>EOiNA: FF7 initial impressions

>Before I get started, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the statute of limitations on Final Fantasy 7 spoilers expired at least 10 years ago; the game came out in 1997 on the PS1, which was two generations ago. That said, the whole point of this feature is that I’m playing this game for the very first time, and so I certainly wouldn’t want anything spoiled for me. So, then: I’m not going to put any spoiler alerts in my posts, but I would also ask that nobody puts any spoilers in the comments.

Here’s my current status: I was able to play for about 30 minutes or so last night. I blew up the first tower (out of 8, I presume) and am currently at the first save point after getting off the train.

My initial impressions are, to be honest, much better than I’d anticipated. I’m not even really sure what I was anticipating, actually, but I was thinking it would be a bit more stereotypically JRPG-esque – something a bit more anime and cutesy and twee, like a young boy on a farm, hoping to see the world, golly gee.

Instead, the game starts with a literal bang, without really telling you who you are except that some of the people on your team think you’re a bad ass, but the large sassy black man on your team doesn’t trust you at all and thinks you might be a traitor, but in any event you and your crack squad are hell-bent on destroying this energy tower which is somehow evil.

I was pleased to recognize this opening level as something I’d played in FF7:Crisis Core on the PSP, and I figured out the battle system almost as quickly, as something I’d played in both Chrono Trigger on the DS and the Penny Arcade Adventures on XBLA; it’s quasi-turn-based, except you have to wait between actions. (This initially confused me to no end in both PAA and CT, but I figured it out almost immediately here.)

There’s no question that graphics have come a long way since 1997, and yet the game’s art direction and sense of style do a fantastic job of obscuring how primitive it looks; I can only imagine how impressive it must have looked in its proper context. And the FMV cut-scenes – my God, even though they look horrifically compressed now, they still fill you with awe and wonder. Which is what cut-scenes are supposed to do, really. Back in the late 90s, cut-scenes felt like rewards for finishing a level; they featured incredible production values and were something to look forward to. Whereas now, everything’s done in the same engine, so it’s more like you’re taking a quick break and you’re more often than not inclined to skip ahead; this is why we praise games like Portal and Left 4 Dead where there are no cutscenes and the story is told contextually. Up until FF7, I was convinced that the original Oddworld games did this cut-scene-as-tasty-carrot-on-a-stick better than anybody – and yet after only 30 minutes, I’m already fully appreciative of FF7’s staggering FMV prowess.

That said, the game is definitely antiquated in certain respects. The game uses the d-pad to control movement, which is crazy because there’s 2 perfectly good analog sticks sitting right there not being used, and you need to press the X button in order to run – and because the default movement speed is ridiciulously slow, I found myself running all over the place, and you should never have to push more than one button in order to move at a satisfactory speed. And maybe it’s because the PS3’s emulation isn’t perfect, but I found some strange glitches here and there, specifically in battle – selecting an enemy to attack felt a little clunky, and the arrow that points to your target didn’t always show up. I think the biggest thing for me to get used to, though, is that the game uses the O button as the default action/confirm button, as opposed to the X button. (Of course, everything about the PS controller still confuses me, as I’m used to the Xbox’s color-coded ABXY.)

I am totally on board, though, and I’m definitely looking forward to diving back in. I do indeed see what the fuss is all about.

And I should also confess that I’ve already come up with more game ideas for this EOiNA feature, and that I’m maybe a little embarassed about it because there’s quite a lot. I’m gonna lose all my street cred!

>Everything Old is New Again, Part 1: FFVII

>Again, sorry for the lack of posts lately; I’ve been pretty busy with some music stuff over the last week or so, and there hasn’t been much to play.

That will soon change, however. Today I’m announcing a new, hopefully recurring feature called EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN, wherein I (and Gred, if he so chooses) play classic games for the first time. This feature is especially timely because when I get home from work today I’m charging up my long-dead PS3 controller to play a borrowed copy of Final Fantasy VII, which (as you may have guessed) I’ve never played.

I’m doing this because I’m starting to get excited about next year’s FFXIII for reasons I’m not sure I can explain – especially since my experience with FF games is strictly limited to a few hours with III and IV on the DS. For one thing, I’ve been getting a little burnt out on turn-based RPGs, especially since so many of them end up being quite similar. I haven’t even necessarily played that many,* but I’ve played enough to spot an annoying cliche from a mile away. I would imagine that my experience playing FFVII for the first time, in 2009, is going to be quite different than everyone else’s, especially with regard to annoying cliches, but since everyone insists the story is one of the greatest of all time, I’ll do my best to keep everything in the right context.

…It occurs to me that I might not be able to play tonight after all, being that Lost is on (and then my wife will want to watch Top Chef). Hmm…

*JRPGs (and other turn-based non-strategy RPGs) I have played (that I can remember off the top of my head):

  • Skies of Arcadia, Dreamcast (adored it)
  • LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth, Xbox (hated it – the computer cheated all the goddamned time)
  • Blue Dragon, 360 (didn’t finish it, meh)
  • Lost Odyssey, 360 (finished it, was quite impressed)
  • Eternal Sonata, 360 (liked it, but didn’t finish)
  • Eternal Arms, 360 (wanted to like it, but lost interest)
  • Final Fantasy III, DS (didn’t finish… got the general idea and got bored)
  • Final Fantasy IV, DS (see FFIII)
  • Chrono Trigger, DS (still technically playing, although I’m stuck)
  • Star Ocean something, PSP (got insanely bored in about 10 minutes, which probably isn’t fair)

>The Greatest Villain Of Them All

>Obama’s victory on Tuesday has had me alternating between being euphoric and scatterbrained, both often at the same time, but life is slowly starting to return to normal – especially since I just got my confirmation e-mail letting me know that my Amazon’d copy of Gears of War 2 should arrive at my office tomorrow afternoon.

I didn’t expect to be this jazzed about GoW2; frankly, I expected to be waist-deep in Fallout 3 and only put in Gears as a change of pace. But I’ve been getting that half-glazed look in my eye whenever I think about it, and I’m starting to foam at the mouth a little.

Anyway. This post is not about that. This post is about the forthcoming Sega Collection that’s dropping in the spring. I’ve written a bunch of times about my fondness for the Sega Genesis, and of my memories of playing Streets of Rage and Golden Axe with my younger brother. This collection is pretty robust, and apparently there might be even more games on the disc than just the 40 listed.

One notable omission, though, is Road Rash 2. Granted, it’s not a Sega first-party title, so it wouldn’t be on this disc, but it’s a game that I very closely associate with the Genesis. It was a motorbike racing/combat game, and my brother and I were very much obsessed with it.

In fact, here’s an IM conversation I just had with my brother about it:

Jonathan: Road Rash!

i loved that game

Jeremy: what was the name of the evil opponent, who was always a pain in the ass to take down?

something with a V

Jonathan: Viper

Jeremy: VIPER

holy christ

Jonathan: that fucker

Jeremy: i hated that asshole

Road Rash featured whatever it was that passed for rubberbanding AI in those days, and Viper was basically the AI at its most evil. Viper was always the rider you’d be dealing with the most in the latter stages of each race; Viper would hit you with chains and knock into you and always be right on your ass, and if you ever successfully knocked him off his bike, you pretty much guaranteed yourself a stress-free cross of the finish line.

And what I love about it is that Viper had no face, no voice, no memorable lines of dialogue in the pre- and post-race flash screens, not even a discernable gender; Viper was just the AI opponent who was the biggest pain in the ass to beat, and we assigned him the worst qualities of humanity we could think of as reason enough to destroy him.

I love that even now, 20 years later, the fire of our hatred still burns for this nameless, voiceless enemy.

>Oddworld (or, it’s not whoring if you love it)

>There were any number of reasons why I decided to do it, but, as usual, “Because I Can” ruled the day, and in 2-8 business days I should be getting a copy of “Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus” in the mail.

This is not just another “I am a consumer whore” post. This is a blogworthy event because the PS1 Oddworld titles are what got me back into videogames.

When I was a kid, I had an Atari 2600. When my little brother was a kid, he had a Sega Genesis. (Somehow we bypassed Nintendo.) Even though there were 6 1/2 years between us, we always liked playing games together, and we both accumulated pretty respectable collections on our respective platforms. I had no problem putting the Atari away when Jono got his Genesis hooked up (even then I was a graphics whore). We spent long hours trading the controller back and forth on the Sonic games, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, NBA Jam and the NHL games, on (gulp) Jurassic Park… I think the last game I really got obsessed with on the Genesis was Chakan, an obscure and very weird action game with an absurdly punishing difficulty. (That wikipedia page mentions that there were plans of a Dreamcast sequel… oh, if only.)

And then I went to college, which pretty much cut me off from videogames. None of my friends at school had brought systems to their dorm rooms, and my trips home from school were usually too short or too busy to get me any significant playtime. And my college experience was pretty much 24/7 non-stop sensory stimulation anyway – I didn’t really have time to think about gaming, nor did it occur to me that I wasn’t thinking about gaming.

It wasn’t until after I graduated college and was at my first post-school job that I got back into gaming, and that is entirely because of my friend Jongre, who had gotten a PS1 and a copy of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. I had seen commercials for it on TV but it didn’t really register; Jongre, however, had been intrigued enough to pick it up and called me up to check it out.

And I was hooked, immediately. I hadn’t thought about gaming in 6 years, and suddenly I was right back in it.

Those original Oddworld games (Exoddus might have come 2nd, but it was everything the first game was missing, and their releases weren’t that far apart, if I remember correctly) were totally unlike anything I’d ever seen before. For starters, they were staggeringly beautiful; in an era where anything 3D was a sight to behold, these 2D games easily trumped them all, and whenever you got to a cutscene, you truly felt like you were being rewarded. They had incredibly engaging mechanics – they were essentially puzzle games, but with elements of strategy, stealth and action seamlessly intertwined. Most importantly, they had established a mythos that, while clearly satirical in nature, felt very real and lived-in; the world had an ecosystem, a sense of history, a social dynamic. The game’s storytelling did an incredible job in establishing who you were playing as and what the stakes were for your kind, and even if the humor was a bit childish, it was always endearing.

I guess, if you’d had the sort of break with the hobby that I did – 1992-1998 being a pretty big gap – you’d maybe understand why the Oddworld games felt so seminal. Other people can point to Mario and Metal Gear and Final Fantasy – for me, it was Oddworld that was the torch-bearer, the light in the darkness, the new benchmark in storytelling and interactive entertainment. Clearly I was in the minority – I’m not sure if anybody remembers the Oddworld games anymore other than as the franchise with fart jokes that kinda died on the Xbox, mostly because the transition from 2D to 3D never quite worked the way it should’ve.

I’ll say this, though – when I heard that Oddworld was bypassing the PS2 and bringing the long-awaited Munch’s Oddysee to the Xbox as a launch title, I immediately knew which console I was going to buy. So in many respects, my standing as an Xbox fanboy is really because of Oddworld, even if the game’s roots were on the PS1.

When the news broke last week that there’s going to be a new Oddworld game, eventually, I got all sorts of excited, especially since it would be a no-brainer to get those old PS1 games onto PSN or XBLA. Right? Give ’em a little HD polish and get ’em out there again.

But then, I asked myself – why wait? Amazon had some copies of both Oddysee and Exoddus available, and after making sure that it would be playable on my PS3, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it. In the end, I opted for Exoddus over Oddysee; Exoddus had everything that made Oddysee awesome, with an even more epic story and the much-needed ability to save anywhere.

Thus endeth my latest consumer whore confession.

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