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Final Fantasy

Review – Final Fantasy X (PS2, PS3, PS4, PC)

PS2 – 1 Player

Don’t ask me why it says “X” instead of “10” up there. I guess its just to keep with the idea that all FF games can be abreviated with three letters. Maybe people are just too lazy to put the 0 on the end. Actually it’s probably because everyone knows any name with an “X” on the end is automatically cool. Think about it, we have Malcom X, Jason X, Samurai X, Xyxex, the list goes on. This is one game though that is slick even without the tag-on “Cool X”.

Before we get started with detail, I present some minor trivia. To save HTML coding time I pulled out my FF8 review and just changed all the text and image links. On a semi-related note, if there is a game FFX is more like it’s FF8. Both are the only two FF games so far to use realistic character designs all the way through. Both have a massive “cheat” through the use of limit breaks. Both don’t really have levels. FF8 does, but it’s the Junction system that makes the difference in the end. Until FFX came along, FF8 was the best in the series. Also they both have the same characters!

Ok, ok, stick with me here. Look at Rinoa and Yuna, side by side, same person right? How about Tidus and Squall? Hey hey, you can’t fool us by dying youtr hair blonde boy! Rikku could easily pass for Quist’s younger sister. Wakka and Zell? Hey didn’t we try the hair dye trick once allready? If Lulu isn’t Edea munis the mask and backback thing, I don’t know who is. What about Kimari then. Well uh, I suppose he’s sort of the love child of Red XIII and Yuffie, I mean FF7 isn’t too far off from FF8 right?

Now if FF8 was unbalanced by how strong you can get, FFX has flipped off the scale and is rolling away by now. It starts out a bit difficult at times, but once you fill the Sphere Board with everyone, well, even with your Weakest characters every battle is a simple matter of mashing the Fight Command. Also for the first time you can break the 9999 barrier on HP, and Damage. Not that you’ll need to to finish the game. In fact the end is allready probably the easiest end boss in any FF game to date. For one, the true end boss only has one form. The final battle afterwards is so easy you could beat it with your weakest character with none of the sphere board complete, given enough time. Honestly it’s a feature I could do without, though by that point I could kill everything in one hit anyway. I don’t think any of the final fights caused any damage before I kicked the shit out of them at 99999 a hit. Consider that isn’t just 99999 a round, that is 99999 from three people with Auto-Haste and a speed stat around 200. So for every one attack the enemy dishes out that’s like 10 or so hits of 99999 each. Or more.

Now there is some challenge here. You see there is this Battle Arena. That is where the REAL bosses are. Basically it’s chock full of hidden enemies with several million HP each. The problem here is that most of these bosses can be finished off with the same strategy of casting auto life then attacking. For the most part they all have some sort of gimmick weakspot to thier strategy. Honestly the hardest one, Nemesis, broke down to about an hour of attacking and wasn’t hard at all. I may be wrong on the names but Neslug and Thu’Bin were considerably more of a challenge than Nemesis was. I mean to kill Neslug you had to be able to deal over a million HP in one attack in order to kill is otherwise it would pull into it’s shell and regenerate completely (3 Mil HP total).

I mentioned this game doesn’t have Levels. That’s one of it’s big “new features”. Thing is, it DOES have levels. it just doesn’t keep track of them. After each battle you gain AP that go towards Sphere Board points. For each Sphere Point you can move one space on the Sphere Board to gain stats. These are all just fancy names for levels. In the end it breaks down to a lot of busy work for the same +2 Str and +3 Dex you would have gotten anyway for making it to level 5 (etc). The idea here is that you’ll be able to customize your characters. Anyone can learn Black Magic, you just need ot get to that point on the board. If you complete it, you’ll have a powerhouse specialty fighter that is faster than greased lightning and can cast all sorts of White and Black magic. The problem is that there are locks all over the board. Chances are you won’t be able to deviate from a characters preset path till about halfway through the game. Also after two plays through, I’ve found you won’t complete a characters initial path till around the end of the game. At this point you’ll be needing around 20,000 AP to gain an S-Level. Don’t worry though, there are multiple tricks to gain AP quickly and the enemies in the final dungeon are fairly easy for around 3-4 S-Levels per battle on even the strongest characters.

But where would a Final Fnatasy game be without mini-games. I can’t say I’ve ever been too fond of mini-games myself. They always come off as useless filler. It’s like the characters suddenly decide to take a day off from saving the world so they can play some sort of lame Chocobo/Moogle themed race/guessing game/shooter/whatever. Also the prizes are usually pretty useless. Not in FFX. Oh no, if you want to outfit all of the fully powered (read:useful) versions of the ultimate weapons you’ll have to complete every mini game in this baby. Not only that but in order to get materials for customizing perfect armor easily, you’ll have to complete the battle arena. But wait! There’s more! You see, FFX has the hardest, most excrutiating mini games in ANY game EVER. LEt’s start easy. The Cactaur Hot and Cold game is not that hard. Be sure to save between each cactaur and you’ll be able to catch them all without being caught pretty easily. But how about say, dodging 200 lightning bolts. Another one that in the end wasn’t that hard. You just NEED Enc-None and decent reflexes. It takes about 20 minutes to do this if you find a spot with consistant lighting strikes on the map. Now on to the worst couple. Butterfly Racing. Run along a tree and catch blue butterflies. Sounds easy right? You have a time limit though, and there are red butterflies that initiate combat. Not to mention that in this 3D world it’s pretty much impossible to tell where the butterflies actually are and if you hit even one red butterfly or deviate from the EXACT path you’ll come up .1 seconds short of winning (every time). After say, 20 or 30 runs you should have the path memorized enough to make it throught this thing.

Now for the final big offender before we get into the one fun mini-game. Chocobo Racing. Anyone who has played this game knows that Chocobo Racing is impossible. The chocobos steer like drunk blind cripples, the birds appear right on top of you all the time and unless you hit the exact pixel of the Balllon you won’t pick it up. Did I mention you have to complete this game with a time of 0 seconds? It takes about 36 seconds to run the race, if no birds hit you and you just run it. Each bird subtracts 6 seconds (3 at the end, 3 in actual run time) and each baloon adds 3 seconds (at the end). so you have to pick up at least 12 baloons without getting hit plus 2 for each bird you hit. Sound complicated? You bet! Difficult? Absolutely. This game requires no skill. You’ll play for 500 runs and get times varying from 2 seconds to 2 minutes. Eventually you’ll finally manage to get lucky and all the birds will be gone and the baloons will all be right in front of you and you’ll get the perfect time of 0 seconds. Thing is at this point this victory will feel empty and hollow as it came from no amount of skill on your part.

Now we are getting a bit long here, but there is one more point to touch on. Blitzball is the main mini-game of this game. FF8 had Triple Triad, FF9 had Tetra Master, FFX has Blitzball. Basically it’s underwater soccor (that’s Underwater Football for you Brits) and while it starts out a bit difficult, once you dump the entire original team and recruit a few good players you’ll be dominating the sport. The only problem with this game is that you have to win somewhere between 50 and 1 billion matches for all of Wakka’ Limits and Ultimate Weapon pieces to come up. I’m pretty sure the numbers are random so you could be playing a LOT of Blitz. As fun as it is for a while, it gets REALLY old after about 200 games.

Basically te point here is, that you should own three games for PS2. Metal Gear Solid 2, Grand Theft Auto 3, and Final Fantasy 10. Everything else is just garbage filler. Then for 2003, be sure to pick up Metal Gear Solid 2.2, Grant Theft Auto 3.2, and Final Fantasy 10.2 (Kingdom Hearts or I suppose Final Fantasy 10 International). man I see a trend here. Here’s hoping 2004 briungs MGS3, GTA4, and FF12. What, you say I missed FF11? No, Square just decided to skip making a good game for that one.

Review – Final Fantasy IX (PS1)

It’s amazing how something so good (FF8) can be followed by something so bad. Rumor has it, people complained about FF8 a lot. They complained because it was so different from the “classical aspects of the series” that Square decided to give the fans what they really wanted. In reality Square (hopefully purposely) created a bad remake of all of thier previous FF games all rolled into one. Pretty much every aspect of this game is based on some other game. Surprisingly it seems to draw the most from FF1.

The biggest setback in this game was the return to Munchkin Land. Even FF7’s munchkins looked more normal than these characters do, though I think it was mostly due to FF7 having pretty humanoid characters in battle. I kept expecting the Lolipop kids to pup up and tell me to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”. They also all seemed ot have really weir mouths. The graphics were pretty nice though for other aspects. Like Black “I am Hell Incarnate” Waltz No 3, who should have been the star of the game.

Instead we get a comical adventure that takes us through a quick history of the FF series. We get to see Garland from FF1 again, The Black Mages return in a new flashier form. The Gurgu Volcano that once housed Kary, Feind of Fire returns complete with a rehash of the original 8-bit music. Too bad they didn’t bring back the good spell names like Ice3 and Lit2 or even “XXXX”. It’s always great eradicating your foes with a hardcore porn spell. The Characters themselves are so so. There’s Garnet, her Tinman, Steiner, the Scarecrow, Vivi, the cowardly “What – the – fuck – is – that – stupid – thing – and – why – does – it – have – its – tongue – sticking – out – like – that?” Quina, the half naked Moogle girl Eiko, the Lord of the Dance herself, Freya, and of course the main character Zid-“I don’t use a big sword like my predecessors”-ain.

Of these charachters the most likable ones are oddly the ones that seem to have less to do with the plot. Steiner’s constant baffonish heroics get old after the 1000th time you see the same joke repeated; The whole thing with Vivi seems like it just sort of vanishes halfway through the game; Freya, what the heck is she there for? Oh right, classic Vengace. Then of course Quina. I have no idea whay this thing is in this game but personally it’s worse then the infamouse Cait Sith of FF7. I mean What the hell is up with this creature. All it does is eat, it looks very androgenous, it says dumb things, it looks stupid, it sucks in combat, and generally it’s useless. I don’t know what they were thinking when the designers decided to make Quina a party character instead of someone 100 time more interesting and useful like say, Beatrix. Oh wait, if they added Beatrix it would be like having two Steiners except one is a girl. You definitely don’t want two similar characters to choose from, I mean it’s not like they haven’t been making everyone identical for the last 4 games give or take.

Not that you could really use two identical characters in this. Another major drawback is unbalanced gameplay. This gets escpecially bad near the end of the game.Not since Chrono Trigger have I played a game up to the very last save point and given up on it for a year and a half or more out of enraged hatred.Basically ech character has thier own specialty, which means in battle at any given time with the most effecient all aound party, you’ll have 2 useless characters.An Optimized party being one that you’ll never end up with 0 useful characters. I mean you COULD put Zidain, Steiner, Freya, and Aramant all in one party, but then you’d have a hell of a time against anything strong tophysical attacks and you’ll never be able to easily heal. Not that you’ll really use Magic much for healing. Even a good ways intot he game chances are you will still be constantly short on Ethers ot retore MP and with the incredible high cost of Summoning by your healers, you’ll need to save everything you’ve got for those boss battles. The Black Mage Vivi was the only character I managed to get halfway self sufficient since he could not only heal but restore MP using Drain and Osmose.

So with it’s unbalanced game play and rehash plot line, FF9 manages to crap itself up pretty badly. I think I may have started out liking this game quite a bit but by the end It was just too much work to bother with. Unfortunately it seems Square hasn’t learned with FFX, which started out fantastically excellent and is slowly turning into a trudging shitfest of long boring pointless random encounters.

Review – Final Fantasy VIII (PS1)

Playstation 1 – Squaresoft – 1 Player

Sometimes you play through a game, and for some reason you just know you’ve played a really good game. One good way to know that a game has got to be at least marginally good is if over the course of playing it your opinion of it completely changes. With little or no effort, you find a game you expected and did hate suddenly becomes something you enjoy playing. That is the case of Final Fantasy 8.

Before playing this game, as far as I could tell from what others were saying ti was crap. They got rid of long term things like MP. The chrachters look “realistic” insetad of like squatty SD people. The setting was very much modern and futuristic, even more so than FF7, and th eplot was supposed to be a sort of “Love Story”. In general, the whole thing changed a fair amount of long term aspects and it all seemed like a bad idea. I even went to the extend of making a running gag out of pretending the game didn’t exist on usenet.

So I finally just bought the game. I think my former employer had the game on it’s Buy One Get one sale at the time so I picked up FF8 and Coolboarders 3 (Crap). Even after playing for a good deal fo the game I really hated it. I hated the characters and constantly berated them through the game. Basically I had played all the FF games previous, and much of FF9 at the time, I figured it would be a good idea to get 8 out of the way. The characters were annoying at first, they would say and do idiotic things. Squall would blow everyone off and not care at all. They just generally seemed like a really dumb set of people. Somewhere along the plot that seemed to change. But then there had to be something to keep intrest up. That, is gameplay.

The gameplay is the strongest part of this game. For starters, the levels are pretty much unnessesary. They are still there, but the monsters level up with you. This means that if you want to run from every battle, you won’t end up getting slaughtered by the next boss you fight. In fact you can learn an ability that will disable random encounters all together. This does wonders to speed up the actual plot. I mean really, I can’t imagine anyone really plays an RPG for the chance to fight 1000s of enemies in a menu driven simulator. There are action games that are much better suited for killing baddies with more active control by the player. An RPG is something played for the story. There are still quite a few bosses to fight, but the end of th egame will be just as easy at level 7 as it is at level 100. You can still fight all those battles if you like though, I did, Squall is at level 100 (the max) and everyone else is in the mid 70s. Levels occur every 1000 exp.

So without levels, how are you supposed to become stronger? Well that is where the next gameplay aspect comes into play. You Junction magic to different stats. This requires a charcter to junction with a Guardian Force (GF, summon monster). Each GF allows a chrachter to junction a different stat, and each GF can learn new abilities as well (so you can junction to more stats, among other things). In battle and junctioned GF can be summoned at anytime assuming that GF still has HP remeaining. These usually do a lot fo big damage, however it’s better if you don’t rely on GFs a lot and rely more on Limits.

Limits, first created in FF7 return here again. if you’ve played FF9, they called this sort of effect a Trance and in FFX it’s called an Overdrive. Basically a Limit is a super powered specialty attack. Each charchter has thier own type of limit and the limits in FF8 are fairly interactive. Squall’s requires you to press the R trigger for real damage, Zell’s has the player inputting fighting game type moves, while Selphie uses the classic slot type attack seen in other FF games.The limits occur more often when HP is low, but unlike other FF games they don’t rely on the filling of a bar based on damage or anything. In fact the clincher is the spell Aura, which allows a charcter to Limit much more easily, even at full 9999 health. Generally it’s best to use Limits as a primary mode of attack witht he occasional summon thrown in. Due to junctioning Magic, you usually don’t want to use too much of it, but by the end of the game, basic spells like Thindaga and Firga aren’t used with the best junction combination, so cast all you want.

But what about the story, RPGs play for thier story not thier gameplay right? Of course. FF8 has a pretty decent story backing it. You control a group of teenagers raised by a military organization called SEED to be mercenaries. What starts out as a fairly routine mission ends up leading tot he destiney of SEED itself. Characters that start out annoying and childish grow over the story and become more mature and likeable. There is nice exposition during wonderful CG movies. The music in this game is top notch (Though I think I prefer FF7’s music really). I don’t really want to spoil the plot or anything too much. It is a sort of love story between the main charchetrs Squall and Rinoa. The others do take a backseat in chracterization to Squall and rinoa, but it is there.

So in otherwords, if you would like a great Console RPG, FF8 is a good choice. While it looses some of the “traditional RPG feel”, it makes up for it with some nice new innovations. If you like th enewer FFX you’ll surely like this game as they share a lot of similar aspects in terms of gameplay and story and look.

Review – Movie – Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

I don’t review too many movies. Generally, I don’t find I have too much to say about most movies I watch so I steer clear of trying to do detailed reviews. However, Advent Children is one movie I found I had a lot to say on, and it’s the sequel to a game I’ve reviewed twice in one of my favorite game series that I’ve done many reviews for, so I’m sort of obligated. I’ll also add, before I get started, that this review contains spoilers for the film, so if you care about having the plot ruined, which the movie does a good job of doing itself, don’t read too much into this. Most of the spoilers are probably fairly minor and vague though if they don’t fall intot he obvious category.

Where to start. I like to go with good points before I get to bad points so we’ll go there. This movie is the most visually impressive and incredibly choreographed movie I have seen to date. It uses a very generous helping of “Game Physics” to accomplish most of it’s stunts, but the reactions and fights betweent he various characters are quick and generally believable. Of particular note are Tifa’s duel with Loz in the church and Vincent’s first appearance. The climactic battle with Bahamut was a bit lame an over the top but not for it’s effects, there are other reasons I’ll cover later why that whole section of the movie pretty much destroys the entire experience.

On the negative, what was up with the whole subplot of the brothers kidnapping the children? What were they using them for? What was the point other than to incite Cloud into attacking them? Maybe that was the point. But if so, why bring them to the town’s circle? It was very unclear. The Geostigma subplot all around was pointless and only served to add needless confusion. Still it’s something that could have been remedied with a bit more cohesion added to the plot.

On the subject of completely pointless. Why did the cast of the game show up at all? Cloud, Tifa, hell I’ll give you Vincent, they are all useful to the plot. They make sense to be there. Cait Sith residing around on Red XIII’s back? Cid and Yuffie? Why are these characters even present? They appear completely out of nowhere, charge around battling Bahamut while mutteringrandom cliché lines (almost all of Yuffie’s lines have the term “Materia” in them somewhere, she’s more obsessed than in the game). Barret makes a vague appearance through Cloud’s cell phone early on and the predominance of Marline could have almost let his presence be allowable to the plot except that it’s overshadowed by the pointlessness of the other characters.

It’s total blatant fan service. The whole movie feels this way. They actually have a fairly decent plot that goes well with the plot of Final Fantasy VII except that it’s bogged down with pointless showy fan service of “This is what a remake of FF7 would be except instead of a game you get a movie!” Cut short that overly long battle against Bahamut and give us a bit more explanation behind our villains.

Speaking of villains, the Turks make a very large reappearance. Reno and Rude are fantastic throughout the entire movie and help to pick up the rest of the slack a lot. They aren’t quite the bad guys this time around, much like in the game. In face, one might even say they are heroes. The other Turks show up for a short bit too. Unfortunately, Tseng and Elena’s appearance only serves as one of the movies largest flaws and plot holes.

In the opening scene, we overhear a radio conversation between Elena, Tseng, and Reno. Elena and Tseng are attacked, we hear the battle but we see nothing since it takes place far below us and in fog. It’s a pretty nice tension effect. Later Kadaj tells off the Turk’s leader, who serves as lame plot hole number 2 but I’ll not go into detail on that. Anyway, Kadaj tells off the Turk’s leader and tosses down the bloody badges of Tseng and Elena. It is strongly implied both have been killed. This is a great plot device and helps show that despite his overly whineyness Kadaj is indeed quite sinister and capable of killing. The fact that the blood on the badges is one of only a couple of points where the movie has any blood makes it all the more apparent, Tseng and Elena are dead.

So what do they do? They show up, much like the rest of the Hero cast, completely out of nowhere to rescue their falling leader, then to stand in a group shot of the Turk’s later on near the end. They don’t say anything in the later half of the game and their return not only makes no sense but it completely kills the relevance of two previous strong scenes.

The writers at Square need to learn that bringing people back from the dead is not a good idea. Hell the writers of Japan need to learn this. Many games and anime unceremoniously bring dead characters back negating the impact of their deaths. Thankfully Aeris does not return. The plot has absolutely nothing to do with reviving Aeris and in fact had a lot to do with Cloud letting go of her and moving on with life (Dilly-dally shilly-shally?). Aeris does make several appearances though through visions. The voice of Yuna is used and it fits extremely well for the character.

While the plot doesn’t revolve around the revival of Aeris, it does revolve around the revival of another key character. The whole movie is essentially an excuse for Square to give us a modern CG battle between Cloud and Sephiroth. While Sephiroth is extremely bad ass in the films final conflict, his presence is poorly explained for anyone who hasn’t played the game.

One last high note. Materia is present in the film, though somewhat lightly. Its use is pretty well done. Instead of joining with weaponry the orbs are merged into the person themselves. There is even a vague explanation as to what they are.

And to keep things balanced, the events revolving around Cloud during the final moments of the film after the final battle are completely needless and stupid. It just comes as a really dumb ending for an overall lame movie. If you watch this film, watch it for the fight scenes. The plot is almost good but it’s filled with so many holes that don’t necessarily need filled but just flat out don’t need to be there.

Review – Final Fantasy II (Dawn of Souls) (GBA)

SquareEnix – GBA – 1 Player

It’s fairly common knowledge these days among gamers that the Final Fantasy II we got on the SNES in the US wasn’t actually the second game in the series.  It was actually the fourth.  The true second game was released on the NES.  It eventually and finally made it to US shores in the Playstation “Final Fantasy Origins” collection along side the classic Final Fantasy I.

This wasn’t a straight port however, it was an updated version featuring updated 16 bit graphics.  These two games would be released together again in essentially the same design on the Game Boy Advance in a pack called Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls.

In addition to an updated 16 bit version of the game, these Dawn of Souls compilations featured additional dungeons and updated game play style.  This review only covers the core game.  I honestly don’t have the time or care to play through the added content.

The most impressive part of this game compared to it’s single predecessor is how modern it feels.  Ok, by “modern” I mean “16 bit”.  It’s hard to believe this level of presentation was ever on the 8bit NES but the game is a faithful translation.  There are cut scenes and player controlled interaction in conversation all over.  If I didn’t know that this was an 8-bit game with 16 bit graphics I’d swear it was originally available on the SNES and not the NES.

The plot itself is considerably more story driven as well.  Final Fantasy I has a plot but it doesn’t move forward unless you talk to someone or do something, and often you only get a single cryptic sentence to guide you.  Final Fantasy II changes that considerably.  Also since the party consists of real characters and not generic classes, they actually get some development along the way.  While you can name 4 of the party members at the beginning of this quest, one of them doesn’t make an appearance until very close to the end of the game.

That brings up another interesting aspect of this game, once again, considering it’s NES origins.  The party changes over time.  You get 3 constant members of the party but the 4th slot is constantly being switched around as the plot drives it.  Characters also develop skills in a useful manner, by using them.  The game lacks traditional level mechanics and instead players gain stats by using weapons and doing actions.  Want a quick sword fighter?  Wield a sword and wear light weight armors.  Need a strong magic user?  Carry a staff and cast lots of spells.  They will start out weak but over time they will get stronger.  On that note, this game also lacks the traditional “Cure 1, Cure 2, Fire 3, naming convention.  There is only one Cure spell, it gets stronger the more you use it.   As a nice touch, they get have different animations in battle as they evolve.

There was one aspect of this port I didn’t care for, the sound.  Generally I’m not too opinionated on music and sound effects but in this installment they are particularly annoying and generic.

Overall, this game plays somewhat like Final Fantasy I only better.  When you put the two together for Dawn of Souls, you get a sure winning combination.  Just a warning though, these are RPGs, and while these revamps play more briskly than their NES counterparts, they are somewhat old school in style.  Personally, I’m kind of sick of the new style myself however.