Posts Tagged ‘final fantasy’

Game 35: Final Fantasy VIII

Posted: March 4, 2011 by Jeroen in Games
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Game 407/1001 according to the list


Genre: Role-Playing Game
Platform: Playstation 1
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Square-Exix
Publisher: Sony

Right. So previously we covered Final Fantasy VII, a game where a spiky-haired guy named ‘Cloud’ tried to save his world. Now we moved on to Final Fantasy VIII, which doesn’t share any plot but does share designers and some design elements.  In this installment of the famous series, you play mainly as Squall, a rather fetching young man who is studying in Garden to become a member of SeeD, which are extremely reasonable acronyms for groups and places I can’t remember.

You fight with a gunblade, have no spiky hair (although your companions can be accused of such a crime) and have to understand Guardian Forces and junctions to play the game as well as possible. Gameplay is mostly divided up based on missions, rather than quests that happen to point you in the One Right Direction, making for a more militaristic and modern setting.

Potentially an interesting and new setting, but does it work?

Our Playthrough

For those in the know: We wandered around following the quest as much as possible, until we reached a train shuffle and fought a zombie doppleganger standing in for a corrupt president. Which is about six hours worth, at least with the way we played it.

Our Thoughts

I think we could describe this as a bit of a trial. I think the fact that it took about 2 weeks to go from the first playing of it to the write-up would be evidence supporting this. Yes, dear readers, be glad we have worked ahead, or else we’d have gone quiet for some time. Other activities also took their toll but this is a complicated game. Big and at times hard to keep up with where 5 hours is probably not enough to properly cover everything.

 

However, we ended up playing an extra hour looking for a screenshot since the entire hour was basically one long cutscene where you needed to click after every sentence. I am all for a game with a rich storyline but this seriously took the biscuit. Yes, it was an hour long semi-interactive cutscene, with one battle in between that seems to have no bearing on the rest of the story other than a dream sequence. I suppose we might meet these characters later in the game, but here it seems like we’ve got an hour of useless nothingness here. That immediately reset all our battle statistics as well, making our party useless in the battle that started an hour later. The battle against a pretty demented looking zombie sub-boss would have been a lot easier if they had left all the menus intact. Yeah. Not something you remember doing after waiting an hour to get to the battle… although that could just be me.

The thing is, I don’t want to say here that this game is a bad game. It just requires a huge amount of investment, far more that most other games we cover, before it becomes fun. Unlike many others where you can pick it up and go, here after five hours you’ve barely finished the introduction – let alone gotten into any advanced features!

Also you tend to get a tad bit lost if you have returned to a saved game after a few days. Yeah, quest journals are not very known at this point in time. In other words, this is not a casual game, and it doesn’t allow you to just play an hour here and there when you feel like it. There’s two big reasons to this, other than the aforementioned where am I (where a piece of paper would already solve that issue had we thought of it). Those are the long cutscenes, as mentioned before, and the game and battle mechanics, which require a larger explanation.

You do have to admire the complex nature of the battle mechanics (even if they can get a little bit confusing). I love that spells can actually be drawn from enemies so there is not a separate MP stat which usually deters me from using magic in other RPGs. Yeah, by drawing your magic from your opponents, you can get unlimited uses of the limited group of spells each opponents know. By drawing them and immediately casting them on another enemy (which is all in the same turn), you basically cast the spells for free. If you want to use something special, you can stock the spells instead, giving you several castings to be stored, without doing any further damage or such to your enemy. This does make magic usually the smarter move than just plain attacking… but that could just be us and the actual character system.

Now, a bit of a gaming note… usual practice with what’s known as the ‘JRPGs’ is that you get relatively little customization. A character levels up, you can equip them with different items, and there is limited customization. In some cases they can change classes, which give them different abilities and stats, but is all fairly straightforward, and usually consists of making sure you cover several bases. Your stats will be at the proper level and it will be easy to see who’s good at what. If you can’t beat a boss, level up and try again.

Western RPGs are a bit different, by usually not defining your main characters, but allowing you to create them yourself, but while it offers more upfront functionality, and often more choice during level-ups, it’s fairly obvious what to do in between levels. Final Fantasy VIII, not so much. I think you got it a bit better, so do you think you can explain what junctions are and how GFs and magic impacts that?

The use of the word ‘junctioning’ in this game always struck me as a touch strange as it does not exactly make much sense. In a nutshell a GF (short for Guardian Force) is that can be summoned by one of your characters. During this they will perform one powerful attack and then retreat back into the world of beyond. They also look awesome. If you have played other Final Fantasy games some will look very familiar. The GFs Shiva and Ifrit, for example, appear as summonable aeons in Final Fantasy X.

 

Anyway, to equip a GF onto your character you need to ‘junction’ them on. This is the only way that you are then able to give your character other moves except for a physical attack. It’s slightly weird in this respect since other than the general attack there are three free slots for commands with four to choose from. This means you have to be tactical in who is able to summon GFs, use items, draw magic and use magic. If, for example, you are selective in who can use items you are pretty much screwed if they faint in a rather intense battle. It does allow for a bit more unusual strategy but I am glad this is a feature that was bred out of the franchise since it’s almost spiteful and counter-productive. And, as said, the junction seems to be getting reset too often to make this fully playable. There’s a stage where cleverness turns into obnoxiousness.

Now, the effects of these GFs on your stats are a bit unclear, and hard to compare, and aren’t explained well – in part because they aren’t that easy to explain. This makes it a guessing game of what to put where at first, and makes it feel like you need to study the game to know what the best way to set things up is. I am not one for games taking players by the hand and spoon feeding them with every detail of the game, since that would really encroach on another territory of obnoxiousness, but in cases such as the junctioning mechanics it would help if the explanations were a bit clearer and allowed the user to practice said skill and receiving some form of validation. Some games make good use of a tutorial (Okami being the first title to come to mind) but this could have been better. Agreed. Some help and pointers would be welcome, as well as some better feedback while you’re using it.

With that said, there are good things to say about the games as well. I was about to plead that we could now talk about the positive aspects of the game since it is all too easy to get bogged down in negatives.

First, the graphics. Yeah, they’re still not always scaling well, but they’re a massive improvement on Final Fantasy VII. Characters look a lot more realistic and move more fluidly, and they seem a lot more human. In particular, Squall, the main character, actually has the best model, rather than the worst in the game like Cloud had. It really does help that they changed the look of the characters as it makes it a whole lot easier to actually relate with them. Yeah, changing to a more realistic style of character, rather than the anime look, worked well for them. They are also more natural since they even work in breathing so that the characters move ever so slightly when they are asleep. They also still manage to make the characters look distinctive and weird while doing so – whether it’s Zell’s skater-like look or the Garden Caretaker’s weird helmets, you can tell this is not just real life.

I also have to admit that I also do love the setting for this one. It provides a fantastic contrast to the darker tones of it’s steampunky predecessor. Yeah, although it is one point where you know there’s more to it, but the time we played just doesn’t allow us to work out what that is.

So how do you think this compares to Final Fantasy VII overall? While the complicated character system takes more time to get into and requires a significant investment, and the lengthy cutscenes get boring, I feel this is rewarding enough should you actually get into the game – something we, to be honest, couldn’t do considering the number of games we have to cover. Other than that, however, the graphics are better, sound nicer, and everything here just seems to work better. It just feels better in every way.

Final Thoughts

This is a great Final Fantasy game. This is a great RPG, in fact. It’s just not suitable for us, being too big and complex to even really just get started on right now. If anything in Final Fantasy VII disappointed you, this game is probably about 75% likely to fix it, unless you hate RPGs or prefer more fantasy in them. It’s enchanting, at times charming, interesting, and making you want to play the game more. Just don’t expect to play it for half an hour, you need to lose yourself in this to play it properly.

The game looks good, plays well once you learn it, and fits together nicely. Worth a try… assuming you can spare a week or two to play it.

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Game 33: Final Fantasy VII

Posted: February 26, 2011 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

Game 343/1001 according to the list


Genre: Role-Playing Game
Platform: Playstation 1
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: Square-Enix
Publisher: Sony

Final Fantasy is quite possibly the biggest RPG franchise known to man at this point in time. The game was named that because, when the first game was created, Square took a gamble by making it. It was the last game they could finance, and if they didn’t make it, they’d like be bankrupt. The game was a big success and Square is still around to this day.

After three games on the NES (Final Fantasy 1-3, although only the first made it out of Japan), and three on the SNES (4-6, although five didn’t make it out of Japan, and the other two were renumbered to II and III so it wasn’t noticed they were gone), as well as a few spin-offs like Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, Square stopped publishing for Nintendo.

Final Fantasy VII – the number was kept for all markets this time – was made for Sony’s Playstation and was a leap for the series in many ways. The first to use 3D-graphics instead of sprites, its visuals are distinctly different from the sprites of earlier games, and the storyline was updated to match. You start off as Cloud, a spiky-haired warrior with memory loss. An old and boring story now, but at the time it appealed to many, and its legacy remains.

Our Playthrough

As we say, we play the games until completion or for at least five hours. With Final Fantasy, we had no choice but to go for the latter, as going through it completely would’ve meant a blog hiatus of a few months. For those in the know, this put us in the Shinra building at the 65th floor.

Our Thoughts

Now here we are; the big one in the JRPG world. Well, one of the gargantuan titles anyway that defined the genre for a lot of people as well as helping to popularise JRPGs in the west. It truly started a sword and hair fetishism that seems wholly unnecessary. Yes, Cloud really does epitomise the emo JRPG character that all the genre’s detractors have grown to despise.

When it comes to animated characters I definitely agree with Matt Groening’s rule that you need to create a recognisable silhouette (which explains the hair in his animated series). However, the hair of JRPG protagonists tends to take this a bit too far. Thank god it eased up a little bit for Tidus in Final Fantasy X. I don’t think it’s that recognisable either.

Now, the sword is actually more worrying. Outside of battle, you don’t really see him carrying it around- and a sword taller than Cloud would stand out. The Freudian overtones are obvious and we’ll stay above them. This is something that is sort of addressed at some point when you engage in a little bit of light transvestism. When you get the wig from the strongman (don’t ask) he pulls it out from what appears to be Speedos… we are then advised that we may want to wash it first.  It’s a small acknowledgement to the bottomless pit that is an RPG’s pocket.

Even worse is that you get these after having a squat contest. The overtones are obvious, and these games often being associated with straight boys living in their basements drooling over the female characters in these games (which, I’m sure, none of our readers actually are) don’t seem as true as the comments this game seems to make on the topic. It’s a very happy game when it comes to those things; in the old sense of the word obviously. Very much so.

If we’re going to continue with the commentary of things being old I am going to draw attention to the graphics. This is especially highlighted by the quality discrepancy between gameplay and cut scenes. That is probably the most jarring thing in this game – and especially when other games of the age did it well. It’s a bit odd – in part they wanted to go for some realism, but they also wanted something more cartoony, and that’s jarring. The backgrounds are lovely, but the characters seem pixelly and, as jarring, don’t scale well. This isn’t helped by the apparent design decision of turning a 2D game into a 3D one, something that I don’t have confirmed, but that seems to have happened, based on the movement model and the fickleness of interaction. It’s almost as if some 3D models replaced the sprites, the perspective was changed in a few places, and nothing more. There is also a character, very early on, whose torso appears to be floating somewhat over his legs leaving a gap where the background can be seen through.

In fact, the main character Cloud’s arms are not always attached to his torso, as they taper into a point where they’re supposed to join. To be fair, you get somewhat used to it. What is interesting is how Cloud has possibly the worst looking of the characters during gameplay. Aeris looks somewhat passable as do Barret and most of the enemies. I mean if you were unable to get the pixels of a haunted house/turtle monster right it would be fairly awkward indeed. Yeah, for some reason the guy you’re looking at the most seems to be the most awkward, when you’d expect the greatest care to have gone into his model. At the time, it probably looked good.

Since we will be covering Final Fantasy VIII soon I will make a brief mention, but I think the move to a more humanoid character design was a great help to the series considering the technology available. It was only from the sixth generation consoles onwards where the more deformed chibi-like characters could be better rendered. In any case, the graphics are jarring and don’t help this game be as enjoyable now and you basically need to get yourself past that first before you can really enjoy it.

The criticisms of graphics solely lie with characters as the surroundings do look fantastic. The dark atmosphere is very well realised with the seedy settings and the murky surroundings. Dilapidated buildings, a train graveyard, drug references… fantastic. In fact, that makes the colourful, cartoony characters a little bit more jarring, with the characters not seeming to fit in with their environment. It’s a dark and gritty game, with some rather disturbing scenes – and not just if you’re bothered by crossdressers. (Apologies to readers of the transgender, intersex or transvestite variety. I don’t think I said we were.)

The gloomy steampunk look is then broken up by occasional moments of beauty (such as the flowers growing in an abandoned church) and these are all the poignant due to their infrequent and brief appearances. It is a fantastic way to juxtapose the more innocent world of the Aeris and the Ancients with what Shinra and the rest of humanity have done with their world. In fact I am not sure Final Fantasy VII could be made now as you are (in essence) assuming the role of a terrorist group. Well, there have been more games like that, but it does stand out now. (Not anywhere near as much as Rambo 3 where the lead character helps out the ‘noble Taliban’. If nothing else, Final Fantasy VI did this before – something we will learn about in the future)

Games have been made post-9/11 in a similar vein and have been met with much umbrage. I think the thing that really stands out with Final Fantasy VII is that you are a down-trodden people fighting the capitalist giants. I read somewhere that this would be now seen as an allegory of you taking the role of a Palestinian against Israel… but since this is not a political blog than I shall not elaborate on this more. It certainly makes you think.

So something else, the music. It’s hard to say much about these directly, as at a certain point, there is less improvement in this, but the sound track is good, and while you don’t have the fluent changes between scenes where you don’t notice the music changing, it makes for a more rousing setting when it does. In particular, at one point you have a fairly subdued background music that you’ve heard before… until the boss drops in and the game bursts into a rock soundtrack. You knew something big was going to happen right then and there. The soundtrack of course the work of Nobuo Uematsu who has done the music for the vast majority of the main series with Final Fantasies X-2 and XIII being the only ones to not feature any music written by him.

Now, be aware, there’s more Final Fantasies to come that we’ll discuss, in other to get through our collection of Kat’s games. We’ll probably be playing some smaller games in between – these games are massive (we’ve only seen a few bits and pieces of this game) and we want to focus on them for a few hours at a time, restricting our play time more or less to weekends only but it’ll be a large-haired, boyish charm gaming streak that’s coming up for us.

Final Thoughts

I guess that we will have a set of more succint final thoughts once we have played our way through Kat’s Final Fantasy collection for the PS1. Needless to say that despite there being a fair degree of niggles with the controls as you make your way around the world (as well as some navigation issues with the menu screens) it is easy to see that this is where a lot of modern RPGs from both Japan and the West have taken a great deal of influence from. It is little wonder that spin-offs of this particular Final Fantasy setting have continued to be made.