The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy II, part 2

I don't expect it to last, but it'll be nice while it does.

Artwork from a sketch by Yoshitaka Amano

One of the biggest things I noted about Final Fantasy is that its open world is really an illusion.  You’re carefully sectioned off into very limited exploration, with the game always forcing you into the right parts simply through a dearth of alternatives.  You can see this as a failing, but you can also see it as a notable advantage.  It’s possible to be a bit unsure of where to go next, but you can always fall back on exploring for a while with the knowledge that you’ll stumble on your objective eventually, simply because there’s nowhere else new to go.

Final Fantasy II is a bit worse about that.  The world is more open, and you have more chances to go off the rails.  Which means that you get more opportunities to exercise your freedom, but it also means that you find yourself more likely to be unsure of where to go next in a game that doesn’t even provide you with helpful pointers like levels.  And the second major quest in the game kind of leads in that direction, because your destination is sort of hidden way the heck and gone.

Read More…

Ruined forever?

Copyright information is on the linked page, and prepare for a lot of clicking around.

This is just plain good to have around anyway.

I love the Transformers wiki. Sure, that was kind of to be expected, seeing as I love Transformers in general (and I can indulge in that a bit more now, as I just realized both Beast Wars and Prime are available on Netflix in their entirety), but the wiki itself is a joy to read even aside from that. There’s a lot of great commentary on the pages, stuff that I find hilarious to read even outside of looking up specific bits of information.

There’s also a lot of good metacommentary on fandom as a whole, including the absolutely priceless and TVTropes-inspiring page on Ruined FOREVER.  You can’t help but run across that a few dozen times in basically any online fandom.  This latest change has ruined the franchise forever, and now we’re into the inevitable decline.  And while I love that idea, I have to wonder… has it ever happened?  Have we really ever seen a franchise that has been irrevocably ruined forever?  Or is jumping the shark as a concept kind of ridiculous?

Read More…

Demo Driver 8: Pyroblazer (#284)

Let's throw a lot of stuff going on into one big thing and then... I don't know.

Your guess is as good as mine right now.

Sometimes you get a very clear picture of a game from a demo because the demo is well-constructed, offers you enough of the game to know what it’s on about, and leaves you wanting more.  Honestly, most of the demos I’ve reviewed here have accomplished that goal rather nicely.  I’ve no desire whatsoever to play RACE 07, but I have a reasonably clear picture of what the game is from the demo and feel as if everything it wanted to accomplish was laid out clearly.

Sometimes, though, the demo – and possibly the entire game – is a confused mess that gives you such a top-level overview that you’re not sure what in the world is going on, let alone how the game is supposed to tie into anything or be relevant.  And that, I’m sorry to say, is what I was left with after my brief time in the Pyroblazer demo.  The whole thing comes across as a big blending of various elements without further explanation, and by the time I was done I was just plain tired.

Read More…

Telling Stories: With my weapon

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.

Let’s kick this column off with a rhetorical question.  Why did Final Fantasy XIV and WildStar both tie character classes to iconic weapons?

You could say it’s for ease of itemization, or for transparency in play, but I think the real reason is much simpler: weapons say something.  We associate certain traits with weapons.  They’re not just tools, they’re symbols, part of the language by which we understand our characters and their capabilities.  An entirely different message is conveyed if your character is wearing a sword or a gun on his hip, after all.  Human beings (and, presumably, almost-human beings) have an attachment to our weaponry.

This is a rich vein in fiction, of course, and most games go the extra mile by having several weapons with names and points of origin.  World of Warcraft is awash in notable weapons, Final Fantasy XIV has Relic Weapons, Final Fantasy XI has Mythic Weapons, Guild Wars 2 has Legendaries, Lord of the Rings Online even lets you raise a weapon as a specific legendary item.  It’s a fertile ground for roleplaying, and it’s well worth exploring what it could mean to have a special weapon or two… even if those weapons aren’t useful because of their power.

Read More…

The jack of all problems

There's always the sense that perhaps the team would abandon this class if it hadn't existed in the first game, but now it's stuck appearing forever more.

Well, now we can all be mildly useless but balanced against one another’s uselessness.

Every single game that allows you to build a character how you want lets you build yourself as a jack-of-all-trades if you want to.  In many Final Fantasy games you’ve got the Red Mage, a master of both offensive and defensive magic while being a deft hand with a sword.  Dungeons & Dragons has traditionally had options like Bards or (in the old days) multi-classed characters.  Kingdoms of Amalur‘s loose class system lets you have a character who’s pretty good at lots of things and derives benefit from having dabbled all over.  The idea is that you’re not as strong as a specialist, but you can always do more!

Pretty much no game has ever made this work.

The problem is that every single game with a true jack-of-all-trades either winds up with a dramatically overpowered character or a completely useless one.  (Or a character that specializes in something after all, which makes the character/class not truly a jack but just a flexible character outside of the specialization.)  It’s a seductive idea, obviously, but it just doesn’t work out from a balance standpoint, and we need to get away from that in design.

Read More…