Tag Archives: final fantasy

Wild Arms 3 Part 13 Interlude: The Last JRPG

What are they thinking?As of Chapter 1 finishing, let us enjoy a brief interlude on the nature of Wild Arms 3. And we shall do this on July 25, Scarecrow Day. In Elw architecture, scarecrows are commonly placed on rooftops in place of weathercocks. But it was rumored to bring bad luck among non-Elws and slowly went out of style. A scarecrow slowly rotting away into dust is a sad sight.

Controversial statement: they do not make JRPGs anymore.

So here is how I’ve always seen the evolution of the JRPG. You start with Dragon Warrior/Quest. You move over to Final Fantasy. Over the span of the Nintendo Entertainment System, Final Fantasy evolves out of sight of Americans from simple nonsense with six characters (who must only be four characters) to a sprawling story of flying continents and children working multiple vocations just to make (airship) ends meet. Over in Dragon land, we actually saw the evolution from Hero venturing out alone into the wilderness, to gaining a party of companions, to gaining more “job” options than you could shake a Falcon Blade at, and finally reaching Dragon Warrior/Quest 4. That final title seems relevant, as in addition to utilizing all the advantages that had been granted to its forebearers, Dragon Warrior 4 told an epic, chapter-based story that included memorable, distinct characters all living their best lives in defiance of a hellish (but maybe misunderstood!) villain. While there are inevitably other examples, let us use 1990’s Dragon Quest 4 as the benchmark for how JRPG went from “inhabit these heroes and guide them on their quest” to something more akin to “sure, saving the world is great, but wouldn’t you like to know what happens next for your good buddy Torneko Taloon?”


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And then, a year later, we had Final Fantasy 4. Far beyond Dragon Quest 4, FF4 was the ceiling for videogame storytelling. The world is in danger! But so is your hero’s girlfriend! Brother is betraying brother! People are dying! And, even more important than said story was that all of this action was presented with… action. The twins make their noble sacrifice while the walls are actively closing in on you (and later battles remind you how difficult it is to fight a wall). Yang is blasted into amnesia while frantically trying to stop a cannon manned by goblins. And Cid does not simply lay a few charges to close the entrance to the underground, he actively jumps out of an airship and detonates his bearded ass. In short, whereas JRPGs and videogames in general had had dramatic moments before, Final Fantasy 4 went out of its way to present a story that was, more often than not, actively including as many explosions as possible.


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And then, in 1997, we got to Final Fantasy 7. After a console generation of JRPG luminaries (in multiple ways), Final Fantasy 7 could be presented as the pinnacle of the genre. Ignore the remake (as good as it may be), and go back and play OG FF7. Marvel at how much and how often something happens. You cannot so much as traipse through a forgotten mountain pass without having a brief discussion on chocobo hair. And while Tifa is talking to Cloud about grooming tips, there is movement. There are great graphics (for the era, natch). There are gorgeous environments. Combine these elements, and you are continually presented with an engaging story that incidentally has an amazing presentation. Final Fantasy 7 was primarily remembered for its FMVs, but it is the minute-to-minute performance that keeps a player engaged across three discs.


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But by the time the Playstation 2 rolled into living rooms, the great divergence occurred. On one hand, you had Final Fantasy 10…


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Final Fantasy 10 was, for all intents and purposes, a playable movie. There was voice acting. There was motion capture. And the end result is something that is just as engaging as a movie… because it basically is a movie. And, starting in 2001, if your company was making a JRPG, you had the choice to make that playable movie. You could chase the JRPG zeitgeist, and, whether you were continuing the Xeno-franchise or recruiting Studio Ghibli into your production, you could make a Hollywood blockbuster out of your JRPG. The only downside to this was that it cost more than a couple of bucks to make such a thing presentable. If you didn’t feel like doing that…


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The above was a possibility. Or this


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Hell, you could even see it happen in real time as the Xenosaga franchise gradually lost its budget…


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Now, is either way right or wrong? I am not going to make that determination. Personally, I have issues with getting bored by the “talking heads” of recent Persona titles, and, when they make the jump to action games (like the fighting, rhythm, and “strikers” spin offs), I find the text crawl downright insulting. I am playing a videogame! Please limit your visual novels to 30 seconds between levels! It worked for Ninja Gaiden! You can have these idiots talk a little less if they are going to be effectively motionless while I am supposed to…

Er-hem.

I said I am not going to judge which is better. Persona or similar titles may have presentation issues when they are just throwing static text at a player, but these games are also 80-hour experiences that would not be able to exist if they required full-on mocap for every conversation about how we’ll never discover the true identity of the killer who is probably not standing right over there oh wait he is that is super convenient. Videogames are amazing pieces of art that are also beholden to investors, budgets and deadlines. I would rather have Bravely Default in my life than a “coming soon” JPEG and a thousand twitter followers conjecting how the real Bravely Default will become Final Fantasy 22 and Nomura will never tell us why.

But as far as the “movie” JRPGs? They’re great! They are fun, interactive stories that often include other ways to wring amazing gameplay out of a giant budget. Final Fantasy 15 may have created a “Cindy” that exists exclusively in the world of swimsuit model motion capture, but each of the boys were very controllable when cruising around Insomnia’s outer rim. I have absolutely no qualms stating that JRPGs can be good if they are using “movie” presentation or “static text” presentations.

But JRPGs seem to have completely forsaken the middle ground of their ancestors. They don’t make ‘em like Wild Arms 3 anymore.

Wild Arms 3 is a very text-based game. This is not simply a matter of noting that no one is voice acting this dialogue, what is significant is that, as the game progresses, we will experience any number of info dumps that feature discussions on imaginary biology, planetary conquest, and (everyone’s favorite PS2 plot MacGuffin) nanomachines. In other words, Wild Arms 3 is filled to the brim with the kind of nonsense that causes people to disparage Kingdom Hearts or the Xeno franchise. But something important happens here! There is direction!


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There is movement!


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There is stuff happening!

And there are a lot of little things that not only would be impossible on older videogame systems, but also unlikely to appear in later, “better” productions. As an obvious example, Jet Enduro is an aloof jerk of a character, and barely says a word through much of Chapter 1. But you know everything you need to know by seeing this…


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He is the exact kind of jackass that would put his shoes on the table. What is Jet’s mood right now? The simple act of sticking his boots over his head tells you everything you need to know. And you know that when the shoes hit the ground…


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Something has hit the fan, and it ain’t pretty.

And it feels like we don’t get this kind of direction anywhere nowadays. Wild Arms 3 is the perfect middle ground between “we have more options than simple sprites that turn their heads” and “full on cinematic masterpiece”, and there are very few games that have ever occupied that space. Ultimately, you could describe several “classic” JRPGs as something almost like puppet shows: a middle ground between full-on acting and static talking heads. And looking back from the present when puppets have been forsaken for literally any other kind of presentation, Wild Arms 3 is one of the best puppet shows out there.

Wild Arms 3 is a beautiful unicorn in a field full of donkeys and horses, so keep an eye out for that horn as things progress into the next chapters…


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Next time on Wild Arms 3: Back to the Let’s Play proper as we head to the wrong side of the tracks.

FGC #627.2 Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

This article contains spoilers for not only Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, but also potentially the entire Final Fantasy franchise. It won’t get too nuts, but if you don’t want to know a certain location exists in a certain game, and if that location has any plot relevance, I wouldn’t keep reading. You have been warned!

This is not a placeStranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin has one very important thing going for it: it is an enormous love letter to the Final Fantasy franchise. With the exception of a few “plot” stages, every level in SoP:FFO is based on a different locale from a different Final Fantasy game. And that is amazing! You’re looking at 35 years of videogame locations! From castles to caves to whateverthehell was happening in Final Fantasy 15! It’s neat!

But, as a tremendous nerd and 35-year-old critic of the Final Fantasy franchise (uh, to be clear, I am not 35, but I have been a critic of Final Fantasy as long as it has existed) I, naturally, have opinions about the various locations chosen to represent various Final Fantasy titles. Were these good picks to be representative of their attendant games? Are these good choices independent of nostalgia? Does anything in this game make a lick of sense? Let’s answer these questions on a game by game, level by level basis.

Note that this list will be going in order of Final Fantasy game featured. Actual level order is an entirely other thing. Please be as confused as possible.

Stage 1: Illusion at Journey’s End
Location: Chaos Shrine
Origin: Final Fantasy (1)

It is chaos out thereConcept: Stranger of Paradise is a kinda sorta remake of Final Fantasy, so it is only natural the game starts with Final Fantasy’s first ever dungeon: the Temple of Fiends. Oh! And the final boss of the area is Garland (after a fashion)! That is as Final Fantasy as it gets!

Does it work for SoP? This is absolutely a ruined temple (of Fiends!) filled with monsters, which is all you really need from a Strangers of Paradise stage. There are enough decomposing balconies and collapsing turrets to justify something more complex than a straight line, but the layout is still recognizable enough that you won’t easily get lost. And there is at least one cactuar running around, so there’s everything a stranger could want.

Does it represent its parent game? Going to give this one a “yes”, too. The defining characteristic of Final Fantasy’s Temple of Fiends is that it was clearly the crappiest temple in the world (but looked pretty alright a solid 2,000 years back), and we’ve got a similar architectural flare going on here. The Temple of Fiends is meant to be the trojan horse of adventure for the Final Fantasy franchise, and it serves the exact same “more to it than it seems” function in 2022. Good job, Level One! Now let’s move on to Final Fantasy 2…

FGC #627.1 Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

The Wild Arms 3 LP will be back and continuing next week. Right now I need to talk about Stranger of Paradise for reasons that are likely related to brain damage. Also, this article contains spoilers for Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. The plot is vaguely incomprehensible anyway, but, ya know, if you don’t want to be spoiled on a game that came out like a month ago, just go ahead and read one of the 600 other articles on the site. Thank you for listening.

Eat it, ChaosStranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin has finally refined the genre with one simple trick: the perfect protagonist for a JRPG is a complete idiot.

Alright, this humble blogger must admit that is not quite right. For one thing, SoP:FFO is not a JRPG. It is an action game with significant JRPG elements. If you attempt to play this game with a typical JRPG mindset, you will watch your not-so-humble protagonist die. A lot. You cannot simply “trade blows” when you are facing a mad ogre in this Final Fantasy universe, and you must dodge, parry, and properly back-attack if you want to stand a chance. Learning exactly how to utilize your weapons is a must, and it is pretty clear early on why magic as we know it is a limited resource. Here’s a hint: if you can lob fireballs from a great distance away from your opponent, you are less a wizard, and more of a sniper. Gotta tape those superpowers down in an action game! And, to be clear, this is a departure from Final Fantasy 15, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, or even Kingdom Hearts. Those are more action-JRPG affairs, a storied tradition that traces back to waiting for 100%s on your action gauge in Secret of Mana. This is an action title, where “using a potion” is less of an inevitability, and more of a sign that you are choking in your battle duties. You should have been able to take down those wolves without getting hit, Jack! Are you sure you’re cut out to be a Warrior of Light?

But, as much as SoP:FFO is an action game, the plot and general framing is definitely a JRPG. That is as it should be, as this whole story is a loose adaption of Final Fantasy (1), the granddaddy of all JRPGs that do not involve compulsive gambling. This is the world that involves Cornelia, a dark elf prince, and exactly one named pirate. The ultimate threat is that same as in 1987, too, as the Four Fiends are menacing the primal elements of the planet, and, if four (or so) Light Warriors don’t get off their collective duffs immediately, the whole world is going to rot and/or burn. So world travel is on the menu, and every monster has to be stomped from here to the Sunken Shrine. Save us all, person with four letters in their name!

But Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is no mere HD remake of Final Fantasy…

FGC #605 Curses ‘N Chaos

Let's rockSometime around the 14th century, the Black Death was ravaging the European population. Given this highly lethal plague was on everybody’s mind (how could we ever hope to understand?), this seems to have been the time that the anthropomorphism of Death manifested in the public consciousness. As anyone that has ever visited a Spirit Halloween is aware, Death is generally visualized as a skeleton in a black robe wielding scythe. To elaborate for anyone from a foreign culture, the scythe is supposed to symbolize the literal harvesting of souls, and the skeletal body is supposed to be symbolize how bones are scary. Beyond that, ol’ Death is a pretty fundamental part of Western culture, and it is unlikely anyone reading this has missed his familiar iconography.

But what does it mean when Death makes an appearance in a videogame? Well, let us look at how Death has worked his digital magic through the years.

1984
Paperboy

Midway Games
Arcade

Throw some papersWhat’s happening here: Near as we can tell, the first appearance of an active Death in a videogame was in Paperboy. A grim reaper is one of the many, many obstacles that this young boy must face on his way to delivering newspapers to the least appreciative neighborhood on the planet.

Describe your Death: We have a traditional black cloak and scythe here, though it is difficult to tell if we are dealing with a legitimate skeleman. One would suppose this emphasizes the “unknown” nature of Death.

What does it all mean? 1984 was a time for “suburbs fear”, wherein parents were convinced razors were being hidden in Halloween candy, and a scary man in a trench coat was assumed to be on every corner. It was all total nonsense, but it does explain why one would expect to see Death out and menacing an innocent paperboy. Everything wants to kill our innocent young paperboy, why would Death themself be any different?

1985
Gauntlet

Midway Games
Arcade

BEHOLD DEATHWhat’s happening here: Death is one of the many monsters that stalks the world of Gauntlet. They will drain 100 health from a hapless adventurer, and is resistant to all attacks, save the mighty magic bomb. They are not a common creature, but they are a threat every time they appear.

Describe your Death: OG Gauntlet is not exactly known for its huge, expressive sprites, but Death at least has the ol’ black cloak here. If you were to claim this Death was a ninja, you wouldn’t have to change a single thing about their appearance.

What does it all mean? In 1983, Patricia Pulling founded Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD), and significantly contributed to the myth that Dungeons and Dragons was seducing our innocent children to the dark side. This led to years of general concern over D&D, so it was only natural that Death would be haunting dungeons in 1985 videogames. It’s Death! They will kill you! Because of what you are doing! Stay out of fantasy realms, children!

1986
Castlevania

Konami
Nintendo Entertainment System

Sorry SimonWhat’s happening here: Death’s multiple appearances in the Castlevania franchise may be the most iconic in gaming, and it all started here. You can’t have a decent Castlevania game without Death! Eat it, Haunted Castle, you barely get a Frankenstein.

Describe your Death: Skeleton? Check. Scythe? Check. Black cloak? Well… Death has decided to go with something more fuchsia here, but we’re going to allow it. NES color palettes are not kind to classical iconography.

What does it all mean? We will address Death as a greater presence in the franchise soon enough, but this Death is little more than one of many “movie monster” bosses in his first appearance. Apparently he was just a dude in a pink costume going by the pseudonym of Belo Lugosi. That is almost a real person’s name!

1986 also had another familiar Grim Reaper…