Wednesday, July 15, 2015

TEXT PLAY: Final Fantasy VIII (SquareSoft, 1999; Playstation): Issue #035: The Future, Circa 1987...

Seriously, that's how Eshtar looks, now that I'm getting a chance to look around some as Squall...

First, though, we've gotta get Laguna and the others to where Ellone is. Turns out, this was something not as hard as I'd hoped or expected, and that's both good and bad. From where I left off last time, Laguna and his team have to go up one level and push buttons on a computer panel to unlock the door to where Ellone is being held. There's a couple soldiers guarding the panel, but they were way too easy to beat, considering how important Ellone is supposed to be to the story.

To actually get up there, the guys need to take a levitating bench sort of thing. Took me a minute to actually figure it out, but I did without looking at my strategy guide. Once the guards are dealt with and the button is pushed, there's a guy on the main floor who tells Laguna to hurry up and go talk to Ellone, who's happy to see him. Why there's a rush, I don't know, but I guess there is.

Once the reunion's complete, Squall and the others wake up back where they were. Edea's concerned, of course, having seen nothing like it before. But before Squall can explain, a car shows up to take the party to where Doctor Odine is, in the Eshtarian president's palace.

Odine says he knows how to get the Sorceress out of Edea for good, and is even willing to let Squall go see Ellone, but the price is that he wants to keep Rinoa for observation for awhile because I guess she's got the Sorceress in her now. While Odine's being creepy or whatever with Rinoa, the rest of the party gets a chance to look around Eshtar.

This is one of those things that gives me mixed feelings about this game. A legitimate compliment I can give this game is that the graphics are great for a game that came out in 1999. The scenery in Eshtar is enough to make me wish they'd remaster the game for modern screens. I'm sure I've noted at some point in the last 34 issues that for as good as the graphics are, they do show their age, in part because I'm playing on a flat-screen television built in 2013, if memory serves, so it's a few generations newer than what this game was meant to be viewed on, and by now, we're getting sets that display in the relatively new, as of July 15, 2015, 4K standard, which is even higher resolution than the TV my folks so generously got me for my birthday a couple years ago. Gotta say, Eshtar looks like it might have inspired one of the later scenes in Zach Snyder's 2011 move Sucker Punch, which I reviewed, entirely by coincidence, on April Fools Day that year.

With that in mind, I do feel a little bit bad about going back to trashing the game again, but I'm afraid that it's a “But Thou Must” situation. Once we've dropped Rinoa off with Odine for observation, his aide tells us to meet them at someplace called the Lunar Gate east of town in a little while, but tells us that we should spend some time looking around the city. The shopping district looks like the one in Galbadia, but it's set up to be like it's a computer screen or Internet shopping or something. Gotta say, my least favorite shopping experience in a Final Fantasy game thus far. From watching Spoony's FFXIII review, it sounds like this is the mode they went for for all the shops in FFXIII. At least there's a book shop that lets us buy all the truly important magazines in the game, as there have been plenty I've missed on the way. There are some that can't be bought there, but that's not exactly a bad thing, as my understanding is that they're for side quests, and I'm not exactly going for 100% completion here. There's just too much stuff in this game for that, and I do have other things to do with my time besides play video games.

Now, these wrap-up thoughts are as much for my mom as anyone here, because not so long ago, we were having a conversation about various Final Fantasy games, and FFVII specifically, because Sony and SquareEnix had just announced a remastered edition of the game set to come out soon, and she wanted to hear what I thought about it after reading an article on the subject. I had trouble articulating myself at the time, but I think I can do a little better job of it here.

You see, there's no denying that Final Fantasy Seven is an important game, not just in the history of the series, but in the history of gaming in general. Thanks to the Sony Magic of the time, it's the big title that helped usher in a new era in gaming. From that day forward, games were expected to be bigger, deeper, more epic, and longer. The graphics, while still very rough by today's standards, were much better than anything we'd seen before.

But more importantly, it brought the Final Fantasy series, and by default, gaming in general, to a much broader audience than ever before. Prior to the release of FFVII, the series had been of little interest to anyone who hadn't already gained an appreciation for the games from previous entries in the series, as was the case with my brother and I. Afterwards, for reasons someone like me may never be able to explain, the world had gotten Final Fantasy Fever, and things just haven't been the same since.

That last sentence brings to mind something the professor said in the last history course I took before I got my bachelors degree: World War Two would not have happened without World War One, and it's not just a matter of chronology. It's because without the First World War ending with the Central Powers, and Germany especially, being forced to pay out the ass after their devastating defeat in the war, the stage might never have been set for the Great Depression in the 1930s and early 1940s, which lead to the rise of the governments that pretty much caused the Second World War.

I know I'm most likely going to make this into a very bad comparison, but I really can't think of any other way to put this. See, FFVII was so popular that Square wound up continuing with a trend that it had changed with that game. Prior to FF7, no two consecutive games in the Final Fantasy series had seen initial releases in the North American or Global markets. By that point, there were only three prior titles in the main series available: the original, for the NES, and the fourth and sixth titles for the Super Nintendo, which were localized as two and three in North America.

With such a big new market available to them as a result of the success that FF7 had brought, Square was understandably eager to get the next game out to their new audience soon as they could. The conclusion I draw, then, is that Final Fantasy VIII is the first game in the series that many of the folks in this new, expanded audience were buying all on their own, and as a result, I think they got the wrong idea as to what older fans of the series like myself had come to like about the earlier games in the series.

In the older games, we were basically the Sir Knight sort of character who was slaying beasts and fighting the good fight for the people of the land in an effort to save the world from demons or evil empires, be they political or corporate, that wanted to rule and/or destroy the world. In FF8, this game, however, we're playing through a story that seems like it would have been better suited for the theatrical release that would come two years later in the form of Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within. In the case of the game at hand, Squall's quest isn't so much about saving the world as much as it is about his own quest to discover who he really is and what life and love are all about, even if it was as he lay dying at the end of his first and only mission as a professional mercinary.

As a note to myself about something I may want to get back to when I finally do wrap this Text Play up for good, it seems reasonable to me to think that thematic elements like the ones here are why Nintendo may have decided against releasing some of the “in between” games to the global market while they were the console maker that Square was working with. I know that the Final Fantasy III that came out for the Famicom only, especially, had themes that might have been a little more mature than the global gaming audience in general may have been ready for at the time.

But all that will have to be for another time, as I've already gone on longer than I'd intended, and most of it's been about my own thoughts and theories rather than what's going on in the actual game at hand. Of course, I'm really not sure what's more interesting to the audience I've got here: just my trying to stick as close as possible to the facts of what's going on in the game, or when I add in my own thoughts and impressions, as I've done here.

With that in mind, any and all feedback would be much appreciated, thank you. Until next time, stay safe, have fun, keep gaming, and DFTBA!

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