Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Guns Are Up Here - Female Roles in Video Games

Over the centuries, women have been repressed and shoved back into certain roles in their communities, those roles having usually involved children or cooking. But in modern times, the idea of a powerful woman is becoming more appealing to a lot of people. Power that gives us all tremendously great women to look up to and admire. This could be powerful in a business or otherwise corporate sense, in the sense of sheer popularity, or--as the focus of the article will be about--impressive physical strength or agility such as in video games and movies.


Ferocious Divas

Throughout the years, there are been a significant number of incredibly influential women in the media, such as
movie actresses and music sensations. But lately, even though there are quite a few ridiculously popular and incredibly powerful women in the mainstream media, some of the most interesting women in current times aren't even real! Which shows how badly humanity is craving strong women to look up to. The video game corporations seem to acknowledge this by constantly bringing strong female protagonists to the forefront of the industry and they're commanding a lot of attention by doing so.

With strong female leads like
Bayonetta and Heavy Rain's Madison Paige giving a lot of us video game-fanatics strong incentive to buy video games just to see a woman kick some hardcore butt--you have to wonder where this trend started and why a lot of us seem to love it so much more than even the most worthy male leads lately. One theory is that the Tomb Raider  series had a significant impact on the demand for video games with strong female leads. This type of game seems to have taken a step in a direction that was purposefully intended to break the stigma surrounding games with a single female protagonist being a 'girl's game.' Now-a-days, guys are much more interested in playing as female characters than they might have been a decade or more ago. We can probably thank Lara Croft for that. Well, her and the fact that a lot of guys are perverts. But most of us just want a bad-ass woman to cheer on.


Fantasy And Reality

As we rush swiftly into the future, it is hard to look back and believe women couldn't even vote just a little over a century ago. That means my great grandmother and her Mother were unable to vote, and my grandmother just barely avoided that dreadful era. What a scary and disconcerting thought. And yet, just two years ago for the first time in history, a woman
participated in the primary elections to be President of the United States of America. That is a great feeling knowing that humanity has some form of hope if we can come so far in such a small amount of time.

The harsh reality of what women have been through seems to fuel many people's longing and adoration for the concept of a strong woman standing up and taking charge. Even more-so when the whole planet, or even the entire universe rests on a single woman's shoulders. Such as has been the case in countless fantasy-themed video games. Specifically, the Final Fantasy series and the trend of female summoners and sorceresses saving all life as they know it.

Rising to the Challenge

Throughout the Final Fantasy series, we have watched strong female leads play intricate roles in saving the world. But as each new installment falls into the hands of the eagerly awaiting public, it seems the female protagonists become even more and more prominent. Looking way back when the series first turned 3D with the Playstation release of Final Fantasy VII, we see Aerith and Tifa playing significant parts in the story, and in the end, Aerith actually being the one who saves the world from Sephiroth's Meteor by amping up the power of Holy to counter it and protect the planet. All this after she dies and becomes some kind of spirit of the earth apparently (spoilers from 13 year old games don't count!)

As the franchise continues, we see Rinoa take on the powers of the sorceresses before her and help save not just the world in Final Fantasy VIII, but the entire time-space continuum! From there, Square-Enix takes us to the multiple worlds of Final Fantasy IX, where Princess Garnet/Dagger learns of her Summoner heritage and teams up with another young female Summoner named Eiko, where together they summon impossibly strong 'Eidolons' like Alexander to counter the summons Garnet's adoptive mother stole from her in an attempt to dominate the world. And then we come to Final Fantasy X. Yuna's role was so significant in this game's storyline that it virtually eclipsed the 'main protagonist's' role completely. His part in the story was simply to be Yuna's guardian and lover as she traveled the world to collect up her Aeons to summon in the fight to save the world.


Coming Out on Top

Skipping Final Fantasy XI because of its general lack of a main protagonist, because every player's individual character can be considered the main character of the game, we're going to move on to Final Fantasy XII, where again--like in Final Fantasy X--the female lead's role overshadows the 'main protagonist's' role so severely that--this time--the main character has literally no role in the story at all. Honestly, it seems that he is just there to be there. But this seems intentional by Square-Enix, as they seem to have been inching closer to this new approach they take in most recent installment for quite some time. The company looks to have slowly worked their way up to the first ever game in the franchise where the female lead is quite literally the main character. They did this by slowly pushing the male leads into insignificant story roles while bringing the females into the spotlight one game at a time. But I have to say, Square-Enix did good. Many of us long-time Final Fantasy fans would go as far as to declare that Final Fantasy XIII has one of the most kick-ass main characters in the franchise. The last Final Fantasy game I can probably say the same about, was way back in Final Fantasy VIII with Squall and his Renzokuken and Lionheart combo Limit Break.

In Final Fantasy XIII, Square-Enix went all out with their first true female main protagonist, giving her the attitude, body, weapons, strength, and acrobatics to make her one of the best fantasy game characters in a very long time. The best part about it though? A lot of men are having fun playing as female characters. I'll let you decide if that is a good or a bad thing in the end!


   Author: Devin Gaughan  2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Final Fantasy X-2 and its Potential in Final Fantasy XIV

We've all heard it before, hardcore Final Fantasy fans (like myself), whining about how bad the most recent Final Fantasy game is compared to the previous installments. Final Fantasy X-2 in particular got a lot of hate, from myself included. But how much of that was truly warranted? It definitely did not do the first Final Fantasy X game justice, but that was admittedly hard to do, and as horrible as the mission system was in X-2, the game had a great battle system and the storyline finished up where the first game left off quite well.

Deja Vu

The reason for this article is simply because of my renewed interest in the game many loved and others hated which is inspired by my current play-through of this well-timed sequel while waiting for the real focus of my current interests, Final Fantasy XIV. As I play through this game for the umpteenth dozenth time, I can't help but recognize so many similarities between it and other games in the franchise, even the most current unreleased installment, FFXIV. Although that may simply be the job system and other Final Fantasy staples giving overwhelming familiarity, it still makes me realize how often the same systems are used over and over again in these games.

We have seen the same systems reappear many times throughout the series in many different forms, for example; The 'Grid' system which has become popular lately, making appearences in Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy XII, and Final Fantasy XIII as well as in spin-offs of those games. Don't get me wrong, I love the grid system, and familiar systems tend to work well because the learning curve isn't very big for returning Final Fantasy franchise players. Sometimes you have to wonder how many times Square-Enix can regurgitate the same systems before they become completely stale though.

Cloning What Works

This brings me to Final Fantasy XIV and the systems it is apparently set to employ. The class system has been in many Final Fantasy games, however this time around it is slightly changed up a bit by fusing classes together into hybrids which effectively slims down the overall number of battle-related classes and gives each class the ability to perform multiple roles at the same time in any given situation. This makes sense because of how the traditional class system in Final Fantasy XI ended up with certain--very specialized--classes that were useless for more than 90% of game content. I see this as Square-Enix fixing one of the biggest mistakes with their last Final Fantasy MMO.

But the one system which will be making a reappearance in FFXIV that has really piqued my interests is the way abilities and spells are learned from the skill level in your currently equipped weapon. We saw this in Final Fantasy II and most recently in Final Fantasy XI. However, magic in Final Fantasy XI was learned from scrolls you used when you reached the appropriate level, whereas melee weapon skills were learned automatically when your skill in a weapon reached sufficient skill level. Abilities in Final Fantasy XI were learned automatically as well, but like magic, they were based on character level.

Final Fantasy XIV seems to be set out to combined all of these into a single way for obtaining new action commands, based directly on the way weapon skills were acquired in Final Fantasy XI. For example; As a Conjurer, when your Elemental Magic skill reaches level 150, you may automatically learn Blizzard II. But when your Staff skill reaches level 150, you may automatically learn Chainspell. This kind of system seems to work really well for an MMO environment, and it also seems to be very popular among Final Fantasy XI players. However, that may be the sheer familiarity of it factoring into people's biased opinions.

Personally, I have played Final Fantasy XI for almost 8 years, and I did enjoy the skill up system, however; I am ready for something new and exciting. Unfortunately, Square-Enix has set out to do what it does best. Regurgitating already established and working systems from older Final Fantasy games, with a slight twist. This makes me especially sad when it comes to Final Fantasy XIV, because the majority of the game is seemingly cloned straight from it's predecessor, Final fantasy XI. I had hoped at the very least, they would have completely redone the battle system to make it more exciting and faster than the worn-out near-decade-old system from FFXI.

Craving Something New

This is where Final Fantasy X-2 comes in. The best part about the game, aside from the storyline finishing up where Final Fantasy X left off, is the battle system. Using Dress spheres to change classes on the fly, and each dress sphere having a list of abilities it can learn by gaining AP (Ability Points), is a great system that may be overused, but if they (Square-Enix) were going to reuse an old system like they are doing anyway, perhaps they could have used one that was actually a bit more interactive and entertaining with a better sense of control and accomplishment like the well-designed system in FFX-2 gives to the player.

The class system was already there within Final Fantasy XIV's development plans, as was the way to change classes on the fly, but instead of making an engaging way to learn new abilities and spells, it seems Square-Enix took the easiest route and built character progression in a way that simply throws new skills at you as you reach required levels.

Boring.

Obviously it is a bit too late for them to spruce it up at this point, but perhaps they can keep it in mind for their next online iteration of the Final Fantasy franchise.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Google's Coming Game Store

We all know how popular FarmVille and Bejeweled are on Facebook, and they're big money-makers as well. So it only makes sense for everyone to want in on the action. But Google isn't just pushing out flash-based internet games, oh no, Google has much bigger plans.

This morning at the Google I/O 2010 event, the company seemingly destined to become the real life equivalent to Skynet made a major announcement concerning their incredibly popular Chrome browser. Apparently Google is opening up a 'web apps store' for the Chrome browser which will appear on your new tabs page. Apps you buy in this tore will have their icons pinned to the new tab page for easy access to them.

This is big news for a couple reasons. Firstly, it gives web app developers an easy way to make some money for their effort, mainly because of the ease of purchasing this store seems to provide. But the main reason this announcement is such great news, is not only is the store offering flash-based games, and PC games like Bejeweled 2, but it will allow the browser to run 3D games the same way as they would on your desktop via HTML5's ability to access and take advantage of your computer's hardware. That means your browser games will be able to render themselves using that top-of-the line GPU you just installed. What this does for Google, is gives them the potential to become a provider of not only popular web apps like TweetDeck and Pandora, but also games like FIFA World Cup 2010 and Lego Star Wars.

A huge step up from the 2D or pseudo-3D games you're used to on Facebook, the Chrome web apps store could very well turn into the next Steam if Google does it right. It doesn't seem quite ready to launch just yet, but we could start seeing a lot more CPU/GPU-intensive games added to Google's Chrome web apps store lineup soon.

This step forward in the direction of gaming is definitely intentional by Google, as a way to give their upcoming Chrome OS a viable option for gaming. But only time will tell if it will come anywhere near close to the way games are currently played on a Windows desktop. I'm sure some more interesting announcements regarding this store will becoming soon, so I'll be waiting anxiously for more details about the gaming aspect of this potential Steam-competitor.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Two hour long FFXIV Alpha video!

If you guys are obsessed with Final Fantasy XIV enough, you might just be willing to watch this two hour long video of game-play from the Alpha client. It doesn't seem to show anything we didn't already know from other sources, but it does kind of give you the feeling of actually playing the game or what it might be like to play the game... just without the actual playing part.

If you have a good two hours to kill, you might as well sit down and watch through it. I'm not going to tell you it will be time well spent, but while watching it, it like it will get us a tad more familiar with the game mechanics so we're more comfortable than the other noobs upon official game release, or even beta test phase.

You can find the video link in my Google Buzz post here. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Complete Conjurer Details

Over on my other blog, Aura Auberon, which I named after my future Final Fantasy XIV character name, I went ahead and compiled most of the information we currently know about the Conjurer class of the Disciples of Magic.

It basically just lists all of the Conjurer's spell and ability repertoire found within the Alpha client data files, but I tossed in a few officially released pictures just to give it a bit of flash. I'd post more pictures but you can already find really great in-game screenshots over at leakerz.com.

If you're interested in learning more about the Conjurer class, go ahead and keep an eye on my Conjurer Guide over at my other blog. I'll be updating it with any important new Conjurer information that becomes available the moment I see it, so bookmark it or follow me on Twitter for announcements about updates to the guide and other parts of the FFXIV blogs!

I hope you all are as excited for Final Fantasy XIV as I am!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Final fantasy XIV Alpha videos

I was poking around online and came across Leakerz.com and a few of their recent videos on YouTube. I posted four of their most recent video links on Google Buzz, which you can see in my post here.

I've also been poking through Leakerz.com's image galleries, and they are quite impressive. They show the game in surprising detail, from the plethora of different monster and beast species, to different character creation customization options, and even the beautiful scenery that I am most looking forward to in Eorzea. You can check out these galleries here and here.

Enjoy!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Final Fantasy XIV Poll

So I've been curious lately about other Final Fantasy fan's opinion about the new features to debut in the upcoming MMORPG, Final Fantasy XIV. The game seems quite heavily influenced by Square-Enix's previous online iteration in the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy XI. Actually, the two games use nearly identical races in the character creation when a new player sets up their character.

Quite a bit of the scenery seems reminiscent of specific areas of Final Fantasy XI as well. But that could just be a coincidence, considering the same team developed both games.

There seems to be some huge changes in gameplay systems however. And this is where my curiousity gets the best of me. I would sincerely like to know what my fellow Final Fantasy fans think of the coming features within the Final Fantasy XIV world of Eorzea. Some of them seem like they could be incredible, while others leave me on the fence about whether or not the change from Final Fantasy XI's system is a good idea.

Let me know what you all think by taking part in this poll!

http://goo.gl/ZYXj