Monday, April 16, 2012

Ramblings of a Casual Gamer: Final Fantasy and Why I Don’t Love the Latest Ones

In a previous post, I talked about my late-found love of video games and how Final Fantasy VII was my entry into the gamer world. Now, I want to talk about the franchise and why so many fans are pulling their hair out.

Many of us are hoping against hope that FF: Versus XIII will revive the joy we felt playing the older games. There’s a lot of talk about how the new games have lost their Final Fantasy feel—not that they’re exactly bad games, but like the movie FF: Spirits Within, they shouldn’t be called Final Fantasy.

Here’s my deal:

Like a good book, Final Fantasy VII had characters. Real, fleshed-out, past-bearing, issue-having characters that felt real. As I progressed through the game, new tidbits would come out, and there was always another story behind the one I was experiencing. It gave FFVII a depth that allowed me to immerse myself in the world.  Now, others had great characters, too, but some (ahem…XII) the characters fell flat. Honestly, the only one in FFXII that I cared about was Balthier. Vaan could have totally been eaten by a cockatrice and I would have shrugged.

Another thing that I really noticed with FFXII, but may have actually started in X-2, was the failure to make the summons effective. Now, in X-2, you had to fight your former summons, but considering the story of FFX, it sort of made sense. With XII, I found they were mostly pointless. It was harder to get some of the summons than it was to defeat the final boss. That, in my opinion, was a fail. I’m not saying they should all just land at your feet, but harder than the final boss?  

Linear Maps. Ugh. In the early games, you traveled the world. There were mountains to climb, oceans to sail, forests and plains and rivers…you get it. You had a destination, but you didn’t have to follow a line or fast travel directly there. You could roam. You could take the time between destinations to level up, gather items, and earn money for the shops. And there were cities! Buildings to explore, shops to peruse, and usually talking to the people of that town was what led to your next task. For me, FFXIII was the worst one about linear movement. You ran through an area with little discovery, without the excitement of random encounters, and the only pseudo free-roam was on Gran Pulse.

Battle. Okay, Final Fantasy games are turn-based, so those who are button maestros and can hit a sixteen-button combo in two seconds are laughing at me. I can’t. When I have to hit a bunch of buttons, I start freaking out, but that’s a post for another day. The thing is, even though the games were turn-based and had action menus, you still had to think about what you were doing. You had to decide who would attack and who would support, whether to use physical force or magic. And it mattered! In the games with job classes, you had to figure out what was the best balance for the way you wanted to play: heavy on the mages, brute force, a happy medium, etc. In the last three games, I find my eyes glazing over in regular battles. Final Fantasy XII, I could set my characters to attack and wander off to the kitchen to get a drink or snack. Not good. In XIII and currently in XIII-2, the paradigm shifts are the only things that keep me awake. The auto-battle option should NOT exist. It’s lazy and brain-deadening. As for FFXIII-2, the cinematic action tries to spice things up, but for me, it ruins the shiny moments. There’s story going on there! I want to watch that badass cinema scene, not scan my TV trying to find the button I’m supposed to press right… NOW! Put those button sequences in the real battle. That way I have something to do there, and I can watch the cool stuff. 
And dammit, I want relevant summons again.

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