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Final Fantasy Anthology - Retroview

For Whyyyyyyy?

By: Andrew Long


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 2
   Interface 3
   Music/Sound 2
   Originality 3
   Plot 6
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 3
   Visuals 4
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

30-60 hours for each game

 
Overall
Three
Criteria

Title Screen
 

   Ever since Square released its infamous tech demo featuring Locke et al attacking a monster, which was shortly before the N64 and PlayStation consoles became ubiquitous, fans of the company's Final Fantasy series had been slavering over the prospect of a new release of their cherished SNES favorites. It made perfect sense, in view of the tech demo; obviously, it could be achieved graphically, and while patience generally isn't a big thing with most people, there was a certain willingness to wait. Which was a good thing, since it was four years thereafter when Square finally announced the long-awaited remakes. And then they dropped a bombshell- no Final Fantasy IV for the North American collection. This was later remedied with the release of Final Fantasy Chronicles earlier this year, but in the intervening stretch, gamers were left to deal with only Final Fantasies V and VI. Oh, well. Final Fantasy V had never been released in North America. It was a brand new game! And besides, Final Fantasy VI would be great! ...Unfortunately, reality then reared its ugly, ugly head. Square, rather than doing a decent port, opted to cram their games into the PlayStation media through the easiest means possible. Instead of paying any attention whatsoever to little things like quality, the company concerned themselves only with pumping out the titles as quickly as possible, which resulted in a moderately abhorrent port.

   Perhaps the most noticeable achievement Square managed in their badly mangled port was making the PlayStation chug like an overworked mule in many areas of both games. Final Fantasy V and VI for the SNES featured no loading times before battles, no discernable sluggishness during battles, and a generally fluid pace. Since the PlayStation is a CD-based medium, some load times are to be expected; however, the example provided by Suikoden shows that these load times need be neither long nor burdensome. Lamentably, they're both in Final Fantasy Anthology, and there's really no reason why they should be. If the PlayStation can manage to grind out polygons at reasonable rates, a few sprites should be well within its means, but they simply aren't. Upwards of ten seconds of loading takes place before each battle, and the fun doesn't end there. Once in battle, any level of activity whatsoever immediately slows things down to a snail's pace. Spells execute slowly, moving the cursor between menu options takes place more ponderously, and a sort of lag is apparent in many battles. The problem is particularly evident in Final Fantasy VI, but Final Fantasy V is by no means inculpable in this regard. All in all, the pace is slowed very noticeably, and it makes battles much less enjoyable than they should be.

  Most gamers will remember Final Fantasy VIII with some irritation, since accessing a menu was usually a task presaged by several seconds of staring at a blank screen? Anyone who can recall how long it took to move between screens there will note the same problem here. While Final Fantasy VIII's pre-rendered backgrounds provide some excuse for this sort of languid transition, the fairly simplistic graphics of both titles in this compilation just shouldn't- and yet, they do. Menus suffer much the same slowdown as is found in battles, and while a few improvements are made- the ability to transfer between characters through using the R and L buttons in the case of Final Fantasy V, and some slight efficiency enhancements in the case of Final Fantasy VI- the overall impression is of a badly converted system which the PlayStation is apparently unequipped to deal with.


Now how is that thing reflecting light with no light nearby, anyway?
Ex-Death's helmet gets great reception  

Kids Run Through the City Corner, the town theme in Final Fantasy VI was such a nice peaceful song, originally. Not so now; sadly, through the miracle of screwing around with the sound emulation until it sounds tinny and off-key, Square has managed to botch even the sound and music emulation in Final Fantasy Anthology. The aforementioned track, by virtue of some sort of whiny-sounding instrument, previously kept to the background (with good reason) but now thrust into horrible, horrible, audibility, is just one example of the music gone wrong. Several other tracks have noticeable musical discrepancies (particularly including the prelude, which warbles ponderously as it tries desperately to grind out its composite notes), and even some sound effects, such as the Imp spell or Mog dancing, are subtly changed. Oddly, Final Fantasy VI was the game to suffer the most from this; Final Fantasy V, whether as a result of me not noticing (given my lesser familiarity with that game's original version) or of actual technical achievement, sounds relatively the same. Even so, there's just no excuse for the abysmal quality of sound in Final Fantasy VI.

   Since this compilation is, after all, a remake, the majority of the material is a retread. In an effort to create the impression that purchasing the game somehow affords the player the opportunity to enjoy a new experience of some sort, a few half-hearted FMVs have been tossed in, effectively bookending each of the games with one to two minute collections of brief scenes. Unfortunately, although the quality of these videos is rather good, they lack continuity, or any real purpose. Yes, it's spiffy to see the game's cast in fully rendered 3D, but since they only get this treatment for a few seconds, the effect is mostly lost. The other bonus materials-a bestiary, colosseum battle chart, and esper listing- are available only after beating the game, rendering them mostly useless. Final Fantasy V, incidentally, gets none of these things, and in the end, the extras seem just that- extraneous.

   When Lunar was remade, Working Designs took the trouble to update the script, going so far as to make Nall's jokes contemporary. The game's plot was completely reworked, and while it retained enough connection to the original to remain more or less the same game, it was evident that some effort went into the work. Final Fantasy Anthology, on the other hand, keeps Final Fantasy VI's script verbatim. This is largely a good thing, since the localization for that game was arguably one of the best ever by Square. The game's plot, while rather open-ended in the second half, is sufficient to hold its own. The same can't quite be said of Final Fantasy V. Square had an old translation lying around, and they used it. Now there's nothing wrong with this- it's just that the plot to Final Fantasy V seems terribly repetitious. It would have been nice if Square had done something, anything, to mix things up a little. Even so, the plots in both games, remaining untouched, are acceptable.

 


Mmmm... flame-broiled...
Terra serves up Magitek, lightly braised  

  As mentioned, Ted Woolsey's translation for Final Fantasy VI is one of the best ever done for a Square game. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy Anthology chips away at this a little bit, with such inexplicable irritations as decreasing the character limit from 10 to 9 for names. Adamanchyt becomes Adamcht. GhostTrain becomes GstTrain, and throughout the game, various niggling little changes are made, which, while not particularly earth-shattering, are nonetheless enough to irritate. The same can be said of Final Fantasy V, a game riddled with character-limited badness. While never utterly incoherent, the abilities and their explanations are definitely Spartan. Also, while Final Fantasy VI's localization was a good one, Final Fantasy V's was somewhat less so. This is not to say it was riddled with errors, since it wasn't (although several major cringe-worthy errors did find their way into the translation). It was just a weak translation which would have benefited from more time and effort, much like the rest of the game.


Curses... maybe I'll take up Cribbage.
Setzer gets dealt a lousy hand  

   Time and effort are two things not worth putting into either of these games if you own the SNES version of either. The load times are a non-factor, and the lag issues and other technical failings are not an issue either. If you're really interested in using Sabin 100% of the time and being rewarded with seeing that number emblazoned under his feet in the Bonus area, by all means, do so. Just realize that's the sole advantage to be reaped from such a course of action, unless killing time can be counted as a benefit. The only real reason to replay either of these games is to see the slight variations in the ending of Final Fantasy V. Beyond that, it's more or less a waste of time.

So is there anything good about this game? The FMV sequences that sandwich both games are reasonable, but beyond that, there is no graphical improvement to either Final Fantasy V or Final Fantasy VI. In point of fact, the sluggishness created by the poor processing speed that plagues the battle scenes causes some visuals to look even lousier than they did on the SNES, and it may have just been my TV, but flying in the airship actually caused the edges of the screen to start wavering, as opposed to maintaining their usual straight edges. All in all, it's not a good thing when a superior system makes stuff look worse.

There are a total of four unique FMV scenes, with a fifth being comprised of the slapped-together detritus of two others and dubbed over with different music. Even though their content is acceptable, the videos are nothing special by 1999 standards. Previously released games looked better, and subsequent releases did as well, so any hopes of distinguishing the remake graphically are futile in the face of this lacklustre video. This isn't to say it's bad, because it isn't. It's just not top notch, which is strange given Square's dedication to improving video technology.

Unlike Final Fantasy IV, re-released two years later as the Hard Type version, Final Fantasy VI and V were left relatively the same in terms of difficulty. This isn't too great a problem- Final Fantasy V, by virtue of the encounter rate remaining the same, was more challenging than the average Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy VI, however, retained its largely easy combat system. It just would have been nice if Square had considered beefing up the game slightly, if for no other reason than to make it take a little longer. As for how long it takes to complete, that's largely a mystery left to speculation; while both games have an in-game timer, neither includes load times in this count. As a result, the alleged 30 hours it took me to finish Final Fantasy VI was in all likelihood closer to 45 or 50.

The remake that could have been just wasn't, in the end. Square's growing affinity for profit as opposed to quality reared its ugly head in truly noticeable fashion for the first time here, and what should have been a great remake ended up being worse than mediocre. If you're in the market for a good remake, pick up Lunar instead. Otherwise, don't touch this offering with a ten foot pole; trust me, the pole will thank you later.





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