Final Fantasy XIII Review

After 20 hours, Final Fantasy XIII granted me permission to decide for myself which three playable characters should be in my party. After 25 hours, Final Fantasy XIII granted me permission to decide for myself how I should develop the characters in my party. After 30 hours, Final Fantasy XIII decided to let go of my hand, but then thought better of it and grabbed hold of it again. Welcome to the evolution of the Japanese role-playing game.

Let’s talk about linearity. You’ve no doubt already heard that FFXIII is linear; the PS3 version’s been out in Japan for nearly three months, and importing is a beautiful thing. Well, it’s true: FFXIII is linear. So linear, in fact, that for the first ten chapters – approximately 20 hours of gameplay – FFXIII feels more like a dungeon crawler than an epic, expansive JRPG. There are no side-quests to add variety. There are no towns or villages to visit. There is no over world to explore. You move forward, fight, fight, and fight, then sit back and watch a cutscene, then do it all again, pushing ever forward, never deviating from the straight and narrow path upon which you must tread. At the end of a chapter, there’s a boss fight, which is usually a pretty horrendous difficulty spike, then, a cutscene, and the next part of the tunnel. The Final Fantasy series, and indeed the JRPG genre, has always been a somewhat linear experience, punctuated by turn-based combat and beautiful CGI cutscenes, and driven by melodramatic narrative. But FFXIII is so linear that it feels like you’re adventuring through one long, dark tunnel, and there’s no light at the end of it to give you hope that at some point your journey will change course.

It’s a deliberate design decision on producer Yoshinori Kitase and co’s part, of course – an effort to lend the game what director Momotu Toriyama calls an “FPS style vibe”. He’s obviously been playing the scripted Modern Warfare series and taken notes. But the team’s gone too far in its efforts to evolve the tried and trusted – some say tired – Final Fantasy formula. The result is a sanitised, uninspiring, monotonous trudge through admittedly fabulous-looking surroundings. It’s as if you are being driven to the end of the game as you sleep in the back seat.

Other design decisions only serve to exacerbate the feeling that you’re never truly in control of what’s happening. The game dictates who is on the front line of your party – i.e., who fights in battles – for the first 20 hours of the game. It constantly switches between lead character Lightning (female Cloud), blonde-haired brute Snow, the gun-toting Sazh, Oerba Dia “jailbait” Vanille, the sultry Fang, and the Tidus-a-like Hope, progressing the story from various perspectives until all come together and the game nears its exciting climax. Once you get past the 20 hour point, and you’re finally allowed to decide the make-up of your party, it’s easy to forget that for huge swathes of the game you haven’t been able to. But occasionally, beyond that point, the game reverts to type, dictating your party make-up and defying all logic (the party travel everywhere together, so why can’t they all get involved in a scrap?).

You can’t even develop your characters the way you want to. Each party member has access to what are called “roles” – classes, really. The theory behind the system is that instead of having characters that only fulfil one role on the battlefield, such as a healer, tank, or damage dealer, each character is flexible. In a fight, at any time you can trigger a “Paradigm Switch”, which allows you to change the role of each party member. Say you begin a fight with Relentless Assault, which includes one Commando (melee), and two Ravagers (damage-based spell casting) – that’s great for doing loads of damage to your enemies. But when your party’s health starts to near zero, you’ll want to Paradigm Shift to other roles, making available new abilities. You may want to switch to Consolidation, which includes one Medic (healer) and two Sentinels (tanks), allowing you the breathing space to get everyone up to a safe number of hit points.

FFXIII dumps traditional levelling-up for a carefully-controlled system via what’s called the Crystarium. It’s a bit like FFX’s Sphere Grid. You spend Crystarium Points – gained from defeating enemies – as you travel around the Crystarium, unlocking statistical bonuses and new abilities, and gaining role levels along the way. This, in theory, is fine. The problem is, the game “caps” the Crystarium relative to each chapter, limiting the number of Crystarium Points you can spend on your party members, and which roles are available to each character. It is only when you beat a chapter end boss, and you get a “Crystarium Expanded!” message, that you’re allowed to spend more points in the Crystarium and climb up the role level ladder.

Square Enix’s goal in doing this is clear: to negate the need to grind. It’s true, for the first ten chapters of the game (about 25 hours), there is absolutely no need to grind, or backtrack (you can’t anyway), or move in any direction other than forward. But, ergo, there’s no real need to think strategically about what you spend your points on within the Crystarium. You mindlessly evolve your character along a linear skill tree path in much the same way you explore the gameworld, stopping only to occasionally check out what your new abilities do. Admittedly, from the more expansive, open field chapter 11 onwards, all of the roles become available to all of the characters, and you’re free to spend as many points in the Crystarium as you like – a good thing, because chapter 11 is much harder than what’s gone before, and the dreaded grind rears its ugly head. But by then the damage has already been done.

Conversely, however, some mechanics have evolved for the better, and FFXIII’s Active Time Battle (ATB) combat system is one of them. FFXIII’s combat is like the lovechild of FFXII’s divisive Gambit system and FFVII’s classic ATB system. Like in FFXII, all three of your front line party members are visible as you explore the game world, and you can avoid many of the enemies you see pottering about waiting to be disturbed. But unlike in FFXII, when combat is triggered there’s a short transition to a battle screen, where all the action kicks off.

FFXIII’s ATB gauge charges continuously over time. Commands cue up, each one with an associated ATB cost. At the beginning of the game, each character’s ATB Gauge only has a couple of segments, limiting the number of commands that can be cued up, but as you progress you gain more – up to a maximum of six. Once the ATB gauge is filled, all the commands play out one after the other in real time. When you’ve got a three person party going up against multiple enemies using spells, melee attacks, and other abilities, combat is a spectacular, visceral sight.

Now, you may wish to sit down for what’s coming next: you only ever control one character during combat. We know, madness, huh? What has Square Enix done? Why have you dumbed down FF for the casual noobs! Calm down, dear. It’s actually really good. Yes, you only control one character at once, but, with the Paradigm Shift function, you indirectly control everyone, and the AI is really, really good. Say, for example, you’re controlling the gunsword-wielding Lightning, with the broad-shouldered Snow, and the moody Hope backing you up, and with the Strategic Warfare Paradigm (Commando, Sentinel and Synergist) enabled. As Lightning, you’ll be concentrating on doing damage to your enemy with melee attacks – dealing physical damage to multiple targets with Blitz, perhaps, or maybe just slashing the crap out of a single target with basic attacks. While you’re busy getting your game on, the AI makes sure Snow and Hope are doing their bit as effectively and efficiently as possible: Snow attracting the attacks of enemies with tanking abilities like Challenge, and Hope buffing Lightning and Snow and himself with spells like Shell and Protect.

Of course, the AI doesn’t always do exactly what you want it to, but on the whole it’s pretty smart. For example, if you use Libra to learn an enemy’s weaknesses, your party members will automatically exploit them by using the appropriate elemental attacks. We only ever found the AI wanting when controlling Medics. When a party member is knocked out, an AI controlled Medic always prioritises raising everyone’s hit points over reviving the downed character.

FFXIII’s combat system is the best the series has seen. It’s exciting to watch, fun to use, and, most importantly, brimming with strategy and depth. The only problem with it – and this will be a big problem for some – is the Auto Battle option. Here, with one button press, you can let the computer decide which commands to cue up for you. It does such a good job that it’s all too easy to sit back and spam Auto Battle without mentally engaging in combat. The game doesn’t do itself any favours by being ridiculously easy for huge chunks of its first 30 hours, only spiking the difficulty for bosses and “Eidolon” fights – FFXIII’s disappointing transforming mechanised monsters must first be “tamed” before they can be summoned in battle. It’s perfectly possible, then, to play for hours on end by only pushing up on the left analogue stick when exploring and pressing A/X over and over again when in combat.

Story is, of course, massively important for Final Fantasy fans. The great news is that in this regard you won’t be disappointed. The game begins with a sabotaged train journey in which members of a resistance force battle against an oppressive government and what’s called The Purge – an effort to deport citizens of a spherical world called Cocoon to the underworld below. It’s all to do with horrible beings called fal’Cie, which turn ordinary people into slaves called l’Cie. L’Cie are given what’s called a Focus – an order, essentially, which they must carry out or face being turned into mindless zombies. Either way, though, l’Cie are screwed. Complete a Focus, and they turn into crystal for the rest of eternity. This is the terrifying fate that Lightning and the rest of FFXIII’s eclectic bunch of adventurers face when, early on, they are cursed as l’Cie. The game revolves around their attempt to work out what their Focus is, while unravelling the truth behind the oppressive government Purge.

FFXIII starts slowly – very slowly – but it hits its stride around the 20 hour mark, evolving into an entertaining romp packed full of drama, revelation, and more drama. The six main characters are annoying at first, but they all grow as people as their lives spiral inexorably out of control. Hope, for example, starts off as a spiky-haired whine-bag hell-bent on stabbing Snow in the back for murdering his mother. ‘Oh god’, you think, ‘not another JRPG emo!’. But as you play you can see Hope growing up. In their own ways, all of the central characters do this. It’s sophisticated, engaging, and helps drive you to finish the game despite its faults.

And then of course, there are the graphics. FFXIII – the first HD FF game – looks fantastic. The in-game character models are superb. Lightning’s hair blows in the wind, Snow’s jacket ripples realistically as he dishes out his unique blend of knuckle sandwich, and Sazh’s afro… well, it wobbles about like jelly, which isn’t realistic at all, but from a distance it looks great. Some of the environments look stunning, too. The Hanging Edge, for example, is what you imagine Midgar would look like had it been created in high definition and powered by current generation processors. The vista in the seaside city of Bodhum is up there with the best Uncharted 2 had to offer. And, Gran Pulse, the setting of FFXIII’s infamous chapter 11, is a genuine sight to behold – an open field safari packed with enormous, earth shaking four-legged beasts and rabid monsters sprinting in packs, all overlooked by the ominous vision of Cocoon hanging high in the sky. FFXIII’s sci-fi world is as colourful and vibrant as any gamer tired of dour, depressing game worlds could hope for. It is quintessentially Final Fantasy – a distinctly Japanese take on science fiction – fuelled by a wonderfully uplifting score composed by Masashi Hamauzu – that acts as the perfect antidote to the concrete, post-apocalyptic world of Fallout 3 and the lens-flare filled galaxy of Mass Effect 2.

But the CGI cutscenes will no doubt steal the show. They are, quite simply, the best ever; to our eyes as good as the Final Fantasy CGI movies. There are loads of cutscenes in FFXIII, but they are not, in isolation, offensively long, as they are in MGS4. They are bite-sized chunks of animated brilliance, and demand to be watched over and over again. But the more impressive feat is how good the “in between cutscenes” look. These cutscenes – not CGI but not in-game – look fantastic, and sometimes fool you into thinking you’re watching CGI. There can be no doubt that FFXIII is a graphical feast worthy of anyone’s high definition television.

However, it doesn’t always look fantastic. Some of the environments look bland and, dare we say it, lack detail. This is particularly true of the Vile Peaks area – a land built with the debris used by the fal’Cie to construct Cocoon. Almost all of the game’s interior sections are boring to look at – a particularly disappointing, and frustrating, sight to endure when you’re forced to spend hours soldiering through these locales. It’s particularly irksome because you know the game is capable of so much more – you’ve just seen it in the last chapter.

You all want to know about the differences between the PS3 and the 360 versions, don’t you? Of course you do. Well, here’s the truth: the PS3 version is the one to get. To our eyes, the gameplay visuals look similar across both platforms, but the cutscenes are vastly different. On PS3, and, therefore on Blu-ray, the cutscenes are displayed natively in 1080p, whereas the cutscenes in the 360 version are sub 720p. The cutscenes in the 360 version look, to the discerning eye, pixelated and blurry. But to the untrained eye, it’s a case of much ado about nothing.

Despite the superb battle system, engaging cutscenes, and interesting characters, FFXIII, ultimately, is a disappointment. Taken in isolation, it is a fun game with stunning graphics and a compelling story. But compared with the wider RPG genre, and held up against the lofty expectations of the series’ hardcore fans, it falls short. For this reason, newcomers may well enjoy FFXIII more than series’ veterans.

You just can’t escape the feeling that, in trimming the fat from the series, Square Enix has nicked FFXIII’s bone. It’s not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination; like a good song, or a slow-burning book, FFXIII grows on you the more you play it. It is, undoubtedly, the best JRPG to come out of Square Enix in a long time. But the inescapable, uncomfortable truth is that it is too linear. Without traditional JRPG features like towns, NPCs, and an over world, there is no real sense of ownership. Upon completing the game, you certainly feel as if you’ve enjoyed the 50 or so hours you’ve invested into doing so, but the experience is more throwaway than formative. Despite some incredibly tough monster hunting missions in chapter 11, there’s no variation to the game whatsoever.

FFXIII spends too long easing players into its complex systems – complex systems which, really, aren’t that complex. In a recent interview, Kitase said: “It’s better to see some people be a little bit bored” than give players too much information to digest. We had no idea he was talking about 25 hours of boredom. Toriyama recently said that lower than expected review scores are the result of press reviewing “from a western point of view”, as if to say we’re missing the point. But surely, in today’s global village and instant communication age, taking a global perspective on a high profile internationally-released video game is the only proper course of action.

As Western role-playing games have evolved, delving into open world, player-driven territory (Elder Scrolls, Fallout) and cinematic, cross-genre experiences (Mass Effect, Borderlands), Japanese role-playing games have remained largely the same – stuck in a rut, even – telling tales of teenage angst and upbeat heroic fantasy we’ve heard countless times before. We’re not saying we wanted Final Fantasy to copy WRPG mechanics. We simply wanted – quite desperately – for Final Fantasy XIII to be the best JRPG of all time. You have to hand it to Square Enix for trying to move things forward – better that than yet another rehash of the tried and tested Final Fantasy formula (the less said about Infinite Undiscovery the better). But it does so along a path so narrow and straight that you long for the days of old. When Vanille is knocked out in battle, she sometimes says: “What went wrong?” It’s a question we find ourselves wondering as well.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 review

The uneven Final Fantasy 13 trilogy comes to a close with its most innovative, and best, instalment.

We’ve been here, mere hours away from the end of the world, before. World-saving has been the defining theme of video gaming’s first 30 years, from fending off shuffling space invaders to skewering ideological threats in Civilization or Call of Duty. But it’s rare that a game set on the eve of the apocalypse manages to elicit any real sense of urgency. Japanese role-playing games are the perfect example: the world may be perilously close to extinction and our band of heroes will be off racing giant chickens or pursuing a side-quest to upgrade a leather coat. We understand that the world is in danger and that we are instrumental in its salvation, but we also know that ours is an appointment which cannot be missed.

Lightning Returns, the third entry in the uneven Final Fantasy 13 trilogy, fixes this inconsistency. You are seven days from the apocalypse. A clock counts down in the top right hand corner of the screen, pausing only when you enter a menu screen, engage in a battle or return to a celestial waiting room at 6am to signal the end of that day. Other than these brief moments of respite, time in the game is finite – and the truth is that there isn’t enough time on the clock to complete every quest and storyline before the endgame.

The world’s inhabitants work to their own schedules and appointments; some missions are only available at a specific time on a specific day. The question then becomes: on what or whom will you spend your remaining time? And will your choices avert the impending disaster? As one of the game’s later boss characters quips, “In this dying world nothing is more precious than time. Why do you waste it on me?”

It’s a structure that we’ve caught glimpses of before. Publisher Square Enix’s own Brave Fencer Musashi pioneered an in-game clock whereby certain shops and events were only available at set times, while Nintendo’s exemplary The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask laid down the idea of an imminent calamity that must be prevented against the clock. It’s an unusually effective conceit in the context of a Japanese RPG, as it lends urgency and focus to the sprawling narrative. Flee from any battle in Lightning Returns and you not only lose out on its potential rewards, you incur a one-hour penalty – a strong incentive to fight to the bitter end of every encounter. A train ride between one of the game’s four main locations can take up to an hour, a consequence that forces you to carefully plan your journey, and only move between locations when absolutely necessary.

The new structure has a revitalising effect on the Final Fantasy 13 trilogy. It’s arguably the most game-like Final Fantasy yet made, as every decision you make has numerous knock-on effects. No longer are you merely tracing a single predestined line of plot, you are choosing which lines of plot to trace from a spider-web network of interlinking options. You choose where to be and when, which key missions to tackle in which order, and the minutiae of Lightning’s armoury and ability sets. The game’s premise states that Lightning is the only one who can save the world. ‘Twas ever so in the Final Fantasy series, but never before has it been so easy for the player to mess it all up.

The resourceful development team has been less successful in fixing Final Fantasy 13’s amateurish mess of a storyline, which has problems that run far too deep for any new chapter to solve. The basics of coherent storytelling – establishing an antagonist, establishing an objective, providing clear obstacles that hinder that objective – have been missing from the start of the trilogy. They remain absent in the broad sweep of narrative here, a deficiency that indisputably holds Lightning Returns back.

Lightning’s lot, then, is to help the world’s inhabitants in whatever task they have for her. Completing their requests earns ‘Eradia’, a substance of gratitude that adds time to the clock, up to a maximum of seven extra days. Meanwhile, Lightning must chase five key missions that help solve the riddle of how to save the world. The more tasks she completes for individuals, the more time she has to try to save the multitude.

Lightning becomes a god of small things: she might be called up to herd some sheep into a pen for a farmer, or to find a distraught child’s missing doll, or to fetch some accessories for a juggler girl who wants to draw a larger crowd. These routine objectives can seem trivial under the eye of the apocalyptic clock, but they humanise Lightning in a way that the previous two games failed to do. In her newfound care for the little things she grows more likeable as a protagonist, even if her steely resolve is clear in every battle in which she stands alone (or occasionally flanked by a pet Chocobo) against a multitude of terrors.

Final Fantasy 13’s battle system has always been its strongest asset and Lightning Returns offers perhaps the best and certainly most flexible version yet. Lightning has three costumes that can be equipped, each with its own armour, weapons, adornments and clutch of skills. Different set-ups might emphasise magical attacks, physical prowess or impenetrable defences. In battle you may switch between your three set-ups with a brisk tap, responding to the ebb and flow of the fight while attempting to parry incoming attacks and exploit your opponents’ weaknesses.

Square Enix boasts that there are millions of costume permutations, each with their own benefits and drawbacks, and for tinkerers these strategic depths will prove irresistible. Creating a set-up of unique clothes, weapons and other statistical modifiers is like building a contraption: when everything works smoothly and efficiently, it’s deeply pleasing to the human mind. Lightning Returns often delights in this way even if, during its most troubling boss battles (and this is undeniably one of the most challenging Final Fantasy games yet made), it equally infuriates.

The fine-detail strategy is reflected in the broader game strategy. EP is perhaps your most valuable resource in the game. This substance can be used to freeze time during battles (allowing you to attack the static foe), heal Lightning and, most usefully, temporarily stop the clock while in the world. You begin with just five EP per day, although this slightly increases as the week progresses. EP is refilled in tiny increments by completing battles. Optimal players will spend EP exclusively on freezing time, extending the 24-hour day by a few hours, thereby allowing for more missions to be completed and more of the world to be explored. Each of the game’s systems pulls pleasingly in the same direction.

It’s a strong end to an uneven trilogy, then. There is little consistency across the three games, from the ultra-focused linearity of Final Fantasy 13, to the dimension-hopping skittishness of its sequel and on to this almost entirely freeform conclusion. It’s a deliberate demonstration from the team that it’s able to deliver on various approaches to game design (and tone) within the Final Fantasy umbrella. From its dazzling battle system to its overarching temporal puzzle, this is the best of the set – even if it’s dragged down by an exhaustingly impenetrable plot that its creators will no doubt be pleased to be done with.

On Georgia Street in Downtown Vancouver. Summer of 2018.

Georgia Street is an east–west street in the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. Its section in Downtown Vancouver, designated West Georgia Street, serves as one of the primary streets for the financial and central business districts, and is the major transportation corridor connecting downtown Vancouver with the North Shore (and eventually Whistler) by way of the Lions Gate Bridge. The remainder of the street, known as East Georgia Street between Main Street and Boundary Road and simply Georgia Street within Burnaby, is more residential in character, and is discontinuous at several points.

West of Seymour Street, the thoroughfare is part of Highway 99. The entire section west of Main Street was previously designated part of Highway 1A, and markers for the ‘1A’ designation can still be seen at certain points.

Starting from its western terminus at Chilco Street by the edge of Stanley Park, Georgia Street runs southeast, separating the West End from the Coal Harbour neighbourhood. It then runs through the Financial District; landmarks and major skyscrapers along the way include Living Shangri-La (the city’s tallest building), Trump International Hotel and Tower, Royal Centre, 666 Burrard tower, Hotel Vancouver and upscale shops, the HSBC Canada Building, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Georgia Hotel, Four Seasons Hotel, Pacific Centre, the Granville Entertainment District, Scotia Tower, and the Canada Post headquarters. The eastern portion of West Georgia features the Theatre District (including Queen Elizabeth Theatre and the Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts), Library Square (the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library), Rogers Arena, and BC Place. West Georgia’s centre lane between Pender Street and Stanley Park is used as a counterflow lane.

East of Cambie Street, Georgia Street becomes a one-way street for eastbound traffic, and connects to the Georgia Viaduct for eastbound travellers only; westbound traffic is handled by Dunsmuir Street and the Dunsmuir Viaduct, located one block to the north.

East Georgia Street begins at the intersection with Main Street in Vancouver’s Chinatown, then runs eastwards through Strathcona, Grandview–Woodland and Hastings–Sunrise to Boundary Road. East of the municipal boundary, Georgia Street continues eastwards through Burnaby until its terminus at Grove Avenue in the Lochdale neighbourhood. This portion of Georgia Street is interrupted at several locations, such as Templeton Secondary School, Highway 1 and Kensington Park.

Georgia Street was named in 1886 after the Strait of Georgia, and ran between Chilco and Beatty Streets. After the first Georgia Viaduct opened in 1915, the street’s eastern end was connected to Harris Street, and Harris Street was subsequently renamed East Georgia Street.

The second Georgia Viaduct, opened in 1972, connects to Prior Street at its eastern end instead. As a result, East Georgia Street has been disconnected from West Georgia ever since.

On June 15, 2011 Georgia Street became the focal point of the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riot.

FLASHBACK: Alex Jones’ 1-Minute Justin Bieber Rant May Be Best Speech ‘Delivered in the 21st Century’

Twitter users praised a 2011 InfoWars segment after it resurfaced on the platform on Monday.

The speech: Controversial radio host Alex Jones, who has been characterized as “almost certainly the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America,” blasted popular culture and boosted one of his own historical heroes — 16th-century Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan — in the viral clip. This is unironically one of the best speeches delivered in the 21st century.

  • Jones suggested “fake” celebrities like pop star Justin Bieber are part of an effort to turn children into “mindless vassals,” instead of looking up to individualist heroes like Thomas Jefferson, inventor Nicola Tesla, and Magellan.
  • “I mean, kids, Magellan is a lot cooler than Justin Bieber!” Jones screamed, going on to describe Magellan’s hair-raising circumnavigation of the globe and death at the hands of “wild natives.”
  • “Going into space! Mathematics! Quantum mechanics! It’s all there! The secrets of the universe! Life is fiery with its beauty, its incredible detail, tuning into it!” Jones continued, expanding on other things he thinks are cooler than celebrities. “And they want to shatter your mind talking about Justin Bieber!”

Jones has been banned from mainstream tech platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter since 2018, but has continued to deliver his fringe takes by way of his radio show and InfoWars website. As for Bieber, he is now a drug-free Christian family man.

[The Greatest Rock Albums of the 80s] SURVIVOR – Vital Signs

I am extremely biased when it comes to Survivor and especially this phenomenal 1984 AOR classic. Survivor’s music is like magic to me – it’s capable of instantly putting a smile on my face and lifting my spirits. I don’t think I can objectively review this album, because to me, this pure gold, titled “Vital Signs” has absolutely no weak point and it was definitely 100% matching what I love and seek for in music. So, I will just try to explain why I love this album so much and why is it one of the most essential albums of the 80s.

Dave Bickler, Survivor’s initial vocalist, had to be replaced due to vocal problems. Jimi Jamison joined the band and with his outstanding vocal abilities completely blew the roof off everyone. I often refer to him as the greatest rock vocalist. It’s such a shame that we lost him.

Every song, featuring on “Vital Signs” is an absolute melodic rock hit. It’s definitely not as hard as their previous albums; however that’s not a bad thing. On the contrary, the effective formula that combines peaceful acoustic guitar, gentle and emotional vocals, calming riffs and tender melodies is what make the album so brilliant. Harmony, instruments, rhythms, lyrics – they go together in such an unimaginably good style that for a moment there we forget that this is in fact a very commercially-crafted album. And here, I should say that there’s nothing wrong with being commercial, as long as what you do is tasteful and beautiful. “Vital Signs” (along with other 80s rock albums such as Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet”, Def Leppard’s “Hysteria”, TOTO’s IV and many more) is one of the examples of a commercial but fabulous album!

Let’s talk about the songs.

The slow “The Search is Over” is the song that made me completely fall in love with Jimi’s voice. The lyrics are bringing you nothing but hopes and a strong desire to find your destined love. The lines “You followed me through changes and patiently you’d wait…’Till I came to my senses through some miracle of fate” are melting my heart…

“Popular Girl” is my favourite song from the record – it’s catchy, uplifting and so easy to sing along with. Most importantly, it creates a visual story inside your mind when you listen to. You can always recognize a good song if it activates your imagination. “She walks down the street, knocks ’em dead on their feet with a casual nonchalance…When she’s breaking your heart, she’s the state of the art…” – I mean this is just incredible!

“It’s The Singer Not The Song” is a track I truly wish more people would listen to and appreciate as much as I do. I mean, lyrically speaking this song just beats all the others on the record. “It’s the man behind the music…It’s the singer not the song” is an unforgettable line.

“High on You” was one of the first Survivor songs I’ve ever listened to. Needless to say it was love at first listen. I knew I would become a huge fan of the band from the first note… Romantic, harmonious and filled with such beautiful words and lovely keyboards – no wonder this song became one of Survivor’s major hits. “Piercin’ eyes, like a raven, you seemed to share my secret sin. We were high before the night started kickin’ in…” is my favorite line from the track…

Then we have the gentle “I Can’t Hold Back”; the building-up energizing “First Night”; the hard-rocker “Broken Promises”; the sweet ballad “Everlasting” and my second favorite song from the record – “I See You in Everyone” which even after the 1000th listen still gives me the chills…

Many people consider Survivor as a two-hit band (those two hits being “Eye of the Tiger” and “Burning Heart” from Rocky) but think again, fellas! Survivor are so much more than that. Also, after all those years I still cannot understand the constant comparison with Journey. Yes, both of those bands are the absolute “American-favourites”, however Survivor’s style and attitude is completely different and let’s not fight on who’s a better singer – Jimi or Steve, because “Vital Signs” makes it quite obvious, I think…

“Vital Signs” is a must-listen and a must-have record if you are a fan of melodic hard rock from the 80s. God bless Jimi and his one-of-a-kind voice…I truly miss you…

Top Gun: Maverick Is Another Military Recruitment Video Disguised as a Movie

The hotly anticipated sequel to Top Gun, the 1986 movie that made Tom Cruise a star, is raking in cash, great reviews, and even Oscar buzz. Don’t be fooled — it’s the same glorified military recruitment video that the original was.

Is it even worth reviewing a grotesque pop culture phenomenon like Top Gun: Maverick?

Seems like everyone’s on board with this thing. Its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival concluded with a five-minute standing ovation. It’s breaking box office records. It’s been greeted with raves from almost every major film critic. And it’s no doubt on track to generate an even bigger military “recruitment bonanza” than the first Top Gun in 1986, which is only fair — the Pentagon worked closely with the filmmakers and poured a lot of resources into these two Top Guns.

And now entertainment journalists are floating the possibility of Academy Awards for Top Gun: Maverick. Not just nominations for the editing, sound, sound effects, and original song — all of which the ’86 Top Gun received. They’re talking Best Picture, and Best Actor for perpetual star Tom Cruise, or at least a career-capstone honorary Oscar, presumably for saving Hollywood.

Is it any use pointing out that the first Top Gun was a ludicrous piece of shit? That it was a functioning part of the Ronald Reagan administration’s insane military buildup and aggressive pro-war policies of the 1980s? Or that in a 1990 interview, playing dumb about the obvious way the Navy made use of the film, Tom Cruise refuted the idea of ever making a sequel?

Cruise: OK, some people felt that Top Gun was a right-wing film to promote the Navy. And a lot of kids loved it. But I want the kids to know that that’s not the way war is — that Top Gun was just an amusement park ride, a fun film with a PG-13 rating that was not supposed to be reality. That’s why I didn’t go on and make Top Gun II and III and IV and V. That would have been irresponsible.

But that was then, this is now, and Tom Cruise is about to turn sixty and wants to be a star forever. So a sequel to Top Gun looked good, not only to him but to the desperate film industry mavens trying to figure out some way to get audiences back into theaters en masse. The result is Top Gun: Maverick, every bit as vile and idiotic as the first film, but slicker, better edited, featuring more gripping action scenes, and now awash in tears of nostalgia for the 1980s when Hollywood was booming and “It’s Morning in America” was a slogan people actually believed in.

Of course, it wasn’t morning. It was a grim twilight with a hard polluted rain pouring down. And now it’s midnight, and we’re at it again with another Top Gun. Plus the new movie is somehow even more ludicrous than Top Gun I, which I didn’t think was possible.

It’s all about Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a US Navy test pilot who just won’t play by the rules, so he never gets promoted any further no matter how highly decorated and superhuman he is. We first see him in what seems to be his own personal airplane hangar, caressing his plane. Then he walks over to the living room installed right next to the plane — chairs and table and Turkish carpet and the whole domestic scene — which makes it look like he married his airplane, or at least they’re living together in a loving and committed relationship.

Then there’s the usual trouble with the Navy brass who can’t handle how Maverick won’t go by the book. First it’s Rear Admiral Ed Harris — hey, Ed, aren’t you a committed political lefty or something? — and then it’s Vice Admiral Jon Hamm trying to ground Maverick. But they can’t permanently sideline Maverick as long as his pal Admiral Val Kilmer, aka “Iceman,” protects him.

It seems Tom Cruise insisted that Val Kilmer be given the chance to return in the sequel, which makes for one big tearjerker reunion scene in the middle of the movie with the “Iceman” character, who once said adoringly to Maverick at a climactic moment of Top Gun, “You can be my wingman anytime.” If you’ve seen the autobiographical documentary Val, you know that Val Kilmer is in rough shape due to throat cancer and that he’s continued to earn money for many years after his career peaked by going to movie-nostalgia conferences and events and endlessly signing old Top Gun posters with the quoted line of dialogue every male fan asks him to write, “You can be my wingman anytime.”

Which is poignant in a whole different way, because Kilmer was a talented actor, and it’s a shame that he’s caught in the ’80s nostalgia trap too, primarily remembered for his small role as a preening flyboy in such a dumb film. Well — at least he’ll get a big paycheck out of Top Gun: Maverick.

As I felt my eye-twitch return while watching Top Gun: Maverick, I wondered if anyone else was dreading the idea that, as the entertainment industry remakes everything, there’ll be an ever-increasing focus on 1980s films, beyond even Firestarter, Dune, Blade Runner, Ghostbusters, and Road Warrior sequels or the death march of Batmans and Star Wars. If there has to be a wave of nostalgia, must it be for the 1980s, when there was also a wave of nostalgia for the 1950s, two of America’s most sickening decades when so much of our doom was sealed?

But like I said, there’s so much cheering and applause for Top Gun: Maverick, it drowns out any objections.

Anyway, more plot: Maverick gets in enough trouble that he’s sent to Top Gun training school as a teacher, an assignment he doesn’t want and isn’t qualified for but succeeds at brilliantly. He’s got to train a best-of-the-best-of-the-best squad to fly a mission so impossible, it’s laugh-out-loud funny. The mission involves attacking a nameless country, blowing up their uranium supplies before they can weaponize them, and flying away before they can counterattack. But every aspect of the mission requires the kind of absurd, supernaturally skilled heroics that form the basis of Tom Cruise’s star image — only in this film, he has a team of little Cruise-lings who all have to do as he does in order to perform miracles too.

It goes without saying that nobody is concerned in any way with the geopolitics of this, the question of the validity of the intelligence, the risk of instigating a war, and so on. The big concern is over which of the strutting young flying aces such as “Hangman” or “Warlock” or “Payback” will make the cut to do the mission, especially whether it will be “Rooster” (Miles Teller), son of “Goose” (Anthony Edwards) who died saving Maverick back in the first Top Gun.

As might be expected, Top Gun: Maverick sets out to make the salivating fans happy by recreating a lot of eye-poppingly awful scenes and moments from the first movie. There’s the opening scene of sunlit aircraft reverently tended by stalwart military men to the blaring notes of “Danger Zone.” Instead of homoerotic bonding over a beach volleyball game, in the sequel there’s homoerotic bonding over a beach football game, with two female flyers thrown into the mix and making no difference whatsoever. Thirty-six years later, Maverick still wears his aviator shades and his leather jacket and rides his Kawasaki Ninja GPZ900R motorcycle to his would-be girlfriend’s house, only it’s not Kelly McGillis playing her anymore. As McGillis notes, “I’m old and I’m fat, and I look age-appropriate,” so there’s no chance she’d get invited to return.

Instead, glamorously stick-thin Jennifer Connelly is on hand to provide the love interest. She’s a good match for Cruise, in that both have tight, gym-ripped, freeze-dried looks topped with salon-tousled masses of hair. They can both pass for a hot version of forty, in artful make-up and good light, which are the conditions in much of the movie. In the final scene, he walks out to embrace her where she’s lounging by a gratuitously fancy vintage silver Porsche that has never appeared in the film before but has to be there to remind fans of the vintage black Porsche that was the girlfriend-car in the first film. Connelly and Cruise look precision-made to perform in car ads together.

But never mind the car ad, which director Joseph Kosinski is highly qualified to do after his Halo 3 and Gears of War commercials. He’s really proven himself by making a very long, kinetic military recruiting ad. Whether it can beat the first Top Gun–instigated 500-percent increase in naval aviation recruitment remains to be seen:

“The movie came out on Friday and [we] haven’t seen a giant uptick yet just because it’s the weekend,” said Navy recruiter Lieutenant Caitlin Bryant. “But we’re looking forward to it.” Bryant says there was a noticeable bump even after the trailer first came out.