Retro Reprise Episode 10: Final Fantasy adventures

What was originally the swan song — the “final” game developed — of Square turned into the studio’s flagship franchise that is now in its 30th year. For the return of Retro Reprise, Syl and Syp take a nostalgic journey back through the first nine Final Fantasy games, looking at the music from the NES, SNES, and PlayStation eras. Missing the combat tracks? Stay tuned for part 2 of this series!

Episode 10: Final Fantasy adventures (show page, direct download)

  • Intro
  • Final Fantasy I: “Main Theme”
  • Final Fantasy I: “Prelude”
  • Final Fantasy I: “Airship”
  • Final Fantasy I: “Matoya’s Cave”
  • Final Fantasy II: “Chocobo Theme”
  • Final Fantasy IV: “Victory Theme”
  • Final Fantasy IV: “Love Theme”
  • Final Fantasy VI: “Terra’s Theme”
  • Final Fantasy VI: “Aria Di Mezzo Carattere (Opera Theme)”
  • Final Fantasy VII: “Aeris’ Theme”
  • Final Fantasy VII: “Cosmo Canyon”
  • Final Fantasy VII: “Chasing the Black Caped Man”
  • Final Fantasy VII: “Ahead on our Way (Kalm Village)”
  • Final Fantasy VIII: “Liberi Fatali”
  • Final Fantasy VIII: “Balamb Garden”
  • Final Fantasy VIII: “Fisherman’s Horizon”
  • Final Fantasy IX: “Behind the Door”
  • Final Fantasy IX: “The Place I’ll Return to Someday”
  • Outro

Is there a point to funding Ashes of Creation now?

Yesterday, Ashes of Creation launched its Kickstarter, and extremely rapidly it became one of the biggest and fastest MMO crowdfunding campaigns that we’ve seen in… well, probably since Elyria a year ago, or Crowfall two years ago. It cleared its $750K goal in 12 hours and as I type this, it’s inching closer to the $1M mark. I predict that it will probably reach $2M before all is said and done.

It’s hard not to get swept up into the excitement of seeing a promising and ambitious big-budget MMO being made, especially in today’s climate. The Kickstarter is certainly doing a great job getting out the existence and potential of this game to many others, generating all sorts of hype and PR in the process. In fact, from what the studio said about the core game having already been funded and the Kickstarter being to make it bigger, I’m wondering if PR is just as big of a reason for doing a Kickstarter as actual finances.

Anyway.

Amidst seeing everyone talking about and funding this game, I am slightly torn on whether to chip in my money or not. Originally I was all set to make this my second Kickstarter donation ever because I am really impressed with this project and want to see this game made, but now I’m a little hesitant. Why?

Well, for starters it’s already going to get made with or without my money. Even with or without this Kickstarter. It’s already fully funded. My $25 or whatever’s not really going to make much of a difference in the game’s existence, unless I deeply care about stretch goals, and that would be a… erm, stretch.

The other reason that people look to are the personal rewards and benefits you get from becoming a backer. Here there’s more of an argument to be made for funding but I’m still not entirely convinced. Get into the permanent alpha? As eager as I am to play this, I’m not champing at the bit for early access these days. A few more character customization options might be interesting enough. A $15 subscription tucked into a $25 package, I’m not really getting a bargain there. The tiers aren’t horrible, per se, but not really that compelling either. Some people really splurged on lifetime subscriptions, but those are very high priced ($400+ now, and my limit for a lifetime sub to anything is $200) and for a game that’s not even going to be out for a year and a half at best.

Maybe I will, but then again, I could use that $25 right now for games or products or services right now that I could use… and I can still play and pay for Ashes of Creation when it launches down the road.

Try-It Tuesday: Kingdom of Loot

Every so often, a little title comes across our desk at Massively OP that I flag as something to keep an eye on. MMOs with potential, so to speak. The other week it happened to be Kingdom of Loot, which belied its trying-too-hard-to-be-meta name with an intriguing premise: What if MMOs had been made for the Super NES?

The graphics and reported accessibility appealed to me, so for the return of Try-It Tuesday, I gave it a shot to see how it’s doing in its current (early access) form.

There’s definitely a strong SNES vibe with this one, both in its graphics and with the title theme, which sounds about three notes off from Legend of Zelda. I know pixel art isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I still love it (it’s colorful and exudes personality, not to mention has a connection to my gaming past), and I think they did a really great job here.

Right now there are only five classes available with, by my count, 12 more on the way. I went with an Archer because nothing else that could be played looked super-exciting. As of right now, at least, there are no ways to visually customize your character, so every archer is going to be a blonde girl and that’s that.

Without any introduction, the game shoves a basic tutorial screen at you and then leaves you to make your own way. It starts off in a cute little fantasy town that looks like it would be at home in some old-school adventure game. There are a few expected vendors, banks, etc., and a quest board that was… not functional at the time of play. Oh well, guess I’ll head out and just see what there is to see.

 

One design option that I really liked is how most of the UI is hidden off to the top, left, right, and bottom of the screen, leaving the game clean unless you needed something. At level one, there wasn’t much to see — no skills, basic gear, standard settings, some chat and party options (this being an MMO and all).

Transitions between zones and the overworld have a 3.5″ floppy saving/loading icon, which amused me.

I think the absolute best thing Kingdom of Loot has going for it right now are some really, really well-done graphics. They’re animated (those clouds float across the screen) and the world looks very accessible and attractive. It’s a little like Chrono Trigger, just in a better resolution.

Figuring out something to do without any quests left me wandering into the nearby forest and plinking away at level one plants for a while. This game is Diablo-esque in its makeup, which means click to move, click to attack, and presumably uses number keys for special attacks (I didn’t get any in the first two levels). Loot explodes out of creatures and that’s pretty much it.

Here’s the thing with Diablo clones: If you’re going that route, you have to have extremely tight and responsive controls. The combat has to FEEL great… and Kingdom of Loot only feels adequate. I’m not attacking as quickly as I’m clicking, movement felt a little mushy, and it’s confusing as all get out what loot is mine to get and what is for other players (plus, the game sometimes but not always picks up loot when you walk over it, so I was clicking on each piece of loot/gold to make sure).

In summary, it is a cute game but it feels like there’s just a shell here that needs a lot more work, polish, and content.

OK, a little post-script rant about early access. This screen right here is one of the big problems with early access. It’s not just a deflection of criticism saying that “remember, it’s still in early access!” but it’s also a celebration of the state of the game, like early access is now seen as some type of gaming genre and is something other than a glorified alpha (or pre-alpha) test. I can’t tell you how much it bugs me when studios announce a “launch” of a game into early access, because there’s no launch about it. It’s doublespeak for a modern development age that tries to elevate these tests as actual games and then excuses itself from any complaints because, “remember this is still early access! teehee look at our cute graphic!”

Syp’s Gaming Goals for May

April in review

In retrospect, April wasn’t the amazing gaming month I had hoped it would be. It wasn’t terrible, but I’m feeling a little bit burned out by the routine and took a little break here and there from the norm. I definitely lost interest in Torment, ultimately it’s just not quite as gripping as Planescape was… would still be satisfying to finish, though.

In World of Warcraft, I ground enough Legionfall rep to get flying privileges back, which was certainly a highlight, and I also received my fourth legendary. I fiddled a little with a baby Undead Warlock, but nothing super-serious so far.

Most of my attention was given to my new Engineer in Guild Wars 2, which was quite enjoyable in a relaxed, getting-to-relearn-the-game way. I also wrapped up the epic story in the Wastes in LOTRO and turned my attention to doing the very involved scavenger hunts for the anniversary celebration.

The fun little surprise of the month was checking out Paragon Chat, the combat-free emulator of City of Heroes. In many ways, it was just like going back to an old favorite, and I enjoyed the birthday celebration with several other City of Heroes fans.

May goals

So what do I want to accomplish in May? I’m not looking at any huge game-changers right now, so I’ll probably be sticking with my current stable of three titles. In World of Warcraft, I should probably take a night or two to work on cleaning out my quest log, but I might be pulling away from this MMO for a bit while we’re in this post-patch lull.

In Lord of the Rings Online, I’ve decided not to kill myself on these scavenger cards. I’ll scale back to doing just one per year for the rewards, run the anniversary gifts quests for easy tokens twice a week, and otherwise continue my adventures with Bingo Boffin.

Guild Wars 2? I would be pretty happy if I got through the personal story on my Engineer and maybe the Season 1 recap. Do more zones. Make some money. Maybe find a good guild, I’m still searching for one.

Otherwise, I am feeling more convicted to get back into my Try It Tuesday series and explore around in some other titles, even if it is just for a day. I am quite enjoying my Knights of the Old Republic II playthrough, so expect that to continue as well. Maybe I’ll even fiddle about in SWTOR as well as a result?

KOTOR 2: Ebon Hawk

(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Now that we have a little breather after escaping Darth Craggy and his Sith Predators, I guess it’s time to chat up the crew. Hm… who to pick? The whiny pilot? The grumpy Jedi without a hand? Or the BLEEP BOOP droid?

Why not do all three?

Turns out that there’s actually a fourth passenger on board the Ebon Hawk, although he’s a little worse for wear. HK-47, fan-favorite from the first game, is sitting in a closet deactivated. He’s missing four key parts, of which I only have one. Hope to find the others and get my sarcastic pal back!

The repaired ship is a little sterile and has a few parts with scaffolding still around (for… some reason, I guess to show that this is Where Things Were Repaired). Sterile doesn’t feel like the right word… lifeless, I guess. A little empty. Needs more people. Coming back to a KOTOR game from SWTOR, the Ebon Hawk feels a lot bigger than our MMO ships, and right now there aren’t a lot of people to populate it with.

The talk with Kreia goes about as I expected, considering that I’m chatting up a grumpy one-handed Jedi (?) who keeps saying cryptic things and attempts to shoehorn herself into my life as a teacher. At least there are some delightfully mean things to say to her in response for the game devs trying to foist her upon me. You can see in my character’s eyes up there that she’s so done putting up with this bat.

Oh! And I find out two more pieces of info. The first is that as a Jedi Exile, apparently I was cut off from the Force by the (now dead) council. Which is something they can do, I guess. Still don’t know what I did to deserve it, and it doesn’t quite explain why I’m able to select all of these Force powers in leveling up. Kreia says that we’re connected to each other through the Force and I’m able to learn how to regain my skills through her, but again… I’ve already got the skills. Why do I need training?

The other thing I learned is that whatever happens to her happens to me (and vice-versa), especially in the wound department. I anticipate a long game of going about passive-aggressively pinching myself in tender places just to see Kreia jump.

The game is firmly on rails, as there is only one destination for the Hawk: Telos. It’s another station, this one hovering above a world bombed to death by Darth Malak. We land and are promptly arrested by a completely incompetent security chief, who has apparently heard that we blew up Peragus. Now, how news traveled to this station faster than a ship blasting through hyperspace I do not know, but I will go with it.

After being detained by security and led off to a nice comfy jail cell, an albino woman is seen lurking about the gangplank of the Ebon Hawk. She has not heard that you should avoid white after Labor Day. Or maybe she’s a refugee from The Matrix 2.

As we stew in jail cells, a bounty hunter shows up to sell me to the Exchange. I have to admit that whoever they got to do the voice of this guy did SUCH a good job. He’s got this oily, unnerving way of talking that lends some weight to his menace. Too bad that our group pummeled him to the ground — unarmed, to boot — within about three seconds of his opening up our cages.

The security chief shows up and has a moment of eating crow when he sees what’s happened, but he still keeps me under arrest. House arrest this time, setting us up in a nice apartment. Once again I’m in an apartment with a sarcastic scoundrel and a nervy Jedi, ready to explore the world. Just got to slip past my curfew…

Crossing the MMORPG emote barrier

A few days ago I was watching a video of a single-player RPG — Witcher 3, I think — and what really caught my attention was how expressive and natural the various NPC characters were with their body language and emotes. Just little things, like hands fluttering to different areas, eye contact, leaning against things, but instantly I had this connection with the game world and felt that it was more “real” than what I’ve been used to in MMOs.

I love MMOs, don’t get me wrong, and one of the things that I love the most is how I get to inhabit a world populated by many other people. Even if they’re running by or standing around or being silly, it’s all the difference to me between being in an empty room and hanging out at a coffeeshop with like-minded people.

But what’s subtlely bugged me over the years is the feeling that these other avatars are masks. I know that there’s a person sitting behind them, controlling them, but the range of expression is usually limited to movement and combat. Is that person — or his or her character by extent — happy? Sad? What are they looking at at any given moment in the game world? Even with MMOs giving characters some small measure of idle animations (shifting, breathing, fidgeting) and some games tracking a character’s eyes or head to what that character is targeting, it still often feels like there’s this “emote barrier” between me and others. A little like I’m in a world with controlled puppets that are unnaturally restrained.

So how do we overcome that? SOE famously rolled out its “SOEmote” tech a few years ago, and we all had a hearty laugh at Dave Georgeson’s goofy faces and the weird results in EverQuest II. Yet now that I look back on it, I can’t say that this was the worst idea in the world. SOE was trying to free players’ hands up and allow a quicker and more natural interface to controlling a character’s expressions.

This is problem one with emotes: triggering them takes an extra step or two that doesn’t always feel natural. You either have to type a slash command in, find an emote from a menu, or drag emote abilities to a hotbar for faster use. And unless you’re deep into the roleplay scene or make yourself do it, chances are that most players just don’t think about emotes much of the time and don’t develop the habit of using them.

Personally, I only fiddle with emotes when I’m standing around in social situations in-game and have nothing else to do. I mostly use them as amusing tricks, to see what weird things my character can do, but I worry that if I spam too many of them, I come across as annoying and as an attention hog. It doesn’t feel like I’m just using them in the natural course of my character’s day.

While SOEmote was an interesting experiment, it only went so far as to mimic exaggerated facial expressions — and emoting to me involves the whole body. How can we cross the emote barrier to make using emotes among the population easier, more natural, and more accessible? It might seem like fluffy nonsense, but I think that encountering others who have characters that are more naturally emoting would go a long way to deepening our immersion in these virtual worlds.

I don’t have any great answers, just some random ideas. Voice-activated emotes could be a solution, especially in the Siri/Alexa age when we’re already getting used to talking to machines. “WoW, grin.” “WoW, handstand.” “WoW, shake fist and growl.”

I’d be down for more robust idle animations that would allow players to pick and choose their own character responses to expected MMO encounters in advance via menu. For example, if my character was near a wall and I stopped moving her, the character would automatically back up against the wall, cross her arms, and kick up a heel. Or if I encountered a guild mate, my character would automatically wave and cheer at them. Or if I partied up with others, my character would go over and shake their hands.

In LOTRO, the community loves collecting and using emotes, and if we had better tools for using them, this could be as addictive as collecting pets and toys. I just feel that this is an area that MMOs have been stagnant in for about as long as there has been MMOs, and maybe it’s time to shake things up a bit and move emotes and body language in games forward.