Inside Pulse 12

Final Fantasy: Then and Now (Part 2)

Welcome to part two of my Final Fantasy XIII celebration! If you’re just tuning in, be sure to check out Part One for my discussion of Final Fantasy I-VI, which covers all of the games in the numbered series that were released on a Nintendo console. Since the rest of the series have since transitioned to Sony platforms, I felt that it was a good spot to leave off on, wouldn’t you agree? We’ll begin on a high note with the entry regarded by many to be not only their favorite Final Fantasy game, but their favorite RPG of all time.

Final Fantasy VII

Brief History

To me, Final Fantasy VI set the bar extremely high not only for the FF series, but for RPG’s in general. For the next entry in the franchise, Square began looking towards the next generation of platforms, such as the Nintendo 64. To show what could be done with the technology, Square put together a demo that contained characters from Final Fantasy VI doing battle with a dragon. Fans were naturally excited and anticipating the next wave of consoles to release so they could play this mockup of the next FF title. When Nintendo announced that they were doing cartridges for their Nintendo 64 system, Square opted to partner with Sony instead. After all, cartridges were not only expensive, but were limited in the amount of space they could hold. Since Sony’s Playstation would use a CD-ROM format, they could use multiple disks in order to contain all of the full motion videos they wanted to include. As such, in 1997, Final Fantasy VII would be released as a three disk set on the Playstation to audiences worldwide.

What I Thought Then

My next console of choice after the Sega Genesis really wasn’t my choice at all. Apparently, I was not capable of sharing my games during my teenage years and as such, my brother got the next console instead. So instead of receiving the next generation RPG machine, our home welcomed the Nintendo 64 instead. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the system to death. I got more Super Smash Bros. and Perfect Dark action than any kid has a right to have. However, it would mean missing out on the next installment of Final Fantasy… or would it?

Luckily, Final Fantasy VII had an official PC release, though our family would not receive a computer that could handle it until after a few years of listening to my friends talk up the game had passed. I even got to play a little bit of it at a friend’s house, and got as far as the Shinra building until I had to quit. I was obsessed.

When I finally did get my hands on the PC version I played it all day every day throughout the summer. The graphics were slightly dated by the time I had an opportunity to play it, but I didn’t care. I was captivated by the storyline, the addictive gameplay, and the offbeat cast of characters. It also had a surprising variety of minigames in it, such as the Road Rash-style motorcycle game. Some were better than others (that snowboarding game was just crap), but it all added up to a nice set of diversions. The International release also had a couple of bosses such as Emerald and Ruby Weapon that were not included in the original Japanese version.

What I Think Now

For many fans, Final Fantasy VII was their introduction to RPG’s, so the demand for a remake is understandably large. The game has been ported to the Playstation Network so it can be played on the PS3 or the PSP for those having trouble tracking down the original release. Square-Enix claims it has no plans for such a remake, even though they went through the trouble to create a PS3 tech demo. I personally think they are developing it in secrecy and are going to do the big reveal during a future E3, but that’s just me.

There have been a ton of sequels and spinoff titles that continue to renew interest in this game. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, a full length CG movie that was made as a sequel to the original game has been released to DVD and Blu-ray. I’m not a person who throws too many parties, but I managed to get together a living room packed full of people in order to screen this movie for the very first time on release day.

Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII was a bit of a disappointment to me, which is unfortunate because I really like Vincent as a character. Crisis Core on the other hand, a prequel title that focuses on the character of Zack, made the PSP a console worth owning for me, as I purchased one just so I could play it. Both games are big departures for the series, so they are not for everyone. But if you liked FFVII at all, it’s worth a look.

As you can probably tell, I still consider Final Fantasy VII to be one of my favorites in the series. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to play the original game, it still entertains me to this day and and I am overcome with nostalgia whenever I hear its soundtrack. I don’t know if Square-Enix is actually doing a remake or not, but you can bet that if they do I will become a shut-in for the week following launch.

Final Fantasy VIII

Brief History

Development on Final Fantasy VIII began while VII was still being translated for English audiences. Many gamers who hadn’t known what RPG’s were until playing VII were anxiously waiting for this game to release, as expectations for this series were now higher than ever. FFVIII used more realistic looking character models as well as more CG sequences than were present before. The end result was a four disc epic that released in Japan on February 11, 1999. It was also released in North America later that same year on September 9, which coincidentally was also the release date for the Sega Dreamcast.

What I Thought Then

Watching my friends play Final Fantasy VIII was a lot like watching a movie in some ways. There were a lot of good looking cutscenes and even the graphics used during battles and in the field looked gorgeous. I still did not have a Playstation by this point, but luckily we had a family computer that could (barely) run the PC version.

This was another game that I spent many sleepless nights playing for hours on end. It had some really nagging issues, such as the overly lengthy summon sequences, the draw system, and some aspects of the plot that were borderline ridiculous. I looked past these flaws because I was having a blast with the game and in the end, isn’t that all that really matters?

To many people, particularly those that enjoyed FFVII, Final Fantasy VIII is considered a disappointment because of how little it has in common with its predecessor. I thought it was a success for that very reason. I played the game knowing it would be different, because that’s what the series does. It tries some very radical things with its game mechanics that, for better or worse, turn your world upside down and changes your expectations of what an RPG is. I embraced these changes and enjoyed the game as a result.

What I Think Now

Final Fantasy VIII has recently been released on the Playstation Network, much like its predecessor. I haven’t found it necessary to pick this one up outside of the convenience of playing it on the go since I still own both the PC and PS1 editions. I still think it’s a great game and one I will most certainly go back and play if I ever find the time, simply because I remember it so fondly. There’s not much more I can add to that, since it’s not really a title that needs a remake or even a sequel for that matter. The ending was conclusive and graphically it still stands up in today’s market. It is rather pixelated, but if you can look past that, you shouldn’t have any problems with this title visually.

Final Fantasy IX

Brief History

This game was designed alongside Final Fantasy VIII and many thought that due to its return to a fantasy setting, it would be nothing more than a spin-off title to the franchise. In reality, once it neared completion, it had become a full fledged numbered entry to the series. This was another four disc title that released in Japan on July 7, 2000 and then in North America later that year on November 14.

What I Thought Then

I’ll admit that when I first saw screenshots of this game in various video game publications, my heart sank a little bit. It’s true that I generally embraced change in the series, though mostly in the way the gameplay had evolved. But when I saw the way the graphics were to appear in the next installment, I was more than a little angry that the realistic character graphics from FFVIII were being replaced by these disproportional cartoons.

After the initial shock subsided, I was willing the give the game a shot regardless. Unfortunately, this game would not see a PC release, so I would have to resort to my PS1 owning buddies in order to get my FF fix. I offered one of my friends my Nintendo 64 along with titles such as Star Fox 64, Goldeneye, and more. All I asked for in return was to borrow his PS1 and Final Fantasy IX. Seems like a fair trade, right? Apparently, I was still getting the better end of the deal, because by the time I reached disc four, he wanted his console back. It would be months before I could borrow a different friend’s Playstation along with this game and Chrono Cross.

While the graphics were a bit too cartoony for my taste, I loved the return to four person parties and familiar FF class archetypes such as the Dragoon or Summoner. There were also a ton of references thrown in to other games in the series, such as the Four Fiends and Garland being lifted straight out of FFI. It was a perfect mix of the new and the old in my eyes, and I enjoyed every minute of the ride while it lasted.

What I Think Now

Although Final Fantasy IX has yet to be ported or remade in any form, it is not a difficult game to track down. In fact, it’s currently still in print on the original Playstation so you can find it in just about any online retail store. I fully expect that with time, this game will also be released on the Playstation Network like its predecessors have been. This is also another game that had closure, so any sort of sequel or spin-off title is not necessary, even though I would admittedly play it if they made one.

Final Fantasy X

Brief History

Another generation of hardware meant another generational leap for the Final Fantasy series as well. With a budget of $32.3 million and a team of over a hundred people, work on the next installment for the Playstation 2, Final Fantasy X, began. It would remove the ATB, or Active Time Battle, system that had been so prominent in the series so far and replace it with a turn based structure. It would also be the first in the series to incorporate voice acting. FFX was released in Japan in July 19, 2001 and also in North America on December 20 of that year.

What I Thought Then

I bet you can’t guess what system I didn’t buy right away last generation. That’s right, a Playstation 2. Instead I opted for the Nintendo Gamecube, though to be fair I had quite a blast with Super Smash Bros. Melee when I first got it. Anyways, the first glimpse I caught of this game was on a Gamestop demo console. They had the first bits of FFX playable before release, and even though there weren’t too many other titles to compare it to at the time, it was looking pretty damn good. This would become another game in the series that I would listen to my friends talk about for a couple years before getting to try it myself.

My opportunity to play Final Fantasy X came through my girlfriend, who owned a PS2 and the game while we were both in college. I caught bits and pieces of the game through her playing it, though I tried not to pay too much attention as not to spoil it for myself. I then started the game for myself (after she was done with it of course) and entered into the world of Spira. My professors would not see me again for quite some time.

The implementation of voice acting in the franchise was a welcome addition, though the quality was a bit of a mixed bag. The voices of Tidus and Yuna in particular made me wince a little bit. Scenes that were supposed to be touching or were just there to illustrate the chemistry happening between the two leads would sometimes get uncomfortable with the goofy laughing. Despite this though, I felt the plot was one of the better ones in the franchise and had me captivated from beginning to end.

What I Think Now

Final Fantasy X is still fresh in my mind and I look back on it fondly. Were it not for the fact that I have an extensive backlog, I would most certainly go back and play it again. It was not only graphically impressive for its time, but its turn based combat was what I felt to be the most refined thus far. The only thing I would not want to experience again would be some of the more tedious minigames. That damn Chocobo race was the bane of my existence.

FFX eventually had a sequel, titled Final Fantasy X-2. It starred Yuna and Rikku from the first game, as well as a newcomer known as Paine. Together, they sought to resolved some of the mysteries left open from the conclusion of the previous game. While the graphics and environments were carried over, the turn based gameplay was not. Instead, the battle system had the ATB system integrated back into it, as well as a job system similar to that of FFV and Tactics. So while the storyline was very Charlie’s Angels in theme, the combat was still very Final Fantasy.

Final Fantasy XI

Brief History

Inspired by western MMORPG’s that were popular at the time, Square sought to recreate this success by using Final Fantasy as a platform by which to base their own. After a three billion yen investment, Final Fantasy XI was finally born. It would be released in Japan on the Playstation 2 and PC in 2002 and wouldn’t reach North American shores until its launch on PC in 2003 and then PS2 in 2004. It was notable for allowing users to not only play together across multiple platforms, but it also had preset phrases that could be used to communicate across different languages.

What I Thought Then

There was much contempt for this game when it was first announced, from myself included. After all, if this was to be an MMO style game, what sense does it make to make it a part of the main numbered series that has traditionally been single player? Regardless of the title it was given, as soon as I had the computer to support it, as well as an internet connection that could dwarf dial-up, I was willing to give it a go. Once 2005 hit, that day would finally come.

To be fair, I thought the gameplay in and of itself was spot on. You had six basic classes to choose from in the beginning, and more would open up to you as the game progressed. Instead of leveling up your character, you would level up the classes and could have two equipped at any given time. The game relied heavily on forming parties and teamwork, so as soon as you hit around level 10, you had to grind levels as a group. This is where the game fell apart for me.

I will make it known right now that I am not one of those selfish players that is uncooperative in a group. I am quite the opposite actually, and love to get groups together in MMO’s to conquer any challenge. The problem I was having was that I chose the warrior job as my starter, and there was apparently an abundance of them on the server I played on. Because of that, it was very difficult to find groups to level together with. I would sometimes sit and wait for hours before I could get into a group and once I did find one, I had to commit several more hours just to grind levels. And if things ended in failure and the party died, not only would you lose experience points, but the group would often fall apart leading to finding a group again. This, to me, was not a winning combination, and despite how much fun the core gameplay itself was, I decided to switch to World of Warcraft.

What I Think Now

Final Fantasy XI was and is a successful game and they continue to crank out expansions to it to this day. Unfortunately, there has not been a expansion that allows me to solo my way to max level yet, or I probably would have picked this title up again. They have implemented measures that make leveling a bit easier in the later levels, but not enough to coax me back into the world of Vana’diel. Another title in the numbered series, Final Fantasy XIV, is basically FFXI‘s spiritual successor and will supposedly address this complaint. Only time will tell if FFXIV will renew my faith in a FF MMO.

Final Fantasy XII

Brief History

Development for Final Fantasy XII first began in 2001 with Final Fantasy Tactics creator Yasuni Matsuno at the helm. He eventually had to bow out midway through the development process due to health concerns, and Akitoshi Kawazu took his place. Kawazu was best known for his work on the SaGa and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series. Despite concerns that development for the twelfth installment in the series was falling apart, the game finally released on March 16, 2006 in Japan and then October 31 of that year in North America. This would be the last in the numbered series to be released on the PS2.

What I Thought Then

I ate up every bit of news I could on this game, as scarce as it was. I knew that the game would be a radical departure from the rest of the series, but that didn’t lower my anticipation one bit. I was also a bit concerned with the length of time it was taking for this title to come out. After all, the rest of the games in the series had been released within a couple years of each other. Fortunately, when Dragon Quest VIII was released in North America, it included a playable demo for this game, and I could get my first taste of what was to come.

My first reaction to the demo (besides how good the game looked), was that it felt very much like Final Fantasy XI. Battles are seamless and were no longer turn based. Instead, when you encounter an enemy on the map, you will gain agro much like your typical MMO. Further, your characters can have what are called gambits set up so that you can automate your party during certain circumstances. Much like any demo, you were limited on your customization, but I liked what I was seeing nonetheless.

Come October 31, 2006 for the first time ever, I had an opportunity to play a new FF entry upon release. I waited outside the door at Gamestop at midnight in order to pick up my collector’s edition copy of Final Fantasy XII, and it was so worth it.

Much like Final Fantasy Tactics, FFXII had a plotline centered more around politics than it did romance. Officially, Vaan is the main character of the story, though it seemed like he had little to do with the overall plot and was just along for the ride. Despite all this though, it was an enjoyable adventure that lasted me around 100 hours… and I hadn’t even finished all of the sidequests. Those five years of development time built one hell of a long adventure. The only downside was this released shortly before The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess so they were both vying for my attention.

One remark I do have to make regarding something that has bothered me for a long time, but finally came to a head when I played this game, is the use of strategy guides. No, I don’t have a problem with people who use them. What I do have a problem with is when developers design quests assuming you have one. If there was one thing about Final Fantasy XII that made me downright angry, it was this: the ultimate weapon in the game is acquired by NOT opening four particular treasure chests in the game. How do you know which ones they are? With the strategy guide. What if you already opened the chests in question? According to Square-Enix, you are screwed. Start the game over. I hope for FFXIII‘s sake that it does not have quests like this.

What I Think Now

There was a sequel to this game released on the Nintendo DS called Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings. It was a huge departure from its predecessor and wasn’t even really an RPG. It was more of a real-time strategy game than anything. It too was an enjoyable adventure, though not as epic as the original.

To this day, not one of my closest friends or family has completed Final Fantasy XII, not because they didn’t like it, but because it was just too damn long. It’s a shame, because I speak so highly of the game as a whole and no one can really relate to me on it. Given the time and opportunity, I would gladly play through it again, but I would likely not deviate from the main path too much given how long it took me to complete the first time. It just goes to show that sometimes it is possible for games to be too long.

And that is all for my roundup of all the Final Fantasy titles in the main franchise. By the time you read this I will likely have already dove headfirst into Final Fantasy XIII. Though I will not be doing a review on it, I intend to have a follow up feature to summarize my thoughts on it, FFXIV, and some of the spinoff titles that either have been, or will be released in the near future. I hope you enjoyed reading my nostalgia trip as much as I enjoyed writing it. Until next time!

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  • Azra

    FFXI kinda has a way of soloing now- get the dancer job (real pain in the ass to get) and start working your drain samba =) i paired it with thf and grinded quite a few lvls! gl, fairwell

  • I had heard it was possible to solo with certain jobs. The only trouble was you had to be in the 30’s (if I remember right) to get those jobs and then you had to level them from scratch. I think when I stopped playing I was just shy of that mark. It’s too bad, because as I mentioned, I loved the gameplay in XI. When you have to play a game to entertain yourself while you wait to play another game though, it sorta defeated the purpose for me. FFXIV looks great though, I think it will be my new MMO of choice.