On Poetry, Prose, and Videogames

JLawrence Kenny

Final Fantasy Favorites: Gameplay

on November 17, 2011

Arguably the most important aspect of any game is, as the name suggests, gameplay. Beautiful graphics, wonderful stories, everything else becomes pointless if the interactive portion of the game isn’t interesting to the gamer. Otherwise, you might as well just read a book or watch a movie. I’m not talking about the battle system here, however, since I feel that deserves an entire post to itself, but I will be going into as much of the interactive experience of Final Fantasy as I can, including things like World Maps, minigames, transportation, and even simple things like controls and talking to NPCs. Let’s get to it.

Looks kinda silly when Cloud is as big as a cliff.

Final Fantasy VII was the second-to-last FF game to utilize a fully traversable World Map screen. You could walk, ride, fly to any spot on the map and go wherever you wanted. It was a pretty cool system, but not really helpful for anything other than finding hidden dungeons, and became obsolete when technology evolved to the point where the entire world could be rendered to scale, leading to actual areas to traverse from one town to the next. All-in-all, you can ride a chocobo, a buggy, a boat, a skimmer/airship, a submarine, and an actual airship, the first four pretty much becoming unnecessary, with the exception of chocobos. In this game, you can actually breed chocobos, in the chance that you will wind up with a rare colored one, which is the only way to access certain hidden dungeons that contain super-powered items within. Personally, I found it to be MUCH too time-consuming, and rather unnecessary to beat the game when there was plenty of materia to go around. The game is also rife with minigames in the Golden Saucer area, literally dozens to play, but thankfully they are merely sidequests. None of them were very interesting to me, all too simplistic and dependant on chance unless you spend WAY too much time playing them. So like real arcades in that respect, I guess. Shops were available in nearly every town, but the wares they sold were usually pointless, and weaker than items you could find through random encounters. Controls were fairly simple, though camera angles and static background could sometimes make it difficult to see where your character was headed, where paths were located, or even what button to push in order to go a certain direction. It caused me to get stuck in certain areas much longer than should have been necessary, but didn’t detract too much, so it’s easy to let slide.

I could make an obvious gay joke here, but sports are already full of innuendo.

Final Fantasy X replaced the standard world map with an entire world in which every town was connected by full areas. As a result of this, the vehicles present in previous games disappeared except for chocobos and airships, and airship travel dropped you off at a specific point at your destination, rather than allowing free movement. Chocobos don’t really serve much purpose in this game, as they are only accessible in two places, and only one area has a chocobo-accessible hidden dungeon, though the treasure within, a trio of summons, is well worth the long and arduous journey to find and unlock. The airship is the main method of discovering hidden areas, as you can find passwords hidden across Spira that will give you coordinates to secret areas, or even by “searching” Spira via a minimap aboard the airship, all of which are powerful treasures. FFX is also home of quite possibly my favorite minigame/videogame sport of all time, Blitzball. It is basically an underwater version of rugby, but oh so much fun to play, mostly because of the numerous techniques you can use in it, from stealing your opponents’ health, to putting them to sleep, and even kicking the ball right in their face, giving you a clear shot to the goal. Shops were frequent until later in the game, where they become very sparse, but they almost always contain interesting wares. A traveling merchant named O’aka XXIII was your main shop, and always seemed to carry weapons and armor that you’d need to get through the next area easily. Suspicious. The increased graphics of the game compared to its predecessors influenced the camera and controls immensely, with a camera that frequently moved as the character progressed through an area, but unable to be controlled by the player. This was done to bring the gamer’s attention to the stunning artwork the game utilized, but the big drawback of this was that the controls for movement also followed the camera. Rather than being fixed as pressing up means you go north, pressing up would cause you to go directly up based on the camera position. While this might make sense, the fact that you could not control the camera meant that you had to keep adjusting the analog stick if you wished to continue in the same direction, and if you had to go behind something, the camera angle would shift dramatically, which sometimes results in going back and forth between the two angles as you attempt to figure out exactly which direction you need to go in order to actually GO.

Ugh, I hate lists.

Final Fantasy X-2 was the first FF game that was a direct sequel to a previous game, and so it has a lot in common with FFX. The transportation is the same, but unique in that the airship is available immediately upon the game start. This makes the world and story much more expansive; instead of being forced to follow the events that are going down, you can visit anywhere else on the map before moving forward with the story, except during Chapter 3. In fact, if you want to even have a chance of beating the game at all, you almost HAVE to go to every location and complete every sidequest. It can become a bit repetitive, but the game does a decent job of keeping the story related to the quests, so that you only know the whole story if you succeed in all the side missions. Blitzball undergoes a makeover, as the gamer finds themselves as more of a coach/manager than actually playing the game itself, which is a definite downgrade. I actually had to look up an online game guide just to figure out how the system worked, as the directions are rather vague, and the system itself is wildly irregular from character to character. It also includes another minigame known as “Sphere Break” which is all about, of all things, mathematics. You have to very quickly match up tiles that add up to a multiple of a number that the computer generates. It’s a fun, yet challenging, game to play, but completely optional to play, likewise with Blitzball. The control scheme properties are identical to FFX, but shops play a much smaller role, merely selling certain accessories, as weapons are dependent on character class. It makes much more sense just to explore the game thoroughly, as the items you find in the wild or through quests will ALWAYS be superior to anything you can find in a shop. FFX-2 also contains one of my favorite features in a videogame that is conspicuously absent from every other main title other than XII International; New Game Plus. Basically, you get to restart the game from the beginning, dropping back down to Level 1, but retaining all your items and class experience. I’m sure this was only possible with FFX-2 because of its significantly shorter plotline and the fact that the game is arranged in such a way that you can’t complete the game 100% unless you do literally everything there is to offer, but it’s still a wonderful game element I enjoy in games like Ratchet & Clank.

Half your time will be spent here. At least it looks pretty.

Final Fantasy XII utilizes the same map scheme and idea as FFX, with chocobos and airships, though the world is much more “civilized,” and therefore has a few extra features pegged onto it. First is the inclusion of commercial airships, a sort of ferry system among the major cities of the world, which is very useful in the early parts of the game, but loses its significance when you gain your own airship, which is much more flexible in terms of accessibility. There are no “hidden dungeons” as we would expect from the previous games, but rather dungeons that are always accessible but impossible to progress through at an early stage. Also present are Teleport Crystals, which allow instantaneous transportation between any other Crystals you have touched, if you have the necessary Teleport Stone to activate it. It is the primary mode of transportation throughout the game, which is very helpful considering the significant size of the world and its expansiveness. It’s much more realistic in that there are no straight lines from point A to point B. You are only given a general direction in which you need to travel, and immense maps to explore, trying to figure out how to get where you need to go. You can go almost anywhere whenever you want, unless the story is specifically preventing you from going to a certain place, usually an area with higher-level monsters. While realistic, this range of motion can sometimes be intimidating and confusing, as you have the tendency to get lost, especially on a first playthrough. Shops are TREMENDOUSLY important in this game, for while the most powerful weapons are only available through quests and treasures, they aren’t available until much MUCH later in the game, so for the first ¾ of the story, you are at the mercy of the merchants for your every need, from weapons to armour to magic and even “techniks.” You’ll spend quite a lot of time defeating mobs just to get loot from them to sell for money, though the game makes up for this with the bazaar, which offers items based on the loot you sell, usually at a reduced price. The controls in this game are on a completely different level from its predecessors, with completely player-controlled movement of both the characters and camera, which make progressing through the game much more fluid. A necessity considering the size of the game. There is a startling lack of minigames, however, limited to a fishing minigame and a running minigame, both of which are pointless and frustrating. Instead, we have hunts, where NPCs will post a bill for a particularly strong mob they wish eliminated. You accept the job, go kill the offending monster, and return for your reward, which consist of money and some other items.

Using the tormented souls of others as transport. Seems legit.

Final Fantasy XIII decided to completely break with the other FF games in terms of transportation. Aside from a few brief trips in airships, which you never control, you are relegated exclusively to foot travel throughout the worlds of Pulse and Cocoon. The only method of transportation are available only on Pulse in the form of chocobos and Cie’th teleport stones, but even these are not accessible until the post-game. While the highly linear structure of the maps and story means you really don’t need any other transportation anyway, it is rather disappointing to be missing some of the standard things that the FF series is known for. Shops are available at every save point, but depending on your play style, you probably won’t find much use for them at all, since every item can usually be found in treasure chests along your path. As I mentioned, the maps are very straightforward, basically pushing you along a straight path between storyline events. The game has received much criticism for this linearity, but I felt it really contributed to the plot, as it emphasized the feeling of the characters’ inescapable fate, and the fact that their time was limited. Like FFXII, FFXIII includes the same control and camera schemes, making it easy to move around the maps, as well as absolutely NO minigames of any kind, though the hunts were still present in a slightly different form. A big difference between FFXIII and the other games in the series was interaction with NPCs. There are very few instances when your characters can talk to people outside of your party, but when they do show up, rather than having to press a button to talk to them, brushing up against them causes you to hear what they’re saying, more eavesdropping on their conversations than actually interacting.

This category is a bit difficult for me to choose a victor, but in the end I would probably have to pick FFXII. It’s expansive world and highly realistic portrayal of the world in its gameplay design was easily the most entertaining for me, even despite its lack of fun minigames. The ability to go anywhere and do anything at almost any time is a great feeling, and the hunts give you plenty to do if you feel like taking a break from the main storyline. The teleport crystals make it easy to travel, which makes the enormous world easier to handle, and though the ability to get lost can be frustrating at times, you’re never lost for too long. FFX came in a close second, due mostly to the fun of the Blitzball minigame, but in the end, the freedom of FFXII in both play and controls won over my heart better. Round 1 goes to FFXII.

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3 responses to “Final Fantasy Favorites: Gameplay

  1. AzureNova says:

    My favorite Final Fantasies are: Final Fantasy 7, 8, 10, 10-2, 12, and 13 at the moment. Final Fantasy 13-2 looks to be very good too.

  2. […] credits: Beecher Law (stock), On Poetry, Prose, and Videogames, Joystick […]

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