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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How do the PlayStation Final Fantasy games stack up in the modern era?

You’re able to download the three Final Fantasy games on the PlayStation Network via the PSOne Classics shop front.

While it’s a topic of endless debate on forums just which is "best," these three games are all held in high regard by various veterans of the series. But how do they stack up by today’s standards – are they still relevant, or have they aged poorly? 

Final Fantasy VII

With Final Fantasy VI, this is the game that usually ends up on peoples “best of the series” lists. Its historical importance is undeniable – this was the game that dragged the Final Fantasy series from the charming sprite-based characters into polygonal 3D, this was the game that took the epic length of Final Fantasy games and over three discs turned it to 11. 

Kickin' some blocks


It’s a game that now rests entirely on its characters and story. So many years on, they remain an interesting and varied bunch. The events that happen to them are still affecting, with well-timed comic relief mixed in with the gravitas. The script remains strong against modern RPGs, and the nuances run deep – Final Fantasy VII is the most discussed game in Final Fantasy and Philosophy for a good reason.

But aside from the characters and the story, Final Fantasy VII creaks under its age. The visuals and music are an ugly clash of ugly coloured blocks and poor sound resolution. The pre-rendered backgrounds look a world apart from the characters and do a poor job of creating a believable world. 

Baddest of the bad


The combat, too, is primitive – with such minor upgrades from the SNES era of Final Fantasy games that it’s difficult to tell the two apart. The character customisation options are far behind the modern curve. Though the Matria Orbs do allow a degree of flexibility, there’s still a stifling lack of control over the destiny of the characters in a world that has since ceded complete control to the player.

So Final Fantasy VII is a relic. It’s a good relic, but if we’re judging this game entirely on its merits within a modern era, it’s best left to the nostalgic. 


By modern standards:



Final Fantasy VIII

In many ways, this is the forgotten Final Fantasy from the PlayStation era. It is a game that took a number of risks, and in turn failed to resonate with an audience itching for more VII, while at the same time being too intimidating for a more casual RPG fan. At four discs, this game is a serious time investment, and people knew it.

It was also the most thematically dense game of the era. The characters all ached from personal demons and moments of levity were few and far between. Leading man Squall lacked the kind of charm that other Final Fantasy leading men (and women) typically feature, and the ensemble cast did little to prop him up.

An awkward moment


From the antagonist point of view, Final Fantasy VIII struggled from a tragic figure (Seifer) who lacked the raw power of Sephiroth and the insanity of Kefka. Players expecting a similar enemy this time around would have been gravely disappointed.

But Final Fantasy VIII also featured a more realised world than the other two PlayStation games. From the train tracks criss-crossing the landscape, to the flying Gardens housing barracks of soldiers there was a sense of life in the world that will remain in the memory longer than the other two games (ironic since the world itself is never names).

It also helped that the game was significantly upgraded visually, and the music was of a much higher quality, even if the tunes were less memorable in themselves. While it’s still aged, there’s a greater sense of aesthetics with Final Fantasy VIII, signifying an improved confidence and understanding of 3D visuals by Square Enix.

The game took a few risks and substantially overhauled the combat system, and the result is hit and miss, though it is still a relatively unique system by today’s standards. Combat focuses on a “draw” technique, whereby the characters will pull magical energies out of the enemies. In combination with the summons, these energies could then be expended in the form of magic spells, or assigned to various abilities to increase them or provide resistances to certain elements. 

This battle lasted an hour because we used 'draw' 10000000 times


It was a complicated system that led to unprecedented control over the development of the characters, but it was also one that caused battle to stretch far too long with the need to constantly draw energy from the enemies.

As a result, Final Fantasy VIII is still a curiosity with a combat system you probably haven’t experienced before. Combined with a truly awesome collectable card game mini game, it’s still worth a purchase, even now, and although we can’t guarantee that it’s a game you’ll necessarily enjoy, at least it will be something new. 


By modern standards: 



Final Fantasy IX

Final Fantasy IX is easily still worth playing again. It combines the upgraded visuals of VIII with  a charming personality and characters that are as interesting as those found in Final Fantasy VII

oooh Garnet


It’s also a traditional fantasy. The game lacks the gravity of Final Fantasy VII or VIII, instead offering a relatively cheerful flight of fancy. And, while the combat system isn’t as complex as something found in Final Fantasy VIII, it’s still reasonably deep, asking players to think about their actions rather than just grind.

See, IX features a similar “skills” system to the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics. While you’ll have a wide range of skills available to learn and use, you’ll be limited in what you can do by having a cap on the number of abilities you can have access to at any once time. Finding synergies between party members is then critical to success.

All kinds of cliches (or traditions, if you prefer) here


It’s not all good – the collectable card game minigame this time around makes no sense without spending more time learning the ropes than it’s worth, and for the PSOne classic download, transitions into and out of battle are slow and eventually frustrating, but overall, Final Fantasy IX was originally released towards the end of the PlayStation’s life, and it shows. By modern standards, this is the game that stands up the best. Still a must have.


By modern standards: 
 



How do the PlayStation Final Fantasy games stack up in the modern era?
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