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Reviewing The Final Fantasy Series
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Alright, this is a bit daunting but I’m going to do some quick, lightning reviews for 33 Final Fantasy games. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. We have some old Lightning Reviews (what we used to call this feature) for the entire Mega Man series and its music that is still on the site. I haven’t done any of these since but I’ve been hankering for a challenge. I’m a huge fan of Final Fantasy games. I’ve been playing them since my father gave me a NES when I was four. Sure, I sucked at them back then but I grew into it and got better. The more “mature” nature of the series really intrigued me when I was young. There I sat with cartridges all around me like Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda, and others such as that but the Final Fantasy cart got played the most. I eventually did beat it and I remembered that game for so long. It took Pokemon to finally snap me out of my craze. Since the first entry, I’ve been glued to Squaresoft– I mean Square-Enix’s legendary series. I haven’t played them all but these 33 titles I can promise I have. I really wish games like Before Crisis and the other mobile phone games would at least be ported to iOS and Android. Still, 33 games is a lot for one series. 33 games is a lot for one article. I’m going to split this article up into pages: Main Series, Crystal Chronicles, and finally Sequels & Spin-offs. I hope I don’t have to mention here that there will be spoilers. Here we go!
Main Series | Crystal Chronicles | Sequels & Spin-offs
= Must Play
= Worth Playing
= It’s Alright
= Not Worth It
= Stay Away
The game that started it all. While not ground breaking these days, back during the NES’s time, this game was ginormous. Most of my friends who were into the same types of games never beat it. Having conquered this beast at a young age made me feel incredible. Though, by that time the second game had already release so it was back to the salt mines. Final Fantasy did everything it needed to in order to fuel the fire. No one saw how big this was going to be. Selecting your class gave some replay value to it and an awesome freedom that many games didn’t give. I remember trying to beat the game with four White Mages. Pfft. I got trampled so bad. It’s been done now but back then it just seemed impossible. I remember the villain very vividly. Garland was a terrifying foe compared to the other game bosses I’ve toppled. Bowser? Chump change next to Garland. “I, Garland, will knock you all down!” All-in-all, a fantastic start to the series and you could really feel the possibilities. That’s primarily what Squaresoft accomplished with this game. It made players think about what could possibly happen next. Will Garland come back? Is the princess and the kingdom really safe? What about the Four Fiends? What Squaresoft did with Final Fantasy II really set a tone about how this series would be like and no one saw it coming.
Gamers not just jumping onto the series because of the first one’s fame would realize that Squaresoft wasn’t making a continue series here. No, they were creating a universe. Maybe even a multiverse. Final Fantasy II did not feature the four Warriors of Light nor Garland. Instead we were introduced to the series’ first focused main character, Firion. While not completely memorable, Firion did a pretty good job at being the first main character. Playing as Firion made you feel like a military genius. He was a soldier first and foremost. Sure, he had friends but he would stop at nothing to complete his given task. That’s exactly what you did, too. You fought for the kingdom as best you could. Final Fantasy II wasn’t bad but people hype to play it from the first title quickly saw a lack of customization that the first title had. We could no longer choose what characters would play like. It wasn’t all that bad in honest, but Squaresoft saw the response and would try and win back that crowd with Final Fantasy III.
Final Fantasy III is a game that Square has no idea what it wants it to be. The original game didn’t really have a main character. We were back to a party of heroes on a quest. The big difference this time was the Job system. With the Job system you could change characters’ class and unlock some cool and strong ones. The DS version really revamped the game and added a new personality to the game in Luneth. Luneth honestly isn’t that great of a character. He does an alright job but after all these years did III really need this drastic change? While I’m not fully fond of III overall, I didn’t believe that an actual main character was really needed. It didn’t add anything to the game. The story for III itself is also very lackluster. The saving grace for the third game in the series was the Jobs. The expansion to the system in the DS version also gave you a reason for checking it out again. If Square had included Luneth from the beginning then perhaps III would have done a lot better but as it stands, I refer to it as the Final Fantasy that “lost its way”.
Aaannndd we’re back to a main character! This time, however, Square hit the spot with a strong list of characters and a really great focus with Cecil Harvey. Even the supporting party was likable. This helped propel Final Fantasy IV into one of, if not, the best game in the series. This is also the first must play entry into the franchise. IV’s story was very compelling as we watched a black knight whose mastery laid in darkness become a shining paladin whose past was finally behind him. Cecil isn’t a whiny and uncertain person. He is true to himself, strong, and confident in his abilities. He’s also loyal which makes the story in IV extremely hard for him to come to grasp with. IV was one of the first games that really grabbed a hold of me and made me play it multiple times.
You know what happens when you have a very lackluster main character and stupid villain? You get the worst main series Final Fantasy game. V… well, to be honest I don’t have much to say about it. I didn’t find V to be memorable at all. There was no defining moment that made me get on the edge of my seat. I was playing as some guy who really had no reason to be there fighting a tree. Get out of here. V is one of those games that I didn’t beat until I was older because back then I got almost half way through it and just said, “no thanks.” It’s a shame because everyone had to be so hyped up after Cecil’s adventure in IV that when people saw what V had to offer, I can’t imagine I was the only one who walked away from it.
Back to normality! VI brought Final Fantasy back to its great roots as it not only brought us another great full cast but also one of the best villains in gaming history. Terra, while not exactly the main character, was the true focus of the game as her captivity and eventual transformation formed a great and tragic tale. She sacrificed everything for those who cared for her. Then we have Kefka, the mad clown. Not really a clown but his get-up would make you think so. In truth, Kefka manipulated everyone in the game including the party. He also succeeded in destroying the world and just about abolish magic. He was defeated but he still remains one of the most successful villains of all time.
I hate when people rag on others for saying this is their favorite Final Fantasy. Just because it is so popular doesn’t mean people have legitimate reasons for thinking that way. Yes, this is my favorite entry in the series (though very, very closely matched by IV). I found VII to be the game to bring RPGs into the next era. It also rewrote how I thought games like this needed to be. Squaresoft broke the mold when they made Final Fantasy VII. The game was an instant hit and a gigantic seller. So much so that the company has even created a compilation to round out and complete the story due to fan response. While some can be really whiny, the cast is filled with memorable characters that you really fell for during the progress of the game. The enemy was realistic yet meant for something more. His acting out of this “destiny” nearly brought the world to ruin. The saga of Cloud and Sephiroth is one I feel is not done. Advent Children only helped to further solidify the greatness of VII. This game is unpassable if you are a true RPG fan or even gamers in general if you can at least stomach this genre.
It was going to be tough to follow VII. It’s kind of like Obama’s presidency. No one really thought he would get much done. It was almost a puppet reign. VII had everyone thinking that it was the peak for Square and they either had to go big or go home. With VIII we had a drastic graphics style change to something more realistic. Squall’s rivalry with Seifer was easily used to help connect players with the game and get them hooked. While the story and cast of characters aren’t as good as the previous game, VIII did its best to find its own path. The story, theme, enemy, and and world was at best pretty good. I know a lot of people who think VIII is the best game in the series. It has its fans. It has its circle. For me, I felt like the game was missing that impact the main character should have. Squall was largely boring, mopey, inconsiderate, and unhelpful. He didn’t care. The best thing VIII tells is the story of how Squall went from a loner and an untrusting person into a confident and capable leader and friend.
This game was like the “HD” retro game of the series. I say that because it was a complete blast to the past in terms of Final Fantasy. The Black Mages return, characters weren’t as serious as the past two games, and there was this feeling that we were playing something that Square had locked away in a vault from years past. IX is a great entry into the series and perhaps the last numbered Final Fantasy that really got it. The characters were all really likable and the villain was very well done. Kuja is one of my favorite villains in the series. The ending was something that really didn’t make too much sense and it wasn’t explained very well. I see IX as a closure to an era. Final Fantasy I to IX was like a collection of stories that you would close the book on after you finished. Starting with X we saw a dramatic change starting with the PS2 and further consoles later on.
The new generation of consoles brought about a lot of changes in Final Fantasy. This was also the last Final Fantasy game before the merger that changed the company into Square-Enix. X introduced a lot of changes that we had never seen in a Final Fantasy game. They changed up the leveling system severely as they basically ended character levels and EXP would earn you Sphere levels. These could be spent on the Sphere Grid, a massively confusing and gigantic board of skills that you could path though to gain new magic, stats, and other such leveling properties. This didn’t go over so well. The grid was too confusing but Square didn’t give up on the concept. We’d see plenty of retries on future games to get it right like the License Grid and Crystarium. X’s story was actually the best part of the game but not for the characters. The main character was so lackluster which was a departure from the past four games that saw strong presences back up its supporting cast. Tidus just felt so out of place next to awesome characters like Auron, Wakka, and Lulu. The battle system was also upgraded and to be honest, it was a good thing. I liked how the summons came out and replaced most of the party. These giant, powerful creatures didn’t just swoop in and shoot a laser then fly off giving the enemy the finger. They stayed and fought. It makes sense. You aren’t going to summon a mythical dragon to pop in and say hey. He’s going to help you obliterate the enemy.
I played XI for quite some time. Though, the bulk of my time played didn’t come until years after it had matured and changed a ton. I did buy the game originally when it came out. I hated it. I thought it was the most tedious and punishing game I had ever played at the time. Though one thing you really found out about Square with XI was that it was determined to make it the best it could be. Seeing this, the fans of the game stayed and continue to stay to this day. XI is exactly what you think it would be: online Final Fantasy. You head up to an enemy, take out your weapon and initiate combat. Combat is very slow as you wait for your attacks to commence. Once you use special abilities they have an extremely long cooldown timer. Final Fantasy XI is a game of patience. They fixed a lot of issues that came with leveling but it still stands as a game that lets you try things out for ten levels and then basically forces you into a party. You cannot solo Final Fantasy XI from first level to last. If you hear people saying you can, it may be because they have an advanced class that allows them to be powerful enough. Still, I can’t imagine it is very easy. XI is punishing. You lose EXP when you die and yes you can de-level. However, when you reach that level cap you feel one hell of a sense of accomplishment. It’s almost like you just completed an Olympic trial. If anything, XI is rewarding if you put the effort in.
The changes that began with X became radical starting with XII. The Final Fantasy games we once knew were now only found on portable handhelds and the numbered, main series began to feel like an on-going experiment. XII featured full roaming monsters where coming in contact with them meant commencing a battle. XII brought a lot to the table but something just felt off. The main character was very uninteresting and I wish that Square went with this original notion of having Basch as the focus. Vaan is really annoying and keeps going on about his dreams. He really has no reason for embarking on this quest other then getting off the streets. In the beginning the combat and quests come from doing odd jobs off a bulletin board. How does that translate into hero? The other characters in XII remind me of Final Fantasy II where Firion was the most known character in the game and the supporting cast was just kind of… there. XII feels like half a game. You could tell there was something there and it could have been great but it just wasn’t realized.
Take that last sentence and apply it here, as well. XIII is another not fully realized Final Fantasy game. Though, I must say I enjoyed the game it is plain to see that many did not. The one thing that I can’t see anyone really denying was that the cast of characters were fun and likable. Lightning, while not the primary focus, was a great character. The game suffered from point of view issues and, what many all of a sudden liked to complain about, linearity. First off, Final Fantasy games are linear. Yes, XII tried something new but go back and play I through X. Aside from the World Map, which in later games just moved you automatically to new places, there is nothing different about XIII. Second, the game really should have focused on and stayed with Lightning. She was the poster child for the game and really, just like Terra in VI she really is the main character. Having us switch off between her, Sazh, and Snow just extremely hurt her character and made the rest suffer, too. The story in XIII is really excellent but once again, came into problems. The game had a ton of terms that no one knew what the hell meant. You had to read up to understand what anyone was talking about. You heard characters saying things like l’Cie, fal’Cie, Pulse, Sanctuary, and Cie’th. Uh, what? The thing is, if you understood those terms going in, you knew what was happening and it really was an awesome story. I feel like if Square had kept the story following Lightning and put in a sort of intro with Lightning explaining the world we were about to play, then XIII would have been one of the best Final Fantasy games.
Let’s just get right to it and say XIV sucks. Hard. However, Square is once again committed to changing that. XIV is getting a gigantic, game altering update this year to version 2.0. This update is going to basically change the entire game. If we go to Wikipedia we’ll see that the “relaunch” 2.0 patch will introduce the following: “Many changes are to be included at and shortly after the reboot, most notably a “fundamental reworking of in-game maps”, “the implementation of a new graphics engine”, “release of additional gender options”, “a fully renewed user interface”, a “worldless content finder”, a new server system, 1v1 and large scale PvP.” That is a substantial patch. Right now, I can’t tell anyone to touch this game but the upcoming 2.0 update sounds promising. It’s all a matter of if they can pull it off. MMO’s get big news nearly everyday but when it comes time to actually implement it, there are normally tons of bugs and issues. XIV 2.0 cannot suffer through any more hardships or people will literally write the game off forever, if they haven’t already.
Score, for now:
That is it for the Main Series. These games are like a roller coaster. You have a couple great ones followed by one or two so-so and mediocre ones. Square seems to have an issue with “what isn’t broke, don’t fix it” and seeing what just isn’t wrong. They love to experiment and try to further themselves but with every try they dig themselves further down a pit they should stay out of. I’m all for advancement but you should see what you’ve done wrong in the past and stay away from those aspects. Still, the main series of Final Fantasy is for the record books and for good reason. I can’t see it stopping any time soon, either. I’m sure within the next year or so we’ll hear about Final Fantasy XV. Though don’t be surprised if we don’t actually play it until 2015. Fourteen games done, nineteen left to do. Onwards to the Crystal Chronicles!
Main Series | Crystal Chronicles | Sequels & Spin-offs