Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Final Fantasy IV: Call it a classic?

Is 17 years enough time for a story to earn the right to be called a classic? The modern video game industry is only 25 years old, so that's roughly equivalent to Shakespeare in terms of staying power (with the Gutenberg press as a starting point)! Here's a cut scene from Final Fantasy IV, to be re-released yet again on the DS next month:







As the first game to present a story worthy of novelization, the title marked the beginning of an era where epic video games would become part of the broader culture.

The industry has yet to get the critical attention it merits. Reviewers treat games as they would cars, rating them by attributes like play control, sound, graphics, etc--not by the stories they tell and the characters they bring to life, or if they do so, it is in a very superficial way ("I give the story an '8'."). Attempts to tie games into the larger culture--the trade of good movie critics in the film industry--are lacking. I've tried as much, but I'm concerned with professional reviews, not amateur work like my own. Part of the problem is that contemporary role-playing games run 50 hours or more. Thus constructing a review requires a much greater investment of time than is the case with movies.

Still, I think it is not a matter of "if" but "when", as the video game industry continues to grow at a much faster rate than movies, music, and television industries do.

Since I'm already reveling in nostalgic bliss, might as well point this out for the benefit of Chrono Trigger fans:

7 comments:

Sleep said...

Emotions are a funny thing. I really had little emotional reaction to playing Chrono Trigger as a game ... I think one of the Robo scenes made me cry, and they very end with the balloons brightened my mood on what had been a bad day, but just from the YouTube excerpt of what I assume is a movie I can tell that that movie would be a thousand times stronger, emotionally, for me. Sure, Marle disappeared into thin air in the game as well, but it just doesn't the same REAL-ness that it does when she fills the whole screen and you can see her facial expression as it happens. And likewise for pretty much every other scene in there.

agnostic said...

Never really got into those types of RPGs, so I can't say how classic they are, but I recall Terranigma being pretty good.

One major drawback the genre is that there's never a romantic element, since the girl is always held prisoner far away. You never interact with her.

In the hero's mind, he's already interacted with her plenty, and that's his motivation. But the human player can never get that feeling if she's never there to get an impression of.

At any rate, the best types of video games don't take themselves that seriously. Super Metroid, for example.

Sleep said...

One major drawback the genre is that there's never a romantic element, since the girl is always held prisoner far away. You never interact with her.

I wouldn't go that far. In Chrono Trigger the female romantic interest, Marle, is introduced very near the beginning, and it's the male lead that is captured and held prisoner (in time), rather than Marle. And while pixelated romance just doesn't seem real, the programmers did their best to make the technology of the era get you to identify with Crono and then later with his love interest, Marle ,as you try to rescue him.

Prior to Chrono Trigger, I can't really say there was much romance in any RPG games I've played ... Secret of Mana has a prominent female lead, a princess in fact, though certainly not a helpless fainting "Save Me, Mario!" type ... she is actually a good deal stronger than the male lead and the difference in power grows as the game goes on. But the male and female leads don't seem romantically involved, and in fact one of your goals is to rescue the girl's boyfriend, who is abducted early on. Maybe the programmers put that in as a way to say "No, guys, you're not getting it on with her in this game; go play something else if that's what you want".

Also, I forgot to mention that Ayla running on all fours is deliciously cute. I never figured out if she was a human in a cat costume or a member of a race of cat/human hybrids from which humans in the Chrono-verse evolved.

Audacious Epigone said...

Sleep,

My family moved every two years or so until I made it into junior high. Uprooting so many times was always tough, and for the first couple of weeks in the new state I'd spend an inordinate amount of time with a SNES cartridge in the console. They were a sanctuary. In that way, videos like these bring a swelling of emotion in me.

Also, I'd put Final Fantasy IV (or II in the US) as the first to take a shot at romance as part of the story's fabric. In the US, an enormous amount of the original text is lost because of character limitations, but it newer versions, the Cecil-Rosa-Kain triangle is actually flushed out coherently: Cecil fighting his own demons, Rosa fighting for Cecil, Kain fighting for Rosa and furtively against a trusting Cecil who is putatively his best friend.

Ayla's an archaic human, akin to a Neanderthal (she's pretty Nordic-on-steroids looking, after all!) without the genetic dead end. She's a distant ancestor of Marle.

Finally, you might get some enjoyment out of this (Blue skies over Guardia is my favorite). I mix much of it in with my classical/blue grass reading/blogging mix.

Agnostic,

Through the 16 bit, that was pretty much the case. But when I played Dragon Quest VIII a year ago, I was really blown away by the depth of the story, the characters, and the constant clever allusions to various (mostly European and Meditteranean) mythologies and history. One character is a good-hearted philanderer, while the main protagonist is sought after by two women. The protagonist is chivalrous, stoic, abstentious, demuring, humble, courageous, indefatigable, strong--in other words, he is all the things many rpgamers are, er, at least aspire to be! This doesn't always get the babes in real life (though it tends to work in the games), but it does give you, as the Hero, a view from the top of the moral mountain. At least one character in the universe can reliably distinguish between good and evil!
Also, the voice acting is superb.

It truly is a 'new era' of gaming, different than what I grew up with. It's much more enthralling and in-depth. From start to finish, you're looking at upwards of 100 hours, and not of the slash-and-burn action porn of WoW, but novelesque, or at least anime-comparable, level storytelling. Of course, if you do make an effort to take it seriously (in a fantastical sense), the experience is more fulfilling, I think.

Audacious Epigone said...

Agnostic,

Btw, how'd you play terranigma? When you were in Spain, or was that more recently? If you, like the rest of the non-neotenous among us, gave up video games a decade ago, it wouldn't have been on an emulator, either. I didn't think it was ever released stateside.

agnostic said...

True, maybe games are different nowadays.

I played Terranigma on an emulator after I graduated college. I stopped staying in touch with video games when I was about 17, but I replayed some of the old school NES games in college on an emulator, and tried out a few new ones after graduating (Secret of Mana also).

The only new games I played (also on an emulator) were the Castlevania games for the Gameboy Advance. Kinda neat, but it's impossible to die -- as you hint at, video games these days require you to just sit and stare for a really long time to beat them.

Audacious Epigone said...

Agnostic,

Hehe, but if you just spend 40 hours at a dance club, employing the Boomhauer strategy of shamelessly trying to get with every girl that walks by, eventually you'll succeed there, too. Doesn't mean there aren't worthwhile strategies to contemplate! (I'm just having fun with that--no need to point out the obvious flaws in that comparison!)

For RPGs, yes, that's more-or-less the case. I can't speak to the shoot-em ups or action/adventure games. But contemporary RPGs usually include optional bosses that are absurdly difficult. I completed Final Fantasy VII in about 40 hours, then took 12 hours more to get to knock out the two bonus fiends.