Here we investigate the overlooked, the underappreciated, the Shameworthy titles of the world. Jump in to an existing mission thread and give your thoughts, or start your own to kick off a discussion.
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Grant Heaslip » Sun Jan 04, 2015 7:42 am

On the topic of X and X-2: I recently played through X (HD) for the first time and really liked it (especially the story). I so badly wanted to love X-2 and gave it ample chance to turn me around, but I just couldn't convince myself to keep playing. It felt low rent in a way that brought to mind XIII-2 (a game I thought was fine, but nowhere near as good as XIII in production values or game balance). People seem to resent X-2's fanservicey nature, but I had no real problem with that -- I just didn't like the new combat system, mission structure, and lower production values.

Like Calin, I think I have unusual taste in Final Fantasy games. I'd need to play XIII again to be sure of this, but off the top of my head, I think I'd say XIII > X > VII > VI -- an ordering which seems to be the inverse of the conventional wisdom. I only made it halfway through VI and just couldn't muster the enthusiasm to continue -- a fact that several people I know in person and online are utterly baffled/angered by. (It's probably worth mentioning that XIII was my first FF, and that I played it at the beginning of 2013.)

I'd like to play them all as you are, but I've come to terms with the fact that I almost definitely wouldn't enjoy I-V. I consider my remaining backlog to be VIII, IX, and XII (and Tactics, perhaps).
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Angry Jedi » Sun Jan 04, 2015 11:44 am

Tactics is worth playing, and I'm probably going to throw that in the mix. (I've already downloaded it to my Vita.)

X... I liked it, but I didn't love it as much as everyone seems to these days. I've only played it once, though, so I'm curious to revisit it and see if it's better than I remember. By contrast, I absolutely adored X-2, which I loved the combat system for -- my favourite refinement of the ATB system to date -- and am very excited to give that another go in the not-too-distant future.

XII is incredible as a game, though story-wise it's quite weak. I'm really curious to revisit it after playing XIV for so long, since the two have a lot in common both in terms of the overall aesthetic and things like interface design and so on. It was a total departure for the series that hasn't been revisited since -- XIII was somewhat more traditional in terms of the separation between field and battle, compared to XII's MMO-style "everything in one place" execution -- but I'd love them to revisit it.

XIII is a good game! I honestly don't understand where the hate comes from. It's extremely linear for 85% of the experience, sure, but all modern Final Fantasies (with the possible exception of XII, though there the linearity is just a bit more well-hidden rather than completely absent) have been that way. The combat system is really fun once you adjust to the fact that it is no-longer about micromanaging individual abilities and instead is more about using the Paradigm system effectively, and it's still one of the most visually impressive games I've ever seen.

I can actually recommend the PSP port of I. I'd hesitate to recommend the NES or Origins releases of I to series newcomers, but the rebalancing of the PSP version makes it a much better, less grind-heavy game. Structurally, it still has a lot of the same idiosyncrasies as the original -- primarily the lack of a metaphorical big, friendly, flashing arrow telling you where to go next: generally speaking, the only time you're ever told what you should be doing is if you speak to Random Generic No-Name NPC #37 and they happen to spill their guts about something interesting they happened to see recently -- but the overall gameplay is a lot friendlier, so long as you can deal with the frequent random encounters... and that you haven't been spoiled by Bravely Default's addition of an encounter rate slider. :)

Oh, and I've never finished VI either. I've got to the halfway point several times over the years, but never quite made it to the end for some reason. Not through dislike or anything; I've just drifted off for one reason or another.
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Grant Heaslip » Sun Jan 04, 2015 6:24 pm

When I said I didn't like the X-2 battle system, I should have been more specific: I don't really care for ATB or job systems.

I played half of VI and completed VII, and ATB never really "clicked" with me. I feel like there's an unresolved tension between between long, layered menus and tight time constraints. The fact that each game has its own set of idiosyncratic ATB options feels to me like evidence that the concept has some fundamental issues. XIII's battle system seemed to me like an acknowledgement of the flaws of ATB -- as you say, it's more about rhythm and high-level strategy than rushed micromanagement.

I've never played through a game with a job system, but it turned me off in the Bravely Default demo and what I played of X-2. I'd much prefer characters to have defined party roles, and my aversion to grinding seems at odds with per-job EXP pools. I think VII, X, and XIII balance character customization reasonably well by giving characters obvious strengths without locking power users out of twisting them. VII's Materia system was quite versatile -- I used it to double down on members' roles, but I could see someone else it to twist them. The international edition of X includes an "advanced" Crystarium setting that starts each party member in the centre of the grid rather than putting them on paths that railroad them into specific roles. XIII's admittedly-flawed weapon upgrade system let you allocate a pretty specific stat boost in the area of your choosing without negating the characters' identities. I understand what people like about job systems, but they're too open-ended/directionless for my tastes.
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Calin Kim » Mon Jan 05, 2015 6:53 pm

Lol opinions and all that, but I think the versions of FFI that remove the Vancian magic system are too easy.

The easy mode on Origins and any other version that gives you MP just makes it way too easy.
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Angry Jedi » Mon Jan 05, 2015 7:10 pm

Calin Kim wrote:Lol opinions and all that, but I think the versions of FFI that remove the Vancian magic system are too easy.

The easy mode on Origins and any other version that gives you MP just makes it way too easy.


They probably are too easy -- I'm level 50 now and absolutely ripping through everything except the optional bosses in the Soul of Chaos dungeons, which pack one hell of a punch -- but I feel the original was waaaay too far in the other direction. It took far too long to level up -- hell, it was several hours before you could reliably take on Garland before the intro sequence rolled -- and the Vancian magic system, while true to the extremely obvious D&D wholesale ripping off that FFI does, meant that casters were useful for approximately five battles before they became a liability. This would be fine if you were actually, you know, playing D&D, where every enemy encounter is A Big Deal, but in a game where you're in combat against up to nine enemies every few steps, it's painfully unbalanced, and not in a masochistically "fun" (hi Beige!) Dark Soulsy sort of way.

FFI 20th Anniversary appears to be paced in such a way that you can power through the story in 10 hours or less, then spend a considerable amount of time working your way through the Soul of Chaos dungeons, which get progressively long, complicated and fucking weird -- more on that in a moment -- and then spend even longer working your way through the semi-randomised Labyrinth of Time to take on Chronodia's multiple forms. Only after that do your level 99 (or whatever) selves go and curb-stomp Chaos in two hits before going home to argue about who gets to snog Princess Sarah of Cornelia.

There are still pacing issues: at level 50, which was the level cap of the original version, there are surprisingly few enemies that seem to offer meaningful XP. The Soul of Chaos dungeons appear to be populated by deceptively underpowered random enemies which lull you into a false sense of security before, say, Gilgamesh comes and turns your face inside-out with a well-placed punch up the bracket. I kind of wish that the random encounters gave more meaningful amounts of experience and allowed you to effectively grind on your way to the superbosses, but so far they have mostly failed to deliver on that note.

Oh yes, those Soul of Chaos dungeons are pure fanservice -- each one features bosses from a different subsequent game (specifically FFIII, IV, V and VI) -- but they're also just plain weird. Emphasising the "chaos" aspect of their name, they don't make any attempt to be thematically consistent or have any reason for existing save for providing you with Something Fun to Do. They're just More Game, in other words, which is fine, because they're actually rather fun, and by far the most interesting dungeons in FFI, which otherwise had rather bland mazes.

The first Soul of Chaos dungeon, for example, features a couple of levels ripped straight from FFIII along with a huge forest populated by enemies you can actually see on the field screen, an endless desert which you have to navigate by interpreting landmarks correctly and some challenging boss fights against various enemies from FFIII. The next one, Hellfire Chasm, is twice the length at ten floors, and features levels ranging from conventional dungeons covered with damaging floor-lava to one that inexplicably hurls you onto a World Map that is all kinds of wrong and expects you to find your way around using all the usual World Mappy things like the ship, airship and canoe. After that, the next dungeon has twenty floors and concludes with the two toughest bosses in the game aside from Chronodia's various forms; the one after that (which I haven't ventured into yet) has a whopping forty floors to traverse.

I don't know if I'm going to go the whole hog and try to 100% the Bestiary in FFI, but I'm enjoying it enough to want to clear all the Soul of Chaos dungeons and at least poke my head into the Labyrinth of Time before I go and flatten Chaos. The 20th Anniversary edition of FFI has been a genuinely enjoyable experience when compared to my time playing the Origins version on Normal mode a few years back; that felt like a chore that I was doing out of "obligation". That, for me, is a remake doing a good job; I'll happily sacrifice a 100% "authentic" experience if it makes it more enjoyable and brings it up to date without compromising the essence of the original.
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Calin Kim » Thu Jan 08, 2015 6:43 pm

I am glad that the easy version works well for you, though, Pete. I certainly don't think you need to have fun the same way I have fun. I think we can argue for a while about compromising the essence of the original. Adding save points in the final dungeon is compromising the essence of the original in my view, because I still remember how much of an endurance challenge it was the first time I beat the first Final Fantasy. I still remember patting myself on the back as I played until 1am, hoping my parents wouldn't realize I was still awake.

I cut my teeth on stuff like Phantasy Star, though, where you could exit town and die in your first fight on the world map if you were unlucky.

Pete, I am wondering how you feel about JRPGs that are mechanically challenging without being grindy. Have you played any of the mainline SMT games? Do you want your JRPGs to be a big challenging puzzle that you work your way through, or are you mostly in it for the story? I don't have any judgment either way (and I personally like both at various times depending on my mood).

I'm thinking about how I would order the FF games now... That will probably happen today.
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Angry Jedi » Sun Jan 11, 2015 12:48 pm

Interesting questions -- and ones to which the answers have changed somewhat over the years.

When I first started playing RPGs with FFVII, I was all about the story, and not much else -- though on subsequent playthroughs, as I started to understand the joy of discovering mechanics and how to take advantage of them, I started to explore sidequests further, and now I find it very difficult to play FFVII without, say, getting the gold chocobo and all the Natural Materia. (Still never beaten Emerald and Ruby Weapon, though.)

In more recent years, I've started to explore games in a lot more depth. This has been a particular "thing" for me since I got big into Japanese games in preference to Western ones: the games I play regularly tend to reward detailed exploration of mechanics with new story content, new endings or just an enormous sense of satisfaction. This is one aspect where a good (emphasis: good) set of trophies/achievements can help: a good set of trophies/achievements can encourage you to seek out these things and see what's going on. Good examples include those seen in Compile Heart's games, which encourage you to see all the different endings, recruit characters and defeat specific tough enemies; bad examples include those seen in the Tales series, which in the case of both Xillia games, disappointingly, include a significant chunk of "perform this action 200 times" nonsense that is nothing but grind.

I'm not sure I have a preference, to be honest, though an RPG without a strong story better have some solid mechanics or interesting environments to explore to make up for it, otherwise it won't hold my interest. FFI's Anniversary Edition is doing a good job here because although the story isn't very strong at all, the bonus content in particular is solid and challenging (even for the "easy mode" mechanics -- it's been tailored specifically to the new style) and, you'll be pleased to know, in the toughest of the new dungeons, the Labyrinth of Time, you can't save at all!

With regard to challenge, I'm not a fan of unfair challenge: the sort of thing where you get one-shotted without warning (and, inevitably, without having saved for hours) but I don't mind something where there is a seemingly insurmountable challenge that you can take on at your leisure and feel like a badass when you do. Iron Giant in FFIII is a good example; I managed to beat it on my last playthrough, and it felt great, even though it had absolutely no relevance to the rest of the game whatsoever. (FFXIV is actually great for this, too; a lot of the most challenging stuff is strictly optional and separate from the "main" story, but it's still a lot of fun to successfully complete, particularly as it involves successfully coordinating yourself and seven other people.)
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