The next couple of posts are going to go by quickly, and you will see why once you start getting into them.
A quick word on my previous post: Final Fantasy 7 really was a great game, and it succeeded in doing something that no RPG video game before it had done – it make RPGs more popular in the West. You see, these types of games were a big thing in Japan, and some of that spilled over into the West, but RPGs had never really gotten a very good foothold on American shores. FF7 tore that veil wide open by becoming a technological powerhouse on the PS1 system, and something that everyone had to have. If you were to ask me I would say that FF7 is single-handedly responsible for the growth of MMO RPGs due to the fact that it, finally, drew so many people who had never played that type of game before into the fold.
Final Fantasy 7 is going through a ‘remake’ of sorts for the current generation of systems, and, although it looks great, it looks like more of a ‘reimagining’ than an actual remake. I am still a little leery of this, and this post will help you understand why.
Squaresoft, the company that created Final Fantasy games, was a big deal in Japan. An even bigger deal, however, was Enix, the company that developed the Dragon Quest series of games. As big as Final Fantasy was back in the day, DQ was bigger and held in higher regard. (this is all based on what I remember hearing at the turn of the century).
Now by 2003 Squaresoft had suffered some pretty hefty setbacks financially. By 2001 they had put together their own movie studio and created the film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a high budget film at 137 million dollars and the first attempt to bring a fully computer animated, photo realistically rendered film to the theaters. Despite it’s big budget and big name cast (Ming Na, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Donald Sutherland, James Woods – some heavy hitters in Hollywood at the time) it was a financial flop, pulling in only around 85 million dollars. Squaresoft was devastated and immediately shut their studio down.
Personally I liked the film and I would highly recommend watching it just as a history piece of what the very first realistic computer generated film looked like. To this day I think Professor Cid is an incredibly realistic looking character, even when put up against some of the modern realistic models in games and movies. Overall it was a good sci-fi film, though I can see where some people might get confused when dealing with the plot.
As an aside you can also watch the collection of animated shorts ‘The Animatrix’, a tie in to The Matrix movies to see some of Squaresofts additional work. The short titled ‘The Last Flight of the Osiris’ was rendered by Squaresoft using some of the Spirits Within models.
I don’t know if this failure had anything to do with the next step of the Squaresoft saga, but I soon caught word that RPG giant Enix was poised to buy them out and merge the two together. As a fan I had concerns from the get go. Two big companies merging, one of them with an already greatly established series of games – I felt that one of the two was going to suffer, and was certain that Enix would never do anything to harm the Dragon Quest series. In the end I felt Final Fantasy would suffer, but wasn’t sure how long it would take, seeing as how the last FF game was a raging success. Little did I know that the pain was just around the corner.
Final Fantasy 8 was a good game. Centered around a group of kids from the mercenary school, Balamb Garden, who are set upon a mission to destroy a sorceress, we are introduced to the main protagonist, Squall Leonhart. Dark and brooding, I don’t remember if he ever feels personable until the end of the game.
FF8 introduced a couple of different unique items and systems to the FF world. No one who has ever played the game could possibly forget Squalls gunblade weapon. It, too, has become a rather iconic piece in sci-fi/gaming history.
Unlike previous games where magic users would learn spells and consume magic points (MP) to use them, FF8 introduced the draw/junction system. Once equipped with a summoned monster, called a Guardian Force in this instance of the game, players would need to ‘draw’ magic from monsters or magic points on the map and store up spells. It wasn’t well received as the system was kind of counter-intuitive. Characters would gain attribute boosts based on the number of spells in stock, which meant you didn’t really want to start blasting everything with magic because you would be draining your own stats. Also, I think people just got weirded out by not seeing the system the were used to.
FF8 also did not utilize the same experience point/leveling system as previous incarnations did. Previous Final Fantasy games, and most RPGs out there, utilize an experience point system that basically works like this:
- Kill monster
- Gain x amount of experience based on how powerful the monster is.
- Gain a level when your experience gets to x value.
- Each new level requires you to collect more experience than the level before.
- The farther away you get from the starting point of the game, the stronger the monsters become.
As your characters got stronger weak monsters would be useless for gaining experience, while at weak levels you would never want to face a higher tiered fiend because he would wipe the floor with you in one turn. FF8, however, tossed all that aside. Every level, from 1-99, required only 1000 experience points to achieve. Monsters, however, grew in power the same way you did. In other words, the monsters you were fighting at level 1 would still offer a challenge at level 50 because they would automatically increase in power to match your level. It was a weird system, and some people found ways to take advantage of it by going through the majority of the game without fighting at all until you could take advantage of abilities that would give you better stats when you finally did decide to start leveling up.
Overall it was a good game with greatly improved graphics over FF7, great music and some truly great moments, but overall it fell flat for me. I don’t remember a whole lot of the game.
By the time SquareEnix got to working on Final Fantasy 9 there had been a bit of a backlash from their fans about the direction the last two games had taken. Both FF7 and FF8 scored pretty low in the ‘fantasy’ department and seemed more like sci-fi epics than anything resembling the fantasy genre. In an attempt to return the series to it’s fantasy roots a few changes were made:
- By this time pretty much everyone who was a fan of the series knew about the missing games the U.S. never got from Japan. Our FF2 was their FF4, which means we missed out on the REAL FF2 and FF3, in addition to FF5! The first five games of the series all had a similar element in that the story was somehow centered on elemental crystals (or crystal orbs). Final Fantasy 9 promised to be a ‘return to the crystal’.
- The previous two incarnations of the game focused on somewhat realistic representations of the characters rather than the ‘super deformed’ characters of games past. Most of this was due to better graphical technology, but FF9 promised to return characters to the much loved style.
- The previous two games had deviated from the typical four person party of older games (instead using a 3 person party). FF9 promised to return to four person parties.
Final Fantasy 9 did not disappoint, as it was chock full of great ‘fantasy’ elements and did a lot of things right. I have to admit, however, that it is the FF game I remember the least, as I just couldn’t get into it at the time. As I stated before, I believe it was mostly due to the fact that, by this time (the year 2000) I had three kids, all very young and was struggling with work – suffice to say I didn’t have much time to play and when I did, it was typically to advance the storyline as fast as I could.
The story centers around a young thief named Zidane Tribal (who has a tail, btw) who is part of a travelling band of performers called Tantalas. The group has been hired by someone to kidnap the princess of the kingdom of Alexandria. During the kidnapping, however, things don’t go quite as planned as the princess, Garnet, is more than willing to be abducted, her personal bodyguard, the stalwart soldier, Steiner, does his job in trying to protect her and a naïve black mage named Vivi gets sucked into the melee. Add to this the queen mother, angry that the princess has made off with a priceless heirloom and her cronies, the Black Waltzes, who are tasked with finding it and there is plenty of action to go around. This is just the beginning of the story and, in typical Final Fantasy fashion, the party of heroes soon finds themselves involved in a mission to stop an enemy who has their plans set on world domination.
Visually the game rocks, building, again, off the skills Square Enix learned in the last game. The game also does a lot of things right, but also does a couple of weird things:
- Active Time Events: ATE’s are interesting little additions that would allow the player to see certain events that are taking place at the same time as the current event on the screen. For example, you may be watching some interaction between the main character, Zidane, but by watching the ATE you might see a scene that is happening, at the same time as the current scene, but involving the black mage Vivi. It’s an interesting, multi-perspective view of events, and since you sometimes had multiple ATE’s to pick from, you might have to play through the game more than once to see them all. This qualifies as ‘a good thing’.
- Skills: Rather than learning skills and abilities by leveling up but instead gain skills and abilities based upon their current equipment. By equipping a weapon, for example, you would have access to the skill said equipment provided. As you used it in battle you would gain Ability Points and, when you have reached the required AP amount, you could remove the equipped item, but retain the skill. This means that if there was a particular useful skill on a piece of equipment, but you gained new, stronger equipment, you had to leave the older, weaker stuff on until you gained the ability. Too me it seemed like a hold up. Not a ‘good thing’.
I hate to say it, but, overall, FF9 was one of my worst FF experiences, though many regard it as the best game in the series. It has recently been ported to the PC, and I may pick it up and play it again.
Final Fantasy 10 was a graphically spectacular game for its time, being the first FF game on the PS3, but again it is another game I don’t much remember. A few things I do remember, both good and bad:
- The game takes place in the world of Spira as Blitzball star Tidus (pronounced tee-dus) gets sucked into a battle to destroy the monster known as Sin. Along the way he meets several allies, but falls in love with Yuna, a summoner whos purpose it is to user her powers to defeat the beast.
- Summoned monsters (called Aeons) would stay in the battle after summoned, like a temporary party member. In previous iterations of the game they would deliver a single attack and then leave, but in FF10 they could be controlled during combat.
- The typical EXP growth format changed from points per level, with stats increasing at every level increase, to the Sphere Grid. The grid allowed party members to semi-customize their stats and abilities by moving along a path on the grid, with opportunities to change your path every so often. It was an interesting, if somewhat confusing system.
- FF10 was the first FF game to have full voice acting throughout the entire game.
I have memories of playing 10, but they aren’t spectacular, nor are they bad.
Final Fantasy 10 spawned the games first direct sequel, Final Fantasy 10-2. The game was good, but seems like it was completely created to deliver service to fans of both FF games and the magical girl genre of anime. Two of the original games members return (Yuna and Rikku), along with a new member (Paine). The three girls are Sphere hunters looking for spheres that contain memories. The main draw of the game is there ability to change clothes (job changes) using dress spheres, which, when initiated, perform a fancy, sparkly outfit swap. I don’t think I ever beat the game, though I did like the general format (and FF + magical girls = yes please).
Final Fantasy 11 was the first generation of FF related MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). The servers are still up and running as of this post, with the game having had a lifespan of well over 10 years. In fact, according to the wiki page, FF11 started in 2002, meaning it has been running for nearly 15 years, and is currently scheduled to be re-released on mobile platforms.
FF11 differed from other FF games in that the player is not the only hero of the story. Naturally the game is filled with other real-world players, each trying to finish the main storyline of the game while interacting with other players to help them finish their main storyline as well as raid dungeons and battle monsters for equipment, weapons and spells. The story is immensely long and takes place in the world of Vana’diel. The world is populated by a number of different races and monsters, with players able to pick from a selection (Hume, Galka, Elvaan, Mithra and Tarutaru). Players also start off with on of several basic job classes (Warrior, Monk, Red Mage, Black Mage, White Mage and Thief), with other job classes being unlocked later in the game. In addition to their main job they could pick any of their other available job classes as a support job that would give them some of the abilities and stats from the selected job, in support (duh) of their main job.
I played this game for a long, long time alongside my brother. Together, along with some other online friends, we had a lot of fun adventuring and generally wasting time trying to obtain rare items that were not real. Overall, its better than sitting and watching TV, as its more interactive, but as with any online game it can get addictive real fast. The game was also pretty rough if you didn’t have a large group of people, called a linkshell to run with, as some of the challenges just couldn’t be faced with a single player.
I never ‘beat’ this game, though you cant really beat a game like this because it just goes on and on, there is always something to do. In addition to the main game there were several expansions that added new jobs, content, items, recipes and monsters. Some of it was very tough. There was a story floating around the internet of a group of players facing a particularly nasty monster (Pandemonium Warden), who played for a full 18 hours (yes, ten + eight) trying to defeat him before they started to succumb to dehydration, lack of sleep, etc.
Up next, the home stretch, I promise!