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Kingdom Hearts FAQ #15: Re Mind and DLC

So Kingdom Hearts 3: Re⏀Mind is DLC that is now available. What’s KH’s first DLC like?

I refuse to answer a question that comes from an incorrect premise.

Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, Goggle Bob?

In a way, Kingdom Hearts has never not had DLC. The original Kingdom Hearts (1) had three different versions before we ever saw a sequel. It started with OG Japanese Kingdom Hearts, and then graduated to Kingdom Hearts: USA Version. Yes, in the original version of Kingdom Hearts, there was no Sephiroth, no sequel-teasing special movie, and a distinct lack of Kurt Zisa (don’t ask). This inevitably led to Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix, a Japanese version of the game that included all of the American content, a handful of new enemies/challenges, a smattering of mute cutscenes, and, most importantly, a secret boss and secret reports that more distinctly alluded to plot points of Kingdom Hearts 2, then still three years away from release. Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix even set the standard of sticking the next game’s final boss in a nondescript coat, and turning him (inevitably “him”) into a super difficult, super confusing battle. Yes! It was “DLC” that established KH’s love of zippered coats!

Wow! DLC in the bygone year of 2002? Wasn’t that pretty great?

Slice 'n DiceHell no. Unfortunately, this was the bad ol’ days of “full game ‘DLC’” releases (see also: Devil May Cry 3). If you wanted to see any of the new content (or, at least, any of the content that was actually worthwhile), you had to replay the game from scratch again, because every new version was technically a whole new game. It didn’t matter if you had a Level 100 Sora in Kingdom Hearts, you needed to grind all over again in Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix. No way you’re going to conquer that “bonus content” otherwise…

So you’re saying no one responsible for the Persona series’ last three entries ever suffered through Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix?

Yep. More’s the pity.

But at least you got more Kingdom Hearts content!

Well, not so much, either. Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix was initially never released outside Japan, so if you wanted that “Kingdom Hearts DLC”, say, because you were a bored college student sinking fast in the merit-based quagmire of the American educational system and you required Kingdom Hearts to bring your life meaning, you were pretty much out of luck unless you wanted to learn Japanese and pay exorbitant import fees.

Well, at least that only happened to Kingdom Hearts 1… Right?

Nope! Kingdom Hearts 2 had a similar trajectory. In fact, Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix had an even more alluring collection of “DLC”: it featured an all-new dungeon, rematches against the significant bosses of KH2, the prerequisite mysterious bonus boss battle, and all-new 3-D models of all the Organization XIII baddies that died alone and 2-D in the previous GBA game (Chain of Memories), so you could fight them “for real” in the Kingdom Hearts 2 engine. Oh, and the game included a full 3-D remake of that GBA game, too.

Wow! That is a lot of content!

Yep! And it didn’t make it across the Pacific, either. We did eventually get that GBA-PS2 remake on the PS2, though… but only as its own, separate budget release. No Kingdom Hearts 2 Lingering Will super battle for American folks.

Boo! Boo I say!

Stupid WhaleBoo indeed! And this continued to be the new normal for the franchise. Birth by Sleep (the PSP one) Final Mix featured upgrades like a battle against Pinochio’s Monstro, Coded got Re:Coded, and, in the end, it seems that poor Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was the only Kingdom Hearts title to not see any gameplay changes after its initial release. … And that is the case only because it was repurposed as exclusively cinema scenes for the inevitable HD release. I shudder to think how many secret boss battles could have been squeezed in there if someone decided to properly convert the DS game.

So did America ever see any of this “DLC”?

Not for a very long time. But we did eventually see all of this content with the 1.5/2.5 HD remasters that were released in 2013/2014. Now, as of 2017, you can play all of this bonus content on your Playstation 4 as part of the Kingdom Hearts Complete compilation. So it only took an extra console generation, a whole new title, and XIII years for America to see Kingdom Hearts DLC. Seems about right!

So you’re saying we should consider ourselves lucky that this DLC is a worldwide release and only $30?

Yes. Please bring Nomura gilded zippers as an offering of goodwill.

So how does Kingdom Hearts 3: Re¤Mind shake out?

KISS!Your mileage may vary, but, as these things go, this seems to be pretty beefy DLC. First of all, there’s the signature “Final Mix” difficulty mode, this time allowing for some interesting challenges or lack of challenges. You can make the game more difficult by adding conditions like a HP drain, or make the game easier with one-hit kills for your opponents. It’s like a built-in Game Genie! There’s also a boss rush of some significant opponents, and the requisite secret boss du jour. And there’s an expansion to the “photo mode” of the original game, with the ability to set up dioramas so you can see what it would look like if Riku and Sora kissed in new and interesting worlds. We’ve also got additional keyblades, Oathkeeper and Oblivion, that were conspicuously absent during the initial release, and some additional battle options that manage to change the entire feeling of Sora’s combat. … Actually, I think those items are free as part of the DLC’s update, but it’s really hard to keep track of what is what. I know for certain that the new plot elements are part of the DLC, though!

A new plot?

Well, “new” is kind of a misnomer here. On one hand, for the first time in a Kingdom Hearts “Final Mix” situation, there is a significant amount of entirely new voice acting, new cinema scenes, and wholly new scenarios (you get to play as new characters!), on the other hand, almost all of this content is in some way “recycled” from the main game. Most of what you’ll find in ReØMind is either something that was already in KH3 but now seen from a different perspective, or a battle repurposed from its original context. The first bit of gameplay in KH3: RM is a struggle against what was previously the only wholly optional heartless in KH3, and that seems to be stating an opening mission statement of repurposing many of KH3’s “scraps” into complete meals.

So it’s just warmed up leftovers?

Yes, Kingdom Hearts 3: Re⍟Mind is leftovers. But they’re super delicious leftovers. This is some prime rib going in your lasagna leftover repurposing.

Is… is that something you actually eat?

With gusto.

So do the new plot details at least offer something new for fans?

Nope!

What the hell!?

I know, right? Kingdom Hearts 3 ended on a very confusing finale. Here’s where the spoilers for the franchise start in earnest…

FGC #460 Final Fantasy Legend 3

Stay dampHow the hell do you screw up friggin’ time travel!?

Okay, to be clear, we’re not talking about how do you screw up while time traveling. A healthy 80% of all time travel fiction is based entirely on this concept, and, give or take a Time Cop, that’s always a good time. It’s the human condition, right? You go back in time with your intricate future knowledge of how you’re going to make everything better, make a few changes here and there, and Bob’s your uncle, Hitler is president. Whoops! I think we all learned a valuable lesson about not messing with the natural order of things (and I would seriously like to speak to whichever time traveler is responsible for our current political situation).

No, what we’re focusing on today is how you mess up a story that involves time travel. After all, time travel is one of the best tropes in all of storytelling. Want to change the past? Duh! We all do! But changing the past (and hopefully avoiding Hitler) isn’t the only option available with time travel. Want to see the future? Or drop that text book, and experience the past like a tourist? Or how about traveling through time to prevent a “bad future”? Did anyone order a child from an alternate timeline? Hell, let’s go nuts, screw up the timeline, and see an alternate reality where bad is good and good is wearing ill-fitting leather. Time travel opens the door to any number of wonderful tropes and stories! And leather!

FIGHT!And let me tell you a secret about time travel stories: don’t ever try to figure them out. Time travel is always, always going to be a complete mishmash of conflicting ideas and contradictions with the very concept of cause and effect. And that’s fine! It’s time travel! It breaks all the physical rules of the universe, it may as well also cause a broken brain. So don’t bother trying to figure out how there can be more than one Trunks at one time, or how you can’t wrap a gun in beef shank and bring it to the past, or why the hell bringing a teenager on a time travel expedition would ever make sense. It’s all just nonsense from the moment someone goes back to the future, and you’re expected to not think too hard about how Bruce Banner accidentally invented the fountain of youth while trying to quantum leap. You can’t ruin time travel by not properly following the rules for a fictional event. Time travel is the Wild West of storytelling, and you’re perfectly justified in claiming that if two time travelers kiss, they instantly become horny lizards or something. It’s cool! That’s just how time travel works in this universe, and they’re going to have a wonderful little reptilian family. Be happy for the lizards!

And time travel can be amazing in videogames. Videogame narratives by their very nature must be linear. You can have a flashback in Lost, Breaking Bad, or [please insert name of show that premiered in the last decade], but that simply doesn’t work in a videogame. If Mega Man has a “flashback level” to before the adventure started, he’ll lose all his sweet robot master weapons and extra lives. And that just wouldn’t do! It’s even worse in JRPGs, where experience is key, and your character must start at level zero. A flashback in a JRPG would never fly, because your hero has to start as a blank slate, or, at the very least, an inexperienced townie. Seeing some “ten years earlier” with a child that somehow knows Ultima is not even a possibility.

WORM!But time travel? That’s how you meet the past. Swing on back, take your time in a special dungeon or town, and meet all the villains before they became corrupted by malevolent fog. Or use time travel in new and interesting ways, like by changing subtle items in the past to greatly influence the future. Plant some beans. Break some walls. Distract the guy building the wall. Time travel opens all sorts of avenues. And in your better games, time travel offers entire worlds. Here’s the craptastic present, an even more rotten future, and a glorious past that you can restore with a little elbow grease (and giant swords). But at least there are lasers in the future! That should help you save the day. Just remember to take your time and explore every nook and cranny to discover the difference between these disparate time periods!

Final Fantasy Legend 3 seems to present itself as such. Right from the start, you are introduced to our quartet of heroes, three of which hail from a future approximately fifteen years ahead. Our fourth warrior is a woman from the present, where the rest of the gang has been raised and trained after being smuggled back with the aid of a mutant professor and his time machine. Everyone is informed that the world is being flooded by a nebulous evil god/master (pick your translation), and it is now their job to travel between the past, present, and future to find enough pieces of that time machine to lift off and launch a missile right into this damp god’s face. And that’s a great excuse for an adventure! It promises three different time periods (and thus three different worlds) all in the midst of this forever flood. And, bonus, as the game progresses, we’re also granted the ability to dive beneath the waves, so there’s a full trio of underwater “worlds”, too. Let’s see how that coral reef has developed over thirty years!

So it’s kind of a shame when it all turns out to be bullshit.

Painful!Here’s the basic flow of Final Fantasy Legend 3: You start in the Present, and venture through a tower. This grants you the ability to go back in time. Now you can participate in a rescue mission in the Past that guarantees an old lady and a young girl will be alive in the future (present). Back to the Present, and it’s time to waddle around another tower or two. This allows travel to the Future, where some helpful future townsfolk grant the ability to access a floating continent. The floating continent, you’re told, does not have “time”, so it is an area that does not have a past, present, or future. Then it’s off to Heaven (Pureland) and Hell (Underworld), which are under similar time restrictions. These three areas (Floatland, Pureland, and Underworld) contain a healthy 60%-75% of the dungeons in the game, and, as part of the finale, they’re going to be the largest/longest dungeons as well.

Did you see what happened there? This is a story that introduces a time machine from the first moment, and then doesn’t even use the damn thing for at least half the game!

That’s how you screw up a time travel story, dear readers. If you’ve got a time machine, and you’re not using it, you’re doing something wrong. Use all the toys in your toy chest, and never turn your time machine into a glorified airship. Final Fantasy Legend 3 dropped the ball, but you don’t have to.

But if you do mess up, just go back in time and try again. At least it would make a good story.

FGC #460 Final Fantasy Legend 3

  • System: Gameboy. There were actually two different versions, one published by Square in 1993, and another rereleased by Sunsoft in 1998 (because a certain game made Final Fantasy a tweak more popular). Both versions are exactly the same, give or take some terrible cartridge art.
  • Number of players: Four party members, one consistent guest character, but only one player.
  • So mysticMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: Disappointing plot aside, Final Fantasy Legend 3 is easily the most accessible of the Final Fantasy Legend titles. This makes sense, as this is right about when this “version” of SaGa branched off to form Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, and SaGa continued on in a different form on the Playstation 1. Or at least that’s how I remember it. Regardless, this is the rare SaGa/FFL game that doesn’t require a friggen chart to map out character progression, so it’s fun for a girl or a boy.
  • But the equipment system still sucks, right? Oh my yes. I might cheat my way into perfect stats just so I never have to manage the inventory ever again.
  • Favorite… form? You have a lot of options for character customization. No, wait, scratch that. You have a lot of options for whether you would like your party to devour gears and cogs to become robots. Or you can eat a hunk of meat and become a man-bat. You’ve got options. Regardless, the worm is the best choice, as he’s a friendly looking lil’ dude. For a monster.
  • Did you know? There was a DS remake of FFL3, and it never made its way over to Western shores. But some dedicated fans translated SaGa 3 Jiku no Hasha: Shadow or Light, and now you can play the dang thing in English. Hooray for our side! Literally!
  • Would I play again: I want to say there is a JRPG from the 90’s that uses time travel a little more effectively, so I’ll pass on this legendary adventure.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Space Harrier for the 32X! That’s going to be a mammoth of a good time. Please look forward to it!

CHOMP

FGC #439 Trials of Mana

Get on the mana train!Once again, this old man is wondering about the world that may have been.

Today’s game is Trials of Mana, the sequel to the venerable Secret of Mana (and descendant of Final Fantasy Adventure). Unlike practically every other title in the Mana franchise (did you know there was a TRPG? Oh, and that weird “action” one for the PS2?), Trials of Mana follows Secret of Mana in an iterative manner. Secret of Mana was a gigantic mess of ideas slapped together for a hypothetical/doomed system that was never meant to materialize, and, yeah, it kind of played like something that was never really prepared for the light of day. Don’t get me wrong, I will defend the fun of Secret of Mana until my dying day (I’m considering an epitaph that reads “Here rests Goggle Bob, and Secret of Mana was good, actually”. It’s the only way future generations will know!), but even I know in my heart of hearts that the game is a hot mess. The battle system is half-baked, the world itself has a number of “cutting room floor”-based dead ends, and the plot is a hodgepodge of different concepts that eventually culminates with a skeleton wizard out of nowhere. Trials of Mana seems like an honest attempt to take the best ideas from Secret of Mana, improve on them, and produce a game that could be its “intended form” from the start of its production. Does it work? Well… mostly.

LOOK OUTFirst of all, let’s address the biggest issue with Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana: magic sucks. There is no “quick casting” in either title, and, whether you want to cast a simple healing spell or summon a meteor from hell to rain unholy destruction upon the battlefield, you’re stuck cycling through random menus, waiting for casting, and then pausing any and all action while the spell animation completes. Trials of Mana works slightly differently from Secret; Secret would freeze only the target of most spells, while Trials freezes all of the action on the screen for every single casting. And, against all odds, somehow both systems are the absolute worst. When your opponent is frozen in Secret, you can just pile on the commands (and faerie walnuts) to stunlock your opponent into oblivion. It’s not very… strategic. This is avoided in Trials of Mana, but the constant, never-ending pauses thanks to friends and foes casting spells completely obliterates any sort of combat flow. And Trials somehow makes the worst even worse, as many bosses are programmed to counter magic spells, but, thanks to the inherent lag in the magic-freezing, it’s very difficult to perceive the if/then of countering that is inevitably going to get your party killed. So, if you somehow wound up with a mage on your team, maybe it’s best to let them sit there and do nothing, because it’s always fun to have a character on the roster that is (going to make you) dead weight.

Though maybe it would be a good idea to take a look at the whys of whether or not a mage is currently weighing down your team. Not unlike many games of yesterday and today, Trials of Mana starts with a clutch of unfamiliar characters, and you are asked to choose half of them to be your traveling party. The first character you select becomes the focal protagonist of the adventure, and the second two both play out their signature stories in brief, “aside” arcs. To be clear, this does not employ the modern/Dragon Quest method of having a main character that is 100% meant to be a player avatar that eventually earns some narratively well-defined, though multi-choice, companions; no, in this case, six different playthroughs of Trials of Mana could potentially feature six wildly dissimilar protagonists. And the difference isn’t merely cosmetic: each of the heroes has their own hopes and dreams, but more importantly, they have their own final dungeons and final bosses. CENSOR THISThere are three “pairs” of overlapping finales within the full cast of six, so it would technically require three different complete cycles through Trials of Mana to see every last dungeon and enemy the title has to offer. And, yes, if you’re curious about every story in the Trials of Mana universe, you’re going to need six different runs of a 15-20 hour game (good news: you’ll probably cut that down to ten hours by your fourth quest).

This, naturally, brings us to the topic of alternate realities.

There are six protagonists in Trials of Mana, but only one hero can ever wield the singular, titular (in Japan) Mana Sword. And, as mentioned, each pair of heroes has a unique antagonist. Riesz and Hawkeye, for instance, battle a vampire, a cat lady, and some manner of plant prince; meanwhile, Kevin and Charlotte are pitted against a murder clown and another damn skeleton wizard. Naturally, it is the choice of protagonist that determines the final boss, and the other antagonists are forced to screw off and die at the midpoint of the adventure to make room for the real big bad should they not be the focus of the story. It just wouldn’t do for Riesz to not battle the woman that murdered her parents, so, sorry Gourmand, you’re going to have to leave now. Where do murder clowns go where they die? Batman should look into it.

However, this creates some interesting plot gulfs for our potential heroes. Take Duran, the stalwart knight of Trials of Mana. If Duran is the hero of the piece, he fights against the nefarious Dragon Lord and his disciple, the Darkshine Knight. Eventually, Duran learns that the mysterious Darkshine Knight is in fact his father, a knight named Loki who once fought against the Dragon Lord, and was presumed dead by his best friend, the good King Richard. To say the least, the relationship between the orphaned Duran and his now malevolent father is a bit strained, but it all works out for the best when Duran and Darkshine Loki reconcile and the Dragon Lord is tossed down a conveniently located open shaft to nowhere. Or something. Look, what’s important is that Duran gets an amazing amount of closure on the whole psychologically traumatized orphan thing, and Darkshine Knight gets to die knowing that his son has grown into a noble, strong, Level 40 young man. … Or he doesn’t, because Duran wasn’t the main character, and all he does is stand motionless in the throne room as a completely forgettable NPC. Getting better!In this situation, the Dragon Lord is slain by whoever winds up being the real big bad, and Darkshine sticks around long enough to deliver a dragon obituary before peacing out to nonexistence. Duran never learns of his lineage, and Loki never sees his son again. Oh well! He’s not the main character! Don’t worry about it, audience! Somebody else got a happy ending! Just be happy with that!

But that’s the kind of thing that inevitably bothers me. Sure, it’s only one iteration of the story, but, in one universe, Duran is left not knowing for the rest of his life. He could have been a hero with a healthy memory of his undead father, but, no, now he’s likely going to be in therapy for the rest of his days. Poor dude didn’t get a faery companion, a father, or magical friends that may or may not be able to transform into werewolves. In one universe Duran is the Hero of Mana, in another, he can barely leave a room.

And in one universe, a young Goggle Bob played Trials of Mana. In another, he didn’t get to play the game “for real” until he was in his 30s.

Trials of Mana was never released in America (in this timeline). It did eventually receive a fan translation, though. I played that game on a creaky old laptop without a properly working soundcard (ah, college life), and, while I certainly enjoyed the experience, it wasn’t exactly all that notable. It was a Super Nintendo game being played concurrently with the heyday of the Playstation 2, and Trials of Mana didn’t come off as revolutionary when Grand Theft Auto 3 was also on the menu. And, yes, the format didn’t exactly help, as my beloved laptop (so beloved because it actually allowed me to not be glued to the computer lab at 3 am) was barely capable of supporting the full Mana experience. I played Trials of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 3) because I felt like I had to complete such an important part of Squaresoft history, not because I was anxiously looking forward to the next level.

And then, sometime in my 20’s, I managed to score a repro SNES cartridge of Secret of Mana 2 in English. I played it for about five minutes before growing weary of holding a SNES controller again.

They're asleep!Finally, a few weeks ago, Square-Enix deigned to release Trials of Mana for the Nintendo Switch in glorious American-o-vision. And, for the first time since I ice skated uphill against my old laptop over a decade prior, I played through the entirety of Trials of Mana. And it was rough. The music and graphics are still gorgeous, but all the quality of life improvements that modern JRPG/action titles have presented since the turn of the millennium are sorely missed. The class system is opaque, equipment juggling is unpleasant, and, let’s be honest, who has the time nowadays to complete an entire game three different ways for miniscule plot changes? There are two whole dungeons I missed on my playthrough? Who cares! I would have to complete 80% of the game again just to see a new variation on a cave? I’ll youtube that different final boss, thank you. I am a very important man with very important places to be. That fro-go place can barely open without me visiting!

But in 1995? Back then, this all could have worked. The era of the SNES saw a Goggle Bob with a significantly greater tolerance for bullshit. Back then, a new game only came down the pike (of my parents’ wallets) every six months or so, so a title with three different completely separate paths would have been more than welcome. Spell animations wouldn’t have bothered my young mind, because, I like the turtledamn, did you see those graphics? And the class system that practically requires a FAQ to enhance your party? You better believe I wouldn’t give a damn about proper character optimization. I didn’t even know the meaning of the word “optimization”! Probably literally!

In short: if Trials of Mana had been released in its proper epoch, it might have been one of my most beloved games. It might have been another Final Fantasy 6, Secret of Mana, or even Chrono Trigger.

There’s an entire other timeline out there where Trials of Mana is important to me. Here, in this reality, it is a random novelty that happened to show up on Nintendo Switch.

Trials of Mana, I’ll always wonder if you were meant for better things…

FGC #439 Trials of Mana

  • System: Nintendo Switch. It originally appeared on the Super Famicom in some lucky regions, though.
  • Number of players: Is there really multiplayer available for this game? I know there are reports that the remake won’t have multiplayer “like the original”, but I thought this was another Secret of Evermore situation where the original only had multiplayer thanks to enterprising modders. I’m going to tentatively call this one single player. Maybe it’s just two, but not three? Dammit.
  • What’s in a name: “Trials of Mana” may as well be nails on a chalkboard to my ears. It’s Seiken Densetsu 3, you jerks! Or Secret of Mana 2! Trials of Mana? Really? Because “Trials” starts with “Tri” and that’s marginally related to the number 3? Is that the best you could do? Obviously, the title should be Secret of Ma3a. I mean, duh. Come on, Square Enix, get on the Mana Beast.
  • Speaking of names: Don’t tell anyone, but I can’t even get my own naming conventions together:
    ERROR TYPE MISMATCH

    It’s a secret to everybody.
  • Favorite Hero: Kevin is a bruiser that can transform into a werewolf to cause even more bruises. And he can learn healing magic, so when he’s not bruising, he’s keeping the party alive. And he can learn a spell that transforms physical damage into MP refills, so his bruising can become an unlimited healing battery. Kevin is my hero.
  • An End: During the finale, the previously mentioned Super Werewolf Kevin learns that his best friend is still alive (because Kevin is really bad at identifying a heartbeat) and was accidentally buried alive (by Kevin), his mother is dead, and his father is a complete dick. Couple this with previously transforming his rival into a baby that wanders off into the woods, Kevin has a really weird life.
  • TOTES MCGOATSFavorite Benevodon: We’re really calling them that? Okay, fine. My vote goes to Dolan, the gigantic goat monster that scales an enormous tower just to reach out and touch some Mana Heroes. Also: you can’t tell me that Dolan wasn’t originally intended to be the God Beast (there!) of Darkness, as how could a gigantic goat not fit the ol’ dark arts?
  • Did you know? Heroes of Mana, a strategy RPG for Nintendo DS released in 2007, is a direct prequel to Trials of Mana. It features most of the parents of characters from Trials of Mana, and includes a number of locations and antagonists (a few of them in surprisingly heroic roles) as well. It’s kind of a shame that no one cared about the Mana franchise in 2007, so this title is almost entirely forgotten.
  • Would I play again: Probably! Never mind the upcoming remake, I will probably give another Trials story route a shot at some point. It might be a while, but the gameplay of Trials of Mana works well on the portable Switch, so I’ll probably play it again as one of those “I can play and watch TV” situations. I’ll save state the story scenes for when I have a spare moment to pay attention…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight! Let’s boogie! And put the gun down! Absolutely boogie without firearms! Please look forward to it!

RUN AWAY

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?