There are a lot of games out there that receive ridiculous amounts of praise. At this point, I kind of know which games I probably wouldn't get into regardless of my effort; I have no plans on Fallout 3 or The Last of Us anytime soon. On the flip side, there are games that allure me in every aspect and I just haven't gotten around to play them, examples being Journey and Shadow of the Colossus. Final Fantasy, though, is a series I've more or less skated on the outskirts of for a long time. The name carries that brand loftiness with it; when someone mentions Final Fantasy, you know there is an expectation for quality. Often times a Final Fantasy title ends up on a "Favorite Games" list, from FFVI to FFX. This is a series that I wish I was a fan of, but my previous experiences with titles in the genre keep me at bay.
This admittedly sounds pathetic, but I am absolutely determined to find a Final Fantasy I enjoy. It probably isn't ideal for me to go in with such a goal, but so many elements of the series appeal to me that I figure there must be at least one FF title with my name on it. I wanted to list off some of the things that attract me to the series, but in addition wanted to show off the problems preventing my bliss (which is hopefully there in the first place).
RPGs are Blueberries
As far as experiences go, the games I've played in the genre have either been disappointingly tart or wonderfully sweet. RPGs feel like an unbearable grind sometimes, but a thoroughly enjoyable adventure other times. I want to bite into this a bit. (I'm a big fan of generic food metaphors.)
Rough Experience - Final Fantasy IV (iOS)
This is the only true Final Fantasy I've played, and I stopped when the loop finally destroyed my motivation. After reading up a bit and determining that FF4 was a favorite of a lot of people, I took the leap and paid the $15 dollar (ish) fee for entry. The game was pretty appealing initially, with a strong opening story-wise and a neat little fantasy theme. The main hero was kind of generic, but whatever, he looked cool, I guess. Ten hours later, I had a completely different opinion. You're fighting the same enemies over and over and constantly rushing back to the nearest city to refill your HP. You reach the boss, get smothered, then go back into the grind to level up. When you finally beat the boss, you get a bit of story relief, only to get shoved back into the grind shortly after. By the time I defeated the antlion, I put down the game for good. I think a lot of the frustration came from the active battle system. I often couldn't access the menu and find the items I wanted fast enough, which provided the enemies a chance to attack at will before I unleashed Ice for the zillionth time. I eventually set up the Auto system, but that basically eliminates any gameplay whatsoever.
As far as positive remarks go, I thought the music was very nice. The map theme is absolutely delicious; I wish more themes felt that grand and sweeping. Bosses, cities, and story moments had the appropriate tunes to suit the mood. The story was pretty appealing as well; none of it was groundbreaking, but the characters were unique enough to be entertaining in this fantasy epic. I understand this game came out in the mid-90s, so it's one of those things I can admire for what it tries to be. Looking back on the previous paragraph, it looks like I slammed the game, and although I stand firm with what I said, my overall taste of the game was bittersweet. It was enough to keep me interested in other titles in the series.
Pleasant Experience - Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
After reading the praise in Nintendo Power, I went out and purchased Dragon Quest IX, an RPG imbued with color and charm in spades. It's impossible to ignore the amount of polish put into the title, from the animated introductory cinematic to the varied enemy animations to the deep class system. From the get-go, I enjoyed DQ's slower battles much more than FF4. The time provided to think out your next move is much appreciated, and I never felt screwed over by obtuse menus clogging your progress. However, it's still the same formula at the core: grind, boss battle, then rinse and repeat. The grind is where the game really stings; feeling hopeless as you tackle the same difficult enemies isn't exactly engrossing for me. That previously mentioned polish, though, kept me playing over the course of about 10 hours.
I wish this had more action-based elements or something, because Dragon Quest IX has a truly wonderful world to explore. The game seems to have fun with itself as far as enemies and environments go. The soundtrack is gloriously happy-go-lucky, and I never turned off the sound once during my journey around the Observatory. I'm going to return to this game some time down the road, but I don't think it will suck me in; I just want to check out those adorable slimes again. On a side note, the announcement of the Dragon Quest VIII port to 3DS is pretty neat; Hopefully I'll have a changed perspective by the time it releases. :P
Great Experience - Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
I have a lot of love for this one. I think the major difference between this and FF4 is the battle system that constantly forces you to be on the edge if you want to do well, with well-timed button presses leading to an improved performance. It isn't much in theory, but once you actually experience it, you are sucked in. The game occasionally throws a curveball at you with some fun minigames and the perfect amount of quirkiness to complement the action. The Mario series inherently has some substantial charm, but this game goes through the roof as far as creativity through art and animation goes. It also gives a Bowser a personality for once - and a fantastic one at that, enough to warrant his own game. The whole thing is candy-wrapped in colorful landscapes and a lighthearted design mentality that allows you to laugh along with it. The soundtrack is sublime, with some wonderfully carefree tracks in store. It's weird, though; I have a lot more trouble figuring out why I enjoy certain aspects of this game when I can easily identify what I dislike about FF4. When you boil it down, both involve that "grind" to some degree, but I think Mario & Luigi manages to do more by bringing in variety in that previously mentioned battle system.
It's also worth noting that the dialogue between Mario, Luigi, and the other main characters is consistently hilarious. There's something about the gibberish Luigi speaks that makes me hysterical every time a story event occurs, and the animation fits his character perfectly. Fawful, Starlow, and Broque Monsieur are other endlessly quotable standouts; actually, I have the utmost affinity for Fawful. Like, unhealthily so.
Ultimately, I think the takeaway from this title is that I need some action to keep me engaged in the ideal RPG, if I can call it that. At some point, I'm hopefully going to get to Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, which also looks really good. I'm sure Paper Mario will follow soon after if I get really hooked, because that series looks just as solid.
Sublime Experience - Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded
Despite Sora's incredibly lethal hair spikes (seriously, he could head-butt half the bosses and kill them instantly), I have a soft spot for Kingdom Hearts Re:coded. I remember playing the original Kingdom Hearts ages ago on the PS2 and getting stuck on some Tarzan section. The experience still kind of stuck with me, so when I read about a DS remake of sorts in Nintendo Power, I was pretty intrigued. Talk about blown away.
From the very start and onward, I was glued to Re:coded. At that point, I'd never really played through an RPG of any kind, and the whole progression thing felt brand new to me. Watching your character grow and strengthen proved to be incredibly gratifying. The achievement in Mario is toppling that stupid level you've been stuck on for ten minutes; here, it was just discovering the possibilities of leveling up. Trying out all the new attacks the game throws at you kept me hooked, and utilizing these attacks to take down bosses created some really memorable moments. The Disney wrapper on this treat made things even better; walking through all these areas and meeting characters from some of the best pieces of animation in the business undoubtedly puts a smile on your face. The soundtrack brought me down the nostalgia hole; the Traverse Town theme remains pure bliss. The only major blemish was the camera, which prevented me from finishing the game. Near the end the game throws so many enemies at you that you're being blasted from every possible angle, even though you can only see one of them. At some point, I'm going to have to purchase a PS3 or PS4 to play the HD remixes; those look fantastic. In the meantime, I'm playing through Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance, which is even better than Re:coded.
(Quick side note: I'm cringing while writing some of this because my praise sounds by the numbers as far as descriptions go, but hey, a good game is a good game. Might as well describe it as such, lol.)
The Final Fantasy Escapism
Viewing any list of someone's favorite games is a painful experience. An FF title always squeezes its way onto there, and I wish I could have the same sensation, but it hasn't happened yet. The series seems right up my alley - except for the actual gameplay part.
For me, escapism is that moment when you feel as if you could be in a game's universe. Escapism is what makes a game a game; the culmination of sound, gameplay, plot, and whatever you're feeling at the given moment. There's a point where everything clicks and you think, "Holy cow, this is good." When I describe this escapism, it isn't really a given ratio; the different parts have to be balanced enough to be engrossing, and often times one takes more presence over the other (ex. Gone Home). I'm a big fan of Proteus, which basically has no plot but emerges you so well through sound and visual that you still manage to reach that "holy cow" moment. I wish FF4 had that working ratio for me, but the story and music just didn't take enough presence to overtake the gameplay and keep me engrossed; part of it might've been due to its age. However, I still love the general atmosphere of the series; classic old-fashioned fantasy with grand tunes and a sense of adventure. There's a brick wall preventing me from accessing it, but a window that is luring me to it. That window led me to Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, which might just be one of my favorite 3DS titles. If Final Fantasy were a platformer, a shmup, a hack 'n' slash, a walking simulator, whatever, I'd play it immediately.
RPGs are hugely conflicting for me, and the one experience I had with actual Final Fantasy hasn't been positive. However, I'm still pretty sure there is one FF out there with RPG elements that would appeal to me. I mean, geez, they are making an FF 15; one of them has got to be ideal. Based on Final Fantasy IV, I know for sure that I don't want my next experience with the series to involve the active battle system, and the story has to be at least somewhat engrossing. Regardless of the battle system, the gameplay isn't going to be my favorite thing in the world, but hopefully the other elements in the ratio can pull me in enough.
I'm kind of limited as far as consoles go; I've got a Wii U and an Xbox 360 to game on. A PS4 purchase is inevitable; once Mirror's Edge Catalyst comes out, I'll probably cave and buy one. PlayStation seems to be the premier console for FF, and my curiosity in Final Fantasy X alone will probably contribute to my decision to purchase a system. Until then, I'm probably going to hold off on the series.
I'll play that one really famous moment from that one really famous Final Fantasy title some day. Just let me listen to the music first.
All images taken from the depths of Destructoid's picture collection. The video is from BrawlBRSTMs3's channel.