Day 8: Best Video Game Soundtrack

Day 8: Best Video Game Soundtrack

Nobuo Uematsu has composed the music for almost every game in the Final Fantasy series beginning with the NES game.  The soundtrack for Final Fantasy VI for the SNES was probably the first game soundtrack that really blew me away.  From the opening notes to the climatic end-battle music it enhanced the game and story in so many ways.  Three years later the game series would make its debut on the Sony PlayStation with Final Fantasy VII.  The soundtrack for that game is my choice for best video game soundtrack.

FFVIIOST

Sony successfully stole me away from Nintendo for a few years with the release of the PlayStation.  Final Fantasy VII was probably the number one reason why I made the change.  Originally the game was meant for the SNES, then later the Nintendo 64.  The limited cartridge space was a big reason Square decided to go with the PlayStation instead.  Final Fantasy IV and VI on the SNES had been very important games in my circle of friends growing up.  The waiting for the release of VII was insane.  We would read and talk about it nonstop.  How could it possibly live up to the high standard set by Final Fantasy VI?

The game was finally released in September of 1997.  We all dug in for the next few months and for the most part fell in love with the beautiful game.  As with the soundtrack for VI, Nobuo Uematsu once again created magic.  Without his sounds Final Fantasy VII would not have been as impactful as it was.  The music added another layer to the dark story of the game.  It magnified the moments of love as well as the periods of danger.  Every unique location in the game had its own music and sounds that made them feel like their own part of the world.  It remained true to the Final Fantasy series while taking it to a new level.

I wanted to close with a selection from the soundtrack.  Here is the final boss music, “One-Winged Angel”.  It is one of the strongest songs in the entire series.

An added bonus – the rapper Random (who often goes by Mega Ran) created the album Black Materia: Final Fantasy VII.  I was already a fan of his when I found out this existed.  A rap album based on Final Fantasy VII, best idea ever.  Here is my favorite track from that album, “AVALANCHE”.  You can purchase a digital copy here for the awesome price of $7.77!

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Day 7: Favorite Video Game Couple

Day 7: Favorite Video Game Couple

Most of my experience with romantic connections in video games were in Japanese Role-playing Games (JRPGs).  I decided to go with Alex & Luna from the Sega CD title Lunar: The Silver Star.  I had a friend who loved this game.  We would talk about the Final Fantasy series and he would always chime in about this wonderful game series called Lunar.  My friends and I were all anime fans and the use of animated cut scenes interested me the most.  I eventually borrowed the game from him.  It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the game, story, and characters as well.

lunar_1

Eventually the game would be remade for the Sony PlayStation as Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete.  This was the version that I spent the most time with.  Each character was fleshed out a little more.  This was especially true for Luna.  I don’t want to spoil the story, but she was given more history and spent more time with the party than she did in the original version.  Alex is your typical JRPG character, a young boy setting out to become a hero.  Luna is Alex’s childhood friend and sweetheart.  The love they have for each other is a very important part of the story.  Lunar was one of the first games that I played with the added benefit of voice acting, animated scenes, and songs that were not chiptune.  All of that brought a depth to the characters and story that I had not really experienced before in Super Nintendo JRPGs.  It also enhanced the romantic elements of the game.

lunar_4

As I mentioned I was already a fan of anime when I first played the game.  Lunar had that anime style and I really loved the character design of both Alex and Luna.  The clothing style gave them a small town feel.  The use of bright colors provides a warm and welcoming feeling when you see them together.

If you are a fan of old-school JRPGs I highly recommend both Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete and its sequel Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete.  Lunar 2 has a new cast of characters, a new story, and many of the same wonderful elements as the original.  The gameplay in both is very traditional JRPG gameplay and probably won’t blow you away.  What makes them special is the story and characters.

lunar_3

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Day 6: Most Annoying Character

Day 6: Most Annoying Character

When I began thinking about this post I had a few obvious characters jump to mind.  Natalya from Goldeneye tops many lists for her inability to stay out of the path of gunfire.  It was such a disappointment as she was actually one of my favorite women from the Bond series.  I love you Natalya, but I’m filled with gamer rage and you’re going to make me bust my controller!  Then you have Navi from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.  It’s like the developers knew how beautifully awesome the game experience was going to be.  Now we don’t want it to be too awesome, so here is essentially the equivalent of a mosquito buzzing in your ear.  “Hey, listen!”.  I tossed a few more around and finally settled on one that could have been used in the boss fight category.  Liquid Snake from Metal Gear Solid, the original PlayStation version.

liquid

Liquid is basically the anti-Snake.  A terrorist, the villain, an asshole.  You aren’t supposed to like the guy.  What makes Liquid a really annoying character is his drive to kill you and the basic fact that he just won’t die!  Over the course of the game you will fight this guy multiple times.  On the first run through of the game each boss battle is a matter of figuring out the strategy to take them out.  These all consisted of many deaths that were each highlighted with Snake’s grunts, a flashy screen with sound effects, the Metal Gear “You’re Dead” music, and some NPC saying, “Snake.  Snake?  Snaaaaaaaake!”.  I honestly could have just said that repeating death screen was the most annoying character.  I settled on Liquid because you fight him multiple times.

The first battle: Liquid and his Hind D Russian attack helicopter.  You need to dodge his shots until you can pull out the Stinger Launcher and fire on the helicopter.  If you jump out at the wrong time expect to get a face full of ammunition, “Uh, uh, uh!”.  The other annoying part is missing your shot or window to get the shot off.  He then flies out of range and you have to wait and line it up again.  Eventually you will take the bastard down and progress to the next part of the game.

hindD

The next time you face Liquid is right after taking down Metal Gear Rex.  You will go hand to hand on top of the broken down mecha.  It’s really just a matter of timing punches until you knock him out and over.  Before you get that down it was a frustrating fight of me getting knocked off the side.  A fight that is taking place after you have destroyed the machine that gives the game its name.  Your adrenalin is surging and you feel you’ve accomplished something, then it’s stripped away when you realize you have to keep fighting.  So you manage to take down Liquid in a fist fight…

“Not yet Snake! It’s not over yet!”.  You jump in a jeep, put it in gear, and drive towards the credits?  No.  You take out a few bad guys with the jeep’s gun and then Liquid shows up in his own jeep.  He is now set on smashing into you and not shutting his mouth.  You essentially just need to shoot the hell out of him, but at this point I’m done with this bastard.

over

I have played through Metal Gear Solid many times.  It really isn’t that difficult of a game.  Most of the frustration was really only present that first time through.  You don’t really know what to expect.  It’s a game filled with being spotted by soldiers and shot at until you hide or die.  The boss fights are excellent, but may include a number of deaths before you figure out the strategy.  Even though it and its main boss caused me much gamer rage I loved every minute of it.

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Day 5: Game Character You Feel You’re Most Like

Day 5: Game Character You Feel You’re Most Like

Is there an Office Space video game?  The answer would be Peter Gibbons.  Did they make a video game version of Sideways (the film adaptation)?  I would be like Paul Giamatti’s character Miles.  The problem that I am having is remembering characters from video games that I felt I could relate with.  When I was young the characters in video games were not really defined.  They were just games.  As story became important and more time went into the development of characters I was already becoming an adult.  Video games were an escape.  I will probably think of a specific answer right after I finish this post.  Instead of racking my brain for another hour I am going to push forward and write about some loosely related things.

sideways

First I want to talk about moral choice systems in video games.  They are often found in role-playing video games.  A good example of this would be BioWare’s Mass Effect and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series.  Then you have games like Oblivion or Skyrim from the Elder Scrolls series.  In these games you are free to become thieves, assassins, or even vampires who feed on the world’s population.  I mentioned that I play video games because they are an escape.  They allow me to slip into another character’s shoes and walk within their world.  This is very true, but I still have a difficult time role-playing as the evil side of anything.  I like to believe that I have a big heart.  While I am not perfect I aim to be the best person I can.  I want to be nice to people.  I want them to smile.  Being the hero allows me to use those traits on a grand scale.  As the villain I have to play the characters with traits that I loathe in not only books and film, but in the real world as well.  It generally is not fun.  Now running through and stealing things from people in Skyrim usually results in a shopkeep hiring goons to beat you up.  That comes off silly and like a game.  If I was to rob a house only to later have a young child crying over her father’s body I probably wouldn’t want to do it.  Conversation is when it becomes the biggest issue.  If they give me the choice to be a bully or just a straight up asshole I will most likely not take that dialogue option.  It may sound silly, but I almost always take the choices that most resemble what I would want to say in real life.  I have even been known to load a game simply because I chose a negative reply.

Kotor

A little bonus while we are on the subject of characters.  There are characters you can relate to and then there are characters that you want to be like.  I am a science fiction guy so my short list has many of the obvious choices.  Fox Mulder, Angel, Malcolm Reynolds, Han Solo.  If you asked me to pick between Captain Kirk and Captain Picard I would tell you that I like them both, but quickly answer that Picard was best.  But Picard is not Number One.  If I had to pick a fictional character (who was technically in some video games) that I most wanted to be like, that character would be Star Trek: The Next Generation’s William T Riker.  Red Alert!

riker

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Day 4: A Game That Was Underrated

Day 4: A Game That Was Underrated

I always have a difficult time deciding if something is truly underrated.  The game I am about to talk about was in fact favorably reviewed upon its release.  It was given two sequels.  A few months ago it even received the remake treatment and was released on the PlayStation Network.  I have decided to pick Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee based on the fact that once upon a time I thought Abe would one day be as well known as characters like Sonic or Mario.  That may have been a naive attitude, but that is how I look at things that I love.  We first hear from Abe in the intro cutscene, “This is RuptureFarms, they say it’s the biggest meat processing plant on Oddworld, I used to work here, well…I was really a slave like all the others.”  When I first heard that line, the hair stood on the back of my neck.

ruptureFarms

I first learned of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee on one of those PlayStation demo discs.  In fact the exact demo was issue #1 of PlayStation Underground which was basically a digital video game magazine.  We passed these among friends and would often play the demos over and over again.  I immediately fell in love with the beautiful art of Oddworld, the quirky sense of humour, and the classic side-scrolling action.  I pre-ordered the game at Electronics Boutique, then continued to play the demo constantly until the game was finally released.

PSunderground

Oddworld is essentially a 2D platforming game.  You are an escaped Mudokon slave who must save as many fellow workers as possible before you reach the end of the game.  If you save less than 50 workers you would see the bad ending.  Save 50+ workers, you are rewarded with the good ending.  Find all 99 workers (which I did) in the original PlayStation version and you get the perfect completion ending.

abe_screen

You would save your fellow slaves by issuing them commands, leading them to portal locations, chanting open the portal, and watching them jump through to safety.  RuptureFarms was not a pretty place.  It was a world of dangerous cliffs, fast moving meat grinders, deadly lasers, bombs, and guards with guns.  Get hit once, you die.  A fellow Mudokon gets hit once, they die.  If you’re looking to save all 99 then do the noble thing and follow him into that meat grinder.  Then try again!  Often it was a game of running, jumping, puzzle solving, and trial & error.  It was this old school challenge that drew me to the game.  This was accompanied by a fair amount of gamer rage as well.  For the tenth time – run into room while guard isn’t looking, pull lever to stop meat grinder, issue follow command to 4 slaves, run, jump, tell them to stop, run, chant, 3 make it through portal, 4th shot in the back by a guard.  And then, he laughs at you!  Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee was actually on my list of possible favorite games of all time.  If you have the chance I highly recommend checking out the original or the remake, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty!

oddworld_new

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Day 3: Guilty Pleasure Game

Day 3 – Guilty Pleasure Game

Before I start writing about today’s game I want to say that I never use the phrase guilty pleasure.  I have had many an uncomfortable conversation with people who don’t understand some of the things I like, but I don’t feel guilty or in any way ashamed about the things that I enjoy.  It has a lot to do with age, becoming comfortable with who you are, and realizing you only need to make yourself happy.  People in my family still roll their eyes when I talk about comics, D&D, or video games.  That is usually followed up with, “I guess we’re never going to have grandchildren”.  I’ve had conversations with other people in their 30’s and still found myself fighting the same clichés I thought we left behind in high school.  You’re going to encounter these types of people.  That’s part of life.  You will also encounter people who genuinely care about you and while they might not understand your hobbies, they see your passion and that can be infectious.  Until I do officially grow up you can find me at the kid table talking Pokémon.

gboy

For many of you Pokémon was a huge part of your childhood.  I was 18 when the game hit the United States.  As I look at the dates I was actually just finishing up an awful summer pumping gas to raise enough money to start community college in the fall.  My video gaming was mostly done on the PC and PlayStation.  I was still playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons weekly with my first group.  I was regularly watching horror movies, listening to metal, and drinking beer (mostly to forget about community college and my full-time job at the gas station).  That was a long way of saying Pokémon really didn’t speak to me back then.

PokemonX

The reason I thought it was a good choice for today’s post was that at 33 years old I purchased and began playing my first Pokémon game.  Pokémon X to be exact.  It was one of the reasons I decided to go with the Nintendo 3DS when I bought my handheld.  Honestly, I don’t even remember what gave me the urge to try a Pokémon game after years of not even paying attention.  I ordered the system and the game.  A few days later I picked my very first starter Pokémon (Fennekin) and was off and running.  I will say that I was not disappointed.  Officially sold on the world of Pokémon.  Not long after putting hours into the game I picked up a copy of Platinum, Black, and Black 2.  Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are on my short list for must buys this end of year game season.  Late to the party, but having a blast!

pokemon

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Day 2: Favorite Video Game Character

Day 2 – Favorite Video Game Character

Picking a favorite anything is always a challenge.  I was thinking that a character like Link from The Legend of Zelda series would be a nice choice.  He has been in my gaming life from the days of the NES all the way up to the present.  But then I started to really think about those games.  Was the character Link what I really loved about the Zelda games?  Not really.  When I sit down with a Zelda game I am more focused on the excellent level design and the world built around him.  In the early days of video games the characters were basically images on the screen, box art, and maybe a little flavor text.  When I first put in the gold cartridge and that old man said to Link, “IT’S DANGEROUS TO GO ALONE!  TAKE THIS.” I read that more as a message to myself.  The adventure was my adventure and the world was my world to explore.  So at the risk of sounding narcissistic I have chosen myself (and my imagination) as my favorite video game character.

zelda_takethis

This type of immersion into a game world became even more possible with the advancement of first person shooters and role-playing games (I will be revisiting RPGs in a later post).  While I put in many hours playing games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Doom II it would be the next generation of FPS games that really blew me away.  In 1996 id Software released Quake with the follow-up Quake II not long after.  These would go on a short list of games that defined me and my friends’ high school gaming experience.  There were many a late night connecting our computers with dial up modems and going head to head in the world of Quake.

quakeIIscreen

I was always a very imaginative kid.  One of my favorite activities was to pretend.  I could take a stick and it would instantly become a sword.  The old junkyard in the woods melted away and became a space station.  We would battle invisible enemies for hours and come home exhausted.  The mind is an amazing thing on its own.  Quake and Quake II didn’t kill that imagination.  They provided additional elements to take the experience to a different level.  With the character model removed, the screen became my field of vision.  I was given near complete control with keyboard and mouse.  This will sound a bit extreme, but it almost felt like getting to step into the loader from the movie Alien.  Quake created an incredible atmosphere with its dynamic lighting and soundtrack by Nine Inch Nails (a favorite band of mine at the time and to this day).  In Quake II you are a space marine thrown into an alien world.  As a huge fan of science fiction I was no longer having to play the spectator who merely watched the characters in the Alien movies or Total Recall.  Not only was I an active part, but the story was mine.  It provided an escape to another world that I never dreamed I would be able to visit.

We have come a long way since the mid-90’s and most of us gamers have visited more worlds than we can remember.  The other night I climbed to the peak of a mountain in the fantasy RPG Skyrim.  I was looking out at the vast game world before me and having that same exact appreciation that I had for Quake.  You may take control of a fantasy wizard, a World War II soldier, or even an elf-like boy with a sword – the one constant is you.  These games give us the chance to be the character and that is one of the reasons I love them so much!

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