Monthly Archives: June 2015

N8B8: Items on the Chopping Block for the FF7 Remake

Like a crazed cosmetic surgeon with a thirst for the blood of your childhood memories, Square Enix will be tearing off the face of your beloved Final Fantasy 7, stomping it into the dirt, and slapping on a new one – all shiny and plastic. Seriously. Unlike Square Enix, the game company that first brought you our much-loved ‘spiky-headed jerk’, Square Enix will completely botch this remake, stripping away every instance of light-heartedness, passion, and charm to leave us with a pile of indiscernible, modern gaming goop. Aaaand exhale…

Let me actually begin by saying that I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of Matt Peckham in his article on Wired. It is challenging to look so far into the past and consider the affection we have for our nostalgic relics as anything but good, wholesome memories. It’s counter-intuitive, in a way, to criticize the things we love and hold dear. If fond memories bring us happiness, how could they be anything but beneficial? But instead of looking at this upcoming remake as a pure reincarnation, we should accept that maybe there is some value in putting certain items under the knife. Considering it’s pretty much a guarantee that the remake will not just be a graphical overhaul (as explained in a translation of Nomura’s comments in this Kotaku article,) we had better become comfortable with some pretty big modifications to gameplay and story. But rather than freaking out and poisoning the well so that we won’t be able to enjoy whatever this remake does wind up being, let’s take the trailer’s final words to heart. “The reunion at hand may bring joy, it may bring fear, but let us embrace whatever it brings.”

And so… I am excited for this remake. I am ready to embrace whatever this reunion may bring. But I’ll be GODDAMNED if you put your hands on my chocobos.

Here’s 8 things I’d actually have a paragraph 1-style hissy fit over if removed from the FF7 remake.


1/8. Wall MarketWall_market_south

Now – Nomura has already told us to look forward to cloud in a dress and the Honey Bee Inn and Square Enix will obviously not be deleting the first 5 hours of gameplay from their remake, so maybe I should clarify. In all it’s neon glory – Wall Market is an intricate and living space in my mind. It’s a wonderful, sad, and somehow realistic place in a funny, cartoonish sense. The people are down-trodden, alcoholic, mentally unstable, gruff, and perverse. Don Corneo and his mansion form the perfect finale for the materialism and depravity on display all throughout the town. While a certain amount of nuance and sensitivity would be a much-welcomed change to this segment, N8 would H8 to see it heavily altered due to the opinions of focus groups or the forces of political correctness.

2/8. Eco-terrorism

The idea that the first two hours of FF7 could somehow be rebranded as something other-than eco-terrorism makes me very uncomfortable. There is no confusion in the original as to what the player is engaging in early in the game. The members of AVALANCHE are dedicated to performing acts of destruction in order to stop Shinra’s consumption of Mako energy – and they know their actions are killing others. Jesse addresses this with, “Because of our actions many people died. This is probably our punishment…” The parallels to the energy industry and eco-terrorists in the real world are indisputable. In a world where ‘terrorism’ is a manufactured synonym for evil, it’s not hard to imagine the FF7 remake losing this term in fear of backlash. The prospect of glorifying ‘terrorists’ is potentially too risky for a huge company like Square Enix. But to lose this framing would be to lose one of the most vibrant and direct political messages housed in any Final Fantasy game.

Explosion

3/8. A truly open world map.

One of the things FF7 does better than any other 3D FF game is its world map. The progressive expansion of freedom in relation to your party’s transportation options is such a great way of building a feeling of growth. As soon as you leave Midgar, you’re on foot. You upgrade to a crummy little chocobo, then a buggy, then the Tiny Bronco, until you finally get the Highwind; each with a little boost in maneuverability or speed or usefulness. There is a wonderful feeling of undiscovered potential as you continue to learn the little secrets the overworld houses. New chocobos allow you to explore islands and mountains and the submarine brings you to all that’s hidden underwater. It’s a wonderful thing to imagine a humongous overworld with great swathes of plain, mountain, and sea in all the glory of modern HD. It’d be a shame to revert to the open-ish world map style of of FF12 or 13.

world map

4/8. Minigames

So, here’s the thing… At least half of the minigames from FF7 were complete garbage. The excavation minigame in Bone Village was heavily based on guesstimation, the CPR minigame in Junon you literally couldn’t lose, and the Great Glacier cliff minigame had you button mashing to climb a mountain and stave off hypothermia. Not to mention a serious majority of the Gold Saucer minigames were just terrible (arm wrestling, basketball, rock-paper-scissors…) But in remembrance – even the atrocious minigames added so much charm. The idea of playing through this remake without the optional Fort Condor tower defense game, the snowboarding, the chocobo racing and breeding, the motorcycling, and the roller coaster shooting just feels so empty. I’d love to see these (or other) minigames return, all polished and smoothed-out with our modern day graphics and design.

Speed

5/8. Date night!

I want to be able to go on a date with Barrett. That is all.

His name is Barrett Wallace

6/8. Weird enemies

Not that Final Fantasy has ever really ‘dulled-down’ their enemy roster, so to speak, but it certainly would be a shame to miss out on some of the classic weirdos like… Icicle! And Hell House! And Swingy-guillotine guy called Ghirofelgo… And that orange ball that gave you a stupid amount of AP for killing it… And a warning sign…?

enemies

Goofy stuff like this is desperately needed in the mainstream world of cut-and-paste RPGs and blockbusters.

7/8. General campyness

If, as Tetsuya Nomura has said in his interview with Engadget, “jumping forward to attack an enemy, then jumping back to wait for their next turn” will be too “bizarre” for the remake, then it is truly hard to imagine the whole ‘Jumping with Mr. Dolphin’ scene. I can very easily see this type of gimmicky, janky-looking extraneous stuff being tossed out the window without a second question. And this is a shame, considering the campy feeling of these segments always felt like a big reason FF7 has such a huge cult following. I’m sure we’ll miss Hojo on the beach, Palmer mooning us and getting hit by a truck, and the slap-fight between Tifa and Scarlet.

tifa

8/8. Bizarre and creepy scenes

It would be impossible to bring the weird sound effects, low-poly graphical manipulations, and cheesey text boxes that FF7 is known for into the remake.  That being said, there are scenes that are so weird, creepy, and bizarre that would look so good in the remake. The segment inside of Cloud’s mind, for example contains a number of unsettling moments. Tifa spinning around in a black abyss, as one example…

mLZpBz

The thought of that inexplicable drip-drop noise still gives me chills, as does the ghost of Aeris in the slums church.

vOeN7p


So – again – I am looking forward to this remake with all the optimism and open-mindedness as a man-child can.  I do not think the remake will be bad. I also don’t think the remake will be the game I have known and loved for the past two decades. But that’s fine. That’s how it should be. There is no reason to tamper with something that is already so beloved. Square Enix is going in the right direction with heavy changes, because this should be thought of as a new game – a true remake- not just a rehash.

-N8

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Lovely, Ordinary Rituals

If you scroll through my post history here on N8R8, it ought to be pretty obvious why Rituals first caught my eye. Low-poly, exploration-based, minimalist, slightly abstract, 3D first-person adventure/puzzler. Not to mention its dreary themes relating to nature and humanity. I mean, it literally feels like Tymon Zgainski knew exactly what to include in a trailer to get someone like me to buy his game. So I did, of course, and after a brief stint in this lovely, snow-globe-like world, I can’t help but feel a tinge of disappointment… But perhaps that’s too pessimistic a sentiment to begin this review, so instead of whining straight from the get-go, perhaps I should just begin with what Rituals is.

Rituals is a point-and-click. It’s a short, thoughtful(ish), well-directed adventure into an immersive bridge-world between natural environments and industrial/corporate spaces. The player takes the classic role of the highly-relateable desk jockey with a penchant for poking around places lower-level employees don’t belong. The controls are simple and self-explanatory, with on-screen directional arrows and a click-and-drag style of looking around. Using these simple tools to peruse my place of work, I was clued into the statutory mystery of the game. Security cameras, that ever-present feeling of abandonment, and an eerie audio track which could easily have been titled “Something Amiss” all suggest that something is, indeed, amiss. Is this a dream? Am I dead? In a coma? In purgatory? I fear this game will be boring enough to answer “yes” to any one of these questions.

And quickly, at the end of a disastrous elevator ride, my fear that Rituals will be riding the same tedious rails as a hundred point-and-click adventures before is alleviated. I enter a new place – a forest temple – decorated with light and greenery and sacred symbols. A note on the pedestal at the end of the enclosure asks us specific questions, but their gist is the same. They are the formal questions of the adventure game genre. What is the meaning of this place? Who are its creators? Who am I, and how am I related to it all? I could call these questions tropes, and indeed they are. But these archetypal riddles give the first-person adventure game its glow. Without these recycled fundamentals, adventure games would not do what they do so well – and that is ask us meaningful questions.

Temple

Other adventure game conventions are maintained. Instinctually, I collect a lantern, a bucket, and a shovel. I know they’ll be useful at some point. Reflexively, I explore all directions and click on all things clickable. Several paths lead to dead-ends. These dead-ends are off-putting in a modern adventure game like Rituals, where the protocol is that all impasses offer some sort of eventual purpose. It took me a while to trust them as true dead-ends and to understand that Rituals is not a complicated game. The lantern is used for light. The bucket is used for water. The shovel is used to dig. The initial excitement of this place wears off and I go about using these items in a chore-like manner. Many games offer something pretty to look at during these moments of tedium. Rituals gives you the same forest-y labyrinth, with its actual dead-ends and its low-poly dirt. Fairly humdrum.

These moments are abound in the exploration process. In each new area, I am required to engage in mechanical, unchallenging, and relatively uninteresting stints of investigation. Having been so enthusiastic to play the game, I wanted to get something good out of my experience. So I tried to stop thinking of Rituals as a game. I quit focusing on the simplicity of the puzzles and focused more on the exploratory process. But there was nothing supplementary to the primary goal of moving forward. Excluding the occasional magazine or note with some detail into the ‘story’ behind the game, there is nothing to gain from deeper inspection.

Chart

And this ‘hidden’ story, which the player is almost guaranteed to discover, revolves around some unfortunately well-worn practices of science fiction. Humans have pissed off Mother Nature. The player is the agent that will balance the scales. But since this is a video game, the almighty art form of the modern generation – destined to overturn the staleness of linear narrative, the player has Choice(tm). So instead of saving the world, the player – groundbreakingly – may choose to end it! Heavy stuff, I know… There’s no nuance to any of it. Each little piece of the story is, without any convincing veil, placed directly on the player’s path. This, to me, is analogous to disobeying the old English teacher adage of “Show, Don’t Tell.” Rituals got right in my face and told me the answers to those questions it had me asking early in the game. Answers I didn’t want, answers I honestly didn’t need. This problem carries over into the actual gameplay. A linear trail of crumbs leads the player to the only possible conclusion there is to each and every ‘puzzle.’

All of this is not to say that the game does not have its merits. The game is at peak shininess during those in-between scenes where the player has just completed the tasks required to move on. The wonderful direction of Rituals peaks out from the shroud of monotony to give us a glimpse of what magic may have been. There is a legitimate sense of urgency and seriousness when you’re being brought to and from different places. Volcanos explode, elevators crash, and lights dim, giving off the real impression that something meaningful and exciting is happening. The conclusion of the game is one of the best parts. Suddenly, all of the little boring bits come together with a bang, and it’s almost hard to remember why they were so lame in the first place.

Jungle

Rituals does a good job of scaling up the story to fit my understanding of the world as I explored further. I never felt overwhelmed or confused, which is a typical problem I have with first person adventure games. The story was dull, though not vapid, and the gameplay was slow-paced and obvious, though not entirely pointless. I feel like there’s a spectrum that exists with games like Rituals. At one end is total convolution and at the other is flaccidity.  And while Rituals is pretty far to the flaccid side of that spectrum, it isn’t a total bust. It is thoughtful and has a lot of heart. It’s a well-polished, solid, short-form interactive experience with some real problems with its essential game-ness and narrative direction. Undoubtedly, though, I am glad I took the time to play.

N8

R8

4/8

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N8 AW8S – Shape of the World

download

Currently vying for your support, Shape of the World is an atmospheric first-person exploration game that boasts a procedurally generated environment and gameplay similar to Flower and Proteus.  One might be tempted to compare it to walking-sims like Dear Esther, but that would be entirely ignoring the main attraction…  In Shape of the World, Progression is marked with the world shooting up around you. Luminescent trees, neon foliage, and ghost-like creatures come into existence as you cover the ground with your footsteps. These are markers of the player’s own growth in relation to the game.  Triangular arches and glowing orbs beckon in the distance and give the player a sense of direction and purpose.  There is no concrete reward system.  No points, no leaderboard, no end-of-level sugar-rush.  Shape of the World isn’t so forceful as all of that.  A softer sort of progress is awarded as the player delves deeper into this world.  The world grows with the player’s movement, and the player cannot grow further without the gentle nudging from the world.

From Stu Maxwell and Co. at Hollow Tree Studios, Shape of the World is available for pre-order on Kickstarter, and offers the ability to get access to the game for $20(CAD).  Upon it’s release, it’s certain to increase in price, so make sure to snag your right to a digital copy now!

I’ll leave you with a lovely preview:

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