Saturday, 26 September 2015

Final Fantasy III

The third game I actually started playing a while ago, and only finished it recently when picking up my Nintendo DSi again. The graphics for the DSi version are completely remade, featuring 3-dimensional models used in cut scenes and battle animations. While walking around in dungeons and in the overworld, the camera angle is now isometric. The top screen of the DSi shows a constant view of the world map when traveling, which was useful but maybe not the most important point. The music was also resampled but is still in the same spirit as the original.

It is clear that they have looked at the two previous games when creating the character development system for the third game in the series. With the bad and good from the two previous systems in mind, they have created something that works very well. Instead of leveling individual skills or being locked to a job, now you can switch jobs during gameplay. From the beginning, all four characters in your group are Freelancers with no specific abilities. Very soon the story unlocks the first batch of jobs from which to choose, after which at three more times during the game more jobs get unlocked. Each job has an extra ability, for example throw for the ninja, or black magic for the black mage. When playing a character as a chosen job, the job level for that job goes up and at the same time the overall character level goes up. This means you will likely have a number of levels in different jobs for each character by the end of the game, but it does not affect base stats as much since those stats are based on the character level. I really like this job-based system. It allows you a lot of freedom in setting up your group the way you want, as well as some tactical decisions for different parts of the game. It still takes a while to switch job if you want to get the level of that job up a bit, but usually when new jobs are unlocked they are already valid choices around the first levels. The best part is that it avoids having to level up each individual skill, since a job comes with these attributes. As an example, the weapon types are fully controlled by the selected job instead of there being a stat for each weapon. There are a lot of jobs to try out as well so there is definitely replayability in trying out new combinations. Also, you get to keep the same four characters in your party throughout the story, so you can rely on all the characters when planning for what is ahead.

The story feels much more well-structured than that of the previous two games. There is a better progression, and the villages and areas to visit felt more interesting to me. Unlocking new jobs at different points also brings some new mechanics to explore as the game goes on. On top of that, I did not get lost as much as in the previous games. The game almost always gave me enough information that I could find the next location even when having to search the world map.

The job system is one of the strong aspects of the game, but far from the only thing that makes the game good. With a well put together story and an awesome soundtrack, this game is definitely my favorite among the first three. Coming up next is the Super Nintendo era of games.

Final Fantasy II

The second game in the series was very different from the first in many aspects. For my play through, I chose to play the PSP remake on the Playstation Vita. This version has improved graphics and music compared to the original on the NES. I also think some NPCs have been added to explain certain mechanics in the beginning, although I could be wrong as I did not play the original. My save file after finishing the game says 22.5h of play time, not including any reloads of course.

In the second installment, the series starts being more story-driven, with the opening being a fight that you loose whatever you do. The game plays the death music then awakes you somewhere else to start your quest. This type of involved story-telling keeps on going throughout the game. Already near the start, the world opens up, so that very early in the game you can actually reach areas where you have no chance to survive. Paired with it sometimes being unclear where to go next, this can sometimes be a challenge. It brings a sense of achievemenrt though, when later in the game your party is strong enough to take on those areas.

There is no job selection screen before starting the game, nor can you choose any jobs during the game. This is because of the new mechanic for skill learning that was introduced. Instead of choosing the direction of a character, each skill and stat has an experience bar. This includes weapon skills, all learned spells and some general things like HP, mana, defense and dodge. These attributes all level up based on how many times they are used. I will go more into the effect of this in a bit. Generally it is supposed to develop any character in the areas you use the most thus creating the job for that character by playing it. The permanent group size is three, with different side characters joining the group as number four during different parts of the game. The side characters have some predefined stats when they join, but can then be developed using the same skill system until they leave the group. Because of the fact that they are always temporary though, you can never really rely on them taking on a certain role. The side-characters do add to the story though.

Now I guess we have to talk about the thing that most people seem to remember most from this game. the skill development system. Like mentioned, you level up stats and skills by using them. This seems like a pretty good idea, and it is rather cool to be able to create characters with any combination of skills, that are not locked down by a job. In practice though, several things in this system make it kind of awkward. For example, because the best way to level up HP is to get injured, I found no reason to put my mages in the back row to begin with. If they do not get hit they will continue to be weak. Same thing with the agility stat that controls dodge for avoiding damage. Because I leveled one of my characters bare-handed, to be like a monk, that character never used a shield. This in turn led him to never get good at avoiding damage because, yes, you have to avoid damage to get better at it. At least he had more than three times the HP of the other characters at the end. Despite this though, he took nearly half his HP from certain attacks. Especially annoying were leech attacks in the final dungeon, where I had to kill him off everytime I met a certain enemy, otherwise that enemy would just heal up automatically every round. The worst thing to level up though was magic. Each spell has its own experience bar and if you do not actively use them all the time, the spell will never level up enough. As an example, to level resurrection you have to get party members killed so that you can use it. There are exploits to get around some of this. For example, you can attack your own characters to get skill experience. Not so fun, but it gets you where you want to get. Despite the system having many problems, including making it hard to quickly grind if stuck at the end, it was still interesting to explore.

All in all, an interesting Final Fantasy game, although with many mechanics problems. The skill system made it annoying at times, but the story was more complex than the first game. The remake had some extra material, but I was not really tempted to try any of it after completing the game. I did not think that it was a bad game, but not awesome either.

By the way, one thing I feel I have to mention is the end boss. He was a joke after finding the Blood Sword, which damages a percentage of the maximum health of the monster and returns it to the attacker. A bit of an anticlimax after getting there, but if an item is part of the game I will use it!