So! It’s been nearly two weeks since I posted a new blog entry, and this is due to two (2) separate factors: Firstly, I packed up my whole apartment and moved across town, and secondly, I spent a week in a cabin in the mountains of Colorado, communing with nature and restoring my soul.
Ha ha! Just kidding! I played a whole lot of Dissidia: Final Fantasy.
Alright, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I went on some hikes. I saw some sights. But I did manage to fit in some gaming time when I wasn’t hanging out with my family, and I may or may not have stayed up into the night on a couple of occasions because, well, Cloud Strife wasn’t about to win all those battles by himself.
Dissidia isn’t a game for everybody. It’s a game for people who like Final Fantasy. As someone who’s beaten each of them save for V, XI, and XIII, I am particularly susceptible to fan service of this nature. I like the subtle differences in the way that the different characters play. I like that the game asks you to play as each of them in turn and learn their different styles. I like that I can call down a satellite laser as Laguna.
The battles feel like a mix of Power Stone and Bushido Blade, and it’s satisfying both to win a match in less than 8 seconds and to win a long, hard-fought battle of attrition against a foe of much greater level. The RPG elements which are laid atop the combat system are mostly well-executed and add to the fun. It occupies a space somewhere between the blissful simplicity of Super Smash Bros. and the layered complexity of Street Fighter.
This isn’t really a review of Dissidia (or its pseudo-sequel, Duodecim, which is actually what I was playing)– it’s easy to recommend or not recommend the game (“do you like Final Fantasy?”), but more of an introduction to a matter that playing the game for hours on end led me to consider: If you haven’t played a Final Fantasy, if, somehow, you’ve managed to avoid it for the twenty-five years of its existence, if this is true about you and you wanted an introduction… which game ought you to pick up first?
I’ve thought about this for a fair bit now. The initial inclination might be to suggest one of the two extremes of the series: Final Fantasy XIII, which is by far the prettiest (and easiest to acquire, as it’s the only one on current-gen consoles), or the original Final Fantasy, whence the series began (and has received a fairly nice makeover in its port to iOS).
Of course, FFXIII is (rightly) maligned for its linearity and sluggishness, and FFI is a little dry and bare-bones in this day and age. Certainly it contains the essence of all that comes after it, but I’m not convinced that you can experience all the series has to offer just by playing through the original (this from a guy who has the Four Warriors of Light hanging in his bedroom).
Some of the games have strayed further from the series’ core experience than others– FFII has a really wonky battle/experience system, FFVIII had that business with the junctioning, and FFXII… well, FFXII has issues of its own.
Some might argue that Final Fantasy X, released on a last-gen system, would be the perfect mix of old and new for someone to introduce themselves to the series. There’s merit to that argument, especially when one considers the emotional wallop that the game can pack in the latter stages if one is invested in the characters (I think my wife may have cried for fully an hour after finishing the game). FFX, however, could potentially be annoying for someone not familiar with the series: the voice acting can be grating, and the protagonist isn’t immediately likable in his own right.
Here’s where I’m going to make a bold claim: I think that if you were to only play a single Final Fantasy, you shouldn’t pick it solely on the strength of its narrative. The best stories in the series aren’t necessarily representative of the core Final Fantasy experience, despite narrative being one of the driving forces of these games. When I talk about the best stories, I’m referring specifically here to FFVI and FFVII, which most fans of the franchise concede have the most mature, complex, and operatic plotlines.
Do I think every gamer ought to experience the mid-game climax atop the Floating Continent in Final Fantasy VI? Absolutely. Do I think that leaving Midgar for the first time and seeing the breadth of FFVII’s world is a breath-taking experience? You bet.
But do I think that it’s hard to get characters to emote with 16-bit sprites? Yes, probably. Do I think that FFVII’s translation is weak compared to some of the other entries in the series? Yeah, I do. These games are classics, but they’re not without their flaws. Minor flaws, I think– but, importantly, flaws which might be barriers to entry for a gamer who has no experience with the series.
If you were only ever to play one Final Fantasy, you know which one I think it should be?
Yep. Final Fantasy IX.
I’m not about to make the claim that FFIX is the best in the series. As engaging as its story is, it doesn’t nearly approach the pathos of FFVI or even the bittersweet beauty of FFX. Its cast is a lot of fun (Steiner? Freya? Vivi? Delightful!), but it certainly doesn’t have the best characters in the series (take your pick–there are a million good ones).
Despite not being the best in the series at anything, FFIX is brilliant, and it’s brilliant because each of its elements is very strong. It’s got a solid narrative, engaging characters, a simple but compelling battle system and leveling mechanics, and graphics which, while admittedly 32-bit, are almost certainly the most attractive on the system. What’s more, Final Fantasy IX shares the spirit of the first five games in the series while also dipping its toes into the complex character evolutions of the later entries.
FFIX also has a lot of little quirks that make it appealing: having the ability-learning system tied to equipment makes it very compelling to steal new items from bosses, the Active Time Event system gives you windows into the stories of side characters and makes the game feel more like it has an ensemble cast (without the 14-person party of FFVI), and anyone who is familiar with the rest of the series will find tiny nods to other games hidden in every nook and cranny.
If you happen to be a gamer who doesn’t know Final Fantasy, I would encourage you to give Final Fantasy IX (and indeed, the whole Final Fantasy series) a try. They are all charming, compelling games that will put a smile on your face and keep you busy for many hours.
(Final Fantasy IX just happens to be a PSOne Classic, so it’s easily accessible if you have any Sony hardware. Now you’ve got no excuse not to educate yourself!)
In this modern day and age, when almost everyone has a communication device with access to a global, mostly-unregulated data network, we are confronted with an existential quandary which our forebears could not have even imagined: How to ensure your phone’s ringtone matches your winning personality.
This is a humdinger, make no mistake: Leave your phone on one of the default sounds, and people might think you lack imagination. Select the incorrect pop single, and people will think you shallow. You don’t want your friends and relations to cringe every time you receive a call and Justin Beiber’s “Girl Hair Blues” plays, do you? (Full disclosure: I do not know any Justin Beiber songs.)
With that said, there is a source of simple tunage to which all gamers may turn in this time of need: the Nintendo Entertainment System. NES music is chippy and simple enough to function well as a ringtone, and by necessity the songs’ melodies usually assert themselves quite clearly in the first thirty seconds of play–perfect for using as an alert sound on your futuristic communication devices!
Here, for your consideration, are a sample of some excellent ringtone choices from the 8-bit era, with an explanation of how they might be right for you.
1. Mega Man 2 — Stage Select
Why this is a good choice: Simple, effective, and with a loop no more than a few seconds long, this tune is immediately recognizable to an old-school gamer and won’t make you inclined to let the ringtone play for thirty seconds so you can get to the good part.
What this says about you: ”I’m going to check the Caller ID before I pick up to make sure I’m properly equipped for this conversation.”
2. Castlevania — Vampire Killer
Why this is a good choice: The first incarnation of a theme that appears throughout the entire Castlevania series, “Vampire Killer” is the most recognizable of the bunch and will help you to keep your cool in stressful situations.
What this says about you: “I am an unrelenting badass.”
3. The Legend of Zelda — Overworld Theme
Why this is a good choice: Hearing this music coming from your phone will remind you that there is adventure and freedom to be found in all aspects of life, even in the midst of a boring work day.
What this says about you: “I do my best work when I’m at full health.”
4. Ducktales — The Moon
Why this is a good choice: The Ducktales Moon Theme is the pinnacle of all human musical creation.
What this says about you: “You would be impressed by my extensive collection of precious gems.”
5. Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins — Stage One
Why this is a good choice: Another track whose melody is prominent right from the get-go, the main theme from Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins is packed with tension and is up-tempo while still feeling ominous. When your phone rings, you will at once be alert for spooks, spirits, and haints in your immediate vicinity.
What this says about you: “I can get the job done in my underpants.”
6. Final Fantasy — Prelude
Why this is a good choice: The Final Fantasy prelude is possibly the piece of 8-bit music best able to transport the listener to another world, and it can do so in just a few seconds with a handful of simple arpeggios. By putting this on your phone, you will make each call you receive feel magical, mysterious, and possibly even epic. Even if it’s from your Mum.
What this says about you: “I have a close-knit group of friends with whom I have gained a lot of experience.”
7. Ninja Gaiden — Basilisk Mine Field
Why this is a good choice: It’s highly likely that hearing this song coming from your phone will get you so pumped up that you will kick bystanders in the face.
What this says about you: “If I don’t take this call, it’s only because I’m too busy slicing someone in half.”
8. Dr. Mario — Fever Theme
Why this is a good choice: Despite the fact that this piece of music goes through a couple evolutions in a minute or two and you won’t get to hear all of it as a ringtone, the first thirty seconds are still enormously chippy, peppy, and happy. This is the kind of music that gets you going in the morning, like a good cup of coffee or the news that school has been canceled due to snow or chemical leak.
What this says about you: “I’m high on life, or perhaps psychoactive medications.”
9. Super Mario Bros. — Starman Theme
Why this is a good choice: Never has a tune so simple conveyed something so clearly.
What this says about you: “I am invincible.”
10. River City Ransom — Running Around the City
Why this is a good choice: This is a piece of music that clearly suggests that you are on a mission, but that you’re going to take your time getting around to it while you pummel the crap out of anyone who deigns to get in your way. A perfect ringtone for someone who spends a lot of time in malls, someone who likes to twirl a metal chain menacingly, or someone not afraid to throw their best friend’s prone body into a crowd of thugs.
What this says about you: “I am going to spend all my pocket money on a book that will teach me to spin-kick people in the face.”
I get game music stuck in my head all the time.
Surely I’m not alone in this. There is a substantial portion of the game playing community that’s wholly invested in game music. Check out OCRemix if you’re in any doubt.
For my part, game music has the ability to make me nostalgic for places that are entirely fictional– while movie scores, upon listening, can bring me immediately back into the story with which they originate, game scores have the additional quality of making me want to go back and roam the worlds they come from. I don’t just miss the characters, the emotional moments, the great battles… I miss the towns, the countries, even the dungeons.
Probably the most evocative music I can think of in this regard is Nobuo Uematsu’s scores from the Final Fantasy games. This one, from the closing credits of FFIX, makes me wistful for my travels through the streets of the bustling city of Alexandria, the bizarre landscape of the Forgotten Continent, and the strange otherworlds one traverses in the latter parts of the game. If you haven’t played the game before, of course, it will have none of these connotations… Nevertheless, Uematsu’s music has a certain universal applicability to light fantasy. Perhaps this will remind you, too, of a story you loved when you were small!
Any memories come wafting out of the past?