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Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Angry Jedi » Mon Dec 29, 2014 6:31 pm

I've tried doing this before, and failed. But this time around I feel inspired to see it through -- at least partly so I can appreciate the references in FFXIV, and at least partly so I can finally say that I have played each and every mainline(ish) Final Fantasy game through from start to finish... with the usual caveat that I'm not taking on XI because getting through the main story in that is a lifetime's work in itself.

I have actually played most of the Final Fantasies through at least once at some point or another in the past. The only ones I have never played through to completion are V, VI and Lightning Returns; all the others I've done at least once, and several I've done more than once. The ones I've played through the most times are VII and VIII: VII was the game which introduced me to RPGs, and my friends and I played it through at least ten times over the course of a summer or two, and I enjoyed the love story in VIII first time around, then got an enormous amount of glee from sidequests and overpowering all my characters the second time around. I'm particularly keen to revisit IX and X, which are always referred to with glassy-eyed fondness by those looking back on days of gaming past, and which I've only ever beaten once. I'm also keen to revisit X-2 and confirm my suspicion that despite it frequently being mocked, it's actually a very strong installment.

The specific versions of the games I'll be playing in this marathon -- and I'm not setting a time limit for this, so it may take months or even years -- are the following:

Final Fantasy PSP
Final Fantasy II PSP
Final Fantasy III PSP
Final Fantasy IV: Complete Collection
Final Fantasy V PSone
Final Fantasy VI PSone
Final Fantasy VII PSone
Final Fantasy VIII PSone
Final Fantasy IX PSone
Final Fantasy X Vita
Final Fantasy X-2 Vita
Final Fantasy XII PS2 (please do an HD remake of this, Square, and PLEASE put it on Vita)
Final Fantasy XIII PS3
Final Fantasy XIII-2 PS3
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII PS3 (or possibly PC if that version appears by the time I get there)

But before we get to that end of things, we have to indulge in the early years of the series...

Final Fantasy I

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I've played a few versions of this over the years. I tried the NES original via emulation a while after I discovered VII, as I was keen to see the series' roots. I didn't get very far, though; it wasn't until the PS1 remake Final Fantasy Origins (which also bundled in Final Fantasy II, making its first ever appearance in English at this point) that I actually knuckled down and played the whole thing through to completion.

This time around, I'm playing the PSP version. I'm not sure how this differs to the numerous different versions there have been over the years, but to my knowledge it is closest in execution to the "Dawn of Souls" package available on Game Boy Advance, in that it has the additional content from that version. I also may be imagining things, but progression feels significantly quicker and easier in this than in the rather grind-heavy PS1 version, which on "Normal" mode was paced similarly to the NES original. Perhaps it's based on that version's "Easy" mode, which I'd previously been far too proud to jump into.

Final Fantasy I is recognisably Final Fantasy in some ways, but in others it's an interesting thing: rather than carving out its own completely distinctive identity, it's extremely clear that Final Fantasy is very much Dungeons & Dragons through a Japanese lens. We have a fantasy land filled with humans, elves and dwarves. We have enemies such as thinly-disguised mind flayers, sahagin and goblins. We have a quest that takes in every fantasy cliche in the book -- though particularly noteworthy is the fact that "rescue the princess", initially set up to be your main objective and the usual thing you found yourself doing in NES games around the time of its original release, actually turns out to be nothing more than a pre-intro teaser: after you rescue Princess Sarah from the evil Garland, the real quest begins, and it's a quest that would go on to be reused throughout the series, over and over again, up to and including Bravely Default, which is a Final Fantasy game in all but name: light the crystals.

What's perhaps most interesting about Final Fantasy I when viewed through a modern lens is its game structure or, more accurately, its lack thereof. Whereas we're used to more recent Final Fantasy games railroading us down a main narrative path for a significant proportion of the experience -- and say what you like about XIII, this was present in the series long before we ever met Lightning -- Final Fantasy I literally drops you in the game world after you hit "New Game" and expects you to get on with it. Of course, the most logical thing to do is walk into the town and castle you spawn next to, but there's nothing stopping you just wandering around and beating up some goblins and wolves before you do anything plot-related.

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This continues throughout the game. "Clear" an area and you don't get given a metaphorical big flashing arrow telling you where to go next; you're expected to figure it out for yourself by looking at the map, determining where is accessible to you given your current movement abilities (as in subsequent installments, these are all tied to different types of vehicle) and then heading over there to see what's what. Once you're there, you'll need to survey the situation by fighting a battle or two and determining whether the enemies you're coming across are about the right level for your party, and if so, start looking for the nearest town and listening out for whiny NPCs complaining about something or other.

You're expected to be proactive, in other words. Take the part I've just got to, for example: I reached a ruined town that has been torn apart by the failure of the Earth Crystal's energies. One random, no-name NPC in the town happens to mention that there's a vampire in a cave down south and that he might possibly have something to do with it; everyone else simply bemoans their terrible lot in life every time you wander up to them. There's no "Ding!" new quest moment, no cutscene showing that yes, you should probably go here now, no pithy comments from your (mute) party about having to delve into yet another musty old cave, simply a piece of information that you can do with as you see fit.

The further you go in the game, the more "open" the world feels, until eventually you reach a point where there are actually a number of different things you can do at once. There's a logical order to do them in, according to the levels of the enemies you'll be encountering, but if you're feeling in a non-linear mood there's nothing stopping you poking around some other areas for a bit if you want to.

I'm so far finding it a lot more enjoyable and less of a chore than I remember. It's taken some adjustment to go back to random encounters -- especially when combined with Final Fantasy I's "guaranteed encounter" tiles, which are indistinguishable from random encounters but which, in some horrible (and thankfully circumnavigable) areas, see you getting into a fight literally every step -- but in a game where the primary focus is grinding and beefing up your characters rather than working through a particularly in-depth plot, the excess of fighting is to be expected.

The plot is throwaway, the mechanics are lightweight compared to later installments in the series and the world is a seething mass of fantasy cliches, but Final Fantasy I is a game that still holds up surprisingly well today -- thanks, perhaps, in part to the numerous refinements it's had in the many different versions over the years -- and it remains fascinating to see the genesis of one of the most long-running, often troubled series in gaming.
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Calin Kim » Mon Dec 29, 2014 8:36 pm

Is there any way I can convince you not to play the Playstation versions of V and VI? They're really, really bad.
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Teryn » Mon Dec 29, 2014 10:32 pm

Calin Kim wrote:Is there any way I can convince you not to play the Playstation versions of V and VI? They're really, really bad.

I heartily second that. The translations' a bit more made-up in comparison to the original (here's Final Fantasy IV on PSX, for example.) As a little aside, this is a very cool site that analyzes translations and finds poorly translated things to retranslate or Japanese culture to interpret, I highly recommend anyone interested in Japanese-made games to visit.

Ok, back to the topic at hand: The loading lag of the PSX versions of Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger games was horribly awkward, even when carefully ripped from your own owned discs and run in an emulator. Fast-forwarding can cause memory corruption in the emulation, so it's not a good idea to do it during loading screens.

I'd rather have a poorly translated original version of the Final Fantasy games for the nostalgia (and lack of loading screens) or a very well done retranslation (of which the more recent Nintendo DS versions seem to be), because there is so much variation with these games that have been done over so many times.

Just putting in my 2 nickels (since we don't give out pennies from our mint anymore).
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Angry Jedi » Tue Dec 30, 2014 1:02 pm

I'll be playing the PS one versions on Vita as I wanted to have as many of them handheld-friendly as possible (and I'd rather not play on my phone). I don't know if the loading lag is still an issue when a disc isn't involved -- but yes, I'm aware of the issues already. We'll see!
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Calin Kim » Tue Dec 30, 2014 4:59 pm

The loading lag is only part of the issue. FFV actually has pretty sharp writing and a good story, but you wouldn't know it from the PSX version of the game.

I didn't realize there was a PSP version of FFIII, though. Is it the same one as the DS version, because I would also tell you that you're better off just emulating that on your pc with a fan translation. The DS version of that game is so frustrating and awful.
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Teryn » Tue Dec 30, 2014 7:01 pm

Fan translations can be hit or miss. The best translation of any FF game I've yet seen is Final Fantasy VI Advance, which at least *sounds* spot on. There's an FFIV fan translation floating around that completely changes too many lines, and even messes up the idea of a Magnetic Cave being controlled by gravity and not magnetism.

Sorry, really showing my biases, here. It's so hard to have a "definitive" version of any Japanese-made game because some fan translators go for flavour more than accuracy (sort of a common pitfall, they most likely are not pros), and pros are always rushed for money and time's sake and can't always compare each others' work for consistency. This has improved in recent times, but remakes/ports and older games do still suffer from lack of proper attention in the localization.

Er, sorry for going into this in the thread, AJ, but considering how many effing versions (fan and pro alike) and remakes there are of Final Fantasy anything, it *is* relevant.
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Calin Kim » Tue Dec 30, 2014 7:44 pm

I'll just say it then: I think the Final Fantasy 3 remake that was in 3D is a bad game. I would rather not play FF3 than play that version.
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Angry Jedi » Wed Dec 31, 2014 6:59 am

I don't think FFIII is a great game generally, but I have played the DS version before and made it through enough to beat Iron Giant as well as the game itself, so I must have enjoyed myself at least a bit. In my mind, it's one of the weakest Final Fantasies, but I'm keen to revisit it primarily because of all the references in XIV.

The PSP version is, so far as I'm aware, based on the DS version, but I don't know if it's identical.

No, the translation discussion is interesting, and it's a difficult balance. I "overheard" some people from Xseed and Aksys talking about this the other day on Twitter; the consensus between them was that translations that go for 100% accuracy tend to lose out on having "personality" about them, while veering too hard in the other direction runs the risk of not being true to the original. NIS America often come in for criticism among the truly hardcore fans for deviating significantly from the original scripts in many places; many Hyperdimension Neptunia fans, for example, seem a lot more satisfied with Idea Factory International's work on the Re;Birth games than NISA's work on the originals, even though IFI's work is slightly inferior from a purely technical/language accuracy perspective: IFI's stuff keeps the charm that NISA's work had while remaining more true to the source material.

To be honest, I can't say bad translations bother me immensely. I've played a bunch of visual novels that managed to have coherent, interesting and emotionally engaging stories despite featuring English best described as "garbled"; hell, I've played Final Fantasy VII more times than, I think, any other game in my collection, and the translation for that game is a legendary hot mess. (Having played the retranslated PC version as well, I actually found myself preferring the nonsense of the PSone version, strangely; there was a certain "charm" about it that wasn't there in the retranslation.)

I'll stick with the plan above as, like I said, I want to keep everything as handheld as possible so I can play on my lunch break at work -- it's largely a practical thing! -- but your concerns are noted :)
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Calin Kim » Fri Jan 02, 2015 9:09 pm

I like the original version of III, but I also accept that I have rather unconventional tastes in Final Fantasy. In fact, I might rank them at some point if I can come up with a ranking I agree with.
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Re: Final Fantasy Marathon: I-XIII-3

by Angry Jedi » Fri Jan 02, 2015 11:56 pm

No, I knew that already; you like XIII, after all :) (I like XIII too!)

Anyway, back to the topic at hand: still enjoying I a whole lot. If you're going to jump in from the beginning, the Anniversary Edition (which is the PSP and, I'm told, the mobile version also) is the way to go. It cuts out a lot of the tedious grinding of the original (and PSone "Normal Mode") version, adds some actually rather gorgeous 2D pixel-art sprites, backgrounds and spell effects, and caps the whole thing off with some excellent bonus dungeons.

I've only delved into one of these so far, but they're a significant challenge that looks set to add a fair amount to my game clock by the time I clear the game. (You can otherwise beat FFI vanilla in about 12 hours or so; a little more if you're playing one of the older, grindier versions.) They're completely optional and totally bereft of story (aside from "each one opens up when you beat one of the Four Fiends"), but something about them tickles the "ooh, I really need to explore that" part of my brain. Something else about them tickles the "I really want to fight that tough thing and win" part of my brain; I haven't come across the really powerful superbosses yet, but the Final Fantasy III bosses (complete with an excellent remix of that game's boss theme, available for your delectation below) put up a stiff enough fight. I have two more of those to beat, then I'll be moving on to the dungeons featuring IV, V and VI bosses at their lowest level -- with each one having more floors to explore than the last.



After that, there's the Labyrinth of Time, which was introduced with the Anniversary Edition -- the four main bonus dungeons first appeared in GBA version Dawn of Souls -- which sounds very interesting indeed, focusing a lot more on puzzle solving than simply hacking and slashing your way through like much of the rest of the game. There's also a superboss right at the bottom that has I think five different forms to take on, with its most powerful form being the strongest thing in the game.

I don't know yet if I'm going to go super-hardcore and try to completely fill out the Bestiary, but I'm enjoying myself a lot -- a whole lot more than I expected when I decided to revisit the early Final Fantasy games, I must admit. So if you've never experienced the dawn of the series, may I kindly recommend that you opt for the Anniversary Edition in one of its forms in preference to Origins or, God forbid, the NES original.

This raises an interesting question, of course: that of authenticity. Is playing Anniversary Edition "cheating" in a challenge like this? I'm of the opinion that no, it isn't; through Origins, Dawn of Souls and Anniversary, Final Fantasy I has been polished to a fine sheen while still maintaining its original structure and style. If there's a version of something available that is quite simply better than its earlier incarnations while still remaining "authentic", then that opens that thing up to a much wider audience, making it a lot more accessible. And I see that as a good thing: for the truly hardcore, it's not as if Origins and the NES version have ceased to exist, after all.
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