Final Fantasy IX

I’ve been replaying a lot of Final Fantasies lately. It started with 12 (the zodiac age!), a japanese star wars; then I switched to 7 (the remake!), the edgiest of the bunch barring 8, and then I landed on nine. And man, I love Final Fantasy IX.

When it came out in 2000 (a few years before I had a PlayStation and could actually play the damn thing at full-speed and not emulated on a PC without a dedicated GPU), Final Fantasy IX was supposed to be a victory lap of what was arguably one of the most successful video game series of the 90s. It had all the tropes and then some. And man, teenage me looooved me some tropes.

Now that I’m older, I enjoy Final Fantasy IX differently. I enjoy its incredibly rich world. Its amazing characters, who, like no other Final Fantasy, can carry both the comedy and the tragedy embedded in the wonderful script. And man, that music… it’s something else.

Unfortunately, it looks like a playstation game. Because it is. It’s got the crude models, the blocky backgrounds, that weird floaty polygon effect that happened because 3D graphics were just out of the Playstation’s reach. And because I always played it on a Playstation console (or a vita), I could do squat about it.

But now, for the first time in ages, I have a PC. And I can mod it.

Enter the Moguri Mod, a modification bigger than the game itself that, with a few clicks, transforms the game in widescreen and wonderful HD. Suddenly, those blocky backgrounds look the way they were intended, like wonderful paintings of beautiful locales; the music sounds amazing, and the character models… them polygons don’t float, man.

Just click the link and look at the trailer and tell me that ain’t the most precious thing ever!

Final Fantasy IX is my happy place. And now it’s a happy place that doesn’t look like shit.

PS Quina is the absolute best character ever and I won’t be convinced otherwise.

Arkham Horror – the card game

If the amount of posts in the last years haven’t been an indicator: I’ve been busy. Between an incredibly demanding but rewarding job, a family with children and a global fucking pandemic, there’s been way too little time for fun. Not because there is no time – worse: when the time is there, I have no energy for it.

And yet, over the last year, I’ve always been able to squeeze in a round of Arkham on Sunday nights.

For those wondering: Arkham Horror is a board game universe, set in the roaring twenties, that loosely draws on an indiana jonesized version of the infamous horror stories by H.P. Lovecraft. They usually involve archetypes (the mobster! the street urchin! the millionaire!) battling against cosmic beings that are very hard to spell. Arkham Horror has three boardgame versions (I’ll probably write something about the excellent third edition sometime) and the reason I’m writing this: a card game.

Now I’ve been burnt by card games. Summer of 2000, fifteen year-old me spent all his hard-earned money on Magic: The Gathering cards. So let’s just say I was a bit hesitant. But one argument swayed me: the cards in these packs are fixed. You know what you’re going to get.

And what you get is quite amazing. You get an interactive story in multiple parts, where the first session might have you start in a local town investigating a disappearance – and then eight sessions later you’re in outer space fighting witches and a cosmic fucking being. Things go delightfully off the rails, all the odds are stacked against you, but even if you lose, the story somehow goes on. It’s choose your own adventure meets deckbuilding and it’s delicious. And how’s the deckbuilding, you say? Well it’s quite the thing. One campaign, I took the millionaire – whose special power is, you guessed it, having a small fortune – and turned him into a philanthropist. Another campaigned, I played a boxer that could draw cards whenever he punched a monster – cards that of course lead to more punches being dealt.

It’s storytelling times three through cardboard, and it’s completely my thing. Firstly, every Sunday evening, we experience a story simply by arranging cards on the table and reading some texts, like a form of D&D lite. Secondly, we choose characters and build them using cards that enhance their innate traits, as if we were equipping them in an RPG. And thirdly, we play those cards, battling hordes of enemies, in an order that causes stories to emerge out of nowhere. In one turn, I shoot at a monster and miss, but then I play a card and suddenly my bullet ricochets into the cultist next to him. It’s so much fun.

So yeah, Sunday nights are for battling ancient ones now. If anyone wants to join, grab your tommygun and join the fun!

Hades

There’s this theory in gaming that the reason people like video games is because, when everything comes together, inputs become automatic, like clockwork. You lose track of your surroundings and see nothing but the screen. You’re completely in the flow.

Now, I like video games, but I rarely get this. Usually, after half an hour, I get antsy and feel the need to get up and do something useful. Games have to really click to consume me.

Then I played Hades!

Hades is a roguelike – a game in which you keep on repeating an arduous and difficult “run” through a semi-randomized set of levels. In Hades, you play as Zagreus, the titular god’s son, and the run is escaping the underworld. The semi-randomized part is a meticulously crafted set of variables: Not only do enemies change, but your uncles and aunts on Mount Olympus give you certain boons to help you in your escape attempt. For instance, Poseidon might imbue my attacks with tidal waves, whereas Zeus has the power of lightning. Every ability interacts, making sure that no two runs are alike.

I think roguelikes are okay. I’m not a huge fan of the time investment involved in mastering and finishing one – often times, I get bored by the second or third run. But Hades has a hook: Every time you die, you end up with your father, and the story continues. This game is filled to the brim with beautifully recorded dialogue and superb characters, making sure you go for one more run, just so you know how the story unfolds.

This narrative is a brilliant idea, no surprise coming from Supergiant, the makers of Bastion, Transistor and Pyre, who’ve always been strong storytellers. Bastion and Transistor exist on pretty much every computer, tablet or smart fridge, you should try them out, if only for the art style and the story. Or better yet:

Hades. It’s on switch, so you can play it on the toilet.

(Do people still do blogs nowadays?)