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Month: February 2010

“Final Fantasy” (Yeah, That First Game!) Design Choices

So I finished up Chrono Trigger about a week ago. I have written at length about it already, and am wavering on whether or not I want to write any kind of “final thoughts” on the game. I do not have much more to add to the conversation, really — nothing particularly blew me away in the final five hours or so. I did start up a New Game+ and beat it again the instant I showed up at the End of Time. For the record, I received “Ending 5” on that go-’round, which is the one with the Nu critters sleeping over top the credits. How enthralling…!

But this is not about Chrono Trigger, so now for something completely different.

I use the phrase “fall off the wagon” when I talk about Pokémon. While I am far from a super-fan (I do not EV train, and I do not follow every single last bit of news and community events), I do get pretty heavily “into” the games when I play them every few years. Back in October 2008 I wrote about my experience with the games — right now I have ~180 hours logged in FireRed and ~120 hours logged in Pearl (and maybe a negligible ~10 hours sunk into Emerald before I got bored). Other than downloading event critters at GameStop and such, I have not actually “played” any of the games in something like a year and a half, though.

Here is where the drinking analogy comes in: I pre-ordered SoulSilver.

That will be a topic for another post in the future, but it was important information to set up the rest of this post. How it relates to right now is the fact that I have a couple weeks before I pick up the game. I was looking for a shorter RPG to take up my lunch breaks in the meantime.

I decided to go with the very first Final Fantasy. I picked up the Dawn of Souls version on GameBoy Advance a few years ago, but I have never actually played the game before. I played maybe 10 minutes or so on the NES as a kid, but all I remembered was running into the castle and starting an adventure. I know the general story thanks to the GameTrailers retrospective series, but I still wanted to have a game play experience with it all on my own. It just felt like something I should probably do one day.

For those who are curious (because you know you are), my team is as follows: Mike (warrior), Julian (monk), Meri (white mage), Deluxe (black mage).

I am not here to talk about ancient design decisions from Square’s first game in a long-running franchise. To some degree, that would not be fair coming from someone like me. It certainly warrants discussion, but it is not something I am interested in doing and probably would not be able to talk about with the most authority in the world. I know some things are changed, such as the way magic is handled, but I do not know all of the little intricacies. I felt like I could talk about Chrono Trigger in a different light, which is why I gave it so much attention.

Instead, I would like to bring up one of the most ridiculous and misleading design choices in this particular re-release. It is something that should never have been done the way it was, but I will save my own thoughts on the matter for a little bit later.

Let me explain.

I had just made my way through the Cavern of Earth and defeated Lich. I knew what areas of the map I had access to at the moment (by foot and with my pirate ship), and was not sure where I would be heading next. After touching the crystal prize, the game broke away to show a prior location. Oh, OK! I remember the Earthgift Shrine! That was that cave right by Corneria at the beginning of the game. There was a weird demon-looking thing blocking a path. He just faded away. Gotcha! I will head there next!

I headed on in. I grabbed some of the treasure along the way. The next area was a desert. Oh, no! I never like desert areas in Final Fantasy games! After wandering around for a while and catching on to the looping going on, I found my way to the center oasis and the staircase to the next area. I fought and guided my way through yet another area with the additional treasure chests and monsters.

Everything seemed totally fine. The monsters were a somewhat-appropriate level for my characters to fight against, and since I knew I was over-leveled, my triumphs against them did not make me question a single thing about my journey.

Son. Of. A. Bitch.

I was apparently wandering around a re-release-exclusive bonus dungeon, the end of which housed four bosses making cameos from Final Fantasy III. It had absolutely nothing to do with the general progression of the regular game. This cave area does not even exist on the original NES/Famicom-version game map:

Why on Earth would they break away to show me this area so early in the game if it was a bonus dungeon that had nothing to do with the current story progress (especially if I was no match for the bosses)?

I can only chock it up to the fact that the programmers and intended audience (those who had already played the game before, perhaps many times over) were so drastically familiar with the source material that they overlooked such a major presentation flaw. The last time the game cut away to show me a new area opening up was when the bridge to the north was built — there was absolutely no reason to show this bonus cave area at this particular time. It was misleading and time-wasting.

Thankfully, after losing to the first boss I encountered, the game brought me back right outside the cave. Everyone was alive and down to 1 HP, but I was not kicked back to the title screen, and I did not lose all of the experience and items I had gained along the way. That was, perhaps, the only “smart” design decision in this entire game so far.

Let it be known that I still actually have no clue where it is I am going next in the game. The dancing girl in Corneria even told me she has nothing let to say to me right now. Really? You are the single helpful NPC in the game that I thought I could always rely on, and you have nothing else to say to me? Sheesh! Thankfully, I have a bit of help in the form of a blast-from-the-past. Rather than looking up any FAQs, I have an item that I accidentally borrowed from a friend in high school something like ten years ago. I used it to find my way to Lich a little faster, and I suppose I can refer to it one more time. It is absolutely fascinating to look back at the way the characters are depicted (traditional high-fantasty style as opposed to referencing Yoshitaka Amano’s designs) and the verbiage differences between the far-too-few-letter-namings in the NES version as opposed to the re-translated and modern-consistency namings in the GBA re-release.

While I have a huge issue with that one aspect of the game (and one that is only related to the re-release, no less), do not misunderstand — I am having a really fun time exploring this first game. It is crazy that I never got around to playing it.

Will it be one that I complete (III, IV, VII), or one that I ultimately drop (VI, VIII, X)…? I have a good feeling about this one…!

Seven Things That Have Blown Me Away In The Second 10 Hours Of “Chrono Trigger”

I was very concerned as I crossed the 10-hour mark in Chrono Trigger. Those first ten hours were amazingly good on so many different levels. The game had actually managed to deliver everything I wanted and anticipated. I loved the characters, the story, and all of the artistic elements that brought the package together. I commented that after sequences like the raiding of the Fiendlord’s Keep, I was afraid it had blown its proverbial load already, and while the rest of the game would probably be “good”… it would whimper on to the end like many RPGs of the day, hindered by an ever-growing cast of characters, poor pacing, and extraneous side-quests.

Thankfully, my fears were completely unjustified.

(OK, minus this “Inner Sanctum” area which was apparently new for the DS version. That’s pretty awful.)

To be fair, the second ten hours are not as good as the first ten. The game introduces so many of its iconic styles and mannerisms that even when variations on them are introduced with perfect execution later on, they do not have the same impact as the first go ’round. Do not misunderstand — like I said, the game has been amazing, and a “Not Jaw-Droppingly Amazing Chrono Trigger Sequence” is still leaps and bounds above most of the other garbage I have tried before.

It is with this game that I continue to question my gaming habits and supposed preferences. I have dabbled into so many different genres and play styles in the last two years that I no longer feel like I have any particular allegiance to a type of game, or even specific franchises. I joke to the wife how there was a monkey bridge in Link’s Awakening… lo and behold, monkeys come to the rescue as I watch her replay Twilight Princess. I look around in shock, wondering if I’m the crazy one that does not love the play style of New Super Mario Bros. with its floaty-controls. I compare the two above examples, coming down harshly on one series for recycling an old trope, while simultaneously criticizing another for not being familiar enough, and wonder how I can be so hypocritical.

That may be the subject matter for another article in the future, though. For now, Chrono Trigger is the sole subject of my attention.  I sit wide-eyed on the train, during lunch, and on the couch at home as I clutch my DS. A game from 15 years ago — a game that I should have played and yet continuously overlooked — is one of the reasons I have been questioning my supposed gaming affiliations. With 20 hours now sunk into the game, here is a list of things that have blown me away in those second 10 hours. Spoilers are in full effect.

Continue reading

Cropping Complaints (Sorta) Justified Three Years Later

I almost feel like it is not even worth bringing this up. I mean, honestly… the FUNimation cropping fiasco of 2007 is three years old. Not only is it old, but it is irrelevant with the release of domestic Dragon Box sets.

This just makes me smirk a little too much, though. When Mike smirks, it usually manifests itself as a blog post. And you all have to suffer.

In case you have been living under a DBZ fandom rock for the last half-decade, there was a lovely bit of controversy in 2007 when FUNimation released a so-called “remastered” version of the DragonBall Z TV series on DVD in North America. Among things like lies about the remastering process, the whole thing was brought into a new 16:9 aspect ratio presentation by cropping 20% of the footage (the top and bottom of the screen) to fit it into that viewing window.

Hilarity ensued online.

Daizenshuu EX is (obviously) at the forefront of the English-speaking fandom in a variety of ways. We have been following the series as a website since 1998, which includes all of the North American releases. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience with the franchise as both an original Japanese entity and a domestic “reversioning”. We took a stand against the cropping. Many of the casual fans could not understand why it was an issue for us… and understandably so. If you simply wanted to watch the show, the cheap orange bricks were a wonderful way to legally to do so (something we agreed with from the get-go). These types of fans (of which there are plenty) met the opposition with well-written, researched, and thorough arguments on how we were all just a bunch of fags, should shut up, and just be thankful we ever got the show in the first place. Why do we care so much? These fans do not even notice the cropping, and would prefer that the picture fill up their awesome, widescreen HDTV.

(Wondering why Daizenshuu EX would care about the aspect ratio of DBZ would be like wondering why the health care industry has an interest in American health care reform. We bitch because we love.)

Two years later, DragonBall Kai began airing on Japanese TV, also cropped into a 16:9 aspect ratio (though it was actually being produced in a full 4:3 which was later presented as-is on the Blu-ray release). Some of the scenes were adjusted for more carefully-presented cropping (sliding them up or down a little bit to adjust for a center of focus), but overall, it was a similar process to the FUNimation release from two years prior.

Episode 43 of DragonBall Kai aired on 06 February 2010 in Japan. Almost immediately, there was a bout of fan outcry… on several different forums… on how ridiculous it was that Toei could be so sloppy as to not finish drawing Goku’s arm:

There were actually two camps, to be fair. While there were definitely (1) those that placed the blame on Toei’s art department (assuming it was a completely re-drawn scene that was never completed), there were also (2) others who were quick to place the blame on Toei’s cropping department — these folks knew the whole story (keep reading), and knew that it was an awkward and inadvertent cropping.

Sure enough, if you look at a different encode and frame of the episode as captured from Japanese television, you get a little more insight:

The slightest bit of Goku’s arm is visible at the bottom of the frame. Checking back on the original animation from the actual DragonBall Z TV series, we get the whole story:

What this says to me is that even without some prominent website that has a ridiculous interest in the presentation of the series pointing it out to them… certain fans still noticed a problem with the cropping. Not only that, but they brought their complaints and ridicule online to share with their peers.

The hypocrisy is a bit silly. Why was it unjustified to bring FUNimation to Elitist Weeaboo Fanboy Court over their cropping of the series, but it was totally fine to go after Toei for the exact same thing? Was it just an extension of the complacent American fan culture that has no problem with their domestic releases, but Japanese stuff is OK and funny to laugh at? Lolz Goku sounds like a girlie and his arm is missing?

Sure, it was totally just this one minor scene during one episode of Kai that gave us some laughs online. It was nothing compared to the FUNimation fiasco in terms of prevalence and significance. On some tiny level, though, it made me feel something resembling justification for my complaints against the domestic cropping.

People do notice this kind of stuff, even when it is not specifically pointed out to them. That’s all there is to it.

Oh, and just for the Hell of it, here’s how it looked on FUNimation’s faux-“remastered” orange brick numero tres. It looks nearly identical to the recent shot from Kai. Did anyone complain about it back in 2007…?

Thanks to Hujio and Kaboom for a bit of screen shot assistance!

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