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Children of the Sea
March 3, 2005

I hate all of you.

...Okay, not all of you. Just the ones who have managed to find a copy of Ys VI. :P It's a sad day when a diehard fan of that series can't get his fix, my friends.

But really, nobody cares about that. :P Let's get to something you DO care about: letters. And keep your eye open for letter number three. It's a little different than what we normally do here...in a good way.

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Uh oh. Brace yourselves for an anti-anime rant. :P

Yo~

Ah, Xenosaga. I haven't finished it yet myself (That Proto Omega thing just destroyed Miltia. It's /just/ now starting to get good, so I assume it's almost over), but I have many things to say about it far.

First, What's up with the character models this time around? There are two types of cutscenes in the game, some using highly-animated characters and the others using wooden, low-poly count models. All the cutscenes in the original game were high-quality. I remember reading somewhere that the redesign of the characters was so they can 'show a wider variety of facial expressions' or something. If that's the case, why have those stiff, unanimated, cardboard cutouts 'act' out half of the scenes? During those scenes I feel like I'm watching a puppet show.

Second, why go for a 'realistic' look in a series about combat androids and artificial humans? The anime look suited the tone much better. MOMO sounds different and she just looks /weird./ Her 'real girl with pink hair' look really creeps me out. Although the new designs would be easier to stomach if the voice work wasn't recast as well. The worst is poor, poor, KOS-MOS. I guess saving the Elsa from burning up in Miltia's atmosphere at the end of the last game charred whatever androids use for vocal chords. One of the best voices has been totally ruined. At least one of my favorites, Allen, is still the same... *hopes he's not transformed into some bishounen badboy by Ep. III... if there is one*

Finally, gameplay wise I don't mind the game as much. The battles are more complex (confusing?) than the last game, except for the ES Battles. I do think I'm a little behind the curve here, as I'm still having trouble with standard boss battles. Either I haven't grasped the total concept yet, or I just suck. Probably both. But what's up with the utter lack of currency and shops? That just looks lazy. I also wish that the optional side quests were actually integrated into the storyline.

Alright, I have wasted enough of your time and space.

~veggio

Ain't that the way it always is? As soon as you get into something, it ends. :P

I have to say, I'm not particularly picky when it comes to things like "wooden, low-poly count models", so I probably shouldn't say too much about that. But man, I'll make up for it with this next paragraph.

I love the "realistic" look for one reason and one reason only. No, it's not because having characters that resemble actual humans somehow improves the game. It doesn't, really. I like it because it at least TRIES to look different from the thousand other pieces of anime-influenced garbage that are out there. As far as I'm concerned, it's always good to get away from the big-headed, goggle-eyed freak look. That's especially evident after I went back and watched the Episode I movie DVD after beating Episode II. I couldn't even tolerate looking at the original Shion design. Her head was ten inches larger than a normal human, and it was vaguely shaped like a football. How lovely.

The lack of shops annoyed me at first, but then I realized that abusing Psycho Pocket would net me more than enough items to beat the game. And I agree about the side quest thing. It's sorta sad when most of the game's RPG elements are fleshed out in something optional instead of the main game.

 
Kobolds and griffons and unicorns. Oh my.

I've been coming here for a little while, and I can't remember if I've ever managed the time to actually ask a few questions here. I guess now's as good a time as any.

First, I'd like to ask if you've played Suikoden IV, and if you have, what you thought of it. I've gone through it already (it was a tad short, unfortunately), and I can't help but to think that most of the people who reviewed it so far on other sites are giving it rather bad reviews. Also, how do you think the Suikodens stack up against one another in terms of enjoyment, if not greatness? If it's possible to compare them that way, that is.

I've only recently gotten a PS2, and by the time you read this, should be playing Ys VI as long as it doesn't fully interfere with my going through Star Ocean 3. I've always enjoyed the series, though I wasn't that big a fan of it.

Finally, I don't think I've seen a Mega Man Command Mission Review here. Or Monster Rancher 4. Are they truly so far out from the RPG norm' that they don't qualify, or have they simply been overlooked in order to get to the much more hyped and admittedly better games that have come out? I don't really mind, but I did enjoy them both quite a lot. And yes, I'm a big fan of the Mega Man series. Including Legends. And yes, I fully expect to be bashed for admitting such.

Finally, only one more questions. I haven't heard much on it, but I'm wondering if there's a good chance (or not) of that remake of Phantasy Star 4 for the PS2 of coming out here in America. As someone who's a rather big fan of the seies (minus PSO III Card... whatever), I've hoping to hear more on it. I realize you may not have much info yet, but any at all that you could point me towards would be appreciated.

Thanks for dealing with my long letter!

Unfortunately, I haven't had the chance to play Suikoden IV yet. Like you mentioned, I've heard a lot of bad things about the game, but I feel obligated to play it since I love the other games in the series.

As for how the games compare to one another, I don't think many people would question Suikoden II's greatness. The first Suikoden is a great game as well, but when you compare it to the second one it seems like a mere prototype. I do prefer the army battle system of the first game over numbers two and three, though.

Suikoden III is a little bit of a mixed bag for me. I enjoy the game, but there are many things I don't like about it. I don't like the lack of a world map to walk around on, but that a problem I have with damn near everything these days. I didn't care for this game's "castle". I hated the battle system, both normal battles and army battles. I didn't care for most of the music, either. However, all these flaws are made up for by the cast. I feel it's the strongest, most fleshed out cast of the first three games, particularly Geddoe and his crew.

Heh, you don't need to worry about me bashing you for liking Mega Man Legends. :P I think they're both spectacular games, if a bit clunky to control. And no, we don't have reviews for either Command Mission or Monster Rancher. As to why...well, you'd have to ask the review staff that. Although I can certainly understand not wanting to play a Monster Rancher game. :P

Man, I hate getting letters about Phantasy Star. :P I don't pay much attention to PS news at all, because I'm not exactly a fan of the series. As far as I know, there hasn't been any word about a release of that PSIV remake.

Lucky Chicago.

Magic. That’s the best way that I can describe the Final Fantasy Dear Friends concert that took place on February 19, 2005 at the Rosemont Theatre just outside of Chicago. I was bummed that I couldn’t go to the first show in Los Angeles in May 2004 and as soon as they started hinting at a concert series I proclaimed that if the concert came anywhere in the Midwest, I’d go. As soon as the concert was announced I ordered two tickets. One for me and one for my wife (a very much non-gamer). I live in Macomb, MI which is about one hour north of Detroit. So, the drive to Chicago was only a little over 5 hours, well worth it for what I was preparing myself to take part in.

We got to Rosemont, Illinois earlier that day, went to dinner and got to the theatre about an hour and a half early. There was already a line wrapped around the building. For the most part it was groups of guys in their late teens, a few younger guys with their parents, and a few couples. There were a few stereotypical nerds there, that can’t be argued. There was one guy with a FF7 Advent Children t shirt that was really cool. After standing out in the cold and only moving 10 feet after 20 minutes, I noticed a Japanese fellow taking pictures with his camera phone. I looked a little closer and just inside the door I could see Nobuo Uematsu coming to look at the crowd lined up to hear his music. He just peeked and didn’t make a scene, but you could see that he was happy with the turnout.

Another 15 minutes goes by and we finally make it into the building. The Rosemont Theatre is nice, but not as nice as I hear the Walt Disney Theatre is. There were crowds of people everywhere, but it didn’t get out of hand at all. One guy I met even commented that it’s nice to see a group of younger people this large and not have any incidents break out. They had stands set up selling programs for $20 and bigger booths selling the programs ($20), posters ($10), and t-shirts ($20) in black or white. I was hoping to see more for sale, but I quickly bought a program, two posters, and a white t shirt. At this point it was 7:15 and the doors to the theatre itself wouldn’t open for another 15 minutes, so we waited in line.

Finally, the doors opened and we were able to take our seat. We were in Section 109, Row R, seats 5 and 6. So, we were perfectly centered in the theatre and right at eye level with the orchestra. Perfect seats, but it would have been nice to get the upgraded seats solely to meet Uematsu-san and have a CD autographed. Just seeing the screens displaying “Dear Friends: Music from Final Fantasy” or “Square Enix” was enough to get my inner gamer all flustered with excitement. Slowly but surely, the hall filled up and about 8:10 it started.

The concert started with a beautiful rendition of Libari Fatali from Final Fantasy VIII. I’ve heard this song many times and it became my favorite from FF8 even though I hadn’t played that particular game to its end. This was the best rendition of Libari that I’ve heard. I have it on a few different CD compilations, and this just had a power that I hadn’t heard before in this song. Maybe it was just because I was hearing it live for the first time.

After the first song we met Gene Honda. He is a local personality who commentates for Chicago Cubs games and is a self-proclaimed gamer. Not being from the area, I had no idea who he was. But, he did a great job emceeing the event. You could tell that he understood why we were there and what this music meant to us. His delivery was clean and clear and he did a good job of moving things forward.

The next song was Zanarkand from Final Fantasy X. FFX had an impact on me and this song, in particular, made me emotional. This was the best song of the night. Seeing Yuna perform the sending on the screens and hearing the melancholy piano was just moving. This song brought grown men to tears. It was amazing to see something like that have so much impact on someone. It was the highlight of the night. Well, there were a couple of highlights, but that was the moment that touched me the most.

Following Zanarkand was Terra’s Theme from FF6. This was the game that got me into RPG’s and the game that I spent the most time with of any game. Terra’s theme is another of my personal favorites from the series. The composition was done beautifully, it captured the essence of the song and the Chicago Pops Orchestra didn’t miss a beat. I was disappointed that they didn’t have a cinema to accompany this song. I thought they would take some of the renderings from the FF Anthology release on Playstation, but that didn’t happen. A minor gripe, but my biggest of the event.

The next song that I truly enjoyed was Vala Flamenco from Final Fantasy IX. Again, this was a beautiful rendition of the song that was punctuated by a classical Latin guitarist that joined the orchestra for a few songs. Hearing this song live just exploded this song into something that it wasn’t prior. You felt as if you could feel Garnett’s pain at seeing her home city destroyed as the cinema played along with the song. But, the highlight here was the crowd’s reaction to seeing Vivi on screen. Anyone who’s played FFIX can tell you that Vivi is the underdog that we all love. Such a fantastic and memorable character received his recognition from fans that night as we all clapped and cheered.

Moving forward, we heard Aerith’s theme from Final Fantasy VII. This was the game that pushed the series, and maybe gaming, to a new plateau and Aerith (or Aeris) was the humble beauty that moved many gamers to tears during one particular scene in the 7th installment of the series. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go play the game and come back. I can’t say this enough….another beautiful rendition of a magical song. I actually considered having this song played at my wedding as my wife and I walked away from the alter. This song is that good and they did a fantastic job. The held the cinema off until towards the end of the song and showed the classic sweeping shot of Aerith. Then the camera pans back….and further back….finally showing all of Midgar. Then for one brief moment, we catch a glimpse of Sephiroth foreshadowing the end of this spectacular evening. As with Terra’s theme, it would have been nice to see more of FF7’s great rendered cinema’s.

The FF Melody was terrific and hearing the crystal theme was something that nearly brought me to tears. Then, much like the moment with Vivi, the crowd erupted in applause at the Chocobo theme. The FF Advent Children song was fantastic, but it was hard to tie emotion to it as we still don’t know what the story line will bring. I can assure you that we will be pleased by the soundtrack to that movie, when released. Finally, the concert closed with the main theme of the series, Final Fantasy. This really brought the concert to a close with a feeling of magic, majesty, and wonderment that words cannot describe. You really felt like you were part of something important. Something that didn’t happen to average gamers. This was the kind of thing that I only read about and wished that I could be part of for years. There were a few other songs mixed in, but these were my highlights.

After many minutes of applause, Arnie Roth left the stage and came back a moment later. Following him was the man of the evening, Nobuo Uematsu. He came out in his signature flannel shirt and accompanied by a translator. He was energetic and excited to be there and he made it clear that he appreciated us and our love for his music. First Nobuo thanked everyone for being there. Then he asked who was from Chicago, then from Illinois, then from out of state (which I cheered loudly), then from overseas. Finally, since people came from all that way, who was “from outer space?” he asked. Of course, a couple of people cheered. He said that he’s looking forward to future Dear Friends concerts and hoped to see us there. Next, interestingly, he asked who knew of his band, The Black Mages. I’d say about 2/3 of the place roared, with me roaring loudest. Then he asked if we liked the band, again, the placed roared. He then asked if they came to the U.S., would we go see them. Then the entire place lit up with excitement. It was awesome. I’m a big rock fan and have both Black Mages CD’s and I’d love the chance to see them live. Who knows, it just may happen.

After a few jokes about rock music versus orchestra music Uematsu noted that since we were all having such a good time that we couldn’t end it there. They had one more song ready for us, although it was not listed in the program. But, it was the one song we all wanted to hear above all others. Sephiroth’s theme. Once that choir came back, after leaving following their performance on Liberali Fatali, we knew what we were about to hear. Once again, Arnie Roth and the Chicago POPS Orchestra did our music justice with a magnificent rendition of the ultimate “bad-guy” theme. This brought me right back to that final duel from a few years ago. The song had such power and strength performed live. It was simply amazing and the perfect end to the night. I left the concert hall so full of energy and excitement I couldn’t fall asleep for two nights straight.

We got back to the hotel, crashed (well, my wife did, I was still too hopped up on FF goodness), and woke up the next morning to lovely winter weather. It took us over 8 hours to get home on what was normally a 5 hour trip. Nevertheless, it was well worth it. If they bring the concert to Michigan, hopefully the Fox Theatre, I’ll be there again.

What surprises me most is that I couldn’t wait to get home, jump on the internet and see what people thought of the show. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any mention of it. Maybe it was because of the weekend and hopefully there will be more reports popping up today and throughout the week. We have to have excitement for this type of event or we just won’t be seeing many more of them.

Overall, it was simply magic. I loved it because the first concert was in a way for industry people. It was for the folks attending E3. This one was for the fans, the gamers. We don’t do fancy industry things. We just sit at home and spend 50 plus hours of our lives on each entry to the series and love every second of it. Nobuo Uematsu thanked us by putting on this concert and we thanked him through our support and applause.

~Chris (slavefive)

It sounds like that was one fantastic experience. Thanks for sharing it with us. Although I do have to question the sanity of a crowd of people clapping for Vivi. :P

Did anyone else out there get the chance to attend this? If so, write in and tell me what you thought about it.

 
Closing Thoughts

Back to tracking down a copy of Ys, I guess. Keep those letters coming in.

~ Daniel Stringer (letters@rpgfan.com)



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