Final Fantasy 3 (Final Fantasy Playthrough)

Original Release Date: 1990

Playthrough Platform: PC

My History with the Game: This is the first time I have played this game.

Play Time for Main Story: 26:16

Music link to accompany reading.

20170526155324_1
Title screen. Copyright Square Enix.

Overview

Final Fantasy 3 was the last FF game released for the NES. It did not see a North American release until 2006, at which time it was released on the Nintendo DS (which I do not own), and was a 3D remake. This version was later ported to PC. Based on the research I have done, the story for the remake is largely the same as the original, though some characters have been fleshed out (rather than being generic) and a few mechanics have been tweaked.

Story

After a massive earthquake, four young orphans are chosen by the Crystals to be the Warriors of Light. In their travels they discover a world lurking beneath the Floating Continent that was their home. This world was frozen in time as the fallen wizard Xande works to achieve immortality. What Xande doesn’t realize is that he is a pawn in the struggle between Dark and Light. The balance between Dark and Light has shifted toward Dark, and the Warriors of Light must restore the balance. However, it turns out this quest was set into motion 1000 years earlier when the Warriors of Dark, while attempting to resolve the Light imbalance, encountered a creature they couldn’t destroy: The Cloud of Darkness, a creature whose sole desire is to return all existence to the Void. The Warriors of Dark were only able to contain the Cloud, but the Warriors of Light must now push back the Cloud of Darkness once and for all.

cloud-of-darkness
Cloud of Darkness. Copyright Square Enix.

One thing that continues to change in the Final Fantasy games is that the story becomes stronger and more prominent with each version. This game is no exception. While there are plenty of opportunities for grinding and exploration, the plot drives everything, and the next plot point is usually clear. But of particular interest is that level of Japanese cosmology that is in this game. When I first learned of the Warriors of Light and Dark who are called to preserve the balance between light and dark, I couldn’t help but imagine the Yin/Yang. Rather than the evil tyranny of FF2, you work to restore balance between Light and Dark, neutral forces that are only good or evil depending on their state of balance. The actions of humans affect the balance. And when imbalance occurs, the Void grows stronger. In the end, the Void is the enemy; non-existence is the enemy. Hope is the only way to fight the imbalance.

Characters

The characters were much stronger in this game. The main characters are

  • Arc – a bookish, somewhat timid young man
  • Ingus – a stoic royal guard
  • Refia – an adventurous young woman who doesn’t want to follow in her father’s footsteps as a blacksmith
  • Luneth – the least developed character. I think he may be intended to stand in for the player, and thus left vague on purpose.
Amano_FFIII_Group
Main cast. Copyright Square Enix.

The secondary characters are also memorable. Among them are

  • Sara – the princess who takes is on herself to re-imprison the djinn. (She is also in love with Ingus.)
  • Desch – a womanizer with amnesia
  • Prince Allus of Saronia – who was exiled by his father but now wants to return.

The only criticism I have with character is that, like Final Fantasy 2, the main villain is underdeveloped. We hear about him in a couple of place, but only truly see him at the end of the game. Even then, he is a pawn of a greater evil that we don’t meet until the very end of the game. However, this is a recurring Final Fantasy trope. This wasn’t the first time this happened, and it won’t be the last.

Presentation

I didn’t play the original NES version, so I can’t really judge that one. The PC port of the Nintendo DS version is a good looking game. The visuals fit the tone of the game, being vaguely anime and cartoonish in tone. The 3D battlegrounds are reminiscent of the Playstation One games. The level designs are great and there aren’t as many dead-ends or empty rooms. And this is the first time the Final Fantasy series utilizes multiple world maps, one for the floating continent and one for the lower world (and an underwater map).

dance-number
Dance Break. Copyright Square Enix.

And again . . . great music.

Gameplay

Thankfully, the character leveling system of FF2 is gone. We are back to a more traditional XP system for character leveling. To spice things up, FF3 adds the job system. This system is a different spin on character classes. Rather than selecting a class at the beginning of the game and sticking with it, you collect job crystals that allow you to change classes whenever you want. Each job provides stat bonuses that stick with you as long as the job is equipped. As you level up your jobs, the bonuses increase as well. Each job usually has one or two special abilities, such as magic, stealing, guarding, etc.) Changing jobs lets you vary your play style, and even provides strategic advantages since some jobs are better suited for areas or bosses. The only frustrating thing about jobs in this game is the penalty you suffer when switching jobs. You typically have to fight a few battles before the stat bonuses kick in. Since you can level all jobs to 99, this is a very grind-heavy game if you want to be a completionist, but it isn’t required.

victory
Victory is victory. Copyright Square Enix.

Personal Enjoyment

After the disappointment of Final Fantasy 2, this game was a blast. While I haven’t enjoyed the job system in the past, I enjoyed it here. The humor and cuteness of the game was surprisingly appealing to me.

FF3-Toads
Bad news . . . Copyright Square Enix.

Grinding was actually fun, though at times combat could be frustrating. Early on the difficulty levels seemed to spike heavily if I wasn’t keeping my job levels high. And the complete lack of tents and ethers was incredibly frustrating. I spent a lot of time going between dungeons and towns to keep my MP high. Thankfully, you get a few different types of airships here. So, in all, this was a lot of fun, and I can see myself returning to my saved game to keep building my job levels.

Final Rating: 8/10

The Wolf Among Us

The Wolf Among Us title screen
Copyright Telltale Games.

A One-Page Review Game Review

The Wolf Among Us is the first Telltale game I have played. Their games are a modern form of the old point-and-click variety, a genre that I enjoyed in my younger years. I was a huge fan of LucasArts. But one thing that Telltale brings to the table is choices that affect the story. So, when I interact with characters or choose to investigate certain places over others, the story alters based on my choices.

TWAU is set in the Fables comics universe that was created by Bill Willingham. I was a huge fan of this series. In the game, you take control of Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown. Bigby investigates the murder of a prostitute named Faith. What is particularly interesting in this game is the exploration of the seedy side of Fabletown and learning about Fables that fell between the cracks. Not everyone was a prince or princess. Some Fables were trolls or woodsmen or Grendel. A mysterious man known only as the Crooked Man has started an organization that provides for, and controls, Fables that can’t afford the Fabletown services—in particular, those that can’t afford the glamors that allow them to pass as human so they don’t have to go to the Farm.

Basically, TWAU is a noir exploration of the seedy underbelly of the Fables’s world.

Bigby gives Collin a cigarette.
Copyright Telltale games

For the most part, I enjoyed the game. I liked how Telltale introduced new characters who were based on urban myths, such as Bloody Mary and The Jersey Devil. I loved when Bigby finally tuned into his full, Big Bad Wolf form. And there were plenty of moments when I agonized over decisions I had to make. But at times I didn’t find the game too engaging. I would have enjoyed just watching and not playing, or even reading the story if it was a comic. Sometimes I forgot I was playing a game, and realized I had to answer a question or dodge a punch. (Be warned: don’t ever let your hands drop off the keyboard, just in case.)

Overall, I wanted more gameplay and exploration. The Wolf Among Us, however, is a well-made game, and a well-told story. It just wasn’t quite my thing.

Final Rating: 7/10

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China

Assassin's Creed Chronicles China title screen
Title screen. Copyright Ubisoft.

A one-page game review.

So, maybe a game this late in the series wasn’t the best starting point. I’ve played a few minutes of Assassin’s Creed, but I’ve never finished it. I’ve barely started it. I love what I’ve seen so far, especially the visuals, but there are a lot of control combinations, and I wanted to wait for a time when I’m not trying to get through quite a few other games.

Why start ACC:C, then? I wanted something different, and this game was different than anything else I was currently playing. I grew up on the NES and the SNES, so I’m familiar with old-school platforming (back when we called it “side-scrolling”). I cut my teeth on Mega Man 2 and Ninja Gaiden. I thought ACC:C looked like an interesting update to the platforming games of old, and I like learning about Southeast Asian history. If there was an Assassin’s Creed game set in Edo Japan, I’d be dropping everything to play it.

The game takes place in China in 1526 and follows Shao Jun, the remaining assassin of the Chinese brotherhood. Templars wiped out her fellow assassins. The extent of my Assassin’s Creed knowledge is that the Assassins and the Templars are enemies. (And that there’s a sci-fi element with the animus and recovered memories or something that, at a distance, seems unnecessarily complicated. Maybe I’ll like it when I eventually try out the main series.) Anyway, Shao Jun allows herself to be captured so she can get revenge against the Templars. That’s pretty much it for the plot. The story was a bit underwhelming.

Example of a level in Assassin's Creed Chronicles China.
Copyright Ubisoft.

There is some good platforming in this game, and the level design is very interesting. In particular, I love that there are different layers to the levels, which means you can occasionally run toward the camera or away from it to find alternate paths. This gives the game a 3D element that occasionally added alternate paths. I also enjoyed the UX design. The game used splashes of red to show where you could alter your path or interact with objects. Green often designated places you could hide; red showed places you could climb. Avoiding guards was sometimes very difficult, and combat could be excruciating. But I think what I enjoyed the most were the levels where you had to outrun fires that broke out. It was fun trying to navigate the levels as fast as possible, and even more fun when I unlocked the jump/sliding kill moves.  In my first time through these levels, I almost hit the best speed run score, usually missing it by a few seconds. It felt good to get that close on my first try, making me feel that all those old gaming muscles were still there, waiting to be tapped. (It felt annoying to get that close, but miss.)

There are a lot of controls to remember, and I confess that my play style was a combination of impatience and forgetfulness. When I played Dishonored, I did a stealth run, and didn’t kill anyone. In ACC:C, I got impatient and killed as many guards as I could. I got tired of dealing with them. Maybe if I remembered the combos, I would have done better. I probably would have fared better with a controller, but I was using my PC and was feeling too lazy and disinterested to try to figure it out.

So, I guess that is my final verdict. Good visual and level design, but kind of uninteresting and not very engaging from a plot standpoint. But the speed run sections are a lot of fun.

Final Rating: 6/10

Final Fantasy 2 – Retrospective

Final Play Time: 25:22

Overview

Final Fantasy 2 is generally disliked by fans. Square took a lot of risks in this game, and while those risks don’t really work, they I’m glad they took them. It shows the developers are willing to not just do the same thing all over again; this game presents a new world, new characters, and new mechanics, something that would be repeated with each game that followed.

Final Fantasy 2 logo
Image Copyright Square-Enix.

Story:  5

The Emperor of Palamecia has been conquering kingdoms and villages. He has led armies of monsters and the undead. Our heroes are exiles from the Kingdom of Flynn, which has recently fallen to the Empire. They are rescued by the rebellion, which is led by Princess Hilde and her father. As the characters join the rebellion, they must prove their skills in battle as they seek plans for the Empire’s secret weapon, the Dreadnaught airship.

Where Final Fantasy told the story of a time-loop involving elemental beings committed to destroy the world, Final Fantasy 2 goes for a less-convoluted and far less interesting story about an evil empire determined to destroy the world. The story is told better, but it is not engaging. I remember being in high school and staying up late to get to the next plot point in Final Fantasy 4 or 6. Playing those games was like reading a book that I just couldn’t put down. And while there are twists and turns, sacrifices, and a journey into the tower of Pandemonium itself, I never felt compelled to find out what happened next. I am glad, however, that there was a greater emphasis on storytelling in this game. And some of the story ideas and themes will return in Final Fantasy 4 and 6, to much greater effect.

The main cast and the Emperor.
Art by Yoshitaka Amano. Image copyright Square-Enix

Characters: 3

We have three main characters throughout the majority of the game: Firion, Maria, and Gus. The team is supplemented by rotating fourth characters: Mindu, Josef, Leila, Gordon, Gareth, and Leon. (The names vary based on the version of the game played. I played the PSX version.) Each character has a distinct personality, which can be fun. But the personalities are fairly broad. Firion is the hero. Maria is strong-willed. Gus is not very intelligent. The rotating characters have more distinct personalities, but just enough to tell them apart. There are no tragic backstories to discover here. The most interesting characterization, however, is Leon. He is Maria’s brother and the friend of Firion ad Gus. He vanishes after the game’s opening, only to reappear later as the Dark Knight of the Empire. He even goes so far as to proclaim himself Emperor after you kill the current Emperor. It is not clear why he betrayed his friends and joined the Empire. I wanted more from this.

Presentation:  5

Music: Nobuo Uematsu composed the music for this game, and as always, it is wonderful. The battle music is some of the best in the series, and the over world theme has a particularly melancholy feel.

Tone: I’m sure it is due to the music, but this game feels darker. The world feels empty. This emptiness escalates after the Empire unleashes its second super-weapon, the Cyclone. Many of the towns you visited before are destroyed. By the game’s end, only two cities remain: Flynn and Mysidia. In the end, there is nothing for the world but to rebuild. Even friendships are left in ruin. The music and the story fit together well. Intriguingly, so do the mechanics (see Gameplay).

Design: The world is smaller than it initially seems, but you spend a lot of time running back and forth between the rebel base and new locations. The missions are clearer in this game than Final Fantasy 1, though the backtracking gets old after a while. The dungeons are designed well, but there is a distinct pattern of treasure being on an opposite path or opposite side of a room than the stairs to the next level. Curiously, there are many doors that lead to empty rooms. This makes the game more frustrating, but I think these rooms may have been designed for extra grinding.

Gameplay: 5

And here is the real reason this game is hated: the levelling system. It is brutal. Gone is the XP-based system of FF1. FF2 uses a system that is based around actions taken in battle, both your actions and the actions enemies take against you. If you want to get better with swords, use swords in battle. If you want stronger magic, use the spells you want to improve. It gets a bit trickier with HP/MP. When you start battle, the game records your current HP/MP stats then compares them to your end-of-battle stats. So, if you want to gain HP/MP, they must decrease in battle. This led me to waiting until after battle to heal. It also meant I used magic far more than I normally do. I tend to conserve magic-replenishing items, but in this game, I spent a lot of time grinding for gold so I could buy more ethers to refill my magic.

In theory, it is an interesting system. I like The Elder Scrolls games, and they also have a level system based around the skills you actively use. It encourages you to find your play style and stick to it, and it even forces a bit of role-playing. But the system in Final Fantasy 2 is almost more difficult to use and figure out. For example, I tried to increase my Evasion stats so my characters would be harder to hit. By game’s end, I only had one character with an Evasion of 6; the others were either 4 or 5. From the research I did online, this is a low number, and Evasion is super important in this game. I think I spent three hours trying various methods to try to increase this stat, and I could never see any progress. Everyone stayed where they were. In the end I made it work, but it was still frustrating trying to figure out how to increase this one stat.

Also of note, the difficulty would spike suddenly when entering new areas. I frequently thought I had the game figured out, only to cross into a new section of the map and get killed in a few hits. And worse are the dungeons early in the game when you have low MP, but encounter Adamanoises (turtles) that have a high physical resistance but low Ice magic resistance. I think it was Kash’ion Castle that I got to the boss, beat it, then realized I didn’t have enough magic to easily get out of the castle. Nor did the game let me use Warp. I had to use the Memo Save (temporary save) after each battle (unless I did I made a few inexcusable mistakes) and slowly make my way back to the world map for a regular, permanent save. I frequently found myself unprepared for these difficulty spikes, and started micromanaging my stats as much as possible. I tried to do as much of this as possible without using the exploits in this version of the game. This meant I didn’t target my own teammates.

But the mechanics are interesting in that they make you feel like the characters. These characters are not warriors. They have to prove themselves to the rebellion. And, with that in mind, the game makes you prove yourself by making you just as unskilled as them. You can develop your characters however you want, but you have to be patient and train for it. However, it really helps if you figure out how the game calculates your stats, so you can try to be strategic both in and out of combat.

Personal Enjoyment: 4

I was excited to play this game, but the mechanics really wore me down over time. I probably could have finished the game sooner, but typically waited until I was in the mood to grind before playing it. I didn’t spend too much time grinding for stats. I spent most of my time grinding for gold. And each time I entered a new area, the difficulty spike was very discouraging. But despite this difficulty, I was shocked at how easy the final boss was: Two hits with a Blood Sword, and he was finished. After hours of struggling through the Jade Passage and Pandemonium, I was expecting more of a fight. It was my own fault, though, for using the Blood Swords.

Overall, there were a few times the game was fun. I definitely enjoyed that the storytelling was more dominant and that more effort was given to characterization. As always Uematsu’s music is a joy to listen to. I’m glad to finally cross this game off my list, but I doubt I will ever come back to it.

Final Rating: 4/10

Final Fantasy 2 end screen

One Page Review: Bastion

A one-page review is a short review that I write by hand on a single page. Once I get to the end of the page, I end the review, polish it up, and post it.

Bastion title screen
Image copyright: Supergiant Games, 2011.

Bastion was the first game developed by Supergiant Games. You play as The Kid, who awakens to find his city, Caelondia, destroyed by the Calamity. The game is an action RPG on an isometric grid. You make your way to the Bastion, the place where survivors are supposed to gather in case of emergency. If the Kid can collect the Cores from the ruins of Caelondia, he can restore the city. Along the way, he discovers additional survivors, including Rucks, the narrator; Zulf, an ambassador from Ura; and Zia, a Uran raised in Caelondia.

The visual design is beautiful. Each level is meticulously detailed. Pieces of the stage appear as you walk. The music is wonderful and truly adds to the world building. The gameplay is easy to pick up, but the isometric map can make targeting difficult. And late in the game there is a platforming section that can be a pain to navigate due to the layout. But for the most part, the perspective works and allows you to see an amazing amount of details.

The Kid returns to Bastion to talk to Rucks.
Image copyright: Supergiant Games, 2011.

The game has a surprisingly deep characterization and story. A new game plus mode opens up new gameplay options, so even after you beat the main game (which I did in about 8 hours) there are plenty of challenges to keep you busy. And the game gives you some choices late in the game that affect the ending.

All in all, if you are looking for a unique action RPG with great designs, amazing music, and dry sense of humor, check this one out.

Verdict: Highly Recommended for action RPG fans.

Final Fantasy 2 Introduction

Original Final Fantasy 2 box art

Original Release Date: 1988

Playthrough Platform: Playstation

My History with the Game: Despite owning the PS One remake, I have never played all the way through this game. What I remember about the game is that the story was stronger and more dominant than the first game and that the game mechanics are very different. The mechanics are based around what actions you take. At the time, I didn’t care for this, but in the intervening years I have become a fan of The Elder Scrolls. I’m actually looking forward to the mechanics now. I think this is the only Final Fantasy game that uses this type of character progression. And I really like that Square established early on that they would take risks with these games and not just duplicate what came before. But more than anything, I am excited about playing a Final Fantasy game that I have never played before.

I can’t wait!

Final Fantasy 1 – Retrospective

Final Play Time: 15:22

Final Fantasy logo

Overview

Final Fantasy was the game that saved Square and launched the long-running, extremely popular series. It’s hard to recapture the context of this game and recognize how ground-breaking it was at the time. It feels dated, but this game revolutionized the jRPG genre. I’ve played through this game multiple times, and in honor of this year being the 30th anniversary, I have played through the game once more. Again, this was a groundbreaking game at the time, but this review reflects my experience with the game on this play through.

Story:  4

Final Fantasy starts with a “save-the-princess” trope that soon evolves into story that requires you to revive the elemental crystals and defeat the elemental fiends so you can open a time gate to fight an ancient evil, close a time loop, and erase an alternate dimension where chaos rules. It actually sounds cooler than it plays out. Most of the information on the plot is held until an info-dump prior to the final dungeon and a bit more prior to the final boss. The concept is good, but the execution is a bit weak. That said, I’m happy Square was ambitious with the concepts, and high concepts continue throughout the series.

World Building:  5

As world building goes, there’s not a lot to this one. There are your standard elves and dwarves, kings and queens, and so on. This game feels influenced by Dungeons & Dragons but with a bit of Japanese spin. When the game story introduces us to the ancient Sky People and their lost civilization, the world starts to expand a bit. In fact, lost civilizations with advanced technology become a trope in other Final Fantasy and Square games. But its treatment here is small. It’s interesting, but there’s not much to it. I wanted more lore than I got. But, it was a step up at the time. Compared to the lore in games like The Legend of Zelda (most of which was in the manual and not the game.

Characters: 0

Deep characterization was not really a thing when this game was released. While Garland, the ultimate evil in this game, is said to have succumbed to darkness and hatred, this isn’t something that we ever really see. Again, it is told, not shown. None of the main characters area really characters, merely avatars of the player.

Gameplay: 7

As I mentioned before, this game is seems influenced by Dungeons & Dragons. The most noticeable instance of this is the magic system, which is divided into spell levels, and each level only allows a certain number of casts. Once you have used all available castings, you must rest. Instead of short and long rests, you have sleeping bags, tents, and cabins, each of which restores increasingly greater amounts of health and magic. The combat requires a bit of strategy if you want efficient and quick combat, though in the remake there is less need for this strategy as in the original version (which didn’t re-target monsters as they died). The combat can be fun, but it can also be brutal at times. I spent a lot of time early on grinding gold and XP, and I still struggled against some monster later in the game. Combat can be frequent, too. Sometimes it is hard to go more than five steps without a random attack. This can be incredibly frustrating if a character dies, and you have to go back to a chapel to revive them, but you keep getting attacked. Let’s just say that I learned to hate the Marsh Cave at a very young age. I’ve always felt the game got easier after that. Or at the very least, gold was easier to come by after that.

Personal Enjoyment: 5

I’ll confess, I’ve never really cared for Final Fantasy. It was one of the few games I had on the NES, and it was years before I beat it. My love for the series actually started with Final Fantasy IV (2). That game won me over with the story and characters, and it was because of that game that I later went back to Final Fantasy I. I almost never think about it with fondness. Nor do I think of it with dislike. It’s just . . . there. I appreciate it as the starting point for this series, and I smile at the callbacks. But when it comes to craving a Final Fantasy experience, this first game has never been one I revisit with excitement. It kind of pains me to say all this. I appreciate what it did at the time, both as a game and for the RPG genre, but for me, it is a miss. It is an artefact that has many elements that would carry through into later games. And in those later games, they would often be used to greater effect.

Final Rating: 4.2/10