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Final Fantasy Unlimited Vol. 2

I'm a Final Fantasy freak, I'll admit. It's the sole reason I got a Playstation back in the day. Aside from SEGA's branching out to multiple platforms, it's also one of the main reasons I wanted a PS2. From the Final Fantasy Legend games on the Game Boy (really Seiken Densetsu in disguise) to Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (the introductory super-easy FF game on the SNES), I have at least one copy of every game in the series.

Oh, and that's just the beginning. I have every soundtrack for the games, including soundtracks inspired by Final Fantasy, such as the wonderful stuff from KFSS Studios (Project Majestic Mix). Almost ten years ago, I went to Japan just to get some of those soundtracks.

I even enjoyed the CG feature film. How's that for hardcore?

Yet, all that notwithstanding, I can't really find too much to enjoy about this series. I'm very tolerant of anime based on video games, such as the very watchable Ys series, but Final Fantasy: Unlimited is just too mediocre to appreciate.

Before hitting all of the negative points for the show, I will say that the music is the best part of the series. The theme was actually composed by Nobuo Uematsu, and for some of us, that simple fact makes the OST for this series a must-buy. The in-show music is good as well, reminding me of the excitement of the better games in the legacy of the grand series. From the Chocobo Theme to the energetic battle music, if you close your eyes and listen to the show, you could almost be fooled into thinking you're watching something wonderful.

Sadly, not many people will pay money to listen to a series and pretend it's good.

So what makes this particular Final Fantasy release so bad? It's not the voice acting - both the Japanese and English versions are extremely solid. I suppose it figures that when I finally find a dub I enjoy a bit, it's for a show that is only so-so.

Right. Bad stuff. Well, despite some smooth animation and clean visuals, the character designs are on extremely simple. If you look at the games, you'll notice that there's more detail in any given characters...scarf...than in the entire lineup of characters for this show. Background illustrations aren't on par with the backgrounds for Final Fantasy IV, which didn't quite use the SNES's now-meager palette of 32,768 colors (512 on screen at a time, if you're wondering).

Yoshitaka Amano, world-renowned character designer for Vampire Hunter D, created the look for the best games of the Final Fantasy series. His influence can be seen somewhat in the design of the show's villains, but only in a terribly watered-down way. At best, this show will remind you of the high quality of the other parts of the FF universe.

The story isn't horrible, but it's not quite earth-shattering either. In every other Final Fantasy game, it was. Literally. Like every other game in the series (every one but FF X-2, that is), the storyline of FF: U is completely unrelated to every other element of the Final Fantasy universe.

Despite the DVD package's claim to the contrary, this show is NOT based on any Final Fantasy game. Yes, there are chocobos (large birds that resemble dodos, used for riding). Yes, there's magic (in this series, Lisa uses the Kigen Arts), and yes, there's Cid, a scientist. Those are the three elements that every Final Fantasy story MUST contain. However, this is not the sequel or prequel to any game or show you've seen before.

Two young children, Ai and Yu, are on a quest with Lisa, a young woman with the ability to affect reality by slightly altering the balance of nature, to find the kids' parents. In almost every episode, they're confronted by bad guys who are after them for some unknown reason, and in almost every episode, they're saved by Kaze, a quiet man with a big gun that can summon various beasts to smote said bad guys. How mysterious!

Lisa and the kids are from Earth, though most of the series is set in Wonderland, a parallel universe filled with bizarre creatures and a slightly skewed set of the rules of physics as we know them.

With the extras, once again, we find that a technical aspect of the show is better than the actual show itself. The included bonus material is nice, including a pretty funny commentary track with Larissa Wolcott and Edwin Neal, the English performers for Lou (the spunky lycanthrope) and Pist (the somewhat noble baddie who resembles an underwater pimp). There are clean opening and ending animations, production sketches, and part one of the FF: U style guide, a slideshow presentation of some of the designs for the show.

Devout fans of Final Fantasy will get this, but they probably won't like it. It's a great show for younger kids just getting into the world of Final Fantasy, but those of us who grew up with the series will most likely be dissatisfied with Unlimited.

If Square-Enix really wanted to create something worthy of the Final Fantasy name, then it would have character designs by Yoshitaka Amano, a complete soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu, and more than just chocobos and Cid. To really satisfy fans, it would have to be epic, colorful, tragic, and humorous. While I've been more cynical of Square-Enix lately - as they produce mass-market products that overlook the fans that made them what they are today - I remain hopeful that they'll eventually produce a series that does the Final Fantasy universe justice. In the meantime, I'll just have to replay Final Fantasy VI to get the bad taste of Unlimited out of my mouth.

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