’s about a bunch of buddies on a journey, and the journey manages to be compelling no matter what wrenches get thrown in.  Not everything here works, but it doesn’t matter, because when I get to camp, Prompto is going to have a bad selfie, a pick of Noctis’s ass while trying to get on a Chocobo, and a picture that made everything I did between save points look awesome as hell.  That, sometimes, is all that matters.

Red Guy With A Beard Is not a Fantasy Race

Final Fantasy XIV has officially failed when it comes to fantasy races.  I wasn’t really a big fan of the races from Final Fantasy XI, since they seemed like half-assed Tolkien rip offs.  You got your humans, elves and halflings.  No dwarves, but there’s the best guy and the cat girl, so I guess that’s originality, right? (no.)  I was kind of hoping we’d get to see some new races or something from one of the other games, but it looks like Square just wants to do some FF XI palette swaps for XIV.  Lame.

For a series that has tons of cool and unique monsters and races, like Moogles and Bangaa, why did the developers of these two Final Fantasies decide to go for the most generic race concepts?  I mean, the regular games have given us Mog (Moogle), Kimahri (some beast race), Fran (Viera), plus all those guys from IX, but in the MMORPG, the devs decided to go with the most bland D&D-reject races in an MMORPG.  Hell, even World of Warcraft, which from the outside looks pretty vanilla, gives players the choice of being undead, a minotaur (Tauren), space goat guys with tentacles (draenei) and nuclear powered gnomes (take that Dragonlance!).  Hell, the expansion is adding werewolves!

But the worst of the crop is this guy:

Sure, he may have red skin, but having red skin and a beard doesn’t mean you qualify has a fantasy race.  Hell, if I dipped myself in red paint and dyed my hair and beard white, do I get to call myself a completely different sapient creature?  Come on, at least Viera have bunny ears, tails and weird looking feat.  This is a dude in a toga!

Stupid Monster Fridays 3

I hate these things.  Worse than Tonberry, worse than Cactaur, worse than motherfucking Marlith (seriously, it was lame in D&D what made Square think it would work in Final Fantasy?), we have the Malboro, a giant tentacled monster that kills you with it’s god awful breath.  In addition to being a stupid plant monster, these things are the kings of cheap shots and are easily the most annoying bad guys in all of Final Fantasy.

Bad Breath hits the party with about three to nine status effects, depending on which Final Fantasy is being played.  In four, it hits with Toad, Mini, Berserk and Poison, which will just plain fuck over anybody who didn’t have the foresight to come with a ribbon equipped (assuming one can even be acquired at this stage of the game, I don’t remember).  In some games, it turn a dungeon crawl into a devastating Total Party Kill and will send players all the way back to the last save.  I know for a fact I’ve had to reload three times in a row because of these jackasses.  It doesn’t help that in most games, these things are already pretty strong in the first place, which kinda makes dumping a ton of status effects on the party even more irritating than it already is.  If that was all the thing did, they probably wouldn’t be so bad, but they’re often pretty tough too.

However, it’s kick-you-in-the-nuts power of Bad Breath is really only annoying.  They are perhaps the stupidest looking monsters things in all of Final Fantasy, and this is the series that has character designs by a guy who thought this was a good idea:

I think it's been long enough since I made fun of Tetsuya Nomura's awful taste

Seriously, what the fuck is that thing (not Donald, the Malboro, but yeah what the fuck there too)?  My girlfriend, who’s never been a big Final Fantasy fan, described it as a “vagina with tentacles” and I’d say that, combined with some kind of radioactive plant, is a good description of the Malboro.

Still, looking stupid and cheap shots isn’t really what hacks me off about these things.  No, what really gets me pissed about these bastards is the fact that they’re so fucking smug all the time.  They have these giant fucking grins, as if they’re saying “yeah bitch, I’m better than you” before they puke all over the party and smack them with a billion overlapping (and sometimes pointless) status effects.  Worse, as time goes on, they start to wear fucking crowns on their heads like they’ve fucking earned them or some shit.

There are two redeeming qualities.  First, it’s kind of a cute pun on Marlboro cigarettes, especially with the whole “bad breath” thing.  I always appreciate puns, even lame ones, and this one isn’t bad, even if it doesn’t quite work.  The second is that they’re really stripped down in Final Fantasy XII and it’s fun to have Basch cut them down with a giant sword.  I may or may not have once screamed “take that bitch” while grinding for XP.  I also may or may not return to Golmore Jungle just to kill the little bastards.

Back from break

I took a somewhat unintended break last week after a particularly grueling set of papers.  I had 10 pages to layout in Okarche and 12 for Piedmont, so I came home too fucking tired to write on Monday and Tuesday, and then Thursday and Friday were Christmas.  I was snowed in, since Oklahoma got hit with about 12 inches of snow, but fuck it, I wanted to spend time with friends and family and above all, rest, because I knew this week was going to be tough.

During the break, I jumped off the slippery slope and started playing World of Warcraft.  I had downloaded it onto my desktop so my girlfriend could play on the bigger screen and with a mouse.  I think she wound up preferring her laptop.  Anyway, I’m playing a human warlock named Aethereon, master of the dark arts.  He’s highly disciplined and he looks like a samurai (I made that change tonight when I saw the haircut on a player).  He’s an older man who had spent his youth studying the dark arts, building his power so he could become rich and live a life of luxury, but a demon ate his buddy and his arm, giving him a sense of the power he was dealing with.  He went on a quest to get his arm back and rescue the soul of his buddy, but it shattered him and left him without his magic.  Over the years, he’s begun to rebuild his power and his strength and has developed a new purpose: defending the world from the things beyond.

Truth be told, I just made up that backstory right now, but I like it and I’m going to use it.

I beat Assassin’s Creed II while frozen in.  It’s an excellent game and I’ll be writing a review sometime this week.  For a quick preview of my opinion I basically say that it’s improved the game in almost every way, but the controls are a bit loose at times and Venice can get really annoying.

Finally, I’ve laid out some ground rules for Stupid Monster Fridays.  Because of the immense amount of stupid crap that comes out of Castlevania, I’m limiting myself to 1 monster from that series a month, although I probably won’t be doing one every month as a tradition.  Also, I’m a big fan of Final Fantasy, but because there are even more stupid pieces of crap running around in those games, I’m only taking from Final Fantasy once every other month, or when I’m just too lazy (I’ll be sure to let everyone know when I’m just being lazy).

First Day of Vacation

I was going to finish up that vignette about Vanessa Leeds last week, but things got really busy on Thursday and Friday and I couldn’t get to my computer.  Part of it was preparing for my vacation at work, I got a lot of copy done so the rest of the paper wouldn’t be behind.  On Thursday, I helped my girlfriend move, saw District 9 and Inglorious Basterds.  On Friday, I went out to dinner with my family to celebrate my brother’s birthday.  So, not the best excuses, but that’s what they are.

Besides, I wasn’t particularly happy with the way that story turned out, so I plan on revising it in a few days and picking it back up.  The point is to add a bit of back story, since Vanessa’s story will probably never show up in the actual fiction.  A little disappointing, perhaps, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about fiction writing is that you don’t use half of what you write.  It might even be for the best.

So, despite all expectations, I’m actually looking forward to Final Fantasy XIII.  There’s just something about it that looks pretty freakin’ cool.  I did really enjoy Final Fantasy XII, but that doesn’t mean anything since I have a strange relationship with the series anyway.

Anyway, I can’t stop myself from watching every new video that comes up and I can’t say why I’m so interested.  What’s really weird is that a year ago, I couldn’t care less.  I didn’t expect anything but garbage from this game, but now that it’s about to hit, I can’t wait.  I think I’ve been fully caught up in the hype machine.

Now that I’m on vacation, I’ve finally got some time to myself to catch up on my video games.  I’ve got Valkayria Chronicles sitting mostly un-played in my Playstation and I’ve got Final Fantasy XII sitting there, begging to be replayed.  I kept saying I was going to go through it again, this time making a point of playing straight through and not taking months long breaks when I get stuck, but the game scares me a bit.  Yes, it’s my favorite Final Fantasy (hell, favorite JRPG), but damn, I just don’t know.

Oh well, so much for a cluttered Monday.  Hopefully tomorrow’s entry will be less insane.

A Post About Fashion?

I think RPG characters dress weird. I mean, really fucking weird.  I have a 12 inch statue of Cloud Strife from Advent Children on my speaker at home and while he looks pretty cool, he also looks like he’s wearing half of a dress.

I saw a screen for the game of End of Eternity and the dude was wearing a leather jacket, jeans and a regular shirt and he looked pretty freaking cool.  This weekend, I had dinner with my mom and brother.  My brother is attempting to change his wardrobe and he looked kind of cool.  He’s kind of what I would expect a teenage wizard in a modern setting would look like.  Some artists from Japan need to come to my parent’s house and take notes.

After I watched a trailer for Final Fantasy Versus XIII (or Agito?  The PS3 exclusive one) and I saw the main, royal, characters dressed in modern formal clothes, I started to look at character designs a different way.  Those characters looked cool and stylish.  Yes, Cloud looks cool and stlylish too, but that’s also my inner 12-year-old talking.

Rummage Sale Rejects is what they call them over at TVTropes.  The more I look at upcoming J-RPGs, the more ridiculous I think of comic books in the early-90’s, only instead of overly muscled dumbasses with huge pockets and armor placed in the most useless places we have androgynous weirdos with half-worn clothes and armor placed in the must useless places (on the shoulder, in both cases).  Yes, the latest Final Fantasy XIII (not Versus or whatever) does make me think of Liefeld’s designs and that’s not a good thing, but the stuff from End of Eternity makes me interested.

We need to stop going for over-the-top in costume designs.  Yes, characters should be memorable visually as well as in the acts they do, but not every character needs to wear something completely unique from the rest of the universe (and logic).  Basch van Ronsenberg from Final Fantasy XII is a huge offender of this.  Early on, he wears some sweet armor.  It looks cool, but it’s really just plate armor with nothing special on it.  Most of the game though, he wears ratty pants and a weird vest thing and he looks retarded.  One of the most heroic Final Fantasy protagonists in years looks like a damn freak for most of the game and its depressing as Hell.  Especially since you meet him wearing some kick ass armor.

We need to drop the things like half-coats, goggles that do nothing (these are okay for steampunk guys, mad scientists and Sons of Ether) and plate mail skirts.  Give the characters real costumes that people would wear.