Tag Archives: strategy

FGC #476 Final Fantasy 9

Fantasy Time!Final Fantasy 9 doesn’t get enough respect for being the top of its very specific, very forgotten class.

It’s easy to see why someone would have issues with Final Fantasy 9 at its initial release. For starters, it was a JRPG right there at the end of the Playstation 1 JRPG boom. This meant it had a healthy amount of competition from all angles (including an in-house rivalry with Square’s own Chrono Cross). And, honestly, a “throwback” JRPG in that environment was the worst possible idea. Yes, the Final Fantasy franchise had drifted very far from the medieval fantasy origins of Final Fantasy (give or take a floating techno city), but that didn’t mean the rest of the genre had moved on with it. Medieval fantasy JRPGs were a dime a dozen in 2000, and practically everything in Final Fantasy 9 had been done by other JRPGs of the eon. Fantasy world with a whole bunch of depressed furries? We’ve already got Breath of Fire. Your Princess suicidally depressed into a haircut thanks to being responsible for the destruction of her kingdom? Straight out of the Wild Arms playbook. Hell, even some seemingly unique flourishes are improbably specifically from other titles of the epoch: the malevolent monster fog that initially rescinds and then blankets the world in a time of crisis is the entire premise of Legend of Legaia. In short, there’s a thin line between “retro” and “derivative”, and then it’s an even shorter hop to “outright theft”. And it probably didn’t help that Final Fantasy 9’s hero is a thief…

And, come to think of it, that thief was a problem, too. Every protagonist, from Beatrix to Zidane, is deliberately evocative of other heroes in the Final Fantasy franchise. Vivi might go through an interesting journey from “9 year old” to “inspiration for an entire society”, but a quick glance reminds you he’s still just a generic Final Fantasy Black Mage. Freya is a dragoon obsessed with her potential lover, and Dagger is a princess with global responsibility issues. And Eiko? Look, I’m sorry, but Rydia called, and she wants her everything back. And it’s kind of hard to not be cynical when you’ve seen these characters before and liked their games better. With very little exaggeration, by the time some people played Final Fantasy 9, they had already played Final Fantasy 6 for approximately 500 hours. BORKYou want your protagonist to fill the shoes of Locke Cole, you damn well better be sure he’s going to bring something new to the table. Oh? At one point in one dungeon he gets sad about being a monkey? But then he instantly recovers? Wow, Final Fantasy 9, you phoned it in so hard, Steiner just learned the rotary-dial ability.

But now it’s twenty years later. Time has passed, and, for better or worse, the world is very different. Now JRPGs are only medieval when they’re also showcasing anime high school students. Now Final Fantasy is a brand that includes more spin-offs and “experiments” than it does actual numbered entries (and those numbered entries get their own, specific spin-offs, too!). The idea that any one game could capture the zeitgeist of the franchise and its most prominent age is no more possible than you could now produce a film that somehow featured every movie star back to the dawn of Hollywood. The Final Fantasy franchise is now so much more than “there used to be crystals, right?”, so Final Fantasy 9 being some kind of deliberate nostalgic journey seems… quaint.

… And it’s not like anyone is going to compare FF9 to Legend of Legaia anymore. Nobody remembers Legend of Legaia.

So now, divorced from the expectations of the bygone year of 2000, it’s easy to play Final Fantasy 9 and see that the real innovations could never be found by watching this…

Weeeeee

But by playing through this…

What's the haps?

In case you’re unfamiliar with the intricacies of Final Fantasy 9’s plot and its various scenarios, let me explain what you’re seeing there. Ultimately, this is not a complicated scene: it’s Darth Vader telling Luke he’s his daddy. Zidane has just discovered his home planet, and Garland here is explaining how he created Zidane to destroy the (or at least one) world, and souls have to migrate through a magical tree, and Zidane’s brother is another destroyer-monkey that apparently exists with an expiration date, and… Actually, come to think of it? Maybe this scene is a little complicated. This happens a lot in JRPGs: the crux of the plot involves a lot of metaphysical and metaphorical ideas, and there’s really no way to get that information to the player without evoking some kind of massive info dump. In this case, Final Fantasy 9 has wholly invented its own version of the afterlife/reincarnation, and, in order to simultaneously explain the details of that system and how the villains are gumming up the works, you basically need an introductory course on Final Fantasy 9’s religion. Christians don’t know how easy they have it when they can just toss off a line like, “I’ll send you to Hell!” without having to follow it with, “Which is a location where the greatest sinners are eternally tortured by Satan, a demon that once fell from Grace when…”

BORKBut what is being explained isn’t important (sorry about the previous paragraph, I’ll try not to waste your time with asides in the future… wait! Dammit!), what’s important to the entire genre is how it’s being explained. Garland is not confined to a mere text box, nor is Garland a giant cut-out that encompasses half the screen. Garland is hovering across a magical mushroom patch (or… something) and explaining the why of Final Fantasy 9 while “escaping” Zidane. This is inevitably leading to a showdown of some sort, and requires the player to actively “play” while listening to Garland. Want to know more? Of course you do! Follow the floating evil dude. You’re actively playing a videogame, after all, and a role-playing game at that. You think Zidane wants to know more? Of course he does! You’re playing as Zidane! Your goals are one in the same. Now go on, scoot, follow that bearded knight and get the whole story. After all, if you’re Zidane, you’re part of the story.

And that’s something we never saw again.

The very next Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy 10 (yes, I know stating sequential numbers sounds obvious, but please remember that the next FF after that was Final Fantasy 10-2), relied on voice acting and dedicated cinema scenes for its plot advancement, thus making the franchise “like a movie”. And that’s great for anyone that uses their PS2 to play DVDs, but maybe not the best for the person picking up a controller to actually play a game. Regardless, we were all very excited about Final Fantasy 10, its movies, and other similar games like Metal Gear Solid 2 or Xenosaga. Game-movies are the future! It’s like the moving pictures! Videogames can finally be as respectable as Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2! Games are art! … Except we weren’t lauding the “game” part of our videogames, we were just excited about the occasional moments when a videogame could feature a mini-movie… and whether or not any sort of player participation was involved was completely moot. Grab some popcorn! It’s time to play a videogame!

PLORPBut I’m not telling you, dear audience, anything you don’t already know. We remember the bygone Playstation 2 years, and we remember the gradual drift from “movie games” back to “games you actually play”. Yes, we still deal with the latest games touting sparkling stars performing minor voice acting, or “deeply cinematic visuals”, but, by and large we’ve gotten away from action games just sitting back and letting Norman Reedus deliver a soliloquy about baby carrying… Except for in the genre that started this whole mess. JRPGs are still considered plot-delivery devices, and, whether you’re playing a game featuring a lady trying to organize her armies against a dragon goddess, or some title where everyone inexplicably wants to %&*# the dragons in a wildly different way, you still wind up with “sit here and watch” cinema scenes for everything from tea parties to castle storming. Somewhere along the line, it was determined that JRPGs are closer to visual novels than any other genre, and would you care to sit down and have some exposition today? It might be explaining a planet’s apocalyptic backstory, or it could simply be the recounting of a supporting player’s daddy issues, but it still means you’re just sitting there smacking X to advance.

And what’s worse? In the absence of the seemingly unlimited budget of pre-Spirits Within Square, everything has flattened out to this…

So brave

And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a “retro-throwback”, or a JRPG so popular that it apparently earned its spot in Smash Bros history…

What a bunch of jokers

The directors of Final Fantasy 9 knew exactly what they were doing. Final Fantasy 9 is a game that never loses sight of being a videogame, and uses every “trick” that surfaced in the thirteen years that had passed since Final Fantasy. From multiple character animations, to dynamically moving villains, to even something as simple as “interrupting” text boxes, Final Fantasy 9 does everything it can to keep the player engaged in every conceivable way. After all, why would you bother with another goofy sidequest or “Active Time Event” if each wasn’t vibrant and remarkable?

Final Fantasy 9 truly was the end point of all JRPGs that came before. It’s just a shame it was also the end of the dynamic JRPG.

FGC #476 Final Fantasy 9

  • System: Playstation 1 in its first go, but it’s made it to the Playstation 3, Vita, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Switch in the intervening years. May I recommend any version that involves a fast forward button?
  • Number of players: Oddly enough, Final Fantasy 9 has the ability to assign combat controls to either controller port, so you can technically co-op play FF9. Yay! I called Vivi!
  • Remake Reproblems: I very much appreciate everything that is involved in the HD remake of Final Fantasy 9. Fast forwarding is amazing for a game that has always had absurdly slow combat. Automatically maxing your levels and abilities for when you don’t feel like grinding from square one is something I have wanted forever. And the graphical touchups add a new volume to a game that a lot of us originally played on ancient televisions that could barely handle three colors. But, man oh man, someone didn’t put nearly enough time into making sure the new HD sprites match the “HD” cinematics. Some of the most dramatic scenes in this game now appear to be animated by the folks behind Monty Python, and it’s not the best look.
  • HUNGRY!Cool Car: Your final airship is the Invincible, a destructive “monster ship” from Zidane’s home planet (and another Final Fantasy reference). It is also the ship that obliterated Princess Dagger’s home on two separate occasions. Dagger lampshades the situation if you chat with her aboard your new ride, but it’s still more than a little weird that the first princess of PTSD is totally cool with riding around on her own personal atomic bomb.
  • Favorite Dungeon: Gizamaluke’s Grotto is the best name for a dungeon ever, and I will hear no objections to this apparent fact. The fact that it contains multiple exits and a moogle wedding is just gravy.
  • What’s in a name: Pumice is the stone that eventually allows you to summon the combat airship, Ark. However, in the original Japanese, Pumice is known as the “Floating Stone”. That makes a lot more sense for this franchise.
  • What’s in a name Part 2: One of Kuja’s pet dragons, Nova Dragon, was originally named Shinryu, ala the chief reptilian super boss of the series. Given Nova Dragon provides such a lackluster fight, It’s probably for the best that this one got changed…
  • So, did you beat it: I got everything on the original hardware, including the Strategy Guide that is a reward for murdering the super boss. And I did that all without a real strategy guide, because the official strategy guide for Final Fantasy 9 is the worst thing to ever happen to the medium.
  • But you still own it, right? I got the collector’s edition!
    I hate this thing

    Visit Playonline for more information on how my life is a lie!
  • Did you know? There are nine knights of Pluto! And Pluto is the ninth planet in our solar system. Or… at least it used to be…
  • Would I play again: This… is not my favorite Final Fantasy title. I love exactly what it did, but the speed of everything kills me, and my knowledge of all those sidequests I’m ignoring if I ever want to finish the game again within my lifetime is terrible for my conscience. Final Fantasy 9, you’re an amazing game, but I just can’t deal with you right now.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Stretch Panic for the Playstation 2! …. God dammit. Please look forward to it, if you must.

WARK

FGC #216 Code of Princess

Nice hairThis is a videogame blog, but not a videogame website. Why do I make that distinction? Because, if you’ve noticed, in 200 or so entries about videogames, I have barely ever even referenced “videogame strategy”. I might write a quick aside regarding the Konami Code or “boy, is this game hard”, but I’m not so much into telling my loyal readers exactly how to defeat the boss of world five (Clawgrip?). With the exception of articles where I’m examining the gameplay for the sake of the gameplay (like when toads or giant robots are involved), I save strategy discussions for the other guys, and stick to the artsy fartsy nonsense you can expect from Gogglebob.com.

But why? Why do I avoid videogame strategy discussion in my blog? Well, the answer is simple: I don’t think I’m good at videogames.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I play videogames to relax. Yes, that might seem kind of ridiculous when you consider that I’ve been writing complete essays about every old school game I’ve played for the last year or so (a feat that would have made my high school self weep with anger at an uncaring world that made videogames homework), but, when you get right down to it, I play videogames to not think. As a result, in fighting games I have a tendency to “main” the most powerful but least combo-heavy character, in action games I find the most destructive attack and never deviate, and in JRPGs I often discover some way to min/max early, so as to never have to think again. Now, I’m not a complete Neanderthal when it comes to gaming; if I like a game, I often revisit it and “play for real” with stimulating setups and innovative job finagling (most Final Fantasy games get a replay with this in mind), but, nine times out of ten, how I play is, “Wow, the Fire Rod is really powerful and kills everything in a few hits… I better never use anything else ever again!”

Die, monsterAs a result, despite the sheer number of games I’ve beaten, I often feel like I’m not really “playing right”. I have this mental image of the rest of gamers out there (my readers included) as delicate maids, carefully dusting and vacuuming and flipping the mattress every week after properly washing the sheets. Me? I spray Febreze on the smelly bits, hope I remembered to empty the Roomba, and pray any company that might unexpectedly arrive has no problem with the fact that my couch might best be described as “crunchy”. Yes, my videogame skills are passable, but Pokémon got EVs, Street Fighters got aerial combos, and Sonic the Hedgehog has something called “S Rank”. What could “S” even stand for? Doesn’t matter, I’ll never see such a thing.

But I do know how to beat Code of Princess, so I may as well share such valuable information.

Code of Princess is, essentially, a beat ‘em up. Okay, no doubt about it, it is a beat ‘em up, but it has one very distinct mutation in the formula that almost drops CoP into another genre. Code of Princess is a beat ‘em up that is almost entirely 2-D. Your hero (usually a princess) is pretty much stuck on one plane of existence, and “moving up and down” is right out. As a result, this beat ‘em up feels even more limited than most games where you beat up the same guy over and over again. But! CoP recovers gracefully with an eclectic cast of enemies and combatants that would even put a D&D Monster Manual to shame. There are goblins, and, like, bigger goblins? They’re totally different creatures. Oh, and there’s a dragon! Sometimes two! You’re always going to have a good time when you punch a dragon.

But the other significant thing that separates Code of Princess from its Final Fighting contemporaries is the pretty robust RPG-esque system involved. Like in your typical JRPG (also a series of games where you fight dragons), your four-person party has access to a gigantic collection of equipment and items, and your heroes level up. While the equipment is pretty straightforward (+2 sword is better than +1 sword… I think), the leveling system can seem pretty overwhelming, as every level up offers bonus points, and those points may be redeemed for increases in any one of six stats. Given the length of the bars involved, it seems like these stats may be embiggened from zero to something in the department of twelve billion, so the choice of what to increase is likely a difficult one for many new players.

So here’s the Goggle Bob official Code of Princess strategy: don’t worry about it, you’re here to hit things.

Stats!

There are six different stats that may be increased. Let’s look at those. Speed is likely to catch your eye, but ignore it. This is an action game, and, unless you’re playing as Earl, you’re already fast enough to get around the screen and dodge attacks. If you weren’t, this would be a pretty lousy game, and no amount of pumping up that stat will eventually turn you into a teleporting monster. Then we’ve got Defense and Mind. Oh, this is one of those games where there’s a DEF and MDEF stat? Screw that noise. If you think you need to live longer to survive the battlefield, just pump those points into Vitality, the HP stat. That covers both bases, so if you encounter a magical or physical-based boss, you don’t have anything to worry about. Finally, there is Piety and Attack. Piety influences your magic attack, but magic is a consumable resource. You can run out of magic, and, even though it will eventually refill, what are you going to do if you’re facing the Black Knight, and you’ve got to wait for a recharge? Gesture rudely? Where’s your piety now? No, you want to pour all those points into Attack, because you can always swing your weapon around like a lunatic, and there’s no MP gauge for wholesale whacking.

So what have we learned? Put all those level up points into Vit and Attack, and call it a day.

Stats!
I got confused and added a little extra defense.

And this technique applies to other games, too! Look at any action game with level up choices, and then analyze what you “need” to win. Is this a game where there’s a regular attack and a limited special attack? Well, focus on that regular attack, because, unlike real life, in 90% of videogames, you don’t have to account for contingency plans. Yes, you might imagine there’s some world where you’ll eventually need your speed, magic attack, or charisma stat to do something, but, nope, nearly every videogame out there wants you to eventually win, and will not throw up an insurmountable brick wall because you didn’t acknowledge your piety. And, with the exception of a few WRPGs, attacking is the only way your digital avatar knows how to interact with his/her world, so screw everything else, it’s time to become the best swordsperson in the universe. Those increased murder stats might not be so useful once peacetime comes, but this ain’t Harvest Moon.

SpookySo the next time you’re faced with a choice in a videogame (and especially Code of Princess), stick to the bruiser path. You’ll find it’s the easiest way. It’s certainly the Goggle Bob way.

FGC #216 Code of Princess

  • System: 3DS, and then, mysteriously, a PC version. Guess that makes it a lot more likely to get some multiplayer going.
  • Number of players: Four? Two? I don’t know. I think it’s four, but I’ll probably have to get that PC version to score even a second player.
  • Rated T for Teen: This is somehow the second beat ‘em up with scantily clad heroines I’ve reviewed in recent memory. Code of Princess is slightly less overt about it than Dragon’s Crown… Well, assuming you ignore the fact that our princess is wearing the ol’ battle bikini. Necromancer Zozo is also pretty underdressed, but she’s supposed to be a literal walking corpse, so I think that only appeals to a distinct subset of viewers.
  • Tell me a story: Code of Princess appears to take place in a typical medieval magical land. However, it is eventually revealed that “our society” grew too decadent, so the gods introduced magic and monsters to the world to throw humanity off its ozone destroying ass. At the finale of the story, Princess Solange has the choice of destroying all magic (and potentially dooming humanity to the Information Age again), or letting it fester so an unstoppable evil can be reborn in a millennia or so. I’m guessing the canon is that she destroyed all magic, because Solange’s piety stat is atrocious.
  • Winners!Favorite Character: I rarely go straight for the title character, but Solange Blanchefleur de Lux’s preference for giant swords captured my heart. The sword is called DeLuxcalibur? That’s neat, now keep hitting things until they fall down.
  • Have a laugh: I also have to note that Code of Princess is a generally “funny” game. The voice acting is a big factor here, and I’m really quite glad for its English dub. Yes, some of the characters are annoying, but it’s all worth it for Zozo’s deadpan delivery of… everything.
  • Did you know? Like a certain other famous beat ‘em up, you can eventually unlock a playable version of practically every character in the game. Playing as the dragon sounds pretty impressive, but walking vegetables are available if that’s more your speed.
  • Would I play again: Probably not, unfortunately. I like this game, but its gameplay seems kind of limited, and I’m not going to spend all day trying to make the numbers go up on that battle nun until she’s a viable character. I’d certainly pick up Code of Princess 2, but until that’s available, I’ll probably play something else.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know! Why? Well, because… Oh, you get the idea. Please look forward to it!

Owie