An Ode to Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy has had great impact over the years. It’s stories have made a difference in my life, for certain, and could be labeled as the source of my inspiration in writing and the fantasy genre in general.

I have long loved the fantasy genre of fiction. Whether books, movies, or video games, I find myself pulled into worlds of mystery and magic. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, The Wheel of Time is one of my all-time favorite series in the genre (and of all time, for that matter). As a kid, I watched and enjoyed movies such as Legend, Star Wars, Labyrinth, and Willow. I can quote many lines from The Princess Bride (I consider it fantasy, even though there is little “magic”). But I never really grasped the genre until I played a little game called (ironically) Final Fantasy.

Admittedly, it has been a while since I picked up a Final Fantasy title. Aside from dabbling in some of the offshoots (Final Fantasy Tactics) or using the characters included in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, I have not really played any of the games much. I have a couple of the classics on Steam, yet I haven’t really dived into them yet. Actually, I haven’t really picked up a Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy IX on the original Playstation. I guess a big part of it is that the series seems to have slipped away from what I loved back in the glory days.

It’s not that I hate the Playstation Final Fantasies. When FF VII was released, I marveled at the FMVs that carried the story along. I enjoyed FF VIII despite its challenge. I actually liked FF IX the most of the Playstation FFs even though I never finished it (largely due to life and circumstance). But there was something missing in those entries that I could not just get. Perhaps that is why those iterations don’t really resonate with me like the earlier entries in the series.

One of the biggest moments that everyone sites from Final Fantasy VII [SPOILER WARNING from here on out] was when Aeris was killed by Sephiroth. I admit that I was shocked at that moment too, but I think I was more mad than anything. I spent so much time leveling up and powering up the character for her to be gone not even half way through the game. The emotional resonance just was not there as strong for me.

Those who site Aerith’s Death as the most impactful obviously did not live through the sacrifice of Palom And Porom who turned themselves to stone to save the party. Sure, they were restored at the end, but it still stung when it happened. Then there was the moment when Celes, stranded all alone after the world broke, threw herself from a cliff in desperation because all hope was seemingly gone. And while she did so, a version of the song she sang at the opera played sorrowfully in the background, adding to the raw emotion of the scene. It was a masterpiece.

No, nothing beats the glory days of the SNES Final Fantasies. I stand by that statement! Final Fantasy IV and VI (2 and 3 as I remember them) were the real games that got me into the genre of fantasy and, also, inspired me to become a writer. From the moment that the airships are flying across the screen, the story of Final Fantasy IV pulled me in and never let go. Sure, it had some moments of cheesiness, but often that cheesiness added to the narrative in a delightful way (I’m looking at you, “Spoony Bard”). It was an epic battle of Good vs Evil with characters coming and going that elevate it to the Lord of the Rings of video games. It was amazing what could be accomplished with 16-bit sprites.

If Final Fantasy IV was the video game equivalent of LotR, then Final Fantasy VI could easily be equated to Game of Thrones. I mentioned before the scene where one of the main characters attempts suicide. But that is just one of many impactful scenes. The number of impactful, sorrowful, or just plain emotional scenes could fill a book. It was story telling at its finest.

Despite the more steampunk setting, FF VI had the pivotal impact that drove home my desires for my future. I just didn’t know how to get there at the time. Since that game, the phoenix has resonated with me. I feel it is because of the scene where Locke (who I always assumed as myself when playing) attempted to raise his lost love through the power of the phoenix. Now, I have a tattoo of a phoenix on my back. Perhaps it is because no matter what hardships I go through, I keep rising back up to face new challenges.

Whatever the case, Final Fantasy has clearly had a great impact on me and my life. I will always remember the trips I took along the way. Whether it was flying to the moon or taking an airship into the earth and dealing with Dwarves or defying a tyrant by “riding” a castle into the sand or spending a night at the opera, the fondness of those memories will carry on forever.

With that said, I have been working on a project over the last few weeks that would bring my own game to life. Utilizing the program RPG Maker MZ (a tool designed for making games similar to Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest). It is a game dedicated and for my daughter, Savannah. As of this moment, I am about halfway through the outline for the story, and I have found many scenes and elements that are reminiscent of those old Final Fantasy stories. The theme of crystals has popped up in my story and I have quite a few little homages to the series. I find it fitting.

In the days and weeks to come, I would like to share some of the development of this game, and eventually, when I complete it, share it to the world. While the story is more lighthearted and a bit tongue-in-cheek (it IS for a soon-to-be 6-year-old), some deeper elements are seeping in. That is OK. I would be happy if it grows with her. Ultimately, I hope that, years from now, it causes the same feelings for her that I feel for those classic Final Fantasy titles.

Conclusion I’m far from the first person to point out the irony of the use of the word “final” in the title. Not just because the games are still being made, but because of how long even the earlier ones have endured. For me, it was not final, but a beginning.

How I Got Caught in The Wheel of Time

A look at Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, its impact on me and the upcoming TV series adaptation on Amazon Prime.

Over a decade ago, my mind got run over by a “wheel.” Not just any wheel, I am referring to The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I was not expecting it. At the time, there were 11 books published in the series and one prequel novel. The final novel was in the works. Only, the untimely death of the author threw everything into question. Fortunately, Harriet McDougal, Jordan’s widow and editor, ensured his legacy would see its end by bringing in Brandon Sanderson to finish the series (and in turn, dividing the last book into 3 for a total of 14 main series books).

The series would have a major impact on me, setting me on my own path of wanting to be a writer to doing it. It has inspired me. The worldbuilding within the series guides me in my own efforts. Following is how I got into the series to begin with, and my thoughts on the upcoming TV adaptation. There might be some minor spoilers, so tread with caution. Still, there shouldn’t be any of too much significance.

MY HISTORY

In 2003, I rejoined the Navy and was eventually stationed on the USS Enterprise (CVN 65). While stationed on the ship, I spent many days/weeks/months at sea. It was during this time that I took up reading a lot. Before that time, I had only read a handful of fictional books of my own choosing (other than the ones forced on my by schools). I got my entertainment from movies and video games. Despite that, I had built up a collection of books and I took some with me. That is when I got into reading R. A. Salvatore.

His books drew me in. I read all the released Drizzt books, The Cleric Quintet, the first three books of the Demon Wars saga, and many of his other series. I guess, in part, it was his name that drew me… Salvatore. But I stayed for the memorable characters and wild adventures. Now, I had heard of The Wheel of Time at this point, but I hadn’t gotten around to it yet. I was enjoying my time in the Forgotten Realms.

It was during the summer of 2007, after I left my service in the Navy, that I decided to see what that series was about. I sat down and started reading The Eye of the World. About halfway through the book, I set it down. It was while Rand and Mat were on the road to Caemlyn. I was getting wary of the journey and it seemed like nothing was going right. (I would later find out that if I had just stuck it out a few more pages, that feeling would have begun to change.) So, I put the book down and went back to Drizzt and company.

The following year, I started a job in Washington, D.C. At the time, I lived in Baltimore, Maryland (north of the city, in fact) and, at first, I rode the train for my commute. While dealing with a nearly 2-hour commute twice a day, I needed an escape. That is when I found audiobooks. I decided that maybe I’ll give The Wheel of Time another try and downloaded the audio of The Eye of the World. From the moment I heard Michael Kramer’s voice, I knew I was caught.

Over the next few months, I ran through every book available. Then as soon as the last three books were available, I got them and listened as well.  When I was at work imaging workstations, I was listening. When I started driving to work because I had to be there earlier than the trains ran, I connected my iPod to my car and listened while driving (that certainly helped to save my sanity during those years). Michael Kramer and Kate Reading filled my head. Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, Min, Loial, and all the rest became my friends. I was hooked!

There are a lot of factors that drew me into the series. From characters to the worldbuilding, there is a lot to admire about The Wheel of Time. Those factors all gripped me, along with the many themes found throughout the books. The greatest of those themes, for me, is the theme of balance.

Balance is very important to me. I consider it one of my core philosophies, the primary tenet of my spirituality. Many times, I had professed about how the world is made up of opposites and one element cannot exist without its opposite. If there is no heat, there can be no cold, no evil, there can be no good, et cetera. To read a book series that echoes my very tenets back to me was unreal.

THE UPCOMING TV ADAPTATION

After finally getting into the series, I soon began digging for whatever information I could find about the series. I located fan sites such as Dragonmount and Encyclopedia WOT that delved into the series, with the latter giving recaps of each chapter of each book and breakdowns on characters, settings, etc. I also came across Leigh Butler at tor.com with her reread blogs.

During that time, a little TV show began airing that peaked some folks interest in the mainstream. Something called “Game of Thrones.”  If you haven’t heard of it, it was a TV show based on a series of fantasy novels that had some moderate success in bringing in viewers. The thought of this got me excited for the possibility of a Wheel of Time production.

I began looking up information for a potential movie or TV series adaptation for The Wheel of Time. Other than a bunch of speculation, there were not many hints of any production. Mostly just legal issues that were hindering progress. I did come across a short fan-made film entitled Flight from Shadow. Then came the dreaded Winter’s Dragon premiere that rocked the fandom and fueled more legal issues. Finally came an announcement, 5 years ago, from Robert Jordan’s widow, Harriet, that all matters had been resolved and they were moving forward on plans to create a series.

The next few years saw a slew of details eke out of the nether and engulfing the fandom (while the rest of the world lay unknown about what was going on). We learned that Sony Pictures had picked up the series and that Amazon was working on the production. We learned the showrunner was Rafe Judkins, who soon enlisted the help of Sarah Nakamura, a Wheel of Time guru, to act as “book liaison.” This was all great news. We started learning about writers and directors and cinematographers, many who were top-notched and respected, being involved. Then came the casting news.

I have to admit, I was not familiar with Rosemund Pike when she was first announced to be portraying Moiraine in the TV show. But I soon learned who she was and began to grow excited. Then they announced Daniel Henney as Lan who I was mildly familiar from episodes of Criminal Minds that I happened to catch. Then came the ultimate blow… the flurry of announcements of the Emond’s Field Five. The central characters around which the series follows. And I knew nothing about them. My mind went blank as I stared at the screen through those announcements. These are the people that I came to know and love?

So, I thought, and I thought. I looked up info about the actors. I watched videos from WOT analysts like Nae’blis, Rebecca (from Reading the Pattern), and Daniel Greene. Slowly (then quickly), I began to like these actors. I liked the fact that they were relative unknowns to begin with. A show like this is a great way to introduce great new talent to the masses. While sitting with my daughter, flipping channels, I came across the pilot episode of Power Rangers Ninja Steel which has the actress portraying Nynaeve, Zoe Robins. Interesting… Then I took my daughter to the Dora the Explorer movie which included Madeleine Madden in the cast. I was beginning to feel out the actors who were cast as the EF5 and I liked what I saw.

So, it was settled! I was full on the “hype train” and looking forward to a see the show in action. #TwitterofTime became a thing (an amazing group of people including named character accounts and regular fans alike who have fun with all things Wheel of Time, including polls provided by @RogueAelfinn *WoTPolls*). In a way, #TwitterOfTime has become a bit of a family within the fandom where we discuss the books, the shows, and even personal events that affect us. It is fandom at its best!

Amazon released a table read which cranked up the engine. New cast members were announced ranging from major characters to minor. Production started in Prague back in September of 2019. Of course, nobody saw the log on the rail that would bring the train to a screeching halt.

By this time, I had been riding the hype of the potential series for a while now. I was looking forward to it as a way to introduce my friends and family to the series. My fiancée and I watched Game of Thrones together and I have been looking forward to getting her into The Wheel of Time. She doesn’t like audiobooks so it is hard to get her into it that way. And it looked like everything was running along swimmingly. That is, until that dirty, no good virus-that-shall-not-be-named showed up and wreaked havoc across the globe.

The delays left a drought of information. On the one hand, the delays did not stop production altogether as Rafe Judkins ensured that post-production for the episodes already shot were well underway. They were able to resume filming the remaining episodes and it appears that the marketing is gearing up to extend beyond the fanbase. That is a good thing. Over the past few months, Amazon Prime has been releasing short clip teasers revealing items and now characters from the show. The most recent is Daniel Henney as Lan (looking badass).

Still, some worries have crept in. Increasing talks of changes to the story have filled the internet. While changes are expected, the sting that was Game of Thrones season 8 are all too recent. The fears that changes done here in season one will drastically impact later storylines from the books. Worries about what scenes from the book will survive the adaptation (I may do my own “Must Have” list soon). At least we know that the show is in the hands of fans in Rafe Judkins and Sarah Nakamura. For my own humanity and entertainment, I picture Sarah chasing Rafe around the set, copy of the book in hand with notes and markers hanging out, in a Benny Hill like fashion over proposed changes.

*******

In the end, I leave my trust to the cast and crew of the show. Knowing that Harriet and Brandon are involved in the show gives me hope that it will fulfill the desire to watch the show play out on a screen and to introduce our friends and family to the series. Whether the show will succeed or fail, well, we’ll have to see how the wind takes us. Until then, “let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.”

Movie Review: Mortal Kombat

A quick (mostly spoiler free) review of the new Mortal Kombat movie.

When the first Mortal Kombat movie came out over 25 years ago, I was a fan. I loved the game; and the movie, while watered down and a bit cheesy, was still fun. Between the fight scenes and Christopher Lambert’s slightly over-the-top portrayal of Raiden (meant in as lovable of a way as possible), I felt thoroughly entertained.

Fast forward to today and I have to say, the 2021 reboot is even better and a worthy of its name. There was still a little cheese and some strange plot moves (like a character being abandoned and suddenly returning later), but other than that, I feel that it pays true homage to its source material. It shows that the writer knew the game series well.

The plot was less cheesy then the 1995 movie and, despite a couple choppy scenes, flowed well overall. Without getting too “spoilly,” the mystery of the new character, Cole Young, and how he fits into the mythology is strongly hinted at early on and fully revealed about half way in. The fight scenes were well worth it and included the gore that you’d expect from the source game without overdoing it (too much). They pumped me up and even gave me a thrill when certain catch phrases were unleashed, even when I predicted their usage a second before they were thrown out.

If there was anything I felt fell short was, as mentioned before, a couple choppy story elements. I would have liked a bit more development for some of the characters and character interactions. Perhaps I am a little spoiled by the Snyder Cut of Justice League now. There certainly felt like there were some scenes left out that would have helped the narrative. But, as far as I’m concerned, those were minor. Maybe a director’s cut will come out including some of those scenes, but what we did get was enjoyable enough.

Overall, I had an fun time with the flick and it helped to keep my attention during the whole movie. There was a good bit of nostalgia that pulled me back to playing the game, more so than the ’95 movie. I would definitely recommend to fans of the game or to fans of action movies and fantasy. Just be ready for a lot of blood.

Geek Dad

The love between a father and daughter can be a strong one. When you share a joy, it only makes it that much better.

Among the greatest joys in my life is raising my daughter. From the moment she was born, by bond with her was forged and has continued to grow. As she has gotten older, she has developed quite the personality. She is now five years old (she’ll be six in September), and despite some frustrations, I can’t love her any more.

One of the greatest bonds that we have is our love of many things that fall in the “geek” domain. She has turned into quite the gamer already. She’s even beaten me a couple times at Mario Kart 8. Her last birthday was even Super Mario themed. Heck, she wanted me to build a “Super Mario World” (complete with Question Mark Blocks that we could jump up and hit and flag poles we could slide down) in our backyard, but that was a bit out of my budget (and expertise).

When she was younger, I often put her to bed saying “sweet dreams of unicorns, butterflies, and rainbows.” She loves unicorns now. She is my princess (I don’t care if that is cliché). She’s no delicate princess. She is a tomboy through and through. She’ll wear a princess dress and swing a sword around with a snarl on her face that would put Rocky Balboa to shame.

I’ve done my best to foster her love of “geekdom.” We watched many shows on Nick Jr and Disney Jr that had fantastical elements. Some of our favorites have always been Shimmer and Shine, Wallykazam!, Nella the Princess Knight… just to name a few. I bought books such as The ABC’s of D&D and The 123s of D&D by Ivan Van Norman, and Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke. If you have seen some of my previous posts, I have even gotten her into tabletop RPGs via Amazing Tales.

Going forward, I hope to encourage her further (while I still have some influence). From Harry Potter to Willow, The Lord of the Rings to The Wheel of Time, and The Legend of Zelda to Dungeons & Dragons, I look forward to many adventures with her. Maybe one day her path may veer away from the world of Geeks and, if it does, I am OK with that. But perhaps the bonds that we share now will carry on her love and enjoyment and be more of a legacy than any book I may publish.

Worse comes to worse, maybe I can get her future brother/sister to take up the mantle.