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Re: Final Fantasy Megathread
Old 06-24-2020, 10:53 AM   #241
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Default Re: Final Fantasy Megathread

Something interesting about X this go around is that while I have been enticed into doing some of the extra sidequest content for most of these games, that was not true for X. I love the story, the characters, the battle system. I even enjoy the Sphere Grid. But everything outside of that primary story experience and gameplay trail just is not fun or interesting or rewarding.

One major part of the problem is there isn't a lot of incentive to explore. Getting around the world is a pain due to the way it is designed. With no sense of overworld and everything being a straight line, more or less, from beginning to end it makes travelling backwards much more trouble than previous games. The story as well disincentivizes this by having a clear goal and the only way to get there is to constantly move forward. This works great when experiencing the main story itself, but to break off and do anything extra it feels like you have to rebel against the world a little more than in other games. And, of course, you don't get an airship (which in this game just functions as a set of warp points) until just before the final dungeon. This timing wouldn't be a problem itself as you don't an airship until near the end in most FF games, but this is really only method you have to go back to previous areas without spending hours walking down a single path fighting random battles (and then again going back).

Maybe this would be fine except all or most of the side activities are terrible and the objectives needed in order to get the legendary weapons are insane. The lightning "game" is the prime example. There's nothing to really figure out. Its not particularly a test of skill. There is no entertainment factor to it. It is a test only of your patience.

Comparatively, XII takes a much nicer approach to side activities, primarily hunts. Not only are they fun and interesting to battle these monsters, but traveling is so much easier. From nearly the beginning of the game you have access to warp points to easily get to different places. The world is also designed around a single city, Rabanastre, as kind of a central hub so even without the warp points its not too difficult to walk from place to place, particularly considering you can avoid enemies if you choose.

*****

On a separate point, I don't know if I ever really noticed just how big of a leap visually the series went from X to XII. I mean, I knew XII looked better as to be expected comparing an early console lifecycle game to a late lifecycle game, but still, wow. I'm playing the HD rereleases of each game and the improvement in character animations is really astounding. Facial animations particularly stands out. X was obviously trying to animate the 3D face models for facial expressions. I think XII might be be using subtle texture changes to simulate expressions? Either way, it allows for surprisingly nuanced performances from the character models.

I'm also generally a defender of the voice acting in X as the issues mainly stem from sound design and localization issues rather than the acting itself, but without those sound design and localization issues, there's not doubt that the performances in XII are allowed to stand out as a much more positive aspect of the game's story in XII.

*****

So far I still probably overall prefer X to XII based on the story and characters; I'm also more a fan of the turn based battle system to XII's Gambit system, but there's no denying XII was a big leap for the series in multiple ways.
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Re: Final Fantasy Megathread
Old 06-29-2020, 01:00 PM   #242
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Final Fantasy XII tries really hard to have a more grounded story than prior FF games. It is Final Fantasy through a A Song of Ice and Fire lens. The main events of the story of this game occur without our party's involvement, really. Our characters spend the whole game just trying to buy-in to the game of thrones and don't really accomplish much; what little they do is almost immediately taken away in most circumstances. It is a bold move and could have paid off really well, but unfortunately the game is clearly uncomfortable exploring this narrative space and falls apart as you look closer.

The characters are bland. Balthier has charisma and maybe Vaan you could say has a personality, but everyone else are very unremarkable. Either they have no interesting features, like Penelo, or they have their one scene and then fade into the background causing the player to question what purpose they really serve in the story other than placeholder, like Basch. Even our villain is only remarkable for how bland and uninteresting he is. Vayne is set up as maybe being just a politician playing the game (seemingly successfully), but it falters in finding a place for him in our characters' stories. For a story like this to work - a story where our main party is only a bit player in the grand scheme of things - it has to be focused on characters and it has be focused on character based goals and this game just does not rise to that. Look to almost any other post NES Final Fantasy game and you'll find better character work than Final Fantasy XII.

The game almost seems to realize this as when it tries to find some sort of satisfying conclusion it falls back on the typical Final Fantasy end-of-the-world-our-characters-are-gods scenario. All of the sudden our seemingly cool-headed, politically minded (if ruthless) villain is a megalomaniacal supervillain with otherworldly powers and deific support. Suddenly our party is the sole hope for saving Ivalice in an epic battle that transcends reality.

The saving grace of Final Fantasy XII is that it does provide a more fully realized world to play in than prior games and is much more interesting to explore and complete side objectives than the prior single player effort: FFX. The Gambit system is more interesting to fiddle about with now that I'm older and have just a smidge of programming knowledge. The Zodiac job system introduced in the more recent re-release is fun. I especially like you can re-spec without issue freeing the player up from analysis paralysis and just letting you fiddle about without concern of wasting hours of playtime. It is really fun to play, but the narrative behind it falls short of just about every other FF game.

I've started FFXIII just yesterday and the contrast between these games is, of course, immediately apparent. It is the first time I played FFXIII since the first time I played FFXIII, so I'm interested in revisiting it, but I also recall not liking it very much at all. We'll see how it goes.
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Re: Final Fantasy Megathread
Old 07-06-2020, 06:55 PM   #243
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Default Re: Final Fantasy Megathread

Not done with XIII, but I think I'm close. I did not enjoy XIII the first and most recent time I played it back in 2010 (which kicked off the marathon back in the day). Now most of way through it again I still don't think I particularly enjoy it, but maybe I "don't enjoy it" a little less than I did back then.

The weird thing about FFXIII is that it yearns to be an action game and kind of feels like they made an action game, realized that Final Fantasy's are meant to be RPGs, and threw on an RPG skin over the action game. Combat is ostensibly turn based, but it actually flows like an action game. This creates some dynamic battles visually, but comes off really weird from a gameplay perspective. Big example is when your party leader dies it is game over. Anyone else dies they can revived via Phoenix Down or magic like every other game, but if the party leader dies it is done. This makes no sense from a storytelling perspective or an RPG perspective. The party leader can be anybody and is as your work your way through the story. There's no particular narrative reason why when Hope takes over for 5 minutes Lightning can't toss a Phoenix Down at him if he falls like she could when she was party leader two screens back. Gameplay wise, it really only makes sense from an action game perspective. jRPGs we're used to being able to revive anyone who dies (or is "knocked out" or whatever) in battle through magic or items or whatever. In an action game, though, if your main (and generally, only) character dies that is it.

Of course, there is also the oft discussed linearity of the game. Inevitably brought up in those conversations is, of course, that Final Fantasy games in general tend to be actually linear when you break it down. Without going down the rabbit hole of what "linearity" actually means, I think honestly the main issue with FFXIII is pacing more than linearity. It is just battle after battle after battle. There are little to no breaks or variety. And the battles blend together. There are some interesting ideas in the Paradigm system and honestly I've had fun with it. But when you get past 20 hours of doing the same thing over and over and over again it starts to get really stale. Action games can be non-stop action because they also tend to be short. In remembering this is meant to be an RPG, SE designed this game to be at least a couple of dozen hours if not more.

From a storytelling perspective I think I'm more engaged than I was last time. That's really what is keeping me pushing through is the story. I don't love it, but I am interested in experiencing it again with a slightly more positive outlook on it. That said, there are definitely some points in the game where it is narratively dishonest which is very frustrating and also a little sloppy in revealing some details. But, overall, I think I dig the cast more than I did originally and am invested in re-experiencing how it ends (which I'm not sure i particularly remember).

I hope to be done with it this week. I'll jump back into XIV for a bit to go through the (I think) 5.25 content I haven't got to yet in preparation for the delayed 5.3 content. May fiddle about and level my dragoon maybe, dunno. After that XV. I bought the Windows Edition that comes with all the fixins, so I plan to do that and watch the movie and stuff beforehand as well. See if that improves my perception of the story at all.
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Re: Final Fantasy Megathread
Old 07-12-2020, 01:03 PM   #244
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Nope, couldn't do it. Spent a couple of days choosing to do other things than play XIII. When I finally got myself to jump back into it after a while I just felt grumpy and frustrated that I was playing it. Clearly I wasn't enjoying myself. The pacing, I think, is really the thing. The repetition is one thing, of course, but also the battles just take too long and too much effort? They're not hard, but you can't just blow your past most of them. In most FF games the random/usual battles are over pretty quick - a round or two. Those are meant to be more of a war of attrition making sure you can survive the gauntlet and through to the boss. If you run into really challenging enemies you've ever gone into an area too early or maybe you're in the final dungeon.

I think the way XIII battle system is designed they were kind of forced to make the random battles more substantial in order to prevent concerns that the game just played itself (which was a concern with XII's Gambit system, if you recall, but of course with XIII you don't even have that Gambit preparation). You only can provide direct orders to the party leader (although "Auto-Battle" seems pretty encouraged); nothing for the other two characters in the battle. The only influence you have overall is Paradigm system where you choose what roles each character plays. For that system to come into play, you have to have a reason to swap roles mid-battle and to give a reason to do that I think SE felt forced to make generic battles longer and more involved than they had been traditionally.

The system itself, honestly, can be fun. I had fun with it with boss battles and in earlier portions of the game, but when you're fighting more or less the same battle with the same pattern for the 50th+ time it starts to wear really thin.

There are also smaller frustrations with the system being quasi-real time in a turn-based shell that by themselves can be forgiven or ignored, but again when you're encountering them near every battle so many times over a 40+ hour experience those small pet peeves become real aggravations eventually. Thinking about how, like, enemies have attacks that affect an AOE. They swipe a claw and any character in the path of that claw will take damage. Presumably, this would be part of a system where you have to strategically position your characters to avoid attacks like these. Except you don't have any direct control over where your characters go and they sure like to bunch up together. Maybe you could switch to ranged spells to keep out of reach, but the characters won't necessarily back off and, again, they tend to bunch together needlessly. The game would say get a Sentinel on the field to draw the enemy attacks, but when your other character refuse to break away from the Sentinel everybody gets hit anyway. Things like this don't happen every battle and it doesn't always impact the end result (with everyone going back to full strength at the end of battles), but over that 40+ hour game it happens enough.

I think if they had cut down the amount of "random" battles dramatically and focused on fewer, more strategic battles rather than dozens of drawn out peons every chapter the pacing would be much improved and the game much more enjoyable.

******

Doesn't address the story issues, though. I was feeling a little more positive on the story in my last post, but push a little further ahead and ran into some further narrative issues that played a part in my not wanting to push through and finish the game.

So, the first and maybe biggest concern I have is the Sazh suicide fakeout. The narrative is deliberately deceitful here for no purpose other than to artificially and briefly heighten the drama. It is cheap and it pulls me out of the game more than draws me in. A reminder of the scene:

After finding out some heavy info about the fate of his son, Sazh puts a gun to his head, the screen goes blank, and there's a bang. By itself this scene is whatever. Its a play for emotions and pretty obvious that Sazh didn't likely actually shoot himself when you take that scene as is. An moderately experienced audience is going to recognize the narrative trick for what it is, but its whatever. However, immediately following is a somber scene showing the bad guys carrying Sazh off in a coffin. This narratively confirms he is dead. It comes off as almost a play on narrative tropes. Like it wanted you to think it was faking you out, but then said "No, we went there." This would be kind of impressive if that were the case. Problematic a bit that the only Black character (and only second Black character in FF after Barrett, I think?) would be the one to kill himself, but the idea of a party member committing suicide is new territory and heavy stuff.

But then, just a few scenes alter, we see Sazh alive and well and a brief flashback explaining he was only knocked unconscious by some other character. This is deceitful and manipulative. Acknowledging that deceit and manipulation are legitimate tools to use narratively, these are not used effectively or with good intentions. There is no benefit to believing that Sazh is dead for 15 minutes. None of the characters are under the impression that he's dead. The people present during that scene see that he doesn't kill himself, and nobody else experiences that moment in the same way we the audience do. It changes nothing. It means nothing. It is wasted.

That puts a bitter taste in my mouth and it really stuck with me after my initial playthrough. It was the first time I was thinking I didn't like the game originally, but knowing it was coming I was trying to forgive it this time and find things to appreciate it.

However, the second piece that really rubs me wrong narratively is the drama around Vanille and Fang and their history. They were from the "enemy", Pulse, and supposedly completed their mission centuries ago and placed into stasis. They awoke recently which is the backstory that kicks off the game's events. Throughout most of the game, they each state they don't remember what happened centuries ago or what their focus was. They're not just saying this to the rest of the team, they're saying this to each other.

There is a "Datalog", like an ingame encyclopedia about the world and characters. I remember the first time I played the game I received an update to the Datalog and found under Vanille's entry new information that she had turned into Ragnarok 600 years ago and heavily damaged Cocoon. This was big info and it was new and it was delivered via an encyclopedia entry rather than in the story itself. And then the characters all acted like they knew this information, no big deal. Then plot twist! It was revealed in the story that actually Fang had turned into Rangarok. I hated this. It felt, again, like a false plot twist. I wouldn't have known that Vanille was suddenly claiming about being Ragnarok except I looked in the datalog. It felt lazy and the twist felt untrue since the datalog presented the lie as fact - not a story that was being told by Vanille.

In the years since, I learned there is an optional cutscene where Vanille lies about being Ragnarok. I questioned why this would be optional, but okay. I was resolved ot make sure I saw that scene and see the story unfold as it was meant to be. Unfortunately, the Datalog still updates before that scene is available and reveals (in a factual manner) that Vanille was Ragnarok. Okay, I said, they made a mistake and unlocked that Datalog entry early. Let's find the scene. So I found the scene and it was... nothing? I mean, a scene is there, but Vanille only casually mentions it. This should be a big plot reveal and its treated like offhand information. I was still left with the impression that I was missing something and it pulled me right out of the narrative.

And again I got to the scene where the truth is revealed, but it fell flat again, maybe even harder this time, because this whole secret and plot twist is just thrown out there without any weight or heft. We don't know the info long enough to be impacted by the fact it was a lie. It, again, feels like false drama rather than just telling the story.

*****

So, frustrated with the game and no longer really enjoying myself I decided to stop with XIII and move on. I ended up deciding not to get back into XIV right now. I'd really end up just fiddling about. I'm not spending another 6 months going through the story lol. So, I'm jumping ahead to XV.

I remember enjoying XV overall, but having some concerns with the story - this time using the narrative as a hook to get the player to buy DLC and a movie. I guess it worked because I bought the Windows Edition which comes with all that. I also didn't get into the anime and movie when it originally came out. This time I watched the anime, Brotherhood, and the movie, Kingsglaive, hoping they'll provide a little more context to the story I didn't have the first time. The anime was good. I liked the shorter episodes focused on the characters. The party is the strongest aspect of XV, so it was nice to see a little more of their backgrounds.

The movie is not good. It looks really good and its fun that the action scenes kind of looked like a cinematic version of how the game actually plays, but I didn't care anything about the movie specific characters. It did provide some background to stuff that I didn't have before. I started the game and have gotten into Chapter 2. The end of chapter 1 is when they show a brief clipshow of the movie that provides basically no info. Its like a trailer. I remember being confused and having to read a wiki on the events of the movie (refused to watch it then out of principle). I don't feel confused this time, so that's nice.

Its still early but I feel a lot better playing XV than I did XIII, so looking forward to continuing through it.
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Re: Final Fantasy Megathread
Old 07-25-2020, 09:09 PM   #245
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Alright, look: Final Fantasy XV has some clear issues with how SE chose to tell the story. It is incredibly frustrating that to really understand the story being told you need to shell out for a movie and some DLC. The DLC piece has been somewhat corrected with the Royal and Windows editions that people coming into it now are likely to purchase. It all comes with, but even then the main game still has gaping holes where you need to back out to a menu and choose to play a disconnected chapter to get insight into the story (and those who haven't played before and/or aren't following some kind of guide won't know to do this [and, in fact, the game discourages this by saying you should finish the game before playing these chapters {which is a really silly decision since each one of the companion's DLC pieces indicates in them exactly when they'd be experienced in the story }]).

And, yeah, the part of the game where it railroads you (literally) to the end is a bit jarring if you don't expect that.

With all that said, knowing the game's idiosyncrasies already and with some of the improvements added to more recent editions of the game, Final Fantasy XV is... well maybe not great because of these issues but I think its really good. Far and beyond my favorite non-MMO modern Final Fantasy. When I first played the game on its release, I did not watch the movie and of course the DLC Episodes were not out yet. I was very, very ambivalent on the game. I enjoyed playing it a lot more than XIII, but I was very bitter about some of the narrative delivery choices that were made.

This time I did go out of my way to watch Kingsglaive and Brotherhoord. I played Episodes Gladiolus, Prompto, and Ignis at appropriate points in the main game. I knew in advance of when the game would propel me forward at max speed towards the conclusion. The game has been updated to improve some parts of the game that dragged the worst and added in some new stuff to improve the experience. This time I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

I would prefer if the narrative were packaged into one single experience. If they want to have Kingsglaive to flesh that out more that's fine, but the game should do more to provide the necessary details to a player who hasn't experienced the film (which is for the best - the movie ain't good). The DLC Episodes could have fit into the main narrative with probably not that much tweaking. There's space for it. If these things were done from the outset I think FFXV really could have stood out as one of more grandiose video games in terms of narrative, but now it just kind of feels disjointed if epic.

Despite these shortcomings, it is vastly superior to XIII in just about every way. XII is closer and provides a smoother, more whole experience. But some of its choices pull it away some from feeling like a Final Fantasy. Just about everything I enjoy from XIII is present in XV with a grander, if more disjointed narrative, more sympathetic characters, and more exciting gameplay. XV just also really feels like Final Fantasy in a way that XII and XIII don't capture.

*****************

Regarding series structure, I've settled on the grand eras of Final Fantasy being I - IX as the Classic Era and X - XV as the modern era. Having gone through the whole series back to back (minus the MMOs), I just don't feel comfortable arguing X as part of the classics anymore. In retrospect, while I enjoy X a lot it just really feels a lot more like the more modern titles than the older titles in the way the narrative and gameplay is structured.

(don't ask me which I prefer between X and XV right now, BTW, I'm super conflicted)

If you want to break it down further I would say that I - V are clearly OG Final Fantasy. With maybe the exception of II, these titles build on one another and are clearly building on each other as part of the same series despite the stories being disconnected from each other. VI - IX take the series into a more cinematic era and break away from the generic fantasy setting into more sci-fi and modern settings (with IX being an exception here as a marriage of the cinematic quality of the later games to the more classic themes of the older games; it encapsulates what Final Fantasy was at that time and is a perfect capstone to the Classic Era).

The modern games don't fit so neatly together chronologically as they swing wildly from game to game. However, I do think disparate games pair well together. X and XIII have a lot in common in their world structure and character building design. XII and XV both chase after open worlds with lots of side content with larger scope narratives. XI and XIV are... both MMOs? I really haven't played a lot of XI so I can't speak in detail on it, but I think being MMOs itself is enough to pair those together.

**********

So, anyway, now I'm done. I - XV minus the MMOs (although I'm about to boot up XIV to play around in that and make sure I'm ready to 5.3 in a couple of weeks). Not sure what I'm going to do with my time now. The COVID situation is worse in my state than it has ever been, so its not like its time to go out and see the sun yet. I have been feeling Assassin's Creed lately, but I don't know if I have it in me to marathon the whole series.

I dunno, we'll see. Maybe its time for a quick FPS or something.
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Re: Final Fantasy Megathread
Old 09-18-2020, 10:20 AM   #246
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Default Re: Final Fantasy Megathread

FINAL FANTASY XVI
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