Fifteen years later

Today (Wednesday) was yet another pleasant vacation day, and I spent it doing something that I’d put off for no less than fifteen years – finishing Final Fantasy 6 for the SNES. I played the game first when it came out in 1994, but stopped close to the very end. I took it up twice again over the years on emulators, bringing it again to the same point, but losing interest both times. The last time I did this was in the airport, waiting for a flight after the 2008 RSA convention; I kept that playthrough on my laptop and dusted it off today.

As I believe ‘ending fear’ kept me from finishing (I’ve discussed this phenomenon  before), as well as remembering that my first attempt at Kefka’s Tower in 1994 was ill-prepared, I decided to be extra careful in my old age and did some leveling, bringing all the characters over level 45, acquiring the Paladin Shield, and making sure I had at least a half-dozen characters that could cast Ultima.

So how was the ending? Gorgeous. Twenty minutes long at least.  Worth the wait. If I can get a certain friend of mine (cough, cough  COUGH) to do some podcasts discussing classic games, I think this one would be a good conversation starter, as it is prima facie evidence for games as art. Beautiful music, excellent gameplay, compelling story and characters, a great villain, top-notch visual design that cuts through the severe technical limitations of the SNES – what’s not to like?

I remember an incredible amount of detail from the story, far more than I remember from even a good novel or film. I have always been intrigued by how it doesn’t really have a main character. Nominally it would be Terra, but Celes is just as compelling, and then there’s Locke… it’s really, rather, about how each character’s individual narrative intersects and complements other character  narratives, the same trick that all the good FF games pull, with wildly differing levels of success.

I find it difficult to put a finger on why this particular mixture worked so well.  The overall structure and timing of the plot as the assembly, separation and reunion of a extended family would seem to have something to do with it, but I would not want to discount the genuinely pleasing  friendships that spring up between otherwise very different characters, and their life-affirming effect when contrasted against the assorted baddies. And it never hurts, of course, when there’s a play within a play.

Agreeable

It’s Xmas eve, and so far I am finding the holidays agreeable. H and I have returned to the Memphis area for a spell, and it has been enjoyable to sit around and do nothing more important than play through 20 years or so of Europa Universalis 3 in a sitting, eat too much, and take long naps. Kara, our 9-month old boykin spaniel,  has no less than 5 dogs and 6 cats to play with here, so I perceive her mostly as a red-shifted blur, now that she is approaching the speed of light.

I have even gotten some reading done. I’m almost finished with Kaufmann’s Critique of Religion and Philosophy, and I’ve reread Hume’s Inquiry yet again. Hume always resets my keel; I feel far more balanced and reasonable in my core assumptions after reading Hume than any other philosopher or associated work. Come to think of it, back in undergrad when I failed Philosophy 101 twice due to falling asleep in the morning after working the late shift at Target and not getting home until after midnight, I never missed the lectures on Hume – I definitely listened to them three times. I finally got a B.

gaming notes

I finished off Dragon Age: Origins a few days ago. Now that I am officially a working stiff, it took me a fair amount of time.  I briefly explored the alternate endings, but I think the one I got the first time is the one that I like the best.

This leaves me without any gigantic, epic games to play for awhile, but that’s ok – there’s plenty of smaller fry that I need to get around to finishing off. Plus, Mass Effect 2 is approaching, and Assassin’s Creed 2 will probably appear for the PC in the spring.

I have been playing the “Totally Insane” map for Batman: Arkham Asylum a lot. It just doesn’t get old. I don’t even mind that every attempt ends with the highly unlikely event of Batman getting the tar kicked out of him.  I have a top score of around 450000, which took me a month to build up to, and that only puts me around a measly #180 in the online rankings. Then again, it has been going up, steadily but surely.

After eyeing it in Fry’s for a few months, I recently picked up Wii Sports Resort and an extra motion controller. This, too, is enjoyable. My right arm hurt for awhile after playing the fencing minigame, but it’s definitely worth the money. The extra golf course, alone, is awesome.

A nice try, though

I have been thinking about it over the last week, and Obama’s speech on Afghanistan (it’s been a while since we had a President that gives actual speeches) moved my position on the war a little.

But not much.

I could feel its words tugging on me, trying to reframe the situation. And I’m sure he believes his decision is right, as much as Bush believed all his wartime decisions were right. I find myself feeling detached and disappointed. For once, the rhetoric did not work, because the content is so poor.

What would I have preferred to hear? I didn’t need a speech. I needed Obama to go to Karzai and tell him to resign and call for immediate elections, or the U.S. would begin a full pullout of troops. And when Karzai attempted to call the apparent bluff, for Obama to reveal he was holding the nuts (for yet another Obama poker metaphor) and simply leave.  Karzai’s uncooperation is enough political justification for a pullout – the U.S. cannot continue to prop up a corrupt regime that refuses to reform.

There are a huge number of places in the world where a military intervention by the U.S. might be valuable, but I can’t think of any current ones that I would personally want to go on, would feel an obligation toward that would make me go, or would jump to go to if demanded by draft.

Not only do I not feel safer with troops in Afghanistan, I know I’m not safer. I feel safer knowing the 2nd Infantry is in South Korea, for example – an invited, conservative, defensive, and culturally enmeshed deployment, very unlike what we have in Iraq or Afghanistan, which defends against a quantifiable threat.

I suppose this is a roundabout way of saying that Obama’s usual brand of reasonable, intelligent argumentation has its limits. I felt the gentle tug of rhetoric, but I shrugged it off easily.