4 years ago
Several years ago I watched a documentary called Playing Columbine: A True Story of Video Game Controversy (www.playingcolumbine.com). It is a documentary centered around a PC game called Super Columbine Massacre RPG! (www.columbinegame.com)and the way video games are portrayed in today's media. I found it to be rather thought provoking and I decided to post my thoughts here in the hopes that someone may read it and go on to play the game, watch the documentary, or just start talking to someone. Please feel free to leave me a comment.
As a "gamer" we have been and still are scrutinized regularly by society and the media, particularly whenever someone that plays games commits some act of violence. At this point it's probably safe to say that we are scrutinized more heavily then people that watch movies, listen to music, or (gasp) read books. You don't hear FOX News blaming the bible for the actions of a few religious nutcases. Nor do we often hear of serious campaigns saying that X movie is warping the minds of youth and is the cancer killing our society. I recall back when the Harry Potter craze was at it's peak you'd occasionally hear or see someone saying that the books were a negative influence on children, that it was turning them to witchcraft. These people were mostly ignored as just about everyone realized that their arguments were crazy. But it's obvious that video games are the cause of a host of problems with today's youth. If a couple of kids were to mutilate a younger child while acting out something from one of the Twilight books would the media give it the same kind of attention as if somebody did something they did in GTA? I'd be very surprised if the answer was yes.
I can think of a couple reasons why the media does this and both are cultural. For starters, most of the people involved in bringing us the "news" are from the previous generation (commonly called the baby boomers). While by this day and age everyone from the previous generation is familiar with the existence of games it's still a minority that really respect and understand the artistic medium that video games are. If you look back through history you'll likely find that every time a new entertainment medium emerges the previous generation blames it for society's ills. Be it rock music, movies, table top role playing games, or games like Manhunt, it is human nature to fear that which you do not understand. Only an enlightened few will make the actual effort of beginning to understand or appreciate something they aren't comfortable with. The second reason is that most members of society doesn't want to think about what's wrong with themselves. Society has always needed scapegoats for everything that is wrong with it, every tragedy, every warped individual. To place blame is to be human, we all do it on some level. Few people can come out and say they they messed up, that something is completely their fault. That they were lousy parents, that they ignored the kid being bullied in their classroom, that they didn't want to invest the time to help someone other then themselves. That is why the same kind of bullying goes on in schools a few years after a shooting. It's easier to blame something for a persons actions then actually think about the societal cause and try to do something to change things for the better.
Gaming is not a new medium anymore, but to those that don't play games or only play(ed) them casually they are still just kids toys. Super Mario Brothers, Sonic, Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, these are the kind of things that come to a lot of peoples minds when they think of video games. The idea of the things you can do in GTA is as offensive to the people that don't understand the medium as the idea of Disney producing a full length animated pornographic movie. It is as wrong to blame them for doing what they do as it is for them to blame DOOM and Marilyn Manson for something like the Columbine shooting. FOX News knows that if they blame video games for some recent act of terrible violence they will get ratings. And if they bring someone like Jack Thompson or any "expert" that has never played anything more advanced then Tetris or Mario nobody will question them. To question the media is to question the unthinking hordes of people that just buy into everything they present as "fact". You and I might know better, but the middle aged Christian mother of two young teenagers probably doesn't. I can't blame my cat for throwing up on the living room carpet, nor can I blame my Christian father for not understanding the appeal of Grand Theft Auto.
As people that do understand this often misrepresented and misunderstood medium it is up to us to both educate and set an example for the general population. There are millions of people that play games across the world, but if a few go out and do something terrible it's not us that the media will focus on. Just like people don't talk about the hundreds of millions of genuinely nice, peaceful, tolerant Muslims out there. I don't claim to know the answers but I do know that posting messages on internet forums about what violent act you'd like to do to Jack Thompson does not help, in fact your helping people like him. Being hostile and/or rude is not the answer, being frank, well spoken, and polite will probably actually get us somewhere. What we can do is discuss things when the issues come up. Talk to your parents about that news report about "the effects of video games violence on children" with your parents. Write a well spoken, thoughtful letter to the editor of a magazine or newspaper after they blame video games for the decay in the values of todays youth. Aside from things like that all we can do is wait. Because like every misunderstood generation before us it's only a matter of time till we are in charge. In ten to twenty years there might be an American president that has played (and probably enjoyed) Grand Theft Auto IV.
Another thing I don't hear very often said by people like us to ignorant politicians and journalists is "you have a point". And you know what, Jack Thompson might be a bit of a religious nutcase, but I also think he is right about a lot of things. I strongly believe that video games can be a bad influence on kids and that they should not be sold or given to minors. And the kicker here is that, from what I've read, most gamers would agree with that statement. I'm pretty sure that were I in a position where I had to shoot someone it would not have the same effect as it would on someone that hasn't done the act thousands of times in a virtual world. I know that this is because I play video games, I know that in some ways they have desensitized me to certain images. Jack Thompson is right when he says that violent video games are a danger to children. Perhaps this is because he knows that when combined with bad parenting an individual is much more likely to be prone to violence. The thing is this can happen with any medium, you can just as easily use the bible to raise a killing machine. Just look at the crazy folk blowing themselves up in the middle east in the name of god.
What has been pointed out so many times by people in the gaming community is that it's the ignorance of parents and adults that puts GTA and Manhunt in the hands of a ten year old. People talk about rating systems and the need to communicate the content of games to parents purchasing titles for their kids. I don't see a giant M in the corner of movies, in fact I often have to squint to see the box that tells me that the movie contains scenes of graphic violence and coarse language. But that goes back to my point earlier, the previous generation understands movies, they are comfortable judging the content of a movie and wither or not it's appropriate for their children. When I was a kid my parents wouldn't let me watch or rent R rated movies but I had several games for my ps1 that were rated M. Now my parents weren't ignorant trailer trash, nor were they the kind of folk that didn't think about how their kids turned out. It is us up to the gaming community to inform parents about what their buying. To just say that kids having access to these mature games is purely the fault of the parents is just as wrong as the media blaming the games for the violent actions of a few individuals. Knowing this we need to find a way to act accordingly, to actually do something about a problem rather then simply shift blame. But it is also up to parents to care enough to ask, and even more important to have an open dialog with their children about what they are playing. I've worked in game stores and I've told parents buying GTA: San Andreas about the content only to have them shrug and buy it anyway. If the government passes law that allows me to deny the sale of that game to that adult or that fines the parent for buying a game I can't say I'd object. If I worked in a store and got caught selling alcohol to someone obviously buying it for a minor I'd probably lose my job. Why are we getting so defensive about the idea of a state passing a law that would let an employee say "I'm sorry sir, I can't sell you this game because you are obviously buying it for a minor"? I certainly don't believe in censorship or banning a game based on it's content, but restricting who has access to potentially damaging content just makes sense. If you have ID and are over 18 nobody will stop you from buying GTA and then killing that hooker to get your money back. If your thirteen and don't like it, that's just the way the world works, it should be up to your parents to know if your are able to properly digest that kind of content.
Finally I believe a large part of educating people lies within the evolution of the medium itself. The vast majority of games being released today are fluff. A paper thin story providing reasons for a two dimensional character to go out and do acts of extreme violence, often against people with brown skin tones. It us up to game developers, publishers, and us the consumers to force the world to take video games as a mature medium for artistic expression, and social commentary. Video games aren't just kids toys anymore, the responsibility of proving this falls to those that make, publish, and enjoy them. You, the gamer reading this can help, yes you can actually do something. Buy games that have actual story, or have a story that deals with social issues we are facing today. Go play Super Columbine Massacre RPG! and talk to somebody about the social conditions that make people do terrible things like that. Think about what your doing, you may find that it helps you enjoy what your playing. Play a game that has artistic merit rather then just another brown/grey "modern warfare" shooter. Think about what your playing, more importantly start wanting to think about what your playing from time to time. When was the last time you played something that actually had any kind of lasting impact on your life. It's up to us to create the demand for games that do.
Now perhaps your thinking something along the lines of "I don't play games to think, I play them so I don't have to". That's fair . . . . . . . to an extent. If you are actively avoiding thinking, about yourself, your life, or the world you live in perhaps that in itself is a reason to step back and ask "why?". Nobody wants to be constantly engaged with complex social issues, or themes that force you to question how you've been living. Sometimes I just want to pick up a shotgun and put a few people down. In the same way I don't always want to watch movies like Fight Club or Requiem for A Dream that force me to think about how I'm living my life and how I should change for the better. Sometimes I just want to watch something simple with a lot of entertaining violence. But if all we immerse ourselves in is shallow and pointless, if all we do is play to tune out our lives and the world. Then we are doomed to become the same unthinking people that don't ponder the causes and just blame something easy when things go wrong.
Apparently youth crime rates are lower today then they were back in 1993, despite GTA, Gears of War, and God of War. You and I both know that just like any contact sport they can serve as a release. It is up to us to stand up to the media and show them they are wrong. To educate those that know little or nothing about video games. To ensure our favorite pastime isn't persecuted just because a few sad individuals also enjoyed it as well.
4 years ago
I've been playing video games for twenty years and to date nothing give me more pleasure than playing a great RPG. While there are other RPGs that I would consider better than some/most of the games listed here I would still say that the Final Fantasy series of games is by far the greatest game series I have had the pleasure of playing. I originally compiled this list earlier this year for my blog on Gamespot and now I'm reposting it here as part of the process of me moving my blogging activities to Screwattack. I haven't played every game bearing the FF title but the only core FF games I haven't played are FF XI and XIV.
Chances are you won't agree with some of my opinions but this is my list and I ommited FF I, III, V, and XII because I just didn't enjoy them as much as I did the rest of the games on this list. Anyway, I hope you find some of my thoughts on these FF games interesting enough to drop me a comment. Oh, and I didn't consider Dissidia Final Fantasy for this list because a) it's not a core franchise entry and b) it's not an RPG. Were I to consider Dissidia I'd probably put Dissidia 012 somewhere in the top five because that game is fantastic.
Original release: 1988 on NES (Japan only)
Re-releases: Wonderswan Color (2001), Playstation (2003), GBA (2004), PSP (2008), iPhone/iPad (2010)
Thoughts/Comments: Most people outside of Japan didn't get to play Final Fantasy II until it was released for Playstation in Final Fantasy Origins. Having played both the Playstation and the enhanced PSP version I really believe that it is the most underrated game in the series. It had a unique character growth system based on need and use much like the one used in The Elder Scrolls games. Attacking monsters raised your strength, casting spells raised your intelligence, taking damage raised your HP and stamina. It's the only game in the entire series that features this kind of character growth system which is a shame as it feels more organic than "kill things, get exp, level up, be stronger, repeat". This system changed the nature of grinding as instead of engaging in random battles for hours you spend fewer battles with your characters casting spells and attacking one another to raise stats and proficiencies. All while a group of goblins watched in horror.
Final Fantasy II also featured a much more engaging story than both it's predecessor and it's sequel. Despite it being a tale about a group of youths fighting an evil empire it had an actual cast of characters several of which adventured with you for a while. It's all very basic stuff now but back then it was a tale much more complex than any other video game you could be playing.
For these two reasons Final Fantasy II is on this list beating out several FF games released since. If you haven't played it yet I highly recommend either the PSP or the iPhone/iPad versions of the game.
Original release: 2000 on Playstation
Thoughts/Comments: Interestingly enough Final Fantasy IX is the only game on my top FF list that I haven't played in over a decade. Every other game on the list has seen play or replay within the past few years. The thing FF IX did that makes me like it more than a lot of other FF games was the way it made every character truly unique. What I mean is that Vivi is your only black mage, you can't teach Zidane or Steiner black magic so if you want to cast elemental spells you have to have Vivi in your line up. This made your general combat strategy different depending on your party preferences which was awesome. Too many FF games (II, III, V, VI, VII, VIII, XII, and XIII) allow every character to fill any combat role which detracts from their character in that it makes them less unique and/or memorable. You grow attached to characters not just for their place in the story but for what they bring to your battle lineup which makes any of them twice as memorable as Red XIII with his materia placement or Selphie with her junction setup.
Anyway, that little rant aside the game was mostly fantastic. I say mostly because it was still all about the random battles, the card game wasn't anywhere nearly as good as FF VIIIs Triple Triad, and the very final boss comes out of nowhere leaving you wondering "who was that?". These things land it at the number nine spot but FF IX has a number of great story moments and a few great plot twists to boot. It also looked fantastic on the PS1 and had a lot of gorgeous CG cut scenes.
The other thing that struck me about FF IX when I first played it was it's return to a medieval fantasy setting. Prior to IX the only FF games I'd played were VI, VII, VIII, and Tactics so I associated Final Fantasy games with a sci-fi fantasy or steampunk kind of setting. For a lot of people it was a return to form for the series but for people who hadn't played the earlier entries in the series it was an interesting change of aesthetic. It's a shame Square hasn't really gone back to it since as a high fantasy adventure would make for a welcome break from the stories they've been telling for the past decade. Who knows, maybe FF XV will be just that.
Original release: 2008 on PSP
Thoughts/Comments: Crisis Core is a fantastic game in it's own right but the biggest feather in it's cap is the fact that playing it makes the plot for Final Fantasy VII (a game higher on this list) more enjoyable. One thing you can't deny about FF VII is that the plot is very confusing for anybody that hasn't played it at least once prior. Perhaps most of the FF VII plot confusion is centered around the question of "who is Cloud really?" and playing Crisis Core clears a lot of this up and makes playing FF VII a more enjoyable experience. If you haven't played FF VII it's still a great story with Zack being a very well written lead role. Even ignoring it as a prequel story Crisis Core is a great game on it's own. The mission structure works well for a hand held system and there is plenty of bonus content outside the core story missions. The Crisis Core take on the materia system was also a lot of fun to play around with with you leveling up materia and then fusing it to form more powerful or new types of materia much like personas in the SMT: Persona series.
It's not perfect; if you play the side missions you'll notice environments and enemy types are both limited and heavily recycled and there are some camera issues from time to time. These are minor blemishes though and are all but completely crushed under the weight of everything Crisis Core does right. If you think FF VII is the best story you've ever played then I would say that Crisis Core is a game worth picking up a PSP for if you don't own one. Yes, it's that good.
Original release: 2001 on PS2
Thoughts/Comments: FF IX is the only game on this top ten that I haven't played in over a decade but FF X comes pretty close. I think it's was the second PS2 game I played somewhere around the summer (or early fall) of 2003. I would say that it's the last "well rounded" game the series has seen. I say this because FF XII had fantastic gameplay but weak characters and story while FF XIII had a fantastic story with some great characters but was admittedly weak in terms of side content or general variety. FF X was the first game in the series to ditch the overworld map which I personally didn't miss at all. It was also the first FF to feature voice acting which was (mostly) a treat as it made the story much more immersive than reading text boxes. Square also replaced the card games found in FF VIII and IX with blitzball which I actually rather enjoyed. Well, I enjoyed blitzball itself and leveling up my players but not necessarily the scouting players bit. Come to think of it I'd say that Square could make a quick cash grab by releasing a flashy multiplayer blitzball game over the PSN. The game mechanics are already there and programed and there isn't any need for story. All they would need to do is throw together a few snazzy CG cutscenes, come up with a stable net code, and make everything looks up to current gen standards. I'm not saying I'd buy it mind you, I just think it would be a cool idea.
When I last played it I thought FF X was a good game but in retrospect I've come to think of it as a great game. The story has depth without having being confusing or overly melodramatic and the ending packed some serious emotional punch. Perhaps most importantly the characters all brought personality and played an actual role in the story which was a step up from a lot of other FF games. When you think about it a lot of FF characters don't need to be there. I'm not saying that people aren't justified for loving Mog, Yuffie, Selphie, Quina *snicker*, or Panello but each of the previously mentioned characters serves to contribute little or nothing to their respective narratives. In the case of Quina it's only purpose is to unnecessarily pad the game out with an "eat everything" sidequest.
Anyway, moving on to more of what FF X did right. The sphere grid was a fantastic character leveling system which gave the individual characters specific combat roles. Generally you had to choose carefully whose area of the sphere grid you were going to break into once you finished your area and you could only have "jack of all trades" characters if you really put in a lot of grind time. Speaking of grinding, I'm of the opinion that FF X has the second best turn based battle system of any RPG I've played. The best would be FF Tactics but more on that game further up this list. The way limit breaks are handled, the visible turn order, the summon system, it's all just fantastic. It's easy to see why Square chose to milk it for the first direct sequel in the series history and it's a shame that FF X-2 was so lousy in comparison.
Original release: 1999 on PS1
Thoughts/Comments: FF VIII was the first PS1 game I actually owned. When I got my PS early in the summer of 1999 it came with a copy of Final Fantasy VIII. While I had borrowed a Playstation before and played FF VII I actually beat FF VIII before I was able to play FF VII to completion. So you could say I have something of a personal bias where this game is concerned. The game looked amazing when compared with the blocky character models of VII and to this day it still has one of the best opening cinematics in all of video games history. Seriously, if you haven't played FF VIII then you need to click this link and watch the intro and you'll know what I'm talking about.
Despite my nostalgic attachment to it Final Fantasy VIII I have to admit that it also does a lot of things wrong. For starters the story, while epic, is quite complicated. Thinking back, it's a lot like FF VII in that it really only makes sense when you play it the second time. People complained a lot about FF XIII not making sense but in general I'd say it's less crazy to understand than FF VIII. While I'm picking at the story I'll also say that the lead character of Squall doesn't make a lot of sense either. Sure, he does the aloof angst ridden young man in black well but it's never really covered why he is that way. Maybe he's just a jerk by nature but his motivations, at least in the early game, are far from clear. It's a stark contrast with FF XII where you understood the lead character in the early portions of the game but towards the end you just had to wonder "why are you here?". Anyway, once you understand what's going on, it's a fantastic story with a ton of very memorable moments. Seifer makes a great rival and you know his relationship with Squall is going to be one of the more interesting threads from the into cinematic onwards. Interestingly enough the love story took center stage in FF VIII and it was very well done in my opinion. Rinoa is easily my favourite character here and the way her relationship with Squall slowly thaws him out and makes him more likable is a pleasure to watch.
The big shake up in game mechanics was the junction system where you attached summons and magic to your party members to boost stats. Personally I hate the system for a number of reasons. 1) It made me not want to cast magic unless I was drawing it directly from my opponent because doing so meant I was dropping whatever stats that my magic was junctioned to. 2) It left me with "jack of all trades" characters, which made party member choices mostly a moot point. 3) Grinding is generally tedious enough so I didn't need the added task of finding monsters that have magic I don't and spending time drawing it until everybody had maxed it out. The more I think about it I realize that I really don't have anything I liked about the junction system at all. FF VIII also did away with most of your equipment leaving you to forge new weapons out of components and then only if you found the proper recipes during your travels. The summons were a gorgeous feast for the eyes the first few times you saw them but by the end of the game you got sick of watching the entire animation over and over. At least you could teach your summons the boost ability which gave you something to do while things played out.
Moving back to what FF VIII did right, I'd like to talk about a not so little side game. Triple Triad is easily the most addicting side game I've ever encountered in my time playing RPGs. It's simple enough that it's easy to learn but complex enough to never get boring. Sure some really obnoxious rules get introduced late in the game but if you really hate a particular rule you can just seek out the card queen and use her to ban certain rules (like random cards at start). If collecting cards wasn't enough to you then there was the fact that you could mod the cards into real world items with the rare cards netting you some crazy stuff.
So I know I've blasted this game for a number of reasons but in the end it's still dear to me for it's epic story, great side content, and personal nostalgia factor. I wouldn't say it's "the" PS1 Final Fantasy to play if your getting into the series but you certainly shouldn't be calling yourself a serious FF fan if you haven't played it.
Original release: 1991 on SNES (Final Fantasy II in North America)
Rereleases: 2001 on Playstation, 2005 on GBA, 2008 on DS, and 2011 on PSP
Thoughts/Comments: A lot of people played FF IV as FF II when it came out in 1991 but I played it for the the first time only a couple years ago. As a result I must be one of the few FF fans that don't have a crazy nostalgic attachment to FF IV. Maybe it's because I went in with low expectations when I first played it but I was completely blown away by the experience. FF IV is everything a classic console RPG should be in every way. For starters the story is basic enough to be easily understood and have that retro charm but complex enough to be engaging. It's got a great cast of characters and despite the lead role sporting the name of Cecil he has a depth to him that must have put FF IV in a league of its own at release. Even the score is fantastic, so much so that some parts of it have become part of the curriculum in Japanese schools.
Perhaps one of the things I liked the most about FF IV was the fact that not only was the cast of characters memorable in their own right but that they were all truly unique within the game. Every character represented a specific character class and nobody else can truly do what they can do. Rydia is the only summoner you get in the game. That's it, you can't teach summoning to anybody else let alone everybody else, and that made her unique both in character and in what she brought to combat. The only other FF game that truly did this was FF IX and thinking about that I really do need to give that game a replay sometime sooner rather than later. The fact that your party lineup kept changing as you progressed through the story made the traditional random encounter combat a bit less of a chore. This was because each new party member brought something new to the grind and unlike other FF games you never got the chance to swap out party members. Thinking about that I think FF V was the last FF game that made you play with every character in the game. From VI on you almost always have the option of swapping out one character for another you like better. People who have played the game enough can likely tell you where you are in the plot just by glancing at your party lineup.
I think the fact that I liked FF IV so much is why I was so disappointed with FF V when I played it sometime shortly after. While the job system is fun, FF V just felt like an inferior game in every respect. The characters weren't nearly as memorable and the story just couldn't compete with the opus of FF IV's narrative. Perhaps this is why (or at least part of why) the original SNES version of FF V didn't see a North American release.
While I haven't picked it up yet I'd imagine the PSP version of FF IV is the most definitive version of the game released to date. It runs on the same engine as the PSP port of FF I and II and just the facelift alone would have been enough but Square also threw in The After Years saga as well as an all new bridging chapter. All of which are a pale shadow of the game they are based on but it's a nice gesture none the less. What I don't understand is why they didn't port Final Fantasy III to this engine because I would have bought that in a heartbeat.
Original release: 2009 on PS3 and 360
Thoughts/Comments: Yeah, I'm sure at least some of you are scratching your head and wondering if I'm crazy. When I originally wrote this list I tried to write this entry a few times but I kept throwing it out halfway through. I've come to realize that where FF XIII is concerned I tend to become something of a fanboy. I see this in the way I have the urge or feel the need to defend the game from it's critics. Like any form of fanboy nature this is completely unnecessary and I will do my best to keep it in check. If you hated FF XIII that's fine, but this is my top ten list and I loved this game to pieces.
Perhaps part of why I liked FF XIII so much was due to my disappointment with the characters and plot for XII (which didn't make this list). It's not that FF XII didn't have piles of potential it's just that it was wasted and we got little snippets of story and character development in between what felt like a constant slogging grind. FF XIII was a game totally in service to it's story. Everything was designed to centre around advancing and/or enhancing it's narrative. Personally, I play my games for story first and for the game second so you could say that FF XIII was a game after my heart from the get go. I'd say that the plot bears the most resemblance to FF X in that it's complex and character driven with some good twists; but straightforward enough to be enjoyed on the first play if you pay attention. While I love FF VII and VIII I was only able to really grasp and appreciate their respective plots on a replay which isn't actually a good thing. In my opinion a good story should be complex, compelling, and feature characters with emotional depth/complexity. But a story should not be complex to the point where it's finer points are lost amidst player confusion, nor should it be convoluted to the point where the player only understands events once they have seen the finale. Final Fantasy XIII walks this line gracefully and tells a character based tale that is as compelling as it is complex. To top that off Lightning is one of the greatest female characters in the video game history to date.
Unfortunately shifting the focus towards storytelling almost always causes a game to suffer in other departments. FF XIII is a very linear experience for much of the time you spend playing it. It compensates for this by making the linear nature as well as it's omission of conventional shops/towns explainable within the context of the story. Lightning and her crew couldn't just wander into towns because they were wanted criminals and would likely be shot on sight. Personally I prefer the linear nature of FF XIII to games like FF IV where you'd trek across the world map and enter a dungeon only to turn around halfway through so you could go back to town to heal up and restock. What FF XIII has done is remove the need to grind in order to make progress. Egoraptor said it best while contrasting Castlevania I and II when he pointed out that grinding is something game developers put in games to elongate a game and make you feel like you were accomplishing more than you are. Somehow this relic of the genre stuck around into the modern generation and that's mostly because grinding becomes a zen thing if your in the right mood. Performing a repetitive action over and over is relaxing and makes the game easier at the same time. You could strategize and play well, cast some buffs, exploit the game mechanics to your favour , or you could grind for a few hours and just kill the boss by hitting it in the face. I liked grinding because dumping more time into the game allows me to think less about advanced strategy and more about the story, which is why I'm playing a Final Fantasy game in the first place. But FF XIII let me play the game and made grinding available and completely optional at a point that made sense within the narrative.
This was further reinforced in the battle system which forced you to do things like pay attention even though it was almost completely automated. You only had direct control of the lead character and you input a series of commands which were executed in sequence after. This allowed you do enjoy watching combat which was flashy and generally a joy to watch as your party danced around enemies. At the same time you had to keep an eye on how the battle was flowing and change up your job roles according to combinations you preset. If you didn't do this battles often took sharp turns into defeat in short spaces of time. So here we have a battle system that both requires you to pay close attention to what is going on but also allows you to sit back and watch the cinematic action on screen. I don't know about you but in my opinion this is absolutely brilliant and should be the way forward for JRPGs.
Even from a technical standpoint FF XIII is well put together. In a console generation that has you waiting for fifteen minutes while a game installs to the hard drive FF XIII is a breath of nostalgic air. You simply put the disc in, and you play it. It looks fantastic at any given point in time and doesn't feature much in the way noticeable slowdown or load time. It's both a pleasant reminder of how playing a game is supposed to be and highlights how Square seems to be able to make use of hardware in ways that most other developers can only dream of.
There are a couple of things I don't like about FF XIII but the only real complaint I have is the lack of iconic music that has become the staple of the series. While the original score is mostly good, with the battle music standing out, the lack of things like the victory fanfare or the ending theme is unfortunate. That's it, that is the only real gripe I have with the game. Anything else I could complain about is simply crushed under the weight of how much I enjoyed FF XIII.
A couple days ago I was looking a the metacritic pages for a bunch of FF games and I was plesantly surprised by a few things. The main one being that FF XIII has a very respectable average score based on both professional and user scores. Despite all the whining and moaning that's been directed at it since it's release I think time will be very kind to FF XIII in the end. This makes me happy since I feel that most of the criticisms levied against aren't really as bad as people make them out to be. It's a lot like Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace in that regard. Fans of Star Wars had their expectation so high for Ep. I that it would have been impossible for George Lucas to make a movie that delivered. Is it as good as the original movies? No, certainly not. But it's still a fun movie that doesn't deserve the criticism that's been thrown at it by people desperately clinging on to their idealized youth. Just because FF XIII isn't as good as your memories of FF VI or VII doesn't mean that it's not a fantastic game in its own right. In fact had it not been called Final Fantasy XIII it wouldn't have gotten half the flak it got on release.
So there, I said it. Final Fantasy XIII is better than FF XII, X, X-2, IX, VIII, Crisis Core, V, IV, II, and I. I realize that it's brought out or bred some fanboy tendencies in me but knowing that I can keep them in check. Because really, I don't need to defend this game.
Original release: 1997 on Playstation
Thoughts/Comments: It's rather cliche to have FF VII near the top of any "top RPG" list because that's what everybody does. But if you've played FF VII you know that everybody does it for good reasons. FF VII is the game that got a lot of us into both the series as well as the JRPG genre and it holds a powerful nostalgic sway over the majority of FF fans (myself included). I first played FF VII somewhere in 2000 and I replayed it last summer. It got replayed both to follow up Crisis Core but also so I could judge if it was as good as I remember it. The answer to that question was a resounding yes. Despite it failings, of which there are a number, it's still one of the best games in the series on a number of fronts. Many aspects of FF VII haven't aged well, yet it remains one of the most involving games the genre has ever seen and as a result it deserves all the praise that gets heaped on it.
The characters need no introduction and that tale is familiar, if not held dear, to virtually every fan of the series. Perhaps it was so compelling on release due to it's complexity, something about it compelled you to keep playing even if you had no idea of the why things were happening. It starts off pretty black and white with Cloud working for Avalanche against the Shinra Electric Power Company. But once Sephiroth gets introduced the bottom drops out and you tumble helplessly into events epic, touching, and confusing. A quagmire of questions surrounding Cloud's true identity ensure that the finer points of the narrative are generally best appreciated on a replay. For me the question of who Cloud really was wasn't answered until I played Crisis Core last year and having played that prequel my appreciation of the FF VIIs narrative has only deepened. Going back to Sephiroth, he is easily the greatest villain in the history of video games to date. He is calm, calculated, ruthless, and yet totally mad at the same time. This is most noticeably seen in his relationship with Cloud; the way he almost goes out of his way to torment the boy who killed him. No other game in the series, even the ones I'm putting higher on this list, have villains as awe inspiring, or truly frightening as Sephiroth. This is likely why he's the hardest boss in both Kingdom Hearts games and why he seems more challenging than most of the other opponents in the Dissidia titles.
That's not to say that Sephiroth carries the whole story on his own. Cloud is certainly one of the most interesting characters the series has seen as well. Brooding but not to the childish excess of Squall, constantly doubting but not in a pathetic way like Yuna. He was a mystery, but perhaps most importantly for me he wasn't made of gold. Up till FF VII the series was dominated by characters that always did the right thing because deep down they were just good people. Firion, Cecil, Bartz, and the core cast of FF VI were all great characters but none of them were as emotionally complicated as Cloud, Tifa, Barret, or even Cid. FF VII's characters were flawed, petty, selfish, tormented by their pasts, and their personal demons all took center stage at various points to have their past and their motivations revealed.
Anyway, moving on to something other than the story. The main area where FF VII hasn't aged well would be the visual department. It was the first game in the series to use CG cut scenes but by today's standards they look terrible. The pre-rendered backgrounds still look great but the character models used outside of combat look like blockey garbage. The combat character models are more detailed but unfortunately they aren't used outside of battles. This is especially unfortunate considering virtually all the story telling is done with the blockey field models waving around their stumps as they progress the narrative through text boxes. Even worse is the way they tend to either move towards the camera or have the view already close so you can see just how awful they look. Unlike any of the 2D FF games before it or the games after, FF VII is easily the title in the series that would most benefit from a visual update. It falls into that early PS/N64 phase where 3D games were new; a short period where many of the games released fall deep into the uncanny valley.
My other big gripe with the game lies with the materia system. On one side it's a great system that lets you customize your party in all kinds of fun ways and gives you rewards for engaging in combat. On the other side it takes all these interesting characters and makes them virtually identical in combat. Any party member can have any ability or cast any spell as long as they have the right materia equipped. Most players just lumped similar materia onto their favourite characters (Cloud: summoning, Vincent: magic, Tifa: healing and support for me) but I found that aspect of the system bothered me regardless. While I complain about the materia system I will say that it's definitely superior to the junction system used in FF VIII or the licence board in FF XII. None the less it's a "jack of all trades" system that I feel enhances the game at the expense of the characters.
The only area that stands out as much as the narrative of FF VII would be it's score. Maybe it's the nostalgia factor but I would go as far as saying that it's the best score in the entire series to date. FF VI and VIII come close but in the end the sheer number of memorable tracks put FF VII on top where my ears are concerned.
Original release: 1998 on Playstation
Re-relases: 2007 on PSP, 2012 on iPad
Thoughts/Comments: This and my number one FF game are not only my favourite FF games but the two greatest games I have played in my twenty years of gaming. From a purely gameplay standpoint Final Fantasy Tactics is the best game I have ever played. It has the greatest battle system I've ever seen in a game and the best iteration of the FF job system in the series history. FF Tactics is a game where random battles take around half an hour to forty five minutes each and I've still re-played it several times over, investing over a hundred hours into the game each time. It's that good and if you haven't played it you've seriously missed out.
I suppose the best place to start gushing is with the battle system. If you've played games like Disgaea or better yet, the recent PSP version of Tactics Ogre you know what to expect. The battle system is actually an evolution of the one seen in Tactics Ogre and is actually made by the same team and has the same writer for the story. FF Tactics took everything Tactics Ogre did right, took it to the next step, and then blended the FF job system into it. There are twenty classes available to everybody with another thirteen character specific to keep things interesting. The system is perfect in that everybody can become anything but nobody can be good at everything. You see, as a character gains levels you get stat bonuses based on whatever class they are and after a short period of time it becomes unwise to switch from physically orientated classes to magically orientated ones. To add further depth every character has two stats (brave and faith) which predispose them to one or the other. A character with high brave will deal more physical damage, generally have higher defence, and better chances of dodging. A character with high faith will both be more effective at casting magic but will also be damaged much more by magic at the same time. On the other side characters with low brave deal less damage and physical attacks will hurt more. While if you have low faith you will take less damage from spells but you'll also be healed less by spells and have as much resistance to buffs like protect and haste as you do poison or slow. This is just one example of how deep the combat system is and illustrates how a FF game can have the job system and not feature "jack of all trades" characters. It is, for lack of a better word, nearly perfect.
I say nearly perfect because there is one thing I can honestly say is wrong with Final Fantasy Tactics. That one thing is that it is as punishingly hard as it is unforgiving. To top that off, it's not that FF Tactics gets hard after a while, it gets hard right away. I borrowed and played Tactics to death when I was rather young so I never realized how hard it was until I saw somebody who I had recommended the game to play it for the first time. It was then that I realized that it is very possible and likely to lose, repeatedly, from the second fight of the game onwards. FF Tactics is a game with incredible depth but if you don't learn it you will lose over and over until you do. You've got to learn the ins and outs of the system and be smart down to picking the starting positions of your party. You have to use the terrain to your advantage, have a diverse combat unit, and make use of secondary class skills to the fullest just to increase your chance at victory.
What's your reward for getting good at the game? Progression in the most complex, multi-layered tale the series has had to date. The tale requires multiple plays to understand it's finer points but it's actually a fantastic story that deals with themes of the nature of loyalty (both to ones country and to ones family), social class and religious social manipulation. All with political conspiracy that features layers you peel back like an onion. To further the story the lead character of Ramza isn't some angst ridden teenager, nor is he some noble vagrant, he's a soldier who does what he feels right when he sees that things are terribly wrong with his government. When things go wrong and people die for his beliefs he tries to run from this and lives as a mercenary before being sucked back into a political conspiracy that sees no regard for human life. It's good stuff but, as I said above, most players won't get it until the second play through at the earliest. I think I didn't really grasp the finer points of the narrative until my third replay of FF Tactics. To add further depth of the plot you can easily miss out on important character development depending on who you take into battle with you and on how fast you finish battles. If you grind up your party and mop up in story missions you miss out on dialogue that only occurs between certain characters and at certain points in particular battles. You can get by just fine not seeing these exchanges but doing so allows for character development which in turn helps you to better understand the plot and/or peoples motivations for following you into battle.
FF Tactics also has a ton of side content and several optional characters to recruit. Some of these side quests require you to already have other optional character in your party. If you play your cards right and make the right decisions (starting with buying a flower from a peasant girl) you can end up face to face with Cloud.
Aside from the learning curve the only other noticable area where FF Tactics can't compare to other games in the series would be where music is concerned. Were I to compose a list of favorite FF music there wouldn't be a single piece from Tactics. That's not to say that the score is bad, it's actually quite plesant and has a distinct sound. The problem with it is that it isn't memorable in any way. To it's credit though I would say that composing battle music that doesn't get old or annoying after forty five minutes is an accomplishment in itself.
With is punishing difficulty and rabbit hole complexity (both in combat and plot) FF Tactics isn't for everybody but it's #2 for me, both in terms of the Final Fantasy series and video games in general. If your wanting to give it a try I highly recommend the 2007 PSP version over the original as it features an updated translation of the script and anime cut scenes among other new features.
Original release: 1994 on SNES (Final Fantasy III in North America)
Re-releases: 1999 on Playstation and 2007 on GBA
Thoughts/Comments: Final Fantasy VI is to me what FF VII is to most fans of the series. It's the game that got me into the series and into the genre. My earliest memories of FF VI are me watching other people I knew play it and being enraptured by the experience despite not really understanding what was going on. The first time I played it properly involved me renting it from a local video store for several weeks in a row. I finally got a copy to call my own one x-mas after my parents lucked out and found it in a bargain bin at a pawn shop a few weeks prior to x-mas. FF VI represents everything I love about the genre and stands as the greatest game I have had the pleasure of playing since I started playing video games. Over the years it has collected more than enough sentimental and nostalgia value to ensure that it will likely keep this position for the rest of my days. My attachment to this game runs so deep that I cannot hear this or this without being hit by a tidal wave of emotions and if it's been a while they actually bring a tear to my eye.
Despite my attachment to FF VI I know it isn't perfect but it does so many things so right it should be easy for most gamers to look past its flaws. The story strikes a perfect balance between the classic adventure of good people vs. Evil and a modern complexity in narrative and character. It's simple enough to be charming but complex enough to be both compelling and moving. It's a balance that is rarely seen in video game storytelling and the only other good example of it that I can think of was a little game you may have heard of called Chrono Trigger. I can't explain how this balance is struck or how it could be duplicated as its' something ethereal, something a writer could work towards for years but never truly capture. From the moment you start playing FF VI it's obvious your playing something special as you watching the snow fall around Terra, Wedge, and Biggs' mech as they lumber towards the town of Narche during the opening credits. The opening sets the tone and exudes a quiet confidence about itself and it's narrative, it's not pretentious or melodramatic, it's just fantastic and it knows it.
So what does FF VI do right? Well as I've already said the narrative is nothing but fantastic at any given point in time. But it does so through a huge cast of characters, each of which are unique both in character and what they bring to battle. Every character has the same basic commands but every one has a unique talent. Edgar uses various tools (which you buy/find) to inflict massive damage while his brother Sabin executes devastating martial arts techniques that require you to input specific street fighter style commands in order to execute. Celes has a runic blade that allows her to absorb any and all magic attacks until her next turn, and Stezer can spin the reels on a slot machine that result in various effects (some deadly to the party). In total there were twelve main characters, two secret characters, about six guest characters, and each of them were unique in some way. No other FF game since FF VI has had as a cast as large or as diverse.
Even from a visual standpoint FF VI strikes a balance. While it's still a 2D game it looks better than any of the previous FF titles but most surprising is that it's held up much better than the early 3D FF games. As a result FF VI is one of, if not the best, looking SNES game available. Then there is the score which is still amongst the strongest ever composed for a video game, edged out just barely by Uematsu's score for FF VII. FF VI has a score that will stick with you long after you play it.
There is a moment in FF VI where everything comes together to form a moment of perfection. Visuals, gameplay, and music combine in an opera house for one of the most touching moments in video game history in ways that made and make me feel more than Areiths death ever did. If i had to come up with a list of favourite video game moments the FF VI's opera sequence would easily top everything.
But what does FF VI do wrong? Well a few of these unique characters aren't particularly useful in battle *coughcoughGaucoughcough*. Also the character of Mog just feels kind tacked on as he doesn't get much in the way of character development, nor does he contribute anything to the story. This feels like a wasted opportunity as Mog was the first (and last to date) moogle to become a true party member. Then there is the magic system. For the first third or so of the game only Terra and Celes can cast magic but once you start getting your hands on magicite you can teach every party member any spell which detracts from their uniqueness. But these things are just me nit picking at a game that anybody who likes FF VII or VIII should be able to get into and enjoy. Even if your not fond of older RPGs that use gameplay elements like random encounters you should be able to get into FF VI if you have an open mind.
That's it, I'm finished. If you want to learn some more about the Final Fantasy series I highly recommend the thirteen part Gametrailers retrospective. It does a great job summing up the game but it is filled with plot spoilers.
I'd like to thank those of you that have taken the time to read this wall of text that is a top ten list and doubly thank those of you that took the time to comment. You guys are awesome.
4 years ago
I've been gaming for close to twenty years and it's only this console generation that I can say I've really been an informed participant. I got my first ps3 in the beginning of 2008 and have played a number of titles for it since. Not a huge number mind you, but a lot of great games none the less. I missed out on most of the previous generation as I was late to the party getting my PS2 in 2003 and I spent a good chunk of that console generation living in England as a dedicated PC gamer. It was only after my return to North America in 2007 that I really got into PS2 games. It was during this time in England that I really got into reading reviews and editorials in my spare time. This served me well as I was working in video game retail at the time, but I did it because I was genuinely interested. I still follow gaming news and read/watch reviews for a lot of games, even ones I have no interest in playing. In this way I consider myself at least reasonablly well informed, despite not being the kind of gamer that plays the latest releases. I would be a more active participant in this console generation but I have a lot of funny ideas that may have a lot to do with both my Genesis, SNES, and PS gaming roots, as well as time spent as a dedicated PC gamer. Funny ideas like $60 dollars being too high an asking for a new game of any length, that it's better to wait for a version that bundles in all the inevatble DLC rather than buying the original release, and that the single player narrative is the best part of any game. Even stranger is the belief that buying pre-owned doesn't take money away from the developer; rather it makes the original sale count since I won't be trading it in.
With the Wii U around the corner responses from Sony and Microsoft are likely deep in development by now. Nothing was shown at E3 this year but that makes it more than likely that E3 2013 will be loaded with new console generation information and likely games. It's certainly not over by any means but we are working towards the end of this console generation. It has brought gamers a lot of fantastic games and more than a few headaches. Mistakes have been made and success has comes from places nobody could have guessed. I'm writing this post to offer my thoughts on the big three console makers. More specifically what I think they have done and are still doing wrong and what I think they can do to make things better. I will state for the record that I have never owned a Wii or a 360. All my thoughts on the current Nintendo and Microsoft platforms has been gained over the years through observations of people I know who own the systems, watching reviews, reading editorials/news, and general observations of their respective fan bases. None of this is in any way a definitive analysis of any platform, these are just my observations and thoughts.
Where, oh where, do I to begin? Of all the big three I'd say I see the most wrong with Nintendo, both in terms of hardware but also general business practices. More irksome is that in Nintendo's case it's not just mistakes but incredible potential and public good will going to waste. Nintendo seems to have painted themselves into a corner on a number of fronts. For one they have chosen to release all their consoles, hand held or otherwise, based around a gimmick of sorts. It worked, for the most part, with the DS and developers found ways that used it in meaningful and/or fun ways. But then they released the Wii and while the initial sales and publicity blitz must have been fantastic, it's long over and the Wii is a joke. Well, maybe not so much a joke as it is a barren wasteland of a platform filled with shovelware, mini game collections, and kids software. When I say kids software I mean games that you play(ed) as a kid but realize to be garbage once you play something on another platform. You know, the kind of things they are releasing as Kinect titles these days. Dotted about this barren landscape there are a number of refuges, a smattering of great games. But if you were to take away first party games (which I'll talk about shortly) what are you left with? No More Heroes, Madworld, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Xenoblade, The Last Story, and a couple others. It's not much but they are there and they are all fantastic games; the problem is that they are few and far between. No matter what I or anybody else can say about the Wii from a hardware standpoint it's main issue is that if your not a fan of Mario, Zelda, Metroid, or any other core Nintendo franchise, the software lineup isn't worth owning the system for. Everybody I know that owns a Wii loved it at first but found themselves having to dust it off whenever they got an actual game for it down the line. I'm not just talking about adults looking for a linear FPS or a generic JRPG, I'm talking about the kids and the seniors who made the system a smash hit upon release. Most popular game for the Wii is still Wii Sports which comes with the system. This is a problem that Nintendo should have done something about. But they aren't doing anything about this; instead they are releasing a new console based around another gimmick. I find it interesting to note that Nintendo seems dead set on pushing the norm (aka: taking a gamble) on new technology or ideas with every system they release but they've propped them all up with the same franchises they have been using since the NES.
The weak game library is a continuation of a problem that started with the N64, continued with the Gamecube, and came to a point here with the Wii. Back in the late 90s Nintendo wouldn't allow 2D games to be made for the 64 which alienated developers that wanted to make that kind of game for aesthetic, or stylistic reasons. That, along with several other bad decisions and polices, drove many developers to abandon Nintendo and run to the open arms of Sony and their crazy CD based Playstation console. There are a lot of great games available for the N64 but a lot of them are first party titles and almost all of them are platformers. This bad blood between Nintendo and various developers continued through the Gamecubes lifespan though it certainly wasn't as pronounced as the N64. I would go so far as saying that the Gamecube is best Nintendo home console since the SNES. So much so that I think the backwards compatibility function on the Wii is one of that systems greatest assets. Something I'd like to draw your attention towards is the lack of RPGs on both the N64 as well the Gamecube and that the trend continued with the Wii. So much so that when a decent RPG was actually released fans got together and begged Nintendo for an English localization. There are tons of great RPGs released in Japan on Playstation consoles but you don't see North American owners of Sony consoles banding together to get them localized. I feel that this is mostly because there are tons of great RPGs, and great games in general, available for North American PS3s. In short, Playstaion and 360 owners aren't starved for good third party games.
What Nintendo has done about this is to play to their strengths. Their strengths being the powerful nostalgia attached to growing up in the late 80s to the mid 90s when Nintendo really was on top of the world. They've done this through Wii ware and having lots of classic games up for download, and by releasing lots of first party titles that play on nostalgic memories of Mario or Link while being great games on their own. Nintendo can and will prop up any future hardware, no matter how bad it is, by releasing first party games that the Nintendo-core have to own. They don't mind that (aside from Metroid) that the core mechanics of any Nintendo franchise hasn't really changed since the 90s. They will buy it because it's a Mario game, or a Zelda title, or because it involves Pokemon. Charging full price for a slightly upgraded or tweaked version of what you already spent good money for; Nintendo is becoming the Apple of the gaming world. The key difference is that Apple products do more than one thing while Nintendo is still making dedicated gaming devices. Both Sony and Microsoft know that users want to do more than play games so their consoles can do things like play music and movies. Nintendo's growing problem is that they are making dedicated gaming devices that will only be bought by a limited demographic. This is likely the biggest problem with Nintendo because the casual market will buy the system and maybe one or two games and then let it collect dust. The Nintendo-core will buy anything that lets them play another Mario game but in reality they are a very vocal minority in the gaming world. Finally, the kids will love it at first but it's only a matter of time before they abandon it for richer or more mature games on a more diverse platform made by the competition. This demographic is not large or stable enough to build a competitive business model on and it's for similar reasons that SEGA chose to stop developing hardware in favour of developing software.
Regardless of what I've said about it's software problems and the fact that the system is based on an interesting but failed gimmick, the Wii hardware has some sound ideas behind it. It wasn't designed to offer cutting edge graphics, but that made it infinitely more affordable in comparison to the competition. That same low spec design should have a) shifted developer focus from "gritty realism" to all forms of artistic stylization, and b) made it easier to design games for. This would have quite possibly been the case for developers had the motion controls been optional. But the decision was made for motion controls to be a must and there were only a handful of studios outside Nintendo that actually made use of the unique control scheme in ways that weren't annoying in the long run. Think about it, how often have you read something along the lines of "plays best if you use the classic controller" or "sadly there is no option to use the classic controller" in reviews for Wii titles? Perhaps the greatest thing I can say about the hardware itself aside from it's fantastic backwards compatibility is that it doesn't feature issues with reliability. That last one is actually quite important and likely tied to it's modest system specs. The Wii is the only console this cycle that doesn't have problem with heat and isn't giving uses a light of death after X number of years.
So, what can Nintendo do to "get back in the game"? They can release a new console that uses a controller identical to the Gamecube but is also compatible with the Wiimote+. This system should have modest specs to keep it cheap, should be easy to develop games for, and not require developers to use motion controls in any way unless they want to. This console should have some kind of internal storage that allows it to download classic titles from an online Nintendo store that extend back to the NES and stop with the gamecube. This console should have a free network similar to the PSN that offers online play without something like a friend code. To top things off Nintendo should activly go after indie game designers and offer to publish their low spec/high concept games through this nintendo network/store. If Nintendo can do that and get third parties to make great games, preferably exclusives, they would havea winner of a console after a few years.
Unlike recent Nintendo consoles, the Xbox platform has always had lots of games actually worth playing on it. The biggest problem Microsoft has is that almost all of those great games are also available on other platforms, which made and makes investing in the hardware less than worthwhile for some of us. Think about it, what exclusive Xbox games are actually worth playing? Well Halo ODST and 3 spring to mind, Gears of War 2 and 3 are also there, Crackdown, and then there is Fable II. That's about it, so if you don't care about any of those titles there really isn't much point in picking up a 360 and the original Xbox had the exact same problem. Back when the Xbox was competing with the PS2 you could argue that games looked better on Xbox but it probably wasn't worth it for most gamers to plunk down a few hundred dollars so they could play a slightly prettier version of GTA: San Andreas. Microsoft has also paid for supporting the failed HDDVD format with their expensive add on drive. Newer versions of the console haven't featured a blu-ray drive and I think that's largely a pride thing. I get that as blu-ray is a Sony idea and it wouldn't look good for Microsoft to start using Sony's disc format. But using the blu-ray format would extend the life of the 360 and allow developers to do more with the console. Casting off the limitations of DVD space would make room for visually richer experiences and since blu-ray drives are fully compatible with DVDs there shouldn't be a problem playing the current library of 360 titles. That's pretty much all I can say about the Xbox platform in general. Aside from the high failure rate the hardware is sound, offers access to a lot of great games, and if you want to pony up the cash you get a slick online experience. It's a good platform, it just doesn't offer anything meaningful that Sony or your windows PC is offering outside the handful of aforementioned exclusives.
What can Microsoft do to keep themselves relevant? Well aside from releasing Halo games they can marry the Xbox to the PC to make something wonderful. The big problem with portable gaming right now is the question of "why am I paying $40 for a game that runs on a device that only plays games when I can buy a fun game for $0.99 on my phone"? This is an important question and Microsoft can take advantage of this. They can release a line of PCs, running Windows OS, that play console games as well. Basically a WindowsBox PC or something like that. This WinBox should be manufactured by Microsoft, use standardized hardware, and should feature a blu-ray drive. It should come with a wireless mouse, keyboard, and a controller in the box and the Live service should be fused with the OS. Xbox Live and Windows Live should be spliced together to form a new Live service that works a lot like Steam. The most important thing for the WinBox would be to ensure that it doesn't have the hardware reliability issues that have plagued the 360. If the user gums everything up by downloading toolbars from porn sites that is their fault. But the hardware itself should be sound and not give users a light of death after a few years of regular use. This would do for home console gaming what Android and iOS are doing to portable gaming. Hardware standardization would eliminate hardware compatibility issues that trouble PC gamers and a console that is also a PC would sell because while a gaming console is a luxury, everybody needs a PC in this day and age. Why would I drop hundreds of dollars on a Playstation 4 that only plays movies, music, and games when I can spend a little more on a WinBox that does all that and anything else a PC can. I can install Steam on my Winbox and get access to everything that service has to offer. My WinBox is also compatible with decades of PC gaming history. I can play Halo 6, Baldur's Gate, Gears of War 4, Command & Conquer 2, the pc or 360 version of the Mass Effect trilogy, Call of Duty 9, and Fallout 2 all on the same machine. It's brilliant and it should happen, because it would be the future, and because I would buy it without hesitation.
I know this makes me sound like a big Sony fanboy but I'd say that Sony has come out on top the past two console generations and I think in the long run it will be remembered as the top console this generation as well. It didn't have the sales of the Wii at first but it does have the third party support Nintendo doesn't, it has a variety of titles Microsoft doesn't, and solid first party exclusives. Its been slow going but I think history will be kind to the PS3. Perhaps the biggest reason Sony has been on top for so long is because of the RPG. Think back to the SNES and look at any top SNES games list. Go to any forum or message board and check out a top SNES games list, what do you see? Chrono Trigger, FF II/III, Zelda: A Link to the Past, Secret of Mana, and Earthbound will all be on the list if not dominating the top of it. The exodus of third party developers to the Playstation left the N64, the Gamecube, and now the Wii virtually starved of an entire genre. If you look at Zelda games as action adventure titles rather than RPGs then those three systems really only have a handful of titles you could call RPGs. That's likely why people made such a fuss about Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story; they will be for the Wii what Tales of Symphonia and Skies of Arcadia: Legends were for the Gamecube. They will be the great games that collectors look for in five to ten years and reasons to own a Wii; both now and in the future. But I've gotten off track, I'm supposed to be talking about Sony here, not Nintendo. Sony has succeeded by offering a platform that, while difficult to develop for from a hardware standpoint, has few to no restrictions. Want to make a 2d game, sure; what to make something more adult or with religious themes, sure. Want to use our gimmicky Sixaxis or Move controller? No? That's ok. These are things developers didn't or couldn't do on the N64 and it's the main reason the Playstation has been successful as a game platform since the original. You can say what you want about the decline and stagnation of the JRPG but it's still an easy place to find a great adventure and the best place to find an emotionally involving story. Since the original Playstation Sony's platform has been the place to go if you want to play a great RPG and it's only now that this has started to slip away from Sony. This is a bad thing because really, the biggest thing the Playstation platform has going for it is it's legacy and a lot of great third party software. If your into Call of Duty, or Madden, or even games like Skyrim the only thing the PS3 has going for it is that it can double up as a blu-ray player. If the next Microsoft console has a blu-ray player what card(s) does that leave in Sony's hand? Aside from some great exclusive franchises it doesn't leave Sony with any real trump card. If Microsoft releases something resembling the WinBox I detailed above the Playstation, and dedicated gaming devices in general, are quite simply done for.
It's only this console generation that things have started to move out of Sony's favour. A lot of that has come from business decisions made by people in suits that look at video games as a product, not a medium, and they have hurt the brand. While it makes business sense and saves money to drop PS2 support from the PS3 it also upset the user base and limits the use of the console. Even worse, they have started releasing PS2 games via the Playstation store which shows they can work on the system, but you have to buy a digital copy to play them again. Legacy support was the greatest thing the PS2 and the PS3 had in their early days before they got a decent library of games under their respective belts. The fact that you could pop in a PS1 game and memory card was an amazing feature that Sony should have kept going with the PS3. Since it's release they have removed support for PS2 games and the ability to install Linux, but they still market it saying "it only does everything". Other things Sony is doing wrong would include getting in the way of me enjoying the game I paid money for.I played Catherine, a single player game, earlier this year. After installing to the HD it offered me the choice to sign into the PSN to see leaderboards. When I said yes I was told that I'm not using the latest firmware version and I had to exit the game to download and install it. Contrast that with a Wii or PS2 game which involved putting the disc in the system and *gasp* playing the game. Speaking of updates, they happen way too often on the PS3. Microsoft has the right idea by doing them quarterly and, as far as I know, Nintendo doesn't have anything to do with this foolishness at all. To make things worse I don't think I've ever felt that my console was better as a result of an update. If they wanted to impress me they could start with the internet browser which is still as broken and buggy as it was in 2008. I've never felt that the system ran better or that my user experience had improved by a firmware update but they still roll in at least once a month. It's annoying and coupled with the slowly increasing yellow lights of death it does a lot to harm the generations of goodwill Sony has built up. The yellow light of death is going to become more of a problem in the long run as it's only a matter of time before a given unit gets one. It may take much longer than a 360 but it will happen to most owners eventually. That's not necessarily Sony's fault as it wasn't something they could have figured out before releasing the hardware to the masses. But it is up to Sony to learn from the reasons behind the YLOD and to address them in future hardware releases. The system isn't poorly designed, it just needs a better cooling solution and a way to address the solder cracking on the GPU/CPU which is the main cause of the YLOD.
What can Sony do to keep themselves relevant and/or dominant in the video game industry? They can do everything I said Microsoft can do. But Sony isn't going to make a PC that runs a Microsoft OS, that wouldn't make any sense from a business standpoint. So what does that leave them with? I see three options here: 1) they can hop into bed with Apple and release a gaming box that runs Mac OS, 2) they can latch onto a Linux distribution like Ubuntu, Debian, Gentoo, or Fedora, or 3) they can make a custom Linux OS in the vein of Android. Of those options I'd say number one is extremely unlikely (bordering laughable the more I think about it), two is quite possible, and three is the most likely/realistic. A version of Linux would be a good fit as Linux distributions are functional, flexible operating systems that don't require Sony designing them from scratch. It was possible to install Ubuntu linux on a Playstation 3 until Sony decided to remove that functionality from the machine for reasons unknown. Personally I'd like to see a Playstation 4 running a custom Ubuntu distribution (maybe called Playbuntu), that comes bundled with a bluetooth keyboard, mouse, and a Dualshock 3. Just like the Winbox it runs on standardized hardware with an upgradable hard drive and does everything a PC does. Browse the internet, check and manage e-mail, compose text documents, edit photo/video, watch movies, play your music library, manage your mp3 player, download and play Uncharted 5 from the PSN. A device that can do all these things is what analysts would likely call a "game changer". If they wanted to make a positive effort they could embrace the Playstation legacy and find a way to make this new machine compatible with PS, PS2, and PS3 games both disc based and through digital downloads. If this happened it would pay off really well to approach Valve and get them to release a Linux version of Steam through the Playbuntu software centre which would go a long way towards making the platform more viable as a gaming PC. It would also open up Valve and Steam to the console market in ways that would benefit all parties and the user. Presumably this Playstation 4 PC would be able access a Playstation store for movies, DLC, games, and patches for PS3/PS4 titles. A Linux based Playstation PC would work on a number of fronts. The easiest way to install a program on Linux distributions is through a software centre that is exactly like an app store. Which makes sure what your installing to your computer isn't actually a virus; you can't just download any .exe file somebody sends you from your inbox and run it, Linux doesn't work like that. Using a Linux OS would allow Sony to make a fully functional PC that doesn't feature a lot of the pitfalls of Windows. Also, Linux is free and if Sony were to offer Canological (the makers of Ubuntu) a modest wad of cash and the hardware it would make the venture a lot cheaper for Sony.
This general direction is the only way I see video games (and computer use in general) going. Whoever wins the console PC battle would achieve a monopoly on the gaming medium and bring us to the one console future you hear analysts talk about from time to time. Whoever loses that battle will become to the victor what SEGA is to Nintendo. I don't mean that we'll end up with trash like Mario VS. Sonic VS. Master Chief VS. Nathan Drake at the 2050 Olympic games. I mean that whoever loses will survive by publishing their catalogue of games on the winners system. What I mean is The uncharted Collection, now available for WinBox PC. Or Super Mario All Stars+, now available for PS PC.
Like I said above, the Wii U is somewhere around the corner and it likely won't be long after till Microsoft and Sony announce whatever new console their respective R&D departments have been cooking up. Nobody knows what Microsoft or Sony are going to do to compete but the more I think about it the more obvious it becomes that this is the future looks like this. Your TV will be your monitor and houses will have no need for a dedicated corner in the living room or den for a family PC. Everything will centre around one device that really does everything. Even further down the line we find ourselves in cloud computing territory where the only device in the home is the screen itself and some kind of standardized controller. This is the future, it's only a matter of who does it first and/or who does it best. Regardless of what company achieves this first I like to believe that gaming will be more a more enjoyable pastime once this happens. Once companies have their act together and stop weighing their products with DRM or charging us money to unlock content on a disc we already paid full price for. I like to believe that somewhere in the distant future we'll play our games in some kind of reality simulator like the holodecks seen in Star Trek. Either that or our descendants will sit around communal fires, in bombed out city ruins, and tell of how frivolous and care free life was before the apocalypse. How there was a time when the struggle to survive wasn't all consuming and we had time for things like "art" and "recreation".
4 years ago
According to Wikipedia "a game of chance is a game whose outcome is strongly influenced by some randomizing device".
Games of chance are likely the oldest kinds of games played by humans and exist in some form in every culture on earth. The element of chance can be seen in all kinds of video games, outside of the obvious gambling genre elements of chance often run strongest in RPGs. The RPG genre is one very near and dear to my heart and too often the element of chance, or rather improper use of, has marred an otherwise enjoyable game.
Traditionally all RPGs hail back to D&D where everything is influenced by the roll of a dice and in most western developed RPGs like Diablo, Fallout, or KOTOR are based on a some D&D inspired system. While you don't see dice anywhere there are a series of random numbers being crunched behind the scenes during every attack. The intended effect is supposed to represent the element of chance found in life, we all have a given chance of screwing up anything we do. Generally speaking this works to give that effect but improperly used "random" chance can turn realism and immersion to frustration. My first example if this is the cult classics Fallout and Fallout 2 for PC. The original Fallout offered an engaging and original story combined with an immersive world and well written dialog. In my opinion the biggest failing of the game was the excessive chance the player had to fail anything. Everything in Fallout was heavily influenced by what felt like random chance. While I'm sure there was nothing random about it but for the player there was no predicting the outcome of anything, even when the game said you were going to get it right. That 75% chance to hit is often a lie; instead you miss, your gun jams, or misfires and damages you. This made Fallout a rather unforgiving game and in the case of Fallout 2 made the game so hard I was forced to save after every fight in the opening tutorial level. Lucky for players that same system is imposed upon your opponents so you get to laugh to yourself when the same things happen to them. The element of chance isn't restricted to combat in Fallout, it even plays into skill usage and in some cases critical plot dialog, or I should say your chances to see it. Despite your high intelligence, charisma, and speechcraft skills there is still a very real chance that whoever you're talking to will react to whatever your saying differently each time you say the same things. Sometimes you can just loop that part of the dialog tree till you get the response your looking for, but in the worst case you have to reload a save and start the conversation from the beginning. This kind of thing isn't fun to play and nobody likes reloading their save data over and over just to get past one encounter. Lucky for Fallout the game was so fantastic in every other way that these frustrations could be overlooked by many, other games aren't so lucky.
Case in point would be Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords and it's sequel Puzzle Quest Galactrix. While only incorporating light RPG elements the Puzzle Quest games are basically bejeweled clones at their core, the RPG elements are only a shell to get you to play their brand of bejeweled over and over. If you haven't played bejeweled or any of it's clones then all you need to know is that you match up groups of three or more items on a gird based board. Doing so clears that set of items and in the case of puzzle quest has various effects depending on what you match up. The element on chance here lies in what comes down from the top every time you clear things. To quote the Gamespot review of Puzzle Quest Galactrix "imagine playing a game of chess against a similarly skilled opponent with the knowledge that, at any time, a third party could simply sweep all of the pieces off the board and declare one of you the winner". Basically thats how both games work though apparently the element of chance is a much stronger factor in Galactrix. Regardless of how your affected it's annoying, if you win it's unsatisfying, and if you lose it's frustrating.
My final example of bad use of the element of chance in gaming is Final Fantasy XII. The element of chance is very slight in Japanese RPGs, probably because most JRPGs are more about stats than behind the scenes dice rolls. In the case of FF XII the element of chance applies to the content of chests found throughout the games various dungeons. Most of the best gear for your party is found and any chest in FF XII has a given chance to give you a particular item and a given chance to yield a "knot of rust". I didn't find out about this till I was about eighty hours into the game and had missed a lot of things I would have enjoyed opposed to knots of rust (of which I had quite a few). This particular example is representative of the stupidest uses of the element of chance, especially because it doesn't need to be there at all. A lot of people that play JRPGs are the type that like to see, kill, do, and collect everything. You can see how this might frustrate some of those folks. Applying the element of chance to something like the contents of a chest is . . . . . . . . . well there are no words for that kind of poor game design. What kind of decision making process went in to employing that system in the game?
"Hey guys, I've got an idea." "Yeah, what's this idea of yours?" "Instead of chests always giving out what we decide to put in them lets have them give out something completely useless fifty percent of the time." Then there would be a long pause while the development staff mull this nugget of brilliance over. While "your an idiot" and "that's a stupid idea" would have been the appropriate responses what actually happened must have been something along the lines of "Gee Bob that would force people to play the game over several times, that's a much better idea then a new game plus feature! Give yourself a raise!"
This is my theory and I'm sticking with it. Anyway, my point is that the element of chance is something that needs to be carefully and thoughtfully implemented where gameplay is concerned. When used correctly random chance provides a level of challenge and/or realism to games that is enjoyable. But used poorly it can tarnish otherwise brilliant titles while outright ruining others.
I've been gaming since I got a SEGA Genesis back when I was ten or so. Video games are a huge part of my life and I will be playing games until I die.
I generally don't play multiplayer anything, I am a lover of the single player narrative experience. As a result I am particularly fond of JRPGs and the occasional adventure title.
Favorite Games SEGA Genesis: Sonic The Hedgehog 2 SNES: Final Fantasy III Playstation: Final Fantasy Tactics Playstation 2: Persona 4 Gamecube: Killer7 Playstation 3: Valkyria Chronicles PSP: Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy PC: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
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