Posted by Jahanzeb Khan on Jan 31, 2013

Celebrating 25 years of Final Fantasy

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First Final Fantasy game: Final Fantasy VIII

Favourite Final Fantasy game:  Final Fantasy II

What I really love about Final Fantasy is that unlike most contemporary RPG franchises, it has consistently and continually evolved with new ideas. Every mainline Final Fantasy game has offered a whole new setting and world, a new cast of characters, and more importantly its own unique combat system and RPG nuances. Constant change and evolution is what I admire most about the series, which consequently created this very diverse and polarizing fan-base.

It’s a daring and bold series for sure, one that constantly looks to reinvent itself. A good example is Final Fantasy XII, which really broke the mold by offering a game design and battle system completely unlike past games. Personally the changes didn’t sit well with me, but at the end of the day that was just my personal preference, because that game really connected with a whole new audience of RPG fans, and for that I appreciate it. The same goes for the controversial Final Fantasy XIII, which to me was a brave step into the future, redefining the franchise for the current generation. It may not be to the liking of grizzled veterans, but I can imagine how enchanting the experience must be for newcomers.

My personal favorite Final Fantasy title is a rather peculiar one, it is Final Fantasy II, which I got to play in the excellent Gameboy Advance compilation, Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls. It featured this interesting and organic stat building system where characters were shaped and molded by how you utilized them, rather than how often you utilized them. It’s a very fascinating system, one that impresses me to this day.

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First Final Fantasy game: Final Fantasy IV

Favourite Final Fantasy game:  Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Final Fantasy Crisis Core

Although the Final Fantasy Franchise has set the standard for many Japanese RPGs of the past 25 years, I’ll admit that I’m not exactly what you’d call a consistent fan of the series, having played none of the mainline games since Final Fantasy IX. However, I do have quite a few fond memories of the series. So many games over a 25 year time period has produced so many memorable characters, with some of my favourites being Zack from Final Fantasy VII, Celes and Locke from Final Fantasy VI, and of course Vivi from Final Fantasy IX. And let’s not forget some of those villains like momma’s boy Sephiroth and batshit crazy Kefka. We’ll always remember that moment you destroyed the world. Oops. Spoilers.

As for the current direction of the franchise, I do like the fact that they’ve created a strong and independent FEMALE lead character in Lightning, but she’s still not as cool as Terra as far as protagonists go. However, as a whole I really think that the franchise should stop with the “-2″ and “-3″ aspects of the games. I feel the franchise would be so much richer if they innovated each time, rather than telling a fraction of a story split into multiple outings that we have to pay more money to experience. Final Fantasy, you’re a staple in the gaming market, a defining franchise, but let’s stop letting it get to your head, hm?

If we’re judging by the mainstream Final Fantasy titles, I’d say Final Fantasy VI is my favourite, but there were two of the spin-off series that I like much better: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. I’m a complete sucker for turn based strategy, and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was one of my favourite GBA games until I discovered Fire Emblem. As for Crisis Core, I liked Zack as a protagonist much more than Cloud, and the real time combat style gave the series an edge and pace I found really enjoyable.

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First Final Fantasy game: Final Fantasy VIII

Favourite Final Fantasy game:  Final Fantasy VIII

What initially drew me to the Final Fantasy games was the whole cyber fantasy feel that Final Fantasy VIII really portrayed. As this was the first Final Fantasy game that I had played to my knowledge, this forever built the image of what a Final Fantasy game should be to me: Melodrama, awesome graphics, excellent quasi-turn-based battles, and a whole bunch of super-human stuff thrown together against an excellent and gripping story.

I guess this might also be why I like Final Fantasy IV so much. Playing as a Dark Knight used by his kingdom to do some pretty bad stuff is as dramatic as you can get. From there you have this tale of redemption where you end up becoming a Paladin and walking the path to goodness. While you can’t undo the things you did as a Dark Knight, you can kind of atone for those errors.

However, I feel that the Final Fantasy games are heading in a poor direction, where it’s all the things that made it great initially, but played up to the mega-extremes. No human is eternally mopey (Hope, Final Fantasy XIII (Not even Shinji was that bad!)), so the melodrama is unrealistically horrible. The graphics are trying to be so realistic that it feels like they’ve been dumbing down the other systems to push out as many pretty screens as possible for the box-art (Final Fantasy XIV, Final Fantasy XIII), rather than focusing on the other areas that made it great too. I’d much rather have a game that isn’t as pretty, but makes up for that with a much better written story and much more well designed gameplay elements.

Also, all the women in the current Final Fantasy Franchise, Final Fantasy XIII, look like men with boobs. Nobody wants that. Please focus on making women feminine. This is all.

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First Final Fantasy game: Final Fantasy VI

Favourite Final Fantasy game:  Final Fantasy IX

Final Fantasy VI was my first Final Fantasy and it was a great game, in fact my favourite 2D Final Fantasy game. My favourite overall however is Final Fantasy IX. This game was pure brilliance from start to finish. It mixed a traditional RPG style of gameplay with a truly touching story of adventure, love, loss, life, death and all the lies in between. No other Final Fantasy game has moved me in such a way as Final Fantasy IX and I truly believe that it remains the highest point of the franchise both in terms of gameplay and story-telling.

I think the Final Fantasy franchise is one that has endured despite itself at times. It is by no means a perfect series and it undoubtedly has more misses than it does hits to its name. Regardless of that though, Final Fantasy has an epic aura all to itself that not any RPGs manage to accomplish. Even if the content is lacking at times it has that mystical intangible. It has that aura, no – that feeling. It’s something that sets Final Fantasy apart, an identity that has now spanned 25 years. It is that intangible and somewhat magical feeling that keeps bringing us back for one more Final Fantasy.

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First Final Fantasy game: Final Fantasy IX

Favourite Final Fantasy game:  Final Fantasy IX

One thing I will not get over is the fact that each Final Fantasy has a completely new/revamped cast while basically streaming the ultimately same storyline – world is going to end and people will have to make sacrifices in order prevent that from happening. Yet inevitably subsequent titles continue to drag you in until your own life-force is moulded into a Final Fantasy glob of happiness.

I was among the latter group of Final Fanatics as my first and favourite title was released on the Playstation. But even now that seems so long ago compared to the latest editions. I miss running into random people on the street and bugging them into playing a card game in which I stole all of their rare items. And now that I look back, Zidane was the coolest simply because he sported a tail. What other Final Fantasy title has the lead character with a tail? And let’s not forget little Vivi – Final Fantasy IX’s black mage. His story pulled on my heartstrings so vividly in my memory that I wished he would never stop his internal clock. But that is the cruel truth to any life. Final Fantasy speaks it in its own title – End Game.

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  • http://twitter.com/JBowdacious Jbowdacious

    Very interesting podcast, gonna have to play FF9 again….