Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fantasy Guidance

I wanted to take a chance during this break between games to talk about strategy guides.  I've been using them a lot lately.  The JRPG genre in general tends to have more use for guides than other genres and Final Fantasy is no exception.

I've used a strategy guide for four out of the five games I've played so far.  The game I did guide-less was FFIV.  I actively needed the guides for the other games.

That's the sad part, guides are basically a necessity for so many of these games.  It's really easy to get stuck in the early Final Fantasy games.  There are sections where the only option would be to wander the world aimlessly searching for hours... or look at a strategy guide for five minutes.  I will almost always choose the guide at that point.  Not to mention how easy it can be to get stuck somewhere and not be able to go back.  In a few places it's a very real possibility that you can get stuck in an area that is too high level for you.  And if you saved your game there and don't have a backup save you can be entirely screwed.

The iOS versions have gone a long way toward making it less possible for a player to get stuck somewhere with a bad save spot.  Although, they don't do much to help guide the player in the aimless wandering situations.

One of the reasons I loved FFIV so much was because it did such a great job of guiding me from place to place.  It did such a good job that I never needed to look at a guide.  This is one of the other places that FFV didn't live up to it's predecessor.  I was confused about where to go next a number of times.  In FFIV I always felt like I knew where to go, but I still had freedom to explore the world.  I didn't have to go to the next plot point immediately.  It wasn't linear and confining.  The main path was just well defined by the story.

Here's the way I've been approaching it.  I start a game and just play.  If I hit a spot where I get confused, lost, or feel like I could potentially miss an important item or character I'll look at a guide.  If looking at the guide gets me back on track I ignore it again and just play.  If I have to go back to the guide a second time... I find one that I like and commit to using it throughout the rest of the playthrough.

In case you're wondering, I've been using fan created guides on Gamefaqs.  Most of the time these are actually better than the "official" guide because they've had years to improve on them and find out secrets about the game.

I'm about to start FFVI.  I'll start without a guide but will probably end up using one.  From what I've heard, this is a Final Fantasy game with a lot of characters and I don't want to miss any of them.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Final Fantasy V

Final Fantasy V was ok.  I finished it, but I wasn't inspired enough to write about it while I was in the middle of playing.  That should probably tell you something about how I feel about the game.  It was fine.  It wasn't bad.  There is no single thing I can point to and say "I hated this."  But, overall, it simply didn't click with me.

The story is perfectly serviceable.  It had semi-interesting characters, multiple worlds, Cid, Moogles, Chocobos, an airship, and an evil villain.  Exdeath, the big bad of this game, even had a more complicated plot than "destroy the world by destroying crystals."  Not much more complicated, but at least it's a step up from FFI, FFII, and FFIII.  The story was definitely better than those games.  My biggest problem with it is that it just isn't as good as FFIV.  It feels like a step back in terms of storytelling quality.

Maybe that's my overall problem with FFV.  It's not as good as FFIV.  FFIV did so many things in new and interesting ways and it executed a fantastic character driven story.  FFV is, no question, better than I-III but it doesn't reach the level of FFIV.

It doesn't help that I had played Bravely Default immediately before starting FFV.  After playing both games it's obviously that the job system from FFV was a direct predecessor to the job system in Bravely Default.  The problem is that Bravely Default improved on the job system by leaps and bounds.  It made it much more interesting and engaging.  So, for me, the job system in FFV felt dumbed down and shallow.  I'm sure it was revolutionary for it's time, but it doesn't hold up today.

The battle system is nothing to write home about.  It's a classic Active Time Battle (ATB) system like many Final Fantasy games.  I think I'm learning that I like turn based systems better.  But that comes down to personal preference.  The best part of the battle system are all the abilities different jobs gain access to, but most of the interesting decisions and customization is actually done outside of battle through the job system.

I'm not a huge fan of the graphics in this game.  I played the iOS version, just like I did for the first four games.  That might have been a mistake.  I really didn't like what they did with the remastered graphics.  I think I would have preferred the original pixel art instead.  I've heard really good things about the GBA version, so if you're looking to try this game out you may want to look there.  It fits with my common theme here today, the graphics weren't bad, they just weren't as good as the other remakes I've been playing lately.  Although, graphics come down entirely to personal preference.

As far as the iOS version in general, it was still fantastic to always have the game with me wherever I went.  I'm not sure what I think about them adding achievements to the game.  It's something they also did for FFIV too.  I guess it's fine, I just don't know how much it adds to a JRPG like this.  On the plus side, they added a battery indicator and a clock docked to the top of the screen (check out my screenshots).  I actually really liked this addition. When I was playing FFIV I was constantly hitting the home button to check the time and with FFV I didn't have to.

What else can I say about FFV?

I'm glad I completed it.  I'm happy that I haven't broken down and skipped a game in the series yet.  My review makes this game sound a lot worse than it is.  I would still recommend it over FFIII without hesitation.

It's not a bad game.  I think a lot of people would like it.  It's just not a game that I truly enjoyed.

Total Play Time: 26 hrs 42 mins

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Bravely Default Review

I've been taking a break from Final Fantasy games to play through Bravely Default, a new release for 3DS.  I just finished it up in the last few days and wanted to get some thoughts out there.

Honestly, this is the best Final Fantasy game that has been released since XII.  It's really funny that this isn't truly a Final Fantasy game.  I can definitely tell that it started out as one.  The job system, crystal story, items, and spells are all taken, almost directly, from Final Fantasy.  It started out as a sequel to Final Fantasy Four Warriors of Light but at some point in development it got to break away and become it's own brand.  Maybe that's why it's so good, because it doesn't have the weight of the Final Fantasy name on it's shoulders.

I love, Luxendarc, the world of Bravely Default.  Everything from the art direction to the music is top notch.  My god, the music!  I haven't enjoyed a game soundtrack this much since I played Final Fantasy X.  And the art department certainly earned their paychecks.  At times it feels as if you're wandering through a stylized storybook.  Other times the world is dark and imposing.  They've created a fantastic world.  The look and feel of the game is truly superb.

The job system is essentially expanded from Final Fantasy.  I saw a lot of the jobs I've run into before, but they seem to be more fleshed out here.  Characters are able to have a primary job and a secondary job at the same time.  This opens up all sorts of interesting combinations and experimentation.  On top of the 2 jobs, characters also get to pick up support abilities from other jobs they've leveled in.  I literally had hours of fun playing around with the job system.  That's probably a personal preference, but if you like playing around with systems you will love what Bravely Default offers.

The story has is a mixed bag.  This paragraph will have very minor spoilers.  The game is divided into chapters.  In chapters 1-4 you have to accomplish a similar task 4 separate times.  4 times feels perfect for the story and it works really well.  Each of the 4 tasks is similar, but unique in it's own way too.  I loved these chapters.  Then chapter 5 hit.  In chapter 5-8 you basically have to do that same task 16 more times and it loses all sense of fun and momentum.  I was extremely disappointed with this middle section of the game.  It's especially sad to see after such a strong start.  The final chapters of the game once again get interesting and I truly enjoyed the ending, but the middle section is a blemish on the overall story.

Bravely Default uses the 3DS features well.  I played the whole game in 3D and it really added something to the visuals.  That's not true of a lot of 3DS games.  The streetpass feature was fun too.  I was able to send and receive attacks and heals from other people playing the game and then summon them in the middle of battle.  It's actually a really cool implementation of streetpass.  The village rebuilding minigame was somewhat interesting too, but I got enough streetpasses that I was finished with it when I was about a fourth of the way through the game.

I can't believe I haven't mentioned the battle system yet.  It's a twist on a classic turn based battle.  Characters are able to Default which lets them save up actions.  On subsequent turns they can Brave and spend all of their saved up actions at the same time.  It really changed the way I thought about battle.  Random encounters became all about Braving and launching all-out attacks on monsters.  Boss battles become an intricate dance of when to use Brave and when to use Default.  Bosses were more challenging and interesting than I've encountered in a JRPG in a long time.

Not to mention some of the convenience systems in place in this game.  I set up a selection of good commands and used auto-battle to repeat them against random monsters.  Mix that with the ability to have battles play out at 4x speed and grinding becomes totally painless.  I sometimes took it in the extreme the other direction and turned off random encounters.  I love this option as it let me fully focus on exploring dungeons without any interruptions.  They don't advertise these convenience functions well, but they are there and I appreciated them.

Bravely Default is a good game.  Despite some story pacing issues in the middle I would still strongly recommend this game.  It's not going to appeal to everyone, but it's a must buy for anyone who owns a 3DS and is a fan of Final Fantasy or JRPGs in general.