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Hey, Are You Forgetting Something?

by Stuart Carapola

You know, with all the opinions about Final Fantasy 4/6 are the greatest RPGs of all time, and how much Final Fantasy 7 and 8 rock/suck, I can't help but think how people seem to forget, and in fact may not even know about, the three Japanese games, the oft-maligned Final Fantasy 2, 3, and 5, that never made it to America.

OK, I think with the release of FF7, FF8, and the Anthology, everybody knows that some Final Fantasy games didn't make it to America. I think people, in their arguments about how good or bad they think the localized games are, unjustly forget about the earlier games in the series, which most people probably have never played.

And before you ask, yes, I know that Final Fantasy 5 was released as part of the Anthology, but let's face facts, the version we got sucked. There were many problems with it, all of which I'm sure you've heard before, and I'm not going to go into them now, that's another rant. Besides, it wasn't even released here until late last year, so it deserves mention.

Anyway, getting back to the matter at hand, I'd like to start with Final Fantasy 2. No, not the game with Cecil as the protagonist, I'm talking about the real 2, which was a Famicom game. Basically, it took the formula that was started in the original (which I'm sure a great many of you have never played either), and improved greatly upon it. For starters, there were dialogues that lasted longer than one window. For the first time, characters were more than the means to advance the quest. Also, the game was at least twice as long as the original. And best of all, this game was the first in the series where the characters in your party were classless and customizable. In a system similar to the Saga games (again, most of you probably haven't played some of the earlier ones), you grow according to what you do with your characters. To elaborate, this means that if your characters fight hand to hand a lot, their strength goes up. If they use a lot of magic, their magic power and intelligence goes up. Anybody could use any spell. Whatever weapon you use, you gain proficiency in that kind of weapon, depending on how much you use it. This customizability led to such things as the Esper and Materia systems in the later games. Another interesting thing, this was the first game in the series to utilize the dynamic party system, which basically means that characters enter and leave your party during the game, and you're not stuck with the same four (or three, or five) characters you started with. This game also was the beginning of the infamous "Two Villains Per Game" tradition. There's the bad guy, and then there was the *REAL* bad guy.

Next, we move on to Final Fantasy 3. No, not the game with Terra and Espers, I'm talking about the real 3, which was not just a Famicom game, but arguably the best Famicom game ever made. For one, it was just a genuinely fun game to play. It is also the first of the "modern" Final Fantasy games, not 4 as most people believe. The third game was the one where Final Fantasy got it's look, with the blue menu screen, with the characters on the left and options on the right. It started the tradition of the game ending with a starfield with the words "The End" and the Prelude playing in the background. The graphics and music were amazing, especially when you consider the limitations of the Famicom hardware. And while FF2 was the first game in the series with real dialogue, this was the first game where there was some semblance of character development. Characters had personalities instead of lines, and you could identify with them better now. Unfortunately, the characters you control were not given personalities. Side quests appeared for the first time in the series. This game marked the first appearance of summoned monsters. Oh, yeah, one other thing. Before you read this, you had better make sure your windows and doors are locked, your bomb shelter is fully stocked, and whatever other preparations you need to make. Girls, hang on to your boyfriends. Ready for this? Final Fantasy 3 marked the first appearance of.......THE JOB SYSTEM! That's right, folks. The job system first appeared in this game, not FF5, as most people seem to believe. For the first time, Your characters were not limited to one class, they could switch classes, and abilities mid game. Granted, the system was not as developed as it was in FF5, but I'll get to that a little bit later. Gee, funny how all the things you're used to in later Final Fantasy games first appeared in these games we never got, isn't it? Final Fantasy 3 is actually my favorite game in the series, after 6.

This brings us to the infamous Final Fantasy 5. This is the game where the job system, which debuted in Final Fantasy 3, really became a lot more intricate. Hey, I didn't say how much later I'd talk about it. Anyway, Final Fantasy 5 took the job system from Final Fantasy 3, and improved greatly upon it. Instead of merely switching from class to class, each of which had their own unique abilities, characters could now learn abilities from the job they are currently using (by gaining a certain amount of ability points), and assign abilities to jobs that would not normally involve those abilities. This opens up a limitless number of combinations. Well, actually, only 9,900 combinations. But hey, that's still a lot. The ability to learn skills was seen again. In Final Fantasy 8, you could use skills learned from GFs, in a style identical to the one used in FF5. Other than that, Final Fantasy 5 was a bit of a departure from the norm, As you had four characters that you were stuck with for the entire game (with one exception, but that's part of the plot, and I won't spoil it here). The storyline isn't quite as developed as some of the games in the series, but it is still better than most other games.

As you can see, most of the stuff we see in the last three games kind of got their start early in the series. Whether it be because of quarrels with Nintendo over cartridge size, censorship issues, or any of a thousand other reasons you might have heard. Well, Final Fantasy 5 did come over here, and with the version we got, I don't blame people for not wanting to take a look at the other games, but I already said I wasn't going to go into that. I could go on and complain about how we also never got Romancing Saga, Rudora no Hihou, Front Mission, Seiken Densetsu 3, Bahamut Lagoon, and Chrono Trigger 2 and 3 (No, I'm only kidding. There was no Chrono Trigger 2 or 3. Sorry), all great games in their own right.

But that's another rant.

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