Jimmy Breck-McKye

Developing opinions

Sephiroth, the Fake

Final Fantasy VII is about two men who discover they aren’t the heroes they wanted to be. The game is about other things - war, capitalism, ecocide to name a few - but I think how these men address their shame, and compete to overcome it, is its real engine.

I recently replayed the 1997 original as a way of preparing for Remake and Rebirth. I wanted a frame of reference to compare what the remakes got right and wrong. But I also was surprised at how well the original game held up, at the plot details and narrative subtleties I never noticed as a teenager.

And I started asking myself a question - why does Sephiroth lie? Why - exactly - does Sephiroth pretend that Cloud was never a real person? The answer I came to put a new turn on a story I’d long taken for granted.

The Minimalism of Tomb Raider (1996)

Recently I played Tomb Raider 1 for the first time. After I got over the controls and very cheesy voice acting, I was struck by the clarity of its design. The word I want to use is “minimalistic”, but it’s more fundamental than that. “Restrained”, “pure”, “immersive” are other words I could use, but none of them are quite enough to capture what makes this game so great.

TR1 is a little hard to get into as a modern game. The old TR games use tank controls, where you rotate and move Lara relative to her current heading, as opposed to modern 3D games where you move relative to the camera. It felt clunky at first but after a while I really started to grasp its elegance.

The PSOne Crash Bandicoot games are beautiful in 4K

Modern emulator cores like BeetleHW allow you to play old-school PSOne games in new-school high resolution. Games that rely heavily on polygonal graphics, rather than textured graphics, benefit the most. And as a fan of the original Crash Bandicoot games my eyes just popped to see them brought to vivid life on a 4k, widescreen display.

Right click any image + open in new tab for a full sized view. Or view the gallery on imgur.

The real villain of Final Fantasy VIII is History Itself

Final Fantasy VIII is a curious one.

You play a group of teens at a high-school-cum-military academy who spend their days planning prom dates, riding hoverboards and munching hot dogs at the school cafeteria. They’re training to become elite special forces, but have no idea their school is really a front for a millennia-long war against a time-travelling sorceress who wants to destroy all existence.

It gets… strange. You are mortally wounded and impaled in the chest at the end of Disc 1, then awake apparently unharmed. Everyone grew up together in an orphanage but forgot due to Plot Convenient Amnesia (discussed once and then forgotten). You fight a T-Rex in the school gym.

VIII can be maddeningly vague. Just who is Ultimecia, the sorceress from the future, and what does she really want? It’s never satisfyingly explained, nor how the sorceresses came about. There seems to be a link between her and your love interest Rinoa - with tantalising clues and strange allusions - but it’s a lacuna, an absence, like so many elements of FFVIII’s lore.

But a recent replay changed my mind. In fact: I now think VIII is the smartest and most self aware of the whole series. It has its faults and some bad writing in parts, but I think there’s a way of looking at FFVIII that makes sense out of the game’s weirdness.

I think that if you look at FF8 as a story about stories - a metastory - a structure falls into place. Like the game’s own time travel loop, this structure is a paradox, collapsing and uncollapsing on itself indefinintely. VIII tells a story about stories so dangerous, it has to abandon its own story in disgust.

I want to show you the real strangeness of Final Fantasy VIII.

Playing TimeSplitters: Future Perfect on PC

Like the TimeSplitters series? What if I told you it’s possible to play TimeSplitters 2 and Future Perfect on PC with mouse and keyboard support to boot? All you need is the Dolphin Gamecube emulator and a helpful controller plugin.