Category Archives: Final Fantasy Stuff

My Top 10 Final Fantasy Songs

I am trying to compile my top 10 Final Fantasy songs to be shared with a bunch of people who has never listened to video games music before.

This is going to be a long night.

UPDATED (version 3):

Ok, after about 5 hours of going back and forth and sieving through more than 40 albums, these are my final 10 picks:

1. To Zanarkand ~ this is the first piece of music that you hear when you play Final Fantasy X and Tidus ending his monologue with “…this is my story,”. Final Fantasy X is special in many ways – awesome graphics, complex yet engaging storyline, great combat and gameplay. This song becomes especially significant when a very shocking revelation was uncovered in Act III of the game i.e. that Tidus himself is an Aeon (guardian force), summoned in the dreams of the remaining summoners of Zanarkand to end their 1,000 years’ sleep by breaking the cycle of destruction and devastation on Spira once and for all.

2. Endless Sorrow ~ I am particularly drawn to the music of Final Fantasy IX because the soundtrack is diverse and contradictory – some songs are whimsical and joyful, and then there are songs like Endless Sorrow that evokes sadness and nostalgia. This was Nobuo Uematsu’s last score for the series and I was pleasantly surprised when in interviews he said that due to the fantasy nature of Final Fantasy IX, he wrote the score so that “a serious piece as well as silly, fun pieces could fit in.” This piece was played when Princess Garnet returned to (a destroyed) Alexandria to become its Queen, in the cutscenes for other characters in the game right before the (hilarious) love letter scene between Beatrix and Steiner took place.

3. Battle on the Big Bridge ~ this is the theme song for Gilgamesh, a recurring character in Final Fantasy series. He made his debut in Final Fantasy V as a bad guy; in other Final Fantasy games he is a harmless, pun-spewing sword collector who steals other people’s sword in his search for Excalibur. He is a scene-stealer and gets the best lines. This frenetic, crazy piece describes him perfectly. Square Enix should make a standalone game about him already.

4. Rose of May ~ If you have the chance to play Final Fantasy IX, you will come across a non-playable, badass character called General Beatrix who is known as the best swordsman in the continent. Now, why do I choose this song? Because it is so contradictory to her outward character that is seen as merciless and arrogant (her nickname is “the cold-blooded woman that silences even the crying infant”). This song reveals the true Beatrice: soft-spoken, respectable, fiercely loyal and ever-ready to die for her country and queen. But try to push her over and she will slice you with her blade. I love her.

5. Town Theme ~ I can’t even remember which game featured this song. But when I heard it performed in a doowop style at the Voices concert a few years ago, I unexpectedly started humming along and could not get it out of my head until I went online and looked it up. This was from Final Fantasy II and played every time your characters enter a town. Do you know what’s great about Final Fantasy II? It was when chocobos (big, giant chicken that you can ride) were introduced! Which takes me to the next song…

6. Chocobo Theme ~ This was a cover by Moonbow using the version played in Final Fantasy III. Chocobos are hard to tame and its side quests are always so ridiculously hard to complete. But riding a chocobo is an awesome possum experience (though it doesn’t always run in the direction where you want it to go). Kinda like the music which is jumpy and all over the place.

7. Dewdrops at Dawn ~ this is, hands down, the saddest piece of music in the Final Fantasy XV soundtrack. It is played after the game is over and the end-credits are paused midway to play a cutscene of dawn breaking and sunlight slowly piercing through the dark clouds. This piece is so good that you would have gotten that imagery in your head without me explaining it to you. Why the saddest? The name of the main character of the game is Noctis, which is Latin for “of the Night”. When dawn breaks… night ends. The last frame of the cutscene shows four camping chairs facing the Crown City of Insomnia. Just slays.

8. Vamo’ Alla Flamenco ~ the third song from Final Fantasy IX that made my list. I selected an acoustic guitar version by Daisuke Minamizawa because I think he perfectly captures the silly exaggeration and exuberance of a swordfight between two bumbling theatre actors. Best lagu ni. Makes me tap my feet. I can’t play the guitar like this :(

9. Somnus (Sleep) ~ the truth is Yoko Shimamura did a terrific job writing the score for Final Fantasy XV. Somnus is actually the first piece that she wrote ten years ago when it was still known as Versus XIII so I have been listening to this for 10 long years before the game was finally released. The lyric was written in Japanese (and then translated into Latin for its vocals) by Nomura Tetsuya who (originally) conceptualised the game before passing the helm to Tabata Hajime in order to focus on the remake of Final Fantasy VII. This is my favourite piece in the game, and most probably in the whole series.I loved it when I first heard it, loved it even more as I played the game and came to realize what Noctis has to do when he ascends as King. To me it speaks of indescribable love, sacrifice, bravery, loyalty and, most importantly, about upholding the trust and responsibility that is entrusted to you even if it is at the cost of your own life. Walk tall, my friends.

10. Main theme ~ the song that starts it all. This version was released to celebrate Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary. The one song that ties and binds them all. So much feels.

Can you tell how much I love the series?

p/s: there are many songs that I left out of the top 10 such as Aerith’s Theme and One Winged Angel from Final Fantasy VII, Dalmasca Estersand from Final Fantasy XII and Why from Crisis Core and so on. These, to me, are very specific to the game (and scene) that it is featured in. So it loses impact particularly on those who have never played a single Final Fantasy game.

For this list, I wanted to showcase the diverse musical styles in video games music and their versatility. So I picked songs that are striking in terms of musical arrangement, and evocative and expressive in terms of feelings and imagery so that non-players could relate to them too.

And that, as they say, is that.

(To listen to all of them in the versions that I have selected, click the youtube playlist below.)

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Final Fantasy XV: A Review

Final-Fantasy-XV-Tech2-720

STORYLINE
I have been delaying playing the final chapter of Final Fantasy XV (FF15) for weeks. No more. Over the weekend, I took the plunge and walked Noctis Lucis Caelum to his ascension as the True King.

FF15 storyline is straightforward: two countries are at war and an unexplained darkness, called Starscourge, is engulfing the world, making daylight shorter and shorter. The only person who could hold the Starscourge back is Lunafreya, an Oracle (priestess) from the land of Tenebrae. Over centuries, Oracles of Tenebrae have been journeying across warring lands to seek people who have been afflicted by Starscourge and heal them. However, the Oracle’s more important (and concealed) role is to communicate with the Six Astrals (Titan, Ramuh, Shiva, Ifrit, Leviathan and Bahamut) and plead them to forge covenants and lend their power to the True King so that he may rise and end the war and rid the world of the Starscourge once and for all.

At the start of the game, 20-years old crown prince Noctis Lucis Caelum, is sent out by his father King Regis on a journey with three Crownsguard (fancy way of saying bodyguards). He is to be married to Lunafreya – an arrangement that is part of the peace agreement between Nilfheim and Lucis after centuries of war. Throughout the journey, you will come to learn that Noctis is the prophesied True King, although what that means is unclear until the last two chapters.

The game is all about this journey. That’s it. I was expecting intrigues, plot twists, betrayals et cetera. Nope. Just 4 guys in a car, stopping at towns and cities, doing things that 4 guys would do – shop, cook, eat, sleep, accept Hunts for monsters (as we all do), play video games, look at wedding dresses (you’ll see), ride big chickens (Chocobos!) and so on.

This realisation came to me at about 26 hours into the game. I was wondering when the main story would start. Then it hit me: this WAS the story. The game’s heart is in the friendship that this 4 young men share and how they grow up and come to accept the responsibility and consequences of their shared destiny. This sneaky game tricks you into bonding with all of them that you feel their triumphs and losses as keenly as you would your own best friends. It came to a point where I stopped playing the game and walked away as I didn’t want to go through the inevitable. This, despite having watched the end scenes repeatedly and preparing myself mentally for it. No other games in recent times, except for Crisis Core maybe, has moved me this much. The four’s last shared cut scene outside the throne room, where Prompto openly wept, “No turning back now,” is absolutely heartbreaking. I, too, wept openly.

The opening scene says it all. Prompto putting off the fire from Noctis’ outfit. Ignis calling out to Noctis and Gladiolus grabbing him to safety. All three crouching over Noctis to shield him from Ifrit’s firestorm at the risk of losing their own lives. Ignis handing Noctis a potion, and in a calm and soothing voice said, “Here you go,”. Prompto and Gladiolus running towards danger in order to give Noctis a second to catch his breath.

“Noct, hang in there buddy. Stay down. We’ll keep him busy.”

“Noct, over here quickly before he strikes again.”

“I got your back.”

“Let’s go.”

Once the game is over and you replay this opening scene, you will appreciate its significance with alarming clarity.

GAMEPLAY
The single player mode takes a lot of getting used to but once I got the hang of it, I think this is the best combat system in any Final Fantasy games and I look forward to the Final Fantasy VII remake which looks like it’s using the same system (in attack mode, at least). I have complaints – the camera is buggy and at times obscures my view of the battle, parries and dodges only require the push of a button rather than a series of complicated button sequences, summonses are completely random.

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Pic (c) theverticalslice.com

But overall, I feel I have a lot of control over the battles. Weapons and magic are not chosen based on its attack strength. In fact more than ever, you need to be tactical about it (however, years of playing Final Fantasy kinda clued me in on which weapons and magic are best used on which enemies so in that sense I had unfair advantage). Even choosing what to eat is a tactical decision – certain meals are best to boost attack or lend temporary increase in HP, some are to provide immunity from conditions like poison, toad and confusion and some are to give you critical hit advantage but only when fighting higher level bosses.

The AP ascension system is easy to use and understand although it lacks the kind of flexibility that you get in Final Fantasy X. Levelling up is also easy, by that I don’t mean that the bosses are easy to defeat. What I mean is, experience points are tallied only when you go to sleep. So, if you want to level up quickly, spend the next two hours killing stuff and NOT GOING TO SLEEP, accumulate 10,000 Gil then go to the most expensive hotel in Galdin Quay and cash all that stacked experience in one go. Sleeping at hotels multiplies your experience; while sleeping at camps allows you to cook stats-boosting meals and gain AP. So you need to balance it – do you want AP or experience? Cook your meals or buy them? Decisions, decisions.

This game has high playability. Free-roaming aside (which gives you plenty to do and see and explore), the number of quests, hunts and post-game quests are enough to keep even the most dedicated occupied. I left the game at 164 hours and I haven’t killed a single optional bosses or obtained ultimate weapons yet so I can see myself racking up 300 hours on this game easily.

GRAPHICS AND MUSIC
Frankly I don’t think it is fair to make this assessment. As technology evolves and consoles become more powerful, of course the graphics will be more beautiful too. But yes, Final Fantasy XV is beautiful. Dungeons are scary and anxiety-inducing and the open world is vast and expansive as far as your Chocobo can take you.

I find the voice acting is better in English than in Japanese (it was the other way around for Final Fantasy X). Since the excellent voice acting in Final Fantasy XII (I still can’t get over Balthier’s drawl and Fran’s scottish accent), SquareEnix has done this right this time around too. The Japanese version sounds too ‘young’ and indistinguishable to me. I went back and forth every few hours before deciding to stick to the English version.

Ignis’ voice has the right kind of kindness and gravitas (and the Brit accent, very hot, I approve); Gladiolus has a sonorous growl that walks that tight balance between loyalty and frustration over what he perceives as his inability to guard Noctis properly; Prompto’s is bright and annoying (when you learn about his backstory you will understand why he overcompensates on everything!). I actually yelled at Prompto to shut up as I was exploring dungeons as his constant yapping added to my anxiety. Noctis’ is soft but regal, decidedly inexperienced, but always polite with a touch of sadness. It reminds me very much of Billy Crudup’s interpretation of Prince Ashitaka in Princess Mononoke. Ardyn Izunia’s voice is smooth as silk but dripping with venom – I think the voice actor had a lot of fun doing this and this is probably the best voice acting in the game.

I love the music immediately. Again this is not fair because I have been listening to Somnus for TEN YEARS when this game was still known as Versus. Yoko Shimamura overdid herself. You go girl. If I have a complain it would be a small one and can’t even be considered a complain. You see, Nobuo Uematso has a sense of playfulness and lightness in his music. Even when the story line is grim like in Final Fantasy X and the music is incredibly sad, Uematsu still manages to be whimsical. Shimamura’s music, on the other hands, is the complete opposite. Her compositions, while lush and immersive, don’t have Uematsu’s light touch or whimsy. But that said, she has a talent to deliver the unexpected.

Noctis’ theme, for example, surprises me because it was so soft and temperate. I would have done it in an angrier and more conflicted style. During the Abbey Road live concert, Shimamura explained that she wrote Noctis’ theme this way because she wanted to convey the weight of destiny and Noctis’ internal monologue about situation that he is in, letting the emotional resonance seeping in slowly. I don’t agree with her interpretation. But, if you think about this piece and how Noctis is voice-acted, he is never portrayed as angry or misunderstood or as an outcast (well hello there, Cloud). And he doesn’t know what being the True King means so he is not conflicted or resentful about the journey that he has to take. The earlier irritation that he displayed is directed at his father for sending him away before the peace treaty, in what he perceives as trading the lives of the nation for the sake of saving a son, as he believes the King should have put the nation first. And when Noctis understands what is required of him, there is no tantrums or why me’s either, he simply accepts it and soldiers on. So, I get what Shimamura wants to convey, but I still don’t agree. I think, above all, Noctis possesses a steely determination to do right by his people, and that quiet strength and fire do not come across in Noctis theme. But, potato, potato.

(OK I am getting way too involved here!)

My favourite piece is, of course, Somnus. It has been covered extensively, and my favourite version is this one:

CONCLUSION
I truly love this game. I give it a high 8 out of 10. As an introduction to Final Fantasy to new gamers, it is easy enough to get into without having to understand the full backstory and history of Final Fantasy games. It certainly exceeded my expectations. I must admit, I was ready for it to suck like Final Fantasy VIII and XIII and its permutations but I am happy that it didn’t.

Is it the best Final Fantasy game ever? For me, that distinction still lies with Final Fantasy VII – a great hero, an even greater villain, a tragic heroine, a motley group of odd people who comes together to save the world, a very immersive storyline… wow I can’t say enough good things about this one.

But all said and done, Final Fantasy XV is a worthy successor to the name.

The game ends with perhaps the most beautiful music in the soundtrack called “Dewdrops at Dawn” and a shot of four camping chairs at the lookout point, facing the crown city of Insomnia in the distance as light slowly shines back on the world of Eos.

“Walk tall, my friends.”

ff15end

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EGMi: The Digital Magazine (Free Edition) | EGMi

EGMi June 2011 Cover

EGMi June 2011 Cover

I can’t believe that I have not been appeasing my thirst for EGM, whose print edition always comes to Malaysia a couple of months late by the way, by frequenting EGMi, its digital magazine version.

I am frequenting it now. You should too.

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Say Hello to Playstation® Vita

Playstation VitaAnother year passed and another E3 concluded without my presence gracing the hallowed halls of the ultimate fanboy dream. Nevermind. There’s always next year.

This year’s E3 brought some very exciting news. Chiefly for me is the unveiling of PlayStation® Vita (PS Vita), the next generation portable player from Sony. Watch:

If you don’t want to click the video to watch the feature presentation (why?), here’s the specs, the alphabet-way:

In other words, you can touch it, tilt it, tap it, d-pad it, shake it, use it as  camera, use it for video, use it for movies, use it for games, use it for music, use it for internet, use it as your thumbdrive… if you can think it up, PS Vita probably has the feature for it.

PlayStation Vita ships by globally by the end of the year, price starts at USD$249. This. I. Want. Really, really. More info on PS Vita can be found here.

Want your fix of E3 2011? I start with IGN.com, a good old favourite of mine, before using my friend google to look for other news and reviews.

Time to start dropping coins into the piggy bank and saving for E3 2012!

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Ijah As Tifa Lockhart

Tifa Lockhart from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

Tifa Lockhart from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

As far as strong female characters in gaming is concerned, I guess Tifa Lockhart is as good as they come. I like her kick-ass kung-fu and especially like her leather outfit, but I am totally exasperated by her obvious pining (and whining) for Cloud. Pleaaaaase.  With that tight leather suit, you can get any man you want honey. No need to mourn over someone who keeps his dead girlfriend’s voice message in his mobile phone.

Anyway, this is what I will be (or hope to be) dressed as at the AFA09. Tifa’s an old character  and has been done many times by otakus during cosplays. But I will go as her anyhow because you can never have too many leather outfits. Plus, the other costumes are just way too out there – not that I mind but at 35 I think I should give up showing too much skin at events where I am 10-15years older than the average participant.

I am going to change a few details to suit my style (like changing the black converse to thigh-high leather boots) and pink ribbon instead of red.

Below, a mix-video from Advent Children.

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Far News From the Land of E3

E3 2009 came and went. Below are my favourite bits and pieces (and new items for my wishlist), taken off cnet, g4techtv and ign.

The PSP Go is shipping this fall. It will have no UMD slot so the contents will be downloadable directly into the console. Smaller than the regular PSP, the controller buttons will be below the slide screen instead of on the sides.

Lightning Villiers Wallpaper. Click pic to be taken to FF XIII official website for full-sized wallpapers in multiple console format.

Lightning Villiers: click pic to be taken to FF XIII official website for full-sized wallpapers in multiple console format.

Square Enix released a new trailer for Final Fantasy XIII. See it here. Now weep, because it will not be dropping until 2010.

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Crisis Core Endscene [feat. Why by Ayaka]

If you want to be a hero…

You have to hold on to your dream

For the both of us

You are going to live

You are my living legacy

[below: official PV of Why by Ayaka, the end title song from Crisis Core. The video is shot in a set made to resemble post-Shinra train heading to Midgar City, the same train seen in the start of Crisis Core and the original Final Fantasy VII]

Why by Ayaka (English Translation)

The haze beyond your eyes clouds my sight
Are there feelings lying at the bottom of your heart?

Even if the whole world was yours
Would that that bring you happiness?

Why do you up at the lonesome sky?
Why, let’s see you smile
I know what you’re like
How you aren’t good at putting things into words, so why not…

What happened in days long past?
In your eyes, as turn your gaze away from me

Do you know of such a warmth
One that can embrace you on those lonely nights by yourself?

Why are you so worked up on appearances?
Why, open up your heart
I know you’ve had a heavy cross to bear
But I’ve got the strength to accept you
So why not try believing in me

The free are awkward…
The free are anxious…

Why do you look up at the lonesome sky?
Why, let’s see you smile
I know what you’re like
How you aren’t good at putting thing into words
So why not try believing in me

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