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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!

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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!

Final Fantasy Month: The XIII Trilogy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy X & X-2

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The Plot

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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The Plot

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy VIII

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The Plot

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy VI

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

The Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Opinions

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

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

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

Solo Game Vacation: The Conclusioning

So as the curtain rises for the most successfully addictive mini-game I’ve been treated to in my MMO gaming career known only as Player Housing, I need to put the moratorium on my endeavors to play solo-games exclusively.  Not that solo games will ever truly die in the vast dusty old library of entertainment I’ve amassed.  Surely there will be days where I brave my hand long enough to wipe away the cobwebs and pull out an oldie and a goodie.  Then of course my repeated promise of doing more videos where you get to watch me beat my head against a monitor repeatedly while jabbering like a monkey to try to unravel the puzzle box to unleash whatever cretins of good old fashioned joy lie within.  I will do more of those. I promise.  I like them.  They give my ramblings a sense of purpose beyond listening to my screeching echo off the walls like some confused crow carrying on with himself like he’s hot ****.

I suppose I should close this out with the one thing that stands as a monument to the difference of online gaming versus offline gaming.  That sin of the solo game experience that has been stripped away and beaten with a shame stick in the lights of “always online DRM” and achievement whoring.  I speak of course of cheat codes.  Be it a cipher for some hidden unlock or a rhythmic dance of button punches, I’d wager we all at one time or another knelt before the altar of Up Up Down Down B A Select Start and praised the name of Justin Bailey, whoever that happens to be.   Stop looking at your feet, there’s no shame in using these arcane rituals to further your own career. Some of us don’t want to dick around with dying four billion, three hundred and seventy two thousand, eight hundred and six times to see what idiotic scheme Doctor Wily hastily slapped together in his garage.  There’s no shame to be had, because SquareEnix has said so.

What’s that? SquareEnix you say?  Didn’t they make that Final Fantasy game we all hated?  (Take your pick, and you’ll find someone to agree with you that we “all” hated that one.  My money’s on 10. Bite me, Tidus.)  Well to close out this solo game vacation I decided to try out my copy of Final Fantasy VIII on Steam.  Unlike my romp with NOTANACRONYM against Psycho Bishie who thankfully did not ask me to swap controller ports, I actually HAVE played Final Fantasy VIII before.  I don’t remember a ton of it.  I recall adventures with a weather phenomenon named protagonist who is part of a group whose name is not exactly an acronym…  wait. But I DO remember enjoying it enough to debate the “mythology” and “lore” with my fellows in Chemistry class at public high school which may explain the D grade I received (I also kept eating the experiments). However, in retrospect and thanks to some videos by an internet reviewer named after silverware, I recalled that indeed there were some tedious annoying bits too.

So why play it?  Well, to remember, I guess.  To recall what it was like in my salad days when Final Fantasy was more than just a broken mess of tropes assembled into a statue of a teen with a funny sword.  I mean, I still like the games.  Still play them, but I think that the series has subsided some.  Like a great wave that smashes across the shore, the impact is still felt.  It ripples across the beach and its presence stains the dry sand dark with its influence that will color the genre for a good long while after.  But all waves retreat, lose their muster, and surrender to the next great wave to come.  But every now and then you want to look back at an old photograph, smell the age of it, and stare off in stupor as you recall how things used to be.  Nostalgia, there’s no worse drug for a gamer.

Now my point in all this is that the Steam version of Final Fantasy VIII, like the Steam version of VII has built in boosters to help you out.  In VII, you could raise your HP, MP and money to max.  In VIII, through the same methodology you can add 100 draws of about a dozen or so common spells to your inventory.  That’s it.  Or so I thought.  While magic draws are amazingly useful once you start junctioning them to things like strength or HP or whatever you want which unlike shoving a D battery into my Walkman actually improves the quality of whatever I’m shoving it into, it is a fairly limited boost.  Only a dozen or so spells, and not even the good ones.   But then I found out via the lost tome known as the store page that there actually additional boosts only accessible from within the game.  Well, I scoured the menus for these damned boosts.  I might as well been ordering my cheat Jamba Juice at a bloody Kentucky Fried Chicken of a GUI.  Because it was no where to be found.  I had been lied to.  Cheated.  Swindled.  There were no boosts.  No cheats.  My retribution would be swift and apathetic as I planned to re-shelve my rose tinted glasses game for something else.

Then your faithful blogger remembered that Google existed now. Oh.  Right.

Would seem that instead of some kind of shamanistic button presses that pound out a song to the ancients to gift their dark and wondrous powers, that a simple stroke of the F1-F5 keys unlock these treasure troves of tribulation tripping triumph. They include such blessings as nearly every hit delivering 9999 damage, being nigh unkillable in battle paired with limitless uses of limit breaks which I suppose would just make them “breaks”, max out all magic draws and gold, level up any and all equipped guardian forces (Those are summons for older fans, and GFs for those who are only familiar with the games somewhat random use of truncated language), and finally a fast forward button to speed you past conversations, battles, and cut scenes.  Each of these abilities can be used at-will and 3/5ths can be toggled on like a light switch that manipulates the very light of god but without the risk of unleashing the apocalypse, the Armageddon, or the Al Roker on us all.

This means of course that nearly every facet of annoying bull**** can be counter acted with a single button.  That is of course, except for the card game.  That card game.  A menace to the free peoples of whatever world this game takes place on.  Even the all powerful cheat codes cannot circumvent those blasted pieces of cardboard that taunt and mock with their every changing rules and regulations like some sort of totalitarian threat that transcends borders of nations, class, and good sense.  But beyond the card game, you can mostly deal with anything you want using these cheats.

Overall it means that you have been given divine sanction from the creators at SquareEnix themselves to plunder one of their classics and gut the thing like a floundering fish whose dead eyes hide the guilt of its own follies so that you can enjoy the game the way you want.  Speed up those long summons, kill everything you want, and by the grace of Cid by the time you finish the prologue you can get the Diablo GF,  max out its AP using a cheat like plunging a needle of metaphorical steroids into the literal ass of the devil, and unlock the ability to skip random encounters for the rest of the game.  Done.  Finito.  And since another cheat guarantees you 9999 damage on basic hits you have no need to grind out levels, magic, or weapons upgrades. Sweet Planet almighty I’m free at last.

And you made this possible, SquareEnix.  You who in a world full of those who turned their backs on gaming’s shady heritage to give a sense of “fair play” to the sycophants who pray to the altar of multiplayer, online gaming, have looked back at the old days of drive by level skips, power up smuggling down dirt back roads, and rigged debug modes to get the world and everything in it and said “Yes, we will not ignore what we are.  We are gaming.  We will have cheats!”  I’d say that you were true Americans, SquareEnix, but you’re Japanese and I am lacking in the proficiencies of culture exchange to make an appropriate equivalent compliment, thus you are true Americans, SquareEnix.  Planet bless you.

Art Mimics Life: The Game Dev Tycoon Review

 

Can I just say how much I am absolutely in LOVE with Game Dev Tycoon?

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You don’t say…

 

The games only been out for only maybe a few weeks tops and I am absolutely addicted to it.  Constantly trying new combinations of style and genre, laughing at the fun being poked at actual real world gaming events (The Xbox One-80, Nintendo dropping the CD expansion for the SNES only to have it become the Playstation, the PS3 launch price and over bloated ego about the demand, etc), and then just trying to create the most awesome game possible.

I’m still not sure how much the name of the game factors into the success.  My girlfriend has had great success with “Another Stupid Baby Game” but “A Mediocre Sequel That You Will Buy” didn’t sell as well (Shocker. Truly.)  However, the game actually called me out on using the default title “Game #34” saying that the game was as uninspired as the title. So uh… maybe it does pay attention?

If you like simulation games that have a good sense of depth but without a bazillion things you have to micro manage, I’d definitely recommend picking it up.  There’s a ton of fun to be had just poking fun at the past time we all love, not to mention easter eggs to find that unlock hidden achievements, and who doesn’t want to see how much you can make by just put out a new installment of the same series every year? (Hint: It doesn’t end well)

So far my most successful ventures have been PC Fantasy RPGs (Griffon Age: Beginnings, Griffon Age II: Freedom Flies), PC Alternate History RPGs (Clock Punk: The Battle for Neo London, and my smash hit MMO Clock Punk Multiverse – yes, you CAN make an MMO. And expansions.  You can also make Steam.) and PC Cyberpunk RPGs (Dirk Spaceman Zero: Dirkness Rises – a prequel to my failed Space Action Dirk Spaceman series).

Game Dev Tycoon is available on Steam as part of the Greenlight Games for $9.99. I recommend it as a great escape and fun side game to just kill time with.  Just be careful.  I sank 6 hours – SIX – into this game my first night with it and didn’t even realize.

 

 

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