Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A Short Post For An Old Friend

Last night I got to thinking. I realised that since the summer, I haven't really used my PS2, instead opting for Fable III and Final Fantasy XIII on my boyfriend's Xbox 360. Then I thought that it was a shame that none of the games due to be released that I want will be on that console, because you know what? I love my old, fat PS2.

When I first got it, I really wasn't much of a gamer, and as such, I can say with great regret that I did own the Pop Idol game. I can say with greater regret that I still own the Pop Idol game, however I have no idea where it is, nor any desire to know.

Anyway, at first, I was hot and cold on the whole gaming thing. There were long periods where the poor console would sit alone and unloved, until the summer when I picked up Final Fantasy VII, and thus began my three year slog to the finish line, with multiple restarts and distractions in between. The PS2 stuck with me though, and soon we picked up other favourites, such as La Pucelle: Tactics, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy XII, Odin Sphere, and the Persona games.

We had some good times, me and that console. It was featured in a drawing that a friend did about an outburst I had while playing Final Fantasy XII ("MORE DRAGONS?!!!"), and it bore witness to the six times I was reduced to a tearful, wibbly wreck during Persona 3. It was also there for me in my trauma over getting the wrong ending in Persona 4 (I will explain this further in my next post, which will be Persona related), and my elation at finally, finally finishing La Pucelle. Not to mention that it has given me my cosplay idea for D-Con this coming March.

So here's to you Playstation 2. The Xbox may be shinier than you are, and the Playstation 3 may be shinier still (in literal terms) but you're still the best. I shall honour you in cosplay my friend.

Just... let's not talk about the whole Pop Idol thing, okay?

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Mint's Waffliest of Waffles

Hi everyone, Warcraft has eaten my life. Here is a blog post.

Okay, so last time, before my long waffle about why it's okay that I write fanfiction stop judging me! I mentioned that I was also going to write a post on video games. However, since most of my video game preferences lean heavily on the JRPG side of things, this post is pretty much just going to be about the various Final Fantasy games I've played. I'm sure I'll get around to doing one on Persona 3 and 4 at some point too.

This isn't going to be about gameplay, because I'm one of those people who'll pretty much play whatever Square Enix throws out, and I'll find something to like about it.

And so, without further ado (mostly because I have no idea what other general rubbish I can ramble on about right now) here is the post about the stuff.

Note: These aren't in order of me playing them, just in series order.

I'm gonna start off by saying I'm not a hardcore Final Fantasy fan. I enjoy the games, but I'm a relative newcomer to the series, and as such, didn't play the original games back on the SNES. And so, it was the new DS copy of FFIII that I picked up a few years back. Of course, being one of the earlier games, III followed the basic premise of 'there is evil, you are heroes, go get on that' and not much else, and all the DS version really did was to give the main characters actual names. That said, it was still very enjoyable, although naturally there was much level-grinding involved in between major storyline events.

Despite the plot being as basic as it was, the updated graphics, interesting bits of storyline and the challenges of some of the dungeons (ye gods I hated that damned volcano) got me through this pretty quickly. The world had enough interesting stuff going on in it to keep me occupied, and despite being rather bland overall, the characters had been given enough personality to at least let me connect with them a little. Although apprently they were also given enough to spawn a surprising amount of yaoi fanfiction in the fandom.

Lookin' at you there Arc...
Overall, I enjoyed playing the game, even though my paranoid levelling up before the endgame proceeded to make it far too easy (not that this is a bad thing, I usually like that, it was just too easy in places. Poor Xande...).

Again, this was the DS Version, and was one of the more recent ones that I played. The first FF game with plot, IV was really entertaining, until I hit a snag and stopped playing and still haven't got back to it...

In any case, I enjoyed what I did play of it. Along with the shiny graphics of the opening cinematic and the pretty good in-game graphics, the characters were entertaining and featured voice acting! Now, although I usually love Yuri Lowenthal as a voice actor, his little performance here was a bit... eh. On the other hand, I could marry Kain's voice actor (the other guy in that video, with the lovely deep voice. Yum). Anyway, aside from that, what I played of the storyline was enjoyable; political intrigue, betrayal, loyalties, little bit of  romance thrown in. Also an apparent vendetta against children.

Screw you kids.
The only bad point I ever came across (and this is really just me being biased here anyway) was the one that stopped me playing. One of the mid-game bosses is ridiculously difficult, so much so that I got stuck and so frustrated with it that I quit playing. Unfortunately, that's what I get for buying the DS release instead of the earlier GBA one; the original battle was much easier, and they kept that for the GBA version. Damn me and my need for pretty graphics!

Yup, here we are, the famous one. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm one of the fans that got pulled into the series by FFVII, although I was fantastically late to the party given that I didn't play this until... ooh, ten years after it had been released, and only after I'd watched Advent Children. Still, it's great, and I've played through it enough times to know it pretty well. Sure, I'm not one of those crazies who know everything about it (or think they do), but I can hold my own in a discussion on it, and there's plenty of material there.

Let's see, good characters, good storyline, a couple of plotholes but nothing too major, and enough background material and characters to choke even the best fanfiction writer, and you get a very good game. I mean, yeah, by today's standards the graphics are pretty bad, but the little lego figures with the cube hands did their darnedest to be heroic. And be terrorists, but they got over that.

Of course, VII is also the game with the largest number of fanbase divides. There's the general divide of old FF fans vs 'new' ones who only showed up because of VII, the various factions of the 'Cloud really loves X' debate and also the Jenova vs Sephiroth as the true villain debate. And that's not even going into all the other various quibbles this game has going on around it. But I still like it.

IX is another great game, largely because of the characters. After the rather depressing heroes of VII and VIII, we were suddenly presented with Zidane, in all his flirtatious, humourous glory. That, coupled with the adorableness that was Vivi was enough for me to like the game. I mean, yeah, it wasn't perfect; there was a lot more potential for character development with Freya and Amarant that was neglected, but overall, it was a good game.

As well as the solid protagonist cast, I enjoyed Kuja as the villain. He was just so flamboyant, but he carried it off very well. Plus, his motive was nice and simple. None of this 'I'm destroying the Planet because I'm a GOD' or 'I must  compress time so that I can live forever' nonsense. No, Kuja just got pissed off that he wasn't going to live forever and decided that he was taking the world with him. Plus, he gets extra points since he did destroy one world.

Although, his fashion sense is a bit...
I will say that the game has a minor annoyance in that there is a large section where our Princess becomes mute and selectively useless in battle, but beyond that, it's a pretty solid game on the character front. The only other niggle is that unlike the previous Limit Breaks, the characters' Trance states activated automatically, leading to them inevitably being triggered in the random battle before the big boss when you really wanted it. That was annoying.

X... isn't my favourite. I mean, I still like it, but it just didn't click for me as well some of the others. Characters like Lulu and Auron helped, but didn't make the problems with the main characters any better. Tidus, although he does have some merits, is still a whiny brat with daddy issues, and while he gets better, his voice actor just can't seem to be less annoying, which is a shame because James Arnold Taylor isn't a bad voice actor. Our leading lady, Yuna, also has problems. Sure, she's all sacrificing and noble and that's good in a heroine, but the girl is a doormat, and unfortunately, Hedy Burress, her voice actress, was a little too careful with her lip syncing, and as a result, Yuna's speech is very stilted in places.

Other than that, it's a good story, even if I never actually finished it. My only other gripe with it was the Sphere Grid. Sure, it was innovative and flexible but I wanted my good old-fashioned levelling system. I like knowing where my characters are, not trying to guess if they're around the right stage for the next big fight. Still, Spira is nice, bright and colourful and it has a nice feel to it, even if most of it is controlled by a bigoted, dogmatic religious regime.

Okay, I know this is controversial, but I actually like this game. I mean yeah, the story isn't a patch on the original, the concept is really quite shallow, but the game knows this. It plays up the fanservice aspect as much as it can and it has fun with it. And the story isn't terrible. In a lot of ways, it's really quite believable; a power vacuum being filled by different factions who are unsure of what exactly they want to acheive. And it's nice that Yuna has grown up a bit, got herself a spine and has had it up to here with people being idiots. I can respect that.

Also, the traditional levels reappeared, and the dresspheres are a bit of silly fun. And, in a surprising twist, Tidus and Yuna's respective voice actors (the same as before) don't suck!

Ah XII. I really do love this game. Not particularly for the characters or the storyline, although it's nice to see political intrigue taking the fore over the usual  supernatural evil malarkey. For me, the best thing about XII was the world. Ivalice is a wonderful cluster of nations where everyone hates everyone else and is perfectly happy to bitch and snark about it to anyone who'll listen. Walking around the cities and even just the landscape, it feels real, even if no one is ever going to explain how Golmore jungle connects to Paramina Rift; the climates just seem to meet each other with no temperate zone in the middle.

A lot of people complain about how the game is really about Ashe and why are Vaan and Penelo even there? But I like Vaan and Penelo. Not enough to play the sequel where they're the main characters, but I like them, and they serve their purpose. Every other one of the playable characters knows what the political situation in Ivalice is. Ashe and Basch have to know, and Fran and Balthier travel around enough to have picked it all up. Vaan and Penelo, however, have very little idea of what's going on, and so they serve as the excuse for the game to explain it to the player. All in all, it's quite a refreshing game, and the line between hero and villain is extremely blurry. I just really enjoyed it, if I'm honest.

Oh this game. This game seemed to want me to hate it at points. The characters start out as being either annoying or bland, with Lightning's badassery and Vanille's quirkiness only serving to highlight the annoying and the bland. That, coupled with the annoying mechanics of the Eidolon battles makes it hard to like it, but I persevered. I still can't say a lot for the game, but the character development was solid enough, and it was very pretty. I just felt that there was a lot of potential that they just ignored, such as Hope's supposed daddy issues, which could have been much better fleshed out and put to good plot use since his father worked for the government the party are on the run from. But no, Hope's just 14 and hates his dad... just sort of because he does a bit.

I'll also say that I liked the Crystarium and the Paradigm Shifts. It was like they took the best bits of the Sphere Grid and the Gambit system from X and XII, and then made them work better. And I have and will continue to grind away until I've finished all the missions, but I'm a gaming masochist, so ignore me.

So yeah, I should shut up now. Yes, I'll do that.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

On Writing, As Fueled by Gingerbread Lattes

Well apparently I suck so far this year. I promised myself that I was going to keep regular bi-weekly updates on this thing and now look at me. However, it looks as though holiday updates will be limited to one post per week since inspiration appears to be sorely lacking. Monday and Tuesday of this week in particular were a lather-rinse-repeat of 'go to work, wait patiently for customers, get no customers, wait less patiently for customers, get no pay, go home, sit on couch playing video games and feel as though brain is dribbling out of ears.'

However, today I have had a lie-in, made myself a gingerbread latte and now I am going to attempt to write a blog post.

So far in my previous blog entries, I have mentioned my love for cartoons. This is one of my three main passions in life, the other two being video games (mostly of the Square Enix and Atlus variety) and creative writing, and as I sat there at work doodling Sickness from Jhonen Vasquez's I Feel Sick yesterday, I suddenly thought 'hey, there's two more blog posts right there!' We're starting with the latter today, as my video games post is probably going to contain a very long ramble on various different Final Fantasy games, possibly with some Persona thrown in, and also because maybe if I write about writing, my erstwhile muse will get her sorry arse back to work.

Anyway, I'm going to hold my hands up and admit it right now; yes, I write fanfiction. I have an account on and one of my pet projects is my ongoing 28-chapter epic written for the Powerpuff Girls (yes, you did just read that right). I do write my own fiction too, of course, but fanfiction is where I really started developing my own style.

A lot of people dismiss fanfiction as stupid, and I will be the first to say that there is a lot of utterly terrible stuff out there, as well as downright terrifyingly awful stuff, which I'll discuss in a later post, because quite frankly, you can get some good laughs out of it and there is a lot of it, but right now, I'll cover some of the good points of it all.

The Security Blanket Effect
Fanfiction, as implied by the name, is all about writing for something you're a fan of. As well as being a way of expressing this, it's also a fantastic way to develop your own skills in characterisation. I was always worried that I created weak characters in my own fiction, but in writing fanfiction, you have the security of the fact that the people reading it already know the characters from the original work. However, this doesn't mean you can be lazy about writing them. As well as having that comfort, you also have the added challenge of keeping the characters recognisable.

There are lots of different genres within fanficton, including Alternate Universe (AU), which is very prevalent in such fandoms as Kingdom Hearts, normally involving the notorious High School AU. However, even if you do put the characters into another world, they are still the same characters, and you still have to put the work in to keep them believable. In this way, fanfiction can act as a good springboard to writing stronger characters of your own. You have the base character in fanfiction, and it's then up to you to develop them in your own way in your story, while still maintaining the feel of the character.

I started off writing for Danny Phantom and Final Fantasy VII, which were easy enough since I felt I knew the characters pretty well. For these stories, it was more about building on my ability to come up with good storylines and working on how exactly I wanted the characters to develop. Later, I started on the Powerpuff Girls, and as stupid as it sounds, this fandom has done wonders for my characterisation skills.

The Powerpuff Girls cartoon featured the three girls as five year olds, but for my stories, I aged them up until they were around sixteen. The challenge here was making sure that I kept their stock traits, while adding in the little changes and quirks that we all develop as we grow up. All in all, it's a lot of fun to give yourself a little lee-way with the characters like that, while at the same time challenging to make the characters the same as the ones everyone knows and loves.

The Feedback
I've made some of my best friends through writing fanfiction, due to the fact that it, as neurotic and sometimes war-mongering as its inhabitants are, is still a network of different communities. For me, it was The Genesis Awards that really made me appreciate both good fanfiction and the friends you can make online.

The Genesis Awards is all about finding and sharing good fanfiction, mostly from Final Fantasy (VII and X, with some Kingdom Hearts thrown in too), and as implied by the name, there is an awards scheme, although the prize is really just bragging rights for you and your winning story. In any case, being part of the forum showed me the importance of both giving and receiving good solid critiques on writing. Through getting reviews on my stories online, I've been able to hone my skills little-by-little, and by giving it, I'm both developing my own analytical skills as well as helping someone else to develop their writing.

So yeah, there are some really great upsides to being part of a writing community. Even if fanfiction isn't your cup of tea, there is, which is the original fiction community in the same vein.

No, I'm not talking about Pokemon again, don't worry. When I first started out writing fanfiction, I'm almost ashamed to say that much of it consisted of mushy romantic fluff, because anyone who knows me pretty well will probably know that underneath my cynical, sarcastic shell, I'm one of the biggest goopy romantics ever, and it showed. However, as I got more comfortable in my ability to write, my stories started evolving into much darker, more mature romances. To the point that one of my English teachers in school made the mistake of asking to read some of it, and the next day, she gave me a very odd look and a strained 'you write some very... dark things, don't you?'

Later, my reportoire expanded again, growing to include some more neutral writing that focused more on character conflict and development, and a few misguided attempts at humour which may or may not have been a complete disaster (my friend from the GA said it was funny, but she may have just been being nice).

Basically, it's got to the point now where I look back at my oldest pieces of writing, and promptly feel like I want to delete them from my account (I have done this in a lot of cases), simply because the change in my writing has been so massive that my older stuff seems barely recognisable as being mine. This change, in my opinion, is a fantastic thing. It shows me that however much my crippling self-esteem issues want to moan about it, my writing is always getting better. Every new story or chapter is another chance to get good reviews, so I keep trying harder each time.

Coming up with new scenarios and new styles is all part of the fun, and you can get the inspiration from anywhere. Sometimes one storyline won't suit certain characters, so you match it to different ones, or maybe even come up with characters of your own. Your writing style changes naturally as you keep writing, and looking back on the evolution's always good to see how you're advancing.

So yeah, that's my own dorky take on why it's okay to write fanfiction. Usually. There are a few people who really probably shouldn't, but, as I said earlier, we'll save that for another post.

This has been Mint, being her usual dorky self.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Happy New Year from Mint

Well, it's 2011 already, huh? Happy New Year everyone! Being the failure of a student as I am, I spent mine largely sober, but I hope plenty of drunken merriment was had by the rest of you who prefer to be sozzled at the bells.

I didn't bother making any resolutions, mostly because I'll just forget them, although I am going to force myself back into my creative writing groove. I haven't written any decently lengthy creative pieces since the summer, and given that my next English module at university is composed of a lot of creative writing, it'd probably be a good idea to fix that. This should be easier with my shiny new netbook, since I'll be able to just get stuff written down when I think about it (usually during dull lectures) instead of waiting until I get home, at which point I'm usually tired and lazy and the daily caffeine buzz has worn off and the inspiration just ain't there anymore.

Anyway, as well as having a nice New Year, I hope everyone had a good Christmas. Mine was rather enjoyable, although it seems as though most of my presents consisted of coffee and coffee-related things, including my very own milk frother. That said, there was the aforementioned netbook and my parents surprised me with an Amazon Kindle as well. Kindles are awesome by the way, just in case you were wondering.

So, my plans for the next year are thus far vague. Something like doing better at uni, getting better grades, that kinda thing. The caffeine addiction is staying though; it apparently stops me getting sick, which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

Yeah... so I didn't have an actual topic for this post, but again, Happy New Year, enjoy 2011, and hopefully I'll manage to come up with some decent post ideas in the near future. Suggestions are welcome by the way.