Tag Archives: final fantasy

For Star Wars’s 40th anniversary, let’s celebrate its most important celebration to pop culture

Hard to believe Star Wars debuted 40 years ago today. That’s twice as long as it had been when the Beatles chose to celebrate Sgt. Pepper teaching his band how to play (via an album that, in an odd coincidence, turns 50 tomorrow… meaning it’ll now have been 70 years since The Lonely Heart Club Band formed).

But, no, the math checks out. Star Wars is the first movie I remember seeing in a theater, or what passed for theaters circa 1980 — a big car lot where families drove their gas-guzzling Detroit boats to park in front of a large screen and listen to film dialogue on a small portable speaker. Not exactly the THX stadium experience. Could any film memory be more authentically a product of its time and era? I think back on my first Star Wars experience and I can almost hear the Stranger Things soundtrack playing.

We recorded a Retronauts Pocket episode a few years back exploring the impact of Star Wars on video games, and… as it turns out, we weren’t really able to come up with a lot of super strong examples. I feel instinctively that video games have a ridiculous amount of Star Wars DNA in them, but I think the problem is that Star Wars has become so ingrained in pop culture that those elements typically have a sort of hand-me-down quality to them. When you see an Alien reference in video games, it’s usually pretty unambiguous — you’d recognize H.R. Giger’s homoerotic biohorror aesthetics anywhere. With Star Wars, though, it’s so general, like… laser swords? Space dogfights? Maybe Cloud Strife realizing that black-clad samurai-looking Sephiroth is his “father” in a sort of vague, bioengineered sense? It’s a little harder to pin down.

“Time is the fire in which we burn.” No, wait, that’s a Star TREK reference, not Star Wars. Ah, heck.

I don’t name-drop Final Fantasy VII here frivolously; in all the history of video games, no one collective work has demonstrated more loving admiration for (and overt references to) Star Wars than Final Fantasy. And no Star Wars reference within Final Fantasy beats the original. That’s right, I’m talking about the series’ greatest recurring characters, Biggs and Wedge.

Note: Spelling may vary by region

Star Wars fandom was a very different thing in 1994 (when Biggs and Wedge made their first appearance in Final Fantasy III, née VI). LucasFilm Ltd. was just beginning to fire up its pop-culture engine after a decade of increasing irrelevance. Return of the Jedi had put a pretty definitive capper on the saga back in 1983, and within a few years all the signposts of a once-juggernaut franchise had faded from sight. The almighty toyline had been steamrolled by G.I. Joe and Transformers, and the ongoing Marvel comic had puttered to a finale. All we had left were those made-for-TV Ewoks movies… which weren’t great, although I did recently read speculation that the curly-haired little girl grew up to be Captain Phasma from The Force Awakens, which… well, why not. Still beats teen-angst Vader.

No, circa 1990, the only genuinely viable and enthusiastic expression of Star Wars love came in the form of the tabletop RPG system. I didn’t play pen-and-paper RPGs, but I would occasionally come across a Star Wars supplement book from time to time and found them to be fascinating rabbit holes. I didn’t really get the idea of “expanded universes” and “derivative works,” so I assumed the role-playing supplements were word-of-god creations along the lines of those art books that compiled production work by the likes of Ralph MacQuarrie and Joe Johnston. So it was exciting to get a peek behind the curtain of the films and read about the expansive world of Correllian corporate ventures and things like that. Pretty much everything in those old books has been redacted, but a great many of the ideas they introduced to Star Wars have become baked into the “new” canon, which is created by the sort of people who used to furtively read the RPG books in their thirst to learn more about George Lucas’s fascinating space worlds. Concepts like the Kuat Drive Yards have been inducted into actual Star Wars dialogue in recent years, but they got their start in West End’s fascinatingly detailed P&P books.

Given the heavy lifting traditional RPGs did for Star Wars during the franchise’s lacuna, I think it was fitting that the first fresh, relevant allusions I encountered to the Star Wars films in the wake of Lucas’s attempt to resuscitate the property in the early ’90s with new novels and comics would appear in a console RPG. Biggs and Wedge open Final Fantasy VI, a pair of heartless imperial soldiers who use the game’s protagonist as a brainwashed weapon and meet an unhappy end a short time later. Granted, this concept wasn’t exactly faithful to the source material, given that the films’ Biggs and Wedge were Luke’s allies and friends, and Wedge was the only minor character to survive the events of all three films. Plus, Final Fantasy III kinda garbled the reference in bringing their names back to English; I don’t think the localization team got the allusion, so Biggs became “Vicks” on Super NES.

“I’m just glad they didn’t translate ウェッジ as ‘Wedgie’.”

Which is actually what made the reference so great. I didn’t get “Vicks” at the time, because I didn’t know anything about the ambiguity of B/V in Japanese transliterations, but I definitely noticed Wedge. Our school events team had put together a public showing of the Star Wars movies earlier that year, and dozens of people cheered every time Wedge appeared on screen; for them, at least, he had taken on a sort of folk-hero status for being the only character skillful enough to survive all three major battles in the trilogy without the aid of plot armor. That experience made me aware of the fact that he had become a cult-favorite character in the movie trilogy. I ended up naming half my Final Fantasy III party after Star Wars characters on my first runthrough, thinking I was terribly clever to riff on an “accidental” Star Wars reference… not realizing that, in fact, that was the creators’ entire point.

There’s nothing mysterious or ambiguous about their cameo anymore, of course. Final Fantasy III has been properly re-translated as Final Fantasy VI, with “Vicks” having his name corrected to the nerdy reference the RPG gods intended. And the duo have gone on to reappear in just about every Final Fantasy since then in some capacity, whether as AVALANCHE eco-terrorists in VII, hapless enemy soldiers in VIII, or even randomly generated combatants in Tactics. Star Wars itself has become a sort of pop-culture juggernaut again, and what was once a winking insider reference to minor characters from the film has become totally prosaic now that “true” fans can tell you idiotic minutiae, including the names of hundreds of characters whose monikers are never mentioned on-screen. It’s all been downhill ever since the “Look sir, droids!” guy got a name and a backstory.

But Biggs and Wedge will always be there for us, dying admirably so that the latest heroes of Final Fantasy can kick some new nihilist’s butt.

4 Comments

Filed under Game Culture

Retronauts Episode 99: More game music. More! More!

This week brings another episode of Retronauts Radio. You should know the drill by now. Lots of music, lots of musing about that music. With this latest episode, I’ve highlighted four different works.

  • Snatcher (LP, Ship to Shore): Definitely the highlight of this episode — it comprises about half the total running time.
  • BRA*BRA | Final Fantasy Brass de Bravo 3 (CD or MP3, iTunes): A collection of Final Fantasy soundtrack covers, loosely affiliated by the inclusion of brass instruments across a huge variety of styles. Not that the world needs yet another Final Fantasy cover set, but some of these are pretty fresh.
  • HuCard Disc in Taito Vol. 1 (CD, CDJapan): A collection of classic Taito music… but not the original Zuntata arcade performances. Instead, these are taken from the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 ports of the games. Some of it is quite good, some… less good.
  • Switched On: A Link to the Past (MP3, Bandcamp): Another entry in the expanding field of retro analog synthesizer covers of beloved classic game music.

MP3, 53.7 MB | 1:51:24
Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes
Retronauts at PodcastOne

In other words, some great stuff this month, and some acquired tastes. Next month, I’ll look at some actual Zuntata arcade jams, another Konami adventure, and… who knows what else?

10 Comments

Filed under Music, Retronauts

Episode 89: Final Fantasy IV, plus some big news

Hello! Welcome to a new week… and, as it happens, something of a new beginning here at Retronauts. What I mean is, Retronauts is now part of the PodcastOne network. Yes: As part of our move toward making this show and site proper and profitable, I’m afraid we’ve gone legit.

This does mean you’ll soon be hearing ads in your podcasts, but the tradeoff is that the show will have much greater visibility and reach. We’ll also have more resources available to us as we go forward — financially, of course, but also in terms of facilities on occasion. This is a huge step for the show, and both Bob and I are excited (and a bit nervous) about it, but we definitely agree the benefits will make up for any hiccups we encounter along the way.

And yes, there’ll be hiccups. Since we’ve switched to a new backend and a new feed, it make take a little while longer than usual for iTunes to refresh the show this week. Thankfully you can download the episode directly from PodcastOne if you’re experiencing any troubles, or simply listen to the embedded version in this post. My hope is that any service interruptions prove to be strictly temporary.

Also, PodCastOne places back catalog episodes of their shows behind a paywall. That’s not how we’ve traditionally operated, so we’ve asked them to make the full back catalog free for a couple of months so listeners aren’t suddenly cut off from our older episodes. Those will eventually be pay-gated as is our host’s standard policy, but we’d like to ease into that and give you advance warning.

It’s also worth mentioning that this move doesn’t affect anything with Patreon! Retronauts supporters will continue to enjoy episodes a week ahead of the public feed, along with the usual plethora of goodies.

So that’s the logistical stuff, but what about the fun stuff? Namely, what’s the deal with this week’s episode?

Well, friends, this week’s episode happens to be the second in our ongoing Final Fantasy game-by-game deep dive. We kinda skipped over Final Fantasy II and III, because they’re a bit tough to love these days, and today dig right into the series’ first 16-bit outing: Final Fantasy IV for Super NES.

You know FFIV; you love FFIV; you probably don’t need much preamble about FFIV. Besides, this episode spans nearly two full hours of conversation about FFIV, so I can just let it do the heavy lifting here.

Description: We continue our Final Fantasy deep-dive series by… doing like Square did back in the day and jumping ahead from FFI to FFIV. Chris Kohler and Kat Bailey join to share their thoughts on this most influential of 16-bit role-playing games.

MP3, 56.3 MB | 1:57:19 | Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes | Retronauts at PodcastOne

Music in this episode naturally comes from Final Fantasy IV for Super NES, but also from the game’s arranged album Celtic Moon. (You can buy both albums on iTunes, and presumably on other download services as well.)

58 Comments

Filed under Retronauts