Rant: Final Fantasy


This post is a long unstructured rant. Read at your own peril. Square Enix is the poster-child and public choice whipping boy for the decline of Japanese RPG (JRPG) popularity, and I would be hard pressed not to agree. To clarify, by “Eastern” I am referring to Final Fantasy or any Final Fantasy-esque style role-playing game. I recognize that there are other excellent titles on the market. I haven’t had a chance to play Valkyria Chronics, The World Ends With You, the Persona Series or a small number of Japanese titles on my to play list.

I remember when a Final Fantasy title used to be a real treat, the one game series that bridged the gap between Eastern and Western game storytelling and game culture. The careful attention to detail, story (no matter how ludicrous) and characters were elements that could be enjoyed by all. Nowadays, it seems as if Square Enix continues to push out more and more junk. Their flagship title, Final Fantasy, has been inundated with crap; diluted by numerous sequels and unnaturally long development cycles. Destructoid had phrased it nicely in one of their recent articles: Square Enix is, essentially, the George Lucas of Video games.

A good story offers something enjoyable to everyone. I don’t think that Final Fantasy falls into that category anymore. It seems as if every new title just panders to an increasingly narrow demographic. For example, playing a young character is fine, but I am not sexually attracted to teenagers nor do I really emotionally connect with them anymore. I can appreciate a good romance and good character development but not high school level cheese. I just don’t get my jollies off of anything like that anymore.

I liked Final Fantasy X, went back and finally finished Final Fantasy XII and learned to appreciate it. But the last game of the series that I really loved was FFIX. Unsurprisingly, FFIX was also the last game produced by Sakaguchi before he resigned from Square. Also, unless I am mistaken, FFX was the last Final Fantasy game produced under Square’s label before the company merged into Square Enix. From that point on, my enjoyment of the series sharply declined. I don’t think that Nomura is a very good character designer, certainly not as good as Sakaguchi or Matsuno.

Because of my work and real life schedule, my free gaming time is limited to a couple hours of play time at most. I need a game that will accommodate my schedule. I need the ability to pick it up and put it down in an hour or two. That means discreet, natural periods of play time, whether it be in a form of a quest, mission or whatever. Actually, it doesn’t really matter as long as there is an intelligent save mechanic in place, allowing me to save anywhere or at least frequently autosave upon entering a new area and/or exiting combat. I like not feeling lost after picking a game back up after letting it collect dust for a period of time. Usually, just a synopsis of what I have done so far as well as my correct objectives is sufficient.

Also in regards to time usage: Please cut some of the crap grinding out of role-playing games. I know that grinding is synonymous with the RPG genre, but I would rather play a 25 hour game of solid gameplay than an 80 hour game crammed with filler. In all honesty, most 80 hour games only include about 25 hours of solid gameplay, if that. If difficulty is the root issue, that problem needs to be addressed in a more intelligent manner, whether it be through improved fight mechanics or otherwise. All-in-all, Square Enix isn’t very good at pacing games.

A big part of Final Fantasy’s problem is that the game mechanics haven’t evolved much in the past two decades. It’s a bit of a catch 22 situation: On one hand, the slow turn based system is part of what defines Final Fantasy as a label. On the other, it’s one of it’s biggest problems. In theory there’s nothing wrong with a turn based system, but that system in combination with massive grinding really really really does not work out. If repetitive fighting is a must, then combat needs to be lightning quick. That means, no combat bullshit, no cute battle transactions: Combat must occur naturally. Integrating combat from other genres works for most Western style RPGs. Turning a role-playing game into a first person shooter may or may not be a good solution but if all else fails, characters and story included, it’s almost always fun to shoot someone in the face repeatedly.

And to all forms of RPGs: Please cut out some of the unnecessary micromanagement (party swapping and gearing mostly). If you are going to include 12 party members, either make the all level equally regardless of which members are active. Or at the very least, do not ever place me in a situation where I am forced to use a party member that I dislike and have thus not bothered to level.

Along similar lines: I have always appreciated games that blend gameplay elements and introduce the story in intuitive and creative ways. Never underestimate the power of doing things within a game. Passive observation has its place, but interactive play is the one element that gaming has over virtually all other forms of media. Please don’t tell me a story in the form of a giant monologue. I want to discover and experience it on my own. I love watching rendered cutscenes, but I feel like they should be on their way out or at least used more sparingly than every 5 minutes or so. Any break from gameplay detracts from the game (not only picking on JRPGs. *cough* quick time events *cough*. Looking at you Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, etc).

Final Fantasy VII:
The vast majority of Final Fantasy fans, myself included, place FFVII on a pedestal. It was an exceptional game for its time, way ahead of the competition. But nostalgia aside, I am unsure if it holds up to the test of time. I would love to see this game remade in HD and finally retired. We don’t need to dilute it with even more inane sequels.

Final Fantasy XII
I liked Basch quite a bit, he was a good character. In fact, Basch was originally supposed to be the main character. Vaan and Panelo were added later in the development cycle because adult male leads apparently don’t sell, based off of the figures from one the development team’s previous games (Vagrant story, one of my favorites by the way).

Vaan was an awkward main character. Other than providing a new perspective on the main story, I don’t recall him contributing much and by the end of the game he did not evolve much as a character. Because he was tacked on, I didn’t really emotionally invest in his story. Consequently there was a huge  disconnect between the player and the characters of FFXII. Character empathy was replaced by uninteresting and generic political intrigue. I absolutely loved FFXII’s feel, setting and design. In those departments, it is one of my favorites but I play Final Fantasy for the characters and the character stories. DON’T EVER compromise on the character stories, that’s probably one of the biggest draws for JRPGs.

Final Fantasy XIII
I’ve already said my piece about this title, but I feel as if XIII would have had a more positive reception had it not been under the Final Fantasy label. Most of the people who actually enjoyed playing this game had little no no experience with other Final Fantasy games. For better or for worse, Final Fantasy games have a list of expectations that need to be addressed. Otherwise, it’s not really a Final Fantasy game.

Final Fantasy has had a good run but I’m not sure I will be purchasing future titles if they follow the same trend. Versus XIII does look pretty good though. I’m a sucker for action RPGs so I will probably pick it up.

WoW Update: Week in Review 1/23/11

Well actually, the past two weeks in review. With pictures even! Here’s a quick summary of what I’ve been up to in WoW lately. Apparently my official Magmar duty is to ride the giant worm. We’ve started raiding again by the way. Fun times in Blackwing Descent.

My equipped gear average is about 347 for my Retribution set and 343 for my offset, possibly a bit higher since the last time I have checked. I finally respec’d my offset to protection the rebuilt, gemmed and enchanted most of my tanking set, which is actually pretty decent at the moment. I reforged to meet the hit and expertise cap but, was I supposed to do that? That won’t make me too squishy will it? I mean, a bit of Dodge and Parry was sacrificed. The only thing that I really need to do now is to tank a couple of things and gather feedback. But really, I just wanted to have a viable offspec to fill in any tank shortages.

Yay Skeletal Raptor mount! By the way, is there some sort of goat or player that I can sacrifice in order to make the epic troll sword proc on my archaeology screen? Just about everything else that I have wanted has already popped up. I can’t quite decide which profession is less interesting, archaeology or fishing and I feel compelled to do both.

I didn’t realize this but, there’s a fun mounting bug in the Throne of Tides.

CES 2011: More Electronics Porn


Mean for this to be typed and posted a week ago, oh well. I had the chance to attend the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas again this year. Apparently the only reason why either of us visits Vegas is to eat food and view gadget porn. Drinking and gambling? Not so much lol. Though the convention seemed even more crowded than last year, it was loads of fun. A couple of paragraphs of random stuff:


Mobile computing had a large representation at this year’s CES, both in terms of technology used (next generation of chipsets, etc) and devices; Tablets in particular. Oh so many tablets. There was also still a big focus on 3D, both with and without glasses. If I recall correctly, there were only a couple of glassesless TVs at CES 2010. This year, just about every major TV vendor had one on display in some form. The television quality was impressive, but the 3D effect had less depth than the with glasses sets. They were also fairly sensitive to distance and viewing angles. The 3D wasn’t all that effective if you weren’t standing close the TV within a fairly narrow range. I still don’t get the focus on 3D and don’t see myself ever sitting in front of anything for an extended period of time wearing those godawful glasses. Oh: Blu-Ray Star Wars!

I didn’t realize that Windows 7 natively supported and detected touch screen devices. There were quite a few tablets and all-in-one TV/PC devices running off of native Windows 7. The user interface wasn’t as slick as some of the other devices, but I like the idea of being able to both create and view content on a portable device. The Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) tablets were the clear favorite. The Motorolla Xoom won CNET’s best of show.


Razer had a magnetic PC motion controller demoing Portal 2 both at their booth as well as at Intel’s booth. Apparently, since the base station uses a magnetic field to track the controllers, it’s not sensitive to line of sight. It’s going to be launching this year for “under a hundred dollars” with exclusive Portal 2 content. In terms of game support, I think the Hydra SDK is already available on Steam. I am going to be really really tempted to get this. Under a hundred is a good price point, but it depends on how many other past and future games offer support. Exclusive Portal 2 content and general curiosity may be the deal maker.

Most of the big name audio manufacturer’s were present with new and currently available products on display. I am considering purchasing a nicer headset so I took a look at most of the products on the floor. I am normally pretty wary of wireless devices (audio quality, latency, battery life), but Creative’s Tactic3D Omega looked pretty interesting. They seem a little flimsy though. I am sure that the intention is to create a light weight pair of headphones comfortable for hours of gameplay, but I personally like headphones that feel solid (I’ve broken a couiple before :/).

I have a gallery with a couple of photos from the convention. More pictures will be added later but I am an aweful photographer…

WoW Hodgepodge: Defias, Deathwing & Top Hats

Hahahaha I found this gem off of WoWit today and thought that it was pretty funny. Garrosh may be a dick but Varian Wrynn kind of is one too. It is pretty interesting though how the front of Stormwind had been on fire for a good two months. Those construction workers sure don’t look like they are doing a whole. But on the other hand, it’s not as if Varian is going to pay them. Oh those silly Defias. I guess you shouldn’t stiff the bill We can’t judge him too harshy. I mean he is a single parent raising the one and only teenage character in the game lol.

Oh, I finally got that stupid Standing in the Fire achievement. Deathwing literally flew over me while I was doing the Ramkahen dailies in Uldum.

I have been running heroics regularly for a while with marginal drop success. My luck has been somewhat better this week though: I finally managed to replace my cape as well as both of my trinkets. The axe that I wanted dropped off of the cache in heroic Throne of Tides but the DK tank won it. Bah, next time. The only plate items that seem to drop are for tanks and healers. QQ.

I started leveling my Worgen Druid. The Worgen starting area is quite nice, I was almost sad to have to move on. Looking forward to checking out the 1 through 60 zones and how they have changed. 60 to 80 will be a pain in the ass but by then I will have hopefully accumulated some of the guild heirlooms (close to guild level 10 at the moment). How can you not love a wolf with a top hat? So dapper.

Oh: Leveling blacksmithing sucks.

Cataclysm (4.0.3) Smart Mount Macro

Edit 1/17/11: Here you all go, modified the previous macro to make better use of LUA logic. This one should be somewhat shorter than the one posted a week or so ago, allow for more random mounts  to be added before reaching the 255 character cap. Actually, I should have just searched WoWpedia before bothering to do all of this. I reinvented the wheel!

Anyway, I had trouble re-finding a smart mount macro that actually works in Vashj’ir. So as of 4.0.3a, this one will summon the appropriate mount type in all of the Vashj zones as well as everywhere else. The following macro will automatically summon a random mount of your choice depending n the zone that you are in. The number of mounts that you are able to randomly select is limited by the 255 character limit.

/run if not IsMounted() then g,f,s={g,g},{f,f},{s,s} t=(strfind(GetMapInfo(),”Vashj”) and IsSwimming()) and s or IsFlyableArea() and f or g CallCompanion(“MOUNT”,t[random(#t)]) end

The bolded variables within the curly brackets need to be replaced with the numbers corresponding to your mounts; You will need to open up your mounts tab to find that. ‘g‘ is for ground, ‘f‘ is for flying and ‘s‘ is for swimming. Keep in mind that they are counted from left to right, top to bottom. Whenever you obtain a new mount, you will most likely need to update the maro since everything is going to be shifted over by one.

  • If you are swimming in Vashj’ir your swimming mount will be summoned. You must be swimming and not standing on the ocean floor.
  • If you are in Vashj’ir and NOT swimming (on the sandy beach for example), your flying mount will be summoned.
  • If you are in a flyable zone, your flying mount will be selected, if not you will summon your ground mount.
  • Pressing the macro while mounted will dismount you.

For example

/run if not IsMounted() then g,f,s={14},{31,8},{1} t=(strfind(GetMapInfo(),”Vashj”) and IsSwimming()) and s or IsFlyableArea() and f or g CallCompanion(“MOUNT”,t[random(#t)]) end

The ground mount that I want to use, the Fossilized Raptor is located at position 14 (second mount on the second page of my mount tab). Since there are two flying mounts that I like, I want the macro to randomly choose one to summon when I am in a flyable zone. These mounts are the ugly purple drake and the bronze drake at positions 31 and 8 respectively. Additional mounts can be added with a comma separation.

Full explanation
For anyone who is interested in how things work, here is a somewhat verbose explanation as to how the macro and its individual parts work:

/run if not IsMounted() then g,f,s={g,g},{f,f},{s,s}
Only run this line if you are not mounted. If you are mounted, skip to the last nine and dismount. We are declaring three arrays: g, f and s for ground, flying and swimming respectively.

t=(strfind(GetMapInfo(),”Vashj”) and IsSwimming()) and s or IsFlyableArea() and f or g
This is the main logic chunk for the macro. If you look at the last line of the macro (well second to last), ‘t’ is being used to randomly summon a mount. The entire purpose of this line of code is to assign the correct array (‘g’, ‘f’ or ‘s’) to ‘t’ depending on where you are in the world.

LUA handles binary operators (AND, OR) a little differently. For AND operators: Instead of just returning a binary value (true/falso, 1/0) to an expression, WoW LUA will return the first argument if the first value is false and the second argument if the first argument is true. So for example let’s evaluate this statement: false and pie. Since the first argument is false (literally and figuratively), false is returned. Now evaluate this statement: true and cake. Since the first argument is true, cake is returned.

OR operators are handled in the opposite manner. If the first argument is true, the first argument is returned. If the first argument is false, the second argument is returned. So for example: false or pie. The first argument is false so pie is returned. Second example: true or cakes. Since the first argument is true, true is returned. So breaking this line down further:

(strfind(GetMapInfo(),”Vashj”) and IsSwimming()) and s
First argument: (strfind(GetMapInfo(),”Vashj”) and IsSwimming())
Second argument: s
Operator: AND

If you are swimming in a zone starting with the string “Vashj”, the first argument is true. Given what I have stated above regarding the AND operator, the value ‘s’ would be returned and your swimming mount would be summoned. If the first argument is false (you are not in Vashj’ir or not swimming), false would be returned and we would move on to the next statement below

(strfind(GetMapInfo(),”Vashj”) and IsSwimming()) and s or IsFlyableArea() and f

First argument: (strfind(GetMapInfo(),”Vashj”) and IsSwimming()) and s
Second argument: IsFlyableArea() and f
Operator: OR

If ‘s’ was returned we are done; your swimming mount has been summoned. If the first argument however is false, we move on to the second argument. If you are in a flyable area, ‘f’ is returned and your flying mount is summoned. If not your ground mount is summoned.

Hope that was clear enough.

Cataclysm and DX11


So finally, after about a year of waffling back and forth between various upgrades, I bought a new video card last week. I was going to go all out, I didn’t really have a budget per se, but I settled on a 1GB Radeon HD 6870 (upgrade from a 512 8800GT), which didn’t actually cost that much. WoW runs at a consistently smooth rate, in combat, instancing, flying, etc. The only performance drop that I have noticed is while navigating through the Stormwind Trade District or really any area with a huge concentration of players. Other than lowering the shading options, I don’t think there’s a whole lot I can do about that.

Heat, noise level and of course, performance were the main upgrade factors. My old card could run WoW at almost maxed out settings, but it would chug and heat the card up to around 77 °C at 80% fan speed (85 °C at 100% speed during the summer). That’s fine, it’s within operating range of the card but whenever the fan ramps up to 60% speed+ it makes an awful whirring sound (tiny ass single slot cooler fan).

The stock fan on the new card is almost completely silent so long as it stays below 50% speed. Luckily, I haven’t seen it go much over 30%, even after stress testing it at 100% GPU usage in Futuremark several times. It stays relatively cool too: 62 °C while playing WoW, low 70’s at 100% usage. I probably care more about the noise level of my computer than I should, but it’s a pet peeve. I specifically built this machine keeping that factor in mind. It was irritating that the one and only part that made any sort of noise was my video card.

I know that there was a small graphical difference between DirectX 9 and DirectX 11 in the Cataclysm beta, but I don’t think there is now. Aside from a small performance boost, everything else looks the same at max settings. I took quite a few comparison screenshots over the weekend, specifically focusing on water and lighting. I was going to post them, but since I really couldn’t see a difference I don’t see a point. However, here are a couple of screenshots of WoW with maxed out settings. It’s worth noting that I run the game at 1920×1080 windowed with vsync enabled.