Melodies of life, an unrepentant love letter to one of the best games of all time.

Wrote this for Hannahs blog but she never used it, with all the Final Fantasy talk lately i wanted to post it finally. 

When it comes to gaming, I have an odd relationship with nostalgia. If by now you’re reading a few of these posts then I will bet most of the games mentioned are classics of the 8 and 16 bit period, with some people pointing to the pre crash/birth period of Atari spectrum’s or ZX DoS or what ever.
By all rights I SHOULD be a member of this group. I am at the time of typing 29 years old, while not exactly one of the forerunners of this hobby, My first gaming experience was I believe an Atari 2600 or something similar, a keyboard system powered by tapes that when loading sounded like the screams of a dying god.  My first dedicated gaming console was a super Nintendo I shared with my brothers, before moving onto the Playstation, and  old NES I bought at a car boot sale, then N64 and pretty much EVERY main console released from then on. My formative years were spent playing Super Nintendo, from Zelda to The all stars pack, I could at one point finish Yoshi’s island in 5 hours, I’m pretty sure I saw Stunt Race FX tracks when I closed my eyes.

But, Strangely, I don’t have much nostalgia for these games themselves. I look back fondly not at Super Mario World but at playing it with my brothers. The games themselves were just that, Games, Throw away toys to entertain. No my Love of gaming as an art came much later, with two particular titles. The first of these Made me love game play and will no doubt be mentioned about 900 times as people wistfully remember walking out onto a certain field and then repeating an owl’s convocation about 5 times. But today I want to talk about the second of these games, one I fear gets nowhere near the love and respect it deserves, if because it had two much more loved younger brothers, but is my opinion, the king of its genre. You see, at the start of the summer holidays 2001, I bought Final Fantasy 9.

Final Fantasy 9 was something of a risk to me, I had played 6 and 7 and had disliked both (something I later learned I was wrong about) but I had birthday money to blow and not many games I could legally buy to spend it on. So I caved and bought the stark white case with its simple logo (Pal 4 life yo) and vanished home to get a full days gaming in before I had reasons to leave the house the next day. And so I started.

By hour one I was happy I had not wasted my money.

By hour three I was completely engrossed in the story line.

By hour ?? it was 5:40 AM and I had not slept yet.

This was the second time a game did this too me. The first I had assumed a fluke, Ocarina had had the same vice like grip on me as this but no other game since, I had always liked them, but had assumed them to be more tools to play multi-player or whatever. But not this, this was something more than that, I didn’t want to carry on playing to enjoy more time with others or even as a distraction, I wanted, no HAD to find out what happened, to save who needed saving. I had to finish this game.

Looking back I realise why I was and still am so hopelessly in love with this title, The game play is by all means basic, Final Fantasy’s turn based battle system and random battles, Some basic puzzles and other things other games have done better then and since (See playstation 2 Classic Shadow Hearts for this) but what makes you love this game is every single last person you meet within the game.

Every Character in this show has a point, even who I consider to be the weakest of the main crew Amarant  had 10 times the personality of anyone from FF13. From the main love story to everyone you pick up on the way subtlety and organic growth and one particular character, Vivi, is probably the best final fantasy in history. He is a tale of Innocence and loss of innocence, he is the personification of tragedy and comedy. When, at a point he is forced to face the truth about life, I will admit I was moved to tears. Something no other game until THAT opening from last of us managed to do.  I actually wrote far more examples of this and how this story made you laugh and cry but to describe to even hint at them is to do them a massive disservice. Play the Damn game. It’s on PSN now cheap, Play it.

Final fantasy 9 also managed to balance perhaps one of the hardest of tones possible in gaming, Bitter Sweet. A recent trend in gaming and TV is to beat you around the head and face with sadness. Game of thrones is the perfect example of this, its dark misery a top dark misery, everything is gloomy, everything is meaningless, oh look how edgy we are. But in its race to the bottom it give you no time to breath, no time to laugh. Gaming is seemingly copying this as well. The recent slew of Zombie end of the world or post apocalyptic games this is more prevalent than ever.  This is serious work people, if you want a comedy go elsewhere.

This is of course a load of shite.

The Reason games like and Stories from companies like Bioware, Bethesda and more recently the outstanding Witcher 3 is because the sadness is edged with comedy and fun. The death of a team mate in Mass effect is more meaningful because of the times you spent insulting Garrus in the citadel.  Without comedy tragedy is a blunt sword. they are important. And no game, not even a fallout or dragon age manage this better than Final Fantasy 9.

ViVi being a vanguard but not the only master work of this trope. Garnet and Zidane as a pair of protagonists are works of art. At first glance they are the cocky hero and the damsel in distress. Something ripped straight out of a Cheap Disney knock off. The game takes great pride in reinforcing this assumption Juuuust long enough to have you rolling your eyes, then pull the rug from under you. Zidane is a wise cracking street urchin with a heart of gold, and a darkness in his past that never lets you get annoyed with him. He is confident and proud but always you see the cracks, He is trying to be something he is not, he is hiding something powerful (which leads to one of the games golden moments). Garnet on the other hand is a shy and disarming girl with an iron will. She is a constant fish out of water and the game constantly plays this so well when it could easily make cheap jokes. She is trying her hardest to be what not only her people want her to be but the person SHE wants to be, but she is still a naive youngster, that will need Rescuing, not BECAUSE she is a girl, but because she is inexperienced and way over her head. She might be one of the best woman protagonists of any games and constantly manages to be left off representing lists much to my annoyance.  Together they are amazing, Both are as Weak as they are strong. At times of greatest darkness it is the others strength that pulls them out of the spiral. you end up WANTING them to fall in love, not waiting for it to happen.

Add to that it looks fantastic, After the rather Drab and faux cyber punk past 2 games comes back with one of the most recognisable and colourful art styles of any game, easily the best looking (at least to me) from the PS1 era.

The Main theme of Final Fantasy 9 is Life and Death, That Life will be hard and eventually end, but while that sounds macabre and by all right should be instead it makes the act of living such a wondrous thing that any pain you may encounter is forgotten in a heart beat. It is a joy, a wonder, It is as near perfect of a game as I can possibly come up with, It combines comedy and tragedy to an almost perfect degree. Final Fantasy 9 is not only my favourite game, but one I think everyone looking at story telling within the media of gaming should play.
Final Fantasy 9 taught me to love games for there story as well as their game play, and playing it (and I admit doing little else) that summer is one of my favourite gaming memoires. The kind of mindless nostalgia I could get lost in for days.

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E3 2015, Welcome home Fun.

AAA games, or at least their publishers hate you. That is not a wild assumption (well ok it is) that is fact, hard cold uncaring fact. They hate you and everything you stand for, they hate the people you like, the people you hate and the people you kind of tolerate. What they love is your money, they love that, every penny, cent, yen or gram of stolen Nazi gold of it. To them you are fleshy money bags with human like arms. Pointless as soon as you’ve run out of things to spend on their things.

You might think with me posting that that i have problems, well i do, but not because of that. Its how I and many others feel, every preorder bonus, every F2P app that requires 20x the actual price of the game to play it anywhere close to properly, every timed exclusive (fuck them) we get the feeling that games are a tool to make money, nothing more. We see people fight the very idea that games can be more than just colourful exploding wastes of time, that using them as a tool to teach a message or prove a point is a poison that should be eradicated under the banner of “keep your politics out of my games!1”. We shouted for years that games are art now any suggestion of it is paramount to blasphemy. Games as a tool of simple fun and making money. Enough to make anyone jaded to the entire deal.

So why Can’t I stop watching this video and smiling?

Why does the sight of a man nearly crying over the announcement of a kick-starer for a game make me impishly happy. Why when I watched said same announcement did i damn nearly wake my wife up with my shouting, hell i nearly woke her up myself to tell her.

I just described that Gaming these days and in a way always has been a semi painful dredge of PR speak and angry teenagers or adults that act like them. Why am I now more happy than ever?

Because for once, E3 reminded us that games are more than shiny things to distract and fleece. Game are important. Games matter. That most of all, Games are fun.

Melodramatic? Yes. But i stand by that point, E3 this year marked some kind of bizarre shift in some of the bigger games companies. They still want all of your money, the deluge of preorder Betas and exclusives proved that. But from usual something else became apparent, they were trying. Strange.
Long time fan dream games were finally announced, Fun became a buzzword rather than DLC or ‘experience’, game after game with female leads or playable characters were announced and made no special mention of, proving that women characters are just a thing now and not a rare beast they were in other years, Gameplay was shown REAL gameplay, hell Uncharted 4 even bugged out at one point proving if anything that it wasn’t a CGI fest.

And then the Sony presser came along and blew away heads, even if you ignore 2 of the big announcements being remakes or sequels, Last Guardian, no mans sky and Horizon, not to mention a slew of other indie games, made me giddy in a way games haven’t for a long time. Nintendo were amazing and even microsoft proved they are willing to listen with their announcement of backwards comparability with the 360.

It was, well. Nice. for the first time in years i felt like E3 was a good time, not a bland cynical mess of Specs and Pre order bonuses. Not a littany of CGI Trailers and cop out mobile games (well ok the Square presser was all of these). It felt, Fun. that word again. From Melting into goo at the sight of Clouds Buster sword to throwing money at the screen for shenmue to that damn moonhead to the Nintendo puppets.

It reminded us that Games are art. They are detailed master prices, thought provoking statements, dumb fun exploshion fests. Games are Gone home and Call of Duty, art house and Michael Bay. games are a massive sparling litany of experience. They are everything we need and want them to be. They are profits and they are joy. And for once, AAA seemed to remember this.

I know this will likely not last, as i said, Publishers hate us. But for now, its nice to remember why we love games. That games are more than Cash cows. We enjoy being sold too, all we ask is some respect while you do it.
All we ask is for some fun.

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