On the Old Internet, I was Destined for Greatness


My childhood heroes all had the first name “NOA”. They were the living, breathing avatars of Nintendo of America. And Nintendo was God, for all practical purposes. But like Jesus, they were simultaneously divine and human. NOAPaul was a tough guy. A real street thug, with a tongue ring and everything. NOATravis, he was your boyband jock. Oh, the envy. And NOAAmy… did you know that she played Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger? I did. Imagine it: a girl who played RPGs.

One day, I was going to be a Nintendo Power Cyberjock too. It was my highest aspiration. Forget astronauts and fire fighters. If Paul and Travis could become Nintendo of America, so could I. And maybe I would make Amy my wife, though she was a withering old spinster of 24.

At 11 years old, I was dedicated to my future career. To become a professional avatar of Nintendo, you had to really know your facts. I was already on the right track, because I owned all 84 issues of Nintendo Power magazine. The knowledge was at my fingertips, but it was vast… so I decided to cheat.

I booted up my Gateway 2000 386/25–it was mine in practice, since my mother finished college–and I headed straight to WordPerfect. If I could quickly search a game name and know exactly which issue and page to check for information… A month later, I possessed a complete index of the entire Nintendo Power catalog. And you thought you were a lame kid.

But there I was, equipped for battle. Ask me about a game. I dare you. I had it down to a science. I could look up a relevant article and spit out an answer within a minute, and Nintendo of America would never know that I cheated. They would think I was just that good. I sent in my job application right then and there, along with a crayola masterpiece of Samus Aran battling Ridley.

I didn’t get the job, but that was probably for the best, since we did not actually subscribe to dial-up internet for another six months and “Cyberjocks” worked online. A minor technicality. Still, I kept Nintendo Power Issue 84 close at hand.

The fame. The glory. The honor.


*Section removed due to copyright issues. They were compressed scans of an out of print magazine spread welcoming you to the Nintendo Loud House with some amazingly dorky-looking staff members striking a pose.*

<(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)> ^( ‘-‘ )^ <(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)>

My first actual experience on http://www.nintendo.com, some time in 1996, was overwhelming. I had waited so long for this. Line by line, the pixels of that jpeg unfurled in slow motion. “Nintendo Power Source”. “Welcome to www.nintendo.com”. I was there. And it was wonderful.

Nintendo.com was a disorganized sea of information that you could spend all day exploring (especially on a 14.4k modem). There was a frame up top filled with totally nondescript or misleading images that would link you to different parts of the site, and each of those sections had its own upper frame of links. They could take you anywhere. The internet had no rules yet, you see. For instance, there was a really buried subsection called the “N-List” that linked all kinds of random fan sites totally unmoderated by Nintendo, mostly hosted on Geocities. As a consequence, through Nintendo.com you discovered such wonders as this flattering photo of the founder of popular present-day gaming website RPGamer:

(Sorry.)

Ultimately though, I went to the Loud House. That was where the NOA gods resided. To get there, I had to travel underground, down an elevator shaft that consisted of scrolling really far in a narrow frame to the left. If I thought the main site enormous, the Loud House was madness. They had a proto-forum–everyone still called them bulletin board systems then, though it was not an authentic BBS–where topics appeared in a single endless list set to a fire-engine red background with the texture of an aluminum tool box. Damn was it beautiful.

I knew there had to be at least a few dozen RPG fans out there besides myself and NOAAmy, but I never predicted this. The realization that I could be a part of a secret society of hundreds of Square(soft) aficionados must have waylaid my dreams of working for Nintendo for a time, because I don’t remember doing anything but theorycrafting Final Fantasy III (sic) for the next few months. I would spend every school bus ride studying my official players guide, looking for minute typographical errors that could be exploded into radical theories to share with my peers. I actually killed 4,000 dinosaurs in that forest near the Veldt in the false hope of resurrecting General Leo.

<(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)> ^( ‘-‘ )^ <(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)>

Eventually the forums changed, and so did I. They became more manageable and subdivided into “boards”. Me, I became 12, and that meant responsibility. I couldn’t just be another anonymous Joe researching Final Fantasy VI anymore, aging in obscurity as fame and fortune passed me by. I needed to get back to my dreams, and that required becoming involved in the social community. So I did what anyone would have done back then to turn the page: I changed my name.

That was a principle of the Old Internet that runs totally counter to modern social media culture and may have culminated with 4chan and the birth of Anonymous–the hactivist organization that never actually existed yet frequented headline news throughout 2008. You were really empowered to dictate how a community perceived you. You could completely ‘reset’ your identity at the click of a button, experimenting with different personas until you found one that jived with the community. Nintendo Power even encouraged this behavior in Issue 72:

So died BobaFett207, and a new entity dove into the RPGs board with a mission to earn the unrivaled respect and adoration of its citizens. (His mom also lifted the half hour limit on web browsing, so he actually had time to read replies and stuff.)

<(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)> ^( ‘-‘ )^ <(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)>

What I found was appalling. My plans were immediately surmounted by a more pressing issue. The release of Final Fantasy VII was rapidly approaching, and people were actually discussing the Playstation.

The Playstation. The Sony Playstation, in what would one day be my Nintendo kingdom. These were the filthy traitors who planned to endorse Squaresoft’s debauchery, and they had to be destroyed. I charged head-first, furious and uncaring of the consequences. “JERK!” “IDIOT!” “HOW COULD U!” I let the hatred flow through me, channeling it into dozens of single-sentence replies, until a thread title appeared that gave me pause. It said “ATTN: SHADOW 4000”. That was me! Registered only one day, and my new identity was already known to the community! The post, no doubt, would praise me for my heroic defense of truth and the Nintendo 64.

It did. This was where, in retrospect, things got weird. I wasn’t banned by a forum moderator, or even told to shut up. No, I was invited to join the NES Knights–a legion of warriors who, like me, vowed to fight against the evils of the Sony Playstation. I was promptly recruited and informed that we were at war with the Freedom Knights, who had organized to defend forum-goers’ rights to enjoy non-Nintendo products.

I earned my first stripes when the PSX Invaders came to town. They were a band of ruffians that would show up every few weeks and ravage the RPGs board by posting hundreds of threads titled “N64 SUX”, “PSX 4 LIFE”, etc. Certain that I could stop the incessant barrage of spam posts, I set a clever trap. “ATTN: PSX INVADERS” the thread title ran, and when they clicked it… BAM! “***FIRE LANCE X***” As I am sure you expected, this worked phenomenally. Two invaders stopped spamming and engaged me with their own barrage of attacks. I parried them as best I could, while fellow forum-goers engaged them similarly in other threads. The battle was long and bloody, but we were victorious.

<(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)> ^( ‘-‘ )^ <(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)>

I had found my true calling. Every evening, after school, I would log on to the Loud House RPGs board and train with my allies or engage rival groups. I even started my own, which amassed over 100 members. This was clearly my best route to becoming an official Nintendo-employed Cyberjock… while that dream lasted. It all came crashing down on Thanksgiving Day 1997. Nintendo deleted the Loud House.

And in its place, they created NSider. NSider was ugly, stupid, and it featured Diddy Kong instead of Fulgore.

>

Worst of all, by far, they renamed my precious board “Other RPGs”. Other! Lesser! Inconsequential! And why? The only reasonable explanation was to emphasize the Zelda board. Practically in tears, I called my RPGs brothers to arms. The Zelda board must pay. That war would last for weeks, because the Zelda board was well organized under the Zelda Alliance. (This same game had been going on there all along, despite there being almost no overlap in users.)

<(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)> ^( ‘-‘ )^ <(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)>

As it turned out, the game was not just an RPGs board thing or a Nintendo.com thing, but a common trend throughout the internet. As we transitioned away from NSider to Geocities and forum hosts like VantageNet and InsideTheWeb, we encountered more of the same everywhere. It was as if thousands of kids were dumped into an empty field and told: “Play. No one is watching.” You will never find a Wayback Machine record of the bizarre, seemingly pandemic consequences, but if you were socially engaged in the 90s internet before high school, you probably belonged to some sort of guild.

I tended to see a change in people when they got to be 13 or 14, and the game for them might transition into an interactive story. These were shared universe worlds in which participants would write a collaborative fiction story through their individual characters’ perspectives. It wasn’t RP, but rather a real (poorly written and highly derivative) novel, and it could go on for years. The one that began on the Loud House RPGs board amassed thousands of pages (which were archived). Alternatively, the game would evolve into cyberbullying. Account security was non-existent and cracking tools were a dime a dozen on Yahoo!. A lot of sites also used forms to password protect their content, and the redirect link was usually embedded right in the HTML code. As a high school freshman, you were too “mature” to pretend you were a wizard anymore, so you pretended you were a 1337 hacker instead. It was not uncommon to see a Geocities site vanish over night, replaced by “Conquered by” so-and-so. My first email address got hijacked. It was actually kind of stressful.

But that was the 90s internet as I remember it. …Am I supposed to inject some sort of closing point or moral here?

A Glorious Fantasy: Finally, a Thief!


Abbreviated boilerplate! Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through Lightning Returns, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’. This list continues to undergo revision, and I seriously considered removing Final Fantasy 9 from it for personal reasons. In addition, no MMO titles will be played. Sorry, folks?

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research. Let’s move on!

Previously on this series!

FfixLogo

The traditional mood music is at hand!

Version Played: Original PSX discs, played using a “slim” PS2 system

Final Fantasy IX is a game that for me, and mine, and my generation of gamers… feels more modern than it actually is. How many among us would be surprised to learn that Final Fantasy IX was released in November of 2000? We are approaching its 15th anniversary. It’s perhaps the newest of the old Final Fantasy games. Except, we don’t think of Final Fantasy VII as old, do we? It is, and we should. Some of us probably do. But that still seems odd to me. Truthfully, Final Fantasy XIII probably has more in common with VII than it does with I. Evolution is an ongoing process, and it’s one that ongoing fans have learned to accept.

But there’s a lot going on in Final Fantasy IX that would be both weirdly prescient and altogether ignorant of the future. It’s an interesting game in many ways.

The core conceit behind FFIX is that it’s a return to the “roots” of the Final Fantasy series. Superficially, there can be no argument about this at all. Final Fantasy IX brings back the saga of the four crystals that rule or shape the world (a premise which every game before Final Fantasy VI incorporates). It’s got airships, it’s got the ATB gauge, you buy and equip weapons and armor, and your abilities are gained as you level. After Final Fantasy V (with its variable Job System), and VI, VII, and VIII… which allowed total freedom of customization to the player given more or less application of effort… Final Fantasy IX has our characters locked into their classes, in a nod to Final Fantasy I and IV.

The designs of both the world elements and (particularly) the characters are also a deliberate reaction against VI, VII and (especially) VIII, which featured increasingly advanced technologies and settings that were undeniably darker than previous Final Fantasy realms. Final Fantasy IX’s – and this is important – surface tone is much goofier. The character designs reinforce that for the entire game. Of course, this game is actually full of some really messed up shit… way more than I remembered there being, in fact. Even in the darkest pits of this game’s soul though, the bobblehead characters work to lessen the impact. There’s nothing creepy about them, for the most part.

The unfortunate side-effect of your characters being “locked in” to their roles is that a certain party composition is virtually required to complete the game. With enough ability gimmickry, you might be able to pass the game’s challenges by overleveling significantly and abusing Auto-Potion, but in general, you will take one of the game’s White Mage characters, Eiko or Garnet. Neither provides any meaningful offense. Garnet has offensive Eidolons, but their MP cost remains prohibitive until perhaps the very end of the game, with a few notable exceptions. Physical fighters like Steiner, Zidane and Freya remain your bread and butter as always, though Black Mage Vivi can certainly contribute. Indeed, my own party for this entire playthrough consisted of Zidane, Garnet, Vivi, and Steiner.

The one nod to character customization available in this title are character “abilities” which are learned off of equipped weapons, armor and accessories. Calling this system “customization” is a bit of a stretch, as all unique character abilities are learned this way (i.e., Garnet’s weapons will teach her White Magic, which Zidane and others cannot learn), along with the same pool of generic abilities for each character. Some abilities are easier to come by than others on certain types of armor. For example, Zidane’s light armor and daggers have easy access to thief abilities, as well as physical combat abilities such as Bird Killer or Golemslayer. You have a limited number of points with which to “equip” learned abilities, and equipping the proper status resistances and combat proficiencies can mean the difference between victory and defeat in many of the game’s areas.

That’s about all there is too it, really.

I have trouble taking the main antagonist of this game seriously, and it turns some of the dramatic moments into silly ones for me. Aside from that, however, it would be difficult to earnestly argue that this game doesn’t live up to what the Final Fantasy brand represents. It’s even a little meatier than its predecessors in VII and VIII in terms of core story, taking a fair amount of time to work through. In addition, some of the battles in IX can be difficult unless you’ve substantially overleveled. Once you’ve identified the best abilities for each situation, you won’t have much of a problem, though this game’s final boss might be the most difficult one I’ve faced, other than the infamous Cloud of Darkness from FF3. As always, your own mileage may vary, but I have a hard time conceiving of ways to make a more infuriating storyline boss.

All of that goes triple for Final Fantasy IX’s superboss, the dreaded Ozma. Although there are many cheesy workarounds available to make him much easier to defeat, he will still feel completely impossible unless everything goes perfectly. I have defeated him, but elected not to do so during this playthrough. I did defeat the other optional boss, Hades, in Memoria, which gives access to the game’s most complete Synthesis Shop. Taking advantage of the items available there will make the game’s final challenges – and Ozma! – quite a bit easier to deal with, and Hades is nothing more than a fairly difficult boss.

On the whole, I found IX to be fairly uneven. Its plot is a bit on the ridiculous side, which I’ve come to realize is an appropriate thing to say about most of the Final Fantasy games. The only ones whose stories have stuck with me so far were IV, VI, and VII, and maybe a little bit of FFT. Will this improve? Hmmm! The gameplay is very straightforward, which is a mixed bag. Eventually you’ll reach a point where you’ll have your ‘strong’ party, and the occasional swap of abilities to protect against local status effects will be enough to find your way. Certainly, I did not find the system here to be nearly as engaging as the ones from VI, VII and VIII, but nor is it entirely without substance (such as in FF1). Still, probably the weakest system to be seen since FFIV’s similarly static model. When the game was fun and interesting, it was fun and interesting, but I did spend periods tiring of the random encounter rate, wishing the graphics were better, and hating the back of Zidane’s face with the scorching power of my brain. Him and his stupid tail.

But I knew going in that this one would be far from my favourite installment. I actually think I enjoyed it more this second, and probably final, time through. So there’s that.

One word of caution for anyone looking to play back through this title: I played on the physical PS2 plugged into my HDTV, and boy did this game look like shit. I highly recommend pretty much any solution but the one I chose. The text was mercifully still quite legible, and the cutscenes scaled nicely, but the in-game graphics… well. Let’s say that I was startled after having played through the nicely-upscaled Steam ports of VII and VIII, and the beautiful PSP version of FFT.

Oh, and join me next time when I discuss the jump to the Playstation 2 with Final Fantasy X!

This game’s soundtrack is far from one of my favourites. It took time just to pick two songs for this piece. Yikes.

A Glorious Fantasy: The Original Klingon


Columnist’s Note: This article has been edited from its original form to include some thoughts about the Master Calculator and the battle with Belias the Gigas in response to compelling arguments made in the comments. This was an important change, and it expands humankind’s capacity for growth.

Abbreviated boilerplate! Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through Lightning Returns, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’. This list continues to undergo revision, and I seriously considered removing Final Fantasy 9 from it for personal reasons. In addition, no MMO titles will be played. Sorry, folks?

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research. Let’s move on!

Previously in this series!

FFT

As is customary, let’s start with some mood music.

Version Played: “War of the Lions” PSP remake, complete with incredibly Shakespearian translation.

Final Fantasy Tactics is sort of the gold standard for tactical RPGs. It is also a game around which many PSX-era Final Fantasy fans rally together as a point of shared joy. In my entire life, I have never met someone who actively disliked this game. That, in and of itself, is incredible. I mean, who doesn’t know someone who dislikes Final Fantasy 7, 8, 9, 10, etc. ? Tactics rises above that crop to my mind for three major reasons.

1) The gameplay mechanics are deservedly the gold standard for tactical RPG play. Yes, I love Fire Emblem too. But there’s something about the job system and the customization available to the player in Tactics which hits the spot. Oh, and you get a variety of broken NPCs if you’d rather just use the cheater sword abilities the AI has been trying to best you with all game. I won’t blame you if that’s how you feel.

2) The story appeals to people in a kind of ‘Game of Thrones’ way. Despite all of the magic present, it’s not utterly fantastic. The focus of the story is on ambitious jackoffs who would sacrifice anything to advance their own ambitions… and one guy who is kind of the opposite. It’s a semi-kind-of-realistic middle ages type setting. It feels to the player like a place that could actually exist, which is simply not the case for other Final Fantasy titles.

3) Ramza Beoulve, despite ultimately not being that interesting, is a very easy protagonist to root for. He doesn’t have the capital-letter ISSUES that plague Cloud and Squall. He doesn’t have a bizarrely oversized head and a tail like Zidane. And he doesn’t narrate the whole game with inner monologues that caused some people to bleed into their brains like Tidus. No, Ramza is quite straightforward, and quite heroic.

But it’s mostly about #1. The mechanics are deep (sort of. They’re deep if you’re not just chasing the absolute optimum party, at any rate). They’re fun to play around with. They can make the game either embarrassingly easy or fairly challenging depending on which route you decide to go. It’s like the awesome job system from Final Fantasy V writ large in the PSX era! Only you also get many NPC characters with unique and interesting skill sets! I chose not to use any of them (except Agrias. I don’t hate myself) in this particular play through, but FFT certainly facilitates any style of play that you like.

The standout mechanic, of course, which you won’t find elsewhere – even in other incarnations of Final Fantasy’s own job system – is the Calculator or Master Calculator job. This job is very straightforward – it uses the battlefield metrics such as elevation, remaining wait time to act, and individual character level, and then devastates targets with magic. The Calculator need not spend MP to do his work, nor is he subject to the questionable charge times that render powerful spells like Holy of limited utility. Instead, the Calculator picks a metric to hit, then which multiple (3, 4, or 5) he wants to lash out at, and then gleefully rains fire down upon eligible targets… friend and foe alike. Because the Calculator class has abysmal stats and is unbelievably, unfathomably slow, I didn’t find it worth the time to train one of my party members in the skills this time around. But veteran players all know that the deployment of a Calculator’s skillset (preferably equipped on a better job: try Black Mage!) on the battlefield can easily win this war almost single-handedly.

Even using weak classes and abilities, and without the timely intervention of Count Orlandeau or the mighty Calculator, it’s perfectly possible to complete Final Fantasy Tactics. Once you have mastered the mechanics of the game and know what truly poses a danger to your group, I like to think the obstacles of this game are fairly easy to navigate. A standout, fairly brutal exception to this is a battle roughly halfway through the game at Riovanes Castle. You should save your game in a different slot before attempting it. In fact, keeping two different saves is always a good idea in this game, to avoid a possible soft lock of your file, where you’re locked into a battle that is too difficult for you to defeat, without the means to leave and level up or acquire better equipment.

There are a couple other possible exceptions, which revolve around a mechanic that simply doesn’t work as well as the designers probably intended. I consider it one of FFT’s flaws that several story battles involve “guest” characters. Early on, this takes the form of Delita and Algus, your supposed friends, who are there to make sure you can’t take a full party of 5 on a mission until the start of Chapter 2. They’re not always helpful, but they also can’t die, so they’re no liability either. Later, however, most such missions involve saving other “guest” characters from getting their dumb asses killed. Unfortunately, since guests are always under the control of the AI… this isn’t always possible. There is one battle (Castle Riovanes Roof. You know what I’m talking about) where the guest character routinely gets killed in the first round of action. Or any any subsequent round. In one shot. By some brazenly unfair enemy characters. This battle can be one of the most frustrating ones in the game because you have very little ability to impact its outcome. Either your “guest” behaves rationally and avoids the deadly enemy assassins… or she doesn’t… and it’s game over. Bummer.

One thing I want to mention in this space, before I get too far afield, is the translation. The original translation for FFT is in the same vein as the Ted Woolsey translations of earlier games. You still get the gist of it, but a lot of it is nonsense. It’s much worse than the original translations for Final Fantasy VII and VIII in this regard. Lots of stuff, even seemingly obvious stuff, is mistranslated, to the detriment of the story. PSP’s War of the Lions is heralded as a vast improvement, and in some ways that’s true. However, having now played both versions, I have to say, there’s a lot to dislike about the War of the Lions translation as well. It may simply be the original material to blame, which is fine, but this translation is insanely talky at times. We might as well be reading the original Shakespeare in some of the cutscenes. Melodrama and unnecessary wordiness abound, and the ultimate effect is a little bit off-putting to a modern player. Don’t misunderstand – by no means did I hate the War of the Lions treatment of the script. I just am not sure that it deserves the near-universal praise that it has received amongst gamers and critics alike. It’s talky. Often unnecessarily so.

By its nature, a game that you can play through with only Ramza and a party of generic characters (in fact, you can dismiss any of the story characters after they’ve formally joined) has to be light on character development. Characters like Agrias, who are central to the plot up until they join, disappear immediately upon doing so. As a result, the only meaty characterization is ultimately of the Beoulve family… Ramza, his sister Alma, and his two other brothers Zalbaag and Dycedarg. They are at the center of the conflict ripping Ivalice apart in any case, and they’re also the characters (along with Ramza’s best friend, Delita) who get the most screen time. Delita receives some additional attention in the War of the Lions, to where you could consider him one of the game’s better-explored characters. Still, you’ll actually find a lot of the most intriguing characterization actually belongs to the game’s various (and, boy, there are a lot of them) antagonists. This is definitely an intriguing reverse from the “norm”, but it works well here.

Ultimately, this is probably one that we can all still agree on. FFT kicks ass. It combines excellent and deep tactical gameplay with an intriguing story that might be a little less clear with the new translation… but certainly isn’t any worse. It might be one of the more cohesive FF plots around. It’s also got at least one more song I’ll share.

Join me next time, as I return to Final Fantasy’s roots, with Final Fantasy IX!

A Glorious Fantasy: Hyper-Realism and Time Travel


Abbreviated boilerplate! Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through Lightning Returns, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’. This list continues to undergo revision, and I seriously considered removing Final Fantasy 9 from it for personal reasons. In addition, no MMO titles will be played. Sorry, folks?

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research. Let’s move on!

ff8-logo

Why not start with some music?

Version Played: Steam-client PC port, with largely unnoticed upscaled resolutions!

Final Fantasy VIII, notable for its awesome FMVs and its mixed reviews, received a lot of hype. A lot of hype. Coming off of the cultural sensation that was Final Fantasy VII, how could it not? Unfortunately, the truth is, Final Fantasy VIII was disappointing for a lot of people. More than enough people for it to be considered a disappointment overall. Even I, who have always loved FF8, have no choice but to admit its faults. We’ll get to those in a minute.

To my mind, that FF8 fell victim to its own hype machine is a shame. Because as a kid, there were very few games that I enjoyed as much or as completely as I enjoyed Final Fantasy VIII. And this is going to lead to my most controversial opinion about this game (well, maybe not, we’ll see). But it’s also an opinion that needs to just get out there. Let’s talk about it. Leave some feedback in the comments. Let’s talk about the protagonist, Squall Leonheart.

Squall is one hell of  a fighter. But what the hell is his problem?

Squall is one hell of a fighter. But what the hell is his problem?

Ultimately, Squall isn’t that likable. I recognize that now. But I’ve always identified with him on some level. It’s important to remember that the characters in this game are all intended to be teenagers. Teenagers with teenager problems. Squall is misunderstood in his own mind. In everyone else’s, he can’t communicate, so they can’t get to know him, so they misunderstand him. In a lot of ways, he’s a very realistic character. He’s devoted himself to his studies, but he’s awkward around everyone, because he never considered that he might need social or leadership skills, because his childhood taught him not to rely on other people for anything. His arc, over the course of the game, is coming to terms with the fact that people aren’t islands. Everyone needs help sometimes, and together, we can be greater than the sum of our parts. I believe his arc, so I like Squall.

Oh, and there’s a love story with Rinoa.

This is the first Final Fantasy game which has a focus upon a love story of any kind. We’ve seen the theme of love before; Cecil and Rosa create a love triangle of despair with Kain in Final Fantasy IV. Locke sees the love of his life come again in Celes in Final Fantasy VI. Cloud was totally oblivious to the various beautiful women hitting on him in Final Fantasy VII. It’s not until Final Fantasy VIII where we actually explore a love story as a central idea in the plot. Squall and Rinoa meet early in the game, get off to a great start, then fall apart when they get to know each other a little. Only to come all the way back around once they get to know each other a lot. The sequence I personally associate most with their relationship is best captured on video. It can (and probably should!) be argued that this is not only not the most important sequence, but doesn’t even make the top five. Among other highlights, Squall carries a comatose Rinoa on his back across like, literally, half the world, along some train tracks in a probably-futile effort to save her. Later, he attacks head-on a garrison of the most technologically sophisticated troops in the world with uhh… with his steel balls, mostly. Oh, and probably the 255 STR you’ll have Junctioned by then, as it’s very nearly the last bit of the game.

The rest of the characters are kind of incidental to this process. Quistis doesn’t become jilted when she realizes that Squall’s just not that into her. Zell, Selphie, and Irvine don’t grow up. None of them gets an especially deep treatment. Quistis and Zell get to have a little more fun since they’re around early in the game, but there’s just not much for us to know about most of these characters. They’re mercenaries. They’re time-travelers. They’re hyper-realistic.

The hyper-realistic style of FFVIII was another significant departure for the game when it first launched. Obviously, the later technology of the PS2, and the XBox 360 rendered this distinction irrelevant, but it was a big deal at the time, and the relatively lukewarm reception that the realistic character models got informed the design choices in FF9, which ultimately became all about going back to the ‘roots’ of the series. Squall and his friends have realistic proportions, and while on my HD monitor they looked pixelated and kinda crappy… they looked that way on the PSX too. The technology didn’t really exist to bring them to life. While some sequences show off the realistic motion of the characters (Quistis and Rinoa both speak in a lot of subtle gestures), the motions of Squall and Zell – particularly Zell – are often hugely exaggerated, and not really at home with the character models themselves. Luckily, the monsters and Guardian Forces don’t suffer from this same issue – they’re as grand as ever.

I probably mentioned a couple times about the time-travel. I assume at this point everyone has played FF8, but a reminder is always helpful, yes? The basic plot of Final Fantasy VIII is this: In the world, there exists a succession of powerful, female, spellcasters. They are called, creatively enough, Sorceresses. This condition is not genetic, but it is inherited, with the Sorceress either voluntarily relinquishing her powers to another, or when that Sorceress is very near death, they pass on by default. Of the four Sorceresses we meet in Final Fantasy VIII, one is a power-hungry madwoman, one is a time-traveling psychopath, and the other two are possessed by a time-traveling psychopath. Fortunately, since this is a world that knows Sorceresses could go crazy at any time, a man named Cid Kramer established a military academy at Balamb. Balamb Garden, as it is called, trains SeeD, an elite force. To finance Balamb Garden, SeeD undertakes military operations all over the world. SeeD’s true purpose, however, are to be warriors ready to contend with these Sorceresses. That much all seems pretty grounded. Now let’s take a magic carpet ride. All of the party members but Rinoa – but including major Plot MacGuffin Ellone – were raised together in an orphanage. Only none of them remember that because the Guardian Forces (the game’s summons, and the beating heart of the Junction system) steal memories in order to function. The sacrifice for becoming powerful soldiers is a loss of memories, starting with early childhood. Only Irvine actually does remember, he just doesn’t tell anyone, until everyone figures it out. Huh.

Ellone, meanwhile, has the very special power to send people’s consciousnesses back in time. She uses this ability on Squall and his friends repeatedly, sending them back into the bodies of deuteragonist Laguna Loire and his friends Kiros and Ward, who had their own misadventures 20 years earlier. Because time travel, Laguna and his friends survived many battles with the super-powerful SeeDs from the future dumping rocket fuel into their minds. Ellone just wanted to change the past for her own selfish – if understandable – reasons. She failed. But her powers are also very much desired by the time-traveling psychopath Sorceress from the future – Ultimecia – who is trying to cast a spell from three different time periods called Time Compression that does… eh, let’s actually not worry about what it does. We don’t know what it does. “Time Compression” doesn’t sound good for us though. In fact, it’s only good for Ultimecia. That’s all we know. So in order to stop that, we hatch an elaborate plan to let it happen, only, before it finishes, Squall and the gang will go rough Ultimecia up. She has a spooky castle, it has a superboss in it, and Ultimecia herself has got roughly five forms. And some great battle music. She’s also actually pretty hard if you cut a lot of corners on the way to her, and get unlucky during the battle.

So that’s the story of FF8. Only, what may or may not be interesting is that the game isn’t really about most of that stuff at all. It would be disingenuous to say that Laguna Loire’s story doesn’t matter, because you spend a fair amount of time playing as him… but the rest? That’s just stuff that’s going on while Squall tries to grow as a person, he and Rinoa fall in love, and he eventually does a series of very brave and very stupid things in order to rescue her. Then, in the end, she saves him when he’s lost in the vagaries of time travel. Time travel!

Final Fantasy VIII’s take on the battle system is also controversial. What can I say? It’s a controversial game. The Junction system works like this: You have an “inventory” of Magic, up to 100 copies of each spell, rather than using MP or spells per day or whatever else. In general, these spells never get cast, because they are “Junctioned” to your stats, like strength and defense, or your defenses. 100 Firagas to your elemental defense, for example, will put you at about 25% “absorb” on all incoming fire damage. The better the magic, the stronger the effect. Ultima junctions well to just about everything, and if you’re patient enough to accumulate 100 of them, it will raise any stat as high as it can go. So, it’s very customizable, you can basically do whatever with the characters you like best. As with FF7, the specific differences between characters are primarily in Limit Break techniques, although in FF8, Squall’s is so powerful it’s virtually required to defeat the superboss Omega Weapon. So if you’re not familiar with the game, the question you should be asking right now is “how do you get this magic?” Well, the game has a sophisticated system for refining items into spells, said items both being won from battle and from playing the (incredibly addictive) card mini-game, Triple Triad. Oh, how do you get magic before you have the right item? Or if you can’t find the right item? Well… unfortunately… you ‘draw’ it from enemies. As a command in battle. Very slowly.

Oh.

Yep. This is why people hate the Junction system. The first few hours of FF8 – assuming you already know where the right monsters are to draw from – are spent largely of sucking enemies dry of their magic to power yourself up. This process is occasionally helpful through the rest of the game, as if you know where to look, you can get early access to very powerful spells. Bosses often have good spells as well, and there are also several Guardian Forces you must ‘draw’ from bosses throughout the game. Unfortunately, unless your – I think? – Magic stat is pretty good… you’ll draw spells at a rate of 0-5 with each use of the command. You really need 100 of your spells, as the quantity affects the power of the Junction. So drawing sucks. This is where one feature of the Steam version is quite handy; the magic booster! With this turned on, all your party members receive 100 of a bunch of core spells. None of the best stuff, mind you, but some solid spells so that there is NO time lost drawing early in the game. Since the later drawing is entirely optional – everything can be obtained from items, often more easily – the Junction system’s worst feature can just be switched off. All other versions will have to go through the grind.

But FF8 isn’t about the Junction system. Junction is just something you have to deal with. And if you can get past it, you might appreciate the game a little. It’s by no means a bad entry in the series. Its plot is full of holes. Most of its characters are pretty shallow. But there’s some really good stuff at the core of FF8, and it certainly has its place in the development of the franchise as well. I think it deserves a little bit of our love.

And now I shall leave you with another one of FF8’s beautiful cutscenes. Good day.

A Glorious Fantasy: A World of Three Dimensions


Abbreviated boilerplate! Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through Lightning Returns, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’. This list continues to undergo revision, and I seriously considered removing Final Fantasy 9 from it for personal reasons. In addition, no MMO titles will be played. Sorry, folks?

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research. Let’s move on!

FF7

And, actually, let’s give this a little music, shall we? I hear that particular music in my head every time I see an image on the internet of the city of Midgar, or the logo for Final Fantasy VII.

Yes, that’s right. It’s time to talk about Final Fantasy VII.

Version Played: Steam-client PC port, with fun upscaled resolutions!

For those of you who have been following this series from its start, you probably already know that Final Fantasy VI is my favourite game in the series, and that this exercise was very unlikely to topple VI from its stance, astride the Final Fantasy world like a colossus. Despite having rediscovered how much of a bridge VI is between eras of the games, and despite gaining a much deeper and more interesting understanding of the franchise through this play experience… the dominance of VI, at the very least, has not changed. It is keeping this in mind, and knowing some of what must follow, that I want to preface this piece by saying the following: Final Fantasy VII is irrefutably a great game, and I wholeheartedly believe that, no matter what the rest of this article may contain.

What should also be apparent to everyone, already, is the degree to which Final Fantasy VII infected our cultural consciousness. The fact is, the beautiful CGI video sequences and 3-D scenario of Final Fantasy VII make it perhaps the most memorable of any game in the whole series. It is worth noting that on this day, far more games have been released after VII than came before it. I actually find that statement astonishing, now that I consider it. Just imagine how a sequence like the incredible Opera House performance in Final Fantasy VI might have captured our imaginations if it had been given a full CGI treatment on the PSX… or the PS2… or the 360… Incredible, right? (Don’t bring up the ill-executed “Final Fantasy Anthology” collection). Well, while no single sequence in Final Fantasy VII might equal up to the Opera House performance, or Kefka seizing the statues and destroying the world, the truth is lesser sequences are more memorable for many of us (those who exist in both the 2D and 3D era, meaningfully)… and, in many ways, that is the power of Final Fantasy VII.

It has other things to recommend it. Final Fantasy VII follows a large, diverse party. Each character gets to experience complex characterization as things progress, with a couple notable exceptions…. including side quests, some unique abilities, and the powerful and diverse Limit Breaks that really set them apart in mechanical terms. Each character I used in Final Fantasy VII felt very distinct and different… for a while. But unlike a game like Final Fantasy IV, or even VI, where they have absolutely distinct features, many of which come into play every single battle… the primary – non-cosmetic, let’s get real! – differences between characters in Final Fantasy VII deal with their unique Limit Break techniques. Some of those Limit Breaks are incredibly memorable, and will probably come to define the characters of Final Fantasy VII in many ways for you as a player… but you don’t see them every battle, and they don’t establish an identity in the way that “this character can use Steal” does.

This is because the characters in Final Fantasy VII are so customizable. While it is true that Aeris Gainsborough is a better magician and a (far) worse physical attacker than Barrett Wallace… I could make Barrett into a magician if I wanted to. It would involve loading him down with Materia to change his stats, but equipping him that way is a matter of seconds of work. And, if I change my mind later, it will take only seconds to change him back. Final Fantasy VI eventually allowed a player to control the stat growth of each party member by strategic use of Espers, but the changes were a) permanent and b) permanent.

I suspect that this trend – this gameplay quirk – will be significant in the immediate future of Final Fantasy. But we’ll see.

When I see people extol the virtues of Final Fantasy VII, I typically see three big arguments. There’s simply no way to talk about this game independent of the billions of words and millions of hours that have already been spent on it.

1) THE STORY, MAN. I don’t even know if this is legitimately the #1 argument made in favour of Final Fantasy VII, but it’s a common one, and it is compelling. Does Final Fantasy VII’s story plot tightly together, eliminate all holes, answer all questions, etc? No, it sure doesn’t. But that’s not everything. Final Fantasy VII’s storyline (in case you somehow don’t know…) traces the fortunes of a group of people who have decided to resist the oppression of the ShinRa Electric Power Company. ShinRa provides electricity to the world to power all manner of modern conveniences, which they obtain through the harvest of Mako energy. Of course, as we quickly learn, Mako energy is also the literal life energy of the world of Gaia. In condensing that energy into Materia and using it to power TV broadcasts, the ShinRa company is quite possibly destroying the planet. Literally. Of course, it’s not that simple. Sephiroth, the greatest of ShinRa’s genetically engineered warriors (called SOLDIERs, cryptically enough) returns to the great city of Midgar, slaughters many of Shinra’s top personnel, and flees. Much of the rest of the game is spent in the pursuit of Sephiroth, whose objectives are unknown, but are almost assuredly not benevolent.

When things come together, about 75% of the way through the game, we know that Sephiroth has used the ultimate black magic, Meteor. In VII, this magic literally summons a wandering planetoid, diverting its course through space toward Gaia. It will strike the surface, causing incredible damage. Unlike Earth, however, Gaia has a defense mechanism to protect it against such catastrophic damage. The Mako energy – actually called the Lifestream – will be gathered at the spot of the gaping wound caused by Meteor. Sephiroth will stand there, become one with all of the planet’s energy, and become a God. Not a benevolent one.

Heavy stuff, man. And ultimately very satisfying. We don’t need all the ends tied off on this story. We don’t need to see every detail hashed out to the end. And, if you [i]do[/i] want that, there are actually resources available! Such is its popularity, that there is now an actually thing called Compilation Final Fantasy VII. The expanded universe around Final Fantasy VII probes many of its deepest mysteries, expands upon fan-favourite characters, and in general should give you the satisfaction that you desire.

I have not yet decided whether to include any of these Compilation titles in my own quest to explore Final Fantasy’s depths.

2) It was my first Final Fantasy.

This one is more difficult to break down point by point, but it is definitely worth addressing. My first Final Fantasy (that I completed) was VI. I know for a fact that this creates a nostalgic bias on my part toward the game. Now, of course, Final Fantasy VI is universally heralded as excellent, so my opinion has never proved unpopular. But so many people were introduced to the genre by Final Fantasy VII at a ripe, young age that the game’s explosive – and enduring – popularity make total sense.

3) It was the first 3-D game in the franchise.

Let me add on to this that the 3-D combined nicely with the sheer scope of this game, to create something that – at the time – was utterly without precedent. This is another reason why this game’s flaws are less important than its triumphs. They were when it was released, and they still are today. When I played this game for the first time, in my buddy’s basement (he had the PSX before I did), he and I decided to trade off the controller periodically, and counsel each other on game decisions and so on. All of that was fun, but one thing I remember as much as anything else, was how incredible this game looked by the standards of the time. To this day, some people still prefer the sprites and the beautiful hand drawings of games like Final Fantasy VI… but the first time I saw this game, I knew that we were never going back.

Well. That was a load of nostalgia. Let’s talk about the game when looked at through modern sensibilities. I’m going to knock this out in list format.

1) Was it any good?

It sure was. I had a lot of fun playing this one. I enjoyed it enough to explore all of its various nooks and crannies, including breeding the Golden Chocobo, and using the power of Knights of the Round to unseat the mighty Emerald and Ruby WEAPON monsters. I played the shit out of Final Fantasy VII, and it didn’t matter how many times I had played it before.

2) How’s it hold up?

Unfortunately, Final Fantasy VII’s graphics have aged even more poorly than the sprites from early consoles. The nice resolution upscale of the Steam port made the character models look unusually sharp, while the matte backgrounds through most of the game looked fuzzy and out of focus at best. Unfortunately, even ‘sharp’ looking polygonal character models still look crappy compared to modern games. But what do you want? It’s between 17 years since Final Fantasy VII dropped. And, ultimately, it held up well enough for me to sink 50+ hours into it, and defeat the superbosses, so the graphical considerations weren’t so bad.

Of equally important note is that Final Fantasy VII has one of the series’ better soundtracks. While I personally think several games have better battle music – and yes, that includes the widely beloved One-Winged Angel, Final Fantasy VII has a vast soundtrack that includes a number of mood-setting tracks that are simply superb – tracks like Great Warrior, which plays as Red XIII learns the truth about his family legacy. Within the game, it plays only twice to my recollection, but it’s an incredibly compelling track. The same could be said for Launching a Dream Into Space, a theme composed explicitly for flashbacks about the failed Shinra space launch. Considering scope as a major factor, some would argue that VII’s soundtrack is Nobuo Uematsu’s triumph. I’m not sure that I would agree, but I do think that it was squarely at the center of the “golden age” of Square’s music, which ranged from Final Fantasy VI through Final Fantasy VIII.

3) Is Final Fantasy VII really overrated?

Perhaps.

It probably depends on whose rating you use as a baseline. The manic Sephiroth fans of the world probably do overrate the game. I think, however, most modern gamers who go far enough back to have played and enjoyed Final Fantasy VII when it was shiny and new have given it the due it deserves, and have come to accept its faults as well.

Well, this piece was probably not exceptionally helpful, since everyone has played the effing game, but thanks as always for reading. Next time, I’ll plunge into the depths of Final Fantasy VIII.

A Glorious Fantasy: The Magitek Revolution


Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through Lightning Returns, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’. This list continues to undergo revision, and I seriously considered removing Final Fantasy 9 from it for personal reasons. In addition, no MMO titles will be played. Sorry, folks?

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research. Let’s move on!

FF6-logo

This is a bittersweet entry for me. Final Fantasy 6 has always been my favourite Final Fantasy. It is the first one that I played to completion, and I still think of it as the absolute pinnacle of the JRPG form. There are things about later games that I like, individually, better than certain aspects of Final Fantasy VI. But unless I really undergo a transformation moving forward in the series (or if Lightning Returns is somehow the greatest game ever released… and I doubt it) … this is the high point. This is the pinnacle. For me, this is the definitive FF experience, and the game I would recommend throughout this entire odyssey without hesitation to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Version Played: GBA Remake

Version Notes: Having played the original SNES version 90282834 times (all numbers approximate) and the GBA version 0 times, this was kind of fun for me. The primary feature of the GBA version is a new, upgraded translation over the Ted Woolsey original. Obvious upgrades include the names of characters no longer being in all caps for whatever reason, and the expansion of several characters. I never thought that the original translation of FFVI was particularly egregious, but I will freely admit to liking the GBA translation better. The GBA version also fixes a number of rather infamous bugs from the original game, including the Evade bug. I would highly recommend this version to both new players and returning ones alike.

So… where to begin, really, with Final Fantasy VI? At the risk of exposing my knowledge of future games, I can certainly say that FFVI’s style paved the way for the characters and combat systems of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII. It also represents the only real departure (let’s not count FFI and FFIII where you have only ‘generic’ characters) in the entire Final Fantasy series from the idea of a single protagonist, with supporting characters around her. In this case, while Terra Branford is an obvious protagonist type, and does start the story as its central character, she remains such only until the first major split in the party, when Terra leads a group trying to escort the rebel leader Banon to safety on the Lete River… meanwhile, Locke Cole attempts to delay the impending invasion of the Gestahlian Empire from overrunning the peaceful realm of Figaro… and Sabin Figaro is lost on the Lete, and must make form new alliances to get back home.

Let the idea of that sink in, just a little. It’s a truly novel concept, and one that is not really used in any other RPG-style game that I can recall to mind. The ensemble cast of FFVI is not held together by the glue of Terra Branford, nor by any other single character. Certainly, the game has a few characters much more ‘major’ than others (Terra, Celes, and Locke receive a large amount of development over their fellow cast members), particularly if you don’t indulge in some of the sidequests that the game offers once you reach its second half.

If any single character provides focus to the narrative, then, it has to be the bad guy. Actually, in this case, as is often the case, there are a couple of them. The villains provide us with a single thread to follow through the complex characterizations and variety of locales that the party will explore. Ultimately, this game is about stopping the mighty Kefka from literally grinding the people of the world into dust, until nothing at all remains. While this has basically been the goal of every antagonist we’ve faced thus far (spoiler alert: probably most of the upcoming ones have the same plan in mind), Kefka begins to realize his goals in a visceral way which is, again, unusual for this game series.

Final Fantasy VI is also the first game to depart in a major way from several of the core story themes that we’ve seen before in every other installment. Gone are the crystals (Earth, Wind, Air, and Fire). Gone are prophecies of any kind – the people of Final Fantasy VI’s world are more worried about repeating the mistakes of the past through a cataclysmic conflict called the War of the Magi, which destroyed the world and erased magic, but also gave rise to the steam engine, and modern technology. It’s this technology, and this complete departure from the series’ roots that gives this game it’s unique flavour, and also very much sets the stage for the succeeding games.

Here, too, is another innovation, which in some ways builds on the stylings of Final Fantasy IV, but not entirely – each character here possesses a unique skill, such as ‘Steal’ for Locke, or ‘Morph’ for Terra (Cecil, for example, had ‘Darkness’, and Kain ‘Jump’). However, beyond that unique skill and their individual equipment lists, the characters have many interchangeable features. Their ability gain at level up is determined entirely by the Esper system, which also teaches characters magic. It is possible (albeit, pointlessly difficult and unrewarding) to turn even the most magically inept character like Edgar into a spellcasting powerhouse with the Ultima ability by the game’s end. While this was previously a function of jobs, the character ‘jobs’ in FFVI are immutable, though you have many characters to choose from by the end, unlike in Final Fantasy IV.

Final_Fantasy_VI_OperaNone of this is why the game is so effective, however, or why its memory has lingered with me far beyond any other game in the series. The truth is, all of that has to be attributed by incredible moments, like the Opera House sequence, which elevate this game from a story perspective far beyond any previous offering. Its combat system may not be quite as fun to play with as FFV’s deep and immersive job system… but the characters will draw you in in a way that perhaps no other game in the series will.

After so many years, there’s not too much more to add here. Just know that if you have never experienced Final Fantasy VI, you are missing one of the great games of all time. That would be a shame.

A Glorious Fantasy: Jobs, Jobs, and more Jobs!


Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through FF13-2, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’. This list continues to undergo revision, and I seriously considered removing Final Fantasy 9 from it for personal reasons. But we’ll get there. I promise.

For those who are unfamiliar with my premise, here’s an almost comically thorough recap:

Most people have already played many/most/all of the games that I’m going to write about in this series (weirdly, as I compiled the list of games, I personally have not played a fair number of them). I don’t care. I’m going to look at all (most? I’m bad with structure, we’ll see how long this lasts) of the following things from these games:

– Some objective data. What version of the game did I play, and why did I select that one. This will be less important when I reach the PSX era, but we’re not there yet! One thing I’d like to do is discuss some of the changes between the “original” and the version I end up playing.
– Is the game any good? Seriously! I’m sure some of these games suck! <- Weirdly, most of them do not. Sadly, I believe our time with this bullet point might be done.
– Is the answer to that question, “It just doesn’t hold up”? Why? <– Let's see how Final Fantasy 7's polygons look in 2014.
– How would I place this game in a historical context? I want to watch the series evolve, devolve, side-volve and revolve as I go.
– Did I enjoy this game? What were the emotions and insane facial expressions I went through while playing it?
– How many times I frantically Googled maps for enormous maze-like dungeons because I no longer have the patience to solve them on my own?
– Was it… challenging? Were these games ever hard? Does the challenge ebb and flow?
– No MMORPGs. Sorry FF14 fans, I don’t ‘do’ MMORPGs anymore. Plus, the plan here hopefully doesn't involve spending a bunch of money acquiring and (especially) subscribing to games.

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research. Let's move on!

FF5

Version played: GBA

When FF5 first became available in the United States via the hilariously subpar PSX port… I did play it. I promise. And aside from the horrific loading times and comically bad cinematics, I enjoyed it. I don’t recall why I stopped playing, or exactly how far into the game I’d progressed… but I do know that I had never actually finished the game when I fired it up on the GBA for this series. I only vaguely recalled the story pieces, and even many of the dungeons, from my prior experience… but it was also distinctly different than coming into the game cold, because I did remember some useful stuff.

The GBA version of FF5 features a much cleaner translation than the PSX port, and one more faithful to the original script. As far as I could tell, that was the only substantive change between the version I played and the original. The GBA version has more content of course, in a bonus dungeon that I didn’t spend too much time on, as well as four new job classes, one of which is only obtained by spending more time in that aforementioned bonus dungeon. I did obtain the other three, however, and got at least some use out of the Gladiator class, which proved to be a fairly potent physical fighter.

The first thing you have to understand about Final Fantasy V is that the game is not at all serious. It is the polar opposite of the heavy, heavy, heavy drama of Final Fantasy IV, with its drearily serious characters and situations, people getting offed all the time, and the mighty Golbez. Instead, the characters spend a fair amount of time goofing around, and the villain is the hammiest of hams. Imagine what you might expect to see if you genetically recombined the most flamboyant bond villain with a cacklin’, teleportin’ evil warlock who is actually a tree. That sounds about right. Will he capture the heroes and put them in easily escapable situations? Yes, my friend, he will! Will he talk incessantly about his evil plans, and how it’s already too late to stop him? You better believe it! Is he actually a tree? Damn straight. Exdeath!

The second thing to understand about Final Fantasy V is that its story is really stupid. No, really, it’s no good at all. It doesn’t make much sense, doesn’t bear any kind of scrutiny, and just kind of arbitrarily bounces the characters from situation to situation with logic that ranges from questionable to absurd. In a way, it all comes together at the end, but it still doesn’t amount to much.

To give you some idea of the Job Menu if you've never seen it.

To give you some idea of the Job Menu if you’ve never seen it.


Given that, why would you bother playing Final Fantasy V? Well, because the game play itself is a mountain of fun. It’s a considerable improvement over all of the previous installments in this area. Why? I’m glad you asked. Because JOB SYSTEM! Yes, the famous Final Fantasy job system makes its triumphant return, and it has been upgraded a lot since the heady days of Final Fantasy III. Not only does Final Fantasy V feature up to 26 jobs (with the GBA jobs), but now each character can master skills (and ultimately entire jobs), then pass those skills around even while in another job. When battling superbosses or the final boss, you might even switch your characters to ‘bare’, which allows you to equip any items in the game, and completely customize your battle abilities. The possibilities here, as you can probably guess, are staggering. There is simply no equal to this level of customization to be found in earlier Final Fantasy titles. It probably seems pretty routine for those who are mostly familiar with the later games in the series, but this literally had no precedent at the time!

Of course, as I said, this job system is shackled to the lame story. The characters are pretty generic, though obviously realized in a way that far surpasses our friends from the NES era, or from the oft-maligned Mystic Quest. Bartz, for example, is afraid of flying. It comes up a couple of times. It doesn’t go much deeper than that. I’m in the very unusual position of having to recommend a Final Fantasy title only for those who like the sound of the job system and its customization options… because a compelling narrative, this ain’t.

Final Fantasy V is also the first game in the series to really introduce the concept of ‘superbosses’. The iconic vision of the super boss is probably still the mighty Emerald and Ruby Weapons from Final Fantasy VII… and truthfully, those battles are far more epic in scope than Final Fantasy V’s Shinryu or Omega. This does not mean that Omega or Shinryu are easy by any means, however. With some luck, a lot of fire protection, some more luck, and a somewhat over-leveled party, I was able to defeat Omega. Essentially, he just puts down an initial barrage of damage which will totally overwhelm an unprepared party of any level. If you can survive this (with Fire Rings and other such items), get a bit of luck that Omega doesn’t use his most powerful possible combination of moves, and then begin to lay down some damage, it actually pans out that he’s not too difficult. Shinryu is another matter. I know of a strategy to kill him, but it involved too many rare steals from rare monsters for my taste. However, from this point on, I will at least attempt Final Fantasy super bosses where available. I’m not putting too many rules on myself.

I can already assure you that I’m unlikely to have the patience to create Nemesis in Final Fantasy X, for example. But I am going to try and make monsters in the Monster Arena, and talk a little bit about that experience. I know from past experience that the games are about to get a good deal more side quest-y… sometimes absurdly so. I will breed chocobos, I will become a world class Triple Triad master, and I will try to remember how to find Ozma so he can kick my ass in Final Fantasy IX (okay, so I’ll probably just look it up on the internet). I plan to talk a little about these side quests, just for fun, and for those who are enjoying this on-going series.

Oh, and I did a fair amount of Googling in Final Fantasy V. Just as a word to the wary, I would point out that Final Fantasy V has many bosses that require a more tactical approach than simply ‘hit things’. It does ultimately boil down to that, of course, but Final Fantasy V shakes things up with some interesting battle mechanics. This really is a game that can entertain you, if you let it.

Just don’t expect the works of Shakespeare.

A Glorious Fantasy: Mystic Quest


Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through FF13-2, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’. This list continues to undergo revision, and for today, Final Fantasy 9 has been removed. Out of spite. Sigh. I know I’ll end up playing it when I get there, though.

Here’s an almost comically thorough recap of my basic premise:

Most people have already played many/most/all of the games that I’m going to write about in this series (weirdly, as I compiled the list of games, I personally have not played a fair number of them). I don’t care. Here are some things I promise I at least thought about when playing through each of these games:

– Some objective data. What version of the game did I play, and why did I select that one. What are the version differences?
– Is the game any good? Seriously! I’m sure some of these games suck! <– So far, they do not, with one notable exception.
– How would I place this game in a historical context? I want to watch the series evolve, devolve, side-volve and revolve as I go.
– Did I enjoy this game? What were the emotions and insane facial expressions I went through while playing it?
– How many times I frantically Googled maps for enormous maze-like dungeons because I no longer have the patience to solve them on my own?
– Was it… challenging? Were these games ever hard? Does the challenge ebb and flow?

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research. Let's move on! Today's adventure…

Final_Fantasy_Mystic_US_boxart

The seemingly-but-not-really universally maligned Final Fantasy Mystic Quest! I did some research into this one, because I remember playing it as a kid… and the parts I remember from that experience (full disclosure: did not even come close to completing the game, just played it at a buddy’s house a few times)… were not bad. But it seems like what most people know about this game is that it’s bad. It sucks. It’s awful. Well…. is it? It’s a more complex question than it might appear on the surface. I’ll dive into it in detail, I promise. First though, the basic stuff.

Version played: Original SNES version.

As far as I know, this is the only ‘official’ version. There is a fan remake, “Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Remastered” – for which no current website seems to exist – which I did some research on. Apparently someone enjoyed Mystic Quest enough to go through the difficult process of remaking it on the popular “RPG Maker VX” software. I guess there would be harder games to remake, for what it’s worth!

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest says entry-level right on the NA box, as you can see. And that’s not far off… compared to other Final Fantasy games, the game is very simple. It has a point-by-point world map (ironically, a feature that didn’t become common until games later in the series) instead of an open-world one. The random encounters are gone, replaced with enemies that can all be seen on the screen. You command only two characters at a time, and even then, your second character by default is under ‘Auto’ computer control. Because none of the enemies require a particularly strategic approach, the computer’s auto control isn’t even un-usable: they prioritize healing the player, and never use nonsense attacks that would heal the opponent or be ineffectual. Healing spells and abilities are extremely powerful, items are plentiful. Oh, and instead of a traditional Final Fantasy inventory/equipment system, Mystic Quest’s system much more closely resembles that of a “The Legend of Zelda” title: the menu has a number of icons for your consumable items and equipment, but the best possible equipment is always on your character. The hero can use all of the available weapons in the game, and he always has the best of each one he’s received equipped. Each weapon has a field menu ability, such as the sword’s ability to thrust forward and ‘poke’ buttons, the axe’s ability to cut down trees, and the claw’s ability to (somehow) hookshot you across gaps. In fact, your hero also has a jump ability, so in some ways, this game has an adventure game feel.

Most simple of all? The story, unfortunately. The setup is a familiar one: there are these four elemental crystals. Only, some unpleasant rabble swung in and stole them all. Now the world is all out of whack. Prophecy says that the legendary knight-hero captain awesome will save everyone from disaster. The first character you meet, a bearded geriatric, is pretty sure that the Benjamin (the hero’s default name) really is this prophesized knight. Well, that’s good enough for Benny, who heads off into danger. Although each character in this game is a unique one, with their own skills and abilities, and unique personalities, the limited scope of the storytelling and dialogue doesn’t explore them in much detail. However, they are oddly somewhat less bland than other characters I’ve played with recently… despite that same limited scope. Huh.

Our most egregious example of multi-stage final bosses yet: The Dark King!

Our most egregious example of multi-stage final bosses yet: The Dark King!


Trying to place this game in the context of the series is a challenge. It’s definitely a sideways-move from the main series, with many ideas that will never re-appear in any future titles in the franchise (at least, not that I’ve ever heard of!). At a time when the main series is firmly entrenching itself in ATB, this game’s battles actually remind me more of Dragon Quest than anything. While Final Fantasy IV and V have colours of mages all over the place, and codify the mighty summon spells, Benjamin can learn all of the game’s magic, and he does so by finding (or being given) spells as treasure items throughout the game (note, then, that all party members in Final Fantasy VI, VII, VIII…, can be as versatile, magically, as you desire…). The point-based navigation of the world, even, is something that we will see later in the series a couple times at least. Obviously, the adventure game elements would never become firmly entrenched in an RPG franchise, but it’s interesting that for a game which is so widely maligned… well, is it, though?

It seems like many people who pan the game haven’t actually bothered to play it. They’ve just ‘heard’ about how dumb it is. Or seen some screenies, read some of the description of the game I gave above, and decided, “that sounds terrible”. And to some extent, you’re right. I would much rather have the vast customisation of Final Fantasy V, mastering jobs and mucking about, and the detailed storytelling that defines many of the series’ games. But Mystic Quest has a few things going for it that many people, and maybe this is a ‘retro’ fad thing, have seemingly come to appreciate over the years:

– A rockin’ soundtrack (not by series stalwart Nobuo Uematsu, but by Ryuji Sasai and Yasuhiro Kawakami). Seriously. Give attention to such essential tracks as all of the battle themes (especially Battle 3, the final boss’ music), City of Fireburg, Doom Ca… look, just check it out, okay? Or choose to trust me.

– A nice, tight play time. Even if you wipe out all of the ‘battle locations’ (basically, places with more monsters, in case you somehow aren’t tired of fighting them. You do get some prizes for ‘clearing’ them though), there’s no sidequest padding on this bad boy. I estimate it did not take me any more than twelve hours to complete… and I had no idea what the eff I was doing through the whole affair.

– Surprisingly entertaining gameplay. For all the bells and whistles that Mystic Quest is lacking, I didn’t feel the absence of more than a couple.

Of course, the game has problems. It could never have gotten such an unsavory reputation without them. If you’re looking for a compelling story, deep character motivations, lots of party chatter, or whatever… you’re barking up the wrong tree here. The game also has a wildly uneven difficulty curve, which can be frustrating at times. While for the most part Mystic Quest is not very difficult, some of the enemies have some cheeseball moves or abilities which can decimate your party (though, since you can’t get a Game Over unless you want one, obviously, you can’t really lose to poor luck), but more importantly, some of the boss fights become serious marathons, where your party’s resources simply might not be enough to outlast the boss. The solution, unfortunately, if you can’t fight any smarter, is to level up…

And boy, it is not fun to try and grind levels in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. If you find yourself at an impasse, hope that there’s a nearby battlefield that you haven’t cleared yet… because otherwise, the amount of experience provided by monsters in a given area becomes trivial once you hit a certain point. If you can’t beat the boss at that point, you’ll have to track down and destroy every monster stack in sight. Luckily, this didn’t happen to me often, and it’s far from an unknown in these pre-PSX JRPGs. Final Fantasy VII is the first game in the series where I know before I go in that I’ll feel absolutely confident running straight through with no grinding for levels, spells, job points, or whatever else.

If the game still sounds terrible, then, honestly, don’t play it. It was definitely not the best game in the series, even so far. It’s a better game in virtually all ways than, say, Final Fantasy I, which really is just stumbling blindly by on nostalgia alone… but it doesn’t stack up to games like Final Fantasy IV which have so much to offer the player in terms of silly-but-much-longer stories and guys named Cid. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking this game has no merits at all based on some nebulous negative reactions to it from twenty years ago. There are worse games, even within the series, and yes, I’m looking strongly toward Final Fantasy XII here, though I won’t name any names.

A Glorious Fantasy: Final Fantasy IV


Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through FF13-2, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’. This list continues to undergo revision, and I seriously considered removing Final Fantasy 9 from it for personal reasons. But we’ll get there. I promise.

For those who are unfamiliar with my premise (read: I would think most everyone), here’s an almost comically thorough recap:

Most people have already played many/most/all of the games that I’m going to write about in this series (weirdly, as I compiled the list of games, I personally have not played a fair number of them). I don’t care. I’m going to look at all (most? I’m bad with structure, we’ll see how long this lasts) of the following things from these games:

– Some objective data. What version of the game did I play, and why did I select that one. This will be less important when I reach the PSX era, but we’re not there yet! One thing I’d like to do is discuss some of the changes between the “original” and the version I end up playing.
– Is the game any good? Seriously! I’m sure some of these games suck! <- Weirdly, most of them do not. This one might get redacted, and you might just have to deal with me bitching about Final Fantasy 9.
– Is the answer to that question, “It just doesn’t hold up”? Why? <– This hasn't come up yet. I'm considering redacting the question.
– How would I place this game in a historical context? I want to watch the series evolve, devolve, side-volve and revolve as I go.
– Did I enjoy this game? What were the emotions and insane facial expressions I went through while playing it?
– How many times I frantically Googled maps for enormous maze-like dungeons because I no longer have the patience to solve them on my own?
– Was it… challenging? Were these games ever hard? Does the challenge ebb and flow?
– No MMORPGs. Sorry FF14 fans, I don’t ‘do’ MMORPGs anymore. Plus, the plan here hopefully doesn't involve spending a bunch of money acquiring and (especially) subscribing to games.

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research. Let's move on!

final-fantasy-iv-snes-logo-73917

Version played: Nintendo DS remake

Wow! Now this is a crazy remake. So, with FF1 and FF2, there were ‘updated’ graphics, which basically amounted to 16-bit+. Not like this though! FF4 has been totally remastered since I last played it on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System… to be rendered in 3-D (sketchy 3-D, but 3-D all the same). It’s been upgraded with voice acting! And, I’m told, the difficulty has been ‘restored’… or even ‘upgraded’. Because here’s the thing. I remember Final Fantasy IV. I played it on the SNES. Granted, it didn’t happen until shortly before I played “Xenogears” for the first time, but it did happen. The fact is… the game was really easy! It was toned down for American gamers, for reasons which were probably solid, but are also infuriating. In the original version, I did not need strategy to face the Four Fiends, even the mighty Rubicante! I just blasted them with my spells / stabs and patted myself on the back.

One thing I will say for the DS remake. It does not pull any punches. Rubicante will end you, if you don’t know what you’re doing. And something about that really appeals to me. Because here’s the truth: Final Fantasy IV’s story is kind of silly. So are its characters.

There, I said it.

Go ahead, cast stones. I can wait.

This is one of the titans of the JRPG genre. It’s Final Fantasy Freaking Four. 4^4. Yeah, your nostalgia is telling you things that aren’t true. The story of this game is silly. Partway through, the writers just start making shit up. It’s okay, because the game is still a lot of fun. Having some voice acted cutscenes actually makes things better, even if the 3-D makes Cecil into a weird cartoon character who is both stocky enough to wear heavy armor and swing a big sword and take some hits, but skinny enough to fit into women’s pants. But the story is still fundamentally silly. This does not mean that I did not enjoy it; it means exactly what I said. It’s silly! And, as an aside, all villains in all genres should take notes from Golbez… who is pretty much undefeated throughout the whole game, until a major plot twist changes things around. Spoilers? C’mon. It’s a SNES game.

I forgive FFIV for its faults. You didn’t even have to ask me. It has The Soundtrack (does anyone recognize the Red Wings’ Theme? It has The Characters. Rydia of Mist? Well, she’s the first proper Summoner, she anticipates characters like Terra Branford and Yuna. And she has green hair. Seriously. How cool is Rydia?

I know that I talked about the ‘connective tissue’ of story, and how it makes games like Final Fantasy I almost unrecognizable when put up against games like Final Fantasy VII. You can see the gradual evolution of this point through the series, like a straight line leading away from audience insert ‘generic’ characters toward fully realized characters that the player ‘watches’ or ‘guides’ rather than ‘owns’. This is fundamentally different from how WRPGs evolved, where the ‘create your own D&D guy’ aspect has remained integral to the experience. With a JRPG, you don’t make any of the characters, and you don’t choose how they respond to stuff. Even the Light Warriors in FF1 are game to save the world, no matter how you, the player, feel about it. At least in “Baldur’s Gate” you were perfectly free to bitch about it to everyone who would listen.

Different doesn’t mean worse. Here, we’re essentially along for the ride as some broken adults work out their issues. Cecil became the Dark Knight of Baron on his King’s suggestion, and in doing so, he gave up his soul. Kain Highwind, despite being the son of a legendary dragoon, has lived in Cecil’s shadow all his life… including in the courtship of the beautiful white mage, Rosa. These characters feel like people in an insane high-powered fantasy story, at least to some extent. This is a significant achievement in the evolution of the RPG. It would be difficult for me to overstate how much influence it feels like “Final Fantasy IV” had on subsequent games of many genres. Forget the sillier plot points. This game remains demonstrably important when placed in a historical context.

It is silly though.

Also, the DS remake is hard! This bears repeating. I had to google the strategy to defeat Rubicante (this was weirdly one of my only Googles during this one. I guess I remembered it pretty well!). I thought that I was a Final Fantasy tough guy entering this game after Final Fantasy III. But weirdly, a lot of the same themes repeat themselves here with bosses… and won’t disappear entirely until (I suspect) Final Fantasy VII. We’re not talking superbosses here. We’re talking about enemies that you have to defeat in order to progress… and those enemies requiring a strategy, not just a level mark. This is something that the RPG genre has kind of abandoned in favour of a more cinematic approach. You can hardly blame them. When the storytelling takes center stage, something has to suffer, and it’s typically the difficulty (notable exception: Baldur’s Gate II. Try a dry run of that game and tell me it doesn’t have its share of brutal challenges). If that’s the game you’re looking for, you’ll prefer the original SNES (American) release of FF4. The DS version has bosses capable of wiping out your whole party with routine moves. Somehow, that was fun for me! I don’t know what my deal is. Also, how did this not apply to the final boss? Your guess is as good as mine, readers! It’s probably related to the ‘defend’ command also reducing magic damage though. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.

Dodging attack patterns based on visual cues is more of a ‘Megaman’ thing anyway.

I’m honestly not sure what else to say. This is one of the great pillars of the genre. It’s deservedly beloved. It’s a girthy, fun, game, with characters that are given motivations… lives, hopes, and dreams. The story is ultimately quite silly, but it’s not nearly as silly as Final Fantasy V (oh, we’ll get there!). Crystals, fiends of the elements, and the meteor spell. It was fun to play. I appreciated that it was harder than it was when I played it as a kid. Viva FF4! Let the legend live on.

A Glorious Fantasy, Part Three: Final Fantasy III


Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through FF13-2, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’.

For those who are unfamiliar with my premise (read: probably everyone), here’s an almost comically thorough recap:

Most people have already played many/most/all of the games that I’m going to write about in this series (weirdly, as I compiled the list of games, I personally have not played a fair number of them). I don’t care. I’m going to look at all (most? I’m bad with structure, we’ll see how long this lasts) of the following things from these games:

– Some objective data. What version of the game did I play, and why did I select that one. Since it is now obvious to me that I’m going to play a fair number of ‘remakes’ in the early Final Fantasy games, I’m also going to research the differences and try to note some of them here. This was a big part of my experience with FF1, which I am now intending to revisit as a part of this series later.
– Is the game any good? Seriously! I’m sure some of these games suck!
– Is the answer to that question, “It just doesn’t hold up”? Why? <– This question is not going to last into the more modern games, but I suspect it could affect games even as recent as FF7, the graphics of which I'm afraid will hurt my brain.
– How would I place this game in a historical context? I want to watch the series evolve, devolve, side-volve and revolve as I go.
– Did I enjoy this game? What were the emotions and insane facial expressions I went through while playing it?
– How many times I frantically Googled maps for enormous maze-like dungeons because I no longer have the patience to solve them on my own?
– Was it… challenging? Were these games ever hard? Does the challenge ebb and flow?
– No MMORPGs. Sorry FF14 fans, I don’t ‘do’ MMORPGs anymore. Plus, the plan here hopefully doesn't involve spending a bunch of money acquiring and (especially) subscribing to games.

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research.

FF3

Version played: ‘Unofficial’ NES fan-translation by Alex W. Jackson and Neill Corlett.

This time, I played Final Fantasy III – not to be confused with Final Fantasy VI, which was originally brought to North America and Europe as “Final Fantasy III” on the Super Nintendo (as was done with Final Fantasy IV, brought over as Final Fantasy II). No, this was the original Final Fantasy III, another game in the series that I had never played before (this is becoming a thing with me! And here I always called myself a ‘fan’!). After my experience with a questionable remake of Final Fantasy I, and the relative ordeal of playing a long JRPG on my phone, with Final Fantasy II… I decided that with this installment I would try to get the ‘true’ experience.

Much like Final Fantasy II, it’s not particularly surprising that I, and presumably many others, have never played this particular installment in the series. It was never translated in its original form, leading (ultimately) to the confusing disparity in the main series’ numbering, which in English releases goes FF1, “FF2” (actually 4), “FF3” (actually 6)… then Final Fantasy 7. I think everyone is familiar with this by now, but it’s worth pointing out. The very first ‘official’ translated release of FF3 in North America was in late 2006 (it was originally going to be released on the WonderSwan Colour… a system presumably no one ever actually owned). The 2006 release was over 15 (!!) years after the game was originally released. This version was on the Nintendo DS, and was a full remake, using 3-D graphics. My research indicates that they also re-balanced classes, changed the relative power of individual enemies, and created backstories for the heroes of the piece. Well, screw that noise, am I right?

No, I played the original NES experience.

The Onion Kid is an iconic Final Fantasy image... from a game many people have never played!

The Onion Kid is an iconic Final Fantasy image… from a game many people have never played!

Like Final Fantasy 2, Final Fantasy 3 uses the basic connective tissue of a storyline to take us from place to place. As is the case in the first five main series games, the plot revolves around elemental crystals, which have a dramatic impact on the world. In this case, the crystals were used by an ancient civilization, which was both advanced and powerful. Unfortunately, they inadvertently created a ‘flood of light’ which washed over the land. In order to prevent this from destroying the world, four Warriors of Darkness arose, countering the effects, and bringing the world back into balance. Prophecy speaks of a time in the future when the world will be threatened instead by a wave of darkness, and that Warriors of Light will go ahead and take care of that nonsense.

However, unlike Final Fantasy II, which does not really advance the premise of the game beyond its initial shell (Palamecia has declared war on everyone, watch out!), but simply takes us through a series of events related to it, the basic premise of Final Fantasy 3 evolves as we go along. While the player characters are still just proxies or avatars of the player (for the last time, at least in the main series) and lack distinct personalities or backgrounds, other characters in the world are fleshed out well beyond the basics. This game is also the first one of the series where the motivations of the villain are explored in any detail (it’s not much detail, but it’s definitely there). Later Final Fantasy villains are often explored in a great deal of detail (not all of them, but many!), so this was definitely something that struck me.

Final Fantasy 3 is much more significant, however, because it introduces the famous ‘Job’ system. While Final Fantasy 1 contains many of the same classes, they are picked at the start, evolved once in the story, and otherwise cannot be changed. Final Fantasy 3 introduces the concept that characters can change jobs at almost any time outside of combat. Each character gains levels within the specific jobs in addition to advancing in character level. The ‘job levels’ don’t do as much in this game as they will in later ones (notably Final Fantasy V, and Final Fantasy Tactics, among others), seeming to determine mostly damage dealt or healing performed. More jobs are unlocked as the player progresses through the game, culminating in the ‘ultimate’ jobs, Ninja and Sage, which are capable of using all weapons and armor and casting all spells, respectively. Also introduced in this game is the Summoner job! Yes! It’s the dawn of Chocobo, Ifrit, Shiva, Ramuh, Titan, Odin, Leviathan, Bahamut, the mighty summons which can have a dramatic effect on the battle. Bahamut, in fact, seems clearly to be the strongest magical attack in the game!

I really enjoyed this one, guys! I will admit that the game can be quite difficult. I found a number of bosses throughout the game that I was forced to grind before I could realistically challenge. This was particularly true of the final boss, who could be the most (unfortunately, mindlessly) challenging final boss in the whole of the franchise. I think that honour is generally considered to reside with Zeromus, but I honestly found the battle with Cloud of Darkness to be much more frustrating. Other bosses, I felt like I defeated with little more than dumb luck.

Also, unfortunately, jobs just not that well balanced… later jobs are strictly better. To an extent, this is understandable: as your party’s level increases, it’s fitting to gain more powerful abilities, but it’s to the point where there’s little reason to overthink your party composition. Aside from a couple of very specific challenges which can be made easier with specific classes, I found it was generally best to adhere to three powerful physical attackers, and one healer, until the very end, when it made sense to have two Sages since they can both Summon and heal. At times, my party actually consisted of four physical attackers with one off-healer and Hi-Potions serving as my only means of recovery… and I honestly felt like I was better off that way. Magical attacks in particular seem pointless after the first third of the game or so (this logic does not apply to Summons, which become one of the most effective forms of attack later in the game, especially against groups of regular enemies).

I spent a fair amount of time on Google for this game, but I would say definitely less so compared to Final Fantasy II or (especially) Final Fantasy I. I guess I just don’t like big maze-dungeons anymore, if I ever did… I like to know where I’m going, avoid some random encounters, and keep progressing steadily. I already spent enough time grinding in this game, so I’ll make no apologies.

Oh, and as for the game holding up? Obviously, the graphics are totally primitive when you decide to play the original NES version! However, the parts of this game that really feel a little ‘primitive’ (not the right word, I need a better one, one thing I really liked about this game was being able to see the origin point for stuff like the job system, the focus on the villains and their sad/tortured motivations, etc., that are hallmarks of many later games) were more mechanical. The job system here just isn’t as good or as fun as it is in later games where it becomes much more customizeable, and Xande and the Cloud of Darkness are certainly not going to rank among the ‘great’ video game villains of all time. The game was good, clean, fun though… I’d probably recommend it to any true fan of the JRPG form.

And that’s it for FF3. Comment away. Join me next time, when this ongoing series will take on a true juggernaut of the Final Fantasy franchise… Final Fantasy IV!