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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!

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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!

Doctor Yuel: Final Fantasy XIII-2 Part 1

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I was all getting ready to write up a post on Lightning Returns when it suddenly struck me: I never talked about 13-2! Oh golly gee, I feel bad now.  I actually finished 13-2 way back in February but was thinking so much about revisiting I never even thought to write a post about it.  “Revisit? Surely you don’t mean you actually WANT to play a Final Fantasy 13 trilogy game more than once, do you Vry?”  In fact, I do!  Especially since both 13-2 and Lightning Returns make liberal use of a New Game+ feature and I really enjoyed them ESPECIALLY 13-2 which is my favorite of the trilogy.  But more on the whole new game+ thing later.  Let’s get in to talking about the characters first shall we?

While most of the cast of Final Fantasy XIII appears mostly in cameos and DLC, even Lightning who appears front and center on the box as well as the title logo, the game focuses on the always mentioned, sort of present, but only got like three lines Serah Farron- Lightning’s younger sister who spent 99% of the first game as a crystal.  She’s on a mission to find her sister, whose story got a bit wonky at the end of Final Fantasy XIII.  See at the end of the last game, everyone was reunited thanks to the Goddess Etro’s intervention.  Lightning blessed Snow and Serah’s engagement and even smiled for the first time in the game.  But here’s the twist: Only Serah remembers this happening.  Everyone else seems to think that at the end of the last game Lightning vanished and is assumed to be trapped in the crystal pillar with Fang and Vanille (again from the end of the last game).  So is Serah crazy?  She starts to think so, until we meet our second main character –

Noel Kreiss.  Whose name I’ve started using as a substitute for other exclamations (Noel Tap-Dancing Kreiss on a cracker!)  You spend most of the game not knowing a ton about Noel other than a) he’s from the future, b) he’s the last human and c) Lightning sent him to Serah to help her.  The future? Yes, the future.  You see, Noel here is the one that introduces the primary idea that the entire game spins around: Time Travel.  Being a time traveller himself, he guides Serah through the timelines, and to alternate timelines, in hopes of reaching Valhalla (Which is shown as being at the end of time, but is also the unseen realm of the dead.  How are these the same thing? Well, Lightning Returns sooort of answers that.)  Noel also seems to be very familiar with our villains, but again the answer to how isn’t revealed until the late game when you learn about Noel’s past.

The sort of third main character is little Mog.  That’s right, for the first time since… Final Fantasy VI? We have an honest to goodness Moogle party member.  NO CAIT SITH DOESN’T COUNT.  He’s a ROBOT.  Granted, Mog doesn’t exactly occupy a party slot.  He kind of is actually Serah’s weapon.  Yea…  Given to Noel to pass on to Serah from Lightning, Mog has the unique ability of turning into a bow that can also turn into a sword. However, he does provide a lot of utility as you explore the game world.  He can reveal hidden items, you can learn to chuck the little guy across pits or up onto ledges to get items for you (You can also throw him into pits if he annoys you.  He’ll come back in a bit.)  He also has a storyline about where he comes from, and offers a good deal of both comedic relief and cuteness to the story.

Our villains this time are luckily not the insane and poorly scheming fal’cie, but a man named Caius Ballad.  Caius is a great villain in my opinion because his goals are relate-able, and for a good long while you can kind of see his point and it can make you question if you are really the bad guy in this story (And honestly, the big divide comes down to methodology and the concept of the needs of the many over the needs of the few.) Caius also doesn’t adhere to the Final Fantasy stereotypical villain that thinks the world is full of suffering so he wants to destroy the world to end the suffering (Logic!)  All he really wants is to save the various incarnations of the girl he’s been tasked to protect through all time.

Which brings us to Yuel.  Yuel is interesting.  You see, Yuel is a seeress who can see the future, but keeps dying for reasons you’ll find out about late in the game.  However, there are “Other Yuels”, each with a different personality and Caius guards each of them.  Caius differentiates all the Yeuls by their interests or personality: The Yuel Who Liked Dancing, The Yuel Who Loved Flowers, The Yuel Who…  etc etc etc.  Yuel isn’t really a villain or hero in the story.  She’s more of a force, and a motivation. Some Yuels are actually pretty nice.  Others see Serah and Noel as a threat since they keep changing the timeline.

Last and probably least is Lightning.  Yes, Lightning is in the game.  Yes, she’s fairly important to the plot as she is pretty much the instigator for the entire thing.  And no, you will not be seeing a lot of her.  She spends the vast majority of the game in Valhalla battling Caius to protect the Goddess Etro.  If you find yourself asking how she can be fighting Caius while you keep bumping into him, welcome to a time travel plot.  Lightning’s main role in this is that she is the one who sends Noel and Mog to find Serah and set them on the path to reach Valhalla, and she shows up at the ending.  She also gets her own DLC that explains her fate a bit better after the ending of the game, but I’ll get to that when I talk about the DLC later.

As for secondary characters, you do bump into Snow and Hope throughout the main story.  Hope actually shows up multiple time across the timeline trying to save the world in his own way. You also meet Chocolina, the chocobo dressed sales lady who seems to defy time and space and has a bigger tie to the overall plot than she is willing to say.  And there’s Hope’s assistant, Alyssa who actually is fairly involved in the plot but requires some reading between the lines to grasp her full involvement.  The rest of the NORA team is living with Serah and keeping an eye on her at the beginning after Snow leaves to find Lightning for Serah.  And that’s pretty much it for side characters.

The whole thing is a pretty condensed list of characters that mostly gets utilized fairly well compared to the first game in the series, who would introduce interesting characters then do nothing with them followed by just killing them off at some point later which left you kind of sitting there going “That’s it? That’s all they did?”  I mean, again I get why they did it, with the whole being told through the main six’s eyes thing, we wouldn’t be privy to a lot of the behind the scenes work.  But that and 13-2 both show why that form of story just doesn’t work for those games.  13-2 is perfectly willing to show you things that are not directly seen by the protagonists and it helps immensely flesh out the story.  But we’ll get to that more next time when we discuss the plot of the game.

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