A Roast of Final Fantasy Fandom: Part 1

Nothing too serious, just a balls out rant on Final Fantasy.

Whether your a serious JRPG junkie or merely enjoy the genre on occasion, then there’s a good chance that you have at least one Final Fantasy. Each one of these games from this seminal series has its own endearing foibles for people to hang on to, something unique to offer to the gamer. Each Final Fantasy follows its own set of logic; each is representative of a unique evolutionary mutation of the same basic concepts. This means that there’s a lot of variety, a lot of quirky stylistic and gameplay variants to enjoy, or crucify.    

Unfortunately the Internets are abuzz with debate over the quality of these titles, especially in relation to one another. They make the diversity of this series profane; the best and weakest elements are rather trumpeted and merely utilized as ammunition for their malicious bile spilling purposes. Flamers and message board trolls perpetually debate upon the “worthiness” of each of the games within the series. Each game is ritualistically raised up as an idol for a specific sentimentality, and then is ceremonially torn down by a legion of naysayers bent on seeing their prized horse become the next golden idol in the pantheon raised to the heavens. The debate over the absolute nadir and the peak of the series still rages, a seemingly endless Civil War, a constant infighting of factions seeking some semblance of supremacy over their competitors.

This being the nature of things, now seems like the perfect time to utilize my particular brand of pseudo-sociology to assess the fans of these games. My purpose in this blog is to inspect the core concepts of each of the games iterations and use that information to create of profile for the fans of that particular game. To generate or determine their personality based off of my generalized and biased assumptions of those games and then reducing that it to a singular, easy to read diagnoses. Now, lets start from the beginning!

Final Fantasy I: Simple, Determined

 

If Final Fantasy I is your favorite game, there’s a good chance that you’re a decisive decision maker, you’re someone who chooses a path and then sticks to his or her guns. You decided to moronically have an all White Mage party and you find yourself halfway through the game, constantly losing to random monsters? Well, too bad! There’s no direction but foreword baby, either you’re sticking with your poorly balanced party or your starting over from the beginning! The ability to change jobs is for the weak heart, for yellow bellies afraid of making mistakes.


As far as problem solving, you like to keep things simple. Garland has absconded with the Princess? You follow the path of least resistance. You simply walk into his stronghold, bop him on the head a few times, maybe set him on fire a bit and then reap the inherent rewards from his demise. Witch bugging the poorly translated NPC's you don't care about? You simply waltz into her stronghold and bop her on the head till your victorious. Then you clean, rinse and repeat till the world is saved. This was a game from a simpler time, when black mages didn’t need faces and battle backgrounds were vague and insubstantial, and we liked it that way! Character development? Please, don’t bring your modern conception of the genre to Final Fantasy I; you’re cramping our style.


     
                                                            You just got bopped on the head by my inexplicably named party of Vagabonds!


Final Fantasy 2: Cautious


If Final Fantasy II is your game of choice then you maybe a person who tends to ere on the side of caution. New things are inherently scary to you, you feel infinitely more comfortable with a weapon or a skill when you have had time to master it and learn how to properly manipulate it. Practice, that is your mantra of choice. You are most comfortable when you have the ability to practice something over, and over, over, over and over again.

When a new powerful weapon, lets say an axe, falls into your possession you use it only gingerly at first. Your lack of confidence means that you’re initially only doing pathetic amounts of insubstantial damage. But, as you grow more confident you swing with greater authority and slowly become more adamant and decisive with your strikes. Your favorite strategy is to practice these techniques on your friends. By constantly smacking them with your unwieldy axe you get used to the ins and outs of the weapon, soon feeling like your ready to graduate to perhaps actually using it against random foes! And honestly, what are friends for if not to be used as focal points for your insatiable need to master a fire spell? I mean, practice does make perfect, right! Right?

                                                   

                               Caution is the greater side of valor, so make sure to practice up and use your best magic and attacks on your friends!




Final Fantasy III: OCD

If Final Fantasy III is your favorite game, then you’re probably not a big believer in destiny. You believe that life is fluid, that you should be able to change your way of life, your job if you will, whenever you damn well feel like it! You like to make life-changing decisions on the fly, when you’re a knight your determined to be a knight, no magic allowed. What kind of Knight can cast magic anyway? A Magic Knight? That sounds kind of lame, not a lot like a knight at all, knights are meant to bash things with their swords, so you’re going to bash away!  

Whether your a black mage, a white mage or hell a cowboy lets say, your obsessed with that role until you find something new and different to go crazy on.


                                                 
                  We may be cute and cuddly, but we can't leave your house till we make sure all of the frames to your paintings are at an exact 90 degree angle.



Final Fantasy IV: Straight up Schizophrenic or A Martyr


If Final Fantasy IV is your favorite game, there’s a good chance that you've lost touch with reality. Seriously, you should probably be in a padded cell right now! What? Your evil brother is an Alien from the Moon bent on world domination  because he's under Lunarian mind control? If that statement made a lick of sense, clearly you have lost touch with reality and are a danger to yourself and others. You probably even think its possible to fly to the moon using a giant ship shaped like a psychedelic purple whale.  It’s truly sad when people lose the ability to distinguish reality and believe in Lunar Alien world takeovers.

If Final Fantasy IV is your game of choice then there is a chance that you were able to ignore the story and thus maintain a semblance of sanity. If you did, then you may have developed an over stimulated sense of martyrdom when confronted with major social situations in lieu of bat shit craziness. The hero of your tale trapped in a sticky situation? If this happens you may feel the urge to throw your life away for the "Greater Good." Blowing your self up, using a deadly forbidden spell or turning yourself into stone; your obsessed with being the center of attention and making sure everyone knows how much you slave and sacrifice for them. Then you curse them from the grave for taking so long to save the planet already, ungrateful bastards!


             

                                                                                                   Please Rosa, just make the voices stop!



Final Fantasy V: A Glutton


Lovers of Final Fantasy V are the kind of people who like to have their cake and eat it too. A Knight who can heal? Go for it! A Blue mage/Dragoon? Already did that and moved on to the next meal! You like to take a small sample of everything and then open up the buffet when you find a combination to your liking. Delicious gameplay indeed! You relish in the knowledge that your game has the best pure gameplay. Story? Ummm…. Wouldn’t you rather talk about how awesome the job system is! Inherently everything always comes back to food, I mean gameplay, I mean… maybe I should stop harping on that metaphor and just move on to the next game. 

                         

                                                                               Tonight I dine on Pirate, with a side order of Ninja!



Final Fantasy VI: Cultured; a Big Fat Snob

 

Television, movies, plays? These are merely forms of media for the vast platitudes of philistines who are unclean and barbarous in their etiquette and tastes.  You know that only the truly cultured, that only the sugary crust of society know the true brilliance that is Final Fantasy VI. You raise your perfumed kerchief towards your breast every time you see the disgusting plebeian masses enjoying their modern day Final Fantasy games. Don’t they know that the genre was perfected with Final Fantasy VI? That Final Fantasy VI was the very peak of video games as a form of media? Nay, Final Fantasy VI is the epoch of all human existence, a feat in the arts that will never be topped!  

As a lover of Final Fantasy VI, you find solace in your own perceived notion of superiority. Your game was the ultimate culmination of the gameplay trends and story telling ability that was possible in Role Playing Games before the proliferation of 3D polygonal consoles. For you, no singular piece of story in any media will match the virtuosity, the sheer crescendo of love and drama that was depicted in the games Opera scene. Kefka was also pretty awesome, you muse to yourself while swirling your glass of twenty-year-old brandy as you gaze upon Celes visage majestically tossing her flowers from the castle walls.


                                                       

                         When you saw this scene you cried, even though they sounded like they were gargling water, you cried and you wept!        

 

 

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Backlog: Parasite Eve

Parasite Eve is the most modern rpg I've played in years. Mind you, I am referring to the Playstation mid-era game released in 1998, the one that is hardly a new product by any stretch of the imagination.

Modernity in this sense is referencial to its pacing, presentation and length.It’s a tight and well managed 9-12 hour experience that explores its gameplay precepts to its limits, it’s a game that efficiently administers and completes its task. The game reminded I think has more in common with games like Mirrors Edge, Prince of Persia, Bioshock and Crisis Core. Though archaic random battles still exist, Aya is a relatively mobile avatar. Evasion and quick reflexes are rewarded in this game. It offers a kind of a fusion of Secret of Mana’s mobile characters with the Final Fantasy active time battle system, a unique evolution of Square’s major gameplay innovations that has remained woefully unexplored since the Playstation era.

Parasite Eve was also a game that was able to meld a cinematic experience into its presentation without being too drawn out or hokey. The cinematics are short, rife with symbolism and help give context to what is kind of a blurry world, graphicly. This is a game from my immense backlog that was able to give me a fulfilling experience with a reasonable amount of commitment, a game that didn't force me to bash my head against a wall of random battle to get some satisfaction! Thumbs up!

Aya looking decidedly more silly than her representation in Parasite Eve, well, at least were getting a sequel that isn't just on cell phones!

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Japanese Coke

I think when you live in another country for a year you take a lot of it with you when you go home. Because I lived in Tokyo for a year I find myself obsessed with recycling, always the right recyclable in the right box. This happened because I was afraid of messing up when I put my garbage out on Tuesday and Thursday, the Japanese have basically been regimented into proper trash removal and will actually wade through their neighbors garbage if they are improperly disposing of their materials. Naturally, if your neighbor has to do this they hold a grudge, that fear has made me responsible and green here.

                                      

             Bubble Man II: In the distant cold future of 20XX Mega Man must fight Carbonated beverages to gain new powers

The other thing that happens is you get nostalgia for strange things, small everyday things that kind of defined your routine and life there. For me it was my love of soda in Japan. Strangely, when I'm in America I never drink soda unless it’s part of a package deal. I think its because I know that its just empty calories, something that catches up with you when your trying to be active. I think it was the novelty that drove me to being a carbonation connoisseur; Bubble Man soda is probably the best example. Its trippy, colorful LSD fever dream inspired labels drove me to try each one of its general and seasonal soda line-up. The soda had far too much carbonation for my taste and was just a hyped up sprite in taste, but just the sheer excess in design and craziness made me excite to try Bubble Man: Space or Bubble Man: Lava.

                                                 
                                   This Bubble Man, unfortunately, is not associated with the Soda

The Soda I drank the most while I was there was just plain regular Coke-Cola. I think this was a function of Coke-Cola of Japan having the soda machine rights of perhaps 60% of the machines in Japan and there was one literally attached to my small three story apartment building. The other was taste, I like American Coke, but it’s too thick for me. I just can't constantly drink a soda that makes me feel like I'm dissolving my teeth. Japanese Coke had the same genuinely good taste but was watered down to perfection, it gave me the satisfaction of having my Coke and eating it too, well, maybe that’s an odd turn of the phrase but I think you catch my point. Also, as a poor hungry college student with no money, living in a country where food can be expensive and the portions small, I wasn't watching my caloric intake. If anything the vast quantities of Coke I drink kept me alive as I lost a good 15lbs living in Japan, something a 6 ft. tall 155lb base human twig doesn't take so well.

Mellon Soda and CC Lemon were also some of my favorites, though Curry flavored ramune was not the trip to delicious town that I had wished it had been. Anyone else have any favorite sodas or beverages with a international flair? Mexican Coke is the pinnacle of delicious for me, but Japan did give me a lot of interesting flavorful experiences.
 

           
                                       Strange, I remember my Coke machine having far fewer feet....
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Amano Art: Too artsy for Modern Consoles?

Bob Mackey is currently doing an interesting blog series on the problematic nature of sprites representing characters back in the 16 bit days on the Retronauts blog, here. Reading this blog made me think about how video game promotional or conceptual art often does not translate into the video game. A classic example would be the art used in the Metal Gear Series, the sweeping almost gradient style Yoji Shinkawa was often used as promotional material, included in the manuel and often feature prominently on the box art, but his particular style was not transfered to the graphical nature of the games. Yoshitaka Amano's art in the Final Fantasy series used to be the driving force in the design of the enemies and main characters, unfortunatly his beautiful, flowy and complicated style had never really gotten a fair shake on a post 16-bit console. The DS remakes of Final Fantasy III and IV were admirably fateful to his character designs, but the polygon count is so low that the characters are still hard to define and artistically are still very cartoonish and squaty. 

I guess I'm wondering if anyone is interested in a game that had Amano type graphical representation on a current console. My argument is that Vampire Hunter D the movie is very true to Amano's original art and is by my account totally awesome. I don't know, maybe I'm dislussional, perhaps I want video games to be art a little too bad and am reaching at straws. Thoughts?

p.s. I've been harping on old jrpgs a bit too much in the last few days so I think I'll try to take a sabatical from that subject for a little while

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Final Fantasy VIII: Different ways to reward Players

Final Fantasy VIII has been a bogey game for me. A game from one of my favorite series that I missed the first time around and have been loath to begin ever since I purchased it. For me Final Fantasy represents both the immense heights of the series and its most maddening faults. The games presentation, pacing and integration of CG far surpassed their efforts in FFVII, simply put, its an epic interactive experience that dreams big with its set pieces and tends to deliver on its promises of grandeur. The battle mechanics is a bold departure from the previous games and added some much needed spice and customization after the placid materia system of FFVII.  These are the highs of a game that offers a worthwhile experience, one that is unfortunately plagued by numerous shortcomings. To spell each out is a blog post or a written diatribe of its own but, suffice to say, most of my points of contention surround the general likableness of most of the characters in the first half of the game and the slow, excessive nature of its battle animations.

Playing Final Fantasy VIII brought me to an intriguing conceptual dilemma. The junction system upon which the crux of the games play mechanics revolves around made me play the game far differently then any other RPG I had completed. In FFVIII the rewards for battling an enemy are distinctly inverted from the mechanics of almost all other games. The general majority of games reward the player for quickly, brutally and efficiently conquering the enemy and, in turn, reaping the bounty from the enemies defeat. In Devil May Cry the reward is a better grade on your skill, in most rpgs the player is rewarded with experience points that makes the hero stronger and better able to deal with future enemies and Pac-Man eating the ghosts allows for the player to have a respite of safety and to acquire points. Final Fantasy VIII does not quite fit into the same logical frame. Yes, there are material gains and experience garnered from defeating an enemy, but the general importance of items in FFVIII is considerably less then its previous brethren whilst the enemies level up with your character. This means that the two main rewards that are given in most rpgs (leveling up and the acquisition of valuable powerful items) are muted and replaced with the junction system. The Junction system does not reward victory; it rather places an emphasis on strip mining the enemies for valuable resources.

The enemies that are faced in Final Fantasy VIII are mainly invaluable as a drawing resource. Comparatively drawing magic from an enemy and then junctioning a 100 of that magic to a particular stat is far more rewarding then the experience points you recieve from defeating the enemy. Whilst receiving AP points after a successful battle is also a nice reward that improves the usefulness and powers of your Guardian Forces, its very easy to fight a minimum of battles and reap similar benefits from defeating only a few random encounters and boss battles (which also don't reward experience points). This system of logic meant that defeating an enemy on a random encounter was placed low on my priority list. My main objective in almost all of my battles was to either laugh at the feebleness of the enemies attacks as I mine its endless magic drawing resources and occasionally heal or to inflict various status effect maladies on slightly stronger enemies so I could freely draw their magic as they lay asleep, incapable of using magic, etc. For the vast majority of the game, even most boss battles, the bulk of the rewards I received were from emasculating my enemy, by transforming the enemy into an entity that could not possibly kill me while I drilled magic from its endless tap and utilized that magic to junction myself into a walking tank incapable of losing. This mining could even be done without vanquishing the foe; in most cases it takes less time to draw magic from an enemy and then run away then to defeat it after your characters have had their fill.

I guess this revelation provides me with an opportunity for a question. Is there any game that anyone has recently played that follows a similar mechanical logic? A game that you have played that consistently creates situations where taking the time emasculate the enemy and make them incapable of imposing a threat is universally better than general conquest. I know that I'm interested.

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Game of the Year: Mega Man IX

Time marches on, another year has passed and again I have found myself woefully behind the times. As of now I own no current generation consoles and only have access to the games and consoles of my friends. For me this has been the year of the DS, where I have caught up with all of the great and innovative games that have defined that console. The only AAA title that I was able to complete this year was Metal Gear 4, a game that I still have not drawn a conclusive opinion on. I appreciate the world, the scope and the grit of the story as well as its gameplay improvements but am still struggling to get past Kojima's excesses and inability to edit his work.

My DS has given me quite a few wonderful experiences this year but no game really stood out for me. Remakes of Final Fanatsy IV and Chrono Trigger were nice, but were also games I had played to death ten years ago. The new Castlevania was nice, but had no aspirations to really be better then Symphony of the Night. It was a interesting evolution of the ideas brought about in Simon's Quest, yet did not feel like game of the year material for me. I'd love to name Valkyria Chronical as my game of the year due to my abject love of Reiko Kodama, but alas, I have only played it for two hours and don't have access to indulge in this military tactical RPG shooter (a MTRPGS for those who love genres, acronyms and are massive tools).

My game of the year was thus a throw back. Mega Man 9 for me was the tightest and best-rounded game experience that I have had this year. The controls are near perfect, the challenge level was high and the weapons were very well thought out and incredibly useful. Mega Man 9 is a distillation of the elements that made Mega Man 2 great into a relevant, new and most importantly fun gaming experience. It was a master going back and looking at what made his game successful, what made Mega Man a definitive game series of the 8-bit era. It was a breath of fresh air, a game that went beyond my expeditions and made me fill like a kid playing a game on Christmas day.

Which I guess brings me to a question. Between Metal Gear 4 and Mega Man 9, which game interwove nostalgia best into its gameplay, presentation and overall design? Nostalgia was in play in both of these games and I would love to see what kind of reactions were instigated from particular moments, like lets say (for example purposes) first coming to Shadow Moses Island in Act 4 compared with the dastardly disappearing blocks on Plug Man's stage.

Just moved here from 1up so be gentle

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