Monday, February 14, 2011

Final Fantasy 1 & 2 headed to PSN - should anyone care?

Final Fantasy 1 and 2 are finally coming to the PlayStation Network in English. Given they’ve been on every other platform known to mankind in recent years, we’re surprised it’s taken so long this time around, but is it worth dipping into the virtual wallet to buy yet another copy of either classic?

Please note - screenshots not representative of PSN Final Fantasy releases. Rather they're there to show snapshots of the two games at various points in history

Over the years, the original two Final Fantasy games have had a number of visual upgrades, and an attempt at modernisation with an “easy” mode to save players from hours of grinding to get through each and every dungeon.

But has it been enough? To test this in a very scientific manner, I asked a non-gamer to play through both games, and see how it went.

Starting with Final Fantasy 1, playing on easy, the problems started to pop up almost immediately: there are quite a few places that you can get stuck. Not because the difficulty spikes make hours of grinding a necessity – easy mode really is easy, but because the game does a terrible job of telling you where to go next.

It looks better, now, but it doesn't really play any better

For most of us who have played Final Fantasy before and have vague (or more recent) memories of what to do next, this won’t be an issue. But for people looking to experience the game for the first time, the lack of guidance will possibly be the biggest inhibitor stopping those people from finishing the game.

Modern RPG theory has, in addition to clearly marked paths to the end of the main quest, a requirement for side quests or minigames to break up the overarching story. Final Fantasy has such limited amounts of both that engaging with the world just isn’t much fun. There’s not much there to explore, and what there is is filled with an overenthusiasm for random encounters that quickly becomes grating. The villages and towns are lifeless – little more than a place to sleep, buy weapon upgrades, and listen to canned lines of dialogue.

Contrast to the modern RPG, that usually has side stories developing within the town, minigames to play, and other stuff to do, and the Final Fantasy towns are dreary experiences.

Dragons. So many Dragons

Because of the random encounter rate, dungeons aren’t much fun to explore, but the level design is so lifeless anyway that you won’t mind.

With the gorgeous music and visual upgrade, Final Fantasy looks like a modern RPG, but still plays like something straight out of the 80’s. This is something that the additional dungeons that have been added into recent releases can’t fix.

What we’d really like Square Enix to do is, rather than just update the game, completely remake it. Keep the same core game seed in place, but integrate side quests, build more interesting towns and dungeons, and build in some minigames. Until that happens, it is really difficult to recommend this game to anyone, other than for nostalgia value (and even then, assuming they haven’t already got a remake on some other platform).

Final Fantasy 2

Final Fantasy 2 fares better. Naming the characters is a good start, as immediately the plot takes a step towards the epic nature of the later games in the series. Having characters join up with you from time to time is also a nice touch. With each new character comes a slightly different way to approach encounters, so in a sense the gameplay feels fresh for a longer time.

It's honesty a pity there isn't the option to play the games in their original splendor when it comes to the remakes
From a retro perspective, Final Fantasy 2 is also the first to introduce Chocobos, Cid, and airships in any significant manner, so there is some value in there for veterans and newcomers alike curious to see where this stuff all began.  

Historically the combat system of Final Fantasy 2 – where your character would level up individual skills as they use them in battle – was where the game was criticised. However, in an era of modern RPGs, this style of levelling, while basic by comparison to a similarly-themed game like Oblivion, is more relevant. Therefore, my non-gamer “test subject” actually had less difficulty coming to grips with how things worked.

Possibly the first time in an RPG it was OK for the party to be wiped out

Given that Final Fantasy 2 also offers a better set of directions for players to follow, and makes it easier to explore without the frustration of random encounters (which are switched off when you find a Chocobo), and the game feels more modern to play. It’s still retro, and like Final Fantasy, could do with a whole new remake, but there just might be something in here for the modern gamer, as much as someone looking for a hit of nostalgia.

Minwu was a beast of a white mage


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