Final Fantasy 7: A Good First Try

It was okay.

It took a while for me to get around to playing Final Fantasy 7. One reason for this was the years and years of overexposure, people constantly telling me I should play it, that it’s one of the greatest games ever, and it’s a cornerstone of gaming history. Another reason was that I had played a game from the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 (Dirge of Cerberus), and was immensely unimpressed, souring my view of what the actual game would be like. However, last year I picked up a copy, popped it into my Playstation 1, and had my 60 hour experience with Final Fantasy 7. And when it was over, I sat back in my couch and had a singular thought.

It was okay.

I didn’t hate it like I genuinely believed I would. The combat was fun, I had a team that I favored (Cloud, Yuffie, and Vincent), picking out Materia for my characters allowed for nice customization of my team, and battles never dragged for too long. However, it was also incredibly easy. I’m not usually one to knock something for being easy, but if there had been one (story!) boss that was remotely challenging, I would have been incredibly pleased. Instead, I felt like I was walking from one end of the world to the other with little dogs yapping at my feet, a nuisance as opposed to any real challenge.

What really fell flat for me, though, was the story and particularly the characters. First, the characters. The only one who spends enough time in the party to get invested in is Cloud, and early game maybe Tifa and Aerith. This is because of how the game utilizes its characters within cutscenes. With a handful of exceptions, the only characters who will appear in any given scene are the ones currently in your party, which means that if you never have Barrett in your party (largely because he’s a terrible stereotype and also a Mr. T ripoff and also he sucks in combat), then it looks like Barrett just never does anything. The characters would definitely have benefited from far more screen time, but it just never comes. As a result, the bulk of the story revolves around Cloud, as, for the most part, he is glued to your party. And anytime the story needs another character to be important, the game basically forces them into your party, which is really frustrating when you’re used to being able to choose who you take. Just let the characters exist outside of the party, game? Please?

That being said, I did enjoy them when they were on screen (except for Barrett and Cait Sith, both of whom I avoided wherever possible [I’m pretty sure Cait Sith is never actually required in your party, but he still has a couple of scenes that will make you wanna scream in hatred]). They all have distinct personalities and are really fun to watch. As I said previously, I mostly had Yuffie and Vincent in my party, which is a really interesting contrast. Vincent is largely apathetic, never getting excited about anything, speaking mostly in short, quiet sentences. Yuffie, on the other hand, will never shut up, being highly energetic and excitable and also a Valley Girl, I think? She has more of a gunner personality than Vincent, the gunner, does, while he has more of a ninja personality than Yuffie, the ninja. It’s kind of funny and I love it, so they were my party for every boss after acquiring Vincent, wherever they were both available. That includes Sephiroth, even if Yuffie did spend most of that battle dead.

(Spoilers for 20 year old game ahead! Apparently you’re supposed to tag these things, even though it’s… 20 years old…)

As for the story, it… happens? Honestly, I’d have to say that this is one of the weaker stories in the franchise. It’s a “Villain tries to destroy the world” plot with a new wardrobe. This time the protagonist is not just connected to the villain, he’s a clone of the villain!… or so we’re led to believe, until it’s revealed he actually is just connected to the villain and his mind is being tampered with. Until about 3/4’s of the way through disc 2, it’s hard to really tell what the truth about Cloud is, which I guess was the point? But it also just muddles who Cloud, as Cloud, is, to the point where I’d argue that the true Cloud has less screen time than I ever gave Barrett (is that zing worthy?). I will say that Aerith’s death at the end of disc 1 is shocking, not in that it happens because the game sets that up far in advance, but in that it is STILL rare today for a game to kill a major character off like that. Party members are expected to perform a Heroic Sacrifice, but that’s not what happens here. She just… dies. It does set up something at the end of the game, but for a character to just be dropped like that is still impressive for a game to do, and if I had to guess, it’s one of THE major contributing factors to why this game still persists in the public eye.

The other reason is Sephiroth. Oh boy, Sephiroth. He shows up about 1/4 of the way through the first disc, and suddenly everything else that was going on doesn’t matter so much. He steals the show. Where Kefka made villainy gross and disgusting and insane, something to be reviled, Sephiroth makes it look cool and elegant, and also insane, something to strive for. He’s honestly a bit too cool, because he totally overshadows the main cast. By the end of the game, I was mostly playing just to see more Sephiroth scenes. Unfortunately, though, I was disappointed in the end. Sephiroth has been cloned numerous times, so most of what we see of him is not the man himself, but rather those clones. The original Sephiroth never actually mutters a single word. If you want to see that, you’ll have to play Crisis Core.

The soundtrack, however, never disappoints. From “Opening Theme, Bombing Mission” on to “One-Winged Angel,” the music never doesn’t deliver. It’s honestly the one part of this whole experience that doesn’t feel dated, and even while playing Final Fantasy XV, I’ll pop 7‘s soundtrack into the car and just chill.

The aspect of this game that is the most dated, however, are the graphics. I’m sure a 3D Final Fantasy game looked amazing in 1997, but today this aesthetic looks like garbage. That’s really the only way I can truly describe it. It is an assault on the eyes. Even a couple years later, with Final Fantasy 8, the graphical capabilities of the Playstation would be put to far better use, especially regarding the pre-rendered cutscenes. In 8, they would look almost like early PS2 era cutscenes. In 7, they look like… uhh…

Whatever that is.

Overall, though, I had fun with Final Fantasy 7. I don’t think it holds up very well, considering what RPG’s would become even within the same console generation (I would recommend games such as Breath of Fire III/IV or Legend of Dragoon if you’re looking for a Playstation RPG that holds up), but I can see why it was such a big deal when it was released. If you’re interested in video game history, or are a fan of the Final Fantasy franchise, definitely play this if you somehow haven’t already. Just… don’t get your hopes too high.

I can’t wait for that PS4 remake, though.

Why I’m Glad Panic! At The Disco “Broke Up” (More Accurate Clickbait Title In Progress)

Controversial statement incoming: I don’t like Panic! At The Disco. In their early days, I always felt like they were riding the coattails of bigger, better bands that they happened to be close with (coughcoughFallOutBoycough). Their music videos in particular were of the “desperate try hard” variety and evoked nothing in me but apathy, while the music itself was bland and derivative. In their current form, as essentially a Brendon Urie solo project, I find them acceptable but not fantastic.

However, in 2009, founding member Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker left the band in order to pursue a project of their own, The Young Veins. This project wasn’t just influenced by classic 60’s mod rock; they practically time-travelled back to that era in order to write their songs. As a huge fan of that era of rock and roll, discovering The Young Veins was as fantastic to me as The Monkees’s releasing Good Times was (which, incidentally, is a fantastic album as well and you chould go check it out right now).

Active only from 2009-2010, there sadly is not much to talk in regards to The Young Veins themselves. After a year of touring, Ryan Ross decided to try for a solo career, with Jon Walker announcing on Twitter in 2010 that the band would “be on hiatus for the time being.” In 2010. It’s 2017. They broke up. However, they did release an album called Take A Vacation!, which is what we’re looking at today! HA! I tricked you! This is an album review and you didn’t even know it!

But seriously, I adore this album and would like to share my thoughts on it in the proper Wombat fashion (which none of you know because I only ever wrote album reviews on Medium). So without any further ado, let’s work our way through the track listing.

The album kicks off with their single “Change”, which is about how, despite failing circumstances and runs of bad luck that can only be called karma, “some people never change.” The verses have a fast, punchy delivery that serves to emphasize Ross’s brilliant lyricism and a hook that slows the tempo down enough for you to get the message without killing the momentum. You’ll immediately notice the twang of the guitar on this song, which persists throughout the album and serves to sell their mid-60’s feel. It ends with a quick call to arms for “change”, and it’s gone just as quickly as it came.

“Take a Vacation!” is a Beach Boys-esque jam about how, well, the singer wants to take a vacation. It’s basically “Surfin’ Safari,” but better and with a really nice, intricate keyboard backing that I could listen to for eternity. Swallow me whole, liquid musical genius of Nick White. May I drift forever on the keys of your soul.

This is followed by “Cape Town,” a song about being in love with a woman in the titular town. The singer is clearly not about to spend the rest of his life with her, especially as she already has a husband “in prison.” Rather, it’s more about how he’s met with a rush of feelings for this woman while he’s in Cape Town. It’s very similar to the sort of temporary feelings that songs like Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” are about, but here, rather than being excited, the singer is more melancholy, as if the feelings have continued to linger for a while after parting. It’s actually slightly haunting.

My favorite song on the entire album, however, is the Jon Walker-sung “Maybe I Will, Maybe I Won’t.” There’s not any particular reason for it being my favorite, though; it isn’t especially better than any other song, Jon’s vocals somewhat lack the same punch as Ryan’s, and I could not, for the life of me, tell you what it’s about. But it reminds me of the happy-go-lucky songs of the early Beatles or Herman’s Hermits, with a chorus so catchy I find myself singing it days after last hearing it. It just evokes a “fun” feeling inside of me that I can’t shake.

“Young Veins (Die Tonight” is another song about being young and in love and how confusing that can be. It’s rather well done, but rather than talk about the same kind of song again, let’s discuss this for a moment. Youthful love is such a fleeting thing. It’s easy to think you’ll be with your current partner for the rest of your life, but the reality is a lot less blissful. You’re both still changing, still learning, discovering new passions, discarding old ones, and 3-4 years from now, you might find each other to be complete strangers, where once you knew everything about each other. Not only that, but at such a young age, even though it feels like you know everything, you know so little. You need time and experience to learn what you need to hold a relationship together. It’s hard to sustain a serious one that begins so early in life. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it is very difficult. As Ryan says, “Is ‘young’ a word for dumb, a word for fun?” It’s a word for both. Being youthful does mean being dumb, no matter how intelligent you are. But it also means this is the time in your life when you can have the most fun. Don’t dwell on whether you’ll be with this person in 10 years. Again, as Ryan says, “have the time of (y)our lives every night.”

If you’re listening to it on vinyl, like a hipster (or me, and I’m *totally* not a hipster), Side 1 is closed out by another melancholic song, this one sung by Jon Walker again, “Everyone But You.” Being somebody who is infatuated with the idea of love, but never wants to get married, it almost feels as if this song was penned for me. It’s all about being in love with a woman, but she only loves him back in his dreams. And he tells himself and others that “love is all (he’s) really after,” but knows it’s not true. It’s a very honest song about being dishonest to yourself.

“The Other Girl” is short, bittersweet, and not necessarily to the point. As far as the musical aspect itself goes, it’s one of the better songs on the album. However, being a writer, my focus will always be on the lyrics within a song, which, at face value, are actually well written. However, like all songs on this album, there is a story here, which means I can criticize it for plot holes and unclear wording all day long. And I’m here to say right now: what is up with this second verse? In the first one, he’s clearly talking to someone whose boyfriend is cheating on her, telling her what’s up. But in the second verse, he almost feels personally offended by the boyfriend cheating. He’s not your boyfriend, Ryan! You don’t have to get so invested! Stop trying to figure out why he’s cheating! It’s probably because he’s a horny asshole, anyway, dude, it’s not that interesting!

Unfortunately, “The Other Girl” is probably the best song on the second half of this album. I divide albums into four distinct categories; top-heavy, back-heavy, garbage, and gold. “Take a Vacation!” is very top-heavy, putting all of its heavy-hitters up to the front to grab you, and then letting the more average songs run off their momentum. Actually, we could these kinds of albums “Baseball Albums.” There, that’s a better name.

Regardless, “Dangerous Blues” is the next song, which kind of exemplifies problems I have with slow songs in general. I don’t hate slow songs altogether, but what I’ve found is that they need to have something in them to punch, and “Dangerous Blues” has no punch. Also, ” I know now love is a dangerous blues” and all the variations used within the song is a meaningless line of gibberish that I expect to come from John McCrea, not Ryan Ross.

“Defiance” is, at least, a better song than the last. It’s a slower song as well, but each verse builds up to a powerful crooning of the last word, usually “defiance” but also “wanted” in one case. It’s what meant previously by a “punch.” It’s still not a great punch, but it is enough to keep you interested in the song, and the rest of it is very solid, if not particularly memorable. It’s probably the most average song on the album, which could be damning with faint praise, but that’s all I can really say about it.

Actually, now that I think about it, they just stuck all their slower, sadder songs on the second half, didn’t they? I prefer it when songs are paced across an album a bit better than this. It would probably help a lot if the album’s track listing was switched up a bit better, so that all the fast songs and all the slow songs weren’t back to back. “Lie to the Truth” here is a perfect example of this. On it’s own, it stands as a great song, with some of the best lyricism on the album. “I’ll lie to to the truth, ’cause you lied to it too” is one of the best lines Ryan Ross has ever penned, comparable even to some of Lindsey Buckingham’s work on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, but because of the never ending snoozefest on the second half, it can easily get lost. If this were to come after, say, “Maybe I Will, Maybe I Won’t,” this song would have so much more oomph, and I’m very saddened by this loss of potential. As it, keep your ears open for this one, because you don’t want to miss it.

The album closes out with “Heart of Mine,” which I quite honestly dislike. It’s a wall of indistinguishable noises, fighting to drown each other out. It’s like listening to Oasis, you’re gonna walk away with one bleeding ear. And the lyrics sound like a discarded Weezer track from Red Album, with a terrible platitude for the chorus and strangely specific lines in the chorus. “Girls on the equator never even compare?” Were we asking for a comparison? Hold on, let me scroll up… No, no we didn’t.

However, as poor as the second half is, as a whole, Take a Vacation! is still a really great album by a very talented band who should have done more. Ryan Ross is trying to get a solo career going, from what I’ve seen, but it’s all very bland and uninteresting. Some great minds need buffers in order to achieve their full potential, and that’s what Ryan had in Jon Walker. Their teamwork is what made this album so fantastic, and I really recommend you give it a listen so you can see what I mean.

 

 

 

Onyx: An Ugly, Brown Tur-Rock, Onyx Is A Rock

On a whim, I picked up this cheap Steam RPG that came out not even a week before writing this review. Now, I’m against the idea of people charging anything for the games they’ve made in RPG Maker, but they rarely charge more than $5-$7, which I suppose isn’t objectionable. What is objectionable, however, is Onyx.

Onyx is about a world where witches are a regular part of life, but are being hunted down and slaughtered like lambs by a rebel sect known as the “Nimrod Brotherhood.” Yes, that is what they’re called. No, I don’t believe they’re named after the Biblical Nimrod. I think they’re named Nimrod because it’s a JOOOOOOOOOOOOOKE.

That seems to be half the reason for the game’s existence, really. There can’t be three lines of dialogue without some character or other cracking what they must think is the wittiest jest in their lifetime, and while some will get a chuckle out of you, others fall flat on their face. Not helping matters is the lack of any editing or spellchecking going into the product before release, leaving horrendous typos everywhere and sometimes incomprehensible sentences, problems that could easily have been fixed prior to release.

That’s another problem I have with the whole RPG Maker business model. Due to the ease of cranking out games when you have very little to do yourself aside from place assets and write a story, it creates an environment where you could easily release two or three games a month, given enough free time. With that capability at your fingertips, it can become easy to give in to apathy, and start cutting back on things like QA testing or giving a shit about the products you sell your customers.

Speaking of not giving a shit, the game focuses on a character named Rowan, though you can rename all playable characters anything you see fit within the 8-or-9 character limit. Rowan is Velvet Crowe from Tales of Berseria. That’s her character. A poorly written Velvet Crowe. She’s joined by a character who is basically Komoto Raynar from this site, a mother and daughter with serious familial issues, a Mystic Knight from Final Fantasy V, and some other character I couldn’t be bothered to play long enough to meet. None of them are interesting enough to get invested in, Vel- I mean, Rowan is a selfish witch, and they are all groan-worthy at various points.

The maps you’ll be spending most of your time travelling around are some of the clunkiest and poorly designed maps I’ve ever seen. Back in my Ar tonelico review, I threw some serious shade at its maps, but I feel I now owe it an apology. At least Ar tonelico had maps with rules. Onyx has no rules. One bush might block your progress, while the very same bush in a different location you might be able to pass over. Sometimes the ground covers up half your character’s sprite, as if they are slowly sinking into the abyssal quicksand that is this game. Take two steps and they are suddenly freed, allowed to suffer the torment of fourth wall breaks and petty intra-party drama. This will occur even if you are standing on the exact same kind of floor tile after moving.

Battles are just a visual nightmare. Your party appears as RPG Maker sprites, obviously, but enemies are these weird, watercolor portraits superimposed over Earthbound‘s battle background. They look horrendous, have a tendency to blend together or hide each other, and, given enough enough enemies on the screen, can even impose themselves over your own character sprites. And once you have a fourth party member, you might not realize it, because the UI is so tall and the characters are situated in such a way that the UI will cover your fourth member. It is negative fun to get into a fight in this game. Anti-fun, if you will. It actively sucks joy from your life.

You’re allowed to save anywhere in the game, but outside a tent early in the game, there’s a save point. It has no reason for existence. I can only assume that an early version required save points, and they failed to dummy them all out. It’s extremely inconsistent.

Near the end of my play time, I also stumbled across The End of Ti- I mean, a magical museum that is not totally a ripoff of Chrono Trigger right down to name-dropping Melchior as the inspiration. It definitely also does not have the Hylian shield (which can be seen in other places within the game, as well) and Prince of Persia‘s scimitars hanging in a hallway. This game is wholly original and will not fall back on using nostalgic images in order to garner favor from its players. I hate this game and my life because of this game.

I don’t understand why this exists. I don’t understand how it has the right to charge money. But since it is charging money, it deserves to be criticized like anything else we have to crack open our wallets for, and even at a $7 price tag, this one is not worth your time or money. Even if you are an avid follower of RPG Maker enterprises, steer clear of this one.

Developer: Aldorlea Games

Released: 2017

Platform: Steam

(Hijacking the post to relay my thoughts on this whole thing, since I was watching him play that 3-4 hours before he wrote this. This game has about as much polish as I’d expect from a 90’s freeware game. I feel like the developers need a few lessons in proper design, or at least some research into how other games did it. The few maps I saw were spacious, yes, but with a lot of dead ends, and dead ends that look like they should lead somewhere but don’t. The battle system is about as simple as it gets, with ridiculously inflated damage values, and for Goddess sake, if one of your selling points is “Hilarious Touches of Humor”, at least actually let it be humor for humor’s sake. One of the NPCs in an early game town literally states how badly constructed the town is. Parody Played Straight is a horrible thing to let happen to your game, regardless of your intention. Don’t get me wrong, we had a few laughs at this game, but laughing at this game is about all we’ll be doing from now on.

I try hard to find redeeming features in games. The only redeeming feature I find for this one, is a “What Not To Do” example for game design classes. ~Ray)

Retro Review- Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia

When I was a child, I only had one gaming system; a Game Boy Color. The first game I ever got truly invested in was a little game called Final Fantasy Legend II, and that one game has influenced my taste in games ever since. The JRPG genre is what dominates my gaming life, and when I go to a store to buy a new game, they are often what I look for first. So it was that I happened across this game, Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia. Can I say “game” anymore in this paragraph? Yes, I can, because Ar tonelico is one of the gamiest games to have ever gamed.

I don’t mean that as a bad thing, though it can definitely be taken as one. Ar tonelico is definitely not for everybody. I’m still not quite sure if it’s even for me. It’s one of those games where you don’t need to think a whole lot, and it doesn’t want you to think a lot. It holds your hand the whole way, never giving you any real mystery to the plot and never giving you any mechanics that require real skill or talent. It is a “game” by the strictest definition, in that you play it, it’s possible to fail, and you may or may not get any real satisfaction or joy from it.

First, I want to point out that this game was released in 2007, near the end of the Playstation 2’s lifespan. Ar tonelico itself does not look like it was even released on the PS2. It’s got a very simple graphical style, comparable to the Atelier Iris games, except without the cartoonish charm of the latter. It just looks dull and uninspired, with every scene (with a handful of minor exceptions) playing out with waist-up portraits of characters speaking, as opposed to any real cutscenes. It can detract significantly from the experience.

In fact, this game is essentially an Atelier Iris game in all but name. The combat is almost exactly the same, except it trades the nuance and forethought in the Atelier battle system for a much simpler version, which allows you to cast a powerful spell at any point in the battle so long as you sat there waiting long enough. It’s tedious and boring, and I often find myself using items to ward off battles after a long time playing.

Ar tonelico also took Atelier Iris’s crafting system. It just took it. The game didn’t change anything about it, except now all items used in crafting are drops from enemies, with very few overworld spots with items. All crafting takes is being able to tolerate slogging through enough enemies to get the required items.

Map navigation is boring and, at times, confusing. I’m not even sure how to describe it, as you move through names of locations on a general map, only you’re always centered on the place you’re currently looking at, with only adjacent area names shown. Then you use the directional pad or left stick to choose which direction you want to go. I truly pray for you if you don’t remember which direction a certain location was, as you might get lost trying to find it.

Dungeon navigation is no better. There are no clear borders on any of the screens, so at some random point you’ll just find yourself moving to the next screen. This is even true of dungeon-exit borders, as well. The game doesn’t designate them at all, meaning you could also just find yourself out on the world map again, without even a prompt asking if you’d like to leave. It’s such a simple thing that could save loads of frustration with just an easy fix.

Ar tonelico is very shoddy on a technical level, as well. The lag in cutscenes can get so bad that voice-overs and music will pause while the game loads the rest of the scene, which again, are little more than still-portraits of characters that occasionally change expression. The lag is present in battles as well, as casting any spell with your Reyvateil (i.e. the central mechanic of the battle system) will result in slowdown and even moments of complete standstill, which can make trying to perform any well-timed spellcasts practically impossible.

Speaking of the voice acting, I’m not sure these actors even care. They aren’t even comparable to blocks of wood, as wood would have more inflection and nuance. The only one who isn’t entirely terrible is Vic Mignogna, who suffers from the entirely separate problem of being Vic Mignogna.

All this is without even touching on the big reason for this game’s existence, the Dive mechanic. You Dive into the souls of your Reyvateil companions to help them through their inner demons and such, which is treated as being as awkwardly intimate as sexual intercourse. Once inside their “Cosmosphere,” you basically play through a linear visual novel to reach the end. There aren’t any dialogue options or choices to make it difficult or interesting, it just serves as a means to further the character development of the Reyvateil in question.

The characters themselves are actually interesting, and I do occasionally feel for them, but it does little to lift the drab mess surrounding them. They have secrets and fears and relationships with each other, none of which seem stupid or exaggerated, and it really helps to make them feel like actual people. The exception to this would be Lyner, the main character, who suffers from Protagonist Syndrome, in which he has the bare minimum personality so you can insert yourself into his position better.

In the end, I can’t really recommend this game. I had some fun with it in the start, but the further in I went, the less anything interesting happened. Ar tonelico has so much promise, and on the outside, looks incredibly interesting, but the packaging is deceiving. It hides a sub-par, confusing, laggy mess of a game, which steals far too much from better games that came before it. Even if you’re a die-hard fan of JRPG’s, there’s not much for you in this game. Just get Atelier Iris instead, and avoid this at all costs.

Console: Playstation 2

Developed by: Gust Corporation

Year Released: 2007

Genre: Active Time JRPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did I mention that this game is priced upwards of $50? That’s way too expensive for this drivel.