Saturday, July 11, 2020

Final Fantasy: Summary and Rating

             
Final Fantasy
Japan
Square (developer and original publisher); Nintendo of America (North American publisher)
Released in 1987 for NES in Japan, 1989 for MSX, 1990 for NES in North America
Remade numerous times for various platforms, including mobile, between 1994 and 2016
Date Started: 11 June 2020
Date Ended: 27 June 2020
Total Hours: 30
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Raking at time of posting: (to come later)
       
Summary:
The first game of the famous series is a combination of some of the best themes and systems from previous games, both eastern and western, including Ultima, Wizardry, Phantasie, and Dragon Warrior. Four warriors embark on an epic, world-saving quest whose nature is only slowly revealed through plot turns and NPC dialogue. Although it lacks the complexity of computer RPGs of its era, it's about as complex and thorough as was possible for an era console. It makes excellent, intuitive use of the limited controller, and it offers tactical, turn-based combat in which the right spell at the right time plays a major role. The combat gets overwhelming at times, and the game is too long and grindy overall, but it definitely kicked console RPGs to the next level.
     
*****
         
I had about as much fun with Final Fantasy as it would have been possible for me to have with a 1987 console game, which is to say about as much fun as modestly above-average computer RPG. Final Fantasy was clearly created by a skilled, shrewd developer who brought in the right elements from the right predecessors. Instead of trying to uncomfortably fit a computer RPG into a console format, the developers managed to perfectly "right-size" role-playing for the console. Even the geography is well-done: the outer world has an in-game map, and the dungeons are just small and navigable enough not to require one.
          
If you had asked me a week ago if I'd ever owned an NES, I would have said no. I would have said that I had friends who did, and I played with them a little, but never had one myself. But a memory came to me a few days ago that made me realize that my sister, at least, owned an NES. Growing up, I had my own somewhat isolated "apartment" on the bottom floor of our house, with my own television, so I rarely ventured into the official "living room" where the console would have been hooked up. I must really have been uninterested in it because I only remember playing it one day, but recently that day came back to me as vividly as if it were last week.
     
Between MobyGames and the nature of the memory, I can peg the date to about March 1990, when I would have been 17. I didn't have a car yet, so I took the bus home from high school. If I didn't feel like going right home, I would take it to a shopping center about a mile and a half from my house and browse books and magazines or buy a Coke and a snack or something. I did that on this day. The day had started warm, and I had dressed for spring, but not long after the bus dropped me off, a bone-chilling wind brought along a heavy rain. The half-hour walk home was miserable. It was one of those times where you can't bring yourself to believe that you're actually going to die because you live in the First World, after all, and who dies of hypothermia five minutes from his house while on a heavily-trafficked roadway? But you start to realize that you can't lay your finger on precisely what is going to prevent it.
             
There was a day that this seemed to be the greatest game in the world.
           
I eventually made it, of course, and immediately took a hot shower. I put on a warm jogging suit. I realized that in my semi-exhausted state, I wanted nothing more than to have my mind occupied for a few hours by something trivial. If I had a computer then and it was working--I don't remember--I must have rejected it as too complicated. I must have spied my sister's Nintendo hooked up to the television and decided that it was perfect. I shuffled through her games, selected Willow, and settled in for a few hours of blissful, mindless playing.
   
I learned two things that day: first, how good it feels to relax and indulge yourself when you've been through something that makes you feel like you really deserve it; second, how good a console can be in such moments. I realize it's not the same for everyone, but there is a stark dividing line in my mind between a computer experience and a console experience. At the computer, I am alert. I have energy. I am in control of a complex interface on which I can accomplish a great many things. These days, about 50% of the time, I'm even standing up. If I'm playing a game, I want it to be a somewhat cerebral game. I want to have to take notes, make and consult maps, and look up references. Of course, any moment, I might switch gears and start working on my book or my taxes. That's what a computer is for.

The console is for opposite: relaxation, indulgence, excess. I'm on a couch rather than in an office chair. I have a controller in my hand rather than all the power of a keyboard. There isn't even the remotest pretense that I might suddenly switch to doing something more important. I'm looking at a large television instead of a (comparatively) small computer screen. My demands become entirely different. Graphics and sound take on an importance they don't have for me on the computer. I want a little more action in the game. I don't want to have to take notes, and I definitely don't want to map. Console gaming for me is more of a "total experience" that includes being warm, comfortable, and well-fed. If I didn't have Irene, I'd frankly probably add "more than a little buzzed" to that list, too.
          
The word "terminated" never got old, but note that it doesn't say "killed."
         
This all got me thinking about how I properly evaluate a game like Final Fantasy. In my first entry, I praised it for what it accomplished on the console, but of course we have to remember that I'm not experiencing it that way. I'm experiencing through an emulator on a PC, which frankly makes it more like a PC game than a console game. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I'm not sure I could ever properly blog about my console gaming experience the way I experience consoles. The very act of having to pay attention to things, to take notes for the blog entry, to take screenshots at key moments, is contrary to my fundamental experience of a console game. I don't know how Zenic and other console bloggers do it.

If all this rambling means anything, it's this: First, my GIMLET is poorly calibrated to console RPGs because I look for different features in console RPGs. Second, even if I created a different system (or adapted the GIMLET) for rating console RPGs, it wouldn't really work because I wouldn't be playing them as console RPGs. Third, even if I did play them as console RPGs, it wouldn't matter because the act of having to blog about them would change the way I experienced them. Fourth, even though I myself have expressed such an opinion, I don't know why any gamer bothers himself by taking a "side" in the tired console vs. PC argument. Each has strengths and weaknesses for different times and situations. I couldn't imagine giving up on one to go all-in on the other.
          
Zusu blasts some mummies with HRM4.
          
The primary reason for me to play Final Fantasy is to get a sense of how landmark titles for consoles influenced the types of RPGs that we see on the PC. Because of the differences, it doesn't make a lot of sense to rate them on the GIMLET. I'm going to do it anyway because the alternative is to number and play a game but have a blank row on my spreadsheet where the scores would go, and I hate that idea more than I hate applying the wrong rating system to this type of product. But my GIMLET ratings for console RPGs will never be directly comparable to my ratings for computer RPGs, so there isn't a lot of point debating the result.
 
With this caveat in mind, I give Final Fantasy:
 
  • 5 points for the game world. There are times that the story is trite and cutesy, and the world seemed more a m√©lange of themes from popular culture than a cohesive universe in itself. But the plot had some points of originality, and I liked the way it was slowly revealed to the player. I also appreciated how plot developments were reflected in NPC dialogue and physical changes in the world.
  • 5 points for character creation and development. Final Fantasy has some cool classes with clear strengths and weaknesses. Different classes face the same plot but face very different game challenges. Leveling up was always rewarding, as was the ability to change to the prestige classes. 5 is about as good as a game gets in this era; I have to save lots of room for more complex character sheets and the ability to truly role-play different character types.
  • 5 points for NPC interaction. NPCs are huge part of the game, but their little paragraphs didn't give me any sense of character among them, and there are no "dialogue options," just information dumps.
           
They may as well have had just one sage give me all the information.
         
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. The Dungeons and Dragons-derived bestiary has a satisfying mix of strengths and weaknesses. There were some contextual encounters and inventory puzzles to break things up. But it loses some good will for the tedious regularity of encounters.
  • 5 points for magic and combat. Neither are terribly complex, but the game draws some of the best tactical elements of Wizardry and Phantasie. I appreciated the option to target specific enemies, and although I didn't experience the full scope of the magic system, it seems well-balanced. It just takes a little too long.
  • 5 points for equipment. The right weapons and armor play a major role, and the characters always seem to be enjoying a recent upgrade. At least some of the statistics are shown in the character sheet, making it somewhat easy to evaluate items against each other. There are some cool usable items towards the end of the game. But the game lacks a lot of equipment slots, and I don't like that everything is in fixed locations.
  • 6 points for the economy. With weapons, armor, spells, resurrections, and potions to buy, it remains important and relevant for most of the game. (A lot depends on the party composition.) It just doesn't have much complexity.
  • 4 points for a main quest with several stages but no options, and a few areas and quests that could be considered "side-quests."
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. I'll never love the NES controller, but I think this game made excellent use of it, requiring a minimum of clicking. There were some annoyances, such as the way the game insisted on rearranging the party order every time someone got poisoned. I don't want to fight about graphics and sound, but I'm not giving them more than "present."
  • 5 points for gameplay. It has some nonlinearity, some replayablity, a decent challenge level, and good pacing despite some grindy moments.
         
That gives us a final score of 48, which puts it at the top of the 1987 games, tied with Pirates! It's funny that neither of the top games of the year are computer RPGs. Perhaps blasphemously, it also means that I ranked Final Fantasy one point higher than Dungeon Master. Before you start sending hate mail, please remember that Dungeon Master is an exemplar representative of a particular type of RPG that does poorly on my GIMLET because it lacks a good story, NPCs, and an economy, all of which I think are important to the total RPG experience.
          
This image is here for no other reason than to break up the text.
        
The developer was Square, which started in 1983 and is still going strong, having merged with Enix in 2003. (What I love about the origins of the company is that it started as a division of a power company. It's as if Proctor & Gamble had bought ORIGIN.) The typical origin story for an American developer is a bright single programmer or programming team who work 100-hour weeks for a couple of years, creating games by themselves before finally earning enough capital to hire a staff. Square's founder, Masafumi Miyamoto, buoyed by his parent company's resources, seems to have been more strategic than that, realizing at the outset that a successful company would require specialists in graphics, sound, story-telling, and other parts of the overall game. Online histories say that Miyamoto opened a computer salon in Yokohama specifically to watch for talented programmers. One of the people he recruited this way was Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy.
  
Square got off to a rocky start. The young Sakaguchi was thrust into creative roles he felt unqualified for. The company's first two titles, text adventures called The Death Trap (1984) and Will: The Death Trap II (1985), were rushed, and prioritized substance over style. The company had a lot more success with an MSX port of Nihon Falcom's Dragon Slayer (1985) and an NES/FAMICOM port of Game Arts's Thexder (1985), which demoralized the development team. The success of the latter led Miyamoto to reincorporate Square as a stand-alone company and to shift focus almost exclusively to the NES/FAMICOM, creating temporary instability. Sakaguchi supervised a series of titles that got lukewarm reviews and mediocre sales, including a mech combat game called Cruise Chaser Blassty (1986) and a racing game called Rad Racer (1987).
  
Sakaguchi had a history with western CRPGs, including Ultima and Wizardry as well as tabletop Dungeons and Dragons gaming. He had been pushing for the creation of a Square RPG for years, but it took the success of Dragon Slayer to convince the executives that an RPG would sell in Japan, and they greenlit the project. Sakaguchi was determined that if this game failed, he'd quit the industry and go back to school, which (partly) led him to change the title from the original Fighting Fantasy to Final Fantasy. Fighting Fantasy also had some copyright issues, although I haven't been able to find confirmation that the issue was specifically with Steve Jackson's book series. Articles refer obliquely to a "tabletop game" of that name, perhaps available only in Japan.
 
The team included several people with extensive experience with fantasy, in both RPG and other forms, much of which made its way into the story and mechanics. These include Koichi Ishii, Iranian-American programmer Nasir Gebelli, and graphic artist Yoshitaka Amano. An amusing anecdote is that Sakaguchi initially rejected hiring Amano, who he'd never heard of, then showed Ishii some magazine art and said, "This is the style that I want," only to find out that Amano was the artist. The team deliberately set out to create a game that was different from Dragon Slayer: slow, turn-based, cerebral, with lots of narrative in which they could embed references to Dungeons and Dragons, Tolkien, and the films of Hayao Miyazaki.
 
The game was a huge success in Japan, selling over a half million copies, rescuing Square from what might have been bankruptcy. The 1989 success of Dragon Quest's North American release (as Dragon Warrior) led the company to sign a deal with Nintendo of America for a western release of Final Fantasy in 1990.
 
In a recent comment, NLeseul had a good summary of the differences between the Japanese and North American versions of the game. It would be over-reaching to call the changes "game-changing," but there is something to the idea that Nintendo's "family-friendly" policies influenced what I perceive as a certain childishness in the game. Policies forbade "excessive" or even "random" violence, for instance. Death could not be depicted graphically. Thus, monsters are usually "defeated" rather than explicitly killed. There could be no profanity, nudity, drugs, alcohol, anything that would be considered denigration of race, sex, or religion--the latter of which precluded even references to religion and led to such absurdities as the "monk" class being replaced by the "black belt" and the "church" (for resurrections) being replaced by a "clinic." I don't know if it affected this game in particular, but other titles had to change monster and spell names that included "devil," "hell," or "holy," perhaps the most infamous being the "heck hound" that appeared in 1993's Secret of Mana.
             
In the Japanese version, resurrections were handled by a Catholic bishop (you have to enlarge to see the cross on his headdress).
         
One site that I consulted has a good summary of the effects of Nintendo's policies in a paragraph that offers some vindication for my earlier claims that the game seems too juvenile:
           
By the mid-’90s, Nintendo’s censorship practices were becoming both an embarrassment and a financial liability. Nintendo was earning a reputation as a “kiddy” company that was too patronizing and immature for older gamers—at precisely the time when an aging consumer base was putting “mature” games in much higher demand.
                   
To solve this conundrum, Nintendo embraced the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) in 1994. By shifting responsibility to a third party for determining the appropriate age level for its games, Nintendo could relax most of its guidelines and allow more mature content. These days, I wouldn't quite say that there's no distinct visual difference between a Nintendo game and games for other consoles, but it certainly isn't as stark as it was in the 1980s and early 1990s.
   
The bigger change for North American audiences was in the packaging and documentation; we got an enormous manual that spoiled over half the game, including screen shots of every bit of NPC dialogue and frequent reminders of everything the player had learned so far. But even that was apparently too little for some players--I envision them staring at the screen with blank horror once they realized they were at the end of the manual and still had things to do--so the same month the game was released, Nintendo Power published a special issue that spent 81 pages carrying the player from beginning to end. Among the many types of RPG players that I will never understand are those who are content to simply follow instructions written for them by someone else.
             
Hand-holding until the last battle.
          
By the time the game hit North American shelves in 1990, Square had already released Final Fantasy II (1988) and Final Fantasy III (1990) in Japan, neither of which would be available in North America until the mid-2000s. Thus, Japan's Final Fantasy IV (1991) became our Final Fantasy II (1991), a desynchronization that only got worse when Square decided not to release Final Fantasy V (1992) in North America, either; thus Final Fantasy VI (1994) became Final Fantasy III (1994) in the West. But starting with Final Fantasy VII (1997), Square stopped localizing the titles.
 
To date, the company is up to Final Fantasy XV, but that doesn't count dozens of titles in spin-off series, including Final Fantasy Tactics, Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy Legend, Final Fantasy Adventure, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Dissidia Final Fantasy, a series featuring some character named Chocobo, and so many one-offs, bundled packages, and re-releases that it's hard to get an exact count. Complicating things is that games with no connection to Final Fantasy in Japan were released under that name in North America. The franchise has also fielded four films, two television series, and innumerable books and comics.
   
The original game has been remade at least a dozen times (it's tough to get an exact count because of the fine line between a remake and a port). The major changes seem to have been in the Final Fantasy Origins series for the PlayStation starting in 2002, which had major graphic and sound upgrades; and the Final Fantasy I & II release for the Game Boy Advance in 2004, which changed the monsters and added several dungeons. I'll let commenters fill in the other details.
          
Combat in the Final Fantasy Origins remake.
            
A key question for me, not having experienced anything but the first game, is what holds the titles together as a series. Everything I read about common plot or thematic elements (e.g., blending fantasy with science fiction; struggles between good and evil) seem common to a lot of RPGs. My understanding is that we don't see the specific continent of the first game (or its characters) again; would there be anything that signals this game as part of the later franchise if it weren't for the title? Again, I'll ask commenters with more experience to weigh in.
  
I don't see many influences of Final Fantasy through the period that I've explored (1992), but then again it wouldn't have had much time to develop in the West. My understanding is that Final Fantasy IV (1991), with its emphasis on fully-fleshed characters and relationships, influenced later developers that specialized in such themes (particularly Bioware), and that Final Fantasy VII (1997) is particularly credited with a subsequent explosion in console RPG gaming. Maybe we'll get to them eventually.
 
For me, I feel a bit better prepared to discuss the occasional console title that I play, particularly since I can no longer argue that computer RPGs out-perform console RPGs in their respective years. This was one title that even a computer RPG addict needed to experience.


126 comments:

  1. The most important change in the Origins and GBA remakes is that they make spell charges optional or remove them altogether for a MP pool respectively.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Correction: Origins retains the spell charges, but gives you the option to receive far more than was possible in the original. Dawn of Souls was the first to eliminate it entirely.

      Dawn of Souls also lets you save anywhere and purchase Phoenix Down from any shop, effectively making the game a snoozefest. I'm not alone in considering it inferior to Origins.

      Delete
  2. Your last paragraph encapsulates why I was hanging out for this exploration :)

    I think you partly put into words something I've never quite been able to figure out about myself - I really struggle to ever sit down in front of a console, even when there's a game I want to play. Almost all of my console experiences of the last 20 years have included friends and family. When you are playing a console, there's no alt-tab to the rest of the world. You're on a couch. You've chosen to 'relax'.

    I'm not exactly a connoisseur, but my understanding is that there are two things linking final fantasy titles - storytelling style (particularly from IV onwards) and combat. You can immediately tell a final fantasy game from the combat screen. There are more tactical options in later titles, but it's still a case of line up on opposing sides, take turns bashing each other, and casting cure and blizzard.

    One thing final fantasy does take pains to switch up (and which results in a lot of the evolution we see in the genre as a whole) is character development. It's often almost a game in itself, and tends to be regarded as the defining feature of that particular title.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have almost the opposite experience. Sometimes when I'm playing a game on PC, I have a hard time paying attention to it because I end up thinking of something else I can be doing instead. On my Xbox there's not much to do besides Netflix or other games, so it's a lot easier to spend a solid chunk of time on one game.

      Delete
    2. For the past 13 years I've had my PC hooked into my TV, so I experience console games and PC games the same way (aside from control differences). I find I prefer console vs. PC on a given game based on which platform has the best control scheme; I don't like hooking up controllers to my PC so I only do so for PC-exclusive Metroidvanias.

      Delete
  3. The Final Fantasy games only share the same setting if they're sharing the same number, so Final Fantasy XIII and XIII part 2. There are a few concepts such as the Void, and a character or two that show up in other games, but there's never a direct connection made. The only thing you could say they share is style and an overall design philosophy, but even that's hard to pinpoint when you compare FF7 to the new remake. I did have an NES as a kid, but oddly never played rpg's on it. Being just a year or two younger than you I think that at the time I considered a console more of a home arcade style experience instead of a competitor for the experiences I had with rpg's on PC. While it seems FF can stand toe to toe with some of the best CRPG's, there were still far more of them on PC and so many were good, especially at the time when these experiences were new and a lot of jank was more easily forgiven. I have to say though, it's very odd to me that you don't count Pirates! as a CRPG. I can't think of anything that keeps it from being one, especially since it seems to check all of your gimlet boxes aside from magic which is not needed to be an rpg.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The character development is effectively nonexistent, as is the personal inventory. They are pretty core elements of RPGs.

      You could make a pirates-style game with those things - it just doesn't have them.

      Delete
    2. hopefully we'll see the two "uncharted waters" games koei released in English on the pc. i'm curious to see what the addict will make of them

      Delete
    3. Hmmm! I guess I see what your saying but you could argue that the ship and it's equipment is the characters inventory. As for character development I would disagree. I think that a game like Pirates is about character development. I don't think character development needs to solely be leveling up and shuffling numbers around. It can also be about how playing the game itself and the decisions you make shape the characters life. If you get too deep into a rigid definition of character development, then there are games like Ultima 7 may not really qualify as well. As for the Uncharted Waters games, I don't remember those, I'm gonna have to look those up.

      Delete
  4. > My understanding is that we don't see the specific continent of the first game (or its characters) again

    We don't see the same map or setting between any games in the main series, but the FF1 map reappears in Dissidia 012 many years later; it's an alternate universe type storyline that connects back to FF1 in the end.

    ReplyDelete
  5. In earlier days, what held Final Fantasy together as a series was certain aesthetic and gameplay elements--a particular brand of turn-based combat, certain recurring characters (none of which appear in the first game,) the solid blue menus and dialogues, and a lot of really catchy music that has survived even to the most recent iterations. The "Chocobo" you mentioned is something many, many Final Fantasy games have in common. It appears in 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, Tactics, Tactics Advance (and its sequel)--and those are just the ones I'm dead sure about.

    Later on in the series, especially in the PlayStation 2 era, they start experimenting with stronger continuity--[i]Final Fantasy X[/i] received a direct sequel, and [i]Tactics[/i] and [i]XII[/i] are both set in the world of Ivalice. It's like how [i]The Dark Knight[/i] and the 2003 Teen Titans cartoon both belong to the overall DC Comics franchise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To build on this for those unfamiliar, a chocobo is a big bird. different types of chocobos do different things; black ones can fly, the regular yellow ones are basically just horses, fat chocobos are like an item vault and can store things for you in exchange for carrots or "gyshal greens"

      Delete
    2. The chocobo actually made its debut in II. The thing is that it's only found in one location, and if memory serves me correctly, the NPC that tells you where it is had his dialogue altered by the only fan translation that existed at the time. I believe Origins and the new translation by Chaos Rush both retain the hint.

      Delete
    3. Tactics Ivalice is the same as the XII one in name only. For starters, Ivalice was a single country in Tactics, but a whole world in XII. XII Ivalice is like the Ivalice in Tactics Advance, with Nu Mou, Bangaa and Viera races featuring prominently (and nowhere to be seen in Tactics). However, the Ivalice in FFTA was a setting in an in-universe video game, and the one where the game takes place is a version of it made to exist by a magic book fulfilling a lonely boy's wishes. Confusing, no?

      Delete
    4. Chocobos are in 8 for sure, they even had a weird companion game you could play to level up the Chocobo (nowadays this would be a phone app, at the time it used an entire separate device: https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/PocketStation)

      Delete
    5. Just for extra, super, unnecessarily pedantic completeness, chocobos are present in every single main line FF game starting with 2, including 10, 10-2, 11, 13, 13-2, Lightning Returns, 14 and 15 in addition to the titles named above. They're also in the tactics spinoffs, as well as most (if not all) other spinoffs, in some way or another.

      Delete
    6. They are in the Final Fantasy Adventure for the Game Boy but I can't remember them in the "Mystic quest" spin off on the SNES. At least not as riding animal

      Delete
    7. So I was wrong and the dialogue of the NPC that mentions the chocobo's location was in fact retained in the Neo Demiforce translation.

      Delete
  6. What makes a game "Final Fantasy"?

    I expect that other commenters are hitting on this too, but I hope I can add a couple of cents from my own look at the series.

    As you mentioned, until the 00s FF games did not have sequels that took place in the same universe. Each game was independent and distinct, but with common elements. Some aspects were ALWAYS played with-- the series tries very hard to be innovative-- but a lot of things recur in most games in the series. It might be helpful to think of the games as parallel worlds where a lot of details rhyme.

    Starting with FF1, most of the games have a common elemental system. You often have to save or restore orbs/crystals. The rock-paper-scissors elemental system (lightning defeats water, for example) sticks around. The class system will be there but toned down in many of the games; other games (such as 3 5, 9, Tactics, X-2, etc.) will focus on them. White vs Black magic, etc.

    Airships are a constant recurring element, usually created by a NPC named Cid that you find in each world. Always a different Cid, but it plays into the idea that these are parallel worlds.

    Later games will also use the same visual elements, the blue boxes the battle layouts, menu system, etc. You'll know what spells do because you've seen the names before. You'll know what healing items to use with each status effect, etc.

    As the series progresses, it will pick up more of these recurring elements. Chocobos, for example, are a birdlike steed used in many of the games. They appear in FF2. Moogles are a race of impish sprites that appear starting in FF5. Summoned Monsters will also become big starting in FF3.

    I suspect that in many respects, FF1 will be the high-point of this series for you. The series will shift away from selecting your party and defining your own backstory to a more theatric presentation where you play as a character they made for you. You still have room to customize, but FF1 is the game most like "Pool of Radiance", "Wizardry", or "Might and Magic".

    I am glad that you enjoyed this one. I hope you don't shy away from looking at more of these down the line as one-offs. You offer a perspective that is very different than other players and I find it very valuable as a way of checking my own biases.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Moogles actually debuted in FFIII. ;) They didn't start saying 'kupo' until V, though.

      And while I don't expect the Addict to be any more enthralled by the sequels than you do, I honestly would like him to check out FFV.

      Delete
    2. i'd hope he'd try final fantasy tactics advance - i suspect he'd rate it highly, but i'd like to see him cover it at any rate

      Delete
    3. I can't imagine a chain of events that would lead to him playing Tactics Advance. Maybe OG Tactics, if somebody could convince him that it was an absolutely crucial influence on some upcoming PC game.

      FFTA is a highly underrated game though, I put many hours into it.

      Delete
    4. Are there no tactics-rpgs on pc?
      I like the genre but they are more on the strategy side of things to actually be relevant for this blog.

      Delete
    5. There are, but until the last decade they're mostly in some Asian language. Quite a few games like X-COM or Jagged Alliance though.

      Delete
    6. The first PC RPG I can think of that would directly claim FFT as a major influence doesn't come until as recently as 2019 or 2020 (I can't remember which year it actually released), namely Fell Seal.

      There might be something earlier but Fell Seal's lineage to FFT (and even moreso, Tactics Ogre) is extremely clear.

      Delete
    7. The Disgaea series was ported to the PC, I believe, so that's definitely multiple options there if you want a tactical RPG. (I played D1 on console, and enjoyed it, but nothing afterward. I don't know how good any of the PC ports are.)

      Valkyria Chronicles is an excellent option as well, and has far more advanced graphics, if those matter to you. VC is quite a good port, too, very nicely done. You're the leader of a small fantasy army company, with some attached (magical) tanks. You're managing both people and equipment, and your personnel develop quite a lot.

      I had a lot of fun with it. Got it on some super sale a year or two ago. Money well spent.

      Delete
  7. To answer your question, there are certain thematic similarities, such as the crystals in a few of the titles, some characters have the same name/function in each game (but they're unrelated otherwise) etc. Overall, this is more of an overarching theme rather than anything else. This is different to, say, Dragon Quest where most of the games are related to each other by plot/recurring characters, as far as I know.

    CRPGs in Japan were almost the same by the way, mostly for PC-98 (those had porn very often), but there were some outliers here and there. There are also open-world JRPGs of course, with more emphasis on decision-making and such... but yeah, speaking about your mention of violence/suggestive themes, they're mostly just hinted at in JRPGs I've played, not shown explicitly. It's a different philosophy when it comes to gaming. Even now some games in Japan get censored because of violence, in Europe this was also the case (Contra becoming Probotector for instance), whereas in the US it seems that it's usually sex that would get censored back in the day. Anyhow, that's an interesting consideration.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. DQ1-3 are connected. But DQ4-6's connections are very loose and I think they abandoned the practice completely after that.

      Delete
    2. DQ11 is explicitly a sequel to every previous game in the series. It's new enough that I'll avoid spoilers by saying much more than that, but it serves as a very nice capstone to essentially the entire series.

      Delete
    3. My bad, haven't gotten around to playing that one yet.

      Delete
  8. PetrusOctavianusJuly 11, 2020 at 2:02 PM

    "remember that Dungeon Master is an exemplar representative of a particular type of RPG that does poorly on my GIMLET because it lacks a good story, NPCs, and an economy, all of which I think are important to the total RPG experience"

    To me Dungeon Master and Chaos Strikes Back are clear evidence that good story, NPCs, and an economy are _not_ important to the total RPG experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think more properly Dungeon Master is another instance of the lack of a “total RPG experience” not impeding a clever and well presented “combat game” from being good entertainment.

      Delete
  9. The series is connected through shared game design rather than their worlds. So each game is a new world created with the same toolset. Some recurring elements are the spellbook (with minor changes), old favorites from previous games' enemy bestiary, the pantheon of summonable creatures, character classes, certain NPC names, elaborate final bosses, and the personal styles of key developers (Sakaguchi, Uematsu, Amano). Later on they also begin reusing certain battle systems and get kind of obsessed with graphics and prerendered cutscenes.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Several other commenters have already explained fairly well what ties together the Final Fantasy series, so I just wanted to make a couple of brief notes:

    First, I was surprised and delighted to see the screenshot of the NES _Willow_ there! I have very fond memories of that game (though I was never good enough when I actually owned an NES to beat it without cheating), and thought it so hopelessly obscure that I would be unlikely to ever encounter another person who'd played it.

    Second, that Chocobos are not merely a recurring element of Final Fantasy, they are one of the most clearly and recognizably linked to Hayao Miyazaki's movies: the "horseclaw" that Nausicaä rides in her eponymous film from 1984 is the very obvious inspiration for the Chocobo, which, in essentially every Final Fantasy game in which they appear, replace horses as the common riding, draft, and even war animals for people. (There are some very cool FMVs with chocobo cavalry from some of the later games...)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was trying to remember anything about Willow. I remember it not having much to do with the movie, in that in the game Willow runs around doing everything himself.

      Delete
    2. Something about that Screenshot say super Nintendo to me, but it seems I am wrong. It is an interesting example of how titles improve on earlier titles on consoles.

      Delete
    3. I don't remember a great deal about *Willow*, but I do remember that the areas you have to go through roughly map to the areas in the movie, and you have to do things like meet Cherlindrea for...her blessing, or her wand, I forget. It definitely ends at Nockmaar castle, but I don't remember who the final bosses are.

      There are in-game encounters with people like Madmartigan, as well, with obviously-photo-derived NES graphics of them.

      What I mostly remember about it is the music, because my experience with video game music is almost the exact opposite of yours. ^_^

      Delete
    4. You get Cherlindrea's wand, which Willow will need to return Fin Raziel to her normal form. The last boss would be Queen Bavmorda. I'm not sure if you fight General Kael in Nockmaar or a previous dungeon.

      Delete
    5. The movie has Willow just trying to take care of a random baby, and hijinks ensue that lead to him stumbling into saving the world. Whereas in the game, he intentionally sets out to save the world from Bavmorda from the beginning, because he's just a hero like that; the baby only appears briefly in the late game to give him an important plot item. That's the biggest difference, really.

      I believe the game also has several subplots where Willow saves random villages from monsters along the way that aren't really representative of the movie.

      Also, Fin Raziel and Bavmorda are chosen messengers of the gods (I mean, "spirits") in the game, not just random powerful wizards.

      Delete
    6. Willow is some good fun. It's unfortunate how much grinding is involved in it though.

      Delete
    7. Willow is quite excellent. While I have no confirmation of it, I suspect it started life as another project entirely before being converted into a licensed game. For the system, it's actually quite visually stunning, and also has a really nice soundtrack in spots, being done by the same composer as Ghosts 'N Goblins and Gargoyle's Quest.

      Delete
  11. I've always considered that one of the strengths of Final Fantasy as a series: while there are recurring narrative tropes and gameplay mechanics, no two are ever quite the same. Even II deviated from its immediate predecessor by giving the protagonists more defined identities and telling a different, darker kind of story (to say nothing of the contentious changes that were made to the growth/leveling system). Then III was a more lighthearted adventure where you could swap your characters' classes practically at will.

    I think that's a big part of what's kept it alive for so long: every time you start one up, there's going to be something new that you may not be expecting.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have a second PC connected to my TV, and even though I also own a PS4 and a Switch, I find I game on the second PC far more than both consoles combined. When I want the full console experience, I can get a shockingly close approximation of it without a console by using a wireless controller and an appropriate UI frontend.

    Incidentally, this is for the most part how I play Atari 2600 games (and soon Famicom games) for Data Driven Gamer. Sometimes I keep a laptop handy for taking notes as I play, but usually I just record video as I play and review it later for memory-jogging and potential screenshots.

    But I'll probably play/blog DQ1 & FF1 the same way you did; at my desktop computer, windowed, on a keyboard, with pages of notes at my beck and call.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I should experiment with recording my sessions and constructing my entries by watching them later. It would allow me to "live in the moment" a bit more. My only objection--and it's a laughable one--is that I balk at those multi-gig video files. There will always be a part of me stuck in 1994, thinking that 10MB is a "huge" file.

      Delete
    2. I'm not sure what kind of computer you have, but since you often mention using a laptop it's worth noting that capturing the screen can put quite a strain on the CPU. Unless you have a rather good computer, it'll take a bit of extra effort to get a balance between usable footage and being able to play and record at the same time.

      Delete
    3. That's how I play and blog later, with a DVD recorder that has an internal hard drive. I take some notes as I play, just in case the game gets complicated (Rings of Power had tons of notes), and graph paper for maps (mainly for first-person dungeons).

      Delete
    4. Spend fifty or a hundred bucks and buy yourself a dedicated 4TB drive. If that's all you put on it, your video files will seem tiny. :)

      Delete
  13. Yeah, I can honestly say that one of the main things that makes me reluctant to invest too much time in PC-exclusive games nowadays is the fact that they require you to sit in an uncomfortable office chair typing on a big keyboard for hours on end while staying mentally focused—in other words, the same thing I get paid to do for ten hours a day already. I don't see much point in playing games unless I can do it comfortably from a bed or a couch, on a large screen more than a foot away from me, and with a small set of buttons that are comfortable to use.

    I'd honestly say your GIMLET was absolutely fair to the game, though. If anything, I'm pleasantly surprised that you gave it such high scores for NPCs (who, honestly, were basically just walking signposts) and economy (since on my playthrough, I personally had way more money than I could possibly use about halfway through).

    I wonder how much influence Square's origin as a division of a power company had on the plot of Final Fantasy VII, where one of the main villains is a power company which evolved into an evil empire.

    It can be hard to distinguish intentional censorship from character space limitations, but here's a few more specific examples of likely NoA-required censorship:
    * The Holy spell, which you mentioned, did exist as a level 8 white magic spell in this game. It became FADE in the translation, I believe.
    * The spell list also includes Death (-> RUB) and Kill (-> XXXX). The latter of which, by the way, is an obvious reference to D&D's power word: kill spell, given the way it's described in the Japanese manual. (power word: stun is also in there.)
    * On the other hand, Flare, which would be a standard spell in the rest of the series, became NUKE in the translation. I guess nuclear weapon references were okay.
    * Checking my memories against Laszlo's spreadsheet from the previous comment thread, the monster list included: Bloody Bone (-> R.BONE), the already-discussed Piscodaemon (-> WIZARD), Hell Hound (-> CEREBUS), Death Beholder (-> PHANTOM), Death Knight (-> BADMAN), and Death Machine (-> WARMECH).

    I would point out that third-party game guidebooks were supposedly a pretty big business in Japan in this era, so it's not like they were all that averse to hand-holding. Granted, putting the guidebook straight into the manual is admittedly a tier of hand-holding beyond that.

    Personally, it feels like I did sometimes spend a lot more time reading guidebooks for these games than actually playing them. It did definitely change the experience for me, and not necessarily in a positive way; I do kind of wish I could have solved, say, Ultima IV on my own. But on the other hand, guidebooks did enrich the experience; they usually had more text and better visuals than the games themselves were able to offer in this era. I'd also compare it to looking at maps before you travel—sure, you know where you're going in advance, but no number of screenshots can really capture the experience of doing the journey for yourself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think a lot of fans of the series have a hard time explaining what makes it cohesive sometimes, but the main thing is probably the use of common names and patterns in the various worlds of the games. Such as:
      * The character classes, spell names, and some equipment from this game will tend to recur throughout the remainder of the series; it's even more obvious in Japanese, since the translators of different games often translated the same spell name differently.
      * Plot elements like elemental-associated crystals (-> ORBs), airships, and the character of Bahamut will recur in later games as well. Later games will introduce further recurring elements like chocobos, characters named Cid, the various summon spells, and so on.
      * Some music from this game, like the "Press Start" screen (the "Prelude") and the music from the real title screen/plot dump screen ("Final Fantasy Main Theme") will be reused in some form in nearly every future game. And with Nobuo Uematsu as the main composer for the series for quite a long time, the music will tend to have a very similar feel between games.
      * The combat system will generally stay pretty consistent between games in the series, especially in the early ones. The basic layout of character sprites on one side, enemy sprites on the other, command window on the bottom left, and health display on the bottom right will be pretty standard throughout the early games. Even once the combat system goes to ugly 3D graphics in the late 90s, the basic form of the command window and health display will remain pretty familiar. Later games will also introduce further common elements like bouncy numbers for damage and the "active time" meter for battle command scheduling.
      * And, as I think others have mentioned, the basic style of the character sprites, enemy sprites, and map graphics will tend to be more or less the same with incremental graphical improvements up until the series makes the dramatic switch to 3D graphics.

      I feel like I remember a couple of PC ports of JRPGs on this blog with battle layouts clearly influenced by Final Fantasy, but I'm not really sure which ones offhand. Knights of Xentar is the first one that comes to mind, but the layout of its stat panel at least isn't quite as similar as I thought it wasa, looking back at screenshots.

      If you were to play exactly one more Final Fantasy game, by the way, I'd pretty much recommend Final Fantasy VI. It's the last and most mature of the 2D games in the series, and basically every "retro-style" JRPG from the last 25 years or so pretty much adopts its style. It's also probably the game in the series that has the most of the elements that you enjoy in CRPGs: Sidequests, characters of a variety of ages and backgrounds, quite a few sidequests, and mechanics that let you freely customize and develop your characters—not to mention lots and lots of sidequests. As opposed to, say, Chrono Trigger, which is an incredible game but also epitomizes pretty much everything you hate about JRPGs.

      And, by the way: That Willow cameo. That's one I definitely played a lot in my day. Also one I should really try to experience in Japanese one of these days; it's another game that was imported from the west but changed dramatically from the source material for the Japanese audience.

      Delete
    2. Oh, and the NPCs in many of these games did tend to have a bit more personality in the Japanese script. It's not much; usually they just have some quirk in speaking that tags them as something like "jocular old man" or "no-nonsense soldier" or "inexplicably flirtatious dancer," from the library of typical stock characters in Japanese entertainment. But it is a little more than you get from the English script. Most early Japanese imports were translated in-house by native Japanese speakers, who weren't very good at conveying nuances of personality in English, so everyone in the English scripts ends up speaking in flattened professional English, with the occasional oddly-placed ellipsis or trailing conjunction.

      It's around the mid-90s where you'll start to see professional native English translators work on these scripts. Again, Ted Woolsey's script of Final Fantasy VI is an excellent example; the characters in that game will have much more colorful and memorable dialog in English.

      Delete
  14. >I don't know how Zenic and other console bloggers do it.

    Here's how I do it. I play all my games on my couch, on emulators running on my laptop on a TV-dinner table. I use a Playstation 4 controller that connects to the laptop via bluetooth. I map the L1 button to screenshot so that I can easily screenshot while I'm playing.

    Then, I don't take as many notes as you and don't write anywhere near as detailed or long entries as you. Partially this is because I don't have as large an audience as you do so I feel more like I'm just writing for myself -- not that you're not doing the same, but if I had 50-100 comments per post I feel like I would be more motivated to write in more detail. Beyond that, I think that the console RPGs I'm playing are far less varied and interesting in their gameplay than your CRPGs, and I have a lot less to say about that aspect. The gameplay you're seeing in FF1 is actually more complex than a lot of the RPGs that were being released in Japan even as late as 1994.

    Also, I don't want to ever get in a situation where I have a huge backlog of posts I need to write but don't feel like putting in the effort. I have a simple schedule of making a post each Saturday, which I've managed to keep up for 3 1/2 years. I more or less write what I feel like doing, skip large parts of the game if they're not interesting, and make the post.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Game Maker's Toolkit just did a video on the origins of Japanese RPGs (Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy in particular), which I thought might interest others:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJiwn8iXqOI

    ReplyDelete
  16. Surprisingly high GIMLET, but as you say it hits all the criteria for what you want in an RPG. Too bad it would take a long while for console RPGs to get out of the habit of incessant and (mostly) unavoidable random encounters.

    The "what makes a Final Fantasy" question has been answered elsewhere here, though I feel its true role shifted as Square became more focused on RPGs in general. Final Fantasy was their flagship: the series that meant the most to them and their brand (at least throughout the '90s and '00s) and the one they put the most effort and resources into getting right. Minor thematic connections like crystals and chocobos gave the series a recurring personality and visual language, but beyond that each one was an enterprise in and of itself with the only consistency being that Square was confident enough about them to stamp that title and a numeral on them - especially later, when we start seeing so many spin-offs and sequels.

    (Of course, that worked the other way too. You mentioned Final Fantasy Adventure and Final Fantasy Legend: both of those belong to other Square franchises (Mana and SaGa, respectively) but were given the FF name over here so they would sell better.)

    Still, glad you liked the game. Final Fantasy VII is probably the only other game from this series you might feel compelled to play for the sake of its influence on western RPGs (and even then, they're mostly oddball outliers like Sudeki, Septerra Core, or Anachronox) but if you ever felt like checking out any of the others for any reason, I wouldn't be aghast.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To be incredibly (and unnecessarily) pedantic:

      Final Fantasy Legend is the SaGa series, as you indicate. (Although they share some developers between FF and SaGa games so they are not fully unrelated.)

      Final Fantasy Adventure is the Mana/Seiken Densetsu series, but Japan the series was officially started as "Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden" (Gaiden = "Side Story" in English). So the Mana series "is" an official offshoot of FF even in Japan, while the Legend series is not.

      Confused yet? :)

      Delete
    2. That's fair. Mana and SaGa are close enough to FF to be cousins practically. Maybe the only reason they kept Mana separate was because they're action-RPGs and FF was emphatically not that for the longest time.

      Delete
    3. Seiken Densetsu does have moogles and a chocobo(t), so it does directly share at least a few elements with the Final Fantasy series. Whereas I'm not aware of anything specific that connects SaGa with Final Fantasy offhand.

      Delete
    4. SaGa's mechanics are clearly derived from FFII's, and at least one review of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest points out that a few monsters from that game are derived from SaGa 3. The same review also notes that the two games were developed by many of the same people.

      Delete
    5. To add to the pedantry: FFVII is on the PC anyway so he's playing it regardless. :)

      But yes, basically what the above posters said. The Mana series (Seiken Densetsu in Japan) began as an action-RPG spinoff of Final Fantasy, with later entries in the franchise downplaying the influence from Final Fantasy more and more over time, though a few homages remain still.

      SaGa's lineage is less direct; it was never officially a Final Fantasy spinoff by name, but its signature character progression mechanics evolved from the radically different progression system (by JRPG standards) utilized in Final Fantasy II for the Famicom, where characters do not gain experience or levels but instead gain stats directly by performing related actions - casting spells improves mental stats, swinging weapons improves physical stats, and taking damage improves HP. The first three SaGa titles, in Japan known as the Makaitoshi SaGa trilogy, released on the Game Boy, and were marketed under the "Final Fantasy Legend" name in the US. The next three, the Romancing SaGa trilogy on the Super Famicom, was not released in the US until very recently (in the last year or so) when they were ported to iOS/Android and modern consoles. Most SaGa games after the Romancing SaGa trilogy, however, did make it to the US, and just as how Square stopped localizing the FF numbering with FFVII in the US, the later releases retained the SaGa name here, with SaGa Frontier and SaGa Frontier II on PlayStation, Unlimited Saga (for some reason stylized without the capital G) and the remake of the first Romancing SaGa on PlayStation 2, and most recently SaGa Scarlet Grace on PlayStation 4/Switch/PC. There's only two SaGa games that have gone unreleased in the US in some form: Emperors SaGa, which was a card game of some sort for Japanese feature phones that is no longer playable anywhere, and Imperial SaGa, which is a browser game.

      (There's also Romancing SaGa Re:univerSe for mobile phones, but that's less of a JRPG and more of a typical mobile 'gacha'-style game.)

      Delete
    6. A thing worth pointing out is the reason SaGa has progression clearly taken from FFII is it shares the same designer: Akitoshi Kawazu. He was the designer on both FFI and II but he went reasonably traditional in I while experimenting in II. I get the sense that after the reception of II they decided to go back to traditional for III but then gave him SaGa to play with, which he continues to do today.

      Delete
  17. In my "formative" gaming years I was an exclusive PC gamer: I was aware of consoles, I had friends and relatives with Nintendos or Segas but the games running on them I found lacking the complexity and maturity of most contemporary PC games. I used to get positively livid when reading "best game ever" titles assigned to some Mario or Zelda, and games like Fallout, Civilization or X-Com barely receiving any mention.

    The first "platform envy" I experienced has been maybe with the Playstation, as Sony started targeting a more mature audience than Nintendo, with games like Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, etc...

    Consoles and PCs have been converging a lot in the 2000s; now , there is maybe a 80%/90% overlap in terms of new AAA games released for modern consoles and PCs, while in the 80s/90s it was maybe 20%/30%.

    PCs have become more like consoles with digital distribution platforms like Steam or GoG and standardization of drivers and libraries that make playing a new game a quick and painless process; consoles have become more like PCs, with custom operating systems with digital stores, non-gaming apps and social features, adding a layer of complexity to what once were machines where you just plugged a cartridge and started playing.

    Console vs. PC arguments are even more meaningless today than they ever were.

    The exception of my disinterest towards early console games is definitely the FF series, which I discovered when console emulation on PC started to be a thing (mid/late 90s), I admit becoming hooked to it, and I remember buying my first 3D video card to play FF7 on PC, and my first console, a PS2, to play FF10 and FF12.

    My nerdy young adult self at the time found the common themes throughout the series, which are not unlike those found in Star Wars or Dragonlance books, very appealing: a ragtag band of adventures trying to save the world against impossible odds, good vs. evil, love/friendship that conquers all, etc...

    Regardless of personal preferences about style, mechanics and themes, it is a significant series historically and I'm happy you have played the first game to get a fresh perspective on console RPGs. As others have said, the series (and the JPRG genre in general) will really come into its own in the SNES era, so you might want to play one of the later titles to get an even better picture, when it will suit your fancy to do so.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's certainly a lot less difference between PC and console gaming now, and still shrinking, but that wasn't the case early on, and it lead to me switching back and forth a few times as the options and I evolved.

      As a really young kid the Atari 2600 was the only reasonable option compared to the PC at that time. Then during the console drought, and getting older, the PC was more interesting for a while. But then the NES came out and was miles ahead of what was on the PC. But by the time of the SNES the PC hardware had caught up and I was more interested in complex RPG/strategy games. Then I got older and had less time to struggle with setup and complexity and drifted back to the ease of consoles.

      Now it's not that much different, and I do both. But through the early years it was really different and there were lots of reason to prefer one over the other.

      Delete
  18. You spent some time seemingly apologizing for the GIMLET and then gave it a really high score! This is basically a top five game through 1987, only bested by U3, U4, MM1, and Starflight.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As a diehard fan of this game, I'm so happy to see it get the recognition it deserves in this day and age, especially from someone who hates Japanese RPGs as much as Chet.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, 1988 and the following years will start churning out lots of high quality titles that will make FF seem more ordinary, but at the time of its release in Japan it's one of the best RPGs ever made.

      But, of course, it didn't come to the US until 1990 at which point it was much less impressive and had lost the opportunity to be very influential. It would be interesting to see what would have happened if it had made it to an English speaking audience three years earlier.

      Delete
  19. Hah, I didn't know about the anecdote about how Sakaguchi initially rejected hiring Amano. That's a good one. My favorite one with that crew is Sakaguchi attemping to explain to Nasir about how RPGs worked:

    https://www.resetera.com/threads/the-story-of-nasir-gebelli-at-squaresoft-quote-compilation.2066/

    "I was a huge fan of his," Sakaguchi said. "When the president bought him into the company, I was all 'Wow, it's Nasir, let me have your autograph!' It was the first time he had programmed anything like an RPG, though, so it was tough. I had to explain basically everything about how an RPG worked before we could begin. I'd say 'The character's hit points go down at this point' and he'd reply 'What're hit points? If he's hit, why doesn't he just fall down?' After a certain point, I gave up explaining everything to him and just said 'Don't worry about it, just code it!' Maybe he wasn't completely convinced, but he did a great job getting a lot of performance out of the hardware. He liked coding these software demos on the side and surprising people with them; he'd come up with something new every week or so. I kind of wished he would concentrate on work more, but his demos helped keep the staff motivated, so I couldn't complain too loudly."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The impression one gets from reading your link and Wikipedia's article on Nasir Gebelli is that he was a pretty incredible programmer.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasir_Gebelli

      Amusing that when his work visa expired and he had to leave Japan to return to the US for a while, the Japanese development team followed him there to finish the development of FF II. And this happened again during the completion of FF III.

      Delete
  20. I'm a pure PC player who never owned a console and dislikes the consequences of consolisation in mainstream gaming (the XBox 360 led to pretty much all AAA games being multiplatform, and it led to a removal of features and consolization of interfaces in some previously PC-centric series). I grew up with a PC since my dad had one since 1989 (I was born in 88). Keyboard and mouse are in my blood, using them feels natural. The few times I held a controller felt awkward and uncomfortable, and I really don't feel like investing the time and effort into learning to use these awkward things when M&KB work better in 99% of cases. It's also way more comfortable to me to rest my wrists on gel pads and using my entire hands for inputs, than to hold a device in my raised-up hands and mainly use my thumbs. I can relax well enough in front of a PC, and my home office chair is reasonably comfy.

    I played through Super Mario world with the keyboard on an emulator, and it felt fine to me. I played a lot of PC platformers as a kid so I don't associate the PC with more serious genres, necessarily.

    That said, there are a few old console exclusive games I really like, despite not caring at all for the platform. The King's Field series is amazing, for example, and it feels like it would be quite at home on the PC.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As someone who sold the only console he ever owned after years of disuse, I think 99% might be a bit too generous. More types of games do play acceptably with a mouse and keyboard than most people would expect, but for driving games, lightgun shooters, and flight sims, I think you really do benefit from a more specialized peripheral. And while I've put plenty of time into 2d fighters, scrolling shooters, and other types of arcade games with a keyboard, it becomes increasingly clear after a certain point that they were designed with a stick in mind, or at least something with a decent D-pad.

      Delete
    2. Oh I don't mind joysticks, those are great for flight sims and pretty comfortable to use, too. I can put a joystick down on my desk and rest my hand on the stick, no need to hold it up like a controller, and I use my entire hand to guide it rather than just fiddling with my thumbs. Same with driving wheels for driving games, though I haven't used one of those in a decade. It's just controllers specifically that don't gel with me.

      Delete
    3. I don't think there's anything odd about not liking controllers or not wanting to invest time to get used to them, but you don't have to hold them in the air the entire time. You can rest them on your lap or any other surface. Uncomfortable poses are not required.

      Delete
    4. Controllers can be very comfortable if you hold them right (usually resting in your lap), and if they're sized properly to fit you. The current XBox Elite controllers, for instance, have a stellar reputation for quality, comfort, and longevity. The Dualshock 4 that I have hooked to my PC now is just a tiny bit awkward, because it doesn't quite fit my hands right, but the control quality is superb.

      Some games just work better this way. Not all of them, and there are numerous games that were designed around controllers that would have been MUCH better with mouse/keyboard as the primary focus, but controllers really are the best option sometimes.

      Delete
  21. Other people have already answered the "what connects a Final Fantasy game to the series" question, so I'll use this as a springboard - I think it's a strength of the series, and one I wish more developers did, to be able to say "well other than a few minor connections here and there, we should just make the game we want, in the setting we want, with the gameplay we want". I feel like too often game developers get stuck saying "well X worked, I guess the next game has to be X+1, or X but totally remade" (or worse - X but better graphics but with worse gameplay) - it'd be interesting to see what might happen if more often developers were willing to say "Ok X worked, but we had a good idea for Y - what if we take the good parts from X and throw in these other things and see what happens? and if it doesn't work, we can always go back with the next one."

    I haven't played even close to every Final Fantasy game, but one thing I love every time I pick up a new one is that there's just enough that you're familiar with to be comfortable, while also having enough differences that it always feels like a totally new experience and I'm not sure that any other series has managed to capture that feeling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's some parallels with Ultima here. Every game in that series is connected, and the first five at least have extremely similar interfaces and looks, but each is such a different experience that I don't think anybody who didn't have an outline going in would expect what they got.

      Delete
    2. Most series tend to perform experiments in spinoffs, rather than giving them a numbered main series title. Elder Scrolls tried something different with Battlespire and Redguard in the late 90s, and both were spinoff titles. Might and Magic received a strategy spinoff (Heroes) and an action spinoff (Crusaders).

      Final Fantasy itself also had a spinoff titled FF Tactics.

      Delete
    3. "we should just make the game we want, in the setting we want, with the gameplay we want"

      and then just stick the same marketing label to it... after all we want it to sell based on the previous effort's success, right?

      Delete
  22. One thing I enjoy with these titles is the large modding community and variations on the game created, often improving the game to the point of a top-tier title. Grond's modification fixes the bulk of annoyances in FF1, there are others like World of Chaos that completely revamps the entire game with new gear, classes, spells and serve as a bit of a precursor to later titles in the series, considered new games in and of themselves from highly talented modders.

    Regarding the experience, I think using an emulator is fine but using save states does tend to muddy the challenge with most games, even if it is only to save time. As the developer intended for saving at only specific points, so anything beyond that can be a detriment to one's overall experience and enjoyment of the game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The developer also intends to waste dozens of hours of your time with repetitive random encounters, so who really cares what they want? If they didn't want you using save states, they should have designed a challenge that wasn't based around mind-numbing tedium.

      Save wherever you like, you're the one playing the game. Choosing to replay an entire multi-floor, multi-hour dungeon just because you wiped on the boss is lunacy. Always remember, purism is a trap that you set for yourself.

      Delete
  23. I poured over the Nintendo Power strategy guide as a kid despite not having this game. I recently started playing through it on original hardware and was shocked to learn that the guide was all lies, on account of it not taking all the bugs into account. It said TMPR was one of the best black magic spells in the game (despite doing nothing), advised you to use the Coral Sword against fire enemies (despite elemental weapon properties not working), etc.

    I really want the oral history of that guide. Did they just interview the designers and not play the game? Did they deliberately lie because it would be bad to admit this hot new NES title was a buggy mess? What's up?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Given that it was published less than a year after the game was localized, my guess is that the bugs simply hadn't been discovered at the time. You have to admit that damage taken and dealt seems almost random at times - to this day I'm still not certain whether AFIR, ALIT, and AICE actually work as intended.

      Even in Origins where the bugs were fixed, I honestly found myself mostly ignoring Saber and Temper in favor of Haste. With the Critical Hit bug, I think the later weapons end up being more effective than any of the elemental swords, too, though I wouldn't mind being proven wrong.

      Delete
    2. I had a subscription to Nintendo Power but couldn't get games until Christmas or my birthday, so I did the same thing as you -- by the time I got the game I had practically memorized the strategy guide.

      Delete
    3. The one I remember is that they encourage you to equip the Giant Sword from the volcano and go grind lots of gold from the fixed giant encounters in the Earth Cave. I guess by the time you've gone to the volcano, you're powerful enough to fight giants easily anyway and won't notice that the Giant Sword doesn't help.

      And on the other hand, I don't think the NP guide realized that the "power peninsula" exists.

      Pretty sure that Barcold (AICE) did seem to dramatically reduce the damage Lich did to me in my playthrough, but I don't know if anyone has confirmed with a look at the code or not. But you are correct that damage is so random that it's hard to tell if things are working as intended or not. Probably a big part of why no one noticed the bugs before the game shipped as well.

      Delete
    4. This page details "The Many Bugs of Final Fantasy" a ways down the page. Note that weapon properties don't work but armour properties do.

      https://guides.gamercorner.net/ff/walkthrough/game-systems

      Delete
  24. While there's already a ton of "What makes Final Fantasy Final Fantasy" comments, I do have one thing to add to those. Specifically, that the game Xenogears was originally pitched as a Final Fantasy game. From my recollection, the exectutives thought that it was a great idea, but far too dark for a Final Fantasy game. Considering some of the themes of the game, that was probably the right choice. Hell, from what I've heard there were issues with localization because people were afraid they'd get killed by religous nutjobs over some of the content

    ReplyDelete
  25. The Fighting Fantasy gamebook series was started by the British Steve Jackson and his compatriot Ian Livingstone; just to make life more confusing, the American Steve Jackson did write three of the FF gamebooks.

    In 1984, Steve Jackson (UK) took the game mechanics of the FF gamebooks, and produced a tabletop RPG based on them.

    So... yes, there was a tabletop game :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And if you own copies of the Fighting Fantasy RPG books that are in good nick, they're worth a fair bit of coin these days.

      Delete
    2. And the Fighting Fantasy books (under that name) were hugely popular in Japan, with the tabletop RPG translated there by 1986, so this is no doubt the trademark problem Square ran into. I wonder whether they had early thoughts of a licensing agreement with Jackson and Livingstone.

      Delete
  26. I love the idea of explicitly saving headroom for more complex character creation of future games.
    I also wonder how, if you manage to get there before I die of old age, games like Ni No Kuni or Witcher 3 will fair on the graphics side. Or Baldur's Gate in Role Playing, Planescape in story, etc.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we're kind of destined to hit 11s at some point.

      Delete
  27. I'm really glad you got some enjoyment out of it. I have a high opinion of the FF games and Square of the 90s.

    I'm of course not the only one. Because of its success the main concepts like the battle layout and system of FF were copied by many other jrpg developers. And success Square did have not only with this series, they really excelled in their field for a long time. According to magazine and fan ratings almost every jrpg released by them throughout the 90s was a sure hit. And I personally think that it's well deserved, I also did enjoy the more unknown offerings like Live a Live or Treasure Hunter G very much. Both have fan translations of course.

    But today as with many things in modern gaming Square's not what it used to be any more. They merged with Enix to become Square Enix in 2003. Their games have become more of a hit and miss thing, at least for me. FF itself has changed dramatically. Sakaguchi left in 2004, the last credit on a FF for him being Final Fantasy X-2, followed by great game music composer Nobuo Uematsu who became famous in the video game world and beyond (e.g. worked with Arnie Roth on several concerts) for his (FF) compositions. Without them I feel the series lost its focus or what made it special in the first place. Random Encounters get dropped with XII, and XV abandoned turn based battles at all. The focus shifts to an even more cinematic experience than parts VII to IX beginning with X, at the expense of gameplay. This is of course a process started when Sakaguchi was still on board so I'm not sure how much he is to blame for all that.

    The result is that I stopped caring for the series with XIII and will never play XV. Hardcore Squeenix fans keep arguing that all the changes were for the better and to keep the series modern. But from my viewpoint as a classic FF player it's just stating a fact that the new games aren't FF any more. They keep the name Final Fantasy for marketing reasons but I really don't see the connection to earlier and better titles in the series any more.

    But with Tales, Persona (Megaten), Dragon Quest (coming even from the same company) and many other big jrpg series which managed to stay true to their original design, and many others still having things like battle systems which feel like an exact copy of earlier FF titles, their is no reason to be sad about the progression of this particular series, to the point I'd argue it has become obsolete for core jrpgamers.

    On a personal side note, it's somehow fitting that with this entry I finally managed read your blog up to the newest since I like jrpg's as much as crpg's. Which is also sad because that means I now have to wait for every new one just like the rest of us addict addicts ;-)

    Also this being another very good blog post, I still think the world misses a true jrpg addict. I don't want to belittle existing efforts, but I think we are still missing someone who would take up on the challenge to be the equivalent to Chet for jrpg, meaning to regularly play and thoroughly document ALL jrpg (including at least English fan translations) to get the same big picture of the genre as we have here with crpg's. That said it also shows how this blog is something like a one in a million people effort.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Final Fantasy is more of a brand than a series. Despite some common recurring elements (elemental crystals, chocobos, class descriptions and art, summons, etc), the Final Fantasy brand has more generally promised the buyer a certain type of experience (narrative-focused JRPG adventures in creative and memorable worlds) and a certain level of quality. (Which has why Square-Enix's decline in average quality between about 2008 and 2018 was so destructive of the brand.)

    It's probably best to compare it to the animated films of Disney and Pixar. There's very little that connects one film to the other except a certain sensibility of design and tone, but a certain audience will go to see a Pixar film precisely because it's a Pixar film. And when you see a Disney or Pixar film, you'd have a pretty strong suspicion as to who made it even without seeing the opening title.

    ReplyDelete
  29. As to hint guides, these become a defining feature of JRPGs generally. The games are riddled with hidden missable content, some of it requiring highly specific and unintuitive behaviour during thin windows in the plot to find. Missing it often means skipping entire plotlines, character moments, or significant power-ups including summons, ultimate weapons, recruitable characters, or in some cases the "true ending" to the story.

    Often the games are specifically designed to encourage players to play them with a strategy guide alongside. In a best case scenario this can encourage players onto the internet and help them form communities with other players. In a worst case scenario (more common) it's entirely intended to sell a $30+ hint book. The contracts to produce and sell these hint books can be quite lucrative, and in addition they often feature bonus art and attractive layouts, making them collectable companion pieces.

    So to some extent, yes, playing these games with a guide in your hand is the *intended* experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And as a side note, the original fan-made walkthrough for Final Fantasy 7 is a historically defining moment in the transition of game guides from commercial publications to fansites, and the level of detail, completeness and complexity that a player could expect from such a guide.

      Delete
    2. I mostly saw it as do the first playthtrough blind then do the second with a guide

      Delete
    3. Re: hint guides, the situation is different in Japan. The hint guides, since the NES era, have been high quality and very affordable, and often include a lot of additional content like concept art and developer interviews. They are frequently advertised in the instruction manuals to the games and go on sale the same day as the game.

      Delete
  30. "Although it lacks the complexity of computer RPGs of its era, it's about as complex and thorough as was possible for an era console. It makes excellent, intuitive use of the limited controller, and it offers tactical, turn-based combat in which the right spell at the right time plays a major role."

    Is there any CRPG from this era that achieves a similar level of complexity with a similarly intuitive user interface? I'd guess no. It seems to me that interface usability was a much lower priority and less developed skill of PC game designers than of console game designers, or even game designers for home computers that came with joysticks (C64/Amiga). This resulted in UIs that are needlessly convoluted relative to the game's complexity. Often the UI could have been made more intuitive and comfortable without losing any of the game's complexity.

    Most of the time when I try to play a PC game from the 80s, the controls and user interface are actually far higher hurdles than the graphics or the game's difficulty. For this reason I prefer the pretty faithful port of Ultima IV to the Sega Master System, for example (https://wiki.ultimacodex.com/wiki/Console_ports_of_Ultima_IV#The_Sega_Version).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think this is perceptive. While there are exceptions on both sides, it's clear that console developers long before PC developers that complexity of all kinds has a cost that has to be justified. Another cause is that the good console games from this period all feel as if they were playtested and are trying to meet their audience halfway. As this blog has shown, many otherwise good crpgs feel like nobody tried them before they were released except their developers.

      Delete
    2. That's the console barrier to entry showing. To develop for a computer, you need a computer a disk or tape drive, and a lot of disks or tapes. This means that any talented 12 year old had some chance of making it big with some work, before consumer expectations soared to the point where you had to have specialized artists and such to compete. This gave a lot of independent ideas, but came with a lack of playtesting because the developer was often just Some Guy working out of a garage.

      Developing for a console is much more difficult. Not only do you need a license (generally) from the console maker (which costs a fair bit of money), you need a development kit (generally a standard console with any copy protection bypassed, allowing you to test code) for that specific console. This is in addition to a decent computer to actually develop on, which often required some ability to burn EEPROMs for testing on the devkit.

      Only an established developer has a chance of actually getting all that, so console games are a corporate product from the beginning. This means that a lot more focus-grouping and playtesting is likely to happen, but you don't get nearly as much scope for a Sudden Act Of Brilliance to innovate.

      Delete
    3. "so console games are a corporate product from the beginning. This means that a lot more focus-grouping and playtesting is likely to happen"

      Regrettably "more likely to happen" wasn't enough in the case of Origin, which didn't seem to do a lot of playtesting of the Ultima VII user interface even though that was a huge project. Or if they did, they must have only fixed bugs and didn't seem to have a good process to significantly change and improve the design of the interface.

      It's hilarious and ridiculous that just to see the health bars of all the characters, the player needs to double-click on all characters or press the 'i' key up to 8 times. And sometimes you don't even notice that a party member has died until some time later, as there is no UI display for this at all!

      Some parts of Ultima VII's user interface are very good, but some aspects seem like they came straight out of a ivory tower design document and weren't significantly modified, instead of being iteratively hashed out with player feedback.

      The juxtaposition between Final Fantasy and Ultima VII is pretty interesting. I'd love a game that is as comfortable to play as FF, with similarly bite-sized units of gameplay -- short combats, small towns (leaving aside the lengthy dungeons) -- but which also has mature dialogue like Ultima VII and challenging clue-hunting like earlier Ultimas.

      Delete
    4. stepped pyramidsJuly 16, 2020 at 9:49 PM

      There's plenty of JRPG series with more grounded, nuanced plots and settings than Final Fantasy. (And also some that make FF look like gritty low fantasy.) I'm not sure what "mature" means, though -- Ultima VII is a game where a giant red muppet tries to take over the world using the Electronics Arts logo. I'm very fond of Ultima but it was always pretty juvenile and goofy.

      I agree, though, that I would love more games that have the streamlined, engaging gameplay of a good JRPG without so many anime tropes. The WRPG focus on expansiveness and "nonlinearity" as a selling point for RPGs has made them increasingly exhausting to me over time. (Scare quotes for "nonlinearity" because that often just means "a linear plot with mountains of sidequests".)

      Delete
  31. "The bigger change for North American audiences was in the packaging and documentation; we got an enormous manual that spoiled over half the game, including screen shots of every bit of NPC dialogue and frequent reminders of everything the player had learned so far."

    The manual for the NES version of Ultima IV also contains a lot of helpful tips, such as a map of the moongate destinations, and maps of all the towns and villages (though not of the dungeons).

    https://www.gamesdatabase.org/media/system/nintendo_nes/manual/formated/ultima_iv-_quest_of_the_avatar_-_1990_-_pony_canyon.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  32. It's interesting reading your posts about CRPGs of the era, and now Final Fantasy. I cut my teeth on the Apple IIe as a 4-5 year old, and I grew up playing both computer and Nintendo games. I played RPGs on both sides, but I really started with adventure games like King's Quest.

    So what I remember is that while I could see the appeal of games like Bard's Tale and Ultima, it was Dragon Quest and then Final Fantasy, along with Quest for Glory on the PC, that really got me to understand RPGs. I remember trying to play Ultima II when I was maybe 6 or 7 and just being baffled; Bard's Tale was likewise an exercise in frustration. But Japanese RPGs intuitively made sense--and once they started developing narratives in the 90s I was hooked. That was my understanding of RPGs, and it was what I brought with me when I started playing D&D or Shadowrun as a teenager.

    It wasn't until maybe Ultima VI that I really started to get how to play CRPGs, and I wouldn't say I was really a CRPG player (outside of QFG) until Fallout and Baldur's Gate. Stuff like Wizardry and Might & Magic are interesting curiosities to me now--I have played around with them, but I don't have any affection or nostalgia for them.

    It's fascinating seeing how similar the early Japanese and western CRPGs were though--and how they keep diverging, converging, and cross-pollinating through the years. And it's also funny that, if I put my Amano artbook from the first Final Fantasy down next to a D&D Monster Manual, they line up almost perfectly. Today Final Fantasy has its own distinct iconography and bestiary that gets carried across from game to game, but it started in the same place as every other RPG.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've heard it argued that FFII is where Final Fantasy's legacy really began. Chocobos, Cid, and the Ultima spell all make their first appearances in II, as do series staples like the Coeurl, Malboro, Grenade, and Behemoth. The Blood Sword, Holy Lance, and Yoichi's Bow items all debuted in II as well.

      Delete
    2. Final Fantasy 2 and 3 definitely fleshed the series out, sure, but Sakaguchi, Amano, and Uematsu were all there already for Final Fantasy I. A lot of the design and premises were already there in this first game.

      Delete
  33. I'm really glad you liked the game as much! I'm not really surprised that you didn't mention the music in the "graphics, sound, and interface" category, since I recall that it's not really important for you while you play a CRPG... but for me, the single most important thing in Final Fantasy is the music. To this day, I get chills and tears in my eyes listening to many of the musical themes of this game.

    Of course, it's nostalgia, it takes me back to that fall of 1990 when I played the game in my brother's bedroom. The warm sound of the NES coming from a big old TV, that's one of my most precious childhood memory. You mention that when you play console RPGs, the music and graphics are more important : they were everything for me, back in the day. The graphics were simple (even primitive) but the music was absolutely awesome. On the SNES, it's even more impressive : I remember that when I played Final Fantasy IV (II in america) for the first time, I thought : "this is amazing, it's like movie music, it sounds as epic as Star Wars"! Thanks to the music, the little square sprites and the simple dialog became a wonderful epic story.

    I'm not alone : there are Final Fantasy concerts in classical music halls to this day. The music, by Nobuo Uematsu, is a very important part of the success of the Final Fantasy series.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I'd have to slightly disagree with the idea that console RPGs of this era were strictly turn-off-your-brain, comfort experiences. (If I wanted mindless comfort play back in those days, I'd play a shooter or a beat-'em-up.) Yes, PC RPGs were more demanding in many ways, but I still mapped and took notes for a number of console RPGs such as Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star II, Rings of Power, Might and Magic II, etc. Console RPGs still had plenty of world and dungeon exploration mysteries and survival challenges. My experience of console RPG-ing back in the day included many harrowing experiences of dungeon mazes, narrow escapes by the skin-of-my-teeth, and, in this pre-save-state era, entire party wipe-outs. Maybe the difference is that I'm a little bit younger and I was playing these console RPGs at a slightly younger age before I was playing any CRPGs. For a younger player, these kind of console games could be quite intense and challenging. If they weren't so cerebral as CPRGs, they fired the imagination of a younger person.

    ReplyDelete
  35. The divide between console and computer games, in your description, seems to mirror the divide between "flow games" and "thinking games," whose adherents often have a similarly difficult time understanding each other.

    If you keep in mind the conclusions you reached in this entry, you'll hurt fewer people's feelings going forward.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I did some expeditions to JRPGs with emulators, mainly played Breath of Fire. But at some point, the game series totally changed focus and a quite serious and mature game was followed by a ridicolous and "funny" one. Quite the letdown.

    I never tried Final Fantasy though, because I didn't know they weren't sequels and didn't want to start in the middle. What a loss, looks very enjoyable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you mean the 6th entry? I've never played it. That was aFree to play online game?

      Imho before that all Breath bof fire games were quirky with sometimes more, sometimes less dark undertones.

      Dragon Quarter stands out as the most serious and dark one, too bad because of the gameplay changes many fans see them not a "true" part of the series and unfairly dismissed it.

      Delete
    2. I suspect sucinum is referring to the transition from BoF2 to BoF3.

      BoF3's humor is mostly a pacing technique without which it would honestly be a very depressing game, since it's very frequently dealing in quite dark themes... but for half of the game is doing so from the perspective of children who cannot understand what is going on around them.

      Delete
    3. Yes, exactly, part 3 sometimes felt like a parody of part 2, but sometimes also really serious. Altogether, it was a strange experience. Still completed it.

      Delete
  37. Willow???

    Actually, I think it is one of the best "Zelda clone plus experience levels" role-playing games.

    It had a specific impact on me. Before "Willow", I discarded all games based on movies and other medias as "uninspired money-grabbing merchandise". After Willow, I concluded that "Japanese do it better", and I stayed away from games made in the States.

    It is thanks to this blog if I could revise my opinion again.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Speaking of Nintendo censorship, did you know that The Bard's Tale: Tales of the Unknown was ported to the NES? It had a few censored things, though since this port was made in Japan I do not know how many of them were removed in that version already before Nintendo's usual American censorship.

    1. The selection of drinks that give bards more song castings are now "Root Beer" and "Ginger Ale".
    2. The Scarlet Bard is now the sole proprietor of "grape juice" in Skara Brae. Needless to say this gives the warnings to not drink the heirloom stuff in the cellar a new implication.
    3. Tarjan declared himself "Ruler" after getting drunk on power, and is now known as the "Mad Spirit". The only one of THOSE you'll find in this version!
    4. All messages about "The One God" have been removed, such as the magic mouth puzzle on the second level of Harkyn's castle about "his thorn-crowned head", though all magic mouth puzzles have been removed presumably for text entering being too much to ask. The puzzle on the third floor of Mangar's tower where the correct answer is "Lie with passion and be forever damned" has been replaced with different hints - you now need to press four buttons emblazoned with dragon, fire, crystal, and sword in the correct order. The astute walkthroughs note that this is only 24 combinations without any consequences for experimentation.

    Some things did slip through, though.

    1. Instead of learning Tarjan's name from the bottom floor of the sewers, you now get a "Heretic Proof" needed to convince his followers to let you into the temple's catacombs (Incidentally, this now means that you ARE required to beat the sewers now). Not an anti-heretic item or another "spirit", but presumably an ID.
    2. You will still fight "Demons" of several types.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nintendo’s censorship on the NES was uneven. In Bionic Commando, the final boss is called Master-D, but when you look at his in-game dialogue portrait, it’s clearly Hitler, and he also uses the word “damn.” When you beat him, you get a gory close-up of Hitler’s head exploding. Clearly whoever was responsible for monitoring content didn’t get that far in the game.

      In Dragon Warrior, it’s possible to take one of the girls in the first village to the inn for a night of wild sex. When you have the Princess with you you can take her to the same inn for sex. In the Game Boy version you can have a threesome with the village girl and the Princess.

      Delete
  39. I actually think you might enjoy Final Fantasy III more than you did 1. This is kind of hard to explain, but I don't think anyone would question the statement that 'crpgs like Wizardry and the Bard's Tale can be difficult and unforgiving'. It's part of their charm. Console RPGs tend to be less...well...mean. Because they're generally made for a less hardcore audience.

    Final Fantasy III is not kind and gentle to the player. Imagine if someone built a Wizardry game using the Final Fantasy I engine. That's basically III. There are just a lot of conscious design choices that, to my knowledge, they never repeated. Because they knew better. All of which make the game more difficult, but in a fair way, whereas a lot of the difficulty in I was of the unfair/random variety.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know if I would go so far as to compare FFIII to Wizardry. The mini dungeons, the Sylx Tower, and your defense plummeting when you try to run are rather cruel, but the game really does try to help you as much as it can. Spell charges are plentiful, everyone can dual-wield, Telepo is obtained quite early in the game, there are numerous items that let you use magic for free, and you almost always know where to go next.

      I think the closest that the first six Final Fantasies ever came to Wizardry levels of difficulty was in the first game when Mindflayers could kill you with their physical attacks.

      Delete
    2. That last part is kind of what I meant about how the difficulty in FF1 tends to be of the unfair and random variety. FF3 is much less unfair and random. It's just plain hard, and it's very upfront about how it limits your options.

      1. Phoenix Downs exist, but can't be bought. They can only be obtained from treasure or rarely from enemies, forcing you to conserve them and use them only when you really need them.

      2. The same with elixirs. They exist, but can't be reliably replaced, forcing you to think before using one.

      3. Here's one I only realized last night; Tents/Cabins/Houses don't exist in FF3. While you have plenty of healing available from potions and spells, unlike FF1, there's no way to replenish spell charges outside of inns and rare fountains.

      4. While you can change class at any time, since you can't replenish spell charges, you can never change into a spell using class without going back to town.

      Wizardry might be the wrong comparison. What I was really thinking of was more like the Bard's Tale, where you had to ration your abilities and think carefully about how far you could go into a dungeon before needing to turn back.

      Delete
  40. "Zusu blasts some mummies with HARM2."
    Sir, that appears to be HRM4.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Final Fantasy is Fantastic. I love Final Fantasy serie and also many other japan RPG series. On NES You should try also Dragon Warrior 4, I think you will like it.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Excellent review! I accidentally found about 2 weeks ago that there's a super popular FF1 Randomizer, designed to enable a speed run of around 2 hours. The community built around this game has regular tournaments, with the spring tournament this year boasting 74 (!) competitors. https://finalfantasyrandomizer.com/ https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdoWICJMgPKUzSuTeBi6QaEov2SmML-Aw

    ReplyDelete
  43. Hi Chet, first time poster, long time lurker. Sorry in advance for the long post.

    A lot of Nintendo’s (mostly) about face on censorship came from one game: Mortal Kombat.

    As console games got more realistic and more adult content found its way into them, it caused a moral panic among some parents’ groups, who took their complaints to Congress. Senator Joe Lieberma was the most vocal critic of the industry. Congress summoned Nintendo and Sega executives, as well as leaders from other companies, and gave them a one year ultimatum: either regulate the games on your platforms or we will do it for you, and you won’t like it. So the ESRB was formed, but the industry wide rating system wouldn’t go live until 1994.

    Sega created its own rating system as a stopgap, rated Mortal Kombat MA-13, and locked blood and fatalities behind a controller code that was basically an open secret along kids.

    Nintendo chose blanket censorship as its response, hoping it would keep them off of the Congressional radar (it didn’t.) They greyed out the blood In the SNES version of MK and bowdlerized the fatalities. They even took out the word “fatality.” Nintendo did the same thing with Wolfenstein 3-D on SNES, and also stripped out all references to the Nazis or Hitler. Id Software was so angry they sold the code to a company that made unlicensed Christian games, and they turned it into Super Noah’s Ark 3-D.

    That’s how the biggest third party video game of 1993 sold four times as many copies on the Genesis as it did on the SNES. That was a huge financial and PR embarrassment for Nintendo.

    The following year, with the ESRB in place, Nintendo allowed Mortal Kombat II to release completely uncensored on the SNES, with blood and gore right out of the box. MKII actually released exactly seven days before the ESRB went live, so Nintendo put its own warning label on it. This time sales were much better and Nintendo made money to yhs point where they actually entered a partnership with Midway to publish Killer Instinct in the arcade, intending it to be a Nintendo 64 launch title. Nintendo and Id also reconciled, and the SNES and N64 both got versions of Doom.

    FF6, which also released in 1994, was still subject to censorship because Nintendo still didn’t want to risk violating US taboos against female nudity. Siren, a summon spirit, sported bare buttocks in Japan and booty shorts in the US. One of the end bosses had a few more pixels added to the cloth ribbon covering her groin area, and a female enemy sprite that was nude from the waist down in Japan got a bikini bottom in the US. All that was really required was to use a paint program to change some flesh colored pixels to look like clothing.

    Ae a lifelong Nintendo owner, it floored me to see the Switch version of Witcher 3 sporting breasts and buttocks in all their naked, unpixellated glory. Ironically, these days it’s Sony of America that has a reputation for censorship while Nintendo is more permissive

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This isn't wholly correct. Nintendo's censorship policies predate Lieberman's unholy crusade, and were a reaction to the Great Video Game Crash of 1983 that killed off the entire US console market.

      Nintendo, looking to market their successful Famicom system in the potentially huge US market, looked very deeply into the causes. Along with redesigning the console to hide the fact that it was a console (turning it into a front-loader to resemble a VCR, and bundling it with a pointless robot), and stringently seeking to limit the supply of games (masses of shovelware being a commonly-cited contributor) and competitors (far too many incompatible systems being the other), Nintendo identified another major threat.

      At the time, the Satanic Panic was in full swing, with everything from children's toys and cartoons to tabletop games to popular music being cited as a corrosive influence on youth intended to ripen them for ritual abuses.

      Additionally, Tipper Gore's Parent's Music Research Center began a witch hunt into the music industry not long before the NES launch, singling out individual songs for depictions of sex, violence, or drug use and blaming such music for the spike in crime rates between 1980 (actually 1970, but media focused on 1980) and (later) 1993.

      Nintendo of America decided (not without reason) that any attention of this sort would be lethal to their attempts to revive a dead niche in the market. So they simply prohibited any content that might draw any of this fire. The strictness of this grew over time (not least due to the increasing activity of the Moral Guardians), and was sometimes incompletely applied (particularly with the first party games made by Nintendo themselves - the parent company was perfectly willing to tell the American branch to shove it at times) by the standards of any given year.

      The creation of the ESRB (Which was caused by a threat by Lieberman to begin an effort to introduce censorship, not an actual act of Congress) was a relatively minor factor in the decline of the policy. Mortal Kombat was the key - the gaming press and even the general media tore into Nintendo for the censorship, and the otherwise-inferior Genesis port dominated the SNES version in sales. Mortal Kombat II would have been uncensored even without the ESRB or Lieberman's threat to impose an illegal content board. This was too late to greatly affect the SNES library (the port was released in 1994 and it wouldn't be until early 1995 that there was time to really evaluate the effects - by which time most effort was going to the upcoming Nintendo 64), but did kill the Family Friendly policy for later systems (but not the reputation - which is why Nintendo's made sure to include some serious gore in the launch titles of later systems).

      Delete
  44. PetrusOctavianusJuly 18, 2020 at 4:36 PM

    There's something sick about people whose urge to dictate what other people are allowed to see, read and write is stronger than their sex drive.
    I hope they rot in Heck.

    ReplyDelete
  45. I'm one of the readers who have been eager to read your perspective on console JRPGs, the first Final Fantasy in particular, and it's been a treat to read the fair and measured postings on this game, as well as the other console RPGs so far.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Chet,

    This all reminds me: did you ever do a GIMLET for Legend of Zelda?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I rated it in the spreadsheet (linked in the sidebar) but I never wrote an entry that explained the rating in paragraphs.

      Delete
  47. This is what holds the final fantasy games together
    https://bunbunmaru.com/wakaba/photos/src/1295359267.3325539.png

    ReplyDelete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.