Saturday, August 28, 2010

My Top 5 Video Game FMVs

Yes, we've arrived at that point in this blog's life.  No more joking, I now make "Top 5" lists in earnest.  It's either that or I start playing weekly games of Madden 11 . . . demo (Colts vs. Jets all day!) and posting the play-by-play box scores.

Anyway, I was inspired after recently viewing the cinematic trailer for DC Universe OnlineDC Universe Online, being an MMORPG, held no interest for me as a player, but I am now glad that it exists, if only because it has resulted in the commissioning of Blur for this amazing mini-movie that will surely be the best thing about the entire game.

Blur may not be a household name, but it is one of the hottest computer animation and design studios around, its skills allegedly commanding per-minute charges in the $1 million range.  Blur does a lot more than just video game work, but its CG talent is undeniably a perfect fit for gaming, and it has done much to class up a number of otherwise mediocre products.  Before DC Universe Online, the studio caught my attention with a pair of similarly awesome cinematic trailers for the similarly yawn-inducing Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Well, Blur may be the king now--frankly, it doesn't have a lot of competition, as many developers have opted this generation to rely less on pre-rendered assets--but I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on the past and pick out five of my favorite pre-rendered video game cinematics.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis - Opening

The Resident Evil 2 opening movies were, in their own time, the most technically impressive CG FMVs on console, and Code: Veronica's roller-coaster intro is always a crowd-pleaser, but my personal favorite Resident Evil cinematic is the opening for Resident Evil 3: Nemesis.

RE2 allowed us to play in the aftermath of Raccoon City's fall to the zombie apocalypse, describing in journals how it all went down, but here we finally got to see the citizens making their hopeless last stand.  No longer contained within some mansion in the woods, the zombies were taking over the city streets, and the nightmarish spectacle was consequently more real than ever before.

Kingdom Hearts Final Mix - "Deep Dive"

The famous "Deep Dive" video was a secret movie contained in the Japan-only "director's cut" of Kingdom Hearts.  As a teaser for Kingdom Hearts II, it was as oblique and enigmatic as you would have expected from a Tetsuya Nomura production--even four games later, fanboys are still trying to decipher all its hidden messages.  But it also established another Nomura signature.

Considerably darker and more violent than anything else in the game, it was also plain cool.  Its significance to the story would remain unclear even hours into Kingdom Hearts II, but this non-interactive movie surprisingly provided more meaningful clues as to how future games would look and play, with its near-weightless style and balletic combat.  Here also were planted the seeds of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, and you can even follow the lineage onward to the upcoming Final Fantasy Versus XIII.

Kingdom Hearts II - Opening

Many Kingdom Hearts fans, drawn to the series for its high production values and exciting combat, understandably skipped Chain of Memories for the GBA.  That posed a bit of a problem for players hoping to jump directly to Kingdom Hearts II, however, because although not a lot happened in Chain of Memories, the story definitely did not end in the same place it began.  To get these players up to speed, the beginning of Kingdom Hearts II recapped the story thus far in virtuosic music video form.

Actually, as a recap, it was almost useless to anybody who hadn't played the previous games.  But it was gorgeous, full of inventive imagery and editing (especially in the Chain of Memories section), and it rewarded players of Chain of Memories, bringing their imaginations to life by highlighting resonant moments that the GBA simply could never do justice.  My favorite part has got to be the shot of Sora and company racing up a staircase while Riku progresses upside down along the underside--a sublimely literal representation of their parallel journeys through the castle.

Onimusha 3: Demon Siege - Opening

This one requires little introduction, as it is regularly at or near the top of almost everybody's list.  The Onimusha series was originally conceived of as a cinematic game, and all of the core Onimusha titles have had ambitious opening movies, but Onimusha 3's by Robot remains the best.

I think all of the videos on this list are ones that I come back to because they are so replayable and stand well even out of context. Onimusha 3's intro, better than everything else in all of the Onimusha games combined, is the epitome of that--essentially a CG short film with its own complete and perfectly self-contained narrative arc.  Indeed, you would be best off just watching this and then skipping the rest of the game.  Not only is it all downhill from here, but nothing that follows even has anything at all to do with what is seen in this video.

Mortal Kombat: Armageddon - Opening

Bringing together almost every fighter ever to have appeared in MK up to that point, it was the slugfest to end all slugfests.  In my opinion, this is even better than the DC Universe Online video, for the sheer number of distinct characters that it is able to juggle.  If you were ever into the series, this was a glorious celebration and culmination of its entire history.  Even if you couldn't name even half the characters, it was just an awesome battle royal, rendered in astonishingly accomplished CG that was probably more than MK and Midway deserved.  Also, as will likely be the case with DC Universe Online, watching the opening movie is vastly more exciting than actually playing the game.

1 comment:

Czardoz said...

It's rather telling that four of the five on your list are opening cinematics. You like the showstoppers, yes?

Honestly, if I had to pick my top five, they'd all come from Final Fantasy VII. There were many great movies in FFIX, and they endear themselves to me because I loved that game. But other than that, the FMV as an art form saw all of its major phases (birth, adolescence, maturity, and death) in FFVII.

I don't think any game since has gotten so much mileage out of the seamless transitions between FMV and real-time graphics. It felt like hints of CG were all over the place. I think it may have been perceived by developers as a technique that had little or no payoff, especially as technology was improving. But for me, it created new layers of immersion. Everything now is the big set pieces, and I guess I find those overdone (as they were in FFVIII).

To be sure, there were set pieces in FFVII, but that game laid the ground for the set pieces with a lot of build-up, so it earned the big payoff. And in terms of pacing, the longer movies came at just the right times.

Opening movies have to be big, I suppose, to blow you away right at the start, but I could do without the movies that are just clip shows of various moments from the game. Without context, these kinds of movies lack meaning. FFVII again – the opening movie begins a story, it’s not a trailer.