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Twenty years is a long time. Especially in the video game industry, which in the last twenty years has seen a growth and shift in cultural perception virtually unimaginable back in 1994. In those days video games were still largely considered kids’ stuff, at least in North America. Parents’ views were that video games were at best trifling time-wasters, or at worst actually damaging to impressionable young minds.

Final Fantasy VI was released in North America on October 20th, 1994. I was eleven years old. It was the sixth entry in the series, but only the third outside of Japan, and so was originally known here as Final Fantasy III. Confusing numbering continuity aside, one thing was clear: the game was a landmark; not just of the RPG genre, but of video gaming as a whole to that point. It was an immediate critical and commercial success, and has continued to this day to be regarded as one of the best video games of all time.

Themes of alienation, isolation, discrimination, love (unrequited, misguided, doomed), a desire to belong, and, above all, humanity’s will to overcome. These were not new to the Final Fantasy franchise, but never had they been so aching, so immediate. By turns melodramatic and understated, solemn and comic, hopeful and despairing. Never, though, anything less than engaging.

FinalFantasy

Set in a world divided by the ways of the past and ever-encroaching industrial technology, a land where magic once existed and has been all but forgotten, become legend; where those few who possess the ability of magic, whether innately or through genetic engineering, are feared and hated. They are sought out by the rising Gestahlian Empire, taken control of and enslaved for militaristic purposes, and despised by the general public for being different.

This was some heavy stuff, if a little hamfisted at times, for an eleven-year-old. I was on the cusp of adolescence, at the point when one begins to carve out a real personality, form the ideas and ideals that will set them on the path to the person they’ll eventually become as an adult. It was no small impact that this game had on me in those formative years, when I played and replayed it. Rushing home from school to get as much time in as I could before I was told that was enough for one night. Getting up early on Saturday mornings and not realizing until I was called for dinner that I hadn’t eaten anything all day. To say Final Fantasy VI had an influence on me would be like saying Kefka had a slight emotional imbalance.

So, into this pixelated world of tenuous political balance and burgeoning civil unrest walks Terra, the de facto main character of the game, a young woman with the gift of magic, under the control of the Empire, with no clear memory of who she is or where she came from. After escaping the Empire’s clutches, she’s thrust into centre stage of a struggle between her former captors and an underground resistance group, The Returners, who see her as their greatest hope to turn the tables in their favour. As the game unfolds and Terra is forced to confront her past and choose her future, we’re introduced to one of the largest casts of characters in the Final Fantasy series.

final-fantasy-vi-ffvi-android

Locke, an adventurer and treasure hunter with a complex stemming from events in his past which causes him to compulsively fall for women and try to rescue them. Celes, traitorous former general of the Imperial army, gifted with magic ability through genetic tampering, and distrusted by everyone but Locke. Kefka, a demented clown who doesn’t have a qualm with murdering an entire kingdom, because he’s bent on not just taking over the world, but destroying it. Gau, a feral youth raised by beasts in the wild, but with a heart filled with boundless kindness and a love of shiny things. Shadow, a black-clad mercenary assassin with a dog and a tragic past who it’s said would “slit his own mama’s throat for a nickel,” coming and going from your party if the pay is right. And Ultros, a toothy octopus who’s, well, just kind of an asshole.

And so many more. Their paths crossing and uncrossing and crossing again as they weave through the sprawling narrative. Boarding a Ghost Train on its voyage to take the dead to the other side. Navigating the buildings of an Empire-occupied town, disguised as merchants and soldiers to avoid capture. Invading the industrial clangour of the Imperial Magitek Research Facility, where the terrible secret of genetically engineered magic is discovered. The opera house.

Oh, the opera sequence. To infiltrate the Empire undetected your party needs use of an airship. But, alas, the only airship in the world belongs to the notorious gambler and womanizer, Setzer. How will you ever convince him to let you use it? Well, it so happens that the ever-put upon impresario of the opera house has received a letter from Setzer himself, declaring that he will kidnap the opera’s star, Maria, at the climax of the next performance! But, wait! It also just so happens that Celes looks just like Maria! And so, a great switcheroo is pulled, with no real mention of how Celes can sing at a professional operatic level.

Have you ever heard such a delightfully contrived plot point? It’s magnificent in its refusal to submit to its own ridiculousness. The resulting events, a madcap chase during an opera-within-a-video-game, is one of the most memorable scenes I’ve seen in my life, in any entertainment medium.

opera

But what sets Final Fantasy VI apart from RPGs of its time, and even many after, is that for every zany adventure and world-shaking event, there are many moments of quiet humanity. These are not the typical band of noble-hearted wizards and warriors setting out on a quest to vanquish a terrible evil. They are profoundly human characters who are doing what they’re doing because for their own personal reasons they feel they need to. The triumph of the human spirit is what rests at the heart of Final Fantasy VI. A phoenix rising from the ashes of a world torn apart by greed and lust for power. But that triumph, that redemption, is woven into the story on a much more intimate scale as well.

It’s that humanity that makes the game so enduring. It’s impossible to play through it without becoming emotionally invested in these characters. Many, if not most of them, are grappling with some kind of inner demon, real or perceived. And their internal struggles mirror those of the larger story, as they learn to allow themselves to love, to be loved, to let go of the past, and to figure out, when the world is saved, whether there will be a place left in it for them.

And who can’t relate to that? At any age. No matter how old the story. Or how many times it’s been told.

la-noire

This post originally appeared on ForumM.ca, republished with permission from the author

Back when LA Noire came out in 2011, it took the gaming world by storm with its episodic mission structure, facial animation technology and unique gameplay. While the game had DLC, no sequel or similar game has been released that makes use of the formula found in LA Noire. Here is a list of five games I’d like done using the LA Noire structure for next-gen consoles.

law order video game5. Law and Order / CSI / Criminal Minds

I’m serious. Law and Order. Remember back when there were Law and Order and CSI games? Most if not all of them were point and click PC games that never made you feel like you were playing a character from the show. LA Noire, as a whole, gave you the feeling like you were playing and sometimes even watching a detective program, especially with its mission structure. This would be perfect for any of the above primetime TV shows.

4. Dexter

I’m giving Dexter its own spot after the other TV shows because of the potential to either cash in on the under appreciated novels or a potential prequel/tie-in to the program. While a game would be hard to place within the TV show’s timeline, after Season 2 but prior to season 3 may be appropriate with some fill-in-the-blanks needed. It would also probably be the best-selling LA Noire-like game due to the show’s popularity and potential for interesting gameplay mechanics.

3. X-Files

Take LA Noire, add in some paranormal elements and you have yourself something almost as good as chocolate covered bacon on top of a naked cheerleader. Need I say more?

axce3442. A more mature “Ace Attorney” game

A big part of LA Noire was determining if someone was lying and asking the proper questions. While the premise for such a game would definitely have a small market, if done right, even as a downloadable game, it may be worth checking out and could get a cult following.

1. LA Noire 2

While LA Noire had a very mediocre ending, a sequel with a change of setting and characters may be Rockstar’s best bet. While I doubt Rockstar would make a game based on anything else on the list, a sequel to the first game with improved gameplay and graphics has a lot of potential and honestly, who doesn’t want more LA Noire?

 

game stop

This post originally appeared on ForumM.ca, republished with permission from the author

Going into E3, I was doubting Microsoft. After debuting the Xbox One the way they did, I thought there was no way I would buy the console and would make Sony’s PS4 my primary next-gen console.

At Microsoft’s E3 press conference, I was blown way. The exclusives shown were incredible: Titanfall was jizz worthy, Dead Rising 3 looked fun, Ryse was a nice surprise and overall, they did exactly what they had to do to put the ball back in Sony’s court.

The only major drawback was the $500 console pricetag. Steep, but not unreasonable. An Apple iMac is unreasonable. This, however, seemed like Microsoft was stepping up their game.

Then Sony had their conference. It. Absolutely. Sucked. Balls. Then, they announced it: no DRM, and $100 cheaper than the Xbox One. After a whole press conference of being bored out of my mind (as I’m sure others were too) they made the one announcement everyone labeled a KO.

Following the announcement, Kotaku uploaded this image. No text. Just an image. And yes, they mock Fox’s “fair and balanced” slogan:

KOTaku123

For me, the cheaper price was the only thing here that even mattered. The $100 cheaper price tag was enough for me to still buy a PS4 first, but bottom line, Microsoft had won E3.

However, everyone went on and on about DRM. The same people who’d trade in a brand new game at Game Stop or EB Games and only get $30 for it when EB would then re-sell it for $50. The same people who love Steam and Steam’s amazing sales were against DRM. Really, people didn’t get it.

You may have seen the viral post by an “anonymous Microsoft engineer” that helped shed some light on things. He states:

Everyone and their mother complains about how gamestop fucks them on their trade ins, getting $5 for their used games. We come in trying to find a way to take money out of gamestop, and put some in developers and get you possibly cheaper games and everyone bitches at MS. Well, if you want the @#$@ing from Gamestop, go play PS4.

The goal is to move to digital downloads, but Gamestop, Walmart, Target, Amazon are KIND OF FUCKING ENTRENCHED in the industry. They have a lot of power and the shift has to be gradual. Long term goal is steam for consoles.

While no one is positive this actually was a Microsoft employee, the bottom line remains the same: DRM could, in fact, lead to cheaper games. COULD. People had written off “Micro$oft” as being an evil, money-hungry fiend and Sony fanboys needed a reason to claim victory.

Could DRM have led to cheaper prices for games? I’d like to think so. While others deny, the fact remains: we’ll never know.

Microsoft’s decision to backtrack on DRM was the result of their complete failure to communicate with gamers and the backlash that came with it.

orcs must die 1

I’m a huge fan of indie productions. Books, movies, music, video games–indie just screams innovative and against the grain. Indie doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality, but it does mean that it doesn’t employ the proven “formula” used by industry giants. Personally, I’m very anti-formula, both in what I create, and what I enjoy.

Want to start enjoying some indie games? Fortunately, Steam is swarming with them. Inexpensive, cross-platform (some will even run on Linux!) and with great replay value to boot.

Defense Grid: The Awakening

I’ve logged almost 200 hours on this simple to learn, yet difficult to master tower defense game. Defeating waves of aliens with high-tech towers has never been so fun. The AI helper is decidedly British and amusing, while the game play is intuitive and captivating. Did I mention that they recently raised a metric crapton on Kickstarter to make a sequel?

defense grid

 

Sanctum

Imagine a first person shooter and a tower defense game got married and had little game babies. Sanctum is that baby. The player character is female, which is a huge plus. While the graphics are a little primitive, there’s good fun to be had, and a great deal of replay value. If you make it to the Yogscave map, prepare yourself for being mercilessly mocked by the game. Nothing says “I’m a screw up” like a pre-recorded message taunting you after a particularly disastrous wave.

sanctum.1

 

Orcs Must Die!

There are so many kinds of love I have for this game. The amazingly stupid main character. His constant idiotic vocalizations. The voice in his head. Lots and lots of orcs to kill. It’s a cross between tower defense and an over the shoulder shooter, with plenty of traps, weapons and abilities to keep you playing. “It’s like catnip, but for orcs!”

Orcs Must Die

Nation Red

There are a few maps, lots of guns, power-ups, and even more zombies. A simple, straightforward way to blow off some steam. While it’s a top-down shooter and the gameplay options are limited, coop is a great way to spend time with technologically limited friends and family while still getting some quality zombie killing time.

It’s the zombie killing that matters.Nation Red

 

Foonzo

FoonzoWhat would you say if I told you that there was a place you could play boardgames, video & arcade games and pinball totally for free. And it has beer. And cheesecake.

It would be a little like dying and going to geek heaven, wouldn’t it?

It’s real, and it’s in Montreal.

For just a shade over a year, Cafe Foonzo has been home-away-from-home for the various breeds of gamers in Montreal. And we couldn’t be happier.

Foonzo is in the basement level of a mid-rise on Drummond Street, and when you get down the stairs and through the heavy fire-door, it’s as if you’d stepped into another world.

The walls are decorated with gorgeous pop-culture art and colourful, frolicking video game characters. A dessert case beckons from the bar. There are turtles (!!) splashing around in an aquarium. There is the cling and clash of pinball machines, the muted war of digital warfare and the impassioned groans and cheers from brave Settlers of Catan. Truly, this is a place of wonder.

Head to head street fighterTo your left is a cafe and bar, several good-sized tables, a manga and comic book shelf, and a couple of turtles. Further on are real antique pinball machines and then the coup de grace is are several custom built gaming stations for shooting games and RPGs (Fighting games?). The other whole half of the cafe is filled with pairs of big, red Ikea couches around low, wide tables. The shelves underneath these tables are stuffed with almost every board game made, and on the wall between each set are flat screen televisions linked up to a network of thousands of video games.

Just a sampling of the games on offer include:

  • Street Fighter
  • Mortal Combat
  • Zelda
  • Halo
  • GTA
  • Wii
  • Magic
  • Cranium
  • Pinball
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Dungeons & D

All of those games, activities and machines, as I mentioned above, are FREE to use for clients.

Phoun Alain Veillette Owners Phoun Siriphong and Alain Veillette are no slouches when it comes to the gamer/cafe business. They are well aware that by offering WiFi, the consoles, boards, books and extensive library of games for free they are:

  • Absolutely cementing client loyalty.
  • Encouraging an atmosphere of camaraderie.
  • Letting games be played the way they were meant to be played – with friends, food and drink.

The fact that they offer good quality, inexpensive food and Sapporo on tap seals the deal.

Foonzo Cafe plays host to a variety of tournaments attended by enthusiastic gamers from across north America. Guests all have the same thing to say: “We need one of these at home.” When I asked (hope a-glimmering in my eyes) if there were plans in the works for a second (third, fourth?) location anytime soon, Phoun gave an answer that I think assures this cafe’s success.Foonzo Pinball Machines He said that they would certainly love to have more locations, but first, it was important to really establish Foonzo, work out all the kinks and get used to business ownership. If more restaurateurs thought this way we’d have many more quality places to eat in this city.

I said it and I meant it: Disneyland has nothing on Cafe Foonzo!

Open seven days a week, 3pm to 1am.
1245 rue Drummond corner St. Catherine

Connect with Foonzo on Facebook

Photos by Chris Zacchia

Is it over already? Twelve months down and we’re (officially) into the second decade of the 21st century. With just four more years to go until we get those flying cars we were promised (holding you to this one, Mr. Zemeckis), it’s probably a good time to sit back and nurse that hangover (if you’ve still got one three days later, that is) and reflect on the year that was.

While we can’t tell you how 2010 was for you, we can say that for us here at FTB it was a helluva year. Think about it, a year ago we had just started out with a handful of regular writers, some political and arts coverage and big ambitions. Now, we have over 500 posts and eleven regular columns covering everything from sex to the environment to things Laurence doesn’t like.

We’ve also started covering a good portion of the independent music and arts scenes in Montreal and recently Brooklyn, New York, including artists you might not have heard of and festivals you probably have. Meanwhile our sports coverage which began with our unconventional Olympic coverage (the games and the protests) has continued in the form of an unabashedly pro-Habs hockey blog.

We’ve covered major events like the G20 with reports from the protests and the detention center and analysis of what the talking heads were doing behind the barricades. We’ve also continued our coverage of local stories like the ongoing saga of Café Cleopatre versus the city.

Some things have stayed the same, though, like our commitment to unconventional coverage and coverage of the unconventional and our year-old tradition of asking our writers for their favourite posts from the past year by themselves and by other writers on the site then compiling them somewhat informally into a list of ten.

So without any further adieu and in no particular order, here’s our fifteen favourite posts of the year:

Oh No! Theodore was in my living room: In what is probably the most unconventional post of our POP Montreal coverage, Cassie Doubleday reviews an unofficial living room show by Fredericton, New Brunswick based seven piece Oh No Theodore! as part of an after-hours put on by FTB. In this report, we find out that living room shows are quite the norm out east.

Macs, iPods, iPads, iPhones iRefuse to Conform: In what is probably our most controversial post of the year (among the can’t take a joke set), Mike Gwilliam takes a break from talking about video games to rail against all things Mac and in particular their marketing strategy and obsessed Mac users.

Ignorance is bliss: The non-story about the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ is Quiet Mike’s springboard into this analysis of the ignorance of a large portion of the American electorate and the sad state that leaves the country.

Game 6: Hockey Night in Hipster County: This post from the Montreal Canadiens’ improbable playoff run chronicles Jaroslav Halak’s astounding 53 saves as the Habs force a game 7 with Washington (which they will go on to win) and shows hockey blogger Cindy Lopez very pleased to admit that her predictions were wrong as she takes in the game at the (at the time dry) Café Romolo.

Mo’ Mustaches, Mo’ Money The ‘stache is sexy: Sex columnist Jessica Klein takes a look at the Movember phenomenon and urges women to sleep with a guy sporting a ‘stache. Just doin’ her part, I guess.

This is what democracy looks like?: Ally Henderson brings us a harrowing tale of being detained illegally for no apparent reason while she peacefully protested the G20 Summit in Toronto. A tale unfortunately too common during the event.

Rich Aucoin interviewed by FTB’s Cassie Doubleday: In the first of many video interviews with musicians to come, We Heart Music columnist goes one on one with the originator of funcore and fellow Haligonian Rich Aucoin. The two talk about Rich’s music, his charity and much more.

Oh Canada: FUBAR: While she reviews films from all around the world, Stephanie Laughlin definitely has a fondness for Canadian cinema. In fact, she devoted the entire month of July to covering it. Included among this plethora of Canadiana was her review of recent indie darling Fubar, the first one, which we published shortly before the sequel came out.

The whiteness of being green: In this post from late August, columnist Mel Lefebvre takes the time to reflect on why the environmental movement of which she is a part seems sometimes to be the exclusive domain of white people.

Tuesday Night in Williamsburg: This is the first report on the Brooklyn, New York music scene pubished a few months before we got a Brooklyn correspondent and written as part music review, part travel piece from the point of view of Montrealer Jason C. McLean, part of the FTB team that went down to NYC to shoot an episode of JC Sunshine and meet the locals.

JC Sunshine Ep 306: Who Killed Ricardo?: This is by far the most unique JC Sunshine episode and some say the best so far. It’s entirely narrative format and film noir style (black and white detective story for the uninformed). While it works very well on its own, there will be some story elements you might not catch if you haven’t seen the preceding episodes. So if you have the time, we recommend starting a few episodes back if not at the beginning of season 3…or just jump in and enjoy the ride!

From Montreal to Hell in an Oldsmobile: No news is good news. And this rant contains no news whatsoever. It contains Olds. If that doesn’t give you an idea if what to expect in this somewhat disjointed odyssey of a rant by Laurence Tenenbaum, or if it does, read on.

“If we amplify everything we hear nothing!” Jon Stewart tells the 250 000 who gathered at Washington DC’s National Mall Saturday: Steve Ferrara makes the trek from Brooklyn to Washington, DC and brings us this report from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colert’s Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the National Mall.

The Silicone Diaries: An intimate encounter with a silicone goddess: Theatre and arts writer Jessica Alley takes us into the world of Canadian transsexual icon Nina Arsenault as she reviews her new play currently on tour.

Postcards from the edge: In this series of images from his Carte Blance column, photographer Hugo Trottier examines ideas that come to us in the middle of the night.

Well, that’s how we saw 2010 here on FTB. We’ve got big plans for 2011 (not as big as flying cars, but way more in your face), so keep checking back and a very happy New Year to everyone from all of us at Forget The Box!

by guest columnist Jason C. McLean

They were all locked together, intertwined in ways none of them thought imaginable. Feeling coerced into this position, some wondered to themselves whether or not this was all part of some strategy, some master plan of whose making they were not sure.

They knew, in their confined position, that if enough of their brothers and sisters fell on top of them, it would surely be curtains for all. The same situation has been repeating now for decades. Not to this group specifically, but to tens of millions of their fellow blocks of various shapes.

The oncoming apocalypse, thin and rectangular in appearance

Suddenly, it appeared in the sky. Thin and rectangular in appearance, it was long enough to cover four rows of its fellow blocks in one shot. They all knew what this meant and sure enough, as if guided for a purpose, it fell right beside them. Then, it was blissful oblivion for all with only this sound to signify their demise:

Invented in Russia in 1984, Tetris is one of the most (if not the most) widely known video games in the world today. A version of it is available for every gaming console and has been since gaming consoles started.

Personally, I was introduced to Tetris via the gameboy as, apparently, many others have as well. Now, I play it on my cellphone. It’s really a great way to wait for the bus.

Over the years, developers have tried, in vain, to improve upon the game. Usually, this involves painting some sort of backdrop or attaching characters at the side of the play space that feel pain when the blocks disappear (thanks for the info, Mike). All of this is superfluous, though harmless.

Other times, they try and change the game play itself. If this involves giving other options, like most points or quickest time, it’s fine as long as the original version remains an option. There has even been quite a debate over the introduction of infinite spin into the game which is something I’ve never played with but am not completely opposed to.

If, however, it’s an alternate version completely, say one knockoff I played where there were blocks there to begin with and there was nothing you could do to get rid of them, then it’s time to give up on the knockoff and go get one of the many free (or paid) versions of the real game available.

Tetris is rare in the video game world because no matter what you do, adding to the game doesn’t make it better. No matter how many times you play it, there is always room for improvement in your Tetris skills. Skills, which according to one researcher, actually improve brain power.

If you like this game and want to know more, including the developer’s legal struggles, the possibility of endless play and the reasons why it became so widely available in the first place, there are plenty of links on the game’s Wikipedia page.

If, on the other hand, you just want to play what is still one of the best video games out there, please do so. Chances are it won’t be the first time you do.