Old Grandma Hardcore

This blog is the chronicle of my experiences with Grandma, the video-game playing queen of her age-bracket and weight class. She will beat any PS2, XBox, GameCube, etc., console game put in front of her, just like she always has. These are her stories. She is absolutely real. She lives in Cleveland.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Grandma Has Destroyed Final Fantasy XII

Final Fantasy XII is a difficult game to review for Grandma and I. I remember showing her the early Japanese trailers when they first appeared on IGN.

"OOoooooooo.... That looks awesome as hell. Still, I remember Final Fantasy X-2. I'll have to wait and see."

Then she stumbled across the demo that came with Dragon Quest VIII; proudly announced on the cover of the damn game as if it were the most dramatic selling point.

"OOOoooooooo... I.. I still don't know if I can trust them!" Grandma replied.

Then she was escorted around the closely guarded Square-Enix booth at E3; tempted by the flashing lights and hypnotic visuals of FFXIII as the FFXII demos were bogarted by lonely gaming journalists.

"Goddammit, what are they HIDING?! I can't wait any longer!!"

And then it happened. Two weeks before its USA release on Halloween, she received a forwarded e-mail exchange between her producer at MTV and a Square-Enix rep. The game was on the way. It arrived the next morning while Grandma was dutifully plugging away at Okami. She was to review it for a short spot on a special broadcast of The G-Hole.

The wait was over. What began as a skeptical reunion with a long loved franchise ended as the longest logged single game in Grandma's gaming history.

It's hard not to repeat what has already been printed about the game; solid graphics, great cutscenes; bloody fantastic musical score; easy acclimation to the combat system; fun gameplay; somewhat corny "Tony Kushner-esque" dialogue, etc.,.. so I'll skip ahead to a major point of criticism: The Gambit System.

For instance: Gary Hodges over at Cleveland Scene Magazine titled his review of the game "Hands Off- Final Fantasy XII: Role-playing on autopilot." To his credit, he seemed to like the game for its strengths, but his principle problem with the game was the macro-like quality the Gambit System imposes on the game.

For Grandma, that seemed a bit unfair.
"Look, people have said The Gambit System makes it too easy; they say it takes away from the good ol' days of RPGs where you actually have to 'press the button' to make your characters 'do things'. That's a bunch of bullshit. First of all- The Gambit System is entirely optional. You can go the entire game without turning on a single Gambit. Hell, you can even turn off the wait system entirely and go Active Battle and maybe turn down the speed a bit to give yourself a bit of time to respond to situations. It's not for everybody, but that's what makes it so damn cool- it's customizable. Everybody can play a different way. You don't HAVE to level everyone up to 99 and get every Esper and fill up the License Board- but trust me, some of us do. You don't even need to use every character! The game doesn't force you. That's what makes it a good RPG. YOU decide your own handicap. If you can't live with yourself because you played it on the easiest possible setting and it made the game seem pointless, don't blame the game. Just because it didn't have an option at the very beginning spelled out clearly: 'EASY' 'NORMAL' 'HARD' doesn't mean that the options weren't there.

So... Yeah."

You don't have to be a die-hard Final Fantasy fan at all to enjoy the game on its own, but it does make the game better. Yes, there is a character named Cid. Yes, there are Chocobos. Yes, there are airships. Does the name "Bahamut" mean anything to you? How about a weapon named "Save The Queen"?

Yeah, you know it does. Don't be embarrassed about it, just enjoy it!

Towards the end of the game, Grandma developed a strong case of "Level Up Exhaustion"; maxing out every possible attribute; equipping everyone with the best armor; getting three or four ribbons; preparing for any possible situation. Even after she achieved this feat, she still didn't like certain characters. It doesn't matter that when on even levels equipped with the same weapons, the only difference between characters is their appearance on screen (they'll fight the same way, take the same HP; heal the same, etc.,..)

Grandma: "Goddammit, why do I have to use THIS chick? She fucking sucks."

Me: "But... she's the same level as your main dude."

Grandma: "I don't care. She always screws everything up."

Me: "But... she's a princess descendant of the mightiest king ever known to the realm, given power by the GODS THEMSELVES."

Grandma: "She's still a stupid bitch."

We also had an interesting conversation about the political implications of the game.

Grandma: "So do you think that... Nethecite is like... the nuclear bomb?"

Me: "Well that would mean that Oppenheimer is god."

Grandma: "What do you mean?"

Me: "Well, the Gods gave them Nethecite to ...you know, never use."

Grandma: "Okay, MANUFACTURED Nethecite is like the nuclear bomb then."

Me: "That makes more sense, but that would mean that Oppenheimer is Doctor Cid."

Grandma: "Did Oppenheimer have a ridiculously stupid laugh?"

Me: "I don't think so."

Grandma: "Okay, well if manufactured nethecite is the nuclear bomb, then... Nabudis is like Chernobyl, and if Dalmasca wants it to protect itself from Arcadia... then... Dalmasca is like... CUBA?!"

Me: "No, no... that wouldn't make any sense."

Grandma: "I don't know how I feel about fighting on the side of Fidel Castro. That guy is kind of an asshole."

Me: "Arcadia can't represent the United States, because we didn't have anything to do with Chernobyl. So Dalmasca isn't Cuba."

Grandma: "So who tried to get a hold of nuclear weapons to fight the Soviet Union?"

Me: "Afghanistan."

Grandma: "Woah, woah.. hold the fuck on. That would mean Vaan is ...OSAMA BIN LADEN?!"

Me: "..."

Grandma: "I'm not a fucking terrorist."

Me: "I don't think Vaan-"

Grandma: "What if Dalmasca is like... Kashmir, and Arcadia is Pakistan, and Rozzaria is India."

Me: "That would make sense, ...I guess."

Grandma: "That one dude acts all sexy and shit. Maybe that's an ...homage or whatever to Bollywood."

Me: "Yeah, but Rozzaria wants Dalmascan independence and autonomy. India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir for themselves."

Grandma: "Well, what then? North Korea? IRAN?!"

Me: "Nah, North Korea is way to isolated and crazy to be Dalmasca. Iran, maybe; Rabanastre is surrounded by desert- but then again, no- because nobody in Dalmasca is an anti-semitic douchebag."

Grandma: ".....maybe we're really overthinking this."

Me: "Maybe."

Grandma: "I just want to know where I can find a fucking Ribbon. These 'disease traps' are a pain in my ASS."

Crazy, misattributed political associations aside, Final Fantasy XII is a fantastic game, worthy of a space in any RPG fan's collection. It's not as crazy as FF X-2 and not as annoying as FFX, so the only comparisons left are to VII and VIII, and even then- it holds its own. At 240+ hours and a full Pirate's Den, Grandma is more than satisfied.

Grandma says: "let's just hope they don't fuck up Final Fantasy XIII."

Game on!

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Holiday Season 2006

Happy Holidays everybody! We have a lot to talk about. I'm sorry about the posting delay; my grandfather passed away the Friday after Thanksgiving. Ralph St. Hilaire was another cool older person in my life, a person who's personality and story could be deserving of a website all his own rather than just a blurb here. When one goes through the death of someone close, everything else in the world seems trite and inconsequential; not even the most popular forms of escapism- alcohol, video games, television, religion- could distract us from the ultimate memento mori, and mortality became the principle focus above all else.

But this isn't the place for that discussion. Far from it.

While it's difficult to segue to Grandma's thoughts on the console wars from such a subject, know that even while I waited at the hospital during the last moments of my grandfathers life on what, at the time, the rest of the country ironically called "Black Friday", the unnatural chatter flooding the ICU unit in Akron among nurses and people waiting to see their loved ones, hopefully in better conditions, was always about the same thing: who had called who to secure early morning deals at any number of BestBuys, Targets, Circuit Citys, and GameStops.

"My God," I thought. "It's come to this."

Of course, I was irrationally angry; angry that anyone could talk about something so stupid as PS3's, Wii's, PSP's, DS's and 360's while a man lays on a bed and dreams for the last time. But that was unfair.

Life goes on. It's too emotionally and physically exhausting to concentrate on the end. I know how fucking cliché and hollow that may sound, but one only learns through experiencing the consequences of failing to empathize.

Which brings us to this console war mess. In this country, the election in the beginning of November seemed only to set the tone of animosity that would finally show itself in the form of an all out Battle of The Fanboys. The negative campaign ads you saw during the election are quite tame to some of the shit you've probably read about The PS3 and The Wii in the past couple weeks.

Here are Grandma's thoughts:

To all the people who actually got either a PS3 or a Wii when they were released: fucking ENJOY THEM! I say- be happy! A lot of people think you're all a bunch of rich assholes who only snagged a new console because it's cool to be the first, but they don't know what it's like. You know what, you decided to pay a bit more for your system. You knew what to expect. You're adults, you can spend your money how you choose. Is it wrong to be that excited about a new game console? No! Not if you're responsible about it. Let's face it, you paid for the hype, and goddammit it felt good, didn't it! When you wait in the cold for 3 days and finally get that box home and open it up, or when you enter your credit card numbers on eBay and wait just a second before pressing Enter (knowing that bills are going to be a bit tight for awhile), it's only going to feel worth it if you WANT it to. So play on your new console! ENJOY IT!! Make your console worth every penny you paid and treat it well. If you don't, then what's the damn point?

But you probably already knew that part. What bugs me, and this is the second part, is please stop wishing that the company that makes the console you DIDN'T buy would go under. If you bought a PS3 why should you give a shit about the Wii unless you were planning to get one of those too? If you bought a Wii and you don't want to buy a PS3, then... who cares?! All you guys need to stop this shit. We're only telling you this because we love you guys and we want to see you get along! I don't mean that you can't criticize a crappy system, shit- you SHOULD do that, but at least be honest about it. You don't need to cheer when Sony releases a press release saying they aren't shipping the numbers they thought they would, we get it- you're a Nintendo fan. And Sony fans, don't announce the death of Nintendo when somebody busts their tv with a Wiimote because the strap broke!

I like Sony, I like Nintendo, I like Microsoft, hell- I like Atari, SNK and Sega, too. So I feel like I'm in the middle of a big family table and everyone hates each other and I end up being the one getting bored! If you think a game is crappy, tell me! If I think a game is crappy, you'd better be DAMNED sure I'm going to tell you! But neither you or me are doing it because we hate some fucking company, it's because the game sucks, right? I just think we're all gamers first, friends second, and I think "company stooge" is a lot farther down the line than that... somewhere like.. Thirty.

Anyway, that's all I wanted to say about that.

Also, an update on everyone's gaming status... Grandma's final time on Final Fantasy XII = 246 HOURS. People who said it was a short game didn't get everything, I assure you :) We'll have a full review up later this week. I'm still hurting myself trying to master everything in Guitar Hero II, and Grandma and I both are looking forward to Twilight Princess coming to the GameCube, as well as Lumines II for the PSP, Final Fantasy III for the DS, and (this one might surprise you) Lost Planet for the XBox 360. I know, I know- Grandma's not much of an FPS fan but for whatever reason she REALLY enjoyed the demo at the Capcom kiosk at E3.

In other news, Joe from Cleveland Scene Magazine is trying to start some shit :) Whadya mean "run-down two story?" We like our house! (Just fuckin' with ya' Joe, you know we love ya, dude!)

Also, Michelle Hinn is doing great things working with game designers to make games more accessible with people with disabilities. The first thing for which Grandma looks when she puts in a brand new game is the option to turn on subtitles. People in the industry are doing better when it comes to providing content for the hearing impaired, but there are a great many other disabilities that can prevent a lot of gamers out there from enjoying games as they are. Michelle is trying to remedy that. Score one for the rest of us!

Game on, everybody!

Rest in Peace, Grandpa- you keep riding, man.

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