The Allure of Final Fantasy - Part 2


Last week I wrote about my relationship with the Final Fantasy series. I may not be the super fan I once was, but FF still appeals despite my tolerance for whiny, overly-emotional and ineloquent characters not being what it once was.

In my first post, I touched upon two of the reasons why I hold FF in such high regard: memories and moogles. Today I'm going to explore some further elements that are, or have been, key to the allure of Square-Enix's blockbusting franchise. They are crucial to my desire to play and continue to wax lyrical about the series, even in the face of increasingly diminished returns.


Location, Location

Final Fantasy is full of wondrous worlds, brimming with interesting and beautiful locations. When I think about my favourite games in the series, often the first thing that comes to mind is one of the distinctive and lovingly created locales that I have spent hours exploring. Balamb, Gold Saucer, Galbladia, Lindblum, the tropical villages of FFX, Rabanastre; FF has no shortage of memorable settlements waiting to be discovered, full of NPCs to pester and chests to pillage.

There was a time when a vast world map lay outside of these towns. This came to an end with FFX, which did away with the separation between locations and overworld maps, integrating the two and displaying all terrain to scale. I can understand why the world map was jettisoned, as they tried to create a more consistent and realistic experience whilst achieving fidelity between regular gameplay and the field map. It would also be an unenviable task for developers to render an entire world with the impressive visuals we expect from modern Final Fantasies. Still, I do miss the freedom afforded by the world map and the series has lost some of the wanderlust that it once provided; the world is no longer laid out before you and it is far more difficult to fully appreciate the vastness of your playground.

The world map sacrificed visuals for more open-ended exploration, ever encouraging you to delve into every nook and cranny, either on foot or racing across the plains on a chocobo or a more mechanical mode of transport. Airships were once the most exhilarating method of getting from point A to B, but unfortunately you can no longer pilot them thanks to the demise of my beloved world map.


The Score

With the exception of the Shatter OST, I'm not big on listening to video game scores outside of playing the games to which they belong. That hasn't stopped me from buying a handful of FF CD box sets over the years, though I bought them more as a collector's item than something I desperately wanted to get on my ipod. On occasion, a Nobuo Uematsu number will sneak its way into a shuffled playlist and the memories of the game to which its attached will come flooding back. In particular, the FF orchestral arrangements are some of the most haunting and brilliant pieces of game music you will ever hear. Whenever I hear the arranged FFVIII overworld theme or the Balamb Garden track, I find myself on the verge of blubbering like a 360 owner after their third RROD.

Square-Enix really go to town with their music and its no surprise that Final Fantasy concerts continue to be popular worldwide. For years I had a home-made chocobo theme tune as my ring-tone, and no amount of piss-taking from my friends could convince me to change it. FF scores stick with you long after you experience the game, in a way that few other soundtracks do.


Plentiful Distractions

I am easily distracted. Between writing this paragraph and the last, I wandered off for ten minutes to study a cloud which looked like a depressed monkey stealing a tractor. Final Fantasy is full of distractions far more engrossing than unusual clouds, so you'll appreciate why I spent over one hundred hours clocking FFXIII. If there is an optional beast to slay or a rare card to collect then I'll need little encouragement to wander from the narrative path and get stuck-in.

Final Fantasy has always excelled at rewarding you for undertaking dangerous side quests and gathering collectables, and for the most part has told a story engaging enough to convince you to return. That mysterious cavern may be populated by ruby dragons and vicious tonberries, but chances are you will come out the other side much better off for taking the risk - weighed down by shiny new armour, precious elixirs and maybe even a new playable character. And its not just dungeon crawling; Blitzball, Tetra Master, Chocobo racing and my favourite, Triple Triad, all offer hours of entertainment without the need to unsheathe your sword.


Nose to the Grindstone

There is something oddly satisfying about Final Fantasy grinding. Maybe it is the simple way the series charts your growth with numbers and colours, so you always know exactly where you stand. Perhaps it is the way it rewards players who take the time to power-up their characters with optional bosses who will make mince-meat out of lower level teams.

There is no mystery to levelling-up in FF, as it is all easily quantifiable. If I know that a set of three bombs will net me X experience points, then I can quickly figure out how many levels I can potentially achieve in the space of thirty minutes of fight, run around the corner, respawn enemy, fight. If you find the right spot and put in the effort (which isn't much), then the results are guaranteed.

Grinding is a great accompaniment for podcasts or listening through a brand new album, or revisiting an old favourite CD. Before long the levelling becomes the background activity and the pattern second nature. Eventually you will be able to do it in your sleep, which was the level of familiarity I achieved with FFXIII last summer. That probably doesn't sound like much fun, yet I found pleasure in the repetitious nature of it all and the subsequent results.


Yoshitaka Amano

I haven't always been a fan of Yoshitaka Amano, but then I also didn't used to like beer, so what do I know? I have since come to greatly appreciate his work, and beer, and his presence may be felt throughout the FF series.  Although he stepped down as the lead character, image and graphic designer after FFVI, he has continued to contribute concept and promotional art, as well as designing the famous logos. His vibrant works can be found in many an instruction manual, FF art book and even on a few disc covers. They really bring the characters to life, in a way that is peculiar to him amongst the many other talented artists who have worked on the series.

His art work is yet another element that makes the series so easy to enjoy outside of actually playing the games. It would be very interesting to see a full title, FF or otherwise, exclusively follow his artistic vision - something which may now be possible with the power of current generation consoles.


Easy on the Eye

Even if you are not a fan of Final Fantasy, you can't deny that the series has always been at the forefront of graphical advancements. FFVI (III in the US) was an astounding achievement for the 16-bit era. The stunning cut scenes in FFVII allowed it to reach an audience unfamiliar with JRPGs and also made it one of the most returned games in history, as many customers were left disappointed once they discovered that the majority of the game didn't look like the cut scenes. FFX was years ahead of its PS2 rivals, despite appearing so early on in the console's life cycle, and say what you want about FFXIII, but visually its a masterpiece.

Final Fantasy has always been great eye-candy, exhibiting a level of polish missing from most RPGs. No wonder it takes Square-Enix so bloody long to churn them out.


Odds & Ends

This blog is starting to look a bit too October 2010, which is when I first threw it all together in the space of a day, so I'm looking to give it a an overhaul. I'm limited somewhat by the design templates available through blogspot as well as my own very basic knowledge of HTML: I know how to centre things. I would welcome any suggestions and would love to hear what you do or don't want to see on this front page*.

* I reserve the right to ignore suggestions and claim good ones as my own

Comments

  1. I hated X so much. I wish I'd given up on the series then, and saved myself the money and loathing of XIII and XIV. They'll never sucker me into another world map-less game again.

    I'll never forget that feeling of wonder careening into disappointment that I felt at about the 8 hour mark in XIII, when I realized that, no, in fact, I was NOT ever going to reach town where the game would open up and let me off the rails. That what I'd been doing for 8 hours - gratuitous repetitive battles interspersed with cheesy cut scenes - was really just all the game had to offer.

    It's too bad, because for roughly 1/3 of gaming's short history I considered VI the high point of video game writing, and had a tremendous respect for Square. Respect they then chose to squander in ways I never even thought possible. =[

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  2. I quite enjoyed FFX, but FFx-2 made me want to guage my eyes out.

    XIII was far too linear, though once you reach Grand Pulse it starts to open up a bit more - though there are no populated towns to speak of. Its just a shame that it takes 20+ hours of relative boredom before you are finally giving some semblance of freedom. Not sure what SE were thinking.

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