Tag Archives: JRPG

Review: Final Fantasy VII: On The Way To A Smile

(This review was originally posted to The Fandom Post.)

I spent 100 hours leveling up to beat Sephiroth for this?

Creative Staff:
Story: Kazushige Nojima

Final Fantasy VII was the first JRPG I ever played, and only the second game I ever completed; to say that it holds a special place in my heart would be an understatement. I think there is actually entire chamber of my heart that is roped off and says “Reserved for Final Fantasy VII (and also VIII, sometimes).”

Sadly, I haven’t enjoyed any of the attempts that developer Square Enix has made to revisit that universe. I found Advent Children, the movie sequel, more irritating than anything else, and none of the prequel games that SE released seemed appealing. Maybe I just hold FFVII to too high a standard, but to me, the original game was like lightning in a bottle; a rare artistic achievement where the entire production came together to be more than the sum of its parts both as a video game and as a larger fantasy narrative.

So that leaves me in a weird place with On the Way to A Smile, basically a prequel to a movie that I didn’t like, but based in a world that I unquestionably love. This story collection bridges the gap between the end of the game and the beginning of Advent Children, a period of about four years. I tried to put aside my general dislike of all FFVII expansion material and approach this book with fresh eyes, but I’m not sure I succeeded. It seemed intent on reminding me of all the things I have never liked about attempts to continue the FFVII story beyond the final boss fight.

For one thing, this book is pretty dark; everyone is so despondent that you almost wonder if it wouldn’t have been kinder to let Sephiroth destroy the world and put everyone out of their misery. Now, it was always a dark world, and it’s not like I expected things to suddenly become happy and light-hearted after Sephiroth was defeated. I mean, it’s nice to think about Cloud and Tifa being married with 2.3 kids and a dog, Red XIII finding a girlfriend and having the best animal romance since The Lion King, or Cid starting the Gaia version of NASA, but I knew it would never be that easy for these characters. Still, this book goes too far in the other direction by making everybody utterly miserable. What makes it unforgivable to me is that this book requires the characters to forget the things they learned in the original game in order to be unhappy.

Remember how Barret’s character arc in the game had him realizing that while he’ll never be the father he thinks Marlene deserves because of his past, he’s nevertheless the father she has, and he needs to be there for her? Well, this book has him dump Marlene on Tifa early on so he can “settle his past,” which he should already know is a fool’s errand. When he ends up doing something useful, it’s more because he stumbles into it than anything else. Cloud and Tifa, who achieved a state of great intimacy by the end of the game- to the point where they even shared a consciousness at one point- treat each other like awkward strangers, and struggle to communicate. Yuffie goes on a useless quest that she knows has no chance of success, but does it anyway because she thinks her pluck will give people hope, or something. Wasn’t Yuffie the one who wanted results, not just idle talk? Cid is doing fine, so naturally, Cid isn’t in the book that much.

It’s certainly not all bad. It clarifies a lot of things about Advent Children that were always a bit hazy, and some of the individual stories are interesting. I particularly liked Red XIII’s story, because even though it was depressing as all hell, at least he seemed properly in character. But man, talk about going out of your way to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Most of the characters don’t even seem conscious of the fact that they saved the entire planet, because that might give them something to feel good about. Yuffie at least acknowledges it, then is promptly told that no one wants to hear about it and she should shut up.

And yet, for all my complaints, there’s something here. We’re dealing with a society that both regrets nearly destroying nature, yet fears the raw destructive power of nature; a worldwide slump brought about by extreme corporate mismanagement; an epidemic with no cure, without enough medicine or health providers to go around; A rapid increase in technology, while at the same time, a desperate need for a new energy source that doesn’t seem forthcoming. Even though this book doesn’t do right by the cast of the game, I would be lying if I said it didn’t feel relevant. It’s almost too relevant, if such a thing is even possible; I mean, I just ostensibly read a Final Fantasy book, and here I am thinking about health care and diminishing fossil fuel supplies instead of Chocobo Racing. Is that okay?

In fairness, most fans of FFVII are probably less picky and will find more to like here. If you liked Advent Children (and a lot of fans did), you’ll probably like this. And it’s always nice to see interaction between beloved characters that didn’t get much one-on-one time in the original game, like Yuffie and Red XIII. With all this sequel material though, I’m always left wondering if SE perhaps doesn’t understand the story of the original game they made, or if maybe I’m the one who doesn’t understand. It’s not a good feeling, either way.

In Summary:
A short story collection that succeeds as a supplement to the Advent Children film, but may leave series fans wondering if Final Fantasy VII was always this macabre and joyless.

Long Island Retro Gaming Expo 2018: Picks From the Dealers’ Room

This may shock you, but I spent too much money in the Dealers’ Room once again. I joked after Cradle Con that I wasn’t going to spend any more money on games or anime for the rest of the year and uh…yeah, I lied. I am a liar. I am setting a bad example for my family.

Nevertheless, I cannot go back in time and unspend all this money (not that I would), so I may as well take advantage of my fevered shopping spree by getting a blog post out of it. Seriously, if I go to Anime NYC (or any other con) anytime soon, I’m probably going to have to make a point of avoiding the dealers room, since I really can’t afford to do this. But enough realistic negativity, I have swag to show off!

I filled out my PS1 RPG collection with these two gems, which I’ve wanted for a long time. I’ve always been intrigued by the dating/weapon forging mechanics in Thousand Arms, and the job system in Star Ocean: The Second Story always sounded exactly like my cup of tea. There are PSP remakes of the early Star Ocean games, but from what I’ve read, I’m better off with the original here anyway. I wish I’d bought more of these games back when they came out, but back then, I only had so much babysitting money….

Speaking of RPGs, I needed this to fill out my FF collection so I can make good on my ongoing threat of Let’s Playing them all some day. Technically I do own these games already (Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls for the GBA), but I’ve decided recently that I’d rather have everything in Playstation format when possible. PSX discs are readily available, usually inexpensive, and easy to (legally) play on the computer with an emulator.

For the record, I’ve never actually finished FF1; I’ve played about 75% of the way through it several different times, but just never completed it for some reason. I need to fix that sometime soon. FF2 I have yet to even attempt.

Not JRPGs? There must be some mistake!

I wasn’t planning on buying these, but I’ve been hearing since the ’90s that the Legacy of Kain series is high-quality, and these were really inexpensive. As an Eidos series, Kain is kind of like Lara Croft’s brother anyway, right? It made sense in my head.

After attending Leonard Herman’s panel on video game history, I was really curious to read his book. Phoenix has been around since 1994, but the fourth edition covers games history through 2015, so there’s a lot to go through here. I’ve started reading it and find it quite addictive, even if a lot of it is dedicated to covering dodgy peripherals for obscure systems I never knew existed.

Mr. Herman was really nice and even offered to help me raid the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester to get at their JRPG collection, although I was kidding about that. Or…maybe he was kidding. Let’s assume someone was kidding.

Most of you probably need some background in order to understand why I absolutely lost my shit when fell over this. Versus Books was a company that put out unauthorized game guides back in the ’90s, and they’ve been all but forgotten today. What a lot of people don’t know is that in addition to being very thorough, the Versus guides were also hilarious; reading the Metal Gear Solid book is almost as fun as playing the game itself. Years ago, my brother wrote to the company to try to get a copy of this guide, but they were out of business at that point and it seemed like there was no way to get it.

I don’t know if they used this book to take the piss out of FF7 the way they did for MGS and Resident Evil 2, but if there’s even a chance, I have to find out. Plus, maybe I’ll finally learn how to master all those stupid Gold Saucer minigames that I suck at.

One of the only early Tomb Raider guides that I didn’t already have. I like to collect the TR strategy guides because I need them to complete the damned things I like the extra stuff that’s often included in these books. Chronicles was the installment of TR that came with the infamously robust Tomb Raider Level Editor (TRLE), so I’m curious to see what the book has to say about that.

Apparently magazine ads for games have become collectibles, which makes sense; they often make nice mini-posters. I didn’t think this was something I was that interested in until I saw that they had an add for Ehrgeiz, then I just had to get it. I got a few more of these while I was there (see header). Sadly, they did not have any ads for Parasite Eve. I also picked up one for the original Advance Wars for my brother, since that’s one of his all-time favorites.

These were free, yaaay! Old School Gamer Magazine was kind enough to give away sample issues to anyone who signed up for their email list. I’m glad to discover another print game magazine, since all my favorite ones ceased publication long ago. This mag just started last year, but it has a very experienced team of writers. I’m definitely going to keep up with it and hope they keep publishing it for a long time.


This concludes my posts on LIRGE for 2018. I hope you all enjoyed getting a peek at this fun convention, and consider coming down in 2019 if you’re anywhere near the NY area. LIRGE also includes Tabletop Expo, which I did not cover because I had my hands full with the video game component, but I hope to spend more time there next year. Tabletop Expo might be spun off into it’s own convention next year, so definitely keep tabs on the LIRGE website if you’re interested in attending either or both.