Tuesday, October 21, 2008

10 Years is the Tin Anniversary...

Before Final Fantasy VII on the original PlayStation in 1997, RPGs were not as popular in the US vs over in Japan. Square’s magnum opus brought the joys that many of us had been experiencing since Dragon Warrior/Quest on the NES into the hands of the masses, and made them crave more. It pushed the limits of technology; with it’s never before seen CG work, endless lines of dialogue and side quests, and a deep story that made a connection with the characters that is still felt today. Despite the amount of praise I will pass the game’s way, and as often as I may laud its accomplishments, it is not my favorite RPG, or even my favorite game. That honor goes to Xenogears.

Today, October 21st, marks the 10 year anniversary since Xenogears hit US shores. Xenogears tells the story of Fei Fong Wong, a painter who found himself in a small village with no memory 3 years ago, fallen in love with a girl who is about to get married in town, and befriended the local doctor, Citan Uzuki. One day, a large mech, called a Gear, crashes in town. Fei finds himself in the cockpit of the Gear, hoping to somehow prevent the mayhem taking place, but winds up destroying the town in the process. He is exiled from the city, and bumps into a young redhead named Elly Van Houten, and the two instantly seem to know each other, though they have never met. This is the beginning of Fei’s journey.

The story is what sets Xenogears apart, and is its best feature. The main story is about Fei and Elly’s love for one another, and how their souls find each other again, over and over, generation after generation. The story covers Fei’s battle with himself, having formed split personalities after a tragic accident in his youth, and Elly’s evolution from a young na├»ve officer following in her father’s footsteps, to a grown woman with a past that spans centuries. God’s existence is brought into question, both literally and figuratively, and the origins of life and humanity on this planet are eventually discovered.

Visually, Xenogears went the opposite way of FFVII. Instead of 3d character models placed on pre-drawn sets, the world was fully 3d, with 2d sprite based characters. This led to some interesting platforming elements, and with full control of the camera’s rotation, it leads to some very well designed dungeons and towns. The audio is top notch as well, with a moving score that remains one of my favorites to this day.

This game nearly didn’t make it to the US due to its very adult themes, including death, sex, and the questioning of God. It nearly didn’t make it out in Japan either, as budgetary and time constraints forced Soraya Saga (aka Kaori Tanaka) and her husband Tetsuya Takahashi to remove many of the gameplay elements (dungeons and side quests) out of the final third of the game, the infamous 2nd disk, and focus exclusively on the story. This was done by having the main characters, specifically Fei, Elly and Citan, to talk directly to the player, in a first person perspective, telling the player what is taking place in the story, instead of having the player experience it themselves. The character would appear on the screen in front of art, with text scrolling along, with music playing behind. This caused a large number of players to never finish the game, detracted by the major change in pacing and gameplay style.

Saga and Takahashi went on to form Monolith, and eventually created the Xenosaga series, which Square-Enix would not allow to directly reference Xenosaga due to copyright laws. The Xenosaga series takes the story telling aspect of Xenogears to the next generation, with state of the art cut scenes, something that many gamers lamented. Sadly, the world of Xenogears seems to have come to an end, but for me, the story will live on as long as Fei and Elly continue to find each other again.

Friday, October 17, 2008

He Should Call Himself Roger LESS...

People say stupid things all the time. I have, on occasion, been known to say something that could be seen (or heard) as unintelligent. I, however, do not work for a major newspaper, and therefore, do not have to worry about my words being broadcast the world over for everyone to make fun of... except, ya know, if you read this and pass it on...

Roger Moore has been with the Orlando Sentinel since 1999, but I have not heard of the man until today. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, Spin Magazine, and even The Washington Post. He now finds himself as the Sentinels's movie critic after an award winning career.

His latest movie review is for the video game to movie translation of Max Payne, starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis. For the first 9 paragraphs, Mr Moore offers a fair and balanced review, sharing his opinions on the movie and its less than stellar story, and sub par performances of the films stars. He even makes an extremely intelligent point, saying that as long as Uwe Boll is around, Max Payne could not possibly be the worst video game film ever made. I should point out that I have no plans to see Max Payne, only mildly enjoyed the first game (bullet time was born here) and almost every other review mirror Mr Moore's opinions.

However, his final thoughts sent a shiver down my spine. "But as good as a couple of its action beats are, Max still suffers from the heartlessness that makes games emotionally inferior to movies. Nobody ever shed a tear over a video-game character's death." This final sentiment will be the reason Roger Moore gains internet fame (ya know, other than because his name is Roger Moore, but not the actor).

This is an extremely bold statement by Mr Moore. Simply because a video game has not caused a deep emotional impact in HIS life, he decides to make the broad generalization for all games, and all gamers. It might make Mr Moore give pause to know that I have never cried because of a book, and yet I do not make the huge leap to say that nobody ever shed a tear over a book character's death.

I suppose I don't really have a point here other that to say I am disturbed by such bravado that Mr Moore has shown. Several video games I have played have brought deep emotional connections, with two bringing a tear to my eye (ironically, wait for my next post on Tuesday). The same number of films can make the same statement of giving me such a profound reaction. I think Mr Moore should take the time to experience a real video game story. When you spend 50 hours with a character, you are much more likely to experience a deep connection, than in a 90 minute film.

Feel free to read the entire review by CLICKING HERE and then check out Rotten Tomatoes for a great list of fantastic responses to his review by CLICKING HERE! I cannot wait until I read his response to the high volley of calls, emails and posts he will receive, and takes the time to enjoy a real game. At the very least, Mr Moore is about to get quite a bit of attention from my fellow interwebbers.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Darwin Had It All Wrong...

The following image is responsible for several minutes of lost man power at work today because of laughter. Enjoy.

Image courtesy Ebaum's World http://ebaumsworld.com/