Friday, September 23


In the space of a few months, The Salt Mines has lost another member, but thankfully under very different circumstances. Our art director and friend Hegel Ganias and his wife, our former Strategic Planning Head Teye will be heading off very soon to their new jobs and life in the country of Dubai. Incredibly enough, an ad agency there had an opening for both an art director AND a planner- it was pretty perfect, so they went for it. Well, not so perfect if you hate sand and sun. Oh well.

Good luck, Heg and Teye! Keep cool. Heh.

Thursday, September 22

Fantastic Sales

UPDATED: In just over a week, the Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Japanese dvd has sold over 420,000 copies- that's 93 percent of all available stock.

And rightly so. Like everywhere else, Final Fantasy VII fans have been waiting so long for this movie. I, for one, am overjoyed that not only has this proper finale and closure to FFVII been accepted... it may be the key to further adventures into the world of Midgar.

Unfortunately, us english-speaking fans will have to make do with the fansubs as Square has yet to even announce a proper date for the US english release. Oh well. At least we have super-clear fansubs to suffice for now. Heh.
Age of Empires

Last night, I was able to catch this incredibly cool new show on Discovery Channel called Battlegrounds: The Art of War. This series of one-hour long specials takes into detail a decisive battle in history, recreating the events and the tactics that led to a glorious victory for one side, and terrible defeat for the other. What makes this special, well, special, is the apparent use of some graphical engine- perhaps similar to the MASSIVE program used in the LOTR flicks to recreate the battles as they looked back then.
The first episode was about Alexander the Great, and his decisive battle at Gargamela (if I'm not mistaken)- the final battle between him and the Persian Emperor Darius (which I find out after all this time to be pronouced as Dar-eye-use, not D-ahr-ee-you's). The odds seem incredibly off-balanced; the Persian army stands at about 200,000 men, supported by deadly scythe-bladed chariots. The Macedonian army on the other hand, consists of about 40,000 men.

However, while the Persian army is vast, it is also made up of various factions from all over the place, with different languages, weapons and leaders. Most of its soldiers are also un-armored conscripts and levies. On the other hand, the Macedonians are professional troops- disciplined, armored and totally dedicated under a charismatic, brilliant leader. They also have the Phalanx, a seemingly invincible battle formation that is basically a meatgrinder on the battlefield. It's pretty incredible to see how Alexander's new tactics work- ranging from a special formation that totally renders Persia's scythe-chariots useless... to a brilliant cavalry movement that opens up a gap in the Persian army's lines enough for a charge at Darius himself.
The battle of course ends with Alexander winning for himself forever the title of 'the Great'. Even today, the young conqueror (who basically mastered the known world before he turned 30) is seen by military tacticians as perhaps the greatest military mind of all time. Whoa. How's that for a resume?

The special continues throughout the week. Darn, I'd love to have this series on VCD or DVD. Pretty cool history. Heh.

Tuesday, September 20

Sobra Talaga Overtime

I'm STILL at the office, bleary-eyed and STILL at my computer, typing away when I should be snoring my head off at home in The Sanctum. But noooo... The Salt Mine crew has been working on stuff for a big pitch since the weekend, and last night (which was a few hours ago) was the last stretch. The presentation is after lunch, but we still have materials to finish and put together, and there just isn't enough time to go home, get rest, get back and do stuff. So here in the office I stay, until everything's done, including the darn presentation. I may have to try and get some shut-eye sometime before then, or I may conk out on the way there, or draw a blank while presenting.
Hopefully after this there will be some rest... I hope to take tomorrow off, if I can. Body clock's all frazzled. Crossing fingers... gonna need luck to get through this one. Hoping we win so all this wasn't in vain. Sigh.

Monday, September 19

FFVII Advent Children MTV

Okay, watching Final Fantasy VII Advent Children got me all emotional and inspired again, and I had a bit of time on my hands in the early morning hours. So I whipped up this MTV with scenes from the CG movie to the music of Evanescence's My Immortal. You can download the MTV in Windows Media format here. Nothing really fancy, but I think the scenes and the music work well together, especially considering the story behind the images. Have to warn you people though- the scenes contain BIG SPOILERS, so anyone who hasn't watched the film and don't want the ending or crucial elements of the story revealed just yet may want to pass for now. For the rest though, download away and enjoy the glorious melancholy. Heh.

Sunday, September 18

Ultimate Fan Service: A Review of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

The best game-to-movie flick EVER.

Eight years ago, Squaresoft released Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation, a defining chapter in the mega-popular RPG series. A groundbreaker in more ways than one, FFVII captured the hearts of countless gamers for the epic story, the endearing characters and the surprising emotion once thought unheard of in a videogame.
Gamers laughed and cried along with hero Cloud Strife, his allies and companions in the battle to save the planet against the depredations of a power-hungry mega-corporation and worse, the threat of total destruction by a mad, would-be god. In the course of the quest, lives were lost, and sacrifices were made. The ending of Final Fantasy VII left a lot of questions unanswered, many things unsaid, many feelings bottled up. I should know, since I myself wrote my first and only attempt at fan fiction for FFVII, moved by the story and wanting closure for the embattled heroes.

Eight years after, Squaresoft finally delivers that closure, with what is probably the most awesome ending to a videogame. For that is what Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is… a long overdue epilogue and reunion in the world of Final Fantasy VII.

Two years after hero Cloud Strife and his companions defeated the Shin Ra Electric Power Company and it’s rogue creation, Sephiroth, the world is in flux. With the stoppage of the use of Mako Energy, the very Life Stream of the planet, the world has had to sacrifice the luxury and easy life of the past. Furthermore, a new threat has appeared in the form of an incurable disease called Geostigma (Star-Scar Syndrome), which is said to be incurable.

Despite this, everyone is rebuilding and pitching in to put the world back together- everyone, it seems, except for Cloud himself. Sinking once again into depression, Cloud has begun to withdraw from those who love him- his childhood friend (or perhaps more than a friend?) Tifa Lockheart, his comrades and the orphans they’ve taken under their wing. This bout of melancholy is brought about by two things- the return of a feeling of guilt for having failed to save someone very dear to him, and the fact that Cloud has himself contracted Geostigma.

Complicating things even more is the appearance of three malevolent and inexplicably powerful young men- Kadaj, Loz and Yazoo- mysterious silver-haired villains who are dead-set on recovering the last remaining trace of Jenova, the ancient source of evil that spawned Sephiroth himself. If they are not stopped, anything can happen… even the return of the fearsome One-Winged Angel himself. To protect what is dear to him, Cloud must somehow find the strength and will for battle… one last time.

What can I say about this movie? I’ve been waiting eight years for this. I had to suffer through that faker Spirits Within flick before I got here. But you know what? It’s worth the damn wait.

In terms of Story, I have to say that the plot of Advent Children is simple and to the point: It’s all about Cloud and his finding redemption. Which is really expected since the movie really is an Epilogue, an extended ending to the long and complex saga which was the Final Fantasy VII game. That said, the only way to truly and fully enjoy this masterwork is by having played and lived through the game that bore fruit to it. Otherwise, it’s simply not possible to really identify with the world, the characters, the story.

How can outsiders understand just who or what the mysterious girl who appears in teasing dream sequences is unless they’ve met her themselves and known her fate? It is the identity of this person that pretty much holds a lion’s share of the emotion and gravitas of AC.
How can anyone not knowing the game understand what Shin Ra was, who the Turks are, and how it is so amazing to see them working to rebuild the planet this time around. Knowing the history between them and the heroes is crucial to the enjoyment of their scenes.
Why is there a red-robed Spawn-wannabee named Vincent wearing oversized pointy shoes? Why is there a talking anthropomorphic cat with a loudspeaker riding on a talking red lion? Who’s that super-cute ninja girl? Who’s the brother with the cool gun for an arm? And why does everyone seem to have super powers?
If you’ve played the game, know the story and the cast, nothing in this movie will puzzle you… you’ll be too busy being giddy with nostalgia, excited at seeing a familiar world and characters come to life before your eyes like never before.

Old enemies and friends get together one last time.

But then, aside from the sheer nostalgia factor and the fan service, there’s the action.

Simply, frickin’ unbelievable.

The action and battle scenes in Advent Children are UNREAL. Part anime, part magical Wuxia cinema, part Matrix, part comic book super action… all mashed together and supercharged to produce some truly awesome fight scenes that simply blow away anything filmed live- Oh, the magic of CG.
What can I say about the fight scenes in Advent Children?
The numerous running skirmishes between Cloud and the Silver-haired Men… amazing ballets of ridiculously overpowered weaponry and oversized blades. After seeing Cloud and company in battle, you WILL believe that huge, man-sized swords are light as feathers and more effective than, say, rocket launchers and guns. Then there’s the jaw-dropping fight between Tifa Lockheart and the burly Loz in the Ruined Chapel- though relatively brief, it stands right up there with the gravity-defying fights in Kung Fu Hustle.
Then there’s the battle for Midgar between the many heroes of FFVII against a MASSIVE, winged Summoned Monster that just has to be seen to be believed. THIS is how superhero comic book action should be done. Suspend disbelief and just WATCH. You will enjoy and you will believe.
And then, finaly, there’s the finale- the awesome final battle between Cloud and… his worst foe. This, I must say, easily puts the equivalent finale from Matrix: Revolutions to shame. WHOA.

It’s amazing to see how AC has progressed from other CG flicks- characters move and look so realistically, and the detail is breathtaking- there’s no more of the dead-eyed blankness and marionette feel of Spirits Within. The way the Japanese do CG is different from the US, such as with Pixar, and it’s refreshing to see the newness of style from things like The Incredibles to this.

There’s eye candy galore in the offering, and for the outsider, that’s sadly the best that AC has to offer. I would dare say that this is a lot, regardless, and the film does try to explain things. Still, while the astute, casual watcher can understand the movie, they probably won’t feel the emotion behind it. Not like the true FFVII fan.

That’s why I say with total conviction that Final Fantasy VII Advent Children is THE ultimate fan service. This was made for us. For me. And darn, I love it.

Is it perfect? Well, if I had control, I’d have asked for a few things. Tifa back in her old outfit. I would have loved to have seen more Yuffie ninja girl action. I would have liked even more of the other heroes. I would have asked for more decisive kickbutts to have been dealt to the Yazoo and Loz from Cloud in the final stretch. But in the end, these are all just nitpicks, really. This is, seriously, as good as it gets.

So does Cloud end up with the lovely Tifa here? Watch and find out.

All the loose ends that matter are tied up. Heroes are reunited and fight together for one more good fight. Goodbyes long overdue are finally said. There are no real earth-shattering changes or developments, but really, that’s not the point. Advent Children is meant for us to see and leave the world of Midgar in a good place, alive and perhaps ripe for a new string of future adventures. But for Cloud and his friends and newfound family, this story, the story of FFVII, has come to and end. And what an end it is.

Thank you, Squaresoft for taking this calculated risk- this incredibly niche, but wonderful project. Thank you, director Tetsuya Nomura, musical genius Nobuo Uematsu for bringing back the sounds and emotion, and all of your team for keeping the world of Midgar alive for us. Thanks for giving us this wonderful gift. I’ll cherish it always.

Gosh, where is my copy of FFVII? I want to play. Again. Heh.