I’m gonna start this off by getting right to the heart. What Final Fantasy VIII is all about, is the reconciliation between the self and its relationship with time. This relationship and its characteristics refer specifically to the changes in the self’s relation to time as historical advances are made to the interconnectivity of physical places, communication, and people as byproducts of the increasing demands of world-wide capitalist economy and its impacts on culture.

The concept of the annihilation of space by time, or time-space compression, is an idea posited by Karl Marx in 1857 that continued to be applied, articulated, and changed by writers and theorists as a global economy continued to form through modern history, which created the incentive to overcome both the spatial and communication barriers by which space between people, places, and thought had been previously manifest. These advances include things like transportation (railroads, cars, jets), communication channels (fax, radio, phone), and most recently online communication, or construction of non-physical spaces based on information transfer and delivery.

Keep in mind the fundamental striking changes to the world design of VIII from past games includes all these things that are shown to the player right from the start—trains running automatically between locations, rental cars available to the player, as well as the narrative’s emphasis on satellite, radio, and cable-based communications, and most importantly, the online forums and pages running on the school’s closed network servers.

Final Fantasy VIII’s fundamental design was actually heavily inspired by internet forums, as scenario writer Nojima recently discussed his experience with using a personal computer to search for online discussions about previous games he’d worked on for the first time, and how impacted he was to see all kinds of criticisms on his use of character death and tragedy and the “overuse of flashbacks” as a narrative device, all of which directly affected the decisions made during the narrative development of VIII. It doesn’t just stop there either, as VIII is really the first game to begin a trend in the series where the narrative is made of hints and clues at hidden information, context, and details to serve the main storyline, something directly designed to bolster online and forum discussions among players. Do you remember the datalog of FFXIII? Did you ever realize that whole thing began with VIII? The ‘tutorial’ section of the menu has sections among sections detailing not just the various unexplained aspects of the game systems, but information about characters, locations, plot events, and the history of the world that go mostly unspoken during the game, key terms with which to read the several intended playthroughs of the game and to put pieces together with others.

I wholly believe that the direct exposure to other people and places via the internet as an extension of previous historical accelerations and compressions of time and their subsequent erasure of borders and discreet identities in time and space directly informs the themes, message, and the narrative and mechanical design of Final Fantasy VIII.
“We are entering a space which is speed-space…[a] time of electronic transmission…and therefore, man is present not via his physical presence, but via programming.”

NARRATIVE 1 - VHS

I think a lot of people will agree that the narrative and plot of FFVIII has a unique flair to it. It took me some time to realize how to describe it, but I think I’ve reached something I’m satisfied with. The plot of FFVIII, from the beginning, feels compressed, with events happening of wildly ranging content, tones, fictional genres, compiled together in tight bouts of non-sequitur editing. What it really feels like, is an old, worn-out inherited VHS tape that’s seen years of use and rewriting between various films and programs, to the extent that you can no longer tell where one film ends and the next begins. Storylines and cinema modes blend together, events unpredictable in nature only loosely related to the ones immediately surrounding them dissolve with the seams between so worn out that the lack of cuts itself is jarring (note the cinematics’ consistent, heavy use of dissolves) and characters appear to change fundamental roles based not on character or plot developments but on the tape’s runtime itself, dictated by the speed of the dream, as if resembling a worn-out existential footprint of a person’s interests and entertainment dispositions over a long period of time. The plot of FFVIII grabs from ranges of Hollywood films between Star Wars to minutes of Jurassic Park to Saving Private Ryan, Aliens to hints of Harry Potter (unreleased as of ff8’s release), Titanic, etc. Each section feels iconic, but they all feel like different, unrelated works stitched together, bound by culture and speed.

What effect does living in that kind of existence have on a person? Final Fantasy VIII has large swaths of time the player can experience, if they so choose, between important plot events, where nothing important happens and time seems to feel like a paranoid stand-still, as if frozen between actions but never at rest, where players are pulled along mainly by interest in the trading card game system. But when plot events happen, they happen fast, in intense succession, one after another. Final Fantasy VIII is a story about young people, especially Squall, being consistently overwhelmed by events they have no control over, by a world that deems all the elements of discrete eras of history as totally equivalent, permitted to happen simultaneously.

Unlike a typical narrative’s sense of time where at any moment that the present takes place the threat of the unknown would come from the future, the characters of VIII are attacked from all sides, so little is their grasp on both the grand scope of time and the minuteness of its intervals. VIII is a story where enemies become mothers (your own), and not in the Luke Skywalker sense. Relationships are given unknown meanings, and then immediately dropped, recontextualized, and then decontextualized. No form of understanding about the nature of this world is stable. It is a dream where your own personal reality rewrites itself so fast and frequently as everything changes and morphs all around you.

“When we think of speed, we say it’s the means of getting from here to there fast…But I say no to this. It’s a milieu, a milieu in which we participate only indirectly through the videotape machine after recording, through information science and [programmed] systems.”

MECHANICS 1 – Deconsolidation and Assembly

The act of dealing with that world, where everything is connected to the point where nothing is any more relevant than anything else, is to acknowledge its implicit existential anxiety and death anxiety.

More than anything else, I think, the makeup of Final Fantasy VIII’s world and mechanics design is that of a consolidated, disassembled world, where everything remains clumped together in chunks, but nothing is really pre-built for the player. The content, from quests to acquirable resources are concentrated in select points along the map. Rather than spread across the map so the player is led to find the Necessary Keys ala Dragon Quest, as it were, they are in distinct points the player is meant to remember and return to should they seek those properties. Even the system of magic itself implies that magic, the most important resource of this world, is located along concentrated areas that spurt out from physical locations, or from the monsters who originate from the moon. Item drops only come from specific monsters and have very specific uses, and monsters themselves are often limited to specific continents or areas. But it isn’t just content that’s consolidated, the rules of the game themselves are. Each new Guardian Force (summon) acquisition and new type of magic has the power to fundamentally change how the game works for the player and the psychology of the battles and exploration, exactly the same as how Triple Triad’s (card game side mode) rulesets change as you travel.

You might have heard the complaint that Final Fantasy VIII is easy to break, but in truth, you cannot break Final Fantasy VIII because you cannot break something that is not yet assembled. The assembly of its elements is entirely up to the player, with what you do in the game, what you find, what you explore, how you allocate things, and what affordances you define each element with. And none of these decisions are permanent; the game can be rewritten any time and as many times as you choose.

CONTEXTUALIZATION – Putting VIII into Perspective of the Series

Put simply, the identity of Final Fantasy is that it attempts to encapsulate everything that can be said regarding a theme using both fantasy and role-playing mechanics within a single game. They are a lot like the Star Wars films in how those films cover an extremely broad and encompassing range of visual, cinematographic, and mythological elements taken from various sources and put together to form a narrative that explores narrative. Final Fantasy games are all encompassing works of the same kind; each game is both the first work and the last work in a series that explores the art of game-driven narrative.

I would like now to break down each game in the series until VIII and paint them as a specific type of Final Fantasy with regards to how each approaches its interpretation and style of roleplaying to demonstrate the path taken to get to VIII's approach.

1 Final Dungeon Fantasy

A game mainly driven by individual dungeons that require the player to explore and plan routes through several times until coming away with the most important treasure, a narrative key, that applies itself in some way to the overworld, itself a large dungeon. This form of dungeon diving heavily tests resource management and planning as well as managing encounter based risk and reward.

2 Final Campaign Fantasy

A game that serves a narrative campaign about rebellion first and foremost, and requires the player to consistently return to a specific location as they seek the resources and keys necessary to develop a resistance strong enough against an empire. Rather than resource management, the behavior of the player is heavily tracked and used to shape the growth of the characters nonlinearly which requires appropriate use of spells and weaponry to modify characters temporarily and permanently to approach the challenges.

3 Final Exploration Fantasy

A story centered around a freewheeling party exploring both a shifting world and their own shifting selves. Tasks are found on volition and approached through an economy of mechanical roles.

4 Final Theater Fantasy

A game that defines all mechanics and roles of its participants by and for narrative, and allows the player to be the discoverer and actor of their interplay.

5 Final Television Fantasy

A game about approaching challenges by not just trying different classes and mechanical roles but by combining their aspects and seeing their effects. An episodic costume narrative directed by the player with a party as cast members in on-going production.

6 Final Opera Fantasy

An extension of the fourth game's theater, developed into a full multi-character parallel storied narrative where each character is less defined by role and more by personal quirks and distance from the former games' magic, never being able to take ownership of it.

7 Final Everything Fantasy

7 is like a culmination and convergence of so many things and ideas. It feels like it contains so many settings, story genres, and pieces as an urban fantasy. From sidewalks and ceos, mythical creatures, crazed scientists and test subjects, caves of natural wonder, haunted mansions, a “princess”-like and a “knight”-like, lost magic cities, amusement parks, giant robots, kaiju, space, special soldiers, secret agents, aliens, I mean the list just goes on, and it all works because none of these things take up too much of the time and the pace is fast enough to be riveting but with deep enough character writing and psychology between the turnarounds to keep consistent interest on a main through-line.

Final fantasy VII is the fantasy of everything, contextualized by the concept of the lifestream, where all life and concepts flow through the planet in a physical, manifested way. Anything can happen because it’s part of the same stream of planetary existence, like a wave that comes and goes.

8 Final RPG Fantasy

How do you go past “everything”? What do you look toward once you’ve created a story about the concept of “everything”? The answer VIII arrives at, is to look at the container itself, the RPG wrapper that houses the content of the game. Whereas VII asked what are all the things we can put and keep in an RPG, VIII asks what is an RPG? How does an RPG present and deliver its ideas?

To play Final Fantasy VIII is to create questions and follow lines of thought. The game itself houses multiple choice tests (as the main characters are students) that help determine the salary level the player receives. Each of these tests is not only designed to test the player’s understanding of the game, but to give them ideas for things to experiment with, questions to follow up on and experiment within the game’s almost carelessly open and flexible system.

Each character is a momentary collection of spells that determine what they’re good at. Each spell a question of how to make a character either stronger or more resistant. And each potential of each spell is determined by what god-creatures you’ve pacted with or spotted and fished in each battle. But, the decisions you can make for what you want to be good at are also determined by what GFs you have found and what abilities you've invested in. For example, you might prioritize HP and junction cures to HP, but then you find that you're rarely doing limit breaks because limits are tied to low HP, and have their own kind of system for chaining limits by manipulating windows. You would be ignoring a system of the combat and never hitting your characters' true potential, not to mention having slow battles. But, then you get the spell Aura, which lets you do limits at higher HP. But you find that with that high HP, you don't really ever heal high enough to take advantage of it because your magic stat is low. And when you do heal, your max hp diminishes anyway. You have a specific idea about how HP and healing works, until you get an ability that instantly heals an ally to full without any resource limit, and suddenly you have a completely different understanding of opportunity costs, statistical uses, and how spells can be used. There's many abilities in the game that offer (or threaten) to change the way the game can or should be played, and each stat has its own little functions worth discovering.

Even the difficulty of the game is entirely dependent on how much time one spends digging into the game, with enemies leveling up with the player’s party and the speed of level-ups being on a linear scale, rather than exponential (1000 exp to level up at all times, regardless of current level), which puts a pressure on the player to keep their builds up against the speed of the game's power scale. You might think to avoid killing creatures and gaining experience and focus entirely on getting spells, which many do to "break" the game, but this prevents you from being able to draw higher level magic as your level (and magic ability) determine your capabilities with that. Without high enough levels, enemy monsters won't even have high level magic on them to take from at all, and without killing monsters and only ending battles in other ways, you'll never get the monster parts and drops to turn into either magic or new weapons, and neither will your GFs learn new abilities and stat relationships or develop summon compatibilities. Although you can bypass some of that by delving into the card game, another system of intricate and shifting rulesets, which leads me to my next point.

MECHANICS 2 - Neuroplasticity

All the (consolidated) parts of Final Fantasy VIII, although scattered and very missable, are not any of them necessary toward completing the game because the system is designed to work around missing components.

You can ignore triple triad and focus on drawing magic and making builds from monster drop items. You can make your GFs focus on summon damage and boosts over junctioned stats and play the game carefully using summons and summon items, or you might never use those items at all. You might prioritize disposable high damage items over high level magic and build characters around that.

You might have one character build defensive and manipulate them to stay in low health to get limit breaks off of them. Doing that implies that you have access to a defense boosting GF, which are missable. You can plan a party around anything given what stat junctions you have available. You might have a party that's weak or strong against various elements at random times depending on what the auto junction system chooses for you, or you might be in complete control of the elemental and status properties of everyone around you.

Even the pocket playstation peripheral, something I thought was a downside of the game as without it certain items and summons can't be obtained. But having a better understanding of the game let me realize that it's entirely in the spirit of the game since everything in the game is an optional, circumventable thing that helps you define what kind of rpg you're playing. It's not a complete, self-contained "final fantasy", I thought, if it has these things outside the game. But, it doesn't need to have it, and besides, what ambition to have a separate monocolor tiny game screen with the potential to bring game altering items into the game that you can acquire by adventuring while outside.

To add onto the chocobo pocketstation game point, what it is is a tiny little random dungeon navigator and battler with small events that can help you level up a small chocobo in the real game and grow a summon in real time, while it nets you items from all over the game, even when you wouldn't be able to get them normally. Sometimes these items can help you get lategame GFs early. But this doesn't break the difficulty curve as it would in a normal rpg, because the game is balanced not around standard difficulty but on a risk/reward system where danger is beneficial, all boons are expendable and disposable, and everything around you is on the same growth curve as you.

All this to say that, while I think Final Fantasy had been leaning toward this direction for some time with V's class change system, VI's magic learning system and VII's materia system, but VIII is the first to fully embrace a difficulty designed around broadness. Instead of a series of challenges that test you on your ability to use available resources, growth choices made, or special items and weapons found via exploration, VIII is all about improvisation and just seeing what you can do and how you can play with it. This is reinforced by both a growth structure based on impermanence and redefinability and a world and system structure of circumventable machinery, where the pleasure is in the rewiring. It's the emphasis on how, not on performing optimally but on enjoying the act and actually paying attention and recognizing the struts, rails, and artifice of the play. In that sense, the game might be the first and only truly mechanically Brechtian RPG.

NARRATIVE 2 - Characters Who Exist Between the Frames

Given the state of impermanence and redefinability of the game’s mechanical construction, in a world where everything is permitted to exist at once in one concentrated mass dilated over a stretch of bending time, characters live and breathe in the spaces between time. If timecode dictates the law of this world the way it does relationships, events, and reality, then it is between units of time that characters find their existence.

The key visual motif of this game is the fade. Locations, characters, and places in time are introduced by fading, cascading shots. It is a visual dilation between disparate moments, a morphing of person to place, the inner to outer and back again, and it is constant across this game’s narrative framing.

Yet the characters when introduced are always given these very specific, quiet moments. Beautifully rendered short, intimate cg, completely voiceless, pointmark each new character’s introduction to the story. It’s such a unique feeling watching these, like learning about somebody without hearing them say anything, an interview of gestures, small movements, and diegetic environmental sound. It’s these moments that stand out throughout the game as in the heat of narrative choice, climax, and expositions where characters are put through the wringer and make mistakes, change, remember things, forget things; characters have developments in this game so quickly sometimes or have stunning redefining moments and reevaluations that it sometimes does feel absurd, surreal, and many have criticized this style of narrative development, but it's entirely appropriate for this game’s theme and story, a story where young adult development is characterized by the existential speed of the present, the claustrophobia of the past and the future closing on you at both sides, the baggage of the parent, the realization of your own eminent death, the reconciliation or lackthereof of a society and history that feels alien and unmalleable, of time itself that seems hostile and alive. To live here is to have surrendered yourself to it, to be a participant of the self-annihilation of its very existence, so there is no self, really, to separate from the out-of-control plot spiraling across the drama of all ages, except for only those that can be captured by these tiny, seemingly trivial moments, these small things that carry so much meaning about a person. And isn’t that ultimately the way you’ll be remembered? When a person is gone and all their life is part of the lives of all the other people’s lives, we remember those small bits, right? The way they move their hair or gaze into the sky or stumble on some rocks. It’s the moments between that can breathe.

MECHANICS 3 - Bargaining with Time

Much has been said about the drawing system of Final Fantasy VIII. I stand by that it is one of the most misunderstood mechanics in all RPG history. The regurgitated complaint is that it's slow, it's a waste of time, it's repetitive, and lastly that it's a required exercise in tedium as a replacement for traditional experience based stat growth. Such complaints or that the idea that the game was unplayable before the option to speed up time in the remaster (or that it improves the game) are untrue, and can be dispelled easily with an idea that might explain the mechanic better.

Imagine if each enemy in the game had only a limited amount of spell stocks, for example, if the bats at the start of the game had just a limit of 15 fires, and perhaps the triwing miniboss had 50 fires, blizzards, and thunders each. The expectation of “grinding by drawing” would be dead, and by explicitly disallowing players the opportunity to ruin their own enjoyment of the game by abusing a mechanic for “optimal growth and spell stocking” the game would have a much better sense of natural pace. And I mean, when you think about, even with that limitation you STILL could grind endlessly and pick up as many spells as you want, because the enemies are still random encounters you can grind. So what’s the difference, why does allowing a player to get ~infinite spells from a single encounter make it any worse than allowing a player to get a limited amount of spells from an infinitely repeatable encounter? The difference is player psychology, and how players perceive the game is to be played based on pre-established conditions of the genre. I’ve never seen a player of an rpg complain that a game demands that they grind by allowing infinite enemy encounters to occur in a designated area, because it’s understood unless the player explicitly desires a statistical advantage through repetitive actions, they are not meant to walk around and battle endlessly for optimal growth and item/resource availability.

But that still leaves the question, why design the game that way, why design it so that each enemy is an endless dispenser of spells and that spell stock is the foremost determiner of character statistic ability?

To answer this, first, what is drawing spells? Why have a magic system set up like this at all? I think the main benefits of this mechanic in terms of player emotion are that:
1- It gives each individual battle the ability to permanently change, for better or worse, your character’s potential capabilities, weaknesses and strengths. In other terms, their invisible, implied ambiguous class. Of course, there are no character classes in Final Fantasy VIII, and they haven’t been in the series at this point since V, but there are still minute decisions to tool and retool every character in the game based on available resources that can instantly completely change how your characters act, fight, and interact in terms of battles. Every single battle in the game has the potential to change this, either by having the player spend lots of magic spell stocks during the fight for casting and thus losing their junctioned stat strengths, or by acquiring an unknown amount of new spells, or even discovering an unknown spell altogether that gives new potential both as an ability to cast during battle and as an ability that might redefine or change your strategies completely. One of my biggest problems with many JRPGs is there is too much inconsequential time spent in battle, and that time actually feels inconsequential. Sure, technically experience points are consequential since they can permanently change your characters for the better once you get enough, but gaining experience is always the same reward (the only variable being amount), and always in the upward direction, and is always applied the same way by the game system. Spell stocks all have different stat relationships based on the spell, which itself is a form of discovery that’s pretty fun.

2- It creates a decision-making point. In each battle, you have the option to spend a character turn being useless for the sake of acquiring resources, and doing this consecutively leaves you open for more attacks by the enemy. You cannot predict the exact quantity you’ll receive each turn, so there’s a bit of a gamble involved, and it creates a risk/reward system of staying longer or choosing not to end battles to get more out of them. Drawing is also a skill. It’s not an option available at all times; it costs a full menu slot of which there are only four available and this never changes during the game (a big change from VII’s everything-window resizing itself), and the game makes this point from the beginning by starting you off with 4 available command skills in addition to Draw.

Additionally, the outcome of a successful Draw is dependent on magic stats/junctions, so there is incentive to do things like specialize characters for drawing, have mages geared toward drawing, or even make your characters physical stats weaker so as not to end battles too quickly. There is also the fact that your character level determines Drawing success/failure, and a lot of spells have a minimum level to acquire, which also actually means if you want to take advantage of battle spell drawing you cannot keep yourself intentionally underlevel (though you don’t have to take advantage of it; there are other ways of playing the game), and that if you have a specialized draw character, you still want to keep their level up, and in this game experience is primarily determined by who gets the last hit in battle, which means you still want them to attack every once in a while…
At the same time though, Draw is still useful as a command for characters with weak magic stats. You could always cast a Drawn spell instead of stocking it, kind of excitingly using the enemy spell against themselves right away in the heat of battle, and the power of that spell isn’t determined by character magic stats since it’s not really being casted from that character. Instead spells casted this way are given random strength, which could be useful in fights where physical fighters can’t use their attacks, need to get an elemental weakness out, or do anything spur-of-the-moment.

At the same time though, there is a huge flaw with the implementation of this mechanic, and I think it’s responsible for the reason this mechanic is misunderstood as something expected to be abused to the point of “making the game boring”. And that’s that, for about half of the game, the enemies simply don’t do enough damage per turn to create a legitimate threat to the player’s risk of standing around, drawing. Because players don’t feel a risk or danger, the only real risk until enemies become stronger is the passage of time, which is where the concept of perceived intended grind comes from. The game is not difficult enough in general to necessitate wasting your time with excessive drawing anyway, yet players cannot know that when starting the game or anticipating the next challenge. To be frank, the root of this issue stems from the ATB system and Final Fantasy’s approach to enemy design at this stage in general: from VI on, FF games had battles that were more about performance, expression and a horizontal power system where you could defeat enemies in multiple ways, which would actually help define the characters and their journeys, as well as create the cinematic character-driven narrative layer to the moment-to-moment gameplay. Making the enemies too hard would limit player incentive to experiment, and would lower the potential ways to solve encounters, so lowering the minimum requirement for defeating enemies makes sense. When the ATB system gets involved, though, you get the situation where if the player doesn’t truly go for ending the fight quickly and just does the minimum physical attack, the battles can very easily stall, where nobody does much damage, and the thrill of engagement is all but gone. This unfortunate result, combined with Final Fantasy’s popularization of prioritizing lengthy/showy battle animations over quicker alternatives or text, and the fact that all battles open in completely separate scenes from the exploration scene, disorienting the player if the battle takes too long (upon which re-orientating yourself by moving around to get your bearings will likely create another battle with step-based encounters), ALL are kind of the reason 70% of post FFVII JRPGs can feel like a slog to play. But that digression aside, adding the Draw system onto that low-risk and time-(in)sensitive battle foundation makes the first half of the game not live up to the risk in the risk/reward system the game is setting up.

Later games do have this element in them actually, FFIX basically has the Draw command in the form of a Steal system. It used to be that enemies had only one item players could steal, but in IX enemies have a whole table of items with harder and rarer to steal things at the top, which are really enticing since items and equipment have lots of functions in that game, similar to the magic system of VIII. Although in both games you can forgo a turn for the risk of getting hit more for the chance of scoring something good that can permanently change or increase your abilities in the game, the difference is that in IX the things enemies hold are actually limited! Look at that!

Then, in XII, you have a somewhat different thing but still a battle risk/reward subsystem where you can fight consecutive enemies by aggroing them and increase your chances of getting items and equipments and drops the higher your enemy chain is, and the more you fight and get more enemies involved the higher the risk gets for aggroing a strong enemy or overwhelming yourself in numbers. Continuing to reason 3…

3-It’s sick as hell. I don’t know what it is, and normally I don’t even care much for battle animations and particle effects, but the Draw animation is just super cool to me, and just conceptually, the idea of extracting magic essence from enemies and using it yourself in myriad ways is dope.
And if we go back to my previous point of the lack of pressure in damage turning the main motivater of risk to time, as much as I dislike it, in a game about dealing with time, with a sense of time that’s simultaneously instantly fast and endlessly frozen, isn’t it kind of apt? The anxiety of the draw state, the gambler’s addiction of staying in place just to get more, the fact that moving forward with the game and finishing encounters is something the player has to decide and actively cause, not just passively wait for things to end, well it all kind of fits thematically, I think.

One last addendum I'm gonna add here is that the way money is made in the game is also based on time, since you get a salary based on the time spent moving around in the game. Since the salary amount is determined only partially, minimally by battling, and mostly on quizzes taken that test and encourage experimentation with the game systems, it creates another horizontally structured optional progression path.

NARRATIVE 3 - Space as Final Respite, or: The Scarcity of Quiet

With my view of this story being explicitly about teenagers coming to terms with a hostile world defined by the simultaneity of time, the climax of the story is its calmest point.

I don’t want to give away too much about it in case there are readers who haven’t experienced it. But I will say that it’s a sequence that seems to come out of nowhere, has several twists, and barely explains itself. Yet it absolutely works.
Everywhere on the surface of the world of this game, there is the feeling of restlessness. Like I said before, the story sequences are accelerations of what feel like events occurring miles apart in time, the moments between them, to me at least, feel like environments defined by a freeze-frame energy. Everything is either a calm-before-the-storm, or the fallout right after a catastrophe, and in most cases, both. At rest, there is no rest, except for in space.

That being said, the scene in space technically is neither peaceful nor calm in its context. It’s very tense. BUT, it’s the one chapter in the game where the two main characters can just exist, and live by their own volition, separate from the propellants of time. The motivating factors behind Squall and Rinoa are very pure, and in that sense, it’s a rebellion against the forms of logic that construct the space the narrative defines itself in. It’s a hug in the void, interrupted only by a dragon.

MECHANICS 4 - You Are Still Playing the Game When It’s Shut Off

Final Fantasy VIII is built for external discussions. The storytelling style being based around events and relationships hinted at, the proto FFXIII datalog, the way junctioning allows for different players to have completely different play styles and setups, the fact that the card game rules scatter around and spread in unique, random ways along the towns and areas you play it at, leading to completely different rules ecosystems across the world in each save file. But I think the most interesting parts to this fact are two things.

First, the sidequest design in this game, specifically the ones you find on the overworld, and the way they’re populated along the map feel way more “you read this on a forum or heard it from a friend” than anything in the series prior, like with the invisible monkey stuff or the lake (if you know, you know), but it has a certain flavor all its own. There’s surprisingly very few of them and they’re all sort of funky in the sense that they feel abruptly distinct and don’t make sense until you ‘get’ them. It feels very protogenic to the kinds of things that would spread in early 2000s game design and sensibilities (in my opinion).

Second, with the inclusion of money being determined by something distinctly outside of the gameplay loop (optional exams), to the point that they’re in a section of the menu labeled ‘Tutorial’, I think is the game kind of encouraging the player to engage the game outside of the game and to think on their own by burying sorts of layers within the game’s construction. I think this is the first Final Fantasy where I felt the systems of combat, exploration, and character growth were distinct among themselves within the game, and could feel where each one ended and started. It’s the first Final Fantasy where I went out of my way to hunt down specific type of enemies based on their habitats to find a specific item. It’s also the first Final Fantasy where I went out of my way to construct a specific type of weapon I read about in a magazine and where going to a store meant more than just spending the gold I had for what they had on offer.

NARRATIVE 4 - The End on Tape

Potential spoilers for this section if you have not seen the ending.

“Reflect on your...childhood…your sensation...your words...your emotions.......Time...it will not wait...no matter...how hard you hold on...it escapes you...and......."-Ultimecia’s final words

What place does mortality have in a world where everything exists at the same time; if in the Vonnegut sense, you only need to look in a certain direction to see someone gone still standing, still doing what they’ve always been doing?

I read the ending in a particular way that I’ll try to explain. Squall finds himself transmitted by some signal into a cracked endless desert. In the Baudrillardian sense, this is the desert of the real. The crossing of all time, the eradication of distance between discreteness, and the overbombardment of information and signal—the noise of their reality of life—has created in its diametric the frayed husk of an opposite reality. No sound can be heard, and no signal perceived; no truth distinguishable from a soup of signs, signifiers, and contexts, there is no context found here at all, it is the Desert.

The hero wanders alone, unable to hold on to what mattered to him most. Unable to hold on to himself. Without context, without other things to compare itself to, the self disintegrates. The land shrinks until there is nowhere left to wander, because the act of wandering itself loses context, loses meaning, loses discreteness in relation to other things.

The signal/noise dichotomy is best represented by the violent montage sequence, the meshing, cutting, liquifying, re-editing as the picture itself fails to hold on to memory, fails to filter memory, fails to understand memory. And with neither memory, context, or structured/discernable reality, death comes without life beginning, and life arrives without death completing it, intermittently and together.

And the only solution to the hero’s purgatory of time, mortality, and context, is, as completely corny and as silly as it sounds, it’s just love. It’s just what matters to people, to be held and accepted. That’s the signal. It’s a beautiful image, with the clouds parting and the flowers coming back, when the two find each other again despite all odds. Because even if this whole loop will start again, Edea will begin SeeD, will become the sorceress, time draws in on itself, the characters are divided without knowing each other, and everybody is lost and alone in a sea of anxiety and noise, and the war comes from every side of time again, this one moment will still be there, and the game is asking the player to recognize the importance of that feeling. It ends with acceptance of that feeling across time, even for Seifer, who finally feels at ease with himself without actually changing, and especially Laguna, who finally gets to express what he’s always wanted to. A lost kind of love that’s continued across generations connected by a song and unspoken feelings.

Finally the whole thing culminates in a video recording of a celebration where everyone is present. It’s almost as if this one piece of footage, this is all that is allowed to exist outside of the loop that the timeline of the game is predicated on. Unlike the other forms of information transmission and transportation the game is fixed on, I think this one final tape shows a reality where everybody is at ease, being themselves, in the moment (and the headmaster’s Robin Williams face has suddenly fully transformed into a Phillip Seymour Hoffman). It’s an immortalization of the many lives that were there, granting them separation from the other many signals, noises, contexts, and realities of present, past, and future times. It ends only when the machine does, as the battery dies, the viewpoint is switched to Rinoa’s, and Squall is allowed to exist once more, present in the moment seen to Rinoa, flying toward a Lunar exit.

A send-off to 1999 and the entire millennium before it, as RPGs, rendering technology, and fiction storytelling on the digital medium won’t ever be quite the same.

My Own Timeline

I wanna take this part and talk a bit about my relationship with this game, and with games in general, over time.
I grew up at a time when PS1 games had just fully phased out and were unavailable in stores. I never had much money as a kid so getting games was a very infrequent thing, until the next gen consoles would come out and make the previous generations games discount and I could play catch-up.

Most of my relationship with games at that time was over the internet, watching videos of others older than I explaining about games and their relationships with them. Much can and has been said about the early years of YouTube and video game discussion, the immature humor, the overstretched personas, the ridiculous rants, embarrassing skits, and how generally mean spirited a lot of it was. But when I was a kid, that's all I had to go to to learn more and engage in what was absolutely the most fascinating topic out there, video games I cannot play.

Playstation 1 games, especially, felt like they were mystic artifacts, there was always an air of magic to them. I think my very first exposure to final fantasy was the FF8 intro cutscene. I thought the quick shots in that trailer-style intro were scenes from an actual movie, I remember googling for a place to watch the full thing. Then I remember finding Midgar and images depicting FF7's industrial black city and wondering how the hell it all fit together. The boxarts were always so intriguing and cinematic, but the resolution on my screen and old images and maybe just my dumb baby head would read into them the completely wrong way. I thought FF7s box was depicting a hero with a giant sword approaching a dark castle. I thought it was amazing. I could barely see or understand gameplay screenshots and just went off of text descriptions of it, and it always sounded more interesting and out there than the limited worlds being rendered in real time on my PS2. Besides 2000's Wikipedia and fan wikis I only had YouTubers to go off of for any context about these strange things that seemed so much better than the games I was playing then.

And who else to convince me of the superiority of the past than the growing number of men on the internet reminiscing about the games of their youth? And I fell for it, I just believed older games were better than anything next gen. I like to think of this now as a kind of big brother effect I experienced. I didn't have any older siblings and was an only child for a long time, so I sometimes feel jealous when I hear of others' experiences with older siblings passing down or sharing in video game experiences. Since I had no guide in the world of games, looking back now it kind of felt like I was relying on online video creators for a kind of parasocial game-themed relationship.

By allowing those kinds of people to be my guides in childhood escapist experiences, I had unknowingly allowed myself to swallow whole-sale all kinds of things, things that were not so good, and I just believed in the opinions others had for experiences I didn't have myself, for games I never played or movies I'd never watched. Most of my experience with Final Fantasy VIII for the longest time was with The Spoony One's review series on the game. It's funny to me now looking back and seeing how completely wrong most of his points about the game are, how he misreads its design choices and intentions, and kind of just complains.

Yet I can't really bring myself to hate it. I guess part of me just grew up in that culture, much as I disapprove of it now, and when I sit down and watch something like it from that time period I still find it kind of relaxing. Just to sit down, settle in, and listen to someone take me on a personal comedic journey that edits between gameplay footage, historical context, criticisms and anecdotes, and anything else that could happen on a screen. It's crazy, even if literally all of the content within that structure is horrible, it still feels comfortable somehow just through its format, its structure. I can't come to hate the things that taught me about all the games I wouldn't have been able to wonder and dream about, learn about, and eventually bring myself to try to experience on my own, even if I reject its message and outdated grossness.

That's the internet though, isn't it? The place where the past and future exist simultaneously, all directions to be experienced all at once. The turn of the millennium, the birth of the forum, the voices turning, all things must pass and all things must come, now at the same time.

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“We program a computer or a videotape machine to record a telecast in our absence, to be able to watch it the next day. Here we have a discovery: the olden space-time was an extensive space, a space where duration of time was valued. Whatever was short-lived was considered an evil-something pejorative. To last a short time was to not be present; it was negative. Today…new technologies lead us to discover the equivalent of the infinitely small in time. In previous times, we were conscious, with telescopes, of the infinite large, and with microscopes, of the infinitely small. Today, high speed machines, electronic machines, allow us to comprehend the same thing in regard to time. There is an infinitely long time which is that of history, of carbon-14, which enables us to date extremely ancient artifacts. Then, we have an infinitely short time, which is that of technology’s billionths of seconds. I think the present finds us squarely between these two times. We are living in both the extensive time of the cities of stories, of memories, or archives, or writing, and the intensive time of the new technologies. That’s the ‘program of absence’, that’s how we program our definitive absence, because we’ll never be present in that billionth of a second.”

All quotations about speed/time by Paul Virilio.

I dug up a review/piece I wrote about Earthbound in 2017 on my old blog. I'd like to post it here:

"What does Earthbound mean to you?

In Itoi’s interview regarding Earthbound’s U.S. re-release on the Wii U Virtual Console, he looks back on Earthbound and describes his views on it now as a playground he threw stuff in for himself and everyone else to play in, and that everyone takes something completely different away from these bits and bobs he's filled it with. A communal sort-of game, in which children make up stories and ideas as they go along and put it right in with the rest of the make-believe. When you have a group of friends in a playground, kids will often enter and leave as their parents drop them off and pick them up, and little by little the stories the group goes on changes as children come and go. Between zombies, aliens, the future, and whatever else kids either think about or wonder about their own world. And of course, the longer this goes on, eventually dark thoughts and feelings enter. Relationships form, and people realize things about themselves and each other.

A lot of the spirit of a shapeshifting make-believe can be found in the game’s stories themselves, as each town is going through some crazy problem, and as the heroes continue their adventure, each new scenario adds something completely separate to the mix of fictional situations, drawing from all sorts of American cultural iconography and imagery.

This is another reason the game is so interesting, it as an adventure through a self-parody of the American youth, the landscape of American suburban adventure (or as it is referred to in the game: “Eagleland”) with the coming-of-age spirit so prevalent in American fiction. But it is told through the mechanics, systems, and interface of classically Japanese role-playing games, namely Dragon Quest. The inclusion of (pseudo) first person battles (albeit influenced by psychedelic visuals, as they take over the background of each fight), a command menu, stat growth, and equipment/inventory all pulled from the Dragon Quest system. This combination of simultaneous parody of Japanese systems and American culture and iconography makes it a truly unique international cultural creation.

In addition to this, the localization of the game lends itself very much to the identity of Earthbound. Much of the Japanese humor that would have been lost in translation is rewritten, but still preserves the wit and verbal/deadpan tone of the original. The octopus statue blocking your way in a valley is replaced with a pencil, to allow for the invention of the iconic “Pencil Eraser” (Just don’t use it in a pencil store!), a now staple joke of the game, with which the identity of the American version of the game just wouldn’t be the same without. Of course, the “Eraser Eraser” continuation of the joke found later in the game acts as an even better secondary punchline to the same joke.

Much of the game often feels like a rambling collection of jokes, ideas, and views on the world. Nothing is quite told boringly or without clear authorial perspective. It brings to mind the sort of writing that books like Cat’s Cradle used, in which Vonnegut described as each chapter being a small chip of the whole book, and each chip is a little joke in and of its own.

The U.S. release, in specific, is the Earthbound I think of so fondly when I think of the game. And I find that name so fitting as opposed to its Japanese name.

Earthbound.

Despite all the adventuring, all the crazy, wacky, surreal stories you learn and experience, even with the threat and exposure to extraterrestrial life within the game, your characters, your experiences, everything you do is very much bound to the planet Earth. Every idea in the game, every character you meet, makes up one grand image of the world that the game, in essence, is presenting to you as you explore it with your d-pad.

The NPC’s of the game are some of the most iconic in any, and the reason for that is that their dialogue is written so unpredictably and humorously, but yet so truthful to their representations of their roles as humans. A businessman in Earthbound will not sound like a businessman you meet on the street. He will sound like a caricature of what a businessman would sound like, knowing that he’s a businessman in this world of hundreds of other people and hundreds of other types of people. And in knowing that, he has found joy and laughter understanding his place. Each character is a figment of themselves in the eyes of a child innocently wandering around.

There is a famous English saying, “it takes all sorts (to make a world)”, that is often used to understand strangeness or foreignness in the world and in people. People often use it when they find something difficult to understand, because of how strange and foreign it might be, so they make the claim that the world must be so big, that it must require all sorts of strangeness and foreignness and things of all sorts of manners hard to understand, for it to exist as big as it does.

Earthbound, to me at least, is like a literal, humorous depiction of that phrase. Every character, every strange, surreal person that appears so plain, has to be there to make up this world. This Earth that we are all bound to."

If you read it all, thank you

Please create an F-Zero battle royale style game with hundreds of players in a single grand prix who will die and retire during the course of the race. I want to see that last place number get higher and higher but with the added subtext of real players getting obliterated by roadside high-speed light combat, track obstacles, and general high speed collisions.

Its got great pacing, art, and music, but the combat is really shallow with little moment to moment choice, the fixed encounters make exploration a huge chore, and the story and characters are a little too stock to find personality in. It's got heart in a lot of places, but like the most polished, studio-made work, despite being so handcrafted, it's kind of a vapid blockbuster. Not trite, but vapid. You could say it was too many cooks. Too many hands building towards a really general, mass appeal vision.

I often hear this game lauded as the best of both worlds with regards to the creators of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy coming together, but it would honestly feel like the weakest entry in either series if put side by side to them. I don't like this frame of looking at it.

Dragon quest games use simple plotlines to convey often extremely subtle and sometimes very complex themes. They feel timeless because of that. The combat systems are made from really simply conveyed choices that feel really weighty; even simple attacks feel intentional, and have the ability to perform unexpectedly to lots of random factors like enemy stat variations, class stats, and flat fractional critical rates. Its combat is like a wizardry 2.0. The best dragon quests have a random encounter rate just low enough to make the player think they can get away with peering just around the corner, while dreading every step in case they run into something truly devastating. Every treasure nets a huge boon, but each one may be your last, with penalties for death being very real. Exploration is the method, and adventure is the dream. To reiterate, complex themes, simple plots, simplified combat terms, devestating and exciting blows with real choice that furthers the desire for more exploration and adventure.

Final fantasy has often really complex plots that have simple themes guiding them. They feel personal and grandiose at the same time. The characters are often commentaries on the tropes they wear on their sleeves, with a lot of hidden depth and backstories to chew at for miles. Exploration is there, but it's in favor of highly scripted and exciting setpieces. Like those setpieces, the combat favors theatricality and performance that heightens the player-character relationship, and the product of that relationship guides the player to navigate the often complex character-building systems of those games. The combat then has complex terms and systems although streamlined for a mass audience to operate on a base level, and play the entire game that way if they so choose. Rather than having a combat around survival and risk/reward, between loot/exploration/death, final fantasy combat is about giving the player a language to understand the world and personality of its inhabitants. It is communication serving the themes of the story (DQ does this too, but in very different ways). To reiterate, complex systems made feasible guided by complex characters, in a complex plot guided by simple themes.

Chrono trigger has simple characters, a pretty simple plot, simple themes, and a simple combat system.

You don't have much say over how you build the characters, the combat doesn't serve as a language, its a bit too easy with penalties too light to serve a vehicle for adventure, not to mention most battles playing out the same way, with a generally unchanging player psychology (tactics are simple, rules generally stay the same, even the introduction of magic mostly keeps characters fighting the same way as before). It's just kinda alright. I play it when I want a simple linear game. (But tbh even ff4 is kinda better at that)

This is a PSA:

Do NOT play the PSP rerelease of this game.

Play the fan-translated PS1 version of the game instead.

The original version has:

-A fun and experimental semi-automatic battle system that only requires player input to set-up commands, and pause to edit them. This allows for fast action, natural discovery of teamwork fusion attacks, and player experimentation with the card/negotiation system.

-actual challenge that ramps up as you play and makes the player think about their compositions and actions.

-loading screens only during loading saves and loading up the game

-a far superior UI aesthetic and generally more unified vision with regard to visuals, music, and battle voice lines

-is amazing

The PSP version has:

-a butchered version of the combat system that forces the player to repeatedly input the same commands at the start of every turn for no reason whatsoever

-absolutely no challenge, even on hard mode.

-loading before every fight

-slowed down battle animations

-script censorship

-if you see reviews calling this game a slog to play, it's cause they played this one
-----------------------------
I personally played the psp version twice, not knowing at all about these differences. I played the ps1 version once and it was like a whole new game. I don't know how they fucked up the psp version so bad with the combat and balancing, but I've heard the psp version of the sequel is much better (although the fan translation is yet to come out).

The one downside of playing the ps1 version of this game is that the fan translation has a little bit of that old 2000's era language in it in places and can feel like a bit of a relic (uses the word "gay" as a kind of insult for the sake of a translated pun(?) in a few places, among other stuff, but overall wasn't the worst and otherwise felt well-done and accurately localized, the translator is a bit of a legend in the realm of fan-made localizations).

This review contains spoilers

I hate ARG bullshit.
I hate its self-bemused nature.
I hate the exploitative and addictive nature of its "burn its own paper trail" conspiracy-bait nonsense that plays off the mind's desire to see patterns and solve questions.
I hate the sentient game character bullshit and frankly I'm quite tired of it.

I think this is the kind of game whose means are the same as its ends, like a conspiracy that exists to continue itself, rather than to communicate or express something of its own. I think compared to other games I've played that have this kind of conspiratorial atmosphere, Persona 2, Xenogears, and Metal Gear Solid 2 all use the conspiratorial mindset to comment on something really cool, and this one ended up feeling unsatisfying.

There is an argument to be made about it commenting on the nature of players' desire to uncover everything about a game, needlessly prying into a world that isn't theirs to the detriment of that world and themselves, although I think that idea was better explored in Undertale.

There's also the argument that the game is commenting on the strangeness of game development itself, this strange idea that inside your own computer projects that there can exist a single file or data that imparts something of great importance, that can completely change you or even the world. That slaving on it in isolation, answering question after question of your own designs could possibly create something out of nothing, something unbelievable, something so awesome or catastrophic...is it even worth the cost? The reprecussions to ourselves, the people we love?
But I believe this idea was better explored by The Hex, this developer's previous game, and by possibly the best game to address that idea, maybe the best game about games, the internet, and people's desires to reach outward to find themselves in our dreams of information, Hypnospace Outlaw.

The kinds of games this developer makes are equally cringy as they are scary, and somehow that cringeness doubles back and makes it even more scary, in ways you didn't know were possible. The more you look at the things you dismiss for being silly, the scarier they become. Maybe I'm scared at the reasons I'm finding them scary, lol.

I think I'm also just tired of games being about games. Games need to branch out and express other kinds of experiences, industries, worldviews, cultures, lifestyles, etc. I don't want to play games about games no more :(

The card games were pretty fun tho

I might be the only person around that feels this way but I highly prefer the gamecube release of this game to the HD rereleases because the camera angles are actually static on gamecube, but for the HD rereleased, they zoomed in on the backgrounds and had the camera pan across them as the player moves through them as an approach to widescreen conversion.

Giving the player visual priority in the movement of the frame makes the visual dynamics completely different and changes the whole atmosphere of the game.

When the camera is not panning to match the players movement, the player feels the world and reality around them is not built for them, is outside them, and that they are fighting against a system and world that is hostile to them. When it tracks and pans to their whim, they have more implicit visual agency which severely detracts from that sense of dreamlike isolation, stillness, alienation, and horror.

Also the game just looks fucking amazing on gamecube, easily the best looking game of that generation. I wish there were more prerendered games like this, not even in the horror genre but just more static, cinematic walking-through-frames kinds of games.

What surprised me about this game is how considerate it is. Between meal tips, detailed stretch demonstrations, feedbacks and bits of advice, it has little touches that ask you what you think of the difficulty or how you're feeling in general, considers your surroundings and lots of other minute variables. When you have to get up or change positions, it reminds you not to rush. It will check your pulse, tell you how you're doing, and when it thinks you might be tired, asks you to consider if you want to stop now, or when you might want to stop and take a break, creating a supra-cognizance and to allow the player to reconsider and evaluate their own personal goals.

It feels very much like a personal trainer in the form of a game. The way the ring peripheral is used is also very smart with the game and level design. It's all very simple, but very effective at feeling like a game rather than a haphazard mishmash of conflicting goals between personal fitness and play. It allows for the fitness goals to dictate the mechanics and the player's personal goals to modulate the details of the game through a flexible rpg system.

I embrace and welcome the ludic future, a true extension of the ludic past. More gamification of lifestyle and personal or experiential expression, less gamification to maximize profit incentive and user retention.

I couldn't get very far with this game before getting absolutely fatigued with it but I think it utterly fails at capturing the aspect of ff7 I really like the most.

Other than the fact that the original is one of the most earnestly introspective games, had commentaries on nearly every archetype presented in the game, is chock full of content and plot with perfect pace, and manages to utterly demasculate and break down the shounen jrpg hero figure, the original final fantasy VII bucked the tone of the action hero fantasy by both playing up the heroism and swashbuckling with a thick, palpable layer of melancholic and innocent irony.

Irony is often something cynical, something too adult or hardened. A way of coping with the world. But the irony in ff7 was pure, a kind of return to the true nature of what people are. It's not judgmental, it doesn't have expectations, and it's not cynical or bitter. It's simply a sense of peace, with life, oneself, loss, defeat, heroics, struggle, hardship, passion, all the products of friction between a human being and the world around them.

The remake simply lacks that tonally. For the best possible example I can think, watch the moment in the original game near the beginning after the first bombing mission, where every exit of the screen Cloud tries to exit through, he gets cut off by troops and the player is presented with the choice of running or fighting at each turn. It's a straight swashbuckling scene, the hero is cornered at every turn and the choices are weighed against him over and over, and like some of those great heroic stories and films, the hero's not really in any danger; we've seen cloud oneshot those goons earlier with ease, it's purely an aesthetic situation. Yet, the music is utterly at conflict with the scene. It's somber, it's innocent, it's complicated, and very, very subtle. There's something amiss. The scene begs the player to expect a deconstruction, a demasculation, and the undoing of what people know and expect from the game without overtly stating it. It acts as the prelude for the game later changing its own writing and having the player reevaluate what it stands for.

I don't care about nomura ghosts, action combat, new scenes, or any other changes as long as the game gets that one aspect right. That one tone that only the original ever had. I couldn't detect it, so I gave up. I could be wrong, and maybe find that core spirit somewhere else in the game if I come back to it. Or maybe the remake just plain goes for something else, and maybe that's worth it in the end. Still, I feel something's missing.

Also a few other notes, the sidequests Suck ass. Going from ff14 ARR to 7r felt like I was moonlighting one job for an even shittier one. Not recommended!

All else said, that combat system is like the complete evolution of what kingdom hearts started on the ps2. I'm happy it's gotten this far. Mechanically this game plays like everything I wanted when I was 12.

Final fantasy has always been a game about putting all your ideas and the sum total of everything you have to say about a theme and design into one game. Every game in the series is both the first and final game in its own franchise. Those designs and ideas could have anything, any kinds of gameplay systems or plot ideas as long as it grandly tells a story with roleplaying and mechanics. I welcome the real time combat, as it's the series trying to understand and remix what else is out there and put its own spin on things by creating a newly aestheticized experience of combat. Final fantasy 20 might have no combat it in at all. Be ready for it!

Playing this game again when I was a game design student and learning how to program made me realize how artful every small aspect of this game is; its journey, its dialogue, the battles, the world design, and graphics, everything just clicks in favor of a singular vision and message.
While I couldn't appreciate it until years after I loved its sequel, the prequel still managed to be a formative experience for me.
I love that magicant becomes a place you visit multiple times as a home world in the pink clouds of fantasy creatures, cloud swimming cats, and just strange people, living beneath a sad queen. The armor shops in this place have multiple tiers and variations of equipment that can be useful all game, and the tons of stuff in the treasury in the queens castle combined with the limited inventory makes it so you have incentive to come back and return to this place, to relax from the real world of physical objects and people that might want to harm you while you search for the eight things that will sing you a portion of a melody to save the world.
I won't forget the dance sequence, the singing cactus, driving a tank, taking the train across the world and through the most dangerous tunnel, running from giant creatures and machines in the endgame, teaming up with a gangster that became bedridden from injury he took by helping me, having to deal with asthma, catching a cold from an npc, the list goes on.
This game might live in the shadow of its superior sequel, but it's a totally different and fantastic experience on its own, despite sharing a lot of similar flavors and ideas.
Also, after playing other rpg's from this era, the crit SMAAASH system in this game adds so much needed unpredictability to battles that it keeps them from getting stale. You can always crit an enemy for a ton of damage, or they can crit you and you have to make do with the turn-around. Having to deal with unexpected situations are what rpg's are all about.

More than anything else, Spiderman 2018 manages to capture comfort, the comfort I felt from the paradox of the simple relatability, the grandiosity of the legend, and the urban relevance in the Sam Raimi movies I felt in childhood. And it still managed to add to that a flavor of color, craziness, and unpredictability that only comics can bring through all the tangential but welcome characters and turns that occur in the story.
Unlike other superhero stories, Spiderman is a legend rather than a myth, because he’s grounded in a real place, and represents a real culture amalgamation as opposed to a symbolic or representative one. Spiderman is every kid from Queens, trying to keep themselves afloat between jobs, tasks, trains, and personal relationships on the periphery of a city, a city that’s like a massive ship on water, and like the ocean it suspends above, navigating it is intense and unpleasant, but it’s somewhere that in the spaces between the wavering of loneliness and busyness, there’s a shadow of your own self that might guide you somewhere that you know you have to be but can’t quite find.
Peter’s story shows that regardless of what you are capable of, that will always be true, and that struggle will always exist.
Queens is probably the most diverse place on the planet. It is the single most diverse county in the most diverse city in the United States. There are more languages spoken in square meters in Queens than anywhere else in the world, with the number according to Google being 138 total languages in Queens (out of the 800 total spoken in New York City). 56% of Queens Residents are recorded as speaking a language other than English at home. Yet, despite this, I do think that Spiderman manages to cross those borders and be relatable toward the image of Queens. The reason is that Spiderman is a story concerned with the present, not the past or future, and it manages to transcend the need for backstory.
I’ll come clean, I’m from Queens, and I’m a child of immigrant parents. Many of my friends are children of immigrant parents. I can’t speak for them, but I think living with a background like that causes a kid to see their parents’ stories as something like a fairy tale, something that is very difficult to relate to and hard to identify with because of how different their present reality is, but yet it’s something that they can’t throw away, because the truth is America is a vacuum of culture which commodifies and devalues groups and identities, and leaves everyone in its system a grab-what-you-can scenario, like it’s economic system. Unlike its economic system, though, you can’t really buy or produce culture, because it’s not something that can be engineered by individuals; it needs communal ties and shared value systems, so American culture is a mercantilist culture system. In that lack of cultural context for the child of immigrants, unrelatable fairy tales are just one part in the search for context in the American Vacuum, and Spiderman is the legend, I think, for Queens that manages to transcend that gap, despite its cheesiness, schlockiness, and the fantastical notion of vigilantism in a mobilized state.

The story of Spiderman 2018 is what really managed to surprise me, even more so than the mechanics, because it manages to flesh out Peter’s internal life with his social encounters, personal overambitions, and boisterous inability to let people or conflicts reach him. It plays out the dichotomy of man and masked hero so well and it never manages to lose that comfort; the whole thing feels like a Christmas movie, even in times where I feel it shouldn’t.
There are real topics and problems showcased in the game, but they are often glossed over or too cleanly dealt with (violence(justice(police(the state that enforces violence decides the violence that is appropriate(the comfortable death of vigilantism(appropriation)))))), but I suppose that isn’t too far from the direction the movies take neither. Maybe this is too much to ask from a legend that exists to reinforce the identity of a state-supported culture. (I tend to not think so, hehe.)

The mechanics and systems here are also great, a little too great, and there were many times where I wished that I could’ve messed up more, done something that messed with me or shown me the side of this character that lets me mess up rather than lets me watch Peter mess up something in his own life. By that same token though, it did let me learn to appreciate a little the many ways the game allows to change up or add things to its traversal and combat on my own initiative, rather than the games, even if the basest form of play was still always acceptable, some self-propelled pizzazz felt fitting for the character. Initially I had thought about how I would design a Spiderman game, and how maybe I might have a system where there would be several types of materials buildings and things would be made of that each have a different relationship with web-matter, and you would individually slow down time and shoot webs at corners and places with different materials to see how that would affect your traversal until you get good enough at recognizing those patterns and can just fly off at your own speed. But, playing this game made me realize, Spiderman as a story isn’t really about that. The films or comics never really attempted that kind of heavy simulation of character or physical agency. Rather the story was always told in broad strokes, something that anyone can digest, and there’s nothing wrong with a story like that. Perhaps my idea was trying for designing a system where one could get to know what Spiderman thinks like when he’s moving, but the game’s system is more accurate to how the stories read in their respective mediums, and I have learned to get a sense of respect for that. Besides, this Spiderman isn’t new to this, and it isn’t exactly an origin story. It’s like a remix story, and a damn good one, I think. And the mechanics, its gadgets, modularized combat system, and various gameplay modes help contribute to that, I think.

The City of New York is also great, and it adds to my great personal strong attraction to representations of real places in video games, next to the pastiche New York from Parasite Eve, Yakuza’s Shinjuku and Osaka, TWEWY’s Shibuya, (and my own undergraduate thesis project’s small recreation of various areas of my university campus :P) But, I do wish they added Queens!!! It’s not accessible on the map!! And it was all over the films too, even the most recent one. Many of the streets I grew up in and worked around show up all around the various Spiderman films, and I was so excited to see them live through this game, but to no avail. Queens is so important for this character, just to be able to go there to destress from all the high flying action would’ve been great, even as side content.

To address the elephant in the room, Spiderman 2018 has a real problem. And that problem is its constant fellation of the NYPD. The game tries to run the angle of Spiderman having some tough times getting through to the coppers at first, and having some conflict as they often tell you they don’t need your help. It’s a classic superhero vigilante story line. But the game indulges in the bad egg argument and separates the fascist cops from the good cops by making them a separate entity and easily distinguishable and even throws them under a Russian leader to better distinguish a foreign enemy. Even ignoring those sentiments, pay attention to the camera, as it hovers and zooms over the NYPD logo in scenes, and pay attention to the mechanical significance given to uniformed characters in the quest systems and spawning crimes and information delivery system of the game. Not to mention the appropriation and friendly-ifying surveillance systems. It simply does not explore the breadth of these topics enough to be able say anything meaningful about them, and keeps them as set dressing for its comfortable story (albeit delightfully personable it may be) about the legend of relatability. Maybe the worst part of it, at least for me, was a random quip Peter made when fighting loose riker’s island inmates. I don’t remember what it was exactly and it’s too hard to find now, but it was something like “come on guys, just think of it as your home!” when referring to the prison he’s trying to beat them back into. A line like that just makes no sense with a correctional system intended to actually, yknow, rehabilitate people and help them eventually or hopefully reintegrate into society or a way of life that’s healthy for them and the people around them (not what the prison system in America actually does, but y’know, that is the theory, right?). Especially given that most people in the actual riker’s island are either pretrial defendants or serving short sentences, a line like that just has no place in either as a reflection of the real world, a reflection of American propaganda, or a reflection on Peter’s character. There’s just too many missteps in this game like that.

Finally I will give one last note on this game. That is that it turns out that all any open world game needs to make me want to play it continuously is give me a bunch of unlockable spidersuits to change in and out of as I play and let it actually stay on in the cutscenes. One of the greatest cosmetic features of any game in recent memory just cause it spans so much of the real history of the character’s stories.

My closing thoughts are that I want a game like this but for Superman, and I want it to be the total opposite. I want the story to be myth-like instead of legend like. I want it to focus on the unrelatable and alien aspects of superman’s character. And I want there to be ten fights in the game total.
Thank you

The soul is gone. That era is somewhere else. In its place, hollow exercises in innovating the same ideas, imitation of the text, lack of vision, and eye candy

This review is to tell you all, my friends, that there have been some pretty large breakthroughs within the past few months to create a translated, parsable version of this game for non-Japanese players.

https://youtu.be/BA0qoAE7ciM

A Discord community and some developers put together an app called AHKmon that takes the Japanese dialogue of the game, runs it through a machine translation tool called DeepL (free separate download required) that is miles ahead of google translate in making sentences make sense, and translates the game's text content live on a small separate textbox.

The interesting thing, however, is that in addition to the machine translated tool, the developers are updating a database of all the text in the game, which the AKHmon tool runs the text through first before machine-translating, to see if a pre-existing translation already exists. In the database, these lines are currently just machine translations, but they are looking for volunteers to hand-edit them to create a better localization for the dialogue.

What this means, is that, as far as I know, this is the first attempted synthesis of fan localization and machine translation pipeline software. Quite newsworthy indeed! When you think about it, that is really the best way to fan-translate an MMO like this, which has text that's premade and new text that's generated all the time online.

Keep in mind this is super new, so it still has flaws and bugs, but I have high hopes for this project!

If you want to join the discussion, find the devs, or talk about stuff, the discord link is here:
https://discord.gg/QTuFH9X

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As for the game itself, I'm only early in, but this game is crazy interesting. What MMO asks you to create not only your own character, but to then choose a sibling, younger or older, male or female, and then character create them too at the same time?
What MMO bakes that relationship into the narrative and ties familial themes so hard into its world and gameplay?
What MMO then asks you to reincarnate later, to choose a new character race, and then go through a different character creator when you're already somewhat into the game?

The lengthy offline portion of the game at the start itself feels exactly like a mainline DQ game, with interesting characters, a fantastically designed town, standing up to even the best in the series, great writing, constant subversions of what you think is gonna happen, and a weird narrative focus on alchemy, making it stand out from what I typically imagine for the series.

I can't wait to play more!

the only zelda game in need of a remake. do it ya cowards.

for real though the on-screen enemies that instantiate 2d platforming/combat sectors based on terrain is so genius that I can't believe it isn't used in like tons of games now. Playing zelda 2 today feels like playing a modern day PC indie mixed genre hit in 1987. I never really liked metroidvanias, but give me this instead any day

game changes you, man. I'm still not sure what it means. Yet I can't forget it. Like a dream that sticks