June 13, 2013

That's A Wrap: FFV & FFVI

warning: may contain spoilers

This is way overdue but...

That's a wrap! May 2013 saw the revisitation and completion of Square's famous 'Final Fantasy V' and 'Final Fantasy VI'! There probably isn't much to say that you don't already know; these are highly popular games among many gamers, but especially RPG enthusiasts. And it's no wonder.
I find, in this day and age, most gamers under a certain age completely overlook the brilliance of the early Final Fantasy games. Everyone I talk to these days seems to have started with either VII, X, or XIII. But I started with the original, when it was FINALLY released to us in North America (thank you Nintendo!) so I've been with the series from the beginning, I've watched it grow into the hideous monster it is today and I've got to say: if you haven't played these games, you're missing out. Straight up.
V and VI have reclaimed my heart. I'll try to express why in this article. Quick disclaimer: I have played and beat every main entry in the Final Fantasy series between I and XII. After that is a touchy subject, but I'll probably do a separate entry about that someday...

I started V at the beginning of the month, before I started And Then She Games, so my progress is noticeably absent from my twitter page. After replaying V for the first time in god-knows-how-many-years, I'm reminded that it may in fact be my favorite Final Fantasy...
Nay. It is. without a doubt.

V has that older, historic feel to it, and adheres to the classic "four heroes and a bunch of crystals"-type story that the whole series was built on. It also has a totally ace soundtrack. A lot of people argue that VI is the magnificent Nobuo Uematsu's best work, but the soundtrack for V does more for me. As you can imagine, I own copies of pretty much all the FF soundtracks, but my iPods are crowded with more tunes from V than any other (except perhaps X, but that's kind of in a league of its own). The man is an absolute genius, and I cannot say enough good things about his music. I'm thoroughly convinced Uematsu is the greatest composer of our time, and possibly of all time. The fact that the man can put you in a trance with music composed for an 8- or 16-bit console's capabilities is pretty damn impressive. Honestly, I never tire of his work, and I think most FF fanatics will agree that the music is a pretty important component to all the games, and at least partially responsible for their success. But there's more!

V was also the last game of the series to feature the good ol' job system, and possibly the first to perfect it. I can't exactly say I missed this in the later games, but when you don't play it for a long time it renews the fun all over again. I'm not the kind of person who spends hours and hours mastering every job - I simply don't have the patience for that anymore - but I did learn to appreciate the silly skills that come with each job, and I feel like I did pretty good learning the things I needed to beat the game "normally" (without mastering or over-leveling). From the get-go, I made Galuf a knight which he eventually mastered and passed on to Krile (how in the hell are we supposed to pronounce her name?) who kept the job for the rest of the game. Kinda funny watching that little girl wield Excalibur. I remember making for the sake of consistency I'm going to call him Bartz a thief in the beginning, which never stopped coming in handy. He eventually graduated to ninja, and then for giggles, a samurai. Seemed fitting. Lenna was my white mage. For some reason I feel like the white mage always has to be female...? She eventually became my summoner, which caused me extra grief near the end of the game when you have to conquer that stupid facking pyramid without her. Faris began as my always-necessary black mage, eventually becoming a red mage and then for fun, a lancer (or dragoon, if you prefer), 'cause the jump ability is the bomb-diggity. I'm sorry I just said that. So by the end of the game, I had most of these jobs mastered, and everyone pretty much stuck to them unless I required something else for a particular strategy (stupid crystals!).

I decided to give this playthrough the old college try. I did it mostly from memory with no walkthrough aid. I'll often try one out if it's been a few years (and multiple plays) just to see what else I can learn from the game, but I recalled V being relatively straight forward... maybe not. One of the beauties of the older games that you don't get in today's generation is the open, overworld map. And in V, you get all manner of transportations and spend hours perusing the land, air, sea and underwater. That probably explains my 40+ hours clocked, also considering I really committed to this playthrough, whereas I normally leave the game rolling while I'm distracted by everything else. Not this time!

I couldn't possibly discuss V without mentioning the difficulty. For the most part, the game is pretty even-tempered. That is, if you defeat all your enemies along the way and keep up with your armor and weapon upgrades, you should be sufficiently prepared for the challenges you will face. Until the end, of course. Not only is Ex-Death a complete pain in the ass, but some of the optional bosses that pop up along the way are damn-near impossible! Seriously, has anyone managed to beat Omega or even Shinryu without excessive leveling? Even Necrophobe gave me a run for my money! I simultaneously love and hate this about FF. The added challenge and need for strategy is great, but sometimes you just want to move on and these assholes get in your way! And then there's Ex-Death, who's all "Oh no! You beat me! But wait- I'll just come back with three new additions and be freaking impossible 'cause the fact the you've beat me twice already isn't enough! Mwahaha suckers!" (probably paraphrased…). Luckily, samurai can throw money for mad damage. I realize this is the coward's way out, but I'd just about had it with the damn N-Zone and I wanted the bastard dead.

I suppose I should mention that I find the summons to be more useful in this game than the next. I can't imagine beating V without the help of Golem and occasionally Carbuncle, in addition to the usual suspects: Leviathan, Bahamut, etc. But in VI, I didn't use an Esper once, except to learn magic, of course. Also! Honorable mention to Gilgamesh, who is probably my favorite character from V and actually has a pretty cool story across that spans the whole Final Fantasy universe. I'm fascinated by this guy.

In the end, my experience with V this time around was just as great as the first time I played the game. The game is timeless and nearly perfect. I completely fell in love all over again and will probably fly the V flag as "number 1" for now, as wonderful as its competitors are.

One such competitor is the game's successor, Final Fantasy VI. VI was a big deal for us back in the day because we thought we had seen the full capabilities of Nintendo consoles at the time, and VI completely blew everyone away. Everything seemed bigger, better and different (without losing the FF charm). FF eventually became known for constantly doing this: one-upping the previous title and pretty much all other titles for the system. It's often been a "ground-breaker" in the industry, and I think VI was the first time gamers were truly left in awe over the improvements.
Quick side note, in case you're unaware: In North America, VI was released as FF III, and we had to go without II, III and V until some years later. That means of course, IV was released as II here.
So it's really no surprise that lots of people still consider VI the best installment. It broke the rules by introducing a ton of characters - all with their own developed stories - and rid the series of the aforementioned job system. VI has an amazing style, kind of mixes old and new eras - I guess this might be called 'steampunk' by today's kids? - with castles and armor but also magic and technology.
The character situation has its ups and downs. It's really impressive that they managed to not only insert so many playable characters in the game, but also devote so much time to character development. On the other hand, you are, at times, forced to use ALL the characters you collect on your journey, and if you're anything like me, you only spend quality time with 4 or 5 of them. The game kind of compensates for this by auto-leveling the characters you don't play with over time, but they still won't really be battle ready when the time comes, unless you go out of your way to make it so. If you're clever enough, you can get away with a lot by using Mog and his amazing 'Moogle Charm', but sooner than later you'll have to prepare the whole party. I spent 200,000 GP preparing the whole gang for the final tower. I suppose that's not much to complain about, it's not like I could beat Kefka by throwing money at him....

Supposed to say "What do you call..."

Speaking of Kefka... I know I'm not the first to vote him as the best FF villain ever. This was also kind of new at the time. Prior games did of course have a final boss, but none of them were quite as developed as Kefka. He has a really neat story to go with his insanity - and his famous whooping laugh - and it all culminates in one scary but intriguing damn bad boy.
Look at this mutha-fucka. Nightmares are made of this shit.
Kafka also joins the list of "I've-murdered-controllers-over-this-asshole" bosses. There's a reason they call it the Tower of Kefka, people! Boss after boss after boss with no breaks and no saves. This game is hard to actually beat. I recommend spending some time leveling up (maybe during the many sidequests?) before taking on the crazy new God. He can be a real pissant. I'm convinced that VI is the last game with this level of challenge. From VII onward, the final bosses weren't nearly as tricky as Kefka.
I clocked about 34 hours playing VI. And that's not really a true number because I definitely reverted to my usual distracted self more than once while playing this (and left the 'Terra' theme to play on forever). Because of this, I've decided that VI is possibly one of the quickest FF's, granted I did use a walkthrough this time. My go-to party consisted of Edgar and Sabin; Edgar's tools never stop coming in handy, and Sabin's blitzes are frequently helpful. When he wasn't blitzing, or when I got fed up with screwing up the inputs, I had him equipped with a genji glove and his most powerful claws, so he was a killing machine and a defensive nightmare. My third was preferably Terra. She's my magic user and can also hit pretty hard when necessary if you equip her to do so. And my fourth was either Locke or Shadow. Locke spends a pretty decent time away from the party so I didn't get a lot of time to power him up. Shadow, on the other hand, equipped with a genji glove, his two best swords and the 'offering' is a bloody maniac. Not to mention he has Interceptor to help out, which is freaking cool. I need to name a dog Interceptor...
I found Celes to be - as usual - absolutely useless. I don't understand why people like her so much, I've never had much luck with her. Cyan has his moments, but is not my go-to guy. I don't even know why Gau is in the game, except to make "thou" jokes. Setzer creeps me out. Strago and Relm are both annoying and useless. Mog is cool, but not very strong. I only used him for certain strategies. Umaro is a joke, and Gogo is pretty cool, but you get him... him? her? it? so late in the game that you really don't get enough time to experiment with... it... to really appreciate... i-it. Honorable mention this time goes to Ultros, who gets my vote for best Final Fantasy character. Ever. I cannot stop laughing at this worthless villain whose existence goes out with "Look, I'm a receptionist now!".

So the moral of the story is: These two installments are frequently and unfairly overlooked. They both have incredible plots and characters, music, the classic ATB system which puts the emphasis on enjoying the story and beating the game your own way, with your own strategies. If you've played the game in the past, it has some serious nostalgia factor that will light up your heart, and if you've never played them - if you're going to tell me your favorite is VII, X or XIII, why not go back and see what those games are made from? See what laid the foundation for these newer additions. I'll admit that the graphics are by no means overwhelming by today's standards, but that doesn't mean they're shitty games. If you enjoy RPGs at all, or are just looking for something different to play these days, reach for these oldie-but-goodies.

1 comment:

  1. Going back and reading through your blogs and just wanted to say that the originals 1-6 are like a fine wine. They only get better with age. You cannot beat sprite graphics and the stories told in these (I love FFIV) cannot be matched!

    Great read Lo, can't wait to check out more...Stupid Vesperia not coming to PS3...