The RPG Scrollbars: Final Fantasy And Me

Since we’ve got a little bit of a gap in big RPG releases at the moment, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks playing catch-up. A couple of games I missed when they came out recently. One… quite a bit older. Final Fantasy IX was one of those games that slipped past me at the time, not because I wasn’t aware of it, but because I didn’t have a Playstation at the time, and by the time I bought a cheap PS2, a double-whammy of Final Fantasy X and X-2 made it tough to go back to the previous generation. Square’s recent rush of re-releases finally offered a good chance to catch-up. But I’m not really planning to talk about that specifically. Instead, I was pondering the sad fate of that most cursed of Final Fantasy fans… those of us who came to them on PC. Brrr.

I do think of myself as a Final Fantasy fan, though it’s nowhere near my love for, say, Ultima (take a shot) and I freely admit that my fond memories only really start with 6. Prior to that there wasn’t the degree of plot I needed to get past the bits of the JRPG genre that I’ve never much been a fan of, like random encounters and a love of grinding. Also, none of them in my opinion comes close to Chrono Trigger – another game I sorely wish I’d been able to play at the time. Surprising as it might seem, these games just weren’t released in Europe at the time. It was of course possible to mod your console and import them, but that wasn’t really on the table for a couple of reasons – there wasn’t a chance in Hell that my parents would have let me hand over my expensive SNES to some guy so they could do it, and I don’t remember JRPGs being all that prominent in my guide to the wonderful world of imported stuff, UK magazine Super Play. They tended to be more interested in the arcade stuff or anime.

I’m not saying they never covered Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, I’d be amazed if they didn’t, just that at the time neither of them particularly caught in my head. I wasn’t really aware of the series until Final Fantasy VII smashed through the world on its mako-powered hype-train, and even then, it was just another game on a console I didn’t have and wasn’t likely to at any point in the future. And indeed, never did. At that point, my mental image of the JRPG was, well, Zelda, mixed with a few others that I’d seen in passing like Faxanadu and Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest, which wasn’t a JRPG, but still had something of the same mindspace. Seemed to, at least. At the time. The main thing I knew about the series was why it had such a strange name – because it was secretly a totally different game, Doki-Doki Panic, rebranded in a hurry to capitalise on Sega failing to run spellcheck when it released Phantasy Star and so leaving the word ‘Fantasy’ open for anyone to grab. Or something like that, anyway.

In short, yes, I am the absolute worst kind of Final Fantasy fan, who came to it only when it was cool, and who hasn’t played half of the games for more than a few minutes. I have also never played a single Dragon Quest game, but I have completed three different Pokemon journeys. To make matters worse, the first of them was Pokemon Yellow. So, yes. In JRPG, we’re looking at the job class ‘hipster’, at best.

But screw that. What I like about Final Fantasy and JRPGs that I have played in general still stands – how much I appreciate their general view that fantasy should actually be fantastical, rather than simply remixing the same few tropes like wizards and warriors. In many cases that does admittedly just mean mixing different tropes, but I’ll take that, and it’s still often JRPGs that will land a genuinely brilliant hit like the courtroom scene of Chrono Trigger, in which your actions in a seemingly innocuous setting earlier in the game suddenly take on a whole new level when used as a character trial, or just a premise like Final Fantasy X’s Sin – not so much the backstory as the basic concept of a beautiful world where death could hit at any time courtesy of an aquatic manifestation of mankind’s evils. (At least until you find out the truth behind the whole thing, which is much stupider, even for a game whose basic plot to that point can about be summed up as ‘find God and try to beat him up with a basketball’.)

After years of very straight-laced RPGs, Final Fantasy VII in particular was a revelation. I’d seen many a hero take up arms against an unstoppable evil. I don’t think I’d ever seen one don a dress and wig earned by doing squats in order to try and seduce a local gangster in a part of a futuristic/fantasy town where the houses sometimes decided they wanted a piece of you. In retrospect, I think the game’s mostly a bit of a mess – sorry – but that first playthrough was amazing. It had to be for me to continue, because Final Fantasy VII is the single worst port I have ever had the misfortune of playing. Whether it’s the ghastly MIDI music or the fact that it only actually loaded one time out of five, the whole thing felt like Square actively punishing PC owners for playing on the wrong system. Final Fantasy VIII wasn’t that much better, but at least the stability was upgraded from a one-legged clown trying to tightrope-walk over a chasm to a one-legged clown trying to tightrope-walk over a chasm with a tightrope.

The main problem with VII is that I knew most of what was going to happen long before it actually did. With VIII, which looked stunning at the time, I was able to go into the game and experience it at its own rate, without too many existing spoilers or expectations. Even with limited knowledge of JRPGs it was obvious that the story went to hell at the midpoint, but the whole experience still stands out as a very warm memory – the characters, yes, including Squall, especially after his speech on why he keeps himself to himself, the big dramatic sequences, plot elements actually affecting the characters, the split storyline between the main gang and flashbacks to the far cooler Laguna and pals in the past, and some interesting mechanics, like a late game boost to the difficulty by sprinkling far tougher monsters into the world after their release from an orbital prison. It had a coherency that Final Fantasy VII generally lacked, not least because that game’s obsession with throwing literally everything into the pot rarely seemed tempered by what the story actually needed… seriously, bloody Cait Sith… and a focus on character that we now take for granted in Western RPGs, but which hadn’t yet really bedded in. There’d be occasional examples of it, like the same year’s Planescape Torment, but they too still stood out as something special, or occasionally unusual enough for it to be seen as a problem. (I remember at least one Torment review for instance dinging it for not having as many NPCs as Baldur’s Gate, never mind their huge difference in complexity and narrative depth.)

Despite liking these games though, it wasn’t until reaching for a SNES emulator that I really began appreciating the series – Final Fantasy VI’s music alone made it a game I had to play, much like hearing the Zelda theme back in the day did more to create the image of a sprawling, epic world than even the SNES’ amazing graphics were able to create. Even now, it’s depressing that this is the only way to play them properly, thanks to Square’s terrible mobile ports (and subsequent PC ports) seeming to go out of their way to make them look crap. I’d love to see them port Chrono Trigger, but only if it was a 1-1 graphical port like the Nintendo DS version that finally let me play the thing to completion and realise that it is indeed as good as everyone claims. I can only imagine having had the chance to play it back when it came out. I’m surprised it didn’t start at least one world religion back in 1995. The First And Last Church Of Lavos, perhaps.

Aside from Chrono Trigger, obviously, I still hold FF6 as my favourite. The sheer variety of it. The mid-game twist. The mix of magic and technology that later games would double-down on, but often in the name of creating pretty looking but nonsensical stuff like FFX’s Blitzball arena instead of things that actually feel like they could fit and be part of a wider world. I actually liked Final Fantasy X a lot, ignoring the tedious temples and Seymour being one of the least convincing threats to the world ever… oh, that can-opener hair. The pilgrimage plot was perfectly suited for the genre’s linearity, and oh… the sheer joy of an RPG being set in the sun. Beaches! Beautiful oceans! I get so tired of dark dungeons and miserable medieval worlds. Okay, so X-2 took things too far with its fan-service and story that revelled in its own pointlessness, but you know what? I’ll still take it. Even heroes need a holiday now and again. And a good laugh.

Unfortunately, the relationship with the series was pretty fleeting. Final Fantasy X was the last one I had a working Playstation for, and so I soon drifted away. I played the online only XI for a while, since that at least was on PC, but it sparked no new embers. Until writing this and thinking “Wait, what happened to XII?” I’d apparently missed that there even was one. It seems to be the most forgotten game this side of Leisure Suit Larry 4. And after that, well, we all know what happened after that. Final Fantasy XIII. The linearity. Lightning. The uninteresting worlds. Lightning. The final triumph of stories designed to fill 50 hours regardless of whether they’re worth 50 hours. Lightning. You may see something of a pattern here. But with XIV and reports of the new XV, I’m actually in the mood for the series again. As I’ve mentioned before, XIV is a surprisingly good MMO… second time around… not least because it’s one of the few that actually bothers teaching new players how to play MMOs. XV offers a more open world approach in a world fairly similar to Earth, give or take the monsters, and I really hope that Square’s current push to port the games means that we’ll see it without having to wait a decade for once. It actually looks exciting in a way the series hasn’t for quite a long time – in terms of tech and possibility, not just movie rendering quality.

But, there are worse ways to wait than Final Fantasy IX. I doubt I’ll actually finish it, though it’s already pretty obvious why it’s a game people like but don’t generally bring up first in conversation compared to the more immediately impressive earlier Playstation games, but often go on to mention in a “But my favourite was always…” kind of way. Still, it’s been fun to finally sit down and fill in a missing chapter of the story while waiting for the next big adventure to hit, and good that Square has finally worked out that there is in fact a market for these games. Working copies, even. Now, if only more Japanese companies would take notice. There’s a whole beautiful world of JRPGs and adventures out there that either never made it across or never got their due back in the day, and this is the perfect time to dig them out of the archives and give them a quick polish, a new audience, and the now expected features to take the sting out of grinding and particularly painful bosses. Sure, there’s emulation, but if the last few years have shown anything, it’s that if something is available legitimately, people will pay for it. If we can play bloody Bubsy as penance for sins committed, we really should be able to play Chrono Trigger on demand. That’s games as a service for you, especially as I suspect Steam will be around quite a bit longer than the current incarnations of Nintendo’s Virtual Console.

Unless a meteor happens to be on the way to kill us, of course.

Just to be sure, better take good care of your local florist.

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100 Comments

  1. Crane says:

    Final Fantasy was never a rebranded Doki-Doki Panic, AFAIK.
    I believe you’re thinking of Super Mario Brothers 2; though if you have a source for the FF/DDP thing I’d like to see it…

    • captainparty says:

      Both Mario and FF1 were remakes of Doki Doki, Mario’s is more obvious but the basic code for both is the same, just FF is a more extensive Total Conversion Mod.

      • Crane says:

        Do you have any source for this?
        The internet makes literally no mention of it that I can find.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          It’s a well known fact.

          • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

            Saying ‘it’s a well known fact’ is not a source. The first final fantasy game was an 8 bit top-down rpg, not a side scrolling platformer. I’ve never heard before that FF1 was a DDP reskin, and unless provided with some E V I D E N C E I’ll not be inclined to believe it either. Honestly this sounds like an urban myth, a-la naked Lara from TR1

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            Naked Lara wasn’t an urban myth. You just had to start it with the code -bumbumsharabum (though it only worked in V1.00 – after that they took it out). And the above is 100% true. White Mage was Lina, Fighter was Papa, Black Mage was Mama and the Black Belt was the Princess. It’s just not remembered very well because they downplayed the part about throwing vegetables at enemies in favour of hitting things with swords and magic.

          • Crane says:

            A well known fact with literally *zero* mentions of it anywhere on the ‘net?
            Hell, this article is on the first page of results if you google “Final Fantasy 1 Doki Doki Panic”; that’s how few instances there are of those games together!

          • Nick says:

            this is gold.

          • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

            Oh come the fuck off it. A blogsite with only three posts on it, with one sentence and a picture is proof? In which case, monkeys are made of glass, and all the world’s trees grow out of my arse. Honest. Seriously though, that is the second time I’ve ever see it written, the first being this website.

            Hell, this article (which was only indexed an hour ago) is in the top three results for ‘final fantasy doki doki’, with the first two being about MARIO and doki doki. It’s not a fact, it’s horseshit

          • Ragnar says:

            Given that the only other mention of this is a blog site with no proof whatsoever, which also wrote about the Lara nude code which Richard coincidentally mentioned, I think Richard is just trolling us with something that’s obviously ridiculous and not true.

          • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

            Well that’s a shame. It doesn’t do much good to RPS’ credibility that a freelancer is allowed to knowingly put wrong information in an article, then troll their readers. It kind of makes everything feel a bit Kotakuish.

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            gritz says:

            This whole thread is amazing. Every last post of it.

          • Jeremy says:

            Thanks for the sensible chuckle.

          • Dare_Wreck says:

            Wow… just wow. Crane and Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather – did you hear that incredibly loud wooshing sound fly overhead?

          • theblazeuk says:

            Oh my days

            Poor captain and crane. And Ragnar! For shame. This could ave gone on for days.

          • theblazeuk says:

            i suppose we were one post away from Ethics In Videogames Journalism with that ‘credibility’ burn

          • Nick says:

            Oh wow, it got even better while I was away.. god bless you, Mr. Cobbett.

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            particlese says:

            This thread, and particularly Mr. Miyamoto there, just made my entire day. Thanks!

  2. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    “it’s already pretty obvious why it’s a game people like but don’t generally bring up next to the games that surround it”

    Except for the significant minority of people who actually consider it the best in the series. I don’t know what kind of FF fans you are talking to if FFIX never comes up.

    And while I will second your call for Chrono Trigger to be available, I’d also ask for the much maligned, misunderstood, but actually quite excellent Chrono Cross as well. Particularly if you want more RPGs that aren’t set in typically dreary medieval settings.

    Having said that, I still would put Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, in all its dreary medieval glory, at the top of my Steam port wishlist.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      It’s more that I find it never comes up first. Its always one of the others and then ‘but I really liked FFIX’. As opposed to XII which I’ve genuinely never heard anyone talk about, ever.

      I can’t remember which Tactics game I had on my DS. I think it was the second; you started out having a snowball fight, and then went to a fantasy world.

      • nearly says:

        I’ll admit to being a sort of soft Final Fantasy fan that doesn’t really play or care much for the game but is interested in them occasionally. My first would have been Final Fantasy Tactisc which was far too boring and complex for me at the age where I saw it, said “that looks cool,” and insisted on taking it home. It’s still too boring and complex.

        I have spent some time with X, XI, XII, and XIV though. I leave XIII out because I made it through about two painful hours and resolved never to play it again. I found X mostly forgettable but still find XI incredibly compelling even as I realize it’s not the kind of game that fits into my life. XII I was super into from the first promo, one of the only games I pre-ordered, and a game that I found utterly unenjoyable when I first tried it.

        XII has grown on me a lot, though, and I managed to stick it out for a good ten or so hours last summer before my Playstation died. Once you’re into it, it scratches an itch that you were probably never aware you had, and there’s not much like it. It has this kind of programming sub-game where you set your party members actions as conditionals and then either control of them your self or let the AI you programmed take over. The only other games that are at all like it are Dragon Age: Origins and sometimes KOTOR, but FFXII still feels really distinct stylistically. I’ve taken up trying to get the re-release version with the different job system working on emulator while hoping they announce a remaster now that they’ve announced one for every game but (including the mobile remake for XI), as always, the first ten or so hours are mostly tedious bullshit.

        • thekelvingreen says:

          Xenoblade on the Wii and — I think? — 3DS feels quite similar to XII without coming across like a copy. You don’t get that same wonderful programming minigame/system, but you can get a similar effect through allocating your team-mates’ abilities and powers.

          It also has a much stronger central story than XII has; the forgettable plot is the only thing I dislike about Sqaure’s game.

          • Eight Rooks says:

            No, it has a much more distinctive premise. It then proceeds to utterly waste any potential that premise had on one of the most predictable, cliched, saccharine plot resolutions going. I made it about fifteen hours in and gave up because the terrible writing, mediocre voice acting and trite plot beats were causing me to lose the will to live – as with so many other JRPGs, I got all self-conscious because everyone was raving about OMG HOW AWESOME WAS THAT GAME, so I thought I’d spoil myself on the ending to see if I was being too harsh. Aaand I wasn’t. It’s a technical marvel on an under-powered console, a fairly decent – though not amazing – battle system, and some of the most pathetic storytelling and characterisation in a big-budget JRPG there’s been in quite a few years. Monolith are a talented bunch, but they can’t write to save their lives. It doesn’t even get within screaming distance of FFXII.

          • thekelvingreen says:

            Oh, okay then.

          • Eight Rooks says:

            Seriously, what I read of how that game ends was that bad it gets me mildly upset that anyone might think I’m just ranting for no real reason. Twilight-level melodramatic contrivance merely for the sake of getting the audience to gasp, for sure. What the hell, here’s the blog entry I read that reveals the gist of the story. Ranting aside, I don’t see anything in there that seems particularly suspicious, indefensible, etc., and that ham-fisted plotting combined with what I actually played through myself means it counts as bad, bad, bad writing in my book.

          • thekelvingreen says:

            I’m just a little surprised at the strength of your reaction. That doesn’t mean I think your reaction is invalid.

          • Aerothorn says:

            For what it’s worth, unlike Eight Rooks I actually finished Xenoblade, and did almost all the sidequests to boot (110 hours of my life I’m never getting back) and while the game does have various strengths, the story has one of the most consistent downward trajectories of any game I’ve ever played. It starts off as generic but at least charming, then has a few cool ideas, then starts going off the rails and just goes further and further and further until I was actually mocking it, out loud, to myself, during the finale.

            So I get where he’s coming from.

      • thekelvingreen says:

        XII had passed me by until a friend recommended it. I think maybe it got lost or overlooked as the PS3 was released and XIII was announced.

      • Drinking with Skeletons says:

        My top three main FF titles (so Tactics is excluded) are IX, X-2, and XII, so maybe you just haven’t met enough weirdos like me.

      • Laythe_AD says:

        I’m in a minority here, but despite it’s numerous problems thanks to it’s troubled development, it’s ending chapters feeling under-cooked and unfinished for the same reason, and it’s lead switched to the uninteresting Vaan because the Square bosses felt fans would never want an older lead, XII is probably my favorite, because it felt like the only time the series tried to grow up as I did. Some of the writing is outstanding. Just check out this playing on Ceasar.

        link to youtube.com

        That’s the game’s villain by the way. The series has never had anything quite like him before or since.

        • thekelvingreen says:

          Not alone, no!

        • Eight Rooks says:

          It’s also the way that – I’ve been playing quite a few JRPGs recently and for the love of God there is now absolutely no reason any game in the genre until the end of time should not allow you to program your party members to react to any given situation as appropriate. I quite like some Tales games, for example, and even over-rated titles like Symphonia are entertaining (if bland) comfort food, but there’s no skill worth mentioning in Pause->open menu->select “Item”->find health potion->use health potion on whoever’s screaming the loudest etc., etc. I just… I simply can’t articulate in any kind of mature, sensible way how that’s wrong. It’s busywork. It’s needless tedium. It’s antiquated nonsense and no-one should make games that do that any more, end of story. That being said, if you’re deluded enough to believe that this does represent meaningful gameplay of any kind then XII has you covered, too! It’s the only (main) game in the franchise actually worth playing in 2016, from a purely ludological point of view. Random battles can die in a fire along with tank controls, line-dancing and slow, laborious tapping through nested menu screens. If you still hunger for those things then your rose-tinted glasses have been welded to your skull – there’s simply no other explanation that makes any sense.

          I’m partly being an ass, facetious, all the rest of it; I’ve played several trad line-dancing JRPGs I’ve enjoyed (Suikoden Tierkreis was pretty awesome). But my God, whenever I think about how obvious XII’s improvements seemed, and how pretty much everyone in the industry just ignored them, it makes me so mad a horde of trollfaces could descend through the ceiling behind me and I wouldn’t even notice.

          • Therax says:

            I have to jump to the defense of the Tales games here. Choosing when and who uses an item (healing or otherwise) is a critical decision at higher difficulties for several reasons:

            1) Later games in the series introduced a cooldown for item use. You may severely regret using that item on your lead melee character if the squishy healer eats a major hit 2 seconds later, and you may not be able to afford to wait another 3 seconds for the cooldown to refresh.

            2) The character using an item takes about a second to do so, and is motionless and helpless during that period. Nor are they dealing damage. Since physical and magical damage staggers enemies, this might allow a previously suppressed enemy to recover and get off a big attack, or it might leave an enemy mage with enough time to launch a devastating spell.

            The above might not matter at the Normal difficulties, but when played at the higher difficulties Tales combat becomes a game of timing and positioning, and these details can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

            In fact, later games in the series (Tales of Xillia) introduced AI item use, and it’s always one of the behaviors I have to turn off because the choice of the timing, and which character is going to take the time to use the item becomes that critical.

            I’m entirely with you that the traditional RPG menu system is a pain to navigate, and that games should not have meaningless busywork tasks to fill the time. FFXII took the approach of automating some of these tasks. In the case of item use, the Tales games took the approach of making a meaningless decision a meaningful one.

      • Ragnar says:

        XII was my least favorite FF game. I thought the story was pretty good at the time, but the combat and exploration were dreadfully boring, like playing an MMO all by yourself.

        I really wanted to like it, but so much of it disappointed. The camera always felt off, too close and at the wrong angle. I’m sure it pushed the PS2 to the limit, but it also looked like someone smeared Vaseline on the screen. I didn’t like the stab in the dark upgrade grid where everyone could learn and do everything. But the worst offender was there combat.

        I liked the idea behind the gambit system, but maybe I was too good at it? I automated 90% of battles which meant that I spent the bulk of the game watching bars slowly fill as the game played itself. Often I couldn’t tell what the enemies were doing. It was just a mess. The maps were huge, but lacked anything of interest. I’d spend a couple hours exploring a map and killing the creatures I’d come across just because I’m a completionist, but it was boring. That final dungeon with repetitive floors filled with repetitive mobs and hours between save points was awful.

        XIII handled the AI assisted combat so much better, making fights fun and exciting and, by the end, strategic.

        • asthasr says:

          I had a similar experience with XII. I liked it well enough, but I think I was too good at the gambit system (I am a programmer by trade). After I got a couple of slots, I never really felt engaged or threatened again; it was just a question of slightly tweaking my gambits as characters would unlock skills and gain levels. I lent the game to someone and, after getting it back, never had the urge to complete it. Looking at a walkthrough, it seems that I was almost finished with the thing. I think I was at Giruvegan, although there are a lot of areas I don’t remember at all. The Feywood? Balfonheim Port? The Salikawood? They may as well be completely random names.

        • jamesgecko says:

          The upgrade grid got a sizable overhaul in the “International” edition of the game, which was never released outside Japan. Instead of one grid, it had twelve, each representing a different class.

          The game also looks great in HD. Square-Enix could re-release the game as is running at 1080p, and it’d be completely fine. The textures on everything were an absurdly high resolution for a PS2 game.

        • rmsgrey says:

          The key thing to realise about XII’s combat is that the whole “sit and watch bars fill up as your characters fight on autopilot” thing is just making explicit what some people (myself included) had been complaining about with most Final Fantasy combat for some time by that point – most fights are won in the menus before the fight even starts by choosing appropriate gear/skills and most combat reduces to picking a single target and pounding on it with standard attacks until it drops, then moving on to the next, using cures whenever anyone’s HP drops below some threshold – with “memory cursor” and auto-fire, in some games you could even grind without needing to be physically present provided you could MacGyver up something with a couple of rubber-bands to hold down a suitable direction and the action button – often by mid to late game, you’ve unlocked a reusable mass heal or auto-regen or some such that can keep your HP up…

          Anyway, my point is that most Final Fantasy combat requires no more skill or active decision-making than does checking a text message, and XII’s Gambit System just makes that explicit. If pressing X, X, wait, Down, Down, X, X, wait, Right, X, X, wait and repeat from the start is your idea of a rich, deep combat system, sure, VII had a better system than XII (that particular combination was Attack with Tifa, Steal with Yuffie, Deathblow with Cloud – a frequent sequence from my recent run through VII).

          XIII (and sequels) does at least include a timing element for the paradigm shifts, and requires you to change tactics more often between fights.

          • Ragnar says:

            Oh, you’re absolutely right. And yet it’s amazing what difference that minimal interaction makes. It may not be rich or deep, or require much thought, but it’s at least enough to keep me engaged and entertained, like playing an ARPG on Normal. Comfort food gaming. Taking away that minimal interaction transformed XII from playing a game to watching the world’s most boring Let’s Play (and I get bored out of my mind watching Let’s Plays).

            XII’s issues with combat were further exacerbated by fights that lasted ten, twenty, thirty minutes of boring non-interaction, and a lack of communication with the player. Previous FF games would tell you what abilities the enemies were using so they you could respond if needed. In XII I would look on in confusion as the enemy would suddenly stop taking damage, or my characters’ health would suddenly plummet, which made me feel even more removed from the game.

            My favorite mainline FF combat system was XIII’s, which beautifully evolved XII’s AI assisted combat into a fun and exciting system. The AI took care of selecting the actual abilities and left you free to make tactical decisions regarding party roles and compositions, while the quick speed and on the fly role changes made combat frantic, engaging, and exciting.

            My second favorite was X, whose turn-based system showed the turn order, along with how faster or slower attacks would alter that order, and let you strategically plan out your attacks and abilities.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Chrono Cross is a fantastic game. I will fight you ALL on this one. The visual style that remains glorious to this day, the peerless soundtrack, the enjoyable battle system, the lack of focus on grinding (for levels at least). People complain that the characters were underdeveloped, and perhaps compared to your average jrpg they were, but you know what? They all had SOMETHING. People complain that the plot goes off the rails toward the end. Show me a jrpg plot that doesn’t. People complain, SPOILER for the odd few who still need that warning, that its story undoes everything Crono and friends did in the first game. That’s the POINT. That’s why you are supposed to be angry, that’s motivation!

      I will never, ever understand even a sliver of the disdain that’s been levelled at that game for just, as far as I can see, “not being Chrono Trigger”. It is huge and beautiful and completely barmy and it sucks me in, every time. I love it. I love it so much.

      …sigh. Chrono Trigger is still better though, yes.

      • Drinking with Skeletons says:

        My understanding of the plot has always been that it is an exploration of the potential downsides of the plot of Chrono Trigger. However, the end result is that everything is set right and the two realities are merged thanks to a convoluted plan set in motion with the help of the CT cast, so my assumption has always been that the real downer material (like Lucca and Robo being murdered) is undone. Why people get so pissy about the story is beyond me.

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      magogjack says:

      I second your post in all possible ways !

  3. thekelvingreen says:

    FFXII is wonderful, and my favourite in the series so far, although I have only just started FFIX, so I may change my mind.

    • aepervius says:

      I am crossing finger it might be ported to PC:… But won’t happen probably as it was a different team AFAIK.

      • thekelvingreen says:

        Yeah, it had a bit of a wonky production. I think it got stopped and started from scratch a number of times, and had multiple directors, but it still turned out well.

  4. BlackMageMario says:

    Playing through Final Fantasy IX. It’s refreshing to play a JRPG from the Playstation area that while having silly humour and silly moments (in particular, the ceremony scenes on the Outer Continent are hilarious), still has a good plot and serious moments that make you pause and think. I think this might become my favourite Final Fantasy (previous was six) and the first one I’ll actually finish to completion.

    It’d be great if more JRPGs could make it to the PC platform – as long as they have the basics like rebindable controls, controller support, good framerates everywhere (that’s the one thing I dislike about the FF IX port: the framerate is poor in battles when it doesn’t need to be) and a way to adjust sound and other options, I don’t really care if there are any graphical changes or whatever. The gameplay and story will still shine through.

  5. malkav11 says:

    I could see there was plenty to appreciate in FFVI but I couldn’t keep playing it because of the sheer bloody slog of all the random encounters. I think the area I quit in, they happened about every two steps. And it wasn’t like they were challenging or meaningful. They just slowed everything down to a glacial crawl.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Yeah, it’s rare that I wouldn’t prefer to turn off random encounters entirely. I don’t mind as much when the monsters are on the screen.

    • Ragnar says:

      I only played VI recently – after playing I, IV, V, VII, X, X-2, XII, and XIII – and found it greatly over hyped. I think it, like VII, benefits greatly from nostalgia. I played IV immediately prior and enjoyed it far more.

      VII was at least a lot more interesting, even if it aged much worse. Though I gave up on finishing VII after spending hours trying to find where I needed to go next to advance the plot.

      I’ll gladly take XIII’s or X’s obvious linearity over previous games obfuscated linearity if it means not getting lost and actually being able to finish playing the game I was enjoying. I fully support making quest markers and waypoints optional so that those with the desire to can disable them, but I personally love them.

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        Honestly if you flat out quit a game you were enjoying due to getting stuck, rather than just looking it up, that’s your own fault and no reason to advocate boring linearity in the place of the interesting exploration and side areas that the PS1 games had.

        • Ragnar says:

          I looked up maps and walkthroughs and spent hours trying to find the place. I don’t know what more I could have done.

          And unlike an open RPG like the recent Fallouts, there was nowhere else I could go, nothing else I could do. I could drive around in circles or fight random battles. That’s why I didn’t mind that X and XIII streamlined what was already a mostly linear experience.

        • malkav11 says:

          What interesting exploration and side areas? I keep seeing people complain about the open linearity of X and XIII, but I’ve played most of the series and beaten all of the PS1 games and I legitimately do not recall a single time where it benefited me at all to leave the critical path in any of them before the endgame powerup/sidequesting phase that’s just as free-roaming in X and XIII. There were certainly times I got lost and couldn’t find the critical path, though.

          So if there were actual worthwhile things to do along the way in those earlier games, please do cite specific examples instead of just vaguely asserting that linearity sucks.

          • Smoky_the_Bear says:

            You don’t have to wait until right before the last boss to go and do things such as the gold saucer, Wutai, chocobo breeding, finding rare materia, the sunken submarine etc etc. These are all extras that you can explore the world to find at various point. Yes it was better than trekking down corridors for dozens of hours in XIII. A LOT better.

          • malkav11 says:

            Maybe not, but it’s vastly more convenient and worthwhile to do them then, since by then you have an airship, your full party, and so on. The game certainly doesn’t suffer for it at all. I meant more like stuff that’s actually specific to the pre-endgame.

      • asthasr says:

        For what it’s worth, I played IV and VI when they first came out and I have always thought IV is better than VI. The later game has better graphics (of course) but the characters were one of those uninteresting ensemble casts, the flexible party meant that nobody could really be the “main” characters, the world was forgettable outside of Vector, and Kefka annoyed me rather than being scary. The World of Ruin doesn’t even have a plot to speak of.

      • Unruly says:

        Final Fantasy games benefit from nostalgia, true. But so do so many other games that came out in years past. At the same time, particularly with VI and VII since they were so critically acclaimed at the time, they fall prey to having the things they did which were interesting and/or new get subsequently copied by just about everyone. So what was interesting then is now old hat and hackneyed to modern audiences.

        It’s something that no form of art or entertainment is free from. What sells gets replicated until people get so fed up with it that they stop buying. But then when someone goes back and looks at the acclaimed earlier works all they see is the same old thing they’ve been seeing for years and they wonder why it was considered so great when so many other works have done the same thing, and often done it better. So while nostalgia plays a role in the fondness of people who have been previously exposed to older works, a lack of historical perspective also plays a role in newly exposed people’s underappreciation of them.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          Yep see any article on Half Life 2 for proof of this. Lots of comments along the lines of “I played this a couple of years ago and don’t see what the fuss is about”.

        • malkav11 says:

          Historical perspective is useful when writing/reading histories, not really particularly relevant to whether a piece of media is still enjoyable in the present. There are plenty of older games that still hold up quite well. If something doesn’t, regardless of how important it may have been to its moment in history, it’s probably not worth your time today.

  6. wu wei says:

    I would happily trade every current & future FF game on PC for a HD version of Vagrant Story.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Is that title intended to mean something like “Legend of the Hobo”?

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      Vagrant Story is a game I love for its writing, aesthetics, and soundtrack, but I hate the gameplay. I’d love a version that had the gameplay-lobotomizing options that Square has been including in its FF ports.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        The one criticism I will accept of Vagrant Story’s systems is that they make no real logical sense, and are plainly pure contrivances to stop the player getting everything at once (i.e. why can weapons only have a set number of strengths which always mean a set number of weaknesses, why is it so hard to engineer those strengths, why can’t you tell what the crafting will do before you craft anything, why does your risk keep going up when you chain hits, why does the combo timer randomly drift out of time as you keep going, etc., etc.). Other than that, once you can get over that barrier, it’s basically one of the greatest JRPGs – arguably one of the greatest videogames, period, ever made. It’s as flawed and silly and not-quite-finished as all Matsuno’s other stuff, but it’s equally brilliant in spite of (or because of) its idiosyncrasies.

  7. kud13 says:

    Like pretty-much every console-derived game, the FF games have passed me by, since I never owned any consoles.

    I’ve kept meaning to try these games, what with Squeenix doing all these re-releases, but since i’m in 0 hurry to do so, i’m waiting to see if there’s ever going to be a DRM-free release.

  8. Laurentius says:

    Final Fantasy VII was revelation for and I played on PC back then. It’s defnietly in my top five (maybe three ) video games. I replayed it many times, it’s still a masterpiece. Sure sometimes it’s messy but in a good way, especially sotory, sometimes it’s sad, sometimes funny, sometimes spooky, sometimes almost grounded in reality, sometimes over the top, sometimes s-f, sometimes fantasy, it’s fantastic. Also the music, I had a sound card with wavetable hen it came out so as midi it sounded incredible. FFVII is formative game for me but also I think it’s a still a gem and a marvel.

  9. sicanshu says:

    It’s weird to me how people hate Lightning so much. I honestly think she’s the least irritating character in XIII. Which isn’t a huge accomplishment, I guess, but still. Hope and Snow, on the other hand. . . Even their names piss me off.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I don’t object to Lightning so much in XIII itself as Square’s obsession with everyone loving Lightning in every game that followed, to the point where Square was holding “Meet Lightning in FFXIV!” events and obsessing over her Triple Triad card and more recently trying to make her into a fashion model. ENOUGH! I half expect her to guest star in FFXV and for someone to say “Where’s Lightning?” in every scene she’s not present in.

      • sicanshu says:

        Ohhh. Yeah, that makes sense. I didn’t play any of the spin-offs of XIII, so my feelings about her basically boil down to, “Well, at least she doesn’t talk all the goddamn time.”

      • Premium User Badge

        ffordesoon says:

        Yeah, SE’s devotion to pretending that she’s a universally beloved character is baffling. The amount of money they’ve spent trying to make her happen probably could have funded a complete 3DS RPG at this point.

        • Unruly says:

          From what I can guess with how she’s thrown into everything, she’s probably idolized by the otaku fanboys in Japan who will obsess over her for years. And if that’s the case, they’ll buy practically anything she’s featured in/on in a heartbeat. Getting the stuff that has her featured all over the place here in the West is just a side effect of that.

          I read an article a while back, which I may have even been directed at by RPS or someone here but which I can’t find now, about how the “extreme” cultures drives Japan’s markets. Primarily it covered fashion and entertainment cultures, because fashion and entertainment are two of the biggest markets there are. And it could be summed up as “Even in times of financial hardship, the extreme cultures buy. And they buy because they’re obsessive and their identity is built on consumption. So the market shifts towards what the extreme cultures want, rather than what the majority of people want, because that’s where the guaranteed money lies.” And I think that’s what we’re seeing with Lightning.

    • Ragnar says:

      Yeah, I liked Lightning as a character.

      I actually found it refreshing, and a little embarrassing, that while Western publishers were afraid of having a female lead, or putting a woman on the cover, a Japanese publisher comes along with a strong female lead prominently displayed on the cover of their biggest franchise – a female lead that’s not scantily or provocatively dressed, nor ridiculously endowed or sexually posed.

      And it was successful and they made two sequels to it.

  10. frymaster says:

    “Whether it’s the ghastly MIDI music”

    I had a Yamaha DB50XG daughterboard, meaning the music on PC for me was the best experience available on any platform :D

    The recent remake is a significant downgrade in that respect – I think, since I’ve not been able to play that in over a decade and I might have rose-tinted earlobes

  11. Jac says:

    I played Chrono Cross for the first time a couple of years back and it is indeed absolutely fantastic. Wasn’t expecting it to be so brilliant but if anyone hasn’t played it and likes jrpgs then play it immediately or I will fight you.

    • Jac says:

      Ugh. Reply fail to Kaeoschassis.

    • JimmyG says:

      I played Chrono Cross at the absolute best time, I think: seventh grade (or was it eighth?). I’d been told by a friend that it had little connection with Chrono Trigger, so I felt none of the disappointment that plagued so many others. Instead, I was swept away by the title screen cutscene — the music, the adventure, the color, the peril, the serenity — and found the game (which begins with a dream sequence) to be the most surreal, dreamlike experience I’ve had with a videogame. Beneath the idyllic archipelago, the parallel realities, and the frozen futurescapes, there was a nihilistic worm aburrow. The timetraveling plot of CT was a struggle against certain doom — but in CC, the struggle was against uncertainty. It was terrifying. And yet the world was smattered with brightness and oddity and ridiculous setpieces. At different points it left me feeling empty; it left me feeling whole; it left me questioning fate, perception, history, and my identity. 15 or 16 years later, it still has a place in my heart, and I am so, so happy I got to go on that adventure before I met any of the jaded curmudgeons who would poopoo it.

  12. acoff001 says:

    My problem with the plot of Chrono Cross is that it’s mostly explained in a huge info dump at the very end of the game, and even then you still need to read an analysis to really understand what it’s about. While I do think the game raises a lot of interesting questions it doesn’t excuse the fact that they are poorly explained in game. Despite this, I do still like the game a lot.

  13. Merus says:

    I’ve played one and a half Dragon Quests and I feel like that’s probably enough for one lifetime. They’re the ur-JRPG – JRPGs owe a lot to Wizardry, but Dragon Quest is the minimum viable product. More importantly, in terms of curiosity, they’re like Pokemon games in that they evolved slowly over time, so while the later games seem fun and peppy that’s because they’ve had eight games worth of gradual improvement.

    I think even the tragics will ward new players off the NES Dragon Quests; the first game has about two quests, no party members, and the UI is extremely clunky. The first ‘good’ one is DQ4; you have several different party members who all get their own opening chapter before your hero actually turns up halfway through. Some of these are pretty great all on their own; conceptually the one where you’re playing as a merchant and sell items to heroes is neat, but the one that actually stands out is earlier, when a princess drags her retinue off to a tournament because she’s bored and wants to fight things. DQ5 is the other high point: this one has a multi-generational storyline, so you start off as a level 1 kid with your father, and you end up taking your own kids off on adventure to finally defeat the evil empire you’ve been trying to destroy the entire game. There’s a couple of timeskips that are just brutally sad.
    I understand DQ6 is also really good.
    DQ7 is famously bloated; there’s apparently a remake in Japan that trims the fat. DQ8 is well-regarded but turns what was a fairly breezy series into a fairly long slog; good, but a much greater time commitment. DQ9 is Nintendo DS-only and was built around that console, so while the game’s fine – it doesn’t hit the highs of the more creatively ambitious SNES games and the multiplayer aspect is all but irrelevant nowadays – it’s probably not going to see a port anytime soon.

    Dragon Quest will probably never see a PC port – they tend to get ported rarely, if at all, and only to the platforms that are the most popular in Japan.

    • Merus says:

      I’m tired, and I can’t count: it’s two and a half Dragon Quests I’ve played.

    • JimmyG says:

      Just to fill in your gaps: I played the single cartridge port of DQI&II on Gameboy Color (or maybe it was DWIⅈ I forget how the naming worked). The first one kinda blew my mind, because it was an RPG with just one party member, and I think it does that “beat the boss and keep playing to see the world restored” bit with its ending, like Earthbound. DQII added two party members, and I remember little else about it. And DQIII was one of the first games I encountered with a jobs system (changeable classes for party members), and I loved that about it. To this day, I visit wikis for games I’ll never play just to read about their different classes.

  14. Styxie says:

    One time I brought a copy of Final Fantasy XIII because I liked Dark Souls and I assumed that the combat would be similar, because, hey look, she has a big swish sword wot like in Dark Souls – and they’re both from Japan, so they must be the similar. They are not.

    I’ve tried to get into JRPGs on a few occasions, but I just can’t enjoy them on any level. The characters and the events going on alongside them never seem to have any significance, so I find it impossible to get invested in what’s going on. It’s like the characters can be 100% sincere and I can’t even take them seriously. Then inevitably I get bored and wander off.

    I don’t know, maybe it’s a cultural thing, or that I’m not supposed to care about what’s going on and just enjoy the spectacle.

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      FFXIII is not remotely representative of the series or JRPGs as a whole. It’s the worst FF by a mile, and may well be the worst JRPG I’ve ever played. Your assessment of the game is correct, but please don’t tar the genre by association. That’s like watching Last Action Hero and deciding you hate action movies.

      Play Chrono Trigger, at the least.

      • Ragnar says:

        I agree that FF XIII is not representative of the series as a whole. I disagree that it’s the worst one. XIII revised XII’s boring combat system to make it fun, fast, and exciting. I had a blast playing it. Fast and exciting combat is certainly not representative of Final Fantasy, but I’ll gladly give up towns, mini-games, and chocobos for fun and exciting combat.

        Regardless, if you’re looking for Dark Souls style combat, you’re not going to find that in any FF game.

        • Tekrunner says:

          “Fast and exciting combat is certainly not representative of Final Fantasy, but I’ll gladly give up towns, mini-games, and chocobos for fun and exciting combat.”

          Same here. Also it didn’t have random encounters. FF7 is still my favorite in the series, but going back to it after 13 can be really testing. It’s possible that FF13 wasn’t really made for the typical FF / JRPG fan, but it was certainly made for people like Ragnar or me.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Yeah, XIII is utter bilge.

      • Ragnar says:

        Utter bilge that I had a blast playing.

        XIII made combat fast and exciting, rewarding you for getting through fights as fast as possible.

        It had bosses that were difficult and required several attempts and approaches, even equipping all those defensive accessories that normally gather dust, while avoiding the tedium of having to clear back to the bosses from the last save point.

        It made an epic JRPG playable on a busy schedule in 20-30 minute chunks.

        And by the end it had the most strategic combat out of any FF game not subtitled Tactics, where you’re switching party role on the fly as the battle dictates instead of just hitting Fight over and over again.

        • sicanshu says:

          I agree that the combat was pretty great, and once you made it to Gran Pulse the game opened up a lot. But God was it ever a slog to get there, and even then it wasn’t enough to rescue XIII from its unlikable cast of characters and completely incoherent story line: “We were turned into l’cie by Pulse Fal’cie (not to be confused with the Lindzei Fal’cie), so we had to leave Cocoon in the Purge and go down to Pulse before we turned into Cieth.” I mean, Jesus Rollerblading Christ, that is the actual plot of the game.

  15. GWOP says:

    My favorite Final Fantasy is The Spirits Within.

  16. daphne says:

    I’m growing increasingly convinced that Richard Cobbett is my British twin. Even the favourite FFs are the same, though I did love FF VIII, my first FF (played at age 10).

    Recently had the great, childhood-affirming joy of playing IX and currently enjoying X, because I never did stray outside the PC.

  17. benkc says:

    Can someone explain how I’m wrong about Chrono Cross?

    What I vaguely remember (this was a long time ago) was that you had very little ability to “level up”, and that it was gated by being alive at the end of a boss battle, which got you a star or something. So there was this boss, not particularly far in I think — some kind of giant bird maybe? — that I could not for the life of me defeat without at least one party member dying off before the end. After lots of resets with no success, my frustration exceeded my determination and I gave up on the game.

    So, what’s the deal? Is that not how the game’s system works? If I had just continued, would everything have righted itself? Was I just terrible?

    • Chillicothe says:

      Chrono Cross (or rather Masato Kato) for whatever reason seems hell-bent on ruining the characters from Chrono Trigger with almost grim glee. With every report of CT it gets worse. I don’t know why.

      Also, that arrangement of Terra’s Theme completely gutted its heartrending tempo and simplicity.

    • Rythe says:

      You’ll always get the odd champion for Chrono Cross, but I bounced off it like nothing else. I mean, I beat it, the music was decent, but I never remember enjoying it. Or the idea of repeating the game and digging through the combat system to get the decent ending – which I never did.

      I’d say you’re not missing much. I wouldn’t even call it a real sequel to Chrono Trigger for a lot of reasons.

  18. Ancient Evil says:

    Actually, Richard (or anyone else for that matter), the very best way to play Final Fantasy VI right now (IMO) is not on a SNES emulator, but on a GBA emulator. (Assuming you’re looking to avoid the graphics of the Steam and mobile versions, that is.)

    Ordinarily, the GBA version has a brightened color palette (to make the graphics more legible on an actual GBA screen) and downgraded audio (due to sound chip limitations) compared to the SNES version. However, BOTH these issues can be easily solved when playing on an emulator, using the restoration patches you can find here: link to romhacking.net (You can also find a prepatched version, but since I don’t know if whoever reads this already owns the game legitimately, linking it here would be abetting copyright infringement.)

    The big advantage of the GBA version is the completely redone translation, which finally gives the story the proper localization it deserves. There are also a number of other bug-fixes and improvements, but the massively improved translation is the main attraction here.

    The only downside of the GBA version, post-patches, is the reduced resolution. The GBA runs at a resolution of 240×160, which compared to the 256×224 resolution of the SNES, means you can see less of the map at any given time, though the spritework itself is unchanged. This, unfortunately, can not be corrected.

    Overall, though, having extensively played both, I prefer the GBA version. Even beyond the translation, it feels much more polished.

  19. Xander77 says:

    I’ve recently read through Elentor’s LP of FF7:
    link to lparchive.org

    I recommend not only insofar as “it will change your opinion of FF7” (not sure if that’s what an LP is supposed to do) but it will probably strike you just how much the game differs from its pop-cultural memory. Like… how Yahtzee uses a Cloud sprite to illustrate JRPG character cliches despite mostly none of them actually applying to Cloud. Or how people generally have Tiffa and Aerith’s personalities exactly backwards.

    Kinda fascinating, honestly.

  20. zipdrive says:

    I’ve never played any FF games (except for the FF7 demo that came on a…PC Gamer(?) cover disk eons ago), and I wou;n’t mind starting, as I’ve heard good things regarding the characters and plot. The problem is, I don’t have 500 free hours and slogging through identikit encounters (especially random ones) is grating. I huffingly uninstalled both Breath of Death 7 and Cthulhu Saves the World because of them.

    Does anyone have any advice on how to enjoy the fun parts and skipping the boring? Maybe some hacks using emulators?

    • Xander77 says:

      Encounter-None (or whatever the exact name is) is a Materia / magic type you can find quite early. Play FF8, as that’s the installment in which not gaining any experience actually works to your benefit.

      • zipdrive says:

        Quite early in which game? FF8? All of them?

        • thekelvingreen says:

          Materia are the magic gems in FF7, but the No Encounters ability is in many of the games in the series.

          FF8 is a game that does not reward building up levels; there’s an argument that it punishes such behaviour. I got about two thirds of the way through before it became apparent I was too powerful to continue; there’s a moment where if you’re too strong you can’t avoid killing someone you’re not supposed to kill, and the game ends.

  21. Rythe says:

    Yes and yes.

    It’s a damn shame that Chrono Trigger nailed the JRPG formula and hasn’t been bested yet. FFVI did beautiful things with a SNES while carrying through such a great plot and characters and moments. FFIX was the slightly awkward gem in the rough.

    And the scrollbar said enough about VII and VIII.

    Biggest difference with me is that I was lucky enough to own these titles when they were fresh and unmarred by the PC or other sundry ports.

    But don’t hold your breath for a decent Chrono Trigger appearance on the PC. They’re probably making too much off people rebuying it for the latest Nintendo platform, over and over again.