torstai 21. lokakuuta 2010

REVIEW - Crisis Core - Final Fantasy VII (2007)

Genre(s): Action / RPG
Released: 2007
Available on: PSP
Developer(s): Square Enix
Publisher(s): Square Enix
Players: 1

After the release of the ill-fated third-person action game Dirge of Cerberus - Final Fantasy VII, it seemed like the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII was carried by the strength of the original game and its marvellous movie sequel Advent Children; when Dirge of Cerberus bombed in the press, I said they'd better just make the remake of Final Fantasy VII and get the whole compilation over with, since that's what people really wanted. As expected, on the 10th anniversary of Final Fantasy VII, the whole remake hype returned stronger than ever, two years after the infamous technical demo at E3 2005, which showed how Final Fantasy VII would look like on PS3, and the announcement of a mysterious Final Fantasy title in works exclusively for the PSP. In reality, Square Enix didn't really know at that point what exactly they were doing. Series veterans Tetsuya Nomura and Yoshinori Kitase brought in rookie director Hajime Tabata and negotiated with him on the subject, and he said he would like to make a game for the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. The original idea was to create an extended version of the popular mobile game Before Crisis - Final Fantasy VII, but after some further negotiations, the trio decided that the game should be another prequel starring Zack Fair. Kitase, the director and co-writer of the original Final Fantasy VII, now working on the game in the capacity of a producer, laid some ground rules for Tabata in regard of how the game should be made, totally different from all the other games, but accessible to the fans of the compilation, and most definitely an RPG to at least some extent. Kitase's expectations were exceeded, fans were on their knees... here's Crisis Core.

Only the good die young

STARRING
Rick Gomez : Zack Fair
Andrea Bowen : Aerith Gainsborough
Steve Burton : Cloud Strife
Stefan Marks : Lazard
Ryun Yu : Tseng
Carrie Savage : Cissnei
Quinton Flynn : Reno
Crispin Freeman : Rude
Sterling Young : Dr. Hollander
Paul Eiding : Professor Hojo

SOLDIER 2nd Class Zack Fair is an extremely talented combatant, but he has zero attention span. He lacks focus and a certain mental edge possessed by those in 1st Class of SOLDIER, and is constantly denied a chance to prove his skills to his superiors and to finally make it up a rank. When a potentially malevolent 1st Class SOLDIER named Genesis deserts the Shinra Army and takes a bunch of low-level SOLDIERs with him, Zack finally gets his big break as he is assigned to seek him and his troops out. Zack makes new friends, as well as some new enemies, and discovers horrible secrets concerning the whole planet on his long mission, which turns out to be the road to his imminent demise.

"Overconfidence will destroy you." Should've
listened.
First, I didn't quite know what to make of Crisis Core. I mean, sure, Square Enix can carry on the story as long as they want - even Dirge of Cerberus is a well-written game... but once again telling the story of Zack, the true fallen hero whose identity Cloud stole and who was never really a standout guy himself in my opinion, seemed like barking up a dried-up old tree. My good friend, whose PSP I'm actually playing on to get this review done, is a total contrarian; he has always found Zack a fascinating character who deserves a deeper look at his backstory. OK, well, after playing Crisis Core, I must say that a deeper look at Zack's backstory is indeed crucial - but it's largely because of the supporting cast. Zack's path to oblivion is decorated with some beautiful, heart-warming scenes and the character himself possesses about a hundred times more personality than he ever did, it's just too bad that most of the time he strikes me as a reckless, overtly confident, happy-go-lucky dude, the kind of character which I usually dislike. Much worse than Zidane or Tidus, both of whom have qualities which make them great leads; Zack doesn't have any. He's like Cloud on uppers. The climax of the game has got to be one of the most touching and beautiful scenes I've ever seen in a video game, even moreso than that of Final Fantasy X; again, I just wish I'd care for the lead character himself rather than just his legacy just a wee bit more.

To cover up for Zack, we are treated to a fabulous support team. The game introduces a few new major characters to the Final Fantasy VII mythos, brings new life and perspective to old classics, and does its bit of compilation tie-in by at least including references to Before Crisis, Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus. The developers even went as far as bringing in the enigmatic character of Genesis from the secret ending of Dirge of Cerberus back as the main villain of the game. Of course, Sephiroth is a central protagonist-to-antagonist, all the way from the beginning, but Genesis has been cleverly written in to fill some chronological gaps before and after the scenes we have seen in some form before, among other characters such as Cissnei the Turk, SOLDIER director Lazard, the heinous Dr. Hollander, and my personal favourite, Zack's mentor and the first bearer of the legendary Buster Sword - Angeal Hewley. It's funny, though, that the original game actually somewhat botches Crisis Core's legacy, not the other way around. Buster Sword is described as an honorary blade with unimaginable power, and of course, it serves as Zack's ultimate weapon - while in the original game, you couldn't wait to get rid of the damn thing... somehow I can't help but snicker every time someone mentions the Buster Sword or its long history. Although it's meant to be somewhat touching, I actually burst into laughter when I heard Angeal's dad worked himself to death to be able to provide his son this magnificent sword. This is just an example of awkward storyline elements in the game, others being the philosophical importance of those damn apples and Genesis' annoying obsession with Loveless - but overall, the most important parts of Crisis Core are excellently written. Some liberties are taken with the original storyline... AGAIN, but most of the time the writers hit the bullseye and actually manage to enhance some small bits. As a result, Crisis Core has us screaming for a Final Fantasy VII remake... AGAIN.

You know I'm going to cut off your hind legs
and shove this sword up your ass, dontcha?
The graphics of the game blew me away right off the bat when I started the game. It looks like a PS2 game, and the small LCD screen allows definition that makes Crisis Core actually look better than a lot of PS2 games. However, as you advance, you might notice that there aren't really a lot of different environments. The game is short in itself as its pretty much only task is to tell a story, while the most crucial elements of an RPG like leveling up and gathering materia and items are mostly applied to sidequests, or missions, which there are plenty of, but all of them are quite alike and there are only a few different environments to do them in. The main focus of the graphical display was clearly to show off with cutscenes that could easily be associated with Advent Children. Still, the game looks simply awesome - unimaginable, even. This is just a small UMD disc for a handheld console we're talking about. Look at it, and be amazed.

As every source of information says, almost word to word, Crisis Core is one of the few Final Fantasy games not composed by Nobuo Uematsu (and the first I've reviewed); instead, the soundtrack is written by Takeharu Ishimoto, the same dude who did the soundtrack of the Last Order OVA, which somewhat influenced Crisis Core's story. Some of Uematsu's classic tracks from the original game appear as heavily remixed versions, almost unrecognizable at their best (or worst), like "Still More Fighting", "Bombing Mission" and "Aerith's Theme". The remixes are all pretty good, even if I'm not a huge fan of the industrial/techno style which seems to be standard to the series nowadays. Ishimoto introduces a few really good new tunes, such as a tear-jerking ballad that pretty much serves as the theme song of the game, and an array of adrenaline-pumped battle themes. I don't think Final Fantasy VII purists have a lot to complain about when it comes to the soundtrack.

The voiceover work is another thing. Compilation veterans George Newbern and Steve Burton are back, and they once again nail their parts. Zack is a "little" more on the forefront than before, and his voice actor from Advent Children, Rick Gomez, hasn't quite got talent enough to drive the game. Annoying characters are often defined by their voices, and it happens here too on a few occasions. Andrea Bowen, who had a very minor part in the movie, replaces Mena Suvari as Aerith, and does a great job. Quinton Flynn kind of loses it as Reno; I truly dug the character as well as Flynn's performance in Advent Children, but in this game he applies his usual hot-potato, just-woke-up, don't-care mumble which I haven't been able to stand ever since I first heard the guy's voice in Metal Gear Solid 2. Rookie actor Oliver Quinn (Terry O'Quinn's son) replaces Robin Atkin Downes as Genesis, and actually sounds like a Finn speaking very fluent English - I should know how that sounds like. It's definitely not bad, but distracting on a personal level. Josh Gilman (Angeal) and voiceover legend Paul Eiding (Hojo) balance out the cast's overall performance with dedication.

On yet another mission.
Crisis Core features few gameplay elements from the original Final Fantasy VII - accessorizing and the use of materia being the most important ones. However, remarkable changes mark even these basic elements. Crisis Core is a whole different game from Final Fantasy VII. First of all, it's an action-oriented RPG, that's the most obvious difference, but just saying it won't tell anyone a whole lot. I'm gonna need some more coffee.

Crisis Core is indeed not a long game in storyline. Being an operative of SOLDIER, Zack usually roams the Shinra Building and Midgar's Sector 8 where you can converse with different NPC's, gather some tidbits of information and occasionally, unlock a side mission or two while doing so. To advance in the game's chapter-based storyline, you usually need to simply talk to an appointed person and get on with your job in another hour-long chapter if you're sure you don't want to carry on with the constantly more challenging missions.

The missions are the best and worst quality of Crisis Core. The missions, labelled from "Very Easy" to "Very Hard" can be accessed via the menu after a certain point in the storyline very near the beginning of the game, and you can keep going just as long as you want, or as long as the storyline's development allows you to; more missions are unlocked after completing certain tasks in the storyline, or talking to specific people. Success in the missions guarantees rare items, accessories, or materia, and usually there are many regular items scattered around these environments in treasure chests, so they're good for item hoarding, more efficient than shops actually - which are also accessed via the menu. You don't actually have to go anywhere in this game. Considering that SOLDIER is a force of the most capable fighters around the world, they're quite damn lazy. Seriously I think it's pretty much a memory capacity related thing. On this graphical scale, the game simply can't be built by using traditional role-playing methods... and I'm definitely not saying it's not handy to handle all these things from your very own menu.

Even Malboro isn't as bad as usual. That's a
relief instead of a real disappointment, though.
The downsides to the missions are a-plenty. They repeat themselves in look, for one, and there are literally hundreds of them. Some of the environments are frustrating mazes, filled with random encounters. Although the game is in full 3D, sometimes the camera just won't co-operate with you. Let's say you want to see the left corner behind you to confirm if there's a treasure chest - you can't turn the camera to the left corner, while you can turn it to the right corner. You'll need to check the left corner for yourself, and very likely, an annoying female computer voice says that damn "ACTIVATING COMBAT MODE" bit (it will really get on your nerves sooner or later, probably sooner), and you will have to fight a potentially boring battle to see that there's nothing in the corner.

Also, mission labels deeming the missions "Very Hard" are not exactly correct. In Final Fantasy XII, challenging an enemy who had his name written in red, basically meant death, especially if there were two or more of them. As you level up in this game, the labels gradually switch to easier difficulties, just like the enemy names in XII switched to lighter colours to indicate your chances of winning. However, just learning to play the game and using tactics like guarding and dodging, almost guarantees a victory to you even in the "Very Hard" missions. However, once in a while a similarly tagged mission comes along; it's usually long, maze-like, but easy as hell. So easy, it's frustrating. Then, when you finally encounter the boss of the mission, he kicks your ass in two seconds and no buffs will help you. Thanks for nothing, huh? Luckily, you "won't die" during the missions - you just lose all the items you use while attempting them. In turn, you get your HP/MP/AP restored, and to keep all the SP (standing in for EXP... sorta) and items you gathered on the mission until you bought a farm.

The battles are fun and very dynamic at first and throughout the storyline, but the missions botch the fun part. There's this one particular mine maze that requires you to go on the hunt for Tonberry's Knife. This rare item is very essential as it results in adding Tonberry to your "summons", but getting through the maze, finding Master Tonberry and defeating him is nerve wrecking. You see, Tonberries are not nearly as difficult enemies as they were in the previous games, but they do retain their high HP and the murderous Kitchen Knife attack, which can be dodged, however. Imagine fighting for two hours against these guys, encountering them on every single step while just trying to make your way through the maze. The camera rotates constantly, so you'll probably lose your way during and after the battle. Their high HP but total incompetence makes these battles fine examples of overtly boring, repetitive fighting in this game. Halfway through your general mission progress, it might very well be that you'll just leave it be, out of boredom, and just go on with the storyline 'til the very end. After all, you can easily beat the game itself at Level 50 and in 15-20 hours, while conquering all the missions takes about 50 hours.

When Zack met Cloud.
Time for an extensive look on the basics. Initially, you can equip Zack with four pieces of materia and two accessories. The materia system kind of works the same way as in Final Fantasy VII, but blue materia is now independent, similar to purple materia, and grants supportive abilities such as Libra; the materia can't be linked like in the original game. However, after a certain point in the storyline, materia can be fused to generate more efficient materia, with the cost of SP attained from battles; and after another point, even items can be used in materia fusion to create some really dastardly pieces of death. Red summon materia can no longer be equipped. Just having possession of it is enough, and I'll tell you why later. Zack's basic attack, and all the materia and items which are useable in battle are arranged in the way the player wants in the bottom right corner of the screen in combat mode. The player needs to toggle between commands by using the shoulder buttons in the heat of battle, there's no ATB or even the stop-action system of Final Fantasy XII, this is closer to the battle system of Kingdom Hearts and as fatal as it might sound, it actually results in smooth flow and a truly intense general feel. Top this with the AP consuming abilities to dodge and guard. I like all of it, up until the point fighting gets boring in general view. You see, you don't even level up the traditional way. The game's most important gameplay element is the newly established Digital Mind Wave, which has its ups and downs.

The Digital Mind Wave dictates leveling up, temporary perks and traits in battle, summons and a form of Limit Breaks. The DMW appears to you as a constantly active reel of numbers and character faces in the upper left corner of the screen, like a slot machine. Numerical combinations like 111, 222 and 333 grant you different perks which last for about 20-30 seconds, like "No MP/AP Cost" or "All Attacks Critical". The same goes for any combination with at least one 7. Randomly, two of the same faces might align, which takes you to a "modulating phase" regardless of the numbers. If the number 777 turns up as a result in the modulating phase, Zack levels up. If there are two of the same numbers between 1-6, for example a combination like 4-7-4 or 1-4-1, the corresponding materia, in this case either the materia in slot 4 or 1, levels up. It's hard to explain, but I tried my best, huh? This modulating phase makes leveling up really random - although SP should somewhat increase luck - and moreover, it breaks up the heat of battle. It's really distracting, a standard method to level up would've been much nicer. I don't understand why Square Enix has such an obsession to mystify simplicities nowadays... and still they wonder why the Final Fantasy series has experienced a landslide in critical response during the last ten years.

Win-win. Zack levels up, and Bahamut attacks.
The DMW certainly doesn't stop there. If three faces align in the modulating phase, Zack executes a Limit Break, which could therefore easily be accomplished over ten times in one battle, depending on the enemy of course. If Zack doesn't know the character yet, he or she is shown as a silhouette, and Zack does one of his own attacks. If Zack does know the character, he uses a Break inspired by him or her, or even lets this character do his job for him. The DMW randomly switches to Summon Mode or Chocobo Mode. Summon Mode replaces the characters with summons; if Zack already has the summon, he attacks enemies with the summon spell corresponding to it. If not, he just lashes out with a regular Break. Chocobo Mode features more humorous summons, like the mentioned Tonberry, and they are acquired by finding rare items instead of red materia. The Limit Breaks, as well as the summons, level up via usage.

What I play Crisis Core for is the story, and it covers up about 95% of why I'd recommend the game. The battle system features some great ideas and fighting is fun for a sufficient period of time, but really, at some point you will wish the game would be over, regardless of how much you basically like it. From Nibelheim onwards, the end of the game feels like it's stretched to forever along with Zack's ultimate fate. In a total turn-the-knife move, the game even ends in a whole new rendition of Final Fantasy VII's opening cutscene, prompting the players to "stay tuned for Final Fantasy VII", which leaves perhaps a cool, but conflicted aftertaste of Crisis Core. Why in the hell did you make this game? Why couldn't you just remake Final Fantasy VII? Then, when you think back at all the different, fabulous new views this game provides regarding the Final Fantasy VII storyline, and how great the game is at its best, you can't help a weird desire to play it again. It's very conflicted, and difficult to review with a definitive rating. It misses out on a lot of classic stuff I would've wanted to see at least referenced a bit further, but on the other hand, it includes a lot of surprising, subliminal pointers just casual players of the original game won't probably even notice.

The final scene is perhaps the gaming moment
of the decade... even if there's zero surprise
factor in the script.
You have two different difficulty levels to choose from, right off the bat. Normal Mode is of course, made for most players and first-timers, but also those advanced players who just want to experience the story, while Hard Mode hands your ass to you on a plate, with a little garlic on the side, as you take on the missions. The missions aren't easy even on Normal Mode, and I'm not the kind of player that gladly takes it up the ass on Hard in any game that doesn't have Trophies or Achievements related to difficulty level in it, so I can't really give you a deeper look on Hard Mode, but considering how hard the missions are on Normal, I guess Hard's pretty damn hard throughout. The storyline's a breeze, and actually some of the battles which are supposed to be epic, are effortless disappointments. Take Bahamut, for example; what a pushover.

Crisis Core is a great game in its own way, but naming it the greatest handheld game of the decade would be more than exaggeration; Final Fantasy VI Advance is actually a pretty good nominee for that title. I would've really liked to name it the greatest, because it's even more of an essential part of the Final Fantasy VII storyline than Advent Children, and a visual phenomenon. The game's impressive physical appeal for the first ten hours simply loses its hold once the repetition kicks in and the easiness of the main quest unfolds.

Graphics : 9.6
Sound : 8.4
Playability : 8.0
Challenge : 8.2
Overall : 8.0


Trivia

GameRankings: 82.50%

Zack's full name is revealed for the first time. "Fair" is derived from "fair weather", which is intended to contrast "Cloud Strife".

Tetsuya Nomura based Angeal's character design on his original design of Cloud Strife.

Main villain Genesis Rhapsodos' resemblance to Final Fantasy VIII protagonist Squall Leonhart, and his clones' knack for gunblades, Squall's weapon of choice, are perhaps explained by the fact that they were both modelled after Japanese pop artist Gackt. Gackt voices Genesis in the Japanese versions of Dirge of Cerberus and Crisis Core. He also wrote "Redemption", the main theme of Dirge of Cerberus.

sunnuntai 17. lokakuuta 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Last Order - Final Fantasy VII (2005)


STARRING
Kenichi Suzumura : Zack Fair
Toshiyuki Morikawa : Sephiroth
Takahiro Sakurai : Cloud Strife
Ayumi Ito : Tifa Lockheart
Keiji Fujawara : Reno
Taiten Kusunoki : Rude
Nachi Nozawa : Professor Hojo
Hiroshi Fujioka : Zangan
Youhei Tadano : Villager

Directed by Morio Asaka

As said before, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was originally scripted to be a 20-minute CGI clip inspired by Original Video Animation, really hot shit in Japan; it's basically anime, but usually a 20- to 30-minute stand-alone clip, a short movie that goes straight to video. There's not really a true purpose to this phenomenon. As Tetsuya Nomura was finishing up work on Advent Children, he approached a small studio by the name of Studio MadHouse - who had worked on the promotional material of the mobile game Before Crisis - Final Fantasy VII - and asked them to make a 25-minute OVA of a certain point in Final Fantasy VII's storyline, to be released in conjunction with Advent Children. MadHouse finished Last Order in six months, under Nomura's supervision. Contrary to popular belief, Last Order is not an official part of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, it's more like promotional material for Advent Children's benefit. At least that's what it was. Two years later, a game, an extensive prequel to Final Fantasy VII was released on the PSP, entitled Crisis Core and partly influenced by this brief anime flick. Now that makes Last Order a tad more curious on my account.

PLOT
Shinra soldiers are on the hunt for Zack and Cloud, who've escaped the genetic research facility located in Nibelheim. Back in Midgar, Tseng of the Turks is reflecting on his personal ethics, which are in conflict with his orders, and reminiscing certain events that took place five years ago.

The true hero of the burning Nibelheim gets a
facelift impressive enough for him to have
his very own game...
BREAKDOWN
As also said before, I fuckin' loathe anime. In many ways, the visuals and the voiceover work of Last Order remind me why, but then again, the subject is very dear to me, and seeing this clip only lasts for 25 minutes, it really isn't that painful to watch. A couple of sandwiches and a tall glass of milk, and I'm ready to go!

Last Order is split into two different halves of about the same length, and the clip cuts back and forth between them. The other half's about the Nibelheim incident five years before the events of the game, while the other one's about Cloud and Zack's escape and final journey together. It should be noted that even under Nomura's supervision, MadHouse took a LOT of liberties with several sort of plot details. Tseng knows Cloud, all the way from Nibelheim, which is definitely not the case in the original game. Cloud is obviously Mako-drunk while fending off Sephiroth's fatal attack, even before taking one dip in that crap. During this same confrontation, Cloud just gets his ass handed to him by Sephiroth, after which Sephiroth jumps into the reactor core himself, instead of getting killed by Cloud. Some stupidities from the original game remain, like Tifa being so damn happy that her hero came for her, while all "her hero" does is carry her a couple of feet away from her original spot, to lie around somewhere else. And oh yeah, this part of the clip really bugs me for another reason. Cloud and Tifa converse, with Tifa being perfectly conscious and the unmasked Cloud being friendly towards her, not ashamed of himself at all. This contradicts about a half of the original game's plot, as Tifa had no idea Cloud even was in Nibelheim when the incident occurred!

Be all these fuck-ups intentionally rewritten parts or not, I have to say Last Order is an entertaining little piece of anime; I'm not much of an expert but I like it. It's a good intro or warm-up to my second round of Crisis Core, which may have shuffled the plot of the compilation even further but at least it has offered some explanations and new threads of storyline as well, instead of being just a simple, good but somewhat meaningless and enigmatic recreation like Last Order.

...All the while OUR hero gets downgraded to an
incompetent Shinra marine with a tendency to
get his ass kicked up to his throat.
SOUNDTRACK
One or two of Uematsu's classic tracks show up almost subliminally, while most of the background music is new material by Takeharu Ishimoto; it's of the quite typical anime fare, with heavy guitars, simple chords and moderate tempo. It's interesting to note that Square Enix liked Ishimoto's work so much that most of the soundtrack was carried over to Crisis Core, and he was hired to write the rest of the game's soundtrack as well.

CONCLUSION
I'm moving on to Crisis Core completely pumped. The last time I played the game, I hadn't even seen Last Order yet, I hadn't played the original game in a long time and I hadn't watched Advent Children in a few years. I didn't quite feel it. Now there's so much Final Fantasy VII in my head that I'll surely enjoy the game even more. However, this newly sharpened memory of Final Fantasy VII worked against my second viewing of Last Order; it's definitely the best traditional anime clip I've ever watched, but it takes too much liberties with the plot to be a true, flawless Final Fantasy VII fanboy novelty in my opinion.

(Last Order is NOT included in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete. It can only be found on the Collector's Edition DVD, released in North America and Europe in 2007.)

RATING : 6.7

lauantai 16. lokakuuta 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)


STARRING
Steve Burton : Cloud Strife
Rachael Leigh Cook : Tifa Lockheart
Steve Staley : Kadaj
Wally Wingert : Rufus Shinra
Quinton Flynn : Reno
Crispin Freeman : Rude
Dave Wittenberg : Yazoo
Fred Tatasciore : Loz
Steve Blum : Vincent Valentine
Beau Billingslea : Barret Wallace

Directed by Tetsuya Nomura & Takeshi Nozue

In 2001, Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi directed Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a movie that was somewhat liked by non-fans of the franchise, but expectedly hated by most people that were long time followers of the game series. Oh, let's just face it, shall we? The movie sucked ass. It was hyped to high heaven, and then it turned out like a CGI version of Alien, just without the horror, the action, and moreover related to our expectations, without any Final Fantasy in it. Just hearing the voices of Steve Buscemi and James Woods in some Final Fantasy-related feature wasn't enough for me to watch the wretched freakshow again. To be honest, I never thought Final Fantasy would provide material for a good movie to begin with. Then, I heard they were making a sequel to Final Fantasy VII, inspired by the financial success of Final Fantasy X-2, the first direct sequel in the series' 16-year history... only this sequel would be a movie instead of a game.

Before the movie took this form, it was supposed to be a 20-minute CGI clip influenced by Japanese OVA's (Original Video Animation), unrelated to Final Fantasy and feature an epic battle between two or three traditional anime characters. Character designer and jack of all trades for the Final Fantasy series since 1991's Final Fantasy IV, Tetsuya Nomura, figured Final Fantasy VII would be great source material for this clip... or even a full movie, from all standpoints. The team that was working on the CGI clip rejected Nomura's ambition, doubting their resources to do such a feature-length movie, but finally, after many forks in the road, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children became a 101-minute movie that changed the face and improved the mythos of Final Fantasy VII so radically, that even pure die-hard fans of the 1997 PlayStation and PC classic have seriously bombed Square Enix with pressure for a Final Fantasy VII remake. Is it really that good?

They're back.
PLOT
Two years have passed since Cloud Strife, Tifa Lockheart, Barret Wallace and their unlikely allies saved the world from Meteor, Sephiroth and his mad ambition for a kind of godhood. Cloud lives a constantly troubled life, as he still blames himself for Aerith's death. In addition, he has been infected by Geostigma, a strange disease somehow related to Jenova's cells - due to which he has once again alienated himself from his friends, including Tifa, with whom he runs a business. As three new, remarkably dangerous Sephiroth clones emerge to search for Jenova's remains, Cloud must take a stand and find personal solace, for he is the only one fighting the good fight that has the skill to take on such force.

BREAKDOWN
I'll say it right now: I hate anime. I simply hate that shit. Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, Fullmetal Alchemist, Naruto... believe me, I've tried to bear it, but I simply can't. First of all, even if I DID understand a word of Japanese, the voice "acting" would still sound horrible and monotonic to me. There are confusing, out-of-the-blue scenes, weird angles, exaggerated action that defies the laws of physics and nature, and at least half of the time I can't even make out a real plot. I even hate the graphical style - all those crying eyes, the blushing, the colouring, the wind effects... just everything.

The Captain is in a better mood than usual, but
he still knows how to kick ass when needed.
When does he get his own compilation piece?
Well, first of all Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is not an anime flick. Even some anime fans apparently consider it to be its own kind of anime, but I don't even like to think of it as such. Secondly, there's an English translation to it. However, it does have some cinematographical connections to traditional anime. For some reason, I don't find it disturbing; it's noticeable, that's all. That reason might be that I love Final Fantasy VII, and I love the movie's script and how it is translated into this - a fascinating, epic action movie. Like a 101-minute cutscene, and I mean that in a good way! With a few very odd clips, but hey, let's keep in mind what the source was.

Steve Burton and Christy Carlson Romano reprise their roles as Cloud and Yuffie from Kingdom Hearts, while Lance Bass, thank God or whatnot, gets shoved out of the way by the great George Newbern as Sephiroth, and Mandy Moore is replaced by Mena Suvari of American Beauty fame as Aerith. The gaps are filled with several voiceover veterans such as Wally Wingert, Quinton Flynn and Steve Blum. Now I know there are some people who go apeshit about the subject of watching a Japanese movie in English. Hello, guys, anyone home? - did you PLAY Final Fantasy VII in Japanese? Did you recite those English lines in Japanese in your heads? No? Then grin and bear the movie in English, like the rest of us!

The English dialogue does have a few knots, but it has nothing to do with the quality of the voiceover work - it's simply excellent. Steve Burton and George Newbern absolutely nail those roles, Rachael Leigh Cook provides a beautiful, tender voice to the hotter than ever Tifa, Greg Ellis always cracks me up with his "drunken Irishman" take on Cait Sith, Chris Edgerly gives Cid the voice I always imagined him to have - he's WAY underutilized though - and finally, Quinton Flynn totally redeems himself. I'm usually so damn annoyed with this guy's voice, his lisp and somewhat tense mumbling. He gives his all to the now completely comical character of Reno, and his sharp work supports the behaviour of the character, who's reminiscent of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, perfectly. The first problem that arises, is that the game's English translation was so awkward that it's hard to follow the movie's plot if you're not well enough informed of all the specifics that really went down in the game. There is a short narrative covering some events in the game, but Jenova's role in the whole ordeal is still explained vaguely, and since the movie is pretty much all about the pursuit of Jenova's remains, then... oh, well. The other problem's a visual one - there's no English lip sync at all. Apparently it would've taken too much time to fix the sync, more time than non-Japanese distributors could afford. I truly hope that there's a good reason, 'cause the dialogue feels really detached from the movie from time to time. It looks like there's a lag or something.

The villainous Kadaj is a functional combination
of the insanity of Sephiroth and the sinister
gayness of Kuja from Final Fantasy IX.
I already said that I love this movie's script. I always thought Final Fantasy VII came to an abrupt end, and always wondered what happened during the 500 years between the game and the hidden final scene featuring Red XIII and his cubs. After all, there was close to no dialogue, except for a philosophical statement from Red XIII and the noting of a spiritual presence by Marlene after we put Sephiroth to rest. Did Cloud and Tifa finally get it on? How about Cid and Shera? What happened to Shinra Inc.'s survivors? How did the world go on? Well, Advent Children begins with the very same scene(s) the game ended with, first Red XIII and his cubs are shown in a faithful recreation - a high-pitched scream for a remake - of the hidden ending, and then, "498 years earlier", Marlene's recollection of the showdown between Holy and Meteor. Two years have indeed passed from the game's events, and we get a lot of answers to certain questions. Many characters return, some surprisingly so, to share their views on the new Geostigma situation, and in the simple coolness of their inclusion in this movie as technically advanced CGI versions of previously blocky themselves, they turn away attention from the obvious main emphasis of the movie. It's gonna hit you in the face the second time around.

This movie is like a collection of epic battles in a futuristic J-RPG style. We have Cloud kicking ass on the road from the back of a motorcycle (three hoorays for the memory of G-Bike), Cloud kicking extremely large Bahamut ass in the skies above the city of Edge, and Cloud kicking some historic ass in some occasional flashback sequences. Then we have Tifa, fighting it out with one of the clones in what I consider to be one of the sexiest battle scenes ever... I must be sick. Barret, Yuffie, Cid, Vincent, and the now unseparable duo of Cait Sith and Red XIII also show up to do a bit or two, briefly but notably enough; mostly to boast their CGI forms, I guess, and yet again tease us with "what ifs". The movie is full of subliminal Final Fantasy in-jokes, especially aimed at the source title, making it nearly orgasmic to watch for a die-hard fan... even if it's all action! There's a definite breaking point in the middle of the movie, after which the action clearly takes over. Before that point, the flick takes some time to explain things, both past and present, which is a good thing, I like that - but what would've made the film even better than it already is would've been to spread it out a little and balance it up. As beautiful and intense as the boundless CGI fighting is, I personally dig the first half of the movie just a wee bit more.

Reno and Rude are equally back, to provide
some extremely good laughs.
SOUNDTRACK
Although Nobuo Uematsu had already left Square Enix by the time Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was completed, he agreed to the use of his soundtrack composed together with Tsuyoshi Sekito, Keiji Kawamori and Kenichiro Fukui. There are a few new rock tunes to go with the more intense scenes, very fitting to the Final Fantasy VII theme, and a lot of remixes of the songs in the game, that bear a strong scent of Uematsu's work with The Black Mages. I totally love the soundtrack, I feared for the worst after I heard Sakaguchi, who had left Square Enix by the time the movie was completed as well, would not be involved with the making of the movie; I thought they would disregard Uematsu's importance as well and hire that damn duo of Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi to puke their "creativity" on this movie like they did on Final Fantasy X-2.

CONCLUSION
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is one of the most surprising movies I've ever seen. It's Japanese, it's somewhat based on anime though not easily categorized as that, it does retain some of that Japanese quirkiness... on the other hand, it's based on the best video game ever, made possible by many staff members that worked on the game itself, it's so beautiful you sometimes have difficulties to see the difference between the image before you and reality... all in all, it's fascinating. Excellent, even. Maybe it could have been better, and maybe the extended "Complete" version does fix some of the original movie's flaws, I don't know, but 'til I see that extended version, this one works better than fine. Most definitely the best movie based on a video game, ever... as if it was some sort of a surprise.

(The standard, one-disc edition of the Advent Children DVD includes a "documentary" entitled Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII - Story Digest, which in reality is a collection of key scenes in the original game, shown in their North American form. They could've at least fixed the translation. Otherwise, it's a neat little extra.)

RATING : 9.1

Rachael Leigh Cook can
be my Tifa any time.

REVIEW - Final Fantasy VII (1997)

Genre(s): RPG
Released: 1997
Available on: PC, PS1
Developer(s): Square
Publisher(s): Square, Sony Computer Entertainment, Eidos Interactive
Players: 1


The success of Final Fantasy VI quickly paved the way for the development of another installment in the Final Fantasy series for the SNES. Hironobu Sakaguchi was as pleased with Final Fantasy VI's more futuristic take on the series as the fans were, and wanted to expand it as far as writing a detective story set in New York City in 1999. However, this early draft of Final Fantasy VII was soon scrapped, due to director Yoshinori Kitase's involvement with Square's new pet project, the time travelling epic Chrono Trigger. All that was already written for Final Fantasy VII ended up in Chrono Trigger, and a few Square titles released at a later date. In late 1995, after the release of Chrono Trigger, the creation of Final Fantasy VII was rebooted, this time with the purpose of being released exclusively on Nintendo's new Nintendo 64 platform. However, under Kitase's direct influence, the game was set to implement full 3D graphics not capable of running on cartridge-based capacity. 1996, the third year of development, began with what some consider to be the biggest shock in the franchise's history; Square severed ties with Nintendo after ten years of more than fruitful co-operation, and announced they would be developing Final Fantasy VII exclusively for the Sony PlayStation. Released on January 31st, 1997 in Japan, this epic RPG released on three discs was, from all standpoints, the most beautiful gaming experience anyone had ever seen, another huge turning point and new standard in the history of the franchise, enhanced further by a totally original dystopian storyline influenced by, but differing from all the previous Final Fantasy stories by a great deal. The game was the first Final Fantasy game to be released in Europe. It's the only Final Fantasy game thus far to have spawned its very own compilation of sequels, prequels and movies instead of just one fill-the-gaps sequel. Oh, yeah; did I mention it's still one of the most popular games in the world and one that fans have been screaming for a remake of for the last ten years, and my favourite video game on the planet? Well, if I didn't, I'll be sure to correct these mistakes in the longest review I've ever written.

A little less boring lesson in life's philosophy

Tifa is one of the most attractive virtual women
ever created, even as the bunch of rough
polygons she was at this point.
The mega-corporation Shinra, Inc., based in the city of Midgar, is a monopoly in the world's energy supply and hi-tech machinery. They also have some of the world's most talented combatants on their payroll, of which the best make it into Shinra's elite force, dubbed SOLDIER. The company's methods to their success are merciless towards the whole planet. The planet's natural Mako energy is the sole key to Shinra's prominence; because of their nuclear reactors sucking the planet dry of this energy, and pollution caused by their constant, needless urban development, Shinra is responsible for many natural disasters taking place around the world. A group of ecoterrorists calling themselves AVALANCHE prepares to take down the sinister Shinra Inc. piece by piece, with the help of a former SOLDIER, now a soft-spoken mercenary named Cloud Strife. His knowledge of the company and remarkable combat skills will surely help the terrorists, but what if the company isn't nearly the most destructive force threatening the future of the planet?

Every other gaming critic I know exclamates how Final Fantasy VII is so far from any previous Final Fantasy game in storyline - when it actually isn't, think about it. Just compare it to Final Fantasy VI. Evil Empire, Shinra Inc.. The Returners, AVALANCHE. The exact same things, only the setting's totally different. In many ways, Final Fantasy VII is like a 3D version of the previous game, but on the other hand, Final Fantasy VII is a completely original game filled with subliminal messaging. A thing I perceive to be a reason for the game's constant attraction, is that its themes never get old in today's society and political climate. In storyline the game's like an offensive statement against capitalism and consumers depending excessively on produced energy and technology. Back in 1997, global warming was not exactly the issue it is now, but it's still a very central, subliminal theme in this game, it's like some sort of a bad omen of how the world was to change because of people's uninterest in nature's well-being in contrast to their own. Personally, I'm very tired of all the images of the end of the world going on nowadays, it's like spreading panic is some sort of a fad, taken financial advantage of by film makers, musicians and just about everyone else more or less famous... Final Fantasy VII warned consumers of a crappy future in a time in which this sort of anti-hype held some credibility. Like in most Final Fantasy games, the specifics of the story change a lot during the lengthy game, but from the beginning to the end, the player aims to save the planet's energy supply. As always, up until this very game, some of these specifics I mentioned are lost in remarkably bad translation.

In the garden of pre-render, baby.
First, Ted Woolsey was hired to translate Final Fantasy VI so Square would never be accused of such abomination as Final Fantasy IV's North American localization again. Then, another Japanese team of translators was hired to work on Final Fantasy VII, so the original storyline would remain intact; which should've been an easy job, because Sony didn't share Nintendo's policies - they didn't even have censorship to worry about. The player may visit a brothel, there are many other more or less obvious sexual references, both hetero- and homosexual, and the characters of Barret and Cid swear - a lot. The most explicit words are replaced with something along the lines of ""#%&$!!!", but "shit", "hell" and "damn" are essential parts of their vocabulary in all their glory, kind of like to emphasize why Square's daring move from Nintendo to Sony was a good thing. Questionable violence, murder and some fashion of satanism are also brought to light. Most of the time it looks like Final Fantasy VII was translated by two wholly different teams - the same goes for the graphics, I'll return to this subject in a bit. Some of it's really complex English which fits perfectly in a game that is built on technological, genetical and philosophical themes, while some of it's generic, inconsistent, grammatically inefficient mumbojumbo which includes several strings of simple and usually irrelevant screams like "OH!" obviously translated by those who have worked on Japanese anime, filled with exclamation marks and an excessive amount of "...". The plot of the game becomes very twisted about 20 hours into it, and out of either incompetence or just simple carelessness, the translators can't keep up with it; the players will definitely need some external help to understand the later threads of the storyline. This is perhaps the most important reason why Final Fantasy VII would need a remake.

The graphics of the game are also a very important issue when it comes to the possibility of a remake. As far as gameplay graphics are concerned, I have nothing to exactly complain about and when the game came out, you didn't even notice any errors - it was all so damn huge and beautiful. The cutscenes still look great in their own way, and there's over 40 minutes of the most beautifully directed and animated full motion video you had ever seen back in that time. The problem with the cutscenes is that like the translation of the game, they seem like they were done by two different groups of people in two different periods of time. About half of the cutscenes portray the characters as the blocky, quirky, tiny characters they are, while half of them introduce full-blooded humanoid versions of the cast. The environments, however, are sized the same in both types of cutscenes. What bothers me even more is the relationship between the translation and the visuals. There are some scenes beyond the player's control that feature the characters doing... well, something, and you never quite know what's happening. Other characters potentially present just say "What are you doing?" or "Stop it!", or again, just "Oh...! Ah...! Eh...!", while you're trying to deduce what is the meaning of all those rough polygons swinging and flashing back and forth on the screen. This also has an effect on throwing the player off the scent of the plot.

G-Bike is one of the best minigames included
in Final Fantasy VII. The screenshot's from
the "storyline version".
For now, I'll go on with what I'll be doing for the most part of this review, and that is praising Final Fantasy VII to seventh heaven. Since I've always maintained some sort of an order to these reviews, I'll start with the soundtrack. I've said it before: I don't have a favourite Final Fantasy soundtrack. However, if the soundtrack of this particular game included just a few more different tunes, I would have to say it would be my favourite original video game soundtrack of all time; in addition, it's the only one I listen to outside the confines of a game. Nobuo Uematsu's epic score is a multi-layered, multi-influenced soundtrack spanning from rock to jazz, to dark ambience. The combat themes could be perceived as influenced by a testosterone-ridden Deep Purple, and the world map themes, regardless whether you're walking around the world or soaring through the skies, sound like taking a trip on the deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Uematsu's musical efforts produce a punch straight in your face every time a new song hits, but like I said, at a quite early point they begin recycling the stuff, while up until that point almost every location, scene and special sequence in the game has had its own theme. Also, if I really have to criticize something concrete, I'll go into the very final boss theme, and say "One-Winged Angel" is no epic, progressive masterpiece like the previous game's "Dancing Mad". It's one of those overrated Final Fantasy themes in my humble opinion - definitely not bad, but overrated.

Going into gameplay, I need something: the manual of the game. Why? During the course of 13 years, there's not one game I've played for more hours than Final Fantasy VII. I know everything there is to this game; I know all the tricks and self-buffing methods, the way to conquer 100% of the game... hell, I almost even remember the dialogue, word by word. I'm like a walking, unofficial strategy guide of the game - I actually memorized the official one back in the day. It's a good thing that I know the game, I can easily consider myself the right person to write a review of it, but the thing that makes me whip out the manual to aid me in the job is that I can't possibly say everything I want to say about the game without some sort of "memo pad" here beside me. I wouldn't even know where to begin. If you want an extremely short version of the review, here it is: take Final Fantasy VI, correct some issues, put it in 3D and introduce a couple of new, awesome one-off systems of character development, and you've pretty much created another Final Fantasy VII. If you want a more specific review, and the actual reasons why the game is the greatest role-playing experience ever created, even with all its flaws, read on... but this will take you a while.

Sephiroth in one of the most memorable stills
of the game.
First and foremost, the game comes on three CD's. That should tell a story of the game's size and length; Final Fantasy VII was, at the time, the longest game measured in hours. Finishing the whole game, leaving no stone unturned, takes about 60 to 70 hours. During those tens of hours you will be devoured and consumed by a very confusing story - which isn't actually that confusing once you hear a properly translated version of it somewhere else entirely - told according to the experience of nine playable characters, of which two are completely optional for you to welcome into your party. The story of the game reverts to the character-driven style of Final Fantasy IV. Like Cecil, Cloud is the strict main character of the story, around whom everything revolves. There's some dispute about that, as some consider Aerith - localized Aeris this one time - or the main villain Sephiroth the true main character(s) of the game, but to me, it's always been Cloud. His character's importance and his connections to all the different evils of the game don't take anything away from the other characters, though. Each one of them has a backstory, some have even a whole sidequest of their own, just like in the previous game. The playable cast of the game is loveable, extremely so... with two exceptions. Barret Wallace, Tifa Lockheart, Aerith Gainsborough, Red XIII, and especially the duo of Vincent Valentine, a dark mysterious gunman, and CID (!!!) Highwind, a foul-mouthed, chain smoking, embittered engineer and pilot, are (some of) my favourite characters in the whole Final Fantasy universe. Of course we've got to have some "Edwards" or "Relms" in return, so we get the eccentric fortune teller Cait Sith - previously known as the Esper Stray in Final Fantasy VI - and the bratty materia hunter Yuffie Kisaragi, two characters that defined 3D nuisance in the franchise and got followed by a host of equally annoying characters in each game. It actually seems like Square is pushing the envelope with each game, intentionally creating single characters they know to have the potential to piss 90% of players off. Extremely annoying NPC's turn up like a whole horde during the course of the game, but in turn, we get legendary, fabled characters such as Sephiroth, a true classic who surpasses even Kefka Palazzo on the list of my favourite Final Fantasy villains of all time, the Turks, Rufus, the unique executives of Shinra Inc., and of course, Bugenhagen, who I used to perceive as being one of the most annoying characters ever to be squeezed into a video game, but once you get past his constant "Ho Ho Hooo" laugh, he's quite a wise old man. Kind of like Yoda. He used to annoy the hell out of me, too. The possibilities of 3D bring forth a whole new level of drama into the storytelling, and this game provides at the very least one of the most well known (yet non-spoiled), shocking and from my experience, even tear inducing scenes in the history of video gaming. That should give you an idea of how much the story will hold meaning to the interested player, even with all these translatory problems.

Shiva sharing some cold, cold lovin'.
Next up, we have the very basics on both fieldwork and combat. You start your journey making your way through the industrial areas and slums of the huge metropolis known as Midgar. Finally, you have no choice but to escape the city altogether, in other words it takes you about 10 hours just to reach the world map in this game. A friend of mine once said that the game doesn't even begin before that moment, and that's one of the reasons he claimed - in reality he didn't have a good reason - to prefer Final Fantasy VIII, which gives you near-instant access to the world map. Were it an excuse or not, it's true, to some extent, however the long beginning of the game is very enjoyable and a very essential part of the game. It's just the wanted freedom and different possibilities that rear right after you make it to the world map - it enhances the game even further from the great experience it already was for the first few hours. The world map, as well as the field, have undergone some obvious changes in graphical display. The world map is fully three-dimensional, with the possibility to control the camera angle just as you wish. The transparent minimap can now be enlarged to full screen, and it clearly shows each major location, as well as your walking direction when you use a certain camera angle. In the field, the fixed camera angle changes within every part of town, room and hallway. To ease up your perception, by pressing Select you can see each door/exit and otherwise hard to see passages - such as vines or ladders - marked by arrows. Very handy, especially in huge towns with a million buildings to enter and explore.

Well, that's colouring it up, a little bit. This isn't Final Fantasy VI. The capacity of a compact disc doesn't allow huge 3D towns with a million buildings leaning against each other, and a million NPC's to converse with. The towns might seem big due to the much larger graphical proportions, but there aren't that many buildings, or many NPC's at that. On the other hand, this strip-down decreases the amount of totally irrelevant conversations, as well as buildings just filling up empty spaces. From a gamer's point of view, this loss ultimately turns out a victory in the field. Some are most definitely disappointed that this 3D environment also affects the elements that have been there from the very beginning, all the way from the humble beginnings of role-playing: namely D&D. Well, there are definitely dragons, even if most of the game takes place in purely futuristic, urban settings, or the countryside. Dungeons, on the other hand, are given the axe. Just think about huge, diverse dungeons from all the previous games such as the Mirage Tower, Interdimensional Rift, Phoenix Cave, or Kefka's Tower, translated into 3D. Heck, one of those would probably take up the capacity of three discs in itself. There are only two locations I would classify as true, traditional dungeons - the Temple of the Ancients, and even further, the arena of the final battle, which actually does take up most of the final disc's ROM capacity. Dungeons are pretty much replaced with modern buildings and later, puzzle-ridden catacombs and mountainside strolls that are relatively short in length, but full of random encounters and treasures which will most definitely prompt you to go out of your way and seek passages to them, adding extra tens of minutes, if not some hours, to the length of these quests. Yes, the dungeons may be gone as we knew them, but the payback's more than sufficient.

Gold Saucer, where minigames go when they
die.
I said quests, but even moreso, the game is based on what I'd more comfortably refer to as "episodes". This is because the guys know their final destination as soon as they leave Midgar, and they're struggling to get there all the time, by any means necessary. They just keep running into trouble and different "speed bumps" along the way. The "quest" part doesn't really show before the second disc, when the party somewhat loses its track and the possibility to do most sidequests in the game kicks in. Oh, there are sidequests, all right. Lots of 'em, and different varieties of them. And a lot of different devices for transportation to seek them out with. See the rest for yourself. We still have one very basic element to cover, and that's ATB.

First of all, the HUD/battle menu has changed - it is totally committed to your party. Enemies' information, including their names and extra info viewable by using Sense (previously Scan), are seen by pressing the Select button while targeting them or by keeping an eye on the upper edge of the screen. This brings in more space and eases up the management of your party and their commands. Your menu comprises of your characters' names, the remaining time of their assigned Barrier/Magic Barrier, HP/MP, Limit bar and time bar. Unlike in previous games in which your active party comprised of four or five people (or things), in Final Fantasy VII you are able to use only three characters at a time. It's a fully technical issue, and in my opinion, it's perfectly alright, actually better and easier to manage than more characters in my personal experience. The characters can also be equipped with one weapon, one piece of armour and one accessory, each. No Genji Gloves and Offerings from Final Fantasy VI to make your life extremely easy this time around, but again, probably because of a purely technical issue I can easily cope with. Besides, a Double Cut materia shows up in a late part of the game, substituting for Genji Glove, and upon leveling up, it's basically the same buff as an Offering. Huh... "materia"? Read on...

The wall boss from Final Fantasy IV returns,
as Demon Gate.
The Limit bar is for Limit Breaks, which replace the bit too rare and random Desperation Attacks of Final Fantasy VI. Each character has a set of seven different Limit Breaks, except for Vincent, who has four, and Cait Sith, who has only two of them. You start at Level 1 and continue making your way to the end of Level 3, and a Level 4 Limit Break - known as an Extreme Limit - has to be learned by finding and reading a well-hidden instruction manual. Although Vincent and Cait Sith's different criteria make a one-way explanation of the Limit Break system kind of vague, it still works on most. Let's take Cloud for an example, since he's the most known character. Cloud starts from Level 1, with Braver as his only Limit Break. He has to use Braver for a set number of times to gain the second Limit Break of Level 2, Cross-Slash. However, to gain the first Limit Break of Level 2, Blade Beam, he has to kill a set number of enemies using any method. And so it goes. The Limit bar in ATB adds up all the damage the character has taken and keeps filling up until the character is K.O.'ed. If the meter fills up, the character is able to execute the assigned Limit Break, or keep holding on to the full meter to some other battle. The only problem is that you can't execute a normal physical attack using that character as long as you have access to a Limit Break. Also, returning to the Cloud example, if he happens to learn Blade Beam before learning Cross-Slash, you shouldn't change the Limit level before he's learned Cross-Slash, because an Extreme Limit can only be taught to the character if (s)he has learned ALL of the other Limit Breaks first.

The design of the menus and the shops are finally honed to perfection. Comparisons between two similar weapons are now easier to make than ever, and each item's purpose or effect is clearly explained. GP is now officially known as gil - since Final Fantasy VII was the first Final Fantasy game I ever played, I've always called it gil, I'm sorry if I went and offended someone by calling the currency gil in the earlier reviews. For me, GP has always stood for the currency used at the Gold Saucer, which brings us to the minigames. Gold Saucer is a place you enter a couple of times during the storyline, and after that, you will be able to return whenever you wish... which is a lot of times, if you like minigames. The 3D environment of Final Fantasy VII enables the inclusion of tens of different minigames. Some of them you only "play" once during the storyline, some of them end up as arcade games at the Gold Saucer's Wonder Square, while some are actually exclusive to the Gold Saucer. Since none of the previous Final Fantasy games included any minigames, this can be seen as one HUGE overhaul. You can place bets in Chocobo races or race yourself, duke it out with monsters at a battle arena, ride a rollercoaster of death, or try your luck at motorcycle combat, candid snowboarding, fighting simulator or a basketball game, among others, at the Wonder Square.

Just look at the size of those... muscles.
The Final Fantasy series developed to this point as follows. Final Fantasy had four characters, with classes you assigned to them before the start of the game. Final Fantasy II had four characters (most of the time) who could use any skills and gained perks based on their activities in combat. Final Fantasy III introduced a generic version of the Job system. Final Fantasy IV once again strictly classified the characters, but kept the party in good balance all the time through the storyline, with combinations of characters fit to take care of the different situations. Final Fantasy V resurrected the Job system gloriously. Final Fantasy VI kept the classifications, but altered them some, and removed all restrictions that had plagued some classes by allowing each character to learn any spell perfectly, and equip several types of weapons. So, where does Final Fantasy VII stand? First of all, there are no official classes, even though every character has a specific set of weapons this time around. Even the manual lists the characters' occupations instead of their classes. However, old Final Fantasy geeks can classify most of the characters by themselves, judging by their look, combat style and the abilities they bring into the fray; that would make Cloud a Warrior, Aerith a White Mage, Tifa a Monk, Yuffie a Thief/Ninja, Cid a Dragoon - even his last name pays homage to Kain in Final Fantasy IV - and so on. However, each character can learn any ability or spell in the game. Introducing: the materia system.

Materia is a very important storyline thread from a certain point onwards - it's the planet's natural energy in crystallized form. Yep, had to come up with a substitute for the good ol' crystals as well! Materia represents the power of nature; it is not only used to enable the characters to use magic spells, or substitutes for them, but enhance their natural capabilities. In other words, to the player, materia is something you need to learn to use and never leave home without. Materia is sold in shops, and a lot of it is found on the field just like any equipment. To use materia, you need to attach it to your equipment. As long as a piece is equipped, it grows via AP, until it hits Master level and spawns a new low-level piece. How many different pieces of materia you can attach to your weapons and armor, or how fast they grow, depends on your current equipment. There are five different types of materia available.

Green materia represents all regular magic - white, black and all the rest, so it is the most usual and important materia found. Higher AP levels give you access to stronger spells. For example, Restore materia develops as follows: Cure -> Cure 2 -> Regen -> Cure 3, and then takes one more AP farming round for a Master level. Red materia is usually well hidden, and for a good reason, since it's used to summon our old friends to aid us in battle, as well as a host of new ones. Summoning in this game is more crucial than ever, and the more red materia levels up, the more times you can use a single piece in a single battle. Yellow materia equals to command materia; by equipping these, the characters gain access to special, previously character- or class-specific commands and skills such as Steal, Mime, Enemy Skill (Lore) and Manipulate. Blue materia equals to support materia; these pieces can be linked to green, and in some cases, to red materia, for several methods of enhancement. For example, All - the most common blue materia - enables you to target each enemy with a single spell as many times as its AP level allows, and Elemental can be used to infuse an element to either your weapon and armor, for example enforce your sword with a bolt of lightning, or make you resistant to fire. Finally, we have purple materia, which I personally refer to as "filler materia", but it's officially referred to as independent materia. These grant their bearer some miscellaneous perks or traits, such as the ability to counterattack, or a bonus to maximum HP.

Some people criticize the materia system for ruining the characters' unique personalities in battle. If that would be the case, then where would the previous game stand? At least here everyone carries a different kind of weapon, no exceptions, and I personally think giving the player freedom to customize each character in his/her own way like this is great. You can take the traditional way out if you want; I, for one, usually tend to equip Aerith with materia like Restore, Revive, Heal and Destruct, just because she's basically a White Mage. Or, just create any combination of materia you want, test yourself and the game a little - find your own bad habits.

For the most part of the game, you can decide your party for yourself. The leader and main representative of the party is always beyond your control, but the two other members are of your choice and they all have different vocal reactions in different situations. The party can be changed at any time on the world map via a talkie system dubbed the PHS, or at save points, where you no longer need anything more than a Tent to fully restore all members of the party.

Finally, I'd like to mention a few things that have never bothered me personally a whole lot, but which throw many Final Fantasy critics off. I must admit that I comprehend why many people don't see any replay value in the game; there definitely is replay value, but only to last for maybe one more playthrough for casual gamers who are not that infatuated with Japanese role-playing. I know people that have beaten the game just once, but to 100%, and then just reminisced the game with warmth, but with no desire to play it again. Because of three things, doing everything in this game once and then leaving it be isn't a fully incomprehensible choice. First off, there are a few sequences that can never be done any differently than the last time, and some of them, together, last for hours. There are lengthy flashback sequences such as "Cloud's Past" and "Stream of Consciousness" which don't hold any secrets, and they just comprise of running around and talking to people, you can't actually do anything during these scenes. They're cool on the first playthrough, maybe even on the second since by then you know the whole plot and have a new perspective on things, but on the third time around, all they inflict is boredom of some degree.

The second thing? Chocobos. In the previous games, chocobos were present, especially in Final Fantasy V in which the main character's best friend was a chocobo - but you never actually needed them for anything other than finding secrets or travelling to places out of your reach. Yeah, well, the basic idea's the same here, but it's way more complicated. You can get yourself a chocobo at almost any time, as long as you have a lure materia equipped, and some greens to feed to them to gain their trust. A yellow chocobo runs so fast he can easily avoid enemies, a green chocobo can cross mountains, a blue chocobo can cross rivers, a black chocobo has both of these traits, and a golden chocobo can travel absolutely everywhere, including the open sea. You can only catch yellow chocobos. That's where the horror of chocobo breeding kicks in. If you want to finish the game to 100% and beat the two real superbosses of the game, you need a certain piece of materia, accessible only on the back of a golden chocobo. Getting a golden chocobo is the whole purpose of chocobo breeding. It's a process with many stages that takes hours, and most of those hours are filled with trial and error. You need absolutely specific chocobos to mate and breed, specific "foods of love", and the worst thing is that you need to race your assigned mom and dad (as well as their parents) until they hit a certain rank as steeds, in the very same race, on the very same track at the Gold Saucer, over and over again. Be this game as magnificent as it is, the game features the crappiest and most tedious appearance of the chocobos in the franchise's history. Oh well, luckily it's just a small piece of a brilliant puzzle. And the breeding part's kinda fun on the first time around. The third peeve's the most minor one in my view. Again, to do everything in the game, you absolutely need to level up for hours outside of the storyline and there are only two places in the game practical for EXP/AP farming, filled with annoying enemies that base most of their powers on status effects. You'll very likely find yourself in one of these places spending many valuable hours of your life fighting these boring douche bags.

Fall back. Assholes on the horizon.
Try to understand that the reason I'm being so negative is that everyone expected this to be a pure fanboy rant. I'm simply not that kind of guy. I love this game, and as a whole, it's the most enjoyable gaming experience I've ever personally had. Still, it's faulty - I know. Now more than ever, I see major and minor faults, some of which I haven't even mentioned here. No game is perfect. Not even Final Fantasy VII. But, there aren't games that I know of, that have come closer to perfection than what Final Fantasy VII is at its best.

I mentioned before that I'm like a walking strategy guide to this game, which means the game is not difficult to me, personally. For me, it's just big and lengthy - no experience can cut down the length by a lot. I have finished the game to 100% four times during the last 13 years. I know every tiniest secret these three discs contain. There was a time I didn't, and I'm trying my best to return to that time in my head. No, I still don't think the game is too difficult. Actually, by using some low-down tricks, it's quite easy from the beginning all the way to the end. However, for people who don't share my experience with the game or know these tricks, taking on everyone and everything possible in this game takes time, and balls, and patience... some brains, as well, and in relation to the last one, good organizing skills. So yeah, I guess the game is challenging. Especially the first playthrough will not be a walk in the park - but the game kindly rewards you for your efforts with essential prizes to aid you on your way, and the development of a great story, even if not all of it's able to pass the language barrier.

Apparently my feelings towards the game haven't died. I first played the game in December, 1997, and I'm still feeling some of those cool vibes from my very first time sitting down with it. Final Fantasy VII is one game that I didn't necessarily need to recently play to get this review done, but I just had to find a good excuse to brush the dusts away from its jewel case for the first time in four years. Besides, I wanted to experience the compilation of Final Fantasy VII as much of a whole as I possibly could. Many marvellous games have followed Final Fantasy VII, and while the developers have corrected some of the game's wrongs in the later installments, they have never been able to wholly meet the standards set by this futuristic masterpiece. Some people were absolutely sure I'd give this game a 10. If I had written this review a few years back, I actually might've done that. Now, it just doesn't seem right. Everything in this world leaves something to hope for. Even 9.9 isn't right. I'm giving the game a 9.8, to separate it from all the rest, and to dare game developers to come up with a game that would exceed this coveted rating. I don't believe any game will ever do that. Yet, there's always the slight probability that Square Enix will give in to popular demand and finally remake Final Fantasy VII. It would only make sense, due to the compilation that has emerged and grown during the last decade. We'll see what happens - I'm already reserving the full 10, just in case.

Graphics : 8.5
Sound : 9.8
Playability : 9.8
Challenge : 9.2
Overall : 9.8


Trivia

BUG REPORT: The Knights of the Round summon animation has a remarkable, continuous audiovisual lag on the PS3, that might end up crashing the game. It happened to me during the very last Sephiroth fight. This was my first time playing the game on a PS3.

GameRankings: 87.00% (PC), 92.10% (PS1)

The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII consists of Final Fantasy VII (1997), a mobile prequel entitled Before Crisis (2004), the animated motion picture Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005), a third-person action game for the PS2, entitled Dirge of Cerberus (2006), and the PSP prequel Crisis Core (2007).

The game has sold over 8.5 million copies, two million of them within three days.

A Final Fantasy VII remake was first rumoured in 2001, to be developed exclusively for the PlayStation 2.

Many names in the game (cities, towns, enemies etc.) are direct references to, or derived from, Egyptian and Norse mythology.

The first Final Fantasy game to explain the origin of monsters.

The popular battle theme of the game is the first Final Fantasy battle theme not to feature the classic bass intro. 

Cid appears as a playable character, named Cid Highwind to establish a connection between him and Dragoon Kain Highwind in Final Fantasy IV. Cid's background, characteristics and general look were influenced by his namesake in Final Fantasy II. Biggs and Wedge appear as members of AVALANCHE. While chocobos are a central element of a specific sidequest, moogles are missing from the game. However, a minigame called Mog House - a simple simulation focused on a family of moogles - can be found in the Gold Saucer.

The story behind the Lifestream was penned by Hironobu Sakaguchi, whose mother died during the development of the game.

Hironobu Sakaguchi's original setting for Final Fantasy VII was used in Parasite Eve. The main villain of the original draft, the dark sorceress Edea, was rewritten as a central character of Final Fantasy VIII.

Namco's fighting game Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring features Cloud, Sephiroth and Tifa as playable characters. The PlayStation version also features Yuffie, Vincent and Zack. Many characters also appear in many installments of Square's family-friendly franchises such as Itadaki Street and the Chocobo series.

Cloud is a hidden character in the cult spin-off Final Fantasy Tactics, released some time after Final Fantasy VII.

Cloud and Sephiroth appear as rivals in both Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. Cid, Yuffie and Aerith also appear in both Kingdom Hearts games, as members of a resistance group led by Final Fantasy VIII's protagonist Squall Leonhart, "Leon". Tifa joined the cast in Kingdom Hearts II.

Cloud Strife (voiced by Steve Burton) and Sephiroth (voiced by George Newbern) are rivals in Square Enix's all-star anniversary game Dissidia - Final Fantasy, released on the PSP in 2008.

perjantai 8. lokakuuta 2010

REVIEW - Final Fantasy VI Advance (2006)

Genre(s): RPG
Released: 2006
Available on: GBA
Developer(s): Square Enix, TOSE
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1


The foundation of the Final Fantasy Advance series was the consideration of a Final Fantasy VI remake, first made public in 2001. However, Nintendo still held a grudge against Square for unceremoniously quitting making games for their systems in 1996. The Japanese WonderSwan Color, which already had had its share of Final Fantasy remakes, was not powerful enough to run a port of Final Fantasy VI, so the idea of a remake was scrapped. In 2004, Nintendo and the company now known as Square Enix came to terms and the Final Fantasy Advance series began with the release of Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls. In 2006, this series of handheld classics came full circle with the releases of Final Fantasy V Advance and the long anticipated Final Fantasy VI Advance. With its minimal and mostly artificial changes, Final Fantasy VI Advance is all but a port instead of a remake, but nearly as loveable as ever.

The empire strikes back

A thousand years ago, three gods descended down to Earth and created the Espers, humanoid beasts with great magical power, to fight for them in a battle for world tyranny known in the present as the War of the Magi. Realizing their war was a petty mistake, the three gods known as the Warring Triad retreated and confined themselves to stone, and told the Espers to separate themselves from the human world, to prevent their great power ever to be harnessed and abused by the human race. Both humans and Espers continued their lives in peace, apart from each other in two different dimensions. In present time, technology has all but erased common knowledge of magic. The Gestahlian Empire rules the world in a constantly evolving dictatorship. It won't stop at nothing to enforce its rule by studying Espers, searching for their remains all over the human world, and attempting to resurrect the power of magic to make its technologically advanced army simply unstoppable. Whole towns are destroyed and innocent people are killed due to Emperor Gestahl's merciless hunger for more power. A small resistance group called the Returners stands against the Empire, and gets a chance at a true breakthrough when Terra, an amnesiac young girl brainwashed to fight for the Empire, and the last human capable of using magic naturally, takes their side.

The first task Final Fantasy VI Advance takes care of is Ted Woolsey's original translation, in the fashion of wiping a few asses on the script, burning it and flushing it down the toilet. The whole new script is very close to that of the original Japanese version; some of Woolsey's most famous lines are left in and the content of the dialogue's pretty much the same, but for the most part, it's completely different. And better. The original game's level of graphical censorship is also toned down a bit, however still not even close to the Japanese version.

So it begins.
As you have seen this far, I've played every game in the Final Fantasy Advance series and they've been very good, but since Final Fantasy IV, they've hardly managed to bring something truly new into the game. It took me 42 hours to beat Final Fantasy VI the last time, so I decided to play the Advance version just as long as it would take me to pick up the pointers I needed for the review of a port; as awesome as the game is, I wouldn't have had the energy for another 42 hours with the exact same game. Make that a few hours more, since there are a couple of new sidequests, complete with a whole new dungeon, of course. My information on these sidequests is based solely on what I've read on the Internet. I believe in their good quality without the need to hack through the game, after all I've tried the rocking extra stuff Square Enix squeezed in all of the previous games.

The graphics are OK, but I would've expected a little bit more out of them. There's no extra opening scene, since the original already had one, and it appears in the same vein as the scenes in the previous Advance games. The colour palette is changed radically; the game is not nearly as dark as the original. At their worst, varying graphical elements look very foggy and out of place. The font used in menus and battles simply sucks, there's no way around it. When I heard the music was heavily remixed, I shit my pants in terror. It's not as bad as the remixed soundtrack for Final Fantasy IV, but it still sounds wrong and kind of chaotic. Where's an in-game sound mixer when you need one? 

There's no actual need to go over this stuff for the umpteenth time, especially since the original Final Fantasy VI didn't leave anything to hope for unlike its predecessors, but I'll still do it. The menu design is slightly better, almost all enemy names have been relocalized as well as skills (SwdTech is changed to Bushido to correspond to the Samurai skill in Final Fantasy X), items, and magic. There's a Quicksave feature, as well as a bestiary. Perhaps the most notable aesthetic addition to the game is that each character now has a pre-defined class, but just a few of these classes are of the traditional Warrior, Mage, Thief etc. fare. Locke is an Adventurer, Edgar is a Machinist, Setzer is a Gambler, Terra and Celes are both Magitek Elites, and so on. To further exclamate the possibility of character customization in Final Fantasy VI, Strago is the only playable character strictly classified as a Mage, and by far the only character to have notably better magical talent than physical prowess.

Moogle army on the march.
The Advance version comes complete with the inclusion of a new teamwork-based dungeon named Dragon's Den and its boss Kaiser Dragon, who raises the total number of the Legendary Dragons from eight to nine. Also, new equipment is available for each character. There's a new battle arena and a couple of additional sidequests. These, as well as the new dungeon, affect the total number of different Espers in the game; there are now 31 of them. Leviathan, Gilgamesh, Cactuar and Diablos join the cast, and judging by the appearance of the last one, and the method to acquire Cactuar, these characters are influenced by their portrayals in Final Fantasy VIII.

Some of its audiovisual qualities in comparison to the original game aren't to my liking, and Final Fantasy VI is a bit too large and remarkable to fully enjoy as a gaming experience on a handheld console, but it's still very close to being the original article - and the translation rocks - as well as being the most essential game you could possibly imagine to try on the Game Boy Advance.

Graphics : 8.7
Sound : 8.7
Playability : 9.4
Challenge : 9.4
Overall : 9.4


Trivia

GameRankings: 90.65%