Author Archives: Vrykerion

Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy XIV – A Realm Reborn

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The Plot

A plot? To an MMO? Surely you jest!  No. Actually, FFXIV has a quite extensive plot tied to its ‘Main Scenario’ storyline that carries you from the first level all the way to the level cap and beyond.  It often sees new chapters added with content patches every few months and in my opinion is one of the best aspects of this game that no other MMO can come close to in quality.

You can find a complete breakdown of the 2.0 (A Realm Reborn) storyline here on this site.  There are spoilers.

The story continues in the first expansion: Heavensward.  Dealing with the tragic fallout of the events of the end of A Realm Reborn’s story, the Warrior of Light and his companions seek refuge in the northern lands of Ishgard.  There they find themselves embroiled in the political schemings of noble houses and Ishgard’s theocratic government as they deal with the renewed onslaught of the dravarian (dragon) horde.  The Warrior of Light takes it upon themselves to seek out the leaders of the dragons and see if a truce can be established as it was in years long past. Through the adventure, the Warrior of Light must face off with the Garlean Empire once more now bolstered by their new emperor and expose an ancient conspiracy that will shake the faith and people of Ishgard to its core.

My Opinions

I love Final Fantasy XIV.  Rarely have I ever found such a rich story experience in an MMO.  You grow to learn the NPCs and get to the point of caring about them and feel sad when tragic events happen to them.  I can’t say that I’ve had that experience in SWTOR, and only occasionally in WoW. The world of Eorzea draws you in and feels alive as you explore it and become familiar with its history and people.

It’s a shame that the actual gameplay can feel like such a slog at times.

Not to say that it’s outright bad or even lousy.  But it is slow, which is something that will come as a bit of a jarring change if you come from other MMOs.  The global cooldowns are longer, the auto attack is slower, and the overall leveling experience is reminiscent of vanilla WoW in its pace. None of these things are inherently bad – but they can be draining after a while or even shocking to new players.  On the other hand, these changes seem to produce a very different community than one would find in say WoW.  The mellow pace almost seems infectious.  I never see people screaming for faster and bigger pulls or growing impatient with newbie tanks or healers.  I mean, there will always be assholes, but overall it seems that FFXIV has a little bit more…  relaxed view on things.

The real thing that brought down the game for me was actually not any of those things, but doing them multiple times.  See, unlike other games, you aren’t locked into a single ‘class’ or even limited in your professions in XIV.  Instead, it uses a modified version of the Job System where each class and profession is a different Job that you can switch to and level independently.  Which is awesome. Until it occurs to you that if you were a completionist that means leveling 15 or so jobs, and only the first one gets the bonus of having the Main Scenario quests. This is made up for with various repeatable mini-quests called Levequests that you can grind on over and over.  But there’s usually only 3-4 per 5 levels and they can get repetitive easily.  The other drawback to the Job System is equipment.  Some jobs can only use certains weapons, or armor types and also prioritize different stats.  So you end up needing a lot of equipment and crafting materials should you choose to pursue everything – and you have very VERY limited space to store things.  It’s a constant juggling act of compromises to decide what to keep or drop if you want to keep stuff around for your other jobs.

Beyond that – at least to me – it’s a great MMO to play.  There’s a ton of stuff to do and more constantly coming down the pipeline.  If you ever need a break from your current MMO or want to try one out and really like story, I’d recommend this one.  And if you ever wanna say ‘Hi’ you can find me on Faerie in the US servers.  Just look up ‘Vrykerion’.

May the light of the Crystals guide your way!

Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!

Final Fantasy Month: The XIII Trilogy

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Ah yes, the XIII Trilogy… or the Lightning Trilogy…  or the only part of the Fabula Nova Crystalis project to walk away intact. The games are probably the most despised entries in the entire franchise in the West.  I don’t know about the East, but I hear they do apparently like Lightning so there’s that. I’m not going to go into my usual breakdown of plot and opinion on this one, namely because I’ve already spoken about it a little bit before:

…Just a uh… little.  Anyway, since you can go into and read a ton already on what I have wrote I figured I’d use this time to talk a bit about the Trilogy overall. Since really the entire thing feels like a microcosm of the Final Fantasy series as a whole.  Namely, an emphasis on experimentation.

The first game is flawed. I don’t think even an avid fan of it like me could argue otherwise.  The plot is dense and using the datalog to explain important story and world concepts was not a brilliant move. The linear gameplay with large tracts of corridors to run through was also a huge red mark for many players.  The game also emphasized on the characters and their day to day interactions during their journey (Day to day may be stretching it because I’m pretty sure the timeline of the game minus the 13 days leading up to the Bodhum Purge is less than a week).

Wait. Character interaction? Dense plot and backstory that is poorly explained?  Long hallway like areas? Isn’t that Final Fantasy X?  Indeed. It seems that for the first game, Square Enix went back to the well and imitated a lot of their last mega-hit, Final Fantasy X. Only this time, no one liked it.  Maybe it was the lack of awkward love story if you weren’t a creepy HopeRai shipper (Seriously. He’s like 14 in the first game people. And his Mom just died. So there’s a Freudian can of worms pairing him with Lightning.)

However, from there they decided to evolve and experiment with the second installment where they added more exploration and side content to the whole experience. The plot was still a bit weird if you didn’t devote a solid chunk of time into reading and thinking about it, but it almost felt that it was a bit more okay here since we were dealing with a time travel story and those by their very nature are going to start getting complicated and quick.  Even Chrono Trigger gets a bit nuts if you think about it too long (Coincidentally, I’m pretty sure thinking about Chrono Trigger too long is how we ended up with Chrono Cross.)  Both the combat system and the Crystarium saw more customization and player options added in as well.

Finally, we get Lightning Returns which is a radical departure from both XIII and XIII-2 in terms of combat and gameplay.  No more parties, you just had Lightning.  To compensate, you could switch between outfits that each played a different role and/or different abilities.  Similar to Dressphere switching in X-2.  The game was completely non-linear, giving you free reign over 5 ‘zones’ that had shades of almost an MMO like design with stuff like scattered bits of side quests, ‘dungeon’ areas, and each zone had a ‘main story’ chain that could be completed a bit at a time or all at once.  It was a complete reversal of the gameplay we saw in XIII.

The Trilogy started with the familiar and then pushed and pushed for exploring new ways to engage players.  Some worked, some didn’t.  That’s pretty much Final Fantasy in a nutshell.  It’s kind of a fascinating way to look at it.  Another fun way to look at is that is that the games continue to open up more and more as the characters fight for and claim more agency and ‘free will’ in spite of the situation they are in.  Since Free Will is a major theme throughout the XIII Trilogy, I can’t help but wonder if that was a conscious choice of the design team.

Well, as I said I’ve already written a ton on the XIII trilogy and I don’t want to dwell on it long here. Check out those links if you want to read more of my thoughts diving into the plot and mechanics of each game.  Next time, we’ll try talking a bit about a Final Fantasy MMO.

Till then, May the light of the Crystals guide your way!

Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!

Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy X & X-2

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The Plot

A thousand years ago, the leader of the land of Zanarkand – Yu Yevon – called upon all his summoners to war with the nearby civilization of Bevelle.  He sacrificed them and turned them into crystalline soul prisons called Fayth and his people to turn himself into a living god.  However, Yu Yevon lost his mind in the process and began a tirade of destruction across the land.  Over the centuries, a religion grew around Yevon in hopes of appeasing the monster they dubbed Sin because it was viewed as the embodiment of their wrongs come back to punish them.  Followers of Yevon task Summoners with making a great pilgrimage to gain the blessings of the Fayth and then sacrifice themselves to bring about the Calm, a few short years without Sin attacking the people of Spira.

The game follows one such Summoner – Yuna – and her guardians as she makes the pilgrimage like her father before her.  Early on however, she meets Tidus.  Tidus is a sports star from Zanarkand who was flung here when Sin attacked his home a thousand years ago and then joins Yuna’s entourage as a guardian.  Throughout their journey, Yuna and Tidus fall in love, only for Tidus to discover late in their journey that the pilgrimage ends with Yuna’s death.  Rejecting this, he sets out to find another way to handle things.  The others resist as ‘this is the way of things’ until Yuna too turns on the plan when its exposed that the pilgrimage ends with her turning her most trusted guardian into the new Sin and it killing her. The Calm is just the time it takes the new Sin to manifest.  Along with discovering that the Church of Yevon is full of corrupt undead politician priests that have used this all to their own advantage.  Yuna and Tidus vow to kill Sin once and for all and expose the Church of Yevon.

This is all complicated by the revelation that the current iteration of Sin is Jecht, the former high summoner’s trusted guardian and Tidus’ abuse dick of a father that vanished.  Jecht apparently traveled with Yuna’s father and Auron, a warrior monk, during the last successful pilgrimage. Jecht asked Auron to go find his son and bring him to help kill Jecht-Sin.  Teaming up with the technology people of the Al Behd, Yuna and Tidus attack Sin and fight their way to his core to kill Jecht and then destroy Yu Yevon himself – now a mindless parasite inside the husk of Sin.  However, their victory is short lived as it’s revealed that Tidus is not actually real.  He and his version of Zanarkand (the real one long destroyed) were idealized dreams that the Fayth were forced to create by Sin.  With Sin gone and the Fayth at last able to rest, Tidus too will vanish.  The game ends with Yuna saying her final farewells to her love as he vanishes.

My Thoughts

Final Fantasy X is one of those games that just make it so easy to make fun of.  It really is.  Namely because of the voice acting which ranges from ‘good’ to ‘wtf’ in places.  Being the first voiced Final Fantasy game, I have often wondered if it was because of bad direction that produced some of the stranger moments.  For instance, Yuna’s voice acting was…  spaced…  out…        alot… because the actress has said she was trying to match the mouth movements.  Where with other performances that wasn’t the case.  Which says to me – as someone who did study film for quite a few years – that it’s likely that the director didn’t give any direction for what to do in some of these performances.  James Arnold Taylor, who voice Tidus, has stated that he did the voice over lines as a much older and wiser Tidus relating the tale down to children, where as it’s eventually revealed later that it was Tidus talking to his party members about 3/4ths through the game.  Clearly an error. Did NO ONE know what happened later in the game when they were recording? Did everyone just do it linearly and never thought to skip ahead?  Again, this isn’t bad voice acting. This reeks of bad direction or just inexperienced direction.

Beyond that, I thought the game was alright.  I often felt that Tidus and Yuna’s characters and dialogue would have made a bit more sense if they were younger than they are in the game, and I have pondered if that was maybe something that got changed through development.  Like they started out closer to Vaan & Penelo’s age from Final Fantasy XII (a game we sadly won’t be touching on because I’ve only made it about 25% of the way through).  But beyond that, the characters are likable enough.  Even the characters I don’t like aren’t bad.  Wakka for instance is in my opinion an idiot.  Now, as far as I can tell, that’s intentional.  Since he’s a big dumb jock who has been raised on church indoctrination, and he acts like such.

One thing I really did like in this game was the combat changes.  Continuing the evolutionary push started back in VII, X does the crazy thing of ditching the iconic Active Time Battle system in favor for something more rigidly turn based where the order of attackers is displayed in the corner and attacks can alter that order in strategic ways.  Combine that with the ability to swap out any of the three active combatants with any of the inactive ones and you have what I would argue is the most strategic Final Fantasy outside of the Tactics spin off series.  And the game utilizes this really well with boss encounters that take advantage of the strategy element.

I suppose if I’m going to talk about the combat system, I should speak of the “leveling” system as well.  There are no levels to speak of.  Instead, you gain experience toward each characters next “Sphere Level”.  For each sphere level you spend, you can move one node further along the Sphere Grid – a massive map of circular nodes that will do things like grant Strength, Magic, Defense, or new abilities.  All characters share a single grid but depending on the version of the game, you’ll either start in the center or in your respective section.  However, you’re never limited to one section. You can break out into the other sections and eventually every character can acquire every node in the grid.  This system is essentially the groundwork for most leveling systems in the future games.  XII’s lisence board? XIII’s Crystarium?  WoFF’s Mirage Boards? All shades and hues of the Sphere Grid. Even XV looks to have a similar system for skills in place. And this system isn’t bad.  Not in the least.  It actually opens up the level of customization and lets you put priorities on what you want.  I for one felt that Yuna with her 1 MP spell cost ability should learn Ultima. That seems helpful to be able to cast for cheap. And done! Just as easy as navigating her place on the grid to the Ultima spell node and unlocking it for her.  I really liked this system and I found it to give something constantly to look forward to while playing.  Oh yea, we’re getting tedious fight after fight on the Highroad but HEY! We got a bunch of sphere levels for it. Let’s go see what we can get with ’em!  It was a really fun system.

Of course all of that would be thrown out for a completely different experience in every way when Final Fantasy X broke the biggest tradition in Final Fantasy games…  And gave us a direct sequel.

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The Plot

Two years after the defeat of Sin, Yuna has fled her suffocating duties as a high summoner to pursue treasure hunting with her cousin Rikku and their new friend Paine.  They discover a lost sphere that showed Tidus screaming in a cage demanding to “see her” and Yuna wants to discover the truth.  Along the way, they also get roped in to the current political fallout of the world’s one church/one government being exposed as frauds two years prior.  Most of the world is divided between New Yevon who believes in slow but sure change and more of a revision of their fallen faith’s views, and the Youth League who prefer radical change and feel that the older generation failed them.

The stories collide when its discovered that it was not Tidus in the sphere video but a man named Shuyin who was a sports celebrity in the real Zanarkand a thousand years ago and also had a lover who was a summoner.  During the war between Bevelle & Zanarkand, before Sin was created, Shuyin stole a massive doomsday weapon called Vegnagun to save his lover from destruction but they ended up both dying in the end. Vegnagun was sealed away never to be used because they built a doomsday weapon that would attack anyone and anything that showed negative emotions. It’s Vegnagun that both the Youth League and New Yevon are looking for.

The reason why is actually explained in a long sidequest that shows that the founders of the three major factions – New Yevon, Youth League, and the Machine Faction (who doesn’t have any political designs beyond making cool stuff to help people) and Paine all were part of a military squad back in the day.  They opened a sealed cave and unleashed the angry spirit of Shuyin who possessed one of them, looking for a chance to use Vegnagun and destroy the world out of his pure concentrated hatred.  The other leaders are looking for Vegnagun to stop their friend from doing something terrible.

Ultimately though it falls to Yuna and her crew to diminish the number of threats that Vegnagun can sense by uniting the people of Spira, and then venturing into the Farplane where the dead go to face off with Shuyin and then destroy Vegnagun.  The world is saved again thanks to Yuna and her friends and this time when she returns to her hometown of Besaid, there’s a certain blonde sportstar turned real waiting for her.

My Thoughts

Considering it’s the first direct sequel in the series and a sequel to one of the games hailed as one of the all time greats, Final Fantasy X-2 is probably one of the most controversial titles ever released in the series.  I mean, there is so much hate out there for this game.  But for me personally? It’s honestly on the short list of my favorite installments.  No, seriously. I really love X-2.  Okay, granted the story is silly and the characters are cartoonish…  but that’s okay.  It’s okay for there to be a silly Final Fantasy game.  I mean, it probably helped that I didn’t play it until the HD Remaster and by then knew fully well not to expect the same experience as the games that came before it.  It’s a lighthearted adventure to save the world using the power of ‘the feels’ and song.  But sometimes that’s okay to have.  Especially when the game is just so damn fun.

The game takes a break from X’s strict linear structure (that sometimes borders on so linear that you literally just run in a straight line and fight monsters for several areas) and gives you access to pretty much every map from the first game, and a few new ones. The main storyline is fairly short but it is supplemented with an abundance of sidequests.  Some of which actually explain quite a bit about the history of Spira or the current situation of the game and some are just silly fluff (Curse you Monkey Dating Game!) There is a megaton of things to do in this game and none of which border on the insane side bits from X where you need a below zero finish time in a race or dodge lightning 200 times without leaving the screen.  Don’t get me wrong. Some of the side quests are annoying.  Getting 100% is annoying. But it’s not AS annoying.

However, my all time favorite thing in X-2 has to be the return of the Job System.  It’s labeled as “Dresspheres” but it’s the Job System.  Heck, it even has a lot of the same jobs.  You select what ability from the job you want to learn and all Ability Points earned in combat go toward learning that ability.  You can switch jobs in MID-COMBAT to further customize your game play.  And there’s something like 20 jobs you can play with.  As a completionist, I actually find it really fun to be able to completely switch up how my characters play and look while grinding out my 100% so that nothing becomes too repetitive and this game delivers that in spades.

X-2 also has – in my opinion – the all time greatest line of dialogue uttered in a Final Fantasy game:

Next time we’re going to start digging into some familiar territory for fans of the blog and I get to rant a bit more about what I feel is a very under appreciated game in the series.  Until then, May the light of the Crystals guide your way!

Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!

Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy VIII

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The Plot

The story follows a group of elite teenage soldiers called SeeD who enter the organization with a live fire exam that drops them into an active war zone. Our protagonist and eventual leader of the SeeD team is Squall Leonheart, a moody teenager who isn’t quite sure what to do with himself.  He leads an adventurous team to help a group of freedom fighters take back their country but one goof leads to another and soon they’re trying to assassinate a Sorceress – a dangerous and powerful spellcaster – who has become the ambassador to the foremost military powerhouse in the world.  The assassination plot fails due to a sniper that can’t pull the trigger and a former SeeD/ Squall’s rival who has become the Sorceress’ personal “Knight.”  The whole botched job ends with Squall taking an ice spear to the chest and the team ending up in prison.

The next leg of the adventure splits the team up as they attempt to stop the Sorceress who has taken control of the entire nation from wreaking vengeance on their home bases in retaliation for the attempted assassination.  This results in the destruction of one home base – called Gardens – and another having to activate a flight mode amidst an internal power struggle civil war. After saving their home, the team takes some time before realizing that they actually all grew up in the same orphanage but couldn’t remember due to their summons erasing their memories, and that the caretaker of the orphanage was the Sorcereress Edea.  They head off to the site of the orphanage but find the third and last Garden also activated its flight mode and is there waiting. Amidst a massive brawl between the two Gardens, the team faces off with Sorceress Edea and her Knight and win, only to discover that Edea, while a sorceress, was not evil but being controlled by a Sorceress named Ultimecia in the distant future who has been controlling Sorceresses back in time so she could secure her rule in the future and become a god.  All the while, Rinoa – a girl from the freedom fighters that Squall has taken a liking too – becomes hypnotized and revives the Knight before falling into a coma.

Edea explains that Ultimecia is looking for a particular girl – Ellone – who has a unique power to send minds through time.  Using this, Ultimecia hopes to collapse all of time down into a single moment and combine all the sorceress’ powers through history to make herself a god. Squall however is less interested in that and more in having an existential crisis as he comes to grip with the strange new concept of ’emotions’ and decides to take Rinoa to the hidden country of Eshtar to get her some help and to find Ellone.  In Eshtar, they end up going to a space station to find Ellone. But Seifer – the Knight – awakens a 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith to suck monsters from the moon to the earth, attacking the spacestation and freeing the sorceress (Adel) imprisoned there. Squall and Rinoa have a romantic moment trying not to die in space and find a gassed up space ship that returns them to Eshtar, only to have Rinoa hauled off in cuffs for being found out as a Sorcereress herself. Squall’s friends convince him that these “emotions” means he loves Rinoa and he should save her.  With Rinoa saved, they decide the only way to stop Ultimecia is to fight her head on in her own time, and that means letting Ultimecia compress time.

The SeeD attack the Lunatic Pandora (the 2001 monolith) to face off with Ultimecia now possessing Sorceress Adel’s body. Adel takes Rinoa and attaches her to Adel’s body, thus allowing Ellone to send their united minds together and begin Time Compression.  Squall and his team assault Ultimecia’s castle.  They battle Ultimecia’s myriad of forms until she is defeated and sends a rippling explosion across compressed time.  As time begins to reset, the SeeDs are forced to try to navigate the void of time/space to try and find their way back home.  Squall and Ultimecia end up meeting Edea in the ruins behind the orphanage years before SeeD and the Gardens were even a thing. Ultimecia passes on her powers (as Sorceresses do before they die) to Edea, turning her into the Sorceress from earlier in the game, and then Squall makes mention of him being a SeeD from Garden on a mission to destroy the Sorceress thus setting in motion for Edea and her Husband to found the Gardens and create SeeD. Squall almost loses himself in the timestream before Rinoa finds him, the two are reunited and everyone lives happily ever after.

My Thoughts

Final Fantasy VIII was my first Final Fantasy in the Playstation era and from what I recall, I really liked it.  Enough that I and my ex back in high school actually cosplayed as Squall and Rinoa for our local anime convention.  I remember really enjoying the love story aspect of it and the idea that Squall and Rinoa fulfilled the ‘destined’ romance that their respective parents were unable to share.  I also remember really enjoying the completely jigsaw puzzle of a plot but then again I was also REALLY into Evangelion at the time, so that may have just been a thing I was in to.  I clearly wasn’t good at it because after replaying some of the game and re-reading the plot synopsis I totally missed like 30% of the stuff in this game.  Not that it’s hard to.  Much of the background details of the world and the story are doled out in small bites across dozens of random NPCs in the world.  Didn’t talk to Ma Dincht this one time you were passing through? Well, good luck figuring out the mythology of Hyne and what connection it has to the Sorceress’.  Seriously, this game begged for a Wiki years before Wikis were a thing.

Not helping matters is that it seems that the plot is all over the map.  It’s a coming of age tale, an epic battle of good versus evil, a war story, a love story, and a time travel story.  And it hits all those notes, but it’s definitely debatable if it hits them well or if it needed to hit them all.  The time travel bit honestly added the most confusion, with your characters occassionally falling unconscious to experience the adventures of Laguna and his crew thirty years prior.  You’re explicitly told that nothing you can do there can change the outcome of what happens so it’s not a time travel plot in that sense, nor are the events told linearly in these flashbacks either.  So it really just serves as very confusing exposition.  Arguably the worst kind of exposition.  Confusion really is a big factor here and I remember it leading into a lot of debate back in high school as we sat around and argued over plot details like ‘Is Squall Laguna’s son?’ (He is for the record. Ellone arrives at the orphanage with Raine’s child that was born after Laguna vanished.) and trying to make sense of the whole Time Compression thing.  The real issue I have with the plot is that in only works in the cursory glance that the game gives it and doesn’t really hold up to a lot of question in my opinion.  Why does Ellone have the power to send people’s minds through time? Why does Ultimecia become a god by squishing time into a single moment? Why when Ultimecia passes her power on to Edea, does Edea have ice powers instead of Ultimecia’s powers? Who built the Gardens?  Why build the Gardens?  Is each Garden a completely separate entity from each other?  WHY AND HOW DO GUARDIANS ERASE YOUR MEMORIES?! I honestly can keep going on this.  The story leaves a lot of things not fully developed and not fully explained.  It feels like a lot of this is because of a lack of focus on what they wanted the story to be about.

However, one common complaint I hear is that Squall is a whiny emo that is a terrible protagonist.  I disagree.  Honestly, Squall comes off to me as a teenager. One who acts like one.  He’s unsure, he’s cynical, he doesn’t know how to deal with things that are thrust upon him.  He reminds me of actual people I knew in high school.  Squall’s arc and his romance with Rinoa is honestly the best part of this game in my opinion. It feels like there’s a level of honesty with it that you don’t find in a lot of RPGs.  The other characters less so.  Seifer is clearly a school bully and would be an internet troll had the internet existed in the world. Most of the others seem like they’re built around school stereotypes that would fit in with an average high school anime.  Zell is the sporty dude bro with a short fuse. Selphie is the free spirit fun lover.  Quistis is the serious one with glasses. Irvine is the one who looks cool but is actually a complete mess. Rinoa is Usagi from Sailor Moon.

The game continues to push further into the experimental from VII with brand new mechanics such as not having equipment.  You have one weapon. You upgrade said weapon several times. There is no armor or accessories or anything.  This is all replaced with the Junction system!  Where you take your spells and slap them into slots to augment your stats. The more of a spell you have, the better the stat becomes. More of a spell, you ask? Well the spell system is completely different too. Instead of learning magic, you draw it from monsters and draw points around the world and stock it like items.  What does one Fira look like? No clue but I have 34 of them.  Even the whole young adult style story is a big experiment from the previous series.  With all these changes to the formula it’s not hard to see why this game is incredibly divisive.  Some folks love it, some hate it, and some like aspects of it.  I think I’m in that third category.

To me, VIII feels like a mess of a game. But it’s a mess of a game with a bunch of REALLY great moments scattered through out it.  The love story is solid, there’s a bunch of really good suspense building where you don’t know the fate of certain characters.  Heck, even the ending plays with this in not knowing if Squall is alright unless you watch the post-credits scene. And there is a video that plays through half the credits of everyone getting their happy ending on back at the Garden with Squall NOWHERE to be found. I remember honestly wondering if he actually made it, or simply vanished into the timestream after saving the world and going back in time to set everything on the path.  In this game, you just DON’T know.  There are no established rules at this point.  On the same hand, it feels like there were a lot of ideas in here that could of have been handled better and were in other games. Some of which we’ll be looking at as part of this series.

So is VIII a BAD game?  Eh, maybe.  But much like a fundamentally bad movie it doesn’t mean there isn’t something to love about it.  It wouldn’t be my first recommendation to a new fan, but it’s not like I would warn them away from it either.

Next time we’ll be getting some sun, some surf, and exposing an ancient conspiracy that has trapped the world in the iron grip of an endless spiral of death.

Till then, May the light of the Crystals guide your way!

Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!

 

Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy VII

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The Story

The general tale of Final Fantasy VII is told is a somewhat non-linear fashion where the facts often turn out to be obscured lies until late in the game.  I’m going to do my best to summarize this in a LINEAR fashion, so it actually makes sense.

Long long ago, the Planet (Yes, that’s its name. Hence the capital P.) was inhabited by a race called the Cetra who lived in harmony with the Planet. Then a giant meteor crashed into the planet’s northern pole 2000 years prior to the game’s beginning and brought a creature known as Jenova with it.  Jenova pretty much wiped out the Cetra before they were able to contain the thing.

Skip to a few prior to the main game, protagonist and sword enthusiast Cloud Strife, a lowly Shinra soldier, accompanies SOLDIERs (the capitalization makes it different) Zack and Sephiroth on a mission to Cloud’s hometown of Nibelheim.  There Sephiroth discovers the horrible “truth” of his existence: He was imbued with the cells of Jenova, discovered by the Shinra Corporation and mistaken for a Cetra, to create a Supersoldier.  Believing that he is a Cetra, and thus the true ruler of the Planet, and also driven to madness by the Jenova cells in his body, he burns the village to the ground and goes to retrieve the body of Jenova hidden inside a Mako Reactor nearby (Mako being the life energy of the planet and the Reactor is a power plant that sucks up Mako to turn into electricity and such.)  Zack tries to stop him but is defeated, and Cloud ultimately strikes down Sephiroth and throws him into the Planet’s Lifestream below the Mako Reactor.  Shinra shows up and uses the villagers of the destroyed town as experiments to infuse Jenova cells into and create a new Sephiroth to replace them. Zack and Cloud are deemed failures of this experiment and to be locked away.  They escaped but Zack died from injuries sustained and Cloud’s mental state from the experiments shattered his memories, blurring them with Zack’s.

The story starts proper a few years after the Nibelheim incident, with Cloud working as a mercenary for the Eco-Terrorist group AVALANCHE along with his childhood friend Tifa and the group’s revolutionary leader Barrett.  They’re on a mission to destroy the Mako Reactors and stop the Shinra Corporation from harming the Planet.  The first part of the game follows AVALANCHE’s missions including the destruction of two Mako Reactors, saving Tifa from a slumlord pimp, Cloud meeting the flower girl Aeris/Aerith who is relentlessly pursued by the Shinra special ops team called the Turks because she is an actual Cetra, trying and failing to stop Shinra from dropping one of the city’s upper levels onto the sector of the city that AVALANCHE’s base is in, and then assaulting Shinra directly to find the president murdered by Sephiroth who apparently survived the whole Lifestream ordeal.  The first ‘act’ ends with President Shinra’s son Rufus taking the big chair and chasing down the remnants of AVALANCHE as they flee from the mega city.

Realizing that Sephiroth is back, Cloud declares his intentions to hunt down the man who destroyed Tifa and his’ hometown.  This launches into a global chase as the party pursues clues about where to find Sephiroth while Shinra and their Turks chase down the party.  They learn about the Planet and the Lifestream where all life is said to come from and return to when it dies, they find a restored Nibelheim full of crazy Sephitorh “Clones” (Other people injected with Jenova cells to test out the ‘Reunion Theory’ that all lifeforms infected with Jenova will strive to reunite with the original) and that Sephiroth is looking for something called the Black Materia that contains the ultimate destructive magic (Materia being a magical crystal formed from condensed Mako energy).  This is followed by the party getting the Black Materia, then Cloud getting brainwashed to hand it over to Sephiroth.  Then the party getting the Black Materia again, only to have Cloud get brainwashed and hand it over to Sephiroth.  In between these two, you get the tragic moment of Aeris dying while praying to the Planet with Sephiroth (Actually Jenova disguised as Sephiroth) turning her into a shiskabob.  Sepiroth-Jenova taunts and mind-%$&*s Cloud with the half-truth that his memories of what happened in Nibelheim were a lie and he was a false creation with false memories.  Completely mind-screwed, Cloud gives the Black Materia to the real Sephiroth who has been chilling in a mako cocoon.  This allows him to summon Meteor, awaken the WEAPONs (Godzilla sized bio-mechanical creatures born from The Planet as a defense mechanism), and collapsed the area forcing everyone to escape.

The last act of the game is pretty much dealing with the fallout.  Shinra is trying to blow up the WEAPONs and send a rocket into space to blow up Meteor.  Cloud & Tifa are trying to solve Cloud’s existential crisis (Leading to the truth of Cloud being a lowly infantryman and Zack being the elite SOLDIER finally being revealed.) And the entire team trying to discover what Aeris’ plan of running off to get killed was actually supposed to be about – summoning Holy, the ultimate White magic, to counter the ultimate Black magic of Meteor but Sephiroth, deep in the planet’s core via the Lifestream, is preventing Holy from emerging.  The team plunges down toward the core of the planet to fight of Sepiroth, ending with a final confrontation between him and Cloud one-on-one.  Sephiroth is defeated and Holy is released and…  Cut to 500 years later.  Midgar is a vine covered ruin.  Red XIII or one of his descendants along with a couple of cubs look out over the ruins.  The end.

It wasn’t until years later with the release of Advent Children did we find out the outcome of Holy v. Meteor.  Everyone lived. Except Aeris, naturally.

My Opinions

Most people who read this blog know that I don’t have a high opinion of Final Fantasy VII.  That’s not to say it’s a bad game, it really isn’t.  In fact as a strict gameplay factor, I really enjoyed VII. Nor was the story really that bad either.  It had a lot of interesting bits that were admittedly borrowed heavily from other things I like such as The Thing and Chrono Trigger, but it wasn’t bad.  In fact, most of my complaints were how flat the characters ended up being and that’s mostly because of the complete failure of how the story was presented to the player: By people talking about it.  Periodically through the game the story just stops at a random location so all the characters can talk about what is going on in the plot.  They don’t talk about their feelings about it, or their reactions as people, they just would sit and exposit for a while before moving on.  That’s how the story is mostly conveyed in the game – by expository dialogue – to make up for the non-linear what-is-truth-what-is-lie narrative that no one could follow otherwise.  Was Jenova an Ancient? No, but I know plenty of fans who think it was.  And because of this method of plot delivery, the characters are never developed or fleshed out.  This lead to what I called the ‘Backstory City’ effect.  Every non-central character (Cloud & Aeris) have ONE town you will visit that goes into their backstory, once that is done they are officially stand-in’s for the rest of the game to fill the roster sheet.  So I found the characters to pretty fairly flat. Probably why Aeris’ death didn’t phase me much.

It almost might not have helped that I didn’t play VII tills years after the game was released.  Completely missing the “hype” time that the game had early on.  I was a Nintendo kid.  I didn’t own a Playstation until FFVIII came out a couple years later, and even then I didn’t go back and play VII.  For a long time I held it in resentment simply for existing on a different console than all the Final Fantasy’s before, because I’ll be honest.  I was there for the Nintendo/Sega Console Wars.  Those days got dark.  Like not calling people Xbots on a forum dark, but like fist fights in the school yard for brand loyalty…    Yea, we were kind of dumb like that.  So when I finally played VII I was probably way less forgiving of its flaws, and less awed by the technical aspects than someone who experienced it fresh and I’ll admit that.

The seventh installment is also where Square started to go in a different direction with the franchise.  Where they began to experiment with new technology and opportunities that the earlier 16-bit systems couldn’t offer.  It also seems to be where Square decided they needed to formally part ways with the Western European Fantasy/D&D knock off style that they had been using up until this point.  Granted VI was already a departure from that aesthetic in a number of ways, but it kind of felt like the Eberron campaign setting for D&D as in “Steampunk doesn’t make it any less D&D.” From this point forward it seems that Square wanted to push further and further from the “old school” games and establish a strong new identity for the Final Fantasy games, however for many a old-school Final Fantasy fan, it marked a long road of bitter pills to swallow.  I’m in the middle.  I think the strong identity that they had in the early days: Four elemental crystals, vehicles, the Archfiends, the ‘Warriors of Light’ and even the early iterations of the Job system were all fairly strong identifiers that you were playing a Final Fantasy game. As they series went on, we saw less crystals, less vehicles, no Archfiends or ties to the four elements, and each game trying to do something completely different in terms of mechanics, setting, characters, etc.  While trying something different is surely worth applauding, it almost felt like that Square was ashamed of how the series started.

Next time I’ll be back with what was my first actual foray into 3D Final Fantasy’s and one of the stranger iterations that takes the term ‘experimenting’ with setting and tone to a whole new level – Final Fantasy VIII.

May the light of the Crystals guide your way!

Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!

Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy VI

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Ah, there is nothing sweeter than nostalgia.  While Final Fantasy IV was indeed my first introduction to the Final Fantasy series, it is here in the sixth installment that my heart truly lies.  I’ve written about it before and how the message of this game was really there for me when I was growing up, but there’s also just something magical about it in my eyes.  Something that no other Final Fantasy got right before or since.  That special je ne sais quois that VI had.  Hmmmm. Warm fuzzies.  Anyway, let’s get into it shall we?

The Plot

The tale begins on the outskirts of the mining town of Narshe where two Imperial Magitek soldiers – Biggs & Wedge – alongside our currently mind slaved and soon to be protagonist 18 year old Terra. They are assaulting the town to find a magical being called an Esper that was said to be frozen in ice somewhere in the minds.  However, when they locate it, Terra reacts to it and the Esper kills Biggs & Wedge and triggers an explosion in the mine.  Terra awakens sometime later with little to no memory but with soldiers hot on her tail.  Her escape is assisted by the Treasure Hunter – Locke – and the King of the nearby Kingdom of Figaro – Edgar – who want to take Terra, who somehow possess the power of magic (not seen in 1000 years) to meet the Returners, a group of rebels that fight against the ever forcefully expanded Gesthalian Empire.

The tale then gets split three ways as Terra, Edgar and Bannon (The leader of the returners) try to return to Narshe, Sabin (Edgar’s wandering martial artist brother) gets swept by a river south to meet the wild child Gau and Cyan the only survivor of the Imperial poisoned kingdom of Doma, and Locke heads back into Figaro to find it under Imperial occupation and joining forces with the disgraced former Imperial general Celes.  All three groups meet up to face often against a massive battle with the Empire to defend the frozen Esper. After claiming victory, Terra tries under Bannon’s urging to try to communicate with the Esper only for Terra to turn into a screaming pink demon monster and fly away.

This begins the next story arc where you have to find Terra and discover her true nature as a half-human, half-esper explaining her magical powers.  This involves things like the famous Opera scene that you use to steal an airship and break into the Imperial MagiTek Factory where you discover the Empire’s secret technique to making unstoppable magitek weaponry: Draining captured espers dry.  With Terra realizing who she is, the group meets back up together and decides that the Returners will use the machines of Figaro and the resources of Narshe to fight back the Empire. But they still need to manpower, so Terra as a hybrid goes to the Sealed Gate to the Esper World and beseeches them for aid.  Instead, the Espers use the opening to raze the Imperial Capital and run amok across the world in a fit of anger.  Returning to the Imperial Capitol, Emperor Gesthal wants to hold a truce meeting with the Returners to reach some sort of agreement to help stop the Espers from destroying the whole world.

With the truce in hand, the heroes travel to the town of Thamasa where they discover lots of people who can use magic.  Indeed, the town is actually the descendents of the original Magi Warriors that fought 1000 years ago but now just want peace. They help to make contact with the Espers who explain that their strong anger got the better of them and they apologize for the damage they did.  Returning to Thamasa to announce the peace between humans and espers however is interrupted by the Imperial Court Sorcerer, the insane clown Kefka who poisoned Doma and burned Figaro earlier.  Kefka uses the opportunity – on orders from the Emperor no less – to kill all the Espers he can and trap their essence in crystal. The Sealed Gate bursts open again as others come to avenge their comrades only to be slaughtered by Kefka.  The heroes flee on the airship to discover that the Empire had set the whole thing up.  Meanwhile, Kefka and the Emperor entered the sealed gate and use the turned-to-statue magic gods of the Warring Triad to raise the floating continent above the world.

In one last ditch attempt to save the world, the heroes assault the Floating Island, battling the fierce Ultima Weapon and confront the Emperor.  However, what they find then is that Kefka betrays and kills the Emperor and then disturbs the careful balance of the three statues of the Warring Triad, sending small sparks of magic flying off…  that explode in massive Ultima blasts that rip apart the world below.  Kefka cackles in delight as the world is destroyed. The heroes flee in failure.  And that’s how the first half of the game goes.

I’m not going to do a synopsis of the second half because… it’s a lot of small plots building towards a big one and it would take forever.  Essentially each character of the 11 or so total get their own subplot in the second half that all culminates with them marching up Kefka’s tower to confront the Mad Clown God.

My Opinions

This game is probably my ideal “perfect” Final Fantasy.  The plot is never confusing, but it is incredibly epic. The characters are relatable, likable, and each have a fairly cohesive character arc through the course of the game and with such a large cast that’s a feat on its own.   The game mechanics are solid but have a lot of depth and each character brings their own unique talents that are useful yet are only necessary when the game ensures that they’ll be in your party.  Most importantly, it scales well. It starts off simple in both gameplay and narrative and slowly thickens things.  This is just a really well made game.

In terms of a narrative, the fact that at the half way point the heroes fail and the entire set up is turned on its head was a brilliantly orchestrated twist.  The Floating Continent FELT like a final dungeon.  It felt like everything was coming to a head.  This was going to be the big final showdown with the evil emperor!  Then you don’t even get to fight Gesthal.  At all.  Then Kefka becomes a god.  The world gets blown to smithereens and the rest of the game is pretty much spent helping each character find a reason to keep on going in a dead world.  A reason to stand back up and fight again.  For some, it’s easy and for others it’s very hard.

I know people constantly suggest VII or X as “great places to start” but that’s only if you want to get wow’ed by the pretty pretty (and oh they are) but for my money, if you want a solid story, beautiful music, fun and non-frustrating gameplay, wonderful characters you’ll learn to love, and just an overall better polished experience – play Final Fantasy VI as your first Final Fantasy.  You’ll be glad you did.  Unless you absolutely can’t stand to play a 2D sprite based game.  Then you might have some problems.  And for those who haven’t played it yet? DO IT. It’s on Steam, Android, and iOS. I’m not kidding. GO PLAY IT NOW. It’s a masterpiece!

Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy IV & Mystic Quest

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Final Fantasy IV

The Plot

The tale of Final Fantasy IV is probably one of the longest and most winding tales in the whole SNES library  of games with political backstabbing, character deaths, side quests, diplomacy, three completely separate societies on the surface of the world, beneath it and on the moon – so pardon my extreme abbreviations of the events that occur here.

Cecil, a Dark Knight of the illustrious Red Wings airship squadron that serve the Kingdom of Baron has become disillusioned with his mission of attacking defenses villages and towns to lay claim to the Crystals of Light that his King demands.  His punishment for voicing his concerns is to be stripped of his rank and sent on a mission with his dragoon friend Kain.  The mission – thought to be an envoy of good will to a village of summoners – is actually a hidden attack that unleashes bombs across the village and kills everyone.   Thus Cecil begins his quest to bring his former lord to justice for his actions.

Through his adventures he encounters and re-encounters characters like the summoner child Rydia, his beloved Rosa the White Mage, Tellah the Sorcerer, Edge the Ninja, and the meme worthy Edgar the Spoony Bard to name a few. Cecil also learns of his replacement in the Red Wings: Golbez, who has also taken mental control of Cecil’s friend Kain.  Through their adventures they uncover a sinister plot orchestrated by Golbez to steal the four Crystals of Light and the four Crystals of Darkness that reside in the Dwarven lands of the Underground to open a gateway to the moon.  To accomplish this, Golbez commands the four elemental Archfiends – one of which murdered and replaced the King of Baron.  Golbez, through much manipulations and mind controlling and backstabbing, manages to gather all the crystals and flee to the Red Moon.  Cecil and company chase after by summoning the massive spaceship ‘Lunar Whale’ to take them there.

On the Moon, Cecil meets with Fu So Ya, a Lunarian charged with watching over the rest of his people while they sleep.  Fu So Ya explains that ages ago the Lunarians sought to conquer and colonize the Blue World, but decided to stay on the Moon and leave in peace with humans. One Lunarian named Zemus was against this.  Zemus made contact with Golbez – who was half lunarian – and drove Golbez to complete Zemus’ desire of destroying the world with the Giant of Babil and sent the Archfiends to assist in the process.

Cecil and the party return to the Blue World to enter and destroy the Giant of Babil and save their world, but then must return to the moon and descend into the Lunar Core to bare witness to Fu So Ya and Golbez destroying Zemus only to unleash a being comprised of Zemus’ hatred and desire to destroy known as Zeromus.  The party defeats Zeromus and thus peace is returned to the three worlds.

I think.  I mean, there’s a sequel called the After Years, that I never played so what do I know.

My Opinion

If the first Final Fantasy was analogous to the simple adventure story of the Hobbit, then Final Fantasy IV would have to be Lord of the Rings.  The game is just massive.  That entire plot synopsis was about as parsed down as I could make to cover all the major bases and even then it’s like 600 words.  I skipped over major swathes of the political struggle between Baron and the neighboring kingdoms, Cecil and Kain’s extensive repemption arcs.  The fact that Rydia goes from a 8 year old kid to a 18 year old woman in the course of a few days thanks to be thrown into another plane of reality, or Tellah’s quest for revenge against Golbez.  That’s just some of the stuff in this game.  It is really that huge.  And yet, when people ask me “which one was IV?” all I can really respond with is “Oh, it’s the one with the spaceship.”

I mean, it does.  It has a spaceship.  You go to the moon. You meet Moon People.  Can you name another Final Fantasy like that? It kind of stands out.  Even so, this game is amazing and I’m happy to say it was my introduction to the series back when I was like 8 years old I think?  I would go over to my pal Patrick’s place and we would play it all night on his SNES.  Final Fantasy IV DEFINED old school RPGs to me.  From the many vehicles, spell casting system, different colored chocobos, the eidolons, and the various classes – my very fundamental view of the Fantasy genre was shaped by this game.  Not Tolkien. Not Lewis. Final. Fantasy. IV.

You can imagine my disappointment when I picked up the next ‘installment’:

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Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest

The Plot

There are four kingdoms. They each have a crystal. Go save their crystal. Then fight the Dark King to find the Fifth Crystal. The end.  It really is that simplistic of a cliched plot.  The only point where it gets interesting is that near the end it’s revealed that the Prophecy that set you on the path to restore balance was actually a rumor created by the Dark King ages ago.  Why did the Dark King start a rumor that a hero would appear to save the world? I don’t know! He was bored perhaps?

My Opinion

Mystic Quest is a game that I barely even remembered from the salad days of my gaming youth.  A weird experiment in creating a ‘beginner RPG’ for western audiences to get eased into the genre and it at least got the beginner thing right.  The game is easy, removes a majority of player choice from who is in your party to what equipment you use, and the only real problem you’d run into nowadays is probably either frustration or the completely arbitrary subversion of Final Fantasy convention (Air based monsters are weak to Wind and earth based monsters are weak to Earth… somehow.)

The only thing that this game is apparently remembered for is the music and I can’t even say that it made that much of an impression on me.  I mean, yeah, I was young, but I remember a ton of music from Final Fantasy IV and I played that at the same age.

So should you play it?  Eh. I’d just skip it. You can’t even justify it as being part of another tangentially related series like the game boy ones (Adventure series was actually part of the Mana series and the Legend games were originally part of the SaGa series).  If you find it at a garage sale for like a buck, go ahead and give it a whirl. But seriously, don’t pay collector prices to experience it.

May the light of the Crystals guide your way!

Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!

Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy the First

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Welcome to Final Fantasy Month! Leading up to the release of Final Fantasy XV after it’s somewhat long-ish development, I’ve decided that while I don’t have the time to replay 12+ games, I can recall all the good times I had with the ones I HAVE played. Of course that sadly means entries like 2, 3, 9, 12, and a bunch of the spin offs (Adventure, Legend, Mystic Quest *shiver*) won’t be here because I haven’t had a chance to ever finish them.  Not that I’m not planning on it, so please don’t bombard me with “WHAT? YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED Y?” because trust me, given the time and energy I will eventually play every Final Fantasy game. Every. One.  In fact, I actually OWN every numbered entry in the series and some of the spin offs. So it literally is just a matter of hours in the day and energy in this weak fleshy hyur – I mean human – body of mine.

Really I just plan to go over what each game was about and my own personal recollections of them. Just a fun little trip down memory road before the newest game comes out and I don’t stop playing it until I collapse.  So let’s kick things off with Final Fantasy I!

The Plot

Four “Warriors of Light” appear in the Castle town of Coneria (later Cornelia) with dimmed orbs representing the elemental crystals.  The heroes are nameless and can be of any class (Fighter, Thief, Monk, Black Mage, White Mage, Red Mage) and begin a journey to help restore the light to the four crystals and save the world from the ‘Four Fiends’.

The game is broken into essentially 3 chapters: First the local area quests where you help save Princess Sarah from the Dark Knight Garland and help out the local kingdoms to get a ship and access the sea.  The second chapter is when you delve into the ruins of the Shrines and fight the Fiends to restore the crystals.  Once you’ve saved the crystals and brought balance to the world, you get sucked back 2000 years into the past to find the demon Chaos, the monster who sent the Fiends to the future to steal the Crystals’ power. In a surprise twist, Chaos is actually the Dark Knight Garland!

You see in order to live forever, Garland created a time paradox.  The Fiends send him into the past, where he can send the fiends into the future, so the fiends can send him into the past…  and oh no I’ve gone cross eyed.  The only way to stop the time loop for good is to kill the four fiends again and stop Chaos before he can send anyone into the future.  The end!

My Thoughts

Ah the classic first iteration of the legendary game series.  From the get go, it was clear that the game took a TON of inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons.  From the Job Classes, to the monster names and appearances (some of which are direct copies from D&D)  there’s a lot of love of old school table top gaming to be found here.  Heck, I’d argue that you COULD run this game as a D&D campaign today and still have a lot of fun with it.  But how does it stack up as a video game after all these years?

Well, it’s definitely from that old school NES era of RPGs that took a lot of inspiration from the hands off exploring that Legend of Zelda was doing, but for the first ‘chapter’ before you hire the dwarves to blow a hole in the mountains so your ‘borrowed’ pirate ship can get through to the sea, it actually does a really good job of indicating what task you should strive to complete next.  Not this “Where’s the first dungeon? Also where do I get a sword?” that Zelda had.  You are given directions and objectives: Save the princess, claim a ship, help the Elf prince, bring the dwarves some explosives.

After that however?  Well, I got to the Earth Shrine and beat the Lich okay. But beyond that I could definitely see why this one of the first games to get the Nintendo Power Strategy Guide treatment.  Find my way to the other three shrines and getting things like getting a Rat’s Tail to give to Bahamut to get your job upgrades (I’ll never get tired of the joke that you literally give a rat’s ass to get your new jobs) and digging up the airship in the middle of the desert using a gravity stone – yeah, I needed a FAQ to find my way through this game.

Still, in the end it’s a great classic RPG experience.  If you’re lucky enough to have grabbed the Dawn of Souls version that’s way out of print now or the mobile version, there’s some extra dungeons and stuff to have fun with.

Sadly, my next entry in this series will be Final Fantasy IV. I never did get a chance to play through II or III yet, which is a shame because as I understand III was where a lot of the Final Fantasy staples came into place (Chocobos, Moogles, the Job system, etc).  It’s one that’s definitely kind of high on my list to visit one day.  However, as far as I understand it from talking to other fans of the series, II seems kind of skippable.  So it’s definitely lower on my list.

See you next time! And may the light of the Crystals guide your way!

Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!

Making Sense of Final Fantasy Type-0’s Ending

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So I finally dove back into the deep deep upscaled waters that is Type-0 HD and decided to actually try finishing the game and in a tradition dating back to Garland’s time-travel dance turning him into Chaos in the very first Final Fantasy, the plot only becomes apparent when the game is 95% done.  In the case of Type-0 this takes the form of Chapter 8: Tempus Finis, or ‘The point where the developers remembered that this is a Fabula Nova Crystallis game’ – No, seriously.  They completely forgot this was supposed to be part of the shared mythology until the game was almost completed.  Hence why things like the l’Cie and fal’Cie are only briefly involved in the plot for the majority of it.  Heck, the name ‘Etro’ is not brought up until after the final boss I believe, and if Pulse and Lindzei are ever named its only in the Big Book of Exposition that sits in the library.  So yea, the first seven chapters of Final Fantasy Type-0 are pretty straight forward.  It’s a war.  You want to win it.  Your a super special awesome team of space explorers magic users that gets used and scapegoated and thrown under the bus to help win and take control of the four crystals.  Once you do that however, is when plot happens.  Tempus Finis.  The End Times.  Heralded in with a fade to black and some enigmatic words that leave you scratching your head going “Waaaah?”  That’s the ACTUAL plot arriving, and I will do my best to try and make some of this make sense.  Fair warning, from this point out there will be big time spoilers.

First, a little mythology.  Type-0 and the world of Orience were built on the shared Fabula Nova Crystallis mythology that is also used in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, and theoretically in Final Fantasy XV (Though recent interviews say that while the general concepts may remain, most of the names and plot elements have been changed up to make XV more of a standalone game).  The Mythology speaks of the God Bhunivelze who seeks to break through from the Seen Realm (Land of the Living) into the Unseen Realm (Land of the Dead).  The reasons for which can vary and are usually very complicated & ‘Greek Mythology’-y.  To accomplish this, Bhunivelze creates two fal’Cie – Lindzei and Pulse – and tasks them with the goal of breaking into the Unseen Realm.  In Type-0, this takes the form of breaking the seal on The Gate of Etro (Etro being a fal’Cie or sometimes called goddess of death).  To accomplish this, Lindzei and Pulse create their own fal’Cie with their own agendas for accomplishing this.  Lindzei creates Arecia and Pulse creates Gala.  Arecia and Gala are the primary figures that more or less set the plot of the game in motion via ‘The Spiral’.

Essentially, The Spiral is a cycle of 999 years when one of the four nations controls all four Crystals, a period known as Tempus Finis begins.  Tempus Finis is heralded by two things:  The appearance of Pandæmonium where a Judge awaits to see if any in this cycle are worthy to become “Agito” or the chosen ones powerful enough to open The Gate of Etro.  If no one proves worthy enough to be Agito, the second thing takes place – an army of unkillable neverending soldiers sweep across the world of slaughter every living thing with the goal of hopefully bombarding the Gate of Etro with enough souls that it breaks.  If neither of these events are successful, Arecia and Gala restart The Spiral back to Year 0 and the whole thing starts over for another thousand years.  Each iteration of the Spiral has the various nations start to discover their Crystals after about 157 years (Hence why the 999th year is marked as 842 RG on the calender. 842 years after the discovery of the first crystal.)  During which the Crystals will compete by creating l’Cie – superhuman warriors that are bound to the will of their crystal.  Only a l’Cie can enter Pandæmonium.  That is until the 600,104,971st cycle aka the events of the game.

In Chapter 8 of Type-0, Class Zero – Arecia’s pet project of prime candidates for Agito – manage to reach Pandæmonium and complete most of Gala’s – who has possessed a human host to act as Judge – trials and only failing because Gala becomes bored with giving a bunch of mortals a fighting chance at becoming Agito.  Class Zero actually has a chance to become l’Cie halfway through the dungeon but doing so only leads to the bad ending where they are pulled away from Pandæmonium and back to their home town to defend the Crystal they are bound to and eventually die prompting Arecia to restart the Spiral.   Instead, if you stay mortal, two friends of Class Zero who do become l’Cie give the rest of Class Zero the strength to battle the Judge and ultimately defeat him by ripping out his ‘phantoma’ (soul) – a talent that only members of Class Zero can do.

This marks the first time in 600,104,971 cycles that Class Zero refused the mantle of l’Cie.

However, despite defeating the Judge, Class Zero can’t open the Gate of Etro.  Instead they return and with their ‘Mother’ that keeps them resurrected when they fall in battle missing they must face the real possibility of death after supposedly saving the world.  This breaks them and they start to panic, cry, etc. but they come together in the end and choose to face death together.  Their memories, along with everyone else who died, is passed on in a book to Arecia by Tiz and Joker – two characters that popped up from time to time but are actually supposed to be ‘Ten’ and Joker or the missing two “cards” from Class Zero.  Arecia observes the memories and sees how her ‘children’ – Class Zero – didn’t want to die in vain and didn’t want to be reborn or be forgotten.  Touched by these words and the confessions of the two friends turned l’Cie about all the journeys they had been on, Arecia decides to abandon the Spiral Project and to deactivate the Crystals.  She sends the two friends out into the world, freed from the l’Cie curse, to live and to thrive in a world where the dead are not forgotten.

So yea, that’s basically – as I understand it – what all happens at the end of the game.  Again, much like Final Fantasy XIII there’s a lot that isn’t explicitly stated but to its credit you could at least follow the basic plot thread all the way to the end without any additional reading.  You might be confused by things like… Why Dr. Arecia can stop The Spiral or why the heck the General from the White Tiger army is suddenly a god-like jerk.  Or even “Why is sky raining blood and everyone is dying?”  Valid questions.  The game does take an ungodly sharp left turn at the conclusion of Chapter 7 which pretty much just ends with the defeat of the White Tiger army cut to black and then uh-oh-apocalyps-o.  That’s why I figured I’d try to piece together everything I could to explain that ending so that other people wouldn’t get lost with the jarring shift in tone.

Also because sometimes knowing the ending can inspire you to try something out just to see it all.  That’s actually why I decided to play through Type-0, and why I read Stephen King’s Dark Tower…  which both are eerily similar in certain ways. Hmm.

I hope you enjoyed this little summarized lore dump on probably one of the most depressing Final Fantasy games I’ve ever played.  Seriously, Square Enix, way too many dead kids in this one.  Seriously.  (If you chose to play it, do keep in mind that it’s the only Final Fantasy rated ‘M’ for a reason.)

LFR vs Normals: How Easy is Too Easy?

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So the big thing yesterday was the release of the first LFR wing for the Emerald Nightmare in World of Warcraft: Legion and the immediate revelation that the quest items for the Balance of Power questline were not dropping from it.  This was soon confirmed by Blizzard that these items were not intended to drop from LFR, and that the questline and the artifact appearances it unlocked (as unlocking the first appearance in any row is required to receive the other three) were reserved for those who tackled Normal or higher difficulties of the raids only as the appearances were meant to be a cosmetic reward for tackling challenging pre-made group content.

This sparked a massive debate across the internet and most of it could be boiled down into the age old ‘casual vs hardcore’ nonsense that has plagued gaming for years now.  However, the thing that struck me was more so the idea that people shouldn’t complain because ‘normals are easy’.  Wait.  Isn’t that the exact reason you said this SHOULDN’T be in LFR?  Because LFR is easy?  I saw this argument used dozens of times in the past 24 hours:

Content X should be gated behind difficulty Y because difficulty Z isn’t challenging. But people shouldn’t complain because difficulty Y isn’t challenging.

If you are confused by that statement, welcome to my world.  The only explanation I can get is that the ‘challenge’ comes from assembling a premade group and actually staying as a cohesive whole long enough to kill the bosses.  An easy task for those who have existing guilds and raid teams that they are part of, less so for those who are without.  The ‘challenge’ for them becomes convincing a guild to give them a slot on the raid team or the far more daunting task of convincing a pick up group to let them come along.

That latter situation is where the headaches come from for most who are complaining about this change.  Be it social anxiety, scheduling conflicts, or simply impossible recruitment requirements (Day 1 Emerald Nightmare ‘Plz know the fights’, item level requirements that eclipse what the content drops, requiring 1+ legendaries) finding a PUG is simultaneously easy to do and difficult to join.  Oh sure, there’s a group finder, but let’s hope you get lucky on whether or not you get an invite in any timely fashion.

The same can be said about Mythic Dungeons.  As a Retribution Paladin, I’ve managed to snag one invite to a Mythic after dozens of applications to join one. Which then promptly fell apart when the tank and healer bailed due to “low dps”.  However, Mythics are a gate for a number of quests including my professions.  But it’s okay, people tell me, Mythics are mind numbingly easy.  Perhaps but then the most difficult boss again becomes actually getting a group.

So what seems to be the crux of this whole thing seems less to be about what is easy or difficulty and more so a push back against matchmaking groups.  The Dungeon Finder/LFR tools make the process of getting a group too easy. So we must reward those who eschew convenience and reward them with cosmetics and their own dungeon tier that is completely optional except for when it is not (again with the Engineer profession quest requiring a Mythic dungeon – that drops ilvl 840 gear – to get a recipe that makes a ilvl 815 item.)

I suppose in some ways we’ve gone full circle.  We’re back to the Molten Core days where “wrangling the cats” was the hardest part of the job.  Only now you get exclusive rewards along with the better gear.

So am I upset about this? Eh. Maybe a bit peeved, but hardly anything I’d quit the game over.  Blizzard did confirm in a blue post that story/profession quests that require raids will be doable in LFR, so you won’t get locked out of finishing Suramar and getting the last Pillar of Creation.  It’s just the “Valorous” artifact appearance that is locked behind the wall.  And while my inner completionist screams “nooooooo!” I’ve long learned how to deal with him.  Mostly single player RPGs.

(I AM still irritated about that Mythic dungeon engineering quest though. Because that’s just dumb. 830 ilevel requirement to get an 815 helm? Who did that math?)

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