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Three Industry Giants - A Comparison

There has been a good deal of argument since Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete for the PlayStation came out about whether Final Fantasy VII or SSSC was better. I, as someone who is basically neutral in opinion of all companies, have decided to do a little analysis on which one I believe is better, using the categories used in RPGFan to review RPGs as my guide. Also, I have decided to rate and compare XenoGears with these two, as I think it is in a nice half way point (style-wise) between FF7 and SSSC, and therefor good for comparison.


Graphics

The Winner: XenoGears
XenoGears has often been commended for the lush graphical style in which it was presented. Beautiful and interesting 3D architecture such as that which created the exterior of the tower of Babel and the floating city of Shevat is definitely deserving of that commendation. 2D sprites are used for the characters, and blend almost perfectly with their 3D environments, hanks to the detailed texture-maps used on every piece of XenoGears' gigantic world. Thanks to the choice of placing XenoGears in a fully 3D world, a lot more can be happening on screen than if hand drawn or prerendered 2D backdrops had been used. In 2D character battles, every thing animates smoothly, and looks downright cool. In the 3D Gear battles, the Gears animate smoothly and look down right cool. As icing on the cake, Square gave us Anime and CG FMV sequences which are underused but still extremely cool looking. My only complaints about XenoGears' graphics are that spells look very dull and uninspired, falling quite short of FF7's incredible in-engine summons, and characters pixelate really bad if "zoomed in on" by the "camera."

Second Place goes to: Final Fantasy VII
On the downside, the 3D characters used outside of battle are Super Deformed (though some people like this) and all around crappy looking. On the up-side, everything else looks extremely cool. The CG FMV sequences and prerendered 2D back drops are without doubt the graphical highlights of FF7, though the amazing in-engine monster summons are amazing both aesthetically and technically. The American PlayStation has yet to see an RPG with spells like these, though Final Fantasy VIII will be giving it a try this winter. An interesting blend of organic and techologic styles is found in FF7's world. Also, in battles your characters and enemies look fantastic, enough said.

Third and last place goes to: Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete.
The graphics here are extremely dated. Though that is to be expected, what with the time it took for WD to complete the translation, the rest of the graphical problems found in SSSC have NO excuse for their existence. The artists were down right lazy while making this game. Maps are tile-based, which adds a lot of mediocrity and uniformity to the world of Lunar. You'll find that many dungeons are using palette swapped tiles from earlier for their maps, and enemies are frequently palette swapped to save time. Towns don't even have palette swapped tiles, they all just share a set. On top of that, your characters (while outside of battle) are always animated as though walking, whether or not they are actually moving or not, because the artists were too lazy to draw an idle frame. The things which save SSSC from utter graphical mediocrity are the vibrant colors used through out the game, the Anime-like character portraits (the main characters mostly have about 5 different emotions, while Alex and Luna have somewhere around ten) , and the beautiful Anime/CG sequences distributed through out the game, almost an hour's worth.


Music/Sound

The Winner: XenoGears
XenoGears' sound track is one of few game sound tracks which managed to twist my emotions to its will. When they (the people in charge of XenoGears' music) wanted me to be sad, they'd play one of their "emotion" music pieces, and I was sad. When they wanted me to feel exhilarated, they played some battle music. When they wanted to make me feel proud and strong, they played Bart's theme. Each theme was tailored specifically to its own character or location, helping the dialogue to express the emotion needed for such an epic game. While many games' sound tracks have tried for a truly epic feel and failed, XenoGears succeeded. XenoGears also has some mediocre voice acting, which in my opinion helps more than it hurts. Hands down, XenoGears wins here.

Second Place goes to: Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
Idaware deserved much, MUCH better. This music is beautifully composed (as one would expect of a Lunar game) , however due to some technical issues I'm too stupid to delve into, the sound quality sounds like a bit of a throw back to 16 bit days. Luckily, the voice acting is spectacular for being in a video game, which definitely helped SSSC get second place in my book.

Third and final place goes to: Final Fantasy VII
FF7 is one of those games I mentioned before, one which attempted an epic scale and failed. I liked the music, it just wasn't very emotionally stirring (aside from a select few themes) . And the first job of the music in any RPG is to help express emotion in ways which text simply can't. The lack of voice acting got on my nerves too.


Story

The Winner is: Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
SSSC finds its first victory in the Story section. I see the Lunar series as a major turning point for RPGs. This is when every one should have said, (and many have) "Ok, they finally got what we've been trying to do forever right. Let's move on to something else." In other words, the Lunar series signals to me the end of a need for classic RPGs, and the beginning of a need for more complex and innovative titles. While SSSC's plot is simple and heavily cliched, it takes all the basic elements of a classic RPG and does them right. Characters are developed extremely well, each with their own motivations and feelings. SSSC is to me the near-perfect version of the classic RPG plot.

Second Place goes to: XenoGears
XenoGears' plot was epic, but extremely confusing. The semi-poor translation only hurt it. You can spend up to an hour scrolling through text which you have no control of in this game, and in fact that's what you'll spend most of the second CD doing. Over all, character development was somewhat above average for an RPG, though only a few main characters were truly given the attention they deserved.

Third and final place goes to: Final Fantasy VII
The set up, or premise, for FF7 was very good, but once things actually started moving, it was rather dissapointing/confusing and character development was poorly done. A major problem was that it was all too easy to go through the game and miss elements and events that would prove important to the plot, elements that would prove essential to understanding FF7's warped timeline. On top of all this, the down right bad translation only hurt the plot. At least the plot was not too heavily cliched, as one might expect from a Final Fantasy title.


Game Play

The Winner is: Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII's battle system is the best one I have seen in an RPG during my short life, building up my characters was fun, and the battle system was cool. Unluckily, the game's enemies are rather easy, but the now famous materia system was extremely fun and immersive. There were a ton of secret items and weapons to collect in the huge world of FF7. There was a large manifest of enemies. Only adding to the mix is a group of simple-but-fun mini-games, including the Chocobo Racing game, which has spewed a spin off.

Second Place goes to: Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
While the battle system added very little to classic RPG systems, it did have a lot of strategy involved in successfully beating the game. Not to mention a defend option which is actually useful! Unluckily, there were very few enemies, very few items, and very few spells. Not to mention that enemies were extremely easy, as were most of the boss battles. Heck, SSSC was FUN. F-U-N. One of the most annoying features, though, was the equipping system. It should not be that much work to change your characters' equipment. I normally had to pass an item to and from Nall's inventory a couple of times to get any thing equipped to my characters.

Third and final place goes to: XenoGears
While the two battle systems were extremely innovative, they eventually fell into the common RPG trap of tedium. I got truly tired of fighting, and only fought at all to continue on to the next plot twist. On the upside, there were a couple niffty mini-games included.


My Final Word

While XenoGears is over all my favorite of the bunch, Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete is the better RPG. XenoGears was the second best RPG, and Final Fantasy VII the third. However, FF7 is an all around better game, because it's very playable and all around fun. Therefor, as far as I'm concerned, if you want an RPG and aren't too concerned with graphics, buy SSSC (I suggest it even more strongly if you want a classic RPG) . If you want an all around balanced RPG with beautiful graphics and are ok with a sub-par plot/battle system, buy XenoGears. If you want a game, but not specifically an RPG, you should definitely take a look at FF7.

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