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Not so Final Fantasy – Kefka vs. Sephiroth

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Which Final Fantasy villain is the best: Kefka or Sephiroth?

Not so Final Fantasy is a tri-weekly column dedicated to all things Final Fantasy; from specific aspects of specific titles, to the universal features that set Square Enix’s inimitable JRPG series apart from the rest.

Who is the greatest villain ever to grace a Final Fantasy game? Kekfa or Sephiroth?

Just as reaching a general consensus on which of their two respective titles – VI and VII – is superior, it’s a difficult question to answer. Both possess charisma in spades, pose a very real threat to the world they inhabit, commit heinous acts in pursuit of their goals, and are haunted by the ghosts of a tragic past that at least partially explain their motivations. It’s truly too close to call.

Which is fine, really. To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure there’s any particular benefit or value in trying to find a definitive answer to a largely subjective question like this: and I’m not just saying that as someone whose sentimental bias toward Final Fantasy VII has them worried about the outcome of such a comparison.

But I need a subject for this week’s edition of ‘Not so Final Fantasy’, so I’m going to put in my two cents anyway. Inevitably, what follows is heavily laden with spoilers for both FFVI and FFVII.

Charismatic Demi-Gods

Sephiroth walks through the flames of Nibelheim - Final Fantasy

Attempted genocide and cold-blooded murder aside, Kefka and Sephiroth exude confidence and charisma – which is hardly surprising, I guess, given that one has the power to obliterate an entire continent with a casual wave of his hand, while the other is capable of summoning magical, world-ending meteors from the depths of the planet’s core. But I digress.

Returning to the point at hand, Kefka’s increasingly nihilistic monologues and innately mercurial nature are relentlessly engaging. His pointed contempt for friendship, love, and humanity’s indomitable perseverance in the face of unimaginably difficult circumstances comprehensively dismisses a set of themes that permeate almost every Final Fantasy title in existence. “Why do people insist on creating things that will inevitably be destroyed?” he asks bitterly “Why do people cling to life, knowing that they must someday die? …Knowing that none of it will have meant anything once they do?”. A depressingly bleak outlook on life perhaps, but one that provides a refreshing change of pace for long-time fans and, of greater importance to the actual plot, forces the game’s party of heroes to confront the fragility of human existence.

Yet for all his hatred and cynicism, Kefka isn’t evil for evil’s sake. He’s not a stereotypical pantomime villain whose motivations are considered unimportant so long as he provides a focal point for the protagonist’s world-saving efforts. From a purely superficial perspective, his flamboyant personality, high-pitched cackle, and unusual fondness for clown attire instantly set him apart from the average video game antagonist; which is quite an achievement for a 16-bit sprite. While, as we progress through the story, we discover hidden depths to his character that belie his outwardly negativistic philosophy and make him a far more rounded character in turn (more on that, later).

By contrast, although they adopt similar methods in the pursuit of comparable goals, Sephiroth’s draw is entirely different.

He’s a cold, brooding individual whose flowing silver hair, pec-exhibiting wardrobe, and unfathomably complex character rendered him the perfect villain for angsty 90s audiences, and yet he continues to captivate audiences to this day.

Through various flashback sequences and expository dialogue, we discover Sephiroth was a peerless and universally respected warrior even before his unplanned trip through the Lifestream taught him numerous, otherworldly abilities: such as how to manipulate the very cells of an alien super-monster and how to project corporeal images of himself into the world that are capable of physically interacting with the people around him. As a result, Sephiroth radiates an aura of hidden strength and supreme confidence that only becomes more engaging as the relationship between him and Cloud deepens, and the set of tragic circumstances that made him into the villain we’ve come to know and, strangely, love, are revealed.

Ruthless Destroyers

Final Fantasy VI's Kefka lambastes Terra and co.

It’s odd that we should feel so attached to a pair of individuals whose actions are so unquestionably vile. However, more than anything else, these displays of heartless brutality are tremendously effective at displaying the incredible power and influence these two villains possess, raising the stakes considerably for the heroes (and thus the players) trying to stop them over the course of their respective adventures.

While Sephiroth isn’t quite as successful as Kefka, managing only to destroy Midgar before his enchanted meteorite is repelled by Aeris’s white Materia, FFVII does such a good job of portraying Sephiroth as a genuine, ever-present threat, the player simply cannot escape the feeling that the civilization itself is on the line until the very last scene: the actual last scene, that is; you know, the one with Red XIII and his kids/grandkids looking down on the ruins of Midgar five hundred years in the future. Compare that to something like Skyrim which, by flooding the player’s quest log with countless secondary objectives and side-plots, ends up turning its central antagonist into a largely peripheral figure. Unless the player has made a concerted effort to tackle Skyrim in linear fashion, by the time they reach Sovngarde, it’s difficult to remember exactly who Aldiun is, let alone what his goals are – especially as the player’s avatar is so strong by this point, they can destroy the so-called world-eater with a few languid sweeps of their sword.

Simply put, Alduin doesn’t leave any noticeable mark on the world before or after he’s defeated. Whereas Sephiroth not only kills a beloved character in cold blood, entirely out of the blue halfway through the game, his plan to absorb the accumulated wisdom and power of an entire planet, though ending in failure, leaves an indelible scar on the face of the planet.

And it’s much the same for Kefka who, by virtue of the fact he accomplishes his initial goal of destroying The World of Balance, gives the player a rare glimpse into what life might actually be like in our favourite fictional worlds if there wasn’t a conveniently placed band of heroes always on hand to save the day. Not only that, but by the time Terra and co. have mustered up the strength necessary to confront him, Kefka has ascended to become a bona fide God; ruling with merciless cruelty from a skyward tower constructed, in a characteristically macabre flourish, from the remains of the civilization he’s just finished decimating.

Although the player might have dismissed him as just another weak, cowardly, comic-relief villain when they first saw him saunter into Figaro Castle at the beginning of the game – another minor antagonist whose only purpose was to occupy their attention for a few, brief hours before the real big-bad shows up – they’re left in no doubt as to his power or the fundamental impact he’s had on the world of Final Fantasy VI come the end of the tale.

Victims of Tragedy

Sephiroth with his characteristic silver hair - Final Fantasy

 

The foundation for these two superb villains, however, is the tragic backstories that define and motivate them.

Kefka, it transpires, wasn’t always the eccentric, habitually malicious lunatic we meet in Final Fantasy VI. Years before the events of the game take place, and 18/19-year-old Kefka volunteered himself as a test subject in the Gestahlian Empire’s experiments into Magitek technology. Their goal: learning how to harness the magical abilities of the Espers to create super soldiers.

In as much as it granted him the ability to channel magic, the experiment was a success; but the cost of this newfound power was a shattered mind. Afflicted with unpredictable mood swings and no longer able to empathize with his fellow human beings, Kefka was left with a skewed world view in which life, and everything that makes it worthwhile, is pointless. Worse still, as he rails against Terra, Locke, Cyan etc. at the top of his makeshift tower during their climactic battle, punctuating his invective with staggered questions about the meaning of life and the value of human emotions, we realize there’s still some small part of him capable of feeling (or at least perceiving) emotions other than anger. He’s clearly aware of what’s been stolen from him by the Empire’s experiments and these questions are simply a belated attempt to restore some measure of equilibrium to his fractured psyche.

In Sephiroth’s case, the undercurrent of tragedy runs even deeper. Injected with Jenova cells whilst still in his mother’s womb – by his own father I might add, because Final Fantasy VII is funny like that – Sephiroth is not only an entirely unwilling participant in the experiments that created him, but his life thereafter is, to a certain extent, one long, on-going test to understand what happens to the human body when it’s infused with large concentrations of alien biological material; material those workings within it we don’t fully comprehend.

And yet, notwithstanding this inhumane treatment, Sephiroth was a well-respected and widely admired soldier before the Nibelheim incident poisoned his mind, governed by a strict code of ethics and duty that wins him the friendship of other honourable warriors, such as Crisis Core’s Angeal. In fact, the only reason he becomes the evil, destructive force we spend almost the entirety of Final Fantasy VII chasing is because he’s been kept in the dark as to the true nature of his birth.

Left to construct his own, misguided image of the past from the library of silent tomes stored in the bowels of the Shinra Mansion, Sephiroth comes to hate humanity and think of himself as the descendant of Gods; the heir to the Cetra whose job it is to punish his traitorous ancestral enemy by bringing about the destruction of civilization. An act of neglect that more or less precipitates the events of the game and, in my opinion, identifies Hojo as VII‘s true villain.

When looked at from this perspective, a pretty strong argument can be made that both Kefka and Sephiroth are, in reality, just as much victims as the people who would later suffer at their hands.

And the Winner is?

As far as I’m concerned, deciding which of these two characters is objectively the best is almost impossible. While they’re roughly neck and neck in the charisma stakes, possessing the kind of magneticism most video game villains can only dream of, Kefka’s clearly the more successful of the two in terms of actually executing his plans, while, on the other hand, Sephiroth boasts (if that’s the right word in this context) the more tragic backstory.

Gun to my head, I might be inclined to choose Sephiroth. But as I said above, it doesn’t really matter. The important thing to remember is that this pair of unique villains are absolutely, unremittingly fantastic and, on a grander scale, are two of the biggest reasons why the Final Fantasy series is what it is today.

Counting Final Fantasy VII, The Last of Us, the original Mass Effect trilogy, and The Witcher 3 amongst his favourite games, John enjoys anything that promises to take up an absurdly large amount of his free time. When he’s not gaming, chances are you’ll find him engrossed in a science fiction or fantasy novel; basically, John’s happiest when his attention is as far from the real world as possible.

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Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

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Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

Awesome Mixtape Vol. 5

It’s that time once again in which I bring to you my awesome mixtape featuring the best tracks from the best video game soundtracks of the year. Last year, my mixtape featured tracks from Triple-A titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and indie darlings like Celeste. In 2017, my picks for best soundtracks included tracks from some of my favorite games including Cuphead, Breath of the Wild and Into the Woods, to name just a few. Well, 2019 has been another banner year for the industry and as always, the games were blessed with an astounding selection of musical scores— some would argue the soundtracks were even better than the actual games at times. As always, it wasn’t easy deciding which songs to include and what to leave out— and as always, I’ve also mixed in some audio clips from various cut scenes while trying to keep it spoiler-free. Feel free to share this link and let me know if you think I’ve missed any great soundtracks in the comments below.

Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019 Playlist

Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding
: Low Roar – “I’ll Keep Coming”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Life is Strange 2: Seyr – “Colour To Colour”
Life is Strange 2: Jonathan Morali – “Into the Woods”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Sayonara Wild Heart”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Wild Hearts Never Die”
Death Stranding: CHVRCHES – “Death Stranding”
Afterparty clip
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “Title and Credits”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Hades Gonna Hate”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Schoolyard Strangler”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Main Theme
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Cyrus the Scholar
Kingdom Hearts 3 clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Main Theme”
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Blue Skies and a Battle”
Devil May Cry 5 clip
Devil May Cry 5: Kota Suzuki – “Urizen Boss Battle Music”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
FAR: Lone Sails: Joel Schoch – “Colored Engine”
Days Gone: Nathan Whitehead— “Soldier’s Eye”
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Metro Exodus: Alexey Omelchuk – “Main Theme”
Resident Evil 2 Remake clip
Resident Evil 2 Remake: Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama, Shun Nishigaki – “Mr.X Theme Music (T-103)”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Begin Again”
Life is Strange 2: Lincoln Grounds, Pat Reyford – “Morning Good Morning”
Life is Strange 2: Sufjan Stevens – “Death With Dignity”
Luigi’s Mansion 3 clip
Luigi’s Mansion 3: Koji Kondo – “Main Theme”
Ape Out: Matt Boch – “Intro”
Deltarune: Toby Fox – “Field of Hopes and Dreams”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “Loose Cargo”
“Star Wars: Imperial March” Hip Hop Remix
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra
Death Stranding: Silent Poets – “Asylum for The Feeling”
Catherine: Full Body: Shoji Meguro – “Tomorrow”
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening: Koji Kondo – “Marin’s Ballad of the Windfish”
Metro Exodus – Alexey Omelchuk: “Teardrops”
Sekiro: Yuka Kitamura – “Ashina Reservoir”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “The Doom”
Medley: Eye of Death / Wild Hearts Never Die / Dragon Heart / Clair De Lune

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‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.

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max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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