Tag Archives: old man yells at cloud strife

FGC #526 Final Fantasy 7 Remake

This article contains hella spoilers for Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and a Thornton Wilder play. It happens. If you wish to experience FF7R untainted by foreknowledge, you have been warned. Now back to that play…

Let's talk about playsIn 1938, Thornton Wilder released Our Town. For anyone that has not seen or read the play, it is a deliberately simple production that showcases three different stages in the lives of the residents of Grover’s Corners. It begins with a focus on “daily life”, like children going to school and milk being delivered, proceeds to “love & marriage” with a joyous and stressful wedding day, and finally ends with “death and eternity”, a supernatural visit with the spirits literally haunting the local cemetery. The whole while, the play is hosted by the Stage Manager, a character that bleats his dialogue against the fourth wall. This “manager” separates their role between being a character in Grover’s Corners, narrator, and a congenial guy (or lady) that addresses questions from the audience. The Stage Manager and the general tone of the whole production was a result of Wilder acknowledging that he didn’t like the direction “the theater” was taking at the time, and Our Town was intended to drop intricate sets and impersonal narratives for a simple setup and direct interaction with the audience. Possibly because of this, Our Town has been popular since its premiere; however, Wilder often said the play was rarely performed correctly, as, in his own words, it “should be performed without sentimentality or ponderousness–simply, dryly, and sincerely.” Good luck with that, Thorn, as the final act of Our Town contains one of the most beautiful and insightful exchanges ever directly lifted by Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch:

“Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”

“No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”

If you’re curious about the context of such a statement: Emily, one of the stars of Our Town that has been showcased since her childhood days, has died during childbirth. She meets the other ghosts of the graveyard, and learns that, while she is unable to join the skeleton army, she can re-experience any moment from her past. She is warned not to try it, but she chooses to live out a mundane memory from her 12th birthday. Despite the fact that this is a typical, fairly boring day (children’s birthday parties in the early 20th Century rarely included enough N64 games to make them worthwhile), Emily can barely bear the weight of experiencing a time when her family was content, happy, and, most importantly, alive. Emily knows what happens to the people close to her 12 year old self, and she knows the hardships and death that await herself and others. Items as humble as sizzling bacon or a kiss from her mother are things Emily will never experience ever again, so this living memory of happier times is agonizing. Do people realize how good they have it when they have it? How every little piece of life is precious, and even something as routine as seeing a family member for breakfast can be lost in an instant? No. Of course not. The Saints and poets sometimes think about such, but you’re here reading a videogame essay, and gradually getting distracted by the fact that I mentioned bacon. Get a goddamn snack and then think about how good you have it, you frivolous living person.

So, after explaining one of the most important plays of the last century for 500 words, I’m going to go ahead and assume you’ve played Final Fantasy 7. You know the drill, right?

FGC #395 Final Fantasy Dissidia NT

FINAL FANTASYSo, chess, right? You know how to play chess? Let’s say you do. Do you remember when you learned how to play chess? Were you taught by a family member? A teacher? Some other kid? Some other adult? But here’s the thing: it is very unlikely you learned chess from a rulebook. Yes, you may have later read a great strategy guide to finally beat your grandpa at the game of kings (who don’t feel like standing up), but it’s downright unnatural to learn the rules of the game from a book or manual. And there’s a reason for that! Chess is a two player game, so it’s rather inevitable that player one is going to lecture player two. This is how games are learned! This is how games are passed from generation to generation. And, ultimately, this is what makes a game eternal: the drive for one generation to teach another. Because, after all, if you can’t find somebody to play with, what’s the point of playing a game at all?

Now, humble reader, I am well aware this is a videogame blog. I am blitheringly aware that “there must be a second player” is a stupid position for malcontents that haven’t picked up a controller in the last thirty years. This very blog will attest to the fact that my favorite games are predominantly single player. And, sad but true fact, I would estimate that a mere 10% of my gaming time is anything that could truly be considered “multiplayer”. But, gentle reader, you misunderstand my intentions. I’m not saying a game must include a two player option, I’m saying that videogames are your second player.

My father taught me how to play checkers. My mother taught me how to play Clue. My grandfather taught me how to play Chess. And Shigeru Miyamoto taught me how to play Super Mario Bros. Or did SMB itself teach me? The line is a little blurred there, but, if we consider videogames to be “thinking” objects (which we obviously do, because why else would we swear at them so regularly when they kill our dudes?), then a videogame’s own… videogameness is your eternal second player and teacher. After all, what fun is a game if you don’t understand the rules?

WeeeeeAnd, while we’re asking that rhetorical question: are bad games just games where “the game” misrepresents or otherwise sullies “the rules”? What is bad hit detection but a misperception of the boundaries of certain malicious pixels? When a JRPG requires excessive grinding, is it a feature, or a misunderstanding of what the player has to do between two objectives? And who likes it when the rules change right at the final moments? You’ve been playing an awesome action game, and then it turns into a shoot ‘em up? That’s a clear betrayal of the rules that Friend Videogame laid down from the start! That would be like requiring every game of Hungry Hungry Hippos to end with a test of strength! And that’s terrible! There’s no way I could overpower a kindergartener!

And then there are the games that don’t even bother with explaining the rules. They’re the worst of all.

Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is the long awaited sequel to Final Fantasy Dissidia Duodecim, a game that was released a whopping seven years ago. In videogame years, that is a period equal to approximately eighteen Assassin’s Creeds, or at least sixty Maddens. That is a lot of time for technology to improve, and, what’s more, the old Dissidia was a title for the PSP. Remember the PSP? Sony’s attempt to out-portable Nintendo right when mobile gaming was first making the scene? Yeah, it was an abject failure, but Square-Enix managed to release at least one good PSP game a year, so it wasn’t a total loss. And one of those excellent SE games was Dissidia, an unusual fighting game featuring the heroes and villains of the Final Fantasy franchise all duking it out for… I don’t know… I think crystals were involved? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it was fun, and it was one of the rare fighting games that was actually built for a portable system. Dissidia was part Street Fighter, but also part Pokémon, as you had to “train” your Tidus, and make sure the little dork always had the best equipment. WeeeeeExcuse me, it wasn’t about having the best equipment, it was about equipping the items that would fit your playstyle, so you might wind up with a different load out if you preferred to chase EX charges, or liked to just pummel your opponent into submission. You’ve got options!

But this is not to say Dissidia was a straightforward fighting game that just happened to have a little extra backend. Dissidia introduced the “Bravery System”, which, in short, means you’re supposed to hit your opponent until you have accrued enough hits to really hit your opponent. On one hand, it’s an overly complicated way to get to the “deplete HP” step that is essential to every fighting game ever, but, on the other hand, it does create a lot more drama, and a real see-saw mechanic that other fighting games have attempted to achieve for years. But, love it or hate it, you had to learn it before you could use it, so Dissidia certainly had a barrier of entry. But at least there was a tutorial right from the boot up of Dissidia, and, acknowledging that people might need such a thing, there were intensive lessons available through the game. And, what’s more, those lectures were written “by” Final Fantasy heroes from throughout the series, so if you ever thought Rydia would be an excellent summons teacher, congratulations, you’re right! Hey, if a game knows you’re going to need extra instructions, at least make those instructions interesting.

Final Fantasy Dissidia NT, unfortunately, did not learn this lesson.

Learn to climb!FFDNT started as an arcade game. And that’s great! So did Street Fighter 2! And we all learned how to play that game just fine. Except… assuming you were playing a proper SF2 cabinet, all the fireball motions you could ever need were graphics on the cabinet, so learning the finer points of that experience was, amazingly, still teaching-based. Not so much with FFDNT. It is unlikely I’ll ever see a FFDNT cabinet, but I’m going to go ahead and assume it doesn’t have the gameplay basics written anywhere on there, as it would require a cabinet roughly the size of a convenience store. Want to know how Terra works? That’s in aisle six.

See, the problem with Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is not simply that it fails to convey meaningful lessons to the neophyte player, it’s that there is so much going on, it is impossible to accurately learn anything from the gameplay. There are two teams of three, but you only control one fighter on one team. That’s pretty normal… but what are the win conditions again? It seems like fighters revive pretty quickly after depleting their health… so is it a most kills in a minute kind of thing? No, wait, the match just ended… did someone die? Our team? Theirs? And now there are some rankings… looks like whoever exhausted the most HP gets the trophy… but aren’t there other goals during a match? Why am I supposed to attack the EX Core Crystals again? To summon? But I can summon even if I never bothered. And what does the summon do? Change the background, toss a few lasers around, and… wait, my attack stat goes up? How am I supposed to know that? And I should be using my EX skill more often? How does that become available? It poisons the opponent? But only if I choose that at the start of the match? Holy cow, how are there this many questions revolving around one three minute match!?

GO AWAYAnd Dissidia NT continues to pose questions when it should be providing answers. Why does story mode distinctly require exiting story mode to make progress? Why does this character completely change her playstyle with a button, while that character just kind of grunts? Why did I just earn a new special move if I can’t even use it? Why is changing equipment only cosmetic, but changing my EX ability dramatically impacts the battle? And, most of all, why are my party members always dying? Am I supposed to be doing something different? Should I be protecting them? Should I be more offensive? If this were a traditional Final Fantasy game (even one of the later, more AI controlled titles like FF15 or FF12), and 66% of my party was dying every other round, I’d be sure I was doing something wrong. Here? Not really. In fact, during boss matches, your allies appear to exist only to be mobile meat dummies, and their greatest contribution is distraction. But it’s not like the game effectively relays this information in any way, and you’re just left listening to Shantotto apologize for her tenth death in a row. I’m sorry, chipmunk girl, I’ll try to be better next time. I think?

And it’s not that Dissidia NT is a bad game, it’s simply that practically the entire thing… ummm… uh… Oh! A metaphor! Good games play with you like a good friend, but bad games are definitely that one smelly kid that told you exactly what you’re going to play now, and you’re going to listen to his rules, and what do you mean you don’t play it like this at your house, we’re playing it my way now, you better learn how that works, or you’re not going to have any fun. No, I’m not going to teach you, nerd, just start playing. No, not like that! Moooooom! Bobby isn’t playing the game right at all!

Okay, maybe Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is bad. Once you understand it, once you read the FAQs and strategy guides and message boards, once you get through all the auxiliary materials, FFDNT is actually pretty fun to play. But before that? Before that, it’s pure, confusing hell, and a hell that makes no effort to impart how you might find your way to its heaven. Final Fantasy Dissidia NT might have a delicious, chewy center, but it’s surrounded by rancid garbage.

And how much garbage are you willing to swallow?

FGC #395 Final Fantasy Dissidia NT

  • System: Playstation 4 and Arcade. The arcade version came out three years ago? Crazy.
  • Number of players: Online? Six. Locally? One. There should be a law against that.
  • Go get 'emOther Illegalities: There are also loot boxes. And “buy a season pass now, we’ll announce the DLC characters later” sales. Dissidia is actively trying to piss me off.
  • The sequel curse: So this is, ultimately, a mascot fighting game. And you know what a mascot fighting game should never do? Drop characters. I don’t care if you’re Ice Climbers or Gon, when you lose the weirdo auxiliary characters from game to game, you lose my heart. The lack of Gilgamesh, Laguna, Yuna, and Tifa in this title is keenly felt. And if even one of those dorks become extra purchases? I will burn this mother down.
  • Favorite Character: Bartz is pretty awesome. He was my favorite in OG Dissidia, and he’s completely different now, but he’s still a lot of fun. And fast! And fast is really important when you have to chase some angry tree all over the arena.
  • Other annoyances: You can’t just restart a battle in a single player match. This is particularly important in the boss battles, as, come on, you can permanently lose those fights in the first thirty seconds, but wait five minutes to actually die. And then you have to wait five minutes for loading screens…
  • The Final Fantasy: So, considering the sheer lunacy that was the first two Dissidia titles, the story of this one is actually pretty straightforward: there’s a world fueled by battles, everyone battles, everyone realizes there’s no real reason to battle, and then they fake battle until they battle a giant lizard so they can make clones that will fight battles forever. That’s pretty much the plot to Sense and Sensibility.
  • Say something nice: Terra is supposed to be “post Final Fantasy 6” Terra in this one (or something like that), and she’s actually kind of… good? Previous Dissdias made her a sort of damsel (“Oh, poor me, Kefka is always taking over my brain, what is it to be me?”), but here she’s confident, and winds up being the de facto leader of her little party. Way to get yourself together, Terra!
  • Work together!Did you know? That kid from Final Fantasy Tactics is in this one! No, not Thunder God Cid, the main character. You know! What’s his name? Delita? No, that doesn’t sound right…
  • Would I play again: Honestly? Probably not. Even if the upcoming DLC is amazing, there are too many good fighting games out there, and Dissidia seems to revel in wasting time. Just give me my instant gratification, Square!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Centipede: Infestation for the Nintendo 3DS! Centipedes? In my blog? It’s more common than you think. Please look forward to it!

FGC #180 Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core

SLASHLike the ouroboros, here is the tail of the Final Fantasy 7 Compilation, and the head of the Final Fantasy 7 story.

Let’s review the Final Fantasy 7 franchise. Final Fantasy 7 was a straight JRPG that redefined gaming and, incidentally, was pretty damn fun to play. Ehrgeiz wasn’t technically a FF7 game, but it featured almost the entire main cast, and eschewed all the trappings of a plot for a fighting game that amounted to “let’s have fun with these guys”. In a way, it was almost proto-Dissidia. Advent Children, meanwhile, was Ehrgeiz’s opposite, nonexistent gameplay in exchange for a reunion (ha!) special that focused primarily on Cloud’s various psychoses. Dirge of Cerberus was an action game with a plot, but both parts were severely lacking when stacked against Vincent’s debut game. And, starting before even Advent Children, there was Before Crisis, an episodic cell phone game featuring the Turks that never saw release in North America. Given I can only guess at its content, I’m forced to conclude that it was exactly as unnecessary as Final Fantasy 4: The After Years, though I’d love to be proven otherwise. Still, anything primarily staring Reno cannot, by definition, be any good.

It’s a personal bias, yes, but I always felt that the individual pieces of Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 did not combine to form a Voltron that could face the robeast that was the original Final Fantasy 7. I’m not even that big of a fan of Final Fantasy 7 (on my general Final Fantasy rankings chart, it’s above anything from the NES, but I’d put 4, 6, 8, 12, and even 13 higher than 7. This is, again, completely subjective, so don’t think too hard about it), so it’s not like I’m putting the game on that high of a pedestal. But Advent Children was a popcorn flick about as substantial as kernels, and Dirge was a game roughly as fun as licking a fire poker (I speak from experience!). As an added bonus, both games “expanded the mythology” in a manner that seemed to only weaken the original Final Fantasy 7. So Sephiroth can just come back to life whenever he wants despite Cloud’s final cathartic omnislash? And there are somehow entire countries that we missed exploring back when AVALANCHE was touring? Great, now I just want a bigger, badder Final Fantasy 7, and not this parade of spinoffs.

Final Fantasy 7 Voltron needed something else. It needed its Blazing Sword. It needed Crisis Core.

Crisis Core is Zack’s story. Zack, you may recall, was little more than Cloud’s palette swap in the original Final Fantasy 7. While I don’t believe ATTACK!Zack appeared onscreen for very much of Final Fantasy 7’s original release (hey, who’s that in the picture?), FF7 NA included a few scenes of Cloud and Zack escaping from Hojo, and Zack… dying. Zack, ultimately, is the Uncle Ben to Cloud’s Spider-Man, so, right from jump street, there was no way Crisis Core would wrap up with a happy ending. Additionally, this forces Crisis Core into being a prequel, and thus cursed with all the problems that great men like George Lucas have never been able to overcome. Enjoy all these amazing characters achieving grand goals? Great! Now you get to watch them before they got anything done, and, by plot rules, will be incapable of accomplishing anything!

And, make no mistake, Crisis Core is burdened with some particularly groan-worthy retcons. Zack named the bar that would become Tifa’s Seventh Heaven. Aeris wears her signature pink outfit exclusively for Zack’s return. The Turks, and Tseng in particular, have a great interest in Aeris not only for Shinra, but also as a personal favor to Zack. And, most aggravating of all, Sephiroth is revealed to not be the only science experiment stalking the halls of SOLDIER, no, Sephiroth’s contemporaries, Angeal and Genesis were also pumped full of midichlorians Jenova Cells, and at least one of those guys tried to destroy the world a good couple of years before Meteor was even a glimmer in the cosmos (the other one turned into a dog or something). On one hand, sure, it makes sense that there would be a few other “test cases” spawning from Hojo’s lab, but on the other hand, come on, way to weaken your scary, imposing, and, most of all, memorable big bad by just making him one of a batch.

MONSTERBut, despite all the prequel problems inherit to the story, Crisis Core seems to be the only worthy successor to the Final Fantasy 7 name within the compilation. And it’s not because it’s the first game to even try to simulate something like a “real” Final Fantasy 7 feel, it’s because it’s finally about something.

This, ultimately, is the secret to a good prequel. Far too many prequels (and, yes, Star Wars springs immediately to mind here) spend all their time carefully lining up the dominos for the actually good story. Here’s the Buster Sword, here’s exactly where it got its start, who owned it, and every enemy it bisected before it got to Cloud. Yes, that kind of thing is inevitably interesting to someone that already experienced the original story (and, incidentally, possibly spent a decade on Gamefaqs theorizing and debating unexplained gaps), but to someone that simply played Final Fantasy 7 and then called it a day and moved on to 1997’s other releases (or someone who didn’t play Final Fantasy 7 at all), it’s just rote plot filler. Woo, Warrior X is super attached to Sword Y, haven’t seen that before. No, what a prequel needs is a story of its own, and, more importantly, a theme of its own.

Except, my bad, Crisis Core doesn’t have a theme of its own.

Crisis Core is, much like its ancestor, completely obsessed with fate. We already know Sephiroth’s story, but, once again, here’s a man that discovers his origins, and then absolutely flips until Nibelheim is a smoking crater, and the planet is steered onto a similar path. Genesis, Sephiroth’s red-headed step brother, has a similarly destructive outlook on life, but believes his fate is being steered not by his genetic origins, but his literary origins. Yes, Genesis is, essentially, a malevolent English Major. Regardless of the source, both whackjobs endanger the entire planet because they’re convinced they’re meant to. Angeal is on the side of the angels (oh, I just got that), but he’s similarly shackled by duty and destiny. He’s the good guy because he (mostly) follows orders and looks out for his subordinates, but, still, he’s, in a manner of speaking, “just following orders”.

And then there’s Zack.

WoooZack is an actual SOLDIER 2nd Class at the start of the game (which, incidentally, means AVALANCHE likely would have slaughtered the guy had he never received a promotion), but eventually becomes an actual SOLDIER 1st Class to stand with the greats like legendary Black Trench Coat and easily forgotten Red Trench Coat. Zack spends most of his life following orders, not only during the plot, but also through a series of side missions that are assigned via Shrina and various other hangers-on. Zack, here’s a tip, when you’re taking orders from a pre-pubescent Yuffie, you’re maybe a little too obedient.

Eventually, Zack is betrayed by SOLDIER and Shinra, and he becomes a man on the run. But even when Zack is separated from the company and companions that have defined his life up to this point, he’s still following clearly defined, short-term “missions”. Protect a comatose Cloud. Stop Genesis from doing… whatever he’s doing. Empty every indistinct cave of every generic monster. You can take the boy out of SOLDIER, but you can’t take the SOLDIER out of the boy. Throughout it all, Zack seems to retain one overarching goal, and that’s to return to Aeris back in Midgar… a goal that is, yet again, in service to another person.

And, as we all know, Zack isn’t going to achieve everything on his bucket list. Despite eventually obtaining enough broken materia to take down a planetary goddess, Zack is still going to be gunned down by a trio of soldiers as Cloud looks on, because, without that event, there is no Final Fantasy 7. It’s a tragedy, you know what’s going to happen, and it becomes an echo of Aeris’s own fate in Final Fantasy 7 (unless you’re one of the twelve people on Earth that didn’t have that death spoiled by a FAQ, strategy guide, “well-meaning” friend, or me). Bye ByeKnowing Zack’s fate, every action, every life saved, every afternoon wasted punching ostriches has that much more meaning for a man with a death sentence. Maybe Zack completes every mission, maybe he just speeds through “his” story, but no matter the choices he makes, there’s no getting off the train Zack’s on, and his last stop isn’t Midgar Station, but a forgotten hill that will be seared into Cloud’s (repressed) memory.

So enjoy Crisis Core. Enjoy a game that, finally, at the end of the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7, remembers what Final Fantasy 7 was all about. It’s about fate. It’s about choices, both real and imaginary. It’s not about fights with hulking dragons or invincible WEAPONs, it’s not even about saving the planet. It’s about people, what they do, and what they try to do to make their lives better.

Crisis Core does what no other piece of Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 does: it makes Final Fantasy 7 better. And if you don’t want to play Final Fantasy 7 upon completing Crisis Core, well, then maybe you’re just a puppet without emotions.

FGC #180 Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core

  • System: PSP, and only PSP. I, however, will be shocked if we don’t see a Type 0-style HD remake of this game before at least one of the Final Fantasy 7 HD Episodes.
  • Number of Players: One Zack. Wait, let me make sure someone didn’t try to shoe-horn in a 2-Player Mission mode or something… okay, yeah, just one player.
  • Port Problems: Assuming Crisis Core does wind up on anything but a portable system, it will be a loss for the game. Crisis Core’s gameplay soars because it has about a thousand short, “meaningless” missions that are ideal for quick play sessions or while watching TV (or both). A Crisis Core that still basically requires all those Grumblebite-sized missions (for leveling, materia acquisition, etc), but must be played on the big screen during dedicated couch time would not be nearly as enjoyable.
  • To be the very best: Yes, I 100% completed every mission in this game. It’s a testament to how good the gameplay in Crisis Core actually is, but it’s also a result of the PSP seeing practically zero software after its initial launch. But, once a year, Square Enix released a PSP game actually worthwhile (see also: Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Dissidia, and Final Fantasy 4 Complete [my “last” PSP game]), and I’d be damned before I let a system I purchased wallow in disuse. Work that battery, PSP!
  • Barrett? No Barrett. Fine time to look at the start of Avalanche, but nooooope.
  • Buster Blues: Much fuss throughout this plot is placed on the Buster Sword, what it means to its various owners, and how important it has been throughout the lead-up to Final Fantasy 7. The Buster Sword even originated with Angeal’s poor family saving up to purchase the iconic blade for their son… so it’s kind of a shame that it’s the absolute weakest sword Cloud can equip, and it’ll start soaking up inventory mildew five seconds out of Midgar.
  • Did you know? Genesis survives this game, and is dragged past the good Final Fantasy 7 games to appear in the secret ending of Dirge of Cerberus as the reawaked “G”. This was supposed to be important and spooky and oh boy what is Genesis going to do next… but, nope, Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 ended chronologically with Dirge, so we won’t know what Red gets up to after awakening unless, I suppose, Final Fantasy 7 HD is a monster success worthy of new, original content. Sorry, Genesis, you’re loveless.
  • Would I play again? Yes, despite complaints that a “TV Version” would suck all the fun out of the experience, it’s pretty inevitable that I’ll play whatever version of Crisis Core we see in the future. It’s a surprisingly good game (particularly compared to its contemporaries), and I wouldn’t mind seeing poor, doomed Zack ride again.

What’s next? Regular service resumes next week, and Random ROB has chosen… Splatoon for the WiiU! Time to get our squidly bits a-paintin’! Please look forward to it!

Let's call it a day

FGC #177 Ehrgeiz

King of the God Fist?Words aren’t enough for Ehrgeiz.

As you may have heard, Final Fantasy 7 put Squaresoft on the map. I will argue until the day I die that Chrono Trigger was a better game, and Final Fantasy 6 was subjectively better than FF7, but that is immaterial to the fact that Final Fantasy 7 not only made an airship full of money for Squaresoft, it also dramatically increased Square’s cultural footprint. The likes of Nintendo, Capcom, and Konami were synonymous with gaming for a couple of console generations, and Enix was a hulking cyclops in its native Japan, but now Square and the Sony Playstation brand were the guys to beat. Someone at the top of Square must have noticed, because, instead of simply relying on the genre that had earned Square its (ultimately fleeting) elevated position, they decided to try a few new things.

But, you know, they still hung on to that FF7 IP. They knew what primed their potions.

In retrospect , 1998 was an interesting year for gaming. The Playstation was starting its dominance of the console market that would last for another generation to come, and Nintendo, for the first time, was stuck with a dud that seemed downright archaic next to Playstation’s wondrous world of FMVs. But even amongst the rise of “arcade graphics” on the home consoles, the arcades were still if not exactly booming, at least healthy. The fighting game fad hadn’t completely subsided yet, and while Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were gradually making their way to a permanent home on the couch consoles, the likes of Tekken and X-Men vs. Street Fighter were offering amazing experiences for anyone still willing to donate enough quarters. In a way, it was a “healthy” time for gaming, or at least one where forty bucks would net you a forty hour game, and fifty cents would nab an experience a little bit more interesting than Mappy Land. And, yes, since the arcade was still reigning supreme, “arcade games” were considered above their console brethren: you can play Tekken at home, but the real experience is at the mall.

So you can imagine my amazement when, wandering around a local arcade, I saw my old friends Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII staring back at me.

WINNERThis is, as ever, a weird thing about video games. Yes, any entertainment medium with a story worth its salt does its best to endear its characters to you, and thus make them part of your fictional, mental “family”. Arguably, this is the entire concept that currently drives Hollywood and marketing in general: you already like Harry Potter and his wizarding friends, so here’s another seven movies with those kids, and maybe a spin-off about animals or something. Like that Lord of the Rings? How about we bleed a trilogy out of that old guy with the hairy feet? You’ll watch that, right? But video games are even worse in that regard, as I’ve argued before, you so totally inhabit a character in a long-form, video game narrative that you inevitably grow more attached to your digital avatar than you would a hero you simply watch. I journeyed from Cloud’s awkward SOLDIER days in a tube in the basement to the center of the Earth itself right there with him, so you better believe I care what happens next and where he goes.

When you get right down to it, this is the (obvious) thinking behind the whole “Compilation of Final Fantasy 7” or whatever Squeenix was calling it, but back in 1998, that was still years away. I reiterate this from during my Kingdom Hearts coverage, but well before the likes of Dissidia, Theatrhythm, and other Square-Enix games that make my spellcheck spaz out, when a Final Fantasy game ended, it ended. Kefka bragged about creating a monument to nothingness, but about a half hour after he was defeated, his world was… nothing. Get it?The mere fact that Cloud had escaped a similar fate was an event all on its own, and then there was the little fact that he was, ya know, playable.

Let’s revisit Final Fantasy 6 again (hopefully for the final time in this article, but no guarantees). Sabin was likely the most “physical” party member in that game, and his most enduring animation was either flipping a train 180 degrees or quickly spinning around an enemy with sporadic epileptic flashes. The ultimate spell, Ultima, created some kind of blue dome… was that supposed to be ground erupting, or just an expanding sphere of pure magic? Who knows? And the ultimate summons was a trio of static drawings that shrunk and flashed as needed. Even when Final Fantasy 6 was at its dramatic height for graphics, you had to use a healthy amount of imagination to fill in the gaps.

In that regard, Final Fantasy 7 was an amazing upgrade. I can’t have been the only person that was shocked when Titan flipped the very ground below an enemy, or when Sephiroth summoned a meteor that incidentally destroyed half the galaxy. But even though graphical splendor was radiating Final Fantasy 7, the average playable character was still fairly limited. Everyone remembers Cloud’s Omnislash, but his earlier limit breaks were simple affairs, like a generic “sword beam” or three slashes that managed to produce kanji. And Cloud’s basic slash involved a weird, “instant” dash the didn’t even bother animating Cloud, ya know, walking/running. Yes, there’s untold grandeur in Bahamut’s multiple appearances, but the main party of FF7 (complete with randomly shifting models between FMVs, battle scenes, and maps) never really felt like they were built to actually “move” in a real environment. For all the polygons and modeling that went into Sephiroth, I never really believed he had that many more movement options than accomplished hunk of lumber Ex-Death.

WeeeeNow, here was Ehrgeiz. Not only could Cloud walk, run, and jump at will, but he could battle on a 3-D plane. He could use multiple attacks (some based on Final Fantasy moves, others… not so much). He could block, fall down, and get right back up again. In short, Cloud Strife was now a “real” person… or at least as real as the cast of Tekken 3. Tekken 3, incidentally, is my ruler by which “realistic” graphics are measured exclusively because the girl I had a crush on through junior high (and high school) (and college) (and not insignificant portions of the last decade) who had absolutely no interest in video games took one look at T3’s Eddy Gordo and responded, “Wow, he’s pretty hot.” Aside from sparking a lifelong rivalry with practitioners of Caopeira, this event taught me there’s a significant difference between the “abstract” models of most JRPGs, and the more realistic (and evidently hotter) models of more kinetic games like those in the fighting genre. Cloud had belonged to the former grouping, but now was firmly entrenched in the “real” world of Ehrgeiz.

And it wasn’t just Cloud! Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII were all palling around the arcade, and by the time Ehrgeiz hit the home consoles, Yuffie, Vincent, Sephiroth, and Zack had joined the melee. This was huge! Yuffie and Vincent were hidden characters in FF7, so their inclusion here legitimized a pair of fan favorites that previously weren’t even allowed to participate in their own ending (and the fact that you could play as a Turks version of Vinnie was just icing on the cake). Zack was practically unseen throughout FF7 (which, yes, deliberate move), but now here he was, running around and doing squats like a champ. And Sephiroth? Holy cow, Sephiroth. A… not insignificant portion of Final Fantasy 7 is dedicated to telling the player exactly how incredibly badass Legendary SOLDIER 1st Class Sephiroth happened to be, and, back in the late 90’s, we hadn’t quite come around to the nuanced reading that that’s all there to contrast with the vaguely weak and ineffective “real” Sephiroth. So this, the opportunity to play as the one and only Sephiroth, God, it’s still hard to put into words.

Right in the chaosNever mind the fact that the majority of the FF7 cast was now simply little more than costume swaps for the real Ehrgeiz characters (Red XIII literally was a costume swap, Vincent, Yuffie, and Zack are all reused movesets), and never mind that this is a “dream match” situation, where the plot doesn’t have to make a lick of sense, and the majority of Final Fantasy imports don’t receive proper endings. This was, plain and simple, an attempt to elevate Ehrgeiz above the fighting/arcade competition, and, while I’d like to claim my peers and myself were above such naked pandering… it worked. It worked like gangbusters. I guarantee you there are more than a few copies out Ehrgeiz out there where the entire original cast was completely untouched, but the Sephiroth portion of the disc is worn into oblivion.

So, you know what? Ehrgeiz might not be part of the official Compilation of Final Fantasy 7. No, it doesn’t reveal what Cait Sith was up to in his spare time, or fill in the backstory on Tifa’s orthopedic underwear, but it might be the most important video game featuring Cloud and company, even if they never speak a word. This was the game that said, “You know what? It doesn’t make any sense, some of these characters are dead, and others are tossing around landmines for some reason, but here is a portion of the cast of Final Fantasy 7 in another video game? You want to play?”

I suppose there are words for Ehrgeiz, and those words are, “Yes, please. May I have another?”

FGC #177 Ehrgeiz

  • He's unchainedSystem: Playstation (1), and arcade. I understand this game has seen some random rereleases in Japan, and I’d be surprised if we don’t see similar either before, after, or during the Final Fantasy 7 remake release window.
  • Number of players: Two. You can have Cloud and Sephiroth fight, or Cloud and Zack fight, or Cloud and Tifa fight, or, I don’t know, one of those nobodies from the proper cast.
  • Favorite Nobody: Most of the original Ehrgeiz cast are forgettable “Ryus”, that is to say, a bunch of random muscle dudes who want to win the tournament to be better martial artists or whatever. However, this is likely just because “Yoyo” Yoko Kishibojin hoarded all the other available tropes. She’s a high school girl/police officer/archeologist that attacks with jujutsu and a mechanical, spiked yo-yo. The only other remotely unique character is Jo, who basically holds a more “mature” version of Blanka’s backstory. Figure that one out.
  • Favorite Final Fantasy 7 Character (Ehrgeiz edition): Vincent Valentine was my boy in Final Fantasy 7 and out, so, even today, he’s the first character my cursor gravitates toward. And he gets his own suit! That said, for actually playing the game, I choose Tifa, who practically already was a fighting game character anyway, so her gameplay adapts really well to the ring. You know what, if the next Dissidia doesn’t allow Tifa and FF6’s Sabin to team up, I’m getting out of the biz.
  • Barrett? No Barrett.
  • Dungeon Times: There’s also a rogue-like 3-D beat ‘em up in there, as would be expected of the people that brought you Tobal No. 1. It’s very rogue-like, as you’ve even got a hunger meter to worry about, but I never played this mode for more than ten minutes because you can’t play as Cloud. What’s the point? At least magic in that area is said to come from “materia”, so that’s a step in the right direction.
  • YummyDid you know? Technically, Nomura designed all the characters in this game (FF7 cast included), but the game was also directed/designed by Seiichi Ishii of Virtua Fighter/Tekken fame. Not that the early VF or Tekken characters were all that original or distinct to begin with, but it seems Ishii may have had a great influence over Nomura here, as practically every character in Ehrgeiz has a Tekken lookalike. Also, I don’t see that many zippers…
  • Would I play again: This game was a Trojan horse to begin with, and the only reason I ever played it in the first place was to satisfy my desperate biological need to play as Cloud Strife just one more time. Ehrgeiz is important because it proved exactly how popular Final Fantasy 7 was/is (very), but it’s not all that great of a game, particularly compared to its Playstation fighter buddies (and their descendants). It’s not terrible, but, aside from a strangely adult Yuffie, there isn’t much to see here.

What’s next? Anybody else remember how the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 kicked off? I do! So grab some popcorn and get ready to re-experience the most expensive cell phone advertisement ever!