Not that long ago, while I was perusing Amazon to see what new games there were for me to buy…I found nothing. Well, next to nothing. Sure, I had heard of a few good games here and there that I might like to try sometime, but nothing was thrilling me that much, either. And so it occurred to me that there are a great deal of old games I have yet to play that interest me far more than those that have been released in recent years. Most notably, the old “Final Fantasy” games.
You see, I am a fan of this series, and yet whenever I read articles about it, I am reminded of two facts. One, I have not played a lot of the games. And two, most of the games that I have not played are considered to be the best of the series. And for some reason, this made me feel strangely ashamed, like I had no right to call myself a “Final Fantasy” fan, as I had not played a lot of the games and could not really contribute in most of the conversations concerning the series. Sure, I had played newer games like “Final Fantasy X”, “XII”, and “XIII”, and I did finally get around to the most popular of all, “Final Fantasy VII”, so that’s a decent start. But, I had yet to play the others, such as “Final Fantasy VI”, “VIII”, and “IX”. I know, I’m scum. And so I decided that it was time that I catch up on these games once and for all.
And so I bought a whole bunch of Squaresoft games from Amazon, seven games in total (though, several were parts of collections). These games were “Final Fantasy 4-9” (excluding 7) and “Chrono Trigger” and “Chrono Cross”, as I had heard of good things about them, too. These were all PlayStation games or PS versions of Super Nintendo games, which could all be played on my darling PS2. With my collection finally about as complete as it ever will be (I probably don’t care enough about the very first “Final Fantasy” games enough to track them down…but should I?), I started some hardcore Squaresoft-action, starting with “Final Fantasy VIII”, largely because I was most familiar with the main character from that game, as Squall is one of the “Final Fantasy” characters that appear in “Kingdom Hearts” (known as Leon in that series; needless to say, it took me a while before I started calling him Squall). Seriously, that was all I had to go by, as I knew so little about most of the games, it wasn’t funny (hey, I know Kefka’s the villain of “FFVI”…right?). If you asked me who the main character is of any of the others…I really couldn’t tell you. I’d probably point to someone on the cover…and still be wrong.
So I began to play through “Final Fantasy VIII”, finding it so thrilling to finally be getting the opportunity to catch up on all these fantastic games. I wasn’t as excited as when I played “FFVII” for the first time, but it was still pretty cool. Oh, my gosh, I’m controlling Squall and his gunblade! And I killed one of those weird Venus fly trap things…with Squall and his gunblade! I am awesome! And I played and I played, and I played some more, accumulating a grand total of about 54 hours into this massive four-disc game, and you know what…I…I’m sorry, but…I just couldn’t get into it.
Don’t hate me! I don’t know what it is. I just never got into the game. Most of the time, I just felt so controlled. I found countless times where I was stuck in a location I wasn’t allowed to leave until I finished it, and while the story was interesting and easier to follow than that of “FFVII”, I didn’t become overly attached to the characters. I think I could have. I liked Zell for whatever reason. I liked Rinoa, too (she reminded me a lot of a good friend I once had). And heck, Quistis is fun to say, even if it’s one of the strangest names known to mankind. But, Squall was, well, a bore, and I didn’t think there was nearly enough characterization. The villains in this game have largely no characterization whatsoever. Sephiroth of “FFVII” had some great characterization, along with the rest of the cast from that game, but that was something I found sorely lacking in this one.
But most of all, I was not a fan of the gameplay. I just didn’t like the way it was set up. I didn’t like drawing magic, for one thing. You see, you don’t have MP in this game. Magic is more like items, which you draw from enemies and draw points. Once you’re out, you’re out. (And drawing magic from enemies is a necessary, but boring, process.) You can’t just sleep at an inn and get your MP, along with access to all your spells, back. And so, even though I know skipping battles in an RPG is a really bad idea, I would avoid fighting when I could to save my darn magic because…what if I need it later? If an enemy poisons me, screw this, I’m out of here. I’m not wasting my Esuna on a fight with this thing because…what if I need it against a boss later? This enemy does lots of damage; I’m running away so I can conserve my Cures because…I’m not wasting any of my Firaga spells against this because…you get the picture.
I didn’t want to battle anything because of this, only weak enemies that wouldn’t give me much experience, but also wouldn’t make me use magic. But, it wasn’t like fighting was a good idea, either, because the stronger you get, the stronger the bosses get. In theory, that’s a good idea. The player is never outmatched because the boss is stronger or weaker depending on your characters. In theory, this works. In practice, it doesn’t, because it also requires you to beat tough battles with strategy, which is something I suck at. You know what method I normally use to beat bosses? I level up to a ridiculous level, and then I beat them senseless. Boss is level 20? I’ll get to level 40 and just grind them to powder. If I try that in this game, the boss will only get tougher, and then I probably will just get annihilated even more completely than I would have before. And so, when the brute force method is no longer an option, your only choice is to rely on strategy, which was a big problem for me and my simple mind. To make up for this, I basically relied on my GF’s (summons) throughout nearly every tough battle, which is a really tedious way to fight because some of them take a long time to do anything….
Nevertheless, I did think the game had some really good aspects to the gameplay, as well. Every RPG seems to have some completely convoluted method of customizing your characters, and though it took me nearly the entire game to figure it out, now that I understand it, I really like the Junction system. I mean, mostly. Mostly it is actually pretty useful, where you junction different magic to different stats, including raising your character’s defense against a certain element or allowing them to have a high chance of making an enemy take a nap when you attack it. This was, largely, a good idea. Except for the fact that you also must junction GF’s in order to do more than just Attack, and even then, you still can only choose three extra options during battle, meaning that you may, for example, need to fill a slot with the Item command, while sacrificing your character’s ability to use Magic. I don’t understand such a concept when most games give your characters access to all of their moves during battle without having to choose between them. So, you see, I’m back to complaining about how this game is set up again.
This game is great for people who are good with strategies, and I could see it being immensely satisfying for those who have a knack for such things. Just not me. I love strategies, but that doesn’t matter, because I can’t do them. Once my boring GF method stopped working during a boss battle at the end of disc 3, I resorted to a newly devised, but very primitive, plan consisting of Triple (using Cerberus, and during the wait, I would do Scan and Meltdown), followed by Shell, Protect, Regen, after which I would proceed to toss magic at the boss like there was no tomorrow. In this case, it worked like a charm, and that was actually one of the most satisfying parts of the game for me. Until, not terribly long later, I reached the final boss and found that my plan no longer would cut it. And no, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I somehow struggled through the battle and prevailed in the end, because I didn’t. That’s right, I couldn’t beat the game, so I gave up, and I would really appreciate some tips, if anyone has them. (Part 2 is really tough, but I did survive it once and get to part 3, and I lasted a little over halfway through that before finally succumbing to the inevitable Game Over that I knew awaited me.) I need advice. So badly. And it’s not like I can just level up some more and try again….
Seriously, though. It’s a good game. It really is. I just don’t think it’s geared towards people like me. I do love it when I think up a “cunning plan” (“Black Adder” reference), and it actually works. But, usually they don’t, because I’m just not that, well, cunning. In the end, this game turned out to be one of the most stressful experiences gaming-wise I’ve put myself through in quite some time. I just felt so left out in this game because it was obviously intended for people much different from me. I’m not good at this kind of game. I’m just not. I am going to come back to it someday and try again. I’m going to maybe even level up so hardcore, maybe it will make a difference in the end. And I’m going to try and get a really good strategy for once. I really want to beat this game. I haven’t given up. I’m just taking a break. I’m not even going to watch the ending on Youtube because I really want to finish it myself. And until I return, I’m going to play “Final Fantasy VI” and hope it treats me better. Oh, I see they have MP again. What a relief.
(And by the way, I’m trying something different with the format of the posts to see if it’ll make the front page load faster. Because for me, it’s been slow lately. It may take a while for this to have an effect, but hopefully it’ll help eventually.)