My Playstation All-Stars Battle Royal 3rd Party Character Predictions

It’s official – Sony has finally announced their own Super Smash Bros. clone. I feel like I should be excited for this… but I’m not. As of now, the only characters that have been revealed are Sly Cooper, Sweet Tooth, the Fat Princess, Kratos, Parappa the Rapper, and some dude from Killzone who’s name I don’t know. Sony just doesn’t have the amount of superstars that Nintendo does, which is really making it hard for me to get hyped up for this game. However, this could easily be remedied by the addition of some good third party characters. The following post will contain the five third party characters that I believe are most likely to appear in Sony’s first stab at a crossover fighter.

1. Konami – Solid Snake (as Old Snake)

This one should be a no brainer. There aren’t many third party series out there that mean more to an individual console than the Metal Gear Solid series does to Sony. Snake is the face of the franchise, and is one of the most popular characters in all of gaming. Solid Snake is really the only character that I would be shocked not to see in this game.

Other Konami Possibilities – Some may say that Snake’s appearance in the Smash Bros. series could hurt his chances of appearing in Sony’s version of the game. Because of this, it is possible that they may go with a different character from the MGS series. Raiden would be the most likely, especially considering he has a new game scheduled to come out this year. However, he doesn’t have anywhere near the following that Snake does, and I would be pretty surprised if this were to happen.

2. Square-Enix – Lightning

First of all, I should say that I DO NOT want this to happen. I think Lightning is a boring character who has no business representing the Final Fantasy series. However, she is one of the most popular characters in the franchise’s history (for reasons beyond my comprehension), and is still in the spotlight. She is the one who makes the most sense. She will likely have another game coming out in a year or two, and her presence in this game could be used to increase the hype. A lot of fans were also butthurt over the fact that she was given the shaft in Final Fantasy XIII-2, so this may be a way to appease them. Basically, I’m picking Lightning for the same reason Lucario was put in Super Smash Bros. Brawl – because she can be used to generate buzz for another game, as well as a way to appease a large fan base.

Other Square-Enix Possibilities – Of course, Cloud Strife seems like he would be a pretty obvious pick. He is generally regarded as the franchise’s most famous character, and is from one of the most popular games in the series. This makes the most sense for the fans, but I could see how Square-Enix wouldn’t have as much to gain by putting him in. If I had to guess, I would say that Final Fantasy will have two representatives – Lightning and Cloud.

For the same reasons as Lightning, Noctis from Final Fantasy Versus XIII may have a decent shot at getting in. But I’m not willing to realistically discuss his “candidacy” until we learn more about FFvsXIII.

Finally, I think Tidus stands a decent chance of getting in. Final Fantasy X is getting a HD remake that is supposed to come out around the same time as this game, so his presence could also be used as a hype-generator. While Tidus isn’t exactly the most popular character, FFX is still one of the most popular games in the series. It would sure as hell make me happy… although there are some Final Fantasy characters I would still rather see than him.

3. Valve – Atlas and P-Body

I’m sorry, but I’m going to be a little bit subjective on this one. Valve and Sony seem to have formed a pretty strong relationship over the last couple of years. The PS3 version of Portal 2 came with a lot of exclusive content that the 360 version did not, which may be an indicator of Valve’s “loyalty” to Sony. Valve is obviously a PC-first company, but this would be a great way to get some easy publicity. GLaDOS is obviously the more popular character, but her physical appearance and abilities would make it hard to make a moveset for her (she would be a pretty bitchin’ boss fight though). Atlas and P-Body would be perfect, and could function as this game’s version of the Ice Climbers. Portal guns open up endless possibilities for a moveset, and I want to see it happen!

Other Valve PossibilitiesGordon Freeman is certainly Valve’s flagship character, but I don’t think we really need another gun-wielding fighter in this game. Considering that the dude from Killzone, Nathan Drake, a dude from Resistance, and Solid Snake’s presences are all but inevitable, I would be pretty disappointed if we had yet another soldier-like character. He makes the most sense, but my weak heart cannot help but swoon over the thought of Atlas and P-Body’s portal gun-based moveset.

4. Capcom – Leon S. Kennedy

Resident Evil 6. That’s all that needs to be said. Not only does Leon make the most sense from a “hey let’s hype up our new game” point of view, he also makes sense from a popularity standpoint. Resident Evil 4’s success made Leon one of, if not THE most popular character in the series. He fits in perfectly with Sony’s demographic, and would also make tons of fans of the Resident Evil series happy. However, the fact that Capcom already has their own series of fighting games may not bode well for Leon’s chances. It all comes down to whether or not Capcom is willing to allow it, and I don’t think there’s any good reason for them  not to.

Other Capcom Possibilities Ryu is no stranger to fighting games, and represents what is currently Capcom’s most popular series. But this game isn’t your traditional fighter, which may end up hurting his chances. Leon just makes more sense in pretty much every way possible, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they decided to go with a Street Fighter representative. Frank West would be another decent choice as well.

5. Ubisoft – Ezio Auditore da Firenze

With as much as I’ve used the “let’s hype up our game” argument, I’m not going to use it here. Ezio is by far Ubisoft’s most popular character, and this would be the perfect way to send him off once and for all. Even though Connor would make more sense, I think Ubisoft is smart enough to see how much people loved Ezio. In my opinion, Ezio is the most iconic character introduced in the seventh generation, and leaving him out of this game would be a joke.

Other Ubisoft Possibilities – The aforementioned Connor Kenway from Assassin’s Creed III has about an equal chance of getting in as Ezio does. Sam Fisher would be a good choice too, but he’s been out of the spotlight for a little too long. Rayman would fit in nicely with characters like Sly and Parappa, but it seems like he has a much larger following of Nintendo fans than he does Sony fans.

Well, that’s about it for my predictions. However, this isn’t necessarily the list of all of the characters that I want to see in the game (although I do really want Snake and Ezio). That’s for a separate post that will be coming your way soon :D

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Top 10 Video Game Characters – #9

#9 – Colonel Jade Curtiss

Summary

At the young age of 9, Jade Balfour used his knowledge in the field of fonic artes to  co-create Fomicry: a new type of science that allowed for living entities to be replicated. Recognizing his excellence in the field, Jade was adopted by the Curtiss family: a high-ranking part of Malkuth’s military. However, Jade’s failure to create a replica of his beloved teacher Gelda Nebilim caused him to give up the craft for good. He then earns the position of colonel of the Malkuth military due to his ability to utilize powerful fonic artes. He eventually meets up with Luke fon Fabre, who’s very existence once again forces Jade to face his past mistakes as the Father of Fomicry.

Personality

Despite his dark past, Jade appears to be rather cheerful on the surface. He’s constantly sporting a smile on his face, and likes to use his superior intellect to pick on the other members of the party. He’s often very sarcastic, and uses his snide comments as a way to get his points across. Sometimes he comes off as a bit cruel, but his harsh words are often used as a way to help other characters develop. He’s always streets ahead of his companions, and is usually the one to offer the explanation as to why something happened/is going to happen.

Jade’s sarcasm leads to a lot of the game’s best moments. He is the primary comic relief character, despite the fact that he also has one of the deepest and darkest backstories in the group. He constantly makes fun of his companions, but in a way that makes them, and us, love him even more. Jade is a completely serious character with a hilarious personality that brings out the best in the characters surrounding him.

Development

The one thing I don’t like about Jade is that his character development is kind of hard to find. He never really develops through the game’s main plot, and instead develops through various side quests and optional dungeons. In a way, this make’s Jade’s development a bit more rewarding to experience, but also very easy to miss. I was lucky enough to find it during my first playthrough of Tales of the Abyss, which is one of the reasons why I found him to be such an interesting character.

Unlike most Tales characters, Jade is a very despicable person. He’s guilty of some pretty heinous things, and covers them up with a smart-ass attitude that sometimes borders on the line of being down right cruel. He’s kind of hard to sympathize with due to the fact that most of his sins were a result of his own overconfidence and carelessness. While he does feel sorry for them, he tries much harder to cover them up than he does to actually atone for them.

But it is Jade’s lack of likeability that makes his development that much more meaningful. The rare moments in which Jade is sincere are some of the best moments in Tales of the Abyss. When we finally see him cast away his snarky persona in the face of his sins, we finally begin to sympathize with him. He spends such a huge amount of time hiding behind his intelligence, which makes the few moments where he acts like a normal human being that much more meaningful.

Why does he deserve the #9 spot?

I’ve never seen a character who was both the most and least likeable character at the same time. Jade is likeable because his crass personality leads to some of the funniest moments in the entire Tales series. The way he makes fun of the other characters, Luke and Guy in particular, just never seem to get old. But the way he tries to sweep his terrible past under the rug makes him a pretty detestable person.

While I wasn’t necessarily moved emotionally by Jade’s past, it is still one of the most powerful stories I have ever seen in gaming. When we finally see someone as egotistical and borderline narcissistic as Jade acknowledge the kind of person he actually is, we can’t help but feel something. The way his development is structured in Tales of the Abyss makes it that much more powerful. We must work hard to find the truth behind Jade’s past, just as he himself must work hard to finally admit what kind of person he truly is. All of this makes Jade Curtiss one of the most well developed characters I have ever seen.

Top 10 Video Game Characters – #10

Writing the list of my top 10 favorite characters in the Final Fantasy series was a very enjoyable and rewarding experience. It allowed me to relive my experiences with these characters, as well as learn a few new things about them. Because of how fun that experience was, I thought taking it to the next level would be even better. Why restrict myself to one series? Instead, I want to focus on my 10 favorite characters of all time! Hooray!

In my opinion, the characters are the most important part of a video game’s story. Even if your story is exciting, it just isn’t as good if the characters in the story are bland and dull (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy XII!). A cast of good characters can breathe life into a game, and are essential to making a game stand out.

A great character needs to be the whole package. They need to have a likeable personality, but still need to have room for a sufficient amount of development. Given gaming’s long history of cliched characters, this isn’t exactly an easy thing to accomplish. Most gamers want the idealized hero who is capable of things most people are not. While I find this kind of character entertaining, they aren’t particularly well written or developed. They also continue to grow more stale as game after game featuring these emotionless heroes are released day in and day out.  In my opinion, the characters on this list are ones who are either completely unique, or are the best examples of their corresponding archetype.

I wanted to keep this list to one character per series, but there are two franchises who’s characters are just too strong. It just wouldn’t have felt right leaving these characters off in favor of lesser characters just for the sake of limiting my list to one entry per series. But I promise that even those two franchises only have two characters appearing on the list, so it isn’t too bad. I’ll also be writing two honorable mention entries for two characters from two different franchises just so I can say I have 10 different franchises represented on my list.

Again, subjective opinions, haven’t played every game, you get the drift. Now, let’s begin the list in the typical fashion: with a character that no one else has heard of!

#10 – Kyle Hyde

Summary

Kyle Hyde is an ex-cop now working as a salesman for a company called Red Crown. He uses his job and his relationship with his boss to travel to various places in order to gain new information about his father’s death, as well as the mysterious disappearance of his former partner, Brian Bradley. As his search for information carries on, he slowly uncovers the truth behind forces much bigger than he: a criminal organization known as Nile, as well as the hunt for a priceless jewel known as the Scarlet Star. Kyle must then use his knowledge and intuition he has acquired as a cop to solve these mysteries, as well as find the connections with his father’s death and Bradley’s disappearance.

Personality

Kyle Hyde… is kind of a dick. He’s acts just how you would expect a washed-up ex-cop would act. He’s sarcastic, impatient, doesn’t really like talking with anyone, and loves him some good ol’ fashion booze. But he’s also incredibly smart, and usually knows exactly how to get inside a person’s head. He uses his intellect to outsmart everyone around him into giving him the information he wants, even if giving up that information is not in their best interest. His intelligence, combined with his sarcastic and somewhat coarse nature, make him a very entertaining character. The way he manipulates the other characters surrounding him often leads to some very funny dialog, as well as some powerful and serious character interaction.

Development

As Kyle peels back the layers of the mysteries he is investigating, he slowly begins to develop as a character. At the beginning of Hotel Dusk: Room 215, Kyle isn’t much more than a loner who is hung up on the past. As he interacts with the other characters staying at the hotel, he begins to see that his own pain isn’t the only thing that matters. He learns the story of Dunning Smith, his daughter Jenny, and Mila Evans; a story that is equally tragic when compared to his own. This, combined with the truth surrounding Bradley’s disappearance, makes him finally realize that dwelling on the past is a waste of time.

However, Kyle once again stumbles upon his past in Last Window: The Secret of Cape West. He discovers the truth behind his father’s death, and is able to finally put his demons to rest for good. Having found the jewel that caused his father’s death, Kyle finally begins to feel at peace. Throughout the course of two games, we see Kyle transform from the typical ex-cop into a regular guy who can finally put his past behind him.

Why does he deserve the #10 spot?

The story of Kyle Hyde sounds like something that would be taken straight out of one of TV’s countless cop dramas. That being said, the uniqueness Kyle presents as a video game protagonist is what makes him deserve this spot. A character like Kyle Hyde is normally portrayed as an emotionless jackass who never really develops significantly as his story goes on. However, Kyle is more of a smart ass than he is a jackass, which leads to some very amusing dialog and character development. His often insincere nature makes him likeable despite the fact that he is a rather typical character. For the most part, he is a fully developed character at the end of his first game, but still has some room to become even stronger. Last Window then offers a satisfying conclusion for Kyle’s development, further cementing him as a realistic and fleshed out character.

Top 10 Final Fantasy Characters – #1

Finally, we have reached the entry for my #1 Final Fantasy character of all time. This list has been an absolute blast to write, and I am truly sad that this is the last time I will be writing about Final Fantasy characters for awhile.

I know that my opinions are very unpopular, but as I have stated before, I’m not trying to be objective. These characters are the ones who mean the most to me; nothing more, nothing less. I know that no one is going to agree with me, and that’s completely fine. I’m not going to bash anyone for liking any character in particular, and I would hope that anyone reading this (lol no one is reading this) would be mature enough to give me the same amount of respect.

Making this list was not an easy task. I was constantly questioning my placements of each character. There are even some points where I intended for a character to be in one spot, but then had to change it after writing my entries for each of them. For example, I originally intended for Auron to be #2, but after writing my entry for Zack, I couldn’t help but switch them around.

When I was writing these entries, I would first begin by refreshing my memory about each character by reading their Final Fantasy Wiki articles (hence all of the images I use from there). Also, I tried to watch notable scenes of theirs on Youtube, as well as listen to their personal theme songs (if they had them). This also contributed to a lot of shifts on the list, such as the aforementioned Zack-Auron switch, as well as shifts between Jecht, Noel and Balthier.

Despite these difficulties, my #1 spot was never in doubt. In fact, I don’t even need to do the things mentioned above to refresh my memory on why this character is so great (but I did anyway to steal some pictures ;D). This character’s actions and personality are so heavily engraved in my mind that I will never be able to forget them.

In my opinion, a character’s ability to appear both realistic and unrealistic simultaneously is what makes them great. By definition, a hero (or a villain) should have something that normal people don’t; something that makes them greater than human. How effectively we, as gamers, are able to identify with a character, despite the unrealistic circumstances they are often placed in, is what makes them memorable. I can’t identify with characters like Lightning and Sephiroth, because their behavior is so damn irrational and unbefitting of an actual person. While I think this irrational behavior can be amusing in some cases (most notably Kefka’s), it more than often leads to an unlikeable and unrealistic character.

Almost every Final Fantasy protagonist develops in the exact same way: they start off with a major character flaw that needs to be fixed by the supporting cast until they can realize their full potential. These flaws are split up into three different categories with three characters falling into each one:

  • Cecil, Terra, and Cloud all have trouble showing their emotions due to their tragic pasts
  • Squall, Zidane, and Lightning refuse to rely on anyone but themselves
  • Bartz, Tidus, and Vaan are all immature and weak-willed

As each character develops, they begin to discover that their previous ways of living were unsatisfactory, and they transform into new people with brand new mindsets. After this transformation occurs, they gain the motivation needed to defeat their corresponding nemeses and save the world. While this “flawed protagonist” tradition does allow for some good development to occur, it get’s old after awhile. I do have a character from each category (Cloud, Squall, and Tidus) on my list, so I do like the way some of these characters develop. That being said, it’s the ones who deviate from this formula that stand out to me.

That leaves three remaining Final Fantasy protagonists who do not fall into any of the three categories. One of them is Yuna from Final Fantasy X-2. While I do find Yuna to be an entertaining character, I did not put her on this list because her personality in FFX-2 completely contradicts her personality from FFX. She turns into a completely different character with little to no explanation why, which completely soils her credibility as a character. The second unique protagonist is Zack Fair, who I have already included on my list at the #2 spot. His personality deviates from the formula, which makes him one of the most endearing and intriguing characters in the Final Fantasy series. However, there is one more Final Fantasy protagonist who also goes against the grain; a character who’s actions, personality, and level of realism exceed that of all others. That character is none other than…

#1 – Serah Farron

I honestly don’t know where to begin. There are so many things I can say about why Serah is an outstanding character that I’m a bit overwhelmed. Serah is unlike any protagonist I have ever encountered before. After playing hundreds of story and character driven games from different franchises such as Final Fantasy, Tales, Metal Gear Solid, Ace Attorney, and even more, I can safely say that Searh Farron is one of the most realistic, endering and relatable protagonists I’ve ever seen.

Backstory

Like many characters in the Final Fantasy series, Serah is burdened by a very sad and tragic past. Her father died when she was still a baby, and her mother died when she was only twelve years old, leaving only her sister Lightning for her to rely upon. In Final Fantasy XIII, Serah is tricked into becoming a l’cie against her will, effectively ending any chance she has at finding happiness. While Lightning, Snow, and a little divine intervention are able to free her from this fate, it doesn’t take long for Serah’s life to take another turn for the worse. Lightning disappears, and her dopey fiancee Snow goes off on a year-long journey to find her. Serah has essentially lost every single person she ever knew and loved, which makes her story, in my opinion, the saddest and most heartbreaking of any Final Fantasy character.

But what makes Serah’s story so endearing is that despite all of these horrible things that have happened to her, she doesn’t let them ruin her life. She’s the one Final Fantasy protagonist who actually has a good reason to be depressed, but isn’t.  The kind of things that turned the mighty Cloud Strife into a blubbering mental patient turns Serah into the wisest and most mature character in the Final Fantasy series. While she does show momentary signs of weakness, like any normal person would if they were in her situation, she is still able to give meaning to her own life. Although all of these horrible things have happened to her, Serah never loses her strong and caring personality, or her optimistic nature.

With Lightning and Snow missing, Serah makes the most out of her life as a grade school teacher in New Bodhum. Then, Noel Kreiss shows up on Lightning’s behalf, and drags Serah into a very dangerous journey to prevent the world’s destruction. Without hesitation, Serah is willing to put her life on the line to protect the world; the same world that has done nothing but horrible things to her and those she loves.

Personality

The way Serah functions as a protagonist in Final Fantasy XIII-2 is absolutely fascinating. Most JRPG protagonists develop their ideals and personalities as their journey goes on. They learn from their experiences, and then change their actions to accommodate what they have learned. However, Serah’s ideals are firmly in place at the beginning of the game, and there is no need for them to change as her story goes on. Instead, she uses her morals and her ideals in order to help other characters in the game develop. Her steady and consistent personality improves the quality of the characters surrounding her, because her admirable traits make other characters want to be like her. She serves as a motivator for Hope, and gives him the confidence he needs to do something important and valuable. She makes Noel a better character, because her optimistic nature pushes him forward and prevents him from giving up. And finally, the reversal of roles between Serah and Lightning make Lightning appear, to me at least, a hell of a lot more likeable and human than she was in Final Fantasy XIII. Serah’s established mindset, maturity, and willpower serve as the catalyst for everything that happens in Final Fantasy XIII-2, which is how a protagonist should function.

With Serah’s help, Hope transforms from the whiny, useless mess he was in FFXIII into a very likeable character in FFXIII-2

Another thing I love about Serah is the fact that her personality allows for some very funny things to happen. Final Fantasy games are rather serious in nature, so the momentary glimpse of humor can really help ease the tension. The Live Trigger system in FFXIII-2 puts us in control of what Serah says, which can lead to some hilarious results. There’s one point in particular where Noel asks Serah who Snow is. One of the options results in Serah going on a minute-long rant in a highly pitched and sped up chipmunk voice explaining why Snow is “oh-so-cool-and-handsome-and-perfect-and-heroic-and-strong-ohmigosh-idkmybffjill!” Another scene shows Serah putting on the “Meanie Miss Farron” persona she has acquired as a grade school teacher as she scolds a group of young flan monsters. The monsters stare at her in fear, while Noel looks on in disbelief that Serah’s scolding actually worked. In my opinion, it’s the lack of these kind of moments that made Final Fantasy XIII so unappealing. Everyone in FFXIII was so high strung and serious that it made them appear as nothing more than unlikeable assholes. It’s these kind of charming little moments that bring out a character’s humanity; something that Serah has in spades.

“Meanie Miss Farron” layin’ down the LAW!

Development

While her ideals and morals don’t really change as the story goes on, Serah still undergoes quite a bit of development. When we first see Serah, she’s pretty much the same mousy little girl that she was in Final Fantasy XIII.  She can’t hold her own in a fight, and must be rescued by Noel the first time a monster gets anywhere near her. But as the story goes on, we see Serah transform from a puny little girl into a very strong and capable fighter.

Since pretty much every other Final Fantasy protagonist (sans Tidus and Vaan) have some sort of battle experience that makes them incredibly strong, it’s refreshing to finally see someone who doesn’t. This makes Serah that much more relatable: when we start playing a video game, we have little to no knowledge of it’s mechanics. As we continue to play, we begin to learn and master all of the game’s intricacies, which results in us becoming better at the game. Serah undergoes this process along with us: she starts off as a beginner, and develops into a much stronger fighter as her journey unfolds. This is the same reason I enjoy characters like Luke fon Fabre, Ezio Auditore, and Phoenix Wright. It’s this type of player-character connection that no other Final Fantasy protagonist but Serah can offer, which is one of the many reasons why she is my favorite Final Fantasy character of all time.

As the story goes on, we see Serah transform from Lightning’s little sissy into a fighter on par with the others

Serah’s motivations as a protagonist also start off a little bit shaky, but begin to clear up as she learns more about what is going on. She starts her journey with hopes of reuniting with Lightning and Snow, while Noel appears to have the bigger picture in mind. While her motivations may appear to be somewhat petty on the surface, they are exactly the same motivations we have at the beginning of the game. Like Serah, we are in the dark about what is truly going on, but we still have some sort of attachment to Snow and Lightning having played the previous game. However, as we, and Serah find out about what’s actually happening, our motivations change. Serah learns about the threat that Caius poses, and thus changes her motivations to accommodate the new information she takes in as the journey unfolds. The journey becomes less about saving Lightning, and more about saving the world from Caius.

One moment in particular shows just how strong of a character Serah becomes. Near the end of Final Fantasy XIII-2, Caius “tests” Serah and Noel by offering them the chance to live in their own “ideal worlds.” In Serah’s ideal world, she is living peacefully with Snow, Lightning, and the other members of Nora on the beaches of New Bodhum. Everything she wants is there, and all she has to do is give in to the fake Lightning in order to live peacefully in her ideal world forever. However, Serah passes the test, and understands that living in this world would be selfish, and would result in the loss of countless lives. She rejects her paradise for the greater good, which is something she likely wouldn’t have been able to do at the beginning of the game.

Noel, on the other hand, gives in to Caius’ illusion, and fails the test. It is then up to Serah to go pull him out of his dream. Noel, who appears to be stronger than Serah in pretty much every way imaginable, is unable to do what she did. While I don’t necessarily dislike Noel for not being able to resist Caius’ temptation, looking at his failure as compared to Serah’s success goes to show how strong of a character she has become.

Having failed Caius’ test, presumably strong Noel must be saved by presumably weak Serah

The Ending of Final Fantasy XIII-2

Like the seeress Yeul, Serah has the ability to see the timeline. During her journey, Serah discovers that the visions she has been having are slowly sapping away her life force. She finds out that unless she stops trying to save the world through fixing the timeline, she will inevitably die. Caius constantly reminds Serah of this fact in hopes of trying to scare her away from completing her mission. But how does Serah respond to Caius’ reminder that what she is doing will kill her?

Knowing full well that she isn’t going to be around to see the future that she fought so hard to protect, Serah is still willing to do anything to save it. Now this kind of attitude is the mark of a true hero. Serah knows that if she carries on, she will never see Lightning, Snow, and Noel ever again. But not once does she even begin to consider ending her journey. It is at this moment that we see Serah’s development as a character come full circle. She begins with somewhat petty motivations, but ends her journey willing to do anything she can to save the world.

But surely there must be some sort of loophole that will allow Serah to live. There’s no way in hell that they would kill off the game’s lead character, right? Right?

You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me…

After their final confrontation with Caius, Serah and Noel return to the year 500 AF. Serah is forced to witness one more vision: a vision that destroys the last bit of life that she has left.

The final scene of Final Fantasy XIII-2 is one of the strangest moments I have ever experienced in a video game. Even though Serah’s death was heavily foreshadowed, I was still confident that they would be able to find some sort of silly loophole that would allow for her to live. But they didn’t. When Serah died, I was absolutely floored. Serah is not the kind of character who usually dies in a JRPG.

Despite the horribly unfitting music playing in the background, Serah’s death is one of the most heartbreaking scenes I have ever seen. And yeah, I’m not afraid to admit that I cried, just as I did during Zack’s death scene. The scene itself isn’t particularly well done, but the development of Serah as a character is what makes it so emotional. After all of the horrible things that have happened to her throughout the course of the two games, no other character deserves happiness as much as Serah does. The fact that such an optimistic, caring, and sweet character such as Serah meets this kind of fate is down right tragic.

And then, things just go to shit. It turns out that Caius wanted Serah and Noel to kill him all along. Chaos is unleashed upon the world, Serah is dead, Lightning is crystallized for some reason, and Caius achieves everything he wanted.

I have never felt such a strange mix of emotions from a game’s ending. I went from being sad to angry in the matter of seconds. When the words “To be continued” appeared on my screen, I was stunned. Why the hell did I even play this game? What did we accomplish? Was Serah’s death in vain? Why the hell is Lightning a big crystal? Are Noel and Hope okay? What the flying fuck is going on?

Now, I understand that Serah’s story is not yet over. There is an optional portion of the game where you can discover a message left by Serah from the future. This message states that she is in some sort of dark place, and that she has no regrets doing what she did. She also says that someone needs to carry on what she and Noel started. Like I stated earlier, Serah is not the type of character to stay dead.

Conclusion

As I stated in my write-up on Noel, people are always going to be hesitant to put character from the Final Fantasy XIII series on their lists. While the story in which she functions in is laughable, Serah is still a great character. In a way, it makes me like her more. Even though all of these stupid and nonsensical things are happening to her, she still develops in a way that a normal person would. She’s a realistic character in a very unrealistic situation, which is the kind of character that I find entertaining.

Serah is at the top of my list because she is THE anti-cliche. She develops and functions differently than any other Final Fantasy protagonist, and actually manages to do it with a smile on her face. She is the one character who actually has the right to be sad and depressed, and yet she is the only one who isn’t. She’s the only Final Fantasy protagonist who doesn’t begin her journey with a character flaw that needs to be remedied by her supporting cast. She’s the only Final Fantasy protagonist who doesn’t possess some crazy amount of physical strength that makes her stronger than the other characters around her. She’s just a normal 21 year old woman who got dragged into a very bad situation. She’s relatable, realistic, entertaining, charismatic, captivating, and endearing all at the same time. All of this is what makes Serah Farron my favorite character in the history of the Final Fantasy series.

Review: Tales of Graces f

It has been nearly four years since the North American release of Tales of Vesperia, the last mothership Tales game to be brought outside of the Japanese market. Between then and now, Japanese gamers have had the opportunity to enjoy three more mothership Tales games: Tales of Hearts, Tales of Graces, and Tales of Xillia. English-speaking fans could do nothing but look on in despair as their opportunity to enjoy one of their favorite video game franchises was constantly denied.

But then, the seemingly impossible happened. After years of patiently waiting in agony, one of the most loyal fan bases in all of gaming was finally rewarded. Over two years after its original Japanese release, Tales of Graces was set to be brought over to the starving English speaking fans. Now, about three weeks after Namco Bandai has shown us its good graces, we must answer one question: Are we satisfied?

Gameplay:

When compared to most major JRPG franchises, the Tales series has one of the most unique battle systems around. Other than  the transition from 2D to 3D in Tales of the Abyss, the battle system hasn’t really been able to evolve. Tales of Vesperia perfected what Tales of the Abyss  created, but it was essentially more of the same with minor tweaks that only slightly improved upon small things.

However, Tales of Graces f finally manages to take the iconic Tales battle system to a whole new level. Coming from someone who thinks Tales of Vesperia is one of the greatest games of all time, I can safely say that Tales of Graces f completely blows it away in terms of gameplay. Instead of running on the TP system that all previous Tales games used, Graces uses a new system called the “Chain Capacity” system, or CC for short. This system was used in the Japanese-only remake of Tales of Destiny, but this is the first time we have been able to see the new system in action.

While there is nothing wrong with the TP system, it doesn’t offer anywhere near the amount of possibilities that the CC system does. If you ran out of TP, you would have to recover it by using an item in order to continue using special attacks. Also, pretty much any fight could be won by strategically spamming artes while recovering your TP with items from time to time.

The CC system, on the other hand, requires a ton of skill and dedication to master. Like TP, CC is what allows you to use your artes. However, CC does not need to be recovered with items. Instead, it is recovered (and increased) by how well you are playing. Each weapon grants a character a minimum number of CC points at the beginning of the fight, and will always quickly regenerate when your character is not attacking or dodging. While battling an enemy, you can increase your CC points through filling the Critical Gauge. The Critical Gauge is filled by pulling off long combos, effectively dodging and guarding against enemies, and exploiting enemy weaknesses. This adds a ton of strategic elements that previous Tales games just couldn’t offer, but still keeps the core gameplay mechanics of the series intact. It also allows for a much faster-paced and action packed experience as opposed to most other JRPGs out there. This may very well be the deepest and most rewarding JRPG battle system that I have ever seen.

The new Chain Capacity system in action

But what really makes Tales of Graces f stand out to me is the “playability” of each and every controllable character. In previous Tales games, most playable characters were only effective at one, maybe two things. Most characters were assigned one specific role, and trying to use that character as something else was often a bad idea. For example, in Tales of Vesperia and Tales of Symphonia respectively, Yuri and Lloyd are your main attackers, Estelle and Raine are your healers, and Rita and Genis are your spell casters. Other characters were combinations of each different role, but simply weren’t as effective as the characters who were dedicated to one in particular. Characters like Raven and Zelos can be both attackers and healers, but aren’t great at being either one. They were frustrating to control because they weren’t great at anything specifically, which made Yuri and Lloyd that much better. While these characters can be great in the hands of a good player, they just aren’t as “controllable” as Yuri and Lloyd, which makes playing as them pretty much pointless.

On the other hand, every character in Tales of Graces f has the potential to be great when controlled by the player. This is because the complexity of the CC system doesn’t allow for just one effective role to be good enough. For example, Cheria is your best healer, but her good spells require a lot of CC to use. Therefore, she needs to get her hands dirty by physically attacking enemies in order to increase her CC, which allows her to use her spells more often. While her attacks aren’t as strong as Asbel or Sophie’s, Cheria has the ability to maintain her combos while dodging enemy attacks, allowing her to keep a safe distance while continuously dealing damage and raising the Critical Gauge. Also, incorporating spells into her combos drastically reduces the amount of time needed to cast them, which adds a whole new layer of strategy to controlling her. She is also given a few extremely powerful offensive spells that she can use when the rest of the party doesn’t need to be healed, making her one of the most versatile characters in the game. If Cheria is busy increasing her CC or casting offensive spells, Sophie or Hubert can temporarily take over her healing duties.  Each and every character is versatile in this way, which makes controlling each of them an absolute blast. Each character can be controlled in a way that fits everyone’s play style, which makes Tales of Graces f the best in the series in terms of gameplay.

GAMEPLAY SCORE: 10/10

Story/Characters:

The Tales series has always had some of the best casts of characters in the video game industry. The lighthearted tone of each game allows for some hilarious character interaction that other games just can’t offer. Yet, the personalities of each character are often very cliche and archetypal, which is rather unfortunate.

For the most part, Tales of Graces f is more of the same when it comes to characters. While I do like every character in the game, I can only say that I love two or three of them. What made Tales of Vesperia so great was its unique and interesting characters. Yuri Lowell was much more of an anti-hero than the typical Tales protagonist, which made him a very entertaining character to watch. Tales of Graces f’s protagonist, Asbel Lhant, is just your idealized hero who’s hell-bent on protecting everyone around him. Asbel is by no means a bad character, but he does fall short when compared to the other protagonists in the Tales series. He lacks the unique factor that Yuri has, and just doesn’t receive the kind of development that Reid, Senel, Lloyd, or Luke do.

Tales of Graces f’s supporting cast is hit and miss for the most part.  Sophie is basically Meredy from Tales of Eternia without the weird language, but is also somewhat funny due to her ignorance and robot-like nature. Richard is one of Asbel’s friends, and eventually becomes the game’s main antagonist. Richard redeems himself in the future arc, but is a rather boring character for the most part. Cheria Barnes plays the role of Asbel’s love interest, and isn’t much more than the typical JRPG female. However, her girlish nature often makes her the butt of the joke, which makes her rather funny as well. Malik Caesar is the wise old man of the group, and is often the one who gives the other characters the advice they need to grow and develop. I didn’t like Malik at first, but the way he acts in the future arc makes him perhaps the funniest character in the game. That is… except for Pascal, who is one of the characters I really did love in this game. Pascal functions as the primary comic relief character, but is taken to the highest extremes possible. She’s one of those characters who is so ridiculous that you just can’t help but love her.

Character interaction in the game’s skits is outstanding, and allows for some hilarious things to happen

That leaves Hubert Oswell, who is probably my favorite character in the game. Hubert is the younger brother of Asbel, but was given away by his parents at the age of 10 in order to avoid a power struggle with Asbel for the position of lord of Lhant. Hubert starts off as a shy and timid little kid, but eventually turns into a very arrogant and serious man due to the horrible decision his parents made. When Hubert and Asbel are reunited seven years later, Hubert has become much stronger, which sparks a rivalry between the two brothers. While Hubert is cold at first, him and Asbel eventually regain their brotherly bond. Hubert is one of the only characters who actually develops as the story goes on, making him one of my favorite characters in the game.

I don’t care what anyone says, I love me some Hubert :D

As for the overall story… I can’t really say that I liked it. Then again, with the exception of Tales of the Abyss, none of the stories from the Tales series have been able to hook me in as well as other games have. The Tales series prides itself more on the strength of its characters than the overall storyline, so I can give it a little bit of a pass.

The story revolves around Sophie, the mysterious amnesiac who Asbel and his friends met at the beginning of the game as young children. Most of the game is spent trying to learn more about Sophie’s past, while also trying to find out why Asbel’s old friend Richard has turned into a complete Dick (Get it? Because Dick is a nickname for Richard? HURR). This makes for a pretty typical JRPG storyline, but suffers even worse from some serious pacing issues. It takes a good 30 hours to find out who exactly the villain is, and another 20 hours until Asbel and company actually find a satisfying way to stop him. Without revealing too much, the way the story comes to a conclusion is just… well it’s straight up silly and irrational.

But wait! Then there’s the future arc! The future arc is an additional 10 hour epilogue that occurs six month after the ending of the main game. While the future arc does wonders for character development and interaction, the story is equally silly and cliched. But this time… nothing really happens. It just felt like they created a new villain just for the sake of explaining a poorly executed ending.

Basically, Tales of Graces f is your basic “friendship” JRPG that you’ve already experienced a dozen times, but even more ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, the characters still make this a pretty entertaining game, but the story leaves a lot to be desired. That being said, the main draw for the Tales series, for me at least, is its casts of colorful characters. While the characters may not be as good as those in Vesperia or Abyss, they are still relatively solid.

CHARACTERS: 8/10
STORY: 6.5/10

Graphics:

The phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” perfect summarizes the graphics in Tales of Graces f. The first thing that we should consider is that this game is basically an enhanced HD port of what was originally a Wii game. With that in mind, I really enjoyed Tales of Graces f’s colorful visuals, even if there were some hiccups along the way. In my eyes, the use of color is absolutely beautiful, especially in battle. The HD graphics allow for a lot of detail, especially when characters are using their bigger and more powerful attacks in battle. As long as you don’t expect to be blown away like you would if you were playing something like Final Fantasy or Uncharted, you should be able to appreciate this game’s graphics.

Cheria’s Mysitc Arte “Garden of Innocence” displays the game’s beautiful use of color

GRAPHICS SCORE: 9/10

Sound:

Now… this is where I’m really conflicted. The Tales series has always had some of the best soundtracks in the industry. In fact, Tales of Symphonia is widely considered by fans of the genre to be one of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time. The music in Tales of Graces f is just kind of… boring. Where the hell are my epic tracks like Beat the Angel and Fury Sparks? Where is the awesome world map theme like the one from Tales of the Abyss? Why do all of the tracks used in each town sound the exact same? The soundtrack for Graces just feels empty when compared to those of its predecessors.

There are a few tracks that I like… but not many. The track that plays in Lhant, the game’s first town, is pretty nice. The game’s main theme is catchy, but still pales in comparison to “Ring a Bell” and “Karma.” However, the ending credits orchestrated remix of the main theme is actually pretty amazing. I’ve come to expect more from the Tales series when it comes to music, so I have to say that I was significantly disappointed by this game’s music. I can’t really say that it’s bad, but it could be SO much better.

As for voice acting… I am once again conflicted. The game has 7 major characters of which only two or three stand out as being particularly mentionable. Bryce Papenbrook is the perfect example of an average voice acting performance in his role as the lead character, Asbel Lhant. David Earnest has a few notable moments as Richard, but is pretty bad for the most part. The quality of Cassandra Morris’ performance as Sophie is hard to judge given the stoic nature of Sophie’s character. Steve Staley and Jamieson Pierce’s performances as Hubert and Malik respectively are very solid, but are nothing spectacular. Laura Bailey turns in yet another excellent performance as Cheria Barnes, but even she has a few hiccups, most notably in her character’s in-battle quotes. But Kate Higgins as Pascal is the one who really steals the show. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how hard it would be to live up to such a fun and quirky character like Pascal without making some mistakes, but Higgins does an absolutely spectacular job. I would put her performance as Pascal right up with Kirk Thornton’s performance as Jade Curitss and Troy Baker’s performance as Yuri Lowell as the three best examples of outstanding voice acting in the Tales series. But, I still can’t help but feel that there was such a huge waste of potential when it comes to this game’s voice acting, which is really unfortunate.

MUSIC: 6/10
VOICE ACTING: 8.5/10

FINAL BREAKDOWN

PROS:

  • Easily the best battle system in the Tales series, which is saying A LOT
  • One of the most complex and deep battle systems in the history of JRPGs
  • Every single character is an absolute blast to control, which is something previous entries in the series lacked
  • Every character is genuinely likeable, with a few of them (most notably Hubert and Pascal) being exceptional
  • Beautiful, albeit a bit outdated, graphics
  • Excellent character interaction and dialog
  • Solid voice acting performances. Kate Higgins’ performance as Pascal is particularly great

CONS:

  • The story suffers from some very serious pacing issues, and is rather dull and predictable overall
  • Some characters are a bit boring due to how cliched they can be at times
  • The soundtrack is boring, dull, and repetitive

FINAL SCORE (not an average): 9/10

Tales of Graces f is one example of a game’s gameplay being SO GOOD that it completely overshadows everything else. Even though I said some pretty harsh things, and this game does have its fair share of flaws when you try to examine it as an overall experience, the gameplay alone makes this game outstanding. This is the one game in the Tales series that I am most likely to replay just for the sake of playing a fun and enjoyable game. While I vastly prefer Vesperia and Abyss as overall packages of entertainment, I would have to say that Tales of Graces f is a much more “fun” game. Thank you, Namco Bandai, for finally letting us loyal fans play this gem. So, how ’bout dat Tales of Xillia next?

Top 10 Final Fantasy Characters – #2

#2 – Zack Fair

When I try to think of an example of the perfect hero, Zack Fair immediately comes to mind. Zack is one of the most powerful characters in the Final Fantasy series, and also has an equally strong personality. Unlike Cloud, Zack is energetic and caring; two things that every hero should be. His likeable personality and his great strength easily makes him my favorite character in the FFVII series.

Zack is basically a combination of Cloud from FFVII and Tidus from FFX, but without each character’s bad qualities. He isn’t the strongest person at the beginning of Crisis Core, but he can still hold his own in a fight. We connect with Zack because he is already someone we look up to at the beginning of the game, but we also experience his growth along with him. He transforms from an above average soldier into one of the greatest, and we are there along side him for the ride. He is also easygoing, despite the terrible and dangerous situations he is often placed in. He remains cheery by constantly cracking small jokes to the other characters around him. All of this makes Zack one of the most inspirational characters I have ever seen.

What makes Zack’s story in Crisis Core so poignant is the fact that we already know what is going to happen to him. If you’ve already played Final Fantasy VII, you already know that Zack is killed by an army of Shinra troops. We form a strong connection with Zack, knowing full well that it is going to come to a heartbreaking end. Zack’s death scene at the end of Crisis Core is one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever experienced in all of my years of playing video games. Even though I knew it was going to happen, it still managed to take me by surprise. The music, the presentation, the voice acting, everything is executed to perfection. This is probably the most moving moment in the entire Final Fantasy series, and that is saying a lot.

My honor.. My dreams.. They’re yours now. You’ll be.. My living legacy.

Manly tears? Hell no, I am bawling like a friggin’ baby ;_;

Every time I watch Zack’s death scene, I can’t help but think that he deserves the number one spot. To be honest, I can’t give a solid reason why he doesn’t. He represents everything I like in a video game protagonist, and has no notable flaws that I can think of. His personality is devoid of typical Final Fantasy cliches, and he still manages to hold a level of “bad ass-ness” that exceeds Cloud and Squall’s. Zack Fair is the person we should all strive to be: strong in both body and mind. Zack is a hero in every sense of the word, and is fully deserving of the #2 spot on this list.

And with that, all that remains is #1…

Top 10 Final Fantasy Characters – #3

#3 – Auron

Three straight Final Fantasy X characters? What is this madness? Its almost like FFX is my favorite Final Fantasy game or something…

Yes yes, I know. Putting Auron this high on my list is contradicting a lot of the things that I have been saying in these entries so far. Auron certainly isn’t a very deep or well developed character, and he does have his fair share of Final Fantasy cliches attached to him. That being said, for this one character only… I don’t care.

It’s true that Auron isn’t much more than the strong, silent warrior who’s physical strength outclasses everyone around him. He’s a self-loathing man who blames himself for pretty much everything that happens to those around him, even though it is never really his fault. However, Auron’s level of badassery is so high that I don’t even care that he’s a bundle of cliches.

The extremes that Auron’s character is taken to is what makes his rather typical personality entertaining. Just look at the guy: he rocks the shades better than anyone else, has a scar over one of his eyes, and manages to wield a 800 pound sword with one hand! He get’s stronger by drinking out of his jug of manliness, and then uses it to spit at anyone who dares face him. Not to mention, this dude is still kicking everyone’s ass, despite the fact that he is dead!  This dude makes Cloud and Squall look like friggin’ muppets. I don’t care what anyone says, Auron is the most bad ass character in the history of Final Fantasy.

Bow down, Zanarkand! Bow down to your master of manliness!

Auron also functions as the wise old man of the party, often giving the rest of the cast the advice they need to grow as characters. Without Auron, the FFX party would be running around like headless chickens. He is given the best dialog in the entire game; dialog that perfectly embodies his strong, yet wise nature.

“Now! This is it! Now is the time to choose! Die and be free of pain or live and fight your sorrow! Now is the time to shape your stories! Your fate is in your hands!”

Once again, I have to apologize for constantly preaching about how much I don’t like the typical bad ass characters. I know that Auron’s spot on this list is rather contradictory, but I can’t help it. Even though he’s from a fairly recent Final Fantasy game, I have a strange nostalgic attachment towards him. Maybe it’s becuase FFX was my first PS2 game, and the PS2 managed to become my favorite console ever (and yes, I promise that Auron is the last FFX character on the list). Auron takes the most overused Final Fantasy trope, and blows it so out of proportion that I can’t help but love him for it.