Thursday, November 19, 2009

Square Rises to the Top

First up, a few quick updates. Substantial progress has been made on Episode 26. If next week were a normal week, I'd say it would be up in a few days. But with both my birthday and Thanksgiving coming up, finding time is going to be tough. But I hope to have that episode ready very soon.

One cool thing I've noticed is that occasional Chrontendo commenter Frank Cifaldi has posting on 1UP's excellent Retronauts blog. There's some great stuff covered, like the super obscure Homey D. Clown computer game, and one of those crazy Air Raid 2600 cartridges hitting EBay (current bid: $1999.99). And of course, 1UP's RPG blog is recommended as well.

But back to Episode 26. Aside from Mega Man (and Karnov!), Episode 26's main attraction is Final Fantasy, a game which I assume many of you have heard of. Heck, I'd say that along with Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros, FF is about the biggest game we've covered so far (though FF's fame was, of course, achieved retroactively.) Maybe I'm not the right guy to be discussing Final Fantasy in depth. True confession time: I've never finished FF VII. I guess that automatically disqualifies me from being an expert on these games.

However, I do love the 2D Final Fantasy games, and when playing the first one again for Chrontendo, I found myself enjoying it quite a bit in spots. One thing I had forgotten - the game is tough. Even more so than Dragon Quest II, FF loves to throw horrible status effects at you. Having three or four party members get poisoned is not that uncommon. And almost anything can poison you in this game: spiders, snakes, mucks, wolves and even... lobsters. Really now? Lobsters?! And of course, there's blindness, paralysis, silence and worst of all, being turned to stone. I suppose "death" could also count as a common status ailment. Keep in mind that Phoenix Downs have not yet been introduced, and while your White Wizard can eventually learn a revival spell, it cannot be used in battle.

Dungeons and caves are little more than enormous deathtraps, baited with special armor and weapons, treasure chests of gold and quest items. A common scenario is getting to the second floor of a dungeon, having a series run-ins with unusually tough monsters, using all your healing magic in an attempt to get your party's hit points back up to a reasonable level, then realizing you better head back up to the surface, rest, and then start again. Or alternately, a party member or two gets turned to stone or killed, leaving you to fight your way back out of the dungeon and into town. This element of danger lends a real tension to the game; you're only one "monsters strike first" away from total disaster at any given time.

There's much more to Final Fantasy than just its punitive difficulty. Every element from Dragon Quest is here, in enhanced and expanded form. Like magic spells? FF has tons of them, 64 to be exact. For weapons, we've got daggers, hammers, swords, nunchucks, staffs, Excalibur, Musamune - about 40 implements of destruction. In the defensive department we'll find armor, shields, gauntlets, helmets, rings, capes, and the ever popular ribbon. The world is populated not just with the standard kings and villagers, but also with dwarfs, elves, pirates, friendly dragons, confused robots, a cranky witch and talking broomsticks. The turn based combat is made substantially complex and involving. Character customization is added, giving Final Fantasy sort of a de facto difficulty slider. DQ's solitary ship is replaced with a ship, canoe and an airship. There is an in game map! And Nobuo Uematsu's score is freakin' fantastic.

Granted there are a few things that modern RPG fans will not cotton to. For example, if the monster targeted by a party member is killed before that party member moves, another monster will not be targeted. The party member will simply swing at the empty air, essentially losing a turn. Yes, it sucks when that happens, but that just means you need to chose your targets carefully. Despite such issues, in the context of 1987, Final Fantasy feels like a breath of fresh air. By rethinking or simply refining so many elements of the post Dragon Quest JRPG, Square manages to leap to the head of pack.

Final Fantasy's success apparently altered Square's business model entirely. 1988 will see them kill off DOG completely and greatly slow down the frequency of their releases. A few freestanding games will come out over the next few years, but Square will devote itself almost entirely to FF for the rest of the Famicom's lifespan.

One of these days, I'll get around to finishing Final Fantasy VII. Presumably Cloud will finally catch up to what's-his-name with the white hair?


fuxter said...

hey doc! really eager to here your commentary on the FF game. actually, i couldn't find any methods to contact you, so i write it here.

i want to translate your Phantasy Star review very badly. i'm not a huge fan of those rpgs, i just want other people to get to know it. and maybe i'll do your FF commentary later.

so i need your generous permission.

and since i got some words i couldn't catch in your commentary it would be very great if you'd provide a little help.

pardon my russian

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

I think no finishing FF VII is not a big problem to understand the Final Fantasy series. I, myself, never played it, just 1,2,4,5,6,X,X-2 and 12, and I think I have a pretty good understanding of how the games work. FF VII is highly regarded under those peaople who came in contact with J-RPGs the first time, because they where blown away by the presentation and the depth of the story, though on todays point of view, its kinda dated and the Retro-feel you get from sweet ancient 8 and 16-Bit games doesn't set in.
Hmm, I forgot where I was going too, I hope you get the drift =)

flem said...

well, then
HAPPY BIRTHDAY! in advance,
have a nice party,
and keep up your good work, i enjoyed every episode of chrontendo and -sega and i'm looking forward for more.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doctor Sparkle said...

KG - so you've never played FF III? The best of the 8bit FF's, in my opinion. Though not having a release outside of Japan until the DS version undoubtedly hurt its reputation in the West.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

I heared some bad things about FF III, like the brutal dungeons (there is a Dungeon you can only play in Mini-Status, sounds like fuck you!), the Job system thats not so good implemented like in FF V (and I wasn't crazy about that either...) and that problem that you can't save anytime (except of the quicksave, which is deleted when you continue the process). And especially the last dungeon is really difficult from what I heard, which numerous bosses, big floors...and I think I heard its like two big dungeons with no possibility of restocking supplies (and saving...) inbetween. And I don't think thats what I expect from a handheld game (okay, it wasn't designed as a handheld, but at least savepoints like in the GBA versions of FF would have been nice). But to be honest, I am looking for a RPG for my DS (though I am playing Pokemon Mystery Dungeon right now, which is more in the Rogue-Like-Dungeon-Crawler genre), and if you recommend it I will think about it.

Oh yeah, and gratz for your birthday...=)

Unknown said...

It is very possible to save in FF III; you can save anywhere on the overworld.
There are a few places where you have to be mini or frog, but the enemy strength is balanced accordingly, not that tough if you have one or two magic users in the party. I'd say FF III for the Famicom (haven't played the DS remake) is probably my favorite Final Fantasy.

Oh, and if you enjoy roguelikes and are looking for DS RPGs, definitely check out the port of Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer.

Doctor Sparkle said...

I also haven't played the DS version of FFIII, but I understand you still can't save in dungeons - just like FF I. I personally liked the game, and though such moments where you get shrunk down to in order to pass through a tiny dungeon were very creative. Apparently, the Japanese also loved this game, since it made #8 in the 2006 Famitsu reader's poll of all time best games. And Ocarina of Time only made #10! I'll actually be discussing the Famitsu poll in Chrontendo 26.

But, yes, FFIII is "old school hard" and doesn't give the sort of concessions that most modern RPGs do. On the other hand, I don't really care for rogue-likes, but everyone seems to love the DS Shiren game. That might be a better choice if you like the Mystery Dungeon games.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Thanks for the Mystery Dungeon Tip, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is a bit to easy imho after I leveled up a bit...with my linked moves my party is a really death commando. You could say, its the Pokemon equivalent to Modern Warfares 2 (some kind ridiculous) Taskforce 141... =). Though currently I am playing Contact, which is a cool mashup of 8-Bit and 16 bit graphics, and is fun...though I have to grind a bit to defeat the first boss right now.

マタイ・ファーナム said...

Hello Dr. Sparkle,

been slowly inching through your series of posts and videos,
and wanted to thank you for the effort.