Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ramblings of a Casual Gamer: Final Fantasy X Epiphany

Since the death of my 60GB PS3, I’ve been a little burnt out on games. None of my newer games have been able to pull me in. Trouble was, I wanted to play something. Anything. But the God of War games my new machine came with just couldn’t hook me.
So, one day I thought, Why not an old game?  I switched on my old-school PS2. And I popped in Final Fantasy X.

It’d been just long enough since I’d played it that I forgotten enough about the gameplay for it to be interesting. It took a bit to adjust my vision to the lower graphics, but then I was off, immersed in the story and enjoying some turn-based battle. As I played, I started thinking about the reasons I was enjoying FFX so much more than I had newer Final Fantasy games. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Random Encounters

They can be annoying as hell when you’re rushing across a map to reach a destination, but they add a sense of danger that non-random encounters lack.
Random Encounter—I’m just gonna stroll across this wide plain. *Screen shatter* Great Moogles! A behemoth! Get it, get it, get it! *Win battle* Whew, let’s get the hell out of here before another one shows up.

Visible Enemy Encounter—What’s that? A behemoth lumbering around on a grassy knoll? No, I don’t think I’ll chance that. I’m just going to roll over here with these fluffy sheep.

I’m all about a good story. That’s what drew me to Final Fantasy VII and RPGs in the first place. The text-driven scenes of early FF games gave it all a feel of an interactive book. I became attached to characters, and when things happened to them, I cared. If you’ve played a Final Fantasy game, you know they like to hit you with a cliffhanger and leave you pitching a fit until after the credits—or longer if they’re making a sequel. I’d sit through the ten minutes of scrolling names, waiting for that last short scene that would give me a sweet burst of closure.

I haven’t felt that connection to the characters since FFX. When I played FFXII, I couldn’t have cared less if Vaan dropped into a cockatrice’s nest and never surfaced again. I didn’t squirm in my seat as I waited through the credits to see if there was one last scene.

They’re a staple of the Final Fantasy franchise, but since FFX, they have felt more like an accessory rather than a useful ally. I didn’t have much use for them at all in XII, and I didn’t care much more for them in XIII.

Battle System
I’ve played a lot more action RPGs recently, so when I popped in FFX, I wasn’t sure if I would be bored with the command selection of a turn-based system. Happily, I haven’t been bored a minute. The variety of enemies keeps me on my toes, and the ability to switch teammates, weapons, and armor mid-battle keeps things interesting. Overdrives are awesome, and the summons are not only beautiful to watch, but pack a punch when I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

Newer systems try to be more active, but in XII, I could set my controller down and make a sandwich while my people battled it out. In FFXIII, battle was better with the paradigm shifts, but still lacked something. Could’ve been the scrolling through paradigm sets. In XIII-2, the button-mashing during cinematic scenes was irritating as hell to me. I want to watch the excellent graphics that I’ve come to expect of Final Fantasy games, not hunt for a button command and miss the action.

In my humble gamer opinion, the Final Fantasy series doesn’t have to stay turn-based. It’s a trademark of the game, yes, but more important to me are the stories and themes that make it Final Fantasy. I’m perfectly fine with hitting R1 to summon Bahamut to slay my enemies. Turn-based is fine with me, too, if I’m not bogged down with lists. A classic menu with a job-class or weapon/armor modifier system (such as the material system in VII) are cool, too. Even the dress spheres of X-2 allowed for a flexible and quick alteration when the battle called for it.

Whew, I’ve had a lot of thoughts on this, and I could probably add a few more. How about gamers out there? Thoughts? Hit me up in the comments.    

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