Posts Tagged ‘Final Fantasy VI




I’ve been playing LISA for around a month now.  I’ve been taking my time and soaking it in.  I’ve held off on writing up my impressions of it up until now, because it’s a tough game to nail down.  It’s a game where I’ll probably have more to say, and my comments today may be somewhat brief.  I’m making my way through the final third of it, and I’ve been consistently challenged the entire way.  This isn’t a game that you chew up and consume without thinking, or else you’re not getting the full experience. It’s a game that will linger in your mind and have you rolling over what you’ve done time and again.  It’s not a game that ends when you quit out of it.  It’s uniquely the message of Austin Jorgensen, and he’s not simply repeating back to you what other games have told him.

LISA’s strongest quality is its ability to leverage the vocabulary of jRPGs to deliver its message.  On its face, you could be forgiven if you thought this might be a parody of jRPGs past, given it’s outlandish and absurd qualities.  In reality, it asks you to participate in jRPG verbs, spaces, and impressions, and then squeezes your pressure points with them.  LISA will make you contort in gaming pain, and force you acknowledge the true value of what you invest in these games by weighing it against moral choices.  It is constantly asking you to compare and contrast the value of your inventory, your party, your abilities, and your own narrative of the game.  This is not an easy game to be a good guy in.  If you make it far enough to reach some of these harrowing choices then these will not feel like artificial, or trivial dilemmas.  It’s what makes the game interesting though – you are trying to figure out how to make the best of a bad situation. It offers a conciliatory and surreal sense of humor to take some of the dismal edge off of the atmosphere surrounding these challenges.  The world is well realized and begs to be explored, and it dares you to try and explain it.

LISA has been affective in ways I’ve not seen very often.  And really, the one example that comes to mind that it reminds me of is the immediate aftermath (spoilers?) of Final Fantasy VI’s world of ruin.  LISA knows despair, and conveys it well.  It can be challenging to consume the game’s message, yet rewarding in completing it.  This may not be a game for everyone, as it includes some rather sensitive themes, but it’s one worth taking note of in any case.  And it warrants a much deeper discussion within our community.


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What I’ve Been Playing

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The Past Success of jRPGs

I’ve recently finished replaying Chrono Trigger, and begun playing Final Fantasy IX again.  The last five or so years haven’t been good for jRPGs (I can’t say I’ve played any newer ones, save for Lost Odyssey, or maybe Crisis Core) and they are easy pickings for criticism.  Their flaws have been made very clear by an exasperated community.  And even genre behemoths like Final Fantasy have had to do some serious soul searching to keep up with other more recently popular genres.  But when I’ve picked up older games from the genre (e.g. Chrono Trigger, or Final Fantasy IX) these flaws seem to be besides the point.

It’s my own opinion that neither gamers, nor developers really understood what made jRPGs popular.  Gamers were so engrossed with these games that they even became fanatically devoted to some of them.  From my own experience in that particular corner of the community, characters and “epic” stories allegedly drove their popularity.  The character’s struggles were adopted as the player’s own, and developers cranked out a ton of jRPGs based on what gamers claimed that they wanted.

Final Fantasy XIII struggled to appear like it followed the same bloated, overwrought formula, that jRPGs had become notorious for, while introducing new action oriented elements to simultaneously modernize it.  It really made me rethink whether my own fondness for earlier jRPGs was warranted.  I was surprised that over the past two years I’ve been able to replay Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy Tactics, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy IX with a renewed sense of engagement.  I was happy to pump 40+ hours into each one.  And for all but Final Fantasy IX, I played for the first time well after their original release dates.  Even if the genre has been flagging for the last decade, it had done something right in the past.  The question in my mind is: what happened?

The genre had a boom and bust from which it might not recover.  It’s still fashionable to pick apart the genre’s flaws after years of jRPG fanatics going on, and on, and on, about how great these games are.  With some time behind the boom and bust though, I’d like to suggest an another idea of what exactly made these games successful.  While described as “role playing” games, I have begun to see them more as a variety of exploration games.  It is true that in most jRPGs you do not actually adopt the role of any particular character, and the game doesn’t respect your choices about how that character should behave (outside of some stat building.)

Earlier jRPGs provided what felt like vast over-worlds with the challenge to the player being to construct a party with the right set of skills to be able to effectively conquer it.  Each town and dungeon represents an explicit challenge to how the party is designed, which ultimately culminates with a confrontation with a villain who is trying to take the world over.  Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the player is trying to take it over instead.  Each leg of the journey is a puzzle to determine what combination of skills and stats will enable to you proceed forward.  Some of the solutions could be rewarding in and of themselves, but the world’s themselves could be fun to explore as well.

This was certainly one of the technical limitations of the genre.  Building a high-definition world is exponentially more resource-intensive than during the low-fi eras of the previous three generations of gaming consoles.  I am still surprised by how much detailed artwork there is just in the backgrounds of Final Fantasy IX.  Games like IX had a great sense of pacing between the puzzle solving elements of dungeon crawling and the time you’re given to relax and explore towns.  The player can enjoy music, artwork, and sub-stories, while planning how to more effectively take on the next stage of the game.

Final Fantasy VII may have been the best example of how a jRPG can give the player not just a virtual world to explore, but a game play system to explore as well.  One could plow through the game simply beefing up the power of materia stones individually, but there were many opportunities to create inventive and powerful combinations of materia as well.  The acquisition, enhancement, and configuration of materia was an engrossing way to personalize the game to your preferences while still tying back into the world itself, and the story being told.  Taken on its face, the characters and narrative are absurd, but try to put the game down once you begin to tinker with the materia system.  You could care less if Cloud is really a clone of super soldier infused with the DNA of an alien life form.

This is precisely the element that was sacrificed in the design of Final Fantasy XIII.  The pacing was streamlined to eliminate the “town” portions of the game.  Combat was simplified to eliminate details and increase the perceived speed of battles.  The illusion of freedom was eliminated entirely to focus on, and more tightly control, the game’s sub-par narrative.  All of these changes were made to address the complaints with the genre during its “bust” phase. But these complaints were made about jRPGs that were later cargo-cult imitators of more successful entries in the genre, during a time when there was an excess of them.  Final Fantasy XIII was an awkward game play experience that was both ashamed of its predecessors and hopeful that long time fans of the series would still come along for the ride.  It was an insecure game that was awkward to play.

Perhaps in the future, if we see a resurgence in the genre, there will be less emphasis placed on the narrative and role playing aspects of the games, and more emphasis placed on all the ways players can explore an elaborately designed game space.  Or perhaps, we will continue to see other genres adopt the broken pieces of jRPGs and integrate them into their own games.  In any case, I hope the gaming community will remember them fondly, and not just the endless cash-ins of games past.

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