I thought it about time I wrote a proper Final Fantasy post, seeing I used to describe my blog as being about “Final Fantasy, RPGs, and more”.
This post comes off the back of my having finished Final Fantasy V quite recently. Whilst playing through that game I got to thinking, what is it about the Final Fantasy series that I love? The series is pretty formulaic but for some reason, it just works for me, despite the many things that actually irritate me.
It’s probably a good idea to give you my Final Fantasy background. I cut my teeth on Final Fantasy VII, which remains my favourite game of all time, and is one I intend to replay soon – some 15+ years after I originally did. My next FF game was FFIX, which is my SECOND favourite game of all time 😛 You notice a pattern?
Now I can’t give you the exact order without doing some background checking, but I’ve also played and completed the following in the Final Fantasy core series, and spin-offs:
- Final Fantasy
- Final Fantasy II (started on PS, and ended up replaying on PSP)
- Final Fantasy III
- Final Fantasy IV
- Final Fantasy V (most recently completed)
- Final Fantasy VII (as mentioned above)
- Final Fantasy IX (also mentioned above)
- Final Fantasy XIII (avoidable battles was a godsend)
- Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales
- Final Fantasy: Tactics Advance (this was SO fun)
I also have a lot LEFT to play, but I at least have them in my collection:
- Dirge of Cerberus (the Vincent spin off from FFVII)
- Ehrgeiz (the Final Fantasy fighting game)
- FF Crystal Chronicles (the original one)
- FF Crystal Chronicles: Crystal Bearers
- FF Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time (which I have on both DS and Wii, but I’ve heard the Wii version is really crap)
- FF Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates
- Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon
- Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (latest FF game I purchased!)
- Final Fantasy VI
- Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core
- Final Fantasy VIII (I have a Pocketstation to play with this too!)
- Final Fantasy X and X-2
- Final Fantasy XII and Revenant Wings for DS
- Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light
- Theathrythm Final Fantasy (which I am currently playing)
- Final Fantasy XIII-2
There are a few in the series I don’t have, because I didn’t want them, namely the Dissidia follow up, Kingdom Hearts (I do have a couple of them, but I can’t come at the mashup with Disney), and the online only games (i.e. FFXI).
So while you see I have played a lot of FF, I still have a lot left to play, so perhaps my love/hate feelings on formula will prove to be moot over time. FFXIII certainly broke the mould in terms of the earlier games I’d played, but that was the first modern one I’d played in the franchise.
Anyway, let’s talk a bit about FF formula as I see it, and if you have any arguments to the contrary, please put them forth in the comments (with minor spoilers if possible).
As I see it, FF formula follows a few rules:
- Orphaned or otherwise abandoned heroes
- Royalty in disguise
- Random battles with a recurring cast of monsters
- Someone always dies
Orphaned or otherwise abandoned heroes
This really is a big part of the FF mythos – and many other games, movies and stories. There’s something about it – a youth, with no one left in the world (except maybe a pet of some kind, i.e. a chocobo), is thrust into mystery, adventure and intrigue by events beyond his/her control, only to find out later there was some deep and all-pervasive meaning behind it all (his/her destiny or legacy, if you will).
Whilst this is a pretty standard trope (TV Tropes cites FF as the most prominent videogame example), and is ever-so obvious and cliche, it works because that’s how stories work – and we gamers respect the story. I think most people relate to that theme too – being an outsider, not knowing your place, not being understood. It’s heartening to see the youth struggle through his/her adventure, and come out at the end strong and the victor over adversity.
Royalty in disguise
Another trope we recognise from just about every adventure story ever told – from such old tales as the Prince and the Pauper or Snow White, to videogames like the Legend of Zelda, Dragon Age and of course, Final Fantasy (Faris, Garnet, and others). The person may not actually be royal, but will definitely hold some very important role or significance (like Ben/Obiwan Kenobi for example).
Again, it’s usually pretty obvious from the dialogue early on that the person in question is someone special, and through the course of events we figure it out before the big reveal.
Why does this work as a plot device? Well, it’s much like the orphaned hero trope, this character is escaping from a world or destiny they don’t want. They hide their identity so they can be who they want to be, without people treating them differently because they are someone important. And again, we can sort of relate to that a lot of the time – we all have times where we wish we could escape our lives/jobs/responsibilities and just be ourselves.
Okay, well this isn’t so much a trope as a standard methodology for FF games. Random battles are inherent in most of the FF games I’ve played and when starting out, I view them with a kind of bemused indulgence, which slowly degrades into disdain. After playing for a while, I come to hate the random battles and I find myself yelling at the screen, wishing my time wasn’t wasted on this rubbish! However, this is an integral part of Final Fantasy, and most RPG-style games (including Pokemon!)
I like these battles because they usually come with great battle music – but this grates on you after hearing it every three seconds when you are trying to run to a save location and are continuously attacked by monsters, some of which have no chance of putting even a scratch on you, and seem only to serve as a distraction and frustration device.
They are also great for levelling up your party to be able to take on tougher monsters, and this whole aspect of “grinding” is a necessary evil for most RPGs and some adventure games. But sometimes, I’d rather just pay out money for levels and skills…
There is nothing to hate here. Chocobos (and Moogles to a secondary degree) are the best part of Final Fantasy. If you disagree, it’s only because you haven’t played enough of the FF series. FFVII and FFIX had hugely fun Chocobos side-quests and minigames, such as Chocobo breeding, racing and treasure hunting. I love those oversized chickens so much. They even get their own adventure in spin-offs like Final Fantasy Fables Chocobo Tales, and Chocobo’s Dungeon.
Not only are they cool, but they make running around the world map so much quicker and help you to avoid those random battles I so love/hate. Plus, Chocobo music never fails to elicit a smile 🙂
Someone always dies
And finally, the big theme that suddenly occurred to me whilst playing FFV: someone ALWAYS dies. And it’s usually someone you have had in your party for some time and have spent a lot of effort levelling up and giving cool equipment to. What the hell, Final Fantasy?! It’s only been due to my adherence to strategy guides that I’ve had any warning for some of these shocking deaths, and been able to salvage my equipment from the soon-to-be stinking corpses of my companions!
The most shocking for me was in FFVII – Aerith’s death was sudden, unexpected, and emotionally gruelling. People still talk about this today, with fervent wish that she could be brought back. Personally, I never saw the appeal of her, and preferred Tifa as Cloud’s soulmate, but nevertheless – talk about a shock!
I’ve had games ruined by not completing side-missions before the death or permanent departure of a main party member. Well, perhaps not ruined in most people’s views, but for a completionist like me, not being able to finish a side-quest through no fault of my own is the epitome of frustration.
Is there a main FF game I’ve yet to play where some important person doesn’t get knocked off? By the way, they always get killed at the middle part of the game, sort of like the cliffhanger of a two-part miniseries. “Next time on Final Fantasy (insert roman numeral here)…”
And so, herein ends my confusing rant/manifesto/love letter to the Final Fantasy series. A franchise full of TV tropes and cliched plot devices, yet one I will love forever more, despite the formulaic things I love to hate.
I think it will be interesting to do a follow up to this post in the future when I have played every FF game on my list. See you in a few years!