Saturday, December 16

Old War Stories

Friendship, betrayal, love, war... in the palm of your hand.

Back in the days of the original Playstation, several games held players' attentions like no other. One such classic title was Final Fantasy Tactics. A spin-off strategy title from the best-selling RPG line from Squaresoft, FFT is still revered today as one of the very best turn-based strategy war games ever released on the Playstation.
I originally got into it simply because I had just come off Final Fantasy VII, and learned that FFVII heroes Cloud and Aerith would be appearing in the game. But while I came for the cameos, I stayed for the war. Set in Ivalice (yes, the same place where the current FFXII is set), FFT chronicles a complex tale of royal ascension, demonic invasion, high-level conspiracy and a long friendship betrayed by ambition, FFT drove players to keep fighting seemingly hopeless battles in order to see how this epic tale ended. Granted, the storytelling was a bit too complex often, but it didn't matter. I played this one hours and hours on end, trying to make my small army into the deadliest collection of killers in Ivalice. It was bliss, to say the least.

A sequel came a few years ago on the Gameboy Advance, but I didn't get into the somewhat more kiddy title. I've been waiting for the next bit of news for quite a while.

Squaresoft has announced the release of Final Fantasy Tactics: The Lions War on the Playstation Portable. This is basically a port of the original PS1 Tactics, now spiced up with slick, cel-shaded cut scenes showing the story unfold. Additionally, new job classes will make their debut, including the oddly-named Onion Knight. So... do they make the enemy cry or something? We'll just have to wait to find out.

The PSP Tactics will be coming to Japan sometime in 2007. No news yet on a US release, but seeing as how this is one of the hotter FF titles, such a thing would be inevitable. At least, I hope it is. It'll be good to go to the REAL Ivalice once more. Mmm. Final Fantasy Tactics. Good times.

Thursday, December 14

Fatal Fantasy

I'm sorry. I tried. I really did. But I just couldn't do it. I have to quit.

It's over for me.

I'm not playing Final Fantasy XII anymore.

No matter that some say that it's the next step in the series. No matter that quite a few gaming sites are calling it the coolest thing since sliced bread. This offline MMO-wannabee just doesn't grab me. The characters and the Episode One-ish story about their warring countries are uninteresting and boring and the game system just stymies me with how it throws nigh-invincible enemies at you along with regular monster encounters. The huge but often empty arenas of play are tiresome to explore, and the music just has no soul.

Call me a FFVII Loyalist, an Anime-RPG fanatic or just plain old-fashioned. But I feel that even with all the ruffles, wild hair, anime cliches and archetypes of FF's past, at least the previous games made me care. FFXII just leaves me... dry.

Moving on...

Tuesday, December 12

Oscar Night

Here's The Salt Mines Crew at our spiffiest during our very early office Christmas Party last week (the only one missing is our Head Honcho-ness, who's taking the picture).

There was quite a few things to be thankful for this year- we've filled up our formerly bare lobby area display with award statuettes and won a couple of hard-fought pitches. It's pretty cool I think to realize how far we've come after several years, from being a very low-profile ad agency to a company that's getting noticed quite a bit in the industry. We're lean and mean, and we can only get better. I'm glad to have these guys and gals to work with day to day.

A MADman couldn't ask for a crazier bunch to keep one's insanity intact. Here's to another year of producing salt!

On other console news, seems that the current rage among gamers who got the Nintendo Wii these days is getting people hurt. Apparently, quite a few 'energetic' gamers are gratuitously over-exerting themselves and expending far too much energy into some swings with the console's movement-sensitive controller. While waving the remote like a tennis racket or golf club, some gamers have apparently thrown the controller at their TVs, at pets or even family members. There have been quite a few bruises and broken TV screens as a result.

No matter that the remote comes with a wrist strap or that you really don't need to swing it that hard... some pretty hardheaded and homicidally clumsy individuals with a bit too much energy still manage to wreck stuff or do harm.

I think it's pretty fricking' ridiculous- no, IDIOTIC- to swing a teeny controller with enough force to crack a skull. Like, come on now. How stupid can you get? Seriously.
My First PS3 Game

The image above is the box art for the Japanese version of Virtua Fighter 5. Reported to be a pretty much perfect port of the arcade game that's been out in Japan since July 2006, the latest installment of Sega's flagship fighting game is due to impress at home on the PS3.

Aside from the usual stuff- like next-gen character models, blazing fast 60 FPS animation, character customization features, more martial arts styles and moves than a Bloodsport tournament and 17 unique fighters- VF5 for the PS3 will feature no doubt home-only features such as VS and Training Modes (as seen in the screenshot below) and supposedly, a playable End Boss.

Sega has already announced a firm release date of February 8, 2007 for the Japanese version. The game will be a bit pricier than the usual Playstation game, but will come with a nice little extra- a copy of Virtua Fighter 10th Anniversary Edition- which basically is the old-style Virtua Fighter (with 90s style blocky polygon graphics... talk about retro) but updated with VF4 moves and characters. But let's face it... I probably won't play this at all once I get VF5.

With my reason for getting a PS3 arriving in February, I guess I can consider myself lucky I'm single. Heh.

Monday, December 11

To Be Continued

A little introspection break in between the random posts about videogames, Avatar and gutter-dreaming.

Looking back on this year, I have to say that 2006 was a year of transition. It was a year of change and leaving behind things. There were things I thought would last for a while but ended up abruptly fading into little more than fond memory.

One casualty of the year was my drive for comics. A lot of what kept me going was having people around whom you could draw strength from and inspiration... and unfortunately, that drifted away like cigarette smoke in a strong wind some time ago. Once that was gone, so was the drive to tell stories and create dreams about flying superheroes and magical worlds. Simply put, it all went away. For the past few months I haven't touched a single page, haven't put a pen to paper or even thought of any story to commit to bringing to life. Who cares? Perhaps one of the, oh, dozen faithful readers might, but I really didn't know any of them. And so, I just kept living life day to day, immersing myself in work, keeping busy with the bothers at The Salt Mines and generally just being a very comfy homebody (which was easy given The Sanctum's DSL connection- easily the best thing I got this year). After a few months, I got used to staying in on Saturdays, seldom bothering to go to the crowded malls in the weekend unless my college bud Pot comes a-calling.

It doesn't help that it's so fricking EASY to just lay down and sleep. It's so fricking easy to just be mundane and watch others do stuff while you just mutter "I can do that too... If I wanted to." It's so easy to just say I earn well, I have good stuff. I don't need anything else.

Thankfully, the past Komikon re-ignited the spark of the Comicka in me. Seeing young artists with bright new stories, newbies with their xerox-copied first issues and the huge community of indie artists and writers made me realize how I love doing this stuff. I wasn't doing this just as a way to make or keep friends... I was writing and drawing and creating because I CAN. And I frickin' love doing it. And that's why, despite seemingly laying down to die these past few months, I have made it my goal to keep on drawing panels and comics. I want to see another Angel Ace story. I want to continue seeing Agent K kick butt. I want to see what happens next to Kunoichi Boy. I want to see what else is lurking in the mind of one Stark Raving MADman.

For this year, it's over. Chalked up to experience. I don't think this year was wasted, nor do I regret going through it. Change happens, as I've written before. I'll consider it a vacation at best, withdrawal period at worst. It's going back to basics and learning to do comics for the love of comics and nothing more, nothing less. I'll enjoy the Christmas season as much as I can and dream of getting new toys for the New Year to blog and rave about and complain about and keep myself occupied in the down time.

Next year is going to be hard. Next year, my family splits up as my sister takes her brood to Canada. Next year though is also the year I get a PS3 and enter the wonderful world of High Definition Gaming. Next year I have put on to somehow continue telling stories and making indie comics despite having steadily-growing costs of living and having to keep on working doubly hard in the fickle world of Advertising. Next year, our government will surely be even more crooked than this year... or it will be gone, God Willing.

Can I do it? Maybe. Maybe not. But at least there's one thing I can keep doing.

Stark Raving MAD goes on. Where will it go? Well, you'll all just have to keep on tuning in to find out.

And now, back to our regular scheduled remorseless mad blogging.

Sunday, December 10

The Next Generation of Beating People Up

The Playstation 3 may not have had a Launch to End All Launches, nor is the initial software lineup anything to scream about (at least, not in a good way), but I'm still pretty much locked into getting myself one. It's inevitable, simply because for the near future, the best fighting games of the next generation are headed for Sony's black monolith.

Delicate but deadly, Aiki-jutsu expert Aoi Umenokouji is but one of the fighters in the PS3's first big fighting game.

The first and obvious title of course is Virtua Fighter 5. The latest installment of Sega's flagship fighting game has been out for almost a year in Japan, while the rest of the world can only drool at the literally hundreds of hi-res videos uploaded on the internet by VF5 players (the Japanese arcade units allow recording of matches- awesome). Suffice to say, even after watching several hundred match videos, I'm still pumped.
This game has more martial arts moves than an entire video shop's worth of martial arts movies, oodles of gameplay depth that other fighters can only dream of attaining and graphical goodness that makes for the most detailed and gorgeous character models yet. The characters in motion are pretty amazing, with the VF fighters designed to look more realistic than, say, in rival games like Dead or Alive. The animation is unreal, and so far all I've seen are videos- I can only imagine at how this game actually looks and moves running on a on a PS3 with a really nice TV. With 17 unique characters to master and kick butt with, I'll probably be playing this game even when the PS4 comes out. Unbeatable.

Tekken 5's Asuka Kazama and Lili have gotten wider since the last time... about 1080p wider.

The second game fighting game fans will be checking out on PS3 is the next-gen version of Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection. This is basically the same game as the original arcade upgrade to Tekken 5, albeit now in High Definition. There looks to be some new aspects to arenas (the stage above was formerly only seen burning and at night) and a playable Boss character. Instead of releasing this rehash as an actual disc, Sony and Namco are apparently putting it out as a download on the PS Online Network. No word yet if us players outside of Japan or the US can get this though. In any case, I already have this game on PSP, so no big loss if I can't. Still, seeing Asuka and Nina in HD sounds cool, so I'll get this if I can.

2007 should be a great year for fighting gamers, whose genre has suffered a bit of decline in recent times. But with VF5 and Tekken 5 DR coming soon and the inevitable Tekken 6 and DOA5 on the horizon, the future looks bright for beat 'em ups.