Tag Archives: chaos

FGC #291 Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Curtain Call

Sing itI guess this has to happen once every hundred articles or so…

Let’s talk about Final Fantasy music!

I’m a child of Napster, or, more appropriately, I was a teenager of Napster (figure out my age from context clues!). This was pretty awesome, as, when I finally hit the age where I had my own musical preferences, there was suddenly every song ever recorded available, for free, and all a half hour download away. And this was the glory days of music piracy! You couldn’t just download an entire discography in seven seconds; no, you had to carefully pick and choose which songs you wanted, as, if you tried to download a complete new CD, it would hog all your bandwidth for the next year. I can still distinctly recall my first “mix CDs”… let’s see here, there was Butthole Surfers, a healthy amount of Blues Traveler, and a surprising excess of Chicago. Dire Straits snuck in there for some reason, Foo Fighters joined ‘em, and I think I was into some noticeable Garbage to boot. Cranberries, too? Of course. And, look, I’ll level with you, readers, I was really into ska. I eagerly await the day when all hope seems lost, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers return to us, refreshed and rejuvenated, with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in tow, and then The Second Great Age of Ska may begin. Oh, and there were three Final Fantasy songs in there: Final Fantasy 6’s Mog (Moogle Waltz), Final Fantasy 8’s Laguna (The Man with the Machine Gun), and Eyes on Me.

I cannot describe the significance of the presence of those songs. … Even if one is silly J-Pop.

The Final Fantasy franchise has always had good music. While Prelude and the main theme of Final Fantasy are obvious choices from the first adventure, I still remember every time I hit a location in FF1 that played Matoya’s Cave. It plays in other caves! It is a very poorly named song! And, while it doesn’t get nearly enough praise, the Final Fantasy airship theme is still one of the most triumphant ditties I’ve ever heard. It might just be because that new craft opens up a world of unlimited possibilities without random encounters and it means you never have to go into that stupid Ice Cave ever again, but I could listen to that silly airship loop forever and still be excited.

Let's go!And, in a weird way, I feel like something ineffably “clicked” with me, even in those early Final Fantasy days. There was “Mario music”, and there was “Mega Man music” (or pretty much anything from the Capcom oeuvre that sounded like it came from Mega Man), and there was certainly “Castlevania music” (which, side note, totally rocked), but, somehow, “Final Fantasy music” not only was clearly its own animal, but it also contained what I would really call songs. This wasn’t just something you listened to while Mario was running around (“Oh, that song is called Running? Neat.”), these were actual songs you would listen to on a radio, or your super hi-tech Walkman. … And I’m not just saying that because I once used a cassette recorder to create an entire mix tape of Final Fantasy 3 (6) music in preparation for a week long camping trip that would, for some reason, be sans Super Nintendo. And you didn’t see me preserving Contra tunes for bouts of videogame withdrawal.

But to move past sixth grade and up to those halcyon teen years, precious Napster, giver of Final Fantasy music, was a gigantic unknown. Literally nothing before in human history had ever been like this “file sharing platform”. There was no standard for what was, essentially, the newest, greatest thievery network in human history. I mean, let’s not mince words here: with a good enough internet connection, you could effectively steal every song that had ever been recorded. It was all out there and available, from Abba to Zero 7, and, more importantly, no one knew how long it would be before this tower of sin inevitably toppled. There was this simultaneous feeling of “this will be awesome forever” and “oh my God this is a crime, get what you can while you can.” Hell, the entire idea of “a MP3” was basically synonymous with depravity, and we could nary imagine that, in a few short years, Apple of all companies would be peddling them like candy. In the meanwhile, it wasn’t just about free music, it was about the music being available at all. Want to know how many Final Fantasy songs I would have purchased before 1998 if I could have even done such a thing? The answer is “all of them, all of them forever”. Do you think I really wanted to buy that Jethro Tull album? Well, yes, I did, but if I could have purchased a Final Fantasy 6 album in its place, I absolutely would have. Aqualung is nothing compared to Strago’s Aqua Rake. But Napster and its “criminal web” was the only available avenue.

And, God help me, I feel like nearly twenty years later, nothing has changed. I’m still about ten minutes away from holding a tape recorder to the TV.

The Baha MenYes, you can purchase the entire Final Fantasy library on iTunes, and, yes, we now live in a glorious future where every third JRPG you buy comes with a partial soundtrack (this is why I have so many Atlus sponsored coasters). But, well, I feel like there’s a reason I’m increasingly separated from the “real” radio. As a child of Napster, I am an MP3 hog. I have gone all in on CD-ripping and MP3 purchasing over the years, and I have… let’s see here… 6,518 MP3s on my playlist. And, to be perfectly clear, this is a carefully manicured list that has been accumulated over approximately twenty years, and is not simply, “Here’s a new CD, let’s rip every song and call it a day,” as if I were some kind of barbarian. No, there are only songs I want to listen to on this playlist, and all 300 or so hours of it is good stuff. And I know, that, of those 6,500 songs, if I choose to go back to listening to the “real” radio, I will probably hear… about twenty of those songs.

I have eclectic tastes.

It may not have been true back on the NES, but by the time we hit Dancing Madly, Final Fantasy was pumping out what was obviously “real music”. But will any of that music -literally thirty years’ worth of tunes performed by real, live orchestras- ever hit the FM stations? Of course not. And, mind you, I’m not claiming there needs to be Aloha De Chocobo on heavy rotation with the greatest hits of yesterday and today, but it would be kind of nice if, out of the hundreds of songs composed for the Final Fantasy franchise over the years, maybe we could get one that plays more often than an Avril Lavigne song from fifteen years ago. Come to think of it, The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been releasing the same song for the last three decades, maybe there’s room for Etro’s Champion somewhere in there.

GrrrrrI’m not naïve, I know Pitbull has more popularity and advertising clout than Lightning ever will, but when I sit down to play Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Curtain Call with its 321 songs (admittedly, some are DLC), I realize that literally hundreds of brilliant, memorable songs have been ghettoized to the slums of “it’s just videogame music”. And FFTCC is amazing, because it allows you to participate in these songs (Okay, you technically always could participate, but it turns out that hitting the Fight command to the beat doesn’t actually make Cloud do extra damage), and truly realize that some of these songs have become part of your DNA. Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the crazy one that can more easily recall the melody from Melodies of Life than anything by The Who, or maybe I’m the new normal. Despite the fact that a healthy portion of the population has never known a world without videogames, somehow One-Winged Angel still isn’t real music.

And it’s doubly strange, because, FFTCC, released three years ago, has no imitators. There was a Dragon Quest-based sequel that never saw our shores, and… that’s it. There are no Mega Man, Castlevania, or even Nintendo music library based rhythm games out there. And that means something. Final Fantasy is, whether through skill or marketing or some combination of both, the king of videogame music, and its own industry (and its fans) recognize that.

But, while Final Fantasy may be king, it’s king of the smallest, smelliest kingdom. It will never be invited to the big kids’ table, and will always be relegated to 3DS games or file sharing sites. Final Fantasy music may have come a long way in the last two decades, but it will still never reach the echelon of popularity dominated by Natalie Imbruglia.

SqwackIf there’s one thing that my ancient mix CDs and Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Curtain Call can agree on, it’s that Final Fantasy deserves better.

Though, if you’ve read this far, I’m obviously preaching to the choir. Sorry. Okay, choir, let’s get another round of Liberi Fatali going. From the top!

FGC #291 Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Curtain Call

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. Screen be damned, I would be happy to see a “complete” version pop up on the Switch.
  • Number of players: Two! I actually played head-to-head FFTCC once… and lost. Never tried again. I am a prideful man.
  • Favorite Song: And after an entire article extolling the joys of Final Fantasy music, I’m going to go ahead and name Chrono Trigger (The Theme from Chrono Trigger) as my favorite tune. What? Be glad I didn’t choose something from Nier!
  • Favorite Character: Lil’ Chaos is so adorable. That said, as much as I love this game, I kind of hate the… whatever this art style is called for the characters. Then again, I might just be biased because I had a bad experience with Flash figures back in the day.
  • Dance!Stylus or Buttons: While I understand you get more precision with the buttons, I’m a stylus guy. It just feels so much more… tactile to swipe along to the beat.
  • Did you know: Buying “additional characters” as DLC in a game where characters barely matter is robbery, and you know it, SE.
  • Would I play again: This is one game I really regret owning in cart, and not downloaded-forever form. That said, I do pop it back in the 3DS on occasion, and I always replay the game “for one more song” over and over again. So that’s a definite yes.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Brutal Paws of Fury for the Super Nintendo. That isn’t a Bubsy game is it? No? Okay, so please look forward to it.

Xenosaga Episode III Special 4: Beyond Xenosaga

Previously on Xenosaga: Xenosaga is over, folks! There are no more games left, I’ve said everything about the franchise I want to say, and I don’t think we’re going to be seeing Xenosaga HD in time for the Christmas season. It’s done, folks!

But just because a franchise ends, doesn’t mean it’s completely forgotten. Xenosaga has sent its tendrils far past its own release, so we’ll be spending this, the final update for this LP, looking at the games that Xenosaga, in some way, touched.

If you see a game’s title in bold text, fair warning, there are likely to be spoilers.

Now let’s start with the most obvious entry, the immediate sequel to Xenosaga…

Final Fantasy 13 (12/17/09 Japan, 03/09/10 USA) Playstation 3/Xbox 360

Wait… no. That’s… that’s not right…

Xenosaga Episode III Special 3: Xenosaga (and me) and Religion

Previously on Xenosaga: After over a year of writing (kinda) objectively about Xenosaga, I figure I’m entitled to one rambling, semi-autobiographical entry about Xenosaga and religion. This one is gonna be short on screenshots and heavy on words…

My first job was at a church. Specifically, it was a non-denominational, Christian church that was only open during the summer. Why was it seasonal? Simple: I lived (and live) in a shore community, and (while this isn’t strictly true) it’s generally assumed the area is deader than Jin the minute the beach becomes unviable. Restaurants close, entire swaths of the island are empty, and, in my youth, they even used to turn off the traffic lights the minute fall hit. It’s gotten better in recent years (mainly because the local chamber of commerce has done its best to extend the season in every conceivable direction), but, even now, that same church stops its Sunday services once the leaves start falling.

But during the summer? Then that church is popping.

This has always been “that church my grandmother goes to in the summer” to me, but it might be nationally famous. At the very least, it gets nationally famous speakers for every summer Sunday. In my first year working there, we had the spiritual advisor to Bill Clinton, the head organists for Radio City Music Hall, and Elizabeth Dole. And those are names I can remember off the top of my head. I’ve never been a big… Christian fan? Like, I don’t know who is big and famous in the evangelical circuit, and I don’t think I have any of the Earth’s Mightiest Methodists trading cards, but even I was able to see that this church was capable of corralling the titans of the Christian “industry”. Or maybe I just thought that because a few speakers required their own security detail…

Regarding my own job at the organization, though, I started as nothing more than a lowly weed-picker. There was a pile of manure with my name on it, literally, at one point. But I quickly rose in the ranks thanks to a combination of endless bragging and generally showing up on time more often than my contemporaries, and, before I knew it, I was the first “kid” working within the office of this church. I was the first web guru/network admin for a 120 year old organization. Woo! Also, to date this ridiculous story, my first task was to make sure the creaky MS-DOS database that contained the congregation’s contact information was updated to account for the upcoming Y2K bug. Sigh, memories.

Despite the seemingly national scope of this church, the office staff was generally limited. There was a “ruling body” of trustees, but they only met once every two weeks or so. The actual day-to-day interests of the church were managed by an operating president, vice president, accountant, secretary, and assistant secretary. There was also a complete grounds staff, but nobody let them inside. I was in that office, though, as, what, did you expect ‘em to keep the computers outside? Bah! I was inside with the big boys, and, as a result, was privy to all the goings-on of what keeps a nationally recognized church operating.

And it changed my outlook on Christianity forever.

Remember how I mentioned that this church got famous speakers from all over the world? Well, those people don’t just call you. A significant amount of effort was expended by the office staff “booking” these big names. Yes, some speakers were “locks” year after year, but there was still a lot of scheduling negotiation involved in even the “easiest” speaker. And then there were the fees involved. Some speakers, some good, Christian speakers, would preach the Word of God for nothing, or next to nothing. It was not uncommon for a speaker to ask for nothing more than airfare and a hotel room. Occasionally, a speaker would ask for those usual amenities, and some level of “base” fee, all the while making it clear that this is how he (inevitably “he”) lives, and it’s only proper to ask for a small donation. And then… then there were a few of the… “other” speakers.

I’m very deliberately not naming names in this article (or even completely identifying the name of the church, as you’ve no doubt noticed), but some particularly famous Christians would speak at the church, some even possibly from churches or ministries you might recognize, and their riders would be… in-depth. I can immediately recall one speaker that was internationally famous as a pillar of the Christian community… and his every appearance demanded a contribution of “the best hotel room available”, a limo from the hotel to the church, a stocked fridge of preferred drinks at the hotel and the church, a limo from the church to the beach after the service, and, of course, $3,000. This was a speaker that would get up every Sunday morning, preach about charity, love, and being a good Christian, and then hop into his limo so he could sip his favorite wine at the beach. Again, some speakers were free, but this guy would score 3K to open his mouth for forty minutes.

Oh, and there was the one time he reflexively spit on a random kid. That was something to see. Do not get that guy decaf. I think it was in the rider.

What I’m getting to here is that, in my teenage years, I learned something important about Christians: some of them are dicks. And I say that as a Christian (oh my God, I might be a dick, too).

I’ll say that again: I’m a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ, and a healthy percentage of the Bible. I also feel like I have to immediately apologize for my beliefs, because, look, I’ve seen what’s happening to the polar ice caps, I know what’s going on with our environment, and I don’t believe the friggen garbage-based apocalypse is “all part of God’s plan”. But I certainly know Christians that do. I know Christians that will fight to the death to “defend the sanctity of marriage”. I know Christians that genuinely want to see practically all of what we consider to be science abolished. And I know Christians that think it is okay to literally kill to protect fetuses. I… I don’t even know the proper word to use here… I‘m “ashamed”? It’s something like that, but can shame also contain pride? How sinful is that? Whatever the case, I suppose I’m ashamed to be part of a group that is so publicly (and in some cases, proudly) holding back societal progress. Is it a catch-all shield to defend prejudices and indolence, or is it genuine beliefs fueling hate that could last for centuries? Does it matter? In the end, it’s assumed that if someone is willing to say, “I’m a Christian”, then it’s likely going to be followed by, “And that’s why I believe you should have fewer rights.” Paraphrasing.

And, in a weird way, working at that church taught me that that’s… okay.

To revisit the speaker that would require $3K to publicly cough, he was one of my grandmother’s favorite speakers. Since the time I was like ten, my grandmother would tell me about this great minister, and would drag me along to her church every time he spoke. My grandmother was not a very excitable woman, but she would get genuinely enthusiastic about this guy, and, if you believe in being “filled with the spirit”, this guy did it for her (phrasing). I’ll reiterate that this guy once spit hot coffee on a random teenager, and then offered a half-hearted apology that sounded more perfunctory than anything, but my grandmother, someone I genuinely trusted and admired, thought he was the greatest thing since a bowlful of M&Ms. So here was a guy that was a complete asshole behind closed doors, but a perfect Christian pillar for the community. And here I was in the middle of that, trying to reconcile the holy man with the asshole jerk.

And that’s when I realized the moral of this article: there are good Christians that are good people publicly and privately, and there are “good” Christians that are good people publicly, but terrible people privately.

And Xenosaga seems to understand that.

Here’s a fun fact about Xenosaga: there are only Christians and atheists in this cast.

Okay, that’s not exactly true. While it’s not outright stated, Jin Uzuki appears to be a practicing Buddhist. And, while that doesn’t preclude him from having additional Christian beliefs, it’s pretty clear he’s the only guy in the universe with beliefs that aren’t wholly Christian. The rest of the party (save chaos, Shion, and KOS-MOS) seem to be confused by key passages from the Bible, so they’re theoretically not Christian, and, considering they don’t seem to express any other beliefs, we’ll just label them as atheists. Actually, Junior was born and bred to kill God, so he might be agnostic.

But the bad guys? Almost all of them are Christian, albeit a future, perverted version of Christianity. Margulis, Pellegri, Richard, and Hermann are all completely willing to die for their faith, which, again, is stated to 100% trace back to “the Messiah”. Albedo quotes the Bible regularly, and, while it may just be an affectation to match Junior’s “well read” mentality, he is shown to have a certain weakness for holy imagery. And Wilhelm, like chaos, was a contemporary of Jesus, and started the whole Ormus thing that got (his form of) Christianity through the cosmos. You’re still spreading the faith even if you’re spreading a slightly murderous version of it… right? Even Virgil seems to come around to the cross thanks to Feb, and it’s clearly implied by his final fate that he’s found some form of “the Light”.

But this is all par for the course with a JRPG, right? “Fighting an evil religion” is a trope practically as old as the medium itself, and it’s never a surprise when the final boss of a JRPG is “god”. It’s just normal progression, right? Fight a few cardinals, move up to the pope, and then battle god for supremacy of the universe. Afterwards, it’s revealed that god was really holding humanity back, and everybody goes out for fajitas. See also: Breath of Fire 2, Final Fantasy 10, and, I dunno, Demon’s Crest. Wait, which one lets you kill god with a chainsaw?

Except Xenosaga does a few things differently.

For one, this is not some random “mythological” religion, this is Christianity, complete with a guest appearance by Jesus. And this isn’t even a Final Fantasy or Neon Genesis Evangelion situation, where names and themes are reused, but it really has as much to do with Christianity as Quetzalcoatl and Odin ruling over the world of Final Fantasy 8. You’ve got “the lance that pierced Jesus on the cross”, but it’s a giant pitchfork that is capable of being hurled at the moon by a giant robot? Okay, guys, sure. I’ll check the Bible for that bit about an angel that is a bulbous black orb sent to menace teenagers with Oedipus complexes. What’s important in Xenosaga is that this isn’t The Church of St. Generic Badguy, it’s Christianity, with crosses and Bibles and an apostle or twelve.

Which actually neatly brings me to my next point. The Zohar and Zohar emulators of Xenosaga are gracefully named after Jesus and his twelve apostles. At first blush, this seems like another Eva-esque bout of “hur hur, here’s some religious symbolism for you”. However, as the plot progresses, we find that the Zohar was studied extensively by Joachim Mizrahi, and he built the twelve Zohar emulators. And named them. And why did he name them after the apostles? Simple: he’s a devoted Christian, and figured devices meant to speak to God may as well be named after people who literally spoke to God. Mizrahi is, basically, a Jesus fanboy.

And that’s important.

Dr. Mizrahi is Christian, and he’s a good guy. And a scientist! Febronia is Christian, and she’s a good guy. And a Realian! chaos is Christian, and he’s a good guy. And a party member! And Shion is Christian, a good guy, and the main character! Oh my gosh, we’ve got bad guys that are Christians, and we’ve got good guys that are Christians. It’s almost like it’s reality!

And, yes, there are shades of gray even in the good guys. Mizrahi decided to endanger an entire planet for the sake of potentially saving the universe, and he was believed to be a mad man for decades. chaos is constantly doubting himself, and people around him have suffered for it. And Shion… well, I think I already threw a couple thousand words at how she’s got problems dealing with friends and enemies. There are good people in the Xenosaga universe, but they’re flawed, and they’re incidentally Christian. Feb seems to be the only “immaculate” Christian in the bunch, but we mostly only see her through the eyes of her child protégé (Shion) and lover (Virgil), so it’s likely she’s just as much of a sinner during her time off. And she did spend most of her afterlife advocating for the death of her sisters, which seems morally dubious.

So, yes, Xenosaga is a JRPG where Christian symbolism is common, and eventually, yes, you fight a controlling “god” for the right for humanity to live a truly free existence. But what’s different here is that there are NPCs and party members that are Christian, and they all express their faith in different ways. Shion and Margulis believe in the exact same savior, but Shion tries to help the living while Margulis fights to be a martyr. Mizrahi seemingly came to his faith while trying to cope with the death of his daughter, while Pellegri sees her religion as an inescapable, inherited fate. And chaos, the guy that actually got to pal around with Jesus Christ, has apparently spent the last 6,000 years as a directionless loner, but, thanks to Christian teachings, at least tried to do his best as a friendly fellow during his off time.

chaos believes in a universe that involves the freedom of… chaos. chaos believes in a world that could equally love or crucify a savior, just so long as it is the choice of the people involved. That… sounds vaguely familiar.

So Xenosaga does something different from most JRPGs: it actually takes the time to examine the faiths of both sides. It doesn’t blanket call religion bad, nor does it make every religious member of the party a perfect example of heroism. Christians in Xenosaga are like Christians in the real world, simply people trying to do what they think is right. Some of these people are obviously wrong, but that doesn’t change their faith, or what they believe. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter, they can still inspire others, they can still spread their principles, and, end of the day, they can still say they believe in the same Messiah. There are all kinds of people, good and bad, that believe in the same things, and Xenosaga isn’t afraid to show both sides.

You slay a lot of gods in JRPGs, but it’s rare that you find characters that believe in something. Yes, usually there are the old standbys like “friendship” or “the resistance” or “for GP”; but consider that your average JRPG hero is in a literally life or death situation. Isn’t it a little… odd that you have no idea what Cecil Harvey believes will happen to those black mages he killed? Is it weird that 21 year old Cloud Strife is introduced to the concept of an afterlife a few days into a world tour with random eco-terrorists? The world of Final Fantasy 13 has an army of random gods, so Lightning kills ‘em, and then we’ve got two games and 1,000 years where, what, people just believe in sexy sisters that turn into motorcycles? That is a poor foundation for a belief system.

Xenosaga gives you people that believe in a religion, and it gives you good people and bad people that believe in that. And you’ve got people, good and bad, that do not believe in that. And, in the end, neither side is right or wrong for their beliefs, they’re heroic or villainous for what they do with those beliefs. Like in reality, beliefs and religion are just one aspect of a person.

And, yes, in real life there are people that will try to limit your rights because of their faith. There are people that will try to tell you that Jesus saves, and that includes the o-zone layer. There are pastors that absolutely will spit on your friends because they got the wrong coffee. These people might be terrible, and you absolutely should fight against them, but that doesn’t make everything they believe in wrong. Faith is different for every person, and every person is different. Christianity itself is neither good nor bad, but the people that believe in it can be.

Oh, and what I learned at my first job? There are Christians that can be dicks, and it’s your responsibility to be one of the good ones. Always do your best to be a chaos, not a Wilhelm. That’s what’s going to make the universe a better place, regardless of your faith.

Next time on Xenosaga: Xenosaga, where are they now?