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Final Fantasy, The Good and Bad of Change

by Michael Duran

I have seen that there is much discussion these days on whether the newer Final Fantasy games live up to the older ones. I have been a Final Fantasy fan for almost ten years, and even imported the ones that never came out over here, so I have seen a lot. Many people cite the magnificent graphics of the newer Final Fantasies as a remarkable trait, as well as the ingenious of the story lines.....yet do the new ones still measure up with the old ones where it is most important, fun? And how has the series evolved since those old eight bit days?

I still remember that first time I played the first Final Fantasy so long ago. My team was a Fighter, Thief, Red Wizard, and Black Wizard. I found the game to be remarkable, something that I just couldn't put down. Were flashy graphics the reason? Or a magnificent storyline? Of course not- both were actually rather lacking. Yet rpgers back then appreciated something else far more than these things- the fun factor, one that makes the games replayable even now. This was also a strong element in the other two eight bit ones, just pure, albeit outdated, fun.

Then something changed. With the coming of sixteen bit, more advanced games were expected of consumers. No longer would the simpleness of the eight bit era do....something bigger, something better, something that signified the changing times was needed. And Square delivered. No longer were characters void of personality with the arrival of Final Fantasy Four. Gamers became amazed with the characters who seemed almost human, and who, instead of wandering from place to place on the hints and tips of townsfolk, now were immersed in a rich storyline, something unexperienced in video gaming before. The old Final Fantasy fun was still there.....only now the characters had vitality, and could be related to now.

This style hit its pinnacle with the release of Final Fantasy Six. An incredible storyline, characters with complex histories and personalities, and despite what a previous editorial writer stated, the MOST subquests of any Final Fantasy game. Almost the entire dark world was nothing more than a slew of many subquests, with rewards for these quests ranging from party members to special items. A player COULD save up a lot and take on Kefka's fort with just Celes, Setzer, Sabin, and Edgar. But it was the option of all the entertaining subquests that gave this game great lasting power, not to mention depth. This game made me play it until all the characters in the game were level ninety-nine, and until every last one had every last spell on the game. Needless to say, the fun factor was still there, even though the flashy cinematics had yet to come.

Then came Final Fantasy Seven. I bought this game the first day out, ten in the morning, east coast time. I was amazed by the stunning visuals of the introduction.....yet as I played through the game, instead of delving into the storyline, I many times found myself wondering when the next piece of eye candy would come up. And perhaps this is best, because maybe if I had not been this way I would have realized earlier that Sephiroth is in essence a clone of the Lunar character Ghaleon. Let us compare them, shall we? Ghaleon and Sephiroth were both war heroes. Ghaleon and Sephiroth both have the main heroes of the respective games tag along with them on a special mission, Alex and Cloud respectively. Both of them are uncontrollable by the player, and both are so powerful that they deal with the enemies with one attack. Both go berserk at the end of the mission. Both become the arch nemesis. Both have long, silvery hair. (Note: All my information is from the Sega CD version of Silver Star, I do not know of any changes that might have been made in the Playstation remake.)

Character stealing aside, Final Fantasy is and okay game....yet not one that I will be playing years from now, unlike the Final Fantasy games which came before it. One of the other major drawbacks is the lack of equipable weapons and armor, one of the most enjoyable aspects of rpgs. While Final Fantasy Six had two hands to equip, an armor slot, a helmet slot, and two extra slots, Final Fantasy Seven only had a weapon slot, an armor slot (and not even body armor, more of just a gauntlet/bracelet type thing.) and an extra slot. Some may say that this is because of the more futuristic nature of the game.....yet the Phantasy Star series was far more futuristic than Final Fantasy Seven, and had far more equipable items. They just gave the items a more futuristic style. The game did of course have good points too. Limit Breaks were a nice new addition, and the Turks were pretty neat bad guys, and the cinemas were stunning, so the game was still somewhat decent.

And now we have Final Fantasy Eight. What is the most commonly praised aspect of this game? The cinemas. Not the fun factor, but the cinemas, aka the graphics. When you think about this, then that should tell you something about it. And what are the things most complained about? The summon length, the heavy reliance on summons, and the magic drawing system. People complained about not being able to skip through the summons on Final Fantasy Seven....and now, instead of adding this as an option, Square decided to spit in the faces of the fans, by instead increasing the average summon length, and by making you rely far heavier on them. On top of that they invented their worst magic system since Final Fantasy Two, the drawing system. Now you had a limited number of spell uses like in Final Fantasies One and Three, only now you can't regenerate the supply at an inn or its equivalent. This detracts from any fun factor to say the least. Also, the monsters gaining levels is another bad feature, one that ruins one of the basic pillars of rpging. Part of the fun of rpgs past is working your way to new monster areas, and then coming back to the old ones some day and taking care of them like they were nothing now. It showed you how much the power of your characters had grown, and really made you feel like you were accomplishing something with them. Now guess what, the old monsters are no longer going to give you that satisfaction. Apparently the monsters of old had their self esteems hurt by such displays of power on the part of the gamer, so they have asserted their right to level up as well now. To summarize my thoughts on Final Fantasy Eight, yes it does have excellent graphics, and yes the storyline is good, but the fun just is not there. I rented it for a week, and after the week I returned it, and I haven't looked back at that game since. It just is not worth any more of my time.

I may have found Final Fantasy Seven to be mediocre, and Eight to be a stellar disappointment, but is there not something redeeming? I have to concede that there is. These games, while not satisfying for "old schoolers" such as myself, have immense appeal for newer rpg gamers. And heightened interest in a genre means that more companies will bring out games of that genre.....so thank you Squaresoft, for making Tales of Destiny possible. Thank you Squaresoft, for making Kartia possible. Thank you Squaresoft, for making Suikoden 2 possible. Thank you Squaresoft, for making the return of Enix to these shores possible. Thank you Squaresoft, for all that you have done for the world of thirty-two bit role playing games.

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