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Monthly Archives: March 2014

My Problem with Final Fantasy VII

My Problem with Final Fantasy VII

My favorite game in the Final Fantasy series is Final Fantasy IX, and it was somewhat jolting to learn how many gamers didn’t like it. It had the most cohesive group of characters and plot-driven gameplay since Final Fantasy IV, which was another popular game in the series and one which, like Final Fantasy IX, was set in an outright fantasy world and stripped down to basics. You would think the contingent of gamers constantly bitching about Final Fantasy’s abandonment of its roots for the Philip K. Dick emo festivals the two previous games were made into would have been satisfied by the only real fantasy offering since IV, V, and VI rocked the role-playing realm, but the internet had become the world’s most importantly ubiquitous celebrity by then and was lighting up. Apparently gamers were loving the new tales of Final Fantasy hipster characters, so after IX, Square returned to the series 32-bit roots and has been tinkering with them ever since. 

There are two camps of Final Fantasy fans: The Before Crowd and The After Crowd. The before and after in question requires no introduction. It’s Final Fantasy VII, that great Playstation juggernaut which captured a slew of people who, before then, would have beat up anyone who described a favorite game as an interactive silicon book. The advertising blitz for Final Fantasy VII didn’t quite reach the highest level – I’ll still insist that Super Mario Bros. 3 will always hold that record because a full-length, live action feature film, The Wizard, was made for the sole purpose of making sure people knew about it – but it was unprecedented for an RPG. RPGs were the video games of choice for the most outcast of the outcasts back then, which was my social class. When Final Fantasy VII began showing up in TV ads and display features, people took notice, and being a geek became a little bit easier. All the cool kids who had been obsessed with the fighting game wars just a few years before were standing with the geeks, openly wondering what secrets Cloud’s past held and wondering if the death of Aeris was a designer ruse or for real. Aeris’s sudden murder is one of the greatest pieces of video game lore; it captured imaginations to such an extent that even today – 17 years after the original release of Final Fantasy VII and long after rumors of any shot at bringing her back within that particular game have been denied by developers and obliterated by every gamer fool enough to try – new rumors continue to pop up about this or that absurd, far-out method of resurrecting her. 

Role-playing became mainstream. Hallelujah for Final Fantasy, right? I guess, except for the little detail of Final Fantasy VII not being the best game in the series for miles. A grand survey of folks who were playing games before 3D was an accepted norm reveals that VII was outclassed by almost every other game in the series, with the possible exception of the first. You can usually tell what kind of Final Fantasy fans gamers are by asking them about Final Fantasy VII. The Before Crowd will give it a vicious verbal thrashing before stating a case that one of the earlier games – mostly likely Final Fantasy VI – is the absolute pinnacle of gaming perfection and you’re not a gamer if you think otherwise. The After Crowd lavishes its endless affection on Final Fantasy VII and claims it a revelation that turned gaming on its head. Somewhere in the middle of this weird war of magi, though, is a third crowd that just wishes they could nuke the other two into their morning coffee.

I’m a member of this third crowd, and it’s a constant oddity because being there means constantly fighting with everyone about the commercial and artistic merits of Final Fantasy VII. For every greatest game ever list FFVII tops, every best hero/villain list topped off by Cloud and/or Sephiroth, every wish for a chocobo race simulator, every Gamefaqs tournament ending with Cloud or Sephiroth in the final, and every petition to rename Las Vegas “Gold Saucer,” another little motor unit inside me fries to death. I want to champion Final Fantasy VII, but that’s impossible because doing so against anyone means going extreme in the opposite direction since concessions mean you automatically lose the debate. Unfortunately, the perceived infallibility of FFVII has gotten to be too much to bear, so even though I like the game a lot, I find myself beating it up more and more as more people born after the 16-bit era come of age and regard FFVII as their greatest seminal experience in video games. 

I don’t get the character attachments. When the game begins, you take control of Cloud, the main character and an acting mercenary for a group of eco-terrorists. Cloud is only looking after himself through the first segment of the game. As is the won’t of Final Fantasy, though, Cloud does make his presto chango, but it comes a wee bit too early and with too much convenience to character for a guy who spends a lot of the game supposedly grappling with himself. It’s too easy to lump him up with Squall, the insufferable lead of FFVIII, but Cloud does manage to change, overcome his personal demons, and become a headstrong leader in the end of the game, so that much I can give him. Unfortunately, his past is laid out and scattered in such a way that one of the side quests – the visit to Gongaga – is of utmost importance if you’re to figure out the significance of this Zack guy to him, and even then, you’re still forced to piece it together like a jigsaw even after Tifa’s visit to his head. 

The most inexplicable story decision, though, is trying to figure out the villain. To their credit, the writers managed to envision one of the most pointlessly cruel, hateful, hostile, spiteful, inhumane, and just plain evil villains of all time…. Only to place him on the side to an anime porn prettyboy named Sephiroth. Anytime there’s a new FFVII-related form of media saturation, Sephiroth is guaranteed to be a part of it. Poor Hojo, meanwhile, was there and killed and never seen again. While Hojo was a by-the-book mad scientist most of the time, his strength as a villain came from his lack of redeeming qualities. He was like Kefka in FFVI in that at the conclusion, you wanted him gruesomely tortured to death with his head mounted on a nice plaque in your study. There’s a weird dynamic at play in RPG world savior scenarios because when the villain is humanized, the need to differentiate between good and evil is blurrier, even though you still know in the end that he’s trying to destroy the world and will have to kill him rather than redeem him. It kinda nullifies the whole point of one or the other. Sephiroth, after all, turned out to be more or less a de facto bad guy whose mommy issues would blow up Sigmund Freud’s brain. Hojo was evil to the bone, and no other bad guy in the game held the importance he did. Who was as terrible as him? Certainly not Sephy. Rufus Shinra? He was almost a complete nonfactor once Cloud made it out of Midgar. Even the game didn’t consider him important enough for the party to kill, leaving the dirty work to Diamond Weapon…. After Hojo shot Diamond Weapon with the Sister Ray. The Turks were easy battle victories and hired hands. Heideggar and Scarlet were clear graduates of the Dr. Claw School of Henching. Dyne wasn’t around for very long. Yuffie was theoretically one of the good guys.

Speaking of Dyne, his good guy counterpart Barrett opens about ten barrels of worms people don’t want to point out. Barrett is one of the first characters we meet in the game – he even enters the screen right before Cloud, and is on your side for the entire game. He has a gun for an arm, a violent temperament, a short fuse, and a high level of melanin. Now, Square deserves a ton of credit for doing something which had almost never been done before in creating a minority (black) hero in a video game who played a significant role and never got corrupted or killed. But there’s almost certainly a larger picture or idea that can be introduced about society – our society – by merit of his bad temper, tough demeanor, and gun arm, and I’m fairly sure it isn’t good. The fact that his daughter, Marlene, is white probably helps reinforce said picture or idea. Elaboration, I’m sure, can be found in the writings of sociologists and psychologists who study critical theory professionally, but I can point out that Barrett reinforces an awful lot of negative stereotypes which he never quite sheds in his journeys. I don’t think I’m in the wrong by holding a spotlight to Cid, either, and his borderline abusive way of treating Shera. 

The most famous scene is easily the death of Aeris, and that’s for a damn good reason. Not only is the death done in a very powerful way which solidified the idea that CG cutscenes have a place in video games, but absolutely no one was expecting it. Aeris was the main love interest and the last member of a race that was being exploited, which made her something of a big deal to Hojo and therefore a major plot point. Her death was an emotional moment for most of the people who played the game, and it was a shock to everyone who played it. It was also an evasion. Aeris flirted her way through through her parts of the game and never seemed to show a whole lot of concern, and one strategy guide I read had the idea that there was some kind of hidden meter in the game that showed how much she liked Cloud. Although I haven’t been able to confirm that, it fits her character. When she finally does realize the gravitas of the situation, she bolts from the party, thus freeing the writers from having to develop her, and when the party catches up in the Forgotten City and she threatens to have to grow a third dimension again, she’s conveniently rubbed out. To their credit, the death and sendoff and haunting, emotional, and beautiful, but they’re still a way of getting around having to write her more. To think, these are the same writers who whipped up a silly character named Cait Sith who joined the party for a ridiculous reason, wiped him out, and immediately replaced him with a Cait Sith II (yes, that’s exactly what he called himself in the game), and nobody gave another thought to it.

You can breed chocobos in FFVII. Now, if you weren’t reading a strategy guide, how would you ever know that was even possible? Breeding them is important if you’re to grab the most powerful spell in the game, Knights of the Round, a devastator which totally cuts through everything the game can throw at you, including the last boss. Unfortunately, it involves knowing little insider details the game doesn’t tell you, like the difference between the highest level chocobos. I love thinking outside the box in video games, but this is thinking outside the marble containing our universe. Knights of the Round is mentioned casually by a lot of sources giving you ways to beat the game, but chocobo breeding requires virtually turning your life over if you’re starting from no knowledge. The summon spells also take forever to cast because the animations are long and can’t be skipped. Knights of the Round is a well-known culprit, taking over a minute.

It’s not that I don’t have problems with the other games in the Final Fantasy series. I do – Final Fantasy VIII is as bad as they come, and I even have a problem with the way the “infallible” Final Fantasy VI basically castrates itself in the second half, forcing players to figure out everything about where to go and what to do in a brand new world. Those two don’t annoy me as much as FFVII, though. Final Fantasy VIII is acknowledged as a terrible game in a lot of places, and FFVI doesn’t have the amount of saturation and hype as FFVII. My problem with FFVII isn’t the fact that people love it so much as it is the fact that it’s so fiercely beloved and defended that everyone pretends the flaws don’t exist. It’s like The Beatles.

There’s only one reason why Final Fantasy VII is as popular as it is: It was the My First RPG for an enormous contingent of people who either didn’t realize the genre existed until then or spent a lot of spare time bullying the people who did play RPGs. Yes, it’s wonderful to finally be able to play RPGs openly and not be poorly judged, but it certainly cost a lot of the genre’s integrity. Final Fantasy used to set standards. Now, because people loved Final Fantasy VII, Square found its commercial breakthrough, and so Final Fantasy is merely standard.

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The March Madness Video Game Tournament Finals Round

The March Madness Video Game Tournament Finals Round

Final Four

Master Chief vs. Dante
The thing about Dante’s matches is that he really hasn’t been, ahem, challenged just yet. Now he’s facing off with a first seed who wears a suit of armor specifically designed to repel a lot of his attacks, and the person wearing it is a genetically enhanced, super-trained soldier capable of absorbing his melee attacks. Dante’s Devil Trigger is a limited mode, and it’s not going to be strong enough to knock off Master Chief in a single round. Given this, it’s easy to imagine Dante taunting Master Chief in the early goings of the fight, but Dante’s best attacks are his melee attacks, and he’s going to drop his act pretty quickly after approaching Master Chief only to get socked in the face. Master Chief’s armor is going to repel a good number of Dante’s more dangerous ranged attacks, which sucks for Dante because with melee combat being a last resort and Master Chief being a range fighter, that’s how Chief is going to make Dante beat him – at range. Although Dante is very capable of fighting at range, it’s melee combat which is his greatest strength, and so what Dante is stuck with is a choice between frying pan and fire: Use his now-unreliable ranged attacks or try to rush up to fight melee with Master Chief shooting bullets and energy weapons in his face. The Son of Sparda is going to be forced to fight off the mistakes of a guy who’s trained to never, ever make mistakes, and he’s going down.
Winner: Master Chief

Samus Aran vs. Vectorman
A battle of attrition is going to commence between Samus and Vectorman, and it’s going to be an ugly match. Vectorman can turn into a bomb, and Samus can morph into a ball which plants bombs along the ground. Both know the importance of multidirectional aim. Hell, they even both use basic weaponry stored in their arms! Although Samus is armed with the mighty Screw Attack, it’s going to be tough to be able to get into a fully safe area where she can activate it. Samus is eventually going to take a final gamble using her Speed Booster, which allows her to move at supersonic speeds which are lethal to her enemies. She’ll get an opening in Vectorman’s line of fire, charge up as fast as she can, and launch at Vectorman in Shinespark mode, which throws Vectorman off his bearings. After that, Samus launches every ranged weapon she has at Vectorman while he’s down.
Winner: Samus

Championship Match

Master Chief vs. Samus Aran
Two stars of first-person shooting games wearing protective biological suits. Sadly, this isn’t going to end up being the legendary final matchup we hoped for – after all, Samus has a lot more in her arsenal, and items other than guns which allow her more functionality beyond just protection while killing everything in sight. She can move around and do more to avoid Master Chief’s attacks. The big difference-maker, though, is going to be Samus’s Ice Beam. Although Master Chief’s armor provides protection against the elements, its makers probably never viewed a beam capable of freezing up the armor from the inside as a real threat. It would be almost too easy, actually, and after Master Chief is frozen, it’s time to unleash the rocket launcher, or perhaps the Screw Attack or Shinespark, since there’s no real guarantee using the rocket launcher against Master Chief, who’s probably equipped to survive a close-by explosion.
March Madness Video Game Character Tournament Champion: Samus Aran

And The First Lady of Video Games takes the top prize. Was there ever any doubt?

The Microsoft Bracket Face-Off

The Microsoft Bracket Face-Off

Round One

Commander Shepard vs. Ryu Hayabusa
Both combatants in this match are extremely well-armed. Shepard has a ton of new-age weaponry, as well as a nice selection of biological abilities. Ryu uses a lot of standard ninja weapons, but if we’ve learned one thing from Shinobi, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and all those other staples of ninja pop culture, we know ninja-tech can take high-tech to the bank very easily. Shepard, however, can take damage surprisingly rapidly, and is also slower on the draw. By the time Shepard realizes what’s going on and pulls a gun, Ryu already killed Shepard at least twice.
Winner: Ryu

Desmond Miles vs. Rayman
Desmond is like Solid Snake over in The Sony Bracket: Has a lot of primary abilities based on evading enemies rather than engaging them, unless of course they happen to be victims. This could play to his advantage, but it sort of gets cancelled out by his little pickings in ranged weapons. That’s not going to do a whole lot of good against an opponent whose own fists themselves can act as ranged weapons.
Winner: Rayman

The Prince vs. Pitfall Harry
Yes, Pitfall Harry has a slingshot and a pet jaguar, but he just can’t do a whole lot with them. The Prince uses melee weapons as his primary arms, which would ordinarily turn this into a David vs. Goliath fight, but The Prince is also an acrobat who can get the most out of heightened areas in the room, even if those heightened areas are nothing more than plain old walls. This is a closer match than anticipated, but it’s still going The Prince’s way.
Winner: Prince

Sam Stone vs. Nightmare
An FPS character vs. a fighter character. Yes, Nightmare’s fighting styles are described as “The Memories that Stain His Armor,” and “What the Sword Desires,” and yes, it’s safe to assume the sword desires victory. But desire isn’t quite as powerful a weapon as a good, trusty shotgun. I told you fighter characters weren’t going to fare very well in this tournament.
Winner: Sam

Round Two

Master Chief vs. Sam Stone
What happens when an FPS character fights another FPS character? In this case, you would figure Sam would have the advantage over a guy who can only carry two weapons at once. In this case, though, Sam isn’t cybernetically enhanced with more strength and unbreakable bones or equipped with a suit that repels a lot of weaponry and recharges itself. Without that nice advantage, Sam is a walking duck in a shooting gallery.
Winner: Chief

Marcus Fenix vs. The Prince
Now The Prince is in deep shit. Yes, he’s equipped with a complete armory, same as Marcus is. Unfortunately, Prince’s armory is literally medieval when compared to Marcus’s futuristic armory. His only hope is to keep dropping onto Marcus from above to hit hit, then running away and repeating. Marcus is going to figure that out, though, and Prince will be a sitting duck on the ground.
Winner: Marcus

Rayman vs. Ryu Hayabusa
The most interesting match of The Microsoft Bracket. Both have a lot of power when compared to the other, both can use ranged supernatural powers of sorts. Ryu has power developed beyond human nature while Rayman isn’t actually a human. Ryu does have an edge, though, with his ninja sense. It gives him a knack for knowing just when he’s about to get socked with something, and he undoubtedly has the developed reflexes necessary to jump out of the way and toss a knife at Rayman in return. For awhile, Rayman will no doubt be able to hold his own, but eventually he’s going to get worn down against a ninja who knows exactly what’s going to be thrown at him and when it’s getting thrown.
Winner: Ryu

Round Three

Master Chief vs. Marcus Fenix
Hey, a pair of top seeds get to fight against each other! There’s a problem, though: Master Chief beat Serious Sam in the last round, and Sam was an FPS character, which means he wouldn’t have held any particular advantages of Marcus Fenix. Maybe if he had a few genetic enhancements, like Chief does, it would make for a different and more interesting outcome, or at least if Marcus had anything different from the Generic Grizzled Space Marine from Doom who kick started the whole first-person shooting game craze. But he doesn’t, so this match ends the same as Master Chief’s last match.
Winner: Chief

Microsoft Bracket Championship

Master Chief vs. Ryu Hayabusa
Ryu looks like a formidable opponent for Master Chief, but there’s a reason The Covenant uses ranged weapons instead of blades against the SPARTAN Army that lands on planet Halo. Ryu’s primary weapons aren’t going to affect Master Chief very much, if at all. Engaging his Ninpo, Ryu starts throwing the elements out against Master Chief, but the elements are exactly why Master Chief wears the suit of armor he does – so he doesn’t have to worry very much about freezing to death. Even if Ryu resorts to time stoppage, we’ve already established the fact that there’s nothing he can do with a blade to hurt Master Chief. His only hope is to try to get Master Chief sucked into a vacuum, but the suit is probably a great defense against that, too. And when Ryu looks around, realizing he’s out of options, Master Chief is going to take aim with his most powerful weapon.
Microsoft Bracket Champion: Master Chief

The Sony Bracket Face-Off

The Sony Bracket Face-Off

Round One

Ratchet vs. Yoshimitsu
Yoshimitsu is better off than most of the fighting game characters who have been in this tournament so far, since he carries a sword. Unfortunately, that’s still not going to let him get anywhere near Ratchet, whose only true melee weapon can double as a boomerang, which would allow him to keep a safe distance even if he didn’t have all those guns going for him. We know Ratchet probably wouldn’t use the disc blade gun, since there’s an outside chance Yoshimitsu could knock them away with his sword.
Winner: Ratchet

Kratos vs. Spyro the Dragon
Kratos has strength and abilities beyond those of any regular men, but then again, Spyro isn’t a regular man. Both have ranged attacks, but Kratos has a bit of a problem in that he doesn’t have much in the way of defense. Kratos could try to rip Spyro’s wings off, but in the event he tries that, it’s easy to see Spyro just running him through with his horns. If Kratos tries to get within range to fight with the Blades of Chaos, it’s easy to see Spyro fending him off with either a charge or a well-aimed projectile, and while it might be tricky for him, it’s entirely possible that Spyro could force Kratos into fighting from a distance, where Kratos and his small array of ranged attacks would be susceptible since they take more time to cast while, even on the occasions that Spyro isn’t bearing down on Kratos with a barrage of elements and chi, he would still be able to move out of the way before Kratos’s attacks were fully prepared. Kratos could eventually be forced into using nothing but his bow and arrow, and if Spyro manages that, he walks out as the unlikely winner, giving us the biggest upset so far.
Winner: Spyro

Solid Snake vs. Dante
Solid Snake’s only real chance against Dante are his rocket launchers. There’s no way Snake wins a melee against the ultra-strong half-demon Dante, even trying to confuse him with a chaff grenade or put him down with the tranquilizer. Even the rocket launchers are a risky proposition, though, especially with Snake trying to fumble with his aim while Dante goes all Devil Trigger on his ass.
Winner: Dante

Cloud Strife vs. Duke Nukem
Cloud has a giant sword, limit breaks, and magic. Duke has lots of guns and machismo. There’s little doubt that Duke is more than strong enough to take a barrage of Cloud’s attack spells while returning fire with his guns. Unfortunately for Duke, Cloud is eventually going to figure out that he can get further by removing all of Duke’s biggest strengths. Since Cloud has access to all the blue magic in Final Fantasy VII, he hits Duke with a blinding wave of bad breath (yes, that’s what the spell is called) which leaves Duke blind, confused, poisoned, slow, and several other unwanted statuses. Then, if Duke hit Cloud often enough during the fight (and he’s Duke Nukem, so he did), Cloud initiates the Omnislash and wipes Duke off the face of Gaia.
Winner: Cloud

Round Two

Lara Croft vs. Cloud Strife
Maybe it looks like another crushing for Cloud like Duke, but Lara has a couple of advantages that Duke didn’t: Her speed and agility. Lara is quick enough to make everything Cloud throws at her miss. She wouldn’t be stopped or slowed by a movement-altering spell, and when Cloud finally decides it’s time to move in with more traditional attacks, Lara can duck and weave out of his way while returning fire from a distance with whatever gun she feels like wielding.
Winner: Lara

Crash Bandicoot vs. Dante
Let’s just say this is REALLY going to suck for poor Crash. He’ll be able to get by spinning and jumping his way out of Dante’s line of fire for awhile, but then again, it’s possible Dante was just playing with him like he does so many of his enemies. In fact, it’s probable, and when Dante gets bored, this entire “match” will be over.
Winner: Dante

Ratchet vs. Spyro the Dragon
Both of these guys have painful ranged attacks. When they get tired of dodging each other’s bullets, Spyro will try to take to the air to finish the job off. The thing with wings, though, is that when Spyro uses them to fly, he can’t duck for cover behind them. The thing with Ratchet is that his job allows him access to the occasional fighter jet, which gives him a full range of movements – he can hover, strafe, or go backwards, and doing all those things should give him a nice, safe way to finish off Spyro.
Winner: Ratchet

Round Three

Lara Croft vs. Dante
I’m starting to sense a pattern with Dante’s opponents. There really aren’t a lot of characters who could match him pound for pound in his abilities, either with technology or magic. Snake and Crash were both unprotected, and so is Lara. Lara is faster than anyone else, though, so she’ll be able to fight Dante back, going around all his normal attacks while returning fire with her own guns. It’s going to work for awhile, and by “awhile,” I mean “until Dante activates Devil Trigger.” Then Dante is going to have every advantage he could possibly have in this fight, and Lara is going to be finished off in pretty short order even if Dante decides to finish her off with his heaviest, most unwieldy sword.
Winner: Dante

Sony Bracket Championship

Ratchet vs. Dante
I have a feeling this fight is going to go a lot like Ratchet’s battle against Spyro. They’ll match each other at first, and Ratchet is smart enough to not let Dante get close enough to use his awesome strength against him. They’ll exchange fire for awhile, with Ratchet using every weapon he can pack, and Dante being whip-fast avoiding everything while exchanging fire with his own pair of guns. Eventually, of course, Ratchet is going to take to his fighter jet to try to finish off Dante, but this is going to be a major tactical error now because Dante has that nasty Devil Trigger, which will allow him to take to the air with more maneuverability than Ratchet believed was ever possible. Dante can fly free while Ratchet fumbles with a control panel, and while Dante’s bullets may have limited effect, he’ll eventually be able to get close enough to finish the job with one of his really powerful close-range weapons.
Sony Bracket Champion: Dante

The Sega Bracket Face-Off

The Sega Bracket Face-Off

Round One

Ecco the Dolphin vs. Terry Bogard
A strictly land character vs. a strictly water character. Since Ecco is basically your average dolphin, he’ll be relying on his average instincts, which will undoubtedly be telling him “don’t leave the water.” Terry Bogard can’t do very much to Ecco by staying on land, either, and if he’s smart, he’ll try to find a way to trick Ecco into jumping onto the land. Ecco won’t bite. And since Terry is known to be a little bit hotheaded with a revenge streak aimed at Geese Howard, it’s entirely possible he’s going to get pissed and eventually jump into the water and try to engage Ecco mano-a-dolphino. Unfortunately for Terry, his moves are much slower underwater, and they aren’t anchored down by gravity there, and Ecco has no trouble getting around. Suffice it to say that Terry’s go at underwater combat doesn’t end well.
Winner: Ecco

Akira Yuki vs. Earthworm Jim
If Jim has any inclination to make this match exciting for any spectators, he engages his head whip while Akira attacks with kung fu. Jim, however, probably doesn’t have that inclination. Remember that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where the bad guy comes out of the crowd, does a bunch of nifty tricks with his sword, and learns the hard way that he brought the wrong weapon to the fight? This match goes like that.
Winner: Jim

Vectorman vs. Liu Kang
God, fighting game characters just can’t catch a break in this tournament, can they? Save for a short volley of fireballs Liu Kang is able to get off in Vectorman’s direction, this is going to go just about the same as the Akira/Jim match.
Winner: Vectorman

Blaze Fielding vs. Chris Redfield
Yes, ANOTHER close-range fisticuffs fighter against a well-armed sentient arsenal. And you probably wondered why I said Sega’s bracket is weak. Blaze gets a bit of deference because she can actually pick up street weapons and throw them from long range when she’s done with them, and against a decorated marksman like Chris, she’d be an idiot to not do that. So let’s assume she throws all manner of bats, lead pipes, knives, and swords at Chris, thus distracting him to get in close enough for hand-to-hand combat, and to use her VERY short-range fireball. The fireball isn’t a one-hit kill weapon, and most of the time, it’s not a setup for a deathblow, either; it’s best used to keep bad guys from grabbing her. Chris isn’t the type of wimp that floods the stages of the Streets of Rage games. At the very least, he’s a boss on one of the more difficult levels, and can dispatch Blaze as easily with his fists as he can with any gun.
Winner: Chris

Round Two

Sonic the Hedgehog vs. Chris Redfield
Sonic’s speed can make this interesting, and so can the power rings which make him invincible as long as he’s holding at least one. But one gets the sense that, after those, Sonic really doesn’t have much going for him. He can be knocked out of his attacks, after all, if the opponents have the right timing, and Chris probably isn’t dumb enough to attempt to chase Sonic around the battle arena. Sonic’s moves from Sonic the Fighters and Super Smash Bros. will see to it that he puts up SOME resistance after reaching that inevitable moment when he realizes Chris isn’t going to take his chase bait and tries to fight one-on-one, but Chris is way too tough a character to be put down by a bundle of spikes with feet. And so we have out first major upset of the entire tournament.
Winner: Chris

Joe Musashi vs. Vectorman
If The Nintendo Bracket results teach us anything, it’s that one should never underestimate the results of multidirectional firing. Joe Musashi doesn’t have it. Vectorman does. Musashi CAN throw his shurikens out in a fan while in a flip, though, but he has a limited number of shurikens. Musashi can also cast ninja magic, but that’s one-time-use only unless he happens to find a second help in a crate somewhere. Those crates are very rare, though. Musashi has a second ace in the hole with a ninja magic spell that can turn his body into a living bomb, which resets his health, ninja magic, and shuriken numbers back to default…. Because using that technique also COSTS HIM A LIFE. In the meantime, Vectorman can hang back and fire away provided he can weather Musashi’s flame pillar spell and outlast his invincibility spell. (He can.) 
Winner: Vectorman

Ecco the Dolphin vs. Earthworm Jim
Jim is able to move around underwater using fishbowl-shaped bubbles, but he’s not able to attack while he’s inside them. Unfortunately for Ecco, he can also fly his pocket rocket above the water, where he’s equipped with a machine gun which works just fine for air-to-sea combat. If that’s not able to do Ecco in, Jim can also use his pocket rocket to push along a bomb, the activation of which certainly will.
Winner: Jim

Round Three

Chris Redfield vs. Earthworm Jim
Since none of the last round champions got the first round off, I’m giving the break to the highest-seeded winner. This is another difficult fight – both fighters, after all, are equipped to handle both ranged and melee combat. Ranged combat, however, might appear even on the outside, but Chris’s strength and firing stance allow him to minimize weapon recoil. That’s important, because Jim is known to sometimes get flattened by his. And Jim’s most powerful weapon – the Barn Blaster – not only packs that killer recoil, it also takes forever to actually get it working. Jim can jump, though, and while that would certainly seem to provide him with the knockout advantage, he can’t actually use his weapons – save his head whip – in midair. So Basically he’s going to jump, land close to Chris, and – since blades have a one-hit-kill effect on Jim in a few situations – leave himself vulnerable to Chris’s knife.
Winner: Chris

Sega Bracket Championship

Vectorman vs. Chris Redfield
Chris has guns. Vectorman has guns. Chis is good in melee combat. Vectorman knows the importance of multidirectional shooting. Vectorman can jump. Chris moves like a tank. Even if Vectorman makes the mistake of trying to engage Chris is melee combat, he still has the option of either going at it in a transformed state – possibly as a bomb – or, worst case scenario, he’ll have to jump out of the way, frying Chris’s hair as he activates his foot boosters for a double jump. Even if Chris is targeting, he still has the pain-in-the-ass proposition of trying to stay at the speed of the always-moving Vectorman.
Sega Bracket Champion: Vectorman

The Nintendo Bracket Face-Off

The Nintendo Bracket Face-Off

Round One

Samus Aran Vs. Ryu
Anyone who’s played Street Fighter II knows that Ryu tends to fight very defensively – he’ll wedge himself into a corner, launch fireballs for all eternity, and smack his opponents with a Dragon Punch if they get too close. A good long range attack might come in handy against Samus – whose primary weapons are ranged – but it would only last until Samus got fed up, rolled under the fireball volley, and planted a few bombs right at Ryu’s feet. Besides, even if Samus decided to move closer to Ryu via air instead of rolling under his fireballs, there’s no way in hell the Dragon Punch would ever survive her Screw Attack.
Winner: Samus

Kirby vs. Pac-Man
An interesting matchup at first glance because both are round and have bottomless stomachs. Pac-Man would use a power pellet to become invincible, but then again, Kirby can ALSO become invincible, and there’s only so much effect throwing a few dots can have on a flying pink puffball who specializes in blue magic.
Winner: Kirby

Mega Man vs. Bonk
Bonk can fly. Mega Man can’t. Unfortunately, since neither character – not even Bonk in Air Zonk mode – has the capability of multidirectional firing, this fight is going to be settled on the ground, where Bonk is at a huge disadvantage. He might be able to freeze Mega Man long enough to get a little closer, but his instant-roast fire breath is short range, and Bonk will be swiss cheese just before he’s close enough to use it.
Winner: Mega Man

Simon Belmont vs. L-block
L-block is four squares of solid slamming power! Usually, this would be an enormous help for Simon, because he’s capable of throwing bottles of holy water that decimate blocks. Unfortunately for simon, though, he never could get his sub-weapons to fire at angles, which is going to be a problem with L-block falling on him from above.
Winner: L-block

Round Two

Mario vs. L-block
It’s established fact that L-block is most effective while falling onto the playing field from above. It’s also well established that Mario can rather easily make mincemeat of blocks by slamming into them from below. Granted, Mario is only able to do that in his larger form, under mushroom power, but I’m assuming here that he is, since my established rule list says all powers are taken into consideration. Mario is making quick work of L-block, and taking any coins L-block might have hidden within.
Winner: Mario

Link vs. Mega Man
This looks to be a little bit of a standoff from the outside. Magic against technology, and magic is so broad that it might be able to sort of nullify technology. There is, however, a massive caveat to Link’s usage of time: He has to be in the right spot in order to use it. Also, while what Link is able to do with time concentrates on large swaths – thus, theoretically, enabling him to go back in time and kill Mega Man before his transformation – Mega Man’s usage of time is more immediate and minute. He can slow it down and stop it. Time-stopped Link is looking awfully vulnerable, and thus we have the deciding factor of an incredible contest.
Winner: Mega Man

Samus Aran vs. Kirby
Yes, Kirby is quite capable of swallowing Samus whole and absorbing her powers. That, however, is only provided that once Samus is in Kirby’s stomach, she isn’t going to either: 1 – Roll into a ball and drop a slew or bombs; or 2 – Stay full-sized and use the Screw Attack or her ice beam to freeze up his innards. And since Samus’s suit is acid-resistant, there’s no hope of him digesting her.
Winner: Samus

Round Three

Mario vs. Mega Man
Mario got the first round off so he gets to fight again now. And the poor plumber is going up against Mega Man. This is going to be a long, hard fight because Mario has that statue ability from his tanooki suit, and he’s also very good with a well-placed fireball. Mega Man uses a handful of different shields, though, like the Leaf Shield and the Skull Barrier as well as the standard Force Field, and many of them can be used offensively as well as defensively, at least to a point. Mario is somewhat naked out there, even at his most powered-up. Mario is powerful, but Mega Man has an answer for everything Mario can throw at him, and he can easily fight defensively to wear out Mario before making the killing blow.
Winner: Mega Man

Nintendo Bracket Championship

Samus Aran vs. Mega Man
Mario can be hurt during one of his mighty jumps, but I’m not seeing how Samus can be hurt during one. The Screw Attack is so powerful that it’s known to destroy obstacles as well as enemies, and I don’t think any of the barriers Mega Man is able to erect would be able to endure it. It destroys floors and ceilings too, for god’s sake! There’s little doubt Samus would be pretty reliant on it in a deathmatch with Mega Man, and supposing this, it’s pretty easy to imagine her being in Screw Attack position when Mega Man gets fed up and whips out the Time Stop. It’s also pretty easy to see Samus freezing Mega Man in place with the Ice Beam before then, however, since the Ice Beam is used concurrently with every other weapon in her arsenal, and Samus also has multidirectional aiming. So if Mega Man froze Samus in the air, his single-directional Mega Buster would still require him to jump, as well as power up the weapon for a big hit first, and that weakness is going to cripple him. If and when Samus freezes Mega Man, her biggest delay is a few steps into position, activating the rocket launcher, and BOOM! Bye bye Mega Man. This is an insanely close call, but I’m making it for Samus.
Nintendo Bracket Champion: Samus Aran

March Madness: The Microsoft Bracket

March Madness: The Microsoft Bracket

You had to know the world’s largest, most popular software developer would walk into video games with its head held high. After all, they were already developing programs, and so a good video game would be a very natural transition. Thus, Microsoft created the Xbox, also known as the Big Green Machine. That’s green as in “money,” because Microsoft was already being run by the richest man in the world at the time, and upon the release of the Xbox, they started getting even more money. Money alone isn’t going to win this contest, though, and although plenty of classic games and popular characters have called the Xbox home, they really don’t have a whole lot to measure up to the three other developer brackets. Despite the collective weakness of The Microsoft Bracket, though, there may be a character or two which could make a run for the title.

1 – Master Chief
Who
Master. Chief. He’s a master and a chief. Master Chief Special Warfare Operator of the Navy, to be exact! The lead character of the Halo series is a Clint Eastwood prototype man of few words. Created as a part of a project called SPARTAN, Master Chief is a consummate professional super soldier who shows up, punches the clock, does the job, collects the check, and goes home. It’s just that his particular job is fighting against an alien alliance called The Covenant. Master Chief is another video game character who reached big-time icon status by being branded beyond video games – he’s been featured on 7-11 Slurpee cups and bottles of Mountain Dew. Time writer Les Grossman called him a symbol of the increasing legitimacy of video games as an art form. His reception is generally mixed, though; some see his silence as indicative as the strong, silent hero while other think it lazy character development. Halo is cited as the main reason for the success of the Xbox, and is regarded as Microsoft’s flagship series. 
Abilities
Becoming a super soldier, according to a Halo tie-in book, requires intense physical and psychological training, so there’s that. After eight years of that, Master Chief was then biologically and cybernetically augmented and enhanced. The project created better eyesight, better reflexes, more strength, and virtually unbreakable bones. He is outfitted in MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor, a sealed system capable of operating in toxic atmospheres or space as well as repelling radiation and energy shots. It better do that, for weighing half a ton. Master Chief can also use any gun given to him, both human and alien, even though he can only carry two at one time. 

2 – Marcus Fenix
Who
Marcus had a promising start to a military career when he abandoned his post to rescue his pop. (It didn’t work.) Since that’s a major no-no, he was court-martialed, sentenced to 40 years, and when we meet him at the beginning of the Gears of War series, he gets liberated by his best friend and goes on to lead Delta Squad against the Locust and Lambent forces. However, he’s also a very polarizing character among gamers for being a typical sharp-tongued, foul-mouth, trigger-happy space marine. The Gears of War series has nevertheless been extremely well-received. 
Abilities
And we’ve now officially entered the part of this here bracketology that I hate: The gruff space marine dominance. Fenix, like many other shooting characters, is a walking nuclear stockade. He has access to shotguns, sniper rifles, and assault weapons. There’s nothing especially different about his weapons that would make them stand out, although one of them does use a chainsaw as a bayonet. 

3 – Commander Shepard
Who
The star of the Mass Effect series works to stop a race of sentient machines called The Reapers. Shepard – I don’t want to assign a gender because the game allows players to use a male or a female Commander Shepard – has been an extremely well-received character. The Mass Effect series is widely praised for ringing in a new age of action storytelling, mixing an incredible storyline with decision-making and great action. The ending, though, has this habit of driving players absolutely nuts.
Abilities
Shepard can be specified in a lot of ways, including as a shock trooper with great durability and health; or as a nemesis, who can lift and warp; or a vanguard, a soldier with training in biotics and firearms. Depending on customization, Shepard can do a lot of things, and can be granted certain enhanced or supernatural powers. Which is a good thing, because Shepard’s array of guns probably won’t offer much of an edge over anything previously covered in this bracket. 

4 – Desmond Miles
Who
A member of the Assassin’s Order, Desmond was a descendent of many familial lines that had an allegiance to a band of assassins. Kinda like wanted, only Desmond wanted to pursue his own dreams, so he hitched his way to New York City, but was kidnapped there and forced to work. He’s the star of the Assassin’s Creed series. The Assassin’s Creed series has been called the standout series of the last console generation (Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii). It’s popular, critically acclaimed, and like a growing number of video games, it spawned expansion stories in other forms of media, including films and novels.
Abilities
Like those above, Desmond is known as a rather serious and gruff dude, although given his background, that’s probably pretty understandable. Desmond is excellent with reconnaissance skills like eavesdropping and picking pockets, and has a developed extra-sensory ability called Eagle Vision which he picked up after reliving an ancestor’s memories for a week. He’s also a skilled free runner. Desmond is REALLY good with knives, especially when they’re hidden.

5 – The Prince
Who
The star of the Prince of Persia series is known simply as Prince. He’s the son of Sharaman and Mehri, and he’s out to fix a fuckup in which he unlocked the secret to the Dagger of Time. The Prince of Persia series had a bumpy ride at first; the original 1989 adventure was as much puzzle as adventure game and was famed for its tricky item use and jumping mysteries. It remained a cult classic even through a forgotten sequel in 1992 and an attempt at 3D in 1999. In 2003, though, he was reborn in a hit game called The Sands of Time and became a video game superstar. Four popular, acclaimed sequels followed in the next seven years, and Prince was even given the Hollywood treatment. The success of the series got it into the Guinness Book for six records, including Highest Rated Platformer on the Playstation 2 and Xbox.
Abilities
The Prince doesn’t quite have the array of athletic moves that Lara Croft does, but he’s close. Throughout all the revisions, Prince of Persia stayed a series based in platform jumping puzzles, so a lot of Prince’s abilities are different ways of getting him from place to place without the aid of anything to walk on. Prince is also adept with blades, some of which have magical qualities. The King’s Sword can break walls. The Djinn Sword was created by Djinn. And, oh yeah, the Prince can use the Dagger of Time and the Medallion of Time to alter time.

6 – Sam Stone
Who
Star of the Serious Sam games, Sam fights against the alien overlord Mental, who wants to destroy humanity. Serious Sam is a series of first-person shooters which received a lot of gamer and critical praise. The first game was in fact named Game of the Year in 2001, to go nicely with Surprise of the Year and Outstanding Achievement in Technology.
Abilities
Sam is a living legend for Earth who is known for bravery and his ability to take tons of punishment. He can also use weapons aplenty. I know I shouldn’t underestimate the power of a good arsenal from an FPS, but Sam’s array of shotguns, machine guns, sniper guns, explosive guns, and a flamethrower and a chainsaw mean he’s another grizzled space marine without actually being a marine.

7 – Nightmare
Who
The former Siegfried Schtauffen is the main character in the Soulcalibur series. He was Siegfried in the first game, but winning the coveted Soul Edge sort of brought out his rather nasty id, and lately Siegfried has been locked in a bitter fight with the dark side of his mind to get himself free. Soulcalibur is widely considered the greatest of the 3D fighting game series, and it introduced the innovation of unrestricted lateral movement, which deepened the strategy and skill necessary to win. It also introduced “forgiving buffering,” in which fast-execution combos can be launched with the game inputting the commands for movements before a character finishes recovering from a previous action. The original Soulcalibur has been named the Greatest Dreamcast Game of All Time, and subsequent games have received even more acclaim.
Abilities
Nightmare wields the damn Soul Edge as his primary weapon. He has a tone of peer packed into his move set, and each hit will send an opponent flying. Even though most of his moves are slow, Nightmare’s array will light up anyone after he gets his first move in, and once he gets into a comfortable combo, he can obliterate anyone. He’s built purely to kill.

8 – Pitfall Harry
Who
One of the original video game characters, Harry is best known for going jewel hunting in the Atari 2600 version of Pitfall. Harry avoided pits, collected treasure, and jumped over obstacles. Although it’s REALLY dated – it was released in 1982 – the original Pitfall is one of the most important games in the development of the modern side-scroller. The game didn’t scroll itself, but it did introduce the ability to travel up and down on different levels of play. At the time, it was longer than any other game the Atari 2600 had ever seen, and it set an unprecedented time limit of 20 minutes. There was a string of sequels, but most were received terribly. The only notable one is the 16-bit classic Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure.
Abilities
Aside from his bravery and classic leap – also, he can cross ponds on crocodile heads – poor Harry doesn’t have very much going for him. That’s what you get on a controller with a single action button which is used to jump. Later games give Harry a fighting chance, though, arming him with a sling, a shield, and a jaguar companion named Quickclaw. Still, though, Harry may be the worst bet in the tournament, and you shouldn’t pick him unless the Mafia is paying you to take a dive.

9 – Rayman
Who
Rayman is another star of a namesake series. He was originally one of the first next-fen characters to star in a traditional 2D platformer, but he branched out. Although Rayman has typical appendages, they’re not attached to his body with any limbs, and that’s basically Rayman’s look and schtick. Rayman was named Best New Character in 1995, but was written off by old-school gamers such as myself at first for being another little piece of 90’s character hubris like Aero the Acro-bat or Earthworm Jim. Since then, he’s proven to have a very surprising amount of staying power.
Abilities
The white ring on Rayman’s body piece appears to have magical powers, and he can attack by winding up his fists and throwing them at enemies. His hair can act as a propellor helicopter. Later in the series, he started using energy balls, Heavy Metal Fists, a missile attack, and the Tornado Gloves.

10 – Ryu Hayabusa
Who
No, not the Ryu from Street Fighter II. This is a whole different character altogether, who was actually Nintendo’s boy at first through a trilogy of classic games called Ninja Gaiden. The Ninja Gaiden series is regarded among the hardest and most frustrating games ever made, but are highly regarded for their gameplay and constant developing story. Although he defined the prototype of the ninja game craze in the late 80’s, Ryu was sort of retired after Ninja Gaiden 3 until he started making surprise appearances as a playable character in the Dead or Alive series. Finally, in 2004, Ninja Gaiden made a stunning return on the Xbox. The reboot was well-received and cited by a few sources as the best ninja game ever made. It spawned three sequels, though none of them met the acclaim of the first.
Abilities
Ryu has been called The Singular Super Ninja and stated as the world’s greatest ninja, which is pretty justified since he’s killed omnipotent beings. He’s strong and has senses developed beyond typical human nature. His ninja sense is basically like Spider-Man’s Spidey sense, and he can also regenerate his health and recover from wounds that would otherwise kill him. His main weapon is the Dragon Sword, although he’s pretty much a sure bet with anything in hand-to-hand combat. He can also utilize a form of ninja magic called Ninpo, activating various elements including always-popular fire; ice; wind; and even vacuum. On certain occasions, he can also combine Ninpo with his abilities to do things like stop time; create a doppelgänger; and teleport.