Posts Tagged ‘final fantasy


Terra Battle Continued

Terra Battle

With only one interruption, I’ve been firing up Terra Battle on a daily basis.  I’m certain I still have a great deal of battles to go, but I’ve been enjoying collecting and building a small army of characters in my “deck.”  The game offers you a drip feed of resources to do this: each day you login results in acquisition of money, “energy”, and items.  It’s been enough to continue farming for experience points and tinker with the game’s mechanics.  The core mechanics of clearing the game board of enemies by arranging your party with a single character each turn results in quick, snappy battles that let you quickly iterate on strategies.  It’s not an incredibly deep system; you won’t be building layered strategies as you would in a game like Final Fantasy VII.  But there’s enough here to keep you engaged.  There are options to quickly power-level your characters, farm items to expand your character’s jobs, and to continue growing your ranks.

Terra Battle compels you to simply try to turn over all of its stones.  What it lacks in depth, it makes up for in breadth.  And it continues to grow as Mistwalker adds cooperative play, battle items, and more which retains the game’s audience and helps to bring new players in.  I’ve still not invested any money in the game to purchase “energy.”  It does make me wonder how Mistwalker will make money from it, but it’s not difficult for me to envision other players who are ready to play the game for longer sessions, or wish to collect characters more quickly than the game’s daily offerings allow.  It’s certainly kept me coming back, and if I were playing this game 10 or 15 years ago, I’d want to get more out of it, more quickly.  But today, I’m perfectly happy playing the game in slow motion, and continue putting my money into games that are known quantities to me, right now.  But I’m not the target audience here.  Terra Battle, for a company with a heritage reaching back into some of the biggest jRPG franchises in gaming history, is an acknowledgement of how the video game industry and community has grown more diverse.  I hope the game continues to grow and lead to more interesting future projects from Mistwalker.


Final Fantasy X Revisited

In my experience with the Final Fantasy series, you can draw a line roughly between two types of worlds that are offered by each game.  It’s not the most significant distinguishing feature between the games, but one that resonated with me when I was immersing myself in that genre.  Earlier in the series, you saw the games providing world’s that leaned heavily on mystical qualities to provide thematic coherence.  Derived from works of fantasy and myth, early Final Fantasy games constructed quasi-medieval worlds where legends were alive in contexts that we might understand them as children listening to a fairy tale.  They were compelling in a self-contained universe and captured the imagination by removing us from our own worlds.

By the time Final Fantasy VI rolled around, you began to see a stronger reliance on themes in science fiction to build worlds.  With VI, this had a dramatic effect to make it feel more real, even while retaining the fantasy trappings of magic and legendary creatures.  VII, VIII, and IX also pursued this direction in different ways, but each framed their world by pulling in speculative science fiction from our own.  It’s that quality that drew me into the series and captured my own imagination.  Final Fantasy X, I felt, began to turn the formula back towards the mystical again.  Colored by the plot’s attention to religion, the world of Spira was built around metaphysical qualities that was less interested in aliens, space, and technology.  Final Fantasy X was a fine game, and I stuck with it through the end, but I’ve held it in lower regard for not engaging me the same way prior games had.

But now I’ve got a PS3, and Square-Enix has put a lot of effort into polishing up FFX for the HD era.  It’s held in such high regard by fans of the series that I’ve decided to give it another shot.  With many of my teenage biases eliminated, I’m hoping to enjoy it for what it is and not I wanted it to be (which was apparently Final Fantasy IX given the number of times I’ve played through it.)  I’m not the biggest fan of some of its qualities, but if I could learn to love Final Fantasy VIII, then I really should give X more of a shot.  I’ve fired up my digital copy and decided to play through the expert sphere grid.  It’s got some great music, an interesting take on the turn based battle system, and plenty of content to keep me engaged and exploring for quite a while.

As far as Final Fantasy X-2 HD goes, well, perhaps I’ll play that in another lifetime.



Tifa Lockhart don’t get no respect

Tifa Lockhart

As far as overlooked or underrated characters go, Tifa Lockhart of Final Fantasy VII gets a pretty raw deal.  Much of the game focuses on Cloud moping about, and Sephiroth having “mom” problems, or the two of them squabbling with swords.  Tifa is also easily overlooked for not martyring herself as Aeris did (Aerith, whatever.)  When you do take control of her in the game, it’s mainly to act out a slap fight as the world starts coming to an end.  Of all the game’s colorful characters though, her conflict is probably one of the most compelling and believable, though very understated.

VII puts you in the shoes of Cloud Strife, a mercenary working for a resistance group named Avalanche.  Or, at least, that is your assumption for much of the game.  It’s Tifa who persuades Cloud to join their cause, even if just for money.  The two had been, more or less, childhood friends until Cloud (who was a misfit among his peers in his home town) decided to join the military (Soldier) to be like the war hero, Sephiroth.  It was Cloud’s way of trying to be accepted and promised Tifa he would be able to rescue her should she ever be in trouble.

The problem with all of those plans though was that Cloud never made it into Soldier.  He was just a Shinra grunt that ended up suffering from the trauma of “that day five years ago“,  his subsequent imprisonment with Zack Fair, and then Zack’s death (see Crisis Core).  He had utterly failed in achieving his goals and failed to protect Tifa.  Once he finally escaped, he returned to Midgar, where Tifa found him delirious and insisting he had been in Soldier and was now taking on mercenary work.  Tifa knew this wasn’t the case, but had taken Cloud in to be able to protect him.  She had no idea what had happened to him after he left to join Soldier, but she did know that the person he described himself as was actually the deceased Zack Fair.

Tifa’s relationship to Cloud has been seen as one part of a love triangle involving Aeris.  Cloud doesn’t really have a romantic relationship with either woman in the game though.  His relationship with Aeris extends more from the identity he inherited from Zack, and was characterized as an idealized situation which Sephiroth parades into and destroys as part of his false identity.  Cloud’s relationship with Tifa is more characteristic of reality – Cloud has flaws which Tifa accepts and looks past.  And that leads to what I felt was one of the most interesting parts of the game: Tifa is essentially trying to help a mentally ill friend who happens to have creepy and unexplained ties to a war hero turned mass murderer.  She chooses not to challenge Cloud’s assumptions and instead goes along with his delusion.

Tifa’s work in Avalanche ultimately overlaps unraveling what happened to Cloud.  Later in the story, however, Sephiroth confronts Cloud with the truth of what happened, and Tifa is no longer able to deny that Cloud has assumed a false identity.  It’s one of the more surprising and uncomfortable scenes in the game, and Cloud is returned to his unstable frame of mind following Zack’s death.  While Cloud is ostensibly the lead character for his relationship with Sephiroth, he doesn’t exactly play a role in the game that’s more important than any of the others.  Much of the later story concerns him coming to terms with that, but it’s also as much about Tifa bringing him to accept it and not succumb to the reunion.  And her cause for wanting to stop Sephiroth is equal to Cloud’s.

It may have been necessary to understate Tifa’s role in the game’s story initially to try and not let on to the player that Cloud has invented a new identity for himself, but it robs the game of the full impact of the scenario.  I enjoyed Final Fantasy VII very much the first time I played it, and I enjoyed dissecting it further upon replaying it.  But I think it could have benefited more on focusing on the human aspect of how the events of the game affected the characters and their relationships, rather than relying on increasingly absurd sci-fi plot devices.  It’s unfortunate that with as much attention given to the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, that Tifa remained such a secondary character to Cloud.  And while Vincent was kind of a neat secret character to unlock, he didn’t exactly deserve his own, albeit poorly conceived, game.

But hey, maybe if Square Enix ever does decide to go through with a re-make of Final Fantasy VII they’ll have the perfect opportunity to elevate Tifa’s character to something other than fan service.


Lightning Returns Demo

Going on eight years since Final Fantasy XIII’s teaser debut, Lightning Returns begins to live up to the action Square Enix originally put on display.  It doesn’t make anymore sense than the previous two entries in the sub-series, but it’s something that can be looked past if gameplay comes together.  I’ve spent some time with the demo now (after having played FFXIII, and the demo for FFXIII-2) and I can’t shake the feeling that Lightning Returns offers too little, too late.  The gaming world has come a long way since 2006, but Square Enix has fixated on acting like it’s 2006 every year, pretending it can still capture the enthusiasm of a fan community that was eager to see a new generation of Final Fantasy.  But it’s a game from a series of waning popularity, on a platform of waning significance.

Lightning Returns focuses its action on the titular character.  You’re given full range of motion and can act in an instant.  It’s a very gratifying transition to make after the at-a-distance gameplay that earlier games offered.  Square Enix certainly appears to have gone back to that 2006 teaser trailer and built on the concept.  But they also seem to have identified complex systems as one of the series’ lynchpins and attributed it’s earlier success to it.  After all, something needs to unfold for there to be a 30+ hour adventure.  Prior to Final Fantasy XIII, this felt like something that the player was actively discovering.  Now, it feels like it’s something that’s dumped on the player instead without any of the reward or satisfaction of putting the pieces together yourself.  Complex systems don’t lend themselves well to an action-oriented Final Fantasy format.

It’s probably easiest to explain the combat system like this: you are still controlling a full party of three people, but they are all Lightning wearing different outfits, only one can fight at a time, and they all share a life bar.  As you act as each Lightning, you’ll expend action points.  Each face button on the controller is pre-mapped with an action outside of battle.  Once your AP gauge has been depleted though, that Lightning has to tag out and let another take over the fight.  All of the Lightning’s will recover AP simultaneously.  It’s a flow that has interesting potential, but in the demo it quickly becomes a noisy mess.  The HUD is crowded by attributes to apply to the current Lightning, all the Lightnings, and then there’s information strewn about the environment.  Larger enemies require you to build an enemy’s stagger meter.  You don’t stand much of a chance until these enemies are staggered, at which point you can really hurt them.  Factor this into jumping between three characters you’ll be forced to pick and choose what you can afford to pay attention to.  In the demo, anyway, it can feel more like you’re doing battle with the game than you are with the enemies.

All-in-all, it’s an improvement that’s way past due, but Square Enix would have been better served to have made these changes in 2010, and then make an even more radical departure from series’ convention now.  It’s still needlessly convoluted in story and gameplay and the demo doesn’t allude to much that will change anyone’s mind about the FFXIII sub-series.  We’re at the end of one console generation still waiting for promises that were made at the beginning.  Here’s a tweet that sums it up better than this blog post probably can…


So let me get this straight…

We’re going straight into the weeds.  So look out.  I beat Final Fantasy IX for the fourth time and I feel like I’m still just wrapping my brain around the story.  It’s kind of insane that it’s taken me that many play-throughs (I docked the score I gave it in my previous review) but it’s still an interesting story.  So if you’re interested in cutting to the chase of FFIX, or want to check my understanding of it, then go ahead and click through.  In any case, you’ve been warned.
Continue reading ‘So let me get this straight…’


Final Fantasy IX Revisited

I’ve almost entirely failed at keeping up on new games this year.  I haven’t even managed to keep up on new jRPGs this year and have instead found myself replaying Final Fantasy IX, just over two years since the last time I played it (this makes it my fourth time through the game.)  I reviewed it in early 2011, and here I am again pretending to know what I’m talking about.  It’s not like the game has changed each time I’ve rolled through Gaia.  I might have since playing the game in late 2000, but since late 2010?  Probably not.  Perhaps I just like it and I don’t need any other reason to play it, but I’ll take another shot at trying to pry out what makes the game enjoyable.


FFIX has three sets of verbs.  The first being the navigation and exploration of the game’s environments.  Much of the time, the player is represented by Zidane Tribal, a thief who belongs to the Tantalus “Theater Troupe.”  The player character can be moved about screens with the d-pad and can use an action button to initiate interactions with NPCs or to inspect the environment.

The game also has a set of management verbs which allow the player to build and customize characters, manage the inventory of items, and change each character’s equipment.  At any given point in time, the player will have control of four characters, and they are rotated in and out of the party as events progress.  This can make management of characters tedious, since your stock of equipment is limited and when a character is removed from your party, their equipment becomes inaccessible.  This is mitigated to an extent by the fact that many characters use different types of equipment.

And the final set of verbs revolve around the game’s battle mode.  The battle mode is entered at semi-regular intervals while exploring the environments.  The shift in and out of battle mode can be frustrating since there is no indication when it may occur.  And having the entire active verb-set switched so frequently detracts from the value of both.  In any case, once in battle mode, each character the player has control of will have a timer which runs down.  Once it has, they can take an action against any of the targets on screen.  This is also operated entirely through menus, which is adequate but does not serve to highlight and differentiate between your options very well.  Characters act by attacking, defending, using magic/abilities, and items.  Battles are exercises in managing your party’s health and functionality while simultaneously dispatching all targets.  The rotation of characters in and out of your party continuously tests your ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

In all honesty, verbs are probably the weakest point of Final Fantasy IX and the Final Fantasy series as a whole.  They are games that were very well designed for what is now obsolete technology and


Spaces on the other hand are where the game shines, and are the reason why Final Fantasy has embedded itself so firmly in the collective consciousness of gamers.  IX takes place in the world of Gaia, initially on the “Mist Continent,” an area with several quasi-medieval societies.  Players begin in the Kingdom of Alexandria as part of a plot for the Tantalus gang to kidnap Princess Garnet.  This sets off a series of events that have Zidane traversing the continent from kingdom to kingdom while exploring dungeons in between.

IX establishes a pacing to the game that consistently introduces new content and reinforces its systems to the player.  In each town you will have the opportunity to shop for new equipment, start side quests, learn more about the town, or participate in completely diversionary card game.  Every location offers sights and sounds that are still memorable 12 years after the game’s original release.  Backgrounds are presented as snapshots and animations of 3D renderings that, even if technologically obsolete, are artistically cohesive and interesting.  At times, playing the game can be like running through a series of paintings, set to a soundtrack by the ever-talented Nobuo Uematsu.

When the player feels ready to move the game forward, they will generally need to clear a dungeon first.  In addition to opening up more of the world map, clearing dungeons will offer opportunities to hunt for treasure and test your party’s configuration.  The game will constantly provide feedback through battles as to how you are managing characters. And as might be expected, each dungeon is generally finished with a boss fight.  While there are ways to efficiently dispatch these enemies rather than simply relying on brute-force, battles are not puzzles and are more about managing situations rather than solving problems.

Eventually the entire world is opened up and free for the player to explore for as long as one might care to before completing the game.  Gaia offers a great deal of content and challenge both inside, and outside of the core plot of the game.  And even if the verbs are lackluster, IX’s spaces more than compensate for that.  At least in my own experience, Gaia is a game world where you can just enjoy being there.


The player has a number of opportunities to make impressions in the game.  First among these opportunities being what you choose to unlock in the world.  While player’s will inevitably unlock all of the key locations on the map associated with the plot (this is satisfying in its own right), you will also be able to unlock purely optional areas as well.

Another key opportunity to make impressions in the game is by how you choose to build your characters.  IX does not have an open ended class system.  Each character is bound to a specific class, but never-the-less how each character is equipped and how their individual abilities are unlocked is up to the player.  Choosing how to invest your currency is always an interesting choice when visiting towns.  Abilities must be learned by equipping different items and then using them for a predetermined number of battles before the character memorizes the ability.  If it is unequipped any sooner than that, the ability is no longer available.  Some equipment is only available to specific characters, while some can be shared among them.  It can also be synthesized into new equipment.  In other scenarios, a more powerful item will be available to a character who is still learning the abilities offered by older equipment.  Balancing these options can be challenging and lends itself to subsequent play-throughs, but the option always remains to fight additional battles to obtain more money.  Final Fantasy IX is a linear experience, but there’s a lot of leeway granted to the players to control the pacing and revisit earlier locations.

Final Fantasy IX Concept Art

Perhaps it’s just me, but 2012 felt like an underwhelming year for games.  There have been some gems, but I get the impression that things are starting to change – be it with KickStarter, the ubiquity of mobile and free-to-play games, or that we’re at the tail end of the current generation of game consoles.  We’re in a transitional period for games, and it’s given me an opportunity to revisit some earlier favorites (even if I do have other games to catch up on still.)

I still feel that Final Fantasy IX has much to offer when it comes to fundamentals.  I would hope that someone at Square-Enix is continuing to look at games like this and trying to find ways around its 20th century limitations.  It’s re-release for the PSP and PS3 is a worthy half-step forward.  It doesn’t need to be radically updated, just re-packaged in terms of how the experience is delivered and how players interface with it.

Download at PSN or purchase at Amazon

Note: For more information on the context that I use the terms “verbs”, “spaces”, and “impressions”, please see the post titled I’m going to take the fun out of games.


New Review: Final Fantasy VII

Before I played the game, I used to think that Cloud was going to fight the Shinra building.

It’s almost time again for another re-release of Final Fantasy VII.  This time on PC.  It’s been quite a while now since I last picked up the game and I’ve wondered more than once since then if it is as good as I remember it being.  Well, after having played it again (as well as Final Fantasies VI, VIII, IX now) I can say that as far as I’m concerned, it is still one of the greatest games out there.  There were many flaws in the genre at the time of its release, but VII’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.  The coherence of it’s design makes it more than just the sum of its parts, which earns it a final score of [3/3]+.

Continue to the full review.

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