Final Fantasy 4 Music Extended Essay
Estavius - Epic Battle Fantasy
Epic Battle Fantasy Medley WIP
Epic Battle Fantasy 4's "Elfin" (700 Follower Special Part 5)
Epic Battle Fantasy 4's "Outside the Battlements" 700 Follower Special Part 7)
Epic Battle Fantasy 4's "A Stroll Through Nostalgia" (700 Follower Special Part 1)
Outside the Battlements
Epic WIP [Very WIP] [Update 5/15/16]
Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Medley Concert Band
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Episode 1: Dear God, What Did They Do To FFX? Why Is This Game "DISASTERIFFIC?!"
Episode 2: Why Is There A Massaging Minigame? WHY?!
Episode 3: Is This The Game When Final Fantasy "Died?"
Part 36: Final Fantasy X-2 Has a Problem Named "Shuyin"
On previous episodes of this series, I've spoken about my distaste for asspull villains. There's something cheap about a puppeteer pouncing at the player after residing behind a proverbial curtain. The Final Fantasy franchise is rife with examples of this concept. To its credit, Final Fantasy X-2 attempts to invert this trope by displaying Shuyin front and center within the first hour. The problem is Shuyin is a TERRIBLE character. Despite being the target of Yuna's affections for much of the game, I never felt like I was learning who Shuyin was until the final chapter.
This fretting is ignoring the absurdity of Shuyin's character arc. The player has to accept that Shuyin was content with not acting upon his angst for a thousand years. He conveniently never surfaced while Sin was destroying Spira. I have come to terms with Final Fantasy X-2 existing in its own plane of existence. Even if it wants to convince me it is a sequel to Final Fantasy X, it is best enjoyed in isolation from its predecessor. There's no way the deliberative and altruistic Yuna became an impulsive and violent J-Pop singer.
Final Fantasy X-2 is a demonstrably dumb game. I think even the game's most ardent supporters will concede this fact. The characters behave like complete morons. Soulless automatons populate Final Fantasy X-2, and Shuyin is one of its many inhabitants. Admittedly, it's not all doom and gloom. As a vessel, Shuyin plays a decisive role in ferrying the characters between the story's many set pieces. Perhaps you think the spectacle surrounding Shuyin is well worth the effort. Undoubtedly, the final moments with Shuyin and Lenne are nothing short of amazing.
My problem is everything feels artificial. It's not like when you finally learn who Shuyin is, the game's previous events make more sense. He merely becomes a character with a name. Nothing more, nothing less. I would argue Shuyin makes Final Fantasy X-2 a more disjointed mess. The initial premise of Final Fantasy X-2 involves Yuna's desire to reconnect with Tidus. Resolving Shuyin's anger doesn't bring her any closer to Tidus. As a result, more than half the game feels like an extended side quest. Talk about throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks!
Part 37: Chapter Four Is WEIRD!
It compounds my previous grievances with Final Fantasy X-2's pedantic plot by one order of magnitude. For what feels like ten hours, the game subjects you to endless busywork for minimal gain. The majority of chapter four is conveyed through Shinra's CommSphere system. These CommSpheres allow Yuna to peep on a variety of NPCs. It is one of the few times the game makes worldbuilding a requirement. Outside of the optional cutscenes, chapter four is a guided affair with minimal opportunities for players to exert agency.
Controlling the CommSphere system is categorically dreadful. One of my fundamental issues stems from the lack of discernable iconography. During chapter four, Final Fantasy X-2 presents a bevy of accessible CommSpheres. Discerning which spheres play a role in progressing the story is primarily up to the player. Too often this lack of communication leads to hours wasted examining static images and hoping NPCs interact with the camera. I cannot accept that this is an efficient use of the player's time.
At this point of the story, Shuyin is using Baralai to pilot Vegnagun. Even a character as comedic as Brother treats the issue as a matter of immediate concern. Rather than build upon this tension, the game has players stare into grainy CCTV footage for three hours. In one fell swoop, the game sabotages chapter three's momentum. Players aren't searching for a way to defeat Vegnagun. Nor are they collecting historical artifacts that enlighten them on Shuyin's tragic backstory. Instead, they spy on a crying Dona as she laments her broken relationship with Barthello.
I can hear you typing away as I grouse. "But ZombiePie! Chapter four is all about world building!" Well, this world is built on shit. You mind telling me how reconnecting with O'aka XXIII brings Yuna any closer to Tidus? How does Tobli factor into why Shuyin wants to set the world on fire? Why should I give a shit about "Cactuar Nation?" I mention these pressing questions to highlight another pressing issue with chapter four. The side quests feel like self-contained short stories rather than parts of a serial, and this problem makes the game's story more scatterbrained.
Part 38: Paine's Backstory Is FUCKING BROKEN!
I enjoy Paine on paper more than in execution. I could moan and groan how she's introduced without a proper introduction, but Paine serves a purpose. Spira has changed in two years, and she's the perfect character to surface what these changes entail. Additionally, Paine's snark mimicked my own feelings about Final Fantasy X-2. She has a reason to be fed up with the circumstances surrounding her, as do I. It's with a heavy heart that I must say she deserves better than what she gets in Final Fantasy X-2.
I'm less enthused with the structure of Paine's characterization. Chapter four felt like Paine's opportunity to shine. The first few hours force Paine to lower her guard and expose her vulnerabilities to Yuna. Paine's touching aside on the deck of the Celsius is one of my favorite scenes in the game. I was curious to discover more about how she related to Spira's other major players, and her activities during the events of Final Fantasy X. As I learned more about Paine's previous adventures, it seemed like a Final Fantasy character finally warranted their angst.
The Crimson Spheres are like the Jecht Spheres in Final Fantasy X, but worse. Likewise, the process of watching the "Crimson Spheres," fares none better. It took me forever to realize I needed to talk to Shinra to watch a series of vignettes containing Paine, Gippal, Baralai, and Nooj. Even then, I fail to see the appeal of what the game accomplishes. The four of them became friends after joining a secret paramilitary group during the events of Final Fantasy X. In most of the spheres, we watch them socialize at familiar regions within Spira. It's the literal laziest way to tell a story.
Getting the Crimson Spheres is a pain in the ass, but the more significant problem is the system feels inconsequential. At no point do the characters reference anything learned from the Crimson Spheres during the main story. The anachronisms they present aren't better either. Depressingly, learning more about each character boils down to fanservice. Maybe you enjoy seeing Seymour save Baralai's life, but I view that as demonstrably problematic. If Final Fantasy X-2 wants me to think of Barlai as Seymour's handpicked successor, why the fuck isn't Baralai mentioned in Final Fantasy X?
It is a classic case of a plot guided by convenience. The writers did the best they could, but the results are all the same. I resent this game. I felt like I was being talked down to and found the game's failures all the more insulting. I mean, the designers do know I played Final Fantasy X, right? Rather than uncover more about Paine's past, I washed my hands of the whole ordeal and walked away from the Crimson Spheres.
Part 39: Oh Wait, There's A "Story" To Discuss
Occasionally, some accuse me of hating Final Fantasy X-2. Such exclamations are mostly correct. What prevents me from outright calling Final Fantasy X-2 a "failure" are its moments of brilliance. Time and time again the writing uses Wakka and Lulu to surface some of the best storytelling in the game. Episode four manages to waste the only two good characters in Final Fantasy X-2. During chapter four, the narrative is held back by the game's dubious presentation. While using the CommSphere in Besaid, Wakka walks up to the sphere to communicate with Yuna. He questions nothing and happily converses with Yuna as if this is normal.
What drove me bonkers are the cues when a scene starts and ends. Sometimes a character will stare directly at the CommSphere and take a minute to react. Other times the CommSpheres guide the player through a cutscene. More often than not, the CommSpheres are pointless and contain vapid videos of random NPCs standing in the background. Even if you locate a CommSphere worth interacting with, the results are debatable. For example, let's return to our conversation with Wakka in Besaid. All Wakka does is repeat information we already know. He states Spira is in chaos and Beclam disagrees with his conduct.
When the CommSpheres involved Wakka or Lulu, I was willing to be patient. I loved these characters and valued my time with them. The same cannot be said when the game uses the same format but with Dona, Tobli, or Isaaru. While they are passable in specific scenarios, expecting me to wait a few seconds so I can see them annotate recent events is the definition of "pushing it." With Dona, watching her exemplify the primary attributes of a "tsundere" didn't feel like an efficient use of my time. Especially not when we could be stopping Shuyin from blowing up the world.
These scenes highlight another shortcoming in Final Fantasy X-2's storytelling. The game haphazardly presents a series of named characters and expects you to give a shit. Earlier, it even dares to criticize you when you ask these characters for their names. I can honestly say I "love" Final Fantasy X, but I'll be damned if I could tell you what Yaibal did. So when the game subjected me to a boring camera swapping mechanic with the likes of "Maroda" or "Elma," I was done with this game's bullshit.
Part 40: The Story Continues To Be Stupid
After an hour of fussing about, the Gullwings suddenly remember their present situation. Lacking coherent leadership, New Yevon and the Youth League are at each other's throats. Confident Nooj, Baralai, and Gippal have a handle on Vegnagun, Yuna makes preventing full-scale war her priority. After a brainstorming session, it is decided that Yuna will sing a song to convince the citizens of Spira to lay down their arms. That's the plot. I'm not joking.
It's worth noting Paine proposes Yuna "sing a campfire song" as an ironic joke. Everyone treats her suggestion as a legitimate idea without question. It is at this point Final Fantasy X-2's aim becomes embarrassingly transparent. The developers wanted this game to have another CG concert scene. Yuna sashaying to J-Pop was going to happen whether or not we wanted it. One does not "play" Final Fantasy X-2. Final Fantasy X-2 "plays" you!
I do not understand what point of view the game wants me to apply when playing it. I want to enjoy the story in all its incongruous glory, but it treats much of its material as deathly serious. I can't take it seriously because most of it is ludicrous. I can't process it as a comedy because there are too many forced moments of melodrama. Plus, the humor is corny. Case and point, look at Rikku. Rikku desperately tries to be the center of attention, but at the expense of her dignity. Watching everyone take the piss out of Rikku is tiresome and downright abusive. What's worse, this joke is repeated a dozen times.
It feels a lot like Final Fantasy X-2 is trying to have its cake and eat it. Final Fantasy X-2 attempts to craft moments of levity by being cheeky. Compare this to Final Fantasy X which conveyed moments of levity through character interactions or set pieces. The game's humor is also structurally flawed. Comedic scenes populate large swaths of Final Fantasy X-2 but rarely do these moments lead to a punch line. It spends HOURS belaboring how Brother is in love with Yuna, but this never leads to a climax. Nor does Rikku's newfound love for dancing or Yuna's penchant for accepting unnecessary errands.
Part 41: The CommSphere Mission With Rin Is The Shits
Way back in chapter three Rin shared his concerns to Yuna that his robot servants were not behaving normally. This scene culminated in a mission where YRP had to destroy malfunctioning robots. Rin shared his worry an unknown force was causing the devices to malfunction. Flash forward to chapter four, and Rin asks Yuna to use security cameras to identify suspicious activity on the Mi'ihen Highroad.
This fucking story. It fucked up. It fucked the one side quest that had an exciting plotline outside of Paine. And it's a minigame! And not just any minigame, it's a minigame where we swap between seven cameras and press a button to call Rin. When are you supposed to call Rin? Your guess is as good as mine! FUCK THIS! For two chapters the game felt invested in crafting a brewing mystery. And now that mystery is dead forever.
One of the fascinating things about Rin is he's a capitalist interested in bridging better relations between the Al Bhed and Spira. He does this by introducing parts of Spira to devices it previously shunned. Malfunctioning machines weren't just an impediment to his noble intentions, but they could have framed him a scapegoat for something out of his control. That made the investigation harder to predict and more compelling. That was a subplot, and now it's dead.
Finishing this sequence is a chore. Because of the game's stunning lack of clarity, I explored each location and called Rin regardless of the circumstances. It stunned me how obscure pixels in the background caught his attention, but NPCs in an active conversation didn't. It's a minigame defined by Byzantine logic I felt obligated to respond to with brute force. It's a spot the difference puzzle lacking any semblance of fun.
Rin's investigation poses a dilemma to the player. Playing the game "properly" results in an outcome outside of the player's control. Beyond the Chocobo Eater, there's no clear sense who the clues are corroborating as the guilty party. That is why I think the player is better off just consulting a guide and finding which outcome provides the item they most desire. Playing along with the developer's nonsense is not worth your time.
Let's think about this minigame. Eventually, the people who developed this game will have children. Maybe some of them already do. Their children will ultimately discover their parents make video games for a living. These children will approach their parents and ask them to show them one game they developed. I cannot imagine those parents ever breaking out Final Fantasy X-2 as an exhibition of their careers. That's a sad thing. If you are reading this blog, shed a tear for the awkward conversation these developers will have to have when they talk to their children about making Final Fantasy X-2.
Part 42: Tobli Fucking Sucks
Final Fantasy X-2 is married to chase sequences. There was one in the first chapter, another involving O'aka XXIII, and now there's one with Tobli. Thinking back on it, one of my favorite scenes in Final Fantasy X was a chase sequence. After Yuna's party dispatched Seymour at Macalania Temple, they have to run away from an army of Guado Guardians. HOT DAMN, THAT'S A GREAT SCENE! You can feel the tension even as Tidus gets closer to Macalania Forest.
None of the chase sequences in Final Fantasy X-2 can hold a candle to that riveting moment. What the chase scenes in Final Fantasy X-2 lack most of all is tension. There's no consequence to taking your time as you run after a pursuable object or person. They feel like time wasters the developers included for the sake of it. Here, Yuna chases after Tobli because he's the only person in Spira capable of organizing a concert. Regrettably, Al Bhed loan sharks are apprehending Tobli for unpaid debts. But as I mentioned before, there's no reason for the player to solve this situation expeditiously.
For those of you with an astute eye, the game is rehashing O'aka XXIII's story arc from chapter two. Our time with Tobli lasts less than twenty minutes, but the unshakeable sense of déjà vu makes it seem like an hour. Plus, the scene is painfully predictable. We watch Tobli evade his captors as if he's in a Lucky Charms commercial. Each set piece plays out EXACTLY how you'd expect. It's a test of any person's patience, and let me tell you, it almost broke me.
When Yuna finally reconvenes with Tobli, the game's superficiality rears its ugly head. Tobli agrees to help Yuna and declares the Thunder Plains the best location for her concert. That's right, the area where it always rains is the best place to host a massive symphony. Are you fucking kidding me? IT'S CALLED THE FUCKING "THUNDER PLAINS" FOR A REASON! And what is the justification for this nonsense? The developers wanted Yuna's concert to end with the sun parting rain clouds because METAPHORS ARE POWERFUL!
Part 43: If You Like Chatroulette, You'll LOVE Final Fantasy X-2
Before the concert moves into full-swing, the game provides one final opportunity to interact with the CommSpheres. Even though I didn't want to, I obliged the game. And you know what? The last few CommSphere moments aren't that bad! They are still needless busywork for pointless worldbuilding, but I can't deny enjoying what I saw. Take Yuna's conversation with Beclem as an example. Their brief discussion is the best damn thing the game does with Beclem.
Should the player pursue Beclem, they will discover why he gives Wakka such a hard time. Beclem was a close friend of Chappu, and while serving in the Crusaders, Chappu told stories of his magnificent brother. Knowing Chappu's sacrifice, Beclem cannot help but feel disappointed Wakka isn't Chappu. I loved this story arc and the dilemma it poses. Watching him struggle to come to terms with his disappointment was oddly relatable. I think we have all been disappointed by the activities of an assumed role-model at least once in our lives.
After Beclem, the game tries something similar with Dona. Upon turning on the CommSphere in Kilika, we watch her loudly wail about how she misses Barthello. When Dona recites her forced apology to Barthello, the game suddenly makes something out of nothing. Dona's modus operandi has been putting up a front to feign dominance. Watching her try and fail to be honest about her emotions is poetic justice. It was comforting to see someone as cold as Dona convey honest and transparent emotions.
The other CommSphere scenes aren't as successful. Kimahri's feud with Garik Ronso is arbitrarily in stasis until chapter five. The same can be said about your interactions with Issaru. The game seems to be engineering him toward an emotional reconciliation with his brothers. Maroda refuses to mention Issaru when Yuna first meets him. Then nothing happens, and Final Fantasy X-2 leaves me hanging. As for Bikanel Desert or O'aka XXIII, the less said, the better.
Part 44: Everything Leading Up To The Concert Scene Is GARBAGE!
I honestly felt the game's length during the build-up to Yuna's concert. Everyone, including the player, knows a pre-rendered CG cutscene is right around the corner. But suddenly Final Fantasy X-2 realizes it is a video game. Before you can witness the hard work of hundreds of computer programmers, you first need to stomach a minigame and boss fight. In an episode as disingenuous as chapter four, this was an awkward juxtaposition. For eons, the game ferries Yuna from one cutscene to the next. Why it doesn't have this tradition continue until the next chapter is bizarre.
I want you to examine the screencap above. Notice how the prompt in Rikku's corner is a green triangle. Now do me a favor. Check to see if you can find a green triangle, blue X, or red square on your keyboard. Also, Yuna has been dancing with relative ease since chapter one! Why the fuck does she need to practice before her concert? Fucking come on people, I AM NOT AN IDIOT!
Final Fantasy X-2's ineffective use of my time continues when it juxtaposes to an unnecessary boss fight. Near Yuna's concert stage lives a fire-breathing dragon. Unfortunately, this dragon can quickly wipe out an under-leveled party. Given that chapter four has no gameplay for SIX HOURS this situation is unwarranted. There are no opportunities to grind in the moments preceding this scene. You're either ready to face this dragon or stuck grinding on the Thunder Plains.
This moment segues into my issue with Final Fantasy X-2's difficulty. Practically speaking, Final Fantasy X-2 has two difficulty settings. Either the game is a breeze, or it is soul-crushingly burdensome. Even when you feel you have mastered its concepts, it introduces a new foe who is leagues better than you. The only solution is to return to grinding for the sake of progressing the story. I won't beat around the bush; I do not enjoy leveling up the dresses. My problem is there aren't places in the game where you can grind efficiently. That, and leveling individual dresses takes hours. The lack of carry-over between characters further compounds this problem.
It's around this time I waived myself of any investment in Final Fantasy X-2's mechanics. To guarantee my ability to complete the game, I rocked a party consisting of two Dark Knights and one White Mage. This party composition was sufficient for 90% of the game. Rarely did anything in the main story pose a problem. While I am glad the Dark Knight class exists, it underscores how unbalanced Final Fantasy X-2's combat can be. Having a dress type that negates the need to invest in the combo or magic systems, is insane. Likewise, the hours I put into leveling the Warrior dressphere felt all for naught.
Now before you chime in with a comment, I know about the Via Infinito and Den of Woe. As you might already suspect, I have no interest in interacting with either dungeon. I have never found the appeal of "superbosses" in the Final Fantasy franchise. Creating bosses that are difficult because they hit hard and have exponentially high health levels isn't my idea of a "fun time." And let's be honest, rarely are these boss fights worth the effort. Furthermore, I want this piece of trash game out of my life. Am I asking for too much?
Part 45: If I Enjoyed Yuna's Concert Does That Mean I Like J-Pop?
Before we transition to the concert scene, there's something I should make abundantly clear. I don't like pop music. My sentiment especially applies to J-Pop and K-Pop. Both are saccharine amalgamations of trends setting the world on fire. There's nothing "timeless" about J-Pop or K-Pop. They manufacture music that pays homage to industry-led fashion and culture movements. More than any other genre of music, they exploit cultural zeitgeists for financial gain. Then in one years time, it's all dated as everyone segues in a new direction. It renders music to its most craven tendencies. It's predatory and by its very nature, artificial.
So you might be surprised to hear I liked Yuna's concert at the Thunder Plains. It's a quality made scene, but it's what I'd call a "guilty pleasure." There's no shaking away the baggage Final Fantasy X-2 carries even when it crafts an emotionally resonant moment. Yuna's concert doesn't initiate metacognition or higher levels of thinking like Final Fantasy X, but there's no denying it's a fun scene. It is one of the few times Final Fantasy X-2 maintained my interest without coming across as insulting.
The concert is the most emotionally raw the game gets. Yuna stands before her audience and begs them to honor the many sacrifices made to bring the Eternal Calm. She weaves in tales of lost love and dead friends before transitioning to her ballad. When she does, she sings with honest and transparent emotions you can understand. Yuna went through Hell and high waters to bring the Eternal Calm, and she is not about to let two feuding factions ruin it. Yuna has a reason to sing, and I was more than happy to allow her to share her vulnerabilities. That's what characters in a story should do.
The song itself is your typical overbearing J-Pop ballad. It drones about romance from another life and how it ended prematurely. But when the game splices in images of Zanarkand it elevates the song. My mouth was agape when Yuna's dress projected Lenne for everyone to see. It neatly patches together disparate story elements into a single package. I could moan about the convenience of the storytelling, but when it's this honest, I can't fault the game for trying.
It is optically overwhelming in spots. After several flashbacks, one after another, I felt overwhelmed. But I can't help but think that's what the writers wanted. For once, I understood what the game was trying to teach me. Yuna is desperately trying to prevent a vicious cycle of war and death from repeating and wants people to learn from Lenne's tragic story. It's heavy-handed about the theme of love transcending time, but that's par for the course in a modern Final Fantasy game. It's showy and severe without being bleak.
None of the story's internal logic makes sense. Yuna's dress conveniently projects holograms of Zanarkand just as her plea for an armistice appears to fail. Lenne materializes before the audience, and everyone knows who she is without question. Of course, a single concert assuages the growing animosity between Spira's two dominant factions. But the Hell with it, the scene speaks to a series of human experiences more than any other part of Final Fantasy X-2. When Final Fantasy X-2 realizes sincerity is an asset, rather than a detriment, it shines.
But I have to say this now; GOD DAMN does chapter five do nothing to build upon the good ideas of chapter four. I cannot help but think Final Fantasy X-2 is a "one trick pony." Sure, the dress combat system is ambitious in spots, but it is cumbersome and broken. Narratively, there's nothing like this concert scene in the rest of the game, so my hunch is it was planned first. The rest of the game is in service of this isolated sequence. But with that aside, we are done with episode four. I'll see you next time as we put a close to my long day's journey into Final Fantasy X-2.