[title of show] – Theater

What the f*@k? Who the f*@k? How the f*@k? These questions (and more) will be answered in this review of [title of show], which opened in The Turpin Theatre on March 31, 2017. It is a 2004 musical comedy by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell that follows a quartet who try to get their stage production to become a reality.

Do not be fooled by the all-too-familiar plot. The script is about them writing the script that they are currently performing, so it takes self-awareness to another level. This show is a tightly written jaunt that fires humor out like a comedy AK-47. It is smart and feels connected, but also offers multiple levels of entertainment.  The music is fun, fresh, and (at times) reflective.

This particular production starred Mitch Lyon, Angela Lyon, Daniel Johnson, and Chelsea Davis. Mitch and Daniel play the author and composer. Angela and Chelsea are their actor friends. Finally, Andrew Long serves as the accompanist who also serves as a cameo role. An immediate observation is that the show caters to a strength in each one of the actors. It allows them to showcase themselves.

17776616_265419680573141_1326855596_o(Clockwise from top: Mitch Lyon, Daniel Johnson, Angela Lyon, and Chelsea Davis)

Each actor was good on every level and great in at least one. A. Lyon, for example, was able to sing, dance, and act. What she brought special to the production was her natural comedic energy that was consistent throughout. Lines that may have not been funny were brought to life with her timing and expressions. Meanwhile, Johnson was possibly the most grounded in terms of acting, though he certainly is a singer and capable of garnering laughs. Davis, who has proven her acting and singing ability, brought a gentility to the otherwise aggressive group. It provided a much needed balance especially when doing numbers like “A Way Back to Then.” Finally, M. Lyon was probably the best vocalist of the group, though he had his moments with comedy and dance.  Ultimately, it was a roulette wheel of talent, where someone was always winning. Even Long manages to pop out his 3 or 4 lines with fun innocence, while slaying the music on piano.

The highlight numbers included “An Original Musical” where Jeff (Johnson) duets with a blank piece of paper (M. Lyon). Lyon explodes as a foul-mouthed urban muse, while Johnson is undeniably charming in his delivery. “Die, Vampire, Die!” is also worth mentioning as Susan (A. Lyon) takes lead with support from the rest of the cast. This number moves from funny to suddenly reflective, without missing a beat.  “Secondary Characters” (Davis and A. Lyon) and “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” also stood out due to writing and performance.

The only minor criticism is that I was unaware the two lead male characters were gay. There were moments and gestures, but it felt more like they were using them for effect and not part of their characters. It wasn’t until much later in the show that someone said something in a non-comedic tone that I realized. It didn’t deter any entertainment value, though.

Overall, the show had no low points, moved well, was choreographed appropriately for the space and told a full story with minimal props and set. It was proof of what can be accomplished with the right talent and some creative thinking. [title of show] is a quick, but relentless musical comedy that needs to be experienced. Call Gaslight at 580-234-2307 to get your tickets.

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Logan – (Movie)

MV5BOTAwZjYyNDYtNjIyMS00N2ZmLTk1ZjQtZTY2MzY1MDYyNzZjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1502,1000_AL_I have no witty caption to add here.  He’s too hot for me to think straight.  (Ah, there it is)

(SPOILER ALERT) Logan promised to be the Wolverine movie that fans have been waiting for. I have always found Wolverine overrated but have enjoyed Hugh Jackman in the role. So after appearing in at least 9 movies (whether he fit or not), we are wrapping up his character in 20th Century Fox’s farewell to Jacksman. Let’s get on with this review, bub.

If you are a comic fan, you realize that Logan is gently inspired by Old Man Logan. If you aren’t a comic fan, this means that it is going to be less about special effects and more about emotional ones. It’s a melancholy romp that begins with Logan living out in the desert caring for Professor Charles Xavier (again played by Patrick Stewart), with help from Caliban (played by the equally delightful Stephan Merchant, who out of make-up is kind of hot in a nerdy way. In make-up, he’s the visual representation of suffering.) A woman seeks out Logan to help because (like in most X-men movies, whether it makes sense or not) he’s the only one who can. She has a young mutant girl who she wants to get to a safe-haven before the bad guys that experimented on her destroy her.

The best points of the movie are sometimes the worst. Reflecting on the positives; Stewart as Xavier is always a rich experience and here we get to see him stretch his acting in the role. Xavier is far less confident and capable, now presented as a bed ridden senior who can’t control his powers. It’s a fascinating look into that character’s future. Aside from still being insanely attractive (like your friend’s hot dad in high school), Jackman gives a sturdy performance. Merchant gives more than expected, achieving sympathy without being completely one note. You can imagine different stages of his life just by what you get to see on screen.

The general cinematography is clean and steady (thank goodness the director, James Mangold, didn’t go into shaky cam territory). The story is not without holes (we’ll get to those in a moment). It does strive to be something deeper than a Hollywood blockbuster and I appreciate that effort.

My problems with the movie range from writing to it’s message. I was bothered that the nurse who rescues Laura (played by Dafne Keen) was able to send a fully edited video from her phone…That she took time to do it and wasn’t caught while filming quite a bit of footage in the secret facility are both questions that drew me out of the scene. Speaking of Laura, there is little transition seen as Laura goes from a feral mute child to this weeping and protective little girl. Was Xavier’s death supposed to motivate the change in her? Was Logan’s love? Was it the chips she ate that certainly contained corn syrup that changed her? There was no focus on this change. It just happened.

Let’s talk about the black family in Oklahoma that gets slaughtered. I’ll ignore the jokes about southern stereotypes for now and ask…What was the point in terms of the story and character development? Did I miss something? These people were HIGHLY open to letting a stranger with tons of scars all over him bring his “father” and mute “daughter” come in and have dinner, then stay overnight. Then, once they are wiped out, there is no reference or mention of them. No moment to have Logan reflect on the family he lost or what it means to be family. It all seemed like a very lengthy plot device that was conveniently and quickly wiped from the story.

Meaning was also lacking for me in the final fight between the mutants and the soliders/agents. Logan came to help the kids and his daughter. Fine. But wouldn’t the movie have shown his paternal attachment to Laura by letting him fight FOR her instead of WITH her against the bad guys? It’s like they bonded through slaughtering people and the Logan dies. Are we supposed to believe that Laura is somehow no longer the violent, ready-to-kill-a-cashier, thieving little girl he was on a road trip with? Would she go on a killing spree if someone didn’t give her enough corn? Laura’s character had no real development…she was just conveniently what she needed to be at certain points in the movie.

Certainly, Laura’s final act of turning the cross on its side to make an “X” was intended to be an image depicting the X-men…but that gesture came across anti-God. Would it not have been better to lay the cross down over his grave (as not to draw attention to it) and turn the camera to make an “X” out of it? Why did she do that? It felt like it was supposed to really mean something, but wasn’t sure what?

This movie is littered with “The Walking Dead” type violence and enough foul language to fill a Tarantino movie. Was THAT what fans were waiting for? Were execs thinking “Deadpool made us money and fans. Let’s raise the vulgarity on Wolverine…who tons of children have been watching for 17 years?”  What point did it prove except that the movie was edgy? The violence itself wasn’t part of the moral message, was it?

This is an escort plot that has been done plenty of times (Violet, The Professional, Taxi Driver, etc.) Grizzled character protects young child that is special. Despite the laughter and gore, violence and profanity don’t make a movie better. Sometimes it belongs and sometimes it doesn’t. To say those things add to a movie is like a 10 year old giggling at “poop.”  Deadpool was the movie where it worked. That movie was basically teen angst and attitude. Here, it felt like they were pushing hard to prove how cold this world was and to be taken seriously.

This leads me to a side gripe. Since when was it wrong for a comic book superhero movie to be fun, bright, and action-packed? I realize The Dark Knight is considered to be the template to which we judge all superhero movies, but not everything needs to have Batman’s raw brooding seriousness. What is so wrong with just watching good guys take down bad guys without some internal struggle, the word “f*ck” for audience to giggle at, or nudity?

With all that said, Logan was a good movie…especially when compared to all the other Wolverine movies. Is it one of the greatest superhero movies ever? I…guess so? It lacked some imagination, but had some interesting plot points (like Xavier’s seizures). If there was a message, it didn’t come through in the action for me. So I was left feeling a little hollow about the characters I was supposed to root for at the end credits. It was a thoughtful movie and perhaps I judge it harshly because it could have gone further in summarizing its point. I prefer movies like X-Men: United and Deadpool to this noir-embellished grit fest. I don’t want to be depressed for an hour and a half. Logan  might have served someone like me better if they had done even more to show this was a different world. Shoot it in black and white and go full noir? Explore the comparison between the comic book and real life that Logan touched on?

Most people enjoy this movie and I can respect that. We had little to go on before.

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Winding Road (Music)

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Sean Macgregor / Winding Road

(Produced by Sean MacGregor and Ron DiSilvestro.)

Using the term “rock music” doesn’t mean much these days. There are so many variations and sub-genres that defining what makes “rock” is more complicated. Sean MacGregor’s new album, Winding Road, feels like rock, as in…it is hard to give a specific definition to. Perhaps this is something that works in his favor.

“Small Town” is the first track (available on iTunes). First impression was a mix of 90’s rock and Christian rock. It has an edge, but never pushes to it. Think Goo Goo Dolls or Better Than Ezra. The lyrics have a slight modern country vibe, but it is a solid song. First songs should set a tone for the entire album and this one does just that.

The next track, “Can’t Sleep Tonight” sounds like a continuation of “Small Town” in a way. It is like a sequel. People listen to tracks out of order, but if listening through  it would be unfortunate to listen to this right after the first song. Only because people have ADHD when it comes to unfamiliar artists. The song is good, but not different enough.

Now, we get to “Winding Road.”  It’s the album title and that makes it an important song. How did it stand up? Honestly, it should have been the second song I listened to. The music is pleasing and nostalgic. The crescendo from beginning to end is well paced. The only criticism is that the lyrics seem to be trying a bit hard. The album works to paint a picture and three songs have positioned him with alcohol, as if to really drive home how “down to earth” this man is. This is only an example of the strain in the lyrics and it does not happen often. As a single, however, it carries a lot of life and a good representation of the album as a whole.

MacGregor’s  vocals are on key with modern pop rock like Jimmy Eat World’s, Jim Adkins or Yellowcard’s. The range at which he sings does make it sound as if he’s always singing the chorus to songs. By the time tracks like “Sundays” and “Nebraska” came around I was a bit exhausted. He has an excellent voice for this genre of music, but he could stand to explore other ranges in order to provide a wider variety.

“Nebraska” was one that easily could have benefited from starting lower and building, allowing us to relax for a moment. The music itself was gentler in its start; something you might listen to while driving down a lonely stretch of highway and creating a journey. If lower range vocals aren’t possible, then soft spoken might have provided that room for climax.

Finally, we come to the last track. Easily one of the best tracks on the album, “Ellie” is a father’s song to his daughter. While the other songs may hint at experiences, this one goes head first into the love he feels. Here, his vocals blend with the music in such a way that eases the audience into this story. The vulnerability and sincerity are never more evident than with “Ellie” and it is a perfect way to end the album.

McGregor wrote most of the songs, only co-writing “Nebraska” with Chris Rhoads. He is a talented singer and songwriter. Several songs could be soundtracks to films or to an individual’s real life. Winding Roads isn’t perfect. As a full project, it misses some vocal variety and lyric / music harmony. Yet, as individual tracks, it has enjoyable additions to a playlist. Winding Roads is a good step McGregor and hopefully, the growth will be heard in a follow-up album.

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The Bad Seed – (Theatre)

The discussion has been had regarding whether true horror can be achieved on stage (whether the production itself is good or not). With the flop adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie and a lackluster Night of the Living Dead script, there seems to be a leaning to failure. In time for the holiday, Gaslight presents The Bad Seed written by Maxwell Anderson and directed by Catina Sundvall. Based on the 1954 novel by William March, it follows the story of the Penmark family. In particular, the mother, Christine and her “perfect” daughter, Rhoda. As tragedy strikes more than once, a cloud of suspicion forms over Rhoda and it is up to her mother to fight through her doubts and the opinions of those around her to discover the truth. (Note: I have never seen the movie or read the script).

To start, I was taken back by the lack of any ambient noise. It was deathly silent throughout the show. While I first thought of this as a criticism, I began to wonder if music would somehow take away from the vibe of the setting. In the end, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

The set itself was well decorated, if traditional. Personally, I enjoyed the yellow walls with brown trim. Along with the set dressing, it gave me an antique feeling, which worked in harmony with the time of the story. Nothing looked “out of place” and other than the common problem of a sofa blocking a portion of the acting, the spacing worked fluidly.

As characters were introduced, I was pleasantly surprised by the costuming. Though I can’t confirm the authenticity of all the pieces in relation to the period, most seem tailored to fit the actors (though they came from costume storage) and support their characterizations. Normally, costumes aren’t a point of interest for me, but in this show everything helped visually and with the storytelling. Not only stylish in most cases, but also purposeful.

Now, onto the biggest factor; acting. Across the board, I found the acting consistent, effective and interesting. While it might be a bit verbose to mention them all, there were highlights. Gaslight newcomer, Tree Perkins, played the drunken neighbor, Mrs. Daigle. The story does not lend itself to much levity, yet Perkins was able to manifest a chuckle while not taking away from the dire circumstances of her scenes. Alex Ewald was cast as Leroy, the caretaker. What was exceptional here was all the nuances that Ewald gave his character, which isn’t done far enough on stage in shows (in my opinion). Gestures, body language, speech; this character was real enough to spark a mix of funny, odd, and creepy. Chelsea Davis also managed to accomplish quite a bit as the mom, Christine. Over the last several years, I have found Davis more entertaining in comedy. However, this role convinced me she is fully capable of handling heavier stories. There was a way that leading ladies carried themselves in movies prior to the 60’s and she was able to embody that delicate nature. This is important as the character’s life begins to unravel around her, we need to see a stark contrast by the end. The arch of this character was handled quite well and brings the climax of the show where it needs to go. Finally, we have Jersey Garrett as Rhoda; the possible bad seed referred to in the title. This young actress has a lot to carry to interpret old-fashioned dialogue in a way that translates for now. I would say she was successful in all moods of the character, but excelled when facing off with another character. This is fine, as I think that’s what the audience pays for!  She has a great expressive face for the stage, which easily reads across the stage. Hopefully, she will continue to sharpen her skills on the stage, as she has everything it takes to continue getting good roles. These were not the only strong performances on the stage, just highlights.

Sundvall gave good direction and believable blocking. The characters moved with purpose and locations made sense. I was never lost on what a character was doing.

In the end, I am not convinced it is a “scary” play. It WAS, however, intense and suspenseful. The conclusion was shocking and other than some slight lagging during a scene change (music may or may not have helped here), it moved well. It does contain some suggestive violence and mature themes, so use your discretion.  This bad seed was a good thriller, and I am certain audiences will be genuinely entertained. (580-234-2307 for tickets)14352055_157574501357660_3298704976327705515_o

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Sympathy for the Director

director-1380748_1280Why did the director cross the road? To get a different perspective.

I once went to a job interview. The dimly lit panel asked the usual series of questions; What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Are you capable of taking the blame for something I do wrong and giving me credit for things I had nothing to do with?     You know. They got to one question I had been hoping for. “Tell us about your most challenging job.” I proceeded to tell them about a movie I directed and the nightmare of having mother nature almost ruin an outdoor scene. However, I noticed that as soon as I said “directed a movie” their eyes sort of went into a relaxed state. I think their brains were using their eyes as surfboards as they traveled to the beaches portrayed as screen savers on their computers. It was then I realized that the general public will never understand or appreciate the work that goes into a movie.

Directors are present long before the cast and still around long after the cast has forgotten their lines (well, that’s an exaggeration.) If they are independent, then they are often the same ones who have written the script and participated in casting and…crew-ing? Why isn’t that word? If “casting” is assembling a cast, shouldn’t “crew-ing” be assembling a crew? I digress. Directors have to continue to think about every aspect of a movie; the camera shots, interpreting the  writing, knowing all the characters, etc. Any decent director who takes their work seriously has acquired some skills that others have not.

Organizing is most certainly towards the top. A good indie director is often the one designing a schedule, telling everyone where they need to be and when on set, deciding the order that scenes will be shot, delegating tasks to crew and more. Once the project begins, it is non-stop adjustment for illness, technical difficulties, and weather that requires re-organizing all the plans. This leads to another attribute; problem-solving.

In the example above, I brought up mother nature’s interference in an outdoor shoot. The entire movie took place in the fall. However, because I live in Oklahoma, the sky decided it was a good time to poop out a few inches of snow. None of the other outdoor scenes had been shot in the snow. It’s important to make good use of time because the longer a movie takes the more hurdles you risk having. Instead of rescheduling (noting that we had no idea how long the snow would exist), we interwove a dream sequence into the scene. It worked out alright since one character was prone to having prophetic-type dreams. This is problem-solving at its finest.

Communication is key to getting what you want on camera. You not only  have to know technical jargon, you have to be versed in talking to various personalities. One actor may be eager to please, while another comes onset to simply prove what all they know. While it would be nice to pull a Hitchcock and slap the latter, that would be ineffective and waste time. No, you have to know how to communicate in a way that tells your actors what you need from them without getting caught up in ego, insecurity, etc. You have to be able to tell crew clearly what they should be doing so you get a shot in as few takes as possible.

Yes, being a director is a great way to improve new skills and highlight some you may already have. They are required to juggle everyone’s schedules and needs, while steadily progressing to a final product in a limited amount of time. They must remain on their toes for problems that arise…and they WILL arise. They do so with less gratitude or attention than actors (though admittedly more than crew) and can spend up to 15 hours a day on their feet. Yet if you walk into any average job interview, mentioning your experience directing a movie can come across as if you eat Play-Do for a living.

Hug a director…better yet…give them a job.

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Love, Loss, and What I Wore

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There are lots of pro-women projects out in the world. One of the most famous is The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler. Yet, there are countless and some are rather preachy or feel desperate to prove something…on occasion it is at the cost of the reputation of the opposite sex. Love, Loss, and What I Wore was written by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron. It was directed by Jill Patterson Phillips at the Gaslight Theatre in Enid, OK. It opens tonight in the Turpin Theatre, but I was fortunate enough to catch the final dress. I left inspired, with my masculinity in tact.

The Turpin hosts a small stage and an intimate setting. Phillips went an extra step by not only dressing the stage, but the audience chairs and entry. That is often a good sign that you will see that something “extra” on the stage. She made excellent use of the stage and from where I was sitting, the mirror made for some dramatic pictures. It was colorful, fun, and intimate (much like the stories the actors would soon be sharing on stage).

The show began with a strut down the catwalk to the stage. Each actor got into place and we were introduced to Mary McDonald as the lead character. McDonald has such a love of language and it comes out like a professional storyteller. It was the perfect thread to run through the fabric of the show. Carmen Ball was very real and dedicated to her various roles (where I had mostly seen her play to the audience as mother goose or serve as a rather stoic character). It was subtle and beautiful. Courtney Strzineck was solid, but achieved her greatest moments in some of the more dramatic stories. There was a thoughtfulness that projected her vulnerability to the audience. It was an excellent delivery of some rather emotional dialogue. Speaking of vulnerability, Tammy Wilson made one of the strongest leaps. Her performance here was one of her best as we got to see much softer and more loving characters who wore their emotions on their sleeve. I had never seen this from Wilson before and she nailed it. Finally, I’ve dubbed actor, Leslie Newell, as Enid’s answer to Lucille Ball or Aisha Tyler. She’s young and pretty, but she is fearless when it comes to reminding you she’ll sacrifice the pretty for a valuable laugh.  Newell has such a wonderful comedic spirit. Each woman garnered laughs, but Newell’s timing and expressions were undeniably hilarious.

The script was one of charm and great care. It was like spending Friday night hanging out with friends. With that, one does not feel obligated to stay to the end, but instead loses any interest in time. It approaches many topics and emotions, but does so successfully without force. It also tells its feminine story in such an entertaining and familiar way that even men will understand and appreciate it. They may find themselves thinking about their moms, wives, daughters, etc.

There are surprises that I cannot mention, lest I suffer a cruel death at the hands of the director. I found the entire experience honest without being desperate (like excessive vulgarity, as an example). The cast was light-hearted without being shallow. While this show is about women, it is certainly for everyone. Phillips made wonderful choices in her directorial debut and the sold-out crowd will no doubt be in for a treat. If the opportunity ever arises, put on your best black attire and catch Love, Loss, and What I Wore.

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Another Final Fantasy Final Review…Finally

FF1 logo ORIGIN--article_image (1) The real battle is among the fans. Start swinging your Geek Sword.

Anyone who knows this series knows the story of how, like a hero finding the source of power he needs to defeat a villain, an almost aborted company saved itself at the 11th hour with a little game called Final Fantasy. It was an evolution from Dungeon and Dragons that has gone on to spawn over 15 titles to its franchise. Fans are eagerly awaiting Final Fantasy XV (due out this year). While there have been countless reviews of everything from best villains to greatest video game moments, this will take a leisurely stroll through what I consider the best the series has to offer. At best it will lure in new fans. At worst, it may shed a light on why fans are so passionate.

The original game was a turn-based adventure with some of the best that the fantasy genre had to offer; pirates, dragons, elves, and angry unicorns. An entire world was waiting to be explored. For those that were fortunate enough to play this during its original release, there was little to compare with building the bridge and seeing that majestic title screen.  It set the stage for storytelling and battle systems to come. Four more games graced the consoles, each building on the successful foundation of the original.  However, when Final Fantasy reached it’s 6th game (Final Fantasy VI in Japan was Final Fantasy III in the US), they achieved something truly special.

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Most Final Fantasies are known for their music, this is no exception. The opening has a wonderful track that sounds driven and weary at the same time. What follows is a cast of characters with complicated back stories that create a clear motivation as to why they fight (minus some optional characters). The style has a Europe circa World War I feel to it. Everything is industrial and a bit run down in this world where technology and magic co-exists.

Art plays an important part in this (fitting in with the European vibe) as the heroes find themselves in an art museum as well as an opera house. One of the most memorable moments is where you play spy and go undercover as an opera singer.

There are so many heartfelt moments from a feral boy and his father who almost reconnect; a man who went insane and threw his son into the wild and forgot about him. There is a soldier who must deal with the death of his wife and son in a heartbreaking quest. Not to mention the emotional reunion of all the characters, including one who has suffered so much that she resists joining her friends.

Make no mistake, FFVI isn’t weak when it comes to the action. We have artillery vehicles that shoot magic, creature summoning, a moogle who can take a spear and do multiple attacks in one move for 9999 damage, and more. I particularly like that each character is distinct in their appearance as well as what they can do, and even react to battles in their own unique way.

If you’re a right brain kind of person, this installment is ripe with emotional and creative touches. It is possibly my favorite of the series for it’s balance of strength and vulnerability, as well as its style and landscape.

For me, the next release is the best rival to FFVI. That would be FFVII.
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No FF fans lose their sh** more than FFVII fans when they hear the names Cloud, Tifa, Barrett, or Aeris (dear lord, don’t bring up Aeris). FFVII, in my experience, are the most rabid when it comes to defending a title from the series. No other title in the series can boasts having such highly anticipated movie, is replayed more, or is on more gaming lists than FFVII.

To understand this, you have to know a few things. FFVII marked the big move from Nintendo to Sony Playstation. So old fans of previous games bought it and people who wanted to see what this new console could do bought it. For some, it was the first RPG game they played.

FFVII provided a severe upgrade in graphics, but didn’t lose any of its storytelling or character layers. Cloud, an ex-soldier now mercenary for hire, is at the eye of the storm. However, the roster of heroes is as impressive (if not more so) than FFVI, due to each of them having a fully realized back story that links them all together…even the optional characters!  Standing in their way is one of the most loved villains, Sephiroth. His cool demeanor while doing unspeakable acts, his long white flowing hair, and the way he works that sword are trademark. Personally, my favorite back story is that of Nanaki. I have cried twice in a FF game. Nanaki (or Red XIII as he is also called), travels on a brief but emotional journey to discover the truth about his roots and at the end we are left with a sad revelation.  Most people, however, were stunned and horrified at the demise of one particular character. Any fan will know who I’m talking about.

FFVII’s appeal comes from the characters who are so diverse that there is someone for every type of gamer. That appeal also comes from one bad@ss weapon system that allows for a slew of moves, protections, and attacks. It was here that the summoning of monsters became a spectacle all its own. Selecting this ability during a battle meant being greeted with what felt like a never-ending performance before you were given control again…and no one complained.

This game was also a clear battle of environmentalists versus industrialists. I’m not sure that has ever been achieved so successfully. Far from a perfect game, the storytelling was more ambitious than anything before and provided one of the most recognizable soundtracks in the series. It had so many side quests and secrets, that the options of how to play the game were gratuitous. Those elements alone deserve respect.

FF10Final Fantasy X

There are many hardcore fans of titles that I won’t mention in this article. Each game (even the worst of the series) has something to offer. When you’re talking about 15 versions from a series, you cannot avoid debate about what is worthy, the best, or essential. I say this because I am skipping VIII and IX.

Final Fantasy X is always a polarizing title. Love it or hate it, I would argue that it is the most beautiful of the series. There are heavy Eastern influences that can be seen in the costumes, the buildings, the cultures, and rituals used in FFX. Every location is startling perfection from the sun-bathed waters that surround a lot of the cities to the dark and haunting caves. Especially early on in the game, I feel like I’m on vacation and find myself simply enjoying the lush scenery.

A game with awkward moments spread throughout (such as the bizarre voice work and often cheesy dialogue), it accomplishes a greater sense of culture. The story centers around a woman, Yuna, who sets off on a pilgrimage to acquire the powers she needs to battle a destructive force known as “Sin.” Through this journey, we see how these characters deal with death, religion, religion infringing on politics (and vice versa), and even how clothing helps build this fantasy world. One of the most beautiful scenes (thank to the music, design, and animation working together) is when Yuna has to perform a dance for the first time, to send the souls of the dead where they belong. Again, this game is beautiful.

There is also one of the most tragic love stories in the series between the true main character, Tidus, and Yuna. The way their love develops is acceptable enough, but what it goes through is the real kicker. Once the truths begin to reveal themselves, we have to take a moment to process. THAT is good storytelling. It was enough so that FFX became the first to have a true sequel (Final Fantasy X-2). The other characters has bits of story, but it really boiled down to Tidus and Yuna.

I also found the battle system and weapons quite creative; one guy uses various volleyball-type items as a weapon and our black mage’s power is determined by the type of doll she carries (each doll is a nod to well-known FF characters). Ultimately, though, any character could acquire and use almost any power (except summoning) which was a little disappointing, as was the ability to change the names of the characters. I always liked using friends names for the main characters.

This is a hot game, full of magic and wonder and exploration. It transports you, and almost every hero is like-able (unlike some other characters from other games like Cait Sith or Quina). Despite an awkward step into voice-acting, the rest of it was a visual and emotional dance for most fans.

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FFXII is rarely used as a symbol for what the series is. It has its share of fans, but the overall attitude was stale compared to previous releases. This in part, due to the main character, Vaan, (who  often came across as pointless to the main story) and some would say due to the extreme change of the battle system. I would wager that the lack of “joy” in the characters or story could carry some of the blame as well. Humor was always present in the other installments, reminding us to have a good time and create a roller coaster of emotion. As it stands, FFXII is a bleak drama with characters too focused on their woes to provide appropriate levity. Still, it has its charm and positive qualities to make it a good game.

First, we have yet another creative and inspiring setting; somewhat of a French or maybe more Italian Renaissance vibe with a little bit of steam punk worked in for an edge. It is draped in artistry.

While Vaan was something of a last minute decision because they wanted the first controllable character to be young, it worked against them. Many fans would have preferred the original lead, Basch to carry the story. Vaan was an orphan who has a loose tie to the story (but one you could omit without much being sacrificed). Basch was a disgraced knight accused of a crime he didn’t commit. His character carried more weight. Another fan favorite, Balthier, is a sky pirate that would have served as a suitable lead as well.

The plot is interesting and exciting, but much more mature than in previous games. Political and social warfare is in the backdrop with characters so determined to right the wrongs and are styled to be cerebral, that we leave behind quirk and humor.  I like the maturity, but miss the moments of light-heartedness.

The games also suffers from monotony. You find yourself battling the same creatures over and over for quite awhile. The “mail system” is cute but not engaging. The battle system itself does away with turn-based fighting, and instead allows you almost a real time scenario. You can also assign what characters will do automatically during a fight. This was the moment I noticed that there seemed to be a little less for me to do in terms of the battle. You set things up and can sit back and let it do the rest. I prefer to be more involved.

If you have patience and focus, you may love the story (that feels genuine and historical). If you didn’t care for turn-based battles of the past, you may love the path this game takes. Either way, XII was a game with good and bad, but much like Vaan, didn’t leave as big of an impression as it should have.

There are a few honorable mention moments from other games that I’d like to point out. The opening FMV from FFVIII was a stunning display. It also did a great job (much like FFX) of creating melodramatic moments between the villains and heroes. FFII is responsible for my first video game cry, when powerful twins Palom and Porum sacrificed themselves to save the other characters. It also has one of the best transformations of a character when Rydia and Cecil mature into their full-warrior selves.

Overall, a subject like Final Fantasy can be rather esoteric. It may be difficult to absorb the game simply by reading about it. These games are achievements and have made a large impact on the gaming world. I attribute that to storytelling, diverse characters, and engaging game play. Every fan will have a different take on each game. What works for one does not work for another. I consider Final Fantasy to be one of the great escapes of our current culture.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention FFXIII. I haven’t finished it so I didn’t feel it fair to discuss it…along with the sequels or spin-offs. That could take forever and there are adventures to be had!

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