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FGC #401 Final Fantasy 3 (DS)

Final Fantasy!In Japan, the Final Fantasy games are a series of titles gradually moving forward. While they may not be direct “story” sequels, they are sequels all the same, with characters and key events carried forward like an ever-growing tumbleweed.

In America? Final Fantasy is an ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail, with no beginning and no end.

Okay, that’s not completely true, as Final Fantasy has the same starting point in both regions. Final Fantasy was released in 1987 in Japan and 1990, but they were almost exactly the same game. The differences? Barely worth mentioning, like a giant eyeball getting repurposed by the legal department. And there may have been a few spell names modified for less holy audiences, but that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Fire 3 and Firaga are the same thing! Nothing complicated!

But then it gets all too complicated.

The same year that America saw Final Fantasy 1, Japan already had Final Fantasy 3. And, if videogames were like any other medium in history, that would not have been a big deal. Give it another three years, and we’d see our own Final Fantasy 3 with wizards casting NUKE on legions of skeletons. However, consoles wait for no man, and the Super Nintendo was on Western shores by the following year. While the “good old days” weren’t quite as bad as the modern belief that a system should stop releasing new games six months before the release of its successor (hi, WiiU!), it still seemed unlikely that a new franchise/genre would see slow NES releases well after we all experienced the joy of riding a dinosaur. So their Final Fantasy 4 became our Final Fantasy 2, and, riding the high of the newly released SNES, we experienced our first Final Fantasy sequel.

And, honestly? There was never any reason to believe we missed anything.

Shake a legFinal Fantasy is about restoring four crystals, Final Fantasy “2” is about collecting a total of eight (give or take). Final Fantasy had its four fiends, the sequel had Golbez’s four generals. Class changing your party is just like class changing a dark knight. Garland : Chaos :: Golbez : Zeromus. Final Fantasy “2” was a clear sequel to the original Final Fantasy we all knew and loved, and there wasn’t a single bit of the title seemed to indicate we had missed something. Summoners gonna summon, and dragoons gonna jump, nothing more to it.

We likely would have had a similar reaction to Final Fantasy 5… if it ever made it to our shores. But, instead, we received Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, and that “job system” would have to continue to be a mystery for another few years (assuming you never played Dragon Warrior 3). Then we were graced with Final Fantasy 6 aka Final Fantasy 3. And that was kind of a miracle, as we saw the release a mere four months after its Japanese debut. And it was good! It was even great! And… it barely had anything to do with the previous Final Fantasy games! No crystals! No sky fortresses! “White” is “Pearl” for some reason! If we didn’t have a few chocobos running around, we wouldn’t even know this was the same franchise! At least Mystic Quest had a four elementals-based world! What the hell is an Esper even supposed to be!?

But, as confusing as Final Fantasy “3” was, it kicked off the golden age of actually seeing every Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy 7 was next, and, for the first time, it was actually Final Fantasy 7 on both shores. And then came Final Fantasy 8! And neither of these games had anything to do with each other from a “world” perspective, but there were some patterns emerging. The summons seemed fairly consistent (give or take poor Rumah), and… did these people have reliable vocations? Knights are JRPG staples, but it seems like we keep winding up with a random character that can use monster attacks. Lore? Blue Magic? Whatever, it sounds cool. And there are a few recurring characters and motifs, so, yeah, there’s more continuity here than we thought… right?

Dem BonesSo a funny thing happened in 1999. After fighting our way through five separate Final Fantasies, Square decided to capitalize on Final Fantasy mania and release Final Fantasy 5. In English! And now Final Fantasy Tactics made so much more sense! This whole “job system” thing finally hit America in a “real”, numbered Final Fantasy title, and it was good! … Okay, it was a bit of a letdown for anyone expecting another Final Fantasy with a deep and adult story like what we saw in that game with the talking dog, but at least we know the name of that guy that killed Odin now. Final Fantasy 5 was certainly more Final Fantasy 4 (2) than Final Fantasy 6 (3), but, more importantly, it was another data point on the “what is Final Fantasy” bulletin board. Those dots are starting to connect!

And then, in November of 2000, Final Fantasy 9 blew up the whole damn chart.

Final Fantasy 9, according to various issues of EGM and Gamepro, was the first Final Fantasy game to really look at its past. It was a “return to the old days”, which meant black mages (not really) and crystals (certainly not) were back in business. And, if you were a Final Fantasyologist, the game was just ripe with items and callbacks that celebrated the long and storied history of Final Fantasy. … Except, it was rather impossible for any Americans to get half of those references, as many of the early games referenced were never released here, and, even if they were, current localizations did not match up with Woolseyisms from a generation prior. Final Fantasy 9’s “continuity”, like every other Final Fantasy continuity for Americans, was confusing as hell.

Then, in November of 2006, months after the release of Final Fantasy 12, we finally filled in the last gap with Final Fantasy 3 for the Nintendo DS.

Get 'em!And it all made so much more sense! Final Fantasy 3 is the clear prequel to our beloved Final Fantasy 4 (2)! In fact, in some places, Final Fantasy 3 makes its world more interesting than what you’d find in its descendant. Final Fantasy 4 has multiple airships, but Final Fantasy 3 has multiple airships that really matter. The overworld/underworld dichotomy of Final Fantasy 4 is neat ‘an all, but it’s nothing compared to a floating island and the time-locked hellscape down below. And, while Final Fantasy 4 inarguably has the better Cid, Princess Sara is a much better damsel/fighter than Rosa. I don’t care if you put a ring on an archer on the moon, Cecil, your fiancée is basic. Oh, and I guess there are a number of recurring monsters between the two games, too. Playing Final Fantasy 3 for three seconds is deeply reminiscent of Final Fantasy 4, and that’s obvious from practically the first moment.

But Final Fantasy 3 doesn’t just impact Final Fantasy 4, it’s also the origin point of a lot of series staples. The Summoner job got its start here, and, with it, the myriad of summons that have been skulking around the franchise for decades. And it’s not just cosmetic! Bahamut is rightfully venerated as the lord of all summons for the first time, and Odin is hiding in a castle basement. Even Leviathan gets his own magical lake. This is also the first place we found a fat chocobo and the slam-dancing teddy bear race of moogles. First Final Fantasy with a playable piano! First Final Fantasy with thieves that can actually steal (or be useful at all)! First “bonus treasure dungeon” in the franchise! It all started here!

Or… did it?

If you want to play Final Fantasy 3 in America (legally), you must play Final Fantasy 3 on the Nintendo DS (or the PSP/Mobile port of the same version of the game). This is important, as Final Fantasy 3 is obviously not its NES ancestor. The graphics have been upgraded, the “anonymous” heroes of FF3NES have all been upgraded to have their own personalities and motives, and the iconic Onion Knight job of the original release has been relegated to an impossible sidequest. Even if you know next to nothing about the original Final Fantasy 3, you can immediately see the difference between the two titles.

I can't tell the difference!

That creates… doubt. The Final Fantasy series loves its references! Final Fantasy 9 wasn’t the start of that nonsense, you could argue that the series was drowning in callbacks as early as, well, Final Fantasy 3. But it’s impossible to “trust” this Final Fantasy 3, because, without Final Fantasy 3 NES handy, how are we supposed to know if a reference was added before or after the remake itself? Ricard of Final Fantasy 2 (J) has the same last name as Kain of Final Fantasy 4 (J) and Cid of Final Fantasy 7! Which came first? It’s not the one you think! So who inspired who? Where did it all start? I know time flows like a river, but usually you can find a starting tributary somewhere.

Final Fantasy!And this is how American Final Fantasy became twisted up like a pretzel. We didn’t see Final Fantasy 2 until after Final Fantasy 7, and Final Fantasy 3 came after Final Fantasy 12. Thanks to inconsistent translations and a pile of internet hearsay, it’s nearly impossible to know where a name or character got their start. Final Fantasy is a snake with no beginning and no end, and we’ll never be able to measure its scales.

But, hey, the games are all pretty fun, so don’t worry about it.

FGC #401 Final Fantasy 3 (DS)

  • System: Nintendo DS, technically, and a port of that version for PSP and mobile devices, too. The original Final Fantasy 3 is theoretically sealed in the NES (or Famicom), but it did see a rerelease on the Japanese Wii Virtual Console, so I don’t trust Square at all.
  • Number of players: One Onion Knight to rule them all.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Kind of talked about every Final Fantasy game except this one, eh? Final Fantasy 3 is a good “prototype” game, but I feel like everything that makes this game good is done better in Final Fantasy 5. And, yes, I’m predominantly talking about the job system. Final Fantasy 3 can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a Metroid (wherein new skills/jobs must be used to unlock new areas) or a Mega Man (all cool abilities are completely optional, and may be used whenever you want). What’s important is that I never want to see a mini cave again, and I can’t believe they produced a remake of Final Fantasy 3 without further improving the equipment/equipping system.
  • Somebody get me a mapJust Play the Gig, Man: Final Fantasy 3 does seem to have the best music on the NES (or of the NES titles, if we want to get technical). Unfortunately, since it wasn’t a part of my childhood, I don’t give a damn. Sorry!
  • Favorite Character: In this case, it’s “characters”. The Old Men are just trying their best, and should be lauded for attempting to save the world despite having absolutely no skills and a comprehensive inability to leave their home town. They’re trying!
  • Monster Rancher: Anyone notice that the monsters of this Final Fantasy are overwhelmingly Grecian, but you barely see such a thing in other Final Fantasy titles? Okay, maybe Medusa winds up in every videogame ever, but she’s actually featured here, along with Cerberus, Scylla, and Echidna. Uh… not Knuckles.
  • Future of Fantasies: It’s also bitingly obvious that this is where the Bravely Default team got their start, as Final Fantasy 3 DS is the clear origin point of about 90% of that gameplay (and maybe some of the graphics). This is rather amusing, as a single franchise entry that was nearly forgotten somehow started its own mini franchise. Way to go, underdog!
  • Did you know? “Luneth” is not the returning Final Fantasy 3 rep for Dissidia, as that honor goes to the original Onion Knight. This is an unusual bit of Square ignoring its more accessible “franchise” for a version that will never be seen again, and seems to confirm that SE doesn’t give a damn about this entry in the greater Final Fantasy pantheon.
  • Would I play again: Nope! Final Fantasy games are long enough without all the little kludges that keep FF3 going. This is an interesting title to help us all learn of the mysteries of the franchise, but it is right up there with Final Fantasy 2 (J) for “never make me play this again”.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Metal Head for the 32X! That… that was a Ninja Turtle, right? Uh, please look forward to it?

Final Fantasy!
What am I even looking at?

FGC #380 Pokémon (Ultra) Moon / Sun

DawwPokémon Sun & Moon is the first Pokémon game to feature a memorable story and characters.

It’s also the first Pokémon game to feature dynamic camera angles, dedicated cutscenes, and full animations for as many of its humans as its pokémon.

Gee, what could be the connection?

For many people, the plot of any given Pokémon game is about as essential as a story in a fighting game. In fact, you could easily make the argument that the Pokémon titles are fighting games. Sure, there’s a complete JRPG GUI, and you talk, level up, and manage your ‘mons as if they were straight out of Final Fantasy Legend, but the battles are the main draw. And, while that’s true of many JRPGs, most JRPGS are not two player, and even less are head-to-head two player. For a countless number of Pokémon fans, the “main campaign” is a way to tinker with random party configurations at best, and a complete waste of time at worst. The real appeal is producing the best team ever, marching into your local poké-tournament, and cleaning house with your Level 100 Medicham. Or, like fighting games, popping online to play with the “meta game”, and feel really great when you wipe out a Mewtwo… that was trained by an eight year old. You monster.

And, for about the last every Pokémon game ever, it seemed like Game Freak agreed with the audience that didn’t give a damn about plot. Yes, every Pokémon game even going back to Pokémon Green had a whole plot with unique characters and trials/villains to overcome, but the plot was always completely secondary to the sheer weight of one day becoming the Pokémon champion and scooting into the postgame. Slow?Hell, in one of the later Pokémon titles, a cyclopic, light-haired bad guy raised an entire evil castle from the Earth while summoning some manner of god- mon… and I can’t even remember which game contained that event. I want to say Black/White? Maybe? Look, I’m still anime racist, and I can’t tell these silly magic emperors apart.

But Pokémon Sun/Moon changed all that. It introduced Lillie and Nebby, and, in one fell swoop, flooded Deviantart with more Pokémon fanart not featuring a naked lady version of Pikachu than anyone ever thought possible. Lillie not your thing? Don’t worry, we’ve got rude boy Gladion and his beloved Type:Null to keep you company. Hau ain’t bad, either, Team Skull is unforgettable, and Lusamine is a great villain because she’s such a threat to not only “you”, but the people you inexorably care about as well. Sure, every Pokémon villain has threatened the world with flooding or ghost dinosaurs or whatever, but how many of those rogues had the sheer malevolence to torture a lil’ dude that has been living in a gym bag? For the first time in Pokémon history, the people of Pokemon Sun/Moon are more memorable than the ‘mons, and, considering they’re competing with Rowlett, that’s no small accomplishment.

But, sad to say, you don’t care about Lillie, Gladion, or even Professor Kukai because of their personalities and design (though, admittedly, you might like the Prof for his topless lab coat fashion combo), no, you the stars of Pokémon Sun/Moon shine because of scene direction.

Yay!Other Pokémon games had heroes, friends, and villains, but they all lived in a decidedly primitive JRPG world. Pokémon X/Y , Sun/Moon’s direct ancestor, had excellent graphics (and outfits!) available, but every story beat played out with protagonists that may as well have been Dragon Warrior sprites. Lord Whatshisname is threatening the planet with his pokémon-based death ray, but I can’t remember his damn name because he just stood there like a doof and generated text box after text box of “dialogue”. Yes, you’re a generic bad guy, I get it, can my gyrados eat you yet? The average Pokemon villain is no more threatening than the bug catching kid on Route 1, and it’s all because they’re presented in exactly the same way. In fact, that kid in the shorts might be more threatening, because he’s there when you just started, and your most effective offensive measure is to friggen growl at your opponent. By the time you’re stomping down Team Rocket, your favorite pokémon has evolved into a rhobeast, and the average battle takes just long enough for you to open a menu. Looks like you’re blasting off again, Giovanni, compliments of six different hyper beams.

But Pokémon Moon/Sun does something completely different. PSM actually treats the camera like a tool, and not a necessary evil. There are close ups of character’s expressions. There are mad scientists that giggle when they think no one is looking. There are villains framed against their helpless captives, and screens that convulse and shake as cherished Nebbys are beaten and hurt. When you first meet Hau, it’s a happy occasion, and everything about the direction, from the angles employed to the joyful music playing, tells you that. When you first meet Lusamine, you know something is up, because the direction reminds you that something isn’t quite right here. And when you find yourself trapped in another world with a raging, monstrous Pokémon, you don’t have any questions about the stakes of your next battle. Pokémon Sun/Moon goes the extra mile to tell its story, and everything about the “ignorable plot” of the title sparkles as a result.

And it’s a damn shame more games can’t take a page from this new Pokémon book.

Yay!Somewhere in the history of gaming, we started to think that “plot” simply meant “more words”. You could blame it on the possibility of more words (Newer words! Bigger words!) with the expansion of game storage space, or you could just point to the success of Final Fantasy 7 and call it a day. Super Mario 64 was only kind of a hit, and it had like a paragraph of words; Final Fantasy 7 was practically a novel… so clearly what the public wants is more words! And it doesn’t matter that Final Fantasy 7 had amazing visuals, set pieces, and “sprites” that may have looked like Popeye’s spikey haired cousins, but never stopped emoting; no, what’s important is the big, long plot and all those precious words. It doesn’t matter if we pump out a JRPG where heads just talk to each other for hours at a time, and the average infodump is accompanied by maybe one still image, what we need is as many words as our typing monkeys can spit out! Throw in the word “evil” over and over again! That has to be interesting, right? A couple of dudes sitting in a non-descript room talking about what is inevitably going to be the final boss and how it fought some brave hero twelve billion years ago? More! “Press X to advance text” is the most exciting thing a person could do with a controller!

So congratulations to Pokémon Moon/Sun for advancing the storytelling capabilities of not only the franchise, but the entire medium. Nobody had to do such a thing, and we would have been perfectly okay with another preteen saving the world from old men and their rattatas, but you went the extra mile, and created an unforgettable experience. Congratulations, development team, you are Pokémon Masters.

FGC #380 Pokémon (Ultra) Sun / Moon

  • System: Nintendo 3DS for all time.
  • Winner!Number of players: As many players as there are on the Global Trade System, so probably something approaching the total population of Europe.
  • Ultra Moves: I’m going to consider this “review” as something that applies to the Ultra versions as well. Give or take a lame sidequest with Looker, the Ultra versions are better in every way than their less interesting ancestors, and there’s pretty much no reason to ever go back now. They even included a surfing minigame that makes absolutely no sense! That’s always good!
  • Favorite Pokémon (this generation): Okay, yes, I know Rowlet is the breakout star of this generation. But did you know that one of the other starters turns into a freaking angry wrestling black cat? How could I ever say no to that!? Its signature attack is a spinning lariat of doom! Dooooom! Keep your round boy, I’ll go for the lucky cat any day of the week.
  • Think of the children: Look, I get that we all like big, showy Z-Moves. But it’s one thing for a torchic to use scratch on a psyduck, and it’s quite another thing for a Lunala to suck an opponent into another dimension, focus a multi-beam laser on its target, and then spit the poor sucker back out on the ground. That’s just bad sportsmanship.
  • Other cruelty: Immediately having the choice of adding a poke to your party or sending them back to the PC is great! I just feel like there could have been a better way to phrase it all…

    LOSER!

    YOU GET SENT TO THE BOX!

  • So, did you beat it? I am the very best.

    Winner!

    Like no one ever was.

  • Did you know? There are only two new dark type pokémon in this generation: the previously mentioned Incineroar, and Guzzlord, Snorlax’s evil cousin. Given dark type is my favorite type (because it’s the only type that contains a Godzilla), I take personal offense at this choice.
  • Would I play again: This is the most recent Pokémon generation as of this writing, so, yes, I’ll play it right up to the very moment a new Pokémon generation hits the streets. I’m very predictable that way.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Diddy Kong Racing for the N64! Time to race a wizard pig for dominance of a genie elephant. Or something! Please look forward to it!

Winner!
Bahamut got nothing on this