Week One: Personal Experiences
Week Two: Our Heroes
Week Three: Best Song Ever
Week Four: Gameplay Wallbangers
Week Five: The Big Bad
Week Six: Ridiculously Broken Attacks
Week Seven: Title Logos
Week Eight: Chocobos!
Week Nine: Battle Music
Week Ten: Eye-rollingest Plot Elements
Week Eleven: Craziest Fashion Sense
Week Twelve: Sequels, Spin-offs, Remakes and Ports
SPOILER ALERT!! This feature by its very nature contains spoilers for every Final Fantasy game. If you don’t want your cherry popped, make sure to skip the bits about games you haven’t played yet.
When embarking on this project I had only just finished Final Fantasy XIII. The number thirteen is a strong element in that game; there are thirteen gameplay chapters and therefore thirteen locations to explore. There are thirteen days in the run-up to the opening scenes of the game. I found this little tidbit to be pretty charming, actually, and decided to mimic it on my own little website. Thirteen games, thirteen weeks, thirteen topics to discuss. It worked pretty well.
In reality though there are way way way more than thirteen games in this series. “Way Way Way More Than Thirteen Weeks of Final Fantasy” is kind of a stupid title though, and way more work than I’d ever be willing to put into something like this, so I limited myself only to games whose titles consisted solely of “Final Fantasy” and a Roman numeral.
Often, though, these spin-offs and side-games tie directly into a mainline title. Some are pure remakes of the original game, others are huge expansions of the game’s world, setting and characters. This week we’ll take a look at all the different versions of each of the thirteen games, and find out which has the best showing outside its original release.
Final Fantasy VIII: El Zilcho
As far as I know Final Fantasy VIII stands alone as the only mainline game without any follow-up. I suppose this makes sense. Sequels are right out, of course; the plot of FF8 involves a group of kids destroying the world’s most powerful evil entity at every point in time simultaneously. The setting and characters lack the popularity of FF7 or FF10, and it’s not part of a larger world the way FF12 is. Even a Crisis Core-style prequel detailing the misadventures of Laguna, Kiros and Ward would be sort of impractical, since said misadventuers were already pretty well detailed via flashback in the original. The only angle I could see revisiting FF8 from is one where they’re remastering the 32-bit games for re-release… but they’d have to get through the FF7 powerhouse first. Frankly, I’m surprised anyone remembered Squall still existed when it came time to plug him into Dissidia.
Final Fantasy IX: Tetra Master Online
The world of Final Fantasy IX has likewise never been revisited, though I suspect it is much riper than FF8 would be. Sure, the World Is Saved, but the characters aren’t backed into a corner. The plot resolves in such a way that new, interesting setting elements are introduced. And yeah, let’s just come clean with it: the cast is more worthy of a second look as well. You could enjoy another thirty hours spent with these goofballs.
FF9′s trading card game Tetra Master was released as a sorta-kinda stand-alone item, though. For a dollar a month you could play it using Square’s PlayOnline service, which as far as I can tell was supposed to be the foundation of their immense online gaming empire but ended up only supporting FF11. (I don’t even think the upcoming FF14 is going to use it.) Now, I’ve never played Tetra Master on PlayOnline. The card game is fun, but it’s not a-dollar-a-month fun. No doubt there are some hardcore card slingin’ wiseguys out there who are all up into it, but even so, it’s got nothing much to do with FF9.
Final Fantasy XIII: Fabula Nova Crystallis
Just because the Final Fantasy series wasn’t pretentious enough withouta stuck-up Latin subtitle, they decided to go ahead and expand the universe of Final Fantasy XIII to encompass three games, which collectively would be released under the label Fabula Nova Crystallis. The additional games are Final Fantasy Agito XIII for PSP and Final Fantasy Versus XIII for PS3. (Presumably Versus will also get an eleventh hour 360 release, causing Sony fanboys everywhere to shit themselves stupid again.)
Now, please don’t take FF13′s low spot on this list as an indication that I dislike the idea of more FF13 games. Brother, I loved FF13. It’s just… well, the games aren’t out yet. And as far as I know nobody knows when they will be out. All we have to go on right now is the promise of more FF13 in the future, which pretty much just consists of firing off speculation at a few screenshots and making our heads hurt trying to figure out what the titles mean.
What we do know, though, is that neither game will be a direct sequel/prequel. These games will apparently use the FF13 mythos, but not its setting. So it’s not a continuuation of the story along the lines of FF10-2, and neither is it a disconnected chapter of history as is the Ivalice Alliance. It’s sort of a Final Fantasy fractal, if you will; the series as a whole consists of a group of games only loosely related by ideas and concepts. With Fabula Nova Crystallis we’ve just zoomed in a level, and are getting a group of games only loosely related by more specific ideas and concepts.
Final Fantasy VI: Advance
For being one of the most beloved entries in the series, Final Fantasy VI kind of got overlooked when the remake train came through. The GBA version of the game made the incredibly rare 16-bit RPG more common to find, but that’s about all it did. The new localization is really good, but the original localization was really good too. (And this is a sore spot with some of the more curmudgeonly Woolsey fans out there.) Despite being a fairly system-heavy game there’s not a lot that could be tweaked. A few new Espers, sure, but Espers just aren’t cool the way new jobs or characters are.
The game was rebalanced too, which means old fun glitches like Psycho Cyan and Wind God Gau are DOA. Boo-urns.
As befitting of an oldschool FF remake there is a new superdungeon to challenge, and you’re no longer perma-locked out of the more elusive Rages and Dances (providing you know exactly where to look). Outside of that, though? It’s pretty much the same game. Which, of course, is to say it’s still FF6. So, amazing, sure — but the same kind of amazing it was back in 1994.
Final Fantasy V: Advance
Pretty much everything I said about FF6 Advance applies equally to Final Fantasy V Advance, with a few caveats. First, the new localization is a vast improvement over the old one. I’m probably the only person alive who prefered Faris’s wonderfully cheesy pirate dialect in the old version, but I certainly don’t miss “YESSS!!!” as my default victory term, nor the unbelievably stupid misspelling of “X-Death”. Come on guys! You didn’t even save any character spaces with that one!
That said, the characters got new portraits, which is to say they got portraits. As a big fan of the in-game artwork in FF4 and FF6 I always felt like this was a weakness in FF5. With five characters and 20+ jobs it wasn’t really feasible to run the full gamut of possiblities, but portraits of the characters’ base artwork would have been welcome. Well, now they’re here, and they’re very nice. (Er, only in dialogue boxes though… not the status screen. Oh well, it’s not a perfect world.)
New jobs have been added, but you get them so late they may as well not exist. I’m not even sure they’re better than the jobs that were already in there anyway. And there’s a new superdungeon too, but it’s boring and pointless so I’ve never finished it. On the plus side, FF5 is next in line if these DS remakes keep up. Fingers crossed!
Final Fantasy II: Origins / Dawn of Souls / 20th Anniversary Edition
The only reason Final Fantasy II made it this high on the list is that we never got the original. So if not for its various remakes and re-releases, we’d never have gotten to play the game at all except via emulation. Hmm… no, there’s another reason: the remakes are very pretty. Firion in particular looks very cool in the remakes, and if not for them his identity would still essentially be “FF1 Fighter”.
But no, that’s all the game has going for it. All the broken stupid gameplay is still in tact. All the slogtastic grind is still firmly in place. The story hasn’t been expanded on. There’s a new game mode where you get to play as the various dead characters, but why on earth anyone would want more FF2 is utterly beyond me.
Three remakes, and nobody thought to give the game any of the love it so sorely needed. I’m of the opinion that most of FF2′s faults were caused by the game trying to overreach its 8-bit roots; they were trying to do things that just weren’t possible with the bips and doodads inside of a Famicom. Expanding those limits to the edges of a PlayStation disc, or a GBA cart, or an iPhone app should have prompted someone to say, “Hey guys? Let’s go back and clean up this shit.” Nobody did. At best they threw some sawdust on top of it, then shoved it out the door with a push broom. For shame.
Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job System / Revenant Wings
Technically speaking, every entry of the Ivalice Alliance could be included here. Sticking with Final Fantasy XII in particular though, there’s both a remake and a spin-off to discuss. And I’m bitter about both of them.
First is the International Zodiac Job System. This is a new version of the game with lots of little tweaks and changes, such as removal of the damage cap, addition of a mist meter for quickenings, cleanup of the only-very-slightly-cumbersome Gambit system… the list goes on. In addition you can now assign jobs to your characters, giving them unique license boards to play with and adding a new layer of customization to a game that was already the config-fiddler’s wet dream.
That version never came out in North America, though. This makes me sad, because it sounds like they fixed all the little things I didn’t like about FF12, and then heaped new cool stuff on top of it.
Second is Revenant Wings, a spin-off game on the DS. I haven’t played this, despite my grand love of all things FF12, because people keep telling me not to. Every few months I get it in my head to grab a copy to play at the office, only to have someone come out of the woodwork and say “NO BRICKROAD. THAT IS A BAD THING TO DO. DO NOT DO THAT THING.” Apparently the game is really bad, which doesn’t make sense to me, since everything I read about it makes it sounds like the gang gets back together for more zany adventures.
Hmm… maybe it does make sense. The DS library is full of games that are basically fun but take too much stylus-wrestling to fully enjoy. If Revenant Wings is on that pile, yeah, it’s probably best to stay away. Still, though… Balthier’s in it. It’s a conundrum, to be sure.
Final Fantasy IV: Advance / DS / The After Years
Good news, everyone! I managed to hogtie 14-year-old me so as not to let Final Fantasy IV creep up to the top of the list! I chucked me in a closet and then bricked the door up. I can still hear me whimpering in there. It’s… a little unsettling actually. Hopefully though this assessment of FF4′s droppings won’t be nearly as rose-tinted as is my norm.
First there was the GBA remake. Which, yeah, all the same criticisms of the FF5 and FF6 remakes apply. The superdungeon is higher quality, and the ability to build your own party effortlessly trumps new jobs and new Espers. Outside of that, though, it’s just FF4 again.
Then there was the DS remake, which is a strange beast. I could probably devote an entire post just to my thoughts on this game, but the bottom line is that the visual style and voice acting works for me, the new way-ramped-up difficulty sort of doesn’t, and the obtuse Augment system is utter crap. I haven’t even finished this version yet, despite it being two years old. I think I got to the moon and before realizing how badly I had borked my Augments, which killed any momentum I had to finish. It also removes all the cool new things the Advance version added, which doesn’t make any sense. I want Yang in my endgame party, dammit.
Finally there is the direct sequel, The After Years, originally released on Japanese cell phones and eventually in North America by way of WiiWare. I have written entire posts about my thoughts on this game, but in the end I simply cannot recommend it to anyone but the most die-hard FF4 fanatics. The story is abysmal, the graphics are mismatched, the music is untouched, the grind is omnipresent. Plus the whole package is probably about twice as expensive as any reasonable person would want to spend on it. Essentially: I enjoyed it, but you won’t. And that’s that.
Final Fantasy VII: The Compilation
The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII is the label applied to all the spin-offs and animations orbiting around the biggest cash cow in FF history. Perhaps the most famous of these is the deliciously corny CGI movie Advent Children, which reached the perfect equilibrium of awesome and awful, and could only have been made better with more scenes of Cait Sith and Red XIII.
If FF7 just wasn’t enough game for you, there’s no shortage of spin-offs and pseudo-sequels to keep you busy — especially if you own a Japanese cell phone. Crisis Core, the prequel starring Cloud’s black-haired doppelganger Zack, is supposed to be surprisingly good. I’ve heard its ending described as one of the more poignant moments of the series. The only reason I skipped it is because I didn’t have a PSP at the time it came out. Now that I do it is on the short list of PSP games I want to go back and get.
The other game I skipped is Dirge of Cerberus, because it looked like a terrible action game starring a character who should never be allowed near a protagonist role. Vincent is cool when he’s in the background looking like a badass, but instantly becomes stupid the moment he opens his brooding mouth. I imagine that happens quite a bit in Dirge of Cerberus. Maybe the game is good (though I’ve never heard anyone offer that opinion), but the whole high-octane brawler genre sort of just bounces off me. I had no interest in titles like Devil May Cry and God of War… why would I want to try Final Fantasy’s clumsy crack at the same game?
When taken in aggregate, though, FF7 is the most well-developed world in the series. Ivalice has more history, but is heavily fractured, and no one quite knows how the pieces fit together. Vana’diel is rich and vibrant, but the characters are by necessity mostly lifeless mannequins. On the other hand, FF7′s “The Planet” still doesn’t have a proper name, so maybe it’s a wash.
Final Fantasy X: International / X-2
A few years before they released a fixed, more awesome version of FF12, they released a fixed, more awesome version of Final Fantasy X. One of the things this version of the game supposedly had was a completely revamped Sphere Grid, allowing characters to be customized much earlier and in much greater detail than the original. This being one of my bigger complaints about the Sphere Grid, I think this is a change I could really get behind… if they’d release the goddamn thing in my region.
The real gem here is Final Fantasy X-2, the first direct sequel in the FF series. For the first time we get to see the effects the heroes had on the game world beyond the short snippets in the end credits. Spira is a much different place before and after the destruction of Sin. Once the world was held prisoner by the cycle of death that plagued it, fearful of technology and with nothing but religion to cling to. With the fall of Sin, though, Spira becomes a place of celebration. An entire people are, for the first time, beginning to really explore and understand their world. Lost technologies and sciences are being rediscovered. People travel. The world breathes.
And of course there were a bunch of mechanical changes and fundamental tweaks of basic game structure for nerd-boys who like that kind of thing. Not the least of these is Job System 4.0, now with 500% more scantily-clad women (for nerd-boys who like that kind of thing).
FF10-2 is a surprisingly solid game if you can get over how embarrassing the whole spectacle is. Yuna, formerly a weepy non-entity with a lousy voice actor, is now a more confident and proactive character (with a lousy voice actor). Yuna’s entire life had been defined by her pilgrimage to Zanarkand and her march towards death. What she really lacked in FF10 was a sense of identity, and this game is about her search for one. Oh, and Paine. Who is awesome. But you knew that.
Final Fantasy XI: Various Expansions
Nothing breathes life into an MMO quite like a new expansion. The promise of new content, new worlds to explore, new numbers to juggle and new gear to wear… this is exactly the kind of thing that can lure a lapsed player back into paying $14 a month. Upon release in North America Final Fantasy XI came pre-loaded with the first expansion, Rise of the Zilart. Since then there have been several more, each one opening new regions of the world and adding a few new jobs to play with.
First there was Chains of Promathia, which I’m told has one of the most epic plotlines in the series. Trying to imagine myself playing an MMO specifically to advance the plot leaves me coming up blank, but apparently this expansion achieves that lofty goal. Then came Treasures of Aht Urgan, which twanged my heartstrings just enough with hits Blue Mage job to get me to reactivate my account for a short time. (Long enough to realize how much grind would be involved in actually getting that Blue Mage job, anyway.) And most recently there was Wings of the Goddess, which added the amazing Dancer job and an entire time travel plot to explore.
In addition there are various downloadable add-ons, little sub-stories and bonus missions which differ from regular content patches only in that you have to pay for them. Oh, capitalism!
It looks like we’re nearing the end of FF11′s tenure, though. Things look like they’ll quiet down in the run-up to FF14, when the whole cycle of expansions and reactivations and patches and level-cap increases can begin all over again. I can only hope I have the presence of mind to escape as quickly this time around as I did last time.
This is a fanboy’s fancy and nothing else, but my fervent hope is that the swan song of FF11 is an offline standalone title so players who love the world of Vana’diel can go adventuring there without all the ugly MMO trappings getting in their way.
Final Fantasy I: Origins / Dawn of Souls / 20th Anniversary Edition
Welp, 14-year-old me has burst out of his/my closet prison and is back in charge here. I am physically incapable of moving the various Final Fantasy I remakes any lower on the list than this. Simply put, the remakes of FF1 are so much better than the original that they can be considered brand new games.
Okay, maybe that’s going a little too far. Even so, FF1 was a game so crippled by bugs that it’s surprising anyone finished it in its original state. The PlayStation remake included on Final Fantasy Origins fixed all those bugs, allowing the game to finally be played like it was originally intended. It was still a little rough around the edges, mainly in areas where the game design couldn’t be more finely polished, so they went back in again and did another overhaul for the GBA version of Dawn of Souls.
Dawn of Souls is the definitive version of FF1. It’s beautiful, first of all, and that’s important when we’re talking about an ancient game that’s trying to pretend like it’s new. It’s also very playable, made more palatable to modern audiences with such a long list of gameplay changes it would take all day for me to go through them. Then there are the bonus dungeons, chock full of fun bosses and broken equipment. It’s an FF trainspotter’s wonderland, pure and simple. Of every FF game to ever exist, FF1 on Dawn of Souls might be the only one that seeks to and succeeds in appealing both to old and new fans.
Later they came out with a high-res version for PSP and iPhone, meaning you can now officially play FF1 on absolutely anything powered by electricity.
Final Fantasy III: DS
Usually when a game is remade there are still lots of reasons to recommend the original. This indeed holds true for every remake on this list, with the exception perhaps of Dawn of Souls, but particularly with Final Fantasy III DS. The DS version has a lot of great stuff going for it, let’s be clear: it eliminates the concept of useless or obsolete jobs that plagued the original. It took the lovely chiptune compositions from the soundtrack and eliminated the 8-bit barrier that was holding them back from sounding like real music. It gave us a fun (if simple) cast of characters, rather than four faceless Joes. In fact, it went a step further than that; where FF5 Advance didn’t see fit to give us character artwork for each and every job, FF3 DS does. The gallery of the four heroes in their wide variety of duds is really quite adorable.
The downsides are very heavy, though. The game is very slow, both in the sense of navigation (which is sluggish), loading time (which is pervasive) and in making progress through the story (which is hindered by long dungeons and lots of battles). Some concessions were made to modern game design, but not enough; there are still no save points and still no ATB. You’re still stuck in the last dungeon for three hours without any way to exit or safeguard your progress.
The rub is this, though: if you ever — ever — hear someone from the English-speaking world voice any of these complaints, it’s only because they played some dude’s illegal hacked translation of the pirated ROM. Before FF3 DS this game simply did not exist in North America. It was the last hole in the mainline series to be plugged. Forget whether or not it’s the “definitive” version or the “best” version… as far as my Floridian white boy tuchus is concerned, it’s the only version.
The very first thing I did upon getting home from the store with my brand new shrinkwrapped copy of FF3 DS was collect every FF game I owned, lay them all out on the table, and just bask in the glory for a few minutes. There was something very powerful (if incredibly dorky) about seeing the games all laid out like that, I – XII, staring back at me. “We are Final Fantasy,” they seemed to say, “and you are us.”
Okay that… that was probably over the line. Back in the closet, 14-year-old me.
No matter what sort of game you fancy, chances are there’s a Final Fantasy title waiting for you. The long list of FF tropes has been applied to everything from strategic warfare to dungeon hacking to board games to kart racing to just about everything in between. Some of these titles, like the venerable Final Fantasy Tactics are worthy classics in their own right. Others, like Dissidia are pure fanservice that could only exist in a world where the Final Fantasy brand already commanded vast amounts of respect and admiration. Crossover series Kingdom Hearts has grown into something so massive and so iconic that it may even rival its parent in terms of sheer popularity. Meanwhile you have older, more obscure titles like Final Fantasy Legend and Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon with loyal fanbases all their own. If you looked really hard you may even find a Mystic Quest apologist or two out there.
Each and every one of these titles is worth some recognition, for each of them puts their own unique little twist on the FF name. The main games have all been RPGs of a particular flavor, but the outliers can experiment a little more. They can pull that standard formula in new directions, and the core series would not be in the place it is today without them.
A gamer who says, smugly, “I hate Final Fantasy” is making a blanket statement so broad as to be essentially meaningless. It’s not like Resident Evil where you know up front you are going to Shoot Zombies. It’s not even comparable to Dragon Quest, an RPG series praised for its uncanny ability to always stay the same. A player can reasonably get away with saying they dislike Mega Man or Metroid, as much as series fanboys may like to argue about the finer points and details of those series’ individual entries.
Final Fantasy is different. It does too many things, under too many different flags, to be accepted or dismissed so bluntly.
And yet, after twelve weeks, I still feel like we haven’t really gotten to its soul. But what would poscidbly be left to talk about…?