Final Fantasy 6 (Final Fantasy Playthrough)

Original Release Date: 1994

Playthrough Platform: PS One

My History with the Game: I know this game better than any other game in the series. I remember when I saw the first footage of the game in Nintendo Power. I got it for Christmas in 1994 when the game was released on SNES as Final Fantasy 3.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve played this game, and it never feels old to me. More than any other game in the series, I think this is the one that made me a fan of RPGs and Squaresoft. I even remember placing my cassette player near my TV speaker to record the music from this game. I drew Kefka in the margins of my notes in school. This game was in my top five when I was growing up (number 2, actually), and it is still a favorite.

Play Time for Main Story: 23:56

The logo for Final Fantasy 6.
Final Fantasy 6 logo. Copyright Square-Enix

Story

Final Fantasy VI begins with a prologue that establishes a steampunk world that lacks magic. Magic is thought to have died 1000 years ago after the War of the Magi, a conflict initiated by warring goddesses. Through this war, some people were turned into magical creatures called Espers and used to devastating effect. When the war ended, the goddesses turned to stone and the Espers moved with them to a magical realm. Magic vanished from the human world. However, the Empire has rediscovered magic, and a frozen Esper has been found in a mine in the independent city Narshe. The Empire sends Terra and a group of soldiers to recover the Esper. Terra is controlled by a slave crown and can only follow orders. However, when she encounters the frozen Esper, it reacts to her, and the other troops are killed. The story begins here, following Terra’s freedom from the Empire. She can use magic. The Empire wants her back. The rebel group Returners wants her to join them in their fight against the Empire. Terra must choose her path while trying to figure out who she is and why the Esper seemed to know who she was.

Terra, Biggs, and Vicks in Magitek armor.
Terra’s introduction. Copyright Square-Enix.

Many Final Fantasy games hint at ancient events that have resurfaced in the current game. FF VI is no different. But it is the complexity of the backstory that shines. The complexity helps to flesh out the world and make it feel bigger and more immersive. And in FF VI, I feel like I am exploring a world that has truly been shaped by these past events. The characters actively shape how the story unfolds, and Terra’s story is intimately connected to the plot and what the Empire hopes to accomplish.

There is also a massive plot twist halfway through the game. The Empire’s plans derail in a major way when the Emperor learns that Kefka had his own agenda the entire time. I didn’t see this coming when I first played the game, and it is still a shocking but believable twist based on what we know of the character.

Characters

I think Final Fantasy VI has the largest main cast of any Final Fantasy game. (In the main series, that is. I haven’t played any spin-offs like Type-0 or Tactics. One day . . . .) However, this large cast is surprisingly fleshed out. While you could argue that Terra is the main character, in reality, she’s not. She is an entry point and is pivotal in the early game, but after Kefka plays his hand, her prominence decreases. She is no longer the center of the story. This would work against the story if the rest of the cast was weak, but they aren’t. Almost every character has a backstory with a tragedy the drives them forward. They grow and change. In fact, this is part of the theme of the story: overcoming your past and finding a reason to keep moving forward. This gives the characterization more of a modular feel since each of them has his or her reasons for the fight. I would have preferred if Terra had remained the prominent character throughout, but with this many stories to tell (and with her arc and where they took her character), it works well.

Original Release Date: 1994 Playthrough Platform: PS One My History with the Game: I know this game better than any other game in the series. I remember when I saw the first footage of the game in Nintendo Power. I got it for Christmas in 1994 when the game was released on SNES as Final Fantasy 3. I can’t count the number of times I’ve played this game, and it never feels old to me. More than any other game in the series, I think this is the one that made me a fan of RPGs and Squaresoft. I even remember placing my cassette player near my TV speaker to record the music from this game. I drew Kefka in the margins of my notes in school. This game was in my top five when I was growing up (number 2, actually), and it is still a favorite. Play Time for Main Story: xxxx Story: 9 Final Fantasy VI begins with a prologue that establishes a steampunk world that lacks magic. Magic is thought to have died 1000 years ago after the War of the Magi, a conflict initiated by warring goddesses. Through this war, some people were turned into magical creatures called Espers and used to devastating effect. When the war ended, the goddesses turned to stone and the Espers moved with them to a magical realm. Magic vanished from the human world. However, the Empire has rediscovered magic, and a frozen Esper has been found in a mine in the independent city Narshe. The Empire sends Terra and a group of soldiers to recover the Esper. Terra is controlled by a slave crown and can only follow orders. However, when she encounters the frozen Esper, it reacts to her, and the other troops are killed. The story begins here, following Terra’s freedom from the Empire. She can use magic. The Empire wants her back. The rebel group Returners wants her to join them in their fight against the Empire. Terra must choose her path while trying to figure out who she is and why the Esper seemed to know who she was. Many Final Fantasy games hint at ancient events that have resurfaced in the current game. FF VI is no different. But it is the complexity of the backstory that shines. The complexity helps to flesh out the world and make it feel bigger and more immersive. And in FF VI, I feel like I am exploring a world that has truly been shaped by these past events. The characters actively shape how the story unfolds, and Terra’s story is intimately connected to the plot and what the Empire hopes to accomplish. There is also a massive plot twist halfway through the game. The Empire’s plans derail in a major way when the Emperor learns that Kefka had his own agenda the entire time. I didn’t see this coming when I first played the game, and it is still a shocking but believable twist based on what we know of the character. Characters: 9 I think Final Fantasy VI has the largest main cast of any Final Fantasy game. (In the main series, that is. I haven’t played any spin-offs like Type-0 or Tactics. One day . . . .) However, this large cast is surprisingly fleshed out. While you could argue that Terra is the main character, in reality, she’s not. She is an entry point and is pivotal in the early game, but after Kefka plays his hand, her prominence decreases. She is no longer the center of the story. This would work against the story if the rest of the cast was weak, but they aren’t. Almost every character has a backstory with a tragedy the drives them forward. They grow and change. In fact, this is part of the theme of the story: overcoming your past and finding a reason to keep moving forward. This gives the characterization more of a modular feel since each of them has his or her reasons for the fight. I would have preferred if Terra had remained the prominent character throughout, but with this many stories to tell (and with her arc and where they took her character), it works well. Here is a brief overview of the characters (with links to their theme music): • Terra – A young woman with a mysterious past. She can use magic, and is being used as a slave Magitek warrior by the Empire. • Locke – A treasure hunter haunted by his failure to save the woman he loved. • Edgar – The king of Figaro, who must navigate the political tensions between independence and being an ally of the Empire. He knows the Empire had his father killed and is secretly supporting the Returners. • Sabin – Edgar’s twin brother, who rejected the throne of Figaro to train under the martial arts master Duncan. • Celes – A Magiek Imperial general who has defected. • Cyan – A samurai from the kingdom of Doma. His people were poisoned by Kefka. • Gau – A child who was abandoned on the Veldt after his father became convinced he was a demon. • Setzer – A gambler with the world’s only airship. • Shadow – An assassin and mercenary who started his life trying to be a master criminal with his partner Baram. • Strago – A mage descendant who once hunted rare monsters, but now raises his granddaughter Relm. • Relm – A young artist who may be Shadow’s daughter. Characters without much backstory are • Mog – A dancing Moogle. • Umaru – A Sasquatch. • Gogo – A mimic. These characters fight against Emperor Gestahl, who’s Empire has been expanding and destroying any who oppose it. Geshtahl is served by General Leo, a man who holds honor in high regard, and Kefka, a general who enjoys chaos and destruction. Kefka believes life is meaningless and derives great pleasure from destruction and anything that causes people to lose hope. For him, senseless destruction is the true expression of existence. Presentation: 9 The graphics in this game take a large step forward from IV and V. The world map takes on a pseudo-3D look instead of being straight overhead. The character sprites used in the map are the same used in battle, which looks great and allows for more detail and expression. Since this world is defined more by technology than previous FF games, it has a more industrial revolution look in places. There are still a few castles, but we see far more technology here. The series is moving more toward science fiction. The music is my favorite from the SNES era . . . maybe even from the entire Nintendo era. Nobuo Uematsu wrote over three hours of music for this game. Each character has a theme (see the list of characters above), and these themes are reused in interesting ways (such as Terra’s theme being used in the world map but also when she is freed from the slave crown). There’s even an opera. The music brilliantly communicates tone in the game. For example, the world music becomes dark and ominous after Kefka’s plan. But when the characters are reunited and renew their resolve to fight for the world, the music changes into something more inspiring and upbeat. And the final gauntlet of monsters in the lead-up to Kefka is possibly the second greatest Final Fantasy end boss theme in the series. In all, this soundtrack expands greatly on what video game soundtracks were capable of. And I think the U.S. branch of Square knew this because the first video game soundtrack that I ever saw advertised was this one. I wanted it at the time, but I didn’t have a CD player. Kind of weird to think back on a time before CDs, actually. The only criticism I have is that the PS One sound design is not quite the same as the SNES version. The wind effects don’t sound as good, and some of the other effects are not quite the same. The Phantom Train music seemed to cut in and out because it seemed in conflict with the train effects. And the music for the ending cutscene didn’t match the pace of the original SNES version. It was really annoying as the airship flies off into the distance, the music builds . . . and gets cut off because the video advanced faster than the music. I hope future ports (GBA, mobile, and PC) of the game fixed this. But at least they retained Kefka’s iconic laugh. Gameplay: 8 The basic mechanics have more in common with FF IV than with other games in the series. Each character has a class that determines stats. If you are familiar with the FF jobs, you have a good idea how characters progress: Sabin is a monk and has high health and strong bare-handed attacks; Lock is a thief (treasure hunter!), so he can steal; Strago is a blue mage; and so on. Some jobs operate a bit different here, such as Edgar’s Engineer/Machinist job. He uses spears and special tools (like the auto-crossbow or chainsaw), and have very little in common with FFIV’s Cid, who was also an Engineer. The major difference is with the magic system. I appreciate that the magic system in this game reflects the lore of the world. While a handful of characters are natural magic users (Terra and Celes, to begin with), any character can learn magic through the use of magicite. When an Esper dies, it becomes a stone called magicite. Each piece of magicite contains spells that players can learn as they gain magic points. Some magicite allows players to learn at a faster rate. When a character has magicite equipped, they can summon the Esper. And if you are interested in min/maxing your characters, some magicite has stat bonuses for the character if it is equipped when they gain a level. Again, this system is lore-based and I appreciate the attempt to merge mechanics and story. Unfortunately, there isn’t much variety. In time, anyone can learn any spell. Some characters are naturally better at magic than others. You can use the stat bonuses to add enhance the characters as you wish, but it’s not necessary. As long as you keep finding better equipment and leveling your characters as normal, you don’t have to spend much time mastering any complex mechanics. If anything, that makes Final Fantasy VI an easy entry point for the series. The character advancement system is pretty straightforward and doesn’t require a lot of thought. But it makes sense within the story being told, and I enjoy that. Personal Enjoyment: 10 Playing through these games has given me an appreciation of the mechanics and growth of the series. And while I think Final Fantasy VI is a bit lacking in this area, it more than makes up for it is story and characters. The mechanics don’t get in the way of the story, as they sometimes did in FFII and V. But there was also enough exploration to feel like you are playing a game and not watching an animated series. It is a lot of fun. I also loved seeing how themes continue to be used throughout each game. This is the first Final Fantasy game to not use crystals! Magicite sort of takes the place of crystals, but they are still distinct. The themes of balance and ruin are present; though in this game balance is a force of light where ruin is a force of darkness. Honestly, moving away from crystals has been a good thing at this point in the series. As I recall, it will be a few more games before crystals return to the Final Fantasy games. I’ll be honest, I don’t miss them. The game is over 20 years old, and I still enjoy playing it. That says a lot for its longevity and its status as a classic. Final Rating: 9/10
Character collage by Yoshitaka Amano. Copyright by Square-Enix

Here is a brief overview of the characters (with links to their theme music):

  • Terra – A young woman with a mysterious past. She can use magic, and is being used as a slave Magitek warrior by the Empire.
  • Locke – A treasure hunter haunted by his failure to save the woman he loved.
  • Edgar – The king of Figaro, who must navigate the political tensions between independence and being an ally of the Empire. He knows the Empire had his father killed and is secretly supporting the Returners.
  • Sabin – Edgar’s twin brother, who rejected the throne of Figaro to train under the martial arts master Duncan.
  • Celes – A Magiek Imperial general who has defected.
  • Cyan – A samurai from the kingdom of Doma. His people were poisoned by Kefka.
  • Gau – A child who was abandoned on the Veldt after his father became convinced he was a demon.
  • Setzer – A gambler with the world’s only airship.
  • Shadow – An assassin and mercenary who started his life trying to be a master criminal with his partner Baram.
  • Strago – A mage descendant who once hunted rare monsters, but now raises his granddaughter Relm.
  • Relm – A young artist who may be Shadow’s daughter.

Characters without much backstory are

  • Mog – A dancing Moogle.
  • Umaru – A Sasquatch.
  • Gogo – A mimic.

These characters fight against Emperor Gestahl, who’s Empire has been expanding and destroying any who oppose it. Geshtahl is served by General Leo, a man who holds honor in high regard, and Kefka, a general who enjoys chaos and destruction. Kefka believes life is meaningless and derives great pleasure from destruction and anything that causes people to lose hope. For him, senseless destruction is the true expression of existence.

AirshipConversation
Airship conversations. Copyright Square-Enix

Presentation

The graphics in this game take a large step forward from IV and V. The world map takes on a pseudo-3D look instead of being straight overhead. The character sprites used in the map are the same used in battle, which looks great and allows for more detail and expression. Since this world is defined more by technology than previous FF games, it has a more industrial revolution look in places. There are still a few castles, but we see far more technology here. The series is moving more toward science fiction.

The music is my favorite from the SNES era . . . maybe even from the entire Nintendo era. Nobuo Uematsu wrote over three hours of music for this game. Each character has a theme (see the list of characters above), and these themes are reused in interesting ways (such as Terra’s theme being used in the world map but also when she is freed from the slave crown). There’s even an opera. The music brilliantly communicates tone in the game. For example, the world music becomes dark and ominous after Kefka’s plan. But when the characters are reunited and renew their resolve to fight for the world, the music changes into something more inspiring and upbeat. And the final gauntlet of monsters in the lead-up to Kefka is possibly the second greatest Final Fantasy end boss theme in the series. In all, this soundtrack expands greatly on what video game soundtracks were capable of. And I think the U.S. branch of Square knew this because the first video game soundtrack that I ever saw advertised was this one. I wanted it at the time, but I didn’t have a CD player. Kind of weird to think back on a time before CDs, actually.

The only criticism I have is that the PS One sound design is not quite the same as the SNES version. The wind effects don’t sound as good, and some of the other effects are not quite the same. The Phantom Train music seemed to cut in and out because it seemed in conflict with the train effects. And the music for the ending cutscene didn’t match the pace of the original SNES version. It was really annoying as the airship flies off into the distance, the music builds . . . and gets cut off because the video advanced faster than the music. I hope future ports (GBA, mobile, and PC) of the game fixed this.

But at least they retained Kefka’s iconic laugh.

kefka-PS1CG
CG Kefka in the PlayStation Final Fantasy 6 port. Copyright Square-Enix

Gameplay

The basic mechanics have more in common with FF IV than with other games in the series. Each character has a class that determines stats. If you are familiar with the FF jobs, you have a good idea how characters progress: Sabin is a monk and has high health and strong bare-handed attacks; Lock is a thief (treasure hunter!), so he can steal; Strago is a blue mage; and so on. Some jobs operate a bit different here, such as Edgar’s Engineer/Machinist job. He uses spears and special tools (like the auto-crossbow or chainsaw), and have very little in common with FFIV’s Cid, who was also an Engineer.

The major difference is with the magic system. I appreciate that the magic system in this game reflects the lore of the world. While a handful of characters are natural magic users (Terra and Celes, to begin with), any character can learn magic through the use of magicite. When an Esper dies, it becomes a stone called magicite. Each piece of magicite contains spells that players can learn as they gain magic points. Some magicite allows players to learn at a faster rate. When a character has magicite equipped, they can summon the Esper. And if you are interested in min/maxing your characters, some magicite has stat bonuses for the character if it is equipped when they gain a level. Again, this system is lore-based and I appreciate the attempt to merge mechanics and story. Unfortunately, there isn’t much variety. In time, anyone can learn any spell. Some characters are naturally better at magic than others. You can use the stat bonuses to add enhance the characters as you wish, but it’s not necessary. As long as you keep finding better equipment and leveling your characters as normal, you don’t have to spend much time mastering any complex mechanics. If anything, that makes Final Fantasy VI an easy entry point for the series. The character advancement system is pretty straightforward and doesn’t require a lot of thought. But it makes sense within the story being told, and I enjoy that.

Personal Enjoyment

Playing through these games has given me an appreciation of the mechanics and growth of the series. And while I think Final Fantasy VI is a bit lacking in this area, it more than makes up for it is story and characters. The mechanics don’t get in the way of the story, as they sometimes did in FFII and V. But there was also enough exploration to feel like you are playing a game and not watching an animated series. It is a lot of fun. I also loved seeing how themes continue to be used throughout each game. This is the first Final Fantasy game to not use crystals! Magicite sort of takes the place of crystals, but they are still distinct. The themes of balance and ruin are present; though in this game balance is a force of light where ruin is a force of darkness. Honestly, moving away from crystals has been a good thing at this point in the series. As I recall, it will be a few more games before crystals return to the Final Fantasy games. I’ll be honest, I don’t miss them.

The game is over 20 years old, and I still enjoy playing it. That says a lot for its longevity and its status as a classic.

Final Rating: 9/10

FFVI-end-screen
End screen. Copyright Square-Enix
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Final Fantasy 5 (Final Fantasy Playthrough)

Original Release Date: 1992

Playthrough Platform: PS One

My History with the Game: I have played through Final Fantasy V once before. It hasn’t been one of my favorites because, at the time, I thought the job system was tedious and the story was not engaging enough to make it fun. I became a fan of the series because of Final Fantasy IV and VI, and the story for V just wasn’t as compelling in comparison. And I confess that the story must not have left much of an impression on me because I barely remembered it. I remembered two worlds, a castle with special weapons, and the main villain was a tree. That’s about it, though.

Play Time for Main Story: 28:30 (or so)

Final Fantasy 5 logo. Bartz with Boko
Copyright Square-Enix

Story

The winds have become strange and slow, and the king of Tycoon departs for the Wind Shrine to investigate the Wind Crystal. The Crystal shatters. A meteorite crashes into a forest near Tycoon, and a traveler named Bartz (or in my play through, Obi-Wan) investigates. He finds goblins attacking Lenna, the princess of Tycoon. Bartz rescues Lenna, and the two find an old man named Galuf near the meteorite. Galuf has amnesia. Lenna was on her way to the Wind Shrine to check on her father. Galuf remembers that he was heading there as well, so the two leave together. Bartz initially intends to travel on alone, but soon catches up to Lenna and Galuf again as they fight off monsters. He decides to join them. However, their path is blocked due because of the destruction from the meteorite. They find their way through a cave, get captured by pirates, but are soon joined in their quest by the pirate captain Faris. Adventure ensues.

It turns out that the elemental Crystals are weakening, due in part to humanity’s utilization of the Crystals’ power. Unfortunately, the Crystals hold together a seal that binds a creature called Exdeath, an evil sorcerer who once desired to destroy the world. Galuf, it turns out, is one of the four Warriors of Dawn, who sealed Exdeath away. And in typical Final Fantasy fashion, it gets more convoluted than this, with both Exdeath and Galuf being from another world, and the two worlds used to be one world, but were split a thousand years earlier when another evil sorcerer communed with a creature called the Void, and so on. Disaster ensued.

In some ways, this game can be seen as a remake/reimagining of Final Fantasy I and III. The characters are different, but the themes are similar. The effects of Crystals on the planet is the same. This time around, the story just didn’t engage me. I felt emotionally distant from it until the ending. Sorry for the spoiler, but the ending flashes forward by one year, and we learn that Krile, Galuf’s granddaughter and eventual teammate, has been alone, feeling forgotten by her former companions. This really got to me, and moved me to tears, despite being emotionally unengaged up to this point. I guess you could say that the ending is great, even if the main story of the game is a bit meh. When I look back on it, I think I would have preferred this game follow the adventures of the Warriors of Dawn: three old men and a werewolf. Now that would have been a blast. Fun would have ensued. (Okay, enough of that.)

The four Warriors of Dawn looking epic.
The Warriors of Dawn. Art by Yoshitaka Amano. Copyright Square-Enix.

I think I just wanted a deeper storytelling and world building. Much like how Final Fantasy II felt empty and devoid of people, Final Fantasy III felt like the world didn’t exist outside the main plot. IV had an underworld with creatures that had their own lives and cultures. VI has hints of ancient conflicts, forgotten deities, and lore that bubbles just beneath the surface. With V, there was nothing to discover beyond this story. There’s nothing more to uncover about this world, no mysteries left behind.

Maybe I was more in the mood for Skyrim.

Characters

You start the game with

  • Bartz – A young man travelling the world with his chocobo companion Boko.
  • Lenna – The princess of Tycoon who loves her dragon and fears for the safety of her father.
  • Galuf – A former Warrior of the Dawn. Galuf came to Bartz and Lenna’s world to prevent Exdeath from becoming free. Unfortunately, his mission was hindered by his amnesia.
  • Faris – A pirate captain who masquerades as male. She is actually Lenna’s long-lost sister.
The new light warriors stand on the airship.
The New Light Warriors. Copyright Square-Enix

Eventually you meet further characters:

  • Krile – Galuf’s granddaughter, who tries to protect her grandfather from his occasional rash actions.
  • Exdeath – A sorcerer who once threatened to destroy the world. He used to be a tree. Yes, you read that right. Exdeath is a tree that gained sentience and somehow became humanoid.

It is important to explore to find the character cut-scenes in this game. While other games in the series uncover character backgrounds through plot developments, it is possible to miss pieces in this game. So, your experience may vary if you are just focusing on the plot. Character development is just one way that Final Fantasy V rewards exploration and patience.

Presentation

Graphically, this game has much in common with Final Fantasy IV. It is still a top-down view. The field sprites are less detailed than the battle sprites. However, the developers attempted to bring more personality to the sprites by using pop-up responses such as exclamation points or hearts above character heads, much like you would see in animation or comics. This helped bring a little more depth to the characters beyond text alone.

tinysprites
Tiny sprites have limited ability to convey emotion. Copyright Square-Enix.

The music for this game, however, may be my least favorite of the series so far. There are a few pieces I like:

Beyond these pieces, the music didn’t capture me. I don’t know if it is the pieces themselves or the versions used in the game. (I enjoy the Distant Worlds versions of all FFV music.) Or maybe it is that the overall tone of the game is lighter and sillier than other games in the series. Our main characters are heroes who do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do. There isn’t as much struggle with them, not as much inner conflict. And our main villain is a guy who used to be a tree. There’s only so much darkness you can put into a story with such a villain.

Gameplay

The gameplay is solid. While this game can be grind-heavy due to the difficulty level and the sheer number of jobs and skills, the way all these pieces work together is fun, especially if you like to experiment. While the jobs in Final Fantasy III gave characters special abilities and stat bonuses while the job was equipped, in Final Fantasy V, you can learn abilities that you can keep active while using other jobs. So, if you are a white mage, and you want to equip heavy armor, you can do it if you have learned that ability from the knight job. You can only have one extra ability active at a time, but some abilities pair in interesting ways with other jobs. It pays to experiment in this game. And much like the onion knight job in Final Fantasy III, the freelancer (or bare) job allows you to keep the stat bonuses of any job you have mastered. So, as with character stories, Final Fantasy 5 rewards patience, which I just didn’t have when I played it. You have to be in the right mood to play it, and that mood must enjoy grinding.

Personal Enjoyment

As mentioned before, I wasn’t too engaged in the playthrough. Again and again it comes down to being in the right mood to explore, experiment, and grind. This game rewards all of these. It asks you to take your time and spend a lot of hours in it. The reward is more in the gameplay than the story. It doesn’t help that V falls between two of my favorite Nintendo-era Final Fantasy games, so V feels like a lull. The story is lighter (both in tone and in focus), but the gameplay and mechanics are a bigger focus here. If you go to Final Fantasy for stories, this one isn’t one of the strongest. But if you enjoy an innovative character advancement system that rewards patience, experimentation, and creativity, there is a lot to enjoy here.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Galuf fights Exdeath.
Don’t let the armor fool you. He’s a tree. And his name is Exdeath. The clown in the next game is scarier. Copyright Square-Enix

 

Final Fantasy 4 (Final Fantasy Playthrough)

Final fantasy 4 title screen
Final Fantasy 4 title screen. Copyright Square-Enix.

Original Release Date: 1991

Playthrough Platform: PC (From the Nintendo DS port)

My History with the Game: Final Fantasy IV is the game that made me a fan of the series. While I had played FFI on the NES, it was the SNES version of FFIV (known to me back then as FFII) that captured my imagination. Outside of The Legend of Zelda, no game series had a greater impact on me as a gamer. I couldn’t purchase a copy of the game back then, so I rented Final Fantasy IV from the local video store, while desperately hoping that no one overwrote my save file as I tried to scrounge more money to rent the game again. I think I played it through twice. I have since learned that the version I grew up with was an easier version, though back then, I thought it was plenty hard. In the mid-2000s, I picked up the PS One re-release of the game, which included the original difficulty. I completed that version at least once. This playthrough is my first time to play the DS version.

Play Time for Main Story: 26:11

Story

The Kingdom of Baron has begun to aggressively pursue the elemental crystals of other nations. The Dark Knight Cecil leads Baron’s air force, The Red Wings, against the city of Mysidia. Despite being mages, the Mysidians do not fight back. Many are killed. In light of this unprovoked slaughter, Cecil begins to question his king. He is exiled. Final Fantasy IV follows Cecil’s quest to learn why Baron is stealing the crystals and to stop the evil forces behind it.

Image of Baron Castle
Baron Castle. Copyright Square Enix

Much like Final Fantasy II, narrative takes center stage in this game. However, objectives are much clearer, and character stories drive many plot points. The story is filled with victory, tragedy, betrayal, and revelations. It is the most cohesive game so far in the series, and the one hints at the story-driven progression of future games.

Characters

The characters are diverse and memorable. Cecil is the conflicted knight who questions his king, though it grieves him to do so. Kain is Cecil’s childhood friend and the commander of Baron’s dragoons. Kain harbors a secret love for Rosa, Cecil’s lover. Rosa is a white mage who wants to accompany Cecil in his quest. Rydia is a young girl from the summoner village. Her people are killed when Cecil and Kain unknowingly deliver fire monsters to the village. And there are many more characters (Cid, Tellah, Edward, Yang, Palom, Porom, Edge, Golbez, FoSuYa), each with a distinct personality, backstory, and motivation. I particularly enjoyed that this version of the game included a playable cutscene of Golbez’s past. I think I would have liked to see more added scenes to flesh out additional characters, but the one with Golbez was nice. It humanized him and made him far more sympathetic.

Yang shakes hands with Cecil as Rosa watches.
Yang, Cecil, Rosa. Copyright Square-Enix

I do think that the game cheats a bit with character death. There are many points during which characters make a sacrifice. This is reminiscent of Final Fantasy 2. Unlike that game, however, many characters return near the end of the game. Their death scenes feel empty as a result.

I would have also liked more development for Rosa. She remains a damsel in distress for much of the game. Rydia became a far more compelling and developed female character. But again, the character development in this game is a huge step forward. The SNES cartridges allowed for more text and story content for the games, and I’m glad the developers focused on story and character.

Presentation

Playing the 3D version of this game took some adjustment. I was used to the SNES version. They didn’t change any maps, which was appreciated. And I loved the addition of a cartography quest for each dungeon. It inspired exploration and additional level grinding. The designers attempted to re-create the environments of the original, and I think they largely succeeded. I particularly enjoyed the embers from lava that drifted throughout the underworld.

This version of the game adds voiced cut-scenes. Some of the voices are cheesy, though the animation style almost justifies the lighter, silly anime tone of some scenes. The cut-scenes and 3D presentation allowed the animators to convey emotion better than the 2D sprites could in the original.

Tellah calls Edward a spoony bard.
I’m glad they didn’t change this classic line. Copyright Square-Enix.

Most of the music sounds good in this version. I think I enjoy the remake version of “Welcome to Our Town” better than the original. However, I prefer the original SNES versions of “Troian Beauty,” “Dancing Calbrena,” and “The Final Battle.”

Overall, the remake captures the feel and story of the original. Almost nothing is lost in the translation.

Gameplay

Character progression is far more simplified in this game when compared to Final Fantasy 2 and 3. We return to the XP/Leveling system of Final Fantasy I. Characters are locked into a single class, but there is variety since each character has one or two commands that are unique to their class. Since you are not able to choose who is in your party, each time you gain or lose members, you have to find a new dynamic for battle, which keeps you on your toes. The DS remake adds a bit of customization with augments, which allow you to give a character additional commands or abilities for battle. Augments were not part of the original game, so these serve to make combat a bit easier.

There are a few side-quests (additional eidolons for summoning, unique weapons, and achievements), but most of the game focuses on the main story. Gameplay supplements the story, so if you are looking for a game with a lot of customization or exploration, Final Fantasy IV probably isn’t what you are looking for. I think that is a tension that the series always fights with: openness vs. driving narrative. Some games find a decent balance. Some lean more heavily toward one over the other. And some games jump back and forth, which can really mess with the pacing. Final Fantasy IV is very story/character driven, which is one reason I consistently enjoy it.

Dancing Dwarf
One side quest involves watching dancers in each town. Most are far more risque in this version than Nintendo allowed in the original. Here’s a dancing dwarf. Copyright Square-Enix.

Personal Enjoyment

Again, this is the game that made me a fan of the series. I think it is also the game that made me interested in fantasy as a genre. I enjoy the characters, the twists, and the music. The 3D remake allowed me to rediscover an old favorite with new eyes. If you are looking to experience one of the older Final Fantasy games, but have been turned off by the old 8 or 16-bit graphics, this remake is a great starting point.

Final Rating: 8.5/10

The end screen for the game.
End screen. Copyright Square-Enix

So, I’ve gushed about this game, and I’m glad it held up for me. But I’d like to know what you think. When did you first play Final Fantasy IV (any version)? Do you have a version that you prefer? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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

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

Final Fantasy 1 Introduction

Final Fantasy strategy guide by Nintendo Power
I still have this, though it is about to fall apart.

Original Release Date: 1987

Playthrough Platform: Playstation

My History with the Game: I first played this game on the NES back in the early 90s. I didn’t fall in love with the series through this game. It was hard. Very hard. I re-played this game after falling in love with Final Fantasy IV (2) and VI (3). I have played through and beat it three or four times, once on the original system and subsequently on the Playstation Final Fantasy Origins re-release.

I have wanted to do a Final Fantasy playthrough ever since the release date was set for FF XV. Unfortunately, I didn’t start because I didn’t have easy access to Final Fantasy XII. But, since the HD remaster of XII was announced, I’ve decided to move forward on this goal. It also gives Square-Enix time to push through more patches and updates to Final Fantasy XV.

I’m nearly finished with FF. In the story, I have just picked up the Warp Cube, so my next stop is the Sky Tower. For future installments, I plan on writing an introduction before starting each game, then writing a final review as I complete the main story. I’ve finished most of the games in this series, but a few here and there will be new to me. I’m looking forward to revisiting old friends and meeting new ones.

My plan is to stick to the numbered games, so no Mobius, Crystal Chronicles, Legends, Adventures, Crisis Cores, sequels, etc. (This isn’t a hard rule, though. I reserve the right to change this according to my fickle nature. And because I already have FFX-2.). Also, I am not going to play XI and XIV since I don’t particularly want to jump into an MMO.

So, I hope you will join me for this on again, off again series. I’m going to take my time to enjoy these games and finally play my way through the series.