July 6, 2012

The Gauntlet: Final Fantasy Review

The Gauntlet
As promised, I’ve decided to play and review every single Final Fantasy (except possibly XI, because I hear that one is insane to play and since it’s online only, it will most likely be dead by the time I get to it—if it isn’t already). You can read all about the gauntlet here.

Final Fantasy…or First…Fantasy, I Guess?

Final Fantasy was…good. I enjoyed the time I spent in the game, but there were a few problems, the most severe being that the game was short and poorly paced. I guess since I’ve been raised on things like Suikoden II and Chrono Trigger, I’m used to investing more time in the main story of a video game—so a “short” experience with the main story of a video game created in the 80s is to be expected. If my problems with the game were solely related to the pacing, I’d probably say the game was a “must play” experience (like the above two games—seriously, if you haven’t played those, stop reading this post and go find them).

So for me to recommend a video game to my friends as a “must play” experience, it needs to have (at least) one of the following qualities:

·     1) The game has a “great” story.
·     2) The game has “great” single player gameplay elements.
·     3) The game has “great” multiplayer elements.

Of course, these are subjective—what I think is great you might think is complete crap. But I’m not going to suggest you play a game unless it’s got at least one of the above qualities, and even if the game has one of the above qualities, I still might not tell you that you have to play it.

In the case of Final Fantasy, I thought the gameplay was fun, but the story elements were atrocious. I had absolutely no emotional investment to the kingdom, the protagonists, nor the world the game created. It’s a shame, too—after playing Final Fantasy Dissidia (which was what started this Gauntlet in the first place), I was very excited about meeting and defeating Garland (the antagonist). However, outside of meeting him briefly at the beginning of the game and the final battle against him, his impact on the game was irrelevant—he didn’t show up anywhere else in the main quest. The threat he posed to the kingdom of…whereversville was not made clear to me, and as such, I felt nothing after defeating him. Well, I guess that’s not true—I felt like I could finally start on the next game in the series (which, by the way, is a feeling I can’t wait to experience with Final Fantasy II—but that comes later).

While I felt that the story failed to find that emotional resonance within me, I think the gameplay elements were actually pretty well done. You get to play with four main characters and have four classes to choose from, giving you a ton of different combinations to play the game with. The spells you get to cast are cool, there are some interesting weapons, but a lot of the combat is generic—but since this is one of the games that defined the genre, that’s perfectly reasonable and acceptable. This game was innovation, so any gripes I have with combat are kinda irrelevant. Also, there was one feature of combat that was really, really convenient—you can just hold down the A button to attack the first enemy across from you. So if you target the same enemy with all four of your warriors, and that enemy dies, if there is another enemy, you hit that one instead of skipping your turn or something. This was huge for me, actually, as more recent games than a game made in 1987 make you skip your turn instead (I’m looking at you, Golden Sun!). You can also choose who you attack with each warrior, but when you’re just leveling up, it’s a lot faster to just hold down one button and be done with it.

As for travelling around the world, the game escalates quite quickly with exploration abilities, which is something of a double-edged sword. In Metroid, for example, half the fun is gaining access to different areas by earning the power-ups like the ball bomb or screw attack. In Final Fantasy, you get an airship several hours into the game, which is basically the bomb ball, charge beam, screw attack, super missile and every single visor rolled into one power-up. This is where some of the pacing in the game really fails—there’s no buildup, no suffering, dredging from dungeon to dungeon and town to town, exploring the map at a slow pace or trying to make it back to a town with your last warrior at 1 HP and out of potions. You never experience this plight, and the game as a whole is worse for it. After getting the airship, it’s like you can basically teleport from place to place, and because of that, the exploration loses charm. I loved that I got access to an airship, but it wasn’t good for the experience overall.

As for the graphics, the game was pretty, especially on the PSP, which I feel like after all these years it was made for (or remade for, I suppose). The layout of the dungeons and towns were great for what the game was, too, and they kept the retro feel that I expected. Overall, I was quite pleased with the visual representation and the layout of the game.

So, the final question is this: is Final Fantasy a must play experience? Not…really. If you’re feeling nostalgic, then you could do worse by playing something else. But if you have zero emotional attachment to the world of Final Fantasy, I’m sure you can find a better RPG somewhere else (though probably not from the 80s or early 90s).

You can expect a review of Final Fantasy II to be forthcoming, but that one has been pretty hard to power through. Am I sad that I started this journey? That I imposed this gauntlet upon myself? Well…let’s just say you can ask me that question after I’m done with Final Fantasy II…


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