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Introducing the FFXIV Heavensward Story Summary

I’m happy to announce that just in time for the new Final Fantasy XIV expansion Stormblood, I have managed to put together a solid story summary for the story of Heavensward.  While the “patch storylines” aren’t finished yet – namely because I haven’t played through those extensions to the Main Scenario yet – the main storyline of the expansion is now available to read here.

I don’t have a set date for when those remaining stories will be up mostly because I’m debating waiting until Stormblood is released to play through those patches since when Heavensward was released the 2.X patch story rewards were altered to give equipment to prevent having to grind item levels to progress to the next major step and since my current ilevel is sitting around 203 at the moment, and you need 230 to get through all the dungeons involved in the quests…  Yeah, I might just wait and see if I can make this a bit easier on myself.  If someone who is more active in the news for Final Fantasy XIV knows one way or the other if they plan on doing this again, do please let me know.

Otherwise, I’ll just keep on my current mission of “Get all Classes/Jobs to Level 30 then to Level 50” until Stormblood arrives.

EDIT: Upon further research, it seems that the Main Scenario Quests for Heavensward will have to be completed in order to access the Stormblood story, but you won’t need to do it to access the Samurai and Red Mage jobs.  So I’m thinking it’s pretty likely for them to include “Catch Up Gear” with the quests like they did with ARR leading into Heavensward.

Final Fantasy XV: A Flawed Gem

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So I finished Final Fantasy XV, and by finished I mean I got to level 99, I ran through every dungeon, and I got every trophy.  I FINISHED it.  And like every Final Fantasy game I’ve played before, I had fun.  But the question is how much fun did I have?  Well, let’s break it down shall we?

STORY

The story of Final Fantasy XV is deceptively simple.  By that I mean, the only reason it seems to be complex is the method by which its told rather the actual complexity of the events.  For instance, the actual purpose behind the majority of the actions in the majority of the game isn’t revealed until the end of Chapter 13 out of a total 14 chapters. It’s not uncommon for a Final Fantasy game.  Lightning Returns and Final Fantasy X both tried to do something similar to varying levels of success.  However, here it feels the deception is almost malicious in its intent.  When we meet the heroes, Noctis is on his way to get married and enjoying a bachelor party-ish road trip along the way with his closest friends and confidantes. Once we break through the games pseudo-prologue and the first twist happens (not much of a twist if you saw Kingsglaive first) where the city of Insomnia falls to Imperial betrayal, the road trip turns dark as the group swears on vengeance and begins to build power via Noctis’ birthright to command the weapons of former kings followed by forging pacts with literal gods.

We are given context to all of these events solely through the vantage point of Noctis himself.  Hence we discover the true reveal along with him.  We see the confusing messages that he struggles to interpret with him.  And we are forced to face the consequences of his actions with him as well.  It is a powerful way to tell the story, if your tale is simple enough to manage such a narrow point of view.  Final Fantasy XIII tried something similar as I have mentioned before and it bogged down into tons of extra reading or be very confused.  XV does succeed in the endeavor a bit more though there still are some confusing moments that feel like slapdash plot hole filling.  Where this approach suffers the most is in the development of characters that are not directly encountered by our protagonist:  Ravus, the Empire, King Regis, and sadly especially Lunafreya.  You only get glimpses of these characters who are such major players in this story because our field of vision is limited to what Noctis sees and interacts with.  You don’t meet up with Lunafreya until three-fourths of the way through the game.  Before that you only get Noctis’ flashbacks with her, their two sentences dog-texts (They both own reality warping dogs that deliver messages for them.  Yes, there is an explanation.  No, it’s not a great one.), and the brief visions given by the Gods.  This is all you get to figure out why these two who haven’t seen each other in years are supposedly “in love” (although Kingsglaive does explain the marriage idea was part of treaty.)  And yet, because we’ve seen Noctis interact with so many people that when he acts so out of character when he finally sees Luna, you get this feeling of knowing how much she means to him.

And that’s what the game does so very well with the story.  You may not know what’s going on, but you feel like you identify with the tale.  The story isn’t laid out in the most narratively pleasant order but it does a DAMN fine job of getting you emotionally invested in these characters.

Speaking of…

CHARACTERS

Our protagonist is Crown Prince Noctis Lucis Caellum, the sole surviving member of the Lucis Caellum line and a wanted fugitive of the Niflheim Empire.

I said before how a lot of the surrounding characters don’t get a ton of development and that is sadly true.  Lunafreya is shown to be a powerfully determined woman on a mission that won’t even make sense until the end of the game, but she is also one of the more kind hearted characters shown as well.  Her brother Ravus, despite building him up to be a big antagonist, gets next to nothing.  He is a character of many seeming contradiction tried together out of an extreme loyalty to family that comes from who knows where.  His story is mostly only told through journal pages you find late in game.  I can kind of see why they want to revisit Ravus’ story in a patch or something.

The main ‘Warriors of Light’ (Yes, that IS what the four are meant to represent if you missed the blatantly call back to the original Final Fantasy at the start of the game) are on the opposite spectrum.  You spend nearly ALL your time with your companions occasionally departing for a mission or two of the story before returning.  Ignis, the attendant of our prince protagonist and the caretaker of the group in charge of repairing damaged clothing, cooking meals, and driving the car most of the time.  Gladiolus is Noctis’ bodyguard and trainer who comes from a long line of Kingsguards.  Finally there’s Prompto the seemingly fun loving commoner that became friends with Noctis in high school.  The game does an amazing job making these three feel like they are your best friends.  You feel for them on an emotional level.  Which is important as the game progresses and starts using that affection and attachment against you.  Oh there will be drama. Oh yes, there will be drama.

Finally, there’s the supporting cast.  It’s a mixed bag of who you like and don’t like.  I found myself being rather fond of Gladio’s teenage sister Iris and her love of Moogles, the mercenary Aranea Highwind and her dry wit was great for a laugh on the mission she joined you, and I kept imagining Cor the Immortal having epic adventures off somewhere without me accompanied by either heavy metal or the soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian.  I was a bit irked that they changed “Cidney” to “Cindy” for the English release though.  I mean, way to kill the joke.  She’s still listed as Cidney in the credits along with her Japanese voice actress.  There weren’t any characters I downright loathed though.  Which is impressive for a big open world game like this.

Finally, we have our villain.  What? No. Not the Emperor. No one cares about Emperors. Haven’t you been paying attention since Final Fantasy VI?  No.  We have High Chancellor Ardyn Izunia.  Both pseudo friend and foe through much of the game, the main group immediately doesn’t trust him but also is forced to work with him repeatedly.  His goals seem to be at odds at times with his masters in the Empire, but it’s not clear what they are until much later on.  I’d go more into Ardyn but you really can’t without spoiling it.  I can say that he is easily on my short list for best Final Fantasy villain.  He’s so amazingly slimy.

WORLD BUILDING

I wanted to touch on this because as I had made mention of in my first reactions post a while back, this was one aspect that constantly surprised and frustrated me.  That the world of Eos is built up so amazingly well just using what you see, hear and interact with that very little exposition needs to be given about it.  You can tell how much of Lucis the Empire had controlled before the fall of Insomnia by the check points and military bases.  You get a feel for the vast gap between the frontier people and the people living inside Insomnia just by comparing the names “Noctis Lucis Caellum” and “Dave.” You discover that pretty much ALL women of working age work in the reactor by seeing them walk around the city in their protective work clothes.

How about the effects of a world where monsters and Gods walk among you?  You see the Hunters working to keep people safe, ultra bright UV lights at all points of civilization to help ward off monsters.  Duscae’s power infrastructure is based on the giant meteor that Titan holds in the Disc.  Altissia has statues and temples built to honoring Leviathan. All of these things and so much more end up coming together to form the world, and none of it is ever explained in depth.  It just gives you that feeling again that this world is actually coherent and thought out.

However, that lack of detail also just drove me crazy! I would read tomes upon tomes of the history of the world.  All we get is an art gallery at the start and a timeline in the strategy guide.  And the timeline only begins maybe 2000 years prior to the start of the game.  Everything beyond that is “Ancient Time” with no info.  Bah.

MUSIC

I kinda wish I could say more about the music.  It kinda of strikes me as similar to other open-world RPGs where the music kind of starts to blend into the background which in this kind of game I always considered a good thing.  I’ve had to turn off music or radios that tend to become annoyingly intrusive after a while as I explore (I’m looking at you, Fallout 4.)  The music alternates between pleasant and calm and bombastic and epic during the battles and especially the boss battles. The song ‘Apocalypsis Aquarius’ that plays during the battle with Leviathan is one of my favorites.  However, other than the titular song ‘Final Fantasy’ (known to some as ‘Main Theme’, ‘Prologue’ or for the very old school fans ‘The Bridge Song’) and some updated renditions of the ‘Prelude’ Crystal theme, there are very few songs in the game I could identify without looking at the track name and even then I probably wouldn’t be able to place them.  The music is good – of that there’s no doubt – but I can’t really say there are too many memorable themes or stand out tracks that immediately make you think ‘Ah, this is when X happened’.  Even the Leviathan battle song since every major boss battle is just a different arrangement of the same Apocalypsis song.  Great soundtrack for just playing in the background though.  I bought a couple of tracks I like to listen to while driving.

Of course, if something more iconic is your taste, you can get music collections from older Final Fantasy titles throughout the game that can be played through the car stereo or eventually a portable music player you can purchase.  The selection is usually about 5 or 6 songs per collection but some games have more than one “disc” that you can get.  For instance, Final Fantasy XI’s music has a separate collection for each expansion the MMO had.  There are some omissions though.  While multiple Dissidia and Type-0 collections appear, you won’t find many other spin off games or sequels (X-2, XIII-2, Lightning Returns, Revenant Wings, Tactics, or After Years.) Final Fantasy XIV’s music doesn’t appear either sadly, keeping this from even containing tracks from all the main numbered games. Still it offers a huge selection of songs from classic Final Fantasy games, so there is always that to take advantage of.

Though I will mention one thing about the ‘portable music player.’  It does NOT work in combat.  The normal combat music will always play and turn off the music player.  Big minus there.  Would love to beat up monsters while listening to ‘Sunleth Waterscape’.

GAMEPLAY

While the game has transitioned heavily into a ‘live combat’ style that feels almost closer to Secret of Mana then what one may associate with the Final Fantasy franchise, the combat system is quite fun.  There is a Wait Timer that while takes some getting used to at first, grants access to things like Libra that can be further buffed via the upgrade-able Ascension trees.  Speaking of the Ascension trees, they are used like Sphere Grids or the Crystarium in the previous game with the exception that the entire party shares a single set of Ascension trees.  Some branches of the trees will unlock or upgrade follower abilities and some will grant new ways to gain Ability Points to spend in the Ascension trees.  It offers a good level of choice with nothing feeling ‘Absolutely Mandatory.’  The costs increase exponentially as the branches go further and ultimately culminate in nodes that cost 333 or 999 AP to unlock.  Which is a lot when you realize you’ll be averaging about 2-4 AP a battle unless your actively farming it.  Luckily, you don’t need to get all of the abilities.  Not even in the end game.  So it’s kind of just another to work toward to if you want to and there are all manner of AP farming guides out there to help ya.

The one thing to keep in mind is that certain things and areas will take time to unlock.  You won’t have the car right away, and then you won’t have chocobos right away (And if your wondering why take a chocobo when you have a car, chocobos can off-road and the car can’t),  huge sections of the map are opened a piece at a time and there are a ton of things to do in each of them: Sidequests, Helping fix broken cars, Hunts picked up from food stops, treasure hunting, and dungeons.  Dungeons can be incredibly painful early on because while each has a ‘recommended’ level, there will often be monsters deep within (or right inside the door) that are much higher level than that.  I did a dungeon that was supposedly a “level 15 dungeon” that also had randomly spawning level 40 monsters that could petrify insta-death you.  Don’t be afraid to GTFO and come back more prepared with accessories or weapons to counter the enemies inside.  There’s an option on the map screen to warp back to the entrance for a reason.  There’s also a few dungeons you won’t be able to complete until the ‘post-game’ just simply because the means of accessing them aren’t available until then such as a specific quest or the flying car.  Yes. There’s a flying car in the post-game.  And landing that thing is the bane of my existence (you game over on a bad landing or crash.)

Once you reach a certain point – the end of Chapter 8 – the game shifts and the open world more or less leaves the game for a much more linear experience.  Altissia in Chapter 9 is a bit open but there’s not a ton of space to explore.  Once you reach the train however, the plot is literally and figuratively on rails until the end.  Luckily, you don’t get locked into this.  At any Inn/Lodging you can call one the previously mentioned reality-warping dogs to take you back to a previous section of the game.  So if you want to go level up on hunts, or find a Fire-imbued or Light-imbued weapon you can (The Light-Embued Weapons are at the Megiddo Hunter HQ in the North. Buy them.  They deal an extra 50% damage against daemons.)

As for the infamous Chapter 13?  I still stand by what I said before.  It’s not as bad as people make it out to be.  I found it to be quite an experience that made for an intense little bit of gameplay.  The only problem would probably be how poorly the story surrounding the ‘boss battles’ was handled.  But the mystery, the desperation, the frustration, the fear?  All just seem to help propel the story and create empathy with the characters.  I LIKED Chapter 13.  It was probably the most memorable moment in the game for me.

FINAL THOUGHTS

At its core, Final Fantasy XV is a great game.  At no point did I ever stop having fun with it.  Heck, I still have fun with it.  I logged back in to explore that weird Chocobo Moogle fair that’s going on and just running around was a blast and the humor still gets me.  But I won’t lie.  There’s some problems with the game.  The story truly feels like it suffered from one too many complete tonal changes in direction to the point that parts of it seemed to have become rubbed plain.  Assets re-purposed for the new narrative seem out of place and no one was sure what to do or how to handle certain characters.  The narrative suffers from being told from a single point of view much like Final Fantasy XIII, but unlike XIII it tries to compensate for that.  Honestly, I’d rather them just be willing to cut away to other places and people to progress the story or be willing to drop more exposition early on.

However, what shines in the game beyond the sometimes directionless feeling and the lack of development in the plot is the emotional core of the game.  You will find yourself completely enamored with these characters.  When bad things happen to them, you will feel sorry for them.  You’ll want to give them a hug.  And most importantly, probably driving the story more than the actual apocalyptic scenario, you want them to have a happy ending.  I can say that I have played many games that have better crafted stories and more finely tuned gameplay than Final Fantasy XV.  But I can’t say that they drew me in emotionally the same way.

Walk Tall, My Chocobros.

Final Fantasy XV & The Infamous Chapter 13

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So my journey through Final Fantasy XV has been continuing on, mixing up the story chapters with running back and doing batches of side quests and hunts.  Or just driving around and listening to the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack – because I mean, DAMN.  Terra, Celes, Locke, Sabin, & Edgar’s themes? AND Dancing Mad?  That is one fine collection of music.  More than I can say for Final Fantasy X’s selection of songs in XV which includes the battle music… and uh…  that one song that plays when Tidus whines about listening to his story?  Seriously? You left out the Hymn of the Fayth?  You could have dropped one of the FOUR compilations of Final Fantasy XI music to give us a few more iconic songs from X.  Or maybe included X-2, XIII-2 or Lightning Returns’ music AT ALL.  I mean, Dissidia and Type-0 is in there.  All I’m saying is I want my boy band quartet jamming out to Real Emotion as they drive around Duscae.

Anyway, I haven’t exactly been pursuing the ending with a fervor.  I take my time with RPGs and I enjoy exploring and all the little doodads.  Which is useful because like 50% of XV’s plot is told via radio blips, overheard conversations and newspaper clippings.  Seriously, if you aren’t checking that stuff out you will be missing a TON of whats going on in Eos.  However, if half the plot is revealed in little side things that you can check out, I’d say that about another 40% of the story isn’t told until you reach the most divisive and controversial moment of the game: Chapter 13.

Without spoiling too much of the narrative that goes on, Chapter 13 is the penultimate chapter of the game and could rightfully be viewed as the final dungeon.  Much of the explanation for what has been happening and why it is happening all occurs here.  However, the chapter itself is a 90+ minute jog through endless tight corridors without weapons, companions or the ability to save outside of the occasional safe room.  The halls are filled with enemies, jump scares, blind corridors, and the voice of the main villain enthusiastically mocking you.  Your only real defense is the Ring of the Lucii, which gives you three spells:

  • Death: Must be channeled and expends MP all the while. Tougher enemies take longer to channel than weaker ones. Heals you when the enemy ultimately dies.
  • Holy: It’s more of a dodge that also does damage than an attack. You hold down the button, MP starts draining. If you are melee attacked while holding the button down, you dodge and blast the enemy with power. Also recovers a bit of MP when successful.
  • Alterna: Uses your entire MP bar to suck everything in the area into a bubble and then destroy them.  It’s your only AOE attack, and it will automatically drop you into ‘Stasis’ when you use it.

I’m sure from those brief descriptions you can see why some may be annoyed with the Ring over things like your weapons, Royal Arms, or normal spells. I ended up mostly using Death for the daemons and Holy for the Magitek Troops. Alterna I used like twice when I got overwhelmed.  Then again, the enemies are pretty much all in their low 30’s, and I was level 88.  Nothing in this place could really kill me unless I intentionally let them.  About halfway through you do get one of the Royal Arms to help you with the fighting, but the Royal Arms weapons also drain your health with each swing.  Ultimately, unless you are loaded with items like potions or ethers, the whole chapter becomes about resource management between your health, your magic, and your patience.

Since the games release a few weeks ago, Chapter 13 has become infamous among fans as the worst part of the game.  Some have risen to defend it as almost an ‘artistic expression’ of the loneliness and isolation that Noctis is experiencing and forcing you – the player – to experience Noctis frustration as well.  Some have described the chapter as “physically and emotionally draining” including the radical plot developments that occur over the course and especially at the end of the chapter. A few even took the chapter number into account and thought the long hallways were a satirical stab at Final Fantasy XIII. Others call it “lazy design” and would rather just see the whole thing removed from the game.  So where do I stand?

Meh. I liked it.

I honestly did not see what the hub bub was about. I kept waiting for a Mass Effect 3 Ending level bomb to be dropped on me and quite honestly it just never came.  In fact, I found the design and work on the area to be very interesting.  Not in the “Noctis is frustrated, so you’ll be too” way but in the “This is a LOT like Resident Evil” way.  You’re in the enemy capital, daemons everywhere, and your walking down these tight tunnels with barely enough room for two people to pass.  There are blind corners everywhere and you have no clue what around them until you turn. All the while, the sound design gives spots of noises: scratches, weapons being dragged on concrete, grumbles of monsters from somewhere.  It puts you on edge.  It makes the whole thing feel dangerous.  And this is coming from someone whose character was 50 levels above everything in that place and I STILL was jumping about when bad guys leaped out at me.  It wasn’t lazy in my opinion, it was actually really cleverly designed to keep you in suspense.  The maps opened up a bit more as things went on, especially when more plot details starting being delivered.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to say it’s a flawless piece of perfection or anything.  Plot gets thrown at you fast and at full force and there’s a pile up of plot twists toward the end.  But is that really so different than say… Final Fantasy X?  Not saying that makes it better, but let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that Final Fantasy is renown for its well paced stories.  Interesting and cool stories? Sure. But the pacing is all over the place.

Still, over all I don’t understand the immense hatred this part of the game gets.  It’s a long maze of a dungeon. There’s a couple of puzzles in there.  You get some story.  It’s atmospheric.  Does it take a while? Eh. I did it all in 90 minutes and that was with looking in every nook and cranny for shiny dots and reading all the lore material.  Considering some of the areas you get to run through in Final Fantasy XIII, you’d think this would get more slack, yet I’ve seen – no joke – people comparing XIII favorably to this section of XV.  I mean, I loved XIII.  I’d pick it up and replay it in a heartbeat.  But come on.  Coooome ooooon.

In the end, I can see why some types of people would find Chapter 13 to be an annoyance or a slog. But I really wanted to throw my own hat in the ring and say that I really didn’t find it to be that way at all.  I really didn’t find to be nearly as bad or unappealing that so many voices out there are shouting it is.  I will say this though: It can be emotionally draining with all those big reveals and twists.  You will want to punch the bad guy by the end.  There is also some serious nightmare fuel hidden in the readable paper stacks scattered throughout.  But hey, that’s half the fun of a good story, right?

I’m almost done with the game, so expect to hear my full thoughts and probably another one of those Type-0 style “What actually just happened here?” style posts coming up in the next few weeks.

Final Fantasy XV: The Early-ish Impressions

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I mean, I’ve clocked in about 64 hours according to the in-game clock. But that includes ‘paused time’ where I was making food or running errands, etc.  Still at 64 hours, I’m only about half done with the main story (but have the achievements for 80 side quests, unlock 50 ascension nodes, and sitting just shy of level 70)  But yea, I think I can share some of my early-ish impressions of the newest addition to the Final Fantasy series.

Gameplay

  • The action is fun and chaotic.  I often find myself biting off more than I can chew.  The wait mode helps some but takes some getting used to.  It only activates when you stop moving, so there’s a bit of a flow to combat you have to figure out.  My suggestion would be to get used to it early.  Wait Mode is SUPER helpful, especially once you upgrade it in the Ascension menu.
  • Speaking of the Ascension menu, it’s a neat system.  It grants you more stuff you can do, empowers your existing stuff, but it gives you lots of choice on which tree to build on and what you want to empower.  It also has a bunch of ‘do X to get more AP’ stuff so you can spend AP to make more AP (but warp-killing low level baddies is still probably the most efficient way to do it)
  • I wish I had some degree of control over my party members.  Other than Ignis’ gather ability which huddles you around HIS position instead of yours, they kinda just go wherever and attack whatever.  This runs into problems when Magic has these huge bursts and does friendly fire. I get around this currently by just popping a mega-potion or megalixir after scorching the earth with a massive 300 power firaga.
  • Director Hajime Tabata’s influence is ALL over the side quest structure in this game.  It honestly shares a ton in common with Type-0’s side quests.  Pick up shiny dots. Turn in shiny dots. Give items to people.  Some actually have cutscenes tied to them but they’re brief. So. Many. Shiny. Dots.  Just remember, when side questing, the ORANGE shiny dots are the important ones.

Story

  • I know it’s almost sacrilegious to say this, but damn am I missing FFXIII’s datalogs.  There’s so much interesting stuff I’m curious about in the world of Eos and I have NO way to find out more.  From the Gods and their war and its effect on the world, or the sharp cultural divide in Lucis between those outisde of Insomnia’s walls and those inside.  I think more history and cultural info would be a great read to understanding some of the context to the world.
  • Speaking of context, I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to be accomplishing in the plot.  Now, granted, I haven’t even made it to Altissia yet, but so far its been ‘collect ancient weapons’ and then ‘collect God power’ without a great explanation as to WHY Noctis needs to do all of this.  Other than ‘retake Insomnia’ which doesn’t seem to come up very often as a goal on the road trip.  I know Lunafreya wants me to do something but I have no clue what.  Seems like this game might be up there with FFX in terms up loading all the crucial plot points in the back end of the game.
  • I think it’s fun that you can still spot a few places where the Fabula Nova Crystalis stuff was before it got changed.  Like the Gods only communicating in visions, similar to how Focuses were delivered to l’Cie.
  • The whole evil empire thing confuses the heck out of me too.  They don’t seem evil beyond backstabbing Lucis during a peace treaty.  They actively drop out of the sky to fight monsters to protect people where Insomnia pretty much left everyone outside of the walls to fend for their own, and they seem to be prepping for some big evil.  Honestly, they more come off as ‘doing the right thing, the wrong way’.

Other Observations

  • While you don’t get a lot of written history or cultural background, the game does an AMAZING job of world building through natural interaction.  The fact that the boys from the Crown City have names like Ignis, Prompto and Gladdio and the folks outside the wall have names like Cindy and Dave gives quite a bit of an impression of the difference between the areas.  Or the funky looking outfits you see women wearing in Cleigne are actually radiation/heat suits because women are the only ones who work the power plant.  Hell, the game starts with Prompto asking “What’s a Gil?” at the gas station.  This does a great job of building an atmosphere, I just personally wish to devour more.  Like getting a nibble only makes you want the whole thing.
  • What exactly is Luna & Noctis’ relationship?  Their marriage is described as a political one – for what purpose I don’t know – but they were childhood friends and they send letters to each via magical teleporting dogs, so they do care about each other it seems.  Noctis seems to be genuinely looking forward to reuniting with Luna at points.  Honestly, I’m really hazy on this.  Do they actually have a relationship or are they just childhood pals pushed into an arranged political marriage?
  • Seriously, if you’re not going to give me a codex or datalog, don’t hide the lore books in random order all over the bloody kingdom.

Final Early Judgement:  REALLY FUN, but from a Lore fans perspective very frustrating early on.  I’ll give a full rundown when I finish it.

Final Fantasy Month: World of Final Fantasy

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The Plot

As this game is less than a month old at the time of this writing, I will not be going into the myriad of spoiler plot twists that this game has and instead give a brief synopsis of how the adventure begins:

One hundred years ago, the Demon Dyad unleashed its terrible monsters on the world and brought unparralleled destruction.  This was followed by the Bahamutian Empire who began to conquer the kingdoms of the lands of Grymoire.

You play as siblings Lann and Reynn who have just awoken in a world that exists outside of time.  There they meet Enna Krowe, who explains quite plainly that she is God.  She also has a task for Lann and Reynn that will help them find their family – enter the land of Grymoire and collect ‘Mirages’ (monster creatures that can be magically captured and commanded).

Along the way, the discover the influence and destruction wreaked by the Bahamutian Empire but also a mysterious prophecy that foretold Lann & Reynn’s appearance and tells of their ability to either bring happiness or complete destruction to Grymoire.

My Thoughts

So okay, what if you took one part Final Fantasy, and one part Pokemon, and smooshed them together to make a crazy fun RPG with an amazing story and some really great jokes?  You’d get this.  Seriously.  That’s pretty much the game in a nutshell.  You spend most of it collecting Mirages that you build ‘stacks’ with (a pile of a small, a medium and a large creature that combine their strengths and weaknesses allowing you combine things like Fire + Fira = Firaga) and that you go around and battle to get stronger.  Those are the core mechanics of the game.  Each monster or Mirage has it’s own little sphere grid like thing called a Mirage Board that you can unlock using Skill Points that you earn from leveling up and when you complete the mirage board, you get a one time mastery bonus to that monster that includes new abilities or major stat bonuses. Every mirage you catch however reverts to level 1 instead of whatever level you caught it at.  Fortunately, the way that Experience scales, you won’t have too hard of a time getting them up to a usable level.

Beyond the catching and leveling of mirages, you also have got side quests, tons of puzzles to solve in dungeons, online battling, and the game even has a post game adventure and post post game content too.  I’ve only had this game for a month and I’ve easily sunk 70 hours into it without even exhausting everything you can do.  It’s definitely an awesome experience and even better is that there’s plenty here for young and old players, newcomers and veterans.  It’s really a Final Fantasy for everyone.

That being said, the plot almost seems too aimed at the younger audience at first.  There’s a ton of silly jokes (especially heavy on the puns) but the localization team did a great job in making sure the jokes worked just as well in English as I’m sure they did in the original Japanese (fans of late 90’s-early 00’s  anime can probably tell you that’s not an easy feat.)  But trust me on this – because I don’t want to spoil it – the plot ramps up BIG time the further you go in.  Tons of amazing plot twists that don’t feel half assed, and some insane reveals that left me jaw dropped staring at the screen.  The plot is pretty much entirely coherent on its own and doesn’t require any extra effort to enjoy it like some titles in the franchise. There are a few “WTF How does that even work” moments, but they are usually lampshaded and disregarded with the games’ own internal logic version of “It’s Magic, you don’t have to explain it.”

The other cool thing about this game?  It’s a crossover of a ton of other games in the series.  I think every game except II, XII and XIV get some form of nod or reference, and we know that DLC related to both XII and Kingdom Hearts are on the way in 2017.  It’s a big celebration of all things Final Fantasy! And if you love Final Fantasy like I do, I can definitely recommend you pick this one and give it a whirl.  It’s like Pokemon, but with more Final Fantasy flair to things like customization and leveling.  It’s great for kids and adults, and it’s just overall enjoyable.

Well, that wraps up Final Fantasy Month.  Tomorrow is the big day.  We finally get to see Noctis and his band of brothers set out on their big journey to save the world.  I can’t wait!  May the light of the Crystals guide your way!

Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

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The Plot

In the land of Orience, there exists four nations each holding a crystal that empowers them but also steals the memories of those who have died. The game begins with a ruthless attack from the western nation of Militesi on the nation of Rubrum, laying siege to Rubrum’s capital and neutralizing their signature magic with a magitek anti-magic field.  However, a class of students from Rubrum’s premier academy brandishing red capes emerge to fight back and able to use magic even within the nullification barrier.  They are Class Zero, a special group raised from a young age to be Agito – a messiah said to rise from the ranks of mankind.  Rubrum, realizing Militesi seeks to wage all out war, plans to utilize Class Zero to bring a decisive victory to their lands.

From there the story follows the military campaign of Class Zero.  From the destruction of the Lorican Alliance in the north using an Ultima Bomb so Militese can seize their crystal, to the treaties, betrayals and assassinations between Rubrum, Militesi and the eastern kingdom of Concordia. Class Zero witnesses first hand the repeated clashes between the Crystals’ chosen warriors – the l’Cie – who gain superhuman capabilities to battle for supremacy.  Finally, one by one the defenses and cities fall as Rubrum pushes back to conquer both Concordia and Militese and unite all four crystals under a single nation.  Then with a booming voice that echoes across the land comes “WE HAVE ARRIVED.” as nine and nine meets nine and Tempus Finis – the end times – begin.

Faced with the apocalypse at hand, Class Zero faces trial after trial established by the gods to test the Agito until they face off with the Arbiter himself and slay the god-like monster by ripping his soul apart bit by bit.  They return home only to face death for the first time in their young lives.  Their sacrifice is not in vain however, triggering events unbeknownst to them that break a endless cycle of death and rebirth that has cursed the land of Orience for millions of years.

My Thoughts

Type-0 is probably one of the stranger entries in the Final Fantasy series.  At least until XV comes out, it’s probably the most ‘action orientated’ of any of the games.  It spends its time split between Dynasty Warriors style combat areas, simplistic RTS-ish missions, and running around the school engaging in side quests.  It’s also the only Final Fantasy I know of that REQUIRES you to complete it more than once for the whole experience.  The main story is only completed on a second playthrough that shows you several alternate missions that explain other things that were going on during the events of the first playthrough.  It also has more side missions that can be completed in a single playthrough simply because of the limited ‘time til mission’ system that gives you a stock of hours to spend on side missions, interactions, and wandering outside the school.

That said, the whole game really takes some getting used to if you are a Final Fantasy die hard.  The combat is fast and merciless, the magic system is a nigh incomprehensible number balancing minigame, and the relative lack of guidance when it comes to side missions leaves a lot of trial and error.  For instance, certain side missions will only be available after so many hours have passed and only for certain characters.  Since you have 14 characters available to you at nearly all the time, you can imagine that without some manner of guide you can get lost easily.

The story is really cool and also really hard to figure out.  Part of this is apparently do to development issues.  The story goes is that they got about 90% of the story and gameplay finished before someone reminded them that this game was supposed to be tied into the Fabula Nova Crstyalis mythology – something they forgot entirely.  So it’s inclusion was kind of shoved in there.  Because of that, a lot of the ending is really confusing with reading all the extra materials, a second playthrough and even then you may need some wiki-ing to get the whole picture.  Of course, yours truly also did a write up that explains the ending *coughplugcough*.  But once I understood it, the whole concept seemed REALLY cool.  An endless time loop brought upon by two god-like figures attempting to break into the world of the dead?  One of which is trying to breed a superwarrior that can penetrate the gate, the other trying to break it by flooding it with souls all at once.  It’s kind of a cool idea that I just wish came across cleaner than reaching the final chapter of the game and then OMGWTFENDTIMEZ.

It should be noted that this game also marks the first time Final Fantasy ventured into a ‘M’ Rating from the ESRB and oh it earns that.  The very first thing we see is a high school student die in a bloody heap along with his dying and bloody chocobo on the way to deliver a message to Ace of Class Zero.  From there on, you will see a honest and bloody depiction of the war that these child soldiers are being put through.  I mean, it’s not Mortal Kombat levels of blood and gore, but it doesn’t shy away from the utter brutality of war either.  People die. A lot of people die.  Important characters die.  Nameless soldiers die.  Heck, just summoning an eidolan requires three or more people to die.  And because of that, I won’t lie, this game can get REALLY depressing at times. Especially since when someone dies that everyone loses their memory of that person.  The best that anyone can hope for is that their ID is recovered so that there’s a record of the person who died’s name.  A cruel kindness bestowed by the Crystals to hide the fact of the time loop.

Still, I feel that Type-0 deserves a better shake than it got.  I mean, it was a PSP game that not saw international release, and the PS4/Xbox One version was pretty much sold entirely under the guise of getting access to the Episode Duscae demo of Final Fantasy XV. I know this because if you look at the percentage of players who got the completed the intro trophy of Type-0 and the percentage for literally any other trophy, it drops immensely. People bought it, played the prologue, dropped it.  I kinda get it, it’s a very different Final Fantasy.  But I think it merits more love than it got.

Next time, we near the end of Final Fantasy Month here at the Land of Odd as we look at the most recent addition to the Final Fantasy legacy. 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 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!

 

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