Not so final thoughts on IX

In spite of having blabbed for two lengthy posts about Final Fantasy IX, I still can’t get it out of my head. It definitely deserves to knock Mega Man 2 off of its pedestal on my personal top five list.

Even though the story is, at heart, pretty silly, I kinda find myself touched by it.

I think part of it is how excellent it is, by video game standards, in depicting the persistence of hope in the face of suffering and loss, and the reality of forgiveness. And I know something more about these things than I did fifteen years ago. So replaying IX wasn’t a nostalgic experience so much as it seemed to capture some thoughts, feelings and experiences that have crystallized over the years. Kind of like how Peter S. Beagle’s novel, The Last Unicorn, emotionally rang true for me when I read it shortly after being received into the Church, even though I can’t easily explain why.

I wouldn’t necessarily trot it out as an example of, “Games Can Be Art.” It’s more an example of how you can find a weird connection with some things that can seem otherwise frivolous.

Maybe I’m just too sentimental.

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blah blah anti-gay anti-intellectual something blah blah

In an article in the Federalist, Robert Oscar Lopez takes journalists to task for dropping the ball on one aspect of all the same-sex marriage shenanigans:

Journalists with a shred of integrity would feel some curiosity about children who come out of these [gay] homes and oppose same-sex marriage. Wasn’t Sarah Palin roundly bashed by the mainstream press because she “lacks intellectual curiosity,” as Sen. Lisa Murkowski said?

Intellectual curiosity is generally perceived as a good thing—just not when gay activists have a storyline they need broadcast to get something they really want, and they don’t want people poking around and asking questions.

When gay people are involved in anything, the rules change to reflect that people who love the same sex are exceptional; I mean, they’re not just anyone, they’re “The Gays.” Interrogating them about what they claim is like going to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 and asking John Winthrop sensitive questions about his reading of Revelations. You just don’t do it. Like the Puritans, The Gays have founded a city on a hill, which must shine for all the world to see. Only “city on a hill” sounds so lame. For The Gays, it is a disco on a hill.

Lopez was raised by a Lesbian couple and, as far as I can tell, doesn’t seem to have any moral qualms with homosexuality per se; rather, he’s against the idea of intentionally severing a child from one (or both) of her biological parents, which gay parenting requires.

Agree or disagree with him, I think its fair to say that he’s right on the money when it comes to the media’s complete lack of responsibility when it comes to covering culture war issues like this.

Sacrificing intellectual integrity for the sake of the Cause is both dishonest and hurtful in the long run. The sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, my church, was not nipped in the bud, in part because many in the hierarchy were more committed to preserving the image of a pristine and perfect clergy than they were to the truth, and to asking hard questions about the character of the men they had admitted to their ranks. To do so was to make a dangerous concession to secular liberalism, and to risk damaging the laity’s trust in Father. And as a result of their choices they have damaged so many lives and squandered what little moral authority they still had in the 20th century.

My point isn’t that gay adoption and the sex abuse crisis are somehow equivalent. But rather that it does no good to place any group of people beyond criticism and to ignore voices you don’t want to hear.

In this case there’s also an element of overcorrection thrown into the midst: most people are (rightly) appalled by the way that gays have historically (and currently, in other parts of the world) been treated, and, in wanting to rectify that, have uncritically lumped any criticism of the gay community under the homophobia heading.

And then there are the cynics – I mean people like the corporations who decided to boycott Indiana over the recent bill. Of course, said businesses are often still more than happy to do business with places like China, which as we know is renowned for its compassionate, just treatment of gays and other minorities. And politicians who have “evolved,” on the issue right around the time when it became politically expedient to do so. I am less sympathetic to these types. Actually, I’m not sympathetic to them at all, as they don’t seem to stand for anything other than themselves.

Again: whatever political, religious, social, sexual, whatever ideas you may have, never let a belief in your own self-righteousness cloud your judgment. You’re never off the hook.

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The Man Who Was Zidane (Part 2/2)

dpalace(Part One)

Places

 One of the things I’ve been paying attention to in my recent games of VIII and IX is their use of pre-rendered backgrounds – a stylistic choice which seems to largely be abandoned these days. As the name implies, pre-rendered backgrounds are simply a static image depicting the area from a particular point of view. Although they’ve mainly been used by PC adventure games (I think Myst is the first instance), some console games made use of them in the early 3D era, the PS1 Final Fantasies being a notable example.

Continue reading

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The Man Who Was Zidane (Part 1/2)

09._final_fantasy_ix

(Note: I am going to spoil a fifteen year old game)

Final Fantasy IX is the most Chestertonian RPG game. That, I think, puts its finger on why I find this game to be so compelling as an adult. I feel that, having lived to see them, the corpulent man of letters would have dismissed electronic RPGs in favor of their pen and paper origins; but short of uncovering the manuscript of a high fantasy novel penned by the man, this is about as close as we’ll get to a G. K. Chesterton RPG.

Continue reading

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The best Verdi post ever

VerdiThis post is here by request from a friend, who asked for the, “best Verdi post ever.” Unfortunately, when it comes to 19th century opera, I am not entirely knowledgeable about Verdi.

But I do know something you probably don’t know. Did you know that Giuseppe Verdi was actually the alter-ego of an American spy called John Green? In fact, the entire score of Rigoletto is a secret message written in a code-language that is derivative of Latin. It relates about a court jester who accidentally has his own daughter assassinated. Why the American government at the time would be interested in such things is beyond me, though.

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The loyalty of a dragon?

dragonsloyaltyaward1

It was only until recently that I became aware of a, “Dragon’s Loyalty Award,” for bloggers by being offered said award by  Jubilare. In her nomination, she describes me as, “Profoundly Geeky, and Geekily Profound,” a testimonial which may replace my own, “A Thrilling Adventure Serial,” blurb. For both of these things, I thank her.

And now I have to nominate some 15 other bloggers…

A Pen Full of Vinegar – a bookish place from which I received my Liebster Award last year

Professor Mondo – A man who is paid to be bookish, and who was pestered by me last year with a Liebster Award. As that managed to provoke a response from him, I have decided to pester him again.

I would like to nominate Don at Zoopraxiscope, but his blog seems to be experiencing technical difficulties that have rendered communications problematic.

Medieval Otaku, who is currently my blog’s most regular commenter, deserves an award associated with loyalty. Also, like the above two, he was a willing recipient of the Liebster Award, thus inviting similar behavior now.

Catholic Movie Nerd, in order to get in his good graces before he becomes famous.

….I’ll leave it at that for now.

And now I apparently have to give seven interesting factoids about myself.

1. Act II of Siegfried is playing on my computer as I type this, providing either a fitting or ironic complement to the name of this award.

2. In addition to being an avid gamer, I have also dabbled in amateur game design. My first essay in the medium was done when I was about twelve years old. It was a very, very crude Chrono Trigger ripoff made on a program which was designed for kids to mess around with. My main accomplishment with it was figuring out how to get the program to simulate Final Fantasy’s ATB style combat.

This, in turn, inspired my friends and I to type up a word document which outlined a far more ambitious sequel (which was never actually made). When I got my hands on the Playstation RPGmaker, I went ahead and made a third installment on it. Subsequent installments were made on the various RPGmaker programs until I brought my so called “Episode Saga” to a close in my undergraduate sophomore year with Episode VII.

These games were all terrible, and no longer even exist. Other failed attempts at RPG games were made in the interim, including one during high school where I experimented with voice acting. A few years ago, I was out for a walk, listening to my ipod, when suddenly I heard teenage versions of me and my friends reciting awkward lines of dialogue. Somehow, the wav files from that game had been preserved and got uploaded onto my device.

A current game made with RPGmaker VX Ace has been in my own self-created development hell for over two years. This is because I keep second guessing myself and giving everything a do-over, and because my career and other hobbies have largely pushed this one to the background (and I suppose this gives the lie to my protests regarding RPGs…)

3. On a related note, my parents were apparently sure that I would turn out to be a computer science sort of guy instead of the philosophico-theologico-literary type (that is a type, isn’t it?) I am now.

4. I still have not read all the books of The Faerie Queene. I feel like such a fraud.

5. I am less ashamed about not having read Being and Time.

6. I don’t know how to drive.

7. I can sometimes get paralyzed by small decisions – for instance, in deciding what to write here.

 

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A fiery performance

Here’s something I found floating around in my Facebook feed.

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Just pretend I made a joke about closets here

In Britain, the new breed of closeted, self-loathing people is…..the college aged Tory:

She’s not the only 20-something to admit this. A number of people come forward to ‘confess’ their right-wing leanings on the basis that I won’t reveal their identity, which says it all really.

Though they’ve been swayed by the Conservatives’ economic policies, they’re too embarrassed to tell anyone.

Some have actually lied and pretended they voted for Ed Miliband (“It was easier. I can’t be bothered to deal with people’s reactions if they know the truth”).

On election day, one friend cried to me: “I can’t believe I’m a Tory – I hate myself.”

Eh. Compared to these guys, I’m probably somewhere in between, “minion of Sauron,” and, “punchline to joke about repressed homosexuality,” yet I feel pretty comfortable in my own skin, writing this post from the comfort of my terrible throne

(via Dreher)

 

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10 Classical recordings of note

I suppose this could be seen as a followup to my pop music post, although a draft of this has been sitting around for quite some time.

For the aficionado of classical music, there is an added layer involved in record-browsing that is not often present in other genres: the question isn’t just, “which composers/compositions” should I listen to, but also, “which recordings of those pieces should I pick up?” Different conductors, musicians and orchestras can have different styles and sounds. This can be both fun (listen to multiple takes on your favourite symphony!) and vexing (if you’re low on funds and want to make a good choice).

Over the years, I’ve slowly amassed a decent collection of classical recordings. So I thought I’d cobble together a list of ten that have stuck out as being particularly exceptional. Keep in mind that this is a list of recordings, rather than favorite compositions; you won’t find The Rake’s Progress or The Sleeping Beauty on this list, for instance.

1. Glenn Gould – Bach: Goldberg Variations (1955, Sony)

I’d might as well start out with what is likely the most famous classical piano album ever cut.

Gould not only hailed from the same city as me – he also attended the same high school that I would later go to. So when I discovered his albums as a teenager, it didn’t take too long for me to develop a bit of a fascination with the eccentric, opinionated pianist. Anyway, with Gould you usually will be able to hear every note in the score played with extreme precision….and in a fashion that blatantly disregards most of the composer’s instructions for how those notes should be played, and usually on a dull sounding piano, accompanied by extremely audible “hmms” and “haas” from Gould’s mouth. Someone who I can’t recall once described Gould as almost a kind of composer who riffs on the compositions of others. You may not agree with his aesthetic choices, but they’re always interesting ones.

2. Wilhelm Furtwangler – Bruckner: Symphony No.9 (1944, Allegro)

The date is 1944 and the orchestra is the Berlin Philharmonic. Although Furtwangler didn’t care for the Nazis at all, he stayed in Germany until the end. The results of that decision, and the controversy that followed, were dramatic enough to eventually get made into a motion picture.

Bruckner died before he could finish his 9th, and as it stands its a particularly grim, apocalyptic piece of work. Furtwangler seizes on this and plays up all its howls and snarls. The result is a disturbing portrait of a nation in self-destruct.

3. Fritz Reiner – Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings Percussion and Celesta; Hungarian Sketches (1955; 1958, RCA)

Pretty much anything that pairs Reiner with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is gold. Reiner is one of those conductors renowned for extracting clear and precise performances, even at the expense of emotion – in general, I like his style, but it works particularly well in these modernist (yet still highly listenable) pieces. These recordings were also a part of RCA’s “Living Stereo” series, which featured an impressive amount of, um, clarity for the time, but with a warmth that is often lacking in digital recordings. They’re good for audiophiles.

4. Willhelm Furtwangler  – Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (1953, EMI)

Opera involves so many variables that the possibility of finding a platonically perfect performance of any of them is quite the pipe dream. But regardless, this is probably the finest opera recording I own. Sure, the sound is a bit fuzzy, and sure, Kirsten Flagstad’s voice is a tad on the elderly side. But the overall organic, downright oceanic shape that Furtwangler gives to the piece, the intense playing of the Philharmonia orchestra, and the vocal powers on display ensure that Tristan’s epic length achieves its hypnotic purpose.

5. Herbert von Karajan – Debussy: Pelleas et Melisande (1979, EMI)

It seems fair to follow up Tristan with its Gallic equivalent. Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic were all about pretty sounds, and Pelleas et Melisande is perhaps the most opulent opera in the repertoire. Strawberries and cream, etc.

6. Herbert von Karajan – Haydn: Die Schopfung (1969, Deutsche Grammophone)

Haydn’s oratorio retelling of the opening of Genesis is one of the happiest pieces of music ever written, ending as it does before the whole incident with the snake. This is a very happy-sounding performance, at least.

7. Leonard Bernstein – Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (1988, Deutsche Grammophone)

While late Mahler can at times get a little too morbid for me, I’ll always be fond of his first seven symphonies. This one is pure epic romanticism, and demands to be played as loudly and dramatically as possible, to the point of bordering on kitsch. And Bernstein is the man for that.

8. Anton Webern – Berg: Violin Concerto (1991, Continuum)

This is almost more of a historical curiosity than anything else. One of the composers of the trio called the Second Viennese School is here interpreted by another one. Webern was also renowned as a conductor, but as far as I am aware, this is the only recording of him that was made. Berg’s violin concerto is also as close as you can get to accessible when it comes to atonal music.

9. The Hollywood String Quartet – Beethoven: Late Quartets (1958, EMI)

The Hollywood String Quartet consisted of bored orchestral musicians who made a living performing for movie scores. Beethoven’s final quartets are anything but Hollywood, yet these guys (and gal) are more than up for the task.

10. Sir Neville Marriner/Alfred Brendel (Piano) – Mozart: The Great Piano Concertos (1994, Decca)

Forget period performances; go for the high calorie stuff.

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In which FFVIII ruins my life

the melancholy of ff8

I was too naive…

Even though my attempt at analyzing Final Fantasy VIII didn’t go anywhere, my game continued all the way to the end….and into its immediate successor, IX.

It feels as if all the hangups regarding JRPGs which I’ve voiced elsewhere on this blog have all been silenced, and that I’m 12 years old again. But not in the same way – my childhood self was content to merely coast through these things; my adult self wants to break things open and understand the mechanics a bit more by looking up things on the internet. There goes what little remains of my life.

Specifically: I complained earlier that the sort of character-development gameplay offered by the RPG genre is boring in its essentials, and requires extensive tweaking or streamlining to become fun. For whatever reason, I no longer feel that way.

Final Fantasy IX is a case in point. Compared to VIII’s Junction system shenanigans, IX is a simple, almost by-the-books affair. Combat unfolds at a glacial pace, and there is very little that is new. Indeed, IX represents a downright conservative 180 on VIII’s experimentalism. Yet I am finding my current game in it (my first serious crack at it in almost a decade) to be just as engaging as the previous entry. Something clicked back into place.

Part of this is because IX is a uniquely charming game. And I am becoming convinced that, nostalgia aside, the Playstation 1 era FFs are masterpieces in their own right (well, my opinion on VII is still in suspense). IX should merit a post here when I am further along in my game. One post, mind you. Not a whole series.

I guess this means I am a JRPG fanboy again. What have I done…

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