Final Fantasy: A Different Take

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I’m sure everyone saw Neal’s editorial on Final Fantasy last week, ff-editorialand I’m sure not everyone agreed with it. I know I didn’t, and that’s why I felt I should also write up an editorial to give people another view of the series from a fellow Final Fantasy fan. Just to give some credit to my love of the series, I’ve beaten Final Fantasy 1,2,4,5,6,7,8,10, 13 and several of the sequel/prequel/spin-off games.

To start this off, I’m going to define a word that gets thrown around a lot in the gaming community. This word is “fanboy.” The term fanboy is often used during debates in an effort to devalue someone’s opinion.  Here’s what I know a fanboy to be: a person who adamantly defends a series, franchise or company and refuses to acknowledge that it can do wrong.

That being said, I am a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series, but I  don’t care for everything it does and there are even a few games that I just don’t like. I could do a full list of my thoughts on every Final Fantasy game that has ever come out, but that would be a long list. Instead, I’d like to take a quick look at the pros and cons of the main games in the series (minus FF XI and FF IV/Realm Reborn due to them being MMOs) and some of the sequels/prequels.

Final Fantasy 

The first Final Fantasy was a great game for its time. It basically took Dungeons & Dragons and put it on consoles (albeit simplified). The game hasn’t aged well over the years with better graphics and more involved gameplay coming about, and is really only fit to be played by fans of the series or diehard RPG fans.

Final Fantasy II

Final Fantasy II has a much more involved story that puts the player in the middle of a war. The game featured a weird level up system that increased stats based on how players used a character. It wasn’t perfect and I’ll probably never play through it again

Final Fantasy III

The original release of Final Fantasy III never made it to America. However, the game did have an important new feature. In FF III, if a player was targeting a monster and it died, that character would automatically switch to a new target. This may seem like an obvious choice, but the first two games in the series didn’t have this feature in their original releases. The game was also the first in the series to allow players to switch character classes during the adventure.

Final Fantasy IV

There’s a lot of love for Final Fantasy IV out there. Fans of its original release know it as Final Fantasy II. FF IV was the first game in the series to introduce the Active Time Battle (ATB) system. This addition changed the series forever and has been used in most Final Fantasy titles since. FFIV was also the first game to include a deep, complex plot, which is also something later games in the series adopted.

Final Fantasy V

Final Fantasy V expanded on the job class system that was introduced in Final Fantasy III. While the game’s story was fairly straightforward and somewhat shallow when compared to FF IV’s, it was the job system that made the game. The ability to equip skills from already mastered jobs while using a different job gave players a deep amount of customization.

Final Fantasy VI

Final Fantasy VI is the magnum opus of Final Fantasy prior to the 3D era. It was filled with a huge cast of characters, a deep and amazingly well told story, tons of secrets and a main antagonist that is debatably the best the series has ever seen. It may be 2D, but this is a game that still feels fresh today and inspired many of the changes that came to the series.

Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII is probably the game that gets the most attention from fanboys. It was the first to bring the series into the 3D era. I won’t cover it up with nostalgia, FF VII was ugly. I will however say that I preferred its flat colors on character models over many of the jumbled, pixilated textures that were used during this era. FF VII features a loveable cast of characters in a well told story (no idea what Neal is referring to about the game’s ending being a dream sequence, it does happen and there isn’t anything that would lead players to believe otherwise). The game included important themes regarding humans destroying the planet, which is still relevant today. FF VII also uses the much loved Materia system, which allowed players immense customization of how their characters performed in battle.

FF VII had several spinoffs (some of which never made it out of Japan). Not all of these were good and frankly complicated the story with unneeded plots. One of the spinoffs that I did feel was well done was Crisis Core. The game was far from perfect with its strange level up and battle system, but it added a lot of backstory to a world that felt like something was missing. The counter to Crisis Core is Dirge of Cerberus. The game was a third-person shooter that took place after Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children and really didn’t add anything important to the story.

Final Fantasy VIII

This is going to be one of those cases where Neal and I don’t see eye to eye. I wasn’t a fan of Final Fantasy VIII. The game’s level up system was in fact different from previous games, but not in a good way. In FF VIII, leveling up doesn’t matter much and only gives very marginal boosts to characters’ stats. The game’s main focus was junctioning summons (called Guardian Forces) to characters to increase their power. This didn’t sit well with me as it made the game way too easy. My first play through could borderline be considered a speed run as I abused the junctioning system to beat the game while my character’s levels were in the mid 30’s. Another thing I didn’t like about the game was its lack of side quests. Honestly, what’s the point of having a huge world to explore in an airship if there’s nothing to do?  I also didn’t care for FF VIII’s ridiculous story about how love can allow people to travel through time and space to fight an evil witch from the future (it was that weird, people). Personally, I’m a fan of the theory that Squall dies when he gets impaled in the chest by a huge ice spike. If the rest of the game following his impalement is viewed as his delusional final moments, it all starts to make a lot more sense. I will give Neal this, the game did have very beautiful graphics for the time, especially when compared to FF VII.

Final Fantasy IX

Yet again a game I wasn’t a fan of. I liked elements of the game, like its battle system that allowed characters such as Vivi and Steiner to combine attacks, but the overall feel threw it off for me. I think part of this had to do with the heavily stylized characters and graphics, which I didn’t care for. I also wasn’t a big fan of FF IX’s story. It dragged out across four discs and was really uninteresting. There’s a reason this is one of the games in the series that I’ve never beat, despite multiple attempts.

Final Fantasy X

Final Fantasy X is another entry in the series that has a lot of controversy around it. This mostly comes from the main character, Tidus. I’ll admit that he is a bit whiney and childish, but then again, the game’s story did have a lot to do with him growing up. Tidus’ childish disposition doesn’t mean that the game had a bad story. In my opinion, it’s the best love story in the series. FF X was also strange because it didn’t use the ATB system. Instead, it went back to a system similar to what was used in games prior to FF IV. FF X was also the first entry in the series to have voice acting.

FF X was the first main series Final Fantasy game to get a sequel. This came in the form of Final Fantasy X-2. X-2 switched it up by reintroducing the job class system and allowing players to change their class mid battle. The battle system in X-2 can easily be seen as the precursor to the Paradigm system used in FF XIII. The game didn’t have a spectacular story and is honestly just one big fan service for sexually deprived fans.

Final Fantasy XII

Final Fantasy XII made huge changes to the series. The game introduced a new combat system that was a lot like playing an MMO, except by yourself. It wasn’t all that fun and players could set AI for their characters to the point that the game would play itself. I can testify to this as I once left my characters in a hallway with infinitely spawning enemies and switched over to watch a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air marathon. I came back with all of my characters in perfect health and an additional 10 levels. The game also has a weird system for gaining abilities that made it so that any character can do anything, which wasn’t actually a good thing. FF XII did however have a really solid story (I didn’t beat the game myself, but I did watch a friend play through it). It was the first in a long time where love didn’t play a major part in the plot. I lent my copy of this to a friend and he lost it, but I didn’t care to find another copy.

I’ve never played, heard or seen anything about Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings. So I’ll be skipping it.

Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fantasy XIII is yet another game where Neal and I have a huge difference in opinion. Frankly, I don’t like FF XIII. I’ve played through the game on two separate occasions. Once right as it came out as part of a challenge to beat the game in a single weekend (I got to the final boss) and a second time a couple of years later so I could say I completed it.

FF XIII was a major departure from the normal Final Fantasy formula. Unlike previous Final Fantasy games, FF XIII was very linear and didn’t offer much in the way of extra content outside of the main story. The first half of the game was also very limiting and felt like one giant tutorial. Also, almost all of the characters were incredibly awkward and didn’t act like real people. The only character in the game that was well written was Sahz. FF XIII’s story was a jumbled mess that only got worse as additional sequels were released. Another problem I had with the game was the out of place music. Battles are suppose to have upbeat music to invigorate the player, but FF XIII’s  battle music sounded more like it was trying to put me to sleep.

I’m not saying everything about FF XIII was bad. The game had a fun battle system that made players be more involved, even if it was a little clunky at times. FF XIII also had very pretty graphics, but that comes as no surprise being that that’s part of what the FF series is known for.

Let’s talk about FF XIII’s sequels/spin-offs. Final Fantasy XIII-2 was the first sequel to FF XIII. The game kept the same basic gameplay of FF XIII with some changes being made for the better. What didn’t change for the better was the story. Time travel was the focus of XIII-2’s story and it didn’t go well. The story was a horrible mess and only served to elevate Serah, who was a crystal for most of FF XIII, to the status of something more than just a placeholder for everyone’s hopes and dream. All this really does is create a lot of additional questions. For example, one of the characters in XIII-2 is the immortal guardian of Serah, her past lives and future incarnations. This begs the question of “Where the heck were you when she got turned into a crystal in FF XIII and everyone thought she was dead?” Just saying, this guardian guy needs fired.

Now we move on to the abomination that is Final Fantasy XIII-3 (Spoilers ahead). XIII-3’s gameplay remains mostly the same as in previous installments in the FF XIII series. The major change is that players now only control Lightning and that each battle is a race against the clock to win. The story of XIII-3 is easily the most ridiculous in the series. Here’s a quick rundown of what happens. Lightning wakes up after a 500-year nap and God comes down and makes her Jesus while at the same time draining her emotions from her (what little she had). Lightning has to use her Jesus powers to help her friends get rid of their emotions so they can all move to the new world God is making in 13 days.

Lightning does this so that she can revive Serah (don’t know why she cares, God sucked the emotion out of her) when they get to the new world. But wait, Lightning comes to disagree with God’s plans and decides to fight back. With a little help from her friends, Lightning kills God, sheds a tear and heads to the new planet with her friends. Three games in and Lightning’s character finally develops enough to go beyond her cardboard cutout personality and show a sliver of emotion. That is not good character development, people.

The Final Fantasy XIII games do bring some good things to the series. However, they also bring a lot of bad (like tons). I think part of the reason everyone complains about the series as much as they do is because it all we’ve gotten from Square Enix for the last four years. Final Fantasy XIII came out in America in 2010 and since then it’s all we’ve heard about. It won’t stop at just four years either, Final Fantasy XV may have been announced at E3 last year, but it doesn’t yet have a release date. Also, those of us who either didn’t like the world of FF XIII or are growing tired of it will still have to put up with it in FF XV. This is because FF XV is just another FF XIII spin-off (Final Fantasy Versus XIII) that’s been renamed to keep fans from complaining that a main series game hasn’t come out in awhile.

In conclusion, not all fans of the Final Fantasy series are complaining about FF XIII and ignoring the faults of other games. I fully admit that plenty of the past games have had problems. But most of the problems in non-FF XIII games were minute enough that they didn’t ruin the game, and this just isn’t the case with FF XIII. FF XIII was a bad game, but even then that isn’t why it gets so much hate. The FF XIII trilogy gets so much hate because sequels keep coming out. If Square Enix would have stopped at FF XIII, I’d remember it as a less than stellar entry in the series and move on. The problem is that I can’t do this because Square Enix won’t leave it alone and is dedicated to making it the next FF VII, despite all the hate it’s getting. This is why some fans are focusing their hate toward FF XIII and it’s two too many sequels.

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